Tag Archives: health

Is veganism an eating disorder?

comic-characters-1297866_640My friend went vegan and now her hair’s falling out and her period stopped.

I don’t know how many times I’ve read something similar in the comment section of a blog post or a video on youtube. I want to talk about this because it’s a topic that touches on serious mental health issues, but also a sadly mistaken view of the vegan community as a whole. If you know someone who fits that description they may be using veganism to mask an eating disorder.

This is a challenging discussion as there’s very little to be said that can be applied to everyone, and each person can only know the truth about their own motivations for choosing a vegan lifestyle, and not everyone is honest with themselves, which muddies the waters. If you know someone who is vegan and you’re legitimately concerned about their mental health vis-a-vis their diet, you may want to put some extra time into really trying to understand the difference between an eating disorder and being passionate about vegan advocacy & caring deeply about maintaining a vegan lifestyle.

Orthorexia: the vegan eating disorder?

The main eating disorder that I want to discuss is orthorexia nervosa. The reason I’m limiting my discussion to this particular eating disorder is because it offers the most opportunity for confusion, and for people to mistakenly pinpoint vegans as having an eating disorder.

I have a real problem with the official definition of orthorexia.

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no-smoking-907087_640It seems impossible not to include vegans within this definition. No wonder people are confused! I systematically avoid foods that cause irreparable harm to myself, the planet, and trillions of animals – meat, dairy & eggs. And I also almost never eat very sugary things, like candy and chocolate. Does that make me orthorexic? Certainly not – I’m just a vegan who has never had much of a sweet tooth, even when I was a kid. Anyone who systematically avoids cigarettes and cigarette smoke or someone who is lactose intolerant systematically avoiding dairy products doesn’t have mental health problems any more than vegans do.

Veganism can be an attractive lifestyle to young girls and boys with a penchant for eating disorders and who want to be super skinny because it naturally eliminates many of the sources of dietary fat – animal products. A good sign to look for if you’re worried about someone who’s vegan having an eating disorder is the avoidance of ANY fat at all, even healthy fats like those found in avocado and nuts. But be sure that you’re aware of what actually constitutes a healthy fat. If someone is avoiding no oiloils (olive oil, canola oil, coconut oil, etc.) and products made with them (such as potato chips, margarine, etc.), that is not necessarily a warning sign! Plant-based doctors, such as Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. McDougall warn against consuming any oil at all because it clogs arteries and can lead to heart attacks. Nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, soybeans & soy products are all healthy whole-food sources of fat.

To omnivores, my diet sounds very restrictive, but in fact I eat bountifully as a vegan, so keep in mind there is a matter of perspective to account for. Having said that, if a person only eats 5 different foods, that’s objectively extreme and a clear warning sign.

Another warning sign, as mentioned at the start of this post, is hair & period loss (on any diet, by the way). Anyone experiencing this should look at the calorie density of their food. If you consistently eat food with low calorie density, then it will be difficult to eat enough calories in any given day and, if your weight falls below a healthy level, then bye-bye hair and period. It’s a natural consequence of being underweight, and an important warning sign.

Another by-product of a failure to consume a sufficient amount of calories is being nutritionally deficient. If you’re worried, get a blood test to find out if you’re getting enough vitamins & minerals.

The Bratman test for orthorexia

I believe that it’s important to look at each individual person within their own context when it comes to figuring out if they might have orthorexia. I’m going to use the Bratman test for orthorexia to show you why. It’s a series of questions to assist in self-diagnosis.

  1. Do you spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about your diet?
  2. Do you plan your meals several days ahead?
  3. Is the nutritional value of your meal more important than the pleasure of eating it?
  4. Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet has increased?
  5. Have you become stricter with yourself lately?
  6. Does your self-esteem get a boost from eating healthily?
  7. Have you given up foods you used to enjoy in order to eat the ‘right’ foods?
  8. Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat out, distancing you from family and friends?
  9. Do you feel guilty when you stray from your diet?
  10. Do you feel at peace with yourself and in total control when you eat healthily?

