me and Matthew debating “chemicals” and whole foods

I have more to say about Expo West, but today I’ll write you some of a text exchange I’m having right now with my good friend Matthew F., who loves science and despises religion. I’ll leave out the unrelated parts, like about what day we’re going to take our kids skiing this week:

MF: Did you see my email about the chemical composition of apples? I always hated apples and I knew they were made of chemicals! Now that I know they’re made of chemicals, I can safely remove them from my diet! Whew!

GSG: Just because there are “chemical” compounds in natural foods (hello, EVERYTHING is on the periodic chart) doesn’t mean that eating synthetic chemicals is a good idea.

MF: You said chemicals, not SYNTHETIC chemicals. Sh**! Where’s an apple?

GSG: If you want to eat chemicals that are isolated and bathed in petroleum products and preserved in formaldehyde, go for it! (Num num.) Me, I’m eating your apple.

MF: You make is sound like all synthetic chemicals are bad and I agree that some are, but some natural things are bad for you too. There is so much hype and misconceptions about good nutrition. We have to not be married to our preferences and our “doctors” who don’t use the scientific method.

GSG: I’m not married to any acupuncturists or anything but I think I have a strong tendency based on a lot of evidence to eat whole foods instead of refined ones. The scientific method has been applied pretty well in that arena. And the same logic follows that hundreds of synergistic and perfect combinations of elements in an apple that science doesn’t even understand yet are better for me than a man-made pill with a synthetic, isolated vitamin in it.

Have you replaced God with science? What if God made perfect foods and science can’t and never will? What if science is just imperfect humans mucking around trying to make sense of complexity? Science is good but often fatally flawed. Not all science is equal. Methods are more sophisticated now but motivations are more suspect. Precious little “objective” science is left since the “scientific method” was originally conceived in all its idealism.

MF: What about apple trees that are fed water with pesticides in it, or a green smoothie girl who has the bad kind of synthetic chemicals in the plants in her smoothies?

GSG: Chemicals are everywhere. But less of them is better.

MF: Those people get colon cancer while the bastard who eats hamburgers lives to be 82.

GSG: Not usually. According to science more chemicals = more cancer, in general. Says a huge and growing pile of evidence.

MF: Synthetic ones, you mean.

GSG: That’s usually what people are referring to when they say “chemicals.” If you don’t see the diff between an apple and a can of Sprite (they’re both sugar, right?) we have a problem. My kid’s pediatrician said there was no diff.

MF: What IS the diff between sugar found in Sprite and sugar found in an apple? We need it for energy and brain function–so where does sugar in Sprite come from?

GSG: It’s massively chemically altered, concentrated, removed from other elements that make it a nutritious food. Like fiber. Like hundreds of micronutrients. Like dozens of types of enzymes.