April 1, 2020

Food Lunacy

By Stephen Tuttle | May 18, 2019

Some extreme vegans would like us to avoid California almonds and avocados. Not because they've been tainted by pesticides or other chemicals, and not because they've been adulterated with non-vegan food products.
No, it's because the bees that pollinate most of those crops are brought in by truck from other states thereby stressing them unduly. They believe native bees should do the pollinating. If only. 
There are about 4,000 species of bees in North America and less than 20 percent live in large colonies. Some aren't pollinators at all. Those in nature visit many different kinds of flowers either by genetic necessity or happenstance. But they aren't so good at pollinating massive plots of monoagriculture.
There are 810,000 acres of almonds producing more than 2 trillion blossoms in California and not nearly enough native bees, beetles other flying bugs or wind to adequately distribute all that pollen. Almonds are far from the only crop needing outside help.
Enter European honey bees.
Originally brought over in 1622 for honey production, they are technically an invasive species. They might be the most economically beneficial such invader ever. Professional beekeepers now make about half their income from moving their bees from crop to crop in other states. 
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, colonized bees started disappearing in what came to be called colony collapse disorder (CCD). Worker bees would simply vanish from the colony, often overnight, leaving behind the queen and a few others. It afflicted nearly 60 percent of commercial hives at its worst, threatening much of our agricultural output.
Suspected causes included pesticide residue, fungus, and insufficient nutrients due to visiting only one kind of flower, The most likely culprit was a minuscule parasite that could reproduce quickly in commercial colonies. CCD has significantly abated in recent years to the relief of many growers of many, many crops.
In fact, the boycotting vegans are going to have to expand their list dramatically and restrict their diets even further. Especially since they've already sworn off soy and corn products plus sugar beets and canola since 90 percent of those are now the dreaded genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Almonds and avocados are just a few days work and a mere tip of the agricultural iceberg for these busy bees. The vegans now concerned about those two crops are going to have to make a long list. 
Add California cherries and plums, apples and cherries from Washington state, sunflowers from North and South Dakota, Texas squash, clementines and tangerines from Florida, Wisconsin cranberries, blueberries in Maine, and pumpkins, peaches, apricots, broccoli, string beans...  and,yes, even blueberries and cherries here in Michigan. 
More than a third of all our agricultural crops are pollinated by honey bees brought in from elsewhere. We'd have fewer crops at higher prices without them.  
If they're unduly stressed on their journeys, they've been pretty stoic about it. Even under perfect conditions, death aplenty is normal in honey bee colonies. Females can live up to five months, sterile worker bees up to six months, and male drones only about six weeks. With tens of billions of bees working in California it would be hard to determine if the millions of deaths were stress-related or just the end of lifespans.
Maybe the bee suport group should try foraging. It seems to work for the people with the healthiest hearts in the world.  
The Tsinami indigenous people of Bolivia, who live near a tributary of the Amazon, are not quite immune to heart disease but pretty close. Researchers have discovered fully 90 percent of their people have no signs of arterial or heart disease. Even their elderly have the circulatory system of a younger person. Nope, not vegans. 
Their diet is – and disciples of the keto diet fad should turn away here – 72 percent carbohydrates, 14 percent protein and 14 percent fat. They have some limited agriculture, mostly small plots of root vegetables. They eat game they hunt and fish they catch and cook most of their vegetables.
Before we get excited about the new, high carb diet, the Tsinami have some special circumstances. Their surroundings provide them with fruits and nuts, and they eat organic in the truest sense of the word. And they aren't exactly sedentary; on their feet 6-8 hours a day and walking, on average, a whopping 17,000 steps. 
Avoiding foods because the plants have been pollinated by the wrong kind of bees is just more food foolishness. And plenty restrictive. Especially since those foods might not exist without those bees. Trying to duplicate the surroundings and circumstances of the Tsinami and their hunter/gatherer lifestyle and diet is equally silly.
Let's just thank the little bee migrant workers and, when it comes to diet, use some common sense instead of our ongoing food lunacy. 


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