Delicious, yet malicious: Reading Salt, Sugar, Fat

No one, as far as I know, will be surprised to find out that highly processed, manufactured food isn’t the healthiest option. No, what’s compelling about Michael Moss’s Sugar, Salt, Fat isn’t some surprising revelation. Rather, it’s the breadth and depth of an issue we kind of already knew about, laid bare. And it ain’t pretty. Here are the take aways, in the cliff’s notes version:


  • Food companies are not interested in your well being. They’re interested in their bottom line. They will make things healthier if and only if it helps them sell more. They are for-profit companies in a cutthroat competitive market. Capitalism, folks!
  • The executives and scientists who make processed food and drinks generally don’t partake of the products they design and sell. Make of that what you will.
  • The copy on food packages is disingenuous. The only information about a food’s
    Ginsburg_11565-006-Crop

    keeping supremecourt.gov fly.

    nutritional value is on the actual nutrition facts and ingredients labeling.

  • The history of the government’s dietary guidelines is apalling— this isn’t a conspiracy theory, it’s pretty blatent. The department of agriculture steers the ship— and this department’s primary mission is not, in fact, health. RBG knows— Moss wrote of Ginsberg’s opnion in a 2005 case about the checkoff program for beef marketing that the USDA was simultaneusly promoting beef (advertising paid for by the government program) and telling people to eat less meat (in the USDA guidelines). She couldn’t square that circle, and neither can I: these folks have a texas-sized conflict of interest.

Bottom line: if you want to eat healthy, you have to pay attention, and it’s up to you because neither the food industry nor the government has your back. Bon appetit!

On Choosing

I recently read Marie Kondo’s now-classic The Life Changing Magic of Tyding Up. Underlying the advice about how to fold your clothes and the batty-seeming suggestion to talk to your stuff was a solid truth: we can choose our lives, but unless we decide to do so deliberately, we will not— and we will often not even be aware that this is happening. Kondo demonstrates this easily in reference to possessions: we keep unused gifts and promotional throw-aways and things that came in the mail even when we don’t like them, want them, or have any use for them. They become part of our stuff without our ever having chosen them. They show up, we let them in, and then bam! They’re ours. This happens with stuff, with people, with habits, with jobs, with whole careers, with whole lives. When zoomed out to these macro things, asking “does it spark joy?” somehow seems more important.

If we do not make deliberate choices about the elements of our lives, they will be decided for us by circumstance, chance, and others’ interests.

Woah.
Of course, sponteneity can bring joy, serendipity, the unexpected, the delightful, the life-changing, in its own right. I don’t mean to suggest we can’t open ourselves to things that come along– but when they do, ask ourselves why we are letting them be part of our lives. There are two benefits to this approach: first, we aren’t cluttered with things that don’t serve us, and second, we can truly value the things that do.
Identifying our values through sorting our stuff? OK, I’m sold. As a healthcare provider, I’m keenly interested in identifying what people value.

Happiness: When Thinking Fast Steers Us Wrong

I read a lot of books last year— among them The Undoing Project, by Michael Lewis, which led me to Thinking Fast and Slow, by the behavioral psychologist Daniel Kahneman. In Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman proposes that the “fast” system of thinking, or system 1, is the efficient and rapid way of processing information and taking action— it’s a heuristic-reliant process and always looks for the shortest path to an answer. It’s helpful, unless it isn’t. System 1 makes mistakes— and one of them is answering the wrong question. Politicians are aces at this one— answer the question you have the ready answer for, and hope the questioner doesn’t notice. And in the brain, often, it doesn’t.
What does this have to do with happiness or goal-setting?

We might ask ourselves “what do I want?”. There are lots of ways to answer that question, and the answer we’re after is sometimes complicated. It might be scary to admit, it might freak us out that there’s no clear way to achieve it, it might look like an insurmountable amount of work to get there, we might think it’s silly. We might be subconsiously blocking the real question for these reasons. Or we might not have really figured out how to listen to ourselves. So when we ask ourselves what we want, sometimes we get a system-one sleight-of-hand. What would make me comfortable right now? What do others expect of me? What would be easiest? What do I already know how to do? What would impress people? And system 1 will answer that question for us before we realize that it’s not really what we wanted to know.

Where does that leave us? I believe that self-reflection is a necessarily slow process. That’s not to say that we can’t have bursts of insight that hit like lightnening and change everything, but those aren’t enough on their own. We hear a lot about goal setting this time of year, and there’s a booming business for planners, self-help books, journals, programs, and “goal getter” t-shirts. All of this is fine, but none of it is going to help us unless we can take dedicated time thinking slow about what we want.

dealing with death.

 

In Tucson each November, there is an event called the All Souls’ Procession. It’s a relative of the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos, but it’s a distinct and unique experience. People come together and walk through the city with floats, puppets, photos, banners. They dance, chant, drum. They paint their faces and wear costumes. There’s a giant urn. There’s a celbratory aspect, but also a solemnity. There’s a shared sense of loss and solidarity. It’s moving and remarkable.

In most of America, anxiety around death is rampant. There are huge silicon valley projects dedicated to promoting longevity. We talk about “not giving up” and “fighting.” We put 85-year-old people with failing organs on ventilators and tube feeds at great expense, both in finances and in human suffering. We use euphamisms like “passed on”.  We generally don’t think and talk about the fact that death is a presupposition of life— the thing that, by oppostion, defines it, and the place that it ends. Life and death are in this way inseperable. It’s a strain on our society, I think, to stick our fingers in our ears and ignore this.

