CAFOs: Just about the worst thing on Earth.

Regarding farming, the average American is probably familiar with issues related to pesticides, GMOs, antibiotics, fair-trade, or organic certification. However whenever I bring up CAFOs, most people have no idea what I’m talking about, which is disconcerting because CAFOs are some of the nastiest things on Earth. If you need persuading take a look at the picture below:

That ^ ^ is a “manure lagoon”, literally a basin of animal excrement that is a direct by-product of CAFOs, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. The majority of the meat you eat in America (unless it is free-range/organic/local) comes from Big Agriculture – corporations who raise their animals in factory-like conditions, cramming tens of thousands of animals in tiny pens where they never see the light of day, benefit from free movement and exercise, or breathe fresh air. These are concentration camps for animals, where the goal of the corporation is to achieve industrial levels of efficiency with animals as their production slaves. This doesn’t just pose a moral issue regarding the treatment of animals; CAFOs have a direct and serious impact on YOUR health and the health of the environment.

When animals receive little to no exercise, breathe the stench of the refuse of thousands of other animals nearby, and are fed artificial food (or food that is cheap but not a part of their natural diet, i.e. corn), they grow less and experience more health problems, like E. Coli growing in the stomachs of cows. In order to counteract this, animals are pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones, which affects your body as you eat their meat or drink their milk. Increased levels of ingested antibiotics and growth hormones in the human body have lowered the age at which children begin puberty (with many girls receiving their first period at the age of 7), augmented the body’s storage of fat, and have lessened people’s ability to be treated effectively by antibiotics in cases of illness. Got a bad case of acne? Feeling bloated? Missing periods? That’s probably the hormones in your milk/meat.*

Aside from your own body, CAFOs have a serious impact on the world around you. Manure lagoons, which are a slurry of solid sludge and liquid excrement, are known to emit a volatile mix of greenhouse gases. These gases include ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, methane (which is 25% more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2), and carbon dioxide. With about 450,000 CAFOs in the United States and with the way wind likes to travel, the air you breathe is in fact directly affected by CAFOs that may be thousands of miles away from you (as an example of this, California has a significant amount of pollution in its air generated by CHINA!! which is 6,687 miles away across an ocean).

Additionally, although manure lagoons are lined with clay to prevent the antibiotics, estrogens, bacteria, pesticides, heavy metals, and protozoa in them from contaminating local water, they are prone to overflow either due to cracks in their lining or just increased rainfall/strong wind. Contaminating water and soil with these substances then affects ecosystem populations of a variety of animals (as an example, algae will overpopulate bodies of water and suffocate other aquatic animals/fish).

Why do CAFOs exist? Partly it’s your fault. It’s also mine. With Americans increasingly not knowing from what conditions their food comes from and just accepting the miracle that are supermarket shelves, we are eating an abundance of protein. People eat large amounts of meat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. People gladly go for that second or third helping of hamburger at family BBQs. People choose not just sausage, but also bacon, ham, and a turkey patty at continental breakfast buffets. Of course, no industry will say “no” to increased demand. You want more meat? The industry will find a way to make it happen. And the only way to satisfy the estimated 324,227,000** of us that all want meat every day for every meal*** is a CAFO. Making a change doesn’t start with the industry (governments have tried to moderate the inhumane treatment of animals in CAFOs, with only minimal effect), it starts with YOU. By making a decision to limit your meat intake to one meal per day, for example, or maybe once every two days, you can make a serious dent in demand. If there’s no need for hellish amounts of meat, there’s no need for CAFOs. Believe me, Americans actually eat more protein than necessary in a regular diet (eating too much protein can actually suck calcium out of your bones). You don’t need it.

So now that you know the personal health, environmental, and economical impacts of CAFOs, let’s briefly review the conditions in which these animals live, partnered with images.

Chickens live in “broilers”, where they are crammed into a small tent with 20,000 to 30,000 other birds and have less than a square foot of living space. They live for approximately 7 weeks (despite the fact that healthy chickens can live 8-10 years!), the entire time sitting on their own waste, called “cake” by CAFO industrialists.

