Day 161: Herbal Recipes: Oxymels


As a pagan, a simple living eco-nerd, and as someone with a fascination with folk magic traditions, I’ve always found Brandon’s blog to be a captivating and informative read. Here are some of his recipes for medicinal vinegar preparations.

Originally posted on Mountain Man Traditional Healing:


I’m starting a series of posts on herbal preparations and giving out some great and easy recipes I use all the time. Here’s the inaugural post: oxymels!

Oxymels are sometimes called “sipping vinegars” and are a great way to preserve medicinal herbs. The process basically starts the same way as medicinal vinegars, but then honey is added as a sweetener, thickener, and preservative. Personally I really enjoy medicinal vinegars, especially since I’ve started avoiding alcohol, but for some folks vinegars can be a little intense. Oxymels are a great way to have the same benefit from the vinegar tincture but in a more palatable form. Here are a few recipes I make all the time:

Oxymel base: 1 part herbal matter : 3-4 parts vinegar and honey (depending on how sweet you want it).

Usually I make these in a quart jar. Divide the jar into fourths, fill ¼ of…

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On Fiber, Fermentation, and Shojin Ryori

I’ve got IBS. (Who doesn’t these days?) And I’ve been to my GP, seen the gastroenterologist, and gotten the same half-assed treatment that most other Americans with IBS wind up getting: “Eat lots of fiber, drink lots of water, take lots of probiotics, and don’t be afraid to keep some Imodium around if you need it. Next!”

That was two years ago, and I gotta say, I’m really not doing much better. In fact, I slowly discovered that fiber wasn’t the answer. Not only was it not the answer, but it seemed to make things worse. And then I self-diagnosed (with the input of my mom, who is seeing a functional doctor for the same thing) with Adrenal Fatigue, where I found out about the perils of overhydrating – of drinking too much water. If you have AF, then staying hydrated is tricky because of our body’s weakened ability to retain salt and other minerals, which can make us chronically deficient in magnesium and potassium. And that’s on top of the typical American’s baseline tendency to be minerally deficient.

I had long suspected that probiotics had become a racket, and knew that Imodium, while it technically worked, didn’t actually fix anything. So that left me with no good answers for how to go about dealing with my intestinal woes. Then a few days ago, I came across an interesting website:


Now, the details are definitely not for the squeamish; suffice to say, I’ve experienced a lot of what the author explains. He’s affiliated with a few of his own interests, namely a book about the myths perpetuated about fiber as an essential part of the human diet, and a series of supplements to help reestablish gut flora after a colonoscopy, after surgery, or anything else that can kill off the bacteria living in your gut. To me, though, this guy seems to be more reliable than a lot of other homeopathic snake oil I’ve seen out there for a few reasons, namely that he cites actual sources for his claims. So I’m inclined to try following his advice.

What’s important about this site is what I wound up learning about fiber, and how it pretty solidly matched my own experience toying with fiber levels in my diet over the past few years.

In his IBS FAQ, he writes this:

Q. How come they recommend “Increased fiber intake for constipation,” if fiber is a well-known gas- and diarrhea-producing substance?

To me, that‘s either the biggest “medical mystery”, or the biggest “medical idiocy,” or simply outrageous negligence, or, perhaps, all of the above. In fact, to unravel this mind-boggling incongruity for myself and others, I wrote a book entitled “Fiber Menace: The Truth About the Leading Role of Fiber in Diet Failure, Constipation, Hemorrhoids, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease, and Colon Cancer”, and you are welcome to read it.

If you are a skeptical medical professional reading this, and, all things considered, I don‘t blame you a bit for being skeptical, consider the following two quotes from the American College of Gastroenterology Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders Task Force [link]:

“Fiber doesn’t relieve chronic constipation and all legitimate clinical trials demonstrated no improvement in stool frequency or consistency when compared with placebo.”

“In the management of IBS, psyllium is similar to placebo. In fact, the bloating associated with psyllium use will likely worsen symptoms in an IBS patient.”

Psyllium is a source of soluble and insoluble fibers found in Metamucil-type laxatives, and their digestive properties are identical to all other types of fiber.

There’s a lot more on there. A lot more. Basically, he outlines the following timeline for how and why IBS develops, and how and why it never seems to get resolved:

  1. It all starts with a loss of bacterial flora in the gut. This can be from antibiotics (whether prescribed or from non-organic meat and dairy products), x-rays, bowel prep for surgeries, excessive use of laxatives, chlorine or arsenic in tap water, mercury in fish, and a whole host of other things. He calls this disbacteriosis, which, while the intestinal flora is considered vital to our health, is not a medically accepted term or condition for reasons unknown.
  2. Loss of gut flora results in harder, smaller stools, which our bowels aren’t really designed to pass.
  3. Constipation. Though because “constipation” means that you haven’t had a bowel movement in no fewer than 3 days, the author prefers to call this “impacted stools”. This stage is only apparent if you’re already on a low-fiber diet, apparently. Those of us who eat lots of fiber already have a harder time recognizing that we have a problem, though the problem is still there.
  4. Treat the constipation with more fiber. He writes: “Medical professionals and Dr. Moms alike recommend dietary fiber and fiber laxatives to “naturally” alleviate hardness, particularly when stools are small and dry. Fiber bulks up (enlarges) and moisturizes stools by either retaining water, blocking water absorption, or both.”

For the purpose of this post, I’ll stop there, since I want to talk about fiber.

What does fiber actually do? If you’ve ever made a flax egg before, then you already know. A gram of fiber can absorb many times its weight in water, and that’s exactly what it does in your body. This can actually dehydrate you, encouraging you to drink more, and inevitably results in loss of minerals through overhydration. And not only that, but it actively discourages the restoration of gut flora. The author explains so here:

The by-products of fiber‘s bacterial fermentation (short chain fatty acids, ethanol, and lactic acid) destroy bacteria for the same reason acids and alcohols are routinely used to sterilize surgical instruments—they burst bacterial membranes on contact. And that‘s how fiber addiction develops: as the fermentation destroys bacteria, you need more and more fiber to form stools. If you suddenly drop all fiber, and no longer have many bacteria left, constipation sets in as soon as the large intestine clears itself of the remaining bulk.

