Posts tagged: food
This is about where I’m at on GMOs:
Let me get a few things out of the way.
I’m a crazy fucking hippie. I go to Burning Man every year. I teach yoga. I live in a co-op. For the past two years I’ve been delivering organic vegetables for a local delivery service. I’ve been eating vegetarian for years, and vegan for the past four months.
I’m also fascinated by genetics. I read every book that comes my way on evolutionary theory, population genetics, and mapping the genome. I took several classes on the subject at the University of Pennsylvania. All told, I have a pretty solid understanding of how genes work.
And ultimately, I’m just not that scared of GMOs.
Now don’t get me wrong. I understand where my liberal friends are coming from. I share the same desire for a safe and healthy food supply. There’s a LOT that disturbs me about the state of food production and distribution in America.
I think Monsanto is evil, that patenting seeds and suing farmers is unethical, and that some GMO crops (like Roundup Ready Soybeans) lend themselves to irresponsible herbicide and pesticide use and cross-contamination.
But I’m also not going to let my anti-corporate sentiments get in the way of a diverse and promising field of research.
When genetic engineering is used to decrease pesticide use, to add nutrients to crops in malnourished countries, and otherwise improve the quality of our food products, then it’s a valuable tool that can contribute to a safe and healthy food supply.
Full Story: A Liberal’s Defense of GMOs
When I wrote about Soylent and Silicon Valley’s quest to reinvent food for TechCrunch I checked with a registered dietician from the Oregon Health and Science University about stuff. She was pretty down on it. So was the dietician consulted by Business Insider. And now io9′s Lauren Davis has talked to three more experts:
We reached out to a handful of nutritional scientists to get their opinions on the product, and they were generally surprised that anyone would want to replace their food with a single mixture. Their opinions of Soylent were overwhelmingly negative. Steve Collins, founder and chairman of Valid Nutrition, a company that manufactures Ready to Use Foods for the prevention and treatment of malnutrition, said, speaking through a colleague, that, except in exceptional circumstances, he felt that trying to replace a diverse diet with a single product was misguided. Susan Roberts, Professor at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, likened Soylent to already available nutritional shakes. While there might be some benefit to Soylent’s low saturated fat content, she said, there are certain risks inherent in a non-food diet. “[T]here are so many unknown chemicals in fruits and vegetables that they will not be able to duplicate in a formula exactly,” she said in an email. She says that, if Soylent is formulated properly, a person could certainly live on it, but she doubts they would experience optimal health. She fears that in the long-term, a food-free diet could open a person up to chronic health issues.
Tracy Anthony, Associate Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers University, speaking to us in an email, criticized the formula specifically.
The Soylent company has now released an ingredient list and it’s much more “food like” than creator Rob Rhinehart had implied previously:
-Oat Powder (carbs, fiber, protein, fat)
-Whey Isolate (protein)
-Grapeseed Oil (fat)
-Powdered Soy Lecithin
-Ferrous Gluconate (Iron)
Food guru Michael Pollan has picked up on the “we’re more bacteria than human” meme and written an long, impressive New York Times article about it. He doesn’t go so far as to bring up the theory that oil is actually the excrement of bacteria that live beneath the earth’s crust, not the decomposed organic matter from the surface, as suggested by Thomas Gold (and apparently some unnamed Russians). If Gould is right then humans not just city-suits for bacteria, but also a waste disposal system for bacteria. This idea led Reza Negarestani to obliquely postulate that global warming will actually function to make the surface of the earth hot enough for those particular bacteria to live on the surface of the earth as well. Which means we’re doing, like, triple duty for our bacterial masters.
No, Pollan doesn’t go into any of that weird shit. He’s more practical, writing instead about the role that bacteria has in our health. For example, obesity, heart disease and other health issues may depend on what kind of gut bacteria we’re carrying around. Of course this reminds me of the 90s gene craze (“the obesity gene,” the “addiction gene,” the “wearing white socks with dress shoes gene”) and the 00s neuroanatomy craze. The upside is that a bacteria-focused model of health is less fatalistic than the genetic or neuroanatomical models — you can change your bacteria, you can’t change your genes. But there’s plenty of room for woo and quackery and unfulfilled promises. That’s not lost on bacteria researchers. Pollan writes:
My first reaction to learning all this was to want to do something about it immediately, something to nurture the health of my microbiome. But most of the scientists I interviewed were reluctant to make practical recommendations; it’s too soon, they told me, we don’t know enough yet. Some of this hesitance reflects an understandable abundance of caution. The microbiome researchers don’t want to make the mistake of overpromising, as the genome researchers did. They are also concerned about feeding a gigantic bloom of prebiotic and probiotic quackery and rightly so: probiotics are already being hyped as the new panacea, even though it isn’t at all clear what these supposedly beneficial bacteria do for us or how they do what they do. There is some research suggesting that some probiotics may be effective in a number of ways: modulating the immune system; reducing allergic response; shortening the length and severity of colds in children; relieving diarrhea and irritable bowel symptoms; and improving the function of the epithelium. The problem is that, because the probiotic marketplace is largely unregulated, it’s impossible to know what, if anything, you’re getting when you buy a “probiotic” product. One study tested 14 commercial probiotics and found that only one contained the exact species stated on the label.
