Monday, January 17, 2011

What are the Rules?

So I've introduced that my family is going to do a February Food Challenge, where we primarily will follow the primal diet.

I'm having some difficulties however in formulating our "rules" for this, especially considering I don't wholesale buy in to the philosophy behind the primal diet. And if I don't completely buy in to it, why on earth are we going to try it at all?? Good question! I first heard about this (admittedly somewhat crazy) primal thing from a fellow blogger. She gave it a try, posted that she found excellent returns for her efforts in health and physique and overall wellness. She's also a great researcher, and has posted compelling evidence that this particular diet can help ward off certain diseases, such as cancer. To me, it's worth giving it a try. Please take the time to read some of her posts. So that's where I heard of it, I am convinced it's worth a try. This blog also points to another, and it sure sounds like the owner of that site may be the "inventor" of the primal diet. Read this article from the which highlights some of the perks of the primal thing - I particularly resonate with reason number 2 - if I don't eat something every 2-3 hours, I get trembly. It would be nice not to have to deal with this.

Now, this is not going to be easy. Overall, we do eat a pretty healthy diet, at least compared to someone who's eating out, drinking their calories (we only drink pop with pizza, which we make at home, 3-4 times per month), or otherwise eating more or less a junk food diet - we really do stick to more wholesome choices, and I prepare in my own kitchen the bulk of it. We even quit buying bread at the store - I bake it myself. But we still eat pretty much a "standard american diet," which, compared to a strictly primal diet means that we have a looooong ways to go! So I'm working out recipes and planning out our meals for February so it truly feels like we're indulging in healthful meals, rather than missing out. But what rules will I come up with for what Primal means to our family?

  1. We will eat primarily vegetables, and a variety of them
  2. We'll also eat fruit, but try not to go overboard, because they're higher in sugar
  3. We'll eat plenty of meat. But I am not afraid of conventionally raised meat....we won't be falling for the "organic" stuff.
  4. Something about healthy fat here.....not real sure I quite comprehend the primal-thinking on this one.
  5. We'll drink a lot of water. And UNsweetened tea. Black coffee?? I already drink it without sugar, but do I really need to get rid of dairy??
  6. If we are invited as guests to dinner - we'll happily eat what we're offered. But we really don't get out much, so this shouldn't impact the experiment too much, I think.

  1. We will cut out sugar - including white and brown sugar, molasses, honey, artificial sweeteners - no sweets in February!
  2. We will cut out grains. In February. Not sure at this point how long that will last - In March we'll likely start again to eat the corn we put up in the freezer, we'll likely try some soaked grains, including oatmeal - maybe we'll try some gluten-free bread recipes? But we'll do it slowly, one at a time, and see the results. And most likely sparingly - probably only when we know we're going to be working hard outside. But we'll stay strictly without for the duration of our food challenge.
  3. We'll cut out legumes. Although I struggle with whether Peanut Butter, peas, and beans are really all that bad for you.
  4. We'll reduce dairy as much as possible.
  5. Continue to focus on keeping toxins out of our environment and off of our skin. (more on this in a future post - not sure it's really a "primal-ism")
  6. We'll focus on the idea that this food challenge is NOT about going without, but about intentionally choosing what we eat.
Obviously, this is a work in progress. The blog I mentioned earlier has some delicious-looking recipes posted which we'll try, and I've been combing the web for more gems. I'll post up our menus when we get them finalized, and keep posted on any results.

The biggest thing that will be a challenge is the "carb flu" I've read about - the primal people say that when you stop feeding your body lots of carbohydrates, and replace it with fat as fuel, it takes a while to get used to. But that once you do, you no longer feel hungry every 3 hours (like I do now...) and will come out of that feeling and looking healthier. Based on the amount of biscuits and breads and cookies and brownies and noodles and pot pies that we are now used to eating, I'm actually wondering whether just one month going without sugar and grains will be enough to get past this so-called carb flu. We'll see - maybe we'll extend it if we have to. Life is a work in progress, and I've learned not to be ashamed if experience says a change of plans needs to be made.

Friday, January 14, 2011

If you watch this clip, PLEASE read the rest of the post, too!

Have you heard of the Primal Diet? No? Curious? Watch this video clip, I think it sums it up pretty well:

Oh, where do I begin!?

First, I will say that this is the basic diet that my family is going to follow from February 1st-February 28th.

Does it sound crazy? Yes, it sort of is, but I'm picking out recipes that really sound delicious, and so that way it won't seem like we're going without grain and sugar, but instead intentionally choosing only meat, vegetables, fruit, and the like. We'll do it through February, a February Food Challenge (FFC), and see where it goes from there.

