Tag Archives: agriculture

Is Test-Tube Meat the Way of the Future?

burgerAccording to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the world’s demand for meat is expected to increase by more than two-thirds in the near future. With the human population ever-increasing and farmland continually decreasing, this demand is becoming a nearly impossible task.

What creative solutions can you think of for this dilemma? Encourage people to eat less meat? Institute measures to slow population growth? Explore new, untapped meat sources (ever tried pigeon or squirrel?)?

These humble suggestions are much too simplistic for researchers from Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Their solution? Test-tube meat! By harvesting muscle cells from a cow and combining it with a solution of sugars, fats, minerals, and proteins, Professor Mark Post and his team have created the first test-tube hamburger. Two brave volunteers tried the hamburger this morning at a private gathering in London, reporting not surprisingly that the meat lacked flavor.

The cultured meat of course lacks real fat, which is where much of the flavor comes from, as well as blood cells which leaves it an unappetizing gray color. But not to worry, the researchers added red beet juice to the mix to make it look more realistic:

test-tube-burger-2

This honestly seems like a bizarre path to go down to solve the growing global food crisis. Obviously we can no longer maintain the status quo, but might there not be simpler, more natural solutions?

In this video, the researchers and other science and technology leaders discuss the viability of the cultured meat option. In a direct counter to what our initial reaction might be, Google founder Sergey Brin states: “If what you’re doing is not seen by some people as science fiction, it’s probably not transformative enough.”

What do you think? Would you eat a test-tube hamburger? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!

Images via Cultured Beef Project

Finding Neutrality in the Genetically Modified Food Debate

GMO debate IntentI’ve been heavily involved in understanding and tracking the GMO debate for many years.  As an expert for the natural products industry, the issue of genetic modification and the role it should or should not play in natural products is a heavily debated (and litigated) topic. You need look no further than the New York Times, the Dr. Oz show, or your Facebook feed to get a dose of the emotion and polarized positions on both sides of this subject.

Over the course of these years I have come to a couple conclusions that I believe heavily influence our ability to productively communicate about this issue: 1) Despite the rapidly growing debate on this subject, there is still an incredible lack of awareness about GMO and an even bigger level of ignorance about the various topics at play under the “GMO” label, and 2) the emotional intensity this topic carries with it makes improved education, understanding and rational dialog a seemly impossible task at times.

I confess that I also feel a lot of emotion about this subject and wish for more information and understanding. I am troubled by conventional farming practices, the petro-chemical use required to keep it going and the seeming disregard for the natural wisdom of nature. I worry about the global impact the spread of these farming practices into developing countries will have not only to the health of the soil and people but to the traditional farming wisdom that will no longer be passed from generation to generation.

On the flip side, I believe that as humans we are hard-wired to experiment, research and evolve our understanding of the world. Given what I know of evolution and farming, biotechnology seems like a logical place for exploration in science. It’s in the application of this science that things start to get complicated to me. My sense is that, like most things, the best scenario for people and the planet as it relates to GMO is toward the center from either side of the extreme.

Last week I came across a series of articles that are currently posting on Grist.org attempting to do the thing I’ve been hoping I would have the ability to do myself someday – investigate and dissect this issue without emotion and understand the impact of biotechnology in food crops on human and planet health.

Like me, the reporter, Nathanael Johnson, has been wishing for a rational dissection of this issue for many years. I’ve spoken to some of the same people he’s interviewed for this series and am impressed by the depth of his research. I’ve been reading and note taking as each of his articles are published and hope that if you’re also seeking to understand this complex issue, you will take the time to read his pieces as well.

You can find a link to the first article in his series here and can find links to subsequent articles in the series at the bottom of the piece.

Like this post?

Image by Steve Rhodes

How Many Insects Do We Eat Everyday Without Knowing It?

It’s kind of hard to practice mindful living and healthy eating when you discover that even seemingly benign products like canned mushrooms and chocolate contain…wait for it…certain accepted levels of insects! Gross, right?

