Gigging Gets Gruesome


Fiverr, an online freelance marketplace that promotes itself as being for “the lean entrepreneur,” recently attracted ire for an ad campaign called “In Doers We Trust.” COURTESY FIVERR

We know from experience in the realm of sustainability, which has had its soup du jour moments in the last two decades, that whether you are leading or following, a fad or a trend can be a slippery slope. It can lead to innocuous inattention to unintended consequences, or worse. Various new forms of technology, which we tend to celebrate in recent years for their disruptive service to the economy and society through innovation and blah blah blah…Don’t just do it. That might be the counter-message as we explore the gig economy’s downside, as this post by Jia Tolentino points out:

Last September, a very twenty-first-century type of story appeared on the company blog of the ride-sharing app Lyft. “Long-time Lyft driver and mentor, Mary, was nine months pregnant when she picked up a passenger the night of July 21st,” the post began. “About a week away from her due date, Mary decided to drive for a few hours after a day of mentoring.” You can guess what happened next. Continue reading

Get Your Copy Of The 2017 World Happiness Report

Not to overgeneralize or stereotype, but what is it with Scandinavians? We have barely noted, certainly not enough in these pages, how remarkably adept they are at navigating in the right direction. They seem to know something about how to live life, with very happy outcomes, that the rest of us might well learn from. And with all the unhappy news, from time to time we must ponder happiness itself. HR17_3_cover_small-232x300.pngClick the image of the report to the right to get a copy of the report, summarized on the website of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) as follows:

The first World Happiness Report was published in April, 2012, in support of the UN High Level Meeting on happiness and well-being. Since then the world has come a long way. Increasingly, happiness is considered to be the proper measure of social progress and the goal of public policy. In June 2016 the OECD committed itself “to redefine the growth narrative to put people’s well-being at the center of governments’ efforts”. Continue reading

“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.”

Continue reading

A Rio Restaurant Feeding the Homeless


All images from

Before the start of the Olympics, I shared a story about Rio de Janeiro that put a slightly dour mood onto the prospect of the international event. However, there are other important stories to share that cast a much brighter light on Brazil’s second-most populous city. Here’s an inspirational story about a restaurant in Rio that exemplifies a business model rooted on two principles, altruism and sustainability, and is helping solve two major problems in the city: feeding the homeless and decreasing food waste.

by Andrew Jenner

It’s coming up on 1 p.m. on Saturday, and the kitchen staff is hard at work. On one end, they’re chopping cabbage, onions, chayote, and a chicken. On the other, another pair of cooks preps a tangerine and carrot sorbet. Massimo Bottura—a dude with owlish glasses whose establishment in Italy was just named the world’s best by the British magazine, Restaurant—peeks over their shoulders with encouragement and a caution: easy on the sugar, OK?

In the front of the house, volunteers wander to and fro, harried people jab their phones, and a Telemundo TV crew jockeys for a few minutes with Bottura and David Hertz, the Brazilian chef and social entrepreneur who represents the other half of the brains behind the place. Outside, a generator outside throws off diesel fumes and a hellish racket, while construction workers tear apart the sidewalk to—Bottura and Hertz desperately hope—fix some issue with the kitchen’s gas supply. It’s one of a million little problems this little restaurant has faced, but Refettorio Gastromotiva is the little restaurant that could.

Continue reading

A Pouncing Tradition


On one of my first days at Villa del Faro, the subject of card games came up during a dinner meal and my ears perked up. Everyone at the table seemed eager to learn a new card game so I pounced at the opportunity to share the story of the epic card game that I can confidently say characterizes a Toll family member.

