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September 2005

 

GREETINGS

Yes, we have (just about) done it! – we have enough volunteers signed up to start working on making the reservation for the PreThanks-giving Feast. The Feast will be held in the same south side/ Oklahoma Ave. location as last year on Sunday, Nov. 20, and the format will be the same with one exception. As always, there will be a few main courses (tofu turkey, salad, chili, stuffing, gravy) which we will supply in large amounts, eked out by many potluck dishes; the difference is that, in line with current trends for such events, this year the whole thing will be entirely vegan.

The only missing element is that we probably could still use another volunteer dishwasher for the 6 PM to 8 PM shift. If you can do this stint, please phone Jody at (414) 764-7262 as soon as possible.

On a different note, we have been announcing a monthly raw foods potluck. However, the Cloughertys who have been organizing it have been increasingly overwhelmed; and they have therefore proposed that the raw foods potluck might merge with the general MARV potluck, and this seems reasonable to us. We were already planning to have a raw foods theme in October, and we’ve always structured our potlucks such that even when there is a theme or focus, each participant can bring a dish that fits it or not. So there should not be too much trouble if raw foods people bring raw foods and the rest of us bring whatever we were going to bring anyway. If we find out by experience that we need to fine-tune the protocols, we’ll be able to do that when we have a better idea of what’s actually needed.

M.A.R.V. ACTIVITIES

Sunday, Sept. 4, 5 PM, regular potluck at the Friends’ Meeting House, 3324 N. Gordon Pl. in Riverwest (from Humboldt Ave., go east on Auer a few short blocks to the parking lot). Theme will be a sampling of non-dairy ice creams.

Subsequent regular potlucks will be at the same place and time on Oct. 2, Nov. 6, Dec. 4, Jan. 8, and Feb. 2.

Sunday, Nov. 20 PreThanksgiving Feast! Mark your calendars now!

We usually list other veg-friendly potlucks in our area here, but I am informed that there will be no macrobiotic potluck in September, and the raw foods potluck, as mentioned above, will merge with MARV’s. Needless to say, all raw foods and macrobiotic vegetarian eaters are more than welcome at MARV potlucks!

QUOTE OF THE MONTH

We’re not going out and taking pies away from grandmas, and we’re not going out and closing potlucks.”

-- Stephanie Marquis, of Wisconsin’s Dept. of Health and Family Services

NEWS

We have reported on concerns about the legal safety of potlucks, and about efforts in the state legislature to ensure that safety. The quote above reflects the flap over this, which seems to have become an issue when state representative Barbara Gronemus responded to a local paastor’s concern and began working to legally define potlucks so as to protect them, to the disgust of the Dept. of Health, which asserts that it was not threatening potlucks in the least, just sending out safe food handling guidelines on those occasions when it got wind of a big one. Where things stand now is that existing rules for commercial kitchens only come into play if an entity serves more than three pot-lucks a year to paying guests; Gronemus’ bill, AB 454, would define potlucks as events where no one is paying for the food; the bill has over 40 sponsors from both parties, with a hearing scheduled for Sept. 7. And yet it almost seems that our annual fund-raiser might be safer without the law.

Another somewhat controversial issue centers on organic food, the popularity of which is still growing by leaps and bounds. The controversy is about whether buying organic is worth the cost (which is often higher than commercially-produced food. On the one hand, organically grown food has not, like commercially produced food, involved dumping nasty chemicals into the environment or food supply, nor has it used antibiotics in such fashion as to undercut their usefulness. On the other hand, it does usually cost more, and the USDA claims to have no research showing that organic food is safer or more nutritious. I think this is because the USDA hasn’t looked for any such research, since Rodale Institute, which has done some, has indeed found higher vitamin content in organic produce, and much lower amounts of pesticide residue.

Then there is a matter which ought, perhaps, to be controversial but isn’t: fish as a “health food.” When Delicious Living magazine asked various experts to pick the “best” foods, they predictably came up with quinoa, (an Andean whole grain), flaxseeds, and wild Pacific salmon. Granted, wild Pacific salmon is one of the least contaminated fish out there, but fish stocks worldwide are being decimated – and I can’t believe that we cannot be healthy without fish – especially when Prevention magazine needs to run an item explaining how to get fish oil supplements with the fewest possible contaminants. And to add fuel to this fire, Prevention listed shellfish, fish, and nuts as their top allergy-causing foods (many people would also place milk on such a list, but Prevention has a definite pro-milk bias).

A completely different controversy is a not very serious one: a report in the Journal- Sentinel discussed the perennial topic of whether beer or milk is Wisconsin’s favorite State Fair drink. I refuse to weigh in on this issue myself, but do note that while both are vegetarian, only beer is vegan (for which Chuck is very grateful). And of course we know that PETA claims to prefer beer on both humane and health grounds.

Another beverage about which people differ is coffee – and coffee has gotten some good press lately. A British study found that people who drank coffee perceived less exertion in their exercise, and so were able to run, bike, or swim longer and faster. And a study by a University of Pennsylvania chemist has found that coffee supplies more health-enhancing antioxidents than any other food or beverage that Americans commonly eat or drink (if you rely on USDA statistics regarding how much of different foods people ingest). Coffee of course has a reputation for conferring alertness but also one for causing the shakes. The new research suggests that it really can be healthy in moderation – and at least it is vegan. Yet the researchers cautioned that merely counting antioxidents is not enough: the fiber and various vitamins and minerals in vegetables and fruits are important too.

