Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive
Monday, August 02, 2010 6:18 PM
In the latest issue of The Brooklyn Rail, Dave Kim talks to Michael Sorkin, “laurelled architect and urban design theorist,” who is head creative on the NYC team of Our Cities Ourselves. OCC, a program of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, pairs architecture firms with global cities (expected to double in population by 2030) to form master plans for the future of transportation and urban well-being.
Sorkin is all spitfire, and I love it: Unapologetic and undaunted, he has a vision for New York City that includes shutting down a major portion of FDR Drive. “Sorkin doesn’t budge when I ask him if his project will adapt to [the city’s existing plans to expand FDR],” Kim writes. “ ‘We’re not trying to increase traffic,’ he says. ‘We’re looking to frustrate it. But we are doing so in favor of something less dangerous, less polluting, and less selfish.’ ”
Source: The Brooklyn Rail
Image by SpecialKRB, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010 3:03 PM
At the beginning of June, I wrote a bit about omega-3s and our developing understanding of the complex role these essential fatty acids play in our bodies, especially with respect to brain chemistry. Since then I also spotted a nice piece in the Colorado Springs Independent on the subject, about a doctor who says omega-3 deficiency (that is, eating too little fish) could be the cause of rising rates of mental illness.
At any rate, I know the preponderance of stories in the media has made me extra-diligent about taking my fish oil capsules, which is why I wanted to point to an unnerving piece in the July-August issue of Spirituality & Health about health risks and the choosing the best fish oil supplements.
As Matt Sutherland writes:
If you’re unnerved by the idea that a typical package of hamburger might contain flesh from hundreds, if not thousands, of cows, you may be surprised to know the oil in your fish oil capsule may be derived from several different species, including sardines, herring, anchovies, tuna, cod, krill (a shrimp-like planktonic crustacean, and even farm-raised salmon. Furthermore, these fish, which get their omega-3 from eating microalgae, may come from shallow waters near heavily populated shores, where heavy metals, toxins, PCBs, and other pollutants concentrate….
Delightful. If you’re looking to reap the health benefits of fish oil, Sutherland advises doing your own research. “Terms like ‘ultra-refined,’ ‘high-potency,’ ‘pharmaceutical-grade,’ etc., are marketing hyperbole,” he writes. “The industry as a whole, has not agreed on definitions of purity or quality.”
Look for pills that have been tested for heavy metals other pollutants. A bottling date is also a plus, as is cold-press extraction. And definitely pay attention to what kind of fish a company is using to produce its pills.
Spectrum Organics, for example, uses “non-threatened salt water species of wild-caught, small, plankton-feeding fish (anchovies, mackerel and sardines) that are low on the food chain,” according to the company’s website. It made Sutherland’s list of recommended producers to check out, along with Nordic Naturals, Carlson, and Barlean’s, based on a survey of independent natural food stores.
Sources: Colorado Springs Independent, Spirituality & Health (article not yet online)
Spirituality & Health was our 2010 Utne Independent Press Award winner for best health/wellness coverage.
Friday, June 18, 2010 4:45 PM
A happy little piece of transportation fodder to end the day: The above poster, from the Press Office of the City of Münster, Germany (circa 2001), shows the amount of space required to transport the same number of people by car, bus, or bike.
Friday, June 18, 2010 12:38 PM
Giddy biking and public policy enthusiasts crowded into Minneapolis’ Uptown Theater last night, grabbing pints of Surly brew (in a corn-based compostable cup, no less), and settling in for a panel discussion on “Cities, Bicycles, and the Future of Getting Around,” part of a popular “Policy and a Pint” series sponsored by local public radio station 89.3 The Current.
Headlining panelist David Byrne, avid cycling advocate and former Talking Heads frontman, was no doubt causing some of the buzz—I mean, he’s David Byrne, for heaven’s sake; if you haven’t seen Stop Making Sense, stop reading this blog and go. Go now. Do it. But to be fair, Twin Cities cyclists have also had a lot of other things to get excited about lately: Bicycling named Minneapolis the #1 U.S. city for biking, and that was even before last week, when the initial phase of Nice Ride Minnesota, a spectacular public bike sharing program, got off the ground.
Nice Ride co-sponsored the panel, which also included Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, author Jay Walljasper, and Steve Clark, manager of Transit for Livable Communities’ Walking and Bicycling Program. (The men rode cheerful green bike-share cruisers down the aisles of the theater.) So, you might ask yourself, what is the future of cities, bicycles, and getting around?
