January 28, 2019

Canada's New Industry-Free Food Guide

Click to link to the new Canada Food Guide.

The new food guide is out! The new food guide is out!

Most Canadians will be as excited about the release of the new national food guide as they are about a new phone book coming out (does that still happen?). 

But the updated food guide is here, and I am eating it up for a variety of reasons.

What our food guide should be is an evidence-based, easy to understand guide to lead Canadians toward patterns of eating that will minimize their risk of developing chronic diseases (including obesity and diabetes), as well as minimize their impact on the environment. 

The new guide does that. 

Instead of highlighting four food groups (fruits/vegetables, meat and alternatives, milk and alternatives, and grains), it looks at fruits/vegetables, grains, and protein.

Contrary to past versions of the guide, this time there was no industry involvement, thus avoiding the obvious conflict of interest that tainted past food guides, like the last version that came out in 2007.

Here are a few of the industry players that were involved last time:

  • Brewers of Canada
  • The Canadian Meat Council
  • The Canadian Sugar Institute
  • The Canola Council of Canada
  • The Confectionery Manufacturers Association of Canada
  • Dairy Farmers of Canada
  • Edible Oil Foods Association of Canada
  • Food and Consumer Products Manufacturers of Canada
  • Kellogg Canada Inc.
  • Refreshments Canada
  • Weston Bakeries Limited
  • The Beef Information Centre

This time? None.

The new Canadian Food Guide is similar to other evidence-based dietary advice.

Some of my take-aways from looking at the new guide:

- beverage of choice is water 

- recommends drinking less fruit juices - 1/2 cup a day

- does not exclude any food groups, but advises Canadians consume less red meat, dairy, starchy foods, and processed foods

- suggests people improve their diets by cooking more, and eating out less

- also highlights the importance of eating together (although I believe they should have pointed out the benefits of cooking together as well)

- based on an emerging scientific consensus about plant-based diets and limiting things like sugar, sodium and unhealthy fats 

- it reflects trends that have already begun, such as eating more plant based protein, and drinking alternative milks 

The simplified, evidence-based new guide recommends a meal look something like this:

- 1/2 of meal is vegetables/fruits. 

- 1/4 of meal is protein foods, emphasizing plant-based foods like beans and lentils, but also including small amounts of meat, dairy, and eggs.

- 1/4 of meal is whole grain foods. 

As can be expected, there has been a backlash to the new guide, with one reviewer calling it an "elitist" document. It's a sign of the times when a food once shunned because of its association with poverty and the poor, the lowly (but nutritious) bean, is all of a sudden part of an elitist conspiracy.

Finally, it is good to see that our new food guidance from our national government is in alignment with the recently released "Planetary Health Diet". That report claims that the diet they have come up with would save millions of lives and mitigate climate change at the same time.

And it's tasty. You really can't lose. 

Unless you are part of the food industry that makes sick, fat profits while making us sick and fat.

"Every year in Canada, 21,000 - 47,000 Canadians die from diet and weight related illnesses, costing taxpayers between $6.6 and $11 billion dollars."  

January 23, 2019

Back Into The Woods

"If you don’t go out in the woods 
nothing will ever happen 
and your life will never begin." 

- Clarissa Pinkola Estes

All house and no woods makes Gregg a dull boy. 

After weeks of weather conditions not conducive to hiking, or snowshoeing, I decided to just get out there. I needed a good dose of nature or I was going to lose my mind. 

There was a skiff of fresh snow on the ground, but not enough to support snowshoes, so I put on my hiking boots and fired myself out the back door, across the field, and entered my sacred space - The Woods.

As usual, it was perfection. 

I always hike with walking poles, so didn't have to worry about my footing. I followed a flagged property line down the valley to the brook at the bottom. When I got there, it felt like visiting an old friend's house; somewhere I was welcome and supported.

