Monthly Archives: July 2014

Cheatgrass Sonsabitches

I apologize for the strong language. Once you’ve read my tale, you will understand.

This spring, Mike and I went out with our workgloves and pulled up or cut every plant we could find on our property with beautiful pink/purple flowers. We had learned that it was the source of the round, flat seeds our dogs are constantly plagued with—what are called “stick-tights” around here. They get in the dog’s fur, where dozens of hairs twist around them. Some get so twisted in you have to cut them out. They’re a pain! We were proud of ourselves for eradicating next season’s crop by killing the plants before they went to seed.

Bye-bye, stick-tights!

Bye-bye, stick-tights!

Meanwhile, all around us was another plant, one we weren’t familiar with. Just a simple little grass plant. We paid it no mind. That was a mistake.

Last Tuesday, both dogs started shaking their heads. Pendleton looked particularly miserable, constantly holding his head to the side. They’ve been swimming in the irrigation ditch to beat the heat, and we figured P must have gotten some water in his ear. I learned from my cousin’s partner that dogs with floppy ears are more prone to ear infections (their dog Quixote got one), so I thought maybe this was the issue.

Mike took P in to our veterinarian, Dr. Zwanziger at Red Barn Veterinary. He got out the otoscope and declared, “Cheatgrass!”

Cheatgrass?

Cheatgrass

Cheatgrass

It turns out that this little devil is going to make our lives a hundred times less fun than stick-tights ever could. Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) is an invasive weed whose seedheads are covered in hairs that stick them into a coat of fur, say, for transport to another area. Fine. The problem is that they don’t know when to quit, and can drive themselves to the base of the coat of fur, through the skin, and through muscle tissue, lungs, or even through the nose to the brain. Or down the ear canal and through an eardrum.

Pendleton was lucky; the cheatgrass was on his eardrum but hadn’t penetrated it. Dr. Zwanziger plucked it off, squirted some antibiotic ointment in there, and P was good to go. Pendleton’s sense of relief was palpable.

That evening, I was working on homework and Mike was talking to his mom on the phone. Suddenly, Cap’n started screaming. I ran into the living room, where she was cowering with her head tilted to the side. She was obviously in pain. Damn it.

I called Red Barn on their emergency line, and brought Cap’n in. She, too, had cheatgrass on both eardrums.

Mike and I were thereafter more diligent, checking their ears after every walk. On Thursday, both dogs were shaking their heads again. Not wanting to have to pay for another after-hours emergency visit, which is considerably more expensive, we scheduled an appointment for them on Friday.

Sure enough, both had more cheatgrass in their ears.

We asked Dr. Zwanziger for ideas of how to keep their ears closed. He offered up some bandaging that might work. It would work … but the dogs were so obsessed with removing it I thought they were going to run themselves into trees.

GET IT OFF!!

GET IT OFF!!

We checked their ears at regular intervals.

Monday, Cap’n was shaking her head again. This time, the cheatgrass had penetrated her eardrum. It should heal, Dr. Zwanziger said, but it might compromise her hearing. (And birds everywhere rejoiced …)

The cheerful Dr. Zwanziger

The cheerful Dr. Zwanziger

How would you like that on your eardrum?

How would you like that on your eardrum?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We tried bandanas. They slid off their heads.

We tried cotton balls. They shook them out, and Pendleton promptly ate one.

If any of you, dear readers, have ideas about how to eradicate a stand of cheatgrass, or how to keep it out of a dog’s ears, please share them! These are active, young dogs that need more exercise than leash-walks and hanging out in the fenced yard can provide. There are no pristine green lawn-parks out here. As much as I want to support my vet, we can’t go there once (or twice, or thrice) a week …

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Surprise Imnaha Apricots

As I’ve chronicled in previous posts, I have been struggling to get my kitchen groove back ever since we had to sell our land in the Columbia River Gorge. I never been much of a cook, but I had developed skills in baking and canning while on our land. When it went, so did my desire to carry on in the kitchen. Until I have my own house and garden, I imagine this will continue—I’m not heartbroken anymore, just waiting to settle in again.

However, a couple of weeks ago my colleague Sara (who has a great blog about her grass-fed beef operation) brought in to the office a box of apricots. I could feel my canning fingers get twitchy. I got home with those beautiful fruits and easily located our old country-living bible by Carla Emery on the bookshelf. It felt good to crack it open again. I had notes in the margin about canning peaches, so even though I’ve never canned apricots I had an idea of what lay before me.

Imnaha beauties!

Imnaha beauties!

 

You "can" always count on Carla

You “can” always count on Carla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hauled the canning equipment from the basement and tried to estimate how many jars I would need. I put them and the lids (which I still had from making jam last year, happily) in the dishwasher to get them going, and started washing and cutting apricots. I didn’t bother to peel them, like I would have done with peaches.

I prefer to pack fruit with water rather than simple syrup (sugar). I’ve found, at least with peaches, that the water turns into a delicious “liquor” that is as much a treat as the fruit itself.

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Ready to can

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Ready for February!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wax poetic in Get Your Pitchfork On! about the joy of opening a jar of peaches in the winter. This February, we will have vibrant orange apricots, grown in the nearby Imnaha River Valley and picked by a friend, to brighten a cold winter’s day.

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“Evil” in Corporate America

Dear Friends: I am taking summer-term classes and, once again, am behind on everything! So I’m, once again, taking the easy way out and posting an excerpt from a paper I wrote during winter term.

I have been a viewer of public television my entire life: I was raised on Sesame Street’s first broadcasts and have watched through the decades. I remember about ten or fifteen years ago hearing about some nefarious practice of the company Archer Daniels Midland, or ADM. That evil company!

