Wednesday, June 6, 2007

zero-waste pork chops

Upon consideration, one might feel inclined to admit that the practice of factory farming animals does very little good for the state of things on the planet. Except, of course, the moment of bliss when the sweet succulent taste of bbq'd burgers hits the tastebuds. Or something.
The point is that in order to get that patty to the plate, a few things are happening behind the scenes. For example, in the U.S, 250,000 pounds of animal excrement has to be dealt with every second. A daunting task - humans in the U.S create 12, 000 pounds per second and it's treated through sewer systems, a commodity lacking on feedlots.
Then there's the growing resistance to antibiotics which can be transfered to the carnivores consuming the meat. In fact, every year in Canada, "50 per cent of the total tonnage of antibiotics used in Canada ends up in livestock. And every year cattle raised in massive feedlots are routinely dosed with antibiotics even if they are not sick."
Burgers don't just grow on trees. Unfortunately. Because if they did, or at least if they grew in fields, it would take about 1/100 of the amount of water to make a pound of beef as compared to a pound of wheat.
And also, it's pretty unfair to the animals to be commodified in a way that takes away any semblance of a life worth living.
So, who better to come up with a solution than the Dutch? (And you have to trust the Dutch, they invented Amsterdam.)
"Dutch researchers are trying to grow pork meat in a laboratory with the goal of feeding millions without the need to raise and slaughter animals."
Potentially, just bits and pieces of animals will be grown in petri dishes without having to feed, "care for," transport, slaughter, and dispose of carcases. Imagine the guilt-free process of buying a rump that was grown in a little glass dish. Just like your sea monkeys.
The scientists say they have a few years to go before you'll find lab-grown animal parts on the supermarket shelves. So far, Bernard Roelen and his team have "managed to grow only thin layers of cells that bear no resemblance to pork chops." But at least (??) they're trying...
If you have 45 minutes, you could watch this. It's a documentary called FrankenSteer that takes an in depth look at the beef industry in Canada. A warning, you don't be eating while you do.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

the not really sleeping giant

There have been some interesting things happening in China involving the food industry.
And by interesting, I mean rather disturbing.
Specifically, two articles have recently caught my attention. The first, published Saturday last, involved the discovery of 5000 rare animals, packed in crates, on their way from their perilous habitats in "south-east Asia to the restaurant tables of southern China." Among the animals found were "31 pangolins, 44 leatherback turtles, 2,720 monitor lizards, 1,130 Brazilian turtles." Most, though severely dehydrated, were found alive. Unfortunately, a number of bears were not so lucky as 21 severed paws were also found aboard, wrapped in newspaper.
It's true that pangolins have anal scent glands that emit strong, foul smelling secretions and that monitor lizards can't even grow their own tails back. But the trend of extinguishing species, as useless as they may initially seem, for reasons like making it easier for mothers to breastfeed their babies, which is what the scales of a pangolin are used for, seems unfair.
To top things off, the former head of the Chinese Food and Drug Administration has been sentenced to death for accepting bribes during his tenure. He can appeal and potentially have his sentence lessened to life. We should be asking whether this is a punishment fitting the crime.
Zheng Xiaoyu has accepted nearly a million dollars over the years to approve substandard drugs and medicines that have caused the deaths of over twenty people. In 2005, thirteen babies that were fed a diet of powdered milk died because there was no nutritional value found in the supplement. There have also been deaths because people who thought they were taking effective antibiotics were taking chump-pills. China is now implementing a system to recall tainted food and drugs which will hopefully be able to warn people before it's too late.
China has some sway on this planet, with its population of 1.3 billion people.
We best be getting on the same page with things like conservation efforts and drug standards because the 'sleeping giant' has long been awake.

the return

Well friends, after a two month hiatus, your blog of choice is returning. My sincere apologies to the faithful readers who have been anxiously checking for updates. I'll explain - when this arduous semester reached its prayed for conclusion, the thought of updating my blog sent me to the corner, shaking and sweating. Fortunately, I have been revived after a month of defiantly-claimed holidays and am back to inform you on the world of food and so on.
Sunkissed and refreshed, I feel as though I face a new and exciting challenge.
Previously I had been blogging for grades, which I might akin to begging for food. I now blog for different reasons - the pleasure of my readers from whom I expect undying devotion, and because I think this is an important topic to create some dialogue around. Sounds self-involved? It is.
Welcome back friends.

