Posts Tagged ‘health’

Food Choices Documentary

I’m not going to lie. I knew this was going to be pushing veg*nism from the start and that’s why I watched it. I wanted to poke holes in it, and boy are there holes to poke. But, like a lot of documentaries, even if you’re not sure about the premise, it can still have some good information.

Right in the beginning, I think the second inverviewee, we see Dr. T. Colin Campbell. Coming from the paleo/primal side of things, I promptly rolled my eyes. While he is far from the only person interviewed, I’m sure his name will give the tenor of the information offered. On the other hand, as was noted near the end of the film, if you shoot the messenger, you don’t have to take seriously the implications of their message. Since that’s a very good point, let’s set Dr. Campbell over in the corner for a minute and use the message for target practice.

Once upon a time, the only people who really got what we now consider “lifestyle diseases” were the amazingly wealthy, the kings and queens. Fast forward to now, and a whole lot more of us are living as relative royalty. Compared to the Pharaohs and Queen Elizabeth I, I’ll buy that. For the most part, at least in wealthy countries, we have at our disposal basically all of the refined foods and animal products that we choose to eat. It is now through “nutritional ignorance and lifestyle choices” that we still suffer the same diseases.

They do look at our closest genetic relatives, chimpanzees, and point out that they are frugivores. Ok, as long as we aren’t being strict in the definition. They also point out that we are built more like frugivores than omnivores. Because our big brains and opposable thumbs haven’t given us any technology to move past killing meat with our teeth and eating it raw. (The shot of the narrator chewing on his very patient cat was pretty cute.) Then someone points out that all of the animals we eat for meat are vegetarians. Clearly they’ve never watched a chicken go after bugs or meat scraps. Also, since they point out that meat is, in the end, muscle, it does make sense that some animals do use plants to build said muscle. It’s called the food chain and we learned about it in elementary school. Even, yes, rhinoceroses, elephants, and buffalo, some of the biggest animals on the planet at this point. I’m guessing no one noticed that all those three do is eat in order to get enough calories to maintain their size.

The part where I can’t disagree much is the take down of modern, CAFO meat production. It’s dangerous for humans, it’s terrible for the planet, and it pretty much only benefits the really, really big meat conglomerates. They also bring up the problems with fish, which most don’t. They use the Sea Shephard folks who are, well, a little further out there than most, but the facts are solid. The ocean has lost 90% of the big fish that we consider commercially viable and while their bycatch numbers might be exaggerated, it’s still a serious problem.

They do make a brief mention that “commercial” eggs are particularly bad, given their Omega 6 contents and the microbiome created when you use GMO feed. What they don’t do is talk about how backyard, properly cared for chickens can combat these problems. They also touch on organic, grassfed beef. It’s benefits are a total fabrication by the meat industry, don’t you know? After all, it’s more land intense, and even if they’re humanely raised, there’s no way to humanely kill them, so it’s still eating death and fear. There’s just no way around it!

I did find it interesting that they discussed the place of calcium and protein, which people do question. I did know that calcium isn’t actually all that useful for bones unless it’s in balance with the other nutrients like vitamin D and magnesium. (They didn’t mention the second part of that sentence, just the first.) Protein I know less about. What I do know is that whichever side of the fence you’re on, the ADA recommendations are wrong. They’re either way too high or way too low. The fact that human breast milk has the least protein of any mammal was interesting. A juxtaposition that I found entertaining was in one part they discussed that you can’t get too little protein from a diet of plants,  as long as the calories are sufficient. In another part, they mention that just because the protein line on the label gives an amount, that doesn’t mean your body can process and use all that’s offered. Hmm.

My main beef with the documentary (yeah, I said it), is that they don’t propose veganism just for some people. They propose it as the best and really only option for anyone. They  don’t even allow for vegetarianism. Although I suppose when you think of milk as “cow secretions,” it might be less appetizing. Despite the popular euphemism of a “plant-based diet,” what they insist works for anyone and everyone is a low fat, plant only diet. This includes children. Apparently in Dr. Spock’s last book, he declared that children should be vegan because there’s no need for animal products for health and therefore no need for them to develop the taste. This would be the same Dr. Spock who’s books spent more time on anicdotal evidence than science.

