Saturday, November 29, 2008

Melamine Is Safe After All

See, this is why people are losing faith in the FDA.

First, on October 3, 2008, the FDA said no level of melamine in infant formula was safe:
"There is too much uncertainty to set a level in infant formula and rule out any public health concern."
- FDA Issues Interim Safety And Risk Assessment Of Melamine And Melamine-related Compounds In Food
That's how the FDA interpreted the science at the time.

Then, on November 28, 2008, after small amounts of melamine and cyanuric acid (which, when they occur together, accelerate creation of kidney crystals) were detected in popular, brand name formula, the FDA said that anything below 1.0 ppm was safe:
"Amounts of the industrial chemical melamine or the melamine-like compound called cyanuric acid that are below 1.0 ppm [1,000 parts per billion] do not raise public health concerns," said Stephen Sundlof, the FDA's director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition."
- FDA Sets 'Safe' Levels For Melamine In Baby Formula
Where did that number come from? Were there long-term, comprehensive, studies conducted between Oct 3 and Nov 28 that arrived at that number? Why 1.0? Why not 0.9, or 2.1, or 0.4 ... or 0.0? Can that number be defended? Is that saying that 1.0 ppm should raise no concern, but 1.1 ppm should? What's the margin of error here?

I have respect for the scientific prowess of FDA researchers. I've waded through the tedium of FDA documents. They're not unlike engineering documents ... in their nit-picky, number-oriented focus. But I don't have the same respect for the people in the FDA who take that work, and make some maniacal decision from it. As if they licked their finger, stuck it into the breeze, and made a decision based on the direction of the wind that day. The political wind.

Come to think of it, there's a lot of similarity between the laborers in engineering and their bosses ... and the laborers in the FDA and their bosses.

We need to hear from the serfs more often.

Friday, November 28, 2008

You May Be Roundup-Ready

That is, your genes may have incorporated the very genes that were transferred into genetically engineered corn and soybeans, genes that produce toxic pesticides and herbicides.

In all the years I've written about food and health, both professionally and here, this story is one of the most outrageous and chilling I've come across. It would make headlines if not for very monied and powerful groups that wish to protect and grow their investment.

Recall in a previous post (Mice Fed Genetically Modified Corn Suffer Immune Disturbances) where I said:
"Here's a fact I hadn't considered: The genes from inhaled GM pollen may combine with the genes of bacteria that naturally line our respiratory tract. Our resident bacteria could then manufacture the toxin, in this case a potent pesticide, bathing our lungs on a consistent basis. The UK report seemed concerned about this. Monsanto should give their authors a call and tell them not to worry, they have everything under control."
It came true.

The example I'm about to describe, however, involves intestinal bacteria, not respiratory bacteria.

The UK report I referenced above was dated 1998. Subsequently:
"The UK government eventually commissioned research to look for horizontal gene transfer into bacteria in the gut of human volunteers and found positive results."
- The Case For A GM-Free Sustainable World, Independent Science Panel, Institute of Science in Society, 2003
"Horizontal gene transfer" means the transfer of genetic material from one organism to another, without the recipient being an offspring of the donor. Genetic engineering is an example of this, although it occurs in nature also.

I'll let Jeffrey Smith describe the research:
"In 2004, Dr. Trudy Netherwood of Newcastle University studied the fate of these ingested plant genes (GM soya) after human ingestion. However, before even starting the study, Dr. Netherwood found copies of the plant trans-genes already colonizing the gut bacteria of 3 of 7 human subjects. Apparently, these three human subjects had already consumed food contaminated with GMO products."
- Questioning GMO Food, Jeffrey Smith And The Seeds Of Deception, by Jeffrey Dach MD (Excellent reading on this topic)
Not only did human gut bacteria pick up the gene that was originally transferred to the soybean crop, a gene that codes for a protein that acts as a pesticide, but the DNA of our actual cells may have picked it up too.

Again, Jeffrey Smith:
"To make matters worse, not only is the new genetic code from GMO food incorporated into friendly gut bacteria, it is also incorporated into the epithelial cells of the GI tract, and the liver. Dr. Netherwood's work was confirmed in a 2006 study by Dr. Sharma in Alberta Canada who found that transgenic DNA from Roundup Ready Canola Meal could be found in the gut epithelial tissues of pigs eating the GMO meal."
Here's the study he referred to:
Detection Of Transgenic And Endogenous Plant DNA In Digesta And Tissues Of Sheep And Pigs Fed Roundup Ready Canola Meal, Journal Of Agricultural And Food Chemistry, 2006
"This study confirms that feed-ingested DNA fragments (endogenous and transgenic) do survive to the terminal GI tract and that uptake into gut epithelial tissues does occur. A very low frequency of transmittance to visceral tissue was confirmed in pigs, but not in sheep."
This is all news to me.

