Friday, November 26, 2010

1% of deaths worldwide due to secondhand smoke - including my dad

My kind and beloved mom. I miss her every day. Photo: Sally Kneidel

My mother was a chain smoker; she died of pancreatic cancer, which is linked to smoking.

My dad didn't smoke at all, but he died of lung cancer.

Secondhand smokes kills 603,000 per year

So I wasn't too surprised to see in today's paper that secondhand smoke kills 603,000 people per year. That's in addition to the 5.1 million killed annually from smoking itself.

165,000 children die yearly of smoke-related illnesses

The study I saw in the newspaper was conducted by the World Health Organization. Armando Peruga of WHO said the organization was particularly concerned about the 165,000 children who die of smoke-related respiratory infections, mostly in Southeast Asia and Africa. I found that interesting, having recently returned from a stay in Southeast Asia.

In Southeast Asia it's customary for men to smoke, part of the masculine subculture

I noticed in Malaysia and Indonesia that most men smoke, while no women do. When I asked about it in Indonesia, a local told me that it's taboo for women to smoke, but it's a "custom" for men and especially all nature guides to smoke, particularly while leading treks. I found that odd. I also found it annoying to be engulfed in cigarette smoke while trying to stand absolutely still to photograph skittish wildlife. I noticed that Southeast Asian men seem to have no awareness that their smoke may be bothersome to others nearby. Smoking takes place anywhere and everywhere, and I never saw anyone react negatively to it except myself.

Most of these cigarette brands originated in the United States.  Here, they're for sale behind the counter in Gentingmas, a small food shop in Sandakan, Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. Photo: Sally Kneidel

North Carolina is the home of corporate tobacco

Of course, almost all of the cigarettes the Asian men smoked were brands that originated in America, which was embarrassing. Local stores sold Marlboros, Pall Malls, Kents, Winstons, Salems. I live less than 100 miles from the town of Winston-Salem, NC, home of R.J. Reynolds, one of the world's largest cigarette corporations.

Children of smoking parents have not only an increased risk of death, but many related illnesses

Peruga of WHO went on to say that children whose parents smoke have a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome, ear infections, pneumonia, bronchitis and asthma. Their lungs may also grow more slowly than kids whose parents don't smoke.

Women impacted most by secondhand smoke

The WHO study, published last Friday in the medical journal Lancet, reported that secondhand smoke has its biggest impact on women, killing about 281,000 yearly. In many parts of the world, women are at least 50 percent more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke than men. That makes sense given what I observed in Indonesia and Malaysia. The men are doing the smoking, while the women and children are breathing it. And the social custom seems to be to pretend that the smoke is not a problem.

She told me cigarettes were her best friend

I remember going out to eat with my parents one Sunday when I was a kid; my brothers weren't there. I complained in the car about the cigarette smoke and I complained again at the table. My dad told me to nip it, he said my biting my fingernails was more annoying than the smoke so I had no room to talk. I know he was just trying to protect my mom, to let her enjoy her cigarettes in peace. She always did say that cigarettes were her best friend. After an aneurysm ruptured in her head and left her severely brain damaged (2 years before the pancreatic cancer killed her), she still kept trying to smoke. She'd sit upright in her bed and go through all the motions of smoking, putting her empty fingers to her lips, drawing in deeply and blowing out the imaginary smoke. She didn't realize the cigarette was missing. Poor mama, she did that right up to the end. A true North Carolinian - born, bred, and dead in the land of tobacco.  She may have loved her cigs, but I can't say they loved her back.

Me and two dear Malaysian friends, Ria and Nola. They work in the Gentingmas shop on Borneo, where I did a lot of food shopping. The shop sells Marlboros and Winstons like most Asian shops. But Ria and Nola don't smoke and neither do I.  Photo: Ken Kneidel

"Secondhand smoke kills more than 600,000 a year. New study shows global impact of secondhand smoke; children account for more than one-quarter of deaths each year." CBS News. London, November 25, 2010.

Maria Cheng. "600,000 deaths a year blamed on secondhand smoke" Associated Press. Reprinted in Charlotte Observer, November 26, 2010.

