Wednesday, August 17, 2011

update to previous post

I am updating and correcting errors in the previous post.  Percy Schmeiser was not an organic, but rather a conventional, non-GMO canola farmer.  Also, after losing to Monsanto, he then sued Monsanto and emerged victorious.  In an out of court settlement finalized on March 19, 2008, Monsanto agreed to pay all the clean-up costs of the Roundup Ready canola that contaminated Schmeiser's fields.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

No Monsatan for Gaza

Monsanto, or “Monsatan” as I prefer to call the GMO seed monopoly and pesticide giant, is well known for its evil practice of suing organic farmers for patent infringement when pollen from GMO crops blows onto neighboring organic farms, contaminating the seeds with GMO genes, so they can no longer be called organic, wiping out the livelihood of farmers like Percy Schmeiser, who spent a lifetime developing organic canola.
Schmeiser is a Canadian farmer who Monsanto successfully sued for patent violation after unlicensed Roundup Ready canola was found growing on his farm.  The company later admitted that it was possible for unintentional gene flow to have resulted in the initial presence of Roundup Ready Canola in Schmeiser's field.
Now, organic farmers are fighting back.  In March of this year a suit was filed by the Public Patent Foundation on behalf of more than fifty organizations, seeking a ruling to prohibit Monsanto from suing farmers or seed dealers if their organic seed becomes contaminated with Monsanto's patented biotech genes.
According to the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS), independent scientific studies in recent years have discovered a multitude of harmful effects of glyphosate (Roundup), including endocrine disruption, DNA damage, reproductive and developmental toxicities, neurotoxicity, cancer, and birth defects.
Monsanto’s Roundup has also “spawned a new generation of superweeds that can only be killed with super-toxic herbicides such as 2,4,D and paraquat.”  Roundup Ready crops require “massive amounts of climate destabilizing nitrate fertilizer. Roundup use is literally killing the soil, destroying essential soil microorganisms, degrading the living soil’s ability to capture and sequester CO2, and spreading deadly plant diseases.”
As an article in Mother Jones by Tom Philpott points out, Gaza doesn't need Monsanto's “Wonder Seeds”.  Just as Cuba did when the US blockade made it impossible for Cuban farmers to buy chemical fertilizer and pesticides, people in the Gaza Strip, trying to survive under occupation as well as the Israeli blockade, are turning to organic. 

Poor farmers cannot afford Monsanto’s expensive seeds, which, thanks to patent laws, would have to be bought from Monsanto every year, subverting the traditional farming practice of saving some of the crop as seeds for next year’s planting, which not only saves money, but over thousands of years has adapted seeds to the local climatic conditions of farmlands around the world.
Palestinian farmers are returning to the ancient technology that saves water, preserves soil nutrients, and produces abundant crops: diversified organic agriculture.  Even the United Nations is promoting organic agriculture as a response to scarce resources.  The Guardian newspaper quotes an official from the UN Gaza emergency food program,  “In so many other places, [organic] is terribly trendy and green. But in Gaza the resource scarcity is so bad this is actually becoming a necessity.”   The Hamas government has developed a ten year strategy  “aimed at skirting the blockade and developing sustainable agriculture," The Guardian reports.
Farmers in Gaza have little land and less water, and cannot afford the high cost of chemical fertilizer, even if it were available.  Palestinian farmers are forbidden by the blockade to purchase synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, which could be used to make explosives. All they are allowed to import is “fertilisers made from Israeli waste water run-off,” which is expensive—$200 per metric ton—and of  “uncertain safety.”  A local group called Palestinian Environmental Friends (PEF) has begun producing homemade natural, cheap, and environmentally friendly fertilizer by composting manure and crop residue collected from local farms. It only costs $100 per metric ton to produce, and the profits stay in Gaza.
Farms are also setting up “closed-loop aquaculture/crop systems that recycle nutrients and generate bounties of food,” such as fishponds that deliver water rich in nutrients via drip irrigation.
Gaza's movement toward organic agriculture as a response to its critical lack of resources is consistent with the new consensus among development experts that “low-input, locally adapted, appropriate technologies”, rather than expensive high-tech solutions, are the key to populations keeping themselves fed in spite of growing population and diminishing resources. And it certainly contradicts the agribusiness claim that organic food is a “luxury of the rich.”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hiroshima to Fukushima: No More Nukes

