Sunday, November 18, 2012

Trash-a-Dena: Going Forward

Rose Bowl  Devastated with Trash After Football Game 
Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Jonas Peters

After having reported to the City of Pasadena that the plastic pollution I'd brought to their attention in the Central Arroyo Seco had not been adequately cleaned, I met personally with Public Works crew supervisor Ted Latta. He wanted me to show him the polluted site I had reported along the bank of the Arroyo off of Washington Blvd, as he and his crew could not find it. When I took him up the road and showed him the area, he recognized it and exclaimed "Oh, you mean the illegal dumping ground!" According to Ted, construction contractors frequently dump old windows, cement, wood and various other types of constriction debris along that bank and elsewhere late at night to avoid paying to properly dispose of it at the landfill. "Yeah, we'll have that cleaned up for you" Ted told me.

After showing him the polluted location along Washington Blvd, I asked Ted if he would accompany me to inspect the polluted wetland area below Devil's Gate Dam which was reported to me to have been cleaned. Of course, as documented in my previous post, the area was still riddled with bits of styrene and other pollution. Ted seemed happy to take me there. "I know that area is clean because I cleaned it myself" he said.

Upon our arrival, I pointed out all of the micro-trash and other not-so-small items of plastic pollution which he had neglected to remove from this sensitive habitat. Ted seemed a bit bewildered that I should be concerned with particles of styrene and plastic which were spread throughout the tules and mulch. "My guys would never pick that up" he said, speaking of his crew. "They wouldn't see that as trash..." Ted explained that his crew only cleaned up the most obvious items of trash in the Arroyo, and that if his Public Works crew actually spent the time to properly maintain the place, they'd be there all day and never get anything else done. Hearing this was a verification of what I have long observed in the Central Arroyo, especially after events-- the City only picks up the "big stuff," and leaves all of the plastic micro-trash to continually accumulate, photo-degrade and permanently degrade the environment.
Mr. Latta assured me that he would return to the wetland and clean the remainder of the pollution, and on our way back he showed me some of the various projects he was supervising in the Arroyo. I found that Ted has an artistic eye, as evidenced by his desire to keep the Arroyo looking natural and un-manicured. Fallen limbs were left as habitat for creatures and native trees were allowed to grow branches naturally from their bottoms. I admired Ted's vision of leaving things in the Arroyo as looking "like a painting," and lamented the fact that his work crew was so underfunded and short on manpower. The Arroyo has become a much different place than when he first began working there. "Twenty years ago, nobody came down here to run (the Rose Bowl loop) except the boxers!" He told me.

A few days later, I was happy to find that the bank along Washington Blvd. had been cleaned. Of course, the amount of trash in the Central Arroyo remains staggering, and I have since spent many hours picking up hundreds of bits of plastic from off the trails. I also recently led a cleanup of Brookside Park for the Arroyo Seco Foundation. This disheartening degradation is what inspired me to reach out to Pasadena's city manager Michael Beck. I sent Mr. Beck a link to my posts, an received the following reply:

Thanks for sharing your concern. I have copied the public works director to make sure she is aware of the debris. I would also encourage you to suggest on your blog that those that are walking in the area try to help keep the area clean by picking up debris when appropriate and feasible.
Thanks, ...Michael
Michael J. Beck 
City Manager 
(626) 744-4333

I responded

Dear Mr. Beck,
Thank you for your email. To your point about encouraging citizens to assist with the cleanup of the Arroyo, I would like to note that I often see other people picking up trash as they hike through the Arroyo. In addition, as Outreach Coordinator for the Arroyo Seco Foundation, I have organized and led cleanup events in various parts of the Arroyo on a regular basis. Recently, as part of Coastal Cleanup Day, I led a group of volunteers who removed 60 to 70 large bags of trash from the natural stream area under the Colorado Street Bridge-- approximately one ton of waste.
The citizens of Pasadena are actively involved in cleanup efforts in the Arroyo on an informal and on a formal basis. However, volunteer efforts are not sufficient. The City of Pasadena needs to do more.
Tim Martinez 

To which Mr. Beck responded:

And we will do more. Thanks for bringing this to our attention. We are committed to improving the entire area. Siobhan is a very capable leader and effective manager. She will get things done.
Thanks, …Michael 

My suggestions for improving the Arroyo:

Parking Fee Program: The Urban Land Institute (ULI) visited Pasadena in January 2012 to conduct a Governors Advisory Panel for the 254 acre Central Arroyo. The study area contained the Rose Bowl stadium, Brookside Golf Course and Clubhouse, Brookside Park, Rose Bowl Aquatics Center, Kidspace Museum, surface parking lots and the 3.3 mile recreational loop.
The ULI accurately described the Central Arroyo as a world class area which "contributes significantly to the economic, social and environmental well-being of the city and the greater Los Angeles area." According to the ULI, "parking is an untapped potential revenue source for the
city. The number of current and potential visitors strongly suggests the need to develop a fee- based parking program."
I remember as a kid back in the 1990's, Old Pasadena was much grittier and polluted than it is today. The historic alleyways smelled awful and overflowed with trash, and from what I understand, conditions were much worse back in the 1980's. Old Pasadena has now become a model for downtown revitalization, due to the fact that once parking meters were installed, the money was kept in the area and used to implement Old Pasadena's Clean & Safe program. Everyday, "Clean Team" personnel maintain the streets, alley walkways, and sidewalks of Old Pasadena. Their continuous activities include street sweeping, sidewalk pressure washing, daily porter service, trash removal, and other cleaning initiatives. Clean & Safe also provides for the Old Pasadena Ambassador Guide Program which enhances Pasadena's downtown experience further.
I suggest that Pasadena follow the Urban Land Institute's excellent suggestion for generating revenue from parking in the Central Arroyo, and apply it to an equivalent, Arroyo Seco version of Old Pasadena's Clean & Safe program. Just as the streets and alleyways of Old Town are now kept spotlessly clean, so should the Arroyo trails, facilities and surrounding parkland be kept in pristine condition. We should accept nothing less for the world-class parkland of the Central Arroyo.

City Work Crew Training: Once sustainable funding is secured to properly maintain the Central Arroyo, it will become necessary to educate city workers about modern environmental issues. Plastic pollution has quickly become one of the greatest sources of pollution, on both land and sea. This toxic petrochemical waste cannot be digested by the Earth, and poses a profound threat to the continuation of life on this planet. It is imperative that city workers learn the threats posed by this issue, and are trained to recognize the vital importance of cleaning even small bits of plastic which accumulate throughout the Arroyo. This will ensure that Pasadena follows the best practices in the protection of the Arroyo Seco watershed, the Los Angeles River and the vast, irreplaceable habitat of the Pacific Ocean.

Diverse Utilization of the Central Arroyo: The City of Pasadena should heed the Urban Land Institute's wise suggestion "that the city not be swayed by the offer to temporarily host the National Football League. It was the panel’s opinion that such an effort would be detrimental to the ultimate goal of making the Central Arroyo Seco a sustainable part of the Pasadena community."
In the recent Pasadena Star News Op-ed: Rose Bowl gem can be cubic zirconia, Anne Yu describes the displacement that occurs for the various users of the Arroyo as a result of too many large events:
"With the... numerous events - annual weekend dog show, food truck festival, soccer tournaments, and the many charity walks - that occur over the weekends, regular users of the
amenities in the area encounter some kind of disruption for nearly half of the 52 weekends a year."
"The fact that citizens who care about the city have to regularly give up our neighborhood for tailgaters who get drunk and start fights is shameful."
Just imagine how much more displacement of runners, hikers, bicyclists, swimmers, parents and children going to Kidspace, golfers, soccer players and other regular users of the Central Arroyo will be displaced if the Pasadena City Council amends the the Arroyo Seco Public Lands Ordinance to increase the number of displacement (major) events from 12 to 25 to allow a National Football League (NFL) team to use the Rose Bowl for five continuous years... not to mention the vast increase in trash and plastic pollution which would surely occur as a result. The diverse uses of the Arroyo should not be displaced by allowing such an intrusion to occur.

Keep Hahamongna Natural:  Finally, the City of Pasadena should abandon any plans to go forward with the construction of a soccer field and parking lot in Hahamongna Watershed Park. Pasadena cannot adequately maintain the parkland and city services it already provides. Adding another area for the city to have to maintain would further spread city resources too thin, not to mention the fact that the soccer field construction described under the City's Multi-benefit Multi- Use project would destroy the rich native California alluvial scrub habitat contained in the park.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Trash-a Dena: There's Still a Problem

I had hoped with this third post to end this particular series documenting my attempt to have the City of Pasadena clean two areas in the Central Arroyo Seco of plastic pollution.  I have been prepared each time I interacted with the City to praise their responsiveness and their thoughtful consideration of the issues which I had brought to their attention.  Unfortunately, with regard to this post, that's still not the case.

