Yucca!

“Now on the western side of the First World, in a place that later was to become the Land of Sunset, there appeared the Blue Cloud, and opposite it there appeared the Yellow Cloud. Where they came together First Woman was formed, and with her the yellow corn. This ear of corn was also perfect. With First Woman there came the white shell and the turquoise and the yucca.”

The Origin Myths of the Navajo Indians The Creation or Age of Beginning The First World by Aileen O’Bryan

We’re still ridin’ high from this past weekend’s debut of the Bike Scouts of America’s first camping trip. Thanks again to the folks at C.I.C.L.E. for putting it together and this week SurviveLA will review a few of the highlights of the trip starting with the many uses of the wondrous yucca plant.

We were tipped off to the yucca thanks to Christopher Nyerges‘ wild food hike that he led when he met up with the Bike Scouts on Sunday. Nyerges showed us how to weave rope using the fibers of the yucca plant, and showed us the plant’s detergent properties using the dome of the Green Party’s Philip Koebel. In fact, to the Navajo, the yucca plant represets cleanliness and played an important part in many ceremonies.

Yucca is one of those miraculous plants that everyone who has a patch of earth under their control should consider planting, particularly if you live in the Southern California area. SurviveLA likes plants that do not require supplemental irrigation and have multiple uses and the yucca plant, in addition to making rope, can also be used for basket weaving, as a detergent, a white wool dye, a quiver for your arrows, and it also produces edible flowers, seeds, and fruit.

Some important distinctions here. First of all we are not talking about “yuca” which is another name for the cassava plant, a tropical shrub of the spurge family. There are also many species in the yucca family, which even includes the Joshua Tree. Also, don’t confuse yucca plants with agave plants, as the juice of the of the agave leaf is a skin irritant. Agaves tend to have broader leaves in contrast to the spiky leaves of the yucca. Blue agave, incidentally, is the source of tequila.

As Nyerges’ points out in his excellent article about yuccas and agaves, “A Piece of Fiber Could Save Your Life“, the flower stalk of the yucca can be eaten and tastes a bit like asparagus. The flowers, fruit and seed pods are also edible and Nyerges’ article provides some cooking tips.

As part of a edible/useful landscaping scheme yucca plants are attractive and with their sharp points can provide a kind of security barrier against marauding hooligans.

Speaking of hooligans (and bad transitions), we forgot to thank the folks at SoapboxLA for cooking up a batch of rusks that kept us all going during our Bike Scout and edible food huntin’ journey.

Roundup

SurviveLA is embarrassed to admit that we used to have a bottle of Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller around the compound. Embarrassed because one of Project Censored’s top 25 censored stories of 2006 includes this piece on the evils of this product:

Third World Resurgence, No. 176, April 2005
Title: “New Evidence of Dangers of Roundup Weedkiller”
Author: Chee Yoke Heong

New studies from both sides of the Atlantic reveal that Roundup, the most widely used weedkiller in the world, poses serious human health threats. More than 75 percent of genetically modified (GM) crops are engineered to tolerate the absorption of Roundup—it eliminates all plants that are not GM. Monsanto Inc., the major engineer of GM crops, is also the producer of Roundup. Thus, while Roundup was formulated as a weapon against weeds, it has become a prevalent ingredient in most of our food crops.

Three recent studies show that Roundup, which is used by farmers and home gardeners, is not the safe product we have been led to trust.

A group of scientists led by biochemist Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini from the University of Caen in France found that human placental cells are very sensitive to Roundup at concentrations lower than those currently used in agricultural application.

An epidemiological study of Ontario farming populations showed that exposure to glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, nearly doubled the risk of late miscarriages. Seralini and his team decided to research the effects of the herbicide on human placenta cells. Their study confirmed the toxicity of glyphosate, as after eighteen hours of exposure at low concentrations, large proportions of human placenta began to die. Seralini suggests that this may explain the high levels of premature births and miscarriages observed among female farmers using glyphosate.

