Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Me So Corny - By Annie Bell (Blue Egg)

King Corn producers and Yale graduates Ian Cheney, who’s from Massachusetts, and Curtis Ellis, who’s from Oregon, decided that their post-collegiate cross-country trip should include a stop in Iowa to plant an acre of corn. Why not just eat and drink their way through diners and local bars in blissful ignorance? “When you’re graduating from college, you want to think that you know something about the world,” says Ellis. “To realize that we knew nothing about the middle of our own country and about where the stuff that we’re eating all the time comes from—it seemed like something we ought to look into if we were going to keep eating this stuff.”

Their movie, which is in select theaters now, documents the guys learning how to plant corn and discovering that farm subsidies have made the crop cheap and corn by-products ubiquitous. They visit Earl Butz, the former Secretary of Agriculture who changed policy to favor overproduction of corn, and Michael Pollan makes an appearance to talk about the ramifications of such a market.

Ellis explains, “The subsidy system promotes corn production often beyond demand. The result of that is that there is a glut of corn on the market and the raw material for making all of these processed foods is incredibly cheap. The price of high fructose corn syrup is infinitesimally small, because that corn costs so little and you can make a substance that is so sweet. So you can now have a 72-ounce soda that’s a buck—and you could never do that with cane sugar.”

Though corn prices have risen since the two were working on their one-acre farm, Cheney says the whole system is a problem: “Cheap corn put in place a system that we’re hooked on. People who raise cattle were lured in by the economic logic of feeding their cows cheap corn, and now they’re dedicated to this system of raising their cattle on cheap corn. I read about one farmer in Idaho who is now feeding his cows tater tot scraps.” Ellis can’t help himself: “It’s like the burger eating the French Fries.”

They answered some starch-free questions for Blue Egg.

Have your diets changed since making King Corn?Cheney:

After visiting a confinement cattle feeding operation and then having stared at the footage for two years, it becomes pretty hard to disconnect that from your hamburger. And that is arguably what the hamburger industry thrives on—no one knowing where their food comes from. Ellis: It doesn’t taste good anymore—that’s the worst part. Because you know what goes into a hamburger. It sucks because I used to really love hamburgers.

When I read about the movie, I assumed you were going to get nasty with big agriculture. But you didn’t.Ellis:

I think it’s easy to imagine things as simpler as they are. When we got to Iowa and actually spent a year growing corn, we learned the system we have in place is complicated and we didn’t have all the answers. Pointing fingers didn’t make sense. The big grain companies are responsible because they process all of this cheap corn into sugars that down the line make people sick. But we’re the people down the line and we’re responsible for buying this stuff. The Congress is intimately responsible because they’re the ones passing the Farm Bill. It just didn’t feel fair of us to come in and point fingers when we were there to learn. Cheney: It might have been an easier story to point out that big grain companies make huge profits from cheap corn while selling people nutritionally useless food. But the more intriguing story is that the mechanism that allows this system to happen is this boring legislation called the Farm Bill, which we all pay for. And that’s a story that’s more surprising and maybe even more important because we can complain about big grain companies, but we can actually change something like the Farm Bill.

What eco accomplishment are you most proud of?Ellis:

Starting the recycling program in my elementary school. Cheney: When I was in college, one of my best friends who edited the film, Jeff Miller and I would dress up every April 15 in goofy tights and funny hats and bike around this dumpster on wheels saying hilarious things about encouraging people to recycle. And to this day I still have people tell me that when they have a can and they think about recycling it, they think about that day and laugh and enjoy recycling that much more. It was a simple message: nobody likes to be told what to do to clean up their act, but of you tell it to them in a roundabout and humorous way…

What eco sin are you most proud of?Ellis:

I drove a 40-year old Volvo across the country last summer and burned 20 quarts of oil in the process.Cheney: Sending our corn off to become burgers and sodas. Not spending a year growing healthful food.

What’s the one tradeoff you’d rather not make no matter how good it is for the environment? Cheney:

Traveling to see wonderful parts of the world. Ellis: My big family, my older siblings. It would be good for the environment to get rid of my five older siblings, but…

If it would get you where you needed to go, would you prefer to walk, bike, or bus?Ellis: Walk.Cheney:

Bike. Bicycles are awesome.Whom would you choose to be your carpool buddy and why?Ellis: Ian. We’ve been carpool buddies for a long time now.Cheney: Oh yes. We have learned how to be in cars together for a really long time.

