“I'm a young soul in this very strange world hoping
  I could learn a bit about what is true and fake.” Yael Naim, "New Soul"

“It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." Mark Twain, or Josh Billings or Satchel Paige or Yogi Berra or Will Rogers or somebody we never heard of

“A lie can go halfway around the world before the truth even has its shoes on.” Mark Twain

“The researches of many commentators have already thrown much darkness on this subject, and it is probable that if they continue we shall soon know nothing at all about it.” Mark Twain

Beware of False Friends

I grew up on a farm where we raised and slaughtered much of our own meat. One of my family’s favorite dishes was tripe, though we had to purchase that since we hadn’t the resources to raise cows; surprisingly, for some reason, tripe was quite inexpensive. I’d read about the succulent dish in a Charles Dickens Christmas tale, and begged my Mom to make us some. She had been raised a true country girl, in an actual log cabin with no electricity or running water, but tripe was new to her. She was a great cook, though; she referred to her library of cookbooks and soon served us the first of many meals featuring chewy, pan-fried honeycomb tripe, liberally doused with fresh lemon juice. She would make it for my sister and myself as a special treat, when we’d been extra good. Now that I’m a vegetarian I fear I will never again experience that particular taste, as I’m afraid the day is far off when there will be a meat analog product intended to simulate cows’ stomachs.

Tripe is also a slang term for nonsense. defines it as: Slang. something, esp. speech or writing, that is false or worthless; rubbish. Many of us came to vegetarianism reluctantly, and only after a great deal of research and soul-searching. Once we’ve made that transition we may be prone to reject other mainstream assumptions and, perhaps, too quickly embrace alternative concepts. This page is an attempt to challenge nutrition and health theories that are unproven or, as in the case of >snort<  homeopathy, downright ridiculous. I will consider health myths in general, but in particular those that are popular amongst the vegetarian community of which I am a part. I know that there are many true believers in many of these practices, and that some will react skeptically, perhaps even hostilely. I get that every day when advocating vegetarianism or veganism. I urge you to keep an open mind. Not so open, of course, that any old thing can find its way in and make a nest.

Remember, vegetarians and vegans don’t swallow tripe. Or any other bovine product that might also be synonymous with nonsense.

Angstrom Minerals: A Brand New Fraud  You can be the first on your block to be suckered by a brand new bit of twaddle. An online acquaintance happened to mention she’d just dropped $99 for a bottle of “angstrom minerals.” I responded, ”A $99 bottle of minerals???!!! What???!!! I could have bought my last car for the price of TWO of those! What the hell does the wavelength of the red line of cadmium in air, of which it would be the 6438.46963th part, have to do with minerals? Our bodies have muddled along with regular-sized minerals for quite a while.” She only knew that these minerals were “more accessible.” Apparently this particular ”must-have superfood” has only recently been invented, with a hoard of hucksters swiftly jumping the claim of whatever visionary bunco artist first thought it up. It seems the use of the word angstrom, in this case, is intended to mean itsy-bitsy, much smaller than minerals in their usual bloated, unwieldy state, so small they practically fall through the pores in your intestinal track, and effortlessly find their way to just where they're needed. As of now, there seems to be no one debunking this new nutrient we’re lucky to have survived the course of mankind’s evolution without. I have only my only my single course in organic chemistry and another in, ummm, regular chemistry. Happily, I have the reaction of a real chemist, Dr. Stephen Lower.

“I had never heard of ‘Angstrom minerals,’ but a Google search reveals a thriving commerce in this area, often by the same outfits that hawk ‘water ionizers’ and other dubious wonders. I find it amusing that they all claim that these substances are a million times smaller than colloidal particles. Colloids vary in size from 5nm to around 200 nm. Taking 100 nm as a rough measure, a million times smaller would be 0.1 pm - which is indeed small - smaller even than the smallest known atom, which is hydrogen, whose covalent radius is 31 pm! One company offers Angstrom germanium - an element having no known biological function - which they claim has all kinds of essential qualities, and ‘is believed to be an anti-cancer agent.' ” Which means the angstrom minerals are so small they’re even smaller - much smaller - than the very atoms that compose those minerals! You can buy perfectly mineral supplements for around $5. Honest. Give the other $94 to charity, maybe to Darfur relief or to women fleeing from real or virtual slavery or to Sea Shepherd. Or to anybody other than those scheming conmen trying to line their own pockets by playing us for fools!