BuzzFeedFood released this video which gives us some perspective on just how many creepy crawlies we may be ingesting everyday without even knowing it:

Pretty distressing, indeed. But according to Food Service Warehouse, it may behoove us to eat more insects, anyways. It takes 2,850 grams of carbon dioxide (measured in grams per kilogram of mass gain) to produce beef, compared with 1.57 grams to harvest crickets. Teriyaki crickets for lunch, anyone? This is no laughing matter, though, and some current research is seriously looking into harvesting insects as a sustainable alternative to animal meat as a protein source. Here is a portion of an infographic published by Food Service Warehouse that goes into further depth on this topic. Click the image for the full graphic:

Would you be willing to switch out hamburgers and club sandwiches for locust kabobs and grilled crickets? And what about those trace amounts of maggots and other insect fragments in our chocolate, spices, apple butter, and other food products? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

photo by: CoCreatr

Ammonium Nitrate: 10 Unsettling Facts About the Chemical Involved in the Texas Plant Explosion

enhanced-buzz-31281-1366249807-5A massive explosion occurred last night at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, leaving at least 15 people dead and potentially more as authorities search through rubble. It is a devastating event to follow this Monday’s Boston Marathon bombing, while the country is still grieving and trying to come to terms with what happened. The blast was reportedly caused by a fire at the plant, and leveled much of the surrounding neighborhood including up to 75 houses, a middle school, and a nursing home. Roughly half of the town (of about 2,800 residents) has been evacuated, and there is no telling how long it will take to sift through all the rubble and repair the damage.

Unfortunately, explosions of this sort are not unprecedented. The exact cause of the fire and blast is unclear but one key culprit appears to be ammonium nitrate, a chemical commonly used in fertilizers.

Here are 10 alarming facts about ammonium nitrate, which may make us think twice about the fertilizers we put into the ground:

1. It can release nitrous oxide (laughing gas) when dissolved and heated.

2. But in pellet form, the high nitrogen content assists plant growth and can increase both yield and size.

3. It was used in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

4. In the last century, close to 30 explosions around the world have been at least partially caused by ammonium nitrate and its byproducts.

5. Three of those occurred in Texas.

6. The largest of those (also the largest plant accident in US history) happened in 1947 and killed 600 people.

7. The force of last night’s explosion registered as a magnitude 2.1 earthquake.

8. It is “hygroscopic” and thus should not be kept in humid areas. Oddly enough, Texas is one of the most humid states in the country.

9. Widespread production of the chemical began in the 1940s for wartime ammunition.

10. Air and water contamination from ammonium nitrate can be highly dangerous to communities and eco-systems.

Our prayers go out to the community of West, Texas and to all those impacted by yesterday’s horrible tragedy. Our intent is to create a space where people can come to share their stories, grieve together, and continue building a healthy and safe society.

 

Photo credit: Instagram

Holy $hit!

In English it’s a throwaway phrase, a cussword—but for some people it’s literally true: shit is holy. For farmers in India, life begins in “that amazing gift from cows,” says physicist and food activist Vandana Shiva.

I don’t know how many of you are aware, the reason the cow is sacred in India is because of the shit.

Shiva smiles her warm and mischievous grin. She’s speaking to an audience at Emory’s Center for Ethics, a talk called “Creating Food Democracy” (video available as a link on her Wikipedia page). It’s the week of Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Light, which begins this year on November 13.

Diwali is the fall festival celebrating the bounty and goodness of the Earth. People wear colorful new clothes and light dozens of candles, decorating their homes—and each other—with brightly colored powders and eating sweets together. It’s a dazzling celebration of light, joy, abundance, and the triumph of good over evil.

As a harvest festival, Diwali began in gratitude toward the Earth, and Shiva doesn’t let her audience forget it. With a twinkle in her eye, Shiva reminds listeners that the day after Diwali is devoted to showing reverence to the other end of the food cycle, the manure:

One day after Diwali is a festival called Govardhan Puja. “Govar” is cow dung, “dhan” is wealth, “puja” is prayer—a whole day dedicated to the worship of cow dung!

Traditionally in some parts of India, on Govardhan Puja people make little hillocks of cow dung, decorate them with flowers, and offer prayers.

