Highlights from the food events at the Aspen Ideas Festival, including controversial speakers and a bacon/M&M smackdown
The "track" at the Aspen Ideas Festival this year was called Food Fights, and though there was the potential for plenty of them, audience members familiar with the generally pugnacious stance of many of the panelists might have come away slightly disappointed that there were no pre-Fourth fireworks. I moderated and helped assemble five panels, and was pleased that matters got no more than a bit contentious—pleased because I was more interested in light than heat.
One of the most controversial speakers, Gary Taubes, had what turned out to be one of the most informative sessions of all, because it was just him answering questions from the audience and me for over an hour. Taubes is known for his science reporting, including "Fields of Fear," his 1994 Atlantic piece about electromagnetic fields (we met when I edited the piece), and his book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, in which he lays out his argument that the periodically popular, now widely controversial low-carbohydrate, high-protein, high-fat diets are in fact the most conducive to weight loss, because high carbohydrate consumption can interfere with the efficient regulation of fat by insulin. This goes in the face of nutritionists who believe that the eternal verity is that weight is inexorably a matter of calories in and calories out. His pointing out that randomized control trials demonstrate that people can lose weight by piling on steak and bacon and cutting out potatoes and bread—very 1960s advice—infuriates cardiovascular disease researchers as well as nutritionists. (A New York Times Magazine excerpt of the book used the cover line "What If Fat Doesn't Make Us Fat?".) He's summarized his long, heavily scientific book in the recent Why We Get Fat, which ends with a diet plan from a Duke University clinic that treats severely obese and diabetic patients with the kind of plan he writes about.