World Hunger and the Veg Solution

29 12 2009

enough grain for all to be fed

Now that we have made it to the beginning of a new year, everyone is ready to start fresh. Call it a resolution, or just a response to the excess of the holidays, but it might be a good time to look at eating more plants. Whether omnivore or vegetarian, we all seem to end up eating too many empty calories, too much rich food, and too few veggies. If you want to keep it simple, just make your resolution to veer toward the plant based dishes this year.

If you want some motivation, it may help to know that, as Moms across America used to say: “there are people starving in (fill in the blank) who would love this food.” Now, your Mom was trying to get you to finish the food on your plate, and chances are, it was not vegetarian. Still, her heart was in the right place. There are people starving, 1.02 billion of them, to be exact.

And while I am not so naive as to believe that hunger is about lack of food, there is a glaring solution that could be employed. We have known since the ’70’s that if we simply stopped feeding all the plants we raise to livestock, we would have enough plant food to feed everyone. At its most simple, the equation of making meat from plants is wasteful, and makes plants into meat for the affluent countries of the world. It takes up land and resources that would make it possible for that billion-plus people to have plenty to eat. Of course, most hunger is political, with wars and profit driving the shortages.

But still.

Currently, worldwide 40% of the grain grown is fed to animals, and in the US, 70%.This will only get worse as the global appetite for meat is growing, and meat production increased from 71 million tons in 1961 to 284 million tons in 2007. Add to that the fact that some of the most hard hit countries in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are also bearing the brunt of climate change, which will cause crops to fail.

When people are hungry, it is children and women who suffer.

In a  joint report by Concern Worldwide, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and German NGO Welthungerhilfe found that the lower the level of literacy and educational access among women in developing nations, the more likely they are to experience persistent hunger. They believe that by equalizing the status of men and women, 13.4 million fewer malnourished children would exist in South Asia and 1.7 million fewer in Sub-Saharan Africa.

And where there is hunger, children die. 45% of the child deaths in the world occur in India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, a figure that continues to escalate each year.

And don’t think it’s just in developing nations. The USDA released its annual report on Food Insecurity, and found that in 2008, 17 million American households were food insecure. That is way up from the 11.9 million in 2007. While Americans waste more food than anybody, throwing away about 1400 calories per day, others go hungry.

It’s frustrating and depressing to think about, to be sure. We can only do our part by wasting less, eating lower on the food chain, and giving as much as we can to combat hunger. As much as we should not be fooled by empty gestures, like putting in a new lightbulb and then feeling that you’ve done your part, veg is powerful.

The less meat we consume, the less meat will be made. I know right now the veg community is small, in the big picture. But Americans need to stop driving the machine.

If you needed a little motivation for your New Years Resolution, maybe thinking about all those hungry people will help. Don’t be an ugly American, cut back and leave a little for the rest.

You might just feel better, look better, and live longer, so why not?


Surviving the Holidays, Vegetarian-Style

22 12 2009
the Vegan Turky

For families with a sense of humor

Ahh, the holidays, a time of family and togetherness. All cuddled together, snowed in. Be careful, vegetarians. That cozy home can turn into an incubator of resentment, hurt feelings and anger in a heartbeat.

Now’s the time to take a deep breath and practice your Vegetarian Etiquette. It’s not about how to hold a salad fork or address a remarried cousin twice removed. Veg etiquette is all about making your way in the non-veg world without burning bridges. You don’t want to be the vegetarian they tell stories about when they get back to work.

Rule one at the holidays is that the holidays are not the best time to make your point. It’s kind of like weddings and funerals-if someone acts like a jerk at one of those, its never forgotten. The holidays are a time when everybody is supposed to set aside their stuff and just enjoy each other as people. I know, I’ve never met your Uncle Bart, but hey, I have my own stories, believe me.

In fact, an important point that extends beyond the holidays: Sometimes it’s less important to be right than it is to get along. I figured that out after a few years of marriage, maybe that is why I am still married.

