Poultry Litter

“It was only when the whole ham was spoiled that it came into the department of Elzbieta.  Cut up by the two-thousand-revolutions-a-minute flyers, and mixed with half a ton of other meat, no odor that ever was in a ham could make any difference.  There was never the least attention paid to what was cut up for sausage; there would come all the way back from Europe old sausage that had been rejected, and that was mouldy and white – it would be dosed with borax and glycerine, and dumped into the hoppers, and made over again for home consumption.  There would be meat that had tumbled out on the floor, in the dirt and sawdust, where the workers had tramped and spit uncounted billions of consumption germs.  There would be meat stored in great piles in rooms; and the water from leaky roofs would drip over it, and thousands of rats would race about on it…There were the butt-ends of smoked meat, and the scraps of corned beef, and all the odds and ends of the waste of the plant, that would be dumped into old barrels in the cellar and left there.  Under the system of rigid economy which the packers enforced, there were some jobs that it only paid to do once in a long time, and among these was the cleaning out of the waste-barrels.  Every spring they did it; and in the barrels would be dirt and rust and stale water – and cart load after cart load of it would be taken up and dumped into the hoppers with fresh meat, and sent out to the public’s breakfast; some if it they would make into smoked sausage – but as the smoking took time, and was therefore expensive, they would call upon their chemistry department, preserve it with borax and color it with gelatine to make it brown.”

Although passages like this one from Upton Sinclair’s 1906 publication, “The Jungle” led to the creation of the USDA, the meatpacking industry has “recovered” to a large degree from regulations it endured for about 60 years.  The Iowa Beef Packers (IBP) revolutionized the industry in the 60′s by moving its plants from urban areas to rural sites, far from union strongholds, which have been obliterated, and prying eyes.  They then proceeded to hire immigrant workers from Mexico, and introduced a new division of labor that eliminated skilled butchers.  Other companies, in order to compete successfully, were forced to adopt these new business methods.  Today, the top four meatpackers – IBP, ConAgra, Excell and National Beef – control close to 90% of the market.  Meatpackers once again suffer from low wages and dangerous conditions.  And because profit margins are slim in the industry, the big four companies strive to keep all costs as low as possible.

One way to cut costs is by controlling what feed is used for cattle.  There exists a practice, as reported by Brad Jacobson of Mother Jones, of “feeding what’s known as ‘poultry litter’ to farmed cattle.  Poultry litter is the agriculture industry’s term for the detritus that gets scooped off the floors of chicken cages and broiler houses.  It’s mainly a combination of feces, feathers, and uneaten chicken feed, but in addition, a typical sample of poultry litter might also contain antibiotics, heavy metals, disease-causing bacteria, and even bits of dead rodents.”  He also reports that the uneaten chicken food can contain meat and bone meal.

The advent of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, led the World Health Organization to call for the exclusion of same species food in 1997.  The call was not heeded, at least not in the U.S., and the practice of feeding cattle remains to chickens and then feeding cattle chicken food droppings is precisely what can lead to prions, the infectious proteins that cause mad cow disease, to be cycled back into cow feed.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has in fact recently recommended that individuals should “avoid factory farmed animal products altogether by choosing plant-based foods, choose grass-fed and grass-finished beef and dairy products and pasture-raised pork, poultry, and egg products, select certified organic meats, eggs, and dairy and those clearly labeled as using only vegetarian animal feed, [or] purchase meats, eggs, and dairy products from local farmers on the farm, at farmers markets, or by buying a share from a local farmer as part of a Community Supported Agricultural (CSA) program.”  They call for this because same species meat, diseased animals, feathers, hair, skin, hooves, blood, manure, plastics, drugs and unhealthy amounts of grans are all legally allowed as feed.

There are a great many reasons to eschew factory food; among them environmental concerns, human health, and animal welfare.  The threat of a widespread outbreak of mad cow disease is now certainly among those concerns.

Recipe of the Week

Beans are an excellent source of protein, and there are countless ways to prepare them.  Simple meals, but easy to make, hearty and delicious.

White Beans with Tomatoes, Sage and Basil

1.5 cups small, white beans, soaked for about 4 hours

2 medium onions, chopped

5 cloves garlic, minced

2 pieces pancetta, diced

1 28 oz can of organic whole tomatoes, pureed

2 tablespoons organic tomato paste

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup fresh basil, chopped

1/4 cup fresh sage, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup small pasta

Cover the beans with 3 inches of cold water, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for one hour.  While the beans are cooking, saute the pancetta in the oil in a large frying pan.  When the meat has browned some, add the onions and cook for about ten minutes on medium high heat, stirring now and again.  Add the garlic, tomato paste, herbs and stir in.  Add the canned tomatoes and cook for about 10 minutes.  By now, the bean cooking water should be mostly depleted.  Add the tomato mixture to the pot along with about 2 cups boiling water.  Partially cover, turn the heat down to low and simmer for about 1 more hour.  Just before the beans are done, heat salted water in a pot and cook the pasta until al dente.  Add to the bean mixture and let sit for ten minutes.  Taste for salt and pepper.  Serve with generous amounts of parmesan.

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William Albrecht, Seer

A reader asked if I was familiar with the work of William Albrecht, which I was not.  William Albrecht (1888-1974) was the Chairman of the Department of Soils at the University of Missouri and spent his career postulating a direct link between healthy soils and animal health, including humans.  He witnessed and studied the effects of post WWII farming techniques, and his conclusions were prophetic.  His published papers are innumerable, but a basic understanding of his work can be found in “Soil, Fertility and Animal Health,” which was published in 1958.

Before WWII, American farmers fertilized their soils with livestock manure, which is rich in nutrients and organic matter.  They also practiced crop rotation, regularly alternating the types of crops grown in various fields and occasionally allowing fields to remain unplanted.  The result of these practices enabled organic material to accumulate and decompose, thereby restoring nutrients to the soil.

