Maintenance Phase


April 13, 2021 Aubrey Gordon & Michael Hobbes
Maintenance Phase
Show Notes Transcript

Aubrey: Hi, everybody and welcome to Maintenance Phase. The podcast that keeps saying it doesn't want to talk about poop. 

Mike: [chuckles] Oh, my God. 

Aubrey: But is really conceptually painted itself into a corner. 


Mike: I have spent the last three weeks livid about [Aubrey laughing] doing this episode, even though I don't know who I'm angry at. I'm just angry.

Aubrey: When you picked it, I was very surprised. I was like, [Mike laughing] the one that's famously pooping.

Mike: The poopisode.

Aubrey: [laughs] I'm Aubrey Gordon. And I'm here with my cohost.

Mike: Michael Hobbes. 

Aubrey: You can find us on Patreon at We also have t-shirts and masks and phone cases and tote bags and all kinds of stuff on TeePublic. Both of those are linked for your convenience at

Mike: You know what we don't have, Aubrey?

Aubrey: Hmm.

Mike: Fat free potato chips. 

Aubrey: Yeah. [laughs] 

Mike: That make you feel weird in your downstairs.

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Mike: Can you tell me what you know about this ingredient olestra and the history of it.

Aubrey: Olestra, brand name Olean, burst onto the market sometime in the mid-90s, right in the middle of my fat kid adolescence. What I remember most distinctly, they were, wow, potato chips from Frito-Lay. I don't know if I ever tried them out. But I definitely remember feeling like, “This is for me.” Of course, I remember nonstop jokes about the phrase anal leakage. 

Mike: Yes, this is my primary memory as well. 

Aubrey: Poop jokes, it's your nightmare. 

Mike: I know, exactly. 

Aubrey: Poop jokes as far as the eye can see. [laughs] 

Mike: This is where my trauma about this comes from. 

Aubrey: That's about all I remember. I'm super curious to hear about how did all this start?

Mike: Yes. First, we have to talk about it as a science story and then we have to talk about it as a politics story. 

Aubrey: Ooh.

Mike: Olestra is actually a combination of oil and table sugar. 

Aubrey: What? 

Mike: Yes, it was discovered by Procter & Gamble in 1968 by accident. They were not looking for a fat that wasn't fat, they were actually looking for the exact opposite. So, they were working on baby foods, that would actually absorb more calories. I don't understand how chemistry works, but they were doing all kinds of weird chemistry about taking apart fats and putting fats back together and mixing them with other ingredients to try to get something that would help babies fatten up essentially, and they came up with this molecule that is sucrose polyester and they tested it, not on babies, because that's super unethical, but I think on rats or something, and they found out that it just went right through them. The rat became a straw and so they were like, “Huh, there might be something here.”

Aubrey: I genuinely can't think of a bigger outrage factory than the concept of baby testing.

Mike: I know exactly. 


Aubrey: Some of the old research that you find on this, it's like when they started testing it on babies, I'm like, “They absolutely did not test this on babies.” If they did, someone needs to work on a book about this. The way that it works, basically, you start with table sugar, normal ass table sugar, and vegetable oil. And there are chemical processes that you can do to break the vegetable oil into its constituent parts. So, you basically break off the fatty acids from the backbone of the fat molecule. And then you take those fatty acids, and put them in a blender. I don't exactly know how this works, but you blend them with sugar. What happens when you put the whole thing back together, is you end up with a fat molecule that is more than twice as big as an ordinary fat molecule. Nothing about that, like chemically, it can't be broken down by the bacteria in your small or your large intestine. 

Aubrey: So, it's essentially if you swallowed like a pebble.

Mike: Literally, one of the scientific papers I came across actually says, it's the same reason we can't digest wood. 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Mike: The central genius of olestra is that to your gut, it is wood. None of it gets absorbed, and therefore, none of the calories go into your body. It doesn't register as calories. But to your mouth, it is like totally normal fat. It's actually more of a process than a substance.

Aubrey: Interesting. 

Mike: One of the few sources I found on this was a book called The Man Who Ate Everything, by a friend of the show, Jeffrey Steingarten. 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Mike: This writer for Vogue who we talked about in our Master Cleanse episode, so he has a chapter in his book about cooking with olestra. He says, “They can make olestra butter and bake golden croissants with the fat calories of a piece of dry toast. They can make beef tallow olestra for cooking truly perfect French fries. They can make cocoa butter olestra and mold bars of smooth, rich dark chocolate. They can make lard olestra and rollout piecrust so light and flaky that you'll have to nail it to the kitchen table to keep it from floating away.” Something I didn't know until I started working on this was like, “Olestra, it's a thing. You can make just like a ball of olestra.” Apparently, it looks like Vaseline. But it has the consistency of sort of mayonnaise.

Aubrey: Oh. Those are two unappealing describes. [laughs] 

Mike: I know, it's not great. Basically, Procter & Gamble has discovered this miracle fat, but they don't really know what they have on their hands yet. Throughout the 1960s and the 1970s, they start testing it. Olestra poses a really interesting conundrum for the food additive approval process, because the entire system of figuring out, you know, there's like colorings that they add to sodas and stuff like Yellow 5, and like Red 20, and whatever?

Aubrey: Sure.

Mike: The entire process is built around the fact that these food additives, we're all consuming very small amounts of them. Even if you drink five sodas a day, the amount of Yellow 5 that you're getting is like a fraction of a teaspoon. So, the way that they test these food additives to see if they cause cancer, or whatever, is they give rats 100-fold the dose. And then from that you can kind of extrapolate, well, maybe smaller doses over the long term would cause similar effects. That's the entire paradigm of testing food additives.

Aubrey: I will say I remember this from my middle school defenses of Diet Coke. 

Mike: Oh, yeah. 

Aubrey: When people are like, “Diet Coke gives you cancer.” And I was like, “That research is when they inject 100 times their body weight directly into a rat’s brain. I was just like leave me alone. Let me have a Diet Coke. I have so little.” [laughs] 

Mike: I know. It's genuine conundrum for these things, because how do you test something that might be harmful without actually harming humans? 

Aubrey: Absolutely. 

Mike: The problem with olestra is that it's an actual substance, like, you can't make a croissant with 100 times the butter in it, because that's physically impossible. They discover olestra in 1968 and it's not approved until 1996. There's almost 30 years of Procter & Gamble and the FDA, essentially redesigning all of these testing procedures around this substance that no other substance like this has ever been tested as a food additive. There're articles that come out in 1996 that call olestra, “The most tested substance in human history.” One of the scientific articles that I found says, “The safety of olestra has been investigated in more than 100 long and short-term studies in seven species and in more than 20,000 people including children and people with existing gastrointestinal disease.” 