Of course, it ends on a moral note. Even a lot of these statements I can agree with, out of context. “The boat is sinking, so plug the biggest hole.” “We have an invisible belief system that makes us love some animals and eat others.” “It doesn’t matter how healthy we are if the planet isn’t healthy.” “People aren’t stupid, they’re asleep.”

The thing that frustrates me about food movements is that the sides have so very much in common, but they will not or cannot get past the details to allow for other points of view to maybe be right for the person holding them. The information that’s presented is a little shallow, but not bad. I think they come to the wrong conclusions, but that doesn’t mean they don’t also have good points. I’m sure we can all agree that everyone could stand to eat more vegetables.

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What the Health Documentary

I’m rather torn about this one. I really, really disagree with the final assessment that going vegan will fix everything, but the research inditing the food industry is impressive. The commercial meat and pharmaceutical industries are terrible and the people that should be protecting us from dangerous food and practices are in the pockets of the companies we need to be protected from.

American medicine works on the disease model. In other words, you get sick and go to the doctor to be treated. We don’t go to the doctor to learn how to prevent getting sick in the first place. I, and the documentary, really don’t blame doctors for this. Between having no time with patients, patients that only come in when they’re sick, and never actually being taught that what you eat can do you good or harm, modern American doctors aren’t in a position to be able to prevent disease. This, of course, works very well for the pharmaceutical industry. If you don’t ever fix the problem then you may well be medicated for the rest of your life. Each of those medications that you take has a profit margin. Unfortunately, according to the documentary, the folks in charge of deciding what doctors learn appear to be actively opposed to changing this and teaching nutrition.

There is, actually, an up side to doctors not providing nutritional advice. If they did, there are a limited number of options they can give without risking being called a nut job and being sued for bad advice. The first place they always turn is to the current food pyramid which is created every five years by the US Diatary Advisory Comittee. This committee is made up of folks who have taken money from one or more of the following: McDonalds, Kraft, Mars, Dannon, the beef industry, the egg industry, the dairy industry, and Anheiser Busch. I’m not really sure why a beer company felt the need to contribute, but I’m sure they had their reasons.

Of course, it isn’t really any sort of secret anymore that government is run for and by big business, so let’s look at non-governmental bodies who care about our health. If you can wade through enough pages, the American Diabetes Association promises to give you food tips to help manage your blood sugar. I’m sure they aren’t influenced by the money the group gets from Dannon, Kraft, or Bumblebee. According to the documentary, chicken is actually the worst meat for carcinogens since we eat it far and away more than any other. Surely the American Cancer Society . . . Oh, they take money from Tyson and Yum who owns KFC. The American Heart Association is totally against red meat and cholesterol. There’s no way their beef recipes in the healthy eating section are influenced by the income from pretty much every beef congress in the country, along with Tyson, Subway, and Domino’s Pizza. (I am having a hard time finding their list of corporate sponsors to link.) As a last ditch effort, surely Susan B. Komen, that pure, pink bastion of cancer research and cure effort can be trusted to only put their stamp on things that are good for you! Like Dietz & Watson, makers of processed deli meats which are a Group 1 carcinogen like cigarettes. (They aren’t actually equivalent, but they are in the same group.)

Then there’s the direct influence that the big food companies have on government. The meat and dairy industries apparently disclose spending $138 million annually on lobbying. This has resulted in things like ag-gag laws where you risk being branded a terrorist if you record the current state of corporate animal husbandry and share it. It is, of course, the big companies that enforce it, not your neighbor with 75 laying hens and a milk cow. I’m sure they don’t have a single thing to hide behind a law like that, right? That amount actually pales in comparison to what the pharmaceutical industry spends. At $238 billion annually, they spend almost twice what the oil and gas lobbyists spend. I can’t be the only one that finds that frightening.

