What to Eat?

 

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A rare healthy lunch of mine. Photo by me.

In searching for the perfect healthy diet (for me), I’ve become more confused than ever. I watched two documentaries on Netflix about changing the diets of some test subjects: sick, obese, type-II diabetic, and others taking zillions of medications. Each diet got them losing weight, feeling better and off their pills – using almost opposite strategies.

Now I’m confused. Let’s discuss.

The Magic Pill

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One of my healthier trips to the grocery. Photo by me.

The first was “The Magic Pill,” which turns out to be about the keto diet (high fat/low carb/moderate-to-low protein). They follow several groups of people with health problems that allow the documentary to change their diets completely for a few weeks to see what happens: an Aboriginal group in Australia that suffers from high rates of type-II diabetes and a high sugar/processed diet; two families with autistic/non-verbal children; and others with health problems such as asthma, cancer, type II diabetes, etc.

The keto diet outlined in the program was as follows:

Eat whole foods; choose organic; eliminate processed foods; eliminate grains and legumes; embrace healthy fats (olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, animal fats, eggs); avoid dairy—if you must eat, choose full-fat and organic; select naturally raised animals—pastured animals and wild-caught & sustainable seafood; eat nose to tail (bone broths, organ meats); eat fermented foods; and fast intermittently.

I will fully admit to being wowed when the non-verbal autistic children start talking and very sick people clear up tons of problems and are able to go off just about all of their medications. It’s an impressive thing to behold. I was all pumped up. But, this documentary has been faulted for its lack of scientific research (allegedly plenty exists to support keto, but it’s not presented). They do interview doctors who affirm this diet.

This diet is similar to paleo, although paleo is more OK with carbs (a lot of dishes are served on a potato background), but both eschew grains, legumes and dairy as inflammatory/disease-causing agents 😦

Keto/paleo make sense to me as a healthy style of eating, as long as you’re not just eating stacks of sausage/bacon/burger patties and nothing else. If it was good enough for tens of thousands of years, it’s probably OK today. Minimal processing, lots and lots of vegetables, some meat and everything doused in healthy fats.

What the Health

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Farmer’s market in Santa Barbara. Photo by me.

Filmmaker Kip Anderson experienced a wakeup call after watching Al Gore’s benchmark film on Climate Change, “An Inconvenient Truth.” Anderson went on to make the viral sensation “Cowspiracy.”

“What the Health” is his follow-up project, where he strives to expose the corruption in the country’s leading health organizations and pharmaceutical companies. It’s truly riveting television.

I watched it fresh off the “rah-rah keto” documentary above, so my head was truly spinning as Anderson presented scientific paper after paper (<– click for link to all of them) of health research showing the adverse affect of eating meat, eggs, and dairy on cardiovascular health, life expectancy and other diseases. He interviews at least six MDs that back up the research and talk from an expert point of view.

Basically it was about trying to figure out why the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen, and American Diabetes Association recommend foods (like red meat and dairy) that have been directly linked to causing their diseases.

The big “gotcha!” moment of the film is when Anderson discovers these agencies are sponsored by the beef council, egg council, dairy farmers, Tyson Chicken, Yoplait, etc. To read between the lines—they’re basically paid off to keep hush-hush about the science behind preventing these diseases through diet.

Any time he called one of these giant health organization to discuss the link between diet and the disease, he had phones hung up on him and doors slammed in his face—literally. Even their lawyers wouldn’t give him a statement.

Same goes for pharmaceuticals, although the link is more obvious. It’s in their best interests to keep you sick so you have to buy their pills.

Basically, just watch it for yourself and report back in the comments section.

The vegan diet is: grains, legumes, vegetables, nuts/seeds and fats like olive, avocado, and coconut oils. Eat fresh, eat variety. Carbs are NOT the enemy here. From my own research, you should easily hit your protein goals if you eat enough of these. The only thing lacking in a vegan diet is vitamin B12, which can be found in supplemented foods and pill form.

