Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hmph.

So I am a few seasons behind on my spring cleaning but have been going strong these past few days and check out what I just came across:





























You may be asking yourselves,"What the what?!?!" I, too, said this very phrase. How did the Monsanto name infiltrate the home of this blogger so blatantly? I've since traced the items back to the gift bags given at the Illinois State Society Inaugural Ball in January of this year. Looks like they were a major sponsor. Interesting.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

deFORESTation

About fifteen years ago, The Forest Diner gave me my first job. I was a waitress. Dolly* taught me how to use the milkshake machine. I quickly learned which regulars needed cream for their coffee and which would be asking for a slice of pie as well. If my dad didn't stop in and leave me an $18.00 tip on a $2.00 coffee, I averaged about $15 a shift (including the usual $2.50 hourly waitress rate). It wasn't much, but it was just what a teenager of my trouble-making capacity needed.

A few years ago, I watched the Double TT Diner open up (another) franchise location right next door to "the diner." Not too long after, I saw Dolly working at that new Double TT. This weekend, I read this article in The Baltimore Sun about the development plans for the 5-acre property and am just plain disappointed. Larry Carson reports:

"... A coalition of developers, lawyers and landowners wants to remake the 5-acre commercial property into an urbanized mixed-use center with retail space and offices under perhaps 30 residential units in two- and three-level "Main Street"-style buildings.

A new home would be built to accommodate Edgar Weal, who lives on the property, above a new ice cream store on the first floor, close to where the stand is now.The rest of the complex would be a series of low buildings snaking through the hilly site joined by a bridge arch and marked by a tall clock tower. Roughly where the diner is now, the buildings would be three stories facing east, and two stories facing west, Oh said.

Parking for the upper-level apartments would be in the rear, off Frederick Road. Only westbound traffic could turn into that lot and exiting vehicles would only turn right.Another entrance would be off U.S. 40, though more narrow than the current access, with a third access point from the Double-T Diner next door. The current motel, diner and two homes facing Frederick Road would be demolished. The new buildings would include about 50,000 to 60,000 square feet.

To be built, the group would need to persuade the zoning board to rezone an adjacent 1-acre parcel just east of the motel from residential to commercial, get County Council approval of two zoning regulation amendments, and work out a way to guarantee the 30 residential apartments, which the developers said are needed both for the architectural design of the complex, and also to make it work economically... "

Read the full article here.

I'm all for the idea of making new development as green as possible - but there just isn't really a reason for new development in this location except, well: $$$. Howard County is already one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, with stellar school districts and a host of strip malls and McMansions. There are tons of restaurants and every store you could ever need on Route 40 already - not to mention in nearby Columbia. I'm just saying... can't we preserve this one lovely little diner and the history it holds? Does anyone really need a new clock tower?

If you're a local and find this Forest Green development as unnecessary as I do, I'll see you at the informational meeting this Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Miller Library/Senior Center on Frederick Road - assuming that hasn't been replaced with multi-use buildings by then. Ugh.

*Note: I feel terrible about this, but I can't recall if her name is Dolly or Darlene or something else with a D - so I went with Dolly. If anyone knows, please feel free to comment.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

107 Miles. The farthest you could possibly be from a McDonalds in this fast food nation of ours.

So this is a little disturbing. Or perhaps comforting. Depends on your perspective. It's a visualization of the continental US using only McDonald's locations. The graphic, created by Stephen Von Worley and on display in his recent (hilariously clever) blog post, is a glaring reminder that the fast-food chain holds a whole lot of real estate in this nation.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"simultaneously seductive and repulsive"

Good Magazine recently posted a selection of images from Jon Feinstein's photographic series Fast Food. I've since viewed the pictures of burgers, nuggets and other food-like substances in their rarely-photographed, un-enhanced and unbranded form and have a few thoughts, but first, Feinstein on his series:

"Since the 1950s, fast food has become so global that its icons are often as recognizable as popular historical figures - its image heavily branded into the public periphery. 'Fast Food' is a typological exploration of the food on its own. Hamburgers, French fries, chicken nuggets and 'specialty' sandwiches are presented on stark black backgrounds, isolated from their common context, without name recognition, nearly floating in space. Under austere, uniform lighting; stripped of logos, packaging and iconography, the food takes on a disgustingly and scientific, yet ethereal quality. These photographs investigate the love/hate relationship that many Americans have with fast food and, like many other aspects of popular culture, its ability to be simultaneously seductive and repulsive."

My questions or comments: Are the images titled by the amount of fat grams the subject contains? Some of them are more repulsive to me than others - the fries are not so repulsive. And speaking of iconic fast food, did anyone else (who grew up in the 80s and likely saw the same commercials) think that the McDonalds logo was two french fries bent together until recently learning that those golden arches are actually the letter M? Talk about a successful ad campaign. Ugh.

