יום שבת, 31 בדצמבר 2011

Take your shoes off ...

The feeling of the hot sand on the a beach on a hot summer day. The mud filling the gaps between our toes when we walk through a puddle on a rainy day in winter. The softness of an alpine meadow in spring. Barefooted we entered this world, and barefooted we shall ultimately leave it. Inbetween – we pass most of our lives with covered feet.

Running – an invitation for injuries
Running barefoot
I have always enjoyed walking barefoot. When I had to – I wore sandals, and shoes – only when I had no choice. When I walked the Israel trail with my son, as his Bar Mitzva gift, I did the whole trail in sandals, and enjoyed every minute of it. The problems started when I took up long distance running. I ran, of course, with shoes. The best that my money could buy. I aimed for a marathon, and ran ever longer distances, till I reached 36 km. Then, suddenly, with no forewarning, I experienced strong pains in my knees, which forced me to stop running for half a year. I started investigating running on a deeper level, and I understood that even though running shoes have supposedly advanced greatly – shock absorbers, midsoles, and so on – more and more runners are getting injured – up to 60 or 70%. My searches led me to ChiRunning, which appealed to me, due to my many years of practicing Tai Chi. This system is composed of many elements, but for me, the main element (as in Poserunning) is the importance of landing the the fore of the foot, somewhere between the midfoot and the front (depending on which method you follow), and not on your heel. The following year I completed my first marathon, and another 2 in the years after, perhaps due to this method.

Running and walking – ancient skills
Hiking with huarache sandals
Further on, when I learned Primitive Skills in “Shomrei Hagan”, I realized that this  is the way that Earth Cultures all over the world move. Books that have been published in recent years, such as “Born toRun”, describe the amazing abilities of American Indian tribes to run tremendous distances with ease, and to overcome the best modern runners in ultramamrathons of 160 km. On the other hand, research by anthropologists claim that humans developed as the supreme runners in Nature – when we look at long distance running. Ancient tribes would hunt deer and other animals by “persistence hunting”- running after their prey till it collapsed exhausted, after hours of running. Even today, in marathons where humans and horses compete, the humans often win.

The human foot – an engineering marvel
If we stop a moment, to inspect the human foot, we will see that it is a wonder of engineering. Hundreds of bones, ligaments and muscles compose 2 arches which absorb the forces caused by our movement, and allow us to move with ease, and without getting injured. More than 7000 nerve endings allow us to recognize the ground we step on. The principles of correct movement, and they can be learned in a couple of hours of reading or in a short course. As usual, it takes years of practice and awareness to full understand and incorporate into our lives this new method.

What will the barefoot runner wear?
Homemade moccasins
VFF - Vibram Five Fingers
One of our biggest problems in correct movement is our footware. Modern shoes, almost without exception have a heel which raises the back of our foot, and prevents us from moving correctly. Walking completely barefoot, on the other hand, is often very uncomfortable. Thorns are often widespread, as are sharp rocks, and other obstacles. Getting the foot able to cope with these can take years of practice. Indeed, sandals have been around for 40,000 years at least. As a reasonable compromise, we find a number of solutions, that protect our feet, and yet allow us to move naturally. We can sow moccasins in an hour or so from animal hide. A vegan option is wearing Huarache sandals. These can be made from a kit, using a Vibram sole, or improvised from a piece of rubber. Vibram have also developed a shoe especially for barefoot running – the Vibram Five Fingers, known as VFFs. A strange looking shoe, with separated toes, it is gaining a lot of popularity. With the increased popularity of barefoot running, other companies have developed “barefoot”, or minimak shoes, and these are now offered by most major running shoe companies, as well as some small independent manufacturers. And, most important, in the end, what matters most is not what shoe we run with, but the simple fact that we get outside, and go running or walking. I have run hundreds of kilometers in my Huaraches, as well as hiking in Ladakh (India) and in Morocco, with great pleasure.

A recipe – Date- coconut balls
When we go running or hiking we using a lot of energy. When running for an hour or longer, it is recommended that we eat a small snack every half hour or so. We can buy a commercial energy bar, but a quick glance on the wrapping will usually show us a lot of sugar and sweeteners, in various forms. I prefer to prepare something more natural, which can also be a nice offering for guests. Take note that it is quite high in fats, which are usually not recommended, but I find they work well for me.
400 gr dates (preferably soft ones, such as majhoul)
400 gr coconut flakes
½ a lemon, including the zest.

Scrape the outer skin of the lemon.
Cut the dates and the rest of the lemon, and mix all the ingredients together.
It is easiest to mix in a food processor, but it can also be done by hand.
Roll into balls about 2 cm in diameter.
The balls can be covered with coconut flakes or cacao.

