Category Archives: Going Organic

Please don’t touch my shit.

Okay, well, you know while we’re talking about growing food, we were going to get to talking about shit. Because not all shit’s bad. But I seriously didn’t think we’d be talking about human shit.

I know we’re animals, and if we all ate clean food to begin with, and never took any pharmaceutical medicine, our waste products might not be so scary. But let’s think about this for a second.

How much medication do we take on a daily basis as a nation? And where do you think all the side products of that medication go?There are also people who will just pour unused medication down the toilet. Where do you think that goes? Do you think it really gets all filtered out?

Think about what you did first thing this morning. Maybe took a shower and used all sorts of products with sodium laurel sulfate, a host of other chemicals, including parabens which are known to be carcinogenic, and then you put on your makeup and washed your brush to get rid of the bacteria. Have you ever looked at the ingredients list in the back of your cosmetics packaging? We’re washing that stuff down the drain too.

People sometimes say to me, “Well something will kill you, one way or the other.” I can’t argue with that. But I’m not going to help them. And if you think this is just a fact with a small impact, there is actually a court case in Georgia where sewage sludge killed 300 cows. COWS. We’re not talking about the canaries they used to take into landmines that are crazy super sensitive. COWS. Apparently we’ve replaced canaries with livestock as the leading indicators.

Putting this stuff into the ground allows it to be taken up by the food we’re eating so we can put it right back into our bodies. It’s not just crap that’s going down the drain, it’s our health too.

‘Nuff said.

For more details, read here: Center for Food Safety Sewage Sludge Details

 

One of the things that bothers me the most about the movement to talk about what we’re feeding ourselves and our kids is that it comes with a whole bunch of people who use it to be Judgy-McJudgy. This post is not for the Manhattanites who buy $8 organic avocados so they can feel better than other people, or for the suburban stay at home mom who tells people they eat organic so she can look down on her fellow mom-sisters and try to shame them with the money her husband makes.

So here it is. The low-down dirty on the feelings I wrestled when I figured out that the food I was feeding my kids had a profoundly negative effect on them. If you read Brene Brown’s Rising Strong, these feelings are all listed in relation to failure. Which is exactly what I felt like.

In no particular order:

Heartbreak. My poor little people. They have been suffering since before they were even born. The food I was giving them was making them act crazy because it was messing up their nervous systems. And then I was yelling at them when they acted crazy when I was the one doing the cattle-prodding.

Embarrassment. Good lord. Feeding your kids really unhealthy food is for people who are uneducated and have tons of unsorted emotional baggage from when they were kids. I have a business degree from a prestigious liberal arts college and years of therapy under my belt. I have no excuses for doing this. None.

Panic. Everything I’m reading tells me that I have been feeding them things that negatively affect their development for YEARS. My son is almost out of his formative ones. What if I’ve done irreversible damage? How the hell do I look myself in the mirror in the morning if I’ve harmed my own children through my ignorance? Oh, and no small thing – how the fuck am I going to sell this to my husband, mid-westerner extraordinaire and great lover of all things related to processed meat? 

Desperation. Where do I even begin? There is so much to change. How do I know if I’m making the most useful changes first? THIS IS GOING TO BE SO.MUCH.WORK.

Shame. I am a horrible mother. I am a failure as a human being. What kind of moron feeds her kids poisons on vegetables and then reprimands her kids and complains about how they’re acting nuts, like a self-absorbed, ignorant asshole? Me. I’m a sewer rat.

Grief. Our lives as we know it is going to change. My husband is going to be pissed. At me. For a long time. And my sense of safety around what rules and regulations are supposed to be in place to protect me as an American is really going down the tubes.

Outrage. (And Straight UP Rage.) What the hell?!?!  How could a first world country allow this? Aren’t we supposed to be some of the luckiest people in the world?

