Monday, December 31, 2007

499,191,000,000 ---> 500,???,???,???

Here's the (now) annual report of plastic bag usage for the year, courtesy of The numbers change too fast for the eye to take in, and there are 14 hours left of 2007. Over 1 million plastic bags are being used per minute! Is there good news? As we see more petroleum go into landfills, via the plastic bag waste (those that aren't flying through the air or forming huge masses in the Pacific Ocean) there any good news? As usual, there's goodnews/badnews. The progressive growth of packaging and overpackaging seems to rise inexorably. China (and all manufacturers): and WalMart (and all sources of retail goods that put cheap above sustainable quality): change! We are ready to take more responsibility for the Earth, but we need your help.

Where's the good news? More ways to recycle (and freecycle); more stores offering reusable bags at next to no cost (Shaws sells cloth bags at $1.00 each!); a new understanding of the plastic bottle problem, leading to a major campaign in New York City, for instance, to put tap water in reusable bottles.

At VitaSource, we have been very successful at selling water bottles -- stainless steel and polycarbonate (yes, each of those has many questions too, but it's an important step). At the store, customer donated bags, both plastic and paper, have replaced all new bag purchases, giving them a few more times around for reuse before they end up in (thank you) supermarket recycling bins. Still, I hope to see many more cloth bags in hand in 2008.

Doesn't it all tie together? All the little homely things we can do at the bottom of the pyramid creating the energy for municipalities and nations, giant retailers and manufacturers to make the changes for less burden on this energy-exhausted world? 2008: lots of work to do on alternative energy sources, saving soil and water to build health all over the world...the least we can do as individuals is reduce use of plastic, especially bags and bottles, choose organics to support the growth of a healthier use of resources, and more honesty -- personally, interpersonally, nationally, globally.

PS Just one more plug -- a simple way you can support recycling, literacy and libraries: buy used books from BetterWorld (with free shipping in the US). Good folks!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Empire of Tea

I've been reading this book, "the remarkable history of the plant that took over the world," by Alan and Iris Macfarlane. It's a wealth of history, economics, sociology, and much more. Read the book for all of those. I want to call attention to their reference to a comment written in 1879:

the style of the conversation depends very much on the kind of tea that the housewife pours for the guests. If it be genuine Young Hyson...the talk will be fresh and spirited and sunshiny. If it be...Gunpowder, the conversation will be explosive and somebody's reputation will be killed before you get through. If it be green may expect there will be a poisonous effect in the conversation and the moral health damaged.

Wow! What assumptions! Now, I do notice a bit of typing in the people who buy bulk teas from me, particularly those who choose Lapsang Souchong, the very aromatic smoked tea. They're a strong, individualistic crew (if I had to make that determination). Otherwise, I could say that people who go to the trouble of brewing tea from leaf are morally superior...but how difficult can making a good pot of tea be, really?

What does fascinate me here is how scathing is the judgement of green tea. Now that we know so much about the antioxidant, anticancer, etc. properties of green tea, we choose to drink it (or take it in supplement form) for its benefits. Now that we know about the amino acid theanine, which elevates mood and focuses the mind, we have greater appreciation for this delicate cup of tea -- and the lower caffeine levels we get.

So what's the basis of his judgment? He is speaking from Victorian England, "things Japanese" are in vogue, and tea has changed English life. Still I wonder if this may be a racist judgement: the English, after all, are drinking black tea!

As a footnote: A woman in her 90's used to buy green tea from me by the pound. She told me that when she grew up here in Keene NH, green tea was what was widely used, and black tea took over later, maybe after World War II. Was it the "secret" of her long life?

Choosing to fail?

This week's New York Times Science section is full of fascinating and provocative articles. From their blog: "The less effective a beauty product or treatment, the more likely women are to keep using it," referring to a study of 300 women. My train of thought leads to my observation of people like a woman I spoke to today: She wants grape seed extract for her daughter, who has asthma; also probiotics. Why? She has heard/read that it will help her get more oxygen, maybe get off her inhaler. Hmmm....both of these will help just about anyone improve overall health, but asthma? I showed her a few things I thought might be more directly beneficial, gave her information and a web site so she can look at well founded explanations of how these may work. Why does she pursue the original goal? I didn't ask for the source of this suggestion. Was it TV, a piece of junk mail, something she just heard? Has she tried to confirm what it is used for, whether it is safe with her daughter's medication...Have they questioned diet, allergies, environmental factors? Did I help her or enable her ignorance? Is she like the women in the study who choose to pursue a dead end rather than find the way to a better outcome?

WANT TO GOODSEARCH? Yahoo's search engine lets you donate to a non-profit whenever you search. Just enter Animaterra as the chosen charity when you use Goodsearch, and the women's chorus in Keene which I sing with will benefit -- and you'll have the same reliable search you would be using anyway...and 50 wonderful women will thank you! How easy does it get?