Thursday, February 26, 2009

to meat or not to meat...

I'm really digging Mark Oppenheimer's article for Slate, Daddy Eats Dead Cows, not just because the author encourages me and other readers to raise vegetarian children, but because he carefully explains and articulates the thoughts and intentions behind such a decision.

Since I'm not real fond of the article's title, I'm posting a bit more text from the article than usual. Check it out (Cyd is the author's wife):

...Keeping the girls from meat, and from ridicule, while they're young—that's turned out to be easy. But vegetarianism will prompt other parenting questions, and I haven't solved all of them yet. For example, what will we do when the girls have social events that don't include parents? Someday soon, they will be going out for pizza with their friends, and Cyd and I won't be there to order the veggie toppings. Will they be permitted to order meat? Obviously, they'll do what they want, but if what they want is to eat meat, will they have to hide it from us?

Cyd has a stock answer to this question: "When they're old enough," she says, "to explain that they know the animal has been murdered and that they want to eat the murdered animal anyway, then they'll be permitted to do so." She's kidding about the language (I think), but she's dead serious about the principle. Only when they're old enough to understand the ethical question will they be permitted to answer it for themselves.

Cyd's rule seems right to me. Eating meat isn't like cheating or stealing, which parents should always forbid. Nor is it like eating junk food or watching trashy TV, treats that children should learn to enjoy in moderation as the guilty pleasures they are. Rather, eating meat is a serious ethical choice but also a personal one. It can't be treated cavalierly (like junk food), but it can't be universalized (like the rule against cheating). Environmentally disastrous factory farming is, I think it's safe to say, always wrong, or at least always undesirable. But what about eating free-ranging, kindly treated, "happy" meat? What about eating meat that would otherwise be thrown away, as some "freegans" do? These questions admit enough ethical debate that a teenager, even a 'tween, may decide for herself...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Climate Debate

It will not surprise you that my beliefs echo Mr. Thomas L. Friedman's in that I think Al Gore underestimated climate change in An Inconvenient Truth. Nevertheless, this recent NY Times article is an interesting read regarding the science, politics, and press about/around/behind global warming.


DotEarth responds

Monday, February 23, 2009

Guess what's arrived at David's Natural Market in Odenton?!

Paper Retriever Recycling! Yay! In case you haven't heard about it, here's how it works:

The Paper Retriever Program is a free service that collects magazines, catalogs, newspapers, junk mail, office paper, notebooks and folders and sends it directly to paper mills where it is re-manufactured into newsprint within weeks. But wait! There's more! Paper Retriever actually pays schools, places of worship, and other community organizations for the paper collected at their bin location. Read all about the program here.

I can't wait to find out how where this new local bin's funds are being directed.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

taxing plastic bags

As you may have read in The Post last week, council in the District are considering following in the footsteps of Mayor Bloomberg and inserting a 5 cent fee for plastic bags in hopes to dissuade their use and, in D.C., split the revenue between businesses and the city, "which would use its share to help clean the Anacostia River and offer free reusable bags to elderly and low-income residents."

Not only do I support this initiative, I'd like to see plastic bags banned all together. In fact, consider myself to be one of the "bag-bashers." Call me crazy and suggest that I move to San Francisco if you want, but those things are far more menacing than they are useful. Try counting how many you see stuck in trees or blowing around the road in a single day. It's disturbing. The Economist green.view touched on the topic this week:

The ugliness of discarded bags is the least of the problems they spawn. In places like India and Bangladesh, they have a nasty habit of clogging drains; during monsoon season the resulting floods can cause huge damage and even the occasional death.

Plastic bags are also a menace to animals. Many become snagged in them, or eat them—potentially fatal mistakes. Bags that wind up at sea can absorb toxic chemicals, making them even more harmful to the wildlife around them. And they never really biodegrade: they simply break into ever smaller pieces.

I'd really like to see this happen. Maybe businesses will even start training cashiers how to better handle customers who has bring their own bags!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

so loving this skincare line...

In addition to her time spent working as a make-up artist for film, television, and print in the last ten years, the mastermind behind the Skin Preparations line, Annabelle MacNeal has an impressive work history with more major cosmetic lines than I can name. To list a few: M.A.C., Stila, Bobbi Brown, Trish McEvoy, Shiseido, Chanel, Estee Lauder, and Lancome. Throughout her career she searched for products with the perfect blend of nature and science. Unable to find an ideal mix for her taste, MacNeal concocted her own - and it's wonderful. Right now, Bright Eyes is my favorite.

Think: top anti-aging technology mixed with traditional and ancient ingredients. All the products are paraben free, sulfate free, and contain no artificial dyes, fragrance, mineral oil or animal by-products. Ingredient lists and explanations are available for each product on the website.

