Eating like our Grandparents and Great-Grandparents

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In Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, Pollan describes how eating has become more complicated than it really should be. He describes how nutrition science is a very young science and that we heavily rely on experts to tell us what to eat when in reality they do not know as much as it may seem. He emphasizes how before scientists (government, public health organizations, and food marketers) began telling us how to eat, we relied on our mothers, grandmothers, and more distant ancestors (tradition and culture). He goes on to say how “it’s gotten to the point where we do not see foods anymore, but instead we look right through them to the nutrients (good or bad) they contain.” 

He believes there are two things we should know about the relationship of diet and health. First, people who eat the so-called “Western diet” comprised of processed foods and meats with lots of added fat and sugar, lots of refined grains, lots of everything except fruits, vegetables, and whole grains-suffer high rates of “Western diseases” like obesity, Type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. His second point is that people who eat a wide range of traditional diets generally do not suffer from these chronic diseases. His overall philosophy is: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants. This comes from his previous book In Defense of Food.

Pollan provides 64 simple rules for eating healthily and happily, which are framed in terms of culture rather than science because in many cases science confirms cultural beliefs like eating tomatoes with olive oil is good because the lycopene in the tomatoes is soluble in oil and thus making it easier for our bodies to absorb. Food Rules is broken up into three sections. The first section focuses on helping you “eat food.” This is the ability to tell the difference between real food and “edible food like substances” as Pollan likes to refer to them. he lays out rules/guidelines to help you make healthy choices. The second section is aimed at choosing among real foods. And lastly, the third section focuses on how to eat by moderating our eating and taking time to enjoy it more.

I really enjoyed Food Rules because it is very simple and easy to understand. This makes it easier to remember the rules Pollan describes. Pollan also includes a lot of humor that makes it a very entertaining book to read. Its small size makes it a quick read and something you can carry around easily too. It is probably the best diet book I have read so far. I would definitely recommend it to my peers. In fact, I already have.

Here are some of my favorite rules from the three sections:

“Eat food”

  • #2: Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
  • #7: Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce.
  • #19: If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.

“Mostly plants”

  • #24: Eating what stands on leg (mushrooms and plants foods) is better than eating what stands on two legs (fowl), which is better than eating what stands on four legs (cows, pigs, and other mammals).
  • #36: Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of your milk.
  • #37: The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead.

“Not too much”

  • #47: Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored.
  • #54: Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.
  • #57: “Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does.
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Studying at the Garden 3/15

It was such a beautiful day today, so I decided to do some of my studying at the garden. I was planning on watering the plants, but Andrew had just stopped by earlier to water them. I just walked around to check on things. The garden looks absolutely marvelous! I am so happy! I especially love the pea plant supporting structures. They make the garden look so artsy. 

 

 

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I noticed the thai chili that was growing near the entrance. I didn’t realize we were growing some! I love thai chili! I can’t wait. 

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Also, I also noticed how the potatoes are sprouting very well. 

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I truly enjoyed this class and sad that it’s over. But on the brighter side, the garden is always open. Just because the class is over does not mean that you cannot visit the garden. Please stop by whenever, we would really love all the help we can get! Our garden work parties are on Saturdays from 2-4pm and Sundays from 2pm-Sunset, so come for however long you want! Hope to see you there! 


Garden visit 3/15

It was a pretty warm day, despite the fog that just rolled in. I had to water the beds several times, especially the ones without mulch.

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~15 minutes after first water. Should we throw mulch over the other beds too?

Besides the heat, it was an uneventful visit.


Book Review: Silent Spring

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In Silent Spring, Rachel Carson discusses the numerous amounts of chemical fertilizers, and pesticides used in the agricultural industry and how they negatively affect the environment.  Carson’s personal commentary of the negative impacts that all of these chemicals have on our health and its propagation to environments that the government did not intend nor predict to reach.  What is most interesting is her discussion on the use of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), a chemical insecticide that was very commonly used at the time, but was also one of the worst poisons in history.  Carson pushed that DDT was the reason for many cases of cancer at the time, and also due to its resiliency to stay in organic cells, it had many far reaching problems that could not be stopped.

One of the major problems with the use of heavy pesticides is that as insects get in contact with these poisons more and more often, they become more resilient, and eventually the poisons will not work as well.  For the agricultural industry, this means that they will need to keep creating stronger poisons,  However, there is a health issue as these poisons are designed to kill insects, but are supposedly safe for humans.  These poisons are also dangerous as they stay in the soil for years before disappearing.  Carson reviews anecdotes of people getting a small dose of a pesticide such as Aldrin or Dieldrin through touch resulting in their immediate deaths.  These chemicals were had been sprayed in orchards or gardens, but are incredibly harmful to the farmers themselves who are in charge of taking the fruit.

DDT was created as a result of World War II to control malaria and typhus.  It was invented to be a powder used by soldiers to prevent insect contact.  However, because it was a powder, it did not absorb through the skin and its ill health effects were not discovered until much later.  After World War II, it was made into an agricultural pesticide and was widely used.  The problem with DDT is that in its initial concentration, it is not immediately harmful to the organic life, however once it progresses through the food chain, the concentration increases enormously, resulting in much more toxic levels.   This creates a problem when we being spraying our plants which our low on the food chain because once bugs start eating the plants, or the runoff goes into our fish, other species will begin eating those creatures.  This is what caused the problem with the endangerment of the Bald Eagle in the United States.  The Bald Eagle’s natural prey is fish and when fish were affected by DDT, the Bald Eagle came in contact.

