Category Archives: food choice

Meet Jane

ImageThis is a story about Jane, a cute, cuddly, trusting and innocent 10 month-old real life koala. It’s not so much about her life directly as it is about a major disconnect—and a necessary reconnect that I’ll begin to weave for you. Jane’s life has been affected by the food choices we make on a global basis. “How can that possibly be,” you would surely ask—after all, the food we eat comes from a grocery store or a restaurant.

Similar to its effect on many other species living on our planet, the beef you are eating today has a profound impact on Jane and other koalas in two ways. First, since the U.S. is the second largest importer of Australian beef in the world (following Japan), the meat you are eating may have actually come from Australia—part of the 200,000 tons ($1 billion worth) we import each year from their country. Second, even if the beef on your plate today is not directly from the grasslands of Australia, it is one of the building blocks of the meat and dairy industry that casts its ominous shadow over our planet. With every bite of beef you take, it is effectively stamping another vote of support and creating the demand for more and more livestock to be raised and slaughtered throughout the world. This then perpetuates Global Depletion (see the book, Comfortably Unaware) of our planet’s resources and creates substantial increases in risk factors for loss of our own health. As we continue to demand more meat, dairy, and fish products to eat in our country we are also closing our eyes to the true costs to produce those animal products—whether here in the U.S. or in other countries. Until we recognize the true value of the resources and health implications of eating animals, irreversible losses on many fronts will continue to occur. We need to impose an eco and health risk tax on all animal products that are produced, purchased from other countries (such as Australia), and sold to consumers who want to continue eating them. We need to make the entire chain of responsibility pay for the real cost of producing that food. Accountability needs to be established by affixing an appropriate economic value to animal products that reflects all resource (eco) cost during production and to us (health) after consumption, is long overdue and it should be translated into a mandatory tax. For instance, if the habitat and lives of koalas (or biodiversity anywhere on Earth) are lost by the production of an item consumed by humans, then that loss should be paid for by all those responsible.

As with nearly every other country in the world, Australia is a major cattle producer and consumer, expected to become one of the top beef producers and exporters in the world by the end of 2012 along with Brazil and the U.S. (among other things, we have the distinction of holding the #1 spot for beef production in the world in 2011). With the importing of over 2 million head of cattle and 800,000 tons of fresh beef and veal in 2011, the U.S. also has become the world’s second largest importer of beef, following only Russia.

Australia is considered a grass fed wonderland because most of their 200 million sheep and cattle raised annually are being pastured. Even so, Australia is seeing an increase in cattle going to feedlots and being “finished” on grain prior to slaughter, expecting this trend to grow to 31% of all cattle raised by the year 2020. In the U.S. there is heavy marketing and media coverage about grass fed/pastured livestock products, however, the USDA predicts our country will see a 4% increase this year (2012) in cattle that will be raised, or at least finished, on grain in feedlots instead of being 100% grass fed. This is largely due to the demand for grain fed meat by Mexico, the largest importer of U.S. grown beef, who favor the ‘marbled’ taste of grain fed cows and the obvious fact that grain fed cattle in confined (concentrated) feed operations are simply more efficient to produce and with much less land usage than in grass fed situations—which is still a few thousand times less efficient than using land to produce plant foods for us to consume.

As you drive the roads through any cattle district in Australia, you will see many, many cattle and sheep, a few kangaroos, and an occasional wallaby among other things. One sight that you will not see, though, is the one of miles and miles of corn or soybean feed crops as can be typically seen along any stretch of highway in the U.S. (especially in the Midwest). This is because cattle raised in Australia, do in fact, graze for most their lives—but it is with heavy land use and an irreversible toll on wildlife. The loss of biodiversity is blatant and measurable and, unfortunately, it is with an apathetic view.

Among the many livestock operations I am visiting in Australia, there is a region in Gippsland, Victoria that represents one of those very few areas in the world where resources such as water, land, and even their climate are considered ideal for ‘sustainably’ raising livestock. Streams and spring water are abundant and pasture can grow year round, so it has become a prime location for grass fed livestock operations such as cattle, pigs, sheep, and even goats. It is also Australia’s premier area for grass fed dairy operations. The trend seen in Gippsland and across Australia is to produce smaller cows and in less time by keeping them milking at their mother’s side in pastures and then letting them grass feed until 10 to 11 months of age and slaughtering them at an average weight of 265 kg (583 pounds). This method is, of course, fueled by demand—in this case, by Japan and the U.S. for meat from smaller, younger cattle. Interestingly, from a land use standpoint, this method of “sustainable” agriculture occurring in the most favorable conditions in Australia, and perhaps in the world, still uses minimally 2.5 acres to raise just one cow. When it is all said and done, that one cow will provide 300 pounds of meat, which results in 120 pounds per one acre of land used in one year. For reference, an organic vegetable farm, just down the road from these livestock operations in Gippsland, produces on average 5,000 to 10,000 pounds per one acre of food such as tomatoes, fast growing greens, and herbs, that are infinitely healthier for us to consume.

Although throughout Australia, the total number of farms has decreased, the size of an average farm (by “size,” I am referring to the number of livestock raised as well as acreage of land) is increasing, similar to what is occurring in the U.S. However, cattle farm operations in Gippsland remain smaller, averaging 50 to 500 head of cattle per farm and they adhere strongly to ‘grass fed/pastured’ philosophies of operational methodology and marketing protocols.

