Wednesday, April 30, 2008

My Face Is on Fire, My City Is Underwater

All of these were taken between 6:30 and 8:30 pm on April 30. My little city is facing its worst flood in over 30 years.

This is the parking lot behind the Justice Building on the north side of Queen St.

The Saint John River is to the left. That's Ste Anne Blvd that's flooded, with water spilling into parking lots behind Queen St buildings (as seen from the pedway).

Officer's Square on Queen St was also flooded. Dunno what those guys in the faux knight gear were all about. You can see the backed up traffic in my bike's mirror.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ug99 and your loaf of bread

As wheat prices soar, another danger is lurking just around the corner (or across the ocean, to be more precise) -- actual wheat shortages. A fungus called Ug99 has wiped out 70% of Africa's wheat crops, and it's expected that in some areas there, crops will be a total loss. First discovered in 1999 in Uganda, the fungus has already spread to Asia thanks to its wind-borne spores. Scientists are concerned that it will inevitably make its way to Europe and North America.

In a New York Times piece from this past Saturday, Norman E. Borlaug, the Nobel Prize winning and biotech / genetic engineering promoting ''Father of the Green Revolution'', calls for the development of a stem-rust-resistant (no doubt genetically modified) form of wheat and for it to be used to replace ''almost all of the commercial wheat grown in the world today'', for the sake and safety of the global wheat supply.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently handed Cornell University a $26.8 million dollar grant to initiate a three year study to develop (primarily and mostly through genetic modification), a stem-rust-resistant variety. Details of the project are available here in its executive summary.

I'm wondering what all of this will mean for organic wheat farmers.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Stereotypes, misinformation and Happy Meat

It's curious how just in the past two days, the Ottawa Citizen's managed to provide two lifestyle articles promoting negative stereotypes of vegetarians and / or vegans and, with them, completely inaccurate opinions of the healthiness of vegetarianism.

Michael Murray's piece in Saturday's paper asserts that anytime he's ever been inside a vegetarian restaurant that ''everybody in those places looked unhealthy. Thin and anemic, they all appeared as if they'd been suffering the affects of a parasite'' and concludes that ''the avoidance of meat was in fact making these people sick''. Then he perpetuates the stereotype that all vegetarians and vegans are ''humourless'' and ''political'', that they're living ascetic existences and seeking ''equal rights with humans'' for non-human animals. Murray strikes me as being that sort of loud and obnoxious type who makes unbelievably tasteless jokes based on stereotypes at an office party, completely oblivious to the reactions around him, and then when told he's being rude, lewd or mean-spirited, would shrug and, even more loudly, exclaim ''What? You can't take a joke?!''.

In today's paper, Joanne Laucius presents meat eating as making a comeback, continuously referring to omnivorous humans as ''carnivores'' (which would mean that people subsist on meat alone, with no need for vegetables, fruit or grains -- see any food guide for proof to the contrary). She sets the tone by kicking off her article by referring to the ''dedicated and pallid vegan'' with whom she used to work and describes how she'd needle this coworker about her dietary choices. She spends most of the article talking about what she calls ethical meat eating, then brings up another example of the stereotypical sickly vegetarian by mentioning a born again meat fetishist (and self-proclaimed former on-again / off-again vegetarian) who's recently -- jumping on the latest trend -- written a book about happy meat (see Gary Francione's post about the expression and movement) and who states that when she eschews meat, ''she doesn't feel or look well''.

It's interesting for me (and very telling) to see how, in writing articles promoting the eating of animal flesh, the writers need to rely, at some level or another, on perpetuating the myth that not eating animals is unhealthy and somewhat freakish. As presenting this misinformation is needed to add weight to the argument that eating meat is and should be the norm.

This is called ''freeing the Iraqi people''?

Freeing Iraqi men to murder their daughters? This is the status quo that we're maintaining there? The treatment of women as things? A teenager falls in love with a boy, so her father and brothers brutally murder her, and get a nod of approval from law enforcement officials for having done something that it is their right to do. And by having our soldiers there upholding this status quo, we're complicit. We really are.

