Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bill Maher's New Film: Religulous: Movie Trailer

Opening this Friday, boys and girls!! I've been anticipating this one.

Planet saving penny pinching

I splurged last week and bought a 4-pack of compact fluorescent lights (commonly called compact fluorescent lamps or CFLs). I plan to make some sort of environmentally beneficial change in my lifestyle or surroundings at least once a week between now and the end of the year. Better yet, I'll see what I can squeeze in and report it here once a week. It's part of my commitment to the Unplug Yourself initiative kick-started by blogger extraordinaire Jennifer over at Veg*n Cooking and Other Random Musings.

So the lights were on sale for $10. I have incandescent bulbs everywhere in my home -- mostly 60 watt bulbs since I opted to avoid 100 watt bulbs a few years ago, hoping to cut back a little that way. I replaced four of my 60 watt incandescents with these four 14 watt lights. I replaced the main light in my office, the main light in my dining room, my bedroom light and the kitchen light. My bathroom's lit with a vanity light strip above my mirror that uses big ol' globular bulbs; I'll have to see what I can dig up to replace those. I think you can get globe-shaped CFLs? I also want to replace the 40 watt bulbs in some of my other lamps with 11 watt CFLs and may do so this weekend.

I was worried about the mercury they contain, but the amount is apparently less than you'd find in a thermometer or watch battery. The issue gets discussed in greater detail in the Wikipedia entry on CFLs to which I've linked in the first paragraph of this post. The pros outweighed the cons for me. For even more information on CFLs, check out this entry at TreeHugger.

The light mine emit is cooler with regards to colour temperature than the old incandescents, but you can buy some that have a warmer light. I don't mind it. It's almost like adding a fresh coat of paint to the walls. Heheh.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich on Democracy Now!

Amy Goodman interviewed Rep. Dennis Kucinich just before the vote took place on whether to approve the $700 bailout. He voted against it and here's why.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Richard Heinberg's take on the $700 billion bailout

So is the sky falling yet? The House rejected the bailout package and the whole process starts over again in a few days.

Me? All I can think of is how I should get my hands on some home heating oil pronto now that oil's dipped down below $100 US a barrel today.

Incidentally, here's what Richard Heinberg had to say about it this whole $700 billion bailout scenario a few days ago.

More veganism in the news

Jane Glenn Haas of the OC Register is continuing with her 21 day vegan cleanse (à la Oprah and inspired by Kathy Freston). I wrote about it a few days ago after spotting her column online. In her most recent column, Haas mentions how amazed she is at the emails she's received from people telling her to stop what she's doing and to go back to eating meat, while on the other hand, she's been receiving heaps of support from vegans and vegetarians offering her tips and kudos.

Haas admits that although she started the cleanse "to mimic Oprah", one of the other reasons she's attempting it is that she's scheduled to introduce Freston at a women's luncheon. She felt compelled to mention, as well, that although people have commended her on lessening her contribution to animal suffering that "animals had nothing to do" with her decision to do this. I wonder what Freston, a personal growth and spirituality counsellor who is very much concerned with the animal cruelty inherent in the animal slaughter industry would think of someone advocating her cleanse for such shallow reasons?

As far as I'm concerned, any lessening of the consumption of animals is great, and I guess Haas has to be commended for -- at the very least -- being honest that she's merely jumping on last month's celebrity bandwagon for the sake of appearances, but it seems to defeat the whole purpose of Freston's book, which makes it seem a little pointless and pathetic.


The UK's Times Online had
a decent (albeit short) interview yesterday with one of my favourite vegan environmentalist celebrities, Woody Harrelson. He and his wife founded a group called VoiceYourself and have a great website well worth checking out. They promote veganism, organic living, peak oil awareness and community. They also emphasize the power (and accountability) each and every one of us has as a consumer -- something so many seem to either shrug off or forget when feeling overwhelmed by this global mess we've let snowball.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Learning to listen

A piece from the Zen Moments website got my attention earlier this evening, and I've been mulling it over ever since. It's about the importance of learning to listen to others.

From it:

Unless you listen, you can’t know anybody. Oh, you will know facts and what is in the newspapers and all of history, perhaps, but you will not know one single person.


