Death by Food Pyramid Book Review

LibraryThere are plenty of health books on the market nowadays.  I look at the new releases at the library from time to time just to see what is out there.   Generally, the health books are either about the newest “fad” or the same conventional wisdom, I have already heard.  It is very rare that the books teach or encourage critical thinking skills.

Since becoming interested in “real food” Mcstriver and I have started evaluating the conventional health wisdom.   We have had to put our critical thinking skills to work to evaluate the things we are learning in the “real food” realm, mostly from the internet.

I first heard about “Death by Food Pyramid: How Shoddy Science, Sketchy Politics and Shaddy Special Interests Have Ruined Our Health” by Denise Minger from one of the many blogs I follow. The title intrigued me I must admit.  What is so wrong with the food pyramid, I wondered.  I grew up with it and had been taught the four food groups and the food pyramid in school.  Sure McStriver and I have greatly reduced processed food from our diet and avoid certain ingredients, but I didn’t think that the food pyramid concept was flawed.

Various Foods

Image courtesy of Suat Eman /

When I starting reading the book (I reserved it from the library) I was pleasantly surprised to see the author was just as interested in teaching you how to evaluate health studies and claims as telling you her opinions. The book explains things like observational and clinical studies in clear, everyday terms. Denise Minger explains pros and cons about the different methodologies used in health research.  After explaining how to critically assess health studies the book looks at some of the well known key studies and evaluates their results. It highlights possible problems as well as usefully takeaways from the studies.  There is a small section towards the end of the book that does discuss suggestions for healthier eating.  Even this section is written from the prospective that the reader should make thier own choices and that what is right for one person might not be right for another.  The author Denise Minger also has a food blog called

Having read this book I feel I have a better understanding of how to make food choices for the McStriver family. I feel empowered to learn more, even scientific literature.

Thumbs Up



Verdict:  I highly recommend this book.  Even if you follow mainstream health advice this book will help you understand how the USDA guidelines came about and how to critical assess the latest health studies  reported in the news.


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Don’t just listen — Think for Yourself

While Mr Mcstriver and I were growing up information was much more scarce than it is now. If we wanted to know how to spell a word we were told “Look it up in the dictionary”.  If we asked our parents too many why?, Why? Why?’s we would be told to “Check in the encyclopedia.” or “Why don’t you go  to the library to research it?”  Nowadays, though there is plenty of information to go around thanks to the internet.  We have search engines to help us find the information we need and navigate through the waste sea of information.

Boy Researching

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When information was scarce we weren’t generally worried about false information. Encyclopedias, Dictionaries and various other reference books were trusted recognized authorities.  Now that information is plentiful though it is easy to find voices on all sides of an issue.  We have learned that not all “authoritative” sources give the whole story.  This means our critical thinking skills are more important than ever.

While I might wish that the everything on the internet had to go through a lie detection test, I certainly don’t want to limit myself to only the mainstream sources of information, especially on vital information that impacts major life decisions.  This is why I don’t like the “filter bubble” that can occur when our personal information is used for our searches.  (To learn more about filter bubbles check out this TED talk.)  If I am looking for a recipe I might appreciate the search focusing on the blogs I follow first, but what if I am trying to decide whether to vote for or against a tax levy.  I want to hear both sides of the argument in this case, not just what people like me think. I want to make my own decision for myself.

Thinking Man

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One of our goals with this blog is to share how we are striving towards a simplified fulfilled life so that you can learn from our successes and our failures.  We want you to think for yourself. Please research what we share.  Our circumstances may be different than yours.  We want you to have simplified lives not be carbon copies of ourselves.  Feel free to share in the comments.  While we won’t tolerate name calling or blatant adverting , when will publish dissenting opinions.

We aren’t doctors or lawyers.  Everything we share is our personal opinions, with no claims they will work for you.  Of course we won’t share them if we didn’t think that the information might help you.  You should consult with your doctor about any medical decisions and your lawyer about any legal issues.  Don’t just listen to me, instead use what I have to say to make you think so you can reach your own conclusions.

Saying No to Non-stick Pans

We own no non-stick skillets in the McStriver family.  This wasn’t always the case, but eight years ago we decided they had to go. Growing up my family used non-stick pans for all stove top cooking.  I learned how to cook eggs in a non-stick pan with just a little spray oil.  While Mr McStriver hates the smell of eggs, I still used the non-stick pans to cook plenty of foods he loved.  I felt I was cooking healthier since I used less fat to cook.  Clean up was so easy, even if something got burnt.

Non Stick Pans Image courtesy of Gualberto107 /

So you are probably wondering why I would ever want to get rid of these modern day kitchen marvels.  Well, eight years ago someone special fly into our life, literally.  We were adopted by a sweet budgie girl.  Mr Mcstriver came home to find her hanging out in our garage.  We looked for her family but they were never found and we were only to happy to become her family.  After only a few days she had a full grip on our hearts.

Budgie Girl McStriverConcerned about her health since she had been out in the wild, we took her to a local Avian vet.  This is when we learned about things that could be harmful to birds, included as you have probably guessed — non-stick pans.  Birds have delicate respiratory systems and are affected long before a human would be by fumes.  This is why miners would take canaries into the coal mines, after all.

Non-stick pans are coated with  polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE.  The PTFE  can emit dangerous fumes that can kill a bird.  According to the EWG, Teflon can kill birds even when used in normal cooking conditions.  While manufacturers on these products suggest keeping your birds away from the kitchen, Mr Mcstriver and I were not about to take any chances.  The pans just had to go.  While cooking with stainless steel pans takes some getting used to, our girl’s health is worth it.

