If You Eat Beef & Live In The USA

Here is some food for thought, thanks to HighCountry News:

Navajo ranchers are raising premium beef

Is their success sustainable?

The land on the Padres Mesa Demonstration Ranch, in northeastern Arizona, stretched so vast and wild that it could be perspective-skewing, easy to get lost in. But Bill Inman effortlessly navigated his truck through a sea of blue grama grass, broom weed and sage. When he spotted a herd of cows, he hit the brakes.

“She’s a box of chocolates,” Kimberly Yazzie said as she pointed at a stately heifer.

About a dozen cows with week-old calves were bedded down in late winter forage, all muted greens and gold. Continue reading

Citizen Farming & Victory Gardens, 2020

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LEFT: “War gardens over the top. The seeds of victory insure the fruits of peace,” Maginel Wright Enright, National War Garden Commission, 1919 (Library of Congress). RIGHT: “War gardens for victory—Grow vitamins at your kitchen door,” lithographed by the Stecher-Traung Lithograph Corporation, Rochester, New York, between 1939 and 1945 (Library of Congress).

In the latest Gastropod episide, Dig for Victory, we get some new background on an old topic that has been on our minds lately:

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You’ve seen the news: vegetable seeds are selling out. All that quarantine ennui has combined with anxiety about the gaps on supermarket shelves to create a whole new population of city farmers in backyards and windowsills across America. And everyone from the Los Angeles Times to Forbes to CBS has dubbed these brand new beds of beets and broccoli “COVID-19 Victory Gardens.” Continue reading

Eliminating Fish From The Diet

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Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) off the coast of Madeira Island, Portugal. PAULO OLIVEIRA / ALAMY

Of all the ways to transition to vegetarianism, which I am on snail’s pace doing, I just realized that the one form of animal protein that I have completely eliminated without thinking about it is fish. I cannot remember planning on doing this, but at this moment I cannot remember the last time I ate fish. It may have been 2016. But I have been conscious of the sensation every time I am grocery shopping that I avoid the fish.

image_miniSushi was my favorite treat of a meal years ago, and while living in India we were as much pescatarian as vegetarian. But that changed with a growing awareness of the challenges related to regulating the world’s seas. So I quit eating things from it. Jennifer E. Telesca, writing in Yale e360, does not make me feel any better about this–as a data point I am exactly of zero relevance compared to the total market size–but I am gratified to see a book on a topic that will help me better quantify the reasons why exiting the market for fish is a priority:

How Global Regulators Are Selling Out the World’s Largest Tuna

The international commission responsible for managing Atlantic bluefin — prized for high-quality sushi — is failing to protect this magnificent fish. The regulators’ focus on fishing industry profits points up the need to change the way we view, and value, the lives of wild creatures.

In 2010, after years of global headlines highlighting the runaway harvest of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea and eastern Atlantic Ocean, the international regulatory agency managing this endangered fish capitulated. It cut the total allowable annual catch to 12,900 metric tons, the lowest level recorded. For the world’s most valuable fish, coveted as the most succulent sushi on the planet, a return to plenty looked promising. Continue reading

The New Commute

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Jim Wilson/The New York Times

If they displace congesting and polluting four-wheel alternatives, they are worth a look:

E-Bikes Are Having Their Moment. They Deserve It.

The benefits of owning a battery-powered two-wheeler far outweigh the downsides, especially in a pandemic.

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Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Many of us are entering a new stage of pandemic grief: adaptation. We are asking ourselves: How do we live with this new reality?

For many Americans, part of the solution has been to buy an electric bike. The battery-powered two-wheelers have become a compelling alternative for commuters who are being discouraged from taking public transportation and Ubers. For others, the bikes provide much-needed fresh air after months of confinement. Continue reading

Rethinking What Comes Next

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The average size of a new house in the U.S. has doubled since 1970. SHUTTERSTOCK

Thanks as always to Bill McKibben for his view on ways of thinking differently about our shared future:

When Social Distancing Ends, Will We Rethink the World We Want?

Long before the virus, Americans had become socially isolated, retreating into sprawling suburbs and an online world of screens. When we emerge from our pandemic-mandated separation, can we reconnect with each other and reconsider how the way we live impacts the natural world?

