Sustainable food — on the airwaves

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I recently got a chance to speak to the radio audience of Health Podcaster, on eHealthRadio.  The interview is saved, so if you’re interested in hearing an overview of the food and environment issues, go here.

Like you, I feel that promoting sustainable food and agriculture is a mission. If you’re on the busy end of the time spectrum, you support the movement by buying organic when you’re in the grocery story anyway. If you have a bit more time, you frequent farmers’ markets as well. It doesn’t take a lot of time to tend one’s tomato plants, and the really dedicated grow zucchini, lettuce, peas, beans, and more at their residences.

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Then there are community gardens. In my town of Lafayette, CA, a new community garden opened up last year. Check it out here!

Fish are disappearing

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It’s natural to think that there are always more fish in the sea, but our modern fishing methods – which are more like floating industrial packing factories – are scooping up millions of tons of fish. Did you know that trawlers may use heavy nets that reach the ocean bottom to scrape up everything in their path? Such trawlers have left muddy trails so wide and so long that they can be seen from the International Space Station.

As I mentioned in my book, “Fish aren’t the only ones to suffer. Jobs disappear when fisheries go out of business from overfishing; 40,000 jobs were lost when Canada’s Atlantic cod fishery collapsed in the 1990s, and it has yet to recover. Over 72,000 jobs were lost in the Pacific Northwest due to declining stocks. In 2008 and 2009, the fishing season was closed on the West Coast.”

But the problem now faces New England states. According to John Bullard, a member of the New England Fishery Management Council, “We are headed, slowly, seeming inexorably, to oblivion… It’s midnight and getting darker when it comes to how many cod there are,” he said. “There [aren’t] enough cod for people to make a decent living.”  The article describes the anguish of fishers afraid of losing their livelihood, furious that the agency wants to set lower catch limits.

What a dilemma! But should we allow today’s fishers to exterminate the entire stock of fish? I’m reminded of the redwood debate of a decade or so ago, when a wise soul opined: “We’re going to stop cutting down redwoods. The only question is, When shall we do it? Right now, or after they’re all gone?”

What you can do: Go to Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch to see what fish are acceptable to eat, which ones are dubious choices, and which should be strictly off your menu. Better yet: say goodbye to fish altogether.

Good news about BVO

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Right after I told you about the untested and possibly harmful brominated vegetable oil (yesterday!) I got a press release from Center for Science in the Public Interest saying that PepsiCo has decided to take BVO out of its popular drink Gatorade. Wonder if  Susan Kavanagh’s petition had anything to do with it? Congratulations to her, either way.

Another additive makes headlines – flame retardant chemical in sodas

bromine water Just when you thought there couldn’t be one more unholy chemical concoction in our food, another one emerges from obscurity. BVO – brominated vegetable oil. It’s found mostly in citrus-flavored sodas, so maybe I shouldn’t say it’s in our “food” – but some of us are ingesting it anyway. And it isn’t even a new invention – according to an article in the New York Times, it’s been in food since the 1930s, and attempts to establish safe levels in humans are inadequate, so BVO has coasted on a grandfathered or interim regulatory status for decades.

And, as we are sadly aware, the U.S. is far behind other countries in protecting its citizens. BVO has not been approved in other countries, or even outright banned: European Union, India, Japan. Could they know something we don’t? One young woman, 15-year-old Susan Kavanagh, investigated this and found that Gatorade has somehow magically found a substitute formulation to sell in those other countries—but doesn’t use it here.

Interested in being heard? Susan set up an online petition to ask Gatorade to stop adding BVO. Your signature would be added to the signatures of 200,000 other people.

Just over a year ago, Scientific American weighed in on the issue and pointed out that BVO was patented as a flame retardant and can be found in 10% of the sodas in the U.S. (including Mountain Dew, Squirt, Fanta Orange, Gatorade Thirst-Quencher Orange, and Fresca Original Citrus). Joseph Mercola, a prominent physician and food activist (he made a major donation to the Proposition 37 campaign) has some eye-opening information. Bromine – the element that chemists bond with vegetable oil to make this concoction – is an endocrine disruptor, and can displace absorption of iodine, which our bodies need.

