Tuesday, June 11, 2013
I mentioned in my previous blogs that I attempted veganism once in my past. Some may argue that I wasn't doing it correctly. They would be right. I abandoned it because it is not a lifestyle within my core beliefs. I would never be able to adhere to it. The faux meat substitutes were highly processed foods, and that did not fit with what I wanted for myself. Veganism without faux meat was an even further stretch, and not something that would fit for me either.
At a later point, I tried flexitarianism. I thought it would be the best of both worlds. It's not because I have an ethical problem with eating animal protein because I do not. I take a native American view of hunting and eating meat. The animal gave its life for me, and it deserves respect. By consuming the animal, it is now becoming a part of me.
I attempted flexitarianism because I thought it would be a good middle ground. As I could not be vegan, I knew I could not be vegetarian either. But maybe I could reduce my meat consumption by only eating it for dinner. This seemed like a great idea.
I did it for about a month. I felt fine, and I enjoyed the food very much. No processed frankenfoods, and I didn't have to eat faux meat substitutes. I ate yogurt and cereal for breakfast, quinoa and beans for lunch, and beef or chicken for dinner. It was a diet that I could support for a lifetime.
Except one problem.
My body didn't like it.
Mentally, the diet was there for me. But physically?
I didn't lose or gain weight, however, I was getting fatter. My scale weight stayed the same, but I could tell by how my clothes were getting tighter that I was losing muscle and gaining fat. I was baffled as to why.
The worst was when I looked in the mirror. I had dark circles appear under my eyes. I don't normally wear much makeup, but the dark circles forced me to wear concealer and foundation to cover it up. I also developed a disfiguring stye under my left eye. I didn't understand why I seemed to be deteriorating so quickly right before my eyes. It was frustrating, frightening and alarming.
According to my food logs, I was doing everything correct. I stayed within my calorie ranges. Avoiding meat until supper time meant that protein and fat stayed very low, which at the time I thought was a good thing. This was the best I had ever done to adhere to the standard low-fat recommended diet.
It was only by chance that I eventually linked my symptoms to my diet. I took a 'break' from my flexitarian schedule. With the increased protein, the sunken, black circles under my eyes disappeared. The stye took several more months to fully go away. After that, I concluded that even though I fundamentally liked the diet, I had to abandon it. This eventually lead me towards a lower grain, high vegetable, and moderate protein diet. AKA low-carb.
I'm not a carnivore or herbivore; I'm an omnivore. Veggies+protein, and this is what my body responds to.
Don't misunderstand what I'm saying. I am not saying that because this was bad for me, therefore it is bad for everyone. I can't really know if your diet is right for you any more than you can know if mine is right for me. I'm not you. You're not me.
I have a problem with the dogmatism that there is a one size fits all solution to weight management. Dietary needs can vary due to genetic predispositions, allergies, and/or activity levels. I would eat very differently if I trained for a marathon, for example.
I'm not a fitness or diet professional, and I make no money from it. I don't have anything to gain if anyone follows the same diet that I do. If there's any agenda that I push, it's to suggest that if the diet you're following isn't working for you, then maybe it isn't the right one.
Even if it fundamentally fits your personal vision. The truth is the truth whether we believe in it or not. If your body doesn't like the food and exercise stimulus you're giving it, you don't get the results you want. What we want and what we need are not always in alignment, unfortunately.
Monday, June 10, 2013
I am a city girl. Not necessarily metropolitan cities, but I have never lived in a rural community or a farm. I grew up thinking of food as something you buy in a grocery store. My family never did much backyard gardening because the soil and climate in Colorado was terrible for crop plants.
I do not have much experience with plants. House plants tend not to live very long in my care. If I underwater plants, they turn yellow and die. But confoundedly, if I overwater them, they also turn yellow and die. So I don't know if I'm giving too much or too little, and by the time I know which, it's too late.
I have been labeled the "black thumb" by my husband. Heaven forbid a pretty plant catches my eye, because I might sentence it to death by taking it home.
I have even killed cactus.
When I moved to Seattle, a metropolitan city, I was shocked to discover how much farmland surrounds the city. It is truly the Emerald City. Everything is green. It is the complete opposite of Colorado; the climate and soil are rich and fertile for growing plants. I was once told by a native, "If you can't grow it in Washington, you can't grow it anywhere."
I became very interested in the idea of the urban pea patches where Seattle city dwellers could rent small patches of land to grow their own crops. The waiting list was ridiculously long. In the six years I lived there, I was never able to get one.
However, I discovered a U-pick farm in Redmond. We all know Redmond, WA as the capital of Microsoft these days, but there are still parts where there are farms and wineries. They have dwindled as some farmers opted to sell their land for the premiums corporations and land developers offered. There are a few holdouts, though. This particular farm I found hiding on the backside of the largest software company in the world was one of them.
They did not sell their produce commercially; they sold their produce straight to the public. I would not say they were a certified organic operation, though. They did use some commercial pesticides and fertilizers, however, they were very reserved in their usage. Poisoned soil would grow no more food. They still employed the traditional agriculture technique of crop rotation. The lettuce would be grown on the left side of the field one year, and the next year it would be on the right. They did not use Monsanto seed. I would not say that buying from them was cheaper than the local Safeway. The price was more like buying from Whole Foods - not cheap. However, cost wasn't the reason you bought them from. Even Whole Foods could not give you what this farm offered.
Every year I eagerly waited for the spring, summer and fall crops. They gave us a basket, and we walked around the farms where they marked with a green flag the produce ready for picking. They grew the well known vegetable classics like onions, carrots, potatoes, squashes and tomatoes, of course, but they also grew exotic varieties of herbs and veggies that you'll never find in a store. I can't remember the names of them because they were exotic! But I ate several different varieties of Greek, Italian and Asian fruits, veggies and herbs I've never seen or heard of before.
I ate heirloom varieties of tomatoes that were so juicy and sweet, I could understand why tomatoes are actually fruits, not vegetables. The tomatoes we buy commercially are bred to be bruise resistant as they travel in transit, but they taste like cardboard; they are flavorless. These heirloom tomatoes grown on the farm were the classic tomatoes that my grandmother probably grew up with. They were like a very juicy, soft apple.
Potatoes from the farm tasted like "apples from the earth," which is what their French name pomme de terre means. I never understood why those crazy French named them that...until I picked them, washed them, cooked them, and ate them. They didn't even need any salt to be delicious.
Zucchinis are my favorite vegetable, but I was spoiled by the ones I picked from the farm. They were so fresh, they tasted "green" and "alive". Now when I eat store bought zukes, they taste "flat" and "dead". I remember wistfully that they are pale imitations of the real thing. The farm fresh zukes were so bright and flavorful, I could eat them raw. Wholesome food is flavorful without being cooked to death with seasoning. Now I could understand why grandma used to say food tasted better in the golden days. I can believe that it was literally true. I didn't know until that moment when I bit into a freshly picked and washed zuke, and I just wanted to devour it whole.
There are farms in Georgia, but they aren't like the ones in Washington. At least, I haven't found any like that one in Redmond. There is a small farmer's market in downtown Savannah every Sunday, but I live far enough away that I can't always get there.
Now that I've had a taste of what 'real' produce should taste like, it's hard for me not to look at store bought produce as pretenders. Sure it looks like a tomato, but it's just a shadow of what it should be. Zucchinis are still my favorites, I suppose.
I was living in ignorance of what real food should taste like. Now I know what it should be, it is hard to go back.
Since moving to Georgia, I've been so desperate to get back to the delicious real food. I have attempted patio gardening growing tomatoes and herbs several times, but the summer heat eventually kills them. It is a lot harder to keep plants alive in scorching hot weather outside, and I've already established I'm not a great gardener to begin with.
The first 'home improvement' I wanted to make when we moved into our house was to build a raised bed garden. I wrote about it several months ago. I planted three different varieties of tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, jalapenos, and bell peppers.
I haven't shown pictures of it developing because it kind of took a life of its own! My tomato plants went from small little bushes into viney monstrosities that I didn't expect! Here's a photo hubs took of the cat and me inspecting it.
A close up of my cherry tomatoes. On one of the leaves, you can see where the bugs are eating my plant alive.
The roma tomatoes are ripening.
This is my bounty from this afternoon. Two different types of cherry tomatoes and a couple of romas. One of the cherry tomatoes burst in my hand as I was picking it, and it was so sweet, my hands felt sticky.
I am growing semi-organically, and it is a challenge. As I've said, I have no background with growing vegetables at all. I'm learning as I go. I have learned three tomato plants in my 5x3 raised bed garden is too many! My tomatoes have engaged in plant survival of the fittest as they try to grow the biggest and tallest to get the most sun. My roma tomato plant is losing the battle. I've trimmed the others back quite a bit, and they are still out of control. If I do this again next year, I'm going to plan differently. My jalapenos and bell peppers are crowded out by the tomato plants - I'm not going to get any fruit I don't think. My tomatoes are delicious...and vicious. They don't want to share the box.
My plants seem to be surviving well because they are in a large planter box with lots of soil, so it retains more moisture even in the heavy heat. This was my major problem with my container garden. My pots didn't have enough soil to retain water to both cool and feed my plants.
As with any gardener, I am at war with a number of pests who want to eat my plants. Bugs, slugs, birds and squirrels mainly. I put bird netting over the top, but my tomato plants refused to be contained and grew through it.
The squirrels are the biggest pains in my rear. I no longer think they are 'cute.' They are pests that dig holes all over the yard, and try to steal my veggies. I seriously want a dog so s/he can chase the friggin squirrels out of the yard. I've seen a few remnants of partially eaten green tomatoes, so I think the squirrels have been sampling to see if they are something good to eat. The bird netting keeps the fruit mostly protected, but they are exposed where they have grown through the net. So I will most likely unwillingly share part of my crop with the neighborhood birds and squirrels. I'm not sure how I will address this for next year. Bigger hoops and a bigger net? Dunno.
The organic part of the gardening has been interesting, and I came up with a few issues as I went along. I used mostly organic soil, but I did mix it with a little commercial soil and top soil for cost reasons. I haven't used any fertilizer yet, and I'm glad I didn't because my plants have already grown too large.
The first time I went to water my plants, it occurred to me that my garden hose wasn't 'organic'. Water is the main ingredient for vegetables, and I didn't want my vegetables to taste like garden hose. I went and bought a potable water hose meant for RVs to water with.
I bought an organic pesticide that is made of essential oils. Certain plants are natural bug repellants, and this pesticide I found was made of peppermint and oregano oil. It seems to work ok, but it smells very strong. It is completely safe to eat, but if it doesn't get washed off my veggies, it does leave an odd aftertaste. Next year I will try to reorganize my planter to contain some companion plants to deter bugs so maybe I won't have to use so much.
If nothing else, this has been an eye opening experience on what it takes to grow food. I've written many times about how disconnected we are with our food. There's no way I could grow enough food to feed my husband and I, but this is a very welcome supplement. I am nostalgic for the farm fresh produce that was so readily available to me in Washington, but since I can't have it, this is the best I can do. The tomatoes I'm growing are plentiful enough that I probably won't need to buy any store bought tomatoes this summer.
Sometimes the challenges seem to be more effort than it is worth, but when I wash and eat my efforts still hot from the sun, I change my mind. It is worth enjoying while it lasts.
P.S. I didn't realize this would be so long when I wrote it! So if you read all the way through, thank you! :) You deserve an award!
Saturday, June 08, 2013
Most people are familiar with the concept of "Soylent Green" even if they haven't seen the movie. In a fictional dystopian world plagued with overpopulation, pollution, and food scarcity, Soylent Green is the main nutritional food stuff of the future. It's a renewable food source that is the solution to feeding a hungry world. The shocker is what Soylent Green is really made of, which I won't give away here for those who might not have seen it.
The movie was based on a book from science fiction writer Harry Harrison. The movie is drastically different than the book in theme and plot, but "Soylent Green" was originally called "Soylent Steak" in the book. "Soylent Steak" was not the shocker that it was in "Soylent Green", but it was an artificial replacement to real meat. That is exactly what I thought of when I read this article:
About eight years ago, I engaged in my one and only attempt at veganism. It didn't last long. I do not have the conviction of spirit to hold to it for a lifetime. I did not enjoy nor could I get used to the taste of meat substitutes. Rather quickly, I wondered if I was hungering for meat replacements, why not just eat real meat? I also noticed a contradiction in what I was attempting. It was my goal to eliminate processed and packaged food from my diet, and these meat substitutes were HIGHLY processed foods. Soy and corn are among the most genetically modified plants.
That was the end of my vegan experiment.
If meat substitutes tasted more like real meat, then would people be more receptive to vegetarianism or veganism?
Growing "meat" in a petri dish just shifts one ethical dilemma to another.
A long time ago, I reconciled that the very act of living means consuming something that dies. If we eat meat, an animal had to die. If we eat a plant, a plant had to die. Nutrient rich soil is full of organic compost from dead matter, which living plants thrive in. Soil with no bacteria, mold, bugs, worms, decaying plant/animal matter, etc, is dead soil. It cannot sustain life.
Many of my vegetarian friends reconcile this by saying they won't eat anything with a face. Fair enough. However, just because a plant doesn't have a face or a brain doesn't mean it wants to be eaten.
Some edible plants have evolved so that the animals who eat their fruit will spread their seed elsewhere. Some edible plants become inedible or bitter when they go to seed. Some plants developed toxins in order to avoid being eaten because they can't run away. Beans, for example. Beans are very tough and contain a toxin that will make animals very sick if they try to eat it. But as our ancestors discovered, boiling them in water for 10 minutes will neutralize the toxin rendering them safe to eat. If you ever got a case of mysterious food poisoning from a batch of crockpot chili made with dried beans, it was probably because the temperature didn't reach 100C/212F in order to destroy the toxin. Most people mistakenly blame the meat, but it was actually probably the beans.
It is true that the Amazon rain forest is being cut down to make room for cattle. However, it is also being deforested to make room for corn, soy, and wheat. The irrigation and chemical fertilizers used changes the ph balance of the soil through every ecosystem that they pass through. "The Dead Zone" in the Gulf of Mexico is due to the high nitrogen from fertilizer run off carried from farms down the Mississippi River. It causes algae to bloom to such high levels that it removes all the oxygen in the water, suffocating the coral reefs, fish and plants. The midwest grown corn in the corn flakes and the soy in the soy milk for breakfast may have massacred hundreds of thousands of shellfish and fish in what should be the most fertile delta in the United States.
I'm not trying to come up with a solution for this. I'm just framing the problem. Darned if we do, darned if we don't.
Petri dish grown food, though, is disturbing. This isn't hybridization of plants or animals; it is entirely manufactured. It isn't something nature made, and to me that is more offensive than eating bugs.
How exactly are the animal rights activists going to test that this is safe for consumption if they oppose animal testing?
Presumably they think this will be safer from food contamination than animal slaughter. Meat can be contaminated with e coli or salmonella. However, I wouldn't eat anything that bacteria or fungus can't eat. Food is supposed to go moldy. That is life breaking down organic matter. It is NATURAL and the way it is supposed to work.
The most disturbing aspect to me is that "Shmeat" was never alive. It doesn't have any parents. It doesn't have any children. It doesn't grow in the sun; it presumably grows under a heat lamp. Perhaps to some anti-meat advocates, maybe that is what is appealing. If so, then this is an irreconcilable difference, and no, a better tasting fake meat would not convince me it was somehow more healthy.
I am for the ethical raising of livestock and sustainable farms similar to the way my grandparents' generation did it. Cows ate grass in pastures, then were finished with corn in the last week before the slaughter - not raised on grain in feces covered holding cells their whole life. Produce was rotated seasonally on farms to promote healthy soil - not seeded with GMO plants that were bred to be dependent on the company that modified them.
For me, this is an absolute "No Way."
Thursday, June 06, 2013
"There is so much conflicting information out there on what diet is best. Whom do I believe?"
"Is my diet really the best for me?"
"I think I am making an informed decision, but how do I know?"
I once believed that the low-fat diet was the tried and true healthy diet. It was scientifically sound (supposedly). However, on closer inspection, a few key principles fell apart. The United States has become fatter and unhealthier since the government began pushing it. Scientists began blaming compliance. "Obviously people aren't following our guidelines, so it's their fault, not ours."
The low-carb people say it's not the fat, but high sugar that is fueling obesity. The standard American diet is a high grain diet, and grain is broken down into sugar. This is the side that I currently lean.
However, I do not think it is necessarily the best diet for everyone.
I think a high-carb diet is more suitable for high performance athletes. If you're burning 5,000 calories per week, then you should be eating more carbs AND calories overall. The problem is most people combine high performance cardio with a low calorie diet thinking they will lose more weight.
Calorie in versus calorie out. Problem solved.
Well, wait a minute. Government stats show that more Americans ARE trying to get more exercise, but we have made zero progress on reversing the obesity crisis overall. A non scientific observation of Spark dieters shows people ARE exercising and reducing calories.
And yet, here we are. There shouldn't be a SparkPeople, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, or Nutrasystem. They should have been written out of existence a decade ago because we were supposed to all be successful.
Here's what happens on a high cardio/low cal diet. Your metabolism drops and you stop losing weight. Then you cut back more calories. The same thing happens. You start eating more calories, and you start gaining weight. In a panic, you start cutting calories again. Deathly afraid of gaining weight, you desperately cling to the low end of your calorie range.
Sound familiar? Yeah, I did that too.
I am not a high performance athlete, nor do I intend to be. I get a moderate amount of recreational exercise per week.
With each new study that comes out that proves this or proves that, whom do I believe?
I ask myself a simple question: "Is what I'm doing right now working for me and my goals?"
If Yes: Keep doing it.
If No: Do something else.
The tried and true thing I know is banging my head on brick walls only ever leads to a headache.
Tuesday, June 04, 2013
I read this article from Scientific American discussing the flaws with the paleo diet this morning.
Though I disagree with the article's conclusions, I thought it was a good read. I regularly seek articles with viewpoints different than mine because past experience has shown me my beliefs haven't always been right.
At one time I irrefutably believed that margarine was healthier than butter. Hydrogenated vegetable oil was healthier because it was vegetable based, right? Butter clogged arteries - everybody knew that.
Except Dr. Mary Enig came along and irrefutably proved that transfats from the hydrogenation process clogged arteries, not saturated fat in butter. Whoops. Manufacturers changed the hydrogenation process to produce less transfats, but it's still there. Butter remains unfairly maligned.
There are problems with the low-fat diet, but it still the recommended dietary standard. My personal issues with the low-fat diet were it made me excessively hungry, caused muscle wasting, and I experienced minimal weight loss (horrifically, mostly from the muscle wasting). I may hear from someone who said it worked great for them, and I'll preemptively say - congratulations! However, this was not the case for me.
I'm not a paleo practitioner because I eat a number of fermented dairy products, primarily yogurt and cheese. However, I limit my grain and starch consumption. For me it is in moderation, not an essential plate component.
While I am not a devout follower, I take issue with a few premises in this article.
The author takes the tact that we are not identical to our Stone Age ancestors. We have evolved. Most European descendents have developed lactose tolerance and can drink milk without issue. Some Africans have an adaptation against malaria infection. Therefore, we have changed.
Yes, these are adaptations, but these examples clearly show it is not universal to our population. Asians make up 1/3 of the world's population, and 99% of them are lactose intolerant. Sickle cell disease provides malaria resistance, but is a deadly blood disease that greatly increases the likelihood of early death.
Let's say some populations have developed an adaptation to tolerant grains. I think it is moreso we have evolved these grasses to suit our purposes than we have changed biologically. For one, we cannot eat unmilled wheat. We have no enzymes or symbiotic bacteria to help us break it down to get at the nutrients. Our neolithic ancestors discovered if we mill then bake the grains, we can eat it. It is not correct to say that we have adapted to eating wheat; we have adapted wheat to be eaten.
We can evolve a plant very rapidly because of its short lifespan. We cross bred generations of hybrid plants with a few short years. With modern gene splicing, we can go even faster as we alter the genetic makeup directly.
I know people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Celiac disease was first recorded back in the 1800s, but it wasn't connected with gluten until the 1950s. It is an autoimmune disease. By necessity, these people have to follow a paleo-like diet.
What if a person is both lactose intolerant and has celiac disease? Are they inherently doomed because they can't eat healthy grains and dairy?
What if a person is not lactose intolerant nor gluten intolerant, but voluntarily chooses to eschew dairy and grains?
I do not have celiac disease, nor am I gluten intolerant. However, my personal experience suggests I may be gluten sensitive. When I used to follow the dietary guidelines of a grain serving with every meal, I experienced frequent sinus infections and IBS like stomach upset. I used to get bronchitis infections requiring antibiotics twice a year. Since cutting my grain consumption to a couple times a week, I haven't had a single sinus infection or stomach trouble in over two years. I suspect it also has something to do with not being forced to consume antibiotics, and my natural body chemistry has stabilized.
I am lactose intolerant, but I tolerate fermented dairy (yogurt, cheese) ok. I use real butter, but not in amounts that trigger stomach upset. Olive oil and coconut oil are my primary cooking oils.
Bastardizing the author's phrasing, there are a few things the low-fat diet gets right. I prefer to eat fish, shellfish, chicken, and lean beef/pork in that order. Animals that eat their natural diet and get exercise are healthier - not too unlike humans. Corn is not a natural diet for cows, and they become obese. It's not a stretch to suspect eating unhealthy animals might also make us unhealthy.
Ultimately, the reason I follow the diet that I do is because my body responds to it. I maintain my weight, have plenty of energy, and I'm never hungry. I no longer suffer chronic sinus infections or unexplained digestive upset, which was an unexpected bonus.
Call it paleo. Call it a fad. Call it anything you want. I call it living in a way that makes me happy and healthy.
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