The brook, which I have visited in all seasons many times over the past 4 years since arriving here from our previous home on the west coast, was higher, louder, and flowing faster than I have ever seen before. 

We have had several gnarly storms recently, and the weather has been mild enough for rain as well as snow melt. I couldn't help but imagine what it would be like if I fell into the brook. 

Is that too morbid?

I don't know if it was morbid, but it was deliciously scary, and I was totally transfixed on the speeding liquid below me.

Would I live long enough in the quick, cold water to float all the way down to the ocean, 5 km downstream? Probably not. Brrr. Ok, that IS morbid.

I shivered just thinking about such an icy immersion, and stepped carefully as I hiked along the bank. I thought of Linda, home alone and waiting for my return, and longed to back with her in our warm house, sharing pictures and stories.

If I don't go back into the woods, my life may never begin, but if I do go into the woods, my life may end. 

Nature can nullify as likely as it can nurture, and I find that vital and exciting. I don't worry too much about it, because I know that if you treat nature with respect and care, everything will be alright. 

And on this particular hike, everything was.

I got home, and Linda's smile said it all. Her dull boy was gone, and a fully refreshed version stood before her, safe and sound.

“There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.” 

- Willa Cather

January 21, 2019

Who Would MLK Hate?

On April 4th, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed while in Memphis, Tennessee. King will be remembered not only for his commitment to the cause of equality for African Americans but also for his attempt to unite all oppressed peoples wherever they may be.

"Black Power" was somewhat acceptable to the elite, but "Poor Power" was too much. That made many people in high places very afraid, that threat of a united front aligned against the status quo.  

They feared and hated him so much that they orchestrated his assassination, and America has never fully recovered from the loss.

But who would MLK Jr hate?

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. 
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. 
Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

- Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love

January 20, 2019

Nature Poet Mary Oliver Passes At 83

"Go easy, be filled with light, and shine."

I discovered American poet Mary Oliver in 2014, when I was introduced to her poem "Wild Geese", which I thought had a Zen quality to it. I shared that work in a post that can be found here

This week I discovered that Oliver had sloughed off this mortal coil and returned to her love, Nature, and The One. Now she is the honking of the geese, the light flowing from the tree's branches, the joy of nature itself.

I can't think of another poet that even comes close to accurately describing the way I feel when I am in Nature. In her time on Earth, she knew the ecstasy of the natural world, and that was reflected in her words. I am happy to say that I feel it, too.

Her wisdom and love of solitude and all things natural made her unique among the poets. Her work is a salve to coat the sores of sickness and surreality caused by the built environment, boring careers, and the tedium of social conventions.

When I Am Among The Trees

When I am among the trees, especially the willows and the honey locust, equally the beech, the oaks and the pines, they give off such hints of gladness. I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself, in which I have goodness, and discernment, and never hurry through the world but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out, “Stay awhile.” The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,“and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.”

Finally, some thoughts from Oliver's "When Death Comes":

When it's over, I want to say all my life I was a bride married to amazement. 
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms. 
When it's over, I don't want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real. 
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument. 
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

I love Mary Oliver, celebrate her contributions, and mark her passing at 83 years of experience.

Thank you, Mary.

January 17, 2019

Turn Your Credit Cards Into Something Useful

Credit cards, as well as gift cards, are NOT recyclable. What a waste. But good things can be done with them.

This, however, is the best use of credit cards that I have seen yet. 

Don't just cut them into little pieces and throw them out - use this handy dandy tool to repurpose them as guitar picks.

Guitar not included, but you could probably make one of those out of credit cards too, if you tried.

There are many other good things people have found to do with repurposed credit and gift cards, such as mosaics, curtains, and wreathes. But for me, the plectrum is perfect.

January 16, 2019

Amish Reality

Most of us know about the community practice of Amish barn raising. But did you know that those barns can last 1000 years or more? Obviously, these simple living folks are doing something right. Perhaps they have something to teach us, or at least remind us of our own recent past.

