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January 2004

GREETINGS

This month my excuse for doing this news-letter at the last minute is my effort to cover the breaking news about mad cow disease (not to mention being tied up in holiday festivities). Paltry excuses, I know, but here we are now, at any rate.

We had a lively discussion at the December potluck about ideas for this year’s Meat-Out. They included: doing something at UWM (for which we would need liaison/invitation from a UWM student group); doing something at Marquette University; picketing outside the Outpost(s) in the wintry March weather if we could legally manage it and are rabid enough to try; doing a catered meal somewhere (although this would not be so likely to widen the publicity for vegetarianism); getting Kathleen Dunn to interview us on NPR; and giving out flyers at sundry area libraries (which would probably mean as many of us as possible doing an orchestrated flyering at as many different libraries as possible). There will be further lively discussion at the January potluck, so a good turnout is highly desirable. (Hint, hint.)

A further report regarding the fundraising aspect of the Pre-Thanksgiving Feast involves the happy news that so many of our participants brought delicious food (and paid the lower fee) that, while we are again solvent for the year, we are not flush. One possibility is to raise the price for those who bring food next year; another is to find a less expensive venue than the beautiful but pricey South Shore Park Pavilion. Input is requested, both at potlucks and by phone – (414) 962-2703 – or by email to: chuckgyver@aol.com.

M.A.R.V. ACTIVITIES

Sunday, Jan. 4, 5:30 PM, regular potluck at the Friends’ Meeting House, 3224 N. Gordon Pl. (from Humboldt Blvd. in Riverwest, go east on Auer a few short blocks to the parking lot). Focus will be a discussion of travel tips for vegetarians – bring your best ideas!

Subsequent regular potlucks will be at the same time and place on Feb. 1 and March 7.

The Great American Meat-Out day is officially March 20, the first day of Spring, which falls on a Saturday this year.

Macrobiotic potluck

The January macro potluck will be on Sunday, Jan. 18, at 5 PM, at Pat O’Neill’s house, 2431 N. Bartlett, (414) 964-9759.

QUOTE OF THE MONTH

"There are two fears that Americans seem to have in the wake of the discovery of mad cow disease in a Washington cow, and the science of assessing them is very different.

"The first: Did my family eat any of that cow, and, if so, will it hurt them?

"The second: Never mind that one cow – how many others are out there?"

-- New York Times, Dec. 30, 2003

NEWS

Yes indeed, to the surprise of no one who has been tracking on the subject over the last few years, and in despite of U.S. government policies which might have been designed to avoid actually finding any cases of mad cow here, a case of mad cow disease was apparently discovered in Washington state on Christmas eve. The cow in question was in fact slaughtered a couple of weeks earlier, but the test used in this country takes so long that the meat had been distributed to at least 8 states and Guam before the test results came back and prompted a recall, almost certainly too late to prevent consumption of part of her meat.

The resulting furor has been entirely predictable. For one thing, officials are scrambling to answer many questions which are crucial to contain the spread of the disease. One is, where did the cow came from? At this writing it looks as if the answer is Canada – but that does not necessarily mean all is well here. Another related question is, what other cattle might have been from the same herd and there-fore probably fed the same feed which is the probable source of the illness, and are they in this country now? Also, what happened to this cow’s calves, and where are they now, and are they healthy or incubating disease?

Then there are many questions about precautions that the Agriculture Department takes (or should take) to prevent mad cow disease and to find it if/when it strikes. All the issues about rules prohibiting feeding dead cattle parts to live cattle are resurfacing, along with whether or not the current rules are adequate, and whether or not they are actually being followed. Dr. Stanley Prusiner, the U.S. scientist who won the Nobel Prize for identifying prions as the agent of this class of diseases, was in the news pointing out that he had tried to warn the USDA that he found its actions insufficient for safety. As we "go to press" on Wednesday, the news is that the Department of Agriculture has announced new rules, including banning the animal products likeliest to carry bad prions and holding meat from downer animals (as this cow was) until tests clear it as safe – but not a thing about wider testing.

Then there is the haste of officials to reassure people that of course the American food supply is safe, safe, safe. They point to the British statistics: out of 180,000 cases of mad cow disease, only about 130 people contracted the human form, variant Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease (vCJD). Critics point out that far too little is known regarding vCJD’s incubation period, which might vary widely between more and less susceptible people, resulting in other cases yet to come and if so decreasing the statistical safety factor.

And then there is the effect on the beef industry. 30 nations including Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Canada, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Russia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and Chile have all banned imports of U.S. beef, and cattle and corn futures fell as did stocks of such corporations as McDonalds – though whether Americans will actually stop eating beef has yet to be seen. The newspapers were also publishing guides to safe meat consumption, such as avoiding eating brains (duh!) and meat from the head such as tongue, and avoiding chopmeat because it is likelier to accidentally contain spinal tissue. The possibility of not eating beef at all, or even more radically, not eating meat, has been conspicuously absent from the dialog so far.

Despite the magnitude of the "mad cow here!" story, there are also other ways in which meat is not good. China has banned Korean poultry in an effort to prevent the spread of bird flu (which can infect humans as well). And the FDA has finally gotten around to issuing a warning against over-consumption of tuna due to the mercury which now contaminates it, especially targeted at pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children. Another piece of news which should have been reported more widely than just in Prevention magazine is that Harvard researchers have now found a definite correlation between eating large amounts of animal fats and developing breast cancer.

