Would You Like Some Rice With Your Arsenic?

“No thank you” would be my natural response had I been asked this question.  Seriously, this latest news regarding yet another poison in our foods, caused yet again by the overuse of  pesticides.

Last week in Portland we were in the midst of a festival called Feast, a series of events and lectures around the celebration of food, with a focus on Oregon’s rich foodie culture, talented chefs and amazing local bounty.  On the 1st night I was lucky enough to go see Mark Bittman, a renowned food journalist, speak about the “Future of our Food”.  The tickets were a gift so I had not done any research or thought much about what he would be covering.  I had heard his name but wasn’t able to connect the dots until I heard him speak.

In this short TED talk Mark Bittman touches on some of the content he shared in his lecture.   He’s funny, he has strong opinions, but mostly he is passionate about quality food – real food – not fake food.  What is real food?

Real Food = Any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink, or that plants absorb, in order to maintain life and growth

Nutritious = Nourishing

Nourishing = Containing substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition

What is fake food?  Fake food is something packaged up to look like real food, sound like real food, but not contain any real food (see below):

Watch this video – it’s 20 min long but if you only have a a few minutes listen to minutes 7-16, where he summarizes food production over the last 100 years.

So what does this have to do with arsenic in rice?  The subsidies and related growth of mono crops has infected our soil with loads of dangerous chemicals – including arsenic.  Even if you buy organic rice you are at risk.  See consumer reports study of infected products.  Why does organic rice have arsenic?  Because it’s being grown on land that was doused in it while raising a non-organic crop…because it’s in the water…and because arsenic is NOT REGULATED by the FDA.

I can’t imagine why it’s not regulated…isn’t it one of the oldest known poisons?  “Arsenic and Old Lace” anyone????

It’s in our water, it’s in our soil simply because it was used (and in some areas is still being used) as a pesticide.  Even organic rice has arsenic.  It’s unavoidable….but we can take precautions.

Here is what I’m going to do:

  • Try to figure out where my rice is coming from (if it’s coming from the South of the US it is being grown on old cotton land that is LOADED in arsenic.  Ever hear the phrase “cotton kills” – well it’s true in more ways than one
  • Always rinse your rice well before cooking
  • When you cook your rice you can do as they do in many Asian countries and cook it in 6 cups of water for 1 cup of rice and drain off the liquid
  • Limit your rice intake

We will be hearing how this study is “overblown” and we have “nothing to worry  about”….but do you really believe that?

My take-away…food has become really complicated…and I need to figure out my own “food policy”. What am I willing to put in my body?  What food production practices am I will to support?  I am not ready to give up Killer Burger even though I may be scared to find out where their beef comes from…but I am ready to take other steps.

One of the things I like about Mark Bittman’s approach is that we are all on a continuum.  We are somewhere between McDonalds 24×7 and a Vegan.  I’m in the process of searching for my balance.  I’m calling upon my moral and health values to guide me – information is key. I learned some new things last week and wanted to share them with you.  Use at your own risk!

Thinking About Planting Bamboo? Think Again….

“It’s the clumping kind”

“If you plant it in the pot and cut out the bottom it won’t spread”

Have you heard these claims?  I have, and I fell for them.  I love the look of bamboo, the sound of bamboo rustling in a gentle wind, the quick screening it provides…what I don’t love is that the bamboo I planted was scheming to take over not only my yard but the whole neighborhood.   Over the two years it was growing it was secretly spreading underground until suddenly it started popping up all over, in some very inconvenient places – like in my neighbor’s yard.

I planted Black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra), which is supposed to be clumping (meaning it should not spread but grow in a controlled fashion)  As a safety precaution I also planted it within its container with only the bottom of the container removed (just in case it decideds to spread it can’t).  I’m not the only one, some very good friends of mine planted this same variety, in the same manner, a year earlier and they are now finding shoots 10 feet away, with some coming up through the their raised beds.

It was clear the bamboo had to go – and so began Operation Bamboo Extraction.  I have to say it was one of the most back-breaking projects I’ve taken on to date…meaing in my whole life.  I had to start digging in the neighbors yard and trace all the roots back the fence line.  I had lots of help from the neighbor’s 3-year-old daughter who loves dirt and loves to “help”.  I just had to keep her from falling into the holes I was propagating throughout their yard.

