What Energy Crisis?
Organic Lifestyle Comments Off on What Energy Crisis?
The organic perspective cuts through the smoke and breaks the mirrors to reach the true heart of the matter. Conventional food production spokespeople would have you believe that if farming went organic, half the world’s people would starve to death, that to produce bountiful crops you have to kill all the insects and weeds on the farmland, and that organic farming is a throw-back to the early days of agriculture before our modern technologies came into existence.
All of these ideas are completely false. Organic farm yields are very close to or exceed the yields of conventional farms. Organic farms prove that you don’t have to kill all the insects and weeds to grow crops. And organic farming today is a highly sophisticated method of farming that calls on the latest scientific advances in animal husbandry, plant science, plant pathology, entomology, ecology, meteorology, soil science, hydrology, marketing, and more. And the organic crops tend to be more nutritious than their conventional counterparts.
But even those revelations don’t cut to the chase. Here’s the crux of the matter: how is it that when we take a walk in the countryside, we see perfectly healthy meadows and forests that are chock full of all kinds of insects and plants, birds and burrowing animals, and many other forms of life—how can this wild nature be so healthy when no one is killing all the bugs and weeds or spreading chemical fertilizers to make the plants grow?
The answer, of course, is that nature knows what it is doing. Conventional growers don’t trust nature. They are fearful that without human help, nature will somehow fail. For example, I have a friend who’s a beekeeper. He knows that the nectar of the flowers of the California buckeye tree—a beautiful tree when it’s in full bloom—is toxic to honeybees. So this man has cut down all the California buckeyes on his property. As if the honeybees are going to go straight to the buckeyes and commit suicide. Give the bees—and nature—some credit. Every critter knows instinctively what foods to ingest and what foods to avoid, except maybe foolish human mushroom pickers who try a few mushrooms they aren’t familiar with. An organic beekeeper would know that bees will avoid poisonous nectar. He or she would trust nature. The organic method, in fact, is built on the idea of discovering nature’s principles and working with them rather than trying to defeat them.
All this is by way of saying that we can turn this ability to cut to the chase toward other aspects of society besides farming and gardening. As, for instance, the so-called energy crisis. We definitely have a crisis, what with easily measurable increases in the carbon dioxide content of the air from the fossil fuels we burn. Despite the climate change deniers, a huge preponderance of evidence shows the drastic effects of extreme weather events caused by climatic changes brought about by greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. And the future looks grim, because as the oceans continue to warm, methane—a strong greenhouse gas—will be released from the ocean floor where a huge amount of it is stored. It’s also stored in and under the permafrost of the arctic region, which is also warming and will eventually send its methane into the atmosphere, causing a swift and irreversible spike in the earth’s temperature.
Is the sky falling? Yes, if we let it. But Exxon, Chevron, Shell, BP, and the other corporations that deal fossil fuels to our internal combustion engines claim that there’s no real alternative. We need oil. We need fracking for natural gas. We need the dirty sludge from Canada’s shale oil deposits. All other alternatives are just too expensive, they say.
Here’s where a little organic thinking comes in. Remember in high school chemistry when you set up a little hydrolysis experiment? All you needed was a beaker of electrolyte solution—salt water would do quite nicely—a source of electrical current, and two poles. Turn on the electricity and from the positive pole oxygen comes bubbling. From the negative pole, hydrogen. You captured some of each and, remember? You’d touch a match to a test tube full of hydrogen and get that “hydrogen bark” as the gas burned, forming water. No pollution, just separating water into its two elements, which burned together to form water again.
What if you could scale this process up? How big a scale could you get? Well, let’s see. Over 70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by an electrolyte solution, the vast amount of salt water we call the oceans. So you could set up a system in ocean water to separate oxygen and hydrogen. But where would you get the electricity to power the electrolysis? Well, solar panels produce electricity. But where would you get the open space to put the panels in quantities large enough to make fuel for the whole world? Well, over 70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered with electrolyte solution and there’s no shade in the open ocean—the sun is blazing there every day.
But is solar energy sufficient for our needs? Well, the sun lavishes an astonishing 8.2 million “quads” of BTU energy per year on the earth. A “quad BYU” refers to one quadrillion British Thermal Units of energy, a common term used by energy economists. The entire human race currently uses about 400 quads of energy (in all forms) per year. Put another way, the solar energy hitting the earth every year exceeds the total energy consumed by humanity annually by a factor of over 20,000.
So we are practically swimming in oceans of electrolyte, with a burning star incessantly pouring immense amounts of energy upon us. What am I missing here? Why are we digging and pumping toxic hydrocarbons from the earth and fouling the planet when the answer is all around us?
We could gather and compress the oxygen and hydrogen and ship it to where it’s needed to run our power grids, our automobiles, our everything. Or, to consolidate things, the gases could be taken to central power plants to drive turbines that produce electricity that, among many other things, refills car batteries with power. When our electric cars run low, we pull into a station where the depleted batteries are switched with charged ones, and off we go.
The neat thing is that when the gases are burned to produce energy, there’s no pollution. They simply form water vapor which floats off in the air to descend as life-giving rain somewhere in the world.
Could we actually do this? You bet. And we haven’t even talked about hydroelectric power, wind farms, or the energy available from the oceans’ constant waves, or the energy just a few thousand feet below our feet in the hot lava of the inner earth. Or, solar power we could collect on land. Why don’t we use these things? Well, why isn’t all farming organic?
Cut to the chase on that question.
