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Submitted by KAT on Thu, 02/22/2007 - 9:01am.
We’re heavily invested in Whole Foods stock. At $1.99 a quart, it’s a bargain, and I’m bullish on not only the chicken, but the beef and mushroom, too (very important to maintain a diverse portfolio.) Jim Kramer might not recommend it, but its place in our pantry is assured.
Whole Foods gets a bad rap—somewhat unfairly, I think--for its high prices and anti-union stance, and I’ve often bemoaned the way they plaster posters promoting the “buy local” mantra all over their stores without providing much actual local produce.
But, at the end of the day, Whole Foods transformed the way we shop when it came to Manhattan, making the conventional supermarket across the street from us all but obsolete. And after watching an interview with John Mackey, Whole Foods’ CEO, on The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer the other night, I feel pretty good about spending my food dollars at Whole Foods.
Mackey, a 53-year-old college dropout, has grown his business from a single organic grocery store in Austin, Texas in 1978 into a $9 billion a year enterprise with nearly 200 stores nationwide, according to NewsHour Economics Correspondent Paul Solman.
“Whole Foods sees itself as an alternative model,” Solman noted. “Its stock, publicly traded; its loyalty to its stakeholders, customers, community and employees, instead of just the shareholders who invest.”
Let’s give Whole Foods some gluten-free, agave-sweetened brownie points for giving five percent of its profits to community projects. And paying its workers an average of more than $15 an hour, with full health benefits. According to Solman, “Though Whole Foods is America's second-largest non-union retailer, it ranks fifth among Fortune magazine's best 100 firms to work for.”
Maybe that’s because Whole Foods employees feel like they have a stake in the company and aren’t just toiling away to make a bunch of corporate fat cats even fatter; Whole Foods executives have their salaries capped at 19 times the worker average. And Mackey himself recently took a pay cut, to $1 a year. Why?
“…it's the appropriate thing for me to do at this time in my life. I have enough money,” he told Solman. Stop the presses! A CEO whose appetite for affluence has limits!
He may also be mindful of the fact that sales have slowed as conventional retailers like Wal-Mart climb on board the organic shitake mushroom gravy train. Whole Foods once-hot stock declined 40 percent last year, and Mackey’s looking for ways to stop the slide.
Still, Wall Street was taken by surprise yesterday when Whole Foods announced that it’s agreed to buy competitor Wild Oats for a reported $565 million. Mackey’s hoping that by expanding his empire, he can sustain his chain’s success. But Mackey’s market share is being nibbled away at not only by big box behemoths like Target and Wal-Mart, but smaller chains like Trader Joe’s, whose clever niche marketing appeals to the same savvy and adventurous customers who flock to Whole Foods.
All this competition ought to be great news for organic farmers, but as Steve Bridges, who represents the organic farmers of Texas, told NewsHour’s Solman:
Why aren’t more American farmers switching to organic agriculture methods to meet this growing demand? Isn’t that supposed to be capitalism’s great strength, that whole supply and demand thing? Somehow, our appetites always seem to end up feeding China’s economy instead of our own.
Mackey’s interview on the NewsHour gave me a fresh perspective on my frustration with Whole Foods lack of local produce. When I needed some broccoli for a recipe the other day, I picked up a bag of Whole Foods’ 365 brand frozen broccoli florets, thinking that just maybe it might be more local than the fresh California broccoli in the produce aisle. Its origins? China. I bought the California broccoli. Local? It’s all relative.
Submitted by KAT on Wed, 02/21/2007 - 1:20pm.
Looking for a sandwich with no bonus bacteria? An open-faced sandwich is your best bet. It’s got nothing to hide, because the Food Safety and Inspection Service, a branch of the USDA, inspects manufacturers of packaged, open-faced meat and poultry sandwiches on a daily basis.
Add another slice of bread, though, and you’re off the FSIS reservation. Sandwiches encased in two slices of bread, aka “closed-faced” meat and poultry sandwiches, fall, squarely or not, into FDA territory. What might be lurking under that second slice of bread: salmonella? Listeria? E. coli? Who knows? The FDA only inspects manufacturers of closed-faced sandwiches once every five or ten years.
