Monday, June 28, 2010

A recent New Yorker magazine featured twenty writers under the age of forty. They were presented as the future stars of contemporary American fiction. With the exception of Jonathan Safran Foer, I am embarrassed to stay that I’ve never heard of any one of them. One writer, whose short story I particularly enjoyed was Philipp Meyer, who made some particularly insightful references to modern design and architecture. His sarcastic comments about Design Within Reach, and their iconic branding exploits, form the inspiration for my musings over the term’’ within reach’’

There are many examples of solutions to problems that are within our reach, but for a multitude of reasons, we have been unable grasp the illusive ring. Tom Friedman alluded to this conundrum last week in his column about the Gulf oil mess. We seem to want to attack major systemic problems with the most superficial responses that always maintain the status quo. The solution to our oil dependency is well known. Jimmy Carter spoke about our need to explore renewable energy sources in the 1970s, but nothing tangible ever came of his requests.

I’m usually turned off by the many Dr. Phil types, who after any major event, always play the ‘’Let’s use this as an opportunity to finally tackle this issue card’’. Invariably the low hanging fruit is picked, leaving the core issues which were within our reach, relatively unchanged. The legislatures ‘’Financial Reform’’ package is a prime example of this phenomenon. Let’s do enough to appease the ignorant public, but not enough to really address the issue.

The so called health care reform package will do very little to improve the general and financial health of this country. When the most effective solutions to these immense problems are always ‘’off the table’’ it is very difficult for any thinking individual to be very optimistic about the future.

The annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission just ended on Friday. Instead of doing the ‘’right thing’’ and eliminating the loopholes around the ‘’harvesting’’ of whales for ‘’scientific ‘’ purposes, it let Japan and Norway off the hook again. Saving the sperm whale, whose 18lb brain is the largest of any animal on earth and whose ratio of brain size to body mass is second only by ours, was off the table.

On a personal note, I went to the Acme bakery this morning to purchase their wonderful Whole Wheat Walnut Bread. They have been pioneers in bringing European style breads to the Bay area, and have inspired the artisan bread movement across the country. Acme bakes two crusted whole grain breads which appear very lonely sitting there among all the other refined bread products. I’ve never done an official survey, but I would guess that they sell one hundred refined white breads to every healthful great tasting whole grain bread. I’ve never personally seen anyone purchase one of these breads, although someone must, since they have been sold out on several occasions.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of all the current terms we use to describe what we all used to call fat. We have overweight, obese, morbidly obese, mega BMI and a plethora of other quasi clinical terminology to describe the obvious. Any ten year old kid knows when he sees a fat person; in all likelihood, the kid himself is probably fat.

A recent story about the Mexico City Police Dept illustrates that this issue has gone global. It appears as if the city officials were becoming increasingly concerned that the officers were becoming too fat to do their job adequately. The police were given free meals by the city and were consuming approximately 4000 calories a day. An attempt to reduce the calories to 2500 per day was fraught with consternation by the officers, who simply supplemented their caloric intake with frequent visits to the local taco stand. One could envision that the drug cartels were also supportive of the former 4000 calorie meals, since a fat police officer is often a slow and sluggish adversary.

One outspoken individual on this subject is Joan Denizot, president of the Vermont company, Super Sized Cycles. Joan is a self acknowledged fat person who claims to weigh north of 225lbs. After recuperating from gastric bypass surgery, she was frustrated by her search to find a bike that would accommodate her large frame. Her experience led to the launch of her super sized bicycle business. Joan claims to have come to peace with the word fat. For her, it’s not a sensitive word.

For those men, who have a have a high fat denial quotient,comes an answer to their prayers. The savior comes in the form of compression underwear for men. The hottest item in the men’s wear department at Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Ave and Nordstrom are such names as Spanx, Sculptees, and the Australian label Equmen. The object of these garments is to compress one’s fat, in order to project a more svelte figure to our fat phobic public. So much for being comfortable in one’s skin.

Recently, I’ve been spending a great deal of time in airports. In addition to noticing how much fatter people are outside the Bay area, a new device has appeared to accommodate these greater girth individuals. I call them Oversize People Movers. They are essentially mega wheelchairs that are used to maneuver passengers around the terminal. What makes this scene even more bizarre is that these fat individuals are often pushed around by 100 pound Filipina’s. It’s no wonder that the third world both envies and hates us.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Green vs Red

Whenever we are dining at one of our favorite neighborhood Chinese restaurants, I am always intrigued by the ordering styles of many of the patrons. Diana and I have coined this process the Wide World of Animals school of menu selection.

Over the years, we have culled the best vegan items on the menu, which generally total around five or six dishes. We generally choose two or three items from this group, which makes ordering for us fairly straight forward.

For those other folks, especially if there are more than two people in the group, there seems to be manifest desire to include a different species of animal for each dish selected. In real world terms, the ordering, with some variation, goes something like this: Sweet and sour pig, chicken with black bean sauce, Mongolian cow and some type of scrimp or fish dish. If vegetables are selected, they will invariably be partnered with an additional animal source. Rice becomes optional, usually white.

