Starting Strength Coach and Doctor of Physical Therapy Will Morris introduces pain science during a lecture at the Nutrition and Rehab Camp held at WFAC in October 2019.
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I was intrigued at the above video which chronicles the advent and popularity of plant-based milk products like Almond Milk and at the same time the decline in the consumption of real milk. Milk and wine were both described as a healthy part of a normal diet at one point. So what happened? It’s a little bit of Deja Vu.
What Do Milk and Wine Have in Common?
We’re not talking about alcohol here. We are talking about milk! Apple pie. Americana. Wholesome food.
Today the total volume of all types of milk sold, the price of milk, and the number of dairies are all in decline because of various negative scientific studies. That’s not what I envision or hope for the wine industry.
So how did milk’s star fall over the past 75 years and more recently, how did soy, rice, coconut, almond, and oat milk become such strong and growing substitutes? The CBS program in the lead video notes how the plant-based milk craze started. It all started with our changed view of fat.
Fat, just like alcohol today was at one-time cast as the villain with respect to health outcomes. Was it accurate?
While that view turned out to be flawed inevitably, the account caught on in the press and drove people to consume more lean meats like chicken and fish, eat margarine instead of butter, limit the consumption of cheese, and seek out low and fat-free foods.
The dairy industry adapted. If fat is bad for you, let’s sell more “skim milk” but change the name to “fat-free” milk and emphasize the evolving consumer trend away from fat. That was followed by extensions in low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt, ice cream, and cottage cheese.
At the same time, the broader food industry jumped on the consumer trend by creating fat-free cheese and different varieties of processed snacks and convenience foods, using hydrogenated vegetable fat instead of animal fat and using more sugar in the formulas.
And what was the result of all that science that ran down the health impact of eggs, red meat, cereal, wine, and milk? Today we have the highest level of obesity – EVER as noted in nearby chart.
Consider how quickly the impact of positive health information contributed to the consumer changing back to real fatty butter and whole milk.
The New Milk Threat
The combination of sustainability and the lingering questions about the value of red meat in a healthy diet lead many people to make the personal choice to move away from meat and adopt more plant-based diets including plant-based ‘milk.’ That seems to be the current health craze.
Interestingly, as the above video notes, much of the plant-based milk has additives, trace chemicals from processing, sugars, stabilizers, and even hydrogenated fat. It’s processed food and the science isn’t in on the health benefits and risks yet, but the tale that comes through today is plant-based milk is healthy and sales are soaring.
The story of milk’s decline reminds me of wine, which has gone from being part of a healthy lifestyle under USDA guidelines to now being viewed as unhealthy and like red meat, linked to very slight increases in some cancers in studies.
How Did Wine Become Unhealthy?
In much the same way as milk and red meat lost demand with the consumer, wine is losing today in the popular narrative because of negative studies that often start with an agenda to reduce consumption.
At one point in the 90s and early 2000s, science and the public narrative had wine as a HEALTHY component of life, possessing a positive impact on coronary heart disease and stroke.
Left alone, that statement would have found agreement even from alcohol producers. We all recognize the negative effects of alcohol abuse and all want to limit those harmful effects. But reducing harmful effects wasn’t the outcome and perhaps was never the purpose.
After demonization, they then drafted policies such as calling for higher taxes, requiring labels to be placed on wine reflecting the WHO cancer findings, and “enacting and enforcing bans or comprehensive restrictions on exposure to alcohol advertising across multiple types of media, and enacting and enforcing restrictions on the physical availability of retailed alcohol.” (Global Status Report 2018, p 15)
The real goal of the WHO is the reduction in worldwide consumption of alcohol. They don’t distinguish between healthy consumption or unhealthy consumption patterns. They don’t care about the science that shows moderate consumption adds to positive health and life outcomes.
Wine’s Response to the Negative Health Message
How has the wine industry responded to the overt threat that is leading to declining growth rates?
The wine industry is content thus far to talk about hospitality, the user experience, long days and cool nights, and how special our soils are. Maybe that’s enough?
What’s Your Opinion?
- What should the wine industry do about this issue?
- Can we learn anything from what the Milk Industry has done?
Please join this site on the top right-hand side of the page, and offer your thoughts below. I respond to everyone.
Please share this post on your favorite social media platform.
