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Posts Tagged ‘food’

In a post a few weeks back I noted that I had gardening on the brain and was determined to make it happen. I also said I would share my information in case it would be useful to some other poor reader out there. Let me preface what follows by pointing out that this is my first garden in years (years) and what I do may or may not be what is generally recommended.

First, I bought my seeds from a small distributor of heirloom varieties, Skyfire Garden Seeds. Turnaround was beyond excellent; I mailed my order and payment on a Monday and received my shipment that Friday. I also received two “thank you” packets free in my shipment and a hand-written note wishing me “a great garden this year.” I value that personalized touch. Even better, Skyfire beat both Burpee and Gurney’s prices on every variety I ordered, often by a landslide. So far, that puts Skyfire up by four-to-one (better products, customer service, turnaround, and price).

But the proof is in the pudding as they say, so with a handful of starter trays and a bag of potting soil, I got to work. (I’ll also note here that every seed packet contained more than the amount listed on the website, especially nice for those of us with a bit of black in their thumb.) On March 19th, three heirloom varieties of tomatoes were planted: Rutger, Pearson, and Long Keeper. They got a south-facing window in a garden shed and water but no special treatment (heat lamps, flourescent lights, etc.). On sunny days, I moved them outside for direct sun; nighttime temperatures stayed mostly in the 50s but dipped into the low 40s a couple times. On March 24th, Orange Sun Sweet Bell Peppers went in under the same conditions. The Pearson tomatoes sprouted earliest, on April 1st, followed quickly by the Rutgers and Long Keepers simultaneously on the 2nd. My Orange Sun Bells sprouted yesterday.

Together, the varieties have averaged a 95%+ germination rate, even with my unskilled plantings and less-than-ideal conditions. (And, in case they didn’t sprout, Skyfire offers a replace-or-refund guarantee.) March 19th also saw the open sowing of a cabbage variety called Glory of Enkuizen. They came up beautifully and thick as fleas; a few more nice days and they’ll be ready for transplanting. It’s a couple weeks until I’ll plant the rest of the seeds ordered but so far I am immensely pleased with the results and have nothing but praise for Skyfire Garden Seeds.

My garden growings also include yellow onions, purchased locally in sets and planted March 19th, and potatoes eyed from grocery store spuds. The onions are 6 to 8 inches tall; the few potato sprouts (about 4 in all so far) up are 1 to 2 inches.

I’ll keep posting from time to time and make notes, if only for myself. 🙂 For further consideration, I offer up the abundant resources of Dave’s Garden, which is very friendly and helpful in all things sproutable. In signing off, I’d like to say that gardening is not much of a chore, and the proceeds greatly exceed the effort. Plus, it’s a nice way to stay a bit active, promote independence, and stick it to the man. How could anyone resist?

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The phrase used by optimistic economists for the last year is starting to come to life. But I’m not going to talk about the economy, or politics, or even Team Blue (which, by the way, needs a mascot, I think … but Blue Devils is taken and I don’t think Blue Balls would go over well for either side, so I could use some input on that). With the Ides of March just around the corner and spring soon to follow, I’m talking about real green shoots, the kind full of chlorophyll that push up from the soil into the sun when the frost leaves and the ground starts to warm.

The resurgence of the “Victory Garden” over the last couple years has been nothing short of amazing. Some seed suppliers are finding themselves overrun with orders and the busy season is just getting started. Widely popularized during World War II, the Victory Garden is essentially a small vegetable patch for a family or similarly sized group of people, providing a source of wholesome food for very little monetary investment. With a less-than-stellar economic situation for millions in the U.S. over the last few years, these gardens have again become popular. For a few dollars worth of seed, a family can enjoy a supply of fresh vegetables for months to come. I’m joining the bandwagon this spring with big plans and elbow grease on stand-by … because one way or another there will be a garden outside my door.

I realized last summer how disgusted I was with the produce offered at local supermarkets. What hasn’t been dropped, crushed, bruised, poked, or otherwise beaten half-unidentifiable costs an arm and a leg. And if it happens to say “organic” on the label, just go ahead and triple the price, no matter how puny, shriveled, or misshapen the items might be. But price aside, that produce has also been doused with god knows what all kind of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and – I’m quite certain – people-icides. A few years ago I researched just what went into the classification systems of food products and was astounded at the lack of regulation in what we eat.

To begin with, the vast majority of fresh food in this country is imported, and not just exotics like bananas and mangoes but boring old staples like lettuce and tomatoes. Remember the spinach scare a few years back? Tons of produce tainted with E. Coli were shipped all over America and had to be recalled after people fell ill and some died. It had been imported. The government assured its people that it was an isolated incident. But food marketing in the U.S. is essentially an honor system. If Company A claims its goods are organic, they can market it as such with almost no oversight. Although there are reams of laws and stipulations that should be followed, the chances of enforcement are miniscule. No one is out there testing produce to see what chemicals it has come into contact with. No one is randomly sampling imports (or even U.S. produce) to see if it carries pathogens on its merry way to your plate. Caveat emptor indeed.

And what does all the spraying and genetic engineering and hybridization supply us? Judging from the local supermarkets, rubbish. Most of the produce is picked so green it could sit on display for a month (for those of you who may not know better, “fresh” produce should go off much quicker than that) and has all the subtle flavor of a cardboard box. In an age when I can fly halfway around the world in less than a day, including plane changes and layovers, why is my produce almost old enough to legally drink?

So this year I’m growing my own. Not a lot, but a good variety. And though I’ve a poor history with plants, I sincerely bet the result will be exponentially better than what I find at the store. Surely it can be no worse.

And in an effort to both encourage local business and “stick it to the man,” I’ll be using all heirloom seeds from a small supplier. (Gurney’s and Burpees be damned; I could never get a decent tomato out of them anyway.) When I’ve finalized my plans I’ll post them here just in case anyone should care to join the Victors with a garden of their own.

Oh, and you know what, if you’re tight on funds and worried about getting enough fertilizer for your garden … just use some of that bullshit Washington keeps shoveling at us. Lord knows there’s plenty of it. 😉

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After visiting a friend’s blog, I discovered that I had completely forgotten Mother’s Day. I’m not a mother myself, and have no mother or maternal relations, so I often forget. But I think fathers are getting a raw deal.

Mother’s Day gets splashed all over the television, newspapers, and internet advertising like a second Christmas. You’re encouraged to buy jewelry, flowers, flashy cards, expensive dinner reservations, vacations, etc. But come Father’s Day, what do advertisements push? A lawnmower. A leafblower. A new golf club. What’s Dad likely to get? Some god-awful tie and a pair of socks or, if he’s lucky, a wrench set. And since Father’s Day comes about six weeks later, all the money seems to get sucked up by Mother’s Day and the Memorial Day binge that marks the beginning of summer.

What’s left for dear old Dad?

I don’t enjoy the commercialization of holidays but I do think it can be a useful indicator of our society, namely in that the level of commercialization is dependent on how important that holiday is rated. And Mother’s Day would blow Father’s Day right out of the water any day of the week. I’m not against mothers (please, how could anyone be?) but I think fathers are becoming more and more marginalized in our society. Their roles are considered expendable.

Movies, television, and commercials paint men as lust-hungry fools. And while, true, some men are lust-hungry fools, many are not. Nor are fathers’ roles quaint but expendable.

With relatively few restrictions, single mothers can draw thousands of dollars in local, state, and federal aid each year to supplement their household, in addition to receiving various other subsidies. Single fathers often can’t. Two people, of identical race, income, background, number of children, medical issues, etc., are judged unequally based on gender alone.

The man is expected to work and bring home a paycheck whether he is trying to raise children alone or not. With that check he is expected to pay the rent, or mortgage, and utility bills; keep food on the table; pay medical, dental, and optometry bills; provide suitable clothing, shoes, school supplies, etc.; pay for child care and or hire babysitters; make vehicle payments and provide for repairs, maintenance, and fuel costs; and, of course, pay his taxes.

The woman is expected to be a stay-at-home mother. In many cases, the state will help with or fully cover her mortgage or rent payments; pay part or all of her utility bills; provide hundreds of dollars in food stamps per child; provide full coverage for medical, dental, and optometry; pay for child care; provide transportation; and often supply her hundreds of dollars, per child, for other expenses. All tax-free, of course.

Though legislation surrounding it is slowly changing for the better, fathers are still often forgotten.

And on television sitcoms, it’s Dad who makes all the idiotic blunders, who is usually cast on a couch or behind a grill or clumsily fooling in a garage. Mom is Heroine Extraordinare while Dad is, at best, Bumbling Sidekick.

I’m all for Mother’s Day. I think parents are terribly overlooked and under-appreciated by their increasingly rude and selfish offspring in today’s world…

But don’t forget Dad.

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My local grocery store offers only “organic” produce.  Nice, right?  Yeah, except that they charge three times more for anything with that little label that says “organic.”  And guess what, an organic label by no means ensures the item is truly organically farmed.  With all the loopholes we expect of traditional tax law and political affairs, “organic” is a loose term indeed. 

First off, the grocery store is not legally bound to investigate whether or not an item they receive for sale is labeled in accordance with federal law.  (No retail establishments are.  Including restaurants.)  I understand it could be an expensive and time-consuming effort but doing nothing seems almost … negligent.  I would think one random test sample each month, or even quarterly, of the major suppliers’ produce would not be too taxing and may even qualify for some kind of government grant. 

But no, the responsibility falls to the supplier.  Of course the supplier and also the store (or eatery) are never supposed to “knowingly” alter labeling or re-label items or otherwise mislead consumers, but that’s also a rather gray legal area.  It’s quite easy for a bin of regular bell peppers to “spill over” into the organic bin at the store, or for a crate to be mis-labeled in shipping, or even for an entire shipment to go awry without anyone noticing.  Retail work can be chaotic even when honestly attempting to maintain accuracy; with a plethora of opportunity, a bit of “see no evil, speak no evil” could do wonders for a bottom line.  In addition, small suppliers do not have to conform to federal standards and can presumably label their products as they please since they are not regulated.  Larger suppliers – and the middle men – rely on the claims of the original producer.  (See “Washing of the Hands,” Article 62, Passages 11 – 16, of the Criminally Legal Handbook.)  

So we’re all the way back to the farmer now, and trusting his operation to participate fully and accurately maintain all the federal precedents of organic production.  I’m sure a lot of farmers do their very best to accomplish just that.  And I’m sure many don’t.  Even for those attempting “honest” organics, an entire year crop can be affected by one non-organic treatment to adjacent land, or the impossible-to-prevent cross-pollination with non-certified produce (like those genetically modified).  The results of these interactions would, by law, revoke a producer’s ability to label any crop “organic” … except that the USDA has stated that it will exclude such results from the labeling regulations. 

Huh?  There’s a nice breeze and the field upwind gets cropdusted but my field is still “organic” because I didn’t pay for it?  Their mutant potatoes won’t cross-pollinate with mine because you say they shouldn’t?  Way to go, Washington.  You’re absolutely right; regulatory paperwork in a filing cabinet in an airtight office a thousand miles away is 100% effective at blocking those particles from tainting my crop.  Excellent work. 

Moreover, imported produce (which constitues an interestingly large percentage of what we consume) is expected to be correctly labeled before it crosses the border and does not need to be tested prior to hitting the retail market stateside.  That said, imports from European countries worry me a great deal less than say, Columbia.  Not that I have anything against Columbia, but it occurs to me they might be more interested in our business (and their profit) than whether or not what they produce meets our organic standards.

Also, as consumers, we often associate “organic” with “natural” when, legally, nothing could be further from the truth; it may occur naturally but just as likely may not.  Perfectly acceptable “organic” compounds in direct contact with unharvested produce and/or feedstock animals include hydrogen peroxide, copper and ferrous sulfates, ammonium, sodium hypochlorite, calcium polysulfide, and – my personal favorite – “liquid fish products.”  (Whatever that means.)  Some of those are totally, completely, 100% synthetic. 

Because, of course, “organic” doesn’t mean “naturally-occuring organic.”  In fact, by their very definition, some of these compounds exist only as products of human experimentation, so wholly unnatural that nothing remotely comparable to them exists outside the laboratory.  Which makes them unique.  So they remain USDA certified 100% organic.  In one of my favorite quirks of the laws and acts laying these regulations out, hops (the kind they put in beer) are entirely exempt regardless of how they are modified, treated, handled, or marketed. 

Why?  Because hops are like grapes:  their tastes differ based on treatment and location.  This attribute makes them too unique to synthesize and vulnerable to a potential change in taste under different treatment (i.e. “organic” treatment).  According to the USDA, that is enough to exempt them from regulation.  (Grapes, however, are not exempt, though the regulations are somewhat more lenient than for other produce.  Apparently the bouquet of wine is not as delicate as that of beer.  That and … I don’t recall an Anheuser-Busch-sized lobby on behalf of the wine industry.)

So perhaps Columbia could hardly do worse than we do to ourselves already.  After all, a box of any food product can be labeled “organic” – in bold, with neon flashing lights if the producer so desires – if even 70% of the contents conform to USDA standards.  Meaning the other 30% could be … anything.

And my point to all this, oh gentle patient reader, is simply … why bother?  If what the USDA regards as “organic” in no way matches the consumers’ understanding, why even introduce it into the mix?  And with all the fine print involved (which I didn’t even scratch in the writing of this), wouldn’t it be easier to label the non-organically farmed products instead?  And of course, there are no answers, only more questions.  But It seems like just one more confusing tactic to mislead the public.  One more governmental half-truth.  Well here’s a personal opinion, my bloated greedy hopelessly corrupt representatives of Washington…  

Leave my goddamn carrots alone.

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