FERN’s Friday Feed: Should we stop worrying and love our fat?

Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.

Should we stop worrying and love our fat?

The New York Times Magazine

In 2015, with customer sign-ups stagnating, Weight Watchers sent Deb Benovitz, the company’s senior vice president and global head of consumer insights, into the field to find out what the problem was. She traveled the country, talking to people about their views on dieting. And over-and-over people told her that they didn’t want to “diet” or “lose weight,” says The New York Times Magazine. “They wanted to become ‘healthy’ so they could be ‘fit.’ They wanted to ‘eat clean’ so they could be ‘strong.’” Fat-shaming was out. Body-acceptance was in. Dieting is now anti-feminist and “weight loss” is politically incorrect. Weight Watchers has since gone into hyperdrive updating its programs to include meditation and qigong, and workshops that never mention food or weight, all marketed by their new spokesman, Oprah Winfrey, someone whose struggle to accept her weight — and still lose it — has captured the country’s attention for decades.

Are soy-fed babies drinking a hormone disruptor?


Soy-based products make up about 12 percent of the U.S. baby formula market. But some scientists worry that it might not be healthy to feed infants a plant that contains 4,500 times the level of phytoestrogens — an endocrine disruptor — that are in cow’s milk or breastmilk. The research is still limited and not conclusive, but soy-fed infants have been shown to have extremely high levels of phytoestrogens in their bloodstream, and at least one study, a 2014 NIEHS report, found that “six-month-old girls raised on soy formula showed clear signs of estrogen-driven changes in reproductive system cells,” says Undark.

Beans, what should be for dinner

The Atlantic

If everyone in the country stopped eating beef and ate beans instead, the U.S. could come close to hitting its 2020 greenhouse-gas-emissions target, set by President Obama in 2009, according to a team of scientists from Oregon State University, Bard College, and Loma Linda University. That’s true even if the U.S. made no changes to its energy sector, and if people kept eating chicken, cheese, pork and eggs. Swapping beans for beef also would free up 42 percent of arable land in the U.S. to grow other foods.

The government program to bring McDonald’s to a poor neighborhood near you

The New Republic

Supersizing Urban America, a new book by the historian of public health, Chin Jou, shows that fast food did not just find its way to low-income urban areas: It was brought there by the federal government,” says The New Republic. After race riots shook the nation in 1968, President Nixon’s administration began doling out funds to fast-food franchises to open locations in poor neighborhoods, claiming that the black-owned restaurants would spur entrepreneurship. But while a few black Americans did make money, mostly the subsidies opened new markets for fast food giants, bringing industrialized food — and diet-related health problems, like obesity — to communities that already lacked quality education and public services.

Will the real Ryan Zinke please stand up?


When President Trump named Ryan Zinke Secretary of the Interior, he was hardly a household name in D.C. But Zinke, who often reminds people that he served 23 years as a Navy SEAL, has long had plans for greatness. After retiring from the Navy, he went from serving as Montana’s sole House representative to recommending himself for Speaker of the House should Paul Ryan turn down the gig. He’d only been in Washington 10 months. He didn’t get that job, but he made friends with Donald Trump Jr., bonding over a shared belief that public lands should be controlled by the federal government, and that connection opened doors at the White House. In his first few months as secretary, Zinke billed himself as a Teddy Roosevelt conservationist, but he’s made people doubt the resemblance, after lifting the ban on offshore drilling, launching a review of national monuments and promising to slash all regulations on fracking.

In Memory of Lizzie Grossman

We recently lost a friend and contributor Lizzie Grossman, a talented writer on environmental health among other topics. We wanted to point you to the work she did for us, and some recent remembrances at Civil Eats and Oregon Public Broadcasting. She was highly respected among the community of environmental journalists – and will be greatly missed.

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