Tag Archives: culture

Words that Mean Nothing

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There are so many words that get tossed around in the alternate universe that is called “wellness” that really stick in my craw.  I find that when I share my annoyances, they dissipate a little and I don’t have to obsess over them….as much.  So, join me in the aggravation shall you?

natural: as in “natural foods”, ‘natural flavors”, etc.  This is the most seductive of them right now.  You want stuff to be natural, I’m sure.  However, the dictionary delineates between things we find in their raw state as natural and something manmade as not natural.  So how can any boxed/packaged food claim to be natural?  They can’t.  Not by definition.  Of course, neither can a good chicken soup be considered natural because it’s been processed by your dear sweet grandmother.  On the other side of things, this also seems to imply that whatever man does is not natural.  Why is a beehive natural and a skyscraper not?  Why is a dog snarling when cornered natural and a woman screaming in rage when abused not?  The constructed delineation between what is natural and what is not allows for the madness that a boxed, sugar coated, puffed cereal grain can be marketed as “natural”.  This word means nothing, is what I’m trying unsuccessfully to point out.  Next time you’re walking through the grocery store, just notice what is marketed as natural food.  It’s not the meat and produce and grass-fed butter.  It’s the chips, energy bars, whey powders….in short, it’s just a marketing tool to steer you away from the things that are authentic to your species and to spending more money on a myth.

organic: Ugh, something is organic because it is a carbon-based life form.  Do I need to say more?  Everything you eat is organic.  Every fruit, leaf, slice of steak…a carbon-based life form.  They get you because by saying something is organic, the theory is that its not been sprayed or treated with anything inorganic (not a carbon-based life form).  Which is of course WONDERFUL!  LIfe forms eat other life forms in general until you work your way down the web and something is just absorbing sunlight.  (Thank you chlorophyll!  We love you!)  The problem is this.  A cow eating organic (unsprayed, untreated) grain and not receiving hormones or antibiotics is of greater quality than one that isn’t treated this way is still not getting to be a cow.  What I mean is this.  Cows eat grass.  They want to eat grass.  When they get to eat grass and be out in the sunlight and walk around, they get to be cows.  (This also goes for plants.  Plants do well when they grow with other kinds of plants and not so well when they are mono-cropped, so you vegetarians aren’t in the clear.)  Organic is certainly a higher rung on the ladder but organic in its common usage still doesn’t mean that the animal or plant gets to be itself.

chemical: Everything is chemical.  When you see something advertise itself as chemical free what does that even mean?  It would be a box or bottle of nothing if it were true.  What they mean to say, I’m assuming, is no added chemicals.  You are a chemical being.  So, chemical free doesn’t mean anything at all.  You need to read and find out what chemicals are authentic to us and can be absorbed or come into contact with no harm and what can’t.

spiritual: Here it comes.  Spiritual means something sanctioned by a religion or church.  Yeah, surprising, right?  Contrary to what you’ve been spoon-fed since birth, you do not need a spiritual component to your life in order to be healthy.  What a lot of people call their spiritual practice is just otherwise known as being authentically human.  What I mean by that is that:

We need to go outside.

We need to eat things that are authentic to us and that get to live lives that are authentic to them.

We need quiet time to not think about much of anything.

We need time with others.  We are a primarily social species.

We need to play.

We need to learn new things.

We need to move.

We need to express ourselves and be heard.

We need to sleep in safety.

These are some of our needs.  The different ways that we meet those needs that our culture sanctifies and codifies become what we call “spirituality”.  But, you don’t have to.  It’s…funny?…to me that we are taught to be so afraid of the body’s needs that we can only allow ourselves to meet them by labeling them spiritual.  It’s not.  It’s physical and authentic and not at all mystical.

purity:  On the heels of that last rant.  Purity and “pure” make my bile rise and burns the back of my throat.  Pure water has no nutrition.  Pure oxygen will kill you.  Pure environments will starve your immune system.  Purity of the body is an impossible, deluded fantasy that can easily become an obsession so dangerous that it will kill you.  Purity of the blood is at the heart of every genocide.  This word also means nothing…well, nothing good.  It always gives me the heebie-jeebies.  Purity of thought leads to stasis and lack of creativity.  Pure also means that something else is dirty.  This is also dangerous.  Pure emotions are compassion and happiness and joy.  Dirty is anger and fear?  Except of course, anger is a really good way to know that something has violated you and fear will keep you alive.