I don't usually like reality shows, but found one I enjoy. Linda and I have been watching a program in which a group of big city British teens from London spend time in America living with the Amish. We are talking some extreme culture shock.

Far from the maddening urban environment, the teens spend time in places where bird calls and the wind are the loudest sounds. They do chores and swim in fish-filled ponds.

In addition to their new found peace and quiet, the participants find value in a simple way of life that has largely disappeared from their own country. They also find harsh realities in the seemingly idyllic farming communities.

One teen in particular is uncomfortable with being told she is one of the lost that will experience eternal damnation in the afterlife. Another participant could not agree that women are inherently less than the menfolk. None of them liked getting up before the sun, and having to give up all electronics caused initial withdrawals.

The city kids found these things particularly challenging, as would I. But they could still see the benefits of a simple life lived close to nature, family and community, with wholesome hard work filling the days.

One participant, Charlotte talked about why she wanted to have the experience of living a radically different life for a while.

"I wanted a simpler life. I was bored with the pressure to look a certain way: to wear make-up and clothes that were quite flaunty in order to fit in. I wanted to draw back from our society."

Once back at home after the show ended, she said, 

"Back home I was very sad to leave Amish-land, even though at times I thought they needed more freedom and choice in their lives.  
When I got back to England I didn’t like it at all. 
But while it was hard settling back, I’ve got used to it. I found I have more respect for my parents, and it’s helped me to become more independent. I don’t think I’d have coped at university without that experience.  
I really want to go back." 

Another participant, Jordan, was initially attracted by how content the Amish were, when people back home always "want more". Like many of us, he was addicted to his electronics.

"I happily spend all day on the internet or tweeting or watching TV. And I couldn’t imagine how I could cope without my BlackBerry — it was such a big part of my life. 
It was weird when it was first taken away, but I was surprised how soon I realized I wasn’t bothered about it. 
And now I’m back, I don’t even know which pocket my phone’s in."

By the end, all the British teens would be profoundly changed by their experience living with the Amish. I think that is because that kind of simplicity has a broad appeal that is timeless and enduring. 

It has served the Amish in America very well over the past 300 years, a time in which their way of life has changed very little.

All humans should know that the simple life, Amish style or otherwise, is always a viable alternative to over-consumption, hyper-competitiveness, and trying to out-buy your neighbours.

Maybe if more young people knew this, we would have fewer unhappy, discontented adults struggling to pay the bills for things they don't really want or need.

"Living With The Amish", Part 1 of 6, here.

January 13, 2019

The Woods Are Calling

I have not been in the woods for some time; they beckon me.

For several weeks our weather has not been conducive to hiking, riding, or snowshoeing, limiting my outside activities. Besides some minor snow shovelling, I have been relying on inside physical activity to keep me going.

I tend to our home, which takes some effort, and I have resumed my previous practice of doing some yoga (sun salutations) in the morning. While I love it all, I most enjoy taking my exercise outside. 

While out in nature, snowshoeing is one of my favourite activities. I have only been able to get out twice so far this season, definitely not the record-breaking snowfall of our first year in rural Nova Scotia. 

This year I have had to make do with looking at previous snowy woods photos, including those in this post which were taken on my last outing, all the way back on winter solstice.

The past few days have been cold, and some snow has been falling. The ground is no longer bare and frozen, and the woods are accumulating a bit of a base of the white stuff.

However, I am dreaming of an epic, magical event that transforms everything into a muffled, quiet wonderland. I want to wake up tomorrow morning and see the woods transformed and waiting for me. 

Then I can heed their call.

January 10, 2019

Is Materialism Instinctive?

"Me Grog. Me big caveman - need storage cave for all my extra stuff."

Is a focus on materialism an instinctive behaviour? Is it human nature? Are we predisposed to want to accumulate things? 

Materialism researchers James Burroughs and Aric Rindfleisch think they have it figured out. I have my doubts.

