Letters for the week of September 8-14, 2004 

The Corn-Syrup Industrial-Complex sets us straight on its product, while health professionals and diabetics chime in on our diabetes coverage.

"Pumping Politics," Bottom Feeder, 8/18

End the Curves blacklist
Are people around here losing their minds? Trying to block Curves from opening because of politics is as shameful as screenwriters being denied their right to making a living because of theirs. Have my fellow progressive baby boomers forgotten how to think and be dedicated to certain democratic ideals?

If you don't like the politics, don't patronize the place. It's really one of the more simple direct actions you can take. SHEEESH!!!
Will Davis, Oakland

"Nutritional Dystopia," Feature Sidebar, 8/11

Corn syrup: Stop the slander
The article by Brian Perkins unfortunately misinforms consumers about the nutritive sweetener high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The article incorrectly suggests that HFCS is a unique contributor to obesity and that farm programs result in overproduction of certain commodities, including corn.

According to the American Dietetic Association: "Consumers can safely enjoy a range of nutritive and nonnutritive sweeteners when consumed in a diet that is guided by current federal nutrition recommendations ... as well as individual health goals." HFCS, which is compositionally essentially the same as table sugar, is contained in many food and beverage formulations that provide recognized benefits to consumers. In fact, HFCS is prevalent in a number of products for people who are trying to control their weight. Three examples include many Lean Cuisine dinners, Weight Watchers muffins, and several Healthy Choice products.

In 1983, the Food and Drug Administration listed HFCS as "Generally Recognized as Safe" for use in food, and the FDA reaffirmed that ruling in 1988 and 1996. In its 1996 finding, the FDA noted that "the saccharide composition (glucose-to-fructose ratio) of HFCS is approximately the same as that of honey, invert sugar, and the disaccharide sucrose" (or table sugar).

Just last month, the Center for Food and Nutrition Policy at Virginia Tech issued a report compiled by scientists who reviewed a number of critical commentaries about HFCS. Their analysis found that HFCS is not a unique contributor to obesity. In addition, many parts of the world, including Mexico, Europe, and Russia, have rising rates of obesity despite having little or no HFCS in their foods and beverages, due to tariffs and trade policies.

Regarding farm programs, the government has actually restored fiscal discipline by limiting economic assistance to farmers when aid is most needed. Grain prices have been relatively high due to strong demand for corn in food, animal feed, and industrial products.

For more information about HFCS, please visit HFCSfacts.com
Audrae Erickson, president, Corn Refiners Association, Washington, DC

The barriers are cultural
I agree with you that West Oakland (along with the adjacent Jack London and downtown areas) badly needs a grocery store. The former Gateway Foods is now a Korean market -- great for those of us who love kimchi and other panchan, but I'll definitely miss the Louisianan, Mexican, and Middle Eastern specialties of the old market.

On the other hand, I find it discouraging that you repeat the tired misconception that healthy food is more expensive than unhealthy food. Sure, Gourmet Ghetto takeout is costlier than McDonald's. But the healthiest food of all, food bought and prepared fresh, is also by far the cheapest. A bowl of fresh fruit is cheaper and far more nutritious than a bottle of corn-syrupy fruit juice. The ingredients for a complete meal of vegetables, rice or pasta, and beans or meat can be far less expensive than takeout. The expensive thing -- and the thing most lacking for some low-income people -- is the education part: how to prepare a quick, nutritious meal from fresh ingredients. High-quality, inexpensive ingredients are available at plenty of Asian, Middle Eastern, and African markets close to West Oakland; the barrier is cultural.

And you ignore the other half of the weight equation: exercise. With the new 3rd St./Mandela/Middle Harbor pathway, opportunities to cycle, run, or walk are opening up. I agree there's a disadvantage, but I also think you could highlight some interim solutions that don't require a massive overhaul of federal agricultural policy.
Rachel Stubblefield, Oakland

"Good Kids, Bad Blood," Feature, 8/11

Poor health forever
I'm writing because I just read the article on the rise in Type II diabetes in children. As a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, I would like to thank you for making this issue front-page-newsworthy.

In my practice, I work to educate my patients on the importance of maintaining their health before they need to regain it. While Chinese medicine has some excellent treatments for diabetes, it is far, far better to prevent the disease from arising in the first place by watching what we eat, knowing which "foods" to avoid, and getting an adequate amount of exercise. The old adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" couldn't be more true.

