Living Liberally Blog

Living Liberally Blog

Our Pharmaceutically-Fouled Water Supply

My dad installed a reverse osmosis water filtration system in our house decades ago for religious reasons; as a Christian Scientist, he objected to the City of Los Angeles imposing its “medicated”—i.e. fluoridated---drinking water on us.

Looks like you were ahead of your time, Dad! The Associated Press has just released the results of an investigation showing that:

A vast array of pharmaceuticals -- including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones -- have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans…

…How do the drugs get into the water?

People take pills. Their bodies absorb some of the medication, but the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet. The wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers or lakes. Then, some of the water is cleansed again at drinking water treatment plants and piped to consumers. But most treatments do not remove all drug residue.

And while researchers do not yet understand the exact risks from decades of persistent exposure to random combinations of low levels of pharmaceuticals, recent studies -- which have gone virtually unnoticed by the general public -- have found alarming effects on human cells and wildlife.

I blogged about this problem a year and a half ago in a post called “Sexually Confused Fish Popping Up In The Potomac,” about another AP report citing concerns that these “endocrine disruptors” were suspected in a dramatic rise in malformed male fish found in DC waterways. In that post I noted that:

Back in 1996, The EPA identified endocrine disruption as one of its top six research priorities, but ten years later, according to Newsday, the EPA has yet to begin testing any candidate chemicals for their endocrine-disrupting potential.

So, what’s the EPA’s reaction to the AP’s latest findings?

''We recognize it is a growing concern and we're taking it very seriously,'' said Benjamin H. Grumbles, assistant administrator for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Grumbles--great name for a guy whose primary duty probably involves a lot of fancy foot-dragging.

While the pharmaceutical industry is insisting, by and large, that this contamination of our water supply is not a cause for worry, the AP quotes Mary Buzby, director of environmental technology for drug manufacturer Merck, as saying ''There's no doubt about it, pharmaceuticals are being detected in the environment and there is genuine concern that these compounds, in the small concentrations that they're at, could be causing impacts to human health or to aquatic organisms.''

Americans are ingesting prescription drugs at record rates, but that’s not the only source of contamination. Veterinary drugs used to treat our pets for “arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, allergies, dementia, and even obesity,” and drugs used to treat livestock, are a factor, too, according to the AP. And the problem’s not limited to surface waters, either:

…Pharmaceuticals also permeate aquifers deep underground, source of 40 percent of the nation's water supply. Federal scientists who drew water in 24 states from aquifers near contaminant sources such as landfills and animal feed lots found minuscule levels of hormones, antibiotics and other drugs…

…Water sampled downstream of a Nebraska feedlot had steroid levels four times as high as the water taken upstream. Male fathead minnows living in that downstream area had low testosterone levels and small heads.

Maybe it’s time for the researchers to stop focusing on male fathead minnows and start taking a closer look at how all this stuff is affecting two-legged male fatheads. In the meantime, the beverage industry is ramping up production of “enhanced” bottled waters fortified with all kinds of supposedly nifty nutrients. Save your money, folks! Take it from the tap—apparently, it’s got traces of every prescription drug you could possibly need, and then some. Unless, of course, that’s against your religion.

Originally posted on


The Greenhorns: A New Breed Of American Idol?

While some of us moan and groan about the unmitigated awfulness of industrial agriculture and our craptastic food chain, others are literally sowing the seeds of an agrarian revival. The idealistic young farmers and gardeners fueling this ag-revolt have been christened “The Greenhorns” by one extraordinary, exuberant young farmer/filmmaker, Severine von Tscharner Fleming, who’s documenting their horticultural heroics in a film by the same name.

America’s got more prisoners than farmers these days, and the average age of the farmers we do have is over sixty years old. Strip mall sprawl has displaced the small family farmers who once nourished our nation. Monocrop madness is sucking the life out of our precious topsoil, poisoning our air and water, and giving us really lousy food, to boot.

But Severine sees salvation in the Greenhorns:

We young farmers are an emergent social movement. We exist. There are a lot of us from coast to coast, and all sorts of unexpected places between—all over the world. We are serious, and if there were about 20 million of us, we could probably feed the whole United States.

