Monday, October 8, 2012

Plant-based diets

Plant-based Diets best for Heart Health
Now that I’ve past 50 I’m starting to feel old. Not physically or mentally, but socially. You see, one of my college friends recently had a heart attack. Then soon after, my dear brother-in-law, discovered one of his main aortic arteries was 90% blocked and had to have a stent inserted. Both are doing well, thankfully. But this was a wake up call for me as well as them. Our health can be a life-or-death matter.
Astonishingly, nearly 800,000 Americans will have their first heart attack this year (1). And over 2500 people will die from heart disease this year in King County alone (2). The costs of this, both emotionally and financially, are enormous.
We have to ask ourselves, are we doing all we can do to best protect our hearts and bodies? Unfortunately not. The evidence is clear on this. A whole foods, plant-based diet not only has been shown to not only stop heart disease but to reverse it. That’s right. If you don’t want to worry about getting a heart attack, you don’t have to – if you’re willing to radically change your diet!
Over sixty years ago a doctor took 50 heart attack survivors, and put half on a low-cholesterol diet. The survival rate of this group eight years later had doubled. Remarkably this study was forgotten, although researchers at the National Heart Institute soon noted that the risk factors for heart disease were blood pressure, cigarette smoking, physical activity and obesity as well as cholesterol.
However, it wasn’t until the 1990’s that two prominent doctors, Dr. Dean Ornish, a Harvard Medical School graduate, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr. at the famous Cleveland Clinic each published definitive studies that showed heart disease was reversible. Of Dr. Esselstyn’s patients, over 70% saw an opening of their clogged arteries when put on a strict low-fat, low-cholesterol diet. Meanwhile, Dr. Ornish added moderate exercise, relaxation and group support to the dietary changes and saw that over 80% of his patients had regression in their heart disease after only one year.(3)
One person who paid attention was former President Bill Clinton. After a quadruple bypass in 2004, and a stent procedure in 2010, Clinton finally decided enough was enough. It was time to treat the cause of his disease and not the symptoms. Under advice from Ornish and Esselstyn, Bill went vegan, losing 24 pounds in the process. (4)
It may well be that humans are just not adapted to eat animal products for long term. Sure we can survive on them. But eventually they kill us, clogging up and inflaming our arteries, promoting common cancers, helping cause diabetes, kidney disease, osteoporosis, and a host of auto-immune diseases. The science is in. Good reviews are provided in books such as The China Study by Professor T. Colin Campbell, and The Starch Solution by Dr. John McDougall, among others.
However, the response of the medical community to this information has been muted. They might acknowledge it, but they hardly advertise it. After all, the financial health of the medical industry depends on a steady supply of sick and dying people. Only the rare doctor will counsel their patients to drop meat, eggs and dairy entirely and replace them with lots of fruit, vegetables and whole grains, thereby providing them with the information that could deliver a long and healthy life. Instead, most doctors will prescribe pills and offer surgery, along with some half-hearted advice to eat healthily and exercise.
And in fact, most people don’t want to hear the news. It never ceases to amaze me that many of my well-informed friends dismiss the vegetarian diet. They might exercise regularly, or buy local, organic produce. Even buy low-fat products. But cut out meat? Isn’t that dangerous? Sadly, I see so many of my friends put on weight, continuing on their path of cutting short their lives because of their addictive and self-destructive eating habits.  (Of course, there are some vegetarians who do eat unhealthily as well, consuming lots of high-fat and processed, sugary foods.) But with the exception of vitamin B12 (which is found in nutritional yeast), we can get all our protein, iron, calcium and other nutrients from a varied vegan diet that contains fruits, legumes, whole grains and leafy vegetables. (A vitamin D supplement is also recommended because of our lack of sun in Seattle.)
And yet, it has never been easier to make the switch to a plant-based diet. Resources abound on the internet, in dozens of exciting cook books and in local vegetarian support groups. Seattle regularly ranks highly in the top vegan-friendly cities and hosts an annual Veg Fest. The website can help get you started.
And even if you’re not ready to make the switch right away, start by increasing the amount of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your diet every day. Your heart will thank you.
(3) Data on these two paragraphs from The China Study, T. Colin Campbell, chapter 5.
Colin Wright

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Peak Energy Liberation (5/07)

Recovered a copy of this essay after it was lost when the Eat the State archives were reorganized