Seralini’s team further compared the toxic effects of the Roundup formula (the most common commercial formulation of glyphosate and chemical additives) to the isolated active ingredient, glyphosate. They found that the toxic effect increases in the presence of Roundup ‘adjuvants’ or additives. These additives thus have a facilitating role, rendering Roundup twice as toxic as its isolated active ingredient, glyphosate.

Another study, released in April 2005 by the University of Pittsburgh, suggests that Roundup is a danger to other life-forms and non-target organisms. Biologist Rick Relyea found that Roundup is extremely lethal to amphibians. In what is considered one of the most extensive studies on the effects of pesticides on nontarget organisms in a natural setting, Relyea found that Roundup caused a 70 percent decline in amphibian biodiversity and an 86 percent decline in the total mass of tadpoles. Leopard frog tadpoles and gray tree frog tadpoles were nearly eliminated.

In 2002, a scientific team led by Robert Belle of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) biological station in Roscoff, France showed that Roundup activates one of the key stages of cellular division that can potentially lead to cancer. Belle and his team have been studying the impact of glyphosate formulations on sea urchin cells for several years. The team has recently demonstrated in Toxicological Science (December 2004) that a “control point” for DNA damage was affected by Roundup, while glyphosate alone had no effect. “We have shown that it’s a definite risk factor, but we have not evaluated the number of cancers potentially induced, nor the time frame within which they would declare themselves,” Belle acknowledges.

There is, indeed, direct evidence that glyphosate inhibits an important process called RNA transcription in animals, at a concentration well below the level that is recommended for commercial spray application.

There is also new research that shows that brief exposure to commercial glyphosate causes liver damage in rats, as indicated by the leakage of intracellular liver enzymes. The research indicates that glyphosate and its surfactant in Roundup were found to act in synergy to increase damage to the liver.

UPDATE BY CHEE YOKE HEONG
Roundup Ready weedkiller is one of the most widely used weedkillers in the world for crops and backyard gardens. Roundup, with its active ingredient glyphosate, has long been promoted as safe for humans and the environment while effective in killing weeds. It is therefore significant when recent studies show that Roundup is not as safe as its promoters claim.

This has major consequences as the bulk of commercially planted genetically modified crops are designed to tolerate glyphosate (and especially Roundup), and independent field data already shows a trend of increasing use of the herbicide. This goes against industry claims that herbicide use will drop and that these plants will thus be more “environment-friendly.” Now it has been found that there are serious health effects, too. My story therefore aimed to highlight these new findings and their implications to health and the environment.

Not surprisingly, Monsanto came out refuting some of the findings of the studies mentioned in the article. What ensued was an open exchange between Dr. Rick Relyea and Monsanto, whereby the former stood his grounds. Otherwise, to my knowledge, no studies have since emerged on Roundup.

For more information look to the following sources:
Professor Gilles-Eric, [email protected]
Biosafety Information Center
Institute of Science in Society

The prevelance of glyphosate in store bought foods is yet another reason to grow your own vegetables and fruit if you can.

As far as weed control goes, there are some weeds such as crabgrass which are very difficult to deal with, and Roundup used to be SurviveLA’s last-resort option. Fortunately there are alternatives.

First of all we are mulching much more than we used to. Newspaper topped with leaves and twigs seems to work great, and the newspaper takes much longer than one might expect to break down.

While not appropriate for our dry climate and incendiary native plants, it’s possible in wetter climes to burn weeds with a propane tool such as these.

Ultimately, SurviveLA has replaced Roundup with a zen expression, “If you see a weed pull it”.

Zombies!

