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WHY WON’T WENDY’S THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX?

You have to be a real egghead these days to be able to unscramble all the labels on egg cartons: cage-free, free range, certified organic, certified humane, yada, yada, yada.

The one label you won’t see—battery cage--is the one that actually applies to 95% of the eggs sold in the U.S. For some reason, the industrial egg farmers who confine their hens to quarters so tight they can barely breathe through their soddered-off beaks don’t seem particularly eager to trumpet their chosen method of egg production.

Meanwhile, the demand for cage-free eggs is so great, as the New York Times noted recently, that Whole Foods--which does not sell, or use, battery cage eggs--sometimes runs out of cage-free eggs and “has to scale back the amount of prepared food and baked goods it makes.”

From Ben and Jerry’s to Google’s cafeteria and Wolfgang Puck’s kitchens, battery cage eggs are no longer welcome. McDonald’s, whose European outlets rely mainly on cage-free eggs, is contemplating a change in its U.S. egg policy. And Burger King’s agreed to reduce its use of battery cage eggs.

But Wendy’s refuses to follow in Burger King’s baby steps.

"We're not in a position to impact the issue," their spokesapologist, Bob Bertini, told a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch. Well, sure. After all, they’ve only got 6,300 outlets in the U.S., and besides, they don’t feature all that many egg dishes—oh, wait! They’re rolling out a new breakfast menu featuring a Steak 'n' Egg Breakfast Sandwich and the “Frescuit,” their answer to the Egg McMuffin.

But, hey, “We're not able to do everything at once,” as Bertrini told the AP.

The fact is that if Wendy’s moved to reduce its use of battery cage eggs, it would encourage more egg producers to abandon the cages. This could only be a good thing, right?

Not if you ask the United Egg Producers, an industry trade group which defends the practice of relying on the cages. But then the United Egg Producers’ president told the New York Times that the demand for cage-free eggs is a myth:

''There is a lot of talk about cage-free, but are people actually buying them?'' said Gene Gregory, president of the United Egg Producers. ''I think the consumer walking into the grocery store sees cage-free and they cost two or three times more, and they don't buy them.''

Funny story about the United Egg Producers. Despite their president’s claims to the contrary, the conventional egg farmers who belong to the United Egg Producers are well aware there’s a growing aversion to battery cage eggs. So they invented their own label, “Animal Care Certified.” Sounds reassuringly humane and ethical, doesn’t it?

But, as Marion Nestle documents in What to Eat, all the label actually certified was “that a company gives food and water to its caged hens.” In 2003, animal welfare advocates filed a false advertising complaint with the FTC on the grounds that the “Animal Care Certified” label implied that the hens were humanely treated. Rather than attempt to justify the label, the United Egg Producers voluntarily changed it to read “United Egg Producers Certified.”

So if you want to buy eggs from hens who spend their needlessly short, miserable lives in tiny cages, never, ever having the chance to walk, spread their wings and lay their eggs in nests as they’re naturally inclined to do, look for the United Egg Producers Certified label. It certifies, as Nestle notes, that its eggs come from “tens of thousands of chickens in cages piled one on top of another in batteries infamous for accumulated feces, feathers, and the overpowering smell of ammonia from the hens’ wastes.”

Oh, and the eggs that come out of these poultry gulags? They can’t hold a candle to the eggs you get from chickens that actually get to live outdoors and graze on grass and grubs. And though “cage-free” represents a step in the right direction, it doesn’t mean that the chickens have actually spent any time outdoors—they’re still kept indoors in huge flocks.

That’s why I had to laugh when I saw a display at one of the agricultural exhibits at the Dutchess County Fair last week intended to educate kids about life on the farm. It depicted a happy looking flock of hens nesting comfortably in unconfined quarters, their unclipped beaks presumably free to dig for grubs. The percentage of chickens that actually get to live out this bucolic scenario is miniscule, which is a shame for us as well as the chickens, because the benefits of pasture raised eggs go far beyond better conditions for the hens.

