Going Organic: Yes, it is Better for You!

So, this blog is 6 feet under, but I'm resurrecting it tonight because I just read a very misleading CBC article on organic produce. The article, which is here, questions the health benefits of organic produce, suggesting:
"[A] study — released in July 2009 — concluded that when it comes to organic produce, there is little difference in nutritional value and no evidence of added health benefits... The study concluded that while there were small differences in nutritional benefits of organic produce, they weren't enough to be of any public health relevance."
However, obviously, the health benefits that come from organic produce don't come from their increased nutritional value; they come from their not being laden with chemicals and pesticides! To suggest that benefits should be quantified in terms of the produces' "nutritional value" is as shifty as it is idiotic. The article also stated:
A University of Alberta study published in June 2007, found that organic fruit and vegetables may be better for you, but might not better for the planet. The study concludes that the greenhouse gases emitted by getting organic food to your table from distant farms outweighs the potential health benefits to you.
Somehow, the CBC has also forgotten that shipping is not unique to organic produce. Of course long-distance shipping is not great for the environment, but to imply that people should be buying non-organic foods in order to be ecologically responsible shows a lack of logic and a lack of integrity.

You can read more about the new Organic Products Regulations that were set in place in Canada on June 30, 2009 here. Personally, I have mixed feelings about the regulations... Also, if you're interested in local organic food, the 2008 guide to Organic Food in the Tri-County region is available here.

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posted by Ashley Girty @ 9:40 PM, ,

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Oh my goodness, I've been such a blogger fail. We might as well admit it. Two post-less weeks? That's two too many. I will offer no excuses. Instead, I will replace my blogging-lack with blogging abundance. Go forth, children of the interwebz, frolic amidst this digital fruit.

In this post I will say something vastly obvious that, despite its being vastly obviousness, no one ever seems to think of. I'd go so far as to call it an alternative perspective. Here goes:

The other day I was hanging out with a good friend, who often goes on long-winded rants. (I secretly suspect that this quality may have something to do with why we're such good friends. But. Anyways.) The subject of her ire was Chapters because OMG THEY NEVER HAVE WHAT I WANT AND THEY PUSH ALL OF THE INDEPENDENT SELLERS OUT OF THE MARKET AND NONE OF THE EMPLOYEES KNOW A DAMN THING ABOUT BOOKS AND WHERE DID THE SQUISHY CHAIRS GO, ASHLEY? HUH? WILL NO ONE THINK OF THE SQUISHY CHAIRS?!

(As someone who spent more than a year of my life working in the children's section of Chapters, telling stories, reading kids' books like nobody's business, and cleaning up those detestable squishy bags of stuffing and disease, I have my own opinions on these complaints, but I digress...)

The point is, this rant occured while she was standing in Chapters, shopping. She proceeded to head to the checkout with about $30 worth of book stuffs.

Okay, now. The general overhead for a book purchased in Chapters is about 60%. This means that she had just invested $18 in a company she finds not only lousy, but a hinderance to the local book market at large. I ask you, what is wrong with this picture?

We do it all the time. We complain about Chapters, McDonald's, about companies that test on animals, about meat sellers who treat their livestock in ways we find abhorrent, about chemical companies that release too much pollution, about Exxon and oil companies, about companies that pay their lower-level staff wages we find unreasonably low for the value of their work. And yet, we keep buying from them. We enable them to keep on keeping on.

The general line of reasoning seems to be: "My purchases don't make a difference. This book, this tank of gas, this cheeseburger is nothing in the big picture." But we forget that there isn't some big picture, out there, happening. The big picture is you and I getting up in the morning, walking out the door, and deciding which companies we want to support today. Which business' philosophies are ones of which I approve? Which are not?

I'm not going to say that the same things will matter to the same people. The fact that Chapters refuses to stock first-time poets may or may not be an issue for you. KFC's pumping their chickens full of hormones until they are so fat they can neither support their own weight nor copulate might not cause you to blink twice. Old Navy's use of sweatshop labour might be alright in your books. There are valid and in-depth arguments to be made for both sides of these issues.

