Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy HFCS Consuming!

Not sure I can top last year's Trick or Trivia Halloween factoid but here goes...

Halloween candy sales average about $2 billion per year here in the United States, which ranks the holiday ahead of Christmas and Easter for candy consumption. And even more disturbing, in 2007 Americans each consumed an average of 24.5 pounds of candy (Sources: Current Industrial Reports, Confectionery; U.S. Census). That's a lot of High Fructose Corn Syrup.

Friday, October 30, 2009

I should also mention...

Natalie Portman on Foer's "Eating Animals"

My recently ordered copy of Jonathan Safran Foer's new book, Eating Animals, which is a departure from his usual (awesometastical) historical fiction and instead a nonfiction "exploring the fictions we use to justify our animal eating habits," can not arrive soon enough.

Actress, Activist and Harvard Alum Natalie Portman shares how her experience with the book moved her from vegetarian to vegan in a recent post on The Huffington Post:

...what Foer most bravely details is how eating animal pollutes not only our backyards, but also our beliefs. He reminds us that our food is symbolic of what we believe in, and that eating is how we demonstrate to ourselves and to others our beliefs: Catholics take communion -- in which food and drink represent body and blood. Jews use salty water on Passover to remind them of the slaves' bitter tears. And on Thanksgiving, Americans use succotash and slaughter to tell our own creation myth -- how the Pilgrims learned from Native Americans to harvest this land and make it their own.

And as we use food to impart our beliefs to our children, the point from which Foer lifts off, what stories do we want to tell our children through their food?

I remember in college, a professor asked our class to consider what our grandchildren would look back on as being backward behavior or thinking in our generation, the way we are shocked by the kind of misogyny, racism, and sexism we know was commonplace in our grandparents' world. He urged us to use this principle to examine the behaviors in our lives and our societies that we should be a part of changing. Factory farming of animals will be one of the things we look back on as a relic of a less-evolved age.

I say that Foer's ethical charge against animal eating is brave because not only is it unpopular, it has also been characterized as unmanly, inconsiderate, and juvenile. But he reminds us that being a man, and a human, takes more thought than just "This is tasty, and that's why I do it." He posits that consideration, as promoted by Michael Pollan in The Omnivore's Dilemma, which has more to do with being polite to your tablemates than sticking to your own ideals, would be absurd if applied to any other belief (e.g., I don't believe in rape, but if it's what it takes to please my dinner hosts, then so be it).

But Foer makes his most impactful gesture as a peacemaker, when he unites the two sides of the animal eating debate in their reasoning. Both sides argue: We are not them. Those who refrain from eating animals argue: We don't have to go through what they go through -- we are not them. We are capable of making distinctions between what to eat and what not to eat (Americans eat cow but not dog, Hindus eat chicken but not cow, etc.). We are capable of considering others' minds and others' pain. We are not them. Whereas those who justify eating animals say the same thing: We are not them. They do not merit the same value of being as us. They are not us.

And so Foer shows us, through
Eating Animals, that we are all thinking along the same lines: We are not them. But, he urges, how will we define who we are?"

Guess I won't be making exceptions for meat in the homes of others anymore. The more I learn, the less I can justifiably eat. Ugh. On a similar note... I sorta loved the last few moments of South Park's Whale Whores episode...

"It wasn't whales and dolphins... It was chickens and cows..."
"Great job son. Now the Japanese are normal like us." 

Invasive Sci-Fi Flaxseed

Genetically modified Triffid seeds that were reportedly given out by developer Alan McHughen, now a biotechnologist at the University of California, Riverside "for educational purposes only" and thought to have been destroyed in 2001, are popping up and contaminating Canada's organic crops causing their value to plummet. There are no health concerns but that hasn't stopped European importers from shutting their doors, The Globe and Mail reports:

"...Since early September, confectionery companies there have been yanking pastries and other baked goods containing flax from their shelves, blaming imports from Canada for the contamination. The genetically modified seeds have been found in 34 countries, according to the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.

