Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Philosophy of Eating

My favorite Wellness adviser, Don Ardell, and I exchange emails. In the main we agree and sometimes disagree, if only because continuous agreement is not that adventurous. Don is a vegan. I’m a flexitarian. Don avoids cheese. I think a life without a good camembert is one greatly diminished. All the same, we kind of agree on a philosophy of eating. Briefly, here is my view. Don will comment at the end. You are welcome to also comment with your ideas, because I like to change my views and you might be the one to do that.
1. There is no real reason to follow a specific 'diet', especially one in a best-selling book.

I’m not referring to a style of eating with a strong cultural background, like the Mediterranean diet. By “diet” I mean the dictatorial type that tells you what you must eat and what you must avoid (usually with irrational arguments of how certain evil foods are going to shorten your life). The western view of a “diet” is an enforced regime with good foods for status elevation and bad foods to denote fear and guilt. The weight loss diet is the most common example.

Naturally, there are many good books providing wise food and eating advice. They are often written by people who have good knowledge and various university degrees to add substance to their view. They also give you a choice, a democracy of eating, rather than a dietary dictatorship.

2. Be positive about food.

It seems to me that whenever food or diet is mentioned in conversation, it is often couched in negative terms. “I’m overweight because I love food.” “I can’t eat that because I really stack on weight.” “Aren’t eggs bad for you?” “I’m going to be really naughty and have some cake.” Yes, food is a pleasure. Mix pleasure and self-respect and you eat sufficient tasty food for your needs.

Think positive thoughts about food – it is for nourishment, socialising, sharing, culture, discovery etc. It will keep you alive. Be grateful.

Don’t be too restrictive – the occasional pizza is not a disaster. Nor be obsessive because your life prefers liberty. Personally, I don’t fuss about things like “low fat” or “Low Glycemic Index” because if I eat well, eat only when hungry, then my diet will naturally be low GI and low in saturated fats.

3. All foods have a place, somewhere, in your diet.

To survive, a human had to concoct a meal or snack from what was within a days walk. That would have been different in the Rift Valley in Kenya, the Tibetan mountains and the jungles of Sarawak. Nevertheless, humans survived around the world gathering, hunting and eventually planting and herding. Although there may have been carnivorous days and vegetarian days, the personal desire to survive would have over-ridden any background justification beyond simple hunger.

There is also strong argument that humans [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catching_Fire:_How_Cooking_Made_Us_Human benefited from fire] because cooking made food easier to digest for the extraction of nutrients and calories. There doesn’t appear to be a single group of humans that have sustained their community without cooking all types of foods. So, be adventurous and try new foods, both cooked and raw. Sometimes, when you visit new places or go camping, you may have to eat foods you would otherwise steer clear. Relax.

4. Eat to live a long, useful life.

To live a long life relies upon many aspects compounding in your favour. We hear of the long lives of those eating the traditional Okinawan diets or the foods of Greek islands. Georgians supposedly lived a long life on yogurt although that was later proven to be due to falsifying birth records.

Although it makes a convenient story to link longevity solely to a diet, this ignores the other factors that play a role, such as being active, having family and friends, helping others and access to good medical help. People turning 100 today didn’t get taxied everywhere, daily puffing through 30 cigarettes and being served platters of grease by 15 year olds earning money to buy a new iphone. They would have eaten a mix of animal food (meat, milk, yogurt) and plants (locally grown/gathered mushrooms, vegetables and fruit direct from the trees), all with minimal processing.

Fortunately, today we can choose to be vegetarian in its different forms because it is easy to buy a variety foods that will give us sufficient nutrients for health. Or we can choose to follow a Mediterranean style diet with lots of plant foods, oil and a little meat.

5. Be wary of the next food trend.

Due to farming styles (especially lot raised animals), giant agri-business and personal philosophies some people chose to avoid certain brands, specific foods, or even entire food groups. Fine, just remember feeding humans is now a business that must make a profit for the company and the share-holders. Large supermarket chains have the power to make or break a new food. Many people have no choice but to eat what is available and don’t have the option to eat local foods or organic foods.

You may prefer to choose food based on environmental sustainability. This is not as simple as eating food grown within a 100 mile diameter of your front door. Recently, it was made clear that NZ lamb (grass fed outside) flown to the UK had a lower carbon footprint than lamb grown and consumed in the UK (kept warm inside). And of course, that 100 mile limit will cull many foods from your diet, including dates, bananas and your favourite chocolate.

You may choose organically grown foods, despite there being (on average) little nutritional justification in doing so. Nevertheless, your local farmer may be offering organic produce, which leads to my last point.