These are a couple of things that keep me up at night.  And, because language is important.

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Easier said than done.

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Health tips are happening on my Facebook page lately.  It’s just evolving in that direction.  Yesterday’s was the following:

“Eat when you’re hungry.  Don’t eat when you’re not.”

Yeah, groundbreaking stuff, there. I could almost hear the collective muttering, “duh” in a hushed exhale.

I concede that it’s not news.  It’s not avant garde.  It’s not the latest scientific breakthrough.

In my defense, however, chances are mighty, mighty good that you’re not following this old, ratty advice.  Chances are pretty good that you are probably trying to find ways to eat less than you are actually hungry for a lot of the time and eating way past that full signal other times.  How do I know that?  What, am I made of stone?  These things I speak of are things with which I am familiar, my friends.

Of course, in some part of your mind, or maybe a lot of your mind, you think that you can’t follow this little “rule” because there’s something quite wrong with you.  I mean, really, it’s so easy a kid could do it.  And before we cram crazy messages into their tender brains, they all do.

So if you can’t do it, what’s wrong with you?

Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  That’s right.  There’s nothing wrong with you.

There is probably something wrong with the nourishment that you are receiving though.  I’ll bet a shiny new quarter on it, actually.

Here are the reasons that I think following this most obvious and simple guideline is so difficult:

1.  We’re told that the body is not to be trusted.  We get this message from early on from everywhere.  So, when it’s 10:30 on a Tuesday morning and you’re still not hungry but stuff down some breakfast because you’ve been told that “it’s the most important meal of the day” or it’s 8:15 on a Monday night and your stomach is growling but you ignore it because “you’re not supposed to eat past 7”, you do this because you don’t trust your body.

2.  You are malnourished.  You will continue to eat until you get the nutrients that you need, not the calories that you need.  This is a crucial distinction.  We’ve shifted in the past 100 years to the caloric model of eating.  You can eat a pint or more of low-fat ice cream during a commercial break.  Just TRY and eat that much liver.  And if liver is gross to you, you can change that to steak.  Your body wants nutrients first and foremost.  You understand this.  A tablespoon of white sugar is not the same thing as a tablespoon of just about anything else.  The calories may be the same but the drive to eat more will not be sated with the sugar.  There are no nutrients.  None.  And worse, foods such as sugar and white flour actually use up your stores of other nutrients to digest.  So, you’re not getting “no nutrition”, you’re getting “negative nutrition”.  And what do you need?  Positive nutrition in order to feel full, good, and healthy.

3.  Malnutrition is not just a matter of food.  If you feel agitated, you may need to go for a walk or punch a pillow.  Cake will not allow the emotion to move through.  Cake will numb it and repress it and that can feel helpful at times, but the agitation is still there, just buried under cake.  The starvation you feel when loneliness overtakes you?  French fries really don’t give a flip about your struggles.  Friends do.  The craving you have for affection will not be met by squirting the whole can of whipped cream in your mouth.  This cycle only creates more agitation, more loneliness, more cravings for human touch.  In the same way negative nutrition creates deeper and deeper deficits, using food to do something it’s not meant to do, creates deeper and deeper emotional deficits.

4.  Portion prescriptions.  Once you are able to connect with your hunger, portions are the stupidest thing EVER.  There are days when I eat 5 snacks a day.  None are big enough to be called a meal.  Others, I eat the traditional 3 squares.  Some, I eat one big meal with a steak so big it can’t fit on the plate.  Once in a long while, I only want a smoothie for the whole day. Portions as mandated from the heavens assume that you are the same, day in, day out.  They assume that your level of activity is identical every day.  They assume that your hormones never fluctuate.  They assume that you at 18 is the same as you at 45.  Yes, I know there are “formulas” that allow for variance, but, really? Formulas?  How hungry are you today?  Well, eat.  If you’re not, don’t.  You don’t have to eat 5 meals a day if you’re not hungry five times a day.

