Friday, October 31, 2008

Trick or Trivia

In 1985, the candy industry actually lobbied to to move the end of Daylight Saving Time into early November - after Halloween. They hoped that the longer days would increase the time spent trick-or-treating and boost candy sales. The National Confectioners Association reportedly "pleaded with U.S. senators and, according to some reports, left pumpkins full of candy on their chairs." In 2007, more than twenty years later, the candy makers' wish was granted and Congress extended Daylight Saving Time to November. This year, it's November 2nd.

This is not a trick. I learned (okay okay... stole) this fun fact from the Nov-Dec issue of Mental Floss. Pretty interesting, huh?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Best and worst Halloween candy

MSN posted this info from Keri Glassman, author of The Snack Factor Diet, identifying the healthiest and least healthy candy as follows:

BEST CANDY CHOICES (from lowest calorie count): One stick of Trident gum, Reese's Mini Cup, Three Kit Kat Bites, Miniature Mr. Goodbar, Snack-Size Raisins, Hershey's Milk Chocolate Miniature, Three Jolly Ranchers, Small Tootsie Roll, Miniature York Peppermint Patties, Charms Blow Pop

WORST CANDY CHOICES: Fun size Snickers, Fun size Milky Way, Fun size Kit Kat, Fun size Skittles Original Fruit, Ten Wild n' Fruity Gummy Bears, Fun size Butterfinger, Fun size M&M's Plain, Fun size M&M's Peanut, and the worst... Snack Size Twizzler Twists

Considering my true love for Peanut M&M's, I haven't got much to say about this. Get the full calorie counts here.

And if you are interested in the environmental impact of the holiday (and some major guilt for loving candy rich in HFCS), check out Slate's Green Lantern post here.

(thnx Bec)

It was only a matter of time

Another cancer fighting cocktail. Computer World reports that researchers at Rice University are genetically engineering a beer that, with the addition of resveratrol, will have "higher and more consistent concentrations of the cancer-fighting chemical" than red wine. Read all about it here.

So resveratrol is naturally a part of grapes, red wine and pomegranates yet they are putting the chemical into beer? When does it become a chemical? Mmm... yummy hoppy chemical? A researcher quoted in the article said, "In general, the addition of the resveratrol shouldn't affect the taste of the beer, since the chemical is odorless and tasteless." Hmm...

Anywho, back in June, scientists at the University of Wisconsin called resveratrol "a key reason for the so-called French Paradox- the observation that French people have lower rates of heart disease despite a cuisine known for its cream sauces and decadent cheeses, all loaded with heart-clogging saturated fats." Something tells me that American eating and drinking habits may vary from the French a tad bit more than that one little compound. And... well... suggesting that popping open a cold one will deliver more resveratrol, more consistently than it's natural source just doesn't seem like great advice.

(thnx Troy)

decisions decisions...

As my sister enters her third trimester, the pressure to decide on the perfect "home from the hospital" outfit is on. (My big sis picked out the outfit that our parents brought me home in so in so facto...)

Becky 2.0 is due to arrive mid-January. I've already picked up some warm outerwear but have yet to find the perfect hat, onesie, footsie PJs, socks, gloves, thermal unders, or anything else she may need that meet all the criteria: adorable, cozy, easy on/off, soft, small, not one of those silly star-shaped things, and organic. Don't get me wrong, I haven't heard about any toxic baby clothes - I just want to be sure nothing irritates her little baby skin and this very important trip home - the little noodle needs the safest of the safe EVERYTHING.

So I have spent a good chunk of time surfing the web for baby "apparel." I considered something quirky from baby wit but ultimately decided to wait until Becky 2.0 is at least three months old before I start lobbying for eco-advertising space on her belly. Not to mention, a lot of baby wit's great stuff (like this hat) is out of stock. That means PUR BEBE naturally trendy and Nimli rank highest with me. I love the concept behind Swell Foop and a few designs on eco-chic baby but their selections are limited. What I am saying is... I may to take a vote... or some suggestions. Here are my top picks so far:

ABOVE: simple 100% organic onesie; 70% bamboo/30% cotton onesies; and 100% cotton hand knit hat and booties; all from Pur Bebe. BELOW: 100% bamboo pamplemosses onesie: and bossy baby floral heart romper and hat; all from Nimli.

And lastly, my absolute favorites below: OBLI Organics Elephants from Nimli; and 100% certified organic footie sleeper and organic beanie in Back to Nature - both from naturally trendy.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

And speaking of kidney stones...

...the NY Times also reports that A Rise in Kidney Stones Is Seen in U.S. Children. From the article:

To the great surprise of parents, kidney stones, once considered a disorder of middle age, are now showing up in children as young as 5 or 6.

The increase in the United States is attributed to a host of factors, including a food additive that is both legal and ubiquitous: salt.

“What we’ve really seen is an increase in the salt load in children’s diet,” said Dr. Bruce L. Slaughenhoupt, co-director of pediatric urology and of the pediatric kidney stone clinic at the University of Wisconsin. He and other experts mentioned not just salty chips and French fries, but also processed foods like sandwich meats; canned soups; packaged meals; and even sports drinks like Gatorade, which are so popular among schoolchildren they are now sold in child-friendly juice boxes.