Aubrey: Whoa.

Mike: They test the shit out of this because at the end of this rainbow, there is potentially billions of dollars for Procter & Gamble in this, and they know this.

Aubrey: This is the promise of every diet and diet food ever, is like eat whatever you want, and never gain a pound, is 'the phrase.' If they can make that true, congratulations. You just signed the deed to Fort Knox.

Mike: Exactly. It's literally all of the taste and none of the calories. This is what every dieter dreams of and every food company dreams of.

Aubrey: Totally. 

Mike: Procter & Gamble eventually spends $500 million on this.

Aubrey: Holy shit. 

Mike: Some of that is marketing and planting a bunch of soybeans and weird shit. They inflate the number in various ways when they're trying to get approval, but at least half of that is actual research and development. As they're going through this 25-ish year testing process, they find two downsides. One of which has been documented extensively. The other one is less well known. So, the first downside is that not only does olestra not get absorbed, it actually sucks nutrients out of other foods. 

Aubrey: What?

Mike: Yes. It's like this rolling snowball that goes through your body and picks up other things along the way. So, the first thing they find out when they're testing this, is that it removes vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Aubrey: Like A and K in particular, and D. Fuck, they're all so important for your body to have them.

Mike: You need those. [crosstalk] They are not like these filler vitamins. Also, have you heard of carotenoids?

Aubrey: I have heard the term. I do not know what it means.

Mike: Carotenoids are basically why fruits and vegetables are good for you or one of the main reasons. The most famous one is beta carotene in carrots. There're more than 500 carotenoids in all kinds of fruits and vegetables. Those are just the ones that we know about. Olestra also sucks those up. 

Aubrey: Ah, shit. 

Mike: Carotenoids are fat soluble, so they dissolve in fat, and then the fat gets absorbed. But if the fat doesn't get absorbed, they're just dissolving into the fat and then the fat goes away.

Aubrey: This feels something that like an evil scientist would make in a movie, will lead people to think that they're being more healthy and actually, "We're sucking all the life force out of it." It's like dementors.

Mike: And this is wild. If you go on Google Scholar, you can find research from now, like very recent research showing that you can actually use olestra to remove poisons from people systems. 

Aubrey: What?

Mike: Yeah. There're certain things that occupational poisons that people sort of get exposed to. And if you eat olestra, it will actually remove those things from you. 

Aubrey: Yeah, you just poop it all out. 

Mike: But it's a huge problem for Procter & Gamble and for the FDA because the stuff with the vitamins, you can fortify foods with extra vitamins that kind of counterbalance the amount of vitamin A, D, E, K, but you can't fortify foods with carotenoids because we don't really understand how carotenoids work.

Aubrey: This is where it starts to feel like are sort of dog in pursuit of diet foods, becomes this place where we get way out over our skis, scientifically, where I'm just like, “Okay, just instead of spending all this fucking money testing out olestra, what if we spent all this money being like, how to carotenoids work?” It would just be so great if our first question was about access, not about like, “But how does it make me thin?”

Mike: Well, this is the central thing with putting weight in the front of all of our health efforts. This is the real problem because then in the drive to lose weight, we're actually fine with things that reduce health. Okay, this thing robs your body of all these nutrients, but it'll make you thin. So, it's an okay tradeoff.

Aubrey: Yeah, totally. It's like between this and Fen-Phen and Redux. We have a couple of massive 90s examples- 

Mike: Yes. 

Aubrey: -of sorry about your heart valves, sorry about your lungs, sorry about your poop, and sorry about your carotenoids. Nothing matters as much as being thin.

Mike: So that's one downside that it removes all these other nutrients. The other downside is the downside we all know about. According to my parents, [Aubrey laughs] I'm going on a digression because I want to have euphemisms for talking about this for the rest of the episode. So, I guess when I was a kid, I couldn't say bowel movement when I was like four or five, it was like a difficult thing for my little child tongue to say. So, I started saying “bamu,” and my parents started saying bamu. And it's like, become a whole thing that my family for decades now just says bamu when we want to talk about downstairs backdoor stuff. The second downside of olestra is the bamu stuff. The bamu things start showing up very quickly.

Aubrey: They do show up very quickly, famously.

Mike: This is an excerpt from one of the scientific articles that I found. “Olestra worked well, but not perfectly. Tests revealed that the indigestibility of the fat like molecule was causing what early Procter & Gamble documents described as leakage problems in the stool of a percentage of the people who ate these fat free foods.” In the early tests, this is one of the effects of having a snowball ravaging through your body and then melting. This is an excerpt from Jeffrey Steingarten’s book, “The early more liquid versions caused gastrointestinal problems. One of these anal seepage or in my preference, passive oil loss occurs when fully liquid olestra separates from the food in which it was cooked, and slips along the inner walls of people's intestines, bypassing everything else in its way. Drops of olestra show up on their underwear or floating in their toilets. The FDA actually abbreviate this as OIT, oil in toilets.”

Aubrey: Passive oil loss sounds like something British Petroleum should be concerned with.

Mike: The euphemisms, we get into the jungle of euphemisms very quickly, which I'm actually fine with. I don’t want to see us-- [laughs] 

Aubrey: You're like, euphemism away. I'm here for it. 

Mike: So, keep those two downsides in your mind. These are what they found in the early testing and now we're going to move into the FDA approval process. Based on our old friend, the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938, anyone can make a food additive and apply for approval from the FDA. But the obligation is on the company itself to do the testing. So, I, Michael Hobbes cannot just like come up with a food additive in my garage and be like, “Hi, FDA, I need you to spend 10 years and $50 million testing this food additive to make sure it's safe before you approve it.” The obligation is on me to spend the money to conduct tests that meet the sort of the FDA standards of quality to show that my food additive is safe. And if it's safe, then I can start putting it in food. That's the process.

Aubrey: That seems both good and bad. 

Mike: Yes, this is exactly in my notes. Tell me what you think.

Aubrey: On the one to hand, it seems good in that, like, “Yes, it shouldn't be the responsibility of the state to test the products of private companies.” Fundamentally, it is their responsibility to make sure it's safe. But also, if you turn over that testing to those private companies, it absolutely incentivizes research structures that are more favorable to the findings that you want.

Mike: Yes. Also, it's not Michael Hobbes in his garage making food additives.

Aubrey: It's Procter & Gamble.

Mike: Exactly.

Aubrey: The least Michael Hobbes in his garage-

Mike: I know.

Aubrey: -this world has ever seen.

