The Survivor

We interrupt this dull series of articles about rainwater harvesting for important breaking news at our urban homestead–the development of the SurviveLA signature cocktail–the Survivor.

For a long time we’ve cursed the previous owners of our compound for their useless, inedible landscaping. One of the plants they left us that we’ve lived with for all these years is an ornamental pomegranate tree (Punica granatum) that, while attractive, we had previously assumed was useless due to the very small fruit. We’ve tried to eat them, and found the flavor a little too tart, and the seeds difficult to extract. Thanks to a tip on the internets, we discovered that the answer to using ornamental pomegranates is to juice them.

The fresh juice was surprisingly sweet and flavorful, leading us immediately to grab the cocktail shaker and develop the long overdue SurviveLA cocktail:

3 oz pomegranate juice (from your own tree, of course)
1/2 oz Triple Sec
1 oz citrus vodka

Now, we’re more the stern gin drinking types around here, but the citrus vodka seemed to provide the right note of tartness to balance out the sweet pomegranate juice. The name, Survivor, is in part a dedication to the plant itself. Pomegranates can survive with little or no water in terrible soil and never seem to need to be fertilized.

As a symbol the pomegranate can be found in all of the cultures of the Mediterranean. From the Wikipedia entry:

In the sixth century BCE, Polykleitos took ivory and gold to sculpt the seated Argive Hera in her temple. She held a scepter in one hand and offered a pomegranate, like a royal orb, in the other. “About the pomegranate I must say nothing,” whispered the traveler Pausanias in the second century AD, “for its story is something of a mystery.”

We propose that Hera ditch her scepter and instead grasp a cold martini glass containing the newest cocktail of 2007, the Survivor.

Be Idle

Homegrown Revolution attended a talk at the Eco-Village by Cecile Andrews, author of Slow is Beautiful: New Visions of Community, Leisure and Joie de Vivre and Circle of Simplicity: Return to the Good Life. Part of the Urban Homesteadin’ thing involves simplifying one’s life, but we just can’t get behind the all the deprivation and mortification that often goes with American’s puritanical approach to the new simplicity. A compelling speaker, Andrews echoed our wariness and used the Slow Food movement as an counter-example to the pitfalls of the simplicity movement.

The Slow Food movement began in Italy as a reaction to the invasion of American style fast food which threatened Italy’s rich culinary traditions. The genius of the Slow Food movement according to Andrews, is that it linked the pleasures of good food with the issues of knowing where our food comes from, supporting local farmers, and caring about the environmental implications of agriculture. In other words, Slow Food is not about deprivation, but instead it’s about pleasure, kicking back with friends, and general celebratory idleness. So with the Slow Food movement, or with a pleasure based simplicity, while we pursue environmental justice we should also be having a damn good time. In so doing, happiness becomes both the pathway and the result of our life journey.

Life is too short to be miserable. A kitchen disaster this morning with a terrible granola recipe from Frances Moore Lappé’s book Diet for a Small Planet, reminded us that while the thesis behind that book, that modern agriculture is causing tremendous harm, is more valid than ever, the solution offered by the food activists of the 1970s, namely a bland vegetarian diet is just no fun at all. So in the spirit of the Slow Food movement, SurviveLA would like to share one of our favorite recipes, from Lynne Rosetto Kaspers’ book The Italian Country Table. Kasper discovered this linguine with pistachio-almond pesto on the island of Lipari off the coast of Sicily and SurviveLA suggests that you make up a pot, have some friends over and celebrate idleness by eating, drinking and generally doing nothing. We like to use mint that we grow in the garden — mint is one of the easiest herbs to grow and we recommend that everyone have a patch or pot of it on their homestead (it tolerates shade, but it can be a bit invasive so stay on top of it or make this recipe often!). We’ve also substituted basil when we have that on hand.

1/2 cup unblanched whole almonds, toasted

1/2 cup shelled salted pistachio nuts, toasted

1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted

1 large garlic clove

Pinch of hot red pepper flakes

2 1/2 to 3 1/2 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil, or more to taste

40 large mint leaves (a blend of spearmint and peppermint if possible)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound linguine, spaghetti, bucatini, or other string pasta

6 quarts boiling salted water

1 1/3 pint baskets (1 pound) flavorful cherry tomatoes, quartered

1. Mix the cooled toasted nuts. Coarsely chop about one quarter of them and set aside.

2. In a mortar (a processor is second choice), pound (or grind) the garlic to a paste with the hot pepper and 2 to 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Work in the remaining whole nuts and a little more than half the mint leaves until the mixture looks like very course meal, with pieces of nuts at about 1/8 inch. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Tear up the remaining mint leaves.

3. Cook the pasta in fiercely boiling water, stirring often until tender yet firm to the bite. As the pasta cooks, gently blend the pesto, tomatoes, and 1/2 tablespoon of the oil in a deep pasta bowl.

4. Sim off 1/2 to 3/4 cup of the pasta water just before draining, and drain the pasta in a colander. Add the pasta water to the bowl. Add the sauce, pasta, chopped nuts, and salt and pepper to taste and toss. Then toss in the reserved torn mint. Taste for seasoning, adding extra oil, mint, salt, and/or pepper if needed. Serve hot or warm. No cheese is used here.

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”.