Fortunately DDT was banned in 1972 partially due to Silent Spring.  Carson started a giant environmental movement that would help spur on many other important movements.  She is arguably responsible for the swift action required to remove DDT.  I would highly recommend reading Carson’s book to discover the context of where and how many poisonous pesticides came to be.  It is also good to keep in mind the impact of this book in modern times.  There is still work being done in Santa Monica Bay on the high DDT concentration found in fish through offshore runoff.  Recently it was discovered that the DDT levels surprisingly halved over the course of a few years with no explanation.  Even 50 years later, Carson’s book remains very relevant in the still puzzling world of environmental health.


Watering 3_14_13

As I walked into the garden I noticed we have a new sign up front. I really like the blue and black color scheme of it. I did not notice any major changes to the garden since our final visit to the garden as a class two days ago.

I did, however, notice that there were some plants growing on the bottom of the some of the beds (Fig 1). I remember another student also posting about this about a week ago. I think it is great to have other plants growing that were not intentionally planted. It makes the garden more natural.

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Fig 1. Plant growing from bottom of bed.

I noticed the carrot plants look like they had grown more (Fig 2). I am curious how big the vegetables are. I was a bit hesitant to pull them out of the soil to check though.

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Fig 2. Carrot plants

The last interesting observation I would like to share is how impressed I am by the size of the tree at the far end of the garden (Fig 3). I’m not sure if it grew a lot this quarter or I just never took a good look at it. I know trees grow pretty fast because my parents have a couple at their house that I trim about once a year.

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Fig 3. Tree at back of garden.

*I believe the resolution of the photos above are 720×480 pixels


Book Review: Genetic Engineering in Agriculture

In Genetic Engineering in Agriculture, Miguel Altieri uncovers and shares the truth about biotechnology in regards to food and how the rise of biotechnology and genetic engineering has greatly affected agribusiness, especially the at the level of the farmers. Altieri tells the narrative of how genetically modified crops have risen to dominance in the agricultural world because they were sought to be the solution to world hunger. He goes on to reveal that GM crops actually have a primarily negative impact on human health, crop yields and the livelihood of farmers. The book begins by discussing the belief that world hunger is a consequence of a food production shortage when, in fact, more than enough food is being produced to feed the world; however much goes to waste or to feed livestock.

Genetically modified seeds are very expensive and are under the control of a few large corporations, such as Monsanto, further inceasing the marginalization of the farmers. Altieri explains scientifically how traditional breeding and genetic engineering are very different processes. However, the United States government states that the processes are “substantially equivalent.” He also explains that not only are the human health effects not fully understood, but also the effects on the environment and on crop yields are not clear as well. This book shares the full narrative of genetically modified food from the fields to the shelves and how money and economics, as always, have a huge influence on the agricultural system.

Genetic engineering has become a major topic of debate in the world of agriculture, especially as it was during election season with Proposition 37 in California. Almost all the foods we consume contain some genetically modified ingredient. More than half the corn and soybean-based foods we consume in the United States are genetically modified (Altieri pp. 30). Genetic Engineering in Agriculture was written to share the whole story of genetically modified food from the science to the economics to the effects on farmers’ lives.

I found the book well organized which helped create a clear and easy to follow argument of why genetically modified crops are taking over the American agricultural business, and not in a good way. Before reading this book, I did not have a strong understanding about genetically modified crops other than the scientific process of creating the genetically modified organisms. This book revealed how GM crops have made their way into almost every source of food we eat. Also, the companies that create, patent, and sell the genetically modified seeds have built up a monopoly and often times take advantage of the small, individual farmers.

I enjoyed Miguel Altieri’s last chapter about the alternatives to biotechnology and I believe the chapter was crucial in creating a strong argument against genetic engineering in agriculture. As I was reading the book I found myself agreeing that biotechnology was creating more problems than it was solving problems, but I was asking myself, what else can be done if biotechnology is not the answer? Luckily for me the last chapter shared some successful and sustainable alternative practices that are currently being used in other countries. I believe this last chapter was crucial in order for Altieri to really create a strong critique. It is one thing to find a problem, but to also share evidence of working alternatives only supports and reinforces his critique of biotechnology.

Altieri, Miguel A. Genetic Engineering in Agriculture: The Myths, Environmental Risks, and Alternatives. Oakland, CA: Food First /Institute for Food and Development Policy, 2004. Print.


The principles of the International Federation of Organic Production and Processing

Section B General principles, Recommendations and Standards1. The Principle Aims of Organic Production and Processing
Organic Production and Processing is based on a number of principles and ideas. They are all important and are not necessarily listed here in order of importance.

•To produce food of high quality in sufficient quantity.
•To interact in a constructive and life-enhancing way with natural systems and cycles.
•To consider the wider social and ecological impact of the organic production and processing system.
•To encourage and enhance biological cycles within the farming system, involving micro-organisms, soil flora and fauna, plants and animals.
•To develop a valuable and sustainable aquatic ecosystem.
•To maintain and increase long term fertility of soils.
•To maintain the genetic diversity of the production system and its surroundings, including the protection of plant and wildlife habitats.
•To promote the healthy use and proper care of water, water resources and all life therein.
•To use, as far as possible, renewable resources in locally organised production systems.
•To create a harmonious balance between crop production and animal husbandry.
•To give all livestock conditions of life with due consideration for the basic aspects of their innate behaviour.
•To minimise all forms of pollution.
•To process organic products using renewable resources.
•To produce fully biodegradable organic products.
•To produce textiles which are long-lasting and of good quality.
•To allow everyone involved in organic production and processing a quality of life which meets their basic needs and allows an adequate return and satisfaction from their work, including a safe working environment.
•To progress toward an entire production, processing and distribution chain which is both socially just and ecologically responsible.