Category Archives: Nature

Let It Go

Is this you?

I’ve written before about America’s struggle with excess weight. How we’re unhealthier than our parents’ generation (pick a parent), and, if you toss out childhood diseases and illnesses which would today be resolved with antibiotics, probably unhealthier than our grandparents’ generation.

Why do people keep the fat on?

It’s comfy. It’s easy.

It’s killing us. As a nation, it’s making us weak, weak, weak. Even Fox reports that Americans are in deep denial about the threats of obesity.

This cute yet alarming image shows us exactly how we stack up against the rest of the world.

In this Olympic season, British entrepreneurs are even making money off “fat American” gear. Example: a T-shirt that reads: i’m renting my flat to a fat american family.

In other words, we’re a joke. While the US itself is still the envy of many (especially those who don’t need medical care, or are willing to pay top dollar – yes, top dollar, more expensive than in Norway, the most consistently affluent country in the world), Americans themselves are the big butts of global laughter.

How did we fall so hard from the miraculous nation of post-World War II? In only 60 years?

What’s intensely confounding is that Americans who hold deeply-felt positions on different issues – issues that specifically counter excessive weight – don’t see they’re clinging to conflicting beliefs, ideas or values. Somehow, they’re making excuses. In denial. Not recognizing that their actions (chugging along with excess weight) don’t match what they say they believe in. That’s called dissonance.

So, for all of us, let’s tackle that dissonance. Here are a few suggestions for people who hold strong interest or beliefs in areas that they believe have nothing to do with their excess weight:

Super-patriots or the military-minded: Excess weight is a drag on a body. It’s not fit for purpose. The US military grapples every month with potential recruits who are simply too fat to start basic training. Fat is also a drag on the political body. The costs of excess weight in healthcare is already staggering. When you have a large proportion of the US population getting too large to be physically capable of personally defending their nation, as a patriot, you ought to be concerned. Especially if your fat is part of the problem.

Religious-minded: Your body is a temple, right? Unless your mother was obese when bearing you, you didn’t come from God as fat. Healthy babies emerge relatively thin. Whichever God you worship does not want you to abuse what is given you. That includes your body.

Celebrity-minded:  Who’s your favorite star? Chances are, they’re not obese. In fact, they probably work out a lot. You can do that, too. Just start walking – best exercise in the world. Along with pushing yourself away from the table before you’re full. That’s what most celebrities do.

Minded to eventually have healthy children: Both sexes: start now. Take in fewer calories than you expend, expend more than you consume. You’ll produce healthier sperm, prepare a terrific uterus for growth. By the time you discover a pregnancy, it’s really late. Yes, while pregnant you should get off alcohol and other things that are poison for a developing fetus. You ought to take your prenatal vitamins and exercise and eat healthy foods – not too much. But the best time to prepare for having healthy children later is now. Before a pregnancy. Think of yourself, potential Dad or Mom, as an automobile manufacturer. Do you want to build a Hyundai or a Rolls-Royce?

Sex-minded: One of the reasons for sexual dysfunction in both sexes is overweight and obesity. When you carry around fat you don’t need, that excess fat does something: it stores estrogen. Even in men. So if you’re storing more estrogen than you need, your hormonal levels (male or female) are out of balance, sometimes way off. Too much estrogen, and libido falls. Yup, you just don’t want to be sexually active. Sometimes, for men, you can’t be sexually active (hence the growth of ED drugs). Drop the excess weight like a hot overcoat you don’t need in the summer, and watch your libido spring back.

Health-minded: As mentioned above, excess fat stores estrogen. Excess estrogen doesn’t just wreck your libido. It’s also a nurturing hormone for cancers. That’s why some people, faced with a cancer diagnosis, immediately change their diet and exercise plan to let go of weight fast. Less estrogen, less coddling of cancer. So make your own body more resistant to cancer: get thin.

Sports-minded: I know you don’t watch sumo wrestlers! Who have life expectancies 10 years shorter than the average male Japanese. You like sports? Do sports. Get off the couch and into the game. Any game. Start by walking around your house during commercials. Imitate your favorite sports stars’ diet and exercise — not their behavior off-camera.