The concept of ‘humane’ is largely relegated to disease reduction in livestock, with all governmental agencies such as the Department of Primary Industries, Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), Australia Department of Agriculture and Food, etc. being more concerned about the quality of meat as the end product than the true physical, mental, and emotional state of an animal. For example, the very small section allocated to the welfare of animals raised for food that can be found in Western Australia’s Animal Welfare Regulations for the Pig Industry (adopted from the Australia Department of Agriculture and Food) states that the floor space in a stall for a sow should “not be less than 0.6 meter wide by 2.2 meters long” and that a sow with piglets should “not be confined for more than 6 weeks at a time in a farrowing pen less than 5.6 square meters.” This means that a sow can have the luxury of being confined to a space 23 inches wide by 6 feet long without being ‘inhumane’ and if with piglets, can be kept up to one and a half months, without being let out, in a pen 6 feet by 9 feet with its 10-12 piglets. Try that yourself sometime (with or without piglets) and then revisit this definition of ‘humane.’ Also, there are minimal enforceable measures.  This year (2012), the MLA voiced weak concern about the method of slaughter for their transported sheep ending up in the Middle East (99% of all exported sheep from Australia end up in Middle Eastern countries). With this small exception, there is a conspicuous lack of concern or regulation about the need for humane transport and humane slaughter of any livestock—knowing, of course, that there is ultimately no ‘humane’ method for us to slaughter another living thing.

As I pointed out earlier, Australia is among the largest producers and exporters of beef. This, of course, is at the expense of the health of their country—loss and inefficient use of their resources and the declining health of their citizens.

Although beef consumption is slightly declining within our own U.S. population, we are the second largest importer of beef from Australia, which is contributing to deforestation and loss of biodiversity in that country. Grazing livestock currently use over one billion acres of land in Australia, or more than 56% of the entire land mass of this country (http://www.anra.gov.au/topics/land/landuse/index.html) The rate of deforestation in Australia is increasing as quickly as anywhere else in the world with 600,000 acres lost in 2011. The majority of this forest destruction is in areas where koalas live, or once lived, therefore the world demand for beef equates into more land needed to raise cattle which results in forest loss, turning this land into pastures, which destroys the natural habitat of koalas—it’s all connected.

Hence, Jane’s family and thousands of other koalas are killed yearly primarily from direct habitat loss but also indirectly when they are hit by cars and attacked by dogs while moving on the ground in search of eucalyptus trees that were cut down in order to raise cattle. Jane is left orphaned, ending up in a remote sanctuary fighting to regain her health and parameters of life that had gone fairly undisturbed for the previous 25 million years and yet taken away in a matter of minutes by an invisible, insidious force called food choice. Jane represents species everywhere on our planet that are being devastated by livestock operations that are fueled by our demand to eat animals.

We need to think about Jane when you see beef or any other form of animal product that is considered ‘food’ for us to consume. Whether it has come directly from Australia or any other country, plucked out of our oceans, or even raised in your own back yard—meat is not ‘food’; it is a destructive human induced process.  Ask Jane.  Image

The Barriers We Confront

ImageInfrequently, I will receive an email that I feel is so far beyond comment that it should be discarded as merely written by detractors. But, it is this very type of correspondence that reminds me of the daunting task at hand, because similar to the person who contacted me with the email below, the vast majority of individuals in the world today have at least some barrier which impedes them from becoming aware and adopting the healthiest dietary regimen—consuming only plant based foods.

First let’s look at his comments posted on our Comfortably Unaware Facebook page as well as on my blog site:

John Wadford RD/PHD commented on Not Entirely Perfect in “The Land of Oz”.

“Actually Dairy and meat are healthy for us and not bad. Moderation is the key because if you over-eat thats when you get obese. No diseases are linked to meat or animal products. Thats a vegan lie and myth. Quit being a liar and saying meat and animal products are bad. I have taken numerous nutrition courses and I know whats good and bad. Limit carbs and junk food and fast food. You will be fine. Eat red meat twice a week and other days eat lean chicken and fish. Been proven very healthy. Eat veggies and fruits as sides/snacks.”

And my response:

I am pleased to see your correspondence, Dr. Wadford, because it brings to light interrelated issues for me along this journey. One is just how difficult my mission can be while disseminating information about the reality of our food choices. With your comments, we are witnessing a seemingly intelligent, learned individual such as yourself (“RD, PhD”), who somehow has missed the boat with the thousands of peer reviewed articles, studies, findings, and conclusions of scientists worldwide for the past 40 years as well as the position statements of every health organization in the world today that now recognize the benefits of a plant based diet.

Since you are an RD, and assuming that refers to a Registered Dietician (having, as you stated, “taken numerous nutrition courses” and “know what’s good and bad”), I thought I would provide you with the Position Statement of the American Dietetic Association, the governing body for licensing of at least one of your credentials, copied from their Journal published three years ago. This Position Statement is essentially the same statement they had initially made six years earlier that I’m sure you have seen, and one that every RD should certainly already be familiar with:

“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Vegetarian diets are often associated with a number of health advantages, including lower blood cholesterol levels, lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure levels, and lower risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) and lower overall cancer rates. Vegetarian diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, and have higher levels of dietary fiber, magnesium and potassium, vitamins C and E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids, and other phytochemicals. These nutritional differences may explain some of the health advantages of those following a varied, balanced vegetarian diet. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes. A vegetarian diet is defined as one that does not include meat (including fowl) or seafood, or products containing those foods.” J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109:1266-1282.

