Grow Your Own Food

The best thing about growing your own food is the intimacy you have with your plants. This is something most people disconnected with their food will probably laugh at, unless they try it – who can be close to a plant? But when every morning you walk around the garden, taking note as to what the progress it has made, you come to know every leaf, tendril, and fruit. Are the tomatoes ripening yet? Do I need to help pollinate the watermelons? Can I see the corn tassels emerging yet?

A lot of people think that gardening and growing your own food is a lot of work. It isn’t. Sure it takes some effort, but it is hardly the back-breaking work that some lead you to believe.  People with busy lives and jobs still manage to grow a good amount of food.

There’s something beautiful in knowing food for its entire life. Many people do not have that luxury and are disconnected from their food source. There’s nothing like helping pollinate your watermelons in the early morning haze, watching the finger-nail sized melon grow into a whole melon, and then the prize: eating it! Tomatoes have never tasted better when you eagerly watch the fruit ripening on the vine every day, pruning regularly to achieve health, and then finally getting to pick the warm fruit and eat it fresh off the vine. No worry of pesticides because you nurtured the fruit and know exactly what’s in it.

The ultimate gift of the home garden though, is feeding others. No matter how small a garden is, there’s often more than enough to share and give to others. When your hard work goes to feed the food pantry, when you make a salad entirely with ingredients from your garden for a BBQ, or when you just give bags of produce to friends – the simple act of giving your hard work and seeing the people’s smiles and surprise is worth all the effort. 

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Endurance

ImageThis is perhaps my favorite Antarctic picture. It was taken by Frank Hurley during Shackleton’s Endurance expedition 1914-1916. Whenever I am down, I look at this photo. It is the last time this beautiful ship, the Endurance, was in full sail. It was completely encased in ice and had been this way for many months. Shackleton was low on fuel and supplies. To put this ship at full throttle with those sails open was Shackleton’s Hail-Mary to get her free. She never left the ice again and not too long after this photo was taken, the Endurance was crushed and swallowed by ice.

There’s so much that this image means to me. First off, the name of the ship – Endurance. She endured more than any other ship and put in a valiant effort to resist the ice. Shackleton himself showed immense endurance himself. When this photo was taken, his last hope to free his home that served his men and him so well, he still had hope. He had hope to get her free and get either to his destination on the continent of Antarctica or to one of the whaling stations. After this photo was taken, when he realized that the Endurance would not come free, was probably Shackleton’s darkest moment.

Instead of giving in and surrendering to the ice, at his darkest moment, Shackleton decided to endure. He had to make some of the most difficult decisions anyone ever had to make. He went on to lead 28 men to safety. They camped for many months on the sea ice, they sailed without modern navigation to the nearest land mass. Once there Shackleton knew they couldn’t stay there forever and took off with 6 men to make an epic journey to South Georgia where there were several whaling stations. When he made landfall he realized he was on the wrong end of the island and hiked across never-navigated lands (which were not navigated again til a couple years ago) with no equipment. They put nails into the soles of their shoes to make crampons. They reached their destination and were able to rescue all of 28 men.

So whenever life to me feels impossible, and it seems like I cannot go on, I look at this photograph. It shows both hope and despair. It shows people who wouldn’t give up, even in the face of the impossible

India vs. Africa on Lions and Rhinos

When the rest of the world is having conservation issues with endangered and threatened species drastically on the decline, India has been seeing the populations of their species thriving. A new report out has shown that the endangered Indian rhinoceros population is growing – despite poaching. This is a stark contrast compared to its African counterparts who are disappearing faster than they can be counted and are expected to only be in zoos by 2030. Another animal in India that has an African equivalent, the Asiatic lion, has also been making a comeback. What is India doing right and how is Africa failing so severely?

