Food for Hope: DeGlobalizing – ReLocalizing

October 31, 2008 in Gardening, Local Food

Transition Town Handbook

I feel like I have been “all melamine – all the time” the past couple of posts, sorry. (Melamine, oh thy name is Legion and Melamine Toxic Tsunami) Its been a fast moving story and its relevant to all of us who eat food. Its my hope that, as a scientist, I can help people who might feel overwhelmed by this massive and frightening subject.

I would like to shift gears into a positive mode and tell you about what you CAN do so that this sort of problem and all of the food security problems that come from globalization can be addressed.

DeGlobalizing – ReLocalizing

In a nutshell – its all about 2 main things:

  • Refraining from buying things that require global travel
  • and
  • Building your local economy and food systems

The first thing – you can do that starting right now. You will quickly find out that you will have to do the harder second thing – rebuilding your local economy.

A couple of months ago I tried to summon the people in my community for a food security meeting on just this. I sent out a press release and got in all the relevant papers. One person showed up and she was actually confused about the topic.

This is NOT easy work!

I am not the only one who is focused on this, not at all. There is a world-wide effort on, called the Transition Initiative and it is helping people build what are called Transition Towns. The UK is the leader right now but start up groups are nucleating all across the US as I write.

If you visit this link Transition Town you can see if there is an initiative near you (anywhere in the world).

If you live in the New England region, you are lucky because there will be a Transition Training conference this November in Cambridge, MA. There are actually two of these conferences. I will be going to the later one. If you decide to go, let Rob know I referred you and also let me know you are coming and we will meet up. Perhaps there is call for live blogging it! (mind is a churning).

The following is the release from the organizer, Rob Riman. Let me know if you have any questions!

Training For Transition

November 1-2 & 22-23 – Cambridge, MA

Transition initiative Cambridge (TiC!) together with the Transition Center Portland Maine will be hosting these 2-day trainings to provide the in-depth knowledge, experiential tools and practical skills to successfully set up, run and maintain a Transition Initiative in your own community or neighborhood.

Course Objectives:

  • To understand the context for transition
  • To understand the Transition Initiatives model as it has evolved so far – from inspiration to working groups
  • To understand the inner and outer aspects of transition
  • To gain knowledge of the main ingredients of transition
  • To develop a plan of action for your self and your locality
  • To assemble the elements of an inspiring talk on Transition Initiatives
  • To connect with others who are responding to the call for transition

See complete course outline at


Saturday & Sunday November 1-2 and 22-23, 2008

Training begins at 9:00 am sharp and finish at 5:00 pm both days. Please arrive by 8:30 am on Saturday for registration and welcome.

Where?: The training will be at the office of the Livable Streets Alliance located at:

Livable Streets Alliance
100 Sydney Street
Cambridge, MA 02139

For directions via various modes see:

Also see the transit system map (and click on the ‘Boston Detail Map’ tab).

Bicycle parking is in front of 100 Sidney. Free weekend car parking is available on Pacific Street.

Sign up!: Course registration is via the RSVP option at The Transition Training Center Portland Maine website: (You will first need to join the group.)

Tuition:The cost for the course is $215/person and full payment or a minimum deposit of $100 should be received in advance of the course start date. Checks should be made payable to ‘Transition Center Portland Maine’ and sent to me (Rob Riman) at the below address.

Lodging:Participants are responsible for arranging their own accommodation.

If you can offer or are seeking a local homestay during the training, please reply to the related post or start a new discussion on the Meetup site message board. Note that all activity for a given discussion is trackable by clicking on Track this discussion. I also have additional leads.

For information regarding local hotels and B&B’s, please contact me.

Travel:If you can offer or would like a lift to or from either of these trainings, please reply to the related post or start a new discussion on the Meetup site message board.

To Bring:

  • 1) Any Transition related materials that you can share: posters, leaflets, brochures, any printed/audio/visual material that you have used in your Transition Initiative. This will be a mutual learning environment!
  • 2) Lunch to share in the training room. If you prefer, there are local venues to purchase food within easy walking distance. Other meals are entirely up to you. Warm beverages and light snacks will be provided throughout the day. Toward a zero-waste event, please bring your own mug, water bottle, utensils, etc. as needed (some will be available should you forget).
  • 3) Laptops and/or recording devices if you feel these might help you, however they are not necessary. Please bring a 330+ mb memory stick for copying background material and training presentations.
  • 4) Your story. Take some time to reflect on your journey regarding transition: When did you realize that we needed to make big changes to the way we live? How did you hear about Transition and what got you interested? Why do you want to be part of a Transition process?

