Saturday, May 7, 2011

Two Jobs And Not Enough Time

A wife wears many hats, especially if she works outside the home. She works inside it as a given. That is her first and always-primary job. Household management is intelligent labor; it requires planning, ordering, purchasing, delivering, and cleaning, among other services not rewarded monetarily. And that is WITHOUT kids. With kids, it goes beyond full-time fast, and in the early months beats the medical resident's hours at their worst.
To ask us to work outside the home is hardly modern, as women have often worked the fields and served alongside men in various capacities. But the modern insistence that the woman is equivalent to a man and thus can ignore the home duties or leave them to paid substitutes is perilous. Who can afford to pay others in these economic times? So we struggle to meet expectations ourselves, and the dust bunnies gather.
I have two jobs and not nearly enough time to do them justice.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Storms of Spring

It is springtime in the South, and that means big storm systems. In good years (for agriculture, not city life) we get two weeks of more or less solid rain in the spring, causing flooding of waterways. We may get the same in the fall, some years. This shortens an otherwise very long growing season.
The tree in this picture died last year. We left it as a convenient place to park the bird feeder, but it blew over in the most recent storms. It hit the fence and did nothing more than cosmetic damage. I cut it up with a hand saw today, to be hauled off later.
The storms are being especially destructive this year, probably because we have chosen to take up agricultural/forested land with concentrated population centers. The destruction is awful to contemplate. There are reasons why this continent was not as densely populated as Europe when the Europeans arrived. It simply has large sections that are not very hospitable to large groups of people- too wet, too dry, too hot, too swampy, too stormy or unstable geologically, etc.
Here in Memphis homes and businesses are being flooded as the Mississippi backs up into its tributaries. A lot of people decided that the older parts of the city (on higher ground) were not desirable anymore, so they wanted to move out. "Out" has a lot of low ground in the regions surrounding the city. We should either build enough levees to protect the whole thing or bring the population back to high ground. Selling people houses in"100-year flood plain" should be outlawed, plain and simple. More storms are coming in the next few days. I pray they don't bring more destruction. We've had enough to last a while.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Patient or consumer? How about fellow human?

Paul Krugman recently wrote a post in the New York Times about not liking the fact that Republicans sully the sacred relationship between doctors and patients by calling the patients, "consumers". Sorry to break it to him, but the doctors did that a long time ago. From what I have seen, "patient" does not even mean "fellow human" to many doctors anymore. It means "profit machine". Many of the most commonly prescribed drugs (statins and anti-depressants, anyone?) have been shown to be of limited to no benefit for most of the patients taking them. Likewise for invasive procedures like mastectomy for DCIS (which has a death rate of 0.7%, and is classified with the non-lethal skin cancers by the CDC in terms of mortality), stents and bypasses for asymptomatic coronary blockages, and cancer treatments for screen-detected "incidentalomas". One of my grandmothers was treated for years for diabetes when she did not have it, simply because she was obese and fit the profile. She was a Medicare cash cow for the doctors, who treated her for a disease she did not have AND all the attendant side effects of the drugs. She was reduced to a "health care consumer", obediently taking 11 drugs a day, by the doctors. I'm afraid our health care system needs a total rebuild, not just reform. When you hear med students choosing residencies on the basis of how soon they'll be able to retire, and doctors recommending tests for you and your loved ones when recent medical lit shows such tests to do more harm than good, simply because they will find SOMETHING "wrong" if they test hard enough, then they can steal all your retirement money in the name of "saving your life" with procedures that show little survival benefit, something has to change. The entire moral outlook is wrong. It does not MATTER whether private insurance or pubic tax-payer dollars fund this sinking ship. There aren't enough funds. Both political parties are looking to patch the Titanic, when water is already over the decks. We need to man the lifeboats and start teaching true prevention (simple diet and exercise) instead. Let her sink and build a health CARE system in which humans treat humans as they would be treated, not a money-extraction, disease-mongering system.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Kale-White Bean Wraps and Tomato Soup

It is spring, and my basil, anise hyssop, lavender, black cumin, and other herbs are tiny seedlings in pots. But today it was cool and rainy, so soup was in order. I made tomato-basil soup (from canned tomatoes, vegetable juice, onion, celery, frozen corn, and my basil frozen last summer) and kale-white bean wraps. The kale was harvested from the back yard 10 minutes before it was wilted on top of the beans. The best way to grow kale without having to spray it or maintain constant vigilance for the cabbage worms is to over-winter it. Plant it in the fall so it has time to get 4-6 inches high before it freezes. It will go into suspended animation, wilting a bit in the bitter cold (as bitter as it gets here, in the teens Fahrenheit), but reviving in the sun and growing in the early spring. You can eat it gloriously before the worms can develop to do their thing and make you miserable watching your plants get swiss-cheesed. Wonderful, healthy stuff. Your eyes will thank you.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Daffodils Are Up

