Saturday, May 31, 2008

Some vegan recipes circulating in the online news

The Allentown Morning Call has a recipe for Chocolate Ganache Cake from new cookbook You Won't Believe It's Vegan! by Lacey Sher and Gail Doherty. TV's WRAL is featuring what sounds like an incredible recipe for Sun-Dried Tomato Falafel in Pitas from Beverly Lynn Bennett's Vegan Bites: Recipes for Singles cookbook.

Chocolate ganache cake and falafel -- does it get any better?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Critical Mass rally in Fredericton today at 5 pm

I'd forgotten to mention this. There's a Critical Mass bike rally in Fredericton today (they're held on the last Friday of every month). I'm not sure where people meet on the northside to make their way over to the downtown area, but on the southside, folks are meeting at Officer's Square at 5 pm. There's been a lot of buzz over this one, since the arrest of Lee Breen, Wilser's Room bartendar extraordinaire and operator of an eco-friendly lawncare business, who ended up spending a night in jail and serving two days' house arrest for refusing to pay a ticket for having broken the city's skateboarding bylaw. I suspect there'll be as many skateboarders as cyclists. We'll see.

Update: This was my first Critical Mass rally in quite a few months. Past rides have generally been orderly, with a well-defined route and folks generally abiding by cycling rules, with the exception of huddling together as one body through lights that turned red when part of the group had already gone through (in which case, designated people would stand at the intersection holding off traffic until the rest of the group had passed). This time around, there were maybe 70 of us? The route was made up seconds before we left. The woman leading the group rode really fast, even though we repeatedly called on her to slow down; that being said, I realize that it's hard to set a pace when you're unsure of what's going on behind you. During past rides, people would relay information along the group to prevent straggling, which seemed to happen near the end, as familiar faces ended up coming forward to control a small group of reckless kids (maybe 12 or 13 years old?) who were pulling wheelies and weaving in and out of incoming traffic lanes. The woman also led the group through a multitude of unnecessary and wrong lane changes, apparently not sure of where to go, so I was thankful that traffic was relatively slow and that there was no police presence. So? Rather than feeling charged by the end, I felt nervous and a little disappointed. Any newcomers this month may also have been put off by today's ride, and I can't say that I'd blame them.

Listening to: Nick Drake's Day Is Done

Seed: From biotech giants' patents and lobbying, to my thankfulness for local organic growers

According to Forbes, Monsanto spent $1.3M on lobbying, just in the first quarter of this year. They lobbied ''Congress, (the) White House, (the) US Trade Representative's office, (the) Federal Trade Commission'' and the ''Agriculture Department'' on ''farm bill provisions and biotechnology'' as well as ''organic standards, patent reform, theft of agricultural seeds, endangered species, timber, greenhouse gas emissions legislation, international trade, ethanol production'' and other things. The crazy thing is that $1.3M to them is spare change.

In other news... It seems the rush is now on
for companies to patent plant genes for crops that are tolerant of climate change. As biotech giants continue to buy up more and more seed companies, and farmers' and gardener
s' GMO-free options become increasingly scarce, somebody's going to be making a whole heap of money, and it's not gonna be farmers. The time to start saving organic seed is now; I'm putting it on my list of things I need to try out this season.

On a related note, I popped by my local organic health food store, True Food Organics, yesterday and noticed for the first time that they were selling seed. They were kinda buried behind some dried shiitake mushrooms at the back of the far end of the counter, so I'd never noticed them before. That sucks, since there were tomato, basil and pepper seeds I would have loved to have sown, but it's too late in the year now to start from scratch for those. So I picked up some lettuce seed (arugula, Jericho and Black Seeded Simpson) and beans (Contender green beans) from Hope Seeds, as well as some wax beans from Mapple Farms. I couldn't help but bemoan the small selection available; I sure as heck hope to have more luck at the Farmer's Market tomorrow. I wish I knew more local vegetable gardeners.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Charting rising fuel prices in Canada and how it's hitting home

National Resources Canada has been charting the increasing cost of gas, diesel, propane and furnace oil across Canada. I checked out some averages for my province and got a bad case of the shakes. It seems that for all the rolling around on my bike I do, that I'm still in for a possible short-term wallop soon, thanks to the current situation with oil.

