Where we get fit and spin (wool)

Archive for December, 2010

In Defense of Food

So I have been touting Michael Pollan’s book, “In Defense of Food” based on the summary of it, and his tag line, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. It is always a good idea to read something before you promote it. Lets face it, even if there is only one odd comment on page 59, maybe you will have yourself for associating with those ideas. So now I’m reading it, and committing another faux pas, of writing on it before I’m done.

The funny thing is, I am reading “The New Rules of Lifting for Women” by Lou Shuller, Alwyn Cosgrove and Cassandra Forsythe at the same time. This is funny, as they don’t see eye to eye on nutrition. Michael is railing against the substition of “nutrients” for “foods”, and a lot of what the Rules book touts is balancing your macro nutrients.

Here is my take so far, which may change by the time I finish the book. While I still agree with Michael’s basic premise, that the healthiest foods for us are vegetables, I think he is a bit unfair to those who study and write about nutrition. I have been reading about nutrition, with ever growing interest, since the 1980’s. I do think he is right that in the beginning, there was a sense of absolute certainty about low fat being good for you, and I don’t think anyone worried too much about the carbs until later. But as time has gone on, and we have learned more, those who study and write about nutrition have become more cautious. Anyone who promotes healthy living will tell you to eat more veggies. It is the meat/fat vs carbs as whole grains that there is debate over.

Anyone who studies and writes about nutrition will tell you that there are huge problems to studying how diet affects us. You can’t put people in labs, you have to trust they are honest, or factor in their dishonesty. You can’t isolate nutrients in people’s diets. The low fat thing started with asking “which societies have the lowest heart disease, and what is different about their diets?” We have spent the last 40 years trying to figure out what those factors are. Humans are complex, and the factors in heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer are too. Outside of diet, genetics, age and exercise play a role as well. Michael oversimplifies the scientist’s position, and casts them in the role of bad guy, along with the food industry. I prefer to think they are doing the best they can, muddling along as we all do. Of course there are cases of pride, greed or fear for their academic reputation that can create scandals, but I think as a whole, the nutritionists  and scientists are doing a decent job. So far, Michael hasn’t pointed one finger at the media, and there is a big target. A scientist might do a decent study, and write a cautious paper, but the media might get a hold of it and write a screaming headline that distorts the facts. Again, I don’t see malice here, just ignorance and a desire to get attention.

I have heard two sources, Michael being one, castigating the governments food pyramid, saying that people are following it but they are getting sicker and fatter. In my experience, people aren’t following  the food pyramid. I’m not saying the pyramid couldn’t be tweaked, but I don’t think people are getting fatter because of that.

There is a lot of truth in Michael’s book, but there is some hyperbole and broad points that go overboard. For one thing, he seems to think prior to modern times, nutrition was good. Just eating whole foods is not the whole answer. Women used to say you lost a tooth for every baby. I’m thrilled we know the role folate plays in Spina Bifada. Modern knowledge and the food industry has eliminated so many food shortages and nutritional deficiencies that he doesn’t acknowledge.

I look at our relationship with food like sailing. You can’t sail directly into the wind, you have to tack, which is to go in a zig zag course. You get to your destination eventually, but not in a straight line. We are discovering more about food and what it does for us and how it does it all the time. Unfortunately, this leads to erratic swings-high fat, low fat, low carbs, vegan, paleo, and every other diet fad you’ve ever heard of. Most have a good point to make, none are a complete answer. I like the current statement I heard, “the best diet is the one you can stick to”.

I’ll probably write again when I get to the end of the book, maybe with a higher opinion, not that I don’t like the book. You’ve heard more of my criticism than my praise. As I said before, his basic premise seems sound.

Until then, Bon Apetite.


The Failure of Success?

I couldn’t sleep this morning, one of those racing thought kind of mornings. As I tried to reign in my errant cogitations, they kept escaping in new directions. One of those was of a more philosophical bent. We had been discussing obesity the night before in the Dojo. One of the girls was complaining that her coworkers would pile their plates with food, without regard if there was enough for everyone, and the guilty parties were already quite large. That led me to think this morning about the “obesity epidemic”. I was thinking we have a deep inborn drive for many things, not just food. In general, humans are driven creatures. What ever goal we set, we put all of our energy into it. That is a good thing if the thing we want is hard to get, needing all that energy. However, we have created for ourselves a situation where it is easy to get most things in life, and we are being constantly teased with more. With food, it is cheap and easy, we don’t have to catch it, dress it, cook it, or even clean up after it. Hence our current problem.

We want to make life easier for ourselves, but that ease leads to bad things, not good in many cases. We wanted shorter working hours, easier home maintenance, and less work in general. Now we can’t even walk to the store, or lift a 25 lb bag of cat food.  Humans seem to need life to be hard in order to not go off the deep end. Too much leisure and all we do is eat and watch tv.

