You recently sent me an email titled “Want to piss off Trump?” No—I don’t. And here's why I wish you had not asked:
Noxious forces lurk just below the surface of our most righteous agendas. They strain our friendships and relationships to the brink of fracture and draw us deeper into our socially-sterilized comfort zones until the equally cowardly options of retreat and violence suddenly seem like legitimate options. We Americans are enamored with the idea of our own greatness and resourcefulness, but apparently just until the going gets tough.
While emotional walls crumble and physical walls do—or don’t—get drawn up for construction by the fastest-talking government contractor, let us not forget that our problems are nothing new. Having been wrought by decades, if not centuries, of corporate influence, self-interest, and convenient neglect, our greatest political challenges are too large and too old to be solved by a single politician, or even a single party. Excluding persons pursuing direct harm to others (those we call terrorists), there are no opponents here, only fellow citizens and collaborators in executing, interpreting and modifying the laws of the United States of America. We fatally delude ourselves to believe that our deepest ideological rifts are caused solely by the mass-stupidity of others. Progress occurs through thoughtful, concerted, and mutual effort—and we, the people, must also be accountable.
Let us name one noxious force to which none of us are immune--ignorance. With few exceptions, arguments claiming to annihilate opposing viewpoints with telescopic accuracy persist only by limiting our perspective or by failing to examine the complexity of real-world problems. We only advance by understanding the reasons we do not agree, and we only uncover these reasons through honest and civil public dialogue. We are all political experts and we are all political idiots. We must always remember that the communication coin is indeed two-sided; we must not just speak, but also listen.
Freedom is the only American absolute; it must exist not in precarious balance with oppression, but universally and equally for all. We must not selectively apply freedom in accordance with our own personal creeds, but see our country and its problems as much larger than ourselves or our agendas. This is the vision of America that we, citizens and politicians alike, profess to hold dear—and it is the America we all lose when ideological feuds become deep nonnegotiable fissures. We might reasonably doubt that this bickering vision of America is not what our heroic armed forces fight and die for.
Let us then identify another noxious force that divides and threatens us--fear. Only through fear can we be convinced that another American’s freedom exists at the expense of our own. Let us confront, head-on, our sickening abundance of self-righteousness—perhaps first by acknowledging that, when a child expresses this behavior, we call it being a brat. Let us grow individually, and as a nation, through deep introspection and by acknowledging that each of us is but one American. Let us bring about the extinction of the fear-mongering lawmaker, not through acts of violence, but by using our most basic of democratic rights to elect those who prefer discussion over manipulation. Let us uphold the most essential American value to honor both the noble sacrifices of our veterans and those brave Americans who actively serve.
There is but one toxic inevitable child of ignorance and fear—and we call it hate. None of us want a broken, divided, and hateful America but, if we cannot work together, we deserve nothing more. If there is nobility in leaving this land better than we inherited it, let us act constructively by changing the system that exists to serve us; let us leave idealism and idolatry to the seething extremists; and let us always remember that even those with whom we most strongly disagree ultimately want the same things we do. Some people label this idea radical empathy—we might also hold ourselves to a higher standard and simply call it being American.
If you walk the morally infallible path, you will do everyone a favor by walking it quietly. The high road is both liberal and conservative, it is both honest and understanding, and it is paved with respect. Real change happens when we share and listen, reach out and reconsider, and—most importantly—humbly engage those with whom we share differences. These behaviors are not modeled for us by the television entertainers, internet trolls or ordinary politicians. Only we, the people, can choose consciousness over reactivity, collaboration over obstruction, and progress over perfection. We must acknowledge our fears and rise above ignorance. We must redefine patriot to include those who embody compromise and compassion—and we must start now, because we succeed and fail together.
P.S. After discussing my message above with my lovely and compassionate wife, I feel compelled to add a few remarks. I wrote this letter from an acknowledged place of privilege. I am, in fact, a man, with white skin, and a non-controversial sexual orientation. While I could reasonably claim to identify with an ethnic and/or religious minority group, my name and appearance exempt me from the most common and direct forms of bigotry. In Germany, circa 1930, things would have been different for me—and, indeed, things were quite different for my Grandfather and his family. I do not mean to imply that compassion and communication are easy—especially for those who feel immediately threatened by the acts and statements of others—but I stand true to my message. Compassion and tolerance take many forms and only through these acts do we move forward. Perhaps this simply means, rather than angrily pushing your chair away from the Thanksgiving table, you tell your opinionated friend or relative “I love you, and please respect the fact that I do not want to talk about this right now.” Perhaps it means you take your message of inclusion and compassion all the way to Washington D.C.. It’s a broad spectrum, but it all begins with small actions. Whether we meet over dinner, or I end up voting for you in the next election cycle, I hope we can work together to make America—and the world—a better place.
If there's one thing I have learned--again and again--over the past few years, it's that I'm the proverbial canary in the coal mine in the presence of mold. Don't get me wrong--I'm no clean freak. I have been know to eat dirt on purpose and pay handsomely for quality fecal bacteria. Mold is just a different type of microorganism with a different kind of agenda.
