Happy New Year! (Can I still say that at this point in the month?) Hope all my loyal readers enjoyed the holidays and stayed clear of all this nasty flu going around. I myself got some great gifts, including new cookbooks and some tools to help me keep bringing you great meatless recipes. I also took advantage of some after Christmas sales to pick up some bargains and enjoyed lots of delicious meals from my new cookbooks. I even got a nice note from one of the cookbook authors who responded to me on twitter. Can't beat that!
So here we are, back at it in 2013, renewed in our resolution to keep Mondays meatless. I can help with that, but first things first. If you cast your mind back to my last post of 2012, you may remember (topical reference!) that I promised to address the question, "How much are our memories worth?" when I returned this year. I have to tell you that I was actually a little horrified when I was investigating this topic yesterday, but all will become clear... read on.
The impetus for this topic came from stories in various media outlets dealing with studies on dementia, memory loss and Alzheimer's Disease. First up is a report in The Telegraph on a new study from Harvard University showing "red meat and butter could raise Alzheimer's risk." The study showed that people whose diets were high in saturated fats (scientist-speak for meat and dairy products) had worse memories than those whose diets were high in monounsaturated fats (code for plant-based foods).
"Substituting in the good fat in place of the bad fat is a fairly simple dietary modification that could help prevent decline in memory."
I wonder what sort of "dietary modification" the researchers were referring to? All very mysterious. (Dr. Neal Barnard provides a good summary of the impact of diet on memory in this YouTube clip.) On to study number two as reported in Science News, which highlighted a new discovery that the Alzheimer's-related protein "amyloid-beta" is an infectious instigator in the brain that behaves like the prion proteins which cause mad cow disease (called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or CJD, in people). In fact, Alzheimer's and CJD are also related to other neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's, ALD and Huntington's and are all based on these "misfolded proteins" that seed themselves in the brain and then multiply.
But where do these proteins come from? On to study number three, the one described above as horrifying. This is an abstract published in the National Institutes of Health PubMed online database which reported on the following juicy little nuggets:
- A CDC report of an outbreak of CJD at a New Jersey racetrack which resulted from eating meat which was not contaminated with mad cow disease, but only "with the agent causing" it - bovine tuberculosis.
- A USDA report showing that, on average, 20% to 40% of US dairy herds are infected with bovine tuberculosis.
- Meat from tuberculous-infected animals may also constitute a "significant risk" of infection.
- There is three times the risk of developing Alzheimer's in meat eaters as opposed to vegetarians.
- A recent study links 13% of all Alzheimer's victims as really having CJD.
Read that again to let it really sink in and blow your mind. This is why the abstract is called "Thinking the Unthinkable:" You can catch CJD, the human form of mad cow disease, from eating the meat of a cow that hasn't yet shown any symptoms of mad cow disease! There are about 5.4 million people in the States living with Alzheimer's, so let's add another 10% for Canada - that means that there are around 750,000 people in North America alone who actually have CJD right now. Never mind that the unofficial policy with beef and dairy ranchers for dealing with mad cow disease is "Shoot, shovel and shut up," we're also playing Russian roulette with 20-40% of the burgers and steaks out there, too? Or as they call it in this article, "Losing your mind for a shake or a burger." Horrified, yet? Aren't our memories worth more than a love of shakes and burgers?
Or maybe some people are thinking, why all the fuss about dementia and Alzheimer's? Doesn't it just mean you forget where you left your keys and are kinda adorable at parties telling the same stories over and over? Here is a reading list for those people: Still Alice, by Neuroscientist Lisa Genova, is a terrifying first person account of the experience of slowly losing your memory to this disease. No More Bull!, in which former cattle rancher Howard Lyman actually refers to the disease as "Alzheifer's," and presents the evidence for meat-related memory decline in detail. The Family That Couldn't Sleep, by D.T. Max, is an investigation of a whole range of equally horrifying prion protein diseases and is guaranteed to make you lose sleep.
But when you think about it, animal fats and cholesterol are just gummy, fatty plaque-like substances, so is it really surprising that when we eat them our arteries and our brains end up clogged with gummy, fatty, plaque-like stuff? And that fruits and vegetables, so full of dietary fibre and antioxidants, are the best "plaque scrubbers" around? Would we be surprised that higher amounts of vitamin C, vitamin E and vegetables in general were seen in the diets of those people free of dementia? I'm going to have to go ahead and put another one in the win column for fruits and veg, people. All those in favour of this can vote with their grocery carts as soon as they like.
This week's recipe is an adaptation of a traditional Southern dish, which is generally eaten on New Year's Day to guarantee a prosperous year filled with good luck, which is why it seemed appropriate for my first recipe of the year. The peas represent coins and the greens represent money and if you serve it with the traditional cornbread, you also have gold. I hope this year brings plenty of good luck your way as well as lots of great memories which will last a lifetime.
P.S. For anyone interested in a sample of my non-MM writing, my short story "The Practical Uses of Voodoo in the Workplace" was published last week on the website of the UK literary magazine "Litro."