Creating A Macrobiotic Food Ethic

CREATING A MACROBIOTIC FOOD ETHIC

The desire to create a “standard” definition of macrobiotic practice has emerged within our community on a regular basis. In my experience alone I have been part of many intense and in-depth discussions at teacher’s gatherings and congresses in both Europe and America.  Most often there has been an agreed conclusion. These decisions are usually either so general that they could be used to describe almost any progressive natural health movement or are so steeped in past dogma that they are incomprehensible to anyone who is not already familiar with macrobiotics.

The expression of our collective beliefs must acknowledge modern concerns while maintaining the most important macrobiotic principles. When we begin to define ourselves by the past we neglect the opportunities of the future. If our objective is to contribute to the creation of “One Peaceful World” we need to have a clear understanding of where we are in the present as well as an inspiring vision of the future.

TOWARD DEFINING WHAT WE BELIEVE

When set out to define any set of ideas it is helpful to reduce them to their simplest form and avoid specialized terminology.  This allows for clarity regarding the relative worth of the concepts being studied. My purpose here is to discover if there are any areas where our collective experience and study have proven to contradict previous beliefs as well as define areas where our collective action may not be congruent with our core values.

WHAT ARE THE FOUNDATIONS OF MACROBIOTIC THINKING?

  • Macrobiotics is an ecological philosophy that aims to understand the laws of nature and the human relationship to those laws.
  • We believe that everything in nature is connected, there is no us or them, there is no “other”.
  • We believe that there is an order to natural process - we believe in natural law.
  • We believe that it is possible for humankind to perceive the order of nature through study, observation and experience.
  • We believe that if we understand this order we can align our thoughts and actions with it and live a more vibrant, fulfilling and healthy life.
  • Part of this process of alignment is the ability to change and adapt to new realities.

HOW DO OUR BELIEFS TRANSLATE INTO DAILY LIFE?

  • Macrobiotic teaching places great value on maximising individual and social health as an essential part of personal growth.
  • The process of creating and maintaining health is a personal laboratory for understanding natural law through physical experience and the development of a visceral understanding of the world around us.
  • We realize that creation of health includes a constellation of influences including (but not limited to) physical activity, emotional stability, intellectual curiosity, fulfilling relationships, a spirituality grounded on respect for all life as well as good nutrition.
  • Macrobiotics has always had a special focus on food choice and preparation. It is a fundamental part of creating health. The food we eat, along with air and water, are the most intimate connection between our biological being and the environment.
  • We acknowledge the fact that food choices have implications that effect the environment, social health, economic justice and a wide range of ethical issues as well as individual health.
  • Making simple food choices is a way of reforming social attitudes about health as well as a daily reminder of our relationship with nature.
  • Understanding our connection with nature, we make every attempt to live with gratitude and without the undue waste of resources.
  • We always support the natural rather than the synthetic and chemical solution to foods, goods and services.
  • The outcome of these actions leads to a greater commensal relationship to nature and a rejection of the parasitic values of modern society.

MACROBIOTICS AS A SOCIAL INFLUENCE

  • The stated goal of the last generation of macrobiotic teachers was to work toward the creation of One Peaceful World.
  • The challenge of any social movement is to stay true to its stated objectives and maintaining its founding principles while adapting to changes in the cultural environment.
  • Contemporary macrobiotic practitioners find themselves in a unique position. The science of nutrition is steadily moving toward the dietary conclusions we have promoted for decades. The macrobiotic movement has played an important social role in this development.
  • While public interest in and knowledge of nutrition has increased greatly over the past 20 years, interest in macrobiotics has diminished.
  • The macrobiotic skill set includes abilities as such as cooking, home food processing, understanding seasonal eating, home remedies, the healing power of foods and a variety of useful techniques from ancient wisdom traditions. These skills can be important contributions to those who are changing their food habits in response to health concerns, environmental issues and ethical concerns.
  • It is clear that one of the most certain contributions to the creation of One Peaceful World is changing the way our food is grown, processed, distributed and retailed. The modern food chain is a series of commercial, not biological relationships. Our fundamental beliefs should give us unique credibility on these issues, it has not.
  • There is a case to be made that macrobiotics is not seen as unique in any way and simply blends in with other forms of “plant-based” nutrition.
  • It may be that the tendency to cloak our thinking in a series of esoteric principles, the over-emphasis on individual “special needs” and lack of any dietary ethic creates confusion and lack of clarity.

WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE OF AN ECOLOGICAL FOOD ETHIC?

Ethical issues are increasingly part of the debate on food quality. These ethical considerations include, but are not limited to:

  • The direct impact of specific foods which contribute to disease.
  • The impact of chemicals in farming on health and the environment.
  • The impact on small farms in poor countries by multi-nationals.
  • Food slavery.
  • International Food Security.
  • The potential damage of GMO crops to health and environment.
  • The spread of animal disease to humans (zoonosis).
  • The use of land to grow food for animals rather than humans.
  • The rapid depletion of fish stocks.
  • The killing of sentient animals as a food source.

All of these issues are part of the evolving understanding of human nutrition and will become more dominant in the future. The question is if the macrobiotic community will be part of that evolution or not.

When we look at the above issues of nutritional ethics it is clear that the production and consumption of all animal foods produce the biggest negative influence.  What holds us back from making a clear stand?

Perhaps a more important question for the macrobiotic teaching community is if our practice is coherent with the principles stated above. If macrobiotics is really about raising our consciousness, (or using Ohsawa’s term, Judgement) why would we not promote the highest standard of practice toward that goal. In Michio Kushi’s Spiritual Development Seminars he taught that the most refined state of consciousness we attained was by avoiding all animal food. In Zen Macrobiotics, Ohsawa suggested that eating animal-sourced foods were only used when there was no hurry to advance to the highest levels of judgement.

SOME MACROBIOTIC CONCERNS

Macrobiotic practitioners have stated several concerns or objections about supporting an animal-free approach to macrobiotics. I have addressed some of these below.  I also acknowledge that there are many issues that would generally find group agreement but I have not addressed them here.

Nutrition: There is a general agreement that the modern diet, heavily dependent on animal fats, sugar, chemical additives and trans fats is killing us. Those populations that consume this diet consistently present the highest rates of NCD’s. This has been shown in epidemiological studies since the 1950’s and confirmed consistently by numerous studies.[1],[2],[3],[4]

The hundreds of studies that show the same relationship between the modern diet, particularly animal products and NCD’s is overwhelming. Even though we use a different and (I feel) more comprehensive method to reach the same results should not dissuade us from using this information.

Tradition: There are two parts to the macrobiotic resistance to the avoidance of all animal products regarding traditions. The first is anthropological and the second is the reference to macrobiotic culture.

When we reflect on food traditions from around the world we surely know that they were a direct response to environmental conditions such as soil, water, altitude, and weather as well as developed technologies. This is fundamental to the ecological macrobiotic world-view. Traditions were always a question of food availability, environment and cultural development. Stories of Maasai warriors, people living in deep jungles or native Inuit people are interesting but they are anomalies. The same is true of our real or imagined ancestors following the “traditional diet”.

Regarding macrobiotic culture, it is important to use the same thinking that applies to any cultural group – leaders are mimicked.  The fact that Michio was fond of fish is no more important that the fact that he smoked. The fact that Ohsawa included animal quality foods in 5 out of his 10 diets is as irrelevant as his views of the role of women. Respecting the teachings of these men and the courage of their commitment to a better word does not mean wholesale acceptance of everything that came out of their mouth (or went into it).

The physical and social environment we live has changed dramatically in the last century, even in the past 50 years and will keep on changing. It is the reality of the present, not the past, that we must make balance with. It is the present that produces the challenges to our health. Tradition is interesting and often instructive but not a sensible guideline for the future.

The Curious Story of The Fish: One of the most interesting theories put forward by Ohsawa was his view of evolution. His observations on the connection between plant and animal morphology are fascinating (his time scale not so much). This model certainly affected macrobiotic food choices, even among those who never studied the template that Ohsawa proposed. This evolutionary template places human life at the apex.  This is a very common idea and certainly not unique to him. After all, man is made in “Gods Image”. It is part of the hierarchy of nature that lays the groundwork for anthropocentric thinking and many of our present-day environmental issues. This image of our relationship with nature is outmoded, regressive and goes against all environmental sensibility.

Human life is certainly more complex in structure that most life on the planet but it is also the most destructive. When we imagine that animal life is inferior rather than part of the support system of life on earth we feel free to abuse it. In macrobiotics, the idea that fish have a simpler nervous system and a more primitive structure served as a rationale for consuming them as the “acceptable animal”. They were also one of the most popular animal quality foods in Japanese culture and reflected the eating traditions of our teachers.

