Organic products show resiliency in recession

A variety of reports over the last week demonstrate the growing entrenchment of organic goods.
Market research firm Mintel said recent survey data showed that nearly 40% of consumers claimed they hadn’t changed organic-product purchasing habits because of the recession and only 3% had stopped buying organic products altogether.
“Heavy users of natural and organic food and drink are most likely to indicate they’ve traded down to less expensive organic options,” said David Browne, senior analyst at Mintel. “However, less-frequent consumers of organic products have shown that they haven’t shifted their behavior. This is good news for the organic food and drink market, as this group may begin to buy more once recession-related fears begin to fade.”
Organic-food sales dipped slightly this year --  0.3% -- but are expected to bounce back next year, though like other goods probably not at pre-recession growth rates, according to Mintel.
Another indicator of how organic products are taking root is the news that U.S. growers of organic cotton increased acreage by 26% in 2009 over what was planted in 2008, according to a study funded by trade group Cotton Inc.
Organic cotton is grown without the use of persistent pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Moreover, federal regulations prohibit the use of genetically engineered seed for organic farming.
And in a list of top food trends released last week, advertising agency J. Walter Thompson noted that organic has become “the new hook in quick-service eateries.” It cites chains such as Organic to Go, Naked Pizza and O!Burger popping up around the U.S. and said the trend has hit Europe too.

original source/copyright Los Angeles Times 2009

12 ways to a green Christmas

Make it yourself or buy it locally -- just make sure your gifts won't add unnecessarily to the landfill site

It seems an increasing number of people are interested in a green holiday season. Numerous books are on the shelves, such as Green Christmas: How to Have a Joyous, Eco-Friendly Holiday Season and A Greener Christmas, if that's any indication. But it's tough to know what's green and what's "green washed," products that masquerade as environmentally friendly, but aren't really. It's an important time of the year to read labels, ask questions and do your research on products you're interested in purchasing.
It's still early enough to put some thought into your gifts. Know why you're getting a gift for the person you're buying it for. There's nothing worse than giving someone a gift they don't want or can't use; those are destined to collect dust on a shelf -- or worse, get tossed.
What else can you do in addition to looking for ethical and sustainable gifts? Recycle your old holiday lights and replace them with low-power LED versions. With a bit of planning, you can take your holiday parties and gatherings toward zero waste: Just set out a few bins for recycling, compost and waste, and direct people appropriately. Take it a step further by removing the trash can entirely, and watch your uncle's hesitation as he tries to determine which bin his used paper plate goes into. That should make for interesting conversation around the dinner table.
A few days ago someone told me that "it takes green to go green." Not so, especially during the holidays. It's the thought that counts, and, in the case of a green and sustainable Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, using your noggin and skills will help you find -- or make -- the perfect gifts while staying true to your ethics and sustainable leanings, all while keeping within your budget.
I've assembled a list of 12 holiday gift ideas to help you have a green holiday season. Hopefully, we'll all be green and still have some snow.
1. Make a card: It's estimated that there are more than 1.9 billion cards sent each holiday season in the United States alone. This year, why not give something more personal: buy some hemp or recycled paper card stock and some art supplies, and add your own creative flair to the business of card-making. Keep the supplies and use them year after year.
2. Bake a gift: Ever wonder why you should save cookie tins? Now you know: It's for the holidays. Sweets such as peanut brittle can be made in advance and store well. Preserves, such as jellies and jams, are always appreciated, as are baked goods, such as cookies. Plus, the tins and jars can be reused. Some people are wary about homemade goods, so for those folks, try another option.
3. Give consumables: A lot of people -- students, retirees, newspaper columnists -- live in the tight confines of condos, apartments, or basement suites and physically don't have enough space for more "stuff." Instead, give those people consumables, such as grocery gift certificates.
4. Buy services: Gifts don't always have to be material. Give gift certificates to local services, such as a trip to a massage therapist or spa, a trial membership at a yoga studio or gym, or a gift certificate to a hair salon. This keeps waste out of landfills and provides worthwhile local employment.
5. Give ethical products: Buying a fair-trade product -- such as organic chocolate -- is another good way to go green for the holidays. Fair-trade products ensure the farmers and craftspeople who produce the product are remunerated fairly. It might not be the right shade of green you're looking for, but it does provide a better quality of life for farmers and craftspeople who may be at risk of being exploited.
6. Buy vintage and second-hand goods: Buying second-hand furniture, books or other used products is another great way to go green for the holidays. Know the tastes of the person you're buying for, though: One person's sweet find is another's old junk. But with all the great second-hand and vintage stores in town, there's a gift available for everyone.
7. Give a gift that gives twice by donating to charity: If there's a group that the person you're buying for really loves, donate some money to it on their behalf. For example, you can adopt a cougar or a grizzly bear through The Land Conservancy ( Give to the University of Victoria's Environmental Law Centre ( Donate to the Dogwood Initiative, which wants to make British Columbia the global model for sustainable land reform ( Give to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund, which last year assisted more than 2,300 households in need ( Through an organization such as World Vision (, you can buy livestock for a family in need or donate school supplies to Canadian families that could use some help.
8. Pick organic for babies: There are so many options for babies, from unpainted, unfinished wood toys to cosy organic cotton jumpers. Local crafter Dress Me Up ( makes organic cotton stuffed rabbits for teething, while Good Planet Baby Store on Broad Street ( also sells all kinds of green baby products.
9. Buy organic clothing: Clothing is always a popular gift for Christmas. Look for organic cotton, which uses less water and no pesticides, unlike traditional cotton. Ditch your mental image of a pony-tailed hippie wearing an itchy hemp hooded sweater. Nowadays, hemp, which uses less water to grow than cotton and grows faster, can be made into comfortable and nice-looking duds.
10. Look for up-cycled materials. Products made from salvaged materials are becoming increasingly available. Simple Shoes ( are sneakers soled with old tire treads, while messenger bags made from recycled seatbelts and bicycle tires, such as those from Alchemy Goods (, are also available. Some local crafters make items out of salvaged fabric, such as handbags sewn from old leather jackets (
11. Re-gift: Do you have an item or collectable that your friend or family member has been eyeing for some time? Are you not using it? Are you particularly attached to it? If not, let it go. It might come back to you next year.
12. Buy local: If you can buy something locally made, do it. The environment isn't just about hemp toilet paper and leafy vegetables: it's also about community. Local businesses create industry and employment, and are vital to building healthy communities.

