Archive for the Health Category

Meat’s Not Green: Water

Posted in Health, Industrialized Farming, Meat's Not Green, Water on August 4, 2009 by Powered By Produce

Nearly half of the water used in the U.S. is squandered on animal agriculture. Between watering the crops grown to feed farm animals, providing drinking water for billions of animals each year, and cleaning the filthy factory farms, transport trucks, and slaughterhouses, the farmed animal industry places a serious strain on our water supply. According to a special report in Newsweek, “The water that goes into a 1,000-pound steer would float a destroyer.” It takes more than 4,000 gallons of water per day to produce a meat-based diet, but only 300 gallons of water a day are needed to produce a vegetarian diet.

Besides just wasting water, factory farms also pollute it. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, animal factories pollute our waterways more than all other industrial sources combined. The major sources of pollution are from antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and pesticides used for feedcrops, sediments from eroded pastures, and animal wastes.

Cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals raised for food produce approximately 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population, except there are no sewage systems to dispose of the waste from factory farms. Much of the millions of pounds of excrement and other bodily waste produced by farmed animals every day in the U.S. is stored in sprawling brown lagoons.

These lagoons often spill over into surrounding waterways and cause massive destruction. In 1995, 25 million gallons of putrid hog urine and feces spilled into a North Carolina river, killing 10-14 million fish. This spill was twice as large in volume as the Exxon-Valdez oil disaster. But, it doesn’t take a spill of this magnitude to wreak havoc on the ecosystem. In West Virginia and Maryland, for example, scientists have recently discovered that male fish are growing ovaries, and they suspect that this freakish deformity is the result of factory-farm run-off from drug-laden chicken feces.

Besides the environmental problems caused by farmed animal waste, the dangerous fecal bacteria from farm sewage (including E. coli) can also cause serious illness in humans.

A Scripps Howard synopsis of a Senate Agricultural Committee report on farm pollution issued this warning about animal waste: “…it’s untreated and unsanitary, bubbling with chemicals and diseased… It goes onto the soil and into the water that many people will, ultimately, bathe in and wash their clothes with, and drink. It is poisoning rivers and killing fish and making people sick…Catastrophic cases of pollution, sickness, and death are occurring in areas where livestock operations are concentrated… Every place where the animal factories have located, neighbors have complained of falling sick.”

The EPA reports that chicken, hog, and cattle excrement have polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states yet, amazingly, the federal government continues to allow factory farms to use our rivers as sewers.
Breakfast: Whole wheat bagel
Lunch: Mango “chicken” (soy chicken subsitute) from Chinese/Thai fusion restaurant
Dinner: Veggie burger


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)

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

What’s Really In Your Hamburger

Posted in Fast Food, Health on June 10, 2009 by Powered By Produce

In the early 1900’s hamburgers had a reputation similar to hot dogs: tainted, unsafe to eat, food for the poor, sold only at carnivals (not in restaurants), made from old meat, laced with preservatives. In the 1920’s, White Castle, the nation’s first hamburger chain, worked extremely hard to reverse this image, even naming their chain something that sounded pure. The 1950’s and the rise of drive-ins and fast food restaurants is when the hamburger’s image really turned. The fast food industry marketed hamburgers as an ideal meal for children – convenient, inexpensive, hand-held, easy to chew. By the early 1990’s, the average American ate 3 hamburgers per week, more than 2/3 of these were from fast food restaurants. Thanks to some excellent marketing tactics, the hamburger had become America’s national meal.

Although the reputation surrounding hamburgers has changed, their actual content has not. So, here’s the truth about what’s really in ground beef.

First, lose that image of a huge, brown, beef steer because the majority of ground beef comes from dairy cows that can no longer milk. Dairy cattle can live as long as 40 years, but most are slaughtered at the age of 4, when their milk output starts to decline. The stresses of industrial milk production makes these cows even more unhealthy than cattle from large feedlots and they are more likely to be diseased and riddled with antibiotic residues. Secondly, ground beef is largely responsible for the roughly 200,000 people that are sickened every year by foodborne diseases. The nontheraputic use of antibiotics in livestock feedlots has fueled pathogen mutation and the huge feedlots, slaughterhouses, and meat packing plants have proven to be an extremely efficient way to spread diseases.

The literature on the causes of food poising is full of scientific terms (colifom levels, aerobic plate counts, sorbitol, etc), but the bottom line behind why eating a hamburger can make you sick is: There is shit in the meat.

Escherichia coli O157:H7 (E. coli) is a mutation of a bacterium found abundantly in the human digestive system, but this mutated version attacks the lining of the intestine, causing diarrhea, abdominal cramps, possibly vomiting and fever. In 4% of E. coli cases, the toxins enter the bloodstream causing kidney failure, anemia, internal bleeding, seizures, neurological damage, or strokes, leading to permanent disabilities (like blindness or brain damage), or death. E. coli is now the leading cause of kidney failure among children in the US. (Children ages 7-13 eat more hamburgers than any other age group.)

E. coli was first isolated in 1982 and has received a large amount of public attention in the past 2 decades because of the significant number of cases. Efforts to eradicate E. coli have failed because of its resistance to acid, salt, and chlorine, its ability to live in fresh water or seawater, its ability to live on kitchen countertops for days, or in moist environments for weeks, its ability to withstand freezing and withstand temperatures up to 160 degrees, and its ability to spread easily – through stool.

