Whole Foods to start selling ‘imperfect’ fruits and vegetables

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Why we should stop being so shallow towards our food’s appearance

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. March 17, 2016

First it was organics, now Whole Foods is aiming to make the buying and eating of “imperfect” fruits and vegetable as mainstream as drinking kombucha.

Approximately 20–40 per cent of all fruits and vegetables end up in the trash. According to Environmental Protection Agency, US consumers wasted 35 million pounds of food in 2012. There are a number of reasons why such a large quantity of food ends up in the garbage, and including the fact that supermarkets have a high standard for the produce they sell. So, like a model for a talent agent, the tomato in your supermarket must also go through an appearance assessment.

Now whether this experiment is going to work for Whole Foods and a number of other forward-thinking grocers is still up in the air. Consumers, especially consumers in developed countries, are quite fickle about what they buy. We work hard for our money, so why would we buy something of lower quality when we can have the better one for the same price?

Still, there is something heartwarming about finding a good home for these rejected fruits and vegetables. Like an orphanage for food, it’s good to know that Whole Foods is doing its part to change the superficial ideal that is ultimately harming our society. Buying “ugly” food is not a novelty, though. It’s not a freak show, it’s not for a one-time entertainment, it’s something we need to make habitual. That is where the challenge will be.

We must remember that in the end, it all just ends in the same place. Why does it matter how good an avocado looks before you mash it up into guacamole? Why does it matter how a carrot looks before you toss it in a stew? Sure, some fruit and vegetables—those you set on a platter for a house party, for example—need to look somewhat desirable, but in the end, why does it matter?

We are so shallow about fruit and vegetables, but when it comes to animals we are fine with them being unattractive. Beef, pork, and seafood are not as cute as the little potato, but many of us eat them all the same. As long as you can tell the difference between fresh and spoiled, it rarely matters how the ingredients look.

In fact, I believe we should start eliminating the idea of disgusting food from our society altogether. Our diets consist of many environmentally damaging productions. Acres of forestland are dedicated to cattle. Animals that were once in abundance, like species of salmon, are now being carefully rationed for fear of causing a greater imbalance. Yet, there is one species in the animal kingdom the Western world still finds grotesque: insects.

Like ugly fruits and vegetables, insects are often scorned for their pesky nature. We see them as many things, but nutritious is not one of them. However, many people in developing countries depend on them for survival daily.

Pushing for ugly foods to be sold is a small step, but there is a long way to go to create a sustainable world. If that is the goal, we need to change our opinions about imperfect fruits and vegetables—and soon our opinion about all things edible.

Wealth care

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Your financial well-being is as important as your physical well-being

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. January 6, 2016

You may be spending money on gym memberships, organic health food, and high-performance active wear, but, while on pace to a healthier life, you are also wasting a lot of money on items that you probably don’t need. Running is good, but running out of money is scary. Two out of three people are constantly worried about money.

While buying healthy food is an investment in your prospective health, investment in your financial future is of equal importance. You cannot always anticipate what will happen in your life and what role finance will play in the sudden shift in lifestyle. A loss of employment, an illness, or an act of God may eat away at your savings or push you into debt.

Careless spending—like poor eating habits—comes back and bites you later on in life. We are constantly warned about why we should not consume crappy food. But when it comes to how people spend their money altogether, people tend to keep comments to themselves. In this society, we aren’t really allowed to criticize other people’s spending habits. If someone wants to buy video games instead of paying rent, you can’t stop them. They’ll get evicted, but it’s still their choice. There is no visible danger zone when it comes to money in this country, because at the end of the day Canada is built so that no human being will starve. When people receive money they are free to use it however they like.

Nevertheless, if you are smart, you would treat your money the way you would treat your own body. You care for it, you utilize it when you need to, and you get it to work for you. And, over time, you strengthen it so that it can take care of itself. The same way you exercise, you must do the same with your funds.

You get physical checkups from your doctor and you heed their warnings, and you must do the same with financial advisors. You don’t need to take all of their advice, just like how you don’t need to take all of your doctor’s advice, but a different perspective, perhaps encumbering, may be refreshing.

It’s time we start putting our money where it counts. We might need to change how we see our money. It’s not the key to fulfillment, but a necessity for survival. This way, as life progresses, we’ll have enough to spend on the stuff we need and plenty left over for the stuff we want.

Rest easy

Photo via Thinkstock

Why we shouldn’t be ashamed for getting more than enough sleep

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. October 21, 2015

We all know the importance of sleep. The benefits are countless, yet still we often place shame upon ourselves for getting enough or more than enough sleep. We should feel blessed and prosperous for having an ample amount of rest each and every day. No person should feel ashamed for having too much, just like how nobody should feel ashamed for having wealth.

