Canary: a songbird, Serinus canaria, greenish to yellow in color and long bred as a cage bird. Webster’s II New Riverside Dictionary
…Regarding miners using canaries: “Why was a canary Haldane’s suggested solution? Canaries, like other birds, are good early detectors of carbon monoxide because they’re vulnerable to airborne poisons, Inglis-Arkell writes. Because they need such immense quantities of oxygen to enable them to fly and fly to heights that would make people altitude sick, their anatomy allows them to get a dose of oxygen when they inhale and another when they exhale, by holding air in extra sacs, he writes. Relative to mice or other easily transportable animals that could have been carried in by the miners, they get a double dose of air and any poisons the air might contain, so miners would get an earlier warning.” – from The Smithsonian – The Real Story of the Canary in the Coal Mine.
Portoviejo Ecador – A New Moon AND the June Solstice arrive tomorrow, along with an extra bonus – an eclipse! I hope that all of you reserve time to observe the sun’s shadow at noon as well as its placement on your GPS slice of the planet at sunrise and/or sunset. I plan to spend the noon hour watching the sun’s placement on those fast-growing Gallinules at the nearby park!
A headline from the last cyber check renewed my concerns about pesticides and honey bees and our fragile planet. 50 Million Bees Poisoned/Croatia. (I have not had time to check this information.)
With important job criteria, bees play an important role in pollination and maintaining the sensitive balance between species. Many times when peering into those gorgeous water-lily blossoms, I am comforted to see the honey bees flitting from plant to plant. The bees and small seed-eating birds often present a reliable ‘warning system’ – when their numbers reduce – or if they suddenly disappear. I’ve witnessed that at Poza Honda, after applications of pesticides for broad-leaf weeds on pasture. The Seedeaters and the Honey Bees were the “canaries.” Seeing firsthand makes one a believer.
We too are exposed to the same chemicals that sicken the small creatures. The cattle eat those same grasses, and we drink the milk and consume the beef. How long does it take before a human eventually reaches a saturation point and also becomes ill? It varies person-by-person, and who could be sure that random pesticides were the reason for one’s poor health? We must keep a sharp eye on the canaries – especially the bees – and pay attention when a normally-healthy species suddenly becomes sick.
This post now veers to a very long story about my own role as ‘a canary.’
“….The chemists’ ingenuity in devising insecticides has long ago outrun biological knowledge of the way these poisons affect the living organism.” ― Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
Over a span of three-dozen years or longer, the various pieces of the puzzle have clicked into place. The puffy feet and fingers the ‘day after’ drinking Bloody Marys with friends. The same puffiness after enjoying spaghetti or lasagna with as much extra Parmesan Cheese as desired.
“Parmesan? Yes, please, an extra-serving, its whitish color makes a lovely complement to the dark-red spaghetti sauce!”
There were more small mysterious warning flags; how the Teriyaki Chicken, so very delicious, seemed to somehow cause my feet to swell so much that my shoes barely fit. I happened to be on a long-distance flight when the latter happened, so I shrugged and blamed it on the altitude. Perhaps it was too much salt in that Teriyaki sauce, which I added after being served.
After a glass of white wine and Crispy Noodle Soup, I felt jittery before the main course at a favorite Chinese Restaurant. (This would have been in the early 1980’s.) The next visit to that restaurant, I wondered if the wine had caused that shaky feeling, so I skipped the wine and ordered the soup. Before finishing the soup, I felt extremely weak and flushed; I feared if I stood to go wash my face that I would pass out. I knew the warning signals before fainting, which was another ‘affliction’ that sometimes slammed me to a halt. Later when I told my doctor about my distress in the restaurant, she said, “That’s Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. MSG. Monosodium Glutamate. Don’t ever eat Chinese food again.”
It was such a horrid feeling that I did not argue, although many years later I re-introduced Chinese cuisine back into my life; before ordering, I state that I’m very sensitive to the ingredient, and there has never been a problem.
I remain ultra sensitive to MSG, and at restaurants or in friends’ homes my body usually sends subtle warning signals – at times while I am still at the table. Sometimes it’s a low dose, and my feet send up a prickling/tingling warning. Drinking lots of water helps flush it out of the system. Sometimes I mention it, but most people say, “We don’t use MSG.”
There are people who rationalize and say that it’s all in one’s head. There’s nothing bad about MSG.
There are other highly-sensitive people who tell similar stories. We canaries learn to read the labels, especially on those handy bottles of seasonings on the tables.
“No soup, thank you,” is an easy way to dodge the first course, but if the second course features a breaded filet of fish or a flavorful sauce – uh oh – was it all prepared with fresh ingredients or did they use a store-bought pre-mixed option?
About fifteen years ago, I was at home, cooking my own food and seemed to experience a slight MSG reaction. On day two it was worse, and on the third day I was lying down most of the time to keep from fainting. My brain was fogged, as if drugged. It felt like an extreme MSG reaction and was getting worse, yet everything I cooked was MSG free.
“Where is this MSG coming from?” I wondered.
