Five-year food security plan

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

I spent a full year searching for a property where I could grow as much of my own food as possible. From the moment I stepped foot on the land we bought, I started visualizing my new garden 10 years down the road. Amazingly, it only took five years to achieve year-round self-sufficiency in fruits and vegetables. Now I know that urban gardeners on Vancouver Island could achieve food security with their own five-year plan. It could look something like this:

Year one: edible landscaping. Year two: fruit and vegetable gardening. Year three: winter food gardening. Year four: seed saving for future harvests. Year five: four-season production using local seed banks.

We are beginning the ninth year on our property so I thought I’d share what we did on The Garden Path with you:

Amending the soil: With 15 feet of clay fill to work with, this was a no-brainer! How to change a cracked substrate with no earthworms into a fertile organic loam in a few months? First, Maverick Excavating came to break up the clay and then we mulched like mad, with what I refer to as “The Four Secrets of Successful Soil Building” – compost, manure, leaves and seaweed. By adding six-inch layers of these organic amendments in the fall, we were able to turn compacted clay into friable soil, with good tilth and teaming with earthworms by April the following year.

The best part is these organic soil amendments are free and freely available and are often regarded as waste. If urban gardeners linked with rural farmers and used their manure, we could easily solve a big waste disposal problem. If gardeners kept their leaves and fed them back to the soil, we would save a lot of money by the city not having to pick them up and we wouldn’t have to drive to the works yard to buy the leaves back as mulch. There’s a good joke here.

Building a greenhouse: I chose a glass and metal frame model, but there are other options. Due to erratic weather, I now grow seedlings for transplanting whenever possible. If you don’t have the luxury of a greenhouse, you can improvise with cold frames and cloches.

Designing the garden: Maverick Excavating dug up a 50 sq. ft. area, which was divided into four quadrants with a circular bed in the middle. This layout works well for crop rotations, which break the lifecycle of pests and diseases.

We grow food year round in the main garden because in our temperate climate there’s no need to leave beds empty from October to April; there are 50 varieties of different vegetables that can be harvested throughout winter.

The “Berry Walk”: I planted a 50-foot-long border with raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries and Josta berries, all of which were under-planted with “Totem” June-bearing strawberries. They thrive in the same conditions.

The fruit orchard: A small orchard of 10 trees was planted in the second year. Dwarf and semi-dwarf saplings of apple, pear, cherry and plum trees were planted 15-feet apart in two rows of five because I visualized an avenue of trees with a canopy of fruit, providing shade for summer banquets.

The arbour: In year three, we scoured the forest to build a 50-foot-long arbour for kiwis, grapes, climbing berries and thornless blackberries. The berries are very ornamental as they ripen from red to black.

Seed saving: Over the years, more garden beds were added for seed saving. Plants adapt to the conditions in which they grow, which is why using organic seed is best when you are an organic gardener. Local seeds also have an edge in that they become adapted to the local climate conditions.

Willows and bamboos: These are useful, renewable resources for the garden. In future years, the bamboos and willows I have been planting will provide material for obelisks, arbours, trellises, screens, fences and teepees.

The native edible plant walk: next on the list – I’ll keep you posted.

Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide. She grows her certified organic “Seeds of Victoria” at The Garden Path Centre where she blogs The New Victory Garden online.

Big pharma breaks the law and pays up

DRUG BUST Alan Cassels

“Drastic action is essential to preserve the integrity of medical science and practice and to justify public trust.”

– Journal of the American Medical Association

You can learn a lot about the effects of drugs and the actions of drug manufacturers by peering into a courtroom. When you hear what the companies themselves have to say, in sworn testimony, about their drugs or their marketing tactics, you realize that we in the general public really only have an iceberg tip’s worth of information about any drug on the market.

You can’t deny that courts of law can get at a certain purity of truth, which emerges from the wringer of the legal system.

Exhibit A to support this argument is a major lawsuit settled last month in the US against drug giant Eli Lilly. The company was ordered to pay $1.42-billion (US) to settle criminal and civil investigations. These charges stem from the way the drug manufacturer marketed its antipsychotic drug Zyprexa, (generic name olanzapine). Lilly executives explained that the key charge centred on how Lilly was advertising Zyprexa for ailments for which it was not approved.

A company trying to license its drug will come to the regulator with a series of claims of what its drug can do. It is only those claims deemed to be supported by sufficient evidence that get approved by the FDA or Health Canada. However, while drugs are licensed only to treat certain specific conditions, our doctors are free to prescribe any drug for any patient for whatever reason they see fit, approved or not approved. The issue of “approval” is important because a company can only market its drug for “approved” uses. In other words, if your drug is approved to treat toenail fungus, the sales reps can’t go pushing the drug for erectile dysfunction. That’s against the law.

Zyprexa belongs to a relatively new class of antipsychotic drugs approved to treat people suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. I thought, OK, there can’t be that many schizophrenics or people with bipolar out in society so antipsychotic drugs like Zyprexa wouldn’t have much of a market. I was wrong. Lilly has sold nearly $40 billion (US) worth of Zyprexa since it was approved in 1996, making it, in fact, one of the biggest-selling drugs in the world.

Many of us had sensed there had to be something illegal about the way the drug was being marketed, but we had to wait until the court documents revealed what was actually happening.

A huge blockbuster drug, approved only for the treatment of relatively uncommon diseases, was obviously being taken by millions of people – despite its known and fearful side effects (mainly weight gain and diabetes) and its documented life-threatening severe adverse effects, (heart attacks and strokes). So why was an antipsychotic like Zyprexa so widely used?