In June of last year, furnace oil was around $0.90 per litre. By January, it was hovering at around $0.97. That meant, in January, that a half tank of oil (which lasts me roughly a little less than two months in the dead of winter with the thermostat between 10 and 12 C / 50-53.6 F) cost around $485 or so, with taxes. Right now, furnace oil is selling at around $1.33 per litre -- a 28% increase. So, if last winter it cost roughly $970 to heat my apartment (not factoring in the bit of oil left over from the previous year or the increase in my electricity bill from using a space heater when company was over or on colder nights), that means that a repeat of the same weather, a similar thermostat setting, etc. this year would cost around $1242 at today's prices, give or take a handful of bucks. And the price of furnace oil is still spiking. It's gone up 7% just in the past month.

I'd hoped to hang on to my apartment until late fall to be able to squeeze whatever I can out of my garden, but it's starting to look a little dire. If it's going up an average of 7% a month, that means a half tank of oil will cost double what it did in January by this October. Looks like it's time to start looking for new digs. I had a feeling last winter that this was coming, but hadn't realized that the increase in cost would be so drastic so quickly.

Renewable Energy: Ground-source heat pumps (GSHP)

Lately, I've been talking to a new vegetarian acquaintance -- a physicist with a keen interest in renewable energy -- about geothermal heat pumps, or ground-source heat pumps, to be even more specific (i.e. to distinguish them from air-source heat pumps). I'd mentioned to him my recent visit to an off-grid solar-powered house in the Knowlesville area of NB and he brought up some figures on the cost effectiveness of different types of renewable (and non-renewable) energy in Eastern Canada. Apparently, solar doesn't hold a lotta water for him, mostly because of installation costs and also because of the relatively low amount of sun we get in this colder climate. I did some investigating and am now really intrigued by this type of heating system. Various articles about these ground-source heat pump systems (e.g. this one), claim that by using them, you can lower your heating / cooling costs anywhere from 30-70%. Also, although the initial installation costs are several times higher than installing conventional heating systems, those costs can be recouped within 5-10 years.

Essentially, what happens is that when you dig far enough down into the ground, say, 3 or more metres, you reach a point where the temperature of the earth is constant year-round, varying according to latitude. So the ground source heat pump, using a small amount of electricity and a compressor, extracts heat from the ground to heat your home in the winter, and then in the summer it extracts heat from your home and pumps it back into the ground.

Mother Earth News has a much more detailed (and average-joe-reader-friendly) article on these pumps
here. I hope to share more about this type of system as I learn more, myself.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Less plastic, please!

The province of Ontario recently announced that its LCBO stores are phasing out plastic bags. Their stock is expected to run out between now and the end of this summer and the liquor stores will be supplying paper or cardboard boxes on demand or encouraging customers to bring or buy reusable ones. It's kinda funny how just 10-15 or so years ago, I remember having to argue with cashiers about not having purchased items placed in plastic; these days, most places seem to (finally!) be encouraging their customers to move away from them.

I think it's great and hope that the Ontario's move sets a precedent for other province-run liquor stores around the country. In Ontario alone, this move will eliminate 80 million plastic bags a year, and their long-range plan is to cut the entire province's number of plastic bags used by half by 2012.

(I love how the president of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association was quoted as saying ''bans send out the wrong message''. I mean, what else could he possibly have said, this silly, silly man?)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Peak oil in the news

It's funny how just two years ago, I was barely familiar with the theory of peak oil. I'd heard it brought up in a few online vegetarian communities, but no more than that. Even now, many of my friends think it's an extremist and paranoid outlook, since we were born into cheap oil and can't imagine life without it. As my peak oil aware friend J. used to say: ''They just can't hear it.''

Now it seems to be talked about everywhere -- from YouTube videos on building kitchen gardens and sustainable communities, to websites devoted to personal health in a post-carbon world or to basic skills development. What's become most telling, however, is the large number and diversity of articles about it now in mainstream media. Here's a recent AP article, for instance, on the spike in people choosing to homestead or to learn to live off the land in the face of the coming energy crisis. And it seems that everyone wants to talk to Richard Heinberg these days.

There are articles everywhere about supply and demand issues and the uncertainty of what's left as worldwide consumption continues to increase. Even the Wall Street Journal recently published an article about well-respected energy watchdog the International Energy Agency (IEA)'s recent predictions that supplies may be lower than previously thought. IEA plans to release a report sometime in November detailing its assessment of the world's top 400 oil fields.

