Saturday, April 30, 2016

Mead Bottling, Sleep Deficits, and PSG Planning

I ordered supplies to bottle my mead.  It's an extremely sweet mead, basically a dessert mead.  I like it.  My roommate likes it.  So far I'm really proud of it.  I did rack it a few days ago after which it stopped bubbling... I'm not sure if this indicates that the fermentation has stopped or if there's something wrong going on.  If it's the former I can just leave it a couple more weeks and then bottle it... I ordered bottles and corks for this occasion.  I may bottle a little in a plastic bottle just to gauge whether or not it's still fermenting, to prevent bottle explosions.

Predictably, when I first registered for Pagan Spirit Gathering I did an immense amount of planning, which took a backseat for several months as I worked through some other issues and worked on some other projects.  I managed (thankfully, as my monetary situation was a little better than it is now) to get all the things I will absolutely need before the gathering, as well as starting that mead I was just talking about.  Now it's the end of April, the workshops have been posted, and I'm giddy with excitement as I plan some more, mostly food and which workshops I'll be attending and what I'll need to bring.  Most of this is standard camping stuff, like food and a camp mattress, with some more targeted stuff relevant to the Pagan experience.  I've been getting giddy when I look through the workshops, hoping the ones I really want to go to don't conflict with each other.  One of my favorite Pagan authors (Lupa) will also be there.

I've been running on a sleep deficit.  I have a wonky work schedule which gives me lots and lots of time off in a big chunk each week with three days of very long workdays.  There are some huge tradeoffs, as it means I have lengthy amounts of time to get into projects but I also have to deal with three days of scarcity-related stress.  What I mean by that is this:  I wind up getting home around 6:30PM, and although I know I should go to bed earlier in order to get up at my usual 4:45AM wake up time, I stress over the things I will miss out on and the things I feel I need to do, or paradoxically worry about burning myself out by experiencing a few days of nothing but work and sleep.  I wind up going to bed after 10:00PM, leaving less (usually much less) than seven hours to sleep before getting up.

Again, this is irrational.  I have plenty of time on my non-workdays to do pretty much whatever I need or want to do, and the time I don't sleep will burn me out far more than doing slightly less TV watching (which is usually what I do anyway), but my brain still goes into these "what if"s.

I've been wanting a new self improvement project since I'm doing fairly well eating "clean" and excellent at not drinking soda, so I'll be trying to make my sleep schedule more consistent.  This is, by the way, going to suck.  For a few weeks I'll start by just scheduling my sleep biphasically.  I'll be going to bed at around 8:00PM, waking up at 10:30PM to do low-key activities (any of the project things I need to do, reading, meditation, etc.) for an hour or two, and then going back to sleep until my wake up time at 4:45AM.  I want to fall into a natural sleep pattern and use my alarm only as a backup.  I'll also be napping more on non-work days.

So far my results are mixed.  I didn't want to set an alarm for 10:30 on a work night just in case it made me really cranky in the morning, so I've been going to bed around 8:30-9:00 for the past couple of days and turned off my backup alarms (I had a ridiculous alarm setup... three alarms, an hour apart.  I'm not sure what the logic there was.).  If this is as far as I get, it'll at least be a success.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Microbiome Testing and Compost

I have a slight headache today, but luckily I'm pretty sure I can trace the source to the fact that I was fairly active today.  There was a pile of weeds I had sitting in a random place, and I decided to start a compost pile.  Since I don't own the property (despite the freedom I have with things outdoors) I wanted to make it look nice, so I wound up making a small shallow pit from edging rocks that were left over from the creation of our fire pit:


A secret that's not so much a secret:  I actually have no idea what the hell I'm doing.  I'm not super worried about its shallowness (as I intend to make it taller in the future) but I'm a bit worried about the composition (there's more "brown" material than you can see but possibly too much "green" material") and the location (right against a shed... will it harm anything?  I don't know, it was a choice based on the number of rocks).  I didn't want to go out and buy anything knew given the materials we already have, so we'll just have to see how it goes.  Since our yard gets very weedy and I eat/prepare a lot of fruits and vegetables, it may overflow at this size quite rapidly.  On the bright side, my roommate/landlord is very receptive to composting, as he hates inefficiency and waste (our house was, as far as I can tell, chosen because it has solar panels).  So if this one fails, I can make another one using what I've learned.

I'm very giddy about this because composting is something I've always wanted to try, and as it's a transformative process (turning something considered waste into something fertile and amazing) I consider it spiritually significant.  If I remember right, the first Reclaiming Witchcraft coven was named Compost for similar reasons.

