Archive for October, 2008


Whole Foods

October 31, 2008

In the last few years every time I’ve had a cold it’s knocked me down flat – and the kids bring home a lot of colds. Even working in a job where I can cope easily with a cold, all I was really doing was postponing the recovery period until the weekend. For a variety of reasons revolving around health I recently embarked on a diet composed of whole foods. It’s not easy to be 100% with this, all the time (and I haven’t tried) but most days of the week I do manage to eat only whole foods.

Added to this we have a copy of Nourishing Traditions in the house now and Karen, who is a keen cook (just as well because I’m not) has been dipping into it on a daily basis. We’ve been eating broths and a variety of fermented foods, including a crazy relish thing I like, which seems to have two quite different tastes within it. We’ve also been eating sourdough bread regularly and using unprocessed sea salt and sugar substitute rapadura in place of the usual stuff. Because I was eating only whole foods and Karen liked the look of what I was eating, she decided to try it to. There have been a number of interesting results.

The first thing we noticed (after someone gave me a commericially made cake a week into the diet change) was that my problem with blocked sinuses has mostly gone away. It used to be that when the air was cold or it dropped a couple of degrees as it does in the late afternoon, my nose would block up and I’d sound like I had a cold – which I hated. Sometimes in desperation I would turn on a heater and breath in the warm air just to get rid of it.

The next thing we noticed was that Karen, who normally gets a lot of headaches, had stopped getting them. Again we only realised this one day when she ate some white bread and immediately got a headache. She tested it one more time with some pasta before concluding that headaches were a powerful enough motivating force to put her off refined flour for a long time. Recently I also realised I was getting less headaches than normal. Anyway here’s what Walt Stoll has to say about the issue*.

The National Research Council recommended daily allowance of refined carbohydrates (CHO) is zero.

Until 300 years ago, refined CHO did not exist. The human body has had no time to evolve a way to cope with this substance. For the past five million years, whenever we took CHO into our bodies, all the vitamins, minerals, enzymes, proteins, etc. present in the living food were eaten with the CHO. Now when we eat refnined CHO, our bodies must immediately provide the vitamins, minerals, proteins, enzymes etc. that manufacturing has removed, in order to digest it. This means we must create a definciency in our bodies of the essential substances – the opposite of nutrion: the more we eat the less nutrition we have.

Refined CHO causes more stress to humans than all the other nutritional stressors put together.

More details on the process behind this available here, and I will add that the fermentation process we are putting our wheat through when we make our sourdough bread deals with the problem of phytates. Phytates are a substance present in wheat and when not fermented (pre-digested) bind with minerals in the stomach thereby preventing them from being taken into the body and further enhancing the nutrition starved state of most everyone in our culture.

We have also read a book on Metabolic Typing, I seem to be a ‘mixed’ type and already eating roughly what I need but Karen has shown that she needs to eat more protein, especially in the morning, and as a consequence now has more energy in the first half of the day – especially when compared to how she was when eating fruit for breakfast.

The latest and best improvement we have found though is in my resistance to colds. As I said at the start I have been incredibly vulnerable to them in the last few years but a month back when one of the kids brought a cold home I discovered that I could keep it at bay simply by getting a good nights sleep – this was a turn for the better! Eventually I got a bad nights sleep and caught the cold but even then the symptoms were so minor as to be almost non existant. Then, a week ago another cold arrived in the house and I caught it before I knew it was around. I woke up one morning feeling rough and thought, “oh well, that’s it I’ve got a proper cold this time” but by mid morning I was completely unaware of any symptoms again and had a great day. The next day started the same way and the day after that it was all over. The worst I could say through the whole experience was that I felt slightly tired.

This is such a stunning reversal of my life over the last few years I can hardly believe it. I’m not sure what improvements we were really expecting but there have been a number of pleasant – and substantial – surprises.


I can’t recommend Nourishing Traditions highly enough. I wasn’t prepared to make a change in my diet unless it could be done with a minimum of fuss.  If I found myself craving any kind of food I knew I would be wasting my time as the use of will-power is never a long term solution. Luckily this book provides healthy substitutes for every food group – including the all important, cakes and delicious slices group.

*This is from a wellness protocol PDF on the site, the exact URL of which I can’t seem to locate anymore, I have a copy  if anyone is intersted though.



October 24, 2008

I just wanted to pick up on the comments on Ran’s blog about schooling and socialisation because ever since we started telling people we were unschooling our children (often we just say homeschooling so as not to frighten them) the single most common objection we receive is;

“But what about you’re child’s socialistion?”.

After several irritating years of this it suddenly dawned on me that no one had ever said;

“But what about your child’s education”!!!

From talking amongst friends, and with homeschoolers on-line, it appears that this a pretty universal experience for all of us.

There’s a mad absurdity about this situation but I also think there is something deeper – people happily, and immediately, concede that school is not that great a place to learn because (I suspect) that at a subconscious level they completely understand the main purpose of school based socialisation. They’ve internalised the values of the domination system and move immediately to defend it.

The absurdity has hidden depths too. The meaning of the word socialisation obviously has to do with a child learning social skills but there are no specific classes on socialisation at schools, and even more bonkers children spend their time almost exclusively with people of their own age who couldn’t possibly teach them how to socilaise because they are at a similar level (Not to mention the issue raised on Ran’s forum about socialisation being repressed for most of the day).