I recently kick-started a local peak oil discussion group here in my small city and am hoping to get the word out about it over the next few weeks. I've mentioned it to a few friends, and although some feel strongly about issues like global warming, I think they classify peak oil with things like 9/11 conspiracy theories. Hopefully, I'll be able to dig some like-minded folks up out of their root cellars so that we can trade off some skills and knowledge.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Colin Hay

This song's been playing over and over in my head for days. Colin Hay's got this sad sort of voice that just adds that extra ''ouch'' to it.


One of the perks of having a sorta absentee landlord is that at this time of year, I could literally live off of dandelion greens. I'd post a photo, but my camera batteries are charging. I'll cross my fingers that the lawn doesn't get mowed for another few days and will then try to snap some pics of my spoils. I'm kinda kicking myself for not having thought of this last weekend when eating salads daily with my house-guest.

Peak Oil Overview -- March 2008 from The Oil Drum

The Oil Drum has a great concise piece on oil production available on its site right now. It's also available in .pdf format or in Power Point for presentations. It covers the US history of oil, world history of oil, as well as the most recent data showing the current (and projected) state of affairs in terms of supply / production. It also addresses some of the current myths being circulated about how the Alberta oil sands (aka tar sands), Alaskan Wildlife National Refuge or biofuels will turn things around. It's a must-read, especially for anyone new to the idea of Peak Oil.

Farming in the news

Grist had a decent short article this past week on the United States' urgent need for more farmers. Farmers make up 1.6 percent of the US population right now, and onlyy 5.8 percent of those farmers are under the age of 35. Richard Heinberg addressed the same issue around a year and a half ago in one of his Museletters taken from a lecture he delivered to the E.F. Schumacher Society. The situation is no doubt pretty much the same in Canada, and with food shortages becoming more and more of a concern, and as the need for less oil-reliant agriculture continues to grow as we run out of fossil fuels, we can expect to hear about this a lot more.

The USDA has recently decided to eliminate a program used by everyone from environmental groups to industry and trade groups to trace the use and risk of pesticides. Scaled back in 2007, the collection and analysis of data on food crop pesticide usage in the US was regarded as the only ''reliable, plublicly searchable database of its kind'', according to an article in The Daily Green, which also points out that this comes at a time when herbicide use in Monsanto's near-monopoly of Roundup Ready crops has been increasing.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Peak Oil and being single -- some ramblings

I've been doing some Googling on Peak Oil and being single. Most articles about Peak Oil (particularly those envisioning a more extreme state of affairs once oil runs out, where society as we know it alters significantly and desperation and chaos set in as food and transportation costs skyrocket) focus on the paramount need for a return to small communities. We're already seeing the impact that $130+ a barrel oil is having on food and transportation costs now; even conservative experts seem hard-pressed to predict anything other than that these costs will continue to soar. Smaller communities producing their own food in a sustainable manner can knock out the increasingly more and more expensive middle step of needing this or that item shipped across (or from out of) the country, thus significantly lowering the cost of food. With individuals learning the sorts of skills that were necessary before cheap fossil fuels enabled us to opt to replace things rather than repair them, and then coming together to share these skills with each other (or to share the products of their respective skills), these communities can be brought closer to a sort of self-sufficiency.

In larger urban centers, many people are coming together to talk about skills acquisition and about transition towns, or relocalization in general. In more rural areas, some folks already have a head start, growing kitchen gardens or living a more basic life where consumerism isn't necessarily as rampant. Then you have these grey areas, these smaller urban centers or larger towns, where ''rural'' means an hour or two's drive into the country, and where finding like-minded people in your own backyard who won't look absolutely incredulous when you mention that oil is running out is like trying to find a dolphin in a goldfish pond. Establishing a Peak Oil group when living in a not-so-populated area starts to feel like a hopeless endeavour and hopping on a farm to learn about growing things can turn into a time-consuming and expensive ordeal unless you have your own motorized vehicle. Books can only take you so far when it comes to learning, so what to do? And what on earth to do if while in the middle of trying to work around these obstacles, you also happen to be unsatisfactorily single? If it's well-nigh impossible to establish a Peak Oil group in a large town, can you imagine finding a Peak Oil aware partner?

