OK, so you’re a conscientious carnivore: no factory farm frankfurters for you! And that bacon you had for breakfast? It came from a happy hog that frolicked and foraged freely before being humanely slaughtered.

Seems like a win-win-win: you’re boycotting all those agribiz atrocities, supporting sustainable farming, and getting a healthier, tastier product. Hey, you’re even fighting sprawl! Those local livestock farmers couldn’t make a living off their land without ethicureans like you snapping up their sustainable sausage. Your willingness to pay top dollar for top round that’s grass-fed spares untold acres of pasture from being plowed under to grow rows of strip malls and condos.

But that pasture-raised pork may still be enough to get you exiled from treehugger eden, according to Kathy Freston, a self-help author and blogger who proclaims that “vegetarian is the new Prius.”

Freston’s latest pro-vegetarian post, “You Call Yourself a Progressive -- But You Still Eat Meat?” makes the case that eating any meat, regardless of how it’s raised, is grounds for revoking your green credentials:

“It'd be like driving an SUV that gets 15 mpg rather than 10, or driving an SUV three days per week instead of seven. Sure, it might be better for the environment, but with so many more fuel-efficient ways to get from A to B, there's no need to drive any SUV at all. Eating meat -- any meat -- is the same thing: With so many healthy vegetarian options that are kinder and far more eco-friendly than even the "best" meat products, there's just no good justification for someone who claims to be an environmentalist -- or to oppose cruelty -- for doing it.”

I’m one of those foodie activists who preaches the pasture-raised gospel. A tireless (and tiresome) proselytizer, I pass the grass-fed butter and pat myself on the back for spreading the word about ethical eating.

But Freston makes a compelling case for cutting out meat altogether. As a lover of bacon, it pains me to admit this, but most of her arguments are pretty much unassailable, and she’s not the only one making them.

A cat needs to eat meat, but for humans, it’s just a treat. We eat it because we like it, not because we need it. Our bodies function better without meat, in fact. “The meat industry’s big public relations problem is that vegetarians are demonstrably healthier than meat-eaters,” notes NYU nutritionist Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat.

Thirty years ago, our government actually tried to warn us to eat less meat. In a report entitled “Dietary Goals for the United States,” the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs recommended that we “reduce consumption of meat.”

But the beef lobby went berserk. That simple message got fed through the meat industry p.r. grinder and came out: “choose meats, poultry, and fish which will reduce saturated fat intake.”

In the decades since, meat consumption has risen dramatically while the USDA’s guidelines remain vague and convoluted. And the toll meat production takes on our environment has shot up significantly, too. A report last year from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” provided a startling look at the link between meat consumption, environmental degradation, and global warming.

Henning Steinfeld, senior author of the report, stated that “Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems. Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.”

Researchers at the University of Chicago determined that American meat eaters are responsible for 1.5 more tons of carbon dioxide per person than vegetarians every year. But even one of the authors of that study, Gidon Eshel, doesn’t insist that we should give up meat entirely:

"It doesn't have to be all the way to the extreme end of vegan," says Dr. Eshel, whose family raised beef cattle in Israel. "If you simply cut down from two burgers a week to one, you've already made a substantial difference."

Kathy Freston disagrees, stating that “if we're eating meat, we're making a conscious decision that is even more wasteful and polluting” than driving a Hummer.

But I don’t drive at all; I’ve never owned a car and rely mostly on mass transit to get around. Doesn’t that give me some kind of carbon offset, or at least a karma offset?

Freston claims that our craving for meat “can be largely satisfied by the luscious faux meat options out there.” Now, I like tofu as much as the next progressive, which is to say that if you marinate it and bake it or slather it with bar-b-q sauce and smoke it, it almost tastes like…something. But still. Can’t I have the occasional biodynamic burger with grass-fed cheese and pasture-raised bacon?



Now that Michael Pollan’s got us fretting about “food miles” and the provenance of our produce, I no longer buy Chilean raspberries or Argentinean pears for fear of racking up too many frequent flier miles on the plane to Planet Doom.

And after watching the “stalkumentary,” Asparagus!, I just say no to the Peruvian asparagus that’s subsidized by U.S. tax dollars as part of our War on Drugs; paying Peruvian farmers to grow vegetables instead of coca leaves hasn’t made a dent in the drug trade, but it’s very nearly destroyed American asparagus farmers who can’t compete with the cheap imports.

