Friday, April 20, 2007

Green Kitchen Tip #13

Reducing Water Waste

I don't know about you, but when I need hot water in my kitchen, it has to travel from our basement waterheater across the width of a small room and then up through the floor boards. During its journey heat is disipated into the pipe and therefore a lot of water is wasted while I wait for hot water. This can be a significant source of wasted water.

In drier months, especially in drought years, I try to conserve every drop of water. This is the time of year that my plants begin to demand regular waterings, so I need to re-learn my seasonal habit of collecting otherwise wasted water. I bought a watering can specifically for indoor water collection, both at the kitchen sink and in the bathtub, so while I'm waiting for hot water, I have something productive to keep me occupied.

Once in the watering can, I usually let the water sit for at least half a day. This allows most of the chlorine to disipate before I use it on my plants. It also allows the water to come to room temperature, which is ideal for plant roots.


Factory Bee Farming

Nature and mass production don’t mix. You can see many examples of this in the natural world – when deer populations explode, predator populations are quick to follow, thereby decimating deer populations. Or when plants or animals are crowded together, deadly diseases thrive. Now, as explained below, honeybee populations appear to be threatened due to large-scale management practices. The recent phenomenon of “colony collapse disorder” has seen the untimely loss of 30-70% of the honeybee population.

In the last two decades beekeeping has become increasingly commercialized and consolidated: beekeepers are trucking trailer-loads of bees from state to state in search of pollination contracts. Also, the bees have been bred in recent decades to pollinate rather than to make honey. In other words, the beekeepers are responding to the demands of the market [there is more demand for pollination services than for honey].

In February 2007, beekeepers and researchers convened in Florida to try to identify possible causes of this mysterious colony collapse disorder. They came up with the following possible reasons:

  1. Stress: "Bees are being raised to survive a shorter off-season, to be ready to pollinate once the almond bloom begins in February. That has most likely lowered their immunity to viruses."
  2. Insecticides: "Mites have also damaged bee colonies, and the insecticides used to try to kill mites are harming the ability of queen bees to spawn as many worker bees. The queens are living half as long as they did just a few years ago."
  3. Pesticides: "A group of pesticides that were banned in some European countries [may be] affecting bees' innate ability to find their way back home."

This is not the first time that mysterious diseases are hitting honeybees but this is the first national honeybee epidemic. The previous diseases were local. Probably, the forced migration of bees in trucks turned this crisis into a national one. The diagnosis of colony collapse disorder is not yet final but all fingers are pointing in one direction: at the beekeepers' efforts to take full advantage of the opportunities that markets are presenting them. (Field Guide to the U.S. Economy)

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Green Kitchen Tip #12

Take-out Containers

We all have days when we don’t have the time or the energy to cook for ourselves. Take-out becomes a tempting option, even if it isn’t the healthiest choice. And while we may decide it is ok to put our healthy diets aside for a day, we may not wish to put our environmental concerns on the backburner.

Next time you opt for take-out, you might consider bringing your own clean, re-usable containers to be filled. I’ve brought my own reusable mug to espresso stands for years, and I’ve never had a problem, but the thought of bringing Tupperware to a restaurant seems entirely foreign to me and I’m a little concerned at what sort of reception I may get. But after reading this article, I feel re-assured that the idea is a mutually acceptable and beneficial one, even if it takes some getting used to.

Even better if you ditch the plastic (in an environmentally responsible manner) and buy a stainless steel contraption instead. For those of you who like to Christmas shop early, this would make a nice gift for those like-minded people in your life.

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Now I've Learned my ACBs

A. Irradiated food has not been proven safe

Speaking about 2-ACBs, the toxic molecules formed during irradiation of foods, Peter Jenkins, policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety proclaimed, "If any other food additive had as much science about health risks stacked up against it, the claim that it is safe would be laughed at" (source 1). 2-ACBs have been shown to cause “many and varied health problems in animals fed irradiated foods, including premature death, mutations and other genetic abnormalities, foetal death and other reproductive problems, immune system disorders, organ damage, stunted growth and nutritional deficiencies” (source 1). 2-ACBs are man-made chemicals – they have never been found in nature.

