29 January 2009

Veggie Love

There's nothing like banning something to guarantee five million people will watch it. I don't typically agree with PETA, because they over exaggerate, and level claims against ALL meat production that should rightfully be aimed only at factory farming. FACTORY FARMED meat will, yes, often cause heart disease and obesity, because it has a higher fat content than pasturized meat, due to the fact that the cows eat nothing but corn, a diet that is just as bad for them as it is for you. The real thing that probably causes health problems in meat eaters overall, however, is eating too much meat and not enough vegetables. So PETA's got the "veggie love" part right.

At any rate, I have to say, up until the wildly exaggerated claims about eating meat, this is a pretty great commercial.

Banned PETA Superbowl Ad


28 January 2009

King Corn, Pt II

Among the many, many things we discussed last night after watching King Corn- in what seems to be a constant and never ending discussion of the food system, and eating, and what to do about it all- one thing in particular stuck out. It’s all damnably complicated.

And that’s just it: a hundred years ago food came from the farm, to you, without a lot of steps in between, and food was, well, food. Not food plus 30 unidentifiable ingredients. Bewildering does not even begin to describe the number of food choices we have, not to mention the complexity of a system that moves food all over the globe to your plate, with a dizzying array of steps in between. This is why movies like King Corn focus on one thing, like corn- and even then can’t fit more than a small percentage of the issues into one film.

But I was struck last night by the context the filmmaker put this in. In many places, people have given up on trying to make sense of the overwhelming complexity of the food system, and taken matters into their own hands: joining coops, building gardens, right there in their backyards, even in cities, discovering alternative ways of growing and raising food that make sense for both us and our environment. Essentially, this is what all of us who protest “the system” are doing- taking things back into our own hands, making them into a manageable size, and handling them on a person or community sized scale, where we can make decisions that are best for the people in that area, and not- well, I’m not even sure who’s benefiting from the way we’re making decisions now.

That’s really the devilish thing about the mess we’re in, and, at least in my opinion, a large part of why there’s so much apathy toward doing anything to change it. When faced with something as complex as our current food system, it seems completely impossible to create any change. The web of cause and effect is too dense to untangle, and pulling one string leads to yet another knot of issues and tangles. You can’t blame farmers, who are just as trapped as we are, and are trying to keep their families fed just like the rest of us. You can try and blame the consumer, but it’s not like consumers stood up and said, yes! Give us refined sugar and nutritionless food! Destroy our environment and our health! Not only are consumers often not given much choice in the foods available for purchase, but they’re also bombarded on all sides by the mixed messages of the media, who can’t seem to decide from day to day what’s “best” to eat. And if you try and blame the corporations, someone will inevitably counter that they wouldn’t be making all these unhealthy food products if we weren’t buying them (though they spend an awful lot of money convincing us we want them).

It’s enough to make anyone throw up their hands in defeat. How can we ever get ourselves out of this mess if we can’t even look at the whole thing at once? Well, after our conversation last night, I’m prepared to offer at least one way out of the labyrinth. The beauty of this way out is that it is small, manageable, and widely variant depending on who and where you are: and that, in itself, is part of the solution, because diversity is what makes the world go round. It was trying to make everything the same that got us into this mess in the first place.

Step One: What do you value? What do you really, deep down, value, above all else? Your life? Your health? The lives of your loved ones? Once you know the answer to this question, you can answer every other question accordingly, and define your goals. Is cheap food, for example, still valuable if it compromises your health? Or is cheap food the ultimate goal?

Step Two: What are you going to do about it? You decide that you want high quality, nutritious food that will maintain the health of yourself and your loved ones. You know that this sort of food is whole food, not manufactured food products with their diverse array of unknown ingredients (which include any number of suspect chemicals), you know that food grown with consideration for the environment and the soil also happens to be higher in nutritional content (well, if you didn’t know that you do now), and you know that food grown this way is also less likely to be sprayed with toxic chemicals, and if it’s grown locally, will maintain more of its quality in freshness.

All right, you know all this, so what are you waiting for? You don’t know where to get it? Well, the food system isn’t offering it- and you could ask the supermarket owner, or the CEO of the food company, or the government for it, but that’s no guarantee- and more likely absolutely nothing will change. Or, you could go to the source: the land. Which is a little easier to do through the medium of the farmer. If there isn’t a farmer? Do it yourself. And before you start going on about time and money, I’ll ask you again: what do you value? What’s worth giving up, if the thing at stake is your life?

Of course, eating like this means large corporations can't make a profit off your hunger. If it turns out a more traditional diet is healthier after all, and they can no longer sell novelty food products, where does that leave them? Not to mention that whole foods come without packaging, and when grown locally don't have to be transported long distances, and when grown sustainability don't require massive inputs of petroleum based pesticides and fertilizers- but that's really just the icing on the cake.


King Corn

Most likely I should have posted this before we showed the movie, but better late than never.