For some reason this point is causing intense consternation and controversy among the “experts” on all things fiber. If you are one too, and believe that I am stretching the facts to fit my point of view, please note the following:

(1) The operative phenomenon here isn’t that “fiber causes disbacteriosis,” — butexcess fiber’ — as in “the fermentation of excess dietary fiber.”

(2) Let me remind you that wine in the vat left for too long turns into vinegar, all the bacteria die off, and the fermentation stops. Bacterial fermentation in the wine vat, dear opponents, and in the pile of feces happens to be exactly the same process.

(3) Finally, consider this corroborating quote: “Colonic bacteria ferment unabsorbed carbohydrates into CO2, methane, H2, and short-chain fatty acids (butyrate, propionate, acetate, and lactate). These fatty acids cause diarrhea. The gases cause abdominal distention and bloating.” (Malabsorption Syndromes; The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy.) Let the diarrhea run its course a day too long, and disbacteriosis will soon follow. (God, I love those rare moments when Merck and I are singing the same tune.)

I mean, there’s a reason that folks with severe IBS aren’t allowed any fiber in their diets at all. (A relative of mine isn’t allowed fruit and barely any vegetables for this reason.)

So what the hell am I supposed to do? How, exactly, does a vegetarian avoid fiber?? This is actually something I’ve been thinking about for some months now, and I may have to re-think a lot of how I approach food. Honestly, I’m glad to have an educated medical professional confirm what I was already beginning to sense happening with my own body, and not just that, but also provide a plan for getting back to normal. I may not have to deal with IBS forever. And that is definitely worth a diet change to me.

This means doing homework on cuisines that feature few, if any, high-fiber grains, with little emphasis on cheese and dairy products (for other reasons the website outlines; also for my Adrenal Fatigue). I need to be able to get protein from non-meat, fiber-free sources like eggs and tofu. If I do eat high-fiber vegetables, I should see about getting into the habit of pickling and fermenting them to break some of that fiber down, and also to maximize my ingestion of live cultures, which might help me to restore all that gut flora that I don’t have anymore.


Tsukemono market. Flickr

I was already into the whole fermenting thing after realizing that I could make kimchi at home, which was my gateway drug to the wide, wonderful, world of Korean pickles and Japanese pickles (tsukemono). Not fermented, exactly, but preserved. And then that research, of course, led me to finding out how to make your own miso paste and soy sauce.

I’ve also been dabbling in fermented drinks since that one time I made Sima, a fermented Finnish lemonade that uses baker’s yeast. (I know how it sounds, but trust me, it was good.) For a few weeks back during summer I was trying to get a ginger bug started so that I could make sodas, but for some reason they were all just not quite coming together. Then I read about how non-organic ginger is irradiated, killing all the natural yeasts present in the root and its skin, and gave it another go with some organic pieces. But that’ll be for another post – if I can get some sodas successfully brewed, that is!

But yes, saurkraut, kimchi, kombucha… these things are all in my future. ;]

Shojin Ryori

In thinking about what the heck I’m going to eat as a low-fiber, dairy-free, vegetarian, only one thing really stood out to me: Buddhist temple food, also called shojin ryori in Japanese. There’s an emphasis on simple preparation, simple flavor, and simple food all around. Seasonal ingredients, boiled, steamed, or fried, and served with a few equally simple sauces. With, of course, plain rice.

I learned a lot about Asian cuisine when I was going to college in NYC – my roomate and friends were Taiwanese and Korean, and we all had a special love for traditional Japanese food. I learned how to make miso soup, kimchi, and Japanese curry. We ate a lot of dim sum, and I wound up working on a little comic about dim sum, so I know my way around that type of food like the back of my hand too! But in my day-to-day, I really did eat a lot of Asian-style food. I had access to people who knew how to read Pinyin packaging, I had access to a really badass rice cooker, and so the big grocery store in Manhattan’s Chinatown became my go-to for cheap groceries. Gai Lan, a very healthy vegetable in the cabbage family, was usually 99c a pound, and I practically lived off the stuff. Bok Choi was similarly priced, and so soup made with that, some miso, dashi, and either somen or Korean-style noodles also became a staple.

In other words, aside from sandwiches and Mexican food (which is what I grew up with), far-east Asian cuisine is stuff I could eat – and have eaten – every day.

Curious about trying out Shojin Ryori with me? Until I get my hands on a book or three, I’ll be going by a guide from, “How to Eat Like a Buddhist Monk”:

Part 1: What is Shojin Ryori?
Part 2: Shojin Ryori Ingredients
Part 3: Prepping Your Foundation
Part 4: Get Cooking!

Here are some more recipes from Sotozen-net. And here’s another website dedicated to exploring the food of the Zen monasteries – most blog posts are mindful meditations on and explanations of ingredients, or what’s going on in the culture of the cuisine, but there are some recipes too. And if you’re more curious about traditional Korean food, then there’s always my favorite resource, Maangchi.

This is not going to be very zero waste – as a lot of these ingredients will be packaged, and I may be buying shrink-wrapped produce (bleh), oh well – but it will be seasonal, it will be very easy to buy in bulk, and best of all, this stuff is easy for me to make. If it’s going to be a scale of “raw carrot” to “tempura”, then it’s no big deal. (Tempura is far from the most complex thing I’ve made.) And if all of this helps my IBS? I will definitely be letting the world know.

In the meantime, though, I’ve got some walnuts to contend with!

What Does It Take to Plant a Forest?

