I Twibboned.

Twibbon is an application for Twitter, Facebook and Myspace that puts a little graphic on your avatar supporting a cause you believe in (or an entertainer, or any number of things). I made a no GMO Twibbon. If what you eat matters to you, and you'd like to see legislation for GMO labeling, consider wearing this little doohickey on your avatar in any of these apps -- or find a cause that matters to you and support.

Still a Small Planet

I became a vegetarian around 1997 and stayed that way for three years. My reasons weren't ethical or environmental, mainly health. For those who don't eat meat for health reasons, or because they don't believe in killing conscious creatures, this article is not for you.

When I became a vegetarian, I read Frances Moore Lappe's Diet for a Small Planet (still a great read, if you keep in mind that some of the info is dated). Its grain-and-bean combining amino acid theories have influenced vegetarian eating for decades. She also brings to light the fact that eating vegetarian is more resource-friendly - essentially, you have to feed (and water) the animal you're eating a lot more than you would have to eat to sustain yourself on purely vegetable matter. So one person consumes less acreage if they eat vegetarian. It's worth thinking about, and it's still true. Interestingly, Ms. Lappe is not a vegetarian herself. I haven't read her new book yet, but plan to.

Time magazine this week has an extremely intriguing article that I recommend any sustainable foodies out there pick up. It's entitled Save the Planet: Eat More Beef* (asterisk reads: Grass feeding required). In essence, free range beef is putting more carbon into the soil than it is taking out by consumption (whoa, the way nature is supposed to work!) Not only that but grass fed beef is much lower in fat and higher in omega-3's. An interesting quote from the article: "A vegetarian eating tofu made in a factory from soybeans grown in Brazil is responsible for a lot more CO2 than I am [by eating grass fed beef]."

I'd be willing to bet that, unless you're a vegetarian, you could stand to eat LESS meat than you already do, and that's a step in the right direction wherever your meat comes from. But on an environmental scale, and a world hunger scale, eating some meat makes sense - an animal can graze on a hillside planted with human-inedible grass, over land that nothing could be planted and farmed for human consumption. That's just wise resource use. From a world hunger perspective, many of the places people are going hungry are not places where there are amber waves of grain - the scrubby grass that grows there isn't good for much but livestock.

So, from an environmental standpoint, some things you can do to make a difference in your environmentally conscious omnivorism:
1) Eat less meat.
2) Eat free range meat.
3) Eat local organic meat.

The Case Against GMO

In the news, the Supreme Court decided this week to hear case Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms, regarding the safety of GMO crops - specifically alfalfa, the first perennial crop to be GM, and a crop that bees pollinate, which means the $*#($-up genes can be spread over miles and miles. Lovely! Kudos to the Center for Food Safety for bringing this case. Here's the low-down: http://truefoodnow.org/2010/01/15/supreme-court-to-hear-first-genetically-engineered-crop-case/#more-849

While you're at it, click that icon at the top to go to Non-GMO Project's web site to learn more about a new food seal stating that a product has no GM stuff in it, and take the pledge to look for the seal near you.

More kudos to Whole Foods Market, whose blog brought me all this good info. Sure wish I had one of those glorious places near me.

Plastic for Dinner

Plastic in the food chain. There's a 10 million mile wide swath of the Pacific infested with plastic - it breaks down and down, and there's currently more plastic than plankton in this area. They're finding it in the fish which means it's only a matter of time before it works its way up to the food chain - to you.

Less than 5% of plastic is recycled. How much did you throw away this week?

Reduce. Use less plastic and especially less disposable plastic.

Reuse. Not plastic water bottles, since they may be toxic, but that cottage cheese container can be used again, instead of buying disposable plastic containers or sandwich bags.

Recycle. Your front line defense should be the first two since recycling takes energy but please - if you're not going to reuse it, recycle it. Find a recycling center near you at earth911.com.

Plastic is a hard habit to kick. If not because of concern for the environment and the life cohabiting earth with us, please cut down on your plastic use because all things are connected and eventually, it's going to hurt you and your family. Before you spend your money on "disposable" anything, remember that it has to go somewhere after you throw it away, and eventually, you just might end up eating it.