Purity of Federal 'Organic' Label Is Questioned

Originally published on 7/09, but worth re-reading.

By Kimberly Kindy and Lyndsey Layton Washington Post Staff Writers Friday, July 3, 2009
Three years ago, U.S. Department of Agriculture employees determined that synthetic additives in organic baby formula violated federal standards and should be banned from a product carrying the federal organic label. Today the same additives, purported to boost brainpower and vision, can be found in 90 percent of organic baby formula.
The government's turnaround, from prohibition to permission, came after a USDA program manager was lobbied by the formula makers and overruled her staff. That decision and others by a handful of USDA employees, along with an advisory board's approval of a growing list of non-organic ingredients, have helped numerous companies win a coveted green-and-white "USDA Organic" seal on an array of products.
Grated organic cheese, for example, contains wood starch to prevent clumping. Organic beer can be made from non-organic hops. Organic mock duck contains a synthetic ingredient that gives it an authentic, stringy texture.
Relaxation of the federal standards, and an explosion of consumer demand, have helped push the organics market into a $23 billion-a-year business, the fastest growing segment of the food industry. Half of the country's adults say they buy organic food often or sometimes, according to a survey last year by the Harvard School of Public Health.
But the USDA program's shortcomings mean that consumers, who at times must pay twice as much for organic products, are not always getting what they expect: foods without pesticides and other chemicals, produced in a way that is gentle to the environment.
The market's expansion is fueling tension over whether the federal program should be governed by a strict interpretation of "organic" or broadened to include more products by allowing trace elements of non-organic substances. The argument is not over whether the non-organics pose a health threat, but whether they weaken the integrity of the federal organic label.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has pledged to protect the label, even as he acknowledged the pressure to lower standards to let more products in.
In response to complaints, the USDA inspector general's office has widened an investigation of whether products carrying the label meet national standards. The probe is also looking into the department's oversight of private certifiers who are hired by farmers and food producers and inspect products to determine whether they can use the label.
Some consumer groups and members of Congress say they worry that the program's lax standards are undermining the federal program and the law itself.
"It will unravel everything we've done if the standards can no longer be trusted," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who sponsored the federal organics legislation. "If we don't protect the brand, the organic label, the program is finished. It could disappear overnight."
Organic advocates and food marketing experts said the introduction this month of new "natural" products by an organics division of Dean Foods is the latest sign that the value of the USDA label has eroded. The yogurt and milk products will be distributed under the Horizon label and marketed as a lower-priced alternative to organic products.
Congress adopted the organics law after farmers and consumers demanded uniform standards for produce, dairy and meat. The law banned synthetics, pesticides and genetic engineering from foods that would bear a federal organic label. It also required annual testing for pesticides. And it was aimed at preventing producers from falsely claiming their foods were organic.
The USDA created the National Organic Program in 2002 to implement the law. By then, major food companies had bought up most small, independent organic companies.
Kraft Foods, for example, owns Boca Foods. Kellogg owns Morningstar Farms, and Coca-Cola owns 40 percent of Honest Tea, maker of the organic beverage favored by President Obama.
That corporate firepower has added to pressure on the government to expand the definition of what is organic, in part because processed foods offered by big industry often require ingredients, additives or processing agents that either do not exist in organic form or are not available in large enough quantities for mass production.
Under the original organics law, 5 percent of a USDA-certified organic product can consist of non-organic substances, provided they are approved by the National Organic Standards Board. That list has grown from 77 to 245 substances since it was created in 2002. Companies must appeal to the board every five years to keep a substance on the list, explaining why an organic alternative has not been found. The goal was to shrink the list over time, but only one item has been removed so far.
The original law's mandate for annual pesticide testing was also never implemented -- the agency left that optional.
From the beginning, farmers and consumer advocates were concerned about safeguarding the organic label. In 2003, Arthur Harvey, who grows organic blueberries in Maine, successfully sued the USDA, arguing that the fledgling National Organic Program had violated federal law by allowing synthetic additives.
"The big boys like Kraft realized they could really cash in by filling the shelves with products with the organics seal," Harvey said. "But they were sort of inhibited by the original law that said no synthetic ingredients."
His victory was short-lived. The Organic Trade Association, which represents corporations such as Kraft, Dole and Dean Foods, lobbied for and received language in a 2006 appropriations bill allowing certain synthetic food substances in the preparation, processing and packaging of organic foods, creating conditions for a flood of processed organic foods.
Tom Harding, a Pennsylvania-based consultant for small local farmers and big producers, including Kraft, said that broadening the law has helped meet demand by multiplying the number of organic products and greatly expanded the amount of agricultural land that is being managed organically.
"We don't want to eliminate anyone who wants to be a part of the organic community," Harding said. "The growth we've seen has helped the entire organic food chain."
Organics for Babies
Today, labels on organic infant formula boast that they include DHA and ARA, synthetic fatty acids that some studies suggest can help neural development. But according to agency records, when the issue came before the USDA in 2006, agency staff members concluded that the fatty acids could not be added to organic baby formula because they are synthetics that are not on the standards board's approved list.