(Special thanks to RebeccaC, a loyal reader and avid recycler)

Drinkability

Just yesterday, I was reading about the evolution of American agriculture and how the booze biz went from an in-farm operation to the town taverns. (Believe it or not, I'm not retelling the story I always tell from MP's Botany of Desire about Johnny Appleseed's alcohol/apple loving ways.)

The real tipping point that took folks to the taverns was rum. An import. That which they couldn't produce at home. So I got to thinking: For those of us who don't grow barley or tend to a vineyard, what's the most eco-friendly alcoholic beverage? Biodynamic wine from Australia? California wines? What about those of us on the East Coast? Should we stick to Sam Adams? Yuengling? Some other locally brewed beer I don't know about?

The truth is, I don't drink so this isn't a topic I've investigated much further. I do, however, read Slate's Green Lantern and it just so happens that Nina Shen Rastogi has addressed this very topic in her recent post. It turns out that there are a lot more factors to picking your poison than I had expected. For instance, the decision between glass and aluminum depends on the quality of your local recycling program. And the synthetic cork you may think is better for the environment isn't exactly endorsed by the WWF.

If you are a libation lover, read the entire Lantern post here. And then consider setting snobbery aside and purchasing wine in a box.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Co-evolution in action


The Daily Mail has reported a "soaring demand" for the Mwanza Flat Headed Agama lizard due to the African native's obvious resemblance to a certain comic book hero: Spiderman. Apparently calls for the little creatures started flooding in after photographer Roy Daines captured the "simply Marvel-ous" image (above) of this little lizard crawling around a hotel lodge pool in Kenya. Daines told the Daily Mail:

"His colourings were very bright making him look like he was dressed in a suit - crawling around on the rock made him look exactly like Spider-Man."

Read more here

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Loving Bill Maher's New Rule:

"You can't complain about Health Care Reform if you are unwilling to reform your own health."



Sorry about the first few unrelated topics in this clip, folks. Please skip ahead to the 2:10 minute mark if possible. I know Maher can be a little direct, but he makes some excellent points about Obama's Surgeon General appointment and Burger King while noting obvious contradictions in the naysayers.

Be veeewy quiet...

As so many of you loyal JustSaying readers know, I make it a point to keep the local squirrel population as fat and happy as I keep the local bird population. Considering the plethora of acorns on the ground this season, I haven't been too nutty (pun intended) about stocking the squirrel bench with corn-on-the-cob nor have I served up any pecans. In fact, I even said to myself earlier today, "Hmph. How nice. Guess the squirrels are so busy gathering acorns they haven't been shaking the seeds out of the bird feeders."

Or have they??

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009

Froggies!!

How cute are these frogs that my bro-in-law photographed in Virginia Beach?! I guess frogs like to kick back and relax in hot tubs too.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dr. Norman Borlaug




The Tierney Lab put up a great post about the late Norman Borlaug, the "father of the Green Revolution." If you aren't familiar with Borlaug's achievements, initiatives, legacy and influence, I highly recommend spending a few moments reading about him (here).

Monday, September 14, 2009

Rescue Ink Unleashed



On September 25th, National Geographic will be premiering their latest and possibly greatest reality show following an unlikely group of animal activists: tattooed, motorcycle-riding "tough guys" who call themselves Rescue Ink.

" . . . In a metropolitan area with more than 20 million residents, thousands of animals — dogs, cats, and even chickens and piranhas — are neglected, abused, hoarded or housed illegally. A few years ago, eight tough guys from the mean streets, who frequented hot rod shows and tattoo parlors, discovered their strongest bond was actually a passion for animals — and they formed a rescue organization like no other. Some have violent and turbulent pasts, complete with run-ins with the law, but all are seeking redemption and solace in their mission to save animals from human abuse.

. . .They’re not cops, animal experts or even animal control. They’re just big guys with even bigger hearts and a desire to save animals from deplorable living conditions and abusive or simply misguided owners . . ."


Sunday, September 13, 2009

MP on American Diet Reform

Michael Pollan addresses the elephant in the health care debate room: chronic disease linked to diet. From his NY Time piece:

". . . According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three-quarters of health care spending now goes to treat “preventable chronic diseases.” Not all of these diseases are linked to diet — there’s smoking, for instance — but many, if not most, of them are.

We’re spending $147 billion to treat obesity, $116 billion to treat diabetes, and hundreds of billions more to treat cardiovascular disease and the many types of cancer that have been linked to the so-called Western diet. One recent study estimated that 30 percent of the increase in health care spending over the past 20 years could be attributed to the soaring rate of obesity, a condition that now accounts for nearly a tenth of all spending on health care.

