Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Licorice hailed as "Medicinal plant of the year"

Licorice plant, Glycyrrhiza glabra
Seems most people either love licorice or hate it. I can’t stand it. But I had no idea that licorice has medicinal properties until I came across a surprising news flash in my daily perusal of conservation articles.  Licorice has been named “Medicinal plant of the year 2012″ because of its importance to human health worldwide.   Who knew?   “Licorice is special because it can quickly sooth sore throats and coughs and was used centuries ago to treat coughing, hoarseness and asthma by Ancient Greek and Egyptian physicians,” said Dr. Johannes Mayer, a medicinal botanist at the University of Würzburg. The plant was selected by a panel from the University of Würzburg and two conservation groups: WWF and TRAFFIC.

It’s all in the root
Licorice has been used not only for respiratory ailments, but also as a mood-elevator and for its purported anti-inflammatory and antiviral effects, among other things.  So far, more than 400 different compounds have been isolated from the root, the only part of the plant used medicinally.

One of the most widely used compounds from licorice root is glycyrrhizin, which is 30 to 50 times as sweet as cane sugar. Today, the licorice extract used to make licorice candies is derived by boiling the root of the licorice plant then evaporating most of the water.  The extract can be purchased in syrup or solid form. Googling turns up numerous vendors of the stuff.

The licorice plant, Glycyrrhiza glabra, is a legume that’s native to several continents: Australia, the Americas, eastern Asia, and the Mediterranean area – quite a broad distribution.  At maturity, it’s a woody shrub about 3 ft tall.  The plant is not related to anise, star anise or fennel, which all have similar tastes.  I can’t stand them either!

Growing demand could threaten plant
Currently, licorice root is used to make medicinal teas, candy, herbal liqueurs, and “gan cao” (a traditional Chinese medicine).  Germany has seen a recent surge in the popularity of “natural medicines” and now imports about 500 tons of licorice root per year; 100 tons of that are used to brew medicinal teas. The growing demand for licorice in Europe and China has raised concerns about over-harvesting of the plant. In 2010, WWF and TRAFFIC created a “FairWild Standard,” an international standard to encourage socially-just and environmentally-sustainable harvesting of wild licorice and other plants.

Protecting plants and workers
Roland Melisch of TRAFFIC says that consumers can purchase FairWild certified products with confidence that the wild plants have been harvested sustainably and that profits will be distributed fairly to all in the chain of production, including the low-earning gatherers, who rely heavily on the gathering of wild plants to support their families.  At present, the FairWild website offers at least two herbal teas made from licorice root that meet the FairWild standard.  More will be forthcoming.  Sounds like a valuable new certification procedure, pertaining only to plants and animals harvested from wild populations.  Sorely needed.  I’m glad to see it, even for one of my least-favorite tastes.

A few of my previous posts about overharvesting:
Monkeys and parrots pouring from the jungle
Illegal trade in animals and animal parts: what you can do
Can a warmer planet feed us?
Trade a major threat to primate survival
Orangutans dwindle as Borneo, Sumatra converted to palm-oil plantations 

Keywords: licorice FairWild overharvesting fair trade sustainable harvest TRAFFIC WWF University of Wurzburg Johannes Meyer Chinese medicine medicinal tea sustainability socially just

Monday, November 21, 2011

Brain may sabotage effort to diet

When lean people have full stomachs, neural signals cause their brains to stop wanting food. The positive feelings associated with food are turned off. But a new study from Yale reports that the brains of obese people react to food differently.

Willpower and reasoning
In this study, 9 lean and 5 obese adult volunteers underwent brain scans while looking at pictures of foods such as ice cream, french fries, cauliflower, or a salad. All the volunteers arrived for the first scans with empty stomachs and relatively low blood sugar, and all of them reported wanting the food in the pictures, especially the high-calorie food. For all 14 hungry volunteers, the scans showed that the brain areas that control positive reinforcement and desire for food were active and turned on, but the parts of the brain associated with willpower and reasoning, such as the prefrontal cortex, were not active. No surprise there. When we're hungry, food is attractive and eating feels good. And we're reluctant to stop until the hunger is gone.

Unexpected findings
The interesting part of the study occurred when the volunteers arrived full and sated, with normal blood-sugar levels. It turns out, the brain scans of the obese volunteers were the same whether they were full or hungry. The part of the brain that controls desire for food and regards food as positive reinforcement were still active even when their stomachs were full. And the part of the brain that regulates willpower and reasoning was still inactive even when they were full.

In contrast, the brain scans of the lean volunteers with full stomachs showed a decrease in their desire for food, and higher activity in the part of the brain associated with reasoning and willpower.

Implications are huge
Yale endocrinologist Robert Sherman, coauthor of the new study, says the surprise was that the part of the brain that regulates willpower over eating was mostly turned off in obese people, regardless of hunger and blood-sugar levels. The implications of this study are enormous. Coauthor Sherman says the findings suggest that brain functions "may perpetuate obesity."

So what now?
What's the solution? Most weight-loss programs say keep the high-calorie foods out of the house. If we have to nibble, we should go after the fruits and vegetables. That's not so easy this time of year, with all the attention to holiday foods. We can't control what shows up on the platters at holiday gatherings. But it may be a little easier to control what we keep in our kitchens.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

8 Egregious Animal Abuses by the Meat Industry

This is the third post in a series about reasons to consider a vegan diet.

Top 5 Ways Livestock Wreck the Planet
Top 7 Health Reasons to Bypass Animal Products

While researching our books Veggie Revolution and Going Green, Sadie and I wrangled our way into several factory farms - our home state of N.C. is full of them. North Carolina has more hogs than people, and is a major poultry state too. Why? Because land is cheap, environmental laws are lax, and NC is the least unionized state. So the meat industry is free here to exploit immigrant and minority labor and pollute our rivers. Smithfield has the world's biggest hog "processing plant," in Tar Heel, NC, where 35,000 hogs per day are slaughtered. The Cape Fear River runs right by, to receive the effluent. Most states that produce a lot of animal products exclude farm animals from animal-cruelty laws. So anything that's common practice in animal farming is legal, regardless of how abusive or cruel it is. Hundreds of inhumane practices warrant comment in a post such as this. But I chose situations I witnessed while researching our books - those that had the biggest emotional impact on me.

A sow confined in a farrowing crate with her piglets. Photo: Sally Kneidel
1. Most breeding sows in the U.S. spend their lives in "gestation crates" so small they can't turn around.
The sows have no bedding, no straw, nothing to do but lie there - for 12 years. They breathe the foulest air you can imagine - after I walked through the buildings, everything I had reeked of fresh feces, including my camera. The rooms with rows of "farrowing crates" were the saddest sight, for me. Just before piglets are born, a sow is transferred from her gestation crate to a farrowing crate, where a metal bars (see photo) immobilize her and keep her teats always available to the piglets. The piglets are removed after 3 wks, then the sow is inseminated again and moved back to the gestation crate. Under pressure from animal activists, some pork producers have pledged to phase out gestation crates by 2017. But these narrow, bare crates are still the norm. Veterinarians consider pigs as smart as dogs, and without ample places to root and explore, pigs are bored to the point of insanity. Imagine keeping a dog for 12 years in a crate so small it couldn't turn around. The public wouldn't stand for it. So why do we allow it for pigs?

