Imperfect vegetables back on the EU table

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

11-26-08_BrusselSproutsUnbeknown to many in the European Union, I am sure, fruits and vegetables deemed unattractive or imperfect such as knobby carrots and overly-curvy cucumbers were actually banned from being sold to consumers. This ban. However, has been lifted finally in July 2009 (I know it is 2014 now but still relevant to some extent). It is interesting to note, though, that the ban only included certain fruits and veggies.

The rules on standards for apricots, artichokes, asparagus, aubergines, avocados, beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, cauliflowers, cherries, courgettes, cucumbers, cultivated mushrooms, garlic, hazelnuts in shells, headed cabbage, leeks, melons, onions, peas, plums, ribbed celery, spinach, walnuts in shell, water melons and chicory have gone completely. Other standards, however, for apples, strawberries, citrus fruit, kiwis, lettuces, peaches, nectarines, pears, sweet peppers, grapes and tomatoes remain, but supermarkets have the option to sell less than perfect produce under specific labels such as “different”, “extra”, or “Class I”.

While the lifting of the ban appears to be good news in terms of reduction of waste, some are doubtful it will make a difference. Alyn Smith, a Scottish MEP from the Scottish National Party and a member of the European Parliament's agriculture committee said that the claim is doubtful because supermarket standards are probably more stringent than the EU rules are. In other words, the nearly 40% of fruits and vegetables thrown into the trash because they are not up to snuff will probably continue to be chucked.

While in Belgium it is now illegal for supermarkets to throw away food at the end of the day; it will have to be given away to certain good causes, dumpster diving is and remains illegal.

The problem, however, does not just begin with the perfectly good food being thrown out at the end of the day by supermarkets (and even market traders) but by supermarket buyers and wholesalers already discarding the non-perfect potatoes, carrots, etc., in the field or from the delivery of a farmer.

We are throwing away enough perfectly good edible food – pre-consumer – that not a single person on this Planet would need to go hungry and we don't even want to talk about how much it would be when we consider how much consumers themselves toss away because it has reached the “best before” date or has gone off in their homes.

© 2014

Pledge your support for Cycle to Work Day

group of colleagues celebrating cycle to work dayThe UK is seeing a steady increasing in the number of commuting journeys made my bike. Factors such as rising fuel and travel costs and a growing consciousness of the importance of keeping fit and healthy are encouraging more people to take to two wheels.

There are a host of benefits to be gained by cycling your commute;

  • it’s a great way to keep fit and incorporates exercise into your daily routine

  • you will arrive more alert and ready for the day

  • convenience! It’s often quicker and more reliable to get to work under your own steam

  • do your bit for the environment and the community by reducing pollution and congestion.

These are just some of the reasons why we’re supporting Cycle to Work Day, a national event which aims to get as many people as possible cycling to work on Thursday 4th September and beyond.

Get involved and pledge your support at, and get your employer involved by encouraging them to take part inBritain’s Biggest Bike Breakfast.

Once you’ve pledged your support for 4thSeptember, read our guide to commuting with confidence to keep the momentum going.

There are also some fantastic benefits to employers for encouraging active travel to and from the workplace. Discover some of the services to employers that Sustrans can offer.

A new, better world is possible ... but we have to create it

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

A new, better and fairer society and world is possible but we have to create it and give it life. No one can do it for us, and capitalism and the power-that-be certainly have no interest in doing such a thing. In fact they will do their darnedest to prevent us from doing so.

socialism_explained-newOnly we, ourselves, together, in small steps, can create and make this new, better and fairer world and society by getting, to start with, off the perpetual growth economy bandwagon and the pursuit of more, and ever more; more money, more possessions, the latter which often means more debt, which means more work and less time for ourselves, our families and our friends.

The perpetual growth economy and the race for more, more, and then still more, never being satisfied with what we have, is not sustainable and does not make for happiness either.

People who are lucky enough to have employment work more and more and ever longer hours – or two jobs – to satisfy the constant cravings for ever more and “keeping up with the Joneses”; in fact has become a race to always be one better than the Joneses. This must change for the sake of our sanity and for the sake of the Planet.

Capitalism is geared to the exploitation of man by man and of Nature by man and it cannot be reformed. Therefore it must be consigned to the dustbin of history, and the sooner the better, and a new system applied. The so-called communism that we have seen under Stalin, et al, also was but a different form of capitalism where the state was the owner and slave master. Thus something different still is needed; true communism.

This brings me to the point of the state (we will come back to the replacement for capitalism later).

The very state itself must be abolished and replaced, though not with another kind of state. The people must govern themselves; true democracy, out of the village, the demos.

The state is not of benefit and neither it is needed. If fact, the state is one of the problems, if not indeed the problem, for the new society and world that we must create to be created.

