Plastic Reduction Via Straws Off The Menu

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The switch will affect McDonald’s 1,361 outlets in Britain but not the rest of its 36,000 restaurants worldwide. Photograph: McDonald’s/PA

Most of the stories we link out to are examples of revolution, or at least incremental innovation, by way of market forces. At a time when there appear to be incentives for sliding backwards, it is even more important to highlight the rationality and logic of conservation. One small but important example here on the plastic reduction front, where the clientele of a large company take the lead:

McDonald’s to switch to paper straws in UK after customer campaign

Fast-food chain, which uses 1.8m straws a day, says plastic straws will go by 2019

McDonald’s will end the use of plastic straws in its British restaurants next year, after nearly half a million people called on the company to ditch them.

The decision by the US fast-food chain to switch from plastic to paper straws follows a trial at a number of outlets in the past two months. The firm uses around 1.8m straws a day in the UK.

The switch will affect McDonald’s 1,361 outlets in the UK, but not the rest of its 36,000 restaurants worldwide. Continue reading

Audubon’s Reasonable Request

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Northern Harrier. Photo: Diana Whiting/Audubon Photography Awards

A message from friends:

NEW YORK — “Audubon is committed to protecting birds and the places they need — and the greatest threat to birds and people is climate change,” said David Yarnold (@david_yarnold), president and CEO of National Audubon Society.

“While some may be holding out for a perfect solution to climate change, we know that it will take an array of approaches to reduce planet-warming pollution.

“The Carbon Capture Coalition is pursuing many avenues—including a market-driven approach that has deep bipartisan support. Audubon is excited to be at the table with a range of voices exploring policy options that accelerate a reduction in carbon pollution,” Yarnold added.

The Carbon Capture Coalition is led by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and the Great Plains Institute. With over 50 members ranging from the energy industry, agriculture, labor unions and conservation leaders, the coalition is non-partisan and solutions-oriented. Recently, the coalition successfully advocated for improving and extending the carbon capture tax credit, known as the 45Q tax credit, led by Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), John Barrasso (R-WY), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). Continue reading

Food Items Not On Our Radar Until Now

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The razorbill Wellington at Koks, a Michelin-starred restaurant in the Faroe Islands. Chefs wrap the seabird in a pancake and serve it with a sauce made from beet, elderberry, and rose hip.
Photograph by Anne Golaz for The New Yorker

The dish above is not one we would likely think to offer in our hospitality operations, which may explain why we have not (yet) developed any entrepreneurial conservation initiatives in the Faroe Islands. Nonetheless, this is the type of reading that makes a Monday morning full of thoughts of where to travel next:

Koks, the World’s Most Remote Foodie Destination

People are flocking to a Nordic archipelago to sample cuisine—like fermented lamb tallow—that challenges even the most adventurous palate.

By 

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The Faroe Islands, a mountainous archipelago two hundred miles north of Scotland, has a landmass of only five hundred and forty square miles, and is sparsely populated with fifty thousand people and seventy thousand sheep.Photograph by Anne Golaz for The New Yorker

The Faroe Islands, an austere, mountainous archipelago marooned in the North Atlantic two hundred miles north of Scotland, has a landmass of only five hundred and forty square miles, and is sparsely populated with fifty thousand people and seventy thousand sheep. But, looked at another way, the country, an autonomous outpost of the Kingdom of Denmark, is much larger: its territorial waters extend for more than a hundred thousand square miles around nearly seven hundred miles of coastline. Only one village, Vatnsoyrar, isn’t on the coast, and wherever you are on any of the Faroes’ eighteen islands you’re never more than three miles from the crashing, frigid ocean. Like the human body, the Faroes are mostly water.

