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Monday, February 10, 2014
Hemicrania, migrana, migraine: "Half headed"; Sag-gig: "Sick Head"
Author Andrew Levy, a professor of English at Butler University and as myself, a migraine sufferer has captured my attention as well as the essence of migraine.
Levy traces the migraine through history from before the time of Christ to modern day along with all the arcane and contemporary means of coping with them. Techniques like trepanning that make you cringe, unless you've suffered through a migraine more than two days long in which case you really start to think it may be a good idea. Levy not only traces the migraine through its various mentions in literature & medical publications but also traces it through the influential people it has affected. Nietzsche, Louis Carol, Ulysses S. Grant, even Elvis Presley, all migraineurs and the list goes on. somewhat more interesting is the affect that migraines had on these famous victims, for instance, the drugs that lead to Elvis' death were likely a means of coping with this debilitating affliction, and Carol's famous Alice in Wonderland is suspected to be not just a description of but an actual migraine incarnated in the various characters and the aspects they each represent, even the Cheshire cat representative of the aura that some migrianeurs experience.
Throughout the book Levy notes the treatments sought by numerous sufferers throughout the ages and how so many treatment success stories were truly by accident, usually treatments for something completely different that patients found just happened to help with their headaches.
Something both amazing and unfortunate at the same time is that the things that trigger migraines and the things that help them are as diverse and varied as the people suffering from them, caffeine can be a savior to some and a torture to others, chocolate as well. It seems through all Levy's research, the only constant is a sensitivity to light and pain, a pain as pure as the sunshine that we migraineurs often fear with every ounce of our being.
One aspect of migraine that Levy captures all to well is its relationships, or more aptly, its affect on our relationships. The introduction of the book was difficult to read for me personally as he describes the way he is forced to interact with his toddler son because of this ailment. Anyone who has been tormented with this disability (the best way I can describe it) for very long knows that it can easily steal as much quality time with your children as can your job. Levy also illustrates the tension and teamwork that migraine builds between he and his wife. Tension from the fact that one team mate is forced to hide in the shadows and silence whilst the rest of the house tries to go about everyday duties with little or no help. Teamwork as the two work together reading & researching, trying to find the triggers and treatments specific to his affliction.
The truly interesting thing that Levy brings forth, especially documenting the long list of highly accomplished people, is that migraine is inspiring, it seems to have been a driving force behind so many creative writers, and artists throughout the ages, and as Levy postulates, how many more has it crippled to the point of inaction?
While the author mentions a long list of triggers and treatments for migraine he also makes a point to mention how experimental the whole process can be, living "monkishly" avoiding specific triggers while working through any number of medications that may or may not help or may help but have such adverse side effects that they are not worth it. This is where I really felt his pain, in his utter frustration of trying to find help and being thwarted at every turn. I would say for myself that this is the truly the worst part of migraine, the never knowing why or how to fix it.
Some research that Levy has come across points toward migraine being an evolutionary "left over", a physiological mechanism to help us avoid the dangers our ancestors once faced-avoiding daylight and loud noises keeps you in the cave safe from predators. More recent discoveries may be pointing towards migraine being an early warning system for individuals prone to stroke, thus forcing them into a lifestyle that is healthier (if you avoid the big triggers) and may eventually help you prevent strokes.
The ultimate answer Levy has found is that no one knows for sure why we get them or how to get rid of them. However, as I have also found for myself, migraine comes to define us, we become migraineurs (French makes it sound fancy), those who experience migraines frequently learn to accept them and develop a sort of symbiotic relationship with them, they give us pain but also inspiration, especially inspiration to appreciate the time we have without pain.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has experienced migraine for any length of time if for no other reason than to understand that you are by no means alone in your pain but also because the author does such a great job of balancing between the statistics from research and the illustration from his own experience.
Friday, February 7, 2014
Ever since I began cooking, well cooking professionally, I have had an interest in the when and how we began cooking and eating as we do now. Consider the Fork answers some of those questions and does so in a very engaging manner, the author doesn't string out some exhaustive and boring time lines with specific dates and so-called "major events" as the typical history class at school does. Instead, the author simply elaborates on simple items we take for granted such as the fork, and how we as a society evolved from eating with personal knives or daggers that were carried with us everywhere to spoons and eventually to the multi pronged fork as a sort of height of sophistication (although I still prefer fingers myself).
