Off to the islands!

December 28, 2007

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I’ll be back sometime in January… Happy New Year!!

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How Sustainable Are Current Food Production Methods?

December 20, 2007

Check out this excellent article by Michael Pollan in Sunday’s New York Times: Our Decrepit Food Factories

Pollan discredits the popular cliché of agricultural sustainability:

The word “sustainability” has gotten such a workout lately that the whole concept is in danger of floating away on a sea of inoffensiveness. To call a practice or system unsustainable is not just to lodge an objection based on aesthetics, say, or fairness or some ideal of environmental rectitude. What it means is that the practice or process can’t go on indefinitely because it is destroying the very conditions on which it depends. It means that, as the Marxists used to say, there are internal contradictions that sooner or later will lead to a breakdown.

He goes on to describe two stories from this year which serve as examples of why mass production of food using artificial means is not sustainable.

The first story is about pig farms and the outbreak of MRSA. The only way these farms can raise “vast numbers of pigs or chickens or cattle in close and filthy confinement” is by pumping them full of antibiotics. Not surprisingly, the dreaded MRSA virus is highly prevalent on these farms and could be responsible for spreading the virus to humans.

The second story is about the disappearance of bees from bee farms (60 Minutes had a fascinating piece on this subject a couple of months ago). More so than ever, farmers rely on bees to pollinate crops. For unknown reasons, millions of bees are disappearing from bee farms. Nobody knows why but it’s not a stretch to hypothesize that heavy reliance and over-work of the bees is killing them:

As one beekeeper put it to Singeli Agnew in The San Francisco Chronicle, California’s almond orchards have become “one big brothel” — a place where each February bees swap microbes and parasites from all over the country and the world before returning home bearing whatever pathogens they may have picked up.

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The subject of agricultural sustainability is absolutely fascinating to me. To produce enough food to feed the fast-growing world population, farmers are turning to increasingly “aggressive” methods of producing food.

I haven’t read any conclusive evidence proving that consuming meat and dairy produced this way is harmful to health. Nevertheless, I feel like it just can’t be a good thing. And since my obsession du-jour is inflation, I can’t help but to draw the connection between these practices and the boom in global aggregate demand.

Consider how the Fed measures CPI by way of hedonically adjusting prices. This method takes into account the change in quality of items in the index. For example, if a computer gets better and better each year while its price stays the same, the number crunchers might decide its real price is actually declining — you get more computer for your money.

What if we applied this same reasoning to the cost of food: does producing milk from cows pumped full of antibiotics and hormones reduce its quality? I can’t objectively answer this but I believe it does. Just check out the dairy section at Whole Foods – hormone free milk is considerably more expensive than the regular kind. To buy the same quality food as we had 50 years ago, you have to spend WAY more!


Chipotle’s Shameless Lies

December 19, 2007

Mike left an excellent comment about Chipotle as a response to my New Year’s resolution post. We dug deeper this afternoon and what we found is truly horrifying…

The last time I went to Chipotle (about a year ago), I got a chicken burrito with rice, black beans, salsa, lettuce, cheese and sour cream. Using the nutrition info posted on the Chipotle website, we put together the following chart:

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Based on a 2,000 calorie diet, one burrito has 69% of your daily fat allowance, 75% of your total daily calories and a whopping 108% of your allowable sodium!!! Keep in mind that these are the numbers fed to us by Chipotle, my guess is that their serving size estimates are low — I’m positive I got more than 1 oz of cheese the last time I was there.

What makes this whole thing even more shameless and bald-faced is the blurb on the “Nutrition Cheat Sheet“:

Warning: Contains Only Real Food

That’s a label we haven’t seen yet. But if the call comes down, we’re ready. Because that’sall we serve. Real, high-quality food carefully prepared using time-honored cooking methods. We’ve chosen this route for one simple reason. Real food tastes good.

But there’s more than that. The building blocks of a sensible, well-balanced diet a rereal, simple foods—rice and other whole grains, fruits and vegetables, pure dairy products including real cheese, proteins from meat, poultry and dry beans. That’s what you’ll find in our restaurants.