Obama Signs the Monsanto Protection Act into Law
So Obama signed the Continuing Resolution that contains the Monsanto Protection Act. This law now makes it illegal for anyone to sue Monsanto, or for the USDA, EPA, or FDA to prevent Monsanto, from introducing GMO crops into agriculture, even without any scientific evidence for their safety. Okay, we can all agree this is a horrible law. Of all corporations to put beyond the reach of the legal system, Monsanto has to be the worst. But I have another question. Does the Congress—the legislative branch of the government—have the right to tell the judicial branch what it may do and not do? I thought we had three separate and EQUAL branches of our government. If Congress can put one corporation beyond the reach of the law, what corporation CAN’T it put beyond the reach of the law? Why can’t it put people beyond the reach of the law? This deal is—let me put it in simple language—fucked. This should not stand. This should be challenged immediately. Monsanto above the law? Give me a break.
As an addendum to this business, here’s a note just in from Antony Gucciardi of Natural Society:
“It should come as no surprise to find out that Monsanto actually authored the wording of its own Monsanto Protection Act.
“Quite frankly I think it’s important to understand that the entire Senate passed the bill containing the Protection Act, but the politician who actually gave Monsanto the pen in order to write their very own legislation is none other than Roy Blount, a Republican Senator from Missouri. He admits to colluding with Monsanto.
“This is one of the most blatant offenses against the citizens of the United States I’ve seen in a long time. A population that Blunt swore to serve. It’s not for the United States public at all, and it’s a serious matter that I don’t think is properly understood. The passing of this bill into law means that Monsanto is now immune from federal courts regarding any suspension or action on their crops that have been deemed to be dangerous to the people (or the environment).
“This effectively gives Monsanto power over the entire judicial branch of the United States government. Food Democracy Now, a major activist organization that organized signatures to fight the Monsanto Protection Act, described the rider:
“’The Monsanto Protection Act would force the USDA to allow continued planting of any GMO crop under court review, essentially giving backdoor approval for any new genetically engineered crops that could be potentially harmful to human health or the environment.’
“Sounds like a great idea, right?”
Wild Bees Do a Better Job Pollinating Crops than Domesticated Honeybees
Sarah Yang writes on Green Blog that fields with diversified, organic crops get more buzz from wild bees. So concludes a synthesis of 39 studies on 23 crops around the world published March 11 in the journal Ecology Letters.
The study found that wild bees were more abundant in organic farming systems.
Many of the study’s authors also co-authored a study published March 1 in Science that found that fruit and vegetable production increased when wild pollinators-–as opposed to domesticated honeybees who are trucked into a site to work the crops–were more abundant. The Ecology Letters study showed that wild bees helped crop yield, and the Science study shows that organic crops in a diversified farming system help wild bees.
All around the world, there are indigenous people who grow up with the land, know the land, and know how to encourage the land to produce the crops that make their unique local foods and cuisines. The wild bees of any place on earth are those bees that have grown up in that area, who know the plants, who know the forces and energies that affect the plants, and the unique nectars that the plant flowers exude.
Farmers who are brought in to work the land may not know the territory.
They might not know the native plants. And so they might scrape the soil clean and plant what they want to grow. They are the mercenaries of the farming world.
Local farmers who have grown up on the land and know the plants, the climate, the environment, and the indigenous animals, have the same kind of relationship with the local ecosystem as the wild bees. Of course they can take better care of the land. The domesticated honeybees brought to a farm to pollinate crops can’t possibly know what the wild bees know, and therefore can’t possibly be as effective.
Now comes this reporting from Michael Wines in The New York Times for March 29:
“BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — A mysterious malady that has been killing honeybees en masse for several years appears to have expanded drastically in the last year, commercial beekeepers say, wiping out 40 percent or even 50 percent of the hives needed to pollinate many of the nation’s fruits and vegetables.
“A conclusive explanation so far has escaped scientists studying the ailment, colony collapse disorder, since it first surfaced around 2005. But beekeepers and some researchers say there is growing evidence that a powerful new class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, incorporated into the plants themselves, could be an important factor.
“The pesticide industry disputes that.”
The crucial words here are “incorporated into the plants themselves.” You know what that means. It means that certain crops have been genetically modified to produce insecticide in each of the plants’ cells. Now our honeybees are flying into fatal forests of field crops, where to harvest nectar or pollen means death. Oh, but the pesticide industry disputes that.
Monsanto Market Grab Blamed for Farmer Suicides
Monsanto tries to hide its real objective, but it’s becoming more and more obvious that genetic engineering is simply a means to patent seed so the company can corner the world market on the earth’s most valuable farm crops. But this tactic is sowing bankruptcy, despair, and suicide among local farmers in places like India. A group in India called Fibers of Freedom is resisting. Here’s their current report:
Monsanto’s control has resulted in the ruination of many farmers in India who are forced to buy Monsanto’s patented seed. Monsanto India’s website shows pictures of smiling, prosperous farmers from the state of Maharashtra. This is a desperate attempt by Monsanto and its PR machinery to delink the epidemic of farmer suicides in India from the company’s growing control over cotton seed supply–95 per cent of India’s cotton seed is now controlled by Monsanto.
Monsanto’s concentrated control over the seed sector in India as well as across the world is what connects farmer suicides in India to attempts by farmers in Canada, the U.S., and Brazil to sue Monsanto for billions of dollars unfairly collected as royalties on patented seeds.
Monsanto’s seed monopolies and the collection of superprofits in the form of royalties have created a context for debt, suicide, and agrarian distress that is driving the farmer suicide epidemic in India. This squeeze on farmers has been intensified with the introduction of Monsanto’s Bt cotton, a genetically modified form of cotton whose cells express a toxin that kills bollworms. That is why most suicides are in the cotton belt. The agricultural ministry of India in January, 2012, had this to say to the cotton-growing states in India: “Cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers.”
The highest acreage of Bt cotton is in Maharashtra and this is also where the highest number of farmer suicides are. Monsanto’s royalty extraction, and the high costs of seed and chemicals have created a debt trap. According to Government of India data, nearly 75 per cent rural debt is due to purchase inputs; that is, the cost of seed and chemicals. As Monsanto’s profits grow, farmers’ debt grows. It is in this systemic sense that Monsanto’s seeds are seeds of suicide.