The answer is what we call “off-label promotion.” According to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, Lilly said it promoted Zyprexa for elderly people in the treatment of dementia, which is a use strictly not approved by Health Canada or the US Food and Drug Administration. The US attorney handling the case told a press conference, “Lilly completely ignored the law,” making “hundred of millions of dollars” from illegally promoting Zyprexa.

Here’s the main kicker: not only is the drug not approved to treat dementia in the elderly, but Health Canada has said that prescribing this drug to elderly people is something that should emphatically not be done due to the risk of strokes. Yet if you were to wander the halls of the average seniors home in Canada, you’d find as many as a quarter of the residents taking these drugs.

Exhibit B in my argument that the law courts are great places to look to expand our knowledge about drugs is the drug Neurontin (gabapentin). This drug will go down in the history books as being off the scale in terms of its off-label promotion. Neurontin was approved in the mid-1990s as an “add-on” therapy for what they call “partial complex seizures.” A small market, right? I mean, how many people suffer seizures and would therefore need drugs like Neurontin? Seems like a lot. By 2004, nearly $3 billion worth of the drug was being sold.

David Franklin, a whistleblower from Parke-Davis (later bought out by Pfizer, which marketed the drug), set the wheels in motion for a huge lawsuit that followed. The result was public access to some of the most complete court documents ever assembled around the aggressive, off-label marketing of a drug. In the passage below, Franklin relates what a Parke-Davis executive said to him and his fellow sales people:

“I want you out there every day selling Neurontin… We all know Neurontin’s not growing for adjunctive therapy, besides that’s not where the money is. Pain management, now that’s money. Monotherapy [for epilepsy], that’s money… We can’t wait for [physicians] to ask, we need [to] get out there and tell them up front. Dinner programs, CME [continuing medical education] programs, consultantships all work great but don’t forget the one-on-one. That’s where we need to be, holding their hand and whispering in their ear, Neurontin for pain, Neurontin for monotherapy, Neurontin for bipolar, Neurontin for everything. I don’t want to see a single patient coming off Neurontin before they’ve been up to at least 4800 mg/day. I don’t want to hear that safety crap either, have you tried Neurontin, every one of you should take one just to see there is nothing, it’s a great drug.” (From The Neurontin Legacy: Marketing through Misinformation and Manipulation by C. Seth Landefeld, M.D. and Michael A. Steinman, M.D., published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Jan. 9, 2009.)

It would become the mother of all court actions against illegal marketing by a company; the payouts were almost a billion dollars, at that time the biggest legal action ever taken against a drug company. The court documents reveal the whole gamut of tricks used to manipulate information: suppressing publications, training and using local doctors to serve as paid speakers for the drug, cultivating “thought leaders,” influencing academics with research grants, appointing people to “advisory boards” that worked to launder payments to physicians and lots and lots of “unrestricted educational grants” to do what was needed to sell this drug.

In an article in December’s New England Journal of Medicine, it was noted that the marketing of Neurontin was based on “the systematic use of deception and misinformation to create a biased evidence base and manipulate physicians’ beliefs and prescribing behaviours.”

The 8,000 pages of corporate documents now in the public domain reveal the tactics used by a company to create a multibillion-dollar blockbuster out of a drug that should have gone nowhere. These documents are available in a searchable digital library at the University of California in San Francisco. (www.dida.library.ucsf.edu). The class-action suit which followed also generated detailed testimony, searchable through the US Federal Judiciary’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records Service Center.

How much off-label prescribing happens? About 20 percent of drugs in the US are written to treat a condition for which the drug was not approved, according to a 2006 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

What’s a patient to do in all of this? For starters, ask your doctor, “Is this drug you are about to prescribe me actually “approved” for the condition or disease for which I would take it? It might be best to first try the proven, standard and “approved” therapies.”

Clearly, we shouldn’t have to wait for the courts to tell us what is happening behind the scenes about how drugs are being used. Better research and regulation on how drugs are actually being used in the market (and what kinds of effects they have) are needed.

In Canada, a group of academics and health policymakers have been trying for several years to make the case that Canada needed better ways to research and assess the safety and effectiveness of drugs as they are used in the “real world.” In mid-January, Canada’s new Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced that the government was committing $32 million over four years to create a research network to “enhance national capacity for research on the safety and effectiveness of drugs used by Canadians.” This is about the best news on the drug safety front we’ve seen in a long time.

We shouldn’t have to rely on the courts to provide independent, unbiased evidence to help answer important questions about the drugs we take every day. Publicly funded research that is free from pharmaceutical industry influences will help a lot. The new $32 million is hardly what you’d calldrastic action on the drug safety front, seeing as this represents about 1/1,000th of Canada’s annual drug bill, but it could be a step in the right direction. There is no doubt that the time has come to start creating systems to ensure safe and effective use of drugs in Canada.

There is no use waiting until the courts have their say.

Alan Cassels is a drug policy researcher at the University of Victoria.

He uncovers the world of cancer screening in a two-part radio documentary, You are Pre-Diseased, airing on CBC IDEAS at 9:05 pm, February 12 and 19. Mark your calendars.

cassels@uivic.ca

The heights of the fall

by Shakti Mhi

Dedicated to Daniel, who was there for me with his whole being.

My body was in motion, falling 30 feet down. As I fell, time didn’t slow down; it simply stopped. Maybe because I fell at the speed of light, or when you take off from your usual orbit, the laws of nature cease to exist.

