Saturday, October 18, 2008

LiveBlog: Carolina Brewing Company Tour

(This post is part of an assignment for the class I am taking, Writing for Digital Media at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This week, I liveblogged an event. I chose to cover the brewery tour at Carolina Brewing Company in Holly Springs, which occurs every Saturday at 1pm.)

By Marcie Barnes

12:44 - I'm in the parking lot, have seen at least a dozen people enter already, and I was afraid there wouldn't be much of a crowd on State Fair weekend. The facade is quite unassuming.

12:47 - An announcement in the lobby - beer samples before the tour, and I need to have my ID ready.

12:51 - Waiting in a long line for beer, some happy jazz/swing music is playing overhead. Sign near serving area reads: Now On Tap: Pale Ale, Nut Brown Ale, India Pale Ale, Summer Wheat, and NEW Oktoberfest. I think I'll try Oktoberfest, it only seems fitting.


12:59 - I've counted (roughly) 75 people in this room, the entire operation consists of a front lobby area and a large warehouse-type space behind it. There are more people still coming in. Guess free beer is popular! The Oktoberfest is yummy. I must admit I have never been a fan of their main brand, Pale Ale, because it is too bitter for me. Oktoberfest is just right. It's a very refreshing medium-colored amber, and there seems to be a hint of orange which is nice. (Note: their website says nothing about orange, maybe I was imagining that!) Now, a jazzy rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Water is flowing from the speakers above.


1:07 - Tour still not started, people still pouring in and waiting in a long line for beer. Many are going back in the line for seconds (or thirds, or fourths).


1:19 - Taps are off. Music is off. John, who is one of the three partners, starts the tour. They have only one employee, and do all the work themselves up to the point of distribution. The brewery is 13 years old. The Pale Ale was their first beer, and it is brewed year-round along with the Nut Brown and India Pale Ale. They have a winter porter coming out in November, and there are many other seasonal beers. They have a six-county distribution area.

1:28 - John is passing around barley and hops for us to see/smell. He explains how each affects the bitterness (hops), darkness (roast of the barley), sweetness (barley), etc. The Oktoberfest brew has the highest alcohol content at 5.7% which is related to the fact that it uses more barley, which produces more sugar for the yeast to convert to alcohol (and carbon dioxide).


1:31 - The barley sample comes my way. It has a nice, fresh, sweet smell. The hops sample was neither nice nor sweet smelling. The girl in front of me recoiled at the smell. I can only describe it as something unpleasantly pungent, to be nice. Now I know why I don't like a lot of hops in my beer, besides the fact that I don't like bitter.

1:33 - A comment from the audience is about rice and corn being used in beermaking. John describes how the big national breweries use these ingredients to make a light, cheap beer. Their brewery uses only (Holly Springs tap) water, barley, hops, and yeast. They use a different kind of yeast for the ales as they do for the lagers.

1:35 - He tells how they got started. Three friends were homebrewing for a long time and one of them eventually took an apprenticeship at a brewery to "learn the ropes". They moved to NC specifically to open the brewery after looking at demographics and noticing a deficiency in local breweries in the area. Someone asks him what beers he likes besides his own and he says: Sierra Nevada, Anchor Steam, and Highland (out of Asheville).

1:37 - He gets into the specifics of the recipe: grain is cracked, mixed with warm water, and steeped, which makes mash. Liquid is drawn out, leftover grain is given to a local farmer to feed his cattle. Liquid is boiled for 90 minutes, hops are added. Liquid is cooled rapidly and pumped to fermentation tanks. Whole process takes six hours. The two large tanks hold 2500 gallons of beer when full. Yeast added here in the big tanks. When it runs out of sugar to convert, it goes dormant, and they reclaim it and reuse it again.


1:42 - Once beer is done here, it is filtered through a system and sent to last holding tank, where it ages for three (ale) to six (lager) weeks. Another tourist asks about dry hopping. He says they only do that sometimes, like with a recent Thanksgiving lager. I don't have a clue what dry hopping is.

1:44 - He says they do not use any preservatives and do not pasteurize their bottles. I am happy to hear that. I thought there was some sort of government-imposed law about that with commercial bottling, but apparently not. It does shorten the shelf life compared to other beers, but beer is not meant to sit on the shelf like, perhaps, wine. Pasteurization and preservatives would compromise some of the healthy benefits of beer.

1:45 - We move closer to the bottling/kegging area. He's explaining the bottling process. Would be cool to see the machine running, but I imagine that would be logistically difficult. Machine bottles 100 bottles per minute, they only run it a couple days a week.


1:48 - He says he's wrapping up, turning taps back on. Says he'll leave them on maybe until 3:30 if we are "good".

