Friday, October 31, 2008

I Need an English To English Dictionary

In general:
I've noticed that Brits are very fond of the word "loads," as in, "I have loads of reading to do." I've never heard an American use that exact phrase per se, but we do say, "I have s**t loads of reading to do." Is that because we are more crass than Brits?

Today, at a convenience store:

Me: Hi, do you sell chap stick?
Shopkeeper: No.
Me: Oh, you don't?
Shopkeeper: Chopstick?
Me: Chap stick.
Shopkeeper: Right, chopstick, like the Chinese use?
Me: Uh, no. Chap ... you know like when your lips (gesturing to lips) are chapped (imitate rubbing chap stick over lips)? Like ... lip balm?
Shopkeeper: Oh! You mean Lipsyl!
Me: Oh, okay, lip...syl. Yeah .... I think so.
Shopper: Yeah, we call it Lipsyl or ... er, Vaseline. 
Me: Okay, I get it, we just call it chap stick because it prevents chapped lips.
Shopper: Well, some places do sell chap stick, but it's not the general term. It's Lipsyl.
Shopkeeper: It's okay, she's learning now.

Lesson learned. Lipsyl. But now I know what to ask for. In other news, today I had to give a half an hour presentation, and I kicked its ass. Take that abusive boyfriend.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Grad School Is Like An Abusive Boyfriend

Okay, maybe that's a little extreme, but seriously, sometimes I feel like I love grad school and it's so awesome! and I'm learning so much! And other days, I find myself in total despair at how little I really know. You know, the days, where you do the reading, and you have this feeling like your head is filled with cotton candy, and that you are a total impostor among all these other really smart, talented people who clearly know way more than you will ever know in your entire life.

Blah. I hate feeling stupid.

Fake Plastic Fish Wants YOU To Join the Plastic Posse

The other day one of my favoritist bloggers, Beth Terry of Fake Plastic Fish fame and fortune asked the masses to come join her in her plastic free world. Basically, I think she was feeling a little lonely blogging about plastic, and wanted some blogging company.

I can sympathize. Well I can't really, since everyone talks about non-consumerism, which was kind of my pet project last year. But I can empathize? 

Anyway, point being, Beth posed some questions to us about plastic to get the plastic-conversation going.

So, here are her questions and my responses:

1) What was it that first inspired you to eliminate plastic from your life? Was it a particular issue? News article? Experience? And when was this?

To be honest, I think Fake Plastic Fish has been my greatest inspiration to remove the scourge of plastic from my life! I also was deeply influenced by Elizabeth Royte, writer of Garbage Land, which, once again, if you haven't read it, what are you waiting for? I read Garbage Land last January, and FPF started being on my daily blog rotation around the same time, so it was really a combination of reading both that has made me drastically reduce my plastic usage.

2) What have been the 1-3 easiest changes to make?
The first change I made was before I even read anything about plastic really ... the obvious reusable bag instead of plastic bag change. The other changes I've made that were relatively easy? Let's see... well giving up the plastic water bottles. That was kind of a no-brainer, though I admit, the unintended consequence has been that I do drink less water than I used to. Bad Ruchi. Those were probably the only "easy" changes. I did end up using a lot less plastic in my year of non-consumerism, because as lot of plastic waste is in packaging, and if you're not buying, you avoid the packaging thang too. So that was sort of a bonus of the non-consumerism year. But really, other than that, I would probably say the other changes have been fairly difficult for me.

3) What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Definitely packaging for food and drink. I do really well with home-prepared food. I have my bulk food store where I buy my pasta and rice and beans. I re-use bread bags for produce. I buy stuff I can't buy in reusable containers in glass (my bulk store doesn't have bulk peanut butter, but the organic store down the street sells peanut butter in glass.) But being a student, I don't have much in the way of routine. So I'll often find myself at school at 5pm not having eaten anything all day for whatever reason. So I end up buying a sandwich in plastic wrap. I don't love it, and I wish I was a better planner, but I'm definitely finding it difficult to transition between working adult with a routine and a fridge and microwave at my office to hobo student who spends hours in the library and then realizes she's starving.

4) What one thing would you say to encourage others to lessen their plastic consumption?
Treat it like a game, or an adventure. One of the games I like to play is, can I get rid of my one-time use plastic this week? So I focus on a specific area, and then work on that. It also makes you creative in how you can re-use your plastic. I reuse my bread bags as produce bags (actually I don't anymore because I am buying bread not wrapped in plastic, but I used to.) Cereal bags have tons of purposes. I'm not as hard core as Fake Plastic Fish, so for me, the key is, I don't want to be using something once, and then chucking it. If I can at least get a few uses out of it, and spare some additional plastic, to me that's good progress. As for durable plastic, well, here's the non-consumer coming out: buy it used! I'm not opposed to plastic completely. Want a plastic DVD? Fine, but go get it used!

Well, those are my answers, but let's hear from the rest of you! Have you started to reduce plastic consumption in your house? What do you find easy, and what do you find difficult? And for more tips to reduce plastic, visit Fake Plastic Fish!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Elephant in The Room- Part II

Thank you all for your wonderful, and thoughtful responses to my post on population. Truly, I was so impressed and pleased with the civility and depth everyone showed on the question. In some ways, I feel like I don't even need to weigh in, but, well, given how much time so many of you put into answering my questions, I figure the least I can do is answer them myself! Plus, I'm a loud mouth. Since when do I miss an opportunity to express an opinion? ;)

Okay, so here we go.

To start with, is population a major problem from an environmental point of view? I think it is *a* problem, though I don't know that I would go so far as to say a *major* problem. Birth rates have already steeply declined in many parts of the world, and I generally see no reason to disagree with the UN's assessment that population will stabilize between 9-10 billion in 2050. Now, because a lot of that population growth is built in growth (due to large numbers of teenagers and twenty year olds in many countries), I don't think there's a real way to hold the world population down to 6 billion without instilling serious draconian measures. So, in a sense, I guess I see the neo-Malthusian debate somewhat of a red herring. The question for me isn't, is population an enormous problem, the question is, where do we go from here?

