When a Way of Life Melts With the Ice

Albert Lukassen’s world is melting around him. When the 64-year-old Inuit man was young, he could hunt by dogsled on the frozen Uummannaq Fjord, on Greenland’s west coast, until June. This photo shows him there in April. PHOTO:  Ciril Jazbec

Albert Lukassen’s world is melting around him. When the 64-year-old Inuit man was young, he could hunt by dogsled on the frozen Uummannaq Fjord, on Greenland’s west coast, until June. This photo shows him there in April. PHOTO: Ciril Jazbec

Climate change – a situation that choices can better, but circumstances see it go from bad to worse. Much talk, much less done. Temperatures rise, glaciers melt, and seas begin to usurp shores. Also, people like the natives of Kiribati and now the Inuit are forced to rethink ways to survive on their lands which once provided for all. And did not threaten their lives. National Geographic reports from the North:

Something else is vanishing here too: a way of life. Young people are fleeing small hunting villages like Niaqornat. Some of the villages struggle to support themselves. And now a culture that has evolved here over many centuries, adapting to the seasonal advance and retreat of sea ice, is facing the prospect that the ice will retreat for good. Can such a culture survive? What will be lost if it can’t?

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Airports and Urban Farming

Katrina Ceguera tends JetBlue's farm outside Terminal 5 at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. PHOTO: Chelsea Brodsky /JetBlue

Katrina Ceguera tends JetBlue’s farm outside Terminal 5 at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. PHOTO: Chelsea Brodsky /JetBlue

Airports are growing a ‘green’ conscience, and how! If Kochi in Kerala, India is home to the world’s first airport to be completely powered by solar energy, then the Galapagos airstrip is not far behind. Going off-grid is just one way to offset massive carbon footprints left behind by the use of fossil fuels. Another way might be to add a touch of green – like JetBlue did at the New York airport.

JetBlue was intent on growing potatoes and other produce at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. It took three years of jumping through hoops before the T5 Farm, named for its location outside Terminal 5, came to fruition in early October, the company says.

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In the Name of the ‘Salvation’ Fish

Also known as candlefish, eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus) are so oily that they can ignite when dried. Traditionally, eulachon were used at times as lights by Nisga'a people.  PHOTO:  PAUL COLANGELO

Also known as candlefish, eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus) are so oily that they can ignite when dried. Traditionally, eulachon were used at times as lights by Nisga’a people. PHOTO: PAUL COLANGELO

A Nisga'a woman hangs eulachon on a ganee'e, or air-drying rack. PHOTO: PAUL COLANGELO

A Nisga’a woman hangs eulachon on a ganee’e, or air-drying rack. PHOTO: PAUL COLANGELO

Often referred to as “salvation fish” for safeguarding native people from starvation, the eulachon is now in need of a lifeline itself—as its habitat and population are in danger. National Geographic reports on the fish’s historical and cultural significance and the the many changes in the ocean that have led to the decline of the eulachon’s numbers:

The fish are also known as halimotkw, often translated as “savior fish” or “salvation fish.” Eulachon return to the rivers here to spawn at the end of the North Pacific winter, when historically food supplies would be running low. In lean years the eulachon’s arrival meant the difference between life and death for people up and down the coast.

Today, the fish that used to safeguard native people from starvation is itself in need of a lifeline.

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From Waste to Gourmet Mushrooms

Social entrepreneur Trang Tran is teaching Vietnamese farmers how to use rice straw as a substrate to grow gourmet mushrooms, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and give farmers a new source of income. PHOTO: Medium

Social entrepreneur Trang Tran is teaching Vietnamese farmers how to use rice straw as a substrate to grow gourmet mushrooms, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and give farmers a new source of income. PHOTO: TED

Rice straw burning is something that happens every harvest season, and it happens all around us. It’s been done for many years, and it’s considered the most convenient way of getting rid of waste. Straw is perceived as having no value — farmers just want to get it out of the way as soon as possible in order to prepare for the next crop. In Vietnam, 20 to 50 million tons of rice straw are burned annually, releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Obviously this contributes to climate change, but the more immediate problem is that local people inhale the matter, causing serious health problems in communities — particularly in babies. Poor communities are most affected, and of course they have the least money for health care.

