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Archive for the ‘Farming’ Category

Last Thursday, August 4, 2011, the harvest began at the Golan Heights Winery.  The first varietal to be plucked from the vine?  Pinot Noir.  This is so exciting for me.  I’m going to be going up to the Golan this week for a harvest party, and I may be going a few times, hopefully to the Golan and Galil,  before it’s over.  Here’s a short video taken a couple days ago – the first pressing of the first grapes of 2011:

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No joke.  Someone sent me these two videos recently.  They’re TED, so they’re 20 minutes long.  Dan Barber is a chef, food writer, and an important voice on raising people’s consciousness about what they eat.  If you have the time, they are riveting.  This is rather “old news,” but it was new news to me, and fascinating nonetheless.

Dan Barber’s foie gras parable

Dan Barber: How I fell in love with a fish

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I haven’t written about food in a long while – a shame.  It’s been nuts.  However this week I decided to take care of myself – I’m not working as much!  The Golan Heights Winery’s “Wine Country Bar” at the Port of Tel Aviv this week has been an absolute blast to work at all week (please come!), and I took most of the week off from the wine bar – hence, only between 6-9 hours of work per day.  With a day off, too!  Taking care of oneself feels awesome.  I made appointments.  I cleaned the house.  I bought shampoo and lotion I’d been missing for a while.  I’m catching up on sleep.  It’s brilliant.  Long live living well!

And in that spirit (in the 10 minutes I have before I go to work) – how about focusing on good, organic veg.  Or home grown veg.  I just came across this article (a challenge really) in the Huffington Post: growing just one food-producing plant this year.  Just one.  Indoor, outdoor, potted, or not, how about it? How hard can it be to grow one tomato plant?  One cucumber plant?  Even some herbs?  Some lettuce?

I have a rooftop garden, with plants on it.  Half the year I basically “kill” them.  Black thumb.  Neglect.  Cluelessness.  All factor in.  But I have the perfect space.  Last year I wanted to start a box-garden or invest in a vertical gardening apparatus of some sort.  If I can buy a cone or a pyramid trellis, I could maximize my surface area.  So how about it?  Any advice from city-dwellers and growing food?  Think I can do it?  (Think I can actually motivate myself on a regular basis to take care of such a thing…gulp…)

Other related link I like to share with you:

Care2.com – a media website devoted to “making a difference.”  I’ve often enjoyed articles and how-to’s on gardening, the environment, pets, health, etc.  Great people.  You can send free ecards from there – and they donate money to save trees (I think) with every card you email.

Happy days!  For now.  Unrelated: I got my passport back from the embassy today, and I just have to share this – it looks like a passport from the land of Disney.  Seriously, it’s the most patriotic bologna I’ve ever seen.  I opened it to find a painting of Francis Scott Key on a ship looking over at a flag in the distance with a handwritten few last lines of the Star Spangled Banner.  Throughout the pages, you have quotations on the top from famous Americans, as well as the preamble to the constitution, the Gettysburg Address, the Bill of Rights…all spread over vistas of American landscapes.  And the Statue of Liberty.  And the last page (OMG) has an image of the earth, as seen from the moon, with Apollo in orbit – of course the USA (and Canada and Mexico) is the country we see below.  Hmmm.  I’ll post photos later.

For now, happy days!

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I have to admit, I adore being back in grad school.  Most of the time I don’t see it, don’t feel it, but when I’m in class, I feel like I’m on fire.  Tearing apart literature, analyzing every obscure little bit, my mind goes reeling, making connections to books I read a decade ago, favorite television shows, contemporary political issues, and Greek epics, and on, and on.  It’s like being at a banquet.  Not kidding.  It’s just unfortunate that I have to work so hard outside class.  I want to give myself over to study.

This week in my “Inventing the Novel” course, we covered Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.  Embarrassingly enough, I hadn’t read it before, and part of the reason the course itself is so fascinating to me is that its bridging a gap in my literary knowledge; I’m fairly well versed in French literature of the 17th and 18th century, Shakespeare and some Restoration, and of course, some of the great 19th century novels (though not all written in English – some French, and of course, tons Russian).  I think Defoe’s Roxana is the only 18th century English novel I’d read before this course.

Yes, Crusoe made himself a leather/fur umbrella from his kills

Without going into detail, Robinson Crusoe is about an Englishman who is shipwrecked on a desert Island somewhere in the West Indies, and all his trials and tribulations, from the practical elements of survival, to psychological and spiritual transcendence.  It was a fun read, if not more than a bit tedious in the middle with all the God stuff which for me right now is not worth going into.  Delightful are the adventures of salvaging anything and everything off a sinking ship, building a fortress,  and (for me, especially) finding food.

