Category Archives: Health

Simple is good…using those amazing greens — lots of them!

This summer, as I did last summer, I’m working on the farm for my CSA. I receive 3/4 bushel of beautiful, organically raised veggies for my efforts each and every week of the season. When I open my box each week, it’s like a gift. All those beautiful colors. My imagination starts to work overtime as I look forward to what I’ll make.

Gathering my ingredients and prepping the greens and onion…

Yet sometimes it’s challenging to use up those veggies, especially since Andy and I are just two.  On the other hand, after years feeding a family and friends, then operating a cafe, I never learned to make a small pot of food just for two…so I share. Or make lots of really simple things and graze my way through the day…like smoothies and soups and simple wraps or stir-fries. I add my scraps to a veggie waste bowl and throw it into my garden area, where it will enrich the soil for future veggies.

Prepping the Bok choy… As I did with the Asian greens, I start cutting at the stem end, cutting thin slices across the bunch until I get to the top of the greens. Then I separate the stem end since that will require a little more stir-fry time than the greens.

So I pretty much use my whole box every week and in the process find lots of interesting new things to make…and share. So it was all working nicely until…last week.  Here’s what happened:

Andy’s corporate office offers a wellness project.  It is an amazing benefit of working where he does, and there are a number of aspects to it, but the one I want to mention now is one they initiated this summer. They send home, with any employee who wants it, 3/4 bushel of produce every week for seven weeks. After the seven weeks, employees can continue to receive the boxes by paying half price for them.

All my greens and Bok choy prepped — and separated from the stem ends.

What an amazing project! I’m so impressed with this company for initiating this kind of effort. What better way is there to encourage vibrantly good health than to make certain that people have the opportunity to enjoy loads of fresh veggies and fruits?! Experience first-hand the wonderful variety of flavors and textures the earth offers us?

I believe that a 350 degree temp is when things brown. It’s a little hard to measure on a gas flame, so I used my electric induction burner this time, put in some extra virgin olive oil, then added the onions to saute. When they looked like this, I added in the stem ends of the Asian greens and Bok choy to stir-fry for a couple of minutes.

Admittedly the program helps the company as well since healthier employees mean reduced insurance premiums, reduced absenteeism and other cost reductions. But there is nothing at all wrong with gifts that give in more directions than one. And I certainly want to see how this great program works and support it — and let Andy experience the pleasure and pride of bringing home the proverbial (vegan) bacon.

And then I remembered this beautiful garlic that came in my CSA box this week. As a former associate used to say, you can never have too much garlic! These are big cloves, tho, so I just used one, smashed, peeled and minced it and threw it into the onion and stem mix in the pan.

So now I have a bushel and a half of veggies and fruits to figure out how to manage each week.  I must say that so far this week, I’m doing pretty well, although I didn’t get to some beautiful Asian green and Bok choy that were in his office box until a little too late to make them into a salad.

When lunch rolled around today and I went to get those greens for a salad, they didn’t look quite as perky as when I got them even though I stored them carefully when they came in — so here’s what I had for lunch instead: stir-fried garlic and onions and greens with some CSA-fresh tomatoes and delicious Field Roast (vegan) sausage.

The finished greens and onions! What I don’t eat for lunch will go into our rice and greens stir fry this evening. Check out my simple and delicious lunch in the featured picture with this post.

There were more than what I could eat, as usual, but that’s no problem! I knocked out two meals at once when I made those greens. I boxed up the extra and stuck them in the ‘fridge. Later today, closer to dinner, I’ll cook up a cup of brown Basmati rice, stir it and season it in a wok and add in those greens. Then even Andy, who doesn’t otherwise like greens, will eat them!

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Two Models to Feed the World: IFS & Torah

“Much have I learned from my teachers, more from my colleagues, but most from my students.” – Rav Hanina ( Talmud: Taanit, 7a)

I finished teaching a class at McHenry County Community College this past week called “Conscious Choices: Thinking About Food.” I taught the class last year, but each year it’s different as our food situation evolves (or devolves) and my own knowledge base grows.