One of my recent posts about the tobacco industry's marketing to minors:
New studies show fast foods "kids meals" loaded with calories and fat

Key words: 600,000 deaths secondhand smoke cigarettes WHO cancer lung cancer respiratory disease

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

9 Foods that are good for the brain - including chocolate!

Foods good for the brain include the pictured items: tomatoes, green tea, walnuts, broccoli, and coffee. Photo: Sally Kneidel

Readers, this is a guest post from writer Cindy Cullen. Find more info about Cindy plus her email address at the end of this post. From Cindy:

Mental health is just as important as physical wellbeing; and while aging takes a toll on our bodies; and minds, we can make choices to keep ourselves in prime condition.  Using our minds on challenging tasks can help keep them alert and active.  To augment and enhance this process, we can choose foods that are known to boost brain health at any age.  Below are some of the tastiest and most effective "brain foods"!


It’s uncanny that the walnut nut is shaped so much like the human brain, because it actually does pack a pretty punch in terms of brain power. With its high level of essential fats, protein, B6 and E vitamins, walnuts help in keeping your brain sharp and alert. Other nuts like almonds, hazel nuts and cashews are also good sources of complex carbohydrate energy, if they’re not salted or fried.


If you’re looking for a protein-rich brain snack, get your hands on some flaxseed – it’s high in DHA, an omega 3 fatty acid that is essential for the good health of your brain and nervous system. You could also choose to munch on sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds because they’re rich in Vitamin E, magnesium, zinc, antioxidants, protein, and the good kind of fat.


If you love berries, then your brain is in good hands – go for the brightly colored ones because they’re rich in antioxidants, especially blueberries, blackberries and acai berries. Blueberry extract has been proven to improve short term memory loss and blackberries are rich sources of Vitamin C. Acai berries, while hard to procure, are one of the best sources of antioxidants and are also rich in the essential fatty acids that boost brain health.


Your mornings just got that extra boost – a cup of coffee is a great energizer, not just of the body, but also of the mind. It’s rich in antioxidants, amino acids (the building blocks of protein), vitamins and minerals and has been proven to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other mental illnesses. Just go easy on the sugar and restrict yourself to a few cups a day to avoid weight gain and mood swings.


Now before you go rushing out to buy that sugar-filled bar of chocolate, let me tell you that it’s the cacao in chocolate that’s beneficial to brain health. It has high levels of antioxidants which help protect your brain from free-radical damage. So if you must indulge your sweet tooth, go in for dark chocolate with the least amount of sugar and the most amount of cacao, or better yet, choose a cacao-based drink that’s free of sugar.


Not all fats are bad, as the avocado demonstrates – it’s rich in protein and loaded with healthy fat. An avocado every week is enough to keep your brain healthy for the rest of your life.


These brightly colored, squishy fruits (or vegetable?) are not just delicious, they’re also chock-full of lycopene, a substance that is rich in antioxidants and negates the effects of free radicals on your brain. To get the most out of tomatoes, cook them or eat them as sauces, in addition to including them raw in salads. Or drink them as juices.

Green Tea:

If you’re looking for a hot or warm drink that’s soothing and which protects your brain, look no further than green tea. It’s rich in antioxidants and it’s a great way to refresh your body and mind.


Now there’s a dreaded vegetable; however, before you banish the broccoli from your plate, think of the benefits it has to offer you – vitamins B5, B6, B2, and C, betacarotene, iron, calcium and folate. It’s literally a whole meal by itself, so include it in your salad or eat it half-cooked as a vegetable dish.

So go ahead, give your brain a boost with these foods; when your brain is healthy, your overall wellbeing improves by miles.

This guest post is contributed by Cindy Cullen; she writes on the topic of culinary art colleges. She welcomes your comments by email at You can also, of course, post comments on this website.

Key words: brain health brain food antioxidants omega 3 fatty acids lycopene tomatoes coffee green tea walnuts broccoli berries avocado chocolate

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Review of "The Cove," an A+ documentary of Japan's dolphin slaughter

 Ric O'Barry, star of "The Cove"
I heard Bruce Springsteen say once that the people we remember are the people who care enough to be crazy.  I thought about that when I saw the Oscar-winning documentary "The Cove."  It's the story of one man's passionate commitment to protecting dolphins, his willingness to sacrifice even his life for his cause.  The film is also about Japan's indifferent and systematic slaughter of dolphins, but what sets it apart is the tale of Ric O'Barry.

