|Issue #50 - November 2006|
As of Friday October 6, 2006, my website www.foroptimalhealth.com, is up and running.
Here are some pages that are of particular interest:
Store: On this page you will find some of the more common items from Emerson. This allows you to conveniently order from my website. If one of the products that you use is not listed here let me know and I will add it. You can always order by phone from Emerson at 800-654-4432.
Here you will find all 50 issues of my health newsletter, "Naturopathic News".
This is a community calendar open to all of you. Please use it to post events and special dates that you would like to share.
You will also find the dates that I am out of town as well as my classes and lectures.
FOOD LABELS-BEEF Part 1
I've wanted to expand on some of the recent articles I've posted concerning grass fed and organic beef. I've decided the best way to do this is to reproduce an article written by Michael Pollan that appeared in the New York Times in 2002.
"Discover How Your Beef Is Really Raised", by Michael Pollan, New York Times, March 31, 2002 Part 1
Garden City, Kansas, missed out on the suburban building boom of the postwar years. What it got instead were sprawling subdivisions of cattle.
These feedlots -- the nation's first -- began rising on the high plains of western Kansas in the 50's, and by now developments catering to cows are far more common here than developments catering to people.
You'll be speeding down one of Finney County's ramrod roads when the empty, dun-colored prairie suddenly turns black and geometric, an urban grid of steel-fenced rectangles as far as the eye can see -- which in Kansas is really far.
I say ''suddenly,'' but in fact a swiftly intensifying odor (an aroma whose Proustian echoes are more bus-station-men's-room than cow-in-the-country) heralds the approach of a feedlot for more than a mile.
Then it's upon you: Poky Feeders, population 37,000. Cattle pens stretch to the horizon, each one home to 150 animals standing dully or lying around in a grayish mud that it eventually dawns on you isn't mud at all.
The pens line a network of unpaved roads that loop around vast waste lagoons on their way to the feedlot's beating heart: a chugging, silvery feed mill that soars like an industrial cathedral over this teeming metropolis of meat.
I traveled to Poky early in January with the slightly improbable notion of visiting one particular resident: a young black steer that I'd met in the fall on a ranch in Vale, S.D. The steer, in fact, belonged to me.
I'd purchased him as an 8-month-old calf from the Blair brothers, Ed and Rich, for $598. I was paying Poky Feeders $1.60 a day for his room, board and meds and hoped to sell him at a profit after he was fattened.
My interest in the steer was not strictly financial, however, or even gustatory, though I plan to retrieve some steaks from the Kansas packing plant where No. 534, as he is known, has an appointment with the stunner in June.
No, my primary interest in this animal was educational. I wanted to find out how a modern, industrial steak is produced in America these days, from insemination to slaughter.
Eating meat, something I have always enjoyed doing, has become problematic in recent years. Though beef consumption spiked upward during the flush 90's, the longer-term trend is down, and many people will tell you they no longer eat the stuff.
Inevitably they'll bring up mad-cow disease (and the accompanying revelation that industrial agriculture has transformed these ruminants into carnivores -- indeed, into cannibals).
They might mention their concerns about E. coli contamination or antibiotics in the feed. Then there are the many environmental problems, like groundwater pollution, associated with ''Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.''
(The word ''farm'' no longer applies.) And of course there are questions of animal welfare. How are we treating the animals we eat while they're alive, and then how humanely are we ''dispatching'' them, to borrow an industry euphemism?
Meat-eating has always been a messy business, shadowed by the shame of killing and, since Upton Sinclair's writing of ''The Jungle,'' by questions about what we're really eating when we eat meat.
Forgetting, or willed ignorance, is the preferred strategy of many beef eaters, a strategy abetted by the industry. (What grocery-store item is more silent about its origins than a shrink-wrapped steak?)
Yet I recently began to feel that ignorance was no longer tenable. If I was going to continue to eat red meat, then I owed it to myself, as well as to the animals, to take more responsibility for the invisible but crucial transaction between ourselves and the animals we eat. I'd try to own it, in other words.
So this is the biography of my cow.
