Category Archives: Education

The Scientific Age vs Food Culture

Words cannot express how good it feels to finally type away at my laptop, stringing words together to make sentences, which in turn fill a post up with an idea. It has been pretty hectic in Farrah-land, but I have gotten better at maximizing all the small tid-bits of time amidst the bustle.

So, what have I been squeezing into these time gaps you ask? A book that I have been itching to read for quite awhile now: “Outside the Box: Why Our Children Need Real Food, Not Food Products” by Jeannie Marshall. This was definitely one of those eye-openers at the North American Food Culture compared to the cultures that exist all around the world. Now, I could write about everything I had originally planned on writing about, but it would be at the risk of writing a lengthy post about Marshall’s entire book – yes, that is how informative of a read it really was. Decisions, decisions! To be quite honest, it was a tough decision to choose one set topic as they all flowed quite nicely into each other like rivers into the ocean, but I settled on the concept of science and food culture.

©Farrah Merza: Outside The Box: Why Our Children Need Real Food, Not Food Products by Jeannie Marshall
©Farrah Merza: Outside The Box: Why Our Children Need Real Food, Not Food Products by Jeannie Marshall

Marshall (2012) talks about how North American culture is nutrient-specific, which means that instead of focusing on the meal, we focus on our nutrient intake (p. 63).  I was blown away! I mean, I have never thought about my motivation behind eating… who does! But it is so true. I catch myself saying “oh, I need to include some protein in my dinner”, when I really should know better and enjoy food. Thank both the German chemist Justus Von Liebig and his research into the “essential elements in food that sustained us”, and American chemist Stephen Babcock for continuing that line of research in collaboration with dairy famers (Marshall, 2012, p. 61). Liebig discovered the “percentages of protein, fat, and carbohydrates that he thought were needed in a healthy diet” (Marshall, 2012, p. 61). However, it was Babcock who found the vitamin link when he devised his experiment of controlling what certain groups of cows ate: one group was limited to corn, one to wheat, one to oats, and the last group to a mixture of all three grains (Marshall, 2012, p. 62). All four groups were not allowed to graze on the farmer-recommended plants they usually graze on (Marshall, 2012, p. 62). The cows fared okay, but when it came time for breeding, the real results were more than evident in their calves: The calves born from corn-fed group were -for the most part- fine, but the calves begot from the other three groups were a different story; they were weak and sick, and the wheat-fed group’s offspring were blind (Marshall, 2012, p. 62). Interesting eh! However, it is important to note that the famers knew that the cow’s varied plant-based, grazing diet was the best without any research; they knew from their agrarian culture, which was passed down from their forefathers. It was a shame that culture was never really credited for their vast knowledge of locally produced food. Unfortunately, research and nutrients was the game, which later skyrocketed when certain diseases (i.e. rickets, linked with vitamin D deficiency; and scurvy, linked to a vitamin C deficiency) were attributed to a deficiency in certain nutrients.

Now please do not get me wrong, I am not against science by any means! However, the research conducted on food has turned on us, the public. Food companies use this research to convince us to buy packaged junk by fortifying them with nutrients or getting rid of the high sodium/sugar levels that are usually present (Marshal, 2012, p. 67). That’s all I ever see stacked on the grocery store shelves. It’s a sad sight, and we need to smarten up. And yet, and the same time, how can we? There’s no time to cook, no consistent, warm climate to grow gardens, no emphasis on locally grown produce with all the exports we’re all exposed to, and no one set food culture because of our diverse demographics. Furthermore, ever since I can remember, I have been drilled with the North American food chart outlining the allotted daily grain, protein, dairy, and fruit and vegetable servings; however, never about local produce, their cycles, and how to use our Canadian soil (aka, never about a healthy, Canadian food culture). But, times are changing as now because thanks to Toronto’s non-profit group called FoodShare, there are schools who pride themselves on their green gardens, which are maintained by students (Marshall, 2012, p. 133). Marshall (2012) talks about Bendale, a technical high school located in Scarborough, which, with the help of FoodShare, created their own food gardens (p. 133). [NOTE: If you clicked the Bendale link, you will be able to see that their specialized skills will include horticulture and landscaping (p. 3). They also have a “Blooms and Bargains” market place open to the community (p. 5)] I was overjoyed reading this segment; my eyes were dewy for the first time with hope for a healthy food culture in Canada. It is a safe bet to say that this is where the shift has to start, from our youth. I actually wrote about educating our youth for the post carbon era last year in Part 2: Educating the Masses (click and read if you have not read it!), which ties quite nicely into this post as I touched on greenhouses and gardens in schools.

So yes, the scientific age versus food culture… but why should it be versus? Why can’t we, the consumers, strip this incessant, profit-based food culture we are saturated in so we can focus on rebuilding a healthy, food culture with the knowledge researchers have amassed? It is about respecting food culture (more importantly the local food culture), but tending to our scientific endeavours as well without our knowledge being abused.

Autism and the Power Play

Weird title, right.

Well, I actually can’t sleep because these thoughts are whirling around in my head. What thoughts you ask? You can kind of get a whiff of the overall theme from the title itself.

Currently, I’ve been absolutely fascinated with autism and play-based curricula. Yes, a by-product of being forced by my English class to write a research paper pertaining to the diploma being pursued.