I haven't tilled my prospective garden yet, but I did talk with the aforementioned roommate/landlord about it to run some ideas I've had by him.  The property has a strange home-built children's playset/fort that's maybe ten feet tall.  Neither of us have or want children, and it's hideous, but he doesn't want to get rid of the thing, so I suggested we grow grapes and other plants on it.  It's also right next to the small garden bed I'll be expanding on, which itself is right by the raspberry bushes, so it'll be a nice food-producing setup.  In addition to the grapes, I'm thinking of adding containers for plants that grow well in them to the platforms of the playset.

Anyway, did I mention that I got a gut microbiome test done through uBiome?  I don't think I did, and... well, I wasn't sure if I'd say anything about it, because it's not something I think it actually necessary.  I already wrote a while ago about how ideally you should be able to eat well and be relatively healthy without understanding any of the micro-processes of what's going on... you shouldn't need to count carbs, or calories, or nutrients, as long as you eat traditionally prepared traditional foods.  You shouldn't need to know what bacteria and yeast are to make kombucha or mead or pickles or bread.  You shouldn't need to know why these things happen or are good, just that they do.

Still, I wanted to get it done to help with research on an important subject as well as to see tangible evidence that my dietary changes are making a difference that aren't related to weight.  The lack of necessity for this information for the average person doesn't mean it's not scientifically valuable.  Today I got the results of my "before" test and I also sent off my "in progress" test.  These are the graphs from the last test I took back in February, which compares different types of bacteria to an average of all samples taken:


The differences between me and the average sample are, unfortunately, not great.  Firmicutes--of which I have a fair amount more--are correlated with obesity, while bacteriodetes--of which I have a fair amount fewer--are associated with protection against obesity.  Proteobacteria are associated with inflammatory bowel diseases, and it lists actinobacteria as being important enough that people often supplement with them.  Interestingly enough, the numbers appear better than other people who are listed merely as "omnivores" (I hadn't changed my diet a whole lot at this point and figured it was fair).

This all is, of course, overly simplistic.  Whether this composition is "good" or "bad" is contextual, and none of these categories is actually "good" or "bad."  It will be interesting to see how this composition has changed due to lowered/different wheat and other grain consumption, giving up soda, eating more vegetables, and other lifestyle changes I've made.

Monday, April 11, 2016

GMOs are Not Saviors: The World Hunger Red Herring

A very large portion of the natural health and diet community is wary if not entirely against genetically modified organisms, citing mostly health concerns such as the possible threat of more cancer or a heavily liberal use of naturalistic fallacy (in which people believe "natural" is inherently better).  Because these particular aspects of the GMO debate are likely false--they probably don't cause any direct harm to human life, and plenty of human-created innovations have improved and saved lives--there's a serious degree of backlash trying to prove that GMOs are absolutely great and that there are no problems with it whatsoever, a belief that seems to have infected even some of my most left-wing friends, who keep posting bullshit like this:
From the photo: "What harm could it do?"
"Deaths from malnutrition (Children under age 5/2013): 3,100,000"
"Deaths from GMOs (ever): 0"

See, seeing graphics out there that debunk the idea that GMOs are inherently carcinogenic and dangerous, well, I can tolerate that and often even validate it (depending on how much ulterior motive is present).  This, though... this is the sort of thing that really pisses me off.  And it's not because the statistics are inaccurate.  As far as I know, they aren't.  It's because this is a super huge red herring.  And it's one that industries that love GMOs have been peddling for a really long time, because it plays with left-wing desires for food equity while ignoring why food inequity even exists.

This is reminiscent of an old episode of The Simpsons ("Duffless") in which Lisa Simpson uses science to grow massive tomatoes, tomatoes twice the size of your goddamn head.   Her predictably-Lisa-like reasoning is to produce more food to combat world hunger.  There's this really pervasive belief that world hunger is caused by not producing enough food, a belief that informs peoples' opinions on all manner of food ethical questions.  "We all need to go vegan because we can use the grain we use to feed cows to feed the hungry!"  "We all need to support conventional farming because it has higher yields and we can feed the hungry with it!"  "We all need to support GMOs because they'll increase yields and we can feed the hungry!"

Spoiler alert: Surplus yields are not used to feed the fucking hungry.  Hunger exists because its distribution favors the wealthy and food is not acknowledged as a human right.  This happens through multiple channels:
  1. Food distribution is controlled almost entirely by private businesses, most of whom choose their locations based on maximizing profits.  This means lots of people cannot acquire food easily merely due to location.
  2. Food manufacturing processes are chosen based on maximizing profits and consumption rather than maximizing nutritive benefit.  Affordable food is often cut with low-quality oils, the cheapest possible refined sugars, and cellulose/wood pulp, while whole foods without fillers cost more than many people can spend (let alone want to spend).
  3. Stores and vendors would rather throw good food they can't sell in the trash than spend a trivial amount of money to feed it to the hungry.  As a whole we throw away enough good food to feed everyone, we simply choose not to.

