Stacking Functions Garden


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Round-up resistant weeds

The NY Times (via Cornucopia Institute) today had a story about Round-up resistant weeds:

“It is the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen,” said Andrew Wargo III, the president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts.

There is one [small] positive aspect to this:

The superweeds could temper American agriculture’s enthusiasm for some genetically modified crops. Soybeans, corn and cotton that are engineered to survive spraying with Roundup have become standard in American fields. However, if Roundup doesn’t kill the weeds, farmers have little incentive to spend the extra money for the special seeds.

Fortunately for now, the problem does not appear to be widespread.  But we all know how evolution works, and our current factory-scale agriculture is contributing to a faster-than-normal evolving of weeds, bugs, and other problems that people have been dealing with for millennia.  And the main problem with that is: we’re creating problems faster than we can solve them.

Anyway, here’s the article on Round-up resistant weeds.

Update, 5 May 2010: Marion Nestle of the excellent blog Food Politics explains the science of how weeds become resistant to glyphosate (Round-up).


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Updates

As it turns out, starting a new job takes a lot of energy out of a person.  I have so much I want to share with you but I need to condense it all into one marathon post here tonight.  So without further ado, I think I’ll start with two books I’ve just [sorta] finished:

Food Politics
How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health
by Marion Nestle

I started this book, but just didn’t finish it.  It was interesting, but much of the information is similar to information on the author’s blog.  In many ways, this information is well-suited to a blog because she can point to what the government, the USDA, and food corporations are doing RIGHT NOW to influence nutrition and health.  I highly recommend the blog, and I recommend the book if you’re really interested in policy, politics, and getting really depressed about the effects of lobbying on America’s government.

Bones
Recipes, history and lore
by Jennifer McLagan

The pictures in this book would have completely done in the vegetarian Jennifer of yesteryear.  I found them highly entertaining, now.  Most of these recipes look really amazing.  But the amount of effort involved for many of them is a little more than I or even SuperDad Adam can really handle.  First of all, they involve going to a butcher and ordering special cuts of meat that have — guess what? — bones in them.  Big bones.  Little bones.  BONES BONES BONES.  As it turns out, cooking meat on the bone imparts extra flavor and nutrition into the meat.  Good stuff all around.  I copied down a couple of the recipes in here that I hope to get around to trying:  Millennium Rib Roast (if I can find a 4-rib standing rib roast), Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic (really!), and Grilled Quail with Sage Butter (this one makes me feel a bit squeamish because it calls for breaking each bird’s breastbone, yet it looks really delicious).  I think I’ll leave the pigs’ feet recipe alone for now, thanks.

Moving on, I have been linking to the Cornucopia Institute just about every week, haven’t I?  I am so glad that I added them to my RSS reader.  Today they released a report about manure digesters on factory dairy farms, written by a Wisconsin dairy farmer, that includes this gem:

Numerous studies by Tom Kriegl of the UW Center for Dairy Profitability have shown that the most efficient dairy operations have less than 100 cows, mostly outside and eating grass — yet, such a family farm is not large enough to qualify for taxpayer support and does not create enough manure to require a methane digester.

As long as my tax dollars and those of other organic sustainable farmers are being used to bankroll schemes that just increase pollution for more corporate profit, there will be no economic recovery. Indigenous communities developed “earth-friendly” farming methods that kept our planet healthy for thousands of years. Many of these practices are being incorporated into family farming today. In fact, a recent 2008 study by 400 scientists for the United Nations International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development concluded that small-scale organic agriculture is not only the best means to feed the world, but also the best response to climate change.

(Emphasis mine.)

On the homefront, I am closing in on a 100% whole wheat, Nourishing Traditions-friendly version of my easy, no-knead bread recipe.  Should be able to post it this weekend or early next week.

