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Healthy Living | New World Seeds & Tubers

First some news about your orders: as you’re probably aware, we were flooded with orders even before I announced that I had listed new seeds. Someone did something like a pingback to watch our site, was alerted instantly when I posted the new listings, and spread the news before I had a chance to make the announcement myself. I wish some of my other lines of business would go viral like that!

What you probably don’t know is that we were also flooded with customer service inquiries. A lot of them have to do with outstanding orders, such as people who want us to change their shipping address or billing method. Hopefully, I spot those before the orders get shipped out. If not, we’ll do our best to fix the problem; we want you to be satisfied with your order.

Some of them are questions people have before they can make an order, and they’re probably feeling anxious about not getting what they want. Some items have sold out, but the good news is more items will get listed as soon as we catch up with our backlog and have time to inventory and list them.

Some of our backlog of inquiries are setting high expectations for how much attention we can give any one potential customer. In order to serve everybody, we’re going to have to make some of these interactions brief. The problem is probably a result of scaling up operations; Tom used to have plenty of time to interact with customers when he was only sending out dozens of potato packets and seeds. What might make sense as a solution is for us to provide more information up front, so that we’re not answering the same questions over and over (though we do get a lot of questions that are already covered in our “Frequently Asked Questions”). It’s just one of those growing pains that will get sorted out when we have enough “efficiency of scale” to handle the overhead.

Speaking of which, kudos and thanks to Jane for volunteering to help Tom organize and pack orders. We really appreciate that. I’ve talked to Tom regarding how we can reciprocate. Tom has been blessed with the generosity of many people like Jane.

Now that administrative matters are out of the way, here’s another important matter you might have heard about in the news:

A few weeks ago, shipments of Brazilian orange juice destined for the United States tested positive for a fungucide called carbendazim. Not surprising as it is legal to use in Brazil. European regulations allow higher concentrations, and Japanese and Canadian regulations still higher; the juice would probably be allowed in those countries.

Here is what Wikipedia says about carbendazim:

Carbendazim is a widely used broad-spectrum benzimidazole fungicide and a metabolite of benomyl.

The fungicide is used to control plant diseases in cereals and fruit, including citrus, bananas, strawberries, pineapples, and pome.[2] It is also controversially used in Queensland, Australia on macadamia plantations.[3]A 4.7% solution of carbendazim hydrochloride is sold as Eertavas and marketed as a treatment for Dutch elm disease.

Studies have found that high doses of carbendazim cause infertility and destroy the testicles of laboratory animals.[4][5] Carbendazim was included in a biocide ban proposed by the Swedish Chemicals Agency [6] and approved by the European Parliament on January 13, 2009.[7]

I don’t know what the ramifications of carbendazim traces in orange juice are at the levels found. Since I don’t know, it’s probably best to avoid Brazilian orange juice, since that fungicide is in wide use there.

I recently bought some orange juice, and it probably contains concentrates from any of multiple countries, depending on where it can be found most inexpensively. It probably contains plenty of Brazilian orange juice, that got through before the testing was done. There is discussion of a ban on Brazilian OJ imports, but I would guess that economic factors will weigh against it, as otherwise orange juice prices in the USA would rise significantly more than they already are.

I’m actually all for “free trade”, as long as it is informed trade. It is unethical to sneak anything past the buyer that he would not agree to if he knew about it. The “commodization of everything” makes informed consent unlikely to happen.

The bottom line is that if you’re not sure it’s safe, think twice about buying it. The Food and Drug Administration caught this particular problem in this particular batch, but it is impractical for them to test everything, and you have no assurance they’re going to do anything about it even if they could.

What do you think?

As for me, it’s back to work packing orders and answering customer service inquiries.

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Last week my college-age son put in a lot of hours at school, and since the buses are few and far between late at night, I drove to his college to pick him up and then bring him home.

One of the local grocery stores is open 24 hours. I stopped by on the way home to pick up a quick meal for him, including a snack as a reward for the hard work at school. We looked at some ice cream.

Now, I am one of those people who does not believe that we are truly in a “deflationary spiral” with prices going DOWN. Except for debt-based assets like housing (which was overbuilt during the housing bubble), most prices are going UP not down.

So-called “deflation” is actually “debt repudiation”. What debt is repudiated, and what debt is monetized for a bailout, depends on who the creditor is. If the debt is owed to you or me, it’s defaulted on. You’ll see most of the pension plans for Joe Average either go insolvent or default through inflation over the coming years. If the debt is owed to someone who is rich and politically-connected, the debt is “monetized”–that is, a central bank, such as the Federal Reserve or the European Central Bank, buys up the debt, either directly or, more often, indirectly using financial intermediaries to create the illusion of market demand for the debt.

