Contracrop: plotting a course
The following short essays are from a blog that I started (www.contracrop.blogspot.com), but have discontinued in order to start Hawk & Robot, on which I wrote of the formative experiences and ideas (the "Seeds") that shaped my perspective on eating habits, nutrition, health, farming, community, ecology and the food industry. I've made some revisions here (you can still read the originals on contracrop) and intend them to serve as an introduction to some of the ideas that gave rise to the mission and purpose of Hawk & Robot.
This first post was written after reading "The Vegetarian Myth" by Lierre Keith. The book has its pros and cons, yet it inspires a multitude of epiphanies not necessarily in agreement with the author's worldview. Anyway, on with it...
As my knowledge grows about how our bodies are affected by what we eat, and about the detrimental effects of the industrial model of agriculture on our health and environment, I feel emboldened to risk sharing my opinion with the hope that other people are as intrigued as I am, and maybe as enraged as I am, about the atrocious lies that we've been told about what is healthy. I am referring to the industries of grains, soy, sugars and oils - that which goes into every packaged product in the grocery store (even in the natural & organic section).
I know I haven't read enough or gathered enough data - there is a multitude out there beyond the scope of my brain or this blog - but the logic behind what I have read is profound, and it's changing my life. I'm just now finishing an astounding book called "The Vegetarian Myth" by Lierre Keith, which chronicles the author's twenty-odd year journey of becoming a vegan and gradually, through self-revelations, reversing that decision to eat meat again. ANYONE who is a vegan/vegetarian or thinking of becoming one should read this book.
I have never been a strict vegetarian. I grew up in the Midwest eating meat and potatoes, and since college I have taken the admonition to eat my veggies seriously. I love an all-vegetable meal, but in truth, I never feel as satisfied or as nourished as I do with a drumstick. Why is that? My body responds to eating meat with a feeling of pleasure which I don't feel when I haven't had meat for more than a couple of days. I used to attribute it to my singular experience in life, to an unalterable disposition that I must have to need meat. I told myself that because of my upbringing my body was used to eating meat. If I didn't eat meat I felt weak, tired, and always hungry, so it must just be my body type. I still found myself, however, listening to the voices of the mega-food-corporations about what I should be eating, namely whole grains, low-fat, low-cholesterol, etcetera. I was confused because what my body was telling me contradicted what the food industry was telling me. After reading The Vegetarian Myth, I no longer see myself as an exception to the rule of eating a vegetarian diet.
Slight Rhyme & Reason
I've spent several hours over the last few days adding elements onto my blog like links and a blog list, and I've started to search the internet for published research on a few topics. I feel like I'm getting in over my head, but I started a list of resources and topics that I want to come back to - that will help me stay oriented in a certain direction.
Anyway, I've just begun to realize how enormous a project this could become, and I don't want to paralyze myself, so I thought I'd write this out just to have something to post. I also think it's important for perspective, since I am not an authority on any of these matters in a professional sense, yet I am deciding my own level of involvement. It's what Lierre Keith calls "adult knowledge" in her book 'The Vegetarian Myth'. This is my 'Fight Club' moment, when I realize that everything falls apart sometime and we have nothing to lose by investing in what we are passionate about.
Adult knowledge refers to a Mayan concept of the interconnectedness between humans and all other living things. This knowledge comes about at the point when a person ceases to project selfish desires onto the world and accepts the way the earth actually functions.
To sum up what Keith gets at in the first chapter, every living thing grows by ingesting the nutrients that come from the soil. These nutrients get passed along when a plant or animal 'dies', or ceases to grow because it was eaten or destroyed in a storm. If an animal or plant dies, the organic matter decomposes and over time becomes soil - and nutrients - again. All living things are indebted to the longevity (life) or brevity (death) of all other living things.
Keith states, "we need to be eaten as much as we need to eat. The grazers need their daily cellulose, but the grass also needs the animals. It needs the manure, with its nitrogen, minerals, and bacteria; it needs the mechanical check of grazing activity; and it needs the resources stored in animal bodies and freed up by degraders when animals die.
The grass and the grazers need each other as much as predators and prey. These are not one-way relationships, not arrangements of dominance and subordination. We aren't exploiting each other by eating. We are only taking turns."
Humans cannot remove themselves from the cycle without causing its collapse. Why? Because the changes we've made (namely, industrial agriculture, amassing population and energy in cities, dependence on fossil fuels) mean that we're taking pieces out of the equation. We've transformed the circle of life into a straight line that ends not with natural perpetuation but with more human intervention. That's why sustainability is becoming such an urgent message, and that's why I'm writing this.