Peak Energy Liberation by Colin Wright May 24, 2007

As if oil depletion wasn't scary enough, now comes news of Peak Coal. According to the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas, a peaking of all oil and natural gas will come as soon as 2010. Now we have a detailed report that US, Chinese and global coal production could all maximize by 2020 (see Since these three fossil fuels represent over 87 percent of total world energy, Peak Energy is really just a few short years ahead, probably between 2010 and 2020. Could alternatives fill the gap? Unfortunately not. According to Richard Heinberg, "a realistically possible 2.5 percent annual decline in all fossil fuels averaged over the next 20 years would require developing almost 10 quads of energy production from new sources each year." Then consider that the current world amount of installed wind and solar capacity, the result of many years of effort and investment, stands at less than one quad. Neither could nuclear be expanded quickly enough. Future prospects for an expanding industrial society look grim. In fact, "collapse" is a common word in the Peak Oil literature. The pithy title of Richard Heinberg's 2003 book The Party's Over sets the tone. Yet, is doom-and-gloom just over the hill? What if the Party was just beginning? What if energy depletion was really liberation from oil and coal (and global warming angst) and it led to liberation from oppressive workplaces and alienating governments? And why not? We have all we need for satisfying lives: plenty of company, art, food, technology, money, even energy, at this point. All we have to do is demonstrate to people how to channel their creativity into building sustainable, walkable communities with non-polluting renewable energies and low-input manufacturing and agriculture! I don't believe the current paradigm--corporate-dominated governments, free markets, individual material accumulation--can do this. In fact, because world economic growth is dependent on cheap energy, many Peak Oilers believe world GDPs will begin to shrink. As the capitalist economy contracts, we will have plenty of time to re-employ laid-off people in cooperative workplaces. (The Mondragon region of Spain provides an example.) That will require the expertise of local and state governments, non-profits and the cooperative sector to redesign workplaces to meet more and more of our needs regionally, if not locally. Above all, it will have to call on people's suppressed talents to work for the community in new democratic ways. All we have to fear is orthodoxy, cynicism and paralysis. How much of the human spirit is repressed dealing with the stultifying atmosphere of hierarchical workplaces and overbearing bosses? Much more than we think, I believe. People have a need to be part of active communities that accomplish tasks, without fear of being fired. It's in our DNA. It's how we thrive. Barn-raising, with a keg and a pizza. When people are forced to work for money and survival by selling their souls to the highest bidder, much of their life/psychic energy goes into maintaining their equilibrium. It's an emergency response that we inherited that was only supposed to be used for short periods of time. We cannot flourish in such an environment. But for over a million years, our bodies and minds have evolved to enhance group survival. Freedom and cooperation, perhaps even group competition, provided the species with the maximum flexibility and creativity to fill all existing land niches on the planet, from desert to tundra. That's why the most fulfilling feelings we are capable of (things like a sense of accomplishment, love, friendship, etc.) are all related to others and the group (or, in some cases, nature). My suspicion is that the coming decades could be among the best for many privileged communities. Those with social stability, responsive governments and local resources will be best-suited for the transition to low-carbon economies. (Others may fragment, if they can't keep the lights on and the water running.) We can hope that energy depletion rates will be mild enough to allow most communities to adapt. Lessons learned can now be sent around the world in microseconds. And there is nothing like a crisis, even a drawn-out planetary crisis, to focus the mind. In the words of Studs Terkel, ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things. We must continue to push at the national level for an end to war and militarism, and a redistribution of money to social and infrastructural needs, including mass transit and renewable energies, including wind, solar, geothermal, wave and tidal. We must work for global justice, and equitable, aggressive global warming agreements that will preserve the world's remaining forests and the biosphere. But it is at the local level where people can work together to make quick progress, which can feed into the social movements we so badly need. We are at a unique point in human history. Can it be a turning point? Can we put together all we have learned to provide meaningful and sustainable lives for all? Perhaps, but I think we must act as if we can. The secret may just be in unleashing the freedom of the individual to work for the good of the community (without coercion, needless to say). To turn from self to other. That released social energy could just more than compensate for the decline in fossil fuel energy. Together we thrive, or individually we will all sink.

Letter to Seattle Times on the Death Penalty, 9/23/11

The company we keep

What do these countries have in common: China, Iran, North Korea, Yemen and the United States?

Well, excepting the U.S., you might guess authoritarian government is the common factor. But these are the top five countries for execution by death penalty for 2010. Meanwhile, our neighbors to the north and south and all of Europe have long abolished capital punishment.
With the recent executions of Troy Davis and Lawrence Russell Brewer, we are reminded that the U.S. remains on the wrong side of history, if we conceive that the future will be more civilized than the past.

Since 1964, we have had expanding definitions of what constitutes a hate crime. Yet it seems to me that the death penalty itself constitutes a hate crime, though one legitimized through government. For how much longer?

— Colin Wright, Seattle
Also, a shortened version made the Sunday print edition.

Androfeminism. What is it?

