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I guess I am a runner…perhaps a crazy one

yacht club runningPeople have always thought that I was weird for running when I’m drunk or have been drinking. I used to run in D.C. all of the time. I would be in the U Street area and my other friends would be in Dupont Circle. I could A) take the Metro and spend 35-60 minutes waiting. I could B) take two buses to get down to Dupont plus walking. I could C) take an expensive taxi or Uber ride. Or D) I could walk/run there.

I usually chose to run because it was, to me, the most efficient way to get there. It may not be the most normal way to do it (it most certainly isn’t, actually), but for me it was fun. I was totally fine running barefoot, in flats or in heeled boots (sometimes) to my destination, oftentimes with a nice buzz aiding my efforts. I did this all throughout D.C. (mostly in the “safe,” well-populated areas), and I have done it a couple of times here in Cambridge/Boston.

One of my favorite times to run is in the morning or the evening in the dark. I feel like I’m all alone and running in the stars to some faraway galaxy. I don’t have to worry too much about what other people think of me when I run by them because they don’t always see me.

Of course this isn’t the safest thing to do in the city. Obviously I know that. But, I like to take risks and figured if I was running most people would have to stop and think about messing with me, and by then, I would have already flown by them. The most interesting thing about my night runs were the odd stares I get from people while I’m flying by, grinning like a fool. The wind blows through my hair as I run, and I feel alive as the alcohol-buzzed blood flows through my veins.

With drunk running, I get to my destination in no time. I get some exercise to burn off those beers I just drank. And, I get to do what I love – running at night. Seems like a win-win to me. As I mentioned, this isn’t the safest thing to do. But, if we spend our time just worrying about safety all of the time, we forget that we can enjoy ourselves living somewhat on the edge.

I just finished reading ultramarathon guru and legend Scott Jurek’s book called Eat and Run which is about his life as an ultrarunner and a vegan/vegetarian/raw foodie. He talks about runs being for people to escape worries and thoughts for the alternative of being present in their lives and in existence. One with the body and the mind with not a care in the world other than the basic essentials.

I love this philosophy of running and it makes sense. Coming off of my first marathon, I still have that runner’s high and that sense of tranquility of the long run in my mind. People think I’m crazy to have done 26.2 miles, just as people thought that I was crazy that I used to run randomly at night. People say “I would never do that. I could NEVER do that” about running in general, let alone night running.

But, as Jurek points out in his book, running, especially ultras (think 100+ mile runs), makes people realize something about life – it is all about the way you do something not the end result. For me, running is a means and an end but it is mostly about a journey. It’s the sense of being a basic part of nature and doing something that your body loves to do.

It’s amazing. I really have become a running convert. I used to run many years ago when I was a child, but then I broke my leg and had various surgeries and problems with my legs and was afraid to run. Coming back into it the past year and a half has reawakened a sense of longing and joy in me that I have only found recently in Bikram yoga.

So, for all of you people out there who think runners are crazy, you’re right. We are crazy. But you wanna know what else? We’re crazy happy most of the time and we get that way by putting ourselves on our feet and going. Life IS about the journey and we should spend our time enjoying and doing rather than worrying and thinking too hard.

Go for a run and just keep going. Don’t stop after one attempt. When did anyone get good at something after one shot? Open your mind and enjoy.

Maybe you’ll catch me night running sometime when you’re out on a weekend.

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26.2: I’ve got the magic in me

As some of you know, I recently completed my first-ever marathon during the Walt Disney World Marathon 2014 weekend. I finished the 26.2 miles in 4 hour, 9 minutes, and 7 seconds. I finished in 2319th place overall, 637th place in the female category, and 118th in my division 25-29 year olds (I think). (See my breakdown in the picture here.)Image

There were apparently close to 26,000 people racing in the marathon with 7,000 or so people running what was called the Dopey Challenge – 48.6 miles of “fun” over the course of four days. A 5K (3.1 miles) Thursday, 10K (6.2 miles) Friday, half-marathon (13.1 miles) Saturday, and a full marathon (26.2 miles) Sunday. I wasn’t feeling that “doped” up to attempt that on my first long-distance race. 