The scenario I have described, is occurring in Berkeley, the so called gourmet ghetto of Northern California.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Special Brew

In the rarified gourmet world of truffles and aged balsamic vinegar, we have a new interloper in town. The New York Time’s headline of ‘’From Dung to Brew’’ is our entrée to the newest and most bizarre caffeinated beverage to reach our shore.

The prized civet beans come from Southeast Asia, principally from the Philippines and Indonesia. What makes the beans so unique is that they are harvested from the droppings of the civet, after they have been fermenting in their stomach.

A civet is a cat- like animal, indigenous to the region, which has a great fondness for the ripest coffee cherries. The animals digestive enzymes are said to produce a brew that is both smooth and chocolaty, which is highly prized in Japan and South Korea. The beans, selling for up to several hundred dollars a pound, have led to an attempt to bypass the serendipitous nature of this activity, to one that commercializes the processes

Civets are being captured and housed in mini farms to handle the increased demand from the world’s gourmands. From the civet’s perspective, it’s either being hunted for its chicken like flesh or living in cages and being force fed to increase its volume of poop.

This is a classic definition of a dilemma; having to choose between two poor choices. Unfortunately, the poor civet doesn’t have the opportunity to choose between taking it's chances in the wild, versus confinement and enforced gluttony. Talk about animal exploitation.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Heimlich Maneuver

Most of you have probably heard of the Heimlich maneuver. Even if you weren’t quite certain how to perform this procedure, we know that when someone is choking, quick implementation can often save someone’s life. It’s also one of the few opportunities we have in life to be acknowledged as a true hero

Diana and I traveled to LA last week to attend, PCRM’s 25th Anniversary Gala. As part of the program, the Henry J. Heimlich Award for Innovative Medicine was presented. We had met Dr. Heimlich on several previous occasions, and had found him to be a very generous and engaging individual and especially sharp at 90 years of age.

In 1974, he published research which was to be the basis for the introduction of the Heimlich maneuver. It has been estimated that more than 50,000 lives have been saved from choking and drowning in the United States and many thousands more worldwide. Throughout his professional life, Dr. Heimlich developed many other important procedures and devices to save lives and reduce suffering.

With this background, and our knowledge of Dr Heimlichs’ many accomplishments, we were shocked to discover an amazingly negative story about him in the La Weekly just a few days before the PCRM Gala. It was a classic ‘’hit piece’’, full of innuendo with an estranged son who claimed his father to be a fraud and charlatan.

A careful reading of this story, led us to believe that the author was using Dr. Heimlich as a conduit to attack PCRM. The implication was that the entire world knew Heimlich was a fraud, and that his only supporters were PCRM, the animal rights group.

This outrageous story had the opposite effect on attendance at the event. There were more than 500 attendees, the majority of whom had never seen the slanderous story. Those few individuals who had read the story, deemed it so ‘’off the wall’’ that they totally disregarded it.

This experience for us was both enlightening and frightening. The planting of pseudo investigative reporting by special interest groups to sway public opinion is an alarm for us to be very discerning regarding our news sources.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Drug War

This story begins last fall, when Diana and I were returning from the North American Vegetarian Conference in Toronto Canada. We arrived at the airport for our flight to San Francisco quite early, which gave us ample time to do some serious people watching. When we reached our departure gate, I noticed a lively group of about 30 people who were having a great time while waiting for the same flight that we were on. The initial group mushroomed to about 60, by the time our flight began to board. They were rather a boisterous group, ranging in age from the mid twenties to the mid fifties.

I had made a number of assumptions about these well scrubbed Canadians. My first thought was that they were a group of academics on their way to some research conference. As it turned out, the group comprised the entire Canadian sales force for the Big Pharma, Astra Zeneca. They were going to San Francisco to attend the company’s annual sales meeting, in which all their new drugs were to be presented.

Being aware that one of their top selling drugs was the statin, Crestor, I was curious how the sales people might respond to my questions regarding the role of diet in reducing cholesterol. I immediately got into a conversation with my drug rep seat mate regarding her role in the company. She informed me that she called on Physicians to keep them ‘’informed’’ about Crestor. When I asked her about the role of diet and exercise in cholesterol management, she said that her company discussed these factors on their website. I had the sense that she didn’t want pursue the issue much further, and not wanting to appear too obnoxious, I shut up for the remainder of the flight.

Flash forward to this week’s front page story in the NY Times,’’ Plan to Widen Use of Statins Has Skeptics Cholesterol - Pills Aimed at Healthy People.’’ The FDA has approved new criteria for the use of Crestor last month for essentially asyptomatic people, and AstraZeneca is already planning to debut their new marketing and advertising campaign based on this dubious criteria. Crestor had sales of $4.5 billion last year, and at a retail price of $3.50 a tablet, the estimated 6.5 million potential additional consumers in this country, will certainly help their bottom line.

