Sugar and the City

New York City has just released preliminary results of a health study that shows that more than one in eight adult New Yorkers have diabetes, while twice as many have abnormally high blood sugar that could be a sign of conditions leading to diabetes. Moreover, of the city’s diabetes sufferers, at least one-third do not know that they have the disease, while many of those who know they have it are not managing to treat it properly. Here’s the NYC health commissioner quoted in the New York Times today:

“This confirms that we as a society are doing a rotten job both preventing and controlling diabetes,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the city health commissioner. “We can do a much better job helping people with diabetes get their condition under better control. The fact that there are over 100,000 New Yorkers with seriously out-of-control diabetes, and over 200,000 who don’t even know they have diabetes, is a real indictment of our health care system.”

As disturbing as the overall figures are, he said, they were not unexpected. They resemble estimates made by public health officials, who expected that the disease would be more common in New York City than nationally; diabetes is less prevalent among whites than among most other groups, and New York is a mostly nonwhite city.

Which brings us to the Desi Angle (TM), and it’s a deadly serious one:

But Dr. Frieden said he was startled by some of the specific findings, including the very high numbers among Asian-Americans, especially those from South Asia. The study indicates that more than half of the New Yorkers whose families are from the Indian subcontinent have either diabetes or prediabetes.

Here’s more:

Asians have the highest rates in the city, 16 percent diabetic and 32 percent prediabetic. The cityÂ’s report does not differentiate Asians by region, but officials said that the data in their study and others show that East Asians have below-average rates of diabetes, while South Asians have by far the highest of any large group.

Diabetes afflicts about 14 percent of the cityÂ’s non-Hispanic black population, 12 percent of Hispanics and 11 percent of whites.

If I can get a hold of more details I’ll update this post accordingly. Tomorrow the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC (93.9 FM in New York, and live and archived online) will be discussing this topic including the specific case of the South Asian community. Continue reading

17 Year Old Desi Girl Makes Scientific Breakthrough

Madhavi Gavini is a student at a math/science high school in Mississippi, the Mississippi Institute of Math and Science. mahdavi-scope.jpg At age 14 she got interested in cystic fibrosis, especially the lung infections that kill many people suffering from CF:

It was that thirst for knowledge that drove Madhavi to search for a way to help a friend with cystic fibrosis. “I found out that most people who have CF die of pseudomonas infections,” she recalls, “so I wanted to see if there was anything I could do to help.” She was 14 at the time. “I guess the thought that a 14-year-old can’t really do much to help, didn’t really occur to me,” she says with a shrug.

Pseudomonas bacteria — in addition to killing people with cystic fibrosis — can cause deadly secondary infections in people with immune-suppressing conditions such as AIDS, cancer and severe burns. This opportunistic pathogen forms a thick, protective layer around itself, making it nearly impossible for antibiotics to penetrate and destroy it. (link)

That’s the background. Interestingly, the technique she used to find a way to kill the Pseudomonas bacteria started with Ayurvedic medicine:

With an herb book from her grandparents as her guide, Madhavi sampled common grocery store and green houseplants, such as cinnamon, ginger and aloe. She obtained a strain of pseudomonas bacteria from the local university and began subjecting the germs to various plant extracts.

One of the common tropical plant extracts penetrated the bacterium’s protective layer. Next, Madhavi isolated the specific molecule in the extract that was able to inhibit bacterial growth. She found that the molecule was heat resistant, and resistant to pressure. “It kills the cell,” she explains, “by preventing the transcription of the genes involved in energy, metabolism, adaptation, membrane transport, and toxin secretion.” (link)

The herb she started with, incidentally, is Terminalia Chebula, known in Sanskrit as Haritaki. As for which molecule exactly kills the biofilm that protects the Pseudomonas, the coverage I’ve read doesn’t say.

Wow. Continue reading

It’s Actually Not That Racist

A friend forwarded me this Julian Baggini article on racism in the UK, which appeared in the Guardian last week. If I could give an award to someone for coming up with the most horribly written piece of drivel I’ve read in a while, it would surely go to this Baggini guy. No, seriously. I’m not being sarcastic.

