Friday, December 21, 2012

Fantastic Plastic [Infographic]

In today's consumer world, plastic is everywhere—from plentiful stores of bottled water to disposable plasticware to the containers that hold our store-bought food. It seems like you can't go out shopping without running into a good deal of plastic. And while this material is strong, reliable, and undoubtedly useful, we also may have way too much that isn't being reused.

Recycling plastic uses much less energy than creating new plastic and it conserves our valuable resources. Despite this, only about a third of our plastic products are actually recycled. Among younger generations, the problem of our over-consumption of plastic has been prevalent for as long as some can remember, and yet little has changed or progressed in alleviating the problem.

Statistically, people in the Millennial generation (today's high school and college students, as well as young adults) are much less likely to properly recycle plastic and other materials than those in older generations. If you're of student or Millennial age, take a look at the following infographic—the reality is that younger generations need to start getting serious about recycling, or the future will be robbed of some very valuable resources.

  Plastic Infographic

Monday, December 17, 2012

Revealed: What the Beef Industry Pumps Into Your Dinner

A common industry practice puts consumers at higher risks for eating food contaminated by deadly pathogens -- and that's just the tip of the iceberg. 

By Tara Lohan

If acclaimed authors Upton Sinclair (The Jungle), Jeremy Rifkin (Beyond Beef) and John Robbins (Diet for a New America) haven't given you enough reasons over the last century to be wary of the meat industry, then a year-long investigation by the Kansas City Star may do the trick.

Mike McGraw kicks off the KC Star's investigative series by introducing Margaret Lamkin, who has been forced to wear a colostomy bag for the rest of her life, after a medium-rare steak she ordered three years ago at Applebee's was contaminated with a pathogen. The resulting illness destroyed her colon.

Of course we already know about E. coli and other food-borne pathogens; people have gotten sick from everything from spinach to peanut butter. But the news here is that what sickened Lamkin wasn't just the meat, but a process the industry uses to tenderize it. McGraw explains :
The Kansas City Star investigated what the industry calls "bladed" or "needled" beef, and found the process exposes Americans to a higher risk of E. coli poisoning than cuts of meat that have not been tenderized.

... Although blading and injecting marinades into meat add value for the beef industry, that also can drive pathogens - including the E. coli O157:H7 that destroyed Lamkin's colon - deeper into the meat.
By using this process (which according to the story, 90 percent of processors will use, depending on the cut), people are at a greater risk of exposure to life-threatening illness. And consumers have no way of knowing whether their meat has undergone this process.

Ending up with a fecal-contaminated burger is bad, but it's just the beginning of what the investigation uncovered. Here are the other key findings, as McGraw writes:
  • Large beef plants, based on volume alone, contribute disproportionately to the incidence of meat-borne pathogens.
  • Big Beef and other processors are co-mingling ground beef from many different cattle, some from outside the United States, adding to the difficulty health officials have tracking contaminated products to their source. The industry also has resisted labeling some products, including mechanically tenderized meat, to warn consumers and restaurants to cook it thoroughly.
  • Big Beef is injecting millions of dollars of growth hormones and antibiotics into cattle, partly to fatten them quickly for market. Many experts believe that years of overuse and misuse of such drugs contributes to antibiotic-resistant pathogens in humans, meaning illnesses once treated with a regimen of antibiotics are much harder to control.
  • Big Beef is using its political pull, public relations campaigns and the supportive science it sponsors to influence federal dietary guidelines and recast steaks and burgers as "health foods" people should eat every day. It even persuaded the American Heart Association to certify beef as "heart healthy."
Read the full investigation, and think about how this scenario fits into the larger picture of what we deem acceptable as a food system. Just last month Consumer Reports shared frightening findings about pork.
And there is a ray of good news. Ocean Robbins wrote today:
People are taking an increasing interest in the way that the animals raised for food are treated. In fact, a poll conducted by Lake Research partners found that 94 percent of Americans agree that animals raised for food on farms deserve to be free from cruelty. Nine U.S. states have now joined the entire European Union in banning gestational crates for pigs, and Australia's two largest supermarket chains now sell only cage-free eggs in their house brands.
The demand is growing for food that is organic, sustainable, fair trade, GMO-free, humane, and healthy. In cities around the world, we're seeing more and more farmer's markets (a nearly three-fold increase in the last decade), and more young people getting back into farming. Grocery stores (even big national chains) are displaying local, natural and organic foods with pride. The movements for healthy food are growing fast, and starting to become a political force.

