A Fresh Look – a review of Fresh, the movie

Ever since watching Food, Inc. and Fat Head, The Movie a couple of years ago, we’ve been on a “food film” jag, hunting down and watching every filmed documentary about industrial food, sustainable farming and healthy diets we can find (and there are quite a few on Netflix).  Fresh, which enjoyed a limited release in theatres in 2009, was just released on DVD and we ordered – and watched – it eagerly.  This is Beloved’s review, and it’s a good one.  A trailer for the film is at the end; please watch it, as well.

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The film Fresh, directed by Ana Sofia Joanes, is indeed a fresh look at the hazards of our industrial food system and the benefits of local and sustainable farming. It is an emotionally compelling look at the contrast between industrial CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Farming Operations) and pastoral heritage farming. Like the documentary Food, Inc., it contrasts the monoculture industrial food system with the medium-sized sustainable farmer representing the local food movement. It picks up where Food Inc. left off by offering an optimistic vision of sustainable farming solutions in contrast to the industrial system. The story is the same: monoculture agriculture promises to cheaply feed the world at the cost of non-renewable resources and tax rebates, where the real price is far more dear than that of higher quality, albeit higher priced, local sustainable food that is being destroyed by the economic and political power of the few companies that comprise the industrial food system. Several of the characters are the same, including Joel Salatin, a renowned sustainable farmer and Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. A compelling story is told through the trials and realizations of conventional farmers and those evolving and succeeding at the next generation of sustainable farming. For those who understand the detriment of the current food industry to our health and our world, this is an inspiring film that offers an optimistic future.  Yet, the concluding call to action is to wait for government resolution to a problem that the government created in the first place.

Several farmers explain their unique position in surviving and defining the shifts in the food industry. The Fox family represents the CAFO chicken farmers who invested in confined mass chicken houses and are being financially squeezed by their relationship with one of the few companies that own the vertically integrated chicken industry.

Russ Kremer came out of college and got “hung up” following his newly learned tactics to drive productivity by converting his family farm to industrial practices that included antibiotic treatments that ultimately lead to a resistance in his pigs and a personal infection that nearly killed him.  He went “cold turkey” when he finally realized that “when you have only one choice, you have no choice” and killed off his entire stock and threw away the syringe. Since then he has built a successful self-sustaining pig farm that hasn’t used antibiotics for fourteen years.

George Naylor, also featured in The Omnivores Dilemma, represents the conventional subsidized Iowa farmer, focusing on mono-crop production based on petroleum and the required chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The imbalance of mono-crop agriculture leaves the topsoil open to erosion – about 50% of Iowa’s top soil has been lost in the last 50 years. Andrew Kimbrell, a public interest attorney, activist and author, states that as we have “lost 90% of our diversity; our soil is being depleted at thirteen times the rate it can be replaced.” Not many people living outside now barren areas (such as the “Fertile Crescent”) understand that top soil can’t be replaced. And while Naylor has so far resisted GMO crops, most have not.

The movie horrifies us with images of these mono-crops being shipped (read, more petroleum) hundreds of miles away to CAFO’s where cattle, crammed together, ankle deep in their own excrement, are fed subsidized grains they aren’t evolved to digest, along with the antibiotics required to keep them alive. As Joel Salatin states:

“…you can go down the line, avian flu, mad cow, salmonella, pfiesteria, Camphylobacter, ecoli, just go down the line and every single one of these things is nature speaking to us today, screaming at our industrialized culture, saying, ‘ENOUGH!’”

Michael Pollan confirms that “monocultures are a dangerous thing… nature doesn’t like monocultures; sooner or later she will destroy them.” Joel further elaborates:

“70% of all the row crops in the United States, which represent most of the genetically engineered crops, the petroleum, the erosion and the negative things in agriculture, are grown for multi-stomached herbivores which aren’t supposed to eat that anyway. Only 30% goes to people, pigs and poultry.”

In contrast, the Salatin family has turned a barren farm with depleted top soil into one of the brightest stars in local sustainable farming by working with nature to develop a poly-culture community that doesn’t need chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Joel is first and foremost a grass farmer – harvesting solar energy that is converted by ruminants into proteins and healthy fats. Cows, fed only grasses as nature intends, are herded from field to field and followed by Joel’s egg mobiles where chickens feed on the larvae in the cow patties.  Instead of manure lagoons, Joel is rebuilding his top soil naturally.  Where his neighbor, farming only beef, is making $150 per acre, Joel claims he is getting “$3,000 per acre …and we haven’t planted a seed or bought an ounce of chemical fertilizer in fifty years.”

Several success stories illustrate the inspiring optimism of this documentary.