My Love Affair (recipe of the week)

I am going to suggest a new love for you: your bread machine. You have one parked in a closet somewhere or covered with dust at the back of your counter, right? Well, if not, they're available for pretty reasonable prices these days (around $50), or there are always lots of people getting rid of them because they really didn't use them.

I'm really not sure why. I decided about eight years ago that I wanted one, but I was pretty poor at the time. Me and my Oster met at a yard sale, and $14 later we went home. It must have been kismet, because the same yard sale day I found a bread slicer and three bread machine cookbooks at different sales. Eight years later, it's pretty beat up - the pan leaks and the lid has cracked off - but it still cranks out dough for me. I'm in the market for a new one. I might have this one bronzed.

I just want to say, there is NOTHING like the smell, the taste, the texture, of fresh baked bread. There's something about it that is the essence of homey. It rounds out a meal so amazingly, especially a hearty soup, but I make bread with something like 3 meals a week. I've fattened Russ up considerably on this regimen, so this year I'm looking at making more whole grain bread and less recipes that are stuffed with eggs and butter (but they're sooooo goood....)

My favorite bread machine recipes are the ones that make dough I can cook in my oven, although I imagine from an energy-saving standpoint I'm probably better off letting the machine finish it - and if you do it that way it's about as easy as any convenience food. I have about 20 machine recipes I absolutely love, and I figured I'd share a few now and then. This one is so well loved that the book it's in falls open to the page, which is kind of crusty itself.

Pepper Cheese Bread

1 cup water
2 Tb olive oil
2 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp cracked black pepper
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp bread machine yeast
1/2 cup shredded provolone (any cheese works, I've tried lots of different ones)
1/4 cup grade Parmesan cheese
1 slightly beaten egg white
1 Tb. water

Makes a 1 1/2 lb. loaf. Add first 7 ingredients according to manufacturer directions (usually, add all the wet ingredients, then flour, then dry ingredients, with the yeast on top to make sure it doesn't touch the wet stuff). Select the dough cycle on your machine. When it finishes, remove dough, punch down, let rest 10 minutes. Roll dough into a 12 x 10 inch rectangle and sprinkle with the cheeses. Roll into a spiral, moisten edge and pinch to seal. Taper ends. Place on greased sheet seam down, let rise 30 to 45 minutes. With a very sharp knife make 4 diagonal cuts about 1/4 inch deep across the top of the loaf. In a small bowl combine the egg and water, brush over loaf. I like to sprinkle with a little more cheese, or sesame seed, after that. Bake 375 for 15 minutes, brush with egg again, and bake another 20 minutes, until bread sounds hollow when tapped. Cool, slice, devour. If you can wait for it to cool.

Public Service Message

Fact. A new International Journal of biological sciences studied the effects of genetically modified (GM) corn on rats. They linked it to organ damage. Here's your Huffington Post link, and here's the text of the actual study.

Fact. The only study on the effects of GM foods done prior to this was a 90-day study done by Monsanto (the company that has patents on most GM seeds) for FDA approval (that wasn't skewed, I'm sure). Most chronic conditions will not show up in 90 days. The above study concludes: "These substances have never before been an integral part of the human or animal diet and therefore their health consequences for those who consume them, especially over long time periods are currently unknown."

Fact. These genetically modified seeds, now in use for a decade, are being used to grow 95% of soy crops and 80% of corn crops in the US, and a host of other crops grown in large quantities. In fact, if a farmer wanted to find non-GM seeds, they might have difficulty even finding them. Consider: how many of the products you consume use US corn oil, corn syrup, soybean oil, soy and corn flour? Most things you eat, I'm guessing. And a lot of that produce is probably GM, too, but, here's the real problem.

Fact. There is currently no legislation demanding that a product be identified as having been grown from GM seeds, or containing crop products grown from GM seeds. Therefore, even if you wanted to completely eliminate GM products from your diet and your home, you would be unable to do so, UNLESS you buy absolutely everything organic, as anything with the organic label is not permitted by law to be genetically modified.