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We have all heard our training partners tell us to “get mad at the bar” when egging us on to make ever-bigger lifts. It works. Indeed, in order to get the most out of ourselves physically, we must get our state of arousal to an ideal level. But what is that ideal level? How does our arousal level affect our performance? Well, in the grand tradition of my old economics professors, I will try to explain this graphically.
Many of us have encountered the “inverted U” graph (psychology students, but not economics ones, I suspect). As can be seen from the graph, there is an optimum level of arousal zone. This will be at the top of the “U,” give or take a standard deviation.
Too low and we won’t get the most out of ourselves (down at the left fork of the “U”). Too high and we start making mistakes (right fork). Like Goldilocks, we want something that is just right.
But it is not all as simple as “get mad and win!” That is why we have two functions showing. Different sports will have somewhat different graphs, although all will have that basic “U” shape. Why do they differ?
The general rule is the more complex the activity, the lower the required arousal level. By “complex” we can include the level of cognitive activity as well as the physical. Those in shooting sports have to keep their excitement in check since precision is everything.
This can be seen with the blue “U.” Simpler movements can tolerate higher arousal levels. Powerlifters and football linemen want very high levels since the strength levels are high and the movements not usually too precise. They can go all out and still be effective. (Red “U.”)
Those are the extremes. Other sports fall somewhere in between these two. Some will have higher or lower summits and they will also be narrower or wider at their bases. Olympic lifting will be skewed somewhat leftwards of the red “U” but not as far left as the blue “U,” since the technique needed will be easier if the lifter keeps his cool.
CrossFitters doing high rep Olympic lifts have a somewhat different scenario. The intensities must be lower so one may think that arousal will not be so important. And indeed it isn’t in the early reps.
But as the reps accumulate arousal needs to increase, because the actual perceived intensity rises with each rep. By the time the last rep is attempted it feels like a 100-percenter, so the CrossFit lifter must get as engaged as if he were in a regular Olympic meet.
Now, for those who prefer stories to graphs, I will relate what happened to one lifter I knew some years ago. I was asked to critique this athlete’s lifts just before she was to enter her first powerlifting meet.
Since she was making little progress she thought her technique must be at fault. She was quite inexperienced in lifting and had no serious coaching, as would become obvious. I asked her to show me each lift and then I would tell her what she needed. I will just relate her bench press for the purposes of this article.
She got down onto the bench and did a few warm-ups with just the bar. She soon was up to 120 lb, which she told me was only ten pounds away from her personal record (PR). The technique was okay for a beginner. She lowered the bar with little eccentric action and then pressed it all the way up but with hardly a breath.
She was quite satisfied coming so close to her PR and not feeling it. I told her that was her problem. She was puzzled since she thought that a near PR going up with no excitement was what one should aim for. I then told her to put 130 on. Well, that stopped her. She half-heartedly tried to press it out, all from a slack base.
I grabbed the bar and re-racked it for her, as she got very mad at herself for failing. She didn’t think she would ever set another PR. I let her go on a bit and then told her she would set it today. She responded that would be nice, but didn’t I just see her miserable attempt at 130?
I replied that if she tried to lift in the same way she would indeed miss it again. But I did not intend to have her lift it the same way. I told her about arousal levels and how they have to be high in the power lifts.
The first thing she had to do was get her hands on the bar, her body on the bench, and her feet on the ground and keep them there. The second thing she needed was to “charge” up her arousal level. To do that she had to breathe in a couple of times and then hold her chest with the Valsalva maneuver. Thirdly, she had to get mad at the bar. I asked her what could get her angry.
She said, “Not much, I’m quite laid back most of the time.” I could then see part of the problem. She was not used to raising her arousal level. I asked her again to try to think of something that would get her going. Finally, she said that someone saying she “does such-and-such like a girl,” meaning wimpy, that got her going. She took up lifting in order to change her self-image so “lifting like a girl” was a real insult to her.
Taking the bull by the horns, I told her to put 135 on and get on the bench. Then she could tighten up her contacts and I’d un-rack it for her. Just as I got it off the racks and she lowered it, I told her not to lift it like a girl – as she did on the 130. Well, it did a touch-and-go on her chest and up it went. New PR!
“Why did you say that when I already told you I didn’t like it?” She demanded. I just pointed to the bar, now back in the racks. “That’s why. You got so mad you lifted it much easier than your 120,” I answered.