This is the time of year when it is extremely tempting on balmy week-ends to get out and plant. You could put in sets of crucifers or snow peas, but beware! That balmy week-end could turn into a snowstorm in a few days. We have roller-coaster weather. I'm going to dig and smooth tomorrow if weather allows, but no planting yet.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Garden Planning 2011

Done, such as it is. I won't be growing much this year, but I did the usual draw-it-out-on-graph-paper-and-dream-with-catalogs thing. It never quite turns out like you plan it, but the planning is fun. Husband will help with making sure everything is well-mulched.
On a happy dietary note, the central library in Memphis is a treasure trove for those who live here on a budget. The vegetarian section (the cooking section in general) is quite good. I even found Neal Bernard's Food for Life in the second-hand bookstore for $1. Now I have recipes from Dean Ornish (circa 1996, when he was still strict about his stuff), Caldwell and Rip Esselstyn, and Neal Bernard. I like it when people who publish recipes have science behind them. Did you know even Laurel's Kitchen (first published in 1976) had similar science in it? The science isn't without controversy of course (especially from people who Really Like Clogged Arteries), but the gastroenterological research supports the general approach of those listed above. More vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. Less junk. More fiber, less SOFAS (term from latest USDA dietary standards meaning "solid fats and added sugars"). Helps all conditions (except rare forms of epilepsy, in which cases ketogenic diets are life-saving), hurts nobody. Good stuff.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Dietary Manifesto

O.K. I'm a budding biochemist with a problem. I keep getting mad when I read otherwise reasonable people talking about healthy eating without a blooming IDEA about basic biochemistry and human physiology. We're talking science writers and physicians with best-selling books who should know better. Points to ponder (with references where available):
1. Coconut oil is NOT a health food. Just because a saturated fat comes from plants does not make it O.K. (for just a sample, see this link). I have a colleague from India who comes here periodically to do research. She is from an area of South India where most people are vegetarians, and their major dietary fat is traditionally coconut oil. THEY DIE OF HEART DISEASE AND STROKE! They fry stuff in coconut oil, just like we do with oils in the Southern US, and they die like we do. Saturated fats, from plant or animal sources, are bad for your heart, your brain, and anything else dependent for function on good blood flow as you age. My Dad, who often donates platelets for leukemia patients, could not donate one evening after stopping for a burger. The visible, yellow blobs of fat in his bloodstream clogged the machine. He felt so guilty about not being able to donate (they call him in the event of a tissue match, when someone is in real need), that he never ate that evening burger again. And making it "organic" and "grass-fed" would have made little difference. Ask a phlebotomist (a person who draws blood regularly) what happens when the blood starts to separate, and if they can tell who eats lots of fat and who does not.
2. Low fat diets are good. They are a lot like abstinence from sex outside marriage (which is also good), though; they can't work if they are not implemented. The WHI has been widely cited to "prove" that low fat diets do not work. However (see the citation for a sample), the low fat group never got their intake near the target, and the "high fat" group was at almost the same level by the end of the study. You won't see a difference if there isn't one. People say we've gotten fatter since the government started recommending fat reduction, and this is true. However, we never really implemented the fat reductions. WE JUST ATE MORE OF EVERYTHING (except fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, of course). Cookies are fat free? Eat the box! With ice cream! Aargh. Or get a fatty dessert with your Diet Cola.
3. Fiber is valuable if you want your colonoscopies to be seldom and short. If you really like long rods with clippers and cameras (I've seen them at a conference- you do NOT want to see the equipment they use) where the sun don't shine, avoid grains and beans, fruit and vegetables. They may give you gas and happy intestinal flora to help you avoid illness, after all. A lot of benefit for a little gas.
4. So what should we eat? The diet gurus of all stripes agree that we eat too much junk and too little vegetable matter. As Mr. Pollan said, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. ". If it's in a brightly colored box, don't eat it. If it has a cartoon character on it, beware. If it is in the produce section, shop ad libitum (except for the salty, white-bread croutons and nasty chemical dressings. Get a good mustard, olive oil, and vinegars and herbs and make your own dressing if you must). Stuff your fridge with vegetables, then eat them. Get a good cookbook to help you start. How? Go to your local library. Hit the vegetarian section. Look for one using real food (like vegetables, beans, rice or other whole grains, etc.). Cook a few recipes to see if you have the same tastes the authors do. Here's one I liked enough to buy. Learn the techniques, then play.
5. Want a little meat and dairy? Fine. But if you like your colon and prostate, limit them. Please. Stick to veg with a little fish or poultry once in a while. You'll resemble most of humanity throughout recorded history. Even Neanderthal skulls have been found with cooked grain in their teeth. So much for grain-free paleo dieting, eh?
End of rant. Back to normal programming. One of my fall harvests is shown above. The tomatoes out front did well this year.