Originally posted on Raxa Collective:

Indian man, Jadav "Molai" Payeng, has single-handedly planted a 1,360 acre forest In Assam. PHOTO: Jagran Indian man, Jadav “Molai” Payeng, has single-handedly planted a 1,360 acre forest In Assam. PHOTO: Jagran

For many people the sight of a dead snake would be an unpleasant but not tragic image, but for Indian activist Jadav “Molai” Payeng it was a call to action that inspired him to create an entire forest. When Payeng was just a teenager in 1979 he came across a bed of dead snakes on the sun-baked shores of the Brahmaputra river. The limbless beasts had been stranded on the barren banks and perished in the unmitigated heat due to the lack of shade or tree cover. Payeng wept over the corpses but resolved to turn his sadness into action.

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Peak Everything

Or, Stuff We’re Running Out of and Have No Good Way to Replace

I’m sure you all are well-familiar with the peak oil phenomenon, but did you know that oil isn’t the only thing that modern civilization needs to survive that we’re depleting at an alarming rate or is almost gone altogether? Here are a few lesser-known resources that may no longer naturally exist by the 22nd century.


Phosphorous mine in Israel. Wikipedia

Phosphorous is a weird thing– you probably recognize the word from the periodic table of elements hanging up on the wall of your chemistry classroom. How in the heck could we be running out of a basic element? Where is it all going?

For you gardeners out there, you probably associate phosphorous with fertilizer, and rightfully so. Commercially-produced chemical fertilizer is where all of the world’s supply of phosphorous is going, and it’s going there at breakneck speed. Phosphorous, nitrogen, and potassium form the basic nutritional needs of just about every plant on earth; this is where you get your fertilizer ratios from: 9-9-9, 6-20-10, and so on. The problem is that the phosphorous in these commercial formulas come from rock phosphate, a sedimentary formation that takes millions of years to form, and is only found in a few geographical areas on earth.


Phosphorus (chemical symbol P) is an element necessary for life. Because phosphorus is highly reactive, it does not naturally occur as a free element, but is instead bound up in phosphates. Phosphates typically occur in inorganic rocks.

As farmers and gardeners know, phosphorus is one of the three major nutrients required for plant growth: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Fertilizers are labelled for the amount of N-P-K they contain (for example 10-10-10).

Most phosphorus is obtained from mining phosphate rock. Crude phosphate is now used in organic farming, whereas chemically treated forms such as superphosphate, triple superphosphate, or ammonium phosphates are used in non-organic farming.

Philip H. Abelson writes in Science:

The current major use of phosphate is in fertilizers. Growing crops remove it and other nutrients from the soil… Most of the world’s farms do not have or do not receive adequate amounts of phosphate. Feeding the world’s increasing population will accelerate the rate of depletion of phosphate reserves.


…resources are limited, and phosphate is being dissipated. Future generations ultimately will face problems in obtaining enough to exist.

It is sobering to note that phosphorus is often a limiting nutrient in natural ecosystems. That is, the supply of available phosphorus limits the size of the population possible in those ecosystems.


A peat harvest in 1905. Wikipedia

I don’t know of any source that make reference to a “peak peat”, but from my understanding of the bell curve that peak predictions rely on, it would make sense to consider peat through this lens.

Peat is basically like a thick, cakey mud that’s dug up from moors and bogs for use in a number of different industries. In rural areas with few trees, it’s cut up into bricks, dried, and used as fuel for stoves and fires. In places like Russia and Finland, peat actually constitutes a sizable percentage of grid energy. Because of its high carbon content, it’s also used to purify water and also, with sphagnum moss, used as a potting soil additive to improve texture and water retention.

Unfortunately, being the product of thousands of years of anaerobic decomposition under special wetland conditions, peat harvesting is completely unsustainable. What’s more, peat bogs are huge carbon sinks, which are both a blessing and a curse for us at this point in time. Good, because under ideal conditions, these areas help mitigate climate change, and bad, because, well, some of the larger ones to be found in tundras all over the world are beginning to thaw for the first time since the last Ice Age, and have the potential to release billions of tons of methane in the process.


Peat moss is mined, which involves scraping off the top layer of living sphagnum moss. The sphagnum peat bog above the mined product is a habitat for plants like sundews, butterwort and bog rosemary, as well as rare and endangered animals like dragonflies, frogs and birds, not to mention the living moss itself.  Despite manufacturers’ claims that the bogs are easy to restore, the delicate community that inhabits the bog cannot be quickly re-established.  Yes, peat moss is a renewable resource, but it can take hundreds to thousands of years to form.

Like all precious wetlands, peat bogs purify fresh air and even mitigate flood damage.

And there are archeological reasons to preserve peat bogs.  In the acidic moss below the living layer, wooden artifacts of people who lived long ago survive, even the remains of the people themselves.  CO2 is also preserved – trapped in the moss, but released into the air when mined. In fact, peat bogs store about 10% of all fixed carbon.

In the U.S., peat moss is almost exclusively used by the horticulture industry. 40,000 acres of sphagnum are currently being harvested in Canada, with 90% of the product destined for gardens in the U.S. In the U.K., where peat moss is burned as fuel, as well, nearly 94% of the lowland bogs have been altered or completely destroyed due to harvesting.  And most of our peat is shipped hundreds of miles, often when it’s wet and heavy, which adds further to the fuel required for shipping.

Many conservationists, gardeners, and wetlands scientists in these countries have recommended a boycott of peat. The Royal Horticultural Society hopes for a 90% reduction by 2010.  Areas in Ireland have already banned the harvesting of peat moss altogether.

For those of you looking to replace peat moss in your gardens, coco coir is a relatively renewable resource (and actually does the job better), and conifer needles do a good job of acidifying your soil.


El Chino, an open-pit copper mine in New Mexico. Wikipedia

Copper is another basic element from the periodic table that we’ve all but used up. It’s used in countless industries for countless applications from the pipes in your house, to your city’s high-tension power lines, to the ammo in your handgun, to the some of the smallest components in your electronic gadgets. Copper is also a component in a number of important alloys, including brass and bronze. The stuff is understood to be the first metal to be extensively used by humans, and its adoption dates back at least 10,000 years.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise that 97% of all the copper that has ever been mined was dug out of the ground in the last 100 years and change. Let’s phrase that a different way so I can convey how mind-boggling that is: it took us 10,000 years to mine only 3% of the copper humans have ever used, and only 115 to mine the rest.

