Michael Pollan Nature’s Spokesman

Michael Pollan Nature's SpokesmanHuman dietary habits, particularly in today’s modern ‘fast food’ culture, need to heed to advice – and warnings – by such people as Professor Michael Pollan (University of Berkley, Ca.) who’s writings and lectures concerning nutrition and proper foods are well known. An intense advocate of organic and natural foods, Pollan’s works include those dealing with human eating habits; especially those whom he categorizes as being omnivorous, i.e. those who eat both meat products as well as vegetables. His concern towards the American meat producing industry, in which a number of growth stimulating feeds and supplements are fed to cattle and other animals grown for food, creates an imbalance in the natural relationship between Man and his environment.

Professor Pollan considers humans to be grouped in three main categories: those who eat a largely vegetable and grain based diet; those who eat a mixed commercial vegetable and meat omnivorous diet; and those who hunt and gather for food. The relationships between the natural ‘food chain’ sequence, beginning with the photosynthesis of plants and ending in the consumption of meat by humans is a very import issue for Pollan as he feels that the modern “agribusiness” of commercial farming has lot touch with the inter-relationships of plants and animals by destroying import ecological relationships between plants and animals.

According to Pollan, both plants and animals have special relationships with each other, and in order for proper nutrition to be achieved, more organically friendly farming methods must be used. Too much emphasis is placed upon taste and appeal, and not enough on overall nutrition, he believes. In one of his essays, Unhappy Meals, Professor notes that most commercially produced foods are too much dependant on additives and taste enhancers. He mentions the American fast food business, which is causing too many people to become obese and susceptible to heart disease and cancer. Too much fatty meat products and not enough fish are being consumed, with the unfortunate result creating a society of overweight, unhealthy people.

Genetic engineering, that process of genetically manipulating growth processes in plants and animals, is too much the norm these days, according to Pollan. He believes that Man and Nature need to become more harmonious with each other; otherwise, the result will be nothing short of nutritional and ecological disaster for Americans. While some forms of genetic engineering may be good (for flowers, etc) those forms that incorporate the use of hormones and growth stimulants may be going against the existing laws of Nature.

Many of Dr. Pollan’s works can be found in archived editions of several newspapers and academic journals, as well as via the Internet.

Herbicides and Pesticides in Intensive Farming

Herbicides and Pesticides in Intensive FarmingEnvironmental dangers from over use of herbicides and pesticides in commercial, intensive farming has been known for years. One of the first warnings of damages from the use of pesticides in modern agriculture came from American novelist Rachel Carson in 1962 with her book The Silent Spring. Ms. Carson’s thought provoking book portrayed a bleak future in regards to birds and other wildlife that were being killed or mutated due to the over use of both pesticides and herbicides by farmers. Though written more than 40 years ago, she predicted that the ongoing effects of these chemical agents would be so far reaching that people might one day experience ‘silent springs’ devoid of song and migratory birds that herald the changing of the seasons.

Though Ms. Carson’s warnings have not completely come to pass, the use of carious chemical agents, not only by agriculture but also by many people on their own lawns and garden plants, eventually find their way into the water that we drink, resulting in health hazards ranging from birth defects to cancer. Many studies have been made relating to environmental damage caused by these chemicals, some of the more common ones being sulfonylurea (SU) and atrizine types of herbicides which are used by farmers as ‘weed killers’ for crops such as corn and soybeans – both important food crops. These herbicides eventually find their way into ground water aquifers, and have been shown to cause a number of health problems in humans ranging from learning disorders to over aggressive behavior patterns. A well known pesticide, DBCP, was once wide used in American states such as California and Iowa. This pesticide, though now banned in most places still causes a number of diseases and health disorders, including male infertility (the main effect it was supposed to have on insects, rodents, and other pests).

In Iowa, for example, a study made in 1966, only four years after the publication of Ms. Carson’s book, it was found that more than half of that state’s ground water was already contaminated by weed killers. The situation in many other states in America is as bad or worse as intensive commercial farming methods still use many of these chemical agents in order to increase crop yields.

