Monday, March 23, 2015

WInds of Change, Part lll

For the past two Meatless Mondays, we've been looking at the problem of methane emissions from cattle, and why those emissions--farts, yes, but also burps and gases rising from their dung--have only become a problem in the last 50 years or so. We learned that when a cow eats what its insides were designed to eat--a variety of wild grasses--the emissions that result are harmless. But when you feed cows things they weren't designed by Nature to digest, well, it's apparently about as smart as feeding a baby chili. And you know how well THAT works out:

So, is there a solution to feeding cows the wrong things? The Union of Concerned Scientists thinks so. In 2011, they published a report on the environmental impacts of cattle methane, and offered these solutions for reducing methane emissions:
One way to reduce methane emissions is to increase the nutritional quality and digestibility of forage—the plants cattle eat while on pasture. [There are] several strategies to improve forage quality: increase the percentage of legumes in forage mixtures, avoid the use of low-quality, mature pasture crops for grazing, and breed better pasture species to improve nutritional quality.
(Despite the above link, may I recommend this summary, which I've discovered too late to keep me from actually having to read their report! My Ph.D. in Climate Studies and Ruminants, please!)

Interestingly, the report does not categorically condemn the nasty filthy godawful "finishing" technique of CAFOs--confined animal feeding operations--which account for the vast majority of beef farming in this country, if not the world:
The grain-based feeds used in CAFOs produce more rapid weight gain than pasture forage, with fewer calories lost to methane emissions. However, high-quality forage—especially when grown on high-quality land—can minimize the climate emissions advantage of grain. And pasture finishing has other climate advantages, including the ability to sequester more carbon than grain crops.
What they're saying is, CAFO cattle gain weight faster than pasture-feeders, therefore they will be slaughtered sooner, shorter life-spans equaling less time cows have to produce green-house gases. The rest of that paragraph is talking about utilizing manure in a more bio-friendly way, i.e., allowing it to be absorbed by soil in a field vs. piling up in a cattle pen.

In summary: to reduce the methane emissions of cows, cows should be allowed to live as their cousins the buffalo did, in open pastures, eating a variety of forage, pooping on the ground, as Nature intended.

A lot to think about at the next barbecue, huh? Anyway, the good news is, there are viable solutions to this problem, through sound science and agricultural education. For our part, as consumers, we should definitely eat less beef--Meatless Monday is a solid start in that direction. But we should also continue to encourage, through our buying habits, as well as other means, the most planet-friendly ways beef can be raised. Because a healthy, happy cow makes a better product for you and me, as well:
Beef from grass-fed animals has lower levels of unhealthy fats and higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are better for cardiovascular health. Grass-fed beef also has lower levels of dietary cholesterol and offers more vitamins A and E as well as antioxidants. The study found that meat from animals raised entirely on grass also had about twice the levels of conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, isomers, which may have cancer fighting properties and lower the risk of diabetes and other health problems.
That concludes our TMI "The Winds of Change" series! Tune in next Meatless Monday for a new topic. Thanks for reading!


grass-fed beef

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Winds of Change, Part ll

Last Meatless Monday, we looked at the impact of cattle on global warming/climate change, and asked two questions: 1) if cattle do so much harm to the ozone layer through their methane-laced flatulence, why didn't the millions of buffalo that existed hundreds of years ago destroy the environment back then? and 2) why does the finger always get pointed at beef cattle, but not diary cows, when these lethal bovine farts are discussed?

No, because there just aren't enough of you compared to beef cattle. As a side note, there aren't just fewer dairy than beef cattle now, there's fewer dairy cows than there have ever been; 13 million fewer cows than than there were in 1950, to be exact. Between 1960 and 1990, the dairy industry increased annual milk production by ten million tons with 7.4 million fewer cows, reducing estimated methane emissions by almost one million metric tons of carbon. Go, dairy! But also, so many more cows, back in the day: whither methane?

So to the question of the buffalo. Presumably these animals farted just as much as today's cattle. We asked the question, why did global warming not start all that much sooner? More importantly, why am I not admiring a beachfront view (because rising sea levels) here in Western Pennsylvania at this very minute? After all:
Many individuals attribute global warming to the ozone layer eroding away or the burning of fossil fuels. Many people do not realize that methane gas in our atmosphere is a huge contributor to global warming. More surprising is that about 15% of the methane produced per year is from cattle.
So what's the story, science?

First, let's take a look at an important aspect that cattle and buffalo have in common: their stomachs.