Crestor is not the only example of Big Pharma’s efforts to redefine guide lines in order to increase sales. Our pill popping culture provides the perfect substrate for them to expand their influence in the health care world. The majority of these ‘’new use’’ drugs are aimed at lifestyle conditions. Why eat well, exercise and stress manage, when you can take a pill, is their corporate mantra. It’s a perfect marriage, since many of us would rather take a pill than be proactive.

The only hope for us to get out of this quagmire, which is bankrupting us in so many ways, is to fight back with the facts. The present course is unsustainable, and we need to communicate this message to the general public in a much more effective way than we have. At this time, the corporate message is so far ahead of the public health message, that Las Vegas has taken this game off the board.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

One From Column A, Five From Column B

As I was driving home from the gym this morning, I was listening to a news report on NPR about a massive epidemic of type 2 diabetes in China. The health minister stated that one in two Chinese had diabetes. Something may have gotten lost in translation, but one thing is sure, as more people around the world adopt our supersized western diet, we are sadly, all beginning to look alike.

The whole food plant based diet that we endorse, is also one that will help you maintain a normal weight throughout all stages of your life. The primary reason for this, is that these food groups are all high in fiber and nutrient dense. Choosing a wide variety of these high satiety foods, creates a sense of fullness without all the empty calories of refined foods.

The concept of Volumetrics, became very real to us last night, when I was preparing a butternut squash risotto for dinner. Neither one of us has had white rice in quite a while, and had forgotten how much more food one needs to consume, when the fiber has been removed. I would normally prepare around eight ounces of dried pasta or a grain for us. When I measured out the Arborio rice, there was about eleven ounces remaining in the box, so I decided to use that amount, and have some leftovers for the following day.

After preparing the risotto, I dished it out in our usual proportions, and we began to eat. It very quickly became apparent to me, that I was still quite hungry after eating my usual quantity of food. I went back for seconds and thirds, and by the time I felt full, all the risotto was gone. In order for me to achieve my usual sense of satiety, I had consumed fifty to seventy percent more calories than if I had eaten my regular whole grain meal.

If you hadn’t noticed, the theme of overfed and undernourished has become a recurrent one on this blog. I am not trying to demonize the overweight. They need our compassion and help in resisting corporate food interests, whose primary goal, is to encourage us to consume more processed food.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Mishuggah Factor

The premise behind the Mishuggah Factor is that the crazier and more preposterous an idea is, the greater is the attraction for many of us.The influence of TMF is most apparent in the health and nutrition world, where a diet of wheatgrass and grapefruit juice can cause some people to gush with excitement.

I remember one such manifestation of this phenomenon which occurred in the mid 80s, when the EST movement was at its height of popularity. Several European Physician members, who had just returned from India, were lauding the health benefits of consuming ones urine. I kid you not. There were many non questioning individuals, who just assumed that this prescription was too bizarre, not to be true. Hey, during those times, it was certainly better than drinking the Kool Aid.

The diet world regurgitates a new and improved version of a variety of cockamamie weight loss diets at an alarming rate. As Dean Ornish has said, ‘’losing weight isn’t the issue; three weeks of chemotherapy will handle that quite well. Keeping the weight off is much more difficult for most people.’’

The Center For Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado established the National Weight Control Registry in 1994. James Hill PHD and Rena Wing PHD were the principle researchers. They have followed over 5000 individuals who have lost at least 30lbs and have kept the weight off for over a year. Their findings weren’t sexy, and won’t titillate us on Oprah or in the National Enquirer. What these successful dieters had in common, was that all exercised at least one hour a day, consumed a lower calorie diet, that was high in fruits and vegetables, and were keenly aware of their weight at all times.

For many of us males, the style over substance issue, has plagued us since we were in high school. It’s the girl of our dreams, going gaga over the dangerous and mysterious Fonzie type, while ignoring us dependable, loyal and boring boys. Nothing has changed.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Calcium Wars

During the past year, there has been a great deal of intramural bickering within the Vegan nutritional community regarding the role of calcium and osteoporosis, and the specific needs of vegans for this important nutrient. The origin of the controversy appeared to have begun with the publication of Amy Lanou’s book, Building Bone Vitality. In her book, Lanou implies that calcium requirements for vegans are less than for omnivores. She supports her theory with data from the WHO, which in 2003 suggested that approximately 520 mg were needed to keep most of us in physiological balance.

A more current report from the WHO recommends 1000mg for adults residing in developed countries. This recommendation coincides with the RDA of 1000mg for adults in the US. Their extensive 35 page report examines world wide data in coming to their conclusion

There are many unanswered questions regarding genetic, environmental and geographic differences within populations. It is quite easy to draw inferences from this scant data, but in my opinion there are too few studies of vegans to draw any definitive conclusions that would justify alienating the vast majority of the vegan inclined scientific community who support the federal recommendations.