Hiking a Mountain
Everyone is trying to live a good life. Everyone has a different perspective. Everyone has acquired a unique conglomeration of knowledge, and we can all benefit from sharing our knowledge in conversation.
I write these statements because I need to enact my own lesson in humility, especially because I want my blog to be real and honest. I've just read many of the reviews online of 'The Vegetarian Myth' by Lierre Keith, much to my dismay because I thought I was reading an astounding (my own word from an earlier entry) book with legitimate research. It turns out, however, that the book is quite biased, and as many of the reviews pointed out, full of logical fallacies and unqualified references.
To be fair, there are many valid arguments in the book as well, and I feel much more enthused to pursue qualified knowledge after reading this book than I did before. I'm using the embarrassment I feel about thinking this book to be well-researched as a catalyst; it's the food that triggered the serotonin receptors in my brain! (That's a jab at one of the manipulations of fact in the book.) I've realized I need to resist the urge to become hyper-energized by one source of information or one perspective, and to do my own research into the facts, and to seek the other side of an argument.
That's the ContraCrop. My goal for this blog is to explore the mountainous terrain of everything related to food. That may be insurmountable in its entirety, but I'm a stubborn fool with lots of stamina and a predilection towards the unconventional.
When you hike up a mountain, you never just walk straight up. Hiking requires many detours: around thickets, over fallen trees, along a ravine edge, downstream, or scaling up a rock face. Finding a way to the top sometimes involves hiking downhill a ways in order to start uphill again. A steep section is easiest if taken in short intervals in each direction, back and forth, to maintain traction. The detours can be frustrating, if you're on a schedule of some sort, but a hike should never only be about reaching the top - the trail is filled with intrigue and beauty. On my hike up this mountain, I'm going to need help - it's foolish to try to reach a summit by yourself. That is why I've prefaced my blog with an invitation to engage - give your comments, call me out, help me understand, share your agreement, etc..
This entry is good practice for me, as a person and as a writer, to treat detours as an integral part of the process. If any of you have read 'The Vegetarian Myth' and registered its faults, you may have already dismissed me as another fanatic, but I entreat you to extend me the benefit of the doubt. If you're further up the mountain you may be able to see further into the distance...
One experience I had in college has stuck with me: my roommate was reading Karl Marx to educate himself on socialist ideology, and a classmate asked him, in all seriousness, if he was a Communist. My parallel to that story is: I've never been obese, I've never had an eating disorder, and I've never eaten a diet without meat, yet I want to educate myself about these issues. I want to join the conversation about healthy food, how best to grow/raise it, how to make it available to and affordable for more people, and I want to learn the science behind nutrition.
It's the tallest mountain I've ever started to climb - who's with me?
Causes as Yet Unknown
My food initiative all started (as it most likely does for everyone) when I moved out on my own, out of the range of family eating habits and away from the food program and public housing of college (the food came from Marriot Sodexho food service, which is the worst food I've had to endure eating and how I learned to never take food for granted). I finally had the financial means and the absence of influences over how I ate (I had yet to become aware of how much the food industry affected me) to make independent choices, but I had no clue how to start navigating these new considerations. What did I cook for myself that first year of living in my city apartment? I wanted all those nostalgic meals that I recalled from living with my parents, of course: beef spaghetti, tuna-macaroni salad, sloppy joes, lasagna... those and many others had been my favorites.
Gradually, though, I started to come up with meals that my family never ate: burritos, chili, veggie spaghetti, minestrone, Cajun rice & beans, curries (exotic!). The grocery store suddenly became an entirely different experience, and so, admittedly, did surreptitious trips to fast-food drive-throughs! Don't worry, I've already divulged my secrets to those closest to me, but I wasn't able to give up eating that [really yummy and addicting] crap, and some frozen packaged junk food, for years.
Anyway, this is not a memoir about my formative years, so I'll move on. The point is I started to experiment with my diet and found that I wanted to eat differently than I had in my past: breakfast used to be cereal, toast, a banana and juice; lunch was a sandwich, chips, fruit & veggie; dinner was all four major food groups. My family ate a well-balanced diet, but I wanted to eat less meat-and-potatoes and explore a larger variety of vegetables, legumes and grains.
Getting back to me in my apartment, I switched to soy milk based on whispers of its benefits (this is way back in 2001) and ambiguous naysaying about cow's milk. Here is what informed that decision: I had consumed milk without question my whole life; I had a cousin who was lactose-intolerant; and I'd heard several third-hand rumors that milk is beneficial only for weaning. None of that made a clear case either way regarding cow's milk, but the compulsion to decide felt urgent to me. As a first attempt to make a personal choice for my health, it turned out to be seriously misinformed, yet it was a breakthrough moment nonetheless. I had made a choice of my own, and that felt great.