The best part: the prices. Many of you know that I am also a big fan of the Biodynamic Beauty line by Jurlique and if you have looked into the line you also know that it can be a bit pricey and difficult to purchase locally. So Skin Preparations is my "locaskincare," recession-friendly recommendation.

research to watch

There has been some buzz in the scientific research world regarding the pro-oxidant possibility of antioxidants and I'm pleased to see Tara Parker-Pope touch upon it in her recent Well post. The mainstream media appears to have caught the wave of research reporting that many vitamin supplements, to use a colleague's terms, "are only really resulting in some expensive, vitamin rich urine," but few and far between are the stories about the potential of antioxidants keeping unwanted cancerous cells strong. From Parker-Pope's post:

In 2007, The Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed mortality rates in randomized trials of antioxidant supplements. In 47 trials of 181,000 participants, the rate was 5 percent higher among the antioxidant users. The main culprits were vitamin A, beta carotene and vitamin E; vitamin C and selenium seemed to have no meaningful effect.

“We call them essential nutrients because they are,” said Marian L. Neuhouser, an associate member in cancer prevention at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. “But there has been a leap into thinking that vitamins and minerals can prevent anything from fatigue to cancer to
Alzheimer’s. That’s where the science didn’t pan out.”

Monday, February 16, 2009

Latest Thomas L. Friedman...

Yes, They Could. So They Did. is a piece about Friedman's recent encounter and adventure with young climate leaders in India, Caroline Howe and Alexis Ringwald. Inspirational read.

gotta start somewhere...

An excellent feature written by Liza Mundy, Can One Household Save the Planet? that appeared in Sunday's Washington Post Magazine examined the significance of small household changes, like energy-efficient light bulbs, in our nation's quest towards sustainability. Mundy not only pulled together some high-impact statistics, shared about the limitations her lifestyle (working mother of two) has had on her ability to green her habits, and identified the core issues contributing to climate change - she did so with a great candor and she covered a lot of ground. One of my favorite lines:

"The fact that the bulb will last for years and years is not necessarily and asset when you've bought one you regret... And you can't just toss it in the trash..."

Also, I love her description about checkout infrastructure:

"Since I am the main grocery shopper, I could and did switch to reusable shopping bags, once I got over my fear of disrupting the express lane with a bag that didn't fit the infrastructure."

I had forgotten about the bewilderment on the faces of cashiers when I offer up reusable bags or attempt to pack them myself, hoping to intercept the use of additional plastic bags they put around dish soap, something cold or something made of paper or on a hanger. Have you ever experienced it? It's pretty funny. It's near impossible to get a reusable bag on the radar of a cashier. Considering the flood of reusable bags available at all the major retail chains you'd think they'd be expecting this, no?

Anywho... I could go on and on pointing out passages but should probably just urge you to read the article. So the last passage I'll point out, which will likely be the topic of a future post, touches on a new-to-me aspect of a topic particularly close to my heart: eating local. Mundy writes:

"Many environmental groups, for example, recommend eating locally grown, seasonal foods to cut down on the emissions associated with food transportation. The thing is, as Michael Specter pointed out in the New Yorker last year, fruits and vegetables grown in friendly climates without the need for lots of chemical fertilizers are sometimes greener than food grown locally; nor is it necessarily true that "local" produce trucked 100 miles from Pennsylvania in an old gas-guzzling pickup is greener than produce shipped from afar by rail or container ship."

(thnx LM and David)

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Have I mentioned how much I love this ad campaign?

Friday, February 13, 2009

2,500 plant lice with your pilsner?

Some maggots with those mushrooms? Rodent hairs? I probably shouldn't pose it as a question because chances are, you are already consuming a fair amount of rodent and insect filth thanks to the casual regulation of our food supply. In fact, according to E. J. Levy's recent Op-Ed in the NY Times, "’re probably ingesting one to two pounds of flies, maggots and mites each year without knowing it, a quantity of insects that clearly does not cut the mustard, even as insects may well be in the mustard."

For more about the stomach-turning contaminants deemed "allowable defects" by the FDA in their booklet: The Food Defect Action Levels: Levels of Natural or Unavoidable Defects in Foods That Present No Health Hazards for Humans, definitely check out Levy's article.

(thnx Alissa)


charity: water, a non-profit organization that brings clean and safe drinking water to developing nations which you may remember from a previous post, recently teamed up with Twitter communities to host fundraising events worldwide. Read all about their successes here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Have your cake and lose weight too?

Doubt it. Although the folks at Satisfit Weight Care Technology may try and convince you differently. After some pre-clininical trials, the new "nutritional" additive, Satisfit, is said to have had some success preventing the absorption of fat. Brett Zarda's recent post on PopSci explains:

According to Dow, Satisfit is a “highly functionalized cellulose that is partially hydrophobic and may behave similarly to fat.” That behavior would allow the ingredient to take trans and saturated fat out of the body that normally would have added to your love handles. The cherry on top (or icing on the cake, as it were) is that Satisfit doesn’t add any calories to the food. It's 100 percent soluble, meaning it could easily by added to anything from beverages, to dairy products, to microwave meals. Dow is currently looking for development partners to test the effectiveness in specific foods during human clinical trials.

I'm not sure what bothers me more: the obnoxious "satisfied" + "physically fit" marketing mumbo jumbo behind the name or the fact this type of attempt at a solution completely ignores the root of the problem. Ugh.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Department of Food?

In response to the most recent peanut butter recall, the NY Times "Room for Debate" has asked some experts: Would creating a single Department of Food better protect consumers? And how could the current crisis have been prevented?

