Monthly Archives: July 2008

Soy Boys: Don’t Panic

Yummy fried tofuToday’s Guardian features an article whose headline reads “Soya-based foods may harm male fertility, say scientists”.Scared?Yeah, it worried me, too.The article, based on research by Jorge Chavarro at the Harvard school of public health, says that “the apparent fall in sperm count is unlikely to make healthy men infertile, but some experts said it could have a significant impact on those already with lower than average sperm counts.” Furthermore, “men who consumed at least half a portion of soya food a day had the lowest sperm counts.”But this isn’t the whole story.A read of the article reveals some interesting facts about the study:

An article in The New Scientist offers more complete coverage of the story, including this quote from Chavarro who stresses that his research is inconclusive:

There’s no reason to panic at this moment. It’s still way too early to draw any strong conclusions about whether soya foods affect male fertility.

But if you want the real proof, read some of the comments on the New Scientist, like this one from damon:

I’ve practically eaten soy three meals a day for almost 10 years and I’ll be a proud dad come Sept!!! And.. if it’s not too much info.. it only took one try! I imagine that if there is a reduction in sperm it would only be noticeably negative for men with already low sperm counts, where every sperm counts.. so to speak. Cigars anyone??

Tom also makes an interesting point:

As this report comes form the US we can assume that the soya used was US soya and therefore almost certainly GM soya.I’d like to see it re-run with non-GM soya.

The paper touches on the last point, pointing the obesity factor as a possible explanation (26% of Chinese adult males have a BMI over 26 compared to 71% in America).What are your thoughts?

Organic Milk is Better Than Conventional

Flickr Photo Download_ Cows.jpg

A new study by Newcastle University proves that organic farmers who let their cows graze as nature intended are producing better quality milk.

The proof is in the pasture.

Gillian Butler, livestock project manager for the Nafferton Ecological Farming Group at Newcastle University, who led the study says:

We have known for some time that what cows are fed has a big influence on milk quality. What is different about this research is it clearly shows that on organic farms, letting cows graze naturally, using forage-based diet, is the most important reason for the differences in the composition between organic and conventional milk.

So what’s the difference? Butler explains:

We’ve shown that significant seasonal differences exist, with nutritionally desirable fatty acids and antioxidants being highest during the summer, when the cows are eating fresh grass and clover.

Interestingly, the learning point here has more to do with grass and less to do with organics. The researchers also studied a low-input non-organic farm which grazes their cattle from birth to death entirely on grass. Milk from these farms also had significantly higher levels of nutritionally desirable fatty acids and antioxidants, which was a direct result of the extensive outdoor rearing and fresh forage intake.

Butler gives props to these “New-Zealand type dairy systems”, uncommon in the UK, and project co-ordinator Professor Carlo adds:

This paper is a major milestone in the project and clearly shows that if you manage livestock naturally then it’s a win-win situation for both us and them.

Amen, brother. Er, mooooo.

Organic milk is cream of the crop [via Culinate]

Attitudes and Eating Habits

cas2007ukreport.pdf (page 22 of 113).jpg

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has carried out research to find out people’s attitudes towards food and health. The results of the survey-based study revealed some interesting statistics. For example, only 2% of respondents were completely vegetarian, and 0% were vegan – who is the FSA talking to?! Ok, maybe that’s only relevant to me. More surprising was the decrease in concern about food issues:

There was a decrease in concern about healthy eating (in the broader context of major issues facing people today), about food safety at the general level (a decrease in the proportion either ‘very concerned’ or ‘concerned’ from 60% in 2006 to 57% in 2007) and also about specific food issues (e.g. the amount of fat, salt and sugar in food). There was also a decline in the number of parents who claimed to be trying to reduce their children’s consumption of fat, salt and sugar, compared to 2006.

Here’s another one that surprised me:

34% agree that it’s difficult to find healthy alternatives that taste nice.

That just makes me sad.