Friday, March 30, 2007

i'm going to be a mama!

Phobias are learned behaviors. This goes to show that a parent's choice of actions have lasting effects on their children. My mother was afraid of insects, especially ones that fly. Outdoors I'm fine. But inside, sharing my living space, the thought makes me flap my hands in the air like a pansy.
Nonetheless, I am about to adopt a half a pound of red wriggler worms. They will lovingly be kept in a box on my balcony with some shredded newspaper and straw. The worms will eat my food scraps and crap out precious fertilizer, also known as black gold.
The process is worm composting. It's a method of recycling food scraps so that they don't end up in the landfill. And it creates nutrient rich fertilizer that can go back into the soil, making a healthy environment for plants to grow.
I learned about this recycling technique when I visited Vancouver's City Farmer project earlier this week. The City Farmer project is nearly 30 years old and offers workshops and training on how to worm compost.
It's a perfect way to compost, Mike Levenston, executive director of City Farmer, said. Especially if you live in an apartment building and don't have a yard.
Touching the worms with my bare hands might not be an option but I'm excited to start feeding my babies.
Any birthdays coming up? Some black gold is coming your way.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

it appears as though the flesh is falling off my hand

Spring is almost a week old now and if you haven't already done so, it's time to clear out those cobwebs and shake out those carpets. It's time, my friends, for spring cleaning!
Before you're inspired to grab your Mr. Clean and 'disposable' Swiffer wipes, we should discuss what's in these common cleaning products and the potential effects they may have on you.
Knowing exactly what is in cleaning products takes some research. This is because manufacturers of cleaning products are not forced to list the names of chemicals on their packaging. In fact, Health Canada says that “the responsibility for assessing the hazards associated with a chemical product is that of the manufacturer." They have to list whether or not the product is poisonous or flammable but that's as specific as they are forced to be.
Some household chemical hazards are:
Acetone - A neurotoxin, acetone may cause liver and kidney damage, and damage to the developing fetus. It is a skin and eye irritant. Found in spot treatment cleaners, mark and scuff removers, and other products.
Methylene chloride - a carcinogen, a neurotoxin and a reproductive toxin. On inhalation, it can cause liver and brain damage, irregular heartbeat, and even heart attack. It is a severe skin and moderate eye irritant. Used in stain removers.
Phosphoric acid - extremely corrosive, it can severely irritate and burn the skin and eyes. Breathing vapours can make the lungs ache, and it may be toxic to the central nervous system. Found in some liquid dishwasher detergents, metal polishes, some disinfectants, and bathroom cleaners, especially those that remove lime and mildew.
For a full list, go here.
Believe it or not, all you need to do a thorough scrub job is a couple of lemons, some baking soda, white vinegar, olive oil and water. Instead of paper towel or 'disposable' wipes, you can use old sheets or tattered shirts. Here's a list of ingredients and recipes that make cleaning easy, cheap and safe.
Imagine, you can get that fresh, clean, lemony smell from, gasp, lemons!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

we're about to get personal

Toilet paper has come a long way since it was first used by Chinese Emperors in the 14th C when the sheets measured two feet by three feet.
Today arse-wipe is the third most widely consumed non-food commodity. The average person uses 57 individual sheets per day, 20,805 per year. (The Pentagon uses, on average, 666 rolls per day... weird.)
Kimberly-Clark, of Scott Tissue and Kleenex notoriety, is the world's largest manufacturer of 'disposable' paper products. Less than 19 percent of the pulp Kimberly-Clark uses for its disposable tissue products comes from recycled sources. Kleenex tissues contain 0 per cent recycled content.
In order to fulfill the market demand for soft, high quality bum scrub and snot rags, Kimberly-Clark uses virgin forest tree fiber.
The forests that Kimberly-Clark are disposing of are Canada's own ancient boreal forests.
The company uses more than 1.1 million cubic meters of trees from Canada's boreal forests each year.
These forests that have taken 10,000 years to evolve, run across the northern part of the country where there are no major urban centres. There is, however, 80 per cent of Canada's Aboriginal population who live in forest regions. And an entire ecosystem that acts as a filter for pollution and, oh yeah, it produces air.
Greenpeace started the Kleercut campaign in order to address these issues. They have been 'asking' for a meeting with Kimberly-Clark executives for three years now but have constantly been denied.
Kimberly-Clark claims to have an environmentally friendly policy to replant the trees it cuts down. But in order to replace a 180 year old tree it will take, well 180 years. Besides, the very idea of replanting an entire forest post-clearcutting is ridiculous. Maybe we can just ask the wolves, bears, and caribou to check into the local motel until their habitat is regrown.
In conclusion, buying recycled TP is not that much more costly. I would argue, in fact, that it's far less costly.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

