Saturday, 31 January 2009

UK Organic Farmers Seek Reprieve

Breaking with my usual tradition of Tuesday and Friday updates, again BBC breakfast has inspired me to comment.

Organic farmers have approached the powers that be requesting that they be given some laxity of the rules while still maintaining their organic status. Specifically meat and dairy farmers want to feed their animals non-organic feed, which is half the price ... and not lose their organic status!

Apparently sales are down 13% over the last quarter.

This begs the question "Is organic farming insufficiently profitable, or no longer viable?"

I can only assume the majority of organic farmers made the decision to invest in the whole conversion process because the numbers said it would be sufficiently lucrative ... and now the reality suggests different.

But sorry, what about the consumers? Those of us who are paying a premium for a standard we should be able to trust ... and for reasons that suggest we value our health enough to pay more for what we put into our bodies.

It's enough that the majority of consumers don't understand the distinction between "organically grown" and "certified organic" ... and that huge numbers of people poo poo the whole organic thing because they don't trust that they are getting value for the premium asked. Now we want to further diminish the credibility of "organic" by compromising standards when everyone is in the same economic downturn, not just farmers.

Hats off to Lawrence Woodward of the Organic Research Centre who had the naus to point out that the bigger picture was one of building credibility. Likewise, so too did Renee Elliott, founder of the Planet Organic chain who pointed out that "... consumer trust is crucial."

The National Farmers Union is sitting on the fence seeing which way the wind blows.

And the government ...? Surprise, surprise ... we'll just see how squeeky this particular wheel will get, then put our backing where it's most expedient.

Surely there are some people left who instinctively know what is correct in this particular situation? Surely common sense will prevail?

And if it doesn't, I just hope the farmers and organic industry players who see "no compromise" as a "no brainer" will profit correctly when the dust settles.

Farming has always been risky business. We are in a global economic downturn.

Everyone has choices. Let's see if real character prevails?

Friday, 30 January 2009

ACE Leading Exercise and Fitness Trends For 2009

Major fitness trends for 2009 have just been released by the American Council On Exercise (ACE). This information represents the opinions of a global network of fitness professionals.

Abbreviated for your convenience, this is how they look:

- fitness bootcamps ... total body fun, cardio and strength benefits
- free, or inexpensive resources ... no surprise here!
- specialty classes ... yoga, Pilates, dance fusion, boxercise ... fair enough
- back-to-basics ... in spite of advancing technology ... I'm all for this
- circuit training ... strength and cardio for busy people ... intensive calorie burning
- kettlebells ... whole body strength and stability benefits ... plus hardcore mystique
- baby boomers ... the over 50's proving that 50 is indeed the new 30!
- technology-based fitness ... hold on, I thought we were going back to basics?
- sports and recreational activities ... get outdoors, get active and have fun
- undulating periodization ... creative variable exercise loading ... just like elite athletes

It looks like they've covered all the bases.

A couple of things jump out at me:

- It would seem that the message is finally getting through that hours and hours of cardio overtraining are not the way to get get in shape and lose weight. This is good news for busy people who haven't the time nor the inclination for sessions lasting over an hour and need a better mousetrap.

- People need to have fun in order to stick to a program long enough to see results ... be it bootcamps or high-tech interactive technologies ... there's no denying human nature.

- People also seem to be understanding the importance of balanced muscle development ... enabling them to move with greater freedom rather than just pack on redundant muscle bulk ... that looks, umm ... bulky?

- People appear bored of gyms and want more value for less bucks ... a bit like the high street retailer ... dinosaurs eventually adapt, or die. Oh wait ... there's no more dinosaurs.

- Finally, I'm delighted to see that fitness is no longer seen as the exclusive province of the young, with middle age the point in your life where you just go into symptom-control mode.

If people are going to enjoy any quality of life as they get older, they must grasp the nettle and take steps to get informed and make the necessary lifestyle changes. Old age should be a gentle yet elegant wind-down, not a grimly terrifying sentence in solitary confinement.

Each year more and more people become progressively more dependent on medical intervention to manage symptoms of preventable degeneration. This is a part of our culture that is accepted without question. Here, take these pills ... the doctor knows best.

Not only is this unsustainable economically ... but it is also undignified for our elderly.

An ounce of prevention ...


Tuesday, 27 January 2009

There's Nothing Wrong With Takeaway Meals!

The BBC provides a wealth of stimulating material when it comes to inspiration for blog posts that are likely to stir up the bees.

Today's clip from Richard Westcott about doner kebabs was no exception.

Stunning revelation ... this favourite snack of the late night boozer is loaded with salt, fat and calories! The 500 beasties tested nationwide by council inspectors revealed "shocking" results.

Fat content of around 100g, salt approaching 98% of your day's quota and a calorie count around 1000. And that's just the bread and meat ...before all the other nutritious goop that's smeared on it like garlic mayonnaise and chili sauce. You know, the good stuff.

Equivalent to eating a far-size lump of lard ... and no, you can't neutralize it with salad. Powerful images indeed.