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When Gardens Go Vertical

A vacant lot In Jackson, Wyoming is all set to become a vertical farm. PHOTO: CoExist

A vacant lot In Jackson, Wyoming is all set to become a vertical farm. PHOTO: CoExist

Jackson, Wyoming, is an unlikely place for urban farming: At an altitude over a mile high, with snow that can last until May, the growing season is sometimes only a couple of months long. It’s also an expensive place to plant a garden, since an average vacant lot can cost well over $1 million. But the town is about to become home to a vertical farm. On a thin slice of vacant land next to a parking lot, a startup called Vertical Harvest recently broke ground on a new three-story stack of greenhouses that will be filled with crops like microgreens and tomatoes.

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What’s the Real Price of Fish?

In 2010, environmental NGO Oceana ordered studies of fish in 14 major metropolitan areas and found that roughly one third of the fish found in restaurants and markets was mislabeled . PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, environmental NGO Oceana ordered studies of fish in 14 major metropolitan areas and found that roughly one third of the fish found in restaurants and markets was mislabeled . PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

The efforts of the government to regulate Big Fishing and all its known and unknown evils often have the adverse effect of undercutting people for whom the ocean is something more than mere industry. The realities on the docks aren’t always as legislators understand them, says this first installment of the Medium‘s  inaugural episode of Food Crimes: The Hunt For Illegal Seafood.

The United States imported as much as 90 percent of its fish in 2013, up from 54 percent in 1995, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In fact, the United States has tripled the dollar amount of fish it imports, to more than 5 billion pounds of fish worth $18 billion. Couple these figures with the staggering estimate that between one quarter and one third of all fish sold in the United States is illegal, and you’re an equation or so away from going vegan.

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A Traveler in My Own Land – Introduction

Dear coffee-stained diary,

1016402_10151817477384853_833963116_nIt’s been a while since you and I turned pages together, but then there were no new stories to tell. Now we say ‘hello’ at the start of a new line for am on the road again; taking paths that wind through tea gardens and forests, hug beaches and overlook a harbor in this homeland I call Kerala (India). The sights are plenty, so are the stories.

Yours to know are tales of ships docking here to trade in spices and those of communities striving to keep their identities alive. Yes, you’ve had your generous share of the history of the Chinese fishing nets but perspectives are things of beauty. Oh, I almost forgot the people. Continue reading

Thank You, Oxfam International

Photo courtesy of behindthebrands.org

Photo courtesy of behindthebrands.org

The Oxfam International campaign Behind the Brands aims to address how little is known about supply chains of the top 10 largest food and beverage companies. Listening to the NPR Salt Chat provides a good explanation about how pushing for transparency from these big companies is a catalyst for on-the-ground change. The campaign has only been around for a year and a half and they’ve already seen great progress in terms of land rights for local community, government intervention, and women’s rights.

It’s not always easy to connect the dots between the food we consume and the people who grow it, or the impact of growing and processing that food on the health of our planet.

But a campaign called Behind the Brands, led by Oxfam International, an advocacy organization dedicated to fighting poverty, is trying to make the inner workings of the 10 biggest food companies in the world more visible…

We sat down to talk with Chris Jochnick, one of the architects of this campaign and Oxfam America’s director of private sector development. We touched on how social media is giving activists more power, why big food companies respond to pressure, and whether corporate executives are his friends or his enemies.

We also wanted to know: Will the promises that these companies make really translate into concrete changes on, say, cocoa farms in West Africa?

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Indian Independence Day at Spice Harbour

10355655_10201665725084704_4823049703076743324_oYesterday at Spice Harbour I got to participate for the first time in an Independence Day flag raising ceremony.

