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Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

That last post went way off track. I had intended to actually talk about how I heal myself if I don’t go to the doctor for medicine. I in fact almost never go to the doctor these days, unless something is going on that I simply can’t diagnose. But after the horror I went through last summer, when doctor after doctor couldn’t do a thing for me, and after I got put on round after round of experimental drugs to no effect, I think I’ve forever been broken of any desire to go to a doctor for a “cure.“ It’s amazing that my childhood didn’t break me of this earlier- it would take me hours to talk about all the ridiculous things I’ve allowed doctors to do to my body in my lifetime.

I’ve always suspected there had to be another way. Had to be another way besides round after round of medication (always changing, because my body would get used to one and cease to react to it), and too many rounds of antibiotics to count (antibiotics which never failed to make me nauseous). Doctors don’t always know what they’re talking about. There was the nurse that kept telling me to sleep more when I had mono, to the point where I had insomnia for days and was so wired when I went back to the doctor she thought something was wrong with my heart and sent me for an EKG. Turned out she just freaked me out, because my heart rate would go down whenever she left the room. Or there was the doctor who, upon hearing that I charted as my form of birth control, spent the rest of the appointment repeatedly saying, well when you get pregnant… and pointing out that ovulation can be irregular, as if I hadn’t realized this (and asking, repeatedly, are you sure you don’t want to discuss birth control options? Maybe she thought I was too stupid to raise a child).

Most doctors I’ve seen are so incredibly condescending it’s no wonder that everyone walks around half terrified of having some disease. The way they talk, it’s amazing anyone is still upright and walking. And god forbid anyone ask questions of a doctor. God forbid, more than anything else, that you ask questions about what the medication does and how it works. Or if there are any alternatives. I’ve gotten so many nasty, disdainful responses from doctors that I now have some kind of complex about going. I spend the entire day before every visit steeling myself to be treated like an idiotic child who can’t seem to stop sticking things up their nose. I can’t possibly know more about my own body than a doctor. And any attempt I make to explain what’s going on, and what the symptoms are, is usually bull dozed over with a quick, here’s some medication.

I’m not saying there aren’t good doctors out there, I’m sure there are, somewhere. I just haven’t met them yet. No, I would much rather concentrate on prevention. Eating whole foods, that actually have nutrients in them. And exposing myself to lots of good bacteria.

Another thing that struck me in that Mark McAfee interview was his response to the question that all vegans and ex-vegans ask when faced with the prospect of drinking raw milk: but isn’t milk for baby cows? It’s true, it is. And I’m definitely against any farm that doesn’t let the baby cows drink the milk, cause really, that’s just mean. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy the leftovers. Mark McAfee made this point: all cultures that had intact eating habits and intact health (basically, that hadn’t been exposed to western diets) had some kind of super food they used to build immunity and to get the majority of their nutrition. Most cultures have some sort of fermented food that serves this purpose. In a lot of cultures, it’s some kind of fermented fish (especially heads). There are also fermented organ meats. And in the cultures that do have milk, they drink lots of it- though usually sour, because without refrigeration you don’t have a lot of fresh milk. All of these foods share very similar qualities to raw milk. We’ve just been spoiled by generations of mild foods- our tastebuds aren’t accustomed to things like sour milk or fermented fish heads. So while we could go and eat lots of fermented fish heads to get our nutrition, a lot of us are choosing raw milk instead…

… while the rest of the population eats more nutrient-free, sterile food. Do you ever wonder why it is that all those products in the center of the grocery store don’t go bad? Think about this for a moment. Things rot when bacteria latch onto them and start eating the nutrients. Pests go for foods that are high in nutrient quality. So the fact that all those foods can stay “fresh” for days, or even months, means the bacteria aren’t interested. That should really worry you.

I also learned, from the same podcast, the difference between when raw milk goes “bad” and when pasteurized milk goes bad. When raw milk sours, it’s because it’s turning into yogurt. You can very easily take raw milk that smells funny, add some additional yogurt culture, and get some very tasty yogurt. The milk itself isn’t bad. It’s just fermenting. On the other hand, you have pasteurized milk. When that stuff goes bad, you will literally get sick if you drink it. It putrefies, as they say. The few nutrients that remain get eaten by nasty bacteria, and you get that awful chunky grossness that no one in their right mind would touch. The foods I eat are alive. As Mark McAfee says, they don’t spoil, they “evolve.”

