Sunday, May 31, 2009

Humans meant to be herbivores

OK, I'm an omnivore, I admit it (although I'm eating more and more vegetarian meals). The arguments for vegetarianism and veganism based on health and the environment appeal to me, but I've also been influenced by the arguments that humans need meat, that we can't get certain nutrients without it, and that we've evolved to eat it.

But not so fast. In a comment on Colin Beavan's "No Impact Man" blog regarding the eating of red meat, one person made some very compelling arguments that humans are meant to be vegetarian--some of which seem very intuitive. For example, the fact is that unlike most carnivorous mammals, humans have neither the sharp nails to tear prey apart nor the sharp teeth needed to eat uncooked meats. Also, we don't have stomach acids as strong as most carnivores, which allows them to eat raw meat and not be hurt by the bacteria. For humans, that means that until we learned to cook meat (or realized we could eat meat burned in forest fires), we couldn't eat it at all, because the bacteria would kill us. In addition, when we eat meals rich in meat, we often feel stuffed and sluggish, which is the exact opposite of what we should feel after eating as creatures that prehistorically needed to be able to run fast, run long, and climb to escape predators.

Less obvious is the fact that we have long intestines like most herbivores, which allows us a long time to digest vegetables and grains, which is important for energy and for extracting as many nutrients as possible. This also means, however, that we digest meat slowly, absorbing the fat and cholesterol in the process (with all the health problems that result) and producing the sluggish feelings described above. In contrast, most carnivorous mammals have much shorter intestines than humans, which allows them to digest meat quickly without absorbing the fat and cholesterol.

All of this suggests that while humans have been eating meat for a long time, we haven't been eating it throughout our existence and therefore probably didn't evolve to eat meat. One interesting fact to note is that Genesis, in the Bible, records that at one time, humans didn't eat meat. Only after Noah and the flood did God give humans "permission" to eat meat.

Health care for all rally report

I attended the rally and march yesterday morning in Tacoma. I estimate a turnout of about 400. According to today's Seattle Times, the turnout in Seattle was even better--about 3,500.

As one speaker at the Tacoma rally said, the problem with health care in this country is more than just the 46-50 million who are uninsured. A majority of Americans, even if insured, are at risk because their insurance is inadequate or contingent upon keeping the job they currently have. A system that only works if you don't get sick or lose your job is a system that has failed, he said. Not to mention the other problems in the current American health care system--the inefficiencies, the lack of effective doctor/patient relationship, etc. As also noted at the rally, to really change the current system will take a lot of relentless work and involvement--it's not enough to assume that just because more people than ever are aware of the problem and want it to change, that it will.

My daughter made a friend during the event, a five-year-old girl who was there with her parents and baby brother. Her father did a spoken word poem during the rally, with an especially memorable line: "They call us bleeding heart liberals, as if there's something wrong with having a heart that bleeds."

Kitchen garden good news/updates

I joined a kitchen gardeners forum (affiliated with Kitchen Gardeners International) and got a message from my uncle in Missouri, who's also a member. That was an unexpected treat!

So, news, updates and lessons learned:

1) It's hard to find the best advice. As I noted in an earlier post, you can get very different advice on what is best from different sources. As I also noted, planting my dying lettuce seedlings in a container outdoors was the best thing for them--after continuing to look like they were dying for another two weeks, they suddenly started to rebound. Now I have a lettuce crop! If I'd known that would happen, I would have replanted more of the seedlings. My lettuce is now about 4" tall, and hubby says I should let it grow a few more inches before harvesting, but that hasn't stopped me from plucking a few leaves to eat them. :)

2) Along those lines, doing your own experimenting to decide the best course of action is important. Hubby bought two tomato start plants. I purchased some TerraCycle liquid worm poop especially for tomatoes, and we're using it on one of the plants to see whether or not it will produce a better result than the other plant by the end of the season.

3) Gardening really is important for kids. For Mother's Day, my daughter's day care had all the kids plant pansies for their mothers in flower pots that they decorated with their hand prints. My daughter loves watering and caring for her pansy! Also, she has watched me pinching off pieces of my herbs and eating them, and she's imitating me. I love seeing my picky eater plucking a bit of chives or a parsley leaf and eating it!

4) Our deck/terrace, despite facing north, has been the perfect place for our container garden! It gets plenty of sunlight, and being high off the ground, is keeping our veggies safe from deer, rabbits, and non-flying bugs 'n' slugs.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Informative web site

Green Eco Services -- as it describes itself, "Your One Click Source For All Things Green." Not only does it give tips and information, you can also search for products and services by state.

