Tag Archives: health

Diet for a Small Planet & our epidemic

A book titled Diet for a Small Planet that changed a lot about our country turns 50 this year, but it has never been more relevant.

Diet for a Small Planet revolutionized food consumption in America by asking us to think about what we eat and where it comes from — our responsibility for our personal health and the planet’s.

When it came out, I was in sixth grade and oblivious. Yet the book changed my mother’s ideas about food and diet at our house — ideas in our family we later adopted as logical. It did so across the country, creating a whole new focus on healthier, natural food — new jobs, new businesses, new industries.

Decades later, however, as I wrote Dreamland, I began to realize that the problem Diet for a Small Planet presented in 1971 had a lot to do with the origins of the opioid epidemic. In particular, that a root of the epidemic was in our own consumer decisions.

As pressure to prescribe opioids intensified, many docs early on told us that, rather than those pills, what we needed was: to eat better food, get more exercise, stop smoking/drinking, examine how we’d been living and take responsibility for our own wellness. We Americans, generally, as a culture, didn’t want to hear it. We pushed back, demanding pills, quick and convenient miracle solutions that didn’t require that we change or accept responsibility for our own health.

Doctors everywhere felt that pressure and gradually they increased opioid prescriptions.  There are many reasons why those prescriptions increased annually for years, but that’s one.

Opioids are terrific drugs when used correctly and they have a legitimate role in pain management. But that role is not to be in every American’s medicine cabinet. That’s where we were headed. One reason for that, I’m convinced, is a culture of demanding quick, easy solutions, instead of making choices that are hard, daily, and yield results slowly.

Many people needed these pills for their life-mangling pain; many, though, did not.  The consequences of that have been catastrophic for the country. (A woman I spoke to recently said her 20-year addiction to heroin and now fentanyl began when a doctor prescribed her hydrocodone for a foot rash.)

None of that had occurred to me when I began writing Dreamland. The realization came slowly — that we all have responsibility for this problem, that we can all be part of a sane solution to rampant pill prescribing. I changed my diet – no more sodas. Then I did it again after I survived a heart attack. More fruit, vegetables, grains, more exercise (walking, swimming, light weight-lifting at home), very little processed food — all in an attempt to accept responsibility for my own actions, particularly those actions that have larger consequences, as the opioid epidemic showed us they do.

I’m fitter, lighter, feel more in control of my body and life, more prone to joy, frankly.

I’m asked often who’s most to blame for the opioid epidemic. I think people often want to hear me say that drug companies are the culprit. Certainly, as Dreamland, and my next book, The Least of Us, make clear, these companies behaved outrageously.

But writing Dreamland, I also came to realize that the only person I can control is me. I can make the change that will improve my life and in doing so, make myself less dependent on whatever next comes from the drug industry — or the food-soda industrial complex, or the video-game industry, or social media or … .

That’s the liberating message of Diet for a Small Planet — that each decision we make in our personal consumption matters; that our wellness we ought not leave to others, but accept responsibility for in our daily lives; and that the small changes we make can add up to something enormous.

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Filed under Books, Dreamland

Dreamland Lifeguard! Lifting the Fog of Dope

Today a startup in the small town of Portsmouth, Ohio comes out with a line of t-shirts called DREAMLAND LIFEGUARD.

The shirts, designed by a company called 3rd and Court, also feature the words “Time to Turn So You Don’t Burn,” which was a jingle a local radio station broadcast every half hour, knowing that most of its listeners were at the legendary pool.

I’m proud that the designers say they were inspired by my book about our national opiate epidemic, which as many of you know has a lot to say about Portsmouth, and which took its title from the town’s Dreamland pool, which was razed in 1993.

But more than that, I’m impressed with the entrepreneurial DIY energy and imagination that 3rd and Court represents in a town that for years wallowed in a plague of narcotic negativity.

When the fog of dope lifts, creativity and passion have room to blossom. Something like that feels like it’s happening in Portsmouth. A lot of abandoned buildings are under renovation. Downtown has a lot of artists staking their claim.

I spoke with Connor Sherman, 23, who designed the shirts. Connor was partly raised in the Portsmouth area, then went to Shawnee State in town, and graduated with a degree in visual design.

“I see a lot of people, their mindset has changed to entrepreneurship and moving forward,” he said. “Not that I’m going to get out of school and somebody’s going to hand me something, like a job 9-to-5. It’s more about creating something out of nothing.”

The building at 3rd and Court streets in downtown Portsmouth has become a hive for small startups. Years ago, it was an auto shop. Then like so much of Portsmouth it stood vacant for a good while. Finally, it was renovated and PSKC Crossfit occupied the space. (This is part of Portsmouth’s recovery from opiates. Several workout gyms have opened in town. “A lot of people take pride in restoring themselves and restoring others,” Connor told me.)

The crossfit was a place for people to commune.

They began to share ideas and, in time, to discuss business possibilities. That had been lacking for many years in Portsmouth. Really ever since the pool closed in 1993. For years, with the town in decline, buildings abandoned, and half the population leaving, the only place people really saw each other was Walmart.

The new incarnation of the building at 3rd and Court emerged as part of some new alternatives to that isolation.

Soon, Doc Spartan, a maker of natural lotions and hand creams for workout aficionados, started in the building. They advertise their “Combat Ready Ointment” as made from coconut oil, beeswax, eucalyptus oil, vitamin E and more, and good for “cuts scrapes knicks rips rashes razor burn blistered feet rope burn diaper rash chapped skin and calluses.” (Check them out here.)

That was followed by 3rd and Court apparel, making “small town” summer clothes. “Apparel dedicated to the lovely Portsmouth, Ohio and other small towns like ours,” – reads their website.

“My desire to do design instead of something else that someone tells me to do all day is what made me want to start looking for opportunity,” Connor told me.

So the town where for years noxious pill mills were the only locally owned businesses to open is displaying capitalist effervescence of a more wholesome kind.

I get asked by people all over the country what the solution is to this nationwide pill-and-heroin epidemic. Honestly, I don’t always know what to say. But I do believe in harnessing the creativity of folks who are in recovery, or, like Connor, never did dope to begin with.

So here it is:

3rd and Court is offering DREAMLAND LIFEGUARD t-shirts in men’s and women’s sizes, plus a unisex tank top – each for $24.99.

The shirts are on pre-order now at www.3rdandCourt.com.

Go snap ‘em up!

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Filed under Books, Dreamland, The Heroin Heartland