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Patterns are notoriously hard to break, even when you have to. Studies find that more than half of smokers diagnosed with lung cancer keep on smoking, even though their odds of survival would go way up if they stopped. Nicotine is powerfully addictive, of course — but we’re beginning to suspect that’s true of lots of other human behaviors too: checking your phone, for instance, which seems strongly linked to the supply of dopamine (which is what nicotine affects as well). One tells oneself that one will change — but change is hard. Continue reading

Crickets, Food For Thought

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ANNALS OF OBSESSION

WHY YOU SHOULD ADD CRICKETS TO YOUR DIET

As climate change, disease, and political instability loom, the cricket farmers Adam Brody and Jude Tallichet, of Brooklyn and Queens, respectively, find comfort in the insects they’ve raised in their homes.

When we started carrying nutrition bars made from cricket meal in our shops earlier this year, I was not prepared for how well they would catch on. We started with a small, exploratory inventory. They sold out quickly, and when we reordered more they sold out again. I had not had cricket in my diet previously, and I am still not fully there (Gricket bars being my only foray to date), but I appreciate the efforts of those entrepreneurs making the case.

Plants To Plastic To Progress

A mound of plastic bottles at a recycling plant near Bangkok in Thailand. Around 300 million tonnes of plastic is made every year and most of it is not recycled. Photograph: Diego Azubel/EPA

We’re always happy to give credit when due. While beer isn’t the first beverage that comes to mind when thinking about the scourge of plastics in the world, bottled soda and water certainly are. So it’s heartening to hear that a company like Coca-Cola, which has contributed to the proliferation of the world’s plastic problem, is backing a bioplastic project that could help to control it.

If You Happen To Be On Line

There are themes we’ve returned to frequently since the beginning of this site, in the different ways we’ve posted about collective action conservation or cultural events. The titles of those posts began with the words, “If You Happen to be in…” – followed by the location of our conservation public service announcement.

The internet has obviously played an enormous role in people’s lives for decades now, but even more so in the time of Covid-19, when so many of life’s gatherings, from education to business meetings and conferences, has shifted to the virtual realm.

So, here’s a PSA for the Oceans. Hosted by Blue Planet, DC, with guest speaker Phil Karp (a frequent contributor to this site on themes of citizen science and marine conservation) this virtual seminar will discuss both the serious problem of marine pollution, but also some emerging solutions.

If you have an hour to spare on May 15th, join the conversation!

Details

Did you know that between 8 million and 13.5 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean every year, equivalent to a garbage truck full of plastic EVERY MINUTE?!

Plastic entering the ocean can cause harm to marine organisms and ecosystems, coastal economies and human health. This virtual seminar by guest speaker Phil Karp will examine the magnitude and dynamics of marine litter and ocean plastic along with emerging solutions. In addition, it will discuss what governments and consumers can do to address the problem.Phil Karp recently retired from the World Bank where he was Lead Knowledge Management Specialist in the Urban Development Global Practice. He is longtime diver, citizen scientist and ocean advocate focusing on the interface between marine ecosystem conservation and livelihoods of coastal communities.

Sign up today! Join below on May 15.
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89825590123

 

How Sweet Is Your City?

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A bee hotel, part of Curridabat’s drive to welcome and protect pollinators. Photograph: Courtesy of Curridabat Municipality

Costa Rica is full of inspirational stories, some big picture and some more granular. Bee hotels are an example of the latter, and first came to my attention only this year. On a farm north of San Jose growing edible flowers, and then again on a cacao plantation in the Central Pacific zone where we source our line of Macaw Kakau chocolates–in both cases the “hotels” were specifically for melipona bees.  Thanks to the Guardian for putting some due attention on this forward-thinking municipality across the city from where I live and work, and especially for the reminder that I have not posted yet on the apicultural wonders I learned about at those two melipona bee hotels:

‘Sweet City’: the Costa Rica suburb that gave citizenship to bees, plants and trees

A suburb of the country’s capital is showing how urban planning can be harnessed to benefit both humans and wildlife

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 ‘Biocorridors improve air quality, water quality and give people spaces to relax, have fun and improve their health,’ says Magalli Castro Álvarez. Photograph: Melissa Alvarez/Courtesy of GIZ/Biodiver_City Project

“Pollinators were the key,” says Edgar Mora, reflecting on the decision to recognise every bee, bat, hummingbird and butterfly as a citizen of Curridabat during his 12-year spell as mayor.