Today, as I made my way to the natural area below Devil's Gate Dam, which was reported to me by Parks and Natural Resources Administrator Charles Peretz to have been cleaned by city work crews, this is what I found:

Whether it's the City's claims that they adequately clean the Central Arroyo after events, or during a day to day basis, this is the poor caliber of work that we are left with every time.  They dispose of all of the big stuff, and pay no attention to the micro-trash which accumulates.  They cover the trash with fresh mulch, which is often contaminated with shredded plastic itself.  The City of Pasadena, therefore, not only neglects the sensitive environment of the Arroyo Seco, but contributes to it's degradation.

We have in the Arroyo a great natural and cultural resource for the City of Pasadena, for the nation and for the rest of the world.  I will continue to demand from the City that these areas of the Arroyo be cleaned, until their full potential as such is met.

Trash-a-Dena: Going Forward

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Trash-a-Dena: Update

After documenting my unsuccessful attempt to report two sites of plastic pollution to the City of Pasadena in my last post, I emailed City Manager Michael Beck and the two Assistant City Managers, as well as my city councilman Steve Madison.  My message to them all included a link to the Arroyo Sage blog post which details my experience.

I received email responses from Assistant City Managers Julie Gutierrez and Steve Mermell, apologizing, and saying they'd forward my concerns to someone who could assist me.  I received a voicemail Wednesday afternoon from Charles Peretz, the Administrator of Natural Resources, in which he appologiged for my experience.  He promised that the next day (Thursday) someone would be out there to clean the "litter" that I reported. He left me his phone number and said it shouldn't have been handled this way and that the city needs to work on handling citizen involvement better.

Thursday, I recieved a call from Ted Latta, the Public Works crew supervisor.  He said that his crew would be there that day and clean up the mess.  I was encouraged that this was going to get done.

On Friday I went for a run down the same trail, and inspected the area below Devil's Gate Dam that I had reported.  Nothing had changed.  These pics detail the scene:

I ran some more over to Washington Blvd, and surveyed the scene again.  Still covered in plastic.  This time I took a video documentation of what I found:

After my run, I called Charles Peretz and expressed my frustration that both he and Ted Latta had promised me that the sites would be cleaned the day before, and had not been.  He was very polite and told me that he had just gotten off the phone with Mr. Latta, and that they couldn't get to it until today.  Mr. Peretz said that unless something came up, that the pollution would be cleaned that day, and that he'd let me know when the job was complete.

I thanked him for being so responsive, though I let him know that such neglect and pollution is a constant issue in the Central Arroyo.  I described how Brookside Park is overrun with plastic straw wrappers from juice drinks and how it's riddled with plastic water bottle caps on the ground.  People stuff plastic chip bags into the native ground squirrel dens and into bushes.  I suggested that, given the current state of neglect and degradation of the Central Arroyo,  perhaps he and others responsible for maintaining these areas should make it known to the City that their resources are stretched too thin to accommodate additional uses and facilities such as the NFL or the Soccer in Hahamongna.

I received an email from Mr. Peretz that evening notifying me that the plastic pollution below Devil's Gate had been cleaned.  He attached the below picture:

Mr. Peretz said that the crew were having trouble finding the second site along Washington Blvd, and that Ted Latta would contact me soon to find out exactly where to go.  I have not heard back from him yet.  He also mentioned, in regard to my comments to him about pollution being the norm in Brookside:

 "I chatted with Ted about your observations in the area of the high use athletic fields at Brookside and Area H.  He did confirm my understanding that this is a core service performed on a daily basis. Unfortunately, based on the high use of this area, the amount of trash  produced by users of this area is great.  Ted will assess whether relocating (or adding additional) trash cans might mitigate this issue."

During a Facebook conversation below my post on the Save Hahamongna Facebook page, my friend Barbara Ellis related a similarly difficult interaction with the City recently:

"That''s exactly what I found when I tried to tell them about pollution (bleach) in Berkshire Creek. I got NOWHERE. No-one called back. Voicemail boxes full, and so on. The trash down by that spring, and the cutting down of the tule there, shocked me as well. I reported the graffiti under the freeway bridge - Is it still there?

The graffiti was indeed still there.  My friend Petrea Burchard said:

"Funding has been cut so seriously that some city departments are down to one person. Individual workers are not to blame in most cases. But it's true, they will respond to the squeaky wheel, so we have to squeak and keep on squeaking."