Some more interesting, but perhaps not terribly surprising, factoids:

  • Eating healthily was less important for men than women (with respectively 55%
    and 62% strongly agreeing) and for 16-25 year-olds compared to all older age
    groups (only 46% of the youngest age group agreed strongly with this statement,
    compared to around 60% among each older age cohort).
  • Women were also more likely to agree that they tried to encourage other people
    to eat healthily whenever they could (71% agreed, compared to 54% of men).
  • Ingredients had less relevance to the 16-25 year-olds – only 28% of this group
    strongly agreed that the most important thing was to cook with high quality
    ingredients without additives or preservatives, compared to at least 45% of each
    older age group.

Wanna read more scary statistics? Check out the full report.

Attitude to health affects eating habits
Consumer Attitudes Survey 2007: UK Report

What’s your biggest health and fitness vice?


I’m not one for “memes”, but the latest thread about vices is kind of interesting. Quick To Fit asks:

What is your biggest health or fitness vice?

I wish I could say I never thought about vices. I wish that moderation were so ingrained into my soul that my indulgence of the odd treat was so rare that it could hardly be termed a “vice”.

The truth is, I think about vices a lot, more than I would say is “healthy”. And even though I’m fairly moderate about my vices, my thinking around them is anything but. But I’m skirting the question. What’s my biggest vice?

My biggest vice falls into two categories, both liquid: diet soda and alcohol.

Diet soda doesn’t trouble me as much as beer. I try not to drink it very often, and when I do, I don’t get too bent out of shape about “failing”.

skitched-20080715-182106.jpgWhen it comes to alcohol, however, I definitely have (or at least used to have) a horrible tendency to drink WAY too much. I’m a fast drinker, and can finish a pint at the same pace as my boyfriend. It may not seem like a big deal, but I’m about half his size, and half the size of most people, so it’s an effort not to drink so fast that I basically get drunk immediately.

The trouble is, I really like beer and wine. Especially beer. I think I have pretty good taste in beer, too. I’d like to drink it every day. I know, I know – studies have shown that small amounts of alcohol every day is good for the heart. But screw the research. For someone like me who’s done her time at the college watering holes, drinking every day is simply not healthy no matter how much or how little I drink. I don’t quite have the self control to limit myself to “just one”. So for me, one drink a day just isn’t healthy: I’ll only want more.

I’ve been pretty good in recent years about limiting my alcohol intake. But I still think about it all the time, and I still have to remind myself to slow down, drink water, and be moderate, every time I go to the pub. I miss the days when I drank without reservation – it was much more relaxing! But I don’t miss being a lardo who could never remember her Friday nights. Sometimes I wonder if I should just quit drinking altogether.

One of my favorite bloggers, Sally Parrot Ashbrook, left this comment on Get Fit Slowly, where JD also cited alcohol as a vice:

I was thinking just this morning about how my alcohol consumption has increased lately and maybe isn’t at a healthy point (not just how it relates to calories, but also emotionally). Then I was thinking, when you are utilizing (not necessarily abusing) a glass of wine or whatever to help you chill out a bit, and you decide to cut back or cut out alcohol, you have to figure out how else to offer yourself support for what the alcohol is offering you in your life. I’m intending to try yoga and a couple of other things; I’ve been thinking about it today. . . .

This made me think: If booze causes me more worry than relaxation, maybe I should trade it up for something else? The trouble is, there’s nothing that’s so ingrained in the social culture as alcohol (not in London anyway). And I want my social life to be relaxing. All too often the two collide and I’m left wondering where the happy medium is.

I’m hoping to one day be able to be around alcohol and not worry about this crap. The whole point here is to be healthy, and worry is far less healthy than alcohol (in moderation!).

I am supposed to tag someone else to post on this meme. How about NCN at No Calories Needed and Ali at The Office Diet?

Camping in Devon and Cornwall

skitched-20080712-221146.jpg Tim and I have just returned from a weeklong camping holiday in England’s great southwest, taking in Cornwall, Devon and Dartmoor National Park. The plan was to do a whole bunch of walking through England’s luscious countryside, but the thing about England’s countryside, and in fact, one of the reasons why it’s so luscious in the first place, is that it rains in the country. It rains a lot.