The 2009 movie rivals any espionage thriller for suspense and intrigue. The setting is the Japanese coastal town of Taiji, where local fishermen carry out a secretive and brutal daily dolphin round-up that O'Barry finally manages to catch on film.

Former "Flipper" trainer
As we learn during the movie, O'Barry is a former dolphin trainer. In the 1960s he helped catch and train the wild dolphins that shared the starring role in the popular television series "Flipper." The show spawned a worldwide fascination with dolphins, leading to a proliferation of marine parks that feature dolphin performances and opportunities to "swim with the dolphins."

Trained dolphins performing at a marine park

In the documentary, O'Barry relates a personal experience that completely changed his perspective on keeping dolphins in captivity - he believes that a dolphin he was training committed suicide in his arms by refusing to open her blowhole to breathe. The experience affected him so profoundly that his life's mission is now to protect the animals he once captured.

"Dolphin drive hunting"
On the coast of Taiji, Japan, where the action takes place, dolphins are driven by nets and small boats into a cove each morning before dawn, a process known as "dolphin drive hunting." In the cove, the "best" dolphins are selected and captured for sale to marine parks, a major source of income for the village. The rejected dolphins, including the very young, are killed by knives and spears from the small boats, then are hauled aboard the boats and taken ashore to be butchered for meat.

a dolphin drive hunt

When O'Barry and his co-workers (including members of the Oceanic Preservation Society) try to film the carnage in the cove, they are chased by hostile villagers and by local police. Not to be deterred, O'Barry and cohorts make fake rocks to conceal their cameras, which are then strategically placed on the shore. With the hidden cameras, they obtain plenty of footage of the daily drive and subsequent massacre. At the end of the documentary, O'Barry strolls around a meeting of the International Whaling Commission carrying a small flat-screen TV showing footage of the Taiji dolphin slaughter. Before long, he's ousted from the room.

Toxic to school children
At the time of the filming, the dolphins' flesh was served to children in the local schools of Taiji or was sold in Taiji supermarkets, but it was labeled as something else. As revealed in the film, dolphin flesh is dangerously high in mercury because dolphins eat fairly high on the food chain. Which means they ingest the mercury already eaten by the fish that they eat - thus concentrating the mercury in the dolphins' flesh. (Mercury gets into water from the airborne emissions of fossil-fuel-burning power stations.)

dolphin meat in supermarkets

As a result of O'Barry's and the other activists' efforts, dolphin meat is removed from local school lunches. And in the 2009 dolphin season in Taiji, at least some of the rejected dolphins were released rather than slaughtered. But I learned from this documentary that whaling (including dolphins) is a long-held cultural tradition in Japan, and the Japanese have a deep-seated reluctance to let it go. They won't readily concede their right to harvest cetaceans, regardless of who's exerting the pressure and regardless of conservation statistics. If they are indeed so wedded to their traditions, then their resistance to international whale-protection measures is a little easier to comprehend. Not easier to accept, but easier to understand. Still.....where does that leave conservationists? Or cetaceans? Who will care about cultural traditions when species disappear?

Bravo, O'Barry
I recommend "The Cove" to anyone who cares about the future of the planet's wildlife, especially marine-biology aficionados.  Or to anyone who likes a good story of dogged determination, and ingenuity in resolving obstacles.  Hats off to Ric O'Barry.

Btw, the film is available from Netflix, and got a 96% rating on

Get involved....
If you'd like to help Ric's cause, go to this website about the movie and the plight of the dolphins.

For more info... go to Whalewatch, the Oceanic Preservation Society, the High North Alliance
or the International Whaling Commission.

Key words: dolphins Japan Taiji The Cove Ric O'Barry Flipper dolphin slaughter marine biology endangered species cetaceans whales

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Conflicting USDA advice : Yes or no to cheese?

