Running Out Of Water? Time To Go Vegan

That’s the theme of the Guardian’s Global Development series last week, with the headline “Food shortages could force world into vegetarianism, warn scientists.” Stockholm International Water Institute warned that there simply won’t be enough water to produce the meat we need, at the current rate of eating, by 2050:

Humans derive about 20% of their protein from animal-based products now, but this may need to drop to just 5% to feed the extra 2 billion people expected to be alive by 2050, according to research by some of the world’s leading water scientists.

[…]

Adopting a vegetarian diet is one option to increase the amount of water available to grow more food in an increasingly climate-erratic world, the scientists said. Animal protein-rich food consumes five to 10 times more water than a vegetarian diet. One third of the world’s arable land is used to grow crops to feed animals. Other options to feed people include eliminating waste and increasing trade between countries in food surplus and those in deficit.

“Nine hundred million people already go hungry and 2 billion people are malnourished in spite of the fact that per capita food production continues to increase,” they said. “With 70% of all available water being in agriculture, growing more food to feed an additional 2 billion people by 2050 will place greater pressure on available water and land.”

The Guardian’s Lagusta Yearwood followed up this piece with a great addition of her own, “Forget meat – there’s a world of vegetarian food out there,” where she writes:

 Particularly, we can look to what poor women from every corner of the globe have invented. Why? Because they have always created the tastiest dishes – so many of today’s classic, beloved dishes originated from women who had to put food on the table for their families, no matter what. When kings and queens were busy dying from gout because of their overly rich diets, housewives in Sicily were making luscious caponata from aubergines and celery in a sweet and sour marinade; women in Oaxaca were wrapping corn dough around roasted chilies, seeds, and vegetables to make tamales filled with mole sauces; cooks in Egypt were frying onions in precious olive oil and topping their lentils and rice with them to make koshari; women in Africa were pounding peanuts to make rich stews laced with fresh greens and spices. Vegetarian dishes are everywhere, if we look.

While Yearwood dismisses meat analogues as “expensive” and poor-tasting (which I both agree and disagree with, respectively), her point of not making meat the centerpiece is spot on. We pretty much have to do that, or we won’t be able to feed our booming earth’s population. Of course, we could stop having so many kids too…

Then there was the rebuttal of “Turning vegetarian will not solve the food crisis” by Priyamvada Gopal, who argues that, yes, factory farms are awful and we’re destroying the planet, but

Wealth concentration generates disparate purchasing power that allows richer nations as well as the better-off in every nation to consume – and waste – a disproportionate share of food, fuel, water and other resources. Arable land itself is put towards profit through speculation, mining, and logging, rather than feeding people. The predictable argument that overpopulation is the main problem remains a red herring. When one person can consume or waste between two and five people’s share at a time when per-capita food production has increased, inequity, not human numbers, and the richer, not the poorer, are still the problem.

Gopal argues against the overzealous vegan, pushing their tofu and expensive organic vegetables across the table, but can one get past the ethical implications? Not really. Meat is still murder for large portions of the world where it is simply unncessary, and now, as we see, wasteful and in dwindling supply. Does those buffalo getting slaughtered by the Indians as Gopal references, recognize their contribution to world hunger and lay down with a smile to get slaughtered? No – they simply do not.

Still, there are many issues at work. The goal, in my opinion, is to feed the world, while harming as little as possible. Respect for all life, not just humans, while taking care of the earth, and keeping us healthy. Are these lofty? Absolutely. But, we don’t really have a choice. As Paul Watson says, “if the oceans die, we die.”

Photo: niOS

“Playing Food” Hides CAFOs in Kids’ Toys!

Child and "Playing Farm"

Check out this genius marketing/product/activism “toy” from Dutch designer Tomm Velthuis:

Playing Food is the name of a project that aims to foster a better understanding of where the food on our plates comes from. While many parents traditionally teach their children not to play with their food, here children are invited to play with the food they are supposed to eat, and the objective is highly ideological.

The wooden set comes complete with 200 pigs, the enormous amounts of food required to fatten them up, the trees that must be cleared for feed crops, and the acid rain caused by the pigs’ manure. It is factory farming packaged as an ‘innocent’ childhood toy. The message is unmistakable.

Incredible! Reminds me of my Ertl Farm Set as a child, only a little more realistic. More incredible pictures here, and check out the (Dutch) manual!

Thanks to FastCo for the heads up on this, and Design Museum Holon for the pictures.

Dive! The Film: Powerful Message But Misses The Mark

Dive! poster. Ironically, he has tofu in his hands.