Baloney Detector Carl Sagan’s word for baseless nonsense, especially that peddled to the public for profit (politics and religions aside), was baloney. Vegetarians don’t swallow no tripe nor no baloney, neither. But how can a non-scientist tell baloney from good, honest substance? Carl developed a Baloney Detector that he made freely available. Not much of a businessman, I have to say. I’m working on one I’ll be selling here very soon at the introductory price of $19.95. It will be an all-natural fragment of mineral aggregate, which, in use, is suspended from interwoven strands of henequen fibers and which responds to baloney by swinging in a circular path and by to straightforward statements of fact by swinging straightforwardly. During this introductory period we will send you not one but TWO of the John Mayer Baloney Detectors for the same low price! But, if you prefer to actually figure things out for yourself - and who has time for that?! - here is a miniature of the Sagan version. Here is Carl’s own surprisingly moving explanation of the process. And if you don't have time to read that many words, here’s Michael Shermer’s encapsulation of the main points on You Tube. BTW, Michael Shermer mentions global warming, here. Early on he, himself, doubted that humans were contributing to global warming. Also, I did NOT steal his ”open mind” gag. Great Minds think alike.

Coconut Oil: Still Bad for You  Since we vegetarians are so trusting, some unscrupulous conmen have decided we’ll swallow anything. The latest is the resurgence of coconut oil. At a recent veggie potluck whereat Mary Kaos demonstrated how to prepare her excellent Indian kofta I was surprised to hear someone urge her to switch to coconut oil. I thought everyone knew that tropicals were possibly even worse for you than lard. Well, not any more, thanks to the power of the internet and silly or greedy advocates. Since it’s so common and since it keeps so well - saturated oils tend to have a long shelf life - it can be bought cheap. Then all they have to do is convince us it’s really a health food and they can sell high, the most basic principle of accumulating wealth. I read somewhere than anyone can get rich if they don’t care how; the coconut oil boom proves it. When I went home to try to research my concerns the first several pages of results were all sites pooh-poohing worries about saturated fats, telling us they were, in fact, salubrious, and offering to do us the kindness of selling us some. It’s a lie. Diets high in saturated fats are still likely to produce heart disease. The American Heart Association and the World Health Organization urge us to eat less of them. Of course, they may be just out to undermine the profits of veggie lard vendors. I’d earlier made the mistake of referring readers to the Wikipedia site, forgetting how easily Wikipedia can be changed from good info to bad by those with an ax to grind or a scam to promote. The crooks have a lot more incentive than the good guys to spread misinformation which enriches them, kills those who fall for it. No problem for the crooks, though; there’s a sucker born every minute. Here’s a brief word from the American Heart Association.

And here’s what kindly Dr. Sears has to say:
Oils such as coconut, palm, and palm kernel are the least healthful naturally-occurring oils. Yet because they are inexpensive, taste good, and have a long shelf life, they are frequently used in packaged foods such as cereal and cookies. Coconut oil, for example, is the ideal oil to use in chocolate candy, since it is solid at room temperature, but melts in the mouth. Food processors, especially in the candy industry, separate the tropical oils so that they don't have to list them collectively as "tropical oils" on the label, possibly tipping off consumers to the fact that they are eating a cholesterol-raising fat. Don't be misled by the white label lie "contains no cholesterol." Plant foods don't contain cholesterol. But coconut oil, for example, is high in the saturated fat lauric acid, one of the most heart-unhealthy fats.

Here is a quote from The Pritikin Edge by Dr. Robert Vogel and P.T. Lehr: The tropical oils such as palm, palm kernal and coconut oil contain considerable saturated fat and very little Omega-3s and are as bad for your arteries as butter and lard. Polynesians who eat considerable quantities of coconut oil have very high cholesterol levels.

Since the 1980’s major exporters of coconut oil Malaysia and the Phillipines, along with the US Food Industry which loves using the cheap, long-lasting and palatable goo, have been trying to override science with propaganda. The internet has, at last, made that easy for them. But don’t fall for it. I’ll add more here as I find time.

