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January 2007

 

GREETINGS

Another year is ending as I write this. Do we need to take stock of where MARV is at the end of our first dozen years?

On the one hand, we’re still here, and have established ourselves as the major vegetarian group in our area. We regularly do events/ outreach for the Great American Meat-Out in Spring and our PreThanksgiving Feast in Fall, as well as other occasional events; and this newsletter comes out in time for the beginning of every month (I do try to get it out so that people can read it before our regular monthly potluck which is usually on the first Sunday of the month). And we’ve developed a solid core of regular active membership (even though we do not collect dues or register formal “members”).

On the other hand, could we be doing more? Could we be networking better with other groups? Could we do something for World Vegetarian Day on Oct. 1? Should we seek out health fairs to do tabling at to a greater extent? Do we want to? Would people be enthusiastic about giving additional time and effort for such activities? Would doing so be worth it in terms of spreading the news further about vegetarianism and recruiting additional “members”?

What do you think, Gentle Readers? Communicate your ideas on these questions with us, either at the potlucks or by phone to Louise and Chuck at (414) 962-2703 or David and Jody at (414) 764-7262, or by email to Louise and Chuck at chuckgyver@ispwest.com or David and Jody at pinetree@wi.rr.com.

And in any case, Happy New Year!

M.A.R.V. ACTIVITIES

Sunday, Jan. 7, 5 PM, regular potluck at the Friends’ meeting House, 3224 N. Gordon Pl. in Riverwest (from Humboldt Blvd., to east on Auer a few short blocks to the parking lot).

Theme will be a vegan chili contest, so bring a chili OR a chili-compatible vegetable or grain dish or dessert – we need all kinds of food for a proper spread!

Subsequent regular potlucks will be on Feb. 4 (wheatgrass presentation), Mar. 4, Apr. 1, and May 6.

Other Veg-Friendly Potlucks

The Urban Ecology Center’s vegetarian potluck will be on Thursday, Jan. 18 at 6:30 PM at 1500 E. Park Pl. on the east side; phone (414) 964-8505 to confirm details.

There will not be a macrobiotic potluck in January.

Call the Cloughertys at (414) 355-7383 to find out about a raw foods potluck.

OCCASIONAL BIT OF HUMOR

A cartoon shows a roadside sign announcing “Welcome to Texas. Come for the BBQ – stay for the angioplasty.”

QUOTE OF THE MONTH

This is the year everyone discovered that food is about politics and people can do something about it,” [Marion Nestle] said. “In a world in which people feel more and more distant from global forces that control their lives, they can do something by…’voting with your…shopping cart.’ ”

New York Times Food section, 12/27/06

NEWS

There are still problems with meat-eating. An article in the November Archives of Internal Medicine reported that eating large amounts of red meat raises breast cancer risk for young (premenopausal) women. On a completely different note, workers at a Nebraska packing plant inadvertently sprayed waste-water on almost 500 meat carcasses – and then just cut off the sprayed surfaces, tested what was left for a few illness-causing microbes, and sent them along into the food supply – with USDA meat inspectors’ approval! South Korea’s newest effort to keep U.S. beef out of that country arose when inspectors found bone fragments in a shipment of American beef; imports have been suspended again. On the other hand, the USDA is seeking to open the U.S.-Canada border to cattle over 30 months of age, despite the discovery of mad cow disease in a 50-month-old Alberta cow this summer. Then there was the recent report of three more Egyptians dying of bird flu, a disease that only reaches humans through raising poultry for food. A different aspect of eating poultry surfaced when a Consumer Reports study found 83% of broiler chickens bought at supermarkets to be contaminated with dangerous bacteria. And then there is controversy over what fish, if any, can be called organic: farmed fish raised in certain ways, despite their negative ecological impacts? wild fish from clean waters whose diets were uncontrolled? (There are no such problems with vegetables...)

Then, just as the spinach e. coli brouhaha was pretty much over, came the next e. coli outbreak, this one linked to Taco Bell restaurants on the East Coast. Over 400 people became ill, and at first scallions/green onions were suspected, but they were later exonerated, and at last report no one could say what caused the problem. Nor was anyone saying out loud that whatever food got the e. coli to the Taco Bell patrons, the only dietary source of e. coli is cattle feces… Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, did write an op-ed piece in the NY Times asking whether politics has contaminated the food supply, and suggesting support for a bill proposed in Congress that would create a single federal agency responsible for food safety – and possessing the authority to actually require recalls and penalize companies as needed.

In other areas of public policy, New York City has gone ahead and banned almost all transfats from its restaurants as of July 2008; chefs there are frantically experimenting with alternatives. In addition, the same measure will require restaurants to post calorie counts for items, which is probably a good thing considering a Census Bureau report which pointed out that Americans are the fattest people in the world (as well as being increasingly sedentary). It also fits this unhappy pattern that a Journal of the American Dietetic Association article recently reported that only 40% of Americans area actually eating the 5 daily vegetable-and-fruit servings which are the recommended minimum for good health.

There is some good news, however. A research team at the University of Iowa recently recommended a moratorium on construction of hog “factory farms” in that state. The Humane Farming Association, instigators of the veal boycott, report that veal calf production hit a new low in 2005, of about 720,000 – down from a 1986 high of 3.4 million. And the New York Times recently published an editorial calling attention to the worrisome quality of the overall ecological footprint of human meat-eating and livestock-raising.

As always, however, there is much good news about plant foods and the plant food diet.