King Corn

A definite watch for anyone interested in how our food system truly functions (ie, poorly). It's on netflix, as well, though if you buy it these nice fellows will get some money out of it. They based their work on Michael Pollan's investigation of the corn economy in Omnivore's Dilemma, though they actually went out to grow an acre of corn and try to find out what happened to it. Watching the reactions of everyone last night, most people are disgusted to find out all the problems with corn: how hard it is on the farmers, most especially, how it, along with other commodity crops, has destroyed the family farm, how cheap corn has lead to confinement lots for cattle (and cheap, fatty grain fed beef), how cheap corn has lead to the availability of cheap sweeteners, including high fructose corn syrup, which provide empty calories, little to no nutritional value, and are proving to be more and more deleterious to our health... well, we've talked about all these things on this blog before. Watch the movie!


20 January 2009

An Historic Day

I debated for a while about posting on Inauguration Day. I have my own personal opinions regarding the new president, but in the interest of keeping this blog relatively politically neutral, I'm going to compromise by posting this BBC article on the outlook for Obama's environmental policy:

BBC News: Scientists optimistic over Obama

I think they are maybe being a little bit too optimistic, but I suppose we'll have to wait and see. The president, as much as I don't like to admit it, does have a major influence on the world, and especially where the money goes, so it may be we see a lot more investment in "green" jobs and technology, as Obama has promised. Certainly he'll be better than Bush in this category. But he will be influenced by lobbyists, like all politicians, and the biggest lobbyists are still by far the oil companies. So I'm not holding my breath.

I think the most important thing for us to do, on this rather historic day, is to remember that no matter who is in office the power is in the hands of PEOPLE, and it is our responsibility to remain vigilant, and call out the people in power on their actions, regardless of their promises for change. If we do not remain ready to act then we'll find the change may not be quite in the direction we hoped for. A new president is not an excuse for us to stop fighting for that which we hold dear.


Welcome back!


And again, there are new recycling bins! Yes, while you were gone for holiday, the recycling fairy came in the night and waved her magic wand and bins appeared in the rest of the major academic buildings. Or possibly she and some helpers assembled bins for about 7 hours and ended up with a lot of blisters. Either way!

The small offices will have to wait just a little bit longer, but will also get bins by the end of the year. So! Use the bins! Recycle!

We are also participating in Recyclemania again this year, which is a national competition of colleges to see who can recycle the most! You can check out our ranking here.

Lastly, we are taking a trip to Florida again this Spring Break to volunteer in the Everglades. So if you are interested in going, come to a SEA meeting and look out for ads about the deadlines.


19 January 2009

Fresh breath without feeling bad

According to Ideal Bite, a web site that posts daily tips for green living, Americans toss away nearly fifty million pounds of toothbrushes each year. Regardless of the accuracy of this statement, it couldn't hurt to curb consumption during our daily hygienic routines.

Idea Bite (which also has a very nifty e-newsletter) offers some suggestions for being green without staying smelly:
  • Use recycled/recyclable toothbrushes. Radius offers a toothbrush made of 93% wood bio-plastic. Only its head needs replacement; the rest is reusable. Looking for something a little less bulky? Greenfeet offers a similarly-green item made from recycled yogurt cups. 
  • Make sure you use all of your toothpaste before you toss out the tube. Not only do you prevent more waste from ending up in landfills, but you also save money (and that's a big deal for college students). Try cutting your toothpaste tube in half before tossing; most likely you'll end up with more toothpaste than you thought you had. Tube Wringers are also nifty gadgets that help you use every last drop.


12 January 2009

Totally Disgusted

Seriously, that's the last time I buy something without reading the label.

So I was in the grocery store, and decided to get some nuts or something to keep in my desk drawer, because I'm a grazer and like to eat more or less constantly throughout the day, and what's better than some healthful, high protein nuts? Only when I was standing in the store I saw roasted, shelled sunflower seeds, which have always been a weakness, and I pounced.

Later on, sitting at my desk eating some seeds, I happened to look upon the label of the jar. Now, you'd think, the ingredients of roasted sunflowers seeds would be roasted sunflower seeds, and maybe salt and a little oil or something. But no. The ingredients of the sunflower seeds are as follows:

shelled sunflower seeds, salt, sugar, modified corn starch, monosodium glutamate, torula yeast, corn syrup solids, paprika, spices, hydrolyzed soy protein, natural flavor, onion & garlic powder.

Ok, I can handle onion and garlic powder. Corn syrup solids? Strange things I can neither pronounce or identify? Let's wiki some of these and figure out what they are:

monosodium glutamate = MSG

"USE Torula, in its inactive form (usually labeled as torula yeast), is widely used as a flavouring in processed foods and pet foods. It is produced from wood sugars, as a by-product of paper production. It is pasteurized and spray-dried to produce a fine, light grayish-brown powder with a slightly yeasty odor and gentle, slightly meaty taste." -wikipedia

"Hydrolyzed vegetable protein, or HVP, is produced by boiling cereals or legumes, such as soy, corn, or wheat, in hydrochloric acid and then neutralizing the solution with sodium hydroxide. The acid hydrolyzes, or breaks down, the protein in vegetables into their component amino acids. The resulting brown powder contains, among other amino acids, glutamic acid, which consumers are more familiar with in the form of its sodium salt, monosodium glutamate, or MSG. It is used as a flavor enhancer in many processed foods." -wikipedia

Natural flavors, of course, can mean almost anything. Thanks, Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, purveyors of sunflower seeds.