Recent research shows that the lack of neural complexity does not demonstrate a lack of sentience. [5],[6] I will return to sentience later. Every year fish stocks are ruined to a devastating degree. Any lack of attention to this is to contribute to a major ecological disaster.[7] Aside from the environmental impact of eating fish they are also increasingly polluted with heavy metals.

Plants Are Sentient Too: I would be the first to agree that the earth and everything on it is living. That does not mean that everything lives the same. Sentient creatures have a nervous system that allows them to respond. Animals respond and react, plants seem to only react. Even if plants had some form of sentience they would still be appropriate for human food at this time simply because we lack the ability to take water, soil and exposure to sun and create our body’s needs.

Everything Is Macrobiotic: I hear this statement often and it is an attitude that runs counter to any ecological concern we might address. It is a simplistic attitude disguised as zen. It is simply relativism, the idea that there is no right or wrong, good or bad, up or down without a cultural or individual framework. We need to talk about this.

The way that Yin and Yang are used in macrobiotics defies any application of ethics or morality. I agree with that. Using Yin and Yang is a way of talking about objects, actions or ideas in comparison with other objects, actions or ideas. It is a system of measurement. In that sense, there are no values. In terms of Y&Y, a hamburger is just a hamburger and a bowl of rice is simply a bowl of rice. It is a convenient way of comparing the various aspects of nature. The fact that it is a system that is not concerned with values makes its use difficult when describing the subtleties of human behaviour.

If we really wish to create a healthy world and communicate that message to others we need to communicate values. If a person wants to lower cholesterol, then eliminating fats is a good idea. Yin and yang may come in handy in the classification of different fats but the value of staying alive is the issue.  Yin and yang cannot describe the value of anything only its characteristics. The classification of foods must be concerned with making choices that lead to health in the individual and society.

Popularity/Acceptance/Exclusivity:  We can always find a way to deflect our own resistance by pointing to how many people will not do something. Every radical change in social evolution has required a high degree of commitment to actions that could be seen as dangerous, eccentric or laughable. That process lies at the base of cultural evolution.

We are faced with the same challenge that many of us faced in the 60’s when we started eating this way. The food was not available and people thought it was weird or repulsive and even unpatriotic. We persevered regardless and opened a new chapter in the social understanding of food.

The rise of advertised “vegan” and “plant-based” cooking classes in macrobiotic circles means that the social acceptance of these ideas is certainly recognized. I am only hoping that the people giving those classes have made that shift themselves or it would appear dishonest.

When I hear, that people are resistant to eliminating all animal foods from their diet my response is that we are not communicating very well or that our focus is not on best options but on enabling people in their unhealthy habits.

Dietary Rigidity: Dietary rigidity is not being able to change. People who follow the modern diet are the most rigid on the planet. They are totally resistant to trying anything new and addicted to poor quality, environmentally damaging, disease-producing junk. That is rigidity I am quite happy to eat with people who decide to eat differently to me. I never produce any critical observations about their choices. I don’t get upset.

It is usually those who eat the modern diet that gets upset about someone else eating differently, that is dietary rigidity. I am happy with my choices.

Personal Freedom: Macrobiotics has always put itself forward as a beacon of self-determination and freedom. Freedom is certainly a valuable quality in life. Hopefully that freedom is an expression of the ability to do or not do. Our choices ultimately expose our consciousness (judgement). Where is our true north? If our goal is the creation of a Peaceful World do our actions show the truth of that goal?

Non-Credo is often suggested as a primary guide in macrobiotic thinking. It is an appealing invitation to question beliefs. I agree. That means that the leaning on non-credo as a reason for action gets called into question as well. This particular issue is often a code for “anything goes” and is not part of a serious inquiry. This inquiry would also call intuition into question. I hear macrobiotic people often claim that they are eating some unhealthy food because their intuition told them to. It usually means that they simply didn’t know how to interpret a craving and deal productively with it. People all over the world engage in all sorts of unproductive and damaging behaviour because it seemed intuitively right.

IN CLOSING

It is not a coincidence that foods that promote personal health also have economic, social, environmental and even psychological and spiritual advantages.  That is what we call Karma. When we view these factors as “side benefits” we miss the point. When personal action is a reflection of natural justice a state of biological integrity is achieved. This is the condition we call health.