The fatty acids in formula are often produced using a potential neurotoxin known as hexane, prompting many organics advocates to conclude that the board would not approve their use if it took up the matter.
In a rare move, Barbara Robinson, who administers the organics program and is a deputy USDA administrator, overruled the staff decision after a telephone call and an e-mail exchange with William J. Friedman, a lawyer who represents the formula makers.
"I called [Robinson] up," Friedman said. "I wrote an e-mail. It was a simple matter." The back-and-forth, he said, was nothing more than part of the routine process that sets policy in Washington.
In an interview, Robinson said she agreed with Friedman's argument that fatty acids were not permitted because of an oversight. Vitamins and minerals are allowed, but "accessory nutrients" -- the category that describes fatty acids -- are not specifically named.
As for hexane, Robinson said the law bans its use in processing organic food, but she does not believe the ban extends to the processing of synthetic additives.
"We don't attempt to say how synthetic products can be produced," she said.
Manufacturers say the fatty acids are safe and provide health benefits to infants.
"We test every lot that comes out for hexane, and there is no residue," said David Abramson, president of Maryland-based
Martek Biosciences, which produces the fatty acids used by formula companies.
Several groups have filed complaints with the USDA saying they think that the inclusion of the fatty acids in organic products violates federal rules and laws. And they say that Robinson did not have the authority to make the decision on her own.
"This is illegal rulemaking -- a complete violation of the process that is supposed to protect the public," said Gary Cox, a lawyer with the Cornucopia Institute, an organics advocacy group.
Cox and others make the same argument about other decisions by Robinson and several members of her staff.
In 2004, Robinson issued a directive allowing farmers and certifiers to use pesticides on organic crops if "after a reasonable effort" they could not determine whether the pesticide contained chemicals prohibited by the organics law.
The same year, Robinson determined that farmers could feed organic livestock non-organic fish meal, which can contain mercury and PCBs. The law requires that animals that produce organic meat be raised entirely on organic feed.
After sharp protests from Leahy, Consumers Union and other groups, Ann Veneman, then agriculture secretary, rescinded these and two other directives issued by Robinson.
The orders were signed by a staff member, but Robinson took responsibility, saying she had made the decisions unwisely without consulting organics experts, certifiers or the standards board.
"I failed, and take this as a learning experience and do not want it to happen again," she told board members in 2004.
Earlier this year, however, Robinson issued a series of directives without consulting experts, certifiers or the board. She said that because the issues were urgent, including one on food safety, she had to act quickly.
In an interview, Robinson said she believes the federal program's main purpose is to "grow the industry," and she dismissed controversies over synthetics in organic foods as "mostly ridiculous."
Joe Smillie, a board member, said he thinks that advocates for the most restrictive standards are unrealistic and are inhibiting the growth of organics.
"People are really hung up on regulations," said Smillie, who is also vice president of the certifying firm Quality Assurance International, which is involved in certifying 65 percent of organic products found on supermarket shelves. "I say, 'Let's find a way to bend that one, because it's not important.' . . . What are we selling? Are we selling health food? No. Consumers, they expect organic food to be growing in a greenhouse on Pluto. Hello? We live in a polluted world. It isn't pure. We are doing the best we can."
Waiting for Standards
Under Robinson, the National Organic Program has repeatedly opted not to issue standards spelling out how organic food must be grown, treated or produced. In 65 instances since 2002, the standards board has made recommendations that have not been acted upon, creating a haphazard system in which the private certifiers have set their own standards for what products can carry the federal label.
The agency has not acted, for example, on a 2002 board recommendation that would answer a critical question for organic dairy farmers: how to interpret the law requiring that their cows have "access to pasture," rather than be crowded onto feedlots. The result has been that some dairy farms have been selling milk as organic from cows that spend little if any time grazing in open spaces.
"This is really a case of 'justice delayed is justice denied,' " said Alexis Baden-Mayer, national political director for the Organic Consumers Association. "The truly organic dairy farmers, who have their cows out in the pasture all year round, are at a huge competitive disadvantage compared to the big confinement dairies."
Robinson has blamed the delays on the program's small staff, saying that "we have to prioritize."
Without specific standards, the wide discretion given to certifiers has invited producers and farmers to shop around for the certifiers most likely to approve their product, consumer groups say.
Sam Welsch, president of the Nebraska-based OneCert, said his company this year has lost as many as a dozen fruit and vegetable farmers seeking other certifiers that allow the use of certain liquid fertilizers, which most organics experts believe are prohibited by organics laws because they are unnaturally spiked with high levels of nitrogen.
"The rules should be clear enough that there is just one right answer," Welsch said.
Consumer groups and organics advocates are hopeful that the Obama administration will bolster the program. In his proposed budget, the president has doubled resources devoted to organics and installed USDA leaders who support change.
Vilsack's deputy, organics expert Kathleen A. Merrigan, told consumer groups three weeks ago that she intends to heighten enforcement. Merrigan helped write the original organics law and get the federal program off the ground in 2002.
And Vilsack said he wants to protect the organic label. "That term, 'organic,' needs to be pure," he said in an interview. "You can't allow the definition to be eroded to where it means nothing. . . . We have to fight against that kind of pressure."
Still, at the standards board's meeting last month, Chairman Jeff Moyer noted the growing tension. "As the organic industry matures, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find a balance between the integrity of the word 'organic' and the desire for the industry to grow."