On to the bullet points:

  • Does it make sense to treat population as a quantitative problem (number of people) versus a qualitative problem ( one of lifestyle?) If we had 6.5 billion people on the Earth living lives similarly to farmers in Ghana, would we have a global warming problem?
To me, population is only very minorly a quantitative problem. I don't think the world could sustain any number of people, but I do think 9-10 billion people could live on the Earth in a sustainable fashion. I think population often gets conflated with lifestyle choice which often gets conflated with affluence. No, I do not think that everyone in the world can live like a typical American without a major technological breakthrough (and even then, I'm not 100% certain.) I don't think the average American lifestyle is a particularly sustainable one. But again, and I think this is crucial, this is not to say that the *affluent* lifestyle isn't sustainable. Anyone who has brought their Riot for Austerity numbers down to about 10-20% of the average American's understands that it is possible to live with a high standard of living (from a global perspective) but with much lower output. Similarly, most Londoners and New Yorkers live much more sustainable lives than the majority of people living in the suburbia.
  • Is it fait accompli that more people leads to degradation of renewable resources and/or increases in carbon emissions?
Okay, I'll admit, this was an unfair trick question. Is it fait accompli that more people leads to increases in carbon emissions? Well, it better not be, or why the hell did any country with a rising birth rate agree to the Kyoto Protocol! So my answer to this is an emphatic no. It is not fait accompli that more people leads to the degradation of renewable resources and/or increases in carbon emissions. In fact, if you look at population densities of the first world, it's interesting to note that countries with the higher population densities are often those that have lower carbon emissions. For example, the Netherlands is the 25th most dense country in terms of population and one of the most dense countries in the first world, but ranks 43rd in the world in terms of per capita carbon emissions. Conversely, the United States ranks 180 in terms of density, but comes in 10th at per capita carbon emissions. So higher population densities, far from obviously degrading land or increasing carbon emissions, can many times offer very positive benefits that improve land, and decrease emissions. To come back to New York, the reason New Yorkers have lower per capita emissions than the average American is precisely because density is higher in New York than it is in most parts of the US. As a result, New Yorkers tend to take public transit more often than the average American. 

  • Is disease Nature's way of "controlling" population? If so, is it fair to extrapolate from that that malaria and AIDS are Nature's way of "controlling" population, and that the Western Europe and the United States should not interfere with Nature?
I was really interested to see Hypoglycemiagirl's answer to this since she's an evolutionary biologist, and Cath's answer since she's a virologist. Virologist right? I get confused. They both had better technical answers to this, than I ever could, but I think in the main everyone who commented agreed on the most important part of this question which is that we should be using all the tools at our disposal to stop malaria and AIDS from running rampant in Africa (and other places). I am very relieved that we all were able to agree on this point.

  • What are the solutions? Is China's one-child policy a solution?
Here is where the comments started to get really fascinating and exciting. No one seemed to think China's one-child policy was the best kind of solution. I think Joyce, Cath, and Young Snowbird all eloquently discussed the problems with China's one-child policy. 

  • And more generally, where do we go from here? Given that we have population increases built-in, so to speak, what are the steps we can take?
Here again, I think people brought up excellent ideas. In general, education of women was mentioned as key. I agree, though I believe education of women has to be done holistically and should not be simply education of contraceptive options. That is, women need to be empowered, they need to be given opportunities, and the general health and security of women and their family needs to be of primary concern. For example, as Joyce pointed out, many women have more children because infant mortality rates are so high. So in order to bring down birth rates, it is not enough to hand women contraceptives, one must also work to bring infant mortality rates down. One of my professors discussed how having many children is a form of social security in countries where the states don't offer much in terms of old age provision. If the state is able to offer parents more financial security, they may well see birth rates decline as parents realize they don't have to have several children to ensure their well-being in old age. 

Beyond education and health, Cath and Melinda made some very interesting points that I think are very important to this discussion as well. Cath pointed out that several first world countries with declining birth rates are now reversing, and are thus encouraging women to have more children. Cath's point was, instead of trying to increase the birth rate, let's open up immigration in these countries! I completely agree with Cath in this regard. As the child of immigrants, and as someone who is now living in my non-native country, I think countries with stagnating birth rates should be encouraging immigration.

Melinda pointed to some of the discrimination/social alienation that childless or child-free couples suffer, and wrote as a possible solution, "Making it socially acceptable to not have children." I think this is an incredibly important point. Too many couples without children must deal with all kinds of social pressure to have children. I believe wholeheartedly that having children should be a personal decision. Just as I don't believe it's right to cast aspersions on parents who choose to have larger families, I do not believe it's right to cast aspersions on couples who choose not to have children. 

All in all, I think this was a fabulous discussion, and I want to thank each and every one of you who took the time to share your views. I think the civility of the discussion allowed people from a variety of perspectives to share their opinions. We had several moms of four children express their views, as well as several childless people share theirs, and we all managed to do so without personal attacks, and with everyone's feelings intact. So thank you, thank you, THANK YOU. You guys are seriously awesome.

And Speaking of Bookworms....

Want to read another review of mine? Go to the Blogging Bookworm for my review on The End of Food.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Be A Bookworm: The End Of Poverty

There are the great books that change your life, and radically shift your way of thinking. Then there are the great books that aren't life changers, but arm you with plenty of new information. And then there are the great books which are life affirming, which give you hope in humanity, which encourage you to keep striving for a better world. The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs is definitely that third kind of great book.

The premise for the book is simple: to provide a blue-print for how we can eradicate extreme poverty by the year 2025. And what is amazing is that Sachs is indeed able to provide such a blue-print.

Will it be easy? No. But Sachs makes a strong case it won't be nearly as hard as most people think.

Sachs writes eloquently and persuasively about how developing world economies can stabilize and grow, and provides several case studies including Bolivia, Poland, India, China, and Kenya. He offers tremendous insight as to why African economies have failed to grow, and fingers geography, ecology, and diseases such as malaria and AIDS as some of the key culprits. Yet, geography is not destiny, and Sachs argues that investments in transportation infrastructures, in sustainable agriculture, health, and education could turn around failing African economies. Moreover, he argues that such investments can be easily financed if the developed world donates a mere .7% of it's GDP to the developing world. That's right, for less than a percent of our GDP, we can pull the entire world out of extreme poverty. 

But for me, the most compelling part of the book was Sachs's discussion of the poor living near the railway tracks in Bombay. As Sachs talks about the danger these people face, and the need to empower the people, my mind kept drifting back to those poor children playing cricket near the tracks

These children are not an abstraction for me, but are viscerally imprinted on my mind. When Sachs writes that we can't afford NOT to help the developing world, I can't help nodding my head. 