The American way of eating has become the elephant in the room in the debate over health care. The president has made a few notable allusions to it, and, by planting her vegetable garden on the South Lawn, Michelle Obama has tried to focus our attention on it. Just last month, Mr. Obama talked about putting a farmers’ market in front of the White House, and building new distribution networks to connect local farmers to public schools so that student lunches might offer more fresh produce and fewer Tater Tots. He’s even floated the idea of taxing soda . . ."

Read the entire Op-Ed here. Please. It's excellent and addresses everything going through your mind right now.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Destination: Miami (and wish I could bring Cliff Buchanan a gun!)

Carmen Gentile for the NY Times reported some very upsetting news regarding the sea turtles' increasingly threatened way of life down in the Miami Beach area. It's so disturbing that I don't even want to repeat the contents or take excerpts from the article. Thankfully this issue is getting national attention and there are folks down there doing everything they can to help. Read the article here and help the turtles here at seaturtle.org.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Origin of Flowers

(Photo courtesy of Troy Carter)

Carl Zimmer wrote a great article for the NY Times about the evolutionary burst of flowering plants. It's way cool and an incredible reminder that few things in this world happen by mistake. Find it here. Here's the article's conclusion:

In the first flowers, the endosperm ended up with one set of genes from the male parent and another set from the female parent. But after early lineages like Amborella and water lilies branched off, flowers bulked up their endosperm with two sets of genes from the mother and one from the father.

Dr. Friedman, of the University of Colorado, Boulder, has documented the transition and does not think it was a coincidence that flowering plants underwent an evolutionary explosion after gaining an extra set of genes in their endosperm. It is possible, for example, that with extra genes, the endosperm could make more proteins.

“It’s like having a bigger engine,” Dr. Friedman said.

Other experts agree that the transition took place, but they are not sure it is the secret to flowers’ success. “I don’t know why it should be so great,” Dr. Doyle said.

As Dr. Friedman has studied how the extra set of genes evolved in flowers, he has once again been drawn to Goethe’s vision of simple sources and complex results.

Flowers with a single set of female DNA in their endosperm, like water lilies, start out with a single nucleus at one end of the embryo sac. It divides, and one nucleus moves to the middle of the sac to become part of the endosperm.

Later, a variation evolved. In a rose or a poppy, a single nucleus starts out at one end of the sac. But when the nucleus divides, one nucleus makes its way to the other end of the sac. The two nuclei each divide, and then one of the nuclei from each end of the sac moves to the middle.

Duplication, a simple process, led to greater complexity and a major change in flowers.

“Nature just doesn’t invent things out of whole cloth,” Dr. Friedman said. “It creates novelty in very simple ways. They’re not radical or mysterious. Goethe already had this figured out.”

Monday, September 7, 2009

Hungry for Change

As many of you who have shared a meal with me know, my diet decisions are mostly environmental and political and my love cuddly farm animals plays only a small role. I prefer the term ecotarian to vegetarian (although the two tend to go hand in hand). It's really about connectivity. If everyone understood what they were endorsing with each food purchase I imagine they'd think twice before a lot of those choices. So I have some great news: The Nation publishes their special issue on food this month and JustSaying will undoubtedly be highlighting articles and insight from the likes of Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, Dan Barber, Dave Murphy... the list goes on.

For now, I'd like to bring you ten simple ways to vote with your fork, from Peter Rothberg's recent Nation post (drawn largely from the Hungry for Change campaign).

1. Stop drinking soda. (Great way to lose weight.)

2. Eat at home more than you eat out. (Save money; eat healthier.)

3. Support the passage of laws requiring chain restaurants to post calorie information on menus and menu boards. (Knowledge is power.)

4. Help get schools to stop selling junk food. (Our tastes start young.)

5. Go without meat at least one day each week -- Meatless Mondays? (Single best way to help the environment is to become a vegetarian.)

6. Buy organic and/or sustainable foods without pesticides. (Chemicals kill.)

7. Support family farms by shopping at farmer's markets and CSAs. (Take market share away from the corporate sector.)

8. Know where your food comes from. Read labels! (Knowledge is power #2.)

9. Tell Congress that food safety is critical. (Regulations need to be expanded.)

10. Demand job protections for workers along each point of the food processing chain. (Labor rights are a critical part of food safety.)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Slow Food Folks Take Action This Labor Day

From Peter Rothberg's post on The Nation:

"Slow Food USA's Time for Lunch campaign officially kick-offs on Labor Day with a National Day of Action featuring more than 280 scheduled Eat-Ins in all 50 states. There'll also be a virtual march on Washington with citizens encouraged to send a clear message to Congress to protect children against food that puts them at risk. The campaign seeks to have Congress update the Child Nutrition Act, which is up for reauthorization later this month, to get legitimately nutritious food into school lunch programs. Slow Food USA chapter leaders have been working diligently to reach out to schools, PTA groups, churches, legislators, and community and fraternal organizations to bring as many people as possible to the table on Labor Day. More than 40 percent of local Eat-Ins are being organized by other organizations – or concerned citizens – that support the goals of the campaign."