The book covers not just the implements we use for eating but also the apparatus we use for cooking such as the large wood fired spits built into the lower areas in the a wall of castles where men would prepare food wearing little but a loin cloth due to the extreme heat, a stark contrast to the chef coat and pants and necessary rubber gloves of today. Spits would be turned by boys because dogs became smart enough to hide when the turning equipment was brought out. Eventually this form of roasting meats would give way to the wood burning oven then a gas range and even electric ranges (which you couldn't pay me to install in my home). These innovations were a driving force that lead to gas lines and electric infrastructure in every home as we now have.
Consider the Fork doesn't offer any new methods that we should be trying or anything of that nature, the book simply explains how we got to where we are today in terms of cooking food which makes someone like myself both wish for the old days and a more involved and planned out method of cooking but also grateful that if I wish to roast a beast I do not need to find my son and force him to turn a spit in a hot kitchen while I tend to more involved duties.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Being the Bad Religion fan that I am, I had to at least check this book out as it was written by Bad Religion front man Greg Graffin, one of the first musicians to show me that Brains and Punk Rock music CAN go together.
Graffin is not only a musician but also has a PhD in zoology from Cornell University and lectures on life sciences and paleontology at UCLA. Graffin has also been a nearly lifelong student of biological evolution, studying books on his own as a kid as well as formal education as an adult.
Anarchy Evolution spends it's pages jumping back and forth between documenting the evolution of the punk band Bad Religion and Graffin's own take on evolution vs. religion, occasionally being able to draw (lose) parallels and metaphors between the two.
I enjoyed the book over all and even through the science portions was relatively easy to read, a sort of laymen's terms explanation of the evolution vs. religion debate. I found his references to religious people, Christianity in particular, to be rather vague generalities. However, his observations are likely well founded especially since a great number of people claim to be Christians yet very few of them actually read the bible or adhere to its recommended practices (my words, not his). I was quite surprised and rather pleased to read his explanation of a Naturalist that it is a philosophy or worldview and not simply someone who studies plants & animals, although that can have a very distinct impact on a Naturalist's worldview, and why someone who does not follow a religion can actually be a moral individual with a positive outlook on life. Graffin also made a point about atheists that although I had observed it, especially in what I call "evangelical atheists", I never really could put my finger on it-atheists define themselves by something they are not, rather than something they are. A rather dismal and negative approach to life if you ask me.
Graffin even finishes the book on a positive note, with the chapter A Meaningful Afterlife, where he explains his personal view on what that means from the perspective of someone who does not believe in another life following this one as virtually all religions do. This chapter was refreshing as he illustrates that our imminent death with nothing to follow it is actually a great reason to live our lives as fully as we can and to make a positive impact on our friends and loved ones since those memories and the characteristics we pass on to them are the most important thing we will leave behind.
Saturday, January 18, 2014
I just watched this documentary last night, I couldn't pass up what is basically "Fruit Porn" as I am a hardcore fruit junkie.
Having experimented in growing a number of exotic fruit trees & plants in our home from seeds I gathered from the grocery, I was intrigued to see where some of the people featured in this film have taken their passion for the sweet stuff.
Perhaps the most surprising character in the film was Bill Pullman! Yes, that's right, the president from the movie Independence Day and the guy from Serpent and the Rainbow is a fruitiphile. In fact he was leading a charge near his home in Hollywood to try and dedicate a green-space as the Hollywoodland Orchard for locals to go and tend to trees and eat of their bounty.
One of the best things about this movie was to see that people are working towards being guardians of biodiversity, trying to cultivate & preserve rare or exotic varieties of fruit around the world. One couple from Florida has even spent twenty years trying to graft a wild variety of mango onto domestic stocks (thus far to no avail) in hopes to keep from losing it-that's dedication!
This is especially a nice film to watch during our all to cold and dreary winter here as it (at least for me) lifts my spirits a bit looking at the beautiful colours of fruit and the warm climates visited in search of fruits and trees.
The biggest drawback to the film was the somewhat cheesy narration that echoed of bad educational school films from the 70's & 80's. However, the great cinematography, the humorous characters (particularly from Papaya Tree Nursery) and the fruit itself easily made up for that.
If you're into fruit or just want something to watch that's interesting you can find it on Netflix.
Monday, January 13, 2014
As you may or may not already know, there is a lot of discussion and controversy about our food system especially here in the United States, or as I have come to affectionately call it "Merica".
Among the issues are genetically modified organisms (GMO's), the ever decreasing varieties of vegetables currently being grown, and of course the debate over nutrition.
It is this last point that I have recently been thinking about. Now the common debate is more about high calorie low nutritive value "foods" such as chips, soda, fast food, processed food , etc. I however, began thinking about nutrition in real, actual foods such as fruits & vegetables.
