The cost of Sugar: Not so sweet.

Most people know that my hometown got hit with an ice storm that basically shut the entire city down for the better part of a week. A slippery trip to the closest open grocer revealed the expected empty aisles where perishables once sat. What I didn’t expect was for them to be out of sugar. Even today, when most stores are returning to normal, the sugar aisles were still fairly bare.

(image via arrrtstar tumblr)

Uh oh. I thought I’d have time to stock up before the sugar beet fiasco had things hitting the fan.

Wait. What? “The sugar beet fiasco”?

Ok, I know that sounds like the name of some new hipster band, but it’s actually a serious thing, and highlights just one of the problems with relying on genetically modified crops.

Just to give a quick bit of background, a standard definition of GMO is an organism who’s genetic material has been changed in a way that does not occur under natural conditions through cross-breeding or natural recombination.
Now, on the surface, this doesn’t sound like terribly much to worry about, right? Especially in the face of the massive media campaign funded by Monsanto-the one that promises to feed a hungry world. However, there are many legitimate concerns. If you’ve got a little spare time, check out the movie The Future of Food for a really good overview of the main problems. In short: many of these crops are engineered using bacteria such as e-coli (no, I’m not kidding) to introduce pesticide resistant genes so that farmers can drench their fields in chemicals without killing the crop. Those chemicals have a tendency to do nasty things to the environment and their safety in the food supply is suspect, to say the least.

The other, more relevant problem revolves around the seeds and pollen that come from GMO crops. Non-GMO varieties can easily be infected with the relatively untested gmo genes, creating all sorts of havoc. There has also been a good bit of concerned talk over what might happen as the variety of plant species diminishes, especially in a time when seed saving and cleaning is becoming an endangered business -what if some sort of sickness were to hit our homogenous crops, wiping them out?

Yikes! but what does all this have to do with the price of sugar?
Well, I’m glad you asked.

You see, back in roughly 2007/8, several of the main food producing corporations decided that public outcry over genetically modified foods had subsided enough that they could get away with using genetically modified sugar in their products. It fit nicely in with the fact that many people were finally speaking out against HFCS, and because there are no labeling requirements for GMO’s, these crops could be silently introduced. The prevailing thought was that since sugar is a very processed food, that surely none of the modified genes would be left to do any harm.
But wait, why choose GMO seeds over regular ones? Well, sugar beets grow very slowly, so weeds and grasses have ample opportunity to take over and hog all the sun and water. So, the sugar beet gene was modified like many other plants’ genes have been to resist the popular herbicide RoundUp. This enables sugar beet farmers to drench their fields in Monsanto’s herbicide and not worry about their crop dying. Since sugar beets are a fairly labor intensive crop, it’s not too hard to see why a struggling farmer might choose to go this route. In fact, in the United States, approximately 95% of sugar beet farms are currently planted with this genetically modified variant. ( Incidentally, this means that the vast majority of sweetened products on your store’s shelves contain sweetener made from either genetically modified corn or sugar beets-and you’ll never know from reading the label.)

But back to the story… Earlier this fall, federal courts determined that Monsanto and the USDA had not adequately proven their crop’s safety and that no more of the GMO seeds were to be planted. However, since the USDA issued permits to plant the crops anyway the courts handed down a second ruling, ordering the crops destroyed. Since those crops were supposed to be producing seeds for the next few years of crops, and there aren’t enough conventional seeds left to plant the old crops, experts are predicting as much as a 40% decline in production over the next few years.


Now in reality, the empty shelves in my store probably didn’t have a darn thing to do with all this mess, but a morning of bitter coffee was a sobering reminder of what could possibly be coming without diversification and with too heavy a reliance on corporate produced seed.


These greens are not vegan.

This morning I ran across a very interesting link to a very emotional blog post from a former vegan activist about why she had to give up her vegan lifestyle.