Reading: In addition to The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins, the following resources offer valuable background and will help prepare you for the course:

Resources: For more information about current Transition activities:

More Info: See who else is coming, learn about the trainers, find related events in the Northeast, etc. at:

Transition Center Portland Maine


Cambridge Trainings Coordinator:
Rob Riman
92 Henry Street
Cambridge, MA


  • Alastair Lough –
  • Pat Proulx-Lough –

Thank You to our Sponsors!

Green Decade Cambridge

Livable Streets Alliance

Mass Climate Action Network

Melamine, oh thy name is legion

October 28, 2008 in Food Science, gluten, Local Food, melamine

More egg business - Egg underwater

Melamine is the scourge that was completely optional; it really didn’t have to happen. It’s all about greed and industrial food gone wholly amok.

Melamine poisoning spans animal feeds, pet foods, milk, baby formula, fish, wheat gluten, and now EGGS.

Wheat gluten, eggs and milk are everywhere. If you think you can protect yourself from tainted dairy and egg products from China, think again.

This post is all about melamine: what it is, how it hurts you, how it got in your food.

What exactly is Melamine?

Melamine is an organic compound (learn more) that is a key component in fire retardants and it is also a pesticide (this sets off major flags for me, more later).

It can be combined with formaldehyde to make a plastic compound and a foaming polymeric cleaning product. It is a primary component of a colorant in inks and plastics called Pigment Yellow 150.

A specific type of melamine is added to cement to make it hyper-plastic, flexible, so that it can have more attractive structural qualities.

In the 50s and 60s there was some use of melamine as a fertilizer but it proved to be inefficient as it would crystallize into salts and not be available to plants.

The thing about melamine that made people interested in using it as a fertilizer, the nitrogen aspects (amines), is what brings us closer to the current problem.

Plants need nitrogen to make proteins.

The use of melamine as a NonProteinNitrogen (NPN) in animal feeds was tested back in the 50s but it was shown that the cows didn’t use this sort of nitrogen very well.

Melamine is not that great for helping plants or animals make protein BUT it fools low-cost testing methods into thinking that it IS protein. (tests like Kjeldahl and Dumas tests estimate protein levels by measuring the nitrogen content, so they can be misled by adding nitrogen-rich compounds such as melamine. See note at bottom of this post).

Melamine itself is relatively low in toxicity but it becomes quite lethal when made into melamine cyanurate.

IMG pending

What the Chinese are putting in food, milk, feed and lord knows what else – Melamine Cyanurate

The kind of melamine implicated in the Chinese scandals is called melamine cyanurate (learn more), a chemical that is commonly used a fire retardant (as with straight melamine). It is considered more toxic than melamine or cyanurate, from which it is made.

When melamine cyanurate is ingested by mammals (those poor dogs and cats in the massive melamine Chinese pet food scandal (learn more)) it hurts the kidneys and throws the animal or person into acute renal failure.

LD50 in rats and mice (ingested):

  • 4.1 g/kg – Melamine cyanurate

From USA Today’s article “Poison pet food woes seem to hit cats harder”:

“FDA scientists explained that when melamine and cyanuric acid are absorbed into the bloodstream, they concentrate and interact in the urine-filled renal microtubules (sic), then crystallize and form large numbers of round, yellow crystals, which in turn block and damage the renal cells that line the tubes, causing the kidneys to malfunction.”

Besides renal failure (which is seen in the recent baby formula scandal – something like 94,000 children hospitalized and 4 dead from melamine poisoning Learn More), melamine has been implicated in possibly causing kidney stones, bladder cancer and reproductive organ damage.

For recent information on the scale (94,000!) of impact of the tainted milk scandal read this October 8, 2008 report from Reuters “China milk victims may have reached 94,000

The government has not updated figures issued on September 21, when it said that 12,892 infants were in hospital, 104 with serious illness, and close to 40,000 others were affected but did not need major treatment.

But reports from local media across the country compiled by Reuters suggest the number of affected children has risen to nearly 94,000, although most are not in a serious condition.

China Floats in an Ocean of Melamine

China is one nexus in the coming and current collapse of food production (fertilizer, falling acres of non-toxic land, water shortages, etc). They, like the rest of us, MUST find a way to boost soil fertility even though they (nor any other large concern) is going about it in a rational way, only in an industrial, non-sustainable way.

