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Lecture: Power Foods for the Brain, by Dr. Neal Barnard

22 Apr

  2 Fridays ago, my sister and I went to see Dr. Neal Barnard (founder and President of the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine) give a lecture in Vancouver, based on his latest book “Power Foods for the Brain“. I’ve seen him speak twice before in person (and several times on tv, now that he is becoming quite a popular personality in the mainstream media), and he never fails to impress me with his sound, expert knowledge on health and nutrition.

While standard medical school curriculum involves a miniscule amount of nutritional training, Dr. Barnard’s knowledge as a medical doctor far exceeds the norm, and he has dedicated his career to research and education to cure peoples’ ailments with lifestyle changes rather than going straight to the pharmaceutical route. Some of his recent work has been in reversing diabetes, and now he is working on the challenges faced in Alzheimer’s disease, which was the focus of last week’s talk.

Motivated by a genetic predisposition in his family to have Alzheimer’s, Dr. Barnard has been researching the causes of this disease and has discovered that even when a person’s genetic history sways in the favour of going the route of the disease, it can still largely be avoided by carrying out simple actions in lifestyle. He spoke about important factors to take note of (and work on) to feed the brain to avoid memory loss, which included:

  • Avoid bad fats
  • Knock out free radicals
  • Exercise the body (studies have shown that physical exercise reverses brain shrinkage and expands the memory area of the brain)
  • Exercise the brain
  • Minimize iron (don’t take it in multivitamins, for example, which give us too much iron)
  • Eat less meat (or none at all! Meat consumption promotes free radicals in the body,  as well as too much iron)
  • Sleep (the brain needs that time to proper file away the info from the day)
  • Avoid sleeping pills (they ruin your memory!)

In his charismatic, articulate and humorous demeanour during this 1 hour talk, Dr. Barnard didn’t just simply deliver the information to the audience, but rather, he offered approachable solutions to making these changes in lifestyle that would appeal to a mainstream public open to learning and adaptation. And I find this communication method to be part of his appeal – he spells it all out so clearly that you feel that there really are no unbeatable obstacles to making a shift for the better.

The room held a full house of over 200 people, and Dr. Barnard was gracious enough to take questions at the end, even though we were running over time. Audience members took advantage of this rare opportunity to pose him a variety of nutritional questions, asking about: saturated fats in coconut oil, the paleo diet (a “romantic fantasy”, he called it), raw food diets, fermented dairy, iron needs for children, corn in diet, and pesticides in food. It was awesome to hear him answer each of these questions with discerning information that could be trusted.

Disappointed now that you didn’t get to attend the talk? Well, lucky for you, about 10 minutes into the lecture I realized I had my voice recorder on me and realized that should record it, so I have most of it for you to listen to! You can listen to the recording of the talk here, which includes the Q&A at the end:


My sister having a friendly chat with her idol

My sister having a friendly chat with her idol.

Seattle Vegfest 2013!

31 Mar

I wait very patiently every year for this special weekend in March: the weekend of Seattle Vegfest! My friends, dear sister, and I have been making the ambitious day trip to Seattle every year now for about the last 5 years, where we leave Vancouver very early in the morning on empty stomachs, anticipating the gustorary pleasures that lie ahead – those in the form of food, food and more copious and excessive varieties of food.

Seattle Vegfest is an annual 2 day vegetarian food extravaganza, put on by the good volunteers at the Vegetarians of Washington, where thousands of people pay $8 each to be able to sample up to 500 veggie food samples for the whole day. The event also features a line-up of cooking demonstrations and professionals speaking on  a variety of health-related topics. Plus, we must not forget the fantastic selection of discounted veggie/eco/health-related books offered up in the literary section by the Book Publishing Company, which is always one of the highlights of the festival for me. (cheap cookbooks!)

Melissa checks out the book section. Books!

Melissa checks out the book section. Books!

So, wait a second – 500 food samples, you say? Yes, I do say! At least that’s what the Veg of Wa’s website always boasts, and this year, in fact, we saw advertisements of 700 food samples being touted. I’m not sure how they could pack in ANY more food into the Seattle Center’s Exhibition Hall than they usually have. It is a very large hall, lined table-to-table from front-to-back and side-to-side, and  it is always completely packed with people (certainly not all vegetarians) who are all clamouring to try out a bevy of crackers, non-dairy cheeses, cooked instant meals, vegan donuts, beverages, chocolate, non-dairy ice creams, and all the faux meats you could ever want to taste in the space of a few hours (or a whole day, if you desire breakfast, lunch and dinner for $8 total).