Then I moved into a house with two friends, one vegetarian and one vegan, and a whole new perspective came into view. I developed a greater appreciation for these diets and partook of many a meal that was prepared, gradually adding more vegetarian options to my table. My friends even delved into the raw diet and both worked at a raw restaurant, bringing some raw "cooking" methods into my life, even though I was still cooking a small proportion of meat (I don't know how they lived with me). As I've written in a prior entry, I've never felt as nourished when eating vegetarian food as I feel when I combine plant and animal foods. At the time I thought I was eating the healthiest I had ever eaten, yet my physical reality didn't correspond - I didn't feel better, sleep was hardly ever rejuvenating, my energy level was low, I had headaches all the time - I was uncharacteristically lethargic and tired.
Skip ahead a few years and I had switched back to cow's milk after reading a few articles of new (rather, recently published) dietary information about soy products, soy milk being one of them [see my links at the bottom for two soy articles]. I learned that the risks of soy to my health - decreased testosterone/sex drive, impaired mineral absorption, hormonal imbalance and presence of phytoestrogen, digestive enzyme inhibitors - outweighed the supposed benefit of healthy fat and protein. While I cannot attribute any positive or negative effects to when I drank soy milk (taking into account I only drank soy milk for three years), I can claim a significant increase of my libido when I stopped drinking soy milk. That positive outcome became the impetus for me to actively consider the consequences of what I eat and to change my eating habits if necessary.
I devoted the following two-plus years to confronting my naivete about food and health: scratching the surface by learning about pesticides, growth hormones, fertilizers and animal antibiotics, seeking out natural, local, whole and organic foods, shopping at farmer's markets and my local co-op as much as possible, getting enough exercise, quitting smoking and trying to eat the recommended 5-9 servings of fruit and vegetables every day. Also, my intake of animal products was making a comeback. I started to eat only whole wheat in my pasta, bread, cereal, etc. and began to weed out anything I was eating with high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils and any soy products. I also began looking at all ingredient lists, and gradually stopped buying products with ingredients made in a lab (including so-called "natural flavors" - also created in a lab), although it has proven to be very difficult. Chips became only plain chips with salt and sunflower oil, but the oil still has added vitamin E which had to be mechanically extracted. Cereal had to be whittled down to a few choices that excluded high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, any other manufactured sugar, any soy ingredient, MSG has always been a big NO, and be made with whole grain, although even the organic/natural cereals all have those added vitamins and minerals from unknown sources. Everything was scrutinized and the best option chosen: pasta, frozen pizza (not really any "best" option), ice cream, cheese, bacon, black beans, tomato paste, stir-fry sauce, and on and on. One outcome that happened fairly soon after these changes was that my headaches stopped occurring. Was it something I ate? Probably, but how could I know if it was a pesticide, an antibiotic, a reaction to some substance in the "natural flavors" or a ratio of certain nutrients that I wasn't previously eating?
All of the foods that I had always eaten had to be reconsidered with adult eyes and possibly given up. A few months before starting this blog, my wife and I made the choice to stop eating all grains, including flour, pasta and beer, starchy foods such as potatoes and bananas, refined sugars (this one is painful!) and oils. We're not abstaining 100% - no food rule can be that rigid anymore in our world unless you live on or next to a farm and have control over all the food you eat. We are now eating mostly meat, dairy, green/leafy vegetables, fruit, nuts, legumes and seeds, with the occasional exception of a wheat bun or a side of brown rice. The amount of info we don't have keeps multiplying, but I believe we can uncover enough facts to start a contracrop of what foods make the most sense for human health.
So far, I've noticed a few changes in how I feel. Since the days after college when I started to eat a larger percentage of vegetarian food (and possibly more carbohydrates) I've needed to take naps in the afternoon to supplement my nighttime sleep (I get approx. 6-7 hours of sleep every night, including the nap) in order to stay awake through the evening. This is probably related to having had a job that starts around 6:00 a.m. for the past eight years and ends around 3:00 p.m. Another apparent consequence of my diet was that I was always hungry, to the point of getting shaky, getting headaches, losing any function of concentration or exertion, and just wanting to sleep. I don't know whether these things were caused by the reduced amount of animal matter in my diet, or a fact of increasing in age, something unrecognized maybe in the quality or lack thereof in the carbohydrates I ate, or the glucose spike and then crash from eating too many carbs, or a combination of factors.