My premise is simple. If I can make a movie showing you what is possible, introduce you to these myriad rockstars, I believe I can inspire more of my generation to become farmers. Our job in this generation is to rethink, recycle, retrofit and restore our land and our community; the Greenhorns have come to this revelation and taken action.

This film is a way to convene a movement that is for now quite thinly spread out on the ground. Population density of young farmers might be as low as 1-2 per county in America. Yet, once seen as a whole in the film, you will find it an attractive and coherent sub-culture: proud, strong, tough, and a little bit nuts.

Actually, that description sounds a bit like Severine herself; she’s thrown herself into this project with a passion, but no deep-pocketed patrons to finance the film. So right now she and her feisty team are scrambling to scrape up a few thousand dollars to finish a short version of The Greenhorns to submit to Slow Food on Film’s International Festival this May in Bologna, Italy.

We watched the trailer last night at a fundraiser for The Greenhorns held in a perfectly pastoral Brooklyn loft full of biodynamic young movers and shakers who shared with us their lovingly prepared local food. They are “onto something good, and real,” as Peter Hale, one of the film’s fundraisers and host of the party, said.

And essential, I'd add. Sadly, Matt and I had to leave before they broke out the s’mores made with homemade graham crackers, but we headed back to Manhattan heady with hope that Severine and her Greenhorns could lure a new generation back to the land to reclaim our food chain.

With dwindling resources, global food shortages, climate change, and the triple threats of peak oil, peak soil, and peak water nipping at our heedless heels, industrial agriculture is becoming a “luxury” we can’t afford.

What we have come to call “conventional” farming is, in fact, a total aberration from the way food was produced the world over for centuries. The UK’s Soil Association policy director Peter Melchett decried “the malign influence of an unthinking worship of technology” at a lecture in London last year:

“I am convinced that the era of industrial and intensive farming will be seen as a brief blip, a wrong turn, from which we hopefully recovered fairly quickly…

…The evidence shows that we will have to make radical changes in the ways in which food is produced and distributed to meet the challenges of climate change...

...If climate change has one positive lesson for us, it is that we can't conquer nature. We are part of, not superior to, or in charge of, the natural world.

This is a lesson that Agribiz advocates have yet to learn, but while they’re busy cloning cows, shoving bogus bio-tech breakthroughs down our throats, and declaring dominion over the American dinner table, Severine and her merry band of urban and rural rebels are plotting to overthrow King Corn and declare our independence from industrial agriculture. You’d better hope this revolution takes root, because we are dying for a better way to live in this country.

Originally posted on

Speaking Your Peace for the Chicago 10

Screening Liberally Big Picture

It's rare that we talk here about the selling of movies, preferring to talk about the movies themselves. But tonight we make an exception, with a quick note about the recent film about the post-1968 Chicago convention trial, Chicago 10.

The standard method for selling a Hollywood movie is, well, pretty standard. You spend a lot of money saturating the market with ad buys, posters at bus stops, morning talk show interviews, and so on. Then, it either catches on, or it doesn't. But Chicago 10 is doing something a little different, something which might could help illustrate the potential for smaller films to become a little bigger thanks for the evangelizing of their most fervent fans.

This is the kick-off bid, by Morgan Spurlock, in a contest being held by Participant Media and Essentially, the associated website provides extensive video and audio clips to visitors, which they can utilize in their own videos. The idea is that you combine your own footage with the Chicago 10 materials to create a PSA on the issue you most care about in the upcoming Presidential election, with the winner selected by director Brett Morgen to be featured on the film's DVD.

Is this game-changing? No - there've been plenty of create-your-own-significant-length contests paired with the launch of relatively major films before. But it is the first such contest I can remember making such heavy use of a liberal distribution of the original film footage itself, and thait is a very exciting step in a positive direction.

Christopher Hitchens: As Right About Women as He is About Iraq

Laughing Liberally To Keep From Crying
by Katie Halper

A version of this post originally appeared on Take Part.