As I was in the air, I was very clear and relaxed. I thought, “Is this going to be the end?” I felt a bit disappointed as I was in the middle of teaching a yoga teacher training program and I had a few things to do in my life. I didn’t resist the fall with my body; I let my body fall like a heavy pillow and I hit the rock on the ground. The impact was incredible; bones and flesh hitting the ground at a speed that is only meant for diving birds. I lost my breath but not my consciousness. I watched my body in its stillness; no air moved in or out. I knew at this moment I was entering a new era of my existence, but I wasn’t sure if it was in the form of death or a new kind of life.

I wondered if the reason I was not breathing was because one of my ribs had pierced my lung. I decided to gather all the energy that was left in my broken body and force a deep inhale into my shocked lungs. There is a good reason why in Zen it says, “If you are aware of your breath, you are aware of the moment.” I guess the last time I had been forced to inhale so intensely was when I was born. I felt so much joy when my lungs started to move, vacuuming the air in.

The aftermath

I knew my spine was broken and my next thought was, “Am I paralyzed?” I searched for my toes, but it wasn’t easy to map them in my brain. I was determined to find the group of muscles responsible for moving my toes. I did and when they moved, I was in bliss. I checked my legs and was thrilled to feel them moving. My left hand was lying beside me with no life in it. Broken bones were exposed to the air covered with a jungle of dark mud. I thought of the long journey before me. I was on a small island off the main coast of Thailand that had no medical facilities and the only way back was on a tiny boat on a stormy ocean. Honouring my practice, I knew there was only one way for me to go through the ordeal: being in the moment.

Lying on the ground, waiting for an emergency team to arrive, I had to restrain my mind from leaving the moment and wildly galloping into the unbounded desert of fears, doubts, worries and the replay of moments that had past. I needed to be 100 percent focused, tuned in and crystal clear. I couldn’t afford to lose any energy by letting my mind wander outside of the moment.

People carried me from the jungle to the beach and the pain was unbearable. I knew if I identified with the pain it would swallow me alive and I would lose consciousness. So I started to say loudly, “I am not this body and this pain is not me.” I kept repeating it as a mantra until I established a state were I was fully able to watch the pain, knowing it was in my body and knowing that it was not me. It helped me to manage the pain as a separate thing from my self. When I was informed that it would take some time for the speedboat to arrive, I started to chant like there would be no tomorrow. I chanted so loudly that people started to move towards the beach thinking maybe there was a Satsang going on. I couldn’t understand where this powerful voice came from in my broken, bleeding body. But I didn’t care; my intense chanting established life in my injured body by evoking Prana and circulating it in my physical and energy bodies.

And the journey began – endless moments of awareness, bliss and gratitude for being alive. When I arrived at the hospital a few hours later, I was informed that it would take another six hours for the surgeon to fly in from Bangkok. I asked Daniel to remove the big clock from the wall across from my bed, as I needed to bend time to my own terms to survive the long wait. The next thing I heard was the surgeon explaining how serious the injury was. He suggested surgery for my spine. I went within my self and came back with an assertive command not to touch my spine, just to care for my hand. They respected my wish, but didn’t support it.

What made this experience so powerful and spiritual is that I was forced to immerse fully into the moment and move beyond space and time, move beyond all concepts of pain and pleasure, of good and bad. I experienced each moment as it was.

Another significant aspect of my injury was watching the power of the mind when it was guided with intuition

Illustration © Mahesh14

and cleared of all fears. My mind and I decided not to let any predictable diagnoses and bad news from the medical staff stop us from being creative in our dance of healing. Meditation, visualization, loud affirmations and tons of humour were my yoga practice, day and night. I was talking to my body and guiding it gently as it found its way back to a place of balance and health. I refused to remain on morphine and instead exercised changing the concept of pain into pleasure; after all, it is only a concept.

Long distance healing

Because we are all connected to each other on the energy level, healing from a distance works powerfully. Immediately following my event, many people in Thailand, including teachers, students, yogis and friends, meditated and sent me powerful energy to encourage rapid healing. The news travelled quickly from India to Vancouver and beyond and wonderful people sent me more and more energy. Lying in my hospital room, I felt strong vibrations moving along my spine, aware of a beautiful gold colour, healing my broken bones. Even though I was isolated, I felt connected to an ocean of high frequency vibrations. I could physically feel streams of energy entering my body. I owe my rapid healing to all the people that sent this wonderful, loving energy. Sometimes the energy felt so intense, I burst into tears of bliss and gratitude. Thank you all.

Shakti Mhi is the author of The Enigma of Self-Realization and founder of Prana Yoga College International.

www.pranayoga.com

Less is more: make it your new mantra

DRUG BUST Alan Cassels

If you listen closely to the pleas of health advocates and patient groups, those who push for better treatments for specific diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, arthritis or heart disease, there is a common refrain. That refrain, summed up in a word, is “More.”

We need more drugs. We need more CT or MRI machines. We need more doctors. We need more specialists. We need more access to everything. More. More. More.

And then add the requests for more of everything that supports a decent quality of life. Advocates for the homeless make pleas for more affordable rental housing. AIDs advocates make a very strong case for government-supported safe injection sites. Seniors advocates make demands for more assisted living complexes to support seniors in their frail years. More. More. More. The advocates often feel like their pleas are mere cries in the wilderness.

If you are a health bureaucrat, policymaker or politician, you probably spend a lot of time listening to the competing groups stating their case for More, More, More. You may spend much of your workday trying to satisfy the needs of those who are asking for more. And choosing to make more of one thing accessible to one group inevitably means money that is not going towards a competing claim. After all, there is a limited supply of tax dollars to go around.

The sense of a limited supply of money brings a level of discipline to the way government doles out our collective wealth. Yet I believe it’s occasionally worth putting aside those decisions for a moment and stepping back to take a look at the big picture at the way we manage all our collective resources, of which healthcare is only a single slice.

