Rant No. 37

I don’t do well on surveys wherein asked to agree Completely, Mostly, Somewhat, Not At All. The questions or statements foggy with Finding What I Really I Think, similar questions, worded slightly different to catch me and my opinion. I over think these questionnaires, trying to see behind the query to what is really wanted.

from Rent's Due Ranch
from Rent’s Due Ranch

This being said, I do, most certainly, have opinions. I described myself once as having a Boxcar full of Band Wagons loaded with Soap Boxes. THIS being said, there are few of my diatribes I make public. Today’s Rant, however, I share unapologetically.

Genetically Modified Organisms. 

According to Wikipedia:

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. Organisms that have been genetically modified include micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeast, insects, plants, fish, and mammals.

Genetic engineering is not the same as traditional, or selective breeding, whether of plants or animals. Traditional breeding, practiced by humans for all recorded history, is time-consuming, choosing the desired male and female, waiting for gestation and growth, seeing if the result meets the desired objective:Does the cow produce lots of cream? Is the zucchini green enough? How sweet is the watermelon, meaty the tomato, or pest-resistant the corn? To get the highest result, the process will takes years, syringe upon syringe of prize-winning sperm, painstaking collection of top-producing pollen, seed-saving for another planting, soil and feed kept optimal for healthy growth. Over the course of 300-1000 years of selective breeding, early Central American farmers invented maize. That’s a long time.

Preparing breakfast
Preparing breakfast

Genetic engineering was first accomplished in 1973, when Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen were able to transfer DNA from one species to another. 41 years later, bio technology has become big business. I haven’t devoted myself to what’s happening with stem cell research, animal or human cloning, or even genetic engineering uses in industrial applications. I care about food.

Since World War II ended, the companies that profited heavily from weapons and chemical production turned their attention to agriculture. People needed to eat. Whole regions and countries devastated by combat, farms and food supplies gone. What was needed? A food supply to serve the world. Companies like BASF, Monsanto, Dow Chemical, Dupont, and Bayer began  producing chemicals for farming: herbicides to kill weeds but not crops, pesticides to kill plant-eating insects but not crops, fertilizers to increase yield without the need to rotate crops or amend soil in traditional ways. As part of the inaptly named Green Revolution, these companies set out to “help” farmers feed the world.

After a few years of initial higher yields from these “revolutionary” methods, those not in line to make profit from the new practices began to see disturbing trends. Farmers began to require more of the chemical to achieve previous results. Insects and weeds began to appear resistant to the sprayed-on killers.

No. 8 plus butter & olive oil
No. 8 plus butter & olive oil

More applications were required. Finger-crossed farmers hoped for high enough yields to pay the mortgage, the seed bill, next season’s required chemicals. More and more farms began to fail. Small farms sold or walked away from, were amalgamated into super holdings, acres upon acres of wheat, corn, soy, or cotton, operated by corporate employees, and state-of-the-art computer-controlled farm machinery. Acreage, over fertilized, began to fail, began to turn to salt. Where the Mississippi meets the Gulf of Mexico began to develop Dead Zones, zones unable to support marine life due to nutrient runoff consumed by algae which in turn sinks, decomposes, and uses up oxygen. In 2013, this area was only the size of Connecticut. The revolution was ending.

Rather than turn back the clock to crop rotation, animal foraging, winter wheat, and other time-honored healthy soil practices, our former WWII heroes gathered up the burgeoning genetic engineers and set-to on crops. Monsanto, the top seller in pesticide production with its “safe” RoundUp, available at Home Depot, Lowes, and most suburban garages, worked diligently to produce seed that contained resistance to the weed killer.