The youngsters interviewed seemed unfazed by these statistics ... taste and immediate gratification are still king in the land of the late night reveller, especially when booze impairs one's willpower and abrogates us from all responsibility. And one bright eyed interviewee wouldn't touch the stuff "even if I was drunk". That's healthy ... I guess?

Still no surprises I hear you say.

Well here's the really scary part (for me at least). One gentleman wearing a lab coat (an expert, we can only presume) glibly commented with words to the effect that " ... it's just about balancing the diet and exercise. There's nothing wrong with takeaway meals ... eating kebabs ... it's just how often you eat them and how you balance your diet."

Hmmm ... I guess loading up on booze, then tons of chemically-altered fat, processed salt and empty calories can't be too bad for you (happy takeaway owners?) ... as long as it's only the occasional indulgence?

No wonder so many people just don't care. The message is inconsistent and skewed by agenda. And who really understands what is meant by "balancing the diet and exercise"?

So go right ahead my friends ... you'll be fine.

And if you're not, well, we have some of the finest doctors in the world.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

I Should Know Better: Hamstring Injury

First, thanks to the kind folk who took the trouble to comment on my previous technical mishap. Your feedback is always very much appreciated!

Today's post will hopefully not be lost to the etherspace. I have wracked my brain trying to figure out what happened and have concluded that I must have hit "publish" at the precise moment that the blog was autosaving. I guess that post was just never meant to happen.

And now for today's pearls ...

I feel pretty stupid right now. For the last few weeks I have been training with the local high school squash team doing circuits.

At first I thought I may have bitten off more than I could chew, but two weeks further on and my fitness has significantly improved. High intensity circuit training, early mornings and healthy competition ... a sure recipe for effective weight loss and rapid improvement.

Eager to try out my new-found conditioning improvements, I went off to the local squash courts to play a few games with a good mate of mine who is also joining me in these intensive early morning training sessions.

We were both significantly more mobile. Although my courtcraft and ball control skills were shocking, I felt I'd made substantial gains in speed and fitness.

Twenty minutes into our game, I pounced on a drop shot ... and felt the searing pain of a torn hamstring. As I dealt with the pain (hami injuries that are more than just a tweek are always pretty painful) all I could think of was how I would miss my training. I would let down the coach, my training partner, the kids ... oh and myself too!

How could this happen? How could I have been so careless? What was I thinking? Two weeks ago I would have looked at that shot wistfully and let it go. Now I thought that in just 14 days I had become superman.

And I'm a somewhat seasoned trainer who should have known better.

My conclusion: we can never stop learning. Sure, I had taken the precaution to warm up fairly carefully. Sure we were well into our third game when it happened. So it was not a case of inadequate warm up. I was just being competitive. Brains were relaced by testosterone. Again.

Don't us men ever learn?

I've spent the last few days limping around the place. Our flat has far more stairs than I had ever noticed before. But I think I'll recover quickly ... as long as I resist the urge to come back too soon and risk further damage.

So ... I have learnt yet another lesson in patience, progressive preparation and ego management. Let's see if I can get these next few weeks absolutely right and turn a setback into a positive.

I'll keep you posted ...

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Lost Post

Ok ... I've just spent two hours refining today's blog post only to lose it in cyberspace after I hit publish!

What a waste. Not only that, but I was so happy with this particular post. It was really something that got better and better as I worked on it. You know, that zone that happens when you feel particularly inspired.

Simpler, clearer, more useful. Now ... gone!

I am not happy.

Time for Wordpress. This is the second time I have wasted my time like this. Enough.

To my loyal followers (all 3 of you) ... I am going to be spending the next few days investigating something that is more stable and less frustrating.

I just poured my guts out about food addiction ... something I am intimately familiar with.

What a waste!

Friday, 16 January 2009

Weight Loss Woes

I watched "The Biggest Loser" UK version last night as it gets down to the closing stages.

I am fascinated by the whole mentality surrounding such a popular show. But what struck me most was that the show continues to promote such a blind obsession with weight-loss.

Duh! I hear you say ... this is "The Biggest Loser".

But there was Liz ... a lovely lass who'd just spent the entire week eating quality, healthy, organic foods and working her butt off under the skillful direction of the resident super-trainer ... and, shock, horror, she'd actually gained one pound!

And she was in floods of tears. Not because she knew her game was up (ok, maybe). But more because she appeared genuinely mortified that her body had actually responded in a perfectly natural manner. She'd lost fat, put on muscle ... and gained one lousy pound.

Big Deal!

Here's a girl who's confidence and self esteem is already on thin ice ... and the message she's getting (and sending out to I don't know how many other million viewers) is that she's let herself down and is defective in some way. A sure mark of under-performance!

Personally I thought they were all great. Emotional, sure. I guess that's cool. Inspirational, absolutely!

So why reinforce that absolute weight-loss is the gold standard measurement of new-found healthy living? It's not. What happened to Liz was unique for her body at that stage in her development. Her weight-loss had levelled out ... temporarily. Expectation incongruent with natural physiology. Again.

She was crushed. Why?

