Tuesday, April 14, 2009

michelle's garden makes pesticide-lovers "shudder"

i've got to give props to the obamas on their domestic endeavors at the white house. if you're going to have two things that really make a house a home, a puppy and a garden are pretty good choices.
here's a the layout of michelle obama's garden:

click for a closer look

i love all the leafy greens and herbs. and i love the message she's sending about the importance of eating locally, knowing where your food comes from, and connecting with the earth through raising plants.
but not everybody loves that message. listening to democracy now! earlier this week i heard the following report:

Pro-Pesticide Group Criticizes First Lady’s Organic Garden

And First Lady Michelle Obama is coming under criticism from a pro-pesticide industry group for deciding to plant an organic garden at the White House. The Mid America CropLife Association recently wrote to the First Lady to urge her to consider using pesticides, or what they call "crop protection products.” One official with the pro-pesticide group said, “While a garden is a great idea, the thought of it being organic made [us] shudder.” Mid America CropLife represents agribusinesses like Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences and DuPont.

i am amazed, first of all, that there are people who shudder at the thought of organic vegetables and that anybody is willing to publicly support putting chemicals on our food - knowing what we know about the effects of these chemicals (remember DDT?) on our bodies and our environment. you can read the full letter here; i especially like that they address the letter to mrs. barack obama. what year is it?

i know a thing or two about pesticides, and i'm learning more through my work with breast cancer action. yesterday i was on a call with dr. tyrone hayes, of uc-berkeley about his research on a pesticide called atrazine. atrazine is the second most commonly used pesticide in the u.s. and it is the most common contaminant in our water - drinking, surface, even rain. it's used in incredible amounts on the corn fields in the midwest. it's also an endocrine disruptor - it converts testosterone into estrogen. i'm particularly interested in this because estrogen is what regulates the growth of breast cancer tumors - and pretty much everything we know about breast cancer: how it develops, how to treat it, has to do with regulating exposure to estrogen.
Figure 1. Map showing distribution of atrazine-use by state. Atrazine use by crop is also shown. Map courtesy of United States Geological Service (USGS).

so being exposed to additional estrogen-like compounds from our environment is of particular concern when we're thinking about the breast cancer epidemic - and it is an epidemic. in 1964 a woman's lifetime risk of developing breast cancer in the u.s. was 1 in 20, today it's 1 in 8. which, incidentally, is a trajectory that coincides with the "green revolution" here in the u.s. where we took the chemicals left over from wwii and found new uses for them as pesticides and fertilizers on our food crops.

so while we're waiting to see the results of this unofficial experiment that's been happening by exposing people to chemicals through our food and water, tyrone hayes is trying to find some quicker answers by studying frogs. frogs synthesize hormones the same way vertebrates, including humans, do, and when you expose male frogs to atrazine - some end up "feminizing" - their vocal box changes and their testosterone levels drop - and some end up changing sex entirely - they develop eggs in their testes and mate successfully with male frogs.
and if you look at exposing rats, even to small amounts of atrazine in the womb, their offspring have problems with mammary gland development.

other studies have been recently in the news, such as this one, suggesting babies conceived in the spring and summer are more likely to be born with a range of birth defects because of the contamination of pesticides and other agrichemicals in the water during that time of year.

so where are the regulations on this? well, there really are none to speak of. the only federal regulation on chemicals is the toxic substances control act of 1979. and it's pretty irrelevant to what we're dealing with now.

yesterday, the EPA announced it's going to require pesticide manufacturers - for the first time ever - to test the chemicals in their products to see if they are endocrine disrupters. it's never to late to start, i guess. what i found interesting is that our friends from CropLife showed up again in the news - saying "For pesticides, we think the likelihood is extremely low we'll have any concerns come to the surface."

and i'm sure they will do their best not to find any problems with their pesticides- so we'd better have our eyes open to the kind of studies coming out of industry about their own products.

or we can all start growing our own in chemical-free neighborhood gardens, which is pretty damn subversive and seems to really piss them off. though i'll argue that we need to do both, since those pesticides have legs - atrazine can travel over 600 miles from the point of application.

ps - until your garden gets big enough to provide all your food needs, here's a handy shopping guide about what vegetables are the most and least pesticide-ridden, so if you have to make decisions about what to buy organic - and who doesn't in this economy? you can see which fruits and veggies are safer than others.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

sauerkraut saturday

i never thought i liked sauerkraut. i have a kind of tenuous relationship with foods that are essentially rotting. blue cheese - huh uh, kombucha - definitely not.
but after tasting some homemade sauerkraut at a friends' house a couple years ago i had to change my outlook on the pickled cabbage. plus it's more like kimchi than anything else, and i love kimchi.

i'm kind of alternately fascinated and disgusted by the idea of keeping a batch of decomposing i mean fermenting vegetables in my house for later consumption. but i've been collecting cabbages each week from our farm share and i've run out of other ideas of what to do with cabbage, so i decided to spend my saturday morning prepping my first attempt at sauerkraut.
plus they say fermented stuff is real good for you.
i found this great tutorial on how to make sauerkraut - unfortunately i didn't watch the video until after i'd made my batch, so i should have done a few things differently - i'll just give you the video now to spare you my mistakes.

the process is pretty simple: you chop up the cabbage, and whatever other things you want to put in there. i added garlic and wakame (seaweed) and a few anise seeds, just to see what that was like. you layer your chopped cabbage with sprinkles of sea salt, and then pack it down into your container a little bit at a time.

then you cover it with a plate and stick a jug full of water on top to weight it down. it's supposed to look something like this:

i didn't exactly have all the requisite tools at my disposal (they say you're not supposed to use anything aluminum in the process, fyi). so i had to be a little creative with what to pack the kraut into. i ended up using my salad spinner bowl, since it was the only thing i had that size that wasn't aluminum. You're supposed to fit a plate "snugly" inside the bowl - and i also didn't have the right diameter plate, so i ended up cutting one of our many flexible plastic cutting boards into a circle and pairing it with the steamer basket from our rice cooker to hold the water jug weights. we'll see how that goes.

upon watching the video, i think i should have sliced my cabbage a lot thinner, but i do like my sauerkraut crunchy, so ... this is all an experiment.
hit me up if you've got good sauerkrauting tips.
in the meantime, we'll be waiting around here for the kraut to do its thing. updates forthcoming in one to three weeks.

here's what my little sauerkraut bundle looks like in its towel tent.