I was recently the guest on Vinnie Tortorich’s Angriest Trainer in America podcast.

I haven’t met Vinnie, but I’ve listened to his podcasts.  I like the way he thinks. We had a great time talking about a variety of topics — so much fun, he didn’t notice the recorder stopped as we were talking.  So the podcast ends in the middle of a sentence.

No worries. As far as I’m concerned, that just means we need to do it again sometime.

You can listen to our interview here.

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I wasn’t planning to write another post this week because I’m busy at work and trying to make headway on the book Chareva and I are producing.  But a meat-and-mortality study showed up in my inbox, which prompted me to dig up a few more.  In my post dedicated to our vegetarian-zealot friends, I made the point that observational studies (the kind they cherry-pick to “prove” that meat will kill you) are unreliable and inconsistent.  Here are some studies that underscore that point.

From Meat consumption in relation to mortality from cardiovascular disease among Japanese men and women:

Moderate meat consumption, up to ~100 g/day, was not associated with increased mortality from ischemic heart disease, stroke or total cardiovascular disease among either gender.

What their data showed is that compared to men with the lowest meat intake, men with the highest meat intake had lower mortality rates from heart disease, a very slightly higher mortality rate from stroke, and the same mortality rate from all cardiovascular diseases combined.  Women who ate the most meat had a slightly higher rate of mortality from heart disease, but a lower mortality rate from stroke.

So here’s the story so far:  meat reduces heart-disease mortality in men, but raises it in women.  But the differences aren’t really significant either way.

From Red meat and poultry intakes and risk of total and cause-specific mortality:

Red meat intake was associated with increased risk of ischemic heart disease mortality and with decreased risk of hemorrhagic stroke mortality. There were suggestive inverse associations of poultry intake with risk of total and all-CVD mortality among men, but not among women.

Okay, then.  Red meat causes heart disease – for both men and women  –  but prevents strokes.  Poultry also prevents heart disease for men, but not for women.  Got it.

From Meat intake and mortality:

Regarding cause-specific mortality, men and women had elevated risks for cancer mortality for red and processed meat intakes. Furthermore, cardiovascular disease risk was elevated for men and women in the highest quintile of red and processed meat intakes. When comparing the highest with the lowest quintile of white meat intake, there was an inverse association for total mortality and cancer mortality, as well as all other deaths for both men and women.

Stop the presses!  Turns out red meat causes cancer and heart disease for both men and women after all.  Poultry, on the other hand, prevents cancer and a premature death – for both men and women.

From Red meat and processed meat consumption and all-cause mortality:

In a dose-response meta-analysis, consumption of processed meat and total red meat, but not unprocessed red meat, was statistically significantly positively associated with all-cause mortality in a nonlinear fashion.

Notice what they wrote about unprocessed red meat:  it’s not associated with higher all-cause mortality.  Now look at the conclusion:

These results indicate that high consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, may increase all-cause mortality.

Somehow red meat is still to blame, but especially processed meat.  The accurate statement (based on their data, anyway) would have been that only processed meat is the problem.

So the updated story: red meat and especially processed meat will kill you.

From Meat consumption and diet quality and mortality:

After multivariable adjustment, neither red and processed meat, nor white meat consumption were consistently associated with all-cause or cause-specific mortality. In men, white meat consumption tended to be inversely associated with total mortality, but there was no such association among women.

I see.  Red meat, white meat, and processed meat aren’t associated with all-cause mortality, or with mortality from any specific cause.  White meat prevents premature death among men, but not women.

So here’s what we know from observational studies:  Meat – especially red meat and most especially processed meat – will kill you.  However, meat (including red meat) prevents heart disease among men while having no effect on premature death.  Unfortunately, the same red meat causes heart disease among women — and among men, except for the men.

White meat prevents heart disease among men, but not women.  However, it prevents cancer and premature death for both men and women, but not women.

Oh, and all meats – red, white, processed and unprocessed – also have no effect on specific or all-cause mortality for anybody.

Got it?

That’s why observational studies are a joke – as are the people who cherry-pick them to (ahem) prove a point about meat and health.

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Surprise, surprise … my critique of Dr. Ornish’s recent “meat kills!” nonsense drew the ire of a vegetrollian.  These people show up and now and then, always singing from the same hymnal.  More than four years ago, I wrote a long post to answer them so I don’t have to waste time writing the same replies over and over in comments.  I decided it’s time for an updated version.  I’ll be busy this week, so this is probably my last post until Monday.

——————————————————————

Dear Vegetarian Evangelists:

Since you keep showing up on my blog and trying to convert me to the Church of the Holy Plant-Based Diet, I’ve decided it’s time once again to explain, in this new and improved post, why you’re wasting your time. You seem like nice people and all, but really, this is getting tiresome.  Every time I answer the doorbell, you stand on my porch and repeat the same old sermons by the same old preachers:  Joel Fuhrman, John McDougall, Dean Ornish, T. Colin Campbell, etc.  This may surprise you, but I don’t find those sermons any more convincing on the 100th repetition than I did on the 10th.

Perhaps I’d pay attention if I actually heard a new sermon now and then, but sadly that’s never the case.  So in the future, when you ring the bell, I’m going to simply refer you to this post and bid you good-day.

