Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Decisions Decisions

Once again we have decided to go back to a vegetarian diet. New studies link the increased consumption of the nitrates in meat and in foods grown in soil "enriched" with chemical fertilizers to the enormous increase of Alzheimer's, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and Parkinson's disease.

One of the authors of the study says, "We... have moved to a diet that is rich in amines and nitrates, which lead to increased nitrosamine production. We receive increased exposure through the abundant use of nitrate-containing fertilizers for agriculture." She continues, "Not only do we consume them in processed foods, but they get into our food supply by leeching from the soil and contaminating water supplies used for crop irrigation, food processing and drinking."

Nitrosamines are formed by a chemical reaction between nitrites or other proteins. Sodium nitrite is added to meat and fish to prevent spoilage; it is also used to preserve, color and flavor meats. Ground beef, cured meats and bacon in particular contain abundant amounts of amines due to their high protein content. Nitrosamines are also generated at high temperatures associated with frying or flame broiling. Reducing sodium nitrite content reduces nitrosamine formation in foods.

Nitrosamines become highly reactive at the cellular level, altering gene expression and causing DNA damage. The researchers note that the role of nitrosamine as a carcinogen has been fully documented. They propose that the cellular alterations that occur as a result of nitrosamine exposure are the same as those that occur with aging, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Type 2 diabetes.

Okay, we've had a couple of cases of Alzheimer's in the family and I want no part of that! We were vegetarians for 12 years, until we moved to an island off the north coast for several years. It rained constantly and the "soil" was either bare rock or muskeg. Fresh vegetables and fruit were hard to come by.

While we have tried going back to a vegetarian diet (and failed) several times in the past five years, this time I'm trying to make sure we have food on hand to munch on any time we get hungry. Both of us have medical disorders which make it imperative that we keep our blood sugar from dropping, and that we obtain enough protein to maintain muscle mass.

At the same time we are trying to eat both organically and locally food as much as possible, without being entirely and totally paranoid about it. Yesterday at the grocer's I was delighted to find one dozen locally sourced eggs, in a recycled carton, marked "from free run chickens". I usually buy free run eggs, but they come from an egg producer in the Fraser Delta (BC) whose chickens are free inside a barn, not running out in the sunshine and grass. While running freely inside a barn is a lot better than being kept in a cage too small to stand or turn around in, it's not what a chicken really likes. (Please Lord, let me find a way to keep a few chickens. Amen)

I also stopped at the produce stand and bought a box of locally-grown field tomatoes, which I will begin drying tonight. I looked at my dehydrator's manual. It has a 500 watt heater which is much smaller than a doughnut, and it's controlled by a thermostat, so the heater kicks on and off. A tiny fan circulates air through the trays. While this may sound as if it gobbles energy I've not yet been able to tell the difference in the power bill in the months when I use the drier heavily and those I don't use it at all. And after the food is dried there's no further energy expenditure, no running a fridge or freezer, and the food can be kept in an unheated storage area.

Canning isn't really an option for us, as we don't have the room to store canned goods, and cooking with propane at 89 cents a litre is *very* expensive. Electricity is cheap here, and generated by existing hydro-electric power, so it isn't as "bad" for the environment as coal-fired electric generators. This situation may very well be different for people in other places.

Out in the garden the rats seem to think the trellises right outside our bedroom window are a playground. The little devils scamper over the trellises all night and are as noisy as a herd of elephants! Add to that a 21 pound cat who was sitting on my head trembling with the excitement of seeing so much rodentia up close and I didn't get a lot of sleep the last couple of nights. This evening I will spray all the plants out there with pepper spray. That seems to discourage them. Let them find another playground!

I went out this morning and pulled the squash vines, which have not produced a single squash all summer, and are now covered with downy mildew. I put the plants in the garbage, not in the compost. I also finished pulling the beans, which are finished. Then I replanted the pots in kale and bok choi, while being careful to avoid the web of an enormous orb spider.

Garden plans percolate in my little brain. I need to build up the layers of soil in the two sunny ends of the garden. I may have to build a raised bed at each end to do this, but this will probably mean digging out and replanting all the plants I've put in there these last two years. But the plants are not thriving, they are poor sad things trying to eke out a living between greedy tree roots.

Off to the daily races. I have a new recipe to try, and want to do that before it gets to hot to cook.

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