Nature-minded: Have you ever seen an overweight fish? Animals in the wild are rarely too fat for their species (exceptions for those who live in cold climates – they need it to protect themselves from freezing). Even vampire bats, which suck so much blood they must waddle away from their prey, possess the ability to process that blood quickly. The bat that sets out the next night carries no more weight than when it flew out to hunt the night before. When you carry excess weight on your frame, you’re setting natural law topsy-turvy. If squirrels were allowed shotguns, you’d be a sitting duck. Follow nature’s way: eat less, move more.

Justice-minded: Since when was eating more than your fair share just? It’s the food equivalent of having an offshore account. While many people around the globe are getting fatter, there are still pockets of despair. Meanwhile, you’re stuffing your face, using up resources, driving the cost of food up – especially after this summer’s drought. When food prices rise, people who live at the economic edge, making less than $10 per day, find it nearly impossible to feed themselves. They get too thin and develop illnesses, while you continue to resemble a walrus (who needs body fat in order to stay warm in icy waters). Is that really just? Really?

I could come up with more examples of dissonance (economy-minded: slash your grocery/takeout/restaurant bills in half by eating less!) but that’s for later. For now, it’s simple.

Eat a lot less. Move a lot more. Let the excess weight go.

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Filed under Dissonance, Epidemic, Musings, Nature, Obesity, Overweight

Women’s Lost Libidos

The bonkbuster queen

 

Jilly Cooper was not a name I knew until today. In the UK, she’s a best-selling author. She writes bonkbusters.

 

That, too, was a word I didn’t know.

 

The OED – which added the word in 2002 – defines bonkbuster as “a type of popular novel characterised by frequent sexual encounters between the characters”, a definition that sounds repetitive, but then so is the topic. (The word’s inventor, a novelist named Sue Limb – you there, at the back of the room, no sniggering! – created it in 1988 after a publisher asked her to write a “big thick book with lots of bonking in it”.)

 

In the US, we frequently refer to such books as romance novels, although most of the romance occurs within the reader’s brain.

 

So Cooper can claim some familiarity with the concept of frequent sexual encounters, but what she says in today’s Telegraph is that, friends, it’s just not happening much anymore (not for adult women, anyway – do the research on sexual trafficking) because female libidos have been lost.

 

As in, they’re here somewhere, take a look round, love, maybe we’ll recapture them with this butterfly net.

 

Cooper, whose writing depends on that segment of the female reading public who feel a certain stirring at the sight of Rupert Penry-Jones or Johnny Depp, is understandably concerned.

 

“Doctors’ waiting rooms are absolutely brimming these days with women suffering from low libidos. Ours is now a terribly under-sexed society. I have talked to a lot of young women about this and they just don’t seem to do it any more. Honestly. I suppose it’s because we all have so many other demands on our time now,” she said.

 

Never fear, Jilly!

 

The recent publication of Fifty Shades of Grey (“While I have heard that it is quite poorly written, I am delighted that it’s giving a new lease of life to the genre,” said Cooper) has revved up the strategically located powerhouses of certain women.

 

But if I were Jilly Cooper, who is a marvelous-looking 75-year-old, by the way (check out her photo, above), I would get the Telegraph back on the line to come interview me pronto for the answer to those flitted-off libidos.

 

It’s not the demands on our time. How long does a decent bonk take? Thirty minutes, max? And then there are quickies and lazies and “just one shag before the kids need breakfast”. We spend more time in front of the TV or computer/iPad/Kindle screen.

 

It’s not our husbands, lovers or partners, most of whom would love to get more action. (If yours is not of that mind, quick, get thee to a counselor or divorce lawyer, because the jig really is up.) In any case, there are ED drugs a-plenty.

 

It could be mental or emotional illness, it could be stress. It could be anger.

 

But the most likely culprit? Fat.

 

The UK approaches the US in rates of overweight and obese people. This 2011 chart compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that in the US, the rate of obesity was 33.9%. One in three Americans is clinically obese. In the UK, the rate was 22.7. Both rates are said to be growing, as is the amount of food required to sustain such weights, and the resultant medical costs.