1:56 - I finally make it back to the taps. Ask John if I can stay here and have a small sample of each, he says sure. The Summer Wheat doesn't really remind me of wheat, but I can definitely taste the hops. It's much more bitter than the Oktoberfest. I love the back of John's shirt: "All it takes is a liver and a dream".

2:02 - India Pale sample - Their website says it's the most highly hopped, and I can tell. It's so bitter it tastes metallic to me. Very crisp, though. The "bar" is situated at the end of a giant room-sized walk in cooler. The taps are literally drilled into the side of the cooler. Tourists are jovial and polite in the requests for their favorite flavor of free brew.


2:12 - Pale Ale sample - Doesn't smell as hopsy. I can actually taste more yeast in this one, which I like. Still too bitter for me, but I know a lot of people like it that way!

2:20 - Stout sample - this was dubbed "hidden stout" because there was no tap handle and the "bartender" didn't know it was there at first. This was a good one to end with because it smelled like Kahlua! I don't see anything about it on their website, and I wonder if this is the Winter brew that is coming out soon? Anyway, it's definitely heavy, but tasty. Has a sweet syrupy taste combined with the expected bitter hop flavor.

2:28 - Asked if this was a large group for them, and got the answer that no, it's a small group. He estimated about 100 people today, and says he's seen up to 300 come in! Wow.

Later Notes: Due to the popularity of this event, I recommend arriving early and getting a place at the front of the line. And bring a designated driver, too. This is a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon, learning about the brewing process and sampling some great, fresh, local beer. And it's a great way to support your local economy as well. There are also health benefits to beer not widely discussed in mainstream media the way those of wine have been (although I disagree with the part in the above linked article that says mainstream beer is as good as a microbrew, due to the fact that they -- mainstream -- use cheaper, lighter grains like rice and corn, so "
equally high-quality ingredients" doesn't ring true.)

For readers outside of NC, please go tour a local brewery in your area!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

What's In That Food? Part Three: Locally-grown Strawberries & Pesticides - Lots of Them!

By Marcie Barnes

Strawberry season is in full-swing across the nation, and if you're like me, you love going out to the strawberry fields to pick some of that sweet, juicy, healthy goodness from the plants. And of course, you can't help but eat a few yourself….if you're a kid, probably more than a few. But there's a dark side to the local strawberry patch. Most strawberries are grown
commercially. And that means they use nitrogen-based fertilizers and pesticides. Lots of pesticides.

This article gives lots of shocking tidbits, such as the fact that 371 pesticides are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use on strawberries. Recent data from shows that strawberries rank high on the list for produce found to have high levels of pesticides still on them once they arrive on the store shelf. Which makes me wonder how much they are washed. In any case, Dr. Green gives more scary detail on the types of pesticides found in this 'Report Card' on Pesticides in Strawberries. A little more research yielded another interesting factoid: a new hand lotion has been developed to protect workers picking in strawberry fields from absorbing pesticides into their skin "Arrangements were made to test urine samples of a small group of workers before, during and after picking strawberries in a field that had been sprayed with malathion 7-10 days earlier. Malathion is commonly used to control pests that can damage the fruit as it becomes ready for harvest."

Wikipedia states that "Malathion itself is not toxic; however, absorption or ingestion into the human body readily results in its metabolism to malaoxon, which is toxic in high amounts. Chronic exposure to low levels of malathion have been hypothesized to impair memory, but this is disputed. There is currently no reliable information on adverse health effects of chronic exposure to malathion". the list of pesticides found on strawberries here contains some additional really scary contenders in the pesticide arena. I want to know, what is being done to protect the consumers (mainly children) who go into these fields to pick and eat?

I don't think it's a huge deal that our son had quite a few of these likely pesticide-laden berries in the field, because he is very healthy, but I was sure to take the rest of our bounty home and wash them very thoroughly. Even then, because we do not peel strawberries, I bet there was a lot of residue left. I'm off to try and find a local, organic source for my produce. Unfortunately, as this article points out, the Farmer's Market probably is full of commercial growers as well…I guess I'll be growing my own garden and joining an organic CSA in the fall, because in addition to all this, "organic strawberries ripen more leisurely, with more time to soak up nutrients from sun and soil." This statement has been backed up (**finally**) by solid research showing that organic produce is indeed healthier for you.


End of the series, for now. Would you like to see this as a regular feature? Leave a comment!

Photo credit goes to: me! That's our son holding a basket of likely pesticide-laden strawberries. They were yummy :) :P

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What's In That Food? Part Two: Green Tea With More Sugar and Chemicals Than You Should Care For.