That didn’t stop Pollan from seeking out a little bit of practical advise, which mostly consists of: eat a variety of fiber sources, don’t load up too much on processed foods, relax a little about hygiene and eat pre-biotics like kimchi, sauerkraut and yogurt.
I interviewed Soylent creator Rob Rhinehart for my latest TechCrunch column:
Fake meats have been around for years, but a new crop of Bay Area startups backed by tech investors think they can make meat substitutes good enough to compete with the real deal. Beyond Meat — backed by Twitter founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone via their company Obvious Corp — created an eerily accurate chicken substitute, for example.
But the most ambitious project is Rob Rhinehart‘s cheekily named “Soylent,” an attempt to replace food entirely with a liquid shake that has all the protein, fat, carbohydrates and micronutrients you need. The only ingredients recognizable as food are salt and olive oil. He claims to have lived exclusively on the stuff for a month. He says he has started eating real food again, but two months later he still gets 92 percent of his meals from Soylent.
Rhinehart makes an unlikely food scientist. He’s an engineer fresh off a stint at a Y Combinator-backed networking startup called Level RF that never exited stealth mode. He says he doesn’t have a background in chemistry. “Formally no more than an undergraduate level, but I am a huge proponent of self-study, online courses, and textbooks,” he says.
Previously: The Food Free Diet
Rob Rhinehart claims that for the past two months he’s eaten very little food. Many days he didn’t eat food at all. No, he’s not a breatharian. He’s invented a concoction that he claims has all the nutrients necessary to sustain him. He calls it “Soylent.” Yes, that sounds disgusting, but he claims it’s delicious.
This past month 92% of my meals were soylent. I haven’t given up food entirely, and I don’t want to. I found if I wake up early I sometimes crave a nice breakfast, I’ve gone to lunch meetings, and on the weekends of course I love eating out with friends. Eating conventional food is a fun leisure activity, but come Monday I usually have a strong craving for a tall glass of Soylent.
Full Story: Rob Rhinehart: Two Months of Soylent
Rhinehart claims to be doing “trials” people. But if you want your hands on this stuff now, a blog post listing the nutritional content makes it sound not unlike a typical meal replacement shake or the mass gainers used by body builders.
This could be a hoax. Rhinehart hasn’t posted the recipe for the drink. He has posted some blood work, but he that could, of course be faked.
Today, Hui is the force behind Guerrilla Grafters, a renegade band of idealistic produce lovers who attach fruit-growing branches to public trees in Bay Area cities (they are loath to specify exactly where for fear of reprisal).
Their handiwork currently is getting recognition in the 13th International Architecture Biennale in Venice, Italy, as part of the U.S. exhibit called “Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good.” Closer to home, however, municipal officials have denounced the group’s efforts.
Even the urban agriculture movement is torn when it comes to the secretive splicers, outliers in a nascent push to bring orchards to America’s inner cities. While many applaud their civil disobedience, others fear a backlash against community farming efforts. And few believe their work will ever fill a fruit bowl.
(via John Robb)
The Oregonian reports:
“Our concern is that because it has been sensationalized and interpreted as, ‘Your cat can make you sick,’ that really is missing the most dangerous part of toxoplasmosis and human infestation,” says Dr. Theresa Cornwell of Cat Care Professionals in Lake Oswego. “You’re much less likely to get toxoplasmosis from your cat as you are from fruits and vegetables or meat that is contaminated.”
“People tend to forget that the consumption of uncooked or partly cooked meat can be perhaps a more significant source of infection for toxoplasmosis,” agrees state public health veterinarian Dr. Emilio DeBess.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cite toxoplasmosis as the third-leading cause of food-borne illness and death. Half of the 750 deaths attributed to toxoplasmosis each year are believed to be caused by eating contaminated meat, according to the CDC.
