Thursday, March 20, 2008

Obama on Race

The New York Times has the transcript of Barack Obama's recent speech on race in the United States.

I was really impressed by how clearly Obama addressed the issues: the challenge of being "too black" or "not black enough", being considered by some people as an affirmative action candidate, the fact that his background is extremely racially diverse. He admits that he has friends who are more radical than he is, and that he has purposely distanced himself. By addressing issues head-on, he avoids rumours and suppositions.

I believe in the way he speaks about race, and I am encouraged by the way that he makes his faith personal, powerful and active.

I don't have any eloquent additions to the speech, but as a white South African (and Wellesley alum) living in the United States, Obama is the candidate who represents the world I most believe in. He has hopes and dreams that I understand, and speaks in a way that makes me listen.

If he can surround himself with wise advisors and change the exclusive and oppositional stance of the United States towards the rest of the world, I really believe that he may help the rest of the world heal after the various wounds-- to our dignity and to our countries-- inflicted by the United States over the years. If the world becomes more international, then the United States NEEDS to have this relationship with the rest of the world.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Concrete Gardener Interviews Katie

Katie is a friend from Wellesley who has been doing amazing things after Wellesley. She is currently an VD/PhD student at UPenn. I asked her some questions and I quote her answers, in full, below, for your inspiration! Katie, thank you so much.

For more information on what the Watson is and what Katie did on her Watson, check out, Katie's website during the Watson year of supported travel.

On the Watson:
There is nothing quite like having a year of travel and independent study to change the way you see the world and the way you lead your life. I met so many fascinating people and was introduced to so many wonderful cultures that I have this general feeling that the world really is a wonderful place- and there are many many individuals working to make it more so. Since I am only 3 years out from my Watson, maybe I can tell the story of a friend who did the Watson 12 years before I did to drive home the point of how poignant it can be to see the world and have time to develop as a person. Jeff Miller biked around the world for his Watson, and when he came back, he joined the bike coalition of Maine, growing it from a group with a few hundred to several thousand members. Jeff rides his bike everywhere, and his playfulness and enthusiasm for biking is contagious. Recently, Jeff was appointed president of the bike coalition for America. With all of his energy, excitement and enthusiasm, I am sure he will continue to do many wonderful things. I am not sure if Jeff’s story is simply because Jeff is so marvelous or if the Watson gave him a take-off platform, and after he started, he could not stop. In any case, it is truly empowering that the Watson Foundation had enough belief in me and my ideas to support me to do what I care deeply about: Architecture for Animals.

I am trying to figure out a way to incorporate all that I learned about animal welfare and animal housing into some future career. Right now, I am involved in the Master Planning committee for the veterinary school- and I am getting more into design for food-animals (there are robotic milkers, manure harvesters, methane harvesters, and solar-powered dairy farms out there ... there ought to be a way to integrate these concepts for a greener, more healthy farm). In short- the Watson was inspiring. It allowed me to inspire myself! I feel emboldened to seek my own path and I have had time to carefully consider what role I want to play in this world.

Universities and Energy:

The problem, as far as I understand it from UPenn, is that there is no incentive to save energy. Often, large universities are divided up into colleges, and the colleges never see their own energy bill. This is bad. To get the ball rolling, the universities could put each college in charge of their own energy bill. That would at least give the colleges pause when they decide to install energy-saving light-bulbs, light-timer devices, or simple things like printers that can print double-sided (currently NONE of the UPenn libraries offer double-sided printing!). On the flip side, it is hip to be green, and a lot of new building projects are aiming to become LEED certified (eg. a new student dorm at UPenn), or at least install solar paneled roofs. It is a frustratingly ironic though that Universities tend to be full of liberals and preach green- yet overlook their own energy waste. There are a million small projects that would be easy to implement- but students need demand the small changes since more institutions are blind to them.

Making a Change:

Individuals can certainly make a change. I think the best way to make a change is to get on a committee where there are faculty and staff directly involved. Bring ideas about greening to the public's attention. Talk about it. Come up with suggestions, and be tenacious enough to continue to remind the university what needs to change and how to change it- until it is done. Another thing to keep in mind is to change some small things first: recycling options, double-sided printing, and light-bulbs. From there, you can get involved with bigger projects like motivating green space and purchasing clean energy. Additionally, get the institution to look at their carbon footprint and ways that they can reduce it. Make a plan of action, and measure the progress so that everyone involved feels they are working towards a goal, and accomplishing lots of small tasks on the way.