We all know at this point what the invasion of Iraq was really all about -- anyone paying attention has known it for years, but it's just especially deplorable to me that Western politicians are presenting Iraq as having been liberated -- as a free society -- when it's acceptable there for a woman to be murdered at any man's whim.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Fredericton Community Kitchen needs urgent help

On Wednesday, April 23, the industrial dishwasher used by the Fredericton Community Kitchen to wash and sterilize the 120 or so loads of dishes they use every day caught fire. Repairs would cost more than getting the dishwasher completely replaced, and the replacement cost is approximately $12,000. That's money the Fredericton Community Kitchen doesn't have, and the dishwasher is crucial if they're able to continue serving the number of meals they do every day.

Fredericton radio station FRED FM has organized a fundraiser to come up with the money to replace the dishwasher. Donations can be made directly at the Community Kitchen itself at 65 Brunswick St, or at FRED FM's studios at 77 Westmorland St, Suite 400. Additionally, FRED FM staff will be around the city with collection buckets over the next few days. Pledges can also be made by calling 455-FRED (3733) or 455-0923. They're also encouraging the community to respond with corporate / school / retail / community group challenges and will be keeping a running list of these challenges on their website.

The situation is urgent and the sooner the Fredericton Community Kitchen can obtain this money, the sooner things can get back to normal for them as they continue to provide an invaluable service to so many people in the city who need them. Please get involved asap!

Friday, April 25, 2008

On the bike trail

Let the foraging begin!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Rice, rodeos and Rob Brezsny

Rice rationing in North America has begun. As the price of rice skyrockets and as some consumers are beginning to hoard staples amidst fears of a global shortage, both Costco and Sam's Club are capping the number of bags of imported rice each customer can buy per visit.

The self-proclaimed ''largest rodeo in the world'', Cheyenne Frontier Days (CFD), is suing animal welfare organization SHARK for having first persuaded Carrie Underwood (who is supposedly a vegetarian), and now rock band Matchbox 20 (whose lead singer Rob Thomas and his wife established the Sidewalk Angels Foundation to assist homeless people and animals) to cancel scheduled performances at the rodeo. SHARK's been busy providing the public with footage of the ridiculous amount of cruelty that persists at CFD (whose organizers have, incidentally, recentally announced that they're going to be ''toughening'' their rules on shocking horses to make them buck or bolt).

On a somewhat lighter note... It's offical, folks: Astrology is bunk. No more living my life according to Rob Brezsny. Sigh!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

DIY meat -- PETA's million dollar in vitro meat challenge

Someone needs to tell William Saletan at Slate that humans are o-m-n-i-v-o-r-e-s. In his article on PETA's million dollar vat-grown meat challenge, he consistently refers to non-vegetarians as ''carnivores''.

I haven't wrapped my head around this whole lab flesh idea -- this
in vitro meat. It's come up for discussion (and debate!) over the past few years in many an online vegetarian community, so the theory has been kicked around for a while. I'm obviously all for the idea of getting animals out of slaughterhouses and supermarkets, but the thought of growing animal flesh in a lab just sounds bizarre and gross to me (as I suspect it will sound to many other veg*ans and omnis). I'll have to give it some more thought.

Vegan recipes in the news

The Kansas City Star had a recipe for Cashew Manicotti w/ Sundried Tomatoes tucked into an Earth Day related blurb about veganism. It's from Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook.

The Canadian Press is spreading around a recipe for Tomato Curried Lentils, from Angeline Linardis' V Cuisine: The Art of New Vegan Cooking. I think that Linardis has a blog (unless the blog's name is just a coincidence), but it seems to be a 'by invitation only' sort of thing.

The Baltimore Sun has a piece today about the rising cost of food and how to eat frugally by incorporating vegetarian meals into your week. In it, the writer of the piece contributed her adaptation of a Curry of Eggplant and Peas recipe from The Vegetarian Epicure.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Jean-Jacques Rousseau on the animals we eat

The animals you eat are not those who devour others; you do not eat the carnivorous beasts, you take them as your pattern. You only hunger after sweet and gentle creatures who harm no one, which follow you, serve you, and are devoured by you as the reward of their service.
Jean Jacques Rousseau, philosopher and novelist (1712-1778)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Women in a post-carbon world

Just a few articles I thought I'd share...