“Pollinators are the consultants of the natural world, supreme reproducers and they don’t charge for it. The plan to convert every street into a biocorridor and every neighbourhood into an ecosystem required a relationship with them.”

The move to extend citizenship to pollinators, trees and native plants in Curridabat has been crucial to the municipality’s transformation from an unremarkable suburb of the Costa Rican capital, San José, into a pioneering haven for urban wildlife. Continue reading

Pep Shot Is The New Bee’s Knees

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For those who can afford it, culinary experimentation could become a practical hobby.HERITAGE / BETTMANN / GEORGE MARKS / AFP / GETTY / PROZHIVINA ELENE / SHUTTERSTOCK / KATIE MARTIN / THE ATLANTIC

$_35Dalgona is a name I did not know until five minutes ago. But I intimately knew the thing itself ages ago. For the 1981-82 academic year I worked with a tutor in Athens to learn my mother’s first language.  Her aunt, who I lived with, had only one way to prepare coffee, using this device to the left. Greek coffee, aka Turkish coffee, was fine.

m-6D-MUyWNCFYE0NFBe6z9wBut I did not love it. My cousin showed me an alternative, cautioning me that our great-aunt did not allow this foreign product in her home. So, I bought the contraband and each morning before she awoke I mixed the instant coffee with the milk and sugar and shook it in a jar and gulped it. It was a brief love affair. Instant coffee is not in our cupboard these days, but I have a fond memory of that fling. I appreciate Shirley Li’s article for reminding me of it.

Current circumstances are pushing us all in new directions of food and beverage production and consumption and for me, for now, the Pep Shot is the new bee’s knees:

In 1950, Americans Had Aspic. Now We Have Dalgona Coffee.

Unlike food innovations from crises past, coronavirus-inspired recipes are more about stress relief than survival.

Allison Ward used to grab coffee during her commute to work. The 34-year-old, a project manager for the McMaster Institute in Hamilton, Ontario, told me she needs caffeine every day, and that ever since the coronavirus pandemic put the city on lockdown, she’s been missing her Starbucks fix.

Then she learned about dalgona coffee. Continue reading

Really, California?

The executive order does not affect cities and counties that adopted their own ordinances banning or regulating single-use plastic bags.(Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images)

It’s been some months since we added to our “Really?” posts–which is definitely a good things– and California has usually been on the applaud side of our commentary. It’s a sad situation that the plastic industry is able to exert these pressures to take advantage of the current health crisis.

Coronavirus prompts Gov. Gavin Newsom to suspend California’s plastic bag ban

 Gov. Gavin Newsom has suspended California’s ban on grocery stores providing single-use plastic bags amid concerns that clerks may be at risk for exposure to the coronavirus if shoppers are required to supply their own reusable bags to carry their purchases home.

 

Newsom announced Thursday that he signed an executive order to suspend the 2016 plastic bag ban for 60 days after hearing concerns from the California Grocers Assn. about shoppers bringing reusable bags from home that are handled by store clerks filling them with groceries.

“We are being cautious to make sure there is no transmission of the virus,” said Dave Heylen, a vice president for the grocers’ group. He said the grocers will go back to abiding by the plastic bag ban when the order expires.

The executive order signed Wednesday does not affect the more than 100 cities and counties that adopted their own ordinances banning or regulating single-use plastic bags.

Continue reading

A Corrective History Of Coffee

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The literature of coffee has produced a new genre: corrective history. Illustration by Ilya Milstein

An essayist’s review on one of our favorite topics is a nice surprise for a start to a new week:

The War on Coffee

The history of caffeine and capitalism can get surprisingly heated.

What would life be without coffee?” King Louis XV of France is said to have asked. “But, then, what is life even with coffee?” he added. Truer, or more apt, words for the present moment were never spoken, now usable as a kind of daily catechism. At a time when coffee remains one of the few things that the anxious sleeper can look forward to in the morning (What is life without it?), giving as it does at least an illusion of recharge and a fresh start, the charge has invariably slipped away by the time the latest grim briefing comes (What is life even with it?). Imagining life without coffee right now is, for many of us, almost impossible, even though the culture of the café that arose in America over the past couple of decades has, for some indefinite period, been shut down.

