Monday, July 28, 2014

Fiesta del Maiz - Xilonen Ceremony

I attended the Fiesta del Maiz - Xilonen Ceremony on Sunday at Prospect Park to distribute articles, promote my upcoming cooking class (a fundraiser for the Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy), and to enjoy this celebration of traditional, non-GMO corn.  I had some interesting conversations, and shared the park with organizations doing great work to improve our environment and society.


“Fox” Orozco, an Aztec Dancer, was one of the first people to greet me.  I took in the smell of the white sage he was smudging to "start the day off right,” and gave him a brief description of my writings promoting the importance of returning to a traditional diet.  When I  visited his booth later in the day, I was grateful to hear that he really appreciated my article, Stolen Corn.


The Seed Library of Los Angeles was an organization that I had just learned about, and I was excited to chat with them.  SLOLA’s mission is to preserve genetic diversity and increase food justice and food security by saving heirloom seeds, and by creating a local community of seed-saving gardeners.  A beautiful selection of native corn seeds were on display at their table, and David King, SLOLA’s board chair, was knowledgeable and enthusiastic about sharing their great variety and diverse culinary uses.


It was nice to have my friend Samyrha stop by and visit, along with one of her friends from the nearby community garden Proyecto Jardin.  They had just harvested some beautiful, heirloom corn from their garden - huge and multicolored.  We shared a pot of quinoa and ate from improvised corn-husk spoons as we talked and caught up.

Samyrha hanging at the Arroyo Sage table.

I was happy to find another friend, Dennis Uyat, setting up a table for Comida No Bombas next to me.  Dennis is an old garden-club buddy from Pasadena City College, and another member of Proyecto Jardin.  He’d told me before of his work with  Comida No Bombas, but I became very impressed after learning more.

Always good catching up with Dennis.  Such a good dude!

Comida No Bombas is a collective of young people who deliver free, vegan meals to folks in need - by bicycle!  They use food that otherwise would have been wasted, and wrap it in biodegradable packaging.  While other organizations provide food of questionable salubrity, in styrofoam packaging, with plastic utensils which end up as litter on the ground - Comida No Bombas seems to have all the right bases covered.  Their model benefits our environment, our health, and our society - and should be replicated in every city, nationwide.


I enjoyed other interesting conversations with people throughout the day - all to the backdrop of Danza Mexica Cuauhtemoc’s dancing and ceremony. A volunteer with the Seed Library shared how a family history of farming inspired her to preserve biodiversity. Another woman shared her knowledge of natural, Mexican remedies for colds and injuries.  Annette, of the Facebook page Yo Soy Maiz, discussed with me the importance of identifying sources of non-GM masa and corn for the Latino community.


The issue of preserving the genetic integrity of natural, non-GM corn is an issue of preserving cultural identity.  After learning the disadvantages of genetically modified corn, I resolved to avoid it as much as possible.  Unfortunately, this also meant avoiding and losing a part of my culture. Fond memories of my Nana making tamales, and of eating my favorite ones (tamales dulces!) returned to me.  Before finding non-GM alternatives, I felt a sense of loss that I would not eat those foods again.


Attending the Xilonen festival left me encouraged that a desire to preserve the living heritage of natural, non-GM corn is growing.  Embracing the health-giving foods of our ancestors, voting with our lifestyle, and opting out of the industrialized food system in favor of sustainable agriculture has the power to impact our health and environment for the better - and in ways that are far more powerful than casting a vote at the ballot box.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Ethical Vegans Should Refuse Plastic

For several years I have followed a mostly-vegan diet for the health benefits it provides.  I am not, however, an ethical vegan.  While I support the humane treatment of animals, compassion for their suffering has not been my primary motivation in choosing a vegan diet.

The author, center, showing off vegan fried rice at Kushi Institute

Over the years, though, I have become increasingly concerned about the profound impacts our modern society is having on the creatures of the world and their habitats.  Few technologies are having a more destructive impact upon wildlife today than the proliferation of disposable plastic.

The evidence of the destructive impact of plastic pollution on birds and sea creatures is abundant.  More than 90% of northern fulmar seabirds have eaten plastic, some of their gizzards becoming completely filled with it.  Whales have washed ashore with stomaches full of plastic.  At least 100,000 marine creatures and approximately 1 million seabirds die each year from plastic consumption and entanglement, while sea turtle populations are plummeting due to plastic pollution.


Creatures on land aren’t faring much better.  Camels, sheep, goats and cattle have all died after ingesting plastic in the Arab world, as have elephants and holy cows in India.  Various other animals on land are suffering from the negative effects of plastic pollution.  Humans are no exception.


