Tuesday, April 12, 2011

AVOCADO & COCOA MOUSSE

My friend Lucille sent me a desert recipe this week I had to try: 2 avocados cut in chunks, 1/2 cup agave nectar/syrup, 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa,
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla, 1 1/2 tsp. almond extract.

Mix all together in the food processor or blender until smooth. Spoon into 4 serving dishes. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for an hour. Serve garnished with raspberries (or strawberries or whipped cream).

I was intrigued by this recipe because it has two  local foods for Michoacan (where I am), avocado and agave, AND because I couldn't believe it would make a decent tasting desert. I am way more than pleasantly surprised. It's so good, if the family doesn't get home soon, there won't be any left.

I've already posted about all the nutrition packed in avocados.  So today I thought I'd do a little research on agave nectar.  OMG it turns out to be quite the hornet's nest.  I'm pretty sure the sugar industry is as competitive and cut-throat as it gets, and lots of the bad information has a dubious ring to it. Let me just say, I'm glad I found agave nectar, its flavor is milder than honey or maple syrup and it pours pretty easily.  No way can I get real maple syrup here, and agave syrup is going to be my new pancake topping.  If it turns out to have amazing health benefits like they've just discovered in maple syrup, I'll be pleasantly surprised.  If I find it makes me as "high as crack cocaine" or "causes acne", I'll be sure to let you know.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

SACK FARMING

World food prices are high and it looks like they're going higher. I've heard that surpluses in the US are a thing of the past. Natural disasters and political turmoil often send poor people into relocation camps where they are dependent on food aid. It's a difficult situation to imagine. But here's a hopeful article about women in Kenya growing food in sacks. What I like most about it is how the know-how is passed from person to person.

Everyone should know how to grow some food!


URBAN WOMEN GROW FOOD IN SACKS by Nancy Karanja, Danielle Nierenberg, and Mary Njenga

Driving through the crowded streets of Nairobi’s Kibera slums, it’s nearly impossible to describe how many people live in this area of about 400 hectares, the equivalent of just over half the size of Central Park in Manhattan .
Everywhere you look, there are people.
Anywhere from 700,000 to one million people live in what is likely the largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa .
And despite the challenges people here face – lack of water and sanitation services, space and lack of land ownership are the big ones – they are thriving and living.
Small gardens produce big benefits in nutrition and income.
We met a “self-help” group of female farmers in Kibera who are growing food for their families and selling the surplus to their neighbours.
Such groups are present all over Kenya – giving youth, women and vulnerable people the opportunity to organize, share information and skills and ultimately improve their well-being while giving them a voice that otherwise would not be heard.
The women we met were growing vegetables on what they call “vertical farms or gardens.”
But instead of skyscrapers, these farms are in tall recycled sacks filled with soil, and the women grow crops in them on different levels by poking holes in the bags and mainly planting seeds and seedlings of spinach, kale, sweet pepper and spring onions. The women’s group received training, seeds and sacks from the French NGO Solidarites to start their sack gardens.
The women told us that more than 1,000 women in their neighborhood are growing food in a similar way – something that the International Red Cross recognized as a solution to food security in urban areas during the 2007 and 2008 political crisis in the slums of Nairobi .
For about a month, no food could come into these areas from rural Kenya, but most residents didn’t go without food because so many of them were growing crops – in sacks, vacant public land such as that along rail lines and along river banks.
These small gardens could produce big benefits in terms of nutrition, food security and income.
All the women told us that they saved money because they no longer had to buy vegetables from the markets or kiosks, and they claimed that the vegetables were fresh and tasted better because they were organically grown – but that sentiment also might come from the pride of growing something themselves.
Mary Mutola has farmed on this land for over two decades.
She and the other farmers – more women than men – don’t own the land where they grow spinach, kale, spider plant, squash, amaranth and fodder.
Instead, the land is owned by the National Social Security Fund, which has allowed the farmers to use the farm through an informal arrangement.
In other words, the farmers have no legal right to the land.
They’ve been forced to stop farming more than once over the years, and although they’re getting harassed less frequently, they still face challenges.
About a year ago, the city forced them to stop using untreated wastewater (sewage from a sewer line which they tapped into) to both irrigate and fertilize their crops.
Although wastewater can carry a number of risks, including pathogens and contamination from heavy metals, it also provides a rich – and free – source of fertilizer to farmers who don’t have the money to buy expensive fertilizer in stores and other inputs.
And because of longer periods of drought (likely a result of climate change) in sub-Saharan Africa, the farmers didn’t have to depend on rainfall to water their crops.
But even with the loss of their main water supply and nutrient sources, Ms.  Mutola and the other farmers are continuing to come up with innovative ways of growing food crops – and incomes – from this farm.
In partnership with Urban Harvest, the farmers are not only growing food to eat and sell but, perhaps surprisingly, also becoming suppliers of seed of traditional leafy African vegetables such as amaranth, spider plant and African nightshade for the commercial vegetable rural farmers who supply the Nairobi city with these high-demand commodities.
Kibera farmers have always grown fodder for livestock feed for both urban and rural farmers.
But by establishing a continual source of seed for traditional African vegetables, they’re helping dispel the myth that urban agriculture benefits only poor people living in cities.
Using very small plots of land, about 50 square meters, and double dug beds, the farmers can raise seeds very quickly. Fast-growing varieties like amaranth and spider plant take only about three months to produce seeds, worth about 3,000 Kenyan shillings (about $40) in profit.
And these seed plots – because they are small – take very little additional time to weed and manage. The future for these farmers continues to be uncertain.
Their land could be taken away, the drought could further jeopardize their crops, and the loss of wastewater for fertilizer could reduce production.
But they continue to persevere despite these challenges.
Nancy Karanja is a professor at the University of Nairobi.  Mary Njenga is a Ph.D. student at the University of Nairobi . Danielle Nierenberg is a senior researcher with the Worldwatch Institute.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