It’s a good read, no matter what your dietary style, and I really empathized with much of her struggle.
I get surprised reactions sometimes when people who have known me for a while see me eating meat, a lot of them thought I was still a vegetarian. Truth is, much like this woman discovered, I figured out several years ago that my body didn’t function well without animal protein on occasion. I spent several years constantly sick and exhausted before I realized that it’s the chemicals in processed foods, and the added hormones and antibiotics that get put into factory farmed eggs and meat and dairy that are the real problem, not the products themselves. Since we bought our house and I started to seriously look into producing as much of our own food as possible, I realized that raising and eating animals didn’t have to be a cruel endeavor. The factory farms have it all wrong, but there is a humane and ethical way to do it.

But I’m rambling… the thing that I really wanted to point out from this article is this quote:
“As a vegan I didn’t like to think about the fact that without animals’ waste products, bones, and blood, farming is literally a zero sum game”

Yes, you can farm with fossil-fuel based fertilizers (for a while, until your soil dies), but the truth is that to responsibly grow all those fields of greens and veggies, you need to utilize animal products. So the reality of it is, nothing is truly vegan, and that’s something that even the most die hard vegan activists seem to be conveniently overlooking.

I guess the thing that bugs me most about any kind of food “lifestyle” is it’s divisiveness, and I hope this woman’s article will open some eyes and maybe help people talk to each other in a more sane voice about how we’re going to face feeding this planet full of people in a truly healthy and sustainable manner.

Pickled Peppers

So this may sound crazy, but here at the end of October, right when I’d pretty much given up hope, my garden has started producing like you wouldn’t believe. Maybe it’s because it finally cooled off below 90 degrees every day, maybe it’s because the trees that were shading it have started shedding their leaves, maybe it’s because all the bugs have finally died – who knows? But I’ll take it!

In the last week, my pepper plants have produced so many little tasty treats that I find myself not able to cook them fast enough. So, obviously it’s pickle time!

Pickled peppers are fantastic with avocado and lime on top of fish tacos, as a bloody mary garnish, in salads, with barbecued anything (especially paneer!) the possibilities are endless.
So here’s the recipe I used. It makes 2 pint sized jars, so just adjust it if you’re making more pickles.
2 cups rice wine vinegar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 sweet onion, sliced
Peppers (any kind work here, you can even mix types in your jars so you have variety when you open them)

Put the vinegar, water, and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a low boil.

Meanwhile, slice your onion and arrange it and your peppers in sterilized canning jars.

Pour your mixture over the peppers, leaving a slight gap at the top. Place lids on jars and either refrigerate and eat within a few months, or process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes and store upside down until they cool.

It’s best to wait at least two weeks before you dig in.

Rose Hips, another garden treat.

I’m collecting an unusual harvest today. You see, all spring and summer, this delightful rosebush provides bouquet after bouquet of tea roses, and I keep the fading blossoms cut back to encourage more.


However, towards the end of the summer, I stop pruning the dead blossoms and let them go to seed so that right around now I get these:

Rose hips are an old-fashioned thing to collect, but boy are they good for you. You can make teas, jellies, puree, or just dry them to eat like candy. They are incredibly high in vitamin c and depending on your variety have a slightly spicy or nutty flavor. It’s best to collect them after the first frost, when the hips are a vibrant red and still slightly soft. You’ll want to let them dry a little bit and then open them up to remove the seeds inside. Once you have the seeds out, let them dry the rest of the way if you want to keep them for tea, or you can boil them down and strain them to make jelly, syrup or puree.
I’m going to make jelly after mine dry a bit, so I’ll post a recipe next week!

Winter Garden

My tomatoes are finally going bananas, but of course now that the night temps have suddenly dropped into the low 40’s, I doubt any of the fruit will ripen. Bah. I guess I’ll pull them green and make some green tomato salsa to can. The good news about all these low temps is that I can finally plant my winter garden! Here in the south, that’s like a whole other chance to get it right, especially if you add in the protection of a hoop house. Since summer was sort of a massive failure, I’m banking on this winter to get me back on track!

