Confederate Symbols are Symbols of Racism and Violence!

It’s high time to remove these symbols of terrorism and repression from our public spaces! 

SAY-NO-TO-RACISM-BUTTONS-anti-confederacy-anti-racist-flag.jpg

You’d have to be hiding under a rock to not know about the tragic events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday.  Anyone who’s anyone has weighed in on this subject.  For anyone who is in any way connected to the public sphere, the world is watching and the American public needs to know where you stand! 

Just so there’s no question about where I stand, I say:

 “It’s high time to remove symbols of terrorism, violence, racism, bigotry and repression from our public spaces!”

 I can’t stand by and watch people say that these symbols somehow represent the cultural heritage of the South

Let me just set the historical record straight here.  First, I am a great, great granddaughter of Confederates – on both sides of my family.  And my ancestors were WRONG!!!  (Hmm.  No one’s rolling over in their grave!) 

The reason they fought this war was to preserve the system of slavery and the profits they gained from this immoral practice. 

I can’t believe I have to remind people about some basic facts of history, but apparently, if President Trump can put Robert E. Lee on an equal basis with George Washington, we need to do a quick review here.

As a teacher of ESL I am often asked about American history.  My students come from Europe, Latin America and Asia.  I don’t expect them to know much about American history.  Monday’s conversation class revolved around the events in Charlottesville.  My students had many questions.  I gave them as brief an explanation as possible, then I turned to them and asked about civil wars in their country, and how they have handled public statues and symbols from those divisive times.

One student, Juan, is from Spain.  Spain’s civil war was much more recent than our’s and as bloody and divisive as a civil war could be.  Juan was confused. 

I thought the South lost the war.  Usually the victor writes history.  Why were the Confederates allowed to keep their symbols and statues if they lost?

“Ah, that is because the South lost the war, but they won the battle!”  I replied.

So here is the brief history lesson that obviously bears repeating!  After Reconstruction ended and the Union left the South to its own devices, all the Southern states decreed they would Restore the Old South!  Read: restore the era of slavery without calling it slavery.  Southern states enacted Jim Crow laws to disenfranchise blacks and put them back into the same place on the social and economic scale as they were before the war.  That was their legal answer to restoring the Old South.

The extra-legal answer was to form the worst terrorist organization this country has ever known (if you don’t include the U.S. government’s terrorist campaign of genocide against Native Americans…)  The KKK and other hate groups grew up from this call to restore the Old South.  They used terrorism, violence, intimidation, and outrageous propaganda to further their cause.  The symbols they used to strike fear into the hearts of anyone who dared oppose them, or who dared to stand up for their rights, was the confederate flag.  Ask anyone who has been the victim of a KKK attack.  The confederate flag and a burning cross are the symbols used to create fear and repression.

One only need to look up the history of the incorporation of the confederate flag into the flags of Southern states to know exactly what was going on.  The state of Georgia did not adopt the confederate symbol until 1955 in a reaction to the Supreme Court decision Brown vs. the Board of Education, and its follow-up decision requiring all schools to desegregate.  Thus, the confederate flag was the symbol used as a rallying cry to once again, “Restore the Old South!”, to fight against desegregation, and to resist voter registration of blacks, among other things. 

Georgia finally came to terms with that racist symbol, which was the official state flag until 2003, when it was finally replaced.   The state of South Carolina took down the confederate flag which flew atop the state house in 2015 after a gunman broke into a church and gunned down nine people.  Now, there is only one state which still has the confederate flag, which, apparently was never adopted as the official flag: Mississippi, my home state

What about that other public symbol of the confederacy, Stone Mountain Georgia?  It proudly displays Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson.  (Apparently, Donald Trump lumps President George Washington into this same group!).   

download-3.jpgStone Mountain has great historical significance because it was where the Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1915.  (Now, isn’t that something to crow about!)  It was the Daughters of the Confederacy,-those lovely, genteel Southern belles who swore to keep alive the dream of “Restoring the Old South” – who decided in 1916 to commission the monument to these confederate generals.  (This was also the beginning of the Nadir, an era of lynchings, murder, bombings, and violent attacks.  Still ongoing???)

Stone Mountain was a project that sputtered for years, but after the state of Georgia bought the site in 1958, then-governor Marvin Griffin decreed the project should continue.  Work began in 1963, a very bloody period in civil rights history, and was completed in 1972, a time when the South finally had to concede to desegregation.  The timing of this is not coincidental.  Georgia was declaring loudly and boldly that they would not desegregate without a fight and they proclaimed it on the side of Stone Mountain!

Historian and journalist Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns, rightly call this “historical amnesia”.  To say that confederate statues and flags somehow represent the cultural heritage of the South, without mentioning that they have been used for over a hundred years by terrorist organizations and hate groups, is to ignore the historical facts.

Historical amnesia can occur if we choose to forget our past, to whitewash it, or not discuss it.   No one can erase my historical memory.  I can proudly say:

 “I’ve been around for more than half a century, so DON’T FUCK WITH ME about history!!!!”

I was 6 years-old when I entered into first grade in the Jackson, Mississippi school system in 1969 when the public schools, after dragging their feet for nearly 15 years, had to desegregate.   I didn’t know anything about that at the time, because I was just a child and my mother cared not one iota that I went to school with black children.

One thing I was very aware of, were the bomb threats.  Every year I was in elementary school, from 1969 up to about 1974, we had bomb threats in the schools.  Some white supremacist would call and say they had planted a bomb in our school and threatened to blow up hundreds of innocent children!  Our teachers took us out of the classrooms and onto the fields where we would wait until a bomb squad could scour the school and clear that it was safe to go back inside. 

That is what I am reminded of when I see those same hate groups protesting the removal of confederate symbols from public places.  These guys threatened to blow me up for going to school with black children!!!!

