Archive for July, 2009

Vegetarian Athletes: The Football Player

Posted in Health, Vegetarian Athletes on July 29, 2009 by Powered By Produce
As some of you may know, I am currently training for the Nike Women’s Marathon (that’s 26.2 miles) in San Francisco, CA on October 18, 2009. This will be my third marathon, first as a vegetarian. Many people are skeptical about the ability of vegetarians to be athletes, but there are a great number of vegetarian athletes who have proven this skepticism to be unwarranted. (See also my post about protein.)

There is an excellent article on featuring four vegetarian athletes, which I want to share here. The article is rather long, so I will break it up into four sections.

But, before I begin, I will shamelessly plug my fundraising efforts. I am running this marathon with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training. Everyone on our team pledges to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s mission to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. For more information, or to make a tax deductible donation to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, visit my Team In Training website:

Ok, back to the topic at hand. From

The Football Player

When you’re a Pro Bowl tight end, it’s difficult to change your routine. Difficult, and maybe crazy. If you’re in the midst of a Hall of Fame career, why change anything? As Tony Gonzalez discovered, sometimes change comes to you.

Sitting at home one day in May 2007, Gonzalez suddenly lost all feeling in his face and felt a terrible pain in the back of his head. He initially thought he was having a stroke, but hospital tests confirmed he had Bell’s Palsy instead. Many doctors prescribe a diet consisting entirely of raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds — no animal products or processed foods — as a way to improve digestion and combat the condition. A few months later, Gonzalez got another health scare, when doctors warned him of a low white blood cell count, raising the possibility he had leukemia. In the end, a mix-up with another patient’s blood had caused that diagnosis. Still, with two scares in a span of a few months, Gonzalez became more attuned to his health and to what he put into his body.

Not long afterward, Gonzalez was on a cross-country flight when he struck up a conversation with the man next to him in first class. When lunchtime arrived, Gonzalez’s seatmate ordered the salad with shrimp, hold the shrimp. Come dessert time, the man turned down the flight attendant’s offer of milk to go with his cookies.

“So I asked him, ‘Are you a vegetarian?'” Gonzalez recounted. “He said he was a vegan. Not eating meat I could understand, but I asked him why he wouldn’t even drink the milk. He said that we’re the only animals on Earth who drink milk after being babies.”

A few years earlier, or maybe even a few months earlier, Gonzalez might have nodded politely and ended the conversation right there. But that year, he’d started to seriously ponder his long-term health and the dietary choices he was making. The health scares had opened his eyes. But more than that, Gonzalez wondered what life would be like after football. He wanted to stay in shape and live well after his playing days were done.

When the man recommended “The China Study” as a must read, Gonzalez devoured it. The 2005 book by Cornell professor and nutrition researcher T. Colin Campbell claims people who eat mostly plants contract fewer deadly diseases than those who eat mostly animals. The book got its name from diet studies and blood samples drawn from 6,500 men and women in China. Gonzalez has since met with Campbell and now plans to write his own book about dietary choices from the perspective of a 246-pound football star.

For Gonzalez, now 32, getting from Point A to Point B took a great deal of thought and self-doubt. Conventional wisdom held that eating steak and drinking a gallon of milk a day would make you big and strong and prepare you for the rigors of NFL life. Gonzalez followed that path, pounding steaks and milk, as well as pizza, hot dogs and burgers — whatever it took to pack on the pounds. He especially loved macaroni and cheese, with an emphasis on cheese, piled as high as possible. You couldn’t argue with the results. In his first 10 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, Gonzalez had made the Pro Bowl eight times, establishing himself as the best tight end in the league.

When he switched to a meatless diet, he wondered whether the move would backfire on him. At first, it looked like it might. In the first few weeks of his new regimen, he lost 10 pounds. His strength quickly dropped, and Gonzalez found himself unable to lift the heavy weights he’d hoisted with ease in the past. Teammates started telling him he looked skinny. “You’re going to get your butt kicked” was another common refrain.

“It was a trial by error,” he said. “I had to educate myself on how to do it the right way.”
After reading up on vegan-friendly recipes, Gonzalez found the right balance. Though he had more than enough money to buy any foods he wanted, Gonzalez still wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of spending through the nose on groceries. Instead, his grocery bills stayed about the same, but the check at restaurants got slashed with no $50 porterhouse steaks on his plate. Gonzalez says he now focuses on produce when constructing his meals. He loads up on berries, bananas and mangoes, fresh vegetables and milk alternatives like rice milk or hemp milk, then blends them into what he calls “power smoothies.”

