The Bengali outlier


Bengali hilsa fish curry

What if I told you that I know a Bengali who doesn’t eat fish. In fact he doesn’t eat meat of *any* kind. Furthermore, he convinced his parents that they too should give up fish and meat. And they did. Maybe him being an only child was a factor but still..

Reflect on this: a 3-person Bengali family in the prime of their youth had abjured fish and meat. And the son catalyzed this when he was in seventh grade!

I’m not making this up. He, a colleague of ours from Tata Steel days (~ early ’90’s), calmly related this on one of those hostel nights when maach was on the menu. I’m sure he told us what epiphany triggered this madness but alas! I don’t recall. [Tata Steel/Jampot friends, do we know where he is?]

Are there other such Bengali outliers or is he truly one in two hundred and fifty million? Please write a comment if you know someone.

A vegetarian cracks an egg

Eggs from free range chickens fed on a vegetarian diet, anyone?

Eggs from free range chickens fed on a vegetarian diet, anyone?

I was raised a vegetarian. Avoiding meat was the most natural thing for as long as I can remember in my childhood. During our teen years, eggs made a brief entrance into our lives. In the form of cakes. They would be baked in a special-purpose oven (egg handling done by a domestic help) away from the kosher confines of our kitchen.

I liked cakes though even the slightest overt taste of eggs would reduce my enjoyment. There was no danger of cakes making it to my Top 5 favorite desserts list. That list, I must mention, was dominated by milk-based desserts.

When I was in 8th grade, an uncle from Canada (who had turned omnivore a few decades earlier) presented a gastronomic proposal to my mother with a gleam in his eye. If she was willing to sacrifice a nonstick pan and give him free rein in the kitchen, he would make scrambled eggs for his nephews and niece. In a moment of weakness, she agreed. [See Addendum below].

An hour later, I was tasting my first egg dish. It didn’t send me racing to my friends’ houses for sneaky servings of egg dishes but the memory was definitely “hmm”.

Meanwhile, my older brother had discovered eggs at his college hostel mess. When he came home during holidays, he showed off his bread omelet making prowess (yes – that very same sacrificial nonstick pan was used!) I have a distinct memory that this tasted better than scrambled eggs.

Four years would pass before I got my next egg-eating opportunity. I was in college and omelets were a staple part of breakfast. I must have became an occasional to regular eater of omelets but I don’t have a strong recollection of it being something I “couldn’t live without”.

I graduated from college and my first job brought me to Jamshedpur. Those Tata Steel people! They really know how to take care of their employees, especially new trainees. The hostel mess was a serious upgrade from college. I think this is where I really developed a taste for omelets. I finally understood what the fuss was about.

The move to US elevated eggs to the look-forward-to segment of my weekly diet. My friend and housemate in Houston (who was instrumental in me becoming a basic-101-Indian-cook) taught me a cheese-intensive recipe which he dubbed as “Italian eggs”. The details are sketchy but my rendition was appreciated by my housemates as “almost as good as Shiv’s”.

From a parental standpoint, eggs were never on the “do not eat” list. It was more like “don’t ask don’t tell”. A lack of discernment between fertilized and unfertilized eggs and ignorance of the industrialization of poultry meant no moral dilemma.

Have you always been a vegetarian? Have you never tasted meat?

These were two frequent questions asked by Americans. My answers were Yes and No.

The latter answer requires elaboration. Stay tuned for the post “A vegetarian tries meat“.

Addendum: My mother just read this post and shared two related stories:

  • Later in the day (after our egg tasting escapade), my sister’s earring went missing and my mother was convinced that it was divine retribution for having broken a cardinal rule. Fortunately the retribution turned out to be just a slap on the wrist – the earring was eventually found next to a flowerbed in our garden (whew!)
  • Clamors for a home baked cake (from her children) had reached a crescendo so my mother finally gave in. She requested a family friend to come home and bake a cake. The friend deputed her son to lead the proceedings. Eggs were beaten, utensils were rendered impure, a mess was created but at the end of it, there was a cake to show for it. I don’t recall how it tasted but the episode had a scalding impact on my mother’s psyche. She went to bed tortured with guilt and had the worst nightmare.. a scene with scores of chickens squawking loudly in her face. For someone who’s not seen Hitchcock’s Birds, she could have been describing one of the climax scenes. The nightmare cured her of her newly found affinity towards cakes.