It goes deeper though: In New Zealand homeschoolers have to submit to being reviewed by the education ministry in the same way that schools do and we recently heard from an unschooling parent who said that the reviewer asked a few question’s about their child’s socialisation. First of all this is not part of the New Zealand Curriculum or the curriculum document that the parent’s submitted to the MOE when they applied for a homeschooling exemption (so the reviewer had no right to ask about it). But when they told him that that child regularly plays with a large number of neighbourhood children on a daily basis the reviewer said that it didn’t really count!

He was only satisified that the child was getting proper socialisation when they said it went to more formalised events like soccer practice – despite the obvious fact (or maybe because of it) that child to child interaction is completely mediated by a dominant adult.


Also: Ran ended his piece with this comment;

…it’s almost impossible to come out of the schooling system with both high intellect and high social intelligence

and I would add that it is the ones who come out with low social intelligence who end up having more power and the most say in how our society functions.

Whic of course is the system working exactly as it’s supposed to



October 3, 2008

You know I will probably never visit the LATOC discussion board when looking for advice on how to handle the coming upheavel in our way of life and while guns-and-gold are doubtless getting a big look in at the moment, Ran is still dispensing his much calmer advice and generally soothing the troubled waters of those who are prepared to listen. I want to take this direction one step further though and talk about how we’re going to do more than just surivive and for that kind of thinking we need Bill Mollison. Old interviews of Bill are all over the internet and I recommend reading lots of them to pick up on his vibe of ingenuity.

One of the worst paths we can follow at this point is to try to preserve our existing way of life even as it becomes increasingly untenable. Maybe out of habit, but more likely because we don’t know the alternatives, we’ll just struggle on with an ever harder daily grind. I’m pretty sure now however that permaculture has the vision we need to chart a new course – and it doesn’t just come with a new plan for the future but also a new way of thinking that will be especially valuable for a culture that has grown dependant on authority figures to do it’s thinking for it.

One of Bill’s interviews compared permaculture thinking to the marital arts philosophy of Aikido in that it seeks to turn adversity into strength. I have to admit I don’t know much about Aikido that here’s Bill Mollison with just one of a million tales of ingenious inventiveness.

We grow a lot of prawns in Hawaii, [Bill is actually from Australia] and you could grow them in your glass house up in Maine, freshwater prawns, and they eat single-celled algae, so we don’t know how to cultivate those, so we just simply float about 20 ducks to a quarter acre and they do the job of growing the algae. The duck manure is almost immediately colonized by algae and that’s what the prawns eat, the algae. So 25 ducks per quarter acre,100 per acre, and you can produce $60,000 worth of prawns per quarter acre twice a year. Think of that. And that’s just duck shit. Duck’s shit is the basic fuel for that system. Now, what are you going to feed your ducks. Very few ducks enjoy eating much grass. They love Tradescantia and sweet potato but they love snails too, so you can put in lots of water lilies in clumps here and there and in between them you put a lot of horseradish. Snails love living in water lilies but they come out and eat horseradish. And also, if you put a lot of nasturtium in, you get a lot of snails, so if you’re going to grow ducks you gotta grow horseradish, nasturtium, Tradescantia, water lilies and Agapanthus (African lily). You’ll get plenty of ducks which means you’ll have plenty of algae in the water and you can grow prawns, and the prawns haven’t cost you a penny. They’re just a second offshoot of your ducks feeding and enjoying themselves. So the system fuels itself.

That’s from a very long and inspiring interview at Seeds of Change. This next example is from another long interview at Mother Earth News

Here’s an example I like to use: I call it my chicken model. Take four separate elements: a hen coop, a greenhouse, a pond, and a small forest. Now you can have these on your farm . . . and place them wherever you like, in no particular relationship to each other. In that situation each one functions individually, and they all consume energy. But if you make the forest a forage range for the chickens by putting the coop in or near that forest . . . if you attach the greenhouse to the front of the chickens’ shelter . . . and if you set the pond in front of the greenhouse — as illustrated in Permaculture Two — well, then you’ve got a nice system of interrelating functions, the familiar checks and balances.

Just look at all the ways you produce energy in this system: the chickens’ body heat, the direct sunlight that reflects off the pond and hits the greenhouse, the radiation of the trees at the rear, the decomposition of chicken manure, and on and on. If you sit down and sketch this system out, you’ll find that it’s fantastically complex — with thousands of functional interactions — and will run itself . Operating on its own energy, the system automatically switches on and off. As the sun gets high in the sky, the greenhouse absorbs more heat . . . so the chickens get hot and go out, thus removing the source of animal heat. While they’re outside, the birds forage in the forest and leave their manure to enrich the soil. After dark, of course, they’ll go back inside to keep warm . . . taking their body heat with them.

Look at each chicken by itself and the variety of functions it’s performing in this one simple model: In the coop the hen operates as a radiator, an egg producer, and a manurial system. In the forest the bird acts as a self-forager, a tree-disease controller, a fireproofer, a fertilizer producer, and a rake. One can use chickens to do quantities of useful work . . . in fact, I don’t know what you can’t do with chickens, once you get started!

I tend to have the view that there’s no problem that’s insurmountable if I think about the solution for long enough, but Bill Mollison seems to operate on the belief that there’s no problem that can’t be turned into an advantage if you think about it just right – and it’s that kind of attitude that we’re all going to need as we go about recreating our culture (and saving our butts) over the next few years. I think we’ll also need some of Bill’s attitude just to keep our energy levels high in the dispiriting face of the diet of doom most of us follow.