My formal coursework has been in religion and Bible. I have enjoyed taking and teaching many classes. Informally, I read widely about food, the environment, sustainability and agriculture, in particular animal agriculture. I maintain a Twitter feed primarily for the purpose of following trends and picking up leads to interesting reading. This year I also enjoyed an online class in “The Ethics of Eating” from Cornell University. I fed myself and my family and friends for 50 years, operated a large organic garden, worked in the food industry, and now I work (very part-time) on a farm.

Finally, though, what most encourages me to constantly reshape these classes is student input. An aha moment for a student is an aha moment for me. In the last series I taught, that aha moment was hearing Alex Hershaft, Holocaust survivor and animal activist, speak. This time it was a comment from Michael Pollan’s 2008 “An Open Letter to the Farmer in Chief,” “But if taking the animals off farms made a certain kind of economic sense, it made no ecological sense whatever: their waste, formerly regarded as a precious source of fertility on the farm, became a pollutant — factory farms are now one of America’s biggest sources of pollution.”

He continues, “As Wendell Berry has tartly observed, to take animals off farms and put them on feedlots is to take an elegant solution — animals replenishing the fertility that crops deplete — and neatly divide it into two problems: a fertility problem on the farm and a pollution problem on the feed lot. The former problem is remedied with fossil-fuel fertilizer; the latter is remedied not at all.”

There is a lot of talk these days about 2050 and the need to feed a predicted world population of 10 billion. How will we accomplish that? Are there enough land and water resources? How do we bring true food security to the “food insecure?” As our world continues to change, will we perhaps all become food insecure? Can our current path make us healthier and happier?

As the class evolved, I realized that I was teaching two models for “feeding the world.” The first model is the one offered up by our American culture: the Industrial Food System (or IFS). The second is what I will call the biblical model. Each of these models utilizes different strategies to produce food, and each produces different results.

What I understood as I taught this year is that not only is each of these models a “system” in every sense of the word, but like any good system, each has a purpose or mission that defines its objectives, strategies and results.

Michael Pollan introduces his Open Letter this way: “The food and agriculture policies you’ve inherited — designed to maximize production at all costs and relying on cheap energy to do so — are in shambles, and the need to address the problems they have caused is acute.”

But if the IFS mission of maximizing production at all costs has failed, so has the biblical mission of expanding the realm of ethical consciousness. This mission has failed not so much because of a problem in the message but more from the dismissive attitude of a secular world toward sacred texts and wise teachers in human history.

We are not the first generation to sit on the edge of catastrophe, yet we reject ancient teachings before we even take time to know what they are. Their wisdom barely enters our consciousness as we struggle with problems that threaten our continued existence on the planet.

Yet just as there may be things of value to glean from the Industrial Food System before we reform it or throw it out, there are things of value to take from the Torah and other ancient teachings.

When I began my Torah Ecology project, my intention was to focus on food, animal rights and the environment. In this first year of my project, my interest isn’t so much on specifics like what people ate but more on what it meant to them — or at least what it was supposed to have meant to them according to the “Author”/authors of the Torah. Understanding this takes me on some thought journeys that seem far afield, but ultimately each week of close study contributes something to my ability to get inside the biblical worldview.

When I redesign the class for next year, I will organize it very specifically around these two models, the IFS and the biblical model, maximum production vs. maximum ethical consciousness. How does each of these models relate to human health, other species on the planet and the planet itself? What does each model say about our relationship to other species and to the planet? Specifically, what does each model say about animal agriculture, agricultural workers, health, waste and human consciousness?

One thing I know about our current food culture is that it encourages a total disconnect from the sources of our food. That disconnect in turn generates distortions in our relationship to transcendence, our environment, other human beings, other creatures, even our own bodies. Working in the fields planting and harvesting, sharing the fields with other animals and cooking with real food break down that disconnect, restoring satisfying, beneficial and meaningful relationships. The biblical model expresses that understanding of interconnectedness.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Inch By Inch And Row By Row…

Today was my first day back at the farm for the season. Although it was my first day, others have been hard at work, installing a new greenhouse (greens through December! yay!), planting starter plants, getting in leeks and garlic and greens and more.

It was a beautiful, windy day, and I enjoyed the sunshine along with the fast-moving clouds. It’s an exciting time as we all look forward to those food boxes starting to fill up with wonderful things to eat.