Finally, I am also picking up two new books at the library tomorrow and will attempt to actually read both of them in their entirety!  They are:

Deeply rooted: unconventional farmers in the age of agribusiness by Lisa M. Hamilton and Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, the latest by local foods movement hero Michael Pollan.  His Omnivore’s Dilemma, and especially, In Defense of Food, really impacted my life and so I am looking forward to this one especially.

OK that’s all I’ve got for tonight.  Sorry for the randomness…


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Cooking with lard

Yes, you read that right.  We’ve been experimenting with lard, on and off, for a few months now.  We’ve cut really, really far back on most processed foods in our lives, but there was one thing we still needed ye olde tub of shortening for: pie crust.  Adam is semi-famous for his pie crusts, and was reluctant to trade in something that he knew worked well for the unknown.

Now the results are in: he finally made a pumpkin pie crust with lard instead of vegetable shortening, and I am telling you: it was the most delicious crust I’ve ever eaten.  Light, flakey, and the kids went crazy for it.

We also made some ginger cookies with a half lard/half butter combination last week:

They too were delicious.

I was really nervous about using lard in baked goods because when you open up the container it smells like, well, it smells like what your kitchen smells like about 4 hours after frying bacon.  Not so appetizing.  Furthermore, we tried frying with it a few times —  once for popcorn and once for fish — and it really  made the kitchen smell icky.  I have to say, though, that both the popcorn and the fish tasted really good, with no hint of bacon flavor.  Strange, yes?

Adam was reading his Ratio cookbook and Ruhlman recommends using lard only in highly-spiced baked goods — apparently that bacony flavor can come through if you make, say, simple short-bread cookies with lard.  That makes sense to me.

But what about the health implications of all this?  Well, it never would have occurred to me to seek out lard until I read about it in Nourishing Traditions last year.  You will not be surprised to learn that Fallon and the Weston A. Price Foundation recommend using lard in cooking, as well as duck fat, chicken fat, and beef tallow.  But what about the saturated fat?  Well, let’s talk about that for a minute.

First, let’s look at this simple breakdown of Crisco shortening, Spectrum Organic Shortening (which we have been using in pie crusts), and lard.  Behold, the first-ever New Home Economics TABLE:

Name Total Fat Saturated Mono-
unsaturated
Poly-
unsaturated
“Trans”
Crisco 12g 3g 3g 6g 0g
Spectrum Organic 13g 6g 5g 2g 0g
lard 12g 4.8g 5.76g 1.4g 0g

Now, keep in mind: the amounts for the lard can vary depending on the pig’s diet. I got these amounts from Nourishing Traditions, which most likely assumes that you’re getting lard from pastured/grass-fed/free-range (whatever) pigs. I bought mine from the co-op, and it comes from Grass Run Farm in Iowa.

Why the difference in saturated fat between the Crisco and the Spectrum?  Spectrum bases their shortening on palm oil, which is a highly-saturated tropical oil.  Crisco is more of the “we’re afraid to raise our saturated fat profile” line of thinking, so they rely instead on polyunsaturates.

Which leads me to my next question: what are they replacing trans-fats with, anyway? It’s not like food processors can just remove trans fat and have all their food still taste just as good.  It’s got to be replaced with something.  Searching around trying to find the answer to this led me to, among other places: a super creepy article from the “Homepage of the Food and Beverage Industry” that describes “The Four Paths to Sans Trans” — among them are replacing trans fats with interesterified fats and genetically modifying soy beans to get a soy-based oil that is friendlier to food processing.  NICE.  If the name alone doesn’t scare you, check out more info on interesterified fats.

Even if you are not a pie-making, cookie-baking fool, all of this should still concern you if you eat ANY PROCESSED FOOD AT ALL.

So yeah, you might say that I am now a lard convert.  Never thought I’d hear myself say that.  And it’s not like I’m going to start slathering it on everything I eat.  But in certain situations, it works really well, and it is MUCH less scary than the alternatives (although the Spectrum shortening is a bit less scary than the Crisco — that high polyunsaturate number in Crisco is a red flag to me).