Grated, towel-dried
Grated, towel-dried

The corn, weakened with a strain of e.coli to allow for cross breeding, married to genes resistant to RoundUp, producing a plant that could be sprayed with the pesticide but not itself succumb. Similar treatment has been applied to soy, canola, cotton, and sugar beets. RoundUp Ready seeds are expensive and because patented by Monsanto, cannot be saved by the farmer who plants them, eliminating an age-old practice for plant selection and cost savings. RoundUp has long been touted as safe at recommended levels, but rogue weeds and studied health problems are on the rise. Also disturbing has been the increase in crop contamination, especially as concerns canola: an adjoining non-RoundUp Ready field finding non-RoundUp susceptible plants growing. Monsanto has insisted that their RoundUp Ready seed will not cross-pollinate and has tirelessly pursued these farmers in court, suing them for illegally growing the Monsanto product without license.

For a longer time over medium heat
For a longer time over medium heat

Monsanto has usually won these cases, another independent farmer losing everything. Bayer markets its version of this corn as Liberty Link. Monsanto has also been the leader in producing seeds that are resistant to certain pests. Most notably, Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, has been introduced into corn to combat the effects of the European corn borer. This pesticide remains in the plant, the insect only having to nibble its last meal. No spray required. They have also introduced DroughtGard corn, allowing corn to be grown with less water, and subsequently, grown more densely.

Yesterday the USDA announced that Simplot was given the green light on its genetically modified potato. Evidently potatoes contain acrylamide, shown to be a carcinogen when cooked at high temperatures, most notably as deep-fried french fries. Simplot’s new potato will eliminate this problem component, as well as be less susceptible to bruising, something evidently unsightly to consumers. Rather than find better cooking methods for potatoes, Simplot has rushed to a GMO solution to keep its profits high in frozen french fries and hash browns.

There are plenty of places on-line to read the science, both for and against, this kind of genetic breeding. Plants are still developing resistance to  RoundUp and Bt. The soil is still turning into to salt, the waterways still polluted with runoff. Whole developing countries are saying “No” to GE seed being dumped within their borders. People like Vandana Shiva are battling to keep their countries free and thriving without GMOs. Healthwise, there hasn’t been time for long-term studies since humans only started ingesting GMOs in 1982, with the introduction of Humulin, a GE insulin. In 1997, the EU began requiring labeling for all GMO food products, including animal feed, something the US Federal government has refused to do, leaving many states fighting for this right of self-determination, against the millions of dollars spent by GMO companies. So far, the only way to avoid GMO foods is by consuming those organically grown.

Crispy, breakfast goodness
Crispy, breakfast goodness

The Organic Standards, updated yearly, state that GMOs cannot be considered organic, something Monsanto is lobbying strongly to overturn. A better way than buying organic is to meet the farmer who grew the food. I bought these potatoes from Mike of Rent’s Due Ranch in Stanwood, Washington. I picked them up from April at the University Farmer’s Market. They are the Satina variety, a Yukon Goldish type, yellow, not too starchy, delicious. They have been left with dirt on to increase the keeping quality, something this consumer finds beautiful.

Labeling of GMOs should be available, should be the standard. We should all be able to choose what foods we consume. Third World and developing nations should be able to choose what seeds are grown within their borders, without ramification of losing other global assistance. Seeds are the beginning of all life. Do we want a few multi-national corporations to control the world’s seed supply, to say who can plant, to say when and where their seeds can be planted? If someone else controls the food, we will all be controlled by them. Do the research. Speak up. Meet a farmer. Buy some seeds. Put in a vegetable plot, however small. We still have each other, and life is still good.

Just say no
Just say no
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Big Deal

Choosing to be an omnivore is a big deal. While eating plants should be done with a concern for life, eating meat is the result of taking a walking-around, oxygen-breathing life, so that my body is physically nourished. If I know that the creature was well cared for, allowed to flourish according to its innate biology, had only one bad day in its life, then the food it provides can emotionally nourish as well. It is important to me that the life of the animal was not cheapened:

  • with crowded, polluted living conditions
  • by being fed grains not suited to its digestive system
  • by being fed grains that have been genetically modified
  • by getting shot full of growth hormones to speed development and with antibiotics to curb disease rampant in its filthy environment
  • with its short sad life ended at the hands of uncaring, un-careful humans