You have to wonder if the recent studies linking the rise in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to environmental allergens is related to this. If the cells lining our digestive tract, and our gut bacteria, were capable of manufacturing foreign pesticide-like proteins (made capable via horizontal gene transfer from GM corn or soy), might that not be irritating to the bowel?

What do you think, do companies that manufacture genetically engineered crop seed have everything under control?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Melamine Found in US Infant Formula and Dietary Supplements

From the New York Times, last night:
Melamine Traces Found in U.S. Infant Formula
"The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that it had discovered the toxic chemical melamine in infant formula made by an American manufacturer, raising the possibility that the problem was more extensive in the United States than previously thought."

"[Melamine] was also discovered in several samples of dietary supplements that are made by some of the same manufacturers who make formula."
The FDA won't disclose the identity of the company that manufactured the melamine-contaminated formula and supplements. But, read below ...

From the Associated Press, last night:
FDA Finds Traces Of Melamine In US Infant Formula

Melamine, or its metabolite cyanuric acid (which, when they occur together, accelerate creation of kidney crystals) have now been detected in just about all brands of infant formula in the US:
"Three firms — Abbott Laboratories, Nestle and Mead Johnson — manufacture more than 90 percent of all infant formula produced in the United States."
The FDA did not voluntarily disclose the results of their tests. The Associated Press obtained their information by filing a Freedom Of Information Act request:
  • Mead Johnson's Infant Formula Powder, Enfamil LIPIL with Iron -- "readings of 0.137 and 0.14 ppm."
  • Nestle's Good Start Supreme Infant Formula with Iron -- "an average of 0.247 ppm of cyanuric acid, a melamine byproduct."
  • Abbott Laboratories Similac -- "company tests did find the chemical."
  • Nestle's Peptamen Junior medical food -- "showed 0.201 and 0.206 ppm of melamine."
  • Nestle's Nutren Junior-Fiber -- "showed 0.16 and 0.184 ppm."

How Much Melamine Is Safe In Infant Formula?

This is what the FDA said on October 3:
FDA Issues Interim Safety And Risk Assessment Of Melamine And Melamine-Related Compounds In Food
"FDA is currently unable to establish any level of melamine and melamine-related compounds in infant formula that does not raise public health concerns. In large part, this is because of gaps in our scientific knowledge about the toxicity of melamine and its analogues in infants, including:
  1. the consequences of the continuous use of infant formulas as the sole source of nutrition;
  2. the uncertainties associated with the possible presence and co-ingestion of more than one melamine analogue; and
  3. for premature infants with immature kidney function, the possibility that they may be fed these formulas as the sole source of nutrition and thus on a body weight basis experience greater levels of intake for a longer time than is experienced by term infants."
"There is too much uncertainty to set a level in infant formula and rule out any public health concern."
The Grocery Manufacturers Association interpreted this as meaning:
"It can be concluded [the FDA] will not accept any detectable melamine in infant formula."
The Associated Press is saying:
"It was not until the AP inquired about tests on domestic formula that the FDA articulated that while it couldn't set a safe exposure for infants, it would accept some melamine in formula — raising the question of whether the decision to accept very low concentrations was made only after traces were detected."
Representative Bart Stupak (D-Mich) said, "the FDA should immediately recall any formula that has tested positive for even trace amounts of the contaminant." Unfortunately, (as readers of the Fanatic Cook are well aware) the FDA has no authority to recall. Any recall would have to be voluntarily initiated by the manufacturer.

The effects of chronic, long-term, low-level ingestion of melamine and its metabolites are currently not known.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mice Fed Genetically Modified Corn Suffer Immune Disturbances

Another recent and ominous study on the effects of genetically modified corn - corn we all eat because it's rampant in our (plant and animal) food and feed supply.

Source: USDA: Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the US

This study was made public on November 14, just days after the study in my previous post (Genetically Modified Corn Found To Lower Fertility and Metabolism) came out. Both of these studies are government-backed -- This one by the Italian government, the previous one by the Austrian government.