Mike: It's only massive corporations that are trying to do this and the FDA essentially has no power to run its own studies. There's also the sort of probably even much bigger issue. This comes up in a chapter in Marion Nestle's book, Food Politics. She has a whole chapter on olestra. 

Aubrey: God bless Marion Nestle.

Mike: Noted Aubrey Gordon stan Marion Nestle.

Aubrey: [laughs] I don’t know about stan, but I’ll say click, she blurbed my book and it was like one of the greater days of my life.

Mike: Marion Nestle is a giant of these sort of food science politics field. She got a copy of Aubrey's book and blurbed it, which made us both really happy.

Aubrey: Delightful. 

Mike: One of the things that Marion Nestle is obsessed with in her book, rightfully, is that this entire FDA approval process, is designed around these other food additives, like Yellow 5, do they cause cancer or not? But there's nothing in this process about, does it actually work? Do people lose weight? Does this help people? That's not part of the process at all. It's all about this binary distinction. Does it cause harm or doesn't it cause harm? And if it doesn't cause harm, then you can put it on the market regardless of whether it does what it's supposed to do? At no point during this entire 25-year 20,000 human subjects study process, do they test? Does olestra help people lose weight?

Aubrey: They're like, “We’ll make you poop, but it won't give you cancer, go to town.”

Mike: Yes. In 1987, Procter & Gamble files the official food additive approval. This takes nine years, this entire process. There's a lot of chapters of this that I'm going to skip. There's like a big fight about patents at one point, there's a big fight about, “Can you put it in sweet stuff? Can you put it in salty stuff?” It's really boring and really technical. And I'm mostly just going to skip all that because this takes nine years, and otherwise we would be here all day. So, generally, what you need to know is the entire nine-year approval fight is a battle between Procter & Gamble and a nonprofit organization called the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Have you heard of them? 

Aubrey: I feel that's a name that has come up at some point just in research for this show. 

Mike: Yes.

Aubrey: I don't know more than just having heard the name.

Mike: So, they are great. I've interviewed them for various stories over the years. But I also think that it's worth noting, during this time, in the late 80s and early 90s, CSPI and all these other organizations, nobody was really pushing back against the low-fat consensus. So, in all of these hearings, and the debates around it, CSPI is making this weird argument, where they're saying, “We have to get fat out of the American diet, but not this way.” They're basically accepting the terms of the debate, but just saying, “Oh, this particular additive shouldn't do it.”

Aubrey: Yeah, it feels like such a tricky moment of just like, “Oh, politically, the 90s was a great time of people just accepting the terms of all kinds of debates.” I was thinking about this the other day, the number of women that I grew up with who would go, “I'm not a feminist, but.” 

Mike: Oh, my God. I know.

Aubrey: This is sort of the, “I'm not a feminist, but,” like, “Of course, we need to get rid of fat, just not this way.” 

Mike: Yes, exactly. This is really one of the main problems with the debate over olestra, this nine year long debate, is that the only real objections that the Center for Science in the Public Interest can make are these methodological objections. We don't know about the long-term effects. Most of the studies that Procter & Gamble has done have been small ends, most of them are short duration, they're not testing large quantities. That's really all they can do. They can only make these process concerns because the FDA doesn't have the power to test this product itself. CSPI also doesn't have the money to do independent tests. So, all we can do is look at the data that Procter & Gamble is putting out and be like, “Eh, we have quibbles with the data.” So, it's just another sort of weakness in this process, is it's just really hard to make a case against a company when all of the information you're basing it on, is from the company.

Aubrey: And none of it even has the cloak, I would imagine at this point of impartiality.

Mike: Some of it honestly, it's a weird debate because a lot of the Procter & Gamble studies, they're not necessarily doing it themselves in their own labs. They'll hire researchers from Johns Hopkins. One of the studies that they have that they present to the FDA for approval, it's 100 subjects. It's a controlled eight-week diet. It's in a lab where they're actually monitoring how much people are eating. They're giving some people one can of Pringles a day. They're giving other people three cans of Pringles a day. They're giving other people placebo Pringles, and they're testing, okay, is there a dose effect on any of these bamu symptoms? It's actually a pretty well-designed study.

Aubrey: That's great. Also, give me some of those placebo Pringles, please.

Mike: I know, exactly. [laughs] 

Aubrey: Thank you. Sounds good to me.

Mike: A lot of the studies like I've read the Federal Register of all the studies that they submitted to the FDA in 1996 for approval. And on their face, they're pretty good studies. One of the weirdest things about these gastrointestinal side effects is a lot of the studies do actually show that when people are eating these like fat free olestra Pringles, they'll actually report, I am more likely to have diarrhea, but then they measure people's diarrhea, they actually measure, what kind of poops they're doing. And then Procter & Gamble is like, “Ah, these actually aren't objectively speaking, these aren't diarrhea poops.” 

Aubrey: Oh, Jesus. 

Mike: It's this weird thing, where it's like, people report that they're having diarrhea. It feels to people like they're having diarrhea, but they're not losing water to the extent that you do with actual evacuatory diarrhea stuff. I fucking hate this. 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Mike: This is the part of the episode I've been dreading getting to, that is it diarrhea or not section.

Aubrey: [laughs] I was like, “Man, Mike's doing pretty well with this amount of poop talking.” [laughs] 

Mike: I'm curled up into ball, [crosstalk] my hand is over my forehead. [laughs] 

Aubrey: Just rocking. [laughs] Oh, buddy. I'm so sorry. 

Mike: This is basically the debate. This is the data that we have in 1996, when there's all of this debate going on. Also, this is hella sketchy. One of Procter & Gamble's competitors, Unilever, they do their own tests on olestra. They put in petitions to the FDA that 15% to 30% of their participants got bamu symptoms when they were eating the olestra chips. This then becomes like this weird fight between multinational corporations.

Aubrey: About who has the least gastrointestinal symptoms.

Mike: Yeah. Unilever doesn't want this to get approved, because they don't have the same thing. They have their own fat substitutes that they want to get approved.

Aubrey: This is like professional wrestling or something.

Mike: It's so bad, I know. Basically, this all comes to head in 1995, that we're now on year eight of this approval process. Procter & Gamble starts putting out all of these news stories and think-tank reports about how long this approval process has been. There's infamously a house hearing in 1995, about US regulatory processes, and how long it takes to get approvals. The entire hearing is just an excuse to bash the FDA for taking so long to approve olestra. 

Aubrey: Wow.

Mike: They managed to turn this into a news story of like, “Oh, it's big government out of control.” We have this cure for the obesity epidemic right in front of us, and the FDA refuses to approve it.

Aubrey: That's also so tricky, because like a nine-year process/30-year process, that's a very, very, very long and onerous time. It does sort of assure that only extraordinarily resourced corporations can get through the process, turning it into a media story is so disingenuous and shitty. 