Living is Sweden was wonderful on so many levels, and there is so much that I learned there which I hope will transfer to life in the US. I will just list a few of the concepts that I enjoyed.

5 weeks: there is a minimum of 5 weeks of vacation in Sweden for everyone. People have more leisure time, and they tend to take advantage of it. Spending time in nature and with family is highly valued. It sometimes feels like we Americans have too little time to enjoy our families or to get out into the great outdoors. That means that protecting wildlife and enjoying parenting doesn’t come naturally in our helter-skelter culture, which is a shame.

Mamaledig/Papaledig: Another thing the Swedes have is “mamaledig” and “papaledig” – that is a term for vacation time issued when you have a child. I believe both parents get 14 months of paid vacation to share. Each parent has to take at least 2 months, or that vacation time is lost. This means that there are heaps of fathers who stay home with their kids. It is common so see dads out in the park playing soccer with their kids, or dads pushing strollers and meeting up with friends at cafes for lunch. I wish my father were allowed the time to play with us. The other side-effect of allowing equal time off for child-rearing is that it has become impossible for work places to gender-discriminate as men and women are just as likely to take time off for having a baby. And the perk is that, with designated amounts of time off, mothers and fathers are likely to come back to work too instead of being stay-home parents forever.

Designated inner-city bike lanes: In Gothenburg, where I lived most of the time I was in Sweden, there are separate lanes for pedestrians, cars and bikes. This required some infrastructure planning on the Swede’s part, but it makes biking to work so much easier and safer. People are outdoors, interacting with each other, and value air cleanliness and exercise more simply because they have the option. I look around in Philadelphia for this same phenomenon, and I see it only along the Schuylkill River. The only designated bike-path in Philadelphia lines both sides of the river, and it is always in heavy use with joggers, rollerbladers, and bikers. I with implementing designated bike paths, the rule in the US is: if you build it, they will come. I just wish there were more bike paths so that more people could bike to work. It would green the city, and make us healthier (plus, it takes my husband 15 minutes to bike to work- it would take 30 minutes if he were to drive- so biking is a time-saver).

Health care: And since you asked: yes, universal health care in Sweden is wonderful. The interesting thing about it though, is that the Swedes are not alone. Austria, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Canada, Iceland, Brunei, India, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Korea, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and ThailandSingapore, Thailand, India and Australia all have universal health care. The list is long, and the outcome successful.

Current plans:

After the Watson, I did a little zoo consulting work in Sweden and completed a Masters program in virology. I have always known that I wanted to be a veterinarian, and so Jonas and I moved back to the US for school. I hope to combine my veterinary degree with a degree in architecture so that I can continue to work in the field of animal design. I find out in April if I am accepted to the architecture program, and if not, I will go back to the drawing board and perhaps do a PhD in conservation.

To be honest, I think you can do a lot of work in the field of conservation and energy policy without a graduate degree. All you need is experience and networking. In my case, however, because I come at the issue of conservation and environment with a special interest in animal welfare, I need a medical degree to make judgments about environmental impact and the health of the animals under our direct or indirect care. At this point, I have several scenarios for my future: designing green barns for livestock, managing a zoo and educating about local wildlife, or working on conservation projects with the Smithsonian, American Zoo Association, or the World Health Organization.

My advice to others is to find your niche by volunteering and working-then evaluate if you need a graduate degree to get to the next step. There are so very many ways to get involved: working a campaign or in local government, blogging ( J ), volunteering with your local bike coalition, research, or implementing simple changes in your workplace and home. Just think about those researchers whose passion it was to evaluate chunks of ice- they have a very definite role in bringing global warming to the limelight.

Generational Dreams:

I have so many dreams for our generation- and I have a really good feeling about us! For one thing, there are so many of us getting involved in something bigger than the American dream (career, family, house, car). A lot of people, even if they do not take time off to travel and think about what they want from life, they take a year to do something different: the Peace Corps or Teach for America, for example. It seems our generation is motivated to make a difference in our communities. We value grassroots movements and our neighborhoods. I think our generation also values free time, which goes hand-in-hand with traveling and volunteering.