I've read convincing evidence that there are things in grains that can be very bad for the digestive system, and I've known sugar (and sweetener) is bad for you, but it's hard to stop myself from baking cookies. So this February Food Challenge will remove the grains and sugars, and then in March we may gradually add back some grains to see if that has any effects. We'll try really hard to stay away from sugar, even after the FFC (February Food Challenge) is complete, maybe use honey or molasses instead. So, it's a 28 day food experiment, basically, and both myself and my husband are on board and looking forward to seeing what happens.

Here's the thing - while I pretty much think that there's a lot of merit to this whole "Primal Diet" I also think that it's based on some premises or assumptions that I don't agree with. My issues with the Primal Diet are: Evolution of Man (and his diet), and the belief that Scientific Advances in Healthcare for Humans is Good/Scientific Advances in Agriculture is Bad.

First, on the Evolution point I'll just quickly summarize - I hold a Biblical worldview, and I believe that God created the world in 7 normal days. I believe God created livestock and wild animals right from the beginning (Genesis 1:25) which debunks the whole notion that man had to domesticate everything that is now domesticated. Also, Genesis 1:29-30 says: Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground- everything that has the breath of life in it - I give every green plant for food." And it was so. So, I just can't believe the notion that Adam and Eve didn't eat corn, wheat, soybeans, oats, and other grains and legumes from the beginning. Have you ever seen how beautifully green those crops can be?? So anyway, on this point - you'll either agree automatically or disagree automatically - either you believe in Creation or Evolution.

That said, I know that raw soybeans (if ingested in large enough quantities) can be toxic. However, it's safe to eat cooked soybeans, because it destroys whatever enzyme or phytate or whatever the compound is that makes them harmful. I think that it's totally possible that after The Fall and the curse of Adam (Genesis 3:17-19) when the ground was cursed, that the curse included making the grains somewhat toxic. I mean - blackberries taste really good, but they have protection in their thorns to keep them from being eaten up. Some caterpillars don't have a defense mechanism per se, but they are highly toxic to birds - that's their defense mechanism in their toxicity. It's possible (maybe even likely) that wheat and corn and soybeans and other grains all have their defense mechanism in a slight toxicity - and from what I've read, it seems that the phytates, certain enzymes, and gluten in many grains is harmful to the human body. However, I've also read some convincing words that indicate that (similarly to how soybeans can be safe to eat if they've been cooked) the harmful substances in many grains can be "processed" out by soaking for a certain timeframe in an acid medium such as lemon juice, or cultured buttermilk. Since I don't believe the evolution portion of the Primal Diet, in March, we'll be pursuing the notion of soaking grains, which I think will not be as time consuming as it sounds. But first, the FFC where we totally remove grains and sugars may well be eye-opening and I'm really excited to see where it may take us in terms of energy levels and having healthy weight.

So that pretty much covers the evolution thing, and the fact that while I do believe God's given us the freedom to eat as we choose, I also don't think it will be harmful to temporarily remove grains, and certainly not harmful to remove sugars.

Now, onto the part of the Primal Diet that indicates that Scientific Advances in Healthcare for Humans is Good/Scientific Advances in Agriculture is Bad. I pause here, because this is a touchy subject. I think we've come a long ways in improving healthcare, we have eliminated certain diseases from our population that used to be common through vaccination, there are skilled surgeons doing amazingly complex things to save lives, and prescription medications have saved lives. With the advent of great infrastructure and safe, well-paved roads, and the automobile, and therefore, the Ambulance, we are very fortunate in terms of this. Of course, some abuse these helpful things, so we have drug dependency and other problems that came along with the big money involved with the Pharmaceutical companies, and I've said in my last post that I disagree with the amount of immunizations recommended for babies, but by and large - we can agree that Scientific Advances in Healthcare for Humans has been good! Yes, it has, and it is, and there are many more humans living today that would not have survived without the modern healthcare and technology we're now accustomed to.

So with all these lives being saved through modern medicine and technology, comes additional mouths to feed. I read an article yesterday that said that American Agriculture feeds over 3 million mouths. That's a lot of hungry people that need to eat. 100 years ago, there was enough land for each family to have a garden and raise their own cow, keep a few chickens, and a good number of the population had a farm of some sort. Today, less than 3% of the US population are farmers. So how in the world is that small group of Agriculturists feeding that huge group of hungry people? How has this become possible?? Well, similarly to how science and technology has improved healthcare, Agriculture has come a long way.