Here's the abstract:
Intestinal And Peripheral Immune Response To MON810 Maize Ingestion In Weaning And Old Mice

Young mice ("weaning") and old mice were fed either:
  • A diet containing non-GM corn
  • A diet containing GM corn (Monsanto's MON810)

"There were significant differences in the percentages of T and B cells, and of CD4+, CD8+, gdT+, and mbT+ subpopulations in both weaning and old mice that were GM-fed for 30 and 90 days respectively compared with controls. These changes appeared in the gut, spleen and blood, and were accompanied by increase in blood cytokines IL-6, IL-13, IL-12p70, and MIP-1b, all involved in allergic and inflammatory responses. These changes were not detected in the mice fed the commercial non-GM pellet diet."1

The Role For Statins

The mice suffered an allergic reaction.

When humans suffer an allergic reaction, their markers for inflammation rise. One marker for inflammation is C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker that a very recent and hot-button statin study (JUPITER Trial) indicated be tested in "apparently healthy" individuals, for if CRP is high, it could warrant taking a statin (specifically, the statin in the study: Crestor) to reduce heart attack risk. (CRP is known to rise when interleukin-6 (IL-6) rises, which, in this case, it did in GM-fed mice.)

The Corn With The Pesticide In Every Bite

The GM corn in this study contains a gene that produces "Bt" pesticide in every cell of the plant, including its pollen.2 When bugs take a bite of the plant, the toxic pesticide creates holes in their gastrointestinal tract that kills them.

Humans are exposed to the Bt toxin when they eat the GM corn, corn product (corn-fed fish, livestock, processed foods), or when they inhale Bt-containing pollen.

People who inhaled Bt pollen suffered allergic reactions (respiratory, skin, and gastrointestinal problems) which did not occur with non-Bt pollen.3

Here's a fact I hadn't considered 4: The genes from inhaled GM pollen may combine with the genes of bacteria that naturally line our respiratory tract. Our resident bacteria could then manufacture the toxin, in this case a potent pesticide, bathing our lungs on a consistent basis. The UK report seemed concerned about this. Monsanto should give their authors a call and tell them not to worry, they have everything under control. (Update: It may have already happened. See my post, You May Be Roundup-Ready.)

I feel like I'm taking part in a giant experiment.
1 GM Maize Disturbs Immune System Of Young And Old Mice
2 Bt is short for Bacillus thuringiensis, the bacterium from which the pesticide gene was derived.
3 Impact Of Bt Cotton On Farmers' Health
4 UK Advisory Committee On Novel Foods And Processes, 1998, p.67
Source for graph: USDA: Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the US

Monday, November 24, 2008

Virginia sent me a link to

It's a site that "uses Artificial Intelligence to determine if a homepage is written by a man or woman."
It says I'm a man. Who'd have thought.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Genetically Modified Corn Found To Lower Fertility and Metabolism

The news was reported ahead-of-publication on November 11, at a scientific seminar in Vienna, Austria.

The news isn't good news for Monsanto, who sells tons of the GM corn seed. It's not good news for laboratory mice, whose litters and offspring became smaller (in number and size, respectively) than mice fed non-GM corn. And it's potentially not good news for most Americans who regularly eat GM corn and its derivatives, via livestock fattened on it, tortillas and grits, or the corn syrups that sweeten everything from soda pop and breakfast cereal, to ketchup, relish, mayonnaise, pickles, and the bun that houses the whole corn-infused lot.

It's easy to eat GM corn (and GM soy) in America, since:1
  • 81-86 percent of all corn planted in the US is genetically engineered.
  • 88-90 percent of all soybean planted in the US is genetically engineered.
Some argue that most corn in this country has been affected by genetic engineering since GM strains have cross-pollinated with wild, non-GM strains.

The Study (pdf)

Biological Effects Of Transgenic Maize NK603xMON810 Fed In Long Term Reproduction Studies In Mice

Until now, negative effects from ingestion of GM crops haven't made news:
"So far no negative effects of GM corn varieties have been reported in peer-reviewed publications."
Approval has been based primarily on short-term studies:
"Toxicological risks of GM plants are currently assessed by 90 day feeding studies with rodents. A 90 day study is considered as sufficient to detect adverse effects. However, chronic effects might only become evident in longer lasting multi-generation studies."
So, the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna conducted one of the first long-term studies.

They fed mice either:
  • A diet containing non-GM corn
  • A diet containing 33% GM corn (Monsanto)
All corn, both GM and non-GM, were of the same genetic lines, "grown under identical conditions in Canada." The mice were fed through 4 generations, which took about 20 weeks.