Race day was Sunday, January 12, and I could not be more anxious or nervous. I think that was the most nervous I have been in the days prior to the race than I have been in everyday life in probably 10 years. For some reason, I had many doubts and little worries that were floating around my head making my heart race, my blood pressure rise, and my brain act like it was on Adderall (as the effects of that drug have been described to me by friends who have used it, not from personal experience). Sleep was not in my future nor was relaxation in the twelve hours prior to the race’s start. 

But, despite my jitters and anxiety, I was fairly confident that I would be able to complete this race. Why? Because I had spent nearly seven months preparing for the race, mostly mentally. I signed up for the race back in April 2013 before I moved from D.C. and left my job. I had just completed two half-marathons and thought that I would be able to successfully complete a full marathon, with proper training. I ramped up my workouts from September through December to prepare my body for the stress of running for four+ hours straight. I was biking, swimming, doing some strength training, and most importantly, running. 

There was one thing, however, that happened that was the root of my anxiety. Right before Thanksgiving I ran the longest distance to-date – 16 miles out and back from Cambridge. I ran with a pack on and a water bottle in-hand. I stopped occasionally to refuel with some candy and to stretch my body a little. But something happened in the last few miles as I was pushing myself back home – my foot began hurting and my knee began hurting. All on my left side. As most runners do, I pushed through the pain and kept going until I had reached my goal. But as my body came down from that run, I knew something was wrong. In the days that followed, my knee began hurting, and I couldn’t straighten it or bend it all of the way. Something was wrong with a tendon behind my left knee. I had to stop biking to work; I had a limp; I spent my nights studying with an ice pack wrapped around my knee. I took a full two weeks off of exercise hoping to recover. (I later surmised that this injury was due to the having the wrong type of running shoes that caused me to under-pronate.) 

I was signed up for three consecutive races in the first three Sundays in December, a 5K, half-marathon, and another 5K. Because I had rested for at least a week, I thought that I would attempt to run with a brace and see what happened. The first 5K was on Dec. 1, and I made it a mile before my knee started throbbing and giving me wincing pain with each step. I walked the rest of it. I didn’t even look up my time. I realized, with worry and sadness, that I wouldn’t be able to do the half-marathon the next weekend. I was afraid that I wouldn’t heal at all.

Two more weeks went by, and I tried to do another race. Another 5K, the Jingle Bell Run. This time, feeling fresh with my rest and my new knee brace, I ran the race and managed to get a PR for a 5K – around 23:19 minutes.Image

I was back. 

Over the course of the next few weeks, I started biking more, and I threw myself into the pool and onto a treadmill. I needed to keep my cardio up even if that mean that I couldn’t use my body as much as I wanted to use it. I came to Florida on New Year’s Eve with a mere 12 days until the start of my race. I came to relax, to acclimate and to prepare.

Luckily, in the two weeks before my race, my knee felt almost normal in a fancy brace my mother bought me. I was spending enough time in the pool and on the recumbent bike that I was able to put more mileage on my body and to keep up the cardio. Despite all of the training and reading and motivation, I was still petrified that I wouldn’t be able to finish my race. But, I have enough supportive and loving people in my life that they all reassured me that the fact that I was even considering doing a marathon was something braggable enough. And if I pushed myself I could succeed if I had the right attitude, didn’t give up, and listened to my body. 

And that is what I did. 

Sunday morning at 3:30 a.m. I got out of bed, made myself some breakfast, chugged a Gatorade, and made my way to the race start. Walking around the parking lot in Epcot, I felt the air buzzing with excitement. Tens of thousands of people had prepared for this day, and I was not alone. Standing in my corral doing some light stretches, I raised my hands with excitement when the emcee asked who was doing their first marathon. A couple of people around me waved their hands too. I was most definitely not alone. 

“It’s only a race. It’s only a 10 miler, a 10 miler and then a 6.2 miler. Or, it’s only a half-marathon followed by another half.” I tried to break down the race to a digestible size. It sort of worked. I think the thing that kept me most present in the moment was the fact that I had to pee like a racehorse. The immediacy of having to go to the bathroom quelled my nerves and encouraged me to go out with a pop when the fireworks shot out over the start line. 