David Byrne delivered a photo-based powerpoint, beginning with slides of suburbs shot from above and termite high-rises (take note: the insects have a better grip on passive heating than we humans), and transitioned into the alienating, futuristic cities imagined by folks like Hugh Ferriss, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Buckminster Fuller. He also showed also a vintage image featuring a super-mega-highway from General Motors—which at the time, Byrne stressed, was the biggest company on “the whole damn planet.” Its vision carried weight.
The evidence of that weight is all over. Byrne began showing photographs from his travels: shots of downtown highway underpasses, barren stretches of road, vacant parking lots, and dead strip malls. “The city is a parking lot,” he said, “and when it’s not a parking lot, it’s a parking structure. This is dead. This is dead life.”
Not everywhere, however. The mood shifted as Byrne began flipping through photographs shot both stateside and abroad, rattling off some of the more promising places he’s been and things he’s seen. New bike parking facilities and protected bike lanes—one in New York that he says has changed his rides for the better. A sensor that clips onto spokes that could be used by employers to track and give credit to employees who commute on two wheels. European town squares, where cars are not prohibited but are so obviously inefficient choices, they’re hardly ever seen. And a preteen band playing—not well—on a street corner. He stopped, he said, and listened for a minute, wondering in effect: Is this avant guard? Is their dad hiding just around the corner? But the point is he stopped, a moment he never would have had if he had been traveling by car.
Mayor R.T. Rybak followed Byrne’s presentation, raising whoops from the audience by declaring that the city would work to keep the laurel that Bicycling gave it. “Portland is just a street in the city of Minneapolis,” he quipped, and then launched into a rapid-fire speech about how Nice Ride came to fruition—and what the city has planned next, including 35 new miles of bike trail.
Up next, writer Jay Walljasper (a former Utne Reader editor, as it were) posited his vision for the future of cycling: “Incredibly sexy and utterly normal.” To understand the sexy part, he proposed, think back to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid—that scene where Butch (Paul Newman) gives Etta (Katharine Ross) a ride on his handlebars. (Walljasper imagined thousands of Americans, sitting on their couches, wondering: Now where was that bike again? The garage?)But in all seriousness, he said, biking is sexy: “It’s elegant, fun, and will make [you] feel a lot better.” The utterly normal part became evident in a gauntlet thrown down to the people who are already biking nuts—to break down the clubbishness and exclusiveness, and make sure that everyone can access the “environmental, social, and spiritual” reasons to ride.
In closing, Steve Clark from Transit for Livable Communities, a nonprofit working to reform Minnesota’s transportation system, took the stage. “I do believe our world is changing,” he said, “And it’s hanging so fast that we can’t [appreciate] what’s happening.” His prediction: 2010 will be recorded in history as the year our love affair with the automobile came to an end.
Clark was a rousing, earnest speaker, pointing out what he sees as the cracks in the foundation of car culture: both oil-related Gulf crises (BP’s spill and Iraq), rising rates of asthma, obesity and health issues, and air pollution, to name a few. Federal financial support his organization has received is in a sense groundbreaking, he says, representing government recognition that biking and walking are real parts of a solution to national transportation needs.
Transit for Livable Communities, for example, through its Bike/Walk Twin Cities program, was able to financially support Minnesota Nice Ride, the largest bike-share program in the United States. Clark packaged his take on why bicycles are the future into a tidy and timely acronym:
Nimble. Bikes are a quick and nimble way to get around.
Inviting. Anyone can ride one, and you can do it in regular clothes.
Convivial. On a bike, you interact with people. In a car, you don’t.
Efficient. Biking is so efficient, it even beats out walking.
And you know? That really does cover it. Biking is just nice. In every way. Oh, and by the way—here’s a trailer for Stop Making Sense:
Image (top) by tsuacctnt, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, June 04, 2010 3:18 PM
It's Friday, so I thought I'd take a momentary break from depressing BP blog posts and FDA-directed fury, and write about something positive. And this, well, this is a lesson that never goes out of style:
As Go Yoga Jane reports, The Dalai Lama was recently in New York to teach at Radio City Music Hall, where he handled the brightly-lit stage by wearing a small visor to shield his eyes. A mentor of Jane’s was there, and Jane relays the visor’s significance:
Instead of asking the stage managers to change the lighting to his liking, [the Dalai Lama] turns it into a lesson. Work with things as they are.
We have moments every day to employ this lesson. It is so habitual to want to change, fix, complain about and control our environment. We spend quite a bit of energy doing so. Truthfully, most of what we spend time changing or fixing isn’t permanent anyway. There might be a little relief but then organically things return to their natural state.