The ultimate seeds of suicide are Monsanto’s sterile seeds, called ‘Terminator Technology’ by the media, in which seed produced by a crop will not produce viable offspring. The Convention on Biological Diversity has banned its use in India, otherwise Monsanto would be collecting even higher profits from seed.
We have started Fibres of Freedom in the heart of Monsanto’s Bt cotton/suicide belt in Vidharba. We have created community seed banks with indigenous seeds and helped farmers go organic. No GMO seeds, no debt, no suicides. You can now buy Fibers of Freedom cotton clothing in stores and online. Learn more at http://www.fibres-of-freedom.com.
Why Organic Food Is More Nourishing than Conventional
Organic Lifestyle Comments Off on Why Organic Food Is More Nourishing than Conventional
Organically grown food, whether on a farm or in a garden, develops in a soil seething with life—as many as a trillion one-celled organisms in each handful of soil. That’s because organic farmers and gardeners feed the life in the soil with actively decaying organic matter, or as we call it for short, compost. Compost is simply organic matter that is well on its way to complete decomposition. The job is finished by the microorganisms in the soil.
Well, this seething life produces many benefits to the plants growing in such a soil. First of all, the microorganisms replicate, grow, and die off rapidly, usually within a few days. When they die, the liquid contents of their cells spills into the soil. These cell contents are mildly acidic, and react with particles of clay, silt, and sand, dissolving their surfaces and producing soluble salts of the minerals in those bits of rock. These soluble salts are absorbed by the plants’ roots and used to build the plants’ cells. They provide the growing plants with the macronutrients of potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen, but also of the many trace mineral micronutrients found in the rocks that are released for plant use by the acidic cell contents of the soil life.
And so the plants have the full range of nutrients they need to build their cells, as opposed to conventional farms and gardens, where the soil is simply a substance to prop up plants, where the life in the soil is usually not fed, and where only the macronutrients are used as fertilizer.
Many people think organic farming and gardening is all about not using harsh chemicals to kill pests and control diseases, but that’s only a part of the picture, and not the biggest part at that. The biggest part of the organic method is to feed that soil life until the soil itself has come furiously alive, with myriad natural soil systems spinning out health and vibrant, sturdy plant growth.
Because organic food is grown in a lively, nutrient-rich environment, it can construct all the molecules called for by its genes. For example, a conventional soil might be depleted of sulphur. With too little sulphur, the plants, especially members of the cabbage family, may not be able to manufacture the sulphur-containing amino acids, such as cysteine. When we eat such plants, our bodies then don’t have enough cysteine to create N acetyl cysteine (NAC), possibly the most important compound in our bodies for warding off a huge range of diseases and health problems. But cabbage family members (broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, turnips, rutabagas, napa cabbage, bok choy, kale, kohlrabi, and many others) grown in organic soils that are rich in the whole panoply of needed nutrients, have plenty of sulphur to work with.
This is a big, broad subject that I will return to again and again over the coming months. But the bottom line is simple: organic soils are rich in nutrients because they are alive and thriving. And so are the plants that grow in them. And so are the humans who eat those plants.
The following may be copied and reprinted in order to educate people about the dangers of genetically modified foods. It was written by the good folks at GM Watch (www.gmwatch.org), a non-profit that tries to counter the propaganda and lies of the biotech industry.
10 Reasons Why We Don’t Need GM Foods
By GM Watch, 20 March 2013
Genetically modified (GM) foods are often promoted as a way to feed the world. But this is little short of a confidence trick. Far from needing more GM foods, there are urgent reasons why we need to ban them altogether.
1. GM foods won’t solve the food crisis
A 2008 World Bank report concluded that increased biofuel production is the major cause of the increase in food prices. Biofuels are crops grown for fuel rather than food. GM giant Monsanto has been at the heart of the lobbying for biofuels – while profiting enormously from the resulting food crisis and using it as a PR opportunity to promote GM foods!
“The climate crisis was used to boost biofuels, helping to create the food crisis; and now the food crisis is being used to revive the fortunes of the GM industry.” – Daniel Howden, Africa correspondent, The Independent (UK)
“The cynic in me thinks that they’re just using the current food crisis and the fuel crisis as a springboard to push GM crops back on to the public agenda. I understand why they’re doing it, but the danger is that if they’re making these claims about GM crops solving the problem of drought or feeding the world, that’s bullshit.” – Prof. Denis Murphy, head of biotechnology, University of Glamorgan, Wales
2. GM crops do not increase yield potential
Despite the promises, GM has not increased the yield potential of any commercialised crops. In fact, studies show that the most widely grown GM crop, GM soya, has suffered reduced yields.
A report that analyzed nearly two decades worth of peer reviewed research on the yield of the primary GM food/feed crops, soybeans and corn (maize), reveals that despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase US crop yields. The author, former US EPA and US FDA biotech specialist Dr. Gurian-Sherman, concludes that when it comes to yield, “Traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering hands down.”
“Let’s be clear. As of this year , there are no commercialized GM crops that inherently increase yield. Similarly, there are no GM crops on the market that were engineered to resist drought, reduce fertilizer pollution or save soil. Not one.” – Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman
3. GM crops increase pesticide use
US government data shows that in the US, GM crops have produced an overall increase, not decrease, in pesticide use compared to conventional crops.
“The promise was that you could use less chemicals and produce a greater yield. But let me tell you none of this is true.” – Bill Christison, President of the US National Family Farm Coalition
4. There are better ways to feed the world
A major UN/World Bank-sponsored report compiled by 400 scientists and endorsed by 58 countries concluded that GM crops have little to offer global agriculture and the challenges of poverty, hunger, and climate change, because better alternatives are available. In particular, the report championed “agroecological” farming as the sustainable way forward for developing countries.