If you’ve ever done work on your home or electrical projects, you’ll know that copper is expensive. And if you’ve ever driven around the deserts of the US Southwest, you’ll probably have seen billboards about copper theft. Speaking of copper theft, from Wikipedia:

Copper wire thefts have also become increasingly common in the US. With copper prices at $3.70 a pound as of June 2007, compared to $0.60 a pound in 2002, people have been increasingly stealing copper wire from telephone and power company assets. Gangs have been created, a black market for copper wire has emerged, and men even have been injured in power plants while trying to obtain copper wire. Other sources of stolen copper include railroad signal lines, grounding bars at electric substations, and even a 3000-pound bell stolen from a Buddhist temple in Tacoma, Washington, which was later recovered.

For example, Georgia, like many other states, has seen enough copper crime that a special task force has been created to fight it. The Metro Atlanta Copper Task Force is led by the Atlanta Police Department and involves police and recyclers from surrounding metro areas, Georgia Power, and the Fulton County DA’s office.

A piece from Mines 2 Markets details what claims of peak copper mean:

The trigger now is the demand to wire up the cities in Asia’s booming economies, in India and, particularly, China. China’s vast programme of urbanisation and industrialisation exploded demand for copper from 2000 onwards. Urban population increases (by 2025, one billion people are projected to live in urban areas) will create 221 Chinese cities with over one million people (Europe has 35 such cities). On official data, China accounts for around 40 per cent of current world copper demand. […]

The use of the word “peak” has become emotive. Peak theory, most often associated with oil, was first postulated by American geophysicist M King Hubbert. A Shell employee, he created a model projecting that oil production would peak by 1995, a concept long contended.

But there are major differences between oil and copper, most importantly that copper stays around, and then stays around some more. The International Copper Association (ICA) says 80 per cent of copper ever mined is still in use. The cent or penny in your pocket may contain remains of some ancient Egyptian piping.

Complicating the picture, control of copper supplies is seeing structural change. Industrialised nations have preferred to focus on “new economy” high tech activities and services, believing that minerals could always be acquired on global markets supplied from overseas.

Resource nationalism and labour unrest are key threats to production according to CRU. Increasing government interventions in the copper market are frequent: increased taxes and royalties in Chile, Peru, Zambia, Russia, China, India and, recently, Australia. There has been loss of licences in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and more governments acquiring stakes in mining businesses. […]

Billions and billions are being spent across the copper industry, driven by thoughts of a booming Asia. The market rates investment in copper mines higher than for other non-ferrous metals, while demand, as Rio Tinto forecasts, continues its upward trend.

Yet behind the annual ebb and flow of surpluses and deficits, the conundrum of “peak copper” has yet to be tested. All that seems certain is that, like oil, in today’s money, cheap copper, at least, may have peaked.


dust storm, kansas, the dust bowl, the great depression, erosion, drought

Dust storm picking up over a barren field.

Topsoil. You know the stuff: brown, full of humus, water-retentive, and alive with microorganisms and networks of fungi. All the healthy, natural deliciousness that allows plants to grow strong and healthy. Yeah, we’re running out of this too. And the US ought to be well-familiar with what happens when topsoil disappears. Remember that little thing called the Dust Bowl? From

The world is losing soil 10 to 20 times faster than it is replenishing it. At the same time, population is growing exponentially – 9.3 billion by 2050, according to UN projections.

Areas of the world – particularly northern China, sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of Australia are already losing large tracts of arable land. Soil management is about more than heaping on chemical fertilizers. A 2008 New York Times article, Scientists focus on making better soil to help with food concerns, that examined the complex nature of simple dirt found that:

Soil does not arise quickly. In nature it starts with a layer of glacial grit,or windblown sand, or cooled lava, or alluvial silt, or some other crumbled mineral matter. A few pioneer plants put down shallow roots, and living things begin to make their homes in and on the surface, enriching it with their excrement, and enriching it further when they die and rot.The resulting organic matter feeds a whole underground ecology that aerates the soil, fixes nutrients, and makes it more hospitable for plant life, and over time the process feeds back on itself. If the soil does not wash away or get parched by drought, it very gradually thickens. It takes tens of thousands of years to make 15 centimeters of topsoil, about 6 inches’ worth.

The UN’s Global Environment outlook, published 2007, states: “Deficiency of plant nutrients in the soil is the most significant biophysical factor limiting crop production across very large areas in the tropics.”

Honorable Mentions: Lithium, Neodymium, Uranium


From Peak Generation:

Lithium is central to the electric cars, because it’s used to create superior batteries – and it’s starting to run out, too. Although clearly less urgent than the items above, this is here to make the observation that it’s wrong to assume that after hitting the peak in global resources we can carry on as before, except that the commute will be in battery-powered cars.

A typical ithium-ion cell can generate approximately three volts, compared to 2.1 volts for lead/acid and 1.5 volts for zinc-carbon cells. According to an April 2010 column Peak Everything? on “free minds and free markets” website, it’s running out fast:

For example, the Chevy Volt, scheduled to be at dealers this fall, will be energized by 400 pounds of lithium ion batteries, plus a gasoline engine to produce electricity to extend the car’s range of travel once the batteries are drained. In 2007, William Tahil, an analyst with the France-based consultancy, Meridian International Research, issued a report that alarmingly concluded that there is “insufficient economically recoverable lithium available in the Earth’s crust to sustain electric vehicle manufacture in the volumes required.” Tahil added, “Depletion rates would exceed current oil depletion rates and switch dependency from one diminishing resource to another.”

In fairness, a couple of companies are claiming to be developing far superior batteries, that use more common materials – but then if fuel cells lived up to their claims, we’d not even need these. In addition, seawater contains an estimated 230 billion tons of lithium, though at a low concentration of 0.1 to 0.2 ppm – but whether this be harvested in a world of declining hydrocarbons is open to debate.


