Friday, April 25, 2008

What Do Conventionally Grown Strawberries, Bananas, Melons, Tomatoes and Beans Have In Common?

Recently, I listened to "A Pair O' Docs" on the radio. The theme was regarding the current health care issues we face as a nation and ways in which people are opening up to alternative medicines and holistic treatments. However, at one point during the show, the hosts were sidetracked and began talking about pesticides and the detrimental effects they have upon declining bird populations--which isn't actually a new subject (remember DDT), but one that has been proven as being a leading cause of this tragedy.

The Docs stated that although America has now outlawed some of the chemicals that are most harmful to humans and the environment, Latin American countries have drastically increased the use of these U.S. banned substances. According to The Independent, Testing by individual EU countries and the US Food and Drug Administration reveals that fruits and vegetables imported from Latin America are three and sometimes four times as likely to violate basic standards for pesticide residues. What's more, is that pesticide usage in Latin American Countries has increased fivefold since the 80's.

But why should that really concern you and me since we don't live there? Believe it or not, we Americans are the very people who consume the majority of conventionally grown fruits and veggies from Latin American countries. We are also the people that demand our "out of season" fruits and vegetables to be available in bountiful supply year round. Which means that a large quantity of warm weather produce grown down south is drenched heavily in dangerous pesticides and then shipped right back to us. Thus, in reality, we are actually munching on foods contaminated with the very chemicals we have banned in the first place....

So, if you would still rather spend a few bucks less on conventionally grown produce as opposed to paying more for quality organics, and if you don't quite understand how buying products that are grown using pesticides adversely affects your own health and/or the health of your family, or if saving a few dollars did not somehow negatively impact the many farm workers struggling to make a living in the first place--there is yet another important side to this topic that one may not ever stop to consider-- the birds!

That brings me right back to the Docs' radio broadcast discussion about conventionally grown produce, pesticide usage and birds. Did you know that there are three major species of birds, one of which is the Songbird, that are being found at a rate of approximately 25 dead per acre, across Latin American Farms? This count does not include the even greater number of birds who do not die on the farmlands, but instead become dazed and disoriented and cannot successfully reproduce. These bird populations are declining at an alarming rate and the underlying cause of this is basically our own self-centered consumer choices.

The Docs on the radio show made a plea to the listeners which went something like this...
"If you do not care about your own health, please stop and think about the health and livelihood of all other earthly creatures who are dying unnecessary deaths." They also asked, "Even if you choose not to purchase all organics, please at least stop buying these top five conventionally grown bird killers!" They are listed here: Strawberries, Bananas, Melons, Tomatoes, & Beans. So now do you know what all five of these have in common??

A Continuing Tragedy

65,000,000 birds are killed each and every year by pesticides. Birds eat sprayed bugs and die themselves. We're killing off one of our best allies. When the birds are gone the insects will really take over. (Bird statistics herein are from researchers at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Black Gold"

I have been composting for so many years that it has become second nature to view almost any food scrap as future "Black Gold." This commodity is so desirable to gardeners and farmers alike that there have been numerous events held in its honor. Yes, even taste testing contests are held for the finer aficionados of this delectable dirt.

When I use the term Black Gold, I am simply referring to high quality, well composted, nutrient rich soil, which is created via the decomposition of earthly foods and natural vegetation. So, it is somewhat disheartening when I view somebody throwing perfectly biodegradable food into the garbage can--which is directly headed for the landfill.

It should be well known by now that, "If the 21.5 million tons of food residuals generated annually were composted instead of being sent to landfills, the resulting reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would be equivalent to taking more than two million cars off the road." –Resource Recycling, Elizabeth Cotsworth, “Composting opportunities improve food waste management,” Nov. 2000

Since we, as a society, are already burdened with the task of ridding ourselves of an ever growing, humungous heap of trash--it seems obvious that the last thing we would want to add to the pile would be easily compostable items such as food scraps.

Here in Sonoma County, we are fortunate as the Sonoma Dump runs Recycle Town as well as an active composting program which produces fresh, organic compost for the public at large to utilize. However, since only the materials that are in your yard waste bin are used in creating the compost, there is still plenty of food that lands in the gigantic trash heap. Therefore, if the citizens of our community all composted at home, we could make an even greater impact in reducing the amount of trash products we are sending to the dump.

How would this work? Well in my eyes, citizens could either learn to create a small compost station for their home or simply compost their veggies by putting them in the yard waste bin to be picked up curbside. This type of composting is actually encouraged by The Sonoma Waste Management System, as they state that approximately 35% of all resiential garbage is food waste.