One of the most impressive farmers is Will Allen, an urban farmer who runs Growing Power in Milwaukee.  Starting with 3 acres of inner city land, he has created a poly-culture farm on a small scale that uses no chemicals. In his greenhouses he raises 150 varieties of greens alongside a tank of 4,000 tilapia fish which provides fertilizer for the plants.  His vermicomposting converts 6 million pounds of food waste from the Milwaukee landfills per year into what he calls “black gold” – rich, fertile soil.

Diana Endicott runs Good Natured Family Farms, a coop of 75 independent farms near the Kansas City metropolitan area providing local and sustainable foods to independent grocers that are being pushed out of the market by forces such as Wal-mart (which will soon be selling trans-genetically modified ears of corn). In one heartfelt scene, one of Dianna’s farmers brings the optimism home, tearfully saying,

“I’ve been a family farmer ever since I was five years old… and I have been through a lot of struggles and this is all I have ever wanted to do. But you talk about the greatest opportunities in my lifetime, it’s right now. ‘Cause I know, that’s what the consumer wants. They want MY pigs”.

Indeed, this is a well-executed film that explains some terrifying realities using an emotional appeal to get us to take back control of our food system, and the harsh realities are often offset by an idyllic optimism. But an underlying message of the movie suggests that the solution depends upon more regulation.  John Ikerd, of the University of Missouri, blames industrialization for exploiting labor. Michael Pollan suggests that decentralization of the food supply is critical for national security as less people can suffer from epidemics and crop failures – his solution is to shift government subsidies from the industrial to the sustainable farmer. George Naylor comes across as an apologetic conventional farmer who seems to have surrendered his fate saying by jumping into the sinking lifeboat, “many farmers have done what they had to do to survive and knowing full well that it is not the best thing for themselves or for society.” Naylor hopes he can only hang on until he can ”transition back to something that is more sane once we get the policy that’s going to support an agriculture that is sustainable and supports family farms across the board.” It is also suggested that food deserts should be subsidized so people have access to good food when in reality if they wanted it, it would be on their store shelves. They erroneously believe the government will solve our problems: if we could only get the right people in power, power will no longer be corrupt.

But the movie redeems itself in its message and its belief in the power of enlightenment and individuals. The optimism of the movie is best expressed by Will Allen and Diana Endicott. I agree with Allen that only by educating the consumer is “how you grow a movement.”  Endicott understands that it is the consumer who will make the difference and states:

“Consolidation is growing at such a rate, not just in the food industry, but in all industries, that probably the first and foremost thing…I truly believe that we are trying to sustain is consumer choice.”

Endicott pleads for a modest change and suggests each of us of spend only $10 a month on local foods.  Both are right. We won’t correct the injustice of interference and more controls – we can merely battle this issue with the only fair vote we have: our wallets. How much of your food budget is spent within 100 miles? How much of your food budget is spent on petroleum, chemicals, and diminishing soil resources? Health benefits aside, do you still think the higher price tag of sustainable farming costs more in the long run? As John Ikerd explains, “it just happens, one person at a time, one farmer, one consumer at a time.” Are you next?

Beyond Organic and Why Joel Salatin Is Our Hero

I’ve been working on cleaning up the photos of Patty being, well, butchered (now, now – it’s not as bad as you think) (TONS more photos than I thought), working on my poor cookbook and dealing with a mild cold, so Beloved – who is reading (and really, really enjoying) The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan – has come to my rescue with what is, so far, one of his favorite passages in the book…and a question at the end.

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This text is a direct quote from The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.  The only setup you need is to know that Polyface Farm in Swopes, Va is a sustainable heritage farm and George Naylor operates an industrialized mono-crop corn field in Iowa that, as Pollan said is “floating on a sinking sea of petroleum.”  Michael delivers up a great dish of Joel.

Hard to believe, but Joel Salatin and George Naylor are, if regarded from a great enough distance, engaged in much the same pursuit: growing grasses to feed the cattle, chickens, and pigs that feed us. Compared to Salatin, however, Naylor participates in an infinitely more complex industrial system, involving not only corn (and soybeans), but fossil fuels, petrochemicals, heavy machinery, CAFOs, and an elaborate international system of distribution to move all these elements around: the energy from the Persian Gulf, the corn to the CAFOs, the animals to slaughter, and their meat finally to a Wal-Mart or McDonald’s near you. Consider as a whole this system comprises a great machine, transforming inputs of seed and fossil energy into outputs of carbohydrate and protein. And, as with any machine this one generates streams of waste: the nitrogen and pesticides running off the corn fields; the manure pooling in the feedlot lagoons; the heat and exhaust produced by all the machines within the machine – the tractors and trucks and combines.