At the beginning of the year, let’s ask ourselves, “What kind of show are we humans running here on this planet?” Our planet consists of nearly unimaginable health extremes. The poorest billion people on Earth live on less than a dollar a day, a level of deprivation that necessitates being dominated by the issue of survival. More than 25,000 children under five die every day from the most easily preventable diseases: diarrhoea, parasites, malnutrition and malaria. This one billion people lack even the most basic components of health and improving their chances of survival depends on their getting more of almost everything: clean water, decent clothing, adequate shelter, basic healthcare, income, peace and democracy. Even a little more of any of these simple things would produce a huge impact on the lives of these people.

At the other end of the spectrum, where the majority of Canadians live, are another billion or so people for whom survival is almost a foreign concept. These people can easily think of more ways to spend our collective wealth. Nearly half of our provincial budgets are allocated for healthcare and still there is a belief in scarcity – a belief that we need more drugs, more machines, more specialists and more doctors to solve our woes.

That’s not to say that a lot of our collective health spending couldn’t be better managed. There’s good evidence that the way we organize healthcare is so chaotic and irrational that we overspend and underspend in areas that have nothing to do with rationality and equity. What I see at this extreme rich end of the rich spectrum is an absurd level of obsession with avoidance of death at any cost and a collective self-absorption to fight an unwinnable war. Supporting this war is a belief that prophylactic medicine – medicine at any cost, and often against the dictates of evidence, rationality or even common sense – presents nothing but positive contributions to our health. Here we see people plunking down $2,500 to buy a full body CT scan, convinced that it’ll give them the edge they need to save them from the inevitable. Many more get tested and treated, poked and prodded, diagnosed, medicated, swabbed, jabbed, cut and eviscerated, to an extent that sometimes seems quite laughable if it wasn’t so regrettable.

Some beliefs are decidedly bad for your health. Let’s examine some of the more absurd of those beliefs, shall we?

Brand name means better healthcare: How about the belief that brand name drugs are always better than generic drugs? This singular idiocy means that we Canadians collectively spend $2 billion more on drugs than is necessary every year. Don’t tell me we can’t afford to meet even the most minimal levels of foreign aid befitting of a developed country when we allow this lunacy to continue. Buying a patent-protected drug when a cheaper generic exists is a tax on the uninformed. If you believe that a patented treatment always infers some kind of clinical advantage over the unpatented stuff, you should probably be forced to pay for your beliefs. And please don’t expect the taxpayer to pay for your foolishness.

Screen early, screen often: Another absurd belief that many of us have is that it’s a great idea to screen healthy people for disease. Yet screening healthy people can involve insidious and uncounted harms and it is expensive and often terribly unnecessary. There may be dozens of cancer screening programs out there, but only three – count’em three – types of screening programs for cancer have sufficient scientific evidence for authorities to recommend them for the whole population. What are they? Breast screening (mammography) for women over 50, cervical cancer screening (the pap test) and colorectal cancer screening (fecal occult blood test). All the others that we hear about – full body screening, lung cancer screening, PSA or prostate screening, other organ screening, heart screening, (angiography) etc, etc. – are not recommended even though they are heavily marketed and promoted through both the media and private clinics.

Government is protecting us from drug marketing and screening scams:Sadly, that one is wrong too. In Canada, despite all the marketing of both screening and drugs, there is minimal consumer protection from the blatant fear-mongering advertisements you see asking you to take a drug or come on down to the local private clinic for a full body or heart or lung scan. Colleges of Physicians, Health Canada regulators and other professional organizations point at each other when asked who should be minding the store. Even if you believe in minimal government control over your life, you could not disagree with the need for some state involvement overlooking the advertising and marketing of health care products and devices that could hurt you.

Screening and newer drugs are always of incredible benefit: Sadly, this is wrong too. Both the provision of new drugs and preventative health screening are highly controversial because the actual benefit for most people is very small. A new cholesterol-lowering drug might prevent one percent of people taking it from having a heart attack in the next five years. With mammography screening, we’d have to screen 1,000 women with X-ray mammograms every two years for 10 years to prevent about three deaths (compared to a similar group of women not screened). This level of screening will cause about 200 women to experience further investigation (because something suspicious was “found” on their mammogram) or a biopsy. Those women would face the anxiety of having a diagnosis of breast cancer that turned out to be false. It’s very hard to counter the “look early, act early” mantra when it comes to cancer screening, the underlying thought being that if you can find it early, you have a better chance of living.

I think it is time we re-examine our healthcare beliefs. Maybe we need to make a pledge to consider a “less is more” mantra towards health spending. We only need look at the level of per capita health spending in the US, which is more than twice the rate of other industrialized countries, to remind ourselves it’s how we organize healthcare that counts, not how much we spend.

Major advances in world health could be achieved if we collectively took care of everyone’s basic needs – why not start with homelessness in our own cities? – and then worked to ensure we don’t let our collective and irrational health beliefs hold us hostage.

The reason that over-treatment and over-diagnosis are such important subjects to us rich one billion is not just because the excesses of medicine can adversely affect our health, but because such appalling excesses leave so many of our fellow citizens behind.

A civilized society is measured not by how well it takes care of its most privileged citizens, but how well it takes care of those who have nothing. Why not pledge that in this New Year, we work to create a rising tide that lifts all boats, not just those of us who live on yachts?

Alan Cassels is a drug policy researcher at the University of Victoria.