5. Other farm technologies are more successful
Integrated Pest Management and other innovative low-input or organic methods of controlling pests and boosting yields have proven highly effective, particularly in the developing world. Other plant breeding technologies, such as Marker Assisted Selection (non-GM genetic mapping), are widely expected to boost global agricultural productivity more effectively and safely than GM. 
“The quiet revolution is happening in gene mapping, helping us understand crops better. That is up and running and could have a far greater impact on agriculture [than GM].” – Prof John Snape, head of the department of crop genetics, John Innes Centre.
6. GM foods have not been shown to be safe to eat
Genetic modification is a crude and imprecise way of incorporating foreign genetic material (e.g. from viruses, bacteria) into crops, with unpredictable consequences. The resulting GM foods have undergone little rigorous and no long-term safety testing. However, animal feeding tests have shown that GM foods have toxic effects, including abnormal changes in organs, immune system disturbances, accelerated aging, and changes in gene expression. Very few studies have been published on the direct effects on humans of eating a GM food. One such study found unexpected effects on gut bacteria, but was never followed up.
It is claimed that Americans have eaten GM foods for years with no ill effects. But these foods are unlabeled in the US and no one has monitored the consequences. With other novel foods like trans fats, it has taken decades to realize that they have caused millions of premature deaths.
“We are confronted with the most powerful technology the world has ever known, and it is being rapidly deployed with almost no thought whatsoever to its consequences.” – Dr Suzanne Wuerthele, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) toxicologist.
7. People don’t want GM foods – so they’re hidden in animal feed
As a spokesperson for Asgrow, a subsidiary of Monsanto, said, “If you put a label on genetically engineered food, you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it.” The GM industry has gotten around the problem of consumer rejection of GM foods by hiding them in animal feed. Meat, eggs and dairy products from animals raised on the millions of tons of GM feed imported into Europe do not have to be labelled. Some studies show that contrary to GM and food industry claims, animals raised on GM feed ARE different from those raised on non-GM feed. Other studies show that if GM crops are fed to animals, GM material can appear in the resulting products and affect the animals’ health. So eating these “stealth GMOs” may affect the health of consumers.
8. GM crops are a long-term economic disaster for farmers
A 2009 report showed that GM seed prices in America have increased dramatically, compared to non-GM and organic seeds, cutting average farm incomes for US farmers growing GM crops. The report concluded, “At the present time there is a massive disconnect between the sometimes lofty rhetoric from those championing biotechnology as the proven path toward global food security and what is actually happening on farms in the US that have grown dependent on GM seeds and are now dealing with the consequences.”
9. GM and non-GM cannot co-exist
GM contamination of conventional and organic food is increasing. An unapproved GM rice that was grown for only one year in field trials was found to have extensively contaminated the US rice supply and seed stocks. In Canada, the organic oilseed rape industry has been destroyed by contamination from GM rape. In Spain, a study found that GM maize “has caused a drastic reduction in organic cultivations of this grain and is making their coexistence practically impossible”.
The time has come to choose between a GM-based, or a non-GM-based, world food supply.
“If some people are allowed to choose to grow, sell and consume GM foods, soon nobody will be able to choose food, or a biosphere, free of GM. It’s a one way choice, like the introduction of rabbits or cane toads to Australia; once it’s made, it can’t be reversed.” – Roger Levett, specialist in sustainable development.
10. We can’t trust GM companies
The big biotech firms pushing their GM foods have a terrible history of toxic contamination and public deception. GM is attractive to them because it gives them patents that allow monopoly control over the world’s food supply. They have taken to harassing and intimidating farmers for the “crime” of saving patented seed or “stealing” patented genes – even if those genes got into the farmer’s fields through accidental contamination by wind or insects.
“Farmers are being sued for having GMOs on their property that they did not buy, do not want, will not use, and cannot sell.” – Tom Wiley, North Dakota farmer
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21. – R. Tudisco, V. Mastellone, M.I. Cutrignelli, et al., 2010. Fate of transgenic DNA and evaluation of metabolic effects in goats fed genetically modified soybean and in their offsprings. Animal 4: 1662-1671.
– Jack A. Heinemann, PhD, 2009. Report on animals exposed to GM ingredients in animal feed. Prepared for the Commerce Commission of New Zealand, 24 July. http://bit.ly/4HcJuJ
22. Charles Benbrook, 2009. The magnitude and impacts of the biotech and organic seed price premium. The Organic Center, December. http://www.organic-center.org/reportfiles/Seeds_Final_11-30-09.pdf
23. E. Neal Blue, 2007. Risky business: Economic and regulatory impacts from the unintended release of genetically engineered rice varieties into the rice merchandising system of the US. Report for Greenpeace. http://www.greenpeace.org/raw/content/international/press/reports/risky-business.pdf
24. Soil Association, 2002. Seeds of doubt: North American farmers’ experience of GM crops. http://www.soilassociation.org/seedsofdoubt
25. R. Binimelis, 2008. Coexistence of plants and coexistence of farmers: Is an individual choice possible? Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 21: 437-457.
26. Roger Levett, 2008. Choice: Less can be more. Food Ethics magazine 3: 11. http://www.foodethicscouncil.org/node/384
27. See, for example, Marie-Monique Robin’s documentary film, Le Monde Selon Monsanto (The World According to Monsanto), ARTE, 2008; and the website of the NGO, Coalition Against Bayer-Dangers, www.cbgnetwork.org
28. – BBC News Online 2000. GM firm sues Canadian farmer, 6 June. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/779265.stm
– Center for Food Safety, 2007. Monsanto vs. US Farmers: November 2007 Update. Washington, DC and San Francisco, CA, November.
