Category Archives: Guest Post

Debunking Ten Arguments from the Anti-Vaccine Movement

Author of Staying Healthy Abroad, Dr. Christopher Sanford debunks ten common arguments used by anti-vaccine activists.

The purpose of this article is educational. For medical advice for any health condition, please consult your physician. To learn more about the measles outbreak, read this recent blog post.


In January of this year the WHO (World Health Organization) released a list, “Ten Threats to Global Health in 2019.” One of the ten threats listed was vaccine hesitancy: “the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines.”

For a variety of reasons, a significant number of people choose to forego vaccines for themselves and/or their children. Anti-vaccine sentiment has swelled in recent years to a vehement political movement, and declining vaccine rates have led to a resurgence of a number of infectious diseases. Measles has seen a 30% increase in global cases in recent years. There are now measles outbreaks in 22 US states.

The evidence for the benefit and safety of vaccines is voluminous and consistent. Dr. William H. Foege, a public health physician who was instrumental in the global eradication of smallpox, wrote, “Vaccines are the tugboats of preventive health.”

There are myriad arguments used by anti-vaccine activists. Below are ten common arguments that arise.

  1. Vaccines don’t work.
  2. Vaccines only give partial protection.
  3. Protection from vaccines is inferior to that from natural infection.
  4. Vaccines contain mercury, a toxic heavy metal, and antifreeze, ether, and other toxic chemicals.
  5. Vaccines cause autism.
  6. Vaccines are no longer necessary.
  7. Vaccines overwhelm the body’s immune system.
  8. Vaccines are a plot by pharma (large pharmaceutical corporations) to generate profit.
  9. Vaccines are a plot by the CDC and/or US federal government, to attain any of a panoply of nefarious goals.
  10. Vaccines contain fetal cells.

Let’s address these one by one.

1. Vaccines don’t work.

This is a bizarre argument. Disease after disease has diminished markedly in prevalence immediately following the introduction of its respective vaccine. Tetanus in the US has been reduced by more than 98%; polio is almost eliminated worldwide; smallpox, which caused an average 48,000 cases per year in the United States during the 20th century, has been eliminated from the planet. The HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine was introduced in the US in 2006; already we are seeing a significantly reduced level of cervical cancer in women. The incidence of multiple other infectious diseases, including mumps, rubella, and pertussis, have been markedly reduced in recent years—all because of vaccination.

2. Vaccines only give partial protection.

This is true but is not a reason to avoid vaccines. And often the protection level is very high. At one extreme, vaccines such as yellow fever and hepatitis A (in those under age 40) offer over 99% protection. At the other extreme, influenza often offers about 50% protection; this can be even lower if the vaccine and circulating strains are a poor match. Many vaccines are about 90% protective. If vaccine levels are sufficiently high as to prevent easy transmission in a population (“herd immunity”), there may be sporadic cases but outbreaks are effectively prevented. The level of immunity necessary to attain herd immunity differs for different infections. For polio, this level is 80% of the population; for measles, which is more infectious, about 95% of a population needs to be protected, either by vaccine or prior infection, to prevent outbreaks.

3. Protection from vaccines is inferior to that from natural infection.

Untrue! Protection from either is equally protective. Vaccines provide protection without causing illness, or exposing people to the risk of death from their respective diseases.

4. Vaccines contain mercury, a toxic heavy metal, and aluminum, antifreeze, ether, and other toxic chemicals.

Thimerosol, a preservative which contains ethyl mercury, has been removed from all vaccines except multi-dose vials of influenza vaccine. There are thimerosol-free preparations of flu vaccine.

And thimerosol is not harmful. Ethyl mercury is quickly excreted from the body; it does not bioaccumulate. The form of mercury that bioaccumulates is methyl mercury; this is the form that is found is some seafood, such as tuna. Thus if you eat vast amounts of tuna, mercury toxicity may be an issue.

No vaccine contains ether or antifreeze. These are bizarre, invented assertions. Vaccines do contain miniscule amounts of aluminum, but this is without any health consequence. Melody Butler, founder of Nurses Who Vaccinate, correctly notes that a baby gets more aluminum from breast milk than from vaccines.

5. Vaccines cause autism.

Dr. William Wakefield, a British physician, published a single report in Lancet in 1996 stating that there is a possible link between the measles vaccine and autism. His report has since been retracted by Lancet; his license to practice medicine in the UK was subsequently revoked by the General Medical Council (GMC).

Every study—and there have been at least twelve—on the measles vaccine and autism show that there is no relationship between the two. The most recent study on this is a large one, on over 650,000 children in Denmark, published this year in Annals of Internal Medicine. It found that “…MMR vaccination does not increase the risk for autism, does not trigger autism in susceptible children, and is not associated with clustering of autism cases after vaccination.”

We do not know what causes autism, but we do know that it is unrelated to vaccines.

6. Vaccines are no longer necessary.

Au contraire. The only disease that has been eradicated from the planet is smallpox. All other infectious disease are still circulating, some common, some rare. All vaccine-preventable illnesses will become more common if vaccination rates drop.

7. Vaccines overwhelm the body’s immune system.

Not true. The human immune system can deal with hundreds of thousands of antigens (foreign substances that stimulate an immune response.) Whether one, or eight, vaccines are given on a single day, the immune response is equally strong to each.

