Tuesday, January 31, 2017

RumbleRoller Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I have long been fascinated by the overlap of physical fitness and philosophy. My final paper in my very first college philosophy course was an overview of depictions of physical virtue across several works of philosophy. But the most direct influence behind the creation of KineSophy comes from Kelly Starrett, founder of Mobility WOD:
"All human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves."
Since ethics is the study of how humans should act, Starrett's use of "should" in his motto signifies that he is making an ethical claim. His statement falls in the same category as prescriptions like "all humans should be capable of performing basic mental arithmetic" or "all humans should be capable of judging right from wrong." If you are a healthy adult human being, you should be able to move well and take care of your body when it requires basic maintenance.

Furthermore, self-care demands that you have a certain attitude about yourself and your value. You have to believe that you are worth a little bit of extra effort. You have to believe that your health and your comfort matter. 

I know that sounds pretty simple, and you may find it easy to tell yourself "of course I matter." But even if you want to believe your health and well-being are important, think about how often you also tell yourself "I don't have time for that" when confronted with basic self-care prescriptions.

When you care for your body, when you believe that you should not be in unnecessary pain and you act to make yourself feel better, you are affirming your worth as a human being. That sense of self-worth is the basis for believing that other humans have worth. When you value yourself, you recognize that other humans value themselves and that you all deserve to be treated with respect.

There are a lot of tools available for physical self-care. My wife and I personally own four different varieties of rollers (foam and otherwise), lacrosse balls (separate and taped together in a peanut-shape) and a pair of squishy, grippy Yoga Tune Up balls (see my KineSophy interview with Yoga Tune Up founder Jill Miller).

A compact RumbleRoller just like the one pictured above is my go-to tool for breaking up knots and sore spots in large swaths of tissue like my thighs, calves and upper back. It's firm enough to withstand years of use and it has little bumps that act like a masseuse's fingers and dig into tender spots. 

That's why I'm so thrilled that RumbleRoller offered to give one of these rollers to a lucky KineSophy reader. When you enter this giveaway, you're not just trying to win a very useful prize, you're telling yourself that you, your body and your health are worth this prize. You're affirming that you matter. And that basic affirmation is at the heart of what KineSophy is all about.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

An interview with nutritionist, writer and organic farmer Diana Rodgers

In my recent Complete Guide to Sustainable Protein, I created a list of the most protein-dense and sustainable protein sources for any diet. Last month, I was fortunate enough to interview Diana Rodgers, RD, LDN, NTP, in order to shed some more light on the sustainability and nutrition of animal- and plant-based protein sources. Diana is a “real food” nutritionist and writer living on a working organic farm in Carlisle, Massachusetts. She runs a clinical nutrition practice, hosts the Sustainable Dish Podcast, and speaks internationally about human nutrition, sustainability, animal welfare and social justice. Her work has been featured in The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, Outside Magazine, Edible Boston and Mother Earth News. She can be found online at

Greg: Can you say a little more about how you came to be where you are today: a nutritionist living on an organic farm? Did you move down the farming path first or the nutritionist path?

Diana: I have been interested in food and farming ever since I was a kid. I was always sick as a kid and wasn’t diagnosed with celiac disease until my mid-twenties. I was always very hungry—if you put a full Thanksgiving plate in front of me at any time during my childhood, I would have easily devoured the whole thing! I used to love to go clamming and fishing with my dad, growing up near the ocean. When I was a teenager, I worked on an organic vegetable farm during the summer and continued through college.

When my boyfriend Andrew (now my husband) and I had our first apartment at age twenty, we had a big vegetable garden, worm farm and compost patch. After college, we moved to Portland, Oregon to get “real jobs,” and Andrew hated working for corporate America. We would take off and visit farms on the weekend, and that’s when he learned about CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] farms. He was always an environmentalist and after reading The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry, he decided at age twenty-six to become a farmer. We moved back to Massachusetts, and he enrolled in a master’s degree program in soil science and worked on a farm to get the hands-on experience. He was quickly hired to manage a 250-acre farm north of Boston, where we lived for ten years.

