Doric, Ionic, Corinthian … Unearthed!

Well, they’ve gone and done it. In an uncharacteristic display of questionable judgment, the Washington Post has given me a column. And on important issues, no less! Unearthed (credit for the name goes to my editor Bonnie Benwick) is my attempt to talk reasonably and constructively about the debate about our food supply.

Column One, I wade right in to genetically modified foods, and their impact on human health. Down the line, I’ll be dealing with the issues surrounding organics, monocrops, honeybees, patents, and chemicals. And then there’s the tricky relationship between government and industry, and how it drives biotech oversight. If it affects our food supply, it’s fair game.

I’ve learned, over the years here at Starving, that the people who take time out of their day to find out what Kevin and I are up to make up an interesting group. Combined, you probably have a bazillion person-years of experience in food – eating it, growing it, making sense of it. I’d be delighted if some of you would come over to the Post to participate in the discussion.

Meantime, I’ll be continuing to post here, on oysters, fishing, chickens, the disreputable state of our garden, and (gulp) this year’s effort at shooting a deer, which has begun. Your continued good will, moral support, and constructive suggestions are appreciated in all these endeavors.

26 people are having a conversation about “Doric, Ionic, Corinthian … Unearthed!

  1. Barbara Christensen says:

    Hearty congratulations! Look forward to your columns. Especially glad you are opening the series with GMO/food topic.

    I have a request for a look at raw dairy controversy and the FDA’s opposition to its sale or consumption. I think that is so ridiculous. Google Alorah Gellerson . Terrible story.

  2. Dr.Robert B Moler says:

    I too read the Washington post article about with some interest. I have never considered the narrow issue of the safety of the GM products to be of much interest. As with all scientific questions the safety issue is largely settled although not to the degree that the human impact of fossil fuel burning on global warming is. Uncertainty and the impossibility of proving a negative are always lurking around he corner.

    So GM food are very likely to be safe. So what’s the problem? I’m not going to consider most of the issues that are clearly significant. In fact I’m only going to address the issue of adaptation and the existence of know unknowns (things we know we should worry about, but have little data upon which to draw conclusions.) and unknown unknowns (thinks we have yet to realize we need to be concerned about.)

    Among the former is the real possibility of the DNA of the GM crops getting transferred to other related plants to produce super weeds. This has already happened on a small scale when some plants picked up the the gene for “roundup” resistance. The issue is that super weeds could develop and out compete the GM crops.

    Obviously I don’t know what the unknown unknowns are, but they are certainly real and they will appear unexpectedly.

    In the green revolution one such unknown unknown was the fact that the high yielding varieties of rice, wheat and maize were less pest resistant than the lower yielding varieties they replaced. That was good news for the pesticide manufactures because they could sell vast quantities of increasingly potent pesticides as the pests became resistant. An unwinnable battle, just as it is with antibiotics.

    These known and unknown unknowns will be the real problem as the GM crops become widespread.

    Similar thoughts were brought to mind with the article decrying the over-emphasis of fish safety issues by some organizations.
    As a seafood eating vegetarian I never had a problem with the health issues of eating fish. I can read and understand the health issues and all the caveats of scientific uncertainties that are involved. My wife and I eat fish 3-4 times per week including salmon, halibut, haddock, occasionally swordfish and other fish such as rainbow trout, catfish and even talapia (from some unknown place iin a poor Asian country with dubious or no supervision over the fish farming practices.)

    The far more relevant and pressing issues are sustainabiliity, ecological upset and environmental damage. In my 80 years I have watched the disappearance from markets of quite a few important fish (Atlantic cod, Chilean bass, and orange roughy among others.) Even small fish like menhaden are threatened because of the voracious appetite of Atlantic salmon farming.

    I took my granddaughter to the US aquarium under the Commerce building. There we found an interactive display of what fish to eat and which to avoid. Among the ones to avoid because of its highly negative environmental and ecological impacts was the farm raised atlantic salmon. I already knew the issues, but it was surprising to find it there when other parts of the government poo-paw the data that suggest that the problem is real. Scouring the bottom of the ocean, and turning it into a virtual desert is not exactly a sustainable way of farming..

    I have yet to see any evidence that the world’s populations could significantly increase its consumption of seafood without resulting in an ecological collapse of the ocean’s fish population.

    Eating fish is certainly a good thing, but in a reasonably equitable world in which most people have have access to and the means of purchasing fish, there would soon be no fish to purchase unless you had exceptional meams

  3. I was fortunate enough to stop in a traffic queue alongside a dead roe deer (hit by a car). I loaded it into my car and a friendly butcher butchered it for me. The only complaint I have about that was he added redcurrants or such to the sausages – I wish he had used onion or sage. For half the deer he charged me £20, my friend had the other half.
    I have since found a fresh cock pheasant roadkill which tasted lovely.
    When a fox slaughtered my flock of 12 of ducks, I managed to collect 8 headless corpses and taught myself to skin and butcher them – the breasts are still in the freezer.
    I am now wondering what badger tastes like. Rabbit roadkill is usually too flattened to bother with.