Great product recommendation

For some reasons, the skin problems that have affected my scalp and face have never affected the rest of my body, so I've always been able to use commercial body lotions without problem. I've been looking for a good eco-friendly body lotion for a while. I like Alba Botanica and Trader Joe's body lotions, both of which contain mostly natural ingredients and feel great on the skin. However, both contain parabens as preservatives, which are possible carcinogens.

On a recent visit to Super Supplements, I found an awesome product: Alaffia Everyday Shea body lotion. There are so many great benefits to this products:

~ It's made from all-natural ingredients, including and primarily shea butter, which has been such a healing product for my face.*
~ The company operates according to fair trade practices.**
~ The founder of the company is from Togo, and started the company as a way to help empower his fellow Africans. They donate 10% of sales to community development projects in Togo.
~ For me, the company is local: it's headquartered in Olympia, WA.
~ It's very affordable. I paid $10 for a 32 oz. bottle. (Note: Products sold at Super Supplements tend to be cheaper than I find them elsewhere, so it normally retails for $13.99).

Please visit the Alaffia web site to learn more about the company's great story, as well as about the wonders of shea butter.


* Shea butter has a distinctive odor reminiscent of both chocolate and almonds. I really like the aroma, but it takes getting used to.

** Fair trade "means paying a fair price or wage in the local context, providing equal employment opportunities, engaging in environmental sustainable practices, providing healthy and safe working conditions, being open to public accountability, and reducing the number of middlemen between producers and consumers." Please see the Alaffia web site for more information about fair trade.

Cute thrift store shopping story

I hadn't yet bought dear daughter a birthday present, and the one thing she's asked for is a GloE bear--a teddy bear that lights up when you squeeze it. So on the holiday yesterday, we headed for Toys R Us to buy one. Unfortunately, they were all sold out.

I also promised her a trip to our favorite thrift store, Value Village, where they were having a 50% off on all merchandise sale yesterday. So instead of one GloE bear, my daughter was able to get the following for her birthday:

* Two Care Bear dolls, one purple and one pink
* Two cute summer outfits, and a pretty top
* Two books
* A bracelet
* A video

In addition, Mommy got for herself:

* Three books
* A radio, so I can listen to music and progressive talk radio at work

All for $22!! So please support the petition for a National Thrift Store Month--my daughter thanks you!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The parable of the butterfly

There's an old story about a man who comes across a cocoon, and before his very eyes, the butterfly inside starts trying to break out. He notices that the butterfly seems to be struggling, and decides to help it by breaking open the cocoon. The butterfly emerges, dragging its wings along the ground. It attempts to lift itself into the air several times, but is unable to do so. A short while later, the butterfly dies.

The moral of the story is that we need adversity in order to thrive. The very attempt of struggling to emerge from the cocoon strengthens the wings of the butterfly, so that it can fly.

On Sunday, we had dinner with some of the folks from the Tacoma Food Policy Council who are very interested in the Hilltop Farms idea.* I took the opportunity while I was there to ask about my lettuce seedlings, which have died. When they were becoming limp and tangled, I asked a gardener at a local nursery, and she told me they needed more light. So I added an additional grow light. Later, I spoke to someone at the Lowe's garden department, and he said that I used too much light--seedlings, he said, are delicate and too much light can fry them.

Stephen, one of the folks at dinner, had a different take on it, however. "Plants need adversity to thrive. If you're planting seedlings indoors, they don't get the adversity they need. I blow on my seedlings every day and sometimes run my hands over them lightly, to give them a little challenge."

I think he's right--my plants are just like with the butterfly. Shortly before my lettuce seedlings died altogether, I replanted some in a container and placed it on our terrace, just to see what would happen. For about two weeks, they continued to look as pathetic as the ones indoors. But today I took a look at them, and some of them seem to be rebounding!

I hope this works for all my seedlings. I replanted the herbs in a container outdoors last week because they had outgrown their little pots. Today I replanted the sunflower (and I'll probably need to do so later in the ground, given how big they can grow) because although it looked strong, the leaves were starting to yellow. Maybe the sun, rain and wind will toughen it up!


* We learned from them that the Tacoma Urban League ran a community garden in the Hilltop area back in the 90s, but later lost the funding. The garden lots, now fallow, still exist, however. Our hope is that we can make the Hilltop Farms sustainable, perhaps even using those same lots.