To the people living in fear of saturated fat, think about this: our bodies need a little bit of saturated fat.  Many vitamins, such as E and D, are much easier for our bodies to assimilate if they accompany a bit of the good stuff.  On the other hand, our bodies most definitely do NOT need ANY amount of interesterified, trans, and whatever other highly-processed thing food processors want to tempt us with.  Did I mention that lard is high in vitamin D?  (So is butter, FYI.)

Finally, there are several sustainability aspects to this.  Palm oil, like that found in my Spectrum shortening, is a major contributor to deforestation in tropical areas.  Not to mention it has to be shipped all the way to the U.S., processed, and then shipped to me.  Lard is a byproduct, yo.  The lard I bought came from Iowa.  I could conceivably make lard myself, if I had the inclination.

So what do you think?  Are you willing to take the plunge and try it?  It took me a long time of staring at that container before I took a deep breath and used it, but now a little research both online and in the kitchen have turned me into a believer.

Update, November 6, 2010: I just found this article explaining more of the science behind interesterification, and also some other interesting information about saturated/trans/interesterified fats.  Check it out!

Update, February 24, 2011: Here’s a takedown of the new USDA nutritional guidelines, and some of the best questioning of the lipid hypothesis that I’ve seen in a long time.  A must-read!

Update, March 4, 2011: Wow, the mainstream media is really catching on. This was all over my Twitter feed todayCivil Eats says “If you work out the numbers, you come to the surreal conclusion that you can eat lard straight from the can and conceivably reduce your risk of heart disease.”  Awesome.

Update, February 23, 2012: Save the orangutans. Eat lard.


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What I’m reading right now

A couple things that I read today:

10 simple truths about raising healthy eaters
And one of the ten is give them raw milk!  Alas that I have no access to it.  Does anyone know a source of raw milk in the Twin Cities metro area?  The rest of the nine “truths” are mostly very simple ones, such as: kids will eventually eat their vegetables — if they see you eating your vegetables.

Gardening is EXPLODING in popularity
New research from the National Gardening Association shows that:

“Seven million more households plan to grow their own fruits, vegetables, herbs, or berries in 2009 than in 2008 — a 19 percent increase in participation.”

The full report is a pdf; click here to download it.

Coming soon: spray-on liquid glass
I have no idea what to make of this.  I’ll pull the same quote that Jason Kottke did:

The liquid glass spray produces a water-resistant coating only around 100 nanometers (15-30 molecules) thick. On this nanoscale the glass is highly flexible and breathable. The coating is environmentally harmless and non-toxic, and easy to clean using only water or a simple wipe with a damp cloth. It repels bacteria, water and dirt, and resists heat, UV light and even acids. UK project manager with Nanopool, Neil McClelland, said soon almost every product you purchase will be coated with liquid glass.

Here’s the rest.  One of the things I love about glass is how endlessly and easily recyclable it is (unlike plastic).  I’m sure there’s a horrible downside to this that I’m not thinking of, though?


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A few things

Well, the Master Gardener core course is keeping me insanely busy. I haven’t had nearly as much time as I’d like to work on the blog, so I’m going to condense a few things into one post:

Solar Shingles
Here’s a product from Dow Chemical.  Interesting… shingles embedded with photovoltaic cells that can be installed the same way asphalt shingles are currently installed.  Of course they are insanely expensive, and one other problem that I’ve always had with solar panels is they are made with some pretty toxic materials and therefore hard to dispose of at the end of their lifecycle.  Still, I can’t help but fantasize about being able to afford these next time we have to roof our house.

Yards to Gardens
A friend sent me a link to this brand new project, currently only in Minneapolis (and it looks from the map like it’s centered in the Powderhorn Neighborhood).  Have a yard that you don’t really use and would like a garden?  Like to garden but don’t have a yard?  This service matches gardeners and potential garden spots.

Barrel Depot
I’m adding a third rain barrel to my collection this spring.  We’re getting one of these beautiful oak recycled wine barrels from Barrel Depot, a Minnesota company.  I think we’ll put this one in the front since it is so much prettier than our plastic ones.

