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.

BC’s David and Goliath saga

DRUG BUST Alan Cassels

I offer you a parable – perhaps the parable of our time. Pull up a chair and start imagining. Imagine being a big group of very powerful and profitable companies whose main business is the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals. You are so influential that government ministers promptly return your calls. You keep some of the most powerful people within the legal and medical communities on your payroll. You invite yourself to lead government task forces and other agenda-setting activities and are considered so mighty that only fools would dare challenge your decrees. When it comes to leverage, you play a good game. You know how to force governments to have some “skin in the game” when it comes to paying the hefty costs of researching and developing your products. It’s not that you are a bully or anything; you are actually quite polite and congenial. Yet, at the same time, you and your members are very, very angry.

You are angry because not everyone considers the good products you produce and the good works conducted on your behalf by many of your favoured charities to be so special. Some even question whether your products are worth what you charge for them. Some even say they didn’t live up to their claims. Even worse, some believe your products make some people sicker. Those heretics might be small in number, but they are vocal. They constitute an unpleasant obstacle and prevent you from expanding your empire, blocking you from earning higher shareholder profits that are your due. With your great strength and wealth, some say you’re like Goliath because, in contrast to this pesky, nay-saying and ill-equipped David, you could easily overpower and smite him dead.

What makes you really angry is that this David’s skepticism could threaten to destroy other markets around the country. This sort of pesky impertinence could seriously harm your bottom line so you have to act, and act decisively.

This biblical parable is currently being played out right here in BC. Not in the full sheen of media lights, of course, but in the shadows and backrooms and offices of the legislature. In government ministries and universities. In halls redolent with the scent of power, prestige and privilege. The David and Goliath scenario could be an allegory for the forces of science against the forces of commerce, where we know David and his science don’t stand a chance.

It might be more accurate to call this particular BC-based David “evidence-based medicine.” Yet, in the eyes of Goliath, David is best characterized by the pharmaceutical industry’s pesky foe: UBC’s Therapeutics Initiative.

The world renowned Therapeutics Initiative (TI) was established by the BC provincial government in 1994 and planted at the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at UBC. This group of researchers, university professors and experts in clinical research provides valuable analysis and insight into the value of pharmaceuticals. The TI has been involved in educating medical students and practising physicians in BC for nearly 15 years and has developed an international following. While it is often accused of setting BC government drug policy, its role is limited to examining, synthesizing and discussing the evidence around drugs. It has a “just the facts ma’am” approach to clinical research.

Sadly, most physicians, after formal training in medical school, will learn about new drugs mostly from pharmaceutical companies. These doctors urgently need a group like the TI, which can provide balanced and current assessments of new drugs. Drug companies maintain it is their job to convince physicians of the value of new drug products; they spend upwards of $3 billion per year doing just that, an amount larger than the collective budgets of all medical schools in Canada. The fact that TI maintains its distance from the drug companies is one of the true sources of Goliath’s anger: he is unable to influence the key agency that makes drug evidence available to BC physicians.

You can imagine Goliath’s anger when he examines drug expenditures across Canada and finds a huge “missing market” for drugs in BC, worth close to $500 million per year. On a per capita basis, if BC residents spent as much on drugs as people in Quebec and New Brunswick, our provincial drug bill would be about 50 percent higher than it is right now. It currently hovers around $1 billion per year.

In BC, the Therapeutics Initiative has strived to educate doctors about the relative prices (and therapeutic values) of new drugs and while some critics say it tends to favour older, cheaper drugs, its analyses ignore the pharmaceutical industry’s marketing pitches and zero in on what the evidence shows.

Goliaths from the drug world have been trying to slay the Davids of evidence-based medicine for years now, funding political parties, patient groups and specialists in order to build cases for the new drugs they will pitch to governments, physicians and patients. They supply money to universities and research institutes while claiming to politicians they are there to help “grow the knowledge economy.”

Despite how much we love our towers of higher learning, hang out at any of the world’s major universities these days and you will catch the unmistakeable whiff of commercialism, where plenty of Goliaths are cutting deals to divert publicly-funded, high-octane thinking into profitable and patentable products. Discussion of higher purposes and human fulfillment in universities is passé; the dominant theme is the drive for the respect and prestige that comes along with telling everyone we’re “Open for Business.”

