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

Advertisements

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

INSPIRE AWARENESS NOW, the non-profit is launched!

ImageInspire Awareness Now is a non-profit organization committed to improving the health and well being of our country and planet by way of food choice—solving many interrelated issues along the way. Inspire Awareness NOW (IAN) will create awareness and initiate sustainable systems where food is involved, reducing Global Depletion on all fronts. With some initiatives, IAN will merely provide information and educational assistance to essentially facilitate and enhance those services and projects already undertaken by the particular institution we are working with, serving as a catalyst for proper change. Other initiatives will demand that IAN serves as the primary provider because it may be the first project of its kind. Inherent in this goal is to develop more accurate definitions of what can be considered sustainable and then create change based on these more accurate definitions. In doing so, IAN will provide educational assistance and network with other institutions that are committed to planetary health, on many levels.

Over $2.3 trillion are spent on health care in our country each year while minimally half of that can be attributed to what we eat. At the same time, we are using our natural resources at an unsustainable rate. Over 78% of all agricultural land and 50% of all fresh water used in our country is used to produce livestock, which then after consumption is the major contributor to our health care crises. Globally, raising livestock occupies 38% of the entire landmass on earth and is the primary cause of the rapid loss of biodiversity—plants, insects, animals—we are seeing on earth (30,000 animal species are becoming extinct each year). The meat, dairy, and fishing industries are also one of the largest sectors affecting climate change. It is common knowledge that the 70 billion animals raised each year emit more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector—all the cars, trucks, planes, and trains in the world, and yet global beef, pork, and chicken production and consumption are expected to continue to increase. One to two trillion fish are taken from our oceans each year, causing irreversible damage to vital ecosystems. Many researchers agree that it would require 1.5 to 2 full earths to sustain what we are currently taking from and doing to our planet.

There are 1 billion people suffering from hunger in the world with 6 million children dying from starvation each year. At the same time, over half of the grain produced in the world, nearly 1 billion tons, is fed to livestock. Global food security is not an issue of production—it’s an issue of where all the food produced is going. Last year (2011), 77% of all coarse grain produced globally (oats, corn/maize, barley, sorghum, rye, millet) was given to animals.

Inspire Awareness Now views these as serious disconnects in levels of awareness and policy. Therefore, we help correct or solve these problems by educating, advocating change, and administering services to transition our current meat and dairy farming as well as fishing systems into organic or biodynamic plant based operations, which will result in much more efficient use of our nation’s water and land, and food supply while drastically reducing pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and fossil fuel use. Importantly, this transition will result in the increase in many more job opportunities in skilled labor, management, and education—all of which span the academic and previous job experience spectrum. By providing more green jobs, our initiative will ultimately have a positive impact on the 9% unemployment rate and the current 3% “structural” component of those who are jobless in the U.S. The envisioned goal is for a healthier economy, healthier and more productive population, a truly more sustainable food production system, a healthier country, and ultimately a healthier and more peaceful planet.

There are several notable organizations and movements to create healthier food choices and implement food productions systems. Institutions and communities are beginning to rally around concepts such as Real Food, local, farm-to-table, farm-to-campus, organic, biodynamic, sustainable seafood, grass and pasture fed, free range, traceable, small family farms, CSAs (community supported) and urban agriculture, and humane—all of which are fueled by the desire to move away from agribusiness and the previous 50 years of industrialized, profit-driven food production systems. However, none of these concepts or movements will be accurately considered successful long term if they include raising, slaughtering, and eating animals or harvesting fish out of our oceans or on land. Beyond the primary reasons implicit to their effect on Global Depletion, nearly all of these movements have precepts embedded in misinformation and inaccuracy. While operating with inherently good intentions, the results of these movements and organizations will never be optimal.

