Category Archives: Diet

CRUEL AND UNUSUAL LUNCH: outrageous loafs, constitutional standards, and a heck of a lot of intestinal trauma

Does service of a meal that consists of a colorful brick-like lump of pureed vegetables, raisins, meats and various unknown ingredients constitute cruel and unusual punishment?  The answer is now a definite “maybe.”

The founding fathers probably didn’t consider the issue when, concerned about the centralization of power in a national government, they sought to ensure that federal authorities did not impose excessive monetary penalties or disproportionate, tortuous and barbaric punishments upon undeserving citizens.  Inspired by the English Bill of Rights of 1689, they drafted a prohibition that was ultimately ratified as the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  It provides that [e]xcessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Gotcha.  But this is a constitutional standard, and doesn’t that mean that it applies to the federal government and not state prisons?

As ratified, the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments applied only to the federal government.  In the 1960s, during the civil rights movement, the United States Supreme Court held that it also applies to state governments as a matter of due process.  The judiciary did not, however, initially set forth a universal standard to differentiate between valid exercises of police powers and those acts that are unconstitutional abuses.  Chief Justice Earl Warren, writing on behalf of the Supreme Court, later explained that

[t]he basic concept underlying the Eighth Amendment is nothing less than the dignity of man. While the State has the power to punish, the Amendment stands to assure that this power be exercised within the limits of civilized standards. Fines, imprisonment and even execution may be imposed depending upon the enormity of the crime, but any technique outside the bounds of these traditional penalties is constitutionally suspect….  The words of the [Eighth] Amendment are not precise, and that their scope is not static. The Amendment must draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.

The Supreme Court has suggested that unconstitutional punishments include drawing and quartering, public disembowelment and execution by burning a living criminal to death.  It has also considered the application of the prohibition criminal death penalty cases, including proceedings that would result in the execution of minors and mentally handicapped criminals.

Who woulda thunk that the list may also include unappetizing meals consumed by crooks, thieves, con men and rowdy prisoners?

Inmates are arguing that the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment is being violated by correctional facilities that serve a meal affectionately referred to as the “nutriloaf” or the “nutraloaf.”  The brick-like pseudo-meatloaf meal is typically only served to troublesome inmates as a means of deterring negative behavior, such as throwing feces, urine, trays and utensils.

The recipe varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and facility to facility.  Chicago Dining Critic Jeff Ruby is one of the few people who voluntarily – as in, of his own free freakin’ will – secured a reservation at a county jail and dined on Illinois’ version of nutraloaf, which he described as

a thick orange lump of spite with the density and taste of a dumbbell [that] could only be the object of Beelzebub’s culinary desires. Packed with protein, fat, carbohydrates, and 1,110 calories, Nutraloaf contains everything from carrots and cabbage to kidney beans and potatoes, plus shadowy ingredients such as “dairy blend” and “mechanically separated poultry.” You purée everything into a paste, shape it into a loaf, and bake it for 50 to 70 minutes at 375 degrees.

Fine.  I get it.  The dish looks something like a science experiment gone awry or that crazy thing growing in the back of my refrigerator, and I’d be worried that an inmate who was fed the substance would explode and shower a cell with gore. But does it really constitute cruel and unusual punishment, at least insofar as the constitutional standard has been applied to punishments such as drawing and quartering, public disembowelment,  burning alive, and other means of execution?

Most courts have held that nutriloaf may be repugnant but that service of the dish does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.  The judicial temperament may now be changing.  Last week, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals became the first federal appellate court to explain that service of the nutriloaf may violate the Eighth Amendment.  The case was initially brought in district court by an inmate who claimed that his consumption of nutriloaf caused rapid weight loss, repeated vomiting, severe constipation and an anal fissure.

Yes, an anal fissure.

The trial court dismissed the claim on summary judgment, but the Seventh Circuit remanded the case and directed the trial court to reconsider the ruling.  Judge Posner, writing on behalf of the Court, opined that

Deliberate withholding of nutritious food or substitution of tainted or otherwise sickening food, with the effect of causing substantial weight loss, vomiting, stomach pains, and maybe an anal fissure (which is no fun at all, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anal_fissure (visited March 15, 2012)), or other severe hardship, would violate the Eighth Amendment.

Kind of makes pink slime sound like a culinary treat.  Maybe.

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2012 Gallop-Healthways Well-Being Index Report: Most Obese Metropolitan Areas

The Gallop-Healthways Well-Being Index attempts to track Americans’ physical and emotional health and quantify other information necessary to evaluate programs that can increase productivity and lower healthcare costs. Every year, the information collected throughout preceding months is used to generate a report of those metropolitan areas that have the highest obesity rates among its citizens.

