Melamine Toxic Tsunami

October 31, 2008 in melamine

Melamine (for blog)

I gave you an introduction to melamine in my post “Melamine, oh thy name is Legion” where I also hypothesized that, since melamine has been used as a fertilizer and pesticide in the past, that there may be a looming second wave of melamine crisis coming.

It didn’t take that long for others to make this connection.

Reuters has an article on its wire today (10/31/08) entitled “Hong Kong to test meat, vegetables for melamine” by Tan Ee Lyn that starts like this:

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong will soon begin testing meat, vegetables and processed food for melamine, a move that underlines concerns about environmental contamination and food safety, experts say.

And this gem:

It has since emerged that cyromazine, a derivative of melamine, is widely used in pesticides and animal feed in China, and experts say it is absorbed in plants as melamine and that the chemical is already in the human food chain.
“It’s possible there may be contamination from pesticides … and there is some concern about vegetables and animal feed,” Kwan Hoishan, a biologist at the Chinese University and member of a government-backed task force working on the melamine problem in Hong Kong, told Reuters.

The New York Times has a headline web story at this moment “China Widens Food Tests on Signs of New Contamination” by David Barboza where he reports:

SHANGHAI — Chinese regulators said Friday that they were widening their investigation into contaminated food amid growing signs that an industrial chemical called melamine had leeched into the nation’s animal feed supplies, posing even deeper health risks to consumers after the recent tainted milk scandal.
The cases are fueling global concerns about contaminated Chinese food. In Hong Kong, food safety officials announced this week that they would be testing a wider variety of foods for melamine, including vegetables, flour and meat products.
But interviews Friday, and over the past year, with several chemical dealers who sell melamine suggests that melamine scrap, the substantially cheaper waste left over after producing melamine, has been added to animal and fish feed in China for years.

CBC news reported on toxic pesticide-tainted beans from china exported to Japan and how they were making people acutely ill in an article “Japan warns of high levels of pesticide in Chinese beans”

Japanese officials warned consumers on Wednesday not to eat a type of frozen green beans imported from China that contain extremely high levels of pesticide.

At least one woman was briefly hospitalized with vomiting and a numb mouth after eating the green beans imported by Nichirei Foods and sold in Ito-Yokado supermarkets, media reports said.


Tests showed one package of beans contained 34,000 times the permitted level of dichlorvos, a highly toxic insecticide, Japan’s Health Ministry said.

From the Wiki:

Dichlorvos (2,2-dichlorovinyl dimethyl phosphate), or DDVP is a highly volatile organophosphate, widely used as a fumigant to control household pests, in public health, and protecting stored product from insects.

Clearly, its not just melamine that we have to worry about when we are considering the toxic foods coming out of China.

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.

Food 0.001 – pickling is old school

September 14, 2008 in Gardening, Humble Garden, vegetable


I have been looking forward to doing this project for several years. I have distinct memories of when I was a child in Iowa, down in our basement in the bathroom we always hid in when the tornado sirens went off several times a summer. In that bathroom, near the shower, was an antique crock that was filled with little pickling cucumbers that were floating in this fascinating brine. A plate was put on top to keep the pickles from floating onto the surface.

I remember what it smelled like – a very distinct pickle aroma that makes my mouth water as I write this. I remember also being captivated by the scum that would float on the top and how it was ok that this scary odd concoction was being grown in OUR basement and by MY mother to be eaten by US kids.

Humble Garden: lactofermented organic homegrown pickles

I say that pickles are old school because there are records of pickles going back 4400 years to Mesopotamia. If you follow this link to the Wiki page on pickles you will learn that pickling has been a strategy used by humans for a long time and also by peoples across the globe.

  • Aristotle of Ancient Greece (1100 BC – 146 BC) promoted pickles for their health promoting effects
  • People on the move with mouths to feed figured out that pickles were a GOOD THING to have – Julius Caesar‘s army ate them but likely didnt understand that it was the vitamin C in the pickles that saved them from scurvy

Pickles have been immensely popular for 1000s of years across Asia, from India to China to Japan. Each region has its own special character and history. Each type of pickle is like a barometer of local authenticity.

What you likely do NOT know about pickles is that what you think of as pickles, those mass produced jarred pickles in the hot dog section of the grocery store are very little like the ones of history and do not possess the health promoting qualities attributed to pickled foods through the ages.

