Saturday, July 23, 2016

You Are What You Eat

I was walking through the stacks at the library the other day ... just strolling down the aisles ... when a book title jumped out at me. Genetically Engineered Food was what I saw out of the corner of my eye, and I had to stop, back-up and look a little more closely.

Genetically Engineered Food: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers by Ronnie Cummins and Ben Lilliston is the complete title.

I decided to check it out. Given the huge controversy around GE foods and foods grown from GMOs, I thought it was a new book, and I just wanted a closer look.

It was published in 2000 (!!!).

I remember the huge scare when Bt corn was "accidentally" leaked into the human food stream through some tainted taco shells. Those companies that had the contaminated taco shells (and yes, contaminated is exactly the right word, because that's how everyone felt at the time - that our food had been contaminated) voluntarily recalled them, refunding money and releasing a statement about the taco shells and apologizing for the egregious error.

Fast forward many years, and suddenly, more than 90% of the soy in this country is from genetically engineered seed. More than 80% of the corn grown in this country is from GE seed (and was originally only grown for animal feed, but is now in all corn-based products that aren't specifically labeled "organic" or "GMO-free"). And sugar? If it's not labeled "cane sugar", it's from GMO beets. Everything that has added sweetener in this country contains GMOs.

Chew on that for a second.

Or, just chew on the fact that in 2000, there was a book written and published about how to protect oneself from genetically engineered foods, and sixteen years later, we are still FIGHTING, uselessly, to get companies (the very same ones listed in the book as either openly and proudly admitting that they use GMOs or excusing themselves by saying everyone else is, too) to label their products that are GMO - since we know they aren't going to not use them.

Back in 2000, FritoLay stated: We have no plans to market or advertise any claim of "Genetically Modifed-Free" products ... Since we are also a large buyer of agricultural commodities, and more than a quarter of the North Amiercan crop is derived from biotechnology, just like other food companies, we could have biotechnology ingredients in our products. Translation: Yeah, we use them, because everyone does.

Coca-Cola company stated that *if* there are genetically modified ingredients in their products they "are destroyed in the processing." What? That makes no sense to me. If the ingredient is destroyed in the process, why bother using it at all?

Nestle, who also believes that water is a commodity that should be bought, sold, and controlled, stated, in effect, in places where consumers don't want GMO foods, they won't use GMOs, but as long as GMOs are legal to use and consumers don't care, they will include them. I have a friend who likes Haagen Daaz, because she has severe food sensitivities. Nestle owns Haagen Daaz. I wonder how safe that ice cream really is.

Kellogg company just flipped off the entire American public, stating, in effect, that their grain is American grown and all of the farmers are growing GMOs. So, they're using the GMOs, and we can just suck it.

General Mills says that "some of their products may contain ingredients that have been improved through biotechnology." Of course, we are now learning that GMO crops are not better than organic crops, not for the environment, not for farmer productivity, not for those who eat them ... although this knowledge does not, yet, seem to be common.

Quaker Oats says that they can't be bothered to worry about whether or not their products contain GE foods, because "there is no system in place to separate these foods."

Hormel says that "... developments in plant genetics ... have significantly improved crop productivity and food quality," and therefore, they will "continue to support the crop and vegetable industries' efforts to provide the safest and highest quality products available." Translation: GMOs are good. The science is sound. Scientists are GODS! Anyone who disagrees is an idiot luddite.

These are but a few of the companies that use GMOs without apology. Many of them, however, will not use GMO products in Europe, where the feeling about GMOs is a bit different. European farmers haven't been brainwashed into using these patented seeds only to become dependent on them, even though they are not better or more productive than conventional seeds.

Since 2000, there has been a marked increase in the number of cases of Type II diabetes in young people (Type II diabetes used to be an old person disease), a sudden outbreak of food sensitivities (especially to gluten), and an epidemic of childhood obesity. While correlation is not causation, it's also true that no one is seriously looking at whether or not these GMO foods might be a cause. Not in this country. Not in our part of the world where companies that are responsible for some of the most poisonous chemicals known to man are now making our food.

Vermont tried, unsuccessfully it seems, to get companies to label products which they knew to contain GMO ingredients, but it appears that our Federal Government is, once again, bowing to corporate pressure. A new resolution is going through Congress now to disallow States from passing bills that will require labeling of GMO-ingredients.

In short, our corporate controlled Federal government won't force these companies to state, exactly, what's in that package of cookies. No one wants us to know ... and apparently, given how prolific GMO ingredients now are in our food supply, and that fact that many companies have willingly bowed to consumer pressure in other countries, too few of us who eat really care enough to have demanded it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Too Hot to Cook Inside

I know all of my friends down in the south are laughing at my title. I live in Maine. Too hot isn't a thing, right? It's like when your thermometer dips down to 40°F, and we're up here digging out after the latest snowstorm dumped another two feet of snow on us, and the mercury hasn't managed to push us into double digits above 0°F in a month, and the wind is so cold it slices off pieces of one's face when it blows ... and then, you folks down south complain about being cold.

