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Posts Tagged ‘Sugar’

I respect fungi.  I truly do.  They are as fascinating as they are a brutally tough adversary.  They’ve been on my mind, so, yes, this will be a slightly more personal post, but mostly, I’d like to get my thoughts out there on the brilliance and genius of fungi.

Fun Fungi Facts

  • Fungi are in their own kingdom.  That’s right.  They are not plants.  They are not animals.  They are separate.
  • Fungi are not photosynthetic.  They are saprophytic, deriving their food from dead and/or decaying organic matter.
  • Fungi are inconspicuous.  We normally notice them only when they flower, e.g. the mushroom caps that we eat.  They really have extremely strong and complex networks underground and within and around other organisms.  They are everywhere!
  • Yeast spores

    Fungi you know: mushrooms and truffles (for eating), yeast (for bread, wine, beer, and countless other things that are fermented), antibiotics including penicillin (you know, for preventing us from dying from all the seemingly simple diseases and raised life expectancy by close to 30 years within a century), and much much more.

  • Fungi grow and thrive in our bodies.  One common method for their survival is symbiosis with animals and plants.
  • Fungi are the molds that grow on our cheeses and breads and all things nasty rotting in our fridge.  In fact, fungi are responsible for the breakdown of most dead things.
  • Fungi are really important – They are the top and bottom (whatever way you see it) of the food chain – breaking things down, so that plants can use them again.
  • Finally, fungal infections are perhaps some of the most difficult things to get rid of.  Take it from me.  Most of the time, you never think it’s that bad.  A chronically upset stomach.  Some embarrassing itching.  Some peeling skin on your feet and fingers.  Like the fungi out in the world, burrowing deep and forming vast networks, our symptoms are the tip of the iceberg.  And the creams and pills doctors prescribe usually only treat the symptoms.  Which means the fungus doesn’t really die “all the way.”  Remember, it burrowed.  It may become stronger, and then it will come back, again, and again, and again.  Because it never really left.  And it adores feeding off of us.

All in all.  All in all.  My issues with fungi in several of my bodily tracts have recently flared up again.  Not surprising as I’ve gotten a bit lax with my eating habits.  Not as terrible as a couple years ago when I was in fungus-crisis-mode.  I know the early symptoms now.  And I know that to get rid of a fungus, or at least keep a really firm grip on it, you have to starve it.  Now, some would say my approach is “alternative.”  But after having a 6-month painful off-and-on infection taking prescribed medicine after prescribed medicine and doctors telling me to give it a chance, that it’s in my head, bla bla bla, I finally, tearfully panicked, went to a Chinese healer who gave me very specialized plant tinctures to take several times a day for months.  Along with some diet modifications, it did the trick.  So…because I’ve been eating way too much sugar the last few months…I’ve got to get back into gear.  I’m not happy about it, but that’s the way it is.

How do you starve out a fungus?  Fungi thrive on sugar. Period.  Sugar means sugar of all sorts: granulated, honey, fruit, white processed starches.  Also, fungi are in lots of our foods already.  Anything that was fermented.  Breads.  Wine.  Beer.  What does this mean for me?  I’m on a diet of leafy greens, and although I love leafy greens, the first few days without standard carbs is killing me.  You’d be surprised how many sandwiches we eat.  How many croissants.  How much sugar in our coffee.  How many fruits (as healthy as they are – I once had a violent outbreak right after eating a juicy pear).  No ice cream.  No chocolate.   No spaghetti.  No potatoes (too starchy, easy sugar).

So I went to the shuk (market), and I bought huge bunches of kale, celery, sorrel, mint, green beans of two varieties, garlic (excellent for anti yeast), cilantro, ginger, and rocket.  I made a large pot of mostly-sorrel soup last night with some zucchini and lots of ginger (in actuality, almost all the greens went in in various capacities, but sorrel for a soup base is incredible – a great thickener, and the sour taste is really something).  I had a rocket-cilantro-tahini salad for breakfast.  I had a small bowl of soup for a snack.  I had a lettuce-radish-endive-egg salad for lunch.  And I am friggin starving.  Thank goodness tahini is allowed and recommended by some.  Almonds and most nuts, too.  But I want my chocolate.  I’d like some crackers and popcorn.  I want a glass of scotch (alcohol=sugar and it was fermented, so there could be yeast…bla, bla, bla).  I want an easy cooking job like boiling some noodles.  Greens have such a low caloric count that you really understand why cows have to constantly eat.

Candy mushrooms = eww!

