Honoring our immigrants, meatlessness and health, and spring redbuds

by Rob Tiller

Charter Square, Fayetteville Street, Raleigh, NC  March 26, 2015

Charter Square, Fayetteville Street, Raleigh, NC March 26, 2015

This week we had a tragic construction accident in Raleigh at Charter Square, a glass-sheathed office building going up a block from where I work. A motorized scaffold collapsed and three workers were killed. The names of the workers were Jose Erasmo Hernandez, 41; Jose Luis Lopez-Ramirez, 33; and Anderson Almeida, 33. Also seriously injured was Elmer Guevara, 53. My heart goes out to their families.

As you may have noted, the workers’ names look to be Hispanic. This comes as no huge surprise. Observing the active construction sites around Raleigh, I’ve seen that a lot of the workers are of Hispanic origin.

In recognition of this tragedy, I thought it would be good to observe a moment of silence and gratitude for the recent immigrants who are doing the hard and dangerous work of building our buildings, not to mention harvesting, cooking, and serving our food, cleaning our houses, repairing our clothes, and otherwise taking care of our basic needs.

It would be good if we could somehow repay them. But first, we really need to stop demonizing them. It is so peculiar that there’s a mainstream political movement in the U.S. devoted in part to hating the immigrants who are doing the tough jobs. As with the war on terror, it’s another case of our fear getting hysterically out of control, and causing us self-inflicted wounds.

Meat risks. We probably make fewer mistakes in the opposite direction – systematically underestimating risks – but it does happen. I’m thinking particularly of eating meat, which most of us have a hard time recognizing as hazardous.

There’s no shortage of information on this issue, but I was reminded this week by a piece in the NY Times that it still isn’t common knowledge. Dr. Dean Ornish wrote: “Research shows that animal protein may significantly increase the risk of premature mortality from all causes, among them cardiovascular disease, cancer and Type 2 diabetes.” He cited “a 400 percent increase in deaths from cancer and Type 2 diabetes, among heavy consumers of animal protein under the age of 65 — those who got 20 percent or more of their calories from animal protein.”

That’s dramatic. In fact, a strong body of scientific evidence associates meat with our biggest killers: heart disease, cancers, and type 2 diabetes. Ornish doesn’t even mention another disturbing issue, which is the systematic overuse of antibiotics in industrial meat production, which has left us with fewer defenses to infectious bacteria. We just saw a good documentary on this, Resistance, which is available on Netflix.

Ornish said his clinical research had shown success in reversing chronic diseases with a plant-based diet. Here’s how he described his recommended approach: “An optimal diet for preventing disease is a whole-foods, plant-based diet that is naturally low in animal protein, harmful fats and refined carbohydrates. What that means in practice is little or no red meat; mostly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and soy products in their natural forms; very few simple and refined carbohydrates such as sugar and white flour; and sufficient “good fats” such as fish oil or flax oil, seeds and nuts. A healthful diet should be low in “bad fats,” meaning trans fats, saturated fats and hydrogenated fats. Finally, we need more quality and less quantity.”

This is consistent with the recent report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. It basically describes how Sally and I eat, but it fails to note an important element: there are many, many delicious non-meat things to eat! The world has so many edible plants, and we keep learning more about how to enjoy them.

I am particularly fortunate that Sally loves to cook, and keeps coming up with new flavorful veggie dishes. Her favorite cookbooks are The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison, Moosewood Cookbook, by Mollie Katzen, and Quick Vegetarian Pleasures, by Jeanne Lemlinand. She also gets lots of ideas from newspapers and the internet.

Spring photos. It turned cooler this weekend, but I looked about for more close up images of early spring. I was particularly struck by the beauty of the delicate purple blossoms on the small trees that around here we call redbuds.