November 24, 2009

Two Weeks on a Vegan Diet

Filed under: Allergies, Food, Health — marcstober @ 12:06 am

At the urging of a health care provider, and armed with a new copy of Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook, I tried an essentially vegan diet for two weeks. This means no mean, poultry, fish, eggs, or dairy. It also means no cream in my coffee, and rules out most commercial baked goods, which usually contain some egg or dairy ingredient.

How did it work out? I feel great! Then again, I expected I would; for whatever reason, I’ve never particularly enjoyed a lot of meat in my diet. I feel more relaxed and energetic, and may have even started to lose a little weight.

Of couse, I can’t tell if I’m actually reducing my risk of diabetes or cancer, as Colin Campbell claims of no-animal-protein diets in The China Study. I’m not sure anyone can conclusively prove that one long-term diet is better than another, and discern its impact from genetic and other factors that cause disease. But it seems right, and it doesn’t make sense to ignore reasonable evidence when it’s impossible to have a conclusive proof.

I feel that the whole exercise was a bit of a Trojan Horse. For two weeks, I did a lot of cooking from scratch, ate more and better vegetables and less junk food, and rarely ate from restaurants. I think I would have been healthier than usual on that plan even with a piece of fish or even a hamburger added in.

This experience did cement in my mind the uselessness of an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet. There was a period in my early 20’s when I primarily ate “kosher dairy” that included fish, dairy products (lots of cheese), and eggs. I don’t think this is particularly healthy, especially as it’s pretty easy to follow such a diet eating processed junk foods (which was its appeal to me at the time. 🙂 And, from a moral perspective, did your egg-laying hen really have a better life than its cousin in the oven? And does not eating them maybe acknowledge them a little less?

(I should mention that I don’t have a moral or ethical desire to be a vegan to not harm animals. I do make some efforts at keeping kosher, out of respect for God and what He’s created; and as a very general moral principle don’t want to leave a larger “footprint” on the planet than I have to. But I consider humans eating meat just part of the whole circle of life.)

So, do I continue? I timed the suggested two-week trial period to fit in between two trips out of town. Yesterday, the two weeks up, I put some cream in my coffee when I was out of the house, rather than taking it black. Then, I decided to cook a chicken that had been in my freezer for at least two weeks, but I let the rest of the family eat it and didn’t have any myself. This is the hard part: it’s great to eat a plant-based diet when I can cook at home, but I don’t always want to have to cook at home, or seek out special food everywhere. I want to be able to travel and eat meals with people in restaurants or as a guest in their homes (plus, I still need to worry about foods I’ve tested allergic to). I expect I’ll keep putting soy milk in my coffee and trying to bake without eggs at home, but I’m not sure I’ll avoid Dunkin Donuts completely.

November 18, 2009

Thoughts on the Jewish Future after a Lecture by Adin Steinsaltz

Filed under: Judaism — marcstober @ 9:49 am

For a class in college, I was required to buy a volume of Adin Steinsaltz’s translation of the Talmud from Aramaic into Hebrew. We mostly worked off photocopies of an English translation in class, though, and as a testament to my ignorance, 13 years later, I still have just that one of the 63 tractates on my shelf.

So, when I heard that the famous Talmud scholar was giving a lecture in my neighborhood–at the JCC, where I take Max to preschool every day–I decided to attend.

The topic of the lecture was “love and hatred,” and it was essentially a talk on the direction the Jewish community needs to take. Because we already know how to cope with hatred, but we don’t know how to cope with being loved, which is the situation today.

He gave the example that animals either have a shell or a backbone. For an animal to survive outside of its shell, it needs a backbone. All too often, it has been the shell–the response to an external threat–that has kept Jews together. (I’m not sure if he meant this an an evolutionary metaphor, but it sounds good to me to say we must make an evolutionary leap.)

He also gave the example of a Jewish woman who become a Buddhist nun, who says she doesn’t find anything in Judaism because it’s about kneidlach, and she’s a vegetarian. And he admitted that kneidlach aren’t enough. Which I wholeheartedly agree with, but it’s a pretty radical idea. The voice of the typical Jew that I imagine, perhaps not of my generation, but certainly of Steinsaltz’s, would be offended. Jews who prided themselves on secular learning and achievement and on sticking together for chicken soup and to remember the Holocaust would be quick to respond to such an idea with a litany of people who still hate us.