Dear Hamilton Nolan & Gawker:

I want to thank you for your post supporting Christopher Hitchens' claim that women aren't funny. I also I want to apologize for not writing sooner, but between getting my bikini line waxed, shopping, trying, in vain to be funny, and dealing with PMS, I had no time-- and was in no shape--to write anything. But I want to thank you for having the testosterone-drenched you know whats to say what nobody else, besides Christopher Hitchens and lots of men, will say: women comics Suck! And Christopher Hitchens Rocks! Responding to the unfunny and boring and (I know this is redundant) female-written Vanity Fair article Who Says Women Aren't Funny, you write

The problem they [female comics] have is they often talk about things that women can relate to--relationships with men, babies, periods, shopping, love. As a man, I can't relate to all that. That puts women comics at a distinct disadvantage when trying to win over me and my fellow men. This is obvious day, right here.

THANK YOU! I can't STAND when Sarah Silverman talks about her babies! Oh, right she doesn't have any, but I bet if she did she wouldn't shut up about them.


And Tina Fey, can you please stop talking about your period? I mean, I haven't hear her talk about it, but she's a woman and it happens once a month--I know, TMI, sorry :( -- and when it does we're really emotional, so I bet even if she didn't want to talk about her period, it would be biologically impossible for her to stop herself from talking about her hormones and her feelings. So I'm sure it comes up, right?And I too wonder why "girls," as you call us, bother getting their frilly pink panties all up in a bunch over Christopher Hitchens. I love your point that

Chris [that is SOOOO cool that you call him by his nickname!] Hitchens is a brilliant, repugnant slob of a man, and any argument he makes should be taken as one from a male point of view. For him to say that women aren't funny is for him to say that they're not funny to him, a man.

THANK YOU! That reminds me of when the PC Nazis spit up their fair trade soy organic lattes over my occasional harmless observations about black people's inferior intelligence. See, I'm a brilliant, appealing, slob of a white person, and any argument I make should be taken as one from a white point of view. For me to say that black people aren't that smart is for me to say that they're not smart to me, a white person. So take a chill pill ladies... and black people.

Do you actually think women are funny? Then take action and support the Hysterical Festival, New York's first female comedy festival ever.

Two Out-Of-Hand Vs. One In-The-Bush

Clinton calls a vote for Obama a gamble;
but a vote for McCain is a sure thing:
sure to bring more war, fewer jobs.

Obama suggests that Clinton lacks "judgment" --
while McCain's surrogates are a bit too judgmental:
anti-semitic, anti-gay, anti-American.

The Dems face months more of uncertainty...
but we know one thing for certain about the GOP:
their candidate is 100% Bush-approved.

And honestly...which would you rather have:
two out-of-hand or one in the Bush?

Wash out that taste of the "straight-talk express"
while discussing, drinking & perhaps debating,
at your local progressive social club.

Find - or start - a chapter near you.

Bringing The Youth To Power

Drinking Liberally Shot of Truth

In the below post, we briefly discuss Michael Connery's excellent new book on progressive youth politics, Youth To Power: How Today's Young Voters Are Building Tomorrow's Progressive Majority. For those Open Left readers in the NYC area, Connery is joining us for a free book launch party with drinks, debate, discussion & a little laughter courtesy of Laughing Liberally, at The Tank, 279 Church Street, Manhattan - more information available here.

We often hear Drinking Liberally described as a progressive youth organization. We appreciate the sentiment, but that's only half-right.

Don't get us wrong, we're proudly progressive, and many of our most enthusiastic and capable members are millenials. But as much as we belieiving in empowering and equipping the next generation of liberal leaders, it wouldn't be accurate for us to call ourselves gurus of youth politics - we're much more intergenerationally oriented, with chapter leaders ranging in background from campus dwellers to card-carrying AARP members.

While there's no shortage of great progressive youth organizations out there (with Young People For coming to mind as a particularly sterling example), there have been few published authors on progressive youth politics that we could point to.