The point is, if you're going out and consciously handing money to someone who you think is doing something lousy, in order that they might keep doing it, and you're reaping the benefits of their actions... Well, who's doing the lousy thing? You guessed it.

We can't research everything we buy without becoming a nation of hypertensive loons, but we can research a lot of it. I try not to buy from Chapters anymore. I like results of PertPlus more than most other shampoos, but not enough to support Proctor & Gamble. My dog never once in her life at Iams. I'm learning that I'd rather go buy my clothes from Value Village than the mall. If there's an album I really like I don't just download it, I buy it. This is just me. You might come at this from a completely different angle.

The point is: I implore you, dear readers, to consider putting your money where your mouth is. Maybe you'll put it different places than I put mine, or the next person puts theirs, but put it where you think it belongs. Don't, for heaven's sake, hand $18 to the thing you think is the devil of the capitalist world. It's just good sense.

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posted by Ashley Girty @ 11:16 AM, ,

The Problem with Big Pharma, Part II

Alright, this is part II of my longwinded ranting about big pharma. Strap on your seat-belts, because here I go again.

When last we spoke, I left you with the question of how my doctor had been so mind-booglingly stupid as to confuse the staph infection I had on my leg with fleas; the only real commonalities are 1. they itch and 2. they look funky. My answer is a little tongue in cheek, but not altogether absurd.

Big Pharma and Med Students

There's a developing trend in med schools that's a little scary for those of us who want out doctors to be reliable, unbiased, and well-studied. That trend is drug manufacturers sponsoring lectures and professors, and "educating" those enrolled in med schools.

In 2005, University of Minnesota students complained that PowerPoint slides for a lecture on erectile dysfunction were watermarked with the logo for Cialis (a drug for erectile dysfunction manufactured by Eli Lilly). Moreover, it was found that the professor giving the lecture was on the advisory board for Cialis and, hence, had a vested interest in the company.

How can we expect that these students are getting the full story of so-called "erectile dysfunction" (which many say can be improved by adding a little chili to your diet) if their lectures are being given by a specific drug company with aims towards profit?

Another example of the biased condition of med schools is made clear in the story of David Healy; Healy was offered a position at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), which is a U of T affiliate. Shortly after the offer was made, he gave a lecture at the CAMH in which he raised concerns about new anti-psychotic drugs, saying the had the potential to do a great deal of harm in some patients and should be perscribed carefully. The physcian-in-chief of the CAMH, Dr. David Goldbloom, was extremely angered by the lecture and withdrew the job offer.

Even though the audience present had ranked Healy's lecture as the best of the day, he was still punished for speaking out against drug companies (specifically, the manufacturers of Prozac, which has a patient suicide rate of 10/1000 as opposed to the average 1.5/1000). So, it seems the best lecturers are being turned away, if they don't agree with pushing pharmaceuticals.

Maybe this doesn't exactly explain the kind of ineptitude my doctor exhibited, but it certainly does explain (what I would call) the declining quality of doctors overall. The real facts are being made secondary to the facts that are going to sell a higher number of drugs.

Revising Guidelines

Another point I want to quickly speak to is the revision of cholesterol guidelines and what constitutes "high cholesterol." Once upon a time, the cut-off for high cholesterol was much higher than it is today: it's moved from blood cholesterol levels of 280mm per deciliter all the way down to below 100. Why the drastic change?

In 2003 it was found that eight of the nine major experts who wrote the 2003 cholesterol guidelines were employed by major drug companies. Hence, a lower cut-off means more people have "high cholesterol," which means more people need drugs. In 2005 the guidelines changed so that 500,000 more people would be advised to take statin medication. That meant $250 million more in profit for drug companies.

To put things in perspective: a middle-aged man who takes statins for 10 years reduces his risk of heart attack by 2%, on average. However, napping about 3 times a week for 30 minutes reduces your risk of heart-attack by about 37%. So, why are we paying for these drugs, again?

Moreover, people who do not have evidence of occlusive vascular disease SHOULD NOT BE TAKING STATINS. That means that 3/4 of the people who are currently on them, should not, in fact, be. This means that the doctors that we put so much faith in are frequently perscribing drugs to people who don't need them!