If we don’t come to terms with this past, we cannot heal.  The past carries on into the present.  The story of these symbols should be told, but it should be told in a context that includes a real historical perspective.  We need to amass a historical record akin to the project that Steven Spielberg mounted to record the memories of Holocaust survivors for exactly the same reason.  As those who lived this history get older and begin to die, history can be re-written to serve the needs of hate groups.  They are already doing it.

I’ve heard a lot of talk about “The New South.  I’m still waiting for it.  Well, we can start by taking down these public symbols and by clearly and emphatically denouncing the racism, bigotry and violence of these white supremacist hate groups and the symbols they support!

It’s time to make this declaration ourselves, and to demand that our elected  officials do the same! 

Elizabeth I. Bercaw,

B.A. in history from Millsaps College, Jackson, Ms

B.A. in political science from Georgia State University, Atlanta, Ga.

#charlottesville

#saynotoracism

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The Flavor of Knowing Your Food

FL-pine-flatwoods-011408_01-flick-756697.jpgPicture this:  It’s Southwest Florida, Lee County circa 1970.  Not a far distance outside of Fort Myers, there’s no development.  Only scrubland of long-leaf pines, saw palmettos, and way too many malalueca trees.  There are rattlesnakes amongst the brush, and in the river, black cottonmouth moccasins slither on top of the surface of the water.

It is here that my father keeps three horses.  His friends, the Debosts, have built a “country” house near the Orange River.  My father, a Hemingway type of man, likes to horseback ride and ocasionally go hunting with Mr. Debost.   

For men of their ilk, a man is not a man if he doesn’t know how to handle a horse, a rifle, a hunting knife, or a boat.  And a woman who knows how to handle all of those things is all the more respected and appreciated.

During the day, my sisters and I take turns jumping into the dark water of the river from a rope swing that is tied to a tree.  God only knows how we keep ourselves from being gator bait! 

Worn out from our rigorous play, we are famished.  Mrs. Debost is going to prepare our dinner outside amongst the thick of trees, and even thicker mosquitos.  Flaming ashes from a campfire rise up into the darkening sky.  Looking up between the trees, one can see points of light from far away stars.   The night sky before urban development is something beautiful to behold.

I plop myself down at the wooden picnic table.  It’s almost like camping.  What are we having for dinner?” the 7-year-old me asks. 

Mrs. Debost holds up our dinner, a soft, limp grey rabbit that Mr. Debost has killed.  I’ve never seen a dead rabbit before, let alone eaten one.  I’ve drawn many pictures of rabbits in my Easter drawings.  This one looks very different.

Mrs. Debost picks up a sharp knife.   Mrs. Debost is a woman who knows how to handle a hunting knife.  The rabbit is whole and intact. She cuts precisely along invisible lines until she can grasp the skin of the rabbit, then begins to peel it back, revealing white, naked flesh.  I am aghast. 

Eww!  Gross!” I squeal with the genuine disgust of a 7-year-old.   Mrs. Debost glares at me. 

You do not ‘Oh, gross’ your food before you eat it!  This is your dinner!   This is how an animal is prepared before cooking.

I shut my mouth and watch in silence, but no longer in disgust as she expertly takes off the rabbit’s skin, slits it open and removes it’s internal organs, and finally cuts off it’s head.  After she completes everything necessary to prepare the meat, she puts it on the grill where the rabbit is cooked over the fire.

On my plate, it no longer resembles a rabbit, but something like grilled chicken.  The meat is flavorful.  I do not feel the same disgust or even pity for the cute little animal that the 7-year-old me would love to have for a pet.  To hold and stroke its soft fur.  To cuddle with it and let it sleep with me.  It has transformed into something different: food.

Mrs. Debost taught me a very valuable lesson that day: Be appreciative of where your food comes from.  Know where your food comes from.  What it is.  How it’s prepared.  Food is not to be taken for granted, and the life of the animals we eat should never be taken lightly and with the disrespect of not knowing.

I was well into my forties before I gave up eating meat, and I often think about what I learned all those years ago.  What Mrs. Debost did for me was to lift the veil of food and reveal the truth

Of course, what she revealed was an animal who had earlier in the day been foraging for food in the scrublands of pines and palmettos.  Its life was taken quickly.  It hardly had time to be frightened and its suffering was minimal (I hope).  The meat was devoid of pesticides, herbicides, hormones or additives of any type.  In the parlance of today, it was “organic and free-range.”

It occurs to me that perhaps one reason I quit eating meat (ten years ago this month) is that too much of our food is shrouded in secrecy.  The process is hidden from us intentionally.   I was a tender-hearted child and it was difficult to watch a little bunny being skinned, but because Mrs. Debost forced me to watch, I realized there was nothing inherently bad about it.  Can we say that about the food we eat today? 

If there is nothing inherently bad about the food we eat, why the need for secrecy?   As a teenager I visited the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchberg, Tennessee.  The tour guide took us through every step of the process.  They told us about every ingredient.  We saw how the corn is turned to sour mash.  They showed us the natural spring well where they get their water supply.  We saw how the whisky is aged in oak barrels.   

They proudly showed us every single step of the process.  You could smell the sweetness of the whisky in the air.  By the time the tour was finished, we could taste the whisky in our mouths and wanted nothing more than a shot of that whisky.  Pure.  No mixer.   But they could only offer us a lemonade because it was produced in a dry county!  No kidding.   Welcome to Southern culture, y’all!

The point is, that many food and beverage manufacturers will take you on a tour of their facility.  You can watch how it is made, even if the ingredients are less-than-healthy.  So why are we not allowed to see how livestock is fed on a confined feedlot?  Why are we not told what their diet consists of?  Why is it not possible to take a tour of a slaughterhouse?  Why is it shrouded in secrecy?

I was shown the absolute truth, the blood and guts of the rabbit I ate as a child and it didn’t prevent me from eating it or enjoying it.  As an adult, I decided I did not want to partake of food that needs to be hidden from public view.  I want to know the truth – all of it.  If I can’t take the truth, I don’t want to consume it.

My father recently asked me: “What’s the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan?  Once again, I explained that vegetarian means eating no meat, and vegan means eating no animal products, including dairy and eggs. 

I have seen people attempt to categorize all levels of veganism and vegetarianism, as if there were some kind of hierarchy in an exclusive club that all “vegetarians” and “vegans” belong to.  Like the Kiwanas or something. 

For the record, I AM NOT A VEGETARIAN.  I am a human.  I am a mother.  I am a woman.  There is no other label that I put upon myself.  I’m just a person.  I decide what I am going to eat, just like everyone else.  I decide what I am not going to eat, just like everyone else.  I do not subscribe to a “religious order” that dictates to me what I can eat and what I cannot eat. 

I have chosen to eat food that is not shrouded in secrecy.  I do not want to eat anything that I would find objectionable at any step in the process.  This sounds extreme, perhaps, but it is merely a guideline I hold in my mind.  I can do better with my diet by aiming towards that guideline

Sometimes, I forget.  I order a grilled cheese sandwich because I’m hungry, I’m pressed for time, and it will be another 3 hours before I can go home to prepare my dinner.  I know that if I saw the life of that dairy cow, I would not be able to abide with every step in the process of getting her milk just to bring me a grilled cheese sandwich that I will consume in 5 minutes. 

Next time”, I think to myself, “I’ll make sure I have almonds and pumpkin seeds packed to hold me over. ” 

I aim for better, healthier, more respectful food.  In respect for myself, I aim to choose food which nourishes me.  In respect for my food, I aim to choose food that is not shrouded in secrecy.   

That is what I learned in the scrublands of Lee County Florida near the Orange River when I was just 7-years old.

Picture this: It’s the Florida Keys, circa 1972.  My father is taking us on a trip with the other members of his Gun Club down to Islamorada.  It is lobster season.  My father has loaded up his small fishing boat onto a trailer and we’re driving from Fort Myers.

images-1.jpgWe are staying at La Jolla Resort, a small family-owned motel.  (It still exists today).  My father eases the fishing boat into the ocean and we set out across green water that sparkles with bright sunlight.  We reach a spot where the seagrass ends and sandy, rocky bottom begins.  The water is so clear we can see straight to the bottom. 

These are the days long before massive coral bleaching will begin to take its deadly toll.  In 1972, the corals are still healthy and thriving and full of marine life.

We are here for the spiny lobster.  My father intends to show his four daughters how to handle a boat and how to catch their prey.  We eagerly don masks, fins, and gloves and dive into the warm water. 

images.jpgMy father is tall and strong and a good swimmer.  He easily swims to the bottom where reaches beneath coral rock to grab the spiny lobsters and slip them into a net bag. 

We are young, small and not such strong swimmers as he.  He points out to us where we can find younger, more accessible lobsters.  The big gloves we are wearing protect us from their sharp, spiny shells. 

These are undersized lobsters, and by law they should not be taken, but my father figures that little girls ought to be allowed to take little lobsters.  He wants us to learn.

All day on the water invigorates us and drains us at the same time.  In these days before sunscreen, we are sunburned beyond belief.  We are also famished.  The Cuban sandwiches and Yoo Hoo’s my father packed are long gone. 

We boat back to the La Jolla Resort where the rest of the Gun Club has set up big pots of water on outdoor grills for cooking up their catch of the day.  My father is proud that he has not come back empty-handed. 

The big people have gathered outside chickee huts to cook.  Their skin is bright red from the sun, but they are not suffering.  They drink a lot of beer and frozen margaritas, and between puffs of cigarette smoke, grab their live catch and thrust them into boiling water. 14.jpg

The lobsters scream and try in desperation to climb out of the hot water, only to be shoved back inside by the big people, who seem not to hear their screams.  They continue to laugh and drink and smoke.

My father has his own pot of boiling water and we have our own live catch of lobsters in a cooler.  My father reaches his gloved hand into the cooler and retrieves a lobster, whose antenna twitch in anticipation of his demise. 

My father’s four young daughters cannot stand to hear the screams of the lobsters.  The sound is high-pitched and desperate.  It is unbearable. 

My father takes pity.  On the lobster?  Or on his daughters?  He has decided he will not submerge these live animals into boiling water.  He figures it must be more humane to take off their heads first so that they are dead when they hit the water. 

Only it turns out to be much more difficult than he thought.  Though he is a strong man, their heads are on a lot more tightly than he anticipated.  He twists the head one direction, then the other.  While he grips this animal and twists its head, the lobster lets out a blood-curdling scream.  It is unbearable.  Finally, he decides the other big people know what they’re doing, and he drops the lobsters live into the boiling water.  They quiet down soon enough.

Again, I am horrified.  Though older now, I am still a tender-hearted 9-year-old child.  I don’t even like seafood. 

Then the lobster tails come out on plates where one is set before me.  There is a bowl with clarified butter that the big people tell me to dip the meat into.  I take a fork and pry open the shell of the lobster tail and pull out the soft, white meat and dip it into the butter.  I squeeze a fresh key lime on top and put it into my mouth.  I have never eaten anything so exquisite.  The meat is sweet, and yet it tastes like the ocean. 

It is the most delicious food I have ever eaten.  Is it all the sweeter because it was caught by my own hands (with the help of my father, of course)? 

There is nothing like the flavor of knowing your food and appreciating where it comes from.

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Elizabeth Bercaw is a certified Holistic Health Coach and founder of  The Sexy Healthy Lifestyle in Hollywood, Florida.  Elizabeth loves working with clients to help them finally achieve their weight loss, fitness, and overall health goals.

Follow Elizabeth on Instagram and Facebook! 

#thesexyhealthylifestyle

#veganism

#vegetarianism

#mindfuleating

#floridanative

 

IF HEALTH CARE LEGISLATION GETS YOUR BLOOD BOILING … MAKE HEALTH CARE REFORM A PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY!

When is health care reform legislation going to get real?  It’s depressing and disheartening to see so much debate going on about health care legislation when it seems that no one in our two-party system has a clue as to what to do about skyrocketing health care costs in the U.S.

There may be no more important legislation to come about than health care reform, so it’s crucial that Americans communicate their concerns to their senators and representatives TODAY

I’ll tell you what concerns me.  The U.S. spends more on health care than any other country.    Seventy-five percent of health care costs go for chronic diseases, and in many cases, these are preventable diseases.   It’s high time that preventive health care become a cornerstone to any health care legislation.

According to Dr. Reed Tuckson, senior medical advisor to the United Health Foundation, 

We are living longer, but we are living sicker.  We celebrate it, but at the end of the day no one paying for healthcare can afford to continue to pay this much money to treat disease that really should not have happened in the first place.

(US Health Rankings: 2015 Data Show Costs of Preventable Diseases, Hospitalizations, by Amy Nordrum, 12/10/15, IBT Times, http://www.ibtimes.com/us-health-rankings-2015-data-show-costs-preventable-diseases-hospitalizations-2218257)

  The CDC estimates that smoking costs the nation $300 billion a year in direct health costs and lost productivity.  Obesity-related diseases, (some preventable, some non-preventable) costs $190 billion in medical costs, which is about 21% of annual medical spending.  Obese adults spend 42% more on direct healthcare costs than adults who are a healthy weight.  For severely or morbidly obese adults the costs are 81% higher.

According to The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America,

Reducing obesity, improving nutrition, and increasing activity can help lower costs through fewer doctor’s office visits, tests, prescription drugs, sick days, emergency room visits and admissions to the hospital and lower the risk for a wide range of diseases.

In a study by the Urban Institute, The New York Academy of Medicine, and TFAH, a $10 per person investment in proven community-based programs which focus on increasing physical activity, improving nutrition, and smoking prevention could save the country more than $16 billion annually within five years. 

(“The Healthcare Costs of Obesity”, The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America website, http://stateofobesity.org/healthcare-costs-obesity/)

Where in the health care legislation is there an emphasis on preventive health care measures which could save this country billions of dollars??? 

For those of you who know me, you know that I have been a political activist for decades.  It’s important to hold our political leaders accountable and make our concerns heard.  That means, contact your senators and representatives, and VOTE!   Ask a very direct question of your elected officials:

What preventive health care measures are included in the legislation?” 

I also believe strongly in the power of one to make a big difference.  The single most important thing we can do as individuals is to take our own health care into our hands.  No one else can do this for us.  We have to take responsibility for ourselves.  If you want to lower your own health care costs, there is so much you can do and do immediately to prevent disease and illness.

Since there is so much data linking obesity to disease, let’s start there.  What does “obese” mean?  Are you considered “overweight?”  In terms of health risks, there are two measurements that we should look at: Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist measurement.

BMI is calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height squared in centimeters.  Finding a BMI calculator online is easy.  Just plug in your weight and height in pounds and inches, and it will give you the number.   Knowing your BMI rather than just your weight can give you an idea how great your health risks are.

BMI 18.5 – 24.9 Healthy

BMI 25 – 29.9 Overweight

BMI 30 + Obese

Additionally, waist circumference also indicates health risks. 

Men 40 inches + are at an increased health risk. 

Women 35 inches + are at an increased health risk.

Asian men 36” + are at an increased health risk.

Asian women 32” + are at an increased health risk.

Additional risk factors that are exacerbated by obesity include:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • smoking
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
(Body Mass Index BMI for Adults, WebMD.com, http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/body-mass-index-bmi-for-adults)

Once you have an idea of where you fall in terms of an increased health risk, you can use this information to motivate you to action.  I know that losing weight can be a difficult task and there are many layers and complexities about why it’s so hard to lose weight.   Most people who are overweight or obese do not want to be.  They’ve tried and tried and tried to lose weight.  There is no guilt and no shame in the body size you have! 

Like anything else, it’s hard to do it alone.  Find a support system.  Engage a health coach.  Surround yourself with loving, supportive people, not judgemental ones.  Take steps everyday.

In my humble opinion, diet accounts for about 80% of the additional weight we carry.   I became a holistic health coach to help people make significant changes to their diet and their lifestyle.  I have developed a step-by-step program (The Sexy Healthy Lifestyle) to help my clients bring about that change.  But today I’m going to give you some basic guidelines to what you can do to bring down your BMI to a healthy range, and to decrease that waistline!

  1. Eat a ton more leafy greens than you do now.  Everyday.  Lots, and lots.  A Green Smoothie a day, for starters.  Then add in a green salad a day.   Throw in at least one serving of one of these green, anti-cancer veggies: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, bok choy).  You WILL lose weight!
  2. Increase all types of whole vegetables in your daily diet.  (How much?  Ideally at least 50% of what you eat daily.)
  3. Decrease all processed and packaged foods.  (Ideally less than 10% of what you eat.)
  4. Cut out refined sugars and artificial sweeteners.  Add in whole fresh fruits, and dried fruits.
  5. Reduce or eliminate animal products such as meat, milk, cheese, eggs.  Switch to organic and free-range if animal products are to be consumed.  Don’t build your plate around animal products.  Use them as a condiment.
  6. Add in more whole grains (brown rice, quinoa…) and crowd out refined grains (white rice, bread, cereal, pasta, bagels, muffins, etc.)  “Multigrain” means nothing but marketing.  Don’t fall for it.
  7. Eat organic whenever possible.  You may think at first that a trip to the supermarket seems more expensive.  Trust me.  It’s a LOT cheaper than a trip to the doctor or the hospital!