An English report cited findings that vegetarians are brighter than average – but possibly because smarter people are likelier to choose vegetarianism rather than because avoiding meat boosts the IQ; in any case, the study may explain why people with higher IQs have less heart disease than others, since a vegetarian diet by definition has less fat and saturated fat and more fiber and vitamins than omnivorous eating. Another factor involved in central nervous system function (including both mood and IQ) is the B vitamins, and an Outpost Exchange article focused on nutrients necessary to supply them (and also the essential fatty acids that the brain needs as well). The foods mentioned included all the dark leafy greens, lentils, nuts, brown rice and other whole grains and whole grain pasta, legumes, soy, and nutritional yeast.

One seasonal fruit recently featured by both Healthwise and Wisconsin State Farmer was cranberries, high in vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidents. Research has found cranberries and cranberry juice helpful in fighting bladder infections, plaque in the mouth, and possibly ulcers and some cancers. Outpost Exchange, on the other hand, discussed the joys of citrus fruits, which deliver vitamin C, folate, B vitamins, and potassium (as well as taste); in addition, the zest (grated skin) is full of anti-oxidents, and the white stuff on the inside of the peel is a useful dietary fiber. Prevention, however, touted winter squash as its seasonal produce this month, mentioning squashes’ high beta carotene/ vitamin A content as well as vitamin C and other good carotenoids.

Healthwise ran an article on the need for vitamin D, which helps prevent osteoporosis but also promotes strong muscles, reduces cancer risk, probably helps regulate blood pressure, and may even help with psoriasis and inflammatory bowel disease. The best way to get enough is to get your skin out in the sun regularly, but since this is not especially practical during Wisconsin winters, other sources are D-supplemented dairy if you eat it, supplemented dairy substitutes, or pills. Be aware that vitamin D2 is vegetarian, while D3 is not.

Food can help keep blood pressure down, according to Prevention: if you don’t want the calcium-magnesium-potassium combination that dairy foods provide, eat bananas, raisins, pears, and spinach for potassium, beans and brown rice for magnesium, and dark green leafies for calcium; eat plenty of fiber from whole grains and fresh produce as well.

In other news, Japanese researchers found that 5 cups of green tea daily decreased the risk of dying from a blood-clot-induced stroke by 62%. And a new study found that high levels of antioxidents (rather than fiber, as earlier supposed) help protect against colon cancer; anti-oxidents are found in (coincidentally high-fiber) produce with strong colors, such as spinach, apples, red, blue, and purple berries, red wine, and even veggie-and-bean soups.

Prevention did a long article on new research that can help people feel well, and several of the items involved food. Eating more salads and whole grains, as well as choosing a baked potato over fries, was recommended as a way to trim calories while still feeling full and satisfied. At the same time, a diet with some healthy fats such as nuts and olive oil (as opposed to bad fats in meat and dairy), can actually be good for you. Tea can help reduce cancer risk (as can broccoli, kale, apples, grapefruits, and brussels sprouts). And high-magnesium foods like almonds, black-eyed peas, and peanuts and peanut butter can help fight colon cancer.

DIALOG

As a New York Times end-of-year Food section article pointed out, 2006 was a bit of a watershed regarding a number of food issues, many of which simply involve more people becoming more aware of their food and where it comes from and what’s in it. E. coli food poisonings have finally gotten people’s attention, and caused growing questioning of the whole industrialized food system on which we’ve become dependent. Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation and Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, two books that became bestsellers, each look at how most Americans eat and point out the problems thereof for both individual health and ecological sanity. In other areas, foie gras and its cruelties became news and suffered setbacks, while Whole Foods stopped selling lobster unless and until humane ways to do so can be found. Organic food threatened to go completely mainstream, with Wal-Mart announcing a plan to offer it (though there are questions as to how correctly it’s doing so); at the same time “industrial organic” dairies, that follow the letter of organic production while not really using different practices from commercial agriculture, were challenged by the Cornucopia Institute as well as by Michael Pollan. And while New York bans trans-fats, other city and state governments are requiring more nutritious and locally produced foods in institutions they oversee.

What does all this mean? To what will all this increased awareness lead? And will it help vegetarianism?

Much of the newest thinking arising from all this buzz centers on the desirability of pulling back from the transcontinental, transnational industrialized agriculture system and recreating more local food supply systems. Doing so would decrease the possibilities for widespread food poisonings while fighting global warming (it would decrease greenhouse gas emissions that come from transporting vegetables over thousands of miles). It could also help farm families make a living supplying produce to their local areas. And it might make local farmers more amenable to local consumer demands for food that is not just pro forma organic but raised naturally, small-scale, and with ecological stewardship.

There are still problems with getting from where we are to this vision of local sustainability. Prime among them is U.S. federal Farm Bill policies, which for the last several decades have ruthlessly promoted the interests of industrial agricultural conglomerates at the expense of family farmers, giving subsidies to producers of commodities like soy and corn while giving no help at all to producers of vegetables and fruits. Unfortunately, Congresscritters on committees that deal with these issues are heavily in debt to industry. But happily, the World Trade Organization is ready to insist on some changes, and a new Farm bill is to be prepared for 2007. There is a real opportunity for consumers to ask that this Farm Bill defund commodities and start helping family farmers, farmers’ markets, direct marketing like CSAs, neighborhood groceries, urban agriculture, and other marketing infrastructure for local food systems. You can comment at http://www.agriculture.house.gov/inside/feedbackform.html