Unfortunately, when I speak to others about composting, there often appears to be some type of intimidation or disgust around the breakdown of rotting foods and the earthworms wriggling through this topic. However, earthworms are supremely beneficial and creating compost is not as difficult as one may think. Sure, there are scientifically proven ways to get the perfect heated temperature causing the quick breakdown of food stuffs and the killing off of bad microorganisms, but in all actuality, for most home use purposes composting can be quite a simple process.

For example, in dealing with the leftover foodscraps in our home, we have a small, lidded step can, which has a bucket inside that we keep in our kitchen. When the bucket gets full, we transfer it outside to our compost pile. Since our garden space is relatively small, the compost pile is in a vertical fashion. Food stuffs and leaves go in at the top and by the time they reach the bottom (over a period of many months) they are miraculously converted into the sacred Black Gold.

Since composting only takes a relatively small change in our "trash related" behaviors, I have often wondered why there are not composting containers sitting right along side of the recycling bins and garbage cans located throughout our cities. However, one day as I was listening to a talk radio show, I learned that Berkeley is indeed actually implementing such a program. The beauty of this plan is that so much great compost is generated, the city shares much of it with organic farmers in the surrounding areas--which is a beneficial process for everyone involved.

So, it seems to me that since we already have a wonderful composting program in place at our very own Sonoma Dump, taking this one step further to emulate Berkeley's program would be somewhat of a straightforward task---but first the intrinsic worth and supreme coolness of Black Gold needs to rise up the scale of importance like fair trade products, organic food and sustainable living.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"Mom, What is Irradiation?"

Last night as we were sitting down at the dinner table, my son asked about irradiation. At first, I thought he was referring to the aftermath of a nuclear war, but it soon became evident that he was actually speaking of food.

In all honesty, irradiated food is a topic that I haven't thought much about since the time there was a huge protest against the FDA when they wanted to change the wording on food packaging labels. For some reason, the FDA wanted to use the word "pasteurized" in place of "irradiated" to describe preservation techniques used with food--even though their initial studies proved this type of labeling would be misleading to consumers.

So I decided to find out how the idea of irradiation materialized in the first place, and it turns out that e-coli and bacteria growth issues are some of the leading causes. Although these types of problems are actually perpetuated by the unsanitary conditions found within large factory farms and food storage warehouses, big corporations are using food safety scares as a perfectly good excuse to keep our food "protected from disease" by a process which entails the usage of high-energy Gamma rays, electron beams, and super powerful X-rays.

So is irradition really harmless?

Of course, the FDA's research on food irradiation shows evidence that this type of preservation is perfectly safe for human consumption. FDA scientists concluded that irradiation reduces or eliminates pathogenic bacteria, insects and parasites. It reduces spoilage, and in certain fruits and vegetables, it inhibits sprouting and delays the ripening process. Also, it does not make food radioactive, compromise nutritional quality, or noticeably change food taste, texture or appearance as long as it's applied properly to a suitable product.

However, the Center for Food Safety's research proves otherwise. Accoring to them, Radiation can do strange things to food, by creating substances called "unique radiolytic products." These irradiation byproducts include a variety of mutagens - substances that can cause gene mutations, polyploidy (an abnormal condition in which cells contain more than two sets of chromosomes), chromosome aberrations (often associated with cancerous cells), and dominant lethal mutations (a change in a cell that prevents it from reproducing) in human cells. Making matters worse, many mutagens are also carcinogens.

And with over 50 years of investigating, food scientists still do not fully understand how these changes take place. Much of the ongoing research, in fact, is focused on devising new ways to hide the changes that happen to irradiated foods instead of finding safer, alternative methods of preserving food.

So how do we, as consumers, know for sure if our food has been subject to a trip down sci-fi lane? All we need to do is ask--because the main goal is to find out where your food really comes from and how it is treated along the way. Even if you shop at major chain grocers, you can question the meat and produce managers before you make a purchase. You also protect yourself when you buy organics or join a local CSA (which I write about in a previous topic). You can also support local farmer's markets and develop a face-to-face relationship with the producers of your food. Or better still, you can even grow some of your own.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The World According to Monsanto

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Since it is my purpose to educate the readers of this blog (or at least provide you with something new to think about) without sounding too negative or condescending, I spend countless hours watching, reading, and learning before putting my thoughts down for the world to see.

Inevitably, I encounter tons of videos, cartoons, blogs, and articles created by intelligent people who are more eloquently versed on certain topics than I am. When I find this to be so, my blog's objective then becomes the vehicle for sharing others' work.

So, when you are ready to see the world through the eyes of one truly evil corporation, take some time to watch this recently created documentary about Monsanto, which includes a very informative interview with the former Secretary of Agriculture, Dan Glickman, who speaks of the pressures not to "question anything" during the intial development of the Round Up Ready crops and GMOs.

This documentary, by the way, was never intended to be shown to anyone in our country.

