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You cannot fake blueberries or can you?

Just got this in from Natural News:  Mike Adams, an investigative journalist exposed the deceptive chemical ingredients and dishonest marketing of “blueberry” products from very well-known brands of food and cereal companies.  It turns out companies are faking blueberries in cereals, muffins, bagels and other food products!  Can you believe this?!  And I’m not only talking about those generic brands that no one knows about or even heard of; this is hands down big companies like General Mills which makes the Total Blueberry Pomegranate Cereal, which does not have even a drop of anything that has to do with a real blueberry or pomegranate.  What it does have mimicking the blueberries is artificial colors red #40, blue #2, other artificial colors, and sucralose (an artificial sweetener).  

Other deceivers include Kellogg’s Blueberry Pop Tarts and Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats,

Betty Crocker‘s Fiber One Blueberry muffin mix, and Special K Blueberry Fruit Crisps for which they actually state on their website that they “are filled with blueberries…”!

To my pleasant surprise Fox News was the first news outlet to actually cover this story.   When they contacted Kellogg’s, the company said that “the term ‘Blueberry Muffin’ is used to describe the flavor of some products” and their “products are labeled in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.”  Sad isn’t it, that consumers cannot rely on every piece of information on a food product they buy?

The law firm of Finkenstein Thompson LLP began an investigation into this issue and now calls on anyone who purchased a product marketed as if it had real blueberries even though it did not to contact them (See the contact information below).

So what can we do to combat this issue?

(1) For those of you who already don’t, please please PLEASE get into the habit of reading the ingredients on all food items!  This is essential as more and more companies lobby our government officials who then choose what and how to regulate.

(2) Boycott the companies who practice this kind of labeling.  My husband always laughs at me when I tell him that I will not purchase something from a store or a certain brand that does not reach my expectations, since “one person cannot change anything”; but I don’t care.  As the internet and truth becomes more and more available to all people, we can all have the luxury to support one product over another based on its qualities.  If a piece of negative information on some product has merit and each informed person boycotts that brand, then trust me, it WILL make a difference.  Plus, it is also a matter of principle.

(3) Contact the Finkenstein Thompson LLP law firm that I mentioned above by calling (877) 800-1450 or email them at contact@finkelsteinthompson.com and let them know about your concerns.

(4) Finally, you can contact Food and Drug Administration directly and demand for the regulations to be changed.  Make sure you sound rational and thoughtful to make your message heard.  Here is where you can find out all the information on how to attempt to influence a regulation.

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When I read about this issue, I was appalled.  Can you believe that companies actually fake blueberries?  I thought that the awareness that the GMO battle and the revelation on organic apples brought would somehow push the companies to be a bit more trustworthy.  Boy, was I wrong!  So don’t stop your awareness, be more mindful!

wikipedia.org

In the meantime, here is my favorite blueberry pie recipe that I want to recommend to you; we make it every summer after collecting a few buckets of blueberries on a farm.  

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the many ways to cycle through life

I really feel like talking about things, you know those every day things that can sometimes seem worthless, that can make a person feel like a hoarder.  I used to say that I’m not a hoarder, that I’m just waiting for a bigger house.  In truth, I just feel horrible when I throw something out knowing that it will end up in a landfill adding to all the other unwanted things in an unsuccessful tetris game.  But hey, you know what?  Someone can see old bicycle chains, but to someone else they stretch into a beautiful chandelier.

by Carolina Fontoura Alzaga

Now, is that really being frugal or is it thoughtful and practical?

To many there is only two choices:  recycle or landfill, but in truth there is a whole 6 options!  There is a whole concept of waste minimization by which waste can be organized into 6 categories with prevention being the most preferable and disposal the least.

