Tag Archives: meat

Pertinent Lessons from Our Recent Past

A little off the beaten path for tourists in London is the Imperial War Museum.  It’s still a quick tube ride from the central part of the city and it is just a two stops away from the always tasty Borough Market.  Plus, depending on the line you take you will get to stop at the Elephant & Castle station.  I think that name is just smashing.

The museum has all the usual exhibits that glorify the British Empire—one quarter of the world’s landmass, one quarter of the world’s population, the sun never sets on the British Empire, etc.—through World War I and II with a small, yet quite impactful, exhibit on the Holocaust.  However, the part of the museum that I found most interesting dealt with the home front during World War II.

The home front usually gets short shrift in any analysis of a war effort.  World War II in Britain was a little different because the horrors of war made it across the English Channel in German raids on London and other cities.  Children were shipped to the countryside where it was deemed safer and Londoners huddled in shelters as bombs or rockets rained down.  With a stiff upper lip, so to speak, the nation kept calm and carried on.

My daughter and I probably spent close to an hour in the home front exhibition looking at the types of food that were available or not available and why or the measures taken by households to conserve materials in order to supply troops.  The impression that my ten year old daughter was left with was how little a house could make do with if it had to. Her seven year old brother, naturally, loved the display of World War I grenades.

As we face an uncertain climate in the coming decades and the attendant consequences of that climate change we may be forced into a situation where our everyday begins to resemble the home front during an armed global conflagration.

Victory is in the Kitchen

Victory is in the Kitchen

It is my belief that we can make some of the biggest impacts from the comfort of our homes and the center of our homes is the kitchen.  It is the place where my family spends the most time together and it is probably where I spend the most time teaching my children.  Some parents play catch or go on hikes, I teach my kids how to dice onions, mince garlic, deglaze pans, and build flavors.

Change starts at home.  The food we choose to make and eat forms the core of our value system as self-described environmentalists.  If you are not trying to be a better human in the kitchen you might as well stop sweating the other stuff.

Food: Don’t Waste It

Food Dont Waste It

In the United States it is estimated that 30 to 40% of food goes to waste.  Given the impact of agriculture on climate change this is unacceptable.  Furthermore, given that in this age of abundance when we are dealing with diseases of over consumption, e.g. obesity related illnesses, there are still millions of people that go hungry every day.

Make Do and Mend

Make Do and Mend

Repair is the forgotten action that we can take to conserve.  Almost everything, save for our homes and automobiles, is basically disposable in modern capitalist economies.  Even big ticket items like appliances are seen as disposable, which blows my mind.  Here’s the thing, repairing stuff has never been easier.  The internet is literally chock a block full of people posting repair instructions, wiring diagrams, parts lists, etc. that can help even the least handy of us repair many of the items we once viewed as disposable.

Can I do Without It?

Can I Do Without

Is there a better question to ask yourself about any purchase that you make?  The most environmentally conscious purchase is usually one that we do not make.  Sure, there are the obvious wins like replacing high usage light bulbs with the most efficient LED bulbs or replacing a fifteen year old refrigerator with a more efficient model.  However, many of the “green” purchases we make are just adding consumption to the system that is destroying our planet.  It may be made of organic cotton, but do you really need another t-shirt?

Self-Indulgence at This Time is Helping the Enemy

Self Indulgence

I just love how direct some of the messaging was during World War II.  This poster is basically saying, “Don’t be a dick, we’re fighting a war here.”  How many of our problems, with regard to climate change, could be solved if people were just somewhat less self-indulgent?  I will let you stew on that thought for now.

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Friday Linkage 9/28/2018

Some weeks feel like we are living through an episode of the Twilight Zone.  I keep waiting for Rod Serling to introduce the day’s episode.  Don’t believe me?  Think about what happened this week:

  • Cleveland Browns win a game for the first time in over 630 days
  • Trump’s performance art speech at the UN General Assembly
  • Brett Kavanaugh’s increasingly bizarre path to confirmation
  • Buffalo Bills stomping on the Minnesota Vikings
  • Cats and dogs sleeping together, sorry that was Ghostbusters

On to the links…

Rising Seas Could Cause a Mass Migration of Americans Seeking Higher Ground—If you want to imagine a dystopia imagine millions of people forced to move because climate change and its impacts make communities unlivable.  Imagine wide swaths of the eastern seaboard rendered a climate change wasteland and those people moving inland.