Baggini tries to argue two things. Well, he rambles on and on and ON endlessly, but I’m taking the liberty to condense his points here. First, he argues that when some white Britons refer to us brown folks as ‘Pakis,’ they don’t really mean any harm. Second, he argues that if only we were to integrate and tolerate one another more, then people wouldn’t use the word ‘Paki’ so often. My response to him is, you’re dead wrong and, it’s not that easy.

This is how Baggini sets up his argument:

The mainstream British mind is not so much misunderstood as not seriously considered. To rectify this, 18 months ago I set out to examine the national “folk philosophy” – the set of beliefs and assumptions that informs how we live and how we think. To help me do this, I found the area with the closest match of household type – young and old, rich and poor, single and married – to the country as a whole. And so I ended up living for six months in S66, on the outskirts of Rotherham, South Yorkshire.

Then comes the subject of the P bomb:

Almost everyone [in Rotherham] used the word “Paki” when referring to British Asians, yet of everyone I got to know, only Neil – happy to be described as somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun – would merit the charge of being truly racist.

First of all, how on earth do you judge whether “no one in this town except X person” is “truly racist?” Did he go around Rotherham with some special racism-detecting gadget that instantly identifies individuals as “truly racist,” “somewhat racist” and “not at all racist?” Continue reading

The knives come out

Although I don’t enjoy reality television in general, I do love that fabulous Bravo show Top Chef. I love to cook. Before I even reached our new bureau offices in Texas I had a vegetable steamer and a set of very nice (and ridiculously sharp) Ginsus pre-deployed to my apartment (via Amazon supersaver shipping). I have also invested in a fust-class set of Calphalon cookware. Meal preparation has never been this much fun! Before I took up blogging, cooking was my one and only creative outlet. It is the only right brain talent I have. Blogging and cooking are very similar when you get right down to it. You have to serve up something delicious in a short time to an an often ungrateful audience who thinks they can do better.

Oh yeah baby. Pour that ink on me.

My favorite part of the show are those “quickfire challenges.” In these fierce battles, contestants are given only like 15 minutes to prepare a scrumptious meal out of some very basic ingredients. Once the hosts sent the contestants into a Kwik-E-Mart and made them use the food available there for a gourmet entree.

Speaking of hosts, Padma Lakshmi, the host of this season’s Top Chef (as Amardeep previously reported), has been getting skewered by the cooks off-camera. Here is a sample of the many ways to cut and prepare a Padma:

According to a source who worked on the set of Top Chef, the ex-model turned trophy wife turned hostess Padma Lakshmi allegedly enjoys smoking pot on set, giving a whole new meaning to the term “Quickfire Challenge” — see, cause she’s allegedly lighting up a joint instead of a stove! Anyway. Exactly how often this happened is disputed, though we were assured it was allegedly “fairly regularly…” [Link]

Asked if he trusted Lakshmi’s culinary taste, Ilan Hall, a line cook at Casa Mono, asked a Bravo flack, “Um, are we allowed to say disparaging things about Padma?” No. “She’s beautiful,” Hall offered. “Mostly, she just explained things, and she did a good job at that.” Cliff Crooks, executive chef at Salute!, said, “Nothing she said really made a difference in my cooking.” Sam Talbot, former executive chef at Punch, said, “Next question.” He also noted that she seemed intent on stepping out of her famous husband’s shadow. “She never wanted to talk about him. I remember a time she got a phone call and she yelled, ‘You can ask me any question you want, but don’t bring up my husband!'” And then there’s the matter of her stomach-baring, kitchen-unfriendly attire. “Some of the things she wore, I wouldn’t suggest anyone wear around a working kitchen,” said Crooks. “Either she’d be a fire hazard or she’d get hurt…” [Link]

See, if I ever had the opportunity to score a trophy wife then I think I could do a lot worse than Padma. On the show she always has a very neutral tone though. She smiles often but never actually laughs. She also gives a lot of really intelligent sounding critiques to the chefs…until the real chefs nicely contradict her seconds later. I do love those outfits though, even if they are fire hazards.

