The Unnatural Marriage of Corn and Cattle--Who Knew?December 31, 2014
A few weeks ago, GWG initiated a short series about The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan’s book about food, or perhaps more accurately, what passes for the food we consume. This week we’re biting off the whole first section about industrial corn, from the seed itself to the feedlots, to wet mills that break corn into molecules so it can be made into anything, including high fructose corn syrup which can be found in soft drinks, cereals, salad dressings and thousands of other processed foods.
Pollan’s interest and expertise in food led him to wonder “What am I eating?” From this innocuous question he attempts to trace what is in his grocery cart back to the soil. What he learns is that approximately 45,000 items in the supermarket have ingredients that are extracted from an ear of corn. The corn we consume today is a clone, and thanks to genetic modifications its kernels don’t reproduce in like quantity, and each season, F-1 or a version thereof, is planted. Pollan follows the history of corn and the public policies that encouraged farmers to plant more corn, reap fewer profits, and contributed to the present day control of corn production and processing to two huge corporate agribusinesses—Cargill and ADM, which buy 1/3 of all corn grown in the USA. He points to the conversion after World War II of a munitions plant to a producer of chemical fertilizer as the turning point to dependence on fossil fuels.
Sixty percent of corn grown today is fed to livestock and other animals in feedlots on what are urbanized farms. The head of cattle that formerly took two to three years to raise to slaughter is today weaned early, taken off grass fields, transported to the feedlot and in eight to ten months is fattened with corn and the tallow of dead animals and their litter to its target 1,100 pounds and slaughtered. Pollan includes some discussion about the health problems experienced by cattle on this diet—the bloating, acidosis, liver abcesses, etc. that are treated with quantities of antibiotics. To paraphrase the author, eating meat takes a heroic act of not knowing or forgetting.
I confess this book isn’t easy to digest. Not that it isn’t readable and seasoned with interesting anecdotes from Pollan’s journey across America’s fields and factory farms and his drive-through McDonald’s meal experience. What is complicated and disturbing is the story line about how we have evolved from eating nature’s bounty grown from the sun and water to eating food products that are driven by government policies, created and designed in laboratories, and dependent on an investment of fossil fuels and magnitudes of water that are making us sicker and fatter than previous generations and at a cost that is ecologically expensive.
The next article in the series will focus on the corn that isn’t fed to cattle that makes its way into supermarkets and grocery stores and our bodies.
My New Year’s resolution involves making some major changes to my diet, which is good news for the animals.
Past, Present, and FutureDecember 24, 2014
This day we dedicate to reflection. And on a practical level, consider the value of an inspirational quote now and then to motivate action and sustain your endeavors.
“The supreme reality of our time is ...the vulnerability of our planet.” - John F. Kennedy
“The frog does not drink up the pond in which it lives.” - Chinese Proverb
“If we take all this action and if it turns out not be true, we have reduced pollution and have better ways to live, the downside is very small. The other way around, and we don’t act, and it turns out to be true, then we have betrayed future generations and we don’t have the right to do that.”
“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children's children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”
― Theodore Roosevelt
“They ravaged neither the rivers nor the forest, and if they irrigated, they took as little water as would serve their needs. The land and all that it bore they treated with consideration; not attempting to improve it, they never desecrated it.”
― Willa Cather, Death Comes For the Archbishop
“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
“When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: if you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren't pessimistic, you don't understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren't optimistic, you haven't got a pulse.”
― Martin Keogh, Hope Beneath Our Feet: Restoring Our Place in the Natural World
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
― Chief Seattle
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
With credit to these two quotation sources—check them out for quotes you can use on bulletin boards, in your newsletters and to inspire your green team meetings.
Congratulations for all the good work that green teams around the globe accomplished in 2014, and join GreenWorksGov in re-newing our collective commitment to greening our offices and realizing progress to sustainability even more in 2015.
Courting the EnvironmentDecember 17, 2014
This week’s blog isn’t for law offices only! In the course of our lives, professionally and personally, at some point we are likely to be dealing with our court systems at the local, state, or federal levels. Among the many innovations that courts have undertaken in recent years is to adopt technologies that improve the courts’ efficiency and accessibility to the public. One important trend is e-filing, which refers to the transition from a paper-based system to electronic filing and processing of actions, from traffic citations to litigation.
The leading institution in the U.S. that serves as a clearinghouse of information and knowledge that is shared among the courts and as a leading think tank for innovation is the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), based in Williamsburg, Virginia. The NCSC produces an annual report, Trends in State Courts, which is a compendium of articles with special focus on major issues and highlights significant projects and achievements in courts across the nation.
Among the key trends reported this year are the adoption of e-filing and the conversion from paper-based processing and records management to digital images. This trend is good news for the environment. Law offices have been among the highest consumers and producers of paper. When the courts mandate electronic transmission of documents, a beneficial side effect is the conservation of paper, toner, and even equipment. We may not see reductions in overall consumption, but we can expect a reduction in the increase of both paper and equipment needed to meet future needs.
Here are a few samples of the accomplishments from this year’s report:
Kentucky—e-filing will be implemented for all 120 counties by the end of 2015
South Carolina—the appellate courts have adopted a web-based case management system. A 32 pound case box is now handled by a 23 ounce iPad.
Virginia—relies on e-filing for civil actions in 16 circuit courts and continues to roll it out statewide
Utah—E-everything! Among the earliest adopters, Utah is expanding its e-filing to all civil and criminal cases and is shifting to electronic processing of payments, warrants, service, notice, etc.