29. Stephen Leahy, 2004. Monsanto “seed police” scrutinize farmers. InterPress Service, 15 January. http://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/0115-04.htm
Now for some really bad news:
Monsanto lobbyists have now generated a rider to a new Congressional appropriations bill that puts Monsanto above the federal government. The Bill, with the rider intact, has passed both houses of Congress. The only way to stop it now is to call the White House (202 456 1111) and ask President Obama to veto the bill.
If it’s signed into law, Monsanto would have complete immunity from federal courts when it comes to their ability to act against any new Monsanto GMO crops that are suspected to be endangering the public or the environment (or considered to be planted illegally by the USDA). We’re talking about courts that literally can do nothing to Monsanto if it’s found that their newest creation may be promoting cancer, for example. Monsanto could continue planting the food abomination all it wants without court review.
Food Democracy Now explained that “The Monsanto Protection Act strips judges of their constitutional mandate to protect consumer rights and the environment, while opening up the floodgates for the planting of new untested genetically engineered crops.”
Now for some good news. James Andrews, writing for Food Safety News for 21 March 2013, reports that a collection of supermarket chains has pledged not to sell a breed of salmon slated to become the first genetically engineered (GE) animal to reach store shelves.
The companies, including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Aldi, together comprise more than 2,000 retail store locations – a little more than 5 percent of the total number of supermarkets in the U.S. They came together to make the pledge as part of the “Campaign for GE-Free Seafood,” led by a coalition of environmental and consumer groups that includes Friends of the Earth, Consumers Union and the Center for Food Safety.
Here’s a Million Dollar Idea for the Taking
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Oftentimes around noon I set out to run errands, do business in town, or otherwise find myself on the road. The question quickly becomes: “Where to have lunch?”
I like burgers as much as the next guy, but I’m certainly not going to eat the crap served by McDonald’s, Burger King, Five Guys, Crap in the Box—uh, excuse me, Jack in the Box—or even In-N-Out Burger, as enticing as the latter may be. And the reason is simple. The meat isn’t organic and along with beef, I don’t fancy eating all the “extras” that come with conventional beef, like hormones and antibiotics, among other chemicals.
I think about mom and pop burger shops in Santa Rosa, my home town, but they don’t serve organic beef either, and who knows what kind of meat their wholesaler sells them?
But what if there were an organic fast food joint that served burgers made from organic, grass fed beef? I’d be there in a minute. What if they also had a veggie burger for the vegetarians among us? They wouldn’t have to have “health food.” But what food they did serve—quickly and without a lot of excess packaging—would be organic, for—you know—the many millions of us who want to eat food uncontaminated by chemicals, raised on organic farms where the land is properly cared for, where things are clean and wholesome. Yes, there could be organic milkshakes. Fresh fruit, too. Why not? That burger could have an organic bun and organic onions, tomatoes, lettuce, and ketchup if you like your burger California style.
What I’m saying is that it really surprises me that someone hasn’t started a chain of organic fast food joints that cater to the good food drive-through crowd for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I certainly can’t be the only person in America who wants to eat organically grown and raised food whenever possible. I’m sure there are tens of millions of us. And growing numbers every day. C’mon entrepreneurs. When do we get to go to the Big O for lunch?
This from Science Daily:
Contaminated water used to dilute pesticides could be responsible for viruses entering the food chain, scientists warn.
Human norovirus (hNoV), also known as the winter vomiting bug, is one of the most common stomach bugs in the world. The virus is highly contagious, causing vomiting and diarrhea, and the number of affected cases is growing. Currently there is no cure; sufferers have to let the virus run its course for a few days.
The consumption of fresh produce is frequently associated with outbreaks of hNoV but it remains difficult to identify where in the supply chain the virus first enters production.
A new study, published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology, investigated whether contaminated water used to dilute pesticides could be a source of hNoV. Farmers use various water sources in the production of fresh fruits and vegetables, including well water and different types of surface water such as river water or lake water — sources which have been found to harbor hNoV.
To test this theory, eight different pesticides were analyzed in the study; each was diluted with hNoV contaminated water. The researchers tested whether traces of the virus were present in the samples after the two elements were combined. Results showed that pesticides did not counteract the ability of the contaminated water to sicken people who ingested it.
The authors conclude that the application of pesticides on fresh produce may not only be a chemical hazard, but may in fact also be a microbiological risk factor; both having consequences on public health.
This from Dr. Joseph Mercola:
The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) have filed a petition with the FDA requesting the agency “amend the standard of identity” for milk and 17 other dairy products.
This was done to provide for the use of any sweetener as an optional ingredient — including non-nutritive sweeteners such as aspartame — to deceive you by not having to indicate its use on the label.
It’s a move that could endanger your health for decades to come, and disproportionally harm underprivileged children who rely on school lunches for the bulk of their nutrition.
If the amendment goes through, that would mean anytime you see the word “milk” on the label, it could include aspartame, sucralose, or any other dangerous artificial sweetener, but you could never be quite sure, since there will be no mention of it — not by listing the artificial sweetener used, nor with a no- or low-calorie type label, which is a tip-off that the product might contain a non-nutritive sweetener.
The IDFA and NMPF claim the proposed amendments would “promote more healthful eating practices and reduce childhood obesity by providing for lower-calorie flavored milk products” since many children are more inclined to drink flavored milk products than unflavored milk.
How can anyone believe a fat free, hormone-laced pasteurized milk-like product from cows raised on genetically engineered corn, flavored with artificial flavors, colors and chemical sweeteners might actually do a growing body good? The nutritional illiteracy within these governmental agencies is staggering… yet they’re responsible for making decisions that affect over 30 million school children across the US on a daily basis.
From Food Democracy Now:
Like a zombie rising from the dead, the “Monsanto Protection Act” is back and alive in the U.S. Senate and we need your help to stop it!