Now, as you can tell, I enjoy sleeping. I don’t believe there is anything better than a good night’s rest. I even dare to say that we are born to sleep, although it is challenging for some. I’m proud of my ability to sleep easily, because I know of those who are insomniacs. But just because I sleep well, many chalk it up to me being lazy. Although I can be lazy often, I believe sleep has been the secret sauce to my survival as a well-adapted human being.

All my life I have lived by the philosophy that no matter what I have to do tomorrow morning, such as an exam, long drive, or championship game, I’ll perform best after a good sleep. A UCLA research study showed that staying up all night and cramming is a waste of time and energy compared to habitual studying. While you may trick yourself into believing otherwise, staying up all night reading textbooks is undoubtedly detrimental. Sacrificing sleep means you aren’t letting your body and mind rest and heal. This can cause illnesses, forgetfulness, depression, and many, many more not-so-surprising effects. There is no pride in staying up all night, just like there shouldn’t be pride for drinking recklessly or driving quickly.

On weekends, some people like to go on long road trips or whatever. Me, I prefer to sleep in, and if I can’t do that, I’d like to take a nap. This is often frowned upon, because we live in a seize-the-day society. Any moment not spent being productive is wasted time, time that you’ll never get back. That, to me, is bullshit, and such an awful way of living. The thing about resting is that, when I am awake, I am twice as effective as I would be if I were burning oil all day, into midnight and beyond.

The ability to get sleep and sleep well should be admired and cherished. Many of us are so stressed all the time with commitments and deadlines, and the first thing we chop from our schedule is sleep. If you want to go out after work, you’ll have to lose some sleep. If you want to finish your project, have a drink with friends, and beat the next level in your video game, you’ll have to sacrifice some sleep. But what’s the point of all of that if you feel shitty all the time?

One of the seven deadly sins is sloth, the crime of indolence, apathy, and refusal to work. Somehow we’ve paired it up with the idea of having ample rest, as if rest itself is a sin. It’s not. It’s a right. It doesn’t matter if you are a single mother of three or a medical student who also works part time, you can sleep. You should.

Lend a hand and a liver

Photo of Eugene Melnyk via Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Celebrity status is fair game in organ donation

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. June 2, 2015

How can you tell whether or not the world cares for you? You know when people are willing to band together and offer a critical part of themselves to keep you alive.

When the owner of the Ottawa Senators, Eugene Melnyk, was diagnosed with liver complications and needed a new one to survive, he and his supporters reached out to the public. Crowd sourcing for an internal organ is in many ways taboo—shameless even—but realistically there is no shame in wanting to stay alive. With one in three people dying during the donor-waiting process, time was a luxury he didn’t have.

The criticism was that Melnyk used his celebrity status to leapfrog other candidates awaiting transplants. Such behaviour was unethical. But how can you blame a dying man for using what he had created his whole life—his status—to stay alive. Placed in the same life-or-death situation, you would do the same. You should do the same.

The matter was that Melnyk was never a part of the general waiting list. He created his own list from people who would have otherwise not have become donors. Five hundred people came out of the woodwork to save this man. Only one volunteer was needed, but more than 20 said they would continue the process, donating their organs to someone else in need. It was not Melnyk’s intention, but for a small moment he was able to place the spotlight on an often-forgettable circumstance.

I don’t believe any person is more deserving of life than anyone else. But if I were diagnosed with any organ complication and needed a donor, I would like to think that I would do more than wait patiently. I would pull out your liver and use it as my own if I could. I would pull out your liver and give it to someone I love if I could. We are designed to care about those who are most close to us and those who have influenced us positively. It’s not that we idolize or worship these people, it’s because they matter to us. Let it be our way of thanking them for enriching our lives.

Thinking of asking for such an important aspect of someone’s life—an organ—to stay alive really makes me rethink the way I treat those I love around me. Should I become ill, will I receive such an outpouring of love? Will 500 volunteers come forward to save me? Will they for you? Then pause, really ponder, and ask yourself: why wouldn’t they?

Scent of a woman

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Startup ‘Sweet Peach’ offers supplements to eliminate stinky vagina

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. December 2, 2014

Up-and-coming startup, Sweet Peach Probiotics recently went under scrutiny for creating a product aimed to “freshen up” women’s smelly vaginas.

Before we go and slam Sweet Peach Probiotics as some sort of sexist organization telling women that they—mostly their vaginas—stink, let’s try to understand the biological elements of smell. Things that smell bad to us humans are repulsive because they also do us harm: rotting food, faeces, and even body odour. We are taught to throw away food before it spoils, we are taught to flush the toilet after we use it, and we are taught to take daily showers and brush our teeth.