In fact, all ruminants share this multi-chambered stomach. And what, you may ask, is a "ruminant"? Ruminants are named for the fore stomach, or rumen. 
[It's] any even-toed, hoofed mammal of the suborder Ruminantia, being comprised of cloven-hoofed, cud-chewing quadrupeds, and including, besides domestic cattle, bison, buffalo, deer, antelopes, giraffes, camels, and chevrotains ... Cattle, goats, and sheep produce more methane than other livestock because of the unique physiology of their digestive systems, [though] methane emissions from sheep and goats in the United States are relatively minor.
Methane, it turns out, is a natural consequence of their unique digestive process. Their stomachs use something called "enteric fermentation," to break down carbohydrates with microorganisms, known as methanogens, into simple molecules for absorption into the bloodstream. So if it's so "natural," then why haven't the cumulative ruminants through the ages--I'm looking at you now, giraffes--farted us into complete climate collapse before now?

Because it's not their fault. It's ours.

As you've probably figured out by now, there's a big difference in the lifestyles of the buffalo of yesteryear and today's cattle. There didn't used to be. Buffalo and cattle alike used to graze over huge territories, foraging from a variety of wild grasses.  Since the introduction of "industrial" farms in the 1930's, increasingly, beef cattle are "finished"--the industry term for "fattened for slaughter," in cramped feedlots, being fed things Nature never designed their stomachs for. Primarily corn, but also barley, hay, soy, and other grains and legumes. This diet gives American beef the tenderness and taste we've come to expect, but it's creating the unprecedented levels of methane that contribute to global warming.

Is this really the best we can do for these animals, ourselves, and our planet? Next time, we look into better ways of doing things.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Free Ice Cream Day!

We've talked before about how it's actually good for your weight loss plan to take one day a week OFF your diet. If you've already taken that day off this week, stop reading right now.

I'm just kidding. Even if you've already had your day off, you should head on down to Dairy Queen on Monday for a FREE  five-ounce vanilla soft-serve cone.  All day on Monday, March 16, at participating Dairy Queen and DQ Grill & Chill locations throughout the United States, DQ is offering free cones. Now why would I encourage you to have a 235 calorie treat? DQ is hoping its customers will use their visit to donate to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. All donations collected will stay in the communities where they’re raised to support the local kids at CMN Hospitals. So whether or not you grab yourself a free cone, donating to the hospital is something you can definitely feel good about.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Dr. Google

Most people probably don't use Google as much as I do. It seems I'm always Googling something, whether it's for work or this blog or just because I can never remember what holidays are coming up. When date is Easter this year, anyway?

Anyway, for the knowledge-impaired, like me, Google has been a godsend. And it just got better.

It's said that one in twenty searches are for health issues, and it can be hard to tell if you are reading a site whose advice you can trust , or advertising, or just some armchair know-it-all with a blog ...

If you've had health problems, you learn which sites are reliable after while. My personal go-tos are WebMD and MayoClinic. But if you're a newbie to Internet searches, and in the midst of a medical issue, especially, it can be very difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, or the gluten, shall we say. Google recognized this problem, and has created a database that sorts through medical info available on the web, and instead of listing sites by popularity--how many hits they get (the standard search methodology)--they are now listed by actual medical expertise, according to their Official Google Blog.

So I had to take a look. Here is a screen capture I did when searching for "headache":

Amazing! No baloney, no hit-or miss, no ads or promotions, just a lot of solid medical sites. So good on ya, Google, for helping make the Internet a safer, more intelligent, and helpful place.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Sweet Life

I remember a conversation I had once with my dental hygienist. Out of curiosity, I asked her how previous generations had cared for their teeth, professional dental hygiene being an extremely recent development, after all. She explained that they had had their own techniques for dealing with it, but that the most important factor was that they, our ancestors, didn't use sugar, so tooth decay wasn't as serious and rampant as it is today.

It's difficult to imagine a world without sugar, isn't it? For centuries, honey was the only sweetener people knew, but, unlike sugar, honey possessed certain health benefits. First cultivated in Asia, it wasn't until the eighteenth century that sugar became popular and affordable for Westerners.

Sugar has become so ubiquitous in our food today, it's rare to find an item that doesn't have it in it. Look at the ingredients of anything on a grocery store shelf, and nine times out of ten, you're going to find added sugar listed. Bread, canned vegetables, juice--my chewable vitamin C tablets! There are a lot of health reasons all that sugar is bad for us, and the threat to our teeth is just one of them.

This article describes a recent study revealing the sweet, sweet relationship that the sugar industry enjoyed with the U.S. government in the 1960's and early 70s: 
All but one member of the government task force on tooth decay also sat on the sugar industry’s expert panel, and that 78 percent of industry recommendations crept into the 1971 National Caries Program … Stanton A. Glantz, a researcher who coauthored the paper, said: “Our findings are a wake-up call for government officials…to understand that the sugar industry, like the tobacco industry, seeks to protect profits over public health.”
"Profits over public health"? Four words that I, for one, am sick of hearing.

click on the image to enlarge

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Winds of Change

As I'm sure everyone knows by now, the methane gas produced by cattle is acknowledged as a major contributor to  climate change:

Emissions of two important heat-trapping gases from agriculture account for about 6 percent of total global warming emissions in the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Beef production contributes about a third of those emissions, or roughly 2.2 percent of the total. 