Industrial agriculture, on the other hand, in an attempt to produce more food at a cheaper rate, separated the production of food from the raising of animals.  Animals are raised instead on vast concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), while crops are mass produced on alternate farms.  The manure generated by the CAFOs became too costly to transfer to cropland, which caused industrial farms to rely on synthetic, manmade chemical fertilizers to support the monocrop system.  William Albrecht saw this shift in American agricultural practices as detrimental to human health, and his academic stance led to his dismissal by the academic community and he was forced to retire.

Albrecht often used the term “worn out soils” to describe the resulting nutritional benefits, or lack thereof, from the foods we consume today.  Since the soils have been degraded by modern agricultural practices, people must consume more than they require in order to fulfill their nutritional needs.  In short, many Americans may overeat simply because their food leaves them undernourished.  Although the current rate of obesity and other resulting health problems were not entirely in evidence during Albrecht’s lifetime, he in fact predicted the rise of the diet related illnesses we face today:  obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and various forms of cancer.  Albrecht wrote, in 1938, that “a declining soil fertility, due to a lack of organic material, major elements and trace minerals, is responsible for poor crops and in turn for pathological conditions in animals fed deficient foods from such soils, and mankind is no exception.”  He believed that a reliance on chemical fertilizers would lead to a depletion of the major minerals required for optimal health.  He wrote that chemical fertilizers, “as legislated and enforced by State Departments of Agriculture mean malnutrition, attack by insects, bacteria and fungi, weed takeover, crop loss in dry weather, and general loss of mental acuity in the population, leading to degenerative metabolic disease and early death.”  He also coined the terms “grow foods” and “go foods.”  Grow foods are those grown in healthy soils while go foods appear to be represented by processed foods, which are filled with energy enhancing carbohydrates but lack the complete proteins needed for health.

During Albrecht’s lifetime, studies had not been thoroughly conducted to prove his connection between healthy soils and healthy humans.  A study was done in 2004, however, by Donald Davis and a team from the University of Texas.  Titled “Changes in USDA Food Composition Data for 43 Garden Crops, 1950-1999,” it found “reliable declines” in the amounts of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, vitamin B2 and vitamin C over a 50 year period.  Donald Davis wrote that “efforts to breed new varieties of crops that provide greater yield, pest resistance and climate adaptability have allowed crops to grow bigger and more rapidly, but their ability to manufacture or uptake nutrients has not kept pace with their rapid growth.”

It is well known that health care costs in the U.S. are greater than anywhere in the world, and in fact cost twice as much as food.  If we are to address the economics of poor health, as Albrecht did, we must make the connection between current agricultural practices and human health.  Once again, this leads us towards embracing and encouraging sustainable agricultural practices.

Recipe of the Week

I stayed away from making falafel for a couple of years because it was fried, and needed a considerable amount of oil.  I tried baking and grilling, but the results were unsatisfactory.  Fried or no, it’s a great vegetarian meal, especially when accompanied by a yogurt, cucumber, garlic sauce.  The following recipe yields about 12, 2 inch patties.

1 can organic garbonzos, rinsed well

3 green onions, minced

3 large cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup parsley, minced

1 egg

1 tsp ground cumin

1 Tbls. ground coriander

1/2 tsp salt

2 slices bread

Start by putting the bread into the bowl of a food processor.  Grind them up completely, then add all other ingredients except the egg.  Grind until there are no large pieces of garbonzo beans.  Remove from the processor and add the egg, mixing well.  Form into patties while heating sunflower oil in a large frying pan.  The amount of oil will be about 1/4 cup.  After the oil is sufficiently hot, lower the heat to medium high and add as many patties as will fit into the pan comfortably.  Brown on one side, then flip and brown on the other side.  Remove patties to paper towels to absorb some of the oil.  Repeat the process if you have extra patties, adding more oil if necessary.

Yogurt Sauce

For about 2 cups of non-fat, plain yogurt, add 4 large garlic cloves, minced, and one smallish cucumber, minced.  You may also add some chopped up fresh mint if you have it, but it’s not necessary.

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Food Terrorism

The FDA recently proposed new rules that would apply to food processors and manufacturers to prevent food terrorism.  According to the FDA, “intentional adulteration of the food supply can result in catastrophic public health consequences, widespread public fear, loss of public confidence in the safety of food and the ability of government to ensure food safety.”  I realize these rules will focus on bulk storage facilities and food processing manufacturers, where poor security practices have been reported and certainly should be addressed.  It is, however, the irony of the phrase “intentional adulteration of the food supply” that rankles, not to mention “the ability of government to ensure food safety.”

The U.S. government, largely controlled by industrial demands, has proved a very weak link indeed between profit and food safety.  Current agricultural practices are designed exclusively to promote size, growth rate and pest resistance rather than nutritional and safety qualities.  A 2004 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that although American farmers have the ability to grow two to three times as much grain, fruit and vegetables as they could 60 years ago, the crops contain 25% less iron, zinc, protein, calcium, vitamin C, etc.  According to this report, “you would have to eat eight oranges today to derive the same amount of vitamin A as your grandparents would have gotten from one.”

As noted by Jo Robinson of the New York Times, “USDA plant breeders have spent a decade or more developing a new variety of pear or carrot without once measuring its nutritional content.  We can’t increase the health benefits of our produce if we don’t know which nutrients it contains.  Ultimately, we need more than an admonition to eat a greater quantity of fruits and vegetables: we need more fruits and vegetables that have the nutrients we require for optimum health.”