Polyface Farm stands about as far from this industrialized sort of agriculture as it is possible to get without leaving the planet. Joel’s farm stands as a kind of alternative reality to George’s: Every term governing a conventional 500-acre corn-and-bean operation in Churdan, Iowa, finds its mirror opposite here on these 550 acres in Swope, Virginia.

To wit:

Naylor Farm Polyface Farm
Industrial Pastoral
Annual species Perennial species
Monoculture Polyculture
Fossil energy Solar Energy
Global market Local market
Specialized Diversified
Mechanical Biological
Imported fertility Local fertility
Myriad inputs Chicken feed

 

For half a century now, which is to say for as long as industrial agriculture has held sway in America, the principal alternative to its methods and general approach has gone by the name “organic,” a word chosen (by J. I. Rodale, the founding editor of Organic Gardening and Farming magazine) to imply that nature rather than the machine should supply the proper model for agriculture. Before my journey through the organic food industry I would have thought that virtually any organic farm would belong on the Polyface side of this ledger. But it turns out that this is not necessarily the case. There are now “industrial organic” farms that belong firmly on the left-hand side. Then there is this further paradox: Polyface Farm is technically not an organic farm, though by any standard it is more “sustainable” than virtually any organic farm. Its example forces you to think a lot harder about what these words – sustainable, organic, natural – really mean.

As it happened, the reason I found my way to Polyface Farm in the first place had everything to do with Joel Salatin’s unusually strict construction of the word sustainable. As part of my research into the organic food chain, I kept hearing about this organic farmer in Virginia who had no use for the federal government’s new organic standards. I also kept hearing about the exceptional food he was producing. So I gave him a call, hoping to get some salty quotes about the organic industry and perhaps get him to ship me a pastured chicken or steak.

The salty quotes I got. Speaking in a rapid-fire delivery that sounded like a cross between Bill Clinton and a hopped-up TV evangelist, Salatin delivered a scathing indictment of the “organic empire.” I struggled to keep up with a spirited diatribe that bounced from the “Western conquistador mentality” and the “clash of paradigms” to the “innate distinctive desires of a chicken” and the impossibility of taking a “decidedly Eastern, connected, holistic product, and selling it through a decidedly Western, disconnected, reductionist Wall Streetified marketing system.”

“You know what the best kind of organic certification would be? Make an unannounced visit to a farm and take a good long look at the farmer’s bookshelf. Because what you’re feeding your emotions and thoughts is what this is really all about. The way I produce a chicken is an extension of my worldview. You can learn more about that by seeing what’s sitting on my bookshelf than having me fill out a whole bunch of forms.”

I asked him what was on his bookshelf. J. I. Rodale. Sir Albert Howard. Aldo Leopold. Wes Jackson. Wendell Berry. Louis Bromfield. The classic texts of organic agriculture and American agrarianism.

“We never called ourselves organic—we call ourselves ‘beyond organic.’ Why dumb down to a lesser level than we are? If I said I was organic, people would fuss at me for getting feed corn from a neighbor who might be using atrazine. Well, I would much rather use my money to keep my neighborhood productive and healthy than export my dollars five hundred miles away to get ‘pure product’ that’s really coated in diesel fuel. There are a whole lot more variables in making the right decision than does the chicken feed have chemicals or not. Like what sort of habitat is going to allow that chicken to express its physiological distinctiveness? A ten-thousand-bird shed that stinks to high heaven or a new paddock of fresh green grass every day? Now which chicken shall we call ‘organic’? I’m afraid you’ll have to ask the government, because now they own the word.

“Me and the folks who buy my food are like the Indians—we just want to opt out. That’s all the Indians ever wanted—to keep their tepees, to give their kids herbs instead of patent medicines and leeches. They didn’t care if there was a Washington, D.C., or a Custer or a USDA; just leave us alone. But the Western mind can’t bear an opt-out option. We’re going to have to refight the Battle of Little Bighorn to preserve the right to opt out, on your grandchildren and mine will have no choice but to eat amalgamated, irradiated, genetically prostituted, bar-coded, adulterated fecal spam from the centralized processing conglomerate.” [emphasis mine]

Whew…”

Whew is right! Which side of the ledger do you eat from?

 

Posted in participation of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday

 

The Benefits of Grass-Fed Beef, and How To Grill The Perfect Steak

Gather ’round, y’all – today Beloved gives you his treatise on The Benefits of Grass-Fed Beef.  Oh, and his instructions on How to Grill the Perfect Steak is at the end.

Why Grass fed beef is better for you.

The simple answer is that it tastes better and is better for your health.  But please bear with me as we summarize the history of beef and explore why the food of our food isn’t questioned by most of us – and why it should be.  Then we will get to how to prepare this tasty steak on the barbie!