The word of the trip was “preposterous”. Indeed, the sheer amount of rain we experienced was contrary to reason, utterly absurd, and thoroughly ridiculous. It rained every day, often forcing us into the vestibule of my tiny tent for awkward but delicious campsite meals, and later, into the warmth of our sleeping bags (fortunately we both brought along good books). The situation also drove us to drink, which allowed us to sample many of the regions’ fine ales. Favorites included Red Rock Traditional English Bitter, Black Sheep Ale and Wychwood Brewery’s Hobgoblin “Legendary” Ruby Beer.

Eventually, we hardened up. Tim bought some Gortex trousers, I put on a few extra extra layers of wool, and we headed out into the wet and wooly weather for some great walking. My new book of Dartmoor walks suffered the worst of the rain, but we came away dry and smiling. It makes such a difference having the right gear: good waterproof boots, waterproof outerwear, warm under-layers, plus a reliable tent and hot tea to come home to. As wet as it was, I can’t wait to go back to Dartmoor and explore the rest of its wilderness, preferably on foot rather than by car. We spied plenty of great spots for wild camping, and Dartmoor is certainly wet enough that water wouldn’t be a problem.

Yes, I have camping fever, and the only prescription is more Dartmoor.

Read on for a rough itinerary of our trip. Or check out the Flickr photo set and the interactive Google Map!

Friday, July 4


Our first day was spent mostly on the road.

We departed London in the A.M. for Devon. Spent £40 on 33 liters of gas (about $9 per gallon).

Discovered a fairly decent mix CD left in the rental car which included such gems as “Road to Nowhere” by Talking Heads, “Pulling Mussels From A Shell” by Squeeze, and “Float On” by Modest Mouse.

Drove by Stonehenge.

Lunch: Tomato, avocado and cucumber sandwich (in the car).

We bought groceries somewhere near Devon and arrived at Dartmoor National Park in the evening, just in time for the rain. Set up tent and wondered why we always manage to time our holidays for the worst weather ever.

Dinner: “The Italian Meal”, prepared with love by Tim.

Camp: Woodland Spring Touring Park, Drewsteighton, Devon

Saturday, July 5


Woke up and realized the Earl Grey tea we bought was decaf. Shucks. But at least the weather kept the milk cold.

Breakfast: Quinoa with cinnamon, apricot and nectarine slices for Monica. Tim had oatmeal.

We decided to head west to Cornwall where the weather was supposedly better. Drove through Dartmoor and stopped at the tourist office to pick up Dartmoor Walks (Pathfinder Guides) in hopes of future sunshine and walking opportunities later in the week.
Drove through Penzance which did not have any pirates (or much worth stopping for at all). We did find a coffee at “The Green Bean”, a decent coffee shop which was the unfortunate target of a stink bomb during our cappucchinos. Silly kids.
With little to do, we decided to head south to The Lizard Peninsula and found a quiet campsite in Helston. The nearby beach did not tempt us; we were wet enough from the rain.

Dinner: Veggie Chili with Kidney Beans, TVP and a bunch of veggies

Camp: Silver Sands Holiday Park, Helston, Cornwall

Sunday, July 6

Monica and Tim at Keynance Cove

Woke up in the rain and sought comfort in many cups of tea and a hot breakfast.

Breakfast: Quinoa with cinnamon, apricot and nectarine slices for Monica. Tim had oatmeal.

The sky cleared a bit so we packed up and set out to explore the Lizard Peninsula.
Visited the city of “Lizard” at the most southerly point of mainland Britain, then drove up to Kyanance CoveCornwallian Cream Tea in Keynance Cove and had a nice walk along the Southwest Coast Path. We even enjoyed a bit of sun while taking a traditional “Cornish cream tea” at a seaside cafe. From our hot tea and snacks we watched body-boarders catch waves while avoiding the granite rock cliffs surrounding the cove. It was was blissful.

(FYI: Cream tea is tea taken with scones, clotted cream, and jam.)

After the Lizard, we set up camp at Mena Caravan and Camping Park in Bodmin near the Eden Project, our destination for Monday. The campsite was set on a high open hill that was totally empty except for a couple camper vans. It was strange but kind of cool. They al
so had a microwave which made tea lots easier. (Hot tea, the elixer of life on cold wet days and nights.)