They do go through the usual song and dance about us not being carnivorous apes and being anatomically frugivores. And, of course, if you have trouble with a veg*n diet it’s not because there’s anything wrong with the diet, but you’re obviously doing something wrong. What I can go along with is that there are major changes in people’s bodies within the first couple of weeks of going vegan. Positive changes. That actually makes a lot of sense if you’re pulling someone off a standard American diet. All of a sudden the body is being given fiber and vitamins. It’s being given the building blocks of life instead of fast food and soda. This is no different than feeling better on a juice diet or fasting. It’s being given a break from the daily abuse it’s been absorbing. What I have to wonder, though, is if a veg*n diet is being used in place of medication and one is expected to then be veg*n for the rest of one’s life, is this really different than being medicated for the rest of your life?

In the end, the documentary leaves me impressed with the facts that support their final conclusion, I just think they came to the wrong conclusion. Get off the standard American diet, eat more vegetables, think about where your food comes from and who is paying the people that are telling you what to eat. Just look at all of your options before you decide exactly which whole foods diet actually makes sense to you.

The Age of Plastic

Plastic, when you really look into it, is terrifying stuff. It is not biodegradable, it is only sort of recyclable, and it’s probably going to be what defines our layer of the geologic timetable.

I just finished reading The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. Fascinating, and somewhat terrifying, read. There are so many things that will rebound without the pressures that humans place on them, but there are other things that we have done that are irreversible. Between nuclear waste and plastic, though, I think plastic is the one that scares me more. I grew up not too far from a nuclear plant. Dad used to say that it was the right place to be. If it went up, we weren’t going to have to worry about the fallout. With nuclear energy, it’s not easy, but you can make sure that you aren’t using energy from it. Plastic really can’t be escaped in the modern world.

It is only a guess, of course, but they are guessing that it will take around 100,000 years for bacteria to learn how to eat plastic. However, that only works if the bacteria can get to it. If it’s far out in the ocean, or submerged in the ocean, or buried in a landfill, it’s a little tough to get to. Compare that to Chernobyl which could be semi-habitable again as early as 2135. Of course, properly disposed of nuclear waste lasts a little longer- weaponized plutonium would take around 250,000 years to no longer produce dangerous radiation.

We’ve all seen those ads of seagulls or turtles being choked by the rings from a six-pack. It’s sad, and true, that a whole lot of plastic- possibly most of it- ends up in the ocean and a lot of it kills the pretty animals. What they don’t use in ads, and is scarier if you think about it, is what happens to that six-pack holder when it starts to wear down into smaller pieces. Eventually wind and waves and sun will degrade the plastic until it’s turned into tiny pieces that krill mistake for plankton. What ocean creatures rely on krill? Almost everything, directly or indirectly. Krill ingesting the plastic gets it started at nearly the bottom of the food chain. Small fish will eat the krill, concentrating the dose. Medium fish will eat the small fish, concentrating it further. It goes on and on until tuna and sword fish are just packed with the stuff. It doesn’t make a sexy PSA, but it’s got to chalk up at least as many deaths as whole six-pack rings.

I also recently watched Addicted to Plastic, which brought up some more interesting points. We’ve all heard of BPA by now. Did you know that we’re also all contaminated with it? Getting rid of your BPA drinking bottles is good, but only to stop adding on to your current chemical load. Another interesting point was that nurdles, those little plastic things that become anything, have a nasty tendency to absorb pollution from their environment. They aren’t small enough for krill to eat, but lots of smaller fish do dine on them. The pollution they absorb is then passed on to the fish to be passed up the food chain. I bet tuna is sounding delicious right now . . .

Finding My Power: To Farm or Not To Farm

This seems to be the perpetual question. On the one hand, if we don’t have farmers, we don’t have food. This should be pretty straight forward, right? On the other hand, it is difficult, verging on impossible to be a farmer and be able to afford to feed yourself. That should be a ridiculous statement, but it’s not.

In my blog about what it would take to gross $10,000, I only addressed the numbers generated from my interest in farming. This needs to be looked at from another angle, though. What are the numbers my current employment is generating and what are other possible income amounts broken down into the hours, weeks, and months they take to get to $10,000.