The growth of coffee as a culture, not just as a drink, can be measured in a unit that might be called the Larry, for the peerless comedy writer Larry David. In “Seinfeld,” which he co-created in 1989, coffee came as a normal beverage in a coffee shop—bad, indistinct stuff that might as well have been tea. (Paul Reiser had a nice bit about the codependency of coffee and tea, with tea as coffee’s pathetic friend.) Then, on “Friends,” the characters gathered in a coffee-specific location, Central Perk, but the very invocation of a percolator, the worst way to brew, suggested that they were there more for the company than for the coffee. Six or so Larrys later, by 2020, the plotline of an entire season of David’s own “Curb Your Enthusiasm” turned on a competition between Mocha Joe’s and Latte Larry’s—the “spite store” that Larry opens just to avenge an insult over scones, with many details about a specific kind of Mexican coffee bean he means to steal. The audience was expected to accept as an obvious premise the idea that coffee was a culture of devotion and discrimination, not just a passable caffeinated drink.

This change is real, and is reflected in the numbers. As Jonathan Morris documents in his recent book, “Coffee: A Global History” (Reaktion), epicurean coffeehouses in the United States numbered in the hundreds in 1989, and in the tens of thousands by 2013. Continue reading

Mutation as a Positive

Green plastic bottles ready for recycling

In addition to all the creative ways that people recycle and upcycle plastics, we appreciate when scientific collaboration is brought to the forefront, as in the example here. We thank Science Magazine for highlighting the story.

‘A huge step forward.’ Mutant enzyme could vastly improve recycling of plastic bottles

Recycling isn’t as guilt-free as it seems. Only about 30% of the plastic that goes into soda bottles gets turned into new plastic, and it often ends up as a lower strength version. Now, researchers report they’ve engineered an enzyme that can convert 90% of that same plastic back to its pristine starting materials. Work is underway to scale up the technology and open a demonstration plant next year.

“This is a huge step forward,” says John McGeehan, who directs the center for enzyme innovation at the University of Portsmouth and who was not involved with the work.

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is one of the world’s most commonly used plastics, with some 70 million tons produced annually. PET bottles are already recycled in many places. But the current approach has problems. For starters, recycling companies typically end up with a broad mix of different colors of the plastic. They then use high temperatures to melt those down, producing a gray or black plastic starting material that few companies want to use to package their products.

Instead, the material is typically turned into carpets or other low-grade plastic fibers that eventually end up in a landfill or get incinerated. “It’s not really recycling at all,” McGeehan says.

To get around this concern, scientists have searched for enzymes in microbes that break down PET and other plastics. In 2012, researchers at Osaka University found one such enzyme in a compost heap. Continue reading

Saving The Harvest In Europe

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Strawberries at Greens Berry farm in Wexford, Ireland. Photograph: John Greene

With farmers on our mind, recently, and especially the ability of family farms to get harvesting and distribution done we are watching for stories like this:

Farmers across Europe bank on improvised armies of pickers to save harvest

Growers from Ireland to Spain says coronavirus lockdown has stopped migrant workers from arriving

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Workers on a farm at El Prat del Llobregat, near Barcelona, harvest artichokes in March. Photograph: David Ramos/Getty Images

At this time of year John Greene is usually preparing to welcome dozens of Slovakian strawberry pickers for another harvest at his farm in County Wexford in south-east Ireland.

The work is arduous and repetitive and he relies on their experience and stamina to get the fruit picked, packed and sold.

Greene surveyed his fields this week with foreboding. “I look out my window and there’s no one to pick it. None of them are on site at the moment.”

His pickers remain in Slovakia, immobilised by a continent-wide lockdown. It is a similar story for hundreds of thousands of other seasonal agricultural workers who cannot travel just at a time when Europe needs them for harvests. Continue reading

Cars & Carbon

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A Mini Electric car next to the production line at the BMW plant in Cowley, near Oxford. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

When the smoke clears, we will need to get back to key environmental issues. Thanks to the Guardian for this news, in that regard:

Electric cars produce less CO2 than petrol vehicles, study confirms

Finding will come as boost to governments seeking to move to net zero carbon emissions

Electric vehicles produce less carbon dioxide than petrol cars across the vast majority of the globe – contrary to the claims of some detractors, who have alleged that the CO2 emitted in the production of electricity and their manufacture outweighs the benefits.