Humble Garden: lactofermented organic homegrown pickles

The difference is a matter of temperature and time, namely pasteurization and lactofermentation.

Most of us know what pasteurization is – the process of heating liquids for the purpose of destroying bacteria, protozoa, molds, and yeasts. (WIKI) We know that it is used to “make safe” our milk supply. This method has been used to “clean” up a vast majority of our foods that we buy from the store.

This is all new school – it was applied to our milk back in the time around 1900 (see this link about this whole saga) when milk production was industrialized and the dairies were crashing from management issues (conditions just like CAFOs today – crap in crap out).

Cows were fed the mash from nearby distilleries, cramped into standing room only pens with crap piled knee high and never cleaned, untested workers (think tuberculosis) worked in slavery like conditions – people and cows alike dropped like flies due to the conditions.

To be able to utilize the milk, which was burdened with e coli, brucellosis, tuberculosis, high cell counts from udder disease (mastitis) pasteurization was used.

Humble Garden: organic homegrown lactofermented sauerkraut

This same broad spectrum bacterial killing method is now used in pickle making. Whats more, because bacteria are “bad guys” (ignoring the fact that our bodies are made up of something like 10% bacterial mass) pickles are not allowed to go down the fermentation route – they are pickled with vinegars or industrially produced lactic acids.


Lactofermentation is what has historically been used to make things like wine, beer, and pickles. Its what you get when you take a raw vegetable from the garden, add some salt, and then let it sit at room temperature a couple of days and then put it in the root cellar (fridge).

At first, there is a broad spectrum of bacteria and molds and yeasts, just like on your skin (no matter how many showers you take) in the jar.

Then a dance takes place.

Bacteria are like us – they care about where they live. For them it is life and death tho. Certain types of bacteria can live with oxygen, some can not tolerate oxygen at all. Some like low pH others need high pH. It goes on.

Humble Garden: organic homegrown lactofermented sauerkraut

Bacteria are used to living in a menacing environment and have evolved ways to compete. They may produce poisons that kill off predators or they may change the oxygen composition or they may change the pH.

If you culture your lactoferment in a certain environment (certain pH, oxygen concentration, temperature) then you encourage some bacterial species and not others.

Humble Garden: organic homegrown lactofermented sauerkraut

This is the art of non-toxic non-lethal very delicious lactofermentation.

Doing lactofermentation in the post-pasteurization post-modern world requires you to take a leap of faith in our ancestors or to read a bit about science and trust your eyes and the collective wisdom of your ancestors.

To successfully venture into the delights of fermentation, I think that you have to be the following:

  • be ready to experiment
  • be willing to fail
  • be curious
  • be a foodie
  • be stubborn

You can learn a whole lot about lactofermentation from Sally Fallon in her book “Nourishing Traditions” and also from Sandor Ellix Katz at Wild Fermentation.

You will find a strong anti-germ theory running through a lot of this.

As a scientist, I can tell you one VERY important take home message – absolutism is foolish and will never serve you well. Its absolutism that has created our industrialized society (along with expensive lobbyists who have pushed massive regulation of food production so that the little farm cannot compete).

It is an absolutist mindset that will reject all germs and it is the same core absolutist mindset that will reject all regulations.

Don’t get caught up in the War of Germs or Anti-Raw Milk.

Moderation is key.

Follow what the germs themselves tell you. Equilibrium with functional moderation leads to a healthy ecosystem and a healthy body.

Delve into lactofermentation, make some pickles, sauerkraut, beet kvass, beer, wine, eat them raw, but also, clean that cut, take a shower, sterilize your bathroom for goodness sakes.

I am not going to give you recipes for these pickles because I think that people need to do some reading on the basics, learn about the lactofermentative process, learn what its supposed to look like when its going well and when its going UN WELL (its pretty obvious).

I have shared shots here of our pickles and sauerkraut. They were all made recently so its not time to taste yet.

I CAN tell you tho that the smell is HEAVENLY! I can’t wait to dig in!

Humble Garden: organic homegrown lactofermented sauerkraut

Mysterious Tease

September 12, 2008 in Gardening


I am going to tease you today. This is one image from a post I working on and hope to get up this weekend.

In the mean time, can you name all the organisms you see in the shot above?