Thursday, June 28, 2012

Seed Saving 1

It is a bit early in the season to be thinking about seed saving. But for the people over at Milkwood Permaculture, its that time of year (being as their in the antipodes...). They posted this picture, which is brilliant. Making me think about saving containers for seed saving. If only I ate TicTacs....

If you are a seed saver or are interested in saving seed check out the Seed Savers Network and their YouTube channel.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Additives 1

This interesting piece from the Food Integrity Campaign:
As the health debate over soda continues, new test results reignite concerns regarding manufactured ingredients commonly used in soft drinks and other processed foods. It was enough that mercury has been found in products with high fructose corn syrup thanks to industrial processing, but now industrially produced caramel coloring (ubiquitous in soda to create a more appealing, dark color) has been linked to a carcinogen known as 4-MI.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) found "alarming levels" of the cancer-causing chemical 4 methylimidizole (4-MI) in Coca-Cola drinks around the world. It forms when a solution of sugars is heated with ammonia to make the artificial brown coloring, which is also used in baked goods, soy sauces, gravies and beer.
As of January 2012, California requires a cancer-warning label on soft drinks and other widely consumed products that lead to people consuming at least 30 micrograms of 4-MI per day. In response to that rule, Coke started using an alternative caramel coloring with considerably lower 4-MI levels … but has yet to market the less-contaminated drinks outside California

And then, the interesting part. A chart of 4-MI content by country. And look at who's number two...

This on the heels of renewed interest in how fast food / industrial food manufacturers are using the same deflect and deny tactics employed so successfully by the tobacco industry for so long. And what difference will this make to our current government? I predict "none at all." The current Tory government isn't simply business friendly, it's more like international business' crack whore. The evidence, on the other hand, just keeps piling up: if it has been commercially grown, or modified from the field in any way, it is probably better not to eat it. The only way to have true food security is to democratise the food system. By that I mean to distribute production across as many people as possible, to export nothing we do not priduce in surplus, and to import as little as possible. Canada needs to pursue food sovereigity before it pursues export capacity or the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wrong, But Understandable

I am in no way expressing support for whomever did this. I'm just saying that I kind of get this. MSN News is reporting (via AP and CP):

VIENNA - There's been a tasty break-in at a farm in southeastern Austria, where a ton of strawberries went missing under cover of darkness.
Police in Styria province said Saturday that the thieves cut down a fence in Kalsdorf, near Graz, during the night and stripped 10 rows of strawberry plants bare. They say the fruit was worth some €2,400 ($3,030).
It wasn't clear who the thieves were or where the strawberries ended up.
From Wikipedia

Above is an image of  "plasticulture" strawberries. These are fields that have been mulched with a heavy balck plastic, usually with an irrigation line under the plastic running along each row, and then strawbs planted through the plastic. This means that there are no weeds (or almost no weeds) without the use of herbicides, and the berries stand out like little "eat me!" signs when they're ripe. Works really well too, especially when you hill the rows first. When my brother, Frank Klassen of Sunnyside Fruit and Vegetable did this, that winter the deer decided that they'd found an amazing salad bar and ate every plant down the rows. However, the roots were sound, and the next spring presented an excellent crop despite the mid-winter nosh.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bragging Rights

Nothing serious. Just had our first vine ripened strawberries on June 1st and Paula just handed me three snap peas to eat. Which is early. And makes me very happy. And there's lots of blossoms on both the peas and strawbs, so there will be more summer goodness.
In addition, the pepper plants are doing well, the shallots are getting big, as are the Royal Burgundy bush beans (though no blossoms yet), and the carrots are all up. The tomatoes are struggling, but not dead yet. And the climbing beans are up and growing. So life is pretty good in the garden.

By The Numbers

The Sunday New York Times published this graphic, comparing three different meals both in cost and nutritional value.

From The NYT

The problem, of course, is the rapidly declining ability among the population to actually prepare a meal from scratch.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Visualize Variety

A stunning photo--thanks to Milkwood Permaculture--of heirloom tomatoes. This is a reminder of what the world is supposed to look like; exuberant diversity.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Food, Near Food, and Vitamins

