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August 2005


The good news is that we had a lovely potluck on the 10th of July, and also that we do have some people signed up as volunteers for the PreThanksgiving Feast. The bad news is that we do not yet have enough volunteers to actually bring it off. Altogether we need 18 or 20 people besides Chuck, me, Jody, and David; at this writing there are still 6 or 7 jobs unfilled. They include dishwashers, kitchen crew, some-one to make half of a huge green salad, some-one to do some postering, possibly someone to make some stuffing, and an MC/ line attendant. Some of these jobs can be done long before the Feast and leave you free to eat and be merry on the actual day, while other jobs leave you free right up until the Feast is taking place, yet still ensure that you get dibs at the food table – and kids can participate too! With just a few more people signing up, we’ll be able to book the hall, and actually have a PreThanksgiving Feast again this year – which would be very nice, since it’s our only fundraiser (without which we couldn’t afford to meet at the Friends’ Meeting House or make handouts for tabling events, etc. For details as to what each still-open job involves, and to sign up, call Jody at (414) 764-7262, or me (Louise) at (414) 962-2703, or just come to the regular potluck this Sunday, Aug. 7. See you there!


We saw a cartoon of a broadly smiling pig holding a letter, with a duck telling him, “I hate to rain on your parade, but being approved by the USDA is not something to celebrate.”


“Our common cancers…are [admittedly] rare in populations whose diets are based on cooked starches and vegetables”

-- McDougall newsletter on the potential health dangers of acrylamides, which are formed when carbs are overcooked

“The things we like in a tomato (juicy, vine-ripened, thin-skinned) are the opposite of the qualities agribusiness needs in a tomato.”

-- July 14 “Organics For You” newsletter


Sunday, Aug. 7, 5 PM, regular potluck at the Friends’ Meeting House, 3224 N. Gordon Pl. in Riverwest (from Humboldt, go east on Auer a few short blocks to the parking lot). A McDougall video about dairy foods will be shown.

The next potluck will be at the Friends’ Meeting House on Sept. 4 and will feature a nondairy “ice cream” sampling.

Other veg-friendly potlucks

There will, I am told, be a macrobiotic potluck on Aug. 14 at Emily Federsen’s home in Cedar Grove/ Harrington. Phone her at (262) 258-3331 for time and directions.

Errata: I listed the raw foods potluck last month as occurring on Sunday. It is in fact on the last Saturday of the month at 6 PM in Brown Deer. Phone the Cloughertys at (414) 355-7383.


In the Bad Animal Foods department, the fallout continues from June’s confirmation of a U.S. case of mad cow disease. It has now been determined that the cow in question was born and bred in Texas, making it the first native case tested for and identified. The pet food plant that this cow’s carcass was sent to says it was not used. The other cows from that herd have now been killed so they can be tested. Meanwhile, a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article reports that prion researchers are learning much more about those disease agents – but can’t yet say for sure if they can move from infected deer to infect humans. Also, there is news of bird flu worries, with three deaths in Indonesia linked to infected chicken feces, proving that you don’t even have to be eating meat to suffer the consequences of raising animals for food; on a similar note was the report of now-routine (though not routinely heeded) Great Lakes beach testing for e. coli. This all does add satisfaction to the news from the Humane Farming Association (HFA) that veal sales have hit an all-time low, that construction of a huge hog factory farm in South Dakota has been forced to a halt, and that another in Nebraska was shut down.

We have reported in the past on water supply issues, and there is now an opportunity for citizens to make themselves heard regarding where the water of the Great Lakes goes or stays (see Connections).

Then there are the latest food controversies. One involves obesity: on one hand, there’s a report of obesity in the state rising over the last ten years, with attendant handwringing, while on the other hand the Center for Disease Control and the National Cancer Institute recently came up with statistics suggesting that perhaps a few extra pounds are not so bad. We wonder whether they took into account the fact that having cancer and chemotherapy themselves tend to cause severe weight loss (which would skew the statistics relating body weight to death), especially since the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) reports that the same NCI found a low-fat diet to improve breast-cancer survival.

Another controversial subject is milk. We reported last month on Organic Gardening magazine’s assertion that organic milk is better than the inorganic stuff; it is interesting that this month’s OG printed two letters in response – one agreeing that organic milk is tastier and easier to digest, and one asking why drink milk at all. Meanwhile, PCRM has filed lawsuits against the dairy industry for claiming, falsely according to PCRM, that drinking milk helps people lose weight. Fish is a third issue, with one recent study reporting that eating fish regularly was linked to less inflammation in the body (including, significantly, the heart) while a Finnish study found that the more fish the men in the study ate, the higher the levels of mercury in their bodies and consequently the higher their risks of heart attacks, while a study of traditional Asian diets found that fish consumption increased the risk of prostate cancer.

Even otherwise good plant foods can be a problem if misused: there was a report of young children hospitalized for malnutrition after being fed Rice Dream instead of baby formula (they should of course have been given neither – babies should eat breast milk!).

