Monday, September 27, 2010

Eco-Steps to End World Hunger

September has been a busy month.  The kids are back in school, Fall is in the air (in most places) and many people are getting into what I call "squirrel mode" of gathering food and prepping for the winter months ahead.  But what if you didn't have enough food?  Many people don't.  In fact, just shy of 1 billion people around the world do not have enough to eat.  The Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme estimate that 925 million people go hungry every day.

925 million people is more than three times the population of the United States.  You might be thinking "That's a lotta people!  What could I possibly do to help?" 

Well, there are a lot of things you can do.  But perhaps the first and most important thing is to be aware that this problem exists. 

Next, you could pick one small thing, or take one eco-step up to and including the obvious choice of donating money to a charitable organization that fights hunger.  But it doesn't have to be money.  One person action adds up to one family, one group, one community, one city.  Many people doing many small things can add up to have a tremendous impact.

For example, earlier this year, Kenda Swartz Pepper and Natasha Burge conducted their own personal experiments and wrote about what is like to go hungry.  I strongly encourage you to check these stories out.  They are informative, compelling and give us a closer look into what it would really be like to go hungry and still try to have productive, "normal" daily lives.  Luckily, we will be hearing from Kenda and Natasha again, along with others, beginning in early October.  I will be joining these talented writers from Conducive Chronicle for a 21-day journey to look at the problem of world hunger from many different perspectives.  I will be keeping you up-to-date on the series and will be re-posting them or linking them here on Eco-Steps.

You can check out more at Conducive Chronicle's World Hunger -- Be the Solution.  Or you can become a fan on Facebook to learn more about what you can do to help fight it.

For additional reading: 
12 Myths About Hunger
Waste Not, Want Not
The Rich Get Richer, The Poor Go Hungry

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Month Without Monsanto: What Does it Take to Avoid the GMO Giant?

April Dávila wondered what it would take to cut the GMO giant out of her family’s life. She found that it was far more entrenched than she’d ever realized.

Crop dusting, photo by Roger Smith
Photo by Roger Smith
In January of this year, while procrastinating on Facebook, I followed a link to an article reporting on evidence that there may be health effects associated with consuming Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) corn. Clicking on that link was one of those moments on which I look back and laugh. I had no idea how my life was about to change.

Monsanto’s Reach

The article I stumbled onto concerned a study done in 2009 by a group of French scientists investigating the safety of genetically modified food. Their results, as published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences, pointed toward kidney and liver damage in rats fed GM corn.
I began to research where exactly Monsanto corn appeared in my family’s diet. With a little online sleuthing, I learned that in addition to producing the genetically modified corn, Monsanto produces several other genetically modified crops such as soy, sugar beets, and cotton. Many of these crops form the foundation of our diets: 70 to 80 percent of American processed foods contain genetically engineered ingredients, according to the Grocery Manufacturers of America. A large percentage of the cotton in our clothes and homes begins in Monsanto's labs.
By day two of my attempt to remove Monsanto from my life, I realized I was in way over my head.
Probing a little deeper, I was surprised to learn that a company specializing in genetically modified plant crops also had an enormous influence on America’s meat industry. Sixty percent of genetically modified corn goes to feed America’s beef cattle. Additionally, Monsanto’s recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) is used to increase milk production in many dairy cows.

Tracing Foods Back to their Source

I decided to see if I could go the entire month of March without consuming any Monsanto products. I committed to an all organic, vegan diet, and reluctantly invested in a small organic cotton wardrobe. It was an experiment born of curiosity: I wanted to know just how deeply my life was influenced by Monsanto, a company I knew little about before that click of my mouse in January.

Belo Horizonte, Brazil did—and it wasn't that hard.


By day two of my attempt to remove Monsanto from my life, I realized I was in way over my head. For the past 10 years Monsanto has bought up seed companies around the globe. They now own a majority of the seed lines in America, including a large percentage of organic seeds. For everyday purposes, a Monsanto seed that is grown organically is still organic, but in my attempt to avoid Monsanto, I was left without any easy way of knowing what foods fit my experiment. I retreated to subsisting on wild-caught fish while I dug deep to try to figure out where exactly my foods came from.
With the help of sustainable food advocate Cassie Gruenstein, I got in touch with dozens of health food stores and manufacturers to ask where they sourced their products. I spent hours at the farmers’ market asking farmers what seed companies they bought from, googling on my iPhone before making purchases. It took several weeks, but I slowly built a somewhat normal Monsanto-free existence.
There is no easy way to avoid Monsanto. It requires talking with the person who grew your food—every ingredient of every bite.
Unfortunately, with the exception of a few national brands (check out Annie’s, Inc. Massa Organics, and Lundberg Farms for a good start), there is no easy way to avoid Monsanto. It requires talking with the person who grew your food—every ingredient of every bite.

Good First Steps

While it’s extremely difficult to entirely avoid Monsanto, there are some basic guidelines that anyone can use to minimize the genetically modified organisms in their lives.
  1. Avoid processed foods. In particular, eliminate High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) from your diet and be sure to read labels. HFCS appears in everything from sodas to wheat bread.
  2. Consider going vegetarian, limiting your meat consumption, or buying grass-fed varieties. Over 60 percent of genetically modified corn goes to feed cattle on polluting concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in America.  
  3. Buy organic dairy products to make sure animals weren't given Monsanto’s recombinant bovine growth hormone.
  4. Buy organic cotton when you can. Monsanto is a major player in the cotton industry. Even though cotton makes up only 2.5 percent of the world’s crops, it is doused with 16 percent of the world’s pesticides. Cotton pesticides, most of which are listed as “extremely hazardous” by the World Health Organization, turn up regularly in water sources around the globe.
What most amazed me during my month without Monsanto was the influence that one corporation had in my daily life—without me knowing anything about it. Once I started looking, Monsanto was everywhere. Once I started making the effort to avoid it, I found something else that surprised me: the confidence that comes from really knowing what I’m eating.

Find out more:  A Month Without Monsanto: What Does it Take to Avoid the GMO Giant?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Oh Say Can You See?

Okay, so maybe the title is a bit cheesy, but recently I've been turned onto something that maybe many of you already know about:  Getting your glasses on line-- on the cheap!  As many of us know, eye wear can be expensive, and can really add up if you have kids who have or need glasses.

If you've had a recent eye exam and have a prescription in hand, you can save yourself boatloads of money by getting your spectacles on line and avoid the 500% markup on something that has no business costing so much.