Readers weigh in on trans fats. Plus: Are Army night flights for wounded soldiers a practical measure or a P.R. tactic?

By Salon Staff
Published March 10, 2005 1:18AM (EST)

[Read "The Invisible Wounded," by Mark Benjamin.]

It amazes me how Mark Benjamin makes the most innocuous things seem sinister in "The Invisible Wounded." Anyone familiar with D.C.-area traffic knows that getting from Andrews Air Force Base to Walter Reed Army Medical Center during the day is an iffy proposition; moving the soldiers to WRAMC at night minimizes the odds they'll be subjected to longer-than-necessary transport times.

The same goes for the ambulances and Walter Reed buses. What would Mr. Benjamin have the patients arrive in, tour buses marked "U.S. Soldiers -- Wounded"? And is it really so odd to receive patients on the upper deck, where it's a straight shot on a wide walkway to the elevators, rather than the garage-level entrance, where the orderlies and wounded soldiers would have to navigate gurneys through two sets of doors before finally reaching the elevators?

I am a military dependent who receives all of her medical care at Walter Reed. Every time I'm there, I see our wounded soldiers, men who look like they're barely out of high school, missing limbs or otherwise damaged from their tours in Iraq. I desperately wish that more Americans could see what I've seen, like the kid in the wheelchair missing both legs and most of one arm, bravely reassuring his mother that the Army will take care of him. But the way that Salon is doing it -- through innuendo and one-sided reporting -- is just as bad as any coverup the Pentagon might be perpetrating.

-- Jenny Foreit

Twice when I was in Iraq, I found myself aboard U.S. cargo planes carrying fallen American soldiers (which are invariably referred to as "Angels" by the soldiers). Shortly before takeoff, we were informed by the flight crew that no photographs of the scene would be permitted. Many of the soldiers and Marines aboard the plane wondered aloud about this puzzling order. They were allowed to snap photos of dead and wounded Americans and Iraqis in the field. Why the ban now that the corpses had a flag on them?

You would be hard-pressed to find a more clear-cut case of the politicization of the military process.

It is clear that the Pentagon information control apparatus extends down to the lowest levels, and that they are deviously cognizant of the stark iconic power that coffins covered with Old Glory possess.

-- David J. Morris

[Read "Now Serving No Trans Fat!" by Katharine Mieszkowski.]

Katharine Mieszkowski is right in identifying the new "trans fat free" label claim as the newest opportunity for the food industry to create a diversion from the real problem -- that Americans eat too darn much. I know firsthand from my work in marketing with the NutraSweet Co. a decade ago how companies will tinker with food formulations to qualify for specific claims that give permission to consumers to gobble away.

But she's wrong where she says Americans need specific advice on what to eat. Instead, we might all benefit from some broader concepts: Crowd your plate with vegetables. Learn which meats are lowest in overall fat. Eat whole grain breads and pastas, in moderation. And lastly, do more physical work.

-- Russ Klettke

I walked into my local Au Bon Pain about a year ago to find, through prominent signage, that the muffins now boasted "Zero Grams Trans Fat." Intrigued -- and naively assuming, or perhaps hoping, that trans fat was the same as all fat -- I bought a particularly delectable-looking chocolate-chunk muffin. I spent the next few weeks consuming one every couple of days and wondering aloud to anyone who would listen how something "fat-free" could possibly taste so good.

I may have been in serious denial, but eventually even I couldn't ignore the fact that it tasted a little too good. A quick visit to the Au Bon Pain Web site revealed that the muffin was a whopping 590 calories -- more than a Big Mac -- and contained 20 grams of fat (not a bit of it trans, of course).

If someone like me, so quick to do Internet research and read informative Salon articles, was fooled into thinking "zero grams trans fat" was synonymous with "healthy," we're going to have a serious problem once every artificial-cheese-flavored tortilla chip and fast-food side order advertises the same.

-- Stephen Tiszenkel

It's really pretty simple to deal with the dietary thing. People on highly specialized or restricted diets aside, I think the single best recommendation is this: Do as much of your grocery shopping as possible around the perimeter of the grocery store. That's where the fresh fruits and vegetables are, the meat and fish, the dairy case, and all those real "ingredients" that make up good home cooking.

-- Alan Lloyd

Americans' expectations of serving sizes and portions are completely out of kilter with nutritional requirements, because we've been taught from birth that what matters most is value for the money; pay less, get more. It's true for packaged foods, and it's true for all manner of dining establishments. And fast food joints aren't the worst offenders. Restaurants such as the Cheesecake Factory routinely offer individual servings that would feed a family of four, plus the dog. And, of course, we eat it all, because it's such a good deal and it's a crime to just waste that much food.

There are all the other issues about what is in those monster servings, but just raising awareness of how much food we are eating would, I believe, go a long way toward combating obesity.

-- John Bode

Mieszkowski and her interviewees lament that the food industry is finding unsavory (pun intended) ways to capitalize on the vilification of trans fats, but in the current political climate, large, powerful corporations are not going to make real sacrifices for the sake of public health. As Mieszkowski notes, their true allegiance is to their shareholders, and they are well protected by the most nefariously corporate-friendly administration ever to occupy the White House.

While I would love to see a bigger victory for public health, I never thought I'd see one of this proportion during the Bush years. Now let's see if we can get rid of all that high-fructose corn syrup -- bad as white sugar is for us, it does not come close to the unhealthiness of this corn byproduct. And let's not give up on grass-roots efforts to call the government and the food industry to task regarding their indefensible disregard for human health. Nor should we stop educating ourselves and each other about what a genuinely healthy diet might include.

-- Kerry Ose

Mieszkowski's conclusions about the importance of eating real food rather than reformulated junk food are, of course, both right and obvious. What the author too lightly emphasizes, though, is the role of the nutrition community over the past decades in sanctioning the wrong ingredients as healthy.

Whether it was urging that low fat replace high fat, that trans fat replace saturated fat or that unsaturated fat is better than saturated fat, the nutritionists got it wrong each time.

For example, there is abundant research that coconut and palm oil are in fact healthy. Yet that did not stop the witch hunt against those oils several decades ago, or Mieszkowski's continuous misstatements about the dangers of palm oil in this article.

-- Herb Simmens

Salon Staff

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