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February 18, 2003 5:11 PM   Subscribe

Protato. India has developed a genetically modified potato that contains 30% more protein than your standard spud. The hope is to use the 'protato' to combat malnutrition. Needless to say, there are those who dissent from the GM spud being touted as a cure-all for world hunger.
posted by CoolHandPuke (32 comments total)

 
Thanks for the link, CoolHandPuke, but since regular potatoes have very low protein, 30% more is still very low protein. How low? - regular potatoes have between 3 and 4 grams of protein per 150 gram serving. So the Protato would have between 4 and 5.2 grams of protein.

A 150 gram serving of pasta would have at least 8 grams of protein. The same size serving of english muffin, not generally thought of as a high protein food, would have 13 grams of protein. Great Northern beans - 17 grams of protein per 150g serving.

That's just for comparison's sake - I really don't think that the impoverished Indians this is aimed at helping will get to choose between english muffins and protatoes. But 30% per cent more of not much is still not much.
posted by Jos Bleau at 5:32 PM on February 18, 2003


Kinda like 98% caffeine-free coffee... when coffee is 97% caffeine-free as it is. (statistics debatable).
posted by Witty at 5:35 PM on February 18, 2003


Something's better than nothing.
posted by riffola at 5:36 PM on February 18, 2003


Kinda like 98% caffeine-free coffee

You mean Protatos taste like crap too? ;)
posted by twine42 at 5:40 PM on February 18, 2003


If India wants to solve its nutrition problems, perhaps they should start with their food distribution system.

Dying of hunger in a land of surplus - Caste and corruption connive to keep food from India's poor
posted by homunculus at 5:50 PM on February 18, 2003


I don't believe that grams of protein per serving of food is as relevant as grams of protein per acre of cultivated land would be. Pulses (that's beans to most people) pack a protein punch compared to the rest of the vegetarian diet, but they're not as easy to grow as potatoes and fall down on other measures of nutrition, such as calories per acre.

It appears that we're just seeing more of the Luddite reflexive distaste for GM foods, which is weird because potatoes would be about the safest GM food you can have, owing their method of reproduction (cloning) and all that.

Hippies are just weird.
posted by BubbaDude at 6:11 PM on February 18, 2003


the GM spud being touted as a cure-all for world

It took a few minutes, but I thought the "GM Spud" was a car, sort of an ill-advised Detroit answer to the VW "Bug."
posted by jonmc at 6:44 PM on February 18, 2003


BubbaDude read the third link it says the problem is the hype that this could be a replacement crop for other high-nutrient foods it could actually lead to malnutrition, it's all about the benjis and corporate profit avenues without regard for the big picture.
posted by stbalbach at 7:05 PM on February 18, 2003


And next thing you know, people will start suffering from Mad Protato Disease.
posted by titboy at 7:37 PM on February 18, 2003


Hippies are just weird.

Funny, that, because the cliches about lentil-eating hippies remind me of the fact that they embraced foods that are the staples of the Indian diet, especially in the south of the country, are just those kinds of pulses. Next thing you know, Monsanto will be suggesting that Indians should just perhaps be eating channa dhal.
posted by riviera at 7:55 PM on February 18, 2003


The source of the third link is one of several organizations started by India's most notorious Luddite, Vandana Shiva. This is the crackpot who claims that the Green Revolution and the Gold Revolution that tripled the output of Indian farmers are scams by multinational corporations to steer the Third World away from the virtues of vegetarianism and organic gardening in order to profit by their misfortune, etc. Her agenda is throwback to old timey Gandhian notions that make a virtue of living at subsistence level, killing the machines, shunning world trade, and all that kind of crap.

Amaranth is a grain, BTW, and not a bad one, but it's not a pulse and its not the kind of crop you can grow indefinitely on the same plot of land without depleting the soil.

India's problem is a deficit of cheeseburgers, not an excess of fries. If they didn't have these quaint ideas that it's wrong to eat beef, they'd be able to use cattle to convert grasses to human-digestible proteins instead of trying to eat the grasses themselves as in the homunculus-linked story about starvation. Many Indians incorrectly believe that Hinduism dictates the vegetarian diet, but this is incorrect; the veggie fad has only been around since the time of Adi Shankaracharya, and the Vedas abound with stories of Brahmins eating prodigious quantities of beef, which makes a great curry, BTW.
posted by BubbaDude at 8:03 PM on February 18, 2003


[offtopic]
GM? "genemod" is a much cooler term.
[/offtopic]
posted by ac at 9:36 PM on February 18, 2003


I want genemod (genmod?) food right now.
Genmod is basically a good thing because:
1. Anything that gives poor people more protein is a good thing.
2. By demonizing and trying to over-regulate genmod food, we ensure that only powerful multinationals like Monsanto can afford to deal with it.
3. We've been modifying the genes of plants and animals for ages anyway, trough selective breeding.
4. I doubt that anything scientists accidently come up with in the lab is more dangerous than what nature already produces. The most potent poisons known to mankind are all-natural.
posted by spazzm at 10:06 PM on February 18, 2003


India's problem is a deficit of cheeseburgers, not an excess of fries. If they didn't have these quaint ideas that it's wrong to eat beef, they'd be able to use cattle to convert grasses to human-digestible proteins instead of trying to eat the grasses themselves as in the homunculus-linked story about starvation.

You really display your ignorance about the environmental aspects of vegetarianism and the balance of usable food calories created when compared on the basis of cost, work output, and land usage. It takes sixteen pounds of grain and soybeans to create one pound of beef. One acre of grain converts to 165 pounds of beef when fed to cows but that same acre of land could grow 3,000 pounds of soybeans or 20,000 pounds of potatoes. That doesn't even address issues of comparative water usage or waste product generation.

Genmod has its high and low points. I agree with spazzm in the main, though there are certainly areas of concern and areas where restraint (at this point in the development timeline) are well warranted. That said, encouraging "protato" growth as an alternate to higher-yield, lower-impact, higher-protein crops is beyond low, it's criminally stupid.
posted by Dreama at 11:12 PM on February 18, 2003




India's problem is a deficit of cheeseburgers, not an excess of fries. If they didn't have these quaint ideas that it's wrong to eat beef, they'd be able to use cattle to convert grasses to human-digestible proteins instead of trying to eat the grasses themselves as in the homunculus-linked story about starvation.
Throughout his books, Marvin Harris uses cultural materialist theories to explain a wide variety of cultural phenomenon including food taboos, Christianity, male supremacy and warfare. A good example is this discussion, in Cannibals and Kings of the phenomenon of the sacred cow in India:

The tabooing of beef was the cumulative result of the individual decisions of millions and millions of farmers, some of whom were better able than others to resist the temptation of slaughtering their livestock because they strongly believed that the life of a cow or an ox was a holy thing. Those who held such beliefs were much more likely to hold onto their farms, and to pass them on to their children, than those who believed differently... Under the periodic duress of droughts caused by failures of the monsoon rains, the individual farmer's love of cattle translated directly into love of human life, not by symbol but by practice. Cattle had to be treated like human beings because human beings who ate their cattle were one step away from eating each other. To this day, monsoon farmers who yield to temptation and slaughter their cattle seal their doom. They can never plow again even when the rains fall. They must sell their farms and migrate to the cities. Only those who would starve rather than eat an ox or cow can survive a season of scanty rains.
Also, India's Sacred Cow by Marvin Harris, founder of Cultural Materialism

An interview with Marvin Harris that touches upon the subject.
posted by y2karl at 12:06 AM on February 19, 2003


Dreama, I hate to break it to you, but beef cattle aren't raised in grains and soybeans in any country but the US*; in all other parts of the world, they're grass-fed. Cattle can get by on grasses that grow in areas too steep or too rocky for agriculture, and for that reason they're a good source of nutrition to supplement a diet largely composed of grains and pulses. Meat also has nutrients that are lacking from the veggie diet, and which happen to be important for proper brain function. One of the reasons man lept ahead of the apes in evolution is the brain development that came about from eating nutrient-rich meat.

y2karl, your Mr. Harris' romantic account of meat-eating in India is wrong on several counts. Hindus ate meat until Shankaracharya banned it in the 9th century, owing to the fact that Brahmins demanding cow sacrfices were bankrupting the farmers of South India. Cattle are not typically used to pull plows in India; this role falls to water buffalo and to oxen. Bulls are too unruly to pull plows, and dairy cattle have other uses.

There is an excess of bulls in India because all the vegetarians - about half the Indian population - consume dairy products, the production of which requires continuous calving. Half the calves are bulls, and they're generally exported or left to fend for themselves on grasses, and can only legally be slaughtered in Bengal and Kerala.

If you had ever seen how dairy cattle are treated in India, you would have no illusions about sacred cows or any other such nonsense.

*The reason US cattle are grain-fed has to do with the desire of certain government officials to promote this practice in order to continue the production of nitrogen at factories set up during WW II to make explosives.
posted by BubbaDude at 3:21 AM on February 19, 2003


Yeah cattle are not grain-eating animals in fact the reason we dope cattle with antibiotics is because grain causes them serious health problems. Cattle eat grass and theres plenty of grassland either through crop rotation or non-farmable land.

I disagree with the nitrogen factory theory. Cattle are grain fed because it produces a fat cow in a short time, cheap beef. It's simple supply and demand the cattle farmers who use grain make more money. In the USA we have so much grain we can afford to feed it to our cows but it's certainly not a global problem more an American one. Which is why I eat grass-fed organicly raised beef.
posted by stbalbach at 7:12 AM on February 19, 2003


The life of a feedlot steer.

Also quite interesting: the role of cooking in human evolution.
posted by homunculus at 10:23 AM on February 19, 2003


Cattle are not typically used to pull plows in India; this role falls to water buffalo and to oxen.

From the first link in my comment:

The zebu cow provides the milk that Indians consume in the form of yogurt and ghee (clarified butter), which contribute subtle flavors to much spicy Indian food.

This is one practical role of the cow, but cows provide less than half the milk produced in India. Most cows in India are not dairy breeds. In most regions, when an Indian farmer wants a steady, high-quality source of milk he usually invests in a female water buffalo. In India the water buffalo is the specialized dairy breed because its milk has a higher butterfat content than zebu milk. Although the farmer milks his zebu cows, the milk is merely a by-product.

More vital than zebu milk to South Asian farmers are zebu calves. Male calves are especially valued because from bulls come oxen which are the mainstay of the Indian agricultural system.

Small, fast oxen drag wooden plows through late-spring fields when monsoons have dampened the dry, cracked earth. After harvest, the oxen break the grain from the stalk by stomping through mounds of cut wheat and rice. For rice cultivation in irrigated fields, the male water buffalo is preferred (it pulls better in deep mud), but for most other crops, including rainfall rice, wheat, sorghum, and millet, and for transporting goods and people to and from town, a team of oxen is preferred.

The ox is the Indian peasant's tractor, thresher and family car combined; the cow is the factory that produces the ox.


Oxen are bullocks, steers, castrated cows. You know, it helps to read the links at times.

from the interview with Harris.:

It is also interesting to note recent studies which indicate that in spite of the existence of a prohibition on the slaughter of cattle and the consumption of beef, Indian farmers do manipulate their herds in a way that yields a ratio of male to female cattle which is most functional in a particular zone of production. For example, in southern India, there are more cows than there are male cattle, whereas in northern India there are more male cattle than there are cows. This is related to the different demands made by the regimen of planting wheat in the North versus the regimen of planting rice in the South. When you plant rice, you don’t need large numbers of plough animals, and when you plant wheat, you do. Indian farmers don’t determine the sex ratio of their herds by slaughtering the cattle outright. They do it by differential feeding of the wanted and unwanted sexes. The whole system in larger perspective turns out not to be simply a matter of whim on the part of the theologians who were responsible for elaborating the documents of Hinduism. On the contrary, it turns out that the doctrines of Hinduism reflect the material realities and necessities which the people of the Indian subcontinent face in their struggle to provide sufficient amounts of food for their ever-increasing numbers.

You:

Hindus ate meat until Shankaracharya banned it in the 9th century, owing to the fact that Brahmins demanding cow sacrfices were bankrupting the farmers of South India.

first link:

Cow worship is a relatively recent development in India; it evolved as the Hindu religion developed and changed. This evolution is recorded in royal edicts and religious texts written during the last 3,000 years of Indian history. The Vedas from the First Millennium B.C. contain contradictory passages, some referring to ritual slaughter and others to a strict taboo on beef consumption. Many of the sacred-cow passages were incorporated into the texts by priests in a later period.

By 200 A.D. the status of Indian cattle had undergone a transformation. The Brahman priesthood exhorted the population to venerate the cow and forbade them to abuse it or to feed on it. Religious feasts involving the ritual slaughter and consumption of livestock were eliminated and meat eating was restricted to the nobility.


Apart from dropping in the name Shankaracharya for verisimilitude, you are repeating Harris paraphrased, albeit inaccurately, in my first link--not refuting him.

If you had ever seen how dairy cattle are treated in India, you would have no illusions about sacred cows or any other such nonsense.

Again, Harris paraphrased in first link:

During the hot, dry spring months most of India is like a desert. Indian farmers often complain they cannot feed their livestock during this period. They maintain cattle by letting them scavenge on the sparse grass along the roads. In the cities cattle are encouraged to scavenge near food stalls to supplement their scant diet. These are the wandering cattle tourists report seeing throughout India.

Westerners expect shopkeepers to respond to these intrusions with the deference due a sacred animal; instead, their response is a string of curses and the crack of a long bamboo pole across the beast's back or a poke at its genitals. Mahatma Gandhi was well aware of the treatment sacred cows (and bulls and oxen) received in India:

"How we bleed her to take the last drop of milk from her. How we starve her to emaciation, how we ill-treat the calves, how we deprive them of their portion of milk, how cruelly we treat the oxen, how we castrate them, how we beat them, how we overload them."


*Comment about reading links repeated*

Oh, wait a minute, I just read this:

One of the reasons man le[a]pt ahead of the apes in evolution is the brain development that came about from eating nutrient-rich meat.

Apes don't eat meat? Since when?

Incidentally, the 'romantic' Marvin Harris made the argument for the benefits of 'meat as protein' a long , long time ago--without the random crackpot science.

Harris does note in passing that cow dung is an important fuel for poor Indian farmers--you have that in common with them.
posted by y2karl at 12:03 PM on February 19, 2003


Oxen and cattle are different species of animal, karl - you no more get oxen from cattle than you get dogs from cats.
posted by BubbaDude at 12:21 PM on February 19, 2003


I eat grass-fed beef too, stbalbach; got one mixed quarter from Marin Sun and another from Chileno. The Chileno was cheaper, and the Marin Sun tastes better. It can be a little tougher than grain-fed, but you learn how to deal with that.

I also got a quarter of a longhorn finished on grain once; it was really, really tough, but lower in cholesterol than fish or chicken, so YMMV.
posted by BubbaDude at 3:09 PM on February 19, 2003


Oxen and cattle are different species of animal, karl

Q: What is an ox?

A: Oxen are steers specially trained to work in the fields.

You not onely are one pig ignorant dude, BubbaDude, you are stupid, too. You could have looked that one up before shooting your mouth off..

My point was, since 75% of India's are are village farmers, and since the main draft animals are oxen--that is, as I have proved, castrated bull calves raised as draft animals--for the 75% of India to kill their cattle, i.e., their oxen factories woould be to commint suicide.

You know, besides helping to avoid looking like an ignorant pompous blowhard, research provides links, links back up your statements--that's how we do it here at MetaFilter.
Because I said so doesn't cut it here, doofus, especially when one is so pitifully boneheaded as to make as stupid an assertion as oxen and cows different species.
posted by y2karl at 4:06 PM on February 19, 2003


I could have proofread that, couldn't I? Well, you can dodge addressing the content and make fun of my typos if you want, Bubbadude. God knows, you are never wrong.--just your 'facts'.
posted by y2karl at 4:10 PM on February 19, 2003


you no more get oxen from cattle than you get dogs from cats.

Could you provide links supporting this, BubbaDude? What are boy oxen called? Got any pictures of baby oxen? I am still ROTFL on this one--you are never going to live this one down. This is way better than Bluetrain quoting StairwayTo Heaven and calling it Kashimir.
posted by y2karl at 4:44 PM on February 19, 2003


Man, I really am going blind.
posted by y2karl at 4:45 PM on February 19, 2003


It's not clear though is this the Asian Water Buffalo which is common and a native of India? It is often called an Ox. The term Ox as a male castrated cow may be a Western term, or not, needs more clarity what these terms mean in India.
posted by stbalbach at 7:00 PM on February 19, 2003


Yo, y2karl, you are right, which is something I didn't expect to say any time soon, but enough's enough.

I can tell ya's I didn't cut the balls of all those steers back in the day just 'cause they taste so good fried - it's way too much work for that.

As for Bubbadude, you got some 'splainin to do about the first part of your name ...

But as both common sense and natives' reports will tell, although religious Hindus don't kill their cows for meat, what do you think a hungry family does when it finds they have a 600 pound carcass laying around when ole Bossy dies of old age? They don't bury it, they don't burn it, and they don't feed it to the dogs, so I wonder where it goes ....
posted by Jos Bleau at 7:08 PM on February 19, 2003


I spent close to twenty years making regular trips to South India, and I never heard anyone call a bullock an ox, so I thought karl pulled this usage out of his ass along with the comprehensive Marxist theory of religion and diet, but it turns out the boy is right, at least about one usage of "ox" to describe a full-grown steer of genus bos. I was thrown by the other usage of ox, which is to describe both males and females, castrated or straight, of other bovine species such as the Wild Ox (Bos primigenius, ancestor to the domesticated beef Bos indicus and Bos taurus), the Javanese ox, and the Musk ox, etc. I've seen Javanese oxen, and they look a lot more like Water buffalo than like beefs. I've also seen plenty of water buffalo pulling plows in South India, but never a beef, although I certainly have seen beef pulling carts.

So Karl, you're right and I'm wrong - it's perfectly acceptable to call a male feminist beef an ox if you like.

Now, on to your larger point regarding the natural selection of Indian farmers for vegetarianism by Darminian forces, etc. This is a load, for a several reasons: 1) dairy cattle calve every year, or you don't get milk, and bullocks live for ten years or more; you obviously can afford to slaughter some of your calves for meat and still keep up with your need for draft and dairy animals (how do you think it is that we have a continuous supply of meat and dairy in this country?) and 2) the same forces of nature that your Marxist say lead Indians to vegetarianism operated on European, Asian, and African farmers, but somehow they didn't turn those folks into vegetarians; and 3) only half of all Hindus are vegetarian; and 4) the dates I cited for vegetarianism in India are the generally accepted ones, and the ones your Marxist cites are his alone.

So your theory blows, but you do know your oxen, and you can be proud of that.
posted by BubbaDude at 8:43 PM on February 19, 2003


As for Bubbadude, you got some 'splainin to do about the first part of your name ...

We raised steers, dude, but we slaughtered them in mid-summer, long before they could give the tractor a run for its money.
posted by BubbaDude at 3:55 AM on February 20, 2003


Jos Bleau--They cannot kill a cow but they can tether an old or unhealthy animal until it has starved to death. They cannot slaughter a calf but they can yoke it with a large wooden triangle so that when it nurses it irritates the mother's udder and gets kicked to death. They cannot ship their animals to the slaughterhouse but they can sell them to Muslims, closing their eyes to the fact that the Muslims will take the cattle to the slaughterhouse. Dead cows are sold to the Untouchables, who do eat beef.

Dialectical Materialism - Cultural materialists agree with dialectical materialists - often known as Marxists - on the importance of infrastructure. But cultural materialists reject the dialectical view of history developed by philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, which plays a central role in Marxist theories.

Marxist?

Where you get Marxist out of Cultural Materialism, I don't know--unless it's from the same ignorant smugness that had you, Mr. Iraqi democracy, telling me Kanan Makiya, who wrote Republic of Fear, was a ranting Brandeis professor because you obviously didn't know who he was.

I believe Harris's point was cattle became sacred when the population density in the Ganges valley got to the point the cost of raising cattle for beef became prohibitive. I doubt population densities like that were common elsewhere at the time.

The Vedas from the First Millennium B.C. contain contradictory passages, some referring to ritual slaughter and others to a strict taboo on beef consumption. Many of the sacred-cow passages were incorporated into the texts by priests in a later period.

Hindus ate meat until Shankaracharya banned it in the 9th century, owing to the fact that Brahmins demanding cow sacrfices were bankrupting the farmers of South India.

I looked up Shankaracharya. He lived in the 8th Century. I have yet to read anything about cows, like here or here , for example. You'd think it would rate a mention.

Now, on to your larger point regarding the natural selection of Indian farmers for vegetarianism by Darminian forces,

Huh?.

You really don't read for comprehension, do you? Maybe this is why you keep putting words into people's mouths--you're not paying attention and refuting a farrago of your own imagination.

For guy who raises cattle who can make a statement like Oxen and cattle are different species of animal, karl - you is mindboggling. You pulled that sentence out of your ass--it's not rocket science, it's not even high school Voc. Ag. animal husbandry, it's something you learn in grade school.

Thanks for pointing out the diversity, which we can all celebrate now.

However, if you're an expert in military matters, I'm sure someone at the Foundation would like to be informed by your expertise. Shall I arrange a meeting?

So your theory blows, but you do know your oxen, and you can be proud of that.

You aren't here to discuss, that's for sure--just the jr. high school putdowns. Troll.

You're beautiful when you're stupid, Mr. Protato Head, but I suggest you source your pronouncements from now on, because that you know what you're talking about--no more get oxen from cattle than you get dogs from cats--is very much in doubt, and Because I said so just doesn't impress anyone around here, especially when you say something so patently and stupidly wrong.
posted by y2karl at 9:54 AM on February 20, 2003


I believe Harris's point was cattle became sacred when the population density in the Ganges valley got to the point the cost of raising cattle for beef became prohibitive. I doubt population densities like that were common elsewhere at the time.

India's population today is somewhere around a billion, but in 1950 it was about 250,000,000 and in the second century is was what, 1,000,000? 5,000,000? 50,000,000? That would leave plenty of room for beefs, actually - it's a big subcontinent

And by most systems of reckoning, 820 AD really was ninth century. You should have learned that in grade school.

Happy determinism, dude.
posted by BubbaDude at 2:51 PM on February 20, 2003


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