From my journal during the time when we were first avoiding making any sort of trash:
In my imagination, people used to live like this: you had most of the bare necessities but then every so often a relative managed to get hold of, say, some coffee or some salt and pepper or a guava fruit. That day that it came would be special. These things were called "luxuries" or "delicacies." If guests came over you'd say, "Hey, you know, cousin John sent us some coffee beans. Shall we have some for a treat?"
Or you'd dazzle your guests by putting salt and pepper on the table. Didn't salt and pepper used to be a special thing? Today, is anything special? Is there anything so inaccessible that you get a buzz when you acquire it?
Think of cake. Cake used to be this special thing that you got from the bakery to have after dinner in small portions. It was, you know, dessert. It wasn't in every single deli and available 24 hours a day. It was special because it was, well, special.
In fact, a British word for dessert is "treat." "What's for treat, mum?" the kids might say. Treat. That implies that the cake or whatever it is what it says: a treat. Something to be thankful for. Something not to be had regularly. But now we have to have these things on every street corner. In fact, what's confounding me at the moment is trying to figure out how to have everything I want at a moment's notice without making any packaging trash. My mind is conditioned to believe that if I can't have it right now—RIGHT NOW!—then I'm deprived.
Or is being able to have something at a moment's notice real progress? Is it one of those great leaps forward—one of those leaps for mankind that so intrigued our granparents. You know, like, "And to think we used to think radio was a wonderful thing and now we have 500 stations of television." But that makes me wonder too. Five hundred stations of television?
It used to be that we would have occasional entertainment. You know, back when we were Greeks or Romans or whatever we were. We'd go to the amphitheater or something. It would be a social thing, a social gathering, a get together, a community activity. Now we have this 24 hour a day TV thing. Even in the elevators and in the airport lounges and in our airplane seats and in our cars. Everywhere. Everything is "on demand." Video on demand. Content on demand. It isn't even on request.
Is this progress or not? Can anything be progress if it means we play charades less often?
But then, I was standing on the roof of a building on First Avenue the other evening and the sun was setting and there were pink clouds and the top of the Empire State Building was drifting in and out of the mist and a plane was flying over Manhattan and I thought how lovely. We build the tall buildings because they are, after all, cool. There is something awe inspiring and creative about them.
And when you think of the Wright brothers on the dunes in the Carolinas trying to fly: why not? What human hasn't looked at birds and wished they could fly? How fun is it? And how amazing to go to the moon? Is that incredible or what? And isn't cool to live in a world where these things happen? There is something magical and God imbued about these things. The same as transmitting moving pictures through the air. How amazing too.
I suppose the thing is that when they are created and done for the first time they are magical but when we become addicted to it, when we have to have it in order to feel satisfied, that may not be so magical. Maybe it's a matter of balance. Can we take the flying to the moon but leave behind the driving everywhere?
On the other hand, do we require some sort of overheated economy full of consumerism to get to the point where we can have the technology to go to the moon? Does the space shuttle somehow spin off the technology of being able to provide a hamburger in two minutes and video camera where you don't have to leave home to "see" your children?
These are the musings of a man walking the streets not getting any immediate gratification because it's all wrapped in paper.
AS THE Daniels family gathers round the dinner table it resembles a scene played out in many households. An evening meal shared with loved ones, a time to eat and talk together.
But there is one significant difference. All the food laid before mum Jatinder, husband Derek and their three children, Raman, 17, Priyanka, 13, and seven-year-old Mohan is raw.
And this unusual diet has been credited with saving Jatinder's life and turning her family's fortunes around. "I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 16 and doctors said my future was bleak," says Jatinder, a healthy 45.
"They said I could be in a wheelchair by the end of my teens, that I would be in varying degrees of constant pain for the rest of my life and, due to aggressive drugs, may not be able to have children. It was like a death sentence.
"But look at me now! I'm a mum of three, perfectly mobile and free from the agony I endured for years. And it's all down to my raw food, low-toxin lifestyle."