My hope for our generation is that we demand to have more than 1-2 weeks of vacation a year; when we get more time off, that we use it to better our local communities by being involved in Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers-Big Sisters, humane societies, etc. I hope that we can enjoy time outdoors- hiking, working in out urban gardens, or helping out at a local farm. I hope we get from point A to point B by biking, walking, rollerblading, or dancing- so that we are healthy and aware of the route between work and home. I also hope that we take time for the next generation- be that simply planting a tree with neighborhood kids, or showing a school group around a nature reserve.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Oxfamming the Whole Black World

Oxfamming the Whole Black World

I wanted to introduce you to Binyavanga Wainaina, one of the best columnists on Mail and Guardian. I thought a bit about a recent article "Oxfamming the Whole Black World", and thought this the perfect opportunity to speak about the topic he introduces. I copy the article in its entirety at the end of my comments.

Wainaina captures the absurdity of the current "development" paradigm, and more broadly, the attitude of the "developed" world towards the "developing" world. There's a tension. The absurd imposition described is a valid way of life in the developed world--empowerment, becoming carbon neutral, eating organic food. Moreover, would it not be absurdly condescending to say that priorities should be different because people are "different" in the economic south? No, it would not be.

What is problematic about development is that we believe we have answers (that we are the mommy, the carer, you are my pet) and the agenda. We believe it passionately, to the point that we have to take a gulp and think of ourselves as extremely understanding before trying to think we don't. And there are things that are working much better in the west and the north than in the south and east. We cannot get our heads around this being historically rooted inequality and injustice, pure and simple. It's really hard to imagine a completely different way (communism hasn't worked). So we keep on with our crazy park ideas, our crazy orphanages, our crazy definitions.

It is not to say that having parks, eating organic food, etc, doesn't make a difference where we are in the economic north (and the economic north certainly includes many South Africans). I believe learning to decrease our impact also leads to a 200% more profound understanding of how gigantic our impact is, and how much it takes to keep us warm and well-fed. And it actually decreases our impact. It means we may engage with people (more and less powerful) in less confusing and absurd ways. That's how I reconcile my priorities living here in Boston.


“Among white Americans the average IQ, as of a decade or so ago, was 103. Among Asian-Americans it was 106. Among Jewish Americans it was 113. Among Latino Americans it was 89. Among African-Americans it was 85. Around the world studies find the same general pattern: whites 100, East Asians 106, sub-Saharan Africans 70.” -- “Created Equal” by William Saletan in Slate magazine

Hello kitty kitty kitty … Are you an orphan? Are you Sudanese? Chadian? Are you a sub-Saharan African suffering from mild mental retardation? Are you an African woman suffering from the African male? Would you like an Oxfam biscuit? Organic antiretrovirals? Have you been raped? You might not know it, but you are an orphan, a refugee. Can we fly 103 of you to France to be loved? We can breastfeed you. We can make you a Darfur orphan. Even if you are not. If you are black and under 10 years old, please come talk to us.
Come kitty kitty.

We can save you from yourself. We can save ourselves from our terrible selves. Help us to Oxfam the whole black world, to make it a better place.

We want to empower you. No, your mother cannot do this. Your government cannot do this. Time cannot do this. Evolution, it seems, cannot do this. Education cannot do this. Your IQ cannot do this.

No one can empower you except us. And if you don’t listen to us, our bad people, those RepublicanToryChineseOilConcessioningIanSmithing racists will come to get you: your choice is our compassionate breast or their market forces.

In our loving breast you will be a vegan. We will eliminate your carbon footprint, your testosterone, your addiction to religions. You will be kept away from bad bad people, like ALL MEN.

We don’t live in harmony with nature and we are farting greenhouse gases all over the place. We will teach you how to live without farting greenhouse gases.

We will shut all your industries and build our organic Jeffery Sachs-designed school inside your national parks, where you can commune with nature, grow ecologically friendly crops, trade fairly with eco-tourists and receive visitors from the United Nations every month who will clap when you dance.

Instead of sweatshops, we will have Ubuntu shops where you can arrive in biodegradable loincloths to make bone jewellery for caring people who earn $1million a year, live in San Francisco or Cape Town and feel bad about this. In our future world you will have three balanced meals a day.