Mike: Yeah. At the end of 1995, there's the FDA's committee on approving food additives, meats, and it votes 17 to 5 to approve olestra.

Aubrey: Whoa. 

Mike: This is fascinating. This is from the actual federal registry, the actual document that summarizes the reasons for its decision. It says, “The committee concluded that consumption of olestra causes gastrointestinal effects, such as loose stools, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea like symptoms. However, the committee concluded that while olestra caused these symptoms, there was no evidence that these effects represented adverse health consequences.” Basically, we think that it is causing bamu stuff, but the bamu stuff isn't serious. And, so there's no reason not to approve this.

Aubrey: Weird.

Mike: Yes.

Aubrey: That's so shitty to just be like, “Well, seems like it, but we don't have enough proof. So here we go.”

Mike: Exactly. The compromise agreement that they come up with, is that they will approve olestra, but any products containing olestra have to include a warning label. I'm going to send this to you, hang on.

Aubrey: Oh, yay. I feel now that you're saying this, I absolutely remember that there was a warning label.

Mike: Remember.

Aubrey: And it was the anal leakage warning label. That's where that language became popularized, right? 

Mike: Read this one out loud. 

Aubrey: Okay. “This product contains olestra. Olestra may cause abdominal cramping and loose stools. Olestra inhibits the absorption of some vitamins and other nutrients, vitamins A, D, E and K have been added.” Holy shit. I did not realize they just like put it on the packaging. The vitamin absorption stuff got lost in a torrential downpour of poop jokes.

Mike: Well, that's the thing. When you've got poop jokes sitting right there, it's hard to focus on vitamin A, D, E and K. 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Mike: In Jay Leno's defense, there're no jokes in the poop stuff than there're in the vitamins. 

Aubrey: [laughs] Yeah, that's right. God, that's so surprising. It's so different than I thought I remembered it. 

Mike: I mean, it still says loose stools. 

Aubrey: Yeah, gross. 

Mike: It's pretty bad.

Aubrey: Ugh.

Mike: This is one of the compromises that Procter & Gamble had to make to sell these chips. They had to have the warning label. The FDA also required them to do a bunch of post market research. After this was on the market and millions of people were eating these chips, they would have to come back 30 months later to test, like, “Are there actually more of these bamu symptoms in the population as a whole?” The FDA requires them to do more studies essentially. And they require them to fortify all of these foods with extra vitamins to account for all the vitamins that you're losing from eating them.

Aubrey: Yeah, which was also like I felt inured to that in the 90s, because there was all this talk about fortified breakfast cereals.

Mike: Yes.

Aubrey: Cornflakes had x number of vitamins and minerals added or whatever. I just always, as a kid, assumed that that was like a generally altruistic endeavor.

Mike: You also thought that Procter & Gamble out of the goodness of its heart was like, “This might make you shit yourself.”

Aubrey: [chuckles] Yeah. I didn't have any sense of regulatory mechanisms. 


Mike: Like Coca-Cola wants what's best for me. I've seen those Santa ads. 

Aubrey: They're making Diet Coke and it's delicious and it's a lot of what I drank in seventh grade.

Mike: Okay. So, it is now 1996. Olestra has been approved with these weird caveats. And this now becomes a marketing story, because Americans have been following this olestra story vaguely. There's been news reports, there's been all this stuff about the hearings and not getting approved, etc. But most Americans don't really know about this. Procter & Gamble has to do all of this consumer education about these miracle new potato chips. They license the olestra technology to Frito-Lay, which comes out with these Lay's WOW Chips, and they start testing them in a couple of cities. And then they eventually expand the test markets to Ohio and Indiana for Lay's WOW Chips and fat free Pringles. So, these are sort of America's first introduction to olestra. So, we are going to watch an ad for Lay's WOW Chips.

Aubrey: Oh, delightful.

Mike: It's lit. 

[video starts]

Father: Remember the simple pleasures of being a kid. Bear back. Now you can eat like a kid again, when all you cared about was taste. Introducing new Lay's WOW potato chips. They taste just as good as regular Lay’s and because they're made with Olean, they're half the calories and 100% fat-free.

Kid: Dad, how are we going to get home?

Father: You know, son. You worry too much.

New Lay’s WOW. Life taste good again. 

[video ends]

Mike: See?

Aubrey: Uff. 

Mike: They cut out the part where dad ate an edible before that.

Aubrey: [laughs] So, they are in this ad. You see a kid float by on a river on a sunny day, the kid is laying in the middle of an inner tube. And then you see an adult float by. The adult is holding a bag that says, what does it say fat free, all the flavor or something like that?

Mike: Yeah.

Aubrey: That's a weird ad that the angle that they would take is, like, “Remember childhood.” Remember how you thought about food in childhood?

Mike: I watched a bunch of other ones too. The main message seems to be like, you can eat as much of this as you want. And this is a safe food to eat. It's very similar to other diet marketing. Although, what did you think of the presentation of olestra in that ad?

Aubrey: I think it's smart to present it as brand name Olean because I think that makes more intuitive sense. It's got the word lean in it. There you go. Good job marketing. Again, like I feel really stuck on this idea of, like, I don't feel I see a lot of diet marketing. That is like, “Remember how you used to just eat and not think about it?” That's a really fascinating angle to take. It also feels like a relatively light touch on the olestra end of things.

Mike: This is even more obvious in another ad because alongside the ad for specific chips like fat free Pringles and stuff, they're also doing ads for Olean as an ingredient. There's a separate campaign, like full page ads in the New York Times and stuff about like, “There's this new thing called Olean and it's amazing.” We're going to watch an Olean ad that starts running at the same time. 

Aubrey: All right, here we go.

[video starts]

Farmer: I remember the day he came to our farm, just before harvest time. He introduced himself. We talked some. And he told me about something that had never been done before. Soybeans like mine were now being used for a new kind of cooking oil. It seems the folks who make Crisco had come up with Olean, an oil that fries up snacks without adding any fat or calories. Make them taste specially good. So, I told him, that sounds all right. Now, I see what I'm part of and it makes me feel good. 

Female Speaker: Coming soon from the makers of Crisco. New fat free Olean, a good place to start.

[video ends]

Aubrey: I feel at the end of that, they should just play like, “I'm proud to be an America.” It looks like a political ad from the mid-90s. 

Mike: I know. It really does. 

Aubrey: I'm just a homespun farmer growing soybeans, the thing that most Americans at this point don't really understand what they are or what they do or how they work or what they're in.