And why not you might ask? Well it is because here in America we have the government run FDA and EPA to protect us, right? And they would never let anything bad happen to the citizens of their own country now would they? Not even if a bazillion dollars (from some corporation like Monsanto) was dangling in front of their noses???....... Oh don't be ridiculous Lisa.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

On To Something......

I recently began listening to the CD of Michael Pollan's new book In Defense of Food, which is the follow up novel to Omnivore's Dilemma.
Obviously, a person like me, writing my own blog on a similar topic, thinks he is truly brilliant. As a matter of fact, I almost feel like I could simply stop this blog now and just say go and spend your time reading his book. But be prepared to look differently at what you are putting in your body... even foods labeled "healthy" come under attack.

Even still, I am comforted by the fact that there is now available a well written, comprehensive and research based book that delves into the history of food science and where we are headed. This book uses somewhat lighthearted and sarcastic tones at times as it ridicules how science and man try to dissect fresh, whole foods and rework them into products that are even better for us! As if we humans can do something more spectacular than Mother Nature herself.
If I didn't believe in writer's karma, I might just be tempted to plagiarize his entire book and make it my own blog... just kidding..

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Community supported agriculture (CSA) is a farming concept that has been gaining momentum since its introduction to the United States in the mid-1980s. The CSA concept was basically initiated in the 1960s in Japan and Switzerland, where consumers who were interested in obtaining fresh, wholesome, and safe food joined into economic partnerships with farmers seeking stable markets for their crops.

According to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): An Annotated Bibliography and Resource Guide, A CSA basically consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Typically, members or "share-holders" of the farm pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer's salary.

The participating members receive shares of the farm's harvest throughout the growing season, as well as the satisfaction gained from reconnecting to their food source and the land that it is grown on. Members of the CSA also share in the risks of farming, including poor harvests due to unfavorable weather or pests. By direct sales to its "share-holders" who have provided the farm with working capital in advance, growers receive better prices for their crops, gain some financial security, and are relieved of much of the burden of marketing.

Most CSAs offer a wide variety of seasonal produce, herbs, and other goodies that vary with the size and location of the farm. A number of CSAs are able to provide a full array of farm produce, including shares in eggs, meat, milk, baked goods, and wares by local artisans. Some farms offer a single commodity, or team up with other farms aligned with the CSA philosohpy so that members receive goods on more of a year-round basis.

The Community Shared Agriculture program that I am currently connected with is Laguna Farm, which is located in Sebastopol, CA. This farm has been providing organic produce to Sonoma county for over 20 years and is run by farmer Scott Mathieson. In aligning with the CSA concept, Laguna Farm offers a very real way for its members to foster a direct relationship with the land and the farmers who grow their food. This type of experience serves as a highly desirable alternative to the conventional way of supermarket shopping while providing members with an abundant supply of fresh, organic and sustainably produced products. Additionally, Laguna Farm is involved in a variety of alternative and educational programs such as solar power, veggie oil co-op, green building, a composting program, Earth Camp Collective, and a local farmer's market.

According to the Laguna Farm website, "Our method of growing stewards the earth as a living system and connects us with nature. Community support connects us with each other. We feel that living and practicing agriculture based on this interconnectedness can lay the foundation for physical, cultural, intellectual and spiritual growth." All I need to say about that is, who wouldn't want to be a part of such a wholesome, valuable and wonderfully rewarding program..........

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Perfect on the Outside

So today I cut open an orange... it wasn't an organic orange, and it surely wasn't a blissfully juicy Florida orange (like the ones that grow during the winter months in my parent's back yard.) This orange was just one of several that were left over from a recent event my husband attended. Even still, I was willing to give it a try because I simply love citrus fruit. (I just smuggled a bunch into Cali from my recent visit to Florida).

Anyhow, this particular orange sure did look perfect on the outside (actually it looked much, much prettier than my own home grown, Florida citrus)... But what really caught my eye is that it was exactly the same size, same shape and same color as the other couple of oranges that were sitting right beside it. I was, for one brief moment, quite impressed with just how perfect those oranges appeared.

So I picked up the fruit and lo and behold, once I cut the thing open, I realized that the real beauty of this orange was only "skin deep." The peel itself happened to be about 1/2 inch thick and the actual fruit inside was dry and mealy.

I immediately recalled the process that occurs with painting and waxing the external skin of conventionally farmed produce so that they do indeed appear quite pleasing to the eye--which is a most definite guarantee from the factory that they will be just as tasty and satisfying to the palate, right??

So I tossed the orange into my compost bin with a bit of disappointment and went back to try another---only to obtain the same result.

As I dumped the remaining oranges into my compost, a thought occurred to me. These very oranges are essentially a perfect symbol of our current American Society---a society that is known for admiring external beauty and good looks over valuing the actual quality, worth and attributes which are really found "on the inside."