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Fermented lamb, a Faroese specialty. “Fermented food is maybe the most important cultural heritage we’ve got,” Johannes Jensen, the entrepreneur behind Koks, said. Photograph by Anne Golaz for The New Yorker

The inhabitants of the islands, which were settled by Vikings in the ninth and tenth centuries, have always depended on sustenance from the ocean. But the local diet is surprisingly selective. The waters of the Faroes teem with edible creatures that the Faroese do not eat. They don’t gorge on the mahogany clams, buried in underwater sand, that can live for centuries. They ignore the abundant mussels that cling to coastal rocks, and consider langoustines and sea urchins to be revolting. It’s a favorite game among Faroese children to pick up sea urchins and hurl them at one another, because they make a satisfying splat on impact.

The Faroese do eat cod and haddock—masses of it, typically prepared in one of two ways. When eaten fresh, the fish is subjected to prolonged boiling (or “killed twice,” as some locals put it). Continue reading

Alternative Foodstuffs For Healthier, More Sustainable Meals

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Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Several of us who contribute here recently tested homemade pizza using the product pictured below, we pass the story along to our foodie friends, vegetarian and otherwise. Our thanks to Anahad O’Connor for this:

The Ascension of Cauliflower

Food companies are capitalizing on the low-carb, gluten-free trend by using vegetables like cauliflower to replace flour, rice and other simple carbs.

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Pizza made with a cauliflower crust.

For Gail Becker, a former marketing executive who has two sons with celiac disease, finding gluten-free pizza that her kids could enjoy has long been a challenge.

So a few years ago, Ms. Becker started making her own, using a crust that contains cauliflower instead of white flour. Her sons loved her cauliflower creation so much that in 2016 Ms. Becker quit her job and launched her own company, Caulipower, which sells frozen cauliflower pizzas and cauliflower baking mix.

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Cauliflower pasta looks like pasta made from wheat.

What Ms. Becker did not anticipate is how quickly it would catch on. Caulipower is now a multimillion-dollar brand, with cauliflower pizzas sold in 9,000 stores nationwide, including Whole Foods, Walmart, Safeway and Kroger.

“One thing that we were very insistent on when we started our brand is that we reference cauliflower in the name,” said Ms. Becker, who lives in Los Angeles. “We want to celebrate the vegetable. We’re not trying to hide it or sneak it in.” Continue reading

Technology To Battle High Seas Ecological Crimes

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China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea account for well over two-thirds of high seas fishing. Photograph: Laura Lezza/Getty Images

If you are trying to watch what you eat for sustainability and impact, Justin McCurry, in Tokyo writing for the Guardian, has this story to keep in mind:

The ‘dark fleet’: Global Fishing Watch shines a light on illegal catches

Low light imaging data being used to expose unregulated and unreported fishing on the high seas

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These vessels (indicated with blue boat icons) in the Natuna Sea off Indonesia were detected by VIIRS, and are suspected to not be using VMS. The red lines indicate VMS tracks from the same day.

New data is being used to expose fleets of previously unmonitored fishing vessels on the high seas, in what campaigners hope will lead to the eradication of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.

Global Fishing Watch (GFW) has turned low light imaging data collected by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) into the first publicly available real-time map showing the location and identity of thousands of vessels operating at night in waters that lie beyond national jurisdiction. Continue reading

Bess, Honey & Nothing

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Not only can a honey bee count, it understands the concept of zero, according to researchers. CreditFrank Bienewald/LightRocket, via Getty Images

Thanks as always to James Gorman, one of the best illuminators of any variety of natural mysteries who we never tire of citing in these pages. He tells funny stories sometimes, about beautiful as well as awesome phenomena that we want to know. And he knows how to tell it:

Do Bees Know Nothing?

Researchers say bees understand the concept of nothing, or zero. But do we understand what that means?

What would it mean if bees could understand the concept of nothing?

That would be really something.

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Bees were rewarded when they landed on cards with more shapes.CreditScarlett R. Howard et al.

Yet that is what scientists reported Thursday in the journal Science. Bees had already demonstrated they could count. Now, the researchers wrote, bees have shown that they understand the absence of things — shapes on a display in this experiment — as a numerical quantity: none or zero.