And why isn’t there “research” to prove all these things? Why do the doctors look at me like I’m a lunatic when I come in and say I get my health by eating well, eating lots of fermented foods, and drinking raw milk? Well, scientists haven’t really gotten into doing studies on all these things. Studies are very expensive. And who pays for the studies? Why, industries, of course! The medical industry isn’t going to pay for a study that proves you don’t need medications. Duh. Neither is the processed food industry. And since government bodies like the FDA get their funding from industries, well. Their researchers are going to focus on certain things that the industries want. So yes, my decision not to take medications is based on “anecdotal evidence.” But I also like to think it’s based on common sense.

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I’m pretty sure I used to be a hypochondriac when I was younger. I used to freak out at the slightest sign of something that was out of place, and would scour the internet for clues as to my symptoms. When it came to lady-related symptoms especially, I would get in a panic at the slightest sign that something was out of place. That all changed when I learned fertility awareness. Fertility awareness, or charting, is unlike the old “counting days” system that many seem to be aware of. Instead, women who chart keep track of three basic clues as to what’s happening in their bodies: their temperature, their fluids, and the shape and feel of their cervix (and there’s another one- how will I chart when my thermometer stops working?).

The more I’ve learned about my body, the more I’ve ceased to be alarmed by the things it does. This didn’t occur to me until the other day when it crossed my mind that I might be sick, and I simply shrugged it off because it didn’t make that much difference, except that I determined I had to get a lot more rest. Some of the peace of mind also, I think, comes from knowing there’s not much of anything I can do about minor illnesses, anyway. In the old days I might have run to the doctor at the earliest sign of a sinus infection (I have a chronic condition where I get sinus infections at least four times per year), asking for antibiotics, but these days there’s very little that will induce me to take antibiotics. Maybe if I had pneumonia or something. But even then I’d think twice about it.

I was medicated for one thing or another (mostly allergies and asthma) my entire life. And now I find out that the cause behind allergies and asthma, and the alarming rates at which they are increasing, especially among children, is poor immune system health. And most of that is related to diet. I’m never going to believe that growing up next to a power plant and generally living in an area with poor air quality didn’t have something to do with the asthma especially, but it makes sense with the allergies. In order to defeat allergies, you need to have an effective immune system that can fight off invasions. And in order to have an effective immune system, you need to be exposed to lots of things that make your body build antibodies and that sort of thing.

This is going to be the least scientific explanation of immune system function in the world, but bear with me. When you are growing in your mother, you are in a fairly sterile environment. There’s not a lot of back and forth with the outside world. You apparently pick up some of your mother’s antibodies, but the majority of your immunity comes from, believe it or not, the vaginal wall on your way out. That’s when babies pick up all kinds of fun germs and bacterias and things, and are forced to develop an immune response. They’re aided and abetted in that task by breast milk- which is full of all kinds of enzymes and more bacteria and antibodies and all kinds of things that babies need for functional immune systems.

Nowadays babies don’t get all these immune boosters. Instead, more and more babies are born through c-sections, and more and more babies are fed formula instead of breast milk. Formula does not contain antibodies, nor does it contain even a fraction of the nutrition found in breast milk. But we’re obsessed with sterility these days, and breast milk is just plain dirty. Add to all that an overabundance of antibacterial hand soap, sterilized foods, and an aversion to playing in the dirt. This leaves you with people who get sick really often. And are allergic to everything.

I was struck the other day, when listening to an old interview with Mark McAfee (on Underground Wellness, my current favorite podcast, but it’s not on this page, you have to get it on iTunes I think), raw milk guru, by just how insane this is. I’ve always said it was insane, but he put it in a whole new context. Our bodies are mostly made of bacteria. Like half our body mass is bacteria (or something). Bacteria help us with everything- from digestion to fighting off infections to simply existing. And yet we use antibacterial everything. We’re obsessed with pasteurizing milk and irradiating food to “kill the germs.” But our body is made out of “germs.” And by trying to sterilize our environments, and our food, we’re literally killing ourselves. If we removed all the bacteria from our bodies, we would die in a minute. And by not regularly inculcating our guts in particular with a host of good bacteria (from wonderful raw foods), we leave the path wide open for the bad guys- the E. Coli 157s or whatever the new one is.