kidney failures for canines

People go to extreme lengths for their pet. And the market has adjusted accordingly - you can take your pet to the spa and buy your pet designer clothes.
At the very least you can make sure your pet is well-fed. This has gotten harder to do in the last couple of weeks, though, as there has been tainted pet food found in the food supply.
Most pet food is owned by subsidiaries of food/product empires: Nestle (Alpo, Fancy Feast, Frisky), Heinz (Kibbles-n-Bits), Colgate-Palmolive (Hill’s Science Diet Pet Food).
The food in question these days comes from brands under the Proctor-Gamble label who get the product from an Ontario-based company, Menu Foods. Food like Iams and Eukanuba are owned by Proctor-Gamble.
The pet food from Menu Foods has been making dogs and cats sick with kidney failure and has resulted in ten deaths. There has been a massive recall of 60 million cans, involving 91 different kinds of wet cat and dog food.
The suspected harmful ingredient is wheat gluten, a protein used as a filler. Pet food is a combination of filler and leftovers of the animals that humans consume. It is called offal (pronounced awful) and consists of bones, blood, intestines, lungs, ligaments, etc. Most veterinarians find that the food is nutritious enough for animals and it's probably a good thing that that extra stuff is going somewhere.
In other bad news for pet food manufacturers, a $50 million Canadian class action law suit is being filed against Royal Canin. The lawsuit seeks compensation for anyone who has purchased Royal Canin dog or cat food since Aug. 1, 2004. According to the lawsuit, the food contains excessive amounts of Vitamin D, which cause severe illness or death in animals.
The increase in demand for organic food occurred after several food contamination scares. I'll bet that the same happens for organic pet food.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


The demand for organics is growing in every sector of the food system, and booze is no exception. Organic beer sales increased by 40 per cent in 2005 and it's not slowing down.
Crannog ales is B.C's little gem of a microbrewery. The farm and brewery work together to create a completely organic beer. They also treat and re-use our wastewater, creating a zero-emissions system. The downside is that if you'd like to try this beer, you basically have to live in the Shuswap region.
Pacific Western Brewing Co. is another B.C organic beer. Like Crannog, Pacific Western uses fresh spring water that is so pure, it can be used untreated. They created Canada's first organic beer in 1997.
The Nelson Brewing Company is over one hundred years old and was recently certified organic. Again, you have to be lucky enough to live nearby this wonderful little town to taste the brew, they export to within about a hundred kilometer radius.
Alberta has the Wild Rose brewing company. They make delicious beer - my personal most favorite beer in the world, Velvet Fog, comes from this organic brewery. Finding this beer outside of Calgary is a challenge though. As with most companies that abide by an organic philosophy, exporting to far away defeats the purpose entirely because of the carbon emissions created.
Aside from the obvious problems that come from drinking (ie. alcoholism), conventional beer and alcohol is full of ingredients that have a causal tie to cancer. Especially mouth, pharynx, larynx, and esophagus cancer. Asbestos and arsenic compounds are regularly found in alcoholic drinks.
Now that St. Patrick's Day is over, perhaps your liver is in need of a little detox. When you hop back off the wagon, seeking out local and organic beer might be a good idea.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