Now, how to listen. It is harder than you think. Creative listeners are those who want you to be recklessly yourself, even at your very worst, even vituperative, bad- tempered. They are laughing and just delighted with any manifestation of yourself, bad or good. For true listeners know that if you are bad-tempered it does not mean that you are always so. They don’t love you just when you are nice; they love all of you.

Seasonal spoils!

It's been a pretty busy week. Between dealing with preserving the tomatoes from my garden and taking advantage of cheap produce at the farmer's market, I've been donning my invisible apron more often than usual. The nights have been getting more and more chilly over the past few weeks, so after harvesting some straggler-veggies early one evening, a good old frost warning led me to pick all of the rest of my tomatoes. (The photo of the tomatoes is after my having indulged in tabouli and / or tomato salad over 2-3 days.)
My first project with the tomatoes was to try oven-drying some for the first time earlier this week. I never did get around to building a solar dryer (a project for this winter, maybe?) and the days are cool and my vacation days have run out, so regular old sun drying (something else I've yet to try) seemed as if it would be a bit tricky to attempt. After Googling a few times, I realized that the simplest thing to do would be to slice the plum tomatoes lengthwise and set them on a tray with the cut side facing up, then heat them at the lowest oven setting (140 F) until they seemed about right -- sort of leathery. Various websites stated they'd take 8-9 hours. Some of the tomatoes were a bit large (next time I'll use more common sense and choose tomatoes of the same size), so the whole thing actually took 9-10 hours. They supposedly keep really well if you cover them in a high quality olive oil in clean jars. I just stuck mine in a baggy and tossed them in the fridge. I figured they wouldn't last very long and was right -- I'm now around halfway through them! They're delicious, but I figure that considering the energy used to dry them in the oven that I won't repeat this experiment. If I dry any next season, it'll be without gobbling up that much electricity. All sustainability issues aside, there's also the more practical point that it would probably cost me less to buy the sun-dried organic tomatoes one of my local health food sells than run my oven at 140 F for 9-10 hours. I've also been doing a bit of canning. I pickled (and froze) around 10 lbs of beets, made around 3-1/2 quarts of Lady Ashburn Pickles and pickled a small bunch of zucchini using my mom's friend's recipe. This week, I plan to pickle and freeze another 5 lbs of beets and deal with the rest of my tomatoes -- maybe make salsa.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Got tea bags?

I've mostly given up coffee. Over the years I've gone from being an indiscriminate 4-5 cup a day coffee freak to sipping on organic green tea throughout the day. For the longest time, I was buying green tea bags that weren't individually wrapped. Unfortunately, I've been having a hard time finding organic green tea bags that aren't individually wrapped, and am thinking that the way to go will be to buy loose tea, even thought I'm pretty sure that I've only seen it sold by Lipton's (or some other similar company). The smart thing to do would be to give it up altogether. Maybe someday.

So we recycle paper at work and I've been throwing my little tea bag wrappers into the bin (and even bringing the ones I use at home). Then I stumbled across this neat idea on the Instructables website and think that I may very well give it a try this weekend. The instructables' creator even has some images up on her website for Xmas card ideas. I decided to nose around a little and ended up finding this website that contains links to other sites devoted to tea bag folding. More Google searches showed me that tea bag folding (aka kaleidoscope folding) is apparently quite a popular hobby and has been so for years -- especially for folks who like things like origami. Unfortunately, a lot of people print out their own ''tiles'' to use instead of recycling tea bags or reusing decorative paper, which would sort of defeat my own purpose in trying this out at all.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Vegan bits in the news

Jane Glen Haas, health columnist for the Orange County Register, has decided to embark up on a 21-day vegan cleanse à la Oprah. She wrote about it yesterday, mentioning Kathy Freston's Quantum Wellness book as her source of inspiration. The article is mostly about her cravings for animals products and her dealing with the gas and bloating she's experiencing 4-5 days into the cleanse. Unfortunately, she presents some misinformation in the column when she defines veganism by stating that a ''vegan, for the uninitiated, eats no meat, dairy or eggs. Also no sugar, gluten, alcoholic beverages or caffeine''. Veganism is about eschewing animal products, which in no way whatsoever automatically rules out sugar, gluten, alcoholic beverages or caffeine. Someone's mentioned this in the reader comments below her column, so hopefully she'll clarify this in a future column. (By the way, her column can be found here).