Anyways the season finale of Top Chef is on Wednesday night! It’s down to that obnoxious Marcel and the saffron-happy Ilan. I can’t stand the excitement.

It’s not just “The Apprentice” with the chef Tom Colicchio subbing for the emperor Donald Trump, not just “America’s Next Top Model” with a much higher calorie count. It’s a look at the imagination, desperation, judgment and serendipity that inform any great meal. [Link]

I will close the comments tomorrow night until after the show is over on the West Coast. You East Coasters always ruin these things by blabbing too early.

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Self flagellation on Park Ave

While New Yorkers are known for their displays of self-flagellation, it’s usually a metaphorical exercise, one driven by old school Catholic or Jewish guilt. However, over on 3QD, Abbas Raza has some surprising photographs of Ashura / Moharram being commemorated right in the middle of Park Avenue. Ashura is marked by both Shia and Sunni, although for different reasons. For the Shia:

This day is anniversary of the battle of Karbala which resulted in martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad, by the army of Umayyad caliph,Yazid I. [Link]

All of Husain’s family was massacred in front of his eyes, even his six-month old son … The followers of Ali (the Shia) said to themselves that they would never allow this horrific event to be forgotten, and that they would mourn Husain and his family’s murder forever, and for the last thirteen hundred years, they have lived up to this promise every year. This mourning has given rise to ritualistic displays of grief, which include flagellating oneself with one’s hands, with chains, with knives, etc. [Link]

Raza observes:

In front, you can see a painstakingly recreated model of the tomb of Husain…. It is a testament to the tolerance of American society that … it allows (and observes with curiosity) such displays of foreign sentiment… The procession is made up of Shias of various nationalities, with the largest contingents being from Pakistan and Iran. [Link]

I’m a native New Yorker, and I never dreamed that there was an Ashura procession in the center of the Upper East Side. It’s worth looking at Raza’s entire post — it’s a long article, with multiple photos including some of the self-flagellation.

Related posts: Fun, Frolic and Heavy Lifting

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Everything is Illuminated

[some names have been changed]


“What is your business in India, sir?” Police inspector sahib was looking me intently in the eyes (with what I swear was a smirk). It has been proven by the record of El Al that the single best method of revealing a suspected highjacker is by employing a thorough screening interview.

“I’m actually not staying in Delhi, but just transferring through to Nepal. My younger brother is getting married there.”

“But you are Indian, no?”

“I’m American, but yes, my parents are from Gujarat. Well, actually my mom is from Africa but she is Gujarati too. But the girl, she is Nepali.”

“But your last name is not Gujarati. You must be Bihari.”

“No, I’m quite sure of it. I am Gujarati”

“Can’t be. I have Bihari friends with the same last name.”

“I know, I tried to convince my father once that we weren’t Gujarati also…but after a half hour he got mad at me and said I was just wasting his time and that even great-great-grandfather was Gujarati.”

“I think you must be from somewhere else, not Gujarat.”

Should I have continued to argue some more? Maybe he was right. My confidence regarding this whole matter was rapidly deteriorating. I was equally troubled by the fact that I could not locate Bihar on a map. Who knows who migrated where 300 years ago? He had a gun. Most importantly, I still hadn’t been given the clearance to pass. There was a very long line behind me and I could feel stares on my moist back. Inspector sahib kept on with that smirk and his head was now cocked to the side. I don’t trust people with side-cocked heads. I gently reached for my bag without his verbal clearance. With purposely slow movements (eyes on the ground) I walked away. I hoped that airport security did not determine me to be a counterfeit Gujarati unworthy of passage. My family had gotten away with it for a few hundred years. I couldn’t now fail them all.

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Paging Bollywood Fugly

Before the blogosphere goes collectively gaga over Shilpa Shetty’s style and grace, I just want to show you one picture [Thanks Saheli!]

To get the full impact of the outfit, you really do have to click on it and go to the larger version.