And while the FSIS and the FDA are busy slicing up their food fiefdoms in this random, arbitrary way, neither food agency actually has the power to recall contaminated chicken or toxic tacos. All they can do is ask nicely.
Sometimes, the FDA doesn’t even bother; if a food product is merely tainted with a non-lethal strain of bacteria, the FDA has been known to look the other way and let the tainted food sit on supermarket shelves, rather than needlessly alarm consumers—or harm agribiz profits. It’s a sorry state of affairs, as CNN noted this morning:
The Safe Food Act was authored by a couple of Democrats, needless to say: Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. It’s been on the table since April of 2005. They’re also urging the Administration to support the creation of a single food safety agency:
And while the FDA and the USDA fumble, some 76 million people suffer from food poisoning each year, according to CDC estimates. Does the FDA own stock in Imodium AD or what? Between approving diarrhea-inducing diet drugs, allowing the use of treated sewage effluent to irrigate salad crops, and ignoring bacteria that spell gastrointestinal disaster, their credibility is truly in the toilet.
Submitted by KAT on Tue, 02/20/2007 - 1:22pm.
This Snapple ad on the side of a bus stop shelter yesterday made me, well, snap. The copy, next to a giant bottle of Snapple diet green tea superimposed over faint bamboo fronds, evokes all things zen, and thin:
Snapple is taking a page from the dubious playbook of Enviga, a carbonated collaboration from Coca-Cola and Nestlé that claims to speed up your metabolism and thereby provide “negative calories.” Of course, Enviga is most effective when you consume three cans a day, according to its marketing.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest has already burst Enviga’s bubble by filing a lawsuit demanding that Coca-Cola and Nestlé stop marketing their effervescent green tea beverage as a calorie-burning elixir.
But is anyone stupid enough to believe that you’re going to lose a pants size by drinking Snapple or Enviga? Madison Avenue’s betting yes, and with good reason; Americans spend $33 billion annually on weight loss foods, products and services, according to the American Dietetic Association.
If we can buy it, we’ll try it. We’re sold on the notion that the solution to every problem entails buying, and consuming, something. The one thing we can’t buy, alas, is willpower.
But we’re willing to pop a pill, or swill a soda, if it promises to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. Remember when doctors started prescribing an antidepressant called Cipramil for shopoholics, in the hopes that the drug would curb their urge to shop compulsively?
GlaxoKlineSmith is banking on America’s voracious appetite for weight-loss wonder drugs with its newly-approved over-the-counter diet drug, Alli, which goes on sale this summer.
Alli, a lesser dosage of the prescription diet drug Xenical, blocks your body from absorbing about 25% of the fat you consume. It’s only intended to be used in conjunction with a healthy diet and an exercise regimen; by itself, it’s not going to produce any significant weight loss.
Will the people who buy Alli bother to adhere to a regimen of exercise and better eating? Oh, and while Alli blocks the absorption of some fat, it may also block absorption of nutrients we need, such as omega-3’s and the soluble vitamins A, E, and D. So you’re supposed to take vitamin supplements, too.
And if you’re foolish enough to take Alli without actually reducing your fat intake, you’re in for some really nasty gastrointestinal side effects, such as severe gas and diarrhea, not to mention an unmentionable condition known as “anal leakage.”
So why is the FDA approving a drug with such limited benefits and so many disgusting side effects? You’ve got to wonder. Maybe Alli's excessively laxative impact will finally make Americans give a crap about the FDA’s lax oversight.
Submitted by KAT on Mon, 02/19/2007 - 9:46am.
Another day, another holiday. Today is President’s Day, or Presidents’ Day, or is it just plain ol’ apostrophe-free Presidents day? Hard to imagine that Washington and Lincoln would feel especially honored by this generic hodgepodge of a holiday, better known for its blizzard of white sales and discount mattresses. Apparently, the bedrock of our democracy is positively Posturepedic®.
Normally, the allure of the white sale eludes me, but when I spotted Groovy Q’s Dirty Linen Suburban Toile Sheet Set on sale at Urban Outfitters this weekend I could not resist its peculiar charms, so I shelled out $34.99 plus sales tax for a set of sheets that lovingly depicts the loathsome landscape of sprawl.