 

One thing about sexual desire, it’s propelled by “male” hormones in both men and women. Men have more testosterone, so they often have more desire. But women, too, need their little bit of male “zoom” in their bloodstreams in order to want a shag.

 

Excess fat doesn’t store sexy, manly testosterone. In fact, it stores its opposite number, the lady with the soft touch: estrogen.

 

Now, estrogen is incredibly useful. We can’t get along without it, none of us. But it’s a nurturing hormone (in fact, it’s infamous for nurturing malignancies, which is why alternative-medicine people put themselves on starvation diets in order to defeat cancer), not a wink-wink, let’s-get-it-on-tiger substance.

 

The more fat, the more estrogen.

 

The more estrogen, the more the natural hormonal balance in the body is disturbed. Raise the level of estrogen, and, male or female, your “male” hormone levels are swamped.

 

That wandering libido in women? (And, let’s add, overweight men.) It hasn’t disappeared. It’s been overwhelmed by a flood. With help from you, it can make its presence known.

 

Forget the butterfly net. Porn. Cyber sex. For increased libido, what you really want is a healthier, fitter body.

 

Weight Watchers, friends’ exercise groups, walking buddies. However you do it – it helps if you work with a friend – shed that excess estrogen. Build up your libido as you increase your strength.

 

Do it. For the sake of Jilly Cooper’s bonkbusters.

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Filed under Bonkbuster, Books, Health, Jilly Cooper, Libido, Love, Nature, Prostitution, Rupert Penry-Jones, Trafficking

New Oil for Old

Producing oil from algae

 

One of the coolest things about blogging is getting to post about exciting things with a world of readers – not that there are many of you yet, so please, link this blog to your e-friends! – who may not have the faintest knowledge of what’s up for discussion.

Today: algal oil.

Huh? Oil, yes, understood, the stuff we use to power cars and heat homes and it comes from under the earth, usually from too-hot places with awful endemic attitudes toward over half their populations. Oil, got it. But algal? As in, algae, the stuff in the sea?

Got it.

As this London Guardian article details, there’s a new – and renewable – force for running engines, and it will be put on trial by none other than the US Navy in a trial of marine fuel, for which some or perhaps all of ordinary “bunker” fuels may someday be substituted. This change is big, because using biofuels instead of the usual up-from-the-earth fuels will absolutely transform the world’s shipping fleets.

The history of using oil instead of coal to fuel ships goes back to Winston Churchill, he of the cigars and round hats, before he took the helm as Prime Minister of Great Britain. A century ago, as Navy Minister, he was persuaded that burning oil rather than coal would make the Britisih navy more efficient. He ordered the change. It worked. As the Guardian describes, “Two years later he bought for the UK government a 51% controlling interest in the then-small Anglo-Persian Oil Company. Within a few years, the company changed its name to BP, and is now the world’s fourth largest corporation.”

Unfortunately, it’s still oil. Black gold. Texas tea. Protecting the flow of it has cost lives, pain and billions of dollars.

But algal oil? It can be produced virtually anywhere. Right now, most of it comes from Pennsylvania, produced by a firm called Solazyme. It’s manufactured in giant fermentation tanks where the captive algae munch on such low-cost delicacies as crop and forest wastes. They’re fantastically cooperative, the algae. No risk of wandering. Happy to stay warm and fed.

Yet they need not be kept indoors. The Guardian once more: “Craig Venter, the scientist who first sequenced the human genome and designed the first synthetic cell, is trying to develop a genetically engineered algae fuel that depends only on sunlight and sea water and can be grown and harvested at sea. In an interview in this month’s Scientific American, he said: “We need three major ingredients: CO2, sunlight and seawater, aside from having the facility and refinery to convert those things. We’re looking at sites around the world that have the major ingredient. To us, this is a long-term plan.’” (My suggestion: look only at sites in nations whose sex ratio at birth is staying constant, rather than skewing male. You’ll save a great deal of money and worry.)