8. Vaccines are a plot by pharma to generate profit.

Pharma—pharmaceutical corporations—making a profit on vaccines does not prove that vaccines are harmful. If all this were driven by pharma, it is unlikely that they would convince physicians, the CDC, public health officials, etc.

9. Vaccines are a plot by the CDC and/or US federal government, to attain any of a panoply of nefarious goals.

It takes a more paranoid mind than mine to think that the 15,000 people who work for the CDC are plotting to do you harm. The idea that that many health professionals would conspire to harm the American public—and that that doctors, nurses, etc., would be complicit—is preposterous.

10. Vaccines contain fetal cells.

A few vaccines (specifically: varicella [chickenpox], rubella [the R in MMR], hepatitis A, the older shingles vaccine [Zostavax, not Shingrix], and one preparation of rabies vaccine [Sanofi-Pasteur’s Imovax]) are made by growing the viruses, which are attenuated (non-disease causing) in fetal embryo fibroblast cells. These fibroblast cells were obtained from two elective terminations of pregnancies in the early 1960s, and continue to grow in laboratories today. No additional sources of fetal cells are needed to make these vaccines.


This is an emotional topic for many. Ethan Linderberger was raised in an Ohio family that did not believe in vaccines. When he recently turned eighteen, he decided to receive all recommended vaccines. His mother, Jill Wheeler, described this decision as “insulting” and a “slap in the face.”

With respect to infectious diseases, there is no zero-risk option. Your choices are the smaller risk from vaccines, or markedly larger risk from infectious diseases.

The bottom line is that the evidence for the benefits of vaccine is massive and consistent.

I concur with Jackson County (OR) Health Officer Jim Shames, who states, “From a medical standpoint, vaccines are probably the most powerful and effective public health intervention of all time.”

Given the vehemence and organization of anti-vaxxers, their battle with traditional medical providers will probably continue for the foreseeable future. It is important that those of us who believe in the benefits of vaccines speak our minds. If the pro-vaccine majority are passive, the anti-vaccine minority will determine the national and international tone and policy.


Christopher Sanford, MD, MPH is associate professor in the Departments of Family Medicine and Global Health at the University of Washington, and a family medicine physician who specializes in tropical medicine and travelers’ health. His research interests include medical education in low-resource settings and health risks of urban centers in low-income nations.

To hear more from Christopher Sanford, come to his book talk at the University Bookstore on Tuesday, June 11th. To learn more about how to keep yourself healthy while traveling, buy his book.

What You Need to Know About the Measles Outbreak

In light of the current measles outbreak in the United States, we asked Dr. Christopher Sanford, author of Staying Healthy Abroad, to break down the statistics on measles nationally and globally for travelers across the country. He also answers some commonly asked questions about immunity and vaccinations.

The purpose of this article is educational. For medical advice for any health condition, please consult your physician.


Over 700 people in 22 US states have been infected with measles this year—the biggest measles outbreak in the US since 1994. Sixty-six of these people have required hospitalization. Most of those with measles had not been vaccinated for measles.

Per the WHO (World Health Organization), global measles deaths have decreased significantly in recent years, from 550,000 deaths in 2000 to 90,000 deaths in 2016 (an 84% reduction), but measles remains common in many low-income nations, particularly in Africa and Asia. An estimated 7 million people were infected with measles in 2016.

People immunized before 1989 may have only received one dose of measles vaccine. This provides partial protection, but better protection is provided by receiving a booster dose, that is, two doses of MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) total.

International travelers should receive a total of two doses of MMR vaccine. If travelers are uncertain as to their vaccine status, they may request serology (a blood test) from their medical provider to look for immunity. Those born before 1957 in the US are assumed to be immune to measles, mumps, and rubella from prior natural infection; vaccination with MMR is not advised.

Almost all US and Canadian universities and colleges began to require evidence of two prior doses of MMR vaccine (or proof of immunity) in about 1994.

Background

Measles is a serious viral infection that is transmitted by coughing and sneezing. The virus can live for up to two hours in an airspace or on a surface. Usual symptoms are fever, cough, rash, runny nose, and conjunctivitis (pinkeye). Although most people fully recover, complications include encephalitis—swelling of the brain which can result in permanent brain damage or death—and pneumonia.

The usual case-fatality rate in measles is 1-2/1,000 (0.1-0.2%). However, in malnourished populations, the case-fatality rate can approach one in ten.

In order to prevent sustained transmission of measles, 95% of the population needs to be immune, either from vaccination or natural infection (“herd immunity”).

In the US, in the decade 1912-1922, measles caused an average of 6,000 deaths per year. Prior to 1963, when measles vaccination became available, measles caused 4,800 hospitalizations, 1,000 cases of encephalitis, and 400-500 deaths each year in the US.

Washington State

In the current measles outbreak in Washington State, there have been 71 cases in Clark County (in southwest Washington, adjacent to Portland, OR) and one case in King County. The majority of these cases were in unimmunized people.

United States

There are currently measles outbreaks in 22 US states.

There were 372 cases of measles in the US in 2018. Between January 1 and April 26 of this year, 704 cases have occurred.

Most US cases are in children. Per a April 9 article in the Wall Street Journal:

New York City officials declared a public-health emergency as authorities elsewhere in the state announced new measures to halt the spread of measles, stepping up their responses after a recent surge in cases. The city on Tuesday ordered mandatory measles-mumps-rubella vaccination and fines for noncompliance in certain ZIP Codes in Brooklyn.