Fertility was negatively affected in mice fed GM corn:
"The number of pups weaned, the average litter size and weight at weaning tended to be lower in the GM group as compared to the [non-GM] group."

"Pup losses were higher in the GM group."
Kidney, spleen, and liver were negatively affected in mice fed GM corn:
"Significantly lower relative kidney weights were found in GM [male and female offspring]."

"Relative spleen weights were significantly higher in the GM males of the F2 generation."

"The electron histological investigation of the cell nuclei revealed differences as to fibrillar centres (FC), dense fibrillar components (DFC) and the pore density in hepatocytes [liver cells]. This could point to an effect of the GM crop on metabolic parameters."
Metabolic pathways were negatively affected in mice fed GM corn:
"The lower nuclear pore density and the lower quantity of the nucleolar components FC and DFC in both females and males, found in hepatocytes of GM mice, indicate a lower liver metabolic rate in animals fed the GM feed".

"Analyses of metabolic pathways indicated that the groups differed regarding some important pathways, including interleukin signalling pathway, cholesterol biosynthesis and protein metabolism."
  • The non-profit Center for Food Safety called the results of this study "a cause for great concern," and called for "a moratorium on genetically engineered foods pending thorough safety studies."
  • Dr. Jurgen Zentek, the study's lead scientist, said further studies to corroborate his results were "urgently needed."
  • Barry Estabrook of Gourmet Food Politics, called the results "chilling."
    "It was particularly chilling late last week to read the results of an experiment that was both long term and not conducted under the auspices of a big chemical company."
  • Greenpeace is recommending "a recall of all GMO food and crops from the market, worldwide."
  • Jeffrey Smith at the Huffington Post, says this isn't the only study to cast doubt on GM crop safety. He predicts follow-up research won't be conducted:
    "Whenever these studies or reports surfaced, scientists should have charged in to conduct intense follow-up research. Instead, the funding--to find and expose the cause of the problem--often mysteriously dries up; scientists are transferred, threatened or fired, and the health risk link to GMOs is vehemently denied."
    (Case in point: GMO Russian researcher Irina Ermakova, after presenting similar findings, had samples stolen from her lab, documents burnt on her desk, "and her boss, under pressure from his boss, ordered her to cease all future research on GMOs.")
  • Monsanto is saying the study is flawed, and that "there was no evidence of any adverse effects of the GM crop."
There isn't enough evidence here to perform a recall of, what, just about all the corn in the US? Even if there was, the sheer quantity would make it prohibitive. I don't think groups like the Center for Food Safety and Greenpeace do themselves a service by recommending such an extreme action.

However, there should at least be a move made to preserve a sizable non-GM corn crop in the US in the event these or other negative findings continue to bear scrutiny.

Update: Another new study is reporting not-so-good effects on mice fed GM corn. See: Mice Fed Genetically Modified Corn Suffer Immune Disturbances.
1 Source: USDA: Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the US

Thursday, November 20, 2008

An Online Bookstore With A Soul

Why buy from Better World Books?
  • A portion of profits funds non-profit literacy programs (or sends books directly).
  • Sells books, many used, that would have gone to a landfill.
  • Free shipping if you buy a book.
  • Free shipping if you donate a book.
  • Shipping is carbon-neutral.
  • Has many out-of-print or hard-to-find books.
Better World Books is one to watch.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

No Level Of Melamine Is Acceptable

From Eating Liberally Blog:
Shouldn't The FDA Keep Melamine Out Of Our Domestic Food Chain?
"The FDA’s standard of 2.5 ppm as a “safe” level for melamine in food is a tacit admission that the situation is out of control."

"Melamine should not be in American — or Chinese — food, feed, or fertilizer at any level whatsoever."

- Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Pet Food Politics, What to Eat, and Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition, and Health.

Daschle As New "Health Czar"

Sources: Obama Picks Daschle To Head HHS
"President-elect Barack Obama has chosen former Sen. Tom Daschle to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the former Senate majority leader has indicated he wants the job, three sources close to the transition told CNN Wednesday.

"The sources said that Daschle negotiated that he will also serve as the White House health "czar," or point person, so that he will report directly to the incoming president."