Also from Peak Generation:

Neodymium is a rare earth metal that makes the strongest permanent magnets known. These are used in products ranging from magnetic computer discs to wind turbines.

Think that when oil supplies start to dwindle, we can all commute in a fleet of hybrid or electric vehicle? Back to

For example, the magnets that drive a Prius hybrid’s electric motor use more than two pounds of neodymium. . . Because China can more cheaply produce neodymium than any other country in the world, that country is now the source of 95 percent of the world’s neodymium. Recently, however, China’s government warned that it would begin restricting exports of neodymium (and other rare earth metals) in order to insure supplies for its own manufacturers.

However, this item does state that inventors of a new AC induction motor claim to have eliminated the permanent neodymium magnets. But it’s still an example that driving a Prius is no solution to a future of peak resources.


From the MIT Technology Review:

Perhaps the most worrying problem is the misconception that uranium is plentiful. The world’s nuclear plants today eat through some 65,000 tons of uranium each year. Of this, the mining industry supplies about 40,000 tons. The rest comes from secondary sources such as civilian and military stockpiles, reprocessed fuel and re-enriched uranium. “But without access to the military stocks, the civilian western uranium stocks will be exhausted by 2013, concludes Dittmar.

It’s not clear how the shortfall can be made up since nobody seems to know where the mining industry can look for more. […]

But what of new technologies such as fission breeder reactors which generate fuel and nuclear fusion? Dittmar is pessimistic about fission breeders. “Their huge construction costs, their poor safety records and their inefficient performance give little reason to believe that they will ever become commercially significant,” he says.

And the future looks even worse for nuclear fusion: “No matter how far into the future we may look, nuclear fusion as an energy source is even less probable than large-scale breeder reactors.”

Dittmar paints a bleak future for the countries betting on nuclear power. And his analysis doesn’t even touch on issues such as safety, the proliferation of nuclear technology and the disposal of nuclear waste.

The message if you live in one of these countries is to stock up on firewood and candles.

There is one tantalising ray of sunlight in this nuclear nightmare: the possibility that severe energy shortages will force governments to release military stockpiles of weapons grade uranium and plutonium for civilian use. Could it be possible that the coming nuclear energy crisis could rid the world of most of its nuclear weapons?

What about peak water?

Yes! That should definitely be on here. But, as a born and bred Southern Californian, the subject of water management and drought is near and dear to my heart, so it will be getting its own post.

People First at This Public Regrigerator

Originally posted on Raxa Collective:

Issam Massaoudi, an unemployed Moroccan immigrant, checks out what's inside the Solidarity Fridge. Massaoudi says money is tight for him, and it's Issam Massaoudi, an unemployed Moroccan immigrant, checks out what’s inside the Solidarity Fridge. Massaoudi says it’s “amazing” to be able to help himself to healthy food from Galdakao’s communal refrigerator. PHOTO: NPR

Last year, a small act of kindness in the desert country of Saudi Arabia warmed the hearts of many across the globe. An anonymous individual put a fridge outside his house and called on neighbors to fill it with food for the needy. And now a pioneering project in the Basque town of Galdakao, population about 30,000, aims to eliminate wastage of perfectly good groceries and food. Solidarity refrigerator is showing the world how a little generosity can go a long way.

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Can We Keep Cars Off the Streets

Originally posted on Raxa Collective:

Madrid's car-free zone is just under 500 acres. Only people who live in the zone are allowed to take their cars inside. Those who want to drive in, but don't live in central Madrid, need to have a guaranteed space in one of the city's official parking lots Madrid’s car-free zone is just under 500 acres. Only people who live in the zone are allowed to take their cars inside. PHOTO: Pictures Dot News

After over a hundred years of living with cars, some cities are slowly starting to realize that the automobile doesn’t make a lot of sense in the urban context. It isn’t just the smog or the traffic deaths; in some cities, cars aren’t even a convenient way to get around. Commuters in L.A. spend 90 hours a year stuck in traffic. A UK study found that drivers spend 106 days of their lives looking for parking spots. A growing number of cities are getting rid of cars in certain neighborhoods through fines, better design, new apps, and, in the case of Milan, even paying commuters to leave their car parked at home and take the train instead.

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Cooking with Scraps from Food 52

I love Food 52. I don’t know how I originally discovered it, I don’t know what the 52 means, and I definitely don’t know whether I’ll ever be able to afford anything from their online store (I’d kill for that whetstone…).

What I do know is that it is a fantastic resources for foodies and zero-wasters like me.

Since “moving in” with my Canadian partner almost 3 months ago, I’ve come to realize that many of my go-to meals that I’d been using for several years before suddenly aren’t all that useful. What I mean is that me, being raised in a Latino household (or several of them, really) in Southern California has given me a completely different idea of what comfort food is, and it’s given me a special appreciation for certain ingredients. While on the other hand, my husband, being raised on steak and potatoes in the suburbs of what he calls “Canada’s Texas”, has a vastly different idea of what a good meal is. Add to that the fact that I have a really poor sense of smell while he has an exceptional one, and many things that I find to be essential to a basic meal (strong aromatics, onions, peppers, fresh herbs), are sometimes unpalatable to him. And then there’s the fact that I’m practically vegan up here because dairy and eggs are so darned expensive, and…

Well, you get the idea.

The point is that I’m having to get creative unless I don’t mind resorting to PBnJ’s for dinner. Which I do mind. A lot. (We generally try to stay away from wheat and bread as often as possible. It’s bad for my hypoglycemia, and it’s bad for his metabolism.) And ordering pizza gets damn expensive.

So, kitchen burnout happens. And when I need ideas, I turn to sites like Food 52. Here are some of my favorite finds:

In addition to recipes, the site has a good number of articles on what to do with scraps or otherwise inedible plant leftovers.  I think you can all agree with me that kitchen waste sucks.

