"No European who has tasted Savage Life can afterwards bear to live in our societies." — Benjamin Franklin

Friday, October 19, 2007

What Does One Eat When One Is Poor?

I just read this article about higher food prices on Yahoo! News. A few things really jumped out at me (well, more than a few, but I talk about some of the finer philosophical points at my other blog, "infinity: this way"). Concerning how to "stretch your food dollar", people:

  • "are running out of food products, paper towels sooner"
  • "And 7-Eleven says...shoppers can't afford to load up at the supermarket and are going to the most convenient places to buy emergency food items like milk and eggs."
  • are buying "one gallon of milk a week instead of three"
  • "sometimes skips breakfast and lunch to make sure there's enough food for her children"
  • "cooks with a hot plate because gas is too expensive
  • "depend more than ever on the bags of free vegetables and powdered milk from a local food pantry"
  • "cut fruits and vegetables from [their] grocery order"
  • are "buying more peanut butter and pasta. And they're going for hamburger meat"
  • are "spending anywhere from $7 to $10 extra a week — $40 more a month — on groceries alone, compared to a year ago"
This is despicable. We should be ashamed that we, as a society, are forcing people to exist like this. And, later in the article, you see the reason:
And while overall wage growth is a solid 4.1 percent over the past 12 months, economists say the increases are mostly for the top earners.
There it is: greed. Pure, unadulterated, uncaring greed. The people "at the top" make more money, and the people at the bottom starve because they can't buy vegetables (which, as an aside, makes them unhealthy and easier to control).

So, since I harbor no illusion that our society is going to reform itself sufficiently in the short-term, let's talk about the subject of this post: the diet of the poor.

Above, you notice that people buy cheap carbohydrates (pasta) and cheap, low-quality protein (peanut butter and cheap ground beef). Most of us have probably been through a stint of eating beans and rice for a few days (or longer) while we were a bit less flush than we'd like. Is this a healthy diet? No, not by any means. On the other hand, meat is very nutrient-dense, and we're built to eat it. Frankly, I think those with little money should concentrate on eating natural, wholesome meat. It's not perfect, but if one must concentrate on a single source of food, natural meat is probably the best candidate.

A lot of the increases in food prices stem from the fact that transportation costs have risen significantly, which is due to higher fuel prices (see "greed" above coupled with a diminishing supply of oil worldwide). So, a simple fix is to buy locally-produced items. When you shorten the distance from the producer to your table, you increase the percentage of your purchase that actually goes into the food itself as opposed to its transportation costs. Sometimes, locally-produced goods are cheaper; sometimes they aren't. The thought process then comes down to a few things: keeping money in your community, reducing the amount of processing needed in preparation for shipment and transportation, increasing the available nutrition in the food (much of which can be lost in processing), and regaining a measure of control over your life.

Recently, my partner and I have started purchasing our meat at a local butcher as opposed to a large chain store. He raises his own buffalo; we've spent time with his herd. The meat is processed locally and sold on his farm. He also purchases and sells items from other local producers of pork, lamb, chickens, eggs, and meat. All of this food has been born, raised, and prepared within 20 miles of our home, using natural processes and organic feed, by people who care. Not only does it taste better than any other meat I've ever eaten, its nutritional profile is so different that it may as well be a different food than that which you'll find wrapped in plastic at your local grocery; the fat ratio is completely different, the protein content is higher, and since it was minimally processed, we can cook it less which provides more vitamins than we would otherwise receive.

So, am I suggesting that you find a local source of meat, and even enter into a personal relationship with its proprietor? Absolutely I am! And if you are willing and able, take up hunting and fishing; not only is it a source of food, it is excellent exercise for the body and the mind.

As for vegetables and fruits, what should be done? If you have space in your yard, pull up that ridiculously worthless grass and plant food. It's really not that difficult to grow a few things to supplement - or even significantly increase - your diet. If you don't have space, see if there is a co-op or community garden near your home where you can inexpensively rent a plot and grow your food. Borrow space from your neighbors in exchange for produce. In some way, shape, or form, grow what you can, where you can. Also, if you have wilderness nearby, learn your local native plants and harvest wild foods.

What are the results of an approach such I've suggested? Better health, exercise, a connection with the source(s) of your food, and a reduction of support for those who are greedy enough to let other people starve. Those sound pretty good to me.

A Bit of Fic: They're Made Out Of Meat

Read this hilarious, very short story by Terry Bisson.