Regardless of the cause, since changing what I eat that energy crash in the afternoons has greatly decreased in force. I do not take a nap every day anymore, and if I do take one it's reduced to less than half the time it was before. Several other intriguing changes have taken place, but the actual causes are as yet unknown. A related change is an increase in my overall energy level and in my ability to be productive, especially in the afternoons and evenings (which has been difficult for me the past few years). Another change is a decrease in the amount of coffee I desire in the mornings, which is strange because I love coffee and have desired multiple cups for over ten years. A third change is the absence of those shakes and headaches I got when I was hungry (which is not nearly as often), and also an increased flexibility to eat meals at different times of the day, or to skip a meal altogether without physical distress. I am also more satisfied, most of the time, with a smaller portion of food than I was before.
I'm very appreciative of these changes and I hope they continue, but I don't have enough information yet to make a cause and effect connection. I've seen the trap to which trying to sway the available evidence a certain way can lead. I have no interest in that, and none of my money is bet on a particular outcome. If someone scientifically proves that a vegetarian diet is optimal for human health, then I'm moving somewhere with a backyard to start a garden and finding a nearby farm to supply me with dairy! Actually, I'll probably do that anyway.
I'm currently reading "Good Calories, Bad Calories" by Gary Taubes, which is fundamentally one long discourse on all of the diet/disease hypotheses out there, and the relative truth claims of each one. I am blown away by how often misinterpretation of available data is represented as the truth, and by the amount of refuting evidence that is ignored by the nutrition industry. Taubes uses this book to lay out the shortcomings of the prevailing theories on nutrition and disease, and to present the available data/research that runs counter to them.
These quotes set the tone of the book.
"Men who have excessive faith in their theories or ideas are not only ill prepared for making discoveries; they also make very poor observations. Of necessity, they observe with a preconceived idea, and when they devise an experiment, they can see, in its results, only a confirmation of their theory. In this way they distort observation and often neglect very important facts because they do not further their aim... But it happens further quite naturally that men who believe too firmly in their theories, do not believe enough in the theories of others. So the dominant idea of these despisers of their fellows is to find others' theories faulty and to try to contradict them. The difficulty, for science, is still the same." (Claude Bernard, An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine; from Taubes, p.1)
"In reality, those who repudiate a theory that they had once proposed, or a theory that they had accepted enthusiastically and with which they had identified themselves, are very rare. The great majority of them shut their ears so as not to hear the crying facts, and shut their eyes so as not to see the glaring facts, in order to remain faithful to their theories in spite of all and everything." (Maurice Arthus, Philosophy of Scientific Investigation; from Taubes, p.60)
"The thing is, it's very dangerous to have a fixed idea. A person with a fixed idea will always find some way of convincing himself in the end that he is right." (Atle Selberg; from Taubes, p. 122)
"Forming hypotheses is one of the most precious faculties of the human mind and is necessary for the development of science. Sometimes, however, hypotheses grow like weeds and lead to confusion instead of clarification. Then one has to clear the field, so that the operational concepts can grow and function. Concepts should relate as directly as possible to observation and measurements, and be distorted as little as possible by explanatory elements." (Max Kleiber, The Fire of Life: An Introduction to Animal Energetics; from Taubes, p.136)
"Oversimplification has been the characteristic weakness of scientists of every generation." (Elmer McCollum, A History of Nutrition; from Taubes, p.153)
"The suppression of inconvenient evidence is an old trick in our profession. The subterfuge may be due to love of a beautiful hypothesis, but often enough it is due to a subconscious desire to simplify a confusing subject." (Raymond Greene; from Taubes, p.178)
We deserve to be better informed than we are about how our diet affects our health, even if science can only tell us that right now there is no answer (that is more helpful than falsely claiming to know). We can only build on what we know. The idea that we can only save ourselves through medicinal "cures" is suspect of ulterior motives. I'm not against using medicine, but much can be said about the evolution of our dietary habits with hardly any instance of modern diseases until the modern era. There is good reason to believe that the best "cure" for most of these maladies is prevention by way of nutritional choices (i.e. eliminating the foods that have become prevalent: refined grains, sugars, highly-processed and laboratory-manufactured ingredients).
Some Discretion Required
I recently came across a new (I'm unsure of when it began) website created by the USDA (Dept. of Agriculture) called "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" that is promoting the re-engagement of local consumers with local farmers and producers. I've put the link to the site in my links at the bottom, but I wanted to think through a concern I have about supporting any new initiatives that are undertaken by a large/corporate/monopolizing and/or governmental institution with a vested interest in the money to be made.