standing on your head can solve your problems

Food issues can be overwhelming.
So take a deep breath, relax, and learn about something calming.
That feeling of stillness comes in the form of B.K.S. Iyengar. There is no doubt that the man is an outstanding individual. I mean, he's taught Aldous Huxley.
He is the founder of Iyengar yoga, a system that embraces the Yoga Sutras, the first known works of yoga philosophy by Patanjali.
Many people think that yoga is Lululemon and downward dog. In fact, there's more to it than that. The eight aspects of yoga are outlined in the Yoga Sutras:
Yama: a code of conduct that engages self-restraint
Niyama: religious observances - commitments to practice, such as study and devotion
Asana: integration of mind and body through physical activity (ie. the postures)
Pranayama: regulation of breath leading to integration of mind and body
Pratyahara - abstraction of the senses, withdrawal of the senses of perception from their object
Dharana - concentration, one-pointedness of mind
Dhyana - meditation (quiet activity that leads to samadhi)
Samadhi - the quiet state of blissful awareness, superconscious state
Non-violence is inherent in these eight limbs.
B.K.S. Iyengar was born in India in 1918. As a child, he suffered from malaria, typhoid and tuberculosis. After being introduced to yoga under his Guru, Sri T. Krishnamacharya, he gained strength and began to formulate a new branch of yoga that focuses on alignment, breath, and mind-body wholesomeness.
His teachings began to move west after he encountered the violinist, Yehudi Menuhin, in 1952. Menuhin was the first Jewish musician to perform under a German conductor after the Holocaust. He turned to Iyengar and his teachings to strengthen his art.
Iyengar's methods involve using props like belts and wooden blocks to preserve the integrity of the postures. His book, Light on Yoga, is the only book that matters. For every posture, he explains how to execute it, where one's breath should be, and the health benefits obtained.
He is still teaching and practicing in Pune, India. And he can do this and this, proving that he is truly amazing.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

attack of the clones

It was only ten years ago that the first cloned animal, Dolly the sheep, was created. Six years after that, Dolly was suffering from arthritis and lung disease so was put to rest. Four year after that, animals created by the same process as Dolly are set to be sold in supermarkets as food in the U.S. But you won't know because the meat and dairy from those animals will not be labeled as cloned.
People have begun to eat the meat from cloned animals, here's an article on the first cloned meal served.
Here are some arguments for and against animal cloning.
There will be less animal waste if we can start producing clones with superior traits like high milk production and tasty meat.
There is little difference from cloning animals to other methods of assisted reproduction like in virtro fertilization. People are simply uninformed and frightened of processes they don't understand.
Cloning is ten years old and the consequences of ingesting cloned food are not known.
To counter the 'less waste' argument, the science is nowhere near perfect. Cloned animals have a high rate of birth defects and often age prematurely (like Dolly). Some might say that the practice equals animal cruelty.
People are uncomfortable with the idea of eating cloned meat. Ethical and spiritual reasons are easy to ignore in the face of 'science' but that does not make them any less valid for the people that hold those beliefs.
The FDA has recently approved cloned meat safe for consumption and has set up a site to debunk the 'myths' of cloning animals. And Canada, as usual, is taking the word of the FDA and is likely to follow suit.
Perhaps what is the most shocking about all of this is that there is practically no media coverage at all, especially in Canada.
I'd like to know your opinion on the topic, would you eat cloned meat if you had the choice? Leave a comment or email me:

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

the FDA, the last line of defense?

Eating habits are personal.
Nobody likes to be told that what they eat or don't eat is good or bad for them. And we assume that the food available to us, organic or not, is alright for consumption because those kinds of things are regulated.
But what happens when the regulatory bodies, created to be watchdogs over the food we eat, start giving priority to companies' profits rather than to human health?
This disturbing question might soon be answered if the Food and Drug Administration (in the U.S) approves an antibiotic for cows that will protect them from respiratory disease. The stressful conditions in which cows live lower their immune systems and "virtually guarantee that bovine respiratory disease will be a major problem."
So heal the cows, sounds noble.
But the antibiotic, called cefquinome, is extremely potent. In humans, it is used for cancer patients and to treat "nearly invinsible infections." The last line of defense.
When antibiotics are given to living beings to treat an infection, that infection eventually mutates. This allows it to become genetically different and therefore develop a resistance to the initial drug. In the case of cattle, those mutated diseases are passed to humans who eat that meat, making humans resistant to the same antibiotics.
Even though the FDA's own science advisers and health groups have said that this will pose a problem to human health, they still plan on approving it.
"Guidance #152" lays out an assessment process on how to determine if new drugs for animals are safe for humans. Unfortunately for humanity, the language is sympathetic to pharmaceutical companies. It says "a new animal drug is safe if [the FDA] concludes that there is reasonable certainty of no harm to human health."
Yeah well, when I was 14, I was reasonably certain that I wanted to be a ballerina.
The FDA will announce their decision in the spring.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