We both agreed that this ultimately begs the question, how does the City of Pasadena expect to properly maintain an additional soccer field and parking lot in Hahamongna, or clean up after NFL fans in the Rose Bowl if they cannot even properly maintain the facilities and uses of the Arroyo we already have?

Once I have received word that the Washington Blvd. pollution has also been removed, I will post the (hopefully) final update in this series and describe the adequacy of the city's cleanup.  Until the Arroyo and the City of Pasadena are adequately maintained as the pristine, natural and healthy places that they should be, I'm just going to continue to be a squeaky wheel, and keep on squeaking!

Trash-a Dena: There's Still a Problem

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Trash-a-Dena: City incompetence and neglect of the Arroyo Seco

Early yesterday morning while on a trail run with my dog Washoe in the Arroyo Seco, I discovered two spots that were heavily polluted with plastic and styrofoam waste.

The first spot is located directly below Devil's Gate Dam in a small wetland area filled with tules and flowing water, which my dog loves to play in and drink from.  I tried to pick up what I could, yet there was too much pollution to clean on my own.  The styrofoam pollution was especially bad, as it was breaking up into smaller pieces and contaminating the water and soil.  In my experience leading cleanups for the Arroyo Seco Foundation, often times such severely degraded soil must be removed entirely to clean the area of every last bit of styrofoam.

After discovering this disheartening scene, I checked up on a second area which was severely polluted with styrofoam peanut packaging a few weeks earlier.  I had been out of town since I first came across this massive quantity of petrochemical pollution on the bank of the Arroyo along Washington Blvd, and with much sadness I discovered that it remained just as polluted as before.

I took pictures, and decided that I would do as the City encourages citizens to do and report this pollution, and hope for a happy resolution.  Unfortunately, my experience with the City of Pasadena today on the phone was anything but a happy one. 

I called the Park Maintenance number on the Citizen Service Center page of the City website, told them the problem, and was transferred to Parks and Natural Resources.  They told me that I had reached the tree department, and transferred me to someone named Manny Macias.  He didn't answer the phone, and his voicemail box was full.

Frustrated, I called Parks and Natural Resources back, told them what I was trying to report, and was transferred to a supervisor.  This supervisor, Ted Latta, didn't answer his phone, and his mailbox was also full!  Unbelievable!  

I called back, now having lost track of everyone I had talked to, and began saying again why I was calling and what I wanted to report.  The woman on the phone cut me off, saying I had already talked to her and that she'd transfer me over to a supervisor.  "Wait!"  No!  I didn't want that!  The supervisors aren't answering, their mailboxes are full and I haven't spoken to anyone in the City who can take care of this problem!  She became defensive and complained that I hadn't given her an address… It's parkland! There is no address!  I did, however describe exactly where it was, and volunteered to meet City workers and show them exactly where to go.

I am now waiting for Mr. Latta to call me back, and I look forward to speaking to him personally.  There need to be some serious changes in the City of Pasadena if this is how they deal with citizens who are trying to improve our environment and quality of life.  

If this is the level of incompetence and neglect we face right now in regard to Arroyo issues, how much worse will it be if there is even more pollution generated in our watershed from a soccer field in Hahamongna, or a "temporary" NFL team in the Rose Bowl?

The City says that their cleanup measures are adequate.  Judging from the above, would you agree?

UPDATE 10/28/12

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Maíz Robado: Reclamando salud en la comunidad Latina

Obesidad, diabetes, cáncer… Éstas son algunas de las enfermedades más crecientes que afligen a las actuales comunidades de indígenas americanos, mexicanos y latinos en los Estados Unidos. Sin embargo, los pueblos indígenas en el pasado eran más saludables y no sufrían de la misma epidemia de problemas de salud que prevalece en estas comunidades hoy. Ellos subsistían de una dieta macrobiótica basada en el consumo del grano entero de las Américas – Maíz.

La solución para estas epidemias de enfermedades degenerativas y del sufrimiento trágico e innecesario de la comunidad indígena y latina reside en volver a nuestras formas tradicionales de vivencia y alimentación. En esta época moderna, sin embargo, nuestra capacidad de recuperar nuestro patrimonio y salud a través del consumo de maíz está profundamente amenazada por las modernas corporaciones agrícolas y por las políticas del gobierno de los E.E.U.U.