We've all heard the story of scurvy; a disease aboard ship, traced to a vitamin C deficiency, the introduction of lime juice to the sailor's diet, and hurrah! Problem solved! The moral of the story? That sometimes diet is not enough, and you have to take supplementary vitamins and minerals.
What we're not really thinking about is why the sailors faced scurvy in the first place. Navy life was brutal, badly paid, and if you weren't an officer, you were the lowest of the low—roughly equivalent to footpads and cut-purses. And the food was horrible. In the damp confines of the ship, everything developed moulds and spoiled, there was no refrigeration, and food storage techniques were less than effective. Hardtack, or ship's bread, was nothing much more than flour, water, and maybe salt, fashioned into a biscuit and baked four times to drive all the water out of it. Properly prepared, it would last effectively forever on board ship, but provided a badly nutrient-deficient food for sailors.
Reproduction hardtack (from wikipedia)
Today we take nutritional supplements for many different reasons—scurvy and beri beri no longer among them. We take anti-oxidants to protect against heart disease or cancer. We hear repeated statements about how good they are, and how we should all be taking various pills—you know, if we actually care about our health. Problem with this all is, we don't actually know if these supplements are doing us any good.
Turns out, they're not. Research over the last three or four years is showing that not only may they not be doing us any good, but they are actually being linked to earlier death in certain populations (primarily women). There are questions being raised about dose absorption from pills, timed-release seems to mean poorer uptake rates, and on and on.
In response, we hear people saying “All you have to do is eat properly and you won't need supplements.” Hey, I've said it myself. Concentrate on cooking from scratch, use lots of whole vegetables rather than processed ones, and everything should be fine. Except... it's probably not fine. Thomas F. Pawlick, in his book The End of Food (a good Canadian boy, btw. And what is it about Canadians that they write so many excellent books about the food system?) talks about a number of tests—Canadian, American, and British—that show similar results: over the last half century or so, the nutritional content of food has changed. And seldom for the better.
Thomas F. Pawlick

In 2002, André Picard reported on a joint investigation by CTV and the Globe and Mail that looked at nutritional content of six fruits and vegetables. They published this table of the changes in the nutritional make-up between 1951 and 1999:

Vitamin A
Vitamin C

Notice how some of the listed foods have lost all their nutritional content in one category or another: Bananas have lost all their riboflavin, Onions and potatoes have lost all their vitamin A. And across these seven categories, the majority have lost significant amounts of nutritional value.
In the UK, the story is similar. British researcher Anne-Marie Mayer published a study called Historical Changes in the Mineral Content of Fruits and Vegetables [pdf] (British Food Journal, 99(6), 1997, 207-211) in which she wrote:
There were significant reductions in the levels of calcium, magnesium, copper and sodium in vegetables, and magnesium, iron, copper, and potassium in fruits. The greatest change was the reduction in copper levels in vegetables to less than one-fifth of the old level. The only mineral that showed no significant differences over the 50-year period was phosphorus. [p. 209]
Pawlick has also looked into the US experience, particularly that of tomatoes. “Tomatoes were once among the best sources of these vitamins [A and C]. But 100 grams of today's fresh tomato contain 30.7 percent less Vitamin A and 16.9 percent less Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) than its 1963 counterpart. [emphasis in original] It also has fully 61.5 percent less calcium [...], 11.1 percent less phosphorus, 9 percent less potassium, 7.97 percent less niacin, 10 percent less iron and 1 percent less thiamine.” [p. 6 The End of Food]
That's since 1963—the numbers look worse if you go back to the nutrient tables produced by the USDA in 1950. Then it becomes apparent that while the tomato may be down 10 percent in its iron content since 1963, it is down 25 percent since 1950. But there are increases as well: fats (lipids) are up by 65 percent and sodium is up by 200 percent.
This is also true in processed tomatoes; canned tomato juice is down 35.4 percent on iron content and 30.5 percent of its Vitamin A—again since 1963. Vitamin A is down 47 percent in tomato juice since 1950. And these are only the primary vitamin and mineral components that have been measured. We really have no idea as to any change in the micro-nutrient component of what we're forced to consider as food.
So conventional agriculture has left us with an ongoing legacy of lots of cheap food, but of declining nutritional value. [Oh, and don't you love that bit of Orwellian Newspeak? Industrial agricultural methods—only about 60 years old—are referred to as “conventional,” while the techniques that date back to the beginning of agriculture have their own, separate classification of “organic.”] To replace the missing nutrients, we're expected to pick up oral multivitamins—which may or may not be bio-utilizable and which seem to shorten some lifespans.
What's to be done? It's pretty straightforward; begin cutting industrially-produced foods out of your diet. Replace it with homegrown food (because most of the changes in the various cultivars has been to increase storage life and transportability) grown from heritage seeds. Save your own seed and plant in good quality soil replenished with compost from your food waste. Preserve your own food wherever possible (really, its not that difficult). Even if you can't be entirely self-sufficient (and that is difficult to do), you can be a great deal more self-reliant and reduce your intake of poor quality food by replacing it with high-quality real food.