Shiva calls attention to the Earthy meaning of the holiday for good reason: her lifework is about soil, food, and ecology. She educates people about seed sovereignty—the need for seeds (and the people who plant them) to have control over their seed stock rather than being required to purchase seeds, including genetically modified seeds, from corporate giants.

I saw Vandana Shiva in person for the first time a few years back, and before the packed auditorium in my hometown of Boulder she was radiant. Again with mischief in her smile she said,

You know, “organic farming” is traditional Indian agriculture.

Boulder gardeners chuckled appreciatively. They too are doing what farmers in India have done for centuries—replenishing their soil with dung and compost. Seeds cannot grow without shit.

But cow dung in the American system of industrial farming becomes a gigantic problem. When enormous numbers of cattle are kept together, their dung and urine become huge sources of pollution. If we needed any more evidence that factory farming is diabolical, we only need to see how in factory farming cow dung is pollution rather than gift. (Diabolical here = harming the ecosystem, including animals and humans.) Factory farms disregard the gift of shit—with disastrous results to water, soil, and air.

By contrast, permaculture and organic farmers are working as nature has done for millennia, growing food by using the whole cycle of life, including the manure. In The Omnivore’s Dilemma Michael Pollan talks about Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where the Salatin family produces an enormous amount of food from only 100 acres of pasture. In one growing season their modest acres yield 35,000 dozen eggs and 35 tons of beef and pork.

How do they do it? The secret is the shit. They rotate six species of animals across the pasture. The animals clean up after one another. “One species’s manure becomes the next one’s lunch,” says Pollan. Cows graze for one day in a corner of the pasture, then they’re moved out. Three days later the laying hens are moved in. Why wait three days? So maggots can develop in the cow dung. When the hens are moved in, they scramble among the cow patties to find their favorite protein treat—fresh maggots. Meanwhile, the chickens too are pooping, and their nitrogen-rich dung fertilizes the pasture some more. Fed by all this richness, the grass grows so fast that in four or five weeks the cycle can be repeated. Asks Pollan,

Can organic feed the world? Well, look how much food is produced on 100 acres.

How much food? Enough meat alone (not counting eggs) to feed nearly 400 Americans, the largest meat eaters in the world, for an entire year.

The secret is symbiosis—allowing each species to feed the cycle of life. Which means allowing “waste” to do its job—to become the gift that nature intends it to be.

“Waste” is priceless to the cycle of life. Shit is holy.

This year the Hindu world celebrates Diwali, the Festival of Light, on November 13. And one day after Diwali—November 14—is Govardhan Puja.

So, in honor of the bountiful Earth, Happy Diwali! And in honor of the complete cycle of life, Happy Holy Shit Day!

For more information:

  • On soil fertility, GMOs, and the food crisis, see this 6-minute video of Vandana Shiva.
  • Here is Vandana Shiva giving a lecture on “Just Food” in February 2012.
  • On the place of cows in sustainable agriculture in India, see “Mad Cow vs. Sacred Cow” by Lincoln Kaye.
  • Watch Michael Pollan talk about Polyface Farm here (last 7 min of video).

Real Food: Why Biodiversity Can Save Our Bodies and Our Planet

Have we declared war on the Earth?

According to Vandana Shiva, a renowned physicist, philosopher, and eco feminist, this is indeed the path we are treading. It’s a bold statement, but one that might not be foreign to you, especially in the midst of a growing environmental movement. Most of us nowadays have heard about climate change. We’ve heard about the melting ice caps and the rise of greenhouse gases. We’ve seen pictures of activists hanging off oil rigs and polar bears floating on diminished chunks of glaciers. The environment is in a state of crisis, we are well aware. And yet what does it all mean? How did we get here?

In the latest episodes of SAGES & SCIENTISTS on The Chopra Well, Vandana Shiva discusses agriculture, biodiversity, sustainability, and the importance of making peace with the Earth. For Shiva, this is a systemic issue, intrinsic in the very ways we think about nature. To address this, we must first turn to the food on our plates.