I've read about the difficulty that people have impressing the impact of the developing economic crisis on their spouses and family members to try to get them involved. I have a hard enough time when my SUV driving friends affectionately call me a nut for spending most of my time reading about nutrition, herbs, foraging , alternative energy and low-tech skills; however, I can just imagine the small talk over coffee on a first date.

''So where do you see yourself in the next few years?''
''Well, I'm thinking about ditching my things and resettling into an intentional community.''
''So, ah... Hmm. Why?''
''We're running out of oil and the economy is going belly up. We've left our food supply in the hands of agri-bullies who've already brought us some of the most toxic man-made substances ever created yet claim their new mostly under-tested frankenfoods are safe, and we need to reclaim our right to control what we consume. Plus, who doesn't want to live a more meaningful life?'
''Er... sure.... Waitress? Cheque please?''

It seems that it would be a lot easier to be in a relationship and to transition into a less fossil-fuel reliant existence than to attempt to do so while head-butting one's way into the dating game. Instead of jumping as a single entity into a community of many, or stumbling about feeling a little lost sometimes, you'd have a cohort to share the challenges. Technology is such that you can reach out to connect with other like-minded individuals over the internet, but these sorts of exchanges are tricky. Also, almost anyone who's ever taken a go at internet dating will gladly share with you their horror stories, or at the very least, will share their tales of heartache and unwanted surprises. And besides, I surely don't remember the last time I saw ''biointensive gardening'' show up on any man's list of interests on a dating site.

Things to think about...

NB Conservation Council's solar water heater campaign

The NB Conservation Council is currently engaged in a letter writing campaign to encourage folks to contact NB Power to ask them to provide solar water heater rentals for its customers. According to the NB Conservation Council's website, NB Power could do this without entailing a cost increase for themselves or for their customers. Currently, NB Power lists guidelines on its website by which customers must comply if they want to take their existing electric rental heater and connect it to a solar (or other renewable) energy source. I'm assuming that the Conservation Council would like to see NB Power offer the whole package and installation to its customers, rather than have the customers take on the additional cost of extra components and the upgrade to solar themselves.

At 400 kWh per month, your average 40 gal hot water heater accounts for a significant chunk of your monthly energy consumption (and electricity bill!). According to the current rate info on the NB Power site, that's an average of just under $40 a month.

Click here to add your voice to those asking for this simple step the utility could take to lessen our reliance on fossil fuels.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

South Knowlesville Community Land Trust

I slipped into a little piece of comfort this past weekend, in the middle of the bustle of finding myself offering up my home to a friend from out of town who's become closer to me than family in some ways. We took a road trip into north-western New Brunswick -- country that's so familiar to me that although its absolute gorgeousness always leaves me a little in awe, returning to it always leaves me all too well aware of the transitoriness of the current backdrop or context of my small city. We visited Leland and Tegan Dougherty-Wong at Artful Acre, hoping to get a good peek at (and understanding of) their recent project, which is the setting up of a community land trust in South Knowlesville to establish a small sustainable community of individuals with an emphasis on community, ecology and economic self-sufficiency. They plan to establish a common food growing area, with fields of grains and vegetable crops, as well as orchards and herbs.

When we arrived, Leland was engaged in sharing some of his timberframe and straw-bale construction knowledge and skills with a small workshop group. (I should note before I forget that he'll be part of a more extensive three day Natural Building Theory, Design & Practice workshop at the nearby Falls Brook Centre from June 26 to 29.)
So after having taken a few wrong turns, we arrived late and were only able to hear a bit of the presentation before everyone was welcomed into the Dougherty-Wong home for a potluck. After discussing the economic reality of the rural area with Leland, we ended up learning more about their vision of the South Knowlesville Community Land Trust and of the steps they've taken towards getting it going. Tegan mentioned that they were still ironing some things out, but that their biggest need right now is for more folks to jump in, both to settle on some guiding principles and to do the hands-on work that will be involved in building some of the homes and of preparing the actual land on which food will be grown. For more information, visit their site. Here are some ways in which you can get involved.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

About the company of others

Little do men perceive what solitude is, and how far it
For a crowd is not company, and faces are but a gallery
of pictures,
and talk but a tinkling cymbal, where there is no love.