Debt repudiation and debt monetization, which is highly inflationary, always happen together. By the way: inflation is effectively just another form of default! There is no point in arguing “inflation” or “deflation” because it’s not one to the exclusion of the other.

They don’t “balance each other out”. The fact that they happen at the same time is one of the causes of “stagflation” (stagnant, or more likely, shrinking economy simultaneous with inflation). Think about it: new fiat money is being created, but it’s being spent to prevent a more efficient allocation of resources, and it’s not being spent on capital investment.

The question on many economists’ minds is “which wins?” That’s easy: inflation always wins. There has never, not once, ever been an economy that crashed with a deflationary spiral. What about the Great Depression? That story is somewhat historical engineering; after 1933 the “deflation” turned into “stagflation”.

There is an absolute lower bound on prices; they never fall below zero. Therefor, true deflations, which are rare and brief, would hit bottom quickly if allowed to; there is no such thing as a “deflationary spiral”. The problem is that they’re not allowed to, because it would bankrupt politically-connecteds.

It’s even stranger when people talk about deflation in the context of escalating resource-wars. The world’s first deflationary war?!

The “Japanese deflation” is also a deception: prices in Japan are VERY high, even measured in yen. Find out for yourself: spend a week in Tokyo!

Asset prices fall, but they fall for very good reason: a house sitting empty on a block of empty foreclosed houses, none of which are being maintained anymore, is, objectively, worth less in terms of utility than it was when it was occupied by a family that was paying the mortgage, mowing the lawn, and taking care of it. Printing more money is not going to fix the problem. Thanks to bailouts, the prices don’t fall as much as they need to to find buyers to get use out of them and take care of them.

Similarly, the prices of financial assets tied to technically insolvent companies–and governments!–are not under-priced; if anything they are wildly overpriced, probably due to the machinations of entities like the fabled “Plunge Protection Team”.

OK, so prices of real goods in the real economy are going UP not down. BUT, because of the “stag” part of “stagflation”, food processors have an incentive not to pass along all (they do pass some…) of the price increases they’re getting hammered with down the line. They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.

What do they do? They buy cheaper ingredients–and otherwise pass along the price increases as lower quality. If you compare apples to apples, within my lifetime, ice cream, that used to be called just “ice cream”, that used to sell for about 50 cents a half-gallon now costs about $5.00 a pint, now called “premium ice cream”, or in other words, a 4000% price increase.

This phenomenon of substitution masking hidden inflation is becoming extremely noticeable in ice cream. In fact, LOOK CAREFULLY at the label: a lot of the boxes no longer even say “ice cream”.

As of our midnight snack-run, I’m suspicious that even most of the ones that still do say “ice cream” are not what you expect.

My first clue was that the boxes are now weirdly light-weight. They’re full of a filler called “air”. The amount of air pumped into ice-cream is called “over-run”. Over-run is twice the percentage of air. I would guess typical over-runs are starting to run into the range of 100; that is, 50% air.

How can ice cream hold that much air?! It can’t. They’re adding more and more stabilizer such as polysorbate 80. Some ice creams have so much stabilizer in them they hold their shape when fully melted!! It’s like eating “astronaut ice-cream”.

Another clue is that “skim milk” is the first ingredient listed on many of them. “Skim milk” means the cream has been removed so where’s the “cream” part of ice-cream?

In order to mimic the viscosity (but alas not other qualities) of cream, the manufacturers add other ingredients, such as vegetables gums and another one that is finding its way into more and more foods in a variety of guises: cellulose.

TheStreet.com published a feature-length article about how cellulose is being added to a wide variety of foods. Interestingly, many of these products are being marketed as “healthy”.

Cellulose is a non-nutrient. Animals can not digest it–even termites need help from the bacteria in their digestive tracts!

I have a feeling that consumption of non-nutritive foods is crowding out needed nutrients. It’s analogous to the way that credit-booms and subsequent bailouts during the bust starve out more efficient uses of capital in the economy.

Cellulose is being used ubiquitously and in large amounts. Cellulose is an indefinitely long-chain molecule; it can be textured to resemble other foods including fats and proteins. It shows up in textured “creamy” fake-dairy or custardy desserts, meat (typically in fast-foods and processed foods), breads, and grain products.

There are some other non-nutritive ingredients showing up in food nowadays:

“Sucralose” is related to sucrose but has 3 of its hydroxides replaced with chlorine. It is essentially indigestible. It is approximately 600 times as sweet as sucrose, making it go a long way which I suspect is the real issue despite claims of being a “healthy” substitute for sugar. So in other words, they take sugar and stretch it 600 times further by doing some chemistry on it. Bear in mind that in some sense sugar is a necessary nutrient: the only fuel your brain can use is glucose. The trouble-maker that gives sugar a bad reputation seems to be fructose (which is one component of table-sugar i.e. sucrose); processing it in large amounts wears out our livers and pancreases.