It’s all here: the gas station, the multiplex, the burger joint, the ranch houses, the 24/7 convenience store, the nail salon, pizza parlor, and supermarket—every vestige of suburban vacuity.
“James Howard Kunstler would break out in a rash just looking at these,” I said to Matt.
“Are you kidding? He would love them,” Matt said. After thinking about it, I concluded that maybe he would, and for the same reason that I do.
Toile fabrics date back to 18th century France, and traditionally depict nostalgic rural vignettes that romanticize country living. They appeal to my whole farm fetish, I guess. I made a shade for our kitchen window with an Asian motif toile that includes a farmer sinking his spade into the earth; I like to think of it as a tribute to Masanobu Fukuoka, the Japanese farmer whose 1978 book One Straw Revolution laid out a philosophy of “natural farming” that inspired the permaculture and sustainable agriculture movements.
Toiles do not depict contemporary scenes of life, and therein lies the appeal of Groovy Q’s subversive strip-mall toile. It takes the alienating terrain of suburbia and casts it in the charming amber of anachronism, giving pizza parlors and muliplexes a sepia hue. I’m going to put my new sheets on the bed and dream of a place where the Geography of Nowhere only exists on the pages of James Howard Kunstler’s books and my groovy new Groovy Q sheets.
Submitted by KAT on Sun, 02/18/2007 - 2:45pm.
Today marks the start of the Chinese Lunar New Year, so if you missed the boat on making a fresh start this year, here’s your second chance.
It’s the Year of the Pig, and not just any old pig, but a golden pig, no less; an event that only occurs once every six decades--or every six hundred years--depending on whom you believe.
Children born in the Year of the Golden Pig are said to be blessed with especially good fortune, so there’s been a stampede to breed in China. This golden piglet boomlet may not be such a boon for the rest of us, though, as NetNewsAsia notes:
Kinda makes me have second thoughts about that wild boar sausage I ate for breakfast this morning, even though it was, of course, humanely raised and grass-fed. Tasty, too. But NetNewsAsia makes a pretty compelling case for not bringing home the bacon:
Well, OK, that seems like a pretty reasonable approach. Matt and I have already resolved to eat more ethically this year, which means ordering more vegetarian dishes when we eat out if we can’t trust the source of the meat, poultry or fish on the menu, and sticking with pasture raised meat and poultry products and fish that’s farmed or harvested responsibly when we cook at home.
We’ve done pretty well, so far, but if we do slip up, the Hindu Solar New Year is only two months or so away, on April 14th.
Coincidentally (or not?), April 14th also happens to be the first-ever National Day of Climate Action, thanks to a group called Step It Up 2007. Step It Up is calling for nationwide rallies to urge congress to “…enact immediate cuts in carbon emissions, and pledge an 80% reduction by 2050:”
So please, go to Step It Up 2007’s website while you’re brimming with all that rosy New Year’s resolve, and find out what else you—yes, you, Time’s Person of the Year–can do besides changing to fluorescent light bulbs and trimming the pork from your larder. Because we are seriously running out of time, here:
No more procrastinating. Which reminds me, I resolved to take down our tinsel Christmas tree before the New Year’s over. Lucky for me, the Chinese New Year lasts two whole weeks, ‘cause it doesn’t look like I’ll get to it today. Too busy trying to save the world.
Submitted by KAT on Fri, 02/16/2007 - 12:44pm.
Travel back ten years in time with me, if you will. From the New York Times, October 3, 1997:
This sad snippet of corporate stupidity comes courtesy of The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook, which features “recipes for changing times.” The book’s author, Albert K. Bates, a former civil rights and environmental attorney, has been director of the Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology since 1984, and the Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm in Tennessee since 1994. He’s a scholar of sustainability, teaching students from all over the world how to create a more ecologically sound, and satisfying, way of life.
Bates has coined a kindler, gentler phrase to describe a post peak-oil way of life: “compelled conservation.” I like to think of it as “involuntary simplicity,” myself, except that it’s not going to be that simple, because most Americans nowadays lack the needed skills to be able to fend for ourselves when our carbon-based culture collapses.
