Beauty is Nature's Fact

Thoughts and experiences in a changing world.

Don’t compare eyes

I’m uneasy about the ability of technology to keep one connected to a past life. Though we have more than moved on, some vestige of our former selves remain. An old picture appears. Or you see a once intimate friend, that extraordinary individual you looked up to, now a stranger at someone’s perfectly normal backyard cookout. I often wish the past could recede and resume the hazy cloud of mystery which the future once possessed.

All the same, the permanence promised by technology is an illusion. “Imagine a mountain three miles wide, three miles high, and three miles long. Once every hundred years, a bird flies over the mountain, holding a silk scarf in its beak, which it brushes across the surface of the mountain, that’s how long we’ve been doing this.”

Don’t compare eyes

Who is this mysterious, dark, and quiet girl?

The one who also doesn’t have any friends.

A couple decades later, you think,

“I wonder what happened to that girl.”

You search and find she became a doctor

and soon after killed herself.

You never had the courage to say a word.

What I eat now, How I lost 100 pounds, Final Part

Everything fell away.

I was off sugar for a long time, anyway. My teeth hurt too much to eat most crunchy foods. That did a lot of the work for me.

My meat eating dropped off, a gradual trickle. My crock pot broke, so I couldn’t make broth well anymore. The meat seemed too expensive to bother with when I was in the store. Do I really need this? An avocado would be fine. Less mess, too. I did buy a grass-fed beef liver which has been in the freezer for a long time with the intention of eating small amounts of it every other day or so, maybe a spoonful or less. I haven’t touched it.

And then I was sitting in a tea shop and understood green tea for the first time. Cleansing, vivid, radiant, complex, just like the music I was hearing.

And there’s tea’s subtle odour:

Tea whisked, like cares, into a froth.Takahashi

I ate the last of my summer pastured butter on some steamed broccoli. I walked around the store, not desiring to eat much of anything. A salad sounded good enough. Many salads. And cups of tea. Sue Ellen began to spontaneously make juice. Glasses of green liquid appeared in the living room like presents left by gnomes in the night. Mysterious and beautiful.

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I dropped from over 215 in May to under 180 today. I had to move four belt holes down, then bore a new one.

Foods which have been removed from my diet:

Standard processed fare.

GMO’s

Grain and legumes (unless fermented, as in miso or tempeh, or sprouted)

Sweet fruits (counting lemons and up)

Nightshades (I do, however, hold a certain admiration for this plant family. They posses a dark beauty)

Sugar, this includes honey, maple syrup, whatever. For someone without my history, a little seasonal fruit here and there, lemons, berries, are probably fine in small amounts. I hope to enjoy a ripe peach again at some point in the future.

Meat (I am taking some special codliver oil in small amounts). Organ meats and bone broth could be useful foods for some. I found they clogged my system in many ways.

Pork. Haven’t had any since I first went veg. Even when I went back on meat. I kept thinking about Malcolm X, and how he didn’t eat pork. I guess this is my tribute to him. I’ve heard it said that pigs are more intelligent than dogs. I’ve heard it said that pork is not digestible by the human body. I didn’t feel I could cross that line, personally.

Dairy.  Wisconsin may legalize raw milk this year. I think that fermented raw dairy from goats or cows of the right breed, fed grass, may be a useful food for some. It makes me put the pounds on, fast. Perhaps useful in other situations than that of being overweight.

Starchy vegetables. Some people probably have different digestion than I, and need more calories. I think my metabolism is extremely efficient, in terms of calories.

Foods I am trying to limit/avoid, which I don’t use much, but still come up now and then,

Nuts – I really need to not be eating them, but I am still eating handfuls here and there. They have phytic acid, which is a bad thing. And have slowed my weight loss and tooth healing. Hemp seeds contain no phytic acid, so I may come to rely on them more when I feel I am done losing weight.

Tempeh – I discovered that it browns very easily, and with Tabasco sauce is something akin to what I imagine buffalo wings taste like. A satisfying, emotional/recreational eating experience which served as a safety valve, not throwing me off the wagon as other foods would. I haven’t done this in a while.

Unsweetened chocolate, with no added ingredients. 100% chocolate. Another one of those emergency emotional eating things. “Raw” chocolate “nibs” and whole beans are sold at stores like Whole Foods. They hurt my teeth, cost a lot, and don’t digest well. I don’t really feel confident that these brands are any more careful about their cacao beans than the Ghirardelli company. Plus the baking chocolate is finely ground, much more pleasant to eat. I can usually only stand about a square of the stuff, and then start looking forward to my next salad.

Coffee

Morning on the steps at Augusta Avenue.

Dispersed night

phantoms

distilled into our steaming vessel

warm in my left hand

with gratitude.

Alcohol

A sweet man, grinning teeth stained purple.

This is a pretty good party! I’ll open another bottle.

We had some moments,

Maybe we’ll see each other around.

Foods I eat these days:

Salad with unpasteurized apple cider vinegar and olive or hempseed oil. Toppings.

Avocados.

Green juices. Celery, cucumber, kale, etc.

Non sweet, non starchy vegetables and fruits, including, but not limited to: lettuce, kale, cucumber, celery, parsley, broccoli, cabbage. Vegetables may be eaten raw, juiced, steamed, or first devoured by acidophilic bacteria and then consumed. Olive oil and salt occasionally make appearances.

Fermented vegetables. They are the thing, at least one of them, which you need in your life.

Miso: South River miso. It is non-GMO, aged, non-pasteurized, koji culture. The man who makes it, who has the appearance of a fit, aged hippie, mashes all the miso himself with his feet, in the traditional manner.

Seaweed: I am worried about the radiation levels in pacific sea weeds due to Fukushima, so I’m looking at Atlantic seaweed brands, like Maine Coast. Iodine, which is in seaweed in large amounts, has the potential to protect from radiation.

Green tea. Balance.

Supplements I take

Cod liver oil – certain fats, not found in terrestrial plant sources, are essential. Also specific forms of Vitamin A, D, B12. These were major problems for me on the vegan diet. I purchase a brand called Blue Ice, which is a raw, fermented cod liver oil. The clear stuff they sell at stores is not the real thing, and could actually hurt you because of the way they process it. I am interested in researching non-animal based sources of these nutrients, but for now, the cod liver oil is working best for me. I can’t mess around with my teeth. When they are more fully healed, I will look into other sources.

Blue Green Algae, spirulina, chlorella. MSM powder. Ginseng. Some other herbal extracts make their way into the rotation. There’s a bunch of different Chinese herbs I find interesting, but haven’t invested in, yet. Want to do more research before I do.

Zeolite clay. Geophagy is part of human history. This particular geo detoxifies the body. I’m a little scared of it, I will admit.

Medicinal mushrooms – if these things are a tenth as good for you as I’ve heard and read, then they are a panacea. I take reishi, cordyceps, chaga, and turkeytail on a regular rotation. I also forage for some local ones when I can. Southern Wisconsin species which are more than abundant are turkey tail, artist conk, and birch polypore. Go out and look at the forest. Doing just that has health benefit, too.

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That’s pretty much it. Doesn’t look like much, when you look at the list, but when I know I have a fridge full of romaine and cucumbers, some avocados perfectly ripe, a new jar of my favorite miso, or a couple ounces of a good Japanese green tea, I feel completely content.

Food has to be harmonious and balanced in order to support the rest of what you do and experience in your life. My goal is to find this balance and create happiness and contentment within and without.

Here are some things, looking forward, which I would like to incorporate into my life more for health as time goes on:

Grow more sprouts and wheatgrass. Ferment more vegetables in larger quantities and more creatively.

Ditch the lawn, and plant an awesome mess of weeds in our yard, and some food, too.

Study traditional Chinese medicine.

Exercise. Walking. Jumping. Moving around in space.

Contemplation. Formal and informal.

Sleep more.

Become a better teacher and musician. Work to remove clinging, expectation, and ego from both performing and teaching. From everything, for that matter.

Decolonize the mind. Discard unnecessary cultural garments. Not your friend.

Find a way to quit putting my energy into those things in the world which are dead ends in so many ways and instead put my energy into something that will be part of a new, more beautiful and compassionate world. Such a thing might just mean getting enough sleep and reducing stress so I can be a better teacher in the evenings, more patient, more creative, more energized, or be a better partner to Sue Ellen. Or maybe it would mean going on more walks, reading more poems and novels, or gardening. It might mean going to hear other people perform more often. Don’t do that enough these days. Maybe actually seeing my family more than few days each year would be nice, too. It might mean a loss of income, but a gain of so much more.

Fear is the only thing holding me back. It is possible that the fear is a good thing; I’ll proceed cautiously.