Read the state-by-state summaries here; they start on page 41 of the annual report.
The NCSC practices what it preaches. The 2014 e-Courts conference held this month was a paperless conference—no printed programs or handouts. And the NCSC arranged for live streaming to the desktop and mobile devices of the keynote speaker presentation and all educational sessions.
Eating--What's Nature Got To Do With It?December 10, 2014
This week’s blog is the first in a series about Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Green teams might consider several projects as a spin-off. Start a book club and make this a selection for discussion at a “brown bagger.” Invite a public health professional or nutritionist to give a presentation on how to eat healthier, write an article for your office newsletter on the topic of introducing more organic and locally-grown foods into the diet, meet with the food service operator and vending machine provider about increasing the selection of healthier food alternatives, and offer a workshop or publicize information on how employees can start composting at home to limit their food waste going to a landfill and to produce fertilizer for their outdoor plants and gardens.
First, a short introduction and summary. Pollan opens his book with a question, “What should we have for dinner?” From this seemingly benign query, he launches a systematic review of what Americans eat and the origins of the food we consume. Walk into any supermarket and there is an amazing and, by all appearances, tantalizing array of choices. Notice, too, that in the past several decades the amount of floor space given over to prepared foods, ready to heat and serve or eat out of the box, glass, and can, has become the norm.
Pollan disparages the shift in agriculture to industrial farming, our national penchant for fad diets, and the environmental impact of a food system that depends more and more on fossil fuels than solar energy to produce and process what we consume. Along the way, he examines the domination of corn and its byproducts, which is an ingredient in one-fourth of 45,000 items in the supermarket. We learn that the GMO corn grown in Iowa and other parts of the country today bears little resemblance to the corn seed of decades past. He explores the forced changes in what beef, pigs, and other animals consume from grasses to corn and takes us on a journey of the short life of a head of cattle that spans about 14 months from birth to the slaughter house compared to several years to be ready for market in the past.
Why are Americans consuming more calories and sugar and weighing in about 12 pounds heavier than we did in the 1960’s? Pollan would argue it’s a complex web of governmental subsidies, mega-sized corporate control of farming and animal production, and an absence of a traditional food culture that has most of us eating something containing ingredients our grandparents wouldn’t recognize. He structures the chapters into three main areas of focus—industrialized corn, the ubiquitous ingredient in so much of what we consume, organic farming and the way we used to grow food and animals for consumption, and his personal, Waldenesque journey to prepare a meal for his consumption from what he hunted and gathered. This book isn’t easy to digest, pardon the pun, and he offers no “spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down” to borrow from Mary Poppins. GWG will take up more specifics as we chronicle the highlights of this important investigation into what we eat.
Greening the Holidays Starts...Now!November 26, 2014
Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers. One of the coolest ideas to come along for the holiday season (and a good excuse to stay home from crazy shopping this Friday) is Small Business Saturday on November 29. American Express gets a lot of credit for initiating it in 2010 to encourage people to patronize their locally owned and operated small businesses. It has grown into a movement and each year, has grown, well, bigger!
Check out the site for links to businesses in your area and look for signs and ads promoting the opportunity to spend some “green” in your neighborhood. This past week, an article in USA Today by Rhonda Abrams offers ten reasons to support shopping local. One reason is that of $100 spent in a local business, $68 stays in the local community supporting schools, police, roads, jobs, and other improvements. Contrast that with a big box branch store at $43 and virtually no dollars added to the tax base from shopping online, which incurs shipping miles and added energy expended. And according to Sustainable Connections, “Locally owned businesses can make more local purchases requiring less transportation and generally set up shop in town or city centers as opposed to developing on the fringe. This generally means contributing less to sprawl, congestion, habitat loss and pollution.”
It’s that time of year again, when GreenWorksGov gives you an early Christmas present—your guide to green holiday shopping. This year, we’re linking you to some of our favorite sources for gift ideas and eco-friendly shopping tips and a couple new ones.
As in past years, we really like Greenopia. This link takes you to Greenopia Los Angeles, but just scroll down to the bottom and click on a city or the “all cities” link and you’re bound to find USA and Canada shopping options in a town near you. You’ll discover links and info about green electronics, clothing and jewelry, food and beverages, toys, bath and beauty, home and garden, vehicles, and more.
Green America’s Responsible Shopper’s Guide is another super resource with listings for dozens of products and categories. Green America also has a list this year of Ten Ways to Green Your Holidays.
Updated this year is a Green Electronics Shopping guide completed by the Alliance to Save Energy for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Noah Horowitz’s NRDC blog, Switchboard, publishes the guide. The article points out three things we all can do to enjoy our new electronic gifts and conserve energy, too. First, buy energy efficient (EPEAT or Energy Star ™ rated) electronics, set them to turn off or use the minimum amount of power when not in use, and recycle old and broken electronics responsibly. The NRDC has a variety of shopper’s guides to products, such as food storage containers, poultry, bathroom tissue, laptops and TVs.
A continuing recommendation from 2013 is Greenopia’s Research Director Doug Mazeffa’s book, “Learning to Shop Sustainably: The Consumer Guide to Environmental Impact Assessment and the Green Marketplace.”Please share these ideas with your employees in your office newsletters and Intranets. GreenWorksGov wishes all its readers around the world a peaceful, and joyous Christmas and holiday season.