I learned to use a stirrup hoe today — and another kind of hoe, one to run down the middle of the bed to pull a wider swath of weeds, one to run over the little leek plants to remove weeds on either side. When I finished weeding with my hoes, I walked over to take a look at our new greenhouse and then back to the fields to weed a few rows of garlic.

By the time I finished up, I was exhausted but oh so happy. Here are some highlights from this beautiful place where I work! If you are in the Algonquin/Dundee/Cary/Geneva/Crystal Lake/Woodstock area and would like to enjoy a weekly or bi-weekly box of beautiful, fresh, organic produce, check out Bob’s Fresh and Local and sign up for a share.

Compost pile where I get to take my veggie waste every week.
The leeks I hoed.
Garlic rows for hand weeding.

The old greenhouse…and our big beautiful new one.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Time To Start Spinning

Ghandi is well-known for the non-violent resistance techniques he taught and modeled during the struggle for Indian independence from a colonial power. What we perhaps don’t as often remember is that he spun the cloth for his own simple clothing and taught that it was a duty of every Indian to do the same.

Here is his rationale: “He chose the traditional loincloth as a rejection of Western culture and a symbolic identification with the poor of India. His personal choice became a powerful political gesture as he urged his more privileged followers to copy his example and discard—or even burn—their European-style clothing and return with pride to their ancient, precolonial culture.4 Gandhi claimed that spinning thread in the traditional manner also had material advantages, as it would create the basis for economic independence and the possibility of survival for India’s impoverished rural multitudes.5 This commitment to traditional cloth making was also part of a larger swadeshi movement, which aimed for the boycott of all British goods. As Gandhi explained to Charlie Chaplin in 1931, the return to spinning did not mean a rejection of all modern technology but of the exploitive and controlling economic and political system in which textile manufacture had become entangled. Gandhi said, “Machinery in the past has made us dependent on England, and the only way we can rid ourselves of the dependence is to boycott all goods made by machinery. This is why we have made it the patriotic duty of every Indian to spin his own cotton and weave his own cloth.”

It occurs to me that we have been colonized in the United States by corporate interests. For almost half a century, I have resisted this corporate take-over with my food choices. I believe my individual choices are important, but I think the time has come to connect with others to turn my individual choice into a political and economic statement.

I hope like-minded people can come up with one or more symbolic gestures as powerful as this one that Ghandi advocated to state our opposition to Trumpism and the values it promotes. If we can all unite behind this set of actions, it will have a strong economic impact, but even more importantly, it will make the case that our dismal failure to vote in sufficient numbers in the 2016 campaign didn’t.

It also occurs to me that the place we should look for this action or set of actions is in the food supply chain, which affects so many critical aspects of our lives on this planet: our moral sensibility, the environment, corporate/colonial rapaciousness, poverty, waste, health and more. I read a wonderful post this week envisioning a sustainable system, which I must add is NOT industrial agriculture — nor is it, according to this writer, universal veganism.

With such a vision in mind, perhaps there is some person or group out there capable of leading a resistance through mass action along the lines of Ghandi’s resistance. In the course of carrying out this action, an action in which every person could participate, we would not only deliver a strong economic and political message, but we might impact the environment sufficiently to counteract some of the damage this regime promises.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

The information I’ve been waiting for: Trump vs. Hillary on food

This video is an excellent presentation from John Robbins, best-selling author and co-founder of The Food Revolution Network. Lengthy but in-depth and well-worth viewing or reading. If you are moved to do something, please sign on to The Plate of the Union Campaign, info at the end of the piece:

Election 2016: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Food Policy

One thing I love about my CSA

Stir fry of onion, Bok choy, radishes.
Stir fry of onion, Bok choy, radishes.

I love having a box of fresh veggies, many things that I don’t ordinarily get, then trying things out with them. Sometimes combinations surprise me! – like this Stir Fry of chopped onion, Bok choy stems, salad radishes (that’s the Julienne veggie) and Bok choy greens, added last. Add a bit of salt, a few drops of soy sauce if you wish, and oh, my, was it good!

