You Are What Your Grandmother Ate

A 2006 study conducted by researchers at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute provided fascinating evidence that the diet of one’s grandmother decidedly affects the health of her grandchildren.  The researchers studied the epigenetics (inherited changes in gene expression that can be influenced by several natural factors) of mice.  The study is almost unreadable, but basically demonstrated that the “memory of nutrition during pregnancy can be passed through the sperm of the male offspring to the next generation.”  The researchers found that if a woman was undernourished when pregnant, her “male offspring…[would be] smaller than average and, if fed a normal diet, went on to develop diabetes.  Strikingly, the offspring of these were also born small and developed diabetes as adults, despite their own mothers never being undernourished.”  Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith of the University of Cambridge offers further explanation:  “When food is scarce, children may be pre-programmed to cope with undernourishment.  In the event of a sudden abundance of food, their bodies cannot cope and they can develop metabolic diseases such as diabetes.”  Interesting that this study very possibly explains, at least in part, the large percentage of adults worldwide who are obese and/or who have diabetes – grandchildren of the Great Depression.  A subsequent study by Green C. Chung and Christopher Kuzawa expounded on past evidence by studying the diets of 3,000 Filipino women and their children from 1983 to 2011.  Their findings echoed the earlier study by demonstrating that grandmothers who had full access to nutritious food while pregnant, and who provided ample nourishment to their children, had heavier and healthier grandchildren.

Last week I wrote a post (No More Whole Wheat Wiener Wraps!) about school lunches and how many people are now realizing the overall value of providing nutritious food to children.  I was pleased to learn of a government program (Farm to School Program) that is in wide use as well as efforts by non-profit organizations (Conscious Kitchen) to alter the foods we feed our kids.  The piece elicited a few responses, and one that struck me later was that “it’s up to the schools” to ensure that nutritious food is served.  While the work the USDA and Conscious Kitchen does is indeed worthwhile, I take issue with the notion that “it’s up to the schools.”  I think, instead, that it should be up to all of us.

When my son was in school, we provided him with nutritious food at home and at school, rarely taking advantage of the school lunch program because of its poor quality.  I don’t remember what we put in his lunch bag, but I do remember him getting teased by other children for his “weird” food.  He begged me once to let him have a “normal” lunch, so I asked him what he wanted, which was a baloney sandwich.  I bought the stuff and made him a sandwich, which he said later was “awful.”  In fact, other children, presumably not the ones teasing him, routinely wanted to trade away some processed food item their parents had given them for his fruit.  On the same note, I had a friend who complained that she couldn’t get her very young daughter to eat anything but Spaghetti O’s.  My question to her was how would her daughter have developed a taste for something if she hadn’t introduced it to her in the first place.  And yes, there are outside influences.  My son would sneak soda pop when out with his friends, but to this day he eschews sugary drinks and declines fast food.  And as he grew up with a mother who cooked everything from scratch and who taught him how to cook, he has become an excellent home cook himself, providing a variety of nutritious foods for his daughter.

We learn much, one way or the other, from our parents and continue with those practices throughout our lives.  If all we present to our children at breakfast, lunch and dinner is processed food, fast food and soda pop, their palates and bodies will develop a hankering for the stuff and they won’t be able to fully appreciate the subtler flavors of home cooked food.  What they’ll want is fat, sugar and salt.  I offered up a recipe last week that I thought would be good for a school lunch, a savory bread salad.  One response suggested that my offering would most likely end up in the garbage can as no child would want to eat it.  Again, if a child is never exposed to the flavors of ripe, organic tomatoes, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil, they’ll be more likely to prefer something they are used to, like pizza or a hamburger, or something else they saw advertised on television.

I know people work long and hard, which makes it more difficult to cook, but it can be done, even if one has to do a week’s worth of meals during the weekend.  But baring a refrigerator full of home cooked meals, one can easily prepare an omelet and salad in under 15 minutes.  I think that if parents are unsure of their cooking abilities or lack nutritional knowledge they should take the time to teach themselves.  Clearly, aside from the advantages to our own health and the health of our children by providing nutritious food we’re also ensuring nicely plump and disease free grandchildren.

Recipe of the Week

Here’s another suggestion for school lunches which is easy to prepare and nutritious.

Hummus

1 can organic garbanzo beans, well rinsed (if you want to make this more difficult and time consuming, remove the skins from each bean as it results in hummus that is much creamier)

3/4 cup of tahini

juice from two to three lemons (taste the mix after you add juice from two lemons – it may be enough)

4 large cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp. salt

Place all ingredients in a food processor and puree for about three minutes.  Taste for salt.

You can send the hummus in a container as a dip to serve with vegetables, or make a sandwich with pita, lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.

 

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No More Whole Wheat Wiener Wraps!

Harry Truman was responsible for the introduction of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) in 1946.  The goal was two-fold; to manage farm surpluses and feed school children.  As he signed the legislation, President Truman stated “that no nation is any healthier than its children or more prosperous than its farmers.”  It was economically viable and provided food to children in need.  Privatization certainly has negative connotations, as it is a means for increasing the profits of a particular corporation to the detriment of the public service it was meant to perform.  It is generally touted as a way to increase efficiency and greater accountability, although these virtues are often not in evidence.  The USDA still administers the NSLP, but in its present form it has morphed into a private system that most benefits multi-national food processing corporations and most decidedly threatens the health of the thirty million children who eat school lunches every day.  And, as you may have suspected, it’s all about the money.