It seems so illogical, when you stop and think about it. But we’ve all been raised to think germs are bad. We’ve all been raised to think that the cleaner something is, the better. But I’ve stopped washing all the dirt off my vegetables (gasp!). When I get sick, I drink more raw milk, because all that beneficial bacteria has to be good for something (and all the nutrients are pretty good too). A farmer friend was once making me dinner, and he stopped to apologize because he had dirt under all his fingernails. Actually, his fingers are kind of permanently black on the tips. This happened to be during the whole swine flu freak out, when everyone around us was paranoidly spraying down every surface with Lysol, trying to avoid getting sick. We both laughed that we would never get swine flu, because we were simply too dirty.

It’s really true. Children that play in the dirt are healthier. I mean no, not dirt that has been contaminated with industrial waste, and I’d never let kids go near a pile of manure from feedlot cattle. There are obvious limits. But some good healthy dirt? Children have to be exposed to the bad things if their bodies are going to learn to fight them off. Because, let’s face, there’s no way to avoid the bacteria. Not without avoiding ourselves.

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There’s nothing better than waking up in the morning and thinking, damn, that was too much wine. Thankfully it does not happen to me nearly so much as in my college and just after college days, but every once in a while, when having dinner with a good friend, the conversation is so good that you think, oh, certainly a second bottle of wine is a good idea. Let me tell you, readers.

The second bottle is rarely a good idea.

That is, if you only have two people drinking it. And we only had two people drinking. So, this morning, I woke up dying for water and with that peculiar sensation of the wobbles, as I like to think of them, in my stomach. And what does one eat on such occasions? Most college students opt for the Royal Farms breakfast sandwich, or, if they are braver (and a little older), a full out Ellen’s breakfast. Ellen’s, for those of you unaquainted with our small town, is a tiny hole in the wall diner sort of place. The food is basically grease with some bits of other things thrown in for substance. And it is absolutely perfect for soaking up hangovers.

I, however, can’t find much to eat at Ellen’s considering the meat is unidentified. And so on these mornings I am left trying to figure out what is appropriately greasy while still being quick enough to cook that I can make it to work on time. Usually I opt for box mac and cheese (organic at least). On this particular morning, I had none, so I opted for a few slices of bacon, which I almost immediately regretted, as they didn’t do so well with the gallon or so of water that was sloshing around in my stomach.

I’ve always wondered why it is that hangovers cause us to crave greasy, fatty foods. I’m sure it’s because we’re depleted in some way, but I have yet to figure out what exactly we are going for when that wonderful, terrible slice of pizza starts looking so good (OO might have to get one for lunch). Does anyone know? I speculated for a while that maybe we need salt so we can retain water or something, since the principal cause of hangovers is dehydration. But maybe it’s some kind of vitamin or something. No idea. Maybe the fat helps to restore the brain cells that are killed off by all the drinking.

All I know is, now I am really, really craving pizza.

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It came to my attention recently that when I talk I tend to say things like, “well there are a MILLION studies.” Apparently not everyone gets that I’m exaggerating, as I constantly do when “quoting” studies and statistics, and more importantly that I don’t actually give a shit what scientific studies say one way or another. Hence the exaggeration.

When listening to that NPR interview about raw milk the other day, it struck me that this is an issue for a lot of people. The FDA “expert” they interviewed said that no one should drink raw milk because raw milk is “associated” with illness. He also claims to have never seen any scientific evidence that raw milk improves health- that all of this is anecdotal evidence (which is so much worse than “association”). He then goes on to say it doesn’t matter that pasteurization kills nutrients- it is in fact “irrelevant”! Which is fascinating. Apparently the point of food is not to nourish you after all. A great insight into the workings of the FDA.

