Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Lesson from the Potato Famine

One of the other downsides of the industrial approach to modern agriculture is that fewer and fewer different strains of crops are produced. For example, most of the corn planted in the US is of the same variety.

So if some kind of corn blight were to develop, it would spread across our corn harvest like wildfire, causing severe problems in the food supply system.

That is exactly what happened during the Irish Potato Famine. So many farmers planted potatoes that once the blight started, there were no barriers to the blight spreading.

If there had been a greater diversity in planting, with say, a field of corn, a field of beets, barley, peas, tomatoes, beans or other crops adjacent to a field of potatoes, the other plants would have acted as sort of a firewall.

But since potatoes were such a runaway favorite, once the blight started, it was a runaway too, changing the fortunes of the entire nation.

Diversity in our food is good in more than one way.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Common Sense About Food

You have to wonder when that story was reported about a week ago conveying the impression that organic produce is no better for a person than conventional produce. You have to wonder if this was just sloppy work or an intentional effort to undermine the organic market.

While it may be true that organic produce may contain the same vitamins and nutrients as conventionally produced produce, the huge fact that is overlooked in this statement is that buyers of organic produce make that choice for other reasons they consider important. Primary among those is the ability to purchase foods which have not been treated with lots of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.

Another is the desire to purchase foods which have not been genetically modified. Although genetically modified foods have not yet been proven to cause harm, a person with common sense would have to wonder why we should eat them.

Think about this. We don't have shortages of milk in this country. So why do we need to give cattle hormones so that they will be artificially stimulated to produce more? Are milk products containing these stimulants necessary or good for us?

Think about genetically modified plants. If soybeans or corn, for example, have been modified so that seeds from this year's crop cannot be planted to grow next year's crop, why is this good for us to eat? The life energy has been altered so that it will not sprout, so doesn't that diminish the life energy we get from eating it?

Personally, I purchase some organic foods and some conventional. Cost is one consideration and another is that some foods simply are only available in one version. For example, I love Vidalia onions, but there are not two versions (regular and organic), so I simply buy Vidalias when they are available.

Another example. Peanut butter. There are store brands that are made simply from crushed peanuts with salt added. I choose this over brands that contain sugar, corn syrup, molasses, oils of other plants, artificial coloring and so on. Even if you do not monitor sugar intake in your diet as I do, you have to wonder why other oils need to be added if simply crushing a peanut releases its own oil.

Of course, one of the other significant factors is flavor. The kinds of tomatoes that are usually found in grocery stores pale in comparison to tomatoes you can get from a garden or a farmer at a farmers market, organic or not. Why? Because what we get in the stores is engineered to have thicker skins and less juice and seeds, which has everything to do with the taste of a tomato.

Maybe it is not your imagination if you think that watermelons without seeds don't have as much flavor as watermelons with seeds.

Farmers markets and some health food stores are the only places you can usually find heirloom vegetables, which are living examples of what produce was like before the majority of food producers all started using the same few modern strains. More homogenous crops have eliminated many of the different shapes and colors of fruits and vegetables.

Several years ago during the outbreak of mad cow disease, we found out about some of the other questionable ingredients that are put in cattle feed, like ground up parts of other cows. I choose to eat meat from cows that are simply grass fed, which is what is natural for a cow. At times when I do not have that choice, I will eat what is available, but I am conscious of my choices and choose healthier when I can. Meat that does not contain antibiotics and hormones is a bit more expensive, but think of it as just another factor in choosing, just like you can choose what percentage of fat you want in your meat.

These are what I call common sense considerations.

If you consider all the controversies about the quality of food and modern farming, all of them arise from one source. Fewer people operating bigger machines and spraying more chemicals are producing our food. Huge buildings containing tens of thousands of chickens and pigs in confined spaces produce cheaper meat, but these conditions also cause more problems.

Organic and free range methods are more labor intensive and that is why they cost more. But maybe it would all be for the best if more people were employed to produce our food.

Use common sense when thinking about food and see what answers you come up with.