Grilling Grass-Fed Steaks

The History of Moo

Until the end of World War II most cows were raised entirely on grass.  With the industrialization of the economy after the war, grain production became inexpensive and farmers started to find it more profitable per acre to raise grain. But production quickly exceeded demand and prices fell to the point where it became more profitable to feed grains to livestock previously grazed in the pasture. In the 1950s chickens were pulled out of the pasture, away from predators, and stuck into large chicken houses where they were fed only grain – now most are lucky if they ever see sunlight.  The first commercial feedlots for cattle started appearing soon after the war. It is more than a coincidence that these dates correspond with the rapid rise in the diseases of Western Culture: chronic heart disease (CHD), diabetes, obesity, and cancer.

To understand why grain became more profitable than raising livestock we need to go back to the days of FDR’s interference in open markets with the alphabet soup of regulations such as the AAA (Agricultural Adjustment Act) when 25% of the population lived on farms and the government started paying farmers not to farm.  But in time even hard core altruists realized there was something wrong with this and instead of paying farmers to do nothing, the government started paying farmers more money than grains were worth which lead to artificial over-production.  The cost of corn subsidies to large commercial farmers is a huge chunk of the annual $20 billion farm subsidy program which over stimulates production (it really is as simple as supply and demand) so that the US only utilizes (over-utilizes due to the artificially deflated prices) 50% of the corn produced.  But this money is not going to the small independent farmer (who the FDA is pushing out of the market every day) as originally intended. Almost all of the money is now going to large agricultural conglomerates. Furthermore, corn sucks nitrogen from the soil at a deleterious rate that crop rotation can’t replenish, but farmers can’t afford to stop producing it for fear of losing their subsidies (see Joel Salatin, recent FDA powers, and Food Inc.).  So they turn to genetically modified crops and have put our entire food source in bed with the devil. There is no surety of safety or even a content label on the Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) corn being fed to us or our beef. Just consider that Monsanto has capitalized on genetically engineered E. Coli to create Posilac so dairy cows could lactate 10% more during their lactation cycle.  But that is at another post for another day (but just read the Wikipedia entry on Monsanto for an objective but boot rattling history of this evil empire with roots in developing Agent Orange).

As assembly line industrialization pushed the local farmer out of business, large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), out of necessity, started adding antibiotics to the cows’ diet as growth stimulants and to prevent disease such as E Coli.  Hormones are also fed to these cows to speed growth (and get them to market more quickly) even though the effect on humans has not been fully studied. According to Michael Pollen, a buck and a half of growth hormone that adds 40 or 50 pounds to a cow will return at least $25 when it is slaughtered.  $23.50 may not seem much to you in exchange for risking your health for an entire cow, but if you were investing in cows you would be hard pressed not to make the investment.

But how does Elsie feel about all this?

Cows have a four chambered stomach and the first part of the digestive process of ruminants (animals that eat grass) is to soften the grass in the first chamber before it is regurgitated and the cow “chews it’s cud” to further break down the plant matter which resists giving up nutritional content.   But farmers discovered that cows could be fed corn that makes them nice and fat, which in turn makes for nice marbleized steaks that consumers seem to like. Plus, the beeves increase in weight (and price) by about 50% as a result of finishing them on grains (like highly subsidized corn).   But cows never evolved to eat corn, which can’t be ruminated and has the same effect on them as it does on humans – it makes them fat.  And like us, it increases their susceptibility to illness. E. coli O157:H7 – the really dangerous kind – is rampant in grain fed cows and very rare in grass fed beef, where acid resistant strains are virtually non-existent. According to a Cambridge Study (James B. Russel in Rumen Microbiology and Its Role in Ruminant Nutrition) grass fed animals have 80% less of the E. Coli strain that causes illness in humans.  Mad cow disease is a direct result of CAFOs feeding cows the tissues of other animals – certainly excluded from the diet of a pastured, grass fed steer.  And I warn the reader that not all by-products are currently banned as a food source for all livestock in the US.

OK, so our food is being poisoned but I am no fan of PETA. If it is economically more efficient and the cow dies sick, why do I care if it costs me less to get more?

