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PCBs, girls, and vegetarianism - Accretions

Fata Morgana
2008-07-30 13:52
PCBs, girls, and vegetarianism
Public
environmentalism, feminism, politics, vegetarianism
As some of you know, my mom's side of the family has consisted of quite a few more girl babies than boys for several generations back now. My sister and cousins have all had girls (five daughters between my sister and four cousins). My mom and aunts all had girls (six of us). My grandmother had five girls, and though I don't have the records, I've been told that her twelve siblings had several times more girls than boys. In her generation, there were five girls before the first boy, and in my grandpa's family, there were also a number of girls born before the first son (which I think was him, the youngest).

I've always figured my family was just a statistical anomaly. My sister has looked into various chemistry or dietary reasons for this (wanting to have a boy next), but the research I've seen on this has generally been pretty sketchy and incomplete, so I've decided to chalk it up to chance -- at least, until I see compelling evidence otherwise.

Well, I read an interesting article today that seems to indicate that there are some chemicals out there that do noticeably tip the scales. I've long known that the benzene and other chemicals in sunscreens mimic estrogen, shifting the sex of fish toward the "default" female, even during an individual fish's life, and having similar effects in rats and other animals. I have blogged about the cosmetics safety database listing the safety of sunscreens. (It looks like the famous "wear sunscreen" column, in which the author said the only sure advice she could give was to wear sunscreen, might have been wrong after all.) I had also heard that PCBs, common in flame retardants and coolants, and other chemicals had documented effects on development, especially sexual development. But this is the first I've heard of the chemicals actually causing a shift in sex ratios at birth.

According to the article, the Arctic populations that the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program studied had imbalances that were particularly pronounced (twice as many girls as boys, where before the ratio was 1.1 boys for every girl) because of their reliance on marine meat, which is high on the food chain and thus had heavy concentrations of these chemicals.

Though it's doubtful that anything like this has caused the generations-long surplus of girls in my family, it does make me reconsider my "just-chance" stance on the trend. It also places even more importance on one of my main reasons for being vegetarian for 9 or so years through my youth and into college. Inspired by Diet for a Small Planet, I wanted to be vegetarian because with every step up the food chain, a large amount of energy and resources are wasted (it varies by type of meat, but the general rule of thumb was 10 pounds of vegetable matter and up to 100 gallons of water for each pound of meat, plus a fair amount of pollution of various kinds), and the concentration of toxins and other fat-soluble chemicals (such as PCBs) goes up. Hence, these Arctic populations who were eating fatty Arctic carnivores were about as high as one can go on the food chain and are bearing the brunt of the effects of the poorly-studied chemicals we've been spewing out.

In the Diet for a Small Planet sense of vegetarianism, almost no meat was almost the same as no meat, while my animal-rights-activist friends saw a huge difference between those. Though I don't eat a lot of meat even now, I've been considering going back to having it only once or twice a month, rather than the one to three times a week I've been doing lately. Environmentally, socially, and health-wise, it just makes sense.
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jofish22
jofish22
2008-07-30 22:37 (UTC)
(no subject)
Thinking carefully and critically about what you're eating is always a good thing. My personal decisions have become a lot more about being informed about the food I eat. I'd much prefer to eat sausages from my friends Brad and Heather at The Piggery, where the food has travelled less than twelve miles to get to me -- two it by bike! -- and where I've met the really rather happy pigs, than some anonymous bag of generic spinach imported from Chile, or, worse, some bizarre amalgam of random shit mixed with corn starch and corn syrup and labelled a "bean burger" from an industrial conglomerate. So thinking about your food, absolutely. But I don't agree that becoming more of a vegetarian is necessarily the right answer to that question.
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Robynne
corpsefairy
2008-07-30 23:11 (UTC)
(no subject)
Most meat, though, doesn't come from local farms; it comes from giant conglomerates.
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Sam
edge_of_within
2008-07-31 03:57 (UTC)
(no subject)
And far away, at that.

I'm not here to preach - I don't care if you adopt my vegetarian lifestyle or not, but I must give praise for having a bigger suspension-of-disbelief than I do to ever think buying meat (made however close to home) is better than buying vegetables.