The lack of compassion for life other than our own, the lack of appreciation for nature, the fear of change and frantic searches for instant gratification that characterize our society are woven into our food choices. Unravelling them is fundamental to creating a human ecology that can allow us to reach our full human potential. To me, that is the essence of macrobiotics and something that our community needs to constantly renew and nourish.

Bill Tara

www.MACROVegan.org

www.billtara.net

[1]  Chowdhury R, Warnakula S, Kunutsor S, et al. Association of dietary, circulating, and supplement fatty acids with coronary risk. Ann Intern Med 2014; 160(6):398-406.

2 Oh K, Hu FB, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC. Dietary fat intake and risk of coronary heart disease in women: 20 years of follow-up of the Nurses’ Health Study. Am J Epidemiol 2005;161:672-9.

3 Laaksonen DE, Nyyssonen K, Niskanen L, Rissanen TH, Salonen JT. Prediction of cardiovascular mortality in middle aged men by dietary and serum linoleic and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Arch Intern Med 2005;165:193-199.

[4]de Goede J, Geleijnse JM, Boer JM, Kromhout D, Verschuren WM. Linoleic acid intake, plasma cholesterol and 10-year incidence of CHD in 20,000 middle-aged men and women in the Netherlands. Br J Nutr 2012;107:1070-6.

[5] Animal Cognition, January 2015, Fish intelligence, sentience and ethics, Department of Biological Sciences, Sidney Australia

[6] Dr. Victoria Braithwaite, "Do Fish Feel Pain?,

[7] http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/how-eating-seafood-kills-our-oceans/

 

 


Become A Health Coach with MACROVegan

Become A Health Coach with MACROVegan

MACROVegan Philosophy & Lifestyle

The topic of nutrition has become a bewildering landscape of cultural myth and vested interest. There is an urgent need for a new approach to human diet, one that cuts through the commercial PR, the political caution and the nutritional confusion.

The MACROVegan approach to eating addresses these concerns with a fusion of two important doctrines.  The first of these are the ecological insights of ancient Asian health care found in macrobiotic studies. This tradition points to the benefits of seasonal, regional and ecologically sustainable nutrition.

The second set of standards come from the ethic of the modern vegan approach to eating that drives the leading edge of contemporary nutritional science proven by both medical study and extensive epidemiological research.

The MACROVegan way of eating addresses the requirements for vibrant health as well as a delicious, diverse and socially responsible way of eating.

This philosophy offers a unique approach to self-transformation.  MACROVegan practice improves our energy, stamina and flexibility as well as our mental well-being and creativity.  It also enhances intuitive instinctual and intellectual abilities and opens us up to greater levels of spiritual growth.

Food - Food has a very powerful influence on our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.  For many of us, trying to work out what constitutes a healthy diet can be confusing.  This is where a MACROVegan approach can help.  Macrobiotics considers the energetic quality of food and uses the polarity of expansion and contraction – yin and yang, to create balance. The vegan approach has no animals for use in any areas of our lives.

Wholegrains are the staple food of the MACROVegan diet, which also includes a wide variety of vegetables and complementary foods such as legumes, vegetables, sea vegetables, fermented vegetables, miso, nuts, seeds, fruits and a variety of condiments.

Ideally, the foods are organic, fresh, seasonal and locally grown.  The unique art of macrobiotic and vegan cooking is in creating delicious meals adapted to individual needs.

Healthy Living – Is it Still Possible?

Modern living means that for many of us it is increasingly challenging to stay healthy. The good news is that it is possible. While problems such as environmental pollution, stress and the decreasing quality of food will not disappear overnight, there are still many positive choices we can make. After all, how we choose to live is our responsibility. The most important decisions we make are those which enhance our wellbeing on every level. Each day we choose to eat food that creates health or creates disease. A MACROVegan diet is a way forward for vitality and longevity.

Happiness is the endless realisation of one’s infinite dream. George Ohsawa

Life is really very simple: What you give you, you get back. Bill Tara & Marlene Watson-Tara

We look forward to welcoming you to the Wild Atlantic Way on the West Coast of Ireland.

In good health

marlene

 

 


Building Our Vision of MACROVegan In The World

MACROVegan ChitChat from Marlene

When your desire is great,  you cannot fail to achieve the ultimate in the end.  So, I have been reminding myself to be patient, no mean feat let me tell you. Persistence, perseverance and simply believing you will get there no matter how many setbacks you have along the way is paramount. This has been fundamental to us as we moved from country to country deciding on where that 'place' would be that would become home to our MACROVegan centre.