Pastured chickens free to forage on field greens and bugs produce eggs that are far better tasting and more nutritious. A USDA-funded study “found that such eggs had 10 percent less total fat, 40 percent more vitamin A, 400 percent more omega-3’s, and 34 percent less cholesterol,” according to The Real Food Revival, a terrific guide by Sherri Brooks Vinton and Ann Clark Espuelas, who declare pastured eggs “the gold standard.”

We get our eggs from a farmer who’s famous for her fabulous produce but keeps her equally fabulous eggs a secret, because she only keeps a few hens and can only bring a dozen or so cartons of eggs to the Greenmarket. So you have to get there really early and ask for the eggs, which are kept hidden in a cooler and doled out to those in the know. Their yolks are the deepest saffron yellow you’ve ever seen, and the flavor is superb, well worth getting up at the crack of dawn for. Looks like the early bird not only gets the worm, but the best eggs, too.

WEEKEND GARDEN BLOGGING

Farmer Kitty is inordinately pleased with the paltry haul from our less-than-triumphant victory garden this weekend, but then, it doesn’t take much to float her boat—or fill her wheelbarrow.

We, on the other hand, are too demoralized by the theft of our entire crop of hazelnuts to get too excited about the jumbo heirloom zucchini and picture-perfect bell pepper. We know who the culprits are—our bushy-tailed adversaries were spotted in the act of pilfering our precious nuts, so there’s no mystery here.

Except, of course, where the nuts are buried. The squirrels themselves don’t even know, because they actually forget where they’ve buried their plunder within about ten minutes, as I learned from reading Bill Adler’s Outwitting Squirrels. I also learned that after mating, the male squirrel secretes a waxy plug that prevents any future paternity battles when his little litter of fuzzy filchers is born.

I learned all kinds of fascinating things, but nothing to save our nuts. We’ll just have to content ourselves with admiring the hazelnuts’ catkins and the fiery fall foliage that awaits us. Next year, I’m going to cover the hazelnuts in netting, and keep those furry little creeps away from my crop.

COUNTY FAIR BLOGGING

We made our annual trek to the Dutchess County Fair this week, to “ooh” the blue ribbon pies and “aah” the prize ponies. New York State’s second largest county fair calls itself the “showplace for agriculture in Dutchess County,” and it’s true, there’s plenty of livestock and locally grown veggies on display in the exhibition halls. Every year there’s the obligatory preposterously large pumpkin:

A head of cabbage bore a sign declaring itself “organically grown,” the first time I can recall ever seeing any mention of organics at the county fair. We were also pleased to see a vending machine selling glass bottles of Hudson Valley Fresh chocolate milk instead of the usual cans of soda.

Another first was the Spacey Tracy’s pickle stand. Spacey Tracy’s pickles is a local enterprise, selling their hot ‘n’ spicy pickles, pickled peppers, mint jellies and other goodies at the Rhinebeck farmers’ market every Sunday. In order to compete with the standard county fair fare, Spacey Tracy’s dunked its pickles in batter and deep-fried them. A good idea? By the time we got to Spacey Tracy’s, we were so saturated with saturated fats that the prospect of a deep fried pickle didn’t even appeal to us.

Now, you can’t go to a county fair without consuming your share of fried foods, and I will freely admit that I enjoyed my waffle fries immensely. But the bag of deep fried Oreos that Matt and our friend Amy bought went straight to the garbage, because after Amy bit into one, her lovely face contorted into such a grimace of displeasure that I had no trouble declining her offer to try one. I mean, they didn’t even look good—pale, soggy and greasy, not golden and crispy.

The New York Times ran a story last week about how the Deep Fried Combo Plate at the Indiana State Fair—a Snickers bar, two Oreos and a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, all encased in batter—is no longer fried in trans-fats. The switch to less artery-clogging fats is admirable, of course, but does not, alas, make a deep fried cookie or candy bar healthy.