Shiva emphasizes that industrial farming is at the core of environmental degradation. This long-outdated form of agriculture, to which we have ascribed for roughly 200 years, wreaks havoc on the environment. Shiva refers to the overuse of pesticides and herbicides, as well as genetic modification of crops, as forms of violence against the Earth. This in turn translates to violence against people, against all species, against democracy, and against science itself. Reconstituted soy flour will never replace lentils, no matter how cheap or easy to produce. Chemical pesticides derived from war technology will never make our crops more abundant nor our bodies more hearty.

And yet, as Shiva relays, companies like Monsanto increasingly overpower rural farming efforts around the world and impose a framework of thinking rooted in industrial agriculture. According to Shiva, 95% of the cotton in India is owned by Monsanto. It is little wonder the country has witnessed an increase in suicides by cotton farmers who are quickly falling into debt, unable to compete with the industrial giants. These are some of the issues that inspire Shiva to put her scientific training to use as an environmental activist.

In 1984, Shiva founded Navdanya, a non-governmental organization dedicated to conserving biodiversity, organic farming, and the rights of farmers. She went on to establish Bija Vidyapeeth, or Earth University, where people gather on a property in Northern India to learn organic farming and sustainable practices. But for Shiva, organic farming is just the tip of a long, complicated struggle for cultural and economic freedom. We can begin making peace with the Earth, she says, by shifting our current framework of thinking toward one that recognizes and appreciates the diversity on our planet. Varieties of plants, landscapes, climates, animals, and cultures…this is the real tapestry of which we are a part.

The future may depend on this shift toward biodiversity, and our bodies certainly won’t complain. Think of it this way: Would you rather sit down to a bowl of wholesome lentil dal or a serving of reconstituted soy flour mush?

Let us know in the comments below!

Subscribe to The Chopra Well for more SAGES & SCIENTISTS, and let’s keep these critical discussions going!

photo by: Peter Blanchard

Word Medicine

I’m beginning a new chapter of blogging having been inspired by some powerful spirits in the guise of friends 🙂

I have read that a blog should reflect your heart so these entries will be poetry.

I have also read that it is important to stay informed so I am including links to news stories that I feel are important for people to know.

Often these stories inspire me to act and often that action is poetry.

For the Word Medicine series I will link to an article with each entry and post the poetry that it inspired.

I hope you enjoy 🙂

Americas Social Forum Calls For Agriculture Based On Solidarity

link: http://www.globalissues.org/news/2010/08/13/6611

 

Long Shadows

Whose dawn rises, yours or mine?

Is it the winner whose shadow is cast longer?

and upon whose ground, yours or mine?

is this the riddle of ancestry?

or has the argument long since become the prize?

Whose harvest is this, Cain’s or Abel’s?

What next will be sacrificed at the stake of frustrated desire?

Where else will we find the light to cast the longest shadow?

Whose freedom is promised, yours or mine?

What has it cost to bind us to each other in this contest?

is this the riddle of progeny?

or has the contract always been the wager?

Whose future is betrothed, theirs or ours?

What is really presented on bended knee?

A brilliant promise or the many facets of long shadows?

Upon whose legacy shall we dine, yours or mine?

Will it be as divine as the fantasy?

When we have sacrificed Eden for the apple of our eye,

who will leave the longest shadow?

Will the sunset be yours or mine?

 

-Kevin Sutton

Start a Crop Mob

There’s a lot up for debate in the realm of agriculture these days, but there’s one thing no one can dispute: farming is hard, often lonely work. But something happened one fall night that is helping to make it just a little bit easier- and certainly less solitary…

In the fall of 2008 a group of 11 young farmers living and working in North Carolina’s Triangle Region got together to talk about issues facing young farmers- things like healthcare, wages, access to land. As they talked, one young farmer, Adah Frase, squirmed in her seat before deciding to speak up. “I’m tired of sitting in meetings just talking about things. It feels like a waste of my time. Why can’t we go out and work while we meet rather than just sitting around a table?”

Frase believed you could build stronger relationships with people by working side by side rather than just sitting around a table talking. Her fellow farmers agreed. “The idea emerged that we’d come together to build community, help each other out, and share a meal,” explains Rob Jones, one of the farmers in attendance that October night. “We decided we’d call it the Crop Mob.”