The Salmon Experiments

How do they DO this?

How do they DO this?

Among marine life, salmon probably lead the most interesting lives. Born in freshwater rivers, they migrate to the ocean where they live most of their adult lives and, when it’s time to spawn, they start the reverse migration process swimming upstream all the way to their natal river, often to the exact riverbed area where they were born. They use chemical cues and magnetoreception to pull off this incredible feat.

The tragedy is that the reverse migration takes so much out of them that they die soon after spawning.

Or maybe it’s a tragedy to us human folk who look at their life cycle and say “Oh! What a crying shame!”

They could be fulfilling their life’s purpose exactly per plan: the salmon run and the spawning ritual capping a life well lived.

But why couldn’t the salmon live an easier life? Why does every salmon, when confronted with the R Frost choice, choose the direction less traveled?

Something to do with free will I bet.. what that they don’t possess but we humans do.

For strange and largely inexplicable reasons, I’ve been making salmon like decisions in the past decade. Rather deliberately of course.

I’m calling these decisions as my own personal salmon experiments. Some have lasted a few years, others have become pseudo-permanent, and still others are a bit like a sustained quit smoking campaign.

Here’s the list so far:

  • Why take a hot bath when one can take a cold water bath?
  • Why take an Ibuprofen when you can just wing it and ride the pain waves?
  • Why eat more when you can eat less?
  • Why remain vegetarian when you can be vegan?
  • Why eat cooked food when one can eat raw? (Treading this path gingerly as marital and progeny threats are being brandished)
  • Why drink coffee?
  • Why take the elevator when one can take the stairs? (I’m blessed to have a son who shows the way whenever I weaken)

The good biwi has come up with the expression ‘joyless life’ to describe my gastronomic idiosyncrasies.

In my defense, I don’t feel like I’m missing out. Really.

Every experiment is a new challenge that brings with it the satisfaction of continuous summiting. Who said there’s only one type of mountain?


Why do vegetarians annoy people who eat meat?



Why do vegetarians annoy people who eat meat?

A 2012 psychology research study, it turns out, has the answer.
But before I get to the study (bulk of this post anyway), I want to give some background.

I wrote this post a few days before Eid 2016, a rather unremarkable piece recounting my witnessing the slaughter of a goat in clinical detail. I’m on a quest to understand vegans, vegetarians, and meat eaters and this post was a crucial prelude to my journey to veganism.

Shortly after I shared the post on Facebook, a good friend H (whom I’ll describe as a verbal carnivore and a gastronomic omnivore) commented with “It’s just food” (fair enough perspective) and proceeded to post a rant on his timeline that started thus:

Eid is coming up and these glum-looking goats will soon become delicious food. And on cue the insufferably preachy will lecture us about the horrors of killing animals for food. Pretending of course they aren’t doing this just to feel smugly superior and/or to feed their casteist bigotry over the lower meat-eating orders.

As a direct response to my post, the rant struck me as extreme and unfair. I’m sure there are insufferably preachy vegans out there (I see a few on a Vegan group I’m part of) but I haven’t met any in the flesh or on Facebook. But I allowed for the possibility of more than their fair share infesting H’s timeline.

As I returned to H’s thread 12 hours later, imagine my pleasant surprise to read a comment from one of his friends (N):

