Category Archives: Uncategorized

Factory Farming and the Paleo Diet

So paleo diet is all the rage and we want to eat like our ancestors, but what’s unfortunate is that this is physically impossible. We can’t eat like our ancestors because they meat we have available to us is raised completely differently. First of all, I appreciate that people have doubts about our current “conventional” food system. I am the first to be frustrated with it. To a certain extent, going back in time and looking at historical food processing techniques is helpful. We could all probably benefit from some sourdough bread techniques, fermented food, more organic fruits and vegetables and well raised meat.

Basically, the meat that people ate in hunter gatherer times was hunted. Meaning it ran around all day and it had a very different muscular structure. This is different than picking up ground beef from the supermarket and cooking it for two reasons: first, that meat has most likely been crammed into a stall eating grain and corn for most of its life and secondly, you did not have to chase it, hunt it, butcher it etc. When you understand the processes that hunter gatherers went through to eat meat, it becomes more clear that it was not a constant food source but instead one that was special and there would be ceremonies around. Anyway, eating feed lot cattle and calling it paleo is unfortunately misinformed.  (Read more: Paleofantasy – evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk breaks down Paleo myths)

Well, then what’s so bad about feed lot cattle?

Well, for the purposes of this blog I’ll highlight two issues.

  1. Firstly, environmentally, factory farmed meat is a HUGE problem. There first is the corn that the beed is raise on which is GMO, treated with pesticides, trucked to the feed lots, and fattens up cattle and chicken in a way that they are not adapted to. In the process there is so much damage to the environment, there is high water usage, there is the fuel, the pesticides, the unnecessary antibiotics, and the methane emitted by the animals. The figure for cattle’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions is somewhere between 14-22% (read more: Scientific American – http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-greenhouse-hamburger/)
  2. We are not created to eat this kind of meat: it leads to heart disease because of the high amount of saturated fat. But there are other human health impacts. Antibiotic use can lead to antibiotic resistance in humans. There is also the issue of growth hormones, and ecoli.

One important thing you can do next time you go to the supermarket is check out what types of meat you’re buying. I know that it’s more expensive. Unfortunately, the system is built to subsidize these factory farms instead of the little guys doing it right. In order to take a stand we need to stand by the little guys and pay the extra price. One day you’ll be glad you did!

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Organic Milk Next

I have spent a great deal of time lately reading about and understanding our food systems better. The systems we have in place currently are not going to be around forever. They simply can’t. Using GMO crops with built in pesticides only forces pests to evolve faster and that pesticide becomes obsolete, requiring that new, more powerful ones be used on farm lands. This is happening with RoundUp Ready crops and a chemical similar to agent orange was approved by the USDA. These things are not picked up readily in the media, and corporations have a lot of reason to keep them quiet. In Oregon and Colorado there are ballot initiatives to have GMO crops labeled. Monsanto just spent 4.7 million dollars to help defeat the initiative. Why do they not want us to know what’s in our food? It seems like such a simple right.

Read more:
Super Weeds – NBC
Agent Orange Chemical  – Forbes

Organic foods do not have genetically engineered plants in them. So eating organic is not just a health trend but instead a way to vote with your dollar to increase sustainable farming practices. Of course organic foods are not perfect, and they are not the complete solution. But they do have a lot of potential to make changes in this world. Instead of humans “Playing God in the Garden” as Michael Pollen says, we can allow the natural systems of permaculture, and organic farming to feed us and create a more sustainable world.

How can we do this? 
We need to stop only advocating change through policy. Maybe it’s my generation, but the gridlock on capitol hill has me a little lost in my faith of government. It seems that in our country, corporations are the ones holding the bulk of the power. We can gripe about this, or we can treat these corporations as what they really are – governing bodies – and advocate to them. This is taking it one step further from voting with your dollar. But it requires us to be activists.

#OrganicMilkNext
The organization – GMOInside has started a campaign with the hashtag #organicmilknext. The point is to advocate to Starbucks – the worlds largest milk supplier – to use organic milk in their coffees. The website lays out four things people can do to become involved in the campaign. Let’s keep up the momentum and really try to make change happen for the world.

http://gmoinside.org/starbucks/

Permaculture and the Myth of Scarcity

The Economics of Happiness

This is the second article in our series by the speakers of Voices of Hope in a Time of Crises, a one-day event, which will explore localized solutions to our global problems and launch the International Alliance for Localization. Join the discussion on November 8th at The Cooper Union in New York City.