Which is why signs such as the one below are destined to become a staple at county fairs, too:

I didn’t even know there were special socks made for diabetics. Apparently, the cuffs are extra loose so as not to impede circulation. Judging from the number of morbidly obese men, women and children we saw funneling funnel cakes down their throats at the fair, diabetic socks are a definite growth industry. Like most of the merchandise at the fair, with the exception of a few booths of handcrafts, they were manufactured in China. So much for local.

Another clothing item I’d never seen before were the sweaters worn by the newly shorn sheep, to keep them from shivering after giving up their wool to warm us. I bet their sweaters are made in China, too. Oh well. At least we can still make our own chocolate milk, pickles, and sand art.

 

An Open Letter to Robert E. Murray


To Robert E. Murray
CEO, Murray Energy Corporation
Address unknown

Dear mine-owner and CEO Murray,

I was touched when you promised that you would "not leave this mine until those men are rescued, dead or alive." So I was extremely worried, having read the headline "Murray's Absence Puzzles Families." A company spokesman said you were "ministering" to the families of the miners, but it turns out the families have not seen you either. The ingrates actually "feel that Bob Murray has abandoned [them]." What these families fail to understand is that your absence is selfless, not selfish. Six years ago, Mayor Rudy Giuliani went down to Ground Zero and was exposed to the "exact same things that [the rescue workers] were." He became "one of them." And today, you, Mr. Murray, with a Rudy-esque valor and empathy, have put yourself in the same position as the little people who work for you, and you too are missing.

Wherever you are, I hope you can hear me and know that you are in my thoughts and prayers. I know you must be doing something righteous. You yourself are the first to admit that you fight for "the little guy that nobody cares about." Like the little guys to whom you donate: George "Maccaca" Allen, Katherine Harris, Mitch McConnell and Christopher "Friend of Jack Abramoff" Pombo.

You stand up to special interest groups like Mine Safety. Your friend Senator McConnell happens to be married to Labor secretary Elaine Chao and when an inspector for the Mine Safety Health Administration, which Chao oversees, got out of line, and wouldn't shut up about safety violations, you tactfully reminded him, "Mitch McConnell calls me one of the five finest men in America, and last I checked, he was sleeping with your boss." Luckily, Department of Labor justice is as blind as Department of Justice justice and the uppity safety inspector was transferred and forced into early retirement.

When opportunistic politicians tried to politicize the Sago mine tragedy by passing laws which would protect workers' safety, you stated "I resent these politicians playing politics with my employees' safety because I take the safety of my miners to bed with me every night." When the most opportunistic of all, that senator from New York, Hillary Clinton, said America needs a President who is "pro-labor and will appoint people who actually care about workers' rights and workers' safety" you had the balls of coal to call her "anti-American."

When tragedy struck you experienced a state of denial only felt by those who are at one with the little miners. At a press conference following the collapse you insisted "there's no emergency here," and threatened to call off the conference unless helicopters flying overhead were removed. You are a believer and explained "the lord has already decided whether they're alive or dead and whether they were killed from the percussion from the earthquake. But it's up to Bob Murray and my management to get the access to them as quickly as we can."

The liberal, Jewish, gay, vegan media is claiming that retreat mining, the fictitious method in which miners pull down the last standing pillars of coal and let the roof fall in, caused the collapse. Retreat mining sounds pretty safe to me, and it's only killed thirteen people in the last seven years. Talk about conspiracy theories! You know that the unfortunate accident had nothing to do with alleged "dangerous mining conditions." And you swear that "this was caused by an earthquake, not something that Murray Energy or our management did. It was a natural disaster....And I'm going to prove it to you." Government seismologists argue there was no way this was an earthquake, but who are we going to believe? A bunch of nerds who have nothing better to do than get PhDs in seismology? Or you, a man who knows it's all up to G-d any way.

This isn't the first time you have used your organic grasp of science to take on pseudo-science. You called global warming a myth and "Albert" Gore "the shaman of global goofiness and gloom and doom" responsible for "the destruction of American lives and more death as a result of his hysterical global goofiness with no environmental benefit."