Mike: I'm just a real American worrying about fat and calories on my ranch. [crosstalk] 

Aubrey: Totally. “I'm just your farmer grandpa.” That's so fascinating to me that so much of this was so like, wholesome all-American. I can't fathom a diet food being marketed that way now. 

Mike: It's such a weird move to me to have this thing that is created through like food science in labs and technology. It's like the least natural thing imaginable. And yet, they're like, “Now, I'm just a country folk trying to eat some chips.” Yeah, it's like someone came to my ranch and he told me that my soybeans were now going to be used for like a different kind of chip, I don’t think they do that.

Aubrey: Well, the idea that Frito-Lay is using the work of like family farmers. Dude, I mean, no, no, no.

Mike: This is the thing, it is very political campaign in the “family farmer,” which almost does not exist in the United States. The number of actual sort of what we think of as family farmers are all but nonexistent. But like trope survives in political campaigns, and like when they need white washing for extremely chemically processed ingredients, they're like, “We better truck out the family farmer.”

Aubrey: They're like, “We’ll just go to the olestra farm where we farmed Frankenstein's molecule.” 

Mike: [laughs]

Aubrey: They're trying to win over the public to a new substance that could totally reasonably freak people out, because they know that they also have to say that it causes loose stools and abdominal cramping. 

Mike: I know. Real Americans don't get downstairs liquid problems.

Aubrey: And if we do it's from buffalo wings. 

Mike: Yeah. [laughs] 

Aubrey: Like God intended. 

Mike: This is the really predictable part. There's also a year’s long campaign by Procter & Gamble to court, media figures, academics, and like doctors and stuff. The American Medical Association puts out a statement supportive of olestra, but doesn't mention that it's also negotiating an $800,000 donation from Procter & Gamble at the same time. 

Aubrey: What?

Mike: Yeah. They also fund a bunch of academic conferences and medical professionals. And Jeffrey Steingarten talks about how they sent little tinfoil packets of chips, actual chips, to hundreds of newspaper editors across the country. This just is a full court press.

Aubrey: God. I mean, it makes sense, that is how you market things. 

Mike: Yeah. 

Aubrey: You and I get emails about this when people are like, “Do you want to try our CBD gummies-

Mike: Oh, my fucking God. Yes.

Aubrey: [crosstalk] -on our show, do you want to try this thing? Do you want to try that thing?” That's how you get people on board is go, “Hear a bunch of trusted voices, they say this is fine." It's totally fine.

Mike: Yes. This is an excerpt from a Mother Jones article about this full court press. It says, “Louis Sullivan, a former Secretary of Health and Human Services, which oversees the FDA has addressed press conferences and written letters to the editor on behalf of olestra. Rarely is it noted that he also works as a paid Procter & Gamble consultant. In one dispatch to the New York Times, Sullivan identified only as the President of Morehouse School of Medicine said, ‘Americans can feel confident in the safety of snacks made with olestra.’” They're not straightforward, “We will pay you money if you say these things.” It's just like everything is just a little bit borderline.

Aubrey: Yeah, it doesn't rise to the level of like the green coffee bean extract guy on Dr. Oz. But it's like riding the line. 

Mike: There's actually an article that comes out in the early 2000s, where this is a dope methodology. They actually go through every single author who wrote a paper on olestra. All these scientific literature, weight loss literature, bamu stuff literature, and they look into how many of these people have financial relationships with Procter & Gamble, and of the supportive articles, like the articles that find no effective olestra, olestra is chill. 80% of the authors of those papers had at least one financial interaction with Procter & Gamble. Again, you can't draw these very clean lines, there's not necessarily like brown envelopes of cash trading hands. And you could just as easily say that Procter & Gamble is seeking out researchers who are doing research, finding good things about olestra and paying them afterwards. The causal relationship doesn't necessarily go only in one direction. But it's just worth noting.

Aubrey: Yeah. That sort of failure to disclose part makes it seem fishier, to be like, “Oh, they paid me money. But I'm not going to talk about that. I'm just going to talk about how great their products are.” This is like Instagram ads, you have to add, like hashtag add, and this feels like it's missing the hashtag ad part of it. 

Mike: Yeah. Just what it shows to me is how deeply embedded in the food science field, the food companies are. There's a really interesting passage in Marion Nestle's book, where she says, like, “I have gotten money from Procter & Gamble.” Basically, if you attend food conferences, if you speak at things, if you talk at universities, if you basically work in this field, it is almost impossible to not have some financial relationship with Procter & Gamble and Unilever and all the other ones, because they're always the ones funding these things.

Aubrey: This is a real no ethical consumption under capitalism moment. There's no way for this to be clean and tidy for kind of anybody or for kind of any industry. Particularly when folks don't disclose.

Mike: Exactly, yeah. We now come to the downfall of olestra.

Aubrey: I am so fascinated by this. I don't actually know anything about how or why or when it came off the shelves. It just was there and then it wasn't.

Mike: it was there much longer than anybody realizes, because what happened is olestra stayed on the shelves, but the warning label disappeared. 

Aubrey: What?

Mike: We get to, in 1998, the product goes national. So, they've done these test markets, they then launched the thing nationally, they run all of these ads, and it sells somewhere around $400 million the first year, and they're expecting that to rise to 1.5 billion. But then within two years, it's down to $200 million. There's a couple of reasons for the collapse. The first is that because they're a little bit harder to make and there's all these extra steps in the industrial processes to make fat-free Pringles. They're more expensive. There's also Steingarten talks about the chips might not have been that good. Apparently, they left a film on the roof of your mouth, like a noticeable aftertaste, like greasiness. Fundamentally, you're paying more for a product that isn't as good. 

Aubrey: This is a little bit like when I think it was probably like five years ago when stevia started showing up in everything, and people were like, it's natural, it's sweet, but it's not sugar, and it's actually sweeter than sugar, and blah, blah, blah, and people were like, “Oh, it seems good.” And bought a ton of like whatever with stevia in it at Costco and burnt themselves out on it, and then realized, “Oh, wait, there is this sort of aftertaste.” It's just genuine consumer feedback. It sounds what led to this kind of deflation.

Mike: Yeah. Also, timing. Remember SnackWell’s cookies peaked in 1995, and then by 1999, they were basically over?

Aubrey: Uh-huh.

Mike: Olestra comes out in 1998. So, we're at the sort of this rapid collapse of the fat free consumer product market. We're starting to get rid of all these weird processed products and we're starting to discover Atkins, that's the fad diet that we find a couple years later. There's also the thing, I mean, you can dive into the price data and the taste data and whatever. But also, fundamentally to me anyway, we're talking about a product that has a warning label saying “you might shit yourself.” I think some of the optimistic projections are like, “Are you kidding me?” No other food at the grocery store has a sign on it that says “you might shit yourself.” There's a significant chance you're going to shit yourself, that kind of matters.