Just finished watching Dive! The Film at the suggestion of a friend who shares my love for “dumpstering” waste, be it food, electronics, hardware, or milk crates. While the film was entertaining (mostly due to main character’s children), I felt it missed the mark on two levels: one, that eating meat and dairy, whether hormone-free, out of a dumpster, or from your local farmer, is somehow effective in the food movement, and two: that eating dumpstered meat and dairy is a good idea at all. Since this is a pro-animal rights blog those viewpoints aren’t exactly revolutionary here, so allow me to explain:

Jeremy Seifert’s documentary follows him and some cohorts around Los Angeles, blasting Trader Joe’s and other groceries for wasting tons of food, while highlighting the necessity of fixing our logistical waste nightmare so we don’t have 11 million people who go hungry each day in this country. This is an admirable task, and I agree with it. TJ’s and their ilk should be held accountable, in fact, all groceries, and people should: waste less, people! Seifert’s tie-in with sustainability from the WWII era was great, and I, like him, are stoked to see a resurgence of this.

But when facts are displayed on the screen about how much grain and water it takes to produce a pound of beef, what is the viewer supposed to think? That we should only eat dumpstered meat? Or buy it from a local farmer? There’s no good solution here: eating local meat is often worse for the environment due to the huge about of carbon emissions grass-fed cows produce. Eating dumpstered meat is just bad for you, and I felt the movie lacking that Seifert didn’t address this once. Surely, a conscious consumer in LA has been exposed to the arguments of veganism. Meat and dairy intake are linked to increased risk of all major diseases, and improperly cooked chicken is a huge risk, especially for children. I’m not arguing that dumpstered food is somehow “unclean” – I’d eat it myself, just not stuff that comes from another animal.

How can we argue for a less wasteful society, one that prizes sustainability and conscious consumerism, but allow rampant meat and dairy eating, whether it comes from the farm, grocery, or dumpster? Meat just doesn’t make sense to feed the world, it’s simply inefficient. Cow’s milk and its by-products, being the result of gluttonous humans (milk after infancy? why?), isn’t a health food either – Harvard realized this just a few months ago. And producing dairy takes the same cruel, wasteful approach as meat; fatten up cows, impregnate them, and steal their milk for human use. Let the cows live in peace and use that extra grain and water for starving humans!

So while I deeply appreciate Seifert’s look into the world of dumpstering, and I agree on all counts regarding waste reduction, to simply offer the option of eating nearly unlimited quantities of chicken, beef, yogurt, or whatever foodstuffs he finds in the dumpster – merely because they are trash/wasted – is short-sighted. We have to choose food wisely, regardless of the source. “Freegan” is a lame term – nothing is truly free, and eating animal products comes at a price. A vegan lifestyle, and a diet centered around plants, is the optimal one for health, sustainability for our earth, and for alleviating the suffering of billions of animals.

Asheville: Day 1

Note: this entry hopefully marks a slight detour in the purpose, or theme, of the blog. Still vegan, still passionate, but I want to write a little bit more about my life, and some of the things I do. This isn’t for some zealous, narcissistic reason, but that I think adding a personal touch to a blog inundated by heavy politics and animal rights issues might be a breath of fresh air. You’ll see more of this theme in the coming weeks, so leave your thoughts, whether positive or negative, in the comments!

After a lengthy seven hour drive, during which I met 1) a man who asked if I was devil-worshiper, and 2) a man who was a fan of Dan Barker, my partner and I arrived in godless Asheville, North Carolina. Note that both encounters were prompted by my Remembering Never “No God, Know Peace” shirt, so the juxtaposition of religious KY vs. secular NC (at least, Asheville) was humorous, if not sad.

Asheville sits between the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the larger Appalachian Mountain range. Within the Blue Ridge Mountains are the Great Smoky Mountains, and Shenandoah National Forest, as well as Pisgah National Forest, one of the closest to Asheville. As far as beauty goes, you can’t do much better than the scenery here: the mountains rise up high in the distance with beautiful trees covering the landscape year round. Asheville’s history, like many US cities, is dotted with European conquest and bloodshed. The Native American tribe of the Cherokee were the previous residents of the land up until the late 1500s, and only recently has the area bestowed any recognition to the once prior stewards of the land. Asheville’s growth started in the late 1800s due to railroads, George Vanderbilt II and his Biltmore Estate (the largest private residence in the US, to this day), and a bounce back after the depression.

Today Asheville has a reputation for eclectic people, vegan food, and from what I can tell, a healthy dose of anarchy. Within minutes of parking, I saw a CrimethInc sticker on a parking meter, a “Vote Here” sticker on a trash can, and we hadn’t even walked into Firestorm Cafe yet! As you can guess by the name, Firestorm has a liberal, leftist agenda, much like Earth Crisis. Worked owned and operated, they sell exclusively vegan food, coffee drinks, and delicious desserts like chocolate cupcakes and “gingerqueer” brownies. The mood is chill, with everyone from vegans to crust punks to hippies wandering in and out, looking at the anarchist lit, using the wifi, and enjoying life. Surreal, and awesome, all in one.

