Monday, May 30, 2011

Pyramid to Plate

For decades, U.S. school teachers have explained proper nutrition by way of the handy dandy food pyramid we all know and most of us have come to ignore. A diet built on grains is fit for a farmer, but for an unfortunate majority of Americans the definition of grains has been obfuscated by french fries and pizza and adding cheese to anything suffices as a dairy serving. Many popular diet programs seemed to be turning the pyramid upside-down and sideways and altering the agreed-upon definition of a healthy diet to suit their marketing so in 2005, the U.S.D.A released a new and improved pyramid emphasizing exercise as an important component - but it was widely regarded as confusing.

Last summer, the brainstorm for a new logo began. In January the government released new dietary guidelines and now, about $2 million bucks later, they are gearing up to release the new and improved pyramid, now in circular form and branded as the Food Plate.

From what I understand, the pie chart plate image will be released sometime next week. My guess is that it will be nothing short of obvious but perhaps the redesign will stick in our minds when we look down at our dinner plates.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Top Ten New Species

The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University released their Top Ten New Species in 2010 this week and they are an interesting crop! Check them out here. They range from very cool Bioluminescent Mushroom and Underwater Mushroom to the not-so-cool Jumping Cockroach and T-Rex Leech. Thankfully, the creepier crawlers are not anywhere near the state of Maryland.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

File Under: Re-Purposed

Sure, it needs more soil and may very well raise a few eyebrows among HOA officers, but I'm pretty excited about this recycled/re-purposed container garden. The former cooler has a built-in drain, can be moved in and out of shade depending on what's planted, easily rolls to and from a water source, and is currently home to some tomato and pepper plants.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Prison Food vs School Lunch

This image was created in collaboration between GOOD and Column Five Media.
Click on the image above (or here) to see the larger, more detailed infographic showing the striking similarities between meals served in prisons and meals served in schools. The difference: The federal budget for school food programs averages about $11 billion per year whereas the prison food is budgeted at $205 million per year. Yikes.

Free Hugs

(FOR HIPPIES) (but probably pretty actually pretty liberal with the hugs)

What We Leave Behind

All this apocalyptic talk of late has been an unfortunate reminder that no matter how hard we try to prevent the passage of time and how right and healthy we live, each and every one of us will eventually meet an end on this earth. Many believe that we move on to a place where we are reunited with the loved ones who have gone before us. Others see themselves in a continuous cycle of growth and reincarnation. And some of us, myself included, believe in something greater but can't quite define or articulate it just yet.

One aspect that we can all agree on is that goodbyes never get easier, nor do the difficult conversations and even more difficult decisions regarding how to honor the physical remains of the deceased in the hazy days after their passing. For the most part, the longer we live the more time we have to think about our legacy, what to leave behind with whom, and where we would like to be put to rest. Our decisions in this matter are likely a direct reflection of the culture to which we were born and our experiences with loss throughout life - and I am no exception to this rule.

I recently read that one in eight people who have ever been alive are alive today. The statistic sprung from a debate about unsustainable population growth, but my mind travelled to cemetery space and land development. I thought of conversations I've overheard between parents and grandparents about purchasing family plots and tried but failed to remember how many rows I'd counted and plots I'd circumvented as a child following my father to those spaces in the earth. I realized that I could, however, pinpoint the exact spaces beneath the trees of backyards-past where we put our pets to rest in cardboard boxes and with a short prayer. I thought of the fate of the small cemetery near my home that occupies "prime real estate" in the land being bulldozed into a shopping center and that perhaps we are foolish to think that what we consider sacred today will remain so forever, or even for a lifetime.

I believe that my generation and those following will face some new challenges regarding not only end-of-life care, but also after-life care. Maybe I am a little premature with this, but in the face of booming population numbers and growing fears about chemicals leaching into nature, something about embalming human bodies and the vast geometric span of the traditional cemetery doesn't seem sustainable, or at least not personal and warm enough for my taste. So I did a little research on alternative, sustainable and/or ecologically friendly ways to honor the deceased. Here is what I found:

Keep it Simple: Reducing your post-mortem footprint can be as simple as requesting that donations be made to an environmental organization of your choosing instead of flowers sent, or requesting that any flowers sent remain potted in soil and be re-planted. This small act makes a difference without disrupting traditions too much.

Let Nature Take its Course: Decomposition is going to happen regardless of the material of a casket and/or additional concrete sealing. The energy and expense that goes into the production and transportation of an elaborate body container may be the most unsustainable part of the process. Shifting tradition back to a plain wooden box or casket made from rice straw greatly decreases environmental and monetary costs.

Think Twice About Embalming: There are, of course, circumstances in which this kind of preservation may be unavoidable but for the most part, refrigeration can accomplish these purposes. Embalming fluids and contamination from blood-borne pathogens are extremely toxic to morticians and have been known to find their way into sewage systems.

Green Cemetery:  A burial ground that prohibits embalming, metal coffins, and vaults, and aims to maintain a natural landscape. There aren't too many of these in the United States but you can find them and learn more here.

The quickest way to reduce a body to its elements. Modern cremation units operate with air-scrubbing capabilities to keep air pollution to a minimum and use far less energy than what would be needed for grave excavation or construction of an above-ground mausoleum. One of the beautiful sides to this is the freedom of transportation and resting place(s) of remains.

The Giving Tree:
Planting a tree in memoriam is not a new idea but actually growing one in/with the ashes of the deceased may be. Spanish designer, Martin Azua, has created what he calls a: Bios Urn. It is a biodegradable urn made from coconut shell, compacted peat and cellulose and contains the seed of a tree (of your choosing). Once your remains have been placed into the urn, it can be planted and then the seed germinates and new life is born.