Here is a little experiment which might be fun: Take one week out of your life and try to just deal with things as they are without the need to change them. It’s going to be hard … yes. Obviously if it affects your safety that doesn’t count. Common sense. I mean just the dumb little things that drive you crazy. The things you habitually complain about that really don’t matter.
Source: Go Yoga Jane
Image by Perfecto Insecto, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, June 01, 2010 4:13 PM
Ever feel like we’ve just totally screwed ourselves with the oceans? I’m not even talking about BP’s gushing well: It’s this recent report from the Telegraph that U.K. nutritionists are now advising pregnant women to eat more fish.
Fish, of course, contains mercury, a heavy metal pollutant that comes from human industry (and, to be fair, from some natural sources like volcano eruptions). Pregnant women, children, the elderly—nutritional convention has been to watch how much you eat. Except seafood also is a rich source of omega-3s, and nutritionists now say that the fatty-acid benefits, especially for pregnant women, could outweigh the heavy-metal risks.
What benefits, you say? The star of the omega-3 cast is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and as The Economist tidily explains:
DHA is a component of brains, particularly the synaptic junctions between nerve cells, and its displacement from modern diets by the omega-6 acids in cooking oils such as soya, maize and rape is a cause of worry.
Many researchers think this shift—and the change in brain chemistry that it causes—explains the growth in recent times of depression, manic-depression, memory loss, schizophrenia and attention-deficit disorder. It may also be responsible for rising levels of obesity and thus the heart disease which often accompanies being overweight.
Stateside nutritionists are also changing their minds. A group has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to adjust its stance on pregnant women’s diets, and the Department of Defense plans to launch a program to augment soldiers’ diets with omega-3s, The Economist reports. Low levels of DHA are a suicide risk factor for people in the service.
So here’s the positive take-away, if there is one: Should you wish to get more fish-based omega-3s into your diet, eating lower on the fish food chain is the best way to make that happen, keep mercury levels low, and, oh yeah, stop straining the ocean’s ecosystems by gobbling up big predators like tuna, swordfish, and grouper. (For what it's worth, there are also plant-based sources of omega-3s, although there have been studies that shed doubt on whether they are as beneficial as the fish-based ones.)
For some excellent reading about eating lower on the fish food chain, follow the link to an excerpt from Taras Grescoe’s book Bottomfeeder, which is one of the most illuminating studies I’ve read on how to eat fish ethically. (And he’s a big fan of the omega-3s.)
Sources: Telegraph, The Economist, Bottomfeeder
Image by L. Marie, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010 4:47 PM
One of the things I like most about ecologist Sandra Steingraber’s writing is her ability to express big, substantive ideas with clarity, simplicity, and resolve. I exit her essays both calmed and inspired. I was reminded of this unusual quality as I devoured her “Organic Manifesto,” which was republished in the most recent issue of In Good Tilth. (Organic Valley first published the essay, and you can read the complete manifesto as a PDF on her website.) And if you like what you read, take note: Steingraber’s book Living Downstream is now in its second edition, and has been recently made into a film.
Source: In Good Tilth
Photo by Dede Hatch.
Monday, May 24, 2010 5:07 PM
Economist and author Juliet Schor, a professor of sociology at Boston College, is out to “plant a stake in the heart of the Business-as-Usual economy and its bankrupt politics.” Dig into a taste of Schor’s compelling thinking, adapted from her recently published book Plenitude, in this week’s issue of The Nation.
Source: The Nation
Thursday, May 06, 2010 9:13 AM
For anyone who drinks diet soda or knows someone who does, this is news not to miss: Scientists have discovered that we have taste receptors in our stomach and intestines, according to Science News. In same the way that tastebuds send signals to pump saliva, chew, and swallow, gut taste cells help the body ramp up for digestion.
“When the gut’s taste sensors encounter something sweet, they send a ‘prepare for fuel’ missive that results in cranked-up insulin levels in the blood,” the biweekly reports. Insulin signals the body to draw glucose from the blood and store it in the muscles and liver. Except when the sweetener is artificial, the body gets all ready and then there’s no energy to harvest.
This is nascent research and more investigation will certainly come. But the discovery could shed light on recent studies that demonstrated a seemingly perplexing association between drinking diet beverages and developing metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. As Science News concludes:
So beware those little white lies. Thousands of years of evolution have yielded a finely tuned digestive machine, one that recognizes incoming energy and knows how to make the most of it. These intricate chains of events evolved during a time when that sweet zing reliably indicated food rich in valuable calories. And for thousands of years, the gut reacted appropriately.
Perhaps that adage “trust your gut” should be accompanied with another edict: “Tell it no lies.”