Lung ailment caused by fragment of fast food spoon

Yum! Gotta love the last sentence in the below CNN story.

-- "I know I didn't chow down on a spoon!" declared John Manley, who recently discovered that an eating utensil was the source of his two years of ill health, coughing, vomiting and pain.
The Wilmington, North Carolina, resident had surgery last week to remove part of a plastic spoon from his lung. And it wasn't just any old plastic spoon; it came from the fast-food chain Wendy's, with the restaurant logo clearly visible on the handle.
"It must have been in the food or drink," Manley told CNN affiliate WECT.
His doctor found the spoon after looking into his lungs with an endoscope, a medical instrument with a long, thin tube containing a light and a video camera.
"He explained that there was an object down there, and it had writing on it," Manley said. "It spelled out 'Wendy's' on one side and 'hamburgers' on the other, and I was a little floored."
So were his relatives, who, when they were telephoned with the news, were eating ... Wendy's.

And this is the good news(!)

And this is the good news(!)

The good news: The global child mortality rate of children five years old and younger has declined by more than a quarter in the last two decades — to 65 per 1,000 live births last year from 90 in 1990.

The bad news: Almost nine million children died before their fifth birthday last year in 2008.

Ok, so from a big picture (and of course, an ‘individual picture’ point of view), the data released by UNICEF last week is of course good news.

“That’s 10,000 less children dying per day,” said UNICEF's executive director, Anne M. Veneman.
And while the NY Times put this story on page three, page one might have been more appropriate, at least as a continuing wake-up call/reality check in the daily distraction of our lives.

As an awareness exercise, look at it this way. Using an average of 10 million children dying each year, (which is a very conservative number, as the mortality rate in 1990 was 12.5 million), this means if you’re now thirty years old, three hundred million children have died since the day you were born. If you’re 45, the number is almost a half billion.

So, while these new numbers appear to show progress, as there are over three-million children last year who are alive, and wouldn’t have survived had they been born in 1990, the overall mortality rate numbers remain both stunning and also mind numbing at the same time.

And for additional perspective amid the national politics of today…In the U.S. the mortality rate is 7.8 children per 1000 live births.
In Sweden, the rate is 4.0

Anyway we’ll end here, as the point of this posting is really to
just bring attention to the numbers. The details are worth
reading and can be found via the below links.

Debating How Much Weed Killer Is Safe in Your Water Glass

A recent (8/22/08) article in the New York Times reveals that atrazine, a popular and commercially used weed killer has become “among the most common contaminants in American reservoirs and other sources of drinking water. New research now suggests that atrazine may be dangerous at lower concentrations then previously thought. Recent studies suggest that, even at concentrations meeting current federal standards, the chemical may be associated with birth defects, low birth weights and menstrual problems. And laboratory experiments suggest that when animals are exposed to brief doses of atrazine before birth, they may become more vulnerable to cancer later.

Anyway, more thirst quenching info can be found in the
Times article. But the question soon becomes “How now brown cow”. Does this reinforce our perception about the importance of drinking bottled water? But before you swallow, did you know that, for example, Coca-Cola’s Dasani and Pepsi’s Aquifina are nothing more then bottled tap water? Albeit, additionally filtered and often “enhanced with minerals (whatever that means?) for a pure, fresh taste”, according to a document and marketing plan by Coca-Cola and posted on Common Dreams titled “Just Say No to H20 (Unless it’s Coke’s Own Brew) A rather interesting and aggressive marketing initiative to force their Dasani brand water down our throats when dining out.

We wrote here recently about Nicolas Kristof’s excellent column,
“Chemicals and Our Health”. About the ubiquitousness of “phtalates”...finding their way into our lives via plastic bottles, cosmetics,, some toys, hair conditioners and fragrances. Many scientists have linked them to everything from sexual deformities in babies to obesity and diabetes. And now we’ve got this uplifting story about the vast water contamination (ok, let’s call it poisoning) with atrazine.