“Yes to 4 or 5 of the above questions means it is time to relax more about food. Yes to all of them means a full-blown obsession with eating healthy food.” (source).

I answered yes to 1,2,3,5,7,8,10. That’s a shocking 7 out of 10! And yes to 4 or 5 means that I’m supposed to “relax more about food”? Why on God’s green earth should I “relax” about food when animal agriculture is literally destroying the planet and human health? For each question to which I answered yes, I’m going to explain why, so that you know how I can feel so certain about not having orthorexia myself, and so you can see why new, more pointed, questions are needed to test for this eating disorder.

brainstorming-413156_6401. Do you spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about your diet? YES. Not only am I  a vegan who prepares virtually all the meals in my household, but I also love to cook, and am always searching for new and interesting ways to substitute for things like cream (my latest discovery is onion cream, which I now use in pasta dishes). In addition, I have 2 blogs which both focus on veganism. The other one is specifically about healthy meal planning in accordance with Dr. Greger’s recommended daily dozen. I also have a large garden, and I devote time to thinking about what I can grow that will offer the most nutritional yield for my hard work, and will also be the most cost- and space-efficient. When I’m harvesting, I like to think about meals that I can make with the food I’m gathering. This all comes back to veganism, and so, yes, I’m sure I spend far more than 3 hours each day thinking about my ‘diet’.

2. Do you plan your meals several days ahead? YES. We go grocery shopping once a week. I go with a prepared list of what I need for the week’s meals. I like trying new things, so I don’t just buy the same things every week, which means I need to plan meals and prepare a list in advance or I’ll never remember everything I need. 

horizontal-1155878_6403. Is the nutritional value of your meal more important than the pleasure of eating it? YES. Though I really enjoy cooking and love love love good food, I always start by finding something that is nutritious. If I go to a dinner party and the extent of the effort that the hosts went to to accommodate me was to cut up a few raw vegetables, well, then, that’s what I’m eating even though I’m certainly not going to get all that much pleasure out of it. It’s definitely a bummer when that happens, but I won’t compromise my health & principles just because someone doesn’t know how to use Google. But, to be fair, it’s not just about nutrition for me. I’m an ethical vegan as well, so I guess I can sort of give this a semi-yes. I’ve always made sure that I maintained healthy eating habits, and not fallen into a rut of eating lots of fatty or sugary foods. In that sense, even before I was vegan, my first priority was health & nutrition.

5. Have you become stricter with yourself lately? YES. It’s very recently that I found out that refined oil is as bad for your body as animal products, so I’ve been working to eliminate oil from my diet. I use aquafaba to replace oil in hummus and pesto and salad dressings, etc. I don’t like water-sauteed onions, though, so if anyone has suggestions for me about that, I’d be happy to hear them. 

7. Have you given up foods you used to enjoy in order to eat the ‘right’ foods? Uh. Hello. Cheese. Bacon. I even had to give up my favorite dish detergent because it has whey in it.

gossip-1385797_6408. Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat out, distancing you from family and friends? YES. I don’t let it prevent me from going where I’m invited, but I think some people don’t invite me over for dinner because it’s scary for them to try to cook vegan. When it definitely distances me from people is when they behave like asses and make fun of me, or ignorantly declare total disapproval of my ‘sissy’ ethics, ‘sickly’ diet, and ‘high-horse’ lifestyle. Yeah, whatever. Sometimes I cry a little, but then I get over it. It’s their problem, not mine. And, no matter how rude people have been, I’ve never regretted my decision to be vegan for a single second.

10. Do you feel at peace with yourself and in total control when you eat healthily? YES. Of course I feel at peace and in control of myself when I healthily. Not only am I living my ethics, but I know I’m doing as much to be in control of my own future health, well-being and healthcare costs as I know how to do, which is a good feeling. And that’s NORMAL! 