To this end, China has been deliberately pushing to increase it’s melamine production (from coal gasification) in recent years. Coal gasification is used to make urea – the key nitrogen component in plant fertilizers around the world. Urea, being derived from a non-renewable resource that is under massive demand pressures, is becoming more and more expensive. Because of this, many melamine manufacturers and suppliers outside of China have found it too expensive to make locally and so chose to source this from China’s growing surplus of melamine.

Even though melamine is a poor fertilizer, it is also a pesticide, so it “seems” it is attractive still. This may be scary, true, but this may be NEXT WEEK’s scandal as the melamine outbreaks we have been suffering through in recent times is due to something else.

As I mentioned, melamine can be used to dope foods so that they can LOOK protein rich while being very weak knock-offs of the original. Its like a sick pathetic rational extension of the piracy ethic in China, “fake it till you make it” no matter the costs. The same thing happened with the Baxter Heparin scandal, exact same sort of doping only with different chemicals for a different use.

The contaminant has been identified as an “over-sulphated” derivative of chondroitin sulfate, a popular shellfish-derived supplement often used for arthritis. Since this “over-sulphated” variant is not naturally occurring and mimics the properties of heparin,the counterfeit is almost certainly intentional as opposed to an accidental lapse in manufacturing. The heparin was cut from anywhere from 2-60% with a counterfeit substance due to cost effectiveness, and a shortage of suitable pigs in China. (SOURCE)

HEAT egg

It’s the Eggs, kids. Its in the eggs, in China. Are we next? Is it already happening to us?

The New York Times reported on 10/26/08 in an article “Tainted Eggs From China Discovered in Hong Kong” by David Barboza:

SHANGHAI — Hong Kong food inspectors have found eggs imported from northeast China to be contaminated with high levels of melamine, the toxic industrial additive at the heart of an adulteration scandal in Chinese milk products.


The discovery of contaminated eggs in Hong Kong was announced Saturday by the Center for Food Safety, a Hong Kong government agency, which said the eggs had been imported from a farm in the city of Dalian, in northeastern China. The center reported that the melamine level was almost double the legal limit for food sold in Hong Kong.

The general wisdom is that the melamine gets into the eggs because the chickens are fed feed doped with melamine (by feed producers to fool the farmers or is it farmers who are desperate for any nitrogen in the feed – I am guessing the former).

This phenomenon is called bioaccumulation (learn more) of toxins in eggs and tissues of animals fed a poison (think about how DDTs were making some birds go extinct due to DDT buildup in scavenger birds leading to egg failures). Its also known as Biomagnification (learn more)

An article out of China on two possible sources of melamine in chicken feed (“Melamine Scandal Hits China’s “King of Eggs” October 28, 2008 at

According to Wang, two reasons most probably account for the melamine in eggs. Feed producers may add melamine directly into chicken feed, or the feed may contain overdue milk powder with high level of melamine content. “Either can lead to melamine residue in eggs.

“Many illegal additives, appearing as “new technology,” have brought an unprecedented crisis over quality to China’s feed processing industry,” said an expert of a national research institution to China Business News.

This is why we grow our own chickens for our own eggs and drink milk from our own goats in our backyard

You can learn a whole lot more about the Chinese and US FDA inaction on the problem of toxic eggs from Chinese and potentially US producers by a former emergency programs specialist with the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) on DailyKos at this diary “Melamine just reported in eggs…as I warned in 2007” and this diary “The ominous silence about eggs from gluten-fed chickens”

Is there an even larger crisis “we” are not talking about?

I am just going to throw this out for those of you who have had the tenacity to read to this point. This may be an algebra that will become critically important to the entire world as time passes.

– If we know that melamine has some nominal and sub-par attraction as a fertilizer
— Then it may be being used in China (elsewhere?) as a fertilizer

– If it is known that melamine falls out of solution and accumulates as salts in soils
— Then misguided use of melamine as a fertilizer and pesticide will lead to increasing retained toxin loads in soils across China and the world (3rd world countries?)

– If China has a melamine surplus
— Then China may be channeling that into even more melamine for local and misguided global use as a fertilizer, pesticide, and dope for feed stock (land and water livestocks such as fish farms that under massive pressure to source cheaper and more abundant protein)

– If there is a growing soil toxicity with yearly added melamine
— Then more and more crops will become and maintain dangerous levels of melamine toxicity
It seems to me that this is MUCH more relevant and dangerous than any GMO crop yet this crisis is flying totally under the radar.