Health care for all -- May 30, 2009!

Our country NEEDS universal health care. Every other developed nation in the world has it; our employer-sponsored system is a drag on big business due to costs and hurts small businesses that can't provide it; and so many people are without (including us currently*). The risks people face when they're uninsured and underinsured, not to mention if they lose their job or start a new job with pre-existing conditions, are enormous. The arguments I've heard against it are often falsehoods (despite what the anti-universal health care folks say, the government will not employ the doctors; medical research and innovation does take place in other countries; and the medical care in the U.S. is not the best in the world). When the arguments bring up valid problems that exist in nations with universal health care, those same problems exist and are sometimes more severe in the U.S. (for example, wait times or being denied coverage for certain procedures). Moreover, there are many varieties of universal health care programs, as each nation that offers it does it somewhat differently--thus, in the U.S. we can look at different models and decide what's best for us.

Around the nation, many groups are coming together to hold "Health Care for All" rallies on Saturday, May 30, 2009. I'd heard about one in Seattle, but today, Amy B sent me a flyer about one taking place in Tacoma, at the First United Methodist Church, 621 Tacoma Ave, beginning at 9 AM. I'll be there! For more info about the Tacoma event, see Healthy Tacoma, or to find organizations working on universal health care, see the Universal Health Care Action Network.


* Thankfully, as I've posted already, everything is OK with hubby's heart, and the little one was in excellent health at her recent 4-year checkup. Hopefully things stay this way until we obtain insurance again.

Friday, May 15, 2009

I may have to get rid of the bird feeder (sob!)

I had thought we might have a problem with squirrels, but since I hadn't seen any in our yard, I decided not to worry about it. Instead, we now have a bigger problem. Two nights ago, we had guests over, and my husband took them out to our back porch, which has a great view of Puget Sound. While they were out there, they stood in amazement as they watched a raccoon climb the tree where the bird feeder was placed, yank it down, and run off with it!

When I came home from work yesterday, I looked for the feeder and found it in the bushes. Surprisingly, it wasn't broken, except for the hook which was used to hang it, which can be easily replaced. I brought it in the house to clean it, and then looked online for information about how to protect bird feeders from raccoons.

There are many great devices out there to protect feeders from squirrels but the advice for raccoons seems to be, fence in your yard (which we can't do), or place it in a really high tree (none of our trees are tall enough). More troubling, several sites indicate that bird feeders, young children and raccoons are a very bad mix. Raccoons carry all kinds of diseases, including rabies and round worms (which kids can get if they come in contact with their feces when playing in the grass or dirt). Plus, the raccoons often knock the seeds all over the ground (which is exactly what this raccoon did; seeds are everywhere now), and that can attract mice and rats.

I posted about this on another forum, asking for advice, and got these as the results:


Cayenne pepper turns off the raccoons but doesn't bother the birds taste-wise; however, it can get in the birds' eyes.


If you shoot at the raccoons with paintballs, they're smart enough to go away and stay away. However, if you end up attracting bears (!!), that won't work.


I highly recommend window bird feeders. They are small, easy to refill, your children would be able to watch the birds from inside the house, and sticking to a window makes it more difficult for raccoons, squirrels and chipmunks to get to them since there's nothing to climb but slippery glass.

Here's a few so you can see what I'm talking about: Window bird feeders


And then there was this response:

We have pretty much every critter you can imagine (bears, raccoons, grey squirrels, red squirrels, chipmunks) after our feeder. We've had all our other set-ups destroyed one way or another before. What we have now hasn't suffered any major disasters for 3 years. It's all about placement - and a good baffle.

So, the key is, you have to hang it at least 8 feet off the ground, at least 8 feet out from any trunk or branch of significant size (bears and squirrels won't generally jump up or out that far), and at least 3-4 feet down from the branch in question. To hang it, use a thin chain or wire (can't be gnawed through), with a baffle about a foot above the top of the feeder.

This isn't 100% against squirrels, especially the red ones. They shimmy down the chain and then make their best effort to get around the baffle. But they have enough unsuccessful attempts to get to the goodies before they are ever successful. And watching them struggle with the baffle is pretty amusing in and of itself.

Of course, I have a million trees, so this easy for me to say, I guess. I know some people with smaller yards won't have the appropriate limb. It does require dragging out a ladder to fill the thing too. This is one reason why we have such a big one. We actually drape lots of extra chain over the limb and then secure it back at the tree, so that we can lower the feeder that way at first. Also, this eliminates weak hooking points that bears and raccoons can make easy work of.

