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Submitted by KAT on Wed, 02/28/2007 - 10:47am.
Bees, our littlest migrant workers, are battling “colony collapse disorder,” a mysterious new malady that has commercial beekeepers in a panic over how they’re going to pollinate some $14 billion dollars worth of crops.
In short, the web of life that binds us all together on this planet is coming undone. If you think biodiversity is only for epicurean elitists with their heirloom peas and heritage pork, you’re not connecting the dots between all our destructive habits and the world’s declining habitats.
But rather than beat you over the head with a sustainably harvested two-by-four, which would be unproductive, unpleasant, and needlessly violent, I encourage you to get up to speed on the urgent need to preserve biodiversity by watching The (Bio) DaVersity Code, the latest progressive parody from Free Range Studios.
Free Range teamed up with The Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment and the Buckminster Fuller Institute to produce this animated short, which effectively makes the case that what endangers some of us endangers all of us.
In the finest Free Range tradition, The DaVersity Code shows how our colossal carbon footprint is trampling the planet, and lays the responsibility squarely at our feet with links to sites that offer solutions, such as this one from Harvard, which reads, in part:
Biodiversity is not just a buzzword; if you don’t believe me, ask the bees. If you can find any, that is.
Submitted by KAT on Tue, 02/27/2007 - 11:10am.
Food is a form of fuel, so I suppose you could argue that meeting all of one’s daily caloric needs with an appetizer of “pizza skins” is the ultimate in energy efficiency.
Pizza skins, an invention of the restaurant chain Uno Chicago Grill, are a perfect example of American culinary ingenuity/insanity, “a cross between a pizza and stuffed potato skins, with a deep-dish pizza crust crammed with mozzarella and cheddar cheese, mashed potatoes, bacon and sour cream,” according to Reuters.
People have the right to pig out and restaurants have a right to profit from our desire to do so. But the Center for Science in the Public Interest thinks that consumers aren’t being given sufficient information to make informed choices when we eat out.
How many people would still order the pizza skins knowing they contain 2,060 calories, 134 grams of fat, of which 48 grams is saturated fat, and 3,140 milligrams of sodium?
The average person only needs about 2,000 to 2,500 calories a day, and the USDA tells us we should consume, at most, 83 grams of fat daily, and of that, no more than 19 grams of it saturated.
Diners who try to offset such an indulgent appetizer by selecting a healthy sounding entrée, something like, say, Uno Chicago Grill’s “Fresh Chicken and Broccoli Pasta,” will consume another 2,060 calories, with 128 grams of fat, much of it saturated, too.
If you were actually trying to heed the USDA’s dietary guidelines, which evidently no one does, a meal of pizza skins and the chicken and broccoli pasta would require you to fast for several days in order to comply with your Recommended Dietary Allowances.
The National Restaurant Association takes issue with the CSPI’s criticism of the restaurant chains:
Of course, you could argue that routinely serving huge portions of insanely fatty food does the public a grave disservice, too, although it may be a service to gravediggers.
New York City’s Board of Health tried to address the problem by passing a regulation back in December, along with the infamous trans-fat ban, that would require restaurants to post their menu’s nutritional content where consumers could see it, whether on the menu or a menu board.
The restaurant industry has been battling to overturn the rule ever since. They’d rather we didn’t see that information, and most of us don’t really want to know, either. We already know the pizza skins are bad for us, so spare us the gory details.
A diner confronted with the actual caloric and fat content of a side of pizza skins may think twice about actually ordering them, or so the CSPI hopes. Which is why the restaurant industry desperately wants to keep us from knowing. If we do the math, it adds up to problems for them.
Submitted by KAT on Mon, 02/26/2007 - 2:07pm.
The thrill is gone, according to a Valentine’s Day memo from former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to Jim Donald, the company’s current CEO. The internal document, whose authenticity has been confirmed by Starbucks, bemoans “The Commoditization of the Starbucks Experience:”
But the NASDAQ bell may have already tolled for Starbucks, according to maverick money mavens The Motley Fool:
The knee jerk assumption that bigger is better may have hamstrung Starbucks, in the end. Up-and-coming entrepreneurs should consider Starbucks a cautionary tale; staying small has its own rewards, as Bo Burlingham, Inc.’s editor-at-large, documents in Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big. Small Giants profiles 14 companies that chose excellence over expansion, and prospered.
Sometimes, I guess, Grande is not so grand.
Submitted by KAT on Sat, 02/24/2007 - 10:46am.