The current US vaccine schedule for measles: two doses; first at 12-15 months, second at 4-6 years. Boosters after initial series of two are not advised.

Global Picture

The dramatic decline in global measles is primarily due to increased vaccine coverage in low-income nations. However, should vaccine efforts wane, measles cases and deaths would inevitably markedly increase.

Many countries in Europe have seen a large uptick in measles cases in recent years. There are currently outbreaks in Germany, Ireland, Italy, France, and other European countries. Countries outside of Europe with current outbreaks include Israel, Ukraine, and Australia.


What’s the difference between elimination and eradication?

Eradication is the complete and permanent worldwide reduction to zero new cases of a disease through deliberate efforts. Smallpox has been eradicated from the planet. Elimination is the reduction to zero, or a very low defined target rate, new cases of a disease in a specified geographical areas. Measles was declared to be eliminated from the US in 2000.

How effective is measles vaccine?

Very. The two-dose series provides 97% protection.

What is herd immunity?

If a certain threshold level of a community is immune to a disease, either through infection or immunization, that infection cannot be propagated within that community. The threshold for different infections varies. For example, the level of resistance for polio in a community necessary to prevent an epidemic is 80%. Measles is more infectious; about 95% of a community needs to be resistant to measles to prevent epidemics.

What is the current measles vaccine rate in the US?

Fairly high. Currently, per the CDC, 94.3% of kindergartners were current for measles vaccine in the 2017-18 school year. However, this rate is markedly lower in some communities, e.g., the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, NY, and Clark County, WA, in which measles epidemics are currently occurring.

How can I tell if I’m immune to measles?

If you’ve received the two-dose series of MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, it is reasonable to assume that you’re immune. If your vaccine history is uncertain, options include a blood test to check immunity, or receiving the two-dose series.


Christopher Sanford, MD, MPH is associate professor in the Departments of Family Medicine and Global Health at the University of Washington, and a family medicine physician who specializes in tropical medicine and travelers’ health. His research interests include medical education in low-resource settings and health risks of urban centers in low-income nations.

To hear more from Christopher Sanford, come to his book talk at the University Bookstore on Tuesday, June 11th. To learn more about how to keep yourself healthy while traveling, buy his book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Q&A with Poet David Biespiel

For National Poetry Month, we are pleased to share a conversation with poet David Biespiel, author of Republic Cafe.


It’s Monday, 10am. Would you tell us your motto for writing poems?

My motto would be, writing poems is impossible. That’s my motto. It’s impossible for me to do anything else, first of all, but to write poems. But, to write a poem? What is that? What is a poem? Every effort to write a poem is as much a soaring success as it is a terrible flub. It’s impossible to write in the direction I want to write, because as soon as I get close to that point on the horizon I’ve been aiming toward, what I’ve been trying to write appears different to me. Everything I’ve been doing, therefore, is wrong. A failure. In a catalogue essay from the 1960s of a MOMA exhibition of Alberto Giacometti’s work, there’s this opening paragraph in Peter Selz’s introduction:

‘To render what the eye sees is impossible,’ Giacometti repeated one evening while we were seated at dinner at the inn at Stampa. He explained that he could really not see me as I sat next to him—I was a conglomeration of vague and disconnected details—but that each member of the family sitting across the room was clearly visible, though diminutive, thin, surrounded by enormous slices of space. Everyone before him in the whole history of art, he continued, had always represented the figure as it is; his task now was to break down tradition and come to grips with the optical phenomenon of reality. What is the relationship of the figure to the enveloping space, of man to the void, even of being to nothingness?

That about covers it—for writing. It’s impossible. And, that’s exactly what makes it so freeing, so enticing.

What led you to become a writer? And, specifically a poet?

I recently published a book on this subject, The Education of a Young Poet. I think I became a writer because I liked messing around with words, with sentences. I liked the feel of moving a verb from the front of a sentence to the end. I liked feeling curious about whether I should end a sentence on a noun, or start with a noun. I liked seeing the figure of ideas and images form, from one word to the next, one phrase and one clause to the next, one sentence and one paragraph to the next. That’s what I liked and what I still like at the most tactile/DNA level of writing. Writing a poem is all of that on steroids. Now, with a poem, too, you have lines to enhance even more new relationships between adjective and noun, for instance. It’s mind-blowing.

As for why I became a poet? Writing poems, for me—because I write poems and nonfiction—I find that poetry offers greater velocity than prose and also poetry dwells more deeply in metaphor. Speed plus associative feeling. That’s two things that draw me to write poems. Underneath all that is an interest in asking questions that, perhaps, poetry can reflect upon. Writing Republic Cafe I was interested in the importance of forgetting, as opposed to the more traditional interest in the importance of remembering. So I was writing the poem—the long poem that’s the centerpiece of the book—to reflect upon that question. And yet, that’s the paradox. The close I got to dramatizing what I was forgotten, I began to see it, or remember  it, differently. So the book is trying to figure out what to make of that enigma.

Did you write the book in Portland?

Mostly, yes. In late 2012, during the production period for Charming Gardeners, which UW Press published in 2014, I began taking notes and studying the patterns of Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour in Portland. Then, in the fall of 2014, I went to West Texas and wrote for a month without interruption. That’s where I drafted the book. I worked on it for several years after that, and then, in late 2017, I put the book through a big revision after Linda Bierds read it. I did that revision in my house here in Portland over several weeks.