Cyclopath
I can’t remember where I heard about this new website, but it is really cool!  You type in your starting point and your destination point and it helps you find the best bike route.  It’s currently only available in the 7-county Twin Cities metro area.  I typed in my work address, and it gave me an option I hadn’t really considered before: taking 18th Ave. all the way up to the Greenway, then the Greenway across the new bike bridge over Hiawatha, then the Hiawatha trail into downtown.  It’s only 1/4 mile further than the route I take now, and it would be paved bike path for half the distance.  I’m going to try it.


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The grocery budget, part 2

Last night I opened up about how much I actually spend on groceries.  I feel a little weird about posting that for the whole world to see, honestly.  We Minnesotans aren’t exactly comfortable talking about money.  But we can’t sit around assuming that groceries aren’t a huge part of our monthly and yearly budget.  They are, and that’s why so many people cut corners on grocery costs.  But how do you cut corners without sacrificing health?  Without sacrificing environmental stewardship?

Here’s how:

That’s right, this post is going to be a loving ode to Ye Olde Bulk Section.  (The picture above is of  Seward Co-op’s bulk section, where I get most of my groceries.)  Here are just some reasons you should acquaint yourself with the bulk section:

1. Buy only as much as you need and save money.

2. You won’t pay for all the packaging with normal grocery items — and you won’t have to throw all that packaging away.

3. If you happen to live in or near at least a college-size city, there’s a good chance that it will have a natural foods co-op.  If so, you’re in luck:  co-ops have awesome bulk sections, with lots of unusual and specialty grains.

Shopping this way is not without its challenges.  The first:  come to the grocery store prepared.

Sometimes it takes me at least a solid 30 minutes to write out my grocery list and find a container for each bulk item I need.  But it’s quick work putting everything away.  We do returnable glass bottles for milk, as well.  I also bring a funnel along to make it easier to get the grains into my jars.  Here’s the bulk stuff from a typical trip:

(And my ever-present cup of coffee…)  When I first started using the bulk section, I just used the plastic bags that they make available.  But then those plastic bags started piling up at home, and they weren’t really a size I could use for anything else.  Also, if I bought (for example) flour, I would have to transfer it to a different container at home anyway.  Why not save the step and just bring the container?  I have a whole basket of containers set aside for grocery shopping.  Some are glass, some are plastic, and they are all different shapes and sizes.  The ones with the orange lids are actually from Seward Co-op; I have a collection of 9 or 10 that I keep re-using for liquid items.

If you live in south Minneapolis, the Seward Co-op is really a shining star of bulk section shopping.  Really, the co-op inspired me to shop this way.  They have things you’d expect, like grains, nuts, flours, and cereals, but then they also have cooking oils, maple syrup, honey, grind-your-own peanut and almond butter, and even various liquid soaps.  Good stuff.  Much of it is local, and all of it is substantially cheaper than what you’ll find pre-packaged on the shelves.

Of course, you have to be a list-maker in order to shop this way.  So if you don’t currently make a grocery list, that would be a good place to start.  My mind is so befuddled since I had kids, that if I don’t have a list I just stand there and stare off into space.

Confused yet? Here’s a 5-step plan to buying healthier foods at the grocery store, and saving money and helping the environment at the same time:

1. Take stock of your pantry and fridge and note what you need.  Make your list, planning at least a couple meals and stocking basics so you can come up with stuff on the fly.  (Bittman has a really great list in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.)

2. Note which things you can get in the bulk section of your local grocery store (for the love of God, choose a grocery store that has a decent bulk section), and find a suitable container in your house for each bulk item.  Doesn’t have to be anything fancy — you could even raid your recycling bins (I have).

3. Pack everything up in re-usable grocery bags and head off to the store.  Many stores will give you a $.10-$.50 discount for each bag.  Hey, it adds up!  Also, go at a time of day when you don’t have to rush.