What’s the one easy thing you do for the environment that you wish everyone else would do?Cheney:

I ask a lot of questions every day about where the food I eat comes from. Ellis: Saying “no” to a bag when I have one item or less.Any books, articles, or websites you would recommend?Cheney: The Environmental Working Group is an important resource. I like this great book by Richard Manning called Against the Grain. Ellis: Yeah that is the book that started it all but nobody has read it. [I would add] Wes Jackson’s Altars of Unhewn Stone and Becoming Native to This Place. Cheney: The Land Institute is awesome—a revolutionary way of thinking about the middle of our country.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Adventure Ride

Adventure ride
By Annie Muzaurieta

This weekend I ended up at a church tag sale in Connecticut. Among the standard tag-sale items—dusty boardgames, slightly broken sleds, refurbishable pieces of furniture—was a bike. This bike was bright turquoise—except for the rusty spots—and it looked about 20-years-old. It squeaked a bit when I took it for a test ride, and the metal frame was crooked. When the vendors told me they were offering it for $8, I was sold. Had it not been a church tag sale raising money for charity, I probably would’ve just offered to remove it from the property.

I had been thinking about purchasing a bicycle ever since I rented one with some friends over the summer. I had a blast riding around New York City, feeling like I was partaking in an adventure sport. But I was nervous about parking it and locking it. And what if it starts raining midday? What if I have extra bags to carry home? The $8 price tag enabled me to put the fear aside and try it out.

When I rode my new—well really old, but new to me—bike to work for the first time today, I felt proud. I’m glad I purchased a used bike, and now I could quickly get to work in an environmentally responsible way (I usually take public transportation, but since I’m only one stop away…). I wasn’t contributing to greenhouse gases or noise pollution, and the short commute even got my heart rate up, though that might have been due to the number of taxis racing up Eighth Avenue with me.

But I felt cool, too. When fellow cycle commuters and bike messengers rode near me, I imagined I was part of an elite club. I was able to move swiftly through traffic, hardly having to stop at a red light. Over the past few months, whenever I told someone that I would love to ride a bike to work, the response was usually “I’d be too scared to ride in the City.” I was now a part of the roughly 11 percent of brave New Yorkers who bike or walk to work.

With the relatively new bike lanes that Mayor Bloomberg has put in place, I had a clear path to ride on. The cars even seemed, well, respectful of the special lanes. And several websites such as Transportation Alternatives and NYC Bike Maps offer detailed bike pathway information to make trips easier.

I’m really looking forward to riding home tonight down Ninth Avenue, where 10-foot-wide bike lanes have been carved out as an experiment, using parked cars as a buffer from traffic.

Provided my bike is still there, of course.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

How To Roast a Pig Shoulder

Frankie P. narrates the first of a three part series on how to roast a pig using the Caja China. This specific pig was roasted for Congress woman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen as part of a fundraiser. In this video Frank shows us how to marinate the Pig Shoulders with Malta

Pig Roast 2007

How To Roast a Pig Shoulder Part II

In part two of this ground breaking pig roasting series Frank teaches you how to set up the digital thermometer.

How to Roast a PIg Shoulder Part III

Part Three shows you how to "say bye bye to the pig".

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Dutch Chocolate Fountain

My chocolate fountain dream came true at Sandy and Jeff's post wedding party.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Social-Networking Diet

The Social-Networking Diet
New Nutrition Sites EmployMessage Boards, Friends ListsTo Help Users Lose Weight
By JOSEPH DE AVILAOctober 10, 2007; Page D1
Jennifer Wood used to be an overweight, emotional eater who snacked on ice cream and junk food during her weak moments. Then one day, Ms. Wood, 29 years old, and her mother bet on who could drop the most weight. The loser had to buy tickets for the ballet. To get motivated, Ms. Wood joined a Web site called
Almost two years later and 50 pounds lighter, Ms. Wood, an underwriting assistant in St. Louis, says she has changed her lifestyle for the better thanks in part to Calorie-Count, a nutrition site that offers social networking, too. She says she is eating a healthier diet, running and cycling regularly and wearing a size six. "Mom was successful, too, but I won," she says.
Online social-networking sites for niche groups have been multiplying, looking to piggyback on the success of MySpace and Facebook Inc. by offering content tailored for their users. Now there are several health and nutrition sites that incorporate social networking, including Calorie-Count,, and PEERtrainer Inc.
The sites offer a range of weight-loss tools and nutrition information, and let users share tips and advice with one another. Features include personal profiles, groups or message boards based on interests, and the ability to make "friends" with other users.
The sites -- which are free and generally support themselves with advertising -- have grown in popularity as Americans increasingly turn to the Web for health information. Since September 2006, Calorie-Count and its new enhanced version, Calorie-Count Plus, together have added 400,000 new members, for a total of 620,000. Calorie-Count is a subsidiary of New York Times Co.'s PEERtrainer -- found at -- says its membership has reached more than 900,000 since its launch in 2005. (DietTV was launched in June.)