He uncovers the world of cancer screening in a two-part radio documentary, You are Pre-Diseased, airing on CBC IDEAS at 9:05 pm, February 12 and 19. Mark your calendars.

cassels@uivic.ca

Healthy holidays

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina

Are you planning any festive gatherings that will include food? Beyond the traditional fare, do you wonder how to nourish the range of dietary choices among your circle of friends and family? Does your group include vegetarians, vegans, raw foods enthusiasts or someone whose health concerns require that they eat healthier food instead of just loading up on cholesterol, fat and sugar?

Here are a few tips along with two vegan, cholesterol-free, no-sugar-added recipes that are suitable for many people with food sensitivities (apart from nuts). The delicious cookies are entirely raw.

When you serve appetizers at events, include one or more packages of the seasoned types of hummus that are widely available in supermarket coolers. These protein-rich dips help many vegetarians fare well at festive events; they can be served with raw veggies, crackers and slices of fresh bread.

If your group is considering a restaurant, check out www.happycow.net orwww.vegdining.com and type in your location.

Vesanto Melina is a BC-registered dietitian and co-author of the following nutrition classics: Becoming Vegan, the Food Allergy Survival Guide andRaising Vegetarian Children
www.nutrispeak.com


Here are two vegan, cholesterol-free, no-sugar-added recipes that are suitable for many people with food sensitivities (apart from nuts). The delicious cookies are entirely raw.

Cashew and Vegetable Stir Fry

From Becoming Vegetarian by Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis (Wiley Canada, 2003).

For this stir fry, we suggested specific vegetables, however, you can try others such as asparagus, cauliflower, Chinese greens, daikon radish, mung bean sprouts and mushrooms. For appealing textures in a stir fry, add the denser vegetables at the beginning for longer cooking. Add the more leafy vegetables at the end. Chinese or Thai chili garlic sauces (available at Oriental stores and many supermarkets) can be hot, so use more or less, as you prefer. Makes 4 cups (two servings). Recipe can be doubled.

Sauce:

2 tbsp cashew butter or peanut butter

1-2 tbsp Chinese, Thai or other chili garlic sauce

1 tbsp tamari, Bragg Liquid Soy or soy sauce

1 tbsp water

Stir Fry:

1/4 cup or more cashews 1 large red or white onion, sliced

2 tsp olive oil 1 large carrot, sliced diagonally

1 cup broccoli florets, chopped

1 red pepper, diced

1 cup bok choy or Chinese cabbage, chopped

1 cup snow pea pods

In small bowl, stir together cashew butter, chili garlic sauce, tamari and water to make a smooth paste. In a preheated hot wok or pan, cook onion in oil over high heat for 3 minutes or until beginning to brown. Add carrot and cook for 1 minute; add broccoli and cook for another 30 seconds; then add red pepper, bok choy and snow peas, cooking just long enough to heat through. Add sauce, stir to combine, sprinkle with cashews and serve over brown rice.

 

Sweet Nut’ins

 

From The Raw Food Revolution Diet by Cherie Soria, Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina (Book Publishing Company, 2008).

Sweet Nut’ins are a perfect holiday cookie for all ages. Soaking improves the mouth feel and mineral availability of nuts. For dried fruit, use chopped, pitted dates or try any combination of dates, dried apricots, blueberries, cranberries, cherries and figs (with stems removed).

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

2 cups almonds, soaked for 8 hours, rinsed and drained

1 cup walnuts, soaked for 8 hours, rinsed and drained

3 cups dried fruit

1 tsp almond extract or 2 tsp orange zest (minced orange peel)

In a food processor outfitted with the “S” blade, grind the almonds and walnuts until coarsely chopped. Add the dried fruit and almond extract or zest; process until ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Using a tablespoon, form small balls and flatten these with your hand, making cookies about 1/2 inch thick and 2 inches in diameter. Enjoy these soft, chewy cookies immediately or store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer.

Variation: If you have a dehydrator, you can place the formed cookies on a tray lined with a non-stick sheet and dehydrate the cookies at 105 degrees F/40 C for 12 to 24 hours, depending on how crunchy you want them. These healthy treats make excellent gifts that can be safely mailed. They also freeze well.

Support the food declaration

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

I never thought I’d see the day when one man could make such an enormous difference to the planet. We have just begun a new era of politics where, out of necessity, the people will now drive the agenda. The most powerful nation in the world – the one that contributes most to climate change and war – now has an administration willing to listen and respond to the needs of the people. There’s really only one thing left for the people to do: to decide what the future looks like so we may move there smoothly and easily.

A brilliant start can be found at www.fooddeclaration.org, a US website that has initiated a Declaration for Healthy Food and Agriculture. Will you sign up? The Declaration follows:

We, the undersigned, believe that a healthy food system is necessary to meet the urgent challenges of our time. Behind us stands a half-century of industrial food production, underwritten by cheap fossil fuels, abundant land and water resources and a drive to maximize the global harvest of cheap calories. Ahead lie rising energy and food costs, a changing climate, declining water supplies, a growing population and the paradox of widespread hunger and obesity.

These realities call for a radically different approach to food and agriculture. We believe that the food system must be reorganized on a foundation of health: for our communities, for people, for animals and for the natural world. The quality of food, and not just its quantity, ought to guide our agriculture. The ways we grow, distribute and prepare food should celebrate our various cultures and our shared humanity, providing not only sustenance, but justice, beauty and pleasure.

Governments have a duty to protect people from malnutrition, unsafe food and exploitation, and to protect the land and water on which we depend from degradation. Individuals, producers and organizations have a duty to create regional systems that can provide healthy food for their communities. We all have a duty to respect and honour the labourers of the land without whom we could not survive. The changes we call for here have begun, but the time has come to accelerate the transformation of our food and agriculture and make its benefits available to all.

