Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

Grew up drinking it, never got sick from it. Buying it these days when I can (spendy stuff). Too bad I don’t have any neighbors who want to keep a couple of goats. 🙂

Find your own! Not convinced? Try this article, of which I’ve excerpted about 20%

Invariably, whenever raw milk is condemned, pasteurization is presented as the only path to salvation from milk-borne pathogens such as E. coli 0157:H7. Interestingly, however, the official government anti-raw milk statements and reports never seem to mention the numerous outbreaks of food-related illness associated with pasteurized milk that also occur every year. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that pasteurized milk may even be more likely to cause illness than the raw stuff.

In one dispatch from Emerging Infectious Diseases, the CDC’s monthly bulletin, investigators discuss an April 2000 outbreak of multiple drug resistant Salmonella enterica in Pennsylvania and New Jersey in which 93 people became ill with bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping, fever, and vomiting after drinking pasteurized milk. Six people were hospitalized, and the bacteria was eventually traced back to a source the report identifies as “dairy plant X,” where it was determined that unsanitary conditions had contaminated the milk after pasteurization. The report also makes reference to eight other pasteurized milk-related outbreaks spanning the last 25 years, plus a table listing still others.

Of course, other foods can–and very frequently do–make us sick. Seventy-six million Americans are felled by food-borne illnesses each year, the CDC reports. Some 325,000 of those so sickened are hospitalized, and 5,000 die. Chew on that while considering that the FDA says raw milk-related illnesses sickened “more than 300 people” in 2001 and “nearly 200” in ’02.

There is actual science behind romantic-sounding notions of living milk and its white-hat bacteria. … Organic Pastures owner Mark McAfee … hired an independent lab to introduce pathogens into raw milk from his dairy to see what would happen. He duplicated the test in his own lab, using his own diagnostic equipment. “We looked at salmonella, E. coli 0157:H7, listeria, and tuberculosis,” … “In every case, the pathogen levels either did not increase or disappeared entirely.” … In other words, the raw milk killed the bad bugs.

It’s a startling fact that E. coli 0157:H7, the most lethal food-borne pathogen of all, did not exist before 1982. It apparently evolved in the acid guts of feedlot cattle standing around all day in their own feces, eating a diet of stuff the cows’ systems were never designed to accommodate. We, the American people, with our oxymoronic national obsession with cheap abundance created one of the most lethal food-borne pathogens in nature, or are at least responsible for perverting nature to create the conditions that allowed it to evolve.

What I learned both disturbed and frightened me. … Once milk leaves the farm it goes to a processing plant where it is essentially remade during a process that few ever witness. A Los Angeles Times reporter made it into one such plant back in 2000 and describes the procedure:

:: First it is separated in centrifuges into fat, protein, and various other solids and liquids. Once segregated, these are reconstituted to various levels for whole, lowfat, and no-fat milks. What is left over will go to butter, cream, cheese, dried milk, and a host of other milk products. Of the reconstituted milks, whole milk will most closely approximate original cow’s milk. When fat is removed, it is replaced with protein- and vitamin-rich skimmed milk powder or concentrate. Standardization also ensures that the milk is consistent: that one glass of any given type tastes exactly like the next.::

The article goes on to state, “Once processed, the milk will last for weeks, not days.” Because of this extended shelf life … and the expensive facilities required to create it, milk processing has become increasingly centralized. … 70 percent of the nation’s milk supply is produced by four large corporations: Nearly one-third of America’s milk–30 percent–comes from one processor alone. Small family-owned dairy farms, which for centuries provided the nation’s milk supply on nearby pasture, have difficulty competing with factory-farmed milk. In 2002, 16 dairy farms went out of business each day, according to an article in U.S. News and World Report.

[later in the article, the author says “Currently, dairy farmers get about $1 per gallon for their milk–about the same earned at the close of World War II. If they were able to sell raw milk directly to consumers, they’d get about six times that amount.”]

Milk from cows fed on grain all or even most of the time has fewer beneficial components like omega-3 fatty acids, fewer beneficial microbes, and even reduced amounts of plain old protein and vitamins: All these occur in abundance in milk from grass-fed cows. To put it plainly, pasteurized or not, today’s industrially farmed milk from grain-fed cows kept in confinement facilities or grassless feedlots has fewer nutrients and more potential for contamination than milk from traditionally raised dairy cows.