Forthcoming...the main idea is that we need a new category of feminism that explores how men can learn from and contribute to the liberation of women, and in the process free themselves from the oppressive and constraining features of contemporary masculinity. A separate category is necessary because of the tendency of men to dominate - even the most learned and sensitive men are fighting against a lifetime of privilege. As I see it, androfeminism would be a safe place for men, in interaction with the feminist community, to unlearn sexism but in the context of co-creating a feminist world.

Some may object that we already have terminology like "male feminist" or "pro-feminist", but these categories to me are deficient. A "male feminist" risks mistaking his thoughts and actions, however well-intentioned, as equivalent to "female feminists". Gender distinctions will still be with us for a very long time. "Pro-feminist" is better terminology for men who wish to change patriarchy, but sounds to me more appropriate for men standing on the sidelines cheering feminists on. We need a category that suggests more activity for men, changing themselves as well as patriarchal structures of power.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Letter to the Times on NAFTA (Oct. 2010)

Kate Riley makes a seemingly straightforward case for allowing Mexican truckers onto U.S. highways: Washington apple growers are being hit with a 20 percent tariff on their exports to Mexico [“Obama administration needs to resolve Mexican tariff dispute,” Opinion, Oct. 26]. It is time, she opines, for the Obama administration to meet its NAFTA obligations and open up the highways.

What she leaves out, though, would be the impact of the loss of American jobs to Mexican truckers. In fact, not only would we lose trucking jobs but the lower labor costs would exert downward pressure on all our wages. And that is what NAFTA and free-trade advocates don’t tell us. They promote a “race to the bottom” that hurts both U.S. and Mexican workers, while increasing profits for corporations, now “free” to troll for the lowest wages.

If the Obama administration were really intent on meeting NAFTA obligations, why does it not enforce the labor standards that were once-upon-a-time part of the agreed-upon side agreements used to sell NAFTA to the American people? Instead, conservative Mexican president Calderón is now “free” to use brutal military repression on striking workers at the Cananea copper mine, for instance. Without a peep from Obama; or The Seattle Times for that matter!

In any case, what sense does it make, in a time when we ought to be decreasing our carbon footprint, that we entice Mexican workers (forced off their land by cheap U.S. agricultural imports) to come to Washington state to pick apples destined for the Mexican market? Why not promote the Mexican apple market by encouraging the Mexican apple industry to produce locally?

— Colin Wright, Seattle

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Letter to the Seattle PI (Aug 2010)

Time for a Green New Deal

The economy continues to slide, with what looks like a double-dip recession not far away. News of housing, stocks, and unemployment look grim. As consumers pull back, we could even see the onset of deflation like that which killed Japanese growth for over a decade. Meanwhile, world demand for oil is approaching the level which kicked off the Great Recession in 2008, which could mean another oil spike as soon as next year.

Surely it is time for President Obama to replace his economic team and bring on New Deal policies in earnest. Economic measures which increase productive activity will pay for themselves over time, and can be funded by restoring the upper-income tax levels of the Clinton years and paring the bloated military budget. Putting people to work on needed projects will pay dividends to them and to us.

The calling of our time is to save the world from runaway climate change. Meanwhile, peaking oil production will bring severe stress to the U.S., the country most heavily dependent on automobiles. These two factors can be mitigated if we design government projects that transition us to renewable energy, rail-served urban centers and sustainable agriculture. By doing so, we will expand the manufacturing base which will grow the economy. We may even save the planet for future generations.

If not now, when?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

National Energy Corps (Nov 2006)

Letter to Editor

I read with interest U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott's proposal for one year of national service for young people, including possibly in the military (Wednesday).

I hope he is open to a related suggestion. First, we withdraw from Iraq, and shrink our armed forces by cutting the military budget by 25 percent. After reparations, we use that savings of more than $100 billion for a national energy conversion program to wean ourselves off foreign oil. At the same time, we would be well on the way to joining the world community by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.
An Energy Corps of young people could retrofit every house and building in the country for energy conservation. It could help build local solar, wind and biomass facilities as well as upgrade an aging electrical grid. It could help set up a transportation infrastructure that reduces our reliance on oil, including more public transit, pedestrian sidewalks and bike paths. Finally, it could help foster a local agricultural economy, whereby much of our food could be grown without costly petrochemicals and long-distance transportation.

Many respected economists are afraid that we are entering a major recession. Many independent geologists say that the world's oil production will peak by the end of the decade. We can either wait and see if the are correct or we can take preventive action by stimulating our economy and moving toward a peaceful, sustainable way of life that heads off the worst of global warming and ensures that civilization will continue into the next century.

I trust McDermott is not asking for an even bigger military. But how about proposals more in line with the challenges we face?

Colin WrightSeattle