2-ACBs have been found in numerous [irradiated] foods that contain fat, including beef, chicken, pork, eggs, cheese, fresh- and salt-water fish, salmon, shrimp, mangoes and papayas. The types of fat from which 2-ACBs derive -- such as oleic, palmitic and stearic acids -- are contained in nearly all foods [emphasis added].

In one study, researchers found 2-ACBs in chicken that was irradiated 13 years earlier [emphasis added]. 2-ACBs are so easily detected and can be formed at such low radiation doses that they are often used as chemical "markers" to determine whether food has been irradiated. The European Union, for example, has officially adopted this technique to determine whether fat-containing foods have been irradiated (source 2).

Also, scientists discovered that they could not adequately account for most of a dose of 2-ACBs fed to rats. While very small amounts of 2-ACBs were detected in the fat of rats, most of the chemicals could not be recovered, implying that they are either stored in other parts of the body or transformed into other compounds (source 1).
C. It takes generations to prove safety

An increase in concentration of a mutagen in food by irradiation will increase the incidence of cancer . . . It will take four to six decades to demonstrate a statistically significant increase in cancer due to mutagens introduced into food by irradiation . . . When food irradiation is finally prohibited, several decades worth of people with increased cancer incidence will be in the pipeline (source 2).
or even worse, these cause-effect findings might be obscured by “background noise” because:

If food irradiation is adopted prematurely, research on its health effects will be hampered. Widespread use of the technology will make it impossible to detect any but the most obvious of adverse effects, because it will be impossible to define a control population for purposes of study [emphasis added]. (Quote from Donald B. Louria -- chairman of the preventative medicine department at the New Jersey Medical School in Newark, New Jersey. Quotation from June 1990, Vol. 46 No. 5, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists).

B. US Legislation is Lax

The EU only allows irradiation of “dried aromatic herbs, spices and vegetable seasonings,” while the US allows irradiation of meat, eggs, wheat, and fruits and vegetables, in addition to herbs, spices, and seasonings. Now the FDA plans to loosen labeling requirements so that irradiated food can be labeled as “pasteurized”.

How to Avoid Irradiated Foods:

BUY ORGANIC. Especially meat products and eggs, but also fruits and vegetables, wheat, and spices. Concerned about the fidelity of the organic label? Buy local whenever possible.

PREPARE YOUR OWN FOODS. Pre-packaged and prepared foods are exempt from labeling if only some of the ingredients are irradiated. For similar reasons, avoid eating in restaurants and cafeterias.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

"Pasteurized" Will Mean "Irradiated"

Orwell said, “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

What comes to mind? I think of white-washing, spin, and euphemisms; if you want to paint a pretty picture of something that is perhaps not so pleasant, don’t you pick your choice of words carefully? For example, instead of calling jumping out of an airplane (before we open the parachute) “free-falling” we coin it “sky-diving.” We say “Operation Enduring Freedom” instead of . . . .

In George Orwell's 1984, newspeak is a political language designed to narrow the range of thinking among the citizenry to the point that they lack the terms to think for themselves. "Freedom" is defined as slavery and "slavery" as freedom. That should convince everyone to be happy slaves. It is not surprising that those who direct wars would want to narrow the thought of the nation behind them to thoughts of acceptance and support. (source)

And what about the assault on our food system? It appears the FDA is getting in on the linguistical disinformation act, as they are proposing to allow irradiated foods to be labeled as “cold pasteurized,” “electronic pasteurized,” or other yet-to-be-determined terms rather than “irradiated.” So even while the FDA is proclaiming food irradiation to be safe, they are attempting to downplay, in the marketplace, how our food has been “sanitized.”