Prevention:  by far the best option!  How can you prevent something as a tiny being on this big dear Earth?  First, you can start using reusable bags.  This will cause a chain of events that can alter our future forever:  the store cashier will not give you a plastic bag, leaving a few more bags at the counter; the manager will put in his order a bit later than usual; the bag manufacturer will lower his supply of bags and purchase less petroleum or natural gas needed to make the bag; the energy market will see less demand for energy and less permits will be given to oil and natural gas drillers because of lower demand.  And all “because a little bug went ka-choo!”  Other ideas are requesting less packing materials when purchasing items online, use towels or sponges for cleaning, dress your LO in cloth diapers, and definitely think about investing in rechargeable batteries.

Minimization:  our second best option, encourages people to optimize their resources by donating things they no longer need or use (have you heard of Freecycle?) or avoiding purchases of novelties.  Another way is skipping the middleman – instead of buying toys online that are shipped with unnecessary packaging with tons of packing materials, you can find similar toys available on Freecycle or in your closest thrift shop.  Last, but not least is to reduce waste by simply printing documents on double-sided paper.  Easy, right?

Reuse:  ok, so your wonderful useful toaster that you religiously used for the past 5 years just died on you; you can either buy a new toaster or fix the one you have.  Of course the latter is the eco friendly option, but it might cost you more.  The corresponding issue with fixing something is that nowadays it is becoming easier and cheaper to just buy something new; but can you guess why that is?  Well, it is all because most items are made in China or some other developing country that has unbelievably disproportionate salaries of its “blue-collar” workers compared to the everyday living expenses.  If you choose to get something fixed here, in your local repair shop, you will have to consider the fair salary that gets incorporated in the final price of repairing the product.

Recycling:  probably the simplest task for a non-environmentalist.   The only problem with this one is that many counties, especially rural, recycle only a small percentage of the total waste generated.  Many times a person who is eager and determined to recycle something, has to put in extra energy to find out when and where to recycle those special items like plastic bags, unconventional plastics, batteries, mercury thermometers, etc.  For all my questions about recycling, I just visit Earth911.com which allows me to find a pick-up center for almost any type of item, even batteries!

Energy Recovery:  is something that I wrote about in one of my earlier posts.  In that post I discussed the Puente Hills landfill that manufactures energy from the methane gas produced by decomposition.   But energy recovery does not have to be so distant as a landfill.  You can recover energy by composting in your backyard in late fall after the last harvest, which will fertilize your soil into the next year to yield beautiful nourished crops for you and your family.  And you don’t only have to include food waste, but also leaves, paper, and anything else that is fairly quick to biodegrade.  Here is a wonderful guide on what you can compost and what effect it will have on the soil.

I really encourage you to read more on this topic, it’s an eye opener.

Disposal:  the one method we always should try to avoid.  Just think about it, the world population is growing exponentially and more and more countries are developing into first world powers.  People are becoming wealthier, spending more on things that they don’t need, and ultimately, generating more waste.  Disposal of anything should be a moral issue, especially disposing things that don’t biodegrade like Styrofoam.   I guess we can talk about the dangers of these materials in a later topic, but I hope I encouraged you to look at waste management in a totally new light.

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The wheels of imagination are turning, people are upcycling, recycling, bicycling.  The world is a better place.

Sources:

http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/reducewaste/Home/


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a stroll for us, a walkabout for the little one

Last week I had a short business trip to Idaho (which was unexpectedly amazing) so my grandma came from New York to help out with Bee while I was gone.  The Saturday after I came back we all decided to go to the Children’s Day at Brookside Gardens.  When we strolled into the park, there were hundreds of people walking around, eating, dancing, competing on who can spit a watermelon seed farther, and there was even a band playing music (very good music, may I add)!

Jay Mankita’s songs are all free for download on Bandcamp.

You should’ve seen Bee’s face, she was so astonished from seeing dancing vegetable people, literally; from all the noise coming from all corners of the world; and from so many moving people that kept racing past her eyes like falling stars that she didn’t even flinch one face muscle for at least 15 minutes; she was just standing there trying to understand why are all these people here.