By Charles Eisenstein

permacultureAt a conference a couple weeks ago, an activist who does work in Africa recounted an encounter she had with the minister of agriculture of a certain African country. The minister spoke with excitement about the high-tech agricultural technologies he was bringing into the country in partnership with large agribusiness companies, so the activist brought up the topic of organic agriculture. The minister said, “Stop. You don’t understand. We cannot afford such luxuries here. In my country, people are starving.”

This reflects a common conception about organic agriculture – that it sacrifices…

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Microcystin or Myself? Thoughts on the Toledo water ban.

What just happened in Ohio?

A bunch of headlines announced: Ohio water is undrinkable because of toxic algae. That’s probably what you heard – but it’s not really the truth. It’s not algae – it’s us. That water is not undrinkable because algae went wild, it became toxic to humans even after having been boiled because of factory farming.

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This may seem like a stretch so let’s look closer. Factory farms use a lot of synthetic chemicals – this takes me back to high school environmental science (Map of factory farms near Toledo). These chemicals are composed of a lot of two nutrients: phosphorus and nitrogen. Through runoff they made their way into lake Erie – this process is called eutrophication. The synthetic fertilizers also provide nutrients for the algae that is to blame for the toxic compound that makes the water undrinkable.

 

The problem is that this toxic chemical is not the only problem associated with eutrophication – it can lead to lower levels of oxygen in the water, kill fish, enhance the existence of decomposers, and really lead to smelly, polluted, and in this case toxic waterways.

 

So right now there is news and direct human affect from factory farming. Just because the water ban was lifted does not mean this problem is going away. We need to make a stand against this type of agriculture. This is happening with the GMO labeling movement. It’s also happening with more and more people buying organic produce. It’s easy to say that buying organic is too expensive but when you factor in the costs it takes to clean up the messes of factory farming, it’s obvious that there need to be serious alternatives suggested.

 

We can blame it solely microcystin, toxic algae, or we can take a more critical look at our own personal impact. There will be more of this to come, let’s protect what we have and be conscious of our everyday, every minute impact.

Thoughts on Facial Cleansers

Refinery29 recently posted an experiment where four women tried five different cleansing routines: http://www.refinery29.com/2014/04/66856/not-washing-face. The point of the article seemed to be to simplify and use a single ingredient, but mostly to see if the women could make it through the week. Although the experiment proved interesting, it did not seem to have sound basis for existing. Does anyone consider changing their skincare routine to simply olive oil, really? This seems doubtful. Needless to say most of the more outlandish options: just using coconut oil, olive oil, or apple cider vinegar, all pantry essentials did not succeed. Complains ranged from oily skin, problems with breaking out, too difficult to implement etc. The two skin care systems that were more typical: Purity face wipes and Josie Maran cleansing oil – seemed more doable, but still not as good as the face care systems the women had in place.

Overall, it seemed that the article was uninspired. Not one of the women was going to switch her skin care routine, or more to the point was looking for something different to begin with. It seems that if you are comfortable with the routine you have in place it is inevitable that a risky or strange option will not sway you after using it for a week. I wondered, why would these women switch? A few used Dermatologica skin care systems – rated a 4 by Environmental Working Group (out of 10). I’d argue this is a pretty good rating and they are happy with the product.

It seems that Refinery29 tried the wrong approach: instead of choosing women who are already attached to their routine, why not target women who are unhappy with their current skin care practice. There would be more incentive to try something new, and something more natural. Here is where I offer some alternatives to simply using kitchen oil as a cleanser or the chemical intense drug store options. There are in-betweens:

  1. An all natural cleanser is great – such as Ava Anderson cleanser. It’s the one I have been using recently. It is a really wonderful product with a lot of environmental and healthful integrity
  2. In the article they have women use coconut oil as their entire skin care routine. It didn’t seem to work out. Instead, consider adding it to your routine and using it instead of eye makeup remover. It does a great job. It’s what I use pretty much exclusively at this point. I use it with a wash cloth instead of disposable pads or cotton. If you remove make up with it and then cleanse your face with something else it works perfectly.
  3. A rose petal spray – helps with moisturizing your face and cleansing at the same time. An example of a good one is Thayers Alcohol-free Toner Rose Petal Hazel with Aloe Vera Formula. This one is good for acne prone skin. Or you could be like my mom and make your own.
  4. Another good brand for oily skin is the Borage line of skin care. As far as exfoliating cleansers go, this is a good one. It uses oatmeal instead of the microbeads that are big contaminants.