People often like to say that the state is a necessary evil. But that would also mean that evil is necessary and that really is an oxymoron. The fact is that the state is evil and thus must be abolished.

The replacement for this is the village. Yes, we have had that one once before, the village, I mean, and to the village we must return and so must democracy for from the village it came.

We have to imagine it to make it happen.

Imagine that there truly was equality for all? It can be made to happen but it is up to us to make it so.

Imagine that the corrupt minority did not exist and were actually genuinely interested seeing true equality for all! Well, the problem is, presently, that they still do exist but we can make a change and we must imagine a new way.

Imagine a world not based on money and the exchange of money? It is possible and it is being done already. While, presently, it may not be global and maybe global is something we also must get away from and look entirely at the local, the village, level. However, new ways, and some are actually old ways, of exchange are already in existence and local currencies have been in use in many places for years already and they are, by no means, new. Thus, it can be done.

Imagine a life where everyone is taught to work together and in return receive a life where they are always well fed, cared for, free to study and learn and develop right through their life from cradle to grave! This was the way it was intended in true socialism though, alas, that system got corrupted by power crazy individuals. The idea was for work to be a duty as well as an honor and that all work was equal in value. Can it become reality? Yes, it can, if we can but imagine it and create it.

Imagine there was no such thing as the elite? All we have to do is take away their pedestal upon which they have placed themselves. They are no better than us. There are no “betters” despite the fact that still some people – a great many of them – seem to believe that because they have been indoctrinated almost from birth that this is so. That there are some that are better than the majority of the people.

Imagine that not one single soul had to suffer or worry, ever! It is possible.

And while there may be some, quite a few, in fact, no doubt, who will dismiss this as utopian who says that utopia cannot be imagined and created. This utopia is, in fact, called true socialism and it is possible.

© 2014

Poverty Is Not Inevitable: What We Can Do Now to Turn Things Around

Having poor people in the richest country in the world is a choice. We have the money to solve this. But do we have the will?

Pearl Street photo by Eric MagnusonInequality and poverty are suddenly hot topics, not only in the United States but also across the globe. Since the early 1980s, there has been a growing underclass in America. At the same time a much smaller class, now called the superrich, built its wealth to levels of opulence not seen since France’s Louis XVI. Despite this, the resulting inequality went mostly unnoticed. When the Great Recession of 2008 hit, and the division between the very wealthy and the rest of us came starkly into focus, various people and groups, including the Occupy movement, began insisting more publicly that we tax wealth. But still, helping the poor has been mostly a discussion on the fringes. At last, the terms of public debate have changed, because inequality and poverty now are debated regularly in the mainstream media and across the political spectrum, not solely by labor, by the left, and by others imagining a new economy.

Inserting such a controversial topic into mainstream discourse is French economist Thomas Piketty. His 700-page tome, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, shocked everyone this year when it made The New York Timesbestseller list and bookstores found themselves backordering an economicsbook for legions of eager readers. Piketty did exhaustive searches of tax records from Great Britain, France, and the United States, going as far back as the late 18th century in France. Using sophisticated computer modeling and analyses, the professor from the Paris School of Economics debunks a long-held assumption—that income from wages will tend to grow at roughly the same rate as wealth—and instead makes a compelling case that, over time, the apparatus of capitalism grows wealth faster than wages. Result: Inequality between the wealthy and everyone else will widen faster and faster; and, without progressive taxation, his data show we’ll return to levels of inequality not seen since America’s Gilded Age.

Piketty, no Marxist, says a solution lies in a “confiscatory” tax on wealth: Tax salaries over $500,000 at 80 percent worldwide, and tax wealth at 15 percent worldwide. Every year.

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4 Reasons to Plant a Vegetable Garden in the Front Yard

One of the first landscaping changes we made upon moving into our new house last year was getting rid of several sprawling, weed-ridden mounds of winter jasmine that were choking the life out of all the plants in our front yard. We covered the dirt with mulch and then turned our attention to planning a vegetable and herb garden for the backyard.

As we were getting ready to break ground for the new beds, inspiration struck. Why not put the garden out front, in the area we had just cleared?

My husband, who is not known for his sense of adventure, balked. What would people think? Cornstalks and watermelon vines in the front yard aren’t exactly de rigueur in our new neighborhood. I’m no rebel myself but had come to realize that our new backyard was not ideal for the mini-farm of our dreams. All those gorgeous trees we fell in love with at the open house provide excellent shade and privacy, but would compete with vegetables for water and sunlight. Then there is the matter of the slope, which makes for excellent sledding but not such great plant growing. Our front yard, on the other hand, is flat and wide open. There is no ordinance where we live that prohibits growing food in front yards, so why let all that glorious sunshine go to waste? And well, that front bed is fully irrigated.

Six months later, our front yard garden is a blooming success, and we’re planning another for next year. Here’s why you may want to try one, too.