But on the first point of preachy vegetarians…Is that really common (i.e. people lecturing)? I haven’t met a single person in the last 10 yrs that lectured on this subject in a private or social gathering. What is confusing to me personally is people asking me “why are you a vegetarian? Why did you give up meat?” or even better “you don’t look like a vegetarian!”. I avoid answering that question because the immediate reaction to an honest answer is “oh! you’re preaching” or “oh, you are one of those who thinks you’re better than the rest”. No! I’m just answering a question that you asked me to answer 😳. For example, I have never asked anyone “why are you a meat eater?” – imagine how preachy that would sound! But I get the opposite question all the time and no one bats an eyelid. So I wonder, who actually considers themselves smugly superior. I find it to be the opposite; I avoid disclosing my food preferences (or killing preferences) because there is immediate judgment and ridicule. The irony is that I can post and express liberal opinions about being against Trump’s ideology, against Burkini bans, against the RSS, against Modi etc etc – but none of those expressions are considered preachy. However, one post on animal rights gets flagged as preachy. This is very asymmetric. I’m primarily speaking for the non-judgmental vegetarians/vegans who claim no superiority externally or internally in their headspace. I find it paradoxical that when I’m asked the question “why are u a vegetarian?”, my honest answer is labelled preachy. The consequence is that I lie and say “I’m a vegetarian because I’m allergic to meat”. That seems to be non-threatening and socially acceptable these days – sad. So while I completely understand your peev with the RSS and Hindutva types, I’m sadly peeved by my fellow liberals who won’t let me eat my food without passing condescending comments like “you don’t look like a vegetarian”! What does that even mean 😂. At the end of the day, we’re all trying to figure out our local maxima on the moral landscape. Multiple mutually exclusive non-judgmental Maximas are possible. Happy Eid and enjoy that Mutton Biriyani for I know what it tastes like – just thank the goat for a few seconds!

Knock me down with a feather. I could NOT describe the behavior more eloquently if I had hours at my disposal.

Now let’s look at the study in question because it totally explains H’s (and their ilk’s) overreactions and N’s/my observations.

Do-Gooder Derogation: Disparaging Morally Motivated Minorities to Defuse Anticipated Reproach (Wharton’s Julia Minson and Stanford’s Benoit Monin)

If the title was a mouthful, don’t click on the PDF link just yet. I’m going to excerpt some relevant points below.

“Do-Gooder Derogation” is our tendency to put down others if we feel they are morally-motivated. When someone’s behavior is overtly moral, we often feel annoyed and resentful, rather than impressed or inspired. The study authors see this as a result of “a knee-jerk defensive reaction to the threat of being morally judged and found wanting.” In other words, when we see someone riding on their moral high horse, we assume that they’re accusing us of being immoral by comparison. No one wants to think of themselves as a bad person, so we naturally respond defensively with resentment and derogation.

You might recall the announcement of the Zuckerberg Chan Initiative (ZCI). The unique thing about ZCI was that it was setup as a limited liability company instead of the traditional philanthropic construct (the non-profit). Critics conjured all kinds of conspiracy theories. “Oh! Zuck is not satisfied with the billions he’s made from Facebook. Now he’s going to don the garb of philanthropy and make even more billions under the pretext of “saving the world”!

Eventually a critic of the critics article appeared which referenced the Minson Monin research.

First the abstract:

In Study 1, 47% of participants freely associated negative terms with vegetarians and the valence of the words was negatively related to how much participants expected vegetarians to see themselves as morally superior to non-vegetarians. In Study 2, we manipulated the salience of anticipated moral reproach by varying whether participants reported these expectations before or after rating vegetarians. As predicted, participants rated vegetarians less positively after imagining their moral judgment of meat eaters. These studies empirically document the backlash reported by moral minorities and trace it back to resentment by the mainstream against feeling morally judged.

If that sounded too research’y, then this succinct summary from Dan Ariely’s blog is sure to help you out:

The authors asked meat-eaters to generate a few words they associated with vegetarians. Unsurprisingly, 47% of participants came up with at least one negative word (like “malnourished” or “self-righteous” or “preachy”). When asked, participants also felt that most vegetarians would view themselves to be more moral than the average meat-eater.

The most interesting part of Minson and Monin’s findings, though, was that the more morally superior participants judged vegetarians to be, the more negative words they attributed towards them. For this reason we might be more accepting of the vegetarian that sighs, “I’d love to eat meat, but right now doctor’s orders say no,” than the one in a PETA shirt.

If you are still reading and want to know how the two studies were constructed, below are details on Study 1 (a correlation study) and Study 2 (which establishes causality).