I am currently working at a temp job that I rather enjoy making $12 per hour. In Maine, I’m doing ok as a moderately skilled temp. To gross $10,000 I need to work 833.33 (call it 833) hours which is 20.825 (call it 21) weeks or 5 months. That’s a long time. It’s also not taking into account commuting time, gas, clothing requirements, or the fallout from not feeling like I’m contributing in any meaningful way to the world. Gas and commuting time are fairly easy to attach numbers to. I am commuting pretty much exactly an hour each way five days a week plus five 30-minute lunches, making my 40-hour week actually a 52.5-hour week. 40 hours times $12 per hour divided by 52.5 hours means that counting the commute and lunch, I’m being paid $9.14 for each hour the job is consuming. Gas is costing me about $38 per week and the vast bulk of it is for my commute. That means that 21 weeks of commuting costs me $798. At $9.14 per hour before taxes, that means about 87 hours are spent just paying for gas. That’s over 1.5 of my 52.5 hour weeks every 5 months are just paying for gas.

Let’s say I find a job with the same commuting and lunch time and cost, but I’m making $15 per hour for 40 hours. That’s 666.66 (call it 667) hours which is 16.675 (call it 17) weeks or 4 months. My actual time being used is still 52.5 hours per week, which means I’m actually being paid $11.43 per hour before taxes. 17 weeks of commuting at $38 per week is $646 or 56.5 hours. That’s just over a week every 4 months is to pay for gas.

Temping, like an increasing number of permanent jobs, does not offer insurance or any guarantee of hours. Unlike a permanent job, my temporary employer can send me home at lunch time and tell me not to come back for absolutely no reason other than they don’t need me. Poof- no more income. The staffing agency has it in their best interest to get me back to work as quickly as possible, but that might be days or weeks of unemployment. Have you ever tried to save an emergency fund on $12 per hour?

Farming also offers no insurance, no guarantees, and if you’re not careful, the potential to end up with no income and a pile of debt if it all falls apart. On the other hand, I will be using and learning skills that are actually useful in the real world. The world in which being able to feed yourself means knowing whether those berries are yummy or deadly. I have the potential to make my corner of the world healthier, cleaner, and better habitat for both my cultivated plants and animals and the local plants and animals that are using the same space. I can help to perpetuate skills, genes, and equipment that we will need when we realize that Agribusiness might not be working as well as advertised. Farming, particularly small-scale farming, demands a certain level of fitness that will keep me healthy long past the time when an office-bound body would fall apart. It has its own challenges for health, but at least you can often see them coming. I can build the business to embrace my strengths and interests and my income is limited only by my imagination and ability to manifest what I see.

Now comes the hard part. I have been told, am being told, will continue to be told that the responsible thing is to get a “real” job. I need to work on a skill set that employers are looking for. I need to invest time, energy, and possibly money in pursuing what society tells me is an acceptable, respectable, logical use of my time and energy resulting in a “fair” income. I will be paid what I am “worth.”

I was talking about this with a friend and he asked if I’d considered what I would regret not doing in 10 years. 10 years ago I was just settling into a job with a company that I had spent the previous couple of years building a resume to get into. It was a good, solid company. I knew people that loved working there. I was making more money than I had ever made before. I was studying hard to get the licensing to move up in the ranks exactly the way I was supposed to. I may have even had my first exam under my belt at that point. I was doing everything right.

I’m not saying I didn’t learn things from working there, but in the end, you learn things from walking face first into a wall, too. Just because everyone’s doing it and everyone’s saying you need to do it, doesn’t mean it’ll work. Not everyone can get through to Platform 9 ¾, and it turned out I’m one of the ones that can’t.

I can’t quit my job and start farming tomorrow. I do have access to land that I don’t have to pay for, which is more than most people in my situation can say. What I don’t have are a significant number of skills or the money for the infrastructure. 31 hives worth of materials (excluding bees) will cost me about $5,663- that’s 472 hours (12 weeks or 3 months) worth of work at $12 per hour before taxes and expenses. However, I can take the time I would spend looking for a “real” job, and the small amount of disposable income I do have and spend it on a small number of hives so that I can build the necessary skills. If things go well, the hives themselves may gradually generate the income needed to expand my operations. If things go badly, I won’t have spent more than I had and it could be chalked up to an educational expense.

I guess it wasn’t as much of a question as I thought.