And as any beach dweller knows, algae are diverse. With that diversity comes new potential. Says a Solazyme spokesperson: “We have tested thousands of algae, found in swamps, in mountains and at sea and we know we can be competitive. By using different strains of algae we can produce different kinds of oils.”

Different kinds of oils. From tiny green plants. The mind boggles.

Every time it seems things couldn’t be worse, there’s a spark of hope, light at the end of the tunnel. Science fiction veers toward contemporary truth. A new path is struck.

Let’s take it.

 

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Filed under Algae, Algal oil, Bunker fuel, Craig Venter, London Guardian, Nature, News, Oil, Science, Solazyme

Porn, Natural? Pull The Other One.

Smash porn

A recent piece in the London Telegraph reviewed the case of a 31-year-old man named Benedict Garrett, who teaches courses in “personal, social and health education” in a high school in the eastern part of the city, and who by his own estimation works “incredibly hard”.

In his spare time, Garrett works – hard or not – using the Frenchified pseudonym of Johnny Anglais (anglais is French for “English”, evoking Rowan Atkinson’s silly film spoof). In this job, rather than catching the notice of inattentive adolescents, he sells sleaze . . . as a stripper and an actor in porn movies.

Garrett – or Anglais – believes he is doing nothing unusual. “It’s perfectly natural. Get over it,” he’s quoted as saying. Naturally. Of all the possible, usual career routes parents want their children to seek, stripper and porn actor have to top the lists. And a “personal, social and health education” teacher who appears in sex films with a known history of avoiding condoms? That’s not natural, it’s idiocy.

To suggest that Garrett is naïve is to be pitifully obvious. Unfortunately, the same naiveté seems to be endemic to the UK’s General Teaching Council, which has allowed him to resume his classroom career — though, to parents’ relief, he admits he has no plans to resume teaching. Well, of course not. He now has an in to Big Brother, and if Strictly Come Dancing doesn’t pick him up next season, they’ll be falling flat on their faces.

The Telegraph article points out, however, another aspect to Garrett’s story, and that is the nature of porn films themselves. Since Garrett is male, it may never have occurred to him, even though he teaches teenage girls as well as boys, that the porn industry displays a frightening degree of misogyny and cruelty to women. In anecdote after story after account, women who’ve gotten caught up in making porn have detailed the brutishness, the way they’re urged to ignore their – very reasonable – sexual barriers, and of being told they must go along with whatever the director suggests. Basically, what they detail would be classified as sexual torture anywhere but places like Abu Ghraib or Guantánamo. The only difference is that the women “consented” in writing. But even if one consents to one act, that does not give consent to all — nor does pornographic torture, even with permission, cease to be torture.

Nor is it natural, if what we mean is ordinary and everyday. As the Telegraph journalist points out, “one thing that cannot be said of the porn industry is that it’s ‘completely natural’. In the real world, post-pubescent women are not generally as devoid of pubic hair as a Greek marble statue, clad in naughty nurses’ uniforms, or desirous of the most violent forms of sex with a number of men at once. In Pornland, this might be taken as the norm.”

Garrett also neglects to mention the increasingly-documented addictiveness of porn, which transforms healthy men into pathetic creatures who need more and harsher stimuli in order to be sexually aroused, a situation that would be unrecognizable to their grandfathers at the same age. For such men, the only cure is abstinence from porn. Nor does he allude to the way porn addiction makes sex unpleasant and even risky for women who, instead of finding sensual partners in bed, discover men who make grotesque, even ritualistic, demands in their ridiculous belief that such demands are the norm.

Porn is a cause of nonsexual violence against women, too. Not that Garrett makes any mention of that.

Very simply, porn has become a scourge that harms us all. To defend it as “natural” is to willfully blind oneself to its very bizarreness. For that reason alone, his rash and immature judgment, Garrett should not be teaching.

Let’s hope that his former employer’s replacement “personal, social and health education” teacher has more savvy, and better things to do in his or her spare time.