Carolyn Baker wrote an article a few years back examining women and (quite interestingly) the feminine principle in relation to Peak Oil -- more specifically, as a part of life after the crash. In it, she raised issues that would mainly impact women in a post-carbon world (e.g. access to contraception and reproductive health-care) and questioned the fact that more women weren't (aren't?) involved in the Peak Oil movement. By exploring the "feminine principle", Baker refers to "nurturance, acceptance, generativity, eroticism, warmth, generosity, openness, introspection" and how these things contrast with the damage we've done to the ecosystem and how it's brought us to where we are today with global warming and Peak Oil. (Baker's website can be found here.)

Sharon Astyk wrote a piece that same year called "Peak Oil is a Women's Issue" that addressed the current vulnerability of women living in what's essentially a man's world (i.e. wage disparity, high percentage of women taking on solo childrearing, et al.) and what this could entail in a society in the midst of (or following) economic collapse. She also addressed the non-involvement of women in the Peak Oil movement, writing about her experience at a conference for The Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) and the ridiculously misogynistic old boy's school mentality which she encountered there. Astyk described it as "the habit of people in power of being powerful, and thus, not thinking very much about less powerful people". Astyk raised concerns that in a post-Peak world, women's access to education, health care and social programs -- three things that are often the first to suffer cuts in hard economic times -- could contribute to furthering the poverty and vulnerability of women, and that this would all tie into the population issue which will be of foremost concern in harder times as resources become more scarce.

Suburban Permaculture w/ Janet Barocco and Richard Heinberg

Peak Moment Television visits the suburban residence of Peak Oil author and educator Richard Heinberg and his partner Janet Barocco, to take a gander at all that can be done on less than an acre to make your home and yard as sustainable as possible. Too neat! There are so many great ideas in this, especially with regards to gardening.

Dawn of the Pixies

A friend of a friend created this beautifully trippy little thing. You can find more of her work here.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Plastic and yet another reason to avoid it

Discover magazine had a somewhat alarming article about the dangers of plastic featured on its site yesterday. Definitely wants to make me think twice about things like my storage containers and water bottles, never mind the dozens of other plastic things I find myself using on any given day. It mentions BPA (or bisphenol A) which has been in the news in Canada this week, as Canada has just become the first country in the world to deliberately limit human exposure to it with Ottawa's intention to ban its use in baby bottles. The chemical is commonly found in hard plastics, including compact discs, food and beverage containers (most notably hard clear reusable water bottles) and the liners in metal cans.

A Maritimer's vegan take on Egyptian cuisine

A couple of years ago, I spent some time testing, tweaking and sometimes (when needed) veganizing some Egyptian recipes I found across the internet. In some cases, I took 2-3 or more similar recipes and sort of merged them according to my taste buds. The experiment culminated in a scrumptious feast that left even a really fickle omni friend delighted (and stuffed). Here are a couple of the recipes; I'll have to dig out the others over the weekend.

Orange & Olive Salad with Cumin

What you need:

8 oranges, peeled and with the white pith removed, sliced (or in segments)
3/4 cup good quality black olives*, cut in half and pitted
1 red onion, sliced very thinly
juice of one medium-sized lemon
1/2-1 tsp ground cumin (to taste)
a pinch of cayenne (or more to taste)
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs olive oil

What you do:

Toss together the oranges, olives, onion. Mix together the lemon juice, cumin, cayenne and crushed garlic and then mix into oil. Toss with the rest of the ingredients, salt and pepper to taste, chill (you don't really have to, but I did and liked that the ingredients had a longer chance to marinate) and serve. Serves 6.

* Don't skimp on the olives by getting those canned rubbery things.