Coconut Pitchman Mercola Busted by FDA Dr. Mercola (DO, that is) was ordered by the FDA to quit shucking the public about the merits of a number of products sold on his website. Including coconut oil. Mercola is extremely popular; a number of chiropractors refer clients to his products. Figures. Yeah, I’m down on chiropractors, too. In fact, I‘m pretty much down on all bunco artists.

Soybeans: Still Good for You  One of the stranger phenomena of the food fights of recent years is the abrupt onslaught of vitriolic attacks on soy products for human consumption. Since soy is the one plant product that contains all essential amino acids in significant quantity, it is a mainstay of vegetarian diets (though, of course, there in no real need to get all our protein from a single plant). Thus, it is tempting to suspect a secret campaign by the meat industry to make us mistrust our true friend, the soy bean. Add to that hucksters soy-milking current nutritional uncertainties to make names for themselves where obscurity should have been their lot (The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food). Some (including, alas, a few parents) confuse soy milk with soy infant formula. There is confusion among many about human estrogens and plant phytoestrogens. Some trumpet that soy makes boys gay and young men aggressive, summoning up a homophobic’s worst nightmare. But a meta-study, to be published soon in the journal Fertility and Sterility, showed that neither soy foods nor more concentrated soy isoflavone extracts affected testosterone levels in men.

Briefly (more, as always, as I find time): The merits of soy are well documented, the dangers unproven speculation, based on the molecular similarities between estrogens and phytoestrogens (which means similar to, not the same as, mammalian estrogents). It is, in fact, this similarity that accounts for at least some of the benefits of soy products in that it can act as an antagonist to real, human estrogen. Human estrogen actually DOES pose a threat to women, which is why early menses and late menopause are disease factors.

Debi, a blogger to a thread on healthier school lunches in Knoxville, wrote: I'm not really arguing cancer as much as mimicking estrogens. The benefits vs risk of soy to menopausal women is one thing, the lack of needing estrogen supplementation on young girls is another. We already have major problems with precocious puberty in females, I suggest that soy might possibly not be the best drink for young girls who may already have risk factors for such an issue. That said, I am aware also of the association with cow milk, so I am far from having the answers.

My response:  I’m not sure if you’re suggesting that soy foods would, in essence, supplement girls’ natural estrogen and thereby suppress their own production, calling for estrogen supplementation later, or that the soy foods themselves would constitute a form of estrogen supplementation. To the extent that phytoestrogens have any effect at all it would be, of course, by mimicking estrogen in some fashion, but that can be by way of blocking estrogen receptors, making a form of anti-estrogen, which is how soy helps protect against cancer later in life. By denying young girls soy foods it is likely we increase their danger of cancer.

In countries where high levels of soy are consumed rampant sexual precocity is not a problem. That’s because though isoflavones RESEMBLE estrogen, they are NOT estrogen. “The reason soy estrogens work to prevent breast cancer is because isoflavones have anti-estrogenic - as well as anticarcinogenic - properties. Soy estrogens don't mimic estrogen in the body as many people think they do (unless estrogen levels are dangerously low), but actually lower estrogen levels by keeping estrogen from entering the cells. By blocking cell receptors, soy estrogens keep estrogen levels from climbing high enough to encourage the growth of cancer cells. Also, isoflavones have cancer-fighting properties to boot.“ [reporting on an article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. One feasibility study suggests the biggest issue with teenage girls and soy might be in getting them to eat it:

Soy might also be beneficial to men in reducing prostate cancer. I say “might” because studies are still on-going. Every indication so far is that soy foods are healthy and nutritious, likely of benefit in reducing the risk of breast cancer among women IF they are introduced at an early. Future research may reveal some currently unrecognized negative aspect, just as it might in rutabagas or any other food. But at present there is no good reason to avoid them, and some good reasons to include them in our diet.

There is way more food faddism than food fact on the internet. I don’t know why people latch on to the concepts of one healthy food as a menace and another dubious nutrient (ionic water, anyone?) as a “superfood.” People like Dianne Greg and Kaayla Daniel have managed to make a lot of money by fomenting hysteria about soy. I have to give them credit for discovering a niche market it never would have occurred to me to exploit.