Fear Climate Change — and Our Response to It—Humans are not rational creatures, so any model that assumes rational behavior is bound to end in failure.  We are not rational about climate change.

Carbon Emissions Could Be Costing the US 8 Times What Trump’s EPA Estimates—When the government in Washington D.C. is somewhat rational again we need to make sure that the figures used for estimates of climate change and its impacts are properly accounted for in any and all models.

Toxic Red Tide Could Fuel a Blue Win in Florida—Rick Scott represents some of the worst trends in American politics.  He is a scammer who takes no responsibility for his shenanigans and then tries to blame everyone else for his own behavior.  He has made the environment in Florida worse by being in the pocket of developers and big sugar.  Hopefully this is the grifter’s last con.

Trump Admin to Move $260M from Cancer Research, HIV/AIDS and Other Programs for Migrant Child-Custody Costs—You just know that Donny Two Scoops will brag about this on the campaign trail when e is trying to gin up what is left of his Alt Right supporters and closeted racist Republicans who cannot stand to see a brown person.

China Bumps up Renewable Energy Target to Reduce Reliance on Coal—China is trying to kick the coal habit.

Renewables in UK Energy Mix Hit All-time High—The mix actually was not super favorable to renewables as onshore wind suffered from lower wind speeds and hydro suffered from reduced rainfall.  Imagine what this will look like when the wind blows and the rain falls.

A Hail Mary Attempt to Save the West’s Largest Coal Plant Has Failed—This particular coal plant closing is a big deal.  The coal industrial complex has always viewed this plant as one of its redoubts.  It is now closing in 2019 after the latest attempt to keep operating beyond that date failed.  Yes, the local economy is going to need help because of the loss of jobs.  Yes, this is an unalloyed good in the fight to kick the coal habit.

Texas Coal Plant Announces Plans to Shut Down—The market is speaking and even in deep red Texas money still talks.  According to the article, this represents the fifth announced closure of a coal plant in Texas this year.

As Coal Stalls, Wyoming Considers New Environmental Clean-Up Rules—When Wyoming comes to the realization that trusting coal companies to pay for clean-up costs is unrealistic you know that coal is in trouble.

New Jersey Makes Way For 1.1 Gigawatt Offshore Wind—Usually, people are making fun of New Jersey for being corrupt or downright awful.  Go New Jersey!

How a New Zinc-Air Battery Could Transform the Grid—Cheaper batteries are the next hurdle for the clean energy revolution.  It is already cheap to generate power from sun and wind.  Now we need to be able to store some of that bounty for times when the sun does not shine and the wind does not blow.

Fast Charger Infrastructure In Iowa Limited By State Law & Utility Rules—This is why people hate utility companies.  The double speak is amazing.  Saying people do not understand billing by kilowatt hours is the most asinine thing yet because most, if not all, utility companies send out bills calculated via kilowatt hours.  It’s a fairly well understood metric.

No, Avoiding Meat and Dairy is Not ‘Elitist’—Here’s the thing, most of the world already avoids meat and dairy because it is too expensive.  Only in the West, particularly in North America, do we consider a meat or dairy free diet to be elitist.  Then again we live in a country where a man with his name plastered on buildings and a private plane was called the “blue collar billionaire.”

9 Times Mister Rogers said Exactly the Right Thing—Appreciate Mister Rogers as the antithesis of our current predicament.

Friday Linkage 3/31/2017

It is starting to feel like spring in Iowa, which means it has rained for several of the past few days and the temps are holding to a balmy mid-40s range.  Joy.

Despite the less than stellar weather it is time to start thinking about warmer weather projects and the list is long this year.  I cannot wait to get my hands dirty again.

On to the links…

What If They Killed The Clean Power Plan & Nobody Cared?—This is the best case scenario for the next few years.  We can only hope that the cost curve keeps bending in renewable energy’s favor and that coal continues to die a long, slow death.