Better head to Walden Books and get reacquainted with Walden Pond; better still, buy Bate’s book, which picks up where Thoreau left off. Bates has taken his vision of a future where resources like water and energy are in short supply and written a guide that’s funny, alarming and informative. And it’s full of tempting recipes, with the possible exception of the grasshopper quesadillas, the thought of which makes me a little queasy.
Bate’s admirable “can-do” attitude is a terrific antidote to corporate America’s “can’t do” mindset, exemplified by the above anecdote from the Clinton era.
Conservatives and CEO’s have insisted for decades that the costs of addressing climate change were simply too high. But consider the price American carmakers have paid for failing to be proactive and provide more fuel-efficient cars. Our auto industry is on the verge of making history by disproving H.L. Mencken’s claim that no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.
The Now-Not-So-Big Three fell asleep at the wheel, churning out gas guzzlers on auto-pilot and burying their heads in the tar sands. They saw a demand for greater fuel efficiency as a noose around their necks, so now they’re choking on a surplus of gas guzzlers too great to swallow. Wake up and smell the CAFE, you guys.
Yeah, I know Prius sales have flattened, but Ford, GM, and Chrysler are practically flatlining. The latest Chrysler layoffs show just how disastrous the U.S. auto industry’s decision to continue to crank out SUV’s has been:
Toyota, tired of footing the bill for its U.S. employees’ healthcare and having to “use "pictorials" to teach some illiterate workers how to use high-tech equipment,” decided to shift some of its manufacturing to Canada, as Paul Krugman reported back in July of 2005.
As Krugman noted, Toyota passed up hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives from Southern states to build more factories there, finding it more cost effective to set up shop in a country with a better-educated work force whose health care costs are covered by a national health insurance system.
Looks like business as usual--in this case, ignoring global warming, allowing literacy levels to erode, and failing to address our horrendous health care crisis—has turned out to be bad for business, not to mention our nation’s future.
Sure, there’s the promise of new technologies to keep the status quo, but don’t drink the high fructose corn syrup-laced KoolAid—corn-based ethanol is not the answer, unless you’re the corn lobby and the question is “how can we make more money off this crop?”
The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook gives an engaging, enlightening account of our fossil-fueled follies, along with practical advice for how to cope with—and cook for--a carbon-free future.
And it’s full of great quotes, including this one from one prominent American businessman, a visionary entrepreneur of sorts:
Sadly, it was Thomas Edison, in 1910. Guess he died holding his breath.
Submitted by KAT on Wed, 02/14/2007 - 11:35am.
The media vultures are pecking at Anna Nicole’s curvaceous carcass looking for missed morsels, and the pickings are getting pretty slim. Witness CNN’s segue from a shot of Anna Nicole’s “Death Fridge” to a vacuous Your-Fridge-is-a-Window-to-Your-Soul segment yesterday:
Cut to Cho giving Elisa Zeid, a nutritionist from the American Dietetic Association, the grand tour of her inner fridge:
And I wish CNN would take the time to nourish our brains, instead of feeding Jon Stewart more fodder with which to shred the MSM.
Still, the segment did get me thinking. What do the contents of our fridge reveal about us?
“…Ordinary, everyday objects to some people can carry a storehouse of information about the owner’s ideology,” according to an article entitled “Across the Great Divide: Investigating Links Between Personality and Politics ” from Monday’s NY Times.
The article cited research which “found that the offices and bedrooms of conservatives tended to be neat and contain cleaning supplies, calendars, postage stamps and sports-related posters…Bold-colored, cluttered rooms with art supplies, lots of books, jazz CDs and travel documents tended to belong to liberals…”
I read this to Matt and he said, “Like, duh. They need studies to figure that out?”
Duh, indeed. The stuff in our fridge screams LEFTY FRINGE FOODIE ACTIVISTS, from the five kinds of miso and the biodynamic sauerkraut to the burdock root and grass-fed milk. Leftovers? We’ve got some mutton stew, a pearl barley risotto with goat cheese, golden beets and Swiss chard, and a sweet potato kale soup with heirloom cowpeas. There’s a container of kamut macaroni in there, somewhere, too.