"By wearing two hats, Daschle -- not White House staffers -- will be writing the health care plan that Obama submits to Congress next year."
I've written about the current Secretary of Health and Human Services, Mike Leavitt. It's a powerful position. It oversees these agencies, that is, the heads of these agencies would essentially report to Daschle:
  • OS - Office of the Secretary
  • ACF - Administration for Children & Families
  • AoA - Administration on Aging
  • AHRQ - Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality
  • ATSDR - Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry
  • CDC - Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
  • CMS - Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
  • FDA - Food & Drug Administration
  • HRSA - Health Resources & Services Administration
  • IHS - Indian Health Service
  • NIH - National Institutes of Health
  • OIG- Office of Inspector General
  • SAMHSA - Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration
As you can see, this appointment has a lot to do with food, food safety, food inspections, health research, drug approval, healthcare - all topics that interest me. The FDA alone, in the last year, has been responsible for loosening regulation on:
  • Genetically modified meat, fish, and dairy food
  • Bisphenol A in plastic bottles
  • Irradiation of fresh produce
Daschle would be in a position to reevaluate those actions. And, as a former Senate Majority leader, this man knows how to work in a bipartisan way to get things through Congress. That's an asset, considering that a healthcare bill is likely on the upcoming legislation menu.

Here's a short (4:22 minutes) YouTube of former Senator Daschle being interviewed by Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation last July. It gives a sense of where health care in the country is headed:


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Melamine, Diabetes, Kidney Disease, and Heart Disease

One reason I'm distracted by this melamine story is that I have a history of working with people with diabetes. People with diabetes are prone to kidney problems. (Diabetes drives progression of atherosclerosis, which narrows arteries all over the body, especially tiny arteries in the kidneys.) In fact, diabetic nephropathy (diabetes-related kidney disease) is the leading cause of kidney failure (non-acute) in the US right now.

So, a chronic, low-level presence of melamine in food is going to present a greater challenge for people with diabetes, or for anyone with a chronic kidney condition.

Having high blood pressure (over 120/80)1 in addition to diabetes will accelerate kidney damage. Just having high blood pressure alone - without a diagnosis of diabetes - can damage kidneys. It strains the tiny blood vessels that make up a kidney filtering unit - a glomerulus (I swear after all these years I still have difficulty pronouncing that word). Lose the function of enough of your glomeruli and you're on dialysis.

Also, having kidney disease (whose symptoms are often silent) accelerates heart disease. Conversely, cardiovascular disease accelerates kidney disease.2

These conditions are all linked. Melamine can cause kidney disease or can accelerate kidney disease if you already have it, and kidney disease can accelerate heart disease. It's not a stretch to hypothesize that chronic low levels of melamine could contribute to heart disease.

According to this article that appeared in the New York Times yesterday (sent in by reader BL):
Kidney Disease Takes a Growing Toll
"We’ve had a marked increase in chronic kidney disease in the last 10 years."
... a lot more people are going to have difficulty handling contaminants like melamine in their food.

We really need to ascertain levels of melamine in food.

If you're concerned about your kidneys, there are three tests I know of that can judge their function:
  1. Check the rate at which kidneys filter blood, a GFR (Glomerular Filtration Rate), requires a blood sample.
  2. Check levels of protein (albumin) in the urine.
  3. Check for anemia, specifically hemoglobin. The kidneys make a hormone, called erythropoietin (a word I can pronounce, really) that stimulates production of red blood cells. By the way, this is a reason people with kidney problems are often tired.
You could also have a scan or biopsy done, but those are more invasive.
1 Technically 120/80 to 149/90 is called prehypertension.
2 Independent Components of Chronic Kidney Disease as a Cardiovascular Risk State, Archives of Internal Medicine, June 2007.

How Pervasive Is Melamine In The US Food Supply?

It's time to check.

James E. McWilliams, writing in an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times yesterday:
Our Home-Grown Melamine Problem

... says China probably isn't the only country whose food supply is awash in melamine. The US food supply may also be contaminated.

Some of his points are debatable, but one I think is spot-on involves the dose-response relationship. Where a few acute doses of melamine might lead to kidney failure, what effect exists from small doses ingested over a long period of time? Because, without a doubt, there is melamine in our food.1

One of the commenters, Elena P. from Seattle, WA shares my concerns:
"One health effect of melamine is kidney stones.

Not too long ago, I read an article about rising rates of kidney stones among children and young adults.2 In the past, these groups have been considered low risk for kidney stones, but the article suggested this may be changing.

After reading this article, I wonder if there's any connection. Maybe not, but still, it's an interesting observation. Checking the food supply for possible melamine contamination might be a good place to start."
1 Besides Chinese milk and eggs, and products made from them such as candy (the Cadbury's Hazelnut Chocolate shown was found to contain melamine at levels 25 times Hong Kong's legal limit of 2.5 ppm), melamine has been found in ammonium bicarbonate, a leavening agent (contaminating 18 types of biscuits in Malasia), and in frozen green peas imported from China. China is one of the world's leading food exporters.
2 Perhaps this one: A Rise in Kidney Stones Is Seen in U.S. Children

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Feeding The World

RB sent this heads-up about a forthcoming book: A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil, by Sharon Astyk and Aaron Newton. It's due to be released in the Spring, 2009.

He found an excerpt on The Oil Drum:
Organic Agriculture Is Better Than Industrial Agriculture

One of the authors, Sharon Astyk, offers a longer excerpt on the Hen and Harvest:
Can We Feed The World? More Importantly Will We Choose To?

I've begun to read Astyk's excerpt. She's tackling some weighty issues. For example, to what extent do those with means have an obligation to provide for those without means? What if it involves sacrifice?

I may post more in a bit. I'm curious what others think.

Update: Sharon Astyk has a blog: Casaubon’s Book: Sharon Astyk’s Ruminations on an Ambiguous Future. Sharon Astyk likes to write.
Thanks, RB.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Price For Big Breasts

Turkeys and chickens are bred in this country to have big breasts, fat thighs, plump legs - to be, quite frankly, obese.

And to reach that state as quickly as possible, from a traditional 21 weeks down to 7 weeks for chickens:
"Because of genetics, nutrition, and intensification, the modern broiler reaches market weight (1.5 - 2.0 kg) in 7 weeks, a reduction of nearly two thirds from the time it took the traditional broiler."1
To put that into perspective:
"If a seven pound baby grew at the same rate that today's turkeys (and broiler chickens) grow, when the baby reached 18 weeks of age it would weigh 1,500 pounds."2
Still, they're perpetually denied food:
"As a result of such selection, broilers used for breeders must be kept under severe food restriction - they simply convert too efficiently. Since food is such a primordial, inelastic demand, it is likely these animals suffer." 1

Too Big To Stand

There's a price for that fast growth:
"With the breeding of broilers for fast growth and heavy musculature, little attention was paid to bone development and other areas under genetic control. ... Many diseases have resulted. ... They include leg weakness, ascites [fluid buildup in the abdomen], sudden death or "flip-over," deep pectoral myopathy, and right ventricular hypertrophy. Moreover, ... weak legs lead the birds to sit in soiled litter, which in turn produces breast blisters and hock burns, since the fecal material is corrosive."1

"As broilers rapidly become extremely obese, severe vitamin and mineral deficiencies are common, leading to many serious diseases: blindness, kidney damage, bone and muscle weakness, brain damage, paralysis, internal bleeding, anemia, disturbed sexual development, and deformed beaks and joints."2
So, a Presidential pardon is a bit disingenuous:
"Each year at Thanksgiving, the US president and vice president pardon a turkey and a vice turkey. This is a nice gesture, but after the turkeys are sent to a small farm, within a few months they die from heart attacks or lung collapse because their hearts and lungs can't support the ever increasing bulk."2

If Turkeys Can't Stand, Turkeys Can't Mate

So, humans mate for them:
"Turkeys today grow so fast that they find it impossible to mate naturally. By the time they reach reproductive age they are so obese that they simply cannot get close enough to physically manage. As a result, all 300 million turkeys born annually in the United States are the result of an act of artificial insemination."2

(How, you may wonder, is this done? Suffice it to say that there are people who have become adept at handling male turkeys in just the right way. The procedure is called - with delicacy but without anatomical accuracy - "abdominal massage." After the semen is thus collected, and then mixed with a myriad of chemicals, there are other "experts" whose job it is to inject the material into the females, using an implement that looks, rather ironically, remarkably like a turkey baster.)"2
If you'd like to know more, you can read Jim Mason's account of his job as a turkey inseminator at the Butterball Turkey Company.

There are turkeys that aren't subjected to the above. But as long as the demand for $0.99/lb Thanksgiving turkey remains high, so will, I presume, these practices.
1 Bernard E. Rollin, "Farm Animal Welfare: Social, Bioethical, and Research Issues," 2003, p. 133-134
2 John Robbins, "The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World," 2001, p. 195
Photo of George Bush with turkey from official White House site, was accompanied by the caption:
"President George W. Bush offers an official pardon to May, the 2007 Thanksgiving Turkey, during festivities Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007, in the Rose Garden of the White House. In pardoning May, and the alternate, Flower, the President said, "May they live the rest of their lives in blissful gobbling. And may all Americans enjoy a holiday full of love and peace. God bless you all."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Root Cellaring

Consuming less oil (the fossil fuel variety) means eating less meat.1 Eating less meat means eating more vegetables. Eating more vegetables means storing more vegetables.