Some of the many obvious questions and suggestions that arise for me following the reading of your comments are (with an honest attempt at subduing any sarcasm):

  1.  What educational institutions were you attending and what subjects were you studying to have information such as found in the above Position Statement overlooked?
  2.  It seems that before you would accuse a researcher such as me, as a “liar” and “spreading vegan myths”, and you make rash and blatantly false statements such as “no diseases are linked to meat or animal products” you should do some homework on the updated subject (although even in Plato’s era 2,000 to 3,000 years ago, it was known that eating only plant based foods was much healthier than the raising and killing of animals for their ‘Republic’).
  3.  Your comment to “eat red meat twice a week and other days eat lean chicken and fish. You’ll be fine. Been proven very healthy”, indicates to me that you and those with similar thoughts need to rethink how you are approaching your own eating habits let alone those of others, and make a solid attempt at enlightening yourselves to the origins of your food choices—and the ill effects on our planet, animals, and ourselves. This will obviously require a serious reconstructing of those factors that influence you and your decision-making—all those cultural or emotional hurdles that haven’t allowed you to see clearly or be open to what is in front of you (ie. reread the Oz blog now and try to view it more correctly as reality instead of propaganda and you will learn something valuable and meaningful).
  4.  Remember that it is not just human health that I am concerned about and therefore am conveying—it is the health of our planet, our resources, and all life we share this Earth with as well.

Even the overtly sluggish and highly political USDA has had to succumb to the preponderance of evidence of the many health benefits of a purely plant based diet. On June 2, 2011, they introduced a version of the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine’s vegan dietary guidelines with the Food Plate—leaving “dairy” off the plate, demoted to a small peripheral position, and completely replacing “meat and seafood” with the section called “protein” which more appropriately guides U.S. citizens toward healthier plant based alternatives.

Remember, Dr. Wadford, that the evidence had to be so overwhelming for the USDA to ignore its strong political ties to the meat, dairy, and fishing industries in order to recommend this new plant based food plate.

Yet, somewhere along the way, you and all other like minded registered dieticians, physicians, educators, authors, politicians, organizations, media, and general public have allowed some other form of influence—most likely cultural, social, and psychological—to suppress the overwhelming abundance of facts and findings that from a human health standpoint, eating animal products carries with it a significant risk of contracting any or all of the four most common diseases in our country (coronary heart disease, malignancies, cerebrovascular disease, and diabetes) as well as any one of the five most common cancers (colon, lung, breast, pancreatic, and prostate) as well as numerous other disease states and precursors such as hypertension and obesity.  Once again, this is not my opinion—it reflects the findings and opinions of every major health organization in the world.

The blog I posted about Dr. Oz that elicited your comments also made it clear that even if eating animals were healthy for us (which, obviously is a myth), it is not healthy at all for our environment—grass fed/pastured or not. It is also not healthy for the other species of living things lost along the way (livestock are implicated in over 50% of all lost biodiversity including 30,000 newly extinct animal species per year) or for the animals raised in the process.  Even if livestock are raised “humanely,” they are still slaughtered—which, for all but the anthropocentric, could only be considered entirely inhumane if not barbaric.

Since there are very few who understand the argument of how our demand to eat animals—whether in factory farm settings or not—adversely impacts our planet, it becomes more of the focal point of my lectures, blogs, and books. I happen to call it Global Depletion, but it is essentially about sustainability. Eating animals is simply not sustainable. I have recently introduced and am now advocating use of the term relative sustainability because raising, slaughtering, and eating billions animals factually uses resources, some irreversibly, that we can ill afford to lose—and there are many plant based options that are much kinder to our planet. So while I pointed out that Dr. Oz needs to reevaluate his advocating beef and fish from a human health standpoint, it was also from an ecological point of view that he has never favorably or correctly positioned in the equation. All the facts and figures related to Global Depletion can be found in my first book, Comfortably Unaware and in my lectures, found at www.ComfortablyUnaware.com, –which, once more, are factual reflections of the state of our planet—not simply my opinion.

And lastly to what can be seen as your lack of understanding or appreciation for the overall intent of the Dr. Oz blog, as being one component of the larger picture of my incentive to increase awareness. My objective with that particular blog and in general is quite simple—to provide a healthier and more peaceful food choice path for everyone. It is not about creating arguments or debates. However, it is also not about supporting an archaic animal based food production system purely because of universally found and culturally influenced myopia. Quite simply, eating animals IN ANY FASHION uses too much land, energy, and water, creates unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions, is responsible for a massive loss of biodiversity, plays a significant role in world hunger, and justifies the inhumane slaughtering of billions of animals annually—all while increasing the risk of contracting many disease states after consumption. This is not about generating debates where one faction is ill informed and emotionally driven, it’s about perpetuating a better way for all of us, including you, to eat and live.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to further assess the barriers we confront while inspiring others to become aware.

Dr. O

Bizarre Foods, Andrew Zimmern, and the Head of a Octopus

ImageKnowing I would have never seen it otherwise, someone asked me to watch an episode of Bizarre Foods, the wildly popular program hosted by Andrew Zimmern, whose professed creed is “if it looks good, eat it”—leaving one to wonder what his definition of “looks good” could possibly be based on.  In any event, this is what I observed from that episode:

Andrew begins by walking into a crowded, noisy restaurant in Japan sitting down between two people on a stool at a counter—behind which, the cooking is accomplished for all to see. Zimmern states that this is why he “loves restaurants in Japan” because of “their noise and also freshness of seafood.” The camera then, on cue from the “freshness” comment, turns to capture the chef pulling an octopus out of a pan on the floor. The octopus was, of course, very “fresh” and very alive as it gracefully and purposefully moved the tips of its eight legs, gently up and down the chef’s hands and arms as the animal tried to assimilate textures, colors, and temperatures, attempting to make sense out of its new surroundings. That’s what octopuses (or octopi) do. They are quite intelligent beings with a large cognitive brain and complex sensory input mechanisms that researchers have recently found to be able to problem solve. They can gather information, process it, and then implement well thought out functions. Female octopuses are very sensitive with a strong maternal instinct—so strong that they mandatorily give up their life in the process of having offspring and protecting them after birth.