Toxic chemicals leached by plastic into food such as phthalates and BPA have been linked to various health problems, including cancer, diabetes and obesity.  Plastic particles which break down in the ocean attract toxic chemicals onto themselves that work their way up the food chain - and onto our dinner plates.  These microscopic plastic particles have been found to outnumber plankton - the base of the ocean food web - by a ratio of 6-1.


Clothing has recently been revealed to be another source of such “microplastic” pollution throughout the world’s oceans.  Many ethical vegans, in an attempt to avoid animal-sourced products and materials, choose to wear synthetic “vegan” clothing.  Such clothing, however, can be far from plant-based or natural, and is often made from petroleum-based materials - or in other words, plastics.


Microscopic plastic threads which shed from synthetic clothing make their way from the washing machine into the ocean and are taken up by filter feeders such as clams, mussels and small fish.  These creatures, including Lugworms, the “earthworms of the sea,” play a key role as food for other species and are profoundly harmed by ingesting the PCBs, dioxinsDDT and other pollutants absorbed by synthetic clothing threads.

A better option for ensuring animal welfare would be to rely upon truly natural materials which biodegrade and pose no threat to the environment.  Organic cotton, hemp and other plant-based fibers are the superior choice, and I think responsibly-sourced, ethical yarn could also be a part of the solution.  If the alpacas, llamas and sheep providing the wool are managed with a focus on animal welfare, vegan-friendly yarn could be peacefully-produced and provide another alternative to synthetic materials.


The time has come for us all to be concerned not only with the food that we eat, but also with the packaging that it comes in.  Single-use and disposable plastics are the greatest source of plastic pollution on the land and in the sea.  By refusing single-use plastics, using natural materials for clothing and supporting the meaningful regulation of plastics, ethical vegans - along with all the rest of us - may take steps to improve conditions for all life forms and to truly live according to shared principles of compassion.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Essential Ohsawa

I have recently been reading a compilation of the writings of George Ohsawa, the great scholar, healer, educator and philosopher who founded the modern macrobiotic movement.  I found the following exert to be extremely profound, and yet surprisingly commonsensical:


“I believe that illness is the crystallization of an error in our judgement, the tangible sign of a lack of natural orderliness in our lives.  In allowing this condition to arise, either through poor thinking, ignorance, or apathy, we have done something wrong.  To be healthy again, we must make a change - we must do something right.  We must re-establish the orderly kind of existence that underlies and guarantees health.

By macrobiotic living, you undertake the rewarding task of putting your life in order, starting from its most basic point - eating and drinking.  Righteous food is the materialization of God.  God is revealed to us in it and by means of it.  Our body - converted food - thus constitutes a speck of God himself.  The very reason that we can even live in this universe is that we are a speck of Him.  And the reason that this speck becomes sick or unhappy is that it forgets its origin; it loses sight of the totality of which it is a minute part.

If we know God or wholeness and at the same time are deeply aware of our own personal “speckness,” we cannot avoid being beautiful, healthy, wise, and happy.  To realize this and then to live with that realization as our motivation is macrobiotic living.”


Ohsawa defined “God” broadly, using the word interchangeably with nature, truth, or the whole.  The chief importance of the term is to illustrate that we all share a common origin in nature, or the universe.  Ohsawa recognized an order in nature which could be applied universally.  As Essential Ohsawa states in its End Note:

"George Ohsawa believed beyond the shadow of a doubt that he had found, and was teaching to others, the key to the kingdom of heaven - a practical way to understand the Order of the Universe and one’s place in that order.  In the face of such incredible truth, all problems such as pain, suffering, anxiety, fear, and sickness melt into their opposites and a life with real joy results.”

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Eaton Canyon Closure and the National Recreation Area Bill

There has been some public outcry in response to recent reports that the Forest Service is to close a dangerous portion of Eaton Canyon.  As someone who loves exploring the local mountains, I understand that restricted access to our open space can be troubling.  However, I also find myself avoiding several once-beautiful open spaces which have now become trashed and destroyed.  Eaton Canyon is quickly becoming one of them.




During my last visit to Eaton Canyon, I witnessed several inexperienced climbers heading up the cliff to the second waterfall.  More troubling was the amount of plastic trash and graffiti left behind.  Plastic bottles, caps, straws and bags floated in the pool below the falls, spoiling any experience of nature.




It became apparent to me that in order to preserve and protect the waterfall at Eaton Canyon, access needed to be either completely restricted, or allowed under the supervision of patrolling park rangers or some other type of authority.  Without some type of regular supervision and maintenance within this easily-accessable natural area, Eaton Canyon will remain a place where littering, graffiti, and other irresponsible behaviors are carried out with blatant disregard for any law or sign.