Organic farming methods, though still on a much smaller scale than that of commercial agriculture, is showing a better way to grow crops without causing harm to the environment. By changing to an organic lifestyle, including the care and maintenance of one’s own lawn and garden, people can help contribute to preserving our environment and improving our health as well. It’s a small start, but by eliminating insect sprays and weed killers on our own properties we can contribute to improving our planet’s eco-system.

Breast is Best

Breast is BestToday’s modern mother, who divides her time between pursuing her career goals as well as taking care of her family, often regards breast feeding as something out of the archaic past. Many women in today’s society, do not even have their own mothers to turn to on this subject, as even their mother, if not grandmother, has not breastfed any of her children. Clinical studies on the subject of breast feeding are making new ‘discoveries’ on the subject yearly, and are concluding that not only is nursing more healthful and crucial to a child’s physical development, but very important psychologically as well.

Working mothers especially are faced with the ‘dilemma’ of breastfeeding baby once they return to work after maternity leave, which can be anywhere from 3 to 6 months after giving birth. Most workplaces are simply not suited for Mom to bring baby along and feed him or her during the work day. This problem has been more difficult in America than in Israel, where mothers are allowed to leave work early to go home to take care of such matters. Some companies, especially high tech ones who appreciate the contribution that the working mother is giving to the company, provide special sections within the premises for not only breastfeeding, but caring of small children who are cared for by hired nannies while Mom is at her work station.

Relating back to studies made on the benefits of breastfeeding over using formulas such as Similac and other preparations based on cow’s milk and an array of vitamins and minerals, it has been found that the natural vitamins and other substances in mothers’ milk far surpass any commercially made baby formula produced to date. The horrific results of the 2003 ‘baby formula tragedy’ which occurred in Israel, that left 3 infants dead and more than a dozen others incapacitated for life, clearly indicates the results of relying on these preparations instead of what comes naturally. In this instance, the product known as Remedia, lacked the B1 vitamin, or thiamin, which is essential to a baby’s nervous system development. The product, especially manufactured for use for orthodox Jewish mothers, due to complying with strict laws of Kashrus, did not contain milk solids at all; not to mention the omission of the B1 vitamin additive. Mother’s milk has been found to contain the perfect ‘balance’ of fats, nutrients and essential vitamins necessary for a child’s development. While it is true that some babies are either allergic to or cannot digest preparations containing lactose, this problem is much less prevalent with mother’s milk.

Israeli women who either do not have enough of their own milk or for some reason cannot produce their own (known as ‘dry up’) can obtain frozen mothers milk by consulting either their own pediatrician, or by consulting organizations such as the local equivalent of the La Leche League, as well as the “Tipat Halav” (mother and child clinic) in their own Kupat Holim Sick Fund.

Despite everything, including all the stories of all those insecticides, food additives, and even tar and nicotine from cigarettes finding their way into human milk, the benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh the inconveniences and other problems connected to this truly natural way of giving one’s precious baby a good “head start” in life. Regarding cigarettes, its much better not to smoke at all; whether one is breast feeding or not!

The ‘Electric’ Sun

With dwindling crude oil now hovering in the $65 to $70 per barrel range, and worries about continued global warming being one of the worlds most talked about environmental topics, interest in solar energy is becoming more and more popular in today’s world. That’s right, the sun, or Sol as many still refer to that huge, gaseous ball of energy, 93 million miles away; around which the plant earth rotates once every 365 days. In fact, we humans, and all life for that matter, are so utterly dependant on the sun’s continuous supply of energy, that if deprived of it – for even a few hours, drastic climatic and environment effects will take place.

Interest in harnessing energy from the sun is not new; and even ancient philosophers and astronomers constantly tried to think up ways to utilize more of the sun’s life giving energy. Within the past fifty years, these dreams have begun to become reality as scientists and engineers have begun to create the means of generating energy from the sun’s rays. Israel is one of the pioneers in this endeavor, as the leaders of this tiny country realized from the outset that with little natural energy resources available, ways must be found to create energy at the lowest costs possible. These endeavors have resulted in the majority of homes and apartment buildings having solar energy converters to heat water. Though primitive by many standards, these sun boilers, are composed of two or three large solar ‘collection’ plates, warming water as it flows through them, and afterwards stores the water in insulated tanks for use afterwards – especially at night. Condominium buildings in Israel are now required to have a series of these plates installed to collect enough hot water for use by several families at a time.