In contrast, the EU has long made it a practice to protect the quality and safety of their food supply.  According to Heidi Moore of The Guardian, a British newspaper, “the EU looks down on American food safety and production practices…American meat production is heavily reliant on chemicals, from hormones to chlorine-bleach baths, and European officials and consumers largely reject these treatments and standards.”  She goes on to say that the “U.S. food supply lacks variety:  only a few crops dominate and major companies that determine the extent and quality of the food supply – and they often prefer genetically modified seeds, bred to withstand herbicides not fully tested in their long-term effect on human health.”

The De Dell Seed Company, Canada’s only non-GMO corn seed company, found that “GMO corn contains 437 times less calcium, 56 times less magnesium, and 7 times less manganese.  GMO corn also contains 13ppm of glyphosate.  The EPA considers anything over 0.7ppm as unsafe.”

The meat industry in the U.S. poses many public health risks, one of which is the heavy reliance on antibiotics.  The federal government has done nothing to prevent this over-use except to ask industry to voluntarily restrict themselves.  In 2011, the Director General of the World Health Organization warned of “a post-antibiotic era, in which many common infections will no longer have a cure and once again, kill unabated.”

Aside from the lack of nutritional benefits and potential harm we have been lately receiving from fresh food, processed foods have been willfully adulterated for increased profit.  High fructose corn syrup and a huge variety of chemicals added to processed foods continue to lead to disease, obesity and malnutrition.  The additives are deliberately present in order to increase the addictive qualities of this “food.”  When consumed, the additives trigger the release of dopamine in the brain, the same hormone that’s released in the brain of a heroin addict.  These chemicals are also definitively linked to cancer, diabetes, infertility, autoimmune disorders and  heart disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have documented the effects of foodborne illness since 1970.  In the past few years, they estimate that 1 in 6 Americans, which is 48 million people, get sick from food, and anywhere from 3,000 to 9,000 die each year.  And we were horrified over 9/11.

Recipe of the Week

I make red beans and rice once in a while, but mostly avoid it because it has ham hocks and fatty sausage.  I’ve had excellent vegetarian red beans and rice, though, and I think this recipe by Guy Fieri, which I’ve modified just a little, is excellent.  This will yield at least 8 servings, so it can easily be cut in half.  It’s easy, but takes time.

1 lb red beans, soaked over night

3 tablespoons minced garlic

1 cup chopped celery

1 onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

4 canned chipotle chilies in adobo, minced

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced

several sprinkles of hot sauce

salt to taste and lots of ground pepper

Put all ingredients in a large soup pot and cover with water – about 4 inches over the top.  Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and cook for about 1.5 hours.  Test to see if the beans are completely cooked and then taste for salt.  Season until you’re happy with the result.  The end result should be somewhat soupy as they’ll be served over rice.  Have more hot sauce on the table for personal taste.

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The USDA announced last week that it was unveiling obesity prevention programs at various colleges.  The allotted funds amount to $5 million.  While this is good in and of itself, the galling part of this equation is precisely the involvement of the USDA.  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said that “these grants fund critical research that will help USDA and our partners implement effective strategies to support America’s next generation so they can have a healthy childhood and develop healthy habits for life.”  An additional $5.5 million will be allotted to implement Michelle Obama’s lunch nutrition standards, which Vilsack says will “help make sure that the healthy food on kids’ plates ends up in their stomachs.”

The contradiction here is that the Monsanto controlled USDA has gone out of its way to support and encourage Big Ag to promote and sell whatever processed food products will make the most profit, regardless of the effect on the health of the American population.  Many of these products certainly add to the obesity problem we face.  ConAgra Foods, one of the largest packaged food companies in the U.S. claim, and I have no reason to doubt them, that the food they make can be found in 99% of American homes.  All of the foods ConAgra makes are processed in some way.

This is what causes obesity:  high sodium and fat in processed foods, lack of exercise, over-consumption of meat, and fast food.  Add to that the wage stagnation that has become steady since Ronald Reagan declared war on the middle class, and you have people forced to buy that $1 box of macaroni and cheese rather than the more costly fruits and vegetables.  Food prices, as has been noted, have risen astronomically in the last decade and most certainly will continue to rise as long as the U.S. government places no regulation on the trading of food as a commodity and continues to deplete available farmland in order to convert it to the growing of biofuels.

Food & Water Watch has documented, albeit in 2010, that Big Ag had spent more than a half billion dollars between 1999 and 2009 lobbying the various agencies and branches of the U.S. government.  They also like to keep their hands busy with our representatives.  Remember when Ronald Reagan declared that ketchup was a vegetable?  In 2012, Congress declared pizza to be a vegetable under pressure from Big Ag.  Congress then blocked attempts by the USDA to replace pizza with more vegetables.

What is required from our government is not self-congratulatory and underfunded prevention programs, but tough regulation against those products that tend to make people fat (high fructose corn syrup comes to mind) and an aggressive policy of food supplementation.  Matt Bruenig, a political writer and activist, has suggested just such a policy, which is entirely reasonable and sane – food stamps for everyone regardless of income.  Such a policy would do far more to encourage healthy eating habits and would also improve the economy, as it is well documented that for every dollar given out in food stamps, the economy gets $1.80.  And while we’re at it, raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour.  That oughta do it.

Recipe of the Week

This recipe is quite easy, but certainly falls well within the definition of slow food.  And lamb is expensive, but for about $15, this recipe yields at least 6 servings.

Lamb Pilaf

3 tbls olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 tsp cinnamon

2 tbls tomato paste

1 pound lean lamb, cut into small pieces

1 1/2 cups basmati rice, rinsed

4 cloves garlic, minced

chopped parsley if  you need it to look pretty

salt and pepper

1 tsp fresh cumin seed, ground

Heat the oil in a large pan and cook slowly until golden brown.  This takes about 45 minutes at low heat.  Add the meat, cinnamon, tomato paste and salt and pepper.  Cover the pan and cook for about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and stir in.  Add water to cover and gently simmer for 1.5 hours.  Add more water should it become too dry.  Taste for salt and pepper.  Since you’re adding rice, the base sauce can be more salty than normal.  Add another 2 cups water, bring to a boil and add the rice.  Lower the heat to the lowest setting, cover and cook for about 15 minutes.  Turn off the heat and let sit for another 20 minutes.  This is fine served with pita and a salad, but eliminating the pita is better for your waist line.