  • Equipment - 100 years ago, tractors weren't nearly as popular as a team of horses (if they were even around.....sorry about my lack of citation and true fact in this'll have to admit that the video clip I posted had none of that, as well - if I had the time I could dig up citations and real numbers to back up what I'm writing) and as much as I like horses, they're not particularly efficient, time-wise! My husband is the tractor and farm implement smarty - he could probably tell you not only what year the first tractors came out but also the model, brand, horsepower, and other tidbits. So the modernization of equipment, which allows one man to do much more work for his time.
  • Seed Varieties - Seed companies have developed many different varieties of seeds which are bred or hybridized to perform well in a variety of situations, from drought conditions to clay soil and so on. Even the advent of BT corn, while controversial, has improved yields. Personally, I am not afraid of BT crops, or GMOs (genetically modified organisms) because I know the way the digestive system breaks up proteins, which is what genes are made of. I'm much more concerned with hunger than the biotechnology of the seeds used to plant a field to increase yield.
  • Herbicides - Herbicides are not used unless they become necessary. It is not possible to pull weeds out of an entire field, so how do you control weeds? There's cultivating, which is possible when the crop is still very short. But what if you get weed pressure after the crop is a certain height? Well, then you spray with herbicide. Not just for fun, but otherwise, the weeds will choke out the crop. We had a field this year that grew too tall for even the tall sprayer to apply without knocking down the corn - so it didn't get sprayed even though we knew the weeds were beginning to choke the crop, but at that point there was nothing we could do. An otherwise great crop had terrible yields, much much less than the average for that field just because of the weed pressure. If you eat a crop that at one time in the growing process had been sprayed with herbicide, it's not like licking herbicides off the plant! Farmers don't spray unless it becomes necessary to protect yields, and again, the benefits of increased yield far outweigh the scientifically unconfirmed dangers of eating food from a treated field.
  • Pesticides - As far as I know, we don't use pesticides on our conventional rowcrop operation. We do use pesticides on our garden if it becomes necessary. Annually, we plant green beans, sweet corn, tomatoes, and potatoes, along with some other garden varieties. We watch carefully, and if our green beans' leaves start to get eaten up and holey from insects eating them - we do not hesitate to apply an insecticide to our crop! Here's the choice once the bugs show up and start eating: we spray and then get to eat the crop, or we don't spray and the plants die. I choose judicious spraying!
  • Hormones in beef cattle - We castrate all the bull calves born on our farm, for the main reason that intact bull calves are more dangerous to each other, to fences, barns and equipment, and tougher to handle than a castrated steer. A castrated steer does not produce the same level of hormones that an intact male would, and studies have shown that a calf that has been implanted with hormones uses less feed, and fattens out faster, making them much more efficient. We also implant the heifer calves that go to the feedlot, as well, but choose not to implant heifers that will be saved back as replacement cows. I think that the benefits gained from implanting a calf with hormones outweigh the possible problems involved with eating the meat - I don't believe any studies have proven a health risk involved with eating such meat. Not to mention that I believe that the amount of artificial hormones used in agriculture is minute compared to the amount of hormonal birth control that soooo many women are taking. If we're having issues with synthetic hormones, we should look first to those that are actually going into humans by mouth or patch or injection, rather than the tiny quantities ingested by eating implanted meat.
  • Grass-fed vs. Corn-fed - This is going to go back to my Biblical worldview - but in the story of The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) it says in verse 23, "Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate." I've never been to the Holy Land, but I'm pretty sure it's an arid, desert-like region. Probably didn't have much grass in the area, and certainly not enough to fatten an animal the size of a calf! That calf almost certainly ate grain, and if a grain-fed calf is good enough for the Bible, it's good enough for me!
  • Pastured vs. Confined Feeding - The "natural" lifestyle of a pastured animal is pretty dangerous. There's the threat of disease from wild birds or wild animal attacks, the fact that temperature is highly variable outside from freezing to high heat and humidity, and really - livestock did not thrive in the outdoor conditions! In a confined feeding operation building, the animals are fed at several regular times daily, constantly have access to fresh water, the temperature inside the building is regulated to not drop below or rise above a certain temperature - these are conditions that allow the animals to experience greater health and much less mortality compared to those living in a pastured situation. Some animals even get the benefit of not having to compete for food and water because they're given individual pens. Chickens, for instance, have been known to suffocate in a thunderstorm in a group setting because they'll pile up on each other, and the birds that end up on the bottom can't get air. Sows will lay on their baby pigs and suffocate them, which is why gestation crates were designed. These modern adaptations to agriculture are saving animals lives, and making their quality of life better. The fact that conditions are so controlled inside a confined feeding operation makes it possible to medicate less often, because the animals are healthier.
So those are some of the modern advancements agriculture has made that has made it POSSIBLE for the small number of farmers to feed the people that it does. These technologies are applied judiciously, and none are done unnecessarily. Without the current technology, many more people would be going hungry! I for one am extremely grateful for the advancements that science and technology has made possible in agriculture, for without it we would not be able to feed the people who are reaping the benefits of advanced medicine and surviving, myself included! I just feel that it's important to share some of the reasoning behind some of the technologies and changes that have been made, because 100 years ago, nearly everyone either had a farm or had a close relative who lived on the farm - people were very close to the origins of their food. Today, many people have no connections to a real farm, and many don't even plant their own garden. This is why I feel it's important to share this side of the story, that there are valid reasons for using some of the modern agricultural practices that are dismissed as bad in a definite one-sided way.