Eating should be an occasion, a celebration of high-quality raw ingredients meticulously prepared to create extraordinary tastes. Not a science experiment aimed at manufacturing flavors using chemicals and food substitutes.

While that’s our commitment, we also recognize that dietary preferences and requirements differ from person to person. And that some people just want a little help figuring out what foods make the most sense for them. That’s why we’ve compiled this information.

Use this as a guide to help make informed decisions about what you eat. Then pick and choose what’s right for you. But remember, the numbers tell only part of the story. There’s no substitute for real, quality ingredients.

Mix. Match. Enjoy.

I think they actually have people convinced that this is health food.  Shameless!


New Year’s Resolution Part I: Nutrition

December 18, 2007

My diet has gotten a lot worse in 2007. I used to be a health food fanatic but my busy schedule has caused me to lose focus this year. Here are some things I’ve done wrong and my resolutions to fix them in 2008:

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Quick Observations:

  • I rarely cook anymore – most of my food is packaged and prepared. Don’t get me wrong, I would never think of eating at McDonalds or Chipotle, but I’m sure I’m still eating way too much salt and unhealthy fats
  • I’m not eating nearly enough fruits and vegetables
  • I’m drinking way too much coffee. Each day I drink AT LEAST a Venti Starbucks drip coffee. Some days I have a lot more.
  • I am getting paranoid about the quality of the food supply (this is related to inflation, by the way). When it comes to food, you get what you pay for… “cheap” food is probably not anything you want to put in your body.

Resolutions for 2008:

  • No more daily Starbucks: instead I will make coffee at work in the small coffee pot I bought last year from Amazon. It makes 4 cups and this is all I will drink (except on Friday when I’ll have a 4pm grande drip). I will drink green tea in the afternoons.
  • Eat at least three servings of fruit per day. For example, banana for mid-morning snack, orange for afternoon snack & bowl of frozen blueberries & strawberries for dessert
  • Keep mixed nuts and dried fruit around my desk at work to avoid the temptation of the candy bin my colleagues keep stuffed with KitKats & Snickers
  • I will try to cook more meals at home – go back to to my old habit of making healthly “stews” in massive quantities. I can eat it a few nights a week with a salad and brown rice
  • I will try to avoid meat and fish products unless I purchase them at WholeFoods

Roommates

December 15, 2007

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Picture of my roommates standing outside our apartment…. No commentary needed.


Hospitals Ripping Us Off Part II

December 14, 2007

Today my friend Billy from DC wrote a great comment to my post: Hospitals Ripping Us Off:

Hi Will!

As a previous healthcare lobbyist, I can say, the problem is (of course) complicated.

Because, Medicare/Medicaid will only pay designated amounts (ultimatum for provider being not to participate in the programs – which no healthcare provider will do) many times providers will lose money on procedures on those under Medicare/Medicaid. If you are a hospital or pharmacy in a diverse area – you will be fine. However, if you practice in an area heavily populated by the elderly or poor (urban areas), a majority of your bills will be underpaid by Medicare/Medicaid – so you try to make up for it in other ways.

In my opinion two things need to happen:
In the short term. The government needs to require implementation and compliance of electronic patient files. One of the major reasons healthcare costs are SOARING is because Mr. Smith goes to Dr. A when his stomach hurts. So as any good doctor would, he performs a litany of expensive tests. Well, 6 months later, Mr. Smith wants to go to Dr. B because a fancy new office was built (or goes to the hospital because his Dr’s office is closed for a holiday) and what does Mr. Smith care, his insurance is paying. This time his stomach or maybe his throat, or who cares, is hurting. The point being, because information is not available procedures are constantly being duplicated. Unbelievably costly procedures. The same thing happens with prescription drugs and drug stores (who by the way operate on a 3-4 percent profit margin). By implementing an electronic database you can avoid all this without going to a socialized system.

