supplemental health

my local natural foods grocery store has been sneaking these natural health and nutrition glossies into my grocery bags, which appear to be advertisements for the dietary supplements industry, stamped with the name of my local grocery at the top (i've seen the same ones at other stores, with that shop's logo instead). clearly there's a whole side of natural living that i've never really explored, as i tend to overlook the supplement aisles when i'm doing the grocery shopping.

in fact, i've never given supplements and multi-vitamins much thought, mostly because i aim to meet my nutritional needs through diet, even if that means eating more fruits and vegetables, and foods rich in iron and calcium and whatever else i need. i eat best when i make a conscious effort to incorporate a panoply of nutrient-rich foods into my everyday meals -- unfamiliar vegetables, more leafy greens, new and interesting whole grains like Bhutanese red rice or quinoa -- so i'd rather focus on eating a healthy, nutritious diet than load up on supplemental pills and powders.

still, i can see the appeal in wanting to ensure getting sufficient vitamins or minerals in my diet especially those like Vitamins E, D and B12, which i may not consume enough in the course of my plant-based diet. and it probably is beneficial for me to eat more yogurt with live active cultures, and garlic and red wine -- but the medical benefits of many supplements remain unclear, especially since they aren't regulated by the FDA and therefore aren't required to stand up to any kind of medical testing (not that the FDA has inspired my confidence in the pharmaceutical industry, either).

but what bothers me about these faux nutrition rags is how they emphasize taking a supplement or vitamin as a quick-fix for a variety of ailments and conditions -- from herb extracts for migraine pain to managing holiday stress with fish oil or consuming more probiotics. the sense i get from the medical community is that supplements are most beneficial for people whose health is compromised in some way, and require the additional nutrition to address dietary problems or restricted activities. but like many industries, i imagine the natural health business can't make sufficient profit targeting people who actually need to incorporate supplements into their diets. all of which leaves me feeling suspicious about these slick broadsides in which it's difficult to distinguish the articles from the ads (for an example, check out Natural Living, which is about what I have in mind).

so am i alone in my suspicions, and do most of you who consume a healthy, plant-based, organic or natural diet also include supplements and extracts? which ones do you use and why? i'm curious to hear about other people's views and experiences with dietary and health supplements.


dangerous food

Check out this interview in Salon.com with Michael Pollan on how poor practices in agribusiness contribute to contamination and food safety issues, such as Listeria, E. coli and salmonella:

What's wrong with our food? E. coli at Taco Bell, Listeria in our Thanksgiving turkey, a report of unprecedented contamination in our chicken. Michael Pollan, author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma," explains why.


sympathy for the veal industry

WBUR Boston produced an interesting short piece on free range veal this week, covering a business venture in New England that helps small farms become profitable by raising free-range, pastured meats.

Of course it's nice to hear about local Boston restaurants buying the naturally-raised veal, and hearing from customers who have been avoiding conventionally farmed veal. But apparently, the veal industry is getting nervous at this potential competition. A spokesperson for the American Veal Association claims that people might get confused as to what actually constitutes "veal" (apparently, veal specifically refers to the male calves of dairy cows fed a milk diet), and wants the USDA to label only the conventional product as "veal."

On further investigation, it turns out that the AVA actually has a website devoted to putting a positive spin on veal farming, a practice which has attracted special vehemence from animal rights activists. I know veal was the first food I ever stopped eating for ethical reasons, and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person those campaigns reached. The industry's propaganda arm, The Veal Farm, appears devoted to dispelling the dark image veal has acquired over the years. The faq assures consumers that veal calves are fed a nutritionally balanced diet, live in well-lighted barns, and are actually separated from one another to promote their health.

Still, there are some notable gaps in this rosy portrait -- calves spend their short lives indoors, separated from their mothers (so the cows can get back to pumping out milk) and stand in slotted stalls, crapping themselves. The faq notes that calves are only given "'therapeutic' doses of antibiotics (levels high enough to treat illness)" when necessary, but remains mum on whether or not they are also given low-level doses as a matter of course. Both the Veal Farm website and the AVA's official one primarily emphasize the scientific healthiness of the animals, the quality of veal as a food product, and of course, how to best make money as a veal producer.

I can understand the industry's jitters over the promotion of humanely raised veal, especially given the bad rap of their own product. But it sounds like they'd rather blame the small farms that have opted for sustainable methods, rather than consider why some consumers might prefer the free-range version. Maybe it's time for the veal industry to reconsider its approach to meat production, rather than run to the USDA for protection.