Thanks to YouTube, people all over the world are gawking at the spectacle of chihuahua-sized rats having an after hours rave at our local KFC/Taco Bell. Film crews from every news channel in the city descended on Sixth Avenue and West 3rd street yesterday after the Rats Gone Wild segment started circulating on the Internet.
I’ve only been to this Taco Bell once, last December, to purchase a prop burrito for a post about the Great Scallion Scare. Thanks to the E. coli outbreak, the place was dead, but with the revelation of this rat pack revelry, it’s deader than dead. Citizen activism has transformed KFC/Taco Bell’s parent corporation, Yum Brands, to Yuck Brands overnight.
Yum Brands hastened to reassure its customers, declaring that "This is completely unacceptable and is an absolute violation of our high standards." As we say in New York, that, and two dollars, will get you on the subway.
The West Village Taco Bell had been cited “as recently as December for a number of health code violations, including evidence of rodents and live cockroaches.” And it’s not the exception; a quick search of NYC’s Health and Mental Hygiene website shows more than a dozen KFC/Taco Bell outlets with significant violations. Guess it depends on what your definition of “high standards” is.
After I photographed my prop beef burrito, I set it on the kitchen counter and opened it, gingerly, just out of anthropological curiosity. I felt a fleeting moment of kinship with those puzzled Afghanis inspecting the packets of peanut butter our military dropped on them as a “humanitarian” afterthought after we started bombing Al Qaeda in 2001. This is something I’m supposed to eat?
I tossed it in the trash. But that’s not to say that Taco Bell burritos aren’t fit for rats, who, after all, have to fit in somewhere on the food chain. Seems only fitting that they’d feel right at home in a fast food chain.
Submitted by KAT on Fri, 02/23/2007 - 9:21am.
Yes, America’s addicted to oil. But there’s another petroleum-based product we can’t seem to get enough of—the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag—and IKEA’s decided to stop enabling our dependency by discouraging our bag habit.
The Swedish retailing giant gives away some 70 million plastic bags annually at its 29 U.S. stores, but starting March 15th, the bags will cost five cents, while the price of IKEA’s sturdy reusable bags will drop from 99 cents to 59 cents.
Bringing your own string bag to the grocery store has been mandatory crunchy-granola protocol for eons, and yet, this simple act of conservation still has the capacity to bemuse cashiers and brand you as some kind of green-tea-sipping, universal-health-care advocating, surge-opposing, foaming-at-the-mouth eco-terrorist treehugger/vegan.
Besides, the bring-your-own-bag ethos means having to carry a bag with you at all times, which requires planning, which precludes impulse shopping. And that’s just too inconvenient for your average free-wheeling, free-spending American. We don’t need no stinkin’ string bags; we’ve got the world on a string.
But we’re “strangling the planet” with our bag habit, as IKEA spokeswoman Mona Astra Liss noted yesterday when she explained why IKEA decided to begin charging customers for the bags. The money will be donated to American Forests, a conservation group. From Reuters:
Collectively, we Americans blithely throw away an estimated 100 billion shopping bags a year, blissfully unaware of all the ways these nonbiodegradable totes degrade our environment.
But plastic bags clutter landfills, clog storm drains and choke wildlife, which is why they’ve been banned everywhere from Ireland to Australia, Rwanda to Bangledesh, even as bag consumption continues unabated in the U.S.
Of course, some Americans consider it our nation’s birthright to pollute and plunder the world’s resources on a heretofore unprecedented scale, so perhaps it’s not surprising that IKEA’s Bring Your Own Bag initiative has apparently ruffled the feathers of that rabid Republican rooster, Rush Limbaugh. I say apparently, because while googling this story, I came across what appears to be a tirade on the topic, but my attempt to read the article was thwarted by the message “You are accessing a page reserved for Rush 24/7 members only.” Ew. Talk about a club you wouldn’t want to join.
Limbaugh’s a proud polluter himself, poisoning the airwaves with his toxic bilge and bile. If he had a soul he would surely sell it to the devil, so it’s no wonder he takes umbrage at any effort to curtail our consumption of “Satan’s resin,” as Elizabeth Royte caustically characterizes plastic in her book Garbage Land .
Royte pleads with us to think “…about the enormous amount of material and energy that goes into the stuff we use for an instant and then discard…We don’t need better ways to get rid of things. We need to not get rid of things, either by keeping them cycling through the system or not designing and desiring them in the first place.”
Whether IKEA’s bag fee will wean America off its toxic tote habit remains to be seen, but, as an old IKEA ad campaign observed, it’s a big country. Someone’s got to clean it up.
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.
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