The short answer is a bit self-evident: all carnivorous animals know to avoid eating sick animals!  However, there are direct health differences between grain finished and grass fed beef.  Grass fed beef contains a much healthier ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fats.  Having the right balance of Omega 3s, which are rare in foods compared to Omega 6 fats, represents up to a 50% reduction in the risk of a heart attack. Ideally, our diet should include a ratio of about 2:1 (Omega 6 to Omega 3) but the Standard American Diet (SAD) is closer to 20:1. According to A.P. Simopolous and Jo Robinson, a proper balance of Omega 3 to Omega 6 has been linked to ADD, Alzheimer’s & Depression.  Grass fed beef is also a great source for Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which is five times that derived from CAFO beef. Effective CLA consumption has been shown to reduce cancer.  CLA is a result of rumination in grass fed beef and the artificial supplements have been shown to be harmful as is well described in Mark Sisson’s excellent and detailed blog post on CLA. It is also suggested that grass fed beef contains five times the vitamin E of grain fed beef.  Significant health benefits have been sacrificed since the inception of grain finished/CAFO beef.  It seems obvious that the additional investment in quality food will be saved in long term health care costs.

So what – how does it taste?

Growing up in the Midwest farm belt I have always heard of how preferable “corn fed beef” is.  Dry aged corn fed beef costs over $50 an entre in fine restaurants. Ruth Chris Steakhouse offers only Grain Finished beef – but just try to get out of that place alive for under a hundred dollars. The standard American palate has forgotten what beef is supposed to taste like. I, like this CAFO beef farmer, had NEVER even tasted grass fed beef until recently.  When we first researched this and called our favorite meat farmer, he told us to first go taste some grass fed beef (where we first met our favorite butchers, White Feather Meats) before we committed to a half a cow.  As an honest guy he wanted to make sure we understood what we were investing in. Admittedly, the taste is distinctive. Frankly, I think the aroma of the preparation is the largest difference – stick a soup bone on the stove for half a day and you can smell the difference – it smells like grass.  At first this seemed odd – mostly because I didn’t know better. But now, it makes my mouth water just to smell it in the kitchen and I can barely choke down commercial beef when I’m out to eat.  Perhaps the biggest difference is in the fat.  Grass fed beef if beef fed its natural fare, and like free range animals (such as bison, elk and deer) it is a leaner cut of meat.  If you really believed in “Conventional Wisdom” and thought lean meat was healthier, you would never eat fatty, corn fed beef again. In the past, I always cut the excess fat away from grain finished beef – it is gross. However, since I started eating grass fed beef, and learned that animal fats are good for us (yet another post), I discovered that I look forward to eating the fat from grass fed beef. It really is tasty and healthy – the seared fat tips of a well-cooked steak are better than bacon!

Sure, grass fed beef costs a little more. It takes the farmer longer to raise to maturity and the farmer isn’t harvesting as many pounds per steer, but it is worth every penny.  Since we buy half a cow at a time we pay about $4.75 a pound, which is a pretty good average considering a good steak is over $15 a pound and we get dozens of them.  But what is really important is that we are now eating about every part of the cow: the nutrient rich organ meats, the luscious bone marrow, and we render the fat into tallow for healthy cooking without the harmful vegetable oils (and their commercially manufactured, rancid trans fats).

Nourri au Fourrage Entrecôte

The Charcoal Chimney

Nourri au fourrage translates as grass-fed.  Entrecôte is just a fancy French name for a rib eye steak – but it sounds so sophisticated! Rib eyes are also known as Delmonicos, though no one is quite sure which cut was originally served in the famous namesake New York restaurant.   Previously, we had our butcher provide us with a standing rib roast (prime rib), but knowing that we won’t be hosting our traditional Christmas Excess this year we opted for more steak. MORE STEAK!  How could we go wrong? But I never expected the rib eyes to be this tender and succulent.

This really isn’t a recipe as much as it is a technique.  I don’t feign to be a barbeque expert, though my better half might object – at least she always eats it, but that may just be out of relief since she didn’t have to cook.  What I do know is that perfecting the backyard grill is a lot like perfecting a relationship with your mate.  You have to get to know your grill/girl: each has its subtle ways. Each requires a deft touch and delicate sense of taste.  You don’t want either to run too hot or too cold. Patience and understanding is paramount. Whatever you do, the grill/girl is always right!

Ingredients:

Outdoor charcoal grill
Chimney Starter
Match
2 Sheets of newspaper
3 pounds of charcoal
Grass-fed Rib eye steaks
Fire proof tongs
Carnivorous appetites

Leave the steaks out at room temperature for at least 2 hours. Optionally, sprinkle them with a hardy steak rub.  These bad boys need no help, though I will occasionally use a steak rub.

I can’t say enough about how much I love my chimney charcoal starter. It’s a nice clean fire (no starter fluid taste) that gets all the coals burning within 15-20 minutes for a nice evenly distributed fire.  Disburse the coal bed evenly and raise the coals to about 2 inches from the grate.

Slap the steaks on the grill and sear each side for about 2 minutes.  The idea is to lock in the moisture.  If you like your steak medium rare, wait for the red glycogen to start to perspire at the top of the steak before flipping. If you like them medium, let them run a bit clear. If you like it burnt beyond repair well-done, wait for the juices to dry out.

