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 entrĂ©e 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.