Here was my thought. We seem to be facing an increasing public health problem, not simply due to eating too much of the wrong things like sugar (in various forms), fats and salt but also because we are incredibly deficient in many nutrients. This began when my wife quoted an author saying that "we are not deficient in medications, we are deficient in nutrients". This got my gears turning about how it is that we as a nation choose to grow the vast majority of our food. Farmers typically rotate crops in their fields each season (most notably soybeans and corn but also real vegetables) because different vegetables need pull different nutrients from the soil and so this keeps from depleting too much, supposedly. If the majority of vegetables grown commercially are grown "conventionally" with chemical fertilizers, it seems that the only nutrients being regularly replenished are Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium, leaving a chunk of micro nutrients missing over time. This deficiency rolls downhill into our diets terminating in compromised health and well being.
A remedy for this unsustainable method of food growing is to recycle the remnants of the previous seasons plants as well as food scraps into compost that can be used to feed future vegetables. Including some small stone particles in the compost can be a good way to add back the micro nutrients as well. A good example of this method is vermicomposting. Feeding plant waste and food scraps (including egg shells) to worms, they are broken down rather quickly and turned into rich dark organic matter, to facilitate this process, the worms need fine particulate sand and gravel dust to fill their gizzards which help them digest their food. This particulate is constantly moving through the worms (literally) and in the process is digested itself, broken down into its mineral components which become readily available to plants. Now I haven't done any scientific experiments or long term studies (although history may offer some insight) but could the results of practicing this far more sustainable growing technique be any more dangerous than splicing together genes from completely unrelated organisms?
Just a thought.
Friday, January 10, 2014
As the weather lately promotes a lot of indoor time and thus plenty of reading, I decided that I would start reviewing books that I have read. The most recent piece that I finished is Growing a Farmer by Kurt Timmermeister. This is one that I just happened across at the local library and being a chef was intrigued by the fork motif on the cover. Once I got home and opened it up it was clear I'd be able to finish this one.
The book reads easily, no long winded exhortations on subjects that are difficult to follow or stories that seem to go on pointlessly as with some other "farmer" books I've read in the past. The author simply lays out how he got started in farming and how his little plot of land evolved over the years and how he himself evolved as a farmer.
Timmermeister began as a young restaurateur of sorts with a small cafe' in Seattle selling in house baked goods and of course coffee (what else would you expect from the Pacific Northwest?) eventually upgrading his business as he got older and more experienced until owning a full blown seven day a week restaurant. During this time he also began looking for a home to purchase and one with some land to it as he wanted to pursue growing food. What he found was a less than perfect parcel on Vashon Island just off the coast of Seattle, Washington. This is where the author begins to bide his time between the restaurant business and starting a farm business. Finally he comes to the conclusion to sell the restaurant & stay in farming, utilizing the restaurant money to support himself over the next few years as he gets more adept at producing food.
It was interesting to read of the regular setbacks and problems with wildlife he faced as he did not romanticize things but laid out his distress and occasional thoughts of giving up, I enjoyed the realistic perspective of the whole endeavor.
As the author was raising animals for meat as well as eggs and milk, it was good to read about the difficulty he had with putting animals down but approached it with great reverence for the beasts and the life they were giving up. As he went on to describe the entire process of slaughtering butchering chickens and pigs with great detail, it was not disturbing or gross but very respectful, focusing on the use of the entire animal rather than just the very few "good cuts". I was somewhat bothered by his philosophy about feeding pigs. He states in the book that pigs, much like humans, inherently know not to eat their own and that if given a pile of pig insides left from butchering, along with leftover chicken parts, the pigs will bypass the porcine bits altogether. However, he did mention that if the parts are cooked that they then just become "meat" and the pigs do what they do best-eat. He did not practice this heavily, it seemed, but I found it nonetheless unsettling. I would never think to feed any part of an animal, cooked or raw, to it's own species regardless of their own willingness to partake it just doesn't make logical or ethical sense especially if the animal itself is to be consumed by people.
Aside from this one point of contention, the rest of the book was fun to read, I particularly enjoyed the farms weekly Sunday dinners that had to consist almost entirely of items from the farm. This was not an incredibly difficult practice as the farm was home to a wide array of foods. Timmermeister raises chickens for eggs & meat, pigs for meat as well as lard, cows for milk which is made into butter and cheese, fruit trees, berry brambles and of course a large vegetable garden. Virtually everything you would need for a large dinner party was within reach on this small island farm. These dinners along with the sales of cheese are what keep the farm afloat and while not necessarily "profitable" it keeps the bills paid and keeps the farm and farmer doing what they love.