I could see how overwhelmed she was so we migrated to a coloring and gluing workshop, in a much quieter spot of the park, where she was able to gather her thoughts and create a beautiful paper plate with vegetable embellishments.

After reality sunk in, she was ready to go to the concert again.  One of the dancing vegetable people tried to “give her a five”, but that scared her a little bit so we ended up as spectators for a few songs.

On one of the sidewalks there were promoters of organic Honest Tea that were selling the tea pouches for $1 each.  It turns out that they “only” contain 12 grams of sugar (sweetened with fruit juice only) per pouch and although I wouldn’t usually buy a sugary drink for her at all, I thought, what the heck; plus she loves drinking from a straw and it was HER day anyway.

We decided to spend the rest of the festival walking around in the gardens.  We lounged on the grass field,

visited bumble bees (what a fun and educational workshop, even for me!), smelled some flowers,

and saw the butterflies in the pavilion.

At that point Bee was ready to pass out, so she jumped into the stroller and rode all the way to the exit, requesting periodic stops next to floating balloons which hung near every workshop.  By the time we got to the car, she was fast asleep and only woke up 3 hours later.

Well, that was our wonderful weekend!  How did your go?

-Tree People Love


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I want to be like Malvina

As I was reading The New York Times discussions on whether organic food is worth the cost, I bumped into many “disbelievers” and skeptics.  Well, most of you probably already know where I stand on this issue; but mind you, that this confidence and certainty did not come out of nowhere.  The credence in me sprouted from years of analyzing the facts and learning about different cultures.  Different cultures, you ask?  Yes, not everyone in the world lives the way people in the U.S. do.  Farming practices differ from country to country based on the political climate, poverty levels, and education.  Let me bring you a few examples which I’m sure will sway you to reconsider and strengthen your view-point on organics to a favorable stance.

1.  Political climate

Have you heard about what happened in Cuba?  Well, after the Soviet Union collapsed, which was supplying Cuba with its fertilizers, pesticides, and agricultural machinery, Cuba was forced to become self-reliant in its agricultural production and she did this by creating “organoponicos” or urban organic farms.  When the collapse happened, 80% of Cuba’s sugarcane trade was lost.  Consequently, in the beginning of 1990’s the land that was used to grow industrial amounts of export crops was switched to domestic food production, and tractors were switched for oxen.  More people moved from the city to this land and began implementing organic farming methods.  They really went all the way:  incorporating crop rotation, implementing composting and soil conservation, and integrating pest management.  Almost overnight, people became experts in techniques like worm composting and biopesticides (which is now one of Cuba’s biggest exports).  Those that stayed in the city established an urban gardening culture.

The way an organoponico works is by allocating an amount of land in an urban area to local gardeners, who get to keep 50% of the profits.  The produce is sold by the people who work in the garden to the people who live nearby.

The system is not perfect – Cuba is still importing 80% of its food, which I think has a lot to do with its lack of machinery.  Cuba’s imports are largely composed of wheat, corn, powdered milk, flour, and soybean oil.  Wheat, for example, requires planting, watering, harvesting (grain separation and winnowing); now imagine doing all that without machinery…  And if you notice, most of Cuba’s food exports are those that provide a high yield and can be harvested at high densities with the right machinery.  My conclusion from this is that with a little imagination, proper machinery, and constrains, Cuba can become self sufficient in a matter of time.

2.  Poverty levels

Poverty is a tricky category.  If you would draw a graph with the levels of income on x-axis and the instances of organic farming on y-axis, the graph would be a total mess with the lines jumping up and down.  This is because poverty levels are at many times correlated with other issues.

For example, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, Luxembourg, has only 3% organic farms out of its total farms.  The demand, however, is rising.  Luxembourg ranks third in the European Union on the amount of euros spent on organic food per person.

