Thursday, March 25, 2010

Biblical Dietary Laws - Conclusion: Considering Changes at Home

In the preceeding three articles, I presented the basics of the original Biblical dietary laws and how they were expanded by Talmudic rabbis and eliminated by the Vatican.  Without crossing grandparents who follow the traditions of their faith, what should a modern family wishing to make meals more holy do?

Joel Salatin, a farm rights activist who has written a number of very popular sustainable and ethical farming books, is a devout Christian.  After he gives one of his rousing Revivalist style speeches, he is often asked why he thinks pork was taboo.  Joel answers that during the time the Bible was written, the only pork available was either wild boar (carrion eaters) or from filthy city lots - the ancient version of modern factory farming.  Although he would never touch feedlot pork, pigs range happily over dozens of wooded acres on his own farm.  They do not smell or bite each others' ears or tails off.  They are lean, muscular and healthy.  I've enjoyed pork not only from Joel's farm, but also from others who free range their pigs:  Double H Farm in Wingina, Virginia, Afton Field Farm in Corvallis, Oregon and Deck Family Farm in Junction City, Oregon. 

I won't claim to be the model religious citizen myself.  In college, I dabbled with Buddhism.  I wandered in and out of churches for ten years and let a whopping 23 years elapse between synagogue visits.  However, I do study Torah and Talmud almost daily, so what I lack in outward observance, I hopefully make up in education.  I now keep Biblically kosher at home, meaning I eschew forbidden foods.  Although I follow the Talmudic injunction against eating milk products in the same meal with meat, it is only because I don't like waking up the next day with a sour stomach.  I do not go so far as to keep two sets of dishes and silverware to prevent mingling of meat and milk. 

Like Disciple Paul, while I am a guest, I eat whatever is placed before me.  Tuesday, I visited my mother, who served shrimp with a delicious Askenazic buckwheat pilaf.  I saw no contradiction, ate with gusto, and returned for second helpings. 

I don't feel deprived in the least.  I don't miss pepperona pizza; I always thought pepperoni was scary stuff, anyway.  Although pork sausage is tasty, I prefer Cattail Creek Farm's expensive but delectable lamb sausage.  (Junction City, Oregon.)

Lamb is more expensive than pork (dressing out a 45-50% of weight in comparison with pork's 65%), but I've found center leg slices from Anderson Ranch (Brownsville, Oregon) at great prices at Sherm's Thunderbird.  For a treat, sometimes I go to Long's Meat Market in Eugene (at 28th Street, near the Willamette Market of Choice) and fairly salivate over their fine in-house butchered products:  very reasonably priced local lamb as well as beef. 

B&K Natural Farm in Sutherlin has excellent prices on free range poultry.  Afton Field Farm gives a discount if  you help on processing day! 

Since my kids moved out, I eat meat rarely - only two or three meals a month, but every bite is top notch, from pastured animals.  I enjoy every bite with a clean conscience and a happy belly.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Biblical Dietary Laws part 3

Among what Becky Holm calls my "wee little food articles" in her Douglas County News:

Biblical Dietary Laws, Part 3 by Larisa Sparrowhawk,

Last week we left off with "you shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk", which I believe is an injuction against cruelty to a young animal's mother. There are health reasons, as well. Milk contains lactoferrin, which inhibits iron absorption, and vegetables contain vitamin c, which increases iron absorption. Neither milk nor meat contain fiber; they require fiber from vegetables to move through the digestive tract. Therefore, we would do better to eat meat with vegetables and not with milk products.

Wheat, oats, barley, spelt and rye were all grains used in Israel. A famous early recipe for bread in Ezekial includes both grains and beans and is a complete meal. During Biblical times, leavened breads were made from grains that were soaked, thus creating sourdough that tasted better and was more easily digested. They were somewhat domed, small round loaves about the size of the palm of your hand and men typically ate several a day, along with lentils and vegetables. Meats were eaten IF they had been slaughtered and prepared in a kosher manner, with appropriate thanks given to God.

During the long exile of Jews from Israel, both the Vatican and the Talmudian Rabbis had political reasons to disassociate their religions from each other, despite both claiming ancestors in the Old Testament. Thus, it became common for Jews to greatly expand upon Biblical dietary laws. Christians, interpreting part of the Book of Matthew and teachings of Paul, abandoned dietary laws. However, a closer reading of the Books of Matthew and Acts has brought some Christian groups, most notably the Seventh Day Adventists, back to the Law in Leviticus.

Paul taught that one should eat whatever was placed before him, without question and if one bought meat at a market, one should not worry that it may have come from a ceremony worshipping idols because unpure foods could not make a man unpure. However, Jesus followed the laws of kashrut (kosher foods), and well after the Crucifixion, Peter still ate kosher. Jesus, in Matthew 5:17-20, said "I came not to destroy the Law or the Prophets... til heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law until all is fulfilled. whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven..."

When the Philistines confront Jesus regarding washing hands before eating bread, Jesus gives a long answer, only part of which is commonly quoted (Matthew 15:11): "Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man." Peter asks for clarification, and Jesus explains in Matthew 15:18-20: "...whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated. But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man... evil thoughts, murders, aldulteries... these are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man."

In Acts 10:10-28, Peter, while praying on the roof, has a vision in which a sheet descended from heaven, covered with non-kosher animals. A voice told him to eat, but Peter answered, "Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean." God advised he should never call what He had given him common or unclean. Peter, still musing this, met Romen men at the door and realized the meaning: "God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean."

Continued next week!

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Biblical Dietary Laws, Part 2

This will also be in Becky Holm's Douglas County News.  I get a small section of page 7, so it may take me several articles to discuss the subject until either a) I am satisfied or b) people are getting bored!

The Book of Leviticus, which lays out God's expectations for the Israelites, includes dietary laws. Many have tried to discern hard and fast rules for why certain animals are included or prohibited. The only clear commonality I see is that "clean" meats are low on the food chain. Most of the "unclean" animals are predators or carrion eaters. Others are simply unusual for where they live, like animals that live in water but can walk on land or are so simply made that there is no way to separate ingestive and excretory organs from the meat (as in shellfish). Clean animals include: cloven hooved animals that chew their cud, fish with fins and scales, crickets, locusts and grasshoppers, and non-predatory and non-carrion eating birds.

The fact that pork is prohibited is well known, and most people assume this is for health reasons. In Virginia, I raised pigs. They are hilarious and intelligent, but they will eat absolutely everything. I purchased them to clear marshy woods (unsuitable for goats) of thorn bushes and poison oak, which they did admirably. They also ate grass, some live chickens (to my horror) and excess garden produce. Occasionally, they'd break fences and go beg at the neighbors' houses or run up Courtney's Corner Road to Highway 17, literally looking for road kill to eat. An animal that died three days ago is still food to a pig. No doubt, the ancients knew that any animal that ate decomposing critters could give them food poisoning.  Distressed pigs will also turn on their human handlers and eat them. 

Poultry also are rather unpicky about their diet, but the Israelites may have highly valued their proclivity for chasing down and eating insects.

Although the command "you shall not boil a kid in its mother's milk" is repeated three times, it is never explained. The Rabbis in the Talmud wrote that milk and meat could not be eaten in the same meal, but the Bible itself does not say this. Dairy and meat together are difficult to digest. The Bible also commands one to never slaughter a calf in front of its mother and to set a mother bird free before taking her young. I view the "boiling a kid" rule as an injuction against cruelty to its mother.

Continued next week!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Part I, Biblical Dietary Laws

Also sent to Becky Holm's Douglas County News

Biblical Dietary Laws by Larisa Sparrowhawk,

In the next two columns I will discuss Biblical dietary laws that are relevant to both Jewish and Christian denominations. On the Sixth Day, God said He gave man "every seed bearing plant that is upon the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit" for food and also that he gave all the animals, including birds, "all green plants" (or "herbs," depending on your translation) for food. Clearly, the original diet for all was vegetarian.

No details are given of how Noah understood the concept of clean (acceptable as offerings or human food) and unclean (not acceptable) meats, but Noah did. Man may have already become an omnivore. God instructed that Noah take seven pairs of every clean animal and only one pair of the unclean, with him into the ark. Once the waters receeded, God gave Noah instructions that "every creature" could be eaten, which seems odd in light of the previous classification of clean and unclean. Moreover, the simple fact that Noah was instructed to bring enough of the clean animals to allow burnt offerings, meals and procreation, suggests that details are missing here that will be supplied later.

Throughout Genesis, before the Revelation at Sinai, we read of meals of game, kids (goats), lambs, cattle, bread, lentils and grains. All the animals used in offerings were animals later mentioned as ritually clean. Unleavened bread and lamb are required by God for Passover rituals. We get an early example of "be careful what you wish for" when the Israelites grumble that they have no bread and meat and are sent so much manna and quail they sicken of them. (Modern scientists believe the manna Israelites found to eat in the wilderness was actually a secretion of a type of aphid.)

In Exodus, God promises that if the people follow his laws, they will be free of the diseases of the Egyptians, "for I, the Lord, am your healer." With the laws of both food and bodily cleanliness, He shows how.

Tune in next week!

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misleading headline to article in NY Times makes it seem like NAIS is dead

I'm a little late in uploading this response to a New York Times article.  I sent this to OCFA's email list and uploaded it on several Facebook foodie pages.

This article, published yesterday, has already been blasted all over, including in the Organic Consumers and Farmers Association online newsletter and also in Farm and Ranch's online newsletter. The headline makes it sound like the Feds are giving up on NAIS. But they are not. Animal traceback and destruction are still included in S510 (which WILL go to a vote one of these days...) and the article itself makes it clear that states are still expected to work on traceback and that the Feds will design a new program.

Disturbingly, the article also says the American Farm Bureau was against NAIS, but they were in fact, a major author of it.

We know that many people don't read entire newspaper articles; makes you wonder if the USDA submitted a press release with this headline because it served them to mislead, or if the newspaper had a reason to mislead.

In another note, Oregon Consumers and Farmers Association has a Facebook page (Oregon Farm Rights), where I post articles of interest. The recent Supreme Court decision to legalize corporate buying of legislators will also affect us. On my personal FB page, I post about this type of thing several days a week; on OCFA's page I try to be more moderate. Friend either or both of us for access to regular political rants! :)  Make sure you mention that you are interested in food rights.


The article is here:
U.S.D.A. Plans to Drop Program to Trace Livestock
Eric Draper for The New York Times

The H. Jay Platt family operates a 16,000-acre ranch in New Mexico, and opposes a federal identification plan to track livestock.


Published: February 5, 2010

Faced with stiff resistance from ranchers and farmers, the Obama administration has decided to scrap a national program intended to help authorities quickly identify and track livestock in the event of an animal disease outbreak.

In abandoning the program, called the National Animal Identification System, officials said they would start over in trying to devise a livestock tracing program that could win widespread support from the industry.

The agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, will announce the changes on Friday, according to officials at the Agriculture Department, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision had not yet been made public.

The officials said that it would be left to the states to devise many aspects of a new system, including requirements for identifying livestock.

New federal rules will be developed but the officials said they would apply only to animals being moved in interstate commerce, such as cattle raised in one state being transported to a slaughterhouse in another state.

It could take two years or more to create new federal rules, the officials said, and it was not clear how far the government would go to restrict the movement of livestock between states if the animals did not meet basic traceability standards.

The system was created by the Bush administration in 2004 after the discovery in late 2003 of a cow infected with mad cow disease.

Participation of ranchers and farmers in the identification system was voluntary, but the goal was to give every animal, or in the case of pigs and poultry, groups of animals, a unique identification number that would be entered in a database. The movements of animals would be tracked, and if there was a disease outbreak or a sick animal was found, officials could quickly locate other animals that had been exposed.

But the system quickly drew the ire of many farmers and ranchers, particularly cattle producers. Some objected to the cost of identification equipment and the extra work in having to report their animals’ movements. Others said they believed the voluntary system would become mandatory, that it was intrusive and that the federal government would use it to pry into their lives and finances.

The old system received $142 million in federal financing, but gained the participation of only 40 percent of the nation’s livestock producers, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.

When Mr. Vilsack took over the Agriculture Department last year, he began a series of public meetings on the identification program and was bombarded by strident opposition.

Agriculture officials said that most details of a new system would be worked out in the coming months through consultation with the livestock industry and the states.

“It was just overwhelming in the country that people didn’t like it, and I think they took that feedback to heart,” said Mary Kay Thatcher, public policy director of the American Farm Bureau Federation, which had opposed the identification system. “I think it’s good they’ve at least said we’re going to do something different.”

Carol Tucker Foreman, a food safety expert of the Consumer Federation of America, agreed that the old system was not working and needed to be changed.

But she worried that a new system that could have different rules in every state might not be effective.

“It’s very, very hard to have an effective state-by-state program,” she said.


Revising Cake Recipes


Revising Cake Recipes for Better Health by Larisa Sparrowhawk

Do you have a recipe book that consistently gives you desserts your family enjoys, but which could be healthier? Are you struggling to meet your New Year's resolutions while your kids are clamoring for cake? Most unhealthy recipes can be improved without your family's resistance if you try one upgrade at a time - for instance, cutting back sugar without also changing to whole grain flours and lessening the fat content.

Many cake recipes include as much sugar as flour. Sugar does have a moistening effect on baked goods, so either try reducing the sugar by 1/3 and not changing the rest of the recipe, or reduce it by 1/2 and add in a tablespoon of honey or unsweetened apple sauce for each 1/2 cup sugar used. Add a little extra vanilla, cinnamon, ginger or other spice. Don't be fooled by the advertisements for fake sugars - they are bad for you. Aspartame is a neurotoxin and Splenda, a chlorocarbon, is hard on the liver and digestive system.

The next time you try the cake recipe, sustitute 1/3 of the flour with a whole grain flour. This is a lot easier to do sneakily with chocolate or carrot cake than vanilla or light colored cakes. Wheat, spelt or kamut work best. Heavier flours like oat work well in muffins and brownies. Gluten free recipes often include half "real" flour and half starch of some sort. You can usually drop the starch to 1/3 of the recipe without complaint if you use a smooth grained flour. Authentic Foods makes a finely ground rice flour. Sorghum flour is also smoother than most rice flours.

Replace all trans fats (like margarine, shortening and most commercial peanut butters) with real fats. Replace vegetable oils with flavorful nut oils and you can often decrease the amount used. Peanut oil is not expensive and contains 48% oleic acid, the same acids revered in olive oil. If a recipe calls for 1 cup vegetable oil, try 7/8 (or 3/4) cup of mixed peanut oil and melted butter. Add 1/8 (or 1/4) cup apple sauce. Although it may be tempting to use flax oil, DON'T - all its benefits disappear when heated.

Frosting recipes are usually horrible - generally tremendous amounts of powdered sugar plus a little liquid. The better ones use cream cheese, but you can lower the fat by replacing each 8 oz package of cream cheese with 1 cup and 2 tablespoons whole milk plain yogurt. Place the yogurt in a colander lined with cheesecloth overnight and allow all the water to drain out, then gently press out a little more. Flavor with 2-3 tbsp.honey and a pinch of appropriate spice or 2 tbsp. carob or cocoa. Beat in 2 tbsp. melted butter or coconut oil and refrigerate to firm the frosting enough to spread. This is so good with cardamom and honey that it's tempting to eat it straight!

A collection of short diet articles for New Year's

These were in Becky Holm's Douglas County News

The Grapefruit Diet and Master Cleanse by Larisa Sparrowhawk

Because it's that time of year, my next few columns will discuss weight loss plans, with a few simple recipes.

The Grapefruit and Master Cleanse or Lemonade Diet have been popular for several generations. The grapefruit diet requires you eat a half a grapefruit before every meal and consume no more than 800 calories a day. The Master Cleanse or Lemonaid Diet is a juice fast consisting of lemon juice mixed with water, maple syrup and cayenne, a pretty vile concoction. To make the diet even less pleasant, you are also supposed to drink salt water and or a laxative and take an enema, all of which promote dehydration, malnutrition and possibly laxative dependence. Medical professionals (usually) agree you should never take in less than the calories your body uses at rest. Since your basal metabolic rate will change with your weight and age, you may want to calculate it every few years. Try this website: Most women are between 1250 and 1450; most men, between 1750 and 1900.

That said, grapefruits and lemons are both high in vitamin c, and if you include some of the white pith, antioxidants, including bioflavonoids. Red grapefruits are slightly lower in calories than white and have impressive Vitamin A levels. Both fruits are full of water, low in calories, do not cause a marked blood sugar change and strongly flavored, so they are useful in diets.

Replace a 16 oz. cola drink (182 calories) with Pomegranate/Grapefruit "Cocktail": juice of 1/2 red grapefruit, 1/2 c. pomegranate juice, 1 c. flavored seltzer water for 107 calories. Or try juice of 1/2 red grapefruit or 1/2-1 lemon or lime, stir in 1 packet stevia and fill with seltzer water for 12-45 calories.  Or blend grapefruit or lemon juice with honey and ginger, stir in to seltzer or hot water.

Zip up a spinach salad with sectioned citrus and maybe some tiny shrimp (1/2 cup for 105 calories) or chopped roast beef or chicken breast (1/2 cup for 130 calories, both roasted at home to avoid MSG or other additives). Squeeze a lime over for dressing.

Low-Carb Diets by Larisa Sparrowhawk

Low carb diets were all the rage about 5 years ago but are no longer trendy, even though many people did lose weight. When carbohydrates are restricted, the body does not have enough glucose to use for energy and uses stored fat, instead. Several problems with very restrictive high protein, low carbohydrate diets suggest that a modified diet, while giving slower weight loss, is much healthier. First, meat has no fiber. Second, some of the meats recommended are high in carcinogens (such as bacon, ham and sausage preserved with nitrates). Third, high protein diets cause ketosis, which could be either desirable or very unhealthy, depending on your current health. Essentially, ketosis is what happens when your liver converts stored fats (triglycerites) into water- and blood-soluable fatty acids (ketones) that your body can use for energy in an absence of glucose. Excess ketone bodies are excreted while exhaling or urinating. If you are relatively healthy, your body should handle the conversion and excretion processes well.

However, people with diabetes (especially type 1 diabetes) or kidney trouble can develop ketoacidosis, which essentially means your body has become too acidic, or ketonuria, which is an abnormally high amount of ketone bodies in the urine, showing that your body does not have enough energy to sustain itself. (Interestingly, very low calorie diets can also cause the same two conditions, especially during pregnancy.) Both ketoacidosis and ketonuria can cause weakness, dehydration, miscarriage, toxemia, muscle loss (the body can create adequate glucose only from muscle tissue, but very little from fat), frequent urination, vomiting, dizziness and possibly death. However, low carbohydrate diets can also be very helpful in managing diabetes; the trick is to monitor ketone activity with test strips and to take in adequate calories.

For most of our time on earth, humans have eaten a modified low-carb diet, consisting of much meat and fish with the higher fiber, lower sugar fruits and vegetables that were available before the days of hybridization. Grains and beans were unknown until fairly recently in human development. Low carb diets that shun processed meats but include a lot of produce are generally considered safe and can be maintained long term. If you find yourself craving grains, make them whole and as unprocessed as possible.

Diet Pills by Larisa Sparrowhawk,

I can well understand why people would be tempted by diet pills. They are available online and in many retail outlets, including Wal-Mart, grocery stores and health food stores. They practically promise if you take a pill at breakfast, you will lose weight by lunch, without ever having to jog in the January rain.

Many diet pills contain caffeine, diuretics and laxatives, sometimes in combination. No one should EVER, in my opinion, take laxatives and diuretics at the same time. Not only are you risking extreme dehydration, but also malnutrition, because your body does not have the time to extract the nutrients it needs from the food you eat.

Sometimes high levels of caffeine are disguised in multiple different ingredients, not only as pure caffeine, but also as guarana, gotu kola nut, bissy nut, cassina, cacao, green tea and mate' . A few years ago, these were often combined with pseudoephedrine, ephedra or ma huang, all stimulants blamed for serious heart issues in young, previously healthy women. High levels of caffeine deplete calcium and vitamin C in the body, as well as contribute to insomnia, dehydration, heart and kidney troubles and osteoporosis. Many diets rely on grapefruits as high water, high vitamin C fillers. Unfortunately, grapefruits actually increase the effects of caffeine in the body. Tobacco, asthma medicines and many other medicines also increase the effects of caffeine. (Just like red wine is beneficial in small amounts, small amounts of caffeine, especially in tea, are considered beneficial, but larger quantities are considered dangerous.)

Country mallow and bitter orange and are stimulants that may cause irregular heart beat. Fat and carbohydrate blockers like Xenical and Alli can decrease the nutrients your body absorbs, including vitamins A, D, E and K. They also cause intestinal distress, including flatulence, bloating and diarrhea. Some diet products also include laxatives along with the blockers, which means you could have to stay home near a bathroom! Some appetite suppressants don't appear to work at all, prompting some users to take more than the recommended amount, increasing the negative side effects.

Research on chromium, conjugated linoleic acid and coenzyme Q10 suggest they help with blood sugar response, fat metabolism and energy, but have little or possibly no affect on weight loss.

If you read the fine print on most of the diet products, they recommend a reduced calorie diet combined with increased exercise. You may as well save yourself some money and discomfort, skip the pills and adopt a sensible eating and exercise plan.