Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Food Challenge

I’ve been thinking a lot about food recently--about where it comes from, about what it’s made of, about what it’s hiding. Without going on a huge tirade I have a few major concerns including GMOs, overuse of carcinogenic pesticides, antibiotics and hormones in meat, and the destruction of small scale farming by agribusiness. Lots of people have written about these issues in far more convincing and detailed way then I can possibly do here. Specifically Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, Brian Brett’s Trauma Farm, Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and documentaries Food Inc. and The World According to Monsanto. In terms of websites the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network at www.cban.ca has a lot of information about genetic engineering. There are tons of other good sources out there as well and I can’t possibly list them all here (although perhaps I’ll make that a future project), but the bottom line is that I’m worried about what I’m eating, what food is doing to my health, and what food production is doing to the health of the planet.

I currently have three food related priorities, and they are:

1. Avoid GMOs. This means avoiding all corn, soy, canola, sugar beet, and animal products that are not certified organic. I do not believe that the testing on GM foods has been rigorous enough to prove that they’re safe for human consumption, and the increase in pesticide use that GM farming entails is most definitely not good for the environment or biodiversity.
2. Eat local when possible. Supporting local farmers is good for communities, for the local economy, and for the planet.
3. Eat organic. This is contentious. Lots of people like to argue that organic food is pretentious and simply a fad perpetuated by the rich and snobby. I would like to ask what is snobby and pretentious about wanting to eat the kind of clean, chemical free, ecologically friendly food that your grandparents would have eaten. I just don’t buy the snob argument but I recognize the opinions vary widely. Personally I’m worried about pesticide levels in “conventionally” produced food (and by the way, when did spraying your apples with deadly chemicals become “conventional”?). Washing your produce doesn’t get rid of all the chemical residue and many studies point to a link between pesticide consumption and a variety of cancers. Conclusive or not there’s enough information out there to make me wary and so I’d like to eat as much organic food as possible.

So starting on December 1st I am self imposing a food challenge. I will avoid GMOs, eat local, and eat organic whenever possible. I don’t expect to be able to do all three of these things all the time. For instance the local food I can source may not be organic and the GMO free food may not be local etc. But I hope to generally increase my consumption of GMO free, local, organic food. And in order to prove that doing so is not elitist I am challenging myself to do this while also decreasing our monthly grocery bill. My very ambitious goal is to cut my grocery bill in half, which would mean a monthly budget of $400. I think that this is unlikely and that a $500-$600 monthly bill is more possible, but I’m going to aim for the $400 anyway and see what happens. This is of course made more difficult due to dietary restrictions. Wheat is cheap but I won’t be eating any of that.

To keep myself accountable and to track progress I’ll be posting on the blog about how things are going. I’ll likely include some resources, some discussion of pressing issues, some tips for cooking nutritious food on a budget, and some humorous descriptions of my inevitable failures.

Tomorrow--the challenge begins.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Warning: Politics Ahead

I have not, in the past, used this blog to advance political views or talk about anything that's particularly contentious. I'm a little wary about doing so. This blog is sort of like sitting down to dinner and there's that age old rule about not discussing religion or politics if you want to avoid arguments and personal offense. That being said, there are a large number of issues going on in the world that I'm concerned about, feel strongly about, and feel that other people should know about. So I'm going to stick my neck out and hope that the occasional political post results in healthy debate and not the creation of enemies.

So here's today's politically oriented post. The following article was recently published in the Vancouver Sun. This issue has been discussed in numerous other publications as well (See for instance David Suzuki's Website) The Vancouver Sun article outlines the recent rejection of a climate bill in the Senate. A bill that had already been passed TWICE by MPs in the House of Commons. Harper's main argument against the bill is that reducing carbon emissions to the specified target would result in major job loss. This contention is up for debate. Governments around the world are recognizing that our dependence on fossil fuels and the massive quantities of pollution this produces is getting us into deep, deep trouble. It's possible, even likely,  that we're escalating a process of global warming. Even if that's not true, and (as some sources argue) global warming is simply a natural process that the earth has undergone more than once during its history, we're certainly poisoning our environment with tons of filthy emissions. Not doing anything about this is short sighted--saving the economy now is ridiculous if the end result is environmental disaster that results in the deteriorating health or death of huge numbers of people. Climate change issues aside Harper has proven himself to be highly hypocritical (this article states that "As recently as three years ago, Harper argued it would be intolerable for unelected senators to defy elected members of Parliament")--not the sort of person I trust to run the country. In any event, here's the article, and you can draw your own conclusions.

If after reading this article you want to take action there is an automated letter here that will allow you to enter your postal code and send a letter of protest to your local MP as well as the leaders of the Canadian governmental parties.

Abandoning reform, Harper uses Senate to sink climate bill

Prime Minister Stephen Harper fell back on an "end-justifies-the-means" defence this week for the sneak attack by Conservative senators who torpedoed a climate-change bill already passed by the House of Commons.