  5-week-old chickens in a Tyson broiler shed. Photo: Sally Kneidel
2. The Tyson broiler farm I visited had 24,000 chickens crammed into each shed.
As I entered a dimly-lit broiler shed, I felt claustrophobic - the air was so thick with feather and fecal dust that I had trouble breathing; the floor was spongy with 18 months' accumulation of feces. The chickens in the shed were crowded, but would get much more crowded after 2-3 more weeks' growth. Crowding maximizes profits by maximizing the number of birds in the expensive heated space, but also by keeping the birds immobile - inactive birds gain more weight. Tyson chickens are bred to be constantly hungry and to grow unnaturally fast, gaining 6 lbs in 7-8 weeks, most in the breast muscles (the most expensive cut). Some gain so fast their legs collapse and they starve, unable to reach the automated food and water dispensers. The farmer has to do a "walk-through" every day to pull out the dead birds. When the chickens have reached the target weight for slaughter at 7-8 weeks, a crew of Tyson "catchers" come in. Hidden cameras have shown the catchers literally throwing the live chickens into the crates (up to 5 birds per hand is allowed). For a description of the slaughter and processing of the chickens, read this excerpt from the book The Way We Eat by Peter Singer and Jim Mason.

3. Breeder chickens must be kept hungry all the time, or their own weight will kill them.
We visited a Tyson breeder farm, which produces fertile eggs and chicks to populate the broiler sheds. The breeder or parent chickens are allowed to live for 63 weeks (much longer than broilers) because they have to reach sexual maturity, unlike the broilers. The shed we visited contained 11,500 hens and 1,200 roosters. The breeders, being older, are bigger than broilers (9 lb hens, 12 lb roosters). They looked to me just as tightly packed in the shed as the broilers were, but the farmer said they're not, because the roosters have to be able to move around to reach all the hens. As the hens lay fertile eggs in their roosting boxes, the eggs roll out of the shed by automation, then are transferred elsewhere to hatch into chicks. Since the breeders (as parents) must have the same genes for hunger and weight gain as the broilers, the breeders could all grow to fatal proportions with their longer life spans. To prevent this, the breeders are fed minimal diets and are always hungry, said the farmer. These chickens have also been bred to lay eggs with abnormal frequency, and around 10% of the hens drop dead from "blowout" - the physiological stress of egg overproduction with a minimal diet.
Laying hens at Food Lion egg factory. Photo: Sally Kneidel
4. At the Food Lion egg factory I toured, five hens were stuffed into each 18" x 20" cage.
Cages were stacked floor to ceiling, housing 1.2 million hens at the site. These hens lay "table eggs" for human consumption. Each hen, with beak clipped to prevent fighting, spends 2 years in a cage until her body is spent. "When they're done," said the manager, "we can hardly give them away." Walking up and down the aisles, I saw the hens had bare red patches and stripped feathers from trying to dust bathe on a metal grate and trying to brood missing eggs - the eggs roll onto the conveyor belt as soon as they're laid. Many had feces on their heads and shoulders from the hens stacked above them. The hens have been engineered to lay 3 times the number of eggs as a normal rural hen. If the rate of production wanes, food is withheld for several days, which forces the hens to molt, and then egg production picks up. An occasional "forced molt" is recommended by the industry to maximize production. The sheds where hens were undergoing a forced molt were very quiet. This was the worst air of all the factory farms I visited - there was a dusting of "snow" (fecal and feather dust) on everything, including me. Under the cages was an 8' ft deep trench full of hen feces. It's emptied only when the hens are replaced, every 2 years. The buildings had outdoor fans, but none were operational.

5. "A dairy cow is a milk factory. There's not much quality of life in a dairy cow,"
said the dairyman. A family dairy cow used to produce milk for 10 to 12 years, maybe live as long as 20 years. Nowadays, in the industrial-sized dairies that can house 10,000 to 18,000 cows each, a cow is generally worn out after only 3 years - her body is pushed to its limits and just gives out. In one of these mega-dairies, a cow is impregnated roughly once a year to maximize her milk production. She may also be injected every other week with BST (bovine somatotropin) to increase milk production 10% more. The continual pregnancies and abnormal milk production place a huge strain on the cow's body. The concrete floor is hard on her feet and legs, and the weight of pregnancy makes it more so. When her milk production drops too low or she has chronic leg problems or fails to become pregnant, she's slaughtered for low-grade meat. In a typical confinement dairy, a third of the herd is culled every year. What happens to the calves that result from the continuous pregnancies? Many consumers have the impression that humans take the milk the calf doesn't want. But the calves are whisked away from mom only a few hours after birth. Female calves may be raised on formula to replace the milk cows culled from the herd. Male calves may be sold at auction, or tethered alone in wooden stalls for 16 weeks, fed low-iron diets to make their flesh pale, and then slaughtered to be sold as veal. How do cows feel about losing their calves just after birth, when their systems are flooded with mothering hormones? They look for the calf and often bellow continuously, sometimes for weeks. Said Dr. Temple Grandin, "That's one sad, unhappy, upset cow. She wants her's like grieving, mourning."

6. The unnatural corn diet fed to 90% of beef cattle makes them very sick.
Cows evolved to eat grass. But corn leads to faster weight gain, so at 6-7 months of age, 80-90% of beef cattle are transitioned to an abnormal diet of up to 85% corn. At the same time, they're trucked to large feedlots; one feedlot may have as many as 200,000 steers, grouped in pens of 900 or so. The cattle spend all their time standing or lying in a gray muck of feces and urine, with access to an always-full trough of corn and food additives, until they reach slaughter weight at 12-14 months of age. Corn causes cattle stomachs to be more acidic than they should be. The industry's "Feedlot Magazine" says all corn-fed cattle develop painful "sub-acute acidosis" at some point in the feedlot. The "Beef Cattle Handbook" (for feedlot managers) says animals with sub-acute acidosis "are plagued with diarrhea, go off their feed, pant, kick at their bellies, salivate excessively, and eat dirt." This condition often leads to very painful stomach ulcers, which when perforated, lead to liver ulcers. "Acute acidosis" is generally fatal. Feedlot management is a race between erosion of the digestive system and growth to slaughter weight. An effective feedlot manager sees to it that growth wins and the animal reaches slaughter weight before it succumbs to disease. For more details about feedlot life, see Michael Pollen's article "Power Steer." For info about what goes on in cattle slaughterhouses, read Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.

7. Are fish insensitive, just because they're not mammals?
Fish are smarter than you might think. I studied the behavior of cichlid fish as a project in college, and I was astonished when I realized the school of fish that I was observing all recognized me personally.  Their tank was was in a hallway constantly full of other biology students, but when these fish saw me nearby, they all immediately came to the surface and toward me - because they knew I was the one who fed them. This was regardless of what I had in my hands. Several studies report fish intelligence, and sensitivity to pain. Dr. Culum Brown trained fish to find a hole in a net on only 5 attempts. When re-tested 11 months later, the fish remembered instantly. Dr. Lynne Sneddon showed experimentally (with bee venom and acetic acid) that rainbow trout feel pain and distress, make efforts to relieve the pain, and show relief when injected with morphine. Fish are the only vertebrate animals harvested on an industrial scale, with long-lines, gill nets, bottom trawlers, etc. Death by suffocation takes about 15 minutes; others are clubbed, pulled aboard with pickaxes, or bleed out when their gills are cut off. We treat fish as if they're vegetables, and we do it to a lot of them - humans haul in 88 million tons of fish each year just from the oceans. I haven't mentioned our decimation of fish populations - read about that here. For more about the sensitivity of fish, click here. For info about farmed fish, click here and here.