Dinner: Chickpea Curry with Basmati Rice and loads of vegetables (kale, carrots, and cauliflower)

Camp: Mena Caravan and Camping Park, Bodmin, Cornwall

Monday, July 7

The Eden Project

Had a quick breakfast at camp then packed up and headed to The Eden Project, a large environmental extravaganza comprised of gardens and faux-biomes housed in giant domes. It was cool but it didn’t really blow my mind. Most of the gardens are recreations of gardens from other parts of the world, complete with fake houses and decorations that emulate the garden’s “natural” environment. I can see how this is cool from an educational standpoint (and that’s really what The Eden Project is all about) but think I prefer the plants on their own.

Gobble Gobble After the synthetic wilds of The Eden Project, we were ready for some natural wilderness, rain or shine. So we returned to Dartmoor and found camp at the Langstone Manor, a totally sweet campsite set on the grounds of an old farm. We chose it for the onsite bar/restaurant which we thought we might need if the lousy weather continued, but the bar turned out to be the least of its selling points. The grounds had all kinds of nooks and crannies that provided a good amount of privacy. The owners were really nice and helpful with walking advice and even lent us an OS map to help us during our travels. The place even had chickens!

Dinner: Round two of Veggie Chili

Camp: Langstone Manor, Tavistock, Devon

Tuesday, July 8


Screw the rain. We’re walking anyway!

Breakfast: More oatmeal and fruit and tea

Packed lunch food and wet weather gear and headed out for the Walkham Valley and Merrival Walk (Dartmoor Walks, Pathfinder Guides). With the help of our wonderful hosts and their handy OS map, we were able to walk from the campsite to the start of the walk, a bonus journey that took us over some beautiful countryside and awesome views of the valley and Dartmoor’s most impressive Vixen Tor (a “tor” is a rocky granite peak, one of Dartmoor’s main features). This walk had everything: ponies, wildflowers, tors, a disused railway, Bronze Age stone rows, burial chambers, and stone circles (Stonehenge, eat your heart out).

After about 10 miles of walking in the country, we were pooped, so we had dinner and beers in the Langstone Manor’s bar/restaurant. The beer was good, the food was fine. Note to self: in the future, research restaurants before going to them. England is notoriously bad for food, especially for vegetarians, especially in the country. But at the same time, I was too tired to care that my “Vegetable Tikka Masala” came with frozen vegetables. It was pretty good not to be crouched inside the vestibule huddled over a campstove.

Camp: Langstone Manor, Tavistock

Wednesday, July 9

"Rain, will you never cease?"

Breakfast: More oatmeal and fruit and tea

The crap weather was back in full swing, and it didn’t seem to be going anywhere. This time we even had fog to threaten our visibility. But now that Tim was all Gortexed up, we were determined to get a walk in. I talked to the helpful lady at reception about walking in this weather and she recommended the circuit around the Burrator reservoir as described in our trusty book. So we packed up and got psyched for some very wet walking.

Sure enough, the Burrator reservoir was pretty straightforward and fairly pleasant, with a big ol’ dam and some very pregnant cows. Our feet were happy and dry and our spirits were only mildly tarnished by the constant downpour of rain. We enjoyed the walk, but we were definitely ready for the end when it came. We headed back up north to the same place we stayed on our first night, remembering they had decent showers and satisfactory pan au chocolates in the morning. Our neighbors, “Clive” and “Helen”, saw us setting up tent in the rain and invited us into their camper van for hot tea and Waitrose mini eclaires. They were nice folks and it was good to be sitting at a table for a change.

Eventually we had to leave the camper’s sweet soundless shelter and head back into the vestibule for dinner. The picnic blanket was left so I was left to cook sitting on a plastic bag. I didn’t care. Food is good and warming and cheerful even when the weather seems horrible. After dinner, it was back into the tent for another night of reading and listening to heavy drops fall on the rainfly.

Dinner: Round two of Chickpea Curry with Basmati Rice

Camp: Woodland Spring Touring Park, Drewsteighton, Devon

Thursday, July 10

Our last full day on holiday and the rain finally stopped. At one point during the night I woke up to pee and looked up and the sky was crystal clear and I could see the milky way. In the morning, the dry weather finally permitted us to have breakfast at the picnic table.

