Guilt In The Eye Of The Beholder


A raspberry dessert at Café Gratitude in Hollywood. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times

A few days back I was struck by a post on this site about lab-grown foods, and wanted to continue the thought exercise by sharing a few comments on a brief article I had just read elsewhere on the intersection between performance art and food issues. Two more cents to add here, by way of a few excerpts from this fascinating, if alarming, article:

Eschewing a Vegan Lifestyle at Home, but Still Embracing It at Work

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Who Will Regulate Lab-grown Meat and Milk?

David Parry/PA Wire via Science Magazine

Like most people, we hold reservations about the idea of putting meat, milk, and egg whites made from laboratory cellular agriculture on the market. Will the proteins be safe for humans to consume? Might there be some unforeseen environmental impact even worse than that of raising cattle where rainforests once stood? Are there ethical considerations that outweigh the hope of freeing the chickens that are kept in cages their whole lives just to harvest their eggs?

We don’t have any answers, but are learning more about the whole process this week from Elizabeth Devitt at Science Magazine, where she writes about the fledgling industry and its potential regulators:

The first hamburger cooked with labmade meat didn’t get rave reviews for taste. But the test tube burger, rolled out to the press in 2013, has helped put a spotlight on the question of how the U.S. government will regulate the emerging field of cellular agriculture, which uses biotechnology instead of animals to make products such as meat, milk, and egg whites.

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“Bye Bye” to Dolphin Selfies


Dolphins are one of the most adored aquatic mammals due to their charismatic and friendly nature. In Hawaii, spinner dolphins attract thousands of tourists to the island every year, but the lack of regulation on human interaction with these social creatures is changing their behavior and disrupting their sleep cycle:

Spinner dolphins are nocturnal, foraging in the deep ocean at night and returning to shallow waters to rest during the day, said Susan Pultz, the chief of conservation planning and rule-making for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

“When you get the numbers [of tourists] we’re seeing, they’re constantly disturbed all day long. That’s their resting period,” said Pultz.

“As we all know, if you don’t rest day after day after day, it does affect your fitness.”

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Food Waste, Remarkably Grotesque


Discarded food is the biggest single component of US landfill and incinerators, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Photograph: Alamy

We have known for some time the problem is serious, and we are always looking for counter-balancing stories that also highlight solutions. And we are constantly learning more details on just how serious the problem is getting; in short, worse rather than better. Now, new words come to mind. Grotesque is probably the most appropriate (thanks to the Guardian’s ongoing attention to this problem):

The demand for ‘perfect’ fruit and veg means much is discarded, damaging the climate and leaving people hungry

Americans throw away almost as much food as they eat because of a “cult of perfection”, deepening hunger and poverty, and inflicting a heavy toll on the environment.

Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the US are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards, according to official data and interviews with dozens of farmers, packers, truckers, researchers, campaigners and government officials.

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Can You Top This?


Kamilla Seidler, center, who has worked in some of Europe’s top restaurants, leads the kitchen at Gustu, which is both a restaurant and an experiment in social uplift. PHOTOGRAPH BY BENJAMIN LOWY / GETTY IMAGES REPORTAGE FOR THE NEW YORKER

What were we thinking? Yesterday we chose a favorite without considering all the evidence.  We stand corrected. Here we have a story of a restaurant at the top of the world, and at the pinnacle of how the game is played today, it sounds like. The content of this story is as superb as it is well written, and the theme is much closer to our hearts with regard to our organization’s core values and social enterprise roots:

Letter from La Paz APRIL 4, 2016 ISSUE

The Tasting-Menu Initiative

Can a restaurant for the rich benefit the poor?


Look out the windows of Gustu, the most ambitious restaurant in La Paz, Bolivia, and you’ll see the city climbing up toward the looming peaks of the Andes in a lumpy, shimmering mosaic. Continue reading

Conservation, Technology & Ethics


Adam Ferriss

We have had the good fortune, and could not agree more with the questions raised and the puzzles presented in this opinion editorial published two days ago in the New York Times:

The Unnatural Kingdom

If technology helps us save the wilderness,
will the wilderness still be wild?