The Blair brothers ranch occupies 11,500 acres of short-grass prairie a few miles outside Sturgis, S.D., directly in the shadow of Bear Butte. In November, when I visited, the turf forms a luxuriant pelt of grass oscillating yellow and gold in the constant wind and sprinkled with perambulating black dots: Angus cows and calves grazing.
Ed and Rich Blair run what's called a ''cow-calf'' operation, the first stage of beef production, and the stage least changed by the modern industrialization of meat.
While the pork and chicken industries have consolidated the entire life cycles of those animals under a single roof, beef cattle are still born on thousands of independently owned ranches. Although four giant meatpacking companies (Tyson's subsidiary IBP, Monfort, Excel and National) now slaughter and market more than 80 percent of the beef cattle born in this country, that concentration represents the narrow end of a funnel that starts out as wide as the great plains.
The Blairs have been in the cattle business for four generations. Although there are new wrinkles to the process -- artificial insemination to improve genetics, for example -- producing beef calves goes pretty much as it always has, just faster.
Calving season begins in late winter, a succession of subzero nights spent yanking breeched babies out of their bellowing mothers. In April comes the first spring roundup to work the newborn calves (branding, vaccination, castration); then more roundups in early summer to inseminate the cows ($15 mail-order straws of elite bull semen have pretty much put the resident stud out of work); and weaning in the fall. If all goes well, your herd of 850 cattle has increased to 1,600 by the end of the year.
My steer spent his first six months in these lush pastures alongside his mother, No. 9,534. His father was a registered Angus named GAR Precision 1,680, a bull distinguished by the size and marbling of his offspring's rib-eye steaks.
Born last March 13 in a birthing shed across the road, No. 534 was turned out on pasture with his mother as soon as the 80-pound calf stood up and began nursing. After a few weeks, the calf began supplementing his mother's milk by nibbling on a salad bar of mostly native grasses: western wheatgrass, little bluestem, green needlegrass.
Apart from the trauma of the April day when he was branded and castrated, you could easily imagine No. 534 looking back on those six months grazing at his mother's side as the good old days -- if, that is, cows do look back.
(''They do not know what is meant by yesterday or today,'' Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, with a note of envy, of grazing cattle, ''fettered to the moment and its pleasure or displeasure, and thus neither melancholy or bored.'' Nietzsche clearly had never seen a feedlot.)
It may be foolish to presume to know what a cow experiences, yet we can say that a cow grazing on grass is at least doing what he has been splendidly molded by evolution to do. Which isn't a bad definition of animal happiness.
Eating grass, however, is something that, after October, my steer would never do again.
Although the modern cattle industry all but ignores it, the reciprocal relationship between cows and grass is one of nature's underappreciated wonders.
For the grasses, the cow maintains their habitat by preventing trees and shrubs from gaining a foothold; the animal also spreads grass seed, planting it with its hoofs and fertilizing it. In exchange for these services, the grasses offer the ruminants a plentiful, exclusive meal.
For cows, sheep and other grazers have the unique ability to convert grass -- which single-stomached creatures like us can't digest -- into high-quality protein. They can do this because they possess a rumen, a 45-gallon fermentation tank in which a resident population of bacteria turns grass into metabolically useful organic acids and protein.
This is an excellent system for all concerned: for the grasses, for the animals and for us. What's more, growing meat on grass can make superb ecological sense: so long as the rancher practices rotational grazing, it is a sustainable, solar-powered system for producing food on land too arid or hilly to grow anything else.
So if this system is so ideal, why is it that my cow hasn't tasted a blade of grass since October?
Speed, in a word.
Cows raised on grass simply take longer to reach slaughter weight than cows raised on a richer diet, and the modern meat industry has devoted itself to shortening a beef calf's allotted time on earth.
'In my grandfather's day, steers were 4 or 5 years old at slaughter,'' explained Rich Blair, who, at 45, is the younger of the brothers by four years. ''In the 50's, when my father was ranching, it was 2 or 3. "Now we get there at 14 to 16 months.''
Fast food indeed.