In the afternoons Jeffery Sachs will come and show the boys how to build a gender-friendly communal anti-poverty village where all base human emotions -- lust, greed and competition -- will be sustainably developed out of your heads, along with truly dangerous ideas such as rebellion. After playing non-violent games (rope-skipping and hugging), you will write letters to your loving step-parents in Toronto. For an hour a day we will teach you how to make clothes, shelter and shoes out of recycled bottle tops in Ndebele colours.
We have learned from people and bonobos living in harmony in forests and deserts what your fate is and we will help you fulfil it. By the time we are done you will all be having non-sexist multiple orgasms, you will be pacifists (we make and market organic pacifiers), you will dance and make merry with stone-milled, recycled mango wines that contain herbs to make you experience sudden and overwhelming universal love.

Some of us believe that if you all abandon industries and grow gentle herbs, your IQs will increase by 30%, because you are not eating toxins. Others believe that if the high IQ of the West is unsustainable, it is important to lower the level of world IQs.
Whatever side we are on here, we think you are special. If we are chimps, you are bonobos. Chimps are violent because they are smarter than bonobos.

For those of you with crude oil, we will help you use this resource -- sustainably, mind you -- to light your eco-candles and to make locally produced hair oil. The rest of the oil is bad bad bad. Leave it alone (we’ll take it).

We will keep the Chinese out. Look how they are suffering because they abandoned Buddhism. We will allow only eco-tourists and poverty tourists in your countries.

Trust us. You can’t do it yourselves. We have dedicated our lives to you. Come kitties, come to mummy.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Rising World Food Prices

Rising World Food Prices

What is going on?

Prices are increasing sharply for some of the most basic foodstuffs traded on international commodity markets.

The price of wheat has doubled in less than a year, while other staples such as corn and soya are trading at well above their 1990s averages.

Rice and coffee prices are running at 10-year highs, and in some countries, prices for milk and meat have more than doubled.

Why are we seeing these increases now?

It could be the breakdown of the "Goldilocks era" for global commodities - a period stretching back more than 30 years, during which the price of basic foodstuffs has been neither too high nor too low, but remained relatively constant.

For most of this period, the cost of staples such as wheat, corn and soya has actually fallen in real terms.

But it seems this long period of stability is coming to an end. Most commentators believe we are on the cusp of a new era of volatility and rising prices.

What are the main causes?

The first reason why prices are rising is growth in the world's population, which is expected to top nine billion by the middle of the century.

That is an incredible number of mouths to feed and will put pressure on a range of resources, including land, water and oil, as well as food supply.

But lurking behind the headline figures for population is an even more significant factor pushing up prices, and that's the economic miracle driving emerging economies such China and India.

To put it bluntly, rich people eat more than poor people, and all this economic growth is generating a whole new tier of middle-class consumers.

What other factors are involved?

There is also the added environmental pressure all these extra people are loading onto the planet, as well as the impact of climate change.

Desertification is accelerating in China and sub-Saharan Africa, while more frequent flooding and changing patterns of rainfall are already beginning to have a significant impact on agricultural production.

And global warming has played a significant role in another driver of rising prices: the shift in agricultural production from food to biofuels.

Ethanol production is on course to account for some 30% of the US corn crop by 2010, dramatically curtailing the amount of land available for food crops and pushing up the price of corn flour on international commodity markets.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Good Health is About Taking Time?

Jo Hunter Adams

Thoughts from Michael Pollan's "In Defense of Food"

One thought I took away from Michael Pollan's "In defense of Food" was the notion that health is directly proportional to the time one invests in the act of preparing food and eating. The impression I took away from this book was also that culture-bound food ("Italian", "Japanese", "French") is better than non culture-bound food.

There are many cases that support his line of thinking, and there's clearly reason to support Americans moving away from restaurants and fast-food car eating. This approach may well result in better health and lower weight.

However, I was thinking about this idea with respect to South Africans, other Africans, and people in the United States southern States. In South Africa, a lot of weight issues may be related not to "eating out", but to "eating in". We get fat on braais and beer, not fast food. The stereotypical view of a South African farmer is someone pretty overweight. Although I'm not extremely familiar with the American South, there seems to be a segment of rural America that is very overweight yet, I believe, live a much slower life, and do take time to enjoy good food. For these groups of people, I think there may be something else at play-- yet it's understandably difficult to say that our cultural foods should be eaten in smaller portions.