8. Foie gras - who would eat it?
Fois gras is the liver of a duck or goose that has been fattened by force-feeding it a mash of corn boiled in fat. The animal is fed far more than it would normally eat; a funnel with a long tube is used to push an excessive volume of food into the bird's esophagus 2-4 times per day. The resulting fatty liver of the bird is considered a delicacy by some, especially in France. But many investigators have reported that the birds live a miserable life: grossly overweight, immobile, with numerous damaged organs. For more info about foie gras, read here. To see a video of Kate Winslet's comments on the cruelty behind foie gras, click here.

Keywords: factory farming animal cruelty animal welfare hog farms poultry farms fish feedlots breeder farms humane farming foie gras

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Top 7 Health Reasons to Bypass Animal Products

Nicci and Sadie chop onions for a vegan stew. Photo: Kneidel

Previous post: Top Five Ways Livestock Wreck the Planet

1. Protect your heart. Multiple studies report that the consumption of beef, pork, and lamb increase the risk of heart disease. Cardiologist Caldwell Esselstyn, in a 20-year-study, found that patients who adhered to his plant-derived diet reduced their cholesterol from an average of 240 mg/dL (high risk) to below 150 mg/dL - the total cholesterol level seen in cultures where heart disease is essentially nonexistent. In addition, Esselstyn's patients who had already experienced heart attacks or bypass surgery, etc., had virtually no further cardiac events after adopting his diet. His work is featured in the new documentary PLANEAT.

2. Vegetarians are 40% less likely to get cancer compared to meat-eaters, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Colon cancer is one of several cancers linked to meat consumption. Total fat and saturated fat, which tend to be higher in animal products than in plant-derived foods, increase colon-cancer risks. The same is true for breast cancer. Countries with a higher fat intake, especially fat from meat and dairy products, have a higher incidence of breast cancer. In Japan, for example, the traditional diet is much lower in fat, especially animal fat, than the usual western diet, and breast cancer rates are low. In the 1940s, when breast cancer was very rare in Japan, less than 10% of the calories in the Japanese diet came from fat.

3. Milk is a "stew of hormones"
Recent studies in adults have linked cow's milk with an excess cancer risk in the prostate, and to a lesser extent in the breast and ovaries, notes oncologist Michael Pollak of McGill University. Researchers suspect milk's "natural stew of hormones, growth factors and other biologically active chemicals" to be causative agents, reports Janet Raloff in Science News. Scientists at the National Cancer Institute analyzed grocery-store milk and found that whole milk contains the smallest quantity of estrogens; skim and buttermilk contain the most. Here's a quandary: although whole milk may contain the least estrogens, it contains the most saturated fat. And saturated fat has been associated with colon cancer for some time. What to do? Jettison the milk. See my previous post about milk and cancer.

4. Diabetes and obesity associated with meat-eating
An August 2011 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that eating as little as 1 daily serving of red meat (beef, pork, lamb) increases your risk of type 2 diabetes. In the study, one daily serving of unprocessed red meat raised the diabetes risk about 20%. Worse, "one serving per day of processed meat like a hot dog or sausage was associated with a 50 percent increased risk of diabetes” said study co-author Dr. Frank Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health. “That’s pretty high.” In addition, those who ate the most red meat were less likely to eat fruits and vegetables and more likely to be obese and to smoke. “I think we should change our mindset in terms of protein sources in our diet,” said Dr. Hu. For the summary article, click here. For my previous post about fast foods and health, click here.

5. Fish infused with mercury
U.S. coal-fired power plants release over 48 tons of mercury into the air annually; Asia releases even more. All this airborne mercury winds up in freshwater and oceans - and in fish. The EPA says a mercury blood level below 5.8 mcg/L is safe for pregnant women; the agency estimates that at least 8% of U.S. women of childbearing age have blood mercury levels higher than that. In the Northeast, 20% of such women do. In NYC, 25%. One San Francisco physician found that 89% of patients who said they often eat fish had elevated levels. Symptoms are neurological, ranging from loss of balance to cognitive problems. Says Dr. Nicholas Fisher of Stonybrook, "95 to 100% of the methylmercury in our bodies comes from eating seafood." When the EPA tested predatory and bottom-dwelling fish from 500 lakes, they found mercury in every single one; half were unsafe to eat. Another study by the USGS found mercury-contaminated fish in all 291 streams and rivers they tested. Are any fish safe to eat? If you want to check it out, go to or For more info, see Sierra Magazine's Nov/Dec 2011 article "This much the coal industry poisoned your tuna sandwich."

6. One egg has twice the cholesterol of a Quarter Pounder with Cheese
Aside from the periodic salmonella outbreaks, even uninfected eggs can be a hazard to your health. According to Susan Levin, writing for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, 70% of the calories in an egg are fat calories. Eggs also have "a surprising load of saturated fat, which causes the liver to produce more cholesterol, which in turn increases the risk for cardiovascular disease." A typical egg contains 212 milligrams of cholesterol, more than the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommends for an entire day. An egg contains more cholesterol than a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese, which sports a hefty 94 milligrams of cholesterol. There is no recommended minimum intake of cholesterol, but 200-300 mg is the recommended daily max.

7. Chicken is "one of the most dangerous...."
Time magazine has called chicken one of the most dangerous items in the American home. Recent studies report that more than 30% of U.S. chicken is contaminated with Salmonella, and 62% is contaminated with Campylobacter. According to the USDA, these two pathogens cause 80% of the illnesses and 75% of the acute deaths associated with meat consumption. Regarding the saturated fat issue: many consumers have replaced red meat with chicken, believing chicken to have less fat. But chicken is not low-fat. According to The George Washington University Health Plan, "Three ounces of lean top round has 5 grams of fat, while three ounces of roasted chicken thigh has 13 grams of fat. Even without the skin, the roasted thigh has 9 grams of fat." For more info and sources about human health and poultry, click here.

What to do?
Avoiding animal products is no longer difficult, given the profusion of substitutes in today's grocery stores and farmers markets. For ideas on family meals, check out some of the menus and cookbooks reviewed on this site.
 Sadie peruses local produce at a farmers market. Photo: Sally Kneidel

Coming soon: Top 5 Humane Reasons to Choose a Plant-based Diet and Skip the Animal Flesh

Keywords: vegan health animal products vegetarian health health hazards of meat health hazards of eggs health hazards of milk health hazards of animal products healthiest diet healthy diet

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Top 5 ways livestock are wrecking the planet

Photo: Sally Kneidel
Helping the environment is just one reason for dumping animal products from your diet. But it's a big one. It may be the most powerful choice you can make to help our ailing planet.

If your family gives you a hard time during the upcoming holidays for rejecting that turkey leg, tell them some of these surprising eco-facts about the havoc wrought by livestock.