It seems that throughout the 28 years of Crusoe’s tenure on the island, over 90% of his food was meat.  He is described as going on hunting walks every morning.  He must have killed hundreds of water fowl, native sorts of (who knows) chickens and geese, turtles, native goats, and who knows what else.  Eventually he tames a few goats and has his own milk and fresh stash of ready-to-slaughter meat in the back yard.  In the beginning the guy eats a lot of “cakes,” some sort of dried biscuit rations salvaged from the ship – which miraculously last him several years.  He drinks rum (also from the ship) every once in a while.  I think he salvaged a cheese or two, too.  Miraculously (or perhaps not – why blame Providence for everything), he accidentally scatters a tiny bit of chicken feed while emptying a sack, and all of a sudden, he’s got some corn, barley, and even rice.  Over the course of several years, he succeeds in cultivating these crops – but it takes him a while and a lot of perplexed effort to figure out how to make any sort of bread.  What a weirdo.

Cassava

What is shocking to me is how little of the native resources Crusoe uses.  He claims he looked for cassava early on, but didn’t find any, which is utter baloney as it’s ridiculously common, THE staple of the entire region.  There are lots of native fruits and veg, too, some of which are quite obviously fruit and veg – guava, heart of palm, plantains, yucca, tamarind.  This of course is taking into account that Westerners hadn’t visited this island before and brought countless other fruit with them that took to the place quite well with its lush hot wet climate.  And WHERE are the fish?  It’s an island!  The sea is teeming!  Crusoe faces death from starvation while clutching his rifle, when he could be enjoying the seafood at his doorstep.  Apparently the Caribbean is well-known for its lobsters.  The man should literally have been able to walk out the door (or climb over the fort with his ladder), pick a couple guavas and plantains for breakfast and then walk down the beach and check some lobster traps (which he was perfectly able to concoct with the whole carpenter’s workshop he was able to remove from the ship) or he could have picked up some crabs off the beach for his dinner.  I’m sure crabs must scuttle about from time to time.  God!

You gotta wonder about Crusoe’s general health.  He must have had dangerously high cholesterol, constipation, osteoporosis, and perhaps even colon cancer.  And he lived forever!  Ah well.  I’ll give Defoe a break – how hard on him can I be?  How little anyone knew about “the new world” way back when.  At least it was a plausible adventure…not like the lovely film below:

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The image of a 7 year-old wearing a bra is disturbing to me. Not only is childhood being cut short in the West driven by many factors including media of all sorts, an obsession with the body, with sexualizing everything, the glamorization of violence, etc, etc – you know the deal.  Now childhood is being cut short even earlier by means of biology.

As someone who matured early, I can tell you personally that it’s not a pleasant experience.  You don’t fit.  You look different.  You are treated differently.  It takes years for people to catch up, and by then, it’s “too late.”  You’ve been different, often ostracized socially, or at least placed in a different category for so long.  You are treated as more of an adult.  You think of yourself as more of an adult.  There is a vast effect on self-esteem.  The list goes on.  For a long time people have also talked about the health risks that these resulting women are afflicted by, including earlier-onset menopause and a much greater risk for breast cancer and osteoporosis.  Recent studies also suggest that these girls become sexually active much earlier, exposing them to potential disease, pregnancy, and all of the psychological issues that are involved in such behavior.  And the earlier a girl develops, the higher the risks for all of these things, physically, mentally, emotionally, and with the future of her health and lifespan.

A tough break.  Nobody asks for it.  And throughout all time it was something over which we thought we had no control.

Until recently.

My mother forwarded me this article published in Reuters citing a definitive study that concluded that girls are entering puberty earlier at quite alarming rates.  The main cause that they focused on was childhood obesity.  Fat girls were more likely to develop earlier.  OK.  I drew a connection to why much earlier than the article did.  As I read I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for the article to mention it.  Come on now.  What are people eating that makes them obese?  The moment I was waiting for came at the end and wasn’t explored much: HORMONES in our FOOD.

In 2005 Americans 185 lbs meat per capita

Puberty results from hormone changes within the brain which signal the reproductive organs.  They in turn send more hormone signals to other parts of the body, initiating growth and change.  I’m not going to get into science.  I’m not a scientist and I’m not going to bother with citations up the wazoo.  Everyone reading this blog is capable of doing the same google searches that I do.  But here are the main things I gleaned:

  • Two-thirds of American cattle raised for slaughter today are injected with hormones to make them grow faster, and America’s dairy cows are given a genetically-engineered hormone called rBGH to increase milk production.
  • European Union’s Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures Relating to Public Health questioned whether hormone residues in the meat of “growth enhanced” animals and can disrupt human hormone balance, causing developmental problems, interfering with the reproductive system, and even leading to the development of breast, prostate or colon cancer.
  • Children, pregnant women and the unborn are thought to be most susceptible to these negative health effects.
  • Hormones are also present in animals’ excrement which remains in the soil for months, can seep into the groundwater supply, and also move into bodies of water where they affect fish reproduction.

Hormones and Puberty

Why are hormones used on cattle?  To make them bigger and to produce more milk.  More, more, more, cheaper, cheaper, cheaper.   Having read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, as well as Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats, years ago, I have become very concerned about the amount of hormones we’re consuming.  When you think about it, hormones of every sort are simply chemical signals.  Each hormone triggers actions that different systems in our bodies take.  We have hormones that control metabolism, growth, mood swings, immune system, reproduction, and more.   Can you imagine what we’re doing by adding (or flooding) wrong signals into our bodies?  Depression, hyperactivity, metabolic issues, goodness, everything can be affected adversely.  In the macro world, messed up signals and messages can cause airplanes to crash, cars to crash, wars to start, for goodness sake.  What systems are crashing, wars are being fought inside our bodies?

So, here’s one of the most obvious examples: little girls sprouting breasts at 7 and 8 years-old.  It’s easy to see because it’s the hardest to ignore.  Breasts are out there.  And little girls aren’t supposed to have them, poor things.  I can’t imagine what’s going on inside all of us that we can’t see.  And although I’m not eating meat right now (thankfully so, until I make up my mind about some issues, and if/until I find organic meat and humane slaughtering that I think are acceptable), I’m drinking English Breakfast tea with milk right now.  Milk.  You go on thinking, a little drop of milk won’t hurt.  I’m not drinking gallons.  But it might add up.  And as a good American child, I did drink gallons.  Every week.  I had a minimum of 3-5 glasses a day, (not counting what I added to my cereal), and with two sisters and a dad who liked milk too, we went through a gallon almost every day.  We would buy 2+ 2-gallon bottles every week.  Perhaps it’s not so shocking I went through puberty early.

As far as I can see, this is another strong strong and scary argument for forgoing non-organic meats and milk (and eggs, now that I’m thinking about it, although that’s more for antibiotics, also a related scary issue).   So scary that although I am so swamped with work, it’s not funny, I stopped everything to blog about this.  I leave you with this: think hard about what you put into your body. It becomes you.  I need to start thinking harder, too.

Links on the topic:

Scary UK National Obesity Ad Campaign (worth a look)

3 year-olds getting their period

Artificial hormones

EU scientists confirm health risks of hormones in meat

Puberty coming earlier for girls

Childhood obesity brings early puberty for girls

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You’ve probably never heard of the Pavlovsk agricultural station.  I hadn’t until this morning, but thank the high heavens I did.

Located near St Petersburg, Russia, this institution is one of the world’s leading seedbanks.  During WWII, 12 scientists starved to death rather than eat its contents, in order to protect it.  A place like that has really got to be worth it, don’t you think?  Alas, no.  Pavlovsk is in a court battle today, at risk of being destroyed in order to build a private housing complex.  Right.  An institution so important to the world, to history, to our future survival, and so undervalued (or rather completely unvalued) by its country, is really really scary.

(Sign the petition, it takes less than a minute)

Here’s the story

Nikolai Vavilov (perhaps the creator of the idea of banking seeds to protect plant diversity if food production was ever threatened) established Pavlovsk in 1926, and over 85 years the collection has become staggering in its amount and diversity of species.

  • Over 90% of the collection cannot be found anywhere else in the world
  • There are over 5,000 varieties of seeds from countries all over the world, including:
  • over 100 varieties each of raspberries and gooseberries, and
  • It houses the world’s largest collection of strawberries, blackcurrants, cherries, and apples

It is quite simply, a living, breathing priceless piece of history, and it’s a repository that ensures the foods of tomorrow.  Destroying Pavlovsk would be the single greatest act against crop diversity, ever.  The irony: modern seed-banking was invented and spearheaded by Russia.

Even if some salvage operation was attempted, according to the campaigners to protect Pavlovsk:

It is virtually impossible, however, to carry out such a transfer within three months or even in a three-year period.

The problem is that these lots harbor in vivo unique fruit and berry plants as well as perennial fodder crop samples (about 10,000 accessions) belonging to Vavilov’s global collection of plant genetic resources. This part of the collection was founded as long ago as in 1926 by Nikolai Vavilov himself and his closest associates.

Translation: most of the plants are plants – growing in the ground – because they don’t procreate easily or traditionally with seeds.  And there’s acres and acres and even more acres of them.  Priceless, I told you.

WE CAN HELP

1) Sign this petition.  It takes less than a minute.  Their goal is 500 signatures, and they’re at 386.  Let’s get that number up.

2) Tweet President Medvedev:

English: @KremlinRussia_E Mr. President, protect the future of food – save #Pavlovsk Station! http://bit.ly/d2H96s

Russian: @KremlinRussia Господин президент, защитите будущее сельского хозяйства – спасите Павловскую станцию! http://bit.ly/d2H96s

3) Post this on Facebook.  Tell you friends. Etc, etc.

More information about crop diversity.

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