I know some of you will label this as closed-minded.  That’s because to an evangelist, the definition of “closed-minded” is “does not agree with me.”  The truth is, I’m being polite.  Even though I believe your religion is based on a mixture of emotions and faulty reasoning, I don’t show up on your doorstep and try to talk you out of it.  Unlike you, I don’t get emotionally involved in other people’s dietary choices.  If you believe it’s better for humans to shun animal foods, please do so.  I don’t really care.

But you obviously care very much that I eat meat, since you keep trying to convince me I shouldn’t.  Sometimes it seems as if you all got together and said, “There’s a meat-eater who lives in that blog over there!  We must take turns showing up on his doorstep and preaching to him until he sees the light!”  I give you credit, by the way, for attempting to cloak your arguments in something resembling science.  You apparently noticed the “Meat is Murder!” tactic just makes me laugh, so you’ve taken to presenting the same sentiment as a health issue.

Nice try, but it isn’t going work, and I’m going to explain why.  I’m not foolish enough to think I’ll change your minds — evangelists aren’t swayed by evidence, as Eric Hoffer explained brilliantly in his book The True Believer – but I figure there’s an outside chance you’ll finally realize I don’t find your arguments the least bit persuasive, in which case you actually might give up and go away.

WHY I’M AN EX-VEGETARIAN … AND WHY I THINK VEGETARIAN EVANGELISTS ARE FULL OF BEANS.

I’ll start with the reason that’s the least valid scientifically, but frankly the only one that ultimately matters to me:  my own experience.  I was a vegetarian for several years (yes, I’m a fallen-away believer) yet somehow never experienced all the magic health benefits promised to me by your preachers.  I did, however, experience arthritis, asthma, psoriasis, gastric reflux, restless legs, lower back pain, irritable bowel, fatigue, slow but consistent weight gain, listlessness, depression, frequent colds, canker sores, cavities, and receding gums that required grafts.

None of those ailments was caused by sugar consumption, because I already knew sugar was a sin and didn’t indulge except on very rare occasions.  I’ve since learned that some of those ailments were likely caused by a lack of fat and cholesterol in my diet, while others were likely caused by the gluten and lectins found in grains.

Now that I’ve gone over to the dark side of low-carb/paleo eating, I don’t suffer from those ailments anymore — not one.  It’s also no longer a battle to keep my weight down.  I’m 56 years old, but look and feel better than when I was 36.  I’m almost never sick and, unlike most people my age, I don’t take any prescription drugs. My only appointments with doctors in the past five years have been for regular checkups or to treat an injury.

Given my personal history, I don’t really care how much cherry-picked evidence bean-eaters like Ornish and McDougall can cite, because my body told me they’re wrong.  I listen to my body.  If I whack myself in the head with a rubber mallet and my body says, “You know, that gave me a headache and made me dizzy,” I’m not going to do it again –  even if you cite a Fuhrman study concluding that head-whacking improves mood and prevents sexual dysfunction.

I also have to consider the experiences of my friends and acquaintances.  I’ve known plenty of vegetarians over the years, and as far as health status goes, I wouldn’t trade places with any of them.  They’re all on prescription drugs.  I’ve seen them suffer from arthritis, auto-immune diseases, bone degeneration and cancer, to name just a few.  One vegan friend in Los Angeles had to undergo extensive dental surgery because she lost half the bone mass in her jaw.

But of course, those are mere anecdotes and therefore aren’t scientifically valid.  Now, you and I both know you’re only interested in the so-called “science” that supports your religion, but since you insist on pretending otherwise, I’ll deal with your science (ahem, ahem) as well.

First, let’s look at some basic principles of science.  In real science, we control for confounding variables when testing a hypothesis.  The studies you cite when you show up to preach at me are almost always observational studies, which are notoriously awful when it comes to controlling variables.

In real science, we also have to start with reliable data. Those observational studies are  almost always based on food questionnaires that are sent out once per year, or once every five years, or even once every 10 years.  The accuracy of those questionnaires is laughable.  Some people report eating so little, they’d be walking skeletons.

Here’s what a food questionnaire looks like, by the way:

Over the last 12 months, how often did you eat the following foods? (Ignore any recent changes.)

Whole milk (4%), NOT in coffee, NOT on cereal: Never | 1-6 per year | 7-11 per year | 1 per month | 2-3 per month | 1-2 per week | 3-4 per week | 5-6 per week | 1 per day | 2-3 per day | 4-5 per day | 6+ per day. Portion size: less than ½ cup | ½ to 1 cup | more than 1 cup.

Breads or dinner rolls, NOT INCLUDING ON SANDWICHES: Never | 1-6 per year | 7-11 per year | 1 per month | 2-3 per month | 1-2 per week | 3-4 per week | 5-6 per week | 1 per day | 2-3 per day | 4-5 per day | 6+ per day. Portion size: less than 1 slice or roll | 1 or 2 slices or rolls | more than 2 slices or rolls.

Ground beef in mixtures such as tacos, burritos, meatballs, casseroles, chili, meatloaf: Never | 1-6 per year | 7-11 per year | 1 per month | 2-3 per month | 1-2 per week | 3-4 per week | 5-6 per week | 1 per day | 2-3 per day | 4-5 per day | 6+ per day. Portion size: less than 3 ounces | 3 to 7 ounces | more than 7 ounces.

You can get a sense of the accuracy of food questionnaires without even seeing one:  just take out a piece of paper now and write down how many portions of asparagus you ate in the previous year.  What, you can’t do it?  Well then, let’s make it easier.  How many ounces of whole grains did you consume in the past month?

You don’t know, do you? And if you do know, you’re a diet freak who tabulates everything you eat, which means you in no way represent people in the general population.

If you’re not a diet freak and you were filling out the questionnaire, you’d do like most people — take a wild guess.  I once worked at a company where we were required to fill out a food questionnaire as part of a survey.  My co-workers and I laughed about the stupidity of anyone believing we could accurately recall detailed dietary information.  We took our wild guesses, filled in the form, and got back to our real jobs.

So Ornish and McDougall can cherry-pick a few studies that link saturated fat to heart disease and cancer … so what?  I’m sure that’s true to an extent, at least in America.  But some of the biggest sources of saturated fat in the American diet are grain-based desserts (sugar and refined flour), dairy desserts (sugar), pizza (refined flour) and Mexican dishes (refined flour).  Do you see any possible confounding variables there?

Most people who become vegetarians do so because they believe (mistakenly) that giving up meat with make them healthier.  That makes them a self-selected group of health-conscious people.  Health-conscious people are different from the rest of the population.  They’re less likely to smoke, drink to excess, take drugs, consume candy and sodas, or eat highly processed foods.  They’re more likely to exercise, take vitamins, etc.  So of course they’re healthier on average than the general population, which includes a lot of people who don’t give a @#$% about their health and have lousy health habits.  That makes direct comparisons between vegetarians and the non-vegetarian population as a whole meaningless.

For example, when one of you rings my doorbell, I know it’s only a matter of time before you start yammering on about an observational study of Seventh-Day Adventists.  Yes, they’re vegetarians.  Yes, they have better health and longer lifespans than the population as a whole.  That’s because they’re exactly like the people I described above:  they don’t smoke, drink, do drugs, eat candy, drink sodas, etc.  I have a Mormon friend who also doesn’t smoke, drink, do drugs, drinks sodas, etc., because her religion prohibits those behaviors.  And guess what?  Mormons, like Seventh-Day Adventists, are much healthier and live much longer than the population as a whole.  But they do eat meat.

If the only difference between Seventh-Day Adventists and the rest of the population was meat vs. no meat, you might have a point.  But that’s not the only difference.  Not by a long shot.  That’s why observational studies are lousy as evidence.

How lousy?  According to Dr. John Ioannidis, a Harvard M.D. and mathematician who has spent decades studying old studies, 80 percent of the conclusions drawn from observational studies have turned out to be wrong.  Got that?  Eighty percent.  So when you ring my doorbell to warn me that New Study Links Meat To Blindness! or whatever, what I hear is:  New Study That Is Far More Likely To Be Wrong Than Right Links Meat To Blah-Blah-Blah.

But let’s suppose for the sake of argument that observational studies actually tell us something.  Here’s another basic principle of science:  a hypothesis isn’t considered valid unless the evidence supporting it is consistent and repeatable.  The evidence has to hold up across time and geography.  Your Meat Kills! evidence doesn’t.

There have been native peoples all over the world who lived primarily on animal flesh and animal fat — the Masai tribes, our own buffalo-hunting tribes, the Inuits, etc. — but heart disease was nearly non-existent among those people.  Doctors who visited them were stunned at how healthy they were.   The buffalo-hunting tribes didn’t become fat, diabetic, and plagued with heart disease until they stopped hunting and started living on sugar and flour.

A century ago, Americans consumed four times as much butter and lard as we do now, but again, heart disease was quite rare.  We didn’t see a surge in heart disease until we began eating a lot more sugar and substituting processed vegetable oils for animal fats.   Even today, the French and Swiss consume far more cream, butter, cheese and pork than Americans, but have a much lower rate of heart disease.  (They do, however, consume far less sugar, soda, processed vegetable oils, and white flour.)

Those are general observations.  Let’s get more specific.  After all, I’m sure you’ve been indoctrinated by the Church of the Holy Plant-Based Diet to cite a few specific observational studies linking meat to heart disease, cancer, early death, etc.  So here are some specific studies that prove those results aren’t consistent and repeatable.

Meat and Mortality

From a large observational study titled Mortality Among British Vegetarians:

Within the study, mortality from circulatory diseases and all causes is not significantly different between vegetarians and meat eaters.

That means meat-eaters didn’t have higher rates of heart disease and didn’t die any younger.

From a study of the Japanese elderly:

  • Nutrient intakes in 94 Japanese centenarians investigated between 1972 and 1973 showed a higher proportion of animal protein to total proteins than in contemporary average Japanese.
  • High intakes of milk and fats and oils had favorable effects on 10-year (1976-1986) survivorship in 422 urban residents aged 69-71.
  • The survivors revealed a longitudinal increase in intakes of animal foods such as eggs, milk, fish and meat over the 10 years.

The Japanese elderly who lived the longest ate the most meat and animal protein.

Meat and Disease

From a summary of red meat/cancer studies:

Colinearity between red meat intake and other dietary factors (e.g. Western lifestyle, high intake of refined sugars and alcohol, low intake of fruits, vegetables and fibre) and behavioural factors (e.g. low physical activity, high smoking prevalence, high body mass index) limit the ability to analytically isolate the independent effects of red meat consumption. Because of these factors, the currently available epidemiologic evidence is not sufficient to support an independent positive association between red meat consumption and colorectal cancer.

In other words, when they try wading through the confounding variables, they can’t come up with a significant link between red meat and colorectal cancer.

From The Fukuoka Colorectal Cancer Study:

Our findings do not support the hypothesis that consumption of red meat increases colorectal cancer risk but do suggest that high intake of fish may decrease the risk, particularly of distal colon cancer.

Red meat isn’t linked to a higher rate of colon cancer, but fish is linked to a lower rate.  I don’t think you vegan zealots will care much for that result.  Fish are animals, right?

From a meta-analysis of observational studies conducted in Asia:

Our pooled analysis found no association between intake of total meat (red meat, poultry, and fish/seafood) and risks of all-cause, CVD, or cancer mortality among men and women. Red meat intake was inversely associated with CVD mortality in men and with cancer mortality in women in Asian countries.

Let me explain “inversely associated” in case you’re a total illiterate when it comes to science:  that means men who ate more red meat were less likely to die of heart disease, and women who ate more red meat were less likely to die of cancer.

From an Oxford observational study titled Cancer Risk In Vegetarians:

Within the study, the incidence of all cancers combined was lower among vegetarians than among meat eaters, but the incidence of colorectal cancer was higher in vegetarians than in meat eaters.

Hey, there you go!  A result all you disciples of the Church of the Holy Plant-Based Diet can use to spread The Word.  The vegetarians had lower overall cancer rates, so let’s cherry-pick this one study and start ringing more doorbells!

Oh, but wait … the vegetarians also had higher rates of colorectal cancer.  That’s the type of cancer you vegan zealots are always warning me I’ll get as the result of eating meat.  Hmmm …

As any decent scientist will tell you, correlation doesn’t prove causation.  But a lack of a correlation is pretty danged strong evidence that there’s no causation … because if one thing causes another, they will be correlated — consistently.  We not only don’t see consistent correlations between meat and higher rates of heart disease or cancer, we can find studies like the one above in which more meat was correlated with lower rates of those diseases.

I could go on and on, but I hope you’ve grasped the point by now:   the observational evidence delivered from the pulpit by Ornish, Fuhrman, McDougall and your other high priests is cherry-picked.  Those observations don’t hold up across time or geography.  They don’t even hold up in modern Western countries if you look at all the studies instead of just the ones your priests selected for you.  Not consistent and not repeatable means the hypothesis isn’t valid.

Clearly something other than animal fat causes heart disease — my guess is sugar and refined carbohydrates, because that result does hold up.  Go around the world, look at different cultures throughout time, and you’ll see that heart disease, cancer, and other “diseases of civilization” show up shortly after sugar and white flour become dietary staples.

Many of you have preached to me that the Fuhrman-McDougall-Ornish diet is superior because it lowers cholesterol.  I’ve got news for you:  That’s one of the least convincing arguments you can make, because I don’t want my cholesterol lowered.  Have you ever checked the data on cholesterol levels vs. mortality?  I have.  The graphic below shows total cholesterol plotted against all-cause mortality using data from 164 countries.

I apologize for the teensy type, but check the blue line.  That’s all-cause mortality.  Notice how it reaches the lowest point at a cholesterol level of around 220?  Your high priests brag about how their diets lower cholesterol, but the data shows that people with low cholesterol have shorter lifespans.  They’re more likely to die of cancer, stroke, infections and suicide.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I can sense you reaching for that chapter from the prayer book already:  “No, you see, cancer CAUSES low cholesterol!”  Uh-huh.  If high cholesterol is linked to heart disease, it must mean cholesterol is causing the disease.  But if cancer is linked to low cholesterol, by gosh, it must be the other way around — because preacher Fuhrman says so.  Since the low cholesterol often shows up years before the cancer, that’s quite a trick.  And good luck explaining how strokes and suicide cause low cholesterol.

But about that link between high cholesterol and heart disease:  it doesn’t actually exist, except in males below the age of 65 living in a few countries.  It certainly doesn’t hold up around the world.  Some of you have quoted McDougall as saying he’s never seen a heart attack in anyone with cholesterol below 150.  (Notice he didn’t say he’s never seen cancer or a stroke.)  Well, if that’s true, it merely means McDougall has never visited Australia.  Aborigines have one of the lowest average cholesterol levels in the world.  They also have one of the highest heart-disease rates.  Autopsies have shown plaque-filled arteries in heart-attack victims whose total cholesterol was as low as 115.   If high cholesterol causes heart disease and low cholesterol cures it, how is that possible?

Some years ago, I dug up the WHO data on average cholesterol levels and heart-disease rates around the world.  If high cholesterol causes heart disease, then plotting those figures against each other would produce a nice, recognizable trend-line.  And as it happens, I did plot them against each other.  You can see the result below:

Do you see a trend-line there?  I certainly don’t.  When I ran the CORR function in Excel, it showed a very slight negative association between cholesterol and heart disease — in other words, higher cholesterol was correlated with slightly lower mortality from heart disease.

I found a similar result when I ran an analysis on the American Heart Association’s own data:  people with LDL over 130 actually have a slightly lower rate of heart disease than people with LDL below 130.

So once again, the observations your preachers made that you keep quoting don’t hold up.  They’re not consistent, and they’re not repeatable.  Therefore, they’re not scientifically valid.

Many of you have offered yourselves as evidence that the Fuhrman-McDougall-Ornish diet works.  Some of you have even sent me pictures of your now-skeletal bodies, apparently thinking I’d be impressed.  I wasn’t.  I have no desire to look like I take my meals in a concentration camp.

If your health improved, I’m happy for you.  But you might want to ask yourself which aspect of the diet improved your health.  Your preachers insist you give up animal foods, but also sugar and refined carbohydrates.  Then when your health improves, they offer it as proof that animal foods were the problem and only the Holy Plant-Based Diet can lead to eternal health and happiness.

But I also gave up sugar and refined carbohydrates, and my health also improved, despite adding more animal fat to my diet.  Hey, ya know … perhaps it’s the sugar and refined flour that are the real problem here.

You’ve preached about how Ornish and Furhman have reversed heart disease in their patients.  Fine, I believe you.  But so have doctors like William Davis and Al Sears, and they don’t tell their patients to give up animal foods; they tell their patients to give up sugar and refined carbohydrates (as do Ornish and Furhman).  Rocky Angelucci, author of Don’t Diet Early, followed the program designed by Dr. Davis and reversed the plaque in his coronary arteries by 24 percent in six months.  A friend of mine went on the Atkins diet — no sugar, no refined carbohydrates — and his labs improved so much, his doctor took him off his statin and said, “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.”

Notice anything consistent about the diets that reverse heart disease?

If merely giving up animal fats and switching to all plant-based foods were the key to avoiding heart disease, that result would hold up around the world.  But it doesn’t.  Vegetarians in India have one of the highest rates of heart disease in the world — higher than the Indians who aren’t vegetarians.  They don’t eat meat, but they do consume sugar and flour.

Here’s a quote from an article about Bill Clinton’s vegan diet:

When Caldwell Esselstyn spotted a picture of him on the Internet, eating a dinner roll at a banquet, the renowned doctor dispatched a sharply worded email message: “I’ll remind you one more time, I’ve treated a lot of vegans for heart disease.”

So even a priest of the Church of the Holy Plant-Based Diet admits vegans can develop heart disease — by eating white flour.

Since your religious tracts are full of cherry-picked observational evidence, I’m going to close by asking you to make an observation for me …  just one, and if your preachers are correct, this should be easy:  Name the cultures, now or in the past, where people subsisted on a diet high in animal foods and animal fats but consumed little or no sugar and flour, yet had high rates of heart disease and cancer.  If you can do that, I’ll answer the bell and listen to you preach the next time you feel like asking me to join the Church of the Holy Plant-Based Diet.

Until you can do that, go away.  You don’t stand a chance of converting me.

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One chicken yard down, another chicken yard and a new garden space still to go.

Last week, Chareva attached heavy-gauge chicken wire to the bottom of the first chicken yard and bent it out into the grass.  That should be enough to keep critters from digging under.  We both attached the net overhead to keep critters from swooping in or climbing over the fence for a chicken dinner.

The poles that keep the net above our heads are sunk into concrete poured into a bucket.  I dug holes deep enough to bury the buckets so the poles don’t fall over.  To keep the metal poles from tearing the net, I covered each pole with a plastic water bottle.  It may not be a pretty solution, but it works.  Al Gore would be proud of the way we reduce, reuse and recycle around here.

We also needed the net to be elevated enough to open the door into the chicken yard.  Not surprisingly, Chareva suggested we construct a canopy by bending a cattle panel inside some t-posts.  I say “not surprisingly” because she’s developed a thing for cattle panels.  Any problem I raise, any project I suggest, she immediately describes how a cattle panel or two will do the trick.  I’m afraid I’ll come home from work someday and find she’s used cattle panels and t-posts to convert our bed into a four-poster model with a nice canopy overhead.

Anyway, after the chicks spent several hours huddled together in their new house, probably wondering where the heck we’d move them next, a few of them came out to explore.

The new chicken yard is one-quarter of Chareva’s spring-project design, which includes two chicken yards and two gardens partly surrounded by chicken moats.  I spent much of Saturday pounding in more t-posts to finish off the exterior skeleton of the rectangle that encloses everything.

Earlier in the project, I pounded in t-posts along the wrong line and had to pull them up and start over.  I was determined not to repeat that mistake, so this weekend I checked and double-checked the line before pounding … and then pounded in a whole line of posts with the nubs facing the wrong direction.  Apparently, I really do want the extra triceps workouts.

Part of the grand design is to have a wide gate leading to a walkway down the middle of the gardens.  The wide gate is heavy, so we sunk a tall wooden pole a bit more than three feet into the ground, then attached the gate.  Looking  at the picture below, you’d probably think we lack the skills to sink a pole on a true vertical line so the gate holds a horizontal line.

But you’d be wrong.

The problem, as usual, is the hilly terrain.  (Not that I’m complaining.  I love these hills.)  Given the slope of the land, we had a choice:  elevate one side of the gate stupidly high to provide clearance for the other side, or dig away part of the hill.  We chose to dig.  We still have more digging to do so the gate can swing open freely.

In the picture below, you can see how high the end of the gate is when it’s all the way open.  Like I’ve said before, you pretty much have to stand on these hills to appreciate the slope.  Pictures tend to flatten it.

It was a perfect weekend for working outdoors, sunny and in the 40s.  Unfortunately, the cool temperatures made me forget I have Irish skin.  Since dumping the crappy vegetable oils from my diet, I don’t burn as easily as I once did.  But two long days in the sun will still do the trick.  So I’m now sporting my first farmer tan of the year … well, farmer burn.

And although I didn’t pay attention to the compass while working, I apparently spent most of Sunday with my left side facing the sun.  So until the burn fades, I’m officially a Southern redneck, but only on the left.  My right side, of course, is still a libertarian.

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It must be tough to be Dr. Dean Ornish these days. The man desperately wants to convince everyone to live on a low-fat vegetarian diet, and yet the Wisdom of Crowds effect is turning the tide in the opposite direction. People previously frightened into giving up eggs and red meat have gone paleo, improved their health, and announced as much to the crowd. Books like The Big Fat Surprise are shining a very bright light on the shoddy science that led to anti-animal-fat hysteria in the first place. Researchers are revisiting the science and declaring the low-fat diet a mistake.

This can’t sit well at all with Dr. Ornish, for whom the plant-based diet is clearly akin to a religion. In fact, I suspect that like many vegetarians and vegans, the thought process that formed his beliefs went something like this:

  • Eating animals is a sin.
  • Therefore, animal foods must harm your health – a punishment for committing sin.
  • Giving up animal foods must improve your health – a reward for no longer being a sinner.

Ornish has spent his career warning of the health hazards of animal foods. The emerging evidence – the reliable kind, anyway – keeps contradicting him, so now he’s like a walking, talking example of the people described in the terrific book Mistake Were Made (but not by me): having staked out a very public position, he can’t possibly change his mind without committing career suicide. He must cling to that position to the bitter end.

And so Ornish pops up now and then to bang the Animal Foods Kill! drum yet again … by pointing to a lousy observational study here and a mouse study there. You never hear him quoting clinical studies on humans (i.e., the studies that actually matter) because those don’t support his beliefs.

Ornish’s latest attempt to bang the drum came in the form of an essay in the New York Times, which several readers called to my attention. Let’s take a look.

Many people have been making the case that Americans have grown fat because they eat too much starch and sugar, and not enough meat, fat and eggs. Recently, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee lifted recommendations that consumption of dietary cholesterol should be restricted, citing research that dietary cholesterol does not have a major effect on blood cholesterol levels. The predictable headlines followed: “Back to Eggs and Bacon?”

But, alas, bacon and egg yolks are not health foods.

And we know they’re not health foods because Dr. Ornish says so.

Although people have been told for decades to eat less meat and fat, Americans actually consumed 67 percent more added fat, 39 percent more sugar, and 41 percent more meat in 2000 than they had in 1950 and 24.5 percent more calories than they had in 1970, according to the Agriculture Department. Not surprisingly, we are fatter and unhealthier.

Notice how Ornish lumps added fat, sugar and meat together, attempting to paint them as members of the same murderous gang. It’s a bit like stating that the trio of Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and Mother Teresa were responsible for more than 50 brutal murders. That’s technically true, but Mother Teresa’s share of the carnage was zero.

But what about that increase in added fat? Did we become fatter and unhealthier by consuming more butter and lard?

Dr. Mike Eades delved into Ornish’s creative uses of food-consumption statistics in a recent post. It’s worth reading the entire post, but here’s the bottom line:

The added fats are mostly vegetable oils – the exact type the vegetarian zealots insist are better for us than animal fats. Ornish reached way back to 1950 to grab figures on meat consumption so he could make a dramatic comparison with today and thus blame meat for obesity rates that began rising … wait for it … 30 years later. Let’s back up instead to 1970, when Americans were still lean on average and not suffering from record rates of diabetes.

Meat consumption rose by 13 percent from 1970 to 2005, but mainly because we eat a lot more chicken. During that same timespan, red meat consumption dropped by 22%, egg consumption dropped by 17%, and dairy consumption dropped a wee bit. Meanwhile, grain consumption increased by 45%.

Keep those figures in mind as we continue quoting Dr. Ornish.

The debate is not as simple as low-fat versus low-carb. 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.

Dr. Ornish includes a link that goes to a study I already analyzed in this post. It’s another one of those number-crunching analyses of two lousy observational studies based on food questionnaires. Other analyses of the same parent studies (The Health Professionals Follow-up Study and the Nurses’ Health Study) have consistently shown that the participants who ate the most meat and eggs were also more likely to smoke, to drink, to be overweight, etc. In other words, we’re comparing adherers vs. non-adherers, not the effects of any one food.

But since Dr. Ornish apparently believes observational studies are rock-solid evidence, perhaps he can explain these results from a study of the Japanese elderly:

  • Nutrient intakes in 94 Japanese centenarians investigated between 1972 and 1973 showed a higher proportion of animal protein to total proteins than in contemporary average Japanese.
  • High intakes of milk and fats and oils had favorable effects on 10-year (1976-1986) survivorship in 422 urban residents aged 69-71.
  • The survivors revealed a longitudinal increase in intakes of animal foods such as eggs, milk, fish and meat over the 10 years.

I guess animal foods will kill you unless you’re Japanese, in which case they extend your life.

Back to Dr. Ornish:

Heavy consumption of saturated fat and trans fats may double the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Once again, notice how he lumps trans fats and saturated fats together. The vegetarian and vegan zealots do that all the time – well, at least now that they’ve admitted trans fats are bad. Back in the 1980s, The Guy From CSPI was pushing trans fats as a safe alternative to animal fats.  Point is, trans fats and saturated fats have very different effects on your health – which Dr. Ornish chooses to ignore.

A study published last March found a 75 percent increase in premature deaths from all causes, and 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.

Dr. Ornish forgot to mention a couple a couple of facts about that study:

  • It’s yet another observational study based on food questionnaires and is therefore nearly worthless.
  • Data from the same study showed that heavy consumers of animal proteins over the age of 65 had lower mortality and lower rates of heart disease and cancer, not higher.

So if this observational study actually tells us something about the health effects of animal protein (which it doesn’t), we’d have to conclude that meat will kill you until you turn 65, but after age 65 it will save your life.

Back to the good doctor:

Low-carb, high-animal-protein diets promote heart disease via mechanisms other than just their effects on cholesterol levels. Arterial blockages may be caused by animal-protein-induced elevations in free fatty acids and insulin levels and decreased production of endothelial progenitor cells (which help keep arteries clean). Egg yolks and red meat appear to significantly increase the risk of coronary heart disease and cancer due to increased production of trimethylamine N-oxide, or TMAO, a metabolite of meat and egg yolks linked to the clogging of arteries. (Egg whites have neither cholesterol nor TMAO.)

Ornish linked to a study to support that paragraph, so I checked it out. Here’s the abstract:

Mice that were fed a high-fat, high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet were found to have atherosclerosis that was not associated with traditional cardiovascular risk factors.

So I’m going to suggest you avoid (especially if you’re a mouse) the “Atkins Diet” version of laboratory rodent chow, which is a mix of corn starch, sugar, casein, and various fats including soybean oil, corn oil and Crisco.

Animal protein increases IGF-1, an insulin-like growth hormone, and chronic inflammation, an underlying factor in many chronic diseases. Also, red meat is high in Neu5Gc, a tumor-forming sugar that is linked to chronic inflammation and an increased risk of cancer. A plant-based diet may prolong life by blocking the mTOR protein, which is linked to aging.

To support those claims, Ornish referred to another mouse study and the observational study that showed a statistical link between meat and higher mortality up to age 65, but lower mortality after age 65. Since most of us will live to be 65 anyway, I think we can stop worrying about the meat.  Eat it now, and after celebrating your 65th birthday, start eating even more of it.

Are you recognizing the Ornish method of persuasion by now? He’s like the Wizard of Oz, blowing a lot of smoke and bellowing loudly, but really hoping you don’t look behind that curtain. A quick reference to a mouse study (which he doesn’t identify as a mouse study), a quick reference to an observational study (citing one result but skipping the result he doesn’t want you to see), a quick conflation of trans fats and animal fats, and VOILA! – you’ve almost got an argument against eating animal foods.

Ornish continues:

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.

Hmmm … let’s rewrite that paragraph to reflect the actual evidence:

An optimal diet for preventing disease is a whole-foods diet that is naturally low in harmful fats and refined carbohydrates. What that means in practice is meat, eggs, vegetables, fruits and nuts, but little or no whole grains or soy products; very few simple and refined carbohydrates such as sugar and white flour; and sufficient “good fats” such as fish oil, natural animal fats, seeds and nuts. A healthful diet should be low in “bad fats,” meaning trans fats, processed vegetable oils, seed oils, and hydrogenated fats. Aim for quality, and you’ll probably find the quantity takes care of itself.

I didn’t bother to read all the comments on Ornish’s article, but I did come across this one:

So far, 331 comments posted. About 88% either disagree or have a different view than the author. I suppose if you agree with him, then you may not comment. But it is obvious the author is not connecting to his audience. I suspect he is not much different than other vegans I have met: for him, diet is a religion and he cherry picks the science.

Sorry, Dr. Ornish, but the jig is up. People aren’t buying these weak arguments of yours anymore. You can keep bellowing away about the hazards of animal foods, but it’s the information age now and the crowd knows better – and the crowd is loud.

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Chareva’s spring project is a labor of love, but it’s also quickly becoming a labor of necessity.  When her flock of 26 (surviving) chicks arrived a few weeks ago, they were itty-bitty things — like these recently-arrived chicks Alana will be raising for a 4-H project:

Chareva’s chicks have already grown to look like this:

It’s so crowded in that trough, they’re probably wondering if they’re on the New York City subway.  I believe I saw one of them scrawling graffiti on the walls.  They need to get outside, and soon.

Trouble is, the raccoons and possums are already outside.  We can’t move the chicks out there until they have a secure place to live.  So we’ve been out there for long days, trying to get the first of the two chicken yards finished.

We’re making good progress.  At the end of last weekend, the chicken yard looked like this:

Now it looks like this:

Not done, but getting there.

The biggest pain in constructing a chicken yard is stretching the wire fencing between the posts.  The stuff arrives in big rolls, and when you unravel it, it desperately wants to roll itself up again.  Add in the fact that our land is hilly, with the angle of the hill seeming to change every few feet or so, and stretching the fencing tight across the posts and close to the ground is a wee bit of a challenge.