The livestock sector is responsible for at least half of the world's greenhouse-gas emissions. That's according to two environmental-assessment specialists employed by the World Bank Group, Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang. Their meticulous analysis is reported in their landmark Worldwatch article "Livestock and Climate Change". Check out this short summary of Goodland's and Anhang's work. See also "Diet for a low-carbon planet" by Alan Miller, for the same conclusion. How can livestock generate such a volume of GHG? Fermentation in the guts of livestock creates 37% of human-induced methane; methane is much more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Deforestation to graze livestock or to grow their feed is another major source of emissions. Goodland and Anhang also assess the carbon in livestock respiration. "Livestock (like automobiles) are a human invention and convenience, not part of pre-human times, and a molecule of CO2 exhaled by livestock is no more natural than one from an auto tailpipe."

Nearly half of all the water used in the United States goes to raising animals for the dinner table, according to calculations by author John Robbins. Water usage is a major environmental concern, given that water shortages are cropping up all over the planet these days. Droughts due to climate change, and the booming human population, contribute to the problem. But the livestock sector is responsible too - using vast quantities of water to irrigate feed crops for livestock. One pound of beef requires 2,400 gallons of water to produce, while one pound of wheat requires only 25 to 108 gallons. Notice, that's the water for just one pound of beef. A typical "2 sides of beef" from one steer weigh 700 lbs when arriving at the grocery. You do the math.

Livestock production accounts for 70% of all agricultural land on the planet, and 30% of the land surface of the planet. Consider this in relation to the fact that the world's human population has expanded from 6 billion to 7 billion in just the last 12 years - more and more people needing to be fed. Expansion of livestock production is a key factor in deforestation, especially in Latin America. 70% of previously forested land in the Amazon is occupied by pastures, and livestock feedcrops cover a large part of the remainder. In addition to deforestation, about 70% of grasslands in dry areas have been degraded by overgrazing, compaction, and erosion by livestock. These facts are all reported in "Livestock's Long Shadow," a 2006 research document from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization.

Livestock is the world's largest source of water pollution, according to the United Nations' FAO. Major sources of pollution from livestock production include animal waste, antibiotics and hormones, fertilizers and pesticides used on their feedcrops, and sediments from eroded pastures or trampled streams. In the U.S., livestock are responsible for 55% of erosion and sediment, 37% of pesticide use, and a third of all N and Ph pollution of freshwater.

A third of all mammal species are in danger of becoming extinct. A full 40% of the planet's mammals are victims of habitat loss and degradation. So reported the 2008 conference of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), a group that includes more than 1,000 government agencies and NGOs, conservation groups, and 11,000 scientists in 160 countries. And it's going to get a lot worse before the century is over. The causes of habitat loss and degradation? Livestock is a big one. Conservation International has identified 35 global hotspots for biodiversity, defined by species richness and high levels of habitat loss. Of those, 23 are affected by livestock production. Of 825 terrestrial eco-regions identified by the Worldwide Fund for Nature, 306 are threatened by livestock.

Choose plant-based foods, and explain why to everyone you know.
Average Americans eat between 216 and 246 lbs of meat per year, far more than residents of any other country. In the U.S., around 60% of our grain goes to livestock, a very inefficient use of our agricultural lands. Feeding the grain to people directly could feed up to 10 times more people than feeding the meat to people. Or, another way of looking at it - we could stop converting natural lands to agricultural lands if we made more efficient use of the farms we have now. What can you do? Simply eating less meat can help. Even a couple of meatless days a week will reduce your ecological footprint. Going vegetarian or vegan is even better. Check out the recipes and new vegan cookbooks reviewed on this site.

Coming up in 2 later posts:

Top 5 Health Reasons to Bypass Animal Products
Top 5 Humane Reasons to Choose a Plant-based Diet

Keywords: livestock Livestock and Climate Change Jeff Anhang Robert Goodland climate change water shortage water pollution land usage biodiversity impact of livestock impacts of livestock bad effects of livestock livestock and land degradation

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

8 vital reasons to buy local food

The last of our Carolina okra in the warm October sun. Photo: Sally Kneidel
Check out these 8 reasons to buy locally-grown food. Buying local helps not only the environment, but also our health and the welfare of farm laborers.

1. Local produce tastes better and is better for you; it's more likely to be picked at its peak, when it's ripe. Ripe fruits and vegetables have more flavor and higher nutritional value. Their nutritional value decreases every day post-harvest.

2. Buying local supports farming families in your own community, and keeps the money circulating in your own community. Buying from local farms in the off-season, when their selection and their customer-base may be reduced, is especially important in keeping these farms afloat financially.

3. Paying attention to what's available seasonally adds variety and interest to your diet, while at the same time supporting local farms. For my family, eating seasonal foods makes us feel more in touch with the changing seasons outside. Autumn means collards and broccoli, the last of the okra...and pumpkins!

4. Buying local reduces your carbon footprint. Food scientist Richard Pirog calculated that the average produce travels 1,500 miles in 3 days to reach his state. Farther than that if you live on the East Coast. Shipping food across the country uses 17 times as much fossil fuels and emits 5 to 17 times as much carbon dioxide as distributing food within a local system.

5. Food from small farms is much more likely to be raised without chemicals, protecting our health and wildlife habitat. Chemical fertilizers used in agribiz are made from fossil fuels. Farm machinery such as harvesters and combines use fossil fuels. As we all know, fossil fuels are the main driver of climate change.

6. Buying local supports the rural way of life. Hundreds of thousands of small farms have gone out of business in the last decade. Corporations have taken over food production, and rural lands are being sold to developers to accommodate urban sprawl.

7. Although the number of small family farms is decreasing due to consolidation into large industrial farms, the number of organic or sustainable farms operated by young entrepreneurs is increasing. The number of farmers markets in the U.S. has quadrupled in the last 7 years, to a total of 7,175 in 2011. In just the last year, the number of farmers markets has grown by 17%! By buying local, we can help this new wave of small farmers fight back against industrial agriculture.

8. When you buy local, you are choosing not to support industrialized farms that exploit immigrant and minority laborers. On many such farms, illegal immigrants are threatened with deportation when they complain about injuries. For more information on abuses to farm laborers, see any of these articles:

Injustice on our Plates: Immigrant Women in the U.S. Food Industry
Food Industry Abuses Workers as a Matter of Course
Labor in the Food System
The Cruelest Cuts
Blood Sweat and Fear
Throwaway workers

Keywords: local food agribusiness fossil fuels global warming seasonal food family farms chemical fertilizers healthy diet farmers markets sustainable food sustainable farms immigrants labor rights organic top 10 reasons

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Crowd overflows hearing for Duke Energy rate hike: more coal and nuclear at stake

Citizens wait to speak at Duke Energy rate-hike hearing in Charlotte
Last night, Duke Energy held a public hearing on its proposed 17% rate hike. The room was packed with irate citizens, but many were turned away for lack of space. Most who did speak passionately opposed the rate hike, citing the health and environmental effects of coal pollution, or the economic hardship of such a big rate increase. The speaking continued for more than 4 hours.
The Charlotte Observer published an article at the top of page 1A on the hearing's events, "Crowd jams hearing on Duke rate hike." The Business Journal also published an account of the hearing.