Until now, with the publication of Michael Connery's wonderful new book, Youth to Power, which hits a zeitgeist of curiosity about youth politics that's been a long time coming - a time in which Michael has been one of the greatest champions of young voters, dating back to his co-creation of Music For America back in 2004.

While we'll have more content about YTP in the upcoming weeks, including a full review, we'd like to take this time to quickly note that if you want to help encourage the right memes about youth voting in the traditional media discussion, then now is the time to check out Mike's argument, whether through the book or through his blog, Future Majority.

This is, after all, a unique historical moment, as Mike noted in his TPMCafe appearance on Monday (where he'll be fielding questions all week), the public perception of youth voters as engaged civic participants has went from laughable a few year ago to a given in the aftermath of Obamamania - and as such, now that we have the floor to talk about engaged youth voters, we better be careful about doing a good job. Or, as Mike puts it:

It’s a little bizarre these days, writing about the youth vote. Ever since Sen. Obama’s upset in Iowa the youth vote has dominated the news, and that is a change to be sure. I’ve been working in or writing about youth politics since 2003, and for five years it has been an uphill battle to convince people that we really are seeing a sea-change in youth participation. Fast forward less than two months, and what was once an impossibility is now a given. The genie is out of the bottle, but most people still don’t understand the significance of what is happening, and even fewer understand where it came from.

We were in a similar moment a few years ago, when non-plugged-in voters found themselves asking, "What are these progressive blogs I'm hearing so much about?", and, thankfully, Crashing The Gates was there to help answer that question, even if it wasn't primarily about blogging. (Thankfully, Hugh Hewitt's Blog didn't play that role.) Now, we have a similar void to fill - and Connery's book is an ideal vehicle to do so.

It's-Down-To Two-sday

Two big states. Two big candidates. Will two-night be the night?

Super Tuesday has nothing on this.

If you're in NYC, join us at The Tank @ C:U at 279 Church Street from 7:30 on to watch the returns...will this be somebody's Alamo?

Or contact your local Drinking Liberally chapter to see where they are watching.

New Words For New Lows


Eating Liberally Food For Thought
by Kerry Trueman

Our ever-evolving culture gave me a new verb, a new phrase, and a new acronym last week. The verb is “googlemire,” and if you’ve ever been sucked into the Internet’s virtual vortex, you know exactly what it means. Word maven Patricia T. O’Connor used it on NPR the other day, but, ironically, the word’s so newly minted that you can’t google it, yet.

The first time I got googlemired was December 19th, 2005. At the time, I was getting paid to blog about food for a “healthy living” website. With Christmas around the corner, I set out to write an innocuous post about low fat eggnog.

I googled around in search of the best brands, which led me to Horizon, which led me to the revelation that this supposedly organic dairy producer with the famously happy cows on its cartons was, in fact, becoming infamous for cramming its cows into open-air feedlots that totally violated the intentions of the organic standards. I got sucked into the Agribiz muck and have been stuck there ever since.

Which brings me to the sad new shorthand for battered bovines: “spent dairy cows.” The Humane Society employed this phrase a month ago in reference to the Westland meat recall, noting that “15 percent of the hamburger meat in the United States comes from "spent" dairy cows.”

Last Thursday, the New York Times used the phrase minus the quotation marks, a sign that it’s officially entered our lexicon:

An investigator for the Humane Society spent six weeks working in the outdoor pens at Westland/Hallmark, which used spent dairy cows to make ground beef.

Before you dismiss “Downergate” as last week’s news, allow me to draw your attention to some details that beg for better coverage:

Downer cows are considered potentially unfit to eat because a cow that can’t stand up may be (a) carrying mad cow disease, and (b) may have wallowed in E. coli-tainted manure which might find its way from the cow’s hide to its carcass, and from there into our hamburgers.

But there are three standard factory farm practices that also cause dairy cows to stumble:

1. The high calorie, low fiber corn and soy-based feed they’re fattened up on—instead of the grass their bodies are designed to digest--disrupts the balance of bacteria in their digestive tracts, causing a condition called acidosis. Severe acidosis leads to ulcerations, which in turn causes an excruciatingly painful inflammation of the hooves called laminitis.