I could probably go on and on but this will dissolve into a rant instead of something useful REAL quick, so I’ll stop there.  In short, eat when you’re hungry.  Don’t eat when you’re not.  Basically, Nourish yourself into Freedom.

If you haven’t joined us for #30daymove, yet, it’s not too late.  Never too late!

health versus hygiene

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Let’s talk teeth, shall we?

The majority of conversations about dental health are actually about dental hygiene.  Hygiene is a good thing, for sure, but so often we think we’re doing all the right things: brushing twice a day, flossing, even mouthwash! and a cavity bores its way through a tooth or we have to get a root canal.  Hygiene is not synonymous with health, not for the teeth and not for anything else, really. (I’m looking at you, chronic cleansers!)

In the 1930s a dentist named Weston A. Price traveled across the world and had the luxury that we no longer have in our homogenized world of meeting people who were living in the traditional ways of their ancestors.  This was truly a global expedition that he undertook and he photographed mouths from all across the racial spectrum (and we’re using racial lightly because we understand that race is quite the construct, right?).  In the vast majority of cases, dental hygiene was not exactly de rigueur.  (He reports on some older people who have tartar/plaque that is quite thick but perfectly health teeth and gums, exemplary, even. )

His interest was teeth.  But, his studies have shown to be some of the most valuable as far as health goes in the last couple centuries.  (note: that’s editorial, okay?  But, I dare you to find something more valuable.  In fact, comment below!)  What he discovered, among other things, was that teeth told quite the systemic story.  The inflammation of the gums or the rot of the teeth (still paying attention?) were the easily accessible image of what was happening under the skin.  In other words, healthy teeth and gums meant healthy people.

What can seem surprising to us on this end of the twice a year dental visit for free toothbrushes and lollipops (do they still do this?  Even at 8, I thought that was sending quite the mixed message.) and aisles of toothpaste choices is that the health of the teeth and gums had nearly nothing to do with hygiene.  What made healthy teeth, healthy gums, healthy people was diet.  Not enough nutrients, not enough absorption of nutrients and the teeth rotted.

Now, our dental health is a little harder to gauge accurately because we can so easily get cavities filled (even in porcelain so there isn’t even the telltale dark spot of mercury or whatever other strange thing they used to pour in the tooth holes), get new teeth, have surgery.  After a couple visits to the dentist (or crazier the orthodontist!  My generational story of bad nutrition is generally hidden because my teeth all fit in my mouth now.  Well, I have 4 less teeth and the others were pulled into place.), we can convince ourselves that we are in good dental health.

We’re not.

If our eyes are the window to our soul, then our teeth are windows into our bones.  Mostly because they’re, you know, bones.  Also, our gums tell us so much about the inflammation of our other tissues.  (For the incredible ease of teaching and learning, we’ve divided our body into systems, then tissues, then cells, etc.  It provides the illusion that our muscles kind of are glued to our bones.  Or that our organs are these sacs that are kind of floating in our abdominal cavity.  The truer truth is that our muscles become our ligaments become our bones become our tendons become our veins become our organs…like one unbroken morphing string.)  That is to say that what is happening in one place in our body tends to be happening everywhere.  Although the manifestation of rot in our teeth may not mean that our bones are rotting, it does mean that systemically we’ve got a malnutrition issue.

Are you still with me?

When the people that Price was studying left the traditional nutrient dense diets of their ancestors/culture and adopted the convenient foods of the “western diet” (you know what most of us grew up eating…mac n’ cheese, mayonnaise sandwiches, vegetable oils….) their teeth rotted.  Most surprising, when they had kids, their kids faces didn’t develop as they were supposed to and their grandkids had serious deficiencies.  (This mirrored a little of what Francis Pottenger was discovering with cats in his raw food studies.)  Not only were their offspring and grand-offspring’s teeth rotting, their bones weren’t developing appropriately and their faces were…pinching.