IF you ever have the good fortune to see a Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, the experience might go like this: On a sunny morning in Yosemite National Park, you walk through alpine meadows and then up a ridge to the summit of Mount Gibbs at 12,764 feet above sea level. You unwrap a chocolate bar amid breathtaking views of mountain and desert and then you notice movement below. Continue reading

Defining A Word We All Use Constantly, And Are Concerned About

Illustration by Javier Jaén

Illustration by Javier Jaén

Thanks to one of the great writers on food-related ethical issues for getting us to think about a core definition for our everyday vocabulary, including taken-for-granted words like this one:

Why ‘Natural’ Doesn’t Mean Anything Anymore


It isn’t every day that the definition of a common English word that is ubiquitous in common parlance is challenged in federal court, but that is precisely what has happened with the word “natural.” During the past few years, some 200 class-action suits have been filed against food manufacturers, charging them with misuse of the adjective in marketing such edible oxymorons as “natural” Cheetos Puffs, “all-natural” Sun Chips, “all-natural” Naked Juice, “100 percent all-natural” Tyson chicken nuggets and so forth. The plaintiffs argue that many of these products contain ingredients — high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and colorings, chemical preservatives and genetically modified organisms — that the typical consumer wouldn’t think of as “natural.” Continue reading

Muro de las Lágrimas: Historical Conservation in the Galapagos



Isla Isabela: Paradise with a dark history

I am currently on study abroad in Ecuador, which has provided me with a mountain of experiences to post about when my homework will allow. I recently had the good fortune to go to the Galapagos, a dream I’ve had since I realized they existed. I am still so struck by everything I saw. In this post, I’ll just highlight one of the places on Isla Isabela that started some good conversations among my classmates about historical conservation of sites of trauma. Also, I will share a poem I wrote about the location.

Former President Ibarra of Ecuador used the island of Isabela as a penal colony (1946-1956), where prisoners were forced to do agricultural labor. They had to carry lava rocks from all over the island to construct the walls of their own prison. There are stories that they would cry as they carried the rocks. I was told that bodies are inside the walls from the rocks falling down while they were building them. The saying that accompanies the island’s history is: Los valientes lloran y los cobardes mueren, which means “The brave cry and the cowards die.” After ten years, the prisoners escaped by creating a play for the guards about prisoners escaping. They got the guards drunk, and actually escaped during the play.

Despite the story of escape, it couldn’t feel like a happy ending. My friends and I were talking about how it felt to visit this site of trauma as tourists. What is the role of historians and purpose of preserving places exactly as they were in the past? Is it to empower us with memories that in our normal lives we couldn’t have access to? Who are these memories for? For some people, this type of oppression is not of the past. They don’t need external reminders because the struggle for survival is part of their daily lives. There was conversation in the group about how preserving sites of trauma allows many of us to experience a sense of empathy before moving on to our daily, more privileged lives. This is how the set-up of touring through the site of trauma left us feeling. Continue reading

Illegal Wildlife Trade, Quantified


Photograph: James Morgan/WWF/AFP/Getty Images

The Guardian’s coverage of one of our least favorite but critically important topics is appreciated, as always:

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Breakthroughs In Nutrition Via Entrepreneurial Conservation

Exo's peanut butter-and-jelly bar contains about 40 ground-up crickets and has a familiar nutty, sweet flavor. Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Exo’s peanut butter-and-jelly bar contains about 40 ground-up crickets and has a familiar nutty, sweet flavor. Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA)’s food-focused program, The Salt, for another story on unexpected breakthroughs in nutrition:

…”Insects are probably the most sustainable form of protein we have on Earth,” Bitty Foods founder Megan Miller, who spoke passionately about eating bugs at a TEDx Manhattan event earlier this year, tells The Salt. “The only real barrier to Americans eating insects is a cultural taboo.” Continue reading

Yesterday’s Best Half Hour Melted Into Today’s


A pair of Harvard alumni on campus for commencement, in 1977. CREDIT PHOTOGRAPH BY CONSTANTINE MANOS/MAGNUM.

Just after this post had been published yesterday, starting with the acknowledgement of busy-ness and concluding that education plays a key, if mysterious role in character-building and communication capabilities, a kind of echo reverberated through the reading of this post by Joshua Rothman:

There’s a special joy in giving someone advice that’s sure not to be followed—“Wake up at the same time every morning”; “Don’t check your e-mail while on vacation”—and William Deresiewicz must have felt it when writing his recent cover story for The New Republic, “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League.” Hypercompetitive colleges, Deresiewicz wrote,  Continue reading

The Best Half Hour Of The Day

9780393244663_custom-da8d85d278c41cd52ad546688f20e67f743942dd-s3-c85Busy, busy. Not always enough time to read books even by authors we know to be gifted explainers of complicated, important phenomena. Back around the date this book was published, its author gave an interview. In just over half an hour he managed to explain one of the most complicated human activities imaginable, in terms most of us could understand:

“The stock market is rigged,” Michael Lewis tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “It’s rigged for the benefit for really a handful of insiders. It’s rigged to … maximize the take of Wall Street, of banks, the exchanges and the high-frequency traders at the expense of ordinary investors.”

