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Submitted by KAT on Tue, 01/30/2007 - 12:20pm.
Looks like Stephen Colbert’s not the only one putting grizzly bears “on notice.”
Global warming, not content with destroying the polar bear’s natural habitat, has apparently got it in for the grizzlies, too. Thanks to climate change, pine beetles are ravaging Yellowstone National Park’s whitebark pinetrees, on whose seeds the grizzlies depend to get through the winter.
Colbert’s fond of saying that these “godless killing machines” are one of the greatest threats facing America, but according to today’s NY Times, it’s the other way around; our failure to seriously address global warming threatens the grizzlies’ survival.
Bears have been eating seasonally since way before the locavores came along and made it trendy, and in the late summer and fall, the pine seeds are “arguably the most important fattening food available to grizzly bears,” according to the federally funded Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team. The Yellowstone grizzlies don’t have the berries or salmon that bears in other regions rely on; they need the seeds to make it through the winter.
But rising temperatures are “revving up the beetles’ metabolisms,” reports the Times, speeding up their rate of reproduction. This “adaptive seasonality” enables them to infest areas that were previously out of their range. Tactics such as quarantines or burning infested trees have proved ineffective.
The beetles have already had a catastrophic impact in British Columbia, which they invaded in the 1990’s. The infestation has yet to peak, but it already appears to be the largest forest insect blight ever seen in North America. New computer projections show most Western whitebark pine forest ranges being wiped out by global warming, the one exception being the Wind River Range in Wyoming, which is expected to remain cold till around 2100.
The grizzlies will have to relocate or find other sources for food, i.e., adapt or die.
So what kind of bear is next on the climate change hit list? I hate to tell you, because it’s a breed whose habitat we share--the teddy bear.
Teddies, a relatively new species, have been around for just over a century, dating back to 1902 when a political cartoon depicting Teddy Roosevelt refusing to kill a bear cub on a hunting trip inspired toymakers to replicate the cute lil’ cub. Teddy bears began to proliferate, and their population shows no sign of declining, for now.
Their Republican namesake was our first environmental president, committed to conserving natural resources and preserving wilderness. According to Wikipedia, Roosevelt "set aside more land for national parks and nature preserves than all of his predecessors combined, 194 million acres.”
President Bush, by contrast, gave lip service in his State of the Union speech last Tuesday to the notion of becoming "better stewards of the environment," but his administration’s track record on environmental issues is literally criminal.
Congress will hear evidence today from two private advocacy groups that the Bush administration pressured government climate scientists at seven federal agencies to downplay the threat of global warming. And over in the Senate, Barbara Boxer’s holding a meeting to discuss mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions, a strategy Bush rejects on the grounds that it threatens economic growth.
During the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush mocked Gore’s proposed tax breaks for solar energy, spitting out the words “photovoltaic panels” with a contempt that would have been more appropriate for, oh, I don’t know, child molesters, or corrupt corporations that overcharge the Pentagon.
Now he touts the wonders of technologies like clean coal and cellulosic ethanol, which is all well and good except that clean coal is prohibitively expensive, and cellulosic ethanol is still in development, so neither technology is about to be employed on any significant scale.
To say that Bush and his oily cronies have failed to be proactive on climate change is to grossly understate the problem; they have, in fact, aggressively fought every attempt to make our country less dependent on fossil fuels, going so far as to alter the research provided by their own agencies when the answers didn’t suit them (sound familiar?)
Of course, simply deleting those pesky passages containing inconvenient truths only exacerbated the problem, delaying the day of reckoning that much longer.
On Friday the United Nations will issue a report from 500 of the world’s top scientists which, according to ABC news, paints “a grim outlook on the effects of global warming and emphasizes that scientists are more convinced than ever that humans are causing it.”
The report “raises new fears that the earth's climate is changing faster than anyone thought possible… significant changes in the climate could start happening within the next 10 years.”
The grizzlies might survive by heading for the hills, but what about the rest of us? Stephen Colbert may be terrified of teddies, but I’m siding with the bears on this one. As Pogo the possum said, “we have met the enemy and he is us." It’s high time we put ourselves on notice.
Submitted by KAT on Mon, 01/29/2007 - 8:48am.
I’ve finally figured out what’s really fueling the obesity epidemic: energy conservation.
A little light bulb—fluorescent, of course—went on over my head the other day while I was mulling over the ever-expanding girth of our nation. Our climate controlled, carbon-based consumer culture squanders prodigious amounts of energy, but there’s one form of energy we are truly stellar at conserving: our own.
A calorie is a unit of measurement for energy, after all. And it’s the one form of energy we hoard. We’ve come to believe that exertion is an evil to be avoided at all costs.