One of the largest insults to the animals who offer so much protein, is the deflated price most Americans pay. This cheap protein comes from enormous contained animal feedlot operations, or CAFOs. Thousands of animals packed into tight spaces eliminating the need for expensive grazing acreage. The feed consists primarily of corn and soy, the two main crops subsidized by the Federal government, keeping the price very low. Ruminating animals are not made to eat these grains, preferring grasses instead, easily becoming ill, requiring antibiotics and other medications. More details, descriptions, and photos of CAFOs are an internet search away-I’ll leave that to you. The resultant cheap price at the grocery store, means I can consume this meat without any further thought: no thought of conditions,  no thanks for the life given, no knowledge of where it came from.

Ranchers and farmers like George & EikoJerry & Janelle, and the crew at Sea Breeze Farm, take careful meat production very seriously. I buy meat from these people at the University District Farmer’s Market. I can visit their farms. I can talk with them about their practices. I can take classes from them to learn the processes they employ. I spend a lot of money to buy their food.

When I buy meat produced with care at the farmer’s market price, I am making a financial sacrifice. I recognize that the life of the animal I’m consuming is worth this higher monetary cost. I recognize that the farmers I’m paying are worth the price of their attention and hard work on behalf of these animals. I recognize that life is not cheap and it should never be treated as such.

There are some who learn the details of modern conventional meat production and walk away from consuming any animal product. There are others who learn and continue to choose the cheaper product. There are those, like me, who learn the bad, but also find the good, the people who they can support. I leave you with a link to a short video from a sheep farm in southern Oregon, a blessing.

In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti

Sugar

Ah, sugar. So sweet, so simple, so toxic? I recently read a New York Times piece by Gary Taubes, outlining the dangers of this sought-after, addictive, weight-inducing substance.

I don’t drink soda, diet or otherwise. I offer no-sugar-added juice for my son, locally produced when at all available. I only buy fairly traded, organic chocolate. Upon learning about human rights violations in cane fields and the genetic modification of sugar beets, I had moved to purchasing only organic, fairly traded sugar. Enjoying a sweet morsel containing ethically produced sugar, made the treat even sweeter. I have a limited-sugar policy in my kitchen due to the health concerns of some of my housemates, usually reducing the amount of sugar in all recipes calling for the substance, at least by one-quarter. I was thinking I was doing pretty well and by national standards I’m sure I was. The New York Times article, however, is moving me closer to becoming anti-sugar.

Draw your own conclusions about the article. My personal response is to start reshaping my tastes, my concept of sweetness, to align more closely with how my people evolved through time. We each originated somewhere. My genes concentrated in northern Europe, the Scandinavian and UK countries. I don’t know where those Peoples migrated from, but it had been a long time since inhabiting the warmer, tropical areas where human life may  have originated. That said, sugar cane didn’t grow in the colder north. My ancestors drew sweet sap from certain trees and bees produced honey from the flowers of a short growing season. People had to work hard to sweeten their food. Sweets were cherished, relished delicacies savored during the holidays of the long, frozen winters. These treats would give some joy and hope that the snow & ice would melt again into summer. Sugar as hope. Sweetness as joy.

As I’ve worked to limit the sugar I use, my palette has improved. I can taste the sweet molasses of the sourdough bread crust. Winter kale, surviving cold temperatures, has a sweetness when braised with olive oil and garlic. Certain lettuces are bitter to contrast with those that are sweet like sunshine. The raisins in my otherwise non-sweetened granola, explode with sugars. Going forward, I’ll be exploring locally produced honey as a sweetener, used very sparingly, in baked items and desserts. I’ve looked into processed Stevia and may use that on occasion but want to have more local control over what I use for sweetening foods. Some will add this topic to my ever-expanding collection of soap boxes. Perhaps. Maybe I will be able to silence their criticism with treats that are just sweet enough to busy their tongues in identifying and relishing all the flavors put forth…not just sugar.