Sunday, November 30, 2008

Things I Love

Someone reminded me today of Gabriel García Márquez and I remembered a short story of his that, I think, is probably one of the most beautiful and intricate in its simplicity that I've ever read. It's called A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings: A Tale for Children. It's in his Collected Stories, which I recommend picking up.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Humanure Toilets

I've started researching the composting of human waste. In underdeveloped countries, pathogens from human waste going directly into water used for drinking are a seriously significant cause of illness (and death), so there's an extra incentive to find alternate means to dispose of this waste. What could be better than composting it and using it to replenish the soil? In developed countries, we waste so much water with our current toilet / sewage systems that composting toilets seem to provide a logical and environmentally ethical solution that really can't be ignored, either. I'll be posting more about this down the road once I've done some more reading up on it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Vegan Recipes in the News

The St. Catharines Standard has a couple of scumptious sounding recipes from cookbook author and vegan blogger Laurie Sadowski, whose focus seems to be on gluten-free whole foods. The recipes include Creamy Baked Penne w/ Broccoli, Black Bean and Sweet Potato Enchiladas and Sticky Maple Syrup Gravy w/ Cinnamon Walnuts. You can find pictures of the finished products here on what seems to be her fairly new blog.

The Boston University student paper BU has a great article on eating veg*an at Thanksgiving that includes a whoppin' bunch of great recipes: Nut Roast, Tofu Turkey w/ Stuffing, Vegetarian Gravy (which is really vegan), Kale and Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes, Green Bean Casserole, Garlic Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli Roasted w/ Garlic, Chipotle Peppers and Pine Nuts and a couple of dessert recipes that aren't vegan. A few of the savoury recipes have optional dairy ingredients that are very easily substituted.

The more things "change"...

It looks like lobbyists for biotech companies like Monsanto are going to be pleased with Obama's stint in the White House. According to Grist, members of Obama's Energy and Natural Resources transition team include Michael R. Taylor, who has spent the last 30 years alternating between working of Monsanto and the FDA and USDA. Taylor was purportedly one of the people responsible for ushering in rGBH. To be precise, in 1991 the FDA created the position of Deputy Commissioner for Policy for him (the Grist article mentions it was 1994, but it was, in fact, 1991), which left him with a significant amount of control over government regulation of GMOs. After his stint with the FDA, Taylor went back to Monsanto to serve as its vice-president for public policy. See this Sourcewatch article for references and further information. DailyKos has an article on Taylor and his Monsanto/FDA dance, as well.

So, what else? David J. Hayes is listed as the ''member of the Obama-Biden Transition Project's Agency Review Working Group responsible for overseeing review of the energy and natural resources agencies". His bio has this long list of the environmentally-friendly sounding positions he's held, including an on-again / off-again stint as a partner at Latham & Watkins, a HUGE law firm that defended Monsanto in an Agent Orange case brought against the company by Vietnamese plaintiffs and that's represented Monsanto in other cases. Another Latham & Watkins partner, John Manthei "has represented the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device industries as counsel in nearly every major FDA legislative initiative" since 2000.

This is just the tip of how sketchy it all gets. TruthOut has a great article on all of the former lobbyists involved in Obama's new transition team, for those who are curious.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What Tofurky Day Means for Animal Rights

With Thanksgiving being just around the corner for my American friends, I've been doing some nosing around through some of the articles that have popped up about it -- at least those from an animal-friendly perspective. I found a nicely written piece about the holiday on the Columbia Spectator's student paper's website. Eric Risser talks about what Thanksgiving traditionally means to most -- getting together with family and friends, a chance to look back at the year behind you... Risser, of course, addresses the meat-centric nature of Thanksgiving. More than any other US holiday, it pretty much revolves around eating an animal. That being said, Risser points out that in terms of what it means to animals, it's really not that different from most other days. Sure, around 46 million turkeys are slaughtered every year in the US for Thanksgiving, but around 23 million chickens are slaughtered every other day of the year.

What Risser suggests is to use Thanksgiving to test out vegetarianism and he writes about the annual vegan Thanksgiving dinner that the Columbia Students for Animal Protection put on as having been a great opportunity for people to do this -- to see that all of the other aspects of Thanksgiving can be enjoyed without having to sacrifice having a delicious (in this case vegan) meal.
I wonder how many of you out there are hosting Thanksgiving dinner for family and friends this year and sharing scrumptious animal-free dishes while taking part in this traditional American holiday?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Veganism in the News

Switzerland issued new rules for enlistment in its army around a week ago. It seems that although you can serve in the Swiss army if you "smoke marijuana, take Ecstasy or drink regularly" as long as you can prove that you're not addicted. However, you can't be a conscript if you're a vegan.