Dairy cow. Photo: Sally Kneidel

A couple of years ago, one of my co-workers brought a Pizza Hut pizza into our workplace for lunch. I remember it because I was surprised at how much cheese was on the pizza. Way too much! Biting it was like sinking my teeth into a greasy gob of congealed milk fat. I couldn't eat it.

I understand now why the pizza had so much cheese on it. The New York Times published an article on November 6 that explains it.

Photo: Sally Kneidel

I knew already that the Agriculture Department buys surplus foods, mostly animal products, that farmers can't sell for a profit; Sadie and I wrote about that in our 2005 book Veggie Revolution. Some of that food is donated to schools. In 1991, 90% of the food donated to schools by the USDA were butter, cheese, whole milk, beef, pork, and eggs. That's one reason school lunches have been and still are notoriously high in saturated fat.

What happens to the rest of the surplus? This is where the story gets confusing and just weird. The government is contradicting itself. Don't eat milk fat; do eat milk fat.

Photo: Sally Kneidel

The USDA wants to pretend that health is a priority

Under pressure from medical and health organizations, the USDA in 2005 published a revised and more healthful "Food Pyramid" that recommends "low-fat or fat-free" dairy products. A USDA brochure called "Steps to a Healthier You!" advises us to "Ask for whole-wheat crust and half the cheese" on pizzas. These are part of the USDA's drive to reduce obesity and heart disease in the U.S. Through the federal government's efforts as well as medical warnings, Americans have been choosing more low-fat dairy products, leaving a bigger surplus of whole milk and milk fat products.

What to do with all that surplus milk fat?

The federal government could let the law of supply and demand take its course, and let some of our dairies go out of business. That would make sense, if we're eating too much cheese, and we are. According to the NY Times article, Americans now eat an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year, nearly triple the 1970 rate. Cheese has become the largest source of saturated fat for Americans; an ounce of many cheeses contains as much saturated fat as a glass of whole milk.

 Photo: Sally Kneidel

But letting dairies go out of business is apparently not an option, I suppose because the federal government receives government-mandated fees from the dairy industry.

At any rate, the federal government has created a marketing organization called "Dairy Management" to promote the consumption of dairy products. Dairy Management's annual budget is $140 million.  The money comes from dairy fees and from the USDA, which oversees the ad campaigns and contracts of Dairy Management.

"Dairy Management" pushes cheese to consumers

Now back to that fatty pizza my co-worker served up for lunch. Dairy Management has made cheese its cause, says Saturday's NY Times article by Michael Moss. The federal government, primarily through Dairy Management, is on a mission to get dairy back into the American diet primarily through cheese, almost all of which is high fat.

Domino's new high-fat pizzas

Domino's Pizza had slumping sales last year. Dairy Management to the rescue. The organization teamed up with Domino's to create a new line of pizzas with 40% more cheese. Who designed and paid for Domino's $12 million ad campaign to promote these new pizzas? Dairy Management - funded in part by our tax dollars (via the USDA). The ad campaign worked, and Domino's sales picked up. One of Domino's pizzas, called the "Wisconsin," has 6 cheeses on top and 2 more in the crust. One-quarter of a medium thin-crust Wisconsin has 12 grams of saturated fat, more than 3/4 of the recommended daily maximum.

Pizza Hut too

Dairy Management has been helping retailers and manufacturers since at least the 1990s, maybe earlier. Dairy Management developed "The Summer of Cheese" promotion with Pizza Hut in 2002. That campaign generated the use of 102 million additional pounds of cheese, says the NY Times article. So I can thank Dairy Management for my co-worker's aforementioned fatty pizza.

 Dairy cow waiting to be milked. Photo: Sally Kneidel

USDA: what is their real agenda?

It's disturbing to have a government organization promoting food that's known to be unhealthy, although that's been going on for decades. It's equally disturbing to know that we're now paying for two government campaigns within the same agency whose goals are completely contradictory.

NY Times article cited:
Michael Moss. November 6, 2010. "While warning about fat, the U.S. pushes cheese sales." The New York Times

My latest post about the dairy industry:
New studies: cancer linked to milk consumption 

Key words: dairy cheese milk USDA pizza Dairy Management