The video clip does not mention all of the chemicals that many Americans use on a daily basis in their homes and on their skin and the harm that they are doing to their bodies and the environment. The phosphates and harmful chemicals that are in most laundry and dishwashing detergent are wreaking havoc on our bodies and our environment, even though there are safe, environmentally friendly brands available, many of the leading brands are toxic. Shampoos and other cosmetics frequently have dangerous levels of formaldehyde and other chemicals that are harmful to the nervous system! Yet these companies don't change their formulas for cosmetics and household cleaners to be toxin-free because it's cheaper to produce them this way. The impact on health and the environment would be huge if every household switched their cosmetics and cleaners to healthy, safe, non-toxic products. And there are products out there that are just as effective, and some I've tried even more so than their conventional, toxic counterparts.

Don't get me wrong, change needs to be made! Many of us Americans are far too cavalier with the choices being made, from the food that is consumed to the products they purchase for their homes and bodies. I just feel that when it comes to feeding hungry people, the minimal compromises being made to health by using modern Agricultural practices that are frowned about by the Primal Diet/Lifestyle pale in comparison to the benefits of providing FOOD, and compared to the impact that a few other lifestyle changes could make toward health in changing household cleaning products, cosmetics, and careful food choices, it just really bothers me that Agriculture is being made to look like an enemy, when the reality is quite the opposite.

Yes, companies are making money from the sale of medications and other technologies, but in addition to the monetary profits, there is an obvious benefit to society when it produces food more efficiently. The video clip does not mention all of the donations that environmental groups are getting for promoting their fearful message of the "evils of modern agriculture" nor the donations that animal-rights groups such as HSUS and PETA who are the ones spreading the false notion that confined feeding is bad for animals. Did you know that The Humane Society of the United States receives more money in donations than the American Red Cross???? This is appalling to me, especially considering the lack of assistance hands-on animal shelters receive from the HSUS (less than 1% of donations received by HSUS go to animal rescues). The HSUS is primarily a lobbying group that is working to keep people from keeping animals at all, and would love to see all people become vegan. They are taking money from people who believe that the HSUS helps dogs and cats, and getting rich off of spreading lies about how livestock care is done and farmers, who use responsible practices to provide safe food to the best of their ability at an affordable price are being blamed unfairly. These types of organizations benefit by sensationalizing the truth and leaving out important information, and dipping into people's emotions in order to dip into their pocketbooks for donations. Maybe agriculture benefits financially from using the technology they do, but so too do the special-interest groups who are spreading the unproven slander.

Still reading my epic post? Thanks for hearing me out.

By and large, I'm excited to try the primal thing for the month of February. There's just a few key areas that I take issue with, that I felt the need to clarify my viewpoint on.

Do you have comments? First, please be sure you read the whole thing. And please be kind! Remember, I am just a woman who fell in love with a farm boy, married him, and now I stay at home with our children. I'm not a scientist, but even so I think my point of view has some merit. I'd love to see some discussion about this.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sheep with a Different Beat

Strange post title, eh?

Yeah, that's kind of the point :-)

I've always been a little different than everyone else. Mostly I'm okay with that, even quite pleased with being a little odd. But at other times, it gets kinda lonely having a different take on things. It's nice to know that your close friends and relatives don't think you're completely off your rocker! Mostly I've learned to accomplish that goal by watching carefully others' reactions during a conversation - even a fool seems wise when her mouth is shut, and I'm getting better at keeping shut!