“In European countries and Japan, national governments provide most of the money for schools…But in the United States the federal government provides less than 7% to elementary and secondary school districts, [ leaving] each state to figure out how to fund the rest,” according to a report by Noreen Connell.  Since European governments provide the funds for school lunches, they control what goes on each plate, restricting foods high in salt, fat and sugar, and promoting fresh fruits and vegetables.  Deep fried food is also limited.  In the U.S., the NSLP simply provides commodity foods at a discount, leaving individual states and districts with the task of what to do with the food and how to pay for it.  In steps Aramark, Sodexo and Compass Group, the three major food industry contractors, who promise the schools under financial pressure that they can turn the lunchroom into a profitable enterprise.  The way to do that,  of course, is to serve the cheapest food, which invariably is akin to fast food.

Given the federal government’s reluctance to properly fund school lunches, and particularly because of the free lunch mandate established by the 1966 Child Nutrition Act, Lyndon Johnson recommended easing the tacit ban by food service professionals allowing commercial operators in school kitchens.  Over time, on site school kitchens that prepared nutritious meals were unable to meet the financial requirements of the unfunded Child Nutrition Act mandate and were forced to turn to pre-packaged, off-site prepared meals.  More arcane government regulations ensued over the years allowed for more choice of offerings, which led to meals consisting of hamburgers, fried chicken, French fries and pizza.  Only in the 2000s did people start to realize the consequences of the food we fed our children in schools.  Roland Zullo, currently a privatization expert at the University of Michigan, wrote a report in 2008 on the consequences of serving essentially fast food to kids in schools.  His study revealed that not only did the use of private companies to prepare lunch not result in reduced costs but also reduced test scores.  Further research has demonstrated the necessity of wholesome foods on brain development, as diets of processed foods can lower IQ.

The response to research showing the detrimental effects of feeding children processed food has been moderate, but momentum is growing.  While federal funding is still scant, the USDA does administer a Farm to School Program in which 43% of U.S. schools are involved.  The Farm to School Program, however, is grant based and on their website they admit that “the F2S grant program has already seen demand for funding far outweigh what is available.”  As of this year, only $5 million was allocated for the program.  The program is, however, a progressive attempt to “increase local food procurement for school meal programs and expand educational agriculture and gardening activities.”

But other non-profit organizations are stepping in across the country to change the food we serve our children.  The Conscious Kitchen is one such organization that dedicates itself “to a systemic transformation of school food programs” and has instigated a program in Marin City, California that services a small school where 95% of its students are eligible for free lunches.  As of this month, the Willow Creek Academy will be the first school in the country that will serve food based on the five foundational terms of the Conscious Kitchen, which are “Fresh, Local, Organic, Seasonal and Non-GMO (FLOSN).  It’s funded by local companies and sources 90% of all produce from local farmers.  The pilot program’s indicators (at Bayside MLK Academy in Marin City) were that aside from the obvious health benefits of such food, the Vice Principal reported “a 70% reduction in behavioral issues compared to the prior year, in addition to an uptick in attention span, on time arrival and attendance.”

It’s becoming more and more obvious that consumption of processed foods, which by definition are high in salt, fat and sugar, are poor substitutes for food prepared from scratch.  Progress is being made, however, and as people become more aware and educated about the positive power of sustainably grown food, we’ll all be better off.

Recipe of the Week

This salad provides a nice lunch and is quite tasty.

Panzanella

1 small loaf of any kind of French bread, cute into cubes

1 large tomato, diced

1/2 pound of provolone, diced

a handful of fresh basil, chopped

1 cup good quality pitted olives

extra virgin olive oil

red wine vinegar

Toss all ingredients and serve.  It’s best to make only an amount that will last two or three days.

 

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Don’t Worry. (about the DARK Act) Be Happy.

The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015, or the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act, has been milling about for some time now and recently passed through the House Agriculture Committee.  It was introduced by Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) and has been called “Monsanto’s dream bill” by Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.  Specifically, this legislation, if enacted into law, would negate all existing GMO labeling laws and expand the definition of “natural” to include genetically modified ingredients.  It would also essentially prohibit the USDA from setting GMO labeling regulations.  The bill probably won’t pass, as there isn’t enough Democratic backing in the Senate, and it seems unlikely that President Obama would sign such a bill.  Nevertheless, the food industry has responded to the possibility of the bill passing by spending ever greater amounts of lobbying dollars to promote it.  In 2015, Coca-Cola spent $5,500,000, PepsiCo $3,230,000, Kellogg Co. $1,330,000 and General Mills $1,180,000.  The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a lobbying arm for industrial food companies, also spent $5,000,000.  Aside from the excellent possibility that the bill can’t pass a Senate vote, the fact that a majority of Americans want GMO labeling on the food they buy really makes the provisions in the bill a moot point.

Sales of organic and non-GMO foods are expanding.  According to the Nutrition Business Journal, “sales of non-GMO products that were either certified organic…or that carried the ‘Non-GMO Project Verified’ seal increased by 80 percent [in 2013].”  Consumer Reports says that these numbers have “promoted a growing number of companies to avoid using GMOs in new products or to voluntarily reformulate existing ones so that they can sport reliable non-GMO labels.  PepsiCo, for example, sells Stacy’s Simply Naked bagel and pita chips with the Non-GMO Verified seal, [and] General Mills, which introduced a non-GMO original Cheerios cereal…also has the non-GMO product lines Cascadian Farm and Food Should Taste Good.”  Perhaps these companies are simply hedging their bets; if labeling does eventually become mandatory they’re ahead of the game, or by continuing to throw money and lobbyists at propositions to outlaw labeling they feel they can stop the movement altogether.  But the food industry, in order to make the profits they desire, must accommodate consumer demand.  According to a recent Gallup poll, 45% of Americans “actively try to include organic foods in their diets.”  And awareness is growing.  Steve Holt, a food writer, acknowledges the 45% figure and also states that of those 45% “20 percent said they are ‘very/extremely concerned’ about GMOs [which is] up from 15 percent in 2011.”  Ironically, the failed attempts to pass labeling laws in California, Oregon and Colorado, for example, which the media covered extensively, most likely led to increased consumer awareness.

