Monthly Archives: July 2012

Pretty Lies, Deux

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Alright, I may have unintentionally misled you.  I was hoping to tell you all that you needed to have to be healthy this week, but I realized that I wanted to make sure that you could see what you did not need first.  What follows is a list of what you have been told that you would need to be healthy and happy, but you don’t need at all.

1. Gym membership-I actually have one of these and it’s not for the reasons you may think.  I live in a little cabin in the woods with no running water.  It’s a great place to see other people and to get a nice hot shower.  I also enjoy the steam room.  But, I don’t need this for my health.  Neither do you.  I much prefer to be outside, going for a hike, running around with my dog, or just doing some push-ups in my little cabin in the woods.

2. Special footwear-There are dozens upon dozens of articles explaining the benefits of going barefoot.  I hike barefoot, run barefoot, Zumba barefoot, ad infinitum.  When the terrain gets a little too prickly I do wear my Vibrams, but it’s fine to just avoid that type of terrain.  The only possible exception is in the weight room around less conscientious folks.  A barbell on the bare instep is the sixth circle of hell.

3. Juicer-Oh, juice.  Apparently, fresh, raw juices cure cancer, get your children to behave, bring about world peace, and can do your taxes.  It’s a decent treat, but you can get incredibly healthy without one more thing to take up counter space and clean.

4. Vegetarianism-This is the pinnacle (well, right beneath veganism, just easier to attain) of a healthy diet, we’re told.  But, there is and never has been an optimally healthy human population that eats this way.

5. Early wake-up to run or another punishing workout-If you’re setting your alarm early, slapping the snooze button, then dragging your heavy carcass out of bed to work out with bleary eyes, you’re not doing yourself any favors.  The release of cortisol that this stress creates and then the cumulative sleep deprivation that builds will eventually have your body flipping you the bird in any way it can: increased fat storage, flus, lower pain threshold, forgetfulness, and my pet favorite, depression.  Sleep, beauty!

6. Fat avoidance-Dry hair, depression (there she is again!), mood disturbances, hunger, dry skin…really, fat free and low fat diets have done nothing helpful for us.  They’ve done tremendous favors to the diet industry and the weird food products industry, though.  Have some butter or lard today and nourish your cells!

7. Whole grains-Please, please, please, just say no!  If you aren’t ready to get off the grains quite yet, ferment them!  They are not a great source of nutrition, bleak actually when compared to meats or vegetables.  They are also enveloped in little toxins that are only meant for the birds.

8. Caloric restriction-This one’s a tricky one.  When you eat foods that are truly dense in nutrition, they are high in calories but it takes less of them to satiate you.  However, close attention (or any, really) to caloric intake affects the psychology of a person and can easily make one overly aware of every bite and that does not for a happy person make.

9. 30 minutes, 3x a week-Hello, Monotony, this is your twin sister Boredom speaking.  Besides the crushing tedium and it’s cascade of emotional effects, your body is so much happier when it gets surprised by something new and even more giddy when you play stochastically.  How about 15 minutes of intense dog chasing today, a 2 hour hike tomorrow, and floating in a pool the next day?

10. Eliminate all stress-Quite the mantra we have going on these days.  Eliminate stress, eradicate it.  However, you eliminate all stress and it’s impossible to get out of bed in the morning.  Instead, find the appropriate level and the appropriate game with stress.  That’s how I see stress: it’s an ally for play.  It always demands a physical reaction and fluctuated in intensity.  It takes a lot more self-knowledge to discover what is the level that you feel most alive at.

11.  Slather up in SPF 50 and stay away from windows-avoid the sun!-Or, how about instead, you get a few minutes of quality sun exposure a day and bypass the vitamin D deficiency and the rampant sadness that happens when we, heliophilic creatures that we are, avoid it.

12. Detoxification supplements/teas/treatments-You have innate detox strategies.  They are called the skin, the kidneys, the liver, the bowel, the lymph, etc.  Instead of punishing your body with harsh programs and disgusting concoctions, support it with movement, appropriate food to the season, plenty of sleep, and lots of emotional expression.  Laugh ’til you cry and cry ’til the laughter wells up.

13. Superfoods-Do people in the Himalayas ship in blackberries as their super fruit?  I get that there is a spectrum of nutrition that food stretches across.  But, don’t believe the hype that a food from across the globe is somehow superior to the food that grows in your region.  My heart goes out to people that do not have access to much other than food products, but, when food (not products) are available, eat well from the local abundance.  That is super enough.

Local lunch while in Kenya: goat and sukumu wiki!  Nyama choma. 

I’m posting a day early because I am headed to NYC for a couple days before my graduation with some of my dearest friends.  Laughter, sushi, Broadway, and a possible new piercing?  Nourishment and Freedom!  See you next week when I will let you know all that you need to have to be healthy.

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Not so Pretty Lies, Part Un

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“The truth wil set you free, but first it will piss you off.”

