Wendell Berry’s Jefferson Lecture at the National Endowment of the Humanities

Wendell Berry is one of my two favorite living poets. (The other is Gary Snyder). A farmer and a professor (University of Kentucky), he has long been among the wisest voices advocating for the values and practices of sustainability and community.

From today’s morning email from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

At a time that has followed crises in the global economy, unrest in society, and deterioration in the world’s ecosystems, the National Endowment for the Humanities could not have picked a more potent speaker than Wendell Berry for this year’s Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities. The essayist, novelist, and poet—a Kentuckian long known for his advocacy for family farming, community relationships, and sustainability—delivered a characteristically eloquent yet scathing critique of the industrial economy and its toll on humanity in his remarks here on Monday.

“The two great aims of industrialism—replacement of people by technology and concentration of wealth into the hands of a small plutocracy—seem close to fulfillment,” Mr. Berry said. “At the same time the failures of industrialism have become too great and too dangerous to deny. Corporate industrialism itself has exposed the falsehood that it ever was inevitable or that it ever has given precedence to the common good.”

Mr. Berry’s speech was a discussion of affection and its power to bind people to community. It was also a meditation on place and those who “stick” to it—as caretakers and curators. “In affection we find the possibility of a neighborly, kind, and conserving economy,” Mr. Berry said.

The opposite of the “sticker”—in the words of Mr. Berry’s mentor, the writer Wallace Stegner—is the “boomer,” those who “pillage and run.” Mr. Berry described James B. Duke, the founder of the American Tobacco Company, as a boomer who had an impact on the author’s own farming family history: In 1907, Mr. Berry’s grandfather sought to sell his tobacco crop in Louisville, so the family could maintain a meager existence on their land in Kentucky. But thanks to prices driven down by the monopolistic American Tobacco Company, his grandfather came home without a dime.

Mr. Berry once encountered James B. Duke—in bronze, if not in the flesh—during a visit to Duke University.

“On one side of his pedestal is the legend: INDUSTRIALIST. On the other side is another single word: PHILANTHROPIST. The man thus commemorated seemed to me terrifyingly ignorant, even terrifyingly innocent, of the connection between his industry and his philanthropy.”

That disconnection is endemic to our era. “That we live now in an economy that is not sustainable is not the fault only of a few mongers of power and heavy equipment. We all are implicated,” Mr. Berry said. Our relationship to the land and to community is increasingly abstract and distanced.

“By economic proxies thoughtlessly given, by thoughtless consumption of goods ignorantly purchased, now we all are boomers,” he said. “We have progressed to the belief that humans are intelligent enough, or soon will be, to transcend all limits. … Upon this belief rests the further belief that we can have ‘economic growth’ without limits.”

Medical Doctors Teaching Nutrition

Hopefully this is a sign of good things to come.

David Eisenberg, MD, is director of the complementary and alternative medicine program at Harvard Medical School and a long-time leader in the field.

From the Well Blog at the New York Times:

This isn’t neurosurgery,” Dr. Eisenberg said as he whacked a garlic clove with the cleaver. “This is hearty, affordable, cravenly delicious food.”

The son of a Brooklyn baker, Dr. Eisenberg is the founder and chief officiant of “Healthy Kitchens/Healthy Lives,” an “‘interfaith marriage,” as he calls it, among physicians, public health researchers and distinguished chefs that seeks to tear down the firewall between “healthy” and “ crave-able” cuisine. Although physicians are on the front lines of the nation’s diabetes and obesity crises, many graduate from medical school with little knowledge of nutrition, let alone cooking….

To Dr. Eisenberg, flavor is a health issue. Now in its eighth year, the sold-out event is in the vanguard of a major shift in attitude among a young generation of medical professionals who grew up with farmers’ markets. Their ranks include students at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who have hired a chef to teach cooking skills, and a doctor in suburban Chicago who was so inspired by “Healthy Kitchens/Healthy Lives” that he went home and installed a demonstration kitchen in his medical office.

 

 

 

Lack of Sleep May Increase Diabetes Risk

Night shift workers are among those most affected.