Biotech lobbyists have succeeded in slipping the dangerous biotech rider (Sec. 735) into the Senate Continuing Resolution spending bill in an effort to strip federal courts of their authority to halt the sale and planting of any potentially hazardous GMO crop.
If approved, the Monsanto Protection Act would force the USDA to allow continued planting of any GMO crop under court review, essentially giving backdoor approval for any new genetically engineered crops that could be potentially harmful to human health or the environment.
Clearly Monsanto and the biotech industry are getting desperate and want to try an end run around a growing movement of farmers and citizens who are rejecting their products and calling for GMO labeling, in an effort to make sure their new GMO crops can evade any serious scientific or regulatory review.
For the past year, Food Democracy Now! and our allies have been able to hold them off, but we need your help today!
The Monsanto Protection Act could pass as early as this coming week and we need your help today. Click here to stop the Monsanto Protection Act and tell your member of Congress to stand up for your rights.
Here’s an editorial on labeling GMO foods from The New York Times, March 15, 2013:
Whole Foods Market caused a stir last week when it announced that it would require all products sold in its stores in the United States and Canada to carry labels indicating whether they contain genetically modified ingredients by 2018. Food advocacy groups hailed its action as a possible “game changer” that would push the entire food industry to adopt similar labels.
Any private company has the right to require its suppliers to meet labeling standards it chooses to set, and consumers have a right to know what’s in the food they are buying. But there is no reliable evidence that genetically modified foods now on the market pose any risk to consumers.
The Food and Drug Administration says it has no basis for concluding that foods developed by bioengineering techniques present different or greater safety concerns than foods developed by traditional plant breeding. Nevertheless, bills are pending in several states to require mandatory labeling of genetically modified ingredients (a referendum to compel such labeling was narrowly defeated in California last November). For now, there seems little reason to make labeling compulsory.
Consumers can already find products free of genetically engineered ingredients, with labels voluntarily placed by the manufacturers.
For those who want to avoid such ingredients, the surest way is to buy products certified as “organic” under federal standards. They contain no genetically engineered ingredients, or at most inadvertent trace amounts.
The Times has it right about organic food, but has it completely wrong when it flatly states that there’s no reliable evidence that genetically modified foods now on the market pose any risk to consumers. If the newspaper’s fact checkers missed the evidence, then it’s not the evidence that’s not reliable, it’s the fact checkers.
Whole Foods’ Cynical PR Bonanza
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I see by the news that Whole Foods has announced plans to label all genetically modified foods that it sells. The newscaster on my local (San Francisco) station was fairly gushing as she read the item.
But then she added, “…starting in 2018.”
Now the folks at Whole Foods’ headquarters aren’t stupid. They know that as we speak, Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, BASF, Bayer, Syngenta, and the other members of the biotech community that produce GMO foods are in discussions with the FDA and the USDA about labeling GMO foods. As I’ve written before on this site, my guess is that these corporations will want a negative label—that is, one that says, “Does not contain GMOs” rather than a positive label that says, “Contains GMOs.” The reason is that the positive label is an active indictment of the food so labeled, while the negative label must be proven. Contains no GMOs? Who is going to enforce that? Will FDA or the USDA set up a large bureaucracy to police these products? Will they have the many millions of dollars it will take to run such a bureaucracy? And given past track records, how sure are we that such a government bureaucracy will actually find hidden GMOs in foods? My guess is they won’t find many, if any at all.
Now Whole Foods knows all of this. And the company knows that when the labeling rules are promulgated by the Federal government, they will trump any company, state, or local rules. So Whole Foods puts its roll-out date five years into the future, knowing we’ll have Federal rules by then that will obviate anything the company does.
So Whole Foods reaps a PR bonanza now and is betting that it will not have to do any labeling in five years because there will already be government labeling rules. And those rules will be just as weak as the ties between the government and the GMO food producers are strong. It’s a cynical move by Whole Foods and demeans the company.
If Whole Foods were serious about giving its customers the information they need to avoid GMO foods, they’d label such foods starting right now.
ORGANIC GARDENING IS GOOD SPIRITUAL PRACTICE
When I was a boy, I was taught that Americans reject the idea that the end justifies the means. The end, no matter how good, does not justify illegal, immoral, or destruct9ive means. For instance, to point to a modern example, the need for military intelligence doesn’t justify the use of torture to get it. Rather, righteous means justify the end. And that seemed right and good to me. You can’t get to heaven by climbing Satan’s ladder.
Now consider the practices of gardening and farming.
The end==or goal–of a conventional garden or farm is the harvest of a crop and its sale so there’s some profit for the farmer. And what are the means to this end?
First, the idea in the conventional system is to destroy almost everything but the crop, using poisons that kill insects, weeds, funguses, and marauding animals. Some of these chemicals also have a deleterious effect on the soil microorganisms that are the source of soil—and subsequently plant—health.
Second, the conventional system creates genetically altered seeds to produce plants that nature never intended to be created, causing serious problems among her natural-born children. And now, with genetically-altered salmon, this holds true for animals, too.
Third, farm waste is not recycled through composting and returned to the land. Crops are fertilized with factory-made, water soluble nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium compounds that run off the land in rainwater, fouling our streams and lakes, and leaving farmland or garden soil depleted and lifeless, and encouraging erosion.
Fourth, because the land is focused on producing a single crop, it becomes unavailable for other plants and animals to use as habitat. Fence rows are bulldozed, fields become uniform, diversity dies. And those monocultures like continuous corn create problems of vulnerability to diseases organisms that require treatment with more chemicals.
Fifth, farm animals are routinely fed antibiotics; they are caged and mistreated, causing stress that produces inferior meat.
There’s more that can be said about conventional farming and gardening practices, but this is enough for now. You get the idea. The end, the harvest of an abundant crop, is achieved by means that fly in the face of nature, creating a vortex of problems, many of them unanticipated. Did the pesticide manufacturers really understand that by developing poisons that kill plant-eating insect pests, they kill off the food supply for beneficial insects that hold those pests in check? And that once the beneficial insects are gone, the crops lay open to unchecked attack by the plant-eating survivors of the pesticide spraying?
Now let’s turn to the organic—including Biodynamic—way of doing things. And let’s start with a description of proper activity as set forth in the world’s fundamental ideas about goodness.
The Asian religion we call Taoism has a beautiful concept at its root: the idea that there is a “way of heaven” that exists for every action. People who are attuned to the way of heaven and heaven’s physical manifestation (the earth and its creatures) walk it naturally. But our human powers of ratiocination and self-reflection allow us to stray from the path. When we are selfish, duplicitous, plotting hidden agendas, when we lie, cheat, steal, and inflict harm to others or to the earth and its creatures, we lose contact with the way of heaven.
This is not a concept unique to Taoism. Our Judeo-Christian tradition and the older ground it grew from reveals that Adam and Eve walked in the way of heaven in the Garden of Eden. In fact, Genesis (II: 15) tells us that God gave humanity its purpose when the Lord God took the man, “and put him into the garden to dress it and to keep it.”
It was only when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that paradise was lost. Once you know the difference between good and evil, evil becomes possible. The plants and animals can’t choose evil—they have not tasted that fruit. Therefore, they still walk the paths of Eden in the way of heaven. But good and evil are hill and valley, and if you know good, then you must also know evil, and vice versa. To even be able to discern the way of heaven, you have to know right from wrong.
Zen Buddhism reveals enlightenment as regaining touch with the person you truly are–without personae, masks, agendas, or ulterior motives—and acting from that place of honesty. As the Zen teaching has it, “First thought, best thought.” If one can act from the heart without any motive other than to be true to one’s self, then one is walking the way of heaven.
The organic gardener or farmer works with nature, rather than against her. He or she treasures the diversity of life, joining with the plants ands animals in the way of heaven. The end goal may be the same as a conventional gardener or farmer—the harvest of an abundant crop and a little profit in the bargain—but while the conventional grower brings in his crop by leaving a trail of death and destruction behind him, the organic gardener or farmer sees a confluence of benefits accrue to his or her efforts. By planting a diversity of crops in garden or field, a diversity of animal life can thrive there, and from this diversity crops are nurtured and protected.
Think of phrases from the Bible: “Be ye perfect, even as your father in heaven is perfect.” In other words, use good means to reach your end bercause the way of heaven is the perfect way. Also, “the way is straight and narrow.” In other words, the perfect path of heaven is narrow. You can easily step off of it. Just be careful to employ goodness in your actions. If you are a gardener or farmer, treat your animals well, allow the insects to form diverse ecosystems that will keep destructive outbreaks of plant-eating insects in check. Use mulch that improves the soil as it prevents weeds from growing. Keep the environment clean, the streams pure, the soil fertile, and do all of this sustainably so that your progeny down into the ages to come can enjoy the same blessings as you do.
In other words, organic gardening and farming is indeed good spiritual practice. Good for all the plants and animals in the system, and good for the soul of the gardener or farmer who keeps turning in synch with the great wheel of life.
Forget the Details–This Fight Is for All the Marbles
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Organic versus conventional agriculture. Heirloom versus genetically modified seeds. Fast food versus slow food. Processed foods versus whole foods. Locally grown versus grown wherever. Farmers markets versus supermarkets. There are so many pieces to the food puzzle that one can hardly keep track.
But here’s the thing: those are the details. We have to start looking at the big picture. The big picture is pretty simple. Huge food corporations with almost unlimited resources think of you as a mark. Their goal is to extract as much money from you as possible and give you as little in return as possible.
Do you really think that General Mills gives you good nutrition when you buy its breakfast cereals? No—they do everything they can think of to produce cheap, adulterated foods that you will like because they are sweet. Snack makers give you foods that will give you salt because they know that the human organism responds to salt in a positive way. Fast food chains like McDonald’s give you as much fat as possible because they know that the human organism likes fat. It really doesn’t matter to these corporations whether the food is good for you or contributes to your health. What matters is that they have you addicted to sugar, salt, and fat—plus whatever other chemicals they put in their foods that they know people will like. As New York Times’ investigative journalist Michael Moss points out in his new book, “Sugar Salt Fat,” sugar packs on empty calories by the truckload and leads to obesity and diabetes, the salt leads to hypertension, and the fat, unless it’s monounsaturated fat like olive oil, leads to cardiovascular disease as it adds more truckloads of calories.
And the result? An epidemic of obesity, bloated people in the grip of diabetes, arterial sclerosis, heart disease, and cancer, ready to die of high blood pressure, stroke, and other complications of their terrible diets.
Why? It wasn’t like this when I was a kid. What has happened?
Used to be when I was a kid we had a strong middle class. My dad earned a decent salary—enough so that my mom could be a housewife. Was that a gilded cage for her? Sure—it was long before feminism got the ball rolling for women, and mom was not always satisfied with housework. But there was an upside to her being home. It meant that she could cook for her family and that I ate real food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She did love to cook and was very good at it. There was a tradition then of grandmothers teaching granddaughters how to cook. Cooking is an art that takes skill. Girls back then didn’t learn it in home ec. They learned it by watching grandma. Or grandpa, if he was into cooking, but gender roles then consigned most men to the barbecue pit.
All that changed when the middle class imploded and both parents went to work. Then there was no one to cook that dinner. You couldn’t come home and take two or three hours to make a nice dinner. Now you get home at 6 or 7, the latchkey kids are already home and snacking on garbage, and you have literally no time to make a decent meal. Mom or dad turned to processed, pre-packaged foods like frozen pizza, pot pies, and TV dinners. And what was in those processed foods?