Imagine that...

The NY Times reports More Tainted Eggs From China Found

High levels of the industrial chemical, Melanine, which was recently involved with the milk scandal that caused four infant deaths and ailments like kidney stones, has been found in the eggs. The government blamed the dairy scandal on scam artists who were intentionally adding melamine to milk as cheap filler in order to save money because it is known to give feed and food an artificially high protein reading.

However United Nations Food and Agriculture official, Zhang Zhongjun, said that he was told the source of the contamination is still unclear and could be from melamine-tainted animal feed. Zhang told the NY Times reporter, "It’s not clear where the problem is from. It’s not clear whether the melamine was added by humans or by pollution.”

A human or pollution problem in China's agriculture industry?!? You're kidding...

Light pollution

Something tells me I am going to take a lot of heat at the next dinner party for posting about this but I can't help it... I am concerned about light pollution.

This months print edition of Nat Geo discusses how nighttime artificial light distorts biological rhythms, disorienting humans and animals and disrupting natural patterns that have evolved without the hazy glow surrounding cities and the bright outdoor lights in our neighborhoods. Here is an excerpt from one of his posts, Ecological Light Pollution:

Humans have been aggressively lighting up the night for just over a hundred years, and though scientists have spent only a fraction of that time exploring the impact of the unintended peripheral glow on the natural world, observational and experimental data show that it affects how animals move about, communicate, find food, and even select mates. The most famous example is newly hatched sea turtles that become disoriented by the light from brightly illuminated beach communities and have difficulty finding the ocean. But behavioral changes have been documented in a wide range of species, including birds, mammals, insects, reptiles, and amphibians. Not all species respond to light in the same way. Many nocturnally migrating birds are drawn to the source and can wind up circling round and round lighted towers, often colliding with other birds or dropping from exhaustion. Some animals, such as mountain lions, avoid lighted areas at night; other species are able to exploit such areas—foraging longer or targeting prey that congregate near lights, as some bat species do. But the increase in foraging hours can have its downside, putting animals on the prowl at risk for predation. The overall effect on complex ecological relationships is not yet fully understood. There's also evidence that our grand transformation of the night might have serious implications for our own health. The contrast between dark and light allows our bodies to calibrate our circadian rhythms, such as hormone levels and sleep schedules. Disrupting these can have a dramatic impact. Researchers think this phenomenon may help explain higher breast cancer rates in societies with brighter nights. Studies on shift workers exposed to nearly constant light during the night hours reveal a higher risk for the disease, perhaps because of altered levels of melatonin. Other research shows that blind women have a lower occurrence of breast cancer. One study that looked at a general population also found a correlation between neighborhood nighttime light levels and breast cancer incidence.

Since reading Scriber's article, I can't stop hoping to see a truly starry night - but unfortunately live in between the sky glow from Washington DC, Baltimore, and Annapolis. He talks about what we used to (or should) be able to see as far as planets and constellations... it's upsetting. I am even thinking about going to the next (rather unbearable) homeowners association meeting to talk about replacing the enormous glowing street lamps in our 'hood with a model that reduces glare and focuses light downward.

The entire article is currently only available in print and online to subscribers, but I recommend picking it up or at least reading the article abstract and some posts by the author here.

Does this mean I am officially an adult?

After sending this someecard to a childhood partner-in-crime, I got to thinking, ignorance really is bliss. I mean, it is totally damaging and detrimental to our poor planet, but in a small way I envy those who can go through a drive-thru without a hint of feedlot remorse, or get everything they feel they need from Wal-Mart at a super-low cost, with an unnatural shelf life, and without that guilty "ugh I am supporting this corporation" pang I feel after taking advantage of their inexpensive bulk packs of toilet paper. At least I am no longer sneaking out and hurling it over trees.

For more awesome ecards like this one visit

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Apparently someone, namely J&D, thought it was too tedious to put bacon as well as mayonnaise (both clearly mandatory) on their sandwiches so viola: Baconnaise! Ugh.

"Baconnaise: The ultimate bacon-flavored spread. Use it on sandwiches, salads, dips, sauces, chicken, fish and fries. Vegetarian safe!"

The comments on the site are the best:

"How did I eat burgers without this!?!" -Jessica M.

"Why would you have fries if you could have bacon fries?" - Chuck H.

"I' would eat that with a spoon." -Steven K.

"I don't dine on swine, but wow, that's really good." -Marcia R.

Like Marcia, I don't dine on swine so I guess I should be thanking my lucky stars that Baconnaise is "vegetarian safe." And did I mention there is a "lite" version? I think I am going to lose my breakfast... For kicks, check out all the bacon merchandise here.


Had some incredible Rockfish last night at my sister's. Seasoned with dill, chives and lemongrass (and maybe a little butter). My bro-in-law caught them, and some Bluefish, along the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay and wowzers - we enjoyed them!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Not too shabby, sheep

Back in September we talked about these awesome goats being used as a new form of weed control by a forward-thinking developer out in California. Yesterday the NY Times reported about the growing popularity of sheep grazing industry as "a low-cost, nontoxic tool in the battle to control leafy spurge, knapweed, dalmatian toadflax and other invasive weed species."