The hearing was preceded by street theater and a press conference with local organizers protesting Duke's persistent reliance on dangerous and expensive energy sources - coal and nuclear. Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, Carolinas Clean Air Coalition, and NC WARN were among organizations with Charlotte chapters that were active in preparing for the hearing.

Ken and I were among the speakers. Below in blue flont is the short speech I made to the Utilities Commission members at the hearing (who will decide whether to approve the rate hike), to Duke attorneys and employees, and to the roomful of concerned citizens and activists. I talked about the long range effects of climate change (due to coal) and the unfairness of Duke's overcharging ratepayers in order to lure fearful investors. Investors should be afraid of high-risk and expensive nuclear and coal plants.

Some of my remarks were quoted in the Charlotte Observer and in the Business Journal today (October 12).

What I said at the hearing:

"I am a biologist, Ph.D., and author of 11 books on science topics. I’m going to comment on the global effect of adding more coal plants, and on the risk to investors, which is being passed on to ratepayers.

"First of all, I personally would not mind paying any rate hike if the money were going toward developing clean and renewable energy, or energy efficiency.

"I do object to any rate hike that goes toward building new coal plants, nuclear plants, and natural-gas plants.

"As a biologist, I care deeply about all life on the planet, human life and wildlife. We are at an unprecedented turning point on the planet, for people and for wild things. Coal is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases. If our generation doesn’t act right now, much of the biosphere as we know it will be destroyed by the effects of climate change. More than 80% of biologists believe we will experience mass extinctions of wildlife this century. So our descendants will live on a planet with maybe half of the wildlife species that we knew as children. As far as human life: you’re all aware, I’m sure, of how climate change will affect agriculture worldwide, creating floods and droughts that will cause widespread famine. Close to half of all humans live near coastlines that will be permanently flooded.

"This climate emergency means we need to adopt drastic energy-efficiency programs and safe, renewable energy sources. But instead, Duke is building more fossil fuel and nuclear plants, at huge risk and expense.

"Why? I don’t know why. It doesn’t make sense for the planet or financially. Investors know it too, which is why we’re being asked to pay more. Investors don’t like risk. They must be lured by a higher rate of return to invest in such risky energies. Financial risks to investors in coal and nuclear include probable EPA regulations regarding mercury, coal-ash waste, air toxins, a possible carbon tax, the cost of scrubbers, and Fukishima related nuclear-regulations.

"Investors SHOULD be worried that Duke’s dangerous power plants will face expensive regulations to make them less dangerous. It’s not fair to make consumers pay more so Duke can use our money to attract investors to these dangerous energy sources.

"Energy efficiency is by far the cheapest energy source. Wind and solar are both plummeting in price, while the costs of coal and nuclear plants and fuels keep going up. Once wind and solar resources are built, they have no fuel costs at all. Most importantly, energy-efficiency and renewable energy would preserve the climate and water on which all species, including the human species, depend."

Sally Kneidel

Most speakers opposed the rate hike and Duke's reliance on coal and nuclear
Keywords: Duke Energy rate hike hearing Charlotte North Carolina Greenpeace Rainforest Action Network NC Warn Carolina Clean Air Coalition coal global warming climate change asthma air pollution Sally Kneidel

Thursday, October 06, 2011

My review of vegan cookbook Blissful Bites: Food bytes from an inspired chef

Blissful Bites is a very impressive new vegan cookbook. The author, Christy Morgan, could easily be a  professor of vegan or macrobiotic cooking at a culinary university - her book seems that comprehensive. As it turns out, she does in fact teach classes on her own.

Great resource for new or expert cooks
This is an excellent book for novices or for cooks expanding their skills. The first pages cover "pantry basics," or how to stock the kitchen. Christy recommends various kitchen tools, from specific knives and cutting boards to steamer baskets and sushi mats. The book includes lists and descriptions of her favorite spices, vinegars, condiments, flours, grains, natural sweeteners, oils, cooking techniques, etc. I'm sure I'll use it as a reference book for cooking materials.

I like...
I especially like that this cookbook is vegan, for health reasons and because the livestock sector contributes about half of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. I like that she has a variety of recipe categories: breakfasts, appetizers and soups, salads, vegetable sides, whole grains, proteins, desserts. The recipes I've tried have all been delicious, and relatively easy. I've especially enjoyed the "Lentil-coconut Curry," the "Fiesta Quinoa Salad," and "Orange-kissed Almond Macaroons" (fantastic!!).

Macrobiotic influence: local and seasonal
Christy doesn't say that her recipes are macrobiotic, but she does acknowledge a macrobiotic influence: "Along my path to bliss, I studied macrobiotics as part of my holistic nutrition training." I do see macrobiotic elements in her recipes. For example, the recipes are grouped seasonally, to help the reader make use of local and seasonal foods. (Great for reducing our carbon footprint, thank you Christy!) She also avoids refined sweeteners and honey, using alternatives such as maple syrup and agave nectar.

Sweet / sour aspects
Some macrobiotic cooks seek sweet and sour tastes, and I notice that Christy uses vinegar and/or sweeteners more than I usually do. For example, her "Sweet Potato Puree" calls for 2 T of vinegar. "Kale Salad with Curry-coconut Sauce" lists 1 T of maple or brown-rice syrup. The "Marinated Portabella Steaks" and "Lemon-kissed Brussels and Butternut Squash" include both vinegar and maple syrup. In addition, she sometimes includes either a "sweet" spice (nutmeg, cinnamon) or a sweet fruit (cherries, pineapple) in an otherwise savory dish. I'm not a big fan of vinegar, or of sweets in savory dishes. I changed my mind about preparing a few of the recipes after noticing vinegar or something sweetish in a grain, vegetable, or protein dish - such as nutmeg in her polenta fries. I do applaud her for breaking away from the usual, and wish my palate were more adventurous. For those of you who like sweet and sour flavorings, you might really love this approach.

My challenge as a cook....
Whole grains are strongly emphasized in macrobiotic cooking, and Christy has 26 recipes for "Whole Grains and Carbs," almost all of which look very inventive. I especially enjoyed the "Millet Mashed Potatoes." For more dinnertime staples, she also has 24 "Vegetable Sides" and 24 "Compassionate Proteins." My particular challenge as a family cook is coming up with plant-based protein dishes every day for supper. We eat a lot of beans at our house. One reason I liked The Happy Herbivore cookbook so much is that Lindsay Nixon provided so many recipes that could be used as vegan entrees. I'd like to see more recipes with significant sources of protein in Blissful Bites.

Hearty recommendation
Overall, it's easy for me to recommend this vegan cookbook by a principled, professional, and very creative chef.  If you're looking for imaginative and original vegan recipes, you'll find this book chock full of them.  In addition to its bounty of information, the book is loaded with full-color photos.  It's a great book for a holiday gift, and I would especially recommend it for those seeking new experiences in vegan dining.

Keywords: Blissful Bites Christy Morgan The Happy Herbivore Lindsay Nixon vegan cookbook vegetarian cookbook carbon footprint macrobiotic

GOOD NEWS! Proof that no-fishing-zones work!