-Gloria Steinem

Let’s all take a deep breath.

Most of what you’ve been taught about health is fueled by something other than a desire for you to be healthy.  Speaking from experience, I have spent thousands of dollars on special diet foods, special secret programs, gym memberships, special sneakers, special gadgets, and a ton of specially formulated supplements.  At some point in my past, I even spent money on diarrhea inducing teas and special potions “guaranteed” to get my body to lose fat effortlessly.

The first overt lie about health is that to be skinny is to be healthy.  There is a correlation between body mass index (for lack of a better tool) and health but it is by no means causal.  Some of the unhealthiest people I’ve met have been really thin.  I do travel a lot, though, and the third world has its fair share of people starving to death.  (So does the first world, they just look a little….fuller.)

The second overt lie about health is that it is somewhere out in the ether to be hunted down and captured.  Apparently, according to nearly everything that you read or hear, your health is in the hands of the latest celebrity doctor or wan spiritual guru or Oprah’s latest favorite thing.  Health is just about always available from somewhere exotic.

The third overt lie about health is that it will cost you.  Although I do believe that health is the greatest treasure that one can have, the source of true wealth, the lie is that it is very, very expensive.  It can only be had through great expense.  The source of health seems to keep shifting from expensive craze to even more expensive craze.

The truth may annoy you a little bit.  It annoyed me when I tallied up the money I’d spent over the years.  It annoyed me when I looked at some of my habits.  It annoyed me when I thought about the psychological toll that the “health quest” can take on some people and on me.

You were born with everything that you need to be healthy.  Your genes ‘want’ that for you.  Your body ‘wants’ desperately to be healthy.  The majority of things that you’ve bought, tried, hoped in have let you down and I’m pretty sure, if you’re anything like me, that you’ve thought all along that it was you that failed.  It may have never crossed your mind that the information you’ve been receiving has been promoted by anything other than your best interest in mind.  What if, just tossing this out here, most of what you’ve been told and sold was for someone else’s profit.  A lot (a LOT) has been invested in keeping you as far from your own innate bodily knowledge as possible.

When I think about the millions (billions) spent poorly on the latest health craze or weight loss craze, I do get angry.  Nearly livid, actually-it’s quite a cardiovascular workout just thinking about it.  When I process the amount of guilt and shame and pain that I’ve gone through in my quest and multiply it by that of the several million others who’ve gone on a fruitless search, all the cardiovascular work comes to naught as my heart audibly breaks.

Health is simple and, other than the cost of food, it is free.  Let’s take another deep breath.

In part two of the this post, I’ll get down the nitty gritty list of all that you need to be healthy.  Hint: you’ve already got everything on the list.  See you next Wednesday.

Wisdom and Rebellion

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“Life in all its fullness is Mother Nature obeyed.”

                  -Weston A. Price

I’m not big on obedience.  I never have been.  The worst reason to do something is always because someone in authority tells me I have to.  It always makes me bristle.  Suffice it to say that I wasn’t an easy kid.

The society I grew up in in the Caribbean, like nearly all other societies, had some clear guidelines that everyone adhered to in an effort to assure their place in it.  Girls wore their hair long, took ballet classes, wore just the right “feminine” things, spoke quietly, dieted, and did their nails at the salon once a week.

The year that I was twelve, I discovered Billy Idol.  I’m still unclear how, but his poster was suddenly on my wall, my hair was shortened, spiked and bleached and there were deep grooves in the vinyl.  I learned to lift my fist in the air and snarl into the mirror.  I never investigated the lyrics to Rebel Yell and still haven’t in case google shatters the story that I’ve created in my own head about it.  All I knew was that things were far more significant somehow if done with a rebel yell. (More, more, more…..rebellion?  My adult brain has easily captured that there may be something else that she’s crying out for, but I will not cave to facts!)

Wisdom is knowing when to follow the rules.  If I want to cross the border into Canada with my dog, then I have to prove that his rabies vaccine is up to date.  (This example only seems random.)  If I want to be healthy, happy, beautiful, and free, I have to do whatever nature says.  That is a lovely paradox.  To be free is to follow nature’s guidelines.

It is the only accurate measuring stick against we can evaluate and assess anything.  It is the only true one that we’ve ever had, ever.

It’s not always easy to be obedient to nature.  I mean, really, have you had german chocolate cake?  (One summer, at my aunt’s house, we had a five gallon drum of german chocolate cake ice cream in the basement freezer.  My uncle shut that freezer with a padlock and kept the key with him at all times.  He doled out a scoop per person per day to ensure that it would last the whole summer.)

As in all the most delightful things, there is a paradox to which I can still raise a black leather and silver studded fist in the air.  Obedience to nature is the ultimate yell of rebellion towards society.  I really love that.  (Picture me snarling as I say that.)

My Top 5 Favorite Food “Groups” and A Bonus

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“Human beings do not eat nutrients, they eat food.”