2. Injecting cows with rBST (aka bovine growth hormone) in order to increase their milk production creates a much higher risk of an udder infection called mastitis, which also leads to laminitis (along with pus-filled milk, ick.)

3. Astonishing as it may seem, cows are not biologically equipped to stand around on concrete floors all day; depriving them of the softer sod their hooves are meant to stand on and giving them little or no opportunity to lie down are two more open invitations to laminitis.

A dairy cow raised on pasture and spared growth hormones can produce milk for a decade or more and remain healthy, whereas illness is the norm for the average CAFO cow subjected to regular rBST injections; antibiotics are routine and these crippled creatures are used up, or “spent,” within a few years, at which point they’re sent off to slaughter and turned into hamburger, some of which ends up in our kids’ school lunches.

Which brings me to a Madison Avenue-manufactured acronym coined by “youth market analysts,” as the New York Times reported last week: KGOY, or Kids Growing Older Younger. The article was about 7 year-old girls getting pedicures and playing with make-up, but it’s part of a larger and--to me, anyway—insidious trend of girls reaching puberty at an ever earlier age.

Our hyper-sexualized, uber-consumer culture may be partly to blame (makeovers for 6 year-olds? How warped is that?) but scientists are also eyeing a whole host of environmental factors including the hormones that contaminate our food chain. No definitive link’s been proven, but--much to the consternation of the corporations who peddle these products--wary parents are avoiding antibiotic and hormone-tainted dairy products, meats and other foods for their kids’ sake and their own health, too, as more and more folks begin to wonder what all these adulterated foods may be doing to us.

Sadly, your desire to know whether the milk you buy came from an rBST-injected cow or how the meat you eat was raised conflicts with Agribiz and Big Food’s desire to turn a profit. So they’re pulling out all the stops to prevent you from having access to that information, with the help of “our” government.

On the rBST front, Monsanto’s launching a multi-state, Astroturf-assisted assault on the labels that currently enable consumers to select rBST-free dairy products. Read the gory details in a hilarious (if horrifying) “open letter to Monsanto” posted on the Ethicurean by Ali of The Cleaner Plate Club fame.

The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, meanwhile, is proposing a new label for meats that’s lamer than a dairy cow pumped full of rBST. The USDA’s new standard would permit a "Naturally Raised" label on livestock raised “without growth promotants, antibiotics, or mammalian or avian byproducts in their feed,” as another Ethicurean, Elanor, noted the other day.

Sounds great, right? However, as Jillian points out over on Daily Kos:

Consumer polls indicate the average person imagines meat labeled "Naturally Raised" comes from animals that spent their drug-free lives freely roaming the fields of a family farmer, eating wild flora and being humanely slaughtered. A 2007 Consumer Reports survey shows 83% of consumers assume such labeling means "it came from an animal raised in a natural environment."

The USDA’s proposed standard is, as Jillian astutely observes, “so weak it would apply to a cloned animal raised in the confines of a factory farm.” And that’s the idea, of course; it would dupe would-be ethical eaters into buying meat from feedlots, so Agribiz could profit from the demand for antibiotic and hormone-free meats. But what’s natural about shoving animals into indoor stalls so small they can’t budge and feeding them a diet that destroys their digestive tracts?

If you think that the label “Naturally Raised” should apply only to animals who have, you know, been naturally raised—i.e., allowed to graze in the great outdoors, treated humanely, etc.—you have until the end of TODAY, March 3rd, to submit your comments to the USDA. The Organic Consumers Association has an action form to make it easy for you to object to this Orwellian proposal (animal farm, indeed.) What are you waiting for? Make a moove!!!

Sustainable Songstress Sue West’s Rural Revival

I’m not sure what to call this musical genre: green bluegrass? Low carbon country? Whatever it is, I love it, and I think a lot of other people would embrace Wisconsin singer Sue West’s green-tinged, gospel-flavored folk music, too; it’s an authentic, timeless kind of music that hugs you back. As one fan wrote in an open note to Sue on CD Baby: “Listening to your music is like being rocked by strong arms.”