Couscous with Currants and Cumin

What you need:

1 cup water
1 cup couscous
1/2 cup currants (or raisins)
2 tsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs fresh ginger, finely grated
1 tsp cumin seed, toasted
the grated zest from one orange
1 Tbs fresh cilantro, finely chopped
hot chili flakes

What you do:

In a saucepan, bring water to a boil. Stir in the couscous and currants. Cover and remove from heat to let stand for around 5 minutes. During this time, heat the olive oil in large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger. Sauté 3 minutes or until tender and then add the cumin seeds. Sauté an additional minute. Fluff the couscous and currants with a fork, then stir in the onion mix, the zest and the cilantro. Add salt and hot chili flakes to taste. Serves 3-4.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The future of battery cages

According to a short, vague and all-around badly written announcement on, Unilever and McDonald's have recently stated that they will stop using eggs from battery caged chickens for their products, with Unilever (maker of Hellman's mayo, et al.) beginning with Europe and then moving on to the ''rest of the world''. had been reporting that McDonald's and Unilever were recently given the Compassion in World Farming's Good Egg award. Where are the misinformation police when you need 'em? Their facts about what McDonald's and Unilever are doing are -- er -- a little skewed.

According to a statement by Unilever on the Compassion in World Farming website, ''most Western European countrie
s will be moved to non-caged eggs by 2010 and all countries before 2012, starting with UK in June this year''. I checked the Unilever website and was unable to find any references to this at all. Google News brought up no press releases from Unilever, either. I'm guessing that by ''all countries'', they mean the rest of Europe, since they specify Western Europe for the first phase.The thing is, though, that the EU, the world's second largest producer of eggs, will already be implementing a ban on battery cages by 2012. So short of importing eggs from outside the EU for all of their products sold in the EU, it seems that Unilever is acting out of economic necessity more than anything, but getting a pat on the back for it in the process.

As for McDonald's -- as per a statement by one of their reps on the Compassion in World Farming website, they've already phased out battery cage eggs from 90% of their products sold in the EU. They intend to phase out the remaining 10% sold in the EU by 2010. There's no mention of phasing them out in the rest of the world in their response to receiving the award, plus I couldn't find anything about it on their website. And the way worded it, it sounded as if this was some sort of amazing breaking news on an international scale.

In the end, it sounds like more rhetoric from the pro-''happy meat'' camp that Gary Francione writes about, and that the folks at Vegan Freaks reference frequently during their podcasts. People think that because the chickens will no longer be kept in conventional battery cages, that somehow it becomes more ethically acceptable to eat them or their eggs. Here's the full scoop, though, on what the upcoming EU ban on conventional battery cages really entails.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Public relations and the possible elimination of the hakapik

Danny Williams (Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador) and Paul Okalik (Premier of Nunavut) have called for the hakapik to be banned. Hakapiks are the spiked clubs that are used to drag -- and often kill -- seals. The call for a ban stems from Williams' delegations recent visit to the EU where it was made clear by representatives of the various countries visited that the hakapik. Sealers are opposed to a ban for what they call safety reasons. Animal rights activists are calling it a public relations stunt to attempt to soften the image of the seal hunt as the EU officially prepares to propose a ban on seal products obtained using inhumane methods.

This is in fact old news that seems to have resurfaced as a kneejerk reaction to the EU's possibly moving towards banning Canadian seal products. A little less than two years ago, a hakapik ban had been proposed by Premier Williams, again because of its negative image.

In a Reuters article on the matter, HSUS director of Canadian Wildlife issues Rebecca Aldworth points out that if the hakapik were banned, the cruelty of the hunt would in fact increase, since hunters would be unable to finish off wounded seals and could end up cutting into them while the seals were conscious. Aldworth has been monitoring this year's seal hunt and her latest report, as well as the sometimes graphic HSUS footage from it, can be found here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A sorry day to be a pig

In an effort to keep the Canadian pig industry from collapsing, the federal government has announced that they'll be paying pig farmers $50 million of taxpayers' money to kill off 150,000 pigs over the next six months and to give the bulk of the meat to pet food processors or otherwise dispose of it, but earmarking 'up to 25% of it for food banks. How, do you wonder, will these pigs who are mostly being trashed be killed?

From the Canadian Press:

To ensure that the animals are treated in a humane way, producers are being encouraged to ship their pigs to approved slaughter plants. Producers who live in areas without plants will be asked to ship their animals to a province with such a facility.

