Whole Foods CEO comments on health care debate results in boycotts and picketing

I have been busy lately so not a lot of blogging has been going on. My last blog was that the CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, stated in a press interview that "we sell a lot of junk". Actually a lot of bloggers thought he had said that Down to Earth sold a lot of junk, and we had some righteous indignation going on. So to be clear, he was talking about Whole Foods, not Down to Earth (in fact I don't know if he has ever said anything about Down to Earth). Anyway, I feel a little sorry for him, as just after that, he then wrote an opinion editorial for the Wall Street Journal on the current health care debate. Next thing you know Whole Foods is being boycotted by customers across the nation and stores are even being picketed.

To read the editorial: https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970204251404574342170072865070

Pouring on the fat! NYC poster gets the message across

Poster: Are you pouring on the pounds?

The New York Health department has given up the idea of taxing soda as a weapon in the war against obesity and have instead started a graphic advertising campaign showing a soda being poured into a glass, with the soda turning into liquid fat on its way to the glass. Pretty graphic, and some may even think gross, but it really gets across the message that drinking soda is a major cause of obesity. Pretty creative, and great to see the government actually get serious about getting the message across.

The following is from the NYC Department of Health press release, "August 31, 2009 – It’s hard to overeat without noticing it. By contrast, soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages can sneak up on you, adding hundreds of calories to your diet each day without ever filling you up. In a new effort to highlight the health impact of sweetened drinks, the Health Department is confronting New Yorkers with a bold question: Are you pouring on the pounds? The agency’s new public-awareness campaign, which includes posters in the subway system and a multilingual Health Bulletin, goes live today and will run for three months."

A New York Times article about it is interesting: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/01/nyregion/01fat.html?_r=1

Rising obesity is both costly and deadly

A recent study predicts that the effects of increasing obesity in the US are forecast to outweigh any benefits from continued reductions in smoking rates over the next decade.

The major cause of the obesity epidemic is not hard to identity, it is the eating of a poor diet - based on the eating and drinking of sugar-laden, highly processed, and usually artificially-flavored and colored, junk foods. Another significant factor contributing to rising obesity levels is the lack of exercise and the sedentary lifestyle practiced by many. School physical activities are being slashed due to lack of funding, and at home children often spend their free time on the computer playing games or watching movies and don’t develop the exercise habit in their formative years. As a result they will likely end up becoming sedentary adults. Often these two factors go together, i.e., children and adults sit in front of the TV or computer while consuming copious quantities of unhealthy foods; and we wonder why there is an obesity epidemic? It is not rocket science, poor diet and lack of exercise are the two main causes of obesity, and the solution is is to be found in better diets and regular exercise.

The obesity epidemic needs to be addressed by major education efforts, the making available of healthier choices in all food stores (not just natural foods stores), school cafeterias, vending machines, etc. Great tasting healthy foods exist; they simply need to be made more readily available and promoted. Gradually people’s palates will adjust to a less sugary, salty and processed food taste.

The current medical cost of treating obesity related disease is estimated at 10% of total annual medical spending, or $147 billion. Incorporating more school exercise, providing healthier food choices, and increased education efforts about nutrition and physical activity will help significantly cut the cost of treating obesity. The money saved on treating obesity related disease could be used to help provide medical insurance for all.

The current debate on health care does not address solutions to the cause of disease, in fact, that is not even discussed, the debate is solely about how to give everyone the opportunity to get medical treatment for disease. This is a good thing, but how about we make it so less people get disease, that would be a better goal, and an achievable one.

Americans with diabetes to double to 44 million

A recent study predicts that the number of Americans with diabetes will double in the next 25 years to a staggering 44 million, leading to annual health care spending on diabetes of an even more staggering $336 billion. Diabetes is linked to obesity, poor diet, and lack of exercise - the modern American diet, full of highly processed and sugar-laden “food” is the main culprit. The answer to this devastating epidemic is simple, and common sense; people need to eat healthy organic and natural foods, and get regular exercise.