What gets a beef calf from 80 to 1,200 pounds in 14 months are enormous quantities of corn, protein supplements -- and drugs, including growth hormones. These ''efficiencies,'' all of which come at a price, have transformed raising cattle into a high-volume, low-margin business. Not everybody is convinced that this is progress. ''Hell,'' Ed Blair told me, ''my dad made more money on 250 head than we do on 850.''
Weaning marks the fateful moment when the natural, evolutionary logic represented by a ruminant grazing on grass bumps up against the industrial logic that, with stunning speed, turns that animal into a box of beef. This industrial logic is rational and even irresistible -- after all, it has succeeded in transforming beef from a luxury item into everyday fare for millions of people. And yet the further you follow it, the more likely you are to wonder if that rational logic might not also be completely insane.
In early October, a few weeks before I met him, No. 534 was weaned from his mother. Weaning is perhaps the most traumatic time on a ranch for animals and ranchers alike; cows separated from their calves will mope and bellow for days, and the calves themselves, stressed by the change in circumstance and diet, are prone to get sick.
On many ranches, weaned calves go directly from the pasture to the sale barn, where they're sold at auction, by the pound, to feedlots. The Blairs prefer to own their steers straight through to slaughter and to keep them on the ranch for a couple of months of ''backgrounding'' before sending them on the 500-mile trip to Poky Feeders.
Think of backgrounding as prep school for feedlot life: the animals are confined in a pen, ''bunk broken'' -- taught to eat from a trough -- and gradually accustomed to eating a new, unnatural diet of grain. (Grazing cows encounter only tiny amounts of grain, in the form of grass seeds.)
It was in the backgrounding pen that I first met No. 534 on an unseasonably warm afternoon in November. I'd told the Blairs I wanted to follow one of their steers through the life cycle; Ed, 49, suggested I might as well buy a steer, as a way to really understand the daunting economics of modern ranching.
Ed and Rich told me what to look for: a broad, straight back and thick hindquarters. Basically, you want a strong frame on which to hang a lot of meat. I was also looking for a memorable face in this Black Angus sea, one that would stand out in the feedlot crowd.
Rich said he would calculate the total amount I owed the next time No. 534 got weighed but that the price would be $98 a hundredweight for an animal of this quality. He would then bill me for all expenses (feed, shots, et cetera) and, beginning in January, start passing on the weekly ''hotel charges'' from Poky Feeders.
End of Part 1, read Part 2 of "Discover How Your Beef Is Really Raised" in the next issue of Naturopathic News
DR. PAIS'S COMMENTS: Michael Pollan receives my vote for writing the best food-related book I've read this year, "The Omnivore's Dilemma". If you haven't yet read this book I highly recommend it. It is an excellent portrayal of what we choose to eat and how that food is produced.
FLU VACCINE IS USELESS, EXPERT SAYS
Inactivated flu vaccinations may be waste of time and money, new research shows. Influenza vaccination programs, which cost nations millions of dollars every year, could be a waste of time and money, says Dr. Tom Jefferson of Cochrane Vaccines Field, based in Rome, Italy.
The leading health expert studied the effects of inactivated vaccines (vaccines with dead viruses) and concluded that flu shot campaigns have either no effect, or a very negligible effect, on the number of hospitalizations, work/school time lost, complications from flu, or death from flu.
"I looked at the evidence described by systematic reviews and confronted it with policy and I found that there is a massive gap. Almost none of the benefits that these policy documents list are actually given by inactivated vaccines or, if they are, they are given in slighter measure," says Jefferson, who co-ordinates the vaccine group at the Cochrane Collaboration in Rome, which reviews health treatments.
The researcher suggests the ineffectiveness of flu vaccine could be a result of diagnosing too many influenza-like respiratory illnesses as flu (when they are not).
"In most surveillance systems, you actually have an almost year-round epidemic which, in fact, is not influenza. It's caused by other agents," Jefferson says.
"This confusion leads to a gross overestimation of the impact of influenza, unrealistic expectations of the performance of vaccines and spurious certainty of our ability to predict viral circulation and impact," he wrote in the British Medical Journal.
The British Medical Journal (BMJ), October 28 2006
DR. PAIS'S COMMENTS: It's that time of year again. You'll see more and more articles about the flu. There will be a great furor about any perceived shortage in the flu vaccine, real or not. What can you do proactively?
