Thursday, October 24, 2013

Candy Crush Comes in Digital and Analog Mode

Candy Crush, the popular online game, apparently is threatening jobs, marriages, and sanity. Cable news shows mention therapy sessions, online threats, and neglected kids. 

“Mommy, what’s for dinner?” 

“Crushed candy. I’m working on it at this very moment. Now leave me alone.”  
Now they’ve come out with real Candy Crush candy. As this report says, “If it is anywhere as addictive as the game that inspired it, we're going to have a big, fat problem on our hands.”
We dealt with candy crushes decades ago as pre-cyber farm kids. I guess sugar highs can be digital or analog as these blog reflections demonstrate.

Candy Crush, High Fructose, and the Basic Food Groups
I grew up in the pre-fructose age, so it was much easier to avoid the sugar wars. But at times, I was able to satiate my sweet tooth while still hitting several basic food groups. Fruits and veggies are examples.  We didn’t get candy often, but when we did, it came as something that sounds at least pseudo-healthy.  
Orange Slices? OK, so they may not contain much vitamin C, and there was no disguising the sugar. This candy was shaped like real orange slices, but the sugar granules sparkled on the outside and the chewy orange content stuck to your teeth for hours.

Lemon Drops? Gotta get your citrus, and this flavor-filled hard candy could be handled in two ways. You could suck it slowly until your tongue, gum, and inner cheek went numb with a sugar high, or you could chomp down for a burst of flavor. Well worth an occasional chipped tooth.  
Jelly Beans (what? they’re not really a legume?) were by far the most interesting. My brothers and I would divide them, trade them, and occasionally fight over them. Green and red were high value. Black and white were the last to get chosen.
These sugar highs were part of a long-ago childhood, but I don’t recall folks debating fructose or any other form of sugar much back then. Most kids on the farm seemed naturally hyper because we were constantly running around outside. I never heard the word “obese” in my school days, but I did hear more about tooth decay then. I’m not sure if sugar was to blame, but toothpaste ads had animated characters attacking cavities, and our local dentist had plenty of kids sitting in his huge, uncomfortable chair. An ex-army dentist, he was a fine man who apparently did not believe in pain killers and who knew only two words: “Open wide.”
So, does sugar cause obesity and diabetes? You can find “scientific research” to back various opinions; it’s probably best to stay as informed as possible and listen to your own body. We all know that a Homer Simpson diet will not lead to a svelte, swimsuit body. And most know that an unbalanced diet and over consumption are probably going to cost us in the long run. I’ve even accepted the fact that fresh oranges and edible soybeans are better for me than the candied versions. But we all have our fructose safety zone. Mom still makes an amazing cinnamon roll, and somehow it seems to cover all the essential food groups.  
 by dan gogerty (visual from and

Monday, October 21, 2013

Smurfs, Biotech Food & Schizoid Reactions

Doc Callahan—retired professor, part-time farmer, and full-time pontificator—reads countless letters of inquiry and in his own front-porch way, he tries to make sense of the modern barnyard banter. In this edition, he puts on his white lab coat and digs into the topic of biotech crops.

Not That There's Anything Wrong with Smurfs...

Dear Doc,
     My brain hurts. I’ve soaked in material from the Internet and listened to interviews on radio, but I still get conflicting information about genetically modified
crops. Some claim they will cause allergies and possibly long-term damage. The most extreme blogs make me think my baby will grow up looking like a smurf if I use GMO products. But most of the experts say they are not only harmless, they are needed to feed the growing population. Have you seen anything conclusive?  Baffled in Buffalo

Dear Baffled,
     I know how you feel, but don’t get your double helix in a knot over this. If you live in America, you have probably been ingesting biotech food. 88% of corn and 94% of soybeans are GMO, and the FDA has approved them, plus the use of other biotech crops (see links below).

     You’re right that some believe biotech food has potential hazards. They say more study and more time are needed; a few point to the case of cigarettes—a toxin that stayed under the radar for decades.
     But others say GMO foods are completely different. Hundreds of studies have occurred, and as far as I know, no specific results show negative health effects of biotech food. However, it’s a good idea to keep up the research.
     By the way, my great uncle had smurf-like qualities, and he died way before GMO food was on the market. Maybe different biotech procedures influenced him—like the dandelion wine he distilled every spring.  Doc

Wrestling with 3-foot-tall Bull Thistles...

Dear Doc,
     I’m a small grain farmer, and two things worry me about biotech crops: the high cost and the proliferation of herbicide-resistant weeds. A few of my neighbors are convinced it’s better to use non-GMO seeds, but the recent droughts we’ve had seemed to hit them worse. Can you suggest which type I should plant if I want to stay down on the farm? Penny-pinching in Pennsylvania

Dear Penny-pincher,

     Last spring I helped my brother plant his GMO corn, and when I poured seed into the hopper, he firmly explained that if I spilled any, I’d be on all fours picking up each kernel with a pair of tweezers. He and others agree with you that the costs are high, but I’m not sure how it compares to the inflation that has occurred with land prices and machinery bills.
     Apparently a majority of farmers have chosen biotech seeds. Many say the yields are higher, drought-resistance is better, and chemical use is down. They cite the need for less tilling as one of several reasons why biotech crops are more sustainable and eco-friendly. Others disagree. They say choice is limited because of markets, pollen drift, and the “get big or get out” mentality of modern farming. Some think biotech farming means less crop rotation, more water pollution due to overproduction, and an eventual increase in chemical use because of resistant weeds.
     Some of these issues have been occurring for ages. When I was young, we planted hybrid crops, and we wrestled with weeds that looked like genetically modified zombie plants. It turns out they were bull thistles, pigweed, and giant cockleburrs, but they were resistant to us kids when we tried to pull them. Doc

Twenty-first Century Schizoid Ag Man... 

