Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Organics Matter....A Lot

Talk about organics seem to be on the rise these days. There are the affluent liberals who claim it’s all they buy, the young couples who frequent farmers markets and then there are the people who think it’s all a bunch of bunk. I find these people interesting. When I try to engage them in conversation (attempting to avoid any offense) the reaction is always the same, either, “it’s all just politics” and “the price really isn’t worth the trouble”. Or even more commonly “I am not convinced it even matters”.  It is true that organic food is more expensive but the reasons are mostly political. Organic foods aren’t subsidized by the government, whereas agribusiness produce often is.  And it is these very same corporate farms that are fighting organic foods because they pose a threat to their bottom dollar. So, yes a lot of it is just politics but not because of the people that want to eat organic food, but instead because of the people who are fighting against it for a larger stake in the food market. Finally to those who think it doesn’t matter, you are just wrong. It does matter, and it matters on a global scale.

There are two main differences between organic and non organic crops. Organic crops do not use GMO seeds or plants and they do not use petro chemical fertilizers. Setting the GMO issue aside, petro chemical fertilizers are made from oil. Sorry all you pro American farmers the mere fact that you are using fertilizers and bug sprays means you are supporting foreign oil. The use of these chemicals also destroys soil fertility. Dirty isn’t just dirt decomposed plant material. It is chock a block full of micro organisms, bacterial, and fungi. These dirty little bugs breaks down decomposed plant material into usable natural chemicals. Chemicals which plants need to survive.  Folks in the fertilizer business have decided plants really only need three nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium or NPK. Just three nutrients derived in a lab to feed the worlds crops.  To quote from one of my favorite authors Barbra Kingslover “To raise a plant on petro chemical fertilizers is like raising a child on bread, peanut butter and the same bed time story every night…and when they cry you just give them more bread, more peanut butter and read them the same story twice”.  It doesn’t matter if you are talking about kids or dogs or plants, living things need great care, and covering them with oil based chemicals isn’t the best way to go about it.

Once the soil has absorbed all the agribusiness chemicals and the plants have been harvested all that is left is a cesspool of chemicals with no roots to keep the soil in place. Winter weather comes and eventually (whether the rainy season is winter or spring) soil is washed away and all the chemicals go with it. Into creeks and stream beds leeching into the lives of fish, birds, frogs, deer…..the entirety of the surrounding eco system.

Eventually these chemicals make their way into human bodies. There is a long history of people who have always thought using unnatural chemicals is dangerous. Mostly they get tagged as hippies. I think more accurately whatever you chose to call them, they were pretty spot on. There is historical and continuing research on the effects of petro chemicals on humans. And it seems that they are endocrine blockers, or in layman’s terms they f*ck with your hormones.  From what I can tell this was sort of an accidental discovery (researchers looking for something else and the results pointed to this). But more and more people are looking into exactly how and why this works in detail. On a summary level though many of these chemicals  bind with hormone receptors in your body causing your endocrine system to over produce growth hormones. Which is also what happens with milk that has bST. The link to this whole mess. Not only do petrochemicals and petrochemical fertilizers destroy soil quality, eventually destroy crop plants, and leech into wildlife, they can also make you fat.

Solution. Life is complicated. As for a real solution food buy local family run produce first (more on why to follow in a later post), and then grocery store organics.  By supporting businesses that have sound practices the trends will grow and we will be supporting a healthier future of communities. But these chemicals also come in shampoos, deodorants, make up, soaps, and cleaning products. If you aren’t down to make your own cleaning products there are plenty of safe organic cleaning supplies in supermarkets across the country. Hypo allergenic and organic beauty products are pretty easy to come by. The most common come from The Body Shop though there are many others out there. Shampoos and sops without sodium laureth and its many cousins are easy to come by you just have to read the label.

That was a bit of an information overload and a bit of a rant. Apologies, though hopefully more of you will now see why organics do matter, even if they are currently stuck in a political war.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Soda is the Devil


I found this infographic while on vacation in North Carolina. Though none of this information comes as a great surprise to myself and I am sure the majority of my friends. The specific details are a little startling. And for perhaps it wasn’t that these harmful things were in soda, but that many of them also reside in other bottled drinks. Many sports drinks and specialty juice drinks contain sulfuric acid, and sodium benzoate. And any plastic bottle including water bottles contain BPA (bisphenyl-A).

I coincidently also read an article while in the great South East about the top foods that are to blame for obesity, cancers and other long term health problems……if you didn’t already guess it, the culprit is soda. Running a close second and third are French fries and potato chips.