Norway, similarly, owns 4.3% organic farms, but the rate has been declining throughout the last few years.  Reasons for the decline include unexpected, frequent, and stricter organic standards changes; requirements of high long-term investments; problems with weed control; difficulty obtaining 100% organic feed; low sale prices; and high employment rate and salaries in off-farm job market.

Rwanda, however, is a developing country where many people live from dollar to dollar each day.  To your surprise, there has been a steady movement towards organic farming recently.  Similarly, rural communities in Haiti are moving toward organic farming which provides prospects for young adults and creates a secure and sustainable source of food.  Humanitarian organizations come to these small villages and train families to farm organically to decrease food shortages and dependence on outside support.

There are many other reasons for the lack of or an abundance of organic farming as it relates to poverty.  For example, wealthy countries might want to import organics rather than give up land that they can better use for other more profitable production; poorer countries might be willing to farm organically if that means more exports to wealthier countries; there are also politics in effect.  Notice the situation that we have here in the U.S:  conventional farming is closely tied to the Republican political party because of its preference for less regulation and more subsidies.  It’s also the mindset of the people; I find that people who are less tied to material things and have a connection with their natural environment tend to be more open and eager to be eco-friendly.

Here are some statistics of the worldwide makeup of organic farming:

Shares of organic agricultural land in the regions 2010

Very disappointing to see that North America is way down on the list…

The countries with the highest shares of organic agricultural land 2010

Falkland Islands, hmm…  I should do a post specifically about this curious place.

The ten countries with the most organic agricultural land 2010

Now this chart is a little misleading since some countries are huge and the size of their organic agricultural land is just a small percentage of the total size of the country.

3.  Education

Education has a lot to do with organic farming.  People who buy organic tend to be more educated than people who choose conventional, causing countries with high average education index to have higher organic farming rate.  The biggest market in Europe can be found in Germany, Denmark and Switzerland which experience the highest per-capita organic food expenditure and are some of the countries with high education index levels.

Also, going back to the examples of organic farming in rural Haiti, many farmers damaged their environment by clearing trees and bushes to plant more produce due to the decreased harvest caused by worsened conditions.  They did this because they lacked the knowledge of the ecosystem and the importance of trees in keeping healthy soil and preventing unsteady ground.  After learning the methods of organic farming, they realized they can work with their environment to cultivate their farmland.  This example is not directly related to preference for organic food but it just shows how someone inexperienced and untrained can have a hard time making informative and beneficial decisions.

Finally, education drives the ability of a person to find out why organics are more beneficial and many schools are promoting organic food initiatives in their communities.

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So, where was I?  Oh yes, skepticism.  Skepticism is a wonderful thing until there are cold stone facts to wipe it away.  My advice (and this is addressed towards some of the debaters from The New York Times article) is before making a final decision on whether you are for or against organics, try to do some research, get the facts, see the root of the issue at hand, and only then when you are as informed as anyone can be, only then make your decision to rebuke or praise something.  Until that point, we are all only fanatics.

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Falling into the loopholes

After recently learning that USDA approved a final rule (at least until October 21, 2014) allowing organic apple and pear growers to use antibiotics when “natural methods are insufficient to address critical issues of production”, it made me wonder what other loopholes the USDA has created for the farmers to take advantage of.  I did an analysis of the main food categories: meat, fruits and vegetables, and dairy and here is what I learned:

Meat

naturalremedyreports.net

The amount of space or time outdoor and stocking density (crowding) are not regulated for any animals.  Some producers have a small outside space added on the buildings that house tens of thousands of chickens, but only a few birds can access it.  Access to outdoors, does not require that animals actually spend time outdoors which the free-range/free-roaming label implies.  Access may be insufficient relative to the number of animals needing access.  Outdoor access and stocking density (crowding) are not regulated. Chickens may be severely crowded and still labeled as “cage-free.”

Chickens raised for meat may be kept in continuous lighting, which does not allow rest and promotes excessive eating.  This creates a sick and stressed animal that then gets labeled “organic“.  Because the USDA does not permit the use of antibiotics sick animals may not receive needed treatment because they will lose this certification and will either be slaughtered for meat in their sick state or left to die.