All you You Tube young ‘uns can’t conceive of the hardships we once endured in this country: rotary telephones that forced our fingers to dial; televisions whose channels had to be manually changed; long-playing records we had to flip over to get to the B side; garage doors we got out of our cars to open; lawn mowers we pushed across the grass without benefit of gas.
We’re long since liberated from that Luddite era, and we’re saving calories left and right. In fact, we’ve made ourselves stocky by stockpiling them. Add our ever-increasing caloric intake to the equation and you’ve got an unprecedented energy surplus.
Our bodies, alas, are still stuck in “hunter-gatherer” mode. Our reptilian brain assumes that all this sitting around and stuffing our faces means we’re preparing for a famine, or maybe hibernation. So our metabolism shuts down and our body braces for starvation.
“In twenty years, failure to exercise six days a week will seem as self-destructive as smoking two packs of cigarettes a day,” according to Dr. Henry S. Lodge. Lodge, an internist, is the co-author of Younger Next Year, a guide to avoiding the decrepitude we’ve come to accept as a natural part of aging:
Michael Pollan tackled this topic in Sunday’s NY Times:
Pollan’s prescription for what ails America: don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food; skip the supermarkets and processed food products; buy fresh produce at the farmers’ market if possible; eat less meat, more leafy greens; be willing to spend more money for less food; eat a diverse diet based on the traditional food cultures of other countries; and my favorite:
Unfortunately, an awful lot of Americans regard chopping vegetables and digging in the dirt as dreary, demeaning tasks that should be delegated to poorly paid immigrants. And then there are those who’d love to putter around in the kitchen or the yard, but they’re too busy working two jobs to pay the bills or keep their health insurance.
The “blessed” American way of life, as Ari Fleischer famously termed it, sometimes seems like more of a curse. Our soldiers are getting slaughtered and innocent civilians are dying in the Middle East for the sake of a fossil fueled culture that causes its own kind of collateral damage. How do we convince people that the path of least resistance is leading us into an abyss of illness and inertia, not to mention an international morass?
Submitted by KAT on Sat, 01/27/2007 - 4:01pm.
The Year of the Pig’s off to a great start, considering that it doesn’t officially begin till February 18th. Smithfield Foods, the nation’s largest pork supplier, announced on Thursday that it would phase out gestation crates for sows, a particularly cruel form of confinement favored by factory farms.
The writing was on the stall for Smithfield after voters in Florida and Arizona voted to ban the crates and McDonald’s announced its intention to steer clear of pork from producers who use the crates.
"I can't think of anything more important in terms of humane treatment of animals that has occurred in the agribusiness sector," Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, told the Washington Post. "They are the market leader, and this decision changes the dynamic of the industry. It's going to be very hard for other companies to not follow Smithfield."
Smithfield denies that its decision was a response to pressure from activists or voters and insists that the crates are not inhumane. It’s simply a business decision:
Hhmm. Sounds like a game of Two Degrees of Cave-in Bacon to me. What made McDonald’s go from sweet to sour on crated pork? A combination of two things: turned-off consumers, and consultations with Temple Grandin, the animal welfare expert who advises agribiz on how to make industrial livestock production more humane.
Bob Langert, McDonald’s VP for Corporate Social Responsibility, claimed that improving animal welfare is a priority for the corporation when he spoke at the Princeton conference on food, ethics, and the environment last November. I thought he must be a McMasochist, sharing the stage with Michael Pollan and fielding questions from a skeptical audience.
But I’m glad he was willing to venture onto hostile turf, because he got an earful from the grassroots, and McDonald’s is obviously listening. As the Washington Post noted:
Well, duh. Why waste time lobbying our government when they’re only doing the bidding of the corporations who occupy the top rung of the federal food chain? Better to bypass the lackeys and bombard the behemoths directly.
Pigs may never fly, but at least more of them will soon have room to move. Baby steps for agribiz. Who knows? Maybe someday we’ll put the factory farms out to pasture.
Submitted by KAT on Fri, 01/26/2007 - 2:32pm.
Forget about terrorist attacks. You are way, way more likely to die from a heart attack. Sure, Al-Qaeda is out to get us, but American agribusiness is doing a far more efficient job of killing us, as both Jon Stewart and Nicholas Kristof have already noted.
Now there’s a new weapon in the anti-agribiz arsenal; Free Range Studios’ The Mouth Revolution. The activist animators who brought us the marvelous Meatrix are mouthing off about our toxic food chain again, this time literally. Their latest opus is a live-action short featuring “mouth puppets,” i.e. faces drawn on upside-down chins.