If you followed my blog last year, you know I had high hopes for FMT and that I responded very well during my two-week treatment in England. The ensuing year simply flew by and I also just needed a break from blogging. I wanted to focus on myself, my projects, and my adventures. It was a great year and--if it's up to me--just the beginning of the next exciting chapter.
The blog gets better traffic than I'd expect, considering my gross neglect--but FMT is a hot topic. I suppose a treatment so taboo (and sometimes also miraculous) is bound to attract attention. A few people suffering with Crohn's and colitis have reached out over the past year and I hope my replies were helpful. If you are on the fence about FMT for yourself or a loved one, I hope you find my health update an honest (and perhaps even empowering) datum in a vast quagmire of differing opinions.
As far as ruminants go, lamb is just luscious. In England, this tasty meat is not relegated to the back corner of the case for consumption only on the occasional holiday or on the blog of some fanciful food geek. No, here, this finely flavored foodstuff gets its very own section in the meat department.
I love flavor and, for me, lamb has it. You will understand, then, why acknowledging my sensitivity to lamb was hard for me. My skin, of all things, dries and cracks when I eat it, and my gut doesn't feel great either. It is an experiment I tried several times in years past, without promising results. At the British market, the brimming shelves of lamb call--but their call I must refuse.
Tonight, it is with great excitement, that I announce an alternative: venison. While less abundant than lamb, venison is still easy to find in a British market. It offers more flavor than your typical supermarket beef--whether that beef is supposedly grass-fed or not--and spares me the skin and digestive distress.
Prepare to fill my hotel room with savory scents and delight my palate with hearty flavors (all without the accompanying immune dysfunction). Tonight, you will contain venison and you will be delicious.
The eighth day of my stay in Hitchin coincided with a British bank holiday. When I took a walk around lunchtime, the town was hopping. Vendors and artisans filled the town square and I browsed for a bit, enjoying the sights and smells. When I headed out later, on my evening shopping excursion, things were different--Hitchin was a ghost town. In spite of my diligent efforts, checking the Waitrose's hours on multiple websites, it was, in fact, closed.
It was a funny thing, though. On my way to Waitrose, for no conscious reason, I crossed the street earlier than I had on any day prior. Thanks to this spontaneous variation in routine, I stumbled upon the most marvelous dandelion patch in all of Hitchin.
After my serendipitous harvest--following the foragers' code, of course--I ventured off toward another store. Sure enough, the Sainsbury's was open and had plenty from which to choose. It was actually a larger market than the Waitrose I had been frequenting, albeit with a slightly more blue-collar feel. No pastured British pork spareribs here...but if I can make do in Tampa, Sainsbury's would work just fine.
It was my seventh night cooking dinner in Hitchin and the middle of a bank holiday in England (we would just say three-day weekend back home). It was also the point in my trip at which I started really longing for home.
Admittedly, I had also been rather aggressive with my new microbiota, consuming lots of raw vegetables, sometimes with lunch and dinner. This was a big departure from my digestive norm and, therefore, not one promoted by the clinic. I was supposed to eat well, but also take it easy. When my microbes asked for a break, I had just the solution.
Hitchin is a lovely place full of friendly people, ancient cobblestones, beautiful gardens, and many supermarkets within easy walking distance. I could hardly imagine a better place for a low-stress therapeutic treatment. While, in some ways, it feels like I just got here, I am quite ready to go home. I have received nine fecal microbiota transplants at the Taymount Clinic--only one remains.
Slipping into a routine and having fun with the blog helped me pass the time and provided more of a purpose than just therapeutic relaxation. (Two full weeks of that would probably get me committed.) While I blogged consistently about my quirky cooking shenanigans, the main reason for my trip was not to photograph food in my hotel room. This trip was about me. It was about taking the necessary steps to be as healthy as I can be. I was on a mission to right wrongs from long ago. I escaped my downward health spiral years ago when I committed to a therapeutic diet and then improved my regimen in the years that followed. The groundwork was laid--it was time for a therapy that would target something closer to the root cause of my ulcerative colitis, maybe even the root cause.
That was a big steak I ate yesterday. Granted, it was my choice to prioritize quality (grass-fed) over appropriateness of portion size (most of the custom-cut meats were conventional). In the end, some combination of my standards and my American appetite won out, and I enjoyed every bite. For what it's worth, I chose the smallest ribeye I could find.
In an effort to balance my diet a bit, I thought I would cut back on meat today. I had initially set my mind on protein fasting, but when I started feeling weak and instinctively stalking the birds in the garden out back, I decided otherwise. A protein fast is simply a period of time when one avoids eating all protein. As Dave Asprey discusses in The Bulletproof Diet, there are certain health benefits of doing so. If the topic of protein fasting interests you, check out his blog post about it.
...But tonight, my body--microbiota included--asked for meat and I intended to heed their call. Luckily, I had just snagged a can of Scottish pilchards to have on hand, just in case. What was a pilchard, exactly? I wasn't quite sure. Suffice it to say, I spared that pheasant out in the garden for one more day.
I'm Ethan, a guy whose life used to be controlled by ulcerative colitis. As I systematically tested diets, treatments, and all types of health advice to heal my colon, I learned a lot about my own biology and also how to cook without compromise. I'm here to share the best (and sometimes worst) of that journey with you.