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Deconstructing Dinner: Reconstructing Our Food System
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Weekly Column
February 25, 2008


Deconstructing Dinner



How the Pesticide Industry is Pushing a Set of Values That Undermines Our Food Supply.


Jon Steinman


The year was 1947 when agricultural giant Dow Chemical produced a short film titled "Death to Weeds". Designed as a tool to create a profitable new market for their World War II chemical 2,4-D, the film succeeded in convincing the North American public that 2,4-D was an effective pesticide for home and agricultural use. Today, 2,4-D is said to be the most widely used pesticide in the world.


This film is an important one, as it provides a window into the time when our industrial food system was first formed -- one built upon the widespread use of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. Taking this system apart reveals a longstanding war on nature. However, seeking dominion over plants, insects and animals, has not been working all too well. Perhaps it is now time to begin listening to nature, instead of fighting it?


In September 2007, industry trade association CropLife Canada, hosted their annual conference in Saskatoon. As a member of the media in attendance, I was provided with a media package containing a DVD titled, "A Primer on Pesticides". Produced by global agricultural chemical and seed giant Syngenta, the DVD is being distributed to schools, municipalities, consumers, and clearly, media.


Showcased on the DVD is a panel of Syngenta staff, one of whom is Donna Houghton - a Toxicologist at the company's Guelph, Ontario offices.


Houghton refers to two products; Callisto and Killex. Among their many roles, Syngenta's Callisto is designed to kill a 'weed' known as Lamb's Quarters, while Scotts Canada's Killex will "eliminate dandelions".


Her message is reminiscent of a very similar one put forward in the film"Death to Weeds", during which, the narrator suggests, "Dandelions, one of the biggest nuisances to golfers and greens-keepers alike, are killed, roots and all, without harm to the turf." He concludes, "Dandelion cannot resist 2,4-D!" The film also lists Sumac and Burdock as "enemy weeds".


While images of Dandelion and Burdock may act as a dartboard in the offices of Dow and Syngenta, these plants possess a wealth of nutrition that our conventional food system seems increasingly unable to provide.


Recent studies and reports have pointed to the plummeting decline in the nutritional composition of the North American food supply. When such figures are juxtaposed with the clear difficulty faced by farmers choosing to cultivate the most common food crops, there seems to be much we can learn from the sheer resilience of these so-called 'weeds'.


While dandelions are perceived to plague the homeowner and hole-in-one hopefuls, their leaves and roots have long been used to treat various ailments. Richer in vitamin A than carrots, one cup of Dandelion juice can provide a healthy dose of calories, protein, carbohydrates, Vitamin C and calcium. In the context of eating more local food, not only do dandelions grow right in our backyards, they're free. However, we have long been convinced that Dandelions must be destroyed.


A relatively unknown 'weed, Lamb's Quarters are more nutritious than spinach, and its flavour somewhat similar. The plant contains beneficial levels of phosphorous, iron, calcium, vitamins A, B2, C, and niacin. On the resilience front, Lamb's Quarters have been found to grow at elevations of 12,000ft, yet this resource too is destroyed by chemicals every day.


Sumac was yet another resource on the hit list of 2,4-D, however, in August of 2006, researchers discovered that a water-soluble Sumac berry extract was found to increase the shelf life and decrease bacteria contamination of chicken wings (naturally). But alas, growing corn to sweeten a can of soda takes precedence, so out Sumac goes with a spritz of 2,4-D.


Finally we have Burdock -- one of the most widely used medicinal herbs. As a food, Burdock contains polyacetylenes which are known to be effective antibacterials and antifungals. Burdock is also known to enhance the performance of many of the organs which purify the body and eliminate toxins or waste.


It is indeed ironic that as we learn more about the carcinogenic dangers of applying chemicals to our food, we, at the same time, destroy plants that can prevent the very cancers and sickness to which our food system is accused of contributing.


For now, we can wonder whether the health of North Americans would be any different if we only listened to the messages coming from 'weeds'. If we could hear them speak, they would likely be saying; "Hey there, look at me. Not only can I grow without the help of you and your technologies, but I'm tasty and nutritious too. Eat me! Eat me!"


If we heed their advice, perhaps we can one day change the definition of a 'weed' from; "A valueless plant growing wild", to; "Once identified as a pest during a Neolithic age when humanity sought dominion over nature instead of listening to it."


Deconstructing Dinner is heard on radio stations across Canada and is available as a Podcast. More information on today's topic can be found at (








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