Jatinder's teenage years in Nottingham were dogged with frustration and confusion over her stiffness and pain until, after endless tests, she was diagnosed.
"I was a healthy until 13 when I was vaccinated against rubella in school," Jatinder recalls.
"My health deteriorated rapidly afterwards. Suddenly I couldn't do any sports at all. I was persistently tired and regularly in terrible pain.
"There were days when I couldn't walk, dress myself or bathe. Sometimes my jaw was so stiff I couldn't eat at all or just manage soup."
Jatinder went to hospital once a week for six months for injections into her joints yet the arthritis intensified and her knuckles and knees began to deform. She became suicidal.
She says: "The injections offered no immediate relief. I felt alone, angry and full of resentment. I was trying to do my A-levels but I couldn't even carry my own books.
"My condition worsened during the winter. The cold wind went straight to my bones and was agony.
"I became very depressed and often thought about throwing myself into the River Trent."
Despite being in constant pain, Jatinder was determined to live life to the full and at 21 went to London to study computing.
She says: "I needed a walking stick by the time I went to university but I refused to use one out of pride. I felt so vulnerable. I was adamant that I was going to be independent."
Derek, a 43-year-old computer programmer, remembers the difficulties his bride-to-be faced when they met while studying.
He recalls: "She couldn't walk for more than five minutes without pain. I felt helpless and desperately wanted to ease her discomfort.
"It was clear to us that the anti-inflammatory drugs she was taking made very little difference to her discomfort. In fact, the side-effects of stomach ulcers and blinding headaches made her feel worse. I fully supported her decision to stop taking them five years later."
The couple married the year after she stopped taking the drugs and Jatinder summoned every bit of grit to walk down the aisle unaided.
She says: "The days when I couldn't walk at all were becoming more frequent and I was limping more often than not.
"But there was no way I was going to let my illness get in the way of a perfect wedding.
"I blocked out the pain, held my head up high and slowly walked to join my future husband. It was very emotional."
Jatinder and Derek set up home in London and Raman was born later that year. But with their new baby came new hardships for Jatinder.
She explains: "The doctors had warned that I would have difficulty conceiving because of the drugs I'd been taking, so Raman was extra special. But caring for him was the biggest challenge I'd ever faced.
"The normal duties that new mums take for granted like bathing their child was like climbing a mountain. But I had no choice but to cope."
Their second child Priyanka was born four years later and developed chronic eczema and asthma at eight weeks. The lack of sleep and stress that caused only made Jatinder's condition worse.
She said: "I was beginning to think I couldn't go on. I couldn't see myself reaching my 40th birthday and if I'm honest part of me didn't want to if it meant living with constant pain.
"I believed it was only going to get worse."
It was during these dark times that Derek discovered the raw food way of life on the internet.
He read claims that nature intended us to eat raw, who le food and that it is unnatural to consume cooked or processed foods.
Jatinder explains: "Long-term consumption of processed food will lead to toxicity or toxaemia - when the body is overloaded with poisons.
"These e harmful toxins are found all around us - in our environment, treated water, non-organic fruit and vegetables and cooked food.
"Raw foodists believe that major illnesses like cancer, diabetes and arthritis are often a result of toxaemia and can be prevented and greatly helped by a raw food way of life."
Jatinder says she realised the importance of food in relation to wellbeing years ago but the idea of eating only raw food seemed impossible.
"I had stopped eating wheat years earlier noticing that wheat flour made my joints flare up and I had become vegan the previous year for similar reasons," she says.
"I put the fact that I wasn't already in a wheelchair down to my healthy diet and generally positive mindset.
"I believed that food could have a miraculous effects on health, I just didn't believe I could take such drastic measures." When Jatinder conceived her youngest son Mohan, at the age of 37, she knew something had to be done to improve her health.
So, at two months pregnant, she changed her diet to 100 per cent raw for one week. She says: "I had diarrhoea but felt the benefit and the pain reduced.