Well, it’s that time of year again.  The report has been released, and the results are weighty:

1.  McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Texas
Obesity rate: 38.8 percent
Health care costs due to obesity: $411 million

2.  Binghamton, New York
Obesity rate: 37.6 percent
Health care costs due to obesity: $132 million

3.  Huntington-Ashland, West Virginia-Kentucky-Ohio
Obesity rate: 36 percent
Health care costs due to obesity: $147 million

4.  Rockford, Illinois
Obesity rate: 35.5 percent
Health care costs due to obesity: $179 million

5.  Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas
Obesity rate: 33.8 percent
Health care costs due to obesity: $183 million

6.  Charleston, West Virginia
Obesity rate: 33.8 percent
Health care costs due to obesity: $147 million

7.  Lakeland-Winter Haven, Florida.
Obesity rate: 33.5 percent.
Health care costs due to obesity: $279 million

8.  Topeka, Kansas
Obesity rate: 33.3 percent
Health care costs due to obesity:$110 million

9.  Kennewick-Pasco-Richland, Washington
Obesity rate: 33.2 percent
Health care costs due to obesity: $117 million

10.  Reading, Pennsylvania
Obesity rate: 32.7 percent
Health care costs due to obesity: $190 million

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Peanuts and Cracker Jacks? Baseball weighs in with an eight pound burger, a two foot hotdog and a three pound pretzel

Earlier this month, the Washington Nationals unveiled the StrausBurger, a hefty hamburger composed of ground brisket, chuck and short ribs topped with a heck of a lot of condiments.  The damn thing weighs in at around 8 pounds and contains somewhere in the neighborhood of 8,000 to 10,000 calories.

Ironically, the sandwich is named after Stephen Strausburg, a lanky young pitcher who looks like he’s never eaten a hamburger, much less a ball of meat that weighs as much as the human head.

Nolan Ryan, the competitive owner of the Texas Rangers, is obviously not impressed with the StrausBurger.  Earlier this week, his team introduced the Champion Dog, a 2 foot hotdog served on a virtual loaf of bread that weighs in at around a pound.  The monstrosity is complimented by sauteed onions, shredded cheese, chili, jalapenos, and, of course, a side order of french fries.  As you can tell from this picture, it’s about as big as a baseball bat.

Steve Peterson, President of Classic Foods, the producer of the meat used in the Champion Dog, was obviously excited.  When referring to the surreal combination of meat trimmings, fat, flavorings and preservatives, he claimed that it was “the next ka-pow.”  I’m still not sure if he was referring to the hot dog, the 2,000 to 3,000 calories contained in the meal, or its $26 price tag.

It’s not the first time that the Texas Rangers have offered fans the opportunity to stick a foot in the grave.  In 2010, the Ballpark at Arlington began serving a pretzel that tipped the scales at an absurd 3 pounds and topped the charts at between 3,400 and 3,700 calories.  It’s served with a modest sampling of marinara sauce, honey mustard dressing and nacho cheese and served in a cardboard pizza box. At the end of the day, it weights nearly as much as a chihuahua

Ballpark Operations Manager Casey Rapp explained the twisted reasoning behind the knot-shaped combination of flour and salt by reasoning that “[l]ast year during the playoffs, we said, ‘We gotta come up with something that’s bigger than anything else, that really signifies Texas.'”

Mr. Rapp certainly hit a home run – no pun intended – because everything really is bigger in Texas.  Including people.  For those of you keeping score, Arlington – the home of the Texas Rangers – now ranks as the 15th fattest city in the entire country.  Over 35 percent of the city’s population is clinically obese, which is the second highest rate in the entire freakin’ country.

Surprised?

(And before all the southerners call foul… yes, I live in Texas.  I used to live in Arlington.  But I’m still alive)

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The National Pastime: Peanuts, Cracker Jacks and… an EIGHT POUND hamburger?

Stephen Strasburg is bringing hope to baseball fans in our nation’s capital.  The highly-touted 23-year-old pitcher for the Washington Nationals has taken the mound seventeen times over the past two years, limiting opponents to a .211 batting average while recording 116 strikeouts, .98 WHIP and 2.40 ERA.  Loosely translated, he’s pretty darn good, and the peripheral statistics suggest that he should develop into a perennial All-Star.

The lanky phenom has a new claim to fame: the organization is now cleverly marketing a hamburger dubbed “the StrasBurger” as a homage to the pitcher.  The burger is sold at the Red Porch Restaurant, located in the Center Field Plaza of Nationals Park.  It almost makes too much sense: hungry fans can eat a Strasburger while watching Strasburg.

So far so good… except… the StrasBurger weighs in at EIGHT POUNDS.  It consists of a virtual buffet of ground brisket, chuck and short ribs, topped with an unidentified “special sauce” and a smorgasbord of condiments – and, of course, it’s complimented by a basket of french fries and a pitcher of a soft drink.  When served, the StrasBurger weighs about as much as 32 Quarter Pounders and slightly more than the average newborn baby.