Many writers begin their career with teachers and models. Republic Cafe is your sixth book of poems since 1996. Did you have a model when you first started to write? Do you now?

When I first started to write, I was mostly alone. Not alone in the world—well, not entirely alone in the world, I mean—but alone with my books, with paper and pen. No teachers. I had no guidance. Later I studied with several wonderful poets. At the University of Maryland I studied with Stanley Plumly, Michael Collier, and Phillis Levin. At Stanford, when I was a Stegner fellow, I studied with W.S. Di Piero and Ken Fields. Because Stan Plumly introduced my first book, I suppose I’m most identified with him, and I’m extremely grateful to have studied with him. Truth be told I still learn things from him. From him personally—we’ve remained close for thirty years. And especially through his poems, which are remarkable for their warmth and tenderness. Before those teachers came along, and ever since, I would say Walt Whitman has been a model for me. I don’t mean the man so much—not to dismiss the man, that is, but I mean the writing. His engagement as a poet with language and life. The nexus of self and society that is the hallmark of his poetry. I’ve learned from Whitman that while images never become out-of-fashion or obsolete, blow-hardedness does. Commentaries do. Explaining or psychoanalyzing kills invention. Kills metaphor. Kills freshness. What’s so great about Whitman is he still feels contemporary. It’s the 200th anniversary of his birth this year, and he still feels in touch with our own time. Whitman doesn’t try to explain his motivations. Instead he conveys a consciousness. That’s the thing I’ve most tried to learn from Whitman. To write a poem is to invent a consciousness. But, of course, it’s impossible.


Biespiel photo 2David Biespiel is a poet, critic, memoirist, and contributing to writer to American Poetry Review, New Republic, the New York Times, Poetry, Politico, The Rumpus, and Slate. He is poet-in-residence at Oregon State University, faculty member in the Rainier Writers Workshop, and president of the Attic Institute of Arts and Letters. He has received NEA and Lannan fellowships and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Balakian Award. He has previously published The Education of a Young Poet, Wild Civility, The Book of Men and Women, and Charming Gardeners. You can buy his most recent collection, Republic Cafe by clicking here.

What Tahlequah Said

Even writing that headline, I feel the lilt and wash of the ocean in the language of the Salish, who consider the orca, qal̕qaləx̌ič in Lushootseed, their kin.

We show our own smallness, place a frame around an individual creature, when we name an orca in human terms. But somewhere along the line, people felt that this particular orca needed a name we could relate to. Tahlequah supposedly means “mother of waters.” J 35 suggests a science experiment, not just a study of existing conditions, and we have been conditioned to expect experiments to fail.

Of all the noise we were subjected to in 2018, the most important message we received was from Tahlequah. She brought her baby to full term only to have it die within a few minutes of birth. Those of us who have experienced pregnancy know that your body prepares you during the whole gestation for the miracle of being twinned somehow, divided so that you will have two bodies to care for until the little one is fully grown. I can imagine the surging hormones experienced by this mother orca as her calf was born and failed to thrive. What could she have done? Nothing. But she understands that the conditions humans have created in the Sound make it impossible for the near-shore orcas who depend on Chinook salmon for their food to survive. She carried that dead baby with her for seventeen days, until it fell apart, so that we would see her and it, and get the message.

While it is in many ways a series of humorous books, Douglas Adams got it right when he named one of his books “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish” as the farewell message from the dolphins while departing from a future earth, no longer considered tenable by its oceanic inhabitants. As the dolphins desperately try to tell us that we are doomed, that we need to leave, we ooh and ah and applaud their apparent hijinks. We are incapable of understanding that we are not the only creatures on earth with an understanding of time, life, and mortality.

While there is ample evidence around us of global warming and impending disaster, we are aggravating this scenario with our willful inaction. A couple of months ago the governor of the state of Washington, Jay Inslee, rolled out some points to enhance his standing as a protector of the environment. This included some language about saving the orcas, but not an obvious one: take down the dams that are keeping Chinook salmon from reproducing. The Snake River was once their breeding ground, but fewer and fewer salmon make it past all the obstacles we have placed in their way. The Chinook are not reproducing, and the whales are starving to death. It doesn’t take summersaults, it doesn’t take naming orcas, to figure that out.

In spite of our reluctance to face the obvious, nature has been very forgiving. The dams on the Elwha River were removed a couple of years ago, and the natural life of the river is surging back at a miraculous pace. Its native salmon have been waiting almost a hundred years to return to their spawning beds. Just imagine! They had to return from the open ocean to the mouth of the river each year, only to be turned back by dams. Again. And again and again. But now they made it.

Can we save the Chinook? In my opinion, there is only one way to find out. Take down the dams. Ease up on the hatchery fish, which probably just compete with the wild salmon for scarce resources.

Almost unremarked, another orca died on January 28, 2019, after a short illness. Kayla was thirty years old, what should have been the half-way point in her life, when she suddenly sickened and died. She lived at Sea World in Orlando, Florida, which has been the site of many questionable practices concerning orcas.

