Tag: Organic

Teaching organic farming in the classroom

Teaching organic farming in the classroom

According to the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom grants of up to $1000 are now available for teachers to “creatively enhance the understanding of organic agriculture for kindergarten through eighth grade students.” The purpose is to integrate organic agriculture into regular classroom instruction. The grants are jointly supported by the California Certified Organic Farmer’s Foundation, and the application deadline is May 15, 2017.

From the scientists’ point of view, teaching students about organic agriculture would be intriguing because while historically, experiments led to the procedures, organic farming is essentially pre-scientific and much is based on the naturalistic fallacy.

However, there is a lot to be learned by studying the ideas and best practices of organic agriculture, and herewith we present an outline for an ideal curriculum.

Indore

Much of the earliest work by Sir Albert Howard at the Indore Farms he supervised in India had to do with the development of compost from vegetable and animal waste, and his first book in 1931, The Waste Products of Agriculture may have been his most important work. Howard noted that decomposition of compost only took place at neutral pH and added lime to achieve this. He believed that good soil aeration and quality humus were all that one needed to prevent disease, which was not supported by later scientist’s work, and his book, An Agricultural Testament contained a number of such ideas which caused him to lose support among botanists.

Sir Albert correctly believed that understanding of the mycorrhizae that lived on most plant roots was important and should not be left to mycologists, but his attacks on overspecialization in agricultural science as well as flaws in his later theories caused him to lose much of his initial scientific reputation, but this only increased his stature among non-scientists.

Lady Eve Balfour

Lady Eve Balfour was one of the first women to study agriculture at a British University and upon graduation she used her inheritance (she was part of the prominent Balfour political family) to buy farm land in Haughley Green in Suffolk, where she began experiments comparing her organic methods with conventional farming methods. Many of her experiments were published in her book The Living Soil in 1943.

Lady Eve was also the founder of the Soil Association, which although small in size, is a major proponent of organic farming in Britain, and she eventually donated her Haughley Green farms to the Association. She also attempted to moderate some of Sir Albert Howard’s extreme positions, but because of some of her other extreme spiritualist positions, Howard refused to join the Soil Association.

The Soil Association has also taken some extreme positions that are unsupported by science, suggesting that animals be cared for by homeopathic means (which cannot possibly work) and taken extreme positions on genetically modified crops which have no scientific basis.

J.I. Rodale

In the United States, Jerome Cohen, writing under the pseudonym of J. I. Rodale, took up promotion of organic farming and gardening with his Rodale Press and Rodale Institute, beginning in 1948, with his book The Organic Front, published by his own press. While Rodale promoted organic farming tirelessly, his views were hard to take very seriously because of his huckster style of writing:

Along comes your scientific agronomist, who should know better, but who recklessly throws a monkey wrench into this microbial universe, by dousing it with strong, corrosive chemical fertilizers. He believes that the conveyor belt method must be introduced into every aspect of farming.

Rodale took on all sorts on anti-scientific views, suggesting that the polio vaccine was a bad idea, and that rimless glasses and salt water cause cancer. He was also a racist. While he boasted that he would live to be 100, he died at 72, bizarrely during a taping of The Dick Cavett Show, although that episode never aired.

Rodale’s has also undertaken a study of organic versus conventional farming, which they published in a glossy brochure, but have never published in any peer-reviewed journal. An article by Pimentel and colleagues in Bioscience analyzes their findings: that organic and conventional farming techniques have similar yields and that in drought conditions, organic crops may do better. Pimentel also examined the economics and found that the two systems generated similar income, but only if you include a 10% organic price premium.

In another recent trial, they rotated their organically grown crop out and planted other soil enriching crops in 2 of the 3 years, and compared the yield with conventional crops grown without rotation. This was hardly a comparable trial.

The National Organic Program

Until the year 2002, farmers choosing to use organic techniques followed one of several sets of standards, but encouraged the USDA to set nation-wide standards so that organic crops would be comparable. The Agricultural Marketing Service within the USDA codified these standards as the National Organic Program, carefully noting that

Our regulations do not address food safety or nutrition. 

While the general fiction put about by the organic industry is that organic crops are grown without pesticides, this is demonstrably untrue, as there are quite a number of permitted substances listed as permitted. This is discussed in some detail by Porterfield.

Pesticides

Some consumers think that organic foods are somehow safer because they are not grown using synthetic pesticides, but plants make their own pesticides all the time and most of the synthetic pesticides in use are similar to the ones plants already make: toxic and carcinogenic in large quantities. But as Bruce Ames has shown, the plant-made pesticides occur at 10,000 times the concentration as the traces of pesticides added during farming.

Organic nutrition

You might think that organic crops grown with minimal pesticides and so forth might be more nutritious, but research has shown that there is essentially no difference. Dangour and coworkers systematically reviewed articles on nutrient content and found that “here is no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs.” Similarly, Brevata and Smith-Spangler “found little significant difference in health benefits between organic and conventional foods.”

Organic Yield

Since organic rules prevent the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, you might ask if the yields differ between organic and conventional crops. There are a number of research articles indicating that organic yields are 50% to 80% of those from conventional farming. The diagram below is from de Ponti’s article “The crop yield gap between conventional and organic agriculture.”

COmparison yields

A similar gap was reported by Seufert. DePonti reported an average 80% organic yield and Seufert a 68% yield. And, the USDA’s report on yields was only a little better.

nov15_feature_mcbride_fig02

Carbon Footprint

When you plant and grow crops, and harvest them, you are taking away nourishment from the soil. You need inputs to replace those nutrients. In organic farming, this is usually composted manure and other plant debris. But the composting process itself produces greenhouse gases, as Savage notes. Farmers typically apply about 5 tons of composted manure per acre. In fact, the greenhouse gases generated for one acre are equivalent to those generated in manufacturing enough fertilizer for 12.9 acres. This doesn’t seem to be scalable.

Organic Farming causes more pollution

A study at Ben-Gurion University studied the groundwater runoff in a group of new greenhouses, some using manure fertilization and some using drip fertilizer irrigation. They monitored a zone well below the roots and just above the groundwater for nitrogen contamination, and found that nitrogen pollution in the groundwater was 10 times as much in the organic greenhouses as in those using drip irrigation to fertilize the plants.

No-Till Farming

One of the greatest advances in soil maintenance has been no-till farming, where the ground is not plowed up and turned over every season. When you use crops that are resistant to herbicides such as Roundup, you can kill the weeds before planting and plant using a seed drill without disturbing the soil. This preserves the soil structure and prevents soil runoff. Unfortunately, genetically modified crops that are resistant to herbicides are not currently permitted by organic standards. If soil care is important, this standard needs to be changed.

Organic Marketing

Organic foods are marketed throughout the United States by the Organic Trade Association, and the Organic Consumer Association (which regularly spreads misinformation). The definition of “organic” in the US is products “produced without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering or other excluded practices, sewage sludge, or irradiation. “ Since a number of pesticides have been approved for organic use, this is clearly misleading. The Environmental Working Group also is a major promoter of organic products, through its “Dirty Dozen,” which attempts to paint pesticide residues far below danger levels as being unsafe. It also clearly contradicts the findings of Bruce Ames we discussed above.