           Hiroshima to Fukushima: No More Nukes
Scientific experts believe Japan's nuclear disaster to be far worse than governments are revealing to the public.  "Fukushima is the biggest industrial catastrophe in the history of mankind,"  according to Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear industry senior vice president.  No nuclear reactors are designed to withstand an earthquake of magnitude 8.0. Yet there were 11 earthquakes greater than 8.5 last century, and only 11 years into this century, there have been five. Almost all were followed by tsunamis.

Even after Fukushima, Obama is still endorsing nuclear power as a "clean energy" source, and wants loan guarantees for corporations that build nuclear power plants. Corporations won’t risk their own money, which is why they haven't built any nukes since Three Mile Island (1979).  Obama claims building more nukes will help prevent global warming.  But what the nuclear industry and Obama are not admitting is the fact that the overall nuclear "fuel cycle" - mining, milling, fuel fabrication, enrichment, and so on - contributes substantially to global warming
In a nation-wide referendum in June, ninety-five percent of Italians voted against resuming their nuclear industry. All nuclear plants in Italy were closed down in 1987, after Chernobyl.  The first solar power plant in Italy is now being built at Altomonte, in Cosenza, Calabria, a few dozen kilometers from where we live.  It will generate enough electricity to power 2800 households.  Calabria is an ideal site for renewable energy.  Most days are sunny, and there are frequent strong winds like the Scirocco from the south, and the Tramontana from the north. 
Some so-called “environmentalists” think nukes are the answer to climate change.  But after Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima, and dozens of near-misses and radiation leaks, and the ever-mounting pile of nuclear waste that no one knows what to do with for the next hundred thousand years, people want no more of it, and have made their voices heard.
After massive protests by the Greens, Social Democrats, and tens of thousands of others, Germany has decided to phase out all its nukes by 2022, and to continue its rapid deployment of renewables.  Germany already has low per capita carbon dioxide emissions and plans to keep reducing it. The US, Canada and Australia have twice the emissions and seemingly no plan or intention of forming one.
Renewable power generation in Germany has increased substantially in the past ten years, from almost none to seventeen percent in 2010.  Now that Germany has the infrastructure in place, that percentage will climb rapidly, especially with the plummeting cost of photovoltaic solar.  Germany and Italy are going to demonstrate to the world that we do not need dirty, dangerous nuclear power.  Even France, which now gets most of its power from nukes, is investing heavily in renewables - far above minimum EU goals. If nukes were a better solution, France would be deploying more - but they're not. 
Nuclear power is not the answer to climate change.  A nuclear power plant takes over ten years to construct and bring on line, during which time coal (the worst source of CO2) continues to be burnt unabated.  And nukes are not "zero-carbon", as some claim.   Their lifecycle emissions are six times higher than wind and about double solar. Nukes also take resources away from low carbon renewables that can be rapidly deployed now.  Nukes are more expensive than ever, while the cost of wind and solar continue to fall.
The majority of people in just about every country on the planet oppose nuclear power. Why can’t we have a referendum in the US to determine if we want to be exposed to the catastrophic risks of nuclear power?  People should have a say in how society is powered, not just a handful of plutocrats dictating what best suits them.  People who advocate one hundred percent renewables are on the right track - especially when entire countries like Germany and Italy are in agreement and committed to that policy. 
Finally, all nuclear reactors create the raw materials for nuclear weapons, like plutonium, as a by-product.  Attempting to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through nuclear energy, thereby fueling the dangers of the ultimate global incendiary – nuclear war – could be the most tragic of all miscalculations.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Mediterranean Diet

The Real Mediterranean Diet

I visited Italy several times with my husband, who was born in Rome, before we decided to retire here, in south Italy.  The everyday diet available to the average person here is much healthier than what most people eat in the United States.  There are no “health food” stores, but food in regular stores may be comparable to health food here.  Most produce is grown on small near-by farms by traditional methods that don’t rely on pesticides.   Genetically modified food is not allowed in Europe.  Rather than have special “health food” for knowledgeable people, the aim is to have healthy food for everybody.  Rather than take vitamins, they try to eat food that still contains nutrients.  Although there are a few supermarkets, most people shop in small individual stores, each specializing in one locally grown product like breads, cheeses, meat, fish, or fruits and vegetables.

                     Trebisacce by the Sea

We decided to settle in Trebisacce, a small town on the Ionian Sea, in the arch of the Italian “boot”, near the town where my husband’s father was born. On nearly every block there is a store selling dozens of varieties of extremely fresh fish (pesce), caught that day by local fishermen.  One local specialty is Rosa Marina, tiny newborn fish less than an inch long, mixed with the hot peppers for which Calabria is world-famous.

Before buying our house here in Trebisacce, we used to stay at a small hotel called Parnasso.  The hotel meals, prepared by a local woman, were simple, healthy and delicious.  For lunch, vegetable and bean soup, then fresh fish and sepie (squid), lightly floured and sautéed in olive oil, followed by insalate verde (green salad) , finished with a bowl of fresh fruit, especially the locally grown small tangerines (mandarini) which were in season, and or course, grapes.

For breakfast, we would walk down the main street to the “Bar Centrale”.  Bar in Italy doesn’t have the same meaning as a bar here.  They do serve wine and liqueurs, but mainly caffé.  Cappuccino is only served in the morning.  You can also get freshly squeezed juice (spremuta) from oranges grown near-by.  They sometimes serve a glass of water to drink before your caffé, supposedly to clear your palate so the coffee tastes better.  This is actually a good health practice, if you’re going to drink coffee, since coffee is a strong diuretic.   Caffé in Italy is what we call espresso, a few tablespoons of very strong coffee in a tiny cup. It is expressed from the beans by steam, which releases the aromas.   American style coffee is called café lungo, (long coffee).  It is paradoxical that Italy, known for “slow food”, drinks very fast coffee.  A pot of tea is also available for tea lovers like me.  With their morning caffé, most people will have a “cornetto”, a hot roll shaped like a trumpet (not to be confused with “cornuto”, which means something bad).

                               Slow Food

The main meal, which could be at noon or late evening, follows a definite order.  First comes antipasto (before meal), which could be an assortment of fish, cheese or salami appetizers, olives etc.  The primo piato is usually pasta, but could be risotto (rice), or polenta (cornmeal) in certain areas.  You could also have a bean dish or vegetable soup as the “first plate”.  The secondo (second plate) is the main dish, meat or fish, served with cortorno, various vegetable dishes.  Some of our favorites are cicoria (dandelion greens), and carciofi (artichokes).  Delicious!  After this there may be a plate of various local cheeses, walnuts, and always a bowl of fruits.  Then caffé, perhaps with dessert, like tiramisu (which means “pull me up”), panne cotto “cooked cream”, (like crème brulee or flan), or gelato, Italian ice cream, much more flavorful, yet with less fat and sugar than American ice cream.  Wine and bottled mineral water are served with the meal. The wine is usually red, locally grown and delicious.  The best wines are not exported, as they don’t travel well. 

                               The Culture of Olives

Many families have olive trees and grapevines in their backyard or at their parents’ home in the country.  In late fall the family gets together to pick the olives by hand, or by shaking them onto nets below.  They are taken to the local olive press, where they are ground and pressed to release the oil mixed with the bitter juice of the raw olive.  This is allowed to stand for a month or so until the green-gold oil rises, and the bitter watery residue sinks to the bottom.

The real Mediterranean diet, as I have experienced it, is way more than just pasta.  I believe pasta for Italians has nostalgic value as the survival food that sustained Italy during the impoverished post-war period, along with beans, tomatoes, wild greens and olive oil.  Those wild greens, once disparaged as “some weed the Italians eat” are now sold in the US in gourmet stores at fancy prices as arugula, broccoli raab, romaine lettuce, radicchio, and baby wild greens.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

olives, etc

October 2009        Olives, etc.
Every Thursday morning, there is a farmer's market in town.  We buy a lot of shell beans and make a big soups with the beans, tomatoes, dandelion greens (chicoria), pumpkin, onions, potatoes and cabbage. Dandelion greens grow in the fall as well as spring here.   All the fresh vegetables and fruits are local and seasonal.  When the peaches are finished, they don't import them from Chile.  They go on to the next season's fruit: persimmons, pomegranates, apples, and in winter we'll have oranges and tangerines.

We bought a lot of  fresh sardines, which are very cheap here, 2.50 Euros per kilo (about  $1.60/lb). All the other fish are a lot more.  The local fishermen catch and sell them the same day.    We pulled the heads off the sardines, split them open, took out the spine, then soaked them in wine vinegar for 1/2 hour and then lemon juice for 1/2 hour, drained them and covered with olive oil and they're ready to eat.  They don't even need to be cooked.  The acid replaces the cooking process.

Last month we collected a bucket of olives from the trees in our yard.  Frank pressed them one by one with his thumb to split them open.  Then we soaked them in salt water for a week, changing the water daily, to remove the bitterness.  Then we soaked them a few days in fresh water to remove the salt.  I'm reading a book called The Olive Route, by Carol Drinkwater, an Irish actress who has an olive farm in France.  She took a trip all around the Mediterranean to discover the origin of the olive tree.  She found a grove of ancient olive trees, still alive, in Lebanon that were carbon dated as 7000 years old!  She also found in Malta, olive trees planted by the Romans 2000 years ago that grow sweet olives that can be eaten right from the tree.  Normally olives are extremely bitter and have to go through a process like we did, to be edible.
A friend of a friend manages an olive orchard in Israel and told her that much of the Mediterranean olive crop had "failed" this year because it had not gotten cold enough for a certain hormone to be produced by the tree which assures the olive production.  She was so glad to hear that olives in my part of the world had not suffered from that fate. They are involved with "peace oil", a joint venture between Israeli and Palestinian olive farmers to press and market their olive oil together.  I didn't realize that olive trees needed a certain amount of cold.  I hope that global warming will not make that an ongoing problem.

We don’t have a washing machine, so we wash our clothes by hand, heating the water on the stove.  The stove works from a propane tank called a "bombola".  We can get hot water to take a short shower, but it takes a half hour to heat up.  You have to push a button and wait.  We prefer to get clean by swimming in the sea.   Frank and I still swim, in October, but we are the only ones in the sea now.

I'm learning to ride a bicycle again.  I used to ride all the time, 30 years ago.  I went to medical school on a bicycle, riding through the center of Philadelphia, to Hahnemann Medical School, (named for the father of homeopathy, but they hadn't taught homeopathy there in many years.)  I ride along the sea, not much in town yet.  They drive very fast everywhere in Italy.  Speed limits are considered "only a suggestion".  Gas is $11 a gallon here, so we don’t use the car much.  We had a big rainstorm a few weeks ago that washed away part of the beach, almost up to the road.  The "road", Via Del Porto, in front of our house and running along the sea, is unpaved, made of rocks and sand.  The storm washed away a lot of the sand, leaving the rocks, making it hard to ride a bicycle.

Frank wrote a letter to the town council about getting the road fixed, and we went around to all the neighbors to get them to sign it.  It was a good way to meet the neighbors.  They all make you sit down and serve coffee or tea.  Several of them keep chickens, and gave us gifts of eggs.  They also have cats, to catch the mice that eat the baby chicks.  One neighbor has about a dozen cats, all named "Mish”.   They don't buy cat food,  just give them leftovers from the table.  Apparently, Italian cats like pasta.