I have always wondered why it is that health officials are so completely convinced that they are right: that raw milk is evil and dangerous, and we are crazy (or possibly evil and dangerous) for not only drinking it, but giving it to our children. And I think it comes down to this. There really aren’t that many studies done about raw milk. Most of them were done in the 30s. When I saw Sally Fallon’s presentation on raw milk, I was surprised that most of the studies she cited were well over fifty years old, if not more. So no, there isn’t a whole lot of scientific evidence demonstrating the healthful qualities of raw milk and the dangers of pasteurized milk. The unfortunate thing is that we put so much stock in the presence of these studies- which are almost always biased, one way or another.

Think about this. Studies are expensive. You need lab equipment, and subjects, and scientists. You need a lot of money to make that happen. And so studies are more and more frequently funded by corporations. Most of the studies done on milk, I would bet, have been funded by a) the dairy industry or b) the pharmaceutical industry. Imagine, if you will, that people thought raw milk was safe, as long as you went to a local farmer with clean, grass fed cows. Imagine if you were perfectly happy going to that farm, or maybe picking up your milk somewhere in town, but more or less buying it directly from the farmer. That basically cuts out the dairy industry, which makes its money by buying milk on the cheap from dairy farmers, processing it, and shipping it all over creation.

In addition, you’ve got the pharmaceutical industry making a ridiculous amount of money selling you pills for the nine million things that ail you. Imagine raw milk actually does help cure allergies (or prevent them altogether). Imagine it really can cure lactose intolerance, and Chron’s disease, and other digestive disorders. People who have those conditions are on medication from the day they’re diagnosed to the day they die. Can you imagine how much money the industry makes off those people? And now imagine that someone comes along and claims raw milk cures all these things, that you don’t need the pills at all if you have a healthful diet of whole local foods. Would you, if you were running a pharmaceutical company, allow studies to get around that proved this scientifically?

This is why I don’t trust scientific studies. I have also been told far too many times in my life that my experience doesn’t matter because it can’t be backed up by science. I don’t care if science thinks drinking Windex is healthy. They can say whatever the hell they want. I, on the other hand, am going to trust my own direct experience of the world, and the experience of other people who I trust. That is what really matters, in the long run. And my experience tells me raw milk is healthy and helps with all sorts of conditions.

The problem comes when you are talking to other people about it. They want to be convinced one way or another, and they want evidence to back up whatever you are saying. Hence I will ramble on about there being a million studies, when in fact I don’t have the faintest clue how many there are, nor do I care. Unfortunately, people do not typically trust my anecdotal evidence. Sadly, they are more willing to trust the words of complete strangers on the payroll of who knows who, rather than someone they know and interact with on a regular basis. I have no reason to lie to them. I in fact constantly tell the people around me not to take anything I say at face value, but to go out and experience it for themselves, and then decide. But most people want the studies, and a vast amount of so-called anecdotal experience goes to waste, rather than being utilized by, oh, I don’t know, the communities it pertains to.

There’s a final reason why I don’t care what scientific studies say. The vast majority of scientific studies done in relation to nutrition are done on rats and mice and occasionally other small mammals. I still believe to this day that this is just flat out wrong. Period. It makes the constant demand for more “studies” almost sickening, when you think that for there to be more studies, more and more animals have to die. Whereas if people would get a clue and trust their neighbors and communities, they could figure things out collectively, rather than through torture. So I’ll take the anecdotal evidence, thanks. You can keep your studies. Maybe Mr. FDA expert can go in and volunteer to be an experimental subject on the relative health effects of pasteurized milk. We’ll see how long he lasts.

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Picky Eaters

One of the other things Sally Fallon Morell mentioned, I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Children don’t like vegetables. Or, I should say, children are extremely picky about their vegetables. It’s very true. My favorite foods as a child were, in descending order: noodles, bread, potatoes, steak, bacon. I would eat just about anything if you put bacon in it. I hated most vegetables. I would eat them under duress, and only with a lot of salt. I wouldn’t have touched a salad to save my life.

Most children I know are like this. If you start them on it early enough, they will eat some vegetables- a few here and there that they will grudgingly accept as foods. But really they would be much happier with a lot of pizza and mac and cheese. I had been thinking about it a lot, because I babysat last week (and will do so again this week) and was challenged to think of what to make for dinner. My normal meals are not exactly kid friendly (spicy Thai vegetable stir fry, anyone?). I have a suspicion that if I have kids they are just going to have to suck it up (and get really used to stir fries), but with other people’s kids, well….