Now for the warning. The End of Poverty is definitely not Light Economy. There are several discussions of Donna's favorite guy, Adam Smith. I actually *liked* the discussions of economics, but, well, I'm weird. 

Still, even for those of you who are a little econ-phobic, I'd urge you to push past the economics discussions and read this book. This book is incredibly important, now, in our time of financial panic, more than ever. There will be temptation by many to close the purse-strings, to offer less instead of more to the developing world. It is critical that we do not do so. The budget tightening that many of us are facing is miniscule compared to the downward spiral of poverty currently occurring in Africa. And it is important for us environmentalists to remember that it is the developing world, and especially Africa, that will be hardest hit by climate change, and indeed, is already being hit by climate change.

Star rating: five out of five stars.
Recommended for everyone who can stand some economics talk. Hey, Bono wrote the foreword! So if you hate econ, at least you're rewarded with some Bono?

Monday, October 27, 2008

And Now About APLS Not Apples

I think it's fitting that Burbanmom posted the APLS November topic the day after Apple Day! Go check it out.

An Apple A Day

On Sunday, a couple friends and I went to the Apple Day festival at Borough Market. Apple Day is a celebration of fall, of the harvest, and, well, of apples. The day was celebrated with apple peeling contests, a harvest parade, bobbing for apples, and an apple tasting.

Yes apple tasting.

As I sampled several breeds of rare apples, it occurred to me: this is what seasonal and local eating is about.

There are a lot of people who view eating locally as, dare I say, an arduous challenge. Locavores want to take our bananas away!

I admit, that I am often a cranky environmentalist, and sometimes I do see eating locally and seasonally  as a burden. 

But yesterday, I had a very different reaction to local eating: gratitude. Without the local food and slow food movement, the incredible variety of apples might well die out.

You see, supermarkets aren't interested in the Smart's Prince Arthur (the larger apples pictured right) because, well, the apples are funny shaped. No matter that they were my favorite apple taste-wise. I mean really. Since when have supermarkets cared about taste?

And I started to realize: what's the point in a market that carries the blandest variety of every fruit under the sun? I mean, I love me some bananas and mangoes, but having a store that carries tasteless plums, durable bananas, unripe mangoes, and only perfectly shaped apples doesn't represent a real choice. 

But what if that store sold twelve different varieties of local apples? What if we sought to become apple gourmands? Because as I can tell you now, all apples do not taste alike. Far from it, the apples I tasted varied in sweetness, in crispness, in pungency. I now know that apples can be appreciated like fine wines or cheeses. 

If we look at it this way, eating seasonally doesn't have to be a net loss. It can be an enormous gain. And while I might still eat bananas and mangoes on occasion, the majority of my fruit bowl will be comprised of local, seasonable fruits. Because now, I'm an apple connoisseur. 

This month Karen at Best of Mother Earth challenged us to think about gratitude. I am grateful for local food. I am grateful for fall and for harvest. And I am grateful to have five different kinds of delicious, juicy, imperfectly shaped apples lying in my fruit bowl right now. 

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Elephant In The Room

There was some really interesting discussion that took place in the comments of the Collapse book review post, so I decided to continue the discussion.

One thing I've noticed, we green bloggers love to talk about how we don't talk about population. Every few days it seems, there's a comment at No Impact Man about how we're ignoring the elephant or the 150 pound gorilla, or what have you, in the room: population. Sharon seems to have to deal with accusations on a fairly regular basis: how DARE she talk about the environment when she had the gall to have four children!! The general idea is, most green bloggers have kids, so people feel like they don't want to talk about population. And the green bloggers without kids don't want to sound self-righteous, so no one talks about it.

So, instead of ignoring this side of the debate, let's talk about it. I actually think Sharon has talked about population in the past, and has done a decent job, but maybe people feel like she has an agenda there. But I don't have kids, and it's possible, though I wouldn't say probable, that I might never have children. So I don't feel like I really have much of my own agenda to press here. I do have an opinion though. I mean, obviously.

But before I give you my views about population, I want to give everyone the chance to express their opinion. So here it is, folks. Do you think the growing population is a major environmental concern, and more specifically, do you think it is a concern with regards to global warming?

When you're answering this question, here are some other questions I'd like to throw out there. You don't have to answer them, though you can if you'd like. I obviously ask the questions with a point of view attached, so let's all understand that I'm not asking these questions from an entirely objective point of view:

  • Does it make sense to treat population as a quantitative problem (number of people) versus a qualitative problem ( one of lifestyle?) If we had 6.5 billion people on the Earth living lives similarly to farmers in Ghana, would we have a global warming problem?
  • Is it fait accompli that more people leads to degradation of renewable resources and/or increases in carbon emissions?
  • Is disease Nature's way of "controlling" population? If so, is it fair to extrapolate from that that malaria and AIDS are Nature's way of "controlling" population, and that the Western Europe and the United States should not interfere with Nature?
  • What are the solutions? Is China's one-child policy a solution?
  • And more generally, where do we go from here? Given that we have population increases built-in, so to speak, what are the steps we can take?

I imagine that responses to this might get a little heated. Population maybe isn't talked about because it *is* personal. A good percentage of the people reading this will have children, and a good percentage of people reading this will not. So while I encourage debate, I do want to ask that people comment respectfully. I think in general the comments on this blog are incredibly civilized, and thoughtful, so I'm not too worried. I think we can have a good debate on this without resorting to personal attacks.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Of Cutting Boards and Sealing Wax, Of Cabbages and Kings

One of the things that I've been loving recently, is that all the mountains and mountains of reading I've been doing have allowed me to articulate a lot of the ideas I've felt but was unsure how to express. And once I've figured out how to express it, I can express it on this blog and get feedback before turning it into some sort of presentation or dissertation.

That's right. All y'all are my little guinea pigs for papers I write for school. Don't like it? Too bad! It's my blog!! Haha!!

But seriously, my brain is starting to hurt now, so no Malthusian debates today. But maybe tomorrow if you're really lucky! Instead, I want to talk about cutting boards. Or rather my lack thereof.

Here's the deal. All the people I know who have attempted non-consumer lifestyles have always started from a position of being pretty well settled. This was true for me last year too. I already had a cutting board. And pots and pans. And a wine bottle opener.

When I moved to London, I came with two big bags, a carry-on and a laptop bag. So, basically, I came with almost nothing but clothes.