Thought Questions for Students

  1. What advantages do you see in organic crops?
  2. Are you concerned about pesticide levels on conventional crops?
  3. Why does the organic industry say that no pesticides are used?
  4. If a farmer has 1000 acres of farmland, and hopes to grow 160,000 bushels of corn, how much corn would he be able to grow if he switched to organic methods?
  5. If a farmer wants to make the same profit, how much would he have to raise his prices to grow organic corn on the same amount of land?
  6. Farmland is expensive. Would the farmer be justified in buying more land to grow the same amount of crops? Do you think there is unused farmland he can buy?
  7. In this article, Henry Miller argues that organic farming isn’t sustainable. Do you agree?
  8. In this article, Roger Cohen refers to organic farming as a “fable.” Is that fair?
  9. If you have a limited budget for buying food, as most of us do, would you be willing to pay 10% more for organic foods? How about 50% more? Why?
  10. Organic farmers can reduce their carbon footprint by using an Anaerobic Digester to compost their manure. How much do they cost? How big a farm do you need to pay for one?
  11. Roger Cohen argues that “organic” is actually just an ideology? Is that an exaggeration?
  12. How else could no-till farming work?
  13. By 2050, we project that only 2.5% of US cropland will be certified organic. Is that enough?

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Boulder’s gullible foodies praised by NY Times

Boulder’s gullible foodies praised by NY Times

In Saturday’s NY Times, Stephanie Strom, no stranger to pseudo-science, wrote an article praising how friendly Boulder, CO was to development of new food products “where new companies are challenging the old guard in the food business.”

The trouble is every single company she mentioned is peddling products based on scaring into buying them. That’s right, all of these companies are peddling bullsh*t.

Quinn Snacks

Starting with Quinn Snacks, whose goal was “cleaning up food,” we find that their plan is no GMOS (um, there is no such thing as GMO popcorn)  combined with English and science illiteracy:

“we’ll take  real butter over carbonyl group (=C=O) any day of the week.”

Grammatically, it’s either “a carbonyl group” or “carbonyl groups.” Chemically, you should write a carbonyl group as >C=O to show two different bonds coming off the C. But come on, ninnies, butter flavoring is usually diacetyl

CH3-(C=O)-(C=O)-CH3

which has TWO carbonyl groups, and occurs naturally as a major flavor component in butter. So real butter contains diacetyl and has two carbonyl groups. They also claim that all their ingredients are pronounceable, which, of course, is really reassuring if you are functionally as well as chemically illiterate.

And Quinn perpetuates the Big Lie, that “GMOs” are an ingredient rather than a process. GMO crops are the most heavily tested class of foods in the world and not a single problem has ever been found in over 20 years of use.

Of course Quinn’s foods are “organic,” which is the triumph of PR over science. There is simply no evidence that organic crops, using pre-scientific rules are any healthier or more nutritious than conventional crops. Organic crops have a yield that Is 50-80% of conventionally crops, deplete the soil, and have a greater carbon footprint. And yes, they spray pesticides on organic crops, too. Just different ones.

Purely Elizabeth

Purely Elizabeth  sells “ancient grain granolas,” at $6.99 for 12 oz (probably about two servings) which is fully buzz-word compliant: gluten free, non-GMO, vegan, organic and sweetened with “coconut sugar,” which they claim erroneously to be low glycemic, and baked with the ever popular foodie coconut oil, which has no discernible benefits except profitability. They also claim to provide support to organic, anti-GMO organizations like Slow Food USA and the Rodale Institute, whose entire reason for being is to promote organic farming.

Coconut sugar and palm sugar are the same thing, and are at least 70% sucrose, with the rest being glucose and fructose. While the Phillippine Department of Agriculture claims to have measured the  glycemic index for coconut sugar at 35, others have measured it at 58, close to that for sugar.  Chris Gunnars explains his skepticism of these measurements.

The glycemic index is a measure of glucose content, or more accurately how available the glucose is, but while this was formerly of interest to diabetics, current thinking according to the American Diabetes Association is that total calorie count is more important, and obviously, the calorie count for sugar is the same whether derived from cane, beets, or palms.

Madhava Sweeteners sells “organic sweeteners,” such as the ridiculous coconut sugar just mentioned, and organic honey, which is more or less a sweet illusion according to Scientific American. Incidentally, honey, too, is just sugar (sucrose) but the bees secrete invertase which breaks the sugar up into its two smaller sugar components: glucose and sucrose. It is not a special sweetener:  it’s sugar.

You can make similar criticisms of the bogosity of other mentioned companies like Made in Nature who make organic fruit and grain snacks, and Good Karma Foods, whose products but seem to be “flax milk” and yogurt made from flax seed, and of course are “non-GMO,” gluten free, non-dairy and allergen free.

Gluten free, of course, is only of concern to the approximately 1% of the population that suffers from celiac disease. Evidence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity is minimal, and going “gluten-free” is a lifestyle choice, not treatment of a medical issue.

Birch Benders

Finally we come to Birch Benders, who makes a line of pancake mixes. We’ve never understood the appeal of pancake mixes, since pancakes recipes only contain about 6 ingredients you can stir together in less than a minute, but we had to try theirs, because they claim to be “just like grandma’s.” Well, we have our grandmother’s recipe for buttermilk pancakes and thought we’d compare ours against theirs. This recipe has been in the family for probably 100 years, and is just:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 Tb sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¾ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • buttermilk (about 2 cups)

You just stir the ingredients up (this really takes only a minute) and bake them on a griddle or frypan at medium heat, turn once and serve.

Birch Benders has a classic pancake mix as well as a gluten free version, both are, of course, organic. They also  make a buttermilk pancake mix, but only the traditional one is available in stores in our area.

My grandmother never heard of either “organic” or “gluten free,” of course. But there are only 2 ingredients in making their pancakes:  ¾ cup of pancake mix and 2/3 cup of water.  Um…really?

Well of course, with those proportions, the batter came out the thickness of milk, and cooked into something thin and ridiculous that stuck to the pan.

We mixed in about 3 more Tb of flour to make a decently thick batter and tried to make comparable pancakes. Well they were about the same size as ours, but not as puffy and they had no taste except sweet, and in fact they were too sweet. There was no buttermilk or wheat flavor at all. They were actually pretty awful.

 

Their pancake mix is made from “organic evaporated cane juice,” which is just a cryptonym for sugar, organic wheat flour, baking powder, non-GMO cornstarch, organic potato starch and organic cassava starch. We paid $4.99 for a 16 oz package at Caraluzzi’s in Georgetown, CT. But never again.

The point of this rant is that the New York Times really needs to point out that these expensive little startup companies that form a coven in Boulder offer nothing new but unscientific malarkey. Claims like “organic,” “gluten free” and “GMO free” attempt to scare you into buying into their nonsense. And some of them aren’t even very good.