I generally do not presume that one can really know why people take certain positions. More often than not, when I have done this, I have been totally off base, much to my embarrassment. Having stated the illogic of presuming someone else’s motive, I’m going to give you my best shot in the dark take on the matter:

If there were a hierarchy of suffering in the animal world, dairy cows would be at the top of the ladder. The length of their unnatural confinement, and the intolerable conditions they are forced to live in, would motivate any feeling person to do anything they could to mitigate this situation.

The Dairy Council is one of the most powerful and successful lobbies in the country. Their “Got Milk and Happy Cow’’ campaigns are the envy of the media industry. The established vegetarian organizations have attempted to counter this corporate blitz by evoking the scientific argument that human beings after weaning, don’t require milk, and indeed the majority of the population have some degree of difficulty digesting milk.

In my opinion, some national organizations have spent too much energy on discounting the milk myth and not enough of their resources in helping people meet their nutritional needs from plant sources. They may believe that by setting the bar lower, more people will be able to reach this goal. I agree that getting people to consume more kale,collards and white beans can be a challenge, but it is one that I feel we can meet.

I envision a campaign emphasizing the fact that cows get their calcium naturally from greens and that we should bypass them in the equation, and go directly to the source This approach will be far more beneficial for us, and certainly much better for our beleaguered dairy cows.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Soya Si Leche No

I know there are probably more important things going on in the world right now, but being annoyed often doesn’t follow a logical path. On my petty grievance scale, this is a six, and slowly moving up in the charts. Here’s some history:

I’ve been a big fan of espresso drinks for many years. Up until about ten years ago, whenever I ordered a soy cappuccino, I would be charged the same outrageous rate as your standard cow’s milk consumer. Suddenly, one day, while I was at my favorite caffeine dispensary, I noticed that these greedy capitalists were demanding a twenty five cent surcharge for the soy milk.

Outraged, I quizzed my barista over this matter, but he just muttered something about ‘’ just working here’’, and couldn’t do anything about the situation. His suggestion, was for me to have a regular cappuccino, but when I informed him about being a vegan, he gave me a look that had no habla ingles written all over it.

Over the ensuing years, the twenty five cent stipend has morphed into a seventy five cent charge at some establishments.

Many of you are aware that the dairy industry is heavily subsidized by the Dept of Agriculture, as are soybeans, corn and wheat. What I find particularly galling, is that you and I are supporting both the dairy and the soy bean industries. In this convoluted equation, most of the soy beans grown in this country are consumed by the cattle industry. Only Paul Krugman could figure out the macro economics of all this, but the bottom line is that every time I order a soy latte I feel as if I’m being screwed.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Guerrilla Marketing For Gorillas And Other Animals

I recently attended a fund raiser and ‘’pep rally’’ for what I consider is one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented organizations in the country. The name of the group is PETA, which stands for, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Their name sounds pretty benign to me. With such a laudable goal, why do you think that the mere utterance of the name PETA evokes such strong emotions among so many people?

My sense is that most people are really quite ignorant regarding the issues that PETA are attempting to address. PETA primarily focuses its energy in four areas that involve the greatest exploitation of animals. They are, factory farms, laboratories, clothing industries and the entertainment world.

Ingrid Newkirk, co founder of the organization, and a number of the PETA staff spoke at the event. Without exception, their presentations were compelling and compassionate. In the many years that I have been a supporter of PETA, every staff member that I have interacted with has been warm, caring and dedicated. They are the people that you would be proud of, if they were your friends, family or children.

Well, what about the Neiman Marcus blood throwing fur protests or other similar radical activities that we often see on CNN or Fox news? With a worldwide budget of only 45 million dollars, PETA must be very opportunistic when it comes to getting its message across. Obviously, its approach has proven to be quite effective, since this is what they are most known for by the general public.

Even other animal rights advocates sometimes quibble about some of their more flamboyant actions, but most will agree that on total, they are an extremely powerful force and effective voice for all animals. Representing the bad cop in the animal welfare world often allows the more moderate good cop such as HSUS,to come in and negotiate a deal that is advantageous for the animals. My experience is that most people in the exploitive animal world would prefer not having PETA as an adversary.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Yoga Drama

The New York Times recently ran a feature story on what was described as the ‘’hottest of all hot-button issues in Yoga.” Just what was the white hot issue in the rarified self righteous world of Yoga? It turns out that food, and more specifically, whether it was necessary for the purity of the practice for Yogis to consume a vegetarian diet. It appears as if the current crop of celebrity Yogis have gotten their digestive juices churning over this debate.

The saga has all the elements of an Entertainment Tonight drama. There have been tearful confessions and a whole host of other adolescent behavior that has disturbed the serenity of this six billion dollar business.

My personal Yoga Guru, the venerable Yogi Berra, has made many classical utterances. The one that most represents the present situation is ‘’you observe a lot by watching.’'

I’ve been observing the Yoga community since the early eighties. What started out as a spiritual and physical exploration for many of its earlier practitioners has unfortunately morphed into a mega capitalistic endeavor. When I see how many students are often packed onto the floor, I am reminded of my childhood beach experiences, where we were often lying on our blankets, literally butt to butt guarding our precious space.