It’s a good time to tip our hats to history. On August 15, 1947, after centuries of British imperialism, India gained independence. I am no expert on the Indian Independence movement so I won’t speak to it too much, but I know there were many political organizations and philosophies behind it that were united by their desire to end British rule. Mohandas Gandhi’s nonviolent philosophy and civil disobedience is what led the final parts of the struggle for independence that prompted the eventual withdrawal of the British. Since we’re talking about colonial India, we can put Kerala and Spice Harbour into historical context. Continue reading

Robusta, Liberian, Arabica: a visit to a coffee plantation in the Western Ghats

Coffee plantation - Spring Valley, Kerala credit Ea Marzarte - Raxa Collective

Coffee plantation – Spring Valley, Kerala

Evan’s research on agroforestry in Ecuador  inspired me to learn more about coffee in India.  No coffee seed sprouted outside Africa or Arabia before the 17th century. Legend has it this all changed when a pilgrim named Baba Budan smuggled fertile coffee beans out of Mecca strapped to his stomach. Returning to his native India, he successfully cultivated the beans near Mysore.Commercial cultivation began in 1840 when the British rule established Arabica coffee plantations throughout the mountains of Southern India. Till today much of the production comes from the Western Ghats. Initially Arabica was widespread, but Continue reading

Flavours Of Kerala – Unniappam

Unniappam is a traditional snack popular all over Kerala.  They are easy to make, very tasty, and are prepared from the main ingredients of rice, jaggery, banana, and ghee.

How to Prepare

Mix rice powder, jaggery, chopped banana, fried coconut bits, and  cardamom powder for flavor, all with water to make the batter.  Then, heat the oil in an Unniappam pan and fill the holes with the batter. Continue reading

So I’ve arrived at Cardamom county #2: Eating as a physical activity

Sunday breakfast indian-style: a meal that just requires to be eaten with the hands

I was about to start my meal at the canteen with my colleagues yesterday when I decided it was time to take the dive and eat with my hands. Boy, was it an exercise, I mean a physical exercise.

As a first-timer I was quite slow: I’ve read it is most polite to use your thumb, pointer and middle finger, and to let only the first two joints of those fingers touch the food.  I’m not sure that I did all that. Also you only eat with your right hand,  even if you’re a lefty. The left hand will take care of menial things such as wiping your tears of eyes after a spicy curry. The whole meal activates so many muscles that it left me exhausted.  It got me thinking about the lack of thought and the lack of physical effort me and my folks, in  westernized countries, put into the act of eating. Eating with the hands is common in many areas of the world, including parts of Asia and much of Africa and the Middle East and it has plenty of health benefits. Continue reading

From the 2012 Net Impact Conference, Part 2

Continuing on my previous post about the 2012 Net Impact Conference, I want to address some of the interesting and debatable issues that several company panelists spoke about during the conference. I dedicate this post to addressing Monsanto’s climate change adaptation strategies. A very interesting discussion on how businesses have been approaching climate change adaptation included panelists from the World Resources Institute, AT&T, Monsanto, and a few universities. Monsanto’s strategies related to increased crop yield, and its view was that higher production was the clear answer to climate change risk and food insecurity.

Monsanto has experienced a haunted past (and continues to suffer from a poor reputation among environmentalists) with activist groups protesting its GMO seeds and its aggressive litigation against farmers.

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The Case Against Red Meat

Are you trying to eat healthier? Then stop eating red meat.

That’s the message that we’ve see in the past few years: dozens of news articles and medical journals tell us the dangers of red meat–beef in particular. The recent scare over pink slime has further increased distaste and caution around ground beef, and the suspicion is beginning to spread to other types of meat as well. Amidst all of the hype about meat in our diets, sustainability- and health-conscious consumers might wonder why scientists are focusing on red meat. Why not chicken, pork, or fish? The answer is two-sided: one relates to health concerns, and the other relates to environmental impacts of cattle-raising. Let’s briefly look at both.

Want to dig in? Not so fast, suggests the results from a study of the Harvard School of Public Health. Eating just a few ounces of red meat every day can increase your risk of colon cancer and heart disease.

