Monday, June 15, 2009

Food, Inc.

Hi Guys!

All the buzz is around the new movie, Food, Inc. and I must say it is out of this world. If you have any doubts about who controls the food you eat or any thoughts that the ‘health food nuts’ you know are conspiracy loons, this will open your eyes. According to the research and facts presented in this film, unless you are eating whole, unprocessed, organic (as much as possible) food, you can not be sure at all what might actually be on your plate. Not for the faint of heart, this powerful film pulls no punches.

Food, Inc, for those of you not aware, is a documentary that indicts the industrial system of agriculture and the policies that have allowed companies like Monsanto and the National Chicken Council all but own the food you buy and consume daily…and since they own it, they control the quality (or lack thereof) of it.

While Big Agriculture is attempting to demonize the film saying it jeopardizes the small family farm; that is just another attempt to confuse the consumer with their typical bait and switch games. Farm Aid, an organization that has supported family farms for over 20 years says just the opposite…that Food, Inc shows the struggle of the family farm, their integrity and their willingness to provide the food we need and maintain the health of their farms and the planet.

Big Agriculture is slamming the film, calling it elitist, that to eat in a responsible, healthy and sustainable manner is somehow only for the few. They fail to mention that it’s their stranglehold on subsidies and their dedication to the corporate bottom line are the real reasons that our most needy can only afford to eat the food that they manufacture. It is their very style of business that deprives people of their right to eat healthy food.

Look, the corporate food industry thrives on the status quo. It is of little interest to them that our kids are growing unhealthier with each passing day and that ‘lifestyle diseases’ are increasing at such an alarming rate we will have no worries about swine flu. Cheap, fast food-related diseases are the next pandemic.

We are reaching a tipping point like no other in modern history. We are beginning to realize that our food choices are making us sick. Our health care crisis is just another term for the catastrophe that is the standard American diet. More than half the money we spend on health care goes to treat preventable, diet-driven diseases.

It’s time that we demanded better food and better information on what is in the food we eat. Agribusiness repeatedly blocks better labeling laws because they argue that too much information is a bad thing. Perhaps if the food they sold us was natural, they wouldn’t have to worry so much about what was on the label.

I have only one disappointment with Food, Inc. Robert Kenner, the genius behind the film was recently interviewed and he talked at length about the impact of the policies of meat production and its impact on the environment and human health. The interview was chilling in its power…until the end, when Mr. Kenner said that he was not a purist and still ate meat. Look, I am very clear that we won’t see a vegan society anytime soon, but seriously, Mr. Kenner. How can you make this film, see what you have seen, document the horrors you witnessed and end an interview with that kind of flip remark.

To say that is to deny the very content of your film. As a viewer, I ask myself the question: if the film maker was not altered by what he saw, then why should I be? How can he expect to maintain his credibility in light of comments like that? Did Mr. Kenner make this film simply because it’s a hot topic and a sure bet to be a hit? Food for thought, to be sure.

Food, Inc is not to be missed, whether or not Mr. Kenner grasps (in my view…) the real inconvenient truth of eating meat.


ps...i am going off to work on a project and i may miss blogging for a couple of weeks...but i will be back at it in july, so come and visit me then.

Friday, June 5, 2009

here i go again...

hi guys!

Veganism will never, in my view, be a widely accepted lifestyle choice…ever. And not because it isn’t a gorgeous way to live (because it is…); not because it is a deprived and grim way to eat (because it isn’t…); not because it’s too weird or left of center (okay, I’ll give you that one…). No, veganism will never thrive because a lot of vegans will not allow it.

I was reading an article recently…written by a good friend of mine, someone I love and adore, respect and admire. I was so upset by what I read that I thought my head would explode. Maybe it’s me, but the attitude he displays in the piece shows me arrogance underneath the supposed compassion he professes.

The article was all about the word vegan and its proper use. You may say, huh? I did. You know that joke I make about not being ‘vegan enough’ for most vegans. I think it may be true, sadly. Apparently, you may only use the word ‘vegan’ to describe yourself if you choose this compassionate way of living in order not to contribute to cruelty to animals. (It’s apparently okay to be mean to people, just not animals…). And before anybody goes nuts and writes me about compassion and animals, I am all in for that, so save your breath.

The article said that according to Donald Watson’s description of veganism (he being the founder and definer of the movement that splintered off from vegetarian groups over the use of dairy foods) vegans are those who choose this life to prevent…or at least not contribute to…cruelty to animals. To this line of thinking, the article went on to say that if you are choosing vegan living for personal health or environmental causes, then it would serve better to say that you eat a ‘plant-based diet’ and leave the word ‘vegan’ to those who are truly committed to the cause. And why? Because you might change your mind and give veganism a bad name…or so that was implied.