No doubt West’s own arms are pretty strong, since she makes her living as a sustainable farmer. When she’s not busy picking her guitar you might find her picking berries, particularly the wild ones for which her website, Wild Fruit Folk Music, is named, as is her first CD, Wild Fruit, of which she wrote:

I enjoy writing and recording songs about life here in rural Wisconsin. You may know me as the "Egg Lady." Life on the Rush River with my hens and my dawgs is full of poetic moments. I have captured many of them in the songs that I share through my performing and my cds. If you have any curiosity at all about what fills the thoughts of your local organic egg producer, look no further.

West’s a stellar example of a locally oriented eco-entrepreneur/artist, making a living by sharing the fruits of her labor, literally and figuratively. Her website offers such sustainably produced products as homemade beeswax hand balm and her own home-roasted coffee made from certified organic, fair trade Mexican Altura Chiapas. She sells the coffee “handground…in re-used recyclable bioplastic produce containers,” or, if you prefer to grind your own, the “whole bean is sold in homemade cloth bags made from "rescued" shirts.”

She’s just as eager to share her horticultural knowledge as she is her music and farm products; as a certified Master Gardener, part of her mission “is to learn about plants and to teach people what I have learned. As I research the big topic of native plants and permaculture, I will share my learning here.”

Somehow, in addition to doing her farm chores, making her balms and coffee, studying permaculture, and writing/performing her music and poetry, West also finds the time to cook, and to write about that, too:

As I worked in the kitchen tonight, I mused over the many newly-taught micro-decisions one faces when attempting to live green. Do I grab the easy canister of herbs from goodness-knows-where, or take time to go in the other room with scissors to tackle the rosemary shrub? Do I boil up some Kr*ft mac-n-cheese, or start peeling potatoes? Burger for protein, or some slower-cooking lamb grown by a neighbor?

Grandly, we think globally, act locally, but now, simply but powerfully, we cook at home. This choice can really rack up some good karma fast. We decide where and what to buy, how to make it, what should be done with the refuse of our feast, what the serving size will be, and with whom we shall share the bounty. If we eat out, we look for chefs that are making the same kinds of decisions, with the same concerns.

I’ve never been to Wisconsin, don’t know that I’ll ever have a chance to go, but thanks to Sue West and her determination to share the “peace, joy, and healing” that she finds “in nature and in my own sustainable farming efforts,” I can be transported to a rural community with whom this diehard New Yorker has more in common than conventional wisdom might suggest. And after all, who’s more in need of a soothing sustainable soundtrack than us harried city dwellers? Not to mention the beeswax balm; my hands are perpetually chapped from all the wringing.

Originally posted on

Let’s Ask Marion: What Can Wal-Mart Do To Promote Sustainability?

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

Kat: My question for you this week comes courtesy of Rand Waddoups, Wal-Mart's Senior Sustainability Director (or something like that). Apparently, he's been reading Michael Pollan, and it's got him thinking about what his employer--who happens to be the number one food retailer in the U.S.--could do to fix our broken food chain.

Waddoups posted an entry on Wal-Mart's corporate blog on Tuesday entitled "Sustainable Industrialized Food?" in which he quotes Pollan's observation that we're "eating a lot of edible food-like substances, which is to say highly processed things that might be called yogurt, might be called cereals, whatever, but in fact are very intricate products of food science that are really imitations of foods."

He then asks:

I know food, in general, is a very sensitive topic for a lot of people, but what do you think should and can be done in the short term to make the industrialized food chain better? What products should Wal-Mart have that they don't to meet your desires for a more sustainable food assortment? If you could choose one item you would want removed from stores, what would it be?

Dr. Nestle: Remove one item? I'd say cigarettes--which is what Wegmans has already done--but I think it's the wrong question. Wal-Mart needs to ask a different question: What could Wal-Mart do to promote a more sustainable food system?

Here, the answer is lots. Retailers control the food chain. If retailers say "we insist that our suppliers demonstrate that their foods are grown sustainably," guess what: they will be. So how about Wal-Mart sets up some standards for the production of foods it sells? That ought to have an immediate impact.