Thursday, October 15, 2009

Top Five Reasons Why I Won't be at the State Fair this Year: for Blog Action Day

By Marcie Barnes

Today is blog action day and also opening day for the North Carolina State Fair. Since the theme for blog action day 2009 is "climate change" and the theme for the state fair this year is "a whole lotta happy" - I would like to point out how climate change makes me a whole lotta sad, and how big agriculture in America, and at the state fair, has totally taken over, for the worse.

I wrote a post a couple years ago about the fair expressing my concern over the - unhealthiness of it all mostly for people - here I'll try to concentrate on how unhealthy it is for the planet.

#5: Lack of places to recycle: On the state fair's Green NC page, they admit that the fair "has some work to do before [it] can be a truly 'green' event." They then go on to boast about the four, yes, a whopping four recycling stations that appeared at the fair for the first time last year. By the way, throwing aluminum cans in the trash has been illegal in NC since 1991 and apparently 2008 was the first fair in more than ten years where recycling bins were available for the public to use. What in the world happened? In any case, there should be a place to recycle next to each and every trash can. This fair brochure (.pdf) says there are 500 trash cans, and only four recycle centers? People are waaay too lazy to seek out recycle centers, even if they do care, if you make it 125x easier to toss in the trash. How about retrofitting 250 of those trash cans into recycle cans?

#4: Deep fried, everything: It's even the name of the state fair's blog. OK, I know people love fried, but really, do you have to promote it? With heart disease and stroke being the biggest killers of Americans, isn't it about time to stop promoting foods that clearly play a role in such diseases? Just around the corner there are hundreds of local farmers showing off their livestock and produce, but where is the booth where I can buy some of their apples and pumpkin pie? (And I mean out in the open, not tucked away in a building or specialty tent. Why don't they get the prime spots?) According to the video on this page there are just shy of 500 "commercial vendors" at the fair, and they are looking for more "unique" vendors. How about inviting your farmers to provide us with local NC snacks, instead of looking for the next most unhealthy thing on a stick? Oh, and what does this have to do with climate change? A lot. Giving space to the big fair-traveling vendors from all over the country only adds to pollution, and the entire "big ag" food system is a huge contributor to global warming, especially meat production.

#3: Crowds: I have to admit, Iím a bit claustrophobic. In 2005 I literally had a panic attack when the crowd got extremely thick around sundown. I think it was probably a factor of the daytime people and the nighttime crowd all being there at the same time. I decided to look into the attendance figures over the years to see how much the fair has grown. Well, according to their own numbers...not very much.

Here is a chart I made plotting population growth numbers from 1980-present for NC, Wake County, and the state fair: (red line: NC blue line: fair green line: Wake County)


Then, I took the NC population data out so you could get a close-up look at an odd trend:
(blue line: fair green line: Wake County)


Apparently, the population of Wake County has nearly tripled, while the state fair attendance numbers have not even gotten close to doubling. In addition, the total "population" of the fair used to be double that of Wake County, and now they are about the same. At the same time, the total population of the state has increased by three million. Anyone else find that odd? In any case, I appreciate that the fairgrounds were recently expanded to help alleviate crowding, but I don't have any desire to get caught in another squishy and potentially dangerous situation. I spoke to someone at the Raleigh Fire Marshal's office to ask about the occupancy limits for the outdoor areas of the fair, and was told they have no jurisdiction because it's on state property. I am waiting to hear back from the NC Fire Marshal's office on this, and will update when I have more information. What does this have to do with climate change? Well, ok, it's mostly about safety but also the ramifications of an event so large, all the people driving to it, and the pollution and trash it creates.

#2: Rides / electricity usage: I didn't even bother to ask how much electricity the state fair uses each year, but it's got to be a huge amount. In an area where our power company gets a percentage of its power from coal sourced from mountain top removal, I just can't justify taking a joy ride powered by coal operations that have clogged and polluted towns in the mountains and also not so far away from Raleigh.

