Friday, August 31, 2007

Sound of Music

For those few of you who only visit this blog and don't check my "everything else" blog (which is supposed to be about cycling but wanders far off topic most of the time), you're missing some good (I think!) music to download.

Check the last two posts on Story of a bike and a stubborn cyclist for the links to the zipped music files.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Captain Caveman

While Krista is playing with sprouts and our triathlete continues to make delicious sounding meals like lemon blueberry waffles and tuscan bean polenta, I've been on my own for a week (girlfriend has been canoeing in Algonquin Park) and I've basically regressed into a single male's diet (although a vegan one). I started off well, eating the leftovers in the fridge, such as spinach salads with walnuts etc. But last night I was down to two veggie burgers and thank God Anna is back today because it might have come down to me eating all the sunflower seeds in the house, along with some raisins.

Thankfully I haven't fallen this far. I found an article in the Independent newspaper about the "caveman's diet." Basing his diet on some stuff he read by Arthur DeVaney, this Independent writer spent a month eating a Stone Age diet:
Rule of thumb: If you can't gather it from a bush or tree, or spear it, it's probably best not to eat it. What you can eat: Lean meat and fish. Fresh fruit and vegetables. Eggs. Dried fruit (without added sugar or vegetable oil). Nuts and seeds. What you can't eat: Sugars, grains (no oats, wheat, barley or rye, etc.), beans, peanuts (a bean, not a nut) and starchy vegetables (such as potatoes). Dairy products.

To the writer's credit, he quotes a few people like Dean Ornish who state that the emphasis on meat in this diet will lead to heart-disease, and he also mentions some interesting stuff about how all the refining that has happened to food over the last hundred or so years is what has actually caused such a massive drop in the quality of our food (and therefore an increase in illness).

I don't know - it sounds like a fairly good diet to me. I'd obviously switch the meat for the beans (and some B12 pills), but I can see it being healthy for you (though still terrible for the animals - I wonder if he tries to get free range/organic eggs & chicken etc).

At least it isn't like like Owsley Stanley's diet. Apparently this guy ONLY eats meat.
Stanley recently posted his seven rules for healthy eating on the Internet. They are:
* Eat only food from animals
* No vegetables
* Limit liver intake
* Avoid milk (except for butter and cheese)
* Eat as much fat as you like
* Don't cook your food much
* Avoid salt
Stanley had a heart attack in recent years, but he blames it on the broccoli and other"poisonous" vegetables his mother used to feed him as a boy.


P.S. - I noticed that the Independent has an entire section of their site (and maybe their print newspaper?) devoted to the environment. Well done dudes!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Book reviews

This is a pretty good review of several health/diet/food books that I found in the New York Times. The books aren't necessarily vegan/vegetarian, but are health-conscious, and even where they disagree with the "vegan is best" philosophy, at least it makes you think and (maybe) re-evaluate.

I've bolded the book titles and my favourite bits of the review.

The New Puritans By Holly Brubach
7 May 2006
The New York Times

We were already beating ourselves up about the damage we've done to our arteries. Now along comes The Ethical Gourmet: How to Enjoy Great Food That Is Humanely Raised, Sustainable, Nonendangered, and That Replenishes the Earth (Broadway Books), by Jay Weinstein, which would seem to offer all the fun of a guilt trip with a tour guide. Happily, Weinstein, a chef and an avid environmentalist, holds fire where the reader is concerned and reserves his scorn for the Bush administration, linking its cavalier disregard for our natural resources with its conviction that the rapture will occur any day now.

Weinstein is one of several agents for change publishing books this spring, and despite occasional differences of opinion, all are comrades in arms, on a mission to overhaul the way we think about food. Their message is not new, but it furthers a cause propounded most conspicuously by Alice Waters and the Slow Food movement, lately advanced by Fast Food Nation and Super Size Me, and dating all the way back to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.

Anna Lappe and Bryant Terry speak directly to our conscience in Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin), addressing the tired misconception that organic food is a luxury the human race can't afford. In What to Eat: An Aisle-by-Aisle Guide to Savvy Food Choices and Good Eating (North Point Press), Marion Nestle deconstructs the typical American supermarket from a nutritionist's point of view, elucidating the maddeningly convoluted means by which our options are determined. And Real Food: What to Eat and Why (Bloomsbury), by Nina Planck, poses a convincing alternative to the prevailing dietary guidelines, even those treated as gospel.

The righteous indignation is contagious. As a group, these authors document various aspects of the behind-the-scenes role that politics and big business have played in shaping our food supply. It's infuriating to read Nestle's account of the roadblocks that legislators and lobbyists erected to prevent Country of Origin Labeling (C.O.O.L.), a seemingly straightforward initiative that would allow consumers to know where the food they are buying was grown. And two years after C.O.O.L. went into effect, its implementation is still spotty. As evidence of secrecy and corruption on a scale that brings to mind the Mafia, Nestle cites the 1999 Congressional hearings convened to investigate "slotting fees," introduced in the 1980's "as a way for stores to cover the added costs of dealing with new products: shelving, tracking, inventory and removing products that do not sell." According to Nestle, the industry people who testified "were so afraid of retribution that they wore hoods and used gadgets to prevent voice recognition."

There is no shortage of appalling information here, and the authors all seem to acknowledge that change will come about only by hitting corporate America where it hurts, i.e., the bottom line. Lappe and Terry seem particularly ingenious in this regard. They report that the 10 extra pounds gained by the average American in the 1990's now require the airline industry to use 350 million more gallons of fuel per year, costing an additional $275 million. Their chart comparing food corporations to nations ranks the revenues of Nestle (Nestea, Lean Cuisine, Stouffer's, Butterfinger, KitKat, PowerBar) and Altria (Nabisco, Kraft, Maxwell House, Post, Jell-O, Kool-Aid, Oscar Mayer) somewhere between the gross domestic products of the United Arab Emirates and Nigeria.