Aubrey: Also, no product has that sign and no product has been required to have that sign. 

Mike: Exactly. 

Aubrey: It also seems like extraordinarily predictable that this would be the late-night comedy fodder that it became. 

Mike: Oh, yeah. That's the thing. A lot of these unfortunate, a lot of these jokes are lost to time. But I remember as a kid, olestra jokes were everywhere. It was a national laughingstock. 

Aubrey: Yes. 

Mike: There's also the debate over the side effects of olestra, because olestra has now been on the market for two years. It's available to all Americans, and we can finally answer the question. Does olestra cause you to shit yourself? This puts me in grave danger of being canceled on my own podcast, but looking at all of the data, all of the information that we have about this, the thing of olestra making you shit yourself, I have to say is kind of an urban legend. 

Aubrey: Really?

Mike: The only actual evidence of olestra causing all of this bamu distress is right after they hit the market in 1996. The Center for Science in the Public Interest sets up a hotline where people can call in and report any symptoms that they have as a result of eating olestra. So, that they get reports of people saying like, “I thought I was going to die.” Another one says, “It was like child birth.” 

Aubrey: [chuckles] 

Mike: The Center for Science in the Public Interest says, to this day that they and the FDA received more complaints about olestra than any other food additive in history. 

Aubrey: Whoa.

Mike: Yeah. So, they have this voluminous amount of complaints about people who ate the leftover chips and had these horrific experiences. However, this being a show of two methodology queens, it is worth noting that like, this is an extremely shitty methodology. You're basing this completely on anonymous phone calls, and you're not actually verifying anything.

Aubrey: Well, this is also a little bit like a given episode of Law & Order when they're like, “We have to move the trial to a different town, because the jury pool is so tainted by media coverage of it.” This is all happening at a time when at least once a day, someone in your earshot is making a joke about olestra and shitting yourself.

Mike: Exactly. To it's a great credit, CSPI did an actual sort of scientific phone survey of people who had symptoms after eating olestra and they found that 78% had seen negative stories about olestra in the press. Part of this is like people are being primed to attribute any stomachache, anything that they had to the olestra chips that they ate maybe an hour ago, maybe five days ago. It's really hard to disentangle this from the fact that, like, yes, there were late night jokes about this, and there's a fucking warning label on the package, saying 'you might shit yourself.' Alongside the CSPI hotline, Procter & Gamble also sets up a hotline. So, on the bag of chips, it will say if you have any questions about this product, if you want to report any problems with this product call like whatever 1-800-BAMU stuff, whatever it was.

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Mike: It was some hotline number. Procter & Gamble also got 15,000 calls, which CSPI and others say like, “Oh, my God, they're getting all these complaints, like a flood of complaints.” But according to Procter & Gamble, only 9% of those are actually complaints. The rest of them are just requests for information. “Where do I buy these in my town?” Kind of random ass shit. They've published the data from all these calls that they get to the hotline. And what's really interesting is the calls, the complaints to the hotline spike after the chips are introduced in the test market, and there's a wave of marketing and a wave of news stories like, “Hey, this weird technological ingredient is coming onto the market.” And then they taper off very quickly, but that doesn't actually track with sales, because right when the products are introduced, the sales are relatively low, and then sales increase over time. But the calls completely taper off. So, if you had people who were actually shitting themselves based on eating these chips, you would have calls to the hotline rising as sales of the chips rise, and you don't see that pattern. You see the spike around media coverage of olestra, not sale of olestra.

Aubrey: Right. I could also see that wave of calls, the same kind of person who would call a Procter & Gamble hotline, would be the first person in their town to try a new kind of chip and pride themselves on it. So that's more a measure of like how are early adopters responding to this, than it is about what's the effect of this food.

Mike: Right. We should be careful, these are all Procter & Gamble studies. Just on their face, we should be skeptical of this. But the information that Procter & Gamble publishes is that another thing that shows up in the reports on the hotline is that people will say, “I ate these olestra chips at noon, and I was shitting myself by 2:00.” And that isn't something that showed up in any of the clinical data, or any of the double-blind placebo tests that they had done while they were developing the chips. So, all of the symptoms take two or three days to happen. It has to build up in your system and you have to eat a can of Pringles every day. And then by day three or four, you're reporting that you have diarrhea, but you're not getting that like an hour later because that's physically impossible, because it takes a long time for this fat to get through your large intestine. 

A lot of the complaints that people are reporting are basically impossible. And there's also no relationship between vulnerable groups and olestra side effects. Among the population, you would expect elderly people and children to have much greater likelihood of symptoms because they have just kind of weaker guts generally. And yet, the complaints to Procter & Gamble are very evenly distributed throughout the population. 

Aubrey: Huh.

Mike: Procter & Gamble also does a thing where they recruit people who complained about the gastrointestinal symptoms. So, they get all these complaints, they get people's contact information, and they get 100 people and Procter & Gamble does this double-blind placebo-controlled study where they give half of them chips every day. And what they find after eight weeks, is that there's no difference between olestra and the placebo group.

Aubrey: Jesus. 

Mike: Again, we want to be careful because this is Procter & Gamble designing the study, and companies lie. We don't want to give Procter & Gamble all of the credit. But again, on its face, this seems like a pretty good way of testing.

Aubrey: Well, systemically Procter & Gamble is doing this, but so far, that's the only research we have access to. 

Mike: Exactly. Which is a problem.

Aubrey: Which is systemically a problem, absolutely no question. 

Mike: I know.

Aubrey: So, you got to go in once you got, or make major systemic reforms that will take decades go for it. 

Mike: This is not a Procter & Gamble stan episode or [Aubrey laughing] olestra is a maligned figure from the 1990s. I do not give a shit. I have no interest in defending olestra, but bring it back. It never got approved, actually, in Canada, the UK or the EU, and I don't give a shit. They have not been deprived of anything. We'll get into the sort of broader structural reasons why olestra is trash. But there's no smoking gun of like people actually having these symptoms. It took me a long time to believe Procter & Gamble, because this is what Procter & Gamble has always said, is that on any given month, 40% of Americans have gastrointestinal symptoms. Abdominal cramping, diarrhea, feeling bad in your bamu. And it's very difficult to trace these things back to one thing that you ate. Basically, to me it's the center of reason why olestra never should have been approved in the first place, because it's impossible to untangle the effect of the chips from just the population having gastrointestinal issues generally.