If the government does away with the Therapeutics Initiative because of some sweetheart deal provided to UBC by Goliath, we should expect to see a body count. Wasn’t it the TI that sent out early alarm bells, asking physicians to pause before writing new prescriptions for drugs like Celebrex and Vioxx? Vioxx is likely responsible for more than 50,000 deaths in the US alone. I remember when the TI’s researchers were accused of being naysayers when they were asking physicians to be careful about prescribing this particular drug and to question the science behind the intense marketing.

Here in BC, there is growing evidence that Goliath is fortifying its battle with David by enticing UBC with lots of riches. There are rumours of buildings and bigger and well-equipped centres of research and drug discovery. The bribes have to be big because the payoff (half a billion dollars per year) is huge. Any government hoping to kill the TI and expecting a payoff should be asking not for a building worth a miserly $50 million, but rather for half a billion per year, every year to perpetuity. That’s what David is likely saving us.

BC is a strange province where the cosiness – a sort of chequebook diplomacy – between the current Liberal government and the drug companies that fund their election campaigns is well known. Last year, this cosiness translated into a BC government-appointed Pharmaceutical Task Force, staffed with drug industry lobbyists who produced a report so shoddy it’s an embarrassment to anyone involved. The major outcome of the report was the suggestion to scrap the Therapeutics Initiative.

The plot heats up when you recall that back in February of this year the UBC Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD) was named as a Centre of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR). The Canadian government plans to kick in $15 million over five years to “accelerate the translation of health research into high value medicines.” Matching funds will come from BC taxpayers, funnelled through groups like the British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund and the British Columbia Innovation Council (BCIC). The latter describes itself as a ?one-stop point of access and support to high tech companies, educational institutions, technology industry awareness groups (including regional technology councils), federal science and technology agencies and university research labs.” Wow – sounds like a full-on marketing machine for BC high tech. Just what the doctor ordered.

Like most universities, UBC certainly has its own objectives and new pools of potential research money must seem awfully tempting. UBC’s president, Stephen Toope, is a world-respected advocate for human rights and the power of international law. He is one serious and uncompromising dude when it comes to speaking truth to power. But you have to ask yourself: Will Dr. Toope be able to speak truth to the Goliath at the gates of UBC?

It’s hard to say. What is certain is that the success of university presidents is usually measured by their ability to increase the university’s prestige, size, influence and wealth. And with large numbers of academics and researchers who measure their success by how much research funds they can absorb, Dr. Toope would certainly face a rabid faculty backlash if he questioned the flow of drug funds to UBC.

What a conundrum, eh?

You might think this biblical parable is too much of a stretch because in the real ‘modern’ world, the Goliaths almost always win. Well, thankfully we have a democracy and there is an election coming up. We can throw out the politics of rule by rude power. We can choose not to support a government that thumbs its nose at evidence-based medicine, one that encourages the drug companies rule the day. OR we could ask for something different. And that difference is something that may mean the choice of life or death for some of us.

Alan Cassels is a drug policy researcher at the University of Victoria a. He served with Stephen Toope as a UN Election Observer in the first all-race elections in South Africa in April, 1994.

cassels@uivic.ca

Health food matters

by Joseph Roberts

 

photo: Luc Santerre Castonguay

Food was always very important, the author said on the radio as she dedicated her new cookbook to her mother “who instilled in her a love of food”.

Food is important, in many ways and for many reasons. In many different delicious cultures there are very distinct eating habits, but we all have something in common: we all eat.

Books abound with food for thought: The Food Revolution, Power of Superfoods, Fields of Plenty, Vegan Delights, Real Foods for a Change, No More Bull, Eating My Words, Chef’s Table, New Ethics of Eating, Feed Your Genes Right, The Joy of Cooking, and even The End of Food.

Yes, we all eat – at least those of us who are fortunate to live in places where food exists. Many just scrape by, and the even less fortunate die of starvation.