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Filed under Benedict Garrett, Domestic terrorism, Health, Misogyny, Musings, Nature, Porn, Rape, Violence

Growing Up Too Soon

Teen boys -- like their sisters -- are growing up much earlier than their ancestors

Apologies to my readers – I cannot believe August has swum by with only a few posts here. I could blame it on my getting my youngest ready for university, and that was true. There were loads of list cross-outs and discussions of what/where/how, and multiple trips to Bed Bath & Beyond. Logistics and acquisition of materièl take time. But really, regarding the past few weeks with hindsight’s 20/20, I think what was happening was mourning in advance. As a new empty-nester, I believe grief grabbed the scruff of my neck and wouldn’t let go, even if the cause of grief – the college transition – hadn’t yet happened.

It has. We’ve talked, Skyped, e-mailed. We’ll both be fine, eventually. So, onward.

It’s been many years since pediatricians began reporting that menarche (the start of menstrual periods) was occurring in increasingly younger patients, in girls as young as 10. The search for a reason led to improved nutrition and more time in the sun. The lack of sunlight in 19th century girls’ lives has been blamed for later maturation as well as rickets, the deficiency disease caused by a lack of Vitamin D – girls were routinely kept inside to work at textile manufacture, cooking, and the care of younger children.

Growth hormones given to meat animals such as cows and pigs may also influence girls’ early development, it’s been thought.

Until recently, however, research focused solely on female children – since menarche is a startling and definitive sign of change. Could it be, however, that boys’ bodies are maturing earlier, as well?

As it turns out, they are, and that spells potential bad news for them, their neighbors and the rest of us. And it may have nothing to do with growth hormones in their Big Macs.

A recent article in the journal PLoS ONE (reported in a UK newspaper) described studies carried out at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research. Because there is no “bright line” definition for male maturity analogous to menarche, researchers struggled to find out whether the same early maturation documented for girls was also true for their brothers. They found proof that it was in the “accident hump”. This hump is a surge in deaths that occurs when boys reach sexual maturity. With the concurrent rise in testosterone, boys take extra chances, and some of those risks result in their own deaths. The death records of several countries in Europe showed that the average age at which deaths spiked – the accident hump – has fallen steadily since the 18th century, in a consistent decline of approximately 2.5 months of age per 10 years of history.

Although there must be a bottoming effect, the research shows what has been demonstrated through anecdotal evidence. We’ve known for years that “great girls” – that is, girls who were 17 or 18 years old but had not yet reached physical maturity – were not unusual in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, of course, the parents would bring them to a physician before that age. What about boys?

One type of evidence linked to maturity in boys has been well-documented: the age at which their voices break and reach deeper registers. Choir directors have long recorded the change, since a boys’ choir would lose sopranos and altos each year. In the mid-18th century, in a choir led by Johann Sebastian Bach, the average age to lose a chorister because of a voice break was 18. By now, the average age is 14.

Earlier maturation puts boys at risk of testosterone-fueled recklessness and chance-taking – which can affect their fellow students, parents and neighbors, as well – at a time when their mental and emotional maturity lags far behind. The prefrontal cortex, the decision-making part of the brain, does not fully mature until age 25. If a boy reaches sexual maturity at age 14, he is far less able to cope with urges toward violence, sex and risk-taking than his 18th-century ancestor. Even though contemporary 14-year-olds take longer to achieve the social markers of maturity (completing schooling, beginning careers, marrying, becoming fathers), their bodies and brains are flooded with more testosterone than their 18th-century counterparts, with far fewer ways in which to channel their energy and aggression. Gone are many family farms and ranches, which absorbed hours of work. Gone, too, apprentice programs in army, navy and the trades, where boys learned while working hard under the supervision of men. Few boys even walk to school these days, and school athletics are more rigidly structured, allowing only the most-skilled to participate in many schools.

Meanwhile, their prefrontal cortexes cannot keep up with their physical growth.

The causes? Probably the same ones affecting their sisters: better nutrition and medicine, more sunlight, and improved living standards.

No one wants to return to a time of famine and rickets. Yet boys who in no way are accountable for their own early development must be guided toward responsible behavior, for their own health and safety, and for that of the people around them.