Research/Re-Use Route: It is not uncommon to donate organs. A fully functioning organ can breathe new life into an otherwise grim one and may very well be the greatest, most selfless gift one can give. Donating your entire cadaver to science is another selfless, resourceful option, but is potentially hard on the hearts of your relatives so if it is something you are considering, talk to your family about it. And consider reading Mary Roach's Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers to get a feel for the realities your loved ones will have to live with.

As always, I don't mean to impose any views on anyone but merely to share ideas as I come across them. The alternative methods listed above are meant to be just that: a list of alternatives.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Big Day for Big Mac Fans

In case you have been wondering about the health and well-being of Wisconsin's own Don Gorske, the featured Big Mac fan in the famed documentary Supersize Me, he is alive and (surprisingly) well and reportedly just sunk his teeth into his 25,000th burger. He accomplished this extraordinary feat over the past 39 years, consumed 12,250,000 Big Mac calories in the process, refers to himself as "healthy as a horse," and has cut back from nine per day to a mere one or two.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Reminder to Recycle

A Love Story… In Milk on Vimeo.

Friends of the Earth commissioned Catsnake to create a short video promoting the environmental organization’s anti-rubbish stance. The London-based film production company came back with a love story. If this doesn't motivate you to recycle, I'm not sure what will.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Reminder: Part II of Accokeek's Food Justice Series is Tonight

@Busboys and Poets 14th and V Location. Part two of the series of open-to-all events will feature Denzell Mitchel of Five Seeds Farm, Michele Levy of Crossroads Farmers Market, and Don Bustos from Santa Cruz Farm! Come out and support the Accokeek Foundation, the National Immigrant Farming Initiative, and the Rural Coalition. Speakers and guests will spotlight the issues that affect food justice on a local and global scale. Here's a little more about the series from Community Outreach and Education Coordinator at Accokeek, Molly Meehan:

"In recognizing the intersection between sustainable agriculture and a fair and just food system, we have invited farmers, policymakers, community leaders, and advocates to address such topics as agricultural policy, food sovereignty, building local and just food systems, achieving food access, and the connection between the environment, our health, and our food. With this series, we hope to cultivate insight and conversation among diverse members of the community, demonstrate opportunities for action with locally based initiatives, strengthen our solidarity, and develop an awareness of the pressing need to restore justice to our food and our land."

Spider Love

Awwwe!! A face even an arachnophobe would LOVE

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Biodegradable Golf Ball

Although the stunning putting greens and lush fairways that blanket golf courses require quite a bit more input than one could call "sustainable," there is good news on the equipment front thanks to some innovative UMainers: A biodegradable ball made from underutilized byproducts of the lobster industry!

The ball was created in a joint project between the Lobster Institute and a Biological and Chemical Engineering Research Group at the University of Maine. Co-creators, Professor David Neivandt and undergraduate student Alex Caddell intend it for use on cruise ships, since an international treaty banned any plastic-dumping (including golf balls) at sea in the eighties. However, with a production cost as low as 19 cents, while other biodegradables retail around one dollar, maybe we'll see the lobster ball on continental shelves too?

Read the UMaine Press Release here and a great Boston Globe article about the balls here.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

How to Build a Butterfly Garden

The sun is shining, the nurseries are buzzing with gardeners, and more than a hundred species of butterflies are starting to spread their wings in Maryland. Not only are these creatures beautiful and friendly; they are also important pollinators for plants and crops. Welcoming them into your garden is an easy and rewarding hobby. Here are a few tips for building a butterfly garden or amending an existing garden to attract local butterflies.

What Butterflies Look For:

- At least five hours of it each day.
Water - Ideally a muddy puddle but a bird bath should do.
Warmth - Rocks or a warm surface to rest on cloudy and cold days are a must.
Particular Plants - Some for laying eggs. Some for nectar. Some for caterpillar food. And some to protect them from wind (details below)
Insecticide-Free Gardens!

Great Butterfly Plants for (and native to) Maryland:

Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium sp.)
Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Milkweed or Butterflyweed (Asclepias sp.)Speedwell or Ironweed (Veronica sp.)Zinnia (Zinnia elegans)

Great Nectar and/or Larval Hosts:

Annual and Perennial Flowers
Asters (Aster sp.)
Cosmos (Cosmos sp.)
Daisy (Leucanthemum sp.)
Goldenrod (Solidago sp.)
Phlox (Phlox sp.)

Trees and Shrubs
Blackberry (Ribes sp.)
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
White Oak (Quercus alba)
Viburnum (Viburnum sp.)
Willow (Salix sp.)
Wild Cherry (Prumus serotina)
Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)

You may have noticed that the well-known Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii), pictured in this post, is not on the recommended list above. This is because the popular plant has recently found its way to the invasive list. Luckily there are plenty of other native plants in these lists with large, colorful flowers that will bring just as many nectaring butterflies to your garden.

*Special thanks to the students and faculty, past and present, of the University of Maryland's Institute of Applied Agriculture for the informative brochure on butterfly gardens

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Onions + Cake

I knew this day would come. A fatty-food concoction - as appetizing to me as the KFC Double Down is to my meatatarian contemporaries - has surfaced on the Internet. Red Velvet Battered Onion Rings. Maybe I can convince my girl over at Adventures in Container Gardening to try out this recipe if we grow the onion?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Busy Bee

Hello, loyal readers. Please forgive the lack of posts these last few days/weeks. We've been very busy with the herd from Eco-Goats grazing the future site of the University of Maryland's Public Health Garden. Please check out our sister blog for more information on the garden and stay tuned for new posts later this week.