From MedPage:

Your mother was right: regular bedtimes and a good night’s sleep are good for you — or at least, researchers reported, irregular bedtimes and not enough sleep are bad for you.

In a 39-day experiment with healthy volunteers, shortened sleep time and varying bedtimes — meant to mimic shift work — led to impaired glucose regulation and metabolism, according to Orfeu Buxton, PhD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and colleagues.

Over time, the observed changes could increase the risk of obesity and diabetes, Buxton and colleagues reported online in Science Translational Medicine.

The findings support epidemiological studies linking disrupted sleep with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes, the researchers noted — especially in workers on the night shift.

Pink Slime Update Plus USDA Proposal to Remove Federal Inspectors from Industrial Chicken Operations

An excellent discussion from the Up with Chris Hayes show, featuring Mark Bittman of the New York Times, whose excellent food columns I read regularly. 

This 20-minute video offers a perspective rarely seen on television.

h/t Erik Marcus

Congressman Tim Ryan on Mindfulness Meditation

An excellent story from the Washington Post.

In “A Mindful Nation,” published last week, Ryan details his travels across the country, to schools and companies and research facilities, documenting how mindfulness is relieving stress, improving performance and showing potential to reduce health-care costs. It is a prescription, he says, that can help the nation better deal with the constant barrage of information that the Internet age delivers.

“I think when you realize that U.S. Marines are using this that it’s already in the mainstream of our culture,” he says. “It’s a real technique that has real usefulness that has been scientifically documented. . . . Why wouldn’t we have this as part of our health-care program to prevent high levels of stress that cause heart disease and ulcers and Type 2 diabetes and everything else?”

The whole article is well worth reading.

h/t The Schwartz Report 

 

 

 

Bayer’s Neonic Pesticides Linked to Colony Collapse Disorder in Bees

Few things, if any, have the potential to cause the level of catastrophic health effects in humans that would attend a substantial spread of colony collapse disorder. Most of the food eaten by the world’s humans relies on pollination by bees. Without them, most of the grains and fruits we eat would only be available in far smaller quantities.

Thus, when three new studies in prestigious journals implicate Bayer’s neonic pesticides in colony collapse disorder, the implications are huge. Essentially the entire U.S. corn crop is grown using that pesticide. Organically grown corn is the exception; even then, however, if pesticides are blown by the wind or carried by water into organic fields, that safe haven vanishes.

Last year, the Whole Foods stores in my area carried no organic corn. Except for organic farmer’s markets or growing it yourself, there’s no other option around here. And this is in the heart of the Midwest.

As Tom Philpott notes at the end of this article from Mother Jones, this situation cries out for regulatory action. Thus far, the Obama Administration has shown no inclination to take on corporate agriculture. What would it take for that to change?

It’s springtime, and farmers throughout the Midwest and South are preparing to plant corn—and lots of it. The USDA projects this year’s corn crop will cover 94 million acres, the most in 68 years. (By comparison, the state of California occupies a land mass of about 101 million acres.) Nearly all of that immense stand of corn will be planted with seeds treated with neonicotinoid pesticides produced by the German chemical giant Bayer.

And that may be very bad news for honey bees, which remain in a dire state of health, riddled by large annual die-offs that have become known as “colony collapse disorder” (CCD). 

In the past months, three separate studies—two of them just out in the prestigious journal Science—have added to a substantial body of literature linking widespread use of neonicotinoids to CCD. The latest research will renew pressure on the EPA to reconsider its registration of Bayer’s products. The EPA green-lighted Bayer’s products based largely on a study funded by the chemical giant itself—which was later discredited by the EPA’s own scientists, as this leaked memo shows.

 

 

Doctors Urge Their Colleagues to Quit Doing Worthless Tests

This is a very difficult policy to implement as long as doctors and hospitals continue to be paid more when they perform more procedures. Radiology departments are major profit centers for hospitals and other health care facilities.