Soil, water, and sun are so intertwined with food on this good earth. I hold an almond in my hand: how did it get here where did it come from, who help it grow? So many questions. Each nut is a seed capable of growing into a huge beautiful tree which in turn brings forth the next generation of almond flowers which produce pollen for the bees. The mystery of life to continues.

Humans are not the only animals who cherish nuts and seeds. The branches of the birch tree outside my window are home to many seed-eating birds and squirrels. We are each and all part of a magical natural cycle. As the grey and black squirrels scurry about on autumn’s gold-leafed branches, people scurry about in traffic and in their homes. While the wilder creatures hunt and gather directly from the source of their sustenance, we too search out our foods – but usually in more indirect and complex manners.

What we choose to eat is based on our beliefs, our customs.

Where our foods come from, what soil or water they use, how they are grown and produced makes the difference between life giving or disease making. As we learn and evolve we learn what matters about food.

photo:Chanyut Sribua-rawd

Access to nutritious food from sustainable sources is a primary responsibility of any functional culture. May all beings be fed and may all beings be happy.

A decade ago, at an organic food conference, women from rural India told of their fight to keep their village’s soil and food clean of toxins. A t-shirt message starkly read, “Food without poison is a must for life”. They were in a battle to keep high tech patented genetically altered terminator seeds, and their accompanying chemical herbicides, from displacing hereditary seeds which had, for thousands of years, reproduced life giving free seeds. The gap between the corporate food-for-profit agenda and grassroots sustainable food-for-families was graphic. Monsanto, the same corporation that sued Percy Schmeiser in Canada over copyrighted GMO products, was involved over in India as well.

Health food matters.

When a food product shows up on a store shelf, it is only as good as its ingredients, and the skills and care of its handlers. And the ingredients are only as healthy as the soil it comes from.

We look at food with various levels of understanding. Sometimes companies that manipulate foods intentionally hide the real nature of what they produce. In Canada, for example, labelling genetically modified food is voluntary. Given that most informed eaters would shun GMO products, voluntarily disclosing that their product contain GMOs is not likely to happen. Deceptive labelling can deceive by omission.

Prior to the industrial chemical revolution there were natural methods of preserving certain foods, drying or pickling being two examples. Chemical preservatives now promise longer shelf life so the product can sit around – sometimes for years – and still be sold. These food products get consumed much later than nature would normally allow. Some preservatives are more natural but most modern ones are synthetic and toxic. It gets tricky when natural-sounding additives are used to greenwash or hide other preservatives. A case in point happened in Canada with the combining of ascorbic acid and sodium benzoate in the cheap two litre plastic bottles of orange looking soda pop sold in supermarkets. The synthetic vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid chemically reacted to the sodium benzoate when the pop was left out of the fridge and in the sunshine on a hot summer afternoon. The ascorbic acid broke down the sodium benzoate into sodium and benzene. Benzene is a known carcinogen. Unwittingly, thirsty people gulped down the sugar-coated poison thinking it was okay.

So as we eat our way through a lifetime of food, we absorb what is in our diet. Like the proverbial frog in hot water we slowly get cooked. If we eat food with carcinogens we toxify our cells, some even to the point of immune collapse where diseases take over the organism.

Food of course is not the only vector of unwanted contaminants, but it is one we do have a some choice over. We can eat the highly refined, sugar, salt, preservative-laden unfresh food, or an apple, avocado or pumpkin seeds for snacks each day.

We make ourselves healthy or unhealthy one bite at a time. And how we chew our food matters too, in whether we assimilate what we consume. Chewing our liquids and drinking our solids engages our mouth saliva to begin the process of digestion. Remember, if our teeth do not chew our foods then our stomach must.

The Canadian Health Food Association selected November as National Natural Food Month in Canada. What a beautiful time of year to be reminded of health with all the lush colour of maple leaves. Colour is an important indicator of how rich in vitamins and minerals certain foods are. May autumn inspire us to choose fruits and vegetables of deep hues for deeper nutrition. Products carefully manufactured from such green, red, blue, purple, orange mineral-laden ingredients form great supplements to augment our diet.