The Bizarre Foods’ camera crew then moved back to Zimmern. The person sitting in the next stool put her hand on his baldhead and said “the octopus has a head like yours”, referring to Zimmern’s shiny, hairless scalp. A good laugh ensued while the camera focused on the chef pushing the octopus down with both his hands into a pot of boiling oil over a red-hot burner in order to kill and cook the poor unsuspecting octopus.

We weren’t allowed to see how the octopus reacted to being held in oil as it was being boiled to death—portions to be then later served for Zimmern to eat.  Imagine, for just a moment, what that octopus must have experienced as it went from attempting to carefully feel, see, interpret, and adapt to the chef’s hands with the thousands of sensory receptors on its legs—sending those inputs to an intelligent and quickly processing brain—to the next moment of being forcefully held in boiling oil, scalded to death. Actually, you can’t really imagine it, because you are not an octopus.

Although we are still learning about octopuses, (while killing 2.5 million tons of them and other cephalopods such as squid each year) it is has been quite well established that they are very sentient beings that feel and think in ways we do not understand. It can also be said that like all animals, octopuses only eat what they need to in order to survive. They kill only because they NEED to and without knowing that they are inflicting pain or suffering on any other living thing—quite unlike Andrew Zimmern and 98% of all other humans on this planet who kill because they WANT to kill, and then eat whatever it was that they just killed. All this, for no nutritional reason (there are many plant based foods that are infinitely healthier for us to consume). So, no, the person sitting next to Zimmern was not correct with her comment to him. The octopus does NOT have a “head” like his.

More About the Octopus:

The common octopus (vulgaris) is found in many oceans worldwide. Although found frequently in numerous sushi restaurants in the United States and elsewhere in the world, it would be rare to know exactly what species you are eating.  All octopus species are suffering from overfishing, especially in the fisheries of Mauritania, Vietnam, and Japan. All researchers agree that octopus is a poorly understood species with no fishery management and dwindling numbers. They are also caught in large numbers as bykill with long line and other fishing methods.

The majority of octopuses are caught by bottom trawling techniques, where (in addition to loss of octopus species) further damage is done to sea beds, other species, and interdependent ecosystems. Although little is known about octopus, much is known about the detrimental impact that bottom trawling inflicts on delicate and sensitive seafloor habitats. Isn’t that a curious but commonly seen combination of factors regarding what we decide to eat as a global society—we know very little about the species we are killing, knowingly ruin ecosystems and other wildlife in the process, in order to consume something we call food. This “food” though, is in reality, vastly inferior to plants that we could be eating, from a nutritional standpoint. The highly respected Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch (MBASW) places a “Good Alternative” recommendation for octopus, especially if they are captured from Hawaii or the Gulf of California, despite admitting in their Summary that octopus, “suffer from a lack of solid information and little or no fishery management.”

Given that this statement is accurate, it becomes just another frustrating example of the dichotomy created by guiding institutions that we consider to be leaders.

I am still waiting for the proper management of information to be accomplished and then disseminated by those in positions of informational power such as MBASW. Something along these lines would be nice to hear: “As with all sealife and consistent with other researchers, we at Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch admit to knowing very little about the octopus or the effects of our attempts at capturing them have on all the ecosystems and habitats involved. Therefore it is our humble opinion that we should stop all harvesting activities of octopus and any methods of fishing that affect them or their habitat such as trawling and long line operations that find them as bykill. Of course these fishing activities in pursuit of octopus are propelled by, and begin with, our demand to eat them—so it is our strong recommendation that the ordering and consumption of octopus ends.”

Yes, wouldn’t that be nice. And, appropriate.

More About Andrew Zimmern:

I need to somewhat apologize if this blog seems to weigh too heavily on the animal rights or animal sensitivity theme and if it appears to be too harsh towards Zimmern. However, he and his show are manifestations of our generalized lack of awareness and greater lack of compassion. This is more than worrisome to me. It’s time we convey the true sad state of our media—who it is that is awarded platforms and what they have to say about the food we eat. It is critical that we speak out about this imbalance of public information.

Zimmern is an award winning monthly columnist for magazines, a journalist with numerous national and international publications, spokesperson for large corporations, an acclaimed author of many books, and now has a highly popular television program for which he is the producer, writer, and host. In 2010, Zimmern even won the prestigious James Beard Award for ‘Outstanding Television Food Personality.’

With all those accolades comes the stark realization that we are a society of skewed virtues and archaic behavior, if not a collective intellectual void. I am struggling to find other ways to describe this.

Zimmern’s pilot show on November 1, 2006 (the ‘test’ show where it is either accepted as a potential hit or quickly discarded as another flop) was a solid indicator of what was to come. That first show highlighted Zimmern eating what he and the indigenous people considered ‘food’ from Japan, Malaysia, and Thailand. He proceeded to eat fish bladder, turtle (most likely an endangered species), frog ovary, and even the beating heart of a frog –sashimi (fresh). He revealed all of this in a positive, enthusiastically supportive manner as he does in all of his subsequent shows because this very first one was so successful, it served as the catalyst. In the next two episodes, Zimmern showed his growing audience how acceptable and enjoyable it was to eat lamb tongue and eye, soup made from a bull’s rectum and testicles, a pie made of pigeons, a calf’s brain and a cow’s heart, stuffed pig pancreas, more frog, and even balut—a duck embryo (pre hatched chick) that was boiled alive in its shell. Somewhere buried in each of these segments, he will throw in a brief comment about a unique fruit. For instance in the first three full episodes, he spent a conciliatory minute or so introducing the calamondin and durian.