#1: Chickens, pigs, and cows - oh my: Another disclosure: I'm a vegetarian. But my husband and son still eat some meat. Not so much after seeing the documentary Food, Inc. You see, nearly all food in grocery stores, most restaurants, and foodservice trucks come from a giant food system designed to get your food to you as cheaply as possible, and in large part, due to the government subsidies on corn and fuel. What's wrong with that? When it comes to animals, including poultry, beef and pork (a huge polluting industry in NC) - you can rest assured that those animals were raised in very confined spaces, generally treated poorly, loaded with antibiotics to keep them from getting sick due to the poor nature of their diets (almost always corn to fatten them in the cheapest way possible), possibly suffering injury and physical mutilation by other animals or the farmer (in attempt to stop some behaviors going on due to the crowding), slaughtered and processed on a fast-moving assembly line manned by cheap (and yes, many illegal) workers. These kinds of operations cause all kinds of pollution in addition to all the air pollution from the transport of animals from 'farm' to slaughter to processing to distribution to store shelf.

the fair has a lot of "work to do before [it] can be a truly 'green' event." Getting local farmers into the vendor mix would be a huge step towards alleviating some of these problems, along with some serious energy conservation measures and movement towards clean energy sources.

I've been going to the state fair every year since I was a young girl. I'd really love to see it return to an event that truly is about NC farms, not big agriculture.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Wal-Mart's VP of Sustainability talks at UNC

By Marcie Barnes

This hour plus long talk at UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School with Wal-Mart's Senior Vice President of Sustainability Matt Kistler and adjunct professor Kellie McElhaney from the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC was actually, refreshing. I had my serious skepticism hat on going in, and came out impressed. Below are my notes. This was written in shorthand and highly paraphrased. I have enclosed in quotes a few things that were said verbatim:

A few highlights about Wal-Mart from Dean Jim Dean were:

There are 200 million customers per week worldwide, over 100,000 suppliers, and 2.1 million associates (employees). Their main goals in reference to sustainability are to have zero waste, use 100% renewable energy, and sell products that sustain our resources and the environment.

Matt started his presentation - the highlights of that are here:

- Only 8% of their total footprint is in their control currently, which is why they developed the sustainability index.
- In the past couple years (since he has been in this role) they have achieved 30% more energy efficiency in stores, 25% more efficiency in fleet.
- They are testing alternative fuels/technologies for trucks: hybrids, liquid natural gas, and retrofitted engines that can run on waste grease from stores.
- Less than 1.7% of their supplier base is considered "red" - which would mean issues with their social or environmental goals, if they don't improve within a given time frame, they will be "fired".
- They audit 14,000 suppliers on site each year.
- The sustainability index will include a 'scoring algorithm' developed in conjunction with "well-known software company".
- Reuters article recently posted: Walmart Sustainability Index Means Big Business

Questions directly from
Ms. McElhaney are here (answers very paraphrased):

Q: Why is Wal-Mart doing this?
A: We were receiving and combating a lot of negative press and were working to tell people we're not bad, instead of being proactive and showing "what we can do". "This is not an abstract part of our company." "Green products should not cost more, they should cost less."

Q: What has been your biggest disappointment?
A: Technology and innovation not going fast enough to solve problems.

Q: Are consumers or corporations helping most with the problems?
A: "We're known for being a little cheap" - both have to work together.

Q: Is Wal-Mart leading the U.S. Government?
A: (He admittedly ducked this question, but said he is getting great support from Washington).

Before turning to the audience for questions, said that Wal-Mart sent her a script to follow and she "lost" it. One last question from her:

Q: What's your scariest scenario?
A: Uncertainty about new technologies, making the right choices. Do we choose solar panel A or solar panel B?

Below are the questions from the audience (questions and answers paraphrased):

Q: Is there a goal to phase out less sustainable products?
A: Yes as long as the products are at a price point the consumer wants.