PS- My favorite recipe organizing app for the Android thus far is Chef Tap. I tried a number of them on my iPhone, even one that cost me $5. But this one is, hands-down, the best so far. The tagging system is amazing, and no more having to find and look up recipes from only your phone, let alone from just the app’s database, because there’s a desktop-friendly site that lets you manage your recipes.

Raw Diets for Pets

Is it just me, or do pet food manufacturers jump on the same food bandwagons as people food manufacturers do? It seems you can’t even walk into an independent pet store without seeing shelf upon shelf of grain-free, or gluten-free cat and dog food. What, exactly, is going on here?

Let me say this up front: raw food diets for animal companions are not a trend, but boy howdy are the pet food companies trying to turn ’em into one! If you think that pre-made raw food is atrociously expensive, it is. All the more reason to make it yourself. But, more on that later.

What is a raw diet?

A raw diet (for pets) is a lot like what a raw diet is for people: uncooked, unprocessed, whole foods that provide a balanced species-appropriate nutritional profile that mimics what nature intended for them to eat. Animal parts of all sorts, from meat to offal to bone, a few choice veggies, egg, and the occasional supplemental source of protein or oil, are all part of a quality raw diet.

What are the benefits?

The benefits to switching from kibble to raw are immense. Improved health through the whole body; healthier teeth, coats, intestinal tracks and their flora, liver, pancreas, muscle… everything. In cats, stool consistency and odor is greatly improved also. These are just short-term improvements that can be seen in a matter of weeks, though. The long-term picture for a carnivorous animal getting fed a more natural diet are tremendous. All it takes is a little digging to find countless stories of pets, old and young, being saved from euthanasia or invasive veterinary treatments by being switched to a raw diet… and usually at the discouragement of their vets. Why is this? First, though:

What’s wrong with kibble?

The vast majority of kibble is bad. And I mean bad. It is essentially equivalent to eating 3 meals a day from what you can find at 7-11. How long do you expect to be healthy on a diet like that? How long before the health complications start piling up? Or imagine feeding any other carnivorous pet–like a ball python or falcon–a vegetable-based diet of crunchy, extruded bits of who-knows-what. Harder to picture, right? Well, it’s time to star thinking of our dogs and cats (and ferrets too!) as meat-eating animals with special dietary needs, just like their wild cousins.

Here’s an abridged version of a very long and thorough article, written by a vet, on why you should not feed your carnivorous pets dry kibble:

1. Ingredients

Dry food is typically made from rendered ingredients, such as chicken meal, poultry byproduct meal, and meat and bone meal (MBM). Rendering starts with animal-source ingredients being fed into a massive grinder to reduce them to chunks. The resulting hodgepodge is boiled at high temperatures for hours or even days, turning everything to mush. Fat floats to the top and is skimmed off for other uses. The remainder is dried to a low-moisture, high protein powder suitable for use in dry foods. […]

Because all of this ends up as an amorphous brown powder, it’s impossible to know what went into it. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that dog foods containing MBM and/or “animal fat” (both rendered ingredients) were the most likely to contain pentobarbital, the primary drug used to euthanize animals. […]

A survey of dry cat food for sale at a popular internet pet site found a huge variation in the price and quality. As expected, generic and grocery-store type dry cat foods were less than $2.00 per pound, while “organic” and many “grain-free” foods were more in the $3.00/lb. range. But the mostexpensive foods were not grain free, organic, or natural; but rather were those most massively (and expensively) advertised. Science Diet’s Feline Indoor Maintenance rang up at an astonishing $3.96 per pound, despite containing not one single shred of real meat (mainly poultry by-product meal, rice, and corn). Don’t even ask about Hill’s Prescription Diets—but if you just gotta know, their “hypoallergenic” z/d formula is over $6.00/lb.

2. Processing

To make dry food, whatever rendered high-protein meal is being used is mixed into a sticky, starchy dough that can be pressed through an extruder, which forms the kibble. The dough is forced by giant screws through a barrel and ultimately into tiny tubes that end in a shape, much like a cake decorator. The heat and pressure in the extruder are tremendous. As the compressed dough exits into the air, it passes through a whirling mass of sharp knives that cuts the pieces individually as they “pop” when they reach normal air pressure, creating the familiar shapes associated with each pet food brand.

While heat processing makes vegetables, fruits, and grains more digestible, it has the opposite effect on proteins. Not only are cooked proteins less digestible, but they can be distorted, or “denatured,” by heating. These abnormal proteins may be a factor in the development of food allergies, as the immune system reacts to these unfamiliar and unnatural shapes.

Enzymes, special proteins that aid in thousands of chemical reactions in the body, are especially fragile, and are rapidly destroyed by heat, even at relatively low temperatures. The normal food enzymes that would help digest the food are destroyed by processing. This forces the pancreas to make up for those lost enzymes. Over time, the pancreas can become stressed and enlarged, and even get pushed into life-threatening pancreatitis.

3. Carbohydrates

[…] Dogs and cats are carnivores, meat-eaters. Their natural diet is high protein and high moisture. For example, a whole rat contains about 8% carbs, which are found mainly in the liver. Natural prey (birds, rabbits, rodents, etc.) contain from 9-10% carbs. Some of this is consists of glycogen, a fuel the body stores in the muscles and liver, and some comes from undigested food in the prey’s gut. The carnivore’s ideal diet is essentially the Atkins diet: lots of protein and fat, and a small amount of complex carbohydrates from vegetables.

The average carb content of dry cat food is about 30% carbohydrates; it ranges from 8% in EVO Cat and Kitten food (most the carbs are replaced by 44% protein and an astronomical 47% fat), to 48% in Blue Buffalo Lite. Protein is the most expensive ingredient, and carbs the least expensive; so in general, cheaper foods contain more carbs. […]

Heat processing increases the glycemic index of carbohydrates. Corn—a common ingredient of dry food—has a glycemic index similar to a chocolate bar. When dry food is available all the time, cats in particular will nibble at it 15-20 times a day. This causes multiple sharp swings in blood sugar and requires the pancreas to secrete insulin each time. Over-secretion of insulin causes cells to down-regulate and become resistant to insulin. This is one reason why dry food is a major contributor to feline (Type II) diabetes.