The sites offer some testimonials with success stories like Ms. Wood's. And a handful of studies suggest that online dieting programs in general can be effective. But no research has been done on whether these particular sites help people lose weight and keep it off. Some nutrition experts are skeptical of the online-networking model. For one, they say, any advice coming from a peer-to-peer forum online should be viewed with caution; there is the potential for fellow dieters to spread misinformation or bad advice. Also, spammers sometimes bombard the sites with fad-diet advertisements.

Tara Gidus, a registered dietician and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, notes that while chatting and making friends online can help users form support groups, it also can be a time waster. "I think more people talk about diet and exercise than they actually do it," she says.
No Time to Meet
Going in person to dieting support groups and working with a licensed nutritionist is more likely to be effective, says Carmen Martinez, a registered dietician and the bionutrition director for the University of Southern California's General Clinical Research Center. The problem with that, she says, is that many dieters say they don't have the time to visit support groups and don't want to pay to see a nutritionist.

That's where these new sites try to fill the void. Generally, the sites say that they work with physicians and nutritionists to ensure that the information provided is accurate. And they say they monitor message boards to identify and remove spam. Habib Wicks, chief executive of PEERtrainer, also says that the site removes ads when users complain about them.
Lisa Langsdorf, a spokeswoman for Calorie-Count, says that if a user spots inaccurate info on the site and brings it to the company's attention, officials will take it down. The company also says it doesn't promote any particular diet.

Daily Calorie Log
Calorie-Count offers editorial content written by professionals such as registered dieticians and medical doctors, says Ms. Langsdorf. And it provides weight-loss tools: Users can create a daily log on their profiles to track their caloric intake. There is a database with nutritional information on more than 70,000 different foods, which Calorie-Count says includes data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, restaurants and food manufacturers.

There is also a tool that lets users swap recipes and another section -- designed by a personal trainer -- where users can design an exercise regimen according to their experience level.
DietTV assesses a number of popular diets, ranging from Atkins to South Beach to the "Fat Smash Diet," and then aims to help users find one that suits their tastes and needs. Users get a list of diets that might fit their profile based, for example, on how often they want to eat carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, or meat and dairy products. The site will put users on a 14-day meal plan according to the selected diet, providing recipes for each meal it suggests. It also has motivational videos that feature tips for dieters.

Chief Executive Ken Seiff says DietTV doesn't have business ties with any of the diets that the site features, but it does accept advertisements from some diets. The company says it offers an assessment of each diet conducted by a registered nutritionist, and provides reviews from people who have tried the diets.

Forming Groups
PEERtrainer, founded in 2005, focuses heavily on the online community aspect. Users can join small groups with a limit of four members based on their lifestyle. For instance, there are groups called "Moms With Small Children," "Emotional Eating" and "Dancers Losing Weight." These groups can be formed with geographical preferences so that members can meet in person, or they can be formed by people all over the country who might check in once a week with each other.

There are also "teams" on the site that have no limits to the number of members who can join. A team called "Weekly Weigh In, Daily Accountability" has about 750 members.
Shelly Meinhardt, a 44-year-old freelance writer from Eagan, Minn., says she has been a "professional dieter" for several years who was never able to keep her weight off. She joined PEERtrainer this past June and liked the community aspect of the site. She says she weighed 244 pounds when she started, and is now down to 210.

Ms. Meinhardt says she hunted to find a group on the site that had committed members willing to check in every day with one another. After trying a few, she now says she has grown close to two of the groups she belongs to and says the groups are "helping people get through tough times."

Users say communing online with peers has benefits and drawbacks. Fellow users may be ill-informed, offer negative feedback, or have their own problems, such as eating disorders. When Ms. Wood joined Calorie-Count, she says she thought a 1,000-calorie-a-day diet would be a good way to lose weight quickly, and posted a message about her plan on the site's forums. No one corrected her, but she says she later learned by reading the posts of other users that that was a dangerously low calorie count for an adult. (The USDA dietary guidelines say that ideal caloric intake varies based on age, gender and activity level, but use 2,000 calories a day as a basic reference point.)

Clearing Spam
Calorie-Count has a team of volunteers who act as moderators and can delete threads or contact members who violate the sites posting guidelines. The moderators keep an eye out for abusive language, spam, or posts that promote anorexia, bulimia or other eating disorders. The volunteers can consult the site's experts if they have questions about what is appropriate content.