She came back to Earth and realized what had occurred. I told her she needed to get her arousal level up in order to get the most number of muscle fibers to fire together. Not only that, the pain of effort is not even noticed when fully aroused.
She had indeed noticed that. She was not accustomed to making limit efforts, in lifting or elsewhere, so she experienced that as pain and always held back. I told her the pain is really just the feel of hard work.
Get over that fear and the sky is the limit. So get on the platform and get mad at that bar!
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For decades, salt has served one purpose and one purpose only behind the bar: to rim the glass of a cocktail. Stored in a small salt shaker with a piece of rice, a cardboard box with a metal pour spout, or a rimming tray soaked with lime juice, it was most commonly used to rim either a margarita or a Salty Dog.
Now bartenders and beverage managers are using salt beyond its once utilitarian function and exploring its myriad varieties—from artisanal salts that exhibit terroir, to flavored salts made by traditional processes or by enterprising new bartenders.
The author and entrepreneur Mark Bitterman, an expert on salt based in Portland, Oregon, applauds the use of it in cocktails but argues that the first thing to ask before adding it to a drink is, “Do we even know what salt is?”
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What Is Salt?
Salt is sodium chloride (NaCl), or the mineral halite, a combination of sodium and chlorine. To geophysicist Mika McKinnon, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia, based in Vancouver, halite is one of the “good flavored minerals” and the second most edible (the first being ice).
Salt is found all over the world, in water bodies or formed by water’s evaporation at “any coastline, desert, or lake, or where there used to be coastlines, deserts, and lakes,” says McKinnon. To extract the salt, it’s mined or harvested from the water through boiling or solar evaporation.
The West Virginia artisanal salt producer J.Q. Dickinson, dries its salts—sourced from an ancient aquifer below the Appalachian Mountains—in sun houses, letting water further evaporate and the salts crystalize. The entire process takes six weeks from source to jar, according to the company’s cofounder Nancy Bruns.
How bartenders use sugar in mixed drinks—and what researchers say about our perception of sweetness
Bruns believes her salt is unique and “not a shy salt. It finishes with a little sweetness, very round and full-flavored.” That roundness comes from minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium, which attach to the salt. “Technically, the brine runs through rock formations,” Bruns adds, “picking up all those different minerals”—about 6 percent trace minerals are added to her salt in this manner. Those trace minerals contribute not only roundness and sweetness, Bruns says, but a distinct brininess and sweet citrus note.
Depending on a salt’s geographic location, its mineral content could run much higher. Bitterman describes Haleakala Ruby coarse Hawaiian sea salt—sold through his Bitterman Salt Co.—as having as much as 16 percent trace minerals, compared with less than 1 percent in kosher salt. To Bitterman, trace minerals equal flavor—he describes the Haleakala Ruby as “a big, fat, luscious salt. If you put that in something, you’ll know it.”
Shannon Mustipher, a bartender and the author of Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails, believes there is a salt for every drink.
Her method of finding that salt has to do with where the salt and the drinks come from. She argues that “if it grows together, it goes together” and tries to pair spirits and beverages with salts from the same region, or incorporating ideas from the region’s cuisines. “I use various salts, depending on the end in mind,” she says. “For tropical cocktails, I have a tendency toward pink Himalayan. Cocktails involving gin or aquavit are great with lava- and ash-based salts. [I use] Maldon and flaky sea salts for martinis.”
Flavored salts are made and used within specific cultures or crafted by chefs and bartenders themselves. “There are all sorts of cultural practices,” says McKinnon. “You take a salt and bake it; you blend it with other materials. [Or] you mix it with activated charcoal. You [can] shove it in with clay inside bamboo and [place] temperature controls on it [i.e., when baked at 1,500 degrees Celsius, it’s considered purple bamboo salt]. All of those [methods] can modify the structure of salt or coat it with other materials,” which contributes to both its flavor and texture.
Some examples of such flavored salts are kala namak, a sulfurous Indian black salt baked with charcoal and spices, and sal de gusano, a Mexican salt mixed with chiles and worm larvae. There are many ways to flavor salt, including smoking, baking, and aging, or by adding herbs, activated charcoal, fruit, or pepper.