This is a big leap. Some past civilizations had trouble with the idea of zero. And the only nonhuman animals so far to pass the kind of test bees did are primates and one bird. Not one species, one bird, the famed African gray parrot, Alex, who knew not only words, but numbers. Continue reading

Not Pretty, But Pretty Amazing

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A surprising reproductive strategy could help to explain how stick insects—which are eaten by birds and don’t lay a lot of eggs—have managed to persist from generation to generation. Photograph by Education Images / UIG via Getty

Another day, another short-form wonder, thanks to Alan Burdick. His pieces are short, but to the point on topics we care about on this platform:

Why Stick Insects Might Be Into Birds Eating Their Kids

Stick insects make a certain amount of sense, evolutionarily speaking. They look like sticks, or twigs, or leaves; thus camouflaged, they presumably have a better chance of avoiding predators, reproducing, and passing on their stick-resemblance genes to their offspring. Except that birds still eat them, a lot. Stick insects don’t run fast, most don’t fly, and the females typically don’t lay eggs in large numbers. So there’s a mystery: How do they manage to persist from generation to generation? Why, having managed to exist, do they continue to do so? Continue reading

Reducing Our Intake Is The Only Answer

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Cattle at an illegal settlement in the Jamanxim National Forest, state of Para, northern Brazil, November 29, 2009. With 1,3 million hectares, the Jamanxim National Forest is today a microsm that replicates what happens in the Amazon, where thousands of hectares of land are prey of illegal woodcutters, stock breeders and gold miners. Photograph: Antonio Scorza/AFP/Getty Images

The argument made below by Damian Carrington, the Guardian’s Environment editor, is one nobody can hide from. We are not. Contributors on this platform have been reducing our intake of these forms of calories over the last couple years. We can report on its not being as difficult as it may sound at first to carnivores, ice cream aficionados and milk-drinkers. We are down some 40% and pushing the envelope further as fast as we can. It is not enough, relative to what these numbers say:

Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth

Biggest analysis to date reveals huge footprint of livestock – it provides just 18% of calories but takes up 83% of farmland

Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet. Continue reading

Can You Top This Birding Experience?

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A Canada warbler. Credit Ian Davies

We have wow posts about birds all the time, but this one will have to take the cake, for now:

A River of Warblers: ‘the Greatest Birding Day of My Life’

At an observatory in Quebec, they were hoping for a 50,000-bird day. They saw more than half a million.

By James Gorman

Ian Davies got hooked on birds when he was 12. He went to a site near Plymouth, Mass., where volunteers were putting bands on migrating birds.

“They let me release a Canada warbler,” he said, “and that was just game over.”

On Monday, he saw an estimated 700,000 warblers and set the birding world all atwitter with a posting on the site eBird describing the astonishing event. Continue reading

Renewables In Our Midst

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When it opens in 2020, Facebook’s new data center in Odense, Denmark will channel its waste heat to warm nearly 7,000 homes. FACEBOOK

Thanks to Nicola Jones and colleagues at Yale Environment 360 for this:

Waste Heat: Innovators Turn to an Overlooked Renewable Resource

Nearly three-quarters of all the energy produced by humanity is squandered as waste heat. Now, large businesses, high-tech operations such as data centers, and governments are exploring innovative technologies to capture and reuse this vast renewable energy source.

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Heat radiates from the Grangemouth Oil Refinery in Scotland. About 70 percent of all the energy produced globally gets discarded as waste heat. CHRISTOPHER FURLONG/GETTY IMAGES

When you think of Facebook and “hot air,” a stream of pointless online chatter might be what comes to mind. But the company will soon be putting its literal hot air — the waste heat pumped out by one of its data centers — to good environmental use. That center, in Odense, Denmark, plans to channel its waste heat to warm nearly 7,000 homes when it opens in 2020.

