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 carighttoknow.org

"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…

Friday, September 14, 2012

Everything is Kung fu

Kung fu = any skill that is achieved through hard work and practice.

When many of us hear the term "kung fu," we automatically think of Bruce Lee, nun chucks and the martial arts.  But to know the concept by it's original meaning sheds light on the fact that any discipline  may become a skill that is achieved through hard work and practice.

In western culture, we are all familiar with the saying "practice makes perfect."  To realize this is to understand that "everything is Kung fu."  Through practice and discipline, we can become able to achieve what we set out to do effortlessly.  This applies to the martial arts, but also to music, theatre, cooking, skateboarding, algebra-- to any practice.  Once we have reached the point of effortlessness in our discipline, we have then achieved what Taoists have named "Wu wei" -- non-action or non-doing.

When studying Taoist philosophy in the west, many people believe Taoism to be an esoteric, go-with-the-flow philosophy, and interpret concepts such as Wu wei to mean that a practitioner of Tao does nothing and is lazy.  Non-action may seem to indicate a lack of resolve and determination.  However, when one considers the amount of practice and dedication it takes to perform a difficult task effortlessly, the concept of Wu wei takes on a new meaning entirely!

Musicians may perform a song effortlessly, but the amount of work it took to learn how to finger pick on a guitar illustrates that the guitar playing took much work and practice to perfect.  Once the skill is achieved, the musician may play the melody without thinking.  Once a cook has become familiar enough with the recipe, ingredients may be mixed accurately without measuring.  

Bruce Lee, one of the most capable masters of Kung-fu in history, possessed a deep understanding of Tao, which may also be called the "Order of the Universe."  He said:

“Be like water making its way through cracks.  Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it.  If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. 

Empty your mind, be formless.  Shapeless, like water.  If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle.  You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash.  Be water, my friend.” 

The concept of attaining Wu-wei through practice and hard work is perfectly illustrated in this next quote by Lee.  Effortlessly finding constant balance (Wu-wei) amidst the constantly changing and alternating energies of Yin (expansion) and Yang (contraction) is the essence of a Taoist practice, which may be applied to all aspects of life.

"When the opponent expands, I contract,
When he contracts, I expand,
And when there is an opportunity,
I do not hit--it hits all by itself."

Here in the United States, and elsewhere in the western world, we would do well to treat everything in life as a practice-- as something to be constantly tinkered with and improved.  We would do well to become flexible through practice.  To be formless, and not as rigid.  To perfect the art and science of being human is to reach our full potential.

That is Kung-fu.