So to all of you who drink soda, and even to those who only indulge occasionally. Don’t forget the risks. Not only to yourself but the risks that soda companies are putting on a large population of uneducated consumers, and children. Buying these products are putting money in the pockets of people who are working hard to make a buck without thinking about the long term detrimental results of the product they are pushing. I know I don’t want to support that kind of thinking, or that kind of corporate machine. Admittedly it is probably easier for me to criticize soda because I have never acquired a taste for it. But there are many more mom and pop soda companies popping up that don’t pump their product full of harmful additives if you are dying for a soda sip. However, I do understand the appeal of a guilty pleasure, so if you feel the need to indulge do some knowingly and try not to make it a habit for your own health and well being.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bees not Beads

(The title is an homage to boyfriends current favorite Arrested Development quote, but the article is really about Honey Bees)

If you know anyone who is at all concerned with sustainable food you have probably already heard that Honey Bee populations have been in slow decline for many years. I vaguely remember the first time I heard someone make a comment about “all those hippies” being worried about declining bee populations. The comment was overheard from a stranger, so I didn’t feel right replying the truth about the concern. This particular person seemed vexed as to why someone would at all be concerned with such an obnoxious pest. And yes, having been stung numerous times I can agree the bees can be annoying, even more so to those who have fairly severe allergies to bee stings. But I think the point this bee hating stranger was missing wasn’t the fact that “those hippies” were morally concerned about the eradication of a species, but instead the greater impact losing this species would have on our world as a whole.

There are three types of non animal reproduction. The first belongs to fungus, yeasts and molds. These organisms produce spores which are either carried via water or wind to the receiving party to start the reproduction cycle. These organisms evolved somewhere around the early Devonian period about 416 to 359 million years ago. As temperatures and water levels changed in the middle of the Devonian period,  plants evolved to need less water to carry out reproduction, which lead to wind pollinated plants. These include grasses, grains and large evergreen trees. These types of plants have to produce mass amounts of pollen and cones, hoping when the wind blows the pollen will be carried from pollen cone to seed cone and be fertilized. Flowering plants diverged in the Early Crustaceous period around 245-202 million years ago, by way of co-evolution with insects. Producing smaller amounts of pollen on flowers that are attractive to insects. This form of pollination allows plants conserve energy, while still being pollinated and insects get pollen or nectar to feed from.

There are many insects that participate in the joint benefits of flowering plants, but very few other than bees depend entirely on flowing plants for survival. And plants also depend almost entirely on the industrious bees to keep their reproduction cycle going. But remember the plants that depend so wholly on bees for survival aren’t just limited to daisies and roses. Angiosperms (flowering plants) are the most diverse and largest group of plants in the world, and the lists includes all deciduous trees (with the exception of a couple prehistoric stragglers), berry bushes, fruits trees, and all veggie plants. Literally 80% of the worlds plants and nearly all of our natural food supplies are pollinated by bees. It shouldn’t just be “those hippies” that are worried about the decline in bee populations worldwide. All of us depend on plant foods, we can’t survive without them.

(A map of the worlds forests that depend on inscet pollination)

So what is causing this decline? There are a lot of reasons. I’d say first and foremost,  deforestation or loss of habitat. There is also the less than humane practices of many honey farmers that ends in the death of the brood at harvest time. There are also some curious diseases that have become more common in recent years including many strains of foulbrood, stonebrood, chalkbrood, and nosema. As well as hive pests such as mites, hive beetles, and wax moths. Pests are a fact of life and can be controlled fairly easily by the hive and contribute to a slim number of actual swarm deaths. But the brood diseases are becoming more common and as they are fugal spread like wildfire once they have made their way into the hive. There are many parties researching the cause and spread of these brood diseases, but I think they will probably find like anything, when environments begin to change, new organisms develop. And while evolution is a natural order of life. It is still sad to see things fall apart quickly and more often than not because of human decisions.

There are many things that a person can passively do that will impact the fate of our vigilant pollinators. Organic farmers generally always have hives on their plots of land as they aid in yield sizes of crop. So by buying local organic foods you will be not only helping yourself and your local economy, you will also be promoting more hives in your local area. As more hives as set up, more plants will be pollinated and they will spread which in turn will mean the local ecology can support more bees. And also make sure when you buy honey it is from humane harvesters. Bee’s aren’t that scary and it is easy to subdue them long enough to extract honey without actually harming them, there is really no excuse for killing hives for harvest. Lastly if you have the space, the resources and the city you live in allows hives, you can always set up a couple on your own property. New York just passes a law allowing permitted individuals with safe environments keep hives within the city limits. And if a New York city urban rooftop farmer can keep hives I am sure there is space somewhere in your life as well.  

Parisian City Beekeepers

If you are interested in bees I highly suggest doing some research and learning more about them. I got a wonderful book for my birthday called The Beekeepers Bible and recently picked up The Back Yard Beekeeper from my library. Hopefully someday soon, I will be settled enough to adopt a couple hives. But until then, I will not kill bees, I will buy local honey and produce and plant as many flowing plants in my garden as possible. And even if you decide that beekeeping is too much work for you, knowing about bees and understanding their importance in the world at large is very important.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Food Pyramid Gets Fired

Yesterday the USDA gave the ever controversial Food Pyramid the boot and unveiled My Plate. I think in a lot of ways it is a huge improvement, but I still see some problems with it.

I feel the portion given to fruits and veggies should have been larger. And the ever present hold of the dairy industry over our food governing agencies is still haunting us. But I do appreciate the side comments on the actual page. It’s nice to see some clear suggestions to drink more water and less soda. As well as identifying high sodium and sugar contents in processed foods. Though it would be nice to see these comments larger and slightly more present.

A small step it may be, but at least it’s a step. I look forward to hearing the imminent reactions to the change. As of this morning the most common comment being expressed over the twittersphere is joy over the water vs. soda inclusion.