As far as I can see, it's environmentally friendly solution that really diminishes the alternative: harmful chemicals - which I think is the point. Experts however, are a little fuzzy on the "effectiveness" and concerned about the sheep worsening the problem by picking up the invasive weeds in their wool and spreading them to new areas.

Read the article here.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Can you have your cheap cake and eat it too?

The NY Times has been covering Walmart's recent announcement at the company's first "sustainability summit" requiring that the manufacturers supplying goods for their stores "adhere to stricter ethical and environmental standards" come January. From NY Times' Stephanie Rosenbloom:

The changes signal a move on the part of Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, away from intermittent transactions with many suppliers toward longer-term arrangements with a smaller group of manufacturers. Wal-Mart is betting that using its buying power this way can help keep prices low even as it keeps a closer eye on its suppliers.

To ensure suppliers are making changes, Wal-Mart said it would require three levels of audits: from the vendors themselves, from an outside party and from Wal-Mart, which will initiate more of its own random, unannounced audits.

Wal-Mart said the audits would assess factory working conditions as well as compliance by manufacturers with standards regarding air pollution, wastewater discharge, management of toxic substances and disposal of hazardous waste.

Read the entire article here or read further through the DotEarth blog here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Pollan on NPR

In a recent NY Times Magazine article, Farmer-in-Chief, Michael Pollan addressed the candidates regarding the close ties between major political topics and food policy - a topic upon which Pollan has written a number of books and essays.

Pollan recently appeared on NPR's Fresh Air. Audio of interview can be found here. (thnx Jonathan)

And NYT's Tara-Parker Pope blogged about Pollan and his concerns this morning. An excerpt from her post:

Mr. Pollan notes that food is a bipartisan issue, and that both parties have dismal track records on agricultural policy. Food, he argues, is the ultimate “solar” product, but the current food system, with its focus on the monocultures of soy, wheat and corn, is heavily dependent on natural gas and oil to make fertilizers and pesticides as well as to import and transport food.

One of Mr. Pollan’s concerns is that national policies subsidize the least healthful calories that we eat. He notes that the “building blocks” of fast food are soy and corn, used to make hydrogenated soy oil, the protein and starch in cattle and chicken feed, and high-fructose corn syrup used in sodas and sweets.


Locasexual. That's right. A concept and term so hip and so green that the Urban Dictionary hasn't even defined it yet. In Barron YoungSmith's latest article in Slate, Date Local: The case against long-distance relationships, he makes an interesting observation about and those folks on the green scene in long distance relationships whose romantic travels can be emitting a lot more greenhouse gas than the average American.

Through a series of calculations about San Fransisco to DC love, NYC to DC love, and all the single people over the age of 17 who may be in long distance relationships, YoungSmith sort of backs up his statement that, for the first example, "...breaking up would be about 10 times better for the environment than going vegetarian."

It's a fun and clever article that, I assume, is intended to poke fun at the local food movement. From the article:

"Date Local's message is a simple one, in the best traditions of liberal reform. All you have to do is date here. Date now. Date sustainably. And if you absolutely have to date long-distance, do it via Amtrak."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Orson Scott Card addresses daily newspapers

I truly do try to avoid getting too deep into politics on the blog but with the election so near, it is hard to keep myself from sharing something like this. Science Fiction and Political writer, Orson Scott Card, writes an open letter addressed to the local daily newspapers criticising their coverage of the current financial crisis. Basically, he pins the financial crisis on the Democrats and points out how scandalous certain occurrences would be considered had they involved McCain. What makes the piece even more important, at least to me, is that Card is a Democrat and newspaper columnist himself. Absolutely a must read.

Would the Last Honest Reporter Please Turn On the Lights? By Orson Scott Card

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Excited about this new food science book...

Jennifer Huget's article from the Washington Post reviewing "The Science of Good Food," a new book by cookbook author David Joachim and co-author Andrew Schloss, has convinced me that I need to read and own it. Usually I am not too interested in the whole "nutritionism" push but I do love science writing and was recently captivated by a television special on Parisian food that highlighted a chef who works closely with a scientist to create unique taste and texture sensations in food so... it is definitely on my Christmas list.

About the book - from the Post article:
"Joachim's goal in this new tome (subtitled 'The ultimate reference on how cooking works') is to translate food science into lay terms, making it easily accessible to both the home cook and the professional chef. The result is an A-Z encyclopedia, obsessively cross-referenced and indexed, and so rich in dietary detail and fun facts that -- at 624 pages and more than three pounds -- it's addictive."

"Each major topic, from acid to wine, is broken down into three sections: "What It Is," "What It Does," and "How It Works.""

"There are charts ("Common Nuts," featuring uses and nutrition data for more than a dozen varieties), graphs ("Flavor Profile for Strawberry Shortcake") and informative illustrations ("Anatomy of Citrus"). All are peppered with "fast facts" ("The florets of broccoli have about 35 percent more beta carotene than the stalks, and frozen broccoli has about 75 percent of the calcium of fresh broccoli."). Then there are the "science wise" tidbits and scraps of "kitchen wisdom": "When fully cooked, the meat of young poultry may appear red at the bone. The discoloration occurs because hemoglobin seeps from bone marrow through their young, porous bones." I never knew that. And Joachim tops it off with more than 100 recipes drawing on knowledge imparted in the book."