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In 2012 a USDA advisory board called AC21 (Advisory Committee on 21st Century Agriculture), under the leadership of Tom Vilsack, the current biotech-friendly Secretary of Agriculture, decided that the government should require organic farmers to purchase crop insurance should their crops become GMO contaminated.  This ruling entirely shifts responsibility for GM contamination from Big Ag to small farmers who increasingly face interaction with GM fields.  A press release from the National Organic Coalition stated that “this proposal allows USDA and the agricultural biotechnology industry to abdicate responsibility for preventing contamination while making the victims of pollution pay for damages resulting from transgenic contamination.”

Monsanto first hypocritically proposed the idea of “coexistence”, saying that “farmers have been coexisting successfully for years through good communication, cooperation, flexibility and mutual respect for each others’ practices and requirements.”  I imagine “mutual respect” is involved when Monsanto sues farmers whose crops have been inadvertently contaminated by genetically modified seeds.  In any case, the AC21 cabal  has decided that the best defense against Monsanto is to buy insurance, thus ensuring that Big Ag can continue to pollute at will.  The National Organic Coalition’s executive director, Liana Hoodes, has stated that “this is a completely wrong approach to tackling the GE contamination problem.  At the bare minimum, USDA must stop approving additional GE crops, and prevent GE contamination by mandating pollution prevention measures, as well as make transgenic polluters…pay for their contamination.”  Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at the Center for Food Safety, adds that the AC21′s findings are an “ill-conceived solution of penalizing the victim [that] is fundamentally unjust and fails to address the root cause of the problem –  transgenic contamination.”  He goes on to say that the “AC21 report takes the responsibility for GE contamination out of the hands of USDA and the biotech industry where it belongs and puts it squarely on the backs of organic and non-GE farmers.”

As it stands, a report issued by Food & Water Watch and the Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM) has shown that one out of three farmers have experienced GM contamination on their farm and over half of those have had their crops rejected by buyers for that reason.  “Our very strong feeling is that the introduction and propagation of the genetically modified products that are coming out under patent at this point have not had the regulatory oversight that they should have, and need to involve a far broader section of stakeholders,” says Oren Holle, a Kansas farmer and president of OFARM.  He says the “USDA has been extremely lax and, in our opinion, that’s due to the excessive influence of the biotech industry in political circles.”

Since 2008, political influence of Big Ag in the federal government has grown.  President Obama has filled key posts with Monsanto people:  Roger Beachy, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture at the USDA, Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner of the FDA, Tom Vilsack, Islam Siddiqui, Agriculture Trade Representative, Ramona Romero, counsel for the USDA, Rajiv Shah, head of USAID, and Elena Kagan, who once argued for Monsanto.

Food Democracy Now! believes that governmental “coexistence” with the biotech industry will eventually lead to the extinction of organic farmers.  Since more than 90% of corn, soy, cotton, sugar beets, canola and alfalfa are genetically altered, they believe genetic contamination of neighboring farmers’ fields is virtually guaranteed.  And apparently this has been the plan all along.  In 2001, a biotech industry consultant told the Toronto Star that “the hope of the industry is that over time the market is so flooded that there’s nothing you can do about it.  You just sort of surrender.”

Several of the above named environmental groups are lobbying the government to control the biotech industry.  Their key demands are that moratoriums be issued on the planting of any new GE crop, set in place practices that prevent GE contamination, and hold those who own, promote and profit from GE crops liable for economic harms caused by their practices and products, and establish a system whereby Big Ag pays compensation to those farmers who failed as a result of contamination.  It’s not unreasonable.


Recipe of the Week

Spring has sprung, and so we’ll grill.

Grilled Gulf Shrimp with Alioli and Grilled Asparagus

For the sauce:

6 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp salt

1 egg

1 tbls lemon juice

1 cup olive oil

It helps to have a food processor with a drip accessory.  If you do, place the garlic, lemon juice, egg and salt in the processor.  Turn on the processor and then almost immediately pour the olive oil into the drip compartment.  You will have a perfect consistency.  If you don’t have a food processor, you can do this by hand.  Whisk the first four ingredients into a medium sized bowl.  Drip the olive oil into the bowl while whisking.  This is tedious, but the results are the same.

Buy any amount of wild gulf shrimp you need to feed the group.  Rub lightly with olive oil and sea salt.  Do the same with the asparagus after you’ve snapped the ends off and washed and dried the pieces.  Set up the grill, and when the coals are ready, place the shrimp on the grill (no need to peel) – they’ll only take a couple of minutes to cook – turn once, and when they turn pink they’re done.  Grill the asparagus the same way.  The shrimp can be served warm or at room temperature.  Guests can peel the shrimp at the table and dip into the alioli.  Serve with a good green salad.

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Nyet, Exxon Mobile

On March 5, the New York Times ran an article espousing the notion of becoming a supplier of natural gas to Ukraine and Europe as a means to weaken Vladimir Putin’s control over the area.  The article points out that while “Russia is still the world’s biggest exporter of natural gas, the United States recently surpassed it to become the world’s largest natural gas producer, largely because of breakthroughs in hydraulic fracturing technology, known as fracking.”  Nowhere in the article does it discuss the dangers of fracking.  Indeed, in a follow up editorial on March 7, the NYT put forth the idea that “increasing natural gas exports could serve American foreign policy interests in Europe.”