The current health care debate should be used as an opportunity to address the real issue and the real solutions. The real issue is not how to pay for treatment of disease; it is how to reduce the incidence of disease. And the answer lies in educating people on how to eat a healthy diet and on how to follow a health lifestyle, and making it so that healthier foods are more widely available.

The solution to many major diseases and the health care crisis confronting the nation are actually simple, but people either don’t see the simple truth, or just don’t want to change their diet and lifestyle.

"A vegetarian diet is a positive source of pleasure"

A friend of mine sent me an email today sharing some of her thoughts about a plant based diet and suggested I might like to post it on my blog; so here it is:

I was just reading an interesting article in the New Yorker and I thought it might provide food (no pun intended) for an entry on your blog. You can find it here: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/11/09/flesh-of-your-flesh. The article is a review of Jonathan Safran Foer's new book called "Eating Animals," which is mostly a critique of anti-vegetarian arguments and an analysis of why people eat meat, even when they know its wrong. Interestingly, the writer finished the review by saying,

"'Eating Animals' closes with a turkey-less Thanksgiving. As a holiday, it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. But this is Foer’s point. We are, he suggests, defined not just by what we do; we are defined by what we are willing to do without. Vegetarianism requires the renunciation of real and irreplaceable pleasures. To Foer’s credit, he is not embarrassed to ask this of us."

This was my reaction, which you are welcome to quote if its useful:

As a former meat eater, I can admit that it was hard at first to give up certain types of flesh I was used to eating. However, after only a few months of eating a plant based diet, I found that the pleasures of a vegetarian diet far outweigh the supposed pleasure of eating flesh.

Digging into a plate of vegetarian food and not having to worry about biting down on a tendon or a hairy piece of skin or gristle is such a relief, and funnily enough, I never even realized before how much it bothered me. I was aware before I became a vegetarian that animal flesh is like a sponge for antibiotics, growth hormones, toxic heavy metals and adrenalin released at the time of slaughter, but I never thought too deeply about it because I was attached to eating flesh. I knew, or at any rate, I had heard, that animals were slaughtered on a factory line with no attention to their comfort and that they underwent intense suffering before death. I would never have consciously willed this suffering on another living entity, but I didn't want to change my habits, so I tried not to think about it. I didn't realize until I committed to not eating flesh that I had brought all that subconscious anxiety to the dinner table every day, and that it made eating a psychic ordeal, increasing my feelings of depression, purposelessness and anger.

By contrast, I can savor a meal of beet and carrot salad, marinated tofu, roasted potatoes with sage and homemade bread soaked in olive oil and garlic. Besides being lighter on my wallet, it actually contributes to my physical health rather than detracting from it. It feels good to make, it feels good to eat, and it feels good to digest.

People should understand that a vegetarian diet is a positive source of pleasure, not a renunciation of something desirable. Any good chef understands that the eating experience begins with the presentation of the meal, the look, the aroma and finally the taste. I would suggest that it begins even before that - the eating experience begins with our understanding of what we are eating in connection to our wider environment. Preparing, eating and sharing a vegetarian meal contributes to our physical, mental and spiritual well being and the well being of other living entities and the planet. For this reason, which Safran Foer illustrates is widely understood in our society, even if its not widely acknowledged, eating a plant based diet relieves anxiety and contributes to a joyful eating experience.

E. Coli infections; subsidized by the government?

E. Coli infections in humans are on the rise. One of the most pervasive food borne illnesses that causes many illnesses and deaths annually, Escherichia coli (E. coli) contamination is responsible for more than 20,000 infections and 200 deaths each year in the United States (1). This relatively recent phenomenon begs the question: what’s causing it?

E. coli is found on cattle farms and can live in the intestines of healthy cattle, and was first recognized as a human problem in 1982, from a contaminated hamburger (2).

