Friday, November 25, 2011

Now that you've finished off the turkey, dressing, pie and potatoes...

I've gotten through most of Wheat Belly. Have you read that yet? There are several interviews with the author online (here, here, here, and here, are some I read. Google "wheat belly interview" for more), if you don't know what I'm talking about.

I won't recap the book; you can find that in the interviews and reviews, I'm sure. But I am going to tell you to read it. :)

I'll tell you what surprised me.. I expected to read some non-politically-correct information about America's favorite grain (favorite food?). I expected to be fascinated by his (and he's an MD; a preventive cardiologist, I think) take on the effect of wheat on weight, health, etc. I love reading that kind of thing, and do so often. :)

I did not expect to be mad.

And I'm not mad because I dislike hearing negative things about wheat (despite the fact that my mom used to say I had a "love affair with flour" when I was a teen). I'm mad because if - if - the claims this doctor makes are even half true, then there are people I love whose lives could be so much better, but no one has told them. I'm mad because while I might be able to shift our household further away from wheat, the thought of all the cultural influences just turns my stomach. You can get away with bringing your own food to a potluck if you have a bona fide diagnosis, but if not.... oi. It's hard. And I don't necessarily mean that people are offended and despise you (although that does happen), it's just... cultural. You've stumbled upon what may be, for you, life-changing information, but the rest of the world doesn't even question the status quo. It makes me mad that what should be unifying, nourishing, and beneficial to individuals, family, and community, instead is often harmful, sterile, and (if you try to step out of that), divisive. Ugh.

I'm mad that agriculture has used science to develop food that is not more healthy  or nourishing, but that produces more, faster, cheaper. Easier to harvest, store, process... and nary a question as to whether their tinkering might be responsible for the many-fold increase of celiac disease and gluten intolerance in modern times (quick; when you were growing up, did you know ANYONE with a wheat allergy? Did you EVER see a 'gluten-free' product advertised on store shelves?). And no, it's not just more-diagnosed now (read the book).

I haven't double-checked every journal article or study or research result that the author has cited (and there are a LOT), but he has implicated wheat  in far more than just celiac and obesity. How about heart disease and arterial sclerosis? Diabetes (and Pre-diabetes)? Acne? IBS? Hair loss? ADHD? Arthritis? Dementia? Seizures? High blood pressure? Poor cholesterol/triglyceride profile... It just doesn't end. I don't know about you, but I have close friends and family members who suffer with some of these things. What if  they could be helped by eliminating this one thing from their diet? Do their doctors know this? Would they recommend it? Would they just decide that a(nother) prescription is in order?

I don't think wheat should be outlawed, by the way. :) I don't even think everyone would be wise to eschew it in all its forms, forever. I DO think that this information should be available to each person, to weigh and decide, to double-check and pray and think through... There is no such thing as choice, or consent, if you lack the appropriate information. I encourage you, if you or your loved ones have any minor (or major) health issues, or can't lose that 'belly fat', or feel like you're lacking mental clarity at times (ahem)... Give this a read. It's an easy read, with some fun, unexpected pop-culture references, but includes enough science to satisfy my appetite for "But HOW does it do that..?" I paid about $10 for it on my Kindle, but I wish I'd gotten the hard copy, so I could loan it out. :) [this title currently doesn't have the loan feature enabled, by the way, so you can't even borrow it from me if you have a Kindle.]

So now that I've told YOU about it, I'll try to stop being mad. And start being thankful ('tis the season, always!) that this information IS out there now, and it might be just what someone has been needing. There is hope. :)


Here are a few more interviews/overviews which I hadn't seen before:
Wheat Belly Blog (what?? I might've saved $10? :) )
YouTube results for this book/author

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


It's a non-traditional meal for us this year, but still so much to be thankful for.

So much.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Around Here These Days

Fall is certainly here. The nights are often in the 20s, my garden is full-on dead (but, for once, I've actually yanked a few plants and tossed them over the fence), and we use the pellet stove in the daytime (when we can get it started).