We believe that the following twelve principles should frame food and agriculture policy, to ensure that it will contribute to the health and wealth of the nation and the world. A healthy food and agriculture policy:

1. Forms the foundation of secure and prosperous societies, healthy communities and healthy people.

2. Provides access to affordable, nutritious food to everyone.

3. Prevents the exploitation of farmers, workers and natural resources; the domination of genomes and markets; and the cruel treatment of animals, by any nation, corporation or individual.

4. Upholds the dignity, safety and quality of life for all who work to feed us.

5. Commits resources to teach children the skills and knowledge essential to food production, preparation, nutrition and enjoyment.

6. Protects the finite resources of productive soils, fresh water and biological diversity.

7. Strives to remove fossil fuel from every link in the food chain and replace it with renewable resources and energy.

8. Originates from a biological rather than an industrial framework.

9. Fosters diversity in all its relevant forms: diversity of domestic and wild species; diversity of foods, flavours and traditions; diversity of ownership.

10. Requires a national dialogue concerning technologies used in production and allows regions to adopt their own respective guidelines on such matters.

11. Enforces transparency so that citizens know how their food is produced, where it comes from and what it contains.

12. Promotes economic structures and supports programs to nurture the development of just and sustainable regional farm and food networks.

Our pursuit of healthy food and agriculture unites us as people and as communities, across geographic boundaries and social and economic lines. We pledge our votes, our purchases, our creativity and our energies to this urgent cause.

Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide. She grows her certified organic “Seeds of Victoria” a

The gift of sight

by Heather Wardle

 

In a small corner of a district hospital in Tibet, 12-year-old Datso sat crying. She was blind from bilateral cataracts, the clouding of the eye’s natural lens. Datso’s short life had been miserable and lonely. “I am blind and don’t deserve any friends,” she sobbed. “I am not capable of doing anything but sitting in my home with my grandparents all the time. Nobody is willing to play with me. I can’t see now and I am afraid that I won’t see ever again in my life.”

Thanks to the kindness of strangers in Canada, Datso received sight-restoring cataract surgery at a Seva Canada-sponsored eye camp in Tibet. Seva Canada is an international, non-governmental organization in Vancouver whose mission is the elimination of preventable and treatable blindness.

In Sanskrit, seva means “service” or “compassion in action.” For more than 26 years, Seva has been helping poor countries help themselves by creating sustainable eye care systems. Seva now works in seven countries – Tibet, Nepal, India, Tanzania, Guatemala, Cambodia and Egypt – training local eye-care specialists.

Datso is one of 314 million people worldwide with serious vision impairment. Of these, 45 million are blind and 124 million have low vision. Yet 75 percent of this blindness is either preventable or treatable. Often, a 15-minute cataract surgery that costs only $50 will restore sight and completely transform someone’s life.

Drew Luyall, SEVAs youngest donor

After her two eye surgeries, Datso was a changed girl. She was free to lead a normal life, see her loved ones, play with friends, go to school and be happy. “I feel like doing everything now,” she said laughing, “but first of all, I need to see my one-month-old brother at home!”

One kind Canadian who has given many gifts of sight is a remarkable 10-year-old boy named Drew Lyall from Kimberley, BC. Drew first heard about Seva Canada’s sight restoration and blindness prevention work in 2006 when he saw a Seva multimedia show in Kimberley. Since then, Drew has raised more than $1,500 for Seva Canada to fund eye surgeries and training in Asia and Africa.

To raise money, Drew has collected thousands of cans and bottles for recycling, often dragging them on his toboggan through the winter snows. Now that his local bottle depot has burned down, Drew is fundraising through local craft fairs and school talks. Drew has a heart of gold. He is full of compassion for those who are blind and he is tireless in his fundraising efforts. He’s paid for a Tibetan eye surgeon to get specialist training in Nepal, funded sight restoration for a child in Tanzania and introduced Seva to many people.

Dr. Lloyd Axworthy, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, is an Honourable Patron of Seva Canada. “During the last 26 years, Seva has helped to restore the sight of many thousands of people who suffer needlessly from blindness that is both preventable and treatable,” says Dr. Axworthy. “I am exceptionally proud to be associated with the work of Seva Canada.”

Heather Wardle is the development director of Seva Canada Society. 
www.seva.ca.


Saving sight on the roof of the world

Tibetan eye camps are miraculous events. Hundreds of blind patients are brought by their families, sometimes travelling for days. They are led-in blind and after a 15-minute surgery costing about $50 can see again.

Tibet has one of the highest rates of blindness in the world, primarily caused by cataracts. Seva Canada is the leading eye-care provider in Tibet, responsible for two-thirds of the cataract surgeries.

“Cataract surgery in adults is just wonderful. It’s the best bang for your buck operation in the world,” says ophthalmologist and Seva board member Dr. Peter Nash.

Mobile eye camps provide a way to reach the blind in remote areas. Each year, Seva runs as many as 25 eye camps, costing around $12,500 each. Each camp screens hundreds of people of all ages and performs up to 400 sight-restoring cataract surgeries.

Dekyi, a blind woman with six children to care for, received the gift of sight in October at a Seva eye camp in Chamdo. “For the first time in my life, I am happy,” she told the doctors. “Please tell all the people at Seva. They are the ones who have helped me end my bad karma and bring a glimpse of light to my life!”

This holiday season, choose to give the gift of sight. Visitwww.seva.ca or call 604-713-6622 for information and to request a copy of Seva’s Gift of Sight catalogue, an alternative giving guide. You can give the gift of sight on behalf of family members, friends and business associates. With each gift, Seva will send a card describing your gift to the person you wish to honour.