4. Calories

It’s currently estimated that about 50% of dogs and cats in the U.S. are overweight, and many are seriously obese. Carrying extra weight isn’t cute and cuddly—it will shorten your pet’s life, create unnecessary discomfort, and will surely lead to one or more chronic diseases, such as diabetes, bladder and kidney disease, arthritis, liver failure, chronic gastrointestinal problems, poor immunity, and even cancer. You’re not doing your pet any favors by giving in to those abnormal appetites, which are in most cases caused and perpetuated by dry food. […]

5. Dehydration

Obviously, dry food is dry. This is a big problem for cats, whose ancestors are desert-dwelling wild cats. They have passed on to our pets their super-efficient kidneys, which are designed to extract every last drop of moisture from prey animals. As a result, cats have a low thirst drive, and don’t drink water until they are about 3% dehydrated—a dehydration level so serious that most veterinarians would consider giving intravenous fluids. Dogs have a higher thirst drive and will drink more readily, so they are less prone to dehydration.

Dehydration causes or contributes to many serious health issues, including urinary crystals and stones, bladder infections, FLUTD, constipation, and kidney disease.

6. Potential Contaminants

Given the types of things manufacturers put in pet food, such as pesticide-soaked grains and diseased, dead, and dying animals, it is not surprising that bad things sometimes happen. Ingredients used in pet food are often highly contaminated with a wide variety of toxic substances. Some of these are destroyed by processing, but others are not. […]

Bacteria & bacterial toxins. Slaughtered animals, as well as those that have died because of disease, injury, or natural causes, are sources of meat, by-products, and rendered meals for pet food. Rendered products commonly found in dry pet food include chicken meal, poultry by-product meal, and meat and bone meal. […]

Drugs. Because sick or dead animals are frequently processed for pet foods, the drugs that were used to treat or euthanize them may still be present in the end product. Penicillin and pentobarbital are just two examples of drugs that can pass through processing unchanged. Antibiotics used in livestock production also contribute to antibiotic resistance in humans.

Mycotoxins. Toxins from mold or fungi are called mycotoxins. Modern farming practices, adverse weather conditions, and improper drying and storage of crops can contribute to mold growth. Pet food ingredients that are most likely to be contaminated with mycotoxins are grains such as wheat and corn; and fish meal. There have been many large pet food recalls in response to illness and death in pets due to a very powerful poison, called aflatoxin, in dry food.

Chemical Residues. Pesticides and fertilizers may leave residue on plant products. Grains that are condemned for human consumption by the USDA due to residue may legally be used in pet food.

GMOs. Genetically modified plant products are also of concern. […]

Acrylamide. This carcinogenic compound forms at cooking temperatures of about 250˚F in foods containing certain sugars and the amino acid asparagine (found in large amounts in potatoes and cereal grains). It forms during a chemical process called the Maillard reaction. Most dry pet foods contain cereal grains or starchy vegetables such as potatoes, and they are processed at high temperatures (200–300°F at high pressure during extrusion; baked foods are cooked at well over 500°F). These conditions are perfect for the Maillard reaction. In fact, the Maillard reaction is desirable in the production of pet food because it imparts a palatable taste, even though it reduces the bioavailability of some amino acids, including taurine and lysine. The amount and potential effects of acrylamide in pet foods are unknown.

7. Preservatives 

Preservatives are not needed in canned foods since canning is itself a preserving procedures. Dry food manufacturers need to ensure that dry foods have a long shelf life (typically 12 to 18 months) to remain edible through shipping and storage, fats used in pet foods are preserved with either synthetic or “natural” preservatives. Synthetic preservatives include butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), propyl gallate, propylene glycol (also used as a less-toxic version of automotive antifreeze), and ethoxyquin. For these antioxidants, there is little information documenting their toxicity, safety, interactions, or chronic use in pet foods that may be eaten every day for the life of the animal. Propylene glycol, which keeps semi-moist food and “bits” soft and chewy,  is banned in cat food because it causes anemia in cats, but it is still allowed in dog food. […]

8. Liver Disease

[…] Cats’ livers are particularly sensitive to dietary changes. If a cat does not eat, the liver gets stressed and starts calling for “reinforcements.” In the cat’s case, this consists of fat breakdown around the body, which the liver then grabs from the blood stream and packs into its cells. This extreme fat hoarding can become so serious that it prevents cells from functioning properly, and a life-threatening type of liver failure, called “hepatic lipidosis” (fatty liver disease) can result. Overweight cats, and cats eating mostly or only dry food, are most at risk.

9. Allergies & Asthma

[…] As mentioned briefly above, the high-heat processing that dry food undergoes during manufacturing can denature proteins, meaning that it distorts their shape. To a protein, shape is everything, and only a protein in the correct shape will function properly. Shape is also how the immune system identifies proteins that belong in the body (“self”) versus foreign proteins. Viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other invaders are all identified by the proteins found on their surfaces. When an immune cell identifies a foreign protein, a whole cascade of signaling for reinforcements and production of antibodies is set into motion. Antibodies then scour the bloodstream looking for invaders matching their shape; when they find one, they latch on and signal for support. Inflammation is one of the primary responses.

When an abnormal protein is picked up by an immune cell and antibodies are produced, then every time that protein appears, antibodies flock to it and stimulate inflammation. More bad proteins, more inflammation.

The gut doesn’t take kindly to this reaction, and will start rejecting the food—one way or another—vomiting or diarrhea. Cats seem to be especially good at (or perhaps fond of) vomiting, and indeed, vomiting is the primary symptom of food allergies, as well as full-blown inflammatory bowel disease. […]

10. Kidney and Bladder Stones

Both dogs and cats can develop inflammation, crystals, and stones in their bladders and kidneys. These conditions are exacerbated, if not outright caused, by dry food.