One should let many things pass without being duped. – I Ching

Root out all fear buried inside. Find it’s source, the great Bully, and deal with it head on.

Remember that everyone I meet faces the same end someday and was once a child.

I don’t recommend that anyone do what I am doing. I did it, and am writing about it, but I don’t recommend it. What I mean is, don’t try to just eat what I’m eating now. Please do seek health and seek a way to remove yourself from industrial food, and do it in your own way. I would love to talk with any of you about it, too, and hear your stories.

It has been amazing to have the support and encouragement from so many as I wrote this series of blog entries. I don’t know why I felt compelled to write this and share it with the world, but I have. It felt like a sort of release. I also love writing, and love to write, though I haven’t done much of it in a long time. Those of you who took the time to read this long, rambling, and at times weird thing, thank you.

Don’t follow my path to extinction, How I lost 100 pounds, part 12

Well, nobody belongs who’s trying to simplify his life. Nobody belongs who isn’t trying to make money, or trying to make money make money. Nobody belongs who wears the same suit of clothes year in and year out, who doesn’t shave, who doesn’t believe in sending his children to school to be miseducated, who doesn’t join up with Church, Grange and Party, who doesn’t serve “Murder, Death and Blight, Inc.”  . . . Nobody belongs who is fool enough to believe that he is entitled to write, paint, sculpt or compose music according to the dictates of his own heart and conscience.

. . . The great hoax which we are perpetuating every day of our lives is that we are making life easier, more comfortable, more enjoyable, more profitable. We are doing just the contrary. We are making life stale, flat and unprofitable every day in every way. One ugly word covers it all: waste. Our thoughts, our energies, our very lives are being used up to create what is unwise, unnecessary, unhealthy.Henry Miller, Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch

It is going to be very difficult to recount the last year and a half of my health journey. By the summer of 2012, I was rapidly gaining weight again. I had consumed much cheese, milk, and butter. I began eating meat again. I ate grass fed steaks, hamburger meat. I made home-made beef stock, which I loaded with spices and cabbage. I made chicken soup from pastured chickens. Delicious chicken soup with fresh rosemary, broccoli, onion, celery, and carrot.

The thing about meat eating is that it’s not the muscle meat you need, really. What you need, if animal foods are for you (and they aren’t for everyone, nor, perhaps for anyone, after all, in an overpopulated, polluted world) are the organs and the bones.

Of course, my addictive personality overindulged on the muscle cuts which brought me back to my childhood. Those indulgent Sunday dinners in Omaha in my grandparents’ kitchen. Salad and bread and butter for an appetizer. Rare steak and potatoes, stained red from the blood, for the main course. Ice-cream for dessert.

And I couldn’t kick sugar, not really. There was no defining moment when I finally kicked it. I went weeks at a time, then several days of chocolate bars, dried fruit, or cookies would ensue. Then off again. No sudden flash.

It’s difficult to explain in words what I’ve gone through since the summer of 2012, so it seems the best way will be to turn to the quasi-poetic, the metaphorical. What follows are excerpts from my journal of the past year, which I started, after not journaling for about eight years, in March 2012

March 28, 2012

A woman on the radio today, which I turned on for five minutes, said that when a person has a calling and isn’t able to heed it, it is tragic to their lives.

March 29, 2012

Dreamed last night. Ate some bacon in the dream by carelessness. Strong impression of being in a large isolated mansion. Mostly empty. Beautiful patina. Calm, wet, grey weather.

I am going to embark upon a diet that I have been doing on and off for a few months. No sugar, including fruit, no caffeine or alcohol. No grains, beans, or starch. Emphasis on vegetables, pickles, and herbs. Daily codliver oil.

At the time I was reading Shinichi Suzuki’s Nurtured by Love, a book about violin pedagogy (on the surface, at least).

Suzuki mentioned his health struggles. His Chinese doctor put him on a strict diet of only brown rice and fermented vegetables. He got better.

April 1, 2012

Animal fats – are they making me gain weight or is it the sugar I haven’t really honestly quit, or is it just plain overeating? Should I go back to veganism? Very uncertain.

April 5, 2012

[Long conversations with a wise, beautiful, fascinating friend 20 or 30 years my senior. Lots of viola da gamba practicing.]

[Extremely interesting dream] (ask me about it sometime if you’re adventurous).

April 8, 2012

For the first time in 7 or 8 years, I feel I am out of control and rapidly, steadily putting on weight. Not good. I will not allow this to happen.

April 12, 2012

Several nights of vivid dreams. Most forgotten. Is every moment a crossroad? An escalation?

Very inspired by Suzuki. So much of what he accomplished was in his older years. There is no limit to growth if you create the conditions.

When I first read Thoreau in high school I wasn’t impressed because a large part of what he said, I felt, was obvious. I came back to him last year. I was impressed because what he wrote was true. Someone needs to write that which is obvious.

Too much of our action is based on a vague fear of losing our institutions. Why do we hold on to them as well as our fears? We don’t trust our imaginations. As a result, we fetishize creativity instead of placing it in our lives in a functional way.

April 17, 2013

This life is making me fat. My physical body is a manifestation of the excuses. The heavy weight upon me is not a weight like a burden, just a large, dumb weight I carry around because I haven’t found the right place to dispose of it. There is another way. I will find it.

April 18, 2012

A dream:

Walking around in nighttime urban downtown

Losing weight

The librarian knew my name before I gave him my card.

“People who feel themselves in chains, with no hope of ever getting them off, want to put chains on everybody else.” John Holt

May 1, 2021

Loneliness is preserved in the urban landscape of fluorescent light embalming fluid in denial of the fear of the death and decay permeating our exterior architectures mirroring the interior. Are we fearful or simply self-loathing?

 I walked to the zoo and there were frogs singing.

August 16, 2012

I wrote this in my journal. I can’t remember if it was something I thought, or something I had heard and written down. I really like how it is worded, so I am guessing it is a quote from someone more erudite than I.

Addiction is falling away from clarity. Everything addicts and everything must then be viewed with a certain amount of wry suspicion.

September 30, 2012

Listened to a recording of Ginsberg reading his late poem, After Lalon (I highly recommend listening to him read it):

“I had my chance and lost it, many chances & didn’t take them seriously enuf. Oh yes I was impressed, almost went mad with fear I’d lose the immortal chance, One lost it. Allen Ginsberg warns you dont follow my path to extinction”

October 2012?

Terms of service:

terms of consent, sign and agree

read and understand.

Terms of addiction:

addiction to service, addiction to consent, consent to addiction.

Agree to terms, come to terms

 serve your term

to serve and protect.

Protect your assets and assess your situation.

Get situated, get it together,

together with you, you and me, only you, only me, one and all,

all for nothing, nothing at all with nothing to lose.

Lose your mind (the price of admission).

Mind your manners,

don’t mind me, don’t mind if I do

do nothing.

Just do it.

Believe it or believe nothing.

Nothing Matters.

February 2013

Tears on the shoulder of a beautiful girl with dark hair

One you loved, but didn’t know you loved

and woke up years later from a dream

with that empty place in your soul

she once occupied.

Repetition of missed opportunity,

 auditions you were meant to fail.

Failure is the lesson.

Loss, death, and absurdity.

A voice in your head says

Nothing Matters.

Tears and laughter.

This is life. That you will die, and it won’t have mattered.

You’ll have lost the audition, and loss is liberation.

May 2013

Love what you have. Take nothing for granted. Be humble. Stay grounded. Grow into a strong, thick oak tree. Embrace the inner dragon. Protect and provide strength.

I know the correct diet for me.

I will follow it and be healed. Slowly, in time, and grow strong.

Sugar and Compensation. How I Lost 100 Pounds, part 11

Giving up sugar became a Great Project; the most calm but difficult leg of the journey.

As a child, I didn’t want to get diabetes. My grandpa had it, and I knew he couldn’t eat sugar. I didn’t want the disease because I wanted to be able to eat things with sugar, for me a double bind.

I am confident that with my family and personal history, if I continue to eat sugar in excessive amounts (and with my eating habits, if I eat sugar, I only eat it in excessive amounts), I will develop diabetes someday. I believe that if I had stayed on a conventional diet, I would possibly be diabetic by now, and possibly weigh over 350 pounds. I know that it seems unbelievable to the people who know me now, but my weight gain was on the verge of spinning out of control. I was gaining two inches in my pant size every year.

My rising weight was a gift, because it signaled a need for change. Others who don’t hold weight may not be so lucky.

Emerson writes:

Fear is an instructor of great sagacity and the herald of all revolutions. One thing he teaches, that there is rottenness where he appears. He is a carrion crow, and though you see not well what he hovers for, there is death somewhere. Our property is timid, our laws are timid, our cultivated classes are timid. Fear for ages has boded and mowed and gibbered over government and property. That obscene bird is not there for nothing. He indicates great wrongs which must be revised.