The thing that baffles me is the strong aversions kids have to certain foods. I can’t remember for the life of me why I was ardently against apples, for example. I remember I didn’t really like oranges because all the white stuff bugged me. It was a texture thing. Salad was also a texture thing, which I can understand because I’m still not huge on salads. Some of the kid things seem to be completely irrational, like an aversion to things that are a certain color (like white cheese). And I have to wonder how much of that is just being raised on processed foods.

But Sally Fallon (MORELL) mentioned the kid vegetable aversion and suggested it was because kids don’t need a lot of vegetables. Apparently, they have a hard time absorbing nutrients from vegetables. This is an intriguing concept. If kids instinctually know that they need a lot of other foods (especially high calorie foods like cheese and chicken fingers), maybe there is a reason they avoid vegetables.

This article has a good perspective: Taking the Icky Out of Picky Eaters Though she seems pretty sure kids should eat vegetables. Reading through her other articles, she keeps mentioning feeding kids salad, which seems pretty miraculous to me.

Really what I want to know is what to make for kids that they won’t turn their noses up at but that is still healthy (and preferably that doesn’t come in a box). Nothing is going to induce me to serve Kraft Mac and “Cheese” to children. Suggestions, please?

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I had temporarily forgotten that I was reading my way through the Julie/ Julia project, and went back and started reading it this weekend because really, what is better than lying in bed reading about cooking and listening to thunderstorms? Not much of anything, I should say. And as I was reading, I thought, wow, I really have to give this woman credit for making me want to eat meat. Because when I started reading her, starting with the book and moving on to the archived blog, I was still more or less vegetarian, with only a chicken to my name. And now I am eating meat like, every day, and I feel weird when I don’t eat it. It’s so strange.

I have a lot of food related things to catch up on, starting at the end, I think, and going backwards. Friday night was a melee of food: a ridiculously amazing dinner, prepared by a class of students at the college and their awe inspiring professor, followed by a lecture by Sally Fallon Morell. Unfortunately it was the short version of the exact same lecture I just finished watching online, so I had heard the whole thing already. But she threw in some bits I hadn’t heard, like her anecdote about putting a half stick of butter in her oatmeal every morning. Which immediately made me think: Julia Child!

Really, Sally Fallon (Morell- so hard to remember to call her that) is a sweet lady. More than a little politically correct for me. But having chatted her up quite a lot during the cocktail hour I would feel terrible saying anything particularly negative about her online. Not that I have negative things to say! Just that I don’t necessarily agree with her on some subjects, namely the following:

She suggested that we should all eat better so our brains are sharper so we can fly planes and build better computers, two things which I believe are absolutely unnecessary. I believe we should all eat better so we can figure out how to stop flying planes and building better computers.

She seemed to imply that it was my duty to have healthy babies by eating a good traditional diet. This frightens me a little. I’m not really down with the baby thing.

She is generally kind of evasive with her answers. Or maybe this is more of a desire to move things along and not get into long detailed responses. It’s just not my style. I prefer discussion.

She really seems to think it’s not that hard to get raw milk in MD. It really is. Unless you know people or are willing to drive to PA. But for someone who is just getting into this food thing and has no idea where to go? It’s really hard.

Finally, I asked her one of my burning questions: how much of mood related “disorders” is diet and how much is life itself? Because a lot of what I’m reading, and not just Sally Fallon, goes on about how much happier we’d all be if we were eating right. Now, I won’t deny this. I’m sure we’d all be MUCH happier if we were eating right. But she said diet was like, 99% of it and that just can’t be true. I was talking about it yesterday with someone else who was at the lecture. And he was saying, oh yeah, you’ve lost your land, you’re basically a slave in some kind of neo-colonial system, you’ve seen your entire family murdered in front of you, you’re in fear for your life, you could lose your children at any time, but if you eat enough butter you’ll be totally happy. And I said, yeah, and it doesn’t matter so much if your father is beating you and raping your sister, you just need to eat more good fats. It’s kind of ludicrous, to suggest that diet affects that much of our mood, that we can “make the environment we want.” It’s simply not true. To say such a thing would be to deny the mess that we’re in, and the fact that it simply sucks. I can eat healthy and I will feel a lot more stable and capable of dealing with shocks, but if my life sucks, it doesn’t stop sucking just because I eat healthy. That’s fairly insulting to all the people who are living in really, truly terrible situations.