Take a look at this website... I have perused the mission statement and the headings of all the main areas that this new initiative encompasses: supporting local farmers; strengthening rural communities; promoting healthy eating; protecting natural resources; and offering grants, loans, and non-monetary support. I also skimmed over the bios of each member, and I have to say I do like the concept and the way this appears to be set up.
I want to believe that the USDA is committing itself to these courses of action because the government necessarily should be behind the changes we need to make as a country, including the sacrifices we have to make for our survival - which involves every aspect of our economy. I am skeptical, however (and perhaps cynical), that this initiative has altruistic intentions in addition to its profit motive. I do realize, of course, that everyone needs to earn a living, but my point here has more to do with a shift in how we as consumers respond to the seemingly positive actions of a corporation. I want to be wary of confusing a marketing spin with a real and honest dedication to these issues.
Here's the thing: farms can begin or transition over to organic methods, cease to use chemicals, growth hormones and pesticides, and humanely raise/pasture their animals, but then those smaller farms can grow larger and be purchased by a large company - DuPont, for example - that owns a large diversity of other companies that are not operating sustainably, and that spends a great deal of money lobbying the government to increase our importing of oil. That's a simplification of the issue, but the question remains: Am I really supporting that organic farmer by buying her yogurt, or am I giving my dollars to an industry (oil, tobacco, GMOs, etc.) that I'm trying not to support by buying from an organic farmer?
Is the USDA really tackling these issues through "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food"? Are they aligning their expertise and experience with the goals of reorganizing our agriculture, dismantling the industrial food system and creating a new system that ensures access to and affordability of healthy, fresh food to everyone?
An Open Letter to the Vegan Ethos
The ethical/moral stance of vegetarians and vegans towards animals is commendable. Working for the cause of justice (of all kinds) is of the highest convictions, and I am deeply concerned about fairness and respect. Not everyone feels empowered to fight for justice due to social conditioning or oppression, yet everyone is capable, when backed up against the wall, to muster that courage. Righteousness is in every story about the triumph of the human spirit; we inherently seek to overcome destructive forces with love.
There are always extremes, however, that represent the opposite swing of the pendulum. There are some black and white issues, such as animal cruelty, human torture, violence, etc., and there are some issues with a vastly greater degree of complexity, such as what is appropriate for humans to eat.
All of us should follow the lead of vegans that are bold enough to take action against the cruel and inhumane practices of the food industry. Here's the rub: the vegan ethos becomes a separate thing altogether when the urgency about the treatment of animals becomes the encapsulating bubble around morality in general. The debate over eating animals versus plants IS MORE COMPLEX than that. When someone claims superiority based on a matter of physical nature, that is not a singular fight for justice, that is religious fervor - the same damaging protocol espoused by all organized religions: to convert or be exiled.
Any person other than myself does not know what it feels like to be me. You do not know how my hunger works, or how eating three meals of wheat products every day makes me feel, or how many beers it takes to make me sick. You do not know what triggers my migraines, or if my muscles are sore for days after running one mile, or if I've ever been to the hospital for malnutrition.
You do not have the right to tell me I'm immoral because of my dietary choices (cannibalism excepted). Like I said, I am a comrade in the fight against animal cruelty, but I'm not of the persuasion that eating meat is morally wrong. Vegans need to accept the reality of nutrition and stop trying to fit it into their mold. Humans have evolved in a specific way: the exact nutrients we need to be healthy come from eating certain foods - from both plant and animal sources. I'm not making this up to suit my fancy. If you really believe that humans should no longer eat meat, you're going to have to wait another 600,000 years for our biology to change. I have another issue to raise with you, however, if that's the case: the available amount of land on our planet that is suitable for growing the crops for a vegan diet is already in use - there is no more. The solution to world hunger through more plant-based food is not viable or sustainable. I'm ready and willing to discuss other options...
I've been a proponent of several different diets - diets with meat, diets without meat, raw food, vegan food... but it comes down to your own health, and here we have a case of black and white. Health has everything to do with what you eat, so if you're not healthy, the cause is something you eat. My health was degraded significantly as I ate a diet with minimal meat and a huge increase in grains. I was even consciously trying to eat whole grains, natural products, minimal refined sugar, etc., but I never felt optimal like I used to when I ate more meat (read my entry from February 25).
So, vegans, when I was faced with the decision to restore my health by eating more meat or continue to boycott the production methods of meat at the expense of my own body, I chose to live. I have also made the decision to buy meat & dairy from places with humane & environmentally holistic practices. People have different bodies with different dietary needs. I implore vegans to work together with non-vegans to abolish the current factory farming and industrial agriculture systems, and implement a new system that is healthier, sustainable and more just towards humans and animals.
