~EARTHTALK~

My grandmother was a home canner, and I\’m interested in getting involved myself. Where do I learn about the benefits to my health and to the environment?                                          

— Sylvia Fragiband,Indianapolis, IN

For more than a century, home canning has been a popular way to preserve and enjoy homegrown fruits and vegetables, not to mention fresh-caught seafood and other delicacies. One of the key benefits of home canning is limiting exposure to the chemicals and pesticides used on most commercially available produce and seafood. Also, most commercially prepared spreads and sauces contain added sugar, salt and preservatives that are unnecessary in most diets and can even be harmful for people suffering from health problems like diabetes or hypertension.

Also, by preserving produce when it is at its peak of ripeness, home canners can indulge in flavorful spreads and sauces all year long, even if the backyard harvest is just a distant memory. And according to Jennifer Wilkins, a nutritional scientist in Cornell University’s Life Sciences department, foods at peak ripeness offer superior nutritional advantages, even when preserved. She cites the example of Vitamin C content in tomatoes increasing when the vegetables are allowed to fully ripen on the vine.

Yet another benefit of home canning is self-reliance. “If there is a natural disaster and supplies are short, you will have your own food,” says master gardener and home canner Connie Densmore, who teaches an online course in home canning through the UniversalClass.com website. She adds that home canned foods can last for years without refrigeration (especially useful if the power goes out) while retaining the same taste as the day they were harvested.

Prior to the days of widespread use of food preservatives and refrigeration, home canning was one of only a few ways to safely preserve foods from decay at the hands of naturally occurring microorganisms. The home canning techniques developed in the late 1800s to prevent enzymes, mold, yeast and bacteria from spoiling foods and causing botulism and other illnesses are still effective and in wide use today.

Those looking to learn how to home can should consult the United States Department of Agriculture’s “Complete Guide to Home Canning,” available free online. The guide details the principles of home canning as well as how to select, prepare and can a variety of foods. The website HomeCanning.com also offers a wealth of information as well as lots of recipes for canning fruits, vegetables and meats. The site is produced by Jarden Home Brands, one of the leading suppliers of home canning jars and equipment. Some other leading purveyors of home canning supplies include the Canning Pantry and Home Canning Supply and Specialties.

For more hands-on instruction, would-be home canners should check out the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension’s “So Easy to Preserve” video series. Eight shows, each 20 to 35 minutes long, contain the most up-to-date recommendations for home canning, pickling and making jams and jellies.

Earthtalk

Is it true that some foods we buy contain genetically engineered ingredients known to cause health problems?

Is it true that some foods we buy contain genetically engineered ingredients known to cause health problems?

— George Kaye, New York, NY

First made available in the United States during the mid-1990s, genetically modified (GM) foods have become staples of American agriculture, though most consumers are unaware of this. According to the nonprofit Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, the majority of corn, soy and cotton grown by American farmers today are from seeds genetically engineered to repel pests without the need for spraying pesticides or herbicides. GM versions of canola, squash and papaya are also coming on strong in the United States.

As is the case with so many scientific controversies, the jury is still out regarding the potential health effects of GM food products. But while conclusive results have been hard to come by, some of the few studies conducted on animals fed diets consisting of GM foods have generated some disturbing results.

In one study, potatoes engineered to contain an insect-repelling gene to improve agricultural yield caused intestinal damage in the test subjects — some lab mice. While the mice did not die from eating the altered food, lesions that formed in their digestive tracts gave researchers pause enough to recommend more thorough testing of the “transgenic potatoes” before marketing them to humans.

In another study, mice were fed so-called Flavr Savr tomatoes — tomatoes developed in the early ’90s by Calgene that were “optimized for flavor retention.” Similar lesions arose in the intestines of the mice, causing reviewers from the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to conclude that “The data fall short of ‘a demonstration of safety,’ ” adding that, “unresolved questions still remain.” Yet later, yielding to the pressure of industry lobbyists, the FDA not only approved the Flavr Savr for mass human consumption, but also claimed that all safety issues had been satisfactorily resolved.