In the long term. The best way to get everyone in the US healthcare insurance without moving toward a “socialist” system is to get out of employer-based insurance. Do you know we are one of the only industrialized country that has employer-based health insurance? This goes back to WW II and government freezing wage hikes… long story. It’s a mess, and not just for the old and poor. The average time an American stays at a job is like 1.7 years. Switching healthcare plans that often is absurd. Not to mention these plans have no incentive to cover preventive care and employees rarely have a choice of their insurance provider. The best example right for what the US needs right now is Israel. I am oversimplifying but Israel deals with healthcare insurance like the US deals car insurance. The government requires everyone to have an insurance plan (like states require drivers to have car insurance). The market creates a certain amount of programs, under government guidelines, and basically the public can choose between a selected number of plans. There are cheap plans – there are expensive plans. What observers are finding is that people generally stay with their healthcare plan for their entire life – giving insurance companies incentive to invest and cover preventive medication/therapy, etc. The government would have to get involved, subsidize, and regulate these programs – but they would still be market based, and the public would have options on the quality of their program. I think it is the best answer to our current situation.

Here is my response to Billy’s great comment:

Hi Billy,

Thanks for your excellent comment! I love your ideas — especially the one about getting employers out of our healthcare.

Here are my ideas for how healthcare could work in this country. Would appreciate your thoughts:

To begin with, two things need to happen:

1) End the deductibility of employee health care premiums for corporations (As you know, when your employer pays your health insurance premium, it is an expense to your employer. Unlike other forms of compensation though, this does not count as income to you. This amounts to a huge subsidy for corporations by the Federal Government. Unemployed and some self-employed people get no such tax break, which to me, is outrageous.)

2) Completely de-regulate the national insurance market — let insurance fall under the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution. As a resident of NY, I should be able to buy a policy from Nevada or South Dakota if I want to.

My Plan:

My plan places all the choice (and the cost) at the individual level, where it should be in the first place. Just like your idea, everyone will be required to buy some form of insurance — at a minimum this will be indemnity insurance. Along with this indemnity insurance, individuals can set up “pre-tax” Health Savings Accounts. Employers can contribute to this fund each year up to a specified amount and can deduct that amount as an expense. Individuals will have the incentive not to spend this money because it will grow for life and can be converted into an IRA at a certain age.

With this plan, the majority of healthcare expenditures will be directly paid for by the individual. This should do a lot to start reducing healthcare costs — your doctor can no longer x-ray your toe when you are there for a stomach ache. More fundamentally though, in my opinion, routine health care should not be paid for by insurance. Insurance is meant to protect you against the unexpected…. a yearly physical is hardly unexpected. It will cost me a couple hundred bucks and I will use the money in my HSA to pay for it.

The government would then setup a reinsurance operation which would step in to cover people with truly serious and expensive medical issues. For example, an individual could buy indemnity insurance which covers him or her for yearly expenses greater than $5,000 per year. The insurance company would be liable for the next $195,000. Anything over $200,000 would be covered by the government sponsored plan. I can assure you that the cost of this government sponsored reinsurance scheme will be WAY less than the current subsidy to corporations.

** I realize that this plan is simplistic and ignores a lot of issues. For one thing, the current insurance system works to some extent because young, healthy people subsidize older and sicker people. If everyone paid for themselves, healthcare for young people would be super cheap and healthcare for older or chronically sick people could be prohibitively expensive. Also, we certainly wouldn’t want to discourage people from having babies so there would have to be a program to subsidize that.

Dave, do you want to chime in??


Playoffs Victory!

December 2, 2007

Last night we delivered a trouncing in our first playoff game against Philip Marie! Final score: 31 to 6. Now, we are officially on a winning streak because we won our last regular season game too.
Last night’s game was played at played at Pier 40 on Houston St. & West Side Highway. It was quite possibly the coldest I have ever been in my life. No idea what the temp was, but with the wind is was positively frigid.

Because of yesterday’s victory, we play undefeated Coors Light today at noon on 148th st. & Riverside Park. It will be an interesting game for sure… here’s thew view out my window this morning:

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So the snow will add an interesting challenge to today’s game. Coors Light is a great team and the first time we played them we lost badly. Since then, however, our defense has improved tremendously.

Also, our offense is much better. I’m learning that the best type of offense in this league is some version of the West Coast Offense — lots of quick passes off the line for 5-7 yards each. Here are two examples from yesterday’s game:

And what game would be complete without me throwing an interception??