"A section explaining how grilling meat can create potentially carcinogenic compounds called PAHs -- polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons -- is neatly paired with ideas for keeping PAHS from forming: Marinate your meat before cooking, keep it away from high flames, and cut away excess fat before grilling."

Energy-Efficiency Good for Economy

A study conducted at the Center for Energy, Resources and Economic Sustainability at the University of California, Berkeley by economist David Roland-Holst found that:

"...while the state’s policies lowered employee compensation in the electric power industry by an estimated $1.6 billion over that period, it improved compensation in the state over all by $44.6 billion."


"California's energy-efficiency policies created nearly 1.5 million jobs from 1977 to 2007, while eliminating fewer than 25,000, according to a study to be released Monday."

Read more here.

eco-ego booster

Just heard some fun news via the Treehugger newsletter. German automotive company, Ruf Automobile GmbH, is making an electric version of the Porsche 911 called the eRUF Model A. I have to admit that I am pretty green (green as in novice or lacking expertise rather than how I typically use the term) when it comes to vehicles and their carbon tire tracks, so from the article:

"Under the hood, a 150kW (201hp) brushless three phase A/C electric motor that can generate an impressive 480 lb.-ft. of torque and a lithium-ion iron-phosphate battery pack made of 96 160Ah Axeon cells and a sophisticated monitoring system to make sure it doesn't overheat."

Read all about it and check out images here on treehugger.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Another reason to drink tap water - not bottled

Short editorial from the NY Times reminding us that "until bottled water companies are required to release pertinent information about what’s in their water, consumers shouldn’t waste their money."

Basically, some bottled water may be as pure as promised but unregulated by the federal government, it is hard to tell which is which. On the other hand, public water supplies are regulated by the federal government.


Livin' off the land

About a month ago I posted this article hailing hunters as the original locavores and in the following weeks the topic has came up in a few dinner conversations (mainly those that took place among taxidermy ducks). Just recently, I've come across this article in Slate discussing Sarah Palin's hunting habits not as Cheney's "canned hunts on private game reserves," but as a nod to self-reliant, traditional, living-off-the-land locavorism and what that may mean to folks against animal cruelty (think feed lots and CNN videos), voters, and sustainability.

It's an interesting read - especially if you don't know a whole lot about hunting - so definitely check it out.

Illustration by Rob Donnelly for Slate.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Now this is just getting silly...

When I logged on to facebook this morning I was greeted by an ad (carefully disguised as a friend's status update) for something called Smucker's Uncrustables Sandwiches. Oh. My. God. This is worse than the go-gurts and that pre-mixed peanut butter and jelly goop. And the pitch is pricelessly absurd:

In case the text is too small, it says: "Simple Pleasures... Made Even Simpler. We sealed the goodness of a Smucker's PB&J sandwich inside soft bread and removed the crust. All you do is thaw and serve - A simple way to enjoy one of life's simple pleasures. Found in the frozen section at your local store."

And other fun details you probably can't see in the image: The grilled cheese is "pre-toasted" and only requires 35-60 seconds in your microwave -or- 10-15 minutes on a baking sheet in a conventional/toaster oven preheated to 350F and then 1-2 minutes to cool. As for the ready-to-eat Peanut Butter selections, keep frozen until ready to eat. Thaw 30-60 minutes at room temperature. So actually keep frozen until 30-60 minutes before you are ready to eat. Then, for best flavor, be sure and eat within 8-10 hours of defrosting.

Flavors? Is that really the best term? Not just a frozen version of what is possibly the simplest sandwich to make, but a grilled cheese flavored one. Almost as funny as the PB & Honey on Wheat, you know, for the health conscious folks. Good grief. This is wrong on so many levels...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

thirty six to one half a bushel the other...

The Baltimore Sun's Timothy B. Wheeler reports on the "perilously low population of blue crabs" in the Chesapeake Bay (article found here) and how government regulations are affecting local watermen. State officials have decreed that female crabs may not be caught after October 22nd. Mark Somers, featured in the article, is one of many facing hardships in order to protect the population.

From the article:

...Annual surveys have indicated the bay's crab population has been depressed for years and was in jeopardy of declining even more. So Maryland and Virginia agreed to reduce the harvest of female crabs by one-third. To rebuild the stock, officials said, it was necessary to curtail the catching of females so more of them could survive to bear their young."We're not in the business of putting watermen out of business," says Frank Dawson, an assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. "We're about providing a sustainable stock for a sustainable [seafood] industry." But sometimes, he says, "you don't do that without pain."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Good news?

This article in Nature reports some interesting findings from a recent study by Alexandra Klein at the University of California, Berkeley, regarding pollinator declines. The report shows that agriculture is not affected by the shrinking population of bees and key insects.