Makes you think a little bit, doesn't it?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

How Often Should One Eat?

Diet isn't just about content; it's also about timing. Some people say that a person should eat 3 times per day. Others say one should eat 5 or 6 small meals per day, while some people suggest only eating once per day. Which is right? Or is one right at all?

Everyone's body is different. Some people have very fast digestive systems and they burn through food very quickly; these people must eat often so as to prevent things such as a blood sugar crash. Some people digest more slowly; they can eat less often, as their body evens out the peaks and troughs. Some people limit the frequency of their meals due to non-nutritional criteria; for example, Buddhist monks eat only once per day. One shouldn't eat anything for at least and hour - preferably two - before a yoga practice, and should wait to eat afterwards for at least 30 minutes.

As the years have gone by, I've tried many different things related to my diet. I've been vegetarian, vegan, and omnivore. I've eaten once per day, twice per day, three times per day, and many times per day. I know one man who eats a light breakfast, a "second breakfast" around 10:00AM, lunch at noon, a "second lunch" around 3:00PM, dinner, and an evening snack before bedtime. He says that his body requires such frequency or else he gets very tired.

My suggestion: try various things. If you're currently eating "normally" (usually 3 meals per day - breakfast, lunch, and dinner), see how you feel. Then, either increase your frequency and decrease your content at each meal, or go the other way and eat more food, less often. In any case, make sure you are eating an appropriate amount for your body and getting all needed nutrients.

Everyone is different, and everyone needs to realize their uniqueness and work with it instead of against it.

Monday, October 15, 2007

How Does One Support The Environment? (Blog Action Day Post)

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day Today, October 15, is Blog Action Day, a time when thousands of writers from all over the world write about a single subject. This year's subject is “the environment”. I feel that our diets and lifestyles directly affect the overall surrounding environment, so that's the tangent I'm going to follow today.

My premise is fairly simple: one can only change oneself, and by changing oneself, one changes the world. Of course, this is both very easy and extremely difficult. There are many aspects to change, as well.

Respect & Connection

I think that the most important thing we can have is respect — respect for ourselves, respect for others, and respect for the environment. If one has respect, any other needed changes follow.

Everything is connected, in some manner, to everything else. If one has respect for one thing, it will flow along the connections to other things. Before you know it, other seemingly unrelated attitudes and outlooks have shifted.


We all eat. What do you eat? Meat? Veggies? Organic or natural foods? What you eat is what is used to build your body. But your dietary choices cause ripples outwards into the environment. If you eat something that came from the store wrapped in plastic, you've used oil (an unsustainable resource) and placed non-biodegradable trash into a landfill somewhere. As an aside, notice that it is often the case that the food with the most unsustainable packaging is also the least healthy. So, not only have you damaged your body by eating trash, you've also damaged the environment.

So, how does one go about having a diet that is not only healthy for the individual but also for the environment? There are many ways. The most important action you could take is eating locally-grown natural & organic foods. These foods have been grown without a lot of artificial fertilizers, and haven't used a lot of unsustainable resources to transport them from the producer to your table. By doing this, you probably do another important thing: supporting local stores and producers. Most large grocery chains won't carry such things as “grass-fed beef from 20 miles away”, so you may have to go to a local butcher, farmer's market, or health food store. This supports local small businesses, and is a way to build strong communities.

Another way to eat in a sustainable manner is to hunt and gather for some or all of your food. By eating local wild animals and plants, one comes to learn about one's environment and their effects upon it. Wild meat is known for being very healthy for a human being; its nutrient, protein, and fat profiles fit very closely with the dietary needs of an active human being. Literally, we are built to eat wild meat. Wild plants offer a wide range of nutrients and tastes as well, and they grow in soil that has not been depleted by damaging farming practices. And an added benefit: it all tastes so much better than store-bought food that you'll forever question the worthiness of anything from the aisles of the chain grocery down the street.


Do you drive an automobile? How often, and for how far? It is probably arguable that the automobile has done more to damage the environment than many other creations of man. Not only does it produce toxic exhaust, but it consumes massive amounts of energy in its construction and operation, and fosters the development of anti-social living patterns (picture gated suburbs where no one knows their neighbors and where everyone drives many miles each day to their jobs). Frankly, I think the best thing that we could do for ourselves, our society, and our environment is to make cars prohibitively expensive for most people, improve our public transportation infrastructure a hundredfold, and reform our cities and towns into a more mixed-use style of organization.