Because you are an outspoken defender of coal rights, because you speak truth to power, and truth to mishigas like global warming and non-earthquake induced collapses, you are persecuted by those who harp on harmless minutiae: the 2,787 violations, $2.4 million proposed fines, and accident rates two times higher than the national average at your mine in Illinois; your 64 violations and $12,973 in fines proposed at Crandall, or the injury rates that are eight times higher than average at Ohio Mine.

I can only surmise you are off chasing the real culprit, the earthquake, as you promised. Or perhaps you are talking to God to see whether he decided if the miners were "dead or alive." Or maybe you overslept. That is a distinct possibility since you do take your miners' safety with you to bed every night.

So let us call off this lost cause of a search for the little miners, and search for the one great man we must find and save: Robert Murray.

Sincerely,
Katie Halper

HOLY COW! WORSHIPPERS SAY “AMEN!” TO THE GRASS-FED GOSPEL

The question of whether religion has been more of a force for good or evil is, like hell, eternally hot. Blessed are those who blaspheme, for their books shall inherit the best-seller lists. Just ask Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins, who all come down firmly on the side of reason, to the dismay of tooth fairy fans, Santa supporters and faith-based followers of other dubious deities.

I would love to believe there’s a God, particularly a benign, compassionate God who wants only the best for all his children and our fellow creatures. But there are a whole bunch of different Gods running around out there, each with his or her own cult following, and some of them seem, quite frankly, to be rather hostile or downright hateful. Like the God pastor Fred Phelps’ worships, who “hates fags.” What the hell kind of a God is that? Then there’s that Allah who apparently advocates blowing people to smithereens. I think I’ll stick with the Reverend Billy and Buddha, thank you very much.

Some Christians are convinced the impending Rapture renders conservation entirely unnecessary. Conservation for whom? For us godless Left Behind lefties? As Ronald Reagan’s enRaptured Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, told Congress, “I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns.” So it made perfect sense to Watt to propose that we open all 80 million acres of undeveloped land in the United States for drilling and mining by the year 2000.

But there are a growing number of evangelicals and other religious types who don’t think it’s our God-given right to plunder our God-given resources. And now, according to an article in today’s New York Times, people of faith are beginning to rethink our food chain, too:

Christians, Jews and Muslims who see food through a moral lens are increasingly organized and focused on showing their strength. The Religious Working Group on the Farm Bill, a national coalition of more than a dozen religious organizations, is lobbying Congress for legislation to help small farms. The National Catholic Rural Life Conference is helping congregations and universities in the Midwest buy local produce from family farmers.

Environment-minded Jews are asking the leaders of Conservative Judaism to rewrite their kosher certification rules to incorporate ethical concerns about workers, animals and the land. Hazon, the Jewish environmental organization, has set up community-supported agriculture programs, or C.S.A.’s, in which customers purchase shares of a farm’s harvest.

“This is the first time I have seen such a deep and growing involvement of the faith community,” said Brother David Andrews, who is on sabbatical from his job as executive director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and has followed these kinds of issues for 30 years.

If this nascent cause was taken up by large numbers of churches and synagogues, the economic effect alone could be profound. “The religious movement is a huge force,” said Arlin S. Wasserman, the founder of Changing Tastes, a consulting firm in St. Paul that advises food companies and philanthropic organizations on trends in food and agriculture. “Already, religious institutions oversee the production of $250 billion per year in food if you bundle together halal, kosher, and institutional buying.

Does this groundswell of spiritual support for sustainable agriculture and compassionate consumption represent a sea change?

“Food and the environment is the civil rights movement for people under the age of 40,” said the Rev. John Wimberly, pastor of the Western Presbyterian Church in Washington.

Hallelujah! I’m about as fond of organized religion as I am of organized sports, but if these folks are going to cast their lot with us secular proselytizers on behalf of pasture-based agriculture, all I can say to Rev. Wimberley is this--from your lips to God’s ear.