Here’s my beef (yes, I know…) with this thinking. I am a teacher of vegan/macrobiotic cooking and many of the students who have come through classes were not looking to change their thinking completely. Most of them were just trying to get a bit healthier and since I make this look so easy, delicious and fun on television, they wanted to give it a go. Most of them didn’t know what they were getting into; but many of them changed their lives and now embrace vegan living, compassionately in harmony with the world around them. Some chose to eat a vegan diet, but not embrace activism. By the thinking in this article, I should have turned them away, advised them to take a different approach and come back to me when they had their priorities in order. After all, it’s only about the animals if you are vegan, right?

To ignore personal transformation and to discount the idea that transformation begins with the physical is silly and arrogant, to say the least. If some vegans remain aloof and exclusive, shunning everyone who doesn’t embrace the cause of animal rights, they don’t get to wonder why people are not flocking to join them. They seem to forget that change; true change has to occur at the most primal, visceral level…physically.

When people are drawn to plant-based eating, it is most often for personal health, but how else can we truly transform our thinking, our hearts, our very beings if we do not first, make our bodies healthy and strong and feel for ourselves the power of natural plant-based food. From that physical transformation, the human psyche is freed to think about loftier ideals and to contemplate the plight of the world and all the living beings in it.

We all have to start somewhere. If personal health is what draws you to vegan living, then I welcome you with open arms. By virtue of mere diet change, people who choose veganism for all the ‘wrong reasons’ change themselves, reduce cruelty; grow more compassionate as their bodies heal and strengthen and they leave a lighter footprint on our fragile planet…oh, and they care for the welfare of animals.

It seems to me that some of us vegans have lived too long in a bubble, surrounding ourselves only with people of similar thinking. Many have lost touch with the idea of reaching out, in compassion, to other humans and helping them along in their path of life.

Buddha said that the responsibility of each man, woman and child is to make the lives of those around them better and to aid each living being we meet on its path to enlightenment. Each person we meet is a gift to us and we a gift to them. But if we push them away because they make choices differently than we do, then how can we ever inspire them?

If being ‘vegan enough’ means shunning the brilliant humans I meet because they choose their vegan lifestyle for health, then I think I am happy to fall short of the standards set by this exclusive sect. I prefer to welcome all people, students, friends and family to my lifestyle and see how physical change transforms them to live lives of compassion and peace. Semantics mean little to me when health, peace and the lives of living things are at stake.

Maybe my crazy vegan life is crazier than I thought…but I love every vegan moment of it…in good health.


Monday, June 1, 2009


hi guys...

I think I may have figured out why Americans do not make better food choices. I think people are completely confused. Heck, I get confused and I work in food, study food and research the effects of food on health. I am considered an expert (whatever that means…) and if I get confused, I can only imagine what the rest of the country…who just wants to live their lives and eat dinner…feels.

And I know why we are confused. The latest addition of Men’s Health magazine arrived the other day, the ‘Life in Balance’ issue and it kicked off with a great…and I mean great editorial by David Zinzenko, author of ‘Eat This, Not That’ and editor in chief. In the essay, he talks about Michael Pollan and eating real food, skipping drive-through and junk food; he speaks of whole unprocessed food versus the ‘edible foodlike substances’ we have come to rely on in our diets. He waxed poetic about ‘pulling off the packaging and examining what’s really on the end of our fork.’ He goes on that our modern food culture has pulled us away from the reality of food with slick graphics, cartoons and healthy-sounding words like ‘lite.’

Well, you can imagine my excitement as I prepared to steal my husband’s magazine and pore over every word of this balance issue. I could not wait to read the exposes, the scathing indictments of processed foods. Sure enough, I turn the page and there is an ad for ‘Silk’ soymilk. Cool. But wait…what’s this? Can it be? An item in the Table of Contents called ‘Soy’s Dark Secret’? (I’d bet ‘Silk’ knew nothing about this article before they bought into the ad space.)

The magazine goes on blathering about the ‘bad rap’ burgers have gotten, citing some obscure U.K. study on LDL (bad cholesterol) and how meat doesn’t contribute to those levels rising. Then they go on to cite a test tube study in Canada to make the case that eating fried eggs can reduce hypertension. Seriously? Are we so attached to our childish ways of eating, so attached to the very foods that every expert under the sun (okay, except some Brits and the test tube guy in Canada) say are slowly making us fat and unhealthy…and speeding up our appearance at the Pearly Gates that we can’t look at the truth?

But the real killer, the real icing on the cake of the ‘Life in Balance’ issue came in the form of their ‘Weight Loss Bulletin’ page. Here’s the scene set in the photo. On the left, a more than hefty man in a trucker’s cap, napkin tucked into his shirt front, looking ready to have sex with the huge mountain of fried chicken on his plate. Next to him, a slender Asian man in a tie and dress shirt, glancing sidelong at the chicken as he delicately prepares to eat a salad. The blurb was about ‘pumping up the protein’ and talks about a study that found that people who ate more protein than carbohydrates were more likely to stick with their diet for a year than those who ate less protein. That may be true, but what has that to do with fried chicken and the obvious results of eating it…obesity? One look at the photo and the truth was obvious. I’ll take the slender salad eater, thanks.

The magazine went on with its usual stuff…the 15-minute workout, how to get (and lay) the girl…how to lose belly fat…ads for ‘The End of Overeating’ to Kentucky Grilled Chicken (don’t get me started…again…). From ‘The Perfect Day of Weight Loss’ to how to cook with Guinness, the magazine is a study in contrasts. On one page, an expose on fast food and how they fool us with marketing…then an ad for grilled chicken dinners from KFC. Then an article on ‘The Capitols of Cancer’ rating cities around the country for their cancer risk and incidence based on exercise and consumption of alcohol…and fruits and veggies. That article was followed by ‘Eat Like a Man,’ with lots of advice on how to cook meat…to ‘The 125 Best Foods for Men.’ Topping the list? Post Spoon-Sized Shredded Wheat. And last? Nitrean Vanilla Protein Powder (not even a food the last time I looked). In between, there was a plethora of products, from beverages to foodlike substances. Wow, no wonder we can’t decide what to eat.

And then I got to the meat of the magazine (pun intended…seriously…), ‘Soy’s Dark Secret.’ With a dramatic photo of a single soybean, the headline read…‘Is This the Most Dangerous Food for Men?’ Yikes! The article begins with the heart-wrenching story of a retired US army intelligence officer who had developed breasts, lost body hair and his sex drive. After all other options were ruled out, it was discovered that his body carried estrogen levels eight times higher than the average woman. Cancer tests came back negative, so one doctor placed the focus on his diet. Turns out, our retired solider was drinking more than three quarts of soymilk a day. Now, that’s a lot, but that would be a lot of any kind of milk.

The article goes on to cite comment after comment from men enduring soy based meals prepared by the women in their lives because it’s ‘healthy’ for them, but the message was clear. They’d rather have all their fingernails pulled out and any man worth his chest hair would feel the same.

And then the science followed. Talk of genistein and daidzein, compounds in soy that make up the famous ‘phytoestrogens’ in the plant ensued. The article goes on about feeding kids too much soy in formula (I agree with that one…). Studies on mice showed that when significant amounts of soy were consumed, the thymus gland shrunk. But they could not say if this result occurred in human infants who drank formula…only mice. The next study cited said that men who ate 15 different soy foods showed a decrease of 32% in sperm count. But again, the conclusion was that it’s too early and inconclusive in the research to tell men to avoid soy to increase fertility. H-h-h-m-m-m-m…this is interesting. After a terrifying story about older Indonesians being studied for dementia risk and how the people who ate very high amounts of tofu showed more memory loss than those who ‘ate a moderate amount,’ they concluded that phytoestrogens may not be all that marketing has cracked them up to be, but that they aren’t bad either…for most people, they lie somewhere in the middle for men’s health. Huh? What happened to deadliest food for men?

The story concludes with our hero, now drinking lactose-free milk in place of the soymilk he was over-consuming. He started using Ensure, which contains soy protein and sure enough, his symptoms returned with a vengeance. Acknowledging an obvious super sensitivity to soy, the retired soldier’s doctor…and the other experts in the article…came to this conclusion…‘Soy protein today is an ubiquitous, profitable and often buried ingredient in a bewildering number of packaged foods’ and it’s best to monitor how much of it men are eating. Well, duh! Soy protein found in packaged and processed foods has been bastardized in the unhealthiest way possible…not unlike high fructose corn syrup. It’s not a food men…or women and children…want to consume at all.

But if you’re going to seduce me into an article with dramatic headlines about ‘dark secrets’ and ‘deadliest food for men,’ you had best give me some hard and cold facts, not some mamby-pamby inconclusive studies that may or may not support the ideas put forth in the headlines.

Look, there is compromised soy protein out there and yes, as a modern culture, we may very well be eating too much soy for our own good…but you could say that we eat too much of everything for our own good.

In the end, the real discussion that needs to be had is about the effects of the hormones fed to the animals we eat in such large quantity. Is the real problem we face the phytoestrogens in soybeans or the hormones and steroids in the burgers this same magazine so proudly and confidently supports as real food for men?

Think about it…