What can one do to bring their modes of transportation more in-line with healthy patterns? Use public transportation. Bicycle. Walk. If you have a car, only use it sparingly, and then only when needed for reasons of distance, carrying cargo, etc. If you are an urbanite, live near your work and the other places you enjoy, not way out in the 'burbs. If you live in a rural area, consolidate your trips so that they serve multiple goals, hence making your travel more efficient while reducing its frequency. If you often travel long distances via plane, consider other options: carpooling with other travelers (craigslist has a rideshare section under "community"), taking the train or bus, or reducing long-distance travel significantly (jet airplanes cause a significant percentage of the pollution in the atmosphere).

From my personal experience, I can tell you that changing from “driving everywhere” to “bicycling most places, and taking the public bus for longer distances” has been an incredible boon to my life. I'm healthier, I'm more aware, and I'm less stressed. Also, my exhaust isn't as toxic for the environment as that which comes out of a tailpipe.

Lifestyle & Socialization

Another aspect of supporting or damaging the environment is one's lifestyle. This can encompass various things such as one's job, social interactions, exercise, and spirituality. Diet can be considered a part of one's lifestyle, too, but I've discussed it separately.

What do you do to make a living? Do you have friends? How close are you to your family? Do you exercise regularly? Do you go to a church, a temple, or a mosque? Each one of these things can improve the environment, either directly or indirectly.

Let's take one's job, for example. Do you sit in front of a computer all day with fluorescent lights beating down upon you, doing the same abstract task over and over? Do you have a job that takes place at least partially outdoors? Do you work directly with others, or mostly alone? If your job is unsustainable, then it is damaging both to the environment and to your health. If you could change your job to something that would be more worthwhile and would support the health of the environment as well as you, what would that job be?

Social networks also help the individual, which in turn helps the environment. If you have close friends and family, it has been shown in various studies that you are less easily stressed. If you attend some sort of spiritual services regularly, you believe in something greater than the individual, and it improves the functioning of your immune system. Notice that I'm not talking about “having a lot of friends on MySpace”; that's not a social network, no matter what its creators may call it. A social network includes face-to-face interaction between people.

On a related tangent, anthropologists have what they call “Dunbar's Number”. This represents the largest social network that a human brain can understand. Anything larger than this is unsustainable with regards to a human's neural network. I believe that smaller, more coherent social groups cause less damage to their environment (this has actually been proven in studies of tribal societies). The interesting thing about this is that it was the predominant social structure of mankind for hundreds of thousands of years before the Neolithic Revolution; it's called “tribalism” and has a modern form called “neo-tribalism”.

Form or find your “tribe”. Share your respect, your lives, and your food with one another, and by your acts you will respect the environment.

Overall Approach

At the beginning of this post I said, “one can only change oneself”. Often, we seem to think that others can make these large changes that we seek. We give money to environmental charities, hoping that their actions will solve the problems. We vote for politicians because they say they are "green" and love the outdoors. I have news for you: this approach is backwards.

I can't change your mind; only you can do that. Yet, if you do that, other things will be affected. Instead of the “top down” approach described in the preceding paragraph, I suggest the “bottom up” approach: improve self, then improve family, then improve tribe, then improve world. You can also look at this as “individual-centric”.

Start with yourself, and the effects expand to fill the entire universe.


I have already started down the path I describe in this post. After 15 years in the IT industry, I have changed to a more fulfilling and wonderful career; I am a yoga teacher. I have changed my diet from one of junk and processed "food products" to natural meats, organic vegetables and fruits, and locally-grown items. I often grow some of my own produce in a co-op garden plot. Sure, I still have habits that are unsustainable (I drink teas from India and China, shipped halfway around the world), but nothing in this universe is perfect, especially me. And that's OK.

Some people (such as me) have advertisements on their blogs and receive a small amount of money in return. On this Blog Action Day, some people have pledged to hand over their earnings for the day to environmental charities. So, I will do something similar: if I receive money from this blog today (if you click an ad, I get a few cents; it will cost you nothing but a few seconds of your time), I will put it towards my own personal improvement. Maybe I'll take more yoga classes (hey, even teachers are students!). Maybe I'll buy a book that will help me to understand my place in the universe a little bit better. Maybe I'll buy a locally-grown, grass-fed bison steak and eat it for dinner. In any case, I will improve myself and therefore improve the environment around me.