Prepare to be surprised: the StrasBurger is a pretty darn unhealthy dish.  Colleen Greg, a Registered Dietitian who specializes in adult and pediatric weight management and cardiovascular nutrition, provided NBC Washington with the following breakdown:

the StrasBurger is somewhere between 8,000-10,000 calories, packs 600-700 grams of fat, 200-300 grams of saturated fat and 2,500-3,000 milligrams of sodium. It seems that the Nationals are advertising the burger as something to be shared, but even then, it still packs a wallop….  If the burger is split four ways, each person’s portion would therefore be at least 2,000 calories, 150 grams of fat, 50 grams saturated fat and 625 mg of sodium… All of these are higher than what many, if not most, people need in an entire DAY, except for sodium.

What ever happened to peanuts and Cracker Jacks?

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The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council responds to claims that “Hot Dogs Cause Butt Cancer.”

Mayor McCheese was a goofy, bumbling mayor with a head that was molded in the shape of enormous cheeseburger.  The good Mayor’s right-hand man was Officer Big Mac, and his head also consisted of a rather large cheeseburger.  Together they administered justice and order throughout all of McDonaldland, while introducing children to the wonderful world of processed meat, sugary sodas and greasy french fries.

The unfortunate reality is that Mayor McCheese and Officer Big Mac were fictional characters responsible for managing a world that didn’t exist.  For whatever reason, the mascots were quickly forgotten as the nation’s taste for fast food steadily increased.

Proving yet again that job security is a myth, Mayor McCheese and Officer Big Mac have been replaced by new governing body: the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council.  The council consists of real people – not cartoon characters, puppets or fictional creations – and it is lead by Janet Riley, its president and official “Queen of Wien.”

As a bit of an aside, the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council is a “project of the American Meat Institute,” and  Queen Riley moonlights as the Senior Vice President of Public Affairs of the American Meat Institute.  They maintain a place of business in Washington, DC, where the council claims to conduct

scientific research to benefit hot dog and sausage manufacturers. The Council also serves as an information resource to consumers and media on questions related to quality, safety, nutrition and preparation of hot dogs and sausages.

Well, the council is steamin’ mad at a group of physicians and medical professionals.  The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, a group of more than 125,000 health care professionals and others, has launched a campaign to warn consumers about the risks associated with the consumption of processed meats, which have been associated with colon and other cancers.

The group placed roadside billboards that poignantly describe the dangers associated with the consumption of hot dogs and processed meats.  The most recognized billboard is located along the Eisenhower Expressway in Chicago, Illinois, and it claims that “Hot Dogs Cause Butt Cancer.”  Similar billboards have also been placed in Miami, Florida and Indianapolis, Indiana.

Yep.  The National Hot Dog & Sausage Council is miffed.  Queen Riley described the sign as “misleading,” “outrageous” and “alarmist.”  J. Patrick Boyle, the President of the American Meat Institute, argued that

[h]ot dogs are part of a healthy, balanced diet.  They come in a variety of nutrition and taste formulas and they are an excellent source of protein, vitamins and minerals. This group’s claims are on a collision course with the facts.

Of course, earlier this month, President Boyle also extolled the virtues of boneless lean beef trimmings, otherwise popularly known as  “pink slime.”

Anyways, frankly – no pun intended, I guess – I’m not necessarily sure that President Boyle should really try to promote the nutritional benefits of mechanically separated meat, beef trimmings, fat, salt and preservatives that include soduim erythobate and sodium nitrate.  Scientific research simply doesn’t support his claim.  For example, the Harvard School of Public Heath recently published the results of a study that indicated that a daily serving of hot dogs and other processed meats increased the risk of dying of heart disease by 21% and dying of cancer by 16%.  Other studies have found a correlation between processed meats and risks for bladder cancer and pancreatic cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research has also found that the consumption of one hot dog per day increases the risk of colon cancer.

Unfortunately, these cancers are becoming increasingly common and they often prove terminal.  According to a report from the American Cancer Society, in 2010, over 1.5 million people were diagnosed with some form of cancer, and around 550,000 died from the disease.  Slightly more than 102,000 patients were diagnosed with colon cancer and 51,370 patients died from colon cancer.  Other incidents were just as profound: in the same year, 43,140 people were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and the disease caused 36,800 deaths, and around 131,260 people were diagnosed with cancers of the urinary system, including bladder cancer, and over 28,500 people died from the disease.  Pretty grim statistics, no?

Yeah.  The Queen of Wein and President Boyle are really making me long for the days of Mayor McCheese and Officer Big Mac.  I’ll chose goofy and bumbling over this junk any day of the week.

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