Tag Archives: nutrition

The endless, futile yet imperative quest for Utopia

My dad always told me “There is no utopia.” I now live on a tropical beach yet lack the mountains. Italy seems like heaven, yet I’ve been told living there can be quite the headache. Does any one place or country have it all?

I just returned from a beautiful paradisaical island, one of the most scenic and culturally rich places I have ever been. Yet the people are imprisoned; unable to leave and forced to live in poverty under a government that controls many aspects of their lives. There is none to minimal internet access and very limited opportunities.

In the United States we enjoy a world of comfort and convenience; luxuries like continual hot water, air conditioning and 24/7 access to shelves upon shelves of food, products, and anything we could possibly desire are so commonplace they are totally taken for granted. However, the streets seem dead in comparison, and our depression and stress rates are sky-high.

The people in Cuba live very rich lives, but in a very different sense of the word ‘rich.’ There, the streets are vibrant and alive with humanity. People interact in the plazas and shelter together under trees in the rain.  Neighbors are lifelong friends. Children play soccer — with a ball that looks like it has been in use for half a century — in the street. They don’t have much, but they have each other, and they disfruta la vida.

Because they are so poor, many grown adults — in their forties — live with their parents. Here, this situation carries an enormous stigma, and of course is widely seen is undesirable. But their family ties are so naturally close that it comes across as rather pleasant. One night, the 60-something senora I was staying with celebrated her birthday. Her 45-year-old daughter bought her a new dress, and together, with several elderly ladies from the neighborhood, danced to Latin music in their tiny entryway, door open to the street, until 3 am. I can’t picture that scenario happening often here in the USA, where most major cities are characterized by strangers shuttling around in their vehicles between big box stores.

World travels and several articles have made me ponder what an ideal lifestyle, and ideal society, looks like. I don’t think it’s utterly capitalist or utterly socialist, but perhaps somewhere in-between; it features a return to a more primitive lifestyle, yet incorporates the best modern advances.

Ayn Rand had a point. Innovators make life better for all of us. Yet at the same time, the linear trajectory of endless growth, consumption and development obviously cannot be sustained without huge cost to the environment. If maximum material wealth and profit is our ultimate goal, we will fulfill the American Indian prophecy that Only when the last tree has been cut down; Only when the last river has been poisoned; Only when the last fish has been caught; Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.

American Indians, like many indigenous societies, lived within a circular paradigm. They did not seek material wealth but to enjoy quality of life and freedom while living in harmony with the natural world. They used what they needed and were not overly attached to material objects.

Many leading thinkers agree that we must reform and re-imagine our current culture if we want to save the earth from ecological catastrophe, and thus ourselves. A recent Aljazeera.com article “The Trouble With Discounting Tomorrow” talks about how nations need to cooperate to achieve a sustainable future. In the latest Discover Magazine, Geoffrey West, an eminent theoretical physicist, remarks:

“We need to seriously rethink our socioeconomic framework. It will be a huge social and political challenge, but we have to move to an economy based on no growth or limited growth. And we need to bring together economists, scientists, and politicians to devise a strategy for what has to be done. I think there is a way out of this, but I’m afraid we might not have time to find it … even though innovations [such as creating new energy sources] reset the clock, from the work that I’ve done, I think all they do is delay collapse.”

Another book, Abundance: The Future is Brighter Than You Think argues the opposite stance, that technological innovations will create a world where all nine plus billion of us will live robust lives characterized by artificial intelligence, genetically modified food and cellphones and laptops for all.

It’s interesting to think outside of the box, to consider what your ideal world looks like: Is it urban, rural or a mix? Do you require a mansion, a fleet of cars, and tons of the latest gadgets, clothes etc. to be happy? Or would you be content in a small, eco-conscious cottage, with access to pure water, food, air, and all that nature has to offer? How much does community, family, and an active and interactive daily life factor into this equation? The question of what constitutes utopia has been on the mind of many a critical thinker unhappy with the status quo, from Thomas More to Jonathon Swift to John Winthrop.

I recently ordered a book from Amazon.com: The Other Side of Eden: Hunters, Farmers, and the Shaping of the World. I was drawn to it because I sense that the way humans have been living in the past century is not really the way they were designed to live, nor is it close to how they have lived for thousands upon thousands of years. Many people instantaneously consider ancient cultures to have hard, short, and disease-ridden lives, but this is not necessarily the case. The native peoples of the Americas were noted as being strikingly healthy, sound and beautiful, and many studies have shown (such as The China Study) that native societies were often very healthy — with minimal chronic disease, perfect teeth, happy minds, etc — until introduced to a more modern, processed diet and lifestyle. They also enjoyed a healthy balance of equality, individual freedom and community. Many diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer are actually far more common now, due to sedentary living, nutritionally devoid food and countless environmental factors.

There are people today who are seeking a more ‘primal lifestyle.’ Mark Sisson (check out Marksdailyapple.com) discusses the question of hunter-gatherer longevity here. He espouses sunbathing, walking barefoot, eating natural, staying active — lots of common sense things that a lot of us in the first world have to make an effort to do. David Wolfe is another nutritionist who espouses a more eco-conscious, enlightened lifestyle. This type of thinking looks backwards as well as forwards; it is progressive, alternative and visionary while cherishing ancient wisdom and common sense.