Untangling the Knots/A Growing Resistance
I've been eating this new way for a while (five months), and my bodily needs have gone through some changes, as would seem natural. I've described in a previous post what happened to my appetite, energy and vitality initially when I stopped eating grains & starches, refined sugar and hydrogenated oils. Now, gradually, my appetite has increased to a level similar to what it was before the change in my diet, but I doubt that is an indication of anything troublesome. Possibly, it is due to an increase in physical activity, which my body compensates for with an increase in appetite. Maybe the adjustment period is over and I've reached a new equilibrium, or homeostasis... I don't know the answer, but I still feel way more energetic and vigorous than I felt when eating carbohydrates (I should admit, though, that I do ingest a small amount of carbs here and there: beer being a large culprit, pizza, and an occasional baked good.) Now that carbs are so minimal in my diet, I've noticed that when I do have carbs, I crave them - as in, I would love to eat ten chocolate croissants - like an addiction, which is something I'm looking into...
I've been learning about which questions have been asked and what conclusions have been drawn from the available data. That's a vague statement, but I'm reading the analyses presented in the book "Good Calories, Bad Calories" of research on nutrition, hunger, obesity and weight loss, and discovering (albeit from one author, at the moment) that the evidence for many health claims has only ever been vague. What I'm expounding on is my awakening to the degree of complexity in searching for answers to health issues. I'll use two examples, from "Good Calories, Bad Calories", to illustrate what I mean.
First, consider the factors of carbohydrates, fat, and the amount of calories we eat in connection with weight gain/loss. If you were to conduct tests to find cause and effect, you'd have to test a diet high in carbs and low in fat, a diet low in carbs and high in fat, and also observe whether the total calories went up, down or stayed the same. If your test subjects lost weight, is it because of low carbohydrates, high fat, the reverse, or a difference in total calories (or a combination)?
Another example is the issue of scurvy among sailors way back when. The author, Gary Taubes, explains that "Scottish naval surgeon James Lind demonstrated in 1753 that scurvy could be prevented and cured by the consumption of citrus juice, for example, he did so with British sailors who had been eating the typical naval fare 'of water gruel sweetened with sugar in the morning, fresh mutton broth, light puddings, boiled biscuit with sugar, barley and raisins, rice and currants'." (Taubes, p. 321) Now compare that to the diet recorded by anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson: [he] "had spent a decade eating nothing but meat among the Inuit of northern Canada and Alaska. Among the tribes with whom Stefansson lived and traveled, the diet was primarily caribou meat, 'with perhaps 30 percent fish, 10 percent seal meat, and 5 or 10 percent made up of polar bear, rabbits, birds and eggs'." (Taubes, p.320) So, what is it that causes scurvy? The evidence is vague, at best.
This is what blew me away: "To be technically accurate, however, [James] Lind and the nutritionists who followed him in the study of scurvy demonstrated only that the disease is a dietary deficiency that can be cured by the addition of fresh fruits and vegetables. As a matter of logic, though, this doesn't necessarily imply that the lack of vitamin C is caused by the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables. Scurvy can be ameliorated by adding these to the diet, but the original lack of vitamin C might be caused by other factors. In fact, given that the Inuit and those Westerners living on the Inuit's vegetable- and fruit-free diet never suffered from scurvy, as Stefansson observed, then other factors must be involved. This suggested another way of defining a balanced diet. It's possible that eating easily digestible carbohydrates and sugars increases our need for vitamins that we would otherwise derive from animal products in sufficient quantities.
READ THAT LAST SENTENCE AGAIN. Those sailors who ate nothing but grains, fruit and sugar (all carbohydrate) developed a vitamin deficiency, yet the Inuit and Western explorers who ate only meat with a few eggs did not develop ANY deficiencies, despite having eaten nothing that modern nutrition experts would consider an adequate source of vitamins.
When I think about my experience, this actually starts to make sense. When I ate carbohydrates as a large percentage of my diet, I wanted to eat those foods all the time, and I was always hungry, and I also craved lots of fruits and vegetables. Now I seldomly have cravings for fruits or vegetables as necessary nutrients - and the only reason I still sometimes need to supplement my diet with fruit or vegetables is because I don't have complete access to meat & dairy from farms that raise their animals 100% biologically appropriate. By that I mean raising animals without factories or machines or cages, and allowing them to eat what they're meant to eat, thereby metabolizing and storing the nutrients that I need in the meat and fat that I eat. If I decide I've evolved to eat mainly meat, then I need to procure my meat from sources where my meat eats what it has evolved to eat, and passes the benefits on to me (and you).