Says Free Range's co-founder, Louis Fox, "We're quite confident that the Mouth Revolution is the best upside-down mouth movie in cinema history!"
Fed up with the steady diet of trans-fatty, genetically modified, chemically altered, pesticide-tainted foods mindlessly shoved down their throats, the Mouths mutiny en masse, holding a press conference in which a militant Mouth with a vaguely Latin accent declares:
With a rallying cry of “Real Food Now!” the Mouths bite the bullet and close their gullets, causing deep-fried consternation for junk food addicts who wind up schmushing all that badness-on-a-bun into their faces when the Mouths refuse to open.
The Mouths spell out their “Mouthifesto” in a Declaration of Indigestion:
The Mouth Revolution is the war we should be waging; finally, a battle I can get behind! We’re pouring blood and treasure down a Middle Eastern sinkhole when it’s our artery-clogging Western diet that helps kill more than half a million Americans each year.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., killing 696,947 people in 2002, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which estimates that heart disease will end up having cost us more than $258 billion in 2006, including health care services, medications, and lost productivity.
Then there’s the environmental degradation that industrial agriculture inflicts on us, and the inhumane treatment of animals. We’ve been in a collective coma about our dreadful diet, but movies like the Meatrix and the Mouth Revolution are waking more and more of us up to reality, and, boy, does it bite.
Here’s to the Mouth Revolution going viral, and making the campaign for real food contagious. Viva la Mouth-olución!
Submitted by KAT on Thu, 01/25/2007 - 8:15am.
Having your stomach tied in knots wouldn’t normally be a good thing, but for 53 morbidly obese teens weighing around 300 pounds, it beat going under the knife for a gastric bypass. The teens, who had a portion of their stomachs tied off for an NYU Medical Center study, lost an average of about 100 pounds over the course of a year.
The procedure, known as gastric banding, is a minimally invasive operation in which a silicon ring is tied around the top of the stomach to create a smaller stomach, which helps you feel fuller faster, and, presumably, eat less.
Its use was approved for adults in September 2001, but the FDA is several years away from approving gastric banding for adolescents, according to the NY Daily News.
Currently, three hospitals in the country are evaluating the procedure on patients under the age of 17: NYU, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and New York-Presbyterians' Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital, which, the Daily News notes, has already opened a weight-loss surgery center just for teens. Talk about a growth industry!
The “belly band,” as it’s also known, is a reversible procedure that requires no incisions in the gastrointestinal tract. It has far fewer complications than a gastric bypass, which can cause serious side effects such as intestinal bleeding and severe nutritional deficiency. And the kids have succeeded in keeping the weight off, unlike many gastric bypass patients.
To Lee Glover, a seventeen year-old from Queens, the belly band has been a blessing. Glover, who weighed 400 pounds when he got the gastric banding at NYU in early December, has already dropped about 65 pounds.
"I'm feeling fine. It's going good so far," he told the Daily News. "I would recommend it to other people. It's working for me."
But critics call the belly band “a copout for fat kids with poor lifestyle habits.”
How do so many kids get to be so overweight, so young? And I do mean young; last year, car seat manufacturers were obliged to start making “heftier models” to accommodate all the overweight three-year-olds who couldn’t fit into the standard size car seats.
Does anyone else see a parallel between our overfed, underexercised kids and the corn-fattened cows we confine to the feedlots? Why are we treating our kids like cattle? Why are we treating our cattle like cattle, for that matter?
Submitted by KAT on Wed, 01/24/2007 - 12:27pm.
Call me a corntrarian, but I refuse to board the corn-based ethanol bandwagon. And I’m not the only one out to burst the biofuel bubble. From yesterday’s NY Times:
More cautionary comments from today’s LA Times:
The dirty secret about corn-based ethanol is that it’s not the “clean, renewable” fuel source it’s cracked up to be. The number of coal-fired ethanol plants is growing, and even those that use “clean coal” technology generate nearly twice as many carbon emissions as natural gas refineries. But coal is cheaper, if you don’t count the environmental costs.
As Grist’s Julia Olmstead noted back in December:
Corn requires huge quantities of nitrogen to fertilize it. It leaves the soil depleted, which is why farmers usually alternate between growing corn and soybeans. Soybeans have the ability to put nitrogen back into depleted soil, thereby replenishing the dirt for the next season’s corn crop.
But now that demand for ethanol has caused corn prices to nearly double since last fall, farmers are dropping the crop rotation in a short-sighted pursuit of higher profits, despite the damage it will do to our topsoil.