PANOS brands is recalling their Vegan Rella Cheddar blocks with a sell date of 12/09/2008 because they may in fact contain a milk protein not listed on the label. Click here for more info.


New Brunswick's own Mount Allison University came out on top of PETA2's list of most Vegetarian-Friendly Universities in Canada. Mount A. apparently offers students a fully-vegan dining station with more than 100 vegan dishes from which to choose.

Got Sick? How's Your Credit?

Articles like these give me the creeps. There's apparently a new movement in the US where hospitals -- especially those who ordinarily provide subsidized medical care to those without insurance (or with insufficient coverage) -- are now running credit checks on patients without their knowledge or consent. They call what they use "financial analysis software".

An example of how this plays out would be, as discussed in the article, where a part-time hair salon employee earning $6500 a year was refused subsidized treatment (for which she would have qualified based on her income) because the hospital in question ran a credit check and discovered she had a $1800 line of credit with her Visa (never mind that she had a $1200 balance on it at the time). When she applied to have her $371 bill waived, the hospital refused and tacked on $400 in attorney fees. The case was later dropped without explanation, but not until she'd gotten help from a legal aid lawyer.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

South Park Does Obama

I just watched a US election themed South Park episode that was aired less than 24 hours after the results were announced. It was a sort of Oceans 11 meets Obama/McCain thing -- cute and effective, but nowhere as jaw-dropping as many of the South Park episodes I've chanced seeing over the past year or two. I chuckled a little, though.

If you're in the US, you can watch it on this site for free. The show's creators offer it up. In Canada, you can watch it here on the Comedy Network website.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tom Traubert's Blues (live 1977)

This song sounds as sad to me today as it did when I first heard it around twenty years ago.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Japan's "Scientific Research" Whaling Program

It looks like Japan's sending more ships out to Antarctica to conduct "scientific research" by catching and killing up to 850 minke whales and 50 fin whales, according to Greenpeace. The main ship in their fleet left quietly this morning. Australia, along with other members of the international community and various non-profit groups, has been urging Japan to stop this practice. The thing is that whaling's a part of Japanese culture and whale meat is considered a delicacy by many people in Japan. Greenpeace claims that the Japanese whaling industry is corrupt and collapsing. Read what else they have to say about it and find out how you can help speed the beginning of its end here.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Vegetarianism Does Not Equal Eating Animals

Yes, every little bit helps. That being said, vegetarianism -- by definition -- excludes the eating of animal flesh. Asserting this isn't passing judgement; it's just confirming an established definition. Flexitarianism is not vegetarianism. A friend once put it quite succinctly: By definition, you're no more a vegetarian when you deliberately eat meat (however rarely) than you are a virgin if you have sex (however rarely). And you don't need to eat animals to thrive.

Jessica Fellowes wrote an article for the UK's Te
legraph yesterday ("The New Vegetarianism: Introducing the flexitarian") that implies the opposite. Well, that's all over the place with it, anyway. Fellowes is a writer who, according to her website, specializes in luxury lifestyle pieces. It gets a little tricky when a luxury lifestyles writer takes it upon herself to spread misinformation about nutrition, sometimes stating that ever-convenient (and elusive) source "anecdotal evidence" to back up her claims.

In her piece, she applies the term 'vegetarian' to meat-eaters often , while touting occasional meat-eating as the healthy option (e.g. "Polly is one of a gr
owing number of vegetarians who occasionally eat meat – for the sake of the nutrients that such a diet provides"). She spins the movement as follows:
"Families who now 'go flexitarian' a couple of times a week have come together with pragmatic veggies to create a new breed of health-conscious consumers."
Pragmatic veggies?? So, actual vegetarians who don't eat meat can't be pragmatic? How could they be, I guess, when Fellowes tells the reader that 'vegetarianism' is a term that conjures up "images of strict mealtimes reliant on flavourless soya-based products" and that unless a vegetarian diet is planned methodically, protein and amino acid deficiencies will follow. And besides, according to her "anecdotal evidence" everybody knows that "numerous vegetarians sneak the occasional sliver of flesh on to their plates" anyway so it's obvious that it just doesn't work.