Top US Coal Boss Robert Murray: Trump ‘Can’t Bring Mining Jobs Back’—Donald Trump lied, no big surprise, because coal jobs are not coming back.  No one is going to reopen old mines in Appalachia and the mines in the western U.S. are all about big machines.

Clean Energy Employs More People than Fossil Fuels in Nearly Every U.S. State—Seems like the jobs argument is pretty simple.  Granted, Exxon Mobil does not give donations to its political cronies to promote solar jobs.

Do Environmental Regulations Reduce Employment? Not Really.—Facts do not matter to the current administration and its Russian stooges, so I imagine that a fact based argument about environmental regulations would be shouted down as fake news or some such bullshit.

Alaska Warms to Solar Power as Prices Fall and Benefits Grow—This is Alaska.  Other than Wyoming fewer states are more associated with fossil fuels than Alaska.  If Alaska goes solar what’s left?

As Energy Mix Becomes Cleaner, Minnesotans Paying Less for It—So a cleaner power grid is a cheaper power grid.  Okay, who wants to argue against cheaper and cleaner?

Tesla Solar in Hawaii is a Sign of Things to Come—The future is now.

Australian Rooftop Solar Installs Are Up 43% In 2017—Australia should be covered in solar panels.  The country is more sun baked than any I can think of outside of the Middle East.

Rescuing Los Angeles—I am beginning to think the future will look a lot like this small patch of Los Angeles.  As institutions are increasingly prevented from being effective by elected leaders beholden to deceitful special interests solutions to livability will be hyper-local and inherently DIY.

Solving Global Dietary Problems is a Bigger Challenge than Climate Change—Meat is bad for the climate.  There is little logical argument against this statement.  Also, western societies eat too much meat.  Again, there is little logical argument against this statement.

Cycling in Minnesota Creates Thousands of Jobs and Cuts Health-Care Spending—Basically, cycling is awesome.

5 Packaging Materials You Didn’t Know are Difficult to Recycle—How many of these packaging materials have you or I blindly thrown in the recycling bin?

Illinois Considers Legalizing Marijuana for a Fiscal Boost—This is the end of prohibition on marijuana in the United States.  Once the first state does it for economic reasons every other non-legalized state will follow.  It’s all about the Benjamins.

U.S. Craft Brewers Up 6% in Volume, 10% in Retail Dollars—Craft beer in the U.S. continues to grow at a rapid clip. However, I am worried about the long term prospects for so many breweries.

Rapidgrass Sings The I-70 Blues—If you have ever thought your ski vacation would begin soon after seeing the mountains poke through Front Range haze on I-76 you have not experienced the I-70 blues.

Friday Linkage 7/4/2014

For several days it has been nothing but chain saws, chipper shredders, and other power tools ringing out as people clean up from the nasty storm on Monday. The derecho left a pretty nasty wake of landscape destruction. If there was one good thing that came out of the storm it was that one of my trees I was going to have to stake to straighten is now leaning the right way. I will take what I can get given the general destruction.

On to the links…

Not Eating Meat Can Cut Your Food-Related Carbon Emissions Almost In Half—There is nothing new with regards to this study finding except that it draws some attention to the fact that our appetite for meat is destructive. If you had to make one lifestyle change tomorrow that would benefit the planet it should be stopping the consumption of meat.

China’s Hurdle to Fast Action on Climate Change—No matter what we do in the U.S., if developing countries like China and India do not act on climate change goals then the efforts we make will be too little, too late.

The Secret to Richer, Carbon-Capturing Soil? Treat Your Microbes Well—The world of microbes, regardless of the location, are an amazing wealth of scientific discovery right now. The impacts of these discoveries is impacting our health and our planet.

California Ranchers Tackle the Climate Crisis One Pasture at a Time—Meat can be part of our food system if it is raised in a way that benefits the planet. So, animals should be allowed to live on wide open pastures that are maintained as opposed to living in CAFOs. Simple.

Shrimp’s New Path to the Plate—It’s amazing how much shrimp we eat in the U.S. If we expect to keep eating shrimp it is going to have to come from farms raising captive stock.

