Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Food Crisis Solution: Go Back to the Beginning?

Much has been said, over the years, about the global food crisis and world hunger. At the same time, food waste in many countries is at an all time high. Perhaps part of the problem is that food production has become too big; too global. Perhaps the answer is to go back to the beginning with local/regional food production and distribution.

A return to seasonal selections of food based on local/regional geography. Less transportation costs, shorter distance from field to table, less waste. A resurgence of small family farms able to offer healthy, produce, meat, fruit, nuts, eggs, cheese, etc. in a sustainable way. Personal relationships between farmers, grocers, butchers, bakers, restaurants,
and consumers.

“Slow Food reminds us of the importance of knowing where our food comes from. When we understand the connection between the food on our table and the field where it grows, our everyday meals can anchor us to nature and the place where we live.”
~ Alice Waters, chef, author, Vice President of Slow Food International

In metropolitan areas, abandoned buildings and vacant lots are being converted to vertical farms and urban gardens, eliminating food deserts, and providing employment opportunities for inner city inhabitants. Will Allen's Growing Power is testimony to the ways a community can benefit from urban farms. Urban farms can be found in New York, Chicago, London, Paris, Berlin, and Sydney, as well as many other cities around the world.

"Our connection to, and knowledge of, the food we eat, the land upon which we grow it and the people who plow, plant and pick it is more important to our future than all the money in the world. "                      ~Nancy Kotting-Two Men, Two Farms and a Legacy We Can All Learn From

Small, local farms can also successfully eliminate the issue of food waste in communities by using waste food from restaurants, grocery stores, and schools as compost. California Safe Soil has developed Harvest-to-Harvest, or H2H, a liquid fertilizer made from food waste. Comprised completely of organic matter, H2H vastly reduces the amount of chemical fertilizers needed by a crop. Just as important, the liquid can be applied to crops with farmers’ existing irrigation equipment, reducing the necessity for extra labor or equipment costs. The company sources food waste from a number of Sacramento-area grocery store chains to create its product. 

Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland, which has an extensive sustainability policy, uses their grains in almost every area of its business. After brewing, some of the waste go to local farms where it’s fed to the livestock and poultry that end up being served back at the brewpub. Some of it goes to the baker who makes the bread and pretzels on their menu. Another portion is composted for use at their urban farm and another urban farm in the city. The grains, which are rich in the nitrates and sulfates on which fungi thrive, are also used by local mushroom cultivators to grow mushrooms that end up as toppings on pizzas or salads. 

It's time for agriculture to become, local and sustainable, if we are to have a secure, healthy food supply in the future.

Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

GMO - Can David Beat Goliath in the 21st Century?

What is the DARK Act?

In February 2015, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) reintroduced HR 1599, a bill intended to strip states of their right to pass GMO labeling laws. The bill is officially called the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act.” Others call it the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act because it would stop GMO labeling laws.  

On July 23, 2015 in a 275 to 150 vote, the House of Representatives voted in favor of the DARK Act, in spite of the fact that 90% of Americans surveyed are in favor of GMO labeling. 

GMO crops took up about 1.7 million hectares soon after they were introduced in 1996. Acreage has grown at an average clip of 10 million hectares a year, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, and are now up to 175 million hectares, with no signs of abating. And Monsanto is either leading most of these markets, or is in close competition for them.In 2013, Monsanto racked up sales of $14.9 billion. Of that, $10.3 billion came from seeds and genomic traits.

It is becoming clear that big business will soon have control over the food supply. Will we let that happen? There have been some successes in the grassroots movement to stop Monsanto from taking over the world's food production. It will take the voices of millions of people demanding an end to agribusiness' stranglehold on seed production. Millions more voices to end the systematic destruction of small farms around the globe.

Some brave souls have fought the good fight, and have won, in a small way. The 10-minute short documentary, Seeding Fear, tells the story of a farmer named Michael White, who with his father Wayne, took on the corporation in court. Percy Schmeiser: David vs Monsanto runs a little over an hour but is a much more comprehensive look at what independent farmers are going through in their fight against GMO supremacy in the fields. They are both disturbing and frightening.

GMO Awareness has a list of state, national, and international anti-GMO groups. The Non-GMO Project has good information and suggestions on how to get involved. Contact your Congressmen and tell them to vote "NO" to HR 1599. The future of food is in our hands.

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."~ Edmund Burke

Until next time...become the change you imagine.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

No, Doctor, It's Not All in My Head!

Does going to the grocery store fill you with dread? Do you stress about someone showing up at your home? Do you avoid public places whenever possible? You don't? Good for you! Unfortunately, I have to answer "yes" to all those questions. I have multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) and it sucks.