Mike Di Tota, the corporate beverage director of Corner Table Restaurants, uses a variety of flavored salts; one of his favorites, Tajín, is a mixture of salt, chiles, and lime juice from Mexico. He adds it to the rim of a hibiscus-infused tequila-and-watermelon margarita. “Not only do you have this beautiful crimson, ruby red drink,” he says, “but you have this really cool, flashy red salted rim.”
Di Tota also loves smoked salts, using a pinch of it in a cordial he makes with grapefruit and black cardamom—he combines that cordial in a drink with a smoked-salt rim, doubling the drink’s overall salinity.
Experimenting with Salt
According to Gary Beauchamp, Ph.D., a flavor scientist at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, salt doesn’t just add flavor—it suppresses bitterness. “The sodium will reduce the intensity of bitterness,” he says, “[and] since the bitterness actually [suppresses] the sweetness, by adding salt you’ll enhance sweetness, suppressing the suppressor.”
In addition to the traditional salt rims, bartenders and beverage managers are adding salt directly to drinks, making a salt tincture, or creating salt foam. Each method yields distinctive results.
Miguel Lancha, the cocktail innovator at chef José Andrés’s Think Food Group in Washington, D.C., uses various methods to add salt to drinks but is best known for using “salt air.” “[It’s] an emulsion made with water, lime juice, kosher salt, and Sucro [an emulsifier used in modernist cuisine],” he says. The cloudlike foam is scooped onto the surface of a straight-up margarita, contributing both salty flavor and texture to the drink.
Lancha also uses a saline formula with a water-to-salt ratio of 4 to 1. When using this salt tincture, Lancha adds “anywhere between two and six hits [or 1/2 to 1 1/2 dashes] to a drink, although most times, three to four hits gets me to the drink’s bliss point.”
Bartenders can also add salt directly to a cocktail. In each case, Mustipher believes that the addition of salt to a drink affects its texture, saying, “Salt can add body, weight, and mouthfeel to a cocktail.”
With the vast array of choices—and the various functions that salt might serve—salt is ripe for experimentation beyond the same table salt behind the bar and the same two drinks. Bitterman suggests that bartenders should “go buy three or four good mineral-rich salts, buy three or four good rimming salts … and play.” With that variety, Bitterman believes, “you can accomplish all kinds of cool things, and frankly, it’s fun.”
Derek Brown is an expert on spirits and cocktails who is based in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Spirits, Sugar, Water, Bitters: How the Cocktail Conquered the World. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ideasimprove.
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Here’s what to do during and immediately after your workout so you come back stronger tomorrow!
Research says that napping can lead to a brain boost during the day, reports the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
University of California-Riverside psychologist Sara Mednick found way back in 2003 that people do better with a visual learning task after they’ve had a good night’s sleep, and not right after they learn it. Mednick also determined that the same test advantage occurred after a 60-90 minute nap.
“What’s amazing is that in a 90-minute nap, you can get the same [learning] benefits as an eight-hour sleep period,” Mednick told the American Psychological Association. “And actually, the nap is having an additive benefit on top of a good night of sleep.”
A more recent study from University of Michigan doctoral student Jennifer Goldschmied and colleagues showed that people who got a 60-minute nap in the middle of the day helped them cope better with difficult people, an effect scientifically described as a boosted tolerance for frustration.
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Although color is obviously the first thing one sees when encountering a wine, this visual aspect is the least important thing to consider when enjoying a glass of wine. However, there is much more to wine color than meets the eye.
For the grapevine itself, berry color is largely responsible for grapevines’ ability to survive the throes of evolution. In red wine, color is a major factor in determining its mouthfeel and ageability. By considering how color functions in wine throughout the winemaking process, producers can make choices that determine its stability, mouthfeel, and longevity.
How Grapes Use Color to Survive and Thrive
Plants use color in a variety of ways. In some, tender, emerging leaves start off bright red to appear inedible to herbivores, or to act as a sun protectant, with leaves changing to green as they thicken and become less vulnerable.
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In grape berries, color is used in the opposite fashion: to beckon animals to eat them. Grapes do not begin to turn red until the seeds are viable; color is used as a signal to attract fauna to eat the fruit and seeds, which are then digested. In this way, the seeds—and therefore the plant’s genes—are dispersed over a much larger territory than the vine itself would be capable.