In other words, the DARK Act doesn’t threaten as much as it did when first introduced in 2014, simply because it has no control over what people want.  This isn’t about whether or not GMOs are harmful, and it may not even be rational, but the fact remains that public awareness concerning the dangers of GMOs (again, real or imagined) and the pesticides they require is growing and will continue to grow.  Harry Balzer, author of Eating Patterns in America, says that “GMOs have been an issue for some time now.  We are once again seeing more American adults concerned than not.  I expect the market to follow those concerns.”

Recipe of the Week

Chicken in Tomatillo Sauce

I’ve been making this dish for years and have of late made it better.  It’s easy, but time consuming, and definitely depends on organic ingredients to make it superior.

1 organic chicken, cut up and skinned.  Toss the skin and freeze the back and wings for stock.

1.5 lbs. fresh tomatillos, husks removed

Put the chicken pieces in a soup pot and just cover with cold water.  Add about 2 tsps. salt.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.  Remove the pieces and let cool.  Put the whole, husked tomatillos in the soup pot and simmer for about 20 minutes until they’re soft and pale green.  Puree the lot.  When the chicken is cool enough to handle, tear smallish pieces off the bone and add to the soup pot.  Simmer until you get the thickness  you want.  If you’re serving over rice, it can be less thick, but I usually serve it with corn tortillas and so wait until it’s thick enough not to be soupy.  Taste for salt.

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Coca-Cola Wants You to Exercise. A Lot.

Since the late 1990s the amount of full calorie soda consumed by the average American has dropped 25%.  That’s a huge decline, most assuredly brought about by increased awareness that soda pop plays a major role in obesity. Coca-Cola, indisputably the top dog seller of sweetened drinks in the world, is fighting back, and its efforts are clearly spelled out in a recent New York Times article.  In 2008, Coca-Cola set up the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN), whose chief message appears to be that exercise is the key element in fighting obesity, not calorie consumption.  Their web page utilizes the words, “science,” “scientists” and “scientific” repeatedly in a desperate attempt to disseminate their message.  “Coca-Cola’s sales are slipping and there’s this huge political and public backlash against soda, with every major city trying to do something to curb consumption, said Michele Simon, a public health lawyer.  This is a direct response to the ways that the company is losing.  They’re desperate to stop the bleeding.”  Dr. Freedhoff of the University of Ottawa, speaking on Coca-Cola’s campaign, says “the message is that obesity is not about the foods or beverages you’re consuming, it’s that you’re not balancing those foods with exercise.”  Putting aside the ramifications of this nefarious public relations scheme by Coca-Cola, their assertion that one can balance consumption of calories from soda and other popular items in a typical American diet with exercise is false and unrealistic.

Given “that processed foods account for more than 50% of the average daily caloric intake of American consumers,”  according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans position statement, they also account for “52% of saturated fat, 75% of added sugar, and 57% of added sodium,” here’s what it would take to exercise all of that away.  The phrase “calories in, calories out” is a simple way of understanding the principles of weight management.  In order to maintain your current weight you need to burn off the calories you’ve ingested that day.  Obviously weight factors in as to how many calories you burn off, as well as the type and duration of the exercise.  But if you weigh 150 lbs., for example, and ate a large doughnut after breakfast, or for breakfast, you would have to swim for 35 minutes, or walk for close to an hour, or go to a yoga class for an hour.  If you eat a couple of pieces of pizza after that doughnut,  you’ll have to add another hour of swimming to burn that off.  Or if you choose, like millions of Americans, to have a fast food lunch of a burger and fries, that would require a few more hours of exercise.  And that Coke, if it’s 20 ounces, would take a 55 minute walk to burn off the 240 calories it contains.

If exercise is your full time job, then go for it.  But The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did their annual report last year, polling 450,000 American adults ages 18 and older across all 50 states.  There were some geographic differences – fewer adults exercised in West Virginia and Tennessee, and more in Colorado – but overall the CDC estimated that “80% of adult Americans do not get the recommended amounts of exercise each week.”  The recommended amounts are 2.5 hours of moderate exercise (walking) each week and one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous exercise (swimming, chopping wood, push-ups).  For most people, it’s difficult to fit this amount of exercise into their daily schedules, particularly if they must work long hours to support a family.

Coca-Cola recently ran an on-line ad saying that a 140 lb. person would have to bike for 23 minutes to burn off a 140 calorie Coke.  This may be true, but a recent Gallup poll revealed that those who drink soda usually consume more than one glass a day, and 48% of Americans drink soda every day.  Again, not many of us can take the time to exercise the recommended amounts, let alone the hour it would take to burn off the calories from 20 ounces of soda.

