Thursday, July 25, 2013

Beer Wars: The Calumny of The Food Babe.

I'm angry. If you're a drinker of good beer, or a brewer of such, you should be too.

A food blogger, who demurely refers to herself as the Food Babe, recently posted a piece —which she breathlessly called The Shocking Ingredients in Beer— about what she believed to be the unhealthy, unlisted, and unpalatable ingredients in beer. It was a typical attack piece, half-right and misleading, and researched just enough to prove a point, rather than to find fact.

In reading it, I was reminded of the South Beach Diet, which once famously declared beer a horrible food product because it contained maltose. Well, yes, unfermented beer contains maltose, the sugar in barley. But there is no, zero, maltose in finished beer. Maltose is exactly what yeast ferments (consumes) to produce beer. Called out on that inconvenient truth, the authors still refused to correct the record.

This Food Babe seems to have read from that same playbook of pernicious misinformation. Called out on her half-truths, she refuses to backtrack. On her website, she can be seen posing, holding a glass of wine. Should we tell her that wine is a terrible beverage choice? All that concentrated fructose? Should we tell her that the U.S. government allows over 60 additives in wine, including dimethyl dicarbonate, a rather nasty chemical, that is used to forestall spoilage? By her own logic (?), if such additives are allowed, they are, ipso facto, therefore always used. Well, then: drink up, Babe!

Even those farmers who employ organic methods, themselves spray their crops with chemicals, such as sulfur and copper. These are not pesticides, but they do take a toll on the environment. Should we tar these farmers as well, Babe? Et tu Brute?

What I found almost as appalling as the Food Babe's beer-McCarthyisms were the actions of several national 'craft beer' advocates, who, non-disapprovingly, linked to this tomfoolery via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. Had they actually read this manure or had they merely re-posted it simply in a rush to gain readership? Had they assumed that the Babe could not possibly be referring to 'craft' beer? And, if so, did they really believe that 'craft' beer has complete control over its ingredient chain, that it uses no chemicals or additives, and that it flows virginally from the fountains of Ninkasi? In making this falderol viral, they lent horribly unfortunate credence to it.

As was put to me, in a more measured tone, by Maureen Ogle, author of Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer: "I'd hate to see a 'your beer is more pure than mine' war start over this."

In my ire, I turned to one of America's premier brewers and brewing instructors for a rebuttal. Steve Parkes possesses a brilliant zymurgical curriculum vitae, and is the owner of the American Brewers Guild, one of the three major U.S. brewing academies training our current and future 'craft' brewers. It would be safe to say that Mr. Parkes knows beer.

Here's what he had to say:

In order to write this piece, I have had to endure repeated readings of The Shocking Ingredients in Beer written by an internet character who calls herself The Food Babe. Trawling through the bad grammar and typos was painful enough, but putting that aside, and dealing with the innuendo, misrepresentation, and blatant falsehoods made it doubly so.

The Food Babe doesn’t drink beer, but she’s concerned for those of us who do. She’s right about the effects alcohol has on weight gain and on our general health but she didn’t leave it there. Armed with a list supplied by the Center For Science in the Public Interest, a group whose stated aim is to prevent people from drinking, and a quote from an anti alcohol campaigner, she sets about listing all of the ‘shocking” ingredients brewers are allowed to make beer with, and to not disclose on their labels.

The main thrust appears to be that beer can be made using corn, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and dextrose, and that the brewers cannot provide proof that they are GMO [genetically modified organism] free. The problem with that is that no supplier of any food made from corn can prove no GMOs are present because no effort has been made to segregate GMO corn from the food supply. It’s unlikely to contain GMO material, but it’s impossible to say for certain it doesn’t.

And, if it were brewed with GMO corn —as Pabst Blue Ribbon might be according to the author’s wild speculation— the brewer is forbidden to put "contains GMO ingredients" on the label, thanks to the lobbying efforts of the food industry.

Anheuser-Busch is cited for being “caught using experimental food made in a laboratory,” referring to traces of an experimental rice found in the beer. Plots of experimental crops are planted right next to regular crops all the time and in this case the rice was simply contamination from rice in the field.

She moves on to talk about isinglass, which is solubilized swim bladders of subtropical fish, that has been used as a traditional clarification aid in beer for two centuries. It is widely used in the manufacture of English cask ales and many North American brewpubs use it to avoid the expense of a filter.