    And finally:
  4.  Farming practices are designed to maximize profits at the expense of nutrition, human health, taste, and the environment.
This is the part that is relevant to why I do not trust GMO producing companies.  It's not because I think there's something about changing the genes of a plant that is inherently harmful to human life.  It's because the companies that make our food are completely dedicated to doing the wrong thing.  So why would I believe them if they told me the reason they are all about GMOs is "world hunger?"

It's not.  It's still about profits

We grow enough food already.  So what do they "need" all these crops for?  The answer is... well, not food for you and me.  More like food for cows, pigs, and other animals we eat, mostly animals that shouldn't be eating an all-grain diet (if they eat grain at all).  More like food for... well... cars.  That's not sarcasm.  A lot of this grain that's being produced is being refined into ethanol as a gasoline additive (this practice is very greenwashed, leading people to think it's more eco-friendly when it isn't "because plants!").  They also "need" more crops to lower their profitable pricing ranges... a massive farm with a huge surplus can sell individual foods more cheaply than a small farm, running the small farms out of business by out-pricing them.

In other words, it's a huge mess.

There are certainly other problems with GMOs.  I have personal doubts that we understand enough about food to modify it without screwing things up.  They have opened the repulsive floodgates for companies to patent life, controlling who is able to grow what and demanding royalties if farmers use sustainable practices to plant them (if they are even able to save seeds; some are modified specifically to avoid that possibility, like some sort of fucking shady plant DRM).  Some are designed specifically to allow people to use even more pesticides on them, killing everything except that one crop and doing immense ecological harm in the process.  Some of the effects of these are exaggerated, with others not so much.

But my perspective?  It's mostly based on the fact that we grow more than enough food already, we're just too socially irresponsible to get it where it needs to go.  And that won't be solved with comical Lisa Simpson tomatoes or doubling our production of corn.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Dental and Other Health Updates

As I likely didn't mention, last year my New Year Resolution was to get my teeth fixed and embark on a continuing natural dental hygiene regimen.  I intended to get my teeth fully fixed by the end of the year, but as I hadn't gone to the dentist in nearly a decade I had underestimated just how much work they truly needed and how much that would cost.  After that first appointment I learned the extent of how much dental care I would need, including the removal of all four wisdom teeth and filling multiple cavities (3-5) in all eight sections of teeth.  Because of this I maxed out my insurance benefit last year (and then some) and am primed to max it out this year, too, despite having much better insurance with a higher limit.  I got the wisdom teeth pulled and as of last Wednesday I have all but two sections of teeth filled (with roughly $1,500 more out of pocket to spend).

One of my cavities actually appears to have healed a little.  I see every once in a while on natural health and paleo blogs people who are interested in the idea of remineralizing their teeth through diet and a natural dental hygiene regimen.  There are a couple reasons I am not taking this route:
  1. I have only rarely seen it work for other people, and only sporadically (for instance, one person I talked to had one cavity seem to remineralize while the rest of her cavities got worse and she gained one).
  2. My body's response to foods is still not healed, and there is not enough guarantee I'll be able to stick to a diet strict enough for this to work.
The wisdom teeth removal, in particular, was essential.  They started becoming impacted back when I had very poor medical access and was replacing literally everything I possibly could with home remedies.  I was 30 years old when they finally came out (after two major infections and many more smaller ones), and they'd grown so deep that their removal caused lasting sinus issues.  It's important to keep in mind that the morphology of the human jaw is directly related to how we ate growing up, and a lot of factors have gone into our modern undersized jaw (whether or not you were breastfed, how processed your diet was, even whether or not you used a fork or chopsticks) and so it's not unfeasible or conspiracy-worthy to expect a lot of us just don't have enough room for them.  So my advice is this:  If they're bothering you, getting infected, hard to clean, get them taken out as soon as you can.

I also wound up with a bump in my blood pressure meds.  Ugh.  My blood pressure is, on the bright side, normal now.  With summer and good weather coming up hopefully I'll have more motivation to be active (I've found my blood pressure reduces significantly if I just walk more, but I unfortunately have a sitting job right now).

I've been sucking pretty hardcore at making my own food.  The only redeeming quality of my diet right now is that I tend to pick slightly-more-paleo options of fast food and I eat a lot of fermented foods.  It's really impacting my life and health right now but I'm gradually starting to sort it out.