I have to face the cold, hard facts. My refrigerator isn't up to the task. Thirty pounds of potatoes, squash, apples, carrots, and beets are making it difficult to close the door. You know what is up to the task? A root cellar:

Food Storage as Grandma Knew It, New York Times, November 5, 2008

Says Elizabeth Cromley, author and professor of architectural history at Northeastern University:
"At one time, just about every house had special facilities for preserving food."

"More than 400 books instructed 19th-century Americans on how to plan a functional house, with a practical larder, basement and outbuildings."

"You’re not going to die if you don’t get a new dress," she said, "but if you don’t know this, it will kill you."
Unfortunately, we don't have a basement:
"The Worleys, like a number of other Americans, have made the seemingly anachronistic choice to turn their basement into a root cellar."
But we do have an unheated garage, where my accomodating husband has meted out space on a once tool-heavy shelf for some cold storage:

1 The Staggering Cost Of Rising World Meat Production, Mark Bittman, New York Times, January, 2008:
"If Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent, it would be as if they all switched from a standard sedan - a Camry, say - to the ultra-efficient Prius."
Photo of root cellar in Vermont from Vermont Geological Survey. If you drive into less developed areas in PA, you'll see some of these. I wonder if they're still in use.
Photo of our squash-and-potato shelf: I took this at night. The room was completely dark. I'm just lucky the camera has a flash.

Monday, November 10, 2008

"What Matters", A Collection Of Photo Essays

This is a photo of a woman baking cassava cakes using the heat of a flare left by an oil company in the Niger River Delta. My image of cake baking will never be the same.

The photo was taken by Ed Kashi, who traveled to Nigeria from 2004 to 2006 to expose the impact oil production there has on the people. Of the above photo, he says, "This is the equivalent of using your car tailpipe to bake bread."

The pipelines run right through communities:

CNN posted a 15-photo slideshow this morning, that includes these two, at:
The Price Of Our Oil Addiction

The photos are part of a new photo book, What Matters: The World's Preeminent Photojournalists and Thinkers Depict Essential Issues of Our Time, edited by David Elliot Cohen.

The book and accompanying website ( "include 193 specific ways that you can get involved and help the people in the photos," says Cohen.

Says Kashi:
"We have to figure out how to move beyond our dependence on oil. Because from what I have witnessed as a photojournalist around the world and particularly in the Niger Delta... is that from the source of oil, all the way through the process of obtaining it and refining it and then bringing it to market, and then the end use? It is all negative and destructive. It's destructive to people's lives, and it's destructive to our environment."
More of Kashi's photos on his site.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Bottled Water: Go Tap

A few weeks ago, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit, public health organization, released their bottled water assessment. It's not pretty:
Bottled Water Quality Investigation: 10 Major Brands, 38 Pollutants
"Our tests strongly indicate that the purity of bottled water cannot be trusted. Given the industry's refusal to make available data to support their claims of superiority, consumer confidence in the purity of bottled water is simply not justified."

"The bottled water industry promotes an image of purity, but comprehensive testing by the EWG reveals a surprising array of chemical contaminants in every bottled water brand analyzed."
Note: The Deer Park water shown may or may not have been included in their tests. It just happened to be a bottle of water I had available for a photograph (although Brand #3 and Brand #4, coming from Silver Springs, Maryland, look mighty suspicious).

Some of those contaminants:
  • Toxic disinfection byproducts (e.g. chloroform)
  • Caffeine
  • Pharmaceuticals (e.g. Tylenol)
  • Heavy metals
  • Minerals (e.g. arsenic)
  • Radioactive isotopes 1
  • Fertilizer residue (nitrate and ammonia)
  • Solvents
  • Plasticizers
  • Viscosity decreasing agents
  • Propellants
"Four brands [almost half of those tested] had some bacterial contamination ... which could indicate unsanitary conditions at the bottled water plant or bottled water collection site."
Although the brands used were kept anonymous, two were so polluted, and remained so in follow-up tests, that the EWG decided to go public with them. Below is their graph showing levels of just two contaminants that exceeded legal and industry standards in Walmart and Giant brands:

I found the following especially disturbing:
"The study also included assays for breast cancer cell proliferation. ... One bottled water brand spurred a 78% increase in the growth of the breast cancer cells compared to the control sample. ... When estrogen-blocking chemicals were added, the effect was inhibited, showing that the cancer-spurring chemicals mimic estrogen, a hormone linked to breast cancer."
EWG Recommends

Go Brita 2: "A carbon filter, tap mounted or pitcher variety, removes many of the contaminants found in public tap water, rendering it as good as, if not better than, most brands of bottled water."

