Acting Shellfish

Given my job at Composite, and my fifteen years in the fitness world, I get a lot of questions from friends, family, colleagues, and clients about health and fitness. While the questions run the gamut – from exercise programming and injury rehab to sleep management and environmental toxins – the topic I’m asked about most is nutrition. Over the next couple of weeks, I’m hoping to hit a handful of posts that address some of the most common nutrition questions I receive.

First up, staying healthy as a vegan:

As I’ve blogged about before, I’m actually totally sympathetic to arguments about the ways in which our food system is unforgivably cruel to animals. In my own case, after weighing a lot of factors, I’ve decided that I feel comfortable eating a diet that includes ethically-raised animals, and ethically-farmed eggs and cheese. But I understand that includes tradeoffs that others aren’t willing to make. If you’re eating a vegan diet for moral reasons, I can understand and support that choice.

So, if you’re committed to a vegan diet, what can you do to maximize your health?

On the plus side, vegans tend to eat a lot of whole foods, which is great.

On the minus, they’re also frequently deficient in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B12 and D, calcium, iron, zinc, and iodine.

Previously, I’ve blogged about some supplements that vegetarians and vegans should strongly consider, to counter those deficiencies.

But it’s B12, in particular, that’s a real issue for vegans. Simply put, while a variety of vegan foods have been held up as good sources of B12 – spirulina, dried nori, barley grass, other seaweeds, raw foods – an avalanche of research has shown that they’re not bioavailable enough for people to actually absorb the vitamin in those foods at meaningful levels. And B12 shots – beyond being a literal pain – use B12 in the form of cyanocobalamin, which steals methyl groups from the body and creates toxic cyanide as it’s processed in the liver.

There is, however, a good alternative: oysters.

I know, I know: oysters are technically animals, and therefore definitely not vegan. But bear with me here.

First, remember that vegans aren’t avoiding animal protein as an end in and of itself. Instead, they’re doing it to inflict the least possible harm to other sentient beings and to the environment.

Fortunately, from an environmental perspective, oysters are actually a net-positive. Farming them doesn’t require bottom-trawling or other destructive forms of fishing; it requires no carbon-emitting supply chain for feed, as the oysters simply eat by filter-feeding plankton in the water around them; and it actually improves the surrounding water quality, through that filter-feeding (enough so that places like NYC have planted oyster beds to help de-pollute their currently toxic waterways).

As for sentience, unlike almost every other animal, oysters don’t feel pain, because they don’t have a central nervous system. As Crook & Walters conclude in a 2011 paper:

[The bivalve] nervous system includes two pairs of nerve cords and three pairs of ganglia. There is no obvious cephalization and the nervous system appears quite simple….to our knowledge there are no published descriptions of behavioral or neurophysiological responses to tissue injury in bivalves.

In other words, oysters have a very simple nervous system, without a brain. Unlike other invertebrates, and even other shellfish, they don’t react to injury (unlike, say, shrimp and lobsters, which groom their antennae after injury), or show the neurotransmitter responses that other animals do when they experience pain.

So eating oysters (and likely mussels, too) doesn’t actually hurt them; they don’t feel it any more than a piece of asparagus does.

A lot of research has shown that the disgust reflex plays a big role in the vegan diet. And I’m sure the idea of eating oysters seems potentially disgusting to a lot of vegans, regardless of the moral, environmental, or health implications.

But as I’ve noted before, the long-term adherence to veganism (and vegetarianism) is terrible – after 18 months, about 85% return to eating meat, which is why the percentage of vegetarians and vegans has held steady at about 5% for the past thirty years.

According to research, some of them give up due to the social sustainability of the diet – and in my next nutrition post, I’m going to talk about behavioral diet sustainability in general.

But an even larger percentage of vegans (more than 50% of those who give up on the diet) due so either due to declining health, or irresistible food urges (which are often driven by a craving for micronutrients in which people are deficient). And oysters just happen to be a great source of every one of the nutrients in which the vegan diet is deficient (again: protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B12 and D, calcium, iron, zinc, and iodine), enough so that regularly eating oysters is likely to offset both declining health and animal-food cravings.

So, in short, if you’re a vegan, and you’re worried both about your own vitality and your ability to sustain a way of eating that does the most good for the world in the long-term, consider a happy hour trip to grab some oysters. Strange as it may sound, that’s totally in line with the goals of veganism – not hurting animals or the environment – and it will make you both healthier and more likely to stick with it.

Deep Listening

About fifteen years ago, when I was first starting Cyan Pictures, I lived bi-coastally between New York and LA. I didn’t own – or need – a car here in New York, but I had a long-term rental SUV out on the West Coast, in which I spent hours each day, winding between meetings and production locations, through smog and heavy traffic.

Back in those pre-MP3 days, I had a small booklet of CDs in the car – the fraction of my larger collection that I was willing to tote out West – and I listened to those same CDs again and again and again.

One of those was Elliot Smith’s excellent XO, which Apple Music recommended to me this morning. Listening to it now, I was instantly transported back to that earlier place and time. I knew the words – really knew the words – knew each rise and fall, each chord strum and vocal nuance.

These days, I listen to a far broader lineup of musicians, albums, and even genres than I managed back in that distant past. I discover new music I’d doubtless otherwise miss, can pull up songs I love the moment they cross my mind. And, on balance, I’m hugely grateful for what streaming music has added to my life.

But I also can’t help but miss those old days, when technical limitations forced me to marinate in a small number of songs, held me to listening to albums rather than jumping between single tracks, and let me get to know, really get to know, songs in a way that etched them deep in my mind, in my heart.