GM crops can cross-pollinate with crops that aren't, so even if some people chose to grow non-GM crops, the neighbor's field might "infect" theirs. Worse, Monsanto crops now carry a "terminator" gene that kills embryonic seed, so that the farmer can't save seed for the next year - that's right, the crop is rendered incapable of reproducing - so they have to buy more seed from Monsanto the next year. What happens when THAT spreads by cross-pollination? And I haven't even gone into the fact that most of the above genetic modification is done so that crops can be mass-sprayed with herbicides. That's an entirely different rant.

I think you should vote with your dollars - buy organic, for now - and also write your congressman, because I think this is a huge threat to health and safety. GM products MUST be labeled as such.

I'm on a crusade here. If this disturbs you, pass the info on, please.

More links, more info.

Can that Terminator gene really cross-pollinate?
If so, is that a threat to world food supply?

And finally, a documentary on what Monsanto is doing for YOU.

Watch The World According to Monsanto in Educational | View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

Community Supported Agriculture

You can buy this easy to do Indoor Lettuce Growing Kit from Pleasant Hedges on Etsy

The more I learn about the food industry, the more depressed and alarmed I get. Really, the more I think about it, food shouldn't be an industry at all. Maybe specialized foods? But when you get right down to it, the main motivation for the people putting food on your plate is not your well being, it's their bottom line. Their profit. As a result, walking through the aisles of the grocery store yesterday, surrounded by all the flashy colorful packaging, I felt like... well, a consumer. One who consumes. Without thought.

"Agribusiness" or "corporate farming" is done by megacorporations encompassing not only the farm, but the whole chain of food processing, from seed supply to agricultural chemicals, processing, transport, etc. These companies have powerful lobbies in Washington to keep the status quo. They supply convenience, but often not nutrition or taste (beyond the taste of high fructose corn syrup). There are myriad reasons I think this system is a serious problem, which I'll go into at a later date.

But is there an alternative? Well, sure. You could buy a couple of acres, quit your day job, and grow all your own food. (Honestly, I'd love to). While that's not an option for everybody, there are small efforts you could make in that direction - put a tomato in a pot on your patio this year, or grow some lettuce indoors. It'll save you money, and then you'll know what you're putting in your body.

Any others alternatives? I have a few suggestions. First, find out if there's a farmer's market near you. If you're in Tennessee, check out http://www.picktnproducts.org to find out who's got fresh (often organic) produce for very reasonable prices. Other states may have similar sites, which you should be able to find through a simple Internet search.

Or, you could join a CSA. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Basically, you buy a share in a farm at the beginning of a growing season, and the farm contracts to supply you with fresh produce for a period of time. Length of time and products vary, and many CSA farms are certified organic, or often organic but not certified (the process of certification is a pain). Some of them you pay for the entire year up front, and some you can pay monthly or weekly. What can you get? The variety is astounding: fresh eggs, meats, produce, honey, and more. Then you arrange to pick up your basket usually on a weekly basis. I am definitely doing this this year, though I haven't chosen a farm yet. You can go to http://www.localharvest.org, type in your zip code, and find farms near you participating in this program, see what they're growing, visit their websites. If you still need reasons to support local agriculture, check out this post.

Buon appetito!

More Trash Talk

Electronics technology moves so fast that the computer you buy today is likely to become disposable in five years or less. That's just computers and peripherals - how often are you replacing your cell phone, your TV, your PDA, your game consoles, cameras...? About that frequently, I'm guessing. At least they're getting smaller! Still, that's a LOT of electronic stuff that's getting tossed in landfills, and to make matters worse, there are frequently substances in electronics that are harmful to the environment if they leech into the system (which they do). It is estimated that over 100 million mobile phones are tossed into landfills each year. And then there are batteries... but we'll get into that another day.

Amazon.com has an awesome program called Green Earth Exchange. They pay shipping. You send your old electronics equipment. If it can be recycled, they will give you the value of it as an amazon.com gift card. If not, they recycle it responsibly for free. It's win-win. Over the past year they've recycled a million pounds of electronics! Check out that link if, like me, you've got half a dozen old keyboards lying around, not to mention bits of computers long since defunct.

Please recycle!

