Publications (Paul's Blog)

November 19, 2009

POKIN’ ONIONS

Filed under: Uncategorized — Paul Dowlearn @ 11:01 pm

Back in February I was out in the garden on one of those perfect warm days poking some green onions in. This is one of my favorite rituals. Since I stopped rototilling years ago and started simply adding compost and mulch on top, my gardening has become much more therapeutic and less labor intensive. Now I simply pull out whatever winter weeds and grasses that have managed to grow, pull the layer of mulch back and poke those onions down in the soft dark soil. While I work I will sometimes listen to music, or play with the dogs a bit, but mostly I just enjoy the peace and quiet. As the green sprouts go in I visualize the plump juicy bulbs I will harvest later. You know a man can do some pretty good thinkin’………….pokin’ onions.
As I thought about food, a simple solution came to mind that I think would quickly solve all our concern over GMO’s (genetically modified organisms), growth hormones, animal cloning, and such. It would be easy enough to identify what was (or was not) in the food we buy if we could pass a law calling for full disclosure in food products. Right now, all foods for human consumption must list ingredients and nutrients somewhere on the package. With full disclosure we would also find a list of all the other things pertaining to the quality of that food item and the conditions under which it was grown or raised. Believe it or not, we all have been ingesting gene spliced produce, growth hormones, and second hand pharmaceuticals for quite some time now.
Let’s look at beef as an example. Ever wonder why doctors and dieticians warn us against eating red meat or caution us to eat only lean cuts and trim the fat away? Well, the human diet has always consisted of some meat plus fruits and veggies. Biologically speaking, we are omnivores. That means that our digestive system is geared to handle meat. So why is it bad for us?
Let’s examine the way we have been raising beef. In my part of the country, yearling calves are usually put out on wheat fields to graze for the winter. Later these calves are moved to mixed grass pasture as the wheat matures. Wheat fields are generally sprayed with pesticide to kill green bugs. The cows graze on it. The warm season grass pastures are also treated with broad leaf herbicides to kill weeds and encourage more grass. The cows graze on this as well. As they continue to eat more and more of these pesticide and herbicide sprayed grasses, the toxins begin to build up in their fat tissues. This is what biologists refer to as bio-magnification. What starts out as a small dose intended to kill a bug or weed winds up being a healthy dose to the animal as they ingest literally hundreds of pounds of sprayed grass.
Later these cattle are sold and moved to feedlots. At the feedlot, cattle are fed grain (mostly corn) to be fattened for slaughter. Corn was one of the first crops to receive the new technology of gene splicing. Pesticide genes were spliced into the DNA of seed corn to help it resist the corn ear worm. The big chemical companies like Monsanto were quick to find genes from other sources to make their corn resistant to herbicides so farmers could spray more of their products without having to worry about overspray. Meanwhile the cattle are fed tons of this genetically altered grain and again bio-magnification occurs.
What effect will GMO corn have on animals and humans? Right now no one really knows since the products have been rushed to the market without extensive testing. The scientists who are working on GMO’s claim they are safe for consumption. Of course they said the same about DDT and hundreds of other man made products back in the 1940’s and 50’s didn’t they? It took over twenty years for DDT to be found as the culprit in the near extinction of our bald eagles. GMO’s have not been around that long. GMO products are not popular in the world market currently as many countries flatly refuse to import these altered plants and animals for fear of contaminating the genetics of their local plants and animals. Hmmmm!!!………… I wonder.
Besides the GMO grain (which, by the way, the digestive system of a cow is geared to grass, not grain) our feed lot cattle are also given a strict regimen of pharmaceuticals to prevent disease plus steroids (growth hormones) to make them gain weight. Since the fat cells are the basic storage unit in all animals (including humans) and fat tissues are pervasive in all muscle tissue we now have cattle whose fat is potentially chock full of synthetic toxins, steroids, and whatever was spliced into the corn DNA. Furthermore, once the cow is slaughtered, the meat processors inject the beef with a red dye so it will look pretty once it gets to the supermarket (I knew you wanted to know that). So we have managed to mass produce a product that looks like good food, tastes like good food, but health professionals warn us not to eat it? Well what WILL they think of next!! Cloned beef raised entirely on feed lots?……………….Quite possible.
Now who in his right mind is going to choose to buy this stuff when we can go right on down the meat counter and find range fed Angus, Longhorn, or perhaps even buffalo meat? All the top notch steak houses have switched to range fed beef. Check this out, it’s usually proudly displayed on the menu. We do have a choice now and with each purchase we make we are literally casting a vote for the kind of food we really would rather have. Mind you, I have nothing against cattle ranchers or meat packing plants. I am not a doctor or dietician. I’m just a guy sittin’ out in the garden……..pokin’ onions.
The example of red meat is just one of many examples of why we as consumers should push for full disclosure when it comes to food. Truly, we are what we eat. The emphasis in the food industry has been about mass producing perfect looking food because most of us assume that if something looks good, then it is good, so we buy it. Meanwhile the nutritional value continues to decline and (in some cases) there are health risks to be considered. With all the good research and technology we have available today this should not be so.
With full disclosure we could know what we need to make better decisions. If the cereal you buy contains GMO grain, or the orange flesh of your salmon is only due to an orange colored dye, if your milk contains hormones that are fed to dairy cattle, if those perfect looking vegetables were raised with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, you have the right to know. If you then choose to go ahead and purchase these products then so be it. Given a choice, with this knowledge most of us will choose to eat healthier. As sales decline the big food merchants, the scientists at the chemical factories, the industrial farming and ranching industries would all get busy to change things. Never forget that big business is fueled by mass markets and consumer dollars. That means you and I are the final judge and jury. Still, even though we are the major part of the economic equation, I don’t remember when if ever the FDA, USDA, or big agri-business leaders asked if we would like to eat growth hormones or have the very DNA of our food tampered with. Do you?
There are a good number of non-profit organizations that are pushing for full disclosure plus many other programs that benefit us as consumers. Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (tofga.org) and the Organic Consumers Association (purefood.org) are two good examples. Support these and other like minded groups to get the message out on local, state, and national levels. Be a smart shopper and talk to your local grocer. Support local farmers markets. Get active in your community. At the very least you might try pokin’ a few onions on a warm day in February………Works for me!!

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