But, some might say, look at all the cooking shows on television. There’s even a Food Network. Surely you can learn to cook from them, no? Not really. Those shows are primarily entertainment. It may only take a TV chef 26 minutes to prepare a lovely meal, but I guarantee you that it took much longer in reality on the set, before the video editors started cutting out the wait times. And it will take you much longer in reality, too. And I’ve yet to see a television image that’s as warm and real as an actual grandmother. The centuries old tradition of generations of elders teaching youngsters how to prepare food is broken, severed, kaput. We’re right back at the big problem—who has time and energy to produce decent meals when both parents are working their tails off just to keep their financial noses above water?
How did this happen? Where did the middle class go? The answer lies in the wealth disparity in this country. The gap between our highest earners and most people is greater in today’s America than in countries like Nigeria. In fact, of 90 countries studied, the U.S. ranks in the bottom third in income inequality. Why? Because in the past decade, the top one percent of earners in this country has seen its incomes rise by 275 percent, while the average income of many millions of formerly middle class people has shrunk until now, many of these folks are at or below the poverty line.
So the root of the problem of the disappearance of home-cooked, nutritious meals of whole foods is the deregulation of corporations and the emergence of robber barons who hoard money. But this isn’t the 1870s. Today’s tycoons aren’t in mining or railroads. What markets are they cornering? The answer is fourfold:
1) War. Who gets the trillions of dollars we have spent waging the wars of the past 20 years? Check the pay of the CEOs of the military-industrial complex that Ike warned us about 50 years ago.
2) Wall Street. And that includes the gangster bankers as well as equity firms. It all happened when the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, that prevented banks from gambling with their depositors’ money, was repealed in the Reagan era.
3) Energy. Especially fossil fuels. It’s not only the Saudis who got filthy rich from oil, but also the top executives at corporations like Exxon and Enron. In their wake are horrible examples of environmental degradation, fracking, a fouled Gulf of Mexico, and death from toxic wastes, especially in South America and Africa.
4) Food. Say goodbye to real food and say hello to your GMO. The worst culprits are the companies that poured tens of millions of dollars into a disinformation campaign to stop the labeling of GMO foods. Just as bad are their products at the supermarkets: high priced sugar, salt, and fat.
We’re back in the era of the robber barons, all right, but where is our Teddy Roosevelt to bust our modern-day trusts?
Let’s pick a realistic goal as a place where we can make a real difference by righting some wrongs. One such goal is to get good food onto our dinner tables in a timely fashion—meals of whole, organic foods—locally grown and in season if possible. That’s where a freezer comes in. A freezer is your ticket out of the food hell that is the center aisles of America’s supermarkets.
Once a week, in the evening or on weekends, sit down and plan dinners for the five weeknights when both parents are working. They don’t have to be elaborate, but should be healthy and nourishing, with plenty of vegetables and greens like kale, chard, spinach, broccoli, and collards. Roast a whole chicken or several chickens if you have a large family, or turkey legs, or cook salmon or other fish. Make a big bowl of hash brown potatoes. Buy a bunch of aluminum pie plates and make correctly portioned dinners for the adults and kids in your household, using the vegetables, meat, and starch you’ve cooked. Cover the pie plates with aluminum foil and freeze them. Vary the meals from day to day. Then when you get home on a weeknight, pop your pie plates for that day into the regular oven—not the microwave—and heat them up at 350 F. for a half hour or until they’re hot. They’re already cooked, so heating them up will take a minimal amount of time. If you get home at 7, you’ll all be sitting down to dinner together by 7:30. If you have an oven with a timer, dinner can be hot and waiting when you get home.
There’s another way a freezer can help you get real, whole, organic food on the table as cheaply as possible. Patronize farmers markets. When foods are at the peak of their season, they are the most flavorful, most nutritious, and very importantly, cheapest. At the height of the tomato season, fill freezer bags with whole tomatoes and freeze them. Then on some cold January night, thaw a few out by taking them out of the bag and setting them in a bowl on the kitchen counter before you leave for work in the morning. They’ll have thawed into soft bags of delicious tomato flesh by dinnertime, ready to make a quick sauce for pasta. Their cost will have been minimal, since you bought them last August. They’ll sure beat tasteless “fresh” winter tomatoes at the store. Buy—or pick from the wild–in-season berries, set a tray full of them in the freezer, and when they’re frozen solid, put them in a freezer bag and store it in the freezer. Buy fresh tree-ripe peaches and apricots in season, pit them, slice them, put them in freezer bags with a syrup made of filtered water and lemon juice and a little sweetener of your choice. Why pay out of season prices for foods you can buy at their peak when they’re cheapest? A freezer will pay for itself many times over.
Finally, throw out the junk food that the kids will eat when they get home from school. Replace it with fresh fruits and whole-grain snacks like nuts and toasted seeds.
Every dollar you withhold from the food giants is a dollar invested in your own good health and one dollar less the giants have to convince you that Coke is the real thing. It isn’t the real thing. We have a device in the kitchen that charges water with carbon dioxide, making it fizzy. We made syrups from fresh fruits when they were in season. For example, we picked a large amount of wild blackberries. They went into a big pot and were brought to a simmer, whereupon they yielded their sweet juice. No added sugar needed. Then we strained and canned the juice in jelly jars. Now when we want a sweet and fruity drink, we pour filtered water and blackberry syrup into the device’s bottle, screw the bottle into the device, press the button on top, and watch the liquid turn into fizzy fruity soda. That’s the real thing.
Finally, every dollar you spend on organic food is a vote for farmer-friendly, farm-worker-friendly, family-friendly, earth-friendly farming. It will keep you alive and healthy, but, unlike the processed foods from the giant corporations, it won’t addict you.