I think my personal utopia would constitute a blend. It would be closely in tune with nature and do as little harm to the earth and its creatures as possible. It would feature composting and gardening. Yet I would also want access to the internet and the world’s knowledge. I would like proximity to people whom I care about, a family and community that supports one another, yet I would want solitude and total freedom. I would like to retain the ability to travel and to experience diverse cultures, Latin, European and beyond. I’m not sure if this personal utopia is possible; according to my dad, it isn’t. Yet you can’t stop the human spirit from striving.

Books that saved me

Natalia Rose

When I was in college, I began to suffer from some unsettling symptoms: fatigue, severe anxiety, dizziness with fainting spells, prolonged sicknesses, depression and mood swings, and foggy and unclear thinking. I knew something was wrong with me; I knew I wasn’t supposed to feel like that. My whole life to that point, I had enjoyed exquisite, ectastic, perpetual well-being: endless energy, perfect metabolism, and constant happiness. I did well in school and was popular with my friends. What had happened to me?

An acculumation of prescription drugs and processed foods had created an extremely toxic environment. My liver had become overburdened, creating a domino effect of stagnation inside my body. But I didn’t realize this for a long time. Every night I would wonder what was wrong with me and pray to feel normal again, like I used to feel. I didn’t have a name or a specific diagnosis; therefore I couldn’t seek help from a doctor nor understanding from friends or family. To myself, and to everyone else, I was just inexplicably unwell and “off.”

One day my prayers were answered. I was guided to a particular shelf in my college campus where I found  books I had never seen or knew existed: books on natural health, holistic and alternative healing (alternative is an ironic term; it is alternative to what is generally accepted and is called Western medicine, but many of these practices have been used and proven effective for millenia), and nutrition. I finally learned the principles of the mind-body-soul connection. What you put into your body has a very profound effect on how you look and how you feel. Therefore, if you are not taking care of this one factor, you are significantly affecting your happiness, well-being and success potential.

The very first book that came to my rescue, and one that I will never forget, is The Raw Food Detox Diet by Natalia Rose. I do not eat all raw nor am I vegan, but this book enlightened me and spurred me to seek out countless other books (and later, documentaries) on the subject. I learned all about detoxing and the effects of the modern American diet and lifetyle. I began watching what I ate and seeking out super high-quality foods. I never consciously let another pesticide, preservative, hormone, antibiotic or artifical ingredient into my body again.

It took a long time for me to feel completely better. Years, in fact. It was a gradual process, but an interesting one. Thoughts and self-love are also very important. I hated that I had to deal with that situation, but glad of what I have learned. One important thing — something that many people find somewhat disturbing — is my avoidance of all doctors and medicine. I hope to never take a pill again and to never see a doctor again, unless it is an extreme emergency. If one has built a foundation of health, then sicknesses will be few; if something does arise, the body is always able to heal itself with the proper harmonious tools. There are many natural remedies that heal without side effects. Here are a few other great books:

Raw Food Life Force Energy by Natalia Rose

The Maker’s Diet by Jordan Rubin

Eating for Beauty by David Wolfe

The Gerson Therapy by Charlotte Gerson

Natural Cures … by Kevin Trudeau (this one has mixed reviews; however, lots of interesting information about things you wouldn’t normally consider, like the damage caused by microwaves)

Not everything you learn and read about will fit your personal mindset and lifestyle. Some people choose to eat meat while others don’t. Some people think there is nothing wrong with taking pills — like birth control — on a daily basis. My personal beliefs were formed by experiences and research, validated by intuition and tangible effects.

Listen to yourself

The U.S. health and fitness industry, which includes the weight loss industry, is worth $60 billion a year. There are infinite plans, pills and programs; many people struggle on a daily basis to regulate caloric intake and mindlessly go for anything with “Low Fat” plastered on it.

Interesting that before the Industrial Revolution, there was no such thing as ‘organic.’ Everything was grown in nutrient-rich soil, without pesticides, and all meat was free-range and untainted. There was also really no such thing as exercise, at least how it is now construed. People were naturally active on a daily basis.

I suppose my point isn’t all that profound: just that you don’t need any special regimen at all. You just need to walk and run and move more, every day. You don’t need to have a dietitian or a book or a celebrity or a commercial or a product package to tell you what to eat. You just have to use some common sense (just because an avocado is filled with fat does not mean it is bad; whole unpasteurized milk is superior to skim milk laced with antibiotics) and try to listen to what your body is telling you.

If you are free from addictions to MSG, salt, sugar and other processed foods and additives, then you can follow your cravings to what your body may need. For example, if you find yourself craving sweet potatoes, you may be deficient in vitamin A. If you love clam chowder, your body might be appreciatively gobbling up all that iron and zinc. Love tomato sauce-slathered pasta and orange juice? (Yes.) You may need to stock up on Vitamin C. Even wanting to indulge in dark chocolate means that your body may require a little burst of mood-boosting serotonin.

There are endless good things to eat and drink, each filled with unique and miraculously beneficial compositions of minerals, amino acids, antioxidants and/or nutrients. And to have them all on hand 24/7 at the corner grocery store — I know I have the Industrial Revolution to thank for that.

I would just like to point out that there is no need to pay for any person, program or pill, or to even count calories. It’s all about the quality of ingredients and if the food product is pure and unadulterated. If you eat only high-caliber, whole foods, and eat only when you are hungry, and follow your cravings, plus walk a lot more than you sit, then you should not have much of a problem with your weight, metabolism or health.