The girls are all healthy. I spent a week in October terribly sick - fever and aches were the only symptoms, but it kept me off my feet for a full week. THAT was not good for the housekeeping, let me tell you. And we ran out of bananas and eggs more than once (this whole-foods living doesn't leave much for kids to fend for themselves!). I did deign to take ibuprofen when my fever rose above 104˙, messing up lo, these many years. :)

We continue to homeschool with Ambleside Online, however, the week I was ill certainly revealed that apparently *I* am the only person who does anything around here and/or *I* am the only person who makes anyone do anything around here. These are not good dynamics. :( I do not know the answer yet, but I am praying about it, and debating on whether academics need to take a hiatus temporarily to give Real Life Skills some focus. For me, too.

The 20 pullets we raised this summer turned out to be 17 pullets and 3 roosters (I'm still wondering if I can get a refund on the pullet price I paid...), and one pullet succumbed to a Great Horned Owl. I'm sure it's no coincidence that the Devil has horns too... Anyway, the old hens are molting and taking their annual sabbatical from laying, and the new pullets have given us 2 or 3 eggs total, but production certainly isn't keeping up with our needs, so i've been having to buy eggs. Usually from an unmanned roadside cooler, sometimes from the grocer, and WOW am I reminded how blessed we are to have free-ranging hens. The product isn't even comparable to the store's.

We now officially have 3 jersey steers. We waited a long time to take care of Chuck (about a week and a half ago; nearly 6 months old) because of his Special Needs. I feed them every day now, and scratch my head and wonder if I'm feeding them enough/too much, too frequently/too rarely and the rest of it. I am fairly secure in my belief that Mae is pregnant; we boarded about a dozen ugly Angus-type cattle in September/October, and among them were 2 young bulls. There was no sign that Mae came into heat, so she probably settled after spending 6 weeks with a Highland bull before we got her. :) She is now quite tame, inasmuch as she comes near for her feed and will tolerate being touched through the fence or gate. The other day she was mooing at me near the garden, so I agreed to give her some hay (which is 100 yards or more from where I was. I walked along the fence and sang, "c'mon Mae!" and began running.. She tossed her big horns and galavanted alongside me up to the area where the hay is. I eased up before we got there, because I realized that she could toss herself right through the fence and never notice, were she inclined... :]

I 'wormed' the cattle using Shaklee's Basic H, of which I had to buy 5 gallons for over $200, because of course they've updated to Basic H2 and there hasn't been 50 years of experience to vouch for its safety or effectiveness at this application (of which Shaklee doesn't endorse). I expect I'll never have to buy from them again, considering the rates of application. :)

Hubby's work has eased up - still full time, but no on-call weekends and few after-hours projects (um, unless you count the projects *I* request...). We have been avoiding wheat for the most part, and are trying to limit the grains we eat as well. We eat potatoes, sweet potatoes and squash more often instead.

Lately I've been reading:
Rodale's Complete Book of Composting
You Can Farm
Salad Bar Beef
Wheat Belly
Folks, This Ain't Normal

Planning to Borrow (from the Library):
In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
Fast Food Nation
Omnivore's Dilemma

And wishing for:
Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live off the Land
An Agricultural Testament
Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Veganism is Ecological?

I've run across (in surprising places, sometimes) the argument that a vegetarian or vegan diet is more 'environmentally friendly' than an omnivorous diet that includes animals and animal proteins. I felt, more than knew, that this thinking was faulty (the documentary "Forks Over Knives" notwithstanding). I did know that there has been no successful or healthy people group (the world over, historically) who did not include animal protein in their diets. There were no indigenous vegetarians. :) Whether the Maasai who harvest blood and milk from their cattle (as well as eating some meat) to shellfish-eating islanders, caribou-eating northerners, fish-eating Gaelics, etc, no one ever subsisted (as a people group or civilization) without animal protein in their diets.

I have been listening to an audiobook, "Folks, This Ain't Normal" by Joel Salatin, my favorite farmer, who first introduced me to the difference between factory foods and natural, and who has inspired me for years (even if I haven't implemented much) towards producing food on our land. While this book covers a wide swath of subjects, there is one fascinating element that I'd never heard before (and I love nothing if not learning some new, interesting thing).