Now I’ve got a reason to pass on Central American produce, too; according to Monday’s NY Times, Guatemalan children are routinely forced to work long hours for low pay processing fruits and vegetables that end up in American schools, hospitals, restaurants, and the military.

A 16-year-old named Maria, a factory worker since the age of 12, told the Times she works six days a week and spends her Sundays attending special classes for child laborers:

“I can be so tired, so exhausted, but I feel so good when I come home and read,” she said, her tears stopping and her face lighting up. “It can be any book. I just like to see the words.”

President Bush, who just likes to see the pictures, breezed through Guatemala yesterday touting the benefits of free trade at an agricultural cooperative that supplies produce to Central American Wal-Marts.

Bush helped farmers load lettuce headed for the global market, and then declared the lifting of the leafy greens to be “one of the great experiences of my presidency,'' according to the Guardian. Evidently our president prefers heads of lettuce to heads of state.

Bush’s message to the people of Guatemala? “…you have a friend in the United States of America. We care about your plight.”

But not as much as we care about low prices, according to the executives at Legumex, one of the food producers who exploit children in order to meet America’s demand for cheap food:

“We’re a developing country,” said Hermann Peterson, the company’s auditor. “We can’t have the same conditions as factories in the United States.”

Bush insists that free trade will improve wages and working conditions in Central America, but so far, CAFTA’s done nothing for the children of Guatemala, according to the Times:

None of the child workers interviewed around here said they had yet felt any benefits of Cafta, as the trade pact is known, which Guatemala signed nearly two years ago and which slipped through the United States Congress by a hair.

“These trade agreements were written for investors in large American corporations,” Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, told the Times. “They weren’t written for American workers and they weren’t written to protect Central American children.” Brown was a staunch opponent of CAFTA while he was in the House of Representatives.

The child labor laws are routinely violated, and little or nothing is being done about it.

Bush took time out from loading lettuce to check out some Mayan ruins, after which Mayan priests vowed to purify the sacred archaeological site to eliminate ”bad spirits'' after Bush's visit.

Back home, we’ll have to settle for Dana Priest setting off the Walter Reed stink bomb in the Washington Post. Our CEO president expressed dismay over the revelation that our soldiers are receiving such shabby treatment, just as he claims to be concerned about abysmal conditions in foreign factories.

But the “message: I care” mantra, passed down from Poppy, is moldier than the walls at Walter Reed. No need to read about it; just look at the pictures.


Blogging took a backseat to baking this weekend as we whipped up conspiracy-flavored canapés for a NYC book party in honor of Marcy Wheeler, the blogosphere’s foremost Plameologist and author of Anatomy of Deceit. The event, which doubled as a fundraiser for the Yearly Kos blogger convention, was a collaborative effort by Drinking Liberally, the yKos Committee, and Eating Liberally, so our Menu of Mass Deception had to feed hordes of hungry Kossacks.

In honor of Marcy, Matt and I fired up our tiny 18” wide tenement stove and cranked out hundreds of leak tartlets, pigs-in-a-blanket-denial, Scooter pies and no-uranium yellow cakes. Then we piled our piping hot hors d’oeuvres into a taxi and trundled off to Tribeca’s Tank, the artsy alternative hipster hotspot where the event took place.

There, we served up Plame-broiled mini-burgers (well, OK, they were actually grilled, but that doesn’t sound as good) and had the pleasure of nourishing the netroots literally and savoring the Libby verdict with the Kossack crew, the Liberally crowd and progressive celebs like ace activist cartoonist Tom Tomorrow and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, the first Puerto Rican woman elected to the United States House of Representatives. And Laughing Liberally’s own Katie Halper took the stage to serve up some Novak on a bagel, slicing up the former Crossfire curmudgeon and making toast of his “Christian” conversion.

But the laughter was bittersweet, because despite Libby’s conviction, no one’s been held accountable for the real crimes that were committed in this case.

And what of all the pity for poor Scooter Libby, the fall guy? After all, he was only doing his master’s bidding, like a faithful dog. When the verdict was read, his wife, Harriet Grant, reportedly reacted with rage and was overheard by several reporters saying “We’re gonna f**k* ‘em.”