Ideas to make it better – I am starting with the whole grains again.  A lot of those are allowed.  Oatmeal is awesome.  Buckwheat should be OK.  Quinoa, too.   At the suggestion of a friend, I also bought some peanut butter and cocoa powder to mix together — perhaps it will fulfill the urge for desserts.   Tahini does that for me sometimes.  I am not ashamed to admit I will sit around and eat whole cucumber after whole cucumber dipping them directly into raw tahini when there isn’t anything else I can eat.  I think of it as tahini fondue.  Yogurts are great too, but too much dairy is also not good, so you have to be moderate there.  Apple cider vinegar, although of course fermented, is heralded by many as a miracle cure.  I’ve taken to drinking some diluted in water.  I also take a pro-biotic supplement.

Another note: I avoid antibiotics as much as possible these days.  Why?  Despite the fact that it kills off infection, and it’s terribly important – it weakens us, and it destroys the balance of all the little creepy crawlies inside.  Because antibiotics kill off bacteria (not just the infected area), fungus has the space to thrive.  Glaring infection of a completely different sort.  And that weakens us further.  We take prescription anti-fungals, this often causes the bacteria to over-multiply now, and we’re back to square one.  I take antibiotics only when absolutely necessary (part of why I’ve cut out all meat products).

So there you have it.  Most of us eat too much sugar.  Most of us have had athlete’s foot.  Some of us have some rotting nails, chronic digestive issues.  Many – perhaps a majority of women (and even some men) have had yeast infections.  Some people have had oral thrush.  And goodness knows, many of us have experienced unexplained bouts of sluggishness, depression, and other disturbing things.  A lot of this, if not all, can be attributed to fungus, most notable, Candida.  Living everywhere – on our skin, mostly notably, in the gut.  We can all stand to cut a lot of sugar out of our lives, pump lots of greens back in, and eat whole grains as opposed to processed everything (which is usually the case if you don’t go out of your way to get special breads and pastas, and eat foods out of boxes and cans, etc).

I hope this was elucidating rather than boring or disgusting.  I really welcome comments on this.  It’s an important subject to me, and goodness knows, I’m really not an expert.  I may have unknowingly exaggerated or confused some facts, above, so let me know.  I want to learn, too.

Mycorrhizae – fungus root – mutually beneficial relationship between plants and some fungus

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I was starving after yoga this morning (Chandra Yoga Studio – amazing teachers & most affordable I’ve found in TA), and stopped at Loveat for a muffin and a free coffee (I had reached my ten!).  In  most religions there is some sort of prayer or thanks for the food, acknowledging some higher power, hard work, and sometimes the people that labored in order to make said food.  During my Vipassana retreat, we were told that each moment was supposed to be (at least an attempt) at meditation – as we were silent 24/7, mealtimes were interesting.  You contemplate every bite.  You think about where the foods come from (I do this a ton anyway, as you know), and more specifically, who had a part in creating them.  Of course, there are the cooks who put things together, the kitchen being a chemistry lab of sorts, to make the raw ingredients into something more delicious or often, actually edible (eggs must be cooked, flour cannot be digested without being worked, etc).

But where does everything come from?

Today, as I ate this delicious bran-pecan-cinnamon muffin, I thought about breaking the recipe of this one food item down, and seeing what it took to create this yummy pastry.

So here’s an ingredient list from a simple cinnamon-pecan muffin recipe I dug up online (courtesy of About.com):

  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans, lightly toasted
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

Some words on agriculture

Agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries in the world.  Some US statistics: In the USA, an average of 516 workers die every year.  It’s also one of the most hazardous industries for young workers.  What does this mean?  Agriculture deaths accounted for 42% of deaths of young workers (17 and under) between 1992-2000, and more than half of these were children under 15 years old.  Over 1 million young people work on farms, their risk 4 times greater than in other work industries, with an average 27,000 injuries sustained every year.

Amazing that this is how we rely on one of the most important resources key to our survival.  These are US statistics, alone.  Goodness knows what it’s like in other countries.

Flour

Wheat harvest

Flour is one of the most important food products in the world, and most is made from wheat. About 20 billion bushels are grown during a year, and Canada, China, France, India, Russia, and the United States grow the most wheat.  Here is a great website that tells you about wheat-growing in brief.  There are four main varieties, some better for bread, others for pastries, and one for pastas, etc.  Dry, mild climates are best.  There are two harvests per year, as there is winter wheat and summer wheat.

After harvesting (big tractors and the like, see picture), the grain goes through a threshing process to separate the cereal grain from the inedible chaff.  Then it is taken to (usually huge) gristmills, where the wheat (or other grain) is ground by use of steel or cast iron rollers.  I imagine there is an intricate packaging process, and then there is worldwide distribution.  I can’t imagine the millions of people involved in bringing us just the flour that we use to bake bread and other baked items we depend upon (that we, in turn, built factories to outsource the production of which).  Because most like white bread, flours are bleached using chemical oxidizing elements.