Look, I’m with you. Between you, me and cyberspace, factory farms are a horrifying nightmare that should end yesterday. You are completely right that your vegetarian lifestyle is better for the planet, whose cries for help have reached the level of a roar. Yes, your red-faced, overweight Grandpa might get ten more years if he stopped plugging his arteries with daily bacon fixes and fast food burgers. And yes, if you showed a PETA video after dinner they would not be able to stop throwing up.

Still, there is a time and place for everything, and this is the time for tolerance-on all sides. If you do have hostile questioners, now is the time to be Gandhi. Patient, loving, persistent, and strong, our patron saint of vegetarianism and peace knew when to act. I don’t know how he would handle a turkey centerpiece, but you can do your best to imagine it. Have some deflecting, peacemaking phrases ready, like “oh Bob, if you’d really like to discuss it, why don’t we get together some time after the holidays?” Or  “I’d be happy to get you some reading material, can I email or send you a book?”

If you’ve got people who anguish about your protein deficiency, just promise that you are completely nourished and offer them some veg stuffing.

It’s not that you can’t speak your truth, but its a strategic move to have peaceful holidays. Keep your powder dry. Be happy and healthy and lead by example. Educate when people are curious, in an objective way, but out of the powderkeg of the family unit. I don’t know why, but just being a vegetarian gets some people riled up. Our very existence seems to be a personal affront. I don’t look at hunters that way, but some of them definitely look at our practices as a violent assault on their way of life.

Like I said, you are totally right, and I hope it makes you feel better to know it. Just keep the peace, be respectful, and you might have more impact than by having an argument. Maybe, just maybe, the next time the Doctor tells your Grandpa to cut back on the bacon, your Grandpa will remember how healthy and happy you are.

Happy Holidays!

Finally, Soy is Found Not Guilty!

12 12 2009

Smart Japanese Women Love Soy Milk

The story on soy and breast cancer seems to have come full circle. It began, hopefully enough, when researchers started to wonder, why do women in China and Japan have such low rates of breast cancer, as well as mild menopause symptoms and general good reproductive health? The 80’s and especially the 90’s saw intensive research and great promise for soy. We were all learning to say “phyto-estrogen” and eating soy just as we ate olive oil and drank wine for the benefits of the Mediterranean diet.

Phyto-estrogens are chemicals in the plant that mimic estrogen, but which are much weaker in their effect than the estrogens in the body. The body manufactures several kinds, some much stronger than others. Overall, the more, and stronger, estrogen a woman is exposed to in her lifetime, the higher her risk of cancer. Estrogens fuel breast cell turnover, and the stronger estrogens make it happen even faster. The theory was that the weak plant estrogens filled the estrogen receptors and kept the pace reasonable. They also might be blocking all the other estrogens, like the scary, super strong ones in plastic. We knew about those back then, before all the stink about BPA in water bottles, by the way.

Then some doctors started theorizing that the phyto estrogens in soy might actually fuel estrogen dependent breast cancer, and everybody freaked out. Nobody had any proof, but it sounded plausible. It didn’t matter that we still had decades of good information about those women in China and Japan. The anti-soy forces began a backlash against the miracle bean that included warning men that it would make them sterile, and their sons girlish if they didn’t eradicate soy from their diets.

Soy entered a dark era, filled with confusion. Consumers wondered if they should order the Ma-Po Doufu at their fave Szechuan place, and ordered something made with industrially raised chicken instead, boosting their intake of antibiotics and actual hormones.

So now we have a good, solid study that shows that a reasonable amount of soy actually decreases mortality in breast cancer survivors.

The study looked at more than 5,000 women in China who had undergone a mastectomy; they were followed for four years. The women who consumed the most soy protein (about 15 grams or more a day) had a 29 percent lower risk of dying and a 32 percent decreased risk of breast cancer recurrence compared to the women who consumed less than about 5 grams of soy protein a day, according to the study, which appears in the December 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The National Cancer Institute and the U.S. Department of Defense’s Breast Cancer Research Program funded the study.