What are our choices? In an 18-month study, an
Environmental Working Group investigation of bottled water labels and websites found that over almost 200 popular bottled water brands, less then 2 percent disclose the water’s source, how the water has been purified, and what chemical pollutants each bottle of water may contain. Just 2 of the 188 individual brands the EWG analyzed disclosed those three basic facts about their water. The two bottled waters who disclosed water sources and treatment methods on their labels were Ozarka Drinking Water and Penta Ultra-Purified Water. And just 18% of bottled waters disclose quality reports with contaminant testing results. Among them, all 8 Nestlé domestic brands surveyed: Poland Spring, Nestlé Pure Life, Arrowhead, Calistoga, Deer Park, Ice Mountain and Zephyrhills. None of the top 10 domestic bottled water brands label specific water sources and treatment methods for all their products.

So aside from brands like Poland Spring and Evian, whose water comes from protected natural springs, I suppose the question is “Would you like some atrazine with your phthalates?” That’s certainly a mouthful for any restaurant waiter to ask.

Does Recent Criticism of Sustainably Produced Food Mean We're Winning?

Does Recent Criticism of Sustainably Produced Food Mean We’re Winning

(Ok, not really a blog, but rather a reprint of an excellent essay originally published by Vanessa Barrington in EcoSalon on Tuesday 8/18/09
Article follows)

What do you get when you cross a grassroots movement with a food industry fearful of losing its influence? Bogus studies, campaigns of misinformation and opinion pieces filled with myth and vitriol.
You may have noticed an uptick this year in
news reporting that organic food isn’t really better for you, opinion pieces by conventional farmers saying that they are tired of being demonized by “agri-intellectuals”, and guilt-inducing ads by Monsanto in highbrow publications like the New Yorker touting the company’s ability to feed the world through technology.
Though all of this could be disturbing to those of us committed to
sustainable agriculture and food that is fair to eaters, animals, workers and farmers, I’m choosing to see this as a good sign. I think it means we might be winning.
The turning point was when First Lady Michelle Obama planted an
organic garden on the White House lawn only to receive a letter from The American CropLife Association telling her that they hoped she recognized the value of conventional agriculture in American life. The letter can be read here. Then, there were false allegations that the garden was contaminated with lead. In the face of all this, the first lady stuck with her commitment to keeping the garden organic.
Why is this happening now? For many years, organic food was a marginal market and the big players were content to let it either exist on the sidelines or hedge their bets and
buy into it themselves.
But due to the excellent work by many writers and activists like
Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Marion Nestle, Robert Kenner and others too numerous to mention, more of us are starting to pay attention to where our food comes from and how it is produced. This market is now a force for change. And individuals and companies that benefit from the status quo don’t want change.
Let’s take a closer look at the people and ideology behind some of the more recent high profile examples of the attacks against sustainable food.
The aforementioned
study by London’s School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine on the nutrient values of organic foods looked at various studies on the subject and compiled them to reach its conclusions. No new study was conducted. The meta review ignored some recent studies on nutrients, including one focused on antioxidants.
Not only that, the conductors of the survey only looked a narrow set of very specific nutrients. They did not consider factors of taste, environmental impact, or pesticide residues in the food – all factors that most consumers I know consider when buying organic foods.
Beyond the obvious limitations of the subject matter, it’s instructive to take a closer look at how the study was covered in the media, who conducted the study and who funded it.
So let’s pull back the curtain, shall we?