 

Raw revolution

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina

The raw foods movement is making headlines. Why? Reasons include awareness about the environmental impacts of our food choices, interest in going organic and the desire to eat lower on the food chain. And across North America, people are viewing their expanding waistlines with horror. Centring one’s diet on raw plant foods offers a mighty appealing solution.

Why is this a solution? One reason is that some of us consumers have trouble being moderate. For example, if there’s a bottle of wine or a case of beer handy, we’ll chug-a-lug or sip our way through the whole thing. To save ourselves, we join AA, where there’s a clear line. No alcohol at all. Period. Similarly, if we have cigarettes around, we can’t resist smoking. Our only way out is to quit, with no cigarettes in the house.

When it comes to food, we can’t stop ourselves from eating the whole loaf of fresh bread, chocolate cake, bucket of chicken or bag of chips. Yet, if we want to quit, how do we manage? We can’t enrol our higher power in helping us to abstain entirely from food. We must eat something!

Raw food to the rescue. It allows us to draw a clear line. Bread, butter, cake, fried chicken and chips all are on the other side of the line, where we don’t go. Yet we have plenty to eat.

At first glance, this looks far too radical. But doesn’t giving up alcohol seem radical to a boozer? It seems that the person’s entire social life will vanish and there will be no way to relax. But after taking the leap, new horizons open: one discovers non-drinking friends and finds excellent ways to reduce stress.

With raw foods, what are our choices? We head for the market’s colourful produce section. We load our cart with every type of fruit and explore all the veggies that can be eaten uncooked. Then we veer over to the nuts and seeds department.

If a raw, or mainly raw, approach interests you, several opportunities for information are available this month: a Raw Food Revolution event takes place in Vancouver on November 20 with my delightful co-author Cherie Soria. This is one fit, slim, vibrant woman and does she know how to tantalize our senses with amazing food! On Saturday November 22, Cherie offers a FUNdamentals of Raw Nutrition Intensive course. (Location: Langley, 40 minutes east of Vancouver’s city hall, plus you’ll see the WindSong Cohousing Community, an architectural achievement.)

I had the pleasure of taking courses at Cherie’s school in Fort Bragg, California, midway between San Francisco and the California-Oregon border (check out www.rawfoodchef.com). These courses changed my relationship with food. Novices and experts from Washington DC, Tokyo and from across America and Europe flock to this school. Some train as raw chefs. Others learn new ways of eating for disease prevention or weight loss. We are fortunate to have this master chef here.

Also in Vancouver, on the evening of Wednesday November 12, two colleagues from Cherie’s school, Karin and Rick Dina, present an Introduction to Raw Food Nutrition. On the following weekend (November 15-16), they present the Science of Raw Food Nutrition – it has had rave reviews – in Langley.

Raw doesn’t have to mean chilly. Here are a few tips that help raw enthusiasts through colder months. We can start our day with muesli or a crunchy buckwheat granola or cinnamon oatmeal, adding fruit and warm almond milk. We might choose sprouted grain bread (See recipes in our newRaw Food Revolution Diet, also titled Raw Revolution Diet.) In smoothies and blended soups, we can use warm or hot water. We can wash or soak our produce in warm or hot water for a few minutes. We begin our meal with a cup of warm miso soup or ginger tea. We snack on almond butter with apples or bananas. And for some, it works best to combine a mainly raw diet with baked or steamed root vegetables or hearty bean and lentil soups.

Vesanto Melina is a registered dietitian (www.nutrispeak.com) For further details about these and other raw events, visit www.rawbc.org or call 778-737-8852.

Weed wisdom

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

A weed is a wild herb springing 

where it is not wanted. 
– Concise Oxford Dictionary

Weed seeds arrive with birds, on the wind, on our shoes and clothing and on a pet’s fur. They are persistent, lying dormant until conditions are just right for germination. Digging the soil brings weed seeds up to the surface, which helps them germinate. Perennial weeds can spread quickly by division when each little piece roots into a new plant. These are two good reasons to practise no-dig gardening and regular mulching.

Tip: Hoe weeds before they set seed and multiply your problem.

A garden will always have weeds, but there’s a great deal to be learned from observing them. There’s always a good reason why weeds spring up in the first place. An infestation points to an imbalance in the soil, such as poor drainage, lack of aeration, low fertility or a mineral deficiency. Weeds often thrive in poor soils, which indicates that the soil is deficient in the essentials for healthy plant growth.

Many perennial weeds are deep rooted, penetrating into the sub-soil where they access trace elements and minerals. When they decompose, their leaves and stems enrich the soil with these valuable elements, which may not otherwise be available to shallow-rooted plants. It’s important to return weeds to the soil for this reason, either by composting them or turning them under to decay in the garden. Deep roots also penetrate to aerate soil, helping with drainage. Dandelions, which thrive on heavy clay soils, are great at this.

Weeds can be used as indicators of general problems and they can even correct imbalances and deficiencies Weeds disappear when these conditions are corrected and soil conditions favour the growth of other plants – hopefully, not other weeds. The solution to a weed infestation, therefore, is to improve soil fertility, not to zap the area with soil-destroying herbicides. As Ralph Waldo Emerson noted, a weed is a “…plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”

What weeds can tell us:

• Daisies, rich in calcium, thrive on lawns lacking in lime. When daisies decompose, they add calcium to correct this deficiency.

• Equisetum (horsetail) indicates an acid, clay soil in need of drainage. If the soil is drained and fertility increases, horsetail will disappear.

• Docks, sorrel and thistles indicate heavy, badly drained and acid soils.

• Dandelions indicate that the soil lacks essential minerals and elements.

• Clovers, medicks, vetches and wild peas (legumes) indicate a nitrogen deficiency and can correct this condition in the soil.