People have been infected by drinking contaminated water, swimming in contaminated water (even at water parks), crawling on a contaminated carpet, and most commonly by eating contaminated ground beef. Outbreaks have also been caused by contaminated vegetables, fruits, and milk – all of which most likely came in contact with cattle manure, although the pathogen can also be spread by feces of deer, dogs, horses, flies, and humans (person to person transmission accounts for a significant portion of E. coli cases).

The way our meat is processed has created an ideal way for pathogens like E. coli to spread. The feedlots are essentially manure recirculation plants. Not only do the animals live amid pools of manure, but they are also fed manure. In Arkansas alone, nearly 3 million pounds of chicken manure are fed to cattle per year. (See also Feeding Our Food.)

The slaughterhouses and meat grinders only spread the contaminations further. As the hide is pulled off the animal by machine, if the hide was not cleaned properly, chunks of dirt and manure will fall from it onto the meat. When the stomach & intestines are removed, if it is not done properly, the contents will spill out onto the meat and the table. With the quick assembly line and the unskilled workers, manure spillage occurs in about 1 in 5 carcasses. A single gut splatter can quickly spread as hundreds of carcasses quickly move down the line. A contaminated knife will spread germs to everything it touches and the overworked, often illiterate slaughterhouse workers do not always practice stellar hygiene. Meat that falls onto the ground (where, by the way, factory workers are known to urinate – after all, there are large drains for the blood) is picked up and placed back on the conveyor belt.

The odds of contamination grow exponentially in ground beef because beef from many animals is mixed together, increasing the chance of an infected animal being part of each hamburger. A single hamburger contains meat from dozens or even hundreds of different animals. A single cow infected with E. coli can contaminate 32,000 pounds of ground beef. A USDA study found that 78.6% of the tested ground beef contained microbes that are spread primarily by fecal matter.

Anyone bringing raw ground beef into their home should consider it a biohazard. A study by Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, found that due to beef and poultry contamination, the average American sink contains more fecal matter than the average American toilet. According to Gerba, “you’d be better off eating a carrot stick that fell in your toilet than one that fell in your sink.”

Breakfast: Cereal with soy milk
Lunch: Bean burrito at Anita’s Mexican restaurant
Dinner: Avocado sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and Italian dressing, french fries on the side

Who’s Hogging Our Antibiotics?

Posted in Health on June 9, 2009 by Powered By Produce

A new ad campaign in DC’s metro trains informs the public about the nontheraputic use of antibiotics in our CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations). The ads say that 70% of human antibiotics are fed to livestock, promoting antibiotic-resistant bacterial mutations that can be dangerous to humans. Antibiotic-resistant infections cost the U.S. health care system at least $4 to $5 billion per year and they are harder to treat, require multiple treatments, longer hospital stays, and other interventions before finally being eliminated.

About this ad campaign

How nontheraputic feeding of antibiotics to livestock threatens our health

I found this on the US Food Policy Blog.
Breakfast: Bagel with jelly
Lunch: Veggie sandwich from Harris Teeter, added tofurkey
Dinner: Pasta with spaghetti sauce and mushroom turnovers (frozen from Trader Joe’s)

Eat Food

Posted in Health, Marketing on May 29, 2009 by Powered By Produce

It sounds easy, right? But, it’s increasingly harder as our grocery stores continue to fill up with edible-food-like-substances. We are continually drawn in by the “no trans fat margarine” and the “low fat, omega fortified cheese,” but it’s a pretty good rule of thumb that products with health claims on the packaging indicate that it’s not real food. All of these food-like-creations just cause confusion about one of the most basic fundamentals of life: what to eat. (PS – No other animal needs professional help to decide what to eat!)

Between the nutritionists, food manufacturers, food marketers, and even journalists, there are a lot of people who have a lot to gain from the latest health craze (just think of all the buzz around carbs, trans fats, omega 3’s, antioxidants). In fact, it’s an industry that thrives not only on change, but also on consumer confusion.

Ironically, the professionalization of nutritionism didn’t make us healthier, it made us significantly unhealthier and significantly fatter. In fact, 4 of the top 10 causes of death in the US are chronic diseases that are linked to diet: coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer. (These diseases remain rare in areas where people don’t eat the way we do.)

Due to food industrialization, instead of fresh fruits & vegetables, westerners are consuming highly processed substances, refined grains, chemicals used to raise plants & animals (who are raised in huge monocultures), an abundance of cheap sugar & fat calories, and all on a base of 3 staple crops: corn, wheat, and soy.

Human populations have thrived on a variety of diets: high fat, low fat, high carb, all meat, all plant, so we know that the human animal can adapt to different diets, but the western diet is not one of them. Yet, instead of returning to the basics (real food), we continue to tinker with the processed stuff by lowering the fat, raising the fiber, adding omega-3’s, removing saturated fats, etc, etc, etc.

In the 1960’s, the height of food industrialization, it was nearly impossible to buy vegetable or meat without chemicals, but today we have a choice. And, this choice has real consequences to our health, to our environment, and to our animals. (It just so happens that the best ethical and environmental choices are also the best for our health.) The more eaters who vote with their fork for real food, the more commonplace it will become. So, eat food!
Breakfast: Peaches & cream oatmeal
Lunch: Tomato soup, crackers, and sliced cucumber
Dinner: Veggie burger (from the frozen aisle) and salad