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Food fight! Eat real food, part 1. June 30, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I was absolutely outraged to read an article in the July/August 2013 issue of The Atlantic called “The Cure for Obesity: How Science Is Engineering Healthy Junk Food.”

The author, David H. Freedman, basically says that no one will ever eat real, healthy food, and that the only solution is to eat reduced-calorie junk and fast food that’s been engineered to be better for you than the hi-cal, hi-trans-fat junk we’re all (supposedly) stuffing ourselves with now. As an example, he suggests that manufacturers put somewhat healthy ingredients in the middle of their candy bars and assume no one will notice.

He also demonizes the people who suggest that we try to cut down on processed foods and eat more whole, fresh foods, such as veggies, fruits, and carbs like brown (as opposed to white) rice. And he especially hates proponents of organic and locally grown produce. Using author Michael Pollan as an example, he has a section called “Michael Pollan Has No Clothes,” and refers throughout the article to those who try to promote a healthy whole-foods diet as “pollanites.”

This article is such a tangle of ignorance and pretzel logic that it’s challenging to even know where to begin. So I’ll begin where he does: with three smoothies. Smoothies are an easy target because they’re trendy among health-obsessed stars and athletes, sort of a pretentious excuse for a milkshake. They can also contain stomach-churning combinations of ingredients.

In fact, one of the three smoothies the author tried was made from green vegetables, and despite being super-healthful and low-cal, he couldn’t finish it, noting that it “smelled like lawn clippings and tasted like liquid celery.” Besides, it was… green.

I have to agree with him there. Drinks just shouldn’t be green, unless they’re limeade, margaritas, or mojitos. I don’t care how healthy it is, it’s just wrong. (I felt the same way when I was served a margarita once that was the precise color of blue mouthwash. It tasted fine, but still. “Blue agave” doesn’t bring that color to mind, and I know my agaves.)

The author also tried a smoothie made fresh tableside at another restaurant using organic produce, including an apple, blueberries, carrots, and kale. Despite the presence of kale (which I love, but would prefer to eat, not drink), he found this one “tasty,” but decided all on his own that it contained 300 calories per 16-ounce cup.

How could the produce that he mentions, without added fat or sugar, add up to 300 calories? Let’s do the math: apple, 95 calories; 1/2 cup blueberries, 42; 1/2 cup chopped raw carrot, 26; 1 cup raw kale, 33 calories. I don’t know how your calculator’s working, but mine says that’s 196 calories, 239 if you use a whole cup of blueberries.

Finally, he tells us, he strikes gold on the third try, “with a delicious blueberry-pomegranate smoothie that rang in at a relatively modest 220 calories.” He bought it at McDonald’s. He may have bought it, but I’m not buying his argument. I looked up the ingredients in a McDonald’s smoothie, and here’s what I found:

True, they have 210-220 calories for a small (12-ounce) smoothie, about the same number as a small order of fries or a medium Coke, according to Martha Edwards on the blog That’s Fit (www.thatsfit.com, “McDonald’s Smoothies: More Calories Than a Cheeseburger?”). It’s cheating to compare a 12-ounce drink to one with 16 ounces, but even so, the 16-ounce, fresh, organic, actually healthy smoothie only had 19 more calories.

Large (22-ounce) McDonald’s smoothies have 330 calories (more than a cheeseburger), and 70 grams of sugar, derived from pureed fruit, fruit juice, added sugar, and of course, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup in that low-fat yogurt, which also—vegetarian spoiler alert!—contains gelatin. And needless to say, it’s not organic.

How much sugar is 70 grams, exactly, for those of us metrically challenged types? A teaspoon of sugar weighs about 4 grams. Ten teaspoons of sugar would then weigh 40 grams, and 70 grams of sugar is more than 18 teaspoons of sugar, more than a third of a cup. Forget the obesity epidemic, Mr. Freedman, ever heard of the diabetes epidemic? Sugar is a cause of inflammation, the underlying cause of chronic disease, from diabetes and heart disease to non-genetically induced cancer. Bring it on!!! As he says in the article, “Thanks, McDonald’s!”

This is enough droning on for one day, but, in the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I’ll be back.”