By Marcie Barnes

Borrowing again from a slide
out of a gallery published by AOL, I wanted to alert you to something that bothers me - the new Green Tea product from Lipton. I saw a billboard for it recently that said something like "citrus + green tea antioxidants = yummy" - and I couldn't help but wonder how much corn syrup was going in along with that. Take a look at the ingredients, of course, HFCS is the second ingredient, after water:

Water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, green tea, sodium hexametaphosphate, ascorbic acid, honey, natural flavors, phosphoric acid, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, calcium disodium edta, caramel color, tallow 5, blue1.

Then, I heard someone make the claim that there was more sugar in this product than in a can of coke - so I decided to find out for myself. I had to do a little math because, of course, Coca-Cola claims the serving size on a 12 oz. can is actually 8 oz., as if you will drink 2/3 and stop. So, there are 27g of sugar in an 8 oz. serving which would equal 36g in a full can. The Lipton Green Tea has 21g of sugar in an 8oz serving which would equal 28g in a full can, so not exactly a true claim, however, I suppose if you drank a full 20 oz. bottle (I haven't seen many cans of this stuff around) you'd be closer to the range of a coke.

In any case, I applaud Lipton for getting more green tea antioxidants out there, but I have to wonder if the HFCS cancels out the benefits. In any case, what about all these other additives?
Sodium hexametaphosphate, but it carries a scary warning in the Wikipedia entry: "Some individuals may experience an allergic reaction to the ingestion of sodium hexametaphosphate that may produce mild chest pain. One case of this allergic reaction was reported to have been due to trace amounts of sodium hexametaphosphate found in bottled water." - Eeek. And then we have phosphoric acid (also found in Coke) which is commonly used to remove rust. As with the lye in Cool Whip, I say no thanks!

And the list goes on, Wikipedia also says that sodium benzoate, when combined with ascorbic acid, "may form benzene, a known carcinogen" and also cites studies that link this chemical to ADHD. Next, we have
calcium disodium EDTA - more scary stuff to read here - "EDTA has been found to be both cytotoxic and weakly genotoxic in laboratory animals. Oral exposures have been noted to cause reproductive and developmental effects."

And - oh no - tallow? That normally comes from beef and was the ingredient that got McDonald's sued over saying their french fries were vegetarian. Just another sneaky ingredient - I wonder how many vegetarians out there are drinking this?

And finally, Blue #1 - "It has previously been banned
in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland among others but has been certified as a safe food additive in the EU and is today unbanned in most of the countries. In the United States production exceeds 1 million pounds annually, and daily consumption is around 16 mg per person. It has the capacity for inducing an allergic reaction. It is one of the colorants that the Hyperactive Children's Support Group and the Feingold Association recommend to be eliminated from the diet of children."

I understand these chemicals are probably added in very small quantities, but I think they should be completely avoided by children, pregnant women, and other people with sicknesses and the elderly. And just in case, I stay away from them too.

There are some kudos to Lipton (Unilever)
, for pledging "to transform the tea industry by making it sustainable, changing the lives of the workers for the better along the way..
.to have all of its Lipton Yellow Label and PG Tips bags sold in Western Europe certified by 2010, and all Lipton tea bags sold globally certified by 2015."

All said, I say brew your own green tea and add your own sweetener. If you are trying to get off of soda (or other bottled/canned drinks) brewing your own tea is a great way to wean yourself off. Simply make a batch to your taste and each time reduce the amount of sweetener. Adding a squeeze of lemon helps improve the taste. You can easily move yourself to just drinking plain water or tea with this method. Eating out? Ask for 1/2 sweet & 1/2 unsweet to start. Green tea is associated with lots of health benefits to include weight loss, so don't pick up the bottle full of corn syrup. You can do it!

Up Next: What's in those yummy in-season strawberries?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What's In That Food? Part One: Cool Whip: Transfat, Corn Syrup & Lye, Oh My!

By Marcie Barnes

I was recently reading one of my favorite blogs,, and came across this reference to a gallery published by their parent company, AOL. I have issues with a few things about this gallery, but let's start with slide #6 - Cool Whip -"it includes questionable ingredients like hydrogenated vegetable oil a known trans fat --and high fructose corn syrup…" says the AOL piece. Indeed, a lot of scary ingredients in this. However, telling people to opt for the "fat-free" version isn't really the best advice.

There is still hydrogenated vegetable oil (trans fat) in the "fat-free" version, they probably just add only enough to get away with calling it "free" under government guidelines. Even then, I'm skeptical - because the ingredients listed on all three kinds - "free", "lite" and "regular" are virtually identical, with the exception of the use of sodium hydroxide in the "free" version - which, my friends, is lye. I see that there are some food applications for lye, but I prefer to stay away from ingredients also used to unclog drains...I don't know about you.

