Response to Julie Kelly, Nina Teicholz, and Supporters of The Big Fat Surprise

An interesting exchange including yours truly occurred on Twitter this past week.   It was between a writer at National Review Online, Julie Kelly, and myself.  Subject:  Down with Dissenters! Elite Food Activists Disinvite a Meat Advocate from a Food-Policy Conference and Nina Teicholz, the disinvitee.


 A brief synopsis of what transpired to bring it about:

  • Virtually unknown journalist, billed as a science journalist, gets unspecified book deal to write copy-cat book on the history of nutrition science.  Said book is The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.  Said person being Nina Teicholz.
  • In 2015, Nina Teicholz becomes deeply involved in the political process and founds an organization -- The Nutrition Coalition -- through which to concentrate efforts to derail the 2015 Dietary Guidelines and influence national food policy. 
  • On September 23, 2015, the BMJ publishes an "investigation" by Teicholz in their main journal, that was funded by the Laura & John Arnold Foundation.  This article not only side stepped and stomped all over any precedent or procedural norms for a once-prestigious academic journal, but contained numerous factual errors.
  • Said journal article served as the rallying cry for the meat-and-associated-industry-lobbies, and its timing was more than suspect given that hearings were to be held in a matter of weeks.  The Nutrition Coalition would finally be unveiled at or just prior to these hearings.
  • The Guidelines were delayed but came out in January to mixed reviews all around, and it seems the major parts of the DGAC report remained. Although sustainability as a factor was nixed, there were some wins for the Butter-is-the-New-Black brigade.  
  • For more background you may wish to catch up on our nutritional would-be or wanna-be heroine with this post:  Nina Teicholz, The BMJ, The Nutrition Coalition and nutrition science's George Soros: The Laura and John Arnold Foundation 
  • 2016 has seen prominent MDs -- e.g. David Ludwig and Mark Hyman -- publish pro-fat books and the political battle rages on ....
So last week, there was a meeting of the minds set up by the Consumer Federation of America.    Their Facebook blurb:  
This year’s agenda explores key food policy issues affecting consumers, the food industry and government. The agenda offers a variety of facilitated discussions, from examining the presidential candidates’ food policy positions, to exploring consumer demand for more information about how foods are produced. With GMO labeling, federal food assistance programs, and the Food Safety Modernization Act all making headlines, there’ll be no shortage of timely topics brought to life in sessions and breakout panels.
Here's the full lineup for what transpired.   You'll see CSPI is there, various government types, current and former members of the DGAC, etc.  And ... apparently Nina Teicholz was invited, then -- at "last minute" -- disinvited from participating.  The disinvite apparently came at the behest of other panel members who apparently did not wish to participate if she were on the panel(s).  This outraged supporters and one even started a petition ... 
Nina Teicholz was included in the Food Policy Panel, at a conference organized by the Consumer Federation of America. This gave the world some chance of seeing correct science being included in our nutritional guidelines. But she has now been thrown off - and replaced with a person from the potato industry. Right. ...
Said petition was widely shared by the usual suspects on social media and garnered some several thousand signatures to no avail. This led Teicholz to gather her troops from the Nutrition Coalition for a press conference this past Tuesday (day before the conference) and was streamed live.  A video was up for a short time but has been taken down, presumably because the first half hour or so was trying to get the streaming working.  Luckily yours truly has a top secret source that sent me the video, send me an email and I'll set you up if I know you (or even probably if I don't, carbsane ... gmail ... you know the drill ... and hopefully they put an edited video up shortly anyway).   

The Twitter Stuff ... Remember?

Oh yeah.  The social media frenzy over Ms. Teicholz's disinvite was full of the whole conspiracy, silencing-dissenters, they-are-afraid-of-the-truth, they-can't-handle-the-science type rhetoric, and I can think of nothing more exemplary than this piece written in the National Review Online:  Down with Dissenters! Elite Food Activists Disinvite a Meat Advocate from a Food-Policy Conference.  At least the title of the article called Teicholz a "meat advocate", but you'd think not based on the response to my exchange with one of the authors.  
Teicholz is an investigative journalist and author of the best-selling book The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet, which exposes how Americans have been fed a steady diet of government-backed bad nutrition advice for more than five decades. Shoddy science that blamed saturated fat for heart disease took hold in the 1950s; “experts” cooked up the low-fat, high-carb diet that has been promoted by everyone from the federal government to nanny-state food police to your family doctor. A trillion-dollar industry still profits from sticking to this dietary advice, even in the face of emerging science, increased obesity, and exploding diabetes rates.
Those special interests are now scheming to not only discredit but also outright silence Teichholz.
I'll have a few more quotes for you, but this lays on a thick base coat.   I could see if this were written in 2014, but it's practically criminal at this point that Teicholz's fantasy that somehow Ancel Keys and Co. "cooked up" a low fat diet, and before 1980 everyone was eating a high fat diet.    Come on.  Who believes that?   But this is more about the conspiracy angle, and this idea that somehow the *true science* being brought by dissenter messengers is being ignored or actively squelched.  If another ignorant regurgitator of the nonsense uses Teicholz's example of France to further the LIE that is "cherry picking", I'm going to bust a gut.  How many times can this LIE be repeated and outright plagiarized?

But I digress ...

So here are some screenshots relevant tweets, that began with the following:
I then replied with a second tweet that touched off an exchange with the co-author of the NRO piece, Julie Kelly.    

Let me address this briefly.  Beginning in 2012 a certain well-known blogger threatened me in several posts and comments on his blog, including several calling me a moron c**t.  He later decided to declare internet war on me, and in 2013 a blog was established to systematically harass and intimidate me.   (The details of all of this I'd rather not discuss, those who were around at the time know, I ask of those who weren't to let it go and thank you in advance.  It is history and some history is best left to fade...)   I sought legal counsel at the time and followed their advice to, among other things, disassociate my full name and likeness from this blog and social media and limit what I put in public view.  One cannot unring a bell, put toothpaste back in the tube, and all that jazz -- especially in this day and age of the internet -- but there are some things one can do to control what is or is not viewed as "public".  That's all I will say about that.  If people like Julie Kelly wish to question my motives for speaking out against the "crimes against science" committed by the likes of Nina Teicholz, so be it.  If she has legitimate concerns, then she should contact me, and her refusal in the face of demands for public disclosures on Twitter don't reflect kindly on her.   My invitation to her to do so in her professional capacity still stands.  This long standing blog is clearly not a front for some nefarious person funded surreptitiously funded by Big Somesuch.  I'm not exactly sure what evidence of not being a corporate shill I am supposed to provide, but sadly Big Bean has yet to pay up for my favorable commentary on legumes - grin.

For the sake of argument, if I were a paid advocate for some group, that might be interesting information, but still doesn't change the validity of what I write here about Teicholz, or any other subject for that matter.   You see, I back up what I write about with easily checkable references that support my contentions.  If you don't like something you read here, "don't blame the messenger" may be a phrase to apply.  I don't even care that Teicholz is clearly unqualified academically, ultimately it is her unsubstantiated claims that require review and criticism, because the likes of Kelly and colleagues apparently cannot be bothered.  Not only has the mainstream given Teicholz a complete pass, basically promoting her book for sensational headlines and promises that butter is the new spirulina, but outskirt-media has given her a pass as well, and considering the politics involved in these polarized times, this is especially interesting.

click to enlarge
It would appear that I am one of scant few (is there anyone else besides Seth?) specifically fact checking The Big Fat Surprise.   Nina has "responded" to Seth, but not to me, unless you count changing her book in the paperback edition to further compound the problems with the original, and the few exchanges on Twitter or Marion Nestle's blog before Teicholz blocks me or picks up her toys and leaves.   Teicholz has never responded to challenges to her "facts" by supporting those facts.   Fact.   Denigrating Seth, that she has time for, including misrepresenting the fact that, unlike her, he actually is credentialed in the field.

So back to Ms. Kelly ... Nina Teicholz's credentials, or lack thereof, are a matter of public record for good reason:  they are put forth with her offering in order to make the case that she's qualified to represent *something* in the national nutritional science/food policy debate.  This is what she presumably threw a hissy fit about convened a press conference to address last week.  Teicholz claims she is representing those interested in seeing that "good science" underlies the government's dietary recommendations.  But the reality is, as the title of Kelly's own article states, Teicholz is a "meat advocate".   She is not an objective journalist, scientist, political pundit, etc.   To expand the term "meat advocate" beyond article-title-length, let me say this:
Nina Teicholz is a paid advocate for the meat industry and has served as keynote speaker at events put on by various organizations dedicated to promoting this aspect of the food industry.  She has also lobbied US and Canadian politicians face-to-face on matters of nutritional policy.   
And yet she does not present herself as such to the general public.  There she masquerades as a dissenter to the mainstream scientific consesus, promulgated by the US government, at the behest of scientists bought and paid for by industry ... "other" industry of course, not her benefactors.   And the media gives her a pass.  Does that sound harsh?  Uncalled for?  Perhaps it is, but it really needs to be put out there and discussed.  Teicholz is demanding a seat at the conference not to represent the interests of the people, but to defend the meat industry against anything that may impact sales of their product.  It really is that simple.    If you read the petition, you'd think that the Mother Teresa of nutritional knowledge was being replaced by the potato industry's version of Dr. Evil.   It's just not so.  This is not to say that the motives are pure or tainted for any of the participants in that conference, only that at least we know where these people are coming from and whose interests they represent.

I can only conclude from her responses in this next exchange, that Ms. Kelly is herself unaware of the facts either.

Ahh, OK.  So Kelly is apparently not a reporter.  So what then?  Author of political commentary on NRO?  OK.   Usually when I write on a subject, I like to know a bit about it.  Mashups of gush and conspiracy are not my cup of tea, but if I were going to write something like the article in question, I'd do a little homework first if for no other reason but to save myself from embarrassment!

What is this new rule here?  If someone is going to criticize a public figure in a public venue they are required to furnish name, rank and serial number?   That's not how it works in the real world Julie, and it's a common intimidation tactic you should at least be aware of.   More in a bit ...

That she considers the question about Teicholz's lobbying activities a "cheap shot" can mean one of two things:  either she doesn't think it's true, or she thinks it's true but for some reason that is not relevant to the story.  Neither puts Kelly in a good light, but I'm hoping it's merely sheer ignorance talking here.   Here's an idea.  If you are going to write for a political outfit like the National Review Online, perhaps you should keep up with what is published on other sites?  Like ... say ... Politico?*

The bestselling author was recently published in a controversial piece in the British Medical Journal, where she slammed the Dietary Guidelines process. Teicholz has been working the Hill for months (passing out copies of her book along the way), using lobbyists the Nutrition Coalition hired to get sit-downs with lawmakers and key staffers. She has also gotten a face-to-face with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
* It would appear that Kelly and/or Stier does mine Politico for information, as they cite a Politico report on the disinvite in their article.    Did they miss the reporting on Teicholz and the Nutrition Coalition last fall?   
Whether or not Teicholz is herself registered as a lobbyist is irrelevant.  It is not a "cheap shot" or anything similar to simply call her activities what they are:  lobbying.    The Twitter exchange was joined in by a troll (sorry, I call them as I see them) who inferred that I might be working for some starch mafia and have some serious ulterior motives.  I'm not giving this nonsense facetime here, but it is important that the supposedly serious Julie Kelly reiterated her "demand" that I disclose my identity publicly on Twitter.

So Twitter is not the place for serious discussions, Ms. Kelly.  So I will tweet this to you and you will read it, or you will show yourself to be among the willful ignorancia.  Oh you'll read this, like you read all the pieces you linked to in your bio of sorts on your advocacy website.    One would *think* that someone such as yourself might understand a thing or two about privacy and the internet and making demands on people, given what you've been through, but I guess not.  Again, I'll get back to this in just a bit.

But to the point about silencing dissent, I do not believe that disinviting Teicholz is doing so.  There is no entitlement to a seat at the table there to begin with, and if Teicholz is there to represent the interests of the meat industry -- as there are representatives of various other groups, with no ambiguity as to the whats and whys of their representation -- then it is still the Consumer Federation's prerogative to host her.  Of course the better scenario would have involved her not being invited in the first place, but those who objected to her participation have that right, and they have the right to leverage their own participation as they did.

Last exchange:  (note I had to do some editing to group related tweets that were not nested, and reverse order of display to read two others)

Unlike the Twitter troll, Teicholz herself (a topic for another day perhaps, and others in the past, I don't just make up conspiracy theories about people and spout them on the internet.  Back in the early days of this blog when I was fully anonymous, perhaps that made some sense.   It was still a diversionary tactic to avoid addressing the issues, but at least it might seem plausible.    But I've been around for years now.  And anyone who thinks I'm some paid political hack or industry operative is just not dealing with a full deck at this point ... cute as you think you might be with your jokes.

If Kelly thinks mentioning Teicholz's ties is taking pot shots at her, insinuating things that aren't true, or an attempt to smear her good name, she really must be ignorant.  Even if she just found out about this controversy, surely Kelly read the BMJ article?   Here ya go Julie:  Nina Teicholz Reports in the British Medical Journal ~ The Conflicts & Funding and Nina Teicholz, The BMJ, The Nutrition Coalition and nutrition science's George Soros: The Laura and John Arnold Foundation.  I think that ought to bring you up to speed and you'll note that I corrected some speculations in the second post.  Which reminds me, things have been so crazy that an update has been languishing ~three-quarters complete in my draft bin for months (YIKES!!) now.  Hope to dust that off.  But be sure to pay close attention to the pictures, especially these (click to enlarge).  


The presser Nina called was with members of HER Nutrition Coalition, one whose "About" page no longer even bears her name.  A group that unveiled itself at the 11th hour on Capitol Hill so that nobody could check and vet beforehand.  Nothing to be concerned with there?  Just who is this voice of dissent you feel is entitled to a place at the table?

So the other replies and relevant tweets in proper order:


Julie Kelly's response to all of this was to leave the conversation.  I suppose it is the only thing she could do without further making a fool of herself.  Either that or coming off as a bully who knows nothing of that which she writes about.  Harsh?  Warranted in this case I think.

Who is Julie Kelly?

I want to be flippant and say, who cares!  But this part of the story, that I've been saying I'll get to in a bit, is relevant here.  You see Kelly is an advocate for GMO crops.   Not just not-anti-GMO, but actively pro-GMO.  Full disclosure, yours truly is the former:  not-anti-GMO.  It's not as simple as knee-jerk dichotomies even if that's what flies in a soundbite world.   Just as not all GMOs are inherently dangerous (most aren't), neither can we make blanket statements that all GMOs (and specifically the pesticides we can use on them) are completely safe.    But I'm not seeing this nuance in Kelly's social media presence and writings.  As she tells her claim to fame, Kelly was a budget/policy wonk in her early days, involved in all things politics.  before taking time off to be a stay at home mom.  She then got into teaching cooking to busy moms, and the occasional political consulting on the side.  And then one day she caught wind of celebrity chef Tom Colicchio venturing into political activities.

I know, the NERVE of him, right?  Before I go on, let me say that I am inclined to agree with Kelly on this point:  celebrities should not use their status to pontificate on matters of which they have no knowledge or understanding.   Ahem ... is there an eau de hypocrisy in the air?  It gets better.  You see our intrepid entrepreneurial mom/cook/writer was so taken aback by Colicchio stepping out of the kitchen!  We pick the narrative up with Kelly seeing him on TV:
... Great, I thought, maybe he will discuss some new cooking ideas or preview the next Top Chef show.
Not quite. Instead he went on a tirade about the 2014 farm bill and cuts to the food stamp program. He broadly attacked all Republicans, including two in tight races, just a few weeks before the general election. I was surprised and a bit appalled, thinking “Why is this cook lecturing me about politics and food stamps?”
I Googled his name to find out more about Colicchio’s political involvement. Turns out he is quite the activist. He had started a PAC called Food Policy Action that targets Republican lawmakers; he advocates for mandatory GMO labeling; and he had produced a movie about hunger in America (in which Ronald Reagan was blamed for the current “hunger crisis” in our country), among other things.
It didn’t take long for my own political instincts to kick in. I fired off an op-ed to the Wall Street Journal entitled “Tom Colicchio, please shut up.”

Ahh alrighty then!  I'm not going to trudge through the articles to see all the nasties that may or may not have been said about Kelly in the ensuing press coverage of her article and Colicchio's response.  I must say that the Twitter exchange between the two was rather more benign than any of the descriptions led me to believe.  When you have a medical doctor writing about your panty size, because you dared counter the science and expose the outright lies in TBFS, come talk to me about appropriate discourse!   But what are Kelly's qualifications to criticize Colicchio?  Well, she doesn't need any!  She's right!!  If Colicchio is ill or misinformed on matters of public policy then he should STFU and stay in the kitchen.  {Refresh my memory, was someone complaining about silencing dissent? }

I don't know if he is or not, ill or misinformed that is.  I simply don't have time nor interest in celebrities, and I err towards not taking much of what any celeb says about serious issues seriously, unless they demonstrate a level of competence in the matter at hand.   Does Kelly feel the same way about Nina Teicholz?  She should.    But I glanced at Kelly's WSJ article, and her main beef appears to be that Colicchio's a progressive.  Apparently if one makes a living related to cooking, there's only one "right" (pun intended) way to be involved in food politics.   Though she's never come out with her politics, Denis Calabrese heads up the Laura & John Arnold Foundation, which in turn funds NuSI and TNC.  It's a fair assumption Nina leans towards to the right of the political spectrum.  Calabrese is former Chief of Staff for Dick Armey, and clearly on the opposite side of the aisle from Colicchio.  Apparently that's all Kelly needs to know to presume that Tom is wrong on everything -- including, or perhaps even especially, science -- and she's swallowed Nina's version of things hook, line and sinker.    With most nutritional science debates, it's fair to say that neither  political side has a monopoly on the truth.  

Folks who wish to participate ought to scratch below the surface before lining up on a side -- perhaps the political sides don't line up with science anyway!!   I know I wouldn't want to be in a position to defend Teicholz, because she doesn't have the facts beneath her.  There are certainly a few good arguments coming from her camp, but they need to do better than lying about the American diet, the Guidelines, and every other remote culture on the planet, when trying to make those arguments!

Stop playing games Ms. Kelly.  If you want to participate in politics, that is your right.   It is also Colicchio's.  And mine for that matter, though I'll take a pass for now.  If you are going to write articles in National Review Online about federal nutrition policy, and lay it on thick, then you ought to know more about what you are writing about than you apparently do.  Inform yourself.    Regardless, you of all people should understand what is wrong with attacking the messenger.  The way you did that on Twitter was wrong.  If you are serious about vetting the sources of your information, begin by doing just a little fact checking of the "public record" when writing about subjects in a professional capacity.  Concern yourself more with the matter and then vet the source if you need to.  You see, with Teicholz, if you look at the substance you really don't need to bother with the rest, although her ties to the meat industry go a long way to explain why she lies with such impunity.  Now go fact check one of my articles and you'll find that my references say what I claim they do.  There will be no need to even wonder why I write what I do, it speaks for itself.

Wish me luck!  If all goes well, my follow-up post on the presentations at the presser will follow shortly:   Nina Teicholz & The Nutrition Coalition: The Unscientific Dissent that was Silenced  (link will go live when published)