We used to mow Grandpa’s lawn every weekend. He kept an old refrigerator in his basement well stocked with soda of all kinds for my brothers and me. After the work, I would smell the cut grass and drink my cold, sugary reward.

As an adult, I discovered, like an alcoholic who can’t stop after one drink, that I simply would not be able to eat sugar at all without binging.

This is how it usually goes:

Brain: You just ate sugar, and you know you’re not supposed to, but you just ate it. So . . .you might as well keep eating more.

Me: That makes perfect sense.

Brain: Of course, we can’t keep doing this, you know.

Me: Oh. Can I keep eating until my stomach hurts and I can’t take another bite? Tomorrow I’m not going to do it anymore.

Brain: That seems pretty logical. Actually, if that’s the case, you should get some potato chips, too, and maybe some ice cream. Do you want to go to the store? I’ll drive.

I hope that I can start eating sweet fruits again one day, but for now it’s out. Somehow, celery doesn’t do the same thing to my psychological condition. I can eat celery and not worry about overeating.

At first, I was able to gave up sugar for days at a time, in addition to grains and beans, but found myself very crabby and despondent. It was as if the sweetness of life was gone. I often couldn’t keep it up.

I would visit a friend, for example, who enthusiastically served starchy vegetarian delights and fresh ripe papaya and offer marvelous, imaginative conversation. I would always cave in. How can you say “no” to beautiful food in such company?

You can’t, it’s not worth it in such moments, if you’re not ready.

I look back on all the marvelous people I’ve known, people whom I knew I’d never see again, and wish I could have appreciated more. Been with them more, not more time necessarily, but just . . .with them more.

I have lived so much of my life with fear always in the back of my mind. What will the teacher think, what will the other kids think, what will my parents think, what will the professor think, what will the interviewer think, what will my supervisor think, what will my colleagues think, what will the kids think? What will those other friends think? Always grasping, clutching, and clinging at things and people, trying to possess them through the acquisition of their approval, including your own, based on the standards of others. And sometimes you can, for a while, but clinging always involves fear and eventual loss, and the more you cling, the sooner it slips out of your hands.

And sometimes forcing yourself to let go, denying yourself, is a way of clinging to the will, to your sense of agency. That is why you can’t give up those things before you are ready.

What is the message of such fear? Are we afraid of those others or are we more afraid of ourselves, either what we are, or that which we fear we are not?

We must learn to live in the singular moments of beauty we stumble upon without fear. There is an art to this. There is also an art to being able to return afterward, to let go of the saturation of the moment to the deep reality of every day. Those days which, strung together, have the potential to form a greater whole over the years. Then, perhaps you gradually forsake the whole and get better at living within those mundane moments within moments when nothing remarkable happens, but years later, you would give anything to experience again, even if they are clothed in pain.

Sitting on burnt orange shag carpet,facing the window

against the stained box spring mattress, cool to the touch.

That disgusting room in the back of the cheap boarding house

 on a sunny fall morning. Saturday.

The smell of mold, dead leaves,

and the neighbor’s cigarette smoke

 after a sleepless night. Listening to Bill Frisell

and trying desperately not to think too much.

I have attempted to give up sugar and embrace bitterness. I believe it has the potential to become a source of strength. I hope it will help me maintain health for years to come, though it is a steep price which I am paying. It’s a price I was forced to pay, in time, because I had already incurred debt with compound interest. Every indulgent bite of sugar caused more tooth pain, before and after vegetarianism. At a certain point, I no longer had a choice. It wasn’t a matter of pride or ego anymore, but just the thing to do.

But we all pay a price, one way or another. When you are with others, you know someday you will have seen them for the last time. In order to be with them in those moments together, you have to let go of the mind’s clinging. It’s one of those things over which you actually have no agency, the transience of existence.

As in the Flaming Lips song Do You Realize??

Or Basho,

The morning glory also

turns out

not to be my friend

I’ve heard that artificial sweeteners, the ones which come in the little packets, actually cause a person to be less able to appreciate bitter flavor.

I find sweet to be the least interesting of flavors.

Emerson:

And yet the compensations of calamity are made apparent to the understanding also, after long intervals of time. A fever, a mutilation, a cruel disappointment, a loss of wealth, a loss of friends, seems at the moment unpaid loss, and unpayable. But the sure years reveal the deep remedial force that underlies all factors. The death of a dear friend, wife, brother, lover, which seemed nothing but privation, somewhat later assumes the aspect of a guide or genius; for it commonly operates revolutions in our way of life, terminates an epoch of infancy or of youth which was waiting to be closed, breaks up a wonted occupation, or a household, or style of living, and allows the formation of new ones more friendly to the growth of character. It permits or constrains the formation of new acquaintances and the reception of new influences that prove of the first importance to the next years; and the man or woman who would have remained a sunny garden-flower, with no room for its roots and too much sunshine for its head, by the falling of the walls and neglect of the gardener is made the banian of the forest, yielding shade and fruit to wide neighborhoods of men.

Losing Control, How I lost 100 Pounds, Part 10

Eating dairy and meat again was difficult. Up to this point, my dietary health transformation had been easy. I loved all the food I was eating. I hadn’t addressed my emotional eating habits, yet. This is where the hard work began.

During my time as a strict vegan, I would occasionally wake up from nightmares where I had eaten something with relish and vigor, not looking at it. I would find out in horror, when I finished the plate, that I had just eaten a plateful of meat.

As I began to worry more and more about my teeth, I began having nightmares in which my teeth would start falling apart, crumbling and coming out of their sockets in a matter of seconds.

One friend, who was concerned, told me that nightmares about teeth have to do with fear of losing control.

I decided to embrace the cheese, as a result of having progressively worsening teeth and reading Weston Price’s Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, and Ramiel Nagel’s Cure Tooth Decay. But those books weren’t my first ant-veg reading.

I always maintain skepticism about everything I do, and had been questioning vegetarianism since I began. All knowledge is provisional. Some people appear to find this quality of mine infuriating, but I can’t help it. I believe in gray (or is it spelled grey?). I hope more people can learn to see the grey areas in life. They are where the interesting stuff happens. As I seem to recall Allan Watts saying, it’s the line in the yin yang symbol, where the black and the white meet (meat) that is most interesting.

Since the beginning of my vegetarianism, I frequently checked in at a website called beyondveg.com. It’s written largely by former fruitarians (fruitarians are people who only eat fruit) who began to question the vegetarian/vegan/raw food meta-narratives. I remember one writer, early on, a follower of Ayurveda, who recounted how he had learned to embrace the “mother cow.” That phrase had always stuck with me during my veganism.

The most influential vegan meta-narrative for me had been The China Study, as I mentioned a few posts ago.

The first point of The China study was convincing correlation between degenerative disease and diet among a large sample, studied over a period of over 30 years. The other major portion of the study was control experiment with mice fed diets of different types of protein. Casein, the protein in dairy, was used, and the rats got cancer. When they switched to a plant based protein, the rats no longer had cancer. T. Colin Campbell, the author of the study, described it as turning a cancer switch on and off. The combination of those two points was what had kept me vegan for so long.

I recently heard in a talk that there is a greater correlation between casein consumption and heart disease than cigarette smoking and lung cancer.

The China Study, however, has come under attack more and more in the raw/health food community. One of the issues is that not all casein is created equal. There are different types. Was the dairy used in the studies raw? Were the cows pastured or fed genetically modified corn and soy? What breed of cow was used?

I did a lot of research and gave it much thought before I tried cheese again. It seemed that, if the cow ate grass and the dairy was raw, and if it was fermented, then the stuff could be healthy. My ancestors, after all, consumed dairy for generations. My gut had the enzyme needed to consume it. I began to think of cheese and start hearing elemental flutes in the countryside playing jolly tunes based on pentatonic scales, kind of like when Link in the Zelda video games plays his flute to transport himself into some distant castle. There was something ancient and deep about our relationship with the cow and with grassland.

Have you ever had raw milk? It’s illegal in many states, including Wisconsin. Lets just say that a friend of mine had some raw milk. He decided to keep it out on the counter for a few days. It turned into a wonderful fermented, yogurt like substance called clabber. I am told that it was delicious and interesting.

Before refrigeration, dairy consuming cultures would have to consume their dairy in a fermented form. This is what milk does, the whey separates from the curds.

Raw milk is by definition safer than pasteurized milk. Fermentation is based upon making a substance acidic. Once below a certain pH level, it is impossible for pathogens to grow, only acid loving (acidophilus) bacteria can survive. These bacteria are the ones you need in your digestive system for good health. The acidophiles are already in the raw milk. When you let the milk do it’s thing, the acid lovers always win. Pasteurization, on the other hand, kills all the bacteria, both the lovers and the haters. When that happens, the milk is a wilderness free for the taking, and any evil bacteria or fungus from the air can come in and mess everything up.