6. Support your local independent grower/farmer/retailer.

Because they are the ones who make food interesting. They work long hours, weekends and holidays usually because they have a strong belief in providing good wholesome food. They are likely to have an emotional attachment to the food as a food, not solely as a product or profit.

Where I live (Perth, Western Australia), the best marmalade in the world is made and sold locally. There is a slight variation from batch to batch. It is well over 50% fruit, not just pectin, sugar and 3 bits of orange peel like the one in the supermarket. North of me, a lady makes excellent relishes. The money she makes helps her to run her animal sanctuary for sick and damaged wildlife. In a town down south live my friends who produce organic wines, rated highly by the experts. I can’t find it in the shops, so I get a dozen bottles delivered regularly.

It’s not just about them; it’s also about me. I enjoy knowing that my neighbours are benefitting, meaning they will continue to produce food that I may never see in a big store. Your local market gardener or farmer can’t produce enough food to satisfy the weekly stock demands of a supermarket chain or fast-food outlet. And I’ve never eaten anything from a local artisan where I have thought: “Ooh, this tastes just like the one made by that giant multinational, the one advertised on the telly.” Never.

Of course, you can write a book on the philosophy of healthy eating. I prefer to keep these newsletters short so I have given you a brief viewpoint. I would love you to voice your philosophy on eating (beyond good nutrition), make a salient point or relate an experience. And now over to Don.

Don Ardell says
I always enjoy hearing from Glenn Cardwell. Besides benefiting from his feedback on my own newsletter essays and idea exchanges via discussion groups among mutual friends, I'm counted in that fortunate group who receive Glenn's fascinating newsletter. I consider everything therein the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the nutritional truth, unless I read something with which I don't agree. That is rare indeed. When it happens, I assume it's a message from the universe or something indicating I need to study an issue a bit further.
Today, I got a note with three choices - read his latest blog and 1) pass; 2) comment about the views expressed; and/or 3) make comments on my own, about anything, including I presume politics, sex or religion.

I decided to go with #2.

Alas, I was instructed to be brief and be that way within 24 hours. So, I started reading, critic's pen in hand, so to speak.

First, I must set the record straight. My wife is a vegan - she prepares delicious meals and finds excellent restaurants that support this new habit. We enjoy the meetups and occasional conferences. We both like animals and are not happy about the way chickens, pigs, cows and other creatures are treated by the meat and dairy industries. It has been a nearly two-year go-along for me and it's been all positive with no downside (at least not anything that I noticed, so far, of a negative nature).

I was in pretty good shape when this diet pattern began in August 2011 but things have gotten even better, including weight, waist size, cholesterol level and so on. I have read interesting books and articles and watched countless videos of impressive "veganites" (e.g., Caldwell and Rip Esselstyn, T. Colin Campbell, Dean Ornish, Michael Gerber). I'm also a bit of a vegan slacker: I have a bit of fish, shrimp and scallop now and then, and if a slice of cheese happens to fall on my plate and get eaten, I'm fine with that, too. But, enough of all that - Glenn wants comments on his remarks, so I'll offer a few, ignoring the 99 percent of what he wrote that I consider spot on.

* I would not discount a diet book just because it sold well. I might be skeptical, suspicious and filled with doubt, but some popular books that could be considered to have a diet angle have turned out to be quite sensible. Books by all those authors mentioned above would be included in that category.

* Oh, wait, Glenn adds that this rule only applies to books written by diet dictators.

*  I certainly agree that we should be positive about food, unless it's loaded with fat, sugar, toxic chemicals and tons of empty calories. Then I think a bit of negativity might go a long way toward quality of life outcomes.

*  Also good advice is not to whine about foods, even dreadful foods. If you are going to eat something dreadful, hell, at least enjoy it or forgetaboutit.

*  Given what I write about backsliding, no, a pizza or just about anything in the context of an otherwise sound diet pattern is harmless enough.

*  All foods do not have a place, anywhere in your diet. Many foods are unavailable where you live and many foods won't taste good. Yes, humans have survived on foods you would not be able to swallow, but fortunately you don't have to and you surely would not want to.

*  Cooking food is great. Vegans do it every day.

*  Do whatever you can that seems likely to facilitate a long life but make sure that life is of a high quality that makes it enjoyable. Of all the reasons to choose a food item, it's role in longevity probably will not be in the top five.

*  Be wary of all trends, including those of a dietary nature. All considerations noted in this section seem eminently sensible.

As usual, the points made in this blog are wise, practical and well expressed. Kudos, Glenn.