These days, walking around with a rolled up yoga mat is as ubiquitous as seeing people clutching a paper coffee cup trying to look cool. For some segment of the population it has become the prop du jour along with a Lululemon Yoga outfit. As with so many other worthwhile endeavors, success all too often leads to an environment that is conducive to producing a hyperactive greed chakra. The Yoga community has become a victim of its success by emulating the morally bankrupt fee for service health care model.

Their mantra has become, pack them in and ship them out. This philosophy is more troubling to me than whether they are authentic vegetarians or closeted omnivores.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Chosen One

Whenever I am asked why I am vegan, I usually respond with what I consider are my three major reasons for choosing this lifestyle. My list has three components. They consist of health, environmental and ethical reasons. I’m generally just fine explaining the health and environmental issues, but when it comes to my ethical concerns, I often feel quite uncomfortable. I find this a bit odd, since this issue is the most powerful and motivating one for me.

When I share my ethical beliefs with others, I’m often concerned that the other person is inferring that because they regularly frequent In and Out Burger, they are not moral people. I don’t want them to feel slighted or feel that I am claiming moral superiority, it’s just that I have strong opinions on this important subject.

Most people who are intrigued enough to engage in a conversation with me, have probably never considered how the ten billion farmed animals killed for food in this country are actually treated. I find this attitude quite understandable, since when I consumed animal products, it was never an issue that I thought about.

Even though I was as anti war and pro environment as any other progressive person that I knew, the morality of factory farming was never on my radar. I haven’t lost my concern for the poor, Darfur, Congo or wherever Nicholas Kristof is traveling to these days, it is just that I have added the exploitation of animals to my banner. I find it quite empowering to be able to make a tangible difference by choosing a Garden Burger over a Big Mac. Making a dent in the other items on my agenda have proven far more elusive for me.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

It All Depends

I just returned from a hike with my two dogs, Bella and Buster. This time of year, many parts of Tilden Park are off leash areas, and because I generally keep my guys on lead, I’m invariably asked if my dogs are friendly. My sense is that most people, who are inquiring, just want a yes or no answer without any equivocation. I never quite know how to respond to their questioning, other than to say that it depends on the circumstances, which often is not the response they are looking for.

This is exactly how I feel about the ‘’questionable’’ labeling by Whole Foods of their organic frozen food products from China. People have been asking me just how important this story is. My response at this time is that we don’t have all the facts to form any salient conclusions, but my gut reaction is that it’s probably not a big deal.

I would be more concerned, if we were discussing processed foods or ingredients from China, since their track record in that arena is quite besmirched. Dried mushrooms and edamame are the foods that I consume from China, since the likelihood of their adulteration is much less problematic.

Most people are rather ignorant regarding the origin of their food and often don’t read or understand food labels. We live in a world in which many of our foods are outsourced. The German owned Trader Joes is an international retailer who sources its products from all over the world. Looking at a benign can of organic beans, one would never suspect that they were from China or Turkey.

I’m more concerned with the ‘’crap’’ most people eat, rather than the dubious labeling practices of Whole Foods or Trader Joes.

Watch this two minute video of Dennis Kucinich!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Enough Already

In another example of the Obama administration’s continued capitulation to special interest groups, this following story appeared in the NY Times on Feb 5. ''Faced with stiff resistance from ranchers and farmers, the Obama administration has decided to scrap a national program intended to help authorities quickly identify and track livestock in the event of an animal disease outbreak.''

The specific disease that the program was oriented toward was Mad Cow Disease, which has up to a 20 to 30 year incubation period. This prion caused condition is always fatal, with no known treatment available. Apparently the ‘’benign’’cattle producers objected to the extra work and additional costs involved in implementing this tracking system.

We’ve seen this phenomenon occur before,more specifically, in health care and in the moribund cap and trade legislation,which is being stymied by special interest groups that appear to have no regard for the collective health of this country.

Many of us, who were Obama supporters, are close to having a Howard Beale moment. ''We’re mad as hell and are not going to take it anymore.’’

Friday, February 5, 2010

Desperate Measures

The poignant story of dairy farmer Dean Pierson is in the news today. Pierson was a second generation small time dairy farmer in New York State, who on Jan 21 systematically shot all 51 of his milking cows in the head and then committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest.

This type of tragic story always has many permutations. No doubt this individual was dealing with many personal and financial issues. He apparently saw no way out of his dire situation and chose to end his painful existence in the ultimate way.

The diary industry, whether on the mega scale of the giant cooperatives or on the more diminutive scale of Mr. Pierson, is a toxic environment for all concerned, especially the poor animals. Whenever animals are viewed as commodities, rather than sentient beings, people will do whatever they deem necessary to maximize their profit.