Vegan has always appealed to me as the most environmentally/climate-conscious choice. One pound of beef takes up to 1,800 gallons of water to produce, not to mention the land used and methane (greenhouse gas) and waste produced by the cows. I try to only eat beef a few times a year currently. Poultry has a much smaller footprint on land and water use, and I eat it almost every day (along with dairy and eggs). Although it still gets an F-minus by this film.

So this would be a hard habit to quit, especially since I despise nuts, beans and soooo many vegetables! But in my mind, it makes the most sense. And lest you think you can’t be a jacked athlete on a vegan diet—watch the film. They interviewed a number of power lifters and extreme athletes that eat vegan and look great.

What’s your ideal diet, and why?

I Don’t do Resolutions

 

Y2K 1lo

The exact second I rang in Y2K. That’s the year 2000 for you kids out there.

For as many years as I can remember, I’ve sworn off New Year’s resolutions. “If you want to do something, just do it. What does it matter what time of year it is?” was always my mantra.

I think tying yourself to January 1st can be a recipe for failure–it’s just so arbitrary. From a quick Google search, I see that 80% of resolutions fail by February, and 92% fail eventually.

But… this year I felt like making one.

I have really been digging into a bunch of books and researching various topics, including the Ice Age settlement of the Americas, green energy and climate change, plus some highly recommended fiction. So it seemed like January 1, 2019, would be about when I got through my Netflix cue and maybe could shut ‘er down (we’ve already cut the cord on cable).

So three I-guess-you-could-call-them-resolutions have crystallized in my mind. Maybe keeping up this blog would be No. 4, but I don’t want to get too crazy here.

  1. READ MORE: Spend all down-time reading, not with the TV on. Maybe I’ll keep an escape hatch of allowing myself Netflix while cooking or cleaning or otherwise being productive doing another task.
  2. FITNESS/STRENGTH: I really want to get fitter. I love lifting weights and it greatly helps with my riding. Plus lifting weights increases your metabolism and bone density, and may ease or prevent depression. (Of course I would like the side effect of an awesome bod!) I started going to the gym in March of 2018, but it’s gone in fits and starts. I’ve lost 12 pounds, but that’s not really the metric that I’m focused on so much as increased muscle/decreased fat. If I could work out 3x/week, I’d be thrilled. I’m going to the barn 7 days a week, so at least I move around a little even if I’m not at the gym. But really dialing in and being consistent is the goal.
  3. BETTER NUTRITION: I also started working on this in 2018 in June, when I did a Faster Way to Fat Loss boot camp with my friend/coach Chelsea. It was very helpful to get into new habits for 6 weeks with accountability and a group that’s going through the same struggles and victories. I’ve been watching some Netflix shows about organic farming, whole-food nutrition, and trying to curb many of the common “western” killers through better diet. I am inspired, although I’m also an extremely picky eater. But I’ve learned to cook and don’t mind doing it now, which is a big step of progress. I still eat too many processed foods though, and would love to clean things up for both health and fitness reasons.

I am mostly writing this to keep myself accountable. Do you make resolutions? Share if you feel comfortable! We’re all in this together.

My Electric Car (RIP)

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This is (was) my electric car.

I was disturbed to be guzzling down gas at 15 mpg (and almost $4/gallon) in my V8 Toyota 4Runner, but I also need that vehicle to transport my horse to shows that nobody else at my barn goes to. Competing my horse is pretty much the only thing I do in life (besides the normal, like work and family), so it’s super important to me.

In July 2017, I got a job about 20 miles away that required working 8:00 to 5:00 and commuting on the 405. Anyone in SoCal understands that is a good hour+ commute each way. While my husband was looking at cars one day, he spotted this VW e-Golf. It was used and already had the diamond lane stickers–in California, you can apply for carpool lane stickers if you drive a clean-air vehicle.