Harriet, honey, your husband and his cronies have already rendered Iraq more or less FUBAR, to use the military vernacular, and they’ve done untold damage to our own democracy in the process, so enough with the screwing around already.

Stop feeling sorry for Scooter and think of the thousands of people who have been killed or maimed needlessly because of the Bush administration’s mendacity. If Libby wanted to be cage free, he should have been a stool pigeon, instead of taking the fall for a lame duck. Birds of a feather flock together, until a prosecutor goes on a hunt for the truth, shooting for scoundrels. I only wish Patrick Fitzgerald could have bagged them all, but sadly, the buckshot stops here.

(* asterisks are solely for the benefit of my father, whose stint in the Navy was not sufficient to overcome his allergy to four letter words…)


The climate change-naysayer brigade remains steadfastly unmoved by the plight of polar bears slipping and sliding into extinction as the ice caps melt from under them.

But unseasonably warm weather is spawning a wave of premature wild animal babies, and I defy the hard-hearted, soft-headed climate change deniers to ignore the plight of these fuzzy wuzzy preemies.

The maternity ward at St. Tiggywinkles, a wildlife hospital in Britain, is overrun with baby hedgehogs, bunnies, and squirrels suffering from the misfortune of “being born at the wrong time,” according to the Independent:

The visible impact on Britain's wildlife has manifested itself in the form of earlier than normal breeding, egg-laying, nesting and flowering of plants and trees, observed in British wildlife for more than 15 years and now linked to global warming in a whole series of scientific studies. They have sparked huge new interest in the discipline of phenology ­ the timing of natural events.

But until now the changes have been seen as potentially harmful in the future, rather than the present…

…Cold weather can either kill young animals or prompt them into hibernation, from which they do not awake because they lack sufficient fat reserves.

Toads and newts that should still be under a rock and pipistrelle bats which are normally still hibernating in hollow trees and barns have all been found out and about ­ and there aren't enough insects around for them to survive on. The most unusual animals at the hospital are several edible dormice, so called because the Romans used to eat them...Ten times the size of a normal dormouse and looking more like a small squirrel, with a bushy tail, they normally don't emerge from hibernation until May.

OK, so there’s nothing very cuddly about toads, newts, bats, and mice, and you really don’t give a crap if they starve to death. But that leaves the mosquitos to feed on us.

Icky insects and cute lil’ critters form the very foundation of our food chain. Honeybees have vanished en masse and left no forwarding address, leaving farmers in the lurch and scientists scratching their heads.

Baffling, yes, but what mystifies me more is how self-proclaimed Christians can take their colleagues to task for worrying about global warming instead of focusing on “the great moral issues of our time,” which consist, apparently, of abortion, gay marriage, and abstinence education.

Save yourself for marriage, or save the planet? What threatens our future more, the failure to preserve virgin forests, or the failure to preserve virginity? I’m pretty sure the dormice at St. Tiggywinkles don’t give a rat’s ass about the sanctity of marriage.


I’ve figured out how to solve three of the biggest problems our nation faces in one fell swoop. The solution to our energy crisis, global warming and the childhood obesity epidemic is sitting right under our noses—or, more accurately, on our sofas.

Yes, it’s true, those chubby little couch potatoes fueling up on high fructose corn syrup-sweetened soda and leaving a fine coat of neon orange Cheez Doodle dust on the cable remote are our future; a huge (and getting bigger all the time) untapped source of energy.

We’re letting all those corn-based carbs go to waste, while the tab for the childhood obesity epidemic is, like the corn in Oklahoma!, “as high as an elephant's eye, an' it looks like it's climbin' clear up to the sky…”

That’s why I’m proposing a new initiative I call KICK, or Kids Into Corn Kilowatts. Think about it. Instead of sending record numbers of our corn-fattened kids to have their stomachs stapled, KICK would convert excess calories into electricity by hooking kids up to energy-storing elliptical trainers and Stairmasters, like the ones they use to power the lights at the California Fitness Health Club in Hong Kong.

With KICK, kids could spend their summers generating energy instead of sitting around stuffing their faces. We’ve been scapegoating lousy school lunches and a lack of gym class for the childhood obesity epidemic, but a new study reveals that kids actually pack on the pounds in the summer, suggesting that “outside the limits of a school setting, children are even less physical and eat even worse.”