An issue I believe parallels concerns about soy milk is the threat of the colorless, odorless industrial solvent dihydrogen monoxide (also called hydroxylic acid), used almost without restraint in any number of industrial processes throughout our country. See the last article on this page.

Note: Since there is at least some slight theoretical basis for further investigation we should keep up with ongoing research. But, as of now, there is no evidence that soy is harmful, only speculation that it might be, and plenty of evidence that soy products are nutritious and their consumption reduces the risk of some cancers and heart disease, with tempeh appearing to have some advantages over other forms.

Are Artificial Sweeteners a Threat to Our Health? No; Sugar Is  Ever since alarms first circulated about saccharin causing cancer, decades ago, there has been an undercurrent of suspicion about every artificial sweetener to follow, as though sidestepping the natural consequences of one’s sweet tooth was thwarting God’s will. Study after study has shown that, in anything even remotely logical in the use of them there is no established link with cancer. The Acceptable Daily Intake is set at 1/100th the amount found to be harmful in lab animals. That still allows for a lot of self-indulgence. For Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal), for example, a 150 pound person can go ahead and add 97 packets of sweetener to their coffee, or drink 15-20 cans of diet soda, depending on the brand. The most recent study, in Italy, (published this August) sought a link between artificial sweeteners and pancreatic, gastric and endometrial cancers. There wasn’t one. The dangers of sugar, however, are many and well documented. More at Calorie Control Council’s Q & A page.

Vegetarianism Good; Food Fads Bad: The Blood Type Diet  Because we've come to realize our culture is so misguided about its dietary habits, we begin to grow suspicious of all conventional wisdom and to embrace everything that runs counter to standard practice and - sometimes - to our common sense. If mainstream medicine has failed us perhaps, we feel, we shoud turn to osteopathy or homeopathy or healing touch thrapy. But just because a theory challenges a system that's less than perfect doesn't make that theory any more correct; each must be scrutinized logically and validated or discredited based on its own proofs. Some folk remedies actually work - and universities have sent ethnobotanists into the world's rainforests to discover those that do - and some are superstitious myths. I, personally, confess myself homeopatophobic; the homeopathic "system" is complete hogwash based on sympathetic magic. Now that I'm free to make the "controversial" statements that so troubled the VSET board, I'll mention that chiropractic and the practice (not the study) of psychology also merit our profound skepticism, though I know true believers will be outraged by that sentiment.  But, perhaps, as vegetarians, we can agree as to the folly of the "blood type" diet, which holds that some of us are biologically destined to be vegetarians and some to be omnivores. Here's a paper I wrote on the subject for a nutrition class (in which... >ahem<  I got an A): Dieting: as simple as AB

. Creative Commons License Dieting: as Simple as AB? by John Mayer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Confessions of a Homeopathophobic I'm a great fan of the Three Rivers Market; I was there before the beginning, scraping linoleum and printer's ink off the floor. Remind me to tell you of our ill-fated rooftop garden sometime; that was my idea. And I've never criticized the good folks there beyond a disappointed demurrer when they added meat to their offerings. But I was compelled to object when their promotional email not only mentioned the homeopathic remedies they carry, but actually endorsed one to protect members in the upcoming flu and cold season. This is said to protect against - and contain the essence of, since that's the theory of sympathetic magic, which seems to be the basis for homeopathy - the bad vibes germ Oscillococcinum. The germ is called Oscillococcinum because it vibrates. No, I'm not making this up; homeopathy is really, really silly. Three Rivers promotes the homeo remedy for this bug (the real cause of colds and flue and just about any other disease that might trouble you) right under a link to Benefits and Responsibilites of Ownership , mentioning that its worth has been validated "as evidenced by four clinical studies."Following is the copy endorsing Oscillococcinum™ (same as the name of the universal germ it "cures") from the Three Rivers email, and my response. I haven't received a reply.


Oscillococcinum (or Oscillo) (Pronounced o-sill-o-cox-see-num)

• Oscillo helps to reduce the duration and severity of flu symptoms as evidenced by four clinical studies.
• Oscillo works best when taken at the first sign of flu˜when you start feeling the chills, fever, body aches and pain. It is very easy to take. Pour the content of one tube in your mouth and let it dissolve. Repeat for two more doses at six-hour intervals.
• The benefits of Oscillo as a homeopathic medicine are: Safe for the whole family˜from two year olds to seniors. There are no known side effects, it does not interact with other drugs, and is not contraindicated with pre-existing conditions. Does not mask potentially new developing symptoms that could be an indication of a more serious condition.