Now, I've managed to do pretty well all things considered in terms of not buying new stuff. I got a used TV and digital box. I got used wooden hangers, used plates and cutlery, a used pot, pan, and wok. I borrowed a towel and a set of sheets from my aunt. In fact, the only new thing I've gotten in London are the pillows on my bed.


I'm reaching a point where I'm having trouble. I don't have a cutting board. I haven't been able to find a used cutting board. And frankly, I don't have TIME what with all the reading and crap, to run around London to purchase a used cutting board.

And I desperately need a cutting board. You try cutting a loaf of sourdough bread without one. It sucks.

At what point is buying used a waste of resources and energy? At what point do you throw in the towel, and say, "Hello, Ikea!"

I'd *like* a DVD player. But you won't catch me buying that new. Because it's not essential. I can wait until I find a used DVD player near to me. If it takes a few months, well, I need to be reading anyway. But I can't wait a few months for a cutting board. I can barely wait a couple weeks.

This is where it's hard. When you don't have a history of shopping to back you up. When you're a non-consumer starting from scratch. Last year was a piece of cake, comparatively.

Who knew how complicated a cutting board would be?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Be A Bookworm: Collapse by Jared Diamond

I picked up Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive last Monday, intending to read a few chapters to get a general flavor of the book before my seminar Thursday. Instead, I found myself completely sucked in, unable to do anything but read, read, and read some more. This has to be said: Jared Diamond is a brilliant man (he speaks 12 languages!) and a damn good writer. And Collapse is a genuinely interesting book. Diamond recreates ancient civilizations with verve, and gives readers a crash course into everything from anthropology to sustainable development to agronomy. Even if you disagree with him, you'll learn a lot from this book.

And boy do I disagree with him. The whole book is built on the premise that environmental degradation and a whole host of other things including climate change, hostile neighbors, and decreasing trading partners can cause societies to collapse. So far, seems ... reasonable. But unfortunately, Diamond seems to get sucked into the vortex that is overpopulation debates.

Early on in the book he declares:

One camp, usually referred to as "environmentalist" or "pro-environment," holds that our current environmental problems are serious and in urgent need of addressing, and that current rates of economic and population growth cannot be sustained. The other camp holds that environmentalists' concerns are exaggerated and unwarranted, and that continued economic and population growth is both possible and desirable. (15)

Whoa there! Did Diamond literally just dispose of all and any pro-growth environmentalists?I mean, really. Did he SERIOUSLY suggest that if you don't think population growth is a problem, you cannot be an environmentalist? Oh, I think he did. If you're not with us, you're against us, indeed.

Diamond continues to drop exciting tidbits of population catastropha within the book. Consider this Diamond gem:

Many centuries ago, immigrants came to a fertile land blessed with apparently inexhaustible natural resources. While the land lacked a few raw materials useful for industry, those materials were readily obtained by overseas trade with poorer lands that happened to have deposits of them. For a time, all the lands prospered, and their populations multiplied.

But the population of the rich land eventually multiplied beyond the numbers that even its abundant resources could support. As its forests were felled and its soiled eroded, its agricultural productivity was no longer sufficient to generate export surpluses, build ships, or even to nourish its own population. Civil war spread, as established political institutions were overthrown by a kaleidoscopically changing succession of local military leaders. The starving populace of the rich land survived by turning to cannibalism. (120)

Diamond then asks if this beautiful fable (based on his telling of the collapse of the Pitcairn, Mangareva, and Henderson Island societies) perhaps portends the future of the United States. Okay, I'm sorry but that's redonculous. Population numbers in the United States are nowhere approaching unsustainability. In fact, when countries are ranked by population density, the US ranks number 180. And given that population growth is at .894%, I don't see population as being a big problem in the United States. And to suggest that the US problem is one of over-population completely detracts from the more important environmental message here: which is that the US has a problem of lifestyle. We don't need fewer PEOPLE, we need fewer SUVs.

When Diamond starts talking about populations who survived because they supported zero-population growth strategies, the book turns creepy. He approvingly talks about how the Tikopians practiced such strategies as infanticide and suicide to avoid population growth.

But the lowest moment of the book certainly has to be when Diamond uses the example of mass-genocide in Rwanda. Diamond argues that extremely high population density was one of the major factors leading to genocide in Rwanda. In order to make this argument, Diamond has to give lesser weight to all the other factors that lead to genocide in Rwanda: namely, ethnic tensions fomented by power-hungry politicians, declines in prices of Rwanda's key cash crops, increasing disparities between the rich and the poor, etc. Diamond of course, has to admit that all these factors played apart, but he insists that population growth played a MAJOR part. But extremely high ethnic tension can lead to mass genocide on its own; whereas Diamond's thesis of high population densities requires many, many other exacerbating factors to lead to mass genocide.

It's unfortunate that Diamond latches so tightly to his theory of Malthusian collapse, because he does have useful ideas to share. In fact, the best and most instructive part of the book (in my opinion) doesn't involve societies collapsing at all, but involves the collaboration of Chevron with the World Wildlife Fund to develop an incredibly ecologically sensitive oil field (yes, oil field) in Papua New Guinea. Give me more of that, Diamond! Let's hear more about how we can create win-win situations like that!

Look, I'm going to be upfront in my biases here. I am, as you can tell if you've read my blog, a pro-growth enviro. Furthermore, I personally think the population growth arguments of environmentalism are bogus for a whole host of reasons that I won't go into in detail here. But many people much smarter than me have reached a general consensus that the world population will stabalize to about nine or ten billion people by 2050. As women are given opportunities and education, they generally produce fewer children. So to me, this discussion of collapsing societies and scary tales of over-population is all a red herring (though I'm sure it does sell a lot of books.)Instead of portending the collapse of the world, I wish Diamond would have used his enormous intelligence to something more useful ... perhaps some more real ideas for where we go from here. But that book probably wouldn't have been a number one bestseller.

Star Rating: 3 out of 5 stars (I totally disagree with the book, but there's still some interesting stuff here.)
Recommended for anyone who wants to read over 500 pages about The End of The World As We Know It.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Reason Number 5,452 of Why I Love The Internets

On Friday, I asked how fair is fair trade. Since I don't know the answer myself, I asked mostly for the sake of sparking conversation. There were some really great dialogue created, and I really appreciate how much thought people put into their answers. This is how I, and hopefully some of you, learn.