Cow CAFOS are just about the worst. These giant animals meant by nature to be pasture roaming, healthy creatures are crammed in pens and fed a diet of just about whatever can fill their stomachs with no regard to nutritional content. This includes hydrolyzed poultry feathers, by-products of the other animals killed on the farm, inter-species waste, and cement dust. Even on farms where the diet is less sickening and cows are fed corn, a very cheap alternative to grass, cows must be pumped with antibiotics to negate the E. Coli in their stomachs. Fed on grass, cows develop no E. Coli in their digestive tracts.

cow-feed-lot

Source: brandyaddison.blogspot.com

Pigs live in no better conditions, despite them being smarter than dogs. 1,200 to 2,500 pigs can be confined in one space, all in cages

American Pork Shipped to China

Source: fairwarning.org

Egg laying hens suffer no less than those raised for their meat. They are kept in the most confining cages, with their beaks seared off so they cannot maim their neighbor. They live for a year before they are killed.

theissue_6-1

Source: cafothebook.org

As you can see, CAFOs are beyond unnatural: they’re beasts that shouldn’t exist and have far-reaching impact. If anything, if you don’t feel recycling makes an impact, if you don’t feel waste reduction is possible in your life (which is not true FYI), just eat less meat. With the amount we eat every day, you as an individual influencing your family and your friends can actually make a giant impact.

*Soy milk, although not a product of industrial farms, also has high amounts of hormones and has been attributed to similar issues.

**Estimate by the US Census Bureau

***Yes, I know I’m not taking into account vegans and vegetarians, but that’s just because they are a very small minority in this country. The difference is minuscule and the point still stands.

Sources:

http://www.cafothebook.org

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaerobic_lagoon

http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/plantsanimals/livestock/afo/

 

Author: Jackie Ibragimov

 

 

Bee Day 2016: The Lowdown on Colony Collapse Disorder

If you kept up with Facebook last Wednesday and happened to pass by Danforth for lunch, then you probably got a taste of Bee Day – a new event that Team Green hopes to become a really BIG thing over the years.

We started small this year, mainly taking time to explore our options and educate ourselves about all the different beekeeping opportunities in Rochester. Primarily, that meant speaking with the surprisingly many urban beekeepers of Rochester. And then, we took some time educating YOU, our peers. In years to come, we hope to expand Bee Day to become as awesome and full of activities as Local Foods Week and Earthfest.

Why do we care about bees enough to make an annual celebratory event in their honor? Well, bees are the silent (albeit slightly buzzing) guardians of this planet. Bold statement? No. Consider this: 1/3 of world agriculture wouldn’t be possible without pollination by bees. I mean sure, farmers could try to manually pollinate those crops, but that would cost about $15 billion extra dollars JUST FOR U.S. CROPS. Worldwide, bees contribute an astounding € 265 billion annually in pollination. Without bees, all vegetable and fruit eating animals, including us humans, would have to drastically reduce their diets. To visualize what that would look like, Huffington Post made a really compelling set of images illustrating grocery shelves before and “after” a massive bee extinction. Below is what the average produce section would be reduced to:

Source: huffingtonpost.com

Source: huffingtonpost.com

Source: huffingtonpost.com

Are bees really in so much danger that we actually should fear our grocery stores looking like the one pictured above? Yes, they are, and it’s really scary.

In recent years, scientists and farmers have observed bee colonies being abandoned with increasing frequency. No one knows where the bees go – whether they die or fly to live independently – nor why they leave the hive en masse, but research is currently being conducted with ferocity to stop Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) as soon as possible.

Source: fix.com

Source: fix.com

As the graph above illustrates, before 2006, 10-15% of bee colonies died every winter. However, since 2006, 30% of bee colonies have collapsed every winter in the United States (keep into consideration, though, that CCD is an international issue).

Scientists are considering several possible causes for CCD: 1) the invasive varroa mite, 2) emerging diseases like the Israeli Acute Parasite, 3) pesticide poisoning from dusted crops, 4) stress from improper beekeeping (i.e. continuous transportation of hives across country for pollination services), and 5) changes to foraging habitat.

The most researched possible cause is pesticides. Bees seem to become disoriented and lose track of how to return to the hive after pollinating pesticide treated crops. Obviously, pesticides are necessary to maintain an amount of agriculture that feeds our every-growing population. So, instead of advocating the complete disuse of pesticides, scientists are actively trying to discover which pesticides are causing the problem and how to create similar pesticides that don’t have that effect.

