Monday, December 30, 2013

Romanesco w/ a Side of Glenn Doman

Under the continuous influence of the defeatist effects of my months-long quest for the truth, I did what in the past proved uplifting and, at least in the short term, healing. Grocery shopping in the Okanagan, ever since the original settlement in mid October, has always been more than just a chore. In fact, browsing through unique whole foods, diverse in shape and colour, should be an officially recognized therapy for all sorts of mental disorders, ranging from a short-term melancholy to a perplexing OCD, both of which frequented the mind of a ten-year-old Russian pre-teen and now the mother of a soon-to-be twelve-month-old boy named Marcus. 

Walking through isles filled with fragrant Mexican guavas, neatly packed rainbow cherry tomatoes and now accustomed to golden beets, I came across something less common and in possession of an elegant name, romanesco. Spiralling down in a perfect consonance and captivating the odd shopper's attention were miniature onion domes, lime-green in colour and unmatched in their alien beauty so powerful that my earlier thoughts of inadequacy faded into the background. A seeming cross between broccoli and cauliflower, it turned out to be one of few remaining heirloom plant varieties, first noted in Italy in the sixteenth century. 

Of course, I was unaware of that until a quick online search was conducted upon my return home. A rather unique appearance of this representative of Brassica Oleracea species, the promise of a decadent nutty flavour and a reasonable price tag proved sufficient for a decision to purchase, unlike another bizarre plant in the fruit section called Budhha's hand, that attracted my attention during the same outing- an ancient citrus variety divided into finger-like segments and priced at a whooping $10.99 each. At the time, excited by the sight of a plump yellow hand, I pulled out my iPhone to capture the odd discovery, but at the very moment the screen went black and lifeless, indicating the desperate need to be re-charged.

Driving home that afternoon, although satisfied with the sensory and mental stimulation of my grocery run, I knew more had to be done towards bettering my mental state in the long term. Months of documentaries, books and articles on the topics of corruption in politics, finance, food production and medicine exhausted my ability to be happy. Indeed, contentment virtually evaporated from my list of frequently-experienced emotions, only meagrely supported by culinary activity at home, and my family knew it without a slightest doubt. 

Something had to be done, and instinctively, I chose to re-direct my attention to Marcus' development and education. In a mad pursuit to influence people's dietary and medical decisions, I recognized the pushy salesman I had become, whose product offering, however beneficial to an individual and the society as a whole, was not perceived as such at all or at the moment. Granted, there were many lessons for me to learn and long-postponed homework to complete, so I allowed myself to change the direction- both in my physical and virtual realities- and emailed Teresa Bouchard

A local occupational therapist with years of experience in enhancing parent-child relationships, Teresa seemed suitable for a role of a parenting guide to an overwhelmed mother with the Great Wall of questions about her son's development and education. Having contacted her during the Christmas holidays, I knew not to expect our first meeting until the first week of January, leaving me with enough time to solidify my list of concerns, research local daycare options and examine several books on parenting and child development, two of which were recommended by Teresa during the preliminary phone call a few days earlier and the rest purchased through Amazon of my own accord. 

Marcus' first birthday approaching at the speed of light, I was struck with a sudden realization that although a general idea had been formed about the direction of his upbringing and education, little to no research had been conducted to calibrate it with existing teaching and parenting philosophies, as well as locally available learning and recreational facilities. Having reached the conclusion that two to three days apart per week would benefit both parties, I began booking tours at Kelowna learning centres only to realize that few of them dared to venture outside the realm of what is widely considered developmentally appropriate for twelve-month-old infants. If I, the unemployed housemaker, were to spend four to six hundred dollars per month on the few hours a complete stranger would sparingly dedicate to my son, I had to be certain he would accomplish more than ingesting a shred of wrapping paper, offered by a certified Early Childhood Educator to hopelessly bored children to be torn apart and... well, eaten. 

As my search for an appropriate child care began during the Christmas holidays, I decided to postpone further phone calls and instead dedicate my attention to what seemed a rather exciting venture- teaching my son how to read. Having encountered the name of Glenn Doman in one of several books I was studying, Weapons of Mass Instruction by John Taylor Gatto, I resolved to research his philosophy on brain development in children and purchased one of his works entitled How to Teach Your Baby to Read. The concept was controversial; however, since its original edition in 1964 the book enjoyed a tremendous success, having been published in 22 languages and sold in the millions around the world. It was worth a try. 