The New York Times article exposed the funding by Coca-Cola of  the various institutions involved in their project, and spoke of the “$4 million in funding for various projects to two of the organization’s [GBEN] founding members.”  The article mentions Marion Nestle, author of “Soda Politics,” who said “the Global Energy Balance Network is nothing but a front group for Coca-Cola.  Coca-Cola’s agenda is very clear:  get these researchers to confuse the science and deflect attention from dietary intake.”  It takes just a bit to find it, but on the GEBN website they disclose “an unrestricted gift from the Coca-Cola Company.”  And this was not added until the previously mentioned Dr. Freedhoff “wrote to the organization about its funding.”

I think Coca-Cola is fighting a losing battle, but they have a lot to lose by investing almost entirely in sugary drinks.  They sell bottled water as well, but that business has its own set of problems.

Recipe of the Week

It’s been hot, so I’ve been doing a lot of grilling.  I wanted to grill some salmon, but realized I didn’t have the coals so had to come up with something quick.  The result was tasty and easy.

Baked Salmon with Garlic, Basil and Olive Oil

roughly 1 lb. of wild salmon filet, skin on

2 very large cloves of garlic minced

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Mix all the ingredients except the salmon in a baking pan.  Add the salmon, spread the mixture evenly over the fish and then situate the salmon skin side down.  Cover with foil, and bake in a 350 degree over for at least 30 minutes.  Check to see if it’s cooked, and add more time if you must.  It can also rest on the top of the stove after baking for a few minutes to cook more.  Serve over plain, white rice.

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A Hershey’s Kiss and the Power of the Marketplace

We as consumers, collectively, have a great deal of power to affect change in the marketplace, albeit with incremental steps.  A campaign to force General Mills to produce Cheerios cereal without the use of GMOs was successful, and we now have not one, but two burgers available at Carl’s Jr. that use sustainable beef, which was brought about by that company responding to consumer demand.  But we obviously have much more work to accomplish.  I recently came across information that pointed out a nearly 50% increase in the use of children as laborers/slaves in the cocoa industry worldwide.  Given that child labor abuses in this industry have long been acknowledged, and with the implementation of the Harken-Engel Protocol in 2001, this figure of a 50% increase is surprising.  The protocol, which was a collaboration between the Chocolate Manufacturers Association and political will, was intended to assure consumers that chocolate companies were acting ethically and actively ending forced and trafficked child labor in their cocoa supply lines.  It has apparently failed.

Cocoa is a huge industry, particularly in Western Africa, and the crop is grown primarily for export.  Sixty percent of the Ivory Coast’s export revenue comes from cocoa, and as world demand for the crop increases, so has the demand for cheap cocoa.  On average, cocoa farmers earn less than $2 a day and so must rely almost exclusively on child/slave labor.  And it’s dangerous work.  Children are required to use chainsaws to clear forests, machetes to cut bean pods and then carry 100 lb. bags through the forest.  Many of these children are sold to cocoa farmers and end up working for years on the farms. The Harken-Engel Protocol was set up to address the problem of child slavery in the West African cocoa industry and was signed by the manufacturer’s association, the World Cocoa Foundation, Hershey’s, M&M Mars, Nestle and a host of cocoa processors.  It was apparently a publicity stunt as the response in Africa to it was simply to become more secretive.  Journalists are denied access to farms, and in 2010 Ivorian government officials detained three journalists after they published an article exposing corruption in the cocoa industry.  And in a particularly egregious incident, the Ivorian First Lady’s entourage kidnapped and killed a journalist who was reporting on cocoa industry corruption.

Not all of the blame, however, can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the West African governments or large chocolate companies.  According to reporting done by The Nation in 2014, “the global agricultural trade is structured to ensure that the most savage forms of resource extraction are linked into the most sophisticated commodities markets.  Under this system, farmers are denied control over their production process and cannot negotiate fair prices or wages in the global market place.”  The article points in particular to “agribusiness behemoths like Barry Callebaut, Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland,[which] dominate commodities markets, [and] is a result of the dismantling of the Glass-Steagall Act and the subsequent signing by President Bill Clinton of the  Commodity Futures Modernization Act (CFMA) into law.”  Repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act has resulted in more U.S. taxpayer money going into speculation while the CFMA opened the door for risky business operations and the deregulation of derivatives.  As the cost of food rose over the globe due to increases in prices of food commodities as a result of the CFMA and partial repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, the number of people in extreme poverty rose as well, including the cocoa farmers of West Africa.  That the Ivory Coast’s exportation of cocoa accounts for 60% of that market is due entirely to the increase in commodity price for that market, over which the cocoa farmer has no control.  Demand for cocoa exists and so it becomes a commodity to be traded and sold rather than as a means, as well, of providing individual farmers with a living wage.

We’ll leave the work of re-instating the Glass-Steagall Act to Elizabeth Warren, who has stated that “the new Glass-Steagall Act…would reduce ‘too big’ by dismantling the behemoths.”  What we as individuals can do is satisfy our chocolate cravings by purchasing only those bars labeled with a “direct trade” certification.  This mark ensures that middlemen and commodities traders are not involved, and although the price is higher, you’ll not be contributing to an increase in child labor.

Recipe of the Week

This is a most simple recipe only requiring time.  It’s a great thing to make for the week ahead as it can be used for tacos or sandwiches.

Roast Pork

2 to 3 lbs of pork shoulder

1 tbls dried oregano

1 tbls dried thyme

1/2 tsp salt

a few grinds of fresh black pepper

Turn the oven on to 275.  Rub the roast on the non-fat sides with the spice mixture.  Place it in a roasting pan, uncovered,and cook for about 3 hours, turning every 45 minutes.  Remove most of the fat, slice up and serve.  Can easily be reheated.