“We shared our salmon,” wrote Jack Flander of the Yakima Nation in The Seattle Times (1/29/19), speaking for the orcas, “but you took more than your share,” leaving us little to survive on. “Our waters became polluted. Our infant mortality rate increased … Imagine what a brotherhood and sisterhood we could have shared. Now imagine that I am an Indian.”

With the paperback issue of my book, The Deepest Roots, I wish I had a more cheerful introduction to offer. But the same warning bells are going off as when I started this book. What’s more, the current administration has made the work that we do to conserve the environment even more difficult, and even more important.

Every person I interviewed for The Deepest Roots has a different story to tell, a different relationship with the land and the sea. Some of them are gone now, having passed their legacies on to younger farmers and fisher people. They are remembered with fondness, their penchant for barbeque, or having created fertile soil through sheer willpower.

Others have begun to engage with the land and the people in a more entrepreneurial fashion, looking to the eastern horizon and the inevitable population growth that will take place on the island. We wonder if our children will return, and what it will be like for them in ten, twenty, one hundred years from now. Will the salmon continue to wait for us?

This book has raised as many questions as answers, but people continue to approach me thoughtfully, usually with their own stories to share. I hope The Deepest Roots encourages you to see the place where you live with new eyes, and to see yourself as an active partner in its salvation and recovery. As storyteller Vi Hilbert would say, “Haboo!”


Kathleen Alcalá is the author of a collection of essays, The Desert Remembers My Name: On Family and Writing; three novels, including Treasures in Heaven; and a collection of short stories. She lives on Bainbridge Island, Washington.

To learn more about The Deepest Roots, buy your copy of the book today!

Gandhi's Search for the Perfect Diet by Nico Slate

What We Can Learn from Gandhi’s Diet

I set out to write about Gandhi’s diet because I find Gandhi himself endlessly fascinating and because I love food. To be more precise, I love thinking about food. I like eating it too, of course, but a lot of the joy I get from food comes from thinking about how to cook it and what nutritional benefit it might bring to me and my family. Gandhi was similar; his passion for food was often driven by his interest in nutrition. But it wasn’t nutrition alone that inspired his many experiments in the kitchen or the hundreds of letters, notes, and articles he penned on dietary topics. Gandhi’s obsession with diet was as philosophical and spiritual as it was bodily. His relationship to food transcended the common divide between body and spirit. That’s why his diet fascinated me from the moment I began the research for my new book Gandhi’s Search for the Perfect Diet: Eating with the World in Mind. As I say in the book, “Understanding Gandhi’s relationship to food is to understand the man and his life, and to connect two of history’s perennial questions: how to live and what to eat.”

I originally saw myself writing something of a diet book in which I would praise Gandhi’s culinary practices—vegetarianism, avoiding sweets, eating whole grains, fasting, etc.—and discuss how to apply them in our world. But the more I delved into the history of what Gandhi ate and why, the more complex his diet became, and the more I came to see the darker side of some of his dietary obsessions. The book became about Gandhi’s search for the perfect diet—about his struggles and his questions, as well the answers he found over years of experimentation. I wanted to learn from Gandhi about food and nutrition—and I did—but I learned just as much from the social, political, and religious dimensions of his dietary journey.

I learned that food helped inspire Gandhi to fight for justice. His first sustained political activism was on behalf of vegetarianism. As a student in London and a young lawyer in South Africa, Gandhi’s dietary commitments connected him to communities of radical activists who questioned many facets of society. Those who rejected meat often also rejected sexism, racism, and war. Gandhi’s experiences championing vegetarianism prepared him to attack inequality, white supremacy, and other forms of injustice.

Gandhi’s diet was rooted in traditional Indian cuisine—particularly the vegetarian foods of his home state of Gujarat. But many of his dietary interests and practices were shaped by food reformers from outside of India. He learned from the African American scientist, George Washington Carver, famous for his experiments with peanuts. He discussed vitamins with scientists in the US, the UK, and elsewhere. At a time of resurgent xenophobia and chauvinistic nationalism, we can learn from the tolerance and openness with which Gandhi brought dietary ideas across the borders of nations and cultures.

When I started this book, I hoped to clear up some basic questions I had as a chef and a father. I wasn’t disappointed. My research shaped how I think about salt, sugar, dairy, whole grains, and fasting. Thanks to this book, there are new foods in my diet and new ways of preparing old favorites (the recipes at the back of the book have been well-tested). Nevertheless, more important than any specific lesson about cooking or nutrition, what I took from writing this book is the importance of continually reconciling our dietary practices with our deepest values. Gandhi wouldn’t want us to imitate him, but to approach our own diets with the same curiosity, openness, and integrity he brought to his. I hope readers learn about Gandhi, about food, and about their own path toward “eating with the world in mind.”


Nico Slate is professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University. He is the author of Colored Cosmopolitanism: The Shared Struggle for Freedom in the United States and India and editor of Black Power beyond Borders: The Global Dimensions of the Black Power Movement.

To learn more about Gandhi’s Search for the Perfect Diet, read an excerpt in The Atlantic or buy your copy of the book today!

Photo Essay: ‘Razor Clams’

What is the ultimate Father’s Day gift? Is it buried treasure, or is it spending time with loved ones? Why not both? This year, give Dad a guide to a hobby you can enjoy together.

