5 Insane Farm Secrets Behind the Food on Your Grocery List
Nobody wants to know where their food comes from. It's perfectly understandable: Hamburgers are delicious regardless of the fact that the slaughterhouse had to toss cows into a giant blender in order to make them. Still, it's worth paying attention to, because some of what's going on behind the scenes is downright weird. Like ...
Magical Farm Rituals
Let's say your local farm or vineyard has a mouse problem. How do you think they solve it? Poison? Baited traps? A bunch of cats? Wrong! They catch one mouse, skin it, discard the body, burn the skin into ashes while Venus is in the constellation Scorpius, then scatter the ashes. Or at least that's what they do if they practice biodynamics. It's a popular farming technique among organic growers (especially vineyards) that is full of weird rituals intended to harness the powers of the Earth and stars. Here are their directions on how to make compost:
First, stuff cow horns full of manure and ground-up quartz, then bury them for the winter.
Then hang sausages made from flowers and either cow or stag intestines out all summer.
Next, cram barnyard animal skulls full of bark, then "bury them in a damp place."
"We started out with human skulls, but we eventually ran out of hitchhikers."
Why in the possible hell are they doing this?
Well, early last century, an Austrian philosopher and "esotericist" named Rudolf Steiner founded an occult spiritual movement known as anthroposophy. Steiner himself described this belief system as "a path of knowledge, to guide the Spiritual in the human being to the Spiritual in the universe." Basically, it's a hodgepodge of New Age jibber-jabber and astrology. For some reason, in 1924 a group of farmers invited Steiner to deliver a series of lectures on how his theories could be applied to agriculture, despite his having absolutely no expertise in the area. Steiner's ideas were a hit, and biodynamic agriculture was born.
In recent years, Steiner's methods have become especially popular among vintners, and we're not just talking about a few tie-dyed Napa Valley beard enthusiasts. Biodynamic viticulture has become all the rage among some of the world's leading wine producers, and there are even some supermarkets that organize their schedule around Steiner's calendar. Trade and industry groups hold exclusively biodynamic wine tasting events, and more than 10 percent of France's vineyards are now using this supernatural system. Most supporters will tell you that the proof is in the results, and that biodynamically grown wine just tastes better.
"Hmmm, a subtle bouquet, with undertones of mouse ghosts."
Just in case you were wondering if anyone has bothered, "A six-year study from the Washington State lab in 2005 was the first published in a peer-reviewed journal comparing biodynamic and organic agriculture with respect to wine grapes in particular. They found nothing." What? You mean grapes aren't improved at a farm where "cow horns are utilized as antennae for receiving and focusing cosmic forces"? Did we mention that's accomplished by filling them full of shit?
Super Beef from Giant Genetic Freak Cows
Most of us just think of cows as walking beef. Think about it -- if you saw a cow in your yard, you'd assume that it escaped from somebody's farm. There's no such thing as wild cows, right? They're not animals -- they exist so we can have steaks. So if that's true, scientists said, why not go all the way with it and make a giant supercow with lots of extra steak on its bones? Boom:
This is what it'd look like if Sir Mix-A-Lot had taken up farming.
Behold, the Belgian Blue. Belgian breeders addressed the problem of cows not having enough lean, delicious meat on their bodies by exploiting a gene mutation that produces extra muscle fiber. If a cow and '70s-era Arnold Schwarzenegger made love, the Belgian Blue would be their baby.
Thanks to their extra muscle fibers, these behemoths can convert food to muscle much more effectively than their fat counterparts. And here's the kicker: They're all-natural. No steroids around. So even though they look as guilty as Jose Conseco at a back alley GNC, these gargantucows are probably healthier for you than what you're eating right now.
Nice calves. Way to only work the glamour muscles, asshole.
Even if you're eating chicken. According to a USDA study, Belgian Blue steaks get stellar marks for moisture and tenderness, and have less fat and cholesterol than chicken breasts. The breed is relatively new to the U.S. but is said to be rapidly gaining acceptance among blind people who like lean beef.
Yep, no downside whatsoever! We're not even sure why we brought it up. Oh, wait, here's a fun factoid: Getting a baby Schwarzenegger through a heifer birth canal is about as easy as getting a grown-up Schwarzenegger through a doggie door. Which is why most calves require Caesarean births. They have to be cut out of their mothers due to the muscle mass built in utero. So maybe we jumped the gun on the "all-natural" thing a little bit.
A lot has happened since 2006: We've elected the first black president, we got bin Laden, there were some Olympics, oh and all the bees started disappearing. And so far science's best answer for the mass beeicide is "cellphones?"
No matter what is causing the mass disappearance of the bees, the effect on agriculture has the potential to be devastating. Without the pollinating prowess of the honey bee, farmers of everything from apples to watermelons are losing billions per year, and experts are still banging their heads against the wall trying to come up with a solution.