Los mexicanos tienen una relación muy antigua y íntima con maíz. Por más de 10, 000 años, los agricultores mexicanos han cultivado y domesticado selectivamente al maíz de su antepasado el teocintle que es una hierba silvestre. Teocintle, del Náhuatl "teocintli" o "Maíz Santo" es muy diferente del maíz moderno. A través de los siglos, los antiguos mexicanos escogían selectivamente los granos más grandes del teocintle y como resultado creyeron las primeras formas antiguas del maíz. Este grano entero domesticado extendió por toda América del Norte y del Sur. El maíz desempeñó un papel muy importante en el establecimiento de las civilizaciones. Como los granos enteros en otras partes del mundo, el maíz tomó su lugar como el alimento básico y biológicamente correcto de la humanidad.

El maíz era considerado sagrado por todos los que lo cultivaban. El pueblo Azteca o Mexica contaba la historia de Quetzalcóatl, quien dio un grano de maíz a la gente para plantar. También los aztecas y celebraban a Centeotl, el dios del maíz como una fuente de vida. Las leyendas Mayas hablan de los Creadores exitosamente moldeando los primeros humanos de la masa de maíz. El maíz blanco y gigante de los Andes era sagrado para los Incas. Para los Hopi, Cherokee, Iroquois y numerosos otros pueblos nativos, el maíz queda en el centro de su identidad espiritual.

El maíz frecuentemente se cultivada con frijoles y calabazas, en un sistema conocido por el título las Tres Hermanas (Milpa). Los pueblos indígenas que seguían una dieta tradicional compuesta principalmente de maíz, frijoles, calabaza, verduras, frutas, plantas silvestres, pescado y caza silvestre, disfrutaban de salud abundante y longevidad, ausente de la epidemia de las enfermedades degenerativas que afectan con tanta frecuencia a sus descendientes de hoy en día en los EE.UU.

Cuando Cortés y los conquistadores españoles llegaron a México, se sorprendieron al descubrir que la expectativa de vida Azteca era por los menos 10 años más larga que la suya. Los beneficios de una dieta y estilo de vida tradicional todavía se pueden ver en unos pueblos tradicionales como la Tarahumara o Rarámuri de México. Los Rarámuri son, posiblemente, los mejores corredores de resistencia que jamás han existido, y hay mucha información que siguiere que los que siguen una dieta tradicional son casi completamente libre de muchas enfermedades degenerativas comunes. La hipertensión arterial y la obesidad eran desconocidas para los Tarahumara, y sus índices de cáncer son bastante bajos. De hecho, es sólo por la introducción de los modernos alimentos procesados como, por ejemplo, pasta deshidratada, papas fritas y refrescos, que los tarahumaras han tenido que inventar nombres para enfermedades como la "presión arterial alta”.

A lo largo de historia cuando la gente se enfermaba, los curanderos nativos americanos recomendaban que el paciente "vuelva a los brazos de la Madre Maíz" para curarse a sí mismos. Al igual que Hipócrates prescribía una dieta simple de potaje de cebada a los enfermos, los indígenas consumían una papilla simple de maíz para revertir la enfermedad. La dieta tradicional nativa americana fue basada en el maíz y sus productos derivados como tortillas, tamales, pupusas, atole y pan de maíz siguen siendo la base para gran parte de la cocina moderna de las comunidades mexicanas y latinoamericanas. La mejor manera de sanarnos a nosotros mismos y a nuestras comunidades aquí en los Estados Unidos es volver a nuestras formas tradicionales de comer comidas diversas y de alta calidad con una base de plantas y de grano entero.

Nuestra capacidad de "volver a la Madre Maíz," el grano sagrado de las Américas, ha sido profundamente amenazada por una amenaza moderna que ha cambiado la estructura misma de maíz al nivel físico y espiritual: la modificación genética.

Según la pagina web

"Un alimento modificado genéticamente es una planta, animal que su ADN ha sido alterada artificialmente en un laboratorio por genes de otras plantas, animales, virus, o bacterias con el fin de producir compuestos extraños en ese alimento. Este tipo de alteración genética no es encontrado en la naturaleza y es un proceso experimental.”

Ejemplo: el maíz genéticamente modificado ha sido diseñado en un laboratorio para producir pesticida en su propio tejido. El maíz transgénico está regulado por la Agencia de Protección Ambiental como un insecticida, pero no tiene la etiqueta.