the local market

I awoke on Saturday morning in excited anticipation. It was the first Saturday of the month. The day of the monthly local farmers market.
The debate over local versus organic food plays out in my head every time I grocery shop. At the nearest organic grocery store, there is little produce that is locally grown. Almost all fresh fruits and vegetables come from the U.S, Mexico, Chile. The amount of carbon emissions that are expelled from bringing grapes to my fridge hardly seems worth it.
In 2005 to 2006, Vancouverites Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon embarked on the '100-mile diet.' It was an effort to consume foods that were grown in a 100 mile radius - this even means the food fed to the chickens who laid their eggs. The experiment took intense dedication but proved manageable.
You can understand my excitement when I heard about the locally grown market.
I had visions in my head of stocking up on enough berries and vegetables that could last for a month. One thing that I failed to consider, however, is that it is still winter.
The market was small but busy and the vendors and shoppers were in good cheer. And there was a sense of community from everyone there.
The season, of course, inhibits what can be grown. The market was full of apples, asian pears, garlic, hazelnuts, plus baking and dips from local entrepreneurs.
There was also locally made cheese, fresh free-range eggs, and frozen salmon, pork and beef.
The market season starts between April and May but there are other ways to be more connected to your food. Organiko co-op places bulk organic orders for its members. Although much of the food is imported, the members are helping each other out by collectively reducing the cost and transportation of their food.
While three pears, a block of brie cheese and some garlic won't last me until the next market day, it's refreshing to know that there are avenues to build community and appreciation around food.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

the green of england

Think what you will of the British.
They don't always get a fair trial, what with the "right-o" and the tea and crumpets business.
But good things come out of the UK all the time. And a not-so-obvious example is Prince Charles. Now HRH doesn't always get fair media attention but he's done some good things when it's come to the organic food industry - and long before it was all the rage.
Charles has some extra income, about $16-million annually for being the Duke of Cornwall, so he's able to try some crazy experiments. Back in 1986, Charles turned some of the land at the Home Farm of his Highgrove estate to an organic farm. And since 1996, the entire thing has been certified.
The resulting brand, Duchy foods has been profitable since 1999. And the company has donated its profits of $2.7-million to the Prince's Trust, Charles' charitable fund.
The Prince's green efforts extend to his recently converted bio-diesel Jaguars and he's been traveling commercially rather than by taking the private royal helicopter and train. His concern for the environment seems refreshingly real.
Charles has also been in the news recently for some comments he made in the United Arab Emirates while visiting a diabetes centre. It was an off-the-cuff question to a nutritionist, "Have you got anywhere with McDonald's, have you tried getting it banned? That's the key."
The comments seem a bit disingenuous to some because the 'Duchy Cornish Pastry' has more calories, fat, and salt than a McDonald's Big Mac.
But it seems like the future king is really trying to do his part, which is a big one seeing as the man lives in castles and all.

Friday, February 16, 2007

breaking down plastic

I'm talking about plastic bags today. No, not Cher, the kind that you get at the store to bring home your purchased product in a safe and convenient way.
Plastic bags were only introduced in grocery stores in 1977 and are now accountable for four out of every five bags handed out in stores.
The invention and prolific distribution of plastic bags seemed a marvel invention, at first. The amount of energy and storage that was saved when compared to producing paper bags made the 't-shirt bag' movement seem worth it.
30 years later, we are are able to see a clearer picture of how things are working out.
Plastic bags are made out of chains of polymers, compact molecules that make it hard for other molecules to get between to help break them down. No one knows exactly how long it will take for plastic bags to break down because they haven't been around long enough - estimates range from 500 - 1000 years.
Plastic bags and plastic from packaging is evident everywhere in society. They have been found in autopsies of cows and turtles can mistake them for jellyfish.
So people started inventing biodegradable plastic bags which seems like a really good idea. Biodegradable plastic is good for lots of great things like planting pots that you can put right in the ground. They are also good for composting because they add carbon to the mix, and poopie diapers can be tossed directly into the garden.
They are especially good if they are made out of starch which is a natural polymer. Plastic can even be made inside of harvested bacteria.
As with any technological fix, there are arguments against the idea which should be considered. Older prototypes of biodegradable plastics, which are still on the market, are made with heavy metals like cadmium and lead. And biodegradable bags are only useful when composted. If they are thrown in with regular trash, the bags and the waste gets compacted to the point where there is too little oxygen for quick decomposition.
Cloth bags are the best alternative but this is a start.