The car cost $16,000, about half of its “new car” MSRP (it was a year old). I can’t remember how many miles it had on it, but not many. It came with a 10 year/100k-mile warranty on the battery, my biggest worry. We decided to scoop it up since there was a car charging station at my job.

Pros and Cons

Pros: All-electric vehicle (EV), not hybrid, uses zero gasoline. Sticker to drive in carpool lane and reduce commute time by half or more. Not spending $250/month on gas anymore (spending about $4/day or $80/month to charge at work instead). Brake energy no longer wasted–it’s used to charge battery. Electric motors have much simpler design (fewer moving parts) than an internal combustion engine, making them more reliable. No oil changes needed. Lower center of gravity makes for nice, sporty driving. Extremely high torque means incredible acceleration from a standstill, which is safer for merging onto roads and highways here.

Cons: Not yet available in large SUV/truck (this is a big con for me with my trailer, or anyone with lots of kids to drive around, who only wants to care for one vehicle). My car had about an 80-mile “range” before recharging was needed, so it couldn’t be driven on long trips (I didn’t have a fast-charge port, only slow & medium). So you’d technically need a 2nd car with hybrid or regular gas engine to drive across state lines to grandma’s if you can’t fly/train/bus there. And finally: availability of charging stations.

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Pictured: 4 EV chargers near my work. My eGolf and its blue twin.

This was the one that did me in. If you have a garage, you can easily plug your car into a regular outlet after work until the following morning (“slow charge”), or have electrician install the “medium” speed charger–the same type of outlet as a stove or clothes dryer–which will give you plenty of daily commuting juice in about 4-5 hours.

Since I live in a condo with no charging station, I was dependent on my charger at work. I switched jobs in October 2017 and, thankfully, still was close to a car-charging station at the new job. Charging there cost $1/hour.

A Change of Circumstances

But then my company was bought out and I was sent to work from home in March 2018. At first, I tried to drive to the nearest charger a few miles from my house. There was only one unit, and it always had a car attached. It also had a one-hour time limit (useless!). I drove to the next closest chargers… also all occupied. With feet left to drive before running out of charge, I found a public park that closed in 1 hour with an open charger (you can locate all the chargers around you on a phone app; some brands tell you if they are available or in use). Started to realize this was a nightmare.

Now that I would only be driving to see my horse every day, and of course there were no car chargers at the barn, I decided I really couldn’t keep the car. Best case, I could find a charger and, what, wait for 5 hours while it charged? (If the car had a fast-charge option, that would only take 30 minutes, but this was a feature I didn’t even know to ask about at the time we bought it.) Or walk 2 miles home and 2 miles back? (The car was too small to hold a bike inside.)

So we decided to sell it.

Now I’m back to the horse-transporting gas-guzzler. To be fair, none of my problems with an EV would be issues for anyone with a garage (containing an outlet) or a car with a fast-charging option. Also, newer electric cars have a hugely improved range–over 200 miles. In my area, there are plenty of charging stations and you could easily drive from L.A. to Vegas (300 miles) and beyond just by planning with an app and coordinating your fast-charges with rest/food stops.

The World is Almost Ready

I hope sharing my electric car story has shed some light on the topic. You definitely don’t need to spend $80,000 on a Tesla to enjoy the benefits of an electric car! For instance, the 2018 Chevy Bolt has a 238-mile range and $36,000 MSRP. That price will come down as the 2019s roll out (same battery range on the new ones).

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2018 Chevrolet Bolt.

In fact, with more charging infrastructure and beefier vehicles, everyone could be driving EVs within one generation of auto-purchase turnover. It’s really the psychological grip of the gas-powered car that I see as the problem. Do you think it can/should be done? Please comment below.

I have lots more ideas for clean commuting that don’t even involve owning a car, but I’ll save that for another post 🙂

Post Script: What’s Super New is Actually Super Old

Right after I finished this post, I was watching a Netflix show about batteries (so important in the switch to electric cars). It turns out electric cars almost beat out internal combustion engines when cars first came out!

