Organic watermelon radishes from Hairston Creek Farm

Saturday, May 29, 2010


During a work meeting last week, the subject of recycling came up. Some of the people present at the meeting often mock the subject of recycling and other subjects related to taking care of our planet (using organic methods, buying unprocessed foods, etc.) - they do not believe that it is that crucial to recycle, for example. I guess they think trash disappears when the trucks take it away. Or, maybe, they think landfills will never fill. Or, better yet, they believe trash really decomposes in the landfill and that landfills will become again some day places where we can build homes and schools and grow food. I guess if they are thinking only about their generation, it could be true that landfills will not fill. I, however, have to think of my children, and their children, and their children's children, and of how I would love to leave this planet for them in at least the same shape I found it when I got here. While we don't have solar panels on our roof, nor do we have a 100 gallon tank to collect rain water in our backyard (although I wish we did), we do pay attention to what we buy and try to recycle as much as we can so that we do our part. Not because it is easy (it isn't), nor because it is free (it isn't where we live), but because it is the right thing to do. Although I know that there are people out there making a much bigger, better impact on this planet than our family is, compared to the average American, you could say we are at least trying to do the right thing:
  • We buy mostly raw foods so we buy little packaging;
  • When we do buy packaged foods, we choose the product packaged in recyclable containers;
  • We recycle everything we can (aluminum, paper, plastics 1-7, and styrofoam), even if it means we have to drive it somewhere every couple of months;
  • When we have leftovers at restaurant, we ask for foil (better yet, we split meals so that we don't have leftovers);
  • We compost our food scraps as long as our compost bin is not full; and
  • We use organic methods only to grow plants and on our lawn
In any case, when one of my coworkers made fun of recycling, I felt like speaking up. I didn't because I know these people. They are bright and eloquent and I would never have the last word. This was also a work meeting and I knew that as soon as I tried to make my point, the subject would be thrown out. One of my other coworkers, however, did speak up. Before the subject was quickly thrown out (as I had suspected), someone else said something along the lines of how as humans, how we live, including everything we do, including our wasteful ways, is natural. In other words, we were created by nature, therefore, the consequences of our actions, are natural, so why worry so much about it. I did not say anything, but wanted to. Had I had the nerve, I would have said that yes, she is right. We are nature's creation and so what we do is "natural". As "natural" as a meteorite heading toward the Earth to possibly destroy all life as we know it. And I suspect that if a meteorite was heading our direction and our society had the tools to stop it (or at least delay impact), these people would be the first to push for our society to use the tools to stop it. So, why, if we know of things we can do to make this planet better, why shouldn't we? If we don't, I suspect nature WILL take its course and we will eat, shop, and waste ourselves right into extinction.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Local vs. Organic