Lauren Gard's article was both engaging and informative, and notably it didn't talk down to its readers or belittle its subjects. Further, it drove home the connection between diabetes and poverty, due at least in part to low-income inner-city residents' limited access (in terms of price and proximity) to nutritious food and to the onslaught of fast-food advertising that's directed at them. Coupled with the vista of unemployment, substance abuse, and sedentary, stressful lifestyles, it's a situation that is setting these kids up for a lifetime of poor health. That the disease has begun showing up in preteens is a truly frightening revelation. I can only hope articles like yours and the outreach programs mentioned within it will reach their mark in time.
Don F. Gates, Oakland

Hope for diabetics
As a Type One diabetic for almost thirty years, I found myself wanting to add my two cents. First off, with good blood sugar control, there is no reason why a person with diabetes should suffer from any complications of the disease. Using myself as an example, I know from personal experience that this is true. ("Complications inevitably arise over time -- blindness; extreme complications in pregnancy; and bladder, kidney, and cardiac problems.") Time is not a factor in and of itself, but poor blood sugar control over time is a major factor. I think kids need to know that they can expect a healthy future if they take care of themselves by controlling their blood sugar.

The comments about carb counting were somewhat inaccurate. Carb counting is most useful for figuring out how much insulin to take for a given meal, not for how much to eat based on a blood sugar reading (except in the case of low blood sugar).

Insulin pumps are great for kids with Type One in particular. After using an insulin pump for several years, I would never go back to shots. The pump allows for much more flexibility in terms of eating, sleep schedules (you don't have to get up to take a shot), and exercise among other things. This could be an interesting topic for a future article.
Melanie Hofmann, Benicia

"Getting Truants Back to School," Cityside, 8/18

Schools like prisons
Simon Kinsella's article on truancy illuminated just about everything that is wrong with schooling in America. That schools and prisons are similarly funded reflects our priorities: Why do both get more money if their seats are filled? Talk about competing against each other!

I fear any time our courts control access to both education and prisons -- have we learned nothing from the failures of the Supreme Court not enforcing desegregation? Our schools -- and prisons -- are still separate and just as unequal as ever. Absentees are not the problem -- failing teachers and failing schools and our general apathy about both are. How much longer will we blame those who opt out of a system designed to fail them?

If only we had more than a handful of teachers who could compete for our students' attention. I am frightened of anyone who would hold parents legally responsible for making their children attend schools that do not reflect anything about them or their communities. Why make parents legally responsible for schools that alienate their children? Why not make our schools legally responsible for educating all students? Why not pay teachers based upon their ability to engage their students? Or how about having a teachers' union that's as powerful as the prison guards' union? Perhaps I shouldn't speak too soon; next thing we'll know, they'll be joining forces.
Christopher Knaus, Alameda

"Groovin' in the Grove," Billboard, 7/21

Having his way
Recently you wrote an article about Danny Scher's fund-raisers on his Kensington property. Many object to these concerts, and have supported Contra Costa County in their efforts to stop these events. Danny uses a professional amplified sound system that can be heard in two counties and three communities. He provides shuttle buses from the local BART parking lot to his amphitheater, but once attendees become aware of the location they drive directly to the site and park in the neighborhood, eliminating all available street parking for blocks.

Contra Costa County has consistently warned Scher that to hold these events is in violation of existing zoning codes. CCC's position is that if you hold an event that is open to the public, that requires the purchase of a ticket to attend, and that someone or an institution benefits, you are holding a commercial event that is not appropriate to an area zoned for single-family residences. Recently CCC fined Scher for a July 23 event. Scher's neighbors support CCC in their efforts. Property values and quality of life are at stake.

This situation has gone on for more than four years. State Senator Don Perata has drafted SB952 that would allow residence of unincorporated areas of California to hold fund-raisers (this bill has been tabled pending CCC's establishment of a similar ordinance). SB952 would be subject to local regulations, but CCC currently does not have a noise ordinance (one is being drafted for Kensington) or any other regulations that would protect residential communities in unincorporated areas.

Now, in spite of the fine, Scher is planning an event for the Democratic Party to be held on Sunday. This one is for Kerry/Edwards and the Democratic Party. Clearly political pressure and money are a big factor in this. Danny Scher appears to think that he can do whatever he wants regardless of existing laws and expectations.
J. Folger-Brown, Kensington


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