Definition of Diet

It’s almost that time again. New Years, the end of the holidays. What gets us through late winter and early spring is thinking about bathing-suit season, right? Right. I doubt it is eager anticipation of being seen in a bathing suit that drives so many to begin their perennial diet on January 1.

I just watched the documentary “Hungry For Change.” It had an agenda, but it also had a lot of rather profound things to say. One of the most profound was “Obesity is not the problem, it is the solution.” In other words, one does not become obese or overweight just because. One becomes obese or overweight for a reason. Your body is trying to tell you something. That changes the entire question about how to lose weight from a matter of sheer willpower to discovering why a person is overweight to begin with. It might be physical, or it might be mental/emotional, or it might be both. In any case, difficulties in losing weight are no longer a matter of being weak-willed or lazy, but a matter of having unsolved problems.

If high numbers win, I’m currently at a personal best. It’s not that I don’t know how to eat well and exercise. I do. In fact, I know a lot more about it now than I did in college when I weighed what I’d prefer to weigh. I know what it feels like to be strong. I’ve been relatively lean. Being as weak as I am at the moment, with the levels of body fat that I have is neither normal nor enjoyable for me. I don’t like my body not working right. Why am I telling you this? This isn’t a blog about dieting or weight loss or strength-training. It is, however, tangentally about health. While I don’t qualify as sick, I would say I have less than optimal health right now.

In my personal journey, I have never been a serious dieter. It always seemed like too much work for not enough payoff. Also, I like food. A lot. The dabbling I have done, though, had shown me that if I was in a good place mentally, weight would come off. If I wasn’t in a good place mentally, there was no point in trying because weightloss would be a lost cause. The documentary reinforced that stress in particular, but mental or emotional disorder in general, has a physical manifestation. When we are not happy, we seek comfort foods. Generally, those are the kinds of foods that stick to your hips, not your ribs. More than that, though, is that the body is also holding calories in the form of fat so that you will have the energy to deal with whatever it is that is stressing you out. Unfortunately, our bodies have not caught on that the stress of being stuck in gridlock doesn’t need the same caloric support as the stress of being caught on the wrong side of a rockslide.

Something that I have been lucky enough to dodge, but many people haven’t, is having a very thrifty body. In other words, a body that needs a smaller number of calories than average to function so that it can ferret away the rest to be used later. I don’t know what all of the causes of this are, but at least one is the environment training the body to expect starvation. In fact, this training can happen before birth. In 1944, when the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, they starved the local population. The children of women who were in their second and third trimesters of pregnancy during the famine grew up to be more prone to obesity, among other illnesses.

One of the other major points that this documentary speaks to is malnutrition. We are, in fact, starving. Just not for calories. If my body determines that it is not being fed enough nutrients to carry out the necessary functions, it will assume it is starving. When my body starves, it will keep a white-knuckled hold on fat stores. After all, who knows how long the famine will last. I’m also hungry. I want to eat more to try and find the missing nutrients. So much modern food, specifically the kind with a shelf life, is mostly or totally nutritionally void. I can eat it until the cows come home and my body won’t get what it’s missing and therefore won’t willingly release my excess fat.

The solution to this is simple. Replace nutritionally void food with nutritionally dense food. Unfortunately, the solution is not necessarily easy. Vegetables are more expensive than Ramen Noodles. When you’re cooking for one, as I do, they can also seem like an awful lot of work for each meal. There are even people that don’t really have access to vegetables due to food deserts in cities. When you get into sourcing healthy meat and dairy, it only gets more expensive and inconvenient. However, every time I have done this in the past, my body has willingly let go of excess fat. With all of the nutrients my body had to work with, I also looked forward to physical pastimes that resulted in building strength and being generally more functional.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of diet is: a : food and drink regularly provided or consumed b : habitual nourishment c : the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason d : a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight <going on a diet>

Now that the holiday indulgences are over, like so many others, I am going to have diet on my mind. However, I am not going to use definition d. I like definition b. As the year turns to the new one, I am going to be changing my habitual nourishment for my mind and my body to provide the nutritional and emotional building blocks that will make 2013 a much healthier year than 2012 was,