I would recommend buying a regular old can of whipped cream, organic would be better because it would not have corn syrup, and don't feel too bad about it - especially if you're putting it on fresh organic fruit. :)

I found another blogger who has also discovered the stark similarities in ingredients between all three versions of cool-whip. As usual, it's the job of those marketing people to make you feel like you are making an "informed" purchase by putting a bunch of (often misleading) information on the front label. Spend more time reading the back - and save yourself a lot of time by shopping organic products, because they don't contain chemical additives, preservatives or hormones.

Another ingredient found in all three varieties is sorbitan monostearate. I had to do a lot of research to try and figure out exactly what this is, and basically, it's an artificial wax. I say always air on the side of caution when ingesting anything artificial. In addition, I was a bit disturbed by research I kept finding (done in the 60s) where this substance was found to speed tumors in the skin of hamsters (if someone with a scientific background wants to read this and spell it out in layman's terms, that would be great). This page says it also "may increase the absorption of fat-soluble substances".

Again, a great substitute for cool whip would be to go out and buy some organic whipping cream, add a little stevia to sweeten it, and whip it yourself! It's easy, and homemade whipped cream is impressive to friends and family. :)

Up next: Green Tea that's bad for you.

Image Credit goes to:
lowjumpingfrog on flickr, who aptly named the photo "Death by Variety".

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Have You Heard of Hypermiling?

By Marcie Barnes

I hear a lot of people complaining about high gas prices. A lot. Although I feel for people who are forced to make choices say, between food and gas to get to work, I am also glad to see the issue become top of mind for most Americans because quite frankly, the higher cost of gas is (finally) forcing us to start talking about long and short-term solutions to the issue. We've got to stop putting so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. I was just reading this article, Major Arctic sea ice melt is expected this summer about how the South Pole is beginning to melt along with the North Pole. Scary stuff, in my book.

So, in thinking about ways I can personally try to reduce the amount of emissions I produce, I stumbled upon a phenomenon called hypermiling, which sounds like some kind of phenomenon found at a Hannah Montana concert, right? Not exactly, hypermiling is the practice of doing things such as over-inflating tires, keeping the vehicle properly maintained, changing driving habits, and coasting in order to maximize fuel efficiency. I have read that some also use the racecar technique of "drafting" - but at least in my state - that's called tailgating and it's against the law. To be used by professional drivers only, please. Here is a little more detail on some of the legal techniques with my suggestions added:

Maintenance: Your Tires and Your Engine

As mentioned, high tire pressure means that less energy is required to move the vehicle. However, it will also cause your tires to wear faster. I think the best advice is to keep them properly inflated, maybe a little over. And if you want to feel like a racecar driver, ditch the drafting and get your tires filled with nitrogen. Nitrogen does not expand or contract like regular air, so it offers a consistent air pressure and a "smoother and safer ride". Apparently, under-inflated tires can lower fuel efficiency by approximately 1.4 percent for every 1 psi drop in pressure of all four tires, so you definitely want to keep those tires properly inflated. Of course keeping your engine in proper working order is a priority. Hypermilers often recommend synthetic oil because it lubricates the engine better. Keeping your air filter clean also helps engine performance greatly.

Get the Junk out of the Trunk

Drivers can also increase fuel economy by driving a lighter-weight vehicle and getting rid of unnecessary weight. This does not include passengers, of course, as long as you are preventing another vehicle from being on the road by riding together.

Efficient Speeds and Less Braking

You get your best fuel efficiency while "cruising" with your foot off of the pedal (and with the transmission in the highest gear). I am lucky that I have a car with a built-in display for MPG, so I can see in real time what kind of mileage I am getting. This has helped me re-train my behavior in driving. Instead of the typical "get from point A from point B in the fastest manner possible" behavior, I now drive as if my brakes are about to go out. The more braking you are doing is directly correlated to how much gassing you are doing. This is where coasting comes in. I find myself deliberately looking ahead for brake lights, red lights, yellow lights, etc. and if I see a slow down coming up down the road, I immediately take my foot off of the gas and try to make it to the stopping point using as little brake power as possible. Saves gas, saves brake pads. This article from CNN says you can save 30% by driving this way. That's like getting a $1 discount per gallon with today's gas prices!