And one of the awesome things that I learned, courtesy of Neelofer, was the presence of another type of designation: Equitrade. Whereas fair trade provides a fair wage to farmers for cash crops, equitrade attempts to take this one crucial step forward, and empower local people to turn their crops into finished goods. Why is this crucial? Because as I learnt in The End of Food (review coming next week to a Bookworm near you) cash crops earn a relatively low amount of money. The "value adding" comes when the food is processed. Consequently, a breakfast cereal has a much higher value than oat, and chocolate has a much higher value than cacao beans. Futhermore, while cacao beans garner a standard, across the board, market rate, chocolate bars can vary in price depending on a number of factors. 

Generally speaking, even with fair trade products, the cash crop comes from the developing world, but the all important "value adding" happens in the developed world. Cacao beans are imported to Switzerland where they are turned into chocolate. I recently saw the documentary The End of Poverty? in which a Kenyan farmer was complaining bitterly that Westerners buy coffee beans from Kenya, but that the roasting, or the value adding process, is done in the developed world, instead of in Kenya. As the farmer points out, if the roasting of coffee continues to be done in the developed world, Kenya can never hope to see much of the immense profits garnered from coffee. Simply put, fair trade, while important, is just not enough. 

Now as far as I can tell, equitrade hasn't been around for very long, and in fact, I could only find one company, Malagasy, using the equitrade symbol. (In fact the founders of Malagasy also founded equitrade.) And equitrade isn't likely to become widespread in the future. Because fair trade involves cash crops, it can fit nicely into our current agricultural economy. Nestle can simply buy fair trade coffee beans, and still be Nestle. But since equitrade demands processing to happen in the countries where the crops are harvested, Nestle can't just "become" equitrade. As a result, equitrade is likely to remain a very, very tiny, niche market.

Still, if equitrade is able to make any advances in the niche, "foodie" market, this might have a very real impact on the economies of the developing world. So for now, I'll adopting the buying principle of giving preference to equitrade, and buying fair trade when equitrade is not available. Thanks for the tip, Neelofer!

Friday, October 17, 2008

How Fair Is Fair Trade?

I've always been a huge believer in fair trade.

Partly for selfish reasons: I don't want to give up tea or chocolate.

Partly for humanitarian reasons: I believe that when done right, fair trade really can empower local communities. This isn't a theoretical assumption either. I've physically seen a few communities that have benefited from fair-trade production.

But it's becoming more and more clear to me, that within the feel-good sticker of "fair-trade certified!" there are some huge disparities among philosophies.

Yesterday, I went into my local coffee shop (big mugs of tea, and a discount for students!!) and saw a little sign proudly proclaiming their coffee to be fair-trade certified. It further noted that a share of the money from the coffee went to buying acres of land in the rain forest.

You see it all the time. On chocolate. On coffee. When you purchase carbon offsets. This money will go to buy land in the rain forest!

Now I admit, that until now, I'd never stopped to consider the implications. But suddenly, I was very, very uncomfortable.

That rain forest? It's part of a sovereign nation. You know? The one they call Brazil?

Yup. It's not ours. And Brazilians are understandably very defensive of people who try to say otherwise.

How is this helpful? How is it helpful if Americans and Western Europeans keep buying up land in the Amazon? How is this empowering local communities? How is this helping Brazilians build a better life? How is this fair or just?

Look, I'm worried about deforestation in the Amazon, too. But the ugly truth is, America and Western Europe completely deforested their land years ago. Why should we appropriate Brazil's land simply because they had the "misfortune" to be last in the major deforestation game?

What's the better solution here?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Armchair Activism- Getting Back Into It!

Okay, guys. I am SO sorry to have abandoned you all in my first challenge that I opened up to other people. I am a bad, bad challenge leader.

How has everyone been doing? Got any letters written? I know Megan has, but anyone else?

Here is the letter that I have written to the Obama campaign:

Dear Future President Obama,

I write future president, because, well I know the election is still a few weeks out, but the polls are looking darn good for you. So, hey, pre-congratulations!

Anyway, I know you'll have a lot on your plate come January, but I exhort you to make climate change a primary issue. 

I believe we need to (1) substantially increase federal funding for renewable resources in the model of the Apollo project. (2) We need to then enact a plan so that these renewable resources are also distributed to people in India and China.

But fundamentally, in the issue of climate change, we cannot treat the world as us versus them. This is not about the United States versus China. This is about the United States AND China. It is only if we act together, that we will ever be able to deal with the crisis the world is facing.

Thanks and good luck in November.

Rad Architecture

My good friend Avik is spending a year in Malawi helping to design a school there. Go check out his blog!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Trying Better

I'm sure none of you are aware of this at ALL (snicker), but I'm kind of a competitive person. I like to be the best at things, but when I can't be best, I grudgingly settle for really damn good. If I can't be really damn good something, I have a bad tendency of not doing it all. 

Well, last week, I went to my very first choir rehearsal in oh ... over ten years. Back in high school, choir was my life. My senior year of high school, I was in both the school choirs, AND I was vice-president of our choir society, AND I was an alto section-leader. I was hard core. And I loved it. I loved that I was able to help my choir, that I could lead the alto section, that people would stand next to me in rehearsal when they were having problems so that they could get the notes down. I loved singing, but a lot of my love of singing was wrapped up in being good.

But I haven't sung in years. I've lost my range. My ear, which used to be fantastic (being an alto will do that for you) is now pretty mediocre. I have no sight-reading ability. Hell, I have difficulties reading music!

Still, when I came to school I decided to join the choir. This was a huge part of who I was, and I love music. I love singing. I'd like to have this piece of me back.

So last week, I went to my first rehearsal. And ... I sucked. I really, really, REALLY sucked. First of all, the piece is an extremely difficult piece of Handel's that in a previous life I would have loved because it requires all of these crazy, intricate runs that have to be done in absolute precision. But in my current life, as a non-singer, it was seriously intimidating.

Secondly, the choir director kept pushing through to cover more and more music. After a couple vain attempts at sight-reading I basically gave up. And I have NEVER been that girl in the choir who stands mute while others sing around her. But I was.

Thirdly, and this kind of exacerbated everything, I was sick. So though I have lost most of my previous range, last week, my range was roughly half an octave.

By the end of rehearsal, I was a mess. I kept thinking, "I'm awful, and I can't sing, and what am I even doing?"

Today was the second rehearsal. And I almost didn't go back. "I'm busy, and I'm tired, and I don't feel like it," I told myself. "It's not fun." But the truth was I was scared. Scared of not being good. 