In the early 1900s there were around 200 Indian rhinoceros alive in India. Over the years the numbers grew with a surge between 1975 and 1986 where they went from 600 to 1700. The numbers were starting to show a downward trend from 2002 to 2006, but thankfully this did not continue. Rhinos showed a 27 percent rise since 2006 with numbers of the enigmatic giant going from 2,006 to 2,544. This is an impressive increase, especially since poaching has not been eradicated and is still ongoing – 18 rhinos were killed this year.

Similarly, Asiatic lions have seen a population increase in India as well. Their success story has been beautifully captured in Roshan Patel’s film, Pride, which has received much recognition. In 1905 there were less than 50 Asiatic lions alive and they were facing extinction. Today there are more than 400 and the number keeps increasing. The population has grown 13 percent since the last count in 2005. A good portion of these lions, 40 percent, are young, which bodes well for the future of the species.

In contrast, Africa is losing both their rhinoceros and lion population that could potentially render both extinct in the wild by 2030. Western black rhino, a subspecies of black rhino, was officially declared extinct last year. Since 2002, black and white rhino populations have fallen. The lion population has fared no better. Back in 1860, there were 100,000 lions in the wild. Today there are approximately 32,000 left. The population decrease of lions is largely due to habitat loss, spread of diseases due to climate change,  and drought.

India nevertheless faces similar threats but still manages to have impressive increases in population. What are they doing right? In the case of the Asiatic lion, the Indian state of Gujart which is home to the entire population of the feline, they have tremendous pride for their lions. There have been many efforts to educate the public of the important role the lions play in the habitat. And they paid off. For the Indian rhinoceros, similar efforts have also been made. Anti-poaching camps have been established in and around wildlife sanctuaries and preserves, the Environmental and Forest Minister has sought out conservation and legal experts to figure out more effective ways to protect the beasts. Africa has made similar efforts, but it seems like they have not taken the matters as seriously and are corrupt internally. Hopefully if India keeps getting recognition for their efforts Africa will pay attention and follow suit. 

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Thanks to Climate Change, This Might be the End of Breakfast as We Know It

Thanks to human-induced climate change, we are digging our own graves by endangering our food system. Sure everyone is aware that there is a drought going on in California jeopardizing certain crops and industries. Yes, everyone is also aware that there is a crisis going on with honey bees and that they account for 1 out of 3 bites of food that we take, but are people personally taking account for their actions? Nope. They’re still buying Round-Up at Home Depot. They are still planting invasive species and decorative species that starve bees rather than help them. They are still watering their lawns and carelessly using water.

Besides the global bee crisis and drought, there are some staples in our food system that are close to collapse – with or without bees. Due to climate change, there seems to be a rise in disease and fungus. Breakfast will never be the same. How would our mornings be without that latte? Or a cup of orange juice? Or that bowl of oatmeal without slices of banana?

Coffee
A new study came out recently from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in England that 70 percent Arabica beans could be nonexistent in 36-66 years. With a warming climate also comes disease and pests and mountainsides that are now becoming too warm for the beans to flourish. When the plants are exposed to warmer temperatures the beans grow and mature too fast resulting in foul, bitter tasting coffee. The warmer temps also allow pests like berry borer beetles and diseases like leaf rust fungus to thrive. The study showed a very high risk of extinction of the world’s 2nd favorite warm beverage (after tea, which is not in as much danger as coffee, yet). Sadly, the study leans towards the conservative side because it did not take into account extensive deforestation in the highland forests of Ethiopia and South Sudan, so it could be a whole lot worse.

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Citrus
This 2013-2014 citrus season has been Florida’s worst season in 29 years. This is due to a disease called greening which infected the entire state’s population of citrus. It impedes the trees’ ability to hang onto its fruit and the harvest falls before it can mature. This has affected grapefruit, oranges, tangerines, and tangelos. The price for citrus has already risen domestically. In addition to the fungus, there is also an introduced little Asian pest that is eating away at citrus in California (besides the drought) that is not helping our lemons and limes. Environments that were previously uninhabitable to pests are becoming more inhabitable as they become warmer.

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Banana
There is a serious threat attacking bananas all over the world that has yet to reach the banana crop in Latin America, the world’s largest exporter of bananas, but really, it’s only a matter of time. There’s this fungus called Panama disease that rots the shallow and fragile roots of the banana trees. It was found in Asia in the 1990s and recently it has been decimating the banana crop in Mozambique. Some scientists already believe that the fungus has already spread to Latin America, which provides us with 70% of the world’s bananas. Should the fungus continue to spread, and should we find no cure, economies and countries collapse and we will lose the beloved banana.

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We need to start taking account for our actions and educating ourselves about the threats to our food system. This is only a fraction of the food that is suffering at our hands. While larger issues of climate change may seem far away and not affect us directly, like melting icebergs in Antarctica, our morning breakfast is in our kitchens every day. Perhaps more people will be willing to make little changes in their daily lives to make big change in the long run.

Breaking the Vicious Cycle

             Not even a month ago people all around the world were celebrating Japan’s end of whaling in the Southern Ocean. My last article warned that folks were celebrating far too soon and that Japan will waste no time to try to resume their whaling efforts. Honestly I thought they’d wait a bit longer than 3 weeks, but over a meal of whale, they tried to renew their efforts for whaling in Antarctic waters in 2015.
              The Minister of Agriculture said that this refurbished plan would be more sustainable – with less whales (250 as opposed to 950) being slaughtered, with actual scientific samples being taken. Never mind that these samples could be taken without killing the whales. But other than that, there was not much detail in their announcement.
              This goes to show that it is important not to monitor Antarctic fishing – but to not allow it altogether. Antarctica used to be the last pristine environment on Earth. The Southern Ocean, until recently, had remained the same temperature for thousands of years. This allowed animals to not change, live for decades where in other environments they live for a few years, and create an environment not found anywhere else on Earth.
              Now, thanks to increased fishing and climate change, the Southern Ocean has become a place that we most need to protect. Humans are burning the candle at both ends. We are killing apex predators – the Antarctic Toothfish (more commonly known as Chilean Sea Bass) so now that there’s hardly any of them being found. We are also over-fishing the base of the Antarctic food chain – krill. Literally everything in Antarctica depends on krill – fish, penguins, seals, whales – and even humans since if krill are left in the ocean they act as a carbon sink.
              On December 1st, 1959, world leaders did mainland Antarctica a big favor by signing the Antarctic Treaty which protected the land from exploitation. Only scientific activities can be carried out on Antarctica. No one can own the continent. They failed to extend the treaty to the ocean.
             For the last few years countries have met to try to create a marine sanctuary around Antarctica. These efforts have been repeatedly blocked by China, Russia and the Ukraine. They’ve tried decreasing the size of the marine sanctuary to conciliate the countries, but they still resist. The fishing and reaping of the Southern Ocean still continues.
              The exploitation of the Southern Ocean will continue as folks will never realize the importance of this ecosystem to the rest of the world. The Southern Ocean essentially mixes the rest of the currents of the world as it gyrates around the Antarctic continent. It is often “the forgotten ocean” being down there where few visit and experience.
              This Earth Day we need to create an awareness for the Southern Ocean and all that it does for us. We need to build a movement to demand that it be turned into the world’s largest marine sanctuary. If not, the vicious cycle of abusing it for our needs will continue.

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Before You Celebrate End of Whaling in Antarctica, Read This

Yesterday the International Court of Justice concluded that Japan’s whale hunt in the southern ocean near Antarctica was not, in fact, for “scientific research.” For the last few years, Japanese boats have gone into the Southern Ocean, gotten their quota (850) of whales per year. Sometimes they never reach that quota because Sea Shepherd, an Australian organization, watches them very closely and manages to halt them and drive them out of Antarctic waters. Theoretically, Japan’s little slap on the wrist for whaling and temporary halt, happens every year. The only change this year is that it came from the United Nations – which is why everyone is calling victory.

This may be a victory, but it is very small one. The real issue at hand is being completely ignored. Yes, whaling has temporarily been halted in Antarctica. As one of Antarctica’s biggest fans, I am thrilled. But the bigger issue has not even been mentioned once in any of the articles about Antarctic whaling – Antarctica’s waters are under attack. Whaling is the smallest offense. If we want to be true stewards of the environment and truly protect this irreplaceable environment, we need to designate the entire Southern Ocean a marine sanctuary and halt ALL commercial fishing.

Perhaps while you have been out to a restaurant recently or in the past you’ve seen something called Chilean Sea Bass on the menu. It is often described as a sweet, flakey firm white fish that lacks a fishy taste. What’s not to love? The truth. Chilean Sea Bass does not come from Chile. It comes from Antarctica. Its real name is Antarctic Toothfish but its name was changed to make it more appealing. These fish are the most dominant fish predator in Antarctica – in other words, they are the largest fish in the sea. They not only feed on smaller things, but they themselves are also food for seals, whales, squid, and a subspecies of orca that almost exclusively feeds on them. Since humans all of a sudden developed a taste for this fish, their numbers have reduced drastically. Since Antarctica is a cold place, things happen very slowly there. Things change slowly (or never), things mature slowly, things reproduce slowly. The toothfish numbers have not been able to keep up with insatiable human consumption and cannot support the environment’s needs as well.

Toothfish is not the only resident of Antarctica in danger at the hands of commercial fishing. On TV and on the web there are ads and commercials for the benefits of krill oil over fish oil. Not only are these little red pills more attractive than the golden fish oil ones, they supposedly offer no fishy burps and faster Omega-3 absorption! What is there to lose? EVERYTHING! Krill are the backbone, the nucleus, the spark of Antarctic life. EVERYTHING alive in Antarctica feeds on krill – from little icefish, to penguins, to seals, to humpback whales. If krill were to disappear, there would be no Antarctica. The truth is krill ARE disappearing. Krill numbers have declined 80% in the last 30 years. That is huge. That is much bigger than 850 whales being taken out of the water a year. Just let that sink in. 80% of the mainstay of Antarctic ecosystem has declined.

So yes. Hooray! Antarctic whaling program has been temporarily halted. That is good news. But you know what would be GREAT NEWS? No more fishing in Antarctica. Hearing that toothfish numbers are bouncing back. Hearing that krill no longer will be taken from Antarctic waters. And the best news of all? That the Southern Ocean, once the most pristine place on Earth, is designated the largest marine sanctuary. Each year many nations come together to try, and every year they fail. Maybe with this temporary halt of the whaling it is a first step.
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Video

Everything Wrong With Man

I keep meaning to post a long, reflective post, but I keep coming across these poignant videos lately. And it seems like video and photos get the message across sometimes a lot better than words. Like this one. It seems like ever since we arrived on this planet we’ve left a path of destruction. We don’t realize that every action, every decision we make every day has a consequence. If more people could live consciously, we can perhaps make the change needed in this world.

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America the Beautiful?

Recently NRDC partnered up with Willie Nelson and put out this poignant and beautiful video about our country. I haven’t focused much on Mountain Top Removal, but it is by far one of the worst atrocities in this country that people are allowing to happen. Maybe if more people see and share this video, more people will become more aware and do something about it. Fracking is bad, oil drilling is awful, but MTR is worse. Much, much worse.

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Local Sustainable Scrumptious Mac and Cheese

Local Sustainable Scrumptious Mac and Cheese

In my quest to be green and sustainable I try to incorporate local food in my diet whenever possible. Recently I discovered a farm that raises their own organic cows for cheese. I put together this macaroni n cheese with gluten-free pasta, rosemary from my garden (pretty much the only thing that I have now since it’s still winter here), 3 different cheeses from the local farm, butter from an organic farm in New York, organic milk, and of course other organic ingredients. It by far was the best macaroni and cheese I have ever tasted. I even surprised myself! Perhaps the fact that it had a minimal carbon footprint might have helped too. Being green should extend to your kitchen!