In Razor Clams, David Berger shares with us his love affair with the glossy, gold-colored Siliqua patula and gets into the nitty-gritty of how to dig, clean, and cook them using his favorite recipes. In the course of his investigation, Berger brings to light the long history of razor clamming as a subsistence, commercial, and recreational activity, and shows the ways it has helped shape both the identity and the psyche of the Pacific Northwest.

Project Razor Clam
Washington State has many symbols – a state song, a state bird, a state tree – and now a move is underway to designate the Pacific razor clam as the state clam. Coastal legislators Brian Blake, Joel Kretz, Steve Tharinger, and Jim Walsh introduced House Bill 3001 in February and they plan to reintroduce the non-partisan bill again during the next legislative session. Rep. Blake, a razor clammer since childhood, says the Pacific razor clam well deserves the official title of state clam for its significance to the state’s history, identity, and economy.

Learn  more about the Pacific razor clam and celebrate the publication of Razor Clams at this event:

July 10 at 1 p.m., Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau, Redmond Senior Center, Redmond, WA


What drives thousands of people to Pacific coast beaches every year, regardless of the season or the weather? The unique activity known as razor clamming: chasing after the delectable Pacific razor clam, endemic to the West Coast and especially numerous in Washington, Oregon and south-central Alaska. When I first moved to Seattle, I had heard something about the near-mythic activity of razor clamming, and one year I finally tried my hand. I was startled to find a horde lined up on a sandy beach near Ocean Shores, Washington, lanterns and headlamps bobbing in the pre-dawn darkness like so many fireflies, waiting for the low tide. I only managed to get one clam that dig, but I became an aficionado. Over time I learned that razor clamming is sometimes challenging, sometimes cold and wet, but always fun. My wife and I eventually had many questions about the activity and the razor clam itself, which led to writing Razor Clams: Buried Treasure of the Pacific Northwest.

In researching the book I discovered just how important the resource has been for the region’s history and identity. The clams were an important food source for coastal Northwest Native Indians and early settlers. Large-scale commercial exploitation began after 1900 with canned razor clams becoming a cupboard staple. Following WWII, commercial canning petered out, but the undertaking as recreation continued to grow, and today razor clamming regularly attracts folks of all ages armed with shovels, tubes, buckets, nets and a shellfish license. For many people it is their favorite outdoor pursuit, a profound family-centric experience, part ritual and part way of life. Other natural resources have fallen by the wayside, but razor clamming and its time-honored rhythms endure.

The photos below show key aspects of the modern recreational fishery as well as iconic moments from the past.

Digging for Pacific razor clams near Copalis Beach in Washington state. A good low tide and favorable weather can bring out a horde of people. Razor clamming is a quintessentially Northwest phenomenon.

Credit: David Berger

This woman is using the tube to remove a coring of sand and, with luck, a razor clam as well. While the Northwest is famous for shellfish such as oysters and mussels, most of these are farm-raised. Pacific razor clams, by contrast, are only available as a wild food.

Credit: David Berger

An old-timer puts his razor clams in a vintage wire basket once used for gathering eggs. Razor clamming attracts folks of all ages and gender. It’s not too unusual to read in a coastal obituary that “so and so loved to razor clam, and took pride in always getting a limit.”

Credit: David Berger

A family heading to the surf with aluminum tubes and buckets. Razor clamming is a family-centric activity, one of the qualities that make the undertaking so special.

Credit: David Berger

Some people are darn serious about getting their legal daily limit of clams. This gentleman is using a special narrow-bladed shovel to dig for clams. Razor clams are wily and can move down quickly in the soft sand near the water. Shovel diggers by the surf must be quick about their business.

Credit: David Berger

The quarry, the Pacific razor clam. A variety of clams around the world are called razor clams, but this species, Siliqua patula, is only found on the West Coast on certain beaches from northern California to south-central Alaska. It is a large, meaty clam prized for the table. To prepare, razor clams are removed from the shell, cleaned of sand and viscera, and then fried, sautéed or made into chowder.

Credit: David Berger

A razor clam festival in Long Beach, Washington in 1940. A highlight was cooking the “world’s largest clam fritter,” in a giant skillet. The fritter required two hundred pounds of razor clams and twenty dozen eggs.

Credit: Pacific Shellfish Ephemera/Matt Winters Collection

Like salmon, razor clams are an icon of the region and part of cultural identity. In Long Beach, WA, visitors love to take pictures next to a wooden razor clam sculpture as well as the original pan from the 1940s razor clam festival. The razor clam squirts on the hour and is squirting here if you look closely.

Credit: David Berger

A cup of razor-clam chowder at the Razor Clam Festival chowder competition in Ocean Shores. Acknowledging the razor clam’s importance and enthusiastic supporters, Washington state has two razor clam festivals each spring, one at the city of Long Beach, the other at the city of Ocean Shores.

Credit: David Berger

Women and men in 1910 collecting razor clams and Dungeness crabs. The clams are in the wire-wheeled cart in the middle of the photograph. Razor clams have been popular for as long as there have been people on the coast including among the original Native American inhabitants.

Credit: Museum of the North Beach

Commercial clammers with surf sacks harnessed to their bodies. They were collecting primarily for the razor clam canning industry and could easily gather several hundreds of pounds on a good low tide. The canning of razor clams faded away in the post-WWII 1950s era.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the number of people digging razor clams recreationally swelled as folks realized they could drive to the beach with the family, enjoy the seashore, dig some clams, and have a fine meal of the tasty bivalve.