Another point, about ecological cycles - that if animals eat what they're equipped to eat (a cow, for example, has multiple stomachs precisely to be able to digest grasses, not grains), then when they die and humans take their meat, the rest of the carcass decomposes and replenishes the soil with the appropriate nutrients - the same nutrients that the animal used up to begin and sustain its life. It all works together in exact precision if there is no tampering; unfortunately, there is...
My inner skeptic asks if I'm just saying all this because I want to believe what I'm reading. Possibly, but the evidence that I've accumulated so far regarding my diet is more supportive of eating more meat, less fruits and vegetables, and hardly any or zero grains and sugar (although I still love a decadent brownie - damn the food industry for raising me on crap I'm not equipped to eat).
Repositioning Food: Outside the Brand Name Box
Globalization has shown us its true - ugly, greedy and impersonal - face, and it has no practical, economic or social advantage over local economies. For a majority of people in this country and around the world, eating good food is just not in the realm of the possible as a result of decades of choices we've all made and patterns we've all contributed to... and now, finally, we're awakening to the reality/effects of having entrusted our food choices and health circumstances to a dastardly industrial-agricultural machine intent on nothing but its own perpetuity in wealth and power.
I've been following the headlines on the Good magazine website for a while now, which is a very informative and innovative source of ideas and practicalities. They recently featured an article about rebranding the food movement into an essential and imperative reality for ALL people. I want to make a very critical distinction about the accessibility and availability of fresh food... as of now it is mainly marketed and available to the upwardly mobile, discerning consumer of quality goods. The point I want to make here concerns the way the food industry, the health industry, and many related corporate interests have branded the healthy, the organic, the natural and the sustainable production of food as a posh, upper-middle class, highly educated prestigious privilege.
That marketing scheme is utter crap. There are better, more equitable and completely bio-dynamic ideas out there ready to be implemented and attainable for everybody, and the only route to a revolution of the current industrial agricultural system is for these ideas to spread amongst the people like so many diverse crops that nurse the land, animals and people back to health.
Have I ever farmed? No. Have I ever made a sacrifice in order to eat better? Yes. I've adjusted my spending habits so that buying fresh, organic food is the second biggest piece of the pie-chart right after my housing expense. I have been living in NYC the last four years (and so the housing expense is twice as much as anyplace else), letting these ideas expand and foment. I am from Minnesota, where farms are plentiful, and yet most of the population eats the meat and potatoes and wheat from all these enormous factory farms, mono-crop producers, and feedlots that use pesticides, growth hormones, and stack as many turkeys in the shed as can fit. I'm weeks away from moving back to my home state, and I'm gonna learn about the businesses that sell the produce, meat, dairy, and other various grocery items from local, organic farms and production businesses and hopefully I'll be able to make tenacious inroads, with fellow dismantlers, towards a more accessible and just food production system.
The positioning or branding of a product is an effective way to differentiate, say, one toothpaste from another, yet the same method of promotion can become a device of misdirection when applied to an area of theory such as what's good for you to eat or how to change your diet to improve your health, among many other areas unrelated to the topic of this blog. You see, food is not the same as toothpaste. There is nothing to differentiate food from: a carrot is a carrot. Food that is healthy, fresh, whole, sustainable and fairly traded is what it is. All lifestyles need it. All income brackets need it. All ethnic and indigenous and immigrant and transient populations need it - that's right, everyone. It is completely inhumane to establish exclusivity out of good food or fresh food or local food inside a brand name as the major corporations, such as Whole Food and Trader Joe's, have done.
We need to reposition the movement of our food production, from industrial to agro-ecological (I'd like to further explore this concept in a future entry), with a new mindset that values the healing and nurturing and life-affirming qualities of smaller-scale systems that reconnect us to the land our food comes from and the people who do the work of putting food in our fridge or cooking delicious in-season food for us in a restaurant.
We need to demand and reciprocate accountability for the quality of our food by being active participants in the process. We need to support and encourage our food suppliers to be conscientious of what goes into the growing and raising of our food; we need to pay a fair and compensatory price for such food; and we need to require the companies that distribute or process that food to do so in an equally sustainable and conscientious fashion. Access to "good, clean and fair" food (from the book Slow Food Nation by Carlo Petrini) is a basic right to all people, something that is as fundamental as water or air, but the greed in the world has successfully taken the control we once had over our food system out of our hands, and now sells the altered, processed and nutritionally void products back to us for a whopping profit, all the while placing an extremely higher premium on nutritious and sustaining fresh whole foods than on factory-farmed and laboratory-manufactured and processed edibles that I will not even call food. You can grow up eating Tombstone pizza, Taco Bell, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Mountain Dew just fine, but with age comes wisdom, and you may just learn that your body is in a poor state forty years down the line.