Here’s a note about how I stir fry: I cut all the veggies first. I heat some extra virgin olive oil in a wok and often throw in a little minced garlic first. This time, I don’t believe I did. Then I add the onions, sauteeing until soft. Then I add the remaining “hard” veggies, most “hard” first, sauteeing for a few moments after each — reserving any greens. When the veggies start to brown a bit, I add a little salt and soy sauce, stir and cover if needed to steam the veggies for a couple of minutes.  Uncover and add the greens, stir together and sauté briefly until the greens are wilted, adjust seasoning, and serve.

I also made Fatoush with what I had on hand instead of the usual, and it, too, was delicious with a creamy vegan dressing:

FATOUSH

Ingredients

  • Mixed greens, any you have on hand or like. Bok choy and Butterhead Lettuce featured heavily in this one.
  • Garlic scapes
  • Green onion
  • Red cabbage (I usually use it but don’t see it here – must have forgotten)
  • Tomatoes – organic grape tomatoes, quartered
  • Radishes – organic, Julienne
  • Cucumbers – organic, sliced and quartered or Julienne
  • Pita – Whole wheat Lebanese pita, cut into squares and toasted
  • Sumac  to sprinkle

Ingredients for Sauce

  • Mayonnaise, 1 cup (I use Hampton Creek Just Mayo – vegan)
  • Tahina, 1/4 cup
  • Garlic, 1/2 – 1 clove mashed (opt.)
  • Salt, 1-2 tsp. (start with 1 tsp. for dressing, add additional to salad after mixed)
  • Hot paprika, 1/4 tsp.
  • Lemon, freshly squeezed, 1/4-1/2 cup, to taste (start with 1/4 cup for dressing, add additional to salad after mixed)

Procedure

  1. Prepare salad ingredients: slice greens 1/8-1/4″, then cut across into 2-3″ pieces. Quarter grape tomatoes or petite dice plum tomatoes. Julienne cucumbers and radishes.
  2. Stack the pita pieces, cut through them lattice-work style so you end up with 1-2″ squares, roast in a 200 degree oven until crunchy, cool thoroughly and set aside or bag for later use. I like to use whole wheat Lebanese pita, available through a local Arab bakery. Lebanese pita is larger than pocket pita and thinner. Makes a great “crouton.” Stored properly, they keep for a long time once toasted and thoroughly dry.
  3. Make the dressing. For a vegan salad, use a vegan mayo. Your dressing should taste salty and lemony because by the time you add it to the salad with its moisture, it will lose some potency. I start a bit lighter on the seasoning, then add the remainder if needed when the salad is made up. You don’t need to use all the dressing at once — if you have leftover, just store in a covered jar.
  4. Put all salad ingredients into a bowl. Add toasted pita so you have 2 parts salad to 1 part pita. Add some dressing and a pinch or two of sumac (available in Middle Eastern stores and online), and mix gently but completely. Add more or less dressing to your liking.
  5. Sprinkle additional sumac over the salad and serve.

If you’d like more information about the CSA, please visit Bob’s Fresh and Local (produce) and All Grass Farms (livestock, chickens, milk and cheese).

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Two New “Salads” for 2016

A Beautiful and Delicious "Thanksgiving Medley"
A Beautiful and Delicious “Thanksgiving Medley”

I watched Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food on PBS earlier this week, and I thought that part of what we need to do is revise this style of thinking that calls veggie dishes either a “side” or a “salad.”

In the new style of eating recommended by people like Dr. Joel Fuhrman, in which 80% of your diet should be veggies, there is no longer such a thing as an entrée or a main part of the meal. I like to eat Middle Eastern style, with a collection of veggie concoctions, all equally significant on my plate, for nutrition, for eye appeal and for taste.

But old habits die-hard, and I’m not sure what to call these lovely dishes … so for the time being, they will have to remain, like the dishes on those extraordinary Middle Eastern Mezze tables, salatim or salads.

That picture at the top of this page…that’s a dish I made for Thanksgiving, simple and delicious.  It contains Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, cranberries and pecans, an unlikely combination.

I roasted the butternut squash and pecans separately, each with some cinnamon and maple syrup. I also roasted the Brussels sprouts and when they were almost finished, threw the cranberries onto the Brussels sprouts roasting tray for a brief moment. I folded all four ingredients together and added a little more syrup, cinnamon and a bit of salt to taste. It was the perfect Thanksgiving dish — or anytime.

Italian style potato salad.
Italian style potato salad.