Breakfast: Leftover Chickpea Curry for Monica, Wheatabix for Tim.

After breakfast, we slowly made our way towards the Castle Drogo and River Teign walk, a fairly straightforward loop of 4 miles along the Teign Gorge. We made it longer by walking from the campsite and taking an uphill diversion to some Iron Age ramparts, followed by a well-earned pint at Fingle Bridge (though in retrospect, I wish we had opted for the cream teas, which looked and smelled delicious!). A thoroughly enjoyable (and surprisingly long!) day. Note to self: take more walks via cool pubs.

Lunch: Sandwiches at a bench named “Kristen’s Seat” on Feign River.

After the walk, had a “Legendary” Hobgoblin at camp before taking a much ne
eded shower. Tim cooked a lovely dinner, his signature pasta a la arrabiata with broccoli and red wine. Spectacular!

Dinner: The Italian Meal

Camp: Woodland Spring Touring Park, Drewsteighton, Devon

Friday, July 11

Breakfast: Oatmeal for Monica and Wheatabix for Tim.

Departed Woodland Spring, unsure of what to do for the afternoon. Went to Chagwell on Clive’s recommendation. It was a nice village but we’re not really village people now are we? We did find a very nice place to have coffee and write postcards and reflect on the trip. Here are a few observations and resolutions for next time:

  • Carry a waterproof map case
  • Bring pillows
  • Bring cling wrap for sandwiches – it’s far easier to pre-make sandwiches and pack them for a walk rather than bringing the ingredients and making sandwiches on the fly (pre-made sarnies are especially convenient when it’s raining!)
  • Thermarest’s camping chairs are the bomb and make spending lots of time in a tent far more enjoyable
  • Carry a camelback while walking instead of bringing big bottles of water
  • Use plastic containers to keep groceries and camping gear organized
  • Get out in the world even when it’s raining
  • Camp when the weather’s right and postpone if the forecast is really bad
  • Keep the picnic blanket out of the rainfly’s dripline
  • Real ales are great for camping because they don’t need to be refridgerated
  • OS maps kick ass
  • Find good pubs to take breaks at during long walks
  • Bring a good book to read during the downtimes
  • Don’t eat out without researching restaurants first
  • Sleeping bags that zip together would be nice and doubly warm

The Books That Helped Us Along:

More Stuff From the Trip:

View Larger Map

Diet-Sized Snack Packs Turn Off Willpower

The expensive way to NOT lose weight?

Are you a fan of 100-calorie snack packs? You may want to reconsider these little devils in disguise.

Some interesting research has emerged from the Journal of Consumer Research. Rik Pieters and colleagues at Tilburg University in the Netherlands have shown that diet-sized snack packs may actually cause people to eat more.

As published in Wednesday’s New Scientist:

They had 140 students watch TV – to rate advertising, they were told – and gave them either two 200-gram bags of potato chips or nine 45-gram packs. To activate “self-regulatory concerns”, half of the students were asked about weight issues and weighed in front of a mirror – all supposedly as part of another study.

Among students without weight thoughts, three-quarters opened their small bags and half opened their large bags. Both ate about the same amount. In volunteers primed with a diet mindset, however, just a quarter of students opened their large bags, eating half as many chips as the 59 per cent of students who cracked open the small packs.

Pieters thinks that people drop their guard around pre-proportioned snack foods and thinks other “health” foods may have same effect.

It’s always about willpower, isn’t it? I can see the appeal of these snack packs to people who have trouble with the WILLdebeast. How irritating that something that’s supposed to help us learn self-control actually hinders it.

Willpower or not, these snack packs are just spendy ways to buy processed food and I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone. If you’re trying to practice portion control, then what about nuts or fruit? You can figure out the right portions yourself and this way you’re LEARNING something rather than letting a big evil company do the work for you. They don’t care if you lose weight or not. They’re just in it to make more money. Sad thing is, they are.

Diet-sized snack packs turn off willpower [New Scientist]

Minimalist Car Camping Checklist


Tim and I have rented a car and at this moment we are packing up for ten days of camping on England’s southwest coast. As opposed to our trip to California, where we crafted the Ultimate Car Camping Checklist, this time we’re trying to keep it pretty light. Lo and behold, the Minimalist Car Camping Checklist was born!