Almost immediately, I was captivated by the refreshing gentle attitude towards mothers that shined throughout the book. Indeed, mothers are often represented as inherently biased, grossly uneducated and clinically obsessed when it comes to their ability to make health and education related decisions on behalf of their children. True, many of us make mistakes, but not out of refusal to avoid them, but rather because of the complexity and controversial nature of modern parenting, where opinions are as many as needles on General Sherman. And sure, there are also those unfit to keep a pet, never mind  raising a healthy, respectful and capable human being, but the inherent ability of every parent to care enough to search beyond the veil of appearances is an innate quality, although dormant in some, ready to be exercised to its fullest extent.

Having familiarized myself with Doman's principles- the entire book read from cover to cover in a matter of three afternoons- I busied myself making flashcards, enough for the first week's course of study, and started presenting them to my son in an orderly, yet playful and joyous, manner. Four days into the new adventure, I did not yet catch my 24-pound wunderkind reciting Shakespeare or looking up directions to the nearest district library, but I noted him gaze at the red-lettered words with the utmost zeal and enjoyment, as if eager to soak up every bit of information presented before him. Undeniably, for everyone involved this was becoming an enriching, bonding experience- the daily event that took my mind off the corrupt and depraved, diverting it instead to what is right with the world, the relationship with my son.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Crêpes w/ a Side of Monsanto

Pushing the stroller with an increasingly curious infant, who from time to time made a point to explore the breaks in the concrete slab walkway, I busied myself sorting through material on modern healthcare, biotechnology in agriculture and, of all things, quantum physics. Having watched seven documentaries and read excerpts from books and numerous online articles over the course of two weeks, I was unequivocally overwhelmed with names, numbers and images of the Golden Spiral. 

Equally burdened by a long break in blogging, I looked forward to resuming the nightly habit, for my imaginary readers counted on new revelations of a Russian homemaker. Unable to discriminate among equally important and intriguing topics, I decided to start with the very first film I watched one of last week's chilly winter afternoons: The World According to Monsanto. Its director, Marie Monique Robin, a renowned TV journalist and documentary filmmaker from France, conducted simple yet extensive research on the multinational giant Monsanto. Her findings- the result of months of travel, interviews and basic Internet search- revealed decades of unethical operations and rogue products approved and injected into agriculture by the very government agencies charged with ensuring food safety and sustainable farming practices.

Marcus on an afternoon stroll around the neighbourhood
Although few days passed since my original introduction to the documentary, I felt the need to re-watch it making notes along the way. Anticipating a long night of research on the subject, I envisioned a plate of Russian-style crêpes with beef-and-vegetable filling strategically positioned between myself and VAIO the laptop, facilitating active learning and effortless writing. Luckily, Marcus cooperated and once fed and changed after a crisp winter stroll, he quieted down for a well-deserved nap, allowing me to get started on the culinary process. The topic of genetic engineering high on my list of self-assigned study material, I savoured combining three sorts of home-made organic flour with free-range eggs, wild honey, organic milk, unfiltered sea salt and natural grape seed oil.

In the face of today's apathetic attitude towards food, there is something comforting in cooking from scratch using whole local ingredients, knowing full well that the power to combat depraved corporatism resides within us. As I proceeded to pour my first crêpe, I thought of dozens of people I came across in my search for the truth, who made it their lives' mission to expose greed and corruption within government agencies and corporations and spur the collective movement towards positive change. Professional careers and personal sanity at stake, they worked towards greater public awareness on the subject, eventually reaching my news section on Facebook.

Pan-fried Russian-style crêpes (блины)
Indeed, the company did not appear on my radar until a highly publicized- at least, in social media- March Against Monsanto in May of this year, where according to organizers, two million protesters around the world took it to the streets to condemn genetic engineering of food and rising herbicide and pesticide use. Far from the only sinner- Monsanto is a part of the Big 6 cartel of chemical companies- it seems to have received the most negative publicity, and rightfully so. Monsanto is the largest seed company in the world, in control of approximately one quarter of the global seed market and 90 per cent of corn, soybeans, cotton and canola grown the U.S. 

Since the introduction of the first GM crop in Canada in 1994, Health Canada managed to approve dozens of transgenic food varieties, but only four, including corn, canola, soybeans and sugar beets, are grown and sold within the country's borders. However, despite the twenty-year history of GE crops in this country, an average Canadian remains under-equipped to carry a discussion on the topic or make informed decisions at the local grocery store.