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A Sophie’s Choice Moment For Two Species, One Environment, And No Solomon In Sight

Damian Mulinix — Chinook Observer. A small portion of the cormorant colony as seen from a bird blind.

Damian Mulinix — Chinook Observer. A small portion of the cormorant colony as seen from a bird blind.

You can read about this in a major media outlet, but try another approach for this story. Local journalism is alive and well, and covering complex, important topics through the local lens:

A plan to kill 16,000 double-crested cormorants on East Sand Island has some residents on the North Coast scratching their heads. Although still in the proposal phase, the plan drew many to an open house in Astoria last week to ask questions of the federal agencies involved. “I can’t believe in this day and age we can’t come up with an alternative solution to killing things,” said Tommy Huntington of Cannon Beach. Continue reading

Thank You, General Mills


Photo Credit: Grist Article

I came across this article on about General Mills’s new action plan to reduce their contribution to climate change. After being called out by Oxfam International,  Oxfam says that General Mills will be, “the first major food and beverage company to promise to implement long-term science-based targets to cut emissions.”

With both a mitigation and adaptation plan, I am pretty impressed by this corporations efforts to take responsibility of their role. On the official page of their website describing this policy, they cite the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II Summary for Policy Makers, which suggests to me that they have people on their team helping them make really informed decisions grounded in scientific evidence. I appreciate in the report the full acknowledgement of the IPCC’s call to action:

“Science based evidence suggests we must limit the global mean temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels in order to avoid permanently altering the atmosphere and negatively impacting the environmental, social and economic systems that sustain us – both today and in the future.”

I haven’t seen a big corporation like this that would normally be considered a “dirty business” so blatantly speak to the environmental reality we face. To see a corporation cite this gives me hope that mainstream conversations around climate change are moving towards what we can do and away from whether or not its real. I hope more corporations follow their lead just for the sake of drumming the beat of awareness.

The true colors of this policy will show in how effectively it is implemented, because that will determine whether it is a fluffy ‘greenwashing’ tactic with loopholes built in.

Here are a few of the main points of the policy:

  • Set global targets and track progress related to reductions in GHG emissions, energy, water, transportation, packaging and solid waste.
  • Support the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy commitment to reduce fluid milk GHG emissions by 25 percent by 2020.  Work with smallholder and conventional farmers to strengthen globally sustainable farming practices.
  • Address GHG emissions due to land use change through sustainable sourcing efforts in key supply chains and growing regions.  Our aim is to achieve zero net deforestation in high-risk supply chains by 2020. We will regularly report progress towards the zero net deforestation goal.
  • Ensure responsible governance and oversight of all sustainability efforts, including climate mitigation and adaptation.  Convene the General Mills Sustainability Governance Committee 3 times per year to review and approve strategies, programs and key investments.
  • Report progress against goals – our own as well as those in our broader supply chain – on an annual basis via our Global Responsibility Report, available on the General Mills website

For a more extensive look at the report, click here.

While I raise my eyebrows at some of the vague wording in their initiatives, like “support”, “work with”, and “ensure” that are less concrete objectives, I also see timelines and checkpoints to keep themselves more accountable to this than they had to. I have learned to appreciate initiatives that move in the direction of the ideal, rather than criticizing anything that doesn’t model the most perfect action. While it is good to remain skeptical, I think it is important to acknowledge leadership in the right direction when we see it.


Humanity’s Diet Makes A Difference, Historically As Well As Futuristically

On the timescale of evolutionary history, paleo enthusiasts note, agriculture is a fad. Credit Illustration by Mike Ellis.

On the timescale of evolutionary history, paleo enthusiasts note, agriculture is a fad. Credit Illustration by Mike Ellis.

Since the early days of this blog we have been hungry consumers of environmental long form journalism, of which Elizabeth Kolbert’s New Yorker chronicles are best-in-category. They are also, frankly, almost always depressing.