...Terry Boehm, a flax grower near Saskatoon and one of the approximately 15,000 prairie farmers who produce the crop, is worried about the fallout from the food scare. The cause of the contamination is “the $300-million question,” he said, adding: “I really can't hazard to say how it's there, but there's a huge amount of questions that need to be answered in regard to that.” 
The genetic contamination also undermines the image of a product widely extolled for its health benefits as a rich source of artery-friendly omega-3 fatty acids and often grown organically to further its cachet. In organic farming, using genetically modified organisms is a big no-no..."

I suppose it's possible that a few farmers planted the seeds despite McHugen's instruction but come on, folks. Are we going to believe that only organic flax growers need be concerned? Nice try, authorities. Clearly a genetically modified plant has escaped and may soon take over the world.

I kid, I kid. And I shouldn't because this "contamination" is truly threatening the livelihood of quite a few Canadian prairie farmers. What a mess. Perhaps the lesson here is that not all organic growers are created equally trustworthy and therefore releasing the GM seed for any purposes is the big no-no. And that European pastry chefs might be a acting a tad too doomsday. Read more here and here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Bear Whisperer

In the BBC film Bearwalker of the Northwoods, set to air in Scotland tonight, lucky viewers will get to see how wildlife biologist Lynn Rogers' decision to replace traditional scientific methods with good ol' fashioned relationship building paid off and got him into the intimate inner circle of mother bear June and her three little cubs. Believe it or not, cornering them and shooting them with tranquilizers isn't the best method. The film, which was filmed in Minnesota, USA has got to be available here in the US soon, right? From The Guardian article:

"...Rogers eventually realised he couldn't hope to know bears unless he won their trust. And so he abandoned scientific detachment and took the daring and controversial step of forming relationships with his study animals, using food to gain acceptance among an extended bear family in Minnesota.

Gaining the trust of the bears has given him a close-up insight into their behaviour and social organisation as well as allowing Rogers to explode myths about them. Contrary to popular belief, for example, he contends that the bears are not violent and do not like honey..."

I have to say, it boggles my mind that Rogers' methods are considered controversial. But I suppose if popular belief holds that bears are cuddly honey lovers with piglet sidekicks one minute and violent campground attackers the next, it's about time somebody made a film highlighting their simple, animal awesomeness. I hope they are still fighting the good fight against forest fires. And wearing grass skirts as they teach young orphans the ways of the jumgle.And making porridge.

(thnx Singleton)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Well helloooo, friend!

I love coming home to curious little critters! (Well... so long as the leg count stops at six)

Autumn on the Potomac

This lovely view from Shepherdstown courtesy of DW.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tofu too?!?!

Great. Someone asked Slate's Green Lantern about the environmental impact of tofu and reminded me and my fellow eco-eaters that the soy-based protein source also comes with a price. Luckily though, a much lower price than meat. Well, most meat. Nina Shen Rastogi for Slate responds:

"Not all meat is created equally when it comes to environmental impacts. Producing a calorie of chicken protein requires only a fraction of the energy that it takes to churn out a calorie of beef protein. Chickens also produce significantly lower levels of greenhouse gases, thanks in part to their dainty diet and the fact that, unlike ruminant animals, they don't go around expelling methane from their mouths and rear ends.

So where does tofu fit into this picture? Soybeans themselves are a highly efficient source of protein: According to one recent study, it takes about 0.2 calories of fossil fuels to make a calorie of soybean protein, a little more than one-thirtieth of the total for chicken. Soy is also much better from a global-warming perspective: In conventional production, a kilogram of raw beans generates about 150 grams to 300 grams of carbon-dioxide equivalent, as opposed to 2,500 grams for the equivalent quantity of edible chicken meat. (Organic soybeans should produce even less CO2 equivalent. [PDF])

But then, we're not talking about eating soybeans in their natural form. As you note in your question, it takes some work to make beans into tofu. Soybeans are soaked in large tanks and ground into a slurry that then gets heated, filtered, and coagulated into slabs before being chopped up, packaged, and pasteurized. All of these steps require energy—and they dramatically increase tofu's carbon footprint...