Monday, February 12, 2007

five bucks can't get you much

Does buying organic make a difference? Is it worth it?
An apologetic sign beside the peppers warned me that unexpected weather patterns were affecting crop output which were, in turn, affecting prices. An organic red bell pepper would have cost me $5.26 yesterday at the organic grocery store. The empathetic cashier pointed out the price before she charged me and added it to the return pile accumulating beside her register. compiled a list of foods, with research done by Environmental Working Group (EWG), that prioritizes which foods are most vulnerable to chemical saturation. Fruits or vegetables with thick skins or husks (avocado, sweet corn) fall into the "if money is no object" category. This means that there is relatively little chemical residue found in the edible part of the food. And it is primarily speaking to those who eat organic for perceived health benefits.
Bell peppers are categorized as "buy organic as often as possible" because "sweet bell peppers had the most pesticides detected on a single sample with eleven pesticides on a single sample." Other produce that fell into this category: Apples, celery, cherries, imported grapes, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, red raspberries, spinach, and strawberries. The website also lists meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy in this category.
Whether or not there is conclusive evidence of health benefits from organics is beside the point for some. Some think that a product is chemically formulated to kill a plant or a pest, that it might not be safe to ingest, but that just might be crazy talk. While health is a potential benefit, there are those that take a moral stance on the issue. Those people think it's wrong to laden the earth with harsh chemicals as a farming technique.
So some people will go without red peppers for a little while, that's manageable.
Certainly not the end of the world.

Friday, February 9, 2007

niech zyje polska!

You know those serendipitous moments.
Those ones that when they occur make the spinning ol' world seem just right.
That's how I felt when I stumbled onto a gem, a pure gem.
And who, you ask, is responsible for my glee?
It could be none other than the Poles.
Poles have recently been given given due recognition for their traditional farming methods. That is, their organic farming methods.
Poland's history is rooted in small scale and subsistence farming "where chemical pesticides and artificial fertilisers have always been too expensive to use. The vast majority of traditional small Polish family farms have in effect always been organic."
Glee can only last so long, I will sadly warn you. Although Poland is an oasis of pristine ecological beauty that generates food in its pure form, it's recent entry into the EU has made it vulnerable to powerful multi-national entities that don't much care about pristine beauty. And they care far less about food in its pure form.
Smithfield Foods, world's largest pork processor and hog producer, has recently set up factories in Poland. The path of destruction that Smithfield Foods consistently leaves is beyond disturbing, as many from North Carolina or Utah can attest.
Smithfield's retaliation to concern is full of logical fallacy. “Our local and national opponents are selfishly concerned with animal welfare instead of feeding the world.”
Its website disclaimers might comfort you though. "Smithfield does not warrant the validity of any health-related statements contained on the Site or any such information contained in third party sites referenced in the Site." Does this apply when they call their pork products 'nutritious?'
Smithfield's complete disregard for the Polish traditional way of life, the country's established laws, or anything living at all (aside from some pork-stuffed CEOs?) is documented here.
long live polska!

Sunday, February 4, 2007

who's hungry?