There was no sign in his response of the old reformer of high principle who used to rail against any notion that the then-Liberal dominated Senate might sink or even hold up any legislation.

As recently as three years ago, Harper argued it would be intolerable for unelected senators to defy elected members of Parliament.

It was a message that resonated with many Canadians, especially here in the West where disdain is particularly acute for the institution that many see as the ultimate symbol of patronage and pork-barrel politics.
That was before Harper abandoned his promise never to appoint a senator and stuffed the Senate full of his own yes-men and yes-women, before what used to be abhorrent became first tempting, then convenient.
In question period Wednesday, Harper said the Senate killed a climate-change bill that had been passed not once but twice by the majority of MPs in the House of Commons because it was "completely irresponsible."
The bill called on the government to set carbon reduction targets closer to what scientists say are needed to ward off destructive climate change.

Harper says the bill is irresponsible because it would have required throwing "hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of people out of work" to achieve the targets.

That's unlikely, given the way successive governments have ignored climate-change commitments. But even if Harper really believed the legislation was a threat to the Canadian economy, that belief didn't justify the further damage to the image of the Senate and all politicians he inflicted by so blatantly disregarding his earlier promises to do things differently.

It's that promise that makes Harper's use of patronage appointees to achieve what he couldn't get done with his elected supporters in Parliament so odious.

People voted for Harper with the expectations he raised that when he became prime minister, the most visible changes in Ottawa wouldn't just be the name of the party in power or just one privileged set of insiders replacing another.

He promised real Senate reform, so that the upper chamber wouldn't just be a lapdog for the government, but an elected body that represented the folks who voted for them, that in the "Triple E" jargon was also equal and effective.

It's true that he has been unable to deliver on that promise in part because he has never achieved majority control of Parliament. The Conservatives made that point again on Thursday by seeking unanimous consent, which they knew would be denied, for a bill that would create an eight-year term limit for senators.
But more to the point, he has failed because reforming the Senate requires something he never could have delivered, a constitutional amendment that is arguably out of reach in our regionally focused country.
What we have learned in the meantime is that Harper is not the reformer he pretended to be. He has no more interest than any prime minister before him in creating a Senate that has the ability to independently represent Canadians, that can, in fact, operate as a chamber of sober, second thought. What he wants and what he created by offering what are still among the juiciest patronage plums available is another partisan tool to do his bidding.

Along the way, he added to the conventional wisdom that politicians can never be trusted to keep their promises. How sad.


Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/Abandoning+reform+Harper+uses+Senate+sink+climate+bill/3852859/story.html#ixzz15kufnBqs

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Skunk Encounter

Skunk , originally uploaded by floridapfe.
I have to admit that I've been suffering from a sense of hopelessness recently. I encounter depressing news about the state of the planet on a daily basis and am beginning to panic about things like global warming, GMOs, wars, the exploding global population, the near monopoly of biotechnology company Monsanto that is trying to control our food supply, pesticides, deforestation and environmental degradation, air pollution, water pollution, the peak oil crisis, super-bugs, super-weeds, Sarah Palin running for President...you get the point. These issues are important and action needs to be taken in relation to all of them so that the human race doesn't wipe itself out through greed and corruption, but I'm finding that constant exposure to terrifying news is beginning to affect my ability to function on a day to day basis.

So here's my plan: To counteract the damaging effect of too much bad news I will attempt to post something happy, joyous, and perhaps humorous on a weekly basis. I won't ignore the bad news, and I'll continue to think about ways to make the world a better place and enact strategies in my daily life to improve the planet, but in the meantime I think I'm desperately in need of some levity and perhaps this blog is too.

Today's happy story is this: A week ago I almost got sprayed by a skunk but didn't.

I was walking to my violin lesson. It was dark. I came around a corner moving at quite a clip and then, out of the gloom, a skunk came waddling towards me. I don't know what a hostile skunk looks like and I wasn't sure if this one was mad at me and I had this horrible moment where I was sure that this skunk, that was only four feet away, was going to spray me and I would smell like rotten eggs for the rest of my life and no one would love me and I'd have to live in a paper bag on East Hastings forever where I would be shunned by the crack addicts for smelling so bad...

But it didn't happen.

I crossed the street and the skunk waddled on its way, disappearing into a nearby hedge. I went to my lesson and life continued on as usual. Disaster was averted and I am currently enjoying the above picture of baby skunks so cute that it hurts. And that's my good news for today.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Do the Amish Use Facebook?

 Hello blog readers. Today I'm over at Life As a Human--a new online life magazine that I've just started writing for. You can find my first post here:


As of this past week I will be a regular contributor to Life as a Human content and will let you know when I have articles up. I'll keep posting regularly on the blog as well!