Source: Science News
Tuesday, May 04, 2010 3:37 PM
Heidi Kenney, an artist whose adorable plush toys and craftwork often sport a trademark pair of peepers, has given a charming makeover to the fruits and vegetables most and least likely to be covered in pesticides. See her illustrated “dirty dozen cheat sheet” and low pesticide foods (based on Environmental Working Group lists) over at her website, My Paper Crane—there’s a link if you want to download it. And who wouldn’t want some adorable little veggies and fruits in their wallet?
Source: My Paper Crane
Tuesday, April 20, 2010 4:12 PM
No offense to boring people of any age, of course. But there’s an interesting dispatch in the March-April issue of Spirituality & Health about the “most important lesson” of healthy aging, which happens to be the ultimate antidote to boring ruts: Value your time.
“You are how you use your time,” octogenarian Deborah Szekley tells the magazine. She’s authorized to say that: Szekely retired from a career in the health/wellness spa business, realized she was becoming “a little old lady,” and moved to Washington D.C. She ran for Congress, became a diplomat, and now, nearing 90, is campaigning to change grade-school curriculum to include longer, healthier lunch breaks and more exercise.
What galvanized her? Apparently, an old-fashioned calendar and a weekly moment to reflect on it. This is her strategy, as Spirituality & Health reports:
[On Sundays, look back and] ask yourself what was good about each day and how it could have been better. Use five colored pencils to underline on the calendar, in the appropriate color, whatever you did in the previous week:
Black: I wouldn’t have done this.
Blue: I would have delegated this.
Red: I did this for health.
Green: I did this to grow.
Favorite color: I did this with family/friends, for fun.
After you’ve valued your past week, look at what’s coming in the next week, which should be written in pencil. Is your schedule humane? Are there things you should erase right now? Are important colors missing?
Spirituality & Health is a 2010 Utne Independent Press Award nominee in the category of spiritual coverage.
Source: Spirituality & Health (article not available online)
Tuesday, March 30, 2010 10:12 AM
Before yesterday, I never would have thought to apply the phrase self-improvement junkie to myself. But as I was reading about the I Am Enough Collaborative on the blog Notes on the Written World, I couldn’t avoid swiveling in my chair and staring down the prodigious stack of your-life-but-better books that I’ve got stashed in my cube.
I Am Enough is the newly born brainchild of Tracey Clark, a photographer and writer who has two motherhood journals published with Chronicle Books. It’s a response to her realization that she’d worn herself out “living the hustle to become better,” always striving for improvement, never feeling she was good enough. So far she has been updating weekly on Tuesdays (“maintaining feasible expectations for myself . . . is one of my recent acts of self-kindness,” she writes) and seems to be quickly lining up guest bloggers and storytellers. As she explains:
I have been a self-improvement junkie for most of my life; vigilant about getting to the bottom of my “issues”, digging deep to better understand myself, reading every book written to inspire personal growth, incessantly working on becoming a better person, etc, etc. Although I had let go of trying to be “perfect” I was still striving to be better. Always better. Never quite enough.
. . . I have realized that I am not alone; that being enough as we are right now, today, as is, is hard for most women to really acknowledge and yet, it’s the key to living our best lives. . . . I can only hope that by sharing images and stories of worthiness and self-kindness that we can each embrace our own enoughness.
Source: Notes on the Written World, I Am Enough Collaborative
Image by Michael (mx5tx), licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, March 12, 2010 4:37 PM
From the lovely people over at Grist, a slideshow of 12 things you should never put in your mouth. “You cannot imagine the stuff that passes for food,” the environmental news outlet reports. Oh, sadly, yes we can: from the “turducken of the candy world” to what is a funyun, seriously—Grist, we feel your indigestion.
Image by adactio, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, March 08, 2010 2:18 PM
Americans dropped $100 million on detox and body cleanse products between October 2008 and October 2009, according to Natural Solutions—a market share that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise given the preponderance of website ads and spam for the stuff. I find the popularity baffling, especially among people I consider otherwise health savvy.
“No science shows that fasting or subsisting on liquids for any amount of time will scrub a lifetime’s worth of toxins from your cells,” Katie Arnold writes. In fact, “prolonged fasting can do more harm than good by slowing your metabolism, depleting your body of essential nutrients, and, ironically, recirculating toxins into your system.”
A few years ago we reprinted a short article from E Magazine that goes into more detail about the unhealthy strain fasting puts on the body. Natural Solutions adds to the conversation with ideas for “the right way” to detox—kicking sugar, for example, eating more vegetables, or beginning an exercise routine. In other words: living a healthy lifestyle.
Sources: Natural Solutions, E Magazine
Image by FotoosVanRobin, licensed under Creative Commons.
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