September 29, 2010

From Guinea Pigs to Power: No to GMO Foods and Manipulation

In my tiny area of the globe, I am a gardener, keeper of animals, feeder of birds - someone who is concerned about the protection of the earth, land, soil, waterways, air, and all living beings. Increasingly, I am aware of the myriad ways we have become detached from nature, and the natural ways of living on the planet. One of the main issues of concern is our lack of knowledge about where our food comes from.

Two weeks ago, the Corn Refiners Association applied to the FDA to change the name of high fructose corn syrup to “corn sugar.” Apparently, more and more consumers have been reading labels and they don’t want the syrupy stuff in their food. Now, an attempt to put another blindfold over the eyes of the American public has been made, to lead us to believe that their product, implicated in the nation’s obesity epidemic, is nothing more than sugar from corn.

I can detect high fructose corn syrup in any product. It cheapens the taste and has a sickly sweet flavor. “Corn sugar” will do the same. It isn’t like regular sugar and doesn’t taste like it even though the argument laid out by the Corn Refiners Association is that high fructose corn syrup has the same nutritional value as sugar. Well, for Pete’s sake, who eats sugar for its nutritional value, which is nil? Let’s not forget the real issue is that we, as a nation, consume too much sugar in any form.

Even if you are a fan of eating products that contain high fructose corn syrup, I think it’s still wise to know the source of what you are putting into your mouth. Anything derived from corn (and soy) carries the potential to be genetically modified (GMO) so it can withstand a few solid drenchings of pesticides and herbicides, including Monsanto’s Roundup. The corn can also be modified by changing its DNA so that it “naturally” wards off bugs and increase crop yields.

Currently in the United States, the FDA has not required genetically engineered products to be labeled as such, while many other countries have demanded the labeling, including the European Union. A number of people work in the government, including the FDA, who stand to gain through their association with corporations like Monsanto, thus the labeling law has gotten bogged down in red tape. 

Labeling all products with GMO ingredients is a vitally important issue that we as consumers must insist upon. The FDA hasn’t required labeling, indicating it’s too complicated. They say the evidence against GMO food isn’t clear enough, they don’t want consumers like me and you to look down on GMO ingredients in our food, and, what they don’t say, is that there are powerful people with corporate interests whose personal wealth will be negatively affected when we stop spending our money on their products. 

We do know that there are adverse health effects from this form of biotechnology, that it was not and hasn’t been studied properly before it was used in the food supply, and that the use of GMO seed in crops contaminates other fields, including those that are organic. We also know that in many cases, more pesticides and herbicides have to be used on these crops. If you would like to learn more about this, read Dr. Joseph Mercola’s article entitled “10 Reasons to Avoid Genetically Modified Foods” at At the end of this article are numerous references for those of you interested in further research.

Whenever I write about these concerns, and when colleagues have done the same, someone (often working in Washington, DC) responds with a scathing letter, an attempt not to state facts, but rather disqualify the author and further confuse the public. The responses are personal attacks instead of rational disputes. This is spin, and it’s done because big money is involved, they know the facts are building against them, and they’re afraid the American public won’t remain in the dark for long. 

But the American consumer is king and all we need is knowledge. We are the ones with the money who buy the products, and there is power in that. We could change the system at any time, with the dollar. By buying whole organic food, preferably from local farmers, and shunning the processed food world or at least demanding proper labeling, each of us declares that we support foods (including corn) to be grown the way nature intended, not modified by scientists, however well-meaning they might be. Keep in mind, all non-organic foods you pay for that contain corn (and soy) derivatives are likely to in some way support the GMO practice, while allowing chemical companies like Monsanto to control our food supply. This includes conventionally grown beef and chicken, since they are subjected to the GMO food in their daily feed.

October 2010 will be the first official “Non-GMO month” involving more than 580 natural food stores nationwide. This will be to promote awareness and celebrate your right to choose food that is not genetically modified. You can learn more about the event by reading a press release from the executive director of the Non-GMO Project:

If you want to watch two good movies, see The Future of Food and Food, Inc. They help clarify these issues, and at the very least, make us more aware of the necessity to have a GMO labeling law. This law might be complicated to enforce, but no more so than the prospect of an entire food supply being contaminated.

If you’re interest is piqued, read Jeffrey Smith’s book Seeds of Deception. For more on the American food industry read Marion Nestle’s Food Politics and Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation.

A descendant of Midwest farmers who came to California to work in the fertile Central Valley, I’ll continue to be an advocate for organic farmers and local farmers’ markets. I hope you will do the same, or we run the very real risk of being fed solely by a chemical giant who doesn’t have our best interests at heart.

September 16, 2010

Turn Your Cast-Off Food Into Gold by Composting

Made from your table scraps (except meats and seeds) and yard waste, compost is the key to sustainability and organic gardening. Composting reduces your trash and the amount of junk that ends up in landfills - that is, if you aren't a big fast food fan and eat fresh, whole food.

There is little to no actual trash in my garbage bin. I recycle any paper products or glass, and all vegetable, fruit and table scraps go into the compost bucket under my kitchen sink. Once full, I take the bucket out to the far corner of the yard where I dump it into a big pile. I toss in a few leaves, and the pile turns itself into the most amazing, dark, rich soil I've ever seen.