I am writing this in complete amazement, utter disbelief, and true embarrassment of how we as a society can place this person and his work in such high esteem for not merely perpetuating, but essentially sensationalizing the gruesome, medieval act of torturing, slaughtering, and eating creatures that, if they had a choice, would certainly run, fly, or swim in the other direction—away from this predator. But, it is not Zimmern who is at fault here for doing anything wrong, it is clearly us. We are the ones condoning this and that are more interested in seeing the “bizarre” as it relates to killing and eating animals or body parts of animals than we are in perhaps learning about bizarre or unusual plants—plants that are not only unique (‘bizarre’) but also that are healthy to our planet or to us. Why can’t we be interested in hearing about plants such as the sacha inchi seed or acai berry that can be grown in the rainforests sustainably and provide some of the most powerful phytonutrients and healthy micronutrients found in the world, or how teff an ancient grain from the highlands of Ethiopia might be grown to help reduce world hunger and poverty in that region and elsewhere, or unique plants that can be eaten to cure diseases—but then, I almost forgot…this would be considered ‘educational’ instead of simply mindless entertainment and therefore most likely not tolerated or even accepted by the populace.  After all, Zimmern knows what the audience wants to watch and that’s why he is successful—at least from an economic and popularity standpoint. This fact, and of course the shows themselves (now that I’ve seen a one or two of them), make me so very sad on many levels. Please no offense to Andrew Zimmern himself, but my thought is that we, as an intelligent, compassionate society with a conscience—a society deeply concerned about all living things that we share this planet with—should have taken that very first Bizarre Foods ‘pilot’ show and buried it swiftly and deeply in a hole in the ground so as to not ever have to admit that one of our kind produced it.

Please stay tuned as we return to more topics of Comfortably Unaware soon, inspiring others to become aware—and compassionate!

Not Entirely Perfect in “The Land of Oz”

Mehmet Oz, “Dr. Oz” of current media fame and respected talk show host, has brought to light numerous important topics related to our health and medicine. For this, he is to be commended. However, because he and his show have reached such superstar status, it is imperative that the crucial message about what food we eat be truly accurate—on all counts. This, then, would mandate him giving equal time to the negative impact eating all animal products has on our health and that of our planet. This, unfortunately, has not been the case.

Just one of many examples of this informational imbalance was seen with Time magazine and its September 12, 2011 issue, where the front cover displayed the title, “What to Eat Now, uncovering the myths about food, by Dr. Oz.” As a “Special Nutrition Issue” and read by minimally 25 million people globally, I had hoped that full enlightenment and complete accuracy would be the objective.  At the onset, Dr. Oz stated, “You’ll like some of the insights, and you won’t like others. Unlike fads and fashions, the facts aren’t going anywhere soon.” With this introduction, he then proceeds to tell us “Want to get healthy, then tuck into some eggs, whole milk, salt, fat…”

Unfortunately, this is not true for our health, nor is it true for the environment. He stresses “moderation” with advice of consuming “two servings of dairy, 18 oz. of red meat” as being “healthy” but more than that, it will “deny you the benefits of getting more of your protein from fish.” Our food choices are inextricably connected to our planet’s resources and to ourselves. Discussions of any sort then, let alone with this scale of audience, should never separate what we eat from the comprehensiveness of its impact. So someone should remind Dr. Oz that all dairy products have been implicated in numerous disease states in addition to simply “weight gain” (the only effect he mentioned) and the same is true of all other animal products. Eating meat contributes to a 27% increase risk of obesity. (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Diets High in Meat Consumption Associated With Obesity, September 2009, “International Journal of Obesity”: Meat Consumption is Associated With Obesity and Central Obesity among U.S. Adults: Youfa Wang, et. al. June 2009)

Additionally, the entire article missed the crucial point of the effect our food choices have on our resources. It really doesn’t matter what impact “18 oz. of red meat” will have on us if it is destroying the planet by way of land and water use, pollution, and loss of other species on earth, does it? And guiding readers from red meat to consuming fish for “getting more of your protein” because they are “rich in omega 3 fatty acids” is simply furthering the false belief that animal products are the only healthy source of protein—which, they are not even one “healthy” source of protein. By making these statements, Dr. Oz also is perpetuating the unnecessary continued ravaging of our oceans and their ecosystems. We do not need fish for their “protein”, and we do not need them for omega 3 fatty acids. On the other hand, we do need plants and microalgae for their protein, omega three fatty acids, phytonutrients, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and for their lack of saturated fat, cholesterol, and for not inflicting a detrimental impact on our oceans. With his television show and many public appearances, Dr. Oz has enlightened millions of viewers about health and medicine. For the most part, this has been a positive addition to what our entertainment driven (and influenced) culture offers. However, this recent and extremely visible article in Time magazine did little to move our country or the world in the correct and healthier direction toward a fully plant based diet. Let’s make sure the realities of our food choices are fully known—here, or in the Land of Oz.

Please read other examples of filtered information derived from those with public platforms in Chapter IX. “Tread Lightly” of my book Comfortably Unaware, and then inspire others to become aware!   Dr. O

Just Let Them Live: the simple fallacy of omega 3s

We continue eating fish and exploiting sea life for many reasons. Along with strong cultural and societal influences, the recent impetus has been for their omega 3 content. We all know that these essential fatty acids are very important (referred to as “essential” because they are necessary for proper functioning of various cells, organs, and systems and our bodies are unable to produce them, therefore having to be obtained from our diet). However, it is how and from where we obtain them that are even more important. For instance, a 3 oz. serving of unsustainable Cod as a source provides 150-200 mg. of omega 3s, whereas one tablespoon of very sustainable Chia seeds provides over 2,000mg of omega 3s. Some of you may want me to discuss conversion ratios of alpha linolenic acid (ALA, the type of omega 3 found in plants) to DHA and EPA (the two primary forms of omega 3 found in fish), and that’s fine because the numbers are still there. And, what about flax seeds with 1,200 mg per tablespoon, walnuts, or hemp? All are exceptional sources of omega 3s as well.