You've got to ask yourself, have the risks of cholesterol over 100mm really changed that much, or is there something else going on here? Who's benefitting?

The drug industry, though it does a lot of good for a lot of people, does not deserve the kind of power and authority that we give to it. One of the things that we so often forget is that we are consumers, dealing with businesses. The pharmaceutical industry is a business. The media exists, businesses exist, drug commercials exist to sell us products. They are not parents, or gods, or protectors of mankind. The are a bunch of folks who are out to make money. And there's nothing wrong with that. The problems start when they start deceiving us and we don't look take responsibility for ourselves and look into the deceit.

Amber Pinsonneault's Feed Your Head is a great place to starting learning about natural health alternatives and what works. Again, the facts found in this post were taken from James Winter's "Lies the Media Tells Us" and the documentary "Big Bucks, Big Pharma."

posted by Ashley Girty @ 3:30 PM, ,

Big Pharma: Do You Often Experience Pain, Dizziness, or the Urge to Take Drugs You Don't Need?

Those of you who know me are probably aware of my long-standing hatred of doctors. I think it started when one looked down his nose at me, diagnosed me with fleas (when I really had a fever, mild blood-poisoning, and staph infection) and told I ought to take better care of my cats (to this day I have never owned even one cat). This was before ushering me out the door with a perscription for flea cream. Thanks, doc. There have been various -- indeed much worse -- incidents since, but it was at that moment that I realized that being doctor doesn't necessarily mean you can tell the difference between a sick person and plain old itchy one. So, it wasn't shocking when, a few years later, I discovered that all the faith I'd had in pharmaceuticals was equally unfounded.

Mostly, the realization came through seeing too many ads on tv, getting curious, and looking into what was going on. What I found out was that there's a lot of ground to cover when you're talking about big pharma and why they are more-or-less evil incarnate, so I will try to break it down as best I can. Moreover, I think I have found the reason why Dr. McFleas was so vastly insipid as to imagine I had a common feline ailment, but I'll explain that in an upcoming post (this subject will be basis for a few posts because of the volume of information).

But, for now, let's start with the obvious:

Advertising to the Public

Alright, so you're sitting at home, watching some Grey's, or whatever shameful innocuous drama it is that you watch, and we cut to commercial. Suddenly: Are you too fat? Are you too thin? Does something on you hurt? Do you occasionally experience emotion?!!? There's a pill for that!

There's a reason why for most of the 90s and early 2000s the combined profits of the top ten pharmaceutical companies exceeded the combined profits of the other 490 Fortune 500 companies. There's a reason why big American drug companies have a profit margin of about 17%, where 3.1% is considered high. There's a reason why in Germany today a typical glass of drinking water contains anywhere between 30 and 60 antibiotics, hormones, pain killers, chemo chemicals, etc. Why?

Because, overwhelmingly, our global society believes that pills are a cure-all answer. And a big part of the reason we think that is advertising. Every year, 4.2 billion dollars are spent on advertising drugs directly to consumers. Mostly, the money is spent on advertisements which "brand" pills, or create an emotional bond between the consumer and the product. For example, let's look at this Nexium ad:

Alright, so, for the first 15 seconds of this 1 minute ad, we have no indication that we're being offered a pill. We've got an all-American dad, "the Finisher" who runs his family, gets things done, lives the upper-middle class ideal. The way he bursts down the hall with a puffed out chest is more than a little reminiscient of Superman. The first thing that's being sold isn't a pill, it's a persona, a lifestyle. Nexium isn't just about heartburn, then. It's about being a successful man and a good dad.

Then we find out about what the pill supposedly does. And the side effects: his doctor did say that headache, diarrhea, and abdominal pain could be side effects of Nexium. But let's not dwell on this for too long! We quickly move on to a picture of him and the kids are hanging out on the immaculate lawn in front of a picture perfect treehouse. (And, p.s., did any of you have a treehouse like that growing up? I mean, I wasn't the only one with a structurally unsound hodgepodge of 2" by 4"s in a tree, was I?)