There’s also a little baggie of seeds I saved from a weed in my yard known as lamb’s quarters, or pigweed. I started eating lamb’s quarters on the advice of science writer Susan Allport, author of The Queen of Fats: Why Omega-3s Were Removed from the Western Diet and What We Can Do to Replace Them, who told me that it’s got the highest omega-3 content of any leafy green, and makes a tasty soup, too! I’m just waiting for spring to sow some weed seeds in the window box outside my kitchen.
The fridge door is home to a United Nations of condiments, with harissa, shoyu, chili paste, and fish sauce all side by side in a display of international culinary cooperation. The meat drawer contains wild smoked salmon, peppered tofurkey, and tofu, along with six or seven kinds of cheeses. But no meat; the pasture-raised beef’s in the freezer, along with the goat ribs and the wild boar bacon.
The fridge is cluttered, and not as clean as I’d like it to be, and its contents do indeed have something to say. For example, the three celeriac roots--which have been languishing in the vegetable drawer for several months--have a question for Matt. “What did you buy us for? Are you ever going to cook us?”
Submitted by KAT on Mon, 02/12/2007 - 9:06am.
I don’t know whether to file this under “Ingenious Invention” or “Sad Comment on Our Times:”
The Smart Cycle uses TV plug and play technology designed to trick kids into exercising and learning. The bike comes with software featuring three play modes: Driving Mode, which lets kids pedal through changing landscapes; Learning Mode, which employs a joystick to teach numbers, letters, shapes and colors; and The Big Race, which gives kids a chance to compete against on-screen drivers.
Additional games featuring Sponge Bob, Barbie, and Dora the Explorer will be sold separately.
A stationary bike designed for three-to-six year olds. Yikes. Does anybody remember when kids used to go outside and ride real bikes? There’s something perverse about the sight of children pedaling in place with shiny, sweaty Richard Simmons cheering them on.
Admittedly, I log ten or eleven miles a day on an exercycle myself (well, almost every day.) I don’t really enjoy it, but it’s become essential after a knee injury, so I pedal away while I watch the news or read the paper. It doesn’t compare to biking along the back roads of upstate New York, but it beats becoming decrepit.
So if it’s good enough for me, it seems hypocritical to begrudge Fisher Price for giving kindergartners a way to work out while sitting on their butts and watching TV. It just makes me sad that we’ve evolved, if that’s the word, to the point where the not-so-great outdoors is deemed so fraught with peril that a kid can’t just go outside and ride a bike.
It makes me think of my landlady, an Upper East Side millionaire (is it redundant to add that she’s a Republican?) who lives a block away from Central Park; she stays Chanel suit-slim by walking on a treadmill in her apartment, because Frederick Law Olmstead’s fabricated wilderness frightens her with all its biodiversity. Maybe what Mother Earth needs is a slick Madison Avenue pr campaign, something along the lines of “Nature. It’s What’s Outside.”
Submitted by KAT on Mon, 02/12/2007 - 2:43am.
Rose-colored glasses are essential for any baby born during the Bush administration; how else will little Paige face the future of mounting debts (see debt clock ticking away below) and melting icecaps that Dubya and his cronies are dumping on her generation? No wonder she looks so somber.
But Paige is a born activist—in fact, she started agitating for change even before she was born, requesting all-organic womb service. Paige’s parents, Kathy and Andrew, used to feel they couldn’t afford to pay extra for organic; once Paige came along, though, they decided they couldn’t afford not to.
Babies, after all, are especially susceptible to toxins; pesticide residues and contaminants like lead and mercury can seriously harm fetal development. Kathy also followed her doctor’s advice to consume plenty of omega-3’s, the essential fatty acids our brains need to function properly.
So baby Paige is off to a good start; maybe she’ll bring social change to the sandbox in a few years. Just look at ten-year-old Justin Kvadas, of East Hartford, Connecticut. He's working to get a bill passed by his state legislature that would ban smoking in cars in order to protect children from secondhand smoke. As Justin told ABC News:
And a little child will lead them, as the Bible says. I’ll take a thoughtful ten-year-old over a petulant, juvenile sixty-one year-old any day.
Submitted by Matt Rosenberg on Sat, 02/10/2007 - 2:59pm.
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