I think one can assume that most of your meat consumption doesn't come from this "Piggery" place, and that most of your vegetables don't come from Chile.
But hey, if generalizations help you sleep at night, that's great.

"Happy pigs" - I've always been confused by this justification. Is that a valid reason to end their lives prematurely - because they've had a couple happy years?
Pigs are a domesticated animal. I have no idea what an unhappy (domesticated)pig looks like. (I know what a starving pig looks like, sure, but a starving pig isn't part of this equation, since it's not going to be someone's dinner soon).
Assuming we allow the justification of "happy" pigs because they don't posess cognitive thought to know that they're going to be murdered when they walk up the ramp that no pig ever walks down from, is it then ok to murder and eat retarded humans too?
and if not, what is the difference?

Read "Animal Farm"? THAT is what happens (in theory) when "happy" pigs posess cognitive thought.
hint: they do not walk up the ramp.


::steps off soapbox::
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jofish22
jofish22
2008-07-31 04:56 (UTC)
(no subject)
>I think one can assume that most of your meat consumption doesn't come from this "Piggery" place, and that most of your vegetables don't come from Chile.

Well, first I'm generalizing about my meat and your vegetables. I know where pretty much all my food comes from, and I've met most of the people who make most of it. I don't know about you.

Second, why do you assume that? I'd say the Piggery does produce
about a third of my meat consumption, and pretty much all of my pork; Mary Rose at Northland Sheep Dairy produces most of my lamb, which is probably about half of my meat, and the rest comes from a combination of Meadowsweet Dairys (who I get raw milk from, and also beef), Richard Stoval (bacon; Brad and Heather don't have a bacon license yet, which means I can't actually buy it from them), and McDonald Farms for chickens and the like. And occasionally the Amish guys up in Interlaken. None of those are more than thirty miles away; every single one is functionally organic (if not certified organic; there's a big movement here against the hegemony of organic certification. Richard, for example, labels his stuff "Moreganic", which I've always liked.) So sure, I can't make your decisions for you, but I'm pretty confident about my own choices. That being said, I like the taste of meat, I think it's a hugely important part of cooking, and I'm willing to make the ethical tradeoffs detailed above to eat it.
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Kris
anemone
2008-07-31 17:58 (UTC)
(no subject)
FWIW, the majority I've non-fish meat I've purchased and brought home in the past few years was local. Most of the fish I've bought is wild-caught Alaska salmon (the canned stuff, so you can be sure it's wild-caught). I go for wild-caught Alaska salmon because it's a well-managed fishery.

(My record for meat eaten out is much much worse.)

While I do make some effort to buy local vegetables (I belong to a CSA), most greens I get outside the CSA are shipped across the country, and I do eat a lot of fruit from distant places.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2008-07-30 23:15 (UTC)
(no subject)
Ah, of course -- I've read my Michael Pollan and am also on board with the locally-grown, sustainably-produced food movement. (The Bay Area's a great place for that!) Also, having grown up with a huge garden and having parents who used to raise their own meat (goats and chickens) and are in contact with people who still do has spoiled me regarding what really fresh produce and locally-grown food is like. Of course, even though I do have my own garden, I haven't made the time in my life to really be "good" about this lately ... and I eat out a lot these days. But anyway, if I'm also able to take into account whether what I'm eating is locally-grown on small organic farms and all that, it's still healthier for me and the environment to eat lower on the food chain.

Edited at 2008-07-31 01:24 am (UTC)
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jofish22
jofish22
2008-07-31 05:00 (UTC)
(no subject)
The other question is how much of an impact this is actually having compared to things like, oh, international airline flights. You've read Allison's paper from CHI last year, right? One of the things I like in that is that the people she interviewed see it as a direction rather than a path; the question is not how far along the path you are in a competitive way, but rather where you're heading and how you're getting there. Which is why I value someone who's really thought carefully about their meat consumption over someone who's eating air-miled-crap that happens to contain no stated meat products. Which I doubt is you, but gives a spectrum for consideration.
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Kris
anemone
2008-07-30 22:56 (UTC)
(no subject)
From what I recall, girl sperm are more resilient than male sperm, but male sperm are faster swimmers. Thus, having sex very close to ovulation increases the chance for a boy, having sex away from ovulation increases the chance for a girl.