In general terms, Pounce is like Solitaire but with three to five people playing all at once and playing on the same stack that you are trying to play out your cards toward. It’s a very fast-paced game that does not cater to the faint of heart. Continue reading

If You Happen To Be In New York City



We have said since early on, and plenty of times since, that in these posts we cannot claim to be either committed vegetarians nor committed meat eaters. Rather, we believe–yawn at your own risk–in moderation. This upcoming show sounds like a worthy outing for a novel take on the topic:

Ab Ex meets Zap Comics in the wild imagination of Trenton Doyle Hancock (seen above in his Houston studio). In his boisterous mythologies, villainous vegans do battle with good-guy, meat-eating mutants, and Torpedo Boy—a superhero that Hancock, now forty, first drew in the fourth grade—swoops in to save the day. Continue reading

What A Certain Change Of Scenery Can Do

Ludwig Wittgenstein, who knew how to sully a chalkboard with the best of them.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, who knew how to sully a chalkboard with the best of them.

The photo above will make sense below, I hope. Read on. Derek is with us in Kerala for one more week before he moves on to Australia. I am reflecting on his time here, while also currently in conversation with prospective interns for the second half of 2015. And I just received news of Michael, the poet prince of past interns, who is currently on a tug boat in the Atlantic ocean. His experience, since graduating from Amherst College the year after he interned with us, is not typical of anything other than that we have had a very interesting variety of interns who go on to do very diverse, interesting, meaningful things of their own choosing.

These reflections are mixing up with reflections on Ethiopia that I hope to make enough sense of to produce one relevant post, soon. The meaning of our Ethiopia expedition, I already know, will have something to do with the value of perspective, and change of scenery, and leapfrogged expectations.

The pitch for an internship with us is related to those same values and is straightforward, in one sense: practical work experience in sustainable hospitality, social enterprise, or some variation of the two. The trickier part of the pitch is being clear about the value of spark plugs blowing out in the middle of the night before you’ve reached the top of the mountain.  It is not possible to predict what a particular spark plug moment is going to be like in the future, or even that a particular person will be ready for it.

But it is possible to predict that most of us, most of the time, benefit from removing ourselves from our comfort zone. We may have just one zen moment, or a whole string of them, or none at all. And any of those may be just the right thing for us. It is making the decision to put one foot forward in a particular direction, and living with it for as long as it is useful for you, that seems to be the real source of valuable life experience.

So, the photo. It is not necessary to know who this philosopher was, or even that he was a philosopher. Just knowing what follows is enough to appreciate that sometimes a change of scenery is the best way to prepare yourself for the next big thing in your life:

…He revolutionized philosophy twice, fought with shocking bravery in World War I, inspired a host of memoirs by people who knew him only glancingly—and for six years taught elementary school in the mountains of rural Austria. Biographers have tended to find this bizarre. Chapters covering the period after his teaching years, when Wittgenstein returned to philosophy, are usually called something like “Out of the Wilderness.” (That one’s from Ray Monk’s excellent Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius. The next chapter is called “The Second Coming.”) Continue reading

Let’s Consider Meat Free Monday

MFM-LogoAs a former Beatle urges, let’s consider a simple mechanism for doing something other than taking to the streets or publishing an op-ed item–both of which we also encourage if your location and clout allow–in advance of the Climate Change conference. Why this particular mechanism? Well, to start with it is easy. Also, the impact could add up if enough of us participated. You probably already know about meat’s carbon footprint, but here is a message from Meat Free Monday to refresh your memory:


Meat production is responsible for 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization1, with some scientists saying the percentage is higher. Continue reading

Notes from the Garden: Building a house or a vegetable cage?

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Measuring the length of our new monkey-protected area in the organic farm at Cardamom County

Building a 15 meter x 20 meter vegetable cage is no small feat. The last estimate we had was that it would cost about 4 lakhs, which is apparently the cost of a small house. A lakh is a unit in the South Asian numbering system equivalent to 100,000. So, is 400,000 rupees worth it for a vegetable cage? I think spending energy to get a smarter design would be more worth it.

With the help of Raxa Collective’s head engineer, it is very likely we will be able to lower that cost significantly. As I talked about in my post about quantifying farm-to-table, I think that with a combination of lowering the cost and then taking advantage of the monkey-protected area as vigorously as possible with efficient use of the space, it will be worth it. There are elements of farm-to-table that are not quantifiable but can be seen in the overall conservation story of supporting smart land-use practices.