LET’S ASK MARION: WILL SUSHI HURT MY BRAIN?

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

Kat: I’m not one of those Volvo-driving, latte-drinking liberals, but I do eat a lot of sushi. So I was sufficiently alarmed by a New York City Department of Health report last month that one fourth of New Yorkers have elevated levels of mercury thanks, in large part, to our fondness for fish.

We New Yorkers may be more full of it, but excess mercury is a problem all over the country. We know that even a small quantity of mercury can hurt cognitive development in children. And yet, a BP (British Petroleum) refinery in Indiana is still allowed to dump mercury directly into Lake Michigan, which is “a magnet for sport fishing and the source of drinking water for Chicago and scores of other communities,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

So if we can’t count on the EPA to, you know, actually protect the environment, we have got to be proactive and stay on top of what fish is OK to eat and what’s not. You touch on this topic in your “Eating Made Simple” article in the September issue of Scientific American, in which you note that “two small servings per week of the less predatory classes of fish are unlikely to cause harm.”

You’re presumably talking about fish like anchovies and sardines, but they’re not exactly a staple on sushi menus. Tuna, on the other hand, is. As are salmon and mackerel, which are so high in those omega-3 fatty acids that are known to benefit our brains. My own brain hurts when I try to figure this stuff out. So, seriously, how often do you eat sushi?

Dr. Nestle: I love sushi and eat it every chance I get although I try to be careful to eat it in places where I think the chefs know how to prepare it safely. I can well sympathize with your sushi-induced headache. Balancing the risks and benefits of seafood is no joke. It took me five chapters in What to Eat to deal with fish choices and it took an Institute of Medicine committee two years just to grapple with the methylmercury vs. omega-3 problem.

Personally, I’m much more worried about the risk of biological hazards—bacteria, viruses, worms, and the like—in sushi than I am about methylmercury, but I’m past the point of becoming pregnant. Pregnancy is the real concern. Methylmercury is not good for baby brains. It does not seem to have nearly as much effect--except at high levels--on adult brains.

The good news is that only five big predatory fish in the food supply that are commonly eaten accumulate high levels of methylmercury: (1) shark, (2) swordfish, (3) king mackerel, and (4) tilefish. The other common one has half the level of those four: (5) albacore (white) tuna. Everything else has much, much lower levels, as shown in this chart from the 2006 Institute of Medicine report.

The amounts in other fish are so low that the chart has to make the scale bigger so you can see the difference.

The methylmercury story is one place where I think government agencies make truly sensible recommendations. In 2004, the FDA and EPA came out with a joint advisory for people most likely to suffer bad effects from eating too much methylmercury: pregnant women, women likely to become pregnant (because methylmercury accumulates) and small children. These agencies say that if you are in this category, don’t eat those five fish. Period.

If you are not in those categories, eating a serving or so of those fish once in a while seems OK. In any case, there isn’t all that much fish in sushi. The fish portions are tiny so the amounts of methylmercury will be tiny. That leaves plenty of sushi to enjoy. Salmon, for example, is very low in methylmercury and so are shrimp, eel, and lots of other kinds I like. And, being an adult, I will occasionally indulge in a piece of tuna.

With that said, I’m fussy about the possibility of biological contaminants in sushi. Here too, the FDA has sensible things to say. The FDA tells pregnant women, young children, the elderly, people with compromised immune systems, and those with low stomach acidity not to eat raw seafood--ever. If you aren’t in those categories, and want to reduce your risk of picking up some nasty parasite or bug, it helps to make sure the fish was solidly and deeply frozen before you eat it. Even then there’s a risk, but a much smaller one. So I like to be sure I’m eating sushi in a place with a well trained chef who knows food safety rules.

But the whole subject makes me really angry. About 40% of the methlmercury in fish gets into their waters from coal-burning power plants (the rest comes mostly from volcanoes and natural sources). We know perfectly well how to clean up emissions from those plants before they dump toxins in land and water. This is the best example I can think of to illustrate why changing the environment is so much more important to health than individual choices. You don’t like methylmercury in your fish? Write your congressional representatives and tell them to stop delaying controls on emissions. Now.