Ditch the Plastic: "EWG recommends that consumers use a stainless steel bottle filled with filtered tap water."
1 Radioactivity was detected in seven brands, averaging 3.7 picoCuries/liter. FDA limit: not to exceed 4 millirems per year (equivalent to 50 pCi/L). Does that mean no more than 13 bottles of this radioactive water a year?
2 My plug, not theirs.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Dollar Menus

To the left is my receipt from a local grocery store from last week, where I bought 1 yam, 1 squash, and 1 pepper for $6.81. To the right is McDonald's Dollar Menu.
  • When the cost of one organic green pepper exceeds the cost of a McDonald's hamburger, or 2 McDonald's hot apple pies...
  • When the burger, pies, and fries are within walking distance of where you live or work in the city but the pepper and potato require a trip beyond the food desert...
  • When the price of the burger, pies, and fries includes costs associated with preparation time and cooking fuel, but a potato needs a spell in the oven...
  • When the burger, pies, and fries can be eaten inside, protected from the elements, at a table, with a restroom at the ready... when the choice of a fast food meal in the city becomes, for some people, no choice at all.

McDonald's considered restructuring its Dollar Menu to reflect higher food costs, e.g. removing a slice of cheese from the Double Cheeseburger. They're glad they didn't scrap the menu altogether:
"McDonald's credited the Dollar Menu for aiding its 3rd quarter sales figures, which were 6.2 percent higher than last year."

"14% of McDonald's total sales (up to May 2008) were from Double Cheeseburger, which has gained popularity with families struggling to pay the monthly bills and make their monthly mortgage payments."
- Dollar Menu Rescues McDonald's 3rd Quarter, October 23, 2008


Monday, November 03, 2008

Where To Vote

Thanks to the League of Women Voters.

How Much Melamine Is In Our Food?

Do you see a link ...

Between this:
Chinese Destroy Tons of Tainted Feed, New York Times, November 2, 2008
"Chinese regulators said over the weekend that they had confiscated and destroyed more than 3,600 tons of animal feed tainted with melamine."
When consumed in small amounts, melamine causes kidney stones (or crystals). When consumed in larger amounts, it results in kidney failure.

And this:
A New York Times story from last week reported:
A Rise in Kidney Stones Is Seen in U.S. Children

Parting thought (from top story):
"China is ... one of the biggest food exporters in the world."

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Turban Squash

The UN declared 2008 the International Year of the Potato. Not that I haven't been indulging potatoes, but for me 2008 is turning out to be the Year of the Squash.

The one to the right is called a turban squash. I was going to say it's aptly named but, truth be told, I haven't seen too many turbans in my life - odd given that Wikipedia's Turban entry says, "Humans have been wearing cloth on their heads since the invention of cloth."

Looking around ...

I see how this squash got its name.

As with my other winter squashes, I scrubbed this and put it into the oven whole, at 320ºF. It fully softens in about 1.5 to 2 hours. I made sure to pierce it as it cooked so it didn't explode.

I let it cool for another hour or so and then dug in. I'm amazed at the differences in taste and texture of all these squashes. This one was much milder than a kabocha or buttercup (not the same as butternut). Its flesh was more yellow than orange, and it was slightly more fibrous than a sweet dumpling, carnival, or acorn squash. I've learned though that taste and texture can be different for the same squash depending on how it was grown, when it was harvested, how it was stored (temperature/humidity), and how long it was stored. I don't think I'd return to this one. It's beautiful but its taste isn't as memorable as others ... that cook in less time.

(By the way, I retried a kabocha squash, a true kabocha squash. It's growing on me. It's still pungent - musky and grassy - but after you get used to it you want more .... and more. Kabocha, I found, is very much like buttercup. They look similar (except for buttercup's bottom swelling) and they're both very sweet with deep orange flesh and not fibrous. They're definitely worth a try. Or two.)
The two photos of people wearing turbans were taken by (I think) Karl Grobl. He has some gorgeous photography on his site.
Vermeer's Girl With A Pearl Earring (a painting I was fortunate enough to see in person. It's so tiny - hardly more than a foot across.) is from Wikipedia.
The photo of the turban squash was taken by me. All pics are enlargeable by clicking.