So basically, we have viable ad for a pill sandwiched between two montages that have absolutely nothing to do with medicine. They are there to create a brand identity and sell a lifestyle.

It's an effective tool, because every year hundreds of people walk into their doctor's office with a list of meds that they're interested in. The way we are told to feel about Nexium is as much about fatherhood as it is about acid reflux. Whether or not we actually NEED these drugs becomes irrelevant: I mean, women have apparently asked for Viagra and Cialis. Not the way that works, ladies!

But there's a lot more going on than just the obvious branding advertisements we see everyday.

Other forms of advertising

Let's talk about the other stuff, the advertising we don't know about. There's a lot of stuff we just don't see, but, make no mistake about it, it's there, it's impacting our lives, and drug companies are spending a truckload of money on it. The target? Doctors.


Somewhere between 11% and 50% of the articles in any given major medical journal will be written by, you guessed it, big pharma. Industry workers write articles and then pay doctors to submit these articles to journals under their names, as if they had written them. These articles are more favourable toward the drug in question by an 8:1 margin. "Cialis is so badass! Medically speaking, this is the most badass drug of all time. 100% guarenteed to increase badassitude with no ill effects. Perscribing this drug means that your badass too!" Other doctors then read these articles and perscribe the drug, not being fully aware of its success rates, side effects, etc. The result? The world gets screwed.

Making Laws

Big Pharma doesn't merely obey laws; they make them too. This is because they can afford to hire lobbyists. In 2003, big pharma had 675 lobbyists in Washington, which is more than 1 per congressman. Moreover, in 1992 the Perscription Drug User Fee Act was passed, which allowed drug companies to pay the FDA in order to speed up drug approval (I'm not saying the FDA couldn't speed things up a little, or a lot, but in such a way that they agree to do a lousy job in order to pad their pockets). Drug companies and the current forms of government making friends = no good for consumers.

"Educating" Medical Students and Doctors

This is a HUGE issue in the pharmaceutical industry. You know when you walk into the doctor's office, and he or she looks like a pharmaceutical float? The Ambien pen, the Septra pad, the Xanax lancer, the Lipitor coat? Yes? That's the result of sales reps! Yes, there are sales reps who visit your doctor in order to pump their companies drugs.

Overwhelmingly, the reps are young, flirty, good-looking women. These reps are employed to bring doctors lunch, remember the names of their wives and kids, their birthdays... Basically, it's all about making the doctor feel special. What's more, these reps have huge expense accounts; friendly bribes are commonplace.

One example: a former drug rep, Phyllis Adams, arranged a $35,000 "unrestricted educational grant" for a doctor... it was used to put a swimming pool in his backyard. No joke.

According to another former rep, ten minutes with a doctor means that your market share is going to go through the roof. In other words, that doctor is going to start perscribing your drug a lot more, because gee, aren't those people at GlaxoSmithKline nice? That's great for the company, but not necessarily great for the people who are being put on meds that they don't need, or meds that they could get for cheaper, or these meds instead of those meds, which would actually work better for them.

But it doesn't stop with the wisened old doctors; now big pharma has moved in on med students... I'll be talking about that and other facets of big pharma in my next post.

Also, fyi, most of the facts for this post are coming from James Winter's "Lies the Media tell Us" and the documentary "Big Bucks, Big Pharma," which is available to watch at FreeDocumentaries.org.

posted by Ashley Girty @ 2:41 PM, ,

Here, Have a Nerdy Past Time!

Alright, everyone, I come to you this week bearing exciting news -- especially if you are a fellow media-nerd. I have found a way in which to expend virtually no effort while similtaniously improving my media literacy! Sound too good to be true? I assure you, it's not! (Alright, I probably sound sort of like an infomercial here, but I'm still fairly geeked about it.)

The source of my newfound knowledge and glee is FreeDocumentaries.org. This website hosts about a hundred full-length documentaries, most of which provide altnernative media perspectives on exciting issues such as Cuba, Nicaragua, US interventions, democracy... You name it and they've probably got it.