Then it dawned on me; those tall slim cans of ‘Tomato-juice cocktail,’ much like a V8, but made in Central America. They were so delicious and healthy, and I had been drinking about three of those each day!
With a sense of dread – yet also relief, I walked to the refrigerator and checked the label. In the fine-print list of ingredients – tomatoes, carrots, celery, etc, Glutamato Monosodico tagged along near the end. I was poisoning myself!
The drugged feeling stayed with me for a few days, and I never drank those canned ‘natural’ drinks again!
Some companies use other names, like ‘Cheese cultures’ and “Vegetable Protein” and here in Ecuador it’s often sold in scary bags of clear plastic with red letters: Ajinomoto, which is the company that created this flavor enhancer known as MSG. MSG occurs naturally in tomatoes, Parmesan cheese (the highest) and even seaweed. It is often in jars or cans of spaghetti sauces, hot sauces (aji in Ecuador), ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard. It’s often in bottled salad dressings. Of course it’s in flavored chips and in almost all of the chicken flavored bouillon cubes, powders, and dried instant soup packets.
When discussing my sensitivity with a man of Chinese descent, Steve said, “I have never experienced that, but in my family there was one rule about cooking: Never use the MSG while cooking but add it to the soup at the very last before serving.”
What he said makes a lot of sense, and I often wonder if such a simple option would make a huge difference.
My body became sensitive to a second ‘toxin’ which I have written about; aspartame has triggered very scary reactions involving my eyesight, so I am extra careful to dodge artificial sweeteners. I have read that when heated, aspartame converts to formaldehyde, and my first round with aspartame happened when I was drinking large quantities of hot ‘instant’ powdered tea. Those symptoms sent me to the front of the line of neurologist’s patients, ophthalmologists, and even scans for brain cancer. Perhaps I had MS, MyastheniasGravis, or even a ticking aneurysm… sobering times. “Do you have diabetes?” was an often-asked question. No, no, no, and again no. Years later, and much scientific research later, the puzzle is not as puzzling.
MSG and aspartame are considered neurotoxins- or excito-toxins -by many doctors, and they are often referred to as cousins. If a person is sensitive to one, they are often sensitive to the other. Aspartame, which people often consume to help lose weight, is in fact often associated with weight gain instead!
Many people in Ecuador do not realize that the Sprite, Inca Cola and most beverages with ‘zero’ calories have switched the natural sugar to aspartame or other artificial sweeteners. Even the Ice fruit drinks, which once were strictly fruit, water and sugar, have switched aspartame for the sugar. Bah! No warnings of the switch – consumer beware!
If the container states a big ZERO for sugar content, I quickly scan to see what has been substituted.! Sometimes a company lists a sweetener as Edulcorante Intenso, which (after an internet search) is natural stevia. Thanks to those companies who use Edulcorante Intenso!
Not found in most stores, Volt ‘energy’ drink offers a not-quite-natural alternative. With natural extracts of maca, ginseng and guarana, it is sweetened via a mix of sugar, glucose and stevia. An artificial flavor of blueberry provides what I suppose is the needed ingredient to make it more tasty – yet in a country which produces a vast variety of inexpensive fruits – why not use natural? (Today on the street: 30 lemons for 50 cents.) Perhaps more preservatives would be needed – who knows?!
I’m just grateful there are a few options besides water, which still bothers me that we all have to buy water, which should be free to all life forms – a right as necessary as oxygen.
This past week I stopped by another ‘recently re-opened’ restaurant and bought one Corviche to go. Aside from dining at my neighbors’ Chinese Restaurant (never a drop of MSG in my food, thank you very much) I have prepared all of my food during this pandemic. The aroma of the Corviche suggested ‘MSG’, but it was a small item – and their corviche has always been ‘the’ best! Goodness I’ve missed those convenient snacks, and while walking along a quiet section of a street, I sampled the corviche.
Wrapped in a small paper bag, it reminds me of long-ago food, like popcorn , but this offered more nutrition. The flavor suggested MSG, but oh, it was so tasty, a coating of crispy plantain around a finger of ocean-caught fish. About half finished, I almost tossed the rest – thinking it’s just not worth the MSG… but I ate it – and then paid the price about an hour later in the grocery store. I almost fainted at my last stop for the day, in the checkout line of a somewhat upscale shopping market known as Commisariato. It is a small variant of much-larger stores sprinkled throughout the country. Paints, hardware and food. There is rarely a line, and I zip in and out – unless many people are there, and then I choose to return on another day.
I have a life-long history of fainting, though about 30 years ago I figured out the triggers and have dodged many embarrassing moments. Twice, were for medical reasons – when I gave blood then could not sit up without almost fainting. “Don’t ever give blood again,” the Red Cross staff warned as they sneaked me out the back door to the waiting auto, ‘not unless it’s a life and death emergency.’ I’ve almost fainted ‘after’ an emergency, like after a horse broke its leg in the cattle gap, or after helping an accident victim in a ditch late at night, or after giving CPR. Once the crisis has passed, my blood pressure falls.