To convey the health benefits of occasional meat eating, Fellowes' article references an interior designer whose name she says "has been changed so as not to devastate her mother". This vegetarian-raised designer ended up reverting to eating meat after developing eczema, which her nutritionist blamed on dairy. The designer told her that without dairy, she was left "craving protein", so the obvious choice for her was to start eating meat again. According to Fellowes, this meant that she was then left consuming less "
dairy and pasta" (pasta's a meat sub?) and enjoyed the added bonus of losing weight. Speaking of weight loss -- Fellowes cites a "nutrition consultant" called Ian Marber in her article (who of course advocates occasional meat eating -- but only happy meat eating, à la Pollan). A quick Google search for his name showed that he's a dieting guru who pushes weight loss books and supplements on his website.

Fellowes ends her article on that old typical "meat is yummy and I'm so clever" note, summing up her stance with a story about getting her protein by accidentally killing a pheasant while out driving and thus delightfully enjoying a free and tasty lunch. I wonder if, like a true Pollan-ite, she plucked and prepared the poor thing herself? I'm guessing not and that she probably didn't want to get her beloved Jimmy Choos dirty.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Once the Post-Election Giddiness Subsides

I've found myself regularly checking out the Breaking News section of Matt Savinar's Peak Oil: Life After the Oil Crash website. A thin Savinar book -- The Oil Age Is Over, a gift from a friend -- had been my harsh intro to Peak Oil a couple of years ago. He's regarded as a hardcore "doomer" -- i.e. he not only believes that we're running out of oil, but that life as we know it now is going to change so drastically as this progresses that most of us can't even envision how great an impact it will have on the things we take for granted today.

Over the past couple of months, the stories about what's going on with the US economy (as well as the global economy) have been pouring in and out of there -- and they're almost all from ordinary mainstream sources ranging from the NY Times to the Wall Street Journal. He's basically compiling what's out on the wire already, bringing it all together. And when you see all of those articles together, it certainly leaves a stronger impression. Things aren't good in the US. At all. And while a large segment of the US population may have breathed a collective sigh of relief when the geography-challenged moose-hunting momma didn't become their next Vice President, the truth seems to be that all history-making socio-cultural wows aside, this big "change" that's supposed to happen in Washington is just going to be the perpetuation of a government run by the same handful (albeit shuffled) of Washington insiders who've been drifting in and out of there for years.

So, what now? Oil prices have been going back down after a huge drop in consumer demand, so after a flurry of interest in Peak Oil over this past summer, the topic seems to have been banished to a back shelf in somebody's tool shed. Obama was just elected, so all of this tension and anxiety over recent goings on at Wall Street seem to have been forgotten, when the truth is that things are just starting to rock and roll there. Consumers are spending less (not such a bad thing, in my opinion -- although spending and incurring debt is what props up the US economy). Now there are more and more stories about the rate of unemployment spiking -- perhaps more so than people realize or the government is willing to admit.

This whole bailout thing -- it's now turning into a smorgasbord for credit card companies, auto manufacturers who are having a hard time pushing their gas guzzlers on the public, and others who want a turn at the cookie jar. Heck, American Express just got reclassified as a bank so that it could access more funding from the government. How cool is that?

I'm just wondering how long it's going to take for the post-election afterglow to fade. I hope it's sooner than later.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Keith Olbermann on California's Prop 8 and on Marriage in General

Keith Olbermann comments quite passionately on marriage and hate, in response to the passing of California's Proposition 8, which rescinded the right of same-sex couples to marry in that state.

Sharon Astyk's new book Depletion and Abundance

I'm hopping over to my favourite local book store after work to order Sharon Astyk's new book, Depletion and Abundance. I've referenced her a few times in my blog and have referred many friends to her own incredibly informative blog, Casaubon's Book. Astyk is a farmer in upstate New York who writes (prolifically) about sustainability and Peak Oil. There's a short and sweet review of her book over at The Blogging Bookworm, where the reviewer asserts that Astyk's focus is on how it's ordinary individuals who must lead the way -- not government -- and that this is especially applicable now in the face of the global economic turmoil that's just started to brew, and with Peak Oil still a reality, regardless of the recent nosedive in the price of crude.

The review also reaffirms what I've sussed out about Astyk from reading her blog. She's a lot like Heinberg in the sense that there are no rose-coloured glasses in her world. While some may find a lot of what she and Heinberg have to say
depressing, the truth is that both of them use their unapologetic assessments of the state of the world as springboards. Where a lot of Peak Oil writing seems to just dwell on the gloom, Astyk voices the "So what can I do?" with which a lot of people are left after learning about fossil-fuel depletion, and she provides solutions -- on all levels, however seemingly slight each proposed action may be. It's hard to read her writing and walk away from it feeling lost. In an age of so much uncertainty, it's reassuring.