If you view this with a different but more accurate perspective, we all need to understand that no fish actually has omega 3 fatty acids themselves. And, therein lies the fallacy.

Not one fish produces omega 3s on their own.  Omega 3 fatty acids are found in microalgae or plants, which every fish has to eat in order to obtain them. Or, they need to eat other smaller fish that have consumed microalgae along the way.

So, in addition to finding omega 3s in plants, why don’t we just start going right to the source ourselves? My thought is that all those concerned should eat microalgae, like spirulina or chlorella, and skip right past fish and the ecological baggage that comes with producing and harvesting them, and bypass the health issues with consuming them. Just let them live.

Ninety seven percent of the world’s population eats fish. And, if you eat fish primarily because it’s healthy for you, then perhaps you should take a closer look at just what those health benefits are. Every fish you eat has saturated fat and cholesterol. Also, no fish has phytonutrients or fiber. Both are some of the most beneficial substances you could consume. Phytonutrients are those substances that will improve your immune system, reduce the likelihood you’ll develop cancer, and provide you with anti-inflammatory properties. All of these properties are extremely important and can be found only in plants. Thus far, we are not doing so well with the “healthy” aspect of fish are we? Fish higher up on the food chain, such as tuna, and those living the longest will have a large probability of containing higher levels of heavy metals, dioxin, and PCB contamination. And all fish caught anywhere in our oceans will contribute to bykill and the loss of interdependent and poorly understood ecosystems. But there are those omega 3s everyone is talking about, aren’t there? Remember though, you can get them from plants.

Forty seven percent of all fish consumed in the world today come from aquaculture (fish farms), which are growing faster than any other food sector. All fish grown on fish farms need artificial supplementation to obtain omega 3s. Typically, these factory farmed fish require a diet of fish meal, fish oil, and whole fish that were taken out of our already heavily depleted oceans in order for them to achieve appreciable amounts of both DHA and EPA. In fact, 87% of all fish oil and 53% of all fish oil produced in the world is fed to factory-farmed fish.

What about omega 6’s or 9’s? Do you need these? Omega 6, Linoleic Acid (LA), is an essential fatty acid as well—you need it, but in less amounts than what the typical person in our country is consuming. The healthy ratio of omega 6 fatty acid intake to omega 3 fatty acid is 4 to 1. But our current average intake is in a ratio of nearly 20 to 1, because of all the various foods we consume that have been made with heavy amounts of canola, corn, and other types of vegetable oils, and processing which tend to contain large amounts of omega 6 fatty acids. Linoleic acid is an upregulator of inflammation. Your body does need LA but not in such large amounts and not so imbalanced. That’s where omega 3s come in—which are down regulators of inflammation. Meaning, they suppress inflammation. So omega 3s help reduce your likelihood of developing chronic diseases of inflammation such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, etc. But always keep in mind that any animal products you eat actually contribute to the development of these diseases so rather than an over focus on intake of omega 3s you should be first looking at reducing intake of inflammation promoting products derived from animals. Meaning all animals—livestock, chickens, and fish.

Omega 9, or oleic acid such as found in olive oil, is another important fatty acid but your body can produce it from other unsaturated fatty acids so it is not considered essential. It’s also interesting to note that olive oil’s well documented healing properties and health benefits are from its high amount of polyphenols (antioxidants) from the olive plant itself—not from the fatty acid or oil content directly.

Here are some additional insights. When you consume alpha linolenic acid (from chia, flax, hemp, walnuts, green leafy vegetables, etc.), your body converts it to DHA and EPA at a rate of 1-9%, but 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines has recommendations of ALA at 1.1-1.6 g/day because your brain only needs 3.8 mg and your body can store and assimilate DHA/EPA (converted from ALA or otherwise) for up to 2 yrs—with a half life of two to five years. And, once again, there are over 2 grams (2,000 mg) of omega 3s from ALA in just one tablespoon of chia seeds. Omega 6 (LA) competes with conversion of ALA to DHA/EPA if omega 6 to omega 3 intake ratios are more than 4:1, therefore impeding your body’s ability to assimilate and use omega 3. Minerals such as zinc, selenium, magnesium as well as all vitamin Bs, and C also help with absorption of omega 3s from plants.

If you do skip fish and go right to the source, you could eat microalgae such as spirulina—used by the Aztecs and in Chad dating back to the 9th century. Spirulina has omega 3s in the form of DHA, EPA, and ALA, numerous phytonutrients like beta carotene and a complete amino acid profile with low amounts of methionine and cysteine (two amino acids found in all animal products that contribute to various disease states). Spirulina has shown to have strong anti-inflammatory effects, cardiovascular benefits, and has even demonstrated to slow the progression of HIV by inhibiting replication. For those concerned about protein—ounce for ounce, spirulina has four times more protein than fish, chicken, pork, or beef. It is also a source of vitamin B12 and is easily digested. It is one of the richest, most nutrient dense of all whole foods with over 2000 enzymes and phytonutrients. In terms of global growing applications and with respect to the potential for global depletion, spirulina can produce up to 1500 times more protein per acre than beef and it grows in both salt and fresh water.

Chlorella is another great choice for omega 3s, providing two to three times as much protein as fish or other animal products with all essential amino acids, vitamin B12, and many other vitamins and minerals.