Any information provided by our staff is for informational purposes only, and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your doctor or other healthcare professional. You should not use such information for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or as a substitute for prescribing medications. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. ~ eNews from Three Rivers Market

Speaking of "responsibilities," you have a responsibility to your shareholders and customers not to foist worthless quack medicines off on them. Not only are you wasting the money of those who take you at your word (just where were these "clinical studies" published?), you might actually endanger the health of those who decide to try this diluted pate de foie gras instead of taking a more realistic course of treatment for the flu like getting a flu shot or even just staying in bed, not to mention the other maladies this crap supposedly "cures." Despite your statement to the contrary, you obviously are not selling this as a "dietary supplement" and may even be placing the co-op in a legally precarious position. Here's a link to one of the first sites on this bunk that I came up with with a cursory search: The History of Oscillococcinum

Since many of your customers are vegetarians, and since many people confuse homeopathic with herbal remedies, you probably should at least inform customers that the "active" ingredients are duck liver and heart, although, as is the practice in authentic homeopathic remedies, so diluted that it scarcely matters. Wikipedia says: "The ingredients of a 1 gram tube of Oscillococcinum are listed as: •Active: Anas Barbariae Hepatis et Cordis Extractum HPUS 200CK (extract of the liver and heart of wild duck, diluted by a factor of ten to the 200th power.) •Inactive: 0.85g Sucrose, 0.15g Lactose." Unlike most homeopathic remedies (also worthless), oscillococcinum is a proprietary product; it also differs in being even more diluted than most, to the extent that its "active" ingredient is pretty much irrelevant, except in principle.

I've never taken strong issue with Three Rivers' stocking decisions (I've only mildly suggested that we return to our vegetarian origins), but this is really bad. The next step would be selling charms to ward off cancer and prevent VD. Please; your patrons deserve better.

Yours truly, John Mayer

Lying Eyes: Iridology I got a notice from the Asheville Vegetarians informing me of two events; one was the Organicfest, which sounded worthwhile, the other was a visit from an “Iridologist,” yet another form of quackery. Again, I regret the mindset that seeks to equate vegetarianism and veganism, logical and evidence-based approaches to health (among other motivations) with some of the silliest of practices. Even though the notion that there are little trouble gauges in the dashboard of our eyes seems ridiculous, any practice that becomes widespread enough is likely to get some serious scrutiny, and iridology has been studied by real scientists. The results, in short, revealed not a shred of validity. Learn more at trusty Quackwatch. The eyes might be the windows of the soul, but they don’t tell us much about the body. This nonsense is especially annoying to me, having lost my left eye to contact sports and a series of operations attempting to save it (yeah, conventional medicine definitely has its limits). No doubt an iridiological analysis of my left eye would reveal me to be dead. JM

Nation Awakening to Dangers of Hydroxl Acid. Just as a hitman may have several aliases, this potentially deadly compound is also called dihydrous oxide, dihydrogen monoxide or simply dhmo. Scientists and industrialists have long known of its dangers, but placed a higher value on its importance as a widely used industrial solvent than on the scores of lives it costs directly in this country alone each year, to say nothing of the hundreds of deaths to which it contributes; for example, it decreases the effectiveness of brakes. Dhmo accelerates the corrosion of metal and can cause tissue damage to human skin with prolonged exposure; it is colorless and odorless and can be fatal if inhaled. Learn more about hydroxl acid.

There is no question that hydroxl acid is ubiquitous in our industrialized nation, far less so in some of the middle eastern countries we are even now attempting to Westernize. But for how long? You can find links to both sides of the controversy at There is an article concerning PeTA's presumably unwitting endorsement of the use of products containing dhmo here. With new public awareness have come calls for action; one city councilman recently called for banning its use in a local factory, depite the potential loss of jobs. This issue points up the importance of focusing the limited energy and resources of the nation's vegetarians on those issues that pose the greatest threat to the nation's health and our own, and to our principles of compassion, and that we arm ourselves with as much information as possible in the process.