"I went back to 50 per cent cooked until the following summer when the whole family began to detox."
The family moved to Spain four years ago where Jatinder is a raw food consultant.
They live in beautiful whitewashed mountainside village on the Costa del Sol and the children attend the local school.
"We wanted the children to grow up in a natural environment and I believe sunshine is another key to good health," she says.
And the family insist the raw food diet is fun and tasty. "Now the kids love it," Jatinder laughs. "There is so much variety. I make biscuits, crackers, sweets and some really tasty desserts.
"Just like you learn how to cook, you can learn how to uncook.
"It is amazing what textures you can achieve by using a blender or the food you can create simply by dehydrating it.
"It may sound complicated but once you've got the hang of it, the preparation time is actually less.
"Friends who come around for lunch are amazed when I tell them what they are eating is in fact raw."
Jatinder is keen to stress that to truly detox, your whole lifestyle has to be adjusted.
She says: "Detoxing is not as simple as just eating raw food - it includes being aware of your environment.
"It means changing you hair gel, your toothpaste, the chemicals you use around the house, chlorinated tap water - even your negative thought patterns. They all introduce toxins into our bodies."
After 12 months of raw food, Jatinder's arthritis all but disappeared. She smiles modestly: "I can now walk and ride a bike for miles, prepare amazing meals and look after my family. And I am pain-free.
"We are all so much healthier. Neither myself of Mohan has been treated by a doctor since he was born.
"I don't believe a doctor will treat me again for my arthritis. I am healing myself."
"I couldn't breast-feed as one shoulder was frozen in its socket and my other joints would throb.
Friends are amazed when I tell them what they are eating is not cooked
Americans are known around the world for our voracious appetite for sugary treats. Our collective sweet tooth compels us to ingest mountains of candy and cookies, truckloads of ice cream and sodas, and many other confections.
But we also swallow enormous amounts of “hidden” sugars that are added to a bewildering array of processed foods, from cereals to ketchup and from canned fruits to some vitamins.
Consumption of sweeteners in the U.S. has risen from 113 pounds per person per year in 1966 to around 142 pounds per person per year in 2004, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Compare that to an average of 8.3 pounds of broccoli and 25 pounds of dark lettuces for 2003, according to U.S. News and World Report. Americans now consume an average of 61 pounds a year of high fructose corn syrup (especially in sodas), and we scarf down 20 teaspoons of added sugar a day (not including lactose or fructose naturally found in milk and fruit).
The USDA recommends adults consume no more than eight or nine teaspoons of sugar for a typical 2,000-calorie diet. Staying within this limit can be much easier said than done, however, considering that some candy bars, 12-ounce sodas and one-cup servings of ice cream contain around nine teaspoons of sugar.
What’s wrong with sugar? In addition to its tooth-rotting properties, Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition and public health at New York University, explains, “Sugar’s empty calories (meaning lack of nutrients) contribute to the big problem with the American diet: too many calories.” Sugar has also been widely linked to increasing risk for type II diabetes. Plus, the sweet stuff has a considerable environmental footprint (see EarthTalk, this issue).
Closely related to sugar is the now ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup, which is prepared by treating cornstarch with acids or enzymes. The sticky, tooth-attacking syrup is often made with genetically engineered corn, and, like sugar, it contains no nutritional value beyond its caloric content. During the past few decades, corn syrup (which tastes sweeter than sugar) has become the sweetener of choice for many food processors, who load it into everything from baked goods to sauces, jellies, drinks and even frozen fruit. In fact, corn syrup recently overtook sugar itself as America’s most popular sweetener.
Corn syrup is a blend of fructose and glucose, while refined sugar is made of the larger molecule sucrose. Recent research suggests that fructose may be handled differently in the body than other sugars. “It appears to behave more like fat with respect to the hormones involved in body weight regulation,” Peter Havel, associate professor of nutrition at the University of California, Davis, told the Washington Post. “Fructose doesn’t stimulate insulin secretion. It doesn’t increase leptin production (a hormone that helps regulate appetite and fat storage) or suppress production of ghrelin (which helps regulate food intake). That suggests that consuming a lot of fructose, like consuming too much fat, could contribute to weight gain.”