(For more on sushi safety, the Colorado Health Department has a neat page with many links to other sources of information on mercury, bacterial, and other kinds of problems with fish.)

USDA DOES BIG AG’S BIDDING BY POOH-POOHING ORGANICS

The USDA’s “certified organic” label is taking hits from every quarter these days, from purists who say it’s too watered down to corporations who’d love to dilute it further to farmers who can’t be bothered with all that bureaucracy. Consumers are confused, too, wondering whether organic food is really any better for you or just an excuse for food manufacturers to charge a premium.

One thing is indisputable, though--sales of organic foods have skyrocketed in recent years. So I was appalled to learn from Sunday’s New York Times that the USDA’s National Organic Program, which is responsible for enforcing the organics standards, has only nine staff members and an annual budget of just $1.5 million, despite the fact that consumers currently spend “more than $14 billion a year on organic foods, up from $3.6 billion in 1997,” as the Times notes. By way of contrast, the article adds that in 2005, the USDA gave $37 million in subsidies to farmers who grow dried peas, a crop worth about $83 million annually.

It’s utterly nutty to allocate peanuts for the National Organic Program. But the USDA has long been industrial agriculture’s handmaiden, coddling corporations and treating organics like an unloved stepchild. Now, of course, Cinderella’s pesticide-free heirloom pumpkin’s turned into a first class coach, and Big Ag wants to tag along for the ride.

How the ugly duckling in a freegan frock became the belle of the ball is more scary tale than fairy tale, well-documented in Samuel Fromartz’s Organic, Inc.: Natural Foods and How They Grew and Julie Guthman’s Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California.

Both books chart organic food’s evolution from small scale, sustainable farms to big time industrial operations that violate the very notion of “organic.” But even as Big Ag co-opts the organic label, the USDA still won’t acknowledge that there are any benefits to buying organic. From the USDA’s own website, under “Organic Food Standards and Labels: the Facts:”

Is organic food better for me and my family?

USDA makes no claims that organically produced food is safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food. Organic food differs from conventionally produced food in the way it is grown, handled, and processed.

It’s a fact that foods grown without pesticides and chemicals are, at the very least, safer for the environment. You can bet that they’re better for our bodies, too, unless you care to argue that the presence of pesticide residues in your food is a plus.

And there have been numerous studies from credible sources showing that organic foods are nutritionally superior, such as this one from Great Britain’s Soil Association, or the latest study from UC Davis showing that organic tomatoes have nearly twice the antioxidants of conventional ones. Researchers attribute this, in part, to the higher soil fertility of organic farms.

My favorite “agrivist,” Sandor Katz, notes that chemically dependent, so-called “conventional” industrial agriculture only became the cultural norm after two World Wars left us with a surplus of chemicals, including the organophosphates once used in the Nazi gas chambers, which subsequently became popular pesticides.

“Chemical agriculture is an unmitigated disaster, and a relatively new phenomenon: prior to World War II, virtually all food was produced without chemicals, by what we now call “organic” methods,” Katz writes in The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved.

Katz is quick to add, however, that he has his doubts about the organic label, as do I. “People wishing to resist corporate control and eat fresh, healthy food have to move beyond organics and into the foodshed, thinking about where our food actually comes from.”

Of course, agribiz doesn’t want you to know where your food comes from, which is why its lobbyists have kept Congress from enforcing the Country of Origin Labeling Laws that were signed into law in the last farm bill.

And even when our foods are labeled, we can’t be sure standards are really being upheld; the Des Moines Register reported on Sunday that that USDA auditors are only just now “scheduled to make their first -- and long-awaited -- trip to China this month to check on organic food operations there.”

Will these supposedly “surprise” visits yield any actual surprises? Will the USDA be shocked, shocked to find traces of toxins in the tofu?