The article goes on to say that some think that the pollinator crisis is overplayed. Other data shows mixed responses and the author of the article, Anna Petherick, reminds that:

"Klein says her findings do not necessarily negate that idea that the world is in the throes of a pollination crisis. The data might hide how farmers have adapted to the problem, she suggests. For example, in almond pollination, many growers move honeybees into their orchards and use pheromones to stimulate foraging activity, she says. Some even place compatible pollen in the bees' hives so that they transport it to the desired variety of almond. And many passion-fruit growers in Brazil now pollinate crops by hand."
(photo from Nature: Punchstock)

The new fad: Flexitarianism

In case you haven't heard the term before, a "flexitarian" is essentially a casual vegetarian. An almost vegetarian. Someone who generally abstains from meat but may have a burger at a friend's barbecue or enjoy their grandmother's pot roast. Some advocates are environmentally motivated. Some are motivated by the growing number of studies revealing the health benefits of reducing red meat intake. And some have simply grown fond of the growing variety of vegetarian dishes available nowadays.

The concept/practice is catching the attention of many with the recent release of Dawn Jackson Blatner's, "The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life."

I wish it were being approached as more of a lifestyle change, or diet change, than as a diet but if that's what it takes to open peoples' ears than it's fine by me. Read more about flexitarianism here, here and here.

Green House

Great article from The Baltimore Sun with five tips to green your home. Each offers three suggestions, like Green, Greener, Greenest.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

M'm Hmmm...

Recently, Campbell's put an enormous (and expensive) ad in the NY Times (above). Today, a similar one appeared in The Baltimore Sun - announcing 124 MSG-free soups and continuing their attack ad campaign against Progressive. It certainly got my attention... and possibly that of undecided swing voters! I guess it's that time of year. Good grief.

The smaller text below the cans says:

For over 100 years Campbell's has led the way, creating soups with more of the stuff you want - like farm grown vegetables - and less of the stuff you don't - like MSG. Thirty-eight of our condensed soups have no MAG. New kids varieties are on their way to stores now, with no MSG and healthy sodium levels. Our Healthy Request soups have been free of MSG since we introduced them over two decades ago. Our Select Harvest soups are not only MSG free, but set a new standard for ingredients that you can understand. So while nearly two-thirds of Progresso soups contain MSG, the majority of our soups do not, and we're introducing more all the time. Enjoy!

Read more about the campaign err... competition in this article from Brandweek.

(thnx Holly)


How did I miss this?!?! Progresso's rebuttal (also in The Sun today - A section actually):

The copy reads: Campbell's has over 90 soups made with MSG. Progresso has 26 soups with no MSG. And more to come. We are removing MSG from all of our delicious soups. And don't worry, we promise to keep the same great taste you've always loved.

fall photos

Since my posts have been rather text-heavy lately I thought I would share these stunning pictures that my sister-in-law, J. Shearin Overton-Dramby, snapped recently in North Carolina.

(thnx Shearin)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Must Read Michael Pollan

Can't even begin to express how grateful I am for Michael Pollan and essays/articles like this one that appeared in last week's NY Times magazine. Pollan's letter to the President-Elect focuses on the major issue underlying health care, energy Independence and climate change: the food issue.

Any attempts I would make to paraphrase Pollan's article won't do his points justice - so I urge you to read the article. I can attempt to summarize by saying: Pollan examines the past, present and possible future food system as well as the political relationship between food and just about every other sector of our world in such as way as to remind us that food is the core of our existence and well-being. It is essentially a condensed version of his latest book but with a stronger and bigger message regarding what to do next. In Defense of Food educated and empowered the individual. This piece picks up where the book left off and addresses the system from the top down by way of some brilliant, if a *tad ambitious, proposals:

I. Resolarizing the American Farm
II. Reregionalizing the Food System
III. Rebuilding America’s Food Culture

A few excerpts from the article:

"...Which brings me to the deeper reason you will need not simply to address food prices but to make the reform of the entire food system one of the highest priorities of your administration: unless you do, you will not be able to make significant progress on the health care crisis, energy independence or climate change. Unlike food, these are issues you did campaign on — but as you try to address them you will quickly discover that the way we currently grow, process and eat food in America goes to the heart of all three problems and will have to change if we hope to solve them..."

"We need to wean the American food system off its heavy 20th-century diet of fossil fuel and put it back on a diet of contemporary sunshine."

"First, your administration’s food policy must strive to provide a healthful diet for all our people; this means focusing on the quality and diversity (and not merely the quantity) of the calories that American agriculture produces and American eaters consume. Second, your policies should aim to improve the resilience, safety and security of our food supply. Among other things, this means promoting regional food economies both in America and around the world. And lastly, your policies need to reconceive agriculture as part of the solution to environmental problems like climate change."

"Today most federal messages about food, from nutrition labeling to the food pyramid, are negotiated with the food industry. The surgeon general should take over from the Department of Agriculture the job of communicating with Americans about their diet. That way we might begin to construct a less equivocal and more effective public-health message about nutrition. Indeed, there is no reason that public-health campaigns about the dangers of obesity and Type 2 diabetes shouldn’t be as tough and as effective as public-health campaigns about the dangers of smoking. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that one in three American children born in 2000 will develop Type 2 diabetes. The public needs to know and see precisely what that sentence means: blindness; amputation; early death. All of which can be avoided by a change in diet and lifestyle. A public-health crisis of this magnitude calls for a blunt public-health message, even at the expense of offending the food industry. Judging by the success of recent antismoking campaigns, the savings to the health care system could be substantial."