Fermentation also predigests the food. Everything becomes bio-available, and less harmful, or so the story goes. So, if you can somehow obtain raw milk and you ferment it, it should all be good, it seems. But there’s more.

The breed of cow matters. There are A1 cows and A2 cows. A1 cows, like Holsteins, are the product of a genetic mutation, a newer breed, really. The protein they produce has been shown in studies to be damaging, including autoimmune diseases and neurological disorders. Almost all industrially produced milk is A1. Was the casein in the China Study from A1 or A2 cows? Many people would like to know.

A2 milk comes from older breeds of cow, the type who produce less milk, but live longer and make more nutritious milk. Jersey cows, for example.

That friend of mine I told you about, who tried the raw milk, visited the farm and fed the Jersey cows there. They were sweet, loving, and happy animals. He was switching (temporarily) off of his plant based diet, and it was a nice way to make peace with his relationship with the animals, to spend some time with them in the field.

I, of course don’t advocate any nonsense like this. The law is the law and should never be questioned . . . because it’s the law.

I’m just doing my job.

So, I felt two things at this time which compelled me to give up my vegan purity. One; perhaps the China Study wasn’t the end-all authority about dairy consumption for everyone, in every instance. Two; my teeth were getting worse every year, I needed to try something different. I bought some raw, local, grass fed cheese. I decided to eliminate beans, nuts, and grains from my diet, due to the phytic acid, and I tried really hard to eliminate fruit.

Raw, grass fed cheese is not inexpensive. Having removed beans, grains, nuts, and fruit from my diet, I didn’t know what I could eat. I ate a lot of expensive, delicious cheese. It didn’t digest so well, by the way. But my teeth did start to get better.

Of course, I went crazy. I was now binging on cheese, but on top of that, I never really kicked the sugar. It started with berries, a gateway fruit.

Your body can operate on carbohydrates, and it can operate on fats. When you combine the two, you put on weight. Well, I did, at least. It’s not possible for me to eat that “balanced diet” thin people tell me about. I was eating a lot of fats, more than ever, and still eating a lot of sugar. I gained weight. If I kept the sugar out for a week, my teeth got better, more opaque. If I ate sugar, the opaque islands on the teeth got smaller, instead. There were more sugar weeks than sugar-free.

I ate apples, bananas, grapes. I became seriously addicted to freeze dried mangoes which Trader Joes sold. I also liked the dehydrated mangoes, but those hurt my teeth more and faster.

At the time I was teaching as an itinerant orchestra teacher in something like five local schools (on a part time contract, of course). In some of those schools, I taught in hallways with violins which barely stayed in one piece while the kids played them, because they were worn out and hadn’t been replaced in years. Two supervisors even told me during my first week of my first year that they wished the schools didn’t have orchestra classes. Needless to say, it was stressful to not be supported or appreciated by my supervisors. I felt my youth, energy, ability, and passion were being squandered within a system which values charts, graphs, labels, punishment, control, and suspicion, over intuition, love, freedom, and self-empowerment.

I still feel that way, often. At every round of teacher’s meetings, I have intense thoughts about resigning, but then I start working with the students and I forget about all that bureaucratic stuff, and we have fun and learn things together. I’m lucky, because my particular job within the system doesn’t require all those pages of charts that have to get turned in to the government. By the end of the year, some of the kids get pretty good, and many of them seem to really love it.

To deal with the stress during the day, I ate in my car. You can’t really keep salad in the car. Fruit holds up, though. As do cookies and chocolate bars if you keep them out of the sun. After a bad class, or stressful situation unrelated to the class, I felt compelled to eat, and felt that I deserved it. Once I was in the car, it was as if I had escaped and could be myself again. I knew the negative health consequences, but didn’t care in that moment.

I’m sure it is similar to how cigarette smokers feel when they are stressed. “I need a cigarette,” they say. Other people say, “I need a drink.” You wake up, thinking, “Today is the day I stop.” But then the stress hits you, and you think, “No, not today, after all, maybe tomorrow.” The problem is that the addictive, unhealthy habit makes it so you are less able, physically and psychologically, to handle that stress.

“I eat because I’m unhappy, and I’m unhappy because I eat.” – Fat Bastard

It’s not excusable, of course, but you need to know that everything is actually excusable. Life is hard. By that, I mean life can be pretty great sometimes.

Internal contradictions, How I Lost 100 Pounds, Part 9

One of the most frustrating things about being overweight due to genetic predisposition to holding weight was the lack of understanding from those thin types who could eat anything and still never gain a pound. The most infuriating thing they would say was “why don’t you just exercise and eat less?”

That statement, at a certain time of my life (when I more frequently watched sports and blockbuster films), would have made me want to punch a hole in the wall.

After reading a very smart and insightful post about how the author had eggs thrown at her by random strangers, I started following this blog, though I’ve only read a few posts, it seems really well written and brings up many important issues.

Her most recent post makes the point that being fat is not necessarily a health problem. She is correct. But she also says it is impossible for a large person to lose weight and keep it off. I think she is not correct, in every instance, about this.

Most people in America are extremely unhealthy. This lack of health manifests itself in many different ways, sometimes it hides for many years in people who look fine on the outside. She makes the point that when a thin person has knee problems, you treat the knees, not their weight, but when a fat person has knee problems, the first reaction of the doctor is to recommend weight loss.

She is right! What causes the knee problems? Bad nutrition. Soda (diet or regular), smoking, high sugar, refined vegetable oils, phytic acid overload and lack of high quality vitamins A and D, among other things, as I discussed in my last post. Other issues – DHA, sulfer, magnesium, calcium, and silica in the diet. Oh, and vitamin K2. It’s complicated!

I do recognize that many large people eat an extremely healthy diet, but still do not lose weight. In my own case, my family had terrible eating habits and food choices. Multiple generations of my family, male and female, were very large. We all believe it is genetic. It is still possible to overcome this, sometimes.

Some large people, those in families of big people, say it’s impossible to lose weight. We’re “big-boned” is the common expression. My grandma always told the story of going to buy furniture with my grandpa who said “We’re big people,” and went on to explain why they had to buy a particularly sturdy set of sofas.

That’s what I was told during my entire life; this attitude, the “we’re just big people and it’s just your genetics” attitude. while well-intentioned, was actually extremely damaging to my self-esteem, particularly when victimized and socially ostracized during my childhood and teenage years. The adults say it with the idea of being comforting, but it backfired in my case. I’ll explain.

Here you are, a kid, being treated like garbage. You sit alone at lunch every day (no one sits next to you, and when you try to sit next to other kids, they tell you the seat is being saved). You get picked last for the sports teams, even if you’re just as coordinated as any other kid. You play alone at recess. You get laughed at in gym class when you can’t do any pull ups. Anyway, there you are, eating your half a sandwich and banana (you’re on a diet, after all), while the thin kids at the other end of the table are eating brownies, chips, juice, fruit snacks, and you’ve been told that it’s just the way you are.

You despise “the way you are” because it is miserable to not have any friends, to be made fun of, day in day out, to not be favored by the teachers who, even with young kids, subconsciously discriminate.

The attitude that it wasn’t my fault was terrible for my self-esteem because I hated what I was, and if it wasn’t my fault, that meant I couldn’t change it. The attitude, in my case, gave me the feeling that I had no agency and control over my life.

There’s more than one problem here, of course. The first, which that other blog I mentioned addresses so well, is that our society is not accepting of people of all shapes and sizes. As a fat child, I should not have been treated so terribly to think that my size made me less valuable of a person. That’s critical. That’s the external problem. What actually wasn’t my fault, what I should have been taught, were perceptions of me held by others. I think many adults, including my parents, tried to teach me this, but an abstract philosophical principle like that doesn’t hold a candle to real experience with other kids which tells you the exact opposite. It’s a tough issue.

The second problem, the internal one, is that one needs to find opportunity within adversity. Coming to terms with my weight was a huge lesson. First, it drove me to work to develop myself on the inside with less distraction than most other kids have. Second, I think it shaped me to become a skeptic, and to embrace an intuitive, self-reliant learning style.

I would like to think that it developed a level of compassion and acceptance of others I would not otherwise have. I’m still working on this one.

It was so unexpected for me to find a way to lose weight. At the same time, before the weight loss happened, I had to accept myself as I was and believe I deserved happiness, and that happiness wouldn’t be defined by my size. That’s an important lesson. Sometimes, I’ve noticed, you can’t accomplish certain goals until you are no longer actively seeking them, or at least needing them.

I recognize from experience how difficult it is. I went on my first failed diet when I was 8 or 9. I probably developed many of my negative eating habits, particularly binge eating, at this time due to attempts at different fad diets which my dad and I tried together.

I also recognize that it’s not possible for everyone, nor desirable, to lose weight. I want to stress that point, over and over again, as I have been. You can not judge a person just by looking at them.

Losing weight has been, and still is, one of the most difficult experiences I’ve ever had, but also one of the most wonderful. I’ve learned so much, not just about my body. So much letting go. Every time you let something go, you gain something.

And there are things which can’t be changed. What about the person who is short, and wishes they could be taller?

Or the person whose mother passes away too young. These are things over which a person can never have control, things which also leave no one to blame. Those are the more difficult and important lessons.

But those things over which we have agency, even when extremely challenging, should be looked at square in the face, and we have to keep trying, even if it seems hopeless at times. Stopping global warming and pollution, building a new alternative to the failed economic and political systems, ending violence locally and globally, fostering positive relationships, building our health, from where we are, as much as we can in this polluted, radioactive world.

You know, it’s an idea that drives my teaching. Shinichi Suzuki, the violin pedagogue, said “Every child can.” You have to believe in people, including yourself. You have to be able to dream, to see possibility.

Orchestras and other Institutions

This article goes farther in its level of perception than any I’ve read so far on the topic, that of the implosion of American orchestras, though, I think it is still missing some nuance of the issue. It makes a point, comparing the orchestra institution to that of the old Catholic Church and Vatican II. That is, whether to have a traditional mass or more accessible, informal one.

However, it fails to complete the metaphor. After all, you don’t have to go to church these days in order to get religion, spirituality, ethics, or “whatever it is.” Many people are inventing their own way, on their own or building their own circles, and large institutions don’t necessarily fit that need for a lot of people. Same for music, many people are making up a new way.

In that spirit, the best music I heard this summer was in someone’s living room. I don’t think the people I heard, one of whom in particular was world class, were paid very much. I don’t think they auditioned to play there. They played the music they wanted to play.

I didn’t find myself caring where any of them went to school or which famous places they’ve played in or famous people they’ve played with.

I am by no means saying that artists should not be supported financially by society.

But.

Playing music is one of the most wonderful experiences a person can have. If you are lucky enough to have had the nurturing and opportunity to develop your talent in your life, I believe you should feel grateful, and the art you make should be made in that spirit of gratitude (while still addressing injustice and pain of the world, if you need it to, of course).

Perhaps the biggest problem in our society right now is the problem of trust. We don’t trust one an other. The government trusts no one. Our bosses don’t trust us. We don’t trust them. We need some trust.

Of course, if you’re going to be trusted, you have to be honest, too, with yourselves and others.

None of this stuff is easy.

Thirty White Horses on a Red Hill, How I lost 100 Pounds, Part 8

I read a book called Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston Price. A dentist, Price traveled the world and looked at the inside of people’s mouths in the 1930’s. The book, published in 1939, reads at times more like a travelogue than a nutrition manual.

His study took place at a very interesting point in history. At the time, though modernization and processed foods were the standard in many places around the world, there were still a few isolated outposts where people ate the traditional, local diets of their ancestors, going back generations. Foods were chosen both for their availability within the ecosystem and their usefulness. At the same time, it was a crossover period. Siblings within the same family diverged. You could see how dramatically different nutritional programs effected people of the same stock.

All of the studies were enlightening, but particularly interesting to me were those communities he studied with genetic similarity to my own. I would advise anyone to pay attention to the sections in the book which correlate to their own genetic heritage.

Price went to an isolated village off the northwest coast of Scotland which comes close to my Nordic genes. As for my Germanic genes, he visited an isolated village high up in the Swiss Alps, at the time very inaccessible.

The diet in Scotland consisted of dairy, fish, and soured oats and barley. The diet in the Swiss village consisted of sourdough rye bread and cheese. Meat about once a week. I think there were some seasonal vegetables in there, too.

Price photographed villagers’ teeth and recorded the number of cavities they had. A similar pattern emerged everywhere he went. People who ate the traditional diet of their place of birth had no cavities. People who had left the village, maybe for school, and started eating modern foods, had cavities. If people switched back to the native diet, their cavity formation stopped, if they didn’t, their teeth got worse, and the teeth of successive generations got worse. Faces of their children were longer and pointier, mouths smaller and unable to hold wisdom teeth.

I’ve been scolded by family and friends in my attempts to eat healthy. “It’s all genetics,” they say, meaning, “just eat and enjoy life.” I saw how miserable those genetics had made those older than me (sometimes the ones doing the scolding) and I would like to see if I can change my genetic expression and improve that of the next generation, if I can.

The lesson of Weston Price, the big lesson, is that we have to broaden our view of what is possible for health. Not just our own health, but that of our progeny. You know, the seventh generation thing.

There are a number of small lessons, too. Phytic acid. Phytic acid is a form of phosphorous contained in grains, nuts, seeds, and beans. Phosphorous is a very important mineral in our diet, however, phytic acid is not absorbable. In fact, phytic acid bonds itself to the magnesium and calcium we consume, and whisks it out of the body. This is bad stuff.

Phytic acid can be removed in a few ways. The first is fermentation; sourdough, miso, etc, which actually turns the phytic acid into abosrbable phosphorous. Other methods include soaking, cooking, sprouting, all of which remove the phytic acid in varying degrees. Last is refinement. White flour and white rice do not contain phytic acid. Brown rice and whole wheat do.

What do good vegetarians who start shopping at the co-op do? They buy the whole grains. The whole beans. Soaking beans does remove some of it, but not enough. Good vegetarians also eat a lot of nuts. Nuts have lots and lots of phytic acid, negating any of the benefits of the minerals they contain.

What about the people who eat wonder bread? Well, Wonderbread has the phytic acid removed, along with all the vitamins. Then, they enrich the flour with the essential B vitamins and minerals which they took out, minus the phytic acid. So you don’t have to think about it.

This is why I say going off the standard American diet is dangerous. You don’t know what all those scientists have done to keep your alive for 70+ years so you can be a good worker to help grow the economy.

Here are some other examples. All milk that is not whole milk is required to have vitamin A put into it. Vitamin A is an essential nutrient for calcium and magnesium absorption. Much milk also has vitamin D, which is the other key vitamin for bone health. Everyone knows about iodized salt. Iodine keeps your thyroid healthy, and iodine has been removed from modern foods. I’m not defending these foods, by any means, but you can’t have so much arrogance that you don’t see what people have done in the past for the sake of practicality, and appreciate why they had done what they had done. You can disagree with it and move on, but there’s always a little seed of knowledge there to hold onto.

If you’re a vegan, and your teeth and bone density is failing, it is likely not from consuming too little calcium or magnesium, it is most likely because of too much phytic acid, and not enough fat soluble vitamins A and D.

The other main lesson from Price is that sugar is rare in local ecosystems. Sugar, at the levels it is consumed today, is a modern invention. The people in Switzerland only ate sugar when the wild berries were in season. They didn’t have melons or pineapples. They didn’t have fuji apples. Sugar is an addictive chemical which is highly disruptive to healthy bodily functions at nearly every level.

All of this knowledge was put forward to me again, in a more updated way, in a great little book called Cure Tooth Decay by Ramiel Nagel. Ramiel conneccts all the dots in Price’s work, and makes a recommendation for a modern diet. He includes special foods that must be consumed for special nutrients, and which foods to avoid because they will stop those nutrients from being absorbed.

Foods to avoid are grains, beans, nightshades (tomatoes, peppers), and sugar. All Sugar. Fruit, raw local unpasteurized honey, maple syrup, all of it. It’s all sugar, and it all messes up your insulin levels and insulin response and prevents your body from functioning properly. I can’t really explain it all in detail here, but I highly recommend Nagel’s book, he lays it out in an accessible, yet convincing way.

So here I was, eating what I thought was the healthiest diet of my life, but my body was completely deficient in these key nutrients. I was teeter tottering back and forth between attempts at raw eating which included tons of high sugar and high phytic acid foods, and vegan fare which included brown rice and beans. All the while, my stomach hurt more and more and my teeth were eroding visibly. And I was gaining weight again.

Here are some health-junk foods I enjoyed immensely during this time. Stone ground dark chocolate. Berries. Organic blue corn tortilla chips with amazing hot salsas. Vegan ice-cream made from coconut milk which tastes better than the real thing. Vegan cookies. Locally made sourdough white bread dipped in olive oil. A simple curry dish of tomatoes, beans, spices, heaped in large portions on rice, with a squeeze of lemon juice. Local craft beers. Organic, whole wheat pasta. Fair trade, organic, locally roasted coffee. Lots of apples, lots of peanut butter. Grapes. Melons.

Does that sound healthy to you? They were delicious, but I can’t look back at any of those foods any longer and think of them as health foods, as I once did.

When I think of all of those foods, I think about the toothaches they would give me. Also, the stomach aches I would have after eating them. A gross feeling which would last for a day or more, until the next health food binge. To me, at this point, it is like thinking about Taco Bell or Burger King. How did I get to where I am now from there?

I started to follow some of the Cure Tooth Decay protocols. Ramiel Nagel, a former vegetarian, is now a proponent of animal foods. He recommends grass fed dairy, specifically raw dairy and butter from summer cream which contain minerals, healthy fats, and vitamin K. He recommends organ meats from grass-fed ruminants. Shell fish, and cod liver oil, which has vitamins A and D. It can’t just be any cod liver oil. Raw, whole, fermented cod liver oil. The clear stuff with the mint or orange flavor they sell at the store actually has the vitamins removed and then put back in, and they can actually hurt your health over time because they are in the wrong balance.

When you follow Nagel’s protocol, you can actually see your teeth remineralize in a matter of days. A little opaque, white island starts growing across the tooth, gaining more ground each day. It’s a miracle. You can heal your teeth.

Nagel also recommends no caffeine. I find that coffee definitely stops or slows the remineralization process, but green tea does not. My theory is that it has to do with adrenal balance. I don’t think the caffeine in tea is the same as that in coffee. It works synergistically with an amino acid called L-theanine in a slow release way, which has many cognitive benefits. I think this is an important point, because among the hard core health fanatics, particularly those in raw foods and extreme vegan diets, tea is categorically dismissed and ignored. I have recently found the plant to be extremely helpful in finding psychological balance in my eating habits, and think many should revise their dismissal of it, which I think is founded in part by ignorance about caffeine as well as ignorance about the difference between quality tea and what you find in a typical grocery store.

I gave up being a vegetarian. It started with a little bit of raw, grass fed cheese, which looked like some sort of alien object in my refrigerator, and then I went all the way. I also began to rapidly gain more weight.

Green Man, How I lost 100 pounds, Part 7

In the fall of 2009, I told the DMV that my weight was 200 pounds, but in  truth, that had only happened on a good day, probably a month earlier. As said before, this would be my lowest weight until this summer, 2013.

Health is not something that is measured by weight. It is more complex than that. There is the mind. There is the chemistry. And don’t forget patterns of behavior. Some people hold weight, others do not. I am genetically predisposed to hold weight, but, personally, would prefer not to, and have found a way that works, for now, to take the weight off. My method would not necessarily work for others. Some like themselves as they are and see no need to take any “drastic measures,” or possibly those same measures would be more damaging than helpful.

I do believe that everyone must consider the moral weight of their food choices. The foods you eat effect biological communities, they effect the economy, the health care system, and quality of life. Your decisions impact the lives of others. This is the question Leo Tolstoy posited in his work, which inspired Gandhi.  Is any single person better, more valuable than another? If no individual is more valuable than any other, and you are a person who loves your immediate family, you must look at the trail your actions leave, how they effect the lives of those outside your immediate family. Many people who love their family and close friends are willfully ignorant, even hostile when confronted by the fact that their decisions are a contributor of violence toward others, violence from which they would defend their family to the death. And this can be extended beyond the human species. But that is trickier, of course, because we have to eat.

Consuming is what all living things do. All living things are also consumed. This is the nature of our relationship to eating, and to wild places. Wild places are all around us, not necessarily in the state parks. They can be in the alley, in the backyard, in the living room, in our pocket, in our skull. I would like to talk about wild places for a bit.

Having been busy finishing graduate school through 2009, I hadn’t had a chance to check out the less urban areas of Wisconsin. That summer, free at last, I went out to the woods at every opportunity. When I crossed the city limits, I felt I had somehow escaped. Western Wisconsin is a beautiful place.

I haven’t had the time to see northern Wisconsin much, yet, but I imagine it is beautiful, too. Unfortunately, that could change, due to proposed iron mining. This proposal would actually effect sovereign American Indian land, and the tribes are opposing it, but they shouldn’t have to. The U.S. government’s attitude toward American Indians hasn’t really changed all that much in the last 200 years, only their methods have changed.

Another local ecological disaster is that the sand used for hydraulic fracking around the country is being mined in Wisconsin. I won’t get into it, but it seems that polluting our precious fresh water supply, during this time of global warming and overpopulation, which both the iron mine and fracking will do, is one of the stupidest things the human species is doing.

I love overgrown wooded trails. I like that there aren’t many straight lines, that the light filters down in different colors, that the ground is uneven. I like the smells and the constant hum of the nonhuman others in the air. Things are messy and irregular. Lived in. I like that the woods look different every day, every minute. Just before sunset, when the colors are at their most vivid, you can feel the exuberant, ecstatic life all around; soil, growth, decay. Eating, fighting, loving. All at once.

We do ourselves a grave disservice by living in cities with concrete and artificial lighting. We don’t make our surroundings beautiful. Everything is made for practicality, for use. Our objects and structures are too seldom imbued with life and meaning for their own sake. We spend so much effort removing spontaneity and mystery from our lives, elements essential for beauty. We think that effort will create a beauty we seek, but in fact, we are defeating ourselves.

Have you reckoned a thousand acres much? Have you

          reckoned the earth much?

Have you practiced so long to learn to read?

          Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems? – Walt Whitman

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There’s this idea which most people haven’t questioned, that nature is a sort of cathedral for the human spirit to hike into, become renewed, and then leave. There is a growing discussion that many of the places we think of as wilderness, empty of human beings, have actually lost biodiversity since the time humans were (often forcibly) removed from them, when they were reserved as wildernesses by governments.

The truth of the matter is that, as a species, humans are actually capable of giving back to a land-base, making it richer through our presence. We have forgotten this because in the last several generations, all humans have done is take from the land. The land is considered either an adversary (and a formidable one, at that) or a storehouse for us to use without giving back. The land can be an ally, but that implies that we have to listen to it, and give something in return for its assistance.

I say this, because I don’t want my relationship with the woods to simply be foraying into them once in a while, recreational. That is not a mutually beneficial relationship, and, like any relationship, not as deeply satisfying.

Part of the problem is that many people don’t see the benefit of all the plants and fungi. It’s just a mass of vegetation that’s in the way. They do not respect the inhabitants of the wild places, trees, grasses, mushrooms, birds, animals, as having lives of their own that are just as important and valuable to them as ours are to us. They don’t see themselves as connected, only as an “other.” And they do not know how these other beings can benefit them through a mutual relationship.

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Herbalism is, to me, a practice of entering into a relationship with plants.

Part of reclaiming my health through food was a seduction by the plants in all their diversity and beauty. Fragrances, hues, textures, and patterns. The glory of a red cabbage cut in half. The intense green of wheatgrass juice. The deep browns, reds, and yellows of spices. The fragrance of an antique apple variety. It was a seduction which was beckoning me to go further.

That is why eating a whole-food diet was never a chore, never a matter of will power. I was blissfully eating fancy tomatoes, fancy apples, fancy peanut butter, gourmet lettuces, and artisan breads. So, please, don’t congratulate me on this. I deprived myself of nothing, I was just being clever. Well-prepared health food actually tastes better than mainstream, gas station food, as long as you have an adventuresome palate (which can be developed).

Over time, I became interested in foods with medicinal properties, foods which would make me healthier by containing complex, concentrated chemicals and minerals. I learned that common weeds, like dandelion and nettle, can profoundly impact one’s health. I began drinking herbal teas.

Many herbs are extremely bitter tasting, and many contain mild poisons which had been bred out of their cultivated, produce aisle counterparts. The poisons can make you stronger. The bitterness can make you stronger, just like the poison and bitterness in life. They are lessons. I have foreshadowed giving up sugar as an essential element of my health goals. Bitter herbs have helped pave the way.

Some herbs are just nice to have around, you’re not really sure if they’re necessarily making you healthier, but they make good companions. Chamomile and peppermint are like that for me.

Some have a psychological effect. Many people use coffee. I’ve recently been drinking a lot of green tea. I believe the tea has had a profound effect on my will power, energy, and mental clarity.

Others, you know, are good for you physically, and you need to make regular or semi-regular use of them. Oatstraw, nettle, dandelion, ginger, burdock, horsetail, tulsi. I cycle through these. Sometimes something new makes its way in, sometimes an old friend returns.

Other herbs capture my imagination. They have a mythology surrounding them. Or they have a lot of impressive research. Or both. Of these, by far, I am in love with what mycologist Paul Stamets has called the “medicinal mushrooms.” These are in general the polypore mushrooms, those which most don’t think of as edible. Polypores grow on trees, tend to be hard and woody, and many do not have stems. None have gills. They are the bracket or shelf fungi. The only way to consume them is to boil them into a decoction for over 8 hours. Some species taste delicious, others are extremely bitter. They are completely safe (always be sure to educate yourself before going out and foraging any wild food) and can be consumed in very large amounts.

The purported benefits of these mushrooms are based on long-chain sugars, called polysaccharides, which build your immune system. They are also abundant in minerals and other nutrients. These medicines have been studied extensive and there is a long tradition of their use in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Most revered and most beautiful is Ganoderma lucidum, the Reishi mushroom, pictured below.391px-ChenhungshoGANODERMAI have been taking a Reishi extract powder daily for the past three years or so. Though, I suppose I must occasionally get the sniffles, I can’t actually remember the last time I had a cold. Certainly not in the last 12 months. I work with children for a living, so I am exposed to germs all day. I never use hand sanitizer, but just wash my hands with soap occasionally. I remember getting the flu, colds, and sever fevers every few months through my early 20’s. Perhaps it is just normal in the mid to late 20’s not to get sick, or maybe the mushrooms really work? I would be interested to hear from others my age, or who have been my age, whether they get sick often or not. I believe that the secret to health isn’t killing every microorganism you can, but, rather, building your immune system from the inside. I have been working on this with medicinal mushrooms, probiotics, and, a diet extremely low in sugar.

My favorite mushroom, one that is very difficult to find in southern Wisconsin, is the Chaga mushroom. It has a black crust, and is orange on the inside. A small chunk, or tablespoon of powdered Chaga, boiled for a day (or two days) in a full crock pot, creates the most divine tasting, syrupy, deep liquid tea. Like vanilla. When I work with this mushroom, I try to respect it by extracting it fully, consuming it fully, and using it sparingly. I also often share it with people I care about, who I believe will appreciate it, so that I am not hoarding it. The first time I saw one in the woods, after having searched for weeks, must have been akin to how bird watchers feel when they see that once-in-a-life-time bird. It felt like encountering an alien intelligence who knew I was there, who allowed me to see it.

And mushrooms may be intelligent. Their “root system,” called mycelium, can be as complex and vast as the neurons in the human brain. The largest organism on earth, encompassing four square miles and estimated to be between 2,000-8,000 years old, is a mushroom in Oregon. How could something that vast and old not possess intelligence? There is also a theory, unproven, that mushroom spores can survive in the vacuum of space. Could these beautiful fungi be more ancient than our planet? More ancient than our sun?

DSC04808

Ganoderma applanatum, abundant in Wisconsin, also known as artist conk, can be turned into an extremely bitter medicinal tea or fun art project (you can make a drawing on the spore side), take your pick.

turkey tail

Turkey tail mushroom, used as cancer treatment in some parts of the world. Also abundant in Wisconsin.

sue ellen chaga

The Chaga mushroom. This one was probably over thirty years old.

Ritual is important in herbalism. Some herbalists only harvest specific plants during specific portions of the moon phase, and at specific times of the year. Others have words they say, maybe to thank the plant. Some people were taught these. Others make it up as they go.

Ritual, that is, attention to detail, can empower you by putting you in a certain state of mind where you are at your best, and you respond to your surroundings accordingly. Certainly, ritual takes us to the land of metaphor, but metaphor can become manifested in physical reality when attention is focused.

“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirldled, was sustained gently behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:” – James Joyce

If entering into herbalism, specifically with the intent to begin gathering herbs, It is important to stress a certain code of conduct. Don’t damage the other plants or soil. Leave a place better than it was when you came. Ask permission if the land is “owned” by anyone. Follow laws and guidelines; ginseng, for example, is strictly regulated in Wisconsin. If a species is rare or endangered, give it due respect. The plants are not there just for human use. They have lives of their own and places of their own. If we consume them, we have to be committed to protecting them, too. It’s common sense.

The old horticulture, How I lost 100 pounds, Part 6

In the spring of 2007, around the time I was making the switch to a vegan diet, I noticed some black spots on my back molars. I called up a dentist and made an appointment.

I had never had a single filling in my life.

This dentist told me that I had around 19 cavities to be filled. I told her I had recently switched to a vegetarian diet, and I asked if my diet could have caused the tooth decay.

“No,” she said,”that’s just what happens.” I got the fillings. My teeth had never hurt before in my life. From the day I had the fillings put in, onward, my teeth have been sensitive and at times extremely painful.

I’m going to talk more later about tooth issues, but at this point in the story, I ignored my teeth and went on with my life.

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Let’s back up a bit to somewhere between 2005-2006. My roommates began talking about the “raw” diet. A lot of transient types were coming in and out of our house all the time. Fascinating, creative people who were fearless, at least outwardly. All of them, when you took a moment to take them in, bore one scar or another from a past or current situation.

One, with wild long and curly blonde hair, thin as a rail, looked disdainfully at an herb garden I had been growing, tongue-in-cheek, from a kit they sold on television which someone had given me. He said, “No way I’d eat that, its got to be full of toxins!” Then he gave everybody chocolate balls he had made. I asked what was in them. He said with absolute relish (and a little arrogance), “antioxidants!” He was into the “raw” diet.

I didn’t think about it for a while. At this point, I was swamped in the trenches of finishing my education degree and still trying to maintain my playing, which is a very difficult thing to do. My roommates, on the other hand, had switched to anthropology from music because it was the easiest degree program to finish. They had lots of time to lie on the couch dreamily, to do spontaneous things like light our coffee table on fire, and think about things like the raw diet. I didn’t have the time, though I enjoyed all those eccentric pastimes, too, when I could.

When I had time, in the summer of 2007, I started thinking about it.

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I need to explain how I got to this point.

I liked the idea that the raw diet was weird and obscure. As veganism, a food paradigm dramatically different from the mainstream, had given me profound results, I was ready to question the dominant culture further and at every level.

Looking back, I realize I was always ready to question it, anyway, because the dominant culture never really earned my loyalty, deep down. You see, I carried a lot heartbreak and sadness, much of it unacknowledged, throughout my childhood. Though my parents were loving and nurturing, much of my childhood, outside of the home, was miserable. I never had a single friend at school, ate and played alone. Was constantly teased and bullied. If I ever fought back, I was the one who got in trouble. I, like many children likely do, lived in fear of adults, and never questioned them or their systems of control. As a result, I internalized much of their negative energy and redirected it onto myself, blamed myself.

I found all the school work extremely easy, so I secretly read books all day at school under my desk. I always resented the math curriculum which forced us to go through all the tedious steps, in mindless repetition, over and over again, for problems I could solve in my head in a few seconds.

And I started gaining weight. Sometimes, I would be walking, say at summer scout camp, past a group of kids in a pavilion. These kids, complete strangers, would yell out things like “Hey, fatty!” Once, our scoutmaster’s daughter, my age, told me I needed to wear a bra. All of this, as an adult, is easy to shrug off. When we see kids treating each other this way, we often don’t do anything. I can tell you, as a teacher, that it is often very easy to see how the child who gets bullied can bring it upon themselves. The other kids smell it (sometimes, literally), and pounce on them like a pack of wolves. But punishing that child is not the solution. You help them understand how they are bringing it upon themselves, and you help the other students understand how hurtful their words are. This has to be taken seriously.

A great teacher I know says “Sticks and stones my break my bones, but words will break my heart.” Also, and this is an equally serious problem, these behaviors manifest themselves in adults. Think about it.

Years later, I realized how it all went down. I was able to simultaneously acknowledge the pain of it, but also laugh at the absurdity. I don’t believe most adults know that this opportunity, to forgive yourself and others for the past, is available. Actually, I think many are afraid of this possibility.

Ram Dass talks about the need to have your heart broken, because then you get rid of the brittle shell, and you get to the deeper, softer part underneath. Many brittle layers of my heart have been chipped away over the years. So I was receptive.

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The raw food subculture is really quite something. There’s a whole host of mini-celebrities who go around inspiring people and telling them what to eat and think while taking their money. There’s a lot of euphemism for this blatant profit motive. They call the money “abundance” which they are “invoking” into their lives through the “law of attraction.” I think many of them are sincere and honest. But I have always felt very uncomfortable about these attitudes.

I went to high school in a low income neighborhood, and intimately knew many people trapped in cycles of poverty. I have worked in public schools with very high poverty rates. I have worked with children who are emotionally and physically damaged by no fault of their own, nor their parents, but by cultural and economic patterns we haven’t addressed as a society which have been with us, in the United States, since the 1700’s. Having this perspective, I often find this sort of willfully blind new age optimism, and I say this with respect and love for these people because I don’t believe it is intentional, unhelpful and often arrogant.

