Thursday, November 26, 2009

Book Review: The Raw Milk Revolution, by David E. Gumpert

I just finished reading The Raw Milk Revolution, by David E. Gumpert (full title: The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America's Emerging Battle Over Food Rights). I recommend it to anyone who is interested in raw milk; in the viability of small-scale farming in the US today; and, most broadly, in the balance between individual rights on the one hand, and the state's role in protecting public health on the other—civil liberties, really.

Gumpert tells the stories of a few specific clashes of raw milk producers with regulatory agencies, and of a few specific pieces of legislation. By shifting his focus among these cases with excellent dramatic timing, he has given his book a bit of the flavor of an episode of Law and Order, leaving us on the edge of our seats as he switches from one thread to the next. Thus he has succeeded in writing an engaging, almost titillating, book about raw milk practice and policy.

His bias, which he makes no effort to hide, is in favor of due process and Constitutionally-guaranteed individual liberties, and against overreaching government agencies, unaccountable bureaucrats, and thug-like police and federal agents. Although he believes, for political and philosophical reasons, that people should have access to raw milk, he remains even-handed in his reporting; he is able to explore the actions, motivations, and inconsistencies of both camps, which is why his book is a valuable document, and not a screed.

He makes many astute observations over the course of the book. The first is one I've made before: that personal accounts of the effects of food on health are often discounted as being anecdotal, but in fact can be more revealing and meaningful than scientific studies. For instance, if someone tells me that they used to have asthma, and that when they started drinking raw milk it went away, and that whenever they stop drinking raw milk it comes back, this might mean more to me than a study of rates of asthma and raw milk consumption over time in a large population, where I gain little or no information about who exactly had asthma and who drank raw milk.

Another observation he made was of the profoundly different ways that different people look at health, illness, food, treatment, and pharmaceuticals. In the below excerpt, he is interviewing a California regulator, on the condition of anonymity:
[His question to the regulator:] What about the studies indicating that children who consume raw milk have fewer chronic health problems, such as the recent major European study suggesting that raw milk reduces the incidence of asthma in children? The response: "Isn't it better to go to your doctor and get asthma medicine than to take the risk of drinking raw milk?"
It is hard to know how to span the gulf between people who seek the keys to health on the one hand, and people who would always rather seek treatment on the other.

The tension that lies at the root of the raw milk debate, and indeed at the root of many debates these days, is the following: In the absence of conclusive, overwhelming evidence one way or the other, should the default stance of government be to permit, or to prohibit? On this question, I am quite clear where I stand.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Killing Chickens

A few months ago, I tried to kill some chickens, but failed.

How's that? Did the chickens get the better of me? Did they run away? Did I have a last-minute change of heart?

None of the above. I showed up at Pete and Jen's Backyard Birds for the 11AM shift on one of their slaughter days, and the birds had all been slaughtered by the time I got there. So instead of killing chickens, I spent a few hours sorting hearts and livers into plastic containers, along with the occasional kidney, while keeping a keen eye out for gall bladders, which, if punctured or crushed, could ruin whatever meat they came into contact with.

I was reminded of this experience because I just read an article by Jennifer Reese, The Tipsy Baker, entitled What I Learned When I Killed A Chicken (with some great photos, linked here). It describes what happened when she bought some chicks to be layers, and one of them grew up to be a rooster, which she decided to eat. She does not experience any kind of spiritual revelation as a result of killing her own meat. Perhaps I was hoping she would.

When I eventually succeed in killing a chicken, I'll certainly share my thoughts.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Article: Why GM Crops Will Not Feed the World

I just read a short article entitled Why GM Crops Will Not Feed the World. The author, Bill Freese, points out some of the shortcomings of genetically-modified crops in terms of yield and economics. He doesn't even touch on the health issues, or on some of the long-term environmental issues. Because of this narrow focus, the article has the potential to reach a wide audience. Even folks who don't seem to care about health or the environment, or are unwilling to acknowledge the scope of the disaster that is unfolding, might still be open to hearing about yield and economics.

My summary:

Genetically-modified crops provide lower yield, fewer jobs, and huge profits for GM seed companies.

Some excerpts:

Hype notwithstanding, there is not a single GM crop on the market engineered for increased yield, drought-tolerance, salt-tolerance, enhanced nutrition or other attractive-sounding traits touted by the industry. Disease-resistant GM crops are practically non-existent. In fact, commercialized GM crops incorporate just two "traits" - herbicide tolerance and/or insect resistance...

Herbicide-tolerant crops (mainly soybeans) are popular with larger growers because they simplify and reduce labor needs for weed control...According to the Argentine Sub-Secretary of Agriculture, this labor-saving effect means that only one new job is created for every 1235 acres of land converted to GM soybeans. This same amount land, devoted to conventional food crops on moderate-size family farms, supports four to five families and employs at least half-a-dozen...

What about yield? The most widely cultivated biotech crop, Roundup Ready soybeans, suffers from a 5-10% "yield drag" versus conventional varieties, due to both adverse effects of glyphosate on plant health as well as unintended effects of the genetic engineering process used to create the plant.

