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.