I have no idea where to begin … never mind, when you’re a Bollywood star, you make your own rules.

And if you’re going to make a statement of personal style, why not shoot the moon?

p.s. what is it with Shetty and animal prints? Or is that too catty a question to ask?

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Shilpa wins, will anything change?

As predicted by the markets, Shetty today won Celebrity Big Brother in the UK. The whole thing was a very big deal in some ways. It sparked intense debate in the UK and caused an international furore. Tony Blair weighed in, as did the mayor of London Ken Livingston, and at least six cabinet ministers including Gordon Brown, the man who is likely to become the next PM. The media coverage of the whole thing has been intense. It has resurrected Shetty’s career, and buried the careers of Danielle Lloyd and Jade Goody. English celebrities will probably be on their best behavior concerning issues of race for the near future, and broadcasters more careful about racist content.

Still – will this tempest in a teapot matter in a few months? Will it lead to any real changes for British Asians, or will it soon be forgotten?

Over at Pickled Politics Sunny directs our attention to an article earlier this week by Priyamvada Gopal in the Guardian. In it, the author raises a number of important questions. Firstly, how deep is our recently renewed ethnic solidarity:

For British Asians, the public display of familiar battles poked at raw wounds, inspiring large numbers to protest. I would feel a lot more excited about this apparent resurgence of anti-racist awareness if recent years had shown more evidence of a genuine activist spirit among us. Where were these tens of thousands of protesting voices when young Zahid Mubarak died at the hands of a white racist cellmate with whom he should not have been made to share a cell? When a few hundred Sikh women protested alone at discriminatory treatment by British Airways meal supplier Gate Gourmet? [Link]

How much of our response to Shetty’s treatment reflects class anxiety and aspirations?

India … is increasingly obsessed with disseminating the myth of the nation as fundamentally middle-class, professional and successful. The task has partly fallen on the feminine shoulders of India’s flourishing glamour industry.

This anxiety to belong to the global community of the economically successful explains Shilpa’s repeated protests that she is not from the “slums” and did not grow up on the “roadside”… Shilpa understands her task clearly: to show the world that India is really about beauty and entrepreneurial success, not slums and poverty. Losing neither time nor opportunity, India Tourism brought out a full-page ad last week … [Link]

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Vultures At Risk

vulture_branch.jpgI’ve had a warm feeling toward vultures, buzzards and other scavenger birds since the time I attended a wedding in Burkina Faso, the arid, land-locked West African country, back in the early 1990s, and looked up to see clusters of big, bad-lookin’ buzzards hanging around on trees, waiting for the event to be over so they could swoop in for the remnants of the dozen or so sheep that had been slaughtered for the occasion. It was one of those “hey, what’s up?” moments humans can have with animals, when you realize that we’re all in this together, that each creature serves its function, and that the social and cultural practices of one species have significant effects on the well-being of others. I want to say it “humanized” the buzzards for me, which obviously isn’t the right word, but it demystified them and made me appreciate them. Nuff respect to the scavenger birds.

Today tipster Sakshi brings to our attention a fascinating article from Smithsonian magazine on vultures in the subcontinent, which not only offers an interesting glimpse into the lives of these birds but, more importantly, shows how closely we and they — and other species — lead interwoven lives and how fragile that balance can be. It turns out that scientists, picking up on the observations of cattle herders and others in the field, have noticed a substantial decline in the long-billed vulture population in the subcontinent for some years. The disappearance of the lead scavenger has resulted in the accumulation of un-scavenged cattle corpses as well as the growth of packs of feral dogs, in ways that you can read about in the article. It has also placed a new burden on secondary scavenger birds that used to only come in after the larger, more powerful vultures. Those birds in turn have become vulnerable to whatever it is that has decimated the vultures:

… across the subcontinent all three species of Gyps vultures are disappearing. Dead livestock lie uneaten and rotting. These carcasses are fueling a population boom in feral dogs and defeating the government’s efforts to combat rabies. Vultures have become so rare that the Parsi in Mumbai have resorted to placing solar reflectors atop the Towers of Silence to hasten the decomposition of bodies. International conservation groups now advocate the capture of long-billed, white-backed and slender-billed vultures for conservation breeding.