Both the initial article and the editorial acknowledge that the U.S. currently does not export natural gas.  To rectify this omission, permits have been issued to American companies requesting applications to build port facilities, as well as permits to allow the exportation of gas to Europe and Ukraine.  The problem with this strategy is that it would take roughly a decade and cost billions in order for this infrastructure to be functional.

Enter ExxonMobile and other giant oil and gas producers.  Taking advantage of political upheaval in Ukraine, they’re petitioning the U.S. government to increase the practice of fracking all over the world.  The NYT says that Halliburton has already started fracking in Poland and Shell will soon begin fracking in Ukraine.  The gas company shills, the Republican Party, have eagerly lined up to do the bidding of their masters.  Speaker John Boehner has stated that “one immediate step the president can and should take is to dramatically expedite the approval of U.S. exports of natural gas…and the U.S. Department of Energy’s excruciatingly slow approval process amounts to a de facto ban on American natural gas exports that Vladimir Putin has happily exploited to finance his geopolitical goals.”

Boehner’s overheated demands, however, are disingenuous, as the gas companies, once in place to export natural gas, can sell to whomever they wish, leaving Putin free to lower the price of Russian exports.  American gas would then not be a player in geopolitical conflicts, as they would be more likely to sell gas to countries such as Japan, India and China where gas is more expensive.  The only beneficiaries of a plan to export more American gas are, once again, the industry giants.

The oil and gas industry is not only lobbying the government to help them increase profits by use of the dirty fracking process.  They’re also attempting to discredit any organization that highlights the negative impact fracking has on our health and the environment.  Food & Water Watch, among other environmental groups, was recently attacked in a full page ad in The Wall Street Journal.  The man hired by the industry to place these attacks is Rick Berman, once referred to as “Dr. Evil” by 60 Minutes.  His resume includes organizations founded and managed by him that fight against unions, minimum wage increases and any laws intended to keep drunks off the streets.  The ad was put forth by the Environmental Policy Alliance, a project of the Center for Organizational Research Education, a group led by Rick Berman.  The organization was recently known as the Center for Consumer Freedom and funded by, among others, Monsanto, Cargill and Tysons Foods.  Their chief goal is to uncover “the funding and hidden agendas behind environmental activist groups.”

The ad states that “middle class families are struggling to pay bills and make ends meet.  Meanwhile, powerful and well-funded environmental groups like The Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Food & Water Watch are using scare tactics and junk science to push policies that increase the cost of energy.”  The industry giants are putting everything they have in their arsenal to stop any voice used against their march towards ever increasing profits.  This is not about Ukraine’s sovereignty, nor are the environmental groups they besmirch using “junk science” to demonstrate the evils of fracking.  Instead of allowing gas and oil companies to increase their profits at our expense, a better notion for the U.S. government would be to heavily invest in sustainable renewable energy at home and abroad.  Why don’t we spend billions doing that?

And there’s always a Recipe of the Week.

It’s still winter, and a good, hearty soup can be very satisfying.  While I realize Minestrone is very well known, I like the version I scrabbled together using the ideas of Paula Wolfert and others who include pancetta as a primary flavoring.

1/2 pound dried white beans, soaked in cold water over night, or at least for a few hours

1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 pound pancetta, chopped

6 cloves garlic, minced

3 stalks celery, diced

1 onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

3 tbls. fresh rosemary, minced

1 pound cabbage of your choice

1 28 oz can of organic whole tomatoes, pureed

salt and pepper to taste

pasta, rice or bread, optional

Cook the beans in a large soup pot, covered with cold water by about 4 inches.  If soaked, they should become tender in about two hours.  In the interim, heat the oil in a large cast iron frying pan.  Add the pancetta, onions, celery, carrot, cabbage and rosemary and cook for about ten minutes.  Add the tomatoes and cook for another ten minutes.  Add this mixture to the cooked beans and cook for another 30 minutes or so.  If the soup is too thick, add a little more water and cook for another ten minutes.  You can eat the soup as it is at this point, but if you want a more hearty soup, add about a cup of pasta, or a 1/2 cup of rice or some cubes of stale bread.  A bowl of freshly grated parmesan is welcome at the table.

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A Corporate World

“We are witnessing the beginning of one of the great tragedies of history.  The United States, in a misguided effort to reduce its oil insecurity by converting grain into fuel for cars, is generating global food insecurity on a scale never seen before.”  So says Lester Brown, an analyst of global resources and president of the Earth Policy Institute.  Even some on the other side agree, as the former CEO of Nestle, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, has stated that “if as predicted we look to use biofuels to satisfy twenty percent of the growing demand for oil products, there will be nothing left to eat.  To grant enormous subsidies for biofuel production is morally unacceptable and irresponsible.”

And the U.S. is not the only culprit.  Brazil and Europe, along with the U.S., produce the majority of biofuels as well as consuming the most.  China also has an active biofuels program, which involves importing feedstock from Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Nigeria.  In 2007, GRAIN, a Spanish non-profit, released a paper citing that in Tanzania, “thousands of rice and maize farmers are being evicted from their lands in order for large companies to plant sugarcane and jatropha trees (whose seeds are a feedstock).”  The practices contributing to the ongoing global food crisis, which do little more than enrich such industrial giants as Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, Syngenta, Dupont and Monsanto, are also supported by the USDA, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization.  The futures of both food and fuel are being controlled by unregulated global trade in agricultural commodities and more genetic “fixes.”  By displacing more and more farmland and using that land for biofuel production, we are increasing the cost of food worldwide.

A food crisis erupted in 2008, which many see as the root cause of social and political uprisings in Egypt, Syria and Tunisia.  Although other factors, such as poor weather, high oil prices and investment into agricultural commodities certainly contributed to the crisis, this “perfect storm” of factors in 2008 recurred in 2011, and nothing has been done to stem the tide of increased hunger worldwide.  Currently, close to 50% of U.S. corn goes into biofuels, and the EU is planning to double the amount of biofuels it uses within the next decade.  And given that farmland in rich countries is finite, the industrial giants continue to look elsewhere, particularly in Africa and other developing countries.  As more and more land is designated for the growth of biofuels, the price of food increases even as the number of people sinking into poverty rises.