And what message does that send out if not to vindicate restrictive diets and excessive cardio?

Neanderthals one. Thinking human beings zero.

Liz' diet and her professional training were spot-on. But how many people (Liz included) will have had a different take-out? She could have done better. She could have sacrificed more. She could have eaten less. Bull!

Healthy weight-loss should not be excessively restrictive. This myth, seductive though it may be, is unsupported by science ... and ultimately emotionally destructive and unsustainable?

Liz ... you did great! And you now have the confidence to go travelling.

In fairness to the show, it is absolutely rivetting, gut-wrenching to the emotions and a darn good watch! Maybe they could add some "after the weigh-in" counselling footage that doesn't cross the line of being patronizing? Nah ... that would be way too sophisticated. We want blood and tears.

And the contestants all appear to benefit, even if some don't actually grow up.

Monday, 12 January 2009

We Are Not To Blame! For Anything.

I just have to shake my head ... this morning's report on BBC Breakfast asks the question "Which fast food chain is responsible for the most street litter?"

Come on people!

Fortunately for my own sanity one of the people interviewed thought that just maybe this particular problem had something to do with the customers of fast food restaurants. And this sentiment was very eloquently echoed by someone else with a brain who e-mailed the program and pointed out that such a notion was as obscene as suggesting that God was responsible for global warming.

So apparently I am not alone in thinking that litter may actually be caused by ... shock! Horror! ... litter louts. Not MacDonalds. And not the government. Plain old garden variety slobs. S.L.O.B.S!

Where am I going with this particular rant?

Well, until we reject the notion that someone else is to blame ... and start to place responsibility where it actually belongs ... for global warming, for bad behaviour and for our own poor health ... then we're never going to do something constructive about the problems we face.

Taking responsibility versus placing the blame elsewhere. Now there's a concept. The supermarkets have aisles and aisles of chocolate, confectionary and booze ... but they don't eat it for you!

Tesco's sales for the 7 weeks to January 10th show baked beans laden with sugar up 24% and organic food sales down 11%.

It's that government again.

When will someone put an end to this madness? It's not all my fault.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Consider Learning First Aid

First, apologies to my readers for the hole in my blogging continuity. I still haven't figured out what happened, but my last post has just disappeared into thin air. It's the strangest thing ... maybe in my haste, I just forgot to publish the post ... can I get any more stupid? But I always proof read what I post, so I am just baffled.

Yesterday I updated my First Aid knowledge. I have to be honest, I was not looking forward to spending an entire day in the classroom when I could be outside walking and enjoying all this crisp winter air.

What a pleasant surprise ... the instructor was awesome (thank you British Red Cross and George Potter) and the information was superb.

Prior to all this I would rate my first aid knowledge as diabolical and my willingness to get involved and actually step forward in an emergency situation close to zero ... a reflection of my concern that I would probably do more harm than good.

Now I feel far more informed ... and more importantly, far more willing and prepared to step up to the plate if I'm ever in that situation.

And the thing that really stuck out for me is that, with rudimentary knowledge I can still actually make a difference and save a life. Sure, I don't have the knowledge, stomach and experience of a paramedic ... but at least I won't just panic and wring my hands in a celebration of uselessness.

So please, do yourselves a favour ... for just a few bucks and a day of your time you can learn enough to save a life, or at the very least, give someone the best possible chance. You don't have to be a pro.

Someone may thank you ... and how good would that feel?

And George ... you rock! Thanks mate.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Time For a Detox?

Back at my computer after a lovely break.

Woke up this morning to a couple inches of snow ... and still falling which was something I've never had the privilege to see! Life is good.

In keeping with this marvellous sense of renewal, I thought that I'd point my way-too-cynical mouse at the whole "detox" thing.

Like the word "diet" which has morphed in meaning from what we consume to a commercial imperative for losing weight, we are all now being bombarded with "detox" products.

How on earth will you survive without a "detox hair straightener"? Yes folks, you didn't misread this. There are hair straighteners containing nano silver riding firmly on the detox bandwagon.

So are these products worth the bucks?

Science suggests that our liver and kidneys can do the job of detoxification amply and unassisted... provided these two work horses are not over-loaded.

So, with decent sleep, sufficient water, moderate movement and a nutritious diet (there's that word again) ... we can assist our bodies to perform their normal function quite admirably without the need to consume any commercial fortification.

But let's face it, if we were already in the habit of doing all those good things, we probably wouldn't need to "detox" in the first place. So it's not that hard to buy into the notion that we could benefit from a little herbal assistance. We live in an imperfect world.

My 2008 attempt at a detox failed on both a psychological and physiological level. I wasn't mentally prepared ... and I still ate too much, drank the odd glass of red wine and warmed myself in the morning with a cup of hot coffee. So I squandered my money ... no doubt.

I'm determined that 2009 will be different. In fact I am coming up with a devious plan to whip myself into the shape of my life and lead the way for those of my readers who want to join me. I will have everything in place within a few short weeks ... so watch this space. And yes, I will formalise my resolve with a detox program.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going back to look at all this snow.