True, it’s always a sensitive matter when confronting people about their stench. Most likely, they won’t even know that they smell bad. Inherently, we learn to appreciate our own aroma, the same way we appreciate our own uniqueness. We are constructed of a billion tiny bacterial organisms that generate our distinct odour. Bacteria, as you know, is not exactly Chanel No. 5.

As a man, I would never dare order a woman to take supplements to eliminate her natural body odour—not because I’m oblivious, but because I want to continue living. Natural fragrance is a sensitive matter, and although people should be proud of how they smell, it is also important to know when “things” don’t smell right.

A vagina (like a penis and anus) resides in a region of the human body that bacteria loves. The warm, dark, and sometimes wet area, if neglected, can become a marinating pool of microorganisms that can cause infection and discomfort.

I don’t believe Sweet Peach Probiotics is a glamourous product or a female-shaming initiative. Twenty-year-old student and CEO of Sweet Peach, Audrey Hutchinson tells us that it is a product aimed to solve a complicated health issue. It’s not about rejuvenated fragrance—or making vaginas smell like peaches—it’s about restoring a woman’s body into a healthy condition. “A vagina should smell like a vagina,” Hutchinson proudly declares in an interview with Huffington Post, “and anyone who doesn’t think that doesn’t deserve to be near one.”

Men and women alike have distinctive medical problems that can be embarrassing within our society. Instead of opening up and receiving assistance, we often choose to internalize it and hope it fixes itself, while avoiding the risk of being treated like a pariah.

Drugs and supplements may be a solution, but mitigating the risk is equally as effective. We already know the solution to stinky vaginas and other stinky parts of the human body: keep the area clean, and keep anything entering the area clean.

It’s Time to be More Concerned About Our Eyes and Less About Our iPhone

If you are a hardworking technophile like me, you may want to start addressing the fact that you are working too hard, relying on too much on technology, and staring at a computer/iPhone/Kindle screen for too long.

Odds are, you’re not reading this in a paper form, but on a screen—even though this is your break from work. News, entertainment and correspondence all happen on a computer screen; there is no avoiding it today.

But just because the zeitgeist has changed, does that mean our strained eyes are doomed as well?

Computer vision syndrome has proven my mother’s worries to be accurate: I might not go blind from watching a Mad Men marathon on my iPad but exhausting my vision and causing it to labour intensively over hours of work is not healthy.

Vision loss is often associated with aging and computers screens are not linked to any permanent damages to the eyes, but Canadians are still burdened by the financial weight of vision correction. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, $2.7 billion is spent annually on vision care. There are laser-eye surgeries and “retina” displays, but I believe it won’t technology that saves our vision, but rather our own habits in areas of work, play, and sleep.

To avoid straining your eyes and exhausting your ability to work, I introduce “the three B’s” to aid you in your seeing endeavours and to keep your eyes in “peek” condition.

BLINK

It’s been proven that those staring at a computer screen for a period of time will have longer intervals between blinks. This effect will cause the eyes to feel dry and irritated. Blinking lubricates the eyes, and that is a good thing regardless of what level you’ve achieved in your mobile game or how many typos you’ve found in your Word document.

Blink regularly while working; you may need to consciously remind yourself to do so.

BRIGHTNESS

It’s a balancing act; the amount of light in a room versus the brightness of your computer screen versus the extraneous light and glare seeping in through your office, home, or coffee shop window. Having a balanced lighting can reduce the strain and fatigue your eyes feel.

You want your computer screen’s brightness to match the brightness of the room. So move away from the window when you are on your computer. Extraneous light and glare will force your eyes to work harder than they have to, thus exhausting them faster. Consider drawing the curtains at various point of the day or purchasing an anti-glare screen filter.

BREAKS AND COMFORT

Taking breaks are important because the human eye is not built to stare at a screen for many hours. Experts recommend that workers take a 20 second break every 20 minutes by staring at something 20 feet away; this is known as the 20/20/20 rule. Find an object in the distance, maybe a tree or a painting and just check up on it occasionally. Who knows? Perhaps you’ll find inspiration in it.

While you are taking these breaks, consider your comfort and make sure your working environment is as ergonomically pleasing as it can be. A few things to note are the monitor’s height and distance. The best height is five to nine inches below your horizontal line of sight. Or in another word, you should be able to look right over the screen. In regards to the distance, if you can sit back in your chair and touch the screen, you are sitting too close.