Unlike most people, it is usually pretty easy for me to suddenly make a decision to make a change. Ten or so years ago I decided to start cooking healthy food after my brother gave me a collage of pictures for Christmas that included a picture of myself in a bikini when I was 16, next to another picture of myself 20 years later while wearing a very baggy sweatshirt and stuffing my face with cake. Soon after, I bought my first issue of Cooking Light and started cooking only healthy nutritious food. It took a year but I lost the 15 pounds I had gained after having children and have remained the same size ever since.
Several years ago, when organic food started becoming more available, I decided to start buying mostly organic - I am a chemist and know a little something about pesticides and herbicides. I decided to take small steps only because my husband was somewhat resistant to the change due to the increased cost, not because I had any trouble with the decision. I started with the dirty dozen, which are the 12 fruits and vegetables that contain the most pesticide residue because among these are spinach, bell peppers, apples, and strawberries which are foods we eat often in our house. Little by little I started buying more and more organic foods until it got to the point where no longer did I buy any conventional food products if I could help it. I then started to buy organic cosmetics (shampoos, face cream, etc) and household cleaners. I would say that almost everything I buy now is organic. Easy.
After reading In Defense of Food, I decided once again to make a change. With a few exceptions, our family would no longer eat processed foods. This was the most labor intensive change of all. We make our own bread, crackers, and jam. We no longer buy cereals or breakfast bars. We make our own ice cream. We spend Sundays mostly cooking and baking.
All of these decisions were easy for me to make (although not so easy for the rest of my family) because although more labor intensive and more expensive, nobody could really argue with me that I was making bad choices when making these decisions. Eating less preservatives and additives, less pesticides and herbicides, more whole, nutrient-rich foods could only be better for our health.
When I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which advocates eating locally produced foods, I jumped at the chance to make yet another change for the better. But wait...local does not necessarily mean pesticide-free. So, what is better, local or organic? Obviously, buying local organic produce will be the best choice by far. However, local organic produce is not always available. So, what to do? I started going to the local farmer's markets and talking to all of the farmers before I bought their produce. Many are not certified organic but say they grow their produce following organic practices. Buying their produce was relatively easy for me (although I had to put some trust in folks that I did not really know). Some, however, will very openly admit that they use herbicides and in some cases pesticides when they have to. Buying their produce has proven harder for me. For a few weeks, I was able to do it. Then a friend of mine gave me a book for my birthday. The book is called The Organic Manifesto and advocates, as the name implies, buying organic. I have to admit, I reverted.
You will find much information that will make a very strong case for conventionally produced, local, seasonal foods being better for the environment than organically produced foods flown in from the other end of the world. So, I try, really I do, to make the best choice that I can. I will buy organic strawberries from California before I will buy organic mangoes from Chile. California is not local but is closer to me. You see, I could argue that the carbon footprint made bringing those strawberries to me is smaller than the one made by the local farmer growing the strawberries in Marble Falls. It's not that the choice is simple, it's simply that I would prefer to eat my corn tortillas without a side of Atrazine.
So this is the best I can do: I go to the farmer's market every Saturday and buy as much produce as I can that has been produced chemically-free. I then get in my car and drive to Whole Foods and buy the rest of our food there. Not much, just some.
Sometimes I think that in my previous life I must have been a yo-yo.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


I am not sure I really had a problem with GMO's (Genetically Modified Organisms) before I really understood why they are being used. I thought that if scientists were trying to genetically modify plants so that they were more nutritious, yielded better crops, etc., nothing was wrong with that. Except that genetically modified seeds are not being created by nutritionists and/or doctors. So, who is creating them? Well, it is scientists working for the same chemical companies that produce the pesticides and herbicides that make work so much easier for homeowners and farmers. Their objective is not to make more nutritious food for us. Their objective is to develop seeds that produce plants that are resistant to the same chemicals they sell. This is how it works:

  • Chemical Company A makes Herbicide X;
  • Chemical Company A makes GM Seed Y, which is resistant to Herbicide X;
  • Chemical Company A convinces Farmer B to buy Herbicide X and GM Seed Y from them;
  • Farmer B plants GM Seed Y and, because GM Seed Y is resistant to Herbicide X, he can spray as much of the stuff as he needs to;
  • GM Plant Y grows and absorbs Herbicide X yet thrives despite the herbicide due to its modified genes;
  • GM Plant Y reseeds thanks to wind, birds, and or insects. Some of those seeds end up in Farmer C's land;
  • Organic Farmer C who does not want to have anything to do with the GM Seeds or the herbicide, plants old-fashioned seeds. He harvests his crop and saves his seeds as he has been doing for decades;
  • Chemical Company A accuses Farmer C of planting their seeds after they find their GM Seed in his land. Farmer C denies the accusations but has to go to court to prove his innocence. He spends hundreds of thousands of dollars defending himself and either goes bankrupt or is forced to make a deal with Chemical Company A to buy their products;
  • Farmer B wants to plant more crops. He can no longer go back to using old-fashioned seeds because his land will now contain GM Seeds. He also can't save the ones from his GM plants because they are patented and owned by Chemical Company A, so he must buy more GM Seeds from Chemical Plant A in order to plant more crops; and
  • YOU eat GM Plant Y with a little herbicide on the side and unknowingly support Chemical Plant A, regardless of whether you agree with their practices or not.
Isn't this worth worrying about? If you do, rest assured that at least for now, Organic foods are not allowed to have Genetically Modified Organisms. Rest assured as well, that if you choose NOT to eat organic foods, you are more than likely eating genetically modified corn, soy, and/or wheat. Thanks to lobbyists that work for the chemical companies in question, the food industry is not forced to tell you that their foods contain GMO's, as long as they do not use the Organic label.