The author describes the use of isinglass by Guinness like this: “The sneaky thing this beer company does like many of the companies mentioned here today is create an illusion of using the best ingredients when in actuality what they tell you publicly on their websites is a complete farce.” (I didn’t leave out the punctuation … there wasn’t any).

Guinness does in fact use the best isinglass it can buy; the reason it’s not listed as an ingredient is because it’s not in the finished product. It is added to cause the yeast to clump together and sink more quickly to the bottom of the tank. The isinglass stays behind in the tank with the yeast.

The rest of the article lists, in unflattering and vague terms, a whole group of items that brewers are allowed to use if they want to, along with suggestions as to the illnesses they may or may not cause in some cases. The natural flavoring that may be derived from beaver anal glands is my favorite.

Many ingredients on that list date back generations, and while I can’t say for certain that they may have been added to a brewery product at some point in the past, I’m pretty sure that none are regular ingredients in beers today. Remember that brewers make a lot of flavored malt beverages today, so a lot of the flavorings, colorings, and preservatives end up in those. (I don’t advocate drinking those either.)

The writer has written an article filled with innuendo, is startlingly ignorant of the laws governing labeling, and is naïve about food science and brewing science in particular. She assumes the worst motives from beer manufacturers and makes wild unsubstantiated claims against some well-known brands. In her world, only foods derived from plants are to be trusted, and animal derived ingredients and process aids are forbidden, as are chemically derived ones. These are made against a backdrop of drinking beer for good health. I’m glad she didn’t research further and discover all of the unhealthy plant life that can creep into our beers if the brewers in this country weren’t so committed to making a safe and healthy product.


Beers: drunk and undrunk


Postscript
After this post was written, Steve Parkes submitted a few more things. Here:
The article is misleading at best. Her main sources other than brewers are organizations that want to ban alcohol. The brewers are naturally a little defensive when questioned about their processes from the public. Presumably those brewery PR departments checked out the Food Babe...perhaps even read her article on microwaves where she claims water exposed to microwaves resembles water that has been exposed to the words "satan" and "Hitler". So they were understandably reticent to engage her knowing what was coming.

Among brewers, the companies listed are quite open about their ingredients and processes. I've read long papers in technical journals describing how Guinness optimize their use of use isinglass. I've met with Anheuser Busch and Miller brewers and talked about their processes at length. There's no scandal there.... The process at Anheuser Busch is quite natural and traditional in fact, and AB have a line of gluten free and organic beers made in the same facilities as their other products.


In Conclusion
In the interest of transparency, I should stipulate that I do indeed drink beer ... as a wholesome food. I've been in the beer business for twenty years, as a brewer, brewpub owner, and a beer salesman. I'm also a vegetarian, but I do not, and, now, will not, read the Food Babe's blog.

In posting this rebuttal, I, of course, have added additional viewers for her site. That's unfortunate, but, to correct the record, necessary. It's sad that someone who professes a search for the truth about food would feel the need to distort the record to fit her perceived truth. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan once wrote: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

I'm on the same bandwagon as 'The Babe' about health and food (and somewhat about GMOs), but I reject outright her phony fellowship. I denounce her calumny.

-----more-----
  • UPDATE: Author Maureen Ogle has posted her own response to the self-named Food Babe, enlisting the assistance of several brewers to rebut various points. A very worthwhile read: "What’s In YOUR Beer? Or, The Dangers of Dumbassery."
  • Caveat lector: As a representative for Select Wines, Inc. —a wine and beer wholesaler in northern Virginia— I sell beer for a living.

13 comments:

  1. Alternate theory about "craft beer advocates" posting it: Some of us often post articles without commentary that we don't necessarily agree with. Some of us hope others will come up with their own opinions of an article and it will hopefully spur discussion. I have faith that the majority of the people that follow my writings and twitter account have the sense to read an article so sophomorically filled with "data" that it reads more like a parody than a wake up call.
    Just my $.02


    That being said: thanks for some great research into the topic. Very well done.

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  2. All this from a woman who doesn't use a microwave because "it makes water sad":

    "Last by not least, Dr. Masaru Emoto, who is famous for taking pictures of various types of waters and the crystals that they formed in the book called “Hidden Messages in Water,” found water that was microwaved did not form beautiful crystals – but instead formed crystals similar to those formed when exposed to negative thoughts or beliefs."