Some people refuse to take the mass extinction of our favorite pollinators lying down. And by that we mean they've decided to become bees themselves.
"Finally, a way to have sex with a tree that won't get me arrested!"
The pear farmers of southern Sichuan are addressing the bee shortage by unleashing perhaps their greatest asset: raw manpower. When the bees stopped facilitating hot yearly tree sex, thousands of citizens mobilized in the orchards each spring, armed with a suggestively named pollination stick made from chicken feathers and -- no joke -- cigarette butts. Up the trees they go, stick in hand, to manually do the work of insects by dabbing pollen onto the billions of willing blossoms. Or pork the flowers, whichever way you want to put it.
"He can dress up like a bee all he wants, but there's not a damn way I'm calling that weirdo 'my queen'."
And that's after they scrubbed the pollen from pear trees and manually dried it. The crazy part, besides the fact that China is doing it with pear trees, is that in this region they've been hand-pollinating for two decades now. They didn't wait for the big colony collapse to get started -- their bees left their asses 20 years ago, thanks to pesticides. So hey, unemployed American college grads -- looks like there might be some employment options out there after all. Just wait until spring!
But don't wait too long, or else the job might get taken by your cyborg grandmother ...
Foods Harvested by Elderly Robots
We've already mentioned how the future will be littered with the living bodies of the elderly, probably to the point where there won't be enough able-bodied people to do the hard agricultural work it takes to keep society going. Japan has already had years to consider the problem, and they've come up with a solution. Why not just robotize old people so they can work harder and longer?
To be fair, "turn them into robots" is Japan's solution for most problems.
The Power Assist Suit, developed by Tokyo's University of Agriculture and Technology, is intended to make life easier for farm workers by "reducing the user's physical effort by 62 percent." With Japan's elderly now making up two-thirds of the total radish-plucking population, the suit can reduce backaches and cramps while simultaneously allowing the geriatrics to serve as the first line of defense against the Klendathu incursion.
The planned retail price of the robot is a reasonable $11,000, and it comes sporting eight electric motors. It also has sensors that can detect a wearer's movements and a voice-recognition system, and experts say that there is no more than a 30 percent chance that these suits will keep operating after the user has died inside them, creating the cybernetic zombie scenario that deep down every Japanese person knew was coming.
"$11,000 and you couldn't include a codpiece?"
Now that we mention it, why not do away with the human element altogether? They're way ahead of us -- in the wake of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, Japan is building a fully robotic experimental farm on disaster-ravaged farmland. "The Dream Project" in Miyagi prefecture is set to involve unmanned tractors for tending and harvesting crops, LEDs that act as a nonchemical pesticide and robots to box all the produce. The plan also calls for any machinery-produced carbon dioxide to be channeled back to the crops to act as fertilizer, further eliminating the need for animal life, be it human or beast, in the entire process.
Now if there was only some weird-ass sci-fi food they could raise there, like ...
Scorpion Cabbage and Lab-Grown Meat
Sometimes we think that if we can just avoid the hoof and genital slurry that gets shunted into the average hot dog tube, we're doing alright. Not anymore. For instance, aside from the inevitable farts, it's hard to imagine that there could be anything unsettling about cabbage, right? How about if someone turned it into a part plant, part poisonous insect hybrid? You probably know what's coming next. Besides Armageddon.
Chinese scientists have magically infused the scorpion's poison gene with cabbage, because Chinese scientists are really aware of what it takes to get our attention. By altering the gene that makes scorpions poisonous and putting it in cabbage, the scientists can kill off caterpillar larva that would destroy the crop without harming humans. Win-win! And not creepy at all!
"OK, we should've mixed them the other way."
And this is only one of the many times geneticists have sought to improve agriculture by playing the part of Farmer Dr. Moreau. Public interest research groups have reported combinations that have included safflower and carp, wheat and chickens and soybeans and rats. Then, in case you weren't worried, they're even engineering corn with monkey AIDS. Sleep tight!
"-- and that's why I always practice safe barbecuing."
Things are becoming just as weird over in the deli aisle. Aside from the disturbing nature of the salmon engineered to grow at twice the normal rate, it appears that the meat you eat might not come from an actual creature in the future. You may have supposed that the Slim Jim people have been up to this for some time, but the first symposium on creating animal flesh entirely in a laboratory was held in Norway in 2008. And just so we're clear, this isn't a conversation about soy patties flavored and shaped to look like chicken -- we're talking about in vitro chicken grown in a lab. That you eat. With your mouth parts.
OK, maybe we owe the magical organic farming guys an apology.
E. Reid Ross does some other stuff over at RealToyGun.com.
For more weird stuff going on with your food, check out The 6 Most Horrifying Lies The Food Industry is Feeding You and 5 Horrifying Food Additives You've Probably Eaten Today.