Study 1 shows that when they think about vegetarians and morality, nearly half of meat eaters generate negative associations. Giving us a first empirical insight into the causes of this derogation, our meat-eating sample also exhibited anticipated moral reproach, reporting that they thought vegetarians would look down on the morality of meat eaters generally, and their own specifically. Furthermore, the more participants expected vegetarians to exhibit such moral superiority, the more negative were the associations they generated. The personal nature of the threat was evident in some comments that respondents spontaneously added at the end of the questionnaire. One participant proudly wrote, ‘‘I’m the antithesis of vegetarian’’; and another, ‘‘Vegetarians, eat whatever you want to eat; no one cares. But don’t give other people [expletive] for what they choose to eat.’’ The traits generated by participants confirm our prediction that many meat eaters harbor negative perceptions of vegetarians. The statistical association with anticipated moral reproach also provides support for the hypothesized relationship. Although supporting our predictions, these findings suffer the limitations of correlational data. Furthermore, the richness of open-ended responses generated in Study 1 is offset by the loss of homogeneity in the responses provided, forcing us to rely on post hoc judgments of valence.

In Study 2, we manipulate the salience of anticipated moral reproach to test its causal role in do-gooder derogation. In this study, some participants considered how vegetarians would judge their morality as well as that of other nonvegetarians before evaluating vegetarians, whereas others started by evaluating vegetarians first. We predicted that when participants first contemplated being morally judged, they would be more likely to derogate vegetarians (as in Study 1) than if they evaluated vegetarians with no explicit consideration of threat.

Whereas Study 1 showed a correlational link between anticipated moral reproach and do-gooder derogation, Study 2 shows that merely thinking about how vegetarians see the morality of non-vegetarians can trigger this effect. When that threat was present, vegetarians were rated less positively on a composite of evaluative traits than when participants were not prompted to imagine being morally appraised. Our threat manipulation did not introduce any new information about vegetarians but simply asked participants to answer four items about perceptions and meta-perceptions of moral standing. The fact that we observed a significant shift in ratings of vegetarians as a result of such a subtle manipulation demonstrates just how sensitive individuals are to moral threat.


Once again, here’s that PDF research link.

N shared the research study on the same FB thread but H wasn’t buying yet. “The West coast / Californians are the most insufferable and sanctimonious among the veganistas” (not exact words). So the fair critique is this “would the findings be the same if the study were conducted in other geographies?”

Closing note: Last month I saw an Oprah Winfrey interview with Michael Pollan where the latter arguably gave the most plausible answer to this post’s question: “It’s like these vegans are insulting your mother.” That sharp observation warrants a new post.

Witness to a slaughter


London, Sept 2010It was my second year at BIT Mesra.

My friend was the hostel mess secretary (hostel #7). One of the secretary’s responsibilities was to accompany the hostel mess manager for the weekly groceries+produce shopping.

For one of those weekly trips, my friend couldn’t make it so I substituted for him.

Pretty uneventful stuff for the first few hours. Auto ride to the city market with Singh-ji (mess manager). Buying large quantities of vegetables and basically nodding yes to the negotiated prices. The final stop was at the butcher’s shop. If you are familiar with the area, the shop was on the approach road to BIT Mesra (soon after you turn from the highway).

A goat was the last item on the shopping list. (I don’t remember chickens being bought on the trip and, since chicken was definitely on the weekly menu, I reckon there was a separate delivery run for that)

Singh-ji knew I was a vegetarian. With an understanding smile he said, “aap baahar wait kar sakte hain.” (you can wait outside)

I refused.

It’s too long to recall exactly why I refused. It could have been a sense of duty/responsibility. Or, more likely, a morbid fascination to see an animal being slaughtered and see what it could do to my psyche.

There were several goats tied in the courtyard. They were probably bleating but I have no recollection of sound. My visual sense was on high alert for what I was about to witness soon.

Singh-ji didn’t take too much time to pick his goat.

(Shikha’s tweet this morning was the trigger for this post)

The chosen one was untied and brought to the center. The struggle to escape began in full earnest while the (temporary) survivors watched.

Three men – two restrained the goat while the third wielded the blade.

