Sunday, June 12, 2011

Does there always have to be an opposing reaction?

 I was at a Wellness Conference and Expo this weekend in Chicago.  Teraswhey had a booth there.  So did many other vendors for things like vitamins, nutritional supplements, aromatherapy products, infrared saunas, practioners of various kinds, all alternatives to our mainstream medical system.  A medical system run amuck, everyone agrees. But since no one agrees what should be in its place, we continue to press on with total dysfunction.

At a conference for supplement industry leaders a few years ago, old lion’s of the industry were calling for greater self-regulation of the industry.  They acknowledged the disservice that middle of the night ads for miracle cures was doing for the industry and called for industry leaders to self police.  What wasn’t clear at the time was what self-policing would actually look like or how it would happen.  Would the Presidents of pharmaceutical grade vitamin companies call up the Presidents of mediocre quality miracle vitamin companies and tell them to clean up their act or get out?  Would that call actually change anything?  And if it didn’t, what recourse would the legitimate company have?

Miracle cures and the people who sell them that have been around since the beginning of time. Here we are, two years after the call for self-regulation and it is nowhere in sight.  The same infomercials run in the middle of the night, the industry still proffers strange products with weird claims and sketchy science behind them.  Things like whole body vibrators, miracle bands, and portable saunas that are essentially microwave ovens for people. How can we tell what is going to work and what isn't?

Maybe both the problem and the answer to it were at the show. One path would be to bring more stringent regulation to the entire industry.  Forcing supplements to undergo the same testing that pharmaceutical products go through would certainly kill the industry.  It would be an equal and opposite reaction to infomercials at 3 AM. 

There was an alternative path at the show.  People bought samples of our product, took them home to try them, and surfed the internet to read up on them and see what other people are saying about them on the internet - a kind of crowd QA.  As a result of their research, the last day of the show I had people returning to buy large quantities of product from me. I sold out by noon.

I used to think that consumer’s couldn’t be educated enough to judge the medical efficacy of medicinal products; now I think that there are so many readily available resources that it is possible for people to research products and make choices based on their research.  Maybe instead of regulation, we should spend the enforcement funds providing basic medical education to consumers so they can make good choices about products like supplements and wellness devices.

Not as full of drama as an opposing reaction of comparable force, but an effective path forward all the same.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Dear Jerry

Dear Jerry,

This summer I took your writing workshop at The Clearing.  I’ve since realized that many of the writing exercises you did with us were powerfully designed to shut down the left side of our brains to allow the creativity of the right side emerge.  It was so simple, so fast, an amazing experience.

You mentioned in the class that you just published a book called Cranberry Red.  It’s taken me a while, but the memory of your description of the book came popping up lately as my own work continues to uncover more examples of how our modern food and agriculture is failing us.

In Cranberry Red, you tell the story of a University Extension employee who loses his job and takes one with a private company that is working on a nutrition-enhanced cranberry.  All is well until evidence of harmful side effects starts to surface.  Should he expose his employer, lose his job again, and lose the opportunity to influence the company?

I bet you won’t take offense if I say that you are anything but a radical guy.  You too were on the Faculty of UW Extension for many years.  This book, however, tells the story in your warm and folksy and entertaining way, of what we’ve done and are doing to farmers and food.  Modern agriculture: hubris at the expense of nature. 

What I like best about your book is that it makes the economic and health tragedy that is emerging out of our food system into a personal story.  Food and health are personal.  I see this all of the time.  Our industrial food system keeps trying to make food into a widget, but people and the earth keep resisting.  No we haven’t figured out how to take the vagaries of weather out of supply.  No we haven’t successfully convinced consumers that buying food from a big food company like Kraft is safer than buying it from a local farmer. People want a personal relationship with their food and the people who make it.  People are also starting to think that maybe surrendering their physical health to “experts”, whose solution no matter what the problem is appears to be pills, may not be the best idea.  Nor is believing that humans can engineer foods that are better for us than natural foods. 

I created teraswhey to cause extraordinary change, not of the engineered kind, but of the natural kind, the kind where the food that can heal us comes in its natural form, from farmers we know and cheese makers who respect their craft. Teraswhey is a sort of antidote to Cranberry Red.  

Thank you for giving voice to something many of us have been experiencing for a long time!


