Science in Society Archive

Science in Society #46 - Letters to the Editor

Science in Society 46

Putting food and energy together in sustainable cooking and agriculture

I heartily agree with your statement in Sustainable Agriculture, Green Energies and the Circular Economy (SiS46): “Biofuels and biochar make clear why we need to think about food and energy together.” Using solar thermal for cooking food (to rave reviews) also makes this a reality. I am using 60 to 90 percent solar on catered events. I just catered a Brazilian event for 110 people, with black beans cooked in less than half an hour. Dark coloured foods cook much quicker in solar than by conventional gas.

With regard to fixing nitrogen in soil for grain crops, I have come to the conclusion that the practice of combining grains and legumes in cooking for maximum nutrition also works in the garden. I plant each corn kernel with a sweet pea within inches of each other. The result is that I have never produced so much corn; and the corn stalk supports the pea and shades it enough that I can also harvest peas during the warmer months.

I have been following ISIS since 2001, and working to feed film and television crews in Hollywood for the past 20 years, being a single mother now of three adults and four grandchildren. However, my opposition to the Iraq war, my decision to stop serving beef, and eventually, activism on behalf of a small urban farming organisation South Central Farmers cost me my catering job with the production companies. At the advice of my son-in-law who served in the Marine Corp during the invasion of Iraq, I bought a large solar oven and took it to the public as a sign of hope and ingenuity that we can solve problems without conflict. I took it to farmers markets, conventions and green expos. I have always been involved in community based agriculture and gardens while managing public property where members gardened. And that was how I started my catering business. I grow my own fresh organic produce.

As my business grew because I was serving such great fresh food, my involvement with organic farmers became a necessity. The farmers supported my business by giving me great deals and special treatment. I love them! I have a lovely garden, keep bees, and now cater weddings with solar cooking. It is a challenge to work with nature, minimize waste, teach conservation, and to be the grounds keeper, chef, and bottle washer; but my efforts have made my dream of thirty years a reality.
Susan Rigali, Solar chef,, Los Angeles, California, USA

Your article is very thought-provoking. All the developed and developing nations should work up on this model to normalize climate change and save the humanity from disaster.
Dr. RKS Rathore, Agra, India

Gross incompetence of those releasing SmartStax corn

SmartStax Maize a Medley of Transgenes with Problems (SiS 46) sheds light on the nature of GM Crops and makes the issue crystal clear: No one who reads it could accept the presence of GM crops in the open environment and the international food supply, or fail to recognize the gross incompetence of those charged with preserving the environment and protecting the health of US citizens.

What does seem insane is the fact that people so useless could have been entrusted with positions of responsibility, which allowed them to put so much at risk. I quote you: “As insane as it may appear, EPA regards the health effects of transgenes stacked together and their impact on the environment as equivalent to a mixture of chemicals pesticides sprayed on a plant…They presume that there is no need for environmental assessment or toxicological evaluation of the mixed genes and their products within the crop plant, where many unintended effects in gene expression and metabolic profile can occur". ..The corporations appear to have been given carte blanche to load our food and feed with untested mixtures of old transgenes, with utter disregard of the interactions among the transgenes and gene products ..”
Douglas Hind, director and national coordinator of many indigenous peoples and organic and rural farming organisations, Guadalajar, Jalisco, Mexico

Food Inc horror changed my life

The Food, Inc. Horror Movie  is another great report from ISIS. I first heard of similar reporting a couple decades ago, when John Robbins split from his family business (the business of ice cream, Baskin and Robbins), and wrote a number of books, beginning with Diet for a New America. In the book, he gave some figures for the production of meat and dairy in terms of water, land and grain use. Following that, I made a strong dietary shift toward whole grains, beans, vegetables, etc. It was a happy turning point for me, which I've always been grateful for. I then moved into nutritional studies, including western and eastern approaches, and macrobiotics; and have offered my experience and tips to friends and family, and anybody interested. But it isn't enough, is it?

What really rankles us ‘independence-loving, tax-hating’ Americans is subsidizing the factory-farming industries without our consent or knowledge. We believe we live in a free-market economy, and yet we pay exorbitant (but hidden) fees and taxes, so that we can produce more of what is truly bad for us, burn mountains of grain to suppress or raise costs, and dump more nitrogen into waterways.

Let's get out there and kick some congressional butt, and make it understood that while no one has to be a vegetarian (that’s a personal choice), no industry should be so sheltered and cushioned by secret, and in that sense illegal, use of billions of our tax dollar.
Liam Scheff, Independent Journalist, Boston, MA, USA

How nitrogen fertilizers turn soils acid

The information in China’s Soils Ruined by Overuse of Chemical Fertilizers (SiS 46) is very important and doesn´t get to most farmers who are also victims of bad technical assistance. The promises of increased production! I would like to have more detailed information about the processes by which nitrogen-based fertilizers or wild fire retardants turn soils acid and the implications for the atmospheric concentrations of NO2 for example.
Paulo Cezar Mendes Ramos, Brasília, Brazil

Dr, Mae-Wan Ho replies

The most important acid forming reactions for N fertilizers is microbial oxidation of ammonium compounds and urea to nitrate, especially when N fertilizers are added in excess of what the plants can assimilate.

NH3  +  2O →   H+  + NO3-  + H2O


CO (NH2)  + 4O2 → 2H+  + 2NO3-  + H2O + CO2


It is the protons (H+) generated in the nitrification reactions that cause acidity.

When plants assimilate nitrate, i.e., when they take up the nitrate and react it with an organic compound (R-OH) they consume protons, as follows:

R-OH +  NO3-  + H+   → R- NH2 + O2

So if nitrogen is in balance, there should be no acidification of the soil.

As far as fire retardants are concerned, there are many different chemicals already known to be harmful to wild life. Among the ones used are ammonium phosphates, which can also generate protons and hence acidity.

Real hydrology at last

The Real Importance of the Amazon Rain Forest (SiS 46) describes important research that corroborates the insights of Viktor Schauberger 80 years before. Schauberger demonstrated the close connection between trees, the Earth’s water cycle and the production of rain, and saw the tropical rainforest as the powerhouse for balancing climatic extremes on the planet. He called the forests ‘the cradle of water’ in the sense that they produce the most balanced and best quality fresh water. The forest canopy receives rain imbued with the Sun’s energy and draws up water from deep in the soil, transpiring abundant and high quality water which balances the two energy sources. Schauberger proposed a complex water cycle below ground, where the water molecules from precipitation are broken down to provide energy for new growth, then to be recycled into new water. He believed that that new virgin water is created by the coming together of molecular hydrogen and free oxygen in the depths of the soil, stimulated by the trees’ root systems. Schauberger was an intuitive, and it is good to see some of his insights supported scientifically.
Alick Bartholomew, Bath, UK

If Mr Bunyard or anyone else wishes to see this biotic pump in action, a winter spent on the west side of Vancouver Island north of Long Beach would provide an excellent example. It happens before your eyes, vapours rising even from the clear-cut stumps. It impressed me so when I lived there. It was hard to measure, but it seems as though the rains were again reaching for the sky. And the minds’ eye now trying to stretch to the scale of the Amazon, and is indeed awe-inspired. Further, imagine this in western Europe, before the great beech and oak forests were lost to sheep!
Todd Millions, Cypress Hills Range, Saskatchewan, Canada

Article first published 22/06/10

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