[…] The best way to prevent all bladder problems is to keep lots of fluid flowing through the urinary system to flush these problem particles out. The dehydrating quality of dry food produces highly concentrated urine that is much more likely to form crystals and stones. Wet food is needed to keep the urinary tract healthy; and it’s essential in any dog or cat with a history of bladder disease.

So why don’t more vets recommend raw diets?

This is a complex issue, but unfortunately in my research, the blame can almost always be placed on the kibble companies themselves. Hills, the maker of Science Diet, is so ingrained in the veterinary culture that they are pretty much responsible for all the training on nutrition that a US vet will get while at school. From providing the professors to sponsoring student programs to writing the textbooks, it appears that they peddle the kibble myth to aspiring vets from day one.

The other issue is that, like human medical doctors, vets don’t actually pay all that much attention to the role of diet in a patient’s health. Or at least, not nearly enough. Pills are almost always preferable to a change in lifestyle, and that goes for animals too. The other concern is that pet owners won’t do it right–which is another reason pills are preferred; they’re harder to screw up–and make their pets even sicker by mishandling raw meat or not providing the right balance of nutrients.

And last, there’s always the liability concern. If a vet gives you the go-ahead to start throwing whole cornish hens at your dog, and the dog chokes on a bone, you might sue. And nobody wants that. Unfortunately, many fears about raw diets are unfounded, and many vets believe in these myths (probably due in no small part to their kibble-peddling professors in college).

How do I get started?

There are several ways to do this, but it’s generally recommended that you go cold-turkey, especially with cats because of how they digest meals. (If you feed a cat raw meat and kibble at the same time in an attempt to transition, the meat and the kibble will digest at different rates, and parts of their meal run the risk of going rancid in their gut.) The first thing to do, though, is to stop your pet’s grazing habits if they are in fact a free-feeder. This means setting specific mealtimes and removing the food in between. Yes, they will probably whine and beg for a few days, but patience here is key. They’ll get used to the new routine in no time.

Because the rest is species-specific–and even breed-specific in the case of some dogs–here are some links that far surpass whatever I’ve gleaned in the past few months. I’m still learning too!

For Dogs

For Cats

For Ferrets

So this is Lucky, a cat I rescued off the street in Bed Stuy 4 years ago. Even though I was super poor at the time, I still fed her as much raw food as I could afford. Then I brought her back to California with me, and she went on a grain-free kibble diet because it just wasn’t possible for me to keep doing raw. There was no room in the freezer, I couldn’t trust my grandmother to do it correctly when I wasn’t around, and I was just lazy. Now that she’s here with me in Vancouver, with not one but TWO loving humans who’d do anything for her, I decided to start feeding her raw again.

The first bad habit I needed to break was her grazing. She was used to having food in the bowl 24/7, and would munch here and there throughout the day. Grazing is an unnatural behavior in cats; in the wild, they have to eat as much of their kill as possible otherwise it’ll start to rot. Tired from hunting and full from eating, their natural inclination is to bathe and then nap the rest of the day away until its time to eat again. (Cats are active at dawn and dusk and shouldn’t be eating more than twice a day unless medically necessary.)

At first I started her off with wet food to get her away from the texture of kibble. The canned stuff she took to immediately (can’t blame her, it’s designed to smell great), but the less processed dehydrated stuff I got, a brand called Sojos, was less to her liking and she’d only eat as much as absolutely necessary. I’m sure the vegetable chunks were a turn-off. When it became apparent that she was never going to finish the bag of dehydrated food, I decided that it was time to switch. We headed off to the nearest Asian supermarket and bought a few trays of meat: chicken wings, boneless chicken thighs, duck gizzards, and the smelt.

The trouble with raw food is that it just doesn’t smell as exciting as processed junk food–hey, just like it is with humans!–and it can be tough to convince your pet that the chunks of raw, relatively odorless chicken in their bowl is actually food at all. So the trick here is to brighten up the smell with something a bit more familiar to them if they don’t take to it right away. Catnip, a schmear of canned food, or even a ground-up sprinkle of their old kibble will help a lot. (It’s like getting your kids to eat their veggies by putting cheese on it.)

If your cat is a lifelong kibble-cruncher, then they won’t actually have the jaw muscles to tear into the tougher cuts of meat, ligaments, skin, and especially bones, that they otherwise would have. So it’s useful to start them off with softer tissue, or cut others into smaller, more manageable pieces. The process of building up that jaw strength can take months; and until they can chew their way through a bone, you will have to supplement their diet with essential nutrients like calcium and phosphorous. I read that you can use ground-up egg shells for this instead of buying a supplement.

Part of that can be alleviated by feeding your cat what’s called “whole prey’– like the fish in the picture. Granted, I only give her a few a week as I don’t want to screw up her thiamine absorption, but the bones and offal in the fish do somewhat make up for the fact that she’s just not that great at chewing larger bones yet. (The most she can handle right now is the ends of chicken wings.) Though that’s not to say don’t give your cat bones if they can’t eat them! Even just attempting to eat them is beneficial as it cleans their teeth and is a great workout. You can always put the unfinished bones in the freezer until they’re ready to tackle them down the road.

Eventually, I’d like to start developing her taste for heart (rich in taurine), liver (always feed organic liver if nothing else, because that’s where all the toxins and antibiotics wind up), other offal, and maybe even pinkie mice. I also gotta figure out where to buy brain and green tripe around here!

Did I mention that switching your pets to a raw diet produces less waste too? Even if you’re still buying meat on styrofoam trays, think of all the energy from shipping and processing and rendering that isn’t being used to feed your pet now. And if you have access to a decent butcher who’ll fill your jars with beef hearts and chicken wings? I’d say you won the jackpot.

Not a pretty picture

Originally posted on Rebalancing Acts:

Image above, and text quoted below, from this article