So, if parents are going to pump their kids full of Pepsi and Cheetos till they waddle like force-fed geese on their way to the foie gras factory, why not get those surplus carbs off their middles and onto the grid?

While President Bush barnstorms for biofuels in Brazil, the corn-based ethanol craze is already running out of gas and starting to look like a fool’s gold rush. Turning all those amber waves of grain into gas is not only terribly inefficient but environmentally degrading, too. My form of corn-based energy makes so much more sense.

Now, I know the concept of KICK may raise some eyebrows, and some questions, such as “Doesn’t this violate child labor laws?” and “If it’s not ethical for me to enjoy a premium dark chocolate bar because it’s made from cocoa harvested by child slaves on an Ivory Coast plantation, how can it be kosher to power my iPod with electricity produced by peddle-pushing toddlers?”

A couple of points: number one, all KICK power would be made in America, so it’s totally patriotic. Number two, is it really any more dubious than Colorado’s new program that puts prisoners to work picking produce on private farms? Thanks to the crackdown on illegal aliens, migrant farm workers are nearly as scarce as honeybees, and farmers are desperate for a new source of cheap labor.

Luckily, the state of Colorado is willing to loan out low-risk inmates for the low, low price of only 60 cents a day—cheaper than an undocumented worker, and perfectly legal! As Ari Zavaras, executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, told the NY Times, it’s a great opportunity for the prisoners:

“They won’t be paid big bucks, but we’re hoping this will help our inmates pick up significant and valuable job skills,” Mr. Zavaras said. “We’re also assisting farmers who, if they don’t get help, are facing an inability to harvest their crops.”

KICK offers kids an equally terrific trade-off; they won’t get paid at all, but they’ll be building sweat equity in a cleaner, leaner future. Why settle for the status quo of leaving no child behind? Why not start actually moving our kids forward? They just need a good, swift KICK.


Childhood obesity appears to be causing some girls to reach puberty as early as age 9, according to a University of Michigan study just published in the journal Pediatrics:

"Our finding that increased body fatness is associated with the earlier onset of puberty provides additional evidence that growing rates of obesity among children in this country may be contributing to the trend of early maturation in girls," said Dr. Joyce Lee, the lead author.

Blooming too early is a bad sign. Global warming’s got my tiger lilies blooming in July instead of August. And now it looks like a fast food diet’s got girls growing up too fast. Our hothouse culture already cheats tweens out of childhood, and premature puberty can only burden young girls further:

"Earlier onset of puberty in girls has been associated with a number of adverse outcomes, including psychiatric disorders and deficits in psychosocial functioning, earlier initiation of alcohol use, sexual intercourse and teenage pregnancy and increased rates of adult obesity and reproductive cancers," the study said.

Rhoda Morgenstern, Mary Tyler Moore’s eternally dieting best friend, once held up a brownie and said something like, “I ought to just apply this directly to my hips.” Maybe someone should produce a PSA showing a 9-year-old girl waving a pair of deep-fried chicken breasts and saying, “I might as well apply these directly to my chest.”


Will Scooter Libby get his just desserts? Half-baked claims about Saddam Hussein’s alleged appetite for yellow cake, aka enriched uranium, gave rise to the whole Plamegate fiasco, but instead of using the Twinkie Defense, Libby’s lawyers opted for the even more pitiful “I forgot” ploy, inspired, perhaps, by a decades-old Steve Martin SNL monologue:

How many times do we let ourselves get into terrible situations because we don't say "I forgot"? Let's say you're on trial for armed robbery. You say to the judge, "I forgot armed robbery was illegal."

Libby’s lawyers claim their clients’ felonious fibs to the FBI were a symptom of discombobulation, not duplicity. The pressures of his job were such that he simply couldn’t remember who said what to whom, when.

Had Libby pleaded excess Twinkie consumption instead, his lawyers could have reasonably argued that their client suffered an adverse reaction to all the mysterious minerals and chemical compounds that go into those iconic golden snack cakes.

Exhibit A would be Steve Ettlinger’s hot-off-the-presses Twinkie, Deconstructed, which follows the Twinkie’s odyssey from a simple cream-filled cake with a short shelf life to eternal Big Food legend. The original Twinkie, made from eggs, lard, and flour, has morphed over time since its birth in the thirties from a conventional yellow cake into an Agribiz amalgam of processed ingredients and chemical compounds—39, altogether—that only an alchemist could understand.

