Friday, July 24, 2009

Nutritional environmentalism

More on synergy.

There is a growing awareness in our country of being energy-independent to address national security and environmental damage. There is also another national dialogue taking place on health care.

I believe that these issues are inter-related. The choices we make in our every day lives have profound and interdependent impacts on the world we live in. It starts very simply with the food we eat and the energy we use.

For instance, a diet high in red meat and other animal products uses tons more fossil fuels than a plant-based diet. Corn to feed the animal has to be grown; non-organic fertilizers are mostly petroleum based, need to be transported to the farm (sadly likely to be a factory-farm warehouse, not rural sprawling acreage). Corn fields and animal farms need to be irrigated—this all takes fuel. Cows and pigs aren’t made to digest corn, but grass. So they belch and fart a lot after eating all that corn and sorghum, releasing more methane into the air than all the automobiles in Europe. The animal then needs to be transported to slaughter and market. Additional processing—making into frozen entrees, etc. requires more steps. And once digested, this animal-based food product has not only belched greenhouse gasses into the air, but also increases your chances of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and a host of other health problems that are driving our health care costs wild.

You don’t need to be vegan or vegetarian, but becoming aware of the consequences of a plant-based versus meat-based diet can save more fossil fuels than the type of car you drive. This awareness can also help you to get more in touch with the food you are putting into your body, where it is grown, and how it gets to be on your plate. I am convinced that one of the most significant drains on our economy is the consequence of poor food choices, such as a diet high in meat-consumption or processed foods. Cooking a nutritious meal for yourself and your family can be the greenest thing you can do, probably even more important than the car you drive or who you vote for.

Use these simple steps to help you make lifestyle choices that can help your health, the environment, and the health issues you have or don't have in later life:

1) Try going vegetarian or vegan one day a week. If you can do more than that, great. You may be surprised at how easy it is. Simple menu ideas can be oatmeal for breakfast, split-pea soup for lunch, a handful of walnuts for a mid-afternoon snack, and whole-wheat pasta with pesto sauce with a side-salad for dinner. Notice how your body feels when you wake up the next morning.
2) When you have meat, make sure it’s the smallest portion on your plate. For instance, if you are eating a steak, try having a half-portion with a larger portion of side-vegetables. Drink a glass of water before you start eating.
3) Measure out the nutritional information you see on the labels of your processed foods. For instance, a serving of regular cola usually has as much sugar as nine packets of sugar. Would you ever add that to a cup of coffee or tea?
4) Processed foods have become great about lowering the fat in some of their foods, but too often make it up by adding astronomical amounts of sodium. Compare the serving size, portions, and percentage of recommended sodium on your food labels. No single meal should have more than 30% of your total sodium intake (assuming you are eating three meals a day and no salty snacks in between).

These simple steps can help you to get in touch with your body to make healthier choices. Our precious human bodies depend on our planet for sustenance; we can reciprocate by helping the planet with the choices we make in how we nourish ourselves.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Public Grief

What a week.

So many public figures-- Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Billy Mays-- all died within days of each other. Millions mourned their loss, as well as the lives and achievements of these public figures. They made us laugh, entertained us, danced, and help us shop. For many of us, we grew up watching Ed McMahon every night, Farrah every Wednesday night. We remembered a world before and after moon walking, and stains that wouldn't leave without OxyClean.

I couldn't but help wonder about the hundreds of thousands of others who died last week, who will die this week, or who die every day. The deaths of celebrities draw us in, we re-live their talents, we grieve their losses and then move on. These are lives lived in the public eye, and then ended in the public eye. It somehow satisfies our need to see our heroes fall, become fallible and human. Or, to honor the markers of our collective cultural landscapes.

But we could do so much more.

Even though few of us will live lives on national television, movie theaters, or provide the soundtracks to our memories, all of us will die. When celebrities live, they seem larger than life. In death, we are reminded of the Buddha's words in the Nine Charnel Ground Contemplations-- "None of us are exempt from this fate."

The deaths of famous people demonstrate that death is universal, and if we allow it, can be a universal teacher. We can-- if we choose to-- be reminded of the preciousness of all life, of the unique potential of each human life, and the inevitability of our mortality. We can use the deaths of celebrities as bells of mindfulness to wake us up from taking our precious moments for granted. To become empowered to make the choices that give our lives meaning.

So, thank you Ed, Farrah, MJ, Billy, and everyone else for giving us the opportunity to wake up in your own way.

May you all be free from suffering, and may you all be at peace.