While orthorexia is as serious as any other eating disorder, and there are some orthorexic vegans out there who do need the people in their lives to lovingly and compassionately try to get them help, most vegans are not orthorexic. They are individuals who have opened their eyes to the truth of the damage that is caused by consuming animal products – the damage to the planet, to the animals, and to our own bodies, and they are acting completely rationally in the face of that information. I would argue MORE rationally than people who flatly refuse to consider veganism.

If a vegan is orthorexic, they can recover from their eating disorder while still being vegan. Here is a good discussion of that possibility.

Lastly, mainstream media sometimes uses the idea of orthorexia to try to scare people out of becoming vegan (I’m looking at you, BBC). It’s utterly ridiculous, and it needs to stop because they are doing actual harm. Don’t be afraid to:

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Is a vegan diet less sustainable than an omnivorous diet?

References to one particular study on diet and land use requirements keep popping up around the web, from various blogs and news organizations.

rude-151093_640Most of them have been quick to jump on this study because it seems to offer them an opportunity to thumb their noses and blow raspberries at the vegan community, for example, “Sorry vegans: Sticking to a meat-free, dairy-free diet is NOT as good for the planet as you might think”. Many of them start with some kind of elbow to the rib, something about how we like to think we’re better than everybody else or some such nonsense. Some are more respectful.

What all of them have in common is a serious lack of understanding of the specific point made by the authors, and even the authors themselves seem to miss the forest for the trees. I’ll explain.

First, here’s a link to the specious article under discussion: Peters et al. 2016. It’s licensed under the CC attribution license and available for everyone to read for free (yay!).

salad-1570673_640The key measure under investigation was the carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural land – basically, the annual per capita land requirements vs. amount of land available for food production when that food is in keeping with different diets. More simply, how many people can be fed with the amount of land that we have? The authors look at various levels of omnivorous diets, lacto-ovo and lacto-vegetarian, and vegan, as well as 2 variants of current consumption.

They begin with 2 fundamental assumptions: there is a relationship between diet and sustainability, specifically, “dietary change is essential for meeting future human food needs”. Agreed. Second: “sparing land from conversion to agriculture may be important for protecting biodiversity”, so it’s vitally important to understand how dietary patterns impact land use. So far, so good.

cows-1029077_640The authors caution against simplistic thinking because, though animal agriculture is the most land-intensive, the largest fraction of land it uses is for foraging and grazing, often on non-arable land – land that can’t be used to grow any crops for human consumption, though grasses and other ‘weeds’ will grow which the animals eat. So, as they point out, eliminating animal agriculture does not necessarily mean turning all its land over to cultivation.

So, I can definitely see where they’re coming from. It’s a logical argument. If we want to make the most of our land for food production purposes, then we need to use it for what it’s good for. Attempting to make non-arable land supportive of crops causes environmental devastation (just look at the Aral Sea crisis). And it’s clear from the numbers in Peters et al. (2016) that the most efficient use of land for food would include using non-arable land for animal agriculture.

There are 2 implicit assumptions the authors are making which are simply untrue. First, that there is such a thing as an omnivorous diet that is healthy. Nope. Not only is the ingestion of animal products devastating to human health, but the killing and handling of dead animals causes psychological disorders in the people who do that kind of work, and passes unknown numbers of diseases on to anyone who handles raw meat, producers & consumers alike.

Second, that the most efficient diet in terms of land use is the most sustainable diet. Efficiency does not equal sustainability, and animal agriculture is far too devastating to the environment to be considered as part of the future of a sustainable food supply. The following information and more is available on the Cowspiracy website’s fact sheet.