Q: Will Wal-Mart customers really care about the sustainability index?
A: Wal-Mart won't stand the test of time if it is not relevant to the customer. Younger customers want sustainable products. "We are improving quality." See video - The Secret Life of Sour Cream.

Q: (About suppliers' role in this process)
A: Wal-Mart trained suppliers in China on how to be most energy-efficient. "We're not making suppliers more energy efficient, we're buying more from those who are. It's the carrot vs. the stick."

Q: Why not use existing ways to measure sustainability instead of making up your own?
A: Wal-Mart does use best industry standards, funds college and university work and research, etc. in addition to its own index.

Q: Talk about efforts to source local produce
A: Wal-Mart is doing more of this than ever before. For example, they now buy peaches from 18 states instead of just one. His mother was just talking about how bad tomatoes taste, and it's because they are produced to be able to withstand the distribution system and lose their flavor. "Go back to the way it was." "The consumer is boss." The challenge of this is indeed quality standards. They have a goal to be sourcing from one million local farmers in China alone by 2012.

Back to
Ms. McElhaney for a few more questions:

Q: Will you ever do enough?
A: Probably not, not in my lifetime.

Q: What's next for Wal-Mart?
A: A lot of work with greenhouse gases and climate issues. How to develop areas locally to grow and produce products.

Q: What about your personal impact? How has this impacted you?
A: Looks at friends heating systems and recycling habits, notices the light bulbs in his hotel room are not compact fluorescent, etc. He looks at things differently now.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Think organic & eco-friendly are always more expensive? You're wrong!

By Marcie Barnes

Yesterday I was leisurely perusing the aisles of my local Whole Foods store, and I kept thinking "you know, that price doesn't seem so bad." I have a really terrible memory for numbers, so I decided to snap some shots of a few common items for later comparison at a "regular" grocery store.

Then, I drove on over to Food Lion (I actually chose them on purpose because they are known for low prices, thus making it a real tough challenge for Whole Foods, or so I thought...)

(Notes: All of these can be considered in the 'prepackaged' or 'convenience' category, I'll try to spend more time in the produce, seafood/meat & bulk areas next time. I compared the same size/weight products each time or made a note if I could not find an exact match.)

I think you'll be as surprised as I was at my findings:

1. Frozen Green Beans
Same price! $1.79 for organic, $1.79 for Food Lion brand (not organic)!

2. Cereal
Organic is cheaper! $2.99 for organic, $3.97 for Cheerios (not organic)! (I couldn't find any Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, but I figured Banana Nut was close enough.)

3. Mac-n-cheese
Same price! 5/$5.00 for organic, 5/$5.00 for Kraft brand (not organic)! Although this is a sale price at Whole Foods, you can stock up on this item when it is on sale. In addition, they have a good variety of different kinds of mac-n-cheese, so chances are at least one kind will be on sale at any given time.

4. Tortilla shells
Organic is cheaper! $1.69 for organic, $1.99 for San Antonio brand (not organic)! And the organic ones were in the freezer section, you know, since they don't have preservatives.

5. Vegetable juice
Organic is cheaper! And cheaper than Food Lion's sale price, at that. $2.69 for Vital Veggie Organic, $2.99 (on sale) for V8.

-----------Note: The below items are not organic, but worth a mention------------

6. Cheese
Hormone, antibiotic-free & humane is cheaper! $2.69 for 365˚ brand and $3.49 for Food Lion brand. From Whole Foods' web site: "Although 365 Everyday Value Milk is not organic, it is produced by dairy farms committed to the production of milk that does not contain the synthetic growth hormone rBGH. If a cow does require antibiotics it is taken from the herd and quarantined until the antibiotics have passed through her system."

