Sunday, August 31, 2008

4th meal? Err.. 5th maybe?

As I approached the end of a long dive down to North Carolina on Friday night I had given up on searching for a new radio station every time commercials came on and heard a ridiculous McDonald's commercial. It aired around 11:00pm and went something like this:

Man: I'm gonna run out and get somethin' to eat. Want anything?
Woman: (sounding tired) I just went to bed, like, two hours ago...
Man: I'm going to McDonald's... (he says in a "tempting" voice)
Woman: Alright... (she concedes) Bring me some fries then.
Song: Do do doo do doo... I'm lovin' it.
Announcer: Open 'til one AM or later... feed your late night cravings...

Really? I mean, REALLY?? I guess I shouldn't be surprised since I've heard all the "Eat great, even late" Wendy's ads before. And I think Taco Bell actually made up a name for a fourth meal. AND McDonald's has those snack size sandwiches for mid-morning or mid-afternoon or watching sports or something.

Perhaps this isn't a new thing for McDonald's to encourage folks to wake up in the middle of the night and eat fries and I just haven't been awake after 11pm in a while? Or I've mastered the art of avoiding these silly marketing messages? Or I'm still subscribed to the marketing message that if I am up late and craving something it is because I am pregnant, hormonal, or going through a break-up and the clear fix is a pint of ice cream, likely something with a catchy name like Chunky Monkey? Or maybe I'm just old fashioned and still think late night cravings are a private moment of weakness - a rare guilty pleasure - as opposed to a nationwide nightly occurrence.


Friday, August 29, 2008

Omnivore's 100?

A British blogger has posted what he/she finds to be the "100 things that every good omnivore should have tried at least once in their life." There are a lot of things on here that I haven't heard of, some I have tried but perhaps not in the form written (like the Lobster Thermidor) and many I have tried. 31 to be exact. They are in green text below and there is no mistake - I have never eaten a Big Mac. There is a chance I have tried others but don't recognize them too. How about you all? Roadkill anyone?

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos Ranchers
4. Steak Tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borsht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

College cafeterias conserve

Trays in cafeterias often lead to wasted food. Not to mention, each one requires between 1/3 and 1/2 a gallon of water to wash. And do I even need to bring up portion size and the obesity epidemic? The point is, there are a lot of benefits to eliminating trays in college and company cafeterias.

A study conducted by Aramark Higher Education Food Services revealed that college students utilizing the dining hall on campus waste 25 to 30 percent less food when trays aren't available. During last years drought, Georgia Tech went tray-less and estimates say they saved about 3000 gallons of water a day doing so.

So nationwide, colleges that want to go green are starting in their cafeterias. By eliminating trays, dining halls save 1/3 to 1/2 a gallon of water for each tray they don't have to wash.

Food service company, Sodexo, expects 230 of the 600 colleges they serve to eliminate trays from their dining halls. Do you think companies and fast-food restaurants will follow suit?

(thnx Bec)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Energizing exercise!

The Green Microgym in Portland, Oregon promises to recapture energy from exercise machines and create electricity. And that's not all. Their energy efficient treadmills by SportsArt EcoPowr use 30% less electricity than others while Team Dynamo and Spin Bikes generate up to 750 watts per hour. How cool is that?! Spinning with a bigger purpose.

The gym is working on ways to capture excess energy from the elliptical machines.

The facility itself is, of course, also green. Solar panels on top (generating over 3 Kilowatts per hour) and recycled rubber, marmoleum, and eco-friendly cork flooring. EnergyStar ceiling fans and compact fluorescent lights are member controlled. LCD televisions use less electricity than plasma screens. And in the locker room: double flush toilets, non-toxic soaps and cleaning supplies, paper towels and seat covers made from recycled content.

Locally owned and designed by Adam Boesel (generating electricity in the photo), the gym offers members a way to help themselves and help the environment without sacrificing any amenities. From the website:

"By generating electricity and conserving space and energy, The Green Microgym will be one of the only fitness facilities in the world running on its own power. We're starting a gym in Portland, Oregon that uses a combination of solar and human power and is just as comfortable and effective as any other gym."

For more info about this gym and their equipment, visit:

Not surprisingly, the equipment is pricey right now. Hopefully some big chains will integrate practices like these in the near future. I think I'd work a lot harder on the bike if I were contributing to something bigger than myself.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Underground restaurants

The NY Times published an article about this underground restaurant movement that encourages a connection with your food unavailable in traditional restaurant settings. There is an appreciation of food here that reminds me a bit of the Slow Food movement.

There's a good amount of the meat mentioned in the article. I'm not a meat-eater myself, mainly for environmental reasons though, so I am pleased to read that this kind of interactive approach to that portion of a meal is catching on... like people are earning their share of meat instead of it arriving from who-knows-where, perfectly cut, seasoned and cooked on a plate. (Why do I have the feeling my sister and bro-in-law are going to make me regret typing that last sentence?? Meatatarians.)

