More nods for GMO maize

The European Food Safety Authority is the latest in a string of EU commissions that has approved the use of genetically modified corn as food for humans or animals. The corn strain, Bt11, is created and marketed by Syngenta.

European consumers have fought hard against the introduction of GMO foods in the market, yet corporations such as Syngenta and Monsanto have fought back--with millions, if not billions of dollars--to get their products in the fields. While the EFSA maintains that "Bt11 maize will not have an adverse effect on human and animal health or the environment in the context of its proposed use," it is still unclear what the effects of GMO crops will have on the environment, or on humans, in the long run. To read the complete decision, go to the EFSA Web site.


Star Wars: Revenge of the Cuke

Will Cuke Skywalker use the power of the true Farm to save Princess Lettuce? Only if this organic vegetable listens to Obi-Wan Cannoli and his newfound friend, Chewbroccoli, and is resolute against the Dark Side and its evil leader, Darth Tader.

This may be my favorite Star Wars spoof ever, next to the hax0r Sith movie trailer and Star Wars ASCII. But I digress. This video, released by the Organic Trade Association and created by Free Range Studios, highlights the intergalactic struggle between the Dark Side of the Farm and the Organic Rebellion--which is strong with the power of the true Farm. OTA hopes that amid the Sith-like frenzy that is Star Wars this week, some of this passion will draw young viewers to the spoof to learn about organic produce and farming.

Watch "Grocery Store Wars" here. Best moment: the Death Melon. "That giant fruit threatens us all."


We eat what we are

The link between health and diet is an obvious one, but finding a balance between them is the challenge. Take, for example, the native Americans of the O'odham nation who live on a sweeping reservation in southern Arizona. Diabetes is rampant; according to this article, more than half the population on the reservation suffer from the disease. Their diet in general is very high in fats and oils (like most Americans), yet the instance of diabetes is much higher than with the population at large. While scientists are looking into whether there is a genetic predisposition to diabetes in native Americans, tribal leaders and nutritionists are looking at other ways to help bring health back to the tribe.

Ancient tribal foods, such as tepary beans, buffalo meat, cholla buds and wild rice, are gradually being reintroduced to the community as low-sugar, low-fat alternatives to the convenient, fast foods or sugary sodas often found on reservations. The thinking is that traditional foods may be better suited for a native American body than are non-traditional foods, such as refined flour, cooking fats and preserved meats. A return to native foods is also a return to a way of life that has gradually been forgotten by the hardships of life on the reservation. From the ColorLines article:

Young Indians, as well as older ones, have been alienated from their own culture, [Terrol Dew] Johnson says, and he thinks these foods can reintroduce them to the traditions. After all, these foods are used in ceremonies and carry the stories of the Desert People. For example, it is said that when Coyote was running with a bag of tepary beans, he tripped and the white beans flew into the sky, creating the Milky Way.

Johnson runs a grassroots organization on the reservation to bring back native foods to the community. Johnson used to drink a six-pack of Pepsi a day, and was diabetic before he was 30. Now he grows tepary beans and harvests other native foods to distribute to his community. (For more on the O'odham and native American foods, read Gary Paul Nabhan's wonderful book, Coming Home To Eat.)

It stands to reason that as mammals, we would be predisposed to certain foods, or that our bodies could manage and process some foods more easily than others. In the fight against obesity or any other dietary disease, it makes good sense (and perhaps soon, good science) to see what foods fit best with who we are.


Hunger talks

Hunger is the topic of one of the news feeds I've constructed at Google News. Every day the alert sends me at least half a dozen stories of people starving themselves as a form of protest. The reasons are varied, and the results often fatal. Hunger strikes have been used as a form of non-violent protest for more than a century (Mohandas Gandhi, IRA prisoners, British suffragettes) and seem, on the most part, to be an effective way to garner attention and inspire action on the part of those protested against.

In the past few weeks people are not only starving, but forcing themselves to starve all over the world. Georgetown students staged a hunger strike for two weeks to fight for a living wage for school employees. The former Haitian prime minister under Aristide is on the brink of death following a protracted hunger strike in jail. More than 1,000 prisoners stage a hunger strike in Morocco and one dies in protest of their incarceration following a terrorist attack in 2003. Seven students in India refuse food and water to protest the expulsion of schoolmates who participated in student riots two years before. In Burma, political prisoners starve themselves to protest "inhumane treatment" on the part of their jailers, and are moved away from family members as punishment.

It goes on. While we fight hunger around the world, we fight with hunger too. The psychology of hunger strikes is powerful: instead of hurting you to get you to do what I want you to do, I will hurt myself instead--in the hopes that your humanity (and complicit responsibility) will not stand to see me perish.


Another side of sustainability

Ask any devoted organic consumer to define "sustainable agriculture" and you may be told: foodstuffs grown without pesticides, agriculture methods that are good for the community and land, better working conditions for farmhands. A report from University of California takes issue with the last point, finding that overall wages and conditions on organic farms in California aren't drastically better for workers than they are on conventional farms.

While organic produce and foodstuffs are often more expensive than conventional foods, that price premium still isn't enough to allow small-scale and family-owned operations to provide more than the basic wages for workers, the study found. Many farms can't afford health insurance for their workers -- if they can even afford it for their own families.

What's more, the study found that many farmers fear the requirement of certain working standards for organic farms (such as collective bargaining), as such standards could put undue financial pressure on farms that barely pull in more than $50,000 a year.