7. Dog food
"Human grade" pet food is cheaper! $11.99 for 365˚ brand and $14.99 for Purina Beneful (on sale). From Whole Foods' web site: "Human grade pet foods are processed according to the same manufacturing standards as human foods and they contain ingredients that are free from contamination, disease or adulteration. This means that the meat sources used in our products, including any by-products, are NOT from animals that have been rejected for human consumption. The ingredients are inspected with the same care as if they were to be sold as human food."
Really? Meat that is rejected for human consumption is OK for our pets? I'm buying the 365˚ brand pet food from now on!

8. Toothbrushes
Same price! $2.99 for a Preserve brand kids' toothbrush, same price for Sponge Bob (there was something on sale for $1.49 but it was out and I couldn't tell what it was). The Preserve brand is a supporter of the National Wildlife Federation, makes all their products from recycled materials and you can recycle them (and the packaging!) again by returning them to Preserve with a postage-paid envelope available on their web site. Cool!

9. Paper towels
100% recycled is cheaper! $9.99 for the 365˚ brand and $14.45 for Bounty, although on this day it was on sale for $9.99. This was definitlely the biggest surprise I found. (Note: there were no 12-packs in this store so I chose the 8 "mega" rolls that the package says is equal to 12 "regular" rolls) We all need to switch to recycled paper products, too many forests are being destroyed to make products like Bounty, Viva, Kleenex, Puffs, Cottonelle & Charmin. This Shopper's Guide from the National Resources Defense Council asks you to avoid those brands and explains why.

10. Buffet
Whole Foods is cheaper! $6.39 for my small box of food compared to the $9.29 buffet price at Sweet Tomatoes. Now, this isn't exactly an apples-to-apples comparison since Sweet Tomatoes is all-you-can-eat and Whole Foods bar is by-the-pound ($7.99/lb.), but don't we always take more than we can eat at those all-you-can-eat places? With Americans throwing away half of the food produced for our consumption, I say choose the small container at Whole Foods, fill it up with good quality food (including humanely raised/organic meats, if you like) and save money at the same time!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mass Pollution & Illegal Pig Slaughtering Compliments of Smithfield Foods

By Marcie Barnes

**See update/edit after 4th paragraph regarding pig slaughter method.**

I'm not going to get into a lot of detail about why I've never been able to stomach pork very well. And I'm not going to preach to those of you who eat it. Instead I'm going to ask you to carefully consider what it is that you are putting in your mouth and how your dollars spent on this factory-farmed product impact the environment and your health.

2006 article from Rolling Stone sums up all of Smithfield Foods' dirty little secrets quite well. The subtitle tells us that "America's top pork producer churns out a sea of waste that has destroyed rivers, killed millions of fish and generated one of the largest fines in EPA history. Welcome to the dark side of the other white meat."

And as I suspected, the Chairman of Smithfield Foods, according to the article, is reaping the benefits in his "multimillion-dollar condo on Park Avenue in Manhattan and conveys himself about the planet in a corporate jet and a private yacht." (The article also notes that "the 500,000 pigs at a single Smithfield subsidiary in Utah generate more fecal matter each year than the 1.5 million inhabitants of Manhattan.")

If that's not disturbing enough, I realized after watching the documentary film
Food, Inc. (please follow that link and search for showtimes near you) that they are slaughtering their pigs in an illegal manner -- at least at the Tar Heel, NC slaughterhouse where a worker filmed undercover footage for the documentary. (The Tar Heel facility is the largest slaughterhouse in the world, by the way). What appeared to be groups of a dozen or so pigs crushed to death by machine (which was the same observation made in this movie review) is a far cry from the terms of the Humane Slaughter Act of 1958.