4. In the bulk section, weigh each container and note the container weight on one of those sticky notes they provide.  Fill them up, and you’re good to go.

Here’s my pantry; I’m not one bit ashamed to show you:

Hey, I’ve got two boxes of cereal and some graham crackers up there!  (Shame on me!)  That little “irish oatmeal” tin is one of my favorite bulk refills.  I think I originally paid over $5 for that little tin of steel-cut oats.  Now I just refill it in the bulk section and it usually costs a little under $2.  (And the oats are local, rather than shipped here from Ireland.  Not that I have anything against Irish oats.)

Finally, I want to note that since I have started shopping this way I have noticed a substantial decrease in the amount of garbage and recycling items we create in this house.  REDUCE?  Check.  Much easier than recycling, in my opinion.

Part I | 2010-11 grocery budget


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Review 2009 :: Preview 2010

This has certainly been a busy year, hasn’t it?  I started this blog in February, along with several different kinds of seeds for my garden.  Both have grown considerably and one has now died.  We’re still eating tomatoes and applesauce that we’ve canned, though we will run out very soon.  We ran out of frozen raspberries a long time ago.  Here’s what we’ve accomplished, ecologically and economically speaking, in 2009:

  1. Potty-trained two 2-year-olds. I never blogged about this, but getting our kids out of diapers is my number one achievement for this year. We are thrilled to be spared from the environmental and financial hassle.  Yes, I considered cloth diapers instead of disposable, but I just never got to it (now exercising my mother-of-multiples excuse).  I feel guilty about it, but life goes on.
  2. Started seeds indoors for the first time. This spring was my first attempt, and I learned a few things.  For 2010: peat pots all the way, and I am also going to make my own “kits” instead of buying one.
  3. Attempted milk-jug greenhouses to get plants outside earlier. Result: success!
  4. Started making our own yogurtWe use a yogurt maker, but from what I’ve read it’s really not necessary —  as long as you adjust your expectations of the resulting yogurt’s texture.
  5. Started milling our own flour. I kinda still can’t believe we do this on a regular basis now.  We’re still learning, though.  We have not had much success making bread or pastries with freshly-milled flour.  We have a rather inexpensive flour mill that grinds the wheat a little more coarsely than is ideal. For pancakes, though, it works great!
  6. Switched to dried beans instead of canned.
  7. Read Nourishing Traditions. This was, by far, the most important book I read this year.  (Completely unrelated side note: my favorite fiction was The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  It came out in 2008 but I didn’t get to it right away.)
  8. Became a complete and total fermentation maniac. From kimchi to sauer kraut to sauerrüben to taking a class on fermentation and staying late to get Sandor Katz’s autograph… I maybe went a little off the deep end on this.
  9. Canned applesauce and tomatoes for the first time. I would definitely do this again, and this winter is giving us a good idea about how much we would actually need to can in order to not have to buy any tomatoes all winter.  Hint: significantly more than we did.
  10. Purchased a CSA share.  We split a full-share with our neighbors.  I would definitely do this again.  I’ve never eaten so much fresh produce in my life.
  11. Built a new single-speed bike from a dumpster-salvaged frame. The credit for this goes to Adam, and I think we’re going to see more bikes like this from him in 2010.

And now 2010 is going to be even busier.  Here are just a couple things I’ve got planned:

  1. Hennepin County Master Gardener program. My core course starts January 12, and I’ll be volunteering with various projects all year long.  I won’t be able to officially call myself “Master Gardener” until 2011 (I think), but for this year I get to be a “Master Gardener Intern” which is still very cool.
  2. Continue my project of re-thinking how I get groceries. This might seem strange, but I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how we buy and store food, and ways to make it more sustainable, healthy, and save some money in the process.  There will be a big post coming up on this, very soon.  Hint: it involves the bulk section.
  3. Put in a root cellar. I want to convert at least part of a closet in our basement to a root cellar.  First I need to clean it out.
  4. Add more vertical elements to my garden. Planning to build some trellises so I can grow more beans for drying.  They are easy, they fix nitrogen in the soil, and they are delicious.
  5. Add a whole new garden in the back yard. We removed some trees from the back yard in September, so now begins our back yard make-over project.  Part I: add a new garden consisting entirely of edible perennials.  Top of the list: a small cherry tree, gooseberries, and currants.  And some sort of greens — maybe lovage and/or sorrel.
  6. Continue to explore alternative transportation. I’ve already got a head start on this: running home from work when it’s too snowy to bike.  It’s definitely a good workout, but is it fun?  I haven’t decided yet.  I’m going to try it a couple more times before I write a post about it.