When your leg bones don’t grow quite right, those plastic sticks with synthetic bristles rubbed across your teeth seem a little….inadequate.

If you want shiny, white teeth, you can definitely pay for those and get them.  If you want healthy teeth that you don’t have to put in a cup at night, you may want to focus your energy and money on what you eat.

Okay, I hope I’ve convinced you.  Here comes the logical question:  Eat what?

Why, I’m so glad you asked.

These are some of the things that Price discovered were almost universal in traditional, nutrient dense diets.

1. Fermented things.  Fermented things are awesome because they practically make themselves.  My personal favorite to make is sauerkraut.  It’s basically a chop and wait proposition.  My favorite to eat?  Oh, honey!  Give me kimchi, give me old cheese, give me miso, give me herbal beers, give me cider, give me vinegar….give me fish sauce!  Basically, I’m of the “the more it reeks, the better it tastes” school of eating.

2. Raw dairy.  Where dairy was found to be consumed, it was eaten raw.  This is now illegal in most places.  If you can still get it, you’re lucky.  And you probably have better teeth than the rest of us.  You can still get cheeses made from raw milk in most places.  If you can tolerate cassein, have at it.  Most cheeses, fermented long enough (meaning hard) have much lower lactose levels, so this tends to be slightly less of an issue.

3. Organ meats.  Yes please!  Cow tongue, tripe, goat heart, chicken livers, ox balls…forget a multivitamin, eat an organ!  These are goldmines of nutrients.  I eat organ meat at least once a week.

4. Animal fat.  Here’s the thing.  Vitamins A, D, E, and K need fat in order for you to absorb them.  You can take all you want but with no fat in the diet, it’s kind of useless.  Yes, carrots have vitamin A and you can eat them until you’re orange in the face, but with no fat, no absorption.  And no absorption of these vitamins? (D is more a pre-hormone, btw.) Rickety bones and bad teeth.  And weird hormonal stuff.  And, oh, yeah, cancer.

5.  Bone broths.  Wealth can be measured to me by the jars of bone broth I have in my pantry or freezer.  I no longer have the jaw strength that my ancestors from way back had to break through at eat the bones, cartilage and marrow, but broth feels a lot better going down.

*Edited 12/20/2012:  In a gross and tragic oversight, I didn’t specifically mention BUTTER.  Oh, people, I’m wearing the hair shirt for this.  For some reason, I assumed (and you know what happens when we assume, right?) that raw dairy and animal fat combined would lead to the obvious conclusion that butter was implied.  HOWEVER, butter was not just implied in Price’s work, it was a golden, delicious, creamy cornerstone.  I apologize!  I LOVE butter.  I have fond memories of jars of it (yep, jars) being sent to my dad from his cousins who still lived in his home village.  It was different colors depending on the time of year and so….rich…so decadent.  We would eat it by the spoonful.  And it would dissolve and just go down smooth like….butter.  Yeah, there’s a reason we use that to explain how silky easy something is.  If you are still using margarine, please, please, please consider going back to the original health food.  When Price found the nearly universal use of butter in his work, he thought that there was a certain Activator X that it contained.  Yep, an X Factor.  (Visionary, this man.)  Come to find out, Activator X is vitamin K2.  K2 (other than that mountain face and really bad 90s movie about said mountain face) is one of the keys to strong dental health.  It works synergistically with A and D.  K2 is also a fat soluble vitamin, right?  Well butter is one of the best sources of K2 (foie gras is one of the VERY best!  Oh, lordissa..pleasure AND good teeth?  It’s almost like our tastebuds evolved in conjunction with our environment to enjoy the stuff that makes us healthy.  Weird, right?)   And Vitamin K2 in butter is wrapped up in satiny fat with a spreadable bow.  Three cheers to you nature!

You can read a more scholarly article about it (and be connected to a treasure trove of information!) here.http://www.westonaprice.org/fat-soluble-activators/x-factor-is-vitamin-k2#dental (Again, apologies, my link button is NOT working this morning!  Finger push-ups?)