In a word, it is this: We need animals, specifically herbivores (that would be cattle, deer, moose, goats, sheep, etc),  to heal the earth - whether you mean air, water, or soil, doing without them would be terribly damaging to our environment. I'll try to give a brief reason as to why that is...

Herbivores graze green plants, which are solar-powered protein - protein you and I cannot access - turning it into meat and milk (proteins we CAN access). Properly managed, herbivores on pasture add to the soil. Their grazing naturally suits the strengthening of perennial grasses and legumes (plants that return every year) and weakens the annuals and weeds (things that put out seed, but whose roots do not tend to deepen and widen yearly). Their hoof-pressure also helps aerate and loosen soil, breaks down decaying matter, and allows water to soak down and microbial activity to increase. Their manure is truly an essential element for returning fertility to the soil. This is part of why a rotationally grazed pasture will strengthen over time, reducing weeds and increasing fertility, while a continuously grazed pasture will help the annual weeds and weaken forage. Grass also sequesters carbon dioxide as well or better than trees, for those who worry about carbon overload in our air.

So, to draw the line between these subjects, well-managed herbivores add greatly to soil health and atmospheric balance. Were we to all eschew beef, venison, milk, etc, what would these pastures be instead?

Well, barring the idea of just abandoning them to weeds (we have to eat SOMETHING, after all), let's assume we're vegans and plant something appropriate to our new diet. This is going to require tillage, which exposes (what was) soil rich in microbial activity to the elements. This immediately reduces that biological activity. [we could use a no-till method, but that requires copious herbicide, which also has it's downsides, obviously]. Next we will seed it with our crop of choice - usually soybeans (which have a host of reasons to NOT use as people food), perhaps a small grain like wheat or rye or barley or oats, or maybe even corn, amaranth, or teff? Kidney beans? Garbanzos? Pintos? The options are myriad, but one thing they all have in common... They are annuals. While a stand of grass puts a good portion of it's solar energy into root development (which adds to the soil, when these roots die), an annual lives to produce its seed. The bean, the grain head, whatever. So all the energy it could spare, all the minerals we expect to find in that food, are pulled from its resources and put into that seed. Plant energy (from solar), nutrients and minerals (from soil). The next step is harvesting that (each of these maneuvers probably requires petroleum-powered tractors and equipment, keep in mind), processing, storing, and finally, eating. But then what? What do we do with the field? There may be some plant detritus (straw, if it were wheat or barley, etc) but we need to eat next year too, so what will we do? One might assume that we would plant again... But remember, a huge amount of that soil fertility was taken up into our crop.. That crop was harvested off the field, so with what do we replace it? We could add (using big trucks and tractors, again) expensive, transported loads of compost, but... compost is hard to come by, since we're not raising animals for food anymore (and we can only support so many pets, right?). Barring that, we have to get some chemical (petroleum!) fertilizer to artificially prop up the plants. Keep in mind this field, were we to continue in this manner, would require more and more inputs (fertilizer, pesticides, etc) as the years go on, and our crop would be a little more deficient in trace minerals and nutrients, if it ever manages to produce as much as the first year.

Tell me which of these scenarios is better for the earth? Which adds to carbon sequestration, natural (not petroleum-based) management and fertility?

Joel goes into the historical practices, why pastures required five years of herbivores + grass to = one year of grain, why pork and chicken (omnivores, who often eat grains/seeds) are really less 'environmentally friendly' than grass fed beef (no one thinks grain-stuffed feedlot beef is good for any people or soil or air, right?), and how much we could restore to our earth (and ultimately our health), were we to shift away from grains and annuals (70% of grain produced is used for livestock food - much of it to herbivores which do not require it) and towards pasture-based animal production.

So the next time I run into the argument that veganism = environmentalism, I will want to find out if the person has considered this facet of it. I know I hadn't.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Farm Truck

Boy, I'm moving up in the world, lemme tell you...

I'll wait while you pick yourself up off the floor.



Ok, that's better.