Basically, I have combined this website with my extraordingary powers of facebooking, twittering, and general online time-wasting in order to create a fabulous situation of passive learning. Simply put one of these films on in the background while you browse and you'll probably learn something that will blow your mind without even having to do anything!

Here are a few of my favourites:
Next up, I have my eye on the uber-corny sounding Secrets of the CIA (though I'm sure it will be better than it sounds). It might even be good enough to warrent my full-attention and a bag of popcorn...!

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posted by Ashley Girty @ 3:59 PM, ,

An Addendum: More Stuff You Should Know About Feminism in the News

It occurs to me that perhaps my last post needs an addendum. I gave you one example of the poor treatment of feminism in the news, but my point was not to hold up a lone article and say "Wow, how lousy is this?" Rather, I wanted to make the point that there is a fairly consistent resentment towards feminism present in mainstream media.

I could site articles such as Feminism or femininity, the abhorrent treatment of the murder of Tracey Lynn Kelsh by our own Windsor Star, the statements of Anne Cools' which were quoted on International Women's Day (apparently, women are the cause of male violence) and many more such happenings; there's a lot to choose from. But not only is "feminism" degregated; women themselves are often "othered."

What I mean by that is this: when a man does something, it is reported as good old fashioned news. When a female does something, it's often explicitely stated that she was a she. We talk about gunmen, robbers, businessmen, whatever. And then we have stories about the female shooter, the female robber, the business woman who overcame the odds. The man is normalized and the women is othered. Sure, when it's a small turn of phrase, it isn't a huge deal, but it points to something: the fact that we, as a society, take masculinity as the standard, and feminity as the other, the secondary, the non-standard.

In many papers they'll have a women's section, with tips on cooking, celebrity news, house and home information. The suggestion is that what is news to women is different from what is news to men. The implication is that maybe women just aren't interested in business, sports, world politics. In this way, they're again marginalized and othered. And the gender binary is perpetuated.

In part, I suspect that this has to do with the fact that women are notoriously lacking from newsrooms. Let's take ABC for example: in 1991 female correspondents numbered 14, or 19% of the total. In 1998, the number was 26, or 39% of a smaller news roster. Not very significant numbers. And yet, at the time, they were lauded by the TVtimes for their progression. I always find it strange when we celebrate women making up, say, 1/3 of something. It speaks to how normalized our lack of presence is. We make up more than 50% of the population, but we're thrilled when we account for 27% of new hirings.

Speaking for black women, the Internation Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) said:
There are now more women of color working in the U.S. news media than ever before…. The unfortunate reality, however, is that in all but a few rare cases, women journalists of color are not positioned to make decisions about what becomes news. In effect, women of color have established a presence in the news gathering process, but they have very little influence over news content or product. As a whole, these women are present, yet they are without power and without a voice.
The same is true of women on the whole. Though female presense is increasing in the newsrooms, it is still miniscule in the positions that count. A story that any female report writes can be edited, re-worked, clipped, nipped, and tucked by her editors. The same is true for male reporters. Until female presense at the head of the newsoom gets a lot stronger, we can probably expect much of the same.


posted by Ashley Girty @ 10:35 PM, ,

"Oh, for the love of Betty Friedan!"

That's what you would have heard me exclaim if you'd been sitting next to me as I looked over my regular news sites Friday morning. The cause of my issued expletive? An article in the Times Online entitled "Madonna syndrome: I should have ditched feminism for love, children and baking."

"Oh, this'll be good," I thought, as I began reading the article by ex-"feminist," Zoe Lewis. I was not disappointed. Lewis, in part, cites the life of Madonna as evidence that women who strive to make it big eventually revert back to a desire for children and a traditionally matronly life. The rest of the article is a mix of pseudo-science and sexism. Here are a couple clips from the article:
"I was led to believe that women could “have it all” and, more to the point, that we wanted it all. To that end I have spent 20 years ruthlessly pursuing my dreams - to be a successful playwright. I have sacrificed all my womanly duties and laid it all at the altar of a career. And was it worth it? The answer has to be a resounding no."
"I thought that men would love independent, strong women, but (in general) they don't appear to. Men are programmed to like their women soft and feminine. It's not their fault - it's in the genes."
"As I write this I feel sad, as if the feminist principles that my mother brought me up on are being trashed. Am I betraying womanhood? No, I am revealing a shameful truth. Women are often the worst enemies of feminism because of our genetic make-up. We have only a finite time to be mothers and when that clock starts ticking we abandon our strength and jump into bed with whoever is left, forgetting talk of deadlines and PowerPoint presentations in favour of Mamas & Papas buggies and ovulation diaries."
Excuse me while my head explodes, messes up the floor, and then the little bits of my exploded head explode again. Let's take a look at what this article really says about women.