Finally, a recent McDougall newsletter raised some concern about cooked grains and vegetables. It seems that a study of cancer in a group of miners exposed through their work to an industrially-used substance called acryla-mid, which is suspected of being carcinogenic, discovered that they were being exposed to it from food, and further determined that it is regularly formed when carbohydrates are heated above about 250 degrees F. This raises additional concerns about deep-frying and chips, which are always cooked quickly at high temperatures, but even bread is baked at 250 to 350 degrees. The Oakland-based Environmental Law Foundation had some chips tested and found that indeed, they had higher acrylamide levels than are acceptable; the Foundation is now asking for warning labels on chips bags under California’s anti-toxics law. The news-letter did go on to state that there is no definiive proof that acrylamides in food have actually caused any cancers, only that it seems plausible that they could. Yet with E.L.F. raising the alarm, some people might want to look at the possibilities. McDougall’s newsletter pointed out that anything boiled, stewed, or steamed has not been heated high enough to form them and so is safe in any case, and that if you are concerned, most of the acrylamides could be avoided simply by not eating the bread’s crust (where they are concentrated). And yet, as the newsletter also points out, bread has been a “staff of life” for millennia, including being prominent in the notoriously healthy Mediterranean diet, and the equally healthy traditional Asian diet – which includes stir-fried vegetables as well as (safe) steamed rice. For my own take on this, see the Dialog section.

Happily, and in spite of everything, plant foods are still really Good For You. In fact, the Journal-Sentinel reported on a Stanford University School of Medicine study which found that vegetarians have been correct in asserting that a diet based on grains, legumes, and vegetables can be healthier for the heart than a conventional meat-based low-fat diet. Prevention reports (not surprisingly) that the freshest spinach also has the highest level of vitamins (in this case, folate), and really, this principle is generally true. And the fiber in such vegan foods as whole grains is again being touted, this time as helping to lower both blood pressure and insulin resistance. So if you long for healthy snacks, popcorn is loaded with good fiber.

On another subject, Chuck heard on the radio that cranberry oil has been found to be a source for good (and taste-free) omega-3 fatty acids, and is being added to olive oil for that purpose. And Dr. Andrew Weil, writing in Prevention, listed his picks for food oils according to the temperature they’ll be used at: olive oil and (organic) canola oil for general purposes, salad dressing, and baking; grapeseed and high-oleic sunflower and safflower oils for high-temperature sauteing, cooking, and baking; sesame oil used sparingly for its taste, and walnut oil (and I would add flax seed and hemp seed oil) for low-temperature uses such as salad dressing.

Delicious Living features blueberries as its produce of the month, citing their antioxident anthocyanins. And Good Medicine, the PCRM publication, tells of Canadian research which found that the more fruits and vegetables consumed by men with pancreatic cancer, the higher their survival rates. Good Medicine also published a rainbow to categorize the different vegetables and fruits that nourish you, and I found that asparagus! was placed as “green-white” along with garlic, chives, and onions as an immune system supporter. And the August Outpost Exchange listed tips for improving your salads: dry salad greens as well as possible to help the dressing stick, experiment with less familiar but tangier tasting greens like arugula, escarole, and radicchio for their variety and taste, add herbs, and add other less usual ingredients like beans, nuts, or seeds.


As mentioned above, there is scope this month for citizen action on the subject of water. There are two initiatives underway, one to protect the Great Lakes from diversions of water outside of the Great Lakes basin, and another regarding a broadening of plans to clean up the lakes (the latter is sometimes called the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration). If you are interested, you could go to a meeting which will be held in West Allis on Aug. 22 at Wisonsin State Fair Park Youth Center, 640 S. 84th St. (enter Gate 5). The meeting will open at 6:30 PM, with a presentation and public comment starting at 7. Or you can write to Comments/Great Lakes Region Collaboration, c/o U.S. EPA, Great Lakes National Program Office, 77 W. Jackson Blvd., G-17J, Chicago, IL 60604. Or you can comment online by going to

The public comment period ends on Sept. 9.

On a different matter, the PCRM is asking people to contact the USDA and the FTC regarding the dairy industry’s claims that milk can help people lose weight. The USDA’s associate administrator Kenneth C. Clayton can be reached at 202-720-4276 or at

Ask him to suspend any ads claiming dairy product consumption aids in weight loss. And/or, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and ask the commission to halt the dairy industry’s weight loss claims; file the complaint online by going to


So here we are, practicing vegetarianism in no small part because there seems to be a great deal of evidence that it is the healthiest way to eat – and here comes a report suggesting that products as vegan as chips and bread may harbor carcinogenic substances (i.e., the acrylamides mentioned in the News section above)! How are we supposed to take this? What are we to do?

It seems to me that the first thing to do is get some perspective on the issue. Acrylamides are possibly carcinogenic, and in rather smaller amounts than we generally ingest. Yet it’s also true that eating them is not yet definitely linked to human cancers. What if it will be in future? How much danger are ordinary vegetarians in, and what risk management is appropriate or needed?

Certainly, if you are already at high risk for cancer, you would want to be more careful than if you’re not. And the lowest-risk diet would minimize frying and baking and stick to foods that are boiled, steamed, or (of course) raw. But there seems to me room for some balance here: people have been eating bread and other baked and even broiled foods for as long as we’ve been human, yet with cancer deaths in the distinct minority of our species’ mortality. I’m probably justifying my desires here, because Chuck is such a good bread baker that I just can’t face giving up eating his breads. But I do feel that if I eat mostly vegetables, fruits, rice and stews, my relatively modest amounts of bread and even (live dangerously!) low-fat potato chips won’t be what kills me.