4/12/2012 4:52:51 PM
It’s been a bad week for
corn. Less than a month after the Midwest heat
wave threw a wrench into this year’s growing season, high-fructose corn syrup
has been the subject of several scathing studies on its damage to the
environment and human health.
In the first two,
researchers at Harvard sought to find out why beehives were disappearing, says the
Christian Science Monitor.Since 2006, honeybees have been
abandoning otherwise perfectly healthy hives in record numbers across North
America and Europe. The culprit? Of all
things, high-fructose corn syrup. After harvesting a hive’s honey, many
beekeepers augment the hive’s supply with a sugary sweetener (HFCS, being
cheaper than real sugar, is a common go-to). The problem is that corn farmers
typically treat their crop with a powerful insecticide called neonicotinoids,
amounts end up in the corn sweetener, which then infects the hive. The upshot,
the Harvard studies found, is Colony Collapse Disorder, in which the hive’s
countless worker bees fail to return after foraging for pollen. This isn't good at all for the species, and in larger terms, a sudden loss of such a critical
player in the ecosystem could be devastating for environment and agriculture
The third study addressed
the rise in autism in the U.S.,
especially over the past decade. Between 2002 and 2008, the disorder jumped 78
percent, reports Civil Eats, and new
evidence points to a food-related cause. The study, which was originally
published in Clinical Epigenetics,
looks at high-fructose corn syrup’s tendency to deplete zinc and calcium in the
body. Without these, we have a
harder time getting rid of heavy metals and toxins—like the kind that can
impact early childhood development and lead to disorders like autism. While it
can be difficult to nail down a single cause for the rise in autism,
researchers are confident that the sweetener is a big part of the equation.
But to be fair, corn has
had a big PR problem for a while now. Ethanol—once the darling of green-minded
policymakers and consumers—has been shamed by soaring
world food prices. In recent years, the crop’s most important product,
high-fructose corn syrup, has been linked to obesity, heart disease, diabetes—and
may even have addictive
qualities similar to recreational drugs. It’s no wonder then that the Corn
Refiners Association wants to rebrand the sweetener as “corn
sugar” (something the sugar lobby will not take lying down).
What this really speaks
to, however, is just how dependent we are one crop—or, one product of one crop.
According to Food Fight, Daniel
Imhoff’s fascinating new book on agriculture policy, U.S. farmers devote about 90
million acres to growing corn. This “area roughly the size of Montana” depends on billions of dollars
worth of farm subsidies, and compromises 60 percent of the world’s corn supply.
It can be really hard to find a food that is not in some way corn-based, but
even then, we’re not seeing the whole picture, says Imhoff. Most corn goes into
things like animal feed and biofuel, but of course that doesn’t mean it has no
effect on humans. The Harvard study illustrates how potent this dependence can
be, even when humans aren’t consuming anything. The bottom line is that,
with the farm bill up for renewal in September, 2012 is a very good year to
begin rethinking what we grow and why.
Science Monitor, Civil
at Princeton, Huffington,
Image by Ingeniero
hidr., licensed under Creative Commons.
4/12/2012 11:56:58 AM
Bread has been a staple of the human diet for centuries. Isn’t it mystifying, then, that increasing numbers of people are finding out they can’t have it? Something has clearly changed, causing a rise in sensitivity to wheat and gluten, but what? A recent book, Wheat Belly, offers an explanation, reports Matt Sutherland in Spirituality & Health.
The book was authored by William Davis, MD, a preventive cardiologist who has seen irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, and a host of other symptoms disappear with the elimination of wheat from patients’ diets. Gluten intolerant himself, Davis did a little research and discovered that, while humans have been cross-breeding wheat since Neolithic times, the stuff we eat today was bred for high yields in the mid-twentieth century. No one thought to check how human bodies would respond to the genetic make-up of these new strains. And though higher yields were meant to feed the world’s hungry, it seems Americans have ended up eating some of the extra, writes Davis. This may be contributing to obesity and diabetes as well as gluten sensitivity.
Thinking of kicking your gluten habit? Sutherland offers some simple ways to avoid modern wheat: eat more vegetables, fruit, nuts, and whole grains like oatmeal or rice. If you’re feeling experimental, try baking a loaf of bread with the grains your ancestors would have used, einkorn and emmer.
Source: Spirituality & Health.
Image: wheat harvest on the Palouse, Idaho, by the US Department of Agriculture. It is in the public domain.
4/10/2012 12:11:33 PM
Did you notice? You just got a tiny, imperceptible bit older. And there? It happened again. But instead of obsessing over each moment and its passage, a cultural undercurrent is crafting an appreciation for the process. There is a wrinkled beauty that comes with a life long-lived, some have found, and the challenges of old age offer opportunities for existential exploration and discovery. Acceptance, rather than resistance, can deepen the experience of life for old and young alike.
“There’s a whole adventure waiting to open up for people who are aging,” Lewis Richmond tells James Shaheen in Tricycle, “but they do have to get through that ‘I wish I were younger’ phase.” Richmond, a Buddist priest, meditation teacher, and author of the recent book Aging as a Spiritual Practice acknowledges that aging comes with many challenges. If we can recognize those and move beyond them, “there is something precious and new about growing old.”
An increased awareness of mortality and impermanence brings a certain amount of gravity with it. Yet this is when we begin asking the most important questions about ourselves and the relationships that define our lives. These questions can open us to growth. “There is a lot more static of regret and worry as you get older,” says Richmond, “that’s why meditation practice can really help. […] What’s real is that this is your life, and it happened, and there’s no going back. There’s only altering your attitude and perception about it so that you can go forward.”
Handled appropriately, these same realizations can enhance our ability to admire life’s complete cycle. In Shambhala Sun, Lin Jensen writes, “Aging is itself an agent of impermanence. The flesh gradually atrophies and the bones ache a little, signaling the end that is to come. I’m discovering aging to be an interesting uncharted territory to journey in.”
And what happens next? Whatever our deepest-held beliefs about life after death may be, life on Earth continues to cycle. Matter changes form. “Impermanence is midwife to the newborn,” muses Jensen, “new life springing from the womb of the old. Things rise and fall, rise and fall. In all that goes down, there lives a going up. This is reassuring when you’re witnessing the end of something.”
Still, the end is not as abrupt if we've shared our stories. Writing for The Good Men Project, Brandon Ferdig reveals how exchanges with his grandparents and elderly acquaintances have given him a more tangible connection to history, to the strength of the human spirit, and to fluidity between generations. Most of the time, writes Ferdig, “we gloss over the present with worry and daydream, missing the depth and truth of who we are.” Having taken the time to learn and appreciate the stories of elders around him, Ferdig has found more depth to himself. “The elders among us relate, in the most powerful and direct way, that heartache and challenges are something everyone has to face and that anyone can overcome; they reveal how change—to people, places and situations—is imminent; that there’s so much more to each person than what we see in them today—including ourselves.”
Image by Ann Gordon, licensed under Creative Commons.
Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.
Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!
Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of Utne Reader for only $29.95 (USA only).
Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 6 issues of Utne Reader!