"Telling people to be less materialistic", they say, "is like telling people that they shouldn’t enjoy sex or eat fatty foods. People can learn to control their impulses, but this does not remove the underlying desires."

Sex and eating fatty foods are survival strategies for humans since early times. But until recently, accumulating things as a human would be a very bad idea running counter to effective survival strategies. 

We are the most adaptable and mobile species on Earth. In order to do this, we have, for hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, had to travel light. As nomadic people, extra accumulation of stuff would not be an evolutionary advantage.

If the researchers are right, where is the evidence of acquisitiveness in the archaeological record? Did cave dwelling humans have off-site storage caves to store all their extra pointy sticks, and rocks and stuff? 

If so, where are they? Where are Grog's Super Self-Storage Caves?

People don't really want 10 tons of crap. Or the storage caves or lockers to put it all in. They want to be loved, to be content, to be part of a vibrant community of supportive compassionate citizens. 

Those are the real underlying desires, and we have been told that the accumulation of stuff will bring us all of that through the completely artificial construct of consumerism.

Survival is instinctive. Materialism is a learned behaviour, and one that now runs contrary to our survival. Even a cave dweller could see that.

If the love of things is learned, it can be unlearned. That is what this blog is all about - unlearning the destructive consumeristic behaviours we have been inculcated with by a sick system that does not care one whit about our survival. Or the survival of the planet.

January 7, 2019

Simple Living And Consumerism Both Promise Happiness - Only One Delivers

Want to kill consumerism? Being happy with less is the way to do it.

Simple living and consumerism both offer the promise of happiness. That is about all they have in common.

Simplicity seeks happiness internally. Consumerism seeks happiness externally.

Simplicity teaches us to aspire to a better life with less. Consumerism teaches us to perpetually desire more.

Simplicity teaches detachment from the empty promises of the merchants of materialism. Lasting happiness while engaging in consumerist exploits is unlikely to happen - it is intentionally designed that way to keep consumers constantly unsatisfied and looking to buy relief.

Simple living teaches us to be selfless. Consumerism teaches us to be selfish.

Simplicity teaches us to love all living beings. Consumerism teaches us to love all our things.

Simplicity teaches us to not compare. Consumerism teaches constant comparison, and gives lessons in jealousy and insecurity.

Simple living teaches the use of minimal materials. Consumerism teaches blatant overconsumption. 

Simplicity teaches us to live in the present moment. Consumerism teaches us about a future world of endless desires, and the past’s inevitable dissatisfactions.

Simplicity teaches peace of mind. Consumerism, even with all that “great” stuff, can only teach dissatisfaction.

Consumers eventually learn of the limitations of trying to buy their way to an ever elusive contentment. Slowly, reluctantly, the unsatisfied turn to simple living, a tried and true method for attaining lasting happiness, peace, and contentment. 

Many are waving the white flag and surrendering to the reasoning inherent in the practice of simplicity. Letting go of endless material pursuits, simple living practitioners are allowing the simple life to lead them to more satisfying and authentic ways of being. 

The results speak for themselves. 

Simple living has been serving billions of satisfied customers for thousands of years. Satisfaction guaranteed. 

That is a promise that can not be beat at any price.

January 3, 2019

Mindfulness Quells Desires To Consume

“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves - slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.”

― Thich Nhat Hanh

Consumerism is dependent on a population that is insecure. Consumers consume more after been pushed off balance by advertising, propaganda, and cultural programming designed to cause us to be fearful and incomplete.

We try to buy our way back to balance, but it does not work, and we become even more wobbly. How do we get out?

Mindfulness. An awareness of the present, unhindered by past and future desires. Through this, we reclaim our attention, and our freedom to be unassailed by ceaseless messages to buy, buy, buy.