Dear Doc,
     Like many others, I believe in a safe, secure food system for all. I am concerned about our environment, and I support diversified farming and multiple practices, but I know many go to bed hungry each night. Science seems to be an obvious solution to this problem, but the other half of my brain sometimes jumps in to tell me that we need to slow down and work things out with other methods. Any thoughts?  Schizoid in Saginaw

Dear Schizoid,
     I’ve been a big fan of science ever since I got a chemistry set for my tenth birthday. Because of broken test tubes, stains on the kitchen floor, and a ruined saucepan, Mom wasn’t quite as enthused about experimentation, but we all know innovation has been crucial for agricultural advancement.
     As my neighbor says—and he’s even older than I am—“We might pine for the good old days, but we can’t go back. Anyway, how far back do you want to go? Riding tractors with no cabs in freezing rain? Milking hundreds of restless cows by hand? Plowing fields with horses?”
     But your dual-brained debate has some merit. What is the best way to use science and innovation so they benefit all—especially in the realm of food security? You asked for thoughts, so put these in your e-pipe and e-smoke them:

** Many are suffering because they don’t have enough food or enough nutritious food. Science--and biotech crops--can be an important part of solving this. But so can non-GMO practices. Choice and diversity are important.
** We need to eliminate waste, improve distribution, and develop better storage. I’m not sure what statistics to believe, but some say a third of our food is wasted.
** Food producers, scientists, and farmers need to communicate, be transparent, and understand that some consumers have sincere concerns that need to be addressed. This seems to be improving.
** We all need to realize that you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. I learned that when my Nigerian bank account fizzled, and again when my "distant cousin" who was stranded in London never thanked me for wiring him three thousand dollars. The Net is fertile ground for jargon, hyperbole, shaky science, and scare tactics.
** Independent, science-based research is more important than ever. Companies and organizations play a role, but most agree that publicly funded research is crucial if we want to inform and reassure consumers and policymakers.

(by dan gogerty; double helix pic from and thistle pic from

LINKS:  1. FDA frequently asked questions about GMOs  2. An article with statistics about the percentage of biotech crops and more  3. One of the many sites supporting biotech crops and foods 4. One of the many sites complaining about biotech crops and foods 5. The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology website, a place to access peer-reviewed, science-based research

Monday, October 7, 2013

Ag News, Ron Burgundy, and Crooked Furrows

Agriculturalists are growing a new appendage. If you believe the numerous reports that claim more than 90% of farmers have smartphones, then you know the devices are taking root in calloused hands, leather belt pouches, and bib overall pockets. Digital use in the ag sector may be specialized, but one thing is widespread throughout the population—most of us get our news by looking at a screen. We read about government standoffs, sports results, or celebrity meltdowns by squaring up our eyes and peering at monitors, tablets, and rectangular phones.
                        Ron Burgundy Might Fit into This Clip
This short 1981 video on YouTube shows how this all started—and yes, Will Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy would not look out of place in this retro world. The breaking news of the day was that the first newspaper was available online. You could dial up a type of modem connection and have the San Francisco Examiner delivered to your computer screen. A few observations:
·        *  The download took at least two hours

          *  Only text came through—no pictures, ads, or comics
·                                * Phone hookups for computers cost at least $5 an hour
Thirty-two years later, and print newspapers are on life support. Statistics show that the majority of consumers get their news online. Folks in the ag/food industries use news flash updates, social media outlets, and specialized apps to get information. A farmer harvesting corn near Peoria might read a tweet about a trade negotiation that affects the grain markets—before the major news outlets release the story. A YouTube parody sung by farm brothers in Kansas might have more influence than the ag editorial written for the daily paper. Agriculturalists download podcasts about their specific interests to read—or ignore—later. It’s a cyber smorgasbord.
When I left the farm forty-some years ago, our news feeds were limited. The Des Moines Register was the state newspaper, local radio stations broadcast noon farm reports, and Walter Cronkite told us “that’s the way it is” each evening before we gathered for supper. Our news came at a certain time, and for the most part, we all shared in its nature. We didn’t all agree about things, but we had touchstones and common topics to discuss.
There’s Something to Say for Slow News
The variety and speed of today’s news is amazing, and no one wants to log off and dial up the black and white days of analog information. But modern devices hold a few dangers. We can tune into a 24/7 cable news outlet, join a specialized Twitter group, and sign on to only certain blogs—all focused on what we think and enjoy. We can use the digital world to affirm what we already believe and tell us what we want to hear. If we’re not careful, the fantastic array of choices can actually numb us and lead us into a type of cyber tunnel vision that locks in our views. There’s something to say for slow news at times—general discussions and debates that call for common sense, thought, and problem solving.
Then again, I don’t think that farmer in Peoria will power down his smartphone or shut off the monitor hooked to the bracket above his combine steering wheel. And that’s fine. He can set the GPS, program the robotic sensors, and watch a few innings of the World Series or catch up on the current grain markets. And if he nods off, a Siri-like voice can save him. “The hopper will reach capacity in two minutes. I recommend you transfer corn now. Do you want me to alert the robotic wagon?”
Beats the old days. If I nodded listening to the transistor radio while plowing, it was the crooked furrow or the tangled wire in the fence that alerted me, and their voices weren’t so soothing.   
by dan gogerty (photo from