Look at energy. We were driven to get more, better, cheaper forms of energy. We succeeded. If you disagree, compare your lifestyle to an American colonist, you don’t think we have it much, much better? Anyway, now all we can do is whine about the consequences of having all that energy, pollution and “global climate change”.  I don’t hear anyone volunteering to go back to a preindustrial lifestyle.

I’m going to get more radical and say our success in the medical field may also not be without its unintended consequences. Our goal is to defeat disease, and possibly even death. I would argue that is a very bad thing. Talk about over population! Would we simply stop having babies? That’s a horrible thought. Plus, it would never happen, procreation is one of those strong drives in us.

So I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive, I’m a Christian, not a Buddhist. I’m saying that on a macro level, striving is often as good or better than succeeding, the same as it is in individual lives.  So if you feel like a failure, hooray! You won’t be a victim of your own success today. And, no, there was no real point to this article. I’m just saying, that’s all.

Always learning

I truly believe that one of the secrets of perpetual youth is to stay open to learning. While that is a noble philosophy, there are times where being an old curmudgeon becomes appealing. In this day and age, you seem to have no choice, at least if you want to stay employed, or be able to work a remote control. I am attempting, relatively successfully, to learn the latest Adobe products. I have always used Photoshop. (like the “always”? Like it was “always” there? I remember my first computer, and that was after my kids were born.) Now I am attempting to add Dreamweaver, Ilustrator and Fireworks to my skill list. Each one could take months or years of diligent application to learn, and I am attempting to get them all down this year. Since this is December, I am running out of this year.

I am pleased with my progress, before going back to school for Dreamweaver I was worried I wouldn’t even be able to keep up with the “young whippersnappers”, but I have done well. However, the class I am taking does not delve deeply enough into the program for my taste. When I read the code behind many websites, I see how much more there is to learn. While have learned enough to make a decent site, not knowing does not sit well with me. I was that obnoxious kid asking “why” when I was 20.

I will keep plugging away at these products, as well as the new devices that invade our lives on a regular basis. Who knows, maybe I will be the most technologically savvy resident in the old folks home someday. Or maybe, instead of going to some old dude on a mountain top looking for enlightenment, people will seek me out. ” Oh wise one, what is the secret of .php?” “Seek the ajax and it will come.”

funny old lady

The wisdom of the ages


I had to write on this as I have very mixed feelings about it. I was thinking about all the blogs I have read. Some of the funniest are also the snarkiest.  That sort of humor appeals to me, I wouldn’t even mind being able to be funny in that way. However, I think that sort of humor is based on putting others down.

We all like  to see bad guys get it in the end, and much of the snarky humor I enjoy is focused on some ugly behavior, trying to change it or at least publicize it. “Fugly Horse of the Day” is trying to get people to stop indiscriminately breeding horses, creating a surplus of unwanted animals. (I was going to link to her site, but apparently there is a problem with it.)

Is there a point though to “the people of Walmart“? I can’t say I don’t look. It’s like watching a car crash. I laugh, I gasp, I moan in horror. I do feel a bit ashamed of myself. These are real people, with lives. That site doesn’t bother me too much, it’s like America’s funniest Home Videos, if you leave the house like that, you are in the public sphere and sort of invite public scrutiny.

It is when people talk about their private lives, and the people in them that makes me uncomfortable. I only follow and read the blogs that leave names out. Some, like the “Den of Chaos“, use cute nicknames like “Dangermouse”. Also, my favorites are not cruel to people. I read a few blogs, following links from blogs I like, that prompted this blog entry. One was wickedly funny, but it was very cruel, not to individuals, but to men in general. It was also extremely off color. That bothers me too. Risque humor is funny, but it can degenerate into crudeness very quickly.  I often picture the source of the humor reading what is said about them.

Like I said, mixed feelings. I like irony and satire, and yes, that smug satisfaction of feeling on the superior side. I doubt I’ll avoid all snarky sites, but I do think we need to remind ourselves ANYONE can read our blogs, and would the person or class we are being snarky about be devastated if he/she/they read what we wrote? Are we that certain of our position that we couldn’t have gotten it wrong, or at least gone overboard?


The whole idea of a hobby is a relatively new one. People need leisure time and expendable income for such things. For most of human history what we would call hobbies, they would have called work. Wood working, metal working, needle work, all of it was work. Now, we only do them as we please, but there certainly is a drive to do them. There seems to be a divide today, between those that have hobbies and those that don’t. I have seen among my husband’s acquaintance, that those who don’t have hobbies, can’t retire, as boredom drives them back to the workforce. Humans were not made for idle leisure. Hobbies are simply work that you enjoy doing.