If health care reform is something you are concerned about, if it’s a topic that gets your blood boiling, then I urge you to MAKE HEALTH CARE REFORM A PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.   And by all means, communicate your concerns to your elected officials!

For a free consultation, email me at ebercaw@yahoo.com.   

Elizabeth Bercaw is a certified Holistic Health Coach and founder of  The Sexy Healthy Lifestyle in Hollywood, Florida.  Elizabeth loves working with clients to help them finally achieve their weight loss, fitness, and overall health goals.

#ElizabethBercaw

#TheSexyHealthyLifestyle

#dietforweightloss

#healthcarereform

#cleanfood

MonDiablo! It’s the March Against Monsanto Miami 2017

March-Against-Monsanto-Miami.jpg

When people use rhetoric on either side of the GMO debate, they do so using broad strokes, yet things aren’t as simple as the rhetoric would have you believe.  On one hand, a person needs to have an understanding of how genes move between one species to another, either naturally (as in when an insect bites another organism and leaves genetic material behind), or artificially through genetic engineering.

On the other hand, a person needs to understand the complex relationship between all living things in a very intricate web of life that we call an ecosystem.   This relationship implies that any change in one, creates a domino effect which changes all – irrevocably.   An ecosystem also includes the health and livelihoods of all living creatures within it, including humans.

We must also take into account that growing a crop more efficiently is not the whole picture either.  Simply increasing yield per acre is one thing; increasing people’s access to healthful food is a very different matter entirely.  The former doesn’t necessarily solve the latter.

It was fully my intention to participate, as I have done before, in the March Against Monsanto which was held May 20th in Miami and in cities all around the world.  As I sat down to create my own sign, I decided to do a little bit more research on all the objections to Monsanto, of which I found many.  What became immediately apparent to me, was how reducing this debate to one sign or one slogan, does something of a disservice if our intention is to educate.   Rather than spend the three or so hours it would have taken for me to attend this rally, I decided to put my attention towards a bit more education, not only for my readers and followers, but for myself. 

The goal of genetic modification of crops was simple: create a crop that was genetically resistant to the use of herbicides, particularly Roundup™️.  It was also to create a crop which would intrinsically be toxic to pests that consume it, reducing the need to spray crops with pesticides.  If these were the goals, GM crops were more than successful.  Being able to reduce weeds without killing the crop itself and to resist pests which wipe out entire crops resulted in greater yields for farmers.  But having these two intrinsic values came at a cost, and it is those costs which complicates matters way beyond simple yields. 

There are the costs to farmers.  GM seeds are often three times higher than conventional seeds, and since they are patented, farmers are legally unable to reuse seeds for the next planting.  The US Supreme Court has upheld the patent interests of GM producers such as Monsanto.  In 2013, the court ruled that farmers who use patented seeds for more than one planting are in violation of licensing agreements with the company and therefore liable for damages.  At the heart of this Supreme Court case was an Indiana farmer who used second and third generation seeds to plant crops. 

Farmers since time en memoriam have saved and replanted seeds.  This makes good business sense to the farmer because he can keep costs down and increase profits in an occupation that typically has very slim profit margins.  But because these seeds were patented seeds, the Indiana farmer in question was forced to pay $84,000 in damages after Monsanto sued him.  Can the profits of most farmers sustain paying such damages?    

There are two concepts involved in legal cases such as this.  One is the idea of patent exhaustion, which says that you can do with a product whatever you want after buying it.  A different patent doctrine says you are forbidden to copy it.  The question remains, is a farmer who plants second or third generation seed “copying” it, or is the seed copying itself without the help of the farmer, since it is the purpose of all seed to copy itself?  The Supreme Court decided that since the seed couldn’t plant itself, the farmer was, in effect, “copying” this patented seed simply by replanting it.  In other words, you can eat it, feed it to cattle, resell it, but not replant it!

In its decision, the Supreme Court wrote that the company gets “scant benefit” from its invention and farmers can reap benefits from the “Roundup™️ Ready”  seed without paying for it.  What the Supreme Court left open is the question of a self-replicating patented seed, since a seed, by its very nature “automatically reproduces itself with no intervention.”  This means that Monsanto may not necessarily bring suit for damages against farmers of organic or Non-GMO crops whose crops are accidentally contaminated by GM crops.  However, Monsanto has been adamant about not relinquishing their right to sue even in these cases.

The cost to farmers of GM seeds in the future is also uncertain.  At issue is the idea of “terminator seeds”.  One way for Monsanto to make sure that farmers cannot use second or third generation seed is to create seeds which are sterile.  These are referred to as “terminator seeds” by detractors.  These seeds would ensure that farmers would have to buy new seeds for each new planting. 

img_9123.jpgIn 1999, Monsanto voluntarily agreed not to “commercialize” terminator seeds.  This says absolutely nothing about the development of such seeds.  If such seeds are widely propagated, would they also contaminate other crops, making all vulnerable to this trait of sterility?  Where will the Supreme Court stand if the patented seed in question is terminator seed?  Can farmers of non-GMO and organic crops sue Monsanto for contamination by GMO crops and for making their crops sterile?  Does it matter which side the Supreme Court takes in the future if the cat’s already out of the bag? 

Perhaps an even higher, impossible-to-quantify cost of GM seeds is loss of biodiversity.  Biodiversity basically means a way to measure the number of different species within an ecosystem.  The greater the number of species, (i.e. the greater the biodiversity), the stronger the ecosystem.  Conversely, the less biodiversity an ecosystem has, the more vulnerable it is to collapse.  The cornerstone of any ecosystem is the biodiversity of plant life.  This is where food production methods have a direct impact on plant biodiversity.

The FAO of the UN has found that since 1900, 75% of plant genetic diversity has been lost.  This is not entirely the fault of genetic-modification, of course, since this biotechnology is relatively new.  The loss of genetic biodiversity is the result of all industrial agricultural methods which favor large-scale monoculture crop production over crop diversity.  The tendency for monoculture has had devastating effects on biodiversity.    

In case it’s not obvious, we must recognize there is an even greater danger of losing plant biodiversity if GM seeds contaminate non-GM crops (which they already do), and if “terminator seeds” are to become widespread, essentially wiping out entire subspecies of plants.  The essential problem with GM crops and seeds is not necessarily tied into whether or not they are “safe” for human consumption, (although the jury is certainly out on this), but that there has been no research to conclude that GM seeds will not further erode already quickly-eroding biodiversity in the plant world.  Those consequences would be catastrophic.

Besides the loss of biodiversity, there are other environmental costs.  For example, glyphosate, i.e. Roundup™️, has already been found in groundwater.  Furthermore, we are now seeing more and more insects which are resistant to GM seeds.  Natural selection works outside human control.  We can never predict when a species will be able to adapt, and when it will not. 

A case in point are insects we call pollinators.  The 2017 March Against Monsanto used a bee as their logo, indicating a perceived connection between the loss of the honey bee population and GM crops and pesticides.  The collapse of bee colonies has been so alarming, many fear that we may soon feel the impact of their loss within our food supply.    According to the National Resource Defense Council, cross-pollination helps at least 30% of the world’s food crops,  and is necessary for the survival of 90% of our wild plants.  Again, this relates to biodiversity.  Losing a percentage of wild plants means greater vulnerability for collapse of the ecosystem.   

To date, we still don’t know for certain what is causing Colony Collapse Disorder.  Is it use of pesticides?  Is it loss of weeds and wildflowers that pollinators need to survive?  There is no clear evidence that it is one thing or another, and many think that CCD may not have a single causality.   

Nevertheless, people on both sides of the GM issue are not taking the loss of pollinators lightly.  Pharmaceutical company Bayer, which is expected to merge with Monsanto, is apparently very aware of the controversy surrounding the health of pollinators, and the bad PR Monsanto has gotten over this issue.   Perhaps in an effort to counteract the negative PR, Bayer has launched a “Feed a Bee” campaign vowing to help plant more wildflowers.  At the very least, there is a great benefit in informing the public about the need to preserve pollinators and to propagate more wild flowers.   As part of this campaign, Bayer has promised $500,000 in funding over the next two years to increase forage areas by planting wildflowers.   (Feed a Bee Launches RFP for $500,00 Pollinator Forage Initiative, News Provided by Bayer, 21 Feb. 2017, 09:07 ET, PRNewswire, http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/feed-a-bee-launches-rfp-for-500000-pollinator-forage-initiative-300410159.html)

img_9035.jpgThere are also accusations of the health costs of Monsanto’s Roundup.  According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, considered the “gold standard” of cancer research worldwide, glyphosate is carcinogenic.   Monsanto contends that it poses no risks to humans, although it does recommend a full 12 hours before entering a field sprayed with Roundup.

California has taken the bold step of proposing that Roundup sold in the state be labeled as a carcinogen, but Monsanto is ready for this legal battle, saying that the company would lose money if this labeling law goes through.   To date, Monsanto has successfully fought against proposals to label GMO foods, pouring millions of dollars to defeat initiatives on changes to food labeling.  Their argument has always been the loss of sales if consumers perceive their products to be unsafe.  If California is able to label Roundup as a carcinogen, will this weaken Monsanto’s long-standing argument and signal a turn for GMO labeling initiatives to pass?

(“Court Rules Against Monsanto, Allows California To Put Cancer Warning On Roundup”, CBS Sacremento, January 27, 2017 3:27 PM, http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2017/01/27/court-rules-against-monsanto-allows-california-to-put-cancer-warning-on-roundup/)

But the threat to Monsanto goes far beyond potential loss of sales because of a perceived health threat by potential customers.  A law firm in St. Louis, home of Monsanto, has filed multiple lawsuits against the company saying that its product causes cancer.

(“Law Firm Files Multiple Cases Against Monsanto’s Roundup”, CBS St. Louis, March 27, 2017 6:53 AM, http://stlouis.cbslocal.com/2017/03/27/local-law-firm-files-multiple-cases-against-monsantos-roundup/)

Another important theme of the 2017 March Against Monsanto, was the potential merger of the two giant multi-national corporations Bayer and Monsanto.   According to the CEO’s of both corporations, they had a very productive meeting with President Trump about the possible merger.  The companies claim that this merger would allow them “to create more innovation in order to double the world’s food supply.”

(Trump could approve a giant merger that’s scaring American farmers, Dana Varinksky, Business Insider, Feb. 6, 2017, http://www.businessinsider.com/bayer-monsanto-merger-trump-farmers-worried-2017-2)

Some farmers, however, are less-than-enthusiastic about this merger and suspect that they are not the ones who would benefit most with this merger.  From my perspective, they’re saying the exact opposite of what most people in the industry actually believe,” says Clay Govier, a farmer in Nebraska.  Many believe that seed and pesticide prices will increase as a result of the merger.

In an industry where just about every planting season is preceded by a trip to the local bank for a loan, many are left wondering if a Bayer-Monsanto mega-power would really be looking out for farmer’s best interests, or if they are looking to corner a market and increase profits.

This brings us full circle back to the supposed reason for the innovation of GM crops and herbicides and pesticides in general.  Remember that the objective was simply to increase yield.  Monsanto has oft-repeated a larger goal of “increasing the world’s food supply,” which is really just a different way of saying “bigger yields.”   Monsanto claims that GM crops are necessary to feed a world population which is expected to reach 10 billion by 2060.

In a world where 40% of all food gets wasted, it’s hard to make the argument that we simply need to produce more food than we have been doing.  As long as we frame the argument only around increasing yields (or in fancier terms “food supply”), we ignore so many other factors involved in whether or not humans actually have access to food, or if we are squandering our resources by throwing food into the garbage, to say very little about the myriad of other environmental and health impacts that our industrial agriculture system has created.

In the end, I believe, our greatest hope for the answers to many of these concerns, will rest in the hands, not of the government, or of multi-national corporations, or even in well-intentioned non-profit organizations, but in those individuals with whom we have always relied to sustain us: the farmers themselves!

Elizabeth Bercaw is a certified Holistic Health Coach and founder of  The Sexy Healthy Lifestyle in Hollywood, Florida.  Elizabeth loves working with clients to help them finally achieve their weight loss, fitness, and overall health goals.

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#TheSexyHealthyLifestyle

#MAMMiami17

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#NonGMO

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Cinco de Mayo, Community Gardens, and Healing Foods

imgres.jpgHave you ever wondered (like I have) why a Mexican holiday, 🇲🇽Cinco de Mayo, suddenly became popular in the U.S.?   And if you’re smart (like your’s truly), you probably figured this was just some marketing scheme cooked up by Corona to sell more beer.    More beer, more chili cheese fries, more Buffalo chicken wings … You get the picture.  It’s an excuse to indulge, as if we needed one.

Funny thing, when I was living in Southern Mexico there was no 🇲🇽Cinco de Mayo celebration at all.  Zero.  Zip.  Nada!  In other words, not such a big deal in the part of Mexico where I was living (which was Zapoteca country). It was not the great patriotic holiday we Americans are led to believe it is.  Mexican Independence Day is a patriotic holiday which just happens to fall on my birthday, September 16th.  Now that’s a party! (Jot down that date, in case you want to remember my birthday.)

What started out as a meaningful day in Mexican history (i.e. Emperor Maxmiliano was outsted from the country), became a marketing tool in the U.S. for not only Mexican restaurants, but pretty much every type of bar.  More reason to drink Mexican beer, tequila, and eat nachos with everything. 

But wait!  Someone else has latched onto the 🇲🇽Cinco de Mayo theme, and it’s not about indulging in sinful food and drink, but rather in celebrating the rich, delicious, healthy food that Mexican cuisine actually is.  Mexico has an agricultural tradition that goes back thousands of years and continues up to today  in the foods the Mayans considered so important, that they figure prominently in their sacred texts. 

cacao-tree-maize-god.jpg
From The Popul Vuh.  Anyone else see the divine feminine in this image?

In traditional and ancient Mexican cuisine, there is what is called the “holy trinity” of food, as given to the people from the gods: corn, beans, and squash.  Nutritionally, these three foods provide complete amino acids and essential vitamins which sustain a healthy population.   Ecologically and symbiotically, the three plants work together in harmony.  The corn stalk provides a stake that the  bean and squash vines can wrap around.   No wonder the ancient Mayans considered it sacred – It’s as if Mother Nature intended these plants to be cultivated together!

We can appreciate the innate harmony of nature and the relationship between the plant life that abounds on this planet, our own cultural heritage (which is passed down to us through generations of wise women and men), and the health of our own bodies by celebrating 🇲🇽Cinco de Mayo in a sacred way: through food!

So it was with great pleasure that I received notice from “The PATCH Community Garden” of the city of Dania Beach.  The PATCH offered some great vegan recipes especially for 🇲🇽Cinco de Mayo:

50+ Plant-Based Cinco de Mayo Recipes!

https://happyherbivore.com/2015/04/50-plant-based-vegan-cinco-de-mayo-recipes/

38 Vegan Recipes to Party Like It’s Cinco de Mayo!

http://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-recipe/vegan-recipes-to-party-like-its-cinco-de-mayo/

The Dania Beach PATCH Urban Farm and Market has been nominated for the 2017 Kids Crown Best Farmer’s Market in Broward County.  Among other things, the PATCH offers community plots, so that families can grow the vegetables they want!  Growing our own food not only goes a LONG way to protecting against Climate Change, it also provides our bodies with healing nutrition and connects us to a cultural legacy that spans millennia.

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In the next issue of HEAL YOURSELF – HEAL THE PLANET, I will take a closer look at the current state of Mexican agriculture in regards to GMO crops and Monsanto.  Please check back and share this article on Facebook, Instagram, etc..  I welcome your comments!

#DaniaBeach #ThePATCHCommunityGarden #healthyfood #thesexyhealthylifestyle

March for Climate – Don’t Bury Your Head in the Sand!

FullSizeRender (2).jpgBright yellow  sunflowers waved against a sky blue background.  Blue and green Earth was juxtaposed against fiery red and orange.   Hundreds carried colorful and creative homemade signs depicting a frightening future that many fear is in store for us unless we acknowledge the reality that our planet is warming, and it is due to our own actions.

FullSizeRender (3).jpgThis reality brought hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions to march on Saturday, April 29th at The People’s Climate March in cities all across the country.   A smaller, yet significant crowd met at George English Park in Fort Lauderdale to hold a rally and march to the beach, the very shoreline that is at ground zero of sea level rise.  

The lineup of speakers was impressive.  We heard from researchers at Florida International University, and Florida Atlantic University, and from organizations such as Sea Turtle Outreach Protection, Progress for All, and the Citizen’s Climate Lobby.  Representatives from the Seminole Tribe and Quechua of Peru informed the audience how indigenous groups are often among groups most vulnerable to sea level rise and climate change.

Mostly, the tenor of the march was that too many of our leaders (um, President Trump, Governor Rick Scott) are ignoring science and calling climate change a myth.  Putting their heads into the sand,” the protesters say.  And while I agree 100% with the Climate March organizers and protesters, I have to say that there is still a lot of putting our heads into the sand.

Climate.jpg

Since the theme of this march was climate change, I wondered why not one single speaker, nor one single protester ever mentioned the very direct connection between the Standard American Diet (SAD) and climate change.  Talk about burying your head in the sand!  What a truly inconvenient truth it would be to admit that the one thing we can all do, and do immediately, to help ameliorate the problem of global climate change, is to change our diet!   