Whether or not each of these contributors feel that a single department is necessary, all agree that the current food safety system is unfortunately reactive when it needs to be preventative, that it is broken, and that it's in desperate need of an overhaul or reinvention. Not surprisingly, I like what Ann Cooper had to say:

"If we want to make disease outbreaks a thing of the past, we have to move away from this industrial model of food production to one that is more localized and able to put a higher priority on children’s health, the environment and the health of sustainable businesses."

Get in on the conversation here.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Agrochemicals: The latest threat to frogs

The results of a recent study published in Nature suggest that agrochemicals, combined with parasitic infestation, are the causes of limb malformation and population decline in the Northern Leopard Frog. Ugh.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Fridge-Free Living

This seems to be one of the more extreme measures members of the uber-energy-efficient camp can take. After reading this article in the NY Times though, I got to thinking... how important is my refrigerator to me? Like one of the women mentioned in the article, it mostly comes down to dairy. Yogurt, soy milk, feta, and gorgonzola are regular parts of my daily diet. So is ice cream - although I hate to admit it. Do I need a whole entire fridge for those items though? I mean, sure there is some juice in there now and then and it's nice that I can keep fresh veggies crisp for more than a week. There's some condiments that have collected over the past few months and probably a container of leftovers but truth be told, I could probably get by with a mini fridge. I suppose, once again, ignorance was bliss.

What do you think? Are these folks taking it too far or are they pioneers in rethinking energy consumption?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

It's an environment thing...

When folks at dinner parties or new acquaintances notice there is no meat on my plate, they often ask me if I am a member of PETA, a vegetarian, and how I get my protein. The latter is quite possibly the most annoying question ever - but not the focus of this post. I typically respond with something like, "It is more of an environmental decision than anything else. Not to mention, the perfectly cut, seasoned, and cooked piece of meat the waiter just dropped off to you is a fine example of how disconnected we Americans are from the origin of our food..." Before I can finish sharing my pro-Pollan agenda someone almost always says, "How is my eating this steak bad for the environment?" My answer: It's complicated.

Which brings me to... you guessed it... a great article about How Meat Contributes to Global Warming. It focuses on beef in particular. Please read it. Otherwise I will be forced to carry a cheat sheet (right next to my EPA Seafood Selector) with, at the very least, the following factoids from the article:

Depending on the production method, cows emit between 2.5 and 4.7 ounces of methane for each pound of beef they produce. Because methane has roughly 23 times the global-warming potential of CO2, those emissions are the equivalent of releasing between 3.6 and 6.8 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere for each pound of beef produced.

Producing a pound of beef protein for the table requires more than 10 pounds of plant protein with all the emissions of greenhouse gases that grain farming entails.

Current production levels of meat contribute between 14 and 22 percent of the 36 billion tons of "CO2-equivalent" greenhouse gases the world produces every year. It turns out that producing half a pound of hamburger for some one's lunch a patty of meat the size of two decks of cards releases as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as driving a 3,000-pound car nearly 10 miles.

Pound for pound, beef production generates greenhouse gases that contribute more than 13 times as much to global warming as do the gases emitted from producing chicken. For potatoes, the multiplier is 57.

Producing a pound of beef in a feedlot, or concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) system, generates the equivalent of 14.8 pounds of CO2 pound for pound, more than 36 times the CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emitted by producing asparagus.

polarized light pollution

I just learned about polarized light pollution via this post on I've talked about the ramifications of regular ol' light pollution on nocturnal species but little did I know, artificial polarized light reflecting from shiny urban surfaces like buildings and car windows is confusing wildlife. Birds and insects are mistaking these surfaces as bodies of water. A study published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment offered an example of the disruptive effects of polarized light pollution: "Turtles frequently ingest plastic, especially transparent plastic bags, because they confuse the polarized light from them as that from prey."

This is way cool...

I can't take credit for this. Amanda Dobbins put the pictured "do-stuff foods" chart (from foodproof) up on buzzfeed and I just had to show it to all of you! Click on the chart for a closer look. Although I am curious about the scientific research or lack thereof behind these claims, part of me just wants to believe that spinach makes me smart and that low-fat frozen yogurt really is low-fat.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I'm speechless

I can't believe this. A chicken tracker. A way to find out where the chicken you are purchasing/cooking/eating came from and who raised it. Wow. I probably don't even have to say it, but I would love this to become the norm.

Reframing revolting

I have to suggest that everyone read Constance Casey's, Vulture World, the most recent post on her "continuing series about revolting creatures" in Slate. Maybe I am recommending it because my eccentric father welcomes a vulture that he has named Chuck into his life and yard, or maybe it is because this article made me think differently about giving my father a hard time about his strange pet. Or maybe I just feel bad about how vultures really do have an undeserved, bad reputation.

Monday, February 2, 2009

tainted peanut butter...

I know, I know... no one wants to hear that phrase again and we are all avoiding PB products but I like this article by Kim Severson that appeared in the NY Times last week - mainly because it summarizes the salmonella spread and points a finger at the larger, more complex problems of processed food industry: mass production, volume, wide distribution and a complicated supply chain.