Category Archives: science

‘The Vegetarian Myth’

This is one scary ass book. I feel like I’ve just read a Margaret Atwood sci-fi horror piece. Worse because it might all be coming true.


Keith makes her case in an oddly well-researched yet intimate voice, that pauses mid polemic to call out to her reader: ‘Can you believe this shit?” And frankly, the tactic is called for. Because what she’s saying is BIG.

Along with the rest of the world, I’ve been the recipient and the victim of several nutrition ‘turnings’. I was interested enough in Nutrition to become a professional, not that it has much meaning anymore.  Everything I was taught was wrong. I might as well be Woody Allen in ‘Sleeper’. The complexity of studying human nutrition plus the political/economic stakes involved mean that there are very rarely any clear answers. Plus (to paraphrase Dr. House) Everybody Eats. So a stinkin’ credential doesn’t buy you much credibility.  Very early on in my career I fled from anything clinical since that involves an attempt to change something more personal than religion. It usually just doesn’t happen.

Diet for a Small Planet  was the rallying cry in the late 70’s. It sparked my interest in the field. The entire premise is eviscerated by Keith. Toast. And the Dietary Guidelines for Americans  and the infernally misguided USDA meal patterns that it engendered.  All bunk. We’ve killed diabetics and made our citizens obese. We have much to answer for. We’ve been victimized by a pervasive like-produces-like fallacy. The enemy all along has not been FAT.  It’s SUGAR.

I realized this the day I read Gary Taubes’ NYT article. I remember I stopped reading and (much as Keith urges her vegan readers to do), made some bacon and eggs.  Not that  I’ve never successfully been a vegetarian of any stripe. I didn’t have the willpower or the (blind?) moral certitude that Keith had during her 20 years as a vegan. Keith says she destroyed her own health with low protein, high carb. I was just getting fat. A low carb approach, has worked well for me. I don’t go on hypoglycemic binges anymore. I can control my weight. My lipid panels are good enough that doctors notice. I’m far, so very far from the Dietetic Party Line.

Keith systematically provides arguments against every path to Vegetarianism:

Moral Vegetarians: basically life happens because of death and even plants communicate and try to defend themselves. There is no such thing as life without killing.

Political Vegetarians: Agriculture is been destroying our health and our planet since its beginning. Devil Annual Grains make both us and animals fat. Cows need to eat grass (because we can’t) and we need to eat cows. Big Corn makes Big Oil look benign. We’re using up our ‘fossil soil’ as fast as fossil fuels and we’re on the path to worldwide starvation.

Nutritional Vegetarians: (see above)  Another account of the Ancel Keys studies and how they don’t hold up. The mythical CHD scare.  And the scariest devil in a book of devils: lectins, which Keith makes sound like gut-busting alien parasites.

Altogether a very disturbing, provocative book that I think needs to be widely read and discussed. Whether this book’s dismal predictions come to pass or there is another nutritional ‘turning’ in the future remains to be seen.

Giving up the devil bean

caffeine addictionCaffeine is the Vic Mackey of substance abuse. Much harm is suspected, but they just don’t seem to be able to nail the sucker. I remember a late 70’s scare about coffee and breast cancer (‘One Lump or Two?’ is the sick headline I remember to this day) but that seemed not to play out.  Not only that, but caffeine might be protective against Alzheimer’s disease.  Caffeine is a complicated character that is obviously not blank and white.

I got into coffee in Berkeley, where it is a sacramental affair, not to be taken lightly. My ritual is very set. French roast, fresh ground, dripped into a single cup with a Melita (brown, unbleached) filter. Used grounds composted. How I love that early morning buzz, the influence of which sets me browsing through my RSS feeds and feeling that (Gemini rising) mental high. I have always wondered though, if coffee aggravates my genetic abnormal sleep patterns. Extreme early rising and subsequent unavoidable mental crashing in the evening. I wonder too about any relation it might have to my chronic migraine, just to mention one more lingering accusation about the devil bean.