Well, here we are, ensconced in the beauty of Surrey, working towards launching our MACROVegan Centre. When clients continue to respond in such a positive way and achieve incredible results renewing their health, it continually pushes us to offer our work on a much larger scale. We will offer many of our diverse programmes as well as healthy holiday breaks immersed in our Ultimate Health Experience programmes. It's very exciting to be embarking on this project.

Become a Health Coach with MACROVegan and disease-proof your family

What's News from Bill

Bill has been working on his online nutritional course 'Eating As If Life Matters' that is based on his work of fifty years teaching Health, Nutrition, & Human Ecology. There will be ten fabulous modules with video presentations, the book which has over 300 research studies as well as tutorials, recipes and so much more come packaged together with webinars and a student forum page. The course is available by end May, beginning of June.

Enjoy the spring weather and use one of my teas from my book Macrobiotics for all Seasons to cleanse your liver from the heavier diet of winter.

In good health

marlene


biosphere

Diet and Human Ecology

Diet and Human Ecology

The biosphere is a delicate and dynamic system of energy, organic and inorganic matter. When we disrupt any part of it, the results ripple out and have far-reaching effects, often seemingly unrelated to their source. We search in vain to find some alien cause. Our attitudes regarding degenerative disease are a good example. When we focus on specific nutrients in our diet we fail to see the bigger, truer picture. We often fail to see how our food choices are driven by emotional and social influences and not physical need.

In 1943 the famed psychologist Abraham Maslow published a paper called 'A Theory of Human Motivation'. This groundbreaking work laid the foundations for the next three decades of developmental psychology. Maslow was looking for defining principles of human happiness, for what makes us feel complete. His conclusions were simple yet profound.

In identifying what he called a hierarchy of needs, he established that we must meet our basic physical requirements before addressing other areas of fulfillment and joy. The first level of need includes Air, Food, Water, Shelter, Warmth, Sex and Sleep. When these needs are attained we seek the second level - Safety, Protection from the elements, Security, Order, Stability and Freedom from Fear. Our desires for love, esteem, self-expression, creativity and the realization of our full potential rest on the foundation of these first two levels. If they are not met, we risk living with constant anxiety, stress and ill health. It would be fair to say that those first two levels are all about health. These considerations need a particular attention now more than ever because we are living in an environment of our own creation.

city

The number of people living in urban areas exceeded 50% of the world’s population for the first time in 2014.[1] It looks like it will be 70% by 2050. The WHO report lists resulting health challenges such as poor water quality, environmental pollutants, violence and injury, increased non-communicable diseases (cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases), unhealthy diets and physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol and increased exposure to disease outbreaks. In an unintended irony one of the few advantages of urban living is listed as access to better health care.

When I started studying food and nutrition, I was intrigued by the connection between what I was eating and the environment. I discovered that many of the foods that had questionable or negative effects on health also had an adverse environmental impact. This should not have surprised me. We do not need new products or even more studies to create a wholesome way of eating. What we need is a new way of looking at the whole issue of food and health. We need a user-friendly, common sense approach to understanding food that is healthy and sustainable for society and the environment. To accomplish this requires us to question everything we have been told about nutrition, and review some very basic questions about the role of food in our life and in our culture.

The word 'health' originates in old English, and means to be complete. Food is certainly an important part of being whole – being connected. To be healthy we need to eat food that allows us to operate at our full potential. That potential includes the sensitivity and capacity to adapt to environmental change. Health enables us to nurture the bond between nature and ourselves. Ecology is a central theme of the ancient systems of understanding food.

Ecology is rarely acknowledged when discussing nutrition, and yet is central to understanding our food choices, and how different foods affect us, both directly and indirectly. Rachel Carson, the American biologist, author of The Silent Spring,[2] and the accepted mother of modern ecology, says:

'If we have been slow to develop the general concepts of ecology and conservation, we have been even more tardy in recognizing the facts of the ecology and conservation of man himself. We may hope that this will be the next major phase in the development of biology. Here and there awareness is growing that man, far from being the overlord of all creation, is himself part of nature, subject to the same cosmic forces that control all other life. Man's future welfare and probably even his survival depend upon his learning to live in harmony, rather than in combat, with these forces.'[3]

This view of our relationship with nature is more crucial now than ever. Carson's vision of an evolution in biological science that unifies human life with the environment has been steadily sidelined. If man is 'a part of nature, subject to the same cosmic forces that control all other life', then natural law exists for us, as well as for every other creature, plant and aspect of the planet. If we do not learn to cooperate with the laws of nature, we will harm ourselves. We don't need a degree in environmental science to understand natural law.

