Thursday, February 3, 2011

Groundhog Day

  “You want a prediction about the weather, you're asking the wrong Phil. I'll give you a winter prediction: It's gonna be cold, it's gonna be grey, and it's gonna last you for the rest of your life.”
- Phil Connors (Bill Murray) in Groundhog Day (1993)
       One of my favorite movies is Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. Murray plays a grumpy, self-centered weatherman, Phil Connors, who finds himself trapped in the vortex of Groundhog Day – his worst nightmare.  While every day may be different, the day is the still the same – it’s still freakin’ Groundhog Day.[1]
            In some ways, I feel the same as Bill Murray with respect to sustainable agriculture. Buried in all the news about Egypt (the social movement in Cairo is a beautiful sight) was a story that sustainability people have worried about for months – the prospect that the Obama administration would approve of yet another GMO crop – alfalfa.  While many concerned citizens, sustainable agriculture and environmental groups, have all written or lobbied against such approval, the US Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) on January 27th approved commercial use of GMO alfalfa.
            According to Wall Street Journal reporters, Bill Thomson and Scott Kilman, David Axelrod, the President’s chief of staff suggested that administration should “plow through” (Axelrod’s bad pun, not mine!)  burdensome regulation and drop the ban on GMO alfalfa. (Last I checked, Axelrod is no biologist.) Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, before the announcement, had suggested that some kind of détente be reached between GM and non-GM alfalfa growers.  The Cold War is back on.
            The problem is that this is not merely a battle about the food source for a bunch of hippie-dippy sprout munching tree-huggers in California.  The thing about alfalfa – it’s the porn star of pollination.  It will readily and willingly crossbreed with other varieties of alfalfa, making any other alfalfa vulnerable to genetic contamination.  The other thing about alfalfa – it’s one of the primary food sources for cattle.  Both dairy and beef cows eat alfalfa seeds and plants as forage in the summer and hay in the winter.  Thus if cattle eat contaminated or GM alfalfa, meat as well as milk will also be contaminated.  And there is no way for any farmer to know which one they are getting without a lab to examine ALL their feed or crops.  And just in case you didn’t know, there have been no long-term studies of the effect of GM crops upon humans, much less cattle.
            The kicker?  The seeds are developed and patented by – you guessed it – Monsanto.
Great.  Another defeat in a string of defeats in an endless battle in an endless war to combat environmentally unfriendly agricultural practices.  Groundhog Day, all over again.  Why do I, or anyone else, bothers with this stuff?  Corporate America runs everything.  China seems hell-bent on killing any environmental agreement out there.  And the rapidly growing middle-class in India and China will force us all to be vegetarians.

Groundhog Day has the answer.

“When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn't imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.”

We the people on earth are part of that cycle of life.  We have no choice but persevere because the Earth and its inhabitants depend on it.   Every day may be Groundhog Day, but that is precisely the point.  I have to write letters against GM sugar beets now.  Happy Groundhog Day.

Alfalfa Sprouts

Considering the food safety concerns (alfalfa sprouts have been recalled due to salmonella poisoning) and GMO concerns, this may be the time to grow your own sprouts.  It’s dead easy and it just takes some patience, a glass jar and some organic seeds.  You can find the seeds and a sprouting jar at health food stores.  Patience – maybe you can find that at the health food store as well. 

1 sprouting jar or a wide mouth glass jar (1 qt. canning jar is fine)
Packet of alfalfa seeds
If using a regular glass jar, some porous cloth (cheesecloth, muslin or even old nylons) and a rubber band

1.     Place 2 tsp. of seeds and 6 tbs. of water into the jar.  Soak overnight.
2.     Place the cloth over the mouth of the jar and bind it with a rubber band.  Drain the seeds through the cloth, rinse with lukewarm water.  Repeat the drain and rinse cycle again.
3.     Place your jar sideways in a warm dark place (about 70ºF).  Rinse and drain sees twice a day, for about 4-5- days.
4.     On the last day of sprouting, place sprouts near sunlight (not direct) to develop some chlorophyll (the green stuff in plants).  The leaves will turn green in a couple of hours.
5.     Remove your sprouts and rinse to remove hulls (they won’t kill you if you eat them).  Drain thoroughly and store in plastic bag with a paper towel to soak up excess water.  They will keep about 5 days in your veg. cooler.  

[1] To the uninitiated, Groundhog’s Day is an odd American holiday (based upon a German superstition) in which a groundhog is supposed to predict the weather for the next 6 weeks contingent upon seeing his shadow.  If he sees the shadow, we get 6 more weeks of winter; if he doesn’t, we get an early spring.  The most famous of these groundhogs is Punxsutawney Phil of Pennsylvania whose shadow sighting has been recorded and celebrated since 1887.