Sadly the batteries had some problems to be sorted out, and the Model T got the jump before they were perfected. Gas stations took the place of the electric car charging stations that were all over New York. Here is Jay Leno’s 1909 Baker electric that still runs!

“It’s the Economy, Stupid”

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On Black Friday (#ClimateFriday), Volume II of the National Climate Assessment was released (Volume I came out in 2017). The Natural Resource Defense Council calls it the most definitive report ever compiled on climate change in America. Once again, blink and it was easy to miss.

This report was mandated by Congress in 1990–in a 100-to-0 vote(!!)–to be delivered every four years by the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) to Congress and the President. The USGCRP was proposed in Reagan’s final budget and established during Bush 1’s administration.

More than 300 experts compiled the report, which was reviewed by more than 1,000 people in the scientific, business and public interest communities. Thirteen federal agencies helped author it, including NOAA, NASA, the EPA, the Department of Defense, the Pentagon and the State Department.

The report is more than a wake-up call, it’s a tally of the damage that’s already been done by a swiftly changing climate: billions of dollars in costs resulting from intensifying disasters like crop failure, fires, hurricanes and floods, the scale and frequency of which have never been seen before.

“Climate change puts many things Americans care about at risk, both now and in the future, and risks will intensify without action,” the report states. “Many options are available to reduce risks, and choices made today will determine the magnitude of future risks.”

Unlike the previous report I mentioned by the IPCC, this one was more focused on humanity’s role in extreme weather and how continued climate change will play out in terms of costs.

This is the report I like to call, “It’s the economy, stupid.” It puts dollar amounts on changing nothing. While making expensive changes to our energy grids and transportation methods now definitely sounds like a pain in the wallet, it’s just spending NOW vs. much more later. It’s in our economic self-interest down the road to cut greenhouse gases.

According to the report, climate change will cost the U.S. $500 billion per year in today’s dollars by 2100 if we stay on our current trajectory. Health care costs, infrastructure damage, agricultural failures and import/export prices (George Costanza’s favorite) are the primary contributors.

The authors recommend 3 primary solutions: carbon taxing; the government capping allowable greenhouse emissions; and researching clean energy with public funds.

Needless to say, but I’ll mention it anyway, radically cutting our greenhouse emissions makes more than economic sense. It will be saving the lives of future people (including ourselves) affected by food and water shortages, pollution, insect-borne diseases, heat stroke, and natural disasters.

Win-win!

Cover photo: Wikimedia Commons, by Jorge Franganillo

1.5 to Stay Alive

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In October of 2018, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report compiled and reviewed by, collectively, thousands of climate scientists from all over the globe.

What is the IPCC? It’s a panel assembled by the United Nations (UN), put together to distill knowledge from every branch of science related to climate and climate change. There is no political party or agenda behind its publication. It’s just putting info out there.

There’s a lot to take in, but the big headline is that we must keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (above pre-industrial levels) to avoid mass destruction. Here are digestible takeaways I got from this summary:

  • First of all: we’re already at 1 degree C of warming since the industrial revolution. Yes fellow math wizards, that gives us 0.5 degrees to go.
  • Even if we shut off all climate-warming production today (gas, goal, methane from cows, et cetera), the world would still get hotter for a while as existing pollution continues to trap heat.
  • 1.5 is bad, but we can live with its effects. 2 degrees gets into a whole ‘nother ballpark: massive ice sheet melting and sea level rise that effects many more millions of “climate refugees,” as well as wiping out untold species on land and sea. (Side note: the Paris Agreement is weaker than you think, and would leave us at 3 degrees of warming by 2100.)
  • Since we’re already closing in on 1.5 degrees, the critical window requires cutting emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and 100% by 2050. But after 2030 is really when the domino effect of climate catastrophes will begin if nothing is done.
  • Sticking to “only” 1.5 degrees also requires massive removal of carbon from the atmosphere (carbon capture/sequestration). Also… this isn’t actually possible yet.