You may not give much thought to the ground our food is grown in, but treating our soil like dirt can have disastrous consequences. As Jared Diamond pointed out in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, civilizations that abuse their soil eventually collapse.
President Bush implicitly acknowledged last night that we’ve got to look beyond corn when it comes to ethanol production:
But these cellulose-based forms of ethanol are still in the experimental stage, and cost significantly more to convert to biofuel than corn does.
Unfortunately, corn’s going to be the primary source for ethanol for the foreseeable future. Processing plants are popping up all over the heartland and corn’s a hot commodity on Wall Street.
So it’s all well and good for W to wax enthusiastic about ethanol, but if it’s gonna be corn-based, it’s not a real solution. Call it bait and switchgrass.
Submitted by KAT on Tue, 01/23/2007 - 2:17pm.
The locavore’s natural habitat is usually a fairly urban sort of setting, maybe a college town, probably situated on the East coast or West. A farmers’ market where they can forage for freshly harvested food is essential to their survival.
But in the heartland? Locavores are about as common as quinoa, or kamut. Good luck finding locally grown spinach in Illinois; the nation’s breadbasket reportedly had a grand total of 20 acres of spinach when the E.coli outbreak hit.
Spinach, you see, is what the USDA terms a “specialty crop,” which is how it classifies all fruits and vegetables, as opposed to the commodity crops brought to you by ADM and DuPont. How weird is that? At a time when the FDA is constantly chanting the “more fruits and vegetables” mantra, our government relegates these very foods to the fringes of our agricultural policies.
That’s why it’s so heartening to read the story in today’s Peoria Journal Star about the Land Connection, an Illinois-based non-profit, giving aspiring organic farmers the opportunity to buy 10 or 20 acre lots of an 80 acre farm formerly owned by environmental activist and biologist Sandra Steingraber, author of the pesticide exposé Living Downstream.
Founded in 2002 to create “healthy farms, healthy food, and healthy communities,” the Land Connection’s mission is to not only save precious farmland from sprawl, but to help conventional farms make the transition to organic, sustainable agricultural practices, and assist new organic farmers.
Will they succeed in stepping up the ratio of spinach to soybeans in their region? It’s an uphill battle, acknowledged Terra Brockman, Land Connection’s executive director:
The Land Connection began when its founders banded together to buy up 21 acres of pasture put on the market by an elderly farm couple who needed to sell off a chunk of land to pay for their medical bills:
Conservatives love to trot out the myth of the estate tax-endangered family farm, but that rural legend’s been effectively debunked.What’s killing the small family farms is not the so-called “death tax,” but situations like the one described above, in which the farmer couldn’t afford the costs of health care and could get twice as much money for his land if he sold it to a developer to subdivide than if he sold it to a fellow farmer.
President Bush is supposedly going to offer some solutions to our health care crisis in his SOTU address tonight, but I doubt any of them will offer real relief to a small family farmer burdened by medical bills.
Oh, and the energy initiatives he’s reportedly going to propose? Prepare to be pelted by corn, corn, and more corn. Don’t be sucked in; despite all the hoopla, corn-based ethanol is a boondoggle, not a boon. There may be environmentally friendly ways to make ethanol, but corn ain’t one of them.
Meanwhile, the cost of corn is shooting up as agribiz and Wall Street see green in this not-so-green biomess. The price of tortillas has tripled south of the border, compelling angry Mexicans to take to the streets in protest.
What would it take to get Americans to take to the streets? Could there ever be a Boston Tea Party for our era? Hard to imagine, when Americans won’t take to the streets for all the tea in China. I’m just hoping we can muster up enough energy to demand better energy policies and a family farm-friendly farm bill.
Submitted by KAT on Mon, 01/22/2007 - 2:38pm.
Get ready for the “good germs,” aka probiotics. Your yogurt is full of them, and so is the news. CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta did a story on probiotics last Friday; today, they made the NY Times' front page.
So what’s fermenting all the frenzy? Why, marketing, of course:
The parade of probiotically enhanced processed foods has already begun. Kellogg’s has a new cereal called Kashi Vive, which promises not only to “care for your digestive system” but to “enhance your joie de vivre” as well. Leave it to Madison Avenue to frame regular bowel movements as a cornerstone to a fulfilling life.
Then again, perhaps I’m underestimating the restorative powers of poop. Sandor Ellix Katz waxes evangelical about it in The Revolution Will Not be Microwaved:
Katz’s fecal fascination may be an occupational hazard; as the author of Wild Fermentation: the Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, he’s intimately acquainted with the symbiosis between bacteria and our bowels. Wild Fermentation explores the benefits of such fermented foods as sauerkraut, miso, and yogurt.