Well, that’s great and all, research is awesome, but what can the rest of us do to help? The answer is really simple and actually super fun: plant a garden, whether on a plot of land or on a windowsill, which features flowers that bees can easily pollinate.

Source: fix.com

Source: fix.com

Click here for some tips on how to plant a bee-friendly garden. If you don’t have much of a green thumb, you can still support the bees by buying honey instead of other sweeteners, minimizing your carbon footprint, and maybe not trying to drown bees in pools? Yeah that’d be good.

Anyways, that’s the gist of the plight of the bees. Below are some cool documentaries you can watch to learn more. See you next year with some more Bee Day goods!

Documentaries

Burt’s Buzz

More Than Honey

 

Author: Jackie Ibragimov

Butternut Chips and Thanksgiving Internet Surfing

Since we don’t have to worry about three problem sets, two exams, a CS project, a presentation, a research paper, and the other eight million things we do each week, I present for your viewing pleasure– cool Thanksgiving-related sustainability things online!  We’re all going to spend the next five days on the internet anyway, might as well learn something while we’re at it.

  1. On the note of not throwing away plastic cups/plates/utensils this year: http://www.upworthy.com/i-think-i-m-supposed-to-be-turned-on-by-this-but-i-m-super-grossed-out-instead
  2. Thanksgiving could be better: http://www.upworthy.com/take-this-advice-to-feel-more-grateful-and-less-gross-on-thanksgiving
  3. Traveling by plane to get home? Farmers’ Markets may be a new airport fast food option: http://www.sustainableamerica.org/blog/new-meaning-for-airplane-food/

As for actual Thanksgiving preparations:  Wegman’s does a pretty good job of staying local when possible so I decided to pick up my fixings there, and Sunday I hopped on the University of Rochester Green Line and rode over to Pittsford Plaza.  Sticking with the theme of “food that makes sense” I saw some delicious looking apples and organic butternut squash, and decided to build my dinner around them.  I’ll be trying baked butternut “chips”:

Slice the neck of a butternut squash into 1/8″ pieces, place in boiling water and let sit for 2 min.  Drain the water, spread on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, and brush with olive oil (you can add salt, herbs, or parmesan cheese if you’d like).  Bake at 375 degrees until brown and crispy, roughly 15-20 min.  (I’ll slice the rest of the squash in half and roast it, because as we all know, waste is bad!)

Safe travels to everyone headed home today!

 

Author: Charlotte Humes

 

Waste Not, Want Not

It’s a little ironic: Thanksgiving, according to the nice tale we tell this time of year, started after our nearly-starved-to-death forefathers (and foremothers) made it through winter.  It was a celebration that they had enough food to survive, food which would have been incredibly precious to them.  Today, to celebrate, we gorge ourselves on food one day and the next, throw half of it away.

I tried really hard to find good statistics on Thanksgiving specific waste, but estimates varied widely.  In general, 40% of food produced in America never even reaches consumers and of the food which does, an additional 25% goes to waste.  And almost everyone agrees that this number is higher on Thanksgiving.

Beyond the questionable morals of such waste (the food wasted each day is enough to feed 80 million people, according to the New York Times), there’s an obvious environmental impact.

  1. Agricultural expansion is the largest threat to forests and is responsible for 70% of deforestation.  We can minimize this expansion by minimizing waste.
  2. Food in landfills produces methane, a harmful greenhouse gas.
  3. Over 80% of the water used in the US goes to food production.  Food waste is water waste–throwing away half a hamburger, for example, wastes the same amount of water as you would’ve used showering for over an hour.

See if you can prepare enough food without being excessive, and find good ways to use your leftovers.  Send them home with guests.  Eat them for lunch the next day (and the day after that, and the day after that…).  Feed your pet dragon (dragons love cranberry sauce).  If you do have to get rid of food, try composting it!  I’ll be halving all my recipes and feeding anyone else on campus, so hopefully that keeps me from having to throw anything out.  Regardless of what you’re serving for Thanksgiving, one of the best things you can do is try to waste less.  And really, what could be more in the spirit of Thanksgiving than being thankful enough for the food to not throw it away?