"Emissions?" That would be farts. Cow farts, to be exact. Hilarious, yes, but also a very real threat to the environment. By contrast, pigs produce 6 kilograms of greenhouse gases and poultry releases only 4, (who measures this stuff and how...??) compared to cattle's 32 kilograms for the same amount of meat. Switching to poultry and pork reduces 80 to 90% of the emissions that you would eliminate by stopping your meat intake entirely. 

Like I said, this dangerous cow farting business is accepted wisdom in the scientific community, and has been for a while now. I'm not going to dispute that. However, I find I am not without questions about it, and I think a lot of other people have similar questions, too, so why not take time on this Meatless Monday to take a look at them?

Question 1: If cow farting is such a huge threat, why didn't the buffalo do us in long ago? After all:
In prehistoric times, millions of these animals roamed the North American Continent from the Great Slave Lake in northern Canada, south into Mexico and from coast to coast. No one knows how many bison there were, but the naturalist, Ernest Thompson Seton, estimated their numbers at sixty million when Columbus landed. They were part of the largest community of wild animals that the world has ever known. 
Lewis and Clark commented in 1806 that in what later became South Dakota "The moving multitude . . . darkened the whole plains." Others wrote that, when viewing a herd from a distance, it appeared the entire prairie was in motion. Army major Richard Dodge commented as late as 1871 that it took five days to pass one herd. 

Now that's a lot of buffalo. So how did we survive all that bison gas?

Question 2: Why does the blame, it seems, always get put on beef cattle? What about dairy cows? Do they not fart? Let's take a look at the graph:

McDonalds uses meat in their hamburgers? Who knew??

To review: even at their peak numbers, there weren't as many buffalo in North America in 1492 as there are cattle in the U.S. right now. And dairy cows? It's not that they aren't farting and contributing to greenhouse gases--they are. It's just that their numbers are so few in relation to beef cattle that focusing on them isn't worth doing. 

Another numerical fun fact: according to the latest census, the population of the U.S. in 2014 was 318.9 million people. If the 95 million total head of cattle were counted within that number as people, a little under 1 in 3 of us would be cows.

Back to the question of the buffalo. If, at sixty million, they were "part of the largest community of wild animals that the world has ever known", why didn't their farting jump-start climate change back when Columbus was sailing the ocean blue?

Tune in next Meatless Monday for the answer to that question, and more!

Thanks again to Big Sister Marsha, RN, MNS, for suggesting this topic!


Cows and Climate Change PDF


Beef Industry Statistics

Wikipedia Dairy Cattle

Go Indie: McDonald's Statistics

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Shamrock Shakes

It's March, the month of extremely unpredictable weather, though with a strategically placed holiday: St. Patrick's Day. Here in America, this has become a day of celebrating the Irish, in the looniest ways possible, but it's only ostensibly about them. It's really about helping us to forget, at least for a day (and a night and a painful morning-after) that Spring, though right around the corner, is still at the end of a very long, cold, miserable street. 

So don't blame the Irish, or St. Patrick, for the abomination that is McDonald's Shamrock Shake.

Now it's rare that you'll indulge in a milkshake and expect it to be anything less than a calorie bomb, double that if you are eating at McDonalds. But there's something special about a dessert that has not just 820 calories in the large (22 ounce) size, but is also home to 54 mostly mysterious ingredients: 

click on the image to enlarge

The maraschino cherry alone has 11 ingredients. 11. Ingredients. In. The. Cherry.

This article from goes even farther in-depth, listing every ingredient. and describing what it is and how bad it is for you. By their calculations, there are only 33 ingredients in this science nightmare. I'm not sure, but it may be because they only listed high fructose corn syrup once, whereas the HuffPost graphic lists it every time it occurs throughout the separate elements of the drink. Whatever. I think all reasonable people would agree that 33 or 54, that's still way too many freaking ingredients for a milkshake, especially when the vast majority of those ingredients are dangerous, health-threatening chemicals.

Look, McDonalds, you and I have never really had much of a relationship, so I know I'm not your target audience. What I wonder is, who IS your target audience? Not humans from Earth--I think that much is clear.

FYI: you can't pump us full of chemicals. We're really not made for it. It hurts us, makes us sick, and, over time, kills us. You know, makes us ex-customers. Maybe back on your home world, Carrageenan, things were different. Maybe there, the beings who came through your doors could tolerate the toxic concoctions you serve. Maybe they even thrived on it. But we humans don't; we really, really don't. So please, McDonalds, do the human race a favor: figure out how to put food in your food. Even the desserts. Even the special holiday desserts. Even the St. Patrick's Day desserts, when you think no one can tell the difference anyway. That would be really great, McDonalds.