Varios problemas ambientales asociados con la ingeniería genética han sido bien documentados, incluso la pérdida de la biodiversidad, el aumento general en el uso de pesticidas, la aparición de súper malezas que están amenazando millones de hectáreas de tierras agrícolas y la contaminación accidental de cultivos no transgénicos y orgánicos. "

Como podemos ver en la información anterior, hay muchas preocupaciones significativas con respecto al proceso de modificación genética que se encuentran actualmente alterando irreversiblemente nuestro alimento básico ancestral del maíz. Esta modificación genética permanente del maíz tiene profundas implicaciones para el futuro de la soberanía alimentaria de la salud y la espiritualidad de los pueblos americanos. El maíz que ha sido durante siglos una fuente vivificante de sustento se está convirtiendo rápidamente en una fuente de alimentación con efectos inciertos en cuanto a la salud. De hecho hasta un 85% del maíz de EE.UU. está genéticamente modificada.

A pesar de la moratoria de 1998 sobre los cultivos genéticamente modificados de México, muchas variedades tradicionales y antiguas de maíz en México han sido encontradas contaminadas por los transgénicos. El documental The Future of Food muestra que la increíble riqueza y diversidad del maíz en México está amenazada por esta contaminación.

La pérdida de maíz natural no es sólo una pérdida de los recursos genéticos y la herencia cultural, sino también la pérdida de una conexión espiritual con la tierra y con el alimento que nos sostiene. Esto no solo es un problema que enfrentan los indígenas, sino un problema universal que afecta a todo el mundo.

Pero hay esperanza.

Hay más y más personas que quieren saber más acerca de cómo se produce la comida.  Mientras tanto, para aquellas personas que desean evitar el maíz genéticamente modificada y regresar a la dieta saludable de nuestros antepasados, aquí hay algunas otras opciones:

Nopaltilla es una empresa excelente que vende tortillas de maíz libre de transgénicos y de cactus de Nopal orgánico. Adicionalmente, todos los productos de marca propia Trader Joe's se producen sin transgénicos. En Trader Joes, se vende una variedad de tortillas de maíz, incluso el maíz azul que todavía no es transgénico. En Whole Foods, la marca 365 Everyday Value Tortillas de maíz orgánico no tienen transgénicos.

Otras opciones incluyen los productos con la etiqueta de comida orgánico, o la etiqueta del Proyecto No-GMO verificación.  También Gold Mine Natural Food Company vende una gran variedad de masa de maíz orgánico en internet, y recientemente, Bob’s Red Mill anunció que su masa será certificado no-OGM. 

Si es posible, existe la opción que cultivemos nuestro propio maíz en nuestro patio trasero o en una huerta comunitario. Asegúrese de plantar semillas orgánicas o de granos que no sean genéticamente modificados. Seed Savers Exchange y Native Seeds/SEARCH son organizaciones excelentes dedicadas a guardar y compartir una gran variedad de semillas nativas.

Tengo la sincera esperanza de que si más gente abrazan las dietas tradicionales de todos nuestros antepasados, vamos a superar esta crisis ambiental y de salud que enfrenta nuestro mundo, y trabajar juntos para crear un ambiente mejor y más justo para todos. Mientras avanzamos en buena salud y en buen espíritu, vamos a restablecer el equilibrio en el mundo como lo hacían nuestros abuelos. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Stolen Corn: Reclaiming health in Native American and Latino communities. Part 2

The ability of the Native and Latin American community to reclaim it's traditional health and "return to Mother Corn," the sacred grain of the Americas, has been profoundly jeopardized by a modern threat which has changed the very structure of Corn on a physical and spiritual level: genetic modification.

According to

"A genetically engineered food is a plant or meat product that has had its DNA artificially altered in a laboratory by genes from other plants, animals, viruses, or bacteria in order to produce foreign compounds in that food. This type of genetic alteration is not found in nature and is experimental. 

Example: Genetically Modified corn has been engineered in a laboratory to produce pesticides in its own tissue. GMO corn is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency as an Insecticide, but is sold unlabeled. 

GMO's have not been proven safe, and long-term health studies have not been conducted. A growing body of peer-reviewed studies has linked these foods to allergies, organ toxicity, and other health problems. These studies must be followed up. However, unlike the strict safety evaluations required for the approval of new drugs, the US Food and Drug Administration does not require safety studies for genetically engineered foods. The United Nations/World Health Organization food standards group and the American Medical Association have called for mandatory safety testing of genetically engineered foods -- a standard the U.S. fails to meet. 

Various environmental problems associated with genetic engineering have been well documented, including biodiversity loss, an overall increase in pesticide use, the emergence of super weeds that are threatening millions of acres of farmland, and the unintentional contamination of non-GMO and organic crops."