Considering Our Waste

Globally, we humans produce a lot of waste. When considering our waste, we need to think about the long term impact on the planet. It is very easy to buy a bottle of water, drink it and then toss it in the garbage can. But where does that go? Chances are it goes into the ocean or into a landfill. It goes into a landfill where it will not decompose for 500 years. The shipping to the landfill, the creation of some useable space atop that landfill, and all the other logistical implications will waste much energy. Not to mention the energy needed to create that bottle of water. In turn, the water bottle turns into something much more than a convenience at that moment, it is really a sore on our earth.

Waste is something that we really need to be conscious of when we are making consumer decisions. We have the power to force companies to create products with less waste. Bringing your lunch in tupperware instead of in plastic bags, choosing items that are bulk instead of single serving packages, all of these things can make an impact in our food system. If we are not conscious and careful the impact on the earth will be great. Currently there is a crisis with the amount of plastic floating in our oceans and waterways (National Geographic mapped the plastic – here’s an interesting map of it). Reducing our consumption of packaging and other disposable goods, recycling what we cannot avoid, composting what is biodegradable, and repurposing things that can be used again are all excellent ways to be considerate of our earth – and our future here.

Here are some great innovations happening in Europe –

  1. A supermarket dreamed up by two young German women who have thought about unnecessary packaging:
    Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 11.49.43 AM

    http://news.distractify.com/culture/brilliant-supermarket/
  2. An initiative in France to reduce food waste and expose customers to less than perfectly shaped produce
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2nSECWq_PE

 

 

GMOs

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I often find myself in conversations about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). If I know one thing for sure about GMOs, it’s that people have a lot of opinions about them. Before I formed an opinion I did a lot of observing and understanding. 

I think that GMOs might not on their own be a terrible thing, however, what they have become is really truly troubling. GMOs are the reason we are sustaining monoculture. Monoculture is possible because of the way that corn, soybeans, cotton, and other crops are able to be grown for miles in factory farms . Because we are able to insert specific genes into crops, we are able to spray the fields with pesticides and the plants survive. Those pesticides then end up in our ground water, our rivers, and eventually into our oceans. We are surrounded by the chemicals – they do not disappear. The integrate themselves into our lives. Our waterways face eutrophication, and our oceans are acidifying. 

In the US, the way we grow food now we are urging pests to adapt to further and further levels of pesticides. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the insects will die, leaving that small percentage that is able to overcome the pesticide. This is how evolution works. As pests adapt to resist the chemicals and . At first the population of survivors will be small and can appear harmless. However, as the species begins to thrive as they are not affected by the chemical, the species evolves to survive. Their evolution leads to a steady growth in the population that now all shares the immunity to whatever was supposed to prevent pests in the first place. This survival induces an extreme cycle of increasing need for genetic modification and insect adaptation. This fight will never be won or lost. 

Instead of working against each other, permaculture creates a habitat and balanced ecosystem. Instead of fighting against nature and it’s evolutionary forces, we should be working together to create sustainable food systems. Without even going into the predatory nature of Monsanto or Dow Chemical, it is clear that GMO foods are not the problem, it’s the system that is created around them. 

This system will have to transition at some point to a more circular cooperative one, because at the moment it is not sustainable. This process has begun and will catalyze further when there is more transparency about GMOs. Recently in Vermont, a bill was passed that forces food companies to label GMOs in their products. Companies such as Ben and Jerry’s are forced to make a decision based on this legislature. Two very clear choices are put in front of them. They can either label that their product has GMOs in it or they can  make a change and push forward a revolution. The choice they made is pretty remarkable, and has the potential to send ripple effects to the suppliers and buyers all around them. As more companies are forced to make the choice in Vermont, much more is happening behind the scenes. The suppliers in Oregon that provide some type of candy will have to switch. This is going to send ripples further than than just through Vermont and instead throughout the country. The caveat to all of this is that if Ben and Jerry’s wants to be labeled by Non-GMO Project, they will need to use milk that comes from cows do not eat genetically modified foods. It doesn’t look like this will be plausible right away but it will be interesting to see if they eventually make the change. Maybe it’s the start of something new? Or maybe it’s just Vermont, being Vermont. 

I of course refrain from predicting what the future will look like. It is unimaginable to my human brain. I do know that with exposure and understanding we likely have a chance of creating a more equitable and safe food system. To me the little non-GMO labels on products do not say: “we don’t insert DNA into our corn” instead what it really says is: “we understand the need for change in the food system”. And those are the products I will want to buy.

USA Today – Ben and Jerry’s says goodbye to GMOs
What Ben and Jerry’s has to say: Latest Non-GMO Updates