So what’s the cause? After initially speculating it was some kind of virus, scientists now have strong proof that it’s a particular medication that herders give cattle that is toxic to the vultures. This brings into the story the Indian pharmaceutical industry and its history of reverse-engineering cheap drugs, which arguably has done a lot to save human lives but has also resulted in a proliferation of drugs on the market without necessarily sufficient regulation or understanding of appropriate use. The chain of effects goes on:

Public health officials say it’s likely that India’s rat population is growing too, sharing the bounty of abandoned carcasses with feral dogs, and raising the probability of outbreaks of bubonic plague and other rodent-transmitted human diseases. Livestock diseases may increase too. Vultures are resistant to anthrax, brucellosis and other livestock diseases, and helped control them by consuming contaminated flesh, thus removing reservoirs of infectious organisms. Some municipalities are now resorting to burying or burning carcasses, expending precious land, firewood and fossil fuels to replace what Rahmani calls “the beautiful system nature gave us.”

In all, this is a powerful story of interdependence and one that, just possibly, might have a happy ending, as the governments of India, Pakistan and Nepal have grown aware of the problem and taken remedial action. Read the article for that story as well as a rich perspective on the interconnectedness of all things, one that might, at a minimum, help us step back from some of the ridiculous disputes over trivial matters that we humans, including those of us who hang out at this site, sometimes so enjoy wallowing in. There’s also a nice sidebar interview with the article’s writer, Susan McGrath:

Well, I knew that my trip to India was going to be different than most people’s trips to India. All my friends were saying, “Oh you’re so lucky! The crafts! The clothing! The wildlife!” And I spent half my time in India in carcass dumps.

Glad you did, Ms. McGrath. And to the vultures: keep ya ugly heads up, my avian brothers and sisters, stay strong! Continue reading

Skin Color Matters

Like many other people, I cringe whenever I’m routinely mistaken for another brown person. When I attended graduate school in the midwest, people repeatedly confused me with another desi woman in my class, Sheila, who looked absolutely nothing like me — the obvious difference being that Sheila was much lighter-skinned than I was. At least, to me, it was obvious. To other white people, it was apparently not. Never mind that Sheila was from India and a had a bourgeois Mumbai accent, whereas I was from southern California and talked like a valley girl. As far as other people at school were concerned, we were interchangeable.

And so, because of repeated instances like that, I had figured that brown folks were just more sensitive to skin tone differences than white people were. But apparently, that’s not the case. When I was at work yesterday, I caught this news blurb:

Light-skinned immigrants in the United States make more money on average than those with darker complexions, and the chief reason appears to be discrimination, a researcher says. Joni Hersch, a law and economics professor at Vanderbilt University, looked at a government survey of 2,084 legal immigrants to the United States from around the world and found that those with the lightest skin earned an average of 8 percent to 15 percent more than similar immigrants with much darker skin. “On average, being one shade lighter has about the same effect as having an additional year of education,” Hersch said.

While I don’t think her findings are entirely improbable, I’m curious as to what she defines as “one shade” of skin tone.

What’s also interesting that it seems the researcher compared skin tones within immigrant groups:

Hersch took into consideration other factors that could affect wages, such as English-language proficiency, education, occupation, race or country of origin, and found that skin tone still seemed to make a difference in earnings. That means that if two similar immigrants from Bangladesh, for example, came to the United States at the same time, with the same occupation and ability to speak English, the lighter-skinned immigrant would make more money on average.

So what does this mean? Contrary to my earlier beliefs, it seems that other people are able to distinguish between darker and lighter-skinned browns.

I also wonder why Hersch used immigrants as her subjects, and not second, third, or fourth generation Americans. Would the results be the same? I don’t know. I wasn’t able to find this particular study of Hersch’s online, and I usually prefer to link to original sources rather than the newspaper, but still, this is food for thought. Continue reading