Although there are many reasons for this, it is essentially an issue of definition. What entity has deemed a food or production system as “sustainable?” What food can really be constituted as “sustainable?” In the case of grass fed, for instance, it is not a sustainable practice in many geographical regions or on a collective global basis long term from a land and water use, contribution to anthropometric greenhouse gas production, food security, and human health standpoints. And, yet, there is that stamp of approval, made primarily by those stakeholders in the meat and dairy industries—the National Cattleman’s Association, National Dairy Council, AGA, and individuals such as Michael Pollan and others with large audiences serving as experts or advisors to many organizations but who consumes beef and tuna, and raises grass fed cows themselves. Therefore, IAN introduces the concept of ‘Relative’ sustainability—how could our land, air, water, and other resources be best used to obtain a ‘more’ sustainable food product.

It is time that the wealth and wellness of a country or nation are measured not simply by economic standards but by the health of its natural resources, its people, and by the fact that truly sustainable systems, particularly those for producing food and caring for biodiversity, are properly defined and in place.  This then becomes our civilization’s new metric of success.

Please find out more about this very important organization at: http://inspireawarenessnow.org/

Let’s continue inspiring others to become aware…NOW!

Be Aware the Myth #1

ImageOccasionally, I will encounter individuals who have difficulty comprehending the concepts and facts about food choice that I relate in my lectures and book, or perhaps even question my intent. This is normal, in that I am presenting perspectives that are in direct conflict with what 98% of the world has mistakenly learned to accept as truth regarding this topic.  Unfortunately, these are the very same individuals who are wrapped in a complex and substantial layering of influences—cultural, social, psychological, economic, and political. These individuals are collectively consuming massive amounts of our planet’s resources while raising and slaughtering billions of livestock and fish, and thus are the primary contributors to Global Depletion.  We need to change that.

If you grew up being told by your family, and later on by society, that blood letting would cure an infection (which was the case for nearly two thousand years until the late nineteenth century), the chances are quite high that you would not understand or believe a person who came along trying to explain to the masses that a simple antibiotic pill would cure you—while blood letting may, on the other hand, kill you. How could that be?

It’s time I address all those believers in blood letting that I have encountered or will encounter, by responding directly to one of the more recent communications we have received below. The subtopic is about grass fed livestock, however his remarks and tone strike a bit deeper, displaying perpetuated belief systems that tend to foster barriers to finding reality, combined with a pronounced reluctance to change—all too commonly found in our global society.

The following is from “Tom”, as posted on You Tube and our Comfortably Unaware Facebook page and copied for you to see below:

“This isn’t a lecture, it’s a sermon. No facts just a totally disorganized clinging to his uninformed biased self-evident beliefs. Livestock’s Long Shadow didn’t address pasture raised beef at all but focused on modern conventional industrialized chemically fertilized feed crop production that raised animals in CAFOs, the total opposite of pasture raised operations that sequester tons of carbon on pasture every year. His example of raising a cow on 2-20 acres assumes that the cow is on a lot.”

And, my response:

Tom, I am truly sorry you feel that way, having essentially missed the entire central theme of my lecture, book, and message. It is NOT about the 2006 United Nations L.E.A.D. Committee’s report, Livestock’s Long Shadow (which actually did account for grazing livestock, but underestimated their methane and respiratory carbon dioxide production and therefore minimized their contribution to global anthropometric greenhouse gas emissions). My message is about the foods we choose to eat and the effect is has on Global Depletion. It’s about aspects I have uncovered over the past 40 years researching this subject, beginning with the fact that our planet is unhealthy and so are we. My intent is to simply relate these facts to audiences in order to increase awareness, which will ultimately lead to better health. For better context, please see a full lecture at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drS5hHdelR8&feature=related

And, then, perhaps listen more carefully to the one section “The Myth About Grass Fed Beef: Is it Sustainable” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VoqHmd32XxI&feature=channel_video_title or read my book, “Comfortably Unaware.”