At the end of the day, at least the food here is locally sourced mostly from the Cumbum vegetable market in Tamil Nadu. This market is only about 25 km away and the farmers in that market are relatively close. This is far better then the way most food is sourced in the United States.

In the United States, eating local is a challenge. Most agriculture in the states is for corn and soybeans, rather than vegetables. And “local” is difficult when the local environment has few green spaces left, let alone farmland. So even though we don’t have “monkey-challenges” to growing our food locally in the states, we have monocultures and rapid suburbanization keeping us farther and farther away from fresh food.  Continue reading

The Gender Politics Of The Vegan Diet

Mixed martial arts fighter Cornell Ward (from left), chef Daniel Strong, triathlete Dominic Thompson, lifestyle blogger Joshua Katcher and competitive bodybuilder Giacomo Marchese at a vegan barbecue in Brooklyn, N.Y. Courtesy of James Koroni

Mixed martial arts fighter Cornell Ward (from left), chef Daniel Strong, triathlete Dominic Thompson, lifestyle blogger Joshua Katcher and competitive bodybuilder Giacomo Marchese at a vegan barbecue in Brooklyn, N.Y. Courtesy of James Koroni

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this article and accompanying podcast on the masculinity of men denying themselves animal protein:

For These Vegans, Masculinity Means Protecting The Planet


…Thompson grew up in a rough Chicago housing project. He was the kind of kid who would rush in to save stray cats or dogs if he saw people picking on them.

“[There’s] nothing more cowardly to me than taking advantage of something that’s defenseless,” he says.

Today, Thompson is the kind of adult who checks clothing labels to make sure he never buys leather, wool or products tested on animals. “To me, compassion is the new cool,” he says.

Continue reading

Notes from the Garden: Quantifying Farm-to-Table

We are in process of building a monkey-proofed area of the garden. You can see my past post to get a feel for the evolution of this idea. The main issue with providing the Cardamom County restaurant with food from the on-site organic farm is monkeys. We were inspired by these subsistence farmers in Ixopo, South Africa, who blogged about building their monkey-proof vegetable cage. They, too, are neighbors with a nature reserve, so their situation is quite similar to Cardamom County! Now, we are on our way to having a truly farm-to-table menu!

Here is the cage we are modeling ours after. Check out their blog:

Here is the cage we are modeling ours after. Check out their blog:

You may be wondering, why is there all this buzz these days about farm-to-table? There is more to it than just fresh, delicious food.

Obviously, a lot of nature gets destroyed for agricultural purposes. In the United States, so much land gets wasted on sprawling, inefficient development. In the in-between spaces, you could feed a nation. But we eat up our open, natural spaces for agriculture. Our agriculture is rarely local so it leads to problems of unnecessary carbon emissions from transport and a lot of not-fresh food in grocery stores. When we can use the land we have already developed on to provide the people there with food, why spread ourselves out so thin into nature? Continue reading

Notes from the Garden: Mango Hunting

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The mango has its ancestral roots in India, so something felt really right about shaking mangoes out of the trees today in Cardamom County. Right now I’m reading this delicious book called The Fruit Hunters, written by Adam Leith Gollner. Since I have started it, I have had a whole new context to put my experience of fruit in! Turns out there are over 1,100 varieties of mangoes. The ones I know and love from supermarkets back in the United States are the Tommy Atkins mangoes, which are more common in international commerce.

photo 2Indian mangoes apparently weren’t allowed into the states for almost thirty years due to “pest concerns.” Actually, it was more like, nuclear trade concerns. India and Canada had a nuclear trade relationship in which Canadian nuclear reactors were being used to build a nuclear arsenal. In 2007 though, India signed a nuclear treaty with the United States, only under the condition that India’s mangoes be allowed back in the states. Later when President Bush flew to India to discuss the deal, he announced, “the U.S. is looking forward to eating Indian mangoes.” Continue reading

