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Western Pacific Gray Whale

January 18, 2011 Leave a comment

There are only around 130 of them left. Imagine if there were only 65 members of the opposite sex left in your species. Not a very deep genetic pool. I don’t think this bodes well for the western Pacific gray whale. Good luck friends. Sorry about the fishing nets, oil drilling, all that noise, and oh yeah- the folks from my side of the water that tried to species-cide you.

Methinks Someone at the Denver Post is on the Big Ag teat.

April 12, 2010 1 comment

This Denver Post editorial from today’s paper just smacks of Big Ag influence to me. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but come on: the editor is defending keeping pizza in school lunches (as an “example”). Has the mighty agriculture lobby resorted to paying off newspaper editors to influence public opinion before laws get to close to passing? It’s the only explanation to me for defending the need for “palatable” unhealthy choices in school cafeterias.

The article expresses concern over how far the new legislation (called the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010) could go. According to USA Today, it aims to “bolster the safety and nutritional value of school lunches.” The Post editors worry that

the potential that nutritional standards, yet to be developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, might be written so strictly they would effectively eliminate local control and individual choice.

The editors don’t seem to acknowledge the results of kids having that “individual choice.” Personally, I keep hearing about how kids tend to pick the tater tots, pizza, and Taco Bell when given the choice. Of course they do. Those things taste better to kids. Maybe they know they should be eating something healthier, and yeah, the idea of giving them a choice is nice and all, but I’m kind of a realist on this one: American kids don’t care about the healthy option. Some of them may have been hazed enough to know that they probably don’t want to be fat the rest of their lives, but what justification is there for slapping a burger and fries in front of them every day? They will eat it. The salt and fat will taste good to them, and they will continue to want that burger or pizza or taco every day.

Looking back at what I’ve written, I realize I am coming off as a bit of a totalitarian food Nazi- the children will eat what I say they will eat! But that’s not the case. I think kids should be allowed to eat food that tastes good to them. There are plenty of delicious nutritious options that I’m sure the lunch-ladies (and lunch-gentlemen) can handle cooking and serving. We need school lunch reform because the current options are lazy, underfunded, and bad for the kids. We need the bad-for-you stuff out because it keeps the kids hooked on the junk and headed towards obesity and diabetes. We need to present the message in our SCHOOLS (places of education!) that certain foods are healthy, and that we won’t subject our younglings to the food that will harm their bodies in the long run.

Here’s an analogy that probably most people will roll their eyes at: We do not put pornography in school libraries. We don’t because we believe our kids should not be subjected to certain things. We want the library to be a fascinating place that develops their love for reading, exploring, and imagination. We don’t want it to be the place where they are exposed to the seedy, sexualized world of adults. That would be bad for their development, their psyche, their health. So why do we still expose kids to unhealthy food in our school cafeterias? Because they’ll eat it? That’s the reason? We might not want to think so, but kids will look at porn if it’s sitting on the school bookshelf. They will. And they’ll eat the pizza if it is offered a-la-carte as a competitive food in the lunchroom.

Okay, so different stories, food and porn, I know. But am I that far off-base here?

Put burgers and pizza in schools, and kids will think: I am allowed to eat that. My prinicipal, lunchlady, and parents allow it to be there, so it can’t be so bad, right? I believe as much as anybody that proper nutritional education starts with the parents- they are the voice of reason, the ones who identify good and bad food. But why provide the mixed message of meat, cheese, and milk at every single lunchtime? Stay on-message, people!

I am not yet a parent, so you can take all of this with that grain of salt. But I care about our food system, and I see how corruption, corporate influnce, and poor governance have brought the National School Lunch Program to it’s current status: broken. It is an obvious symptom of the broader industrial-food system disease we have become accustomed to: one that has been warped by improper subsidies, lax regulation, corporate lobby, Wal-Mart-thrift-obsessivness, and our view of food items as tongue-masturbators. OK, eye-roller, that’s another unnecessary one, I know… But the food-porn hedonism I see in the U.S. these days is disgusting enough to me that I feel justified in using such language. If we look at food solely as a source of pleasure, we’re going to get a food system that reflects only that: cheap food that tastes good. Not healthy food that reflects our own personal values.

It starts when we’re kids. Do we want our children to make food choices on base flavor instincts (me want salt and fat!), or do we want them to think about where their food comes from, how it nourishes them, and  how their choices affect the world?

Heart Attack in your future? There’s a pill for that.

April 6, 2010 Leave a comment

The FDA recently approved a new use for Astra-Zeneca’s cholesterol medication Crestor: prevention. The drug giant will soon be marketing Crestor to people who may have cholesterol problems in the future. Based on their studies, taking one pill a day reduced the incidence of heart attacks . So, naturally that means a whole new market has opened up for drug companies: people who view the threat of high cholesterol as unavoidable for them, given their dietary choices (read: typical Western-diet Americans). For $3.50 per day, you get the peace-of-mind of a pill that justifies your rampant consumption of food that is bad for you.