This is another example of how we can't just eat whole foods anymore, they have to find all kinds of strange things to ADD to the foods, because otherwise the corn refiners association would go out of business. Well, they can stuff it. I'm not buying any more corn syrup coated sunflower seeds. Seriously.

Serves me right for not reading the label, I suppose. How do most people shop?


05 January 2009

Running the Numbers, updated

He keeps adding more new ones... which are all insane, if you ask me. We use way too much... stuff.

Chris Jordan


03 January 2009

Deep Green Thoughts, Pt V

I tend to digress on the subject of environmental “ethics” and how we should act as human beings, because it’s such a broad, complex topic. I’m therefore going to back up a little and return to this idea of clean air vs. polluted air and the relative concepts of good and bad.

Really, you could debate the existence of good and bad for centuries and not come to any conclusions. This is why we have philosophy. There’s nothing wrong with exploring the concepts, but when it comes to day to day actions, some simplification is necessary. Therefore, for the duration of this blog, I’m going to define good as promoting human survival (and by extension, the survival of most of the species we share the planet with) and bad as the opposite, something that contributes, on the large scale, to the demise of the human species. If we go back to the question of whether pollution is bad, then by these standards we can say it depends on the scale: pollution on the scale of one group out of hundreds occasionally burning fields is fine, while pollution on the scale of hundreds of much larger groups burning fields is probably bad.

We can take it a step further and go back to the original question, of whether or not it is wrong for the general human population (of this society) to live the way we do. If survival is our goal, then it follows we’re not in great shape. Take a power plant. We all, myself included, contribute to the construction and maintenance of power plants. We use electricity, after all. In return, those of us unfortunate enough to live next to a power plant suffer disease and poor health, which certainly hinders our chances of survival. I use “our” because I did in fact grow up next to a power plant- and ended up with a severe case of asthma, as did the majority of the kids I grew up with. Moving to the Eastern Shore has alleviated the problem to some extent, but I haven’t grown out of it, as one trip to the city, especially on a hot day, will set it off and have me sucking on my inhaler for the rest of the day.

Honestly, this makes me really, really angry. And why not? My health has been compromised. I will never be able to breath entirely freely, without fear of having an asthma attack set off by some unknown pollutant. And I’m not the only one, by any means, nor have I suffered much compared to the millions of other people on the planet compromised by human activities- look at the people of some parts of China, unable to go outside on certain days because of the acid rain. Or the devastation exposed by Katrina- thousands of people affected by living too near the industrial district, and thousands more put out of home and life because we, humans, destroyed the buffers (wetlands) that prevented tidal surges from destroying the coastland by building a city over them (not to mention the potential link between global warming and severe storms).

Why aren’t we ALL ragingly pissed off?

Well, it’s possible because we’re all the culprits. Who do you target when you get pissed about a power plant? Yourself? That not only won’t get you anywhere, but it’s counterproductive. There are plenty of direct targets, plenty of people who, whether entirely conscious of the consequences of their actions or not, still figuratively pulled the trigger. Or you could choose not to participate at all, which is hellishly difficult and usually doesn’t do much to change the fact that the majority of human activities are not only killing most of the other species on the planet, but are killing us in the process.

There are other ways. Really, though, the important thing- and the reason behind this long series of posts- is for you to work out for yourself what you hold dear. Define that, and then define good and bad, and what you are willing to risk to protect those things you hold dear. Look at the costs- not the monetary costs, but the true costs- and ask what electricity is really worth. What is beef worth? What is a housing development on top of a wetland worth? How many lives are worth a light that comes on at the flick of a switch?

Answer those questions, and you’ll be well on your way to your own system of ethics.


01 January 2009

Happy New Year

I’m going to borrow some New Year’s resolutions from one of my favorite books. These are the things I try to live by all year, not just at New Year’s. I try, very hard, to define my life by the things I want and want to be, not by the things I don’t want. It’s sometimes a subtle distinction, but one that makes a world of difference. If you can only define yourself by what you don’t want, then really at the center you have nothing. I know I tend to rip on the conventional take on environmentalism in these blogs, and so for a while I’m going to have a go at being more positive, and see if maybe we can’t fill that empty space with the things we do want.

This year I will walk every day in between the trees, I will make some celebration, I will love without fear, I will create beautiful things, I will lay in the sun, I will share what I have, I will open my doors, I will sing whenever I can… I will eat jam and sit on my porch and remember all the tiny joys that make up our lives, and use them as a bastion against my fears, I will hold onto my dreams and realize everything around me is made up of dreams, and that means every step I take is making a dream reality, and if we all make room for our dreams, the world will be beautiful. The world is beautiful, and I am grateful every day for living.

Happy New Year, everyone.