Once I got the problem contained back in my yard I started digging…and digging…and digging….

The whole process took me over a week.  Once I was able to get the root balls free I had to enlist help to actually get them out of the trench and into the truck.  I was left with complete mess. In the end I was sorry to lose the bamboo, it served me well during our time together but I came up with a much better use of the space.  You will see this amazing transformation in my upcoming blog post entitled “My Orchard”.

The Learning?  I’m sure if I put my mind to it I could come up with some deeper message about trying to control something you can’t, trying to force something to behave in a way that is not natural to it just to suit my needs…and the only way to truly address the problem was to dig it out by the roots…but I’m not feeling that clever at the moment…it was just a VERY difficult project so take heed my friends when the temptation to plant bamboo overcomes you too.

Solar Evaluation

One of the projects I had planned for the summer was to investigate installing solar panels on my new garage.  I had this vision that I could come home, plug-in my car in (plug-in car required), and have it powered cleanly from the sun (sun required).

The proposed location:

I thought I had the perfect spot…at least it appeared that way all winter.  What I forgot about, and what became obvious over the summer, is that my neighbor has a perfectly lovely tree in their yard that is shading my solar spot….and the tree is still growing!

The company giving me the quote ran what they call a Solar Access (the ability of one property to continue to receive sunlight across property lines without obstruction from another’s property) estimate for my location (tree shade growth not factored).  For you geeks out there here are the results:

Without the tree the numbers aren’t bad, an average of 86% over the year.  Who says Portland doesn’t get sun????  The estimated energy savings if I could achieve this level of solar access would be 2,482KW per year.  This would offset ~20% of my current usage.

The Cost:  This is where the rubber met the road….a 3kW system would cost me $17k.  The incentives are signifcant, over a 4 year period the total cost to install would end up closer to 5k.

The Final Analysis: Although this was never about the ROI, I had to crunch the numbers anyway.  Using the offset estimate, an esitmate of future electric rates, and the cost of the system after incentives…it would take 10years to pay for itself….which I found to be a bit depressing.

The Reality:  I don’t have 17k to spend right now (you will see why later) on what would essentially be a “statement” that I care about my footprint.  I have not ruled out solar (smaller system…bigger than a light and smaller than 3kW) for perhaps another spot in the yard but for now this project is “Closed”.

I’m still following the Solarize NE activities and am thrilled I live in a city with opportunities and groups like this one.

Want to be inspired? Pam Warhurst: How we can eat our landscapes

I watched this today and was truly inspired.  Watch…it’s worth the time…it’s motivating me to start planning for the garden expansion into the parking strips and the front yard…GRASS BE GONE!

Favorite quote:

“…and we have done it all without a flipping strategy document….”

Accepting Life Unconditionally

It’s been 3 months since my last post and I can honestly say nothing in my life right now is as it was 3 months ago – and I could not have envisioned where I am today.  A very good friend, and a fantastic blogger/life coach, posted today about Accepting Life Unconditionally.  There was much about this post that hit home for me today, particularly this:

“Accepting life unconditionally is allowing yourself to be where you are on your life journey, and recognizing that where you are isn’t static. Life is ever changing and each experience has value. And each experience is changing your perspective and Who you are. This gives you a new vantage point and opportunity to make new decisions.”

Author:  Hanna Goss

I had high hopes for my blog when I started it in March and got off to a great start but then “Life Happened”.  My personal relationships changed dramatically, I was laid off and hired back by the same company – I now have a completely different job.  Through all of that I still made steady progress on the yard/house but did not have the motivation to share…I turned inwards and felt like I was using all my energy on more urgent matters.   I’ve been away from blogging for so long that it’s been hard for me to start again.  But I want to share all the progress that I’ve made with The Projects, and put myself back out there in a way that only blogging seems to accomplish.

So here I am 3 months later, with a new vantage point and an opportunity to make new decisions.  Stay tuned…you will not BELIEVE what I’ve done to the house….