This year has been a very good year for our birds. We have a nesting pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks for the first time.


(Back to me) Great information, but I'm not sure I want to do that much work, and our trees are really too small. The window feeder isn't a great option, either. As I've written before, our house is built into the side of a hill, so on three sides, we have very small windows. On the north side, which faces out from the hill and toward the Puget Sound, we have huge bay windows, with a long porch in front. So a window feeder means the birds have to fly onto our porch... and possibly leave droppings.

So the bird feeder may have to go. {{sigh!}}

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Of princesses and politics

Although I said when I started that I'd be talking about more than just "green" issues, this is my first post that really veers from that. So I'll mention a few green things to start: my spinach and tomatoes are sprouting, but my lettuce is doing horribly. Hubby bought some green bean plant starts, and I think I might have to do that with lettuce. On the plus side, our bird feeder is paying off. My daughter and I have been able to watch chickadees, sparrows, robins and even a dove come visit!

So the point of this post: Daughter turned four on Saturday, and had two parties: one in a park in the morning with some family friends with two daughters, and a sleepover with two of her friends from daycare on Saturday night. They all had a blast!

My daughter, like all the little girls mentioned above, is really into Disney princess stuff. Now, I happen to think Belle and Mulan are pretty cool; the rest of the princesses I have mixed feelings about, but not enough to ban her from it. However, I have noticed, and the friend with the two daughters above and I discussed the fact that on most of the Disney paraphenalia, the "princesses of color" (Mulan, Pocahontas, and Jasmine) are often left out. Jasmine is sometimes included, but Mulan and Pocahontas, almost never. I have to wonder why. Even Sleeping Beauty, who is the most useless and passive of the bunch (and therefore the least likely for a young girl to want to emulate) appears on almost all the princess merchandise.

I just learned today that later this year, Disney is introducing its first African-American princess, Tiana, in the animated, "The Princess and the Frog." I have to wonder whether she will continue to appear prominently on princess paraphenalia after the movie has gone from the theaters, or if she will be left out like Mulan, Pocahontas and Jasmine.

I read a few discussions about the new Disney movie, including the fact that Tiana's love interest is possibly white (the cartoon character is dark-haired and olive skinned, the actor voicing him Brazilian; btw, I have no problem with the character being white or "other"), and others which talk about the importance of this movie as a role model for black children, especially girls. In the latter case, some mention the famous doll study used as part of the evidence in the Brown v. Board of Education case. This study has been repeated recently, with similar results: black children preferring white dolls to black ones.

Anyway, it makes me wonder what, if anything, I should be teaching my daughter about race. I don't remember my parents teaching me anything specific, but I remember often preferring black dolls as a child. My favorite set were the Happy Family (scroll down on this page to view them), who I loved not just because they were black but because they also had black hair texture, unlike, say, black Barbies. But I grew up in a predominantly black environment. My daughter, if we continue to live where we live now, will grow up in a majority white (~70%) community.

Right now, she makes observations about people that are just statements of fact, unconnected to politics or sociology. "Daddy is brown, and Mommy, you and me are yellow," she says. A little girl at her daycare is Chinese, she observes, and a boy there has two mommies. Right now, there's nothing remarkable about these facts to her, and I'd love for it to stay that way--where people are people, and their differences are just interesting facts about them.

But I wonder if that's possible. I remember talking with the teenage daughter of a friend a few years ago, who told me about the tensions at her high school between kids of different races. It made me sad, especially when I think of my own high school years in the 1980's, during which, even amid the turmoil of recent desegregation, the kids of different races got along fairly well. (It was the racism of some teachers that was the bigger problem).

And I wonder what Disney is communicating when they make movies about diverse characters but then cut them out of their merchandise. Just food for thought.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Good stuff!

We got hubby's nuclear stress test results back and his heart is doing well (yay!); our little one turns four this week; and we attended a meeting of the Tacoma Food Policy Council and they're very interested in our Hilltop Farms idea.

Hubby is really getting into the container gardening thing, as well as being the driving force behind Hilltop Farms. I think that the second heart scare five years after his surgery has lit a fire under him. And when he gets passionate about something, watch out!