A key passage in the IPCC report explains how we gon’ do all dis:

“Pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems.”

You know what? That is actually kind of exciting. It gets all my WWII nostalgia cranking. Back then, the U.S. transformed in a few short years, out of the Great Depression and into incredible innovation. They sacrificed like crazy and worked together toward a common goal.

There ARE solutions, and I’ll get to them as the series goes on.

Cover photo: Zimmer Power Plant Smoke Stack, by joelbeeb

Climate Blogging for a Minute

polar bear

I’m going to shift the focus of this blog  for a minute to the breezy topic of how we’re basically tied to the front of a train hurdling down the tracks to our own doom.

Check out this cool video if you’re still a skeptic. (And no, “natural climate change” has never happened this quickly–we can tell based on ice cores going back hundreds of thousands of years how fast natural climate change happens. It’s nothing like this.)

Beginning in October, a lot of important climate reports have come out, although you could miss them if you blink with the amount of other news under which they get buried. I’m going to write one post per report just to keep them short.

My only hope is to raise awareness, as this is no longer a problem we can pass along to the next generation. The scientific consensus is in: we have until about 2030 to get out ahead of this thing. That’s 12 years. That’s almost certainly within your lifespan if you’re reading this.

The major problem is that this isn’t something “we” can fix by recycling more or conserving water or eating vegan or driving a Prius. Those are great steps, but we need MASSIVE, coordinated effort by all (particularly large) countries … immediately. Hmm. That is a depressing thought, only because we know the likeliness of it happening 😦

Why? Why can’t people on a large government scale look at the problem, say “this is worth addressing,” and freaking address it?

Because it’s easier to let people drive their trucks (yes, I have one too), keep that coal plant open till, like, whenever… because… jobs? I don’t know what the logic is, honestly. There are way more jobs in developing and manufacturing alternatives to fossil fuels.

But there’s quite literally no plan on the horizon at all. Really no countries are on target to meet their Paris Climate Accord goals, and those goals are not radical enough to stop massive increases in crop failure, climate refugees, droughts, fires, floods, et cetera.

It’s too overwhelming. Easier just not to think about. To live in the here and now, plug your ears, and sing “la la la la la la!” But I invite you to continue reading my series. If nothing else, just to maybe learn something new.

And that’s fun! Yay!

Cover photo: Polar bear on ice flow in Wager Bay (Ukkusiksalik National Park, Nunavut, Canada), by Ansgar Walk

Book Review: 1491

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My favorite podcast is “Stuff You Should Know,” hosted by Josh Clark and Charles W. “Chuck” Bryant. Well, Josh has this crazy-nerd obsession with the book 1491, by Charles C. Mann, and talks about it all the time.

Eventually my curiosity got the better of me and I decided I needed to read it. Obviously at 400 or so pages I can’t really summarize the whole book, but I thought it worthwhile to mention a few impactful things that I took away from it.

Most of us have a vague concept of a few small Native American tribes that existed in the Americas before Spanish, English and French settlers “discovered” the New World and quickly strong-armed their way to dominance.

Research has come a long way since then, as evidenced by the hundreds of books in the bibliography. Bottom line: We were educated pretty poorly and they have not updated the textbooks.

In the pre-Columbian, pre-“contact” Americas, there were as many as 100 million (possibly more) inhabitants from Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina. These societies were very diverse, and some were highly advanced and flourishing nicely, thank you very much.

The biggest factor that I took away was that when Europeans first made contact after tens of thousands of years of population separation, the lack of immunity to smallpox (in addition to other bacteria and viruses) quickly swept from east to west, north to south, eradicating as much as 90-95% of the native population. Yes. Read that again. Up to 90+%.

Think about that for a second. Had smallpox not decimated the population, a small settlement of a few hundred people at a time–even with guns and horses–never would have been able to take over the land in a few hundred years.