**Update: I just got off the phone with a USDA official here in NC and he said they are not crushing the pigs, but rather containing them in a CO2 "tank" and it's the CO2 that kills them, although he admits it still "hurts" (he's apparently accidently gotten a lungful before). He also said there is an inspector whose sole job is "humane slaughtering" - he inspects that facility - asked to speak to him as well - and I am waiting for his call. Stay tuned.** 28JUL09

From the Wikipedia entry: "According to the law, animals should be stunned into unconsciousness prior to their slaughter to ensure a quick, relatively painless death." The pigs in the footage I saw were clearly, awake, walking, and "terrified" according to movie reviewer Brian Clark Howard.

Just last year, an undercover People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
(PETA) investigator filmed a Sampson County employee mistreating pigs at another slaughterhouse. Consequently, the worker was charged with 6 counts of animal cruelty. What, I wonder, is the penalty for crushing approximately 35,000 pigs to death every day, possibly since 1992?

What you can do: Stop purchasing factory-farmed meat. This is found in fast food, most restaurants, and in most of the packaged meats in grocery stores. Instead, vote with your dollars by supporting local farmers who treat their livestock humanely. I just found this local, grass-fed ground beef at WholeFoods for $4.99/lb - which meant my husband's burger meat cost a whopping $1.75:


If you still think it's too expensive, simply cut your meat consumption by 1/3 or more and you'll be doing your body and the environment a big favor.

From the USDA's guidelines: "The gas must be administered in a way that produces surgical anesthesia quickly and calmly, with a minimum of excitement and discomfort to the animals"

Is that really what is happening? Send messages to:
heir rep, Paula Deen: @Paula_Deen (on twitter)
ETA: (The Smithfield plant is on Hwy 87W in Tar Heel, NC)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

HFCS at WholeFoods? Say it Ain't So!

By Marcie Barnes

One of the things I really like about Whole Foods and other stores like it is the fact that I don't have to do so much label-reading.

I admit after some searching I find I am not the first person to make this discovery. But how many also had the general impression that there were no HFCS (High-fructose corn syrup) products at Whole Foods?

I knew that Earth Fare had a non-HFCS policy. Unfortunately, I assumed Whole Foods did as well. A huge benefit, for me at least, in shopping in these earth and health-friendly stores is the comfort in knowing they choose to sell products good for us, and the planet.

I could not find such a policy on Whole Foods' site, someone please point me there if there is one. I did find this tweet, however, that explains "
none of our 365 products contain HFCS and only a small % of our branded products do, unlike in other stores."

Other tweets explain that "
HFCS isn't on our unacceptable ingredient list, but you'll still find it's the exception, not the convention in our stores."

Here is what I found:


This is a shrimp tray, with cocktail sauce included. The HFCS (and more corn syrup later) is in the sauce. What baffles me, in part, is why it seems that the cocktail sauce was portioned out from a bottled shelf brand that has HFCS, when there is an organic 365 brand available without HFCS. Furthermore, I think it might be even simpler (and cheaper) for the kitchen to mix some 365 organic ketchup with a little grated horseradish, and voila! Cocktail sauce.

Don't get me wrong, I love Whole Foods (I was actually there a couple days ago because I was in a bad mood and being there cheers me up :)) I just find it odd that they (my local Cary, NC store, by the way) would package up some shrimp with HFCS sauce and showcase it in the seafood section.

I was actually curious about Whole Foods non-top ranking in Greenpeace's recent Seafood Scorecard report. More on that coming up. Stay tuned.

What do you think? Should HFCS be on the unacceptable list at Whole Foods? I think so, especially considering recent news regarding mercury in HFCS.

Main photo credit goes to boeke on Flicker. Shrimp photo is mine.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Greenpeace's Grocery Store Scorecard Released & End of the Line Widget

By Marcie Barnes

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic <-------Please click to see the scorecard. Please choose the store closest to the top of the list that is near you and shop there. Avoid the red ones like the plague (really).

This is from @greenpeaceusa's "Carting Away the Oceans: How Grocery Stores are Emptying the Seas" (article with link to full report).