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Two Reasons to Avoid Imported Seafood

It’s estimated that 86% of the seafood consumed by Americans is imported, and most of that comes from China, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, and is largely farmed.  It has long been established that seafood, particularly shrimp and salmon, originating out of these aquafarms is toxic.  Aquafarms in Asia are unregulated and have operation standards that fall below American standards.  According to Jessica Johnson of Louisiana State University, “shrimp farmed in Asia and sold in U.S. grocery stores contain significant residues of antibiotics that are administered as part of intensive aquaculture in the countries they originate from  – drugs that are banned for this use in the United States, but that may not be detected when the shrimp are imported.”  Johnson’s testing of foreign shrimp revealed the presence of four drugs:  choloramphenicol, an early antibiotic that’s been linked to the development of aplastic anemia, malachite green, a dye used as a fungicide and has been shown to cause liver tumors, nitrofurons, a known carcinogen and fluoroquinolones, a class of antibiotics which includes the commonly prescribed Cipro.  All of these drugs are banned for use in food-producing animals in the U.S.  The FDA’s ability to detect toxins in imported fish is limited by a lack of funds, and so only a small fraction of contaminated seafood is detected.  In fact, the FDA routinely tests fewer than 2% of imported seafood.  Aquafarms, however, present only one reason not to consume seafood from foreign sources.  The existence of slave labor, recently discussed in an article in The New York Times, is a major consideration and “nowhere is the problem more pronounced than…in the South China Sea, especially in the Thai fishing fleet.”

Countries that engage in trafficking and slave labor, such as North Korea, Syria, Russia, Iran, Venezuela and Zimbabwe are considered Tier 3 countries which the U.S. condemns and imposes economic sanctions to deter these practices.  Thailand, however, also a Tier 3 violator, enjoys good relations with the U.S.  In 2013, the U.S. imported $1.1 billion worth of tuna and shrimp from Thailand.  The New York Times article concentrated on open sea fishing operations, so the fish is wild and presumably safe to eat, but the conditions for thousands of young men, most from Burma and Cambodia, are appalling and even deadly.  The Thai fishing industry also provides much of the seafood used in American brand pet foods.

The Tier 3 ranking and a federal law making it illegal to sell products in the U.S. that have ties to slavery have apparently not deterred Walmart, Sysco, Albertson’s, Safeway and Kroger from selling Thai seafood.  And at least three American pet food companies were named in The New York Times article – Meow Mix, Fancy Feast and Iams.  None of these companies responded to requests for comment, and it is apparent by increased media exposure that they must be aware that the Thai fishing industry is engaged in slave labor.  Indeed, after being rescued from a slave ship this year, a young man from Burma testified before a congressional hearing.  He said, “I want to say to the congressmen that if I were to mention all the human skulls and bones from fishermen who died, the sea would be full of Burmese bones.  On behalf of all the fishermen here, I request the congressmen that the U.S. stop buying all fish from Thailand.  If the label says Thailand, the U.S. should stop buying it.”

This is how it works.  Desperate young men and boys are lured away from home with promises of jobs.  Once in Thailand, they are sold to ship captains and can remain on the boats for years.  They are generally fed rice with a little fish once a day, often work 16-18 hours a day and are routinely beaten for minor infractions.  If sick, they are thrown overboard, and those rescued claim to have witnessed murders aboard the ships.  An AP report, issued in March of this year, described 20-22 hour shifts and unclean drinking water.  Rescued slaves told of being kicked, beaten or whipped with toxic stingray tails if they complained or tried to rest.  Many of these captives are as young as 15 years old.

In addition to toxic farming methods and a slave trade that involves approximately 50,000 men and boys, the illegal fishing industry is also responsible for depleting the world’s fishing grounds.  Another New York Times article published on July 28 recorded the successful effort of Sea Shepherd, an environmental organization, in stopping the Thunder, apparently “the world’s most notorious fish poacher.”  Thunder was one of only five ships in the world to be considered responsible for the depletion of “over 90% of the ocean’s large fish like marlin, tuna and swordfish.”  The ship was a renegade, flying the flag of many countries over the years, including Britain.

It should be evident that we must pay close attention to where the seafood we consume originates in order to protect our health, the freedom of many thousands and the global seafood populations.

Recipe of the Week

This simple salad dressing proves to be quite refreshing and is easy to make.

juice from 1/2 of a large lemon

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

4 grindings of fresh black pepper

1/2 tsp of good quality dijon mustard

1 large clove garlic, minced

Put all the ingredients, except the oil, in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse briefly, then very slowly pour in the olive oil.  Taste to see if more olive oil or lemon is needed.

 

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The Potential of Modernizing the Safety Assessment of GMOs

On July 2 of this year, President Obama issued a bulletin called “Improving Transparency and Ensuring Continued Safety in Biotechnology.”  It’s a seemingly benign document, but the bulletin calls for more coordination between the EPA, USDA and FDA when framing the regulatory process, but also calls for “an outside, independent analysis of the future landscape of the products of biotechnology.”  Currently, the various agencies have relied upon the principle of “substantial equivalence,” which considers basic nutritional characteristics that non-GMOs and GMOs share, as well as how they taste, look, smell and feel.  The principle of substantial equivalence was first employed in the 1970s to assess the safety of medical devices.  In the early 90s, Michael Taylor, currently the Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and formerly a lobbyist for Monsanto, established the official U.S. stance on genetically modified foods.  He embedded the notion in policy that if genetically modified food is “substantially equivalent” to non-GM food in composition, then there is no need to test it for safety or to label it.  In concert with the federal government’s stance on GMOs, the biotech industry has set up user agreements that explicitly forbid the use of the seeds for any independent research.  This is why people who advocate for the spread of genetically modified organisms can justifiably claim that no research has ever been conducted that shows GMOs to be harmful.  The only research on GE seeds that has been published has been approved by the industry.