In the course of educating readers, the authors' personalities emerge. There is Nestle, the no-nonsense reporter, at pains to take into account all sides of the story; Weinstein, the evangelist whose zeal sets the tone for his relations with the reader; and Lappe and Terry, earnest New Age hippie types offering menus accompanied by playlists and poems by their friends. (Readers accustomed to a more literary diet should proceed directly to recipes.)

Of the group, it is Planck who is the most companionable. Her capacity for humor and self-deprecation makes for good company, and her intelligence and skepticism inspire confidence. To those who proscribe dairy products on the premise that milk was designed for newborn calves, not humans (a popular, if somewhat bizarre, argument), she retorts that a tomato was designed to make more tomato plants, not pasta sauce. Cataloging her own history, which spans a series of draconian regimens, including vegan, vegetarian, low fat, low saturated fat and low cholesterol, she labels one category "New Foods I Tried to Love" and lists "Various imitation foods made with soy and rice." Planck now eats and, even more outrageously, advocates grass-fed meat and whole dairy products.

Tracking changes in the American diet over the course of a hundred years, she notes that the three most common fats in 1990 -- soybean oil, canola oil and cottonseed oil -- were unknown in 1890. They are modern inventions. Whereas, she argues, "we've been eating animal fat for three million years." She avoids egg-white omelets and skim milk ("low-quality, incomplete foods") and contends that, where milk is concerned, butterfat facilitates protein digestion and contains the vitamins A and D required for calcium absorption. She recommends "traditional" milk -- raw, unpasteurized, unhomogenized -- from grass-fed cows, as opposed to those fattened on grain.

Fat, cholesterol, carbs, red meat -- none of these, Planck contends, is the problem. Instead, she lays the blame on chemicals and industrial food, including "new" fats, many of which are often hydrogenated. Industrial food, she says, is to blame for the steep rise in rates of disease, especially heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Planck arrives at this incendiary conclusion via Darwin and research into Stone Age eating habits, which flies in the face of widespread myths and confirms that, contrary to popular assumptions, humans used to be more carnivorous, not less. "I doubt that foods we've eaten for millions of years cause cancer," she writes.

Though all these experts challenge the existing order, their advice is often contradictory. Nestle, for instance, questions the premise that a diet high in calcium is best for building bone density, but ratifies current advice to curtail fats and cholesterol. Weinstein suggests albacore tuna as an environmentally responsible choice, but Nestle cautions specifically against it for its high content of methylmercury. Planck suggests soaking dried beans before cooking them; Weinstein insists that this is unnecessary in most cases. And Lappe and Terry endorse cooking with canola oil, one of the very fats that Planck abhors.

Never mind. The zeal that animated sit-ins and antiwar protests in the 1960's hasn't died; it's gone underground, fostering small-scale, sustainable agriculture that undermines industrial food's hegemony. The "Think globally, eat locally" message comes across loud and clear, and these books provide invaluable online resources for information and hard-to-find "real food." Even the most cynical readers will come away from these books determined to change some aspect of their diets, and many people -- I, for one -- may resolve to revamp their eating habits completely. Radical as Planck's ideas may be, the case she makes for them strikes me as eminently sensible. I consider myself an enlightened eater, but when I finished her book, I threw out half the contents of my refrigerator, including the soy-based fake bacon bits, the tofu hot dogs and the nonfat sour cream. That was a few weeks ago. It is, I guess, a measure of the extent to which I've bought into all these years of nonfat propaganda that I'm still working up the nerve to eat the skin on my chicken.

Friday, August 3, 2007

all creatures great and small

It is the August long weekend here in Canada, and my girlfriend and I, and our friend Cindy, are off to my parents' place in Bancroft to hang with them and my younger brother and my sister and her husband.

I love going home, but I have to be increasingly careful about shooting my mouth off around the non-vegetarians (my brother is mostly vegetarian, my sister and her husband are David Suzuki fans and try to go meatless a couple days of the week for environmental reasons, but my parents are still the same as they ever were).

Basically I'm trying not to be one of those loud and vocal vegan/vegetarians who can't let a moment go by without saying something insulting about the practice of eating meat.

For example, my sister recently posted some photos on facebook of her vacation in Cuba, and she had a few photos where she was swimming with dolphins.
So in a subsequent email I said "Hey Leeyann, did you know that 100 000 dolphins a year get killed by the fishing industry, and in fact that 1/3 of all the fish hauled out of the ocean are promptly thrown back in - dead - because they weren't the type of fish the trawler was going for?"

So I don't need to be doing that all the time, but in my own defense, when you've read all the stuff I (and probably we) have, it's sometimes hard for your brain not to make a connection between one inocuous thing (i.e. songbirds) and factory farming, and to then shoot your mouth off about it. I came across a book today about how all the songbirds are dying away, and since my mom loves birds and has two birdfeeders in the front yard, I'll probably mention it to her, and then try to stop from saying something like "by the way, eating meat is killing the planet and killing the songbirds."

I wonder why it is so easy for some of us to read the literature, understand what is happening, and decide to make a life change, and so hard for others to even contemplate doing this?

P.S. I'm curious about reading this book sometime. Apparently Kingsolver and family, while remaining anti-factory farm, do give up the vegetarianism. I suppose the argument will be on the "happy life / quick and humane death" side, and I'd like to see how she describes coming to this decision.

Have a good weekend everyone. Enjoy the quinoa and the beans and the soy/frozen fruit shakes.