But, in the end, I pushed myself to go. To give it another chance.

And you know what? 

It was better. 

I'm still not good. 

But I'm better. And everything: the singing, the sight-reading, the hearing, the crazy runs? Was easier. And while no one leaned on me for singing support, I did sympathize with a couple of my fellow choir members who found the piece difficult, and helped them feel less alone.

I'm not going to be a leader of this choir. 

But I'm a participant.

And sometimes that's okay.

I think there's a broader lesson, somewhere, for me to learn. 

As I've been immersed in classes that have talked about the problems of Kyoto, GMO crops and everything in between, I've begun to feel a little well ... despairing. In one seminar, someone was talking about how food aid should be changed to promote self-sufficiency, and I wanted to throw my hands up in the air and be like, "Sure! Why don't you re-write the American food aid bill, and while you're at it, can you please re-write the farm aid bill? And maybe give us universal health care?" Sure it would be nice if American food aid were different, but it ain't gonna happen, the leadership isn't there, so what's the use of even raising the point? Just take the food aid. Or leave it. Most Americans won't know or care either way anyway.

But there is a use in raising the point. There is a point in trying. Even if you know it's not going to be good. Even if you know there's no way America will ever rewrite its food aid bill. Maybe something else will come of it. Maybe you'll learn how to better negotiate. Maybe you'll convince one person, and that person will be your ally. Maybe nothing will happen, but you'll know that you gave it a shot. That even if you weren't the best, you did show up and make your case.

And in the end, that's all any of us can do. Participate. And hope that our participation makes a small amount of good.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The APLS of My Eye

Hi all! 

So, as an administrative note, I just wanted to let you know that there is now an APLS poll up on the APLS blog. If you want to be involved in deciding the APLS name (will we remain affluent, or become aware, or aspiring?) then head on over to the APLS blog and vote! 

And in keeping with APLS, today I would like to feature two fellow APLS: 

Eco 'Burban Mom and Cath from VWXYNot.

Eco 'Burban Mom is from Michigan, and she has four (count 'em FOUR) boys. On the surface, she seems pretty different from me, and certainly our lives are very different. Hers, for instance, involve Little League games, whereas I haven't been to a Little League game in probably 20-odd years. But, at the same time, I think we CAN relate to each other much more than most people think. Because at base, our core philosophies are the same. We both do what we can, and then, we don't beat ourselves up over the rest. 

Cath, on the other hand, is a scientist living in Vancouver. I was really excited when Cath came aboard and started contributing to the APLS carnivals because unlike most of the other APLS, 
Cath isn't primarily an eco-blogger. Instead her blog is comprised of a variety of topics including and not limited to science, sustainability issues, religion, her cute cats, Facebook, and her cute cats. She also shares my insane love of tea. I'm really glad to see APLS spread beyond its eco-blogger boundaries, and I really hope to see more bloggers from different background participate in the months to come (hint, hint.)

In other news, I found a bulk-food store nearish and it is really awesome!! I was a little worried when I moved that it would take me a year to find all the resources I needed, since it took me about a year in LA. But I think the difference is, here I've been looking from day one, whereas in LA, I didn't. It's comforting to know that it's really not that hard to find the right resources when you are looking out for them.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

So, yesterday was my official one year blogiversary. I celebrated the day by taking off of blogging!! (I did do a LOT of reading though. Want to hear about what I think of Neo-Malthusian limits to growth? Huh? Huh?) 

But this week I wanted to do something! anything! special for my blogiversary. So, I said to myself, "Yes! Let's do something special!"

And because I am a fairly amiable person, I agreed with myself. "Yes! Let's!"

"Okay, what?"

"Ummmm, how about a merry-go-round!!!!!!"


"How about a caramel apple!!"

"It's a blogiversary not a carnival."


So anyway, the point is, I have no original ideas. So instead, this week, I'm going to spend my blogiversary week featuring other writers. Writers who have come after me, or before me. Writers who have made me laugh and cry. Writers who have pushed me to do better. Writers who make me hope for humanity. After all, blogging is about community and fostering connections.

So today, I'd like to feature two of my favorite writers who are embarking on new adventures.

Erin aka Burbanmom aka The Bulk is one of the funniest people on the blogosphere. For over a year, she's focused on making small changes in her life in order to live sustainably. And let me tell you, if you think the small stuff can't make a difference, Burbs will skool you. Seriously, she's dropped her outputs to something like 12% of the average American's. Anyway, I was really depressed when she went and retired and all. I lay in bed, eating Cheetos and watching Beaches, crying for the love of Burbanmom (and Barbara Hershey). Luckily for me, she's coming out of retirement to start a group blog called the Green Phone Booth. Hooray! And don't you ever leave me again, cuz those Cheetos are nasty! (And delicious. In a very bad, bad way.)

Joining her at the Green Phone Booth is Michelle aka Green Bean. Michelle is one of my bestest friends on the internets. We have those matching heart necklaces and everything. She's the "Be Fri" to my "st ends." We started off reading each others blogs regularly, and soon we were emailing each other back and forth, taking on group projects, and meeting up whenever I came to the Bay. Read her recent post "Survival of the Fittest" and you will know why I love this girl. And while I'm sad to see Green Bean Dreams end, I hope that a group blog may give her more chance to sleep, perchance to dream.

In other news, tea tree oil is a magic ointment. If you are having skin problems, try it. 

Happy Monday all!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Like Oh My God, You Guys

Um, guys? On Tuesday, when I was in class, I seriously almost started crying. No, the teacher wasn't mean, nor was I being beaten by sticks, nor did the class involve advanced regressions.

No, I felt like crying because the class was so AWESOME.

I know, I know I'm a nerd. But it was truly amazing, to be sitting in a class, to have the opportunity to take some time out and learn full-time.

My dad used to say that education is wasted on the young. At the time, I didn't know what he meant, but now I do. And though I'm not very old, I realize that taking a seven year break from education was the best thing I could have possibly done. Because now that I'm back in school, I appreciate it so much more than I ever did when I was younger.

The other day I had a meeting with my advisor, and I started babbling on and on and on as I am prone to do, and I suddenly landed on the topic of food: food security, farmers' markets, whether the rural sector can or should engage in non-agrarian work, or whether the global food economy will necessitate more people working in agriculture in the near future.