Global Depletion is a term I use to describe the loss of our primary resources on Earth as well as our own health due to food choice. It’s still about sustainability, just from a different direction. The single largest contributor to Global Depletion is the raising, slaughtering, and eating of animals—over 70 billion livestock animals and 1-2 trillion fish (some researchers have estimated as many as 1.7 trillion chickens are raised and slaughtered in one year). I speak and write about how eating animals is negatively, and in many cases irreversibly, impacting world hunger, water scarcity, agricultural land use inefficiencies, loss of biodiversity, loss of our own health, and the ravaging of our oceans and fish. This stark reality is well documented by numerous organizations and researchers. Scientific literature is now replete with articles in each area I discuss, and easily accessible for those who wish to open their minds or take the time to hear it.

Regarding the grass fed argument of yours and other individuals, I have researched and visited over 150 various grass fed/pastured animal operations in the U.S. and many other countries. The numbers are always quite consistent, in that you cannot raise one grass fed cow on less than 2 to 20 acres. Even Polyface Farms and agriculture educational institutions with their “mob grazing” and “juvenile growth rotation” techniques cannot extract more than one cow per acre of land, which then produces not more than 480 pounds of an end product (“edible carcass weight”), that some consider food. During the 2 to 2 ½ or even 3 years required to raise that cow, you will need minimally 20,000 to 1,000,000 gallons of water (20,000 gallons for drinking and up to 1 to 2 million gallons for irrigating portions of your pasture which is necessary in many areas of the world), and you will have produced 3 to 4 tons of methane and carbon dioxide by way of enteric fermentation and respiration. After consuming this end animal product, you have created for yourself a 20-30% increased risk of contracting coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, any of the five most common cancers (colon, lung, breast, prostate, pancreatic and many more), diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, kidney and gall stones, diverticulosis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and many more diseases. This risk is from eating animal products and animal protein, which does not change if it is grass fed.

These reflections are not my “beliefs”, as you charged. Sadly, they are quite factual. Nearly one thousand researchers have found similar conclusions— independent of each other.

If you are defining a person who relates facts, as one who provides a “sermon”, then fine, my lecture must be a sermon.

And, finally, the only “self evident beliefs” I am guilty of conveying are the following:

  1. that all the damage we are doing to our planet by way of eating animals will end
  2. that people such as yourself, as improbable as it may seem, will ultimately become aware

I certainly appreciate your comments and providing me the opportunity to respond, as we collectively move forward, evolving toward a healthier and more peaceful planet. Dr. O

What Was Missed At Durban

ImageThe 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference concluded Sunday morning (December 11) in Durban, South Africa. Although there was the usual drama that accompanies these conferences, ministers finally reached an agreement on a new text, referred to as the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, that will see the Kyoto Protocol extended into a second commitment period by a number of countries. While this may seem promising, it marked the 17th time that a global climate change summit displayed the continued and blatant omission of addressing food choice as a significant factor.

In order to appreciate why this is so important we should first review what the event is all about. In 1997, 194 nations drafted and adopted the Kyoto Protocol—an international treaty developed from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to identify and mitigate human influencing factors on climate change. Nations now gather annually as part of the Conference of the Parties (COP).

The intent of COP, then, is to essentially find methods of reducing the production of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) into our atmosphere by the three principal component gases—carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Greenhouse gases (which also include water vapor and ozone) are those that absorb and emit infrared radiation. The Protocol, as a legally binding agreement, was entered into force in 2005 with the objective to reach a target reduction of 5.2% GHG emissions from the 1992 levels by the year 2012. Commitments in the Kyoto Protocol were based on “joint implementation”, “clean development mechanism”, and “international emissions trading.” Emissions trading was established to allow nations that can easily meet their targets to sell credits to those that cannot.