  • ocean dead zones, water pollution, & habitat destruction are largely driven by animal agricultureclean-1223168_640
  • livestock and their byproducts account for 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions
  • animal agriculture is the leading driver of desertification
  • the U.S. could feed 800 million people with just the grain that is currently fed to livestock (that’s more than double the current U.S. population and slightly more than the total number of starving people in the world, according to United Nations World Food Program statistics)
  • more than 80% of the world’s starving children live in countries who export their grain to feed livestock, which are then consumed by people in wealthier countries – an absolute crime against humanity

What I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t actually matter what the most efficient use of land is, because any animal agriculture at all does more harm than good and, if we turn over all the currently arable land to cultivation for human consumption, we could easily feed the global population with room to grow, and if we eventually do outgrow it, we can still work with what we’ve got and use our technology to find better solutions like vertical farming.

Something I often hear vegans say, and see in vegan blog posts is that we don’t need to consume animals and their products to be healthy and happy, but we can make a much stronger statement than that – because it’s true – consuming animals and their products at the rate we currently do is not only antithetical to human health & happiness, but even to our survival as a species.

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Leaving the Land of Nod: a vegan perspective on the Garden of Eden

How do you feel about knowledge?

It’s generally a good thing, right? Important, a worthy pursuit, advances civilization, and all that jazz? Yes, of course.

creation-47473_640That’s why I never really got the Bible story about Adam & Eve & the Garden of Eden. They were cast out of the garden for eating from the Tree of Knowledge. I couldn’t quite connect with the idea that knowledge was somehow a bad thing. I’m apparently not the only one because I’ve seen interpretations of this story saying that the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge had the power to fill man with the desire for both good and evil. But I don’t buy that interpretation. It doesn’t seem to be what was intended by the story, which speaks only of the knowledge of good and evil.

Now that I have a different perspective on the eating habits of humanity, it suddenly dawned on me to look at this story with new eyes, and I found that I have, for the first time, an answer to this riddle that works for me.

Humankind is the only species that, as far as we know, has knowledge of good and evil; in other words – we’re the only non-innocent animal in an ethical sense, meaning that we make decisions based on a thought process including the weighing of our actions against a moral backdrop rather than simply following instinct with no ethical culpability, as the other creatures on this earth.

We’re also the only species to consistently subsist on a diet that is neither natural nor healthy for us because we have the technology to go against nature. Here’s something interesting which, to me, shows that the ethic of veganism is part of our consciousness no matter how deep our culture is trying to bury it: in the Garden of Eden – the perfect paradise – animals simply exist side-by-side with man – they are not used for food or labor. But then, after being cast out of paradise, the first two “jobs” that humans engaged in (according to this story, anyway) were plant and animal agriculture. The sons of Adam & Eve were a shepherd and a farmer.

donkey-534906_640So, as we lost the innocence that goes along with ignorance, our entire relationship with the animal kingdom changed. It was no longer one of harmony, but became one of subjugation when we lost our paradise. That says to me that we have always known, in our heart of hearts, even 3500 years ago when the stories in Genesis were first written, that our relationship with the other animals with whom we share this planet is just not right. It represents a deviation from our original purpose.

book-2869_640Another word about knowledge: you’ve heard the expression “ignorance is bliss”, I’m sure. It’s easy enough to see why this is a truism, especially in this context. But what about “a little learning is a dangerous thing” (Alexander Pope)? Well, just look at us! The path we’re on is clearly destructive to ourselves, to other species, and to the planet as a whole. We’re ruining everything (I know that might sound hyperbolic, but it’s literally true) with our “knowledge” because we don’t have enough of it – you can never have enough of it. Once you’ve entered that rabbit-hole, there’s no coming out. We now have the duty of constantly trying to gain knowledge and understanding because the more we have, the less dangerous our knowledge becomes.

Simple example:

Common knowledge: protein is an essential macronutrient.

Not common knowledge: if we get our protein mostly from animal products, we’re doing ourselves more harm than good.

Not common knowledge: we can get plenty of protein from eating plants (after all, that’s where most other animals get it from).