Check out the article:
Dining & Wine
The Anti-Restaurants
Published: August 27, 2008

Stuff Happens

Last week, I blogged about Dead Zones. Last night, I caught the tail end of an episode of "Stuff Happens" with Bill Nye titled, "Breakfast." The tidbit that really caught my attention was about the 200 mile by 35 mile dead zone off the coast of Maryland and Virginia. The instigator of which, I imagine, may a big name poultry producer in Salisbury, MD.

Nye started talking about the billions and billions of eggs that we consume, the chickens that they come from, and the overwhelming amount of nitrogen output by chickens kept in massive containment in order maximise egg production. While plenty of nitrogen can be great for soil quality, the run-off reeks havoc in nearby waters: creating dead zones. So what's the solution? When buying poultry products (chicken, eggs) you want to be sure they are from, or are, free range chickens. Purchasing from these massive output-focused establishments means supporting not only inhumane treatment of chickens, but also it worsens the growing problem of dead zones.

I understand the "Breakfast" episode also examines coffee. Paul Roberts gives a detailed explanation of the pitfalls of the coffee trade over the past few decades in his latest, The End of Food. This is huge topic that I hope to explore in depth in the future. For now, as with poultry, a good rule of thumb is to look for the word "free" as in "free trade" when purchasing coffee.

Check out for "Stuff Happens" episode guides and other Planet Green series listings.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


NY Times is reporting a link between the use of MSG and obesity. More on that study here:

The study looked at the link between MSG use in home cooking and obesity in some three villages in southern China. I've never thought to use MSG in my own cooking but I found myself wondering a little more about it and thought I'd share.

Here is a little background about the "anti-appetite-suppressant" from Check it out:

Why do food companies add MSG to foods?

There are several reasons:

MSG tricks your tongue into making you think a certain food is high in protein and thus nutritious. It is not a "meat tenderizer". It is not a "preservative". The food industry is trying to confuse the issue by focusing on the "fifth" taste sense they call umami. Free glutamic acid is detected by the taste buds as a simple way to signal the presence of protein in a food, just as there are fat receptors to detect fats and receptors that sense carbohydrate or sweet flavors. The purpose is to help us discern real food from inedible matter. It changes your perception of not simply taste but the nutritious qualities of what you put into your mouth. However, and here is the main problem with free glutamic acid - It is the very same neurotransmitter that your brain and many organs including your ears, eyes, nervous system and pancreas in your body use to initiate certain processes in your body.

MSG stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin. So many diets these days are concerned about the Glycemic Index of foods and yet none of them address the fact that MSG and free glutamic acid stimulate the pancreas to release insulin when there doesn't even have to be carbohydrates in the food for that insulin to act on. The food industry has found their own "anti-appetite suppressant". It's a convenient way to keep consumers coming back for more. The blood sugar drops because of the insulin flood. And you are hungry an hour later. Sound familiar? The body changes excess glutamate to GABA. GABA may be addictive. It is calming and affects the same receptors in the brain as valium.

Cost. The illusion created by adding MSG to a food product enables the food processor to add LESS real food. The illusion of more protein in a food allows the food producer to put LESS protein in it. The consumer perceives the product - say chicken soup - to have more chicken in it than is actually there.

As always, I am reminded of something Michael Pollan wrote. Something about the U.S. being a nation full of over-fed and under-nourished people. Excluding the Olson twins, of course.

If you want to try and avoid MSG, here are a few foods to steer clean of at restaurants: Chicken, Sausage, Ranch, Parmesan, Gravy, Dipping sauces, Soy sauce... for a comprehensive list check out

Sunday, August 24, 2008

CO2 Sponge

Klaus Lackner, scientist at Columbia University, seeks to create a "synthetic tree" that can do in about 30 minutes what would naturally take 100,000 years to accomplish: get carbon dioxide levels down and avert a climate crisis.

The idea for the air extraction or "air capture" technology in these synthetic trees came to Lackner while working on his daughter, Claire, on her middle school science project.

Here is an excerpt from a fairly recent interview Lackner gave to Breakthrough Institute:

How did you first become interested in air capture technology?

My daughter Claire's school science fair project in 1999 helped me quantify a few things I had been wondering about air capture. She wanted to see if she could scrub carbon dioxide out of the air. So we went to the pet store, bought at aquarium pump, and bubbled air through a solution of calcium hydroxide and sodium hydroxide, and let it bubble all through the night. In the morning she poured acid in and measured the amount carbon dioxide that would come off. It turned out she'd collected about half the carbon dioxide that had passed through the pump.

From there, you went on to develop the first successful air capture prototype. Is this something that's ready to be commercialized?