There are a lot of things that I don't just follow along with "what everybody else is doing" on. Most of these have come out in the last 3 years, since becoming a mother. Just a few examples: cloth diapering, breastfeeding (and allowing the child to self-wean), the food I choose to feed my family (more about that in future posts, still developing thoughts about that one), immunization schedules, what we tell our kids about Santa Claus, the way I choose to trim my horses hooves . . . the list could go on and on. Really, it could. I've got good reasons for why I've chosen all the things I've listed, and I'm very very happy for it and feel in each I've made the best choice for me, even though many will look at me funny when they discover the difference.

I've even questioned myself whether I choose to be different just so I can "be different." I've decided this is not the case, because being different than those around you really isn't very easy. It's uncomfortable at times, and sometimes trying to find information about each thing is tricky because usually I don't know anyone doing it the same way! So it often feels like I'm pioneering a new path all alone, which while this can be exciting and certainly a learning experience, it's truly not preferred.

But it really bugs me when I see others I care about just do things "the way they've always done them" just for the simple reason of "that's the way I've always done that" or "that's the way so and so always did that and they were just fine." Firstly, what does "just fine" really mean? Personally, I'd like to give myself a shot of having better than just fine. I also feel that recently (like in the last 3 generations) technology in all realms has changed nearly all facets of life at such a fast pace that life today is drastically different than life 3 generations ago, and I'm not convinced that all of the changes have been for the better. Of course, many of them (electricity, indoor plumbing, refrigeration, and so on) have been very very good and I don't want to be without some of the modern conveniences - but some other lifestyle changes I question, and really wish more people would.

I've read the word 'Sheeple' and I think this accurately describes the mindset many have. You may have heard about sheep, and the fact that they aren't particularly bright, and that they'll typically just follow the tail of the sheep ahead of them, completely blind to where they are going. I think of 'sheeple' people as sheep wandering after each other lost, sheep without a shepherd. I don't want to be like that. I'm happy to follow the sheep in front of me, but only after I've stopped to have a look around and try to see if that sheep is traveling in the right direction. Mostly, I've been blessed by being surrounded by some very wise sheep, so I'm glad to follow in their footsteps, but even so I try to take a step back and think for myself before just blindly following along. And I always try to remember that Jesus is the Good Shepherd - the shepherd's job is to protect the sheep from attackers that would do them harm, and to guide the sheep to still waters and green pastures. What a blessing, that Jesus would gently guide us in the right paths.

I'm glad to be a sheep with a different beat. Even if I do sometimes feel like I'm the only one I know who "_______" (insert weird thing here), I'm not alone - I've still got my Good Shepherd, gently guiding me.

I just pray for the wisdom to know the difference between being different for the sake of being different, and choosing the good path despite the fact that it's a little different.

*Oh, you're still reading?? I guess I could share bits of why I've chosen some of the things I highlighted.

cloth diapering - less diapers in the landfill, it's really not that difficult to wash them, I save a TON of money, fewer chemicals touching my babies' skin

breastfeeding (and allowing the child to self-wean) - I don't have to wash bottles, I know my child is getting the exact right nutrition at the exact right temperature, I love to cuddle up with my usually squirmy, not-so-cuddly active toddler and nursing offers a great opportunity for that, and I know that my baby will not nurse forever - they'll get ready when they're ready, and they don't even get all their teeth until they're much older than most people wean - so to me that means their nutrition would be lacking if I weaned them earlier. Besides, it helps me lose weight!

the food I choose to feed my family (more about that in future posts, still developing thoughts about that one) - we're going to do a "challenge" in February where we are very careful about what we put in our cups and on our plates. Not 100% sure what the "rules" will be yet, but I expect to see a big difference in energy levels and waistlines.

immunization schedules - I cannot believe how much the CDC recommends to inject into tiny, weeks or months old babies! Our kids still get all of the recommended vaccinations, but spread out over a greater timeframe.

what we tell our kids about Santa Claus - Santa is not real! It's a nice, pretend story - but Jesus is what Christmas is all about. And really - the story of a virgin giving birth to a God's only Son, in a barn, with Shepherds being told by angels, and the wise men coming because they saw a start - the true story of Christmas is miraculous enough, it doesn't need a fat man in a red suit to pass out presents too!

the way I choose to trim my horses hooves - I choose not to put shoes on my horse, and I try to trim so that her feet mimic what they'd look like if she were a wild mustang. This is healthier and more comfortable for the horse, and less expensive for me!

Oh, and I need to say this! Just because I'm doing things the way I do them, does NOT mean that I think you are wrong because you do things your way!! Your way may be perfectly right for you, please don't take me doing things my way as judgement about your way. I only ask that you make sure that you're doing things the way your doing them as a conscious choice you've made, not just because that's the way it's always been done.