Trebisacce by the Sea 2009

                Bonnie Camo MD   Natural Medicine   Homeopathy
                                    Trebisacce, Italy

As promised, I am now writing from my new home in Trebisacce, Calabria, south Italy.  I arrived Sunday Sept 13 at Fiumicino, the airport for Rome.  Fiumicino means “little river”, and is actually a canal built by the ancient Romans, to bring food and supplies from the sea to Rome.  It is still in use 2000 years later, full of fishing boats.  The ancient Romans were master engineers, and built to last.  Some of the aqueducts they built to bring fresh water from the hills to Rome are also still in use. 
I will be writing from here about the real Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, as lived in this small fishing village on the Ionian Sea, the part of the Mediterranean filling the “arch” of the Italian boot.  My husband came here to live six months ago, when he retired from his career as a bridge engineer, although he is still working from here as a consultant by internet for his old company.  He had planted a garden in our yard and harvested copious tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, yellow melons, and watermelons.
For breakfast here we usually have fruit and some “pecorino” cheese, made from sheep’s milk.  (Pecora means sheep)  We bought some wonderful locally grown peaches, much more flavorful and colorful than even organic peaches in the US.  They don’t sell “organic” produce here, but they still use traditional growing methods that don’t rely on pesticides.  They eat locally grown produce in season.  Of course, the growing season is much longer here in the South.
The do have supermarkets even here in this little town, but most people shop at separate little shops each specializing in one thing, fruits and vegetables, cheese, breads, or meats.  There is a fish store on every block, with dozens of kinds of fresh-caught fish, shellfish, octopus, squid, etc, caught by local fishermen.  There is also a farmer’s market in town a couple of days a week.  Every yard has a few olive trees.  We picked about 2 quarts of olives from two of the olive trees in our yard this morning.  We have eight olive trees (called ulivo), but most of them are still too small to bear fruit.  We are going to soak the olives in salt water to remove the bitterness so we can eat them.  Olives right from the tree are extremely bitter and impossible to eat.  Olives, of course are known for their health-giving properties, like lowering cholesterol.  Even olive leaves are used (and sold in capsules in health food stores in America) for boosting the immune system.
We also have an apricot and plum trees.  Asparagus and artichokes grow wild in our yard.  There is a huge agave plant growing on the railroad embankment behind our house.  Agave extract is sold in your local health food store as a natural sweetener with a low glycemic index.  We plan to put in some lemon, orange and tangerine trees next spring.  Perhaps also figs, persimmons, and pomegranate trees, and of course, grapevines along the fence.  We hope to have a greenhouse soon, to grow salad all winter.  Our neighbor on the east side has geese, and the one on the west has chickens.  We plan to build a chicken coop and raise our own eggs.
Wild oregano grows on the eastern slopes of the hills in the near-by Pollino National Park.  Oregano, besides flavoring pizza and pasta sauce, has medicinal and health-building qualities and has been described as “the cure in the cupboard”.  It is also drunk as a curative teas, or tisane.  Most culinary herbs grow wild in Italy and other parts of Europe, and were brought to the US by early settlers.   Rosemary grows into a big bush and can even be used as a hedge.  Rosemary is a powerful antioxidant, once used to preserve meat, in the days before refrigeration.  It is good for the brain and helps preserve memory.
Wild greens like dandelions, chicory, arugula, broccoli raab, raddicchio, and Romaine lettuce, once disparaged in the US as “some weed the Italians eat”, of course grow wild here in Italy, and are now sold in the US at fancy prices in gourmet shops.  Wild greens tend to have a stronger, sometimes slightly bitter flavor, and are much higher in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals than cultivated salad greens.  Iceberg lettuce, as I’m sure you all know, is virtually devoid of nutritional value.
We have been swimming in the sea, which is right in front of our house.  We can probably absorb the minerals in sea water through the skin, if we don’t wash it off right away.  And of course, we get plenty of sun to make our own vitamin D.