GM foods

Group Project!

The stuff only looks peaceful

Don't know if you've been hearing about the uproar in the sprout world. You wouldn't think those little alfalfa sprouts could get people going, but they've done just that.

The sub sandwich chain Jimmy John's (a favorite with my 2nd grader) recently announced they would be switching to clover sprouts from alfalfa, following a widespread Salmonella outbreak linked to the innocuous-looking little buggers. Clover sprouts might not do it, though, because they themselves have been tied to outbreaks in the Pacific Northwest.

And even if you get Salmonella-free alfalfa, soon we will have to be careful that it's not genetically-modified (read Roundup-resistant). Instead of blocking GMO-alfalfa altogether, now the USDA and courts are niggling over what sorts of restrictions to place around it and how to prevent GMO-alfalfa from contaminating organic alfalfa. Check this Food Safety News article for the details. You might hate sprouts and think yourself not impacted, but our dear dairy cows love the stuff, meaning you will be eating the sprouts sooner or later. I'll be very interested to talk to our dairy farmers when the Market opens in May to get their opinion on this.

In the meantime, I'm sticking with my Organic Valley dairy products. They issued a statement this morning clarifying their position on the sprout schism (duh--they came out against).

If you do happen to love the fresh crunch of sprouts in salads and sandwiches, may I recommend you grow your own lentil sprouts? (Thank you to Janette for teaching me this.) I have zero green thumb and can't even grow my own herbs, but I can manage lentil sprouts. Which means you can manage lentil sprouts.

(1) Firstly, you will need a jar and a 1/4 cup of organic lentils. Plus one of those funny net things they bag some produce in, like green beans or brussels sprouts.

 (2) Dump the lentils in the jar. Pull the net over the jar and secure with a rubber band. Add enough water to cover the lentils and then drain most of it out until they're just wet and glisten-y but not floating.

 (3) Place the jar of wet lentils in a dirty windowsill where it can get a little light. The windowsill can be clean, but you take your chances. I've always grown mine in a dirty windowsill and it works like a charm.

(4) Whenever the lentils look dry, add water and drain. I do it at least once per day.

(5) After a day or two, you'll see tiny sprouts!

(6) When the sprouts look like sandwich- and salad-size, they're ready to eat. (You can tell I just started this project a couple days ago, so I don't have a picture of the finished product yet.) I usually refrigerate them, once they're "done."

Voila. Salmonella-free and non-genetically-modified. Happy organic farming!

Back-to-School Mishmash

I know, I know. School has been in session for a few weeks now, but only in the last week or two have ALL the activities started. Which means swim team (Thursdays) and soccer games (Saturdays) have seriously impeded my desire to pay the Bellevue Farmers Market leisurely visits. On Thursday, I missed the Cantinetta demo and the eggs were long gone, but I managed to tear over for melons, grabbing the last Charentais. Since it was just about 7:00, the farmers were packing up and happily trading with each other, and I wished I had something to trade because I hadn't had time to stop at the bank and ended up writing five piddly checks.

In any case, if your life has become similarly hectic, keep in mind the BFM runs through Oct 14 (Thursdays) and Nov 20 (Saturdays). Now more than ever is the time for healthy, fresh, local food, considering the kids are getting the occasional nasty school lunch and the ubiquitous sugary "snacks" at soccer games.

Cool fall weather is the perfect time for homemade applesauce, so I whipped up the first batch of the season last night. Basically, take a few pounds of any variety apple (I used Gala, Honeycrisp and Gingergold), quarter them, and throw them in a covered pot with 1/3 cup water. Set your timer for 20 minutes. Then pass them, skin, seeds, and all, through a food mill. Sweeten to taste with honey and some cinnamon. We never have any left over, and I never find that I've bought enough apples!

Loki salmon is sounding better than ever, now that the FDA is holding hearings on whether to label genetically-modified salmon. This farmed Frankenfish, brand-named AquAdvantage, receives growth hormone so that it can reach optimum size in half the time. Yikes! I knew, from reading The Omnivore's Dilemma that farmed salmon ate corn and couldn't touch wild salmon for nutritional value, but really.

And then finally, filed under "Who Thinks Up These Studies?" I bring you an article on how Americans lack self-control in the eating and drinking department (!!! Stop the presses!!!). Study participants had to hold candy in their fingers and put it in and out of their mouths. Do not try this at home, folks, especially with your children at Halloween. Their conclusion? Make self-control fun! Play with your M&Ms, don't eat them! Ahhh...the inexorable advances of science...

That's it for now. In the meantime, mark your calendars for the BFM's Celebracion Cosecha on Thursday, 9/30. In honor of the harvest, Chef Jaime from Los Agaves will be making fresh salsas, River Farm will be roasting peppers, and a mariachi band will stroll the stands. Sounds like a night for dinner at the Market.

In a Nutshell

Alarmist books about our food supply are the non-fiction equivalent of young adult novels with vampires--a dime a dozen lately. I'm as freaked out as the next thoughtful eater by debeaked chickens and mysterious chemical compounds in our food supply, but there's only so much to say about it.

It being About That Time again, however, I picked up Robyn O'Brien's THE UNHEALTHY TRUTH: HOW OUR FOOD IS MAKING US SICK--AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT. Some of the ground O'Brien covers will be review for readers of Michael Pollan or Nina Planck, but because of her four food-allergic children, she has her own unique spin on things.

O'Brien details the remarkable rise in childhood ailments, including autism, allergies, asthma, ADHD(!), cancers, and obesity, and finds connections to changes in our food supply. These changes include:

  1. A decrease in micronutrients as Americans switch from real to processed food.
  2. Excessive exposure to antibiotics
  3. Possible allergic reactions to genetically-modified organisms, especially soy and corn. A possible connection between soy exposure/allergy and peanut allergies!
  4. Isoflavones in soy that boost estrogen levels
  5. Growth hormones in dairy products (including one of my favorite ice cream brands, Breyer's)
  6. The use of artificial colors and preservatives
  7. The use of artificial sweeteners

I was particularly interested in the discussion of soy and other genetically-modified crops. In most cases the crops have been genetically modified to survive being sprayed with pesticides marketed by Monsanto (which conveniently also markets the GM seeds). O'Brien believes the genetic scrambling that takes place might be causing the jump in allergies, since soy might trigger other allergies and is found in just about every processed food.

Takeaways on genetically-modified food:

  1. 92% of U.S.-grown soy is GM, as is 80% of the corn.
  2. Top 10 GM crops in the U.S. are: corn, cotton, potatoes, tomatoes, soybeans, canola, sugar beets, rice, flax, squash/zucchini, papaya, and radicchio.

Takeaway on the takeaways: the food world is going to hell in a handbasket, and our farmers market can't open soon enough. I'll have new questions for the farmers as well--are they buying seeds from Monsanto (which O'Brien probably mis-typed as Monsatan-o as she worked on her book)?

After reading I considered going on a frantic pantry purge, but O'Brien ends on a realistic note. Processed foods are almost impossible to avoid, especially since kids will eat what they want to eat and what is offered, so shoot for an 80/20 ratio of  80% real, healthy food to 20% death-by-a-thousand-soy-derivatives.

Works for me.