What is MCS? In broad terms it means an unusually severe sensitivity or allergy-like reaction to many different kinds of pollutants including solvents, VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds), perfumes, gasoline, diesel, smoke, "chemicals" in general.  MCS is considered idiopathic, which means that the mechanism that causes it is not understood. 

Most people, especially doctors, don't believe that MCS is real. At this time, many in the medical community do not accept multiple chemical sensitivity as a genuine medical disorder. Credible sources, such as the CDC and the American Medical Association, do not recognize this as a medical diagnosis, nor is there any official medical definition because symptoms and chemical exposures are often unique and vary widely between individuals. The video Multiple Chemical Sensitivity: How Chemical Exposures May Be Affecting Your Health is a great "primer" for understanding MCS and it's impact on the people who suffer from it.

A study led by the University of Washington discovered that 25 commonly used scented products emit an average of 17 chemicals each. Of the 133 different chemicals detected, nearly a quarter are classified as toxic or hazardous under at least one federal law. Only one emitted compound was listed on a product label, and only two were publicly disclosed anywhere. The article was published, in 2011, in the journal Environmental Impact Assessment Review.

The study analyzed air fresheners including sprays, solids and oils; laundry products including detergents, fabric softeners and dryer sheets; personal care products such as soaps, hand sanitizers, lotions, deodorant and shampoos; and cleaning products including disinfectants, all-purpose sprays and dish detergent. All were widely used brands, with more than half being the top-selling product in its category. All products emitted at least one chemical classified as toxic or hazardous. Eleven products emitted at least one probable carcinogen according to the EPA. These included acetaldehyde, 1,4-dioxane, formaldehyde and methylene chloride.

Dr. Anne Steinemann, Professor of Civil Engineering, and the Chair of Sustainable Cities, from the Department of Infrastructure Engineering, Melbourne School of Engineering, is a world expert on environmental pollutants, air quality, and health effects. She investigated and compared volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from 37 different products, such as air fresheners, cleaning products, laundry supplies, and personal care products, including those with certifications and claims of 'green' and 'organic'. Both fragranced and fragrance-free products were tested.

The study, published this year in the journal Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health found 156 different VOCs emitted from the 37 products, with an average of 15 VOCs per product. Of these 156 VOCs, 42 are classified as toxic or hazardous under US federal laws, and each product emitted at least one of these chemicals. Findings revealed that emissions of carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants from 'green'-fragranced products were not significantly different from regular-fragranced products. In total, over 550 volatile ingredients were emitted from these products, but fewer than three percent were disclosed on any product label or material safety data sheet (MSDS).

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), fragrances are considered the leading cause of cosmetic contact dermatitis. As a health problem, this sensitivity alone affects more than 2 million people, and studies suggest that sensitivity is on the rise. Experts theorize that one reason fragrance allergies appear to be increasing is that fragrances themselves have become such a prominent part of our world. According to the AAD, some 5,000 different fragrances -- and countless other fragrance combinations -- are used in products today.

"Sensitivity is a general term under which you can have a true allergic reaction, but you can also have irritant reactions, meaning the problem with fragrance could be that it's an irritant. With others, it could be an allergic reaction. It's just not well known what actually is occurring when these reactions develop," says dermatologist Marjorie Slankard, MD, clinical professor of medicine at Columbia Eastside, a division of Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City.

If you are reading this with skepticism, because you don't have a problem with fragrances, or other chemicals, consider this: I didn't always have a problem with them, either. Most people with MCS weren't born with it.  For me, it all started when a co-worker came to work wearing White Diamonds perfume. A brain-piercing migraine, inability to breathe, and overwhelming nausea were my immediate response to that initial exposure. That was 15 years ago and, since then, the list of offending products has grown to include paints/varnishes, laundry products, cleaning products, air fresheners, personal care products, and most perfumes and colognes. I seldom leave home, and when I do it is always with the dreadful expectation that I will run into someone who is wearing a product that will cause an adverse reaction.

We need to demand full disclosure of ingredients on all products sold and we need to demand products that are made with proven-safe ingredients. I prefer to use homemade products similar to those used prior to the chemical boom that began in the 1970's. Wellness Mama is one of my go-to sites for all kinds of recipes and useful information. Here are some more of my favorite sites:
Rodale's Organic Life
Real Simple
Chemical Sensitivity Foundation

Aside from the obvious detrimental environmental consequences, chemical exposures can only have a detrimental human consequence, as well. More people are developing sensitivities each year, so I believe that this issue will become more widely accepted, and hopefully, more fully studied. Be kind to yourself and your fellow man by limiting use of fragranced products whenever possible. MCS could happen to you, or someone you love.

Until next time...become the change you imagine.