PETA's been grossing people out again. They've recently started campaigning to purportedly convince Ben & Jerry's to use human breast milk in their ice cream instead of cow's milk. It obviously isn't going to happen, and PETA is just trying to shock people into thinking about the issue. The thing is that aside from maybe an increased risk in the transmittal of human pathogens, using breast milk would hardly be any more unnatural than using cow's milk. The knee-jerk reactions to the story don't reflect any understanding of this, of course, since in North American culture anyway, we view human breast milk as baby food and cow's milk as human kid / grown-up food. A typical response:

''I understand the health benefits of breast milk...to babies. I understand that a mother's milk is usually the best thing for her NEWBORN to consume.

But...I am FAR from a baby, and even further from being anyone's newborn anything.''

What this particular blog writer for South Carolina's Island Packet doesn't get is that using his own logic, cow's milk -- which is produced for baby cows -- would be even less appropriate for him.

The newspaper's blogger also dismisses the fact that there is any cruelty involved in the dairy industry:

''These people REALLY need to find something better to do with their time...and the donations that they receive. Like...rescuing lab animals. Saving whales. Helping protect the rights of animals...that are being abused! I've worked on dairy farms. And I can tell you, there have often been times when I've envied the life of a cow. How can the milking of a cow be considered abuse? Isn't that what these nut-jobs are all about???''

Someone needs to do some research before making uninformed statements.
Dairy cows are probably worse off than most other factory farmed animals.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Thank you. I love you. Now I'm going to eat you.

I'm still having a hard time understanding this new rite of passage driving the trend towards what some are attempting to portray as "ethical" meat eating. I've written about this numerous times before because it's just all over the place. Happy meat farms are popping up everywhere, encouraging people to bring their children for cuddly photo-op afternoons. Fashionable chefs enjoying their 15 minutes are pushing pampered pork as the responsible indulgence for those who can afford a meal as expensive as my weekly grocery bill.

Michael Pollan seems to have instilled in people that it's not that animals are killed for us to
eat them that's wrong, but that it's the "out of sight / out of mind" mentality we're allowed to have thanks to factory farming that's the problem. So the solution? Witness or participate in the killing of an animal and then, by virtue of this supposedly consciousness-raising experience, absolve yourself of the hypocrisy of not having the stones to know where your meat comes from. In doing so, you purportedly alter your mindset and get to continue eating animals guilt-free, and with a supposed newfound respect and gratitude that make it all hunky dory to do it without questioning why you feel the need to eat meat in the first place.

The Chicago Tribune recently ran an article by food writer Monica Eng, in which Eng chose to share her own jumping on the Pollan-esque bandwagon. She kicks it off by by presenting the following to the reader: "Before you start with the angry letters, please hear me out. We're probably more similar than you think. Like most of you reading this story, I love animals. I love to pet them. And I love to hold them. But I also love to eat them." Try reading that sentence again, but replace the word 'animals' with 'kittens'. That's about as much sense as this skewed outpouring of affection makes. What makes it possible for Eng to write a paragraph about "loving" animals, "loving" to pet them and also "loving" to eat them, though, is that she ultimately views them as things. Near the end of her article, for instance, she writes: "
In the end, the crabs would be the only thing I actually killed. And they were the thing I felt worst about." Animals are things to her. You can love hugging a teddy bear, love petting a teddy bear and feel no qualms about eviscerating it with scissors; for Eng, the same seems to be true of living, sentient creatures.

Her article is filled with before and after depictions (both written and photographic) of animals being slaughtered in small-scale abattoirs or slaughterhouses -- unlike the nightmarish places in which the overwhelming majority of animals killed for food in North America are actually slaughtered-- and of her reactions upon viewing the goings on. The thing is that having the stomach to witness an animal being slaughtered doesn't
make the slaughtering any more ethical, nor does it somehow make you a more ethical person when you continue to eat them. All having the stomach to watch an animal being slaughtered means is that you're either desensitized or masochistic. I'm not sure I'd want to be either, myself.