He gained back most of his lost weight, settling in around 246 pounds. His strength quickly returned. When the season started, he was shocked at how good he felt. In the fourth quarters of games, he found himself sprinting past tired defenders. He became more alert during team meetings. On the day after a game, he’d skip into the gym, while teammates looked sore, beat up and worn out.

“People were still making fun of me, because I think they wanted to make themselves feel better,” Gonzalez explained. “I’d be ordering salad, potatoes, veggies. I think they felt guilty. Unless you’ve been in a cave, you know what’s healthy and what’s not healthy. But most of them still keep eating what they’ve been eating, because they think that’s the only way to get enough protein and compete at a high level.”

As the season progressed, Gonzalez’s numbers picked up. Playing in his 11th season, Gonzalez made 99 catches (the second-highest total of his career), racking up 1,172 yards (the third-highest total of his career). In the previous three seasons, he’d dealt with an arthritic foot that got so bad he could barely walk the day after a game. The foot condition had forced him to give up basketball, a sport Gonzalez loved, having played varsity ball alongside the Sacramento Kings’ Shareef Abdur-Rahim at Cal. Coincidence or not, the foot condition improved dramatically over the course of an offseason, to the point that he started hitting the hardwood again. Playing basketball in turn gave Gonzalez another good way to boost his training, which he says helped improve his agility.

More surprising than his improved health, he says, was the reaction of some of his friends, especially ex-players.

D’Marco Farr was a bruising NFL defensive lineman for seven seasons before injuries forced him into early retirement. Seven years after leaving the league, Farr told Gonzalez he still didn’t feel 100 percent, carrying extra weight and still suffering from aches and pains. When Gonzalez told him about the changes he’d felt since going vegan, Farr jumped on board. He has since spread the word to other ex-players, including Lincoln Kennedy, a three-time Pro Bowler who retired at well more than 300 pounds.

Gonzalez has become something of a spokesman for healthy eating. When he retires, he wants to travel around the league speaking about the value of healthier diets. He’s excited about the prospect of his first book on the subject. Gonzalez wants to reach out to younger players, too. He recently spoke to a group of 300 college football prospects at USC, where he counseled the group not to fall into the trap of scarfing down fatty foods just because that’s the norm for aspiring players trying to pack on weight.

“I believe in moderation,” he said. “I know this isn’t easy. One steak or a chicken dinner once in a while, that’s fine. You just have to be smart about it. When you go from eating that way to a vegan diet, you can get into situations where it’s like an alcoholic going to a bar: You say you’re going to have one drink, and you end up having 10.”

Pin Gonzalez down, and he’ll concede his new diet hasn’t necessarily improved his on-field performance. Science agrees with him on that point: No conclusive studies have proven a vegan or vegetarian diet helps an athlete run faster, jump higher or throw a ball harder or farther. To Gonzalez, making the change was about living healthier and about recognizing there’s a life beyond football.

“In this league, you think you’re invincible, that you’ll last forever,” he said. “Then you look at some of the numbers, that the average football player dies young. I’m sure there are other reasons, but eating unhealthy foods and carrying around all that extra weight can’t help.

“I realized football’s not going to last forever. To me this isn’t a diet. It’s a complete lifestyle change.”
Breakfast: Whole wheat bagel
Lunch: Leftover Tom Yum Veggie soup – delicious!
Dinner: Chalupas with beans, lettuce, tomato, onion, cilantro, guac, and salsa verde


The Most Dangerous Job in America

Posted in Health, Miscellaneous on July 28, 2009 by Powered By Produce

Sorry for the slow down in posts lately. My life got hectic with a business trip, moving apartments, then vacation, all back to back. But I’m back on track now & hope to pick up the pace on the blog again!

Just last week, the headlines read “Woman Found Dead at McDonald’s Food Processing Plant.” Although this is a single headline, this is not an isolated incident. Meatpacking is now the most dangerous job in the United States. The injury rate in slaughterhouses is three times higher than the rate in a typical American factory. Every year, more than one-quarter of the meatpacking workers in this country (roughly 40,000 men & women) suffer an injury or work-related illness that requires medical attention beyond first aid. And, there is evidence that the official numbers, reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are an underestimate and that thousands of injuries go unreported.

Lacerations are the most common injury, but meatpacking workers also suffer from tendinitis, back problems, shoulder problems, carpal tunnel syndrome, and trigger finger (a finger becomes frozen in a curled position). The rate of these cumulative trauma injuries is much higher in the meatpacking industry than in any other industry. It is thirty-three times higher than the national average. Slaughterhouse workers make a knife cut every 2 or 3 seconds, adding up to about 10,000 cuts during an 8 hour shift, and placing repetitive pressure on the workers’ joints, tendons, and nerves.