Obama’s bulletin, then, may signal an end to the business as usual approach to the rubber stamping of any and all genetically modified plants or animals.  Back in the 90s, when GMOs were being initially introduced, most people were ignorant about them, which allowed the biotech companies to set the rules and standards.  The Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology, first introduced in 1986 and last updated in 1992, will again be updated under the terms of Obama’s bulletin.  Specifically, a newly created group, the Biotechnology Working Group Under the Emerging Technologies Interagency Policy Coordination Committee, which will include representatives from the Executive Office of the President, the EPA, the FDA and the USDA, will be assigned to take steps to increase the transparency of the regulatory systems for biotechnology products.  All of this could simply prove to be a red herring, but the more significant assignment given the group will be a provision that will require that the FDA, EPA and USDA commission external and independent analyses of new GE products.  These external studies are meant to identify risks to human health and the environment and will be re-examined every five years.  The Obama bulletin also encourages public discourse, the first such session occurring in Washington, D.C. in the fall.

That the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Trade Representative and the Council on Environmental Quality all weighed in on the bulletin released July 2 can perhaps suggest that the increasingly contentious conversation about the safety of GMOs will be given a closer look.  It also suggests that the concerns of the organic movement are being recognized and heeded.  Or it could all come to nothing, especially considering the wording of the bulletin which contains the phrase “Continued Safety in Biotechnology.”  It is, of course, far too soon to evaluate the outcome of this initiative.  That it calls for “high standards that are based on the best available science that deliver appropriate health and environmental protection” is encouraging, but its other goal, one of making the regulatory process more “efficient,” could simply be a way of giving biotech companies better and faster access to markets than they already have.  It’s all pretty tame stuff, but maybe, just maybe, it’s a start.  We’ll see.

Recipe of the Week

This is a very simple salad, one meant to accompany a more complicated entree.  I was sceptical because of the lack of fat in the dressing, but it was quite good.

Butter Lettuce with Red Onion and Black Pepper

One head of organic red butter lettuce

juice from two small limes

onion slices from 1/2 a small red onion

plenty of black pepper, freshly ground

Combine and toss.

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A Renewed Argument Against Factory Beef

In 1871, Colonel R. I. Dodge, when traveling along the Arkansas River, came upon a herd of bison that he measured to be 25 miles wide and 50 miles long.  It has been estimated that 20 to 30 million bison once dominated the American landscape.  Their numbers were so great that they essentially formed the ecosystem of the American prairie.  They did this because of their grazing habits, tending to graze in patches, revisiting some areas and ignoring others, and by consuming only dominant grasses, leaving wild flowers and other species untouched.  This method of feeding resulted in an increase of animal and plant diversity; for instance, prairie dogs flourished in land made bare by the bison, which in turn provided food for foxes, hawks and eagles.  The bison also provided the land with nitrogen which was returned to the soil in the form of urine.  Another of their habits was to roll repeatedly in exposed soil, which created wallows.  In the spring, the wallows would fill with rainwater creating temporary pools which supported other wildlife.  In short, bison created a complementary ecosystem beneficial to all.  An understanding of how this system worked has led American cattle ranchers to utilize similar grazing practices to restore an ecosystem largely destroyed by modern industrial methods which involved the creation of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).

Current reality provides incentives only for livestock weight gains which leads to management practices that maximize livestock production, leaving little room for independent ranchers to employ methods that would foster better engineering of rangeland vegetation by livestock.  Instead, the meat processing industry is now largely controlled by multinational and economically powerful companies that make it difficult for alternative producers to slaughter their animals and get their products to market.  CAFOs have replaced a system of food animal production which was integrated with crop production in ways that were beneficial to both farmers and society as a whole.  As a means of obtaining fast profits, the beef industry confines large numbers of cattle in confined spaces, an unnatural and unhealthy condition that effectively concentrates too much manure in too small an area.  Many of the problems associated with CAFOs are directly related to the storage and disposal of the manure.  These operations however, did not evolve on their own, but are a direct product of public policy.  By encouraging the growth of genetically modified corn, which has become so cheap that it is used almost exclusively by the industry as feed, CAFOs have been able to significantly reduce their costs.  Alternative production methods by independent ranchers can deliver abundant animal products while avoiding problems caused by CAFOs, but ranchers are at a competitive disadvantage as CAFOs can reduce their costs through subsidies that are provided at our expense.

And we no longer can afford the external costs of this harmful system.  CAFOs cause water and air pollution, which we pay for in the form of prevention and cleanup, they lower property values in rural communities because of environmental degradation, and we continue to see excessive antibiotic usage, making once easy to treat human diseases more costly to address.  Transforming a system that is ecologically beneficial is possible, and many ranchers have been able to produce meat efficiently by working with nature, but the federal government also needs to stop fueling the needs of a few large corporations by changing a policy that benefits only them.  Without government subsidies to factory farms, enabling them to purchase corn and soybeans below the cost of what it takes to grow the crops, it’s unlikely these factory farms could remain profitable.