Whole foods are the way nature initially provides humans with abundance. Eat as much fresh raw food as you can. Cook foods in ways that release their nutrients, but avoid overheating and use utensils that are not toxic. Keep food from having contact with aluminum, Teflon or other non-slip plastic compounds. Avoid microwave ovens because they alter the food on an electron level and release free radicals linked to aging and cancer. Don’t be a guinea pig. There are other less intrusive ways to prepare what we eat.

Intention effects what ends up on our plate. Those that link our mouths with the original source of sustenance need to honour and respect natural cycles. Principles are more important than pretty packaging when it comes to health and the quality or goodness shows up in the details.

Think of foods as having benefits or side effects as do drugs. Most people would not take drugs if they understood the harm. But they do, because they are not well informed, or believe in so-called experts who would never take the very same drugs they prescribe. In the UK, adverse drug reactions kill about 10,000 (a nasty “side effect”) every year, whereas car accident kill about 3,000. Drugs, like cigarettes, are profitable but they also make people sick. The costs are sloughed off to the society rather than the manufacturer being held liable for the damage caused. In Canada we do not allow direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising as they do in the USA. Twenty five per cent of TV ads in the USA are drug commercials. The effect is that Americans spend about 50 per cent more on drugs than Canadians.

Three hundred billion dollars are spent on drugs in North America annually, much of which is advertising induced and unnecessary. Many side effects occur for which yet more drugs are prescribed. The combination of drugs bring unexpected results. How many well intended, obedient elders come to harm following their multiple prescriptions religiously? Their A to Z plastic pill organizers give them a false sense of control in an overly chemicalized world, further numbed by loneliness, alcohol and TV (with its booze and drugs ads).

When in doubt, use natural nutrition and a healthy lifestyle to improve your well-being.

Junk food compromises one’s health to the point of disease because, besides containing toxins, it lacks the basis nutrients needed for bodies to function well. This leads to attempts to rectify the situation with drugs, which can contribute to premature death. These unhealthy faux-foods may make a killing for their producers, but eventually sicken their user. There is an unholy synergy between crappy foods, sedentary lifestyles, pill pushers and pharmaceutical profits.

Nature eventually wins out in the long run. The laws of ecology do not go away. Every thing is connected to everythings else, and, we all live down stream from the source and processing of our food. Likewise, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Bad nutrition and toxic food extract their toll in human suffering. Just as one vitamin can cure so many illnesses, so can the deficiency of a vitamin or mineral cause disease. Vitamins, mineral, fibre, and other nutriments – coupled with rest, fresh air and pH balanced clean water – enable a body to be nourished and heal.

Imagine the social impact of chronic well-being and a highly contagious epidemic of health. Well-informed and inspired people choosing their foods wisely with care, respect and gratitude. The joy of healthy food spreads like wildfire across our land nourishing all in its path. People stop hurting themselves with unconscious habits around food. We honour the land along with the energy required to grow and deliver foods to market. There is an awaking of compassion for all those who hunger to better organize and distribute nature’s abundance so all are fed. Health Canada sees the light, reverses its drug-heavy approach to treating disease, and invests money to prevent disease.

You may say we are dreamers but we are not the only ones.

In 1976 Mother Teresa came to Vancouver’s Habitat for Humanity where she spoke of a hunger that bread cannot satisfy. It is a hunger to be touched, a hunger to be loved and a hunger to belong.

As we celebrate our healthy food choices, let’s remember those who have much less than us. Though most starving people live in countries ruined by geopolitical greed and environmental degradation, there are those in our land who are also hungry. Some are malnourished from junk food or poor eating habits, others from hard emotional, mental and financial times. Some are on drugs, some are not. Some smoke and drink, others don’t. But we all eat, and as challenging as it gets, if it is not us, who will be our brothers or sisters keeper?

By helping others, magically we too are helped. We are related, we belong.

So share some food with a street person or a neighbour you haven’t yet met. Take time to see him or her fully as a person and part of the larger human family, a fellow traveller in this world of wonders. We each have our story to tell and our need to be heard. Break bread with the beggar on the street; share a handful of grapes. This too is a remembrance. Like the almond, we are a human tree capable of spreading comfort and joy. Spice life with compassion so we too can nourish our deep spirit inside.