We tend to view the world we live in, and all other life except perhaps domestic animals, as 'other'. But we do not exist outside of the intricate composition of the biosphere. When we examine nutrition as a fundamental aspect of our relationship with the planet we come to a better understanding of the problems surrounding the human diet.

Our belief in human supremacy, often referred to as Anthropocentric thinking, allows us to place ourselves at the center of the universe. We view our uniqueness as a sign of separation from the rest of life that swirls around us and within us. The belief that we are superior to other life forms permits us to use the natural world according to our desires and whims.  As we pull away from any physical interaction with nature we fortify those mythologies that lie at the foundation of our most harmful behaviors.

In ecological studies there are several kinds of relationships between an organism and its environment. The first thing we need to know about any new creature we discover is how it procreates and what it eats. These are the driving forces of evolution; they dictate physical form, function and most behavior.

One class of relationship is called 'commensalism', from the Latin 'to eat at the same table'. These are relationships where one organism gains benefits and the other is not affected. Another type of relationship is 'mutualism', where both organisms benefit. In sharp contrast is the 'parasitism' relationship, where one organism benefits while the other is harmed. Creating a commensal relationship with the planet is primary for humanity. Our well-being is inter-dependent with the well-being of the planet. It is also the key to a comprehensive vision of human nutrition.

Planet Earth is host to human life. The natural world makes human life possible. Our current relationship with the planet is almost entirely parasitic.  The famous British naturalist, David Attenborough recently referred to humanity as 'a plague on the planet'.[4] The chemist and co-creator of the Gaia Theory, James Lovelock, said that humans are “too stupid to prevent climate change”.[5]  What does our casual disregard for the environment say about us?

We like to imagine that our relationship with nature is a kind of benign mutualism, one where we take from nature in exchange for nature having the pleasure of our company. The conundrum we face is that our whole economy is based on endless consumption; we are eating up the environment.  But as economist E.F Schumacher said “Infinite growth of material consumption in a finite world in an impossibility”.

Protein provides a good example of a human obsession becoming an environmental problem. Obtaining adequate protein in our diet is easy. A diet with a variety of grains, beans, vegetables, nuts and seeds provides more than sufficient protein for health and vitality. (You can refer to Section Two for some great, protein-rich recipes.) Asians (who eat less meat than westerners) have produced concentrated, vegan, protein-rich foods for centuries, such as miso, soya sauce, tempeh and tofu.

Increasing numbers of people understand that meat is not a good food choice. Some avoid meat for ethical reasons (abuse and killing of animals), some because of environmental impact, and some due to health concerns.  Changing to a macrobiotic vegan diet affects social and personal habits. What if you understand all that but like the taste of meat? What if you like the texture of meat? Don't worry, a solution is at hand.  Food science is on the way to your door with fake 'meaty stuff'.

Yes, we can make and sell you soya hot-dogs, lunch meats, imitation steaks and pies and burgers. They can taste like beef, chicken or pork. These products are perhaps culturally fun, but they do not address the issues of good nutrition. Soy is difficult to digest, that is why the people of Asia fermented it. We have to use additives, excessive salt and extensive processing to get the 'meaty' taste that mimics flesh. All because we love to indulge our senses.

Bill Gates has recently backed a company called Beyond Meat. The young entrepreneur who started the company is busy producing all sorts of fake meat in his factory. He outlined his idea in an interview with Business Insider magazine[6].

"Meat is well understood in terms of its core parts, as well as its architecture. Meat is basically five things: amino acids, lipids, and water, plus some trace minerals and trace carbohydrates. These are all things that are abundant in non-animal sources and in plants." 

Here we are again in the 'food as a chemical delivery system' world. Beyond Meat has manufactured artificial chicken (it tastes just like chicken) and beef in its facilities in Southern California. Ethan Brown, the brains behind the company, has attracted investment from other big shareholders. In addition to Gates and the co-founder of Twitter, the ex-CEO of McDonalds is in the game as an advisor.