How the E. coli gets from the cow's intestines into hamburgers is a rather gruesome and gut wrenching story, which goes like this. When the cow’s throat is cut, while it is being cruelly slaughtered, they often pass stool and urine out of fear, then fall down writhing in their own blood and excrement. E. coli contamination generally starts when bacteria in feces on a cow’s hide are transferred to the carcass (3). The flesh can become contaminated during slaughter and butchering, and E. coli organisms can be thoroughly mixed into beef when it is ground into hamburger.

Slaughterhouses have added many steps attempting to keep carcasses clean, including steam pasteurization and hot water washes. But regular tests at the slaughterhouses still turn up occasional traces of E. coli, and sometimes when not caught this leads to E. coli contamination and food poisoning incidents. This problem has prompted those in the industry to call for a vaccine.

A large-scale study of a new vaccine on calves is being coordinated and paid for by Cargill, the food giant that is the biggest producer of ground beef in the country. This new vaccine for cattle may cost $10 per animal (4). However, in a good year, feedlot owners only make a profit $25-$35 per animal. So the cost of the vaccine to the feedlot owners is prohibitive.

A simpler alternative is available however (aside from the obvious one of stopping the whole sordid business), as by feeding hay to cattle rather than grain, E. coli can be dramatically reduced (5). Cornell scientists reported in the journal Science, that grain-based cattle diets promote the growth of E. coli. Most bacteria are killed by the acidity in the human stomach, but E. coli from grain-fed cattle are resistant to strong acids. Thus the E. coli problem is largely caused by modern factory farm methods that leads to cattle being kept on crowded feedlots and fed primarily corn, an unnatural diet. The cattle are sent to the feedlots to fatten them up for slaughter.

A fact popularized by the recent movie, Food Inc., is that the government heavily subsidizes the cost of the corn that they feed the cattle with, so in effect, the government corn subsidy is contributing to/causing the E. coli problem.

It is interesting (if that is the right word) that the farmer only makes a "profit" of $25 - $35 an animal. Is it worth it? The karma (the results of his actions) that he will suffer in the future is way out of proportion to the minimal income he makes! As Jesus taught: As you sow, so shall you reap.

Is a cow's pain and suffering only worth $25 - $35?

Rising obesity, part 2

I reported in my December 14, 2009 blog on a recent study predicting that the effects of increasing obesity in the US are forecast to outweigh any benefits from continued reductions in smoking rates over the next decade.

Now WebMD reports on this [1], saying that from 1993 to 2008, the proportion of smokers among U.S. adults declined by 18.5% while the proportion of obese adults increased 85%. Researchers say smoking had a bigger impact on deaths while obesity had a bigger effect on illness.

"Because of the marked increase in the proportion of obese people, obesity has become an equal, if not greater contributor to the burden of disease than smoking," wrote researcher Haomiao Jia, PhD, of Columbia University, and colleagues. "Such data are essential in setting targets for reducing modifiable health risks and eliminating health disparities."

The health care debate needs to focus on how to reduce obesity and smoking, not just on how to pay the medical costs associated with it.

Mark Fergusson

Gingko Biloba: effective for seniors?

A major new study on the effectiveness of Gingko Biloba in reducing cognitive loss for seniors showed it was not effective. The January 6, 2010 online edition of the natural foods merchandiser [1] reported the results of the study published in the Journal of American Medicine. As with many mainstream studies, this appears to be aimed at finding alternative therapies ineffective.

The six year study compared the effects of Gingko to that of a placebo in seniors aged 72-96. Although a relatively long study with a large sample size of 3.096 individuals, Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of the Austin, Texas-based American Botanical Council, finds many “significant limitations” of the study.

He points out that 40% of participants dropped out before finishing the trial, although their incomplete data was included in the overall findings. The study was intended to study the prevention of dementia, yet the data was used to draw conclusions about the decline in cognition. “Certain cognitive parameters were not monitored until several years after the trial began. The age of the subjects was quite advanced, at an average of 79 years at the beginning of the trial. It is unknown whether a younger group of ginkgo users would have been more responsive.”