Last month, The Energy Bulletin also had
a review of Depletion and Abundance. The reviewer describes Astyk as providing a much-needed women's voice in the Peak Oil movement and states that she provides this "by reclaiming th[e] traditional sphere of women's work from a feminist perspective". The book is said to dismiss the myths we hold, within the context of our high tech and high energy world, of how our lives should be lived. Astyk goes to the root of things, expressing that we need to revisit a simpler way of doing things -- living more frugally and becoming more responsible citizens. She suggests that change can indeed be started with as simple an action as starting your own garden.

I'm looking forward to reading it and intend to post my own take on it after I do so, regardless of being a bit slow on the draw.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


This got me snickering a little; I'd never seen this before. I've been cable-free for two and a half years now, so I don't get to watch SNL often.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Whale Wars on Animal Planet

I found myself wishing I still had cable this morning as I read about this evening's premiere of a show on Animal Planet. It's called "Whale Wars" and is a seven-part weekly series that essentially looks at the work done by Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society -- with the film crew spending a number of days on Watson's ship as it confronts whalers on international waters. Here's Animal Planet's official blurb about it, and here's what's on the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's website. The show starts at 9 PM ET/PT.

The LA Times talks about it here.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

How to Take Care of People and Bikes

I've been trying to figure out how to fix the blog up a bit so that it looks better. I'm not a fan of clutter, so one of the things I've been fretting over are the links off to the side. There's a whole heap of them. Some of them lead to invaluable information and some would probably just be better off as bookmarks for me. So in trying to figure how to trim and rearrange my links lists, I've ended up -- not-so-surprisingly -- finding even more links to add. For now, I'll just share them here until I've figured out whether they're keepers. Many of them are geared towards skills acquisition or low-tech alternatives to things we usually take for granted in the age of cheap fossil fuels.

For instance, I found a free online book called Where There is no Dentist which contains information on how to treat mouth-related problems in a setting where the services of a dentist aren't available. Of course, you still need to have certain supplies on hand, including dentists tools. I'm no dentist, so I can't vouch for the information. It comes from a non-profit org called Health Wrights, which works to advance health, basic rights, self-determination and social justice in have-not countries. Another group called The Hesperian Foundation (or Hesperian) which is "a non-profit publisher of books and newsletters for community-based healthcare" has similar books called Where There is no Doctor and A Book for Midwives. Here's a link to all of their free book downloads.

Of particular interest to me right now was to find some information on bicycle repairs. Whenever anything goes wrong with my bike, which is my primary source of transportation and exercise, it seems that said bike invariable ends up in the shop for a minimum of 24 hours and I end up having to fork over anywhere from $35 to $100. So? It's in my best interest right now to learn how to repair my own bike. Additionally, as oil supplies continue to diminish in the future and this cost downturn we're experiencing now ends up being nothing but a nostalgic memory, things like bicycles will become invaluable when it comes to transportation over short distances. Possessing basic maintenance and fix-it skills will be vital. The Bicycle Tutor site features over 40 videos on everything from how to check for chain wear to how to true your own wheels. The site also has a links section that lists over a dozen other websites that teach you about bike repair.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Richard Heinberg and What We Call Food

Richard Heinberg's November Museletter is out. He discusses the need to take a proactive approach towards agriculture to both avoid a food crisis as fossil fuels diminish, as well as to lessen its impact upon the environment -- particularly, to reverse agriculture's contribution to climate change. The way to do this, he says, is to start removing fossil fuels from what he calls "the food system" now instead of doing it when we've no other option. He cites a United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP)'s report on the viability of small-scale organic agriculture in terms of its production equaling that of industrial agriculture and then proceeds to map out this incredible plan, examining all components of the food system, from soil and seed, to labour and distribution. He explains why genetically modified crops, so reliant on transportation and chemicals, will be useless in a world with diminishing oil supplies.

Heinberg discusses the need to shift to natural unprocessed foods and asserts that a "shift toward a less meat-centered diet should also be encouraged, because a meat-based diet is substantially more energy intensive than one that is plant-based". It's funny how although Heinberg has been a vegetarian himself for many, many years, he's so rarely addressed the issue of meat eating and how so much more fossil fuel reliant it is than a vegetarian (or better -- a vegan) diet.