Here’s what I want to know: if conventional agriculture represents such a technological breakthrough, why do so many of us gladly pay more for food that’s been grown the way our grandparents grew it, without “benefit” of chemicals? The USDA may not be willing to confirm our suspicions that pesticide-free produce is better for us, but Big Ag is happy to capitalize on our concerns and promote its brand of organic. I guess that’s just natural. But is it truly organic?

WEEKEND GARDEN SLOGGING

I’d like to say that I have been too busy harvesting the bounty of my backyard to take time out for blogging, but the sad truth is that despite having shoehorned fruits, herbs and vegetables into every square inch of our garden, there is practically nothing to eat, with the exception of one oversized heirloom zucchini and a couple of cherry tomatoes.

Everything’s taking forever to ripen, and the yields are pitiful—an eggplant here, a bell pepper there; at this rate, we’ll be able to make a ratatouille for two in two months.

The garden looks lush, thanks to that cover crop of Japanese buckwheat I stupidly sowed back in July to keep the weeds out. The bees are loving the buckwheat blossoms, but it will self-seed with a vengeance if I don’t pull it out now. I just have to figure out how to remove it without accidentally pulling up the leeks and the lingonberries (note to self; cover crops do not mix well with existing plantings.)

And then there’s all the “volunteer” amaranth—it crashes my garden gate every year since the Seeds of Change catalog seduced me with a selection touted as a “unique, stoutly branched plant that produces delicious leaves, favored as a steamed vegetable in Greece.” Those droopy, seed-laden spikes nodding in the breeze have a certain charm until you realize that they’re carpet bombing your entire yard, leaving seed sleeper cells poised to launch a massive amaranth invasion the following spring.

A reconnaissance tour through the garden yesterday morning sent me back into the house in abject defeat (and tears.) By noon, though, hunger won out over despair, so I went out and captured an armload of the renegade amaranth and its close cousin, lamb’s quarters, which also pops up everywhere uninvited.

Armed with a recipe for a “basic potage” from the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market website , which I discovered via Eating Liberally’s Charlotte, North Carolina chapter (thanks, Laura!), I submerged my garden insurgents in a pot of boiling broth and then beat them into submission with a blending stick. The end result was a tasty and triumphant soup.

My take-no-prisoners potage--chock full of vitamins and minerals thanks to my antioxidant and omega-3 rich weeds--left me feeling feisty and ready to reclaim my turf, so after lunch I grabbed my Japanese farmers’ knife and rooted out the rest of the amaranth and lamb’s quarters. Wide swaths of formerly overgrown ground have been reclaimed and are ready to be planted with more docile, domesticated greens that can coexist peacefully. But what will we eat in the meantime? Not to worry, weed-dom is on the march. The amaranth and lamb’s quarters will be sure to send in reinforcements, to remind us that our mission is not, in fact, accomplished—and never will be.

I’M NOT A PLASTIC BAG—BUT I’M WRAPPED IN ONE

Eco-entrepreneurs would have us believe we can buy our way out of this crisis we’ve caused with our excess consumption. My friend Tom calls it the “My third car is a Prius” phenomenon. Manufacturers of every conceivable consumer good have given their products a green patina to appeal to that affluent sub-species known by the advertising acronym LOHAS, as in Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability.

Your typical LOHAS is well-educated and well-heeled, and would be manna to Madison Avenue, if only the LOHAS mantra weren’t “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” But these devotees of doing with less are more likely to be disciples of the Church of Stop Shopping than Am-Ex-carrying members of the Put It On My Card club. We’ve got Reverend Billy’s sermon to “step away from the merchandise” ringing in our ears; we can’t hear the siren song of buy, buy, buy.