We all know the oceans are in trouble. Since "large-scale fishing" began in 1952, the abundance of large oceanic fish has decreased globally by 90%. Too many boats with too much capacity are chasing too few fish. Bottom trawlers drag nets across sea beds and coral reefs, cutting down everything in their path. The heavy-duty fishing lines in use by the "long-line industry" could encircle the globe 550 times. Fishing vessels, and airplanes that track schools of fish illegally, are equipped with so much detection equipment, fish have no chance of escaping. Check out my review of the fact-filled documentary "End of the Line: Where have all the fish gone?" for more on that score. The whole story of the exploitation of our oceans is pretty scary.

But in a sea of bad news, I heard some good news last week. For one thing, I met the inspiring director of Greenpeace, and heard a little about Greenpeace's campaign to save our oceans. Read on for details. The second thing I want to tell you is an important new report from a no-fishing-zone in Mexico.

But first things first.

Kumi Naidoo, Intl Exec Dir of Greenpeace.  Photo used with permission. © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert / Greenpeace
Greenpeace's dynamic director - you gotta see this guy speak
Kumi Naidoo is Greenpeace's International Executive Director. He was in my hometown last week (Charlotte) to help us fight the merger of the coal-burning Duke Energy with Progress Energy, a merger that would make Duke the biggest and most powerful utility in the U.S.

But Kumi talked about a lot of things - including oceans. He said that Greenpeace is trying to get 40% of our total ocean area declared fishing sanctuaries, or no-fishing-zones. I love it. It's a huge goal, but who knows. With Kumi at the helm, nothing would surprise me. This man is fearless, tried-and-true. And Greenpeace has a long history of effective ocean activism. Consider supporting their campaigns by visiting their website.

Now, the second thing I wanted to mention - a very hopeful scientific report I saw last week, which was coincidentally related to Kumi's comments about fish sanctuaries.

Good news!
Mexico's Gulf of California has a national marine park that's been closed to fishing since 1995. A 1999 survey of the 71-square-kilometer park found no big fish, no top predators such as giant grouper or snappers. These big fish are the most common targets for fishers.

But there's been a turn-around. A recent survey showed that the fishing ban has had a dramatic effect! In the years since the park has been protected, the total mass of fish in the park has quintupled. The number of top predators has also soared. These big fish are indicators of a healthy ecosystem. Both of these trends are the opposite of those for fish in unprotected waters of the Gulf.

The park is Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park, located close to where the Gulf of California meets the Pacific Ocean. This study of Cabo Pulmo is a model for over-harvested oceanic areas - which could include most of the ocean perhaps. It's a strong argument for the creation of more fish sanctuaries, and counters the skeptics who've said that no-fishing-zones could have no effect.

"People who object to marine protected areas, especially to strong protection like here, often say there is no proof that they work," says Elliott Norse of the Marine Conservation Institute in Bellevue, Washington. "Well here is the proof."

Although protection of the park has overall been a huge success, sharks remain rare in the park, because of heavy over-harvesting for the fin trade as well as slow reproduction rates.

This study was published in the August 12 PLoS ONE (an online science journal) by Octavio Aburto-Oropeza and his colleagues of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.

Want more?
If you want more detail about the destructive capacity of modern fishing, check out my review of the fact-filled documentary "End of the Line: Where have all the fish gone?". This film and the original book version by Charles Clover are both on Amazon. Another good book about the over-harvesting of our oceans is The Empty Ocean by Richard Ellis.

To learn about solutions and actions you can take, see the Greenpeace website.

Keywords: Greenpeace fish sanctuaries no fishing zones Kumi Naidoo End of the Line Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park Octavio Aburto-Oropeza Elliot Norse Scripps shark fins

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Urban gardening in offbeat settings. Review of DVD "Truck Farm"

"I was trying to find a way not to lose my lonely mind....I decided what I needed was more vegetables...." sings a plaintive male voice, as filmmaker Ian Cheney wanders through bleak urban scenery.

From this somber opening scene, the film "Truck Farm" takes a sharp upbeat turn. What follows is a joyful and info-packed movie about urban some very unusual places. I thoroughly enjoyed this odd documentary with its wacky mode of delivery and intriguing cast of characters.

Filmmaker Ian Cheney

'Greenrooter' lays it down
The first of those characters is Cheney himself, who grows an organic "farm" in the back of his old pick-up truck in NYC. He creates his garden bed with the expert assistance of "Greenrooter" Victoria Foraker. The two of them explain the various layers laid down between the truck bed and the soil - to keep roots from penetrating the truck, to retain and drain water, and to prevent erosion. The top layers are light-weight soil and garden soil. After planting, Cheney installs a time-lapse camera to capture the lush growth of his truck garden. His customers later in the film include well-known nutrition scientist Marion Nestle and chef Daniel Barber, who both praise the truck's pristine vegetables.

Up on the roof...

I really liked the next entrepreneur profiled in the film, roof-top farmer Ben Flanner - he quit his E-Trade job to take a financial risk on his roof garden. Flanner said he'd been advised by friends to seek more stable employment, but he hoped the roof-top enterprise would be his stability, and planned to take on another roof.

Window farm 

Water, windows, and wow!

The film features a garden on a small barge, as well - "The Water Pod." Four people live on the boat for 6 months at a time, while traveling to 5 locations in NYC. The boat provides all the boaters' food, shelter, water, and showering.Says "Living Systems Director" of the Water Pod, Carissa Carman, "People see it as an avant-garde approach to an oasis. Taking it to a whole new level."

Also interviewed is Britta Riley of "The Windowfarm Project." She introduces viewers to an economical system of pipes, pumps, and 25 plants spanning a vast picture window, a system that can be adapted to any sunny window.

In the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, Cheney explores a community farm that occupies a former asphalt playing field. Now the farm generates produce that costs less than a store would charge, and pays a salary to the neighborhood teenagers who tend it.

Local will be crucial at the 'end of oil'

The film is a feel-good experience - the projects are all producing wholesome food for motivated city-dwellers who care about their health. The movie is especially valuable in creating models for under-served urban populations who lack access to farmers markets and other affordable organic-produce outlets. But the film has relevance far beyond the present day and beyond unequal distribution due to retailers locating in prosperous neighborhoods. Here's the bigger picture. When our civilization runs out of oil in approximately 40 years, local food will be a must for everyone. VERY local. We won't have the fuel to truck produce across the country, or even across town. We won't have fuel to manufacture vehicles, or to construct grocery stores, for that matter. We'll have to get creative about how to grow our own food then, especially in urban and suburban settings. I'm glad someone is experimenting with different methods now.

I loved this creative and inspirational film. Truck Farm, with its songs and silliness, is a piece of the solution - a piece that will loom larger as the end of oil approaches.

I recommend it for classes, families, or general entertainment. The DVD is available from Amazon and from the website.

Keywords: gardening window garden urban garden Water Pod documentary Ian Cheney Ben Flanner Victoria Foraker Red Hook community farm Truck Farm

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review of new vegetarian cookbook "Veggiyana: the Dharma of Cooking"

I was asked to review an unusual new cookbook, Veggiyana: The Dharma of Cooking, just released this month. The book by Sandra Garson is a blend of recipes from around the globe and short narratives about the author's food experiences or perspectives. It would be a great gift for someone interested in international cuisine, Zen Buddhism, or the origins of vegetarian staples, such as rice, pasta, and tofu.