We developed a pre-prototype that shows that all the pieces of this system work. Within two to four years it should be ready to be commercialized. The first time around it's always too expensive, but every time you do it, it gets a little cheaper. I think in the long term, the cost of capturing carbon dioxide from air will not be terribly different from conventional flue gas scrubbing, about $30 per ton of carbon dioxide, which corresponds to about 25 cents on the gallon.

Word on the street is that critics find it to be too labor intensive and costly, but if you ask me, you can't put a price on offsetting almost all of our carbon footprints. I hope Lackner and Claire keep working on it.

For more from Lackner, check out another interview with npr here:

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Radioactive spinach?? Probably not...

Michael Pollan, or his books I should say, taught me something interesting about the produce and leafy greens we eat today: they aren't nearly as nutritious or packed full or antioxidants as say... a weed. Or as they were decades ago. Consider the following:

In order for a plant to survive in nature it has to stand up to pests and protect itself. In order for a plant to survive an prosper in the US food market, it has to be palatable - sweet even. By over-fertilizing, creating monoculture farms and over-producing certain plants, over time we have diminished the nutritional value (antioxidants etc) by doing for spinach, lettuce, and many others, what weeds do for themselves, thus making the manufactured produce more susceptible to disease and leaving self-sustaining plants far richer in nutritional value than the mass produced, widely-shipped varieties we find at the grocer.

What I am getting at here, is that the nutritional value of the produce most Americans consume (i.e. not from local farms) is already low and this latest news about FDA approval for zapping produce with radiation in order to kill/manage dangerous micro-organisms like Salmonella and E. coli sounds like treating a symptom of a much larger problem. Not to mention, the process lowers nutritional value even more and, well, it sort of freaks me out.

Read about the irradiation of produce in the NY Times:

Health / Health Care Policy
F.D.A. Allows Irradiation of Some Produce
Published: August 22, 2008
The change in policy for fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce marks the first time the F.D.A. has allowed any produce to be irradiated at levels needed to protect against illness.

However, I should also point out that there are good arguments in favor of this irradiation. Check out here:

Friday, August 22, 2008

Longest jellyfish on record: 160 feet

I'm undecided as to whether or not I want to blog while on vacation -something to think about poolside I guess. Until I decide, check out this fun site I learned about via Mental Floss magazine.

Did you know that you shouldn't tease the jaws of a Venus flytrap beacause each jaw can only close a few times before dying? And the title fact about the jellyfish? And that most hoofed herbivores (from horses to giraffes) sleep standing up? Amazing facts here, folks. Amazing.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I heart froglets

This morning, like most other mornings, I was looking around in the local foliage for lizards or other interesting creatures and I spotted the cutest little frog. Because of it's size and apparent youth, I was surprised that it was able to survive out of water... so I did a little research.
Turns out, the little fellow may have been a "froglet." Not a tadpole, but not yet an adult frog.

I wish I had gotten a better look to see if the tail had been absorbed yet but I will tell you this, he was small, slippery, and clearly breathing with his lungs. I am definitely looking for him tomorrow morning. So cute!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Excellent story about The Baltimore Sun

City Paper reporter John Barry does an excellent job in this accurate portrayal of The Sun. With interviews from breaking news reporters and veterans on their way out, coverage of Sam Zell's visit and the recent protest, and a clear description of the ever-emptying space on Calvert Street, Barry clearly spent quite a bit of time looking at the situation.

Read the article here:

It is a shame that CEO Zell has little grasp of the magnitude of journalistic expertise lost with the departure of Sun reporters Doug Donovan, John Woestendiek, John Fritze, Jonathan Bor and so many others. I remember Jonathan Bor's visible disappointment as I sat with him during Zell's visit. An analyst at The Sun took Jim Collins' book "Good To Great" to Zell after the meeting and asked if he had read it. If you haven't read it, the message of the book is that the worst strategy during a time of industry-wide struggle is to cut critical jobs (like journalists). Zell had the nerve to say, "Read it? I live by it."

Sure, Sam.

No quite chindogu?

Hot topic on buzzfeed today, pulled from an older post on slashfood, is this "pizza."

In light of the changing economy of food and the growing percentage of overweight and obese children and adults in Asia, I feel like this pizza epitomizes the steady (and unfortunate) shift towards western eating habits in the Far East.

Diabetes, Obesity, and Heart Disease, what many call "western diseases" can't be far behind double roll, pepperoni/hot-dog-tots/hamburger/peas pizza. Yuck.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Low price of lobsta'

Daniel Gross, for Slate, write about the stable and now seemingly low cost of lobsters in our inflated food market. It makes sense when you think about it - or rather, read about it.