Sometimes it cannot be dodged, like when my sister Helen rolled my hair on electric rollers for the first time when I was quite young. Electric rollers were the newest technology, and when she finished I jumped up to run to the mirror and see how I looked with those rollers. Blam! I hit the floor! I almost fainted while helping that same sister cook divinity over a gas stove. My job was to stir the sugar mixture, and she realized I was about to faint and helped me to dodge that almost-collapse in her kitchen.
I fainted after injuring my knee in a barrel-racing accident. I was a teenager, and my sister Pat said that she looked up and saw my white face and called for someone to help. All I remember was reining the horse in a big circle while the buzzing in my ears grew stronger. One minute I was on the horse, and the next I was beneath the concession stand while worried strangers peered down at me! Yes, stitches were provided thanks to Pat taking me to the emergency room.
Buzzing in the ears, the sense of hearing slowly fading, faltering vision – I have learned to recognize the warning signs, which sometimes hit when I’ve been on my feet for too long. When standing in line at a Sears mail-order counter, other people kept cutting in line. Another customer with patience stood beside me while also waiting his ‘proper’ turn. I stated to him, “If they don’t help me soon, I’m either going to faint or throw up.”
I wasn’t too surprised later when I found myself on the other side of the store while the manager asked, “Are you alright?”
They took my order quite promptly, which gave me a chuckle.
Once after an overnight fast, I stood up too fast, walked a few steps and almost fainted, and yes, I’ve been tested for hypoglycemia. I do best with as few sweets as possible, and it can take days to readjust after consuming too many sweets. It’s best to avoid them, yet those really nice desserts are always worth the costs! Sometimes just smelling a bakery will make me jittery, and I stay outside while friends go inside.
This past week at the grocery market, for no real obvious reason my blood sugar seemed to fall, as did my blood pressure. I became sweaty, jittery, and when my ears began to ring I thought, ‘Please hurry up’ – I was in what I thought was the fast line! When paying for my purchases, I was borderline with ears ringing and hearing fading. Those kind and doting employees realized that I was weak. They presented a chair, which provided instant relief – a way for the blood to swim back to my foggy brain! A young woman brought me water and asked if I needed medicine, while the manager stood near – surely concerned yet also fearful that I was Covid positive!
I told them that I had a life history of low blood sugar and low blood pressure, and that the long wait in the line caused my weakness. I assured them that in five minutes I would be ok – and I was. The sweetest moment was later, when I realized that the change she handed me was neatly wrapped in a small clear bag, complete with the receipt and ‘extra’ stamps.
That night while reflecting on my almost fainting attack, I pondered why I was so weak – and then remembered the Corviche – and my suspicion about the MSG. The next day I spent my lunch/wifi time researching a possible connection between MSG and low blood sugar. To my surprise there were two articles that popped up at the top of that queue. They stated that MSG, in addition to stimulating brain cells (as a neurotoxin), can also affect the pancreas and worsen symptoms of hypoglycemia. Aha. The puzzle pieces continue to slide into place. It was that same long-ago weak feeling at the Chinese restaurant, when I feared I would pass out if I stood up.
I pondered keeping this private or if I should tell others, like when I was sick with dengue and chikungunya. Many friends would be instantly worried. (And you probably are concerned right now!) After a few days I realized that if indeed the MSG was the trigger, how can others know of the risks if ‘canaries’ like me stay silent?
Long ago I read that ‘people like me’ are the canaries in the mine. If the canaries fell over dead from lack of oxygen, the miners knew to get out pronto. Who knows why some people are ultra-sensitive to ingredients that seem to cause no problem to others? Perhaps those chemicals are indeed causing silent harm, like with smoking. Yet there are chain smokers who live extremely-long lives where second-hand smoke takes another’s life way too soon. The fragile balance with health is indeed a complex one.
Today I returned to the store, thanked the staff – and thanked them again, illustrated that I was indeed Covid free, explained my hypothesis about the MSG. The manager nodded when I mentioned the ‘ajinomoto’ connection with the corviche. He also assured me that in the future they would wait on me pronto! That made me chuckle – I don’t want special attention, but it’s nice to witness genuine kindness and concern.
I shopped for a few items, found an easy checkout with zero wait, and was back at the apartment in record time! With each week of loosening restrictions, more autos are on the streets, so pollution is worse. Nasty pollution affects my airways. The mask, of course also limits one’s breathing capacity, so perhaps the mask and a stuffy throat also played a role.
Lesson for me: Remain diligent, and if there’s a chance of MSG or aspartame tainting my food or drink, it’s best to politely reply, ‘No thank you.’
Do any of you have sensitivities to food additives?
Rachel Carson’s warnings about pesticides are still respected today; I wonder what she would have said about food additives!
“A Who’s Who of pesticides is therefore of concern to us all. If we are going to live so intimately with these chemicals eating and drinking them, taking them into the very marrow of our bones – we had better know something about their nature and their power. ― Rachel Carson, Silent Spring