Here are some things I’m probably planting over the next 2 weeks:
Asparagus, Bok Choy, Broccoli, Cabbage, Kohlrabi, Radishes, Peas, Spinach, & Swiss Chard.

Last year I grew Kale and several lettuces, but I think I really prefer swiss chard to kale. Asparagus will be a new try, as will broccoli. I’ve had great luck with kohlrabi and radishes, and maybe this time I’ll actually get cabbages, since the spring crop got demolished by moths.

Is there anything else you like to plant in the winter? I’m in zone 7, for the record.

Stink Bugs

You haven’t heard terribly much about my garden in a while, and the reason for that is that is has been an absolutely awful year for it. From an early 100+ degree heat wave, followed by record temps all summer to a mysterious invasion of some sort of pest that sucked the life out of anything that survived, we barely had enough to keep us fed with little left over for any preserving. Luckily, the break in the heat appears to be giving me a late tomato crop that will hopefully survive long enough to ripen.

Fast forward to today, when I saw this article in my feed reader: StinkBug Takeover. Whoa. That is exactly what decimated my mulberries, my cucumbers, my watermelon and half of my other crops. It’s being called an invasion of biblical proportions, and I have to agree. They’ve been finding their way inside our house as of late too, and killing them is just a gross process. They hadn’t responded to my natural pesticides, and unfortunately appear to have no known predators. Great.

I guess the best solution for next year is to be extra vigilant with checking the undersides of leaves for their eggs, since they only breed outdoors. I went out of town a few times at the start of the season and I know that’s pretty much went everything went to hell. Maybe I’ll coat all the leaves in soap before I go next year!

ANy of you other gardeners out there having a stinkbug problem? Find any good solutions? I’d love to hear them. I’ve been squishing them individually, but it’s a gross and limited process.

pickled okra

One of the absolute best toppings for a bloody mary is, in my humble opinion, a stick of pickled okra. Since okra is just about the only thing growing in abundance in my garden right now, I decided to make a batch.
This recipe is mostly based on one from Alton Brown, with minor modifications for what I had available.

You want to use smallish okra pods here, they need to fit inside the jars. It takes about 6-8 pods per jar, plus one split jalapeno, a couple sprigs of dill, and one or two cloves of peeled garlic.

Wash and trim the stems of your okra and the peppers, then place them in the jars with the garlic, dill, 1/2 tsp. mustard seeds and a few peppercorns.

Bring 2 cups of rice vinegar, 1/4 cup kosher salt and 2 cups of water to a boil. Pour this mixture into your sterilized jars, leaving a tiny amount of space at the top. Seal up your jars and put in the fridge for a couple of weeks to let them “cure”. If you want these to last all winter, process in a canning bath for 45 minutes, then let cool upside down before storing.

My friend Rebecca made me a delicious jar earlier this season. Her recipe seems very similar to this one, but maybe with more chilis? Anyway, there’s probably no wrong way to do this, so have fun with it!

foreclosure garden

As someone who lives on a street with a fair number of empty foreclosed properties, this blog really caught my eye. I think it’s awful what happened to her garden, and that jerk from the bank should be ashamed of himself.
The Foreclosure Garden

photo of the foreclosure garden

But, the jerk notwithstanding, I really LOVE what she tried to do here. As some readers know, we’ve been taking care of an empty piece of property for several years, as well as having taken care of the house next door for the years it sat foreclosed and abandoned. Sometimes it gets very frustrating with the way the city prioritizes things, but with two more neighbors moving out (one house foreclosed, one just moving) I think it’s going to be more important than ever to stay upbeat and inspired and to keep our block looking loved.

garden update

Squash and zuchinni are still trucking along, but not producing much fruit yet. Tomatoes are sprouting, the cherries are already ripe. Cucumbers died back from… something? but a couple plants survived and are starting to regrow vines. Peppers are producing! Beans are bean-ing, Basil is everywhere, Okra is getting taller, Collards are still getting munched by cabbageworms, but the Swiss Chard seems to have escaped. Mint is spreading as only mint can do and I have baby watermelons!!!