Now on to what, exactly, was wiped out. We mostly think of Indians (as they still refer to themselves–everyone the author talked to did not use or like the term “Native American”) as leaving no ecological trace and living lightly on the land, hardly turning so much as a leaf in nature. In fact, advanced farming techniques and extensive use of fire to shape the landscape was the norm.

When we think of the East Coast today, dense forests are the de facto landscape. But when the first settlers made their way through this are in the 16th and 17th centuries, the woods were cleared of all underbrush, such that a “four-horse carriage could easily drive through them,” reminiscent of the parks in England. This was due to regular use of fire throughout a fairly densely populated region.

Even more mind-blowing (to me) was the section about Amazonia. You think of this as untouched wilderness of dense tree canopy and zillions of creatures. But as recent archeology has found, extensive charcoal layers prove out that–in this case–not fire but charcoal was used to enrich the very poor Amazonian soil and create a nutrient-rich topsoil for orchards. Many of the trees even in existence today are actually edible because they were planted in pre-contact groves for food. Mind! Blown!

On to probably my favorite ancient society described in the book: the Inca (or Inka). Situated along the spine of the Andes in modern-day Peru (and beyond), the Inca were the most sophisticated pre-Columbian society. Interestingly, they only advanced to this level shortly before being conquered by the Spanish, with about a 100-year rein of their peak civilization.

Machu_Picchu

(Machu Picchu in modern-day Peru, built ca. 1450. Martin St-Amant/Creative Commons)

The crazy thing is that they did not have the wheel, steel tools or weapons, draft animals, or a system of writing.

Nonetheless, they built incredible stone structures, advanced farms at every elevation, a road network 25,000 miles long, cable bridges made of grass fibers that could hold an entire team of llamas, and communicated over long distances using a sort of human-on-foot pony express.

Check out this video of the only remaining grass bridge, which Incan descendants rebuild annually:

Knotted strings called khipu (or quipu) were the closest thing they had to writing. I recently got to see one in person (fangirl moment!) at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. They had an exhibit running called “The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire,” where I spent hours poring over every display (photo by me).

Khipu_1

Imagine if your only way to convey information over distances was via knots on strings? About 90% of the translation can be attributed to a base-10 counting system, representing numbers. The rest is completely unknown. Unfortunately there is no Rosetta Stone (early Spanish translation directly from talking to Incans).

Incredible feats of terracing made farming the steep mountainsides possible from extremely high elevations right down to sea level. Maize, potatoes and quinoa provided plentiful food throughout the climate zones that could be traded if one crop had a bad year.

farming_terraces

(Farming terraces at Macchu Picchu. Creative Commons)

The system of roads made quick travel possible up and down steep stretches, even with a caravan of llamas in tow. Impressive stone structures were so well-built that “not a knife blade could fit between the stones,” and they survived many earthquakes in the region to this day, even with no mortar.

Another point that really got under my skin was the question as to WHEN. WHEN did people get here? The story of 1,000 people crossing the Bering Straight land bridge from Russia/Asia during the last Ice Age exactly 12,000 years ago before it closed back up as the ice melted–followed by people populating the Americas right down to the southern tip of Argentina within 1,000 years–isn’t as air-tight as we were lead to believe.

The so called “Clovis cultures” (defined by the Clovis archeological dig arrow heads) were believed to be the oldest evidence of human activity in the Americans. The search for Paleo Indians (pre-Clovis) has been met with fierce resistance for some reason, and evidence of more ancient societies has been refuted intensely. However, it does appear that the first cultures existed anywhere from 40,000-20,000 years ago. Certainly seafaring  cultures existed long ago, so this is possible. It’s something I’m very interested in reading more about.

In conclusion … there is no conclusion. I am currently reading Mann’s book 1493 (about the effects of Columbus and those who came after him) and have ordered four more books about the pre-contact inhabitants of the Americas, how they got there and when, and archeological finds from their societies.

Did you ever think about this? What do you think about it now? I encourage you to read 1491 if even one thing I mentioned seemed interesting to you!