Portland is known for its food truck scene (we call ‘em “carts” here though), and that culture has spread to other cities like San Francisco and New York. Now we’ve also got an “incubator,” a concept I’ve usually seen attached to tech startups, for food vendors:
Montiel is in the first class of Hacienda Community Development Corp.’s Latino Food Vendor Incubator. The class includes four would-be tamaleros, or tamale vendors, and one Colombian who makes arepas, flat corncakes that are often filled. The participants will prepare food in a shared commercial kitchen and sell it at Portland-area farmers markets this summer. Next year, they’ll learn the catering business, and the third year work on a soft launch of their own businesses. […]
"I need to know everything," Montiel says through an interpreter. She feels a responsibility to share the cuisine she grew up with in Puebla, but before she’s ready to set out on her own she needs to expand her English fluency, figure out financing options, establish relationships with organic food providers, get comfortable with restaurant technology and learn sustainable business practices.
Jeremy O’Leary is a steering committee member of the Multnomah Food Initiative and was an initial organizer of the City of Portland Peak Oil Taskforce. He’s a member of Portland Peak Oil, Transition PDX, and the Portland Permaculture Guild. He’s a contributor to the online publication The Dirt and maintains his own blog Biohabit. You can view his presentation on “20 Minute Neighborhoods and Emergency Response” here.
Klint Finley: What do you think the biggest/most important food security problems we have in Portland are?
Jeremy O’Leary: During the City of Portland’s Peak Oil Taskforce, we had a conversation with the management of Safeway where we learned that, for example, an apple from Hood River would be driven to LA and then back up to Portland. I think this example indicates one of the many problems with the food system. Many of the food issue we have in Portland are similar in other areas.
One of the things we have discussed in the steering committee meetings for the Multnomah Food Initiative is our area has one of the highest levels of hunger.
Which personally I’ve always found odd as we are also one of the leading cities for the local food movement. The following is from Multnomah Food Initiative:
Why a Food Initiative?
Multnomah County is at the epicenter of the local food movement. There are countless food-related, grassroots efforts being made in the community, as well as numerous projects and initiatives led by local government. The prevalence of local Farmers’ Markets and growing interest in organic gardening indicate strong community support for local food, but we must do more. To achieve a truly sustainable, healthy and equitable food system, all partners must help reach a common vision and share responsibility for the implementation of a strategic action plan.
It makes more sense than ever to implement a local food initiative. Despite the energy generated by local food in communities throughout Oregon, statistics show that our food system is broken:
Oregon is ranked second in hunger by the United States Department of Agriculture.
About 36,000 Multnomah County residents access emergency food boxes each month.
Half of all adults in Multnomah County are either overweight or obese.
Chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke are on the rise
Half of all Multnomah County children will be on food stamps at one point in their childhood.
Only a small percentage of the food that we consume is grown locally (estimates indicate 5-10%).
We lack a coordinated strategy to ensure the vitality of our local food system.
One thing I’ve been puzzled by is how if you don’t have food in your house for tonight, it is a social justice issue. However if you don’t have food in your house for 72 hours (standard Red Cross recommendations) it is an emergency management issue.
Just to narrow the conversation a little, as the food system is more than a little complex, just talking about organic food sold at places like People’s Coop, New Seasons, Wild Oats … the fact that stores only have a three day supply of date sensitive food is one aspect that I’m concerned about.
More broadly speaking I sometimes think that the best way to describe our food system is (mind you I have a somewhat dark sense of humor) is Death by Convenience.
How is that even though we’re one of the leading local food cities, we still only produce about 5-10% of the food we consume here?
It is in the same vein as the discussion of Portland being the Greenest City in the US, basically we are being graded on a bell curve. I’m always filled with pride and terror when it is pointed out that Portland is leading the charge on sustainability.
Just how problematic is the fact that we only produce about 5-10% of our own food? Do we export a lot of food? And do you know what they’re counting as local? For example, would they be considering Forest Grove local?
This may seem like an aside but it is related….
In Yellowstone national park, analysis of trees prior to 1850 shows that 50% of the nitrogen was of marine origin. 50% of the nitrogen arrived in the form of salmon. So it is not as if a long supply is necessarily a bad thing.
Efforts like the 100 mile diet are interesting, but it really depends on how the food arrives. Grain shipped in via trains from the mid-west is considerably better then strawberries flown in from Chile.