Seratonin, though, just might be something that  pushes me to try withdrawal.  Times are hard and we’ve got to preserve any seratonin we still have left. And my S.O. has had to give it up AGAIN, in consideration of his reflux, so that leaves me the only household consumer. AND we are really broke right now, so the $40/month we spend on bags of French Roast might be a factor.

I do dread coming off the bean though. I might require hospitalization:)  Encouragement, strategies?
Thanks to Kathryn Vercillo for the image.

Exploring the new by using the old, with discourse on the NYRB

NYRB: Volume 56, Number 6 · April 9, 2009 Freeman Dyson’s review (not available free online unfortunately) of The Lightness of Being: Mass, Ether, and the Unification of Forces

I run chronically behind reading the New York Review of Books. It’s thick, juicy stuff that fills me with intellectual joy. I can’t bear to throw away an unread issue. My only salvation is that through the summer, they go monthly instead of bi-monthly so I have a fighting chance of keeping up. (Getting the flu also helps.) In June then, it is time to take up the stack that started to accumulate back in March and sprint through them. Of course, if I were someone I imagine as a typical subscriber, someone who could actually apply for those fellowships in medieval basketweaving or take that summer immersion class in London, I’d be tucking those copies into my bag to take to the Hamptons. No, I am one of their more bohemian followers, alas, no vacation in the cards, who usually only gets to pick it up on business trips (NYRB’s are great airplane reading, btw, with the content of a tome and the weight of a newspaper) or for bedtime reading. I sometimes get stuck on a paragraph for weeks, falling asleep at exactly the same point, recreating Proust’s book leaving his his hands on a nightly basis. I do tend to skim articles on art exhibits – they only produce despair that I can’t attend and I find verbal descriptions of paintings useless – and articles on poetry, because despite being hopelessly bookish, most poetry doesn’t do it for me. I always give it a chance, but if it doesn’t let me in, I move on. I adore all of the history, the literature, the politics and the science.

(So what was this post about? Oh yeah. Actually, many NYRB authors take a similarly discursive path. They are assigned to review a book, but they know a lot about the subject and they tend to ramble on. I find this enjoyable, though it causes my more succinct husband to claw the walls in frustration. If someone has interesting things to say, I’ll follow them anywhere. Probably far more than I could ask from hapless blog readers. So I’ll get to the point.)

So, anyway, this article was talking about the history of atomic particle research; what has worked and what hasn’t. What may not provide future return on investment, are these huge particle accelerators costing a bazillion dollars that every country has been fighting to get. The ones that fear-mongering news articles a few months back accused of having the potential to destroy the earth by creating an unintentional black hole byproduct. Ironically, many past discoveries were made using a far cheaper, passive system still in use by countries without bazillions to spend. I was amused by the analysis done by the author that showed that Nobel prizes have been given disproportionately to discoveries made with the cheaper method. A few years back, there was a similar article completely debunking any need for manned space flight and convincingly demonstrating that unmanned robot probes serve up information for a fraction of the cost. Think of those plucky Martian Wall-E’s marching on forever without need for dehydrated astronaut food.

This reminded me of our dear physician friend, now in his late 80’s, who spent his life in cardiology research. He is a devoted advocate and master of electrocardiography (ECG or EKG) using the now ancient paper and stylus, a medical technology, I understand, now falling somewhat behind the new and sexier computerized versions. Our friend stands by his opinion that, though the old method is harder for his interns to learn, it ultimately provides all the required information about the patient in a much more economical way.

Don’t get me wrong. I am as entranced by every new Internet toy as the next avatar, but we should try to preserve those old ways too. We might need them. Our friend, the cardiologist, also tells us how his family got through the Great Depression by living completely off the land. His family had no income whatsover for four years. If we were in the same straits, we’d have a total produce yield of about 6 tomatoes, some rosemary and thyme sprigs, and some very spindly asparagus. And none of us knows how to milk a cow, let alone butcher one. Gives one pause.