• Creeping buttercup thrives in heavy, poorly drained soils.

• Bindweed generally thrives in sandy soils.

• Stinging nettles prefer light, sandy soils. High in nitrogen, nettles stimulate the growth of plants nearby.

• Chickweed, groundsel, chicory and lambsquarters are shallow-rooted weeds that grow in fertile conditions. They indicate an improvement in fertility.

Comfrey and stinging nettles make high quality liquid fertilizers. By extracting minerals from the sub-soil and storing them in their leaves, nettles and comfrey become rich in nitrogen, potassium and calcium. Nettles are also high in iron. When nettle leaves are steeped in rainwater, the resulting concentrate can be used as a feed, releasing nutrients to plants.

Nature never leaves the ground uncovered. In winter, weeds give protection from rains and their roots penetrate to aid with drainage. They also provide a store of food for soil bacteria, which can then remain active to provide food for plants in spring. Where groundcovers remain and flourish in winter, the result is increased soil fertility.

Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide. She grows her certified organic “Seeds of Victoria” at The Garden Path Centre where she blogs The New Victory Garden online.

Wash away the killer cleaners

by Peter Sircom Bromley

Ever wonder what it’s going to take to get rid of the toxic cleaners in our homes, workplaces and the environment? Kevin Daum wonders about this every day because that’s his job. Kevin Daum is an entrepreneur and inventor who formulates, manufactures and sells green cleaners. Over the last fifteen years he has spearheaded the development of a company called Environmental Building Science Inc. The goal of EBS is to solve global oil pollution and toxic cleaner problems by changing how we clean at home and at work. The company has turned this ideal into Oil Lift and other Lift cleaning products now available in retail stores nationwide.

source photo: Teamarbeit

You might think such enterprise would be easy considering all the talk about going green. The truth is that Kevin’s people spend most of their time re-educating prospective customers. And that’s a real challenge despite countless stories in the media about switching away from toxic cleaners.

In North America, toxic cleaning products are a part of the domestic landscape, but few people realize that spraying poison on a surface or adding it to their laundry makes it, in a sense, less clean. Millions of otherwise rational people have been trained to place a high priority on white laundry and spotless kitchens at the expense of their health. The cure is killing the patient.

So how is this spin accomplished? Kevin says the answer is simple: fear and embarrassment. Advertisers ask if you care about your children, family, friends and pets. They suggest that if you don’t kill the bacteria, you’re a bad parent. Fears of being a bad homemaker can be so powerful that they override common sense. For example, you’ve been trained to believe doing laundry a certain way kills bacteria when in fact laundry machines can be bacteria incubators. Kevin calls this skanky laundry syndrome. To find out if you have skanky laundry syndrome, he suggests you smell your towels after you use them a couple of times. If they smell of mildew, you most likely need to detoxify your laundry machine.

As an innovator, Kevin is used to thinking outside the detergent box. Consider this: if the average person was given laundry detergent from Brazil they would think that their whites are not clean. Laundry detergent in South America is designed to make your whites have a reddish hue. In North America we’re trained to think that white laundry has a bluish hue. It also has to have a chemical smell. Kevin recently had a friend do laundry tests for him; she had removed all the red wine stains and was very happy with the results. Her mother then sniffed the towels. “These aren’t clean”, she said. “They don’t smell like bleach”. Most other mammals would run from the scent of chlorine bleach.

So how can we overcome the brainwashing and get rid of toxic cleaners from our homes and workplaces? Recently Kevin was doing a cleaning product replacement audit for a hotel. Many of the cleaning staff were using products they thought were green because the supplier had a green sounding name. The head of housekeeping knew that this was misleading yet she couldn’t get her staff to change (at home she uses baking soda, vinegar and lime juice). Even staff members who knew they were using toxic products were reluctant to change because they believed the green cleaners don’t work. One of the staff even showed Kevin the bleach she hides in her towels to use when her boss isn’t around. They both had a good laugh when Kevin pointed out that her boss could probably smell it.

So Kevin found himself with a bunch of bleach-smuggling professional cleaners that he had to deprogram. In response, he wrote a booklet calledHow to Kill your Cleaning Staff and provided it as a free download on his website. When they had read the booklet, he devised a clever strategy: he sold the hotel small bottles of two replacement cleaners and asked the staff to go home and find out what cleaning problems the cleaners don’t work on. They could not find any. The illusion that green cleaners are ineffective disappeared.

Kevin’s story illustrates the degree to which the purveyors of poison have brainwashed us to continue buying their watered down toxic goo.

So how do we break the cycle? Kevin says the first step is to get educated. To that end, Kevin offers a booklet How to Kill Your Cleaning Staff on his website www.oillift.net. Just click on the banner that says fun stuff for free on the left hand column, fill in your name and e-mail. The booklet is automatically sent to you.

The second step is to read and sign Kevin’s on-line petition to stop water pollution in your neighbourhood by banning toxic cleaners. With the petition there is a series of six questions. Kevin asks that you answer them honestly as he is trying to determine how much people know about environmental cleaning. You’ll be emailed the answers to the questions. And you’ll also get a solution for skanky laundry syndrome.

Whether you buy Kevin’s products or other eco-certified cleaners, the problem of toxicity in cleaning products needs to be solved. Through education you become part of the solution to get the toxins out of your home and workplace.

Note: Oil Lift, Lift Cleaner and Surface restorer are now available at Canadian Tire, Lordco, Windsor Plywood, Tim-BR-Mart, True Value, Benjamin Moore, and most health food stores. Contact Kevin at info@oillift.net with your cleaning questions or request for a free workplace cleaning product audit.