Investigations like the one done by the Kansas City Star are crucial for public education, as is support for the growing food movement that needs help in turning purchasing power at the market into political power that can affect decisions about food safety and industry practices.

"Big agribusiness would probably like us all to sit alone in the dark, munching on highly processed, genetically engineered, chemical-laden, pesticide-contaminated pseudo-foods," Robbins writes. "But the tide of history is turning, and regardless of how much they spend attempting to maintain their hold on our food systems, more and more people are saying NO to foods that lead to illness, and YES to foods that help us heal."

Beat the Sniffles with Immunity-Boosting Foods

In the midst of the travel and cold season, it’s important to incorporate more immune-strengthening foods in our diet. Try adding more of these vitamin rich foods onto your plate this winter:

Mushrooms: These fungi have powerful disease-fighting properties that go beyond vitamins and minerals alone. While different types of mushrooms have distinct healing properties, all mushrooms are prized for their ability to eliminate mucus and toxins in the body, and their natural detox powers are fantastic for our inner health. Shiitakes fight colds and flu, allergies and a depressed immune system, while white button mushrooms are packed with B vitamins and detoxifying power.

Pickles: Or any fermented food populate your digestive tract with friendly, immune-boosting bacteria that help you assimilate nutrients and stay your healthiest. Some experts estimate that the majority of your body’s immune powers originate in your gut! Good digestion is a major factor in overall health,  so reach for the sauerkraut, kimchi, or miso to maintain the proper balance. Note: be sure your pickles are cured in a salt brine (versus vinegar, like most kinds you find in the grocery aisle) to ensure that they contain good probiotic bacteria.

Green Tea with Lemon: Drinking green tea is not only a stress-reducing ritual, it’s a dose of preventative medicine. A 2010 International Journal of Cancer study found ingesting a little citrus juice with your green tea enhances its disease-preventing potential by stabilizing its natural polyphenols during digestion.

Garlic: A classic cold-fighter, garlic is a strong antifungal, antibacterial food that keeps our bodies adept at fighting off disease by boosting our white blood cell defenses. So, go ahead add in a few extra cloves to soups, stews and sauces this season.

Ginger: Used in ancient medicine, ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory and in case you’re already under the weather, it also eases congestion and existing cold and flu symptoms.

Salmon: This powerful fish has a rare dietary source of vitamin D, an important immunity vitamin (actually a hormone) that may of us lack in the winter when we spend less time under the sun. A 2012 Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry study linked zinc deficiency to disease-related inflammation and even DNA damage. According to the study, about 40 percent of Americans are zinc deficient and deficiency risk increases with age.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Magical Paper Extends The Shelf Life of Produce, Organically

Have you ever come home from the market with armfuls of fresh fruits and vegetables only to find them wilting and rotting in the fridge a mere week later? Or even get home from your local produce market with a box full and anxiously scarf down pounds of fruit before it goes bad? So, the question presents itself: How do we keep produce fresh from farm to fork for an extended amount of time, and thus reduce food waste? The solution came from Kavita Shukla who didn't necessarily set out to solve the issue; her innovation developed from her middle school science project.

After years of research and development Fenugreeen FreshPaper was founded in 2010. The small magic squares of spice-infused paper were  developed as a remarkably effective way to keep food fresh - extending the shelf life of produce up to four times longer than usual.

The exact combination of herbs and spices used in FreshPaper is proprietary, of course, however the only ingredient Shukla will reveal is fenugreek, a spice often used in Indian cooking, which also lent its name to her company. screen-shot-2012-12-12-at-122632-pm
How it works:
"It basically works by inhibiting bacterial and fungal growth, as well as the enzymes that cause fruit to over-ripen," Shukla explains. "The concept is that you can just drop a sheet into a drawer or carton. Sometimes people put it into a fruit bowl. Our customers call it a ‘dryer sheet for produce.'" Each certified organic and biodegradable sheet lasts about two to three weeks, until its distinctive maple-like scent begins to fade. "That's how you know it's no longer active," Shukla explains.
Today, FreshPaper is used by farmers and families across the world and most recently has been made available in Whole Foods Markets. The growing distribution has allowed her to pursue her efforts to begin a "get one, give one" program benefiting local food banks, starting with those affected by Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey. Shukla says the brand has grown entirely by word of mouth, and credits much of this grassroots energy to increased environmental awareness in consumers.
"As we start to learn more about what's going on with food waste, we realize that there's water involved, there's energy costs, land, resources, that go into creating the food that we eat," she says. "And with the economy, people are becoming much more conscious of being wasteful at home, because they know not only are they struggling, but there are people in the U.S. that have no access to fresh food at all. It seems that everyone is coming to understand the importance of buying less or conserving what we have, and how that fits into the larger food crisis."
Fenugreen is a social enterprise with the mission of "Fresh for All." 12-4 12-2 12-1 12-3
[sources: FreshPaperFast Co.]