Nonetheless, they put humanity into its natural context. This not-at-all-depressing chronicle demonstrates the value of that contextualization well:

The first day I put my family on a Paleolithic diet, I made my kids fried eggs and sausage for breakfast. If they were still hungry, I told them, they could help themselves to more sausage, but they were not allowed to grab a slice of bread, or toast an English muffin, or pour themselves a bowl of cereal.

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Following the Paper Trail, Redux

raxa collective bagI have been following the Paper Trail since I got here as an intern and got involved in this social entrepreneurship project Raxa Collective has been working on! There are some types of environmental action that focus on being inherently low-impact from the original design while other methods focus on closing loops from more poor designs that leave good material wasted, such as newspapers. Something is sustainable when it meets the triple bottom line: environmental, economic, and social. RAXA Collective has been meeting this triple bottom line with its newspaper bag initiative! Working with the group, PaperTrails, they have been able to provide a livable income for local people who are unable to get work for whatever reason. They have work based on creating useful bags or envelopes out of recycled newspaper. Paper Trails has been providing bags and envelopes for Raxa Collective’s properties from newspapers and other recycled material. Now, we are taking the newspaper bag initiative to the next level. Continue reading

Plant-a-Tree at Xandari

The stake in front that holds the planter’s name says (quite humorously, to my mind): 3 CANADIENSES!

Plant-a-tree programs are real winners: educational, fun, and productive. Next time you visit Xandari (or another sustainable or eco-friendly hotel), be sure to ask about the opportunity about the opportunity to plant a sapling. At Xandari, plantings are usually done in the orchard or in one of the old coffee plots. Everybody who plants a tree has a small wooden stake erected near the spot, commemorating the event and recognizing the effort to make the world a little bit greener. Continue reading

Do The Green Thing Countdown 25/29

Continuing our promotion of Do The Green Thing’s campaign on behalf of WWF for Earth Hour, we point you to Switch Off Engine by Harry Pearce in which he:

…takes a warning sign from the depths of the car world and reuses it to create a messages that instructs us to step away from our vehicles and go by foot instead.

“The visual language of obedience demands our attention and compliance,” says Harry. “Maybe the car industry should follow its own rules.”


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Pro-Environment Posters For WWF’s March 29 Earth Hour Initiative

Walk the Walk by Marina Willer for 29 Posters for the Planet

Walk the Walk by Marina Willer for 29 Posters for the Planet

We appreciate collaborative efforts to raise awareness about environmental issues, especially when they come from places where the focus is not normally on conservation. Design agencies are generally designed to sell more stuff. Publishers are generally designed to use ex-trees to communicate stuff. But some designers are on the other side of the consumer behavior-influencing fence. And some publishers use those ex-trees to publicize a more tree-centric future.  Ethics sometimes prevail over ambition. Education sometimes jumps the line.

Professional communities–whether design firms, publishers, hotel companies or take your pick–all have latent collective action lurking in their futures. We hope nature and culture are the beneficiaries. Thanks in particular at this moment to publisher Phaidon, which is in itself worthy of a post on its series of environmentally-friendly books and initiatives, for bringing this initiative of design firm Pentagram to our attention:

Pentagram’s carbon free foot print

Design agency works with Do The Green Thing charity on environmentally friendly posters

The gulf between our high-consumption lifestyles and the kind of sustainable world many of us hope to inhabit is vast. Yet the changes that could take us there aren’t unthinkable, as our recent book, The World We Made, makes clear. Continue reading

If You Happen To Be In Oxford


As we continue menu/kitchen-testing at 51, we confront daily the question of how much meat we want to offer guests, how to source it ethically, and how to improve our vegetarian options.  This book has generated considerable food for thought, so to speak. March 27 at 4pm, during the Oxford Literary Festival, co-author of the book Farmageddon, which is reviewed here and here, will be speaking for one hour. Wish we could attend. If you can and do, please send video or notes:

39829The chief executive of Compassion in World Farming Philip Lymbery uncovers the trend towards mega-farming that he says is threatening our countryside, farms and food. He says farm animals have been disappearing from our fields as food production becomes a global industry. And the recent horsemeat scandal demonstrates that we no longer know for certain what is entering the food chain. Lymbery collaborated with Sunday Times journalist Isabel Oakesott onFarmageddon, an investigation into mega-farming that ranges from the UK to Europe, the USA, China, Argentina, Peru and Mexico. Continue reading