Fuel type

"If the engine is designed for high octane then higher octane fuel will result in higher performance (with full-open throttle), but not necessarily fuel cost savings, since the high-octane is only needed with the throttle fully open" (from - ok, so I've been putting Premium in my car all this time, but apparently if I vow not to put the pedal to the medal, it sounds like I will be fine with a mid-grade. Maybe not. I talked to a few people in the know and the consensus is that higher octane fuel is analogous to putting Teflon in your gas to protect your engine:

Its like trying to cook an egg on a hot, greasy pan vs. a warm sticky surface. One is quick an easy and leaves no mess.....the other leaves a mess, deprives you of eating some of your egg, and takes longer." (anonymous source)

My car actually requires an octane rating in between premium and mid-grade, so I am going to start pumping half of each to save a little. It'll take extra time, but such is the life of a proper hypermiler :) In the end, it helps save money for me and the environment at the same time.

...I understand this driving style may be a bit - emasculating - for some of you - ahem - racecar driver types out there, but get over it, or stop complaining about gas prices. Our planet needs your help.

Image credit goes to slightclutter on flickr.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Stop Recycling!?!?

By Marcie Barnes

I was inspired on Earth Day by this post I found while looking around which contains some great ways to have a greener kitchen. I am constantly trying to think of ways to reduce my "carbon footprint" and would love to help those of you out there reading do the same.
Here is a summary of what 7 Steps to a Greener Kitchen tells us to do:


1. Bring your own bags to the grocery store

2. Wean yourself off plastic and packaging (Rather than relying on plastic cling wrap and re-sealable baggies, store food in reusable, lidded containers)
3. Recycle (more on this below)

4. Greener cleaning (Use the natural power of household items like lemon juice and baking soda wherever possible.)
5. Buy environmentally friendly kitchen gadgets (products made of recycled materials)
6. Make it meatless (Raising livestock has a (far) more significant impact on the environment than cultivating plants and grains)
7. Buy local and organic (amen)

So, I like most of what the post has to say, but, like I said, I've been doing a lot of thinking. When I start from the statement that we are in a "race to imminent extinction", - I then begin to ponder what we can do to slow down this race, and fast. I happen to firmly believe that global warming is very real and most definitely being caused by humans, as is the consensus of most scientists today, and there already have been a host of climate-related problems beginning to crop up that you wouldn't normally think of: health-related ones. Then, I did some research on what contributes the most to global warming, and the answer often was meat production (more here) and, well, largely the United States and all it's industrial activity in general. When you look at the figures from a per capita standpoint, the USA really is, well, the butthead of the environmental concerns globally. No wonder a lot of other cultures don't like us so much...

So, it got me thinking - when we recycle, there's usually a big truck that comes to pick up the recyclables, then it's probably sorted and trucked somewhere else, and taken to a recycling plant that uses a lot of water and emits more carbon dioxide into the air. Hm, something seems a little off here…it's been hard to find much data on this "theory" - but I have found plenty of other people (see this for an example) who seem to have the same concerns I do, and it appears that the only thing that should be recycled is metal, possibly also glass. Turns out plastic recycling in particular is complicated, and what you may think you are recycling may end up in the landfill anyway (!).

It seems to me that landfill space is a lot more prevalent than potable water, you can read here about countries that are starting to have major water concerns due to overpopulation. I am starting to think it's better to concentrate on the "reduce and reuse" part of the mantra, and recycle when it makes more sense.

So, thanks to for the great post, all of the items were wonderful tips for being more green in the kitchen and beyond, I'm just not so sure about #3 anymore…I say the mantra should be changed to "Reduce, reuse and recycle metal (maybe glass too)" :)

I think I am going to have a lot less guilt about throwing things in the trash from now on. Unless it's meat. We should be eating as little meat as possible and when we do eat it it should be local, grass-fed and cruelty-free (the way our "old school" farms used to do it). And it just doesn't seem right to throw away up to half of the food we produce - especially when it comes from an animal.

Hm, you know, the dinosaurs were kind enough to leave behind all that fossil fuel for us to use, perhaps we are just contributing (via our landfills) to a future energy source for a future generation to use to power their spaceships…space may very well be the "new frontier" when the Earth becomes uninhabitable. Maybe that sounds crazy. For now, let's try to not to have such a "disposable" disposition.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Environmental Visionaries Part Three: Timothy Ferriss and the Four-Hour Workweek (?)

By Marcie Barnes

"Human life has long been focused on the exclusion of the environment and the rest of the food chain, hence our current race to imminent extinction. Serves us right. The world does not exist solely for the betterment and multiplication of mankind."
(p.273, used with permission)

I had many, many, many "aha" moments while reading The Four-Hour Workweek. Mostly because of my own disjointed ideas about - well - life and how it should be lived, my love for entrepreneurship, and confusion over the overwhelming messages in society about a lot of things including the environment. Yes, Tim's book is largely about business and personal productivity (and sometimes is categorized as "self-help"). I stumbled across his book via his blog via a fitness blog - and well - what I am trying to say is this is a must-read for anyone looking to cut through the clutter in their life in all kinds of ways - health, fitness, business, stress, the environment, charity, the list goes on...