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Not A Creature Was Stirring…Or So I Thought

Like many people that can’t sleep at two o’clock in the morning, I let my nose lead me into the kitchen.  In the wee morning hours, I was surprised to find one, lone and hardworking chef, Jimmy, preparing the morning’s breakfast buffet.  I was drawn to the beverage station where I stood aghast, hoping my drip coffee machine would appear.  As I looked pained with an overwhelming desire for caffeine, Jimmy’s hospitality ensued.  He lowered the heat to his Aloo Bhaji, grabbed a saucepan, and began making me some coffee the “old fashioned” way with only a pot, water, ground coffee, and a sieve.

With my fuel source performing caffeinated magic, I observed his hard work ethic, learned how to make Kozhukattai, and had good conversations despite my poor and minimum Malayalam and his frequent inability to understand my East Texas “twangy” accent.  I was filled with respect when I found he alone prepared the delicious breakfast for the guests of the retreat.  I grew greater appreciation for my Wusthof knives; and, once again, I was, and continue to be, awed and inspired by the hospitality and giving character of the people I’ve met in Kerala.

Rarely do I find such great rewards for sleepless nights, but this night I found gold.  I’m thankful and I “remove my hat” to Jimmy of the Allspice Restaurant.  It’s people like these in this culture that increase my fondness for this state of India and strengthen my wish to stay or repeatedly return.

The Buffet Personality Test

There’s the Myers-Briggs test, the Jungian archetypes, the Japanese with their blood types and the astrologically inclined with their zodiac signs. These are all ways of putting people into classifications of one kind or another, to see which boxes they check and use this as a means of understanding their personalities. These taxonomies are useful for some in their attempts to easily judge books by their covers (or perhaps by their tables of contents). But I’ve got a new one: the buffet approach – comparably empirical but a lot more fun!

When you’re at a buffet, do you take a little of everything for the first round, then go back for bigger helpings of the dishes you liked best? Or do you browse at first, automatically writing off the red stuff for its overt similarity to a vegan rump roast and skipping the crunchy stuff for its unrecognizable position on the food chain? Or do you phase through it, bit by bit, going back for the things you’ve not yet tried? In my highly rudimentary and anthropologically unqualified analysis, I’d be willing to take your “buffet approach” as a proxy for your “approach to life.”

There are the grazers, particular and self assured. Then there are the nibblers, shy, disciplined and unimposing. And at the other extreme you have the all-out face-stuffers, decadent adventurists for whom a plate’s inadequacy of surface area is just another reminder of the fact that there aren’t enough hours in a day. Of course there would be the combo personalities, like the high-piling sharers, ambitious enough to stack up the sweets yet self-restrained and manipulative enough to make their partner eat the rest. Or the serial nibblers, philosophically conservative yet constitutionally indulgent. I’m telling you, this could be the new Rorschach test. Continue reading

Culinary Contentment at Cardamom County

Sometimes, when you experience something so good, you want to share it with the world. This is what’s happened to me as I’ve dined at All Spice, the ethnic fusion restaurant at Cardamom County Resort. As I mentioned in a previous post alluding to the pleasures of growing one’s own herbal ingredients in an urban setting, I’m a huge fan of coriander, also known as cilantro. So when I sat down for dinner at All Spice last night, I ordered the sliced cucumber, lemon and coriander soup knowing I would love the flavor of this dish, which is an original house recipe.

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Carbon Emissions Series: Vacationers’ Diets

The hospitality industry is, by nature, one that encourages indulgence. I have seen this mindset manifested through many examples: travelers insisting on using a new towel every day, taking more than they can possibly eat at buffet lines, and drinking ungodly amounts of alcohol at hotel and restaurant bars. Today, tourists excuse themselves from their diets—and some, their environmental principles—when they go on vacation. They expect opulence and excess (a quick look at Las Vegas will confirm all of this). Firms that strive for sustainability are therefore in a hard spot, as they must meet the expectations of guests while providing products and services that do not degrade the environment.

This crude energy pyramid shows that only approximately 10% of energy is transferred between upward steps in the food chain. The higher up you eat, the more energy your diet requires.

I thought it appropriate to look at this paradox more in depth by explaining the findings of an interesting report that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released recently. Titled Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health, this study conducts life cycle analyses

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