I like the idea of such an eclectic mix of recipes. Some are simple enough, others more complex. I especially enjoyed Monique's Marinated Mushrooms (from Provence), Piro Aloo: Spicy Potatoes (from Kathmandu), and Volteados: Guatemalan-Style Black Beans. These three were very tasty and fairly easy; they also used commonly-found ingredients. Some recipes in the book have ingredients that could be hard to find, such as pomegranate arils, a daikon, Chinese dried tofu. An adventurous cook might be excited by this, but I'm more of an expedient cook, not very willing to search.

Vegan? Low-fat?
If you're vegan, take note that a fair proportion of the recipes in Veggiyana include dairy products, and several require eggs. I imagine plant-based milks and egg-substitutes could be used instead. As for fat, the author makes no claim that the dishes in the book are low-fat, and quite a few do call for several tablespoons of oil, butter, or ghee.

What is Dharma?
I enjoyed reading the passages in the book about the author's travels in Asia, particularly her efforts to improve the diet of malnourished children in a Nepali boarding school and the diet of Buddhist nuns in a Kathmandu abbey. The author is a student of Zen Buddhism and thus the book has a Buddhist flavor, with several one-line quotes from Buddhist teachers about the connection between a healthy body and a healthy mind. But for me, it stops short of actually delivering much Buddhist philosophy beyond the short quotes and the author's good works in the Nepali school and abbey. At least, that's the case with the "abridged advance" version for reviewers that I was sent. At first glance, I assumed that a book with "Dharma" in the title would include lots of guidance (that I need!) on pursuing enlightenment or at least serenity. Something along the lines of "present moment, wonderful moment." I was hoping for tips on how to keep my mind in the present while chopping vegetables, rather than engaging in my usual mind-wandering. My dear friend Therese Fitzgerald, an ordained Zen priest who co-founded the Buddhist church "Dharma Friends," defines Dharma as "the body of teachings of awakening." I don't see much about awakening in my abridged copy of Veggiyana. I do, however, see some promise of guidance in the Table of Contents for the complete book - the version you would get if you bought the book. I see "Perfecting Perception: Chocolate as Dharma Practice" and "Generosity: Learning through Food" - both are one-page essays that sound like insights into right living or healthy thinking.

A classic Zen cookbook compared
As I read through Veggiyana, struggling to describe it concisely and accurately, I keep thinking of my favorite Zen cookbook, The Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown. Ed was the head cook at a Zen monastery in California. This book was first published in the 1970's, but is still offered on - a testament to its timelessness. My copy is torn and stained, but I continue to use it because the slim volume cuts right to the chase - no frills, no embellishment. Although there's very little in the book about Ed or Buddhism, it somehow oozes a sense of living and eating simply, savoring the present moment. By its very simplicity, it models simple living. Veggiyana is different, for me, in that regard. Which is better? Ed's book might be better to hang onto for years, might be more utilitarian for cooks. Sandra Garson's book might be better as a gift, perhaps more entertaining for leisurely perusal.

A unique book
I appreciate Garson's efforts to convey her experience of Nepal and the value of wholesome food in living a wholesome life. I like her celebration of the rich variety in foods around the world. I do recommend this book, especially for those who already have a number of cookbooks. With its mixture of narratives and foreign recipes, this cookbook is unlike any others I've seen.

Veggiyana: The Dharma of Cooking will be available from Amazon in paperback on September 27, just in time for some early holiday shopping.

Keywords: Veggiyana The Dharma of Cooking Sandra Garson book review vegetarian cookbook Asian cookbook Nepal cookbook vegetarian recipes Asian recipes Nepal recipes international recipes Zen Buddhism Zen Buddhist book Tassajara Bread Book Therese Fitzgerald Dharma Friends Edward Espe Brown

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Review of documentary "PLANEAT: Nothing changes the planet as much as the way we eat"


Carnivores, take heed! The film "PLANEAT" might convince even the most passionate meat-enthusiasts to lay off the stuff. This DVD makes a strong case that our love affair with meat and dairy is ravaging both our planet and our bodies. The filmmakers used extensive interviews with highly credible health and environmental experts (interspersed with cool vegan-cooking scenes) to illuminate the damages inflicted by the livestock sector and our own misguided food choices. Having co-authored a book on the same subject myself, I appreciated the filmmakers' skill in cramming a lot of convincing info into a very watchable film."

Breeding sow on a small N.C. farm. Photo: Sally Kneidel

The film's strength
The strength of the movie, for me, is the breadth of its coverage in addressing different angles of the meat-consumption issue. My husband Ken teaches biology/ecology and is always on the lookout for new tools to use in class to make the point that the livestock industry has a huge environmental and climate impact. The United States is the world's worst offender - we eat much more meat per capita than any other country. And as PLANEAT will tell you, eliminating animal products from your diet will prevent more greenhouse gas emissions than switching to the most fuel-efficient car on the market.

  Dairy cow on a milking machine. Photo: Sally Kneidel

Great teaching tool
This film will be a useful teaching tool for progressive educators, to replace John Robbins' excellent 1991 film "Diet for a New America" - which is aging (although still accurate). PLANEAT is obviously current and features a number of young, pierced, tattooed chefs in the cooking segments. The two films overlap, in that both feature the research of Dr. Colin Campbell, a researcher from Cornell who conducted a landmark study relating disease frequencies to the consumption of animal products. In this study, menus of meat and dairy were implicated big-time as culprits in not only vascular and heart disease, but also numerous cancers. The research is reported in the 1990 publication "Diet, Lifestyle, and Mortality in China: a study of the characteristics of 65 Chinese counties" by Colin Campbell, Richard Peto from Oxford University, and two Chinese scientists. The work is also summarized in the 2005 book The China Study by Colin Campbell and his son Thomas Campbell.

 "The China Study" by Thomas and Colin Campbell

Singer on ethical issues
PLANEAT includes interviews with Peter Singer, famed author and ethicist at Princeton University. In the film, Singer gives voice to moral concerns regarding animal abuses on factory farms. He also points out ethical concerns in our contributing to rising sea-levels that will drown farmers in developing nations - sea-levels that are rising as a result of livestock-related greenhouse gases.

I applaud PLANEAT not only for its broad scope, but particularly for its very detailed review of health effects. I learned a few things I didn't know, even after years of reading and reporting in my own books and blogs.

  Shed of Tyson breeder chickens. Photo: Sally Kneidel

Coulda, shoulda included...
For me, though, the scariest down-side to meat-eating is its destructive effects on the rapidly declining welfare of our green planet. PLANEAT did address some environmental repercussions of livestock, but could have done so more stringently. For example, the film omitted the most significant eco-research I know of: "Livestock and Climate Change" by Richard Goodland and Jeff Anhang, environmental specialists with the World Bank Group. After a meticulous analysis, Anhang and Goodland reported that the livestock sector is responsible for 51% of greenhouse gas emissions! In other words, our eating of animal products is the primary cause of global warming! Surely their meticulous and widely-cited analysis is worth a mention.

"Livestock and Climate Change" gained notice in WorldWatch magazine

The film also didn't address depletion of marine fishes by overharvesting - a topic certainly pertinent to a film on the consumption of animal products. I would've liked to see a word, too, about the massive amount of water required to raise food for livestock, a growing concern as global water shortages escalate.