‘Til next time,



A superhero we all can relate to. June 28, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Okay, so the Man of Steel is once again fighting greed and corruption, and the Lone Ranger is righting wrongs out West. But what if the wrong you need to fight is something you were born with, or something that happened to you?

Wouldn’t it be great to have your very own personal superhero, a superhero who was fighting to save you, a superhero who was you? The other day, our friend Ben wrote a post, “Making a difference” (check it out via our search bar at upper right or just scroll down), about three young men whose online presence, despite severe disabilities, was changing the world. Two of these are brothers, Kambel and Kantai Smith, both of whom battle autism.

Autism is a prison of fear and confusion: Behind its bars, your oversensitive system reacts to stimuli such as noise and touch with terror, and you fail to register facial expressions or the meaning behind vocal intonations or body language, so your interactions with other people are often fraught with misunderstanding.

Bestselling author, scientist and professor Temple Grandin, who herself has severe autism, has likened the condition to the feelings of a prey animal, in essence a sheep who’s always waiting for the wolves to close in. Imagine living in a world in which the chatter and music in a restaurant are as loud as a sonic boom, or someone’s touch on your arm is like an electric shock.

A person with autism can respond to these experiences with anything from rage and roaring to trying to protect themselves through hiding, arms crossed over their face or lifting a menu before them like a shield, or with soothing behaviors, such as rocking back and forth or squeezing themselves between rigid surfaces, where they feel protected and safe. (Dr. Grandin created a “squeeze box” to calm herself.)

If this all seems incomprehensible to you, I strongly recommend Mark Haddon’s bestselling novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. (The title is based on an episode from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s chronicles of one of my heroes, Sherlock Holmes.) Mr. Haddon’s mystery is based on his work with autistic children, and its autistic hero, Christopher, will win your heart even as he solves the crime.

The struggle autistic people face to find a place in our world doesn’t make them less human, less intelligent, or less creative. Quite the opposite. High-functioning autism (formerly described as Asperger’s syndrome) is characterized by very high intelligence. My own nephew, who suffers from this, knew the names and traits of every African ungulate (his favorite animals, such as antelopes) by age three and has taught himself Latin and Greek by age 16.

Lonnie Smith, Kambel and Kantai’s father, saw this genius and potential in his sons. Together, they created a superhero, Survivor, who bravely battles the dreaded League of Diseases, headed by his nemesis, Cheeo, whose chief weapon is depression. Kantai’s animated realization of Survivor, Cheeo, and the other characters in the ongoing animated series, “Survivor Evolution,” can be seen on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/user/KNSnetwork. Please log on and check it out and subscribe, it’s fantastic!

Kantai just graduated from high school, and both boys, thanks to Lonnie’s unfailing support, are now bound for associate degrees in media arts. May Survivor live long and prosper, and bring the family prosperity as well!

As Lonnie reminds me, and all of us: “Cheeo is the greatest enemy of all Autisarians because he comes from within. He is pure evil, but wherever evil exists there is always an overwhelming force of good to fight it. I AM SURVIVOR!”

As, God willing, are we all.

The search for the perfect climate. June 27, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. You could say that my comfort zone is more like a stripe. I can’t endure heat or humidity, much less heat and humidity. And I hate frigid, snow- and ice-bound conditions as well. My comfort stripe falls in the pleasantly cool to pleasantly warm range, say, 60 to 75 degrees F., and I’d like it to stay there around the year. (Well, maybe one snowstorm on Christmas Eve so we could have a white Christmas, but then snow begone ’til next year.)

But where, oh where, does such a place exist?! I left my native Nashville because I couldn’t endure the hot, humid summers, and moved up north to our present home in scenic Pennsylvania. When I moved, summer temps in our area seldom rose above the low 80s, and the humidity was bearable. Now, it routinely hits the 90s (and above) for days or weeks on end, with the hot-washrag cloak of humidity plastering the heat to your body. Gack!

Every summer, I tell our friend Ben that it’s time to pack up and head to Nova Scotia. Mind you, I’ve been to Minneapolis and Montreal in the summer, and they’re not just delightful cities, but the climate—at least back when I went—was deliciously pleasant. However, I still remember seeing the glassed-in walkways high above the streets in Minneapolis and asking my friend Cole, who then lived there, why they were there.