Friday, December 7, 2012

Labeling GMO Crops [video]

The current issue isn't about banning GMO crops in the United States, it's about labeling them - a consumer's right to know. We will work on getting them banned as our next step.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

saving food from the refrigerator


Although we think and talk about food on a constant basis, do we really know how best to preserve it or do we become lazy and leave the responsibility to technology? Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Jihyun Ryou thinks we no longer understand how to treat food. Her Save Food from the Fridge project involves placing certain foods on a group of "knowledge shelves" outside the fridge. With the goal of a better relationship with our food we may be able to waste less and conserve more energy, without sacrificing design aesthetics.
"Observing the food and therefore changing the notion of food preservation, we could find the answer to current situations such as the overuse of energy and food wastage. My design is a tool to implement that knowledge in a tangible way and slowly it changes the bigger picture of society. I believe that once people are given a tool that triggers their minds and requires a mental effort to use it, new traditions and new rituals can be introduced into our culture." - Jihyun Ryou
Her beautifully designed storage shelves aim to "re-introduce and re-evaluate traditional oral knowledge of food, which is closer to nature. Furthermore, it aims to bring back the connection between different levels of living beings, we as human beings and food ingredients as other living beings." For instance, the egg holder shelf includes a drop down cup of water to test the eggs. A ripe egg will always sink in water, so before breaking it open you can check to see its freshness. There is also a set of spice jars equipped with lids that hang down small bags of rice inside the jar. The rice is said to absorb humidity and keep the spices dry. There is even a hybrid apple/potato holder which keeps potatoes in a dark cabinet. Particularly focusing on the food preservation, it looks at a feasible way of bringing that knowledge into everyday life.


What do you know about GMOs? [Infographic]

A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism altered to incorporate genes of a desirable trait. Information on GMO labeling has been recently covered in the news, specifically regarding California's Prop 37 and has been a trending topic amongst the blogging community, but what do you really know about them? Luckily the folks over at Visualism have put together an infograph for you to test your knowledge on GMOs. And while barely scratching the surface on the entire GMO debate, we think it's a good starting point and worth the share.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Bundle Up! Tips on Staying Warm this Winter

The leaves have all fallen, the holiday lights are hung, fresh tracks are being made at ski resorts. That's right, winter is on its way and the folks at inspired habitat have put together some comprehensive, eco-friendly tips on how to stay warm without cranking up the thermostat.

Get audited – before you do anything, have a home energy audit done. You’ll find the areas of your home that really need work, and find more effective ways to go green while staying warm. An added bonus: many energy retrofit rebate programs require an energy audit be conducted prior to any work.

Cover bare floors – use area rugs to help insulate against hard floors that feel cooler than surrounding air. If your feet are cold, you’ll feel cold. Of course, putting on a pair of cozy socks or soft slippers helps too.

Heat the space you use – if your home doesn’t have climate zones, use space heaters to heat up only the small spaces you are using rather than your whole home. Get a heater with a timer and thermostat to prevent overheating.

Go programmable – install a programmable thermostat to keep your home warm when you are there and not-so-warm when you’re not. Turn your thermostat down at night to reduce heating bills significantly (up to two percent for every degree you go down).

Harness the sun – open drapes on sunny windows to let the sun heat your home, then close them (with heavy curtains) at night. Keep windows that face away from the sun covered to prevent heat loss. It’s a simple system that can reduce your heating costs by up to 15%.

Seal it up – replace weather stripping around doors and windows. Seek out air leaks around ductwork, in the basement, and around crawl spaces; then fix them.

Get serious – upgrade your insulation, especially in the attic and around the basement. Install storm windows, or upgrade to low-E windows to help prevent drafts and heat loss (especially prevalent with single-pane wood-frame windows).

Embrace it – reach for your fuzziest socks and coziest sweaters, then curl up with a soft throw and something warm to drink. It’s a set of little luxuries you won’t be able to enjoy in summer, so indulge while you can. Besides, wearing sweaters and comfy socks means you can set your thermostat down another degree or two.