The researchers settled on a sweet spot, finding the most benefit at 11 grams of soy protein a day. Don’t get overly focused on the protein part- they got the protein by eating soy FOODS, like tofu and edamame. Real food, like edamame, tofu, tempeh, soymilk and miso contain all the other stuff that gets left behind when soy enters the industrial food factory. So don’t think that a protein fractionate that has been chemically processed and then spun into a weird bologna substitute is going to do it. Stay away from the factory foods, and just eat a serving or so of soy a day.

Soy is back baby.


Cooked yellow soybeans 1/2 cup 14.3 g protein

Edamame, 1/2 cup 11.1 g protein

Tempeh, 1/2 cup 15.8 g protein

Tofu, 1/2 cup 19.9 g protein

Soy milk 1 cup 7 g protein

Miso 2 tbs 4.1 g protein

Soy flour 1/4 cup 11.8 g protein

Winter Blues? Feed Your Brain with the Mediterranean Diet

9 12 2009

Eat your greens and be happy

We know the Mediterranean Diet is good for your heart, but a recent study has found that it is also good for your mood. In a Spanish study conducted at the University of Navarra, researchers found that the more closely people followed a true Med diet, the lower their risk of depression.

“We are speaking of a relative reduction in risk of 42 percent to 51 percent,” said study co-author Dr. Miguel A. Martinez-Gonzalez, chair of preventive medicine at the University of Navarra. “This is a strong association.”

Foods most strongly associated with the lowest rates of depression were fruits, vegetables, and olive oil. The researchers attribute this to a few known factors. One is that the diet is good for the endothelium, which lines all your blood vessels. The endothelium helps make BDNF (brain derived neurotropic factor) which is crucial for the growth and function of all your nerve cells, especially the brain. Not enough BDNF is thought to cause depression. Of course, keeping your circulatory system healthy is good for all of you, brain included.

Olive oil is a star in the anti-depressant food category. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter in the brain that is associated with happiness, and all antidepressant medications work by increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain. Good old olive oil was doing this all along, helping to bind the happiness molecule to its receptors and increasing its availability.

The other thing that researchers point to is Omega 3’s, the fats that Med eaters get from fish. It is very important that vegetarians get their Omega 3’s, from either grass-fed dairy and eggs, or walnuts, lots of dark leafy greens, and flax oil. There are vegan Omega 3 supplements available now that are made from algae, so vegans can make sure to get enough.

The Spanish researchers followed more than 10,000 healthy adults who filled out questionnaires between 1999 and 2005. All were free of depression when the trial started. Their adherence to the Mediterranean diet was measured by looking at nine components, such as low intake of meat, moderate intake of alcohol and dairy products, and high intake of fruits, nuts, cereals, vegetables and fish.

Basic Greens in Olive Oil and Garlic

This isn’t so much a recipe as a walk thru. you should just get it down and keep making it. Make it your own, adding whatever suits you, say a few olives, sun-dried tomatoes. or some of those EFA rich walnuts. It’s all good!

A big bunch of kale, chard or beet greens

a generous pour of good extra virgin olive oil

a couple of cloves of garlic, sliced, not crushed

a pinch or two of red pepper flakes

kosher salt

1. Put on a big pot of water to boil for the greens. Wash the greens, then strip the leaves off the stems. Thinly slice the stems and put in one pile. Coarsely chop the greens and put in another. Drop the stems in the boiling water for a minute, then add the leaves and stir. Cook just a minute or so to soften. Drain and squeeze the whole mess out.

2. In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil briefly, and add the garlic and pepper flakes. When it starts to sizzle, don’t let it brown at all. Add the greens and stems and toss to coat with oil. Turn and toss until well coated and heated through. Salt to taste. Eat lots.