"At root, the global forces that are driving up the price of food don't significantly affect the vacation lobster business in Maine. Commercial and consumer demand doesn't vary much for off-the-boat lobster. Sure, many lobsters are sold to processing plants. But unlike other seafood products—think of canned tuna, or clam sauce, or frozen fish fillets—lobster is not produced or marketed on a mass global scale, which also means there are no speculators trying to make a killing on lobster futures. The fact that people are eating more and better in China and India isn't much boosting the demand for lobsters from Maine. Even in the United States, lobster remains to a large degree a regional product. While you can find lobster on the menu at better restaurants in the Midwest, or, heaven help you, at Red Lobster, you're unlikely to find live lobster tanks in Meijer stores in Michigan or Wal-Marts in the Ozarks. In addition, lobster is a luxury, discretionary food product that requires special equipment and extra fortitude to cook at home. (I watched in sympathy as one of our hosts, a Maine resident for two decades, winced in horror as she plunged the living creatures into a boiling cauldron.)"

I too have "winced in horror" as someone "plunged the living creatures into a boiling cauldron." But back to business. Gross sites the following reasons for inexpensive lobsters in Maine:

- Lobstermen don't pay for fertilizer or feed. Just gas for their boats.
- Short supply chain. Lobsters aren't distributed on a global scale; they move from traps to dockside tanks to either the home cooks or restaurants.
- Melted butter side dish is inexpensive.
- "Distributors seeking to maintain their margins are cramming down the fishermen and with limited local outlets, lobstermen can't hold out for higher prices."

Find the article here and enjoy the awesome picture of my mom in a lobster hat from our summer trip to Maine:

I don't have words...

I divert from my usual environmental beat today to acknowledge a blog (reluctantly) sent to me that has stopped me in my tracks - taken my breath away.

Internationally travelled photojournalist Justin Merriman has documented his firsthand experiences with some devastating events and shared insights and photos through his blog. Most recently, he documents the service and sadly the funeral of Sgt Ryan Baughmann, of Great Mills, MD, recently killed in Afghanistan.

Attempts to paraphrase Merriman or describe the photos fall short. While the posts center on Sgt Baughmann's life as a service member, the visceral images of the ceremony at Arlington and the out pour from the community remind us of the lives service members have outside of their uniforms and the incredible amount of courage it takes to put all that on the line for something bigger than one's self.

Visit the blog here:

(thnx Becky)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Good for you, good for the environment

I read about Arthur Ebeling on the CNN blog "young people who rock" last week and have been meaning to write a little something about him and the business he started.

Ebeling grew up making tea from herbs picked in his grandmother's backyard and is now the CEO of Eastern Isles Tea, his own organic tea company. $1.00 from each sale is put towards the companies $1 million dollar goal for the Eastern Isles Global Initiative, a huge donation towards global warming research. Ebeling strongly believes that partnering social change with business is a great way to raise awareness. And just saying... he is only 23 years old. He started his business in college. Love it!

To order the tea and learn about harvesting techniques and what makes these teas unique, visit

I'm about to order the Penglai Darjeeling Organic: "Considered the champagne of teas, this Darjeeling is aromatic with sweet, fruity, muscatel notes. Enjoy each smooth, golden cup either hot or as a cool refresher."


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Bird-feeder, chipmunk trap or squirrel olympics?

The subject matter of this blog may look familiar to those of you privy to an email I sent to a bird-feeder manufacturer earlier this In case you missed it, the images of the trapped chipmunk should give you the general idea.

The little guy squeezed in when the feeder was less than half-full, ate too much (hence the chubby cheeks) and found himself trapped. In order to prevent having a chipmunk fatality on my conscience, I take care to keep the seed level above the highest possible chipmunk entryway. This was working just fine until an acrobatic squirrel entered the picture. As you can hopefully see (below) this little bugger is part possum, part Olympian. And while I admire his seed-stealing skill, he's shaking things up quite a bit and spilling all the seeds - which leads us right back to the chipmunk trap.

As I write... I can't believe this... he is at it again! I'm starting to think this squirrel escaped from the most recent Willy Wonka set. Stay tuned for additional photos and updates...


Well, not really an update, just some more pics

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Farmers' markets in and around Baltimore

The Baltimore Sun put up a great interactive map of local farmers' markets. Check it out here

(Photo from The Sun by Algerina Perna / May 4, 2008)

The culprit: crop fertilizers

"Dead Zones" in coastal areas of our oceans, that is, areas in which the bottom waters are oxygen starved and hardly able to sustain marine life, have been doubling in size every ten years since the 1960s.

The NY Times reports:
"The main culprit, scientists say, is nitrogen-rich nutrients from crop fertilizers that spill into coastal waters by way of rivers and streams... Scientists attribute dead zones to a process that begins when nitrogen from agricultural runoff and sewage stimulates the growth of photosynthetic plankton on the surface of coastal waters. As the organisms decay and sink to the bottom, they are decomposed by microbes that consume large amounts of oxygen. As oxygen levels drop, most animals that live at the bottom cannot survive."

Apart from the marine life itself, the commercial fishing and shellfish industries are the hardest hit. Not only are these "dead zones" occurring in prime fishing zones (like Baltimore's own Chesapeake Bay), they are very hard to reverse. Population growth, changes in eating habits and of course industrialization - basically human activity - seem to blame. Just saying.