The finding is a boost to governments, including the UK, seeking to move to net zero carbon emissions, which will require a massive expansion of the electric car fleet. A similar benefit was found for electric heat pumps. Continue reading

Bag Snaggers, Inc., We Hardly Knew Thee

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Photograph from Alamy

You can count on these pages continuing to feature these kinds of stories, that remind us of what still can and must be done, or simply provide a daily dose of charm:

My Old Nemesis: Plastic Bags

On Earth Day, 2019, when New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, signed a bill banning single-use plastic bags, he said, “You see plastic bags hanging in trees, blowing down the streets, in landfills, and in our waterways, and there is no doubt they are doing tremendous damage.” It is true that nowadays people do see plastic bags in trees. But they didn’t used to—not because the bags weren’t there but because the people didn’t see them. I believe I am the first person who actually saw bags in trees—that is, noticed them in any official way. Twenty-seven years ago, I wrote a short article for this magazine about plastic bags and other debris in the trees of New York City. Once I started noticing the bags, I couldn’t stop, and I soon passed the affliction on to my friends Bill McClelland and Tim McClelland. Noticing bags in trees changed our lives. Continue reading

Coal’s Final Days

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A coal-fired power plant in Neurath, Germany. The country has pledged to phase out coal by 2038. INA FASSBENDER/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to Fred Pearce, as always for his environmental reporting, and to Yale e360 for this unexpected news that coal is not headed for a renaissance (as some politicians would have us believe):

As Investors and Insurers Back Away, the Economics of Coal Turn Toxic

Coal is declining sharply, as financiers and insurance companies abandon the industry in the face of shrinking demand, pressure from climate campaigners, and competition from cleaner fuels. After years of its predicted demise, the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel may finally be on the way out.

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Demolition of the coal-fired Nelson Dewey Generating Station in Cassville, Wisconsin in December 2017. The power plant closed in 2015. NICKI KOHL/TELEGRAPH HERALD VIA AP

Any day now, New York State will be coal-free. Its last coal-fired power station, at Somerset on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, will shut for good as the winter ends. Remember when Donald Trump promised to bring back coal? Well, three years on, coal’s decline is accelerating — in the United States and worldwide. Continue reading

Darn Charm

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Amy Lombard for The New York Times

Thanks to Steven Kurutz, whose first two appearances in our pages (6 and 4 years ago, respectively) prepared us well for this charming news:

Now Is When We All Learn to Darn Our Socks Again

“Visible mending” has been taken up by those who want to protest fast fashion and disposable culture. It’s also thrifty.

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Amy Lombard for The New York Times

Only a few generations ago, socks were routinely darned, sweaters mended and pants patched. You could buy a sewing kit at any drugstore. Knowing how to use it was a mark of good housekeeping.

Kate Sekules, 58, remembers that world, in which the act of repairing clothes was integral to wearing them. “My mother was a dressmaker to the end of her life,” said Ms. Sekules, who grew up in England. “My mother just mended as a matter of course.”

Ms. Sekules has kept up that thrifty tradition. She started one of the earliest secondhand online clothing exchanges, Refashioner. She buys all of her clothes vintage and mends them all, including her husband’s moth-eaten sweaters. Continue reading

Coffee & Caffeine, Better Understood

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Some days everything comes up roses. Today was one. This morning my scanning routine, looking for what to share here, was made easy by the image above and the headline below it: Is Coffee Good for You? Yes! But it depends on the kind of coffee and the quantity. My favorite takeaway, among many, points to the benefits of filtered coffee. Read each section and take what matters most to your coffee life.

PollanCaffeineMichael Pollan, first mentioned here in 2011, has been so frequently featured over the years it is fair to say he is one of our heroes (those links cover only part of the first year of this platform; dozens more since 2012). In a recent interview Pollan discusses his own findings related to coffee, and specifically its caffeine. The interview was promoting his new book, available in audible form. What I heard in the interview was just enough to ensure I click to the right when I have the 2+ hours to listen…

Getting a Bigger Bang Out of Plastic

Plastic has been on our radar for years, both as an environmental scourge and a raw material for the rising recycle and “upcycle” economy.  Finding these creative uses for an ubiquitous waste material around the world has been inspiring, to say the least.

We hadn’t been familiar with the Precious Plastic model until we met the wonderful women from the Wagát Upcycling Lab. We applaud the community ethos of open source plans to address a global crisis.

Big Bang, Indeed!