That’s all I can think of for now, but I’m sure other things will come up.  The Master Gardener thing is really going to dominate this year for me, so I don’t want to be too ambitious in making any plans beyond that.  I guess you could call the second list my New Year’s Resolutions, but they are more like goals.

Later this week I’m going to review Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day — this book may lead to getting rid of the bread machine once and for all.


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Book Review: Freedom Manifesto

The Freedom Manifesto
How to free yourself from anxiety, fear, mortgages, money, guilt, debt, government, boredom, supermarkets, bills, melancholy, pain, depression, work and waste
By Tom Hodgkinson

That’s a bit of a tall order, isn’t it?  Hopefully it’s obvious to anyone who picks this book up that most of the advice within should be taken with a grain of salt, and preferably, a large glass of wine.

There are so many one-liners in this book, it was hard to choose the best ones.  For example:

“I am anti-crime, but not because I morally disapprove of law-breaking — in fact, I am attracted to criminals… I am against crime because it feeds straight into the government system: for every crime committed, there is a tenfold attack on personal liberties… Therefore, the real anarchist should avoid criminal acts at all costs.”

Each chapter of this book easily stands on its own as an essay, and maybe it’s better to take them that way: some of them directly contradict each other.   For example, one chapter encourages you to embrace melancholy, while the next chapter tells you to quit whining and get on with your life.

But he doesn’t take himself too seriously.  In particular, I liked what he had to say about gardening (naturally), which he brings up many times.  He sees gardening as one of the keys to finding contentment, saving money, and —  best of all — giving the finger to supermarkets, which he piles a whole chapter’s worth of hatred on.  He also highly recommends the combination of drinking and gardening, and I can testify to that.

Hodgkinson is VERY well read.  There are no shortage of long-winded passages from many different philosophers from Nietzsche to Tomas Aquinas to the Sex Pistols.  He talks endlessly about the wonders of “being idle” but it is very clear that he actually keeps quite busy.  It’s just that he’s busy doing the things he wants to do (such as gardening, baking bread, drinking, and reading).

So how does one go about achieving this elusive freedom?  Basically, it’s about embracing thrift so that you don’t have to work so damn hard.   Quit your job and work part-time.  Sell your car.  Ride a bike.  Plant a garden.  Throw out your television. Give up the bourgeois ideals of career and large home, embrace simple pleasures.  (The sustainability aspect of this is also not lost on him.)

One of Hodgkinson’s central arguments is that people actually knew a lot more about personal freedom in the middle ages than they do today.  Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  But many aspects of medieval society did encourage more personal freedom:  for example, charging interest for loans was a sin — usury — punishable by the church.  Think about that for a minute.

I’m not so sure that life was a giant party in the middle ages, as Hodgkinson seems to think, but we have in many ways lost sight of things that medieval people valued, and we constantly sell ourselves short by accepting crappy food, crappy jobs, and crappy entertainment without question.

Hodgkinson has a real problem with the Reformation (in a hilarious way), and tears down all those pillars of common [puritan] sense, from John Calvin to Benjamin Franklin, of whom he says this (in a chapter about throwing away your watch):

“Time and money, which the medievals tried to hard to keep separated, have come together into one thing.  How did the change happen?  Well, as in other areas, I am going to blame that dastardly toiler and moralist Benjamin Franklin, who invented or expressed an entirely new way of thinking about time in the eighteenth century.  Time was no longer a gift from God.  Now, time was money.”