Postcard. Credit: Alan Rammer collection

In Washington and Oregon people are allowed to drive on the beaches. Utilizing a vehicle helps make the activity easier to undertake regardless of the weather, which is sometimes cold, wet, and windy.

Credit: David Berger

Father with his son and a net full of clams, in 2014. Despite the emergence of “nature-deficit disorder” and such distractions as professional sports teams and video games, razor clamming remains a living tradition in the Northwest that attracts many tens of thousands every year.

Credit: David Berger


David Berger has been a contributor to the food feature, “Northwest Taste,” in the Pacific Magazine, and is former art critic for the Seattle Times. He is a recipient of a Metcalf Fellowship for Marine and Environmental Reporting.

Happy 100th birthday, Gordon Hirabayashi!

April 23, 2018 marks what would have been Gordon Hirabayashi’s 100th birthday. As a young man, Gordon learned the hard way that without a vigilant and engaged citizenry, our Constitution is little more than a scrap of paper. He took a stand and became one of the best known resisters to World War II incarceration—and we have much to learn from his example today.

Just days after his 24th birthday, Gordon challenged the government’s right to target and forcibly remove Japanese Americans without due process of law, and turned himself in to the FBI rather than going along with the forced removal. He paid a high price for his act of civil disobedience, spending the next nine months in a jail cell while awaiting trial and appealing his conviction, before being sentenced to prison when the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against him. It would take more than 40 years to correct that injustice–but Gordon never gave up, and instead continued to fight for the rights of himself and all Americans.

In this excerpt from A Principled Stand: The Story of Hirabayashi v. United States, Gordon talks about how he arrived at the decision to disobey curfew orders and, later, exclusion orders:

Returning from New York, I became one of the leaders of the UW student conscientious objectors group right after the first peacetime conscription law [Selective Training and Service Act of 1940] was passed. . . . As for confronting the government, with all the information I had, I thought, “They’re wrong!” For me, my position was a positive one, that of desiring to be a conscientious citizen. It was this desire that prevented my participation in the military as a way of achieving peace and democracy and other ideals for which we stood. How could you achieve nonviolence violently and succeed? War never succeeded before. War has always caused more problems than it solved. I can’t say it’s wrong for everybody, but I can’t approve of it for myself. I couldn’t put my life on the line and put my efforts toward war with how I feel.

I wanted to work toward justice and peace in my own way. And there were others with whom I could do that, namely, liberal members of churches and political parties. We had a lot of protection actually. If we had to go to prison, treatment was all right, since the concept of conscientious objection was not ipso facto disloyal.

On Sunday, December 7, 1941, I went to the Quaker meeting as usual. After the meeting, a student came down from an apartment across the street: “I skipped the meeting this morning. Japan bombed Pearl Harbor! We’re at war!” It didn’t sound real. It was unbelievable, but it slowly sank in.

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, acting under his emergency war powers, issued Executive Order 9066, which delegated broad powers to the secretary of war as well as U.S. military commanders to protect the national security. That protection included the right to remove any suspect individuals from military areas.

A proclamation, generally referred to as the curfew order, was issued on March 24, 1942, restricting the movement of certain individuals. General John L. DeWitt, who was the top military man in charge of the Western Defense Command, issued the curfew. It was applied to all enemy aliens—Germans, Italians, Japanese, plus non- aliens of Japanese ancestry—confining them to their residences between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., and restricting their travel to areas within a radius of five miles from their homes. The government and military kept using this term “non-alien” in identifying the second-generation Japanese Americans, who, after all, were actually U.S. citizens by birthright. The military seemed to feel more comfortable carrying out these orders if they didn’t have to think about applying them to other Americans. At first I responded as an ordinary citizen and obeyed government orders.

As I thought the situation over, however, I reasoned that a citizen is a member of a state: a person, native or naturalized, who owes allegiance to a state and is entitled to protection from it. An alien is someone who is not a citizen. What, then, is a “non-alien”? I felt forsaken as a citizen to be included in this strange kind of categorization. It appeared that the federal government was more interested in suspending citizens’ rights than in protecting constitutional guarantees regardless of race, creed, or national origins.

At my YMCA dormitory, there were about fifteen of us, mostly locals, but some from different states and a few internationals: one or two Chinese, a Filipino, and some Canadians. They became my time- keepers. “Gordon, it’s five to eight,” and I would rush back from the library, which was about two blocks from my UW dormitory, Eagleson Hall. And then it happened. One night, I thought to myself, “I can’t do that. I have to change my philosophy or I can’t do this, or I’m not true to myself, and if I’m not, I’m not a very good citizen to anybody. Why am I dashing back and those guys are still down there, and I could stay longer and get some more work done, too?”

So I went back to the library, and the first dorm mate who saw me said, “Hey! What are you doing here?”

I said, “What are you doing here?” “Working,” he responded.

I retorted, “Well, I’ve got work to do, too, same as you. Why should I be running back if you’re not running back? We’re both Americans!” My dorm mates never turned me in. They could have. I never was arrested for curfew violation or caught as I was roaming around the University District. If I had been living a half a block away at the Japanese Students Club, I would have been one of the forty or so residents who would be returning at five to eight. If that had been the case,I wonder whether openly confronting the racist curfew order would have occurred to me?