Major graffiti damage to Eaton Canyon

Perhaps, as I have discussed with others concerned about the area, the National Recreation Area bill which has been submitted to Congress could help being improved visitor services and more rangers to the San Gabriel Mountains.  Permits could be issued to ensure that experienced canyoneers are granted access.  If such improvements can help stem the tide of pollution, graffiti, trail closures and general neglect of the Angeles National Forest, then this is a bill we should all hope will pass.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Lyme Disease in the San Gabriel Mountains

Spring is here, and Summer lies not far behind.  It's the time of year in which the grasses grow tall along the trails and fields, and which draws people outdoors for active recreation.  This warm, expansive energy also spurs various species of ticks into activity; bringing with them the risk for contracting a much feared bacterial infection - Lyme Disease.

Rubio Canyon.  3/1/2011 - The day I was bit.
Here in California, the western blacklegged tick is the species that can transmit the bacteria which causes Lyme Disease.  This bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected ticks.  I was bitten and infected with Lyme Disease in March of 2011 while bushwhacking up the ruins of the Great Incline in Rubio Canyon.  Let me share with you my personal experience with Lyme Disease, the mistakes that I made, and the advice I can offer as someone who’s gone through it.

Don’t Burn the Tick!

After discovering the engorged tick sticking out of my back near my left armpit, my first mistake was burning it dead before trying to yank it out.  I thought nothing of following this conventional wisdom, but am now convinced this was the action that ensured my infection.  When you burn a tick, it’s saliva is spewed into your wounded skin, elevating risk of infection.  Normally, a tick must be attached for 36-48 hours before the Lyme bacteria transmits.  Infection with the Lyme bacteria is slim before this window.  Burning the tick before then greatly increases odds of infection.

The proper method!

The proper way to remove a tick is to use tweezers and try to pull it out from as close to the head as possible.  If you cannot remove the tick entirely, seek medical assistance.  After failing to remove a tick that attached near my collarbone earlier this year, I had it removed at a local urgent care.  They sent it to be tested in a lab for peace of mind - it came back negative for Lyme.

Watch for Signs of Infection

If you’ve managed to remove the embedded tick within that 36 hour window in it’s entirety, disinfect the area and allow it to heal.  Save the removed tick in case future testing is warranted.  Keep an eye out for the tell-tale sign of Lyme infection - Erythema migrans, or a "bull’s-eye" rash.  This rash occurs in 70-80% of those infected.  If you see the rash develop, or feel symptoms of malaise, sore throat, fever, chills or fatigue, get yourself to your doctor immediately.

Bull’s-eye rash

Accept Antibiotics!  

When I contracted Lyme, my second mistake after burning the tick was refusing antibiotics.  After removing the tick I had burned, my doctor offered me a couple of days worth of doxycycline as a profilactic measure against infection.  Being generally weary of antibiotics, I refused.

Unfortunately for me, my doctor failed to make clear that your immune system CANNOT overcome a Lyme infection.  About six days later I had a sore throat.  Eight days later I had an itchy bullseye rash, horrible malaise, and was put on two weeks worth of doxycycline.  The antibiotics affected me worse than the Lyme, but within a few days the rash began to fade.

Don’t Believe The Internet

There’s a lot of crazy information online about Lyme Disease.  I learned that the hard way.  Google led me to plenty of pages promoting conspiracy-type views about Lyme being incurable, even after early treatment with antibiotics.  These pages asserted that doctors were all in on an evil plot to deny chronic Lyme patients antibiotics, and pretty much told me I was screwed forever.



I gradually learned to avoid the webpages with flashing neon lights, and to rely upon more credible sources such as WebMD and Mayo Clinic.  Although untreated Lyme Disease can have devastating effects, those catching and treating an early infection should expect to be cured completely.

After my experience with Lyme Disease, I began taking the following precautions to reduce my chances of future contact with ticks:

Dress Appropriately 

Ticks can crawl up your pant legs, up your shirt, down your neck…  Take this into consideration.  For a while, I only wore long pants and tucked-in, white, long sleeve shirts while out in the mountains.  Some researchers even tuck their pants into their socks and wrap them with tape!  Wearing light colors helps you to spot ticks and brush them off, while wearing tucked-in, long sleeved clothing provides fewer entry points for crawling critters.

The author, at left - Dressed for Ticks!

Stay on Trails

The tick that infected me with Lyme went straight down my shirt collar as I climbed through the bushes.  Needless to say, I don’t go bushwhacking anymore!  Ticks like to reach out from tall grasses and attach to creatures that brush on by.  You can avoid this prime tick habitat by staying in the center of trails and by trying not to brush up against shrubs and grasses.