My advisor let me prattle on and on, and then told me that I wasn't going to find a class that dealt with food security, but maybe that's a good topic for my dissertation.

Um, really? Crap. I don't really KNOW anything about food security. I was just talking!

Except that's not true really. I don't know much about food security. But the truth is, I've learned a lot in the past year since I've started this blog. And for that I have to thank you. Each and every one of you. Because it weren't for you, if it weren't for teh internets, if it weren't for this blog, I would never have had the courage to do what I'm doing now. I would never have felt like I could hold my own in a new field. I would have felt ill-informed, and under-educated.

So from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thanks to ALL of you.

Sunday is my one year blogiversary. And in honor of that, I've got some special stuff planned next week. So stay tuned, and once again, thank you. You guys are the awesomest.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Another Perspective On Clean Coal

The subject of clean coal has come up quite a bit recently, on a couple blogs that I love and respect.

I considered shutting up, because what I am about to say is certainly not going to make me popular, but keeping quiet is really not my style.

Ok, ready? Primed to send me hate mail? Okay, here it is:

I support clean coal.

I know, I know, HOW COULD I!! But let me explain.

Coal is cheaper, and more abundant in many parts of the world, than oil. And as oil supplies continue to be depleted, I believe, pragmatically, that there is no way in heck that you are going to get people to take coal entirely off the table. And that is why any president of the United States HAS to support clean coal. Can you imagine what would happen at a climate change summit, if our president announced he didn't support clean coal? I'll tell you what. India (10% of the world's coal reserves) and China (12% of the world's coal reserves) would walk out. They'd call us eco-imperialists, and could you blame them? Here we go, use up a huge amount of oil reserves, WAY WAY WAY MORE than our fair share, and when oil becomes super expensive, we turn to India and China, and say, "Oh, that vast natural resource of yours? Yeah, don't use that."

You could argue that you can win an election without West Virginia, but there ain't no way you're winning climate change without India and China. And since India and China aren't giving up coal, we have to deal with coal as a pragmatic reality.

So let me explain what I mean by clean coal. When I say I support clean coal, I mean, I support carbon capture and storage. Read the Wikipedia article for more detail, but basically CCS aims to sequester and store carbon, rather than release the carbon in the atmosphere. Now CCS isn't an immediately viable solution. But just because it isn't immediately viable, does not mean that the government shouldn't invest in CCS in the hopes of making it viable within the next 25-40 years. Put it this way: If we know that India and China are going to continue to use coal indefinitely, would you rather have a government that sticks its head under the sand all, "Lalala, I can't HEAR you!" or would you rather have a government that tries to find a pragmatic solution, and thus invests in the R&D that India and China can't afford?

Now is clean coal the only solution? Or even the primary solution? Of course not. Our primary solutions need to be wind, solar, hydro, and simple energy reduction. But given that leading climate scientists believe that the carbon concentration in the atmosphere has to be brought down to 350 ppm, we simply cannot take ANYTHING off the table. Joe Romm says it more eloquently than me:

That’s why I believe it is utterly immoral not to aggressively pursue the development of any plausible low-carbon or zero-carbon technology that has the potential for large scale (several hundred gigawatt) deployment. And serious analysis, like McKinsey’s, says that coal with CCS could be economical by 2030. Moreover, a CCS power plant that runs on coal blended with cellulosic biomass is one of the most plausible carbon-negative forms of electricity you can imagine. So we must pursue the development of coal with CCS, which is what Obama and Biden and virtually every other energy/climate policymaker and analyst mean when they use the term.

And that's why I support CCS or clean coal. Now, look, I am not denying that coal extraction is a terrible, awful business and Crunchy and Erin are right to call attention to it. I'm not super thrilled to be supporting coal, I have to admit. But to me, this isn't about what I like and don't like. This is about what is pragmatic, what is politically feasible, and what is perhaps physically necessary. Enviros are never going to get anywhere by bullying people (or two billion people, as the case may be) around, and imposing our moral code upon others. Moreover, if CCS ever does allow us to produce carbon-negative electricity-and I admit, that we're not close to there right now- but if CCS DOES produce carbon-negative electricity? Then perhaps the process of coal extraction would be justified.

For more information on CCS, read Joe Romm's excellent articles here and here.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Go Forth And Contest!

Hi all. Um, I have a lot of reading to do. So kinda overwhelmed with that. And let's not talk about the fact that I still haven't bought pillows. Or that I've only half-unpacked. Basically, I'm a little bit of a disaster right now.

But instead of listening to me yammer on about how much reading I haven't done, why don't you go to Green Bean's page and participate in her APLS contest. Help us decide if the ever controversial "A" in APLS should stand for affluent, all, or something else all together.

If you need me, I'll be trying desperately to catch up on reading.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Kicking Riot 4 Austerity's A**

Well, after a month of traveling, living with relatives, and generally being subject to the whims of others, I have a place of my own. For the past month I've driven in cars, or not, I've eaten organic, or not. I've recycled, or not if my relatives didn't. Essentially, I've tried as much as possible to be as amenable a house guest as possible.

But now, I'm finally settled (well sorta) and it's time to start getting back in the enviro-groove, and start kicking a little riotous ass.

Now, as I'm in a dorm where electricity, gas, and water are all included, I'm not going to be able to do anything but a rough estimate, but, frankly, I'm not too perturbed. After all, for all the downsides to living in a room the size of a postage stamp, the upside is that it's incredibly sustainable.

Let's go to the categories shall we:

Transportation: This one should be super easy for me. I'm planning to walk to school most every day, so really, I'll only ever be using the bus or subway when I'm going somewhere else, or coming home late at night. And considering the price of taxis, I am probably almost never going to get into a car! I have a feeling that I can get this down to 10% usage.

Electricity: Like I said, I won't actually know how much electricity I'm using. But seriously. What is going to be using up much electricity? There's a mini-fridge. Some lights. Maybe the TV and the laptop and the cell phone now and then? One of the super-cool things about England is that as far as I can tell, most outlets have switches so you can turn the outlet off and on. It's an easy way to save that electricity without having to keep everything unplugged. Anyway, like I said, no way of knowing how much electricity I'll be using. But considering I was down to 10% in my palatial-by-comparison apartment in LA, I'm guessing this should be at or less than 10% usage.