1. Aesthetics

While traditionalists may give you the stink-eye for deviating from the standard front yard fare of boxwoods and azaleas, there’s no denying that a thoughtfully arranged array of blooming squash plants, tasselling corn and purple basil are a feast for the eyes. And then there are all those gorgeous smells. In our garden, the basil, thyme and cilantro are situated right next to where I park my car. I don’t encourage my children to trample the plants while wrestling backpacks and skateboards out of the back seat, but the tumult often releases a heavenly fragrance.

2. No more “out of sight, out of mind” mentality

With the vegetables physically located in your daily line of sight, garden chores are less likely to accumulate into overwhelming, weekend-killers. On the way to and from the mailbox, it’s a simple matter of yanking a few weeds or straightening out those seedlings that the neighbor’s free-range cat knocked over.

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The 10 Quickest Ways to Boost Your Happiness

Kids_jump_for_joy_happiness-Flickr-Lighttruth-ccArticles with titles like this usually offer up simple platitudes for being happy, such as “accept everyone,” or “live a balanced life.” While those ideas are true, such platitudes are so general that they don’t really give you anything that impacts your daily life. This article offers what scientific research found to be the top 10 things you can quickly do to boost your level of happiness. By doing any one of the 10 items below, you will almost surely feel dramatically better in under three minutes. In addition, by combining items from the list below, you can increase their effectiveness even more…

10. Look at pictures of people and animals you love on your smartphone or computer. As you look at each picture, remember an enjoyable time you had with them, and send them a silent wish that they live a happy and productive life.

9. Exercise-even if only for 3 minutes. Take a quick brisk walk, do some jumping jacks, whatever gets your heart going and your lungs breathing more deeply. In even a minute you’ll start to feel better. Hallelujah for such a simple thing.

8. Give someone money. Research shows that when we give to a needy person money, we immediately feel better about ourselves. It helps another person too, so it’s a win-win.

7. Get cooler. By going from a hot or warm environment to a cooler one, our mood and sense of happiness tends to go up. Hooray for air conditioning!

6. Work towards an important goal. Whether it be cleaning your desk or selling more widgets, when you feel like you’re making progress towards a specific and important goal, you invariably feel better. Just by reading all the way through this article, you’ll have achieved something-so you’ll feel good.

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What’s More Important… Economic Growth or Sustainability?

“The world has physical limits that we are already encountering, but our economy operates as if no physical limits exist.” -Christopher Martenson

What will the earth look like in 50 to 100 years from now? To some of us that may sound like a long time, but in reality it will be here before we know it and even if we are gone, the children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren of billions of people living now will still be here.

Think of today, think about the lack of opportunities available to people trying to live free, happy and healthy lives and how many are struggling in various ways to achieve this basic standard of living, leaving millions homeless and begging for decent paying jobs or assistance. Think about the challenges the planet earth and all of its inhabitants have faced since the growth of modern human civilization. Entire species have been eliminated or are currently endangered, entire ecosystems are being destroyed, 75% of our rainforests have been cut down, oil prices are rising as fossil fuels become more dangerous and cost more to extract, and fresh wateraquifers lose more and more water everyday.

Now think for a moment what life will be like for future generations as this continues to get worse. Have you ever thought about the change you have seen since your childhood? Think of the places where you grew up that were still vacant and natural areas, now turned into shopping malls, highways and office buildings. I believe most of us can easily say A LOT has CHANGED and is still changing every year. In some ways we can say these changes have been positive, in other ways not so much.

With economic growth comes destruction of one world and the development of another. But is this development sustainable; meaning will it last? Will the future be left with collapsing buildings, crumbled roads and massive landfills? Will the shelves still be stocked in our stores, will businesses even be able to stay in business under a system entirely based on economic growth and profit margins? What’s more important… Economic Growth or Sustainability?

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Why Vandana Shiva is so right and yet so wrong

Romantic environmentalists tend to get the big-picture problems right, while fudging the details. Rationalists nail the details, but sometimes become so immersed in the minutiae that they lose sight of the big picture.

Michael Specter’s New Yorker profile of Vandana Shiva, the environmentalist and crusader against globalization and Big Agriculture, is a portrait of someone who understands the big-picture concerns of green-inclined young people with great clarity. Specter quotes a few key lines from a speech she gave in Florence, in which she describes two great trends sweeping the world.

“One: a trend of diversity, democracy, freedom, joy, culture — people celebrating their lives.” She paused to let silence fill the square. “And the other: monocultures, deadness. Everyone depressed. Everyone on Prozac. More and more young people unemployed. We don’t want that world of death.”

This, to me, seems like a perfect framing of the ultimate preoccupations of many greens, myself included. Even larger than the threat of climate change (or the thing that makes climate change a threat) is the threat of deadening uniformity and the loss of diversity, beauty, and enchantment. These are the same problems of modernity that Allen Ginsberg was grappling with in Howl.