Ultimately, the global food system, entirely controlled by multinational grain traders, industrial seed, chemical and fertilizer corporations, will continue to reap profits under governments that offer no leadership or regulation.  The food crisis affects half of the world’s population; even people in the richest countries are spending more of their income on food.  Since 2007, food prices have risen more than 85%.  The price of corn, rice and soy, all staples, continues to rise dramatically every year since biofuels were first planted in 2006.  The number of hungry people has risen accordingly.  In the U.S., 47 million people have been driven into the national food stamp program because of rising food and fuel prices, and very little is being done to address these issues.  Food banks have been picking up the slack since 2007 and have been forced to seek donations apart from government surplus.  According to Hunger Notes, “The USDA distributes surplus when stocks are high or commodities prices fall below a certain level.  Like international food aid, they respond to the needs of the grain market first, tending to decrease distribution when food is most needed and increase it when it is less needed.”

Free market reforms, which continue to be pushed onto governments by industrial giants, have eroded support for local agriculture and have led to the consolidation of Big Ag.  Deregulation and consolidation together make markets vulnerable, which can drive up the costs of food and fuel.  What is required to fix the food crisis is regulation, reducing the power of Big Ag and supporting sustainable agriculture worldwide.  Personally, one can contribute by supporting local farmers and voting appropriately.  We must reduce the choke hold Big Ag has on our government and force a renewal of antitrust laws and increased regulation.

Recipe of the Week

Soup and salad is the best combination I can imagine, and this soup is particularly satisfying, if a little strange for American tastes.  I haven’t made it in a while, but I love it.  As always, organic ingredients and homemade stock are essential.

Tomato Bread Soup

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

6 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup fresh sage leaves, chopped

8 ounces of dense, stale French bread, cut into 2″ chunks

2 qts. homemade chicken stock

1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes, pureed

Heat oil in a heavy soup pot.  Add bread and stir constantly until most of the oil has been absorbed into the bread and it’s become a little toasty.  Toss in the garlic and sage, stir quickly, then add the stock and tomatoes.  Simmer for about 45 minutes.  Taste to see if it needs a little salt.  Serve with a green salad.

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Agent Orange

Weed resistant crops (genetically modified) have been around for about 15 years.  In that time, weeds have developed a resistance to Monsanto’s Roundup (glyphosate), which has led farmers to apply ever more toxic herbicides.  Bio tech companies are responding to this “need” for more chemicals, but this solution is unsustainable as weed resistance will continue.  Putting a blind eye to the repercussions of more poisons in our environment, Big Ag applied to the USDA for approval to market 2,4-D resistant corn.  2,4-D once made up half of the mix used in the Vietnam War – Agent Orange.

The dangers of 2,4-D are well documented.  Exposure to humans can cause skin sores, liver damage and sometimes death.  2,4-D is also a potential endocrine disruptor, and studies have found that men who applied the chemical had lower sperm counts and higher sperm abnormalities.  Food&WaterWatch notes that “although [the] FDA considers Dow’s 2,4-D corn as safe as conventional corn varieties…and not materially different from corn currently grown the the United States, the FDA’s Biotechnology Note for 2,4-D-resistant corn lists several amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals that differed from conventional corn and were statistically significant…A description of differences without data showing these differences are safe is inadequate, especially when scientists from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research suggests that following 2,4-D treatment, 2,4-D tolerant plants may not be acceptable for human consumption.”

Scores of farm, food, public interest, consumer, fisheries and environmental organizations have appealed to the U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to deny the planting of 2,4-D corn, stating that it would increase the use of 2,4-D to over 100 million pounds a year.  According to the letter sent to Vilsack, scientists at the U.S. National Cancer Institute have found that farmers who use 2,4-D and related herbicides are more likely to contract non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that kills 30% of those afflicted.  Sweden, Denmark and Norway have banned 2,4-D based on these studies, but the U.S. government refuses to act, stating that these studies fail to “definitively” link 2,4-D to NHL.

Aside from direct health concerns, 2,4-D is also known to drift.  In one incident in California, one 2,4-D application drifted 100 miles, damaging 15,000 acres of cotton and an entire pomegranate orchard.  It has been found that 2,4-D is 400 times more likely to cause non-target injury than Roundup.  An EPA toxicity research project found the herbicide to be “very highly toxic to freshwater and marine invertebrates.”  The potential for conventional farmers to lose crops increases, while organic farmers risk losing crops as well as certification.

Given all the concern, the protests from farmers and environmental organizations and various scientific studies, the USDA, in January of this year, approved Dow Chemical’s request to start marketing its 2,4-D resistant corn and soy.  This despite the fact that the USDA acknowledged that these 2,4-D crops could indeed cause “significant environmental harm.”  The USDA apparently believes that organic and GE crops can both be grown without either adversely affecting the other.  They’ve even coined a new regulatory term, which is “coexistence.”  No small wonder when Big Ag operatives have been appointed to the USDA in recent years.  Michael Taylor, Margaret Miller and Islam Siddiqui, all former Monsanto employees, currently hold substantial positions with the USDA or the FDA.  Tom Vilsack, although never employed specifically by Big Ag, showed a decided preference for large industrial farms and genetically modified crops when serving as Governor of Iowa.  For his efforts, he was named Governor of the Year by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, an industry lobbying group.