Since ditching the pans, we have heard of concerns about human health with these coatings as well.  An EWG study shows how quickly the pans can reach temperatures that cause dangerous off -gassing of at least 6 toxic gases.  If you want to learn more I suggest this article at EWG which cites specific toxins and related studies.  

Of course PTFE is used on other products as well, space heaters, dryers, small appliances, etc .  We didn’t get rid of the dryer but it was older which we have been told by the vet means the toxins should have burned off.  The first time we use new appliances that might have a coating we make sure no birds are around and that there is good ventilation. Even if it is winter we will open a window to make sure there is adequate ventilation. 


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Less is More…

Ok, we’ve all heard the phrase less is more, but is it really true?  We in the McStriver household really do believe it!!  In fact, we’ve grown to really dislike that cell phone commercial that uses the kids to try to sell that “bigger” is better.  Is have having “bigger” debt worth it?

American Dream was killing usWe are not trying to say that you should sell everything you own and live with the bare minimums, but do you really need everything you have?  For example, we started life like a lot of Americans do.  We went to college, got our degrees, and then started our adulthoods trying to live the “American Dream.”  It started out good, we had good jobs, built and moved into a 4 bedroom house, and were enjoying life.  Well then life happened, health problems started to creep in, the economy hads been tanking, and then we were living the paycheck to paycheck lifestyle. It forced us to start looking at our priorities.  Did we really need everything we had?  It became apparent that we were not going to be able to have any kids.  We slowly realized that we didn’t need a four bedroom house that was sucking our life away from us.

So after some time (and much frustration) we were able to sell our house.  That was a major monkey of our backs.  We then bought a two bedroom condo in another part of town (which we happen to like a lot more anyway).  We have never regretted doing this.  The only regret was that the fact that we didn’t do this in the first place.  It can be chalked up to a lesson learned.  Sometimes we need to struggle to appreciate what we really have.  We couldn’t ask for more now.  We live in a friendly, safe community, have some great amenities, and good neighbors.  Cleaning is a lot easier too. After all, we have a smaller place.  Plus we are going to (barring something catastrophic) own our condo free and clear a lot sooner than if we stayed in the larger home.

I am not saying that you should never buy a home.  I am suggesting that you have enough, without breaking the bank.  If you have (or are planning to have) a large family, a larger house is necessary.  Just get what you need, and maybe add some bells and whistles in a smaller place if you can.

Grilled Staycation Dinner                 © Inspe | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Even though our housing is a huge part of our budget, there are many other areas of life that this applies to.  We would love to spend two months every year in Hawaii, but that is not possible, or at least would would be a dumb choice in our minds as it would require a great deal of debt to make it happen.  So far we have been there twice, basically every ten years. We had most of the trip paid for before we went and paid for the rest during the trip. We have tried more of the stay-cation lifestyle for the most part.  We like to enjoy the areas and things to do around us. Especially ones that are inexpensive or free.

The col thing is that we all have the freedom to choose what kind of lifestyle we want.  We would all love to have the biggest place, with a butler and maid, take luxurious vacations, eat out all the time, and to basically live it up.  Unfortunately, most of us really don’t have that much money and have to live a very simple life.  As I have gotten older though, I have learned to be more content with what we have.  All we really need is a roof over our heads,  food, functional clothing, and transportation.  Having a decent flat screen is pretty sweet too, like the frosting on the cake. 

Skiing the Race to win….

Hello from the McStriver household. We plan on watching a lot of the Olympics. We were glued to the tv on the first night of coverage. They were showing some preliminary qualifying events in skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating.


We were watching in awe.  The speed, the agility, the flips, the crashes, and did I mention the speed.  Seeing the snowboarders do flips in the middle of the air, and most of them landing upright on their feet was awesome.  We firstly thought there is no way that we could do any of this.  But then realized how inspired we are. These athletes didn’t just wake up one day and say, I’m going to compete in the Olympics tomorrow. They took baby steps.

Snowboard Wipeout

They would first learn (most of them probably at a very young age) to put the ski or snowboard on their feet.  Then they probably learned to move forward, then added some speed.  After a lot of practice, they would begin to try some variation on their routines.  They probably fell on their faces more than they want ot admit.  But you know what, they always got up and tried again.  They have spent most likely thousands of hours of practice to get where they are today.  Watching them, we agreed they are all winners in a way.

Image courtesy of artur84 /

Image courtesy of artur84 /

Should we all aspire to be Olympic athletes?  For most of us the answer is no.  But watching all of these athletes should inspire us to do something that we enjoy to the best of our abilities.  If you enjoy playing basketball, just keep playing your heart out.  Keep practicing.  You may be vertically challenged like we are, but you could make it up with speed.  You will probably fall flat on your face, and get rejected 9 out of 10 shots, but keep at it.

“Winning is not everything – but making the effort to win is.”

                                            – Vince Lombardi

We don’t need to be perfect in everything we do.  There is nothing wrong with not being the best.  The only problem is if we leave something on the court (or field, or whatever you are do)  We should all try to identify what we enjoy doing and just go after it.

Embrace Life

Every day is a precious gift.  None of us know how long we have but we can do our best to make the most of each day.  This has really been hitting home recently after a loved one suffered a life-altering accident.

Of course there are days when things get busy and get wrapped up in the rat race.  But I am trying to stop, listen, and enjoy the sweet sounds of Budgie Mcstriver as he sings along to the tv and the warm soft feathers of Cockatiel McStriver as he snuggles into us for sleep.

Our goal with this blog is to share tips on how to embrace the precious simple things, live frugally, and enjoy life.