We went and picked up a few items from my Granny's estate, and one of them was this beauty:

It's a 1963 International Scout - customized. My grandparents bought it from Granny's brother in the 1970's. Around the time I was born (1978), my mom nicknamed it "The Great Pumpkin" (she was forever naming vehicles). Grandpa chopped it somehow - turning it into a pickup, more or less. You can't tell from the outside, but inside the cab, just behind the front (and only) seat where the roof meets the rear window, there are welding marks. Maybe it used to have a backseat? I remember bouncing off the interior of this while Grandpa drove through the woods to cut firewood with my dad.

The above photo shows its extrication from the shed where it has been parked perhaps 20 years or so. You can barely see a boat suspended from the ceiling above the site where the Scout was parked; Hubby first had to disengage that boat from the upper portions of the scout; a rope had finally given way, and it's rear half had come crashing down. It has a hole, but it seems the scout isn't any worse for wear.

Hubby tried and tried to get it started, and had the engine actually running (!), but the clutch has had problems for years, and without it the PTO winch on the front wasn't going to operate anyway. We had to get it back to our area (12 hour drive minimum), so we had to trailer it, which took some doing (and 3 other pickups)...

I'm sure those old ramps will be fine...
One pickup to hold and stabilize the trailer, one to run a winch through a pulley attached to the front end of the trailer bed, and a third to eventually drive up and hold the back end of those ramp planks securely to the ground. It actually went smoothly and according to plan, about which I continue to be astonished.

Around the Scout we strapped the (somewhat rotted) side boards to the trailer (it's a hay trailer my grandpa made) and packed various boxes, bags, a bed frame, four dining room chairs... and to top it off, standing at attention in the back of the Scout was a push lawnmower - you know, the kind with whirling blades and no motor? I've always wanted one of those!

We may or may not have looked like the Clampetts on the road home...

Here's a view of the svelte interior of my new rig: 

All original interior
We've made some upgrades. We've removed the dog food bag (and scrap of what looked like a sheep skin) from the seat (of course, now the hole with springs is exposed, but anyway..). We've washed the algae and moss from the windows.

And that's about it. 

I need to reattach the nylon strap that keeps the driver's door from slamming into the front fender when it opens.

We're hoping to return it to its former glory, which included both first gear and reverse, and I will have a handy mobile toolbox (and kid hauler) to use to:
     a) fix fences 
     b) transport cheap livestock from nearby neighbors 
     c) show off in local car shows.

Not really on that last one.

I bet I could brood chicks in the bed of it, though...

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Relative Abnormality

Now that things are slowing down (outdoors) and I have time to read and think more (oh, you thought I should have time to do laundry and mop more? Hm, maybe you have a point...), I get that double-dose of entertainment from my choices.

The first dose, I assume, is common to us all. We make a choice to read or research something because we are interested in it. And then, "yay, what a fun thing to read/learn/do!"

The second dose, for me, may be unique. I analyze just what it is that I am so thrilled to read, and I laugh out loud and shake my head at the subject matter.

Take this, for instance:
by J. I. Rodale

I borrowed this gem from a friend and market-gardener. But seriously??? Over a thousand (fairly antiquated) pages about compost? This is what thrills me???

And because yes, it does, I am entertained all over again.

But even I didn't expect there to be paragraphs to take my breath away. Man, they could write back in the day. Listen to this:

"One man will say, "From whence will come the raw materials with which to make compost?" and go straightaway to the chemist for a bag of something. He thus identifies himself as part of a system of soil banditry - taking, but hot giving.
Another man does not question. He knows that God gave an adequacy of everything and that if he seeks he shall find. He goes forth upon the highways and ventures into the byways. He comes home laden with the necessary stuffs, the wherewithal to mix a dish fit for the most savory carrots or the most exotic zinnias. He is weighted down with humus materials, both animal and vegetable, which the unknowing bystander considers trash or worse, but which, like the touch of Midas, will turn into gold under his competent hand."
Be still my heart.

I am finding compost poetic. We are talking here about scrounging manure (or maybe even roadkill??) and... it's beautiful.

Trust me, if this were anyone else, I'd be laughing at them. How can I do less to my own self?