Of course, there are still quality-conscious dairy farmers out there producing excellent milk from healthy herds for the conventional milk market, but, unfortunately, during processing their milk gets mixed in with that of the factory dairies’. Paying extra for organic milk may or may not ensure better quality; the only difference between the milk from Horizon Organics, which owns more than half of the nation’s organic milk market, and that from any feedlot dairy is that Horizon’s cows eat organic instead of conventionally grown grain while crowded together in their grassless pens, and when they get sick (as do many cows living in these conditions do; mastitis, for example, affects an estimated 40 percent of the U.S. dairy herd) they don’t get antibiotics–they get slaughtered.

The way conventional milk is processed doesn’t help matters. When milk is heated to 161 degrees for 15 seconds, as is done in HTST (high temperature short time) pasteurization, the process not only kills the bad bacteria but also the many beneficial (probiotic) bacteria that proliferate in raw milk, along with enzymes that aid in digesting and metabolizing the milk (hello, lactose intolerance) and infection-fighting antibodies. In addition, C- and B-complex vitamins and minerals like zinc and iron are reduced or destroyed through pasteurization. In fact, standard pasteurization reduces the calcium content of milk by 21 percent.

A newer and increasingly popular process, UHT (ultra-high temperature) pasteurization takes milk to 285 degrees Fahrenheit for two seconds, and then flash cools it. This process, also called ultrapasteurization, denatures milk even further than the standard method but extends its shelf life exponentially.

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A permaculturist explores the cultural affordances of foraging vs horticulture vs agriculture. Fascinating.


Even if we note these structural problems with agriculture, the shift from foraging at first glance seems worth it because—so we are taught—agriculture allows us the leisure to develop art, scholarship, and all the other luxuries of a sophisticated culture. This myth still persists even though for 40 years anthropologists have compiled clear evidence to the contrary. A skilled gatherer can amass enough wild maize in three and a half hours to feed herself for ten days. One hour of labor can yield a kilogram of wild einkorn wheat.(7) Foragers have plenty of leisure for non-survival pleasures. The art in the caves at Altamira and Lascaux, and other early examples are proof that agriculture is not necessary for a complex culture to develop. In fact, forager cultures are far more diverse in their arts, religions, and technologies than agrarian cultures, which tend to be fairly similar.(3) And as we know, industrial society allows the least diversity of all, not tolerating any but a single global culture.

The damage done by agriculture is social and political as well. A surplus, rare and ephemeral for foragers, is a principal goal of agriculture. A surplus must be stored, which requires technology and materials to build storage, people to guard it, and a hierarchical organization to centralize the storage and decide how it will be distributed. It also offers a target for local power struggles and theft by neighboring groups, increasing the scale of wars. With agriculture, power thus begins its concentration into fewer and fewer hands. He who controls the surplus controls the group. Personal freedom erodes naturally under agriculture.

Horticulture is the most efficient method known for obtaining food, measured by return on energy invested. Agriculture can be thought of as an intensification of horticulture, using more labor, land, capital, and technology. This means that agriculture, as noted, usually consumes more calories of work and resources than can be produced in food, and so is on the wrong side of the point of diminishing returns. That’s a good definition of unsustainability, while horticulture is probably on the positive side of the curve. Godesky (10) believes this is how horticulture can be distinguished from agriculture. It may take several millennia, as we are learning, but agriculture will eventually deplete planetary ecosystems, and horticulture might not.

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We have to get beyond this obsession with running the cars by other means. The future is not just about motoring. We have to make other arrangements comprehensively for all the major activities of daily life in this nation.

We’ll have to grow our food differently. The ADM/Monsanto/Cargill model of industrial-scale agribusiness will not survive … pouring oil-and-gas-based fertilizers and herbicides on the ground to grow all the cheez doodles and hamburgers. As oil and gas deplete, we will be left with sterile soils and farming organized at an unworkable scale. Many lives will depend on our ability to fix this.