Of course there are people who resist this tendancy to avoid thee idea death. Continue reading

A Meditation on Returning to Running

So, I’m back to running. I’m building back up slowly, but I’ve been able to get out and run almost every day that I’ve really wanted to. I had a few times where I’ve run for less time than I planned because my foot didn’t feel right, but those days have been few and far between. I’m healing.  And guess what? Running, which I missed so dearly, still sucks sometimes! Some days it’s hot and I’m tired and I can’t seem to get in a groove. But that happens to every runner, and now, I just don’t really mind. What happened?

Did being injured teach me gratitude? Yes, I’m sure, but it also gave me a lot of time to read and think. I read a lot of books about running— Running and Being (a meditative classic by George Sheehan), Ready to Run (Kelly Starrett’s owner’s manual for a running body), Run Fast (good old Hal Higdon), What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (another meditation, by Murakami). I listened to audiobooks, too, during otherwise boring sessions on the bike or elliptical: Finding Ultra, Born to Run, Natural Born Heroes, Eat & Run. I read some other, non-running books, too: Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell, who is, love him or hate him, a creative thinker), Bad Feminist (Roxane Gay), and parts of Igniting Greatness (a book that might unkindly be called “self-help” but is really about psychology and personal choice, given to me by Howie Glasser, who sets up behind me in yoga twice a week). See, I told you I had a lot of space to fill!

What books should I read next?

So yes, I learned from the experience of not running, and I learned from the things I did instead. I think I’m a better runner now. I am a little slower and I am covering fewer miles, but I think I fixed part of my running brain, or heart, or soul.

IMG_1380I’ll see you on the trail, friends!

COOKBOOK REVIEWS!

I love a good cookbook. Especially one with lots of food-porn caliber photography. Food blogs are great (and i maintain an ever-growing Evernote notebook full of recipes clipped from blogs), but there’s something about having pages to turn and ruin with splatters that is just so appealing.

Even though I don’t categorize myself strictly as a vegan or even a vegetarian, the vast majority of my cooking is, in fact, vegan. So, the cookbooks I gravitate towards are vegan, too. And, this isn’t perhaps as obvious as it sounds— you don’t have to be a capital-V-Vegan to cook from vegan cookbooks. Srsly. So in that spirit, I’m going to review a few recently-acquired cookbooks that are full of plants-only recipes. . . but I cook ‘em for my omnivore friends all the time and it usually goes well! So I guess what I’m saying is, don’t knock it til you try it! Without further ado:

But I could never go vegan! 

  • This is a book full of what I call “trick recipes.” You look at the list of ingredients and scratch your head. Some of it sounds weird. Some of them are hard to find. But then you try it, and it’s like some kind of alchemy or magic or something. The author, Kristy Turner, is a cheesemaker-turned-vegan, and it is in these vegan cheese interpretations that she really shines. I always get disappointed when a recipe for a vegan cheese-including dish includes “vegan cheese” as an ingredient. Whomp-whomp. But none of that nonsense here! Macadamia ricotta was sweet and creamy. Cashew blue cheese was tangy and distinctly umami. Not exactly like cheese, no. But hella delicious, and certainly filling a cheese-shaped hole in lots of recipes.  Real winners from this book: Artichoke crab cakes with sriracha tarter sauce, Sunflower Sausage, and Buffalo Cauliflower Calzones. Seconds, please!
  • Caveats: Some of these are a little time consuming, and as mentioned, need some quirky ingredients (canned jackfruit in brine, kelp granules). Generally worth it, though! They also vary in their degree of healthfulness, but pretty much always outshine the standard meat/dairy versions by reducing animal fat/protein and including lots of veggies.
  • Try it if: You want to move towards a vegetarian or vegan diet at least some of the time, you like trying new things, you are afraid eating healthier food means giving up flavor.

The Plantpower Way

  • The PPW has some of the most gorgeous photography I’ve seen— partly because it’s both a “lifestyle guide” and cookbook. The food looks gorgeous, and so do Rich Roll, Julie Piatt, and their family. Rich is an athlete and podcaster, and this book includes some general discussion of “wellness” and “the journey” and “vibrations”, which might intrigue you or might annoy you. Either way, though, it’s the recipes that are the centerpiece. Unlike some other vegan cookbooks, this book doesn’t have tricks. Everything is simple, and this is by design. It’s very much real food, and relies mostly on whole foods. Sauces like  the“Fast Raw Mole” have a depth of flavor that defies their simplicity. Veggie burgers didn’t have any surprises, but came out beautifully. “Untuna Wraps” and “Aztec Enchiladas” combined basic ingredients into satisfying meals. I haven’t dipped my toe into the desserts yet, but the tarts and “cheesecakes” are calling my name. There’s also a whole section on smoothies and juices with plenty of good recommendations. Some of these, however, call for some exotic and expensive ingredients.
  • Caveats: There is some discussion of nutrition here that while generally sensible, isn’t exactly scientific. You’ll hear the alterna-health anti-gluten dogma coming through. Also, this isn’t strictly vegan— some recipes include honey, but if that bothers you you could easily substitute. Also, after look at some of the photos, you might be tempted to see if Rich and Julie will adopt you.
  • Try it if: You want to get into wellness-focused eating and need ideas and advice on how to start cooking whole foods and plant-based dishes, you like simple, tasty food, you have a little bit of earth-mother hippie-chick in you.

Happy cooking, guys!