    -- Why I Do Not Use a Microwave, FoodBabe (http://foodbabe.com/2012/07/30/why-its-time-to-throw-out-your-microwave/)

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  3. "The main thrust appears to be that beer can be made using corn... and that the brewers cannot provide proof that they are GMO free. The problem with that is that no supplier of any food made from corn can prove no GMOs are present because no effort has been made to segregate GMO corn from the food supply. It’s unlikely to contain GMO material, but it’s impossible to say for certain it doesn’t."

    I have no problems with GMO as scientific consensus over the past 30 years of research seems to say they're fine but seeing that almost 90% of the corn grown in the USA is GMO, I'd say if you're using anything with corn it's almost certainly GMO... Organic corn products have a chance of not being contaminated (I think USDA has something like a 5% tolerance?), but somehow I doubt most big brewers are stocking up on organic corn derivatives.

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  4. Wrote this on the Food Babe's wall. They took it down along with a lot of critical posts

    It isn't. Some of it is in Flavored Malt Beverages (Mikes etc). The article is misleading at best. Her main sources other than brewers are organizations that want to ban alcohol. The brewers are naturally a little defensive when questioned about their processes from the public. Presumably those brewery PR departments checked out the FoodBabe...perhaps even read her article on microwaves where she claims water exposed to microwaves resembles water that has been exposed to the words "satan' and 'hitler". So they were understandably reticent to engage her knowing what was coming. Among brewers the companies listed are quite open about their ingredients and process'. I've read long papers in technical journals describing how Guinness optimize their use of use isinglass. I've met with Anheuser Busch and Miller brewers and talked about their process' at length. There's no scandal there.... The process at Anheuser Busch is quite natural and traditional in fact and AB have a line of gluten free and organic beers made in the same facilities as their other products.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I've been a skeptical Food Babe follower for the past year. Admittedly I think her methods are often rough around the edges but her heart is in the right place trying to help clean up our food industries.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Rough around the edges"? No. She flat-out lies, which is more dangerous than any of the chemicals she decries.

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    2. Like it's ok to use lies, half truths and incorrect science to push an agenda...oh, it's okay to euthanize those with chromosonal damage, because it's better for the gene pool and reduced the cost on assisted living...WELL there you go, if it is better for everyone it CAN'T BE ALL THAT BAD...the means do justify the type of end. There is no cleaning up the food industry, there is those smarter, wiser and more learned then us in our best interest that monitor it on both sides of the fence called the supplier/processor and the FDA and not some Woo magic spiritualist practitioner that can't understand the difference between molecules and monocles.

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  6. I would prefer not having all the extra crap in the beer. I have a case of cider here, angry orchard. Just called the company and they said it has HF corn syrup in it. Why? Cider is already plenty sweet. I wont be buying that again.

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  7. Food Babe may be kinda nuts. However, a sane takeaway from her position is that there is absolutely no reason alcoholic beverages (including wine) should not be listing their ingredients at this point in time. I have been making a conscious effort just to eliminate HF corn syrups from my intake, and somehow I never thought it could be present in the beers I love. Transparency in labeling and ingredients would be good for everyone.

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  8. I want to choose beers that do not use extra chemicals- the german beer law of course is nice, but doesn't cover all varieties. How do i assess which ones? I'm not so worried about corn, but high fructose corn syrup? No. Also, want to avoid any and all preservatives. Thoughts?

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  9. Thanks for the facts and some common sense. I never visited the Babe's site but I suspect she is one of many who believe my Coca-Cola beverage or can of Diet Coke is bad for me to consume. The world surely will return to sanity someday where we can all simply enjoy our sodas, our beers and life.

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  10. You guys are simply just ignorant fools. Do your research and then talk. All American beer except Sierra Nevada has GMO ingredients and High Fructose Corn Syrup which is detrimental to your health when consumed for extended periods. The American beer manufacturers don't give a crap that they sell you poison since all they want is a cheaply made product and high product on your watch!

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    Replies
    1. Really? Can you provide the proof that the over 2400 American breweries other than Sierra Nevada use high fructose corn syrup and GMOs? I invite you to walk into a locally-owned brewery or brewpub and ask to see the ingredients list. Will you do that rather than resorting to redundant vituperation?

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