- Francis Bacon

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Canada's Bill C-517 killed, Canadians denied mandatory labelling of GM foods

Well, after receiving no attention whatsoever in the mainstream media, it looks as if the private member's bill, Bill C-517, An Act to Amend the Food and Drugs Act (mandatory labelling for genetically modified foods) was kicked to the curb before even getting to the second reading stage to determine whether it should be passed on to a committee. Those who voted it down include Convervative MPs Preston Manning and Peter MacKay, as well as Liberal MPs Michael Ignatieff and Paul Zed (from Saint John, NB) and if you click on the link above, you'll get a complete list of which MP thinks you shouldn't have a right to know what goes into your food. There were 101 ''yays'', 156 ''nays'' and 18 paired votes. That's close enough that all it would have taken was a bit of reporting on this to get people's attention so that they'd pressure their MPs to vote to push it forward. Greenpeace Canada has more about it here.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Amy Goodman and Vanity Fair's James Steel on Democracy Now!

A month ago, I'd written about Vanity Fair's recent weighty exposé on the monstrously huge biotech bully Monsanto. Tuesday's episode of Democracy Now! featured Amy Goodman's interview with James Steele, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist who co-authored the Vanity Fair piece. You can listen to (or watch) the interview here, or read the transcript here.

Democracy Now! also provides
a link to the five page letter written by a Monsanto PR rep to Steele in response to his original article. In the letter, Monsanto attempts to disassociate itself from its previous incarnations, referring to the companies it was as if it's completely unrelated to them, instead of having evolved from them. The rep absolves the ''new'' Monsanto of any sort of ethical accountability and beats it all down to so much legal mumbo-jumbo, as if chan
ging a company's name cleans the slate.

The rep refuses to discuss anything having to do with
their bullying and harassment of farmers in what the rep refers to as ''patent infringement cases'', except to describe the manner they go about investigating claims as this almost genteel process. Then, as if to make the whole thing smell even more benevolent, he adds that funds gained by blackmailing and intimidating farmers go towards agricultural education and scholarships. Nice.

The letter response is well worth reading, just to get a sense of the time and energy that this company puts into manipulating its image. And the interview is a must-see.

Ask, and Google News Provides: More Vegan Recipes in the New

The Canadian Press is circulating an Asian-inspired recipe for Sesame Sugar Snap Peas from The Whole Foods Market Cookbook by Steve Petusevsky. It's also circulating a recipe for Bean and Mushroom Burgers from The Vegetarian Cookbook published by Reader's Digest Canada.

The Guardian had a really scrumptious sounding recipe for
Garlic Soup and Harissa a little over a week ago. The butter called for can be replaced with Earth Balance or another vegan butter substitute.

Another article I think I missed was in Vancouver's goold old
Georgia Straight on April 24. The article is about the benefits of a well-planned vegan diet and features a recipe for Shiitake-Miso Gravy adapted from Nava Atlas' Vegan Express, a bookbook I'd really like to try out soon.

(I just discovered the hard way that blogging about recipes when you're on the second day of a juice fast is akin to watching running water when you really, really have to pee.)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Vitamin D2 vs. Vitamin D3

This is just a quick update to my previous post about Dr. Andrew Weil's article on becoming vegan, where he recomends taking Vitamin D3, which is almost always derived from animals (which, of course, means it's generally not vegan). In his article, he didn't mention Vitamin D2, which is usually derived from non-animal ingredients and is the form that tends to be used in vegan vitamins.

According to this recent study, although it was once thought that Vitamin D2 was less effective than D3, both forms are equally effective. So, there's no need for an animal-derived supplement.

Skills, sustainability and self-reliance links

I'll be adding these links to the left of the page over the next few days, but thought I'd share them here first.

Here's a new foraging link -- a free e-book about acorns, a wild edible found readily across North America.

You'll find out almost everything you want to know about preserving food here at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

This was by far one of the most intriguing (and potentially dangerous) things I've come across in a while. I've only glanced through it. It's a .pdf guide about practicing medicine in austere conditions where appropriate technology and professional assistance are unavailable. (I'm no medical expert, so I'm certainly not recommending any of the info in that guide, which is full of disclaimers itself.)

Then there's Howtopedia -- the Wikipedia of practical skills, where users are invited to write articles to contribute to this self-described practical knowledge library.