Other Book-related Posts
(1) Collapse: Haiti and the Dominican Republic
(2) Collapse: The Rwandan Genocide
(3) Collapse: Introduction
(4) Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Huh, what's a Locavore?
(5) Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: How Much Energy was used for that Carrot: Vegetarianism and Energy
(6) Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: Local Abundance and Variety
(7) Botany of Desire: Stories of Potatoes
(8) Thoughts from "In Defense of Food" By Michael Pollan (Part 1)

Choosing Milk

Garelick Farms is a milk that's available at most supermarkets in Boston, and it emphasizes that it is local without claiming to be organic. It's not as expensive as organic, but not as cheap as name brand (Market Basket brand goes for $2.99/gallon). Since it's a bit more expensive without necessarily being better, I've never bought it. I recently saw a small store near us selling Garelick 1% for $2.99/gallon (the regular price at Shaw's is $4.99), and so I decided to try and see what they were like by researching them online. There's no increase in transportation cost to pick it up because the little store is on the way to the library.

The Garelick farms website didn't help me terribly. It's a beautiful website but it was hard to tell how their dairy cows live, etc. It may well vary, because Garelick Farms is a huge number of different farms, rather than just one farm.

It was also not 100% clear how far the milk travels compared to other milk, because I'm not sure how far my Market Basket brand milk travels. However, if Market Basket is comparable with the US average, it could travel as far as 1500 miles. At least at this level, Garelick Farms is preferable because this milk is produced in farms around New England. I did find that they recycle their bottles and use trucks with maximum fuel efficiency.

So I went ahead and bought Garelick Farms milk. It tastes good, and I think it's definitely a step up from buying the supermarket brand. I think is a very small step and there are many more steps that need to come next.

Coming Soon
How to Make Pizza with the help of a Breadmaker
How to Make Foccacia with the help of a Breadmaker
How to Make Very Good Brownies Quickly
Preparing for Spring: Making a Temporary Greenhouse

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Food Project

As we're close to the beginning of spring, I wanted to introduce you to a great group in Massachusetts called "The Food Project". They have a farm in Lexington, as well as several urban farms, and apart from having a CSA system, they also teach young people about growing food, create square foot gardens in urban neighborhoods, and donate food to soup kitchens in the area. I've been really impressed with their commitment to excellence in what they do. Here I quote from their website.

The Food Project

“There is another way to live and think: it’s called agrarianism. It is not so much a philosophy as a practice, an attitude, a loyalty and a passion—all based in close connection with the land. It results in a sound local economy in which producers and consumers are neighbors and in which nature herself becomes the standard for work and production.” --Wendell Berry

"Our mission is to grow a thoughtful and productive community of youth and adults from diverse backgrounds who work together to build a sustainable food system. We produce healthy food for residents of the city and suburbs and provide youth leadership opportunities. Most importantly, we strive to inspire and support others to create change in their own communities.

Since 1991, The Food Project has built a national model of engaging young people in personal and social change through sustainable agriculture. Each year, we work with over a hundred teens and thousands of volunteers to farm on 31 acres in rural Lincoln, MA and on several lots in urban Boston. We consider our hallmark to be our focus on identifying and transforming a new generation of leaders by placing teens in unusually responsible roles, with deeply meaningful work.

Each season, we grow nearly a quarter-million pounds of food without chemical pesticides, donating half to local shelters. We sell the remainder of our produce through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) crop “shares” and farmers’ markets. We market our own Farm-Fresh Salsa, holiday pies, and other value added products. Locally, we also partner with urban gardeners to help them remediate their lead-contaminated soil and grow healthier food.

Nearly half of The Food Project’s work is as a resource center for organizations and individuals worldwide. We provide unique capacity building for organizations and educators who learn from The Food Project’s expertise through materials, youth training and professional development opportunities. Even projects completely unrelated to farming can draw on our methods for building inspired, diverse and productive youth communities."

Urban Gardening

(1) The Rooftop Garden
(2) Freezing Herbs
(3) Amazing Purple Peppers
(4) Our First Tomatoes