Monday, April 11, 2011

Dear Sara

Dear Sara,

I started thinking about gluten again after you and I had a really wonderful dinner made by your husband, Jason, the chef at The Tavern restaurant in Garrison, NY.  Aromatic blood sausage made from scratch; we discovered it’s good for both of us because we’re iron deficient. I’ve been endeavoring to wean myself of iron pills; your acupuncturist told you to eat black foods.  Nutrition by color, it’s like painting a diet.  Then we start talking about your husband’s travails, trying to cook from local ingredients and keep the menu items affordable.  Is it off-putting to call blood sausage blood sausage?  Maybe aromatic loaf would be better?

Our conversation then turned to baking.  Jason uses flour milled by the baker at Wild Hive Bakery, which tends toward old grain varieties.  Apparently the old grains perform differently from commodity grains and Jason has a hard time finding people who can work with them successfully.  The Wild Hive guys say the same thing. 

Apparently we’ve intentionally hybridized wheat in a way that has increased the proportion of gluten in the grain.  We did this intentionally because gluten is where the protein lives in grains.  Bread, pizza dough, and bagels all perform better with high gluten flours.  Gluten also shows up in surprising places - on its own is also used to make imitation meat, fish, and as a stabilizer in foods like ketchup and ice cream.  All of this means we’re eating not just more carbohydrates than before but also that there is more gluten in our carbohydrates than ever before.  Could it be that the higher incidences of gluten intolerances is a result of overconsumption of gluten?
Or is it because of changes in processing?  In the old days, people often stored grains whole and milled them as they used them.  This left the bran intact, encircling the starch and the germ inside.  Once grains are milled, the oils in the germ can become rancid.  Commodity flours are milled in huge quantities that are stored as flour.  This means that they are far more likely to have rancidity problems.  Bakers who mill their own flour right before they make bread like the guys at Wild Hive in NY and Cress Spring in WI tell me they have customers that seek them out because they can tolerate their breads even though they are typically “gluten intolerant”.  Of course, true celiacs like my friend Linda cannot eat anyone’s gluten. 

It’s a hard road to eating gluten free in the US where so much of our food is processed and contains gluten – soups, soy sauce, candy, cold cuts, low and no fat engineered foods that do more harm than the fat would have.  I always thought it was odd that people would ask me whether my whey protein products had gluten in them – whey is a dairy product afterall so of course there is none in teraswhey.  Now that I understand how ubiquitous it is as a food processing agent, it makes more sense that people ask.

I’m glad that chef’s like Jason are experimenting with old grain varieties and teaching people to cook with them.  Lets hope that the increased attention doesn’t cause Big Ag and Big Food to start hybridizing the old grains to make them “better”.

Any chance Kamut is black? Oh, and tell Jason that I think it’s fine to call it blood sausage. 


Saturday, April 2, 2011

PS Linda

PS Linda,

As if bariatric surgery wasn’t reason enough for a personal connection to our company, you went on to be diagnosed with Celiac disease.  Celiacs like you are allergic to gluten.  Gluten is in just about all prepared foods and pretty much all foods in the carbohydrate group.  Because of your Celiac disease, you have small intestines that can’t digest gluten.  When you eat foods with gluten in them, your intestines are unable to break down the gluten and an autoimmune response is triggered that causes the villi in the small intestine to be damaged.  This causes malabsorption of critical nutrients by your body.

In the past, people thought that Celiacs would always present as malnourished – underweight and with a range of health issues associated with malnourishment -  and someone like you would never have been diagnosed.  Evidence is now surfacing that obese people may have a higher than average rate of celiac disease.  The mechanism is not well understood, but it appears to be related to how the body responds to malnourishment.  For survival of the species, our brains and bodies adjust to chronic changes in diet.  In the absence of nutrients, the brain causes the body to crave carbohydrates, which the body then stores as fat for use later.  The problem Celiacs have is there is no real starvation driving this and there is no time in the future when their bodies will absorb more nutrients, so they continue to crave food and gain weight, in some cases a lot of it. 

So there you were, Linda, in a high stress profession eating as a stress response and a biological response, and gaining weight because, paradoxically, your body wasn’t getting enough nutrients.  All the while you were fighting for the legal rights for women in particular, you were feeling the negative body image, discrimination, and physical effects of obesity.  It makes me wonder just how many people I know with weight problems are actually Celiacs, and how their lives would be different if they knew and were using teraswhey.