*tad ambitious = Pollan's suggestion to "tear out five prime south-facing acres of the White House lawn and plant in their place an organic fruit and vegetable garden."

set your DVR

Hope I am not too late to suggest that everyone DVR Oprah today. I got a text early this morning from a reader letting me know that the focus of the show is: Where does your food come from? Not sure if they will only be looking into the meat matter or whether the show will cover the full range of environmental issues but either way I definitely suggest setting the DVR.

Check your local listings:

Lisa Ling Reports: How We Treat the Animals We Eat
Have you ever wondered what "cage-free" or "range-free" really means? Lisa Ling gets a rare look inside some of America's farms. Where does our food come from? (OAD 10/14/2008) (PG)

(thnx Alissa)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Nukes contd.

I know I said the blog would focus on recycling this week, but with the upcoming election and so much focus on nuclear power last week, I feel that it is my duty to at least post this link to an article in the NY times that examines both candidates' approach (that I meant to link to last week).

sorting and washing

According to the Anne Arundel Waste Management Services Recycling Division, it is not necessary to sort recycling. Papers, cans, bottles and jars can all be placed in the same container for collection. They don't need to be rinsed or cleaned and you can include lids, caps and labels.

Just saying.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Nothing we throw away could really be recycled anyway..."

The title of this post is taken from dinner conversation last night. Other things that were said:

"What?!? You do to have to sort it?!?! No way..."
"Yeah, but you have to wash everything out..."
"There's all these restrictions like, you can't put glossy paper..."
"I read somewhere that the recycling process is actually worse for the planet, with the trucks and the factories, than just throwing it away"

And one from me, "Oy vey. I know what I need to blog about tomorrow!"

In fact, I intend to take it a step further and dedicate this week's posts to debunking some of the silly myths that are circulating about recycling. For today, I'll specifically address the first objection, the title of this post, with some help from the Waste Management Services Recycling Division of Anne Arundel County, MD. Here goes:

What is recyclable curbside? It may be easier to answer what isn't, but here goes:

RECYCLABLE PAPER ITEMS INCLUDE (but are not limited to): cardboard; packaging; empty paper towel and toilet tissue holders; shoe and toy boxes; frozen food, cereal and pizza boxes; six pack holders; hard and soft cover books; magazines; catalogs; that phone book you never use; paper - colored or not; gift wrap; tissue paper; envelopes; file folders...

METAL, PLASTICS, GLASS: tin, steel, and aluminum cans; empty aerosol cans; pet food cans; plastic jugs and bottles like milk, laundry detergent, peanut butter and yogurt; glass beer and wine bottles, sauce jars...

YARD WASTE: leaves, grass, brush, branches, Christmas trees, hay, straw, garden clippings, twigs... pretty much all of it.

So, if you were thinking, "What do we really throw away that could be recycled?" I hope this short list has addressed that thought.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

(Successful) Nuke Poll

As much as I'd like to report some results from my poll about nuclear power, it appears to have only gathered three votes so.... lucky for us the TierneyLab has posted some interesting findings from a new Harris Poll. It appears that age, i.e. whether or not you are old enough to recall Three Mile Island without the use of Wikipedia, does not play the "China Syndrome" role you might expect. Check it out:

From the TeirneyLab: "The level of support increased with the age of respondents - just as it happens to increase with the age of the presidential candidates this year. The only group in the poll that opposes new plants, by a margin of 38 to 35 percent, consisted of people aged 18 to 31." Read the entire post here.

Hard Path supporters in Columbia, MD

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Chemical warfare in the kitchen

Maybe you already know why chopping onions brings tears to our eyes, but I certainly didn't, and neither did The Washington Post's Andreas Viestad, until he wrote (and I read) this article. Here's a summary:

The lachrymatory, or tear inducing, chemical responsible is characterized as propanethial S-oxide, which is a light and volatile chemical that is also water-soluble. So yes, you could assume that chopping the onion under water solves the problem but not only is that dangerous, it dulls the flavor.

The solution(s):

Cool the onion in ice water before chopping. It slows down the speed of the lachrymator (tear inducer) and reduces its volatility.

Use a sharp knife. Onions are made up of cells. Think middle school chemistry class. The lachrymatory chemical is released only when those cells are ruptured are the compounds released into the air in a significant quantity. A dull knife will bruise and fracture a more cells than a sharp, precise one.

Use Andreas Viestad's technique: "I go for a moderated application of the principle: chopping onions next to running water, on a wet cutting board. With so much water around, much less of the offensive substance reaches my eyes."

Top priorities for top priority: energy

Great representation from the NY Times showing seven steps industry and governments could take to help cut heat-trapping emissions in the next 50 years. 880 is a big number - but not as big as 14 billion.