Aside from that I think her message is terribly important and that she’s worth listening to. Definitely worth learning from as far as healthy eating goes, and she’s a strong advocate for making those kinds of foods available. I wish her all the best. We just have very different methods- but that isn’t to say that either of us is necessarily going about things the wrong way. If she wasn’t out there writing and speaking it’s doubtful I ever would have come across this diet. And thank god I did, because I’m pretty sure it saved my life. And for that I can be eternally grateful.

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I keep saying over and over, I feel like I’m learning how to eat all over again. It’s very true. Everything I thought I knew about food and nutrition I’m now learning is irrelevant or downright untrue. That happened once when I went vegetarian, and learned that the food pyramid was basically a complete lie. And now, come to find out, the vegetarian pyramid (if you can call it that) isn’t all that accurate either.

It’s hard to know what to believe and what to trust. You may read one thing that says carbohydrates of all varieties are evil and the next day read something that you need whole grains in your diet for the fiber. Some people say you don’t need fruit. Some people say you can subsist entirely on fruit. This can all get entirely ridiculous. As I’m asking questions and listening to all this conflicting advice, I keep thinking one other thing:

I should know this stuff already.

The fact that I don’t is kind of pathetic, except that I’m not alone. But as Michael Pollan says at the beginning of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, we can eat just about anything. We’re omnivores. That’s the whole point. And for years, thousands and thousands of years, we had intact cultural traditions to tell us what to eat and how to eat it. Anywhere those traditions are still relatively intact, the health of the people on those diets remains pretty good. But disrupt those traditions, leave people scrambling to try and determine what to eat out of the literally millions of choices, and next thing you know you’ve got some people thinking they can survive on air alone and some people getting by on nothing but Big Macs. Something is seriously wrong.

It’s not just food. Women don’t know when they can and can’t get pregnant. Some women don’t even know when they are pregnant, at least not until the baby pops out. Men and women alike are largely clueless about their health, about whether they’ve got something wrong with them or not, and what to do about it if there is something. We have no idea how to maintain our own health. And we also have no idea how to survive: most people have no clue how to grow their own food, or get their own food from the foods available in the wild, or to build a basic shelter, or to start a fire. Most people don’t even know how to cook if they don’t have a microwave, much less make a loaf of bread or butcher a chicken.

It is, I would argue, one of the greatest travesties of our age. We don’t know shit. If something happened tomorrow to cut off our access to all the many things that are powered by electricity (read: oil) in our lives, we’d be so fucked we’d probably all end up killing each other out of desperation. Because we have lost all knowledge of how to survive, of how to just live. Instead we work jobs that produce nothing and earn “money” to pay factories to make us the things we would have made on our own or within our communities before we lost all this knowledge. And it’s in the interest of those factories and industries and the government that supports them to keep us ignorant. Imagine for a minute if you not only taught children in school how to grow their own food, but taught them how to do it without any inputs. Without having to buy a single thing. Imagine you taught them how to cook that food for themselves, to preserve and ferment and store. Imagine if you taught them to find medicinal herbs in the wild, and make their own medicines, and that they really didn’t need things like tvs because there is so much entertainment to be found in your own community, and that, after all, you really don’t need a job if you and your community are doing everything for yourselves.

They wouldn’t be very happy.

Imagine those cultural traditions were intact, and you never once had to question your diet, because you just knew what to eat and you were healthy. Imagine how much less stressful your life would be if you weren’t worried about losing weight because you didn’t need to, you just maintained a healthy weight, or if you didn’t have to worry about developing diabetes or so-called high cholesterol or all those heart conditions because, well, your diet prevented them. Just wasn’t even on your radar screen. You just eat. And it tastes good. And you feel good. The good news is, your body knows what’s good and what’s not. You just have to learn how to listen. The other stuff… well, I’m working on that.

Gee, remind me why we disrupted all those cultural traditions? Oh, right, so a very small portion of the population could take all the resources and power for themselves and leave everyone else in relative slavery, riiiiiiight. How could I forget?

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