Friday, June 11, 2010

whales and berries

When I was younger, and other kids were the captains of kickball teams, learning piano or excelling in school, I was a "GOOD EATER." I ate all my vegetables, I finished my plate every night at dinner and rarely complained (until later) about what Mom served. Mom would always say that I was such a GOOD eater.

Now, years later, after continued nutritional counseling, innumerable hours of independent research and reading about nutrition, diet and health, I am still terribly confused. There's a ton of information out on the web, in bookstores and libraries, infomercials and television programs about what is really good for us. We hear all this commotion about the latest "super-food,""the ultimate diet,""power-food combos," "raw food," "real food," "vegan food," "the 29 healthiest foods," "cancer fighting foods," etc. etc. The list never stops.

So what's really going on here?

I've been reading this book, "Nourishing Traditions" which talks about the "politically correct nutrition," the nutritional information given by the USDA, health studies, and just more common sources for the masses in general. The author, Sally Fallon, argues that the information we see and hear on a daily basis, is ultimately biased, studies funded by large corporations and pharmaceutical companies, paying to make sure the published results support their products- things like Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Nabisco cookies and Phillip Morris. She says these "diet dictocrats" are providing us with information that is not only false but endangering our health. One example of this is the nearly universal belief in our culture that fat is BAD. Recently, there have been a lot more publicity on the different kinds of fats; distinguishing between good fats and bad fats, saturated and unsaturated etc. This is a step in the right direction but it does not give credit to the actual truth. Another example, is the fear of cholesterol- every adult over 50 takes some pill in the morning to lower their cholesterol, we all choose the "cholesterol-free" foods in the grocery store and the doctor continues to use scare tactics to keep us from clogging our arteries. However, Fallon illustrates that we do in fact NEED some cholesterol in our system to function optimally. In fact, she poses a correlation between a rise in the frequency of heart disease in the US with the average American diet lowering the intake of cholesterol. The things we think are HELPING are actually HURTING us!

Ergo, confusion.

Further, Fallon talks about the craze of a Vegetarian or Vegan diet being touted as "the healthiest way to eat." However, she then cites a number of studies that related the diet of different cultures to their rate of longevity. This study blew my mind. ALL of the countries with the highest rates of longevity were those that kept a diet high in animal protein and animal fat. One of the cultures discussed was that of the Eskimos of Alaska- who tend to eat large amounts of raw meat and fish, even whale blubber. So while I have been following somewhere between a pescatarian (fish, egg, dairy eating vegetarian) and a vegan diet (no meat, no fish, no dairy, no eggs, no animal byproducts) for almost five years, I am now faced with some information that directly challenges my long-held belief that vegetarianism is the way to go. While I continue to find lots of evidence supporting raw food lifestyles, veganism and vegetarianism, I am also continually bombarded with arguments to the contrary. I find myself frantically asking myself- whales or berries, whales or berries, whales or berries?

The solution, I think, may be a balance. whales AND berries. Figuring out what you need to honor within yourself, and finding what feels good to you. At a workshop about Native Ute Indians this weekend, I spoke to a woman during a break about all of this food-related-confusion in our culture, and I asked, sort of rhetorically, "What are we supposed to do?!" She responded, wise as she is, "You try." So, here I go, trying. Or trying to try at least. We must go through this arduous process of figuring out what works FOR US, and we must know that it will undoubtedly be different for each individual person. It's a frustrating realization that there cannot be one absolute formula for health but one thing's for sure, it's a worthy process. The ultimate goal is, after all, health.
All else springs forth.

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