As we can see from the information above, there are many significant concerns regarding the genetic modification process which is currently and irreversibly altering our ancestral staple of maize.  This permanent genetic modification of corn has profound implications for the future of the health, food sovereignty and spirituality of American peoples.  What has been for centuries a life-giving source of sustenance is fast becoming a food source with uncertain effects on health.  Currently up to 85% of U.S. corn is genetically modified.

Biotechnology companies claim that genetically modified crops are needed to help feed the world, yet these claims do not stand up to scrutiny.  A 2009 study by the Union of Concerned Scientists concluded that "experimental high-yield genetically engineered crops have not succeeded."  In fact, a U.N. study concluded that "we won't solve hunger and stop climate change with industrial farming on large plantations,"  and that "organic and sustainable small scale farming could double food production in the parts of the world where hunger is the biggest issue…" 

Why then would companies like Monsanto, the American multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation, want to keep producing genetically modified crops?  The answer is that Monsanto owns patents on their genetically modified seeds, and use aggressive legal tactics to sue small farmers for patent infringement any time pollen or seeds from a farm growing GM crops drift onto their land.  

This article describes Monsanto's attempt to monopolize the world's food supply.  Fields of genetically modified crops would have to be completely isolated to prevent the transfer of pollen and genes to non-GM crops, which is impossible.  There is no such thing as co-existence between organic and genetically-modified crops.  And why isn't the U.S. government doing anything to prevent this injustice?   It's called the government's "revolving door" with Monsanto.

Despite Mexico's 1998 moratorium on genetically modified crops, traditional, and often ancient varieties of Mexican corn have been found to be contaminated by GMO's.  The following clip, from the documentary The Future of Food, depicts the incredible richness and diversity of corn in Mexico, which is being threatened with destruction:

While there is still controversy over whether or not GM foods pose a risk to health, the fact remains that because of genetic modification, the genetic heritage of our traditional grain is in jeopardy.  In our attempt to "return to the arms of Mother Corn," we now have corporations and government policies determining what the genetic traits of our sacred, traditional grain are to be.  Through the imminent loss of biodiversity which accompanies the profusion of industrialized, genetically modified corn, we lose the direct link with our ancestors that this living heritage of corn provides.

The following is a quote by the Tzotzil Maya people:

“We have learned that agrochemical companies patented our maize.  They are putting in genes from other living beings and many chemicals to completely put an end to our natural maize, so we’ll have to buy nothing but transgenic maize. If these agrochemical companies try to do away with our maize, it will be like putting an end to part of the culture that our Mayan ancestors bequeathed to us. Our indigenous peasant grandparents gave their labor and their hearts; they cried as they asked protection from our Creator for their work to bear fruit.”

The loss of natural maize entails a loss not only of genetic resources and of cultural heritage, but the loss of a spiritual connection with the land and with the food which sustains us.  This is not only an issue facing Native people, but a universal issue which affects everyone around the world.

But there is hope.

Here in California, a grassroots movement gathered nearly one million signatures and got The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act (Proposition 37) on the ballot for this November's elections.  According to their website:

"The initiative would simply require food sold in retail outlets to be labeled if it is produced through genetic engineering, and would not allow these products to be labeled as “natural.” Prop 37 gives companies 18 months to change their labels, and allows for the GMO disclosure to appear wherever they choose on packaging."

The voters of California will have the opportunity to vote Yes on Prop 37 on California's November 6 ballot.  Much of the world already requires labeling of genetically engineered foods, including Japan, Australia, New Zealand, China, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Brazil, Venezuela, Taiwan, Russia, India, Chile, South Africa and the entire European Union.

Many American food companies sell non-GM foods to European consumers, and have different, genetically modified formulas which they sell to us here at home.  If the Prop 37 labeling initiative passes, food companies are much more likely to reformulate their products and source from non-GM ingredients rather than label their products as GMO.

In the meantime, for those who wish to avoid genetically engineered corn while returning to the healthful diet of our forefathers, here are some other options:

  • Nopaltilla is a great company which makes tortillas from non-GMO corn and organic Nopal cactus.

  • All Trader Joe's private label products are sourced from non-GMO crops.  They sell a variety of corn tortillas, including Blue Corn.

  • The 365 Everyday Value Organic Corn Tortillas sold at Whole Foods Market, along with everything else sold under the 365 Everyday Value brand name are all GMO-free.