But there is nothing to prevent producers from killing the animals on their farms themselves.

"We want to minimize the amount of on-farm euthanizing," Rice said. "Before we would approve that application we would need to know how it was going to be done - that it was going to be done humanely and in an environmentally sound way."

Vegan recipes in the news

The Erie Times-News has a recipe for vegan Macaroni and ''Cheese'' from Angeline Linardis' V Cuisine: The Art of New Vegan Cooking.

The Wilkes-Barre Times Leader in Pennsylvania is featuring a story on the very vegan-friendly Mill Hollow Café in Luzerne (check out their menu). The recipe is for Cashew-Tofu Cutlets.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

How many vegetarians are there in the U.S.? The Vegetarian Times finds out.

A recent Vegetarian Times poll's results were released today. It looks like 3.2 percent of U.S. adults (roughly 7.3 million) are self-proclaimed vegetarians. Only 0.5 percent of US adults (i.e. around a million) self-identify as vegans. A 2003 Vegetarian Resource Group Harris Interactive survey showed results of 2.8 percent. But of course there's always room for statistical error, so it's not necessarily indicative of an increase.

By ''vegetarian'', both of these polls refer to people who at the very least don't eat beef, pork, poultry, fish (or any other animal flesh). I've been flabbergasted at the number of people I encounter these days who self-identify as vegetarians although they consume fish. Fish aren't furry and cuddly, but they're still animals, and if you eat them, you're not a vegetarian. Just like, if you eat cows, you're not a vegetarian. It's pretty straightforward.

Canada's shameful seal hunt and the forthcoming EU ban

Those of you following this year's Canadian seal hunt are already aware that the anti-sealing Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's ship the Farley Mowat was recently seized and boarded at gunpoint by Canadian authorities. Bail was later posted by the ship's namesake, Canadian author Farley Mowat. The dispute now seems to be over whether Canadian authorities acted illegally by seizing the Dutch-registered ship and its international crew in what Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society head (who, incidentally, hails from New Brunswick), asserts were international waters. Since authorities have seized the ship's contents, including its GPS system and computers, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society now doesn't have the means to prove where the ship was seized.

According to a Canadian Press piece on the seizure:

Captain Alexander Cornelissen, who hails from the Netherlands, and first officer Peter Hammarstedt are accused of steering the Farley Mowat to within 900 metres of the hunt. That's an offence under federal regulations unless an observer's permit has been granted. The Mowat does not have one.

Both Mowat and Watson said the seizure and arrests were illegal since the Farley Mowat is a Dutch-registered vessel and it was outside of Canada's 12-mile territorial limit.

On Monday, Hearn said the ship was seized within that zo
ne, but the staff later said the minister misspoke.

Two Maritime law experts said Monday that Canada was within its right to arrest the ship and its crew if they were indeed violating seal hunt regulations.

"Canada has jurisdiction over fish and marine mammals out to 200 nautical miles," said Ted McDorman, a law professor at the University of Victoria. "So for purposes of marine mammal management, the waters out to 200 nautical miles are Canadian waters."

Without an observer's permit granted by the Minister of Fisheries, according to the Sea Shepherd Society, it's illegal in Canada to film, photograph or even witness a seal being killed. The Canadian government, under the guise of safety concerns, has basically legislated a cover-up of what actually occurs during the seal hunt. And according to recent news reports, if Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Wilson had his way, nobody would be allowed to observe the hunt at all. Wilson recently called Paul Watson a ''terrorist''; that seems to be the automatic ''go to'' place these days for anyone wanting to condemn the words or actions of environmental or animal activists.

According to Paul Watson, the ship was boarded by the authorities to avoid the embarrassment of having the footage taken by the Farley Mowat's crew shown to the rest of the world. The issue is indeed a sensitive one for the Canadian government right now, especially with the recent announcement following informal meetings of the EU environment ministers a few days ago that the EU environment chief is preparing to propose a ban on seal products coming from countries who cannot prove the seals were slaughtered in a humane way.