Heating & Cooking Fuel: The stove and oven are electric, so I think we're only talking about the radiator here (which I'm assuming is gas.) I figured out how to turn off the heat in my room, and have kept it off ever since. I'm not sure I'll be able to keep it off all year, but for now, the ambient heat from the rest of the dorm is more than enough for me. I mean seriously. I'm in a long sleeve tee-shirt right now and I'm hot. I'm guessing I'll be at 10% or less, at least until it starts getting much colder.

Garbage: This one is not so hot right now as I am awash with all the crap they give you when you start school. I'm hoping this will go back to normal levels soon enough.

Water: Again no clue, but considering we're talking about showering, washing dishes, flushing, and cooking and drinking, I'm guessing this will be fairly reasonable. The huge advantage to having my own bathroom? I don't have to keep the toilet flushed at all times for other members of the household.

Consumer Goods: This one will be uphill for a bit while I get settled. I've so far only bought used stuff, but eventually I'm going to have to buy some of the things new that I can't find used. I *still* haven't got pillows yet, so I've been sleeping on a balled up sweatshirt. No fun.

Food: Well the good news is I found a little organic foods store about five minutes away from my dorm! And the woman who works there is suuuuuper nice. Seriously. When I couldn't find any fair trade sugar, she went ahead and ORDERED some for me, and told me it would come in Wednesday. Sweet! Literally. The bad news is that there aren't any bulk bins in the store, so right now I'm buying food in plastic packaging. Also, even if there were bulk bins, I don't have any empty containers to put food in, so I guess I better finish off the organic yogurt fast. Hopefully, I'll be able to check out the farmers' market this weekend. Luckily they run year round in London!

And that's it. All in all, I think I'm well positioned. But let's see how I do. I'll let you know in a month or so.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Yes Virginia, It Is Possible For a Non-Consumer To Furnish Her New Place

What can £45 get you in London?

Well, yesterday it got me 15 wooden hangers, a digital TV box and remote control, a stock pot, six bowls, 6 small plates, 3 big plates, a set of kitchen knives, a ladle and a spaghetti spoon doohickey, a garlic press, an ice cream scoop, some kitchen shears, assorted knives, forks, and spoons, a cheese grater, and a small frying pan. And a wok. And a lasagna pan. And three huge mugs and a few wine glasses. And five water glasses. And half the kitchen stuff and the digital TV box had never actually been touched.

God I love buying used.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Don't Try This At Home

So because I finally have a home, today I moved two of my suitcases from my relatives' home to my new digs. I had it all planned out, and this was going to be easy peasy. My suitcases both rolled, and there's a tube station mere feet from my dorm. No problem, right?

Well, as it turned out ... the tube station mere feet from my dorm was closed. For the weekend. So I had to get out a station early and revise my plans.

It was raining and cold out, and so my first instinct was to maybe find a cab. Except that there didn't seem to be very many empty cabs on the street. Then I started wondering about buses, but I had no idea which bus to take. At this point, some dude, who was theoretically a cab driver, wandered up to me and asked me if I needed a cab.

I eyed him kind of suspiciously. I mean, if he was a cab driver, where was his cab? 

"Yeah, kinda," I responded. "Will you take me to X Station?"

"X Station? Sure, sure, that will be £10."

"£10!! It's a 10 minute walk."

"Sure, if you want to walk it in the rain!"

Um, okay, first of all, WHERE is his cab? Second of all, how does he know it will be £10 without running a meter? Is £10 extortionate for a ten minute walk, or are cabs plated in freaking gold in Britain? Needless to say, I wasn't going to find out. If you know me, you know what I proceeded to do.

I jutted my chin out defiantly and asked him to show me how to get to X Station.

Disbelievingly, he pointed out the street I need to take.

I thanked him, and headed up the street.

Might I remind you that I had TWO suitcases with me? And that a half mile walk without suitcases is quite different from a half mile WITH suitcases?

But I did it. I mean, my arms felt like they were going to fall off by the end, but I did it. And hey, I saved money, carbon emissions, and got some exercise all at the same time!

I mean, I don't recommend that you walk .6 miles with two suitcases. I would imagine you aren't as hasty or as impetuous or stubborn as I am. A sane and rational person would no doubt have figured out which BUS to take. 

But, I mean really, since when have I been sane and rational? My craziness is half my charm! 

At least that's what I'll be telling myself tomorrow when I wake up tomorrow with incredibly sore arms.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Dear Blog

I have a lot of things to catch you up on. Like, hey, I'm not homeless anymore! I managed to get a "studio apartment" in a dorm. It is costing me a bajillion dollars, and it's the size of a very, very small hotel room, and it FEELS like a hotel, but I can walk to class! I "moved" in yesterday, and I say "moved" in, because literally, I have a sheet on the bed, a comforter, and a few pairs of underwear in a drawer. 

Now I'm trying to deal with how to find dishes and pots and pans and hangers and all that other brilliant stuff.

It is SO tempting to just go to a giant Tesco and buy all of this stuff and have it done with. But, I'm not. At least, I'm not right now. Ask me again in six weeks when I'm still searching for knives. 

Instead, I've signed up on Freecycle. I'm scouring Gumtree, and I'll probably hit up my local Oxfam store when I figure out where my local Oxfam store is.

The thing that I've been missing the most lately is Trader Joes. Sniff. Because frankly, I have no idea where in London I can get my eco-Soaps, dishwashing detergent, etc. Trader Joes, why do you only exist in the US?! Okay, probably what keeps you awesome is that you are a relatively small non-multi-national company but still. 

Speaking of multi-national companies, the first day I arrived in Britain, I went to Tesco with my British relatives for groceries. And when I walked in, I was kinda amazed. Like here was this store with clothing, and books, and electronics and stuff, and it also had a FULL grocery section. "Wow," I thought, "This place is like a Super Target only BIGGER than Super Target!"

Heh. What I didn't realize until I started reading The End of Food by Paul Roberts is that Tesco is basically the UK's version of Walmart. Of course, I didn't think to compare Tesco to Walmart, because shockingly, I've never actually been inside a Walmart. (Once, on a trip in an RV, we slept in a Walmart parking lot, but I didn't venture in the store.) Sadly, that claim to fame is now ruined, since I've been to Tesco like 10 times in the past week. 

Anyway, I'll try and be back full time next week, though it's the first week of classes and I still have no clothes hangers, so I shouldn't make any promises. If anyone knows anywhere I can get eco-dishwashing detergent and such in London, please let me know! And those of you in the US, give your Trader Joe's a big fat kiss on the lips for me.