This will be of increasing importance in both China and India, where — due to sex-specific abortion of female fetuses — boys already outnumber girls in some regions. The trend toward boys has not abated. In fact, it’s increased, and has spread outside these two nations (influencing Southeast Asian nations and former Soviet Socialist Republics). With such an excess of males, and the knowledge that physical/sexual maturity precedes mental/emotional maturity by up to 12 years, these countries need to put in place now policies to preserve them from what will be a source of widespread and lasting societal rebellion and risk-taking.

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Filed under China, Family, Health, India, Nature, Science, Teenage boys

Breaking The Skin

What happens when the top layer is cut?

Right now, I’m in the middle of a daughter’s post-surgery recovery. It’s going well, all things considered, but a couple of small bumps heightened my alertness . . . and made me consider what we do when we cut.

It’s said that surgery is healing by means of a knife. Oxymoron, certainly. But who would – given the alternatives – not wish to get rid of a life-threatening tumor, for example, if the best method for ridding oneself of it were to literally cut it out of the body? We haven’t yet reached a place where medical knowledge and technology have fully replaced using the knife, though advances since the 1970s are extraordinary. Sometimes, breaking the skin is what’s needed.

Unfortunately, that gets us into a whole different realm, because surgery breaches the body’s largest organ and first line of defense, the skin.

In June, the skin on my forearms went through a series of unfortunate events. Branches ripped into it, tools fell on it, thorns ripped at it. Even bandages removed caused tears (memo to self: never, ever, buy cheap band-aids again). None of the injuries were big, and luckily, since I’m in good health, none became infected.

But they could have. Rewind a hundred years. In 1911, any one of those injuries might have hosted horrible bacteria that my body (possibly ill-nourished as are many women’s bodies in contemporary Asia and Africa) would have had problems fighting. Antibiotics were non-existent in 1911, so the best we could have done is advise bedrest, hydrate well, apply natural antibacterials like honey or onions, hope the patient’s immune system was strong enough to fight . . . and pray.

When the skin is breached nowadays in a hospital setting, the body confronts armies of foreign bacteria (some extremely resistant to drugs and especially prevalent in hospitals). That’s why antibiotics are routinely prescribed for the patient, and are begun immediately, so they give the body’s own immune system a boost. If antibiotics were unavailable, we’d be in almost the same position we were in a century ago – unable to fully control the ravages of infection.

Now, think about that chicken leg you ate last week. That chicken was probably raised in an overcrowded battery farm where disease was so rampant that antibiotics were given in feed, as preventive medicine. But giving preventive antibiotics only makes bacteria stronger. They become so strong – like MRSA – that they become resistant to antibiotics. The body then cannot get the antibiotic boost, post-surgery, that it needs to help its own armies fight off the hordes of bacterial invaders.

I, for one, don’t want to return to 1911, when every extended family, no matter how wealthy, lost members (especially women who’d just given birth) to raging infection. We need to stop the use of preventive antibiotics in food production, and advocate for healthy amounts of space for animals that will be eaten. Eating less meat will also help, as the pressure to produce more and more flesh, added to a business model that insists more is always better, brings forth crowded conditions.

Breaking the skin has consequences. Let’s make sure they’re beneficial ones.

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Filed under Antibacterial, Battery farm, Family, Health, Love, MRSA, Nature, Science, Surgery

The Countdown

Crowding chickens produces disease

I just finished a new book, this time non-fiction, by the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals. It’s been highly praised as an even-handed look at omnivorism. It also happens to be the “common book” for the entering classes of freshmen at both the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Duke University, in the first shared venture of this sort by the two schools. (A “common book” is one that every entering first-year students, no matter her school or proposed major, is expected to read over the summer and be ready to discuss in small groups during the first week of class.)

 

I like meat. It’s delicious. While I avoid MacDo and Burger King, an In-N-Out Double-Double sends me into raptures. In my memory are several recipes for chicken and beef to whip up without consulting notes or a cookbook. So the idea of not eating meat – and fish, which Foer explores in species-annihilating detail – comes as a no-brainer, a foregone conclusion. Why would I want to do it?