Blumenthal said in a press release to ABC that ginkgo has a “vast body of pharmacological and clinical research supporting numerous health benefits…particularly for improving various symptoms and conditions associated with declining cognitive performance and poor circulation.”

Daniel Frabricant, Ph.D., vice president for scientific and relative affairs at the Natural Products Association stated, "When one considers that age related cognitive decline may initiate in healthy adults as early as their 30s, it would seem that if the authors were indeed serious about investigating prevention as a secondary outcome, they would have selected a population that was situated closer to the onset of cognitive decline instead of one where its effects most likely have already taken hold."

Of note is that the new trial shows the overall safety of ginkgo.

Thanks for reading.

Mark Fergusson

Celebrate Honey

Photo: Jar of Raw Honey

Honey is such a versatile product. Not only is it nutritious, honey also builds your immune system, energizes you, beautifies you, treats wounds, and it can improve your scalp and be a great moisturizer. If you want to get the best out of your honey make sure it’s raw. Raw honey contains vitamins, minerals, and enzymes as opposed to refined honey. We have many local honeys here at Down to Earth… come in and check them out! (My fav is Manoa honey.)

Here are some treat yo’self honey recipes:

Hair Conditioner

Mix ½ cup honey with ¼ cup olive oil. Put on hair until coated and let sit for 30 minutes. Shampoo as normal and rinse.

Body Moisturizer

Mix 4 Tablespoons honey, 2 Tablespoons lavender oil, and 2 cups almond oil in a large bottle. Apply as needed onto wet skin.

And here’s a video on honey from Down to Earth:

12 Days of Self Care

Photo: Women with face masks

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it again, the holidays are crazy! Whether you’re running around picking up presents, visiting relatives, or going on vacation, it can get overwhelming. The pressures and expectations of the holidays make it easy to overlook why we even celebrate them in the first place! It’s a time to be with people you love and to spread cheer. But there’s one person you probably forget about each and every year…. Yourself! Last year I remember being way too stressed and couldn’t enjoy myself fully. This year, I did a little research and a lot of asking around about ways to prevent or at least minimize the typical holiday stresses. Below you’ll find 12 ideas I’m hoping to put in action.

  1. Put a facial mask or some aromatherapy on while wrapping presents. You’ll be getting a chore done while you pamper yourself a little.
  2. Better yet, invite friends and family for a gift wrapping party. Put on facial masks, play some music, have some yummy snacks. You’ll get your presents done but more importantly, you’ll get to spend a little time with your loved ones.
  3. Call your parents, a best friend, or favorite relative while you’re waiting in those long lines just to say hi. You’ll be surprised how much of an energy boost you’ll get just gabbing with someone you care about.
  4. Watch your favorite comedy tv show while you cook. Laughing can make that pile of dishes go by much faster.
  5. Take a few minutes alone in your car before shopping to just breathe and center yourself. Going into a stressful environment while you’re feeling stressed is a formula for disaster.
  6. Make a list before shopping so you don’t stress out about what to buy. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted trying to decide. While the gift itself is important, the intent is much more significant.
  7. Buy something small for yourself while you’re shopping. A lip balm in a new flavor or a tiny trinket will bring a tiny bit of satisfaction to the entire day.
  8. Get a massage after shopping or after the holidays.
  9. Treat yourself to an organic espresso coffee, kombucha, or energizing drink from Down to Earth before you start shopping. Make sure it’s a flavor you really love or try something new and indulgent!
  10. Drink lots and lots of water, especially when you’re feeling stress. Hydration can only help to calm you down.
  11. Write in a gratitude journal at the beginning or end of each day during the holidays. This will help keep you in the right frame of mind. It can be as simple as a short sentence that says “I’m grateful for….” or you can fill up as many pages as you want. I might even continue doing this after the holidays!
  12. The favorite piece of advice I gathered up: Eat a small piece of your favorite chocolate or sweet treat at the end of each day. Just a little reward for getting through the day!

This year, I’m going to make a real effort to take care of myself so that I can truly enjoy the season and I hope you do too!

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