White grapes rarely occur in nature, requiring two distinct mutations. Lacking color—and thus the ability to attract dispersers of their seeds—puts white grapes at a significant evolutionary disadvantage. They have humankind to thank for their current widespread existence; most researchers and wine historians believe that all cultivated white vinifera varieties can be traced back to a single ancestor vine that was lucky enough to be noticed by a human.
How Anthocyanins and Skin Thickness Affect Grape Color
Plants use a variety of pigments for coloration (for example, carotenoids, chlorophyll, and betalains), but in grapes, it is the versatile anthocyanin that dominates. Anthocyanins are phenolic compounds that are structurally similar to tannins, and as many as 20 types can be found among vinifera grapes. The pigment can express itself in a number of hues, depending on the specific type and the pH of the surrounding tissue. The lower the pH, the further the color shifts toward the red end of the visible light spectrum; the higher it is, the more the hue tends toward the blue end.
Anthocyanin concentration also affect mouthfeel and can actually mean longer life for a wine, giving it more time to slowly unfold and reveal its potential. Different grape varieties and clones have differing types of anthocyanins and skin thicknesses, which affect coloration. Skin thickness is also an important factor in determining tannin concentration in grapes.
Soil that’s particularly high in calcium—such as limestone—results in thicker skins, providing sturdier structure to the grape, but climate can affect grape color, too. “In hot climates or years, grapes develop too quickly, and skins are thinner,” says Robert Jordan, the owner of Grand Crew Vineyard Management in Napa, California. “When you have thin skins, you have less color.”
Like most aspects of winemaking, the work done in the vineyard is critical, and this includes protecting a grape’s color. “Color where grapes are sunburned is not extractable,” says Jordan. “When de-leafing, it’s important to do so early during grape development, which results in the grapes accumulating the necessary amount of phenolics for protection. Leafing later in the season, post-veraison, can result in sunburn, as the grapes have not built up their natural sunscreen.”
Color During Fermentation
During winemaking, color begins extracting immediately upon crushing—color is soluble in must at lower temperatures. Color extraction reaches its greatest concentration within five to eight days of maceration. There is always a slight decline in color concentration after this zenith. Whole-cluster fermentations lose even more color, as stems absorb a significant amount of color molecules—wines that see stem inclusion often have a lower color density. Lees, too, absorb and break down color.
Color concentration reaches its maximum during fermentation regardless of punchdown frequency, fermentation temperature, and enzyme use. Because color extraction reaches a ceiling—regardless of standard winemaking practices—it can only be improved with techniques that increase copigmentation cofactors. Also simply called “cofactors,” these are monomeric phenolic compounds (such as quercetin and gallic acid) that temporarily bond with anthocyanins during extraction, making them available for later polymerization.
How Anthocyanins Can Affect a Wine’s Flavor and Texture
Shorter and more abundant tannin and color polymers may lead to greater reductive strength. Although it’s a relatively new area of interest for winemakers, a wine’s reductive strength—its antioxidant capacity, or ability to absorb oxygen without oxidizing—is proving to be critical in determining its longevity.
“Tannins polymerize and grow larger until they are capped on both ends by a color molecule, which stops growth,” says Bruce Zoecklein, PhD, a professor of enology at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg who studies this phenomenon. “A higher ratio of color to tannin means shorter polymers and may lead to greater reductive strength [and thus the ability to absorb oxygen over time without oxidizing]. Tannin-anthocyanin polymerization in wine is facilitated by oxygen during the early life of a wine.”
To put it simply, color is preserved and retained in wine by bonding with tannins, and vice versa. Shorter anthocyanin-tannin polymers also result in a softer mouthfeel. Long tannin chains, which can result from a low ratio of anthocyanins to tannins or when polymerization occurs in the absence of oxygen, typically result in a higher degree of astringency.
As understanding of the importance of anthocyanins increases, there is renewed interest in anthocyanin concentration as a factor in determining pick time. Anthocyanin accumulation plateaus at a certain point during ripening. Traditionally, concentrations of anthocyanins could not be easily measured by winemakers, but new technologies are changing that. Zoecklein believes that in the future, “harvest decisions may be made based on monitoring vine hormone concentrations or balances, such as that of abscisic acid, by which it may be possible to determine peak concentration of selective grape components, such as anthocyanin concentration, as well as extractability.”