Consumer confusion over labeling changes has been considered, in a calculated manner. In the words of the FDA’s Assistant Commissioner for Policy, Jeffrey Shuren:

In the short run, there may be increased consumption of irradiated food if those consumers who do not want irradiated food do not equate the alternative term with irradiation.

In other words, there won't be any public information campaigns over the label changes. I have posted several times about the health concerns of irradiated foods and I am adamant that consumers be educated and informed.

Simultaneously the FDA proposes to drop the requirement to label some foods as irradiated. Here is the proposal in its entirety:

only those irradiated foods in which the irradiation causes a material change in the food, or a material change in the consequences that may result from the use of the food, bear the radura logo and the term "irradiated," or a derivative thereof, in conjunction with explicit language describing the change in the food or its conditions of use.

Conditions of use? Now you are going to tell me how to prepare my own food too?

But don’t despair, because here is a nugget of sage advice embedded in all of this:

firms will only start using irradiation if they believe doing so will increase profits.

So there you go – vote with your money. Buy organic! To qualify as organic, a food cannot be irradiated.

The FDA will allow public comment for 90 days (ends July 3, 2007). To read the proposal, search their site for FDA-2007-0189-0001. Your result will be a page from which you can open the 16 page PDF. Here are the FDA’s instructions for commenting:

You may submit comments, identified by Docket No. 2005N-0272 by any of the following methods: Electronic Submissions Submit electronic comments in the following ways:• Federal eRulemaking Portal: Follow the instructions for submitting comments.• Agency Web site: Follow the instructions for submitting comments on the agency Web site. Written Submissions Submit written submissions in the following ways:• FAX: 301-827-6870.• Mail/Hand delivery/Courier [For paper, disk, or CD-ROM submissions]: Division of Dockets Management (HFA-305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, rm. 1061, Rockville, MD 20852. To ensure more timely processing of comments, FDA is no longer accepting comments submitted to the agency by e-mail. FDA encourages you to continue to submit electronic comments by using the Federal eRulemaking Portal or the agency Web site, as described in the Electronic Submissions portion of this paragraph. Instructions: All submissions received must include the agency name and Docket No. 2005N-0272 or Regulatory Information Number (RIN) for this rulemaking. All comments received will be posted without change to, including any personal information provided. For detailed instructions on submitting comments and additional information on the rulemaking process, see the Comments heading of the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section of this document. Docket: For access to the docket to read background documents or comments received, go to insert the docket number, found in brackets in the heading of this document, into the Search box and follow the prompts and/or go to the Division of Dockets Management, 5630 Fishers Lane, rm. 1061, Rockville, MD 20852. Information Collection Provisions: Submit written comments on the information collection provisions to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget (OMB).To ensure that comments on the information collection are received, OMB recommends that written comments be faxed to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, OMB, Attn: FDA Desk Officer, FAX: 202-395-6974.

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More on Mercury Woes

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know how I feel about methylmercury-polluted fish, but this article (that I have quoted below) fleshes out a few more details and considerations, for those of you who are interested. Until we reduce our consumption of goods that cause the release of mercury into the environment (here is a list – the auto industry is the largest source), we have merely managed to push our pollution to the far corners of the globe, as well as on to everyone's dinner plate.

The health risks posed by mercury contaminated fish is sufficient to warrant issuing a worldwide general warning to the public -- especially children and women of childbearing age -- to be careful about how much and which fish they eat. That is one of the key findings comprising "The Madison Declaration on Mercury Pollution" published today in a special issue of the international science journal Ambio. . . .

Methyl mercury levels in fish-eating birds and mammals in some parts of the world are reaching toxic levels, which may lead to population declines in these species and possibly in fish populations as well. . . .

Increased mercury emissions from developing countries over the last 30 years have offset decreased emissions from developed nations. . . .

New evidence indicates that methylmercury exposure may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, particularly in adult men. . . .

The concentration of methylmercury in fish in freshwater and coastal ecosystems can be expected to decline with reduced mercury inputs; however, the rate of decline is expected to vary among water bodies, depending on the characteristics of a particular ecosystem.

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