Factory farms don't make the news too often. And for good reason - they're gross.
I won't go into all the details about how chicks' beaks are sawed off because otherwise they would peck each other to death when they develop psychosis from confinement... or the environmental degradation that occurs from the amount of energy needed to 'produce' a cow... or the amount of fecal waste generated (canadian livestock produced approximately 164 billion kilograms of manure in 2001. This amount of manure would fill Toronto's SkyDome stadium 103 times per year, almost twice per week. Ok, ok, this is a detail)... or how living, feeling mammals are kept in a moribund limbo. It will probably make you sad and spreading sadness is not my business.
But factory farms are in the news these days, mostly because of a new outbreak of the dreaded H5N1, or avian bird flu at a turkey farm in the UK.
Albeit the most widely reported, this is not the first outbreak of H5N1 this year. In January 3000 geese were destroyed in Hungary because of an outbreak.
Also, aside from an outbreak of H5N1 in people and birds earlier this year, as many as 20% of the cats in Indonesia might carry the virus.
So far, 160 people worldwide have died of the disease. The good news is that the recent UK outbreak has shown how quickly people are ready to react. The slaughter of 159, 000 turkeys will be completed today, hopefully eradicating the disease from the area.
What a relief.
Let's get me a turkey burger and a side of pork rinds.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

something smells bad

It's hard not to be fooled these days.
And those hippies are creative people.
Sometimes the only way you can tell a hippie from a normal person is the faintest smell of patchouli lingering in the hall, maybe some reusable tupperware peeking out of a cloth bag. Lately you get the feeling that they're everywhere.
It's true, they are. It's been a quiet return but hippies have been using their sly dexterity to be seen and heard in imaginative and forceful ways. Take, for example, Free Range Studios.
This group of "message shapers and image makers" offer "design, communication, and strategy services" to clients including Amnesty International,, Planned Parenthood, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club.
Their projects range from logo design to campaign strategy. They were also the brains behind the award winning internet video "The Meatrix," a flash animated short on factory farming. Two videos have followed, "Grocery Store Wars" and "The Mouth Revolution ", both speaking on the topic of organic food.
And the Soil Association, the UK's leading organization for the organic cause just finished up its annual conference. It united world experts to discuss "post peak oil" times and what they will mean for organic farming, food transportation, and food security.
So basically the hippies are networking, bouncing their bare-footed, earth-loving, moonbeam-filled ideas off of each other.
Just a word of advice:
Be careful who you trust.

Monday, January 29, 2007

the world this week

There was some interesting coverage in the world of organics this week. Food and farming is a hot topic these days. Especially when, during last week's State of the Union Address, President Bush announced his goals to reduce the amount of gasoline usage by 20% in the next 10 years, replacing it with a dependency on ethanol.
To do this, Bush plans to increase investment in corn production. The demand for organic farming is rising, causing overhauls of land to make it arable for chemical-free farming, will there be room for a new mega-crop?
Bush has set some high expectations but it seems that we are just replacing one addiction with another. And the idea of a mass corn-planting scheme seems familiar... Didn't Kruschev have a similar idea... well, if it worked for the Soviet communists, I'm sure it will work for Americans.
Keeping with American news, there has been a new plan proposed to track all livestock in America by implanting a "15-digit tracking number to every cow, chicken, pig, turkey, goat, sheep and horse in the United States to trace animals' every move from birth until slaughter."
This is bad news for small-scale organic livestock farmers who already face added costs to keep up with organic regulations. Debbie Davis of the Seco Valley Ranch in Texas said:
"The proposal is that I report every animal I have, every time an animal is born, every time an animal dies, and every time I move an animal from my property. ... There's a lot of expense for everyone. The ones who are going to get impacted are the little guys."

It's a complex world out there, and definitely tough for the little guys.

Friday, January 26, 2007

thanks, Arnie.

Austria's contributions to the world are noteworthy - consider the bleakness of a Red Bull, Arnold Shwarzenegger-free world.
Mozart was influential as well, and a festival called "New Found Hope" was recently held in honor of his membership in the Freemason organization, the Masonic Lodge. Held in Vienna, it was "a month-long, one-of-a-kind, genre-spanning event linking agriculture and culture, with food at its heart."
The event included niche discussions about local and international food issues, especially "feeding children healthy food, creating networks between organic farmers and school cafeterias, and weaving food into the curriculum."
The discussions were organized by food activist, Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse Foundation. The decade-old, California based group is creating programs to battle childhood obesity by introducing healthy food into schools. Her concerns are clear:
Not only are children eating unhealthy food, they are absorbing the values that go with it: the notions that food should be fast, cheap and easy; that abundance is permanent; that it doesn't matter where food comes from; and that it's ok to waste.