Increased Reductive Strength Can Lead to Longer-lived Wines
Zoecklein notes that winemakers are in the early stages of understanding these phenomena. Although he believes the future of efforts to maximize reductive strength in wines may be in the vineyard rather than the winery, there are two technologies that winemakers can use to help ensure early polymerization to maximize reductive strength: microoxygenation during and/or immediately following alcoholic fermentation (known as phase one microoxygenation), and exposing wines to increased temperatures post-fermentation. With the focus these days on low intervention and “natural” winemaking, wine technologies are often considered taboo, but practices such as these are simply ways to give a wine a bit more oxygen than a barrel happens to provide—not heavy-handed manipulation.
“How can I ensure with each vintage that I am crafting wines with long life spans and the ability to age and evolve?” says Massimo DeVellis, a winemaker based on Long Island, New York, and the founder of soon-to-launch Vinicola Insieme. DeVellis not only makes use of microoxygenation for certain wines, he also occasionally coferments or uses oak adjuncts to increase the available anthocyanin-to-tannin ratio, as “you can’t stabilize what you don’t have.”
DeVellis’s interest in these techniques stemmed from his noticing that the wines he’d made that lived the longest—as well as older Bordeaux he tasted that aged especially well—precipitated the least color in bottle. “Color stabilization became one of the most important aspects to me during fermentation and cellaring,” he says. “When color precipitates, a wine’s life can be cut short, and you don’t actually get to see everything it’s capable of long term.”
None of this is to say that wines that have lower concentrations of color cannot age well—many of the longest-lived Pinot Noirs are light in color. Of course, there are other factors that lead to wine’s resistance to aging: acidity levels, alcohol and sugar concentration, perhaps even lees aging and minerality. However, a red wine’s reductive strength, of which color is a huge part, is an extremely important overall factor.
At the most basic level, without their red color, grapevines—and wine—may not have captured the attention of the many generations of seed dispersers that helped them survive over time. Likewise, an old, well-developed red wine may not have reached such a ripe old age with less color. By taking color into account, in both the vineyard and winery, winemakers can fine-tune their wine according to their stylistic goals, softening mouthfeel, or aiming to extend a wines life.
Alex Russan, based in Santa Barbara County, California, is the owner-winemaker of Metrick wines and Alexander Jules, his sherry label and the company through which he imports Spanish wine. He also writes about and teaches enology, viticulture, and tasting and has a background in specialty coffee, botany, and philosophy.
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All sleep aids work in essentially the same way, by boosting production of a neurotransmitter known as GABA, reports Discover.
GABA helps to quiet down the activity of neurons in our brains, and it’s an important part of our sleep cycles. Almost every drug that makes you drowsy, from barbiturates to benzos to valerian root to alcohol, utilizes this chemical. Low levels of GABA have also been linked to insomnia and anxiety.
But sleeping pills might not be the best path to a healthier relationship with sleep. As neuroscientist and “sleep diplomat” Matthew Walker explains in his 2017 bestseller Why We Sleep: “Sleeping pills do not provide natural sleep, can damage health, and increase the risk of life-threatening diseases.”
While taking drugs like Ambien may help you become unconscious, sedation is not the same as sleep. These hypnotic drugs can actually restrict the deeper brain waves produced during REM sleep, leading to grogginess and forgetfulness the following morning. Feeling sluggish the next day might lead people to consume more caffeine, making sleep difficult and perpetuating the cycle.
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Scrabbling around on hands and knees in a muddy trench surrounded by the misty mountains of mid Wales may not be everyone’s idea of a fun way to while away the last days of summer.
But Julian Pitt, a former Royal Navy sailor still traumatised by his experiences in the Falklands and Gulf wars, was delighted to be sifting soil as part of the Strata Florida abbey archaeology project in the wilds of Ceredigion.
“It’s a funny thing,” he said. “When you’re out there working, you don’t think of anything else. It completely occupies your mind. You can’t be ruminating, you can’t be thinking ahead. You’re concentrating on the present moment. For me that is brilliant, just what I need.”
The Strata Florida project is one of the most intriguing digs in the UK. For starters, the site, 16 miles inland from Aberystwyth on the edge of the Cambrian mountains, has a fascinating and colourful history.
Though it is not very well known, even in Wales, there is growing evidence that Strata Florida was central to the development of the country’s culture and language.
It features the remains of a sprawling Cistercian abbey founded in the 12th century and is the resting place both for medieval Welsh princes and possibly of the great 14th century Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilym, associations that have led to it being described as the Welsh Westminster Abbey.