“Find the nearest bathroom and go!” I shouted to myself (internally).

I ran through mile one with my corral cohort and saw my salvation in the first few portapotties. Jumping into the first open one, I took care of business and then got right back onto the race course. From there the most exciting, fun four hours of my life began. 

ImageRunning through WDW in the early morning with thousands of others is one of the best ways to do a first marathon, in my inexperienced but enlightened opinion. Why? Because, when you’re running through the Magic Kingdom or the Animal Kingdom and finishing under the great Spaceship Earth at Epcot, you’re running through one of the magical places on earth. And you’re not alone; you’re experiencing it with thousands of others who are taking in the same magic you are.  

While I won’t say that it was easy to run straight for that long (I had my share of cramps and aches and pains), I will say that it was the most magical experiences of running that I had yet. And, I can’t wait to do it again. 

Maybe I’ll feel “dopey” enough to try the 48.6 miles next year. Let me know your thoughts and if you had a similar first marathon story to share!

 I’ve got the magic in me.

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Old People Rock: Thoughts on aging in the U.S.

By 2030, nearly 20 percent of people in the U.S. will be aged 65 years and older, according to the Administration on Aging. Isn’t that crazy to think, when you consider that in the 1950s life expectancy hovered around 70 years of age?

aging stats

Figure 1 – this chart shows the large increases in the older population from 3.1 million people in
1900 to 35 million in 2000 and projected to 92 million in 2060.

It is remarkable to think about how large the percentage of the population older adults will be in the semi-near future because this is relatively new in our lives. Humans do live a long time, but not in great numbers, at least in history. There are centenarians (100+ years of age) and supercentenarians (110 years) scattered around the world, and it is always interesting to find out who the oldest person is in the country or world (Misao Okawa in Japan is almost 116 years old). Imagine – in 1950, being 70 was considered to be at the end of your life, waiting to die, withering away to nothing.

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Gertrude Baines from Los Angeles turned 115 on April 6, 2009. She passed away on Sept. 11, 2009. (Lady Whistler)

Now, I know plenty of 70 year-old people and older who are living vibrant lives, perhaps even more so than when they were younger. Eighty-two year old Ed Whitlock just ran a marathon the other day under four hours. I don’t even think that I can run a marathon under four hours, and I’m a 24-year-old training for one! Many people are finding the time in their lives to finally do what they want and exercise and eat healthfully, because they want to extend and fully enjoy this time of their lives.

People start over at this age. They are widowed and get remarried. They divorce or are widowed and decide to finally follow their hearts (perhaps towards homosexual relationships – like the movie The Beginners). Much and more is happening in the lives of older adults as they realize that being over 65 years old is just the beginning of a new phase of life.

While it is true that people who live longer are living healthier lives, there is a discrepancy in who is actually living this long. See information from the Administration on Aging below:

In 2011, 21.0% of persons 65+ were members of racial or ethnic minority populations–9% were African-Americans (not Hispanic), 4% were Asian or Pacific Islander (not Hispanic), less than 1% were American Indian or Native Alaskan (not Hispanic), and 0.6% of persons 65+ identified themselves as being of two or more races. Persons of Hispanic origin (who may be of any race) represented 7% of the older population.

Only 7.4% of all the people who were members of racial and ethnic minority populations were 65+ in 2011 (9.2% of African-Americans (not Hispanic), 5.7% of Hispanics, 9.8% of Asians and Pacific Islanders (not Hispanic), 8.4% of American Indians and Native Alaskans (not Hispanic)) compared with 16.7% of non-Hispanic whites.

(Based on online data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Estimates and Projections.)

I work at an adult day health program, which is a phenomenon in itself that is fairly new to the United States. At this program in southwest Boston, a majority of the participants are minorities or the less-favored “people of color.” Boston itself, is predominantly white. It makes me curious to see how the makeup of this day program, which provides health support and socialization opportunities for people 65 years and old (and people with developmental disabilities), represents, or fails to represent the population.