יום שלישי, 27 בדצמבר 2011

Our dream house – how to turn a dream into reality

It seems that we all yearn for that dream house, a place truly of our own, the fulfilment of all our dreams, a place where we can feel safe, peaceful, content – “at home”. When we finally decide to realize our dream, we often try to include everything and anything we have ever thought of – till the dream may become a nightmare. In this post I will try to show some alternatives to conventional ways of building.

Alternative housing
The ultimate dream house?
A house – 4 walls, preferably made of concrete, windows and a door, something like the house of the third pig in the classic children’s story. That is the first thing that comes to my mind when asked to describe a house. But there are other options. In fact – these are the ways in which most of humanity has lived since the dawn of history, and further back. Let's briefly explore a few of these options.

Cave Dwellings
Cave Dwelling
We shall start with the dwelling most often associated with ancient people – the so called cavemen. Caves have always been a scarce resource, and even more so in our times. Not to mention the damp in winter. And yet, there are some lucky ones who happen to have a cave in their property, and after cleaning it and maybe plastering the walls they have a true home – especially in the hot days of summer.

Mud houses
Mud house
Another option which has a small but growing number of followers is the mud house, also known as cob houses. Even though at first it might seem that this is something which will wash away with the first rain, with the proper expertise and knowledge, these can be surprisingly comfortable and long lasting. One advantage is the good insulation, which allows one to enjoy comfortable temperatures year round, with minimal energy expenditure. A more personal advantage is the increased feeling of connection to the Earth, when living in this kind of dwelling. Mud houses can be built on your own, and there is also a growing market of professionals who specialize in mud houses.

For most of us, a tent raises memories of hiking trips, or maybe a vacation on the beach. However, in nomadic societies, such as the Mongols, or Bedouins, tents have been a way of life from times immemorial, in hot summers and cold, snowy winters. With proper insulation from the ground, good drainage around the tent, and sealing from the rains, life in a tent can be an amazing experience, with a minimal distance between ourselves and the world outside. Big windows, and an additional layer above the tent will cool the hot summer days. A wooded stove will help us in the cold winters. Most tents have a central space, perhaps divided into subspaces with cloths. However, it is possible to join together 2 or 3 tents, with connecting passages. Tents for permanent dwelling are available in a number of options. There are army surplus tents, which can be adapted for living in, Bedouin tents and yurts (Mongolian tents). Yurts come in a variety of sizes, and can be purchased or even prepared by oneself.

Wood houses
Wooden house from railway car
This is bring us closer to traditional houses. Indeed, in many parts of the world, most of the building is done with wood, even when constructing coneventional houses. A wooden house can be anything from a small hut, built of planks gathered from all over, to an extravagant mansion, as fancy as any standard house. And yet, when surrounded by wood, we get a feeling of coziness, of a greater connection to the world.

Using recycled materials
An option which is growing more widespread is the use of recycled materials for building. By this we are not only lessening the use of new resources and reducing our ecological footprint, but are also, in a small way, helping reduce the amounts of ever growing trash. We can use a variety of materials, such as worn out tires, used glass bottles, planks and so on. All that is required is a bit of imagination, and awareness. This can be done in any kind of building. including conventional ones.

There are many ways to construct our dwelling, each with it’s advantages and disadvantages. Most of us will probably stick with the conventional methods, but it is always important to remember that there are many ways to move upon this Earth, to choose how we interact with the world.
In the future I will write about how we minimize our impact, our ecological footprint even when we do choose to live in a conventional house.

יום שני, 26 בדצמבר 2011

What shall we eat? – on vegetarians, vegans and raw foods

I became a vegetarian over 30 years ago, based on an inner, intuitive feeling that this was the right way for me. There was not that much information available on the subject back then, especially in Israel, and the truth is that I did not bother too much about searching for it. Somehow, I reached the notion that nuts are rich in protein (I did not hear about fats), and they became a major part of my diet. I still have a strong appreciation of nuts. Only a couple of years later, when I attended graduate school in the US, did I actually read a book on nutrition, which was offered for free outside a used book store in Santa Barbara, where  I was studying. Since then, I have read quite a bit on the subject of food and nutrition, both from the theoretical side, and the practical aspects (as in cooking), but when asked for the reasons for being vegetarian, I continued to claim that it was based on a intuitive feeling.
In the past 2 years I have converted to an almost wholly vegan diet. Later, after meeting various people, and reading books, such as “Conscious Eating”by Dr. Gabriel Cousens, I decided to try following a mainly raw food diet. Following this process, I also restated my reasons for my diet, as well as my general lifestyle.