A New Wind Turbine Generates Back The Energy It Takes To Build It In Just 6 Months—A bugaboo of the right is the claim that a wind turbine never produces more energy than it takes to manufacture. Guess what? That is wrong.

How Energy Efficiency Is Hitting It Big With The High Tech Industry—Applying the principals of data mining and analysis to efficient efforts can only yield better results in terms of reducing energy usage per dollar expended.

Where Are the Hardest Places to Live in the U.S.?—In the U.S. there is an unspoken agreement in polite society that poverty is not something to be discussed. However, the growing inequity in our society is making it necessary to have a conversation about why some people get so much and so many get so little.

Natural Resources Worth More than$40 Trillion Must be Accounted For—Do you know why companies that drill, mine, and burn fossil fuels are able to make so much money? It’s because they do not have to account for the externalities like damage to the natural resources of the world. If you can put a price on something, you can make lasting change.

Creeping Up on Unsuspecting Shores: The Great Lakes, in a Welcome Turnaround—The Great Lakes are an amazing asset in the United States and Canada. So much freshwater is locked up in these bodies of water that it is criminal we do not manage them better. The news the past couple of years has been pretty bad, but here is a little good news. Yay!

Ocean’s Nasty Plastic Garbage is Disappearing: What’s Going On?—Our understanding of the oceans is so poor. We pour trash and chemicals into the waters without a single thought to the health of the oceans. And we are surprised that we do not know what is going on? Wow, we are dumber than I thought.

After the Trees Disappear—The impacts from the emerald ash borer are going to be far reaching and permanent. Many of our forested landscapes will look considerably different once the ash trees are gone.

Drug Lord’s Rogue Hippos Taking over Colombia—Okay, the title is a little hyperbolic but the story is interesting anyway. It looks like one of Pablo Escobar’s legacies is going to be an invasive population of hippos. Strange.

You Must Read—Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business

Processed foods are an easy target for lovers of food. Processed foods contain lots of salt, sugar, and fat—so succinctly described in a prior You Must Read entry—and are generally nutritionally worthless given the calorie load. However, as we turn our eyes toward making food from scratch we uncover that almost every ingredient we can get our hands on is touched by some vestige of this gigantic soul sucking menagerie known as the modern American food system.

Although the United States has no living memory of epidemic food shortages—the closest being the Depression, but those are much more endemic examples—our food system has been shaped in the past half century or so to pump out calories, regardless of the environmental, economic, or public health consequences.

9781451645811The meat we eat is no different. In Christopher Leonard’s Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business Tyson Foods and its principals are used as the lens through which to witness the transformation of the three major meat products: chicken, pork, and beef.

Don Tyson, the son of the founder of what would become Tyson Foods, may have gotten his start with chickens in Arkansas but his company—through growth and acquisition—is now the single largest player in bringing meat to the supermarkets of America. As consumers we rarely think about the meat we buy because it is not branded and labelled like the foods in the middle aisles. We do not go to the store specifically to buy IBP sirloin like we might Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. This is further obfuscated by the fact that the butcher counter appears to be a place where carcasses are brought in from a local slaughterhouse and broken down into saleable components. This could not be further from the truth. After reading this book I spent some time really scanning the meat in the refrigerated cases and the butcher counter. Imagine my surprise to see big boxes emblazoned with IBP—a subsidiary of Tyson Foods—being brought from the back. Don’t even think about the chicken patty you ate from the drive-through on the way home from work.

There was a time when the country was scared of this type of consolidation. Think about the changes after Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was published. How is it any different now? One giant firm is able to almost single handedly control the price of chicken, pork, and beef in the United States through a series of internal levers. Don’t believe the hyperbole? Tyson Foods has been found guilty in the past of violating the fairly toothless Packers and Stockyards Act. In 2004 the company was found guilty of manipulating the price of cattle, assessed damages of $1.28 billion, and managed to wiggle free when the U.S. Court of Appeals voided the decision. So, even when the company is caught and convicted it does not matter because an Uncle Sam that is bought and paid for will step up to the place for Tyson Foods.