I’ll delve more into each of these topics later throughout the blog, but I want it to be known I can completely understand why some people won’t even listen to the chatter about food because it’s just too much to have to deal with these enormous waves of emotion in addition to the huge lifestyle changes that are required, not to mention the monetary investment.

I just couldn’t continue explaining the organic definitions without addressing the elephant in the room. For each of the emotions listed above, I’ll blog about how they’ve evolved and changed over the last few years and some of the things I’ve come to understand about myself and the world around me.

 

 

Synthetic Fertilizers – Order In the Next Five Minutes and You’ll Also Receive…

For this post, I need you to put your farmer hat on (chewing straw is optional, but if you’ve got overalls, I’ll put mine on too) and take a walk with me through the somewhat technical explanation and history of synthetic fertilizers.

The most used ones are nitrogen based. The idea is that nitrogen has to be fixed, which is a fancy way of saying that the atoms have to be taken apart, to be used by plants. Only two things do this naturally: lightning and certain types of bacteria.

In 1909, German physical chemist Fritz Haber developed a high-temperature, high-pressure process to fix atmospheric nitrogen in his lab. Another German chemist, Carl Bosch, soon expanded Haber’s process to a factory scale. Known as the Haber-Bosch process, industrial fixation of nitrogen combines atmospheric nitrogen and hydrogen into ammonia, the basis for all synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. The case against synthetic fertilizers

If you’re doing it the organic way, the basic formula is that you use manure, cover crops or compost, and then rely on bacteria in the ground to convert the nitrogen. It gets taken up by the plant, and then put back into the soil when the plants die, or the animal that consumed them excretes them, or the animal itself dies.

If you do it the conventional way you just douse the land with these synthetic fertilizers.

And guess what? Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer became popular in the U.S. after World War II when leftover ammonium nitrate munitions were marketed for agricultural use. Organic Valley – Why Organic. Hmmm. I’m sensing a trend here…

Okay, so let me get this straight, people. Ammonia, the same shit in my cleaner at home that I would never put in my body because it’s so caustic  – is the basis for the synthetic fertilizer that you put in the soil to be taken up by the plants?

Oh no, wait. It gets BETTER. The basis of the synthetic fertilizers is natural gas, which makes up between 70 and 80% of the cost of the fertilizer. Yup, natural gas. Which is a non-renewable resource.

AND, if you order in the next five minutes…you’ll find that it has really shitty consequences for the environment (please pardon the pun because using manure would be good shitty consequences). It contaminates the ground water to the point of creating dead zones like the one in the Gulf of Mexico, creates smog (and therefore greenhouse gases), and contributes to acid rain. It also degrades the nutrient content of the soil so that what is grown there has less nutrients and there is more run-off because it the soil loses its sponginess. Which means it’s not sustainable.

That’s a lot of science and environmental talk for, “What the hell were you people thinking?!?!”

I’m only halfway through the formal definition of organic, but I think the next post calls for a “Come to Jesus” talk about how I felt about all this information when I first came across it. I am hopeful it will involve more eloquent language than the four letter words that are coming to mind over and over again. P.S. None of those words is love.

 

 

Grown Without Pesticides (or at least sarin gas)

Okay, let’s break down the definition of organic a little, with my commentary based on my reading.

Grown without the use of pesticides.

I seriously did not realize this, but apparently one of the first pesticides used in commercial farming was diluted sarin gas. Someone figured out that bugs didn’t tolerate it very well, and it turns out we had stockpiles of it after World War II and we didn’t know how to get rid of it. (The Science of Skinny, Dee McCaffrey)

Organophosphates.  The OPs were discovered in Germany during World War II research on nerve gas poisons. They are still used that way (e.g. sarin).  They are generally more toxic to vertebrates than the chlorinated hydrocarbons, but they tend to be less persistent in the environment. Some of the more common OPs are chlorpyrifos, diazinon, malathion, and parathion. (University of Kentucky Insecticide Overview)

If you want to read more about the link between nerve gases and pesticides, you can go here: New York Times – Nerve Gases and Pesticides

I’m taking a minute for a deep breath. WHAT THE FUCK?!?!  Talk about generational karma from our own experimentation with biochemical warfare.