If you believe the lies that the big agricultural companies and the FDA tell you that you can't afford to feed your family fresh non-genetically modified vegetables, milk from grass-fed cows and organic free-range chicken without growth hormones or antibiotics, you've been duped, as we've all been duped.
DON'T GIVE UP HOPE!!! We can find the solutions, but our current lifestyles may have to be altered to achieve a greater good, a viable future.
Human beings are born of this earth, and no biological system is dysfunctional or incomplete. We are meant to be nourished and to be healthy by eating that which the earth provides, however, we process our food way beyond its original form and way beyond recognition, and we only hurt ourselves by doing so. We need to be eating food in its purely natural state. Take milk for example. Milk comes out of a cow with the whole percentage of fat - that's the logic of evolution. For whatever reason we process our milk and take away percentages of the fat and think it's healthy. We artificially separate the beneficial parts of our food and recombine them into unnatural products (quite often without the beneficial parts) and then stabilize them with preservatives and fortify them with vitamins formulated in a laboratory.
Why? Who said that? If you're someone who eats WHOLE grains, then you should also be someone who drinks WHOLE milk.
The nutrients present in foods that are in their natural state are unparalleled - they need no tampering from us in order to be more healthy. Milk is created with whole fat for a reason: because it's GOOD for you! Fat has been such a maligned and misunderstood component of our diet for a long time. Part of the misunderstanding happens because fat NEEDS to be consumed in order for the fat in the body to be regulated, but it must be in conjunction with the rest of the nutrients present in whatever foods contain it. Nutrients and fat work together in your body, still in semi-mysterious ways, to regulate your weight, muscles, neurons, joints, bones, blood, energy, memory, metabolism, digestion - the function of each organ and each cell. Yet even though some of the processes food goes through in our bodies are unclear or as yet unknown doesn't mean that we could live better through chemistry.
When you eat a processed food, you're getting food that has been changed into a new, less beneficial form - manipulated to taste a certain way and have a certain texture, with complete disregard for the natural combination of ingredients originally intended to give your body what it needs to function properly. The nutrients ingested are largely artificial, and they are overabundant (read: in excess). This means that your body is receiving a rush of a fabricated combination of ingredients. As an example, vitamin B comes in multiple forms, each one attending to slightly different biological functions. If you only drink Gatorade and always eat Nature Valley granola bars, you are only getting ONE manufactured form of vitamin B, and probably getting an overload of it. What happens then is that your body rejects other, naturally occurring vitamins in the real food you eat because of the excess of the one vitamin. Instead, when you eat several kinds of fruit and vegetables, you are getting the benefit of several different types of vitamin B, in amounts that replenish your system and allow for other nutrients to be digested and assimilated.
When you eat a whole, unprocessed food, you're getting the natural, intended combination of nutrients that enables your body to digest and utilize them in the most beneficial manner.
Participation is the key - look into the topics that pertain to your life. Read about the issues and the processes involved in the farming of your food and the nutritional factors involved in weight and disease management (I recommend the book "Good Calories, Bad Calories" by Gary Taubes). Sign a petition urging your representatives in Congress to support local agriculture, subsidies for broccoli and kale and all vegetables, microloans or tax incentives to small start-up farms (I recommend the Organic Consumer's Association website). Maybe you could assess your pie-chart of total spending and see if there's a way to reallocate your income so that there's more money available for good, nutritious groceries. I don't know you or your priorities or your struggles, regardless, I'm trying to rally people to stand together, and to support each other in the actions of reclaiming our authority, our community, and our health.
Again, my word is not authoritative, yet hopefully it is an encouragement. The present authorities on these subjects have led us astray by using insufficient data as reason enough to build a recommended dietary food pyramid. No one has written any comments on my blog to argue a counterpoint... but I welcome it. I need not be an authority to engage others in the pursuit of knowledge and truth. I have no market share that I am seeking to maximize. This is not about the dollar amount that I could make; this is not about the celebrity status I could attain if enough people followed my advice. I want to know and spread the truth. I want my diet and health to make sense, and I don't want to subscribe to marketing strategies aimed only at making me feel good and affluent, and giving me foods that are easy, processed, and nutritionally deficient.