We laugh.

I'm sorry, but it's true. Forty degrees isn't even below freezing, and if one had to spend the night outside, one of those cheap sleeping bags from Target that kids use for sleepovers would be enough to keep one from freezing to death. That first 40°F day up here, after a long winter, feels like a heat wave. It's short-sleeved weather.

But let that mercury turn our thermometer red, pushing up toward those triple digits, and we'll whine with the best of 'em. We're just not equipped for hot weather up here, because hot in Maine is roughly equivalent to your comfortable weather.

It's in the upper 70's today, and it's a nice reprieve from the upper 80/lower 90 temps we've been getting for the past week.

Mainers are a bit like coconut oil. We melt above 80°F.

So, it's been hot up here. I don't have AC in my house, and so when the temperatures exceed a certain level, there's just no way I'm putting more heat in my house by turning on the oven. Couldn't pay me, in fact.

It's okay, though, because trying to live a lower impact life has taught us a few tricks about cooking without depending on electricity.

I've wanted to build an outdoor kitchen for a while. It hasn't happened, exactly, but we do have a really keen gas grill with a side burner, and so, that's where we're cooking. It's actually pretty incredible the number of things that one can cook ... not just grill ... on a grill.

Like, did you know that you can cook eggs in the shell on a grill? Just put the eggs on the grate over a low heat, close the lid, and leave for about fifteen minutes. Peel and eat the egg. They're like boiled eggs, without the water. Cool, right?

A grill with a lid works a lot like an oven, and so it's possible to bake on a grill, too.

Quiche on the grill comes out more beautiful than when I cook it in the oven.

Honestly, I don't think we really appreciate the versatility and usefulness of our grills. We all have them, but the grill is one of the most under-utilized appliances in our American homes. Sure, we all love a good BBQ. Hamburgers and hot dogs are summer staples across this great country, but there's so much more one can do with that grill.

Baked eggs, quiche ... heck, we even baked muffins on our grill a few years ago when there was a power-outage.

This week while the rest of my family was off at rehearsals at our local community theater (two of my daughters have been cast in West Side Story, and Deus Ex Machina is stage crew for the show), Precious and I were making pizza and corn on the cob on our grill. Both were delicious.

And tonight, our grilled dinner will be a little more normal, maybe. The plan is for spatchcocked, roasted chicken and grilled squash. Maybe I'll put that side-burner to use and boil some new potatoes from the farm stand.

All local food, low-impact cooking, and no added heat to my house. I call that a win.

End of an Era

When we purchased our house many years ago (almost 20, in fact), there was a garden center a couple of houses down from ours, which was good, because our new yard was a barren landscape, which I hoped to fill with all sorts of edibles. We became regular customers, and when my son (who is now an adult with kids of his own) was a youngster, his first paying job was at the garden center, moving plants around and watering.

The people who owned the garden center also owned the woods behind our house. For the first few years, most of the folks in the neighborhood used that land as a kind of commons. There were walking trails back there and blueberry fields. If one walked back through the trails and around, it came out at a gravel pit.

At some point during all of these years, the owner of the land filed a subdivision plan. The plan was for 20+ acre-sized house lots, which would destroy the entire woods, eliminate the walking trails and raze the blueberry fields. One entrance to the subdivision is less than a half mile down the main road from where my house is, and the other means of egress from the neighborhood was planned to go through the garden center. Yes, that is right through the center of the building that used to house the retail portion of their business (plant pots, garden bobbles, seeds, et cetera). The land was his retirement, he said.

Back then, it seemed he would never retire, which was fine by me.

Unfortunately, he wasn't well, and so he and his wife closed the garden center and attempted to sell their holdings in one big piece - 25+ acres with their house and the garden center, but the price was really much higher than anyone could afford, and so they weren't able to find a buyer. Then, he passed away, and she was left holding this big piece of land. She was not interested in developing it herself, and after a few years, she finally found a buyer who bought the 25 acres of woods.

The new owner didn't waste any time making that plan a reality. He has been cutting a swath through the woods for the past year. Half a dozen houses have been built and a few sold. I have a friend in real estate photography who has been down here taking pictures of the homes that are for sale. The houses are pretty in a kind of flashy fragility that doesn't look like they'll survive a Maine winter without copious fossil-fuel inputs and hard wishing for a gentle season.

Last week, I heard the heavy equipment moving through the woods behind my neighbor's house and chainsaws cutting trees. Today, they were tearing down the old garden center building.

When I was putting my clothes on the line today and listening to the destruction of that building that's been here for longer than I have, I thought about those houses that they're putting in over there - those houses that are selling for more than a quarter of a million dollars. The types of people who buy houses in those kinds of neighborhoods don't usually want food gardens or clotheslines.