To see major medical groups such as the American Board of Internal Medicine endorse this policy is heartening. I would add that my profession, chiropractic, has made major changes along these lines within our educational institutions over the last decade. Student interns cannot routinely x-ray patients; for imaging studies to be approved, specific guidelines (such as the Canadian Cervical Spine Rule) must be followed.

Nine national medical groups are launching a campaign called Choosing Wisely to get U.S. doctors to back off on 45 diagnostic tests, procedures and treatments that often may do patients no good.

Many involve imaging tests such as CT scans, MRIs and X-rays. Stop doing them, the groups say, for most cases of back pain, or on patients who come into the emergency room with a headache or after a fainting spell, or just because somebody’s about to undergo surgery.

The Choosing Wisely project was launched last year by the foundation of the American Board of Internal Medicine. It recruited nine medical specialty societies representing more than 376,000 physicians to come up with five common tests or procedures “whose necessity … should be questioned and discussed.”

The groups represent family physicians, cardiologists, radiologists, gastroenterologists, oncologists, kidney specialists and specialists in allergy, asthma and immunology and nuclear cardiology.

Eight more specialty groups will join the campaign this fall, representing hospice doctors, head and neck specialists, arthritis doctors, geriatricians, pathologists, hospital practitioners, nuclear medicine specialist and those who perform a heart test called echocardiography.

Consumer groups are involved, too. Led by Consumer Reports, they include the AARP, National Business Coalition on Health, the Wikipedia community and eight others.

The effort represents a growing sense that there’s a lot of waste in U.S. health care, and that many tests and treatments are not only unnecessary but harmful.

Harvard economist David Cutler estimates that a third of what this country spends on health care could safely be dispensed with.

h/t Stephen Perle

Homebirth Midwives: Better Outcomes, Moving Toward Broader Acceptance

From John Weeks in the Huffington Post, positive news from out west:

“Midwives have a central focus in our strategic plan. We are hoping Washington State can double out-of-facility births in the next two or three years.”

The speaker was Jeff Thompson, M.D., MPH, chief medical officer of the state of Washington’s Medicaid program. He spoke in a taped interview for Symposium 2012 — Certified Professional Midwives and Midwifery Educators: Contributing to a New Era in Maternity Care. The gathering took place at Warrenton, Va.’s Airlie Center on March 18, 2012.

Thompson, a member of the National Advisory Council for Healthcare Research and Quality, works in the state with the most evidence-based exploration of the value and risks associated with direct-entry, licensed, non-nurse, midwives. His state’s heightened interest began with a state requirement in 1996 that health plans cover midwives. Washington, like 11 other states, presently also covers midwives via Medicaid.

If the certified professional midwives (CPMs) get their way in Congress, CPM services will be reimbursed by Medicaid in all 26 states where CPMs are licensed. Passage would significantly expand access to low-income women across the country. The Access to Certified Professional Midwives Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2011 by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME). Passage would energize a slight bump in home births captured in recent data from the Centers for Disease Control.

When the Supposedly Safer Alternative Appears to be More Dangerous

This is a fascinating and meaningful research project by my friend, Sarina Farb.

Though only a high school senior, she is pursuing a line of research that has the potential to prevent a great deal of illness and suffering from these apparently dangerous environmental chemicals (BPA and BPS) to which we are all exposed.

Farb noticed that the Lawrence Public Library and The Merc promote BPA-free receipts, as BPA is used in the ink and found on the surface of receipts. Studies have suggested that the BPA found on receipts is absorbed into the body when handled.

So instead, the receipts at The Merc and the library contain BPS, or bisphenol S, which is similar to BPA. However, very few studies have examined whether BPS is any safer than BPA. So Farb set off to find out.

Farb talked her way into a lab at Kansas University, and with the assistance of Kristi Neufeld, a molecular biology professor, obtained some lab space and the necessary testing supplies.

Farb spent “hundreds of hours” over the past year testing whether BPA and BPS cause an increase in the growth of breast cancer cells.

The results?

“BPS is worse,” said Farb, as her results showed that BPS caused more growth in the breast cancer cells than BPA.