All Hail the Diversity Celebration

I find the way our culture treats diversity both humorous and frightening. Supposedly, we are supporting cultural diversity, celebrating difference, and encouraging our children to gain knowledge of ideas that are alien to them, rather than fearing what is different and pulling their heads into their shells. But from what I have seen, our culture frowns on diversity. We want everyone to think the way we think. This is played out in many facets of our existence.

Take, for example, the political arena. I had a student a few years ago who had trouble reconciling my sense of community (that he labeled liberal politics) with my strong sense of “family before anything else.” His question was, “How can you be liberal AND have family values?” The machinations of our culture had him believing that one had to practice Conservative politics and be a Republican in order to have Family Values.

I’m not sure which force is at work that drives this homogeneous machine: it wants everyone to look the same way: thin. It wants everyone to have the same definition of success: having lots of stuff. It wants everyone to believe in the same food values: whatever the Industrial Food Gods tell us to eat, we should eat. When it comes to food, we are pulling our heads into our shells because the agricultural road we are on is leading us down a path of homogeneous food. There is less and less diversity in agriculture. [Ah, dear reader, you knew I would pull this around to food eventually, right?]

What’s the big deal?

Bio-diversity, or planting many varieties of corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, steer, cows, etcetera, means strengthening the gene pool. What happens if farmers are only planting one or two types of wheat? When a pest comes along that devastates that variety, all of the wheat will be affected. Sadly, farmers are planting fewer and fewer varieties of plants. How are they avoiding pest problems? Through biotechnology. Biotechnology is the science of gene modification, in which DNA is transferred from one organism to another. The transferred DNA changes the characteristics of the receiving organism (Eicher). This creates a Genetically Modified Organism, or GMO.

Sounds okay, but what is being engineered? Corn seeds that produce plants that resist herbicides. Corn seeds that produce plants that don’t mind crowding. These are useful results, right? So what’s the problem? We have no idea what effect these genetically modified organisms might have on our health and well-being. Look at High Fructose Corn Syrup, once thought to be a cheap, innocuous alternative to sugar, now suspected to be a major contributor to the obesity epidemic and some liver problems. Well, wouldn’t sugar affect these issues as well? No, actually, it wouldn’t. Over ten years ago, Dr. Meira Field was doing research on the effect of HFCS on lab rats. While glucose can be metabolized by all cells, fructose is only metabolized in the liver. “The livers of the rats on the high fructose diet looked like the livers of alcoholics, plugged with fat and cirrhotic”(Forristal). Can you avoid HFCS in your diet? Start reading ingredients lists. You will find High Fructose Corn Syrup in things from crackers to yogurt. And while it is a chemically converted food, you will find it in “Natural” foods, as well. In addition, there is no way to tell if that HFCS was made from GMO corn!

GMO’s are already everywhere. I went to find information to estimate the percentage of crops that are GMO crops and found very conflicting numbers. Some places reported that over 90% of soy and 70% of corn being planted world-wide are genetically modified. And maybe you are thinking, well, read your labels. But in the United States, a food product does not have to list that the soy products that have been used were genetically modified. Also, there is the reproduction issue. Plants reproduce by pollen landing on stamens. How does the pollen get to the stamen? Through pollinators, such as wind or bees. No farmer controls the wind or the bees.

What if genetically modified pollen lands on non-genetically modified stamens? Watch the film Food, Inc., and you will see one facet of the result – the financial one. GM seed is patented. Another facet is that the resulting produce from the non-GMO pollinated by the GMO has the GMO traits. Therefore, a farmer who did not wish to grow GMO foods is suddenly, and without his knowledge or consent, growing GMO’s! And as I said before, we have no idea what the long-term effects of GMO’s will be. What harm could GM food create? I have no clue, but I sure don’t want my children to be the test rats for the effects of GM foods. I guess, in a sense, I am volunteering them for the Control Group.

A much less risky option? Bio-diversity. It strengthens the gene pool. Look at dogs: mutts and mixes are generally healthier than pure-bred dogs. Why? The diversity in the gene pool helps unwanted or harmful traits to recede. Bio-diversity also means creating a farming situation where the farm has different offerings of produce. Take the grazing steer for beef (who have four good legs) out to the field, rather than bringing food to the steer. It takes a lot less equipment. Let the chickens follow the steer in the pasture and pick and scratch for bugs. This breaks up the cow-pies and helps the manure nourish the grass, which will, in turn, nourish the steer. Bio-diversity goes against the current model of specialization.

Bio-diversity works on an old traditional model. When viewed in this light, it is very simple, but our culture really hates anything that is old. Look at the lengths people go to in order to “stay younger looking!” Notice how much advertising uses the word younger, whether you will “look younger” or “feel younger.” The other trigger words are “newer” and “improved.” I’m not saying that all new things are terrible, or that nothing can be improved, but I am saying that sometimes we overlook what is good just because it is old. The way we treat the elderly in our culture is symbolic. Visit a nursing home sometime and ask one of the workers how many of the residents have no visitors. The number will shock you. We take our old people and put them away in a corner where we don’t have to look at them any more. I really do not understand what is wrong with being older.

Eicher, Annie. “A Glossary of Terms for Farmers and Gardeners.” Organic Agriculture: Michigan Conservation Districts. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 July 2010.
Forrestal, Linda. “The Murky World of High-Fructose Corn Syrup.” Wise Traditions. 17.02 (2003): n. page. Web. 11 Jan. 2013.

Pesto: Home Made is Best-o

The past few weeks have been crazy.  Therefore sitting and “doing nothing,” as I was instructed to do on Mother’s Day morning, was a lovely indulgence.  I used to lie in bed and wait for breakfast to be brought on a tray, but to be honest it drove me crazy.  I am accustomed to getting up at 4:30 am during the week and find it difficult to sleep past 6 on the weekends.  Lying in bed until 8:30 was torture.

This year, I watched the film Fresh, and am considering it as an introductory film for the Politics of Food unit that I teach to my Contemporary Studies class.  If you are just starting on a Journey of Awareness, as Joel Salatin likes to call it, Fresh is a great place to start.  Afterwards, while eating a lovely breakfast cooked by the family I love, we watched cooking shows.

I find the popularity of the Food Network and the Cooking Channel very heartening.  Growing up, I watched the French Chef and the Galloping Gourmet (both on PBS) with my siblings and mother.  And I can remember playing French Chef with my sister.  My husband and I bonded over Ciao Italia, Julia and Jaques Cooking at Home, and America’s Test Kitchen.  To see the popularity of cooking shows grow to the point where they are no longer a PBS thing, but a two-network thing, makes me glad.  It means that people are interested in cooking, even if I don’t have much time to sit and watch these shows anymore.

One of the shows, however, gave me pause.  The challenge was to fix a day’s worth of meals based on what was in the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer.  OK.  I like that idea, since many of us find ourselves staring onto the refrigerator thinking “Hmmm…how am I going to feed everyone today with ketchup, mustard, relish and a half gallon of milk?”  But I found myself immediately removed.  It is a set-up of course, like Bear Grylls – he isn’t really alone in the wilderness, there is a film crew there.  So whatever this woman planned to make for her show, the ingredients would be in her pantry.  But I suspended my disbelief and tried to buy into the fiction.

She got a basket and started taking things off of the shelves in her pantry.  Really?  A basket?  And what was she putting in the basket?  All pre-made, jarred up industrial food.  When she snuggled in the jar of pesto I was disheartened.  All of her talk about making things at home, and preparing healthy meals for her family kind of flew out the window.

The whole show felt like such a sham!  It felt as if it was doing more to support dependence upon the industrial food system, than encouraging people to make things themselves.  Do I grow my own garlic? Well, no, but I use cloves of garlic and leaves from homegrown basil and put it in the blender and make my own pesto.  It really isn’t very challenging.  And it freezes quite nicely in ice-cube trays, which measure out to be 2 tablespoons of pesto.  I would have been much more impressed with this program if the hostess would have pulled the pesto out of her freezer.

In this way, even these cooking shows that nominally claim to promote kitchen survival skills, slinging the “make it yourself” mantra, are modeling industrial food dependence, using ingredients like pancake mix, canned or powdered soup mixes, and commercially prepared jars of pesto.  The media has the public caught in an interesting conundrum: On the one hand, viewers see whole-foods being promoted by the “Health Industry,” and on the other hand, Industrial Food is showing us pre-packaged, pre-made foods that if used to prepare a meal at home have become synonymous with “home-made.” Which they aren’t.  Home-cooked, yes.  Homemade, no.

Another interesting aspect of this show was that as the woman was putting her pantry ingredients in her basket, she was turning everything so the brand name was away from the camera.  That’s normal.  However, this exposed the back of the jars and bags, which exposed the ingredients lists, most of which were rather long.

Making pesto isn’t exactly rocket-science.  Why pay $6.95 for a six-ounce jar of pesto when you can make a gallon of it for the same price?  I know the reasons: I don’t know how; I don’t have time; It’s just easier to pop open a jar.

I can’t really argue with the last reason.  It is easier to pop open a jar.  But not knowing how?  Not with the internet at your disposal!  You can find a recipe for anything!  And not having time?  Pesto takes about 10 or 15 minutes.  Spend a little less time on Facebook and make some pesto to have in your freezer.

You can do this.  One small step for you; one giant step away from Industrial Food.

Pesto

  • one small head of garlic, separated, peeled and chopped
  • one large bunch fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts (or almonds)
  • Olive oil (about 1/2 cup)
  • salt and papper to taste
  1. In a blender or food processor, add all of the ingredients except the olive oil.
  2. Pulse the blender a few times.
  3. Add about 1/4 cup of olive oil and pulse a few more times.  If the ingredients are starting to grind, let the processor run until the ingredients are a paste. If the ingredients are NOT starting to grind, add a little more olive oil.  Keep adding the olive oil a little at a time until the ingredients are grinding.
  4. When it has all become a nice paste, mix in salt and pepper.
  5. Use some now and freeze some for later:  Put unused pesto in ice-cube trays and cover with plastic wrap. Freeze for 24 hours.  Pop the pesto out of the trays and store in the freezer in a plastic freezer bag.  Each pesto cube equals 2 Tablespoons of pesto (2 cubes is a 1/4 cup).

We love this to dress sauteed potatoes and green beans.