The above quote really sums up my thoughts on the issue at hand (and my three-part series). There's just so much clutter out there that it's hard to make decisions on a daily basis about just about anything. That is, of course, until you truly educate yourself on all sides of an issue and test your faith on whatever it is. Tim is beyond his years in doing just that, and he can show you how, too. I really think we humans have a gene for innovation, which has ensured our survival. Ironically, the way things are moving now, we really are in a
race to imminent extinction. Let's use our innovative genes towards saving our planet, and therefore our species. As shown in Horton Hears a Who, it takes all of our voices working together and we can make a difference. And as Don Henley said in The Last Resort, "You call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye" - which means to me, an idealistic view of -whatever- will only lead to its destruction. Let's get back to eating and living the way Mother Nature intended.

Please start by checking out this post on Tim's blog,
The Unusual ROI of Going Green... which is an informative post about how making "green" choices can benefit you as well as the rest of humankind (oh and the planet) in ways you probably didn't think of before. And if you're one of those who scoffs at the "green" movement, then hey, maybe you can make some money in the process. But it's not all about money, it's about having what you need to survive and be happy...we knew that, right?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Environmental Visionaries Part Two: Don Henley & The Last Resort - How Man Raped the Land

By Marcie Barnes

(Note: this song is credited to the Eagles and Don Henley, sometimes along with Glenn Frey (as a songwriter). However, in the L.A. Times article referenced below, Henley calls it "his baby" and it is widely referenced as a foreshadowing to his solo career. Therefore, I give full credit in that sense to Don Henley for this wonderful piece of work, for the purposes of this article. :) )

First of all, if you are not familiar with the song The Last Resort by the Eagles, check out this excellent article about the song, which includes a clip you can listen to. Full lyrics can be found here.

My husband played this song for me a few weeks ago and I quite frankly can't get it out of my head. He asked me what I thought it was about and my answer was "Wal-Mart?" He rolled his eyes at me and said "It was written in 1976, how can it be about Wal-Mart?" I was surprised. I guess I thought The Last Resort was a newer song, because the message seemed to be so modern to me. Lo and Behold, The Last Resort was indeed written in the 70s and was recorded on the well-known Hotel California album. Anyway, I guess the part about " Some rich men came and raped the land…Nobody caught em...Put up a bunch of ugly boxes, and Jesus, People bought 'em" really screamed "Wal-Mart! Wal-Mart!" to me. Apparently, Henley was talking about Los Angeles :P.

I think I was still in the ballpark, though, because there are endless examples I could come up with regarding how man is raping the land today - from clearcutting (Wal-Mart) to carbon dioxide emissions (Wal-Mart, see below) and meat production (lots of places, to include Wal-Mart) - this Industrial Era we are in is running at an increasingly fast pace, and at what cost? This recent article talks about how global warming impacts health (and causes death) in more close-to-home ways that you don't hear about at the water cooler. They are called climate-sensitive diseases to include malnutrition, diarrheal diseases and malaria. The article says they already kill millions every year. In addition, as Americans, we are contributing by far the most to the Global Warming crisis, and the lion's share of that is coming from Industrial, Commercial & (public) transportation sources…which is largely what Wal-Mart (and other similar operations) are all about. If I lived in another country I'd be pretty peeved at the US for contributing so much to all these problems that cause global sicknesses and deaths, all while we throw away up to half of the food we produce…sigh, we disgust me.

Anyway, Henley has been an advocate for lots of environmental causes over the years to include his own
Walden Woods Project and Caddo Lake Institute. Although he says The Last Resort is about "the quest for a better life, a personal search for self and success", I still say in this day and age, it's about Wal-Mart.

"Who will provide the grand design?
What is yours and what is mine?
'Cause there is no more new frontier
We have got to make it here

We satisfy our endless needs and
justify our bloody deeds,
in the name of destiny and the name of God"

Buy locally (or even better, grow your own food), get off your dependence on animal protein for your own health and that of the planet, and be happy :)

Next installment: Timothy Ferriss and The Four-Hour Workweek from 2007.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Environmental Visionaries Part One: Dr. Seuss: We Must Take Care of Our Speck! (And Horton Hears a Homeschool Outcry)

By Marcie Barnes

My family went to see Horton Hears a Who recently. I really appreciate the efforts of the G-rated filmmakers to make these films enjoyable for parents as well as children, and this one really took the prize for me. In large part because of (what I saw as) the important underlying meaning: we could all be floating around inside a universe that is actually the equivalent of a piece of dust in someone else's world - everything could cease to exist at a moment's notice. Life is truly fragile.