I think that we may have, very recently, reached an inflection point, accelerated by the weakened economy. Jewish institutions that speak to people’s needs for meaning, connection, celebration and wisdom are thriving; those that exist now simply for historical reasons are threatened. People who maintained a traditional life out of guilt have fallen away, and people who practice out of personal motivation have joined. (Though I might have a skewed perspective, because I have sought out a certain sort of community and base my knowledge on that.)

In response to a question, he indicated that a single lecture to a general audience could not provide specific solutions, but rather was a way to get people in thinking about certain questions. The main point was the need to focus on the “backbone” problem. Which is not entirely black-and-white, because there is still antisemitism; and Judaism already has a strong backbone of culture, philosophy, ritual, literature, etc. (but far too few learn it).

It seems obvious to me, but I’m often surprised how often Jewish institutions don’t see it as their fundamental mission to get as many people as possible “turned on” to Judaism. When I worked at United Synagogue (which does, in fact, have a few programs that do “turn on” people) I was struck that the talk was more about service to members or at best outreach to a static group of members rather than a a true mission to reach as many people as possible with something we believe in. This is not to ignore that different organizations have different tactics and competencies and will reach different people; but we also can’t ignore the sacred mission that we all (should) share.

On this topic, Steinsaltz quoted from Alice in Wonderland: “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” (This was somewhat déjà vu, too, because I seen a children’s theater program perform Alice in Wonderland on that same stage earlier this year.) Jewish life is just like an other endeavor in this regard: if you’re focused on what you’re doing, and not growing in some dimension, you may feel like you’re running but you’ve actually been left behind.

I suspect that sometimes Jewish groups are reluctant to promote their work because it is a special mission, so let me be clear: When I say “turned on” I don’t mean converting people or anything on that level. As in other enterprises, a great product still needs to be sold. In my field, computer software, a developer can write a perfect, elegant, efficient program and no one might use it; while a company with a less perfect program and great marketing wins in the marketplace. Similarly, keeping the treasures of Judaism locked up in books accessible only to scholars does not protect it; it is only preserved as much as people can learn it. We don’t want to be hated; the more learning, the more we can cope with being loved.

Steinsaltz (quoted on Wikipedia) said, “I never thought that spreading ignorance has any advantage.” I agree with that. There are many organizations, some of which I’m a part of, that are already doing a great job spreading Jewish knowledge, but there is much more that can be done.

November 6, 2009

New York Times Magazine on Dr. Brent James and Health Care Innovation

Filed under: Health — marcstober @ 8:51 am

For those of you who know about the Innovation project I did at work last year, this is a lot of what we researched. These are the ideas that will actually reduce costs (hopefully after we’ve achieved coverage reform nationally, as we already have in Massachusetts). While they only briefly mention computers in the article, just as in any industry, predictable, better organized, more measurable care will in large part depend on IT.

The health care debate of 2009 has had so many moving parts that it has sometimes seemed impossible to follow. The crisis behind the debate, though, is about one thing above all: the scattershot nature of American medicine. The fee-for-service payment system — combined with our own instincts as patients — encourages ever more testing and treatments. We’re not sure which ones make a difference, but we keep on getting them, and costs keep rising. Millions of people cannot afford insurance as a result. Millions more have had their incomes pinched by rising insurance premiums. Medicare is on a long-term path to insolvency. The American health care system is vastly more expensive than any other country’s, but our results are not vastly better.

via Magazine Preview – If Health Care Is Going to Change, Dr. Brent James’s Ideas Will Change It –

November 3, 2009

EFF’s Takedown Hall Of Shame, Protecting Free Speech

Filed under: Information Politics, Politics, Software Blog — marcstober @ 9:03 pm

It seems like you can find everything on the Internet. Which is why it’s so important to point out when things that matter aren’t on the Internet.

Bogus copyright and trademark complaints have threatened all kinds of creative expression on the Internet. EFF's Hall Of Shame collects the worst of the worst.

via Takedown Hall Of Shame | Electronic Frontier Foundation.