Please read Bina Venkataraman's more eloquent explanation here

Friday, August 15, 2008

Happy horse

Check out this beautiful horse I had the pleasure of visiting with at the Anne Arundel Dairy Farm last night. Visiting may be the wrong word... there is a slight chance I was trespassing... but I wasn't alone. Others were as well. And were able to take this amazing pic for me. I haven't seen a horse up close in at least a decade and had forgotten how magnificent they are.

Hope for a peaceful place for Jenny

NY Times' James C. McKinley Jr. reports on a sad debate surrounding the placement of the Dallas Zoo's "special needs" elephant, Jenny. 22 Years ago the Dallas Zoo took Jenny in from a traumatic life. Since, she has suffered greatly with post traumatic stress and depression - the details of which are too sad for me to write about. Then this past May, she lost her elephant companion and at age 32 and "pretty calm and relaxed," many want her to spend her remaining years in an elephant sanctuary that specializes in treating her emotional wounds. Activists and protesters feel that being with 17 other elephants in a 2,700 acre sanctuary is far better than placing her in an "African Safari Park" in Mexico. I agree. I truly hope that the out pour of support for Jenny and protests asking that she have a calm life in the sanctuary have some influence on the Zoo's decision. Let's keep Jenny in our prayers.

NY Times:
What to Do With Traumatized Elephant Stirs Up Dallas
Published: August 15, 2008
Beyond the debate about what to do with the elephant lies a larger struggle between zoos and animal rights groups who would rather see a world without elephant exhibits.


While chatting about recycling with a friend yesterday (I'm not kidding LOL) we got to talking about bottled water, recycling scandals in Baltimore, and some workplace scandals that I dare not blog about.

I said, over my reusable bottle filled with tap water, "You don't drink bottled water, do you?!" A spirited conversation about the luxury of living in an area with such clean tap water followed. But, if in a crunch, we both admitted to grabbing the occasional Evian or Dasani water from a vending machine, at an outdoor festival, or a convenience store. Ah... convenience... the root of all things eco-unfriendly.

So this morning I've consulted my practical guide to making eco-smart choices: Green Greener Greenest, by Lori Bongiorno.

Minimize consumption of bottles water. This will save you money too.

Always drink tap water at home (if you have access to clean municipal sources)(which I am pretty certain you do if you are online reading a blog).

Eliminate ALL bottled water. Purchase a reusable bottle and fill up from the tap or water fountain. If you are weary of the tap at work, think about lobbying to have a filtration system installed in your office.

My personal reusable bottle recommendation is definitely the Sigg. I know Nalgene has long been the leader in the industry and I still use one at work, but for travel or anything outdoors, the light-weight aluminum of the Sigg is unbeatable. Not to mention the fact that you have so many options as far as the cap/spout is concerned as well as design-wise.

Look for one at your local REI, Whole Foods or sporting goods store. If you want to personalize your Sigg, check out

I'm proud to say that I fit somewhere between the Greener and Greenest line. Most of my friends and family do as well. Let's keep it up y'all!

(thnx Tina)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bug Bites you will like

While shopping at David's Natural Market last night I came across these adorable, bite size, ethically traded, certified organic chocolates. Both milk and dark chocolate squares are gluten free and Kosher. Dark chocolate is suitable for a Vegan as well.

Here's the best part: Each individually wrapped square contains one (sometimes two) of 32 insect trading cards. How fun! Maybe the mystery bug has a trading card?

As expected, proceeds benefit the National Wildlife Federation and their Backyard Habitat program and of course their mission is aligned with that of Endangered Species Chocolate.

Here is the nutrition information for both the milk and dark chocolate treats:

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Kinda Corny...

It turns out that worrisome conditions earlier in the growing season leveled out and the corn yield this fall will be plentiful enough for both food (mostly for livestock) and fuel (gasoline additive, ethanol, made from corn). Oh and... hopefully there will be plenty for the October celebration of National Popcorn Poppin' Month.

From the NY Times:
The Department of Agriculture is forecasting the second-highest corn yield on record with production of 12.3 billion bushels, about 600 million bushels more than it had expected earlier in the summer...
The highest corn yield on record was 160.4 bushels an acre in 2004. The new 2008 estimate of 155 bushels is up 3.9 bushels from last year’s harvest. Total production will be lower than last year’s bumper crop, because farmers planted fewer acres of corn.