All filmmakers are limited by viewing time, and the thorough coverage of disease and reversal of disease by meatless diets perhaps merited these omissions - that's all a matter of personal perspective.

I recommend the film
Overall, I highly recommend PLANEAT as an important educational tool for teachers at any level, for parents and families, for environmental clubs or medical organizations, and for the enlightenment of any individual who cares about health, longevity, and solutions for our ailing planet.

Sow in farrowing crate on N.C. factory farm. Photo: Sally Kneidel

How to see PLANEAT
PLANEAT will be released for home, educational, community, and theatrical use in October 2011 from Bullfrog Films. For more details about that, please contact Stephanie at or (610) 779-8226. Meanwhile, you can watch the film right now on the PLANEAT website.

Raising small numbers of pastured animals still generates GG, but less water pollution than factory farms. Photo: Sally Kneidel
Keywords: PLANEAT, vegan documentary, Colin Campbell, Peter Singer, The China Study, vegan health, greenhouse gases and livestock, global warming and livestock, Sally Kneidel, review, documentary

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Alpha-males highly stressed, reports new primate study from Kenya

Chacma Baboon, Kruger National Park. Photo: Sally Kneidel

It's not easy being the alpha-male of a baboon troop. Sure, alpha-males have more access to fertile females and more reproductive success. But the cost is high in terms of stress, reports a study published July 15 in Science.

Laurence Gesquiere and her colleagues from Princeton University observed 125 adult male baboons living in 5 baboon communities in Kenya's Amboseli National Park, from 2003 to 2008. The scientists measured hormone concentrations by analyzing the hormone content of each baboon's feces, monthly.

Baboons live in social groups where the the top-ranking males have primary access to females in estrus. Adult baboons have long,dangerous canine teeth, and males fight ferociously for power. Gesquire's study reveals that the levels of stress-hormones in the highest-ranking males are similar to the levels in the lowest-ranking males, who are struggling just to survive.

The stressful challenges of alpha-males include having to fight off rival males and guard fertile females from other males' attentions. The stressors for the lowest-ranking males are not getting enough food and constant harassment from higher-ranking males.

Males that are just one rung lower than alphas in the power ranking have significantly less stress than either the lowest or the highest. But, these second-tier males have less access to females - generally only stolen advances when the alpha is busy elsewhere. And they risk his fury if discovered.

Infant baboon draws interest, Cape Point National Park, South Africa. Photo: Sally Kneidel

To read about my own observations of baboons in Africa, and more about baboon social structure, see link below:

Baboons are Africa's most widespread primate. Females rule!

Some of my previous posts about primate conservation, many based on my own observations in Southeast Asia, South America, and Africa:

Orangutans dwindle as Borneo, Sumatra converted to palm-oil plantations

Laws flaunted: flourishing pet trade threatens orangutans' survival

Monkeys and parrots pouring from the jungle (the Amazon)

Trade a major threat to primate survival

U.S. imports 20,000 primates per year

The great apes are losing ground

Orangutans are lefties; chimps and gorillas right-handed

We are family: new evidence of our close relationship to chimps

Wildlife trade rivals drug trade in profits 

Keywords: baboons alpha male primates stress Laurence Gesquiere

Friday, August 19, 2011

Happy Herbivore: Best, most versatile cookbook since Moosewood

 "Mock Tuna Salad" from The Happy Herbivore website

"Let's cook something out of Happy Herbivore when Jack's family comes," my husband Ken suggested. "It's so nice to finally have a book of easy vegan recipes."

Ken didn't know I'd been asked to review the The Happy Herbivore by Lindsay Nixon, or was even interested in his opinion. But I was glad to hear it, and I totally share his enthusiasm for the book. This is the book we've been waiting for since the classic original Moosewood Cookbook - and even better, because The Happy Herbivore is low-fat and vegan, not just vegetarian.

We've been eating meatless and mostly vegan at our house for 13 years. We've boiled our rotation down to about 15 meals; we keep these recipes in a tattered folder on top the fridge. Occasionally our daughter Sadie, the creative cook, has warmed us to recipes with new ingredients - quinoa, red lentils, nutritional yeast. She and I co-authored the book Veggie Revolution a few years ago, which is in part a vegetarian recipe book, but is more an expose of local factory farms and an alternate look at small, humane, and green farms.  Sadie's one of the best cooks I know, and when she saw my copy of Happy Herbivore, she was determined to get one herself.  She's subsequently written a great review of the book on our blog.

Features of Nixon's book that won us over, that make The Happy Herbivore easy to use:

1. Beautiful layout, with delectable color photos of most dishes.
2. Nutritional info given on each recipe page: calories, calories from fat, total fat, protein, cholesterol, dietary fiber, total carbs, sugar.
3. Easy browsing due to 7 symbols on each recipe: no cooking required, kid-friendly, gluten-free, fat-free, soy-free, and omni-friendly (favorites of meat-eaters).
4. Inclusion of recipes for sauces, condiments, and spices needed for other recipes - to eliminate searching for hard-to-find vegan ingredients.  This is a tremendous asset.
5. Thorough coverage of food types, with 12 categories in the table of contents, including: Breakfast and Brunch; Muffins and Breads; Soups, Dals and Chilis; Pasta and Casseroles; Burgers, Wraps, Tacos, and More; Quick One-Pot Dinners; Tofu and Vegan Meats; Desserts; and so on.
6. 175 recipes!  And every single one looks good!

The section that intrigues me most is Tofu and Vegan Meats. Check out Nixon's "Mock Tuna Salad" recipe on her website. Ken and I spend a lot of money on "fake meats".  Now we can make our own! Sadie's already made the "Chicken-Style Seitan" and gave it an A+.  Ken already made "Breakfast Sausage Patties" (excellent) and we'll make the "TVP Beef Crumbles" later this week. TVP is cheap. Crumbles are not. Yay! I like saving money.

Last night we made Nixon's "Broccoli Pesto Pasta." We grow basil and make pesto pizzas all the time, which are probably my favorite entree ever. But I have to say the Broccoli Pesto Pizza is a close rival. And low-fat! Unlike the pizza. We got in a little debate after the broccoli pasta dish about who would get to eat the leftover for lunch.

For our visitors I mentioned in the opening sentence, we wound up making "Enchilada Casserole." Also Nixon's "Enchilada Sauce" and "Quick Queso Sauce," which are in her "Spreads, Gravies, and Sauces" section and part of the recipe.  The casserole and sauces were exceptionally yummy, and we're still eating the leftovers. As our guests stood up to leave, Danela said "I loved that casserole - the cheese was so good!" Ken told her, "There was no cheese, that taste was nutritional yeast." There was a momentary silence of bafflement; it was a fun opportunity to educate some non-vegans! Who needs cheese? Who needs to contribute to exploitive and polluting mega-dairies? Nutritional yeast - much more wholesome.

I look forward to enjoying new and scrumptious meals and feeling guilt-free about every bite with the The Happy Herbivore.

Keywords: vegan Happy Herbivore Lindsay Nixon vegan cookbook vegetarian cookbook fat-free cookbook low-fat cookbook great cookbook vegan recipes vegetarian recipes meatless recipes