Resisting the spread of GMOs does not only involve the understanding that they require excessive amounts of toxic chemicals or that the foods created could harm human health.  They are becoming so incorporated into our food system that inhumane practices such as are involved with CAFOs are supported by the federal government.  These practices are inefficient as well as being cruel.  The massive global acreage of monocrops that produce corn, soybeans and hay to feed livestock in confinement could be better managed to create diversified farms and pasture operations.

Alas, it would seem any lessons learned in this country about the damage industrial meat operations cause are being ignored abroad.  Although manure runoff is the “biggest source of water pollution  in the country,” China is set to create the world’s largest CAFO with 100,000 cows.  What we as individuals can do is refuse to consume industrially produced meat.  One can become vegetarian or support local ranchers, your choice.

But did you know that kale can actually be bad for you?

Recipe of the Week

This recipe is simple and can be adjusted according to taste.  You can add roasted peppers, raw onion, or whatever else you wish.

Mozzarella and Pesto Grilled Sandwiches

1 loaf batard (or any type of bread you choose)

1 cup pesto, either homemade or purchased

1 cup mixed, pitted olives, chopped

1/2 lb mozzerella, sliced

1 large tomato, sliced

Slice the bread lengthwise.  Spread the pesto, then add all other ingredients.  Heat a large cast iron frying pan to medium, place the loaf in the pan and weigh it down with a smaller cast iron pan.  Turn once and adjust heat downward in order to melt the cheese.

 

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The Irrationality of Increased Pesticide Use

“The Earth our home, is beginning to look like an immense pile of filth…The deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest…It is hard for us to accept that the way natural ecosystems work is exemplary:  plants synthesize nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants.  But our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products…The spread of GMO crops destroys the complex web of ecosystems, decreases diversity in production and affects the present and the future of regional economies.”

This statement provides the gist of Pope Francis’ recently released encyclical on climate change and the increasing use of pesticides on GMO crops.  Previously, in September 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved the use of 2,4 D on genetically modified corn and soybean crops, which, in conjunction with glyphosate (Roundup), is being registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as Enlist Duo.  And on the heels of the Pope’s message and the approval of Enlist Duo comes the evaluation of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that 2,4 D is, like glyphosate, “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”  Dow AgroSciences, which created the Enlist Duo mixture of chemicals, like Monsanto, relies on the sale of GMO seeds and the chemicals that go with them for their profits.  Their response to the IARC assessment, then, is disingenuous at best, as they claim, falsely, that “no herbicide has been more thoroughly studied.”

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), however, disputes the EPA’s cursory testing of the combination of 2,4 D and glyphosate, stating that the “EPA overlooked both the significant potential health risks for young children and the environmental damage that would result from large-scale 2,4 D spraying.”  They go on to say that “the risk assessment documents published by the EPA contain multiple inaccuracies and significantly underestimate the real harm to human health and the environment.”  One such study employed the No Observed Adverse Effects Level standard, which indeed demonstrated that toxicity effects were not observed in adult animals, but did show toxicity effects in young animals; this part of the study was ignored.  Concurrently, the EWG noted that the EPA failed “to apply the additional safety factor of 10, as mandated under the Food Quality Protection Act, for cases in which children are shown to be more vulnerable than adults.  The animal study data clearly show that young animals are more susceptible to 2,4 D toxicity compared to adult animals.  In such a case, the 10-fold safety factor…is required by law.”  Older studies have also been ignored.  In 1992, U.S. Cancer Institute scientists found that “frequent use of…2,4-dicholorophenoxyacetic acid has been associated with 2 to 8-fold increases of non-Hodgkins lymphoma in studies conducted in Sweden, Kansas, Nebraska, Canada and elsewhere.”

Aside from the consideration of concrete evidence that these pesticides harm human health, it should stand to reason that increasing the use and variety of pesticides is not rational.  It has long been established that spraying a pesticide repeatedly selects for weeds which also resist the chemical.  In response, ever more resistant weeds are then bred, able to withstand increasing amounts, and often different forms, of pesticides.  In 2013, Food & Water Watch produced a study called “Superweeds.  How Biotech Crops Bolster the Pesticide Industry,” which showed that as weeds developed resistance to a particular pesticide farmers reacted by applying more pesticides.  They found a 10-fold increase in pesticide use from 1996 to 2012.

Pope Francis, as well as the Dalai Lama, are simply trying to bring a greater awareness of the dangers GMO crops inflict on the planet and human beings.  One need not be a scientist to recognize that the increased use of pesticides  world wide threatens human health, the environment and local economies.  Rick Santorum infamously has stated that Pope Francis should “leave science to the scientists,” and focus instead on “theology and morality.”  Jeb Bush, in his response to the Pope’s encyclical, said that “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people.”  I would argue that curtailing the use of potentially dangerous chemicals that are seeping into the ground, water and food falls decidedly into the camp of what’s moral or what would make us better as people.  The continued expansion of GMO crops and their dependence on ever increasing amounts and types of chemicals does nothing but line the pockets of Dow Chemical, Monsanto, et. al.  The Catholic Church continues to be on the wrong side of many issues, but this harmless encyclical is not one of those times.

Recipe of the Week

Grilled Flat Iron Steak Burritos with Black Beans

If possible, it’s best to use grass fed beef.  One of the advantages is that marinating the meat before grilling isn’t necessary, as grain fed meat is more stringy, which has to do with the animal’s inability to process grains effectively.

1 lb. grass fed flat iron steak

1 onion, sliced

1 bell pepper, sliced

6 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

4 jalapenos, minced (optional)

Rub the meat with salt and pepper and grill for 2.5 minutes per side.  Let sit for 5 minutes before slicing.