According to Belinda Martineau, a Calgene researcher who later published the tell-all book, First Fruit: The Creation of the Flavr Savr Tomato and the Birth of Biotech Foods, when the Flavr Savr hit store shelves, consumers were not particularly impressed with its taste. Also, farmers were coping with disease problems and low yields, the very problems the technology sought to address in the first place. Eventually, the FlavrSavr —or the “Franken-tomato,” as some critics dubbed it — was abandoned altogether.

Its legacy lives on, however. Many environmental advocates feel that the FDA’s nod on the Flavr Savr set the bar particularly low for approval of other GM foods that may or may not cause health problems. Further, it remains to be seen what effects these hybridized species might have on the environment at large, reason enough to delay the mass release of GM foods into the market until more is known.

Meanwhile, European countries have remained steadfast against allowing GM crops to be grown on farms for fear of widespread environmental contamination, and whether or not to allow GM food imports into Europe is a matter of great debate right now within the European Union.

~EarthTalk~

Is it true that some foods we buy contain genetically engineered ingredients known to cause health problems?                                          

— George Kaye, New York, NY

First made available in the United States during the mid-1990s, genetically modified (GM) foods have become staples of American agriculture, though most consumers are unaware of this. According to the nonprofit Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, the majority of corn, soy and cotton grown by American farmers today are from seeds genetically engineered to repel pests without the need for spraying pesticides or herbicides. GM versions of canola, squash and papaya are also coming on strong in the United States.

As is the case with so many scientific controversies, the jury is still out regarding the potential health effects of GM food products. But while conclusive results have been hard to come by, some of the few studies conducted on animals fed diets consisting of GM foods have generated some disturbing results.

In one study, potatoes engineered to contain an insect-repelling gene to improve agricultural yield caused intestinal damage in the test subjects — some lab mice. While the mice did not die from eating the altered food, lesions that formed in their digestive tracts gave researchers pause enough to recommend more thorough testing of the “transgenic potatoes” before marketing them to humans.

In another study, mice were fed so-called Flavr Savr tomatoes — tomatoes developed in the early ’90s by Calgene that were “optimized for flavor retention.” Similar lesions arose in the intestines of the mice, causing reviewers from the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to conclude that “The data fall short of ‘a demonstration of safety,’ ” adding that, “unresolved questions still remain.” Yet later, yielding to the pressure of industry lobbyists, the FDA not only approved the Flavr Savr for mass human consumption, but also claimed that all safety issues had been satisfactorily resolved.

According to Belinda Martineau, a Calgene researcher who later published the tell-all book, First Fruit: The Creation of the Flavr Savr Tomato and the Birth of Biotech Foods, when the Flavr Savr hit store shelves, consumers were not particularly impressed with its taste. Also, farmers were coping with disease problems and low yields, the very problems the technology sought to address in the first place. Eventually, the FlavrSavr —or the “Franken-tomato,” as some critics dubbed it — was abandoned altogether.

Its legacy lives on, however. Many environmental advocates feel that the FDA’s nod on the Flavr Savr set the bar particularly low for approval of other GM foods that may or may not cause health problems. Further, it remains to be seen what effects these hybridized species might have on the environment at large, reason enough to delay the mass release of GM foods into the market until more is known.

Meanwhile, European countries have remained steadfast against allowing GM crops to be grown on farms for fear of widespread environmental contamination, and whether or not to allow GM food imports into Europe is a matter of great debate right now within the European Union.

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UPCOMING COMMUNITY EVENTS

  1. WEEKLY SOUND BATH – THOUSAND OAKS

    April 24 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
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    April 25 @ 5:30 pm - 8:00 pm
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    April 25 @ 6:30 pm - 9:00 pm
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    April 26 @ 8:00 am - May 18 @ 7:00 pm
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    April 26 @ 8:00 am - May 11 @ 8:00 pm
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    April 26 @ 11:30 am - 2:00 pm
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    April 26 @ 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
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    April 27 @ 9:00 am - 12:00 pm

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