Now, the research into autism is currently honed into the genetic link, as previous studies on twins have proven that link (McCarthy, 2004, p. 1325). I have yet to research the specifics and current outcomes of this branch of research; however, the scientific articles I’ve read does briefly mention potential environmental factors that could pose as risks (McCarthy, 2004, p. 1325). But, my question is why these environmental factors are not as important as the genetic link? To answer that question, I have formulated two theories that could quench my thirst. You ready? Here we go.

Number 1. To pin point environmental factors will probably rely on the knowledge of the specific “susceptibility gene” that researchers are trying to determine (McCarthy, 2004, p. 1325). A pretty reasonable hypothesis, right? Alright, let’s continue.

Number 2. To focus on environmental factors would touch on preventative measures; aka, things to avoid during pregnancy. Now, is it just me or would it be justifiable to state that preventative measures would affect profits for pharmaceutical companies? You have to admit that “cure-based” research would put some sort of marketable product manufactured by these influential companies. But, who’s to say I’m right in this opinion.

So I leave this to you, my dear readers, to ponder. What do you think? Is it numero 1, or 2? Is it both, and if so is do they weigh as equals?

*************

Reference

McCarthy, A. A. (October 2004). Innovations: The Genetics of Autism. Chemistry & Biology, 11, pp. 1325 – 1326. DOI: 10.1016/j.chemboil.2004.10.001

Those Smarty Plants!

Have you ever wondered about plants?

I know, weird question.

It actually all started with stumbling upon David Suzuki’s “The Nature of Things” video segment entitled “Smarty Plants”. While watching this video, I began to give these seemingly docile creatures a little bit more thought. I mean, they are everywhere and yet we pay them very little attention. But, what if they are smarter than we humans had thought? What if they “talk, forage, wage war and protect their kin” (CBC Television, 2012)? If you watched the video, what did you think? Did they display a higher consciousness akin to us OR was it simply mechanisms set in place “in favour of selection”, as one commenter pointed out?

Well, hopefully following the lead scientist and ecologist, Cahill, helped solve that question for you. His quest to find these “smarty plants” definitely uncovered some plants that blew my mind, such as the dodder vine favouring its victims based on their biochemistry. Another aspect discussed that intrigued me was how plants let out “chemical screams” to repel certain species of animal and insect, or attract the higher-ups on the food chain to avenge that specific plant from the unwanted invaders. Suzuki even points out that the smell of freshly cut grass is actually the grass letting out their “chemical scream”… to whom? … Now that’s a good question isn’t it. To whom indeed.

So, this entire video got me thinking… is it too bold to conclude that the grass might be formulating the right “scream” to get rid of us?

What do you think?

*****

Source:

Smarty Plants: Uncovering the Secret World of Plant Behaviour. (September 27, 2012). CBC Television. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/episode/smarty-plants-uncovering-the-secret-world-of-plant-behaviour.html

Ripples

Fact: Starting October 2012, Sheridan college is starting to charge 3 dollars to park after 3:00 pm for those part-time students who do not have permits (Parking Policies). It has been free for all this while… so why change it now?

Well, to answer that question, let me ask you this one: Are higher education establishments becoming money-grabbing institutions? I mean, you have to admit that the cost of pursuing higher education (either via College or University) is ridiculously expensive, like for instance investing in textbooks that will become obsolete in under a year.

Now what does this have to do with “ripples” you ask? Well remember that it only takes a drop of water to cause ripples in a vast body of water… so maybe it will only take a cumulation of small changes like this to start off the vehicle of change. What do you think? Have we, the masses, become mindless drones so overwhelmed with the regular bustle of life that we fail to think critically? Critically enough to push for changes?

You tell me.

Suits, Ties, and Higher Education

I’ve been watching Suits after some extreme nudging from those around me and I’m not going to lie, it’s an amazing show. I mean, what’s not to love! The music is great, the characters are believable, and the fashion is incredible… but it’s the premise of the show that really got to me. Mike Ross, one of the main characters, never went to Harvard and yet he landed an associate position with an extremely popular corporate lawyer Harvey Specter all because of his wit and his gift of memorizing and understanding everything he reads. Aka, he gets a chance to make a lot of money without the education to back him up. But, of course, this is illegal. VERY illegal.

*lightbulb*

This got me thinking about real life. There are brilliant people like Mike Ross out there and yet, they don’t reach their full potential because they lack the higher education. It’s a bold statement to say, but unfortunately it is true. They say that this is the era for opportunities which are readily available to all those who seek it… but is it really? Higher education is expensive and with the economy in such bad shape, why should people spend so much money on degree after degree when the promise of a lucrative job available upon graduation is non-existent? Furthermore, for some families, scrounging up the money for higher education seems like a burden, so some people are deprived of the vital support and funds.

Granted that there are some fields where higher education is needed like, for instance, the medical field. Personally, I would feel a whole lot better being treated by someone who has their credentials. But in that being said, getting the essential education shouldn’t be so hard. Solution? What if obtaining higher education wasn’t so expensive? What if it were, dare I say, free? I’m sure you’d agree with me when I say that that would tap into a wealth of brilliant, disadvantaged people. Then, this would truly be the era of opportunities.