Given that the way that insects are targeted is through shutting down their nervous systems, it gives me pause when I think about how it might be affecting young children, whose brains and nervous systems are still developing, especially when aggregated through repeated exposure in the diet.

When people talk about these poisons, I often hear the phrase “But it’s VERY diluted.” Sure, I’ll buy that for a dollar (sometimes literally) but then what about aggregate levels over time? How do I know it’s getting purged properly out of my body?

But what about the conflicting definition on Wikipedia that some pesticides are allowed? Here’s how I look at it:

  1. Farmers have gotta have something to keep the insects at bay, whether it be a manual sticky strip that catches flies (seriously, that exists, I have seen it at organic apple orchards)
  2. What is allowed is a subset of what is allowed with conventional produce and
  3. No synthetic pesticides are allowed (more on that later)

A bonus when you choose organic from a small local farm – most of the time they don’t spray with any pesticides. The management of those pesticides often only makes sense when you have a very large property and lots of crops to manage, and not enough people.

When I found out how bad conventional pesticides were, I thought, “WHY THE HELL WERE MY FRIENDS NOT SHAKING ME VIOLENTLY AND HOPPING AROUND LIKE LUNATICS SCREAMING AT ME TO STOP FEEDING MY KIDS THE STRAWBERRIES I THOUGHT WERE GOOD FOR THEM?” Here’s the simple answer – they had no frikkin’ clue. Who the hell had time to read and synthesize all this information running on sleep that’s interrupted multiple times a night and 6,852 requests a day starting with, “Mommy?”

So here I am. Hopping around like a looney. Hold on, I’ll be right back. Just let me grab my gas mask…

 

 

What Does Organic Really Mean?

According to organic.org: “Simply stated, organic produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones. “

According to Wikipedia:  “Depending on whose definition is used, organic farming uses fertilizers and pesticides (which include herbicides, insecticides and fungicides) if they are considered natural (such as bone meal from animals or pyrethrin from flowers), but it excludes or strictly limits the use of various methods (including synthetic petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides; plant growth regulators such as hormones; antibiotic use in livestock; genetically modified organisms;[1] human sewage sludge; and nanomaterials.[2]) for reasons including sustainability, openness, independence, health, and safety

I’ll add that the animals slaughtered for organic meats are not fed genetically modified corn and soy. If you subscribe to the adage you are what you eat…sigh.

And then there are all the “flavors” (if you will) of organic (also from organic.org):

100% Organic: Made with 100% organic ingredients

Organic: Made with at least 95% organic ingredients

Made With Organic Ingredients: Made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining 30% including no GMOs (genetically modified organisms)

Products with less than 70% organic ingredients may list organically produced ingredients on the side panel of the package, but may not make any organic claims on the front of the package.

The next few posts are going to be a breakdown of each of the components mentioned above in the definition, alongside my personal commentary.

Information That Would Have Been Helpful Yesterday

Here’s why I write about food.

No one ever called us aside when we became young adults and said, “Here is how to keep your shit together, which includes your financial health, your mental health, your physical health, your spiritual health.” We were just thrown out in the world, all trying to do the best we could with limited information that wasn’t necessarily consolidated or even organized, and certainly without a lot of context. Some of us do better than others in different areas; it depends on your family of origin and how well they did. (At least when you first branch out on your own, trying to figure out what it means to be a grown up.) And then before you know it, you’re responsible for little people. There is nothing more powerful to show you up on how well you know something than trying to teach it to someone else.

With regard to nutrition, this wasn’t really a problem until we started to mess with the food chain. You can get away with eating a lot of “real food” that is considered horrible for you (bacon, butter, bread, home-made cookies) when it isn’t genetically modified or processed so the sugar content is triple what I would make in my own kitchen.

