D26: Decomposition and Digestion

The really big part of yesterday’s story of eating dirt because of rising food prices due to climate change issues was only background to my post. Others treated that more pointedly than I did. Yesterday’s blog posting was long and fraught with the decay that is our *democratic* broken system. My story of dirt as food was a history, a record that isn’t the capital ‘D’ Democracy we want. There is no getting around the fact that my tone and the citations, quotations I included were of a certain kind. Upon re-reading that post today I found it seemed to chastise and its intent was to bring up all the dirt. Yes, the story was about eating dirt for food and I dug up more dirty politics in unearthing history of US imperial behavior.

Today I return to my focus a sustainable life. Even so, I am bringing much from yesterday’s long post to bear on today’s subject. To wit, decomposition and decay are both required in my living a low impact life. There are two places that I am counting on the mechanisms of disintegration:
  • In my garden
  • In my gut

I am actively recruiting whole armies of bacteria needed to break down the organic matter in my compost wormery and the food in my digestive system. Jeebus, armies? That is a miserably militaristic way to phrase that isn’t it? Instead - bring me your tired, your poor, your hungry . . . That's it. Let me welcome whole populations of hungry good bacteria to my compost wormery and my digestive system with my gifts of food, warmth, oxygen, darkness and moisture. The basics of building are the same as those for breaking down. And, the four elements of fire, air, earth and water are the continuing leitmotif in this story.

This is where it is important to celebrate disintegration as a functioning part of living. One of the annoyances of living in a 24/7 marketing kind of society is the focus on ‘feels good, smells good, sounds good, looks good’ packaging of every concept. Life isn’t that way. It is messy, it sometimes stinks and it looks vile. Besides that, to even describe some processes is downright revolting.

Garden Compost

On this first day of February I am dreaming of my spring garden. Now is the time to prepare the soil. Yesterday I dug around in my raised bed. The green compost of last fall’s tomato plants was largely rotted away. The dirt is much richer with nutrients then last year. It is filled with worms and worm casings from last year’s composting.

Right now I have decay in my wormery and no worms. I abandoned it last fall when I dumped most of the contents into my garden. I’d kept back some scraps and worms, but I failed to keep it going. My bad. I need to bury the moldy mess in my yard, clean out the wormery and prepare a new bed for another bag of worms from my Farmer’s Market.

I have been saving paper egg cartons, toilet paper centers, junk mail and the schnivels of paper with my name and address. I have a whole manila envelope filled with these bits of paper because I rip them from my junk mail first thing and shove them in this envelope. The idea is to shred them for stolen identify protection. But, lately I decided it was a good Re-think It project item to let the worms have at it. Here is a handy list of rates of decomposition.
Decomposition Rates

  • Paper 2-4 Weeks
  • Leaves 1-3 Months
  • Orange Peels 6 Months
  • Milk Carton 5 years
  • Plastic Bag 10-20 Years
  • Plastic Container 50-80 Years
  • Aluminum Can 80 Years
  • Tin Can 100 Years
  • Plastic Soda Bottle 450 Years
  • Glass Bottle 500 Years
  • Styrofoam Never
Gut Digestion

I mentioned a couple days ago about my desire to make my own yogurt. This week (hopefully today) I will make my first batch of yogurt. I have the organic milk and some organic yogurt I bought to use as starter. Yogurt is the best way I have found to get the right gut bacteria. A recent article in Treehugger looked at this bacteria.

Eat Good Bacteria. Might be the take away message of a recent study published in the journal of Molecular Systems Biology. The scientific team, including Jeremy Nicholson a biochemist at Imperial College London, found that even a small amount of 'good' bacteria introduced to the digestive track of a mouse can create profound changes in the mouse's metabolism.

The digestive track is a mysterious, and crowded place. More than 1000 different species totaling over 100 trillion individual microorganisms call your gut home. As Stephen Colbert points out you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head. What are all those nerve endings doing? Well, they might be listening to the conversation.

"Gut bacteria talk to each other," says Nicholson. The bacteria in your gut perform incredibly useful work in digesting food, yet they must all work in some coordinated fashion to get the job done. Achieving the right mix of bacteria, can lead to the right signals or 'talk', which can be critical to the digestive system, and metabolism. The kicker is you don't even need that many 'good' bacteria to make a difference.

In fairness, this piece was actually covering a controversial study cited in a Science Magazine about ‘good’ bacteria being responsible for changing metabolism. This study report seemed a disingenuous inference towards weight loss through eating yogurt. The commercial product Activa® seems poised for this kind of ridiculous claim.

Yes indeed, the package says: This product helps to naturally regulate your digestive system. A series of clinical studies shows that eating Activia® with Bifidus Regularis™ significantly improves digestive health in just 14 days.

WTF? What the hell does that mean anyway?

The ingredients listed on the package sound pretty “Monsanto-ized.”
Cultured grade A reduced fat milk, fructose syrup, sugar, modified corn starch, contains less than 1% of fructose, whey protein concentrate, kosher gelatin, natural vanilla flavor, sodium citrate, malic acid.

Contains the active cultures L.Bulgaricus, S. Thermophilus and Bifidobacterium.

Gak. I am not a scientist, so I can’t speak from a chemist’s or nutritionist’s position, but I do know that yogurt doesn’t need cornstarch (modified or unmodified) or gelatin (Kosher or non-Kosher) if there are real active cultures present. This is pretend food laced with a chemical cocktail of synthetic stuff to make this product cheaper to produce and to keep it on shelves longer.

So deconstruction, decomposition is an activist part of our lives if we choose to live consciously. I am breaking it down, encouraging disintegration, letting things rot on their own or generally working to assist what my existence was designed to do in this 21st century setting. I think we might thrive despite all the nasty rotting messes in the world.