I will lose many of my vegan friends here who think that fake meat is the best thing since sliced bread (and we know how that worked out). Fake meat is being marketed as a solution to the 'meat problem'. But we don’t have a meat problem. We have a human problem. According to Food Research International, manufactured faux meat uses an equal amount of energy to produce as meat products.[7] Bill Gates is a dangerous guide to environmental concerns, given his enthusiastic support of Monsanto’s GMO’s as the way to feed the world.

Fake meat is highly processed, manufactured food. It includes canola oil (which is always chemically processed), soy protein isolate (a commercial waste product that populates many vegan and vegetarian foods) and several common additives. It is not a solution to creating a healthy diet.

 

[1] World Health Organization, Global Health Observatory data

[2] Silent Spring (Penguin Modern Classics), original publication 1962

[3] "Essay on the Biological Sciences" in Good Reading (1958)

[4] The Guardian, September 10, 2013

[5] The Guardian, March 29, 2010

[6] Business Insider, August 15, 2015

[7] Environmental Impact of four meals with different protein sources, Food Research International, Volume 43, Issue 7, August 2010


bad-medicine

BAD MEDICINE

Conventional medicine has a sad and dysfunctional relationship with nutrition. Growing evidence on connections between diet and disease means doctors are asked questions they have evaded for decades. Many of my clients experiencing the benefits of a healthy plant-based diet ask “Why didn’t my doctor know about this?”

I fully respect the good work that most doctors do. Modern medicine can do many wonderful things. But the profession is rarely criticised or assessed rigorously from the outside. We seem much more interested in who pays the bill rather than the quality of the service. There are mythologies surrounding medicine that are deeply embedded in our culture, and that profoundly affect our attitudes to health.

Since the 1950’s medical shows on television have been a standard entertainment; at last count there have been 93 successful shows (32 in the UK) with a medical format. From 'Dr Kildare' and 'Ben Casey' in the 60’s to 'ER' and 'House' in the 21st century, television doctors have portrayed the power of medicine over suffering and death. But it is a mistake to believe that this power indicates that doctors understand health. They are sickness experts - not health experts.

An analogy of the comparison is this: imagine a highway with hundreds of cars speeding along. Suddenly a bridge collapses. Standing by the road, you see cars hurtling off it, into the canyon below. What do you do? Do you go down into the canyon and help those injured? Or do you stop the traffic?

Medicine has chosen to go into the canyon and help the injured. And maybe they put up ambiguous warning signs such as 'Speed Kills', 'Watch Out!' or 'Use Caution'.

Someone has to stop the traffic. The medical establishment has not taken on that role in the past, and there is no sign that they will in the future, although a few brave souls venture out to stem the traffic flow.

It’s hard to get out of that canyon once you are down there. Things are not going so well at the crash site. As the traffic increases the services and personnel become more overworked, and resources are constantly under stress. There is an endless demand for more money and new technologies - but extra resources don’t seem to help.

In America just under 18% of the GNP is spent on health care; in the UK the figure is 9.6%[1].  Yet in an exhaustive survey done by the United Nations, published in 2000, America only ranked 37th  out of 190 countries and the UK ranked 18th.[2] Something is seriously wrong and money isn't fixing it. One problem is that the growing demands and increased complexity of treatment creates an environment where mistakes are unavoidable. A 2013 report from the Institute of Medicine reported that there are 440,00 preventable deaths from medical errors annually in America.[3]  That makes medical error the third leading cause of death following heart disease and cancer.

The focus at the crash site is the prescription of pills.  We live in a culture where every complaint, real or imagined, requires medication. Driven by the pharmaceutical mentality, the abuse of prescriptive drugs grows yearly. An estimated 48 million Americans have abused prescription drugs - nearly 20% of the U.S. population. Deaths by prescription drugs are more common than deaths by car accidents in America, and far outstrip deaths by illegal drugs. Disturbingly, the non-medical use of prescription drugs has been rising steadily for adolescents, particularly prescription pain relievers, anti-anxiety medications, stimulants and steroids.[4]

What about antibiotics? Sometimes a doctor prescribes antibiotics under pressure from a misguided patient who demands medication. Common colds, flu (influenza), bronchitis, most cough’s, most sore throats, some ear infections, many sinus infections and stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis) do not respond to antibiotics.  Yet antibiotics are regularly prescribed for these cases. Doctors may even write the prescription before receiving test results that identify the infection.