Check for Ticks

It is impossible to completely avoid ticks, and many of us would prefer not to spray ourselves with insect repellant every time we go out into the woods.  Tick checks, I’ve found, are the best option for reducing the risk of exposure.


While out hiking or camping with friends, or even by yourself, stop to check over your body and clothing periodically for ticks.  Once you get home from the outdoors, wash your clothes and keep an eye on your body for the next three days.  With the development of good habits, there’s no need for paranoia when it comes to spending time outdoors.  Being aware of your surroundings and of the proper treatments will allow you to traverse the wild with peace of mind.

The author - Eagle Rock, Topanga Canyon

Sunday, May 25, 2014

My Help is in the Mountain

The following poem came up on my Facebook news feed a few days ago and really moved me.  It expresses the healing that be gained from belonging to a place and becoming one with the land.




My help is in the mountain
Where I take myself to heal
The earthly wounds
That people give to me.
I find a rock with sun on it
And a stream where the water runs gentle
And the trees which one by one give me company.
So must I stay for a long time
Until I have grown from the rock
And the stream is running through me
And I cannot tell myself from one tall tree.
Then I know that nothing touches me
Nor makes me run away.
My help is in the mountain
That I take away with me. 

-Nancy Wood

When I read this poem I am reminded of the hills, canyons, steams and trails which are my healing places.  I think of how so many people have lost a spiritual relationship with the land they inhabit; of how the world’s problems could be resolved if we would only set down roots.  Therefore I ask - to what land do you belong?  Where are your healing places?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Tales of Mexican California

It’s interesting how some things from your childhood can be viewed with entirely new eyes as an adult.  That’s been the case for me in rereading a book from my past entitled Tales of Mexican California.


Tales of Mexican California is a firsthand account of the experiences of Antonio Coronel, a Californio who arrived in the Mexican territory as a youth in 1834.  Dictated in Spanish to an assistant of historian Hubert Howe Bancroft in 1877, it brings to life the people, places, and happenings of a bygone era.

When my dad first gave me this book as a young kid in grade school, he flipped through the pages with me and showed me the pictures.  “Look, chingasos!”  he said as he left me with the book, opened to a drawing of an early California brawl.  That piqued my interest enough to read of it what I could, and the illustrations were indeed suited to a young boy’s imagination.

“Look, chingasos!"

Though I found the heritage of the Spanish-speaking peoples of this land interesting, and related to it as my own, it was not until recently that I discovered the reason it was so difficult for me to read the book beyond it’s pictures:  Despite it’s cartoonish illustrations, this is a legitamate historical account!  Hardly the stuff a child could comprehend.

What I find so fascinating about reading this book as an adult is that it all takes place in country I’m familiar with.  It’s a look back in time to the land I call home.  Coronel’s family home was Rancho Canada atras de Rancho los Verdugos - the modern day cities of La Canada and La Crescenta.  That’s right up the road from me - I went to high school in La Canada!

Who knew that there were battles against American invaders - right there in the Pueblo of Los Angeles?  Coronel gives an exciting account of this campaign, along with many other of his adventures up until the days of the Gold Rush an early California statehood.

“I knew the Sonoran desert well, and realized it was a risky move, because Flores did not have sufficient provisions.  Although my friends and I were well-provisioned and could share in a pinch, there wouldn’t be much to go around.  Many of the Californians gave me to understand that they were sure I would get them out of any trouble, with my knowledge of the country.  More than anything, this convinced me not to accompany Flores, although my men said they would follow me anywhere.

… I advised them that we should all turn back and wait the course of events in California, while hiding out in the sierra.  If we were pursued, we could still go to Sonora in time."

“… We went by the sierra of San Bernardino, walking all night…  We ran into a storm of snow, rain and wind so violent we couldn’t see each other.  The soldiers… scattered in the brush looking for shelter, covering their backs with saddle blankets…  Fortune helped with a lull in the storm, and I got a huge bonfire going…  When we were all together I told them these hardships were the beginning of the guerrilla life, or that of any wanderer of the sierras…  I proposed we go to the nearest ranch - Cucamonga - and find out what had happened while we were gone…"

Throughout his life, Coronel was a friend and advocate of the Indians and held several distinguished positions.  His account in Tales of Mexican California provides sections on life in the missions, and Californio daily life, culture and customs - including fandangoes, songs and dress - along with accounts of outlaws and banditos.

Photo of Don Antonio F. Coronel

The very fact that these stories take place in such familiar environs to us residents of the Southland - including Rancho del Chino, San Diego, San Gabriel, Los Angeles and Ventura makes this a very exciting account indeed, and well worth a read for anyone looking to connect in a very human way to Southern California’s rich and fascinating past.