As for what food we export, I don’t have specific information about that.
Taking a completely different angle on things… I did my own sociological experiment by going to the one of the local gun shows and talking about sustainability to self-described “right-wing gun nuts.”
Basically, if you ask whether it’s a good idea to take a typical single family house and re-design it so you can live without power fairly well for a week if it is January or July, to have a large pantry, rain water cisterns, veggie gardens, fruit trees, … the response to this was basically “duh.”
My conversations with the “gun nuts” led me to the view that it is much better to focus on what you want and stop. The key detail when talking about a problem: you can debate whether that problem is actually a problem then never actually start effectlvely talking about actions.
It seems like the environmental movement has progressed from talking about renewable resources, to sustainability, and now to resilience. What exactly is resilience?
I can’t speak for the environmental movement, just for what I’m focusing on which is community and resilience. I think part of the focusing on resilience is that it is a more accurate meaning of sustainability…. how you sustain yourself/family/community is a rather important detail.
Sustainability seems to have been mostly about a long term vision, which is great, but doesn’t do you much good if you don’t have a vision for tonight or next week.
I think resilience is an example of what folks want.
Based on your experience on the gun show, do you think there’s more overlap between the left and the right if you re-frame what you’re talking about as resilience instead of “environmentalism”?
On the community level, very much so. On the level of Washington DC, I have no idea.
(Above: an example of a rainwater cistern at Columbia Credit Union in Vancouver)
What can individuals do to improve their community’s resilience - whether that be in Portland or elsewhere?
I would suggest one of the 1st steps is to re-enforce the school buildings to withstand an earthquake, use the food certified kitchens in the schools to process locally grown food, and store emergency provisions at the schools.
If you mount solar PV panels on the roofs and place HAM radios there you can be fairly sure of having islands of communication even if things go really sideways.
You would need to have rain water cisterns at the schools, which could also be used for the urban orchards and the veggie gardens.
More broadly speaking, knowing your neighbors and being on good terms with them is possibly the 1st thing to do. It’s only then that conversations about sharing resources can be possible.
It sounds like you’ve picked schools as the epicenter for resilience in communities. Why?
At least in the case of Portland, they are arranged so there is usually a school within a 1/2 mile of you at any point in town. Community centers, churches, a mall…. these would of course work as well.
(Above: The Columbia Ecovillage)
Transition PDX is interested in applying permaculture principles to the city. Are there good working examples of urban permaculture already?
As applied to dirt, very much so. The Columbia EcoVillage would be a good example that is more or less open to the public. For me permaculture comes down to good design, which translates into other disciplines.
In the case of my backyard, I have things lined up so I’m getting fruit consistently from early may until late Sept. Once the Kiwi matures, I can get another harvest in late November.
People who rent, instead of own, single family houses can have a hard time applying permaculture to their homes. Is there anything at all people who live in multifamily housing can do in terms of applying permaculture?
Yes, for this I would refer folks with what Leonard Barrett has been doing - Permaculture for Renters.
Above: Image from the Permaculture for Renters post Create a Container Food Forest
So what Leonard is doing is also applicable in multi-family housing?
Admittedly I’m not the best source of suggestion around permaculture for folks who don’t have some land to work with. You can do some pretty nifty things with container gardening on a balcony for example. But there are also examples of folks finding ways to share resources or buy things in bulk together.
What is the minimum amount of space needed to grow enough food for one person to survive? And for one person to have a reasonably healthy diet?
Quite a bit fits inside. I would point to books by John Jeavons such as How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine. I would also point to materials by Toby Hemenway such as The Self-Reliance Myth.
I guess we’re just about out of time, so I will ask one last question: If people reading this interview come away with only ONE message, what message should that be?
Using “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” as a point of reference, society seems to spend the vast majority of our focus on whether we are sufficiently amused. This is an arrangement that by definition is unsustainable.
Wherein Trevor Blake rounds up some recent news stories about religion.
Voodoo Caused Man To Kill Kids, Himself
10 more kids taken out of commune
Boys ‘used for human sacrifice’
Man Charged With Child Rape Admits Guilt In Court
Christian bookstore owner, cop admit sex with boy
Pastor accused of rape under guise of casting out lesbian demon
See: Faith as an Illness by Douglas Rushkoff.
I’m kinda on the fence about treating faith as an illness (not to mention what role the state should play in mental health), but it’s good food for thought.