If you have any comments, please feel free to leave them here. You must have a Blogger or Google account to comment, and comments are moderated by me before they are published. If you wish your message to remain private, just say so.

I would also like to apologize if this post seems a bit disorderly or has any grammar or spelling errors. I was unaware of Blog Action Day until this morning, and this post was written fairly quickly. Nonetheless, I hope that you find my blog useful to you.

Thank you very much for reading my blog today. I invite you come by more often and see what I've done. I would also like to suggest that you read those blogs written by people whom I deeply respect. They are listed on the right sidebar, under "Related Blogs".

Love well. Eat well. Think well. Live well, and the Earth will be well.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Yoga Books Espousing Vegetarianism

I was looking through a large number of books about yoga yesterday. Some of them were more than just "asana picture books"; some had information on meditation, diet, and lifestyle. This is good; yoga isn't just about putting your foot in your ear. The issue I have is about the diet they propose.

Let's go back a bit. Yoga has always been considered a sort of "spiritual science". That doesn't mean it's "religious". It is a collection of tools, a path, that can help one to focus on whatever it is that one wants to focus on. Most of the time, traditional yogis focused on their Self and Brahman, and how they were really the same thing.

A vegetarian or vegan diet has a certain energy to it. That energy is uplifting, airy, space-y, rarefied, light, expansive, cool, and dry. These are all qualities that a meditator wants to embrace, as they assist the mind and spirit in "rising above" the body and the Earth and into other realms.

So, since the goal of yoga is mastery of the mind, and the mind is helped to roam free by a diet lacking in heavy foods, yoga suggests a vegetarian diet (lacto-vegetarian, to be a bit more precise; they consider milk "the perfect food").

Yet, not all Indians are vegetarian. The ancient Indian medical science of Ayurveda suggests different diets for different people and for different purposes. Ayurveda suggests cooking almost all food, at least a little, to help pre-digest it. It suggests more meat for some people, and less meat for others. It suggests special diets for certain things like illnesses, detoxification, or certain times of the year.

Different people practice yoga for different reasons. Some change their reasons over time, or as their body and mind change. Some want a "yoga butt" and strong, flexible muscles. Some want to control their mind. Some just want to relax. These are all good goals, and yoga provides all these things.

If yoga is so wide as to provide these different things to different people at different times, why does it only have "one diet" - vegetarianism?

I think that your diet should be modified to fit your body, your mind, and your goals, in that order. A simple list may help make this a bit more understandable:

  1. Start by eating what your body is built to eat, and by not eating what your body is not built to eat. Human beings are omnivores. Our evolution dictates what our body requires for sustenance. Listen to millions of years of development! Also, if you are allergic or even slightly intolerant of a food (say, gluten/wheat or milk), stop eating it completely as it stresses your body.
  2. Next, modify your diet according to your activity. For example, if you are building muscle, you need lots of protein. If you are meditating more than exercising, you need less protein and more airy, light foods.
  3. Next, modify your diet according to other various factors such as the time of year, certain individual conditions, or suggestions of a physician or teacher.
  4. Then, if you'd like, you can modify your diet by your personal preferences and tastes.
Each of these items are cumulative and possibly subtractive. So, you start in step 1 with, say 1000 foods. Then in step 2, you may remove 200 items. Step 3 may remove another 100 things, and step 4 may cut out some more. You may be left with 500 items you are built to eat, that are tailored to your activity at this time, that are appropriate for the season and personal conditions, and that you enjoy eating.

As a yoga teacher, I might suggest a high-protein, meat-heavy diet for someone who is doing a strong asana practice, and maybe a pesco-vegetarian diet for someone who is using light asana as a preparation for lengthy meditation. At all times, I would modify the diet according to the results, the time of the year, and the person's preferences. In all cases, I would insist on natural, organic, free-range or wild meats, organic vegetables, organic fruits and nuts, and raw milk (if the person can tolerate it). No factory-farmed anything, and nothing from a box!

Everyone is different. Everyone has different goals. Hence, everyone's diet should be tailored to them, now, for that purpose.

(P.S. I am following a paleo diet for two reasons. First, it is an experiment; I have been vegan or vegetarian in the past. And second, my yoga practice is currently very asana-heavy, and I am trying to build muscle, connective tissue, and bone, so I want more nutrient-dense foods.)