As a country, very few people are aware what good nutrition is. Most physicians are not required to take a single course in nutrition before graduating from medical school. The situation is … not awesome. (For an article about the current state of nutrition education, see here The State of Nutrition Education at US Medical Schools, Journal of BioMedical Education) So when my primary care says, “Are you eating healthy?” and then I see her tucking processed protein bar loaded with GM soy and corn fillers alongside additives and colors into her coat pocket, I assume that’s what she means is the standard.  Our nutritionists are, as Dee McCaffrey says in The Science of Skinny, resort nutritionists. We go to them as a last resort. I’ve gone to a nutritionist to get counseling and vet our family diet; you know who sits in the waiting room with me? Cancer patients. Why does it have to get so bad before we make a change?

It’s kind of like when I was first pregnant and there were only three people who would tell me the truth about the unpleasant parts of the experience. When I asked the others why they wouldn’t be honest with me, they said, “Because I didn’t want to scare you.”

Well, maybe before you  made that decision for me, you should have asked me if I thought I could handle it. I was about to be a mother and you treated me like a small child. How the hell was I supposed to know it was time to grow up? Betty Friedan might have been on to something when she talked about generations of infantilized of women in The Feminine Mystique. Back to pregnancy advice – seriously, as pure personal courtesy –  I would have appreciated a heads up that when I farted it would be able to clear a room.  Like Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer, “THINGS THAT COULD HAVE BEEN BROUGHT TO MY ATTENTION YESTERDAY.”

I think the real reason that no one wants to say is because they’re afraid that you  might respond with, as I did in my head many times before I finally figured it out, “Nope. Can’t be that. I will END you if you give me one more goddamned thing to do, and that seems like a shit ton of work. Go fuck yourself, you hippie freak.” I used to think the super healthy people were judging me. Sometimes they were. But when I think back, I realize that more often than not, the expression on their faces that I had taken to mean “You suck as a mom and you’re poisoning your children” was really “I wish I had the words to tell you without sound like a whack job and I’m trying to so hard to bite my tongue right now because I like you as a person and I don’t want to scare you.”

Maybe it’s not about scaring people and motivating them through fear, it’s about trusting them to be able to handle the truth. So get ready. The next few posts are going to be about what organic really means versus conventional versus genetically modified. My sister once told me after she saw me rubbing my husband’s feet, “I can’t un-see that.” If you don’t want to read, skip the posts under Going Organic, because some things you just can’t un-know.

Who Is Me?

Booyah

I totally stole that phrase from Stephen Colbert.

You might be wondering, “Who IS this lady?” (The word lady might be interchangeable with a good many others, but I’m sticking with “lady” right now because it gives you lots of freedom to choose which way you’d like to go with it.)

I’m a mom of two kids, ages 6 and 8. They’re absolutely awesome. Except when they’re not. And I write about both scenarios here, because let’s face it – even when they’re not that awesome, they’re still awesome.

I came to my views and knowledge about food from an experience that began two and a half years ago where I was basically pulled aside with my older child, a boy, and told “Um, he has some issues.” They were categorizing his behavior within the confines of Sensory Processing Disorder, which basically translates into “signals get crossed in the brain and so some things don’t work correctly”. For more about Sensory Processing Disorder, read here: Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation.

I signed him up for all the treatments, had endless conversations with my husband about whether or not this was even real (there is a whole contingent out there that thinks this is a made up thing that kids outgrow), and even ended up paying for Occupational Therapy treatments out of pocket (to the tune of $100/session weekly because after a while they aren’t covered by insurance without an autism diagnosis – thanks, Blue Cross Blue Shield –so much for the Cadillac of insurance).

As a last result, I changed his diet. One of my closest girlfriends, who has a child with ASD said, “Have you looked at dyes? There is a lot of chatter on discussion boards about ASD behaviors that worsen with exposure to dyes, especially certain colors.”