...So we don't know exactly where American tofu falls on the spectrum of greenhouse gas intensity, but we can draw at least one commonsense conclusion: Your potential savings will depend on what you're swapping out in the first place. If every dinner you serve contains beef or air-freighted fish, then switching to tofu every once in a while will make a real difference. If you eat mostly chicken, your savings would be less impressive."

The good news is, most of the tofu consumed in America comes from native-grown soy beans which means we aren't contributing to the destruction of the Amazon - which was my biggest fear when the headline got my wheels turning. Whew!

Unfortunately, frog friend, you're not alone...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"The food you love in a cone"

Readers, meet crispycones, brought to you by chef and food designer Nir Adar, who doesn't think anyone should have to sit down to eat beef stew. Nope. His quest: To make it possible to eat all the foods you love on the go.

"They're incredibly versatile, delicious with fillings from eggs to salads, pizza to deli, stir fry to carnitas, BBQ, stews and even dessert. Any food that's ever been eaten between two slices of bread, in a wrap or on top of pizza can now be enjoyed drip free, anywhere, anytime and on the go with Crispycones."

And I thought go-gurt was the king of convenience...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Eat low on the food chain

Sylvia Earle's new book, The World is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean's Are One, recieved the "Colbert Bump" Tuesday night and this interview alone has caused me to re-examine the fish that remain in my own diet. Of course, many of you have seen me whip out my trusty EPA Pocket Seafood Selector at meals and likely chosen the fish or shellfish with the smallest finprint on our oceans and collective environment right alongside me - but perhaps that isn't enough. Check out the stats Sylvia drops on Stephen:

So whattaya say, folks? Can we all commit to choosing fish that are low on the food chain? Vote with our forks?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Love Larriland Farms


NYT Food Issue

So many wonderful articles in today's New York Times Magazine I don't even know where to start!

You may recall Michael Pollan's call for dietary dos and don'ts back in March for his new book "Food Rules: An Eater's Manual" publishing in January 2010. Well good ol' MP previewed 20 of his favorite reader submissions and they certainly are insightful. Check out the corresponding interactive feature here. One of my faves: If you are not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you are not hungry.

Might I also recommend spending some time with novelist Jonathan Saffron Foer's contribution: Against Meat - Or At Least 99 Percent of It. I'm looking forward to reading his new book "Eating Animals" due out in November. His article alone captures the thought process and constant debate (internal and external) of a conscious eater. Or, as MP would call it: the omnivore's dilema. The attempts at vegetarianism. The careful consideration of what your children will eat based in not only your belief system but in honoring traditions and gratitude. Even the early mention of the moment he realized that the chicken in his mouth was a chicken that was once alive on a farm resonates. It's an excellent read. The whole issue is excellent

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bill Maher "What happened to my meat question?!"

This clip comes from a particularly great Real Time episode with a panel including Thomas L. Friedman and Marcy Kaptur and guests Richard Dawkins and Lisa Jackson. I am posting it for three reasons. 1) It brought to my attention the traces of pharmaceuticals that are showing up in our water system - which raises questions about how equipped our current filtration system is (something that has not yet been discussed here on JustSaying). 2) It boggles my mind how dismissive Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator, was about the environmental impact of the meat industry. And 3) It reinforces the importance of my decision to add Bill Maher to my "dream dinner party" guest list.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Tough To Digest

Yesterday, the NY Times reported about the Education Department's decision to ban bake sales in public schools as part of a new wellness policy aiming to reduce students' trans fat and sugar intake. From the article:

The previous regulations limited sales to once a month and allowed them at any time during that day, but they were loosely enforced. Officials say they will do more to monitor the new regulations.

“We have an undeniable problem in the city, state and the country with
obesity,” said Eric Goldstein, the chief of the office of school support services. “During the school day, we have to focus on what is healthy for the mind and the body.”

Unsurprisingly, the rationale is getting a cool reception among students. At Fiorello H. La Guardia High School on the Upper West Side, students are used to having bake sales several times a month. Now, Yardain Amron, a sophomore basketball player, laments that his team will not be able to raise money for a new scoreboard.