The whole gist of this happy meat bandwagon and of how it's giving trend-following meat eaters this skewed sense of relief or comfort is perfectly exemplified by Eng when she writes that today "many proudly proclaim their meat love [...] with the near-virtuousness of vegetarians. That's because ethical meat options have expanded faster than you can say 'ex-vegetarian'." She goes on to elaborate upon how many vegetarians, suddenly provided with what she views as an equally ethical option to abstaining from eating animals altogether, are now reverting to their previously omnivorous ways.
Somehow, according to Eng, having watched someone else kill an animal (or killing it yourself) transforms you into someone with newfound reverence and appreciation for the animals killed to fill your belly.

For instance, she describes standing around a pot watching crabs being boiled alive and how she and her kids felt gratitude for the crabs' "sacrifice", as if they hopped in willingly for the honour of being served up on her dinnerware. Even worse, she shares with fondness her hope that she's instilled a sort of higher consciousness about killing animals for food into her children, as she writes affectionately how she watched her daughter ''whisper to a paper-thin slice of prosciutto: 'Thank you, pig. I love you pig. Now I'm going to eat you'." Those sound like the words uttered by a scorned-lover-turned-rapist to his victim in a badly-written horror movie. Far from being sweet, it's just skewed and sick.

Monday, September 22, 2008

We're about to be bombarded with M-ppets!

Is nothing sacred? Can't they just leave the little green guy alone?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

On why it's sometimes hard to be a populist, Part 324

Man punches puppy in the head, cracks its skull and blinds it. The puppy eventually had to be euthanized.

Who punches a puppy?

Argentina's move from beef to GMOs

I was nosing around for some news on Monsanto today and found an interesting article about GMOs in Argentina. Forever associated with cattle farming by me, thanks to the hundreds of hours I would spend leafing through travel books and encyclopaedias as a kid, it seems that Argentina's taken on a new identity as a world leader in the monoculture production of transgenic soy. So popular is this crop with Argentine farmers -- it fetches top dollar and is incredibly low-maintenance to -- that recent efforts by the government to encourage farmers to diversify their crops led to roadblocks set up by angry farmers, which in turn led to food shortages across the country.

So, today transgenic soy is Argentina's main export, taking up over half of its agricultural land, polluting its water and soil. And none of it is human grade -- it's all destined for feedlots halfway around the world. Soy's expansion in Argentina seems to be costly in other ways, however. Small farmers are finding themselves displaced to make room for bigger farms run by what some call ''soy barons'', and these small farmers end up no better off than seasonal migrant workers. Some of Argentina's protected areas are also being sacrificed to enable the crop's transportation, too. According to many articles, the cost of expanding the production of transgenic soy in Argentina even seems to come at the cost of Argentineans being able to feed themselves. And why? To export Round Up Ready soybeans to Asia and Europe to keep them supplied with beef. It's a funny little world, ain't it?

For more information on the situation in Argentina, please visit the Organic Consumers Association's website.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The price of oil may have been tumbling these past few weeks

But it looks like the tumbling of the US economy is what's got everybody's attention today. Eekamouse!

Whole Foods (the foods, not the store!)

I stumbled upon this online training manual for employees at a food co-op somewhere in the US. It's adapted from the National Cooperative Grocery Association's Food Training Manual.

I was hesitant to post this, because there's a section that deals with meat (and I figured that it could be offensive to some of this blog's readers). That being said, the information in the rest of the manual is invaluable. It contains everything from information on the organic certification process to detailed breakdowns of the differences between various types of grain. There's some really good stuff in there and I think it's a good starting point for someone who wants to move away from processed foods and start eating more wholesome foods or making more meals from scratch.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Before I Die

This is kind of a neat little project. Funny how most of the wishes involve travel and reproduction (or skydiving).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sarah Palin and Matthew Scully Part II

I found this article online today that takes a different look at vegetarian-anti-hunting-Scully having written obsessive-hunter-Palin's speech:

These two Republicans are working together to trounce Obama-Biden ticket, even when that ticket has the endorsement of the Humane Society and PETA. So whatever else you might say about Matthew Scully, he's got his priorities straight. Imagine Democrats of such divergent views collaborating. I can't. A big tent indeed.