So vendors vying for those “lite” green greenbacks have latched on to another kind of LOHAS--the Lifestyles of the Hip and Shallow. Am I’m not the only one getting my 100% organic cotton made-in-the-USA panties in a twist over this. Trend spotter Lou Dobbs singled out this oxymoronic movement on CNN Tuesday night . Clutching the must-have eco-chic accessory of the moment, the “I Am Not a Plastic Bag” bag, he launched into one of his trademark tirades:

Right now, many fashionistas -- and there are lots of them around the world -- find it fashionable to be green. Now, for example, take this little number. It's a nifty cotton bag with a hemp-like handle, cleverly adorned with the words -- you can see them there -- "I'm not a plastic bag," apparently useful for blithering idiots who can't tell the difference between cotton and plastic.

And there are lots of those apparently around the world as well. They are brought to you by, as a matter of fact, eminent London designer Anya Hindmarch, a world-class greenie, by the way, who usually charges more than $1,000 for a little handbag.

In fairness, there's good news. These little handbags only cost $15. In London and New York, people stood in line for hours, making a barely discernible distinction between fashion and social statements, using the bags as handbags.

And in Taiwan riots actually broke out among those waiting for these bags. Dozens of people were sent to the hospital. A similar response in Hong Kong forcing police to close down a shopping mall.

And if you weren't able to bag your bag at a store, don't be concerned. They are now selling on eBay for hundreds of dollars each.

There are a couple of problems. This bag was, it turns out, delivered enshrouded in plastic. Oops. Sorry about the fashion statement or the social statement or whatever the statement was. And guess what? This little green treasure of style was made in -- you guessed it -- the world's number-one polluter and world-class labor abuser, communist China.

Golly, don't we all feel better about ourselves now?

When Whole Foods got a shipment of the I Am Not a Bag bags about a month ago, Matt passed the Union Square Whole Foods on his way to the Greenmarket and called me to report that there was a line snaking around the block, consisting mainly of Asian women. We were baffled until we read Marion Burros’ account of the phenomenon in the New York Times and realized that some of the women waiting outside our Whole Foods had come all the way from Taiwan or Hong Kong to snag a bag, after failing to do so in the frenzy the bags unleashed back home.

We spotted a woman toting one of these would-be bags of honor in the East Village last week, and were amused to see that the bag was already falling apart, its piping frayed. Meanwhile, the chaos surrounding the sale of Anya Hindmarch’s trophy tote has forced the designer to cancel the launches she had planned for Beijing, Shanghai and Jakarta, but as Dobbs noted, you can still buy the bags on eBay, if you’re willing to pay a premium for a shoddy, made-in-China piece of crap. As Neil Young sang thirteen years ago:

Tried to save the trees
Bought a plastic bag
The bottom fell out
It was a piece of crap

Saw it on the tube
Bought it on the phone
Now you're home alone
It's a piece of crap

I tried to plug in it
I tried to turn it on
When I got it home
It was a piece of crap

Got it from a friend
On him you can depend
I found out in the end
It was a piece of crap

I'm trying to save the trees
I saw it on TV
They cut the forest down
To build a piece of crap

I went back to the store
They gave me four more
The guy told me at the door
It's a piece of crap

Truly an anthem for our time. But trying to boycott those three little words “made in China” is a full time job, as Sara Bongiorni documents in A Year Without "Made in China": One Family's True Life Adventure in the Global Economy.

And now Wal-Mart, which has nearly succeeded in single-handedly destroying American manufacturing, is finding that people with low-paying jobs aren’t such great customers. Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott notes in today’s New York Times that the average Wal-Mart shopper, who typically earns less than $40,000 a household, is “under difficult pressure economically.”

Needless to say, this morning I am having a big side of schadenfreude along with my grass-fed yogurt and homemade granola topped with local berries and cherries.

Bush & Bush

Apparently, it's not easy being W's father. As Ron Kauffman, an advisor to 41, explained, hearing criticism of Bush Junior "wears on his heart and on his soul." According to the New York Times, Herbert Walker Bush compares himself to "a Little League father whose kid is having a rough game. And like the proud and angry Little League dad who cannot help but yell at the umpire, sometimes he just cannot help getting involved." It seems like Bush is more of "a little league father whose kid has no arms and no legs."


Bush tells his son not to draw pictures on the programs at Gerald Ford's funeral

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