And that would have been the case with rBGH, had Health Canada approved it for use in Canadian cattle or had the American public remained unaware of its dangers to the animals and humans. Shamefully, my initial introduction to rBGH took place less than a month ago at a speaking event on November, 24, 2013, where two scientists, Thierry Vrain and Shiv Chopra, presented their knowledge on stage in Genetically Engineered Foods and Human Health, which I blogged about in The Lecture Hall: GE Foods & Human Health the following night.

Crêpes precooked, stuffed with beef-and-vegetable filling and fastened with toothpicks
While Dr. Thierry Vrain presented a compelling string of facts on the process of genetic engineering and the nature of Monsanto's best-selling herbicide, RoundUp, Dr. Shiv Chopra, employed by Health Canada in the period from 1969 to 2004, unveiled years of unsubstantiated decisions of the government agency to approve numerous drugs, despite Chopra's and other in-house scientists' repeated warnings on their lack of effectiveness and safety. One of such drugs was rBST (recombinant Bovine Somatotropin) or rBGH (recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone), as presented for approval by its manufacturers, Eli Lilly and Monsanto. Injected into cows, claimed the producers, it would increase milk production dramatically; however, the application lacked one important element: a scientific study with data supporting either of the companies' claims.

Dr. Chopra's immediate concern about the proposed drug was followed by tremendous pressure from his superiors and the manufacturers themselves to recommend the approval. However, the efforts backfired, leading instead to a public testimony of Dr. Chopra and two of his colleagues before the Senate Committee on Agriculture in 1998, where several of the drug's side effects came to light. At the same hearing, Dr. Margaret Hayden- a colleague of Dr. Chopra's- revealed Monsanto's attempt to bribe her and her superior in exchange for an approval of their own brand of rBST, Posilac. As a result, the drug was banned in Canada.

Initially in the U.S., Monsanto succeeded and received the FDA's approval, despite their own scientists' opposition. One of them, Dr. Richard Burroughs, involved in the review of rBGH from 1985 to 1988, when he was dismissed without cause, spoke repeatedly on its harmful effects on both animals and humans, citing increased incidents of mastitis in cows, a higher use of antibiotics to treat it, and raised levels of pus and IGF-I or insulin-like growth factor in cow's milk. Having faced at least the same amount of pressure to approve the drug despite its safety concerns, Dr. Burroughs blew the whistle of his own in 1990. The approval eventually came through in 1993, but the incredible amount of negative publicity and the consumers' strong opposition to tainted milk led to numerous grocery stores like Safeway and Wal-Mart banning it from their lines of products. Today, 75 per cent of all of the U.S. milk remains rBGH-free.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Piece by piece, smoothed with organic sour cream and adorned by a few wedges of fragrant heirloom tomatoes, my stuffed crêpes melted away by the minute. Having served a wonderful purpose of keeping me sane throughout the daunting task of describing Monsanto's shenanigans, they were no more until the new opportunity to sweeten their eater's sorrow...

Cited Sources:
The World According to Monsanto by Marie Monique Robin
The Big Six: A Profile of Corporate Power in Seeds, Agrochemicals and Biotech by Hope Shand

Saturday, December 14, 2013


Caught in a chaotic dance, an army of snowflakes surrounded sleepy homes on a quiet street. Seemingly disobedient, they bowed to their only master- an unwelcome transient with a heart of murky ice and ruffled hair of bare maple branches. Marching on a lonely road, he dragged along an ancient trunk packed full of wind and dark thoughts. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. His heavy feet pronounced his presence, impregnating all with fear and anguish, shattering hope and instilling despair.

As I looked out the window, weakened by a string of recent findings on the broken essence of modern healthcare, present food production and the contemporary financial system, the world of darkness reflected back upon me. The very view of the frozen valley that once mesmerized seemed irrelevant in the desperate struggle to grasp human nature. Outraged by the reckless and downright criminal actions of politicians, corporate executives and billionaire philanthropists, I transgressed into a forbidden mental state of doldrums, rendered impotent to express myself in literary or culinary arts. 

Forsaken by the muses, I searched inwards for mere specks of inspiration until two pools of peaceful blue were before me. Profound yet clear, they called upon lost souls in need of refuge- a place to rest, reflect and resurrect- calm warm waters spilling over the aching feet, washing away fatigue and restoring spiritual strength. Deep wounds beginning to heal, it was time to carry on... Renewed and inspirited, I marveled at the mystical visit, resolved to one day repay for the quiet compassion bestowed upon me. And then I realized, I was looking into my son's eyes...