The speed of the assembly line is an accurate determinant for the number of injuries at a slaughterhouse. The original meatpacking plants slaughtered about 50 cows an hour. Twenty years ago, plants slaughtered about 175 cows an hour. Today, meatpacking plants slaughter about 400 cows an hour. One former nurse in a meatpacking plant said, “I could always tell the line speed by the number of people with lacerations coming into my office.”

Workers desperate not to fall behind (and risk losing their job), are encouraged to take methamphetamine (often sold to them by their supervisors). The widespread use of “crank” in the meatpacking industry only makes an already very dangerous job even riskier.

Because most of the workers in slaughterhouses are recent immigrants, many illegal, they can be fired at any moment, without warning. They may have traveled long distances for this job, could have families to support, and are earning more than they could back home, so there is huge pressure not to complain, and not to report injuries. The annual bonuses for plant supervisors is often based on injury rates.

From a purely economic point of view, injured workers are a drain. They are less productive, so getting rid of them makes sense when there are plenty of available replacements. Injured workers are often given easy, yet unpleasant tasks, their wages are cut, and they are encouraged to quit. This causes non-visible injuries (hand pain, back pain) to go unreported and untreated.
Breakfast: Lots of cherries!
Lunch: Spinach burrito from California Tortilla (Spinach, black beans, rice, tomato, onion, cilantro)
Dinner: Tom Yum Veggie soup (Thai lemongrass soup full of veggies, including broccoli, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, bean sprouts, those mini corn things, cilantro, and noodles)

Why Go Veg: Reasons 1-4

Posted in Why Go Veg on July 20, 2009 by Powered By Produce

Everyone I know asks me why I decided to go vegetarian. I usually ask in return, “How many reasons do you want?” The case for vegetarianism is compelling and hard to dispute. (The only case I’ve heard for meat is “but I like the taste.” I like the taste of cookie dough too, but I don’t plan to eat it for every meal.) In a series of posts, I will provide a list of reasons to go vegetarian.

1. You’ll live a lot longer. Vegetarians live about seven years longer, and vegans (who eat no animal products) about 15 years longer than meat eaters, according to a study from Loma Linda University. These findings are backed up by the China Health Project (the largest population study on diet and health to date), which found that Chinese people who eat the least amount of fat and animal products have the lowest risks of cancer, heart attack and other chronic degenerative diseases. And a British study that tracked 6,000 vegetarians and 5,000 meat eaters for 12 years found that vegetarians were 40 percent less likely to die from cancer during that time and 20 percent less likely to die from other diseases.

2. You’ll help reduce waste and air pollution. Circle 4 Farms in Milford, Utah, which raises 2.5 million pigs every year, creates more waste than the entire city of Los Angeles. And this is just one farm. Each year, the nation’s factory farms, collectively produce 2 billion tons of manure, a substance that’s rated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as one of the country’s top 10 pollutants. And that’s not even counting the methane gas released by cows, pigs and poultry (which contributes to the greenhouse effect); the ammonia gases from urine; poison gases that emanate from manure lagoons; toxic chemicals from pesticides; and exhaust from farm equipment used to raise feed for animals.

3. You can put more money in your mutual fund. The economy is down & we’re all trying to save some cash. Replacing meat, chicken and fish with vegetables and fruits is estimated to cut food bills by an average of $4,000 a year.

4. You’ll give your body a spring cleaning. Giving up meat helps purge the body of toxins (pesticides, environmental pollutants, preservatives) that overload our systems and cause illness. When people begin formal detoxification programs, their first step is to replace meats and dairy products with fruits and vegetables and juices. “These contain phytochemicals that help us detox naturally,” says Chris Clark, M.D., medical director of The Raj, an Ayurvedic healing center in Fairfield, Iowa, which specializes in detox programs.
Breakfast: Cereal and soy milk
Lunch: Avocado sandwich (just like any other sandwich, but with avocado instead of cold cuts)
Dinner: Veggie kabobs (mushrooms, various colored peppers, onion, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, squash, and pineapple)

High Quality H2O

Posted in Government Regulations, Health, Water on July 13, 2009 by Powered By Produce

In 2003, Americans alone spent more than $7 billion on bottled water at an average cost of more than $1 a bottle. Is the price of bottled water really worth it?

In 2004, it was discovered that Coca Cola’s Dasani water (labeled “pure, still water”) was actually just tap water. This uncovered a common practice amongst the bottled water industry. A four year study performed by the National Resources Defense Council, in which researchers tested more than 1,000 samples of 103 brands of bottled water, found that, “an estimated 25 percent or more of bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle—sometimes further treated, sometimes not.”

In one case, a brand of bottled water advertised as “pure, glacier water,” was found to be taken from a municipal water supply while another brand, flaunted as “spring water,” was pumped from a water source next to a hazardous waste dumping site.