    • Accidental Mick says:

      There was a series of short television artiles about “eccentrics”. One of them was a man (not his wife) who, for meat will only eat road kill. He claimed that badger meat smelt very gamey but was perfectly edible.

      It was an entirely different man who, upon finding small road kill (particularly hedgehogs which he is fond of) takes them home, skins them, wrap the skin around a brick and puts the result back where he found id. This is to “encourage drivers to avoid small animals”.

      I love eccentrics.

  4. Barbara — Thanks! I think raw milk is on my list (also, in my refrigerator) because I think it’s a tough one to regulate responsibly.

    SA — Thanks. I’m pretty excited about the opportunity.

    Dr. Moler — And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Your comment touches on some of the most complex and difficult issues that arise in trying to feed 7 billion (and growing) earthlings. Chemicals, breeding for yield, and depleting fisheries are all on my list.

    Alan — You’re a man after my own heart. Seems to me roadkill is one of the most responsible meats you can eat — I’ve eaten turkeys, and would happily eat a deer if it were to come my way. Just be careful in the warm months!

  5. If you really want a chance to get a deer you should come to where I am currently working, there are usually two or three deer in the driveway exiting the complex when I leave around 7 or 8 at night and if I don’t remember to drive slowly out of the complex there is a good chance I will hit one of these deers, of course there is far less damage to the car if you shoot the deer as oppose to hitting one.

    • Don’t get me wrong, Henry. I’m not making a suggestion. But should you find that a deer jumps out in front of your car, and meets its end, you do know to call me, don’t you?

      • Accidental Mick says:

        In England, if you hit and kill a deer, it is illegal from you to pick it up. It is perfectly OK for the next person on the scene to collect it and take it home. Wha ????????????????

        • I live in Somerset, UK. I’m glad I did not hit that deer as it would have done serious damage to my car. I just saw it had been dragged to the side of the road.
          I am now going to have some venison stew from the freezer for my evening meal.

        • Stephen Andrew says:

          In Ohio it is illegal under any circumstance to keep a deer as a pet. Lions, tigers, bears, alligators, and cheetah are, however, widely unregulated.

      • You would be second, the tow truck would be first.
        Getting you the deer would be an interesting problem considering the distance between where I am and where you are.

  6. Accidental Mick says:

    Haven’t you got enough to do woman.

    Seriously, how frequently will you column appear and does the Washington post require a subscription?

    • Mick, the column will be monthly. And WaPo does require a subscrption after a certain level of reading, although I think you can always view the column if you click through from a place that cites it (like here).

  7. William Schneider, Ph.D. says:

    I retired from the EPA pesticide office 2 years ago after 33 years with them. I participated in writing many of the biopesticide registration regulations and the data requirements for them to allow us to do an adequate risk assessment to protect human health and the environment. The development of these is an open process and involves scientific advisory panel and open public meetings at which we’ve received much valuable advice. The first regulated genetically engineered pesticidal organisms were microorganisms and later the plants were involved. Our regulatory authority applies to pesticidal genetic engineering for plants and we have extensive data requirements for them to allow us to evaluate any potential risks in the registration process. I saw your Washington Post article yesterday, and now that Congress has allowed our pesticide assessment people to go back to work, the EPA website is back up and you can see information on the GMO pesticidal plants here: Basically, although pesticidal engineered plants sounds formidable, my belief is that the registered ones have been more thoroughly tested than any other varieties you may eat. I’m a vegetarian, and I prefer to have GMO plants in my diet.

    • Dr. Schneider, thanks for weighing in here, and for posting that link. I think it’s very difficult for people to get comfortable with the idea that they’re eating a plant that has a built-in pesticide. It doesn’t sound appetizing, and it doesn’t sound safe. In order to get comfortable, you have to really understand how glyphosate works, why it’s safe to ingest in the quantities we eat, but that’s not even the hard part. You have to internalize the idea that it’s safe to eat a pesticide, and I think that’s where a lot of people balk. Although I don’t balk, I can see why other people do. And that’s why the column looks at both the science, and the context in which people process that science — I think both are important.

    • Stephanie! It was cause for pause for me, too. Taking a life is a non-trivial undertaking, and it has, for me, underscored the importance of treating animals well and eating meat mindfully. I think ‘congratulations’ is not quite the right thing, but I understand how difficult this is, and my hat’s off to you.

  8. Who’d have thought. I went in search of a recipe for pork stock, and I found that rarest of rare gems: a measured, objective voice of reason on the Internet. Belated congrats on your Post column. I love your writing, and will be back to both places for more of it.

    • Thanks, Melanie. Although I assure you I can rant with the best of them, I’m trying hard to make the column exactly what you described — measured and objective. To hear that I’ve succeeded, at least so far, with at least one reader, makes my day.

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