Category Archives: environment

Vegan Diets and Recipes

Zenpawn Vegan Blog
Zenpawn Vegan Blog

I just received the first issue of a one-year subscription to E – The Environmental Magazine.  I won this subscription from a raffle among people who contributed vegan recipes to Erin Dame for his vegan cookbooks.  Erin has published a book of recipes called Vegan Done Light and he manages the vegan blog

Erin’s blog discusses veganism, raw food, calorie restriction, and interesting topics about diet.

Traditional Mexican staples include beans, rice, corn, tomatoes, and hot peppers.  The vegan recipes that I submitted were some classic Mexican dishes like guacamole, salsa, and an unusual bean soup with beer.  You can find these vegan recipes and many other international dishes here:

Cleaning up the Environment

Richard F. Yates
Richard F. Yates

If you live in Bethesda or if you take the Friendship Heights Metro, you are likely to see the lanky Richard F. Yates carrying a plastic bag in his right hand and picking litter with his gloved left hand.  He moves at a furious pace along miles and miles of streets as he picks up pieces of paper, discarded cups, candy wrappers, and many types of litter that people have carelessly discarded.

I saw Mr. Yates a few days ago as he came by my street and I stopped him to ask what motivates him.  Basically, Richard F. Yates is waging a one-man crusade to improve the environment, although he would like more people to join him.  He would like people to stop throwing trash in the streets and to care more about our neighborhoods.  He has talked to corporations to enlist their help by cleaning up the trash on their own grounds, and he has talked to the Montogmery County Police department to try to get better enforcement of anti-littering laws.

Mr. Yates talks about how the pollution of our streets ends up being washed into the Chesapeake basin and the negative impact that this has on the aquatic life in the Chesapeake Bay.  He would like to encourage people to care enough and volunteer to keep our neighborhoods free of litter and trash.

Be a good citizen. Put trash its place. Don’t pollute.

My sunflowers and the disappearance of honey bees

Sunflower bloomSunflower seeds

The sunflowers in my penthouse started blooming in August.  Today, I harvested them.  Most of the pollination was done by bumblebees.  I did not see many honey bees in my garden this year.  There have been reports that honey bees have been disappearing in massive numbers since 2006, forcing many beekeepers into bankruptcy.

Scientists have been trying to find out what is causing what they call “colony collapse disorder” (CCD).  Pesticides and viruses are suspected, but the mystery illness may stem from a bee virus that apparently spread to the U.S. from Australia in 2004.  A genetic comparison of healthy and diseased bee colonies in the U.S. has revealed the presence of Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV) in almost all beekeeping operations affected by CCD.[1]  Bees are important because one-third of the U.S. food supply, including a variety of fruits, vegetables and even nuts, requires pollination by bees or other insects.

Our global economy depends on the interchange of goods originating from diverse ecosystems.  Pests and invasive species expand into new territories by the hand of man.  Starlings, kudzu, zebra mussels, Dutch elm disease, and snakehead fish are just a few examples of non-native species imported to America.  It is possible that the demise of the bees has been caused by the globalization of commerce.

Flowering plants (angiosperms) developed approximately 115 to 125 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period.  Bees evolved from the wasp family 100 million years ago.  Bee fossils have been found in amber, which is petrified tree sap.

[1] Mysterious Honeybee Disappearance Linked to Rare Virus, Scientific American, September 7, 2007.

Goldfinches in my flower pots


This morning, I woke up to the cheerful chirping of some goldfinches in my flower pots.  In the springtime, I harvested some lettuce from these flower pots.  When the lettuce was trimmed, I found some Thai basil growing from seeds scattered by the wind.  I let these plants grow around my petunias.

Every time that I water the pots, the basil releases a wonderful sweet aroma.  Both the petunias and the basil stems are a great attraction for the bees, but now that the basil blooms are forming seeds, finches are perching on the stems to feed.  The birds probably scatter some seeds as they feed, and this is how the basil came from the penthouse to the flower pots in my balcony.  My neighbor downstairs will probably have basil in her flowerpots next year.

Will we be safer after Carbofuran?


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will no longer allow carbofuran pesticide residues on domestic or imported food.  In making the decision, the EPA explained that carbofuran is a neurotoxin which poses a high safety risk for small children and sensitive individuals.  A 2006 EPA document reported the death of 84 percent of a flock of mallard ducks that landed on an alfalfa field that had been treated with carbofuran the week before.

Carbofuran is used worldwide to combat insects on bananas, coffee, rice, sugar cane, alfalfa, corn, potatoes, sunflowers, and soybeans.  Carbofuran has one of the highest toxicities to humans of the insecticides commonly used on crops.  One quarter of a teaspoon can be lethal for humans.  Some of the symptoms of carbofuran poisoning include muscle weakness, dizziness, sweating, headache, salivation, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, blurred vision, incoordination, muscle twitching and slurred speech.

Carbofuran is just one of the chemicals to which we may be exposed by living in modern society.  Many people buy “organic” produce because they fear the effects of chemical residues, but they may not be aware of the harmful effects of chemicals in fire retardants, fabric softeners, cleaning products, and cosmetics that can be found in every home.