Read the full article here

Oh, and... hopefully this means there will be plenty for the lesser-known October celebration: National Popcorn Poppin' Month! I know, I know.... different kind of corn, but let's ignore the irrelevance and enjoy some corny facts and yummy recipe from
  • Americans consume some 16 billion quarts of corn. That’s 54 quarts per man, woman, and child.
  • There are two basic popcorn shapes: snowflake and mushroom. Snowflake is used in movie theaters and ballparks because it looks and pops bigger. Mushroom is used for candy confections because it doesn't crumble.
  • If you made a trail of popcorn from New York City to Los Angeles, you would need more than 352,028,160 popped kernels.
  • “Popability” is popcorn lingo that refers to the percentage of kernels that pop.
  • Popcorn was used by the Native Americans not only as a staple in their diet, but for decoration. Sixteenth century Aztec Indians used popcorn in their ceremonies; young women danced a “popcorn dance” and wore garlands of popcorn in their hair.
  • In 1945, an engineer named Percy Spencer accidentally discovered that microwave radio signals could be used to cook foods. His following experiments with popcorn led, in part, to the development of the microwave oven.

Popcorn S'mores
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon baking soda10 cups freshly popped popcorn
1 package (10 1/2 oz.) miniature marshmallows
2 cups mini graham cookies (teddy bears)
1 cup chocolate chips

Combine brown sugar, butter and corn syrup in medium saucepan. Cook over high heat for 5 minutes; remove from heat and stir in baking soda. Combine popcorn and marshmallows in large bowl. Pour sugar mixture over popcorn to coat. Gently stir in graham cookies and chocolate chips. Spread mixture evenly into greased 15 x 10 inch pan. Let cool completely. Break into pieces. Store in an airtight container. Yield: 20 pieces

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Conservation Agriculture

The Economist writes about a hurdle for organic farms: erosion caused by ploughing. Many organic farms rely on ploughing, instead of chemical fertilizers, to control weeds. says that the practice isn't so environmentally friendly as we hoped. Luckily the Food and Agriculture Organization is working on a solution.

From green.view:
In response to this growing appreciation of the problems of ploughing, Theodor Friedrich from the Food and Agriculture Organisation, is trying to champion a new style of farming called “conservation agriculture,” which revolves around a no-till system. There are three principles involved: minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil cover and crop rotations. But of course such an approach means that herbicides are needed to reduce weeds.

Read the rest of the column here:

Trees as natural chemical factories

Informative article in the NY Times today about biochemist, botanist and author of Arboretum America, Diana Beresford-Kroeger.

From the article:
"She favors what she terms a bioplan, reforesting cities and rural areas with trees according to the medicinal, environmental, nutritional, pesticidal and herbicidal properties she claims for them, which she calls ecofunctions.
Wafer ash, for example, could be used in organic farming, she said, planted in hedgerows to attract butterflies away from crops. Black walnut and honey locusts could be planted along roads to absorb pollutants, she said."

Read it here

Mystery Insect

Sorry I am late posting today. I've been furiously searching for information about an awesome bug that I saw this morning.

While walking the dog this morning, I saw what appeared to be a young blade of grass flung up by a lawnmower and now stuck to dew on a black lamp post. Perhaps because it was at eye level, the grass clearly hadn't been mowed recently, and it was a brighter green than I would expect a severed blade to be, the bright green sliver caught my attention.

Then it moved.

Had it been a few feet closer to the earth, it would have gone completely unnoticed. Pretty clever disguise for the manicured landscapes of the suburbs if you ask me.

Too far away from home (i.e. the camera) and too much of a nature lover to pick the little guy up and remove him from his habitat, I returned home and searched entomology databases for "walking grass," because it seemed so similar to a "walking stick" bug. The closest image I could find is above (thanks to So far, all I have deduced that the bug is of the order Exopterygota or Plasmida or both but that doesn't mean a whole lot to me.

Perhaps it is just a young "walking stick" bug and, like a new branch on a tree, it begins life this bright color? But the little creature I saw, and the one pictured above, both seem to have only four legs, where walking sticks have six. Not to mention, the mystery lamp post bug was less than half of the size of the one pictured above and no thicker than a blade of grass.

Can anyone identify this mystery bug?

Just received information from my brother-in-law, who has studied entomology, and he seems to have solved the mystery. Check out his response to my query:

"You were correct in thinking of a "Walking Stick" - at least that's my guess. I immediately thought of the order Phasmatodea (Walking Sticks). The only thing that worried me was your description of only having two pair of legs. One of the major characteristics of an insect being a true insect is having 3 pair of legs (i.e. 6 total). Then I remembered these little things tend to extend their front legs forwards sometimes and can be tricky to see. They can sometimes be confused for antennae. Let me know what you think. Happy hunting!"

(thnx Kris)

Monday, August 11, 2008

On genetically modified food...

Paul Roberts, author of The End of Oil and The End of Food recently wrote a great essay for Slate: Food Fight: The four barriers to the genetically modified–food revolution—and why no one is talking about them.

Check it out here

He addresses the fact that genetic modification (GM for short) research is focused on "Western cash crops," corn and soy, instead of crops that are truly relevant to global food security. Also addressed: seed saving, the expense of the GM seeds and the technology required to develop them, the politics involved, and other global and public concerns.