I do have a caveat – it’s only true based on the assumption that, as humanity advances, we will also continue to grow spiritually & ethically – that personal qualities like empathy and detachment will be cultivated and will continue to spread. I see this in the vegan movement, and I used the two specific examples of empathy and detachment because they are both key qualities of successful (meaning long-term) ethical vegans. These are people who have expanded their circle of empathy, a prerequisite for compassion, as wide as they can. It’s more than that, though – developing the quality of detachment is necessary to let go of all the animal products that our society tells us we should fear being without. I assure you, there was a day when I was afraid to let go of cheese. I expressed that feeling in the following way: “I could never give up cheese!” Sound familiar? It seems silly to me now, because I don’t eat cheese and I don’t feel a sense of deprivation, but it’s normal for people to be afraid of that feeling. And it’s only after letting go that you can come to realize that your life and your food are just as interesting as they ever were. Getting to that point, though, requires detachment. While we still have the fear of letting go, we hold ourselves back from being standard-bearers of the advancement of society, and from participating in a meaningful way in literally saving the planet.

Expand your circle of empathy;

Detach yourself from what’s holding you back;

& Go Vegan. It’s worth it.

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** A note about the title, for those who are curious. I chose the “Land of Nod” for its double entendre. By leaving the land of nod I mean both waking up to the truth, and leaving exile to regain paradise.

 

Every bite counts: Parts 3 & 4.

Part 3. The People.

staples-2752_640Feeding the world is easy, and we don’t need Monsanto to do it. Did you know that there’s enough crop land in the United States alone to feed 10 billion people? One country could potentially feed the entire global population. So, why aren’t we? Because that only works if we’re not wasting our resources on animal agriculture in all its caloric inefficiency.

One acre of land can produce 40,000 lbs of potatoes, but only 250 lbs of meat.

One acre of legumes produces 10 times more protein than an acre devoted to animals raised for their meat.

70% of the grains produced in the U.S. go to feeding animals raised for food, instead of being grown for people. 80% of the world’s hungry children live in countries with food surpluses, but that food is exported to wealthier countries in order to feed animals that will be used for food. It doesn’t get more unjust than that. “Growing grain for feed instead of food may be humanity’s greatest evil yet.”

Artist: Lovis CorinthThose are all issues that you’ll hear every vegan raise. There is, I feel, a missed opportunity in the vegan movement – people that almost never get mentioned in the discussion on the human victims of this system: slaughterhouse employees. I start out with the assumption that most people who work in slaughterhouses do so because it’s the only, or one of the only, options open to them. This will be the topic of another post in the future. For the moment, suffice it to say that one of the first signs of psychopathy in children is harming animals, so why is it considered normal for someone to kill (certain) animals as an adult? Only because we don’t think about it. Society sweeps that bit under the carpet. Many slaughterhouse workers develop serious mental disorders, including PTSD, from the work that they do, and U.S. communities with slaughterhouses have 166% increase in arrests for rape compared to those without them. It is NOT normal.

The next time you buy a piece of meat, just take a moment to wonder who you paid to kill it for you and what kind of effect your demand for that piece of meat might be having on someone else’s mental health.

Part 4. The Animals.

sheep-451981_640To be honest, this is a much more important issue for me now than it was when I first decided to change to a vegan lifestyle. The environmental and health factors were enough. But, since I’m no longer emotionally invested in the ramifications of being a meat, dairy, & egg consumer, I’ve been able to mentally shine a light on those aspects of consuming animal products that were just too disturbing and painful for me to really evaluate while I was still participating in them. For anyone who has shut off that portion of your ability to deal rationally with the consequences of your actions – I get it!

Empathy is a difficult skill to develop and use because it requires that we open ourselves up to feeling pain and sorrow on behalf of others, and most of us have enough trouble dealing with our own suffering without adding to the burden. In this particular case, it also opens us up to feeling guilt, which is an unpleasant but necessary step on this path. Just remember, pain, physical or emotional, exists in order to help us avoid unhealthy behaviors.