My question is: are people in the program just representative of the neighborhood, and there are other adult day health programs in the area that cater to higher percentages of non-Hispanic white people? Are white people living healthier lives because they have better economic opportunities? Those enrolled in the program here are generally all funded through Massachusett’s health care – MassHealth. Some pay on their own, but at $70 a day, that gets expensive.

When I worked at a nursing home in Elmira, NY, a majority of the people there were white, yet there were still a disproportionate number of non-whites in the facility despite the population of the county being around 20 percent. It would seem that those who are living older longer are living healthier lives than their counterparts in the 1950s, but is there an unfair advantage for white people in the country to live healthier lives well into their nineties?

My 93 year-old grandfather lives in a community in Citrus Heights, California. That’s just outside of Sacramento. The people who live there range in ages from 70s – 90s (perhaps even 100s). I don’t think that I have seen any minorities who actually live there. Nor have I seen many in the senior living areas in Pompano Beach, Florida where my aunt and uncle in their 60s and 70s live. I do believe that there are minorities in the older adult population who are living just as healthy lives as white people, but I wonder if they will get equal play in the considerations of how we address the issue/reality of our aging population in the U.S.

I want to believe that we stop looking at people as their races when they are older and see them instead as valuable elders in our communities. I would like to know more about minority aging in the U.S. and see what sort of things are proportional (non-race specific) and disproportional (race and class specific) in the policies and infrastructures that address the aging population. It would be interesting to see what information I can find.

In the meantime, I wanted to poll my readers to see if anyone had any thoughts on the aging process.

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Why I took time off before grad school (part one)

I’ve been on a hiatus from work and from adult life for the past three months. I am currently enmeshed in grad school life at Boston College, which has been a hard adjustment. The past two years at my job have been emotionally-trying, career-furthering, and an OVERALL enriching experience (though you wouldn’t know from conversations with me about it in the past year). Despite also working at a restaurant part-time and having a really busy life, I still didn’t actually have to stay engaged at my job all day long. That’s what’s changing now. Grad school is hard! It’s so much reading! Although I only have five classes, once a week, I still have 100 pages per class each week to read. I have to work 16 hours a week at a grad assistantship (where I actually have to do work), and I have to work in field placement twice a week 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Plus, I have to either commute via public transportation 50-60 minutes each way, or I have to bike through the elements 30 minutes each way.

Needless to say, I am in a stressed-out zone as I’m trying to get used to a new city, new schedule, future career plans, current career plans, and mental overload. This overwhelmed experience is the exact reason why I took off the months of July and August to travel around the U.S., and even the Caribbean, to enjoy myself and to switch gears before school.

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I got to visit my high-school friend Sarah in St. Kitts and Nevis where she’s attending veterinary school at Ross University. Such a beautiful, amazing 10-day trip with my friends Allison and Sarah and Kenzie (Sarah’s dog). The picture above is me climbing a palm tree. I got nervous and fell shortly thereafter.

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Looking at the volcano that is Nevis. The water was so beautiful an clear. I tried out snorkeling for the first time amidst rocking waves. This freaked me out a bit. Too much dependence on breathing out of my nose. I think I had a panic attack the first time, but the next time I tried it during a catamaran trip, I was a pro. Image

I’ve always wanted to get one of these underwater shots. Sarah and I spent forever trying to do this. I think she didn’t successfully get a good pic of herself because I was too busy having a panic attack to focus the camera in the right direction. Luckily for me, she got a good one of me, though my pursed lips are kind of odd.

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Allison and I dominated the mountain. This is on the south side of St. Kitts where the beaches are. They’re very secluded and beautiful. We got to spend some time all alone on these gorgeous beaches. They are building more big name hotels on the island, so I can imagine that the island is going to be a LOT more popular in the years to come. I’m glad that we got to see a mostly unadulterated version of St. Kitts and Nevis.

ImageHappy July 4th a.k.a. U.S. Independence day! Allison and I got to take a catamaran cruise all day. We went snorkeling, saw a shipwreck, had some delicious food, drank TONS of Rum Punch and got sufficiently wasted. Made some new friends. Basked in the sun. And thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Surprisingly we made it to the evening festivities with these lovely Ross students. Though we didn’t last long as the brutal day of drinking in the sun caught up with us before we could really see fireworks and such. But, I don’t regret a moment!