No matter how hard working you are, neglecting your health is never okay; after all, an office job can be lethal. Sometimes you’ll just need to rest, and if your friends and family can’t convince you to take a break once in awhile and get away from the screen—well, hopefully your eyes can.

The recipe for wellness

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Traditional Chinese medicine and the balance of life

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published in The Other Press. Jan. 21, 2014

I grew up with Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). My mother has always been an advocate of it. On various occasions, my house would reek of a bitter, yet familiar odour. On the kitchen stove would be a large pot of miscellaneous herbs, while my mom hovered over it performing Chinese alchemy. Hours later, after the dark tea had stewed for long enough, she would insist that I drink it because (1) it would help me see better, 2) it would give me energy, 3) it would improve my joints, or (4) because she said so. The concoction tasted awful—always—like the Orient’s version of Buckley’s. I’d be coaxed a few more times before I either downed it all or abandoned it.

Many years later I still wonder if it did me any good. Did it make me healthier? Did it really work?

The history of traditional medicine

Over 2,000 years ago, before Advil and Pepto-Bismol were available to combat headaches and upset stomachs, ancient Chinese doctors found remedies in a practice that continues to this day. To call them doctors would be incorrect, though: during the Shang Dynasty (14th–11th century BC), there weren’t any doctors, only those seeking solutions to ailments.

The Chinese saw illness as disharmony between the human form and the world around it. Instead of approaching sickness as a chemical imbalance the way Western medicine does, TCM seeks cures by looking at the functionality of the body. Inspection, auscultation, olfaction, inquiry, and palpation are the five main methods used to diagnose patients. The practitioner does not hone in on one area of the body, but rather attends to the failing functionality in relation to external elements (wind, cold, fire/heat, dampness, dryness). The human form is one entity and any deficiency pertains to the whole body, not just the stomach or the arm or the brain.

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Sweet, sweet herbs

You’ve probably passed by Chinese herbal stores at malls and China Town promenades. Odds are you haven’t had a reason to enter any of them, except to alleviate your curiosity. You’ve peered inside and seen their shelving units and jars upon jars of mystery herbs, extracts, containers of macerated remedies, and fossilized animal carcasses. Such an establishment seems pulled out of the middle ages, just leasing real estate in modern society. Although the effectiveness of herbal therapy is still relatively unproven in 2014, many people live by it.

“People choose traditional medicine because it’s the natural solution,” said Kitty Tsin, employee at the Wah Fung Medicine Company. “You can never be sure how much of what is in pills or capsules. You can’t even be sure what it is. The capsules themselves are made out of gelatine, which isn’t healthy either. The Chinese tradition is that we boil medicine every day and drink the soup as a whole family to improve health. Capsules, tablets, and pills are only meant for individuals.”

TCM comes in a wide variety. Some have little effect, and function only as delicacies. Others are rare and exotic, and have been known to enhance the immune system, in addition to aiding the sickly.

Some common medicines are ginseng (used in many forms to provide energy, reduce the risk of cancer, and even treat erectile dysfunction), sea cucumber (has a property that helps treat arthritis and high blood pressure), and fritillary bulb (can be brewed as a tea to remedy coughs).

Rarer medicine can often cost hundreds—or even thousands—of dollars, and they may be more obscure. Examples include hasma, the fallopian tubes of frogs (known to revitalize internal organs, as well as enhance complexion); and cordyceps, a highly sought-after fungus, also known as the caterpillar fungus (can reduce the effects of asthma, reduce the risk of cancer, and balance out a person’s yin and yang).

The Chinese notion regarding health is based upon the importance of illness mitigation and prevention. While Western medicine tends to focus on treatment, TCM approaches well-being as a life-long pursuit.

Hokey-Pokey

In 2010 I sprained my MCL playing hockey. It took me off the ice for six weeks and the recovery process was agonizing. I re-aggravated the injury a few more times and thought it would never heal. I went to doctors and chiropractors, and when I exhausted all my options I consulted an acupuncture therapist. I’m not going to lie, I was quite skeptical—and perhaps a bit fearful—of the process. After all, lying down in a strange room with needles and cups sticking out and sucking on me was not my ideal day.

My acupuncture practitioner, Dr. Duzy Duyong Lee, punctured a hole in my injured knee, then warmed up a glass cup and placed it over the open wound. The objective (from what I remember) was to suck the blood clot out of my knee so that the healing process could start over again. At first the procedure seemed a bit farfetched—after all, the family doctors and chiropractors merely told me to wear a brace and stay off my leg. It’s hard to say which solution cured me in the end, but now I’m walking and skating just fine.