It is then that I look with a cynical eye at the report issued by the USDA’s “Census of Agriculture” showing that large farms that receive government payments have more than doubled in the last five years, while the number of medium sized farms fell.  Tom Vilsack expressed concern, even while being part of the machine that supports and encourages Big Ag.  The use of 2,4-D apparently has great potential for further reducing the viability of non-industrial sized farms as well as organic, showing the government, and Tom Vilsack in particular, to be hypocritical promoters of American agriculture when actually supporting the role of Big Ag in shaping our environmental and economic future.

When I started this blog, I approached it as an opportunity to educate myself and others about the dangers of industrial agriculture.  Having spent my career as a chef, and one who was overweight, I also wanted to provide weekly recipes promoting the foods and methods of cooking that allowed me to lose 50 pounds.  I encourage home cooking, use of organic ingredients and diminished use of meat products.  The recipe this week, although it contains pork ribs, a meat I rarely employ, is a good example of slow food and an excellent winter stew.

Garbanzo Bean Stew with Pork Ribs and Rosemary

2 cups dried garbanzos, soaked over night

6 cloves minced garlic

1 28 oz. can of organic, fire-roasted whole tomatoes, preferably Muir Glen

2 tbls. fresh minced rosemary

1 qt. home made chicken stock

1 lb baby back pork ribs, separated

3 tbls olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

parmesan cheese for garnish

Pour the garbanzos into a large soup pot and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and cook for about 1 hour.  Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan, brown the ribs, then add garlic and rosemary, stirring them in for about a minute.  Add chicken stock and pureed tomatoes, salt and pepper and cook for about 1 hour.  When the water level in the garbanzos has decreased, add the rib mixture to the pot and place, covered, in a 325 degree oven.  Cook for at least two more hours or until the garbanzos are thoroughly soft and the meat falls off the bone.  You can simply pick the meat off the bones using a fork.  De-grease the stew with a spoon and cook until desired consistency.  Taste for salt and top with freshly grated parmesan.  Serve with a good French bread and salad.

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Poisoning The Well

On February 10, The New Yorker published an article by Rachel Aviv chronicling Syngenta’s thirteen year crusade to discredit Tyrone Hayes, a research scientist who has studied the effects of the herbicide atrazine on the sexual development of frogs.  That the article appeared in a mainstream magazine impressed me, as I believe that how the world’s agribusinesses conduct their affairs is largely absent from public conversation.  And while Ms. Aviv aptly exposed the bullying tactics used by Syngenta in an attempt to remove a detractor from public view, she shied away from any condemnation of the herbicide atrazine.  If we have begun to recognize potential threats from GMO crops to human and environmental health, one of the biggest concerns should be centered, as it is in Hawaii, on the excessive use of Restricted Use Pesticides and Herbicides.

Atrazine is the most widely used herbicide in the U.S., largely because it’s both cheap and effective.  Rachel Aviv reports that it’s used on half of the corn grown in this country.  As Dr. Hayes pointed out, however, it functions as an endocrine disruptor, one that may alter the natural hormone system in animals.  It’s also the most commonly detected contaminant of drinking water in the U.S.  The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)  analyzed , in 2009, results of surface and drinking water and found that 75% of stream water and roughly 40% of all groundwater samples contained atrazine.  The NRDC contends that in addition to contaminated water, the EPA’s “inadequate and weak regulations have compounded the problem, allowing levels of atrazine in watersheds and drinking water to peak at extremely high concentrations.”

Ms. Aviv discusses the role played by the EPA, and how it has become toothless.  “Since the mid-seventies, the EPA has issued regulations restricting the use of only five industrial chemicals out of more than eighty thousand in the environment.  Industries have a greater role in the American regulatory process – they may sue regulators if there are errors in the scientific record – and cost-effect-benefit analyzes are integral to decisions:  a monetary value is assigned to disease, impairments and shortened lives and weighs against the benefits of keeping a chemical in use.”

Atrazine is classified as a Restricted Use Pesticide due to its potential for groundwater contamination, and can be absorbed orally, dermally and by inhalation.  As far back as 1996, a Pesticide Information Project of Cooperative Extension Offices of Cornell University, Oregon State University, the University of Idaho, the University of California at Davis and the Institute of Environmental Toxicology at Michigan State University concluded that: symptoms of poisoning include abdominal pains, diarrhea, vomiting, eye irritation and skin reactions.  They also concluded that chronic toxicity results in structural and chemical changes in the brain, heart, liver, lungs, kidney, ovaries and endocrine organs.

The NRDC also points out that “the toxicity associated with atrazine has been documented extensively.  The adverse reproductive effects of atrazine have been seen in amphibians, mammals, and humans – even at low levels of exposure.  Concentrations as low as o.1 ppb have been shown to alter the development of sex characteristics in male frogs.  When exposure coincides with the development of the brain and reproductive organs, that timing may be even more critical than the dose.  Also of great concern is the potential for atrazine to act synergestically with other pesticides to increase their toxic effects.”

Syngenta, the world’s largest pesticide company, has, as Ms. Aviv pointed out, worked hard to protect profits reaped from sales of atrazine in the U.S., even though the pesticide has long been banned in their home country of Switzerland.  They’ve intimidated scientists such as Dr. Hayes, pressured regulators and paid an economist to manufacture faulty studies.  It’s been argued that the cessation of atrazine use would drastically reduce corn yields, but yields have risen in Germany and Italy since those countries banned atrazine in 1991.  Given that more than 76 million pounds of atrazine are used in this country every year, and that its stability, once it leaches into groundwater, enables it to be a present pollution problem for decades after its initial application, makes it a huge concern.

The NRDC recommends that anyone concerned about chemical contamination in their water use a simple and economical household water filter; at this point there’s nothing else to be done.  Public awareness is key, however, in keeping these harmful chemicals out of our water.