Media Coverage: Though the study looked at only 8 different nutrients and concluded there was no evidence of a difference in nutrient quality between organically- and conventionally-produced foodstuffs, it went on to say that there were other reasons to buy organic food. Headline writers like tension so all the headlines were some variation on “organic foods not really better for you” or worse yet, “the organic foods hoax”.
What is the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine? The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine is a respected college within the University of London, so all would seem to be on the up and up. But, this is the same school that published a hateful and not at all scientifically-rigorous study blaming fat people for global warming. I’d love to get into the problems with this study but that’s another post.
Who Funded the Study? The study was commissioned by the UK’s Food Standards Agency. The agency is an independent part of government set up by Parliament in response to food contamination issues and the resulting lack of consumer confidence.
The FSA is supposed to serve consumers, and it does in many cases, but like our very own
USDA and FDA, the agency can be influenced by the food industry. Their slogan says it all: “safer food, better business”. And a quick look at the profiles of FSA staffers reveals more than a few food industry folk.
And then there’s Missouri farmer, Blake Hurst, in his
article for The American Enterprise Institute. He attacks Pollan and other “agri-intellectuals” and city folk in general for making all kinds of assumptions about farmers and for presuming that they know the “messy, dirty” business of farming much better than farmers.
Throughout the piece Hurst erodes his credibility by making his own unfounded assumptions about his opponents, including the guy on the plane behind him, with whom he opens the story. He also says that he won’t change until the consumer forces his hand,
ignoring the real lack of consumer power inherent in a food system that uses taxpayer dollars to subsidize the production of commodity crops that are then used to produce the unhealthy foods that fill the shelves of our grocery stores.
Foods (or food products) whose sheer volume and variety of brightly-colored packaging, flavors, colors and sizes are supposed to convince us of the abundance of our choices as consumers, when in fact
all we’re really buying is agricultural surplus dressed up with chemicals, technology and marketing.
Then he brilliantly skewers his own argument by using a false urban (or rural?)
legend about a flock of turkeys so stupid they drowned themselves in a rainstorm to make his point that conventional farmers who pack the sentient beings we raise for food into crowded, filthy sheds are really protecting the animals from their own stupidity.
Oh, and by the way, what is this
American Enterprise Institute that published Hurst’s article?
I’m glad you asked. The AEI is a neoconservative think tank devoted to free enterprise capitalism. According to
Sourcewatch, AEI has funded studies that debunk climate change research, refutes studies showing the social costs of tobacco use, and has even worked to promote the Iraq war. The AEI staff listing includes Lynne Cheney, Newt Gingrich and Richard Perle.
As for Monsanto’s advertisements attempting to influence the very people who are most likely to read writers like Michael Pollan and publications like EcoSalon, don’t be fooled. We’ve done enough work
here, here, and here that gets to the truth about Monsanto. And here’s an excellent piece from Grist detailing exactly why those specific ads are so bogus.
According to a
recent survey, consumers are confused about and skeptical of green marketing claims, and misinformed about terms like natural and organic. That’s exactly how some would like it to be.
But there’s another side to this story: The status-quoers will eventually have to acknowledge that the system as it stands now will not serve anyone’s needs much longer, even theirs. As global warming accelerates and fuel costs rise, we need to figure out how to produce food differently. Maybe consumer power won’t ever be enough to force farmers like Blake Hurst to start to look at farming differently but the limiting characteristics of our unsustainable system will.
Until then, I won’t allow myself to be swayed by the propaganda of the resisters; I’ll put my money where the facts are – with the visionary, hopeful, innovative farmers who are doing things differently. Because, even though small-scale organic farming may not be the only answer, it can be part of a whole systemic change toward feeding ourselves without ruining the planet. And it tastes a lot better!