To me, that is a global malfeasance on the part of all countries.

In one of those Daily Kos diaries, the comment stream reveals these nuggets:

The FDA, USDA, and the EPA is not our friend in these matters, especially Bush’s FDA, USDA, and EPA. For example, in 1999, the EPA tolerance level for melamine was lowered after a request by Novartis.

Melamine is also a breakdown product of cyromazine (pesticide) which bioaccumulates. It seems that (all?) the testing (ever?) done on cyromazine was done by Ciba-Geigy.

And there is this comment:

A few months ago, the Admin made subtle changes in oversight requirements for regs. If you aren’t familiar with reading this sort of language, you would not see flashing red lights – assuming you stayed awake past the first few lines.
Among the agencies affected was the FDA. Here are a few links to posts on these changes:
The Executive Order’s Effect on Regulation: Science & Technology Hearing;
White House Power Grab by OMB Regulation

Bottom Line(s):

  • DeGlobalize/ReLocalize your food, take it back America
  • Need I really say it? – EAT LOCALLY, ALWAYS
  • Eat NOTHING from China
  • Find out if your favorite prepared foods or even your fresh veggies and fruits are sourcing from China, they way well be
  • the FDA has grown VERY lax under the Bush administration and is not protecting us from this grave Chinese-related risk
  • Melamine contamination (and what else?) should be considered potentially widespread throughout our food system and that of others
  • The ubiquity of gluten, dairy, and egg products almost ensures widespread and nonconsensual exposure to these tainted source proteins in prepared foods and infant formulas
  • Be vigilant

Resource Pages:

About the Kjeldahl and Dumas tests:

Traditionally, food protein is measured by a method developed by Danish brewer Johann Kjeldahl in the late 1800s. In this analytical technique, a strong acid digests a sample, breaking down the organic matter and releasing nitrogen, which is then converted to ammonia. The amount of ammonia indicates how much nitrogen was in the original sample and, hence, the amount of protein. This “proved to be a robust, precise method,” says Julian McClements, a food scientist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. It is attractive because it can be used for a variety of products and protein types. Another, similar nitrogen-based technique, called the Dumas test, is also popular with industry. It relies on burning the sample to release nitrogen. The Association of Analytical Communities (AOAC) International, a scientific association that sets standards for analytical methods, lists the Kjeldahl and Dumas techniques as the standard methods for measuring protein in food.

A Tasty Carboniferous Terroir

October 12, 2008 in Food Porn, Local Food, review, seafood

Smokehouse Scallops, pancetta, smoked cheese soup

See what this does for your taste buds – Smoked Scallops, Smoked Cheddar Bourbon Soup, and artisanal smoked pancetta, all brought together as part of a larger smoked, bourbon tasting menu.

Yeah, my tastebuds almost fainted, I almost fainted, my family was inarticulate as they simply scarfed their share of our samples.

Brian Treitman, of BT’s Smokehouse, who you know I have blogged about before (An improbable meat nirvana in a BBQ wasteland, Criminally Good Smoked Salmon and Bacon – B.T.’s Smokehouse, Food Photo 101: Shooting BBQ) shared a delightful sneak taste of this scallop dish recently when I stopped by for my latest fix of his smoked salmon.

Wine connoisseurs speak of terroir – the notion that a particular wine has a unique taste that is gained from the ecology of a very specific location.

The wiki defines it as such:

Terroir (/t̪εʁwaʁ/ in French) (Spanish: terruño, pago) was originally a French term in wine, coffee and tea used to denote the special characteristics that geography bestowed upon them. It can be very loosely translated as “a sense of place” which is embodied in certain qualities, and the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the manufacture of the product.

I am sure that this concept is nothing new to most of you.

Today I would like to suggest that there is another sort of terroir, one which is more complex in some ways, more fascinating to me (perhaps because I do not drink wine and I DO eat BBQ).

I think that each well-seasoned and well-used smokehouse smoker has its own distinct terroir. If you get close to the gaping maw of Brian Treitman’s smoker you will notice the build up of solid smoke and smoked meat essence.

Brian adjusting the pork roasts

It coats the interior and the racks.

B.T.'s Smokehouse: Slow roasted pit BBQ beef brisket, pork butt, chicken

Brian uses applewood from the MANY orchards that surround us in this region. He does a dry rub on many if not most of the meats (and tofu!) that he smokes. The smoke and the slowly cooking meat react and meld in a way that seasons the smoker to its own unique terroir.