 

I respect vegetarians and vegans, who seem to have multiple reasons for their dietary preferences. But don’t humans have teeth designed for meat? Don’t we also possess the appropriate digestive enzymes to break down animal protein? The newest baby of the strictest Jain family is already designed to process meat protein, even though she never will (in fact, she will never eat potatoes, since the harvesting of tubers and roots would destroy the small animals such as worms which grown near them, and that would violate Jain tenets).

 

Foer respects other people’s food choices, too. In some of the book’s most moving passages, he discusses the emotional content of food, especially in light of his grandmother (the “Greatest Chef Who Ever Lived”) and her experiences surviving the Holocaust scavenging from garbage pails and cropland. As a small boy he spent weekly times with her. When he entered, and again when he left, his grandmother would pick him up for a huge hug. It wasn’t until years later that he realized that underneath the love and affection was pragmatism: she was weighing him. For a woman who nearly starved to death while being chased by murderous thugs, a grandchild’s size was no small concern.

 

And Foer ate meat. Lots of meat. Americans, as he points out, eat the equivalent of 21,000 entire animals during their average lifetime.

 

It’s the lifetimes of the animals that he wants us to consider. Paradoxically, cows, the largest animals generally eaten by Americans — who have no taste for horseflesh — seem to receive the best treatment in both their lives and their deaths. If they grow up on grass farms, they lead nearly idyllic lives. But pigs, chickens, turkeys? Dreadful.

 

Blame it on my upbringing in a preventive-medicine family (we were some of the first American kids to get certain vaccines, brought home by our father), but the fact that we’re creating our own medical disaster through agribusiness shocks me. Why are we starting to see microbes resistant to antibiotics? Because microbes evolve, and quickly. Big business crowds animals in to produce cheap meat. When you crowd animals, their resistance to disease goes down, and the disease mechanisms around them (dead animals, feces, slime and slurry) rises. Animals are thus given antibiotics in their feed as a matter of routine, in an effort to prevent inevitable disease before they reach ideal weight and are slaughtered.

 

So the microbes are given challenges. They can’t grow there yet, but what about a new strain? This year’s Wimbledon coverage included a fifty-year retrospective of Billie Jean King at the English tournament, and quoted her as saying, “Pressure is a privilege”. You unleash your best material — best serves, writing, products, creativity — when you’re pressured. So do microbes. They’re just trying to colonize. Unfortunately, they’re trying to colonize us.

 

I’m not sure who wants to return to the pre-antibiotic days of say, the 1930s, only eighty years ago, when women routinely died from post-birth infections and strep throat could kill a child in a week. I certainly don’t – I rank antibiotics one of the top inventions of the 20th century, right up there with personal computers.

 

If we don’t stop the practices of agribusiness, however, bacteria will grow stronger and stronger. There will come a time, and very shortly, when we are as vulnerable to them as our ancestors were. In the 1930s, every extended family, poor or rich, no matter the medical care, lost members to bacterial infections we now consider laughably treatable. Our laughter may soon stop and changing to screams of mourning and outrage. How dare these businessmen mount such a backdoor assault on our health?

 

That’s why I’m starting a countdown. I haven’t stopped eating meat yet, but I’m working toward it. Will it be a sacrifice? Yes, of course – see my mention of In-N-Out, above. A challenge? You bet – I’ll have to look out new recipes and ways to increase my consumption of non-animal protein. Pressure? You bet. Pressure to eat meat is American – think “a chicken in every pot”, the slogan of small-family-farm, pre-antibiotic America.

 

And I’ve promised my children that I won’t force my changes on them – because the emotional content of food (Thanksgiving’s turkey, Christmas’s Swedish meatballs and salmon) is so important and essential in family life.

 

But like fidelity in marriage, this kind of sacrifice/challenge is so worth it. It’s my one small vote for a healthier nation as well as a healthier me.

 

If you read only one book in 2011, make it Eating Animals. At the very least, it will educate you, so that in buying that package of chicken breasts you’ll be making an informed choice.

 

Link to Foer’s book: http://www.amazon.com/Eating-Animals-Jonathan-Safran-Foer/dp/0316069884/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1309872649&sr=8-1#_

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Filed under Cooking, Family, Health, Law, Musings, Nature, Politics