The road from eggs, lard and flour to ferrous sulfate, monocalcium phosphate, and sodium stearoyl lactylate is a long strange trip indeed, and a microcosm of our twisted food chain. Steve Ettlinger went digging, literally, to learn what goes into all those indecipherable, unpronounceable ingredients, and lays it all out for the layperson in a friendly and folksy fashion.

That’s not to say, though, that Ettlinger’s expose is easy to digest. But then, we’re talking about a processed food made, in part, from the food grade equivalent of Plaster of Paris. If you’ve got a hankering for a cake made from the same minerals our military uses in tracer bullets and artillery shells, I guess a Twinkie would hit the spot.


It seems only fitting that Britain should be the ultimate nanny state; it is a matriarchal monarchy, after all. A spate of spats over fast food in just the past week or so shows just how much more aggressive the Brits are when it comes to challenging Big Food’s chokehold on our children.

Prince Charles took a tour last Tuesday of a diabetes center in the United Arab Emirates, which has the second highest rate of diabetes in the world. In a deliberately audible aside, he asked a nutritionist, “Have you got anywhere with McDonald’s, have you tried getting it banned? That’s the key.”

The Prince of Green’s slam had the golden arches seeing red, of course, and defenders of Mickey D rushed to point out that some of Prince Charles’ own Duchy Originals line of organic food products contain more fat and calories than a Big Mac. Another red herring to go with those post-Oscar attacks on Al Gore’s electricity bill.

Then we had the spectacle of poor Connor McCreaddie, the obese English 8-year-old who weighs in at 218 pounds, more than triple the weight of a healthy child his age. His mother nearly lost custody of him after social workers complained that she and Connor routinely skipped appointments with nurses, nutritionists and social workers. From the AP:

The boy's case attracted national attention after his mother allowed an ITV News crew to film his day-to-day life for a month…

…Sky TV showed footage of Connor's mother serving him meals of french fries, meat and buttered bread…

…"Bacon. Mmmm… That's my favorite. Um … chicken , steak, sausage," the boy told the camera.

Obviously, Connor is morbidly obese, which endangers his health, and it’s equally obvious that his mom isn’t much help. But what makes his mother more culpable for her son’s corpulence than the millions of other parents of obese children who feed their kids a steady diet of junk food?

Threatening to remove Connor from his grease-steeped household seems a bit draconian, if not Dickensian—in Dickens’ era, of course, working class kids were suitably skinny, and Oliver Twist could not even get a second helping of gruel, despite saying “please.”

Can you imagine the chaos in our culture if parents were faced with the prospect of losing custody of their children for failing to feed them decently? Where would we warehouse all those gluttonous little Augustus Gloops, anyway?

Britain is attempting to stem the tide of tubby tots by banning ads for foods high in salt, sugar and fat during children's television shows. But by attempting to define what constitutes “junk food,” the regulators have crafted a knotty set of standards that nets such foods as cheese, raisins and porridge, while letting some obvious junk foods slip through the loopholes, apparently.

France is trying a different tack, announcing yesterday that it will require all food and drink advertisements to include one of four healthy eating messages or face fines. The menu of message choices is:

"Avoid snacking between meals", "Avoid eating too much salt, sugar or fat", "take regular exercise" and "eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day".

Good luck with that, or should I say, bonne chance. Why does sound advice, in any language, come out sounding just like the grownups on Peanuts?


The list of nominees for next canary in the coalmine gets longer every day. Frogs led the field at the end of the century, but polar bears and fish are gaining ground in the Losing Our Habitat sweepstakes. The canaries have even made a comeback, thanks to toxic Teflon-coated cookware.

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:

The choices we make in three main areas of our lives—the food we eat, the way we live in our homes, and how we transport ourselves– have greatest potential to cause environmental damage and threaten biodiversity. Making better choices in these areas could improve the environment and slow the loss of biodiversity.

Biodiversity is not just a buzzword; if you don’t believe me, ask the bees. If you can find any, that is.


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:

"Pointing to a select few menu items at a select few restaurants as being high in calories, and generalizing that to all restaurant fare is misleading, inaccurate and does the public a grave disservice," the association said in a statement.

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.

Syndicate content