Anti-trust lawsuits are essentially useless anymore because big business is so entwined with the regulators and prosecutors assigned to bring such cases forward. What lawyer in the Justice Department is going to anger every major corporation in America, thus narrowing post-public service job offers from prominent DC law firms, by bringing a case against the meat cartel? What functionary in the USDA is going to spend a career hunting one of these big game targets when it is just easier to accept a job in industry after leaving civil service? The answer is…no one. Combined with the power and agency given to these corporations by the money given to political campaigns—remember, it’s really just speech according to the Supreme Court—elected officials are even worse.

Farmers and ranchers are stuck in the untenable situation of trying to remain independent of a system that has been changed to render the independent farmer and rancher obsolete. Rather it’s a system that turns them into indentured servants and sharecroppers. If allowed Tyson Foods would like to “chickenize” the entire production of meat. This is a system where Tyson owns the chickens and every aspect of production save for the low margin and risky job of raising the animals. In essence, Tyson Foods has outsourced the worst part of their business and shuffled the capital intensive raising of animals to an increasingly indebted farmer who has little or no control over their own fate.

The state of affairs regarding the consolidation of the meat industry and, therefore, where the power resides is best summed up by Leonard’s statement in the final sentence of the book referring to farmers raising livestock in America today:

Tyson is waiting to take their call, and ready to shape their future. [Page 319]

I suppose the easiest answer to the problem is to just stop eating meat at all. Maybe those vegan activists were on to something when I was in college. Heck, we eat too much meat in this country anyway.

Short of going vegan there is only one solution: remove yourself from the marketplace. Don’t eat at fast food restaurants because the meat is sure to come from Tyson Foods or one of its equally odiferous nominal competitors. If you want to eat meat source it as directly from the livestock producer as possible. It seems like this is the solution to a lot of problems related to food production in the United States, but that is because the market is fatally flawed and skewed toward major corporations. The price we pay in the grocery store goes up, yet the price paid to the farmer goes down. Who pockets the delta? Companies like Tyson Foods.

Friday Linkage 3/14/2014

A note to everyone, I am going to be out of touch and offline for the next week and a half.  It’s not really a vacation unless you totally unplug and I am going to park my smartphone at home before I leave.

On to the links…

Use of Public Transit in U.S. Reaches Highest Level Since 1956—This report made a lot of headlines when it was released, but most reporters failed to mention how abysmal our mass transit ridership numbers were to begin with.

Turning Food Waste Into Fuel Takes Gumption And Trillions Of Bacteria—Why aren’t we turning all of our biological waste into energy and/or compost?  It seems like a no brainer.

U.S. Homeowners, Especially Republicans, Want To Be Able To Choose Clean Energy—People want the ability to have renewable energy.  It’s not an issue with the end user.  It’s an issue with the people who want to control the means of production.  And you thought Marxist political theory was dead along with the Soviet Union.

California Set Back-To-Back Solar Records Last Week—Not only do people really want renewables, but in some places in the U.S. it’s really taking off.

These Mad Scientists Want to Replace Solar Panels With Potted Plants—I always thought potato clocks were cool, but moss producing electricity is even cooler.  Now I can imagine green roofs putting out electricity.

Spraying Toxic Coal Ash Is A Cheap And Popular Way To De-Ice Roads—This just really bums me out because I have no idea if my town in Iowa uses coal ash.  My emails and letters to the city have gone unanswered.  I can take solace that I do not live in Muscatine, which is confirmed in the article as using the coal ash to clear roads of ice.

Meat Makes the Planet Thirsty—If it was not already apparent, eating meat is just about the most environmentally destructive thing that we do on a daily basis.  Given how much meat we eat in the U.S. it’s probably the worst thing we do on a collective basis.

The Fat Drug—It’s interesting that the same effect antibiotics have on livestock, in terms of promoting growth, may also be something that affects humans.

Poll Suggests Americans Think Sugar Is A Bigger Health Threat Than Marijuana—Sugar is a bad thing.  In small amounts it is sweet and delectable.  In the amounts modern Americans consume it might as well be a mainline of nasty into your veins.