I’m sure I’ll be adding or removing items throughout the following day/week/months as we discover all the obvious things we forgot or realize that we didn’t really need fresh underwear after all (not bloody likely!). I’ll keep the following Google Document published with any updates:

Google Docs - All items-1.jpg Minimalist Car Camping Checklist

Here’s where we’re at as of 9:19AM. Any obvious omissions? The minimalist car camping checklist is surprisingly long!

Minimalist Car Camping Checklist

Cooking Supplies

* Knife
* Pots and pans
* Cup
* Plates
* Cutting board
* Cutlery
* Baggies
* Wet wipes
* Sponge and soap for washing up
* Dish towels (2)
* Camp stove (we like the MSR Pocket Rocket)
* Gas for camp stove
* Lighter


* Wind/waterproof wear
* Thermal underwear
* Wool socks
* Bathing suit
* Towel
* Warm hat, gloves, scarf
* Warm fleece
* Underwear
* Sunhat
* Gaiters

Camping Gear

* Tent
* Sleeping bags
* Thermarest air mattress

Campsite Accouterments

* Headlamps
* Flashlight
* Lighter
* Platapus water bag
* Garbage bags
* Picnic blanket (preferably with a waterproof bottom)
* Bugspray/Insect Repellent

Personal Items

* Toilet Paper
* Sunglasses
* First aid kit
* Toothbrush/toothpaste
* Nail clippers
* Lip balm
* Face wash
* Hand/body soap
* Sunscreen
* Camera
* Diary/pen
* Field/travel guides
* Maps
* Vitamins
* A good book

Extra stuff for off-campsite activities

* Camelback
* Daypack
* Mountain/Road bike and cycling kit
* Hiking boots/shoes

Car Stuff

* Inverter
* Road atlas
* Campsite Directory
* Emergency Car Kit

Are You A Master Campsite Chef?


If so, then the American Hiking Society is hosting a recipe contest for the best front country and back country recipes for their new Volunteer Vacation cookbook. Time is running out: deadline for submissions is July 31, 2008.

Submit your recipes with a photo and a short story about the Volunteer Vacation or outdoor excursion where you made your masterpiece (no more than 300 words please). Recipes will be tested throughout the summer and fall by volunteers across the country. Winners will be included in the cookbook to be printed in 2009 and the top camp cook will receive an Outback Oven from Backpacker’s Pantry.

It sounds like you can submit more than one recipe. I think I’m going to enter my recipes for mushroom and soybean stew, saag channa, and vegan chili. I’m just not sure if the latter two are “front country” or “back country” as they both rely on tinned ingredients. Any thoughts?


Are you a master backcountry chef?

Spinach Parathas by Manjula

Last May I featured Manjula’s Spinach Paratha recipe on the vegetarian carnival. Spinach parathas are an Indian flatbread stuffed with a spicy spinach filling. I finally had the opportunity to make these tonight and already I can’t wait to make them again. These tortilla-like parathas were surprisingly easy to make and I loved the cumin-spiked spinach. My only complaint is that I couldn’t get mine to puff up the way hers did in the video. This I blame on my lack of a cast iron skillet. I tried making a couple under the grill in the oven and they turned out more like pizza bases, but I still enjoyed them (this I did after putting out the fire that the grill set on some old cheese grease that was left in a pan – whoops).

After cooking the parathas, I put them in some foil and kept them warm in the oven. This had a bonus effect of softening the bread making them easier to fold up and wrap with yummy things like lentil dal with panch phoran. For you protein junkies, do you know what you get when combine the leguminous lentil with the whole wheat paratha? That’s right: a complete protein. Feast on that!

Manjula recommends serving parathas with yogurt and pickles, or filling them with cheese! Yum. Just like a quesedilla. Just don’t set fire to the grease.

For more paratha goodness, check out lolo’s Aloo Parathas at VeganYumYum!

Spinach Paratha [Manjula’s Kitchen]
Aloo Parathas [VeganYumYum]