I will start with a few definitions:
Vegetarian: does not eat any flesh products. Therefore someone who eats fish, may be eating a healthier diet, but is not a vegetarian. However they can eat eggs and diary products (at least unfertilized eggs, such as we get in the store).
Vegan: Will not eat any animal products. This includes eggs and diary, and usually any other animal based food, such as honey.
Raw food: Will not eat any food heated to temperatures above 46-48C. I will write about the many variations on this definition in a future post, but will usually be vegan.
A raw food dish
Personally, I am aiming for a vegan, 80% raw diet at present. However, I try not to be too “religious”on this subject, and when visiting friends or family, I will gladly enjoy the pleasures of a tasty cake, even though it may have eggs or butter in it.
I have often been asked for the reasons for my diet. For me, there are three circles which have influenced my decisions. I will label them as Man, Nature and Animal.
The Circle of Man:
In this circle I relate only to myself, out of pure self interest. I am interested in my health, my vitality. As Albert Einstein wrote: “Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.". Meat, especially meat grown in today’s industrial manner, is full of all kinds of additives, antibiotics, hormones and more. It is very doubtful that these add to our health. Indeed we see phenomena such as girls reaching puberty at age 3, as described in “My Year of Meats”.
Fish, though they are supposedly healthier suffer from increased pollution of oceans and rivers. Much has also been written on the problems associated with milk products, such as increased mucus, and the respiratory problems associated with this, as well as the antibiotics, pesticides and hormones found in milk products.
In conventional medicine it is often claimed that we will not fill all our nutritional requirements without meat or diary. However, more and more doctors and health experts are becoming aware that if we choose our food in a conscious manner, we can easily get all that we need from a vegan diet (except for vitamin B12, which is often also deficient in meat eaters). Personally, I can say that at the age of 53 I find myself full of energy and vigour, walking long distances with 20 year old friends, or running marathons.
The Circle of Nature:
Back in the 80s, Francis Moore, in “Diet for a small planet” claimed that we need to produce 10 kg of plants in order to eat 1 kg of meat. This, without mentioning the fuel required to transport these plants, the pollution of our water supplies from animal waste (which is a major source of water pollution in the world), the effect on the ozone layer, the effect on global warming and so on. In this context, I will add the claim that if Americans lowered their present meat consumption by just 20%, the food surplus would be enough to feed all the starving people in the world.
The Circle of Animals:
All we need is to pass 100 meters away from an industrial chicken coop to smell the terrible stench. The hens live in this terrible smell all their lives, often having their nostrils burned by the acid fumes. Cows also live in terrible conditions, eating their own waste, and additives made of bones which have caused diseases such as the Mad Cow Disease. This without mentioning the way they are slaughtered, which is full of pain and cruelty. I find it hard to subject animals to such a life of misery and sorrow. Incidentally, I also do not want to ingest this pain, along with the physical body.

In summary, I can only say that each of us has the privilege and duty of choosing how they proceed in this world. I can only suggest that each of us investigate, research and finally follow his heart in choosing the proper path for them.
And, if we are looking into nutrition and dietary choices, then we need to be involved with the  practical aspects as well, namely food preparation. I will present a simple yet tasty recipe from the world of raw foods (note that some of the spices are not raw)

Zucchini pasta:
Zucchini carrot pasta
1 zucchini
1 carrot
1 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP raw tahini
1 TBSP soy sauce
2 TBSP lemon juice
1 tsp sesame oil
2 TBSP brewer’s yeast (not essential, but gives a cheesy flavour)

Cut the carrots and zucchini into narrow strips using a mandoline or peeler. Put in a bowl. Mix the ingredients of the sauce in a jar and pour over the vegetables. It is best to let them stand for an hour so that they absorb the taste. Note that one can play with the quantities of the ingredients, based on taste, and also be creative – add or remove ingredients, to create your own version.