ENGINEERED FOOD -- "ZANY" & PROFITABLE

My husband sent me this NYTimes article about the sale of Pringles Potato chips for $2.35 billion. I found the whole article fascinating, mostly the part that explains just how non-food Pringles really are. The whole concept of them was really based on being able to use that container... what they were made of and how they tasted were all conceived around that. There's not a thing about Pringles that has anything to do with "food" except that you put them in your mouth and chew them. Thank you Andrew Martin for shedding more light on what it really means to be a "consumer."  



Once a Great Flop, Now Sold for Billions
By ANDREW MARTIN

In announcing the sale of Pringles on Tuesday, Procter & Gamble concluded what had been a tumultuous, sometimes zany, 50-year experiment in engineered food.

The $2.35 billion deal with Diamond Foods is also a milestone for Procter as it sheds its last food brand after having already sold Jif peanut butter, Folger’s coffee and Crisco shortening.

The company’s expertise in edible oils was used widely by the potato chip industry in the 1950s and 1960s, and shaped the invention of Pringles, the thinly sliced saddle-shaped crisp. Company officials still aren’t sure how the chips got their name, but one theory holds that two Procter advertising employees lived on Pringle Drive in Cincinnati and the name paired well with potato.

The creator of the famous Pringles can was so proud of his invention that he asked that his ashes be buried in one.

Yet Pringles, which is basically dehydrated potato flakes that are rolled and then fried, was not universally loved.

It was such a dud in its early years that some called for Procter to dump the brand. The brand did not take off until the company tweaked the flavor in 1980 and introduced the “Fever for the Flavor of Pringles” advertising campaign.

By the late 1990s, Pringles had become a $1 billion a year brand. On the television series “Ally McBeal,” Ally got into a grocery store skirmish with a woman over a can of Pringles.

“When I was there 30 years ago, it was dead,” said Charles Jarvie, vice president of Procter’s food division in the late 1970s. “It’s a great example where they just didn’t give up.”
(Read whole article.)

Monday, April 4, 2011

BACKSEAT FARMING: WOULD YOU USE BST?

This morning on Twitter I read that Glen Groth was giving his dairy cows BST shots. So I looked into what that was and came up with this informative article about BST by another dairy farmer.

BST is a synthetic hormone. I knew that one can buy hormone-free milk, but until I read this article I would've tested poorly on what that means.  

Glen Groth also said, "more milk from less feed = sustainability."  Glen has not watched Meat the Truth or he'd know you can't talk about cows and sustainability at the same time.


BST CONTROVERSY

In this day and age, to be successful at dairy farming, you have to keep improving your techniques and look for better ways to improve. This has become a high tech society and we need to do everything possible to enhance your farm. High milk production is the key to dairy farming. Farmers will go to many extents to stimulate the ultimate performance from their dairy cows. Such extents include adding extra protein or carbohydrates to their total mixed rations, or administering hormone shots every fourteen days.

Monsanto is a widely known company for producing farming products, and a popular company extending from Monsanto is Posilac. Posilac markets this milk-producing enhancement for dairy cows. Bovine Somatotrophin (BST) is the popular hormone shot that is administered to dairy cows after 9 to 10 weeks of lactation or after calving. BST is a synthetic hormone that is injected to improve a cows’ milk production by 10-15 %. A going rate of $5.20 a shot, can be very costly initially, but the results over time show a significant profit from using BST.