The average American eats 16 pounds of fish per year but the 2010 USDA Guidelines recommends doubling the amount of seafood we eat because of “health benefits”. Health benefits to us? To our planet? To the fishing industry? Our country consumed 5 billion pounds of seafood in 2010. Perhaps it would make sense for the USDA to inform consumers of all the health benefits of eating plant based foods, the many and significant advantages these foods have over eating fish, and emphasize the continued global depletion that occurs with every bite of fish that we take. It also, then, would make sense for all influential organizations and our media to spend at least the same amount of time disseminating the reality of the negative effects of our choice to eat fish as is spent on them being a source of omega 3s. Everyone needs to know the full impact eating fish has on the health of our planet and on our own health. It is time to become aware. Instead of mass producing, harvesting, catching, killing and eating fish—just let them live.

Assembly Bill 376, Shark Fins, and You

This is a bizarre story that connects the dots between three choices: food, behavior, and legislature. And, it begins with the demand for shark fin soup, weaving its way through indifference and lands on the table of a politician who, along with increasing public awareness on this subject, can begin to heal a wound. Although we are not discussing a cuddly animal like the Koala or baby seal, we are talking about another living thing on earth that is in trouble. And we are directly implicated in its demise. Worldwide, 73 million sharks are killed each year, which is causing nearly one third of all shark species to become seriously endangered and on the edge of extinction. How are we able to justify the killing of 73 million sharks or any other species?

The IUCN Red List concludes that 65% of the 181 shark species are threatened.  Most of the 73 million sharks slaughtered each year are due to a growing demand for shark fin soup although an unknown but nearly as high amount are also killed each year as bykill and simply out of hostility against the species by fishermen. The fin itself is of no nutritional value, tasteless, and is considered more of a garnish, a byproduct of cultural influence, which renders the soup as a food of celebration here and abroad. The usual method of killing all these sharks, “shark finning”, is by catching them, slicing their fin and tails off and then throwing the bleeding body overboard, still alive and unable to swim. I am always deeply saddened to learn of just one more of the many thoughtless and barbaric acts that we humans carry out under the guise of food.

Although shark finning is illegal in the U.S. and at least 60 other countries, monitoring and enforcement of the ban is essentially non-existent.
As predators, sharks have a responsibility and a position in the web of sea life.  From the oxygen producing phytoplankton through all other layers and species of life to the top of the chain, all species have unique and vital roles to play in maintaining the health of our planet. There is strong consensus among researchers that they only understand a fraction of the vast nature of sea life and by killing off an entire species, especially sharks, a ‘cascading’ effect will occur, changing forever the balance of ecosystems and production of oxygen.  Sharks have been on Earth for more than 400 million years, at the top of the oceanic food chain and with self-regulatory mechanisms for their own population numbers. For all those millions of years, nature has had a divine way of creating balance in all ecosystems. In the past 100 years, however, we have decided that within each of our own individualized and very brief few decades of life on this earth, all of the planet’s resources are apparently ours to take. This is, of course, irrespective of the effect on all other complex and intertwining ecosystems—or the effect on future generations of life on earth. And this approach, in its entirety, is generated by our inappropriate choice of foods. It may be considered a ‘sport’ or livelihood or even as gruesome entertainment by some, but the act of shark finning and fishing of all types, on all levels, is typically undertaken because of what we decide to eat and it is not a requirement. What a shame, considering there are an infinite amount of healthier and more peaceful alternatives from plant-based foods. There is an obvious need to increase global awareness of this terrible plight of sharks, just one more aspect of Global Depletion. We must spread the word regarding their unnecessary destruction and help Defenders of Wildlife and other organizations with their campaign on behalf of sharks, our oceans, our planet, and ourselves. Get involved, sign the petition below directed at Governor Jerry Brown of California for Assembly Bill 376. If it fails, as did the review process for granting endangered species status for the Blue Fin Tuna, then we need to begin this, or another process all over again, until we get it right. Let’s make a difference. It is our inherent duty.

Let Jerry Brown know you care:

http://www.therainforestsite.com/clickToGive/campaign.faces?siteId=4&campaign=DOW-SharkFinning&ThirdPartyClicks=ETE_061111_DOW-SharkFinning_F

And, become more aware:

http://www.sharkwater.com/education.htm

http://www.seashepherd.org/sharks/

The story behind the scenes: about Bluefin Tuna, about us.

Why should you care about this story? After all, we are just talking about a fish, right? I believe this is much more than a story about a fish or specifically the Bluefin tuna—it’s a relevant indicator of how far we possibly have fallen from a rational, caring, sensitive, and respectful society with regard to other living things that we share our planet with. This year, 30,000 different species of animals will become extinct (as well as numerous insects and plants). And, although pollution and poorly planned urban sprawl are factors, the largest single contributing force is your choice of foods as it involves animals—which creates pastured or grazing livestock on land and unsustainable fishing practices in our oceans. You most likely aren’t aware of these statistics or reasons because there has been suppression and mismanagement of information of this type as well as general indifference. I strongly believe, though, that it’s time to increase our collective understanding about topics such as this and begin to effect positive change.

It was announced last Friday (May 27) by the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), that Bluefin tuna would not be listed as endangered despite losing 90% of its numbers. This endangered status would have provided the much-needed legal protection in hope of recovery. The tragic decline of this beautiful fish is due to overfishing and illegal practices, poorly designed and ignored ‘quotas’ and false reporting, lack of understanding the species’ complex life, and of course our inappropriate choice of food and the demand for sushi. Even though numerous countries including the U.S. actively harvest Bluefin tuna, Japan purchases 80% of the world’s supply and vehemently opposes any ban or restrictions on tuna. This is a very sad day for these majestic fish, but even a sadder day for all of us in making this illogical decision as stewards of our planet. I, for one, am deeply embarrassed. Embarrassed on two levels. One is that we have relentlessly caught and killed Bluefin tuna to the point of near extinction, strictly because we want to eat them—essentially due to an unnecessary, acquired taste and habit. There is no ‘need’ anywhere in the equation here. And, second, without granting an “endangered” status, we have failed at an opportunity to right a wrong—oblivious and apathetic to what we are doing to another living species on Earth.