Tibetans and NYC Taxis

Tibetans and NYC Taxis
I had a pleasant and unexpected late night experience last week
while catching a cab across Central Park in NYC.
I first noticed the driver was not on a cell phone.
And that he was most attentive to his driving.

Taxi ID cards are sometimes (and purposely) blurred out here, but
I saw his ID card was crystal clear and his name was Tenzin.  I asked where his parents had lived in Tibet, if he had been born there (not) and we spoke in depth about the Tibetan community in NY.  There are approximately 9000 Tibetan refugees living in the US, and about 3500 reside in NY.
I remarked that I'd never before had a Tibetan
cab driver, but he said that while the number used to be quite small, there are now probably several hundred Tibetans who drive NYC licensed/yellow cabs.

Being a young man, I asked where his parents were born (between Lhasa and Ganden), and where
he entered the Dharmasala or possibly Southern India, i.e. Sera Mey.

After  we arrived crosstown, he turned off the taxi meter and we spoke for a bit,

mostly relating to Tibetans in NY.  (No, I was not going to attempt a conversation
about the Blade Wheel of Mind Transformation)

But it always impacts me strongly that I have spent time in their country, where they are forbidden to travel or make a family visit.

To where I have witnessed sky burials, and In a way,it makes me feel like a ghostly thief, to have traveled somewhat freely there (albeit always under the severe eyes of the security services), and to have also received a private blessing from the venerated hat of Tsong Khapa at Ganden, courtesy of two monks who must remain nameless.
To paraphrase and quote the author Paul Theroux, it makes me feel like an interloper.

“The traveler is often the greediest kind of romantic voyeur, and in some well-hidden part of the traveler’s personality is an unpick-able knot of vanity, presumption, and mythomania bordering on the pathological. This is why a traveler’s worst nightmare is not the secret police or the witch doctors or malaria, but the prospect of meeting another traveler.”