Part of the Strata Florida (Latin for “Vale of Flowers”) site is managed by Cadw, the government body that looks after many historical sites across Wales, and it attracts a steady flow of visitors.
But over the last couple of decades archeologists have unearthed evidence that the site is vast, perhaps the largest Cistercian abbey in the UK, and has been a place of worship for thousands of years.
An organisation called the Strata Florida Trust has been set up to try to uncover more of the area’s amazing history and make people across Wales and further afield more aware of the site.
But the chair of the Strata Florida Trust, David Austin, who has worked on the site for decades, said there were challenges – in particular the size of the site and the shortage of field archeologists to uncover its secrets.
Rather than giving up, the trust – which is supported by the The Prince’s Foundation and the Allchurches Trust – has worked hard to recruit non-professionals to help the dig and the project’s first archaeology field school began this week.
“It’s such an important site,” said Austin. “Topographically, spiritually and intellectually it is at the heart of Wales. There is a growing understanding of the site and we have to get it out there. One of the ways of doing that is to get it to emerge out of the ground – magic it back up – and the archaeology sort of does that.”
Military veterans such as Pitt have been among the first to sign up for the summer field school at the site. Pitt said he had been unable to hold down a job for several years but being in a group was boosting his confidence and sense of self-worth. “It’s good being back working with people again,” he said.
Helping out at the school was the former marine Dickie Bennett, of Breaking Ground Heritage. He said many skills learned in the forces were transferable to the field of archaeology, such as attention to detail, the ability to work in remote areas in harsh conditions and to be part of a team.
Others who have suffered mental health issues have signed up including Brian White, a 53-year-old mature student who arrived on site with his therapeutic rabbit Pippin. “It’s wonderful to spend time with people with the same interests,” he said. “You are not judged, you just work together with all sorts of people.”
Also taking part in the first summer school include a father and daughter, husband and wife, a man on a mobility scooter and a young woman from Taiwan. It is giving people new to archaeology a taste of the subject. Jilly Dawson, 79, had wanted to be an archaeologist when she was a girl. “But nobody took the slightest notice of that wish,” she said. “I did what was expected. I got married and got a little job. It’s lovely to be here now – even if it is hard work and the weather isn’t always great.”
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For the environmentally minded carnivore, meat poses a culinary conundrum. Producing it requires a great deal of land and water resources, and ruminants such as cows and sheep are responsible for half of all greenhouse gas emissions associated with agriculture, according to the World Resources Institute.
That’s why many researchers are now calling for the world to cut back on its meat consumption. But some advocates say there is a way to eat meat that’s better for the planet and better for the animals: grass-fed beef.
But is grass-fed beef really greener than feedlot-finished beef? Let’s parse the science.
What’s the difference between grass-fed and feedlot beef?
Feedlot calves begin their lives on pasture with the cow that produced them. They’re weaned after six to nine months, then grazed a bit more on pasture. They’re then “finished” for about 120 days on high-energy corn and other grains in a feedlot, gaining weight fast and creating that fat-marbled beef that consumers like. At about 14 to 18 months of age, they are sent to slaughter. (One downside of the feedlot system, as we’ve reported, is that a diet of corn can lead to liver abscesses in cattle, which is why animals who eat it receive antibiotics as part of their feed.)
In a grass-fed and finished scenario, cattle spend their entire lives on grass. Since their feed is much lower in energy, they are sent to slaughter later — between 18 to 24 months of age, after a finishing period, still on grass, of 190 days. Their weight at slaughter averages about 1,200 pounds compared with about 1,350 pounds for feedlot animals.
What’s the environmental argument for grass-fed beef?
The grass-fed movement is based on a large idea, one known as regenerative agriculture or holistic management. It holds that grazing ruminant populations are key to a healthy ecosystem.
Think of the hordes of bison that once roamed the prairies. Their manure returned nutrients to the soil. And because these animals grazed on grass, the land didn’t have to be plowed to plant corn for feed, so deep-rooted grasses that prevent erosion flourished. Had those iconic herds still been around in the 1930s, the argument goes, they would have helped prevent the catastrophe of the Dust Bowl.