Monday, April 14, 2008

More vegan recipes in the land of online news

Carolina's News 14's website is featuring a recipe for Vegetarian Chopped Liver. I couldn't help but laugh when I first saw it. ''What am I?''

The Irish Independent has a really hearty sounding tofu recipe -- Tommy Tofu, by health journalist Michael van Stratan.

Finally, just in time for Passover, the Jewish Journal has three recipes from Faye Levy's Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home (not a vegetarian cookbook). There's Braised Calabala Squash w/ Chiles and Ginger, Cucumber, Jicame and Orange Salad w/ Black Olives, and Ethiopean Spiced Vegetables. Given the variety of colourful ingredients and spices, these recipes must be gorgeous as well as delicious.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Canada's Bill C-517 to mandate labeling of genetically engineered foods

Earlier this afternoon, I first heard of Bloc Québecois MP Gilles A. Perron's recently introduced private member's bill (Bill C-517) to mandate the labeling of genetically engineered foods (aka genetically modified foods or foods containing GMOs). I heard about it listening to Kootenay Co-op Radio's April 10, 2008 "Deconstructing Dinner" podcast on the recent House of Commons debate over Bill C-517. Click here to read a full transcript of this debate. This bill was first debated on April 3 -- over a week ago. I'd like to think that I keep my ear to the ground. I try to stay up to date on news pertaining to goings on in the land of biotech agriculture. Wondering how I missed this altogether, I did a Google News search for C-517 and found one single news article mentioning it, and guess what? It wasn't in mainstream news, even though it's quite probably one of the most important bills to come up for debate in years that would directly impact consumer freedom for Canadians.

Today, 40 countries around the world including China, Russia and those in the EU have mandatory labeling of GMOs in food. Why doesn't Canada?
According to the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN), 10 years of polling have shown that over 80% of Canadians want their food to be labeled as such if it contains GMOs, yet the only thing that exists now in Canada is voluntary labeling. Companies are free to list ingredients or foods as not containing genetically engineered non-GMO (or non genetically engineered), but I've yet to see a company come forward to assert that its product actually does contain genetically engineered ingredients.

Green Peace Canada has information and recommendations on how you can easily let your MP know today that you want her (or him) to vote in favour of mandatory labeling -- to give you
the consumer the right to choose whether or not genetically engineered foods end up on your dinner plate. Or on your children's dinner plates. All it takes is a quick phone call or email to your MP. This bill will be getting a second reading before the end of the month and then a vote will be taken in the House of Commons. Consumers need to take action now, before it's too late to be heard!

Guilty geeky pleasures

I recently stumbled upon a book of illustrations by Kurt Halbritter at a local fund-raising book sale. Aside from online antique or used book stores selling copies of his work, I've been unable to find any information about him on the internet. The book I picked up is a spoof of illustrated naturalist books and is called Halbritter's Plant-and-Animal World. It's translated from German and is comprised of images and descriptions of fantastical animals -- integrating human appendages. As a blurb on it from the New York Times in 1982 pointed out, the effect or wit of its original puns has likely lost some punch here and there during its translation. I've managed to find a site hosting a few of the illustrations from it. In the book, this one is described as

Cunning Cuddlefish
octabrachium cupidissimum
Sleazy eight-armed sea monster; can't keep its hands off anybody. Polydactyl and puritanical, it preys primarily on Christian sailors who have gone astray. Research into the sex life of the Cunning Cuddlefish is currently at a standstill for lack of any captive specimens. Cuddlefish cuddling is a tough act to catch, let alone follow.

This one is the

illex iambecornuta
Indigenous to the Solomites. Long-haired, sure-footed and provocatively crowned with a pair of ravishing legs. The luscious Leghornucopia lives way up in the mountains, at altitude ranging anywhere from 8,000 to 12,000 feet, and comes down from these peaks only on the coldest winter days. The severe climate of its natural habitat notwithstanding, this erotic beast has led many a hunter astray, enticing and exciting him to such heights that they can hardly hold their peashooters straight.

Some of the illustrations are a bit more risqué, some are a little less clever. It was a fun find for a buck. Other find for a dollar apiece: Alan Alda's Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself, a like new trade-sized copy of Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood. I also picked up a crafts book with sections on things like braiding rag rugs and how to make dipped candles.