Go for green

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina

Green is a big plus when it comes to nutrition. Whether it is a salad or vibrant florets of steamed broccoli, a green juice or a smoothie, the green derives from the chlorophyll molecule, with magnesium right in its centre. Greens are packed with a multitude of minerals and abundant vitamins. (See recipe below.)

Green is also an outstanding choice when it comes to political parties. The Green Party, now rising to well-deserved prominence, recognizes that food choices profoundly affect our health and that of the planet; this fact is reflected in school food policies. The Green Party advocates the labelling of genetically modified ingredients, in line with the desire of many Canadians who prefer GMO-free foods. It also supports the elimination of subsidies for pesticides, thereby permitting organic farming to be more competitive with pesticide-laden foods that are sold at cheaper prices. The Green Party also supports fair trade, ensuring that impoverished farmers receive fair prices.

The Green Party profoundly understands the link between lifestyle and climate change. Taking heed of the thousands of peer reviewed climate scientists who agree that global warming is a real threat, its party platform encourages earth friendly choices for food and transportation. We Canadians want hybrid cars, energy efficient appliances, wind and solar power systems and green building products and the Green Party supports the growth of these industries in Canada.

For Canadians, the issue that has proven to be even more important than driving eco-friendly cars or riding a bike is the food we put into our mouths. Researchers Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin at the University of Chicago have calculated the carbon intensity of a standard vegan diet and North American carnivorous diet, through production processing, distribution and cooking to consumption. By going vegan, one elects to emit 1.5 tons less CO2 every year than the burger-eater. Choosing a state-of-the-art Prius hybrid over a gas-guzzling vehicle saves just over one ton of CO2 per year.

An average diet that includes meat leads to an annual greenhouse gas production equivalent to driving a mid-sized car a distance of 4,758 kilometres. See below for the correlation between eating various foods and the equivalent distance driven in kilometres. (Source: the Institute for Ecological Economy Research, Germany; study commissioned by independent consumer protection group Foodwatch.) Calculations are based on methane from animals, emissions from food production, manufacturing feed, fertilizer and the use of farmland.

Comparison of dietary choice (for one year) and the equivalent distance driven by a mid-size car:

• Diet that includes meat: 4,758 km
• Vegetarian diet (no meat, fish, poultry): 2,427 km
• Vegan diet (vegetarian with no eggs or dairy): 629 km
• Organic, vegan diet: 281 km.

Vesanto Melina is a dietitian and author of a number of nutrition classics, including The Raw Revolution Diet, co-authored by Cherie Soria and Brenda Davis. Register for the raw FUNdamentals class with Cherie Soria (Sunday, November 23) at www.rawbc.org or call 778-737-8852. For more great, green energy, visit www.greenparty.bc.ca or call 604-687-1199 or 1-888-473-3686.


GARDEN BLEND SOUP

(Makes 2 1/2 cups)

Of all the foods that support health, dark, leafy greens top the list. Kale, a plant that survives Vancouver winters, offers more nutrition per calorie than almost any other food. This recipe provides protein, vitamins A, C, E, most B vitamins, calcium, iron, selenium, zinc, copper, magnesium and manganese. Vary the flavours to suit your taste. In winter months, use hot water for a warming soup. This recipe is a favourite of Patrick Meyer, Langley’s Green Party candidate.

3/4 cup hot water
1/4 cup orange juice, or 1/2 orange, peeled
3 to 4 cups kale, stem removed, chopped
1/2 apple, cored or 1/2 small cucumber, peeled
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, basil leaves or dill weed
1 1/2 tbsp. light miso
1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 clove garlic
1/4 red jalapeño pepper or a pinch of cayenne
1/2 green onion, optional
1/4 cup sunflower seeds or 1/2 avocado, peeled and seeded

In a blender, process the water, juices, kale, apple, herbs, miso, garlic, jalapeño and green onion (if applicable) until smooth. Add seeds or avocado; blend again until smooth and serve.