Partly because they are also sweeter than sugar pound for pound, a number of artificial sweeteners have been on the U.S. market for years, and are ubiquitous in such foods as diet soda and “sugar-free” candy. Perhaps echoing the sentiment of many environmentalists, Nestle cautions, “I don’t like artificial sweeteners because I do not like artificial anything when it comes to food.” Observers have also questioned whether the widespread adoption of artificial sweeteners has made much of a dent in the ever-growing American waistline.
Less popular than it once was, saccharin (often known as Sweet ‘N Low) has long raised red flags among food safety scientists after it was definitively linked to bladder cancer in male rats. The industry denies those studies have any application to human beings, but the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) points out, “In some studies, saccharin has caused bladder cancer in mice and in female rats and other cancers in both rats and mice.”
The group also suggests staying clear of the German-made sweetener acesulfame-k, which it says has been linked to cancer and other ailments in lab animals. Safety tests of the chemical, conducted in the 1970s, were of “mediocre quality,” reports CSPI.
The sugar substitute aspartame, known as NutraSweet, Equal and Spoonful, accounts for 75 percent of adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA. In recent years, aspartame has been at the center of an Internet firestorm, in which various advocacy websites have linked it to cancer, ADD, autism, Parkinson’s disease and other problems. CSPI cautions, “Most such claims are not supported by studies.” However, the group does point out that a 2005 study found that “even low doses of aspartame increased the incidence of lymphomas and leukemia in female rats and also might have caused occasional brain tumors.”
A relatively new sweetener on the block is British-made Splenda, which was first approved in the U.S. in 1998. Splenda is the trade name of the patented sweetener sucralose, which is marketed solely by Johnson and Johnson subsidiary McNeil Nutritionals.
When it was first introduced, sucralose sparked considerable consumer excitement, because it is extremely low in calories. Sucralose is now appearing in everything from baked goods to sweetener packets, and makes up about 50 percent of the U.S. sugar substitute market, according to the Associated Press.
However, Splenda’s success hasn’t been entirely sweet. Lawsuits have been filed in several states against McNeil Nutritionals on behalf of the sugar industry, which claims the company misrepresents Splenda with its slogan “made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.” In fact, Splenda is made in a patented, highly industrial process that adds chlorine atoms to sucrose. McNeil countersued, claiming the sugar industry is waging a “malicious smear campaign”—including promotion of the slick Truth About Splenda website—by trying to convince consumers that Splenda is “unhealthy or unsafe” and that they “would be better off consuming refined sugar.”
Jim Murphy, a Sugar Association lawyer, told the Associated Press, “I think one of the concerns is that there really have been no long-term studies that resolve whether or not consumption of Splenda is healthy.” Echoing this concern, natural products retailer Whole Foods moved to ban sucralose from its stores on the basis that there aren’t enough studies to prove that it is safe and the fact that it requires heavy industrial processing.
The good news is a number of more natural alternatives are becoming widely available to help people enjoy their food without risking their health (see “How Sweet It Isn’t,” Eating Right, November/December 2003). Better choices include maple syrup, honey and date sugar, which at least provide some nutrients in the form of vitamins, amino acids, enzymes and minerals, even though their sugar content is very similar to regular sucrose.
Agave nectar absorbs more slowly into the bloodstream than traditional sugar, making it less likely to result in an energy “crash” after consumption. Natural birch sugar, called xylitol, packs fewer calories than cane or beet-based sugar. Some nutrients are also found in Sucanat, a brand name for organically grown, dehydrated cane juice.
BRIAN C. HOWARD is managing editor of E.
Center for Science in the Public Interest 1875 Connecticut Avenue NW Suite 300 Washington, DC 20009 Phone: (202) 332-9110
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