A quick slit to the neck was all it took to bring an end to the goat’s life.

The blood started gushing on the floor. The limbs thrashed around spasmodically.

The spasms reduced and my spell was broken.

My curiosity and morbid fascination had been quenched.

I walked back and sat in the back of the auto, waiting for Singh-ji to return.

I didn’t peer to see the state of the carcass as it was loaded at the back of the auto.

Was it skinned? Probably.

Was it cut? Probably not.

There was no idle chatter on the drive back to the hostel.


Questions to readers:

  • Have you witnessed  an animal being slaughtered?
  • If yes, how old were you? and did it have any impact on your psyche?

Do leave a comment if you are so inclined.

The butcher did it


butcher_uk_pinterest_comA recent conversation with my parents unearthed a nostalgic gem from our years in Bokaro. This is post #2 in my series on understanding meat eaters.

My older brother (S) was seven. We had our first cousin (let’s call her “IP”) living with us that year. She was six. I was too young to remember anything.

My uncle (and IP’s dad) would drive down from Jamshedpur every few weekends. During one of those trips, he brought something to eat for the kids.

S & IP: “What is it? What is it?”

Uncle: “Surprise! Try it first. It’s yummy.”

Uncle (as S and IP started chewing): “It’s meat…”

S promptly spat it out.

IP: “But Dad, S tells me you get papam if you eat meat!” (papam in Telugu means sin)

Uncle: “Silly! Only the person who killed the animal gets papam! Not you, me or anyone who eats it!”


Next in the series: Eating pork chops while petting your golden retriever

Understanding meat eaters through the lapsed vegetarian lens


[Editor’s note: This is the first in a series on vegetarians, omnivores, food habits, diets adopted by successful athletes (bias towards runners of course), perhaps eventually leading to a psychohistory of food. Several years of Facebook sharing has taught me that *any* article on these topics (lengthy, nuanced or researchy) invariably lead to defensive or offended responses from my social graph. This series is an attempt to keep readers on *one* hair ‘splittable’ topic.]

“Our special today is duck smothered in oyster sauce.”
“Oh! Please don’t tell me how you killed it!”

While this might be evocative of your modern day Newyorker cartoon, this cartoon appeared in a Reader’s Digest issue around 35 years ago.

Barring 3-4 episodes of collegial rebellion, I’ve been a vegetarian all my life and a chegan for the past year.

In a global population of 7 billion, vegetarians are a minority. One might even call them a fringe group of sorts (aka a cult). I understand vegetarians well. It’s the other group I want to understand better.

An omnivore friend with an intense carnivorous proclivity said something very similar to the above cartoon.
“Most non-vegetarians are lapsed vegetarians.”

This assessment goes a long way towards understanding the majority group.

Who the heck is a lapsed vegetarian?
Any homo sapien carnivore that is not a hunter, not a butcher, not a meat industry worker is a lapsed vegetarian.

If you’ve not seen the goings-on at a chicken/goat farm, you are a lapsed vegetarian.

If you haven’t done a tour of a state-of-the-art industrialized beef farm in US (on the lines descibed by Michael Pollan in Power Steer), you are a lapsed vegetarian.

If you haven’t gone fishing in the past 10 years and caught a tuna or two, you are a lapsed vegetarian.

To the true blue chest thumping carnivore bristling with indignation at this name calling, here are a few litmus tests to prove that you DON’T belong to this yucky group of ‘lapsed vegetarians’.
Go to your local butcher shop and wield that machette and *take a life*. Or two.
Didn’t get your adrenaline rushing yet? Well, go on a licensed hunting expedition and shoot some wild fame.

To the rest of you non-indignant meat eaters, that chieftain from the movie Madagascar says it best:
“You are pansies!”

Like that woman in the restaurant, you don’t WANT to know how the dish on your plate was killed. You’ve been doing it for so long that you don’t even THINK of your dish as ‘ex-living-animal’.

The good news is that smart inter-disciplinarian scientists are creating meat in-the-lab which will taste and feel no different from traditional meat. So whatever subliminal conflicts you might have in your mind might just be resolved in your lifetime.