While this method has helped save on energy costs, more ambitious researchers all over the world are working of ways to use the sun’s energy to create electricity; enough electricity to run one’s electric powered car, operate appliances and machinery, and keep people comfortably cool in summer and warm in winter. These new photovoltaic or solar electric systems are being designed to convert the sun’s rays into plentiful, low cost electricity. Photovoltaic or PV systems evolve around a specially made crystalline silicon material resembling strips of PVC. This material, when hit by solar rays, creates electricity by a photo-chemical process not much different than the more primitive sun boilers already mentioned. Enough of this material, built into the roof and hood of a car, or affixed to the porch or roof of a house, can create enough electricity to actually operate electricity powered motors – as long as sun shines, that is. The main challenge up to now is storing this energy for use when Sol has either gone to bed or is ‘hiding’ behind a blanket of clouds. Scientific laboratories are still trying to perfect fuel cells and other energy storing devices that will enable this electricity to be stored (like in a large battery) and used as needed. Obviously, solar energy powered devices will work better in locations where the sun shines at least 300 or more days a year; which is why locations such as the Middle East, the American Southwest, and other ’sun friendly’ locations will benefit the most from solar power.

Solar energy is also one of the most environmentally friendly energy sources as well; and could one day help reverse the damage already caused by over-use of fossil fuels. It’s about time everyone, including major oil companies, see the potential benefit of “going (solar powered) electric”.

Source: US Department Energy Site

Hot – and Getting Hotter! The Earth Heats Up from Global Warming

It’s a hot time in this old world all right! New scientific studies are showing worrisome findings that the earth’s temperatures are reaching the warmest they’ve been in over a million years. That’s bad news for the 6.5 billion inhabitants of this planet, as well as for most of the animals who inhabit it – especially those inhabiting colder regions. These studies show that the earth’s temperature has been rising rapidly, in the area of nearly 0.36 degrees Fahrenheit or 0.2 degrees Celsius in the past 30 years alone. The average surface temperature is now around 15-16 degrees Celsius; and if it rises another 1 degree C. serious, possible irreversible effects will occur, so said a researcher from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

The higher temperatures are mostly being caused by human induced heat from burning forest land for crop planting, as well as exhaust emissions from automobiles and coal and oil burning power facilities, the researcher, James Hansen, noted. Another researcher, Alan Robock from Rutgers University, noted that further temperature rises of 2 to 3 degrees Celsius will make the earths temperature the same as at was around 3 million years ago, when the ocean levels were about 30 feet higher than they are today.

What this means for all of us, including Wally the Walrus and his pals is that life will be quite different on old Terra Firma, especially in the Earth’s Arctic regions, where effects of global warming are becoming even more accelerated. Arctic regions, where polar ice and snow actually reflected the suns rays, now have areas of dry land and open water which are absorbing solar heat. Animals such as Wally and his friends, as swell as Polar Bears, seals, and other Arctic creatures could even become extinct within the next hundred years.

How are these changes effecting people living in other areas, including here in Israel, is becoming evident with different weather patterns and temperature changes. For example: those hot, sultry, summer days (and especially nights) used to come only in about mid to late July. Now, we feel them in mid June! Winter temperatures are warmer as well, with far too many balmy, even summer-like days in mid-January. It might not be long before average summer temperatures in Israel may be similar to what they are now in countries like Kuwait and Dubai!

If the oceans do rise, even 10 or 15 feet, large coastal cities will have massive problems, especially those on the coast of large oceans including New York City, Antwerp, Hong Kong and Tokyo, may find themselves partially under water. Even Israeli coastal cities will not be immune, as some of this water will eventually find itself into the Mediterranean.

It’s not too late to try to reverse some of these trends, although these efforts will drastically affect the lives of most people with use of fossil fuels being either severely curtailed or even banned altogether. For creatures like Wally, however, these efforts may be too little – too late.