There are a couple of key aspects to understanding the full story. First, is a review of why there has been such a massive loss of Bluefin Tuna, and second is how we have managed the problem. Let’s look first, then, at why this fish species has all but disappeared. The story begins with the fact that humans enjoy eating fish, especially tuna. And, similar to many other stories regarding our eating habits as it involves animals, that “enjoyment” or demand creates a powerful economic motive, which then manifests itself in cultural, social, psychological reinforcement as a dietary “need.” This eventually creates skewed, and often illogical policy making to ensure that dietary demand is met with supply. These policies are typically tunnel visioned and multi national in nature because no one country could be seen stepping outside of the box of convention.

Bluefin Tuna grow up to 14 ft in length, weigh up to ½ ton, and can swim 50 mph for long distances, which is why their stocks are governed by an organization composed of many countries, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna, based in Spain. The tuna are managed as two stocks—the western Atlantic and eastern Atlantic which includes Mediterranean Bluefin tuna. For the past 40 years, Bluefin tuna have been caught and eaten without regard to potential extinction. Although many are harpooned and caught by big game fisherman, most commercial vessels catch them by using long line and purse seine techniques (dropping a mile long net and circling a large school of tuna with a boat, catching the entire school and all other sea life that happen to be present-dolphins, sea birds, endangered turtles, etc.). Many more Bluefin tuna have been killed each year than are reproduced—with up to 150,000 tons of total tuna killed in just one year alone. Annual cumulative ‘declared’ catch amounts by tuna fishing vessels from 2006 through 2009 ranged from 21,000 tons to 35,000 tons although the ICCAT admits now that “catches of Bluefin tuna have been seriously underreported” with catches in the Mediterranean area alone now being more realistically estimated at 61,000 tons per year.  The current recommended yearly “sustainable” catch rate by the ICCAT, is 13,500 tons, which is absurd, since there already has proven to be no accurate reporting methods and no enforcement protocols—thus leading to the decimation that is seen today. Committee members admit that “given the quantified uncertainties, the Bluefin tuna stock would not be expected to rebuild by 2019 even with no fishing”, and some scientists predict without protection, the species will become extinct in the Mediterranean by the end of next year (2012). They have already been fished to extinction in the Black and Caspian Seas. Most researchers without economic ties to the tuna fishing industry agree that they do not fully understand the complex life of the Bluefin and associated ecosystems. Many are concerned that their numbers are under further duress because of the BP oil spill and long line activity throughout the species’ spawning grounds in the Gulf of Mexico. Many long line fishing in that area use multi barbed nets that can extend up to 25 miles long catching blue fin tuna and other sea life as bykill. Despite all of the facts, the ICCAT and NOAA feel that this fish needs no protection—hence, the fateful decision last Friday. For the past few months, a review process had been established to help determine whether to grant an endangered species status to the Bluefin tuna. This review was conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and then submitted to the NOAA for final determination. Much of the final decision was based on the result of interviews requested by the NMFS of the tuna fishing industry itself—those fishermen whose livelihood depend on catching these fish. Those who, no doubt, eat these fish themselves. The following is an excerpt taken directly from the formal correspondence to all commercial tuna fishermen, for a determination meeting about the Bluefin tuna:

Questions attendees may consider include the following: What are your general impressions of the abundance and distribution of Atlantic bluefin tuna over time? If you have experienced a decline or increase in bluefin tuna catches, what do you attribute this to (abundance, distribution, availability, gear changes, regulatory effects, etc.)? Are there particular areas where you typically encounter larger numbers of bluefin tuna? If so, where are they (e.g., inshore or offshore)? Do these areas change on an annual basis? What is the average size of bluefin tuna being caught by different gear types or fisheries? Written comments may also be sent to: National Marine Fisheries Service, Northeast Regional Office, Protected Resources Division, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930.

Unbelievable, isn’t it? Let’s ask the Bluefin tuna fishermen a series of questions to see if they think what they catch everyday for their income and food, should be taken away from them. Brilliant.

One single Bluefin tuna—just one of these fish—may be sold for up to $50,000-$100,000. What can be said about a society or a world that facilitates and then condones extinctions because of greed? In the case of Bluefin tuna and most other endangered animals that we eat, there is no physiologic need whatsoever for us to consume and therefore kill them—it is a fabrication of our culture. The protein and omega three fatty acids everyone expects to get by eating sliced tissue from one of these great fish can easily be found in plant foods and without inflicting pain, suffering or devastation of a species or loss of other interrelated ecosystems. Chia seeds, ground flax seeds, spirulina, and chlorella all have more omega three content per ounce than fish. And, all plant foods will provide you with much-needed fiber and phytonutrients—neither of which can be found in any fish.  Also, every fish has unwanted cholesterol and saturated fat.

Rich Ruais, executive director of the American Bluefin Tuna Association stated, “There are over 5,000 commercial and 15,000 recreational tuna fishermen just in the U.S. stretching from Maine to Texas, and they are relieved NOAA didn’t give the fish an endangered status.” And in the event any one still wonders if politics ever play a role in decisions about food choice and eventual loss of biodiversity, I present the following: “Listing the Bluefin as threatened or endangered would have jeopardized the livelihood of tuna fishermen,” said Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine. What else needs to be said?

It’s time we increase the awareness of others, write our senators and members of congress, set up and sign petitions, align ourselves with organizations such as the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, and others that truly care about our planet and other living things—it’s time to make a difference!