I emailed my friend J. about it. He's an almost-vegan and he introduced me to Heinberg's work a few years ago. J. pointed out that Heinberg is likely aware that bringing up vegetarianism would alienate a large percentage of the population. I don't buy that, though. Heinberg's not afraid to advocate cutting back on our energy consumption, growing our own food in whatever garden space we can muster up, focusing on changing how we view community -- why on earth would he be cowed by fears of following his own assertions about lessening meat consumption to their logical (and optimal) conclusions? The article reminded me of the only reference I've read Heinberg really make to vegetarianism -- his own, as well as with regards to others.

It was a talk Heinberg gave for the Twenty-sixth E. F. Shumacher Lecture in 2006. Actually, the reference happened in the Q&A bit that happened after the talk, when Heinberg was asked why he wasn't addressing how much grain goes towards raising animals for food, and was asked what his stance was on eating lower on the food chain, he responded:

As a thirty-five-year vegetarian I’m a little biased. Yes, meat production is obviously extremely energy intensive and more so in this country than in many other places. [...] Over the past thirty-five years I have found that from a health standpoint many people don’t do well on a completely vegan or vegetarian diet, and I think we have to be realistic and take account of that. I also think, however, that we would be much healthier if we ate much less meat; that would help our collective survival prospects enormously as we go through this transition.
Many people don't do well on a completely vegan or vegetarian diet?? So why this perpetuation of this myth that vegetarianism and veganism aren't healthy? Where does Heinberg get this supposed "data", which sounds especially weird coming from someone who claims he's been a vegetarian for thirty-five years. It was disappointing when I'd first read it, and is still disappointing to read today, after reading Heinberg's weighing of the energy-intensiveness of plant-based vs. meat-based diets.

A Vegan Thanksgiving

Trying to figure out what to do for a holiday meal? The ScrippsNews website has a short article on how to have a vegan Thanksgiving (U.S.). It includes recipes for a vegan Shepherd's Pie, Mushroom Gravy, Creamy Spiced Butternut Squash Soup and Pumpkin Raisin Bread, all from Mary Grayr, the chef and owner of Mary's Secret Garden in Ventura, CA.

Cookbook writer Bryanna Clark Grogan's got a whole mess of scrumptious-sounding Thanksgiving recipe ideas on her website. PCRM'S site has a bunch that sound lovely. Veg websites like also have tons of holiday-themed recipe ideas and even ordinary recipe sites with search functions offer up lots of vegan variations on traditional holiday dishes.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Animal Ethics

For those of you interested in animal ethics (animal rights, animal welfare, animal abolitionism -- whatever), I wanted to bring to your attention a blog I discovered a short while ago and that I've really been enjoying and appreciating. It's called Animal Ethics: Philosophical Discussion of the Moral Status of Nonhuman Animals and is maintained by Keith Burgess-Jackson, J.D., Ph.D. and Mylan Engel Jr., Ph.D. (although Burgess-Jackson seems to be doing most of the posting these days).

The blog has the most impressive collection of animal ethics related links I've seen anywhere. It covers so much ground -- links to relevant stories in the news and to other relevant blogs or websites, philosophical essays, analysis / commentary on those essays or on other animal-related issues, information on vegetarianism, et al.. The archives go back to 2003 and there's so much that's good to read there -- much of it involving a philosophical approach to animal issues.

I've included a link to it off to the side, but just wanted to post about it to bring attention to it. It's sort of interesting to see someone who seems rather conservative writing about something that's too often pegged as being on the fringes of the political left (on his more general blog, Burgess-Jackson asserts that he's against same-sex unions and appears to view feminism and abortion rights in a negative light).

Would blogging about anything *but* today

leaving me feeling as if there was a large pachyderm hopping up and down on my sofa?

Monday, November 03, 2008

The International Energy Agency's Report on the State of the World's 400 Largest Oil Fields

I'd posted back in May about the International Energy Agency (IEA)'s concerns about the decline in global oil production. At the time, they were planning to release a report this November about the depletion profiles of the world's top 400 oil fields. A recent article by Richard Heinberg on the Post Carbon Institute website states that the Financial Times has leaked some of the results of this report. According to Heinberg, the IEA found that "Without extra investment to raise production, the natural annual rate of output decline is 9.1 per cent." He states that according to the leaked information, we can only conclude that global oil production has now passed its peak, which would have been this past July.

According to Heinberg (and many others), the drop in oil prices over the past month or two means that the sort of investment needed to explore new oil projects just isn't going to happen, and even if it did, it would involve the exploration of expensive and / or environmentally devastating projects similar to the Alberta tar sands -- projects whose outputs very likely couldn't ever keep up with current and future demands for fossil fuels.

It'll be interesting to see the full report when it comes out on November 12.