Once seared, remove from direct heat by moving the steaks to the side and moving the coals down to about 4-5 inches.  Flip for a sexy criss-cross char effect, but really it’s just about sustaining good heat until the steaks are cooked. You could always use a meat thermometer (145 degrees for medium rare) but in my experience this leads to over analyzing what just seems to come naturally.

The most important step is to resist the urge to cut into the delicious steak until it has rested for about 10 minutes. If you dig right in, all the juices will come pouring out and a lot of the flavor will be lost.

Posted in participation of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday

Confessions of a Diabetic

My young diabetic friend has come through for me with a very compelling story, detailing just how bad sugar and refined carbohydrates are for us.  Just how bad?  Six years ago, when he was diagnosed with Type II diabetes, he was only 23 years old.  He was not exceptionally overweight.  But how long will it be before the medical community decides that the only way to “cure” his diabetes is with something like bariatric surgery?

About six years ago, I was diagnosed as a Type 2 diabetic after a bout with an intestinal infection.  At the time, I weighed in about 235-240.  As a taller man (6’1”), I had always carried my weight well and it was never really what I considered an issue; I was always comfortable with how I carried myself.  However, something had to be done about the diabetes.  After finding out, I immediately went to see an Endocrinologist, who prescribed some pills.  I also altered my diet somewhat, taking a stab at limiting the carbohydrates in my diet, but not in the strictest sense.  I also cut out the sugary soft drinks and switched to the diet variety.  This lasted all of about 2 months, when I experienced some financial hardship.  Along with having no money, I also gave up control over my diabetes.  I just let it go, as I didn’t feel it was “that important.”

Fast forward a couple of years.  I work in front of a computer screen every day, and that takes a toll on your eyes –  I was beginning to have trouble seeing the screen.  As it had been about 3 years since my previous eye exam, I figured I better get them checked.  After letting them know I was a diabetic, they ran a whole series of scans on my eyes and found some minor bleeding in the back of both eyes, but it was worse in my right.  After trying every lens they had, I couldn’t focus anything in my right eye.  They had asked how high I thought my blood sugar was.  At the time, I had given my diabetes very little thought and so I told them “Oh, around 250 or so.”  They then suggested that I get to my doctor to get my diabetes under control.

So I went.  I had to find a new doctor, since I hadn’t been to the doctor in about 3 years.  He put me on some pills, primarily metformin, to bring my blood sugar down because it turns out my blood sugar was sitting at around 400.  After a month of being on the metformin, my blood sugar had dropped.  During this time, I also altered my diet a bit, but again, wasn’t  too strict about it.  My blood sugar would never come down to a normal level during this time.  I was also becoming increasingly frustrated with my doctor, who seemed uninterested in treating me.  I found another doctor and began additional treatment.  They put me on all kinds of pills for my sugar, trying to get it down to a normal level without altering my diet in any way.  I knew that carbohydrates were a problem, but I didn’t understand it fully.  I ate more salads and vegetables and fruit but thought, just as everyone else did, that carbohydrates were important to the diet.  This is something we’ve been indoctrinated with for the last 50 years or so.

However, during this time I was feeling increasingly worse.  I was spending countless amounts of time in the bathroom, my body constantly evacuating itself as a side effect of the medication.  I tried cutting out everything I could think of during this time.  I was to the point where I was eating NO carbohydrates and was walking at least 45 minutes every day.  I couldn’t get my blood sugar down below 150.  Also during this time, I dropped a ton of weight.  I went down to about 179 lbs (my lowest to date).  I reported this to my doctor, who said because of the digestive reactions I was having to the metformin that I shouldn’t take it anymore.  The only alternative was insulin.  Being the stubborn person that I am, I requested a second opinion.

Enter my current Endocrinologist.  She agreed with my primary care doctor.  I was not happy about this, but resigned to the fact that I needed insulin and so I started injecting myself daily.  They had suggested that I change my diet, suggesting that I eat more whole grains and  limiting my carbohydrate intake to about 6-8 servings (a serving consisting of 15g of carbohydrates).  I tried this for a while, but could never get my sugar to be at a consistent level (and I was still living in the bathroom).  I was up to about 60 units of insulin and not paying that close of attention to my diet, like I really should have been.