-Mary Catherine Bateson

1.  Bone Broth

 The hardest part about living in a little cabin with no real kitchen is the inability to make and store bone broth.  I have a camp stove and was thinking about making some bone broth any way until I read in very fine print that in the stove gives off carbon monoxide, so the 24-72 hour simmering time, although it would make some fine, fine broth, would find no one to ingest it.  However, when I do have a kitchen, this is made anywhere from once a month to once every six months in massive batches.  I then ladle it into jars and freeze it.  Broth (or more accurately stock but without the alluring alliteration) is profoundly nutritious.  It helps with the digestion of other foods in the meal, is a rich source of collagen and minerals, and is digested with the ease that a chainsaw cuts through strawberry jam.  

I have a 5 gallon stock pot that I use to make my bone broth.  It’s bright red and when not being used as a stock pot, I can use it as a bathtub.  Here is my broth recipe:

Bones (I generally group like bones with like.  For example, a great seafood broth can be made with shrimp “shells”, fish heads and skeletons and other scraps of carapace.  Beef bones can be mixed with other ruminant skeletal matter.  Chicken bones and the heftier turkey ones can also be put together.  If you feel a little wild, mix the bird and the beefy ones.  The seafood stock can take a lot less time and tastes far better if you leave surf far away from turf.)

Any veggie scraps you find.  Carrot peelings, onion skins, etc.

Water.

Vinegar.  I’m partial to the apple cider variety.

A stove.

Ball or Mason jars.

Time.

Plop everything in the stock pot.  You’ll want at least a 1/4 cup of vinegar but I put in a lot more than that because I love the tang.  The vinegar actually works to break down the bone and leech all the minerals from it into the stock.  The water should cover the bones well.  You may want to add more as the process goes along.

 Bring it to a rolling boil, then turn down the heat and let it simmer for a day or two.  The seafood doesn’t really have to go longer than 8 hours but I’m not opposed to 24.  You will want to check on this every few hours, adding water if you need.  You will have quite a bit of scummy foam at first.  You can spoon that off the top.

After the whole thing has reached desired cooking time, turn off the heat and let it cool.  Get your jars ready.  Put the stock (without the bones and veggies) into the jars.  Don’t fill all the way to the top because the jars will crack in the freezer if they’re too full. (I’ve heard.)  

That’s it.  You’ll have a base for soups, sauces, or just a quick meal at all times.  In the winter, I like to take a couple spoonfuls of broth, add some hot water and some seaweed.  Done. 

2.  Fermented Foods

I have never met a kimchi I didn’t devour.  Nor a sauerkraut, either.  Or a chutney or a kombucha.  The entire range of fermented foods are mind boggling…and delicious.  They are an excellent source of healthy bacteria and also super easy to digest because the process of fermenting does most of the work for us.

This book is a must have for anyone who is ready to try their hand at the magic that is fermentation.

3.  Raw Meat

Really, I’m serious.  I love the stuff.  Just about every culture has their version.  Everything from sashimi to carpaccio to kibbeh to tartare.  If you are worried about the bacterial scariness of it all, freeze the meat for a good two weeks.  This is generally enough to kill everything off that might make you sick.  Whatever your heritage, do a little research and find out what is the raw meat dish of your culture.  This is such a great way to get to know a little more about the traditional ways that your great-grandma nourished her family.  (Please, please, please don’t eat raw pork, okey dokey?)

4.  Roots and Rhizomes

Carrots, onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, radishes, ginger, turmeric, sunchokes, yams, beets….oh baby!  I love, love, love root vegetables and rhizomes.  The brighter and deeper the color, the more they excite me.  They are pungent, sweet, and often have a little bit of a bite.  Because these plants store their own nutrition in their roots, these are great ways to add some color and flavor to your chow.

5.  Butter

Is butter a whole food group?  Technically, no.  But, it should be.  Really good organic, cultured butter from grass fed cows is something approaching perfection.  Although I’m intolerant to lactose, the process of culturing the butter allows most of the lactose to be fermented out (yeah, fermentation!).  Sweet creamery butter, although delicious, just doesn’t pass muster for me, but if you can eat it, good on you!  Since I don’t eat grains, I am always finding creative ways to get butter into my maw.  When it’s cooler out, that’s a lot easier because I can just cut a hunk off just like other people eat cheese.

Butter helps with the absorption of the fat soluble vitamins that are critical for vital health.  It is a phenomenally tasty source of vitamin A.  It is also a good source of D, E, and K.  The fat from butter is also far healthier than from the seed oils that clog most pantry shelves.

6.  Herbs

Here’s the bonus category.  Herbs are my first love.  Everything from the wild ones that most people think are weeds (like nettle and clover) to the finest basils, tarragons, dills, and rosemaries.  Their deep, glistening greens are our first medicines.  The addition of herbs to all food helps with digestion and a myriad different functions.  Don’t be shy with them.

Eat in freedom and for nourishment.