More from NY Times dotearth here


Check out the NY Times review, Between Covers: An Anticancer Infomercial, of David Servan-Schreiber’s book, “Anticancer: A New Way of Life.” From this review alone, I'm not sure how I feel about reading the book. Skeptical might be a good adjective. I am interested in it from the standpoint that I agree with the basic theory: what we put in, around, and on our bodies plays a major role in terms of the risk of developing cancer and the likelihood of fighting it off. But there's something about the phrase "A New Way of Life" that makes me think L. Ron Hubbard... or South Beach Diet. Ugh.

On the other hand, I have not come face to face with cancer and after reading this excerpt I am inclined to believe that the book surpasses a typical best-selling-how-to and will, at the very least, encourage the optimism cancer patients need to possess in order to win their battle.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Four-legged weapons of mass destruction?

Interesting article from the Guardian. It's about a new report from the Food Climate Research Network - with findings rather in line with the recent Ecologist Magazine's investigation - about greenhouse gas emissions from livestock and how emissions from farms, transport, manufacturing and retail could be cut. The headline urges a return to "old fashioned cooking" and rationing meat to four portions a week (in the UK but obviously this is a global issue) and the body of the article offers statistics that could lead you to take that advice or reject it.

Gardening Calendar

Have I mentioned how much I love the Washington Post's interactive monthly gardening calendar? Linked you to it? In case I haven't, check it out here.

Terrestrial Energy

As previously predicted right here on this blog, nuclear power may be making a rebound and becoming, to the surprise of many, the greener solution. John Tierney talks about the politics of the soft path versus the hard path towards the future of energy here and follows up on the TierneyLab here.

To summarize, the soft path is energy conservation and power from the sun, wind and plants. These are the technologies that Obama supports. The hard path, on the other hand, is about building nuclear power plants, something McCain is more enthusiastic about. This debate was big in the 70s and melted away after the partial meltdown of the reactor at Three Mile Island and the soft path was taken by most. Fast forward to today. About 20% of America's electricity is generated by nuclear power. Furthermore, from the article:

Nuclear power also costs less, according to Gilbert Metcalf, an economist at Tufts University. After estimating the costs and factoring out the hefty tax breaks for different forms of low-carbon energy, he estimates that new nuclear plants could produce electricity more cheaply than windmills, solar power or “clean coal” plants.

Supporters, like William Tucker, are saying that just as they have come around to understand and address Al Gore's views on the dangers of global warming, environmentalists need to come around, stop thinking atomic bombs and start associating nuclear plants with natural radioactive processes in the earth. The hope and proposal to re-frame views of nuclear power comes from a new book by Tucker called, "Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Power Will Lead the Green Revolution and End America's Energy Odyssey." Learn more about the book here.

And my father didn't want to share his lecture notes on the topic from the 70s with me for fear of Green Peace protests in his front yard...

Garbage vs Garbage Disposal

As always, Slate's Green Lantern offers an insightful and educational answer to the question: What's better for the environment - putting leftover food in the garbage disposal or throwing it in the garbage i.e. a landfill?

The answer isn't as simple as you may think. First off, my two cents is: try making more reasonable portions. Have you ever made dinner or had a party and said, "Gee, we should have had more food... I am starving! we are fresh out of everything!" I haven't. I'll tell you what I do hear all the time (and admit it, so do you), "Please take some of this home... we have so much food here... do you think [insert name of person who did not attend but lives with you] would like some leftover [cake, pasta salad, etc]."

Anywho, the Green Lantern addresses water filtration, contamination, and effects on aquatic life concluding that fatty and greasy foods are the most problematic if put through the in-sink-erator. However, that doesn't mean everything else we put in there is harmless. From the article:

Still, dumping waste into the water system has environmental costs. There is evidence that the effluent that is pumped back into local water streams does affect their chemical composition and aquatic life. In extreme cases, the result can be something called eutrophication, which occurs when a higher concentration of nutrients results in algae blooms...You'll also be using a lot more water if you decide to go with the disposal—and you'll be indirectly responsible for the extraction of the metal needed to make the appliance.

As far as using the garbage can:

On the other hand, it takes a considerable amount of energy to truck all that garbage from your curb to a landfill... The decomposition of your trash in the landfill will likely result in more damaging greenhouse gas emissions, since the breakdown of your food waste may produce methane so quickly that it can't be captured. By contrast, some wastewater-treatment systems are actually looking for more food solids, since that will make the process of converting waste into energy more efficient. And wastewater-treatment plants also provide a way to reuse leftover food as fertilizer—although critics have expressed concerns that the use of biosolids on land land may not always be safe.

In the end, the GL reminds that studies can be biased based on who is funding them, composting is always the best bet and if that isn't an option, the garbage disposal is the better than the garbage can as long as your community is not low on water and, as mentioned before, the food isn't too fatty/greasy.

Read the GL's entire response here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

It's an insect pic nonetheless

As tempting as it is to share the stick-bugs-making-babies photo I captured (somewhat by accident) this afternoon, I think it may be in poor taste so here is a spunky young praying mantis from a few evenings ago. I first spotted it perching on the tip of the patio umbrella at sundown, creating the perfect silhouette, but by the time I got back out with the camera it had made it to the highest point on our holly shrub/tree.

I promise to get back to educational posts tomorrow, folks. Or maybe even later tonight. Thanks for bearing with me.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Oh Deer!