 

The best 2016 science and pseudo-science stories

The best 2016 science and pseudo-science stories

Science

Gravitational Waves. One of the most striking scientific discoveries of 2016 was the observation of gravitational waves. Predicted by Einstein’s theories 100 years ago, ripples in space-time were finally observed last year by physicists at the  Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), using instruments at Hanford, Washington and Livingston, Louisiana. They announced that they had indeed observed this waves as two black holes spiraled into each other 1.3 billion light years away. The Advanced LIGO systems were completed only a week or so before this black hole collision took place, but they represent a long term investment by the National Science Foundation, and design work done by nearly 1000 scientists. Funding was also provided by Germany (Max Planck Society), the U.K. (Science and Technology Facilities Council, STFC) and Australia (Australian Research Council).

Ebola outbreak over. The WHO declared that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is at an end and that all known chains of transmissions have been stopped. Flare-ups may still occur and monitoring will continue. In addition, a promising Ebola vaccine has been reported in The Lancet.

Citrus greening. Citrus greening disease attacks orange trees, causing green, inedible fruit, and is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid. It is spreading widely in Florida as well as in Texas  and even California and research into controlling it is in high gear. Essentially, you have to find or create trees immune to the disease, and that is what has been done at the University of Florida. Researchers report having bred a “mother tree” with greening resistance, and look forward to being able to provide replacement trees that are more or less immune. This is, of course, a long term and expensive solution, but at least some approach has been “fruitful.”

CRISPR. The gene editing technology CRISPR came into its own in 2016. This technique allows scientists to edit genes without inserting foreign material, using the Cas9 enzyme. Scientists Jennifer Doudna at UC Berkeley and Emmanuelle Charpentier of Umeå University in Sweden found that they could exploit the Cas9 protein by feeding it a pattern of RNA. The Cas9 would then seek out this pattern and snip out that pattern in any genome it was presented with. Related work showing that this could be done in mice was published about the same time by Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute.  You can read a very good explanation of CRISPR/Cas9 by Brad Plumer and Javier Zarracina here. This simple, and relatively cheap technique can be used to create new foods, treat diseases. This follow-on article suggests some of the further advances that CRISPR might be used for, including cancer and Alzheimer’s treatments. If you suffer of any health issues such as anxiety or depression you can find kratom powder for sale online wich is a natural drug that van help you.

Of course, which of the two groups (Berkeley and Broad Institute) have the patent rights to CRISPR is now the subject of an interesting court case, explained here by C&E News.

Homeopathic medicines. Homeopathic “medicines” are usually substances diluted so far that no active components remain. The FTC issued a new Enforcement Policy on Marketing Claims for Homeopathic Drugs.  Essentially, companies must have actual scientific evidence of their efficacy for any health-related claims they make.

Pseudo-Science

How do we do science? Science is the result of a collection of measurable observation under careful control, and usually represents many observations by many research groups. Science is different from politics, where various philosophies can lead to different conclusions. Science is not a set of beliefs, it is a system of careful studies, reviewed by others and published in major technical journals. The results of scientific studies may result in corrections over time: science is inherently self-correcting, but it is not dependent on scientist’s personal political or moral outlooks.

Further, the idea that science can be suspect because of who funds it reveals considerable naivete about how research grants are obtained and how research is actually done. Professor Allison van Eeenenaam of UC Davis Animal Science explains this very well in this excellent article.

Vaccines: Andrew Wakefield was a gastroenterologist who published a fraudulent paper in 1998 claiming that the MMR vaccine could cause autism. This paper has been refuted many times (and retracted) by careful studies and Wakefield was barred from medical practice. Nonetheless the rumors caused by his crackpot paper, has done considerable damage, as too many people believed the rumors that vaccines were somehow dangerous. In fact, it was demonstrated that Wakefield’s paper was an elaborate fraud, designed to make money.  The CDC firmly notes that all research has shown that vaccines do not cause autism, citing the supporting research.

Nonetheless, there are pockets of non-vaccinating families, often living near each other which represent a serious health hazard.  Organizations of non-vaccinating parents have formed, and even have a Facebook group!  Clusters on such parents are sure to spread disease and it is not unreasonable to ask your child’s friend’s parents if their child is vaccinated before allowing them to play with your child.

This is essentially science denial based parenting and it has been difficult to break through, although more and more pediatricians are refusing to treat children whose parents refuse to vaccinate them.

This non-vaccination of children is supported by pseudo-science based practitioners such as naturopaths, who should know better. And this has led to Wakefield making a propaganda film called VAXXED, which purports to give some support to this practice. The film has received scathing reviews, notably by Dr Paul Offit , co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine, and by the Washington Post.  Nonetheless, some stars in the entertainment industry still claim to these disproven claims.

But to bring us up to date, we just learned of an article by an actual doctor at the Cleveland Clinic, Daniel Neides, who seems to have jumped onto the pseudo-science bandwagon and attempts to connect vaccines and autism, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  Today, the Cleveland Clinic apologized for Neides column and promises discipline. However, the column is still there spreading misinformation. We would suggest termination of Neides at once,

But not to make you think the Neides is along in this crackpottery, the ever-reliable lunatic Mark Hyman (MD?)  has said much the same things, and also claims staff privileges at the Cleveland Clinic.

Organic foods

Organic foods are spreading through supermarkets like tribbles. They are a high-profit class of foods, marked up by both the farmers, and the grocers, so they have every reason to expand their availability. Some stores tart up their organic aisles with special flooring to make you think of “luxury.” But “organic” is a marketing term, as was explained by Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman when the National Organic Program was announced. It does not say anything about food safety, nutrition or quality. It is  a series of agricultural practices based primarily on prescientific ideas about farming.  Organic trade groups continue to trumpet the lie that organic crops are “free of pesticides,” when the USDA allows dozens of pesticides to be used on organic crops.

And in a 2009 review by Dangour, et. el., they found no nutritional differences between organic and conventional crops. A similar study in 2012 by Smith-Spangler found much the same thing. And as far as pesticide residues go, Bruce Ames seminal paper shows that the pesticides manufactured by the plants themselves are 10,000 times higher in concentration than any agricultural pesticide residues, and thus these residues are more or less irrelevant.

Organic crops also have significantly lower yields, which is part of the reason they cost more. Typically organic crops yield 60-80% as much per acre as do conventional crops. They also are less environmentally friendly.  Organic is not in any way “better.” In fact, writing in Forbes, Henry Miller calls it a “colossal hoax.”

GMO Crops

Genetically modified crops have been in use in many countries for nearly 20 years now, and there has not been a single verified case of any sort of harm to humans or animals in that time. In particular the study of 1783 papers by Nicolia and the billion animal study of van Eenennaam have laid this canard to rest permaenently.

However, the organic industry has mounted a continuous scare campaign about the dangers of GM crops, leading to mendacious labeling such as “GMO free,” when in fact “GMOs” are not an ingredient but a breeding technique. The idea that there is any difference between animals fed GM crops and those fed conventional crops is simply absurd: there is no detectable difference of any kind.

In fact, just like “organic,” the “GMO free” label is a marketing label, attempting to extract more money from consumers by scaring them. The only result of this campaign is higher prices. But because of this relentless scare campaign, only 37% of the public believe GMO foods are safe to eat according to a Pew Research Center survey, while 88% of scientists do. And, in fact, there is a generation gap here as well with millennials more likely to seek out on GM foods. This has led to the ridiculous claims such as those by Hunt’s that you won’t find any GMO tomatoes in their products. That’s because there are no GMO tomatoes on the market!

Climate change. The year 2015 was the warmest on record. The year 2016 was likewise the warmest year on record. Virtually all climate scientists are convinced that climate change is occurring and caused  by humans, and that if we do not make significant modifications in our use of carbon-based fuels, the Earth will end in disaster, and fairly soon. Already, the ocean regularly invades the sewers of Miami Beach. It won’t be long until coastal flooding begins to make cities less habitable.

The Republican Party in the United States is the only major political party in the world who pretends to deny these obvious scientific facts, both because of lack of interest in science and because of their funding by the energy industry.  As Upton Sinclair has written,

“it is difficult to  to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

 

 

 

‘The Third Plate’ : Dan Barber’s book entertaining but fallacious

third-plateDan Barber is a highly regarded chef with substantial experience who is known for his two restaurants, Blue Hill in New York and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Westchester (Pocantico Hills). Both restaurants emphasize creative uses of vegetables and grains and de-emphasize meat, although their menus certainly include it, and represent some of the best examples of “farm to table cooking.”

His book, The Third Plate is an entertaining description of his restaurant and the accompanying farm give you some great insights into how great chefs think.  Unfortunately, his book has some serious fallacies that diminish its credibility as we describe later below.

Barber’s Pocantico Hills restaurant is located on the former Rockefeller estate. The renovation of the buildings as well as the accompanying working farm was funded by David Rockefeller, apparently to the tune of about $30 million. The book tells the story of how Barber’s Stone Barns restaurant developed in association with the farm, where they have the freedom to try out and breed unusual historical vegetables and grains. This “third plate” refers to an evolution in cooking from plates with meat and some small veggies on the side, to meat with better tasting and better cooked veggies, to some imagined future plate where the “steak” is made from vegetables and meat becomes a side dish. After the renovation, the cooks realized that the water they were using was far superior than before, this was because they installed a water softener. Check out WaterSoftenerGuide.com to learn how hard water is a problem.

Currently, Stone Barns offers one or two prix fixe menus, which for two with wine pairings, tax and tip can cost you as much as $898. With those prices in mind, you have to recognize that there are a lot of us who will probably never eat there. The reviews for that restaurant are exceptional and apparently so is the food. An evening’s dinner may consist of ten or more courses, starting with small servings of grains or vegetables, with meat in later courses. The menu varies frequently and may vary with each table depending on how the waiters feel you are appreciating what you have just been served

Barber is a good writer and story teller, and the book describes his work with the farmer and with plant breeders to develop and introduce the grains served in the restaurant, starting with the heirloom Eight Row Flint Corn, which was grown by early settlers but had all but vanished at the time he started.

His book is nominally divided into four sections: Soil, Land, Sea, and Seed, but the discussions flow freely around these ideas and you are likely to find some topics revisited in each section.

Foie gras

After his initial soil and farming discussions, Barber spends several chapters on foie gras, with a long bucolic description of a farm in Spain where geese are not force fed, but simply provided with sufficient food all summer and then naturally gorge on acorns in the fall. The farmer, Eduardo Sousa, simply talks to his geese to get them to do what he wants: and some call him a “goose whisperer.”

Then Barber visits the Hudson Valley Foie Gras company with Eduardo, and finds that the goose feeding is not cruel at all, where the “force feeding”  (gavage) takes only about 5 seconds per bird (ducks in this case). The kicker in this otherwise rather fascinating tale is that Eduardo decides that the Hudson valley ducks “didn’t know they were ducks.” And that Barber segues from that bizarre conclusion to his own: “What’s intolerable is the system of agriculture that it reflects.”

It is at this point that I lost touch with Barber’s point of view. Raising geese for slaughter one way or another, as long as they are humanely treated, seems to me completely comparable and I have no idea what he is getting at.

Fish Farming

Barber devotes over 100 pages to the sea and buying and cooking seafood sustainably, since many popular fish like bluefin tuna are threatened by overfishing. He visits the well-regarded chef Angel Leon of Aponiente on the Iberian Peninsula, who has learned how to cook the fishing fleet’s discarded by-catch, seasoning it with a phytoplankton broth. Barber also visits the fish farm Veta La Palma, where they raise fish in existing ponds and canals, where the fish are mostly fed from nutrients that occur naturally, producing some of the most sought after sea bass in Europe (and eventually the US).

He also describes the almadraba in Cadiz, where the villagers have been capturing migrating tuna using mazes of nets for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

He also spends some time praising Gilbert Le Coze, the founding chef of New York’s pre-eminent seafood-only restaurant, Le Bernardin, but for some reason avoids mentioning for many pages that Le Coze died in 1994, and that Eric Ripert, the chef since 1994, is principally responsible for Le Bernardin’s current exalted status in the food world.

Barber also tells us the story of Glenn Roberts and his founding of Anson Mills to produce artisanal grains, including graham flour (a kind of wheat) and revitalizing Carolina Gold rice, where they discover that the crops grown in conjunction with the wheat or rice affect the flavor of the grain.

Fallacies

While Barber’s book is entertaining enough to plow through in a day or two, there are some real problems with some of what he tells us.  Starting early on and repeating throughout is Barber’s insistence on the superiority of organic farming, although he provides no good reason for that, and does not acknowledge that “organic” is a USDA marketing label that allows you to charge higher prices rather than a set of superior techniques. At no point does he explain why the farm is “organic” nor why the farm would be less successful had they chosen careful conventional farming techniques.

Studies (USDA data) have shown that organic farming yield 50-75% as much as conventional farming, and that the produce is no safer or more nutritious or flavorful than conventional produce. This is simply the naturalistic fallacy promoted by the organic marketing associations.

One of the first anecdotes in the book describes farmer Klaas Martens, who had been farming conventionally for some years and suddenly developed a sort of weakness in his arms after spraying 2,4-D. According to the story, no doctors were able to diagnose his ailment, but this caused him to switch to organic farming because as his wife said, “he was being poisoned.”

The trouble with Martens’ story is that it contradicts all known toxicology data on 2,4-D. The National Pesticide Information Center fact sheet on 2,4-D says the “No occupational studies were found reporting signs or symptoms following exposure to 2,4-D under normal usage,” and even on acute oral exposure (drinking it) no symptoms like Martens had are observed. Since Martens condition was never diagnosed, we have to take this as mere rumor.

One particularly offensive statement later in the book comes from a young farmer who comes to Barber saying that “My father just got cancer, so I am switching to organic farming.”

Throughout the book, Barber continually mentions chemicals used in conventional farming as “poisoning the soil.” Since more than 98% of all farms in the US are conventional, this would imply that they must all be failing. Now, since most farmers have at least bachelor’s degrees and well understand how important caring for their soil is, this is pretty ridiculous. We would all be starving if this were true.

Even more ridiculous is Barber’s quote from Rudolf Steiner, who hatched the idea of biodynamic farming out of a series of mystical rituals, such as burying oak bark in a cow’s skull in the middle of your field. Steiner also had a lot of other crazy theories such as the one Barber quotes with a straight face, that the heart is not a pump for our blood, but that the blood that drives the heart. To support this nonsense he quotes “holistic practitioner” Thomas Cowan, who is deep into the same nonsense and Sally Fallon Morell of the discredited Weston A Price Foundation.

Barber is no friend of biotechnology either, making it clear he would never serve any genetically modified food in his restaurant (this is pretty hard to accomplish, actually). His example is the 2009 infestation of Late Blight that devastated everyone’s tomatoes in the Northeast.  There was one small patch of tomatoes on the farm that were not affected, Mountain Magic, an experimental seed from Cornell, bred to be blight resistant. (You can buy these from several seed catalogs today.) But Barber’s restaurant customers resisted them, fearing that they might be “genetically engineered.” He decided he needed to perpetuate the fallacy of tomatoes “bred the old-fashioned way at a land grant like Cornell, [versus] GM tomatoes from a company like Monsanto.”

The only GM tomato ever marketed was the Flavr Savr tomato, bred to be shipped ripe rather than green. Eventually, the tomato failed, but not because it didn’t have better flavor as Barber says, but because Calgene had trouble keeping costs down so it would be competitive.

Finally, Barber is skeptical about the whole idea of the Green Revolution, started by plant breeder and Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug. His criticisms on the use of fertilizers to create higher yield seem to echo those of the mendacious non-scientific activist Vandana Shiva.

In fact, Barber is critical of the whole idea of modern agriculture, where farmers buy new seed each year rather than saving seeds from last year. Farmers have not saved seeds since the 1930s, because of the problems of storage and disease control as well as those of controlling new generations of seed. Barber thinks they should all be saving the best seeds from the fields each year on each farm instead, turning each farm into its own primitive seed development company. Few farmers would agree that this is a good division of labor.

In conclusion, Barber has written an entertaining and informative book on the relationship between high end cuisine and small scale agriculture, but seems oblivious to the fact that he and his restaurant are living a bucolic fantasy which can only work on a small scale, with the subsidies of the Rockefeller family and his high-priced restaurant.

Originally published on Examiner.com in September, 2014

 

Whole30 diet: more pseudoscience and quackery

amish paste
Amish Paste

Recently, someone sent me a link to the Whole30 program, yet another diet program to make you feel better in so many wildly unlikely ways. The program was hatched by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, who have no scientific training but claim to be Certified Sports Nutritionists.  Let us be clear here: nutritionist is not a controlled title with a curriculum behind it. Anyone can call themselves a “nutritionist,” and many do. It’s whatever they want it to be. One of them is a physical therapist.

Now this program amounts to eating fewer things of various types for a month or so, and claims to be effective in treating high blood pressure, type1 and type2 diabetes, high cholesterol, asthma, sinus infections, hives, endometriosis, migraines, depression, bipolar disorder…and on and on. Because obviously all of these have a simple root cause: and their special diet relieves them all. You believe all of this, don’t you?

So what is this marvelous diet? For 30 days, you eat an extremely restrictive diet: no grains, no gluten, no alcohol, no sugar, no artificial sweeteners, no legumes, no dairy, no carrageenan, no MSG. The idea is that you will feel a lot better after starving yourself on this diet, and can then slowly add all these missing ingredients back in after the month is over.  If this sounds rather like the Paleo diet, it is, except for more crazy claims for all of its effects, although they make no claims for weight loss. They claim you will feel better after this month of this ridiculous diet, but it is really rather like hitting yourself over the head, because it feels so good when you stop.

The problem is that the Paleo diet has been debunked already as a naturalistic fallacy, both in Scientific American and by David Gorski in ScienceBased Medicine. The idea that we even know what primitive humans ate is in itself ridiculous, because their diet varied a lot based on where they lived. Yes, they ate grains and yes they ate gluten in some areas, but the main problem is that plants and humans have evolved a great deal since then. You cannot get the same plants they ate, and corn hadn’t even been bred yet from the Mexican teosinte plants. And humans evolved to tolerate lactose as adults in the last 7000 years as well.

The authors make all sorts of wild claims, such as reduction in inflammation, a sure marker of quackery. Somehow, some pseudoscience practitioners have latched onto the idea that foods cause inflammation and you will be better without them. This is complete nonsense. As Harriet Hall notes in Science Based Medicine, “inflammation is part of the body’s response to infection and tissue damage, and it is crucial to the healing process.”

The Hartwigs have essentially combined the Paleo diet with something approaching the completely discredited cleanse diets, where eating some foods “cleans out” your system. This is just as much nonsense in this diet as it is when purveyors of juice mixtures make the same claim.

And the idea of avoiding MSG is utter nonsense, because it occurs naturally in many vegetables, including broccoli, tomatoes and peas, as well as in cheeses and soy sauce. And it is a key component in cellular metabolism: the body synthesizes it all the time.

In essence, the Hartwigs have come up with a sort of fasting diet but no evidence whatever that it provides any benefits, nor any science to back up their ideas. There are no double blind experiments that have been carried out to show its benefits, nor any scientific publications. All they have is a few gushing testimonials showing that some people will buy into anything. This testimonial is typical, and comes from someone who also claims to have chronic Lyme Disease (which does not exist). She also blandly supports the discredited Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 nonsense published each year by the Environmental Working Group.

This is not to say that some of the recipes in their books aren’t good: they look delicious. But don’t count on curing every malady know to medicine using this simple minded diet scam.

Jill Stein spouts pseudoscience: not a credible presidential candidate

JillSteinDr Jill Stein is a perennial candidate: she has run for many offices, including Massachusetts governor andfor President in 2012, and has never won any election, beyond a representative to the Lexington, MA Town Meeting (this is a low bar, indeed). Nor has she any experience in government. She runs under the banner of the Green Party, which is a minor party which an attendee described in the New York Times as “kind of small and disorganized and, honestly, just weird.”

Now Jill Stein is trained as a physician and graduated from Harvard Medical School, where she presumably had to study science in both her undergraduate and graduate curriculum. However, she retired from medical practice in 2005 and seems to have been ignoring science ever since. Her anti-science statements are both alarming and somewhere between ridiculous and just plain dumb.

WiFi Signals? Really?

For example, she recently said that it is dangerous to expose kids to WiFi signals! There is, of course, not s shred of evidence for such a claim, and as Bob Park explained so eloquently some years ago, microwaves are too low energy to break any chemical bonds, so they can’t really cause any harm. This sort of statement is simply pandering to the fears of the uninformed, and a cheap way to troll for votes,  in much the same way Trump has been doing.

Bees

But it gets far worse. Her platform says she will

Ban neonicotinoids and other pesticides that threaten the survival of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.

There is no evidence that neonicotinoids have any effect on the population of bees. The USDA says that the three major causes of colony collapse are then Varroa destructor mite, the Israeli acute paralysis virus, and the movement of colonies to use in pollination. Neonicotinoids, like any insecticide can kill any insects, but they were developed to be safer than any prior insecticide. For most major crops, they pose no real harm to bees. The exceptions are cotton and citrus. And, of course, there is no bee population problem, the population has been growing steadily for some years.

The Precautionary Principle

Stein says we should uphold and expand the Precautionary Principle, which says that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm, in the absence of scientific consensus, the burden of proof that it is not harmful lies with those proposing the action. The problem with the principle as stated is that the level of risk is no longer considered, and that such policies are likely to block innovation.

Support organic and regenerative agriculture

Sorry Jill, organic farming is a prescientific technique based on the naturalistic fallacy, and having yields 50%-80% of conventional agriculture. It is essentially a marketing term. Thus, purchasing organic produce is the purview only of wealthy white people. There is not enough land to expand organic’s low yield techniques and still feed our growing populace; it cannot feed the world. Further, there is substantial evidence that organic has a higher carbon footprint (because of composting of manure, as well as more tilling) and is less sustainable because of its likelihood of polluting the ground water. No-till farming using low impact herbicides is much more the technique of the future. Organic farming still uses pesticides, just different ones that they have to spray more often because they are ineffective, and organic crops are nutritionally equivalent to conventional ones.

Label GMOs, and put a moratorium on GMOs and pesticides until they are proven safe.

A compromise GMO labeling bill has been signed into law.  However, it tells us nothing useful, because “GMOs” are not an ingredient, but a breeding process. There is nothing in the food to distinguish from crops grown without biotechnology. And while proving something safe is not an actual scientific possibility, the level of risk of GM crops has been studied for over 20 years and every major scientific organization including her American Medical Association, the National Academies of Science, and the European Food Safety Association have declare that GM crops pose no more harm than conventional crops. GM crops as well as all pesticides undergo years of government mandated testing before they can be released.

She also made the crazy assertion in an E-mail quoted by Dan Arel that

“…evidence is now showing that once these foods reach our digestive tract, they can affect our very DNA. “

What utter nonsense. You eat genes every day in every single food, but somehow these magic genes affect your DNA? This was ridiculed by my colleague Laya Katiraee, comparing it to a boa constrictor eating a rat and creating a hybrid “rat-strictor.”  And Stein surely learned this in medical school.

But Stein goes farther than standing for meaningless labeling. She has been expressing the entire spectrum of anti-GMO activist misinformation for years. Here she is speaking at a March Against Monsanto event in 2013 and mouthing the same misinformation. 

Stein seems to support homeopathy

Homeopathy is a pseudo-scientific practice where medicines are diluted so many millions of times that not a single molecule of the medicine remains. It is that solution that is used to “treat patients.” The Green Party Platform supports homeopathy as well as naturopathy, herbal medicines and other quack treatments.

How does Stein stand on those? With an evasive round-de-lay of accusations against corporations:

The Green Party platform here takes an admittedly simple position on a complex issue, and should be improved.

I agree that just because something’s untested – as much of the world of alternative medicine is – doesn’t mean it’s safe. But by the same token, being “tested” and “reviewed” by agencies directly tied to big pharma and the chemical industry is problematic as well. There’s no shortage of snake oil being sold there. Ultimately, we need research and licensing establishments that are protected from corrupting conflicts of interest. And their purview should not be limited by arbitrary definitions of what is “natural.”

Would you buy a used car from someone that evades the point like that?

Pandering to the Anti-vaccine unscientific left

In Stein’s Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) she said vaccines were important but that she was suspicious of those in the US,

Still, vaccines should be treated like any medical procedure–each one needs to be tested and regulated by parties that do not have a financial interest in them. In an age when industry lobbyists and CEOs are routinely appointed to key regulatory positions through the notorious revolving door, it’s no wonder many Americans don’t trust the FDA to be an unbiased source of sound advice.

This is pseudo-scientific paranoia. She is saying that the entire FDA is corrupted by industry lobbyists, when in fact, nearly all of them are from academic backgrounds. All she is doing is trying to gain the support of the anti-vaccination crazies who refuse to accept the fact the vaccines are safe and are not harmful.

Of course, she also brings up the anti-GMO anti-science movement’s favorite “Manchurian candidate” bogeyman, Michael Taylor:

A Monsanto lobbyists and CEO like Michael Taylor, former high-ranking DEA official, should not decide what food is safe for you to eat.

Of course, Michael Taylor was never a lobbyist nor a CEO. He was a consultant to Monsanto for 18 months, who left because he disagreed with their policies, and now is an FDA commissioner. If issues come up that he worked on while in industry, he recuses himself, as he should. Here’s the whole story.

Stein’s anti-vaccine stance has also been criticized by Dave Weigel in the Washington Post and by Emily Willingham in Forbes where they note that as a doctor she should be educated enough not to criticize recommended vaccine schedules or traces of organic mercury used as a preservative.

Willingham notes that “ …I’m never, ever going to get on board with a party that claims an environmental mission but fronts someone who compromises scientific evidence and public health for the sake of pandering.”

And Amanda Marcotte, writing in Salon criticizes her pandering as well as noting that Dr Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia concludes, “I think she’s anti-vax.” And while Kim LaCapria, writing in Snopes believes that Stein is not anti-vax based on her press-releases, many, including Dr David Gorski in his Science Blogs, have concluded that she is engaged in “left wing anti vaccine dog whistles.”

This is exactly the sort of dancing around the truth that we continually accuse Donald Trump of doing, and for that reason, neither is qualified to be President. In fact, Trump has said that he really likes the Green Party, because he figures that Green Party (Stein) voters would otherwise vote for Hillary. Dan Arel confirms my views in his column in Patheos.com. He won’t vote for Stein and neither should you.

 

 

 

Lemon garlic chicken in the Instant Pot

Lemon garlic chicken in the Instant Pot

This is mostly an experience report as the recipe is by Jennifer Robins, and is on her Predominantly Paleo site.  In spite of the fact the the Paleo diet is pretty much fiction, her recipe is very good. She suggests some weird oils like avocado, but having nothing to prove, we just used a little olive oil. And while she suggests organic chicken broth, we never buy organic. Any broth will do.

The Rice

riceSince the Instant Pot (IP) is also a rice cooker, we first made the brown rice and kept it warm. The IP has a Rice setting, but that is for white rice. For brown rice, we added a cup of rice and 1 ¼ cups water and cooked it for 22 minutes. Then we released the pressure and put the rice in a covered bowl under our warming light.

The chicken

Here’s her ingredients, slightly modified for common sense:

  • 1-2 pounds chicken breasts or thighs
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 4 sprigs fresh parsley, chopped, or 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 cup white cooking wine
  • 1 large lemon juiced (more or less to taste)
  • 3-4 teaspoons (or more) arrowroot flour

We used a whole large lemon. Next time we’ll probably use half as much, as it was a little more sour than we hoped.

saute onionsThe nicest thing about the IP is that you can sauté ingredients in the pot before closing it up to cook. That makes it a lot easier and keeps you from getting too many pans dirty.

 

  1. Sauté the diced onions in the oil using the Saute button. At the last minute, add the diced garlic and let it cook briefly without burning.
  2. Add the chicken and the broth, wine and lemon juice
  3. Add the salt, parsley and paprika.

chicken and liquids4. Close the pot and press the Poultry button. The chicken will be done in about 15 minutes

5. Release the steam, scoop out about a half cup of broth and mix it with the arrow root. Add the mixture back to the pot.

6. Turn on the sauté to heat the broth and allow it to thicken.

7. Serve over the rice.

This whole operation, including cooking the rice, took about 45 minutes. Not bad for a midweek meal!

 

Organic Valley highlights inauthenticity with the usual lies

Organic Valley highlights inauthenticity with the usual lies

The New York Times yesterday highlighted the farmer’s co-op Organic Valley, talking about their new half million dollar web site and their emphasis on “highlighting their authenticity.” Well, we had to take a look at the web site that the Times referred to, and found a number of lovely feel-good pictures of rural bliss (and $9 a gallon organic milk). And the usual misinformation with better lipstick on all the pigs, er, cows.

Their whole campaign boils down to the specious claims of “Why Organic?” which are the same old hokum:

Research shows that organic foods are higher in antioxidants and other nutrients

Actually, papers by Brevata and Smith-Spangler and earlier by Dangour, et. al. found no nutritional differences between conventional and organic crops. And the paper that Organic Valley refers to by Baranski et al  was published at the University of Newcastle by  a series of authors associated with the organic industry, and sponsored by the organic funder the Sheepdrove Trust. Further, organic advocate Charles Benbrook is one of the study’s principal authors.  It has been attacked and discredited in Campbell’s article here. Further, they hype the presence of antioxidants, which have not been found to be at all healthful.

Because chemicals are bad for you

You don’t think that is overstatement, do you? Water is a chemical (wags call it dihydrogen monoxide). Then they say organic food keeps pesticides out of kid’s bodies. Hold it there, Casey! Organic farmers spray with pesticides, too, and many of them are really toxic, just naturally occurring. Here’s an article with a list of some of the worst.  Here’s a complete list.  But probably the most damning evidence against these “evil chemical” claims is Bruce Ames’ classic paper in PNAS, showing that the pesticides plants produce on their own (many quite toxic) are present in concentrations 10,000 times greater than those detected as pesticide residues. In other words, you can stop worrying, there just aren’t any dangerous chemical residues on our food: our food, whether conventional or organic is perfectly safe.

The web page also cites the discredited report by the IARC claiming that Roundup is carcinogenic. The WHO and the UN, as well as the EFSA have reported that in fact Roundup is perfectly safe

Kids and cows should not be exposed to synthetic hormones and antibiotics.

Well they aren’t. In fact they cite no scientific papers here on this issue. But we have some. Some farms use synthetic rBst to increase milk production, currently maybe 17%. But it has been found that the milk from rBst treated cows is in all ways identical to that from cows not given that hormone.
And as far as antibiotics go, no milk is allowed to contain antibiotics by FDA regulation. If any are found in testing, the entire load is discarded at great financial loss to the farmer.

Antibiotic resistant infections are very real

So, the claim instead of treating their sick animals with antibiotics, they use “natural holistic measures” to treat their animals. This sounds like animal cruelty. Animal’s milk cannot be shipped until after a washout period so no antibiotics are ever found in milk. If you believe that not treating sick animals is good farming practice, please come buy the large bridge I have for sale!

We’ve all heard GMOs are bad

Here is where the mendacity reaches a fever pitch. Because since organic foods are no healthier and actually have a lower yield, let’s demonize a perfectly safe crop breeding technique. GMOs are, of course, not an ingredient at all, but a way to create new crop varieties with desirable traits, tested on average for over 10 years before they can be marketed.

No one really knows if GMOs are safe for human consumption

Actually, we have a pretty good idea. Biotechnology in plant breeding has been declared no more harmful than conventional agriculture by the National Academies of Science, the Royal Society, the European Food Safety Association and the WHO among hundreds of other scientific organizations. And there has never been a verified case of any ill effect from a GM crop.

GMOs increase superweeds. No, they don’t. Overuse of herbicides can cause herbicide resistance over time. That is called evolution and is usually solved by crop and herbicide rotation.

Oh, and worse yet, they link to a YouTube video from discredited charlatan Vandana Shiva, who likes to call herself a PhD physicist, when her degree is in philosophy. Michael Specter took down her crazy claims in this elegant piece in The New Yorker.

Organic Valley’s new, beautified web site just perpetuates the same wrong-headed claims (lies) they’ve been spreading for years. Organic isn’t better: it is a marketing slogan.

 

 

 

Organic foods: The triumph of PR over science

corntassels2016According to a press release by the Organic Trade Association, organic food sales grew to $43 billion in 2015. This puts the organic food industry sales just below Coca Cola(#62) in the Fortune 500 and just a bit above American Airlines (#67). By contrast, seed industry “giant” Monsanto had only $15 billion in sales and ranked #189, similar to #181 Whole Foods.

This release was echoed in a different form by the pro-organic publication Food Tank on Tuesday, which also discusses the problem for farmers in transitioning to organic farming, because of the expensive three year period farming organically before they can by certified as organic. The articles note that the OTA has asked the USDA to create some sort of organic transitional designation. Incidentally, the same article was published nearly word for word in the Christian Science Monitor Wednesday.

Today the New York Times’ Stephanie Strom following suit, covering the same “story,” but with considerably more detail. She notes that on average the price of organic goods is 47% higher (according to Consumer Reports) but accepts the claim of Annie’s president John Foraker that “almost every consumer wants organic.” She correctly notes that organic farming is more labor intensive but fails to mention that organic crop yields are considerably smaller, with the USDA estimating that corn, wheat and soy yields are 68% to 73% of those for conventional crops.  A recent paper by Seufert found the organic yields to be only 65% of conventional crops.

But all of these articles, particularly Strom’s make no mention of the Organic Big Lie:  that organic foods are safer or more nutritious. They are not. Papers by Brevata and Smith-Spangler and earlier by Dangour, et. al. found no nutritional differences. And the pesticide residues for both conventional and organic crops are negligible compared to the safe minimum daily dosage.

Soil health

One of the major claims for organic farming practices has been that the soil is better treated, and not depleted of nutrients. Of course, all the good ideas from the development of organic agriculture have long been adopted by all farmers, so this is not particularly persuasive any more. However, farmers have in recent years adopted no-till farming, where they do not plow up the soil every year, turning the soil over and exposing the lower soil layers that are better left unturned. Instead, they simply apply a low toxicity herbicide like Roundup in the early spring to remove all the weeds and then use a seed drill to plant below the surface. This is far kinder to the soil, and uses less fuel than plowing up the entire field every year, and reduces soil runoff. Unfortunately, this is not available to organic farmers who are not allowed to use such herbicides, even when they are overall kinder to the soil and the environment.

In the same way, use of manure to add nutrients back into the soil has been encouraged in organic farming, and is now practiced by many types of farmers. However, it has a serious drawback, in that the composting of manure emits more greenhouse gases (methane, nitrous oxide) than conventional farming using conventional fertilizers. Manure composted in an anaerobic digester eliminates these problems, but is seldom used in smaller farms. Steve Savage explains in this article how large the carbon footprint of compost actually is, and why using nitrogen fertilizers are far kinder to the atmosphere.

Cows also do not make fertilizer themselves, as Savage explains, in this article. They eat grass, which may well have been fertilized, and their manure contains the nitrates that enrich the soil. This is essentially laundering nitrogen fertilizers through cows to make organic-permitted fertilizers, and at significant expense.

So, to conclude, the idea that organic crops are safer or more nutritious is the organic industry’s Big Lie. And they have sold it to the public so successfully, that everyone imagines organic foods are a desirable goal. They are not: they are a scam.

Woo-meisters overrun Westport Farmer’s Market

Woo-meisters overrun Westport Farmer’s Market

It finally happened. The sincere vendors of local produce at Westport Farmer’s Market have been joined or outnumbered by the crazy peddlers of pseudoscience and other woo. Starting out with organic. Organic farming is a marketing technique. It does not produce healthier or more nutritious foods, just more expensive ones. If you don’t think so, compare the prices of strawberries.

You can buy a pint of organic strawberries for $6.50 or you can buy a quart  of conventional strawberries for $7.00. Is this a scam? Yes, it is. These are both local strawberries grown nearby. You are being diddled! As we have noted many times, there is no good reason to buy organic produce. Organic farming has lower yields (sometimes only 60% as much) and is not as environmentally sustainable.

If you don’t believe me, the Washington Post recently wrote up an article on strawberry farming, noting that the best strawberries by far are grown in California where the season is longer and the climate perfect. You can buy a pound of California strawberries at Stop and Shop for $2.99 and a pound of organic California strawberries for $3.99. You probably won’t find much difference in flavor. Because of packing differences (pints versus pounds) the price differential may not really be double, but the hit is substantial for no good reason. But remember, we aren’t just comparing California and Connecticut, we are comparing two Connecticut farms a few miles apart.

And it’s GMO Free, too!

Sport Hill Farm in Easton, CT is a substantial business with a good reputation for their organic produce. They even supply a number of local restaurants. But since they are “organic” why go on and say they are non-GMO?  (“Organic” is by definition “non-GMO”)

In fact, as far as I could see, the only produce they had that even had a GMO version was their summer squash. Nothing else in their extensive crop list has a GMO version. These are very capable farmers, and they surely know this. They are just doing fear mongering marketing. As the National Academies of Science has stated, along with every other major scientific organization in the world, GMO crops pose no more harm than conventional crops.

gmo free eggsBut it gets worse. How about the vendor(Beaver Brook Farm) with these eggs? The chickens are fed GMO free grain? Wow! Do you think that a chicken eating grain bred by one technique over another is going to be any different? It’s ridiculous! Remember chicken growers, GM is not an ingredient. It is a crop breeding technique! I quote my colleague Layla Katiraee who jokes about a boa constrictor eating a rat and because of this hypothetical (and ridiculous) gene transfer argument, he creates a rat-strictor. You don’t believe that do you?

And as far as free range chickens go, the Journal of Poultry Science published a substantial series of studies showing the caged chickens did the best and the cage free the worst.

And it’s gluten free!

There is any number of very good bakeries in or near Westport that exhibit regularly at the Farmer’s Market. However, it is really disappointing to discover that they are all flogging their Gluten Free products as if those are products in great demand. Gluten occurs in wheat and in a few other grains, but is for most of us a very valuable nutrient. Only about 1% of the population suffers from the autoimmune disorder that leads to celiac disease. These people cannot eat gluten: it not only can cause severe discomfort, it can eventually damage your digestive system. However, far too many people somehow believe that not eating gluten is somehow “healthier,” when just the opposite is true. Gluten free products are less nutritious, and for the most part, don’t taste that great.

Now some people claim to have Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS), but whether this is even an actual disorder and whether it has much to do with gluten is very much in doubt. You can read a lot about the status of research into NCGS here. And low carbohydrate diets are not very healthy.

Oh, and then there’s Paleo, a fad diet hatched to sell books and allegedly (and inaccurately) presented as the “healthy diet our ancestors ate.” Well it isn’t. Plants and animals have evolved since those times, and so have we. We can’t eat the plants they ate, because they no longer exist. And we have evolved to tolerate lactose and (most of us) can have dairy products. The idea that our ancestors didn’t eat gluten is silly. It depends on where they lived. If there were edible grains nearby, you can be sure they ate them. Scientific American explains this here. As David Gorski explains, Paleo is part of the “naturalistic fallacy.” It provides no benefits.

Juices and the Cleanse

the standOf course, there had to be a representative from The Stand (not Steven King’s novel, but a juice stand). They make a lot of blended juices, some good, and some at best an acquired taste and loaded with kale. And some interesting sandwiches as well. But smack dab on the back cover of their leaflet is an advertisement for The Cleanse, a crazy regime of bizarre juices that is supposed to detoxify your body (at $60 a day). It doesn’t. There is no such thing as a cleanse: it is pure hooey. Your liver detoxifies your body every day, and juices do nothing to help. Don’t waste your money!

Nutty Ice Cream

We can’t let Nutty Bunny ice cream go unmentioned. The owner, Westporter Pamela Aflalo claims to have cured her daughter’s allergies by created a non dairy diet, and then created this imitation ice cream. It’s billed as vegan, organic, non-dairy, non-GMO and 100% gluten free, touching nearly all the woo bases. It also has no artificial sweeteners. It’s made primarily from cashews, almonds and coconut milk. It costs $10 a pint, and has a kind of grainy texture. We didn’t like it at all and her claim of curing her daughter’s allergies is at best anecdotal.

Arogya iced teas

arogyaArogya has some nice teas, but it only takes a minute before you discover that many are “healing blends,” for colon cleanses and detox (neither of which exist), kidney cleanses, liver cleanses, female vitality and other unbelievable malarkey. They also practice quackery such as cupping, acupuncture and qigong, and other Traditional Chinese Medicine, none of which has ever been show to be effective, or it would just be called “medicine.” In fact most of it was codified by Chairman Mao.

 

kombuchaAnd just for completeness, we’ll show you the absolutely crazy claims made by the Om Champagne Kombucha vendor. They speak for themselves.

And we cure autism, too

Probably the scariest and most irresponsible products come from Healing Home Foods, owned by Shelley Schulz of Pound Ridge, NY. At first, their products look rather nice, with granola, cookies and (raw?) crackers on display, with some nut butters as well. They are, of course full of the usual horse feathers: organic, non-gmo, gluten free and vegan.

healing granola

But it is only when you read their label or web site that you discover their bizarre ideology. Schulz claimed to improve her autistic son’s condition by removing “dairy, gluten, grains, sugar, starches and preservatives,” and developed even more raw/vegan dietary nonsense when her husband developed cancer. None of this can actually work, of course, and you should be aware of anyone making such claims.

Antibiotics

acadia beefAnd look, Aradia Farm, there are no antibiotics in your meat. None. Not allowed. See Amanda Zaluckyj’s explanation. And all beef contains some hormones whether growth implants are used or not, but the estrogenic activity in been is far less than in other common foods.

 

 

Fair trade again

fair tradeAnd finally, vendors like to make claims about Fair Trade, especially in coffee products. It turns out not to be such a great idea as we reported. We don’t know what the quality of Fair Trade coffee beans is: farmers are likely to be selling their lowest grade beans to fair trade brokers, since the floor price is guaranteed. Growers are paid very little more for such beans, but the Fair Trade organization makes a nice profit on it. It is essentially a marketing organization, not one that benefits poor farmers.

Westport Farmer’s Market is a sincere operation, but not all the vendors are in any way sincere. Some vendor debunking or cleaning might be in order.