Fourth-generation Oregon rancher Cory Carman runs a 5,000-acre grass-fed beef cattle operation, where grazing is key to restoring ecosystem balance. “Agricultural livestock are this incredible tool in promoting soil health,” she says. “The longer you can manage cattle on pasture range, the more they can contribute to ecosystem regeneration.”
Returning cattle and other ruminants to the land for their entire lives can result in multiple benefits, according to organizations like the Savory Institute, including restoring soil microbial diversity, and making the land more resilient to flooding and drought. It can boost the nutrient content and flavor of livestock and plants. And because grasses trap atmospheric carbon dioxide, the grass-fed system can also help fight climate change. But it does require more land to produce the same amount of meat.
As Shauna Sadowski, head of sustainability for the natural and organic operating unit at General Mills, puts it, “Our current model is an extractive one that has left our environment in a state of degradation — eroded soil, polluted water. We have to change the entire paradigm to use natural ecological processes to gather nutrients and build the soil.”
Which type of beef has the smaller environmental footprint?
To measure the environmental impact of a farming system, scientists rely on studies known as life-cycle assessments (LCAs), which take into account resources and energy use at all stages.
A number of past studies have found lower greenhouse gas emissions associated with the feedlot system. One reason is that grass-fed cows gain weight more slowly, so they produce more methane (mostly in the form of belches) over their longer lifespans.
Paige Stanley, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, says many of these studies have prioritized efficiency — high-energy feed, smaller land footprint — as a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The larger the animal and the shorter its life, the lower its footprint. But she adds, “We’re learning that there are other dimensions: soil health, carbon and landscape health. Separating them is doing us a disservice.” She and other researchers are trying to figure out how to incorporate those factors into an LCA analysis.
Stanley co-authored a recent LCA study, led by Jason Rowntree of Michigan State University, that found carbon-trapping benefits of the grass-fed approach. Another recent LCA study, of Georgia’s holistically managed White Oak Pastures, found that the 3,200-acre farm stored enough carbon in its grasses to offset not only all of the methane emissions from its grass-fed cattle, but also much of the farm’s total emissions. (The latter study was funded by General Mills.)
Linus Blomqvist, director for conservation, food and agriculture for the Oakland, Calif.-based Breakthrough Institute, however, defends feedlot finishing, pointing out that the difference between the two systems is only the last third of the grass-fed cattle’s life. Does the extra amount of pasture time sequester so much carbon that it offsets the advantage of the feedlot? “We don’t actually have very good evidence for that,” he says.
Alison Van Eenennaam, a specialist in animal genomics and biotechnology at the University of California, Davis, says grass-fed makes more sense in a country like Australia, which has a temperate climate, large tracts of grassland and no corn belt. But in the U.S., which does have a corn belt that suffers from cold winters, she believes grain finishing is the more efficient way to produce beef.
Which brings us to our next point.
Do you know where your grass-fed beef came from?
About 75% to 80% of grass-fed beef sold in the U.S. is grown abroad, from Australia, New Zealand and parts of South America, according to a 2017 report from the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. Those countries have the advantage of “vast expanses of grassland, low-input beef that is not finished to a high level and is very inexpensive,” says Rowntree — even with the cost of shipping it halfway around the world. Most of what comes from Australia is ground beef, not steaks, because the end result of their finishing process tends to be tough.
Many U.S. customers who want to support local food are likely unaware of the foreign origin of most grass-fed beef. By law, if meat is “processed,” or passes through a USDA-inspected plant (a requirement for all imported beef), it can be labeled as a product of the U.S.
“But does it benefit the American farmer?” Rowntree asks, comparing this market to the sheep industry, “which lost out to imports from Australia and New Zealand.”
The popularity of grass-fed beef is pulling U.S.-based multinational companies into the market as well, which will drive prices down further. Meat processor JBS USA now has a grass-fed line, Tyson Foods is planning a Texas grass-fed program and earlier this year, Perdue announced it was getting into the market.
Which system is better for animal welfare?
To many grass-fed advocates, this is one of the main reasons for switching to grass-fed beef. After all, cows evolved to live this way.
“I’ve been on feedlots farms that have outstanding animal welfare, and I’ve been on small farms that would make you cringe,” Rowntree says. But he adds, “Managing cattle on pasture in a grass-finishing system to me epitomizes animal welfare.”
Nancy Matsumoto is a journalist based in Toronto and New York City who writes about sustainability, food, sake and Japanese American culture. You can read more of her work here.
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