The long-term and combined effects of our romance with drugs is making us sicker. Antibiotics are specifically designed to kill microorganisms - but it is almost impossible to target a single species. Antibiotics are literally 'anti-life'.  In using them, we may kill the bacteria we want to kill. We also kill or damage our beneficial bacteria, and mutate harmful ones.

As antibiotic use increases, bacteria adapt to them and become resistant. A 2013 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that at least 2 million people annually "acquire serious infections with bacteria that are resistant to one or more of the antibiotics designed to treat those infections." [5] At least 23,000 people die annually in America from antibiotic-resistant infections.

The human body is home to billions of microbes. They inhabit every part of the body from the eyelash to the gut. They perform essential tasks in protecting us from potential pathogens. Microorganisms are crucial to our digestive system. The colonies of microbes that form the microbiome in our gut are the key to good digestion - and more. When we eat, it is these tiny creatures that increase the efficiency of metabolism, fine-tune immune response and even synthesize some vitamins.

It seems clear that the overuse of antibiotics is having a negative impact on many indigenous organisms in the gut. These microbes have established a commensal (mutually beneficial) relationship with their human hosts. Their disappearance, under the onslaught of antibiotics and the modern diet, seems to promote conditions such as obesity and asthma.[6] The use of antibiotics dramatically alters digestive function. Think of the common side-effects of nausea and diarrhea. This is part of a vicious cycle: our diet makes us more prone to disease, and then we take drugs that hamper digestion and compromise immune function.

A recent study in the British National Health Service found that nine out of ten General Practitioners in the UK feel pressurized by their patients to prescribe antibiotics. Ninety-seven percent of these patients are prescribed antibiotics regardless of their illness.  When the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggested that doctors who over-prescribe be censured,[7] doctors were upset.

Antibiotics first arrived on the medical scene in 1932. They were the first medicines labeled 'wonder drugs'. The introduction of the sulfa drugs meant the U.S. mortality rate from pneumonia dropped from 0.2% each year to 0.05% by 1939. This was indeed a wonderful treatment and saved many lives. Penicillin, introduced a few years later, provided a broader spectrum of activity, and had fewer side effects. Streptomycin, discovered in 1942, was the first effective drug against tuberculosis, and came to be the best known of a long series of important antibiotics. The root causes of the diseases treated were lost in the celebrations.

Tuberculosis can be directly traced to individual and social behavior. This was also the case with whooping cough, pneumonia and other diseases of poverty. They originate in crowded and unhygienic environments where malnutrition is common. Now that we were able to cure the illnesses with antibiotics, we stopped focusing on cleaning up the slums and the provision of healthy food.

Taking medication is a huge act of faith. We believe that the healer knows about invisible forces - and knows how to control them. It doesn’t matter if the healer is a shaman on the Mongolian tundra, a Wise-Woman herbalist in the forests of ancient Europe, or a doctor in modern America. The healer's naming of the evil spirit indicates special wisdom. If the name is in a foreign language all the better (Latin is a good start). Doctors unwittingly support and encourage this fantasy. We may mock other cultures for their superstitions, but are our own illusions really that different?

The relationship between the healer/doctor and the patient is based largely on the faith of the patient, rather than knowledge.  It is an infantile bond, disempowering to the one seeking help. We are uneducated about health, and the doctor is unlikely to have the time (or perhaps the inclination) to educate us. That is not their job, they just want to treat us. So we continue thinking that we must hand over the care of our health to our doctor - and that they know what they are doing.

Disease is generally described as an enemy. Invisible and mysterious adversaries surround us.  We are 'fighting' heart disease; we are 'battling' cancer we will 'conquer' diabetes. Who or what are we fighting? As long as the enemy is concealed behind a cloak of mystery we can leave the battle up to the wizards and hope for the best. In order to discover the culprit all that we need is a mirror. Our major antagonist is hiding in clear sight. We like to think that responsibility for our illnesses lies outside us. If my illness is caused by a virus, bacteria or genetics, then I am blameless. But change my daily habits? Surely not! It can't be that simple, can it?

[1] Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Health Data 2013

[2] World Health Organization, World Health Report 2000

[3] As reported in Forbes Magazine, September 23, 2013

[4] National Council on Alcoholism, and Drug Dependence

[5] Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, Antibiotic Resistance in the United States, 2013, cdc.gov

[6] Nature Reviews Microbiology 7, 887-894 (December 2009) What are the consequences of the disappearing human microbiota?

[7] National Institute for Health and Care Excellence Report, Aug, 2015