Thanks to Big Sister Marsha, RN, MSN, for the article.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Superheroes to the Rescue!

With greater and greater numbers of children in this country becoming obese, and at high risk for other metabolic diseases, it's more important than ever that we find ways to help them eat healthier. As any parent knows, that's a tough proposition: gentle suggestions and outright nagging have limited results. As a study conducted by Cornell University researchers in 2012 found, however, kids make better choices when asked what their favorite superhero would eat:
When children were asked what various admirable people – such as Batman or Spiderman – would eat, 45% chose apple slices over French fries, which was higher than the health prime or the control condition.
The study was aimed at choices made within a fast food setting, obviously (apple slices over french fries), to see how to get kids to make better food choices within that setting. In my view, keeping kids OUT of fast food restaurants in the first place is the best way to keep them eating healthy, but that's not always an option in today's world. 

So when you inevitably find yourself there, do as the study suggests and ask your child:

"What would Batman eat?"

Monday, March 2, 2015


Christmas is full of special memories, and much appreciated gifts; especially ones that come in large styrofoam containers packed with big chunks of dry ice. When he was little, our son would spot it sitting there on our front porch, gleaming and white, and yell, "The meat box is here!" and I would know that someone had just moved up several notches on my "favorite relative" list.

I'm talking about Omaha Steaks, of course, the company that sends you meat through the mail. It may seem odd, even cruel, to be talking about animal protein in such loving terms on Meatless Monday. However, I am happy to share with you the news that this most meaty of meat providers is getting into the veggie act: Omaha Steaks has announced that it has entered into an exclusive partnership with The Chef's Garden, Inc.:
According to Todd Simon, Sr. Vice President and Family Owner of Omaha Steaks, the partnership breaks new ground because it brings the extraordinary specialty and heirloom vegetables, herbs, microgreens and edible flowers of The Chef's Garden, which have previously been sourced directly to top chefs and restaurants around the world, to consumer tables across the country.

Also supplies glamourous model shoots for Bottega Veneta shoes!

"Until now, The Chef's Garden has focused on providing vegetables to chefs and restaurant kitchens," said Farmer Lee Jones, one of the family owners of The Chef's Garden and a pioneer in the sustainable agriculture movement. "We are absolutely delighted to be working with a company like Omaha Steaks that is as committed as we are to providing premium quality food."
The current offerings include an 11 pound box of roasting vegetables, a 9 pound box of juicing vegetables, a "beauty box" which will include edible flowers, a "roots and shoots" box, and 10 pounds of something called "Nature's Color Box," a tasty-looking mix of carrots, radishes, cucumbers and celery root. These choices are each 99.99 (that's right, one cent short of one hundred bucks) except for the Beauty Box, which is 165.00. Shipping is included, tho, so that's a break, anyway.

Obviously, at 100 bucks a box, these veggies are still only within the category of "gift," not something you can use to supply your kitchen on a regular basis. And even if you DO receive it as a gift, here's hoping you are a real foodie with the equipment and know-how to turn these vegetable delights into meals and/or side dishes.

It's just interesting to see that even a meat-centric company like Omaha Steaks is recognizing the demand for fresh and healthy produce. Personally, I'd like to see the "Certified Organic" label on the veggies, but in reading about The Chef's Garden it seems they are as close to that as they can get without achieving full-on certification. For that matter, I'd also like to see OS offer organic, grass-fed beef and cage-free chicken, etc., choices, too, but maybe we'll get there eventually. In the meantime, the company's step into the vegetable patch is a step int the right direction.

Click on the link for more info: 
Vegetables from Omaha Steaks

Read more about The Chef's Garden here:
A Very Unusual Family Farm in Ohio

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Seventh Day

If you're trying to loose weight, part of a successful strategy to take it off and KEEP it off, can be to designate one day week to not dieting. You read that right. Take one day a week, and eat whatever you want, whatever it is you've been craving those other six. Pizza? Cake? Doughnuts? Ice Cream? You know you have a weakness--pick a day to indulge it!

Back me up on this, science!
Restricting calories (as most people do when dieting) can cause leptin, a hormone responsible for maintaining our energy balance and causing weight loss, to dwindle. But temporarily upping calorie intake can re-up leptin production by nearly 30 percent (for up to 24 hours). It's that quick leptin buzz that's responsible for boosting metabolism after overeating. And in addition to regulating hunger and metabolism, this hormone may contribute to increased motivation, libido, and dopamine— so after a cheat day, dieters might actually be happier and more motivated.
So pick your day, and make sure to:

(for more details, go here).