I think that it's the one positive reference to Scully's having written the speech that I've seen in the press so far. It's no surprise that it's from such a conservative source, and of course the article then goes on to thrash Scully quite soundly, praising hunting and then completely denouncing veganism as unnatural. You can't have a conservative article mentioning veganism without throwing in the obligatory myths and misinformation (e.g. you can only get B-12 in meat).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sarah Palin and Matthew Scully

I've been reading a few articles online wagging fingers at Matthew Scully for having written Sarah Palin's speech to the Republican National Convention. For those who may not know, Scully wrote a book a short while ago called Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, which I've yet to read, but have been told presents strong arguments in favour of animal welfare -- for the merciful treatment of the animals we use, but not for the cessation of our usage of them. Maybe someone who's read it would care to comment about it? Anyway, long before publishing this book, Scully was a speechwriter for various Republicans, most notably while special assistant to President George W. Bush and as deputy director of presidential speechwriting.

So? So now he's still doing what he's always done, but what's got people's ire up is that Sarah Palin has been standing out more and more as someone whose view of animals is deplorable. And Scully wrote a speech for her. The San Diego CityBeat, for instance, recently published a piece about Scully's having written Palin's speech, calling Scully a hypocrite for having done so. I understand where they're coming from, but the thing is that he's a speechwriter and not an animal rights activist. I doubt that many speechwriters have the luxury of being able to pick and choose for whom they write according to whether they agree or disagree with that person's opinions, beliefs or actions. It's speechwriting and not endorsement. As heinous as I think Palin's record is concerning animals, I'm not so sure if picking on Scully is where energy and effort would be best spent. Of course, I haven't had my morning caffeine yet...

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Wayne Pacelle on the not-so-vegan-friendly skies

The New York Times had a fairly light piece yesterday -- an article (a one-sided phone interview?) "by Wayne Pacelle, as told to Joan Raymond". Pacelle is, of course, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). The piece was about the serious lack of vegan fare offered by airlines these days, particularly for frequent flyers who fly at a moment's notice and don't have sufficient time to make advance meal arrangements.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Monsanto, Monsanto, Monsanto

This weekend I attended a Friday Night Docs screening of The World According to Monsanto with my friend D. I'd seen it before, but it was a first screening for him. I've written about the documentary here before; it covers a lot of the same ground that Vanity Fair did in its own Monsanto exposé back in May. It's about as must-see as any documentary gets for a) anyone who eats, and b) anyone who's not entirely familiar with the issues concerning genetically modified organisms.

It's all over the internet and response to it seems to range from mild shock to outrage.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Speaking of DawnWatch.com

The Winston-Salem Journal's website recently reprinted a Washington Post interview with Karen Dawn, founder of DawnWatch, an e-newsletter / website that raises awareness of animal rights reporting in the media. Dawn's recently published a book called Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals. The book has an official website, complete with a video of numerous celebrity endorsements. More information on the book and another interview with Dawn were featured on Ecorazzi last Tuesday. I hope to get my hands on a copy of it soon. It sounds like a really upbeat and informative book.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Sarah Palin: No friend to critters, is she

I just stumbled upon this piece at DawnWatch.com about Sarah Palin and her record on the treatment of animals. I'd read before that she's recently opposed listing polar bears as an endangered species and that she supports aerial hunting, but this piece explores her record in somewhat greater (and more graphic) detail.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

A kinder, gentler Switzerland for goldfish

More than a couple of reporters and bloggers have been amused these past few days by the news that the Swiss government has enacted new legislation intended to improve the lives of both domesticated and wild animals. What's elicited a titter or three is that it's now illegal to flush a live conscious goldfish down a toilet in Switzerland. I'm all for saving a fish the trauma of being flushed into someone's local sewage treatment plant, but have to wonder how the heck anyone would enforce something like that. I have this image of angry Swiss children morphing into Orwell's "The Spies" or "Youth League", ratting their parents out.

In theory, many of the new changes are the kinds of things I'd love to see implemented in North America, as well. For instance, the lot of fish other than goldfish may be improved, since the cruel and common angling practice of catching and releasing fish is now illegal in Switzerland, as is using live fish as bait.

Changes affecting animals kept as "pets" include that budgies and hamsters may no longer be kept as individuals in captivity, but must be provided with companionship. The tail and ear cropping of dogs will no longer be allowed, and people who adopt them will be required to take training classes designed to lower the occurrence of biting mishaps.

In zoos, social creatures such as lamas, alpacas and yaks will need to be provided with companionship, as well. Pragmatically, it will be somewhat interesting to see how some of these things will actually be enforced. The very fact that these changes in legislation have been enacted and announced, however, reflects the sort of change in mindset that's promising.