And the controversy about what kind of diet is best – high protein or high-carbohydrate – rages on. Part of it involves ongoing issues of trying to control cholesterol, and whether drugs or diet-and-exercise or both are the best way to do so. Anyone looking at diet has to consider avoiding the animal fats and hydrogenated oils which are prominent among the causes of high cholesterol – yet huge numbers of people are still flocking to Atkins-type high protein diets which include animal foods, so much so that meat prices were rising recently in response to higher demand than supply. But is a "thick-burger" without a bun really a good answer to overeating? The fast food industry insists that any food can be part of a healthy diet, and many nutritionists have a hard time labeling any food as good or bad, yet anyone can see that carrots and orange juice are better than cake and soda, and refusing to say so enables people to make poor choices and tell them-selves it’s okay. One solution can be to identify specially valuable foods and simply en-courage people to choose these. The Center for Science in the Public Interest therefore names the following "super foods" as good choices: oranges, whole-grain bread, cantaloupe, water-melon, broccoli, sweet potatoes, beans, salmon and other fatty fish, bran cereal, spinach and kale; similarly, a new book titled, "Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life" lists beans, blueberries, broccoli, oats, oranges, pumpkin, salmon, soy, spinach, tea, tomatoes, turkey, walnuts, and yogurt. We note that except for the turkey and salmon/fatty fish, all of these are vegetarian – and the fish are only there for the omega-3 essential fatty acids, which vegeta-rians can get from flax seed and flax seed oil, hemp seed oil, dark green leafies, and walnuts. Most of these super foods are also high in complex carbohydrates, while avoiding refined ones. Yet even as these points are made, bread artisans are developing low-carb breads, chefs are developing low-carb restaurant meals, and the most recent Vegetarian Voice (the publication of the North American Vegetarian Society) had a whole piece criticizing a New York Times article that praised the Atkins diet – instead of simply criticizing the Atkins Diet itself. Stay tuned…

Meanwhile, Prevention magazine reiterates what we’ve heard before: the produce items that are likeliest to contain pesticide residues, and are therefore of top priority to buy organic, are apples, apricots, bell peppers, cantaloupe, celery, cherries, cucumbers, imported grapes, green beans, peaches, spinach, and tomatoes (and tomato sauce!). They also report that Tufts University researchers have found that an antioxident in blueberries boosts enzymes that help brain cells work, raising some hope that they might help prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Other studies have found two new reasons to eat enough calcium: it helps block fat storage in tummy, hips, and thighs, and it helps improve one’s cholesterol levels. Finally, the current Prevention ran an article which discussed the benefits of getting adequate omega-3 fatty acids, which include better brainpower throughout life, decreased cardiovascular disease, lower cancer risk, fewer menstrual cramps, and improvements in rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. The article touted fish and fish oil, of course – but also mentioned grass, and grass-fed beef, as a good source because grass is full of the stuff. One more time, eat dark green leafy vegetables as well as walnuts, flax seed, and hemp seed oil.

CONNECTIONS

The new Vegetarian Voice offered quite a few groups, sites, and events of interest.

One is a website that lists vegetarian eateries for travelers: www.vegdining.com.

Another is an offer to participate in a health study aimed at finding out whether vegetarians and vegans are really healthier, either online at www.veganhealthstudy.org, or by using snail-mail to contact the Institute of Nutrition Education and Research, 1601 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Suite 342, Manhatten Beach, CA 90266.

And have you heard about the "Meatless Monday" initiative, which comes from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health but which defines "meatless" as merely avoiding beef and poultry, while permitting pork, lamb, fish, etc.? If you want to explain to them that the definition of "meatless" is actually "avoiding animal flesh," contact Sid Lerner, the Meatless Monday chairman, at: info@meatlessmonday.com.

A coalition of parents, health authorities, environmentalists, and animal advocates has convinced California to provide vegetarian alternatives at school lunches throughout the state. To find out more about the group and how they did it and how to do it here, go to www.projecthealthybeginnings.com.

The 2004 Vegetarian NAVS Summerfest, in Pennsylvania as usual, will be on July 21-25.

And if you want to connect with the American Vegan Society, they’re at 56 Dinshah Lane, P.O.Box 369, Malaga, NJ 08328, (856) 694-2887.

DIALOG

Year’s end recalls the saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The human tendency to eat way too well and too much at any opportunity has existed since gatherer-hunter days. Back then, putting on fat any time one could was a survival trait to help get through predictable lean times. But it now manifests itself, in our famine-less culture, as rampant obesity – not a survival trait at all.

We do need to eat to comfort without eating more calories than we use. Ingesting enough fat to avoid craving more food is the strategy that makes high-protein-and-fat diets work for some people, and for those who can lose excess pounds no other way, it may be that the benefit outweighs the risk for them. Yet it’s also still true that those diets stress the kidneys, cause constipation by being devoid of fiber, minimize the eating of the fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that provide many crucial vitamins and minerals, and may well set people up for heart disease later on. Almost all the high-nutrient-density foods are vegan/ vegetarian; even if low-carb diets help in the short term, the cur-rent mania for them is not necessarily anyone’s long-term solution.

Vegetarians may feel even more like a minority than usual these days. But our diet really is the one that meets nutritional needs (as opposed to weight-loss ones for some people) the best. Details change as new facts are learned, such as the desirability of omega-3s. But fads run their course, and what constitutes healthy eating is really still the same. Happy New Year!