As a result of the continual gastric issues and visiting a gastroenterologist, who did virtually nothing for me and found nothing wrong with me (having been scoped from both ends and tested like crazy), I decided it was time to take a different approach.  After talking with Jan and Be at work, I decided to give the low carb diet another try.  This time, I was going to take it seriously.  I closely monitored my blood sugar 4 times a day (before every meal and around bedtime).  My blood sugar up to that point was consistently sitting somewhere between 275 and 325.  I gave up all refined carbohydrates.  No pasta, no bread of any kind, no sugar, no salty snacks (which was my big weakness).  As I started down the path, I noticed my blood sugar started to drop and that the amount of insulin I was taking was also dropping.  It was August 31st when I started the “diet.”  I had a doctor’s appointment six weeks later.  By the time of that appointment, I had lowered my insulin 66% (from 60 units down to 20 units…in 6 weeks).   I also noticed during this time that my gastric issues had improved greatly, but hadn’t completely disappeared.

The doctor’s appointment:  I was actually excited to go to the doctor after all of the hard work I had done to get my blood sugar in order.  I was still struggling a little, as I was having several episodes of low blood sugar levels.  I mentioned to my doctor what I was doing; she seemed less than thrilled about it.  However, after checking my A1C, she smiled.  She was impressed that my 3 month blood sugar result had dropped (I was down to around a 6.8 or something).  She made some suggestions as to adjustments to my medications, but told me to continue to do what I was doing.

This is where my own stupidity came in.  I decided that since things had gone so well, I was going to celebrate by cheating a little on my diet and I had some bread.  One thing led to another and I was back to eating my old ways again.  I never completely abandoned my diet, but I wasn’t following it as strictly as I should have been.  It also comes as no surprise that I felt less energetic than I had when I was following my diet.  My gastric issues also flared up quite a bit and I was back to living in the bathroom.  My last doctor’s appointment in January revealed that my blood sugar had gone up (no surprise there) and again, they tried to take another stab at solving the gastric issues.  During this appointment, I was probably harder on myself than my doctor had been, because I knew what I was doing was wrong, but couldn’t talk myself into changing it.

About 6 weeks ago, I decided that enough was enough.  I had recently received a Kindle for my birthday from my wife and I downloaded “Why We Get Fat” by Gary Taubes.  I started reading through this book and as I was reading, I came to the realization that what I was doing was working.  I knew it was working; I saw it work for me.  I then decided on the following Monday to get back on the wagon, as it were.  I went back to monitoring my blood sugar as before, 4 times a day.  My sugar was sitting around 230 at the time.  I was also taking about 40 units of insulin a night.  After a week, I was back down to normal blood sugar levels and within range of my 20 unit insulin levels.  However, I was still bottoming out.  I adjusted my meds again and lowered my insulin even more, taking it down slowly.  For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been sitting around 15 units every night and my blood sugar levels on a bad day are around 150.  These are becoming more and more infrequent, and I’m averaging about 100-115.  I have more energy than I can remember having (except for those 6 weeks in the fall) and I feel 100% better than I did.  I don’t have nearly the gastric spells that I was having before.  In fact, instead of a daily thing, where I was having major cramping and trips to the bathroom that would make even the strongest stomach squeamish, the frequency of my trips to the bathroom greatly reduced (by 75% at least).

How do I do it?  For me, it has been a difficult challenge.  I’m constantly thinking about how I feel and what I eat.  I don’t eat anything without checking my blood sugar first, because my blood sugar levels determine what I eat.  I’ve come to find that I’m incredibly sensitive to most carbohydrates, even in fruit and things like sweet potatoes.  Assuming I’m my blood sugar is under 100, I can have small amounts of natural carbohydrates, but  I still eat no refined carbohydrates of any kind.  I try very diligently to come up with new things to try and to limit my carbohydrate intake.  For me, reading Taubes book was eye opening, as well as watching the movie “Fat Head.”  There is a lot of good information in both pieces that explains the science (which really appeals to my scientific brain).

While you’re reading this, I will have probably already been for my 3 month checkup with my endocrinologist.  I’m excited and incredibly curious about this appointment, primarily for my 3 month blood sugar average and my cholesterol levels.  Part of me wants my doctor to react the way she did in the fall, only to find out that this way of life WORKS and that everything they’ve been taught about NUTRITION is just plain WRONG.

Thanks for reading.

Posted in participation of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday

 

Gary Taubes Visits The Land of Oz

As soon as we finished watching Gary Taubes’ appearance on The Dr. Oz Show, Beloved began writing – this is the end product.  He has a deep and abiding love of wordplay and metaphors (especially mixed ones), but this is as an accurate assessment of the entire fiasco as any I’ve seen. – Jan

Taubes in Wonderland

From the time I heard that Gary Taubes was appearing on Dr. Oz in an episode named “The Man Who Thinks Everything Dr. Oz Says is Wrong” (as if there is only one), I was concerned about how well science would hold up to bling-bling. Why would an intellectual like Gary Taubes drink the potion that would make him shrink to the level of Oz? But in the end I do believe he handled it well and lifted the curtain of secrecy of Oz enough for anyone with half a brain to see that the emperor has no clothes.