1. The article forgets the reality that there are a vast array of feminisms (pl.), from womanists, to new feminists, to post-feminists, to marxist feminists, to amazon feminists, and so on and so forth, all with different agendas, ideas, and standpoints. The plurality of feminisms are widdled down into a single all-encompassing 'feminism,' which is portrayed as the simple choice between 1) being a working woman or 2) fufulling one's so-called "womanly duties" by being a stay-at-home mom.

Employment equity is forgotten about, physical abuse is forgotten about, rape is forgotten about, the struggles of racialized women are forgotten about, religious inequality is forgotten about, issues surrounding contraception are forgotten about, the culture of eating disorders emerging in young and college age women is forgotten about.

By suggesting that feminism is singular and merely represents the choice between work and motherhood, Lewis and the Times are completely degrading all that the word encompasses. The 'feminism' that they are talking about is nothing more than a caricature.

2. Since when does having a child, baking, or being in love preclude you from being a feminist? Since when is it one or the other? Gee, I guess that batch of oatmeal squares I made last week was more politically loaded than I thought.

3. I don't even know where to start with this idea that "men like their women soft and feminine." For one, Lewis is blatantly assuming a heteronormative standpoint. Let's wave as the voice of lesbian women, third gendered persons, and two-spirited persons are thrown out the window, shall we?

And then, excuse me, but holy genetic determinism, batman! You're telling me that what men like is programmed by their genes? Oh, right, the 'I want a soft woman gene,' that's right next to the 'I like plaid gene.' I mean, seriously? There are plenty of men -- I know plenty of men -- who dig fierce women. And who said that as soon as you become a mom you have to become "soft" or "feminine"? If you think that, you've obviously never met my grandma.

4. And what's this shameful truth that once that maternal clock starts ticking "we abandon our strength and jump into bed with whoever is left"? Alright, so I'm 21, and nothing on me has started ticking yet, but I still feel pretty confident in stating that this is ridiculous. Not every woman goes batty for babies when she's on the heels of menopause.

The average number of children per woman has been going down since the mid-30s and, at the same time, the number of couples who are childless by choice is increasing. That's not to say that some women don't decide that they want children when their period of fertility is drawing to a close, but it certainly isn't universal.

As for "jumping into bed with whoever is left," that's most sexist things I've heard in a while. It suggests that women's biological desires are so strong as to completely incapacitate their rational judgement, that baby-mania is enough to drive a woman to hop in the sack with someone who is otherwise abhorrent. Thanks Zoe, that's a really flattering summation of my 'biologically-determined character'!

To be fair, though, Lewis does offer a few points of balance in her article. She says "wife and mother should be given parity with the careerist role in the minds of feminists." I dig that. she also states "I wish a more balanced view of womanhood had been available to me. I wish that being a housewife or a mother wasn't such a toxic idea to middle-class liberals of yesteryear." Again, a very valid point. But these moments of validity are quickly followed and invalidated by outrageous sexist statments, and are thrown in at "the back of the bus" -- or the end of the article, which most readers don't get to.

All in all, this article represents the common misrepresentation of feminisms offered by the mainstream. Moreover, when you're done with it, you can read other articles from the "Explore Women" section of the Times online, which include Fashion, Beauty, Diet & Fitness, Relationships, Family, Celebrity, Body & Soul, The Way We Live, and Horoscopes. Oh yes, we're a complicated sex.

Now, will someone please pass me the sports section?


posted by Ashley Girty @ 1:56 PM, ,