And I wondered what, about my life, might change now that I'm like the old man from Up, finding myself surrounded by a shiny, new suburb.

I know that they can't take away my clothesline. Maine law does not allow municipalities to pass laws that would prohibit the use of outdoor clothes drying. I don't know if there is a Home Owners Association over there, but since my house and road are not part of their subdivision, even though their neighborhood horseshoes around mine, there's really not much they can do to force me to make my yard look like theirs.

Still, in the interest of being a good neighbor, I may have to step up the aesthetics a little and build a fancy outdoor living space. Perhaps a space with a little more curb appeal to ... you know ... boil down all of that sap in the spring.

*Picture Credit

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Carpe Diem

Usually my days are heavily scheduled. Just this month we've had rehearsals four times a week for the upcoming production of West Side Story at our local community theater. My two youngest attended a week-long music intensive for which I chaperoned. Their older sister flew overseas for a week. We had a music festival this weekend at which my youngest performed. We're planning and rehearsing for a fundraiser Murder Mystery Dinner for one of the non-profits at which we volunteer. That's just the extra stuff and doesn't even include our regular commitments. We have so much going on - all of the time - it can be difficult to have any spontaneity.

Occasionally we get lucky, and we're able to carpe diem. Today was one of those days.

Several weeks ago, I brought home the latest batch of frozen chickens from the butcher, and as I pushed and shoved and rearranged the items in my freezer to make room for these new poultry, I thought, "I need to do something with this stuff we're not going to eat." What we're not going to eat are the bits and parts of the chickens that I always get with our order thinking, either we'll feed it to our dogs (someday we're going to make our own dog food with our chicken pieces), or we'll eat it (this time), or I can give it to some of my friends whom I know enjoy things like chicken livers.

And then, none of that happens, and next year, when we butcher our chickens, I add one more bag of livers and one more bag of hearts and one more bag of necks (in my defense, we do use the necks, occasionally, for broth) to the already too full freezer.

A few weeks ago I found this animal sanctuary online. More specifically, it's a wolf sanctuary. My daughter has loved wolves for as long as I can remember, and I had no idea that this place existed so close to us. I looked through their wish list of items, which included raw meat. Then, all of the pieces aligned, and I contacted them to ask if they could use this chicken I had.

I received a call today, and the owner said, "Yes! We can use it!"

And then, she offered to let me meet the wolves when I dropped off the meat.

And I asked if I could bring my daughters.

And she said yes.

And we drove two hours, round-trip, to meet wolves.

It was an amazing day! I'm so thankful that I had a free afternoon to be able to have that experience and give that experience to my daughters.

Because sometimes it's just so very nice to be able to do something very cool without having to put it on the calendar weeks in advance.

How often does one get the opportunity to meet a wolf hybrid, up close and personal?

Monday, July 18, 2016


I'm one of those people who likes graveyards. I wasn't, when I was younger. Graveyards freaked me out, because death was this horrible, fear-filled thing to be avoided at all costs.

I'm a volunteer at a local animal shelter where I walk dogs once a week. There used to be a walking trail at the shelter, but they're expanding, and so we dogwalkers have to walk somewhere else. Instead of the walking trail, we've been going over to the cemetery. There's a road that goes between the two sections of the cemetery. It's about a half-hour walk, if we're enjoying the scenery.

That's what's great about dogs. For them, it is a journey and not a destination. They don't care where we're going, as long as we're going. They just love the process.

So, once a week, I take one dog at a time, until all of the dogs have been walked, and we head over to the graveyard, and stroll down the road. They sniff where the other dogs have clearly been (and those dogs' owners didn't clean up after).

And I look at headstones and calculate ages. Most of the headstones along the fence where I'm walking the dogs are old, dating back to the late 1800s or early 1900's. what's interesting, though, is how old most of those people were when they died. MOST of them lived to be older than 50. The life expectancy back in those days was right around 45, but not because adults were all dying before they got to that half-century mark, but rather because there were so many very young children dying.

In the book, "A Life of Her Own", about growing up in France at the turn of the century, Emilie Carles talks about how country people didn't really consider a child a person until he was five, because most children didn't reach the age of five, and it was just too hard to mourn so much. Or something along those lines. As such, our general notion about life-expectancies has been very wrong. People back in those days had a very good chance of living a very long life, if they could make it into adulthood.

As I was walking through the graveyard and reading headstones, I found a couple that were very peculiar and concerning, and I'm thinking, perhaps, I have proof that vampires do exist ... or that there are some REALLY old people running around that the Guinness Book of World Records has missed.

This one, disturbingly, has a birth date but no date of death. If Mabel is still with us, she's 135 years old. Maybe she's changed her last name to Cullen.