After wandering the city’s “hip” district, running into a Really Really Free Market (yes!) and buying a “pop-out Boston Terrier,” we hit up Climb Max, Asheville’s sole indoor climbing gym. A little background on my climbing interest: I learned how to rock climb (i.e. belay and tie the right knots) a couple years back at Iron Works in Berekely, CA. That spoiled me, as the routes are clean, well-marked, rated properly, and the gym is super rad. By comparison, almost any other gym is going to be inferior…but still! Mark your shit, people. If tape is falling off the walls, fix it. Keep things clean, rate the routes, and make everything visible. These, to me, are the basics of a having a rad climbing gym.

It was fun to climb at Climb Max, but it’s mostly bouldering, with a spare crash pads and tape going every which-way. What is neat is that the main top rope set up is outside, literally, so passersby can see the action. There were four routes outside, decently marked, but with the dim evening light most were almost impossible to see. In conclusion: I love rock climbing, and I love local businesses, but that doesn’t excuse poor business practices (this is evidenced by Firestorm who are decidedly anti-capitalist, yet highly “professional!”)

Dinner was at Rosetta’s Kitchen, an all-vegetarian diner open late near the river in Asheville. Walking in you see lots of tattoos, “buy local” insignia, and a full wall of literature on everything from reclaiming your sexuality to quitting your job. It’s this kind of stuff that really makes me like the city – this hyper-leftist, anarcho-vegan attitude that seems to be just around the next corner. Food-wise Rosetta’s was the shit; we had a grilled portobello sandwich, “tempalo wings” made with local tempeh, and vegan chocolate cheesecake. They had some all-natural root beer that really was all-natural! Sugar, a bunch of spices, and carbonated water. So good.

Rosetta’s is also awesome for the following reasons: 1) they have a “sliding scale” dish consisting of beans, rice, and veggies that you can buy for $2-$6 – the idea is to not have to turn anyone away who is hungry 2) they have their own line of vegetarian/vegan burgers and other frozen goods sold in local health food stores (Earth Fare, for instance, which is amazing) 3) they’re open until 3am on the weekends and 4) both online and in-store, they offer “community connections” – a way for people to find out about new, progressive events in Asheville, which they actively support.

So far, Asheville is rad, but more vegan food, exploration, and forest trails await!

Photo credit (top): Joshua Cole

Coffee Gets A Boost!

Coffee + beans

I love coffee. And while I was never under the delusion that it was massively bad for me, I was always skeptical of the health benefits of “morning mud” as well. New research (done without animal testing) confirms the latter, however: coffee may extend your life! CNN reports:

Overall, coffee drinkers were less likely than their peers to die during the study, and the more coffee they drank, the lower their mortality risk tended to be. Compared with people who drank no coffee at all, men and women who drank six or more cups per day were 10% and 15% less likely, respectively, to die during the study.

This pattern held when the researchers broke out the data by specific causes of death, including heart disease, lung disease, pneumonia,stroke, diabetes, infections, and even injuries and accidents. Cancer was the only major cause of death not associated with coffee consumption.

Six cups or more seems like an awful lot of coffee…but even one or two (a “modest” consumption) was associated with a 5-6% reduction in risk of chronic disease. Decaf versus caffeinated did not make a difference (yay!), but researchers are still unclear as to what the mechanisms in coffee are that provide a health benefit. A recent study at the University of Portugal summarized this position:

[S]everal biological activities, such as antioxidant, antimicrobial, anticariogenic, anti-inflammatory, antihypertensive, and antiglycative activities, have been attributed to coffee melanoidins.To understand the potential of coffee melanoidin health benefits, it is essential to know their chemical structures. The studies undertaken to date dealing with the structural characterization of coffee melanoidins have shown that polysaccharides, proteins, and chlorogenic acids are involved in coffee melanoidin formation. However, exact structures of coffee melanoidins and mechanisms involved in their formation are far to be elucidated.

I’m excited by this “coffee science” as one might say – in Malaysia last year they determined that roasting coffee beans at different temperatures (and quantities) could affect antioxidant activity and other beneficial compounds, such as chlorogenic acid (which supposedly slows glucose in the blood stream). Pretty cool!

As with most products, there’s a better, and worse way to buy: coffee is no exception. Buying certified fair trade coffee ensures that the farmers who grew those beans (most likely in Asia, or South America) were payed a fair price, and are able to grow and sell in a secure environment instead of dealing with shrewd “middlemen.” See “Buy Fair Trade: It Just Makes Sense” for more info. Organic coffee is also a plus, leaving the land in good condition after the beans are grown. Global Exchange has an extensive FAQ on the difference between fair-trade, organic, “shade grown,” and other ethical terminologies.

Photo: Amanda via flickr.

Note: There’s a petition going on right now for Starbucks to start serving certified Fair Trade coffee in their US stores Sign it here.