Next episode candidates in this series…

  • Blame the butcher!
  • Hey vegetarian, you are just a lapsed vegan!
  • Killing for meat or clothes: does animal size matter?
  • Killing for meat or clothes: does the method matter?
  • Eating pork chops while petting your golden retriever
  • Vegetarians and the “anticipated reproach” theory


But these animals were also created for us to consume in moderation


And what is good, Phaedrus, And what is not good. Need we ask anyone to tell us these things? – Robert Pirsig

Pic courtesy

Pic courtesy

I’ve been on this Indian Vegans Facebook group for sometime now. A fairly high traffic group so I pop in every now and then. Two days ago, somebody posted the following question:

A very nice sincere muslim friend has the argument: “But these animals were also created for us to consume in moderation. And they have to be killed following halal rules”. Can someone help me counter that argument in a nice way? Point to some webpages, etc?

A flurry of responses followed. This morning, the original poster shared the following response – I’ve emphasized the parts that particularly resonated with me.

Thanks everyone for your helpful responses. FYI, this is what I replied to my friend. Hopefully this will also help you while having conversations with others.

“But these animals were also created for us to consume in moderation.”
This means we should torture and kill in moderation – it doesn’t make sense to me. Does it to you?

If animals were given limbs, nose eyes, ears, genitalia that means they were meant to live. They feel emotions, pain, love. They wouldn’t have these sensibilities if they were meant to be “consumed”.

No business can be profitable (it is proven) if they ensure that animals do not suffer throughout their lifecycle. So halal way or not, all animals are suffering terribly in meat/dairy/fur/leather/etc industry.
It is not just about the pain during the killing, it is also about the enormous suffering every single minute of their life, from birth till death. Please educate yourself – there are lot of pictures, literature and videos available on the internet that show how animals are abused from birth to maximize profit for the business owners, big or small.

Btw, all plant based foods are halal.

Mankind has evolved to a point where we have lots of non-cruel options available for food and clothing year round. Why do we have to still resort to the ancient lifestyle?

The ancient lifestyle where they had limited options has been confused with the word of God in all religions. In fact, if one believes in God, he/she should chose kindness over cruelty. Wouldn’t every God like that – what do you think? We can still follow our own religions and choose a cruelty-free lifestyle.

Though plant based diet has enormous health, environmental and social benefits, it is mainly about co-existing peacefully with all the creations of God. It is about peace and harmony, which is the essence of any religion.

The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans, just like black people were not made for whites, and women not for men. – Alice Walker

Please if possible, listen to “The best speech ever”:

Or read the transcript here:

One highly recommended book is:…



Intermittent fasting for health and longevity

Pic courtesy

Pic courtesy

On the eve of Karwa Chauth, I thought this would be a topical post. Todd Becker (author of the Getting Stronger blog) has written on this topic at length. My contribution in this post is to summarize the salient points for the ADD generation. The only reason I filed this post under Running is because of the earlier hormetism post linking cold showers and barefoot running.

1934 calorie restriction study on lab rats

One of the first scientifically rigorous demonstrations of the benefits of hormesis was a 1934 study of calorie restriction (often abbreviated “CR”) in laboratory rats, conducted by Mary Crowell and Clive McCay at Cornell. They found that reducing the calories of rats by 30-50%, supplemented with adequate micro-nutrients, could almost double their lifespans. Later studies found continued lifetime extension with calorie restriction up to 65%. In addition, the rats remained energetic and youthful in appearance, with greatly reduced incidence, and delayed onset, of age-related diseases. This same phenomenon has been observed in a variety of other animals.

From monkeys and macaques to humans?

Studies on rhesus monkeys and macaques at the University of Wisconsin have found that the calorie-restricted monkeys have significantly less diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative diseases. Their fasting insulin and glucose levels are greatly reduced, and they have higher insulin sensitivity and excellent lipid profiles. While the study is yet to be completed, at the 20 year point, 80% of the calorically restricted monkeys were still alive, compared to only half of the controls.