“Wait a minute,” I thought. “The ADM that advertises on PBS?”

This was one of my first awakenings to the problematic nature of corporate sponsorship. How could PBS accept money from ADM and—more importantly—run “underwriting announcements” that tout ADM’s products and practices? Doesn’t PBS’s running that announcement (whether it should be called a commercial is the subject of another essay) imply their support of ADM? I suddenly found my lifelong trust in PBS disintegrating a bit.

Since then, I’ve witnessed many instances of corporate trespasses against humanity, animal rights, and ecology that are tempered by impressive public relations efforts to the contrary. Monsanto’s “Golden Rice” campaign. Ethanol. “Pork: The Other White Meat.”

My personal hesitation about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has less to do about their potential health hazards and more to do with the business practices of the corporations that are developing them. If those companies want to develop GMO seeds, for example, and then let farmers buy them and then save them, resell them, or whatever they want; fine. But the idea of one, or even a handful of corporations, owning the world’s supply of seeds—the building block of life itself—well, that seems problematic. And it seems to be exactly what Monsanto and its ilk are up to. They have not shown themselves worthy of trust by mercilessly intimidating and chasing down small farmers who try to save their seed, and releasing teams of lawyers to sue them over patent infractions.

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

It all comes down to how one looks at the purpose of commerce. Do businesses exist to generate profit for an individual or group? Or do they exist to provide a means for people—all people—to live comfortably? My answer would be that the current American mindset is the former, and we need to move toward making it the latter.

However, I agree with Will Allen, executive director of Growing Power, that it’s in no one’s best interest to exclude America’s largest corporations from the conversation of creating an equitable food system. While it may seem counterintuitive to work with entities that ultimately have created the inequitable system we have, acting as though they are The Enemy simply guarantees the failure of grassroots equity efforts. It’s not a matter of righteousness, it’s a matter of scale.

Companies like ADM and Wal-Mart aren’t evil; they are simply wildly successful at the game of capitalism. So long as our society holds up capitalism as its model of success, there are going to continue to be ADMs and Wal-Marts. Refusing to work with such companies, including to refuse a monetary donation if offered one, will not eliminate them. It will simply starve an already cash-strapped effort.

This isn’t to say that any entity should accept money from a corporation like Wal-Mart that has any kind of strings attached. As Andrew Fisher pointed out during the FSS560 webinar on January 6, 2014, his organization refused a donation from Chipotle that required implicit endorsement on their part. But once his organization had refused it, Chipotle came back with an unrestricted donation, which they accepted. So long as a donation is a donation, and not a bribe or exchange for services (which keeps PBS on the hook as far as I’m concerned), and as long as the beneficiary doesn’t change its mission or operations in order to ameliorate the donor or attempt to attract other similar donations, I feel such donations should be welcomed as a step toward dialogue with members of the system that needs to be changed in order to achieve food justice.

Compromise is the key. There is no one effort that is going to change things overnight, and no one route. And, while we’re at it, no one vision of success. I’m generally not a process-oriented person, but I recognize that, in this case, process is the goal.

I appreciated Robert Egger’s encouragement of business leaders to embrace the “charity begins at home” notion by paying their employees living wages—very perceptive considering the efforts in 2013 by low-wage workers to demonstrate and make their plight known. Corporations have figured out how to game the system by paying their employees poverty wages, knowing they can make up the difference using taxpayer dollars via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, housing subsidies, Women Infants and Children, and other federal entitlement programs. This, in my view, is cheating. Profit comes after paying overhead, and dodging overhead is bad business.

But, again, the corporate world considers this creative and successful accounting maneuvers. They are right. Ethically their actions are wrong; financially they are brilliant. Again, they’re not “evil,” just successful capitalists.

In order to change the actions of corporate America, we have to change the discourse of success in corporate America. The term “good corporate citizen” exists; we just have to make it mean something, and make consumers value that so they can pressure corporations to value that. It’s not profit that is the Enemy of the People; it’s the daisies that get trampled on the side of the road to profit.

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Food Libeling

I got a check in the mail the other day. $8.57.

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A year ago, a case was decided against PepsiCo for misrepresenting “all-natural” Naked Juice, which actually had a few synthetic ingredients in it, including (according to this website) “Archer Daniels Midland’s Fibersol-2 (‘a soluble corn fiber that acts as a low-calorie bulking agent’), fructooligosaccharides (an alternative sweetener), other artificial ingredients, such as calcium pantothenate (synthetically produced from formaldehyde), and genetically-modified soy.”

I honestly don’t remember how I learned of this class-action lawsuit, but I had indeed downed a few bottles of Naked Juice between Sept. 27, 2007, and Aug. 19, 2013, most of them at airports when I was on tour to promote Get Your Pitchfork On!, because it was one of the few remotely healthy items available. So, I filled out a claimant form.

This lawsuit—and its $9 million settlement (of which $3.12 million may go to the attorneys)—is chump change for PepsiCo, which denies wrongdoing and blames the lack of a federal definition of “natural” for the misunderstanding. But it’s indicative of the “food fight” that’s ramping up in the United States over who makes our food and what’s in it. Labeling efforts in New England, California, Washington and now, it appears, Oregon to identify genetically modified organisms in processed food are only the beginning. While I, personally, am less concerned about the health effects of GMOs and more concerned with the business practices of their parent companies (a big statement, I know), I do applaud this movement to know what’s in one’s food. It’s an old fight (think The Jungle by Upton Sinclair) and an important one.

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