Yikes! I can’t recall glass enclosures like that in Montreal, but the thought of temperatures so low and snow and ice so high for months on end curdles my blood. Where, oh where, are the temperatures moderate all year long?

This morning, after weeks in the high 80s and now high 90s, I suggested to our friend Ben that, given global warming, perhaps we should move to Iceland. But OFB, who not only studied the old Icelandic sagas in grad school but has a far greater knowledge of world geography than yours truly, pointed out that Iceland is home to several active and dangerous volcanoes. So much for that. I’d rather die from heat stroke than from a Pompeii-style live burial.

I’m not too fond of hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis or tornadoes, either. I’d like a tranquil, temperate place with lots of (calm) water. Anybody have a recommendation?

If not, and if global warming continues at this pace, perhaps one day you’ll read a post from me or OFB from our comfy new home in the Arctic Circle.

‘Til next time,


How to tell if you’re part French. June 26, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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We’ve all heard about the ubiquitous urine tests to find out if you’ve taken drugs, and the false positives that result from eating a poppyseed bagel. But now a simple, free, at-home urine test can apparently determine whether any of your ancestors were French.

Obviously, if you’re of pure French descent, this is beside the point. But if you’re of British or British-American or British-Canadian or British-Australian or British-whatever descent, and have any interest in your ancestry, it’s fascinating, in a gross sort of way. Sure, you could invest big bucks in genetic testing to determine your ancestry way back to, say, the first blue-eyed person (and apparently every blue-eyed person, including our friend Ben, is descended from that one person). But how fun and irresistible to try this simple home test.

What do you have to do to perform the test? Eat asparagus.

That really is all there is to it. Well, eat asparagus, and urinate some time later. If your urine has that distinctive “after-asparagus” smell, you’re part French. If it doesn’t, you aren’t. (And if it does, you know what I’m talking about.)

As everyone knows, in Britain, the Celts came first, the Romans second, the Angles and Saxons (and Viking raiders) third, and the Normans last. Our friend Ben’s Semmes ancestors came to England with William the Conqueror, so of course I knew that I had French blood. But, ahem, the asparagus test would have confirmed it even if I didn’t have a clue.

Ah, yes, the scientific proof: The British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology published the results of a study that determined that 46 percent of Britons, but 100 percent of French people, experienced “asparagus urine.”

The Shape article where I read this via Yahoo! didn’t provide a link to the original research, so I have no idea why the research was conducted, or whether the researchers arrived at the same conclusion or had some other goal for their study and didn’t even address British ancestry.

So of course now I’m curious about people who have neither British nor French ancestry. Do people from all the “Romance countries”—France, Italy, Spain, Portugal—experience the asparagus effect? What about everyone else? Feel free to eat some asparagus and let our friend Ben know.

So far, this research has been limited to the British and French. Opening it up could take us back to a single ancestor, like that first blue-eyed woman or man.

Ancestry can divide or unite, or divide and unite. As we follow our people back in time, it’s inevitable that we’ll connect with more people, and more people, and more people, as the spiderweb of our lineage stretches out. If only we could truly internalize that, if we went far enough back, we’d find our relationship to all people, that everyone was our relative. Maybe such a simple understanding could change the world.

Meanwhile, eat your asparagus. Apparently, it’s good for the kidneys.

The perfect party. June 25, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Every year, my friend Cole celebrates his birthday in late August with a huge outdoor party. As a fan of cooking and of international cuisine, I really love what he’s doing.

That’s because every year, Cole picks a country and highlights its cuisine at the party. When he sends out the party invitations, he mentions the theme, giving guests plenty of time to bone up on the national cuisine. Then they’re asked to make a regional dish and bring it to the party in lieu of a gift.

Be it this year’s featured cuisine (Spanish) or previous years’ (Indian, Vietnamese, Ecuadorean, Moroccan, Korean, Ethiopian, Japanese, Turkish, or whatever), the food is always delicious and exciting, and the variety is always staggering, given the number of guests. I’m sure that this year, from tapas to paella, the dishes will be amazing.