Solar stores

The Sunday NY Times published a great article about big retail chains installing solar panels on the roofs of their stores. Whether it's to help bring energy costs down or for the tax break, let's hope this renewable energy trend continues to grow momentum.

Right now, Kohl's has solar panels on 43 stores and plans to add them to an additional 85 in the coming months. Macy's currently has 18 installed and 40 on the way. Wal-Mart is tesing the technology in 17 stores. Safeway and Whole Foods are also supporting these energy-saving initiatives.

From Stephanie Rosenbloom for NY Times:
"If Wal-Mart eventually covered the roofs of all its Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart locations with solar panels, figures from the company show that the resulting solar acreage would roughly equal the size of Manhattan, an island of 23 square miles."

Check it out here

Read the entire article here

Organic versus Natural: What's the difference?

I spent a few minutes last night trying to explain the difference between produce labeled "certified organic," yogurt "made with organic ingredients," and a "natural" skin care product. I'm not an expert but I am a nerd so I did a little research (big surprise) and thought I should share my findings on the blog. So here goes:

Organic and Certified Organic
The term "organic" suggests that a botanical product was grown in an environment free of chemicals, fertilizer and pesticides. Chemical products are replaced by natural ones making the organic item bio-compatible with our bodies, more readily absorbed. The final product must be at least 95% organic in order for it to receive the Certified Organic stamp of approval. The Certified Organic label also assures that the producer passes regular inspections of their facilities, ingredients and practices as well as pays a fee for the certification. Some products will boast that they are "made with organic ingredients." This means that at least 70% of the material used is organic. The other 30% (or 5%) may or may not include additives and preservatives.

Now it gets complicated. Products labeled "natural" ensure that the final product is made solely from botanical resources without any use of additives or preservatives. We often see the term natural used in regards to meat and poultry. This means that the livestock was raised without the use of sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics, growth stimulants, etc. The USDA says:

"...the term 'natural' may be applied only to products that contain no artificial ingredients, coloring ingredients, or chemical preservatives; and the product and its ingredients are not more than minimally processed. Minimally processed products that do not contain these types of ingredients, such as fresh meat and poultry, will automatically qualify for the use of the term 'natural' on product labeling."

Bottom Line
Look for the certified organic seal of approval on produce and anything packaged. When it comes to meat, which it's my my understanding should be consumed sparingly, opt for natural or free range. For more information, look around on

(thnx Niko)

Friday, August 8, 2008

A seed grows in Punjab

The Green Revolution, while it produced incredible yeilds or grain and rice, depended on mono-cropping and replaced local varieties with what ever American agribusiness dictated. Production soared and so did pests. Run-off from pesticides and chemical fertilizers poisoned the water and soil in regions of India causing cancer rates to shoot sky high.

Mira Kamdar for Slate writes
"The farmers... realized they were caught in a vicious cycle requiring them to buy more fertilizer and more pesticides, to invest more money in getting water while they watched pests become even more voracious and their soil fertility decline. Seeds were also becoming more expensive. The farmers paid dearly for new hybrids that promised ever-greater yields. They paid even more for the new genetically engineered seeds whose very DNA was copyrighted, making it illegal for farmers to do what farmers have done since the dawn of agriculture: save seeds from one year to plant the next."

Dubbed "India's new nonviolent revolution," Punjabi farmers embracing natural farming techniques and attending Umendra Dutt's workshop are taking back land, health, and freedom. Kamdar writes about the workshop that educates farmers on natural and effective solutions to the two main hurdles in Punjab agriculture: water scarcity and pesticide poisoning. Keep your eye on this revolution folks.

Mira Kamdar for Slate writes:
"Punjab is a microcosm of the success and the failure of industrial agriculture in the developing world. There is no doubt that, with enough water and enough chemicals, privileging production above all else can boost yields dramatically. But the damage to the land and the people that make that production possible is profound. It is a model that is not sustainable, as a report published this spring by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, a joint effort of the World Bank and various U.N. agencies, so strongly argued. Ultimately, it will fail. It is failing now, just as the world is desperate to find a way to feed a growing population in a time of climate uncertainty and resource scarcity.

After my trip to Punjab, I came to believe that Umendra Dutt is right: Farmers who switch to natural farming techniques are engaging in a truly revolutionary act. Instead of Bhagat Singh's pistol, they are wielding plowshares, with no less profound consequences for the future of India than the shaking off of British imperialism decades ago. India's new nonviolent revolution, against incredible odds, is in agriculture. It bears watching."

Read more from Kamdar here

More love for beets

Martha Rose Shulman, of the NY Times, has published another yummy recipe for beets - this one with risotto. Mmmm....
View the recipe here

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Beets: Nutritional Powerhouses

I'm not usually one to jump on the nutritionism train, but I trust NY Times blogger Tara Parker-Pope and if she is posting about the benefits of beets (high in folate, manganese and potassium) I might just have to roast some up.