The Japanese Can’t Stop Eating Endangered Sea Mammals—I used to have a lot of respect and interest in Japan, but the more I learn the more I lose both respect and interest.

Momentum Building for Deforestation-Free Palm Oil—Palm oil is a dirty business.  I avoid the product with a religious zeal and advocate that anyone else do the same.  It’s not that the product itself is bad.  It’s that everything involved in its production is bad.  Plus, I love orangutans.

Wish You Could Fertilize Crops with Pee? Urine Luck—My dilute with water and pour it on the base of a tree approach is not really scalable, but I am hoping that more people being to see urine going down the toilet as a wasted resource.

Spending 15 Minutes With a Great White Shark on a Boat Deck—It’s always interesting to get a look into the lives of researchers.  Spending some time on the deck with a great white shark is something I am going to leave to more brave souls.  I have an irrational fear of sharks.

So You Think You Want to Open a Brewery—This is a question I get a lot from friends and family who know I am not the most happy person at my job.  Why don’t you quit and start a brewery?  Other than I believe the field is full of excellent brewers already and the market looks saturated, the job is not always about the beer.

You Must Read—Just Food

No matter how “primitive” or “pure” the operation may seem, every farm on some level is a factory. (Page 67)

Food is critically important to the survival of human beings. That is the one salient point that everyone with an interest in food, that is to say every living person, can agree upon.  Once we get past that point, opinions diverge into a million streams of thought and arguments ensue.

9780316033756The usual breakdown occurs across common fault lines: organic versus conventional, GMO versus non-GMO, vegan versus meat eater, etc.  There seems to be little middle ground in between these fractious camps, but James E. McWilliams tries to tread such a space in Just Food: Where Locavores Get it Wrong and How We can Truly Eat Responsibly.

McWilliams, an associate professor of history at Texas State University-San Marcos, has a problem with food miles:

Food miles are readily popular primarily because they’re easy to grasp and calculate. (Page 46)

I agree with the author that judging the eco-grade of a food based solely on the miles it travels to store or plate is erroneous because it fails to account for so many variables.  Transportation costs, in terms of energy and money, are quite small in proportion to the other costs associated with our food’s production.

Where I disagree with the author is that he fails to address some of the larger aspects of the local food movement.  It’s not just about bringing production of food back to a local foodshed.  It’s about rediscovering local traditions and methods that are lost in a homogenized world.  It’s about accountability in a food system where a single company may be responsible for half or more of a single commodity.

His belief in genetically modified organisms (GMO) I am hesitant to endorse.  It’s not that I do not believe in the ability of GMOs to address problems that arise in agriculture.  It is rather that the efficacy and safety of GMOs does not have to be document before the organisms are allowed out into the wild.  This is an indictment of the regulatory regime surrounding GMOs rather than the product themselves but it is an indictment nonetheless.

There is one place where I agree with McWilliams completely: our love affair with land based protein or meat is the single most destructive dietary decision that we make on a regular basis.  If you chose to do only one thing to benefit the planet, it would be to forgo any meat that comes from a land animal.  Given the state of our oceans and the destructive fishing practices employed it might also be advisable to give up all types of meat.

Meat is inefficient and exacerbates the worst of our agricultural practices.  In the U.S. over half of our two primary commodity crops—corn and soybeans—are turned into feed for animals.  McWilliams asserts:

If once could wave a magic wand and radically reduce meat consumption, all discussion of fertilizer abuse would come to an abrupt halt.  (Page 77)

The key aspect to McWilliams’ book and something that is absent in the majority of writing about food where it seems diametrically opposing views are the only acceptable means of discourse is that a middle way might be possible.  In his own words:

I believe in the notion that a rational and achievable middle ground exists between th extremes of abundance and deficiency. (Page 185)

As the world faces the challenge of feeding ever more people on the same amount of land or less, as arable land becomes degraded, utilizing every option at our disposal may become the default.  What McWilliams proposes in Just Food is that we can produce more food and do away with the more damaging aspects of modern agriculture, but that the current focus on local and organic is a fool’s errand.  It’s an interesting proposal that is worth your time to examine.