Aubrey: Yeah, totally. This is also how we get Whole30 and elimination diets broadly, this idea that, like, “If I feel bad, it must be because of a food. I just have to figure out which food and stop eating that food.” When there's still so much that we don't know about digestion and about what causes gastrointestinal distress. It's a fiction that we keep chasing without really a whole lot of evidence to back it up.

Mike: Well, this is why one of the most fascinating studies on this, was this is also a Procter & Gamble study, so grains of salt, but they basically set up this thing in a movie theater, where they said, “Hey, come and watch a movie, you get all you can eat chips.” So, basically, when you come in, you get like a can of fucking Pringles, and they give you like as many Pringles as you want. Some people are eating a little, some people are eating a lot, and then afterwards, they measure people's gastrointestinal symptoms. So, it is true that of the people who went to this movie theater test and who ate olestra chips, 16% of them had various gastrointestinal issues afterwards. Do you want to know what percentage of people had gastrointestinal issues after eating normal chips? 

Aubrey: [chuckles] 16%.

Mike: 18%. 

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Mike: It's one of the things were like, yes, olestra causes problems, but maybe all of the other stuff causes problems, too, it just all causes problems?

Aubrey: This is very genuinely blowing my mind.

Mike: Isn't it? Me, too.

Aubrey: It's very genuinely blowing my mind. That's what's happening right now. 

Mike: Basically, brass tacks my read of the entire situation from everything that I read from the federal documents, to various independent studies that have come out since all of this controversy is, basically, if you eat a decent amount of olestra foods, like a can of Pringles every single day, after three or four days, there's about a 20% chance that you'll get like some bamu symptom. For the majority of people, it's going to be something relatively minor, like farting, like you're going to fart more, or one of them was like pooping frequency, like you're going to poop more. But there's a small percentage of that small percentage is going to get things that are more irritating, like abdominal cramping or diarrhea. There's a couple of isolated extremely anecdotal cases of people with severe, requiring hospitalization symptoms. But those are so rare that when they happen, there's an entire journal article about them. There's literally a journal article about two children that had severe gastrointestinal distress after eating olestra. But they were also taking orlistat at the same time. 

Aubrey: Oh, God. 

Mike: Yeah, it's not clear how those things were interacting, but in extremely rare cases, it sounds like something super severe can happen.

Aubrey: And that's like olestra, famously a diarrhea factory. And orlistat also famously, a diarrhea factory. That's a pretty unique situation. That's not a clean read on just olestra or just orlistat.

Mike: Right. I mean that seems to be the overall state of the data. Although, we should also note a very important caveat that, of course, Procter & Gamble does not bring up themselves, is that olestra was not designed to just be in chips. The vision of olestra was that it would be all over the US food supply. The plan was to have this in cookies, to have this in breads, to have this in crackers. There was olestra Wheat Thins at one point, they were going to have like restaurants using it. The idea of like, if you eat reasonably large portions of this every single day, you're going to get symptoms. Well, the idea was for all of us to be eating quite a bit of this. That was the vision at the end of the rainbow. If 20% of the population is getting some form of distress, if the food supply had started incorporating this more, we all would have been eating moderate amounts of it at some point. This was never going to be sustainable.

Aubrey: The volume of poop jokes that we got about olestra was maybe jumping the gun, was not borne out by the data that we had. But it would have been borne out by the vision for olestra. 

Mike: Yeah. The poop jokes were a warning to us all.

Aubrey: The canary and the poop coal mine?

Mike: Yes.

Aubrey: In the poop mine?


Mike: What's so interesting is, all of the debate around olestra, generally, in the literature is around, does it cause bamu explosions or not? But there's the much bigger question about olestra, is does it help people to lose weight or not? The entire justification for olestra was supposed to be, it helps people lose weight. One of the only studies I found that actually tests olestra, for weight loss, they tested olestra versus a reduced fat diet, versus a control diet. And they found that olestra was significantly better than the reduced fat diet. But, of course, as we always do on this show, you have to zoom in on the actual results. People who are on the reduced fat diet lost six pounds, and people who were on the olestra diet lost 10 pounds. This is over 10 weeks. Six pounds, 10 pounds, it's all pretty modest. But then, as soon as I saw this, I was so excited to tell you about it, because, of course, this gets written up in the press, and you could find it like, “Oh, my God, it turns out olestra does work for weight loss.” But then you look at the actual specifics and there's only 15 people in the study, first of all.

Aubrey: [laughs] 

Mike: It's three groups of five people each.

Aubrey: That's a kindergarten classroom divided up into three different groups at playtime.

Mike: Yeah. This is an in the abstract, but if you zoom in, you actually read the actual study, it notes that maybe the reason why people lost more weight on the olestra diet than the reduced fat diet is that everyone in the olestra group was fat and everyone in the reduced fat group was skinny.

Aubrey: Ah, fuck off. 

Mike: It's like, ah--

Aubrey: Fuck, ah, argh, off. 

Mike: Isn't this the thing you're supposed to be measuring?

Aubrey: Every fat person can tell you, and also anyone who understands arithmetic can tell you. A smaller percentage of a fat person's body weighs more than a larger percentage of a thin person. You know what I mean? Proportionately, you may be losing weight at the same kind of rate if you look at percentages, which is a more meaningful measure I would say. Then straight up, just numerical pounds lost. 

Mike: Yes. It seems like we're going to test whether Tylenol helps with headaches, and we're going to split people into groups, and it really helps with this one group. Oh, it turns out people in one group had headaches. The people in the other group didn't have headaches. Well, you can't have that as a variable.

Aubrey: I will say this is also like a bizarro grape that I have with weight loss world broadly. Aside from bariatric weight loss surgeries, there's not really any distinguishing between like, what kind of person does this help to lose weight? Under what circumstances. The number of well-intended and terrible thin women who have come up to me and been like, “I lost 20 pounds on this thing. You should totally try it.” I'm like, “Oh, you don't have any sense of the mechanics of losing 150 pounds.” 

Mike: Yes. So, basically, the studies on olestra for weight loss are as inconclusive as they are for every other thing for weight loss. It works in the short term, or maybe it doesn't, and some studies find it and some studies don't. But the mechanism behind this appears to be this idea of the compensation effect, that most famously with artificial sweeteners, when you give people a Diet Coke, they'll just drink more, because they're like, “Oh, well, there's no sugar in it, so I can drink more of it.” The idea is that when people know that their food has olestra in it, and there's no fat, no calories, then they're just going to end up eating more. And they do actually find this in rat studies when they give them little rat Pringles, they'll compensate, they'll eat. I think it's like, exactly 35% more to compensate for the fact that they have 35% fewer calories, in this kind of exact one to one way. 