While walking home from the gym this morning, admittedly distracted with a text message, I heard a rustling in the woods to my right. I looked up and was pleasantly surprised to be face to face with a deer and her deerlet (I know this isn't the proper term but I like it). Without much thought, I discarded the text message I had been working on and snapped a few pics. We all hung around for a few minutes before the noise of a car scared the pair off. Am I lucky, or what?

I should also mention that I said, "Why helllloooo!" to the deer as if she would respond and was pleased to see her eye contact remained intact as her ears twitched acknowledging my communication. I can't get over how fearless these deer were. We were standing there no more than six feet apart. Maybe they recognized my scent from the Hosta and Sunflower salad bar in my yard that they frequent.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A few short notes on gardening and climate change...

Insightful post from the Economist's Green.view about how horticulture is changing not only because many gardeners are growing ever more green-minded, but largely because of climate change. The post raises a few familiar points about topics like water conservation and growing from seed instead of purchasing annuals, alongside researched and thoughtful observations about changes in different regions. Check it out here.

Spider Season

Baltimore Sun columnist, Susan Reimer, weaves some familiar fall images into her piece about spider identification and web run-ins as she explains which spiders we may be seeing more of and why. Enjoy the article here.

Just saying... I have spotted and dodged the enormous webs of at least a dozen spiders around our house and done so with a mix of fascination and the hee-bee-gee-bees. When they are on dancing along their weightless webs - fascinating. When they are waiting for me on the doorstep just after dusk looking far more like a tarantula than a "oh relax, it's just a wolf spider" - hee-bee-gee-bees.



Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Thin line between commercial and agricultural

An article in The Post today has really got my wheels turning. In Baltimore County, Md., dairy farmer Bobby Prigel, like so many other small farmers, is struggling to keep his farm in operation. Instead of shipping his milk out of state he'd like to build an organic creamery and sell his products locally - but neighbors and preservationists aren't happy about it. They don't want the rural landscape spoiled and argue that making butter, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream isn't farming, it's manufacturing. Perhaps, but I say it's innovative, not to mention a positive step towards farmers taking back a big portion of the profits that "processors" are making.

The concerns of the preservationists - from water use and paving to the possibility of the small production facility turning into a factory - are understandable but I'm sort of leaning towards the big picture. The Pollan-esque picture. A place where Sparks, Md., farmer David Smith wouldn't be locked in a two-year battle with neighbors over his proposal to open up a retail shop in order to sell his pasture-raised meat. A place where pasture-raised meat is the norm... and where happy cows get to watch their milk turn into delicious ice cream... sigh...

Keep building the market and processing facility, Prigel.

Okay... that's enough from me. The article is a must-read: The Churning Point.

Yeah... it's sorta like that...

Happy World Vegetarian Day!

To honor the day, I thought I would offer ten reasons to either go vegetarian or re-frame meat as a side dish eaten only occasionally. Check 'em out:

1.) 20:1 20 vegetarians can live off the land required by one meat eater. One acre of land could produce 50,000 pounds of tomatoes, 40,000 pounds of potatoes, 30,000 pounds of carrots or just 250 pounds of beef.
2.) Wheat versus Meat It takes 25 gallons of water to produce 1lb of wheat and 2500 gallons to produce 1lb of meat.
3.) Greenhouse Gases The 1,300,000,000 cattle in the world emit 60,000,000 tons of methane per year.
4.) Nitrous Oxide Fertilizer used to grow crops to feed to animals releases nitrous oxide - thought to account for 6% of the greenhouse effect.
5.) Endangered Forests Burning of forests, grasslands & agricultural waste associated with animal farming releases 50-100,000,000 tons of methane per year.
6.) Cow versus Car A family of four eating beef for a year uses enough gas to run a car for 6 months (obviously depending on how far you drive!)
7.) Steak versus Starvation 72 percent of all grain produced in the United States is fed to animals raised for slaughter. It takes 15 pounds of feed to get one pound of meat. But if the grain were given directly to people, there would be enough food to feed the entire planet.
8.) Not a Coincidence Meat is full of traces of antibiotics, hormones, toxins produced by stress and pesticide residues that become concentrated from all the crops the animals have eaten. Women who eat red meat are four times more likely than vegetarian women to develop breast cancer.
9.) $ave Money Replacing meat, chicken and fish with vegetables and fruits is estimated to cut food bills by an average of $4,000 a year.
10.) Slim Down On average, vegetarians are slimmer than meat eaters, and when dieting, they keep the weight off up to seven years longer. Diets that are higher in vegetable proteins are much lower in fat and calories.

And if you need a few more reasons, here are some alarming statistics:

- Each day, 22 million animals are slaughtered to support the American appetite for meat.
- The United States spends between $60 billion to $120 billion annually to treat the heart disease, cancer, obesity, and food poisoning that are byproducts of a diet heavy on animal products.
- 25 percent of all chicken sold in the United States carries salmonella bacteria and, the CDC estimates, 70 percent to 90 percent of chickens contain the bacteria campy-lobacter.
- Approximately 5 percent of cows carry the lethal strain of E. coli O157:H7 and 30 percent of pigs slaughtered each year for food are infected with toxoplasmosis.