When you first feel yourself becoming sick, there are things you can do to avoid becoming ill or shorten the duration of illness. These suggestions are especially helpful if you do them early on--as soon as possible. They will help you fend off the flu and colds.
Eat Very Lightly Or Not At All. With most illnesses, the appetite is diminished. This is a natural response of the body. Energy is needed to fight off the "bug" and the body doesn't have the energy to process food. Give your digestive tract a rest!
Get Rest As Soon As Possible. Many people ignore the early warning signs of illness, and keep working until they "drop." You will take longer to heal if you allow the illness to get a foothold. If you feel a sore throat, headache, congestion, etc. coming on, take it easy. If possible, take a day off from work. This may prevent you from having to take several days off later on.
Drink Plenty Of Fluids. This standard advice is, in fact, good advice. You can clear a " bug" out of your system with lots of good water and herb teas.
Vitamin C protocol. Taking Vitamin C to bowel tolerance.
Readers of past newsletters will recognize Oscillococcinum as the homeopathic remedy to take at the first sign of illness. You might wonder, "Doesn't each case have to be individualized to get the best results?" The answer is yes! However, if you can't get to your homeopath soon enough to be treated Oscillococcinum may work for you.
Oscillococcinum is the name of the remedy produced by the company Boiron. The company Dolisos makes the exact same remedy under the name Flu solution. Either will work.
You may ignore the dosing instructions for Oscillococcinum. Yes, I said ignore. The dose on the label says take 1 vial, which contains about 70 pellets or so. However, as with any properly made homeopathic medicine, 1 dose is 1 pellet. So each vial contains at least 70 doses. That is more than enough to last you and your family through several flu seasons-very cost effective.
If it fits your symptoms you will see results after 2 or 3 doses. If there is no response after the first couple of doses it is not the correct remedy for you and you should stop taking it. I usually take 1 dose (1 pellet) as soon as I notice the first symptom. Then a second dose within the next 6-8 hours if there has been no improvement in my symptoms. Often that's all it takes.
Researchers found that recovery within 48 hours of treatment was 63% greater in the Oscillococcinum group than among those given a placebo. This study, done at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany and published in the April 1998 issue of the British Homeopathic Journal, lends support to the results of an earlier study published in the prestigious British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology in 1989.
Both studies were clinical trials, using standard double-blind, placebo-control methodology. "Oscillococcinum is the only homeopathic flu medicine that has been shown, in multiple clinical research trials, to have an effect greater than a placebo," says Jennifer Jacobs, an M.D. in Edmonds, Wash., who also holds a MPH in epidemiology and does research at the University of Washington.
In France, where Oscillococcinum is the top-selling, over-the-counter flu medicine, it is common for it to be kept on hand during flu season so that it can be taken at the first sign of fever, chills, aches and pains.
Papp R, Schuback G, Beck E, et al. Oscillococcinum(R) in patients with influenza-like syndromes: a placebo-controlled double-blind evaluation.
British Homeopathic Journal 1998;87:69-76.
Ferley JP, Zmirou D, D'Adhemar D, Balducci F. A controlled evaluation of a homeopathic preparation in the treatment of influenza-like syndromes.
British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 1989: 27; 329-335.
I am often asked what supplements I recommend. Many of you have been surprised to discover that I favor food over pills; lifestyle changes over fads. I have been working with nutrition for 30 years, herbs for over 20 years. Where and when appropriate I recommend them to my patients. I strive to act from knowledge, experience, and research.
Emerson Ecologics (800-654-4432) carries almost all of the nutritional supplements and botanical extracts that I think are useful. Their customer service is excellent and their delivery is reliable (often only 2-3 days to this region). It's a great way to get physician quality products at reasonable prices.
To offset the cost of shipping, reference my name when you establish your account and receive a 10% discount on every order. If you have any questions about these items feel free to email me.
That's it for this issue of Naturopathic News. If you've thought a bit extra or learned something new, then I achieved my goal. As usual, if you have questions or concerns brought up by these subjects, let me know.
Gregory Pais, ND, DHANP