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This is during the second sweatiest, most strenuous hike of my life. The first one was in Ghana when we went to the Wli waterfalls. The payoff for this trek in St. Kitts, however, was great. A few hours from our start, we successfully arrived at the top of the inactive volcano and got to eat lunch overlooking the inner rim of the volcano and the pool of water found at the bottom. Then we got to go check out the surrounding islands from our amazing vantage point. Hellllooo West Indies!

Overall, my St. Kitts and Nevis Caribbean experience was unforgettable. Though at times we were crowded in the studio apartment (no complaints though) thanks to my friend Sarah being awesome and offering to be our host, guide and chauffeur (thus saving us BEAUCOUP money), we all got along swimmingly and had an amazing vacation that made it hard to return to the States.

But return we must, and while Allison and Sarah had to get back to the real world of routine, I got to continue traveling. My next stop was northern California to see the parents. I went out there to check out the Redwoods National Park, Napa Valley, Arcata, Mount Shasta, the slums of Folsom, the airspace between Sacramento and Napa, Lake Tahoe, etc.

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Lake Tahoe! So beautiful in the winter yet even more so in the summer! The hot, dry, altitude makes it a big change from the blustery winter, but the cool, crisp waters of the glacial lakes in the area definitely are an oasis in northern California. We got to visit with friends and family and catch up on long-lost friendships while making new ones. My mother and I Stand-Up-Paddleboarded (SUP’d) which was great. I jumped off a 30-foot cliff that I thought was MUCH shallower. And we got boozy and enjoyed exchanging stories about my mother’s colorful past and my colorful present (like mother like daughter!).

I recommend everyone visit Tahoe at some point in both the winter and summer (and anytime really). It’s a truly beautiful place, and I’m glad my parents live fairly close!

This is just a taste of my summer travels to whet your appetites. I will be back shortly with part two of the summer! (That’s the part that gets Southern, down and dirty, and extra fun.)

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Additional Resources For Diet Changes

This infographic above is a reference guide of sorts to think about the types of fish we eat and how they’re caught and their environmental impact. I am still doing a little research on the topic, as I didn’t feel completely satisfied with the last blog post.

Just ran across a NYTimes article from 2009 talking about the “flash-freezing” technique where fish are caught, immediately “flash frozen” and then transported to distribution centers and then grocery stores. In recent years, I’ve been buying fresh Alaskan, wild-caught salmon which is expensive but delicious and is good for you – low mercury levels, etc. But, reading this article reminds me that the environmental cost of getting this fish to me in D.C. seemingly negates the health benefits for me.

As mentioned in The New York Times article: “Flying fillets from Alaska, British Columbia, Norway, Scotland or Chile so that 24 hours later they can be served “fresh” in New York adds an enormous climate burden, one that swamps the potential benefits of organic farming or sustainable fishing.”

“Fortunately for conscientious diners, when fish is flash-frozen at sea, its taste and quality is practically indistinguishable from fresh. More important, it can be moved thousands of miles by container ship, rail or even truck at much lower environmental impact than when air freighted. If seafood-loving Japanese consumers, who get most of their fish via air shipments, were to switch to 75 percent frozen salmon, it would have a greater ecological benefit than all of Europe and North America eating only locally farmed or caught salmon.”

Whoa! That’s great news! All of this time I was like “Eh, I don’t think that this frozen fish is going to be half as good as the fresh stuff.” Ignorance, I tell you. Other than the local rockfish I get, the other fish that comes from “sustainable” sources requires fuel and fast transportation to get to my Whole Foods. I should take a better look at the frozen (unprocessed) fish at Whole Foods from now on. I wonder if it’s cheaper too because the salmon I’ve been getting is around $8/pound on a sale day.

Anyway, I thought that I would add this piece as well since I didn’t really talk about fish in the last post. Also, instead of red meat – there’s always the option of turkey and chicken which have less of a carbon footprint as animals than cows, pigs, and sheep.

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The battle with sugar leads to greater diet questions

I eat a lot of sugar. A lot. And often.

