veganism

vegans who can go the distance

The New York Times profiles champion ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, who runs on the order of 140 miles a week training for races that are often 100 miles or more, sometimes through deserts or frozen wastelands or up and down mountains. Jurek is a vegan, consuming 5,000 to 8,000 calories of plant-based nutrition a day.

And Jurek is not alone as an elite vegan endurance athlete. There's Rich Roll, one of Men’s Fitness Magazine's 2009 “25 Fittest Guys in the World”, is a top Ultraman competitor. Ultraman is a "double Ironman" three day triathlon, with a 6.2 mile ocean swim followed by a 90 mile cross-country cycling race, a 170 mile cycling race, and then on the final day a 52 mile double marathon.

Or there's Brendan Brazier, a professional Ironman triathlete and two-time Canadian 50km Ultra Marathon Champion.

Or Ruth Heidrich, vegan for 24 years, holder of three world fitness records in her age group, six-time Ironman triathlon finisher, and holder of more than 900 gold medals for distances ranging from 100 meters dashes to ultramarathons, who credits going vegan with sending her breast cancer into remission. (This is certainly a controversial claim, and I am not suggesting that anyone discontinue medical treatment.)

If you think that a vegan diet can't give you the energy you need, I suggest you talk to these folks -- if you can catch them!

vegan tough guys

Two tough guys to add to your list of vegan athletes:

So for those who want to argue that vegans are a bunch of wimps and that you need to eat animal flesh to be strong, I invite you to contact these gentlemen.

hysteria -- too much vitamin A?

A week or so ago, I found myself in a conversation about the nature of mental health diagnosis. I've always found it interesting how no one is "hysterical" any more -- if you read books on psychology from a few decades ago, there's a great deal of discussion about that condition, where as it seems that now it's almost never discussed. I've always taken that as an indicator of how at least part of the concept of "mental illness" is a social construction.

However, I stumbled across this abstract of a paper in the journal Social Science & Medicine, which notes "Experimental and clinical studies of nonhumans and humans reveal somatic and behavioral effects of hypervitaminosis A which closely parallel many of the symptoms reported for Western patients diagnosed as hysterical and Inuit sufferers of pibloktoq ['arctic hysteria']. Eskimo nutrition provides abundant sources of vitamin A and lays the probable basis in some individuals for hypervitaminosis A through ingestion of livers, kidneys, and fat of arctic fish and mammals, where the vitamin often is stored in poisonous quantities." [emphasis added. -tms]

Excessive vitamin A is well known to be toxic, and can result in birth defects, liver abnormalities, and CNS disorders. There's also some evidence linking excessive intake with osteoporosis, but the picture is not clear.

why there is no such thing as humane slaughter

Advocates of eating animal flesh often ask me, "Well, what if the animal is raised and slaughtered humanely?" Besides that fact that the notion of "humane slaughter" is at odds with the physiological reality of concussing, electrocuting, slashing open the veins of, and/or decapitating an animal, the idea that one can be "humane" while killing for profit is self-contradictory.

I stumbled across a perfect illustration of this today in an article about Joel Salatin, an advocate for local production of flesh foods who's gotten somewhat famous after being featured in Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and in the documentaries Food, Inc. and Fresh:

“If we continue to look at these beautiful turkeys the way we do, just as a protoplasmic mass that can be put into any food product,” he says, “it won’t be long until we look at people, and especially people from other cultures, the same way.”

Walking away from the turkeys, a reporter and the film crew in tow, he says, almost casually, “This is the first time in human history where people can have no real connection, or relationship, with their natural ecology.”

It’s an observation that hits like a thunderbolt. The reason a trip to a real farm can be so jarring is that it challenges the way we are used to confronting our food, which typically involves walking past rows of brightly packaged jars and boxes— often featuring faces of cartoon characters— or hovering over displays of neatly packaged meats, without ever thinking about how they got there.

“It must be sad when it comes time to slaughter them,” says Boston-based film producer Paul Dewey, who was clearly moved by Salatin’s speech about his beautiful turkeys.

“Nooooo, that’s payday,” says Salatin. “Are you sad when you get a bonus?”

It is sad indeed if we look at sentient beings as "just as a protoplasmic mass that can be put into any food product". But it is no less sad if we look at them as a "payday"!

Salatin mentions the influence that how we think about animals has on how we think about people, but doesn't follow through. If killing turkeys isn't sad but "payday", what does this prepare us to do about exploiting humans when profit is involved?

Consider the words of Edgar Kupfer-Koberwitz, who became a vegetarian while imprisoned in Dachau: "I think that men will be killed and tortured as long as animals are killed and tortured. So long there will be wars too. Because killing must be trained and perfected on smaller objects, morally and technically."

It makes no difference to the turkeys whether their dead bodies are roasted whole or processed into paste, even less than it matters to me whether my corpse will be buried or cremated. Respect for the corpse is a very poor substitute for respect for the being. Both I and the turkeys would rather live out our natural lives -- nothing that fails to respect that, regardless of how we might be killed or what happens to the corpse afterward, is humane.

(Good site about the "humane myth" here.)

were we eating grains 100,000 years ago?

Until fairly recently, it was generally thought that the use of grains for food was a Neolithic innovation, that we only started eating grain after we started farming. But around 2004, analysis of a 23,000 year old site in Israel showed that the inhabitants were eating wheat and barley, as well as small-grained grasses -- and even suggested that they were baking grain-flour dough back that far. That makes breaking bread an ancient tradition indeed.