I struggle every week to come up with recipes that are low in fat, healthy, but still something one looks forward to eating.  I stumbled upon this simple idea and it proved to be quite good and incredibly easy.  I had some left over home cooked black beans, and a few flour tortillas in the freezer.  I wanted to make burritos, and decided on this filling, which was delicious.  You can use canned black beans, but make sure they’re organic and you might want to season them a little as they’re usually bland.  Buy one big fat ripe avocado, mash it up and add one or two tablespoons of non-fat yogurt.  Mix with the beans, roll up in any  kind of tortilla you want, wrap in foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  That’s all you need (plus a salad).

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In 1998, Andrew Fire and Craig Mello discovered, or rather re-developed, a process called RNAi, which stands for RNA interference.  They basically found a way to streamline, or perfect a method of gene silencing.  Gene silencing, once thought by scientists to occur only in plants, is a process where pre-prepared double stranded RNA is inserted into a cell in order to block the code of a particular gene, thereby shutting down the gene’s orders, or the translation of the gene’s orders.  The gene then can no longer perform its function.  The gene is not damaged, just rendered silent.  In subsequent studies with mice, RNAi has affected a reversal of liver disease and has shut down the translation of HIV orders within a cell.  Since 2002, tests have been done on a drug that uses RNAi to interrupt macular degeneration, which causes blindness, and other studies are being done on diseases such as cancer, hepatitis C and Huntington’s.

The use of RNAi in medicine – think of drugs that could be developed to turn off genes contributing to high cholesterol – is exciting.  Currently, however, scientists have encountered difficulty in delivering the RNA through the human bloodstream into the cells where it is needed.  The use of RNAi in plants has already been implemented, such as in the development of the non-browning apple, and to genetically engineer virus resistance in crops.

Given the potential of RNAi, it’s more than disconcerting to learn that Monsanto, whose overall track record is demonic, has purchased the rights to use Alnylam Pharmaceuticals’ RNA interference  technology.  Under the terms of the agreement, Monsanto receives worldwide exclusive rights to use Alnylam’s technology.  Alnylam received nearly $30 million from Monsanto upfront, and will in future receive funding for research.  Selling her soul to the devil, Rachel Meyers, Vice President, Research and RNAi lead Development at Alnylam, stated “there could be no stronger partner for these applications, as Monsanto has a deep commitment to innovation and scientific excellence, and to the advancement of technologies to improve agriculture.  This new alliance furthers our vision for RNAi technologies across a broad range of applications.”  Monsanto will use RNAi technology in its BioDirect range of “biospesticides” or “agricultural biologicals.”  Monsanto estimates that the development and use of these technologies will generate $1.7 billion in annual sales for the company.

The vision of Monsanto is to develop new pesticides that will silence specific insect genes in order to either make them susceptible to other chemicals or kill them outright.  The official statement of intent from Monsanto is that “we are committed to supporting farmer and consumer demand for sustainable agricultural practices.  BioDirect technology uses molecules found in nature which are common components of the food we eat and our environment…We believe this topical alternative is expected to provide pest control products that will expand farmers’ choices.”

A non-governmental organization, the International Service for Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, which is supported by the USDA, pushes RNAi research.  Even they, however, confess that “RNAi technology has enormous potential for unforeseen consequences.”  They also acknowledge “that our knowledge of the enormously complex system of interactions that includes gene silencing is woefully incomplete.”  Some scientists also fear that by releasing gene silencing pesticides into fields could harm beneficial insects or possibly human health.  “To attempt to use this technology at this current stage of understanding would be more naive than our use of DDT in the 1950s,” states the National Honey Bee Advisory Board.

Specifically, Monsanto has applied for regulatory approval of corn that is genetically engineered to use RNAi to kill the western corn rootworm.  Up to now, farmers have been planting BT corn that produces a toxin that kills the rootworm when they eat the crop.  The rootworms, however, have evolved to resist the BT toxin.  The modified RNA would, in theory, kill the pest, but many scientists argue that the modified RNA could also affect other insects that eat the corn or become exposed to the RNA in water or soil.  The corn, dubbed SmartStax Pro by Monsanto, could be on the market in a few years.

Syngenta has also come aboard for the big money, having acquired Devgen, a Belgian biotech company, for $500 million.  Both Monsanto and Syngenta are working with these companies to develop RNAi sprays.  What is ignored in this case are the “associated application problems” of spraying.  Other issues have arisen from the ingestion of RNAi treated crops.  The Safe Food Foundation & Institute has enlisted scientists to study GM crops, specifically wheat, and results thus far have at least caused them “serious concerns regarding the safety testing of GM wheat.”  According to these scientists, there is a close similarity between the DNA sequences for the silenced wheat gene and a human enzyme involved in producing glycogen, which is stored in liver and muscle cells and that is converted to glucose to meet metabolic energy requirements.  The warning is that any alterations in the glycogen pathway could lead to glycogen storage disease IV, which causes death by age five.  Another study, this one done by scientists at the University of Kentucky and the University of Nebraska, found that the double stranded RNA intended to kill rootworms also affected a gene in ladybugs, killing them as well.

There’s probably little hope of stemming the tide of millions of dollars invested in the implementation of these little studied RNAi technologies.  One small effort that can be expended by individuals is to encourage political force in the area of overall GM labeling and education.  And eat organic.


I don’t eat much pasta these days, but I fondly remember this delicious, fast and easy recipe I came up with many years ago.

Spaghetti with Olives

1 lb spaghetti

4 anchovies, minced

6 large cloves garlic, minced

1.5 cups black, organic, pitted olives, chopped

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

salt to taste

Cook spaghetti in salted water until al dente.  Drain, but don’t rinse.  Put oil, anchovies and garlic in a large pan.  Turn heat on to high, and when the garlic starts to sizzle, add the olives and pasta.  Mix well, taste for salt, and add more olive oil if necessary.  You can top this with grated parmesan or crushed, seasoned croutons.  Serve with salad.

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