I had been working in marketing for food companies, NPR and then Whole Foods before quitting my corporate job and joining Andrew on the farm. I ran the CSA, farmstand, kitchen and events. I kept getting questions about some of the products we stocked in the store and wasn’t really sure why coconut oil was so good for you, why butter was okay to eat or why grass-fed meat was more nutritious. I decided to learn more, for my own health reasons and to better answer everyone’s questions. I attended a Weston A. Price conference and then enrolled in Nutritional Therapy Association’s course.

After finishing with my NTP [Nutritional Therapy Practitioner] certificate, I wanted to pursue my RD [Registered Dietitian] so that I could practice medical nutrition therapy, dive deeper into the science of nutrition, and to gain more credibility from the medical community. I now have a busy clinical practice plus I write and speak about sustainability and nutrition issues in the food system. I help people learn how to balance their blood sugar, lose weight and fix their guts using real food.
"Modern food production uses tremendous fossil fuels and destroys ecosystems."
Greg: It's a popular belief that cattle are one of the biggest agricultural culprits when it comes to consuming water, energy and land and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. But in your article Meat is Magnificent, you make a distinction between grass-fed beef and modern, heavily-processed beef and show how properly managed grazing cattle can improve soil quality and reduce environmental damage. In contrast, what are some of the ecological problems with processed foods, both meat- and plant-based?

Diana: Modern food production uses tremendous fossil fuels and destroys ecosystems. When large fields are converted to cropland, habitats are destroyed and the biodiversity of life both above and below ground diminish. This means less birds, frogs, insects AND beneficial bacteria and fungus that nourish the plants and sequester carbon. One of the best ways to actually build soil and sequester carbon is to use ruminants (cows, sheep, and other animals that graze). When they chew the grass, it stimulates growth both above ground and at the roots. Their hoof action creates little pockets to collect rainwater, and their manure inoculates the soil with healthy bacteria.

This entire system does not happen in a large field of mono-crop wheat, corn or soy. Plus, when those grains are harvested, they are heavily processed in order to convert them to the convenient, nutrient-poor junk food that Americans live on. Animals (primarily chickens and pigs) raised in CAFO [concentrated animal feeding operation] are raised indoors eating only grain, which is why grass-fed beef and lamb are a much better choice for sustainability reasons than animals raised on grains. Also, pasture land is largely uncroppable, so [pasture-raised animals don't] compete with humans for food. Most cattle are raised in areas far too dry or hilly to crop.

Greg: You mentioned how modern food production destroys ecosystems and animal life, a topic you also discuss in your article More Protein, Better Protein. Can you go into more detail about how even a plant-based diet can result in animal death? Is there a way vegans and vegetarians can avoid or reduce these costs?

Diana: Eating a vegan diet does not mean blood is not shed to bring food to the table. As I mentioned in the previous answer, when you eat food that was grown in a mono-crop method (basically, any grain, but even many vegetables) biodiversity is lost to make room for these large and very unnatural fields. They are heavily sprayed, which kills insects, birds, frogs, the soil, and runs into rivers killing fish. Even if they’re organically produced, there’s still blood. When tractors go through and harvest, they are squashing and chopping up bunnies, field mice, etc. Compare this to a cow eating grass. One cow can feed a family for a very long time, compared to the thousands of lives lost in a conventional or even organic mono-crop system.

Vegans and vegetarians can reduce their grain consumption and focus more on legumes, which can benefit the soil because they fix nitrogen. They can also buy their vegetables from small-scale, organic farms in their communities, reducing food miles and supporting better biodiversity. But there’s something important to note: life cannot happen without death. In order to have healthy soil, you need manure, bones and blood. Animals are part of the cycle of any healthy system, including our food system. Acknowledging this is important.

I often then get the question, “well can’t we just have animals to build soil but then not eat them, and just let them live out their lives and die naturally?” This is not necessarily the most humane way to end a life. Animals (just like humans) don’t always just die peacefully in their sleep. Dying at the jaws of a coyote or hyena is not pleasant. Humans have the ability to be “humane” in the way we end an animal’s life. We can make it fast and low stress, much lower stress than most “natural” deaths. Also, animals provide important nutrients that humans need to thrive. In many parts of the world, animals are the ONLY thing that grows well. Think of Africa, it’s a hot dry place. Growing tons of grain or water sucking vegetables is not realistic there, but cattle and goats do very well in those environments.
"Animals are part of the cycle of any healthy system, including our food system."
Greg: You seem to be arguing that if the goal is being humane and sustainable, the best way to produce those outcomes is not to go vegan but to eat local, organic produce and grass-fed, pasture-raised meat and animal products. Is that correct? Would the more environmentally sustainable methods you advocate be capable of satisfying the food requirements of a rising global population?

Diana: Yes, this is correct. The current way we’re cropping is ruining the soil and turning it to dust and is completely unsustainable. It’s not possible to continue this way. Our views on how to create food for the masses are completely myopic. We need to consider what will happen in 100, 300 and 500 years from now. Small-scale, integrated farming with both animals and plants mimics natural ecosystems and is the only way to produce food in a healthy way that will be regenerative to the soil. When you produce cheap, nutrient-poor food on a massive scale without considering what will happen to human health or the soil health 100 years from now, you end up with obesity, diabetes, nutrient deficiencies and soil that has been raped of its nutrition.

The same thing happened in the Roman empire—they farmed their way to death. Sure, we can have a population explosion on cheap processed food, but is this a good thing? Do we want billions of sick people walking the planet, polluting it and exploiting the resources? Thinking that we can remove animals from the process of food production is a very naive and reductionist view. Only natural ecosystems can heal themselves, and this means animals AND plants in the mix.

Greg: You talked earlier about the problems with CAFO chicken or pork and you've also argued in favor of eating feed-lot beef over CAFO chicken or pork when organic/grass-fed/pasture-raised options are not available. Assuming I have access to sustainably and humanely raised meat, is there a balance I should seek between animal protein sources?

Diana: Because I live on an organic vegetable farm that also raises meat and eggs, nearly all of my protein comes from the farm. I also love to eat fish, and I do eat out, so sometimes I don’t know the source of the meat. I think it’s optimal to do what you can to get the best meat, poultry, eggs and seafood you can afford, as they are the best sources of protein. Legumes like lentils are one of the best plant-based protein sources, for both nutrition and the environment, so I eat them occasionally too.

For more nutrition advice, recipes, healthy lifestyle tips and information on sustainable food, follow Diana Rodgers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, and check out her website

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Secrets of Superagers

Earlier this month, I argued that life and longevity are not, in and of themselves, virtues. There is nothing about life itself that is good; a good life is one that is lived productively and enjoyably. And to the extent that we live well, living well longer allows us to accumulate more of the benefits of a good life.

Yet many people struggle to continue to enjoy the years at the end of their lives. As human life
expectancy increases, so do Alzheimer's disease, dementia and other forms of age-related cognitive decline. But the steady diminution of mental powers is not the case for a class of older adults termed "superagers," whose memory and attention well exceed the average for their age group and are even comparable to the mental capabilities of healthy, active young adults.

A recent study found that functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of superagers' brains showed thicker cortical masses in regions like the midcingulate cortex and anterior insula. In an article in The New York Times, Lisa Feldman Barrett, one of the authors of the original study, points out that these brain regions are typically associated with emotion rather than cognition. Previous studies show these same regions see increased activity when people perform difficult tasks, whether those tasks are physical or mental. In other words, superagers appear to regularly engage in activities that may cause fatigue or frustration, but they manage to push past the temporary unpleasantness of these intense efforts.

In my experience, the most satisfying moments of life involve overcoming challenges and succeeding the in face of adversity. Of course, there is pleasure and even happiness to be found in spending time with friends and family, watching a good sitcom or observing a beautiful sunset. But I don't believe these pleasant experiences alone make life worth living. Not only do those who actively seek comfort and avoid challenge lead lives that seem less than wholly satisfying, they also run a greater risk of losing the very mental powers that help make life enjoyable. Likewise, those who seek longevity merely for longevity's sake may choose safety and routine over the trials and tribulations that can help them discover both a long and fulfilling life.

Uncomfortable as they may be, mental and physical challenges are a part of life. Those who embrace these obstacles and learn to work past them can get more out of existence, now and in the future.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Is Life a Virtue?