In a study of humans who restrict their calories by 10-25% relative to baseline, but supplied with adequate vitamins and minerals, similar benefits have been seen, with significantly lower blood pressure, insulin, fasting glucose, triglycerides and LDL cholesterol; and significantly higher HDL cholesterol.

Three theories for why IF works: Autophagy, Mitohormesis and BDNF

Autophagy (“Self digestion”) is a phenomenon whereby the cells degrade and digest damaged or non-essential contents within the cell membrane. During nutrient starvation, autophagy basically “cleans house”: it breaks down non-vital components and releases nutrients, ensuring that the vital processes can continue. How does this come about? Calorie restriction is known to dramatically lower the concentrations of insulin, IGF-1 and growth hormone. Reduced levels of these hormones in turn activates the genes and pathways for autophagy or catabolism. Basically this involves the cell producing enzymes that specifically degrade oxidized or otherwise damaged intracellular molecules.

Mitohormesis is defense response, which is believed to occur within the mitchondria, the energy factory of the cell.  The mitohormesis theory proposes that calorie restriction is a type of “low-intensity stress” that activates genes involved in defensive responses against aging processes such as oxidation. The mitohormesis concept has been demonstrated in studies of the worm Caenorhabditis elegans, which showed that limiting the amount of glucose being fed to the worm resulted in oxidative stress, to which the organism responded by adapting so as to resist further oxidative stress.  This extended its lifespan.

Some well-known Calorie Restriction (CR) Diets

  • Okinawa Diet: This is a diet high in fish, rice, and yellow and green vegetables, many of them fermented.  The Japanese as a whole eat fewer calories than do Americans.  But the Okinawans eat even less. Compared with the average Japanese caloric intake, the Okinawa diet has:
    • 20% fewer calories
    • 25% fewer grains
    • 75% less sugar
    • 300% of level of green/yellow vegetables, especially sweet potatoes
    • small amounts of fish and pork, including pig organs
    • no eggs or dairy
  • CRON-diet (Calorie Restriction with Optimal Nutrition) was developed by Roy Walford, Lisa Walford and Brian Delaney. They advocate a plan involving three meals per day. Two of these meals are “free choice” recipes. The third is prepared in advanced according to recommended recipes to ensure adequate micronutrients. Meals are carefully weighed and assessed for calorie content. The CRON-diet is popular among members of the Calorie Restriction Society.

Intermittent Fasting

A number of studies have shown that fasting for short periods of time, generally less than 2-3 days, produce many of the same health benefits as general calorie reduction, without having to reduce the average number of calories consumed per week.  However, many adherents of intermittent fasting find that their average calorie intake tends to decrease voluntarily; in other words, they tend not to “make up for lost time” on their non-fasting days.  And many people (myself included) feel that it is psychologically more tolerable to alternate fasting with the ability to eat to fullness, rather than restricting calories at every meal.  In addition, there are some scientific arguments that favor a “cycling” approach for optimizing the secretion of hormones such as leptin, and for avoiding a long term adaptive reduction in basal metabolic rate.  If you are afraid that skipping meals will cause your metabolism to shut down and shift into “starvation mode”, dispel that thought. A study by Zauner et al in the Journal of Clinical Nurtrition showed metabolic rate actually increases during fasting up to 4 days, due to a more than doubling of norepinephrine.  So fasting for 6-24 hours hours has no downside.

Above content from Todd Becker’s Calorie restriction and hormesis blog post. If you like watching video talks, there are 5 Becker videos embedded in this post.


The runner’s elixir

Pic courtesy

Pic courtesy

The Gauls go to battle against the hapless Romans after downing a swig of magic potion prepared by their druid Getafix. It doesn’t matter how heavily armed the Romans are or whether they got recent reinforcements from the nearby camp of Laudanum. They always get bashed to nothingness – sandals on the ground, Roman soldiers airborne and their strewn helmets being gleefully picked up by Obelix who, as we all know, possesses permanent superhuman strength because he fell into a cauldron of magic potion when he was a baby.

The pre-fight ritual of the druid preparing and doling out magic potion to the entire village is quite fascinating too. The feverish anticipation, the jostling, Obelix’s ridiculous attempts to pass off as ‘someone else’. I’m convinced that if Getafix had prepared a placebo every now and then, it would have made little difference to the fight’s outcome.