Finally, here's a simple guide on how to make homemade cider vinegar.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Peak Oil, The Disposable Society and Exchanging Skills

I was speaking to a friend a few weeks ago about wanting to start up a local group to trade off skills -- the kinds of practical abilities these last few generations have more or less lost, thanks to plentiful and cheap energy having enabled (and accelerated) our consumerism. We're a disposable society, and I mean that in every sense of the expression. On one hand, long after we wipe ourselves out, life on this planet will keep on going on. On the other hand, we're also disposable in the sense that cheap oil has allowed us to evolve into wasteful creatures, to the point where we no longer even know where the hell to put all of our garbage.

A friend of mine frequently points out how our city is constantly littered with disposable Tim Horton's coffee cups, for instance. We leave our homes in the morning, spend minutes idling at a drive-through for a cup of coffee in a paper cup with a plastic top, which inevitably ends up on the ground or in a garbage can. For someone with a mean caffeine habit, investing in a travel mug and brewing a pot at home in the morning would pay for itself in a month. You can even buy a container of Tim Horton's coffee to make yourself (I say this in response to some Tim's addicts who insist that they like the specific taste of their coffee). What's the fascination with having something to throw away?

The ridiculousness of it all struck me yesterday as I popped into the local supermarket to discover a new entry in the ''cheap plastics 'r' us'' book of wastefulness. In the produce section, I discovered small clear plastic containers, each holding smaller plastic bags with what looked like prewashed and cut fruit. For instance, one baggie contained 3-4 grapes in a smaller baggie, and then a couple of orange segments in a second baggie. Fruit -- something sold loose and with its own skin, wrapped in plastic baggies inside bigger plastic baggies inside a plastic container, undoubtedly carried home in a plastic bag. I don't get it. It's obviously not about convenience since I could peel an orange faster than it would take me to cut open all of that plastic.

When I was a kid, I remember reading old Little House on the Prairie books with wonder at the lengthy descriptions of how food was grown or gathered, and preserved. Things were dried, or salted, or pickled in those Tupperware-free days. I grew up in a home where pies were made from scratch -- from strawberries we picked ourselves, with a family that engaged in the annual fiddlehead picking ritual so popular in the Maritimes and Maine. Once a year, my mother and some of my older cousins would head out to a relative's farm or large garden and load up pillowcases with string beans and then bring them home, where she and my grandmother would spend an afternoon sorting through them and snapping off their ends to prepare them for canning.

Even with that, though, I still remember leaving home for my first year of university and not even knowing how to do anything but open a can or follow the simple instructions on the side of a box. I made Kraft Dinner and ate Mr. Noodles. I had frozen pizza and Campbell's Soup. I jumped into consumerism head-first because I could. It wasn't until years later, when I became a vegetarian and became mindful of the foods I ate, that I actually learned to cook whole foods; it wasn't until I had my first garden that I learned how to preserve herbs and vegetables. These were skills I should have and could have learned from my mother and grandmother, but at the time, there was no sense of a need for them to be passed on to me. After all, a strawberry pie could be bought frozen at the supermarket, where canned or frozen string beans were also plentiful.

So oil's running out. Cheap plastic and cheap energy are running out. Consumerism is convenient for us for now, but at the price of leaving us dependent on cheap plastic and cheap energy instead of learning hands on how to prepare and preserve things ourselves. And it's not just about food. Which brings me back to the original idea I mentioned in this post. Since consumerism has led to a breakdown in the traditional passing on of skills that enable a certain amount of self-sufficiency (and that certainly lead to a less disposable lifestyle), it seems to me that the best way to go about remedying this is to find others who have some sort of expertise in this or that area (composting, knitting, bicycle repair, foraging, wine making -- heck, even darning socks) and to trade off these skills with each other in some sort of informal but organized manner. Anyone in my area interested?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Carl Sagan on being challenged to engage in critical self-examination

All of us cherish our beliefs. They are, to a degree, self-defining. When someone comes along who challenges our belief system as insufficiently well-based -- or who, like Socrates, merely asks embarrassing questions that we haven't thought of, or demonstrates that we've swept key underlying assumptions under the rug -- it becomes much more than a search for knowledge. It feels like a personal assault.

--Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World

Andrew Weil and animal-derived supplements for vegans

So, I just read an article by Dr. Andrew Weil, the portly quasi-Santa-lookalike nutritional guru. It's called ''Becoming a Vegan''. In it, Weil perpetuates some iffy information that more or less amounts to saying that you cannot thrive on a completely vegan diet. He brings up two instances where, in his opinion, animal products are necessary. First, with regards to Vitamin D, he writes the following:

I recommend a daily supplement of 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 -- cholecalciferol -- for everyone (vegan or not).

He asserts that your body can produce enough Vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, but states that most people don't go outside enough, hence the need for a supplement. The thing is that cholecalciferol (D3) is generally derived from sheep's wool -- definitely not vegan. Oddly, he makes no mention at all of Vitamin D2, which isn't derived from animals and which is commonly used in vegan vitamins.

Then, with reference to omega-3s, he writes:

Be aware that the vegetarian sources of omega-3s are not as good as oily fish. Consider taking a fish oil supplement or, at least, an algae-derived supplement of DHA.

Why would someone write an article about becoming a vegan and recommend taking an animal-based supplement as an option? The article seems mistitled. It would be more accurate for it to maybe refer to issues Weil finds inherent in a vegan diet; it's not about how to adopt a vegan diet if he suggests -- twice -- consuming animal products as necessary? I mean, is the definition of veganism now purportedly open to tweaking. too? (OK, my crankiness is showing, I'll admit...)

According to the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), fish-derived sources of omega-3 are at the very least unnecessary, and on top of that, that

omega-3s in fish oils are highly unstable molecules that tend to decompose and, in the process, unleash dangerous free radicals. Research has shown that omega-3s are found in a more stable form in vegetables, fruits, and beans. (See referenced text here.)

With regards to Vitamin D, the Vegan Society has information on animal-free ways to meet your daily requirement. The Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) has a blurb on the differences between Vitamin D2 and D3. Both are used to fortify milk and other dairy products and Vitamin D3 isn't always animal-derived (but usually is). I haven't seen anything to indicate that one form is superior to the other, really. I'll see if I can dig up some more information about this in my copy of Joanne Stepaniak's Vegan Sourcebook, but it seems to me that Dr. Weil's opinion left some pretty serious blanks to fill and that since he writes as an authority on nutrition, most reading his article wouldn't even think to second-guess what he says. Thankfully, groups like PCRM and VRG exist to set the record straight.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Dan Piraro (creator of Bizarro)'s Veganism Video

I love Dan Piraro's sense of humour. In this animated video he makes use of it to discuss the human diet.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Even more flood pics from May 1

I had to sneak in a pic of my beloved trusty bike. This was taken by Officer's Pond, formerly known as Officer's Square before the Saint John River spilled into it.

Just a few feet away, a couple of kids were indulging themselves in -- uh -- water sports with their own bikes.

Someone over at the Crowne Plaza must have had a chuckle leaving this up.

More flood pics from May 1

Here's a scene along the south side bike trail (which is well underwater -- that second line of trees is where the river's edge usually lies).

And another:

And another:

More flood shots from yesterday

Here's the Carleton and Brunswick intersection yesterday as seen from the Old Burial Ground.

While over by the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, a couple of folks were checking out the Robbie Burns statue.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

My city's bath

This is a view from this evening of the flooding at the Brunswick and Carleton intersection, as seen from the Old Burial Ground. Things got a little more complicated, it seems.

Here's that intersection at the foot of the train bridge today.

The fact that the road was blocked at that intersection didn't stop some attention-seekers from having some fun. I missed him coming in, but got him riding out.

More flood shots from yesterday

This is a shot of the intersection at Brunswick and Carleton, just in front of the Old Burial Ground. I'm fairly sure the water was coming out of a manhole, since there was some bubbling up at another intersection just a couple of blocks east. Again, this was taken yesterday evening, probably close to 8:30 pm.

This is at the intersection at the southern foot of the old train bridge yesterday evening. The water here was coming from the river's overflow. There were so many people gathered above and on all sides of it, snapping photos whenever the lights changed and cars splashed through. I suspect that this has since been blocked off by police. This was taken at around 7:45 pm.

Here's a view of the train bridge, itself in the dusk. That second line of trees in the background is where the river's edge usually is.

A couple of downtown employees found themselves having to deal with quickly rising water when retrieving their parked cars. This guy was amscraying out of a parking lot behind buildings on the north side of Queen St.