I don’t know could’ve been a lame jogger maybe
Or someone just about to do the freeway strangler baby
Shopping cart pusher or maybe someone groovie
One thing’s for sure, he isn’t starring in the movies.
‘Cause he’s walkin’ in L.A.
Walkin’ in L.A., nobody walks in L.A.
Walkin’ in L.A.
Walkin’ in L.A., only a nobody walks in L.A.
-Missing Persons

A number of loyal SurviveLA readers have forwarded us links to a new book, The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks. We haven’t read this book but we were, about a month ago, nearly run over by a zombie motorist. So get out the tin foil hats, and we’ll tell you the story.

But first some background. One of the first things we did when we founded our “homestead” a few years ago was to increase the amount of walking that we do in the interest of our environment, to squeeze in a little more exercise, and also to save money on gas. Like most Angelinos we used to drive everywhere, including destinations that were just a few blocks away. We discovered the power of traveling by our own two feet after a friend of ours convinced us to join him on a 42 kilometer walk-a-thon from East LA to the ocean as a benefit for the brave folks at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker. On that trip we realized that walking, even up to 24 kilometers is perfectly feasible, though admittedly beyond that distance it starts to get hard. While we don’t walk such long distances in the course of a normal day, it’s still perfectly reasonable to take trips up to 5k.

Incidentally, for you engineering types, there is a handy way of estimating travel distances on foot devised by Scottish mountaineer W.W. Naismith in 1892. Naismith says that it takes an hour for each five kilometers. You must add a half hour for each 300 meters of elevation gain – though there probably won’t be much elevation gain in the course of your urban journeys unless you reside in San Francisco.

So, SurviveLA started walking more, taking trips to the bank, post office and other destinations in our neighborhood. Distances that once seemed too far on foot, now were a matter of routine and the sphere of what we consider walkable has increased dramatically in the past few years, changing our view of the city and acquainting us with many things we overlooked while driving.

Unfortunately it’s no coincidence that the Missing Persons wrote their song about Los Angeles. Walking sucks here — sidewalks are cracked, twisted and broken, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation considers pedestrians to be a nuisance, old people get tickets for taking too long to cross the street, and drivers are either oblivious, chatting on their cell phones, or outright homicidal.

In response to this SurviveLA has adopted an aggressive pedestrian style and we are relieved to hear that amongst our friends we are not the only ones to have yelled and banged on people’s cars. A certain punk rock Canadian type we know of once kicked out the headlights of an aggressive motorist with his steel tipped boots when the idiot almost ran down the guy’s kid who was in a stroller he was pushing. We don’t recommend this militant pedestrianism, but in the heat of the moment we often lose our normal zen like tranquility.

The award this year for the most militant LA pedestrians must go to a duo we found out about when we discovered the poster here at a crosswalk where we frequently have issues with motorists. It reads,

Please help me find this man and his wife (both in their late 50’s) – they were walking & stepped out in front of my car – angered (in a rage), he hit my stopped car w/his hand (denting it) . . . After hitting my car they both fled on foot – splitting up. I followed the man for an hour as he ran through the hills – but he got away.

Aside from their somewhat older age these angry pedestrians could have been us. We’ll note the fact that the motorist left out the part where he, no doubt, almost ran the couple down. SurviveLA congratulates this subversive pedestrian duo and we wish we could take credit for their revolutionary actions!

Which brings us back to the zombie issue. Last month, after returning from our thrice a week run along the western edge of the Silver Lake Reservoir we were walking home and attempting to cross West Silver Lake Drive in a crosswalk at a stop sign at the same spot where the angry pedestrian duo had their showdown, when a brand new sparkling Mini-Cooper came at us at a high speed making use of the rounded corners our city has thoughtfully designed to allow motorists to take turns as fast as they can. We threw our hands up in anger and prepared to smack the car when the driver stopped finally, allowing us to cross. Now here comes the weird part – we made eye contact and we swear that the driver was a genuine zombie! We’re talking literally here not making another one of our gratuitous swipes at the so-called “zombie hordes”. This Mini-Cooper zombie had deep set eyes, slightly tattered clothes and was obviously having one of those fresh out of the grave bad hair days. This was well before Halloween, so we don’t think this was some sort of costume. The brand-new and clean condition of the car suggested that we were dealing with a zombie of means and not some homeless person. She didn’t seem “goth”, and the nearest nightclub is Spaceland, hardly a goth hangout. As we crossed the street she continued to stare at us with a look that suggested the desire to consume the flesh of the living. All joking aside, it was a truly strange interaction, beyond the normal “The Great Architect of the Universe gave me the right to drive however I want” attitude that we expect from the motoring public.