“The skin acts as a meridian to our organs,” said Bonalife Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine Clinic’s Dr. David Kuo. “I don’t touch the organ, but I touch the meridian; I use this meridian to adjust the organ.”

Acupuncture stems from the meridian system, a technique that addresses the human’s functionality and the flow of “qi” or life-energy. Qi includes the body’s circulation, the capability of the limbs, the defence against pathogenic factors, the emission of bodily fluids (urine, sweat, blood, etc.), and the intake of nutrients (food, air, water, etc.). By recognizing the body’s stimulation points, the practitioner can effectively correct the imbalance and restore the flow.

“Every part of your body has a function,” said Dr. Kuo. “When someone coughs, it’s not a coughing problem. There is something inside that is making you uncomfortable that makes you cough. I ask my patients why they are tired. They say, ‘Oh, I’m sick,’ Why are you sick? ‘Because I have a stomachache so I cannot eat and so I’m tired.’ Western medicine hears stomachache, they give you antibiotics—sometimes it’s right—but it’s always wrong. What do antibiotics do? It makes stomachache go away, but when antibiotic goes away, the problem returns. We need to understand the problem, not just the cure.”

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The future of traditional medicine

As our technology advances, so do bacteria and viruses. Vaccines, immunizations, and hospital treatments are tackling health with science, but can they ever snuff out the holistic approach of TCM?

A recent report in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism showed that traditional medicine still has great potential in the Western world as well as the East, and it might be a solution for those with diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

Tianqi, a Chinese herbal mixture that has been shown to improve glucose levels, was the TCM up for the test. In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study, a sample of 389 people suffering from impaired glucose tolerance participated, where 198 were offered Tianqi and 191 were offered a placebo. The study showed that Tianqi reduced the risk of diabetes by 32.1 per cent. Of those in the Tianqi sample, 63.1 per cent reached normal glucose tolerance, compared to 46.6 per cent of the placebo group.

Many are starting to buy into TCM, making it a profitable market. And the modern science and medicine communities are implementing more studies to identify quality methods of treatment in relation to their own practices.

We live in a world where we are on the edge of medical breakthroughs and global pandemics. Our conditions are getting better and worse—but there is no room to panic. Instead, we should all take the time and find the necessary balance; the recipe that TCM has been cooking up for millennia.

Vaccination may be a whole other can of worms

H1N1-vaccination

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor

Formerly published by The Other Press. Jan. 14, 2014

If you have been vaccinated, you’re probably feeling pretty good about yourself. If modern medicine has taught us anything, it’s that it works 100 per cent of the time, right?

Nope. I know I’m being a bit cheeky about an important subject, but realistically, there isn’t much we can do. Sure, health is important, but can vaccines replace good habits? Nope again. Let’s not become so dependent on medicine that we forget the primary method of mitigating sickness: wash your hands, cover your mouth, and stay at home when you’re sick—everything your mom taught you.

Fine, if it makes you feel better to be vaccinated, go right ahead and get the shots, but don’t just dive headfirst, allowing someone to inject a magical elixir into your body. Understand yourself; recognize your own habits and health. If your job demands it, get the shot—be responsible, but there’s a reason shots aren’t mandatory. Health is subjective, because only you know how you feel. I’m not a doctor, but I can think for myself, and I know that while some people might need a shot to avoid the flu, others don’t.

Although the risk of flu outweighs the risk of vaccine allergies, I must still ask: what is going to protect you from the next disease? And the disease after that?

No doctor can guarantee 100 per cent that you won’t feel side effects from a “safe” vaccination. Headaches, fatigue, fever, and aching muscles are just some of the light symptoms vaccinations can cause. Yes, I know, that all seems rather minor compared to death from influenza. The 2009 pandemic was a scare, and the 2013-2014 situation is still calling a lot of attention to our health. Be aware, but don’t panic, and don’t cause other people to panic. Negativity is a poison in its own regards.

I’m not advocating that people should avoid vaccination. Medicine is good, but health is a balancing act, both physically and mentally. The more you anticipate sickness the easier it is to be subjected to the placebo effect, good or bad. So, does the vaccine even work or is it just insurance? You might think that the doctors have all the answers, but for a healthy person, they don’t have much to work with. Healthy thinking and living, to me, far outweigh the importance of getting shots. I get it, we are all busy and we need to make money, shots are the easy way to ensure healthiness. But invest in yourself longterm. Don’t allow an epidemic to force you to live better—just live better.

Shots or not, it’s always up to you. I repeat: I’m not a doctor, and I’m not you either. All I know is that health is a tricky thing and sometimes covering your ass may backfire. So relax. Just as car accidents happen every single day, so do illnesses.