Sources:

http://greenlivingideas.com/2009/11/19/green-thanksgiving-eliminating-food-waste/
http://www.npr.org/2012/11/23/165774988/npr-the-ugly-truth-about-food-waste-in-america
http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/work/agriculture
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/18/weekinreview/18martin.html?pagewanted=1
 
 
Author: Charlotte Humes

Let’s Just All Eat Pie

Everyone has a different way to finish the sentence: Thanksgiving wouldn’t be complete without _______.  Feel free to share your own answers in the comments section below!

To me, Thanksgiving wouldn’t be complete without family, a fireplace, and pie… and also food that makes sense, given that it’s November and I’m in New York.  Thankfully, despite the fact that it’s already snowing and about negative five thousand degrees, there’s a cornucopia of produce still in season.  Some great choices are:

  1. Pumpkins and other winter squashes (say yes to pumpkin pie!)
  2. Broccoli and cauliflower, as well as pretty much all root vegetables (like in sweet potato pie)
  3. Pears, cranberries, and apples (mmm, apple pie)

Have I mentioned I like pie?

Fruits and veggies taste their best when consumed in season, and it means you can look for food with minimal transportation required to reach you.  Many of the classics (like cranberry sauce) are still really good choices!

Unsurprisingly, I’m baking pie.  I’ll be trying out vegan pumpkin pie:

Mix up 2 c. canned or pureed pumpkin with 3/4 c. silken tofu, add 1/2 c. sugar and season with your favorite blend of pumpkin pie spices (about 3 tsp. total).  Stir vigorously until smooth and creamy and place in your favorite crust (I’ll be honest, as a broke college student, this will be the cheapest pre-prepared graham cracker crust I can find).  Bake 40-45 min. at 350 degrees, cool before serving.

I’m pretty sure making pie is my new favorite form of environmental activism.  Good luck finding other fun ways to incorporate seasonal food into your Thanksgiving dinner!

 

PS: If you want to see a more comprehensive list of seasonal produce, a lovely visual guide for New York can be found at http://foodstalk.org/pdf/Growing_Season_Chart_download.pdf , and a more general list for North America is available at http://www.wisebread.com/fresh-fruits-and-vegetables-by-the-month .

 

Author: Charlotte Huumes

Turkey Day?

I’ve gotta say, as a vegetarian, “Turkey Day” is probably my least favorite nickname for the rapidly approaching holiday.  I’m not anti-meat– I understand the decision to eat meat and have no problem being around it.  But this zen attitude about dietary choices only works until “Turkey Day”.  Yeah, I get it, the whole day is about something I choose not to do, but do you really have to rub it in?  Maybe you should just call it “MEEEEEEAT FOR ALL TURKEY SO DELISH OMG Day!”

According to National Geographic, 736 million pounds of turkey will be basted, roasted, or fried, and served up on Thanksgiving Day.  To give a little perspective, that’s approximately the weight of the Empire State Building.

That’s a lot of turkey.

“Turkey Day” comes by its nickname honestly enough.  If only it came by its turkeys through equally honest means– today’s twenty pound turkeys aren’t natural, and meeting the demand for the concentrated, excessive meat consumption causes a lot of environmental harm.  But Turkey Day just wouldn’t be Turkey Day without the turkey, or so I hear, and thankfully you can still do a lot to be more sustainable:

  1. Over the next month, per person turkey consumption in the US will total 6 pounds.  Try cutting back a little– a smaller turkey serving will hardly be noticed at a Thanksgiving feast, especially with lots of delicious side dishes!
  2. Look for a turkey labeled “organic” and “pasture-raised”.
  3. The best thing you can do is try to get your turkey from a local farmer’s market or a store stocking local produce.  Added bonus: it’ll be fresher!

This way you can have your turkey and eat it too.  I hope you all have a lovely Thanksgiving next week, and in the meantime I’ll be finding and sharing recipes for a delicious, sustainable Turkey Day.

Sources:

Empire State Building photocredit: http://www.beckermanphoto.com/wp-content/uploads2/empire-state-building-1136-beckermanphoto1.jpg
Statistics on Canada’s population and building masses: WolframAlpha.com
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thanksgiving_dinner
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/11/131122-thanksgiving-2013-dinner-recipes-pilgrims-day-parade-history-facts/
 
 
Author: Charlotte Humes