There are more things, but this is getting long and you can definitely do some legwork of your own.

There were zero vegan groups found and only a couple vegetarian groups, but they were not 100%.  They would have some fish or other meats occasionally, but they were not among those with the healthiest teeth and offspring.

In short (too late), for better dental health I rely on eggs quick cooked in butter over my toothbrush.  But, you all appreciate the hygiene, too, I’m sure.

Nourish yourself to freedom.

*If you enjoyed this, like me on the book of face.  Also, find me on Instagram while I’m still on there before they pull that nutso shenanigan.  And, comment away, people!

I’ll be answering reader questions on Friday in a new way that I’m totally stoked about!

Trickster or Treatment

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First of all, I am so sorry for my absence.  I’ve missed writing here.  My mother, who has been ill for a few months from pancreatic cancer, passed away.  My sisters and I were there in the room with her, holding her hand when she went.  It was very peaceful.  Then, we got to plan the memorial service according to her wishes, held at the beach.  It was really quite lovely…even in the midst of a hurricane.  The waves were the largest I’d ever seen them here.  The water is usually mirror still.  I’ve spent the past couple of days sleeping..finally.  So, that’s pretty much where I’ve been.  It’s good to be back.

I love Halloween.  Even better is the Day of the Dead tomorrow or All Saints Day, whatevs.

When this time of the year rolls around, I generally turn my thoughts to death.  I’ve spent a lot of time cultivating what I consider to be a healthy attitude towards it.  My own death doesn’t frighten me.  I don’t hold many things to be True, unchangeable and steadfast, but this I do: facing and accepting the inevitability of my death is the most important work that one can undertake to set oneself free.  The inevitability of everyone’s death should also nurture in us a deep respect for their fragility.  This is more true than True because somehow my own death is far easier to accept than the inevitable death of those I love.  Their death makes me feel clingy to them instead.  But, lately, I’ve done my duty with death.

Here’s what I really wanted to talk to you about.  In all mythologies, there is a trickster.  In the mythology of my country, we have the gede (hard “g”).  Tricksters are generally given high status in human stories because tricksters dare to see things and push us to see things that can be uncomfortable but are ultimately to our own betterment.  In essence, they are the archetype of dangerous play (and if you’re playing doesn’t have even a touch of danger, you may not be doing it right.  🙂 )  The danger come from pushing the guidelines of society to their breaking point and often past it.

When I think of health (held up as a nearly impossible ‘holy grail’ these days) and society’s role upon it, I see that we can take one of two approaches to it.  There is the treatment of the ‘condition’.  The treatment is sanctioned by society, does not mess with the status quo, often creates a dependence of some kind, and generally doesn’t demand anything of the person undergoing the treatment.  It is all quite passive, prescriptive…..and, gulp, dull.

Enter the trickster.  With the trickster comes the game.  For a game to be well played, there needs to be knowledge of the rules.  This helps you look the rules in the eye as you break them.  With the trickster, you need to engage fully in the process with awareness.  The trickster will get you question everything.  She will get you to play with the issue.  The trickster will urge you to detach yourself from the social ramifications of a situation.  He will get you to laugh at the constraints you’ve placed on yourself.  The trickster shatters preconceptions.

Let’s look at the same “problem” from the two points of view.  We’ll look at weight loss.

First the treatment:

The very first assumption that the treatment subjects you to is that you have to lose weight at all.  You really might now have to, but the societal prescription to be ultra-thin is already assumed.  With treatment, you get very clear markers of progress that may have absolutely nothing to do with you.

Next, to maintain its own…integrity?…society will make sure that you understand that this problem is somehow all on your shoulders.  These are some of the things you will hear: you have no willpower, you have no self-love, you have no merit, you have no intelligence, you have less worth.  You will NOT hear: this culture that we humans made up a while ago has failed you.

Then, you will be given the party line.  Watch your portion intake.  Eat everything in moderation.  Exercise 3x a week for 30 minutes.

If you fail (and according to this treatment, you WILL), you can repeat the whole cycle for the rest of your life with a never questioned dependence on the treatment.