Our encounter with the Mini-Cooper zombie proves that there may actually be a zombie menace out there and perhaps Zombie Survival Guide author Brooks should take his subject more seriously. SurviveLA suspects the cause of contemporary zombieism to be the effects of consumer culture and/or television viewing. What’s the cure? In short, we think it’s the exciting new urban homesteading lifestyle. What’s the strategy to overcome zombieism? We are no fan of the Unabomber, but he may be right about this one – just substitute the word “zombie” for “American” – which is perhaps redundant, anyways:

. . . it would be bad strategy for the revolutionaries to condemn Americans for the habits of consumption. Instead, the average American should be portrayed as a victim of the advertising and marketing industry, which has suckered him into buying a lot of junk that he doesn’t need and that is very poor compensation for his lost freedom.

Revolutionary Rusks

Today Root Simple is proud to present a contribution (and amazing photo!) from photographer, velolutionary, and Culver-Town homesteader Elon Schoenholz:

Rusks are sturdy biscuits of Dutch South African origin, slightly sweetened and heartily nonperishable. Like biscotti, they’re double-baked, dry and crunchy; unlike the chocolate-dipped and plastic-wrapped crap on the counter at Starbucks, however, homemade rusks are practical, nourishing and inexpensive. The version we prefer, with chopped almonds, is subtly delicious. Stored in an airtight container, rusks are good to eat for 2-3 weeks. We enjoy dipping them in our coffee. Also, they’re great cycling snacks because you can throw them in a jersey pocket; they’re good all day without refrigeration; and they provide a quick simple-carb fix, as well as protein and complex carbs.

The recipe we use is from the “Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant: Ethnic and Regional Recipes From the Cooks at the Legendary Restaurant

To make the most of your time and maximize energy efficiency, bake two batches and stack them all up together for the 12-hour dry-a-thon following the initial 25-minute bake. You’ll end up with about 20 pieces from a single batch, and they go pretty fast. While rusks historically were created as hot-weather food, baking them during the winter is more pleasant because you end up having the oven on all day or night.

Recipe:
Dry ingredients
2 cups unbleached white flour
2 cups whole wheat bread flour (the recipe calls for coarsely ground whole wheat flour but we use all-purpose whole wheat flour and then add 2 tablespoons wheat germ and 2 tablespoons ground flax seed)
1/3 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup chopped almonds

Wet ingredients
½ cup melted butter
2 eggs
¾ cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla
2 teaspoons pure almond extract

preheat oven to 400º
In a large mixing bowl, mix the dry ingredients
In another mixing bowl, mix the wet ingredients
Pour the wet into the dry and stir until you have a soft dough
Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and roll or pat it to a ½-inch thickness
Cut the dough into 2×4-inch rectangles
Bake about an inch and half to 2 inches apart on buttered (parchment paper will work, too) baking sheets for 25 minutes
After you’re finished baking the rusks, pile them up pyramid-style on a baking sheet, throw them in the oven, turn the dial to 200º and come back in 12 hours

Pointers for first-time bakers:

  • Mix the dry ingredients, then the wet, and then mix them together.
  • Make sure to mix the wet and dry ingredients well, but once you combine wet and dry, don’t overmix or the dough can become tough.
  • Pour the vanilla and almond extracts into the butter first and then add the butter to the rest of the wet ingredients, as the fat will encase and preserve the flavor.
  • When rolling out the dough, use flour on the rolling pin and on the dough to prevent sticking.