It just doesn’t make sense that we love our dogs and cats like members of our own families, and recognize their individual personalities and their rights as living beings, while treating others as products. There’s some massive cognitive dissonance there, and it takes time to be able to confront that. If you haven’t yet watched anything like the documentary Earthlings, then whatever you imagine the treatment of these animals to be like, you can start by multiplying the horror by 10 to even get close. More than 2000 years ago, Pythagoras said,”For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seeds of murder and pain cannot reap the joy of love.”

In the end, I realized that living as a vegan is the only way for me to align my actions with my ethics.

Save yourself. Save the planet. Save the human race. Save the animals. Go vegan.

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Every bite counts: Parts 1 & 2.

apple-151989_1280This is the story of how I became interested in veganism, and an overview of some of the major reasons I decided to adopt a vegan lifestyle. It began, strangely, with smelling meat being roasted in the brand-new butcher/deli section of my local grocery store. I suddenly realized that I hadn’t eaten meat from land animals in so long that it didn’t smell like food to me anymore – it smelled like an animal was on fire, and my first instinct was to get the hell out of there. This got me thinking about using animals as food. Why was I suddenly repulsed by it? I’d been pescetarian for several years, but the smell of meat cooking had always been pleasant to me before. I had just decided to stop eating it because I knew it was pretty bad for both my health and the environment (though I had no idea at the time just how bad!). Somewhere in the back of my mind, something was telling me that I was about to embark on a journey that I had been putting off for years because I knew that, once I had the information, I would have no excuse for not changing my life. And that turned out to be true.

So, I did some research, and then I did some more, and some more…

Part 1. Health.

heart-rate-1375323_640It started with diet, nutrition, and the health of the human body, most especially my own. I watched lectures by, and interviews with, medical researchers and physicians like Dr. Michael Greger, Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Milton Mills, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, and a number of others, as well as documentaries such as Forks Over Knives, Supersize Me (even though I stopped eating fast food like 10 years ago), Vegucated, and others. I also bought and read How Not to Die by Dr. Greger. What I learned was that the most healthy diet, hands-down, is a whole foods vegan diet. Very simply put, if you completely eliminate animal products from your diet and live on fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, you’ll be one healthy sucker.

At least 68% of disease in the U.S. is diet-related. 14 out of the 15 leading causes of death are direct results of eating meat, dairy, and eggs.

A vegan diet (done properly – you can’t just have potato chips and beer) prevents, treats, or reverses atherosclerosis, multiple sclerosis, prostate, breast, ovarian, pancreatic, and colorectal cancers, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, diabetes, asthma, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, obesity, arthritis, impotence, Alzheimer’s disease, and MANY other ailments. But don’t take my word for it. Follow the links to some of the names above, and look up anything you want on nutritionfacts.org.

Humans are the only meat-eating animals that develop heart disease & other diseases as a result of eating meat, dairy & eggs. That’s because it’s not natural for us. If we pay attention to what the human body is telling us, and the massive epidemic of diet-related diseases which continue to spread and effect more and more people as a greater proportion of the global population includes higher quantities of meat into their diets (partially thanks to the global expansion of fast food giants like McDonald’s), it’s obvious that meat, dairy, & eggs are not what the human body is meant to consume.

Part 2. The Planet.

sustainability-1190327_1280Animal agriculture has a staggering impact on environmental destruction and global warming.

Animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all, yes – ALL!, global transportation combined.

The vast majority of habitat destruction, including 90% of the deforestation in the Amazon basin (a.k.a. the lungs of the planet) is for the purpose of meeting ever-increasing demands for the products of animal agriculture.

Animal agriculture is also the main cause of ocean dead zones and water pollution.

There are 1.3 million known species, with approximately 15,000 new ones being cataloged each day. Estimates of how many truly exist range from 3 to 100 million. Of these millions of species, only one (that’s us) is causing the extinction of tens of thousands of others. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction.

A diet with high meat intake – beef in particular – produces nearly 2.5 times more greenhouse gas emissions, in tons, than a vegan diet, while buying only locally-grown foods does less to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions than giving up meat for only one day per week (Weber & Matthews 2008, Scarborough et al. 2014).