Enter the trickster.  Enter a little insecurity.  Like I said before, with the trickster you must engage.

The first question the trickster may ask might be along the lines of this:  Do you really need to lose weight or are all your girlfriends just really jealous of your public speaking ability?  Do you really need to lose weight or are you really just wanting to get a divorce?  Do you really need to lose weight or do you feel weighted down by this job that is stripping all the joy from your life?  Is your weight the issue or do you wish you knew how to fly a plane? (Really, the treatment finds safety in attributing your malaise to something visible that they can point to.  The trickster loves to play with dreams.)  If you decide that you do really want to lose weight, the trickster won’t be satisfied with that.  She’ll want to know why.  He’ll want to know what that MEANS to you.

Then, and this is the fun part, comes the process.  The trickster will not be satisfied with pat answers to anything.  Your journey will depend on your ability to question the answers that you’ve been given.

Why should my portions be the same size every day when some days I’m hardly hungry and other days I’m famished?  Why should I eat everything in moderation if some things just aren’t good for me?  Why should I exercise 3x a week for 30 minutes a pop when I would rather hike for three hours on a Saturday and deadlift my bodyweight for 5 minutes on a Wednesday?  Why should my culture dictate to me that I should be 5’11 and 110 pounds when I’m 5’3 and feel ill when I drop below 130?

Most of all, the trickster will get you to play.  Concepts become toys and regulations become malleable.  You become your own authority.

Following the treatment is easier.  Being passive is always easier than being engaged.  But, it sure isn’t nearly as much fun.
Speaking of fun, here’s a video from my favorite Haitian roots band.  I’ll be at their Gede Ball tomorrow night.

dis-connect

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I’ve been working today on preparing a new workshop that I’m really excited about.  It’s working title is “Why Diet’s Don’t Work”.  The thematic thread that runs through my work is “Connection”.  That word is easily interchanged with the word “health” to me as I find them to be quite synonymous.

I have a little preview of the five connections that diets (and other unfortunate societal impositions) shatter.

1. Personal:  When we diet, we learn, through the often painful practices of starvation and denial, to ignore our selves.  The flowing dialogue between our organs, our cells, our thought processes, our muscles gets dammed up.  The true democracy of the body, where every voice is heard and of equal importance is dismantled.  It is replaced with an externalized dictatorial voice that barks out all of the “shoulds” and “should nots” with no capacity for listening.

2. Traditional: When we diet, we cut ourselves off from the universal human tradition of deep nourishment.  We generally forgo the instinctive desire for satiety that humans have been fulfilling since we have been human (and even before) and instead eat food products that claim to “boost metabolism” and “melt fat”.  How foreign to the tradition of nourishment these reasons to eat are!

3. Cultural: The cultural aspects of eating that center around feasts, festivals, or great-grandma’s squirrel stew are the specifics of the universal traditions.  The difference in spices, the particular vegetable that gets fermented, the culturally designated favorite part of the animal (Where I grew up, the large knobby gelatinous glob of pork fat swimming in the tomato gravy was the ultimate prize!), these are the things that create an identity.  When we give these things up to munch on lettuce or to stir two scoops of meal replacement shake into some water, we isolate ourselves from our greater familial group.

4. Inter-personal: Closely related to our cultural aspects of eating are the interpersonal relationships that we shatter when we diet.  Allergies aside, it is difficult to maintain connection with others when we won’t share meals. Our fear of counting calories or fat grams overrides the joy we can co-create with another person by letting them cook for us or vice versa.  This is the quickest way to sever our connection to people from other cultures.  All cultures have certain things in common.  A love of meat or other animal products, treasuring fat, fermenting something or other and sharing a meal as a way to build relationship.

5. Natural:  The deep division from nature and her rhythms that dieting creates are often the most damaging and least noticed.  Most diets are proscriptive and ignore seasonal availability, the particular needs of our organism and the ecosystem as a whole.  The beauty of eating in way that takes all of these into consideration is elegant and delicious.  And, of course, it creates health.

The path to health is all about weaving threads of connection.