There is a common assumption that life is a virtue, that the mere state of existence is something to be cherished, prolonged and assiduously safeguarded. Facebook and Pinterest posts offer us “5 Tips for Living Longer” and “12 Tricks to Be Healthy.” Gatorade reminds us “Life’s a sport. Drink it up” and Coca-Cola that “Life tastes good,” while Red Bull “Vitalizes body and mind” and Walgreens sits “At the corner of happy and healthy.” Repeated interactions with family, friends and media reinforce this message that longevity and health just are important.

Yet a closer examination calls this assumption into question. In her book New Demons, philosopher Simona Forti denounces the desire to maximize life, pointing to writers like Hannah Arendt, who “emphasize[d] that any ethical discourse must assume life is not the highest good for mortals,” (198), and the ancient Greeks, who believed “a life that is never put at risk for something higher is practically unworthy of being lived,” (199). A few examples may help to elucidate these counterarguments.

To start, there is no virtue in the fact that Adolf Hitler existed. The world would have been better off if he had never lived at all. And there is a philosophy thought experiment that imagines the world external to my mind does not exist as I perceive it, that I am merely a brain submerged in a vat of nutrient-rich chemicals and hooked up to electrodes attached to a computer that generates what I believe to be the sensory experiences of my life. Surely, this existence (such as it is) doesn’t count as good.

We also tend to think of virtue as requiring some effort; one must try to be compassionate, honest, strong, wise and just. While effort is required to live well, the same type and standard of effort don't seem necessary to simply live. Under normal circumstances, we don’t try to breathe, sleep or keep our hearts beating, and the acts of eating and drinking don’t appear to be praiseworthy.

Furthermore, life will inevitably end, a trait atypical to other virtues (aside from their attachment with human death). It would be odd to say that honesty is a virtue, meaning that one should strive to be honest, while at the same time admitting that all that truth-striving will ultimately prove futile. What’s the point of saying one should act a certain way while also granting that same action is impossible to do?
The attempt to moralize existence comes to the forefront in the modern health movement and its corresponding backlash. When pared down to their essence, basic wellness incitements like “eat vegetables!” and “exercise!” start to look a lot like “be healthy!” and “live!” It should come as no surprise that an easy and convincing riposte follows the lines of 1) I am alive, 2) I hate vegetables and the gym, and 3) I fail to see the advantages of your advocated life of things that make me miserable.

In a recent column in The Guardian, author Mark Greif of “Against Exercise” fame further articulates the hollowness of inducements to longevity:

Health, exercise, food, sex have become central preoccupations of our time. We preserve the living corpse in an optimal state, not so we may do something with it, but for the feeling of optimisation. More and more of life gets turned over to life maintenance at the very moment you’d think we’d be free to pursue something else.”

So living itself cannot be what we are after if we wish to persuade others of the benefits of longevity and physical virtues. The reason you ought not to kill me is not the fact that I will then cease to live, but that my desires, pleasures and dreams will cease along with my life. Likewise, the reason to live longer cannot be to win some existence marathon but to exercise those same desires, pleasures and dreams. Preston Sprimont does especially well to separate existence from the positive experience of existence in distinguishing surviving versus thriving:

“We ought to seek pleasure and accomplishment in our existence. Instead of settling for not quite dying today or tomorrow, we should establish feeling alert and energized every morning, thinking clearly, performing well, sleeping easily, and improving consistently as our standards of living.”

While Sprimont, like Grief, points to the optimization of existence, Sprimont distinguishes thriving as promoting pleasure and achievement. The benefit of life is that we have the opportunity to enjoy our experiences, activities and relationships and help others enjoy the same. In this vein, longevity itself is not a virtue but a vehicle to do (more of) what we love and what is important to us. Whether you prefer a life of personal pleasure, one of constant charity toward others or something in the middle, living longer and healthier will allow you to get more out of your passion, both in quantity and quality. By the same token, living a long, healthy life devoid of any other joys, triumphs and good deeds is a colossal waste of a lifetime. 

In short, our primary goal should not be to prolong life but to live a life worth prolonging. We should not concern ourselves with either merely or optimally surviving, but with finding a purpose in life and constructing an existence that supports that purpose. Life is not a virtue, merely an accessory to a virtuous existence.