Click the image to go to shrinkthatfootprint.com

Only with what I’ve described so far, it’s easy to see that animal agriculture is one of the most destructive forces on this planet, having a direct negative effect on the entire system, including on our own health. And we’re not done yet.

Parts 3 & 4

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The Trouble with Antibiotics

The World Health Organization published an admonishment in 2012, called ‘The evolving threat of antimicrobial resistance – Options for action.’ It’s been largely ignored by policy-makers in the United States, but it’s time we start paying attention, because our behavior is contributing in a big way to this threat, and it will affect people all over the world, including ourselves.

A recent study by the CDC (who is also being ignored by the policy-makers, by the way) found that there is a link between use of antibiotics in livestock and antimicrobial resistance in human infections. The study also put a number on them for the first time – more than 23,000 deaths and well over 2 million antibiotic-resistant infections in one year. You can read an article on the report here.

You may have heard people talking, perhaps on the news, about how we need to scale back on our use of antibiotics for our own ailments – true, they are over-prescribed, but that tactic completely misses 70% of the antibiotics used the U.S., which go to livestock. The way animals are raised in feedlots is bad bad bad for a number of reasons, some of which have nothing to do with animal rights. It’s bad for us, too.

Pile_of_manure_on_a_field

So how did E. coli, which grows in the guts of some animals, like cows, get on your spinach? I’ll give you a hint…

Animals raised in crowded conditions are far more likely to get sick, so they’re fed a constant low-level stream of antibiotics, some of which are also used to treat human infections. That constitutes the perfect condition for bacteria and other microbes to rapidly (in evolutionary terms) develop resistance to the antibiotics. The reason they can develop resistance so quickly is partly because they can pass on resistant genes within a generation via plasmid exchange (i.e. direct cell-to-cell contact). This is a quote from the article linked to above:

“The link between overuse of antibiotics in livestock and microbial resistance has been suspected since the 1960s, but Congress, at the behest of the pharmaceutical and livestock industries, has blocked efforts by the Food and Drug Administration to scale back their use.”

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I’d say that’s far too long a time to allow this dangerous behavior to continue, and we’re now reaching a moment in history that could have devastating effects for future generations, and even during our own lifetimes.  Here are a few of the recommendations that the WHO makes in their document:

4. USE OF ANTIMICROBIALS IN FOOD-PRODUCING ANIMALS
4.1 Require obligatory prescriptions for all antimicrobials used for disease control in food animals.
4.2 In the absence of a public health safety evaluation, terminate or rapidly phase out the use of antimicrobials for growth promotion if they are also used for treatment of humans.
4.3 Create national systems to monitor antimicrobial usage in food animals.
4.4 Introduce pre-licensing safety evaluation of antimicrobials with consideration of potential resistance to human drugs.
4.5 Monitor resistance to identify emerging health problems and take timely corrective actions to protect human health.
4.6 Develop guidelines for veterinarians to reduce overuse and misuse of antimicrobials in food animals.
5. NATIONAL GOVERNMENTS AND HEALTH SYSTEMS
5.1 Make the containment of antimicrobial resistance a national priority.

(The evolving threat of antimicrobial resistance – full text pdf of the WHO document)

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If we look at the big picture, we can easily see how devastating it will be if bacteria and other microbes that infect humans and animals develop resistance to multiple antibiotics (what we call ‘superbugs’). It would set medicine back significantly – the risk of infection would be far too high, making routine surgeries and other invasive procedures, down to the simple catheter, fraught with danger.

That is not the world I want to live in. One more reason to support local, organic, and rethink our entire food system. One more reason to be vegan. One more reason to be active in voicing opposition to a corrupt Congress.

Detox Your Cleaning Supplies

lego-568039_640You use cleaning supplies on a regular basis, hopefully, so it’s worthwhile to think about both the health and sustainability of your cleaning products. What about making your own? Right off the bat, it’s pretty obvious that you could be sending a lot less material to the landfill. Instead of using a spray-bottle once, throwing it out and buying a new one, you can reuse the same one for as long as it lasts.