“BST is taken in by the liver, which synthesizes the fatty acids in the bloodstream. It regulates the liver, adipose tissue and bone, and produces IGF-1. IGF-1 affects mammary cells to increase cellular activity that increases weight gain and milk production” (Walker). The shot needs to be given in one of the two specific places on the cow. They include either right near her tail head or right behind the shoulder. If this is not practiced properly, it can cause severe problems with the cow. In conjunction with hormone shots, proper nutrition needs to be regulated to provide a balance diet. Consultations with your nutritionists can also enhance the results from BST. Technically, increasing the dry matter intake will help enhance the BST. “On average, dairy cows are showing approximately an 8-12 pound per cow per day jump”(BST).

Controversies dealing with hormone injections to cows are just like giving hormone injections to humans. In this case, the dairy cows do not have much of a say in this matter, whereas humans do. The BST that is administered is said to be very similar to the naturally occurring hormone that the cows produce on their own is called Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH). The Food and Drug Administration has looked over the research done by Monsanto on the effects of the dairy cows that were given BST. “There are no differences in the milk produced or internal affects on the dairy cow” (Posilac).

The positive side of this controversy is that the amount of milk that is being produced is helping out the farmers’ monetary situations. The cows are showing their ultimate potential, and it is a useful management tool. Cows show a dramatic increase on milk and slowly decline to their drying off periods. This still happens even if they weren’t on BST, but their overall production is still higher than without BST. BST is administered every 14 days, and to inject 250 shots takes about an hour. Time-management is needed on larger farms as well as smaller farms to administer the shot, which helps with overall management. “This is an efficient cutting-edge product that is available today. Might as well hop on the train while it is moving, and don’t miss out” (BST).

If a farm mostly bases their cull rate on milk production and effectiveness, using BST will decrease their cull rate. Trying to be efficient as possible in the dairy industry is vital for survival. Along with these important positive aspects to using BST, there are always negatives ones as well. Negative aspects are not spoken about when first using BST, but over time you see negative responses.

BST has to be given every 14 days, during that time, cows’ milk production peaks only in the middle of the cycle. It slowly rises to the peak position at about 6-7 days, and then slowly drops off after that. The high initial cost can be very intimidating to a first-time user. $5.20 a shot can hurt a farmer’s pocket if they decide that using BST is the last resort before they decided to sell out. Milk prices are not particularly in our favor anymore and when we experience a drop in milk prices, BST is very expensive to keep administering. If the shot is not given properly, the hormone can affect specific tissues and muscles that it is not suppose to, and will cause severe harm to the dairy cow. Cows can get addicted to the extra hormonal intake, where they do not produce without it. They can also become immune to it, and money is wasted to get them producing again.

There are many arguments that giving dairy cows BST is harmful. Research that has been done proves that BST only stimulates the system to produce milk, not stimulating cancer cells, or harmful bacteria found in milk. BST is not much more than a human drinking an energy drink. Eric Reid, an artificial inseminator for GENEX, states that he believes that BST is good for increasing milk production, but poor for dairy cow extended performance. “I just do not like to see cows be placed with extra stress and wear out faster than those who do not take BST” (Reid).

I am going to agree with Eric Reid, because I also do not like to see extra stress placed on cows to wear them out easily. However, BST hormonal injections are the best technology today, and by keeping our farm in business, we need to produce as much milk as possible. I have given cows plenty of BST shots and it doesn’t take up much time, but I still think it is very expensive. If there was a more dramatic improvement than 8-12 lbs per cow per day, than I could change my mind. This leads me to add that the milk prices are indeed getting better, but not good enough. If everyone were to stop using BST hormonal injections, there would be a demand/shortage for milk, and the milk prices would increase. A lot of people agree with me when I state this, but the action is hard to do. It would be a long-term benefit, but we can’t afford to decrease milk production due to terminating BST shots.

I believe that BST hormonal injections are not dramatically bad. They do have bad outcomes in the long run, but they are also very beneficial for right now. They are the newest technical improvement, and as an expanding dairy farmer, I need all the help I can get. I will stand up for BST shots when the subject comes about, but I will also state what I think should be done and personal feelings like I have in this paper. (http://it.stlawu.edu/~rkreuzer/canoe/projects/chambers/controversy.htm)


Would I use BST if I was a dairy farmer?  I'm sure I'd be under some pressure to, but I hope not.  I hope I'd care more about my animals than about money. And I hope I'd have access to a milk buyer who cared who in turn had customers who cared.  



   

Friday, April 1, 2011

DID YOU HEAR THE ONE ABOUT THE HUMMER DRIVING VEGETARIAN?

A vegetarian in a Hummer creates fewer carbon emissions than a meat eater in a Toyota Prius.  That's just one of the interesting things I found out watching Meat the Truth a documentary made just a few years ago that somehow I'd never heard of until this evening when I stumbled across a vegan conference here in Morelia.  The film had just started when we walked in.   You can watch the whole thing on Youtube.   I'm not vegan but I'm eating less meat all the time and now that I've seen this film I'm feeling mighty good about that on several levels.