Check out Rothberg's entire post discussing the political and social aspects of food here.

Update on Smart Choices Food Labeling

Well, I suppose the only update is that the following companies have gotten on board: Kellogg’s, Kraft Foods, ConAgra Foods, Unilever, General Mills, PepsiCo and Tyson Foods.

Otherwise, it's really just added confusion. The NY Times reports:

Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group, was part of a panel that helped devise the Smart Choices nutritional criteria, until he quit last September. He said the panel was dominated by members of the food industry, which skewed its decisions.

“It was paid for by industry and when industry put down its foot and said this is what we’re doing, that was it, end of story,” he said. Dr. Kennedy and Dr. Clark, who were both on the panel, said industry members had not controlled the results.

Mr. Jacobson objected to some of the panel’s nutritional decisions. The criteria allow foods to carry the Smart Choices seal if they contain added nutrients, which he said could mask shortcomings in the food.

Despite federal guidelines favoring whole grains, the criteria allow breads made with no whole grains to get the seal if they have added nutrients.

“You could start out with some sawdust, add
calcium or Vitamin A and meet the criteria,” Mr. Jacobson said.

Nutritionists questioned other foods given the Smart Choices label. The program gives the seal to both regular and light mayonnaise, which could lead consumers to think they are both equally healthy. It also allows frozen meals and packaged sandwiches to have up to 600 milligrams of sodium, a quarter of the recommended daily maximum intake.

“The object of this is to make highly processed foods appear as healthful as unprocessed foods, which they are not,” said Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University.

As always, I agree with Marion Nestle and return to good ol' MP's advice that real, whole foods typically don't come with nutrition labels.

Friday, September 4, 2009

World Wildlife Web

Stefano Allesina of the University of Chicago and Mercedes Pascual of the University of Michigan devised an algorithm, inspired by PageRank, for the relationships in a food web in hopes to determine which plant and animal species play paramount roles and would have the greatest impact if they were to become extinct. According to PLoS Computational Biology: "The algorithm uses the links between species in a food web, like the links between web pages, in order to determine the relative importance of species." I'm not particularly good at explaining or even completely understanding algorithms so here is what the NY Times' Henry Fountain reported:

One key to PageRank’s success is that its developers introduced a small probability that a Web user would jump from one page to any other. This in effect makes the Web circular, and makes the algorithm solvable. But in food webs, Dr. Allesina said, “you can’t go from the grass to the lion — the grass has to go through the gazelle first.

“We could not use the same trick to make food webs circular,” he went on.
So they used another trick, he said. Since all organisms die and decompose, they created a “detritus pool” that all species link to. The pool also links to primary producers in a food web, which make use of the decomposed matter.

Their algorithm differs also in that it determines the relative importance of species through reverse engineering — by seeing which species make the food web collapse fastest if they are removed. The researchers found that the algorithm produces results that were as accurate as much more complex (and computationally costly) software that builds webs from the ground up, simulating evolution.

The next step, Dr. Allesina said, is to refine the algorithm so that it will work with more complex webs. There are many other factors that affect extinctions, including pollution and habitat loss. The goal is to create an algorithm that can take these and other elements into account as well.

I heart butterflies

All the caterpillar collecting finally paid off...



Thursday, September 3, 2009

Mmmmm.... SweeTango

If you share my fondness for Honeycrisp apples, you'll be thrilled to hear about the newest delicious variety born from the University of Minnesota:

SweeTango will start showing up in some Minnesota farmers markets Labor Day weekend and arrive in selected grocery stores around the Twin Cities, Seattle and Rochester, N.Y., a few days later. If all goes according to plan, the apple should be available nationwide in 2011 or 2012, said Byrne, who's president of the cooperative and vice president of sales and marketing for Pepin Heights Orchards in southeastern Minnesota.

SweeTango and Honeycrisp were developed at the University of Minnesota. The new apple has Honeycrisp's crispness and juice but kicks up the flavor and adds an intriguing note of fall spice. It was made by crossing Honeycrisp with Zestar!, another University of Minnesota variety.

"It inherited Honeycrisp's texture, and that's a rare commodity, and it actually has more flavor than Honeycrisp," said David Bedford, the university apple breeder who helped develop Honeycrisp and SweeTango. (AP)

Learn more here and here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Dan Phillips is way cool

Not only does the man have "syndicated cryptogram puzzle maker" on his resume - he has been busily building low-income housing out of rather unusual materials,that the less-eco-minded folks out there call (gulp) trash, down in Texas since 1997.

You've gotta admit this house looks pretty darn cool. And the mortgage is less than $300 a month! Read all about Mr. Phillips and his company, Phoenix Commotion, here.