We took out the dyes, and I am sure that had a positive effect, but the door had already been propped open. Once you start looking at the miniscule ingredients list on the back of the package, you start to wonder what that strange compound three up from the dyes is, and then you start to wonder why sodium laurel sulfate (which is an ingredient in soap) needs to be in cake mix.

Intuition told me that the answer wasn’t just the dyes. It was the whole shebang. We changed our entire diet. The ENTIRE thing. Everything 100% organic, no processed foods. After three weeks, we started to see changes. They seemed subtle but the best way I can explain it is that I got to the end of my day and I didn’t want to medicate myself with two glasses of wine. (Even though it has resveratrol, which is good for you, damn it!). After three months I had a different kid. After two years, I have a child who has surpassed other kids considered “normal” in behavior. And when he can keep himself together, it’s a hell of a lot easier for me to, as well.

Almost every posting that you will see about food on my blog is the result of hard earned knowledge through experience or the dozens of books I read about nutrition. Oh, and you know how they say everything you do for love is returned a thousand fold? The Universe threw me a bone. Once we changed out the diet for the entire family, I lost twenty five pounds. I now weigh the same amount I did in high school. Booyah!

Here was another added bonus. My now five year old, who I always thought was just “emotional”, got sweeter. (And yes, you can read that as less bitchy if you want, but I don’t think it’s totally fair to call a five year old bitchy. But it is fair to call a thirty five year old bitchy, which is what I was at the time we switched our diets.)

Turns out that because I wasn’t cattle prodding these little people’s nervous systems with food that didn’t serve them, they could relax and get to the business of being healthy and growing.

And to that, I say, “Cheers”, resveratrol and all.

Please support GMO Labeling

We’re going to change history; we’re going to turn the Titanic around this time before it hits the iceberg; we’re going to miraculously stop the insane, suicidal march now presided over by the governments of the world; and it’s going to happen because we say so.

-Marianne Williamson, The Age of Miracles

 

Our family eats organic. All the time. Not because it’s trendy, not because we are independently wealthy. (We are neither of those things, by the way.)

We eat that way because when we stopped eating GMOs, our kids’ behavior changed. They became, well, fun to be around. They stopped pestering me like Sheldon knocking on Penny’s door in The Big Bang. No more tantrums for no apparent reason. Turns out they can keep their act together. I just needed to stop cattleprodding them by feeding them additives and neurotoxins. Sounds like inflammatory language and I’ve gone off my rocker and become some nutty hippie, but do a little reading on what’s going on in our food chain, and your mouth will drop open. And then you’ll clean out your pantry.

But whatever you think about whether GMOs are safe or not, you should be able to choose. If they aren’t labeled, how are you to know? Isn’t one of the core American values that I get to decide for myself and my family?

Last week I got this email from Food and Water Watch:

The House of Representatives recently passed Monsanto’s dream bill – a bill that will prohibit states from labeling genetically engineered foods.

Can you ask your Senators to oppose any bill that tries to take away labeling for genetically engineered foods?

Why is this important? In poll after poll, more than 90% of people want food to be labeled if it contains genetically engineered ingredients. Several states have already passed laws requiring labeling, including Vermont, which will require labels on all foods starting next summer, unless this terrible bill passes through Congress and is signed into law by President Obama.

It’s really important that your Senators hear from you, so they’re not misled by the Big Food Corporations that want to prohibit GMO labeling.

The lobbyists for Big Food have been busy on Capitol Hill and in-district during the Congressional summer recess. Too many members of Congress are confused by the language in the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act.” It sounds good doesn’t it? [Food and Water Watch] has been calling it the Denying Americans the Right to Know Act (DARK Act).

At the end of the day, it all comes down to who gets to decide what you are eating. Shouldn’t that person be you?

Senators could be taking up this bill when they come back after Labor Day. Can you ask your Senators to oppose any bill that tries to take away labeling for genetically engineered foods?