That month, the farmers had organized their first mob with 19 people digging, sorting and boxing 1,600 pounds of sweet potatoes in less than three hours, an effort so successful that it became a monthly event. “There has always been a spirit of cooperation in agriculture because it is a lot of work,” says Jones. “We’ve just found a slightly different way to manifest it. It is a part of making sustainable agriculture personally sustainable for the farmers. Certainly, we are seeing a lot of young people that aren’t interested in being “the farmer” on a farm.  They want to work cooperatively and collectively with others as part of a community.”

As word began to spread of Crop Mob’s efforts- and the New York Times’ Sunday Magazine sung its praises- other farmers have started their own regional versions of Crop Mob- as have aspiring farmers and what New York City’s Crop Mob refers to as the “ag-curious.” Volunteers might build a fence, clear a field, or harvest a crop, all based of course, on the needs of the farm being “mobbed” that month.

Interested in getting your hands dirty? Crop Mob suggests a few basic principles:

1) Keep that wallet holstered. No money is exchanged.

2) Scale it down. Work on small-scale, sustainable farms and gardens.

3) Break some bread. A meal is shared, often provided by the host.

4) Reciprocity. This is not a charity. We crop mob for crop mobbers.

Crob Mobs are popping up all over the United States. Crop Mob’s website has an interactive Google map so you can find a nearby mob (you can also search for groups on Facebook). Or go to this link to start your own.

Photo by Emily Millette

 This post originally appeared on www.refresheverything.com, as part of the Pepsi Refresh Project, a catalyst for world-changing ideas. Find out more about the Refresh campaign, or to submit your own idea today.

You Are What You Eat: Food Inc. Brings Food to the Forefront

The film Food Inc premieres on June 12th in LA, SF and NYC and brings dinner and the food industry to the center stage of a serious debate that is happening across the country.

 The adage "you are what you eat" has been around for a very long time. However, it seems that during the last 50 years, a greater part of the American population has forgotten that. Food has become as simple as getting into your car, driving to your local super market and filling up your cart. Easy, but the question I pose is: what have we given up for that convenience? In a sense it seems as if we have lost touch with our food. You no longer buy a whole chicken — you buy nicely cleaned extra large chicken breasts. Items such as cereals or peanut butter have a slew of ingredients that most individuals can’t even pronounce (mostly derivatives of corn) and aren’t even necessary ingredients for the final product. We have also developed the mindset that food should be cheap and balk at the idea of paying high costs for food, but will find value in buying a brand new car, plasma TV or designer clothes.

Looking at today’s society it seems clear that when it comes to our food and nutrition, our priorities are out of whack. We need a wake up call and Food Inc is just that. Director Robert Kenner and investigative authors Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma) bring their literary works to big screen and take us inside the corporate food world and show first hand what has been hidden from us for a very long time.

The film takes you to a massive cattle feed lot/factory farm where cows are on top of one another and in their own manure 24/7. These animals are also feed corn (a carbohydrate that fattens them up quicker than grass which is their natural food source). Cows are not naturally designed for corn consumption and as a result their stomachs are creating new strains of E. Coli and passing it on to roughly 73,000 Americans each year. Cows aren’t the only animals being mistreated. The pigs don’t have it any better, nor do the chickens. Tyson farms, the largest producer of chickens in the U.S. have engineered their chickens to grow in 49 days (compared to 90 days for a normal chicken). These chickens grow so fast that their bones and muscles cannot keep up with their weight, they can only take a few steps before collapsing from exhaustion.

The processing of these animals is one of the most dangerous jobs in the country and the meat processing corporations such as Smithfield’s are actively seeking out and bringing in illegal immigrant labor from Mexico (these workers no longer have any work in their own towns because the Mexican farmers can’t compete with subsidized American corn due to NAFTA.)