Sugar

Sugarcane

Sugar is made from either sugarcane (70% of worldwide sugar production) or sugar beets (30%).  Brazil is the largest producer of sugar today, although more than 110 countries in the world grow sugarcane, and the EU and Ukraine are the largest exporters of sugar beets.  The cane is indigenous to Southeast Asia, with India being the earliest producer of sugar.  There are two stages to process the cane – first the milling (a long process), shredding, crushing, and collecting the juice – then cooking to extract the actual sugar.  Sometimes some bleaching occurs here.  The second part is the refining, cleaning and clarifying of the raw sugar with various processes (some chemical using acids), and a further bleaching. (Packaging, shipping, etc, etc, bla bla bla)

Baking Powder

Baking powder is a chemical agent used in baking, obviously, to make cakes and such rise without the fermentation that yeast produces.  It’s made up of (usually) sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and an inert ingredient like cornstarch.  Sodium Bicarbonate is produced in a lab, although it also is naturally occurring and can be mined.  The most common way to produce it is through the Solvay process, which is the reaction of calcium carbonate, sodium chloride, ammonia, and carbon dioxide in water.  Hmm.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a small evergreen tree native to Sri Lanka, and is now cultivated commercially all over South and Southeast Asia, the West Indies, Brazil, and parts of Africa.  The plant is grown for 3-4 years, then undergoes coppicing which means it’s cut low to encourage lots of little shoots to grow out of it.  The shoots are harvested, stripped of bark to get to the inner bark, the strips of which curl, then are immediately processed and dried carefully.  Timing apparently is really of the essence in this process.

Salt

The salt we eat is refined NaCl – Sodium Chloride.  It’s produced by drying seawater or by mining.  These are huge operations.  Salt used to be more precious than gold.

Pecans

Unripe pecans on tree

Pecan is a species of hickory, the word itself meaning “nut requiring a stone to crack” in Algonquin.  The trees are native to North America, and are one of the most recently cultivated crops in the world.  Even in American colonial times, the wild pecan was eaten only as a delicacy.  The US produces between 80-95% of the world’s pecans.   A pecan tree can live and produce edible fruit for more than 300 years.

Eggs

Usually produced by chickens, most sold are unfertilized (no roosters around), and hence don’t harm potential life.  That said, most egg-producing chickens (there are two breeds almost exclusively these days, those for eggs (layers) and those for eating (roasters), all native breeds almost overtaken).  These chickens live in terrible conditions, the minimum amount of room allowed (they never move), their beaks often broken to prevent them from hurting each other and themselves, disease runs rampant, and I can go on and on.  Free range eggs aren’t much better, when you look into it.

Milk

In the western world, cow’s milk is produced entirely industrially.  Huge farms, automated milking, hormones, antibiotics, the works.  The largest producers of milk are India, the USA, Germany, and Pakistan.  I hope that my milk comes locally – Israelis have a huge dairy industry compared to other countries of the same size, I think.  Then again, so much dairy used in junk food is powdered (“milk solids”)…and that could have come from anywhere.

Vegetable Oil

Lipids extracted from plants – today done chemically. The crude oil produced is not edible, and it must go through other chemical processes in order to create a type of fat we can actually consume.

Conclusion:

To make a muffin, my ingredients are grown or mined or chemically created and brought to me from potentially over a hundred different countries around the world.  It’s at least a couple dozen.  Hundreds of industrial refining processes are used, not to mention all of the packaging and shipping worldwide, on airplanes, ships, trucks, and probably even animal drawn (or human drawn) vehicles.  Other factories may have been involved in my home country to further cook or refine some ingredients.  Then the baker or bakery or industrial bakery bought these goods, and combined and cooked them to specification.  The process of bringing these elements together could have taken years for some of the ingredients.  Millions of people were involved.  Many, many of which were in grave danger and received very low pay for their labor.

It really makes you think.  Every time you bite into anything.  Anything.  You’re biting into the labor of millions.  Even if it’s a raw fruit.  Someone had to plant it, work the fields, pick the fruit, package, ship it, sell it.  My goodness.  For good or bad.  How divorced have we become from our food?  We eat blindly.  Absolutely blindly.  I cannot even find out where my rice (or most any other product) was grown.  My grocer usually doesn’t know where the produce came from.  It’s scary.

All that work.  Blood, sweat, tears.  Injury and death.  All for my overpriced morning muffin.

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