Grass-fed is also a fun label full of loopholes.  Cows may be confined, yet grass-fed.  The label does not equate to grazing in a pasture.  The label may include in small print “grain-finished,” indicating that the cow spent some time confined in feedlots.

In products from birds or pigs, the label “no antibiotics” is misleading as hormones are already outlawed.

At last, with the certified humane label, there is no requirement that pigs or chickens have access to the outdoors.  Chickens may be debeaked and pigs may have their tails docked (cut off without painkillers) and still be labeled certified humane.

Fruits & Vegetables

Organic standards require that produce be grown from organic seeds, which means they are not genetically modified (GM), unless the organic seeds are not commercially available, then the conventional seeds are allowed (non-GM).

National regulations require that organic produce be grown for three years without synthetic pesticides.  Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries go through at least one rotation as non-fruiting plants, but virtually all plants — whether they will go on to produce conventional berries or organic ones — are treated with fumigants and other synthetic pesticides, including methyl bromide, a soil sterilizer and pesticide known to be depleting the ozone layer.

In 2007, the USDA released a list of 38 non-organic ingredients that could be allowed into organic packaged/processed foods and still be labeled 100% Organic.  The list includes hops, which allows Anheuser-Busch to market its Wild Hop lager as “organic,” even though the hops are grown with pesticides.

mypapercrane.com

The loopholes for fruits and vegetables are rather serious and because many people cannot buy organic all the time, the chart above will help you decide on when it is important to choose organic based on the pesticide content.

Dairy

In 2010, the USDA closed a loophole in their organic regulations, so all organic dairy cattle must now spend much of the year grazing in open pastures, as opposed to feed lots or indoor feeding pens.  There will also be an increasing the number of unannounced inspections conducted by certifiers without any prior notice.  This is probably the biggest move towards transparency in the organic market.  With all my research on the loopholes of dairy, I feel like I can honestly say that organic dairy regulation is the most transparent and trustworthy out of all other food categories.

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Reading about these issues made me realize that most, if not all, big organic producers should be denied an organic label because most of them use loopholes.  Specifically, Horizon (Dean Food’s), Cascadian Farms (General Mills), Kashi and GoLean (Kellogg’s)…

The following chart graphically focuses on the organic brands with ties to the top 30 food processors in North America and I would avoid them like the plague:

On a good note, the next two charts show major independently owned and private organic brands, respectively, which are more or less reputable:

Disreputable meat producers take advantage of the loopholes that allow inhumane practices; disreputable organic fruit and vegetable growers take advantage of the loopholes which allow for the use of pesticides; and only organic milk has become what it was supposed to be from the beginning.  In my point of view, fruits and vegetables regulations are the most disturbing because of the frankness of the law which openly allows pesticide use and will still be labeled organic.  What can we, Consumers, do?  Many things!

  1. Buy from meat, fruits and vegetables from local farms where you can check the quality of organic produce or from private and independent farmers.
  2. Support pending state laws to label Genetically Engineered Foods or tell President Obama yourself.
  3. Sign up to Cornucopia Institute‘s and Organic Consumer’s Association website where you can keep track of new developments in the organic industry, support pending laws, and check the score cards on its organic for different produce.

 

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Hello wonderful people!

This is just a quick post about an amazing mushroom festival that will be happening in Baltimore, MD in October this year.  Specifically, it is an educational two-day festival exploring the Mushroom as an organism, focusing on it’s impact on our environment, culture, art, and technology.  The art part is what really makes me curious (well, now that I think about it everything about mushrooms makes me curious, but art is pretty up there!).  They will have sculptures, paintings, films, performances, and music inspired by mushrooms with hands-on workshops and educational discussions.

Ahh, these are the type of events that really make my day!  I hope to see you there; let me know if you will be going.  I’ll try to do a little photo recap of the wonderful things that happen at the festival, so stay tuned!

What:   Mushroom City Art Festival

When:  October 6th & 7th
12-7 Saturday, Party 8-12:30
1-5 Sunday

Where:  3510 Ash Street
Baltimore, MD 21211

Why:     Because humans are more genetically related to mushrooms than they are to plants. Ha!

Also, everyone has an opportunity to submit art and although the deadline is September 1, you can still whip something up.

Finally, how can I leave without showing you a few wonderful mushroom moments..?

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Angie Scarr

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Jim Ehle

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Linda

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Svetlana Serdyukova

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carlfbagge

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Helen

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Yury Popov

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about a necklace

I’m working on a big topic now for this blog, which is taking me longer than I thought.  I recently read somewhere that great ideas and insights usually come late at night when you release your concentration and let your mind sink into total ambivalence.  The logic to this is that when you let go and reevaluate, you start looking at a problem “outside the box”.  The step essential in this process is letting go.

Sometimes it’s difficult to let go.  As humans, we instinctively prefer familiar rather than strange because the latter suggests danger, whether it’d be emotional or physical; we like to predict the future.  And this instinct for familiarity is contradictory to personal evolution – how can a person grow without taking chances and being impulsive?  I once heard a story on RadioLab about a man who had a brain tumor removed, inadvertently causing him to lose his ability to make impulsive decisions.  This condition ultimately caused him to spend hours in a supermarket trying to decide which cereal to buy.  My point is that impulsion does wonders in small doses.  Just think about it, you primarily make rational decisions in your life by eating, going to work, crossing the road on a green light, watering your plants, servicing your car, etc, etc.  But sometimes we only lack the smallest raindrop of courage that can change our whole life.  Courage is evolution.

I had a big epiphany a few months ago, when my husband and I visited a bonsai tree farm.  The owner of the farm was a quiet man in his sixties who was an enlightened artist and a bonsai lover.  He inherited many of his trees from old friends and he exulted at the ages of his favorite specimens.  Our stop at his farm was totally impromptu and we were walking around it a few minutes before Jay came out of his house and greeted us with a warm and content smile.  He patiently began touring us around his garden, showing his prized possessions.  I really wanted to buy a tree as a souvenir of our impulsive and rewarding decision to turn around into the parking lot that plainly said “Bonsai Trees”.  As we were walking around the garden, we stopped by a miniature ivy and I knew she was the one.  Her stem curled into a 7 and she had the tiniest little leaves that followed the branches like paws.  And then Jay told me something that really made me reevaluate everything that I know; he told me that the secret of a bonsai is training.  So aside from manipulating the branches to form pleasant shapes, a grower must also train the leaves.  This is done by cutting those that grow too big and leaving the tiny ones.  That way after a few years of discipline, the bonsai tree will only grow small leaves.  He concluded by saying that although some house plants love the sun, many of them die when taken out of the house for the first time after winter.  This is because their leaves are very tender from the sunless room it lived in during the winter and they need time to adapt to direct sunlight; they should be taken out gradually with shade first, direct sunlight last.  I was in awe.  I never knew that plants adapted to their surroundings, just like people.  I realized also that a person can be trained to do anything, just like the plants.  There is a Russian tradition called “zakalyanie”, which means to gradually train the body, whether it is become insensitive to germs or to function in cold temperatures.  The latter is more exciting though – people train by running naked in the snow and swimming in ice-cold water.  This helps a person not be sensitive to cold winters and remain in good health throughout the year.  So People, get out there, train yourself to do something that you thought was impossible.  It is possible.  Everything is.

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I was going to write about one idea, but ended up with a whole necklace!  Speaking of necklaces, during my “letting it go” time, I finally completed a forgotten project of mine.  I made this wonderful crocheted necklace  from two very thin strands of cotton thread and, of course, a little bit of love.

-Tree People Love