Saute the onion, hot peppers and bell pepper in 2 tbls. olive oil until soft.  Add the garlic and cilantro, cook for 30 seconds more and turn off the heat.

You can cook a small batch of black beans or use a can of organic beans, well rinsed.  Slice the meat, add the beans and cooked vegetables and roll up in a flour tortilla.

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Big, Fat Chickens

You can walk into any large grocery store and buy a factory raised whole chicken for about $1.50 a pound.  Chickens raised on sustainable local farms currently cost close to $3.00 a pound, or more if they are organically raised.  To someone on a budget, purchasing the cheaper chicken would seem obvious, but there are hidden costs.  Consumers are more and more demanding that animals bred for food be treated humanely and the poultry industry is responding, but only with lip service.  Given the business model of the confinement method of raising chickens that was established in the late 1950s, it’s virtually impossible to treat these animals humanely or without antibiotic treatment, even if front-of-package advertising claims otherwise.  Waste treatment for factory farms is also a problem environmentally, and one that hurts us all.

The poultry industry prides itself on “vertically integrated” practices, which simply means that one entity, a corporation, controls all aspects of production, from how the chickens are bred and raised to how they are sold.  This method is a profitable one, and allows these large corporations to control nearly 100% of the multi-billion dollar annual market.  Individual farmers do participate in these large-scale operations, but have no control over any phase of production.  The poultry companies provide farmers with chicks and feed, and also put farmers under contracts which force them to raise the birds in confinement houses which can hold tens of thousands of chickens.  The chickens are bred to grow fast (from chick to meat in seven weeks) and large.  The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that a similar rate of growth in humans would result in a 6.6 lb. baby weighing 660 lbs. after 2 months.  The consequences of these vertically integrated practices result in cruelty, and conditions that contribute to easily transmitted diseases, such as the recent outbreak of bird flu.  And although the disease currently is not easily transmitted to humans, some epidemiologists believe that bird flu is only a mutation or two away from a strain that spreads easily from person to person.  At the very least, an outbreak can have severe effects on local economies.  Two farmers recently decided to expose conditions at their farms; Carole Morison, a Maryland resident who was under contract with Perdue, the nation’s third largest chicken producer, and Craig Watts of North Carolina, who is under contract with Perdue but who is suing the company for “intimidation.”

Craig Watts has been raising chickens (700,000 a year) for Perdue for some 20 years.  Late in 2014, he decided to allow Compassion in World Farming to film conditions at his farm.  As is reported in an article in the Washington Post, “Perdue labels all of its chickens as humanely raised.”  Perdue has since removed the “humanely raised” statement from its packaging as part of a settlement of a suit brought by the Humane Society of the United States, which is entirely insignificant as it does nothing to improve the conditions under which the chickens live.  Leah Graces, the U.S. director of Compassion in World Farming, appears in the film with Craig Watts.  She issued a statement concerning what she saw:  “Americans think they are buying chickens raised in idyllic pasture when the meat is labeled ‘natural.’  But what they are actually buying are chickens raised on a bed of feces-filled litter that hasn’t been changed for years.  They are buying chickens bred to get big, so fast they can’t stand on their own two feet.  They are buying chickens raised in dimly lit warehouses, who never will see the light of day except when coming from the hatchery or heading to slaughter.”  What Ms. Graces doesn’t mention is that the farmers themselves are abused by the conditions of their contracts.  They are frequently told to buy more chicken houses, which can cost approximately $200,000, the cost of which contributes to a debt load that is insurmountable.  A National Contract Poultry Growers Association study from 2001 calculated that 71% of chicken farmers live on or below the poverty line.

Carole Morison has a slightly different story to tell about her contractural relationship with Perdue.  She was featured in the 2008 documentary, Food, Inc., and has, with her husband, gone on to create a humanely run chicken farm.  Perdue cancelled the contract with the Morison’s after they had refused, at the company’s behest, to completely shield their chickens from any contact with fresh air or sunlight.  In this interview, Ms. Morison describes the conditions on their farm as dictated by Perdue.  She speaks of the fear farmers have of losing their contracts when under the pressure of debt, the pain and suffering of the chickens because of how they are bred and raised, as well as the financial difficulties they endured because of their contract.

None of this information is new, but it bears repeating as there seems to be no end in sight of these corporate enterprises.  And these conditions are not limited to chicken farms, but exist in every large operation involving meat animals.  And although the problems of these farms did not mention environmental concerns, it has also long been recognized that Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) contribute to global warming and a host of health problems associated with tainted water and air.  Especially considering the study conducted by Professor Elliott Campbell demonstrating that 90% of Americans could be fed entirely by food grown or raised within 100 miles of their homes (as discussed in the post, How the Demise of Agribusiness Would Save us All, June 10), we need to consider alternatives.  The business model for industrially raised chickens is cruel, disgusting, harmful to the farmers, and dangerously bad for the environment.  Buy local.

Recipe of the Week

This recipe is perfect for this time of year, as the ingredients are seasonal, and in our case, at least, local.

Grilled Salmon Salad with Blueberries and Goat Cheese

1 pound of wild Chinook salmon

1 cup fresh blueberries

1/3 pound goat cheese

mixed wild greens

sugar snap peas

carrot

radishes

extra virgin olive oil

red wine vinegar

The salmon needs no treatment.  Simply grill it until just cooked, about 15 minutes.  Let cool.  Mix all other ingredients, dress with a sprinkle of oil and vinegar and serve.

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