Friday, April 11, 2008

New Brunswick's Organic Farm Apprenticeship Program

The Falls Brook Centre in Knowlesville, NB is co-hosting the New Brunswick Organic Farm Apprenticeship Program. Taken from a press release:

Have you ever wanted to live the life of an organic farmer, but didn't know where to start? Are you an organic farmer with lots to work and experience to share, but no one to teach? Do you have questions about how to improve areas of organic farming, and ideas for on-farm experiments? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, the Organic Farm Apprenticeship is for you.

Falls Brook Centre (FBC), the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada (OACC), New Brunswick Department of Agriculture (NBDAFA), the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN) and New Brunswick Organic Farms have collaborated to design a program to build the Atlantic Canadian organic sector.

Read the rest of it here or for more information (and the application form), see the applicable section of the Falls Brook Centre's website.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What's new and organic on your store shelves?

Shopper's Drug Mart in Canada recently unrolled its own new line of organic products, planning to offer up to 170 new products, including coffee, tea, juice, salad dressing, pasta and pasta sauces, cereals and more. I've only seen a handful of items in my local Shopper's -- mostly snack foods like nuts, seeds, rice cakes and an assortment of cookies and crackers.

Shop n' Save's parent company grocery giant Supervalu Inc. just announced that it's going to be launching its own line of of up to 300 new organic products -- Wild Harvest -- in the US
. They intend to sell organic dairy and eggs, cereals, pasta and produce. They also plan to offer it at an average 15% less in price than most brand name organic products currently on the market. A recent Wall Street Journal article mentions that Supervalu's goal is to keep consumers in their stores, rather than buying their ''regular'' groceries at a Shop n' Save and then going to places like Whole Foods or Trader Joe's for their organic foods.

I'm glad to see organic foods becoming more readily available on the market and to see them becoming more affordable. It concerns me, however, that a lot of smaller health food stores -- like the two independently owned ones in my small city -- are now facing increasingly fierce competition from larger chains that can afford to undercut them. I also wonder what the impact will have upon organic farmers
, who generally operate smaller, more intensive operations completely unlike a lot of the large-scale factory farm type set-ups that provide cheap food for the general North American market. If the supermarkets don't want to cover the extra cost of the more labour-intensive and costly organically farmed goods and don't want to pass on additional costs to their customers, that leaves the organic farmers to carry the load.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Vanity Fair's Monsanto article

Smack dab on the heels of the DVD release of award-winning French journalist and documentary filmmaker Marie-Monique Robin's Le Monde selon Monsanto (aka The World According to Monsanto), first aired on the French-German TV network ARTE, Vanity Fair's May issue features a scathing and comprehensive article exposing agribusiness bully Monsanto. It contains everything from personal accounts of their harrassment of farmers to story after story of Monsanto's lengthy history of hiding facts from the public about the toxicity of its products. It needs to be read by anybody not actively avoiding and condemning their products. Now the world's largest seed producer, Monsanto is sytematically snapping up the rest of the competition, company by company.

(The Robin documentary is a must-see, by the way. It's widely available across the internet (e.g. Google video, on different environmental/organic websites, et al.), either in streaming format or for download. It's also available for sale on ARTE's website.)

Air Canada forced to allow pets to travel on passenger planes again

Air Canada has had to reverse course on its 2007 change in policy, which had banned shipping certain companion animals as luggage on passenger planes, forcing people to instead ship them as cargo at a higher cost and on completely different flights. The reason Air Canada had initially given for its change in policy was that the animals used up valuable baggage space (never mind that customers paid $105 CAD for each animal traveling within North America and $245 CAD for those on other international flights) and the ban applied solely to animals and their kennels weighing a total of more than 70 pounds. The Canadian Transportation Agency's ruling this past week gives Air Canada until May 5 to comply with its decision.