Olestra is a sort of “octopus-shaped” molecule consisting of fatty acid chains connected to a glycerol core. It’s too big to pass through the intestinal wall, and so is indigestible. Unfortunately, fat-soluble vitamins are soluble in olestra; therefor it pulls them out of your body. It can also cause acute intestinal distress (in a way that could be rather humiliating). It’s is still on the market, even after the demise of “Wow” Chips. According to Procter and Gamble, it’s an ingredient in Pringles Light(tm) and Frito-Lay Light(tm) products. Proctor and Gamble also suggest baking it into cookies. Beware. The warning regarding potential for intestinal distress, by the way, is gone.

Aside from ice cream, there are a number of other products I’m suspicious of:

Imported “honey” from Asia is a mixture of corn syrup and artificial flavors and colors. It widely and fraudulently sold as domestic honey in Australia, Canada, and the USA, and has shown up in a number of commercial products including those sold by Sara Lee and Smuckers ostensibly containing honey. It tends to contain the antibiotic Chlormphenicol, which will cause deadly aplastic anaemia in 1 person in about 30,000-50,000 who eat enough of it to trigger the disease.

A lot of cheeses now taste like fakes to me. Their texture is unexpectedly waxy and they melt oddly. I’m suspicious that they contain unlisted waxy maize starch and carrageenan.

Fake fruit juice seems to be ubiquitous. Some of it is labeled lawfully but deceptively, and some undoubtedly fraudulently. In 1987 Beech Nut was fined for selling fake apple juice in products intended for infants! My guess is that since then enforcement has gotten lax. One mildly controversial practice that is ubiquitous is to add unlisted flavoring to orange juice to make up for the fact that the processing destroys the natural flavor.

Fake fruit is ubiquitous in processed foods. Some of the fakes are quite good, down to fake seeds in the fake “freeze-dried strawberries”.

“Chocolate” imported from Asia is nearly always fake, including even certain upscale luxury brands. The dead giveaway is the wrong “mouthfeel”: cocoa butter melts at almost precisely human body temperature; that’s what gives it its peculiar mouthfeel. Imported “chocolate” from Asia is almost always artificially colored and flavored hydrogenated fat, regardless of how it’s labeled. It’s been showing up in Easter “chocolates” for a while now, which are not only largely fake but highly overpriced. Hersheys, which has already started marketing suspect Brazilian chocolate in some of its product lines, has been lobbying to substitute fake chocolate for the real thing. I have a feeling it’s just a matter of time.

If you eat these fake foods, I have a feeling that you’re going to end up with multiple nutritional deficiencies. I’m suspicious that obesity, poor overall health, and premature aging are some of the consequences.

I was going to mention a few other controversial ingredients, but they didn’t quite fit the same pattern, so one of these days I’ll do another post about ingredients that are not fillers and substitutes, but which are known or suspected of being harmful.

One of the problems with product-labeling laws is that they result in complacency. People assume that “someone” is going to protect them from harmful ingredients, or at least disclose them. Not all controversial ingredients are required to be listed, and even to the extent that there are legal requirements, they’re not necessarily enforced, which in a globalized economy would be impossible anyway.

One way to avoid non-nutritive fillers and harmful additives is to grow your own food. To the extent that you do buy food, give preference to buying it as close to its natural form as possible, then prepare it yourself. Be skeptical of foods that are packaged in such a way as to mimic the form of healthy foods without the substance, and also beware of foods that are cheaper than the going rate. If it’s not real food, it’s not a bargain.

What about my son? He got his ice-cream, the premium brand with only 5 natural ingredients listed, which, hopefully, were on the up-and-up.

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With thanks to Bill Waterson

According to Hobbes (the tiger in the cartoon “Calvin and Hobbes”), the cereal box states that chocolate frosted sugar bombs contain 100% of the daily recommended allowance of caffeine.

Chocolate frosted sugar-bombs make Calvin hyperactive.

Unfortunately it’s hard to get the point across through sheer exaggeration, because the truth sounds like an exaggeration. Several breakfast cereals marketed to children are in excess of HALF sugar. The sugar content is only part of the bad news; breakfast cereals tend to be fluffy and insubstantial; there’s practically nothing to buffer all that sugar before it hits your pancreas.

The bad news is that 23 of the top 27 cereals marketed to children rated only Good or Fair for nutrition. There is at least as much sugar in a serving of Kellogg’s Honey Smacks and 10 other rated cereals as there is in a glazed doughnut from Dunkin’ Donuts. Two cereals, Kellogg’s Honey Smacks and Post Golden Crisp, are more than 50 percent sugar (by weight) and nine are at least 40 percent sugar. And that’s not the only issue. Although Kellogg’s Rice Krispies has only 4 grams of sugar per serving, it got only a Fair rating, largely because it is higher in sodium and has zero dietary fiber.
–Consumer Reports

Unfortunately some of the alternatives I have seen suggested are hardly better; they’re still a tad high in sugar, and if you add some fruit as recommended elsewhere to boost the fiber, then you’ve just added quite a bit more sugar too!