The film also sheds light on a major Agribusiness company Monsanto. Monsanto was responsible for "Agent Orange" a chemical weapon that was used during the Vietnam War. They have since turned to the agriculture business and have created a genetically modified soybean crop. This crop has a patented gene that is now present in 90% of the nation’s soybeans. Since Monsanto owns the patent, farmers are now forbidden to save and reuse their seed and must buy new seeds from Monsanto each season. What really angered me was the fact that, even if you never bought Monsanto seeds but say your neighbor did and through pollination some of the Monsanto seed got on to your property — you are at fault for violating the patent. Monsanto uses its patents to bully these small farmers with lawsuits. These farmers don’t have the funds to fight Monsanto legally and are often forced to settle. Basically Monsanto has eliminated most of the soybean diversity in the U.S.

You would think that government organizations such as the FDA and the USDA are in place for consumer safety, rather that corporate profit but the film points out that it’s unfortunately not the case. The film highlights a list of government employees and regulators in government office, departments and even on the Supreme Court, many whom were previous employees of the large corporations who they are now regulating. Unfortunately many of these former employees tend to be biased and in favor of the corporation — not the consumer.

The film continues to go into different aspects of how the food industry affects our day-to-day lives. One family who is struggling to pay the bills and cannot afford to buy fruits and vegetables specifically struck me. The father of the family has type two diabetes and has to spend a substantial amount of the family budget on his medication. They continue to buy fast food because it’s cheap. While it is difficult to compete with a 99 cent burger, a bag of beans which today you can get three bags for $5 at the grocery store is much more affordable and a nutritious alternative. Perhaps if they began to eat healthier, he wouldn’t have to spend so much of the family budget on medication — fast food isn’t the only option if you’re on a tight budget, but it might be the easiest.

Overall the information presented is really enlightening and if you didn’t get to read In Defense of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma or Fast Food Nation you can sort of get the gist of the message throughout the film. The message is not all doom and gloom. In fact we learn that Organics as a whole is the fastest growing food segment with a 20% growth rate each year. The most important message I took from film is that though we might feel helpless compared to these corporate giants — we in fact have the power with what we chose to buy each day.

So if the saying is true and you in fact are what you eat — we can chose to be the GMOs from Monsanto, or the Factory Farmed chemically enhanced meats, or we can choose to be healthier, devote a little more to what goes inside and fuels us. Alice Water’s recently put it best when she said, "You pay for it upfront, or you’ll pay for it outback."

Visit this post from the Sierra Club Blog on how to eat well on a budget.

Gone Gardening-My First Harvest!

As published on Meady’s Musings

OK sorry for not sharing with you as it happened but for those of you following my gardening blogs…here it is My First Harvest! 🙂 It actually occurred on as the picture tag will show… 20 April 2009!

It wasn’t reaped by me but then my gardening project has always been community based. It was reaped by one of my uncles- no pictures attached. The said uncle who one morning secretly weeded my garden and I figured…hmmm…someone has been weeding my garden?…and figured it was him…but then he came to say the "He had done it like Rumpeltstiltskin" his words!…so you see those nursery rhyme terms run in the family! 🙂 But he didn’t expect anything in return…in fact he then proceeded to pick the first harvest and leave it with my mother!:) As you can see it pictured above it was the Cherry Tomatoes he picked…they’re definitely delicious to eat just raw and yep can definitely make up part of a raw or semi-raw diet if I decided to go back along that road! I’ve since had them both raw and just tossed into other dishes semi-raw or all cooked up…delicious all ways…and yep it does taste like a cherry a bit mixed with a tomato and is a burst of flavour! I’ve even since gotten a second batch as pictured below:

And my sunflowers seem to have almost completed their cycle…sorry was a bit taken up to do more pictures also my mum has been accusing me of going picture crazy and perhaps she is right…although yep it is to share on the blogs but…and yep I will do more sunflowers soon and will this time shoot more pics when they are all in their full bloom…some marigolds are springing too so that should be good…

Definitely more photos should be in the works since I’m planning to acquire new tech toys soon and will be blogging in more style come the end of June or so just wait and see! 🙂 One tech toy which I am excited to test out soon on a trip to a certain cavernous place is as below.(I removed the pic from Intent as didn’t want to advertise on here but you can check it on my original blog)

As I leave you I’ll have you know that not a single fertilizer was added on this grow and my little Ratna eggplants have borne fruit…also even my tiny bell peppers are now flowering for so!:)
 

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