And speaking of antioxidents, Co-op America’s bimonthly newsletter also discussed them recently, pointing out that they are known to help protect against neurodegenerative disease, improve cardiovascular health, and cut the chances of developing some cancers. And they are of course mainly to be found in fruits and vegetables. Foods especially high in antioxidents include (in no particular order) blueberries, walnuts, dried apricots, bananas, dried beans, corn, dates, cranberries, cinnamon, red wine, and tea (besides coffee).

And speaking of cancer protection, Dr. Dean Ornish, who first proved that diet and lifestyle changes can beat heart disease, has now published a study on prostate cancer. His findings should not come as a surprise: his study suggests that men with early stage prostate cancer who decide to forgo conventional treatments can halt their disease’s progress by making major lifestyle changes such as adopting a very low fat vegan diet, exercising, and meditating/ pursuing stress reduction. Gee, that sounds familiar… Critics are asserting that the study was too small and short-term to be valid, but I would guess Ornish wanted to start somewhere, just to get the ball rolling.

On the subject of cancer and cancer prevention, Prevention reported on cancer researcher Mack Ruffin’s opinion that white foods (like potatoes, french fries, white bread and white rice) are foods that could increase cancer risk, whereas brightly-colored fruits and vegetables are the places to look for cancer protection.

In other Good Food News, an article in Delicious Living looked at dietary ways to prevent and treat allergies. The article named garlic and onions, quercetin (a bioflavonoid found in apples and onions), “green” drinks like spirulina and wheat grass, and vitamin C (found in much fresh produce) as well as (alas) fish oil; the article also pointed out that high sugar diets can increase inflammation and thus make allergies worse. Sometimes even vegetarian foods are not so hot.

In fact, the picture is often more complex than simply whether food is animal- or plant-based. For example, different plant food oils have different amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, and some which are high in omega-6 include safflower, soybean, cottonseed, and sunflower oils. Yet research in several countries seems to link omega-6 consumption with aggression, to the extent that murder rates were found to be 20 times higher in the countries with the highest rates of omega-6’s in the diet, as compared to nations with the lowest rates. For oils with lower amounts and proportions of omega-6, go for walnuts, flaxseed oil, and (alas, according to Prevention) fish again.

Another healthful food is citrus peel: it seems that the limonoids that give citrus peels their color have been found to cause cancerous human nerve cells in the lab to die, and researchers at the University of Arizona determined that chewing one tablespoon of “zest” per week reduced skin cancer rates 34% among those who ate the most of it. Chewing it is important, since it is the chewing action that releases the useful limonoids --–but Prevention points out that if you’re eating a fruit’s peel, you should choose organically grown. And you can grate the peels and use the resulting zest in sauces and dressings if you don’t want to just chew it. Also, the word is that there’s no nutritional difference between raw nuts and roasted ones, so eat whichever you like, as long as you eat some (and of course as long as you’re not allergic to them).

DIALOGS

As discussed above, there is something of a flap going on about potlucks and liability.

I suspect it may be much ado about nothing. It seems to have started when a pastor got worried about potential threats to his church’s community potlucks, and his state representative kindly tried to help legislate what can be protected along the potluck line. The trouble is that a legal definition would be as likely to constrict our potlucking as to protect it. Right now, our monthly potlucks are fine because we don’t charge admission, and the PreThanks-giving Feast is fine because even though we do charge admission, we only do it once a year. But what if potlucks become protected only if money does not change hands? Would we have to do something else for a fundraiser? Like what? Or would we need to weasel around the issue by “asking” for a “voluntary” donation from all our guests, so as to pretend that we weren’t charging admission? Maybe we could finally actually put together that Pre-Thanksgiving Feast recipe book we’ve been talking about and require all attendees to buy it instead of charging admission? Or maybe we could note that the Wisconsin Department under whose aegis potlucks fall actually seems to have noticed that they have better things to do than raid citizens’ potlucks – and we could note further that it is really hard to get sick from food that has no animal products in it! And our Feast is going vegan this year. Perhaps we only need to congratulate ourselves on switching to an all-vegan feast just in time!

Some things take a long time to change. When Chuck first became a vegetarian 24 years ago, his coworkers worried that he could not survive and be healthy on that diet – and they worried even more when he lost the 60 pounds of fat that he was carrying; it was at that point that they went to his boss with their concerns. Then when he was traveling all over the world, people’s inability to believe that someone could eat that way added to his difficulty in feeding himself (some countries, like Portugal and Germany, were worse than others). Now that he has a different job altogether, his new coworkers still have trouble understanding his diet or believing that he can survive on it – even though most of them are overweight and suffer from such common diet/ lifestyle-induced ailments as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Then there’s Chuck’s mother, who suffers from constipation – but when our daughter, whose Atkins diet now has her eating a pound of vegetables a day and going to the bathroom much more regularly and easily than before, suggests that she eat some more fiber (as in produce and grains) my mother-in-law simply doesn’t hear her. Granted that at 88 years old it could be difficult for her to learn new tricks – but that hardly excuses younger folks who are just as inflexible, and there certainly are many of those. And yet, there is some hope: the expansion of Columbia St. Mary’s hospital will include the housing of a Whole Foods Market! Maybe change, slow as it is in coming, will finally get here and even hospitals and doctors (aside from a few mavericks) will finally start encouraging healthful nutrition!!