We made the job a bit easier by buying a fence stretcher.  Fence stretcher … sounds like a cool contraption, eh?  Something with levers and gears?  Nope.  It’s basically a 2 x 4 hunk of wood with two handles and a metal bar that clamps to the fencing.

Tighten down the metal bar, grab the handles and pull for all you’re worth.  Then crouch there in that awkward position while your wife uses zip-ties to strap the sort-of-tight fence to the t-posts.  Be patient.  She’s going as fast as she can.

Those aren’t the exact directions, but they should be.

The zip-ties are a temporary measure.  Once each section of fence is in place, we use metal clamps that hook to the fence, bend around the t-post, then wrap around the fence on the other side of the post.  The chicken yards may become corrals for larger animals someday, so we attached four clamps to each pole.

Even with a properly-stretched fence, we ended up with gaps at the bottom here and there because of the dips in our land.  Chickens won’t try to push under the gaps, but (as we learned the hard way with our chickens in the front pasture) a hungry raccoon or possum will.

If we don’t fix the gaps, we may as well ring the raccoon dinner bell.  So Chareva will attach heavy-gauge chicken wire all the way around, then bend it out along the ground and attach it with garden stakes.

That protects against predators taking the low road.  We also have to protect against predators that would climb over the fence and hawks that would swoop down for a chicken dinner to go.  Last year we covered the front chicken yard with a big ol’ net that’s done the job quite nicely.  We’re going to cover both of the new chicken yards with the same size and brand of net.

The one thing neither of us likes about using nets is having to bend over to walk beneath them.  We elevated the net in the front pasture by using the barn as a tent-pole, but we still have to do the deep-bend move to get under the gate.  I wondered aloud if there was some way to construct a human-sized entryway to the new chicken yards.  After we kicked around a couple of ideas, Chareva remembered we have this thing:

That’s a dog kennel that’s been sitting in our front yard for years, serving no purpose whatsoever.  Notice the human-sized doors.  Instead of just using those, I suggested we take the whole thing apart and use it as fencing on the uphill side of both chicken yards.  That would raise the net nice and high on one side at least.

Chareva agreed, but reminded me she helped a renovation crew-member move the dog kennel three years ago.  Those panels are really heavy and will be difficult to carry up the steep hill, she warned me.

Nope.  Not light, but not all that heavy either.  As we trudged them uphill, she kept saying she could swear they used to be heavier.  It occurred to her that she’s done three years’ worth of farm work since moving them the first time.  She’s probably stronger now than she’s ever been in her life.

Anyway, re-purposing the dog kennel was the perfect solution.  Each chicken yard now has a tall door on the high side of the hill, and with the panels all bolted together, they make for a sturdy fence.  I had to pull up several t-posts I’d pounded in last week and re-position them against the poles in the panels, but it was worth the effort.

Unfortunately, when I bolted together the last panel at the far end (the other chicken yard we’ll finish later), I had a major brain-fart:  I saw a four-foot gap between the end of the panel and the line of t-posts I’d pounded in last week.  Rats, I said to myself, these don’t line up. We must have measured something incorrectly.  So I pulled up several posts, tied a string from the panel downhill to the corner post, and pounded in the posts along the string.

If you take a peek at Chareva’s plans, you’ll recognize my mistake.  I added a red line where I re-positioned the posts.

Whoops.  Hours later, Chareva informed me  the “gap” was intentional.  That’s the opening for the “Flock A” chicken moat that will extend around the future garden.  So when we get around to that chicken yard, I get to pull the posts again and pound them in for the third time.  I’ve mentioned that pounding posts is a great workout for the triceps.  If I keep goofing up like this, I’ll have triceps bigger than my thighs.

The hoop houses will be made from cattle panels bent into a U-shape and covered with vinyl.  New vinyl that’s sufficiently thick is expensive, but Chareva found a deal on some that were previously used for highway billboards.  (I was hoping one of them would have a BETTER CALL SAUL ad on it, but no luck.)  She has the first hoop house almost ready to go.

We need to close off the chicken moats at night so predators don’t climb the garden fences and sneak into the chicken yards through the moats.  We also need the nets to be secured to the fence all the way around.

Obviously, we can’t attach the nets to the gates that open the chicken moats.  So we attached a bit of fencing over the entryway to the moat.  The gate will close against the bottom of the fencing, and the net will be attached to the top.

I may also string a little barbed wire in between to discourage raccoons from trying to push between the strip of fencing and the top the of the gate.  Raccoons are determined little critters.

When Chareva and I unrolled and positioned the giant net over the chicken yard in the front pasture last year, we had so much fun it nearly ended in divorce.  Well, okay, it wasn’t that bad, but it was frustrating.  We couldn’t quite figure out how to unroll the thing at first, plus it kept getting snagged on the barn.

We remembered the lessons from that experience.  This time Chareva put a tarp over the metal snaggy bits on the hoop house, and we were able to unroll and position the net pretty quickly.

The net is where it needs to be now, but loose.  Later this week we need to tie it down to the top of the fencing on all four sides.  Then we’ll sink some poles into the ground to provide elevation on the low side of the hill.  Ideally, we’ll be able to walk around most of the chicken yard without ducking under the net.

When all that’s done and the hoop house is finished, we can finally get the chicks out of their subway car.

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