Other discussions gathered 150 concerned gourmands, organic farmers and restaurant owners to form local distribution networks and environmentalists, politicians, chefs and farmers addressed "the future of food."
Austria is the biggest contributer to organic farming in Europe and strongly advocates the use of organic food in public institutions like hospitals. 30% of the food served in school cafeterias is organic.
It's an important discussion and a good example of countries becoming more self-sufficient. Check out Austria's hunting regulations too - no wonder California's so progressive.

Monday, January 22, 2007

happy blue Monday

It's blue Monday.
Go ahead. Feel sad.
There are plenty of reasons.
The draft of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to be officially released on February 2, is heavy as lead.
The Doomsday Clock is ticking.
People are suffering all over the place.
Everything has a dark side, including organic food.
In the spirit of blue Monday, let's take a look at some depressing topics in the industry these days.
A Wisconsin Wal-Mart has been mired by accusations of labeling fraud by the organics watchdog group, the Cornucopia Institute. In a letter to Wal-Mart President and CEO, Lee Scott, the group warns it has been following "Wal-Mart's participation in organic retailing very carefully over the past few years."
The same letter foreshadows the recent accusations. Sent in September 2006 and complete with a photo gallery to prove it, non-organic food is clearly shelved as organic.
If you thought that organic food had some health benefits, think again. Monsanto has a report on the safety of organic food. It is a reference/source free study into the dangers of organic food consumption presented to humans.
It clearly states, "organic farmers preferably apply cow or pig manure when this is available. It can be infected with the dangerous bacterium E coli 0157 disease organism that lives happily in the guts of cattle. Infection in human beings kills, or leaves victims without functioning kidneys."
Death or broken kidneys, yikes.
In all seriousness, there are questions raised about the logic of growing large-scale organic food crops, and the nutritional benefits of an organic diet. The growing popularity of organic food, however, speaks to a wider issue. People are increasingly growing concerned for the health of themselves and the planet.
It's a good thing blue Monday only comes once a year.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The art of survival

Farming's most elemental confidante yet ruthless antagonist is the weather. It is a relationship that farmers have no choice but to accept, and few take it for granted. And it's not easy when weather, like the recent cold in California, destroys US $1 billion in crops.
The crops affected most were oranges, lemons, and tangerines. And for us, it will mean an increase in prices for those fruits at the stores.
Weather has destroyed crops before and markets adjust until that crop can be replenished or that food can be imported from further away. But weather patterns are getting more extreme and unpredictable. Seasons are occuring for irregular periods, upsetting harvesting patterns.
So what are we supposed to eat?
A realistic goal is to eat what is seasonal and to eat food that is grown and produced as locally as possible. The difficult part of this is accepting sacrifice, not having the vast choice we are accustomed to. Eating locally grown, organic food has its own rewards, however. It supports the local economy and a reduction in travel means less pollution is created.
Vancouver has a local farmers market society and initiatives for urban farming are gaining popularity.
Your Backyard Farmer, started by two farmers in Portland, Oregon, provides community based farming and creates "small sustainable organic farms at your backdoor."
Growing food is an art. More than that, it is a skill that sustains the ecosystem we live within and survive upon.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Back to the basics

The days of adhering to the famed 1970s slogan, "know your farmer, know your food" seem to be long gone. So what? Do I really need to shake hands with the guy who's growing the strawberries? As long as I can get them to make delicious smoothies on these chilly January days, I'm good.
These days, we are so far removed from the things that we eat that we don't know where they are grown, by whom, and most importantly, using what techniques. Nearly non-existent labeling laws force us to put blind faith in the systems that bring our food from the ground to the table. And a western attitude that demands immediate satisfaction - having what one wants, when one wants it - places stress on ecosystems, justifying the use of synthetic pesticides, hormones, and fertilizers.
Modern organic farming has gained enormous popularity in the last decade. In order to continue trading organic food internationally, specifically to the UK, Canada recently created national standards for organic farming.
Read the new regulations and check back often to read about the many issues relating to organic food and farming.