Friday, October 11, 2013

Ancestral vs Industrial: Two Stories

via Mother Earth News
This is "glass corn," a traditional, multi-coloured translucent variety, a picture of which made the rounds last year. Lovely, isn't it? Honestly, I wouldn't have a clue how to cook with it, but that doesn't make me covet it less. Mother Earth News has the fascinating story of the man who recovered this heritage variety; the original seed was obtained from Carl L. Barnes of Oklahoma.
Carl is of half Cherokee, half Scotch-Irish ancestry and was born in the family’s original farmhouse about a half-mile from his current home. His father had moved the family west, where they acquired land and set up farming on the High Plains. Carl spent his childhood on this homestead, and the family lived through the 1930s Dust Bowl years, staying to survive the ordeal rather than leaving as many did at that time in our history.
As a youth, Carl began to seek out his Cherokee roots, exploring the knowledge of his own ancestors and of Native American traditions in general, by learning from his grandfather. Much of this quest centered on the ceremonies surrounding planting, harvesting, and honoring seeds. Carl went on to earn a degree in Agricultural Education, and later in his adult years worked with the Cooperative Extension Service. He also spent several years serving with the Kansas Highway Patrol. Carl continued working the farm, along with his wife Karen, and they raised a family.
In the course of growing some of the older corn varieties still being farmed at that time, Carl began noticing ancestral types of corn re-appearing in his crops. As he isolated these, he found many of the variants to match up with traditional corns that had been lost to many of the Native tribes – particularly those peoples who had been relocated during the 1800s to what is now Oklahoma. Thus, he was able to re-introduce specific corn types to the elders of those tribes, and this helped their people in reclaiming their cultural identities. The corn is, to them, literally the same as their blood line, their language, and their sense of who they are.
 The Globe and Mail today has an interesting story about the traditional remedies and how they are not always what they seem:
...when scientists from the University of Guelph scoured the DNA in a number of herbal products, they found that many times the labels on the merchandise didn’t accurately reflect what was in the container.
Some products contained fillers like wheat or rice that were not listed on the label. Some were contaminated with other plant species that could have caused toxicity or triggered allergic reactions. And still others contained no trace of the substance the bottle purported to contain.
“It says gingko biloba ... and we didn’t find any gingko DNA at all in the bottle,” said Steve Newmaster, an integrative biology professor at the university who was the first author on the paper.
In fact, about a third of the 44 products Newmaster and his co-authors tested were instances of what he called product substitution – alfalfa sold as gingko, for example. He said those two substances in powder form would be indistinguishable without testing.
People buying herbal products need to know they may not be getting what they are paying for – and they may be ingesting something they aren’t expecting, said Newmaster, who is also the botanical director of the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, which is the home of the Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding.
“Because you spend a lot of money to buy a health product, you care about your health, and then you’re not getting what you think you’re getting.”
The study is being published Friday in the journal BMC Medicine.
About a third of the products tested had products substituted. That is a hell of a lot of fraud. And the manufacturers of herbal supplements  have successfully fought against actual testing of the contents of these substances. But this is outright consumer fraud. Even without requiring some kind of proof to back up claims made about results from use, at the very least can't we have the actual product in the bottle?

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