The Buddhist concept of Dukkha, suffering, I feel, should be honored in our thought, words, and behavior towards others as we attempt to relieve the suffering of all, including ourselves. We all have or will share in the experience of suffering at some point in our lives, and we should not think ourselves superior or different from others, because, in any particular instance, we feel we have been more clever at avoiding it.

On the other hand, at times we hold our suffering over others as badges of pride and superiority, we wallow in it and relish it. At such times, we aren’t able to acknowledge the profound love, beauty, joy, and ecstasy that is possible in life. It comes from trying to reify, trying to own, to objectify happiness. When we have this attitude of separation from others, if we believe happiness and achievement have to be earned by an individual, and we see another who is happy, we don’t identify with that happiness, because we believe the other person owns that particular happiness. Exclusive property rights. Well, the truth is, happiness is not something you can possess at the expense of others. Unconditional love is when you see this.

We must honor both the Joy and Suffering that will always be present in our lives.

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The basic idea of the raw diet is that when you cook something above 115 degrees Fahrenheit, it undergoes a chemical change. It does seem to make sense on a common sense level that heating some foods is a waste of energy and would degrade the food. Who in their right mind would want to cook a watermelon? Or lettuce? Foods which taste good uncooked tend to be pretty healthy, as it is.

There is a concept called the “junk food vegan.” The junk food vegan eats processed vegan food. Chips, cookies, meat substitutes, vegan ice-creams. A lot of this vegan food actually tastes better than mainstream food, so this is a real danger. It is luxury food, sold to a luxury niche.

I saw the trap of being a junk food vegan. I saw my weight plateauing, and the organic dark chocolate bars with pictures of happy farmers on the back, and trips to Chipotle increasing. I needed a new direction, and the raw diet was a possible candidate.

So I tried doing a sort of hybrid. Brown rice and beans in the evening, but lots of raw fruit and vegetables during the day, with the intention of trying a day, and then multiple days completely raw. I rarely made it longer than a day at a time.

The worst thing is this, you have to eat a lot of raw food to emotionally numb yourself the way a giant burrito can. So, at a certain point you actually stop eating. Then you have to face the real world, which, as I said, can be frightening. I could never get there, psychologically. I always wanted to just sit down with a big pile of something and eat until I was full and could then pass out at the end of my workday.

And the raw diet sales pitch never really landed. Many of the people promoting it for a living have really good genetics, so they look beautiful, with exuberant extroverted personalities. These people would still be gorgeous if they ate Kentucky Fried Chicken every day. They had all sorts of theories, many of which were bogus.

There are several approaches to raw food. I think they can all be put into one of these three categories:

1. High sugar. This is the basic diet that most people mean when they are talking about the raw diet. Pounds of fruit. Sweeteners like honey, maple syrup (which isn’t raw), and agave nectar (not raw, and actually worse for you than corn syrup). This is the easiest raw diet, in my opinion, to stay on, because sugar is almost like a drug in its ability to both satisfy and addict. When I was able to be raw for an amount of time significant enough to see weight loss, it was on this diet.

2. Low sugar, high greens other vegetables. This diet takes a lot of work. You have to grow sprouts, clean lettuce, make juice, clean your juicer. I never quite went all the way with this one.

3. The magic powder, supplement diet. This is a diet where you spend a lot money on expensive, exotic powders, liquids, and capsules. Some of the products are really fascinating, actually. Some are bogus. An example; for a while, a lot of raw food people were paying hundreds of bucks for this stuff that was basically diluted battery acid. A friend gave me a small bottle of it, which I never touched. You have to be careful, and look for a history of human use and real science to back it up.

Of the three, I think the second is the closest to being reasonable in terms of actually promoting long-term health. It is a diet of extreme austerity, however. Do the benefits outweigh the cost? That is always one of the questions. Some of the people who encourage the low sugar, green diet cite their primary motivation as spiritual. Think of it as a lifelong fast. It’s going to take commitment.

Mahatma Gandhi actually tried the raw diet during his life.  Even he, the man who could fast you under the table, concluded that it left him too weak and deficient.

But there are some good things about the raw food concept that I picked up. One of the main things is that in terms of health, preparation matters. What is going to be more healthy? Deep fried kale? Baked kale? Boiled kale? Kale salad? Juiced kale?

Another major lesson was that fresh green foods are pretty much the best food there is.

I feel great about the raw foods I do eat. There’s something gentle about them. They don’t make me feel bloated and lethargic the way most of the vegetarian cooked meals do.

Another key lesson I obtained while looking into more extreme diets was the idea of probiotic foods. Sauerkraut, kombucha, pickles. Probiotics are critical, and have to be raw, because cooking, as we all know, kills bacteria. I believe science is pretty conclusive there.

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I also learned about “cleansing.”

DIRECTIONS: Prepare a full quart of luke-warm water and add two level teaspoons of uniodized sea salt. Do not use ordinary iodized salt as it will not work properly. Drink the entire quart of salt and water first thing in the morning. This must be taken on an empty stomach. The salt and water will not separate but will stay intact and quickly and thoroughly wash the entire tract in about one hour. Several eliminations will likely occur.

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During the fall of 2007, I took a job substitute teaching while Sue Ellen finished her student teaching. Subbing is a fantastic job once you get the hang of it. No responsibilities once the bell rings. Go home, live your life, be yourself, knowing that even if you faced a tough classroom full of kids who see you as an adversary, and you’re an introvert who went into teaching out of love for your art and sharing it with others, not to deal with violent children, you don’t have to go back.

It’s often a very sad job.

But you do get lots of time to read and daydream, of which I took full advantage. It was during this time that I started researching all those weird health writers and diets in addition to reading a bunch of fantastic novels.

In January of 2008, Sue Ellen and I moved to Madison, where I began graduate school. We lived downtown, so I walked all the time, which is my favorite form of exercise. Still a strict vegan, I didn’t lose any weight, but I didn’t gain any, either. There were too many good vegetarian friendly restaurants in Madison to go raw, but I kept thinking about it.

And I was able, once, to stick to a raw diet for more than a few days. Summer of 2009, after finishing my masters degree. I kept it up for about a month, and got down to 200 pounds. Then, I went to a friend’s wedding where they served delicious, 100% vegan food. I fell off the wagon (or is it on the wagon?).

Which was just as well, because I had developed a serious problem with fruit. I ate whole pineapples, watermelons, scores of apples and grapes. Too much fruit, too much sugar. Sugar is a disaster.

In fall 2009, I took a job with the local school district. Though I did get an education degree, and I do love teaching, being a public school teacher exclusively was never something I had intended to do. I was heartbroken, artistically, at this point (this is a subject for another series of blogs). I steadily gained weight for the next four years, partly due to that heartbreak, a slow festering one, and also due to having not found any truly practical and effective answers to both my nutritional needs and psychological eating issues.

I simply had many lessons to learn. Sometimes things take time. I had to let go of a number of held preconceptions in order to make way for the new.

And at a certain point, certain foods start coming to you. Certain ideas. You no longer seek them out. You no longer have to. They are what you are looking for, even though you aren’t intentionally looking for it. The next leg of my health journey has been coming to this state.

The Zen poet Robert Aitken wrote:

Watching gardeners label their plants

I vow with all beings

to practice the old horticulture

and let the plants identify me.

Lao Tzu wrote:

The farther you go, the less you know.

Thus, one of deep virtue knows without going,

sees without looking,

and accomplishes without doing.

And Rilke wrote this astounding poem, (better I’m sure, in the original):

As long as it’s yourself you’re throwing to,
all is skill and trivial gain.
Only when your hand suddenly catches the ball
an eternal female partner threw
right at your core in a trajectory
that is an arch in God’s vast edifice —
then is ability to catch a glory —
not yours; the world’s.

And if you should possess the strength and daring
to return the shot —
no, still more wonderful, if you forgot daring and strength
and had already hurled the ball
(as an old year throws swarms of migratory birds
across the world that aging warmth tosses to youthful warmth) —
then only in such risks your playing matters.
Now you no longer try for easy prizes,
nor do you strain for what is hard and flatters your prowess.
Out of your hand rises the meteor
and speeds into its spaces.

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Before going vegan. Spring 2006 About 250 pounds, I felt thinner than I ever had in my life at this point. Sue Ellen had just switched over to a veg diet.
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Late summer 2009, we had just moved into our Monroe St. neighborhood apartment. I felt extremely healthy that summer, had been eating a diet high in raw foods, and had been going hiking in the woods nearly every day.

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Early summer 2009, making Sauerkraut

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Probiotic foods. Kombucha and sauerkraut.