But Katz’s unadulterated, D.I.Y. kind of yogurt is a distant cousin to the stuff that’s flying off the store shelves, full of added sugars and dubious health claims.
Marion Nestle shares this chestnut from Organic Style magazine in What to Eat:
“Of course it tastes like dessert,” she notes wryly, “most yogurts are dessert.”
She also exposes the myth of the gazillion year-old Eastern European yogurt lovers. Remember that Dannon ad campaign that showed the wizened yet vivacious old folks of Soviet Georgia enthusiastically consuming Dannon yogurt? According to Nestle, “skeptical investigators revealed that the Georgians typically exaggerated their ages and said they did not particularly like yogurt or eat it regularly.”
Probiotics may indeed have many health benefits. They certainly seem to aid all kinds of digestive woes. And fermented foods do appear to boost our immune systems. Sales of sauerkraut soared after studies showed that it could be an antidote to bird flu, and I fully intend to brew my own kombucha tea as soon as the kombucha “mushroom” in our friend Anne’s fridge starts to multiply.
But whether the beneficial bacteria will prove to cure everything from cancer to autism remains to be seen. Dannon doesn’t go quite so far; its primary claim for Activia is that it “can help regulate your digestive system by helping reduce long intestinal transit time”.
So now we have a yogurt to help Americans take a crap. Personally, I’d prefer a yogurt that helps Americans give a crap.
Submitted by KAT on Sat, 01/20/2007 - 12:10pm.
If only we could squirrel away a season’s worth of California citrus. From today’s Washington Post:
Mother Nature and mankind have socked California's crops with a double whammy; an El Nino exacerbated by global warming. Those chilling images of icicle-encrusted oranges lit a fire under my ass; I dashed over to Trader Joe’s the other day and snagged the last bag of red grapefruits, plus two bags of lemons, a bag of limes, a bag of tangerines, and another of avocados, which may also be in short supply soon.
And Whole Foods had 4lb. bags of organic California juicing oranges on sale for $3.99, so I grabbed those, too. Our fruit bowl runneth over. For now.
But one farmer’s disaster is another farmer’s salvation; just as the E. coli outbreak drove up demand for locally grown spinach, the devastation of California’s citrus crops gives other fruits a boost:
Hey, I like apples, too; we’ve got a whole bag of Galas in the fridge. But at the risk of stating the obvious, you really can’t compare apples to oranges. Guess we’ll have to look to Florida when our citrus stash runs out.
Submitted by KAT on Fri, 01/19/2007 - 5:11pm.
Our schools are getting a big fat “F” for sending kids home with “obesity report cards” that only burden overweight children further.
What purpose does it serve to measure our childrens’ B.M.I, or body mass index, unless it’s done in conjunction with an all-out campaign to get junk food out of the school cafeterias and reinstate daily gym class?
The fact is, the deck is stacked against kids, and the rest of us, too, when it comes to trying to eat healthy and stay fit. We’re too pressed for time to cook, or walk to the store instead of drive (if we’re lucky, that is, to even have a store within walking distance.) We’ve sacrificed our quality of life to the gods of convenience, and we’re paying an awful price. A letter to the editor of the NY Times in response to an editorial about the B.M.I brouhaha summed it up nicely:
I read the letter out loud to Matt, and added “This woman sounds like somebody I’d like to hang out with.”
And then I realized that I already do, in a virtual kind of way. I quoted another letter she wrote to the NY Times in December about the E. coli outbreak, and since then she’s left some great comments on our website and given me the link to her own blog, the Gospel of Karin. She’s a grad student studying theology and ethics, and she writes thoughtful posts about, among other things, the shameful way we treat animals in this country.
So although I’ve never met her, I’ve enjoyed Karin’s company in the blogosphere, and I consider her an ally in the good food fight. And this is just a tiny example of how the Internet has created a whole new kind of community.
My mentors Justin Krebs and Matthew O’Neill, who founded Drinking Liberally, were inspired by Robert D. Putnam’s Bowling Alone: the Collapse and Revival of American Community to create a kind of social club for progressives. And their concept has caught on all over the country, as Alternet noted yesterday:
The Internet brings us entire new circles of friends whom we might otherwise never know. We exchange tips, ideas, and encouragement, recommend books to read, spread the word about events, schedule meet-ups, and so on.
I was trying to explain the whole social networking thing to a friend who’s baffled by the blogosphere, and she said, “Oh, it’s like match.com for friends!”
Well, kinda. It can definitely be the start of something beautiful. As Justin told Alternet:
And activism is the only way we’re going to change things. So three cheers for Drinking Liberally, and an amen to the Gospel of Karin.
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