  • Any product which is certified organic, or which carries the Non-GMO Project verification label. 

When it comes to finding non-GMO masa, things become more difficult.  However, I've found one brand, Gold Mine Natural Food Company, does sell a variety of organic corn masa online.  One may also find already-made organic tamales sold by La Guera Tamalera in Los Angeles, CA.

If possible, there is, of course, the option of growing your own corn in your yard or in a community garden.  Be sure to grow from organic or heirloom seeds which were not genetically modified.  Seed Savers Exchange is a great organization dedicated to saving and sharing a wide variety of heirloom seeds.

It is my sincere hope that as more people embrace the traditional diets of all of our heritages, that we will safely navigate through this environmental and health crisis facing our world, and work together to create a better and more just environment for all.  As we move forward in good health and in good spirits, let us restore balance to the world as we have done so within ourselves.

Stolen Corn: Reclaiming health in Native American and Latino communities. Part 1

Obesity.  Diabetes.  Heart disease.  Cancer.  These are some the the most prominent diseases afflicting modern Native American, Mexican and Latino communities in the United States.  Yet indigenous people in the past were much healthier, and did not suffer from the same epidemic of poor health that pervades these communities today.  They subsisted on a macrobiotic diet based around the consumption of the whole grain of the Americas-- Corn.  The solution to these epidemics of degenerative disease and of the tragic and needless suffering of the Native and Latin American communities lies in returning to our traditional ways of living and eating.  In these modern times, however, our ability to reclaim our heritage and health through the consumption of Corn is profoundly threatened by modern agricultural corporations and by the policies of the U.S. government.

Mexican people have a very ancient and intimate relationship with Corn.  For over 10, 000 years, Mexican farmers selectively bred and domesticated Maize from it's ancestor, a wild grass called Teosinte.  Teosinte, from the Nahuatl "teocintli," or "Sacred Corn" is very different from modern Corn.  Over the centuries, ancient Mexicans selectively picked the largest of the Teosinte kernels and bred from it the first ancient forms of Maize.  This domesticated whole grain spread throughout North and South America.  It made civilization possible and was bred with incredible diversity, allowing for it's adaptation to numerous climactic conditions.  As whole grains elsewhere in the world, Corn took it's place as the primary and biologically correct staple food of humanity. 

Corn was considered by all who grew it to be a sacred gift.  The Aztec, or Mexica people told of how Quetzalcoatl gave a kernel of Corn to people to plant, and they celebrated Centeotl, the maize god, as a source of life.  Mayan legends tell of the Creators succeeding in fashioning the first humans out of Corn dough.  The Giant White Corn of the Andes was sacred to the Incas.  For the Hopi, Cherokee, Iroquois and numerous other native peoples, Corn was and is at the center of their spiritual identity.

Corn was often grown together with Beans and Squash, in a system known as the Three Sisters.  Indigenous people who followed a traditional diet composed primarily of corn, beans, squash, vegetables, fruit, wild plants, fish and game enjoyed abundant health and longevity, absent of the current epidemics of degenerative disease which so often plagues their modern-day descendants in the U.S.

When Cortes and the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Mexico, they were amazed to discover that the Aztec lifespan exceeded their own by at least 10 years.  The benefits of a traditional diet and lifestyle can still be seen in traditional people such as the Tarahumara, or Raramuri people of Mexico.  The Raramuri are arguably the best endurance runners on Earth, and it is well documented that those following a traditional diet are almost completely free of many common degenerative diseases.  High blood pressure and obesity were unknown to them, and their cancer rates are extremely low.  In fact, it is only since the introduction of modern processed foods such as top ramen, chips and soda, that the Tarahumara have had to invent names for diseases like "high blood pressure."  

Throughout time, when people would become sick, Native American healers would recommend that the patient " return to the arms of Mother Corn" in order to heal themselves.  Just as Hippocrates prescribed a simple diet of Barley porridge to the sick, so would native people consume a simple porridge, or Atoli of corn to reverse illness.  The traditional Native American diet based on corn and corn products such as tortillas, tamales, pupusas, atole and cornbread remains the basis for much of the modern cuisine of Mexican and Latin American people.  The foundation to heal ourselves and our communities here in the United States lies in returning to our traditional ways of eating diverse, high-quality, whole-grain plant-based meals.

Our ability to "return to Mother Corn," the sacred grain of the Americas, has been profoundly jeopardized by a modern threat which has changed the very structure of Corn on a physical and spiritual level: genetic modification.

Continue on to Part 2…