Machines now compete with humans for food

Automation has been wonderful for humanity.  Many of the things on which we depend are produced by machines at a fraction of what they would cost if they were produced manually.  Cheap watches, cheap cars, cheap clothing, cheap computers, everything is cheap, cheap, cheap because it is mass produced using assembly lines with many different types of machines.

In the past, people worried that machines would replace them.  Labor unions fought against the adoption of automation that would result in job losses.  Eventually, the proponents of automation won because the prices for products could be lowered while production could be increased thus saving the jobs.  Our machines are powered by cheap coal and petroleum which originated from the decay of prehistoric plants and animals, but burning coal and petroleum increases the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Carbon dioxide is a “greenhouse gas” that is associated with global warming.

Times have changed.  Petroleum is not so cheap anymore.  Greater costs provide an incentive to search for new forms of energy.  The idea of burning biofuels, i.e, fuels derived from contemporary plant matter rather than from ancient organisms, has a lot of appeal because it provides an alternative to expensive petroleum and limits the increase of greenhouse gases.  The carbon dioxide generated when a biofuel is burned, is the same gas that was sequestered from the atmosphere by the plant as it grew.  Thus, there is no net increase in carbon dioxide.  The use of ethanol from corn has been promoted as a fuel on the basis of this thinking.

However, there is one BIG problem.  The World Bank estimates that the grain required to fill a 25-gallon sport-utility vehicle tank with ethanol could feed one person for a year.  The United States uses approximately 375 million gallons of fuel per day.  It is not possible to quench this tremendous thirst for fuel with all the corn fields of Iowa and Kansas.

In the past, machines used coal and petroleum products that were not suitable for human or animal consumption. Now, humans and farm animals will have to compete with machines for food.  The use of human food to power machines seems inhuman, immoral, and short-sighted.

How to Live to 100

A recent article by Dr. Mark Liponis[1] listed several things that can increase your life expectancy. Three items of advice were related to food:

Eat a heart-healthy diet. A Mediterranean diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, olive oil, fish and whole grains reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. The average lifespan in France, Italy, Greece, Spain, and Israel rank in the top 25, whereas the U.S. is in 45th place.

Drink up. Moderate wine consumption (up to 5 ounces a day) have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Other beverages like green or black tea, as well as coffee, also contain substances that lower death rates from cardiovascular disease.

Watch your waist. There are virtually no obese centenarians. Excess body weight contributes to heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. (Learn how to stay trim.)

Other suggestions for living longer were related to life-style:

Read the Newspaper. Centenarians keep abreast of current events and remain engaged in society. Isolation can lead to deterioration and loss of function. Mental activity will help to keep your brain in good working order. (Try some Puzzles)

Buy a farm. Studies show that living in the country extends life compared to living in urban areas. Is it just the clean air that makes farmers live longer? Not necessarily. Farmers are always physically active. Staying physically fit is important for longevity.

Get Married. According to a 2006 study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, people that never married were 58 percent more likely to die earlier than an age-matched group of married people. Divorced or separated people were 27 percent more likely to die earlier than married people.

Have Children. Women who have children after age 40 are four times more likely to live to 100. Men who father children and start raising a family at a younger age also live longer.

Have Faith. Dr. Liponis points out that most centenarians have some kind of regular religious practice or belief, and that researchers have found that clergymen and nuns tend to be long-lived.

The article by Dr. Liponis is based on statistical correlations which sometimes can lead to strange conclusions. I know a married couple, both in bad health, who keep alive hoping to outlive each other because they do not agree on the disposition of their assets after they die. That is an incentive for longevity. I just hope that it is not too late for me to become a clergyman.

[1] Parade Magazine, March 9, 2008, p. 10.

Our oceans are changing and jellyfish prosper

Jellyfish Bloom Jellyfish bloom

Commercial fishermen use nets that may measure more than a mile in length.  These efficient fishing techniques have made it possible to bring cheap seafood to our table.  The sea was thought to be an inexhaustible source of food, but warmer ocean waters and overfishing have resulted in major changes in marine ecosystems.

Around the world, jellyfish populations are displacing fish and becoming the dominant form of marine life.  Jellyfish populations have become so dense that they have overwhelmed fishing nets along the coast of France and clogged the water intake pipes of nuclear power plants in Japan.  Jellyfish are consuming shrimp larvae and small fish thus reducing the population of species that are important to humans.  Jellyfish compete for the same kinds of prey as adult and young fishes, so we are promoting the expansion of jellyfish habitats by overfishing and polluting the waters.

Fish provide valuable sources of essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for human diets.  If our society continues to exploit natural resources without limits that guarantee renewal, we will wipe out the fauna and flora on which we depend.  Neanderthals managed to survive for over 230,000 years in Europe.  We, who have named ourselves Homo Sapiens, meaning “wise man”, have only been around for approximately 60,000 years.  Will we use our intelligence to outlive the Neanderthals?