Still, "having a moderator helps, but it never prevents you from getting inaccurate info," says Christine Gerbstadt, a registered dietician and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "That's going to be on any of the message boards for any of the sites."
Write to Joseph De Avila at

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Cycling Gains Ground in NYC

A woman rides a bicycle past a line of full bicycle racks near the L train subway at Bedford Avenue in the Williamsburg section of the Brooklyn borough of New York, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2007. Recently awarded a bronze medal from the League of American Bicyclists for bicycle friendliness, New York City is installing 400 to 500 bike racks a year and plans to have more than 400 miles of bike lanes and paths in place by 2009. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

By KAREN MATTHEWS, Associated Press Writer Sun Oct 7, 1:31 PM

NEW YORK - New York City, with its convoys of cabs, miles of subway track, fleets of fume-belching trucks and hordes of harried commuters, is a long way from Davis, Calif., with a University of California campus and not much else.

But the concrete jungle and the college town were both honored recently by the League of American Bic yclists for bike friendliness.

New York City's bronze medal from the Washington-based bike group represents an endorsement for the city's efforts under Mayor Michael Bloomberg to promote cycling for a cleaner environment and a healthier populace.

"The way we think about transportation and how we use our limited street space is changing," said Janette Sadik-Khan, the city's transportation commissioner.

The city is installing 400 to 500 bike racks a year and plans to have more than 400 miles of bike lanes and paths by 2009. There will then be 1 mile of bike lane for every 10 miles of road; the ratio is now 1 to 15. In San Francisco, it's 1 to 7.

In Brooklyn's hipster-heavy Williamsburg section, the city reduced the space for car parking in favor of bike parking — a first — when it widened the sidewalk to fit nine new bike racks over the summer.

"It's better because people used to chain their bikes to trees and house gates," said Pedro Pulido, an architect who parked his bike at one of the new racks last week.

A seven-block length of Manhattan's Ninth Avenue is now being remade into the city's most bicycle-oriented stretch of roadway ever, with a bike lane separated from car traffic by a paved buffer zone and a lane of parked cars.

Bloomberg also has proposed legislation to make it easier to bike to work by requiring commercial buildings to provide bicycle parking.

"According to surveys the number one reason why people who want to bike don't is that they can't park their bikes indoors," said Noah Budnick, deputy director of the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. "You just can't park your bike on the street all day in New York."

If theft is the No. 1 challenge facing New York cyclists, safety is No. 2.

According to the city health department and the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 2.8 bike deaths per million people annually in New York City, compared with 2.7 deaths nationally — a not particularly bad ranking.

But potholes and aggressive drivers can make it feel more dangerous.

"You have to always be alert," said Barbara Ross, who bikes to work and volunteers with Time's Up!, an environmental group that promotes a group bike ride called Critical Mass. Ross said she was once "doored" by a parked car — a term used to describe when the passenger door flying open without a thought for bikes.

"You can't just ride," she said. "Because no one's going to be looking for you."

A study conducted last year by the city health and transportation departments found that 3,500 cyclists were injured by cars between 1996 and 2003 and 225 were killed.

Following up on its analysis, the city announced a $1 million public service ad campaign last month to remind drivers and bike riders to watch out for each other. The city also is promoting safety by giving out thousands of free bike helmets, which are required for children and for bike messengers and delivery workers.

It was the city's commitment to study bike crashes and prevent them that persuaded the League of American Bicyclists to bestow its bronze medal. (Davis, which has an old-fashioned bike on its city seal, is the only platinum-level community. Another college town, Palo Alto, Calif., is gold.)

Andy Clarke, executive director of the league, called New York's 2006 survey "the most extensive study that we know of" into bike accidents.

Transportation Alternatives says there are 130,000 bicyclists on the road in New York City's five boroughs daily. Because New York is the nation's largest city at 8 million, that's more total cyclists than any other U.S. city can claim.

But according to Census figures, just 0.5 percent of New Yorkers ride bikes to work. That compares to 2 percent in Seattle and San Francisco and a whopping 34 percent in Copenhagen. How much higher could New York push its number of bike commuters?

"We can certainly do better," said Sadik-Khan, who visited Copenhagen a few months ago to study the Danish city's bike-promoting policies.

If there are obstacles, there are also advantages to New York for cyclists. It's flat, it's relatively temperate and you can bring your bike on the subway. Thousands of bike messengers and Chinese food deliverymen weave through gridlock Manhattan traffic daily.

"It's the fastest mode of transportation," said Sarinya Srisakul, vice president of the New York Bike Messenger Association, noting that it can take half an hour to traverse 10 midtown blocks by car but just five minutes on a bike.

Sadik-Khan, who often bikes to work, said cycling not only reduces air pollution but also is "a great competitive sport" that is gaining ground with "the hedge fund crowd."

"The line I've been using," she said, "is, 'Bike is the new golf.'"