This terroir is the lively organic memory of the many ribs and chickens and pork butts and bacons and salmons and turkeys of the past.

You can choose to utterly submerge yourself in a tongue electrifying miasma of smoke as you nibble on the bark of a long smoked pork butt.

BBQ pork butt

You can get a wholly different but BT Smokehouse specific smoke essence when you eat one of the smoked scallops shown in this post.

Smokehouse Scallops, pancetta, smoked cheese soup

This particular assembly of ingredients can be a part of a larger tasting that Brian can provide to foodies in the Massachusetts area. He works with you to identify a seasonal menu that also leverages the unique terroir of his smoker as well as local microbrew beers and smoke-friendly spirits like bourbon.

You can call Brian at 1-617-251-6398 to talk about your tasting. There is a minimum of 8-10 people, likely max up to 50 depending on your home situation. There is a 2-4 week lead time so plan ahead.

Here are the salacious details of this fantastic dish.

Moist plump scallops were cured in Brian’s spice rub and brown sugar for 4 hours and then cold smoked with applewood. You can special order these and their price is pegged to the scallop market price. Call in to get the details.

The soup is made with a sharp white cheddar cheese that he smoked as a block and then spiked the soup with bourbon. This alone would delight you in its mixture of the smoky terroir and the bourbon. He sells this at $8/pint.

The pancetta was cured for 5 days, lightly smoked, and then dried for 4 months. This goes for $10/lb.

Smokehouse Scallops, pancetta, smoked cheese soup

The soup and the scallop, while both smoked, have a distinct flavor from one another. It may come from the lack of cure on the cheese, it offers a lovely layering of differentiation.

Smokehouse Scallops, pancetta, smoked cheese soup

This is such a fantastic variation from the heavier beef and pork BBQ. I am just in love with it and I hope that you get a chance to work with Brian to bring a tasting that includes this offering to you and your loved ones this holiday season!

KD eating pancetta

Five year old KD really enjoyed it all, could hardly wait for the shoot to be over. Notice that super mod hair cut? Yeah, she got a hold of some scissors and decided she needed to do the do.

Reach Brian at 1-617-251-6398 (Tell him Nika sent you)

Related Sites:

Related Posts:

Food Security – The Time is Nigh

September 21, 2008 in Humble Garden, Local Food

Chicken Butchery: tools

I am utterly wiped. I just killed & butchered 6 chickens (5 meat chickens and one very bad sumatra rooster who had attacked my kids one too many times).

Chicken Butchery: plucking

Two are now on to boil, to make stock and chicken sandwiches for supper. The other 4 will also be boiled to make heaping amounts of chicken soup that I will then can.

These chickens will be too tough to eat any other way. We will also be making soup from the feet.

Matzo Ball Chicken Soup

As you may or may not have picked up, I am concerned about a phenomenon called Peak Oil (click here to learn about this very important issue).

The current problems in the stock market and mortgage world have synchronized and fed off the massive and unprecedented transfer of wealth from our pockets, through the gas pumps, to foreign hands.

We are in a position where we have very little resilience or ability to bend and cope. This is especially the case for the middle and lower income classes (most of us). We live lives where we are disconnected from our food production. Our grocery stores have at most 3 days supply food on hand if the supply chains are cut.

With this last week in the market, the absurd government response and the predictable slow motion collapse starting on Monday, it is absolutely time for all of us to be thinking about putting away food.

We have been skilling up on how to grow our own food and store it, care for and raise chickens for meat and eggs, tending our dairy herd of 9 for milk and cheese.

We just got our breeding boy goat who we named Flax. He is not related to any of our girls and he will be the sire of the next generation.

Humble Garden: Meet Flax - our new boy

We have, through the extremely appreciated and deeply needed help of a family member, just installed a wood fired furnace for our heat, hot water, and to heat the greenhouse. We are now 100% oil-free. If I had $20,000 laying around I would be setting up a solar array for systems electricity.

Seton Boiler: not white anymore

I suggest that you consider doing what we are doing and what the Mormons do – lay in a well stocked pantry with enough to get you through a few months (Mormons go for a year goal) on your own and perhaps with some for friends who may need to lean on you in the coming hard times.

To this end, we will be stock piling some rice and beans because it is so easy to store and make (wheat or flour for bread = needing yeast and a functioning oven, etc).

Have you been thinking about this? Tell me what you have been doing to be ready for any instability we might see as the economy lists and takes on water.