Also, if you have some time it's well worth perusing the archive of articles at Life as a Human. There are some excellent and thought provoking pieces there dealing with how it is we live in this world and the oddities that arise from being human.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Felt Overload

I've been on a bit of a felting frenzy recently. I'm not sure what's sparked it but I have this endless desire to puncture wool with a barbed needle until it becomes these unbearably cute fluffy creatures with shiny bead eyes that make me smile every time I look at them. I feel that I want to populate ever corner of my apartment with a felt zoo. I hope this doesn't mean that I'm headed for a life of withdrawn strangeness a la Laura Wingfield of The Glass Menagerie. I also hope that my home won't be overrun by adorable balls of fuzz like in the epic Star Trek classic The Trouble with Tribbles. But despite misgivings about my psychological state and space issues in our apartment I can't seem to stop making felt creatures. So here are pictures of the latest two:

Felt Hedgehog 2

Herbert the Hedgehog. Copyright Andrea Paterson. 2010

I had a sudden desire to make a hedgehog. I don't know where the compulsion came from. I've seen an awful lot of adorable hedgehog things on Etsy lately so perhaps that's what did it. As it turns out making a felt hedgehog is trickier than I imagined. The problem is making the quill-like fur. I think this hedgehog ended up looking more like it has dreadlocks than anything else but I maintain that that's part of his charm.

Hedgehog Meets Pear

Hedgehog Meets Pear. Copyright Andrea Paterson. 2010
Mouse Love

Mouse Love. Copyright Andrea Paterson. 2010

I admit that this mouse is holding a heart only because I screwed up the length of the arms and they looked a little weird sticking straight out of the body. I'm happy for the accident though because the heart kicked the cuteness factor into overdrive. The mouse is made out of merino, which has a totally different texture than the corriedale I've been predominantly using. The merino is a bit more finicky and doesn't seem to felt as easily or firmly, but it creates a softer surface with a smoother appearance so is great for a mouse. (I think it will make good snowmen as well, and I may try that next.)

Mouse and Heart

Mouse and Heart. Copyright Andrea Paterson. 2010

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Standing Stones

Standing Stones by Loreena McKennitt
Illustrated with pictures of the Ring of Brodgar from my recent trip to Orkney.
All photos copyright Andrea Paterson. 2010.

In one of these lonely Orkney Isles
There dwelled a maiden fair.
Her cheeks were red, her eyes were blue
She had yellow curling hair.
Which caught the eye and then the heart
Of one who could never be
A lover of so true a maid
Or fair a form as she.

Across the lake in Sandwick
Dwelled a youth she held most true,
And ever since her infancy
He had watched those eyes so blue.
The land runs out into the sea -
It's a narrow neck of land -
Where weird and grim the Standing Stones
In a circle where they stand.

Standing Stones 2

One bonny moonlight Christmas Eve
They met at that sad place
With her heart in glee and the beams of love
Were shining on her face.
When her lover came and he grasped her hand
What loving words they said.
They talked of future's happy days
As through the stones they strayed.

They walked toward the lovers' stone
And through it passed their hands.
They plighted there a constant troth
Sealed by love's steadfast bands.
He kissed his maid and then he watched her
That lonely bridge go o'er.
For little, little did he think
He wouldn't see his darling more.

Orkney Standing Stone Flare

Standing Stones of the Orkney Isles
Gazing out to sea
Standing Stones of the Orkney Isles
Bring my love to me.

He turned his face toward his home
That home he did never see.
And you shall have the story
As it was told to me.
When a form upon him sprang
With a dagger gleaming bright,
It pierced his heart and dying screams
Disturbed the silent night.

Orkney Standing Stones

This maid had nearly reached her home
When she was startled by a cry.
She turned to look around her
And her love was standing by,
His hand was pointing to the stars
His eyes glazed at the light,
And with a smiling countenance
He vanished from her sight.

She quickly turned and home she ran
Not a word of this was said,
For well she knew at seeing his form
That her faithful love was dead.
And from that day she pined away,
Not a smile seen on her face.
With outstretched arms she went to meet him
In a brighter place.

Ring of Brodgar

Standing Stones of the Orkney Isles
Gazing out to sea
Standing Stones of the Orkney Isles
Bring my love to me.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Needle Felting for Fall

Felt Teddy and Pine Cone

Felt Bear. Andrea Paterson. 2010

I've been working on some needle felting projects and am including the most recent here. All sculptures are made out of 100% wool roving. The bear is 3.5 inches tall, the pumpkin is 2 inches tall to the top of the stem and 2.5 inches wide. I glued a small magnet on to the back of the ladybug and she is now happily living on my fridge. She measures one inch.

Felt Teddy and Apple

Felt Bear and Apple. Andrea Paterson. 2010

Felt Pumpkin

Felt Pumpkin and Wheat. Andrea Paterson. 2010

Felt Ladybug

Felt Ladybug Reading Dandelion Journal of Literature. Andrea Paterson. 2010