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Data centers, such as Google’s facility in Dalles, Oregon, generate huge amounts of waste heat. GOOGLE

Waste heat is everywhere. Every time an engine runs, a machine clunks away, or any work is done by anything, heat is generated. That’s a law of thermodynamics. More often than not, that heat gets thrown away, dribbling out into the atmosphere. The scale of this invisible garbage is huge: About 70 percent of all the energy produced by humanity gets chucked as waste heat. Continue reading

Paddlefish, Pioneers Of Sustainability

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Janie Osborne for The New York Times

Thanks to Jim Robbins, whose work we have appreciated not least for its culinary intrigue, but especially for the sustainability angles:

Food For Thought & Thought For Food

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Enzo Pérès-Labourdette

The food for thought is by way of Curt Stager, a professor of natural sciences, who celebrates citizen science in a powerful ominously-titled op-ed:

Why care about this new silence of the bugs? An across-the-board decline in flying insects, if true, means that an entire sector of the animal kingdom is in trouble, representing an immense diversity of life-forms, from butterflies and beetles to hoverflies and damselflies. The eminent biologist Edward O. Wilson, who has spent much of his life studying ants, has warned: “If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”

And the thought for food is also from an op-ed:

Why You Should Be Drinking Weird Wines

By Jason Wilson

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Alicia Adamerovich

…For years, the global wine industry had been devolving toward a monoculture, with local grape varieties ripped out in favor of more immediately profitable, mass-market types. There are 1,368 known wine grape varieties, but nearly 80 percent of the world’s wine is made from just 20 kinds of grapes. Many of the rest face extinction. Continue reading

Adaptation’s Appetite

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“They have to be one of the most adaptable animals on the planet,” said one ecologist who studies coyotes. Credit Perry McKenna/Getty Images

On this platform we have been in favor of celebrating conservation rather than doomsday. Science is key, but we also think entrepreneurship can be harnessed in the right direction, publicly and privately. There is not much to celebrate in the following story. The animals in the photo above, without any further details, could be granted wild beauty status. But context is everything. So we celebrate the writers who illuminate important scientific ideas, and their stories. Thanks to JoAnna Klein, who we have linked to many times (but missed this related recent story) for providing those details:

Coyotes Conquered North America. Now They’re Heading South.

New maps seek to update the historical range of our continent’s toughest canids, which have thrived as other predators experienced decline.

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A coyote crossing U.S. Highway 120 near Groveland, Calif. Credit Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Coyotes are excellent colonizers.

They breed fast, eat almost anything and live just about anywhere. You can find them in fields, forests, backyardsparks and even parking decks. They’re living in cities like Los AngelesNew York and Chicago. They’ve even made it to the Florida Keys and Long Island. In 2010, they crossed the Panama Canal. Now, the only thing keeping them from entering Colombia is a dense patch of forest called the Darien Gap. And camera traps have caught them heading that way. Continue reading

Bee-Saving In Costa Rica

Thanks to Rainforest Alliance, who sent its polite email asking whether we wanted to stay on their mailing list. Of course we do (but thanks for asking) because we believe in their work. And we have believed for a long time. Too long since our last post referencing them, but see this:

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Liz Paniagua, Co-founder Api-Agricultura

Introducing Costa Rican pro surfer Carlos Cortes and his partner Liz Paniagua. The husband-wife-apiarist-activist team is part of a growing movement working to save bees from the global crisis of colony collapse.

Their bee rescue organization, Api-Agricultura, works with a model Rainforest Alliance Certified banana farm in Costa Rica to save bee colonies from destruction and educate local communities about the importance of bees. By encouraging others to live in harmony with nature, Carlos and Liz exemplify the Costa Rican ethos of “pura vida.”  Continue reading

Bolivia’s Boggling Biodiversity

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Keara valley Credit Omar Torrico/Wildlife Conservation Society

Whether or not the title is a rhetorical question does not matter; what does matter is our thanks to James Gorman, a science writer at large for The New York Times for this story about the work of Rob Wallace and colleagues at the Wildlife Conservation Society:

Is This the World’s Most Diverse National Park?

Bringing the numbers to life for the jewel in Bolivia’s conservation crown.

