Wheat and chaff

What did you eat today? Bread at any point? Pasta? Maybe couscous? Some bran flakes or cake? Probably all of that was made with wheat. Possibly you’ve had some corn during your day or some rice. But apart from that, how many cereal varieties do you know?

Wheat is popular. It is popular for a good reason. It has been cultivated for a very long time, it grows without too much attention and the amount of fertilizers and pesticides one has to use is not too bad yet. Through cultivation however wheat loses it’s natural protection against fungi or diseases. Enormous breeding makes plants into something more or less artificial. So, it is still a plant. There’s nothing wrong with eating wheat.

However, a uniform diet of mostly highly cultivated wheat teaches your body nothing about how to cope with anything out of the norm. The result? Allergies, gluten intolerance, celia.

Why not try other grains? Well, what’s the first thing that pops into your eyes when you go to the supermarket? Yes, some generic white bread made out of wheat. Looking for wholegrain? You might stand a chance. Looking for spelt or rye bread? Good luck, you’re lost. If you do find anything close to that, it will certainly exceed a normal family’s budget. Millet is the main source of nutrients for about 1/3 of the worlds population. If you try to buy it in a regular European supermarket it will be really expensive compared to other options.

Rice is cheap and can be bought in masses. It’s a perfectly good grain to begin with, but it is processed for a long time until you find it in a bag on the shelf. The skin and with it all nutrients and vitamins are taken away, just to later artificially fortify it with such. Why? To grow rice in large quantities on the same place you need lots of pesticides and fungicides to keep your crop healthy. And what happens with those? Well first of all they soak into the soil and stay there for years. But, as your rice plan is kind of attached to the ground it grows on, those also go into the plant. And with that, in each grain, where in particular the residue of such liquids gather in the skin of each grain. Hence, off with… and with it all vitamins, but at the level of contamination of regular rice that’s probably for the best.

But why are alternative grains so much more expensive? Well, as I said above, if you want to make good money out of a crop, you need to grow large quantities at one spot. And with that, you get plenty of diseases. Now wheat and rice are everyday food for most people. They have both been cultivated for a very long time and now grow much richer than other grains do. And more harvest on a smaller space means a lower cost for everyone, including you, the consumer.

There’s not much you can do yourself to reverse this process and suddenly make all other crops the same price as wheat. But to keep yourself and our planet healthy, it is important to vary your cereal intake and give variety a chance. Variety is awesome, just as a painting is much more beautiful than a plain white wall.

Animal Production

In average, a lot of us eat a lot of meat. There’s nothing wrong with eating meat in general, but there are a lot of things wrong the way it is done. How does a steak get on your plate? Well, from the supermarket probably. How does it get there? Well, from some butcher. But let’s start at the beginning.

For steaks one needs cows or pigs. Those are living beings, they need to be born, grow, be kept healthy and should be ensured to have a relatively happy life before making someone’s dinner. In theory this sounds not too bad (if you can live with the fact that another living being is killed so you can enjoy it). The growing up part is the one we will focus on now. In order to grow, any living being needs food and water. Of course, cows eat grass. Just that there isn’t always grass. So how can we help that? Dried grass, hay for example.

BUT: if you feed your cow off grass and hay, it’ll take a quite long time for it to be big enough to make enough money off it when it goes to the butcher. So, since we live in a very commercialised world, people aren’t always patient enough to wait for a long time. There are ways to speed up the growing process. One can replace grass and hay by grains. Those are rich in nutrients and make them grow a whole lot faster. Since you also might not want to keep a single cow, as they’re after all gregarious animals, you might want a whole big bunch to make sure your meat production is profitable. Well, works in theory.

Let’s look on what happens if you hold many of the same species close together. You want to make money, so there’s no big meadow where they grass, there’s a big stable where they stand in their own dirt, no windows, no fresh air. This encourages illnesses of course. Also because you’ve already taken the natural vitamin rich food away from it and replaced it by someone it would normally not eat. So, you need quite some medication to keep your stock healthy.

But what happens if you give your animal some medication? It goes into their blood, and with that into their muscles. And that’s just what you eat.

But let’s look at the environmental side of this. You need to feed your animal grains to make them grown quicker. In the end, you need about 10kg of grains for each 1kg of meat and about 10 000 litres of water (including cleaning and post-production). You can easily eat a 200g steak in one meal, that’s really not that big. Could you also eat let’s say 2kg of soy beans in one meal?!?

So why is this a problem? Today about a THIRD of the earths fields are just used to grow animal feed. Grain production has the same goals as the meat industry. Grow stuff as quickly and as profitable as possible. For that, one needs good fertilizers and pesticides. Or, one goes to Brazil, burns down some rainforest, has some natural fertilizer for a few years and then abandons the field, which turns it into a desert.

The Americans are leading the average per head meat consumption. Each of them eats almost 400g meat EVERY DAY. That’s two steaks. Of course this includes waste as well, because let’s be honest, can you really be bothered to buy things thoughtfully and not toss half of what you bought because it went off in your fridge, unused? Can you really ask people to make sure that what they buy gets used?

Pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are great. They’re taste, especially roasted, and they’re good for you. They make a nice addition to salads, breads and cereals. You can even make oil out of them and then you get a dark green nutty tasting liquid which stains incredibly but tastes great.

What’s not so great about pumpkin seeds is how they’re harvested. In order to get pumpkin seeds you can guess, yes, one needs a lot of pumpkins. If you cook yourself, you’ll know that even in a big pumpkin, there’s a handful of seeds. So, in order to get a good lot of pumpkin seeds to sell, one needs a good lot of pumpkins. Easy maths. In autumn, when pumpkins are ready to be harvested, a field looks about like this: http://www.suedburgenland.info/static/images/kuerbisfeld.jpg

Now that we know that there’s only a handful of seeds in each pumpkin, what happens with the rest? Well, shortly, it gets thrown away. Some gets reused as fertilizer on fields, some gets transformed into animal feed, but most of it gets just thrown away. Pumpkin is a perfectly good vegetable, it’s tasty, full of vitamins and really versatile. Just think of a tasty pumpkin pie, or roast pumpkin, pumpkin soup… Pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil are especially popular in the south east of Austria.

Due to the demands there a lot of fields are used for pumpkin seed production. With droughts every year the price of a litre of oil has been growing very fast. A 1l bottle is at around 20€, quite some price to pour on your salad where a lot of it gets drained down the sink because to be honest, you never really finish the left over vinegar/oil mix on the bottom of your salad bowl. So, more stuff gets thrown away. Precious field space gets wasted for pumpkins. One might say, hey, we still have enough to eat. Sure, people do. BUT: we need tons of fertilizers and pesticides to ensure that we do have enough to eat off the fields there are. So, if we’d stop silly things like growing a perfectly good great vegetable just to throw most of it away later, we could grow something else on that space and use fewer chemical crap that sinks into the soil.