Oh, one more thing: I googled "natural yard care," because we have little clue what we're doing (beyond mowing and raking). Everything that came up to the top of the search (the first two pages!) were sites here in Washington state. I guess that we're in the right place for learning, being the state with the nation's first Master Gardener program. Add that to our experiences in Boston--the folks at the meeting last night had heard of The Food Project, which one called "one of the oldest and best youth-oriented sustainable food movements in the country." We are in a good place, information-wise! In any case, I had made a mental note to download at some point the documents on natural yard care I found on the web, but I no longer need to. The Food Policy Council meeting was held at the Tacoma Nature Center, and almost all the docs I found online were available there as free hand-outs.

Monday, May 4, 2009


My compost bin has been sitting on the terrace since the first frost that killed all the worms. I hadn't bothered to empty it and clean it out, because it seemed pointless to do until it was warm enough to restart the bin. Yesterday I looked into it. Right now, it's a pile of stuff that's vaguely recognizable as corn husks, avocado pits, brown goop and paper. And leaves! New, fresh growing leaves.

That's right, something is growing in my bin. I imagine that the seeds of some food item I tossed in has started to grow, but I have no clue what it is!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Another item for the wish list

In keeping with the concept of buying used, saving money, AND saving water, I have a new item for my wish list: a used rain barrel from Eagle Peak. Rain barrels obviously allow you to collect and store rain water, which you can then use to water your lawn or garden. Many rain barrels cost upwards of $100, and sometimes as much as $200-300, which is way out of our price range. Friends of ours in Seattle have a rain barrel which cost them $25, because the city subsidizes the cost for residents. No such benefit is available in Tacoma.

Recently, I decided to visit Amazon to do some comparison shopping and find their cheapest rain barrels. The best deals were by a company called Eagles Peak, whose new barrels sell for about $80. However, when I visited their web site, they sell used barrels very inexpensively (as low as $17.50 for a plain barrel, to up to $58 for a rain barrel system that includes a drain spout hookup and a basket to filter debris). It's still on the wish list for now (we are really broke), but at least I know I have options.

Swine flu and pig farming

You've all heard about the current swine flu going around, and the possibility it could become pandemic. It's making me nervous for several reason, many due to flying: hubby is to fly to LA for a few days in late May for job training; and in June, my mom and sister are coming to visit from Ohio and New York, respectively; a week later, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law are coming from Boston and New Jersey. My sister-in-law is especially at risk, because she had a kidney transplant four years ago, and so is immuno-compromised.

My other fear has to do with pig farming. The farmer my hubby wants to help owns pigs. Now, chances are, because theirs is a small, organic family farm and their pigs and chickens are raised humanely, their farm is unlikely to be affected by swine flu. (Large factory farms are more likely the culprit. Read this 2006 article titled "Boss Hogs" from Rolling Stone--it will make you never want to eat pork again). But still, there's the perception, and we want to try to bring young people out there to help on the farm.

Anyway, read the article. I can't help thinking about Joseph Luter, the CEO of Smithfield Foods, the nation's largest pork producer, as described by Rolling Stone. He is pretty upfront that he's about his own wealth and power, and to hell with the environment. But, I have to wonder, doesn't he care about his grandchildren? Money can only protect you so much--environmental degradation affects us all.

Bird Feeding and Vegetable Growing

We haven't seen any birds at the feeder yet, but they've been there. Although we filled the feeder with wild bird food purchased at the grocery store, I read somewhere that if you really want to attract birds, you'll provide them with unshelled sunflower seeds. I bought a jar, and sprinkled some around the bottom of the feeder. A day later all the sunflower seeds were gone. So they're definitely coming by, LOL! Kudos to hubby for picking a good spot--in a tree with lots of branches (to protect from predators), and next to the back yard fountain (birds like a water source after they eat).

Crunchy Chicken had a post up today on starting veggies from seeds vs. plant starts, asking her readers to share their experiences. It seems to be a mixed bag in terms of success, so I don't feel quite so bad about my own struggles! My lettuce seedlings are doing something weird--the leaves look great, but the stems are all drooping and tangling together. I brought a small tray of them to a garden shop, and was told that they might not be getting enough light, so I bought an extra lamp (at Value Village, naturally!) to shine on them. Some have perked up, but they're still tangling.

On the other hand, the sunflower and herb seedlings look fantastic. I also started spinach seeds directly in a pot outdoors a few days ago (spinach is a cool weather crop), and they haven't yet started to sprout. I'm still debating whether I'll try tomatoes this year or not, but I think I will.