In our McNugget news world, no one really expects an articulate in-depth discussion on the Dr. Oz show, but I never expected the White Rabbit ride this show provided.  Seriously, take a closer look at Dr. Mehmet Oz and his mannerisms and reactions.  Like a Moonie facing deprogrammers: fast talking, defensive, unable to stand still long enough to let Gary get a word in edgewise, he bounced all over the place like a cranked up drug addict.  You could just see the fox trying to coax the crow from the tree with the temptress strawberry, “go ahead, take the sugar: you will be back for more.” All the while eying it and licking his chops, hoping that he won’t take the bait and deprive him of his next fix. And don’t you dare take his pasta away – how could anyone sustain without it?

Or was that paranoia?  Could he, would he (in a house, with a mouse), or anyone in the entrenched/funded medical community, be able to slow down long enough to look objectively at an opposing viewpoint? Would he, could he, ever bite the hand that feeds his face, sacrifice the insulin and pharmaceutical sponsors or would the Sneetch keep his head in the sand?  When he accused Gary Taubes of not being a Doctor I so wish Gary would have whispered through a Cheshire grin, “Are you a scientist?” Of course not! Oz is a paid entertainer/bubble gum drug pusher – he wanted to emotionalize it with images of cutting open someone’s chest with a band saw.  Honestly, I wouldn’t let Oz use my coping saw, but that’s a judgment call.

Suddenly, Dr. Oz crashed and burned after his high, like Charlie Sheen going without a snort or a porn star, and spent a whole day pretending to stay clean. But a scientist would know about carbohydrate withdrawal and that indeed some people starting this diet feel tired the first day or two.  If I was Rip van Winkle hearing half this show I wouldn’t believe this overly emotive Spurlockian nonsense. I would have settled instead for the few hours it takes to read Gary’s latest book, but then again I would not build my house of straw (or on a straw man’s back). Notice that this recovering drug addict needed two snacks to replace his usual daily fare. This will strike Taubes’ adherents as odd (people who are well sated with three, even two meals a day of good nutrition), but Unicorns are accustomed to grazing all day. The insulin hormone spikes caused by the white powder: ALL carbohydrates are essentially sugar – it really is just another form of taking drugs.  Dr. Oz and the medical community not only say it’s okay, but that we NEED carbohydrates. Yet the lifestyle of a low carbohydrate, high fat, moderate protein diet is very easily sustainable and I could move the berries from his plate to mine and not bat an eye. If anyone pays any attention to this blog they know that there is nothing boring with a low carb diet, as my better half illustrates on a weekly basis. Taubes hit the nail on the head with his smoking analogy; it really is an addiction. Too bad the leprechaun couldn’t pull a Rumpelstiltskin and turn his straw into gold -melodrama spoke loudly over any hope of rational discourse but it served the addict’s purposes to continue with his denial and assure his continued revenue stream.

Gary Taubes did trip a bit as he skipped down the yellow brick road over the cholesterol issue, but not because he didn’t provide his blood work – even if his personal profile doesn’t look good (define “good”), it doesn’t mean he is wrong.  Where he slipped up was in not pulling out the big guns and directly challenging the man behind the curtain by asking him to cite his sources.  What studies prove that complex carbohydrates prevent Alzheimer’s, hypertension and cancer? What study proves that saturated fats cause arterial clogging, increase low density LDL cholesterol and cause cancer? Why are the western diseases (coronary heart disease, diabetes & cancer) almost absent in cultures that eat a diet without processed foods?  What do the clinical trials tell us? Those who know Gary’s work know that he would have humiliated Oz in a real debate. I am quite sure that rationality is unimportant to  a “medical professional” like Dr. Oz – who, by the way, once told a reporter, “When you move past a physical understanding of reality … you begin to realize that we live in a world where 99% is pretend and 1% is real.” How many times during this show did he say “I think” when he should have said “I know.”  I’m sure the producers would have edited out the intellectual massacre (after all it is a nursery rhyme rated, tarot card directed, tabloid game show), but it would have been fun to watch.

Go ask Alice

I think she’ll know

When logic and proportion

Have fallen sloppy dead

And the White Knight is talking backwards

And the Red Queen’s off with her head

Remember what the dormouse said

“Feed your head, feed your head”

 

The munchkin’s minions might have laughed at and cheered Oz’s shallow made-for-TV accusations, but in the end the emperor lay naked and exposed for who he is. Just because Oz is a doctor doesn’t make him right.

Posted in participation of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday