Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Science Seeks Boundary Between Food and Garbage

I hate to say it, but there's way too much truth swimming around in this Onion spoof.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Biodynamic, Organic and Kosher, OH MY!

Opened my email today to an article about 12 biodynamic wines, click here to see the article, and right away I realized,

"Biodynamic - yet another confusing label for the consumer."

I want to define the difference between organic, biodynamic and "regular" wines.  And as long as I'm at it, and maybe because it's almost Passover, I'll say a thing or two about kosher wines, too.

I've come to appreciate the whole idea of foods grown without pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizer concoctions that end up in my system - all used to ensure a successful harvest in today's normative agricultural industry. 

Normative:  Generically, it means relating to an ideal standard or model. In practice, it has strong connotations of relating to a typical standard or model.

I also fancy but can't prove that a lot of organic foods taste better than their non-organic counterparts.  I think I can taste the slightly off-taste of toxic residues.  I didn't realize I could taste them until I started eating organic foods and then did some side-by-side tastings. Generally, the organic item tends to taste more zingy and true to the anticipated vegetable or fruit flavor, while the non-organic item is blander, maybe with a slight tinny or other under-flavor.  Although, on the other hand, I've had some pretty bland-tasting organic foods.  Organics can only be as tasty as the quality of the soil they're grown in.  Let me know if you've had any similar experiences.  Or if this is all in my mind. 

Organic farming avoids all pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and other toxic soil additives in favor of natural alternatives. These alternatives might be anything at all - old fashioned the way people used to do it before the wonders of chemistry, or downright creative.  For example, soil amendments tend to be manure and other organic materials.  More creatively, the vintners at my favorite organic vineyard, Montemaggiore, use sheep to eat their weed growth down.

From Wikipedia: "The most widely accepted definition of Organic wine is wine made from grapes grown in accordance with principles of organic farming, which typically excludes the use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.

Organic wine is generally consumed for its perceived health benefits and reduced environmental impact. The consumption of organic wine grew at a rate of 3.7 percent over the year ending September 19, 2009, out-pacing growth in the consumption of non-organic wine which grew 2%  during a similar period. There are an estimated 1500-2000 organic wine producers globally, including negociant labels, with more than 885 of these organic domaines in France alone.

The legal definition of Organic Wine is a complex issue and varies from country to country. The primary difference in the way that organic wine is defined relates to the use (or non use) of preservatives during the wine-making process."

Definitely not an Organic Apple Tree
 Biodynamic farming is a form of organic farming that dictates very specific practices in terms of soil amendments, planting preparations, and in its original form, first developed by Rudolf Steiner, some spiritual rituals.  Wikipedia says this:

"Biodynamic agriculture is a method of organic farming that treats farms as unified and individual organisms, emphasizing balancing the holistic development and interrelationship of the soil, plants and animals as a self-nourishing system without external inputs insofar as this is possible given the loss of nutrients due to the export of food. As in other forms of organic agriculture, artificial fertilizers and toxic pesticides and herbicides are strictly avoided. There are independent certification agencies for biodynamic products, most of which are members of the international biodynamics standards group Demeter International.

Regarded by some as the first modern ecological farming system and one of the most sustainable, biodynamic farming has much in common with other organic approaches, such as emphasizing the use of manures and composts and excluding of the use of artificial chemicals on soil and plants. Methods unique to the biodynamic approach include the use of fermented herbal and mineral preparations as compost additives and field sprays and the use of an astronomical sowing and planting calendar. Biodynamics originated out of the work of Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy."

In conclusion, both styles of farming are good for the ecosystem, the environment and you.  Whereas the norm is not. 

Kosher wines are another matter altogether.  Since there is nothing inherently non-kosher about wine, there is no particular wine-growing or wine-making techniques that must be employed.  Use of pesticides are not inherently unkosher, for example.  However, there are a bunch of religious requirements that make wine kosher.

One that always worries me has to do with a strict kashrut law against ingesting bugs, which means that grapes must be from bug-free vines.  I once had the pleasure of separating grapes from stems during a Sonoma harvest, and was shocked to see all the little six-legged critters scurrying away from the vines as we worked.  While many got away, I've opted to forget what I suspect about how many must not have made it.  Maybe the grapes used for kosher wines get a good power hosing, but maybe they get serious pesticide application.  I suppose it depends on the vintner, and this is something to be researched before buying kosher wine, if you're looking for organic product.

About kosher wines, from"Grapes from new vines may not be used for making wine until after the fourth year. Every seventh year, the fields must be left fallow, and there is a prohibition on growing other fruits and vegetables between the vines. All the equipment, tools, and wine-making storage facilities must be kosher. During the harvest, only Sabbath-observant male Jews are allowed to work on production of the wines. During the production of kosher wine, no animal products may be used. Even the fermentation yeasts must be certified kosher.

There's also the question of mevushal and non-mevushal wines. Mevushal wines are heated to near boiling, which means that non-Jews can handle an open bottle without rendering it unkosher. For this reason, most restaurants and catering halls serve only mevushal kosher wine.

That sound you hear? Traditional winemakers wincing at the prospect of that flash-pasteurization (boiling) process. And that's with good reason: the boiling process can hurt the quality of some wines, and destroys bacteria that contribute to the aging of wine. That means mevushal wines must be drunk young; forget about fine old vintages."

If you're interested in a well-made Napa kosher wine, you might try Hagafen WineryNot sure about their bug policies.

Anyway, I'm a reform Jew, and because there's nothing inherently unkosher about grapes in any form, I'll go with a de minimus rule as regards the bug issue and stick with organic wines. 

Let me put in a small plug for my favorite organic red wines, especially if you love Syrah, from a little boutique winery, Montemaggiore in Sonoma.  Their 2007 Syrah Reserve won a 91 point score from Parker Roberts!

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Radiation from Japan's nuclear disaster reached Arizona this week. 

"The Arizona Radiation Regulatory Agency on Monday detected what it calls "insignificant" trace amounts of iodine-131 associated with releases from Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant.

An instrument in Phoenix and five west of Phoenix that were set up originally to monitor the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station measured less than 0.1 millirems of iodine-131, said agency director Aubrey Godwin."  Click here for the rest of the story.

And click here for a discussion of the role of kelp and other seaweed products in protecting your body from the effects of radiation.


Somebody's got to show some leadership...

"BERLIN – Germany is determined to show the world how abandoning nuclear energy can be done.

The world's fourth-largest economy stands alone among leading industrialized nations in its decision to stop using nuclear energy because of its inherent risks. It is betting billions on expanding the use of renewable energy to meet power demands instead.

The transition was supposed to happen slowly over the next 25 years, but is now being accelerated in the wake of Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant disaster, which Chancellor Angela Merkel has called a "catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions."

Click here to read the rest of this AP story.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Leach Happens.

Leach happens.

Friends, please.  Please don't leave plastic water bottles in the car during summer months.  

Please don't heat your plastics, please.  

I don't care what the package says.  I don't care if the green beans come in a special boil-in-bag.   I don't care if they sell that chicken in a plastic wrapper that says, "Heat at home in the microwave."  I don't care if the microwave supper is prepackaged in a microwavable plastic dish.  Please disembark it to ceramic or a heavy paper plate.

All evidence leads to leaching of harmful chemicals of multiple sorts into our food, our air, our water. 

I know you've heard this from me before, but I keep catching my own daughters heating plastic in the microwave.  Ugh. 

Recently some scientists went to stores we shop at - Walmart, Whole Foods, others - and bought 450 plastic items to stress test them for chemical release.  They used two tests, a salt water soak and an alcohol soak.  I'm not sure what they were trying to mimic.  I would have liked it more if they had mimicked dishwasher action, microwaving, leaving things on sunny window ledges or for endless weeks in the hot back seats of summer cars.  Regardless, leach happens. 

Below is a quote from the article:

"The new study doesn't look at health risks. It simply asks whether common plastic products release estrogen-like chemicals other than BPA.

The researchers bought more than 450 plastic items from stores including Walmart and Whole Foods. They chose products designed to come in contact with food — things like baby bottles, deli packaging and flexible bags, says George Bittner, one of the study's authors and a professor of biology at the University of Texas, Austin.

Then CertiChem, a testing company founded by Bittner, chopped up pieces of each product and soaked them in either saltwater or alcohol to see what came out.

The testing showed that more than 70 percent of the products released chemicals that acted like estrogen. And that was before they exposed the stuff to real-world conditions: simulated sunlight, dishwashing and microwaving, Bittner says."

Click to listen to the story online.

Click to read the story.

When you listen to it on NPR, they begin by telling you that there's no hard evidence yet about exactly how these chemicals can harm you, but that's only true if you limit yourself to FDA rulings.  But if you look beyond the FDA and outside this country, there's been adequate information to raise serious concerns, even if the FDA is rediculously slow about it.  Click here to read a Time Magazine report on some of these scientific findings.

So.  Jody.  Lisa.  Mom.  Friends.  Please.  Stop.  Heating.  Plastic.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Jewy Princess PURIM!

I nearly missed Purim this year, since my hot date apparently does not do Synagogue.  Purim: a festival celebrating the bravery of a single Jewish GIRL.

Esther lived in Persia, in the realm of King Ahashuarus.  A-xha-shu-air-us.  It is fun to try to pronounce this. The first "h" gets the gutteral throat-clearing sound we don't have in English. 

Esther was selected from all the beautiful girls of the realm to replace the former Queen, Vashti. 

To win a beauty pageant - a Jewish princess dream!  But a mixed blessing:  Vashti lost her head as well as her job for displeasing the King, so Queen Esther's bravery is all the more courageous. 

The King's right-hand advisor, Haman, was really very evil.  Haman convinced the King to have all the Jews in the kingdom put to death after one Jew refused to bow down to the advisor in the street.  Judaism commands us not to bow to humans.  We only bow to God.  To do otherwise is idolatrous.  However, to knowingly displease someone as evil as Haman also takes an act of high bravery.  Or chutzpah.  Or both. 

Coincidentally, that Jew was Mordechai, Esther's cousin.  But then again, is anything really a coincidence?

Esther hatched an elaborate plot to save her people.  The plan involves Esther missing three days of meals, but I like to think she loses three pounds and fits into her favorite dress again.  It might have been the sight of Esther in the dress that saved Esther's head and her people.  You never know!  Haman - of course - gets what he deserves.  Mordechai gets to go horseback riding in the King's robe.   Don't ask.  I love this story because justice does win the day.  And, this is one of the very few stories of my faith - along with the stories of Deborah the judge/warrior, and Miriam and Puah, Moses' sister and midwife respectively, each of whom had a hand in saving Moses' life - where a female emerges as the heroine. 

# # #

But back to where we started.  I almost missed Purim this year, since my hot date last night did not want to stop by the Synagogue.  The conversation went something like this:

"What do you want to do this evening?" (him)

"Well, do you mind if we stop in at the synagogue?  It's Purim and I want to see what's happening there." (me)


"Yes.  Really.  It's Purim.  I like Purim.  People dress up in costumes.  They put on funny plays.  They drink a lot, at least at the adult party, and they eat funny little three-cornered cookies stuffed with prunes or apricots or chocolate or if I'm really lucky, cherries.  I like doing Jewishy stuff."

"You were married to a non-Jew."   (Are you imagining a whiney voice that sounds a lot like an accusation?  If not, please do over.)

"Yes, and you notice, I'm now dating only Jews.  This could be an issue for us.  Did you know Purim is the only holiday we're commanded to drink until you can't tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman?"

"Really?" (easing on the panic somewhat)

I'll forgo the rest of the conversation, and simply say that we did NOT end up at the Synagogue - I don't believe in dragging people kicking or screaming into the abyss.

So I was really excited when I opened my email this morning and found a link to an animated version of the Purim Shpiel (story) written and performed by one of my favorite young Jewish comedians, the Hebrew Mamita, Vanessa Hidary.  If ever there is a brave Jewy princess, Vanessa is she.  She speaks out about things - Jewish things, Feminist things - that others only mutter under their breath.  She exemplifies my idea of a strong, young Jewess, and it is very fitting that she portrays Esther in the animation below.

So, date be damned, I did not miss the reading of the Megillah (scroll with the story in it) after all, albeit in English, highly censured kids' version.

I thought I'd share it with you here.  I must confess, it's written for kids and it's not as funny as Vanessa usually is.  SO... for your listening pleasure, I've embedded a few of her funnier ones just below. 

Vanessa's signature piece:

Ph.D in "HIM"

God Bless You, Ma

You can find more on YouTube, or at

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Let's Hike EcoCanyon!

Today I use my blogspace to welcome new blogger and excellent friend John Sirota Martinson to the wild world of blogging.  John, an accomplished businessman turned non-traditional student, launched EcoCanyon today.  What a great name!  His initial post, "How Green Is Your Lawn - via Teatown Thoughts,"  was stimulated by his reading of Paul Robbins and Julie Sharp's "Producing and consuming chemicals: The moral economy of the American Lawn.” 

The grouping "moral," "economy" and "lawn" together in one sentence is the sort of mind challenge John loves.

I've placed a permanent link to John's blog along the right side of mine!

Welcome, John!  Your thoughtful voice should have a wider audience, and I'm so glad you've chosen this path.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Wrap Your Mind Around This!

My daughter Jody recently sent me a link to a New York Times article entitled, "The New Humanism," laying out some of the latest scientific findings about humanity.  In a nutshell, author David Brookes notes that science is finally providing evidence that we're not the rational individuals we think we are.  Rather, we're emotional creatures, for whom rationality is not separate from our emotions, but rather shaped by them.  And further, we are not individuals picking our way through the obstacle course of humanity, but interdependent creatures who emerge from society, shaped by it in nearly every way.   Below are some concepts coming out of this research that explain some of the human capacities we are just beginning to get our scientific minds around:

Attunement: the ability to enter other minds and learn what they have to offer.

Equipoise: the ability to serenely monitor the movements of one’s own mind and correct for biases and shortcomings.

Metis: the ability to see patterns in the world and derive a gist from complex situations.

Sympathy: the ability to fall into a rhythm with those around you and thrive in groups.

Limerence: This isn’t a talent as much as a motivation. The conscious mind hungers for money and success, but the unconscious mind hungers for those moments of transcendence when the skull line falls away and we are lost in love for another, the challenge of a task or the love of God. Some people seem to experience this drive more powerfully than others.

If this interests you, click this sentence to be magically transported to the rest of the article.