יום שבת, 24 בדצמבר 2011

Simple Living – how to simplify our lives

Diogenes and Alexander

The Greek philosopher Diogenes used to live in a barrel. When the famed conqueror Alexander the Great came to his town, he went to visit to Diogenes, and offered him whatever he wished. Digenes, in response, asked him to move slightly to the side, so that he would not block the sun shining on him.
Most of us would prefer to live in something slightly larger than a barrel, and require a bit more than just sunlight. But, inbetween our modern consumerist society, with its emphasis on consuming more and more, and Diogenes, we might find a middle path, a more sane path than that of the modern world. If we look far enough back, to the world of hunter gatherers, we find a society living very simple lives, yet one in which for the most part people had all their needs satisfied. This society has been called (by anthropologist Marshall Sahlins) “The original affluent society”. Even in contemporary societies of hunter gatherers, hemmed in by modern society, people usually only need 20 hours of gathering a week to fulfil the food requirements. The rest of the time is spent in company, playing music, storytelling, and other enjoyments of life. Yet, they can eat up to 200 different plants, and enjoy good health, usually living up to 65-75 years (once they have passed the first 15 years).
Ladakhi house
With the change to an agricultural society, as documented by researcher Jared Diamond, and as told symbolically in the book “Ishmael” people began to consume beyond their basic needs, to accumulate wealth, and the race over who has the most began. And, at the same time, the desire to return to the simple lifestyle also began, as witnessed by Diogenes, as also in the Jewish saying (from Pirkei Avot) “the more possesions, the more worries”.
But, despite this warning, Man did not stop gathering new possessions, but rather tried to have more and more. All through history there have been many movements which sought to simplify life – the Essenes in Israel, the Taoists in China, various monks and sects in the Christian and Muslim worlds (such as St. Francis, or Rumi). In the 20th century, this movement received a name – “Simple Living", sometimes also called "voluntary simplicity". The name itself was coined in the 1930s, but recently, with the ascent of the Consumerist society, and the never ending race after more and more possessions, that in themselves become obsolete ever faster (like the queen in Alice in Wonderland, running with all her strength, just to stay in the same place), there has quietly risen another voice. A voice calling to stop and look around us, to concentrate on the important issues in our lives. On our health, our relationships, the joy in our life, on our connection and impact on Nature, on the World.
This is not a call to burn and destroy all modern appliances and to return to the lives of hunter gatherers. In a world of 8 billion people, this is probably an impossible task, eben if we wished to do so. But we certainly can try and follow a saner, more reasonable way to live in this world. In this context I would like to mention 2 examples. The first being that if the US lowered meat consumption by just 20%, it would release enough resources to feed all the people suffering from starvation. The other is that just 10% of the annual advertising budget would be enough to feed the starving of this world.
We cannot solve the problems of this world, but in the spirit of “Think globally, act locally”, we can change our own lives, and to various degrees, the lives of thos surrounding us, and so be part of the process happening all over the globe.
In my future posts, I will try and give a few tips regarding how to change our lifestyles. However, I will start with the first guideline given to a Permaculture designer – before you start to design something new – go lay on your hammock, rest and observe your surroundings. By observing you will gain insights into your environment, insight into what is importanty, and what less so, insights into what needs to be done at this stage. Only after going through this stage, and gaining a slightly deeper understanding of what is happening, can we dive into the many technical issues, and start searching for specific answers to specific issues.

יום חמישי, 22 בדצמבר 2011

A short introduction

Ever since I remember myself (which is quite a while) I have found myself attracted to Nature, to what is, for me, the real world. Sunsets and sunrises from mountain tops, the wildness of a winter storm, with its rain and lightning. Dipping in a tumultuous sea, or a cold desert pool. The joy of eating a meal, cooked over a fire, underneath a star filled sky, when the body is exhausted, but the spirit is in ecstasy. I would return refilled with energy, to my studies or my work, waiting for that next trip, to feel again the primordial forces around me. Not that the day to day life was bad – a family, raising the children, challenging yet fun work in hi-tech. At least I always insisted on getting a cubicle next to a window, with a view to the world outside. I also continued with my other activities – my love for long distance running and rock climbing, my daily tai chi practice, playing the clarinet, the joy in preparing food for friends and family, looking after my body and spirit, so that they did not calcify and deteriorate.
But with time, I came to realize that something was missing. I came across the saying off Marcus Aurelius “It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”, and it resonated deeply within me. I understood that I need to live my life as I feel it, to listen to my heart. For me – this meant living as closely as I could to the Earth. I encountered the world of Primitive Skills, first in a course with Ray and Jenny Jardine, then with Ofer and Yael Israeli, in “Shomrei Hagan” (Keepers of   the Garden, from the Book of Genesis 2:15), and with Tom Brown in the Tracker School, and Jon Young's Kamana Program. I am still learning, and also teaching – kids in Shomrei Hagan youth groups. Adults in Barefoot Running workshops, and in workshops on vegetarian cooking in Nature and on Simple Living. I am a strong believer in doing things gradually, and avoiding extremes. I still have a cell phone (though I try to minimize its use), I drive a car, I obviously use the Internet (as in this blog). But I try to minimize my ecological footprint (as taught in Permaculture), to widen my knowledge and connection to this world, to try new things, and to learn to look differently at things that I already “know”. In this manner, I have deepened my interest in vegan food in general, and raw food in particular. All of these are stages and processes that are part of my path towards a simpler life, towards simple living. On the more specific meanings of these words and ideas I hope to write in this blog. I have reached these insights thanks to meetings with some inspirational people, from conversations and books and articles, and through observing the world. I hope to share these insights here.