GMO Sneak Attack

Giant agro-businesses like Monsanto have continuously been able to get sneak by with passing off their GMO-enhanced, foodish items as natural food products in the United States. But the tides are changing in other parts of the world, and people and governments alike are starting to take notice. For example, thanks to stringent food labeling laws, citizens in France currently enjoy the luxury of knowing exactly which of the foods they purchase are genetically modified or engineered. If a food product is made up of less than .1% of genetically modified organisms, a standard much higher than elsewhere in the E.U., then it is labeled as such in the supermarket, allowing consumers the right to make informed decisions about what they are buying and eating. Naturally, there is a certain feeling of security, a joie-de-manger, when sitting down for un repas en France.

But we are not allowed this luxury of food security in the United States. And the Obama administration has recently reaffirmed their commitment to the secrecy of genetically modified foods, as they plan to vehemently deny our right to truth through labeling. Perhaps it is because a former Monsanto lobbyist is currently our country's chief agricultural negotiator that the Obama administration plans to argue a position against mandatory GMO labeling at a conference of the United Nations' Codex Committee on food labeling next week. This conference will determine the future of global food labeling rules, which has the GMO-happy and agro-business friendly United States Government squirming in its boots. The position paper put together by the U.S. to be submitted before the committee next week ridiculously states that to label genetically modified and genetically engineered food products as such would be "false, misleading, or deceptive." Apparently, our government believes that it would be somehow bad for us to know the truth about what we are eating.

And all of this is going on fairly under the radar. If the administration had it their way, labeling rules would be abolished before we even knew they were an option. But organic food producers, public health advocates, environmental groups and concerned citizens alike are fighting back, petitioning to the FDA and the department of agriculture to reconsider this inappropriate stance on food labeling. To read the letter addressed to FDA Deputy Commissioner of Food Michael Taylor and USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, click here. To sign a petition opposing the sneak attack on GMO labeling, click here!


Operation: Lunchbox

The startling relationship between the nutrition of America's schoolchildren and the United States Military was highlighted earlier this week by the release of a report deeming school lunches a national security threat. It seems righteous enough: some high-ranking retired military officials have decided that the preeminence of insalubrious foods in the federally-funded school lunch program is detrimental to our childrens' health, and that more wholesome alternatives must be implemented in order to ensure the security of future generations. Considering that most low-income families rely on the free and reduced cost breakfasts and lunches that are provided to students in publics schools as their primary source of nutrition, it's a no-brainer that the content of such meals should provide children with the optimum nutrients to bolster their development and their ability to perform well in school. However, it would be naive to trust this seemingly well-intentioned military suggestion, as these officials are not at all concerned with the overall well-being of our nation's low-income children. Rather, they are worried that the extreme prevalence of obesity in American children is providing them with a lower yield of potential military recruits. And they are not ashamed to say so.

According to the report, twenty-seven percent of potential young recruits (aged 17-24) are overweight and deemed "too fat to fight." They are calling it Mission: Readiness, as if as soon as the weight problem is solved, American youth will be ready and waiting to commit themselves to a life where their worth is determined by their ability to fight. But this is not a military problem, it is a public health crisis that is fueled by an insufficient and profit-driven food system that plays on the susceptability of many Americans by providing them with cheap, preservative-laden, hormone infused, sugar-charged items that somehow pass as real food. And as a growing number of our children are subject to poor diets and diet-related illnesses, the menus in most schools continue to offer foods which are too high in saturated fat and cholestoral and too low in nutrient and fiber rich foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

The group of retired officials are urging congress to reshape the lunch program by removing junk food and high calorie beverages from schools. If the suggestions of these military officials are heard (which is a great possibility considering the presence of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vislak with the group on Capitol Hill this past Tuesday, and the history of military influence on school lunches), then the hope for reshaping American childrens' diet will be recharged, but with a sinister twist. The message being sent here is clear: the government only cares about the well-being of our children when we think of them as no more than future fighting and killing machines. But if our nation's children are not predisposed to being soldiers, then I suppose... let them eat cake.


Bravo LaHood!