It may be that something in the internal environment of your family tends to make things a little unfriendly, thus increasing the proportion of girl babies.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2008-07-30 23:18 (UTC)
(no subject)
Yeah -- my mom and aunts say that our systems are more "acidic" than normal and that is the reason, though I don't think anyone actually has done any testing around this. (And I don't know if there is any testing one can do, actually. The doctors I've talked to don't know anything about tests, but it's not something I've really pursued beyond an idle curiosity -- just one of the many questions I pepper the poor doctors at the student health center with when I go in for something totally unrelated. :~))
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Leora: ouroboros
leora
2008-08-04 07:48 (UTC)
(no subject)
picture_keywordouroboros
Interesting. I have no knowledge about that. Although I had read a study (which I am too lazy to try to refind or see how well it has stood the test of time and further research) that more attractive people are more likely to have girls and that wealthier families are more likely to have boys. What mechanism drives this is not entirely clear, although it makes a certain measure of sense. Females can pretty much always find a mate, and attractiveness in a female has historically been a very large factor in the quality of her mate, so this is a good way to focus on what one has of value. Power and influence are more relevant to male success in partner picking.

And while some elements of attractiveness are culturally influenced, several elements are cross-culturally significant. Maybe your family has been quite attractive for many generations and found that trying to maximize beauty and females is a winning strategy.

But, of course, statistically some families will have runs of girls and some will have runs of boys, so it always could be luck.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2008-08-16 22:09 (UTC)
(no subject)
I'm generally going with the statistical anomaly interpretation until I have evidence otherwise, but I appreciate the complimentary interpretation of the attractiveness hypothesis. ;~)
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Jeff
lbchewie
2008-07-31 01:44 (UTC)
(no subject)
There may also be some sort of sex-linked genetic factors that also might influence the decision.

Since so many vital genes are X-linked, it's more likely that a harmful mutation in one allele on the x-chromosome could be paired with a functional allele for females, which couldn't happen for a male baby.

One more thing to ask a geneticist.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2008-08-16 22:11 (UTC)
(no subject)
I think my sister did talk to someone about this and there wasn't an obvious genetic component ... but who knows.

For now I'm sticking with the statistical explanation.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2008-07-31 01:23 (UTC)
(no subject)
Huh, indeed ... http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Does_Hepatitis_B_Affect_Human_Gender_Ratios.html

I could tell my sister about it, though I doubt she'd want to go that route (or at least hope not!). ;~)
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Olego
olego
2008-07-31 19:16 (UTC)
(no subject)
Awww, and here I was wondering what Process Control Blocks have to do with vegetarianism... :-D
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2008-08-16 22:07 (UTC)
(no subject)
*snort* *giggle*
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Becca
rebbyribs
2008-08-15 04:02 (UTC)
(no subject)
You may find Having Faith an interesting read. There's a lot about PCBs in the food chain and birth defects, etc.

Another thing about sunscreen is that vitamin D deficiencies are becoming much more common, and they seem to be linked to a lot of health problems - so I'm not sure how to balance skin cancer risk vs. sunscreen risks. Right now I'm getting a lot of sun exposure before 10am and after 4pm, and staying inside between those times.

I would also guess that it might be genetic issues in your family - are miscarriages also common?
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2008-08-15 06:01 (UTC)
(no subject)
Hmm, there haven't been any miscarriages (or much of any other genetic issues that I know of) within a degree or two of my immediate family -- I don't know much about the family beyond that. Is that often correlated?
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Becca
rebbyribs
2008-08-15 06:23 (UTC)
(no subject)
Well if it were a genetic issue that was killing males before they were born, it would show up as miscarriages.
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Fata Morgana
chimerically
2008-08-16 22:07 (UTC)
(no subject)
Ah, yes -- I see, thanks. :~) I don't know about anything along these lines ...
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