Useful Or Not, Therein Lies The Rub

Horace Dediu

Horace Dediu

We frequently link to stories about innovation related to protecting natural and cultural heritage, particularly our own favored practice of entrepreneurial conservation. We do so with the hope, and sometimes blind faith, that what we are focused on is not only effective (as in, accomplishing what we set out to accomplish), but also useful (as in, of lasting, rather than just short term value). So, Horace Dediu has our attention. Not the clever new terminology, which is not what we find innovative, but the basic point behind it seems to be:

Innoveracy: Misunderstanding Innovation

Illiteracy is the inability to read and write. Though the percent of sufferers has halved in the last 35 years, currently 15% of the world has this affliction. Innumeracy is the inability to apply simple numerical concepts. The rate of innumeracy is unknown but chances are that it affects over 50% of us. This tragedy impedes our ability to have a discourse on matters related to quantitative judgement while policy decisions increasingly depend on this judgement.

But there is another form of ignorance which seems to be universal: the inability to understand the concept and role of innovation.

Continue reading

Hermes, Circa 1979

OdesLPLabelAt Easter time, 1979, my mother and I traveled back to Vourthonia. Musical soundtrack can accompany an occasion in life, just as in film. Vangelis, in collaboration with Irene Pappas, had just released the soundtrack for that visit.  Click the image to the left to read a bit about the album; better yet find the music and listen.

The lamb had been over the fire since morning, and was now on the table. Feta, salads, and the best olives in the world were there too. That music was playing from the open doors of an old VW Beetle parked near where we were sitting–my mother, many villagers, and me. That god gave safe passage. Continue reading

Hermes, Circa 1969

As one of the contributors referred to in this post, and as the one who took the photographs in that post, it occurred to me that I should comment further on the reference.  And in doing so, perhaps I could add to the small collection of personal statements that have been gathering on this site since mid-2011.  I am 100% sure I took the photograph above during that same visit to Greece in 2008.  As I snapped this photo my mother was at my side and we both remembered having stood in the same spot in 1969. Continue reading

Food, Waste, Change

While we are on the subject of looking at food differently, as well as depending on others for new perspective, we can wrap all that around last week’s emphasis on food waste.  We will not let that topic go until we see the dial turning. We will keep a spotlight on the need for change, and share whatever we find from our good neighbors on this topic. WRI shares a thorough examination that is worth a click and read:

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that 32 percent of all food produced in the world was lost or wasted in 2009. This estimate is based on weight. When converted into calories, global food loss and waste amounts to approximately 24 percent of all food produced. Essentially, one out of every four food calories intended for people is not ultimately consumed by them. Continue reading

Community At The Heart Of Our World Environment Day 2013

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Sharing a meal is the best way to make good use of food. The UNEP initiative Think.Eat.Save encouraged us to become more aware of the environmental impact of the food choices we make and empowered us to make informed decisions. It also gave us extra energy to continue the donations to Kumily Sneshashram that have been part of our routine for over a decade.

WED 2013: Happy World Environment Day

WED 2013 - Raxa Collective

On June 5, we’ll celebrate World Environment Day. This year UNEP focuses on the theme Food waste/Food Loss. At Raxa Collective we’ll be carrying out actions and sharing experience and ideas. Come and join us with your ideas and tips to preserve foods, preserve resources and preserve our planet.

Here is a video which explains how we save the food we produce at our restaurant All Spice at Cardamom County from wastage. Our process includes a dedicated team, talented suppliers, our farm animals and organic garden and a local pig farm. It also explains how we give back.

Victory Is Good, Goodness Is Great

Fernández Anaya helps Mutai toward the line / CALLEJA (DIARIO DE NAVARRA

Fernández Anaya helps Mutai toward the line / CALLEJA (DIARIO DE NAVARRA

On the rare occasion that we highlight a sporting event, the reason for doing so in this case is simple: we have been on the lookout for acts of goodness, random or otherwise, since starting this site.  This is as random as it gets:

…Spanish athlete Iván Fernández Anaya was competing in a cross-country race in Burlada, Navarre. He was running second, some distance behind race leader Abel Mutai – bronze medalist in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the London Olympics. Continue reading