Most of the tables are staffed with Veg of Wa volunteers, but many of them also are manned (and womanned) by representatives from the food companies. At this festival, you’ll see food products that are local to the Seattle (NorthWest) area, which you cannot get in Canada, and you’ll also find many national brands as well, many of which are also not sold in Canada (yet), or are but at much more expensive prices than what you’ll find in the States. So it’s a fun way to discover a variety of different packaged foods that you may not otherwise come across in your herbivorous (or omnivourous) existence. Call it a treasure hunt if you will.

I must note as well that this is NOT a vegan fair. Many of the foods contain animal products (ie. honey and dairy), so it’s essential to ask the volunteers/vendors about that if you don’t want to consume any of that yucky stuff. I wished they had signage prominently displayed to indicate whether the samples were vegan or not, but they don’t, so consumer beware!

In addition to the main purpose of the festival, which I designate to be the visiting of table to table to stuff your face with the various proferred samples as you like (that means: be discerning! You’re obviously not going to have enough room in your stomach to eat everything there), there are also many free packaged samples to be had, which you can simply dump into your paper goodie bag to take home for later.

Not to mention that the Vegetarians of Washington offer a pretty amazing “membership” deal as well, where for only $22, you get a large grocery bag stuffed with… yes, groceries, plus a subscription to Vegetarian Times magazine, plus many coupons for restaurants in Seattle, plus a consultation with a registered dietician! It is well worth the cost if you have an interest in any of those items, and a brilliant marketing plan to acquire a solid member base by the Veg of Wa non-profit organization.

Here are some of the products I enjoyed seeing and tasting on my foray around the giant room at Seattle Vegfest:


Field Roast – My favorite! Someone is getting their hands on some hotdogs there.


I love the Alive & Radiant kale chip (etc.) products, and I just wish these were easily and cheaply available in Canada. I got a $1 off coupon at Vegfest and then bought a bag of “cheezy nacho” kale chips later on from Whole Foods.


My sister is loving these brand new (at least to us) Earth Balance White Cheddar Puffs here. Both she and Melissa purchased several bags later on, although they just look really junky to me – but hey, they’re vegan!


Coconut Bliss ice cream is the best!! So many different flavours to choose from, and so creamy. There is NO reason to be consuming bovine secretions when you have these wonderful options to choose from!


And here we have Parma! So simple, yet so good. It’s a “parmesan cheese” substitute, but basically is just ground walnuts mixed with nutritional yeast, and they have the cayenne and garlic/herb flavoured ones as well. I have all 3 in my fridge and love to use it sprinkled on popcorn.


My friend Lesley Fox, from the Vancouver-based organization Fur Bearer Defenders, was at Vegfest again this year, to do her good work in spreading the message for the animals.

Finally, I wanted to write about the one talk that we stayed for to see. Normally, we’ll get to Vegfest first thing in the morning at 10am, make our rounds in the room and stuff our faces, and then we’re out of there by 1pm, when it is getting super crowded. This year, however, there was one lecture  that I really wanted to see, and that was a talk on Artisan Vegan Cheese by Miyoko Schinner, who has written a wonderful  book by the same name, which I have really been loving these days. (watch for a review on it in the future!)

Prior to the lecture, I saw her standing by the book section, so I grabbed Melissa, who is also interested in making non-dairy cheeses, and we went to meet her and grill her with questions concerning sprouting grains and navigating stinky probiotics. She was a delight to speak with and signed my book for me, which I had brought to Vegfest. It was awesome to get to have a private session with her to expand upon the information she has already conveyed in her book on the art of making non-dairy cheeses, the most special skill required for which, she says, is… patience.


Miyoko gives her presentation. I love her!

Shortly after, we attended her talk at Vegfest. Miyoko is no wallflower and exuded her dynamic personality to the audience while she relayed to us her humourous life story on how she immigrated to Canada from Japan at a young age and thus began her love affair with dairy cheese. I think a lot of us in the room could relate to that loyal love (read: addiction) to cheese that has been cultivated from a young age in our society for many of us. To make her super interesting talk even better, she even handed out a plate of of samples of her cheeses (about 5 different ones) with crackers, which were totally insane. (that means toothsome!) I bet she sold a lot of books after this talk and actually this was the highlight of the 2013 Seattle Vegfest for me!

After Vegfest, I already had a headache from having been awake since 3am, but it was time to truck on, as we had grocery shopping to do and dinner to acquire and consume. Looking forward to Seattle Vegfest 2014!