Recipe of the Week: Ratatouille Bake

In my last post I touted the benefits of eating local, and I know you can't get most of this stuff locally this time of year in most places, but then again, it's a horrible time of year to try to start eating locally anyway. But! you can start getting ready to do it. And when your garden is chock full of fresh produce, this is one amazing recipe to try. It's become one of our family's very favorites.

Ratatouille Bake

olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
2 cups peeled and diced eggplant
2 cuts cubed or sliced zucchini
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 cup fresh mushrooms
(if you've got other favorite veggies you can certainly add them, I work with what I have)
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes (or chopped fresh, preferably)
chopped fresh basil, if available, or dried if not
fresh parsley, or dried
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper (I use a little red pepper flakes, too)
1 8 oz. package of ravioli or tortellini (I use fresh, but you can use frozen)
1 cup shredded mozzarella or pizza cheese

Preheat oven 350 degrees. Spray a 2 1/2 quart casserole with nonstick spray. Sprinkle cubed eggplant with salt and let sweat while you sautee the other veggies (sweetens it). Heat olive oil in a skillet and sautee veggies, starting with the garlic, pepper and onion and adding the more tender ones, mushroom last. When veggies are tender, add the diced tomatoes and spices. Simmer on medium low heat for about 20 minutes.
Cook ravioli according to package directions, drain, and spread on bottom of casserole. Top with ratatouille veggies and sprinkle with cheese. Bake about 20 minutes until cheese is bubbly.

Of course, it's amazing with crusty bread, which I'll probably give you a recipe for next week. Enjoy!

Why Eat Local

1) It supports your local economy. That means it creates income and jobs for the people in your home town.

2) Taste. Those tomatoes that were picked green in California and trucked here to turn red and then get eaten... you've had a home grown tomato, right? The difference is vast. Local food can be picked ripe (even if you don't grow it yourself), can be carefully cultivated heirloom varieties and not industrialized strains grown for herbicide resistance (yeah.. they breed vegetables that will resist the chemicals that they spray to kill the weeds growing alongside them) and not for taste.

3) Environment. Buying something grown locally is actually better for the environment than buying something organic that was trucked from California, when you take into account the fossil fuels burned in the production of industrial-grown produce, and then having them trucked across the country to your local grocery store. We're consuming about 400 gallons of oil per year per citizen, 17% of national use, for agriculture, which isn't far behind our vehicular use. Each food item on your plate has traveled 1500 miles, on average. If every US Citizen ate just one meal per week composed fo locally, organically raised meats and produce, we could reduce national oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. If that's not food for thought, I don't know what is. [Statistics reproduced from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver]

4) Small farming and artisanal food production are a dying art I, personally want to support. Government policy isn't always friendly toward the small farmer (I think a lot of my small farming friends would call that an understatement). So, vote with your dollar and buy from them, not CAFOs.

The above-mentioned Barbara Kingsolver book is an eye opener (for me, a life changer) I highly recommend. I intend to revisit this issue often on this blog. If you can grow it yourself, do so. If you can't, locate a small farmer's market - many communities run one and my hometown of Sparta does in the summer. Barring that, make it known to your favorite grocer that local foods are important to you, and recommend that they support local small growers. There are also food co-ops in many areas of the US where you can get locally grown often organic foods. Whole Foods Market carries locally grown produce where available. The more the demand is for locally grown food, the more large chains will bring it to you.

Finding Consciousness

Yoga Art Cards by Corinna Luyken on Etsy
(I find the coolest things when I look for an item to go with a post on Etsy!)

This is the year of consciousness. (Note that I am not, and will not, use the R word - those things are made to be broken).

What this means: I will be in touch with the Earth. I will honor her creatures (this is nothing new). I will dig in the earth and create nourishment for my family. I will eat organic food as much as possible, food that is grown nearby. I will meditate. I will blog and journal. I will be conscious of what I use and discard.

Nothing fosters consciousness for me as much as a regular practice of yoga and meditation, so I instituted that today. That old "lose weight" thing hasn't worked for me in the past, so here is my promise to myself: I will get stronger. That is all.

Happy New Year to you all, and may it bring you consciousness as well.