I eat a lot of refined sugars because I have a constant craving for sugar. Every day around 3 p.m. or 4 p.m., after I eat lunch, I crave candy or chocolate of sort. And usually I indulge in that craving. I figure: “I work out a lot. I’m active. I deserve to have that brownie or that piece of pie. I’ve earned it today.” The problem is I think that every day. It doesn’t help that in place of getting a raise, my boss decides to give us treats every morning in the form of chocolate croissants, sugar cookies, brownies, pies, etc. It’s kind of him to offer those things, but it doesn’t help me with my diet.

I can’t help but eat that delicious-looking chocolate croissant! Could you resist that after you just burned 400-500 calories doing Insanity in the morning? Neither could I.

I just saw this in CSPI’s (CSPInet.org) Nutrition Action newsletter the other day about sugar. There’s a study by Dr. Lustig et al that talks about getting type-2 diabetes SEPARATE from being obese. Meaning that in this instance, the type of egg you have determines what type of chicken you’ll be. Further translated to: eating refined sugar and syrups increases your chances for chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes and obesity.

WHICH ALL MEANS THAT: I don’t want to have diabetes!

I need to cut my sugar intake dramatically. Because I eat it every day, and despite my exercise, these foods still spike my insulin levels, creating a disruption in my endocrine system. My grandparents and members of my extended family had type-2 diabetes , so I don’t want to continue along their path. My mom and dad and I all have a sweet tooth (sweet teeth?). We love to have chocolate and little candies at hand in case we need a little energy boost. But I don’t want to have that anymore.

In order to shift myself away from this obsession and addiction to sugar, I started doing a little research on what was the most successful way to give up sugar. I did a little more research into Paleo diets which seem to be the best way for me to go in order to cut down my sugar consumption. However, the Paleo diet isn’t exactly the most eco-friendly, low-carbon-footprint diet nor is it the healthiest, sustainable diet (see this article). But, given other diets, it’s a good alternative.

However, I have an environmental problem with adopting this diet because of the high volume of meat consumed. The production and cultivation of beef, lamb, pork and cheese create the greenhouse gas emission methane, which is more detrimental than carbon dioxide in some cases. This interesting infographic from the Environmental Working Group helps you see how much of your consumption is contributing to emissions that hurt our atmosphere:

Eat Smart Chart. Eat smart your food choices affect the climate

As you can see, meat has a very high carbon footprint. Even cheese, my favorite, is terrible for the environment. This then leads me to the idea, once again, that the vegan diet is key and that’s is the way to go. I appreciate that sentiment. I think being vegan is great for the environment and for the body. I still don’t think it’s right for me. I have given food up and have changed my palate, but I would rather participate in society by being social with food. Instead of having to decline many items at a dinner party or to ask at every restaurant whether or not their food was made with animal products, I’d rather be a conscious eater, aware of my environmental impact but still happy that I have choices and that I can indulge in ice cream when I want. I don’t have as much an issue with the treatment of animals and the PETA reason for giving up animal products. Mine is more environmentally-based.

What’s important to me is the amount of ingredients in a product and the process in which it’s created. Did you know that they press almonds to get the milk out of them? That seems to be taking something and unnaturally making it into a substitute. Instead of switching up the type of milk I have, I’ll just use less of the organic, local cow’s milk that I get. Instead of using one gallon every two weeks, I’ll just use 1/2 a gallon. For starters.

Back to the sugar problem. Instead of having to adhere to one strict diet, I think that I would better benefit from doing what’s best for me while using the Environmental Working Group’s chart to see what my choices do to the environment. And look at the studies on sugar consumption and its relation to diabetes. Being a more conscious eater is important because I am accountable to myself.

I shouldn’t think that because I worked out I deserve a sweet treat. I should think that BECAUSE I worked out, I should protect my body from sweets that turn it against itself. As for the other aspects of my diet – I love meat, but I just need to eat it responsibly. I should use these resources on the Meat Eaters Guide to make good diet and consumption choices.

Check out these sites:

Eat Low Carbon

Nutrition Action

Green Steve

Food Product Design

And this Carbon Footprint of Cheese