Hot oatmeal porridge is supposed to be wholesome, right? Unfortunately they’re problematic too; most of them now come in little packets embedded in bigger boxes–too much packaging!–and are now full of sugar and artificial flavors along with bits of dried fruit, some of it dyed and artificially flavored so that cheaper fruits (dried apples, typically) can pass for more expensive ones (strawberries, blueberries…).

When I go to Costco, I don’t see a single choice that looks appealing to me. Most of the cereals that seem to be marketed to “conscientious parents” simply SUGGEST wholesomeness, typically through the artwork on the box, and the mention of one token “healthy” ingredient–say a bit of flax seed–without disclosing the overall picture of imbalance.

It’s like my older daughter spotting the exact same product–a type of oily salted crisp snack–in a pretty white package with lots of depictions of green vegetables on it and fancy lettering at Trader Joe’s, as can be found at Safeway in a garish black-and-florescent-orange package with big bold cartoony-looking type.

One product that used to be marketed to the health-conscious was a type of vitamin-fortified rice cereal, originally modest in sugar but also rather modest in fiber or protein or anything else to slow down your digestion of all that starch. Nowadays, however, it’s even worse as it comes coated with sugar, with florescent (dyed? doesn’t look natural to me) bits of freeze-dried strawberries in it.

Here’s my choice of healthy, inexpensive breakfasts:

They’re rolled rye, not rolled oats, because I developed a sensitivity to the Avenin in oats. Long story… I’ve had a bad attitude towards oats ever since then, but for people who can eat them, they’re good too. Oats are high in protein. Problem is, as is true of most cereals (in the literal sense of “grain that comes from grasses”), the protein in oats is imbalanced; it doesn’t contain enough lysine. That’s why some folks mix an egg into their oatmeal before cooking it in the oven; that’s an old farmer’s trick for making a more substantial version of oatmeal porridge.

I added a pinch of salt, some cinnamon, raisins, lightly toasted walnuts, and soy-milk. The raisins add some sugar but with all the fiber and protein in this porridge, it doesn’t hit my bloodstream particularly fast, and the raisins and walnuts give it some varied taste and texture so that it’s not just “pasty porridge”. The walnuts add some protein and some essential fatty acids. And they taste good too.

This afternoon I talked to my buddy Tom Kleffman of Three Daughters Farm fame, who said that his preference for breakfast porridge is cooked ground flour corn.

He grows traditional Amerindian flour corns, coarsely grinds them, and cooks them into a porridge. One nice thing about corn is that it tends to be less allergenic than wheat or oats. Not surprising as I think its precisely the proteins in wheat and oats that tend to trigger allergic reactions; corn is lower in protein. Rice is probably even safer for folks with allergies, and some brown rice can be slow cooked with enough water to make a porridge out of it.

During our conversation about kids’ breakfast cereals, Tom mentioned “Cuckoo for cocoa puffs”, which was an actual slogan for a General Mills breakfast cereal. Sounds like an admission regarding what it does to your kids when that sugar, corn syrup, and cocoa hit their bloodstream.

I think one reason that parents buy their kids commercial breakfast cereals is “convenience”. You just buy them, and the kids serve themselves. It’s worth pointing out, though, that you can easily set up a slow-cooker to have hot porridge ready in the morning. Set out some items like dried fruit, coconut flakes, and toasted coarsely-chopped nuts to go with it.

For those who know what thermos-pots are, those would probably work too.

It’s not so much a matter of time-pressure, as it is planning.

I’ve written mostly about the nutrition aspect, but something else bothers me and I’ve got to get it off my chest: these commercial breakfast cereals are ridiculously expensive compared to value. Feel the box. Look at the net weight. Typically the product is so fluffy it is mostly air. Divide the price by the net weight. Think about it.

There’s a reason the manufacturers can spend so much money on advertising! For those who don’t know, children’s breakfast cereals are one of the most heavily advertised food items. They put commercials on children’s programming, with the intent of getting your kids to nag you to buy them the chocolate-frosted-sugar-bombs. Here’s another helpful hint: turn off the television. It’s a nuisance, especially to parents.

In comparison, rolled whole grains are dramatically cheaper, but you don’t have to feel guilty spending less money on your kids’ breakfast, because it’s so much healthier for them. It’s a win-win.

I have a feeling that all the breakfast cereals that deceptively look like they’re supposed to be healthy and wholesome are an indication that many parents really do care what their kids eat; they’ve just gotten into some bad habits for lack of knowing better and a need for a higher level of commitment to act on their good intentions.

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