Maybe you don’t want to have a guest list that numbers in the dozens, and maybe you’d rather eat inside when the temps hit the 90s with humidity to match. But that doesn’t mean you can’t stage your own international cuisine party. (And of course, you don’t have to wait for your birthday!)

Like Cole, after choosing the theme, you can cook some of the dishes yourself. Maybe you won’t end up feeling like you’ve actually gone to Crete or Sicily or Botswana or Hong Kong. But I promise, you’ll feel a lot closer. Fun!!!

‘Til next time,


Caprese salad my way. June 23, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. I love the flavors of Caprese salad: The ripe heirloon tomatoes, the fresh mozzarella, plenty of basil leaves, the drizzling of premium olive oil and that dash of really good salt (we like RealSalt) and fresh-cracked pepper. Yum!!!

But I also find something missing, and that’s body. Crunch. The ultimate thing that makes a salad satisfy. You’ve got flavor, you’ve got protein (the fresh mozzarella). All you need is a good, crunchy substrate. I find Romaine lettuce to be a perfect match for Caprese toppings. But a classic mix of Romaine, Iceberg, shredded carrots, and sliced radishes would also work.

You don’t want the assertive, bitter flavors like those of radicchio or endive or escarole competing with the basic Caprese ingredients here. And much as I adore arugula, I’d use it sparingly in this salad or skip it, since it would compete with the basil. I would, however, add onion to the mix, be it sliced green scallions, diced sweet onion, or diced or sliced red (Spanish) onion. Onion brings out the flavor and richness of a good extra-virgin olive oil, and that makes the salad more satisfying.

So there you have it: classic Caprese ingredients, crunch, and that delicious, healthful oniony bite. Oh, yes. Oh, yum!!!

‘Til next time,


Is obesity a disease? June 22, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. The American Medical Association recently joined a number of other major organizations in officially declaring obesity a disease. This has caused considerable debate in the medical community, with some arguing that obesity is caused by poor food choices, eating too much, and lack of exercise, while others insist that it is in fact a disease, a potentially lethal disease (since it ups the chances for a range of diseases, such as diabetes and cardiac arrest).

Whatever it is, a third of American adults are now classified as overweight, and another third as clinically obese. That would be two-thirds of the American adult population, and the number of overweight and obese children is also shooting up.

But, as I just discovered, there is hope for those of us battling belly fat or the extra ten or 20 pounds. Our friend Ben had brought me the July/August issue of Mother Jones because its lead story was “Gagged by Big Ag,” and he knows how much I hate Monsanto and all it and companies like it stand for. But frankly, I didn’t really need to see any more photos of murdered pigs and the like; I know more than enough about the horrors of factory farming, GMOs, etc., and have been a vegetarian and ardent organic gardener my whole adult life as a result. (You can access the article, if you have the stomach for it, at http://www.motherjones.com/.)

What caught my eye was another in-depth article, “Did the War on Microbes Make Us Fat?” (Sadly, I couldn’t find this one on their site, so if you want to read it, you’ll have to buy the mag or download it on Kindle.) It was a fascinating article with no horrible torture photos. And it presented a third view of what obesity is.

The research that it documented suggests that disrupting our intestinal flora, through eating high-fat, low-fiber, sugar-laden foods, is the cause of obesity and the host of ills it contributes to. These foods favor certain damaging gut bacteria and wipe out others, and the damaging bacteria cause inflammation, which at this point is thought to cause metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer, as well as disruption of hormonal functioning, which can lead to everything from sexual dysfunction to depression. Yowie kazowie!

It’s apparently not how much we eat, but what we eat (or don’t eat), that’s causing the damage, coupled with our obsession with anti-bacterials, from mouthwash to hand sanitizers and antibacterial soaps and cleaners of all types, which wipe out the protective bacteria along with the “bad” bacteria. Cultures the world over that are exposed to a wide range of bacteria don’t suffer from obesity and related diseases, even if they indulge in rich, fatty foods. Being exposed to pets and farm animals and soil and other “dirty” (but natural) sources of bacteria is healthful, not harmful.