Obviously, I think this is ridiculous. It’s bad enough to me that our doctors do not seem to prescribe cholesterol-free diets to their heart-disease patients (why not strongly recommend a vegan diet to every heart-attack risk that comes through the door?). Now the pharmaceutical industry is sending the message that your diet is not such a big deal- you just need to take your medicine. And why wouldn’t they? Even if they can mask their intentions under the guise of reducing the number of heart attacks by providing this wonder of science, there is no denying that they have a huge potential for big bucks with this new use. If only a small percentage of the millions of at-risk cholesterol-inhaling Westerners (men aged 50+, women 60+) opt to start taking Crestor every day, it will still mean BILLIONS in revenue. Here’s some rudimentary math to show my point (I’ll use a very small number of patients, just to extend the example provided by the New York Times):

  • Astra-Zeneca’s study showed a reduction of 2 heart attacks per 1000 patients when Crestor is used daily.
  • Crestor costs $3.50 per day
  • Say 10,000 patients are prescribed Crestor:
    • Annual cost of 1 prescription: $3.5 x 365 days = $1,277.50
    • Annual cost of 10,000 prescriptions: $1,277.50 x 10,000 = $12.8 Million
    • Number of heart attacks prevented (according to A-Z studies): 20

Talk about out-of-control health care costs. And this is only a tiny fraction of what will actually be prescribed. What if those 10,000 patients just stopped eating cholesterol? I haven’t seen any studies on this, but it is not hard to imagine that there would be a bigger reduction in heart attacks than 20.

Cholesterol comes only from animal products. Vegans eat zero cholesterol.

I will not be sending $1200 per year to Astra-Zeneca.

Fewer Japanese Eating Seafood

March 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Today’s Wall Street Journal told an interesting story about Japanese people that surprised me:

they are eating less and less seafood.

Though it has nothing to do with preserving ocean biodiversity, common sense, or ethics, I can’t help but be happy about this. The recent failure by UN nations to ban the trade of bluefin tuna at CITES (thanks almost exclusively to the shady lobbying efforts of Japan’s delegates) had me feeling that things were looking worse than ever for our invisible underwater friends. The fact that Japanese tastes are changing gives me hope. Of course there is a down side…

Young Japanese are turning away from fish increasingly because they are getting hooked to a salty, beefy western diet of hamburgers and chicken. Housewives are turning to these meats because they are easier to cook. In response, the fish industry in Japan is desperately trying to woo people back to fish flesh.

Read the WSJ article and watch the related video here.

CITES trying to save Tuna

March 12, 2010 Leave a comment

NPR reported on the planned proposal to ban the trade of bluefin tuna in this year’s meeting to determine the new CITES treaty (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). Bluefin populations are estimated to be 10-15% of what they once were. Japan has said they will ignore the ban, should it be passed.

Also on the CITES table is a possible one-time legal ivory sale.

Click here for the story

Up Shit Creek

March 11, 2010 Leave a comment

In 1995, Smithfield spilled more than twenty million gallons of lagoon waste into the New River in North Carolina.

In 1997, Smithfield was penalized for a mind-blowing seven thousand violations of the Clean Water Act… One violation might be an accident. Even ten violations might. Seven thousand violations is a plan. Smithfield was fined $12.6 million… but this is a pathetically small amount to a company that now grosses $12.6 million every ten hours.

– Jonathan Safran Foer, from page 178-179 of Eating Animals

Smithfield is the biggest pork producer in the United States. It annually produces at least as much fecal waste as the entire human population of the states of California and Texas combined (p. 175). This pig shit is pooled into football-field sized open-air lagoons. The lagoons can be overwhelmed. The shit then goes into local waterways. Bacon tastes good.

Cove Filmmakers Still Hustlin’

March 10, 2010 Leave a comment

The Hump. NY Times photo by Monica Almeida

Japan is not the only place you’ll find whale meat on the table. Apparently there are some sushi zealots in LA who just have to try it, even if it is explicitly illegal here in the U.S. A recent undercover video sting of an elaborate $600 meal at The Hump, a Santa Monica sushi restaurant, found that a course of Sei whale can be served to the most adventurous sushi-philes. The vegan undercover operatives were in town for the Oscars, where their investigative partners would be collecting a statue for Best Documentary.

Director Louie Psihoyos and the makers of The Cove are hard at work on another marine-mammal oriented documentary. Based on this NY Times article, it looks like they will be taking a look at modern whaling, which really excites me. I am surprised to hear that there are such ridiculous ignorant people in the states, but then again, it is LA. Sushi is so hot right now.