Ah! If only we marathoners had our own elixir that would give us superhuman strength..

Nah! That would be too boring – everyone would finish the race in tandem (think Asterix and the Olympic Games or was it Laurel Wreath?)

What we DO need is an elixir that fuels us for our long runs and builds an anticipation similar to what the Gauls feel on the eve of their fight. Thanks to Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run book, I’ve found my elixir. It’s what Jurek calls the Srawburst Anti-Inflammatory Smoothie: This smoothie combines the anti-inflammatory ingredients of pineapple (bromelaine), ginger, turmeric, and Flora Oil (omega-3 fatty acids). It’s a great daily postworkout drink, soothing aching muscles, and a terrific addition to your regular meals before your run on a long training day.

I’ve adapted Jurek’s recipe keeping in mind Bangalore’s fruit supply chain. While the original recipe says either frozen or fresh, I use only fresh fruit. A trip to Namdhari’s ensures procurement of *most* of the ingredients. Fortunately no need to climb trees in search of mistletoe!


Pineapple, strawberries, mangoes, banana, ginger, turmeric, rock salt, spirulina, soy milk. Jurek’s original recipe includes exotic ingredients (for India) like acai, goji berries, miso, edamame, flora oil, and blueberries. Recently I’ve started finding blueberries in a few stores though they are still too expensive.

The ritual

Barring races, Saturdays are my ‘long run’ days so the anticipation begins on Friday. What started off as yet another Jurek regimen to try and imbibe has acquired a Japanese tea ceremony life of its own. I now quote.. It is a choreographic ritual of preparing and serving Japanese green tea together with traditional Japanese sweets to balance with the bitter taste of the tea. Preparing tea in this ceremony means pouring all one’s attention into the predefined movements. The whole process is not about drinking tea, but is about aesthetics, preparing a bowl of tea from one’s heart. The host of the ceremony always considers the guests with every movement and gesture.

My ritual begins post dinner. The jazz playlist is selected.. cutting board and knife come out.. ingredients are lined up on the counter. The peeling, slicing and chopping begin.

  • First the pineapple. Slice the skin just right – not too fine, not too coarse.
  • Cut thin circular slices. Stow away 2/3 and use 1/3 of the slices for the smoothie.
  • If you don’t have Vitamix (or any equivalent fancy blender), finely chop the pineapple rounds.
  • Next up – strawberries. Select six of the reddest specimens and chop them up (after washing them of course).
  • Slice a medium-sized banana into rounds.
  • (In season) Slice and scoop out about 1/3 of a ripe mango. Make it 1/2 if you are a mango lover.
  • Peel a 1″ long ginger root, wash and finely slice.
  • Transfer all the sliced ingredients into the smallest of your blender sets. (I find that the small blends better than the medium one)
  • Add a spoon of turmeric powder.
  • Add rock salt (crushed or small pieces). Adjust quantity to taste.
  • Add a few spoons of dried coconut flakes (for some odd reason, I never seem to remember this ingredient).
  • (Optionally) add 1/2 spoon of spirulina powder. Ever since I stopped adding this, I’ve been enjoying my smoothie a heck of a lot more. Spirulina dominates too much (both color and taste).
  • Add 1/4 cup of soy milk. I use Staeta’s Natural which basically has no flavors. Alternatively, you can use rice milk, almond milk or any other protein beverage.
  • Utter your favorite incantations and blend the beauties to oblivion.
  • Pour into a tall glass, cover and store in fridge.
  • Your elixir is ready for the next morning.

Every now and then, I experiment with other fruits. Adding kokum juice gives a nice tangy taste. Grapes are ok too but makes the smoothie more chewy. Watermelon and cantaloupe utterly get dominated.

Pre-run routine

I wake up 45 minutes before my long run and I drink up my elixir before I brush my teeth. It’s fairly viscous so it takes me at least 5 minutes to down it all. You’d think the smoothie will be sloshing around in your tummy but you’ll be surprised how quickly it gets absorbed. Try it and let me know whether it works for you.