Another La Guardia student, Eli Salamon-Abrams, 14, said that when the soccer team held a bake sale in May, his blueberry muffins sold out in 15 minutes. He said of the ban: “I think it’s kind of pointless. I mean, why can’t we have bake sales?”

Today, I ask: Is this really the best solution, Mayor? Don't get me wrong, I'm a big Bloomberg fan and definitely appreciate and applaud his efforts in this case as well as the case against plastic bags but I gotta say that a bake sale ban seems a bit misdirected. Perhaps it addresses a small symptom that may or may not mean obesity for some percentage of brownie bakers or buyers - but it certainly isn't the root of the problem.

EDUCATE these children. Granted, putting the lesser of snack evils in the vending machines and saying no to sodas are steps in the right direction, but steering kids away from baking and fundraising for their sports teams? Not so cool. Give a kid $5 for school lunch (healthy or not) and you feed him for a day. Teach a kid to cultivate, garden, harvest, cook, spice, BAKE, dice, mix, braise... put work into making something edible with real, whole foods and you feed him for a lifetime. Just saying.

Guest (Com)Poster

I received a great message in my inbox last night and absolutely have to share it. It comes from David Wase, president of Metropolitan Gallery and gardener extraordinaire.

News Release

Arlington, VA 10/02/2009 7:57 p.m.

Another giant step for bacteria! The Wases of 7th St South announce the inception of a new composter at their mini-micro, sub-atomic sized farm in South Arlington. Utilizing the vegetative remains from human sustenance including coffee grounds, vegetables, a modest contribution from the office cellulose shredder and carefully selected organic contributions from garden cuttings, the Wases' expect a biotic enhancement of significant proportions. This action was taken in recognition of the need to reduce biomass contributions to landfills and deal with the heavy and compacted clay-based soil structure of the (extremely) limited tillable area available at the mini micro farm. The compost production equipment is based on a standard trash container modified to accomplish rapid and complete breakdown- (a process that was tried by ex-spouses but never achieved). The resulting "black gold" will be added to the Wase's vegetable gardens to further enhance their nutrient and water-retention capabilities as well as contribute significantly to soil health and guilt-free gardening.

May all our organics RIP (recycle in peace) !

Friday, October 2, 2009

Adventures in the Clover

Those of you who are not only readers but are also regular visitors to the Clover (aka: the house) may have met Judee but for those of you who aren't, let me tell you about the sweetest little sparrow who has made herself welcome in my home and heart.

I first discovered Judee a little more than a month ago when she failed to fly away during my dog's daily squirrel surveillance around the bird feeder. Unlike the rest of the feathered brood, she opted to hop/flutter/flail away rather pathetically and even then didn't go far. As the cardinals and chickadees came and went, Judee was never more than 50 feet from the house. She appears to have a problematic wing and while she can get off the ground, she can't sustain flight too long. Surprisingly, early encounters with the dog didn't even seem to bother her. Unable to fly up and away, she simply learned that Jack (the dog) couldn't squeeze under a car so that became a safe and easy refuge. And over time, Jack seems to have learned that he isn't going to catch her and has lost interest in trying.

For the last week or two, I've noticed that Judee has made herself at home in the dense ground-cover between the front door and the feeder and has been singing and enjoying a daily bath in what used to be Jack's outdoor water dish. This morning, however, she has taken her residence a step further. She hopped right into the house.

I so wish I had a video camera handy to capture the expression on Jack's face when they crossed paths at the door - him heading out, her heading in. While I realize that she can't stay forever and that creating a "birdie door" (in hopes she will learn she is welcome to come and go as she pleases) may not fly with the homeowners association, I certainly didn't mind the visit.

My research indicates that Judee is a relative of the Weaver Finch Family and although I am not sure what that means, it may explain why I have been calling her a "fantastically friendly finch" for the last month. I'll try and get some snapshots of Judee up here on JustSaying soon.