In the month since Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood stated alternative modes of transportation such as walking and biking should be considered in equal measure to automobiles in transportation planning and funding, there has been a frenzy of chagrined comments from fuming conservatives and trucking industrialists alike. Accusations that LaHood's position is "non-sensical," implications that he may be on drugs, and sarcastic comments that now our cargo systems will rely on back-packers, have all been flung about the proverbial ape's den that is the United States' House of Representatives. Oh my, who ever knew that non-motorized transportation could cause such a stir?

In reality, LaHood is responding to a viable demand from the American people- that we may exercise our freedom with the right to share the road safely, no matter what vehicle type we choose. Siting a survey which outline how most people want more mobility options in his official blog, Mr. LaHood explained his statements concerning bicycle policy by emphasizing that "people across America who value biking should have a voice when it comes to transport planning.... I didn't say they should have the only voice, just a voice."

Still, leave it to a near-sighted conservative like Rep. Steve LaTourette to take a sensible policy, one which is a part of the Obama administration's new livability initiative, and turn it into some radical liberal fantasy- as if Mr. Lahood has proposed that motorists' rights will somehow be diminished by opening up a discussion about transportation planning that includes a consideration of cyclists and pedestrians. Besides blatantly insulting the transportation secretary in the presence of congress, Rep. LaTourette also cried that new bicycle and walking paths must not be paid for using moneys from the United States gasoline tax- which would be fair enough, if so many walkers and bikers did not also drive cars.

And as LaHood rightly stated that he is not going to apologize for his plans to improve our transportation systems, he has been applauded not only by bicycle enthusiasts and the League of American Bicyclists, but also by environmentalists and strategic urban planners who believe that investing in infrastructure to support alternative modes of transportation would be holistically beneficial to society. Not to mention, it's what the people want. So, Bravo for Mr. LaHood. He is on the right path so far, and it's one that does not discriminate in favor of motorized car-culture! Hurray!


Flower of the Week

Honeysuckle. Sweet, enchanting, sense-delighting honeysuckle: a delicious treat of the springtime. It's hardly possible to pass by these heavenly-scented bushes without instinctively closing your eyes and savoring the sweetness that it passes through the air. The next time you happen to be near some honeysuckle flowers, do yourself a favor and indulge in the pure joy of taking in one of nature's most amazing perfums.


The Story of Bottled Water

Annie Leonard breaks it down:

Spirits & Trash

Communities across the country, watch out! Because Pick Up America has commenced their glorious trek across our lands, and there are two things that are bound to be picked up if you just so happen to fall in their path: trash, and your spirits.

This group of brave, inspired people have taken on a journey to travel across the girth of the continental United States, gathering all of the disposable crap that passes through our lives daily and ends up discarded on the side of the road, usually within the confines of some precious ecosystem, or intruding upon some family's backyard. They are exploring and exposing the nature of American consumption, and striving to find the kind of solution that would persist in the mindset of society. Where the Pick Up Artists go, they promote the significance of our shared responsibility to the earth: stewardship of the land, and a necessary reflection on the lifestyles and habits that inflict toxic and unnatural results on our own bodies and lives, as well as on the environment. And where they go, they bring with them their vision, their tenacious commitment, and their unbound and completely enjoyable spirits.

I had the pleasure of walking with them, briefly, as they passed through Annapolis, MD. And hidden within what would seem in passing as a peaceful wooded spot nearby the local police station were layers and layers of caked, smelly, buried trash. It seemed to completely engulf the soil within which it had been implanted, and its general indistinctness from the road made me wonder how much more of my earth is tattered like this... probably more than I could bear to truly realize. Within just two hours of pickup work, we had collected an astounding (and disgusting) 286 pounds of trash, which the Pick Up Artists then left for the Highway Administration to round up.

So far they have traveled from the very Eastern shore of Maryland, across the Chesapeake Bay and into the Capitol of the State, and have collected over 10,000 pounds of trash. Along the way they have won the hearts of local communities, have inspired many folks around them, and have gathered immeasurable support in the form of warm meals and comfortable lodgings by volunteers who are more than willing to be a part of their experience, even briefly. After spending just a day amidst the joy and the tenacity of these amazing Pick Up Artists, I felt totally gratified and inspired. If everyone else they encounter along their journey feels a fraction of what I have, then perhaps this feeling of stewardship will persist beyond the tracks of Pick Up America, and into the mindsets and lifestyles of people all across the country.

To follow their journey, look here: pickupamerica.org