Short of eating soil, how can we take advantage of these research findings? First, we can eat fermented foods, such as yogurt, miso and shoyu, kimchi, and sauerkraut, all packed with “good” bacteria. (Hey, isn’t wine a fermented food? Just sayin’.) Next, we can eat plenty of whole grains, beans, greens, and fruits—all those veggies your mom always said were good for you—and avoid fatty processed and fast foods. (Sadly, this includes white rice, white pasta, white-flour breads, bagels, grits, popcorn, and anything else that requires plenty of butter, cheese, cream and the like to taste good, not to mention those McMonster burgers, fries, fried chicken, and the like, and of course non-fruit desserts.) Good news: potatoes and sweet potatoes both made the “good guy” list.

Finally, you can try taking probiotics, prebiotics, or a combination (synbiotics) to repopulate your intestines with healthy colonies of good bacteria. The research still is out about the effectiveness of getting your bacteria from capsules rather than nature, but my view is can’t hurt, might help.

As Columbo would say, however, there’s “just one more thing.” And it was a huge shocker. As a vegetarian, I’ve never been on one of those high-protein, low- to no-carb diets. But they sure are popular. The article noted that diets of this kind—mentioning Atkins as an example—created a bacterial profile in the gut that had been linked to colon cancer. Let me just say, it’s not worth dying to be thin.

‘Til next time,


Weird robins. June 20, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading.
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Silence Dogood here. Hawk’s Haven, the property our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA, is full of trees. We have dozens of trees. So why are our robins all nesting on our house?!

The robins nest on (or next to) our air conditioners. They nest on the bends in our downspouts. They even nest on a grapevine wreath on our front wall.

If I were a robin, I’d try to hide my nest in a big, leafy tree. I wouldn’t be exposing my nest and endangering my offspring by building a nest on somebody’s house. And then flying away every time anybody and/or their dog leaves said house, exposing eggs or nestlings to the cold. Yowie kazowie.

Anybody know why this happens?

‘Til next time,


Making a difference. June 19, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben has written in the past about two boys with autism, Kambel and Kantai Smith, and their heroic father, Lonnie Smith, who discovered his sons’ talents and enabled them to create a superhero, Survivor, online. Survivor battles the League of Diseases and his archenemy, Cheeo, whose chief weapon is depression, in a series of animated features, “Survivor Evolution.”

Their website is called The Inspire Weekly (http://theinspireweekly.com/). If you suffer from autism or Asperger’s (high-functioning autism), if your kids do, if you know anyone who does, I urge you to discover this wonderful site, and wonderful story, for yourselves. (Our earlier posts on the topic are “Autism rocks” and “Autism STILL rocks,” which you can check out by typing their titles or simply typing “autism” in our search bar at upper right.)

Today, I’d like to highlight another blog that’s making a difference. It’s called “Laughing at My Nightmare,” and is written by Shane Burcaw, a 21-year-old who suffers from a rare and particularly disabling form of muscular dystrophy, spinal muscular atrophy, which has confined him to a wheelchair since age 2. Shane’s blog has burgeoned into a non-profit organization, Laughing at My Nightmare, Inc., whose mission is “to promote positivity and fund muscular dystrophy research” through events like walks and runs. Read more at http://www.laughingatmynightmare.com.

Frankly, people like the Smiths and Shane Burcaw put the rest of us to shame. While we’re whining about eating a bad dinner or having to wait ten minutes in a grocery line or an annoying coworker, they’re using their creativity to overcome unspeakable odds and changing our world for the better. Maybe it’s time we listened up.

Doh! Finally, I understand the difference between # and @. June 17, 2013

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The Wall Street Journal published an article this morning on the importance of using hashtags (#whatever) to promote your business. It’s an excellent article, helping readers figure out how and how not to use hashtags.

But it was even more useful to a Luddite like yours truly, because until I read it, I hadn’t understood the distinction between # and @, and I’d been terribly confused. Now I understand that @ is a Twitter convention, but # can be used anywhere, including Facebook.

As a Luddite, I’ll never use Twitter or Facebook, but at least now, thanks to the WSJ, I understand the lingo. If anybody else has been confused by this, I hope it’s now cleared up for them as well.