For some more information, check out Martha Rose Shulman's suggestions here for preparation and other helpful hints about "the new spinach."

(thnx Alissa)


With all this news about Los Angeles' fast food restaurant zoning, I can't help but think about the thin line between those with healthy eating habits and those with an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy: Orthorexics

*Orthorexia - From the greek "ortho" (right and correct) and "exia" (appetite) . American physician Steven Bratman first proposed the term in 1996 and while it is not yet an eating disorder recognized by DSM but, all of this according to Michael Pollan in In Defense of Food, an academic investigation is underway.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a big fan of the fast food industry (thanks to Fast Food Nation, among others), I'm just wondering if this is the best approach to help control the obesity epidemic or if the LA City Council members are a little high on protein and perfection.

Of course the bigger hope is, like in Concord, Massachusetts a few years back, that such restrictions will boost traffic and sales at local grocers, diminish truancy, decrease pollution and improve these communities but I guess, well, I can't help but picture Britney Spears chaining herself to the local Sonic (I know I know, "leave Britney alone"). What I am trying to say is, obesity is a symptom of a much larger problem: the industrialization of food gone wild. Another symptom on the opposite end of the spectrum: famine and starvation in other parts of the world.

Oh Lord... am I an orthorexic?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Eco-cred to Metropolitan Gallery

I am hoping to come up with a word for individuals who exhibit environmentally friendly practices in both their home and personal lives. David Wase, owner and president of Metropolitan Gallery (formerly Claren Court Studio) in nearby Arlington, VA is one of those people. David recently sent me the press release below and given my affinity for fine art and the careful preservation of it through fine framing, I couldn't be happier to read the news. Outside of work, Wase, his wife, Susan, and their two dogs (CJ and Teddy) grow all their own veggies. If you have driven around the Arlington area, you will know that this is no small feat: Land is hard to come by. The Wase's dedicate the majority of their front and back yard to vegetable, fruit, herb and native gardening. I love hearing about folks like this!

Framing and Planet Friendly Resource Use At Metropolitan Gallery in Arlington, VA:
We now have eco-friendly picture frames, made from renewable-resource bamboo. This is a significant development since its use can reduce the pressure on rain-forest environments and South American, Phillipine and other de-forestation susceptible locales. Providing low carbon impact, these frames are finished in natural stains; (they are NOT available in gold or silver or other metallics which require use ot toxic metals and environmentally-unfriendly chemicals in their finishes).

We are trying to source recycled mat board material also, but our primary concern is preservation and safety of all materials used in our framing. Currrently our matting material is made either from purified wood-pulp materials or cotton fiber which is annually renewable. To achieve maximum safety and preservation we have selected proprietary-technology Artcare products made by Nielsen-Bainbridge Corp, a leader in museum preservation technology.

Artcare provides matting and mounting products that are the next generation in museum-quality conservation. They are so advanced, they redefine the field. For the first time in history, conservation framing has moved from the passive protection of the past— which, simply, does no harm—to the active protection of the future: Artcare proactively traps and neutralizes pollutants and acid by-products that damage’ artwork. The patented technology is engineered into the very fibers of Artcare products, and offers a level of conservation for treasured artwork beyond any other mounting or matting product.

Metropolitan Gallery/Claren Court Studio
Arlington, VA

Eric Jacobsen (Did I mention Metro sells awesome original oils?)

Eat Well

Last weekend, my sister and I were talking about the phenomenon of convenience - how we, as American consumers, are willing to pay extra for prepared or processed foods - because for many of us, that convenience has become the norm and the other huge piece is: it seems to be the most affordable way to eat. (The conversation came about as I was spouting out facts I've learned from the first few chapters of Paul Roberts, "The End of Food." )

So what's the solution? Is there a convenient way to eat local and organic produce and meat? Well, when I talked to the extraordinarily eco-conscious Eli Halliwell, CEO of Jurilique - a cosmetic company using only natural ingredients grown on a biodynamic farm in Australia, he gave me some suggestions and insight into Coops, Farmers Markets and most of all: Sustainability. I did a little research and it turns out there is a pretty convenient way to locate and endorse an eco-friendly farm near you. It's as easy as... typing in your zip below:

A little bit about me...

...and why I am blogging.

I'm interested in everything and I find that the best way to learn is to research and study a subject so much that you are comfortable writing about it, and therefore teaching it to others. Right now, I'd say I'm just getting started. Here are some links to writing I've done so far:,0,2813784.story

I guess I'm not surprised...

As some/most of you know, I have become increasingly interested in "agri-business," and how the industrialization of food has affected what, how, when, where and why we eat. The chart below, from yesterday's NY Times, compares the average food intake in 1970 versus 2006. I was surprised to see the red meat consumption has declined a quarter of a percentage. Perhaps the most startling increase however, is the fats. Wowzers.