Members of the University of Washington Japanese Students Club in 1941. Courtesy of the UW Nikkei Alumni Association.

If I were to maintain my integrity in terms of my belief that I am a first-class American citizen, but then accepted second-class status, I would have had to accept all kinds of differences. But how is it that I could raise a question about being a first-class citizen when every day I experience differences that restrict my rights because of my ancestry?

The curfew and exclusion orders were issued, making the Nisei subject to those restrictions purely on the grounds of ancestry, but many Nisei found it possible to find a way to accept those orders in the name of loyalty and patriotism. I heard various reports from the Japanese community. Nisei came to have their lunch at the YMCA, and I dropped over to the Japanese Students Club from time to time. I heard that the Issei leaders were being picked up.

Among the community, all sorts of rumors were rife, and the concentration camp fever hit us all. Others will be picked up. There was a kind of resignation among us that because the Issei were prohibited from naturalizing, they were still Japanese subjects. And with war, they were technically enemy aliens. Therefore we expected that some restrictions would fall on them, that they would all be put into some kind of confinement. I remember trying to assure the Issei that, at worst, some things like that could happen, but if they did, we Nisei would look after their needs.

Shortly after the curfew order, the government posted an official proclamation on telephone poles and post office bulletin boards: NOTICE TO ALL PERSONS OF JAPANESE ANCESTRY, BOTH ALIEN AND NON-ALIEN. Civilian Exclusion Order No. 57 commanded all Japanese and Japanese Americans out of their homes and into special, totally segregated, camps.

In response to the Army’s Exclusion Order Number 20, residents of Japanese ancestry appeared at Civil Control Station in Sacramento. Photo by Dorothea Lange, Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Soon enough, the districts of Seattle were on a deadline to move all persons of Japanese ancestry, “both alien and non-alien.” All this time I was thinking that when the last bus came, I would probably be on it. About two weeks before my time came, I said to myself, “If I am defying the curfew, how can I accept this thing? This is much worse, the same principle, but much worse in terms of uprooting and denial of our rights, and the suffering it’s going to cause.” While I had to agonize over that for a couple of days, the answer was inevitable. I found it necessary to keep myself internally intact.

I was a senior at the University of Washington. At the end of winter term in March 1942, I dropped out of the university. It was clear to me that I would not be around long enough to complete spring session. I volunteered for the fledgling local American Friends Service Committee, with Floyd Schmoe as my boss. [. . . .]

The top priority was to sensitively respond to needs arising among the Japanese Americans. The Quakers were responding to calls for help. My assignment involved helping those families with little kids whose Issei fathers had been picked up and interned immediately after Pearl Harbor because they were leaders of the community. The mothers were busy closing the houses, arranging for storage, and preparing young children to carry their things on the trek to camp. Gosh! Something seems wrong; helping people to go behind barbed wires and into flimsy shacks. What a mixed-up life this is—the American way. It really horrified me to help these families pack up their belongings, drive them down to the temporary camp at the Western Washington Fairgrounds in Puyallup, and leave them behind barbed wire.

Japanese Americans from Seattle arrive at the Puyallup detention facility, which was also known as “Camp Harmony” (a euphemism coined by army public relations officials days before the first Nikkei arrival and a name in common usage by camp survivors). Courtesy of the Museum of History and Industry.

Those who saw me waving goodbye expected to see me within a few weeks, a prisoner myself. Then, somewhere in a period of a few days, it occurred to me that if I can’t tolerate curfew, how can I go with this camp deal, which is much worse? As long as I had come to this stage, I thought I couldn’t do it. It was only about a week before the last evacuee left, but by then, I knew I wouldn’t go! [. . . .]

My parents, who still lived in Thomas, were expecting to be uprooted sometime in May, and because we lived south of Seattle, the family was initially going to be sent to the center for Japanese Americans erected at Pinedale, California. They thought that I would be home in time to join them for the exodus. I had to explain what was happening to me and tell them that I would not be joining them. Because of travel restrictions and demands on my time by the Quaker service work, I had to telephone home to give my parents the unpleasant news.

My mother pleaded, “Please, put your principles aside on this occasion, come home, and move with us. Heaven knows what will happen to you if you confront the government. You are right and I agree with you, but this is war. We’re all facing unknowns. We are going to be moved, but we don’t know where or for how long. The worst of all would be that if we are separated now, we may never get together again.”

That was quite a concern to her if I continued to defy the government. My brother Ed heard Mom crying and begging. She had read The Count of Monte Cristo, and as that was her only reference to jails and prisons, she worried about the consequences of my decision. I might face the firing squad or something like that. I told her, “If I change my mind because of your pressure, it wouldn’t be good. I need to retain my own self-respect, because when I take this stand, I am following what I think is right. I can’t change my views, since I’d rather remain true to my beliefs and be true to you as your son.”

After the war, my brother Ed observed, “Once they had done all they could do to dissuade Gordon and saw they couldn’t change his mind, they became his greatest supporters and were proud of him, in spite of the terrifying thought of his being in prison.”

In a 1999 interview with Densho, Gordon reflected on his mother’s support, and his decision to take a stand:

Excerpt from A Principled Stand: The Story of Hirabayashi v. United States
By Gordon K. Hirabayashi
With James A. Hirabayashi and Lane Ryo Hirabayashi

This post originally appeared on the Densho Blog.