The new movie is based on Dr. Seuss' classic tale
which was written in 1954. Although there certainly are some departures from the book, Dr. Seuss' general message is still very timely today. More on that later. I did want to address one particular "adaptation" that stood out at me, and as I expected, has caused a bit of a stir in the homeschooling community. Near the beginning of the movie we are introduced to the "villain" - an overbearing kangaroo voiced by Carol Burnett who makes the comment "...that's why my Rudy is pouch-schooled" while observing Horton doing something she didn't agree with. This coupled with the other comments made by the kangaroo throughout the movie about how Horton is "defying authority," "corrupting our children," and "attacking our way of life" - you can see how the pouchschool/homeschool analogy didn't sit well with the homeschool community. Now, I have all kinds of respect for people who choose to educate their own children, mostly because I have very few teaching bones in my body.

That said, there is a stereotype associated with those who choose to homeschool, because of the obvious "snub" at public schools, and most other organized forms of education at large. I've been part of these kinds of debates before (stay at home vs. working moms, etc.) and I tell you, it can get nasty real quick. My take on it is this: we're all mothers and we all do the best we can for our kids. If I had to teach my kid there would be some pretty serious deficiencies - especially in areas such as music and math (which he actually is showing early promise in). Therefore, I am looking forward to creating a balance where we parents step in and fill some of the holes left by the school, and I expect, vice-versa. I plan to write more about this in the future, but for now I invite you to check out Michael Davis' Family Hack
blog, in which he documents his travels with his family around the world, among other things. I like to call his education style "worldschooling" - and I think in this day and age it's increasingly important for kids to not be sheltered when comes to education. (and I can get started on my soapbox about sheltering kids from germs too, but not today :)) We live in a diverse world that is constantly blending and getting smaller. We need to teach our kids to be good worldly members and neighbors so we can work together to keep our species alive as long as possible. That doesn't mean they have to become Muslims, but they certainly should learn about Muslims and why they are just as devout in their faith as you may be in yours, just for one example. At the end of the day, the greatest faith is an educated and tested one.

Which brings me back to the big meaning in Horton Hears a Who: what if we really are floating around on a speck in someone else's world? And what if that someone had the power to dunk our speck in a boiling pot of oil (movie) or made part of beezlenut stew (book)? What if that "authority" decided we weren't taking care of our speck anyway, and decided to make our death quick and painless out of mercy? The main theme I want to pull out in this series is this: on the path we are currently following, the demise of the human race is inevitable. The planet cannot sustain what we are doing to it. I think the planet will survive, I think the cockroaches will survive, but I'm not too sure about the humans. We live in a very delicate world.

Oh yeah, and don't forget too: "A person's a person, no matter how small."

Check out the World Clock
that shows an approximation on the speed at which we are killing the environment (and other things) and read this article I found today about how global warming is directly impacting our health (let alone the health of the planet.)

Next installment: Don Henley and The Last Resort from 1976.

(Photo credit goes to The Davis Family on flickr.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Healthy Easter Egg and/or Basket Fillings

By Marcie Barnes

Our son's birthday falls on Easter Monday this year (thankfully this will never happen again) so I am planning a "Healthy Easter Egg Hunt" for him and his guests. A cursory look at Google on this subject matter yields few results, which is a little unsettling. I think it's high-time we start filling those Easter baskets with something other than unhealthy candy. Now, I am sure some of you think I sound like a scrooge, and that's fine :) Our son is allowed to have a little "dessert" after dinner - and for the most part I try to make sure it's high-quality organic (dark) chocolate, with some fresh fruit. In any case, I though I would share with you my list of "healthy" items that will be going into jumbo plastic Easter eggs for the "healthy hunt":

Non-food items:

Play-Doh (make your own or buy the small containers that will fit inside a large egg.) I also found plastic eggs filled with different colors of clay at the dollar store.

Bubbles - most craft stores have those tiny little bubble bottles people buy for weddings that will fit in an egg.

Money - depending on the age of your child - use bills or coins, or even tokens from their favorite arcade.

Magic towels - I found egg-shaped ones at the dollar store.

Other misc. toys - I also found some "stretchy" and "bendy" toy rabbits that would fit in eggs, as well as some small battery-operated musical instruments. See what treasures you can find at your dollar store!

Food items:

Popcorn - I'm not a proponent of the "low fat" label being healthy. But for an egg filling it's probably best to use "dry" popcorn.

