Nina Teicholz is challenging 60 years of dietary dogma. And some people are trying to stop her. 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 Teicholz. Now, after some participants objected to her presence, the National Food Policy Conference, held this week in Washington, D.C., has disinvited her. Teicholz was scheduled to sit on a panel with the USDA and Center for Science in the Public Interest to discuss how to turn nutrition science into policy. But unnamed panelists refused to participate with her. "This seems like an attempt to shut down debate," Teicholz told us. She continued: "I'm comfortable defending my positions in front of critics. Why aren't they?" More than 3,500 people are asking the same question, in the form of a pro-Teicholz petition.
The head of the group organizing the conference deflected, telling Politico that having Teicholz on the panel simply "didn't work out," and that she was replaced by the president and CEO of the Alliance for Potato Research and Education. There's something poetic — and revealing — about replacing a meat advocate with a carb advocate.
One panel member who won't have to defend her radical views before Teicholz is Angela Tagtow, the recently appointed head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, which advances a number of federal nutrition programs, including the Dietary Guidelines and MyPlate. Tagtow is a food activist whose former consulting firm — Environmental Nutrition Solutions — sought to "establish healthier food systems that are resilient, sustainable, ecologically sound, socially acceptable, and economically viable."
Tagtow's appointment continued a trend under the Obama administration of tying nutrition advice not to science but to the political whims of privileged food elitists and activists who want us to grow our own vegetables gardens and stop eating meat because it causes greenhouse gas emissions. She's a proponent of placing a high value on the purported eco-friendliness of food — otherwise known as "sustainability" — rather than the health, nutrition, or even accessibility of food for American families. Meat production and consumption are anathema to Tagtow and her allies who sought to include "sustainability" in last year's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. They were wisely rebuffed by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The so-called sustainability movement isn't giving up, and meat is in its crosshairs. It's no wonder it wants to shut down people such as Teicholz and try to discredit critical work.
This isn't the first time the food police used strong-arm tactics to mute Teicholz. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) sent a letter to The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) demanding that it retract a Teicholz article that was highly critical of the Dietary Guidelines: "In summary, the Teicholz/BMJ 'investigation' is based on non-facts. Such a paper has no place in the pages of a prominent scientific journal and should be retracted." Ironically, the most relevant fact here is that such journals are stuffed full of articles heavier on opinion and lighter on facts than Teicholz's. The salient aspect of Teicholz's article is that doesn't kowtow to the party line that often trips us up: the idea that government nutrition advice is infallible.
The CSPI letter was signed by nearly 200 activists, including, not surprisingly, every member of the Obama administration-appointed Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and several scientists whom Teicholz had criticized (The BMJ has not retracted Teicholz's article).
CSPI's Margo Wootan, an obvious suspect in the silencing campaign, is now scheduled to speak on the National Food Policy Conference panel. Objecting to Teicholz's participation, Wootan complained of "concerns raised about Teicholz's credibility, given the significant inaccuracies in her work." Then Wootan cited her organization's efforts to force The BMJ to retract Teicholz's piece. When questioned on Twitter about why she wouldn't simply confront Teicholz directly during the panel discussion, Wootan responded: "I'm not afraid of reasoned disagreement, but don't like to contribute to perpetuating misinformation. It's that I like some science with my science." This is the same group that once promoted the health benefits of trans fats.
Of course this has little to do with science and everything to do with ideological agendas. Never before has food policy been so politicized, whether it's the Dietary Guidelines or the National School Lunch Program. For the most part, major decisions are being made by the same cabal of crusaders who refuse to countenance dissent or discussion even as the collective health of Americans continues to suffer.
Regardless of one's take on nutritional issues, or even the proper role of government in determining how and what we eat, one should agree that the campaign to silence Teicholz is distasteful. The National Food Policy Conference is billed by its organizer, the Consumer Federation of America, as "a key national gathering for those interested in agriculture, food, and nutrition policy." It could have been a much-needed forum for open discussion and debate among leading voices from different schools of thought. But now, because of the food fear-mongerers' fear of debate, it will be just another high-profile missed opportunity to raise the level of discourse in Washington.
— Julie Kelly is a cooking instructor, food writer, and owner of Now You're Cooking in Orland Park, Ill. You can reply to her on Twitter @Julie_Kelly2. Jeff Stier is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, and you can reply to him on Twitter @JeffaStier.