Where, among the lineup of speakers, among the information booths, and among the throngs of protesters was Earth Save?  This group has been creating an awareness around the food we eat and the health of our planet for years.  Is their message too radical?  Of course, Earth Save isn’t the only group.  Certainly one speaker from any number of organizations could have stood up to make this point. 

Since it was overlooked in both the Earth Day March for Science, which was held on April 22nd, and the People’s March for Climate, I will say it now and in no uncertain terms:

There is perhaps nothing more important that you can do in regards to climate change, than to re-evaluate your diet and make it more green!  You can start today!  You can make a difference every single day at every single meal!

What can you do?  You can eat vegan food, eat vegetarian food, or if you don’t want to flat out quit animal products, you can try to eat organic meat once or twice per week.  You can reduce processed food from your diet and move towards more and more organic foods.  You can reject GMO food by looking at labels.  (By the way, food that is not made with GMO’s is labeled non-GMO.  If the label says nothing about GMO’s, you can bet it probably is GMO!)

I know that making dietary and lifestyle changes can be extremely challenging.  I am, after all, a health and lifestyle coach.  But changes are not impossible. 

Since making significant diet and lifestyle changes can be challenging, and since it is ever-so-important a step to take in healing ourselves and healing our planet, I have decided to launch a newsletter dedicated to providing more information on the connection between a healthy diet, a healthy body, and a healthy planet. 

In this newsletter, I will highlight stories that take us one bite at a time towards a healthier lifestyle, and tell why making changes will do more than you can possibly imagine towards combating climate change.  I will showcase people in our community that are warriors in the fight for healthy food, healthy communities, healthy habitats, and food justice.  Most importantly, I’ll let the readers know what small steps they can take every single day to make a very big difference.  And for those who need help with these challenges, allow me to be your guide.  I can help you through this process!

I hope you’ll join me and share my upcoming newsletter:

“HEAL YOURSELF – HEAL THE PLANET!”

My first issue will revolve around the upcoming event:

  “March Against Monsanto, ” to be held on May 20th 2017 #MAMMIAMI17

Elizabeth Bercaw is a certified Holistic Health Coach and founder of  The Sexy Healthy Lifestyle in Hollywood, Florida.  Elizabeth loves working with clients to help them finally achieve their weight loss, fitness, and overall health goals.

Follow Elizabeth on Instagram and Facebook! 

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Exercise is Good for Brain Health

If there is a gene for Alzheimer’s, there’s a high chance I inherited it.  Both my paternal grandfather and my father’s brother died with Alzheimer’s.  (Brain in a Jar is a personal account of my uncle’s battle with this disease, written by none other than my cousin, Nancy Bercaw.) 

That’s not to say it’s a foregone conclusion that I will succumb to Alzheimer’s.   I’m not in complete agreement with the idea of a genetic blueprint.  When someone is told they have a gene for some type of disease, there’s a risk that the person will think there’s nothing they can do to protect their health.  It’s out of their control because it’s in their genes. 

If I do have a genetic propensity towards something, I want to do whatever I can by adjusting my lifestyle to prevent that problem from manifesting.  This is the way I have decided to take on the possibility, no matter how remote or how great, of Alzheimer’s.  For this reason, I am as focused on brain health as I am on my body.  (Why on earth would we try to separate them?)

According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America:

“Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disorder that attacks the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, resulting in loss of memory, thinking and language skills, and behavioral changes… For example, short-term memory fails when Alzheimer’s disease first destroys nerve cells in the hippocampus…” (http://www.alzfdn.org/AboutAlzheimers/definition.html)

While common wisdom has dictated that memory games and cross-word puzzles might help improve memory among older adults, there is more supporting evidence that exercise plays an even greater role.   According to  Neuroscientist Peter Snyder, a researcher at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School and Rhode Island Hospital, the hippocampus continues to form new cells and make new connections between cells. 

As it turns out, to facilitate neurogenesis exercise “seems to have the most efficacy at this point — more so than nutritional supplements, vitamins and cognitive interventions.”  Snyder said.(http://www.npr.org/2011/02/21/133777018/aerobic-exercise-may-improve-memory-in-seniors)

The reason for this is connected to the production of BDNF, a brain protein which nourishes connections between brain cells.  BDNF production is apparently stimulated more through exercise. 

What Kind of Exercise is Most Beneficial for Brain Health?

For those of you who are familiar with my program, you know that I recommend The Three Pillars of Exercise: a balance of strengthening, stretching, and stamina (aerobics).   All three types were used in a study on the effects of exercise on neurogenesis, and, according to neuroscientist Art Kramer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, those in the aerobic group fared much better than the other two groups.    The study indicates that not only did those in the aerobic (walkers) group not lose volume in the hippocampus (which is normal over time as we age), they actually gained new brain cells.

Upon hearing this news, I was ready to lace-up my walking shoes!  But wait!  There was more to come!  Researchers at the University of Iyvaskyla in Finland and others published findings in the Journal of Physiology which indicated that when compared to weight training and high-intensity interval training, it turns out that distance running stimulates BDNF even more.

(“For a Happy Hippocampus, Keep Running”, by Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times, Feb. 17, 2016.)

This is definitely not to say that anyone should forgo other types of exercise as they can also help brain health in other ways, and they definitely help in overall physical fitness.  Weight-training, in particular, is probably the most effective way to prevent muscular degeneration and osteoporosis, so it’s still an important component to keep the body fit and to slow the aging process.

My own defense against Alzheimer’s will now assuredly include some distance running.  Even if it is merely one time per week mixed in with weight training, stretching, and walking, this is something I can do for my brain health that is entirely in my control.

Elizabeth Bercaw is a certified Holistic Health Coach and founder of The Sexy Healthy Lifestyle in Hollywood, Florida.  Elizabeth loves working with clients to help them finally achieve their weight loss, fitness, and overall health goals.