Gastric bypass surgery doesn’t cure Celiac disease; only a completely gluten free diet can relieve its symptoms.   Because gluten is almost ubiquitous in our modern diet of manufactured foods, eradicating it from our diets is very difficult.  And the incidence of Celiac disease seems to be increasing.  Much research still needs to be done to determine whether there is in fact an increased rate of incidence or just more diagnosis.  Some practitioners I know are beginning to think it could be exacerbated by the increased presence of not just manufactured foods but also ubiquitous biologically engineered foods like corn that are either in everything or fed to everything. When these things end up ubiquitously in our diets, our guts have to deal with more and more substances that they don’t recognize as food.  Eating.  It used to be something easy and nourishing and joyous.  Now somehow what we’ve done to our farms and our food and ourselves has made it complicated. 

Linda, every day you get to deal with the puzzle of how to get enough protein without eating any gluten. Whey protein is not only a source of a lot of the protein you need, it is also the most bioavailable and most readily absorbed protein for your body.  This means teraswhey is great for bariatric surgery patients and for Celiacs, in short, a simple food that’s perfect for you.  Maybe the universe wanted you to be part of teraswhey because you were going to need it as a foundation of your diet for the rest of your life, and because it would give you a way to share your story with the thousands of people who have been on the same health journey you have.

We get to change the world, one shake at a time.  I can’t thank you enough for sharing this journey with me.

With love,


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Dear Linda

I may have been able to start my business without you, but I know I wouldn’t have been able to keep sane if you and the whey cool girls weren’t such an important part of what we are doing.  Thanks to you we actually have women investing in teraswhey!  I am convinced that part of how we are going to make the world more sustainable is by having more women investing in other women–owned businesses.  Someday we will all have time to look back and reflect, and understand why I say this.

I remember when I first met you.  You knew about whey protein already but what made you so passionate about this business was its local roots.  These high value whey’s could only come from this location in southern Wisconsin – we had the small family farms, clean water, and specialty cheese makers making specialty cheeses with specialty whey by-products.  As the company progressed, you realized that you had personal health reasons to be passionate about it.

While we were still building the plant, you shared with me your intention to do bariatric surgery.  Many years in a high stress profession, you thought, had led you to gain over 100 lbs since you began practicing law.  Still young, you had already had two hip surgeries.  Diets, meditation, and exercise never worked, and you were concerned about having a future of more health issues.  So you decided to do the surgery.  One of the first things that happened was you saw a nutritionist who talked to you about how to eat before and after the surgery.  You were going to need 80g of protein per day, something that is very difficult without a high quality protein supplement.  By then you were a part owner of the most natural whey protein brand in the country.  Now that you’ve had the surgery, teraswhey is a part of your daily diet.  You tell me you feel bereft of energy when you don’t have it.  I’ve had bariatric surgery nutritionists compliment us on the quality of our protein for their patients, and the privilege of talking to other bariatric surgery recovery patients who, like you, now have teraswhey as a fixture in their daily lives.

There are no accidents in this world.  You were meant to be a part of teraswhey even though neither of us really knew why at the time you invested.  It’s one of my greatest rewards to know that the company I created is making such a positive difference each day in the lives of real people like you who go out and make more positive change happen in this world.  We get to be the pebble that causes the ripple that changes the world…

With love and admiration,


Saturday, March 19, 2011

We're a Real Company Now

It was Expo West last week, the biggest tradeshow of the industry.  In the past I would have been terrible at savoring the moment; now that I’m more present in my life I’m getting better at this.

It was one of the first times I felt like the thing that started as an idea in my head has grown to be a real company.  Last year I was there by myself.  Four days of crushingly busy booth traffic and meetings before and after.  I could barely stand up by the time the show was done.  Product flew into the hands of random people; I managed to talk to very few store buyers.  But we were there and people were seeing us for the first time.

This time we had three people at the show from the company.  Amazing.  I could go to the bathroom, walk the show, talk to industry colleagues.  And people were coming up to us who were already customers.  Store buyers saying their customers love our product and want more sku’s.  People loving the branding, packaging, website.  I even met the guy who founded Clif Bar. Wow. It felt like a long way from an idea in my head.

The best thing about this show for me was the stories, most of which, not surprisingly I guess, came from women.   Two women from a rural area in CA described how they started selling teraswhey in their little community’s health club.  At first people either wanted the cheap stuff or didn’t know what whey protein was.  Gradually, even the guys who were used to the cheap stuff have started to convert to our organic. Apparently they think it works better and want to be a part of shifting away from a global food system.  The women smiled and said it felt like teraswhey was changing their entire community.