Also, please use this widget to look up what seafood is safe to eat (or not) and why:

Thank You. I <3><(({°> ><(({°> ><(({°> ><(({°> ><(({°>

Monday, June 29, 2009

Michael Jackson's Earth Song

By Marcie Barnes

I don't normally post video without a whole lot of accompanying text, but this video says it all. Thank you Michael, your voice was just not being hearl loud enough. I'm going to do my part to amplify it.

Can you help share?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Yes! President Obama's Ocean Policy & Much News on Global Warming

By Marcie Barnes

What's Going On

I joined twitter in February. I've been following a lot of "green" people, groups, and organizations. Yesterday, I was in a really down mood after watching the film HOME on youtube (what a beautiful film, with a great ending - please set aside an hour and a half to watch it!). It was just hard to watch the beauty and life on this earth being destroyed by man.

Today, I was delighted to see tweet after tweet about our government, our people, our leader -- all working together to reverse this horrible problem!

Now, what I'm talking about is a general problem with pollution and general disregard for the Earth by humans, coupled with the whole global warming crisis. Now for those of you still caught in "global warming denial," this is the way I look at it: let's just go ahead and say that humans are not causing global warming. Fine. I've been watching footage of icecaps melting (both inland and at the poles) and if we start to lose the hundreds or thousands of species that live in these areas, it quite frankly could be the beginning of the destruction of the food chain and loss of a beautiful part of our ecosystem as well. Who cares what the cause is? We need to do all we can to reverse the problem, and hey, let's try reducing "industrial age emissions" just in case.

In my last post I was happy to receive a comment from Anthony Pickles, a Web Editor for the documentary The End of the Line. Please take a moment to watch the trailer on their website and make a pledge to only eat seafood that isn't harming the earth, threatening species, or hurting you!

Twitter gem #1 comes from - news about President Obama's Ocean Policy, which is a "soon-to-be-crafted, first-ever national ocean policy that will sustainably manage our country’s oceans" ~~~~hallelujah~~~~! The article suggests that you hop on over to the White House web site and send Mr. Obama a thank you note.

Next gem comes from -- an interactive climate map and summary of the "The U.S. Global Change Research Program report “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States." One of the most striking conclusions from this report is this: "Threats to human health will increase. Health impacts of climate change are related to heat stress, waterborne diseases, poor air quality, extreme weather events, and diseases transmitted by insects and rodents."

What You Can Do

1) The Natural Resources Defense Council has a handy-dandy online form you can use to automatically send a message to your lawmakers. This one is specifically in reference to the American Clean Energy and Security Act. Go here, now, fill out the form, and send.

2) Sandy at Green Eco Voice posted an excellent summary of what the average person can do to help. My favorite part: "You can become an extraordinary hero! Practice modesty and courage everyday. Become a leader for social change beginning in your home and your community. Personal actions defeat feelings of hopelessness and you can and will 'Help Save Our Planet'!" Oh, and the movie trailer made me shed a tear - how did I miss that movie???

In Conclusion & More Breaking News

This quote on worldwildlife's article really echoes my sentiments about these issues: “Climate change and what we do about it is going to transform the world much more rapidly than people realize. It’s my goal to get us moving to a world we will want, not one we’ll regret leaving for our children and grandchildren.” - Richard Moss, WWF's Vice President and Managing Director for Climate Change

And today from the White House blog: "An important element of this new report, apart from that it is deliberately written in plain language so we can all read and understand the science in it, is that it dives down in the various regions of the U.S. and provides much more regional detail about possible impacts than ever before – critical information for an effective response. It also breaks down the potential climate change impacts by economic and social sectors, most of which transcend regional boundaries, such as water, energy, health, transportation, and agriculture – all vital components of a healthy and stable society."

Thanks to all the tweeps who helped point me to all this information on twitter: @greenbiztweets(via@NRDC), @thegoodhuman(via @sampsa & @WWFUS), @gristvia@ClimateChangeUS & @whitehouse), and @PlanetGreen