Baby Carrots - (in individual packs)

Dwarf Pink Lady apples - or any other fruit you can find that will fit in an egg :) such as:

Clementine oranges - really easy for kids to peel themselves!

And yes - dark chocolate - I bought these chocolate-covered cranberries and almonds. This is a yummy way to get powerful antioxidants and phytonutrients from all three of these very heathy foods: cranberries, almonds and dark chocolate.

And here are a couple ideas for next year:

Photo credit goes to:
joewilsondallas on Flickr. Thanks!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Eat Fat to Lose Fat, Part Deux

By Marcie Barnes

I've been wanting to expound upon my first post about this notion for quite some time, but since my colleague Timothy Ferriss posted this yesterday, I figure "why re-invent the wheel?" I've been a proponent of the "a calorie is not a calorie" mindset for quite some time, and Tim explains it well along with Dr. Michael Eades in the interview.

Basically, although fat is the highest in terms of calorie count by weight, I don't believe the body stores fat as fat. Instead, it uses fats for cell repair/regeneration, etc. That's pretty important stuff. This is also why I think there is an epidemic of psychological disorders in Westernized nations (to include depression and ADHD) - because of the "low fat" diets that have been so popular for years. To clarify: I said I don't believe the body stores the fat you eat, it stores the unused carbohydrates you eat as fat. Why do you think farmers feed their pigs and cows grain in order to fatten them up as quickly as possible for slaughter? If the fat we consume turns to fat, why aren't farmers feeding their livestock….fat? If you're overweight, there's a very good chance your diet consists of too much sugar and other refined white carbs like flour. Think about it.

I am a vegetarian (I do eat dairy and seafood) so I feel compelled to say that while we are essentially promoting a low-carb diet here, that doesn't have to mean eating a lot of meat to compensate for the lack of carbs. My diet largely consists of vegetables, beans, nuts and whole grains. I always choose the full-fat version of dressing (or sour cream or whatnot) and use healthy oils such as olive and coconut liberally (yes, coconut oil is saturated - not all saturated fats are bad, either.) Fats and oils help make you feel full in the same way meats do. And by the way, once you start eating this way on a regular basis, you won't miss the other stuff after awhile. Go cold turkey on the sugar - it can be as addictive as cocaine.

This link will take you to all four fascinating posts by Tim on this important topic.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

USDA Organic Seal - Killing hometown organic farms in America?

By Marcie Barnes

My mother is reading the book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" for her book club and was telling about a discussion they were having about how the USDA Organic Seal many of us are familiar with is basically too expensive for small farmers to be able to acquire on their products. (See for specifics on this.) As a result, many farmers who have been proudly calling themselves "organic" for years, could be fined or even shut down for using that term today. This just makes my blood boil. Why, oh why, USDA to you all of the sudden get to define what is or is not "organic"?

Let's take a look at the USDA's Organic Labeling and Marketing Fact Sheet - my favorite quote from this resource is: "Products labeled 'organic' must consist of at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt)." (I'm still trying to figure out if this is by weight.) Basically, there is room for 5% of a product to be - whatever? That's kind of scary to me. Furthermore, I found the "list" that defines the kinds of things allowed in the 5% part here - and one of the "criteria" is: " The substance cannot be produced from a natural source and there are no organic substitutes." So basically, they are allowing ingredients because there is no organic counterpart? Hellllllllooooooo?

One of my classmates asked me to write an article defining "organic" last semester. On top of my busy schedule, I have quite frankly been trying to formulate an appropriate definition in my head for months. I realize now that the government has taken over the role of "organic police," I quite frankly want to encourage the world to come up with a new word or phrase to describe food that, as I like to call it, was made the way God intended. Or, maybe it would be better to say "the way Mother Nature intended." A lot of formerly organic farmers are turning to words such as "natural" or "whole" to describe their products, which is unfortunate because of the rising popularity of "organic" products (and the increasing awareness of the word itself) in the public. Ah, the government steps in to try and clarify the definition of a word and causes further confusion. Classic.

I still think choosing a USDA labeled organic product is better than one that is not, but it has become clear to me that this label should signify to the consumer that the product was made by a large manufacturer with enough cash to be able to go through all of the paperwork (among other things) required for the certification, and that it's also likely the cost of the certification is worked into the price you are paying.

For a plethora of reasons, there is one word that is beginning to stand out as the best one to describe how you should eat: local. Find a local farm here and join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program that allows you to buy a "share" of the farm and reap the health benefits of ultra-fresh, tasty, in-season locally-grown produce. There is nothing better in this world than a freshly-picked North Carolina strawberry in May. Well, maybe there is - where do you live and what are you missing out on?

More stories about small farms and their disgust with the USDA Organic program: