Oh, brave new world!


Now that I’m retired, I’d like to think I still keep up with stuff. I suppose I always did, but my mother -and a career in Medicine- may have narrowed the field somewhat. She always feared that my brain would begin to file things on the wrong shelf if I kept reading so widely -of course she may have been referring to the magazines I hid in the sock drawer, but I took that more as a criticism of my eclecticism than as a denigration of my taste.

Anyway, I have more time to read nowadays so I am always on the lookout for heuristic titles -especially ones whose words I don’t have to google. I stumbled upon one that reminded me of an essay on Umami that I wrote a few months ago right after I raided the fridge for leftovers: https://musingsonretirementblog.com/2019/12/08/the-new-kid-on-the-tongue/ .

I have always had a fascination for things that hint that I am still pedalling on the right track despite my age. But okay, perhaps it’s an unconscionable stretch between Umami and methane production in herbivores, but I can’t help what I read; I’d like to put it down to serendipitously guided flights-of-ideas rather than dementia.

Anyway, an article by Judith Lewis Mernit (https://e360.yale.edu/features/how-eating-seaweed-can-help-cows-to-belch-less-methane) caught my attention and got me thinking about methanogens -the bacteria in that convert carbon and hydrogen into methane. I mean just about everything nowadays is attributed to microbiomes, so maybe we should also pay more attention to what they do in cows, and less to what they might contribute to the taste of Chinese food.

As the author reports, ‘scientists have tried mixing microbes from the low-methane producing kangaroo forestomach into bovine gut microbes, selectively breeding less gassy cows… Researchers have also tried vaccinating to suppress “methanogens”’ But apparently there are just too many types of methanogens to target effectively and although I have to wonder why, I imagine it’s probably tough at the best of times to digest something as energy-poor as grass. And the methanogens, recognizing that they had some expertise in the matter, were probably looking for a niche business in the early days, so Bob’s your uncle.

Anyway, I suppose when you eat lawns, or whatever, for a living your mouth is always pointed down, so, unlike us, you wouldn’t have to worry much about your breath, right? Interestingly, most of those methanogens choose to live at the far end of kangaroo bowels for some reason, no doubt leaving their top half fresh and kissing sweet; I’m not sure if the experiments were designed to check on that however. Fortunately for the scientists and their families, food additives have shown more promise than messy bacterial transplants obtained from nether regions.

Apparently, however, people have continued to complain about cows -otherwise I doubt the idea would have had much long term purchase. I mean, I can’t say I have been particularly repelled whenever I’ve been made to lie down in green pastures, but there you go; it’s why we have the Bible, I guess.

Anyway, I digress. As I understand it, cows don’t usually have much chance to visit the seashore and wander around, so I doubt that many of the popular dairy varieties have had much incentive to investigate rotting patches of seaweed, let alone acquire a taste. But they don’t seem to mind if their usual fodder is spiked with a bit of it. And that can make a big difference in their… well, their wind. ‘In California alone, 1.8 million dairy cows, together with a smaller number of beef cattle, emit 11.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent every year — as much as 2.5 million cars.’

Unbeknownced to me, it turns out that there are actually different kinds of seaweed -you can’t just use any old slimy thing lying on the beach. I mean, who knew? And there is one type that apparently performs the most seductively in the pack: Asparagopsis taxiformis which, despite its uncannily familiar name has no known effect on the odour of public lavatories, but is reputed to reduce enteric methane production in spiked hay by around 58% (it apparently interrupts the process by which carbon and hydrogen would bind together in whosever’s bowels and produce methane).

But I got to thinking -there are a lot more of us than cows, right? And as an inveterate bus-rider, I’ve come to believe we have a problem. So how hard could it be to spike our food? Not that I figure it would make that much difference, but with the changing climate foremost in my mind, I’ve been hunting around for any tricks to forestall global catastrophe.

The Vegans advertise that they are on the right path, and perhaps they are. It’s just that  going whole-hunk Vegan is a step too far for me, though -I’ve still got all my teeth… well, most of them, anyway, and although I have nothing against plants, they don’t exactly meet the commonly accepted odontological masticatory standards for healthy human denticular exercise requirements. Okay, I just made that up, but really, there’s nothing particularly challenging for teeth in a bean, is there -except maybe the stress of having to eat more of them for a living. And besides, unless we change our gut flora (or is it fauna? With bacteria, it’s hard to know…) I can’t see it changing our methane footprint much.

And yet let’s face it, those things that would really help are beyond the remit of the average retiree. Even if I don’t pollute, or use plastic stir-sticks at food malls; even if I carry my groceries in an undyed cloth bag, and own a  couple of hemp hats, it’s just not enough.

I feel like I have to do more; I have to start somewhere. I’m as up for saving the planet as anyone -more, even: I take public transit, remember. Oh yes, and I walk a lot, too. Uhmm, I do eat meat, but I’m cutting down the portions, eh? And I’ve decided not to mow the lawn anymore so I don’t risk liberating grass-stored carbon into my backyard.

Also, as another small way to help, I’m thinking about sprinkling  Asparagopsis on the occasional salad, or maybe mixing it in the pan whenever I engage with fish. Wikipedia (sorry) says it’s a type of red algae, and not only edible, but actually a popular item in Hawaiian cuisine. Once again, who knew? And it might even help make public transit more appealing.

However, maybe the issue I could more easily deal with is my own meat consumption. Well, actually it’s my cow-gas tolerance, I suppose, but perhaps I need something similar to the 12 step program like some Vegans use to stop sneaking bits of meat now and then. Still, rather than meat atheism, I  think I could more easily live as a meat agnostic. Sure, from time to time, I suppose I could dabble in that sissy plant-based stuff, and yet I’m wondering if it would be an acceptable compromise if I started eating more kangaroos -just the top half, mind you…


1 thought on “Oh, brave new world!

  1. We came across the ‘impossible burger’ in Texas – cultured meat without the animal. Very tasty. Whether there’s any co2 or methane involved in culturing the meat I don’t know…


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