As a caregiver to four cats, I must admit that I'm not so sure I'd want to put any of them through the stress of a flight, whether in a passenger or a cargo plane. Plus, Air Canada's disclaimer absolving itself of liability for the ''loss, delay, injury, sickness or death'' of any animal travelling on its flights does absolutely nothing to make me feel anything but even more hesitant about ever doing so. To be honest, I think my aversion stems from a traumatic childhood experience involving furry critters and airports.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Animals in the news

The Guardian reported this past week that according to the British Egg Information Service, free-range egg sales surpassed those of eggs coming from chickens confined to battery cages for the first time ever there. It seems that entire supermarket chains in the UK have been eliminating battery cage chicken eggs altogether. The article cites the influence of popular chef Jamie Oliver and his spotlight on the the cruelty of confining chickens to these cages as having possibly influenced consumers. On another ''high profile celebrity spotlight on animals'' sort of note -- I hope that Oprah's recent show on puppy mills has an impact on that sad industry, as well.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Canadian seal hunt is on (and the Brits are getting an eyeful)

I've mentioned the changes the Canadian government announced this year to present the seal hunt as having become more humane. In the face of a possible EU ban on seal products that hinges on the horrific cruelty of the hunt, the feds hoped to present it in a better light. Everywhere in the news, however, there have been reports of how attempts by activists and the media to observe the purported effects of these changes in legislation on actual practices have been thwarted by officials, as well as by the seal hunters. (Actually, the term "seal hunter" is erroneous. From the footage and photos I've seen, these guys are more or less just walking right up to seals and clubbing them or axing them. There's not much "hunting" involved.) This account in Thursday's UK Daily Mail of one of their reporter's recent attempts to go observe the cull illustrates precisely that nothing has changed (warning: the story includes some very graphic photos and descriptions). This is happening as a delegation of Canadian politicians, sealers and public relations types recently visited Brussels to try make a last ditch case against the EU's possible ban. I really hope that more evidence makes it way to Europeans so that they can pressure their leaders to go forward with this thing. Belgium and The Netherlands imposed their own bans last year; it's time for the rest of Europe to take action.

Isaac Bashevis Singer on vegetarianism

People often say that humans have always eaten animals, as if this is a justification for continuing the practice. According to this logic, we should not try to prevent people from murdering other people, since this has also been done since the earliest of times.

Isaac Bashevis Singer,
Polish-born American author, winner of 1978 Nobel Prize in Literature, vegetarian for the last 35 years of his 88 years

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

More vegan recipes in the news

The Bangor Daily News is featuring Zesty Soyrizo Penne, Quinoa Salad, Cilantro Pesto Tofu and finally, Chewy Chocolate Chip Cherry Cookies (which was reprinted from the Post Punk Kitchen website).

Harwood's ''Eco-terrorism is a misnomer''

Matthew Harwood of The Guardian wrote an opinion piece a few days ago that I felt was long overdue in the mainstream media. After watching the media (most notably, its more conservative elements) jump on the post-9/11 terrorist-labelling fanaticism that seems to be Washington's new at-home raison d'être, I've been hoping for someone to step forward and present a level-headed piece addressing this whole new media obsession with using the term ''eco-terrorist'', specifically with regards to the organization ELF (aka Earth Liberation Front) and the animal rights oriented ALF (aka Animal Liberation Front).

It's illogical enough that these groups whose creed and modus operandi state explicitly that no harm to any form of life should occur during any of their acts and that all precautions should be taken to ensure that none occurs
are being likened to suicide bombers and others who commit acts with the specific intention of taking human life, but what skews things even further is that radical right wing groups -- even ones seeking to harm and / or kill people -- seem to have completely averted being painted with the same brush, either by government or the media these days. As Harwood puts it:

It would be a shame if groups that firebomb property with no one inside get more scrutiny than those inclined to park a truck bomb outside a building teeming with people and then proceed to detonate it.
[...] Destroying innocent life for political purposes is terrorism. Destroying million-dollar properties for whatever reason is felonious vandalism.

Harwood doesn't condone the acts committed by groups like the ELF, but simply makes a strong case against their being called something they're not. And these days, when even a group like Greenpeace starts getting called a terrorist organisation in the blogosphere (gah -- did I just use that word?), I think it's important to start making an important distinction before the slippery slope worsens.