Ten years ago last month, after a decade of meatless-and-fishless youthhood, I took a bite of salmon sashimi and never looked back.
It was a very good day.
Actually, that’s not true. It was a very conflicted day. I was seventeen, stubborn, malnourished, college-brain-overloaded, and really flippin’ hungry. I’d spent a good two hours prepping for an English Lit class potluck—carving a watermelon into the shape of a peacock and adorning it with skewered melon balls, assuring myself that even if the rest of the party was a terrifying apocalypse of pizza and cheese cubes, at least I could eat my fruit bird.
It turned out the pizza was a no-show, but someone had the genius idea—and I say that without a shred of sarcasm—of bringing a huge takeout platter of sushi. I spent some time gnawing on a cantaloupe ball, glancing furtively at the fish display, admiring its arrangement in the way one might admire a Van Gogh: with aesthetic awe, but no desire to shove it into my mouth and chew.
That changed pretty fast. I still don’t really know what happened: the salmon seemed to leap supernaturally from its plate to my hand, and then suddenly I was swallowing the first piece of animal flesh I’d touched in ten years. And oh, was it divine. Love at first bite! Utter foodgasm! A soulmate encounter, of sorts, except ending with one person eating the other person instead of them getting married and having 1.7 children. But otherwise the same! Thank you, salmon sashimi, and thank you forgotten classmate who allowed us to unite.
Ultimately, that moment forced me to grab a Humility Crowbar and pry open my then-dogmatically-vegetarian mind. Had I not experienced the the rabid, primal devouring of Forbidden Fish and the full-body ecstasy that followed, I never would’ve realized how starving I was for something it contained. I never would’ve started arguing with people on the internet who insisted I was just high on the fish’s death juju. I never would’ve gotten banned from forums for trying to help struggling vegans. And I most likely never would’ve started this blog, which emerged as a reaction to all the above.
All from some slabs of raw salmon in 2004!
I think that’s well worth celebrating. So I want to take a moment to thank you for joining me on this journey, for following a blog I never expected to have more than a handful of readers, and for generously lending me your time in this little slice of internet real estate. You guys make this whole thing worthwhile. Please know that every comment, email, and pair of silently perusing eyes is appreciated more than I can describe.
And now for some other things!
1. After approximately three quadrillion emails about this blog’s slow-loadingness/hard-to-readness/unwieldiness/appearance of having been slapped together by a visually inept aardvark*, I’ve finally updated the site design. I hope this works better! Please let me know if it’s glitchy or in any way torturous.
*No one actually said this, but I know it’s what we all were thinking.
2. The holidays are upon us! If you’re gift-hunting for someone who doesn’t have time to read books like people did in the olden days, the Audible version of “Death by Food Pyramid” is now available (narrated by none other than my dear father, who is much better at talking than me):
3. In the vein of health-related purchases, I also want to put in a gigantic plug for 23andMe genetic testing. I ordered a kit over a year ago, spent months watching the unopened box sit dejectedly on the corner of my desk, and then finally took the plunge in October. And by plunge, I mean I spit into a little tube and mailed my saliva off to Scientists Unknown.
I was mostly interested in three things: the ancestry breakdown, my ApoE phenotype, and whether I had any of the breast-cancer-associated BRCA mutations that 23andMe can test for. (Considering all five of my grandma’s sisters died of breast cancer, and BRCA mutations are disproportionately common among Ashkenazi Jews (of which I’m now a confirmed 47.7%), I was particularly anxious about the latter.)
But the most interesting discovery (apart from some mysterious South Asian heritage) ended up being something I’d previously known nothing about: MTHFR mutations. The MTHFR gene codes an enzyme called methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, which is involved in folate metabolism—and when it’s defective, you’re at increased risk of all manner of gnarly ills: blood clots, migraines, Alzheimer’s, miscarriages, fibromyalgia, certain cancers, autism, stroke, chemical sensitivity, birth defects, heart disease, depression, and IBS, oh my! The impact can be far-reaching for not only diet and supplement routines, but also other lifestyle components: for instance, if you’re a premenopausal lady, having a MTHFR mutation could make oral birth control pretty risky.
After running my 23andMe data through GeneticGenie.org, which is free and awesome and discloses all your MTHFR-related goodies, I was greeted with this colorful display:
Those red suckers indicate two copies of a mutated gene; yellow indicates one copy; and green means you’re in the clear. It turns out I’m homozygous (two identical alleles) for MTHFR C667T, which is one of the crummiest mutations to have (A1298C being the other biggie). It means my methylation efficiency is only about 10 – 20% of what it should be, making supplements a potential necessity. It also means both of my parents carry at least one C667T copy, since they’re the ones who generously passed it on to me. And since a not-insignificant portion of the population is also mutant, you could very well be in the same boat! Fun, eh?
I’m still in preliminary research mode on this one, so I’ll refrain from writing more ’til I’ve got my sea legs on the subject. But if you wanna explore elsewhere, you can dive into sites like MTHFR.net or the MTHFR Support Group on Facebook and read to your heart’s content. And if you do have your 23andMe results, I highly recommend following the instructions on GeneticGenie.org to see what your methylation status is. Especially if you have a family history of migraines or miscarriages or Alzheimer’s or autism. This is definitely one of those “missing puzzle piece” things that’ll help tighten the thread between diet, environment, genes, and health!
Of course, once you have your genetic data in your hot little hands, there’s a ton of other diet-relevant stuff you can look up: whether you have hereditary hemochromatosis (iron overload), if you’re an ApoE4 carrier (which may affect how you respond to high-saturated-fat diets and alcohol, among other things), whether you’re a fast or slow caffeine metabolizer (will that morning cup o’ joe give you a heart attack?), and so forth.
Last year, the FDA swooped in and obliterated 23andMe’s health reports, so you can’t read about your disease risk directly on their site anymore. But fortuitously, you can still get all the information they used to offer (and more) by downloading your 23andMe raw data and running it through Promethease for free (or $5, if you’re impatient and want it zippy quick). That will give you more info than you’ll ever have time to read, all about the most fascinating subject in the world: you!
There are also plenty of other sites you can use once you have that raw data—with a decent list compiled here:
And lastly, if you’re worried about handing off your genetic secrets to a company that may or may not one day disclose them to more nefarious entities (NSA? an insurance company that’ll hike your rates once they see you’re predisposed to diabetes? your mother in law?), this article has some tips on how to safeguard your DNAey goods:
4. I added a “support this blog” button to the side of this page. I’m not a big fan of having it there, and I’ll be taking it down once I find a non-obnoxious way to make this blog financially sustainable. In the meantime, I keep going broke when I write long blog posts because I end up putting a few hundred hours into research and writing instead of doing my typical bill-paying freelance gigs. Alas! If you find the information here valuable and are in a financial position to do so, donations are accepted with more gratitude and heart-squeeziness than I could ever convey in pixels. If you’re a health-seeker who couch-cushion dives for grocery money like I do, please consider this blog a free service and keep being your rad self (and find a way to stay fed!). I love you all regardless.
5. The post coming next will be the longest one this blog has ever seen. 15,000 words and counting, and a potentially radical shift in paradigm. Brace yourself, young grasshoppers! I hope to have it up before the new year.
Stay safe and healthy, everyone; you’re precious.