While “purified tap water” is arguably safer and purer than untreated tap water (depending upon the purification methods), a consumer should expect to receive something more than reconstituted tap water for the exceptional prices of bottled water.

Bottled water is regulated by the FDA, while tap water is regulated by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), which operates under much stricter regulations. The EPA mandates that municipal water systems must test for harmful microbiological content in water several times a day, while bottled water companies are required to test for these microbes only once a week. Similarly, public water systems are required to test for chemical water contaminants four times as often as bottled water companies. And, due to loopholes in the FDA’s testing policy, a significant number of bottles have undergone almost no regulation or testing.

The National Resources Defense Council found that 18 of 103 bottled water brands tested, contained, “more bacteria than allowed under microbiological-purity guidelines.” Also, about one fifth of the brands tested positive for the presence of synthetic chemicals, such as industrial chemicals and chemicals used in manufacturing plastic like phthalate, a harmful chemical that leaches into bottled water from its plastic container. In addition, bottled water companies are not required to test for cryptosporidium, the chlorine-resistant protozoan that infected more than 400,000 Milwaukee residents in 1993.

Bottled water companies, because they are not under the same accountability standards as municipal water systems, may provide a significantly lower quality of water than the water one typically receives from the tap.

Well, at least bottled water tastes better than tap water, right? Wrong. Obviously, taste is subjective, but in a blind taste test conducted by Showtime, they found that 75% of tested New York City residents actually preferred tap water over bottled water.

And let’s not forget the effect of bottled water on the environment. According to a 2001 report of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), roughly 1.5 million tons of plastic are expended each year due to bottled water. And the less obvious effect on the environment is the energy required to manufacture and transport these bottles to market, which uses a significant amount of fossil fuels.

Because tap water is not completely free from contaminants, filtered tap water provides the healthiest & most economical option. Try using a Britta or Pur filter and a Nalgene bottle, for your health, pocketbook, and the environment.


Breakfast: Bean & soy cheese taco

Lunch: Spinach burrito from California Tortilla

Dinner: Spaghetti


Posted in Animal Welfare on July 2, 2009 by Powered By Produce

There is an unusual amount of cultural confusion around animals. Half of the dogs in America receive Christmas presents, yet few of us ever pause to consider the life of the pig (easily as intelligent as a dog) that becomes our Christmas ham. At the same time that many of us seem eager to expand the circle of our moral consideration to other species (saving wildlife, for example), in our factory farms we’re inflicting more suffering on more animals than at any other time in history.

It is impossible to deny that we owe animals that can feel pain moral consideration, but we have such a strong interest in convincing ourselves that our concern for animals does not require us to stop eating them.

According to the USDA, just under 10 BILLION animals, excluding aquatics, were killed in the US in 2003 through factory farming. The USDA does not track aquatic animals, but estimates that the number of slaughtered sea animals exceeds the number of slaughtered land animals.

Of the 10 billion killed animals, 868 million (8.7%) died due to disease, malnutrition, injury, suffocation, stress, culling (deliberately removing animals because of “undesirable” characteristics), or other factory farming ailments, before reaching slaughter. Egg-laying hens experience the highest rate of non-slaughter deaths, at a staggering 64%, due to the practice of deliberately suffocating all males at birth (because the males don’t lay eggs).

These are mind-boggling numbers, yet so few people make a conscious connection between the meat on their plate and the slaughterhouses. At your next meal, consider the suffering endured by the animal you are about to eat. And consider that you have a choice.

“If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” -Paul McCartney

“I’m no shrinking violet. I played hockey until half of my teeth were knocked down my throat. And I’m extremely competitive on the tennis court… But that experience at the slaughterhouse overwhelmed me. When I walked out of there, I knew all the physiological, economic, and ecological arguments supporting vegetarianism, but it was the firsthand experience of man’s cruelty to animals that laid the real groundwork for my commitment to vegetarianism.” -Peter Burwash, champion tennis player

A veteran USDA meat inspector from Texas describes what he has seen: “Cattle dragged and choked… knocking ’em four, five, ten times. Every now and then when they’re stunned they come back to life, and they’re up there agonizing. They’re supposed to be re-stunned but sometimes they aren’t and they’ll go through the skinning process alive. I’ve worked in four large [slaughterhouses] and a bunch of small ones. They’re all the same. If people were to see this, they’d probably feel really bad about it. But in a packing house everybody gets so used to it that it doesn’t mean anything.” –Slaughterhouse, 1997
Breakfast: Bagel with “Better Than Cream Cheese,” a non-dairy cream cheese substitute
Lunch: Pasta with pesto
Dinner: Veggie pot pie