We idealize leisure as the relief from work we don’t want to do, but as with many things we long for, a little is better than a lot. Humans are so goal orientated that even goals like more leisure time get overdone. I see parallels between that and our food obsessions. Both leisure and food can be longed for when they are in short supply, but in abundance they can kill us, or at least make us miserable. This leads me to think that longing for things is a good thing, as is having scant amounts of the objects of our desires. Buddhist thought would have us get rid of our longings all together, but what greater happiness is there than anticipating something, enjoying it, and reliving that enjoyment. The trick is to realize that all three are the happiness, not just the actual event.

New Hobby

Ok, so anyone who knows me knows that I need a new hobby like most women need more shoes. In spite of that, my neighbor took me hiking on Saturday, and she taught me about geocaching, and about the tags the orienteering clubs put on trees to find. These two things turn any walk in the woods into a treasure hunt. I followed up by taking my husband out the next day to find some more.

This isn’t the first time I had heard of geocaching. We had signed up on the website back in 2007, and had never done anything about it. For the uninitiated, or “muggles”, and the website calls them, geocaching  is where you hide a waterproof container with whatever you want, usually a notebook, some trinkets or coordinates to another site, in it. You then post those coordinates (latitude and longitude) on the website, and other people try to find them. I don’t know if this was played prior to gps’s but they are the standard tool today. When you find a posted cache, you then log it online, as well as sign the notebook if there is one.  Obviously, cache’s have to be in public access places, and there are rules, like don’t disturb grave stones if you hide it in a cemetery.

The orienteering clubs have organized events, where people compete to find all the tags in a race. However, they leave them up all year, so if you have one of their maps, you can go whenever you want at your own pace. Their maps are marked with clues like “distinct tree”, being difficult for being open to interpretation.

Both (games?, hobbies?) teach you map reading and navigation skills. They both get you out of doors, walking and hiking. If you are not a big fan of a walk in the woods, there are urban and suburban geocaches, and you still have to do a bit of walking to find them. Even if you are dead on the coordinates, the cache is still hidden, and some cachers take fiendish delight in making them hard to find.

In any case, it got us out this weekend, we practiced our winter survival skills. Never leave home in the winter without supplies! We tested our cold weather gear and had fun.

Barging in where angels fear to tread.

I have controversial ideas, and this one might drive people nuts, who knows? Anyway, I have been thinking a lot about feminism lately, mostly because another blog I read, The Gooseberry bush, has that as a common theme. Anyway, I didn’t want to reply to her posts, mostly because I have no desire to argue her points, but they made me think what my position is. I think in its purist form, modern feminism is fatally flawed. It is like arguing that if we raise boys and girls the same, they will be the same. It flies in the face of human nature. Human societies have always divided labor by gender, mostly due to physical and temperamental limits.

Then modern notion that we are all equal is ridiculous, like children crying “that’s not fair”. Just like those children, we want equality when it suits us. I don’t mean just women, all people suffer from the “I want my rights” syndrome. We are not all equal. I exercise daily, including strength training. My husband does not, yet he is far stronger than I am. Life isn’t fair, we just do the best we can.

This is not to say there are not real injustices. But injustice is injustice. Not to be separated by race or gender. If I am unkind or nasty to someone, cheat them, rob them or exploit them, it is wrong, whether I do it on the basis of their race, gender or ethnicity or just because I don’t like that person.

One the the points gooseberry makes is that a famous male feminist supporter didn’t leave a will providing for his female partner at his death. Why should he if they were equal? The point probably is that they weren’t, that he probably provided for her in his lifetime, leaving her destitute at his death. While that is a horrible human tragedy, it  is not a case for feminism, rather a case for poor planning or bad human relations. Men who treat their wives badly treat other people badly. Abusive men are violent men. Their violence is often not limited to their family members.

The reason I dislike feminist talk is that it is still pitting people against each other. To say “you have to respect me as a woman”, is saying what? What is wrong with saying “you have to respect me.” Feminism seems to give women the right to put men down. How is that benefiting anyone? We should be lifting each other up, rather than putting each other down. If you view life through a suspicious lens, waiting for the other side to let you down or hurt you, every instance you find will support your cause.  A self fulfilling prophecy if you will.

I don’t need some special recognition because I have certain body parts or hormones. Breast cancer is not more prevalent than prostate cancer, so where are their pink ribbons? I thank God that people come together and care about breast cancer, but how about all the rest of the body? I hope I am being clear. I am not putting women down, or saying we should be second class citizens. We have plenty of modern cultures that can still demonstrate how horribly women can be treated. But that is simply bad behavior. Bad behavior extends beyond gender lines. It is one example of how poorly humans can behave, not a separate issue.

I think men are wonderful. Do they have their limits and weaknesses? Of course. But I could give you instance after instance where men in my life have risen above themselves, gone above and beyond for their wives, family and community. We all have our weaknesses, the frailties of human nature, and both men and women have to fight their baser natures to excel. Our weaknesses generally aren’t the same, along gender lines. Thank God.

Ok, if I do have any readers out there, I imagine this will make some fur fly.

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