Although some strides have been made since 1997 with the Bali Action Plan in 2007 (COP 13) and the Cancun Agreements reached at COP 16 in 2010, the conferences have been characterized as seeing minimal progress in their first fourteen years due to differences in opinion between developed countries and also because the treaty applied to only industrialized nations—“37 Annex I countries” as referred to in the Protocol—but imposed no mandate on developing countries which includes emerging economic powers and significant GHG emitters like China, India, Brazil , and South America, Mexico, and Korea. As of December 2011, the U.S. has not and will not agree to an extension of Kyoto beyond 2012 or sign the treaty unless there is a balancing of requirements between developed and undeveloped countries. The Cancun Agreements realized the need to commit both economically strong as well as developing countries by proposing a Green Climate Fund (GCF) to help deliver financial aid to poorer nations. The GCF was proposed to mobilize $100 billion annually from private and public funds but has yet to see implementation.

As of early 2011, many scientists felt the existing Kyoto pledges were far less than what was needed to reach the UN’s goal of keeping a temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius, the calculated maximum amount above which we will likely see truly catastrophic effects. China, India, and the U.S. are waiting until a mandatory review of new science findings scheduled for 2015. This caused postponing the redrafting of internationally binding GHG emission commitments and involvement of unsigned countries until then. With this delay, it is predicted that global warming will reach 3.5 degrees Celsius or worse in coming years. (Climate Action Tracker, 12-6-11)

The negotiations in Durban revolved around extending the Kyoto Protocol, inclusion of all nations into a binding contract, and adoption of the GCF. In last few and extended hours of Durban amidst heated debate, an agreement was made by more than 190 nations to do just that—to continue towards a treaty that will include all emitters, define and enforce goals, and implement the GCF by 2015 which will be fully in force by 2020. Nations also agreed to create measures that would involve preserving tropical forests and the development of clean energy technology.

The World Resources Institute described the results at Durban as a “major climate deal” that would lead to better negotiations. While on its surface, the results at Durban could be construed as purposeful, even successful, the conference did little more than simply keep future talks viable—an agreement to agree. Major emitters such as China, India, and the U.S. are still not bound and so the outcome at Durban should be viewed as unsatisfying to anyone striving for real change in GHG emission policy. Alden Meyer, director of policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists responded by saying, “The decisions adopted here fell well short of what was needed.” The U.S. chief American climate negotiator, Todd D. Stern, stated that he was “hopeful that negotiations in coming years would produce a more equitable arrangement.” Since the primary goal of these COP meetings is to reduce the impact human activities have on climate change, one would have to view them as unsuccessful, since GHG are in fact on the increase and major contributing sectors, such as the meat, dairy, and fishing industries have not been properly addressed.

Regarding climate change, most researchers agree on the following:

  1. Global warming is occurring
  2. Climate change is worsening
  3. Major destructive and catastrophic events—flooding, droughts, rise in sea levels, melting of polar ice caps, etc. will occur and are directly proportional to rises in Earth’s temperature
  4. Climate changes are related to increases in greenhouse gases
  5. Anthropogenic (human induced) GHG emissions are large enough, beyond natural emissions, to be a significant contributing factor to global warming and climate change
  6. The largest sectors for anthropogenic emissions are energy and agriculture, together comprising more than 95% of these human induced GHG emissions
  7.  The single largest component of agricultural emissions are those from raising livestock, which contributes between 20% and 51% of all total GHG emissions globally (energy+agriculture)

Although wider acceptance of a Protocol extension and inclusion of all nations into a binding international contract now seem a delayed but future possibility, there remains an obvious omission from any COP discussions and implementation strategies. What is clearly missing from this list above is a #8, which would connect the final dot—that, since raising livestock is one of the single largest contributors to human induced GHG emissions and since the objective of all annual COP meetings is to mitigate human induced GHG emissions, then we simply need to stop raising livestock.  However, this would necessitate definitive and legally binding universal language stipulating that all countries “stop raising and eating animals”—with strict, time activated, and enforceable measures in effect. To date, policy makers have been unwilling to do this and there has been no such statement or regulation in the mix. With or without annual international climate change summits, with or without signed agreements, proper progress will not be made with reducing GHG emissions until the issue of food choice is on center stage and raising livestock is eliminated by all nations.

More on this subject can be found in the book “Comfortably Unaware.”

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.