Now comes evidence suggesting (but by no means proving) that human use of grains for food may go back as far as 105,000 years:

Two years ago, Mercader and colleagues excavated a cave in Mozambique called Ngalue. They uncovered an assortment of stone tools in a layer of sediment deposited on the cave floor 42,000 to 105,000 years ago. The tools can't be directly dated, but Mercader presumes that the ones buried deepest in the layer are at least 100,000 years old. Other researchers had identified tubers as an important food source during the Stone Age, so Mercader decided to check for starch residue on 70 stone tools from the cave, including scrapers, grinders, points, flakes, and drills.

About 80% of the tools had ample starchy residue, Mercader reports today in Science. The starches came from the African wine palm, the false banana, pigeon peas, wild oranges, and the African potato. But the vast majority--89%--came from sorghum, a grass that is still a dietary staple in many parts of Africa.

According to Mercader, the findings suggest that people living in Ngalue routinely brought starchy plants, including sorghum, to their cave. He doesn't have definitive evidence that they ate the grass but says it seems likely. "Why would you be bringing sorghum into the cave unless you are doing something with it?" he asks. "The simplest explanation is that it would be a food item."

great page on low-carb diets

You hopefully know that Atkins-style, low-carb fad diets have been widely criticized by every major scientific and health organization. The American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Dietetic Association, the American Medical Association, the American Kidney Fund, and the Mayo Clinic are among those who have condemned low-carb, high-protein diets rich in animal products as useless for long-term weight control and dangerous in their health effects.

But I've not found a single page that lays it all out nearly as well as this one at atkinsexposed.org. The Atkins Corporation Legal Department sent Michael Greger, the physician behind atkinsexposed.org, an intimidating letter in an attempt to silence his criticism. Instead of folding, though, he engages in a point-by-point refutation of the Atkins Corporation's claims, demonstrating not only the scientific evidence of the diet's ineffectiveness and dangers but the fraudulent means by which it was promoted.

There is no "miracle weight-loss diet", folks. The reason this country is so damned fat is because our caloric intake increased by 24.5 percent between 1970 and 2000 (and I'm sure it's only gone up since then), while we sit on our asses more. We've got to eat less and exercise; trying to treat obesity by shifting calories between macronutrients is re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

If you, or someone you love, is among those who have been flim-flammed by the low-carb fad, you must read this page.

Vegan Self-sufficiency

This came in to the unreasonable.org mailbag and might be of interest to some readers:

Hi,

The first time that I have come across your website which must be unique. If any of your members are interested in self-sufficiency, in the broadest sense of the word, they may be interested in a new social networking site exclusively for self-sufficient vegetarians and vegans http://tssveg.ning.com ‘The self-sufficient Vegetarian’. We are hoping that a vegan will set up a discussion group.

John Robbins on the Weston A. Price Foundation

I think my blog post that's generated the most comments here has been one regarding the Weston A. Price Foundation and it's advocacy of unhealthy animal-product centered diets and their spreading of FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) about vegetarianism.

The inimitable John Robbins offers his perspective on this group at vegsource.com:

In fact, the more I've gotten to know the Weston A. Price Foundation, the less I've felt that it is actually carrying on the spirit or the work of the man in whose name it purports to function. For one example, Price never once mentioned the words "soy," "soybean," "tofu," or "soy milk" in his 500 page opus, and spoke quite positively about lentils and other legumes, yet the foundation has taken it upon itself to be vehemently and aggressively anti-soy, calling soy foods "more insidious than hemlock." ...

For another example, Price discovered many native cultures that were extremely healthy while eating lacto-vegetarian or pisco-vegan diets. Describing one lacto-vegetarian people, for example, he called them, "The most physically perfect people in northern India... the people are very tall and are free of tooth decay." Yet the foundation that operates under his name is strikingly hostile to vegetarians. Sally Fallon, the foundation's president, denounces vegetarianism as "a kind of spiritual pride that seeks ...to shirk the earthly duties for which the physical body is created." She further insults vegetarians by saying they frequently suffer from zinc deficiency, but think it is spiritual enlightenment.

In 1934, Price wrote a moving letter to his nieces and nephews, instructing them in the diet he hoped they would eat. "The basic foods should be the entire grains such as whole wheat, rye or oats, whole wheat and rye breads, wheat and oat cereals, oat-cake, dairy products, including milk and cheese, which should be used liberally, and marine foods." Yet the Weston A. Price Foundation aggressively promotes the consumption of beef, pork and other high-fat meats, while condemning people who base their diets on whole grains.

...

Toward that end, the Foundation has widely publicized an article written by a former member of the Foundation's Board of Directors, Stephen Byrnes, titled "The Myths of Vegetarianism."

The article is harshly critical of vegetarian diets, and concludes with an "About the Author" section which states: "Stephen Byrnes... enjoys robust health on a diet that includes butter, cream, eggs, meat, whole milk, dairy products and offal." In fact, Stephen Byrnes suffered a fatal stroke in June, 2004. According to reports of his death, he had yet to reach his 40th birthday.

Merlyn a vegetarian?

I've been re-reading T.H. White's The Once and Future King. I'd forgotten that White casts Merlyn as a vegetarian, though a conflicted one:

They were riding back from a day on the mountain, where they had been hunting grouse with the peregrines, and Merlyn had gone with them for the sake of the ride. He had become a vegetarian lately -- an opponent of blood-sports on principle -- although he had gone through most of them during his thoughtless youth -- and even now he secretly adored to watch the falcons for themselves. Their masterly circles, as they waited on -- mere specs in the sky -- and the bur-r-r with which they scythed on the grouse, and the way in which the wretched quarry, killed instantaneously, went end-over-tip into the heather -- these were a temptation to which he yielded in the uncomfortable knowledge that it was sin. He consoled himself by saying that the grouse were for the pot. But it was a shallow excuse, for he did not believe in eating meat either.

Later on, Sir Galahad is described by Sir Gawaine as "a vegetarian and teetotaler", though as Gawaine's assessment is that Galahad is a prick this isn't a compliment.

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