Soda is my own (very) guilty pleasure but I’ll sure check labels for BVO from now on.

Farming as a career

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In a well-deserved cultural change, the work of farming has (re)gained the respect we owe to those who literally keep us alive. And farming doesn’t seem as distant as it once did. Urban farming has been catching on for a decade or more, in cities and towns across the country. Rooftops, back yards, and patches of public land are now producing fruits and vegetables. Having made small attempts to grow tomatoes and legumes, I can attest that there’s a wealth of knowledge required, as well as patience and resilience.

The consistent boom in the organic food marketplace has been another source of interest in farming. Unlike the huge industrial growing establishments that douse land with pesticides (and all those other chemicals you know about), organic fruits and vegetables are often grown in small family farms, and journalists have in the last decade profiled numerous creative individuals and couples who are growing organically. The local food movement is a third ray in the spotlight of attention farmers are now getting, as we meet growers at farmers’ markets and roadside stands.

If you want to become a farmer, there are many helpful resources, for instance on the USDA website. Go here to read about what Christopher Weber calls “farm incubators” – university extensions, government programs, and non-profit organizations that train and support young people and also immigrants who were farmers in their countries of origin.

Weber calls his article “Boot Camp for Farmers” and the wordplay is quite appropriate. As I’ve reported before, returning war veterans are finding that farming is an open economic niche – quite a welcome change from the difficulty many of them have in finding post-military jobs. Beth Buczynski  highlights a program called Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT), where vets can learn a new career and find healing in the rhythm of the land. It’s no accident that the ancient term for peace-making is ”turning swords into plowshares.”

Wonderful recipe

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Dear friends,

Please accept this as a belated holiday gift! My niece forwarded this recipe to me, which was very thoughtful, since she is a carnivore. Surely one of the best ways we can welcome our carnivore friends and family to the world of compassionate eating is to tempt them with such delicious and versatile dishes.

Quinoa patties

Cook 1 1/2 cups quinoa in 3 cups water with 1/2 tsp salt for 25 -30 minutes.

Place in a large bowl and add:
1 cup seasoned bread crumbs (whole grain if you have them)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp salt
4 large organic genuinely free-range eggs (or ½ cup mashed silken tofu)
1 medium onion very finely minced
1-2 cloves garlic minced (optional)
1/3 cup chopped chives (chopped green onions also work)

Mix together well.  In a non-stick skillet heat 1 tbsp olive oil to low medium heat.

With wet hand place, about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of mix in pan and lightly flatten into cake to about 1/2 inch thick.   Fry till golden brown, then flip and do the same on second side. Heat may need to be turned down as pan gets hot. Take off heat while adding additional patties to avoid burning.

These can be refrigerated and microwaved when needed. At room temperature, they make good snacking, too, as my carnivore husband showed me.

If you know the author of this recipe, please let the rest of us know, so we can send to him or her some appreciation and fame!

Happy new year for people and for bees

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Let’s look forward to a time when honeybees – our little friends who pollinate so many of our food crops – are no longer dying en masse in Colony Collapse Disorder (when bees die off or simply leave the hive and never come back). Katherine Harmon of the Scientific American points out that a third of US honeybee colonies have died since 2006. Since I last wrote about bees almost a year ago, the pesticide imidacloprid, which is a neonicotinoid, was shown by separate studies in three countries to be a major cause. Go here  for a nice summary of these studies.

What you can do:

  • Choose organic food early and often, supporting farmers who work to grow food naturally and to support their ecosystems.
  • Tend your yard and garden without chemicals. One way to do this is by “companion planting” – putting certain plants next to each other for mutual benefit. For instance, chives repel aphids, while peppermint repels cabbage moths and squash bugs.
  • Host your own beehive! Even if you have a small yard or none at all, bees can fly some distance to find the flowers and pollen they need. There are many beekeeping organizations to turn to for practical advice.

The web of life – wherein we all live and depend on each other – is perfectly illustrated by our dependence on bees and the danger we cause ourselves when we contribute to their disappearance. Make 2013 the year that you make food choices to support their lives and ours.