But the human literature, I like that the literature mentions this, that humans don't eat for the same reason that rats do. We're not just seeking homeostasis, we eat for social reasons, we eat for emotional reasons, we eat because we're bored, we eat for a million reasons, not related to our sort of hunger and satiety signals. In humans, the research is kind of all over the place. Some studies find, like, there's one study that finds if you eat whatever bread made with olestra for breakfast, you'll compensate by eating more at dinner. There're some studies that find that there's weird buffets studies that don't find a compensation effect, it seems to really depend on the method that you're using to measure the compensation effect and the day-to-day stuff. And this stuff is really hard to measure too because people know they're in a study. But it seems to be that people don't compensate calories, if they don't know that they're eating olestra chips. So, if you give people like olestra foods and you're just like, “Here're some foods, people will actually reduce their calorie consumption.” But if you give them olestra foods, and you're like, “Hey, here's some foods with fewer calories and less fat,” they will actually compensate because they know they're eating less at the initial meal with olestra in it.

Aubrey: Uh-huh. I would imagine that folks have been sort of burned so many times by diet foods or have a lived experience with lower fat. There is now an existing expectation that it will be less satisfying that you will need more later. 

Mike: Exactly. 

Aubrey: When you market something as a diet food, I would imagine that it would be teeing folks up psychologically to preemptively feel unsatisfied. 

Mike: You find these articles that say like, “Well, there's no compensation effect for olestra, and it only happens that people know they're eating olestra, so there's no compensation.” And it's like, “Well, under what scenario would somebody trying to lose weight not know that they're eating olestra?” If you're eating it, you're buying it at the store and you're buying it at the store because you know about it. Again, this isn't some footnote it's a central issue in the research that if you know you're eating diet foods, they don't have a diet effect on you. At the population level, if we wanted to like make America lose weight using olestra, somehow you'd have to put this into our food without telling us. 

Aubrey: Is it then just like you set up a box with a stick propping it up and put chips, like a dish of chips in it and then like a fat person comes along and you pull the string on the stick and trap them in the box? Mike, I feel this is rearranging my brain around what I thought I knew.

Mike: I know. Procter & Gamble is good, giant corporations, everything they do is fine. 

Aubrey: Nope. No, Mike, I'm out. 


Aubrey: Back out. Never mind. It totally made you shit yourself. I'm done.

Mike: [laughs] I feel deeply weird about this episode and this conclusion by the way. 

Aubrey: It's totally weird. This is a real history should make you feel weird moment. 

Mike: Do you want to get to the twist of the twist? 

Aubrey: Oh, my God, there's more twist?

Mike: Oh, yeah. 

Aubrey: Bring me more twist, Michael.

Mike: These studies, all of this post market testing stuff is how Procter & Gamble convinces the FDA to remove the warning label in 2003. Olestra stays on the market, it's in chips, they rebrand Lay's WOW Chips as Lay’s Light. But fat free Pringles, Lay's Chips, they're on the market for years. It doesn't seem like they were ever big sellers. It was never the sensation that Procter & Gamble wanted it to be. But it's just quietly on the market for ages. We actually tried to find olestra chips to eat for this episode, and we could not find any, but you can find them on the Walmart website or whatever, but they've been sold out for ages. So, I think that's just kind of quietly faded from the market. But one of the only independent studies that I found that olestra actually gives people less gastrointestinal symptoms than other food additives. 

Aubrey: You shut the fuck up right now, Michael.

Mike: Fucking bananas. Do you remember our old friend from the Halo Top episode sorbitol? 

Aubrey: I sure do. 

Mike: Researchers did a double-blind placebo-controlled study where they gave people doses of sorbitol, doses of olestra, and doses of placebo. And this is a quote from the article, people who ate sorbitol 40 grams a day had liquid/loose stools within one to three hours of consumption. Olestra consumption at levels far in excess of normal snacking conditions resulted in a gradual stool softening effect after several days of consumption did not meet any of the three objective measures of diarrhea and did not increase gastrointestinal symptoms. Olestra has this miserable reputation for causing people to shit themselves [unintelligible [01:01:31]. Other food additives actually have worse effects, like objectively worse effects. But they haven't been subject to the same amount of media scrutiny.

Aubrey: The stuff that's in Halo Top is xylitol and this one's sorbitol. But they're both sugar alcohols, which are in everything right now. And there is broad research on sugar alcohols that upholds this idea that like, if you eat more than a little bit of any kind of sugar alcohol, you are going to have some gastrointestinal stuff. It'll also scramble your hunger cues potentially, there's research that suggests that that may be happening. It feels we're in one of those moments where there's an olestra happening right now. Uff.

Mike: Sorbitol does what we thought olestra did.

Aubrey: And does it more acutely.

Mike: Yes. 

Aubrey: Oh, Mike, I feel I'm leaving the movie theater after seeing like, The Witch or Hereditary, you know what I mean, where you're like, oh, this feels bad in a very sort of large-scale kind of way. [chuckles] 

Mike: Well, this is what's amazing to me is that the summing up, the last thing to say about this is that none of this debunking is meant to be like, “Let's bring olestra back. Olestra is good.” The problem with olestra isn't the fact that it made people shit themselves. The problem with olestra is that it never should have existed in the first place. We're not going to have a technological solution to a political public health problem. We're just not. The entire endeavor is just pointless. Why do we need a fake fat with zero calories and dubious long-term effects, when we can just do the things that we know are going to make people healthier now. Subsidize fruits and vegetables, make it more accessible for people, make it easier for people to walk and bike to work. These are the things that we talk about every single episode and we're not doing those things.

Aubrey: Olestra also feels like a house that's built on a foundation of sand. It also was uncritically replicating and giving credence to the idea that dietary fat was what made people fat, even more than that, the sand underneath that sand, is there are too many fat people and there need to be less fat people. Again, I fundamentally disagree with the idea that there's too much of a kind of person. There are plenty of health conditions that we can address. There are plenty of ways to get around this stuff, but this just feels a failure of both systems and of critical thinking about cultural beliefs. I feel the stuff that I'm taking away from this episode are a few things. 

One, this is what happens when you don't have systems set up for that technology that's coming down the pike. This is also what happens when you have outdated policies and policy structures for how things get on the market and where the testing lives. It's also what happens when ethics take a backseat to consumer behaviors, or the will of the market. It's what happens when we underestimate the role that art and comedy and media play in the formation of our opinions of things. My strongest memories of olestra are about the jokes about pooping yourself. At some point, it does worm its way into your brain. I'm going to be thinking and talking about this for a couple of weeks. I would like to thank you for making me more insufferable to my family. 

Mike: It turns out, all along, this was a story about feeling weird in your upstairs.

Aubrey: [laughs] 

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