Another woman came up and said she was a devoted customer and loved what we are doing.  She was my age.  She started talking about how important she thinks it is that I am doing this, that is, that a woman created this company and the brand not a man.  Like me, she is of a generation of women who had to work hard to prove that we could do anything a man could do in the business world and elsewhere.  We are the generation that paved the way for the younger women following us.  I have two daughters and because women like us have done what we have, my daughters know that they can do anything they want to do in this world.

The show had a poignant moment too.  I woke up to a worried call from home the day the Tsunami was due to hit the California coast.  It reminded me of being on a trade show floor in London on 9/11 and getting a call to tell me my kid’s Dad’s house had a fire the night before and while they were fine, the house was not habitable until it was fixed.  Then the planes hit the towers and I was stuck in London for almost a week, no longer able to even call my kids.  Now my kids are grown, two living in California.  I hung up from the call from my boyfriend at home and got on the phone to talk to each of my kids.  The Tsunami warning turned out to be a non-event, and I felt really grateful for having a person in my life at home who was concerned enough to call me that morning.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Dear Brett

Dear Brett,

I went to high school and college from 1976 – 82.  I was a figure skater and for a bunch of reasons knew a lot of people who worked in the fashion industry in New York.  I grew up around gay people and had many as friends.

I remember hearing a few years after I graduated from College, after the birth of my first child, that one of my friends in high school had died of Aids.  He contracted it from a blood transfusion.  Then I heard that another friend from College had also died.  He was a brilliant man who spoke three languages, majored in biochemistry and was on his way to a top medical school.  He had come out as a gay man while we were in College. 

Then the trickle became a flood. I remember taking my kids to the beach house of a woman who was a friend and mentor to me.  She was one of the first women executives in the NY fashion industry.  She had a wall with snapshots on it at her house of all of her friends when they came to visit at her house.  She had started calling it her wall of the dead because so many of the pictures were of people who had died from complications resulting from Aids. The nature of the tragedy changed with the advent of a new generation of drugs.  People stopped dying and I stopped hearing about the tragedy.  I thought it was “under control”. 

What I didn’t realize until I met you was that the tragedy hadn’t gone away, but morphed into a hidden battle with chronic illness and slow physical deterioration.  You told me that living on anti retrovirals was like living on perpetual chemotherapy.  People struggled to eat, maintain weight, energy, they got sick, depressed, isolated, lonely.  They lost the ability to keep a job. They became poor, disabled, went on public assistance.  They needed help from people like you just to make it through the day.

It may not have to be this way.  This past spring an Epidemiologist from Albert Einstein hospital in New York came up to me at my booth at a tradeshow.  He said he had found my whey protein at whole foods in the city and started using it with some of the aids patients in their clinic.  They were doing better.  It helped them tolerate the drugs better, helped them retain body mass, seemed less prone to secondary infections. 

So I got onto PubMed and found that there is a body of research emerging that is documenting the benefits of whey protein for HIV positive patients.  The mechanism appears to related to whey’s ability to increase glutathione levels in HIV positive individuals.  HIV positive people tend to be glutathione deficient, which leaves their bodies without the major antioxidant they need to combat oxidative stress.  Both the disease and the meds HIV positive individuals take to combat the disease cause oxidative stress on their bodies, which means they need more not less glutathione.  There may be other elements of whey that are beneficial, including lactoferrin and immunoglobulins, but more research is needed to document this.

Could it be that HIV positive patients could use lower doses of their medications if they made whey protein a consistent part of their diet?  Could it help them better tolerate their meds, live more active lives, maybe even stay employed longer? 
The way the system works right now, indigent HIV positive patients have their medications covered by Medicare or Medicaid, but not things like whey protein.  Good quality whey protein is cost prohibitive.  The irony is that the lifetime cost of treating these people to society could be less if they had a way to get whey protein into their treatment regimes.

I so much admire the work you do, Brett, to help people with HIV and Aids cope with the litany of problems they face in their lives.  We seem to live in a world that demonizes the people around us who are most vulnerable and one of its effects is to perpetuate a disease abatement industry that costs ever more even as it steals people’s dignity from them.  People like you help them cope, but imagine actually being able to change their lives for the better at the cellular level. However improbable it seems at the moment, you and I get to always believe that it is possible that one day all of your patients can get access to teraswhey. 

With love always,