When prices on the world markets were high, dairy farmers massively increased their herds. Now that consumption is down, these same farmers are aggressively ‘’thinning their stock’’ since production costs are greater than what their product is fetching on the world market

This phenomenon may be classic economics 101, but it is destroying the fabric of this country

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Nuts For Ice Cream

Last Sunday, Diana and I held a gelato and sorbet tasting at our home. We served four sorbets and five flavors of gelato. I recently acquired a new Italian gelato machine and was eager to share some of my favorite creations with a small group of our Marketplace dinner friends.

The freshly made sorbet flavors were, moro blood orange, pink grapefruit,mango and meyer lemon. The nut based gelato flavors were, espresso,vanilla almond, orange chocolate mousse, fig anise and peanut-chocolate swirl. Judging by the positive response from all of the participants, it was clear that nobody missed the traditional cream and egg based desserts.

Many of the participating individuals had some issue with dairy consumption. This is not too surprising since world wide about 75% of the population has some physiological decrease, or complete loss of the ability to produce lactase, which is the enzyme that breaks down lactose. North American Asians, Native Americans and African Americans have the highest levels of lactase nonpersistence, while North American Caucasians and Hispanics have the lowest levels.

Since milk is not necessary for humans after the age of weaning, it is clear that consuming the milk of a plant consuming animal is not the most efficient way of obtaining our calcium needs. There is some evidence that milk protein may increase the risk of some types of cancers, particularly prostate and ovarian. Many children are also at increased risk for ear infections and allergies due to the heavy consumption of milk products.

The National Dairy Council and the International Dairy Foods Association are some of the most powerful trade lobby groups in the country. Their “Got Milk” program has been one of the most successful advertising campaigns in marketing history, all to the detriment to the health of the country.

Finally, there is the ethical issue of the inhumane treatment of hundreds of millions of dairy cows who lead a horrific life. The current factory farming of our dairy cows has led to major environmental damage,with many groups implicating it as a major contributor to global warming.

Since all the nutrients in dairy products can be obtained from plant sources, one would have to be nuts to continue consuming dairy products.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

No Whey to Build Muscle

As I was going into the gym this morning, I couldn’t help noticing how many large cans of a product called Muscle Milk were sitting on the counter. This product, along with many other similar supplements, comprise a $2.7 billion industry in this country. They are largely made from whey, which is a byproduct of cheese production. Remember your curds and whey?

How resourceful these companies are in turning what was essentially a minimally valued commodity into a must have for every Arnold aspiring teenage boy. With clever image marketing, they are selling a distorted story to a largely ignorant public in a largely unregulated industry.

I can speak from experience about the powerful influence these protein products have on teenagers. As one of the many ectomorphs aspiring to be a mesomorph young gym rat, I consumed many bottles of protein powders in my day. What I didn’t know in those days, and what the current crop of aspirants don’t know, is that the standard American diet is overloaded with protein. Our consumption levels are almost twice the amount that our bodies need to meet our physiological requirements and the excess protein has led to an alarming increase in the number of renal disorders.

When we add all the other bogus products that promise increased athletic efficiency, we are talking about a $25 billion industry that preys on our vanity and our desire for a magical potion.

PS : I was 160lbs as a teenager and am the same weight today

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Fat Head

There was an interesting story that appeared several months ago that I believe went largely unnoticed by the general public. It involved a gang in the Peruvian jungle that had been reported to be killing people for their fat. The local police were accusing the gang members of draining fat from the bodies and selling it on the black market for use in cosmetics. The suspects, who had confessed to killing five people, claimed that the fat was worth $80,000 a gallon.

The police stated that the gang members would cut off the victims’ heads, arms and legs, remove the organs, and then suspend the torsos from hooks above candles that warmed the flesh as the fat dripped into tubs below.

My wife Diana, had been in Peru on a photo shoot during the time the story had appeared in the NY Times. Although she had just traveled into the Amazon she was totally unaware of this gruesome incident.

Here’s my turning’’ lemons into lemonade’’ angle to this story.

With our economy in the pits and with over 60% of us obese or overweight, I’m proposing that our excess fat be declared a national resource. We could be the Saudi Arabia of fat in the global economy. To all the people who say that we don’t produce anything in this country anymore, I say, we have a virtual monopoly on this commodity. Most importantly, this resource is located in areas that have been impacted the most by this terrible recession, every small town in this country.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What Would Robert Bly Do ?

One of the more frequent complaints that I have heard from the numerous women who have begun the 21 day vegan kick-start program is that their husbands, and sometimes their children, still want to eat their customary meat. Even though most of the women work full time, they still feel obliged to prepare two sets of meals in their home.

Much of the stress these professional women feel is related to the longstanding societal role of the woman as the cook-caretaker in the family. This model often leads to a conflict between what they personally want to do and the tendency to subordinate their desires for the good of the family.

In my opinion, men need to disengage from their contemporary caveman relationship toward meat and embrace their partners attempt to develop a more compassionate attitude toward animals. As someone who has participated in a variety of mens groups for over 20 years, I have seen many men on the verge of a panic attack when they perceived their meat based diet being attacked.

There are so many more productive ways for men to assert their masculinity, than to participate in the ritual eating of a dead animal that led a horrific life on a factory farm. Try mentoring an inner-city youth or volunteer in a soup kitchen as an example…

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Rebel with a cause

August 11, 2009
How to Rein in Medical Costs, RIGHT NOW

I believe that there are still many ethical and professional American physicians and many intelligent American patients who are capable of, in an alliance of patients and physicians, doing "the right things". Their combined clout is being underestimated in the current healthcare reform debate.

Efforts to control American medical costs date from at least 1932. With few exceptions, they have failed. Health care reform, 2009 politics-style, is again in trouble over cost control. It would be such a shame if we once again fail to cover the uninsured because of hang-ups over costs.

Physician decisions drive the majority of expenditures in the US health care system. American health care costs will never be controlled until most physicians are no longer paid fees for specific services. The lure of economic incentives to provide unnecessary or unproven care, or even that known to be ineffective, drives many physicians to make the lucrative choice.

Hospitals and especially academic medical centers are also motivated to profit from many expensive procedures. Alternative payment forms used in integrated multispecialty delivery systems such as those at Geisinger, Mayo, and Kaiser Permanente are far more efficient and effective.
Fee-for-service incentives are a key reason why at least 30% of the $2.5 trillion expended annually for American health care is unnecessary. Eliminating that waste could save $750 billion annually with no harm to patient outcomes.

Currently several House and Senate bills include various proposals to lower costs. But they are tepid at best, in danger of being bought out by special interests at worst.
So, what can we in the USA do RIGHT NOW to begin to cut health care costs?
An alliance of informed patients and physicians can widely apply recently learned comparative effectiveness science to big ticket items, saving vast sums while improving quality of care.

Intensive medical therapy should be substituted for coronary artery bypass grafting (currently around 500,000 procedures annually) for many patients with established coronary artery disease, saving many billions of dollars annually.

The same for invasive angioplasty and stenting (currently around 1,000,000 procedures per year) saving tens of billions of dollars annually.

Most non-indicated PSA screening for prostate cancer should be stopped. Radical surgery as the usual treatment for most prostate cancers should cease since it causes more harm than good. Billions saved here.

Screening mammography in women under 50 who have no clinical indication should be stopped and for those over 50 sharply curtailed, since it now seems to lead to at least as much harm as good. More billions saved.

CAT scans and MRIs are impressive art forms and can be useful clinically. However, their use is unnecessary much of the time to guide correct therapeutic decisions. Such expensive diagnostic tests should not be paid for on a case by case basis but grouped along with other diagnostic tests, by some capitated or packaged method that is use-neutral. More billions saved.

We must stop paying huge sums to clinical oncologists and their institutions for administering chemotherapeutic false hope, along with real suffering from adverse effects, to patients with widespread metastatic cancer. More billions saved.

Death, which comes to us all, should be as dignified and free from pain and suffering as possible. We should stop paying physicians and institutions to prolong dying with false hope, bravado, and intensive therapy which only adds to their profit margin. Such behavior is almost unthinkable and yet is commonplace. More billions saved.

Why might many physicians, their patients and their institutions suddenly now change these established behaviors? Patriotism, recognition of new science, stewardship, and the economic survival of the America we love. No legislation is necessary to effect these huge savings. Physicians, patients, and their institutions need only take a good hard look in the mirror and then follow the medical science that most benefits patients and the public health at lowest cost. Academic medical centers should take the lead, rather than continuing to teach new doctors to "take the money and run".

Physicians can re-affirm their professionalism and patients their rights, with sound ethical behavior without undue concern for meeting revenue needs. The interests of the patients and the public must again supersede the self interest of the learned professional.

George D. Lundberg MD, is former Editor in Chief of Medscape, eMedicine, and the Journal of the American Medical Association. He's now President and Chair of the Board of The Lundberg Institute

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Bean Team

I’ve received quite a few interesting comments over my recent legume posting. A recent New York Times feature article by Mark Bittman on elevating simple legumes, stimulated my thinking again about this under- appreciated food.

One of the reasons I believe the lowly bean has not been accepted in this country is that unlike much of the world, we in the U.S. don’t have a national bean. Come to think of it, there are a great many things that either we do or don’t do that the rest of the world does. The Italians have the cannellini, borlotti and ceci, the French have the flageolet, the Latin countries have the black and pinto beans, the Asians have adzuki and soy and the Indians, along with many other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries have the chickpea and a wide variety of lentils. With the exception of black eye peas, navy and red kidney beans, there really isn’t much of a bean tradition in this country.

There have been some attempts to promote heirloom bean varieties by Rancho Gordo in Napa and Phipps ranch down south, but much of their limited production is oriented toward the likes of Thomas Keller, of French Laundry fame, and his brethren of celebrity chefs.

In my Pre – Vegan days as a youngster living in New York, the only beans that I was exposed to were Heinz vegetarian baked beans. They were the traditional accompaniment to my corned beef and pastrami sandwiches that I routinely consumed at the neighborhood deli. Occasionally when my mother wasn’t up to cooking dinner we would have ‘’franks and beans’’ which was the only other time that beans of any sort touched my lips.

It wasn’t until many years later, when I became vegetarian, that I become passionate about beans. I consume some variety of legume every morning for breakfast in the form of a bean or lentil spread that I consume with some whole grain bread. I prefer not to use tahini, which is an essential ingredient in traditional hummus, because in my opinion it tends to dominate the flavor profile of whatever legume you are using. The name hummus has also been contemporized to now include almost any type of bean accompanied by a variety of spices.

The marketing of the portobello mushroom is a good example of how we can create a sexy persona for our new national bean. Portobello is a created name for a more mature cremini or brown mushroom. What was essentially a throw away product became a must have item because of some clever marketing. We can do a similar campaign for whichever bean we choose to publicize.
I’m proposing a Bean Team be organized to name and promote our new national bean. Imagine the possibilities…

Saturday, January 2, 2010

An Owls View

I would like to pose the following question. Do you apply affirmative action principles when evaluating vegetarian restaurants? I often find myself feeling quite ambivalent over this issue. My compassionate side says that the food, good, bad or indifferent should be secondary to the fact that for every vegetarian meal consumed fewer animals are killed and that suffering is reduced immeasurably. On the other hand, my chef –food critic says that restaurants should be judged by the quality of its food, irrespective of whether the cuisine is Italian, Indian, Vegetarian or Mexican

Many of us, in our excitement to have an additional vegetarian restaurant to choose from, all too often gloss over the fact that the food that is served is often quite bad. My concern is that too many veggie wannabes will be turned off by the food, feeling that they could never ‘’eat this way”, and we will have lost potential converts to our cause.

My wife Diana and I recently went to Millennium in SF for Thanksgiving dinner. They were serving a holiday prix fix menu which consisted of an appetizer, soup, salad, entrée and dessert. It was extremely busy when we arrived and it was great to see so many people eager to experience a vegan Thanksgiving.

I had two major complaints with the meal, the soup and dessert. The pureed soup was cold, flavorless and had the consistency of baby food. It was so bad that neither Diana nor I ever considered sending it back, feeling it was beyond restoration. There were two desserts offered, so we each tried one. Diana’s selection, a pumpkin chocolate pie was very good. My choice, a mislabeled tart, severely missed the boat. The sorbet that accompanied the tart was also lacking in any redeemable qualities. The entrée, salad and appetizer were more than acceptable, but didn’t provide the WOW factor that we were looking forward to.

A friend of mine suggested that I shouldn’t judge a restaurant by its holiday offerings, since it was unusually busy and probably wasn’t truly representative of its finest work. I understand this viewpoint, however having a prix fix menu reduces the stress in the kitchen and in some way balances out the greater number of meals served.

I’ve been going to Millennium since the mid eighties, when it was known as Milly’s in San Rafael and will continue to dine there. My observation over the years is that the appetizers and sides tend to be very good but the entrees are generally the weakest part of the menu. We tend to order a number of small plates when dining and that strategy seems to work out pretty well.

We went to the new Encuentro Café in Oakland a few weeks ago. It’s a vegetarian wine bar that is partially owned by Eric Tucker, the chef at Millennium. They serve small plate items on rather small bistro style tables so that holding a wine glass while attempting to eat, can be a bit of a challenge. The majority of the limited menu is vegan with cheese playing a feature role in the vegetarian items. I wouldn’t describe it as a destination place, but if I were in the area and wanted a glass of wine and light snack, I would consider going there. The space is rather small and I felt a bit claustrophobic after a while. My impression is that it’s more of a womans place, but that’s just me...

Our final new dining experience was at Gather, in Berkeley, a new organic restaurant in the David Brower Center on Oxford street. Its mission statement is that everything they serve is organic, with at least half the menu being vegetarian – mostly vegan. I was particularly excited because they had a vegan pizza on the menu and when I had looked in earlier, to my delight they appeared to have a wood burning oven. Much to my chagrin, the pizza crust was especially lacking in texture and flavor. I discovered that because of a Berkeley ordinance prohibiting new wood burning ovens in restaurants, their oven although looking like a wood burning oven, was powered by gas. The high heat that wood or coal can produce creates the crispy charring crust that is so desirable. The problem with the pizza was more endemic than the oven. The dough just didn’t have any life to it, maybe it didn’t proof long enough, something was just not right. The red quinoa risotto and appetizer selections were pretty good, although the serving size of the risotto was fairly small, which is a pet peeve of mine when it comes to pasta and grain dishes. For an additional twenty to thirty cents a restaurant can serve an ample portion of a grain- based entree which would make the charge of 15 – 20 dollars for 2 -3 dollars of ingredients more palatable to the public. I would go back for the pizza if they can get their dough situation squared away. It just opened and I’m sure the kitchen will work through this problem.

Even with all the bumps in the road, I’m optimistic that as more vegetarian restaurants open, competition will force the quality of the food to improve in a very organic fashion.