As Theroux recently wrote, the  autobiography he once envisioned writing — volume one, "Who I Was;" volume two, "I Told You So" — writing about travel has become a way of making sense of his life, the nearest  to a possible autobiography — as the novel is, the short story, and the essay. As Pedro Almodóvar once remarked, “Anything that is not autobiography is plagiarism.”
“The thing to avoid while in previously travelled footsteps would be the tedious reminiscences of better days, the twittering of the nostalgia bore, whose message is usually I was there and you weren’t. “I remember when you could get four of those for a dollar.” “There was a big tree in a field where that building is now.” “In my day . . .” Oh, shut up!"

 Gyalwa Rinpoche, Bka' drin che

Om Mani Padme Hum

Leur Existence-Tree Project

The trees that still live from the time of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima are called, Hibaku trees (A-bombed trees).

In the winter of 2008, from a tree of Dr. Riki Horiguchi in Hiroshima, Shanna Fliegel received seeds of Round Leaf Holly, Persimmon, Chinaberry, Firmiana simplex, Japanese Hackberry, Jujube trees that are the second or third generation of Hibaku Trees.

She has been giving these seeds to those who are interested in planting them both in the US and the world. By sharing these seeds, she would like to share the pleasure of growing plants, especially the plants from Hibaku seeds.

What a truly wonderful, life affirming idea...symbolically,
metaphorically, and of course as a real world project!

In December 2009, these grown seedlings will be exhibited at The Horticultural Society of New York.

Shanna’s blog and further info can be found at

Yogis, the Dalai Lama, Paul McCartney and Vegetarianism

Earlier this year, Paul McCartney "lashed out" at the Dalai Lama for not being a vegetarian.

McCartney lashes out at 'meat-eatingDalai Lama

When HH wrote him back, explaining that his doctors strongly requested that he incorporate meat 
into his diet for serious health reasons,
McCartney wrote back that "his doctors were wrong".   Jeez!

BTW, Tibet has always been a meat eating culture.  On this high altitude plateau, cultivation of crops

(aside from grains) is nearly impossible, and the Yak has always played a similar role to Tibetans
as the Buffalo did to Native Americans  (food, clothing, skins for tents & shelter, and Yak dung as 
a primary fuel source for cooking and heating). This has always been a conscious and thought-through
practice.for Tibetan Buddhists.  I recall that while in Tibet, I asked if Tibetans also ate rabbit and other

similar animals.  The answer was "absolutely not".  The reasoning being that taking the life of a
small creature can only feed one person, where a yak can feed (and clothe) a family for quite
a while.   A Nepalese Sherpa also confided in me that while it's against their beliefs, they
will also eat long as a non-Buddhist pushed the animal over a cliff.

Which brings us to a somewhat controversial and well written essay posted yesterday by

Sadie Nardini, co-owner of a NYC based yoga studio.
"Om Scampi: A Top Yogi Comes Out of the Meat-Eating Closet"

Her essay is certain to ruffle a number of feathers (sorry, inexcusable pun),
though some yoga folks I've spoken to in the past day seem to concur with
her overall thoughts on this subject.

Our Birthday...and bottled water

As we approach our twelfth anniversary on the web,
we've given ourselves a bit of a facelift in terms of
design and navigation.  We hope you like our new and
improved interface.  In the weeks ahead, we also look forward
to expanding both our links and categories.

In the meantime, something that caught our eye the other day,

Nicolas Kristof's op-ed piece in the NY Times about "phthalates".

...."These are ubiquitous in modern life, found in plastic bottles, cosmetics, some toys, hair conditioners, and fragrances — and many scientists have linked them to everything from sexual deformities in babies to obesity and diabetes."

So for those of us burning through bottled water on a daily basis, we may doing ourselves a lot more harm than good.  Not only in terms of creating massive landfill problems with
all these plastic containers, but also by increasing our exposure to dangerous chemical compounds in the process.

The NY Times op-ed page is one of the most influential 'daily reads' in the country,

and we were glad to see this issue, and Mr. Kristof's excellent summary in such
a bold and visible location.

His entire column can be found at:

Chemicals and Our Health