This Italian Style Potato Salad and the Thanksgiving Medley above were both inspired by recipes I found on Pinterest. The Potato Salad is one I made as part of an Italian style vegan Shabbat dinner, the same one that featured that amazing vegan pesto and Tuscan Bean Soup.

I used three kinds of new potatoes in the salad: purple, yellow and red, cut them into quarters and cooked and cooled them separately. I also cooked some 2″ cut green beans and set them aside to cool along with the potatoes. When all were cool, I put the potatoes and green beans into a bowl, added some chopped Italian parsley, sliced red onion, pitted Calamata olives and quartered grape tomatoes. I folded all together with a little extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, salt and Italian seasonings (oregano, marjoram) and a bit of crushed red pepper.

Yes, this kind of food makes it easy to be vegan.

7 most important health practices from my “aging” vantage point

Dance like no one is watching . . . they're probably not. But it helps maintain hope, joy and gratitude.
Dance like no one is watching . . . they’re probably not. But it helps maintain hope, joy and gratitude.

As many of you know, I have been interested in health and particularly in good eating for most of my adult life, ever since my grandmother died of colon cancer in 1969. During those years, I’ve watched a lot of fads come and go.  I’ve avoided most of them, have tried a few and have stayed with those that made sense and produced results for me.

You probably also know I’m not a scientist (a Ph.D. in psychology who used me as a guinea pig to take tests she needed to administer as part of her degree program told me my personality and aptitude results were the most skewed she had ever seen, toward religion and the arts). I’m not a certified practitioner of any kind. I just read a lot and think a lot and try things on myself and try to stay in the realm of good sense with a dose of realism.

In my last post, I mentioned a 9-part series on cancer I’ve been watching. The first four segments were interesting and contained enough pieces of information I know are true that it persuaded me to continue listening.  The fifth segment went a little over the edge for me, comparing our position on vaccination in this country to Nazi experiments in the concentration camps. Huge red flag.

I’m still listening, picking out what’s useful and interesting and leaving the rest. It did inspire me to write this post, though. Following are the five things I believe are true about health at this point in my life at the grand old age of almost 67. Some things have shifted as recently as during the last few months, one during the last couple of weeks:

  • Reject black-and-white ideas about health. Reject “super foods” and “demon foods.” Suspect anything that comes from a mentality of conspiracy theories and paranoia. The enemy on all sides of any argument, at least in this country, is much more likely to be opportunism, arrogance and thoughtless good intentions than evil intent, and there are bound to be a lot of gray areas. Be open, listen, consider what’s useful — but it won’t do a whole lot of good for your health and will cloud your judgment to start feeling persecuted.
  • Fiber. Found it 45 years ago and have relied on it ever since. It’s a pillar of my health program — but there’s a disclaimer here. I’m not talking about fiber supplements, and that brings me to my next point.
  • Eat real food. IMHO, eating real food, whole foods with all their parts, hopefully bypassing commercial food processing completely, is more important than buying organic, avoiding GMOs (if you’re into that), or any other “health food” practice for that matter. This includes juices: they are denatured fruits. Instead drink water and eat whole fruits. This includes bread, for the most part. Make your own with whole grains and little or no sugar.
  • Focus on plant foods, and all the slogans work for me here: “Eat the Rainbow,” “Nutrient density” (an equation that represents lots of nutrients in relation to the number of calories), “G-BOMBS” (drfuhrman.com – an acronym for an anti-cancer diet, which includes enjoying daily Greens, Beans, Onions, Mushroom, Berries and Seeds).
  • Eliminate added sweeteners of all kinds from your diet along with refined carbohydrates. This means, in effect, eliminate all commercial food products.
  • Calories count, but not the way I learned many years ago. This is a change in my thinking during the last week since I started watching the series on cancer. The best way to create an anti-cancer, healthy internal environment is to keep calories in the recommended range for your height and weight, but those calories need to be the kind of things mentioned in #4 above. Keep protein and starchy carbohydrates at a minimum and enjoy good fats, even saturated fats, especially if they are the fats contained naturally in foods like avocado, nuts and seeds. My diet contains fats way above the percent commonly put out there, 25-30%. It’s more like 50%. I believe this is fine, perhaps even good, as long as I stay within the recommended range of calorie consumption.  I can do that by eating lots of high water content veggies.
  • Exercise is critical. This is another change in my thinking during the last few months. My focus has been on the metabolic aspects of good health, although I always exercised regularly. I liked individual sports and activities, and my own have included ice skating, gymnastics, swimming, running (not my favorite), yoga, biking, hiking and walking. As I got older, and obligations other than to myself started to fill my time, it was harder for me to maintain my exercise habits. I’ve tried to get started again since my work environment has changed, and my effort has highlighted dramatically how important exercise is. I got a pedometer, and most days I get in an hour of walking (split into segments) and hopefully 15-20 minutes of yoga-like stretching. During the winter I replace some walking with jumping on my mini-tramp. It’s not enough, and here’s why I say that: my work now is more sedentary than it has been for the last nine or ten years. Have you ever read the statistics on what happens to your body if you sit eight or more hours a day, even broken up with exercise? Google it. Scary.

