Saccharin and food beliefs

I’m a southerner and thus am addicted to sweet tea. (This means iced tea, obviously.) During the hot months, I brew my own at home in 1.5 gallon jugs. I probably go ~2 jugs a week.

… yeah.

“Real” sweet tea is made with sugar, but I use Sweet ‘N Low – saccharin. I buy it in bulk packs. When I tell people about this, some recoil – surely that can’t be good for you, right? Doesn’t saccharin cause cancer?

Saccharin does not cause cancer. Those tiny warnings everyone remembers – “this product has been shown to cause cancer in rats,” etc. – has been gone since 2000, since the FDA and the EPA reviewed those studies, which dated from the early ’70s, and concluded they were mostly bad science. But earlier controversies over artificial sweeteners, combined with modern-day paranoia about additives, have conspired to probably permanently stigmatize saccharin. Natural sugar (refined or not) is much worse for you on almost every level: it rots your teeth, fries your nervous system, is full of calories and more. None of that is true for saccharin. But the “cancer” smear has sort of set.

People’s food beliefs are strongly linked to their disgust reflexes, which are set early in life and extremely difficult to change thereafter, and are rarely rational. We Americans have our own culturally constructed mythology about what makes food “clean.” You can get a piece of six-month old, hormone-fed, antibiotic-bathed piece of chicken breast fried in day-old peanut oil, but as long as it is wrapped in shiny foil and never touched by an ungloved human hand, it is considered “clean.” Meanwhile, many European consumers find the notion of a genetically modified ear of corn, picked fresh from the farm, utterly, viscerally revolting. A lot of Africans I know relish a nice stick of boiled manioc wrapped in banana leaf, but are a little repulsed by the level of sweetness in a lot of American foods.

Once you start realizing how utterly arbitrary our food mythologies are, your world of food sort of opens up, but also collapses around you at the same time.

Markets in everything – Gwyneth Paltrow edition

The next time you have an idea, but then think “surely no one would possibly buy that,” remember that Gwyneth Paltrow is selling packs of stickers – yes, stickers – that she says “promote healing” for $60 a pop for packs of 10. Everyone’s favorite homeopathic shuckster invokes science to claim that her $6/a sticker scam is based on tech:

Vox busted them on claiming it was based on NASA technology, too.

Last I looked, their inventory was sold out. People buy this stuff. Whether you see that as exploiting easily-mislead simpletons or cashing in on homeopathic faddism is up to you. But it means that your idea probably isn’t stupid, either.


I nurse a moderate coffee addiction and a sweet tooth. Possibly as a result, over time I have a very low sensitivity to stimulants. This has both good and bad effects, but isn’t my point today.

Imagine you’re a striving young European intellectual in the mid 17th century. A lot is going on in Europe at this time – it would’ve been an exciting (albeit dangerous) time to be young and doing stuff. People you know start drinking this weird beverage called “coffee” which acts like lighter fluid on your brain. It was immediately associated with the intelligentsia and revolutionary troublemaking, which is why kings began outlawing it from their realms. (They tried for over a century – King Charles II in 1676 to Frederick the Great in 1777.) Many rulers wanted their people to go back to drinking beer instead, for obvious reasons.

The introduction of coffee gave its consumers an unfair competitive advantage over non-coffee drinkers, particularly those doing the knowledge work of the time. Caffeine is a psychotropic drug, after all. I wonder if it was received something like adderall is today among the wealthy, plugged-in urban set. I know lots of people (almost all white and from money) who went through college/grad school popping adderall to study and pull all-nighters. (Needless to say, none of them were ever the least bit worried about being caught/punished. Privilege at work.) That said, there’s still some lingering stigma around popping pharmaceuticals like this.

Of course, adderall ain’t caffeine. Different degrees of effect. But it does make me think about how performance enhancing drugs – and they’re all just drugs! – are culturally normalized over time.

Lastly – do you know about chewable coffee? I discovered this stuff a few months ago and love it now. Basically it’s gummy coffee-flavored cubes that pack caffeine. Recommend: GoCubes

Hello world!

I’m restarting my own site. I’ve wanted to do this for a while, but, well, am just now getting around to it.

2017 has been a really busy year that is only going to get busier. I’ve been learning to focus more, which is good!

Things I have yet to do this year that I still want to:

  • Publish up the serial fiction thing I’ve been writing.
  • Read more fiction.
  • Launch an interesting side project with a few buddies of mine.
  • 1000-lb club at the gym
  • Buy a new banjo and re-learn. (I learned to play while in the Peace Corps, but had to leave it there.)

Some things I’ve basically cut out:

  • Facebook. Haven’t deactivated my account, but I’m basically off it.
  • Most TV. Reality is stranger than almost anything they come up with.
  • Reading distractions. I’ve tried to get better at quality > quantity.

Tips? Let me know.