It’s also a lot cheaper, pennies on the dollar, even taking into account things like essential oils (tea tree oil is a common ingredient in sustainable cleaning supplies because it’s antimicrobial, antiseptic, antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial) which can feel expensive at the initial purchase, but you use them relatively slowly.

Most importantly, manufactured cleaning supplies are typically loaded with chemicals that are surprisingly damaging to human health, for something that’s meant to be used in our homes on a daily basis. Your house could have as many as 60 toxic chemicals, most of which don’t cause an immediate acute reaction, but chronic exposure, especially in unstudied combinations, can be a very different story. Your home should be an oasis and a safe-haven, not a toxic soup. Here’s a quick list of some of the most concerning chemicals that we find in our household cleaners and why you don’t want them in your home:

Phthalates – These are not required to be listed on labels, and often show up as “fragrance.” You can be exposed to them via inhalation or skin contact, and they’re found in cosmetics, soaps, air fresheners, even toilet paper and vinyl shower curtains. The danger of this is that it’s an endocrine disruptor, which can cause abnormal growth of genitalia and hormone levels during sexual development of boys whose mothers have high exposure to phthalates during pregnancy.

Perchloroethylene (perc) – This is found in carpet and upholstery cleaners, dry-cleaning solutions, and spot removers. It’s a neurotoxin, which means it causes damage to your brain; initial symptoms include (but certainly aren’t limited to) dizziness and loss of coordination. Exposure is through inhalation: that particular smell your clothes have when you get them back from the dry-cleaner. Perc is also classified by the EPA as a possible carcinogen.

soap-41212_640Triclosan – Most hand and dish soaps that are labeled antibacterial have triclosan in them. It’s a probable carcinogen, according to the EPA, and may also be an endocrine disruptor. The most dangerous part is that it promotes the growth of resistant bacteria, not just to triclosan itself, but also to antibiotics. It’s been found in rivers and streams, and must be in oceans as well as it’s been found in dolphins. It’s possible that triclosan is contributing to the deaths of some animals from bacterial infections.

Quarternary ammonium compounds (quats) – Common in both liquid and sheet fabric softeners, as well as items labeled antibacterial, these guys, like triclosan, promote the growth of resistant bacteria. They are also a leading cause of skin irritation, and are highly suspected in respiratory problems.

2-Butoxyethanol – A glycol ether, this stuff is typically found in general-purpose cleaners, kitchen cleaners and glass cleaners. It’s not required to be listed on labels, but the EPA has workplace safety standard levels for it. If you’re cleaning at home, though, you could easily end up with levels that are higher than the safety standards, especially if you’re using these products in an enclosed space. If you inhale a little you can get a sore throat, but too much of it and you can end up with kidney and liver damage, narcosis (i.e., you pass out), or pulmonary edema.

Ammonia – Very bad to breath, ammonia is an ingredient in metal polish and glass cleaner. Also highly dangerous toxic fumes result when mixed with bleach.

Chlorine – You’re exposed to chlorine through inhalation and skin exposure when you use products like toilet bowl cleaner, mildew remover, scouring powder and some laundry whiteners. It’s a possible thyroid disruptor, and can cause acute and chronic respiratory problems.

Sodium hydroxide (lye) – Oven and drain cleaners both use lye, which is another one you’re exposed to both by inhalation and skin contact. If it so much as touches your skin it can cause burns, and breathing it in can give you a sore throat for days.

baking-soda-768950_640The good news is there are loads of recipes out there for natural cleaners that can help you stay healthy and live more sustainably. Here are some great places to look:

How to make a non-toxic cleaning kit

Homemade alternatives to harmful household chemicals (photos)

67 homemade, all-natural cleaning recipes

David Suzuki’s Queen of Green column

 

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