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Royal flycatcher Credit Rob Wallace/Wildlife Conservation Society

The credit to Mr. Wallace and colleagues for these photos alone would be worthy of a post, but the creation of such a park in Bolivia is no small wonder:

Madidi National Park in Bolivia goes from lowland to mountaintop, from 600 feet to almost 20,000 feet above sea level. It covers more than 7,000 square miles of wildly different habitats. It is, says Rob Wallace, an ecologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society in Bolivia, “a place where the Amazon meets the Andes.”

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Rob Wallace/Wildlife Conservation Society

“Madidi was put together on the hypothesis that it could be the world’s most biologically diverse protected area,” Dr. Wallace said. And, he said, it is — for mammals, birds, plants and butterflies. Continue reading

Bob Moore And His Red Mill

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Marcus Marritt for NPR

47 minutes well spent with one of our heroes, who we realize now is not featured enough in our pages relative to how much he has inspired our work. Here is a quick start at repairing that oversight (click the image above to go to the podcast):

In the 1960s, Bob Moore read a book about an old grain mill and was inspired to start his own.

Using giant quartz stones from the 19th century, he ground and packaged dozens of different cereals and flours, quickly positioning his company at the forefront of the health food boom.

Despite a devastating fire in the 1980s, Bob’s Red Mill grew into a $100 million business – and although Bob is nearly 90, he goes to work at the mill every day.

Butterflies Bear Bucolic Benefits

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Milkweed was first mentioned in these pages  so long ago I had forgotten their importance to Monarch butterflies, a seemingly perennial topic for our contributors. So thanks to Margaret Renkl for keeping that tradition going in her Monday op-ed, and reminding us in the process that while it is not all good news out there, it is also not all bad news:

Monarchs in My Garden, at Last

NASHVILLE — I was pretty proud of myself the spring I planted my first organic garden. It was the mid-1980s, and I was a first-year graduate student in creative writing, a program entirely unrelated to horticultural mastery. But I had taken a college course in environmental biology, and I knew the basics: The more chemicals you use in a garden, the more chemicals you’ll need in the garden. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle, more reliable than the seasons.

At my house, companion planting — marigolds in between the broccoli, tomato vines encircling the spinach — would repel bugs the natural way. Any lingering pests would be dispatched by beneficial insects like ladybugs and praying mantises. One evening I watched happily as cabbage white butterflies flitted over silvery broccoli leaves. Those little white butterflies pausing in the gloaming on the water-beaded broccoli made for a tableau of bucolic harmony. Continue reading

Make Your Opinion Known About New Labeling For GMOs

 

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The USDA has released several options for what the labels might look like.
Department of Agriculture

If the questions and concerns surrounding GMOs are of interest to you, then in the next six weeks you have a unique window of opportunity. Until July 3 you are invited to share your opinion with the folks responsible for these label design options to the right. Thanks to our friends at the salt (National Public Radio, USA) for bringing this to our attention:

USDA Unveils Prototypes For GMO Food Labels, And They’re … Confusing

Foods that contains genetically modified ingredients will soon have a special label.

We recently got the first glimpse of what that label might look like, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its proposed guidelines.

This is the product of a decades-long fight between anti-GMO campaigners and Big Agriculture companies, which left neither side completely satisfied, as NPR has reported.

After Congress passed a bill in 2016 requiring labels on foods containing GMO ingredients, the USDA launched a long process to figure out the specifics. When it asked for feedback, it received 112,000 responses from consumers, farmers and manufacturers, among others.

The result? Continue reading

Karen Washington, Food Activist

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‘When we say ‘food apartheid,’ the real conversation can begin.’
Illustration: Daniel Chang Christensen

Thanks to Anna Brones for bringing this article, and its subject, to our attention in the Guardian, as a reprint of an essay originally published in Guernica:

Food apartheid: the root of the problem with America’s groceries

Food justice activist Karen Washington wants us to move away from the term ‘food desert’, which doesn’t take into account the systemic racism permeating America’s food system

America’s sustainable food movement has been steadily growing, challenging consumers to truly consider where our food comes from, and inspiring people to farm, eat local, and rethink our approaches to food policy. But at the same time, the movement is predominantly white, and often neglects the needs and root problems of diverse communities. Continue reading