For those who want to know about the rest of the problems with GMO:

This past weekend, at the annual conference of the Weston A. Price Foundation, I met a brilliant, kind, and utterly determined man named Jeffrey Smith. He is an expert on the problems with GMO--he wrote the book on the subject (literally). For a comprehensive, scientific, and astounding survey of the topic, visit his Seeds of Deception website, or check out his books, Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You're Eating and Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pictures From Weston A. Price Wise Traditions Conference 2009

Some sourdough pancakes with your butter? Breakfast, Sally Fallon-style! A bit of an exaggeration—she says she has a mere 4 tablespoons of butter (half a stick) with her oatmeal in the morning.

Cod liver oil gummy fish. By far the best-tasting cod liver oil I've found (and the worst-tasting gummy fish).

Scott Gryzbek and his new line of Zukay lactofermented vegetable juices. They are much less salty than typical beet kvass, for example.

Weston A. Price lunch: Organ meat sausages, local raw milk cheddar, chicken cacciatore of known origin (MOKO), lactofermented carrots, and sourdough garlic bread. Deeelicious. (There was other stuff, too...)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Soy Prison Case

Rod Blagojevich, now-shamed former governor of Illinois, in one of his first official acts in 2003, directed the Illinois Department of Corrections to replace most of the meat protein in its inmates' diets with soy protein (thus landing a big purchase order in the hands of one of his long-time friends). Inmates in Illinois now get upwards of 100 grams per day; even soy advocates recommend getting no more than about 20 grams of soy protein per day, because of the known deleterious health effects of large amounts of soy. No exceptions are made for inmates with documented soy allergies.

Since 2003, inmates have experienced a variety of new health problems, including constipation, diarrhea, pains after eating, vomiting, thyroid problems, weight gain, breast development (among men), persistent infertility, and depression. Some of the prisoners who have complained about the new diet were retaliated against by the prison officials.
In 2008, the Weston A. Price Foundation took up the cause of soy in prison diets. They retained lawyer Gary Cox to help a number of inmates file seeking a permanent injunction against soy in their meals, on 8th ammendment (cruel and unusual punishment) and 14th ammendment (deprivation of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law) grounds.

Today WAPF held a press luncheon in Chicago to publicize the case.

From left to right: Sally Fallon (President, WAPF), Jeffrey Smith (author, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods), Gary Cox (the lawyer representing the inmates), and Thomas Salonis (poet and former inmate in the Illinois prison system).

Reasons we should care:
  • By some measures, up to 1/3 of the Illinois prison population is estimated to be innocent, and up to another 1/3 oversentenced.
  • Even genuine wrong-doers do not deserve the punishment of being forced to eat inadequate food. 
  • This is not limited to Illinois; similar diets are popping up in prisons in New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, and California.
And, alarmingly:
All of the panelists spoke eloquently and movingly about the issue. The Q&A section was impressive as well, particularly for the guest appearance of Mark Clements, a man who spent 28 years in Illinois prison for a crime that he didn't commit.

more videos on youtube:
pictures on twitter:
pictures on flickr:

I haven't even done justice to the geneitically modified soy angle. More for another time.

This is the nexus of food, sustainability, and social justice.

Stay tuned for more from the Weston A. Price Foundation Wise Traditions conference.


Here are the videos taken at the press conference. Moving testimony was given by a homeless former inmate. You will want to watch these.

Here are some high res photos taken at the press conference by Ann Marie Michaels, of Cheeseslave.

Feel free to use these pictures if you want to blog or write a press article about the lawsuit. She has granted permission for you to do so!

Monday, November 9, 2009

I'm Doing Two Pickling Workshops Next Week

  1. Tuesday, November 17, 6:30-7:30PM, for Slow Food BU. Very limited capacity.

    Email to register and to get full details.

  2. Thursday, November 19, 5:30-7:00PM, at Project Hope, 550 Dudley St., Roxbury. $7 per person to cover materials. You will make your own sauerkraut and other pickled vegetables to take home. Bring your own knife, cutting board, and mixing bowl if possible.

    This workshop is being produced by Pueblo Community Land Trust. Pueblo is an urban land trust dedicated to, among other things, initiating intentional neighborhood programs with its neighbors in the Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, and Dorcester neighborhoods of Boston. This is one of the first programs organized by Pueblo. Project Hope is generously donating the space.

    Email to reserve a spot. Advance reservations are limited; many of the spaces are reserved for walk-ins.

Upcoming Sustainable Food Restaurants in Cambridge

  1. Canteen, 983 Massachusetts Ave., 02139. Halfway between Harvard and Central, where Friendly Eating Place used to be. Their site says: Bringing the ingredients from fine dining to fast food... [The owner's] ideology: that local, seasonal and sustainably sourced ingredients are intrinsically better, and that these ingredients form the most significant part of what makes great food great. Due to open on January 25, 2010 (which is, incidentally, Burns Night).

  2. East By Northeast: 1128 Cambridge St., 02139. Just outside Inman Square, where Benatti was. A Boston Globe article says: The food will be local, sustainable, Chinese-inspired cuisine, according to Tang: small dishes, dumplings, all manner of porky items (Tang will be getting whole pigs from Vermont), and--la! I think I just heard the angels sing--house-made noodles. Due to open in early December.