"The ‘attention economy’ can be understood as a new arena of struggle in our age of neoliberal governmentality; as the forces of enclosure – having colonized forests, land and the bodies of workers – are now extended to the realm of our minds and subjectivity. 
This poses questions about the recovery of the ‘mindful commons’: the practices we must cultivate to reclaim our attention, time and lives from the forces of capitalization."

- Peter Doran

One of the mindfulness practices that has been cultivated over the ages is the simple experience of preparing and drinking tea. 

1. Make your tea with care and attention.

2. Find a nice, quiet place to drink the tea. Before settling in, notice the tea, the place, yourself.

3. Before taking your first sip, give thanks. Think about how it is that you have clean water. Consider that the tea was grown far away, then picked by human hands. Express your gratitude for everything that had to happen for you to be enjoying this tea, in this place, at this moment.

4. Enjoy the tea. Sip it. Notice how the steam rises from its surface. Feel it in your mouth, your throat, your tummy. Take a few deep breaths before drinking more.

5. Finally, give thanks again. This tea, and this moment, will never happen again. It is unique and special. Feel it. Appreciate it.

The mindfulness of drinking the tea steeps down to one thing - when doing something, only do that thing. Do it with full awareness. Do it completely, and do it well. Be in that moment.

The drinking of the tea, or any other activity engaged in with mindfulness, shows us there is only now. No past, no present, and no reason for insecurity. 

Therefore, there is no desire to engage in mindless activities, including consumerism. 

Slowly we learn that the moment is enough. We are enough. Just living is enough.

January 1, 2019

Happy New Calendar

Our corn (one of the 3 sisters) did well this year.

Winter solstice is my celestial New Years. January 1st is the time we go to an unblemished, fresh calendar. Both events are full of promise, hope, and excitement. 

On the one hand, the deepest dark days are over, and the sun begins to return. On the other, we get 12 new pictures to hang on the wall. Either way, it is a good opportunity to reflect on the year gone by, and plan for how we are going to improve in the year ahead.

It is nice to be able to say that 2018 represents the best garden year we have ever had. We grew more food, and varieties of food, than ever before. Because of that, we also preserved more of our own food than any year previous. We refrigerated, froze, dried, pickled and canned to our stomach's content.

This year our cooking has reached new levels of nutrition, flavour, and self-sufficiency. We experimented with a Three Sisters portion of our garden, consisting of corn, pole beans, and winter squash, which is supposed to be a winning combination. We agree.

What a joy it is to prepare and eat food you have carefully nurtured yourself. It is also immensely satisfying to wean ourselves from the carbon-intensive industrial food system, and all the plastic packaging that comes with it. And food isn't getting any cheaper. 

Projections are for a 3.5% increase in food prices this year, due to expected increases in the cost of fruits and vegetables, which is mostly what we buy there. Have you notice how things you don't need, like 1000 inch TVs, are getting cheaper, while things you do need, like food, are going up in price?

It will help to be able to grow and collect as much food as we can ourselves, and we look forward to another successful garden season this year. 

Another highlight of 2018 was celebrating our 10th year of the Not Buying Anything blog. It has been inspiring to hear from people around the world sharing how they are living the changes they would like to see in the world. 

Nothing gives hope quite like hearing from people who are living more sustainable, and enjoyable, lives right now. For me, there is no stronger evidence that it can be done, and it can be great. 

We are looking forward to further advances in simple living in 2019, whatever they are, and wherever they happen to happily occur. Living better with less is the new American Dream. Except this time it is real.

Note: Today is Public Domain Day, the first such occurrence in about 20 years (in the US), due to legislation passed then to extend to Disney Corp an extension on their copyright for Mickey Mouse. It also prevented tens of thousands of published works from moving into the public domain as they should have.

Until today.

"At the stroke of midnight, such beloved classics as Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “Yes! We Have No Bananas” will become the common property of the people, to be quoted at length or in full anywhere when the copyright expires on work produced in 1923. 
Then, works from 1924 will expire in 2020, 1925 in 2021, and so on and so forth."
Read more here.