Let Go

“Anger is a hot coal you hold in your hand, waiting to throw at somebody.”
– Buddha

In the Tank

In the wake of Chance the Rapper’s much-deserved Grammy wins, it’s great to see another quirky, independent, and truly excellent group get some recognition. Today, NPR’s All Songs Considered announced the winner of their 2017 Tiny Desk Contest: New Orleans’ Tank and the Bangas.

The group brings together great musicians with backgrounds in rock, folk, jazz, gospel, and hip hop, to create a self-declared new genre, “Soulful Disney.”

In turns, their music is funny, beautiful, ironic, fierce, melancholy. Consider this video, which got them the Tiny Desk nod:

Then juxtapose that with this performance, at the Essence Music Festival:

How is that the same group?

Or consider this studio session with the same song from the Tiny Desk recording, in which Tarriona “Tank” Ball throws off rap verses with aplomb, in a much more straight-ahead way (and with a shout-out to Chance’s signature “IGH” ad-lib):

And, finally, circle back to their performance of “Oh Heart,” off Think Tank (their first album, on Apple Music and Spotify, and most certainly worth a listen):

There’s a lot going on here – arguably too much – but it’s riding on a whole hell of a lot of talent, and as much group chemistry as I’ve seen on stage anywhere in years.

I’m keeping an eye on these guys, and I suggest you do, too. They’re headed for big things.

US Politics, Summarized

When you are dead, you do not know that you are dead. All of the pain is felt by others. The same thing happens when you are stupid.

Do the Thing

“Do the thing and you will have the power.”
– Emerson

My year’s been off to a stressful start, which I’ve largely dealt with by wallowing. With too much piled on, I was having a whole lot of trouble buckling down and getting moving on my most important projects, instead frittering away days working on less important tasks, scrolling through Twitter, and feeling sorry for myself.

This morning, however, having apparently reached peak wallow, I finally sat down and banged out a bunch of high-priority stuff on which I’d been procrastinating for weeks. And, as is seemingly always the case, none of it turned out to be so bad once I actually got started. Further, though I’m still neck-deep in disaster, as all of that work hasn’t really even begun to make a meaningful impact, I feel so much better.

I realize this is hardly profound insight; indeed, it’s simple common sense that I still somehow need to rediscover again and again. But I’m posting this as both an affirmation, and as a helpful reminder to myself:

Do the thing, and you will have the power. And you’ll feel pretty great, too.

Get Down

When it comes to health and fitness, people want simple solutions: sitting is bad, so get a standing desk instead. Problem solved.

Except that the human body is complex, so most simple solutions don’t actually work in the real world. Prolonged periods of standing in a single position often create nearly as many problems as prolonged sitting in a single position.

To understand this better, consider nutrition: kale is healthful, but a diet of just kale isn’t. Instead, to optimize your diet, you need to ‘eat a rainbow,’ trying to get a variety of different foods of every color, because different colored foods contain different vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals: lycopene in red foods, anthocyanin in purple/blue, carotenoids like betacarotene in orange/yellow, etc. You need them all, and so your diet needs to be sufficiently varied.

So, too, with movement. Thus, the answer isn’t just a standing desk, or any other tool or gadget. Instead, it’s making sure that you sit and move in the broadest number of ways that you can.

Perhaps you’re at a traditional desk. Sure, you can sit in your chair. But you can also do a stretch of work kneeling on the seat.

Or perhaps you’re at a standing (or, even better, convertible) desk. There, you can spend part of your time with one foot on the floor and the other up on a chair, and then, after a bit, you can switch feet.

And, either way, you can also do some work (say, taking a call) seated on the floor. That’s a great way to watch TV, too: planted on the carpet in front of your couch. Try sitting in different ways – cross-legged, side-saddle, legs in front of you. With any of those, you also practice getting down to and back up from the ground, a skill that’s highly associated with decreased all-causes mortality.

You can try eating a meal with your family on the floor, as a picnic on the carpet. You can read a book while laying on the ground on your stomach, or your side. You can even flout good manners in the name of health, and climb up on your desk or table.

But across all those possibilities, the underlying strategy remains: get creative, and explore as many ways to sit and stand and move as you possibly can. Each will challenge your strength, mobility, balance, and posture, and expand your body’s ability to perform in and handle the stresses of the world.


Couldn’t have asked for a better Valentine’s Day, or a better Valentine. 😍

Taking a Chance

Last summer, I blogged about Chance the Rapper, at the release of his excellent new mixtape, Coloring Book.

Chance isn’t signed to a label, and released the mixtape – like his prior two – for free online. As a result, none of his albums were, at the time, eligible for Grammy consideration.

But, prompted by a petition that garnered more than 40,000 signatures, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences updated their rules at the end of last year, to keep up with the current realities of the digital music world. Now, unsigned artists and streaming music are both eligible. And, as a result, Chance became the first unsigned artist, and the first streaming-only artist, to win a Grammy, with three much-deserved nods for Best New Artist, Best Rap Album (for Coloring Book), and Best Rap Performance (for “No Problem”).

Though it’s plagued with Grammy-standard sound engineering issues (Chance is mic’ed low enough that he’s barely audible for large stretches), his performance last-night – a mashup of “How Great” and “All We Got,” with snippets of “No Problem” and “Blessings,” and featuring Kirk Franklin, Francis and the Lights, Tamela Mann, and a full gospel choir – makes clear that he deserved the wins:

Congrats, Chance; I’m looking forward to hearing what you do next.