Michael Pollan – Some of my best friends are germs

This piece is about six months old, but we’ve included it because it’s one of the best things we’ve read to date on the importance of the microbiome to human and animal health. The microbiome is one of the most significant areas of study in medicine today and this is largely because of its relationship to antibiotic resistance. For those of you unaware, the microbiome is what we call all the microbes and their genes that live on us, inside and out. Pollan analyses the number of microbes we live with – over 1 trillion of them – and concludes that proportionally, we are only 10% human. Wow! There are exponentially more bacterial cells in our bodies than there are human cells.

With the rise of antibiotic resistance, researchers have begun to look more closely at the impact of antibiotics on the body and have begun to study and map in depth these vast microbial populations, which are especially numerous in the gut. What they are finding is extraordinary. The research is illuminating a complex and largely symbiotic relationship between us and our bugs. While we’ve been engaged in a war on bacteria through antibiotics, anti-bacterial products and sanitisation more generally, we are suddenly realising that this may well be to our detriment. The next generation of medical disease treatments could very possibly come out of the microbiome.

Pollan’s article introduces us to this world and some of the research that is being done into it. Though at this point, so much is still unknown, a couple of things are becoming clear: processed food is impacting the numbers of microbes in our guts and we should be eating more whole grains, fibre and fermented food to combat this; and, best of all, that playing in the dirt is good.

Food Politics – Why the public still distrusts GMOs: Nature Biotechnology gives the reasons

Marion Nestle highlights a thoughtful piece in Nature Biotechnology which attempts to address why there continues to be widespread public mistrust of GMOs. In the PR battle, despite the deep pockets of the bio-tech business, little headway has been made towards shifting broad public opinion towards acceptance of GMOs. We find this heartening and not really surprising. It’s rooted in a complex of issues that go well beyond simple food safety. It’s that the behaviour of the big bio-tech industries and those associated with them has created an atmosphere of mistrust – attacks on academics and researchers critical of GMOs, the corporate control of food supplies exerted by these companies and the passing of legislation like the Monsanto Protection Act has made people feel like there’s been some dubious back alley strong-arm tactics at work. It makes you wonder, if bio-tech has such a great product, why they are so defensive? Nathanael Johnson in Grist has also written on this.

It hasn’t done the case for GMOs any favours. Instead as Nature Biotechnology so aptly states, ‘… GM food is now inextricably linked in the public consciousness with Monsanto, which has seemingly vied with big tobacco as the poster child for corporate greed and evil.’ Bio-tech, it seems, is ‘hoist on its own petard!’

GOODTodd Jones: Four Local Food Challenges We Need to Solve

Food Tank posted this off the social networking site ‘GOOD’. We thought this piece was worth highlighting because it outlines pretty precisely, key issues that small-scale local farmers face that in many ways makes their business viability low and keeps them out of the mainstream. It’s important to think about how these ‘business’ issues impact the spread of sustainable food. The piece doesn’t offer solutions, but it opens a conversation that’s important to start.

Grist – Vegan Tries to prove poor people aren’t trying hard enough to be healthy

The irreverent Holly Richmond hits the nail on the head with her commentary on vegan Darshana Thacker, an LA based yoga teacher and blogger, bid to eat healthy on $1.50/day. Now that’s an incredibly small amount of money (about 95p), so hats off to Thacker for managing to feed herself on that. However, though promoting healthy eating on a budget is a good thing, the assumptions about why people don’t eat better are damaging. Jamie Oliver has also recently treaded into the dangerous territory of why poor people don’t eat better and slid right into the blame game. The idea that it’s the fault of poor people that they don’t eat better because it’s been proven again and again that they can eat well on a budget is a) viciously patronising and b) ignorant of the experience of long term endemic poverty. Richmond makes the salient point that, ‘…it goes way beyond individual choice — our food system is so messed up that it’s ludicrous to suggest the problem is choosing the right food.’ We need to be a bit careful when we tell people they just need to buy lentils and a bit of organic spinach.

Rurally Screwed – What did I love?

This Ellen Bass poem was originally published in the New Yorker and it blew us away. An ode to killing chickens, it beautifully describes the ‘terrible, one-sided accord we make with the living of this world.Bass’s poem is a meditation. Her clear and simple prose respects the profundity of the act of killing. Blogger Jessie Knadler, reposts the poem for us (you can’t access it online from the New Yorker unless you have a subscription) and adds her own striking photographs of the act. 

The Guardian – Alys Fowler: Elderberries Ahoy

As the seasons change and summer’s bounty ebbs, some lovely things are on offer in our hedgerows. Blackberries abound of course, but Alys Fowler invites us to return to the Elder and gather its berries at this time of year. Their flavour intensifies as they dry and can be used in a variety of things – added to muffins or (our favourite) a good batch of brownies; but also made into syrup, which Fowler claims great for winter colds, and vinegar for an fruity twist on balsamic.

Real Farmacy – Pickled Habanero Kale Stocks

For those of us committed to cutting our waste, we had to admire this recipe for pickled kale stocks. Eating compost will be the next health trend, we promise! Who knew kale stocks could make such a healthy ‘beer snack’?

Photograph by Compassion in World Farming

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