Some other advice that I absolutely loved:
– Instead of worrying about how clean your house is, turn off the lights and dine by candlelight
– Throw out your TV and spend the money you save on alcohol
– Don’t waste your time being jealous of rich bankers, because they’re going to hell anyway.  They deserve your pity (see the sin of usury, above).

I loved the irreverance of this book.  The only thing that made me a little bit sad and bitter was this fact: England, the home country of the author, has a much more hospitable environment for being a part-time freelance worker for the simple fact that they have national healthcare.

But just because I must continue to work does not mean I can’t live for every moment outside of work that is available to me.  As Hodgkinson says (quoting William Blake), “Indeed, the manacles are mind-forg’ed.”

Why NOT embrace thrift?  Why NOT embrace community?  I love it.


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Movie review: The future of food

tortilla

I knew I was going to be angry when I watched this movie.  The Future Of Food was made in 2004, so it is a bit of a pre-cursor to movies like Food, Inc and Fresh.

The main focus of this movie is genetically modified foods, and there is more than enough bad news here to fill a full-length documentary.  They discuss the process for how scientists get cells to accept these new genes: apparently, the genes have to be attached to some sort of virus that will invade the cell and set up shop.  The cell is altered in many ways other than just the addition of the new trait.

Is this a necessarily bad or dangerous?  The problem is:  we don’t know.  We have no idea.  They’ve done very little testing, and some studies that have shown negative effects on animal test subjects have been immediately squashed by industry.

The film explores many of the aspects of these wide and varied problems.  Among them:

Because the US allows patents on living organisms, Monsanto (our major agriculture corporation) owns the rights to all these plants.  But unfortunately plants reproduce themselves.  So once that seed is out in the world, if it accidentally spreads to your yard, Monsanto can hold you liable for growing their product without a license.  Several farmers are interviewed who have been sued for this very thing.

The very fact that these plants are reproducing themselves out there in the world is also a huge problem.  Stands of old-world strains of corn, wheat, etc. are being contaminated.  In the film they test some corn in a remote location in Mexico (a country which is fighting HARD against GMO’s).  They find some of the mutant Monsanto genes in the corn.

This is especially scary since Monsanto currently holds patents on several genes known as “terminator genes.”  These render all seeds that a plant produces sterile.  Hence, you can’t save seeds to re-use them for next year. You must buy next year’s seed.  Imagine the consequences if these became widely used, and genes started spreading far and wide.  75% of farmers in the world save and re-use seed.  You think we have starvation issues now?

When the film was made, five years ago now, the fight against GMOs was in its infancy in the US.  I’d like to think we’ve made some progress.  However, GMOs still do not require labelling, which would be such an important first step towards creating a database of known reactions to them.

If you feel anywhere near as passionately about this as I do, please check out the Institute for Responsible Technology for more information.


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Thrifty, or just plain cheap, or… DUTCH

I grew up with a very, um, thrifty Dutch dad so I got quite a few laughs out of this book review on salon.com.  Laura Miller issues a call to rediscover the joys of penny pinching.  The book is In Cheap We Trust: The Story of a Misunderstood American Virtue, by Lauren Weber.

The author apparently attempts the very noble goal of a call to thriftiness while seemingly avoiding sounding like a puritan (or a scrooge).  Miller says:

‘The heart of Weber’s book lies in its more contemporary chapters and her advocacy for what she calls “ethical cheapness.” This blend of environmentalism, anti-consumerism, social justice and old-fashioned parsimony asks both “Do I really need this?” and “What other costs — to the planet, to workers, to myself — lie hidden in this product I’m considering buying?” ‘

Adding this to my want to read list now.  Read the entire review for yourself here.  And yeah in case you haven’t heard, the Dutch are kind of renowned for their, uh, thriftiness.  I think “sustainability” sounds much more sexy, don’t you?