We will find out the hard way that we can’t afford to dedicate our crop lands to growing grains and soybeans for ethanol and biodiesel. A Pennsylvania farmer put it this way to me last month: “It looks like we’re going to take the last six inches of Midwest topsoil and burn it in our gas tanks.” The disruptions to world grain supplies by the ethanol mania are just beginning to thunder through the system. Last months there were riots in Mexico City because so much Mexican corn is now being already being diverted to American ethanol production that poor people living on the economic margins cannot afford to pay for their food staples.

You can see, by the way, how this is a tragic extension of our obsession with running all the cars.

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Once again, Phil Agre comes out and says, far more eloquently than I could, some things I’ve been thinking lately and takes them a few steps further:

The need for a new culture.
–Phil Agre, excerpted from RRE News

The world is being swept by new materials, including computational devices that can be embedded into anything. These new materials are full of knowledge; far more knowledge goes into the average hunk of steel, glass, fabric, computer circuitry, display screen now than ten years ago. If you look around at a hundred sectors of industry, you see people exploring a world of new design options.

What’s missing from this picture is the most important kind of
knowledge: the knowledge of how to live. We have an opportunity to redesign our lives, and I want to argue for a new culture in which we use this wave of new materials to reinvent the way we live. We’re at a crossroads. We can be good little consumers and buy all the shiny commodities, or we can be active participants in shaping the culture.

This active design orientation has a precedent in the Internet world; the Internet is designed so that end users can build on top of it, and the Internet’s development has repeatedly headed in unexpected directions because of the ways that end users have taken hold of it. We need to bring that orientation home and apply it to a much wider range of technologies.

Knowing how to live has many facets: having a purpose, being useful, evolving rituals instead of ruts, advancing professionally without tearing oneself apart, keeping in touch, using TV and other drugs in moderation, physical and mental health, balance, cultivating tastes, eating the right things, standing for something, and advancing the art of having a life. But I want to consider a few aspects in particular.

Quiet. Access to computers will soon be a solved problem, but access to quiet is something else. All sorts of machinery can be made more quiet with new materials and computer-intensive methods of vibration analysis. This includes HVAC and compressors generally. And noise-cancellation devices will soon be cheap enough to scatter everywhere. It’s time to start auditing our homes, workplaces, and public spaces for noise. Some noises are good. Others are bad. We’ve gotten used to too many unnecessary bad noises.

Indoor air quality. We know that indoor air is choked with fumes
from carpets, paint, and plastics. The problem isn’t getting solved because it’s invisible, but we’ll soon be able to get small devices that automatically analyze the air. Then we’ll be in a position to force the issue.

Adverse selection. Homes today are designed to look good for the half-hour you spend on the tour, instead of what they’ll be like to live in. When everyone is online we can help people find other people who live in similar houses from the same builder, and a lot of new questions can come to the surface. What would it be like to have a service that enables people to communicate based on the stuff they own on common, or are thinking of buying? It’s an easy problem on a technical level and tough on a social level. You have to deal with privacy issues, spammers, and perverse incentives. But maybe there’s a way.

Intellectual life. In a world of terabyte databases and superabundant bandwidth it’ll be much easier to explore the art, music, and ideas of the world. We’ll be able to discover what we really find interesting and what we really care about. And it’ll be much easier to find other people who care about the same thing. Then will we we make time?

Boundaries. As cell phones mature into always-on technologies
that keep us connected to everyone else, we’ll have incredible power to keep in touch. But we’ll also have to decide where to draw the line. E-mail addiction will move from the desktop to restaurants, vacations, recreation, and the middle of the night. We’ll have to set boundaries: at which points exactly during your kids’ Saturday soccer game are you letting them down if you’re hooked to a device and not to them?

The tidal wave of new materials can be used to amplify the negative forces that are pushing the world out of balance. And that is the most likely outcome unless a new culture of living well takes root. We can drive ourselves into fragmented, hyper-competitive, over-scheduled lives, or we can learn how to use the new technologies positively to design healthy lives of involvement and balance.

This exploratory period of new technologies is important: technical standards are a parliament of early adopters. Companies produce products, but only real people in their real homes can tell what’s useful, and only real people in their real lives can understand how the pieces fit together. People with a strong design orientation lead the market and effectively make choices for everyone else. That’s why we need a movement of creative people designing good lives for themselves, and why we need it now.

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