Did you do that? Here’s my proof that those statistics don’t lie: I am experiencing it. After I eliminated added sugars and all processed foods from my diet about five years ago (I had eliminated most processed foods years ago), I lost 15 pounds and remained at a fixed weight, the weight that is right for me, year-in and year-out during those five years. My blood sugar level dropped to a happily normal 90, my cholesterol dropped and my HDL went up into the good range.

I haven’t changed anything in my diet in the last nine months since I left the food business (where I was on my feet and active all the time), but I’ve gained 3 pounds. I will venture a guess my next blood tests will show that my blood sugar levels are creeping up along with my cholesterol levels. And I have developed chronic pain in particular locations in my frame. You probably won’t realize how important exercise is when you’re working at a desk in your thirties and forties and fifties — but when you get into your sixties and older, you will experience the results of not doing enough.

I’ll end as I began, with a focus on worldview. Here’s one additional thing I have learned about good health: do whatever you need to do to keep yourself in a positive, hopeful frame of mind.

This may sound like blasphemy to some, but I’m not at all sure that we have a positive purpose and direction put in place for us on our behalf by a force outside ourselves.  I choose to believe that we have a positive purpose and direction, and there are times when it’s hard to maintain that belief, to maintain my sense of joy and gratitude. I look for and do things that support me in that. Call them placebos or a crutch for the masses if you’re a serious skeptic, but studies show that 18-88% of people are helped by placebos. Worth thinking about.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me onFaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter,@vegwithleslie.

Politics: Hope and Money

IMG_2244

I don’t come from a tradition that views money as the source of all evil. Money is useful. Money feeds people, saves people, builds and creates. Money can accomplish amazing things. It can also subvert a political system, corrupt our food supply, limit our medical options and destroy entire populations.

Kind of like the mantra we hear from the NRA, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Yeah, and money doesn’t kill people, people kill people.

But too many bad things are happening with guns in the U.S. And too many bad things are happening when a very few people have all the money in the U.S.

Well, it’s a big world, and the problems in it are complex and multi-faceted, and no single solution is going to solve our problems — but we have to start somewhere. Better regulation of guns and money seems like a good place to start. Or two of many places to start trying to correct our problems.

So one of the things I notice is that money is power. It gives people a bigger voice. Maybe they’ll use that voice to do something I agree with, something wonderful, something that benefits the world. But maybe they’ll use that voice to do something I don’t like at all or that is destructive. And if that money gives someone a bigger voice than me, or a bigger voice even than a majority of people, that’s not right. That’s not what democracy is about. One person, one vote.

Today I saw a couple of things on Facebook that started me thinking about how this money theme winds its way through my brain right now, impacting my food choices, lifestyle choices and politics.

1) The first is that picture at the top of this page. A friend who “liked” it commented she wondered why it’s so hard to find this place in life. I’m thinking it has something to do with the complications caused when money is the foundation of our existence in this culture — and by that, I’m not talking about having lots of money. I’m talking about having it, not having it or having some of it. It doesn’t matter — it’s not the money itself. It’s the fact that money is the basis of our values, it’s the engine that drives the machine in this country. It shapes our decisions. It can put us in situations we then have to spend all our time supporting. It can keep us up at night. It can distort how we see things. It can militate against simplicity, making our lives very complicated.

2) The second was a conversation surrounding a post on GMOs and Monsanto. On the theme of distortions, a professor of mine once said with regard to the Bible, the narrative is shaped by those who “won,” historically speaking. So applying that principle to the current state of our food supply mechanisms, I wonder if the narrative hasn’t been shaped by those who “win” in this culture, namely those who have money? Good research is expensive, and someone with dollars has to support it.

A blogger I like raised questions about some comments I made related to GMOs. And the comments are well-taken. But what occurs to me is that there is so much hype out there on all sides of any issue, so much research on all sides of any issue — that an ordinary person, someone who’s not a scholar in these areas and has other things that consume their time, could spend the rest of their life reading through it and still not find “the truth.” And back to money: there’s the question of who’s funding the research and making it public? For the most part, probably “mainstream” food operations who are making lots of money. That doesn’t make it bad, just one-sided.

The internet has changed the picture to an extent by democratizing our voices, but opinions or guesses or concerns aren’t the same as solid research, which brings a non-mainstream opinion back to the reality: money governs, to a large extent, the ability to do the research and disseminate it.

So the medical profession told us for years that butter and eggs will kill us and didn’t say a word about added sugars in foods and lack of fiber. Different information was out there — just not enough funded studies and not disseminated widely enough. And a strong sugar lobby that suppressed information. Now we have those with money going after a small company that is successfully selling an excellent vegan mayonnaise.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist, not at all. But I do think money chooses what research will be done, what information will be put out there, spreads it far and wide, in short, has the capability to influence our view of things. I don’t have time to research everything, especially things not in my area of study, so what I see is what crosses my line of vision. What crosses my line of vision as far as good, solid research is more likely to be well-funded and widely marketed research. Or quick and easy posts to the internet that may not yet have research backing them.

3) Medicine brings me to the third thing, a video series I’m watching. I was born in 1948. I’m old enough to be the beneficiary of many years of unchallenged bias in favor of medicine rather than “healing.” I recognize in myself hesitation when someone starts to talk about the latter for prevention and treatment instead of conventional medicine. I’ve watched how difficult it has been to achieve recognition and legitimization for basic concepts like “integrative medicine,” the damage we have caused to ourselves with our food choices, the link between certain diseases and environmental factors including our food choices. It’s difficult to achieve recognition and legitimization for the role of meditation and faith in health. For the potential that naturopaths, eastern modalities, folk remedies, faith-healers, shamans, rituals and ceremonies, micro-nutrients and more may have something to offer in terms of healing. What are we so afraid of?

Why do we suppress ideas and approaches that don’t fit with one point of view? And invest quite a bit of money accomplishing that suppression, by the way. Why not spend the same money on doing and disseminating good research?

And that brings me to the third item I want to share on this topic. I came across a 9-part video series on cancer that drew my attention. I approached it with my usual ambivalence, favorably inclined toward health and healing but indoctrinated to view only conventional medicine as a “real” solution to this terrible disease. Plus I was looking for the sales pitch.

I haven’t yet come to the sales pitch for this series, and I have been fascinated with some information in it about how mainstream medicine came to be while alternative approaches were suppressed and made illegitimate. I can’t vouch for all the information in this series — I haven’t even viewed the whole series yet — but it accords with my personal belief that our bodies seek health and are capable of amazing healing. We just need to get out of their way. In that process, fear is our biggest enemy. There are also enough points that I know are true that it stimulates my interest in the rest.

Most importantly, the video series brings me hope. I’ve lost four people I care about to pancreatic cancer in the last three or four years. The common element was that all were told, there was nothing else to be done. No hope.

I believe there is hope, for pancreatic and other cancers. This video series gives a specific shape to my belief. That shape may change over time, as conventional medicine has, but I’m open to considering these possibilities and would like to see us putting money into learning more about them.

What if these things work in the ways people claim? Why shouldn’t they be covered by insurance, especially when conventional drugs on which people depend can get 5000-fold increases in price overnight? From the death rate for those affected by pancreatic cancer when treated by conventional medicine, which is covered by insurance, I’d say we don’t have much to lose by insuring alternatives. And the alternatives cost so much less because they rely on our natural ability to heal.

Why shouldn’t these possibilities be included in any discussion of options before we say, no hope?

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