Written for ANTH:2100
Family Traditions vs Modern Farming
The second most frequent meal I had growing up, right after Cheerios, was Spaghetti. For my family, it was a frequent and special meal. To begin exploring this family tradition I interviewed my father to discover the origin of this tradition. Spaghetti was often the choice for birthday dinners and other family gatherings. Our spaghetti dinners were made of two primary components, dry pasta noodles and a tomato meat sauce. Our spaghetti dinner now spans four generations, and until recently has undergone only minor changes. The family tradition eventually had to face off against a formidable foe, modern farming. There is mounting evidence that modern farming techniques are correlated with chronic conditions, such as Celiac disease. In order for family traditions to endure they must be changed and adapted to new situations.
As long as I can remember spaghetti dinners have been a family tradition. For some families, a spaghetti dinner would be very standard meal. But my family is English and Scottish, with just a bit of German. Typical meals were boiled potatoes or pot roast. We did not eat other pastas, nor were there other Italian meals served at home. As my father pointed out the closest we got to pasta, “Kraft Mac & Cheese.” This was also true for me, it was not until I was an adult that I had Chicken Marsala or Fettuccini Alfredo. My first question I asked my father, “How long has this been a family tradition?” My father is now 66 years old and he did not know where it started, it predated him. Since both of his parents are gone, we may not exact answer. My father suggested that his older sister may know when this tradition started. Together we contacted her, she indicated that there was an Italian Family that lived nearby, and my grandmother and Mrs. Muscarino would exchange recipes. From there it became a regular Saturday meal. As my father grew up he and his three sisters each got married and left the house taking this tradition with them. But as it family continued on with a minor twist. Janet his middle sister moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and before long her spaghetti recipe included the famous Green Chilies.
As I grew up the spaghetti recipe had to be altered out of a medical necessity. After fighting with digestive issues for many year, my mother was eventually diagnosed with Celiac disease. In the process of determining the cause of her digestive problems, she tried many different diets, including removing tomatoes and vegetarian. Neither was effective in resolving the troubles she was having, but they did impact our spaghetti dinners, which rely heavily on tomatoes and meat. After many failed attempts, wheat was identified as the problematic ingredient. However, research is beginning to show wheat itself may not be the culprit, but instead it is the modern farming practice of treating wheat with Roundup (glyphosate). In order to meet the higher demands for more wheat, farmers have been increasing the use of weed killers such as Roundup. From the year 2000 to 2010, Roundup usage increased from 2 million pounds, to over 18 million pounds. In that same time, deaths related to intestinal infection went from 50,000/year to 300,000(Samsel & Seneff, 2013). While this does not indicate a causal relationship, there is a strong correlation in these measures. Celiac disease has been linked to intestinal infections (Azimirad, Rostami-Nejad, Rostami, Naji, & Zali, 2015).
Addressing and reducing my exposure to glyphosate has become a personal challenge. The health risks of long-term exposure to glyphosate through our foods is not worth the risk. But then how do you carry on a family tradition when the key ingredients are so troublesome. Over the Thanksgiving break we enjoyed our typical spaghetti dinner, almost. To avoid glyphosate in my diet, I have removed grains, rice, barley, corn and wheat from my diet. Instead of wheat pasta, I had Butternut Squash with Spaghetti sauce. It was not the same meal may father had every Saturday night for dinner, but the tradition lives on. Azimiradhas shown there are an increasing number of gestational issues in the US and farmers are using more Round-up to increase crop yield. Can we expect others to alter their traditional family meals in order to remain health, or do we need new tools to improve our food production?
Azimirad, M., Rostami-Nejad, M., Rostami, K., Naji, T., & Zali, M. R. (2015). The Susceptibility of Celiac Disease Intestinal Microbiota to Clostridium difficile Infection. Am J Gastroenterol, 110(12), 1740-1741. doi:10.1038/ajg.2015.360
Samsel, A., & Seneff, S. (2013). Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II: Celiac sprue and gluten intolerance. Interdiscip Toxicol, 6(4), 159-184. doi:10.2478/intox-2013-0026 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24678255)