The problem is that, when Shiva gets to the details (what’s really driving these trends? What are the best solutions?), she frequently gets her facts very wrong. Then she repeats these myths, over and over again. Here are a few that Specter calls out:

Shiva said last year that Bt-[genetically engineered] cotton-seed costs had risen by eight thousand per cent in India since 2002. In fact, the prices of modified seeds, which are regulated by the government, have fallen steadily.

Shiva has accused the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation of “attempting to impose ‘food totalitarianism’ on the world.” That’s certainly not the case in the foundation’s current incarnation — I looked closely at this issue here.

Shiva also says that Monsanto’s patents prevent poor people from saving seeds. That is not the case in India. The Farmers’ Rights Act of 2001 guarantees every person the right to “save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share, or sell’’ his seeds.

And then, of course, there’s Shiva’s most widespread claim: That farmers are killing themselves because GMO seeds mire them in debt. If this were the case, we’d expect to see an increase in the number of suicides as GMOs were introduced and became widespread. But the suicide rate among farmers in India remained level (here’s where I looked at this before). Check out this graph from Nature:

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Pets Aplenty – Book Review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Pets Aplenty
by Malcolm D. Welshman
Published by Austin Macauley Publishers
310 pages Paperback
ISBN: 9781849639965
Price: £7.99

Pets_Aplenty-CoverJoin novice vet, Paul Mitchell, in a further six months of hilarious escapades he experiences while working at Prospect House Veterinary Hospital. He's confronted by a ravenous pig while sunbathing naked in a cornfield. He locks jaws with a caiman with scale rot and battles with Doug, a vicious miniature donkey that's always sinking his teeth into him. It ends with a Christmas pet blessing which erupts into pandemonium as frightened pets and owners scatter through the pews. Throughout his adventures, Paul is loyally supported by the team at the hospital - in particular Beryl, the elderly one-eyed receptionist, and, Lucy the junior nurse - together with whom he shares this merry-go-round of mayhem. It's a gripping, fast page-turner that's guaranteed to keep animal lovers entranced.

The author has an uncanny ability to paint human as well as animal characters in his books and this will enable anyone with a little imagination to actually visualize the people and animals he is writing about.

Pets Aplenty should carry a health warning such as “You could die laughing”. For me it was already in the first chapter and it was the hens that did it. Being a keeper of hens – well keeper is really not the right word with hens – I know just what they can be like.

However, this is but one chapter. The reader will be laughing all the way through and let me issue another serious warning; do not read this book on public transport of any kind unless you don't mind laughing out real loud and long on a bus or train and have people question your sanity.

I laughed a great deal with the first book that I reviewed by this author, namely “Pets in a Pickle” but this one has topped it. The problem is that I love puns and there are puns aplenty, as much, if not more, than pets aplenty in this book that will make you fall about laughing.

Any animal lover will adore this book, of that I am certain.

Malcolm Welshman is a retired vet who was a consultant dealing with exotics. He has written for The Sunday Times, The Daily Mail and magazines such as The Lady. He was the My Weekly vet for fifteen years. He is a BBC Radio panelist and a guest speaker worldwide on cruise ships.

© 2014

1/2 Of Our Food Is Going To Feed Our Food. Wait. What?

FoodAnimalsYea, And That´s Not All: Food Conundrums of the 21st Century

One half of all the non-animal foods produced in the United States today is used to feed the animals we eat. In other words, the animals we feed upon eat half of the crops we produce in this country. As if that´s not surprising enough, people do not consume the entire other half of the food crops we produce. That is because -- as a result of the petroleum shortage -- a large portion goes to bio-fuels.

How large a portion? Well, consider this: in 2000, 90% of the U.S. corn crop went to feed people and livestock. 45% is used to feed livestock, 40% is used to produce ethanol and only 15% is produced for human consumption (1).

But it gets better!

Crop and Food Production: Two Different Animals... Er, Plants

In its simplest form, crop production requires little more than photosynthesis and human cultivation. Organic foods can almost net a 100% energy return. Processed foods, on the other hand, require a great deal of energy to manufacture.

In fact, the production of one calorie of processed food requires five calories of energy. This is so because of the energy required to fuel agricultural and processing plant machinery. In other words, food that grows naturally from the sun´s energy and nutrients in the ground gross only a 1:5 return when processed.

But wait, there is more.

Wait a Second; Organic Foods Can Feed the World?

While it is true that in industrial areas, organic foods only produce 92% of the yield produced by industrial foods. However, in developing countries, organic foods produce 182% of the yield produced by industrial foods -- those produced using chemical fertilizers, hydroponics and artificial light. Simply stated, organic foods yield far more than industrial foods.

And it gets better.

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