I was quite truly astonished when I first witnessed food and leaves turn into healthy soil. I had no idea of the method by which nature quickly breaks down organic matter, turning it into a lush product. Those of you who garden will understand my use of "lush" when referring to soil. Those of you who don't tend to the earth and grow a few things, you must start, even if it's a small pot of something near a window.

The soil you create yourself can be used as mulch around trees and bushes. It can go into flower pots and, of course, can be mixed into soil in your garden. It enriches and feeds the earth while repelling the bugs that destroy your beloved plants.

Yes, strong, healthy soil makes the use of caustic pesticides, herbicides and fungicides on our precious earth all the more ridiculous, since these chemicals deplete the soil. This weakens the plants, strips them of nutrients and brings on even more pests.

Composting is an amazing, wonderful way to help heal this precious earth. It is one way to give back to this planet which has provided us with all we need. And once you start, you won't want to see another banana peel or broccoli stalk go into the trash because you'll know what it's capable of becoming.

My friend Rosanne (an earthy Taurus, naturally) taught me how to make a compost pile. I was finding it all mysterious and complicated, but she changed this. Her method?

Use a bucket under the sink for your kitchen scraps. Outside, dig a hole about two feet deep and two to three feet wide. Put your cast-off food scraps in it with some leaves. Cover these with some dirt. Every few days, turn the pile a bit with a shovel or pitchfork to aerate it. If it's dry, add some water so it becomes like a wrung out sponge.

Keep adding to the pile. When it’s fairly large, dig another hole next to it and begin adding fresh scraps to this new pile, allowing the older one to cook and do its thing.

Out of the few methods I've tried, Rosanne's is the best and easiest. I've heard people say you have to do it in layers, adding food, then leaves, then dirt and so on. But that's too complicated. All you need do is toss your scraps in and cover them with dirt. Add a few leaves and cuttings from plants or grass, mix once in awhile and add some water occasionally. In very cold climates, you'll need alternatives. In this case, check with your local waste management company to see if they offer compost bins.

For the past couple of years, I have used a black compost bin instead of making my pile on the ground. This has served to keep Rami, my Labrador-German Shepherd foodie, from eating everything in the pile. But it doesn't work as well for composting. It's not as fast or efficient. My next step will be to put a little enclosure around the pile, so it keeps the critters out.

If you live in an apartment or a place where an outdoor pile isn't possible, there are now counter top compost makers. To find out more about them, you can do an internet search of counter top composters. You’ll see there are many styles and a wide price range to choose from.

Even if you aren't a gardener or don’t have a green thumb, just spreading your homemade compost onto the earth - perhaps around a few trees in your neighborhood - will help repair this place we have for so long treated with disregard.

September 9, 2010

Mercury Retrogrades while Mars and Venus Dance

Appearing to go backward in the sky, Mercury is now on its retrograde path until the 12th of September. Most of you will remember that I encourage you to take a rest during Mercury retrograde. It is a time when the mind wants to meditate, renew, relax, refresh, recuperate, rejuvenate.

The mind of everyone is ruled by Mercury, thus everyone's mind is affected by the energy of its apparent backward motion. Continuing on the same forward push as usual during this time period will often result in frustration and delays.

And what about those of us born with Mercury retro? This group thinks a little differently, sees things from a different perspective, the mind not working in the usual manner. Things are learned and communicated in ways not always understood by the larger group. What if school teachers and parents knew these things about their children? Do you know where your own Mercury is in your chart? It reveals a lot about your learning and communication style.

I like to check where Mercury is retrograde in the birth chart to see what area of your life is under review. I know many of you have seen my blog post from last year on Mercury retrograde, but if you are new to my muse-letter, you can read it here:

In a not-so-common occurrence, Mars and Venus have been paired together in the sky, moving in tandem, at times being seen plainly by the naked eye.

I believe they came together at the perfect moment this summer, as feminine and masculine energies strive to become balanced within ourselves and on the planet.

Venus moved into Scorpio yesterday morning, and Mars follows her next week. Perhaps it is only right that this goddess lead the way into Scorpio's dark underworld.

And of significance as well, Venus will turn retrograde in Scorpio on October 8th. Wherever this occurs in your chart will indicate a place of review, perhaps something new coming in. You'll find another piece to a puzzle you've worked on during your lifetime going back in 8 year blocks.

Until November 18th, Venus will ask you to look more closely at yourself, how you associate with others in relationship to your own values. The theme of this last came up in 2002, 1994, 1986, 1978...

September New Moon in Virgo

We are still in the energy of the dark moon, which was perfectly dark in Virgo yesterday morning, Wednesday, September 8th.

If we notice our own internal rhythm, we might notice ourselves feeling more inward and quiet when the moon is dark. It isn't a time to push full speed ahead, especially with Mercury retrograde right now. This is a time to be introspective.

It is also the ideal time to put your manifestation list together, to write down what you want so it can more easily come to you. Each new moon is an opportunity to focus your thoughts on what you'd like to see more of in your life. It is a time of renewal, of new beginnings.

Write these down: how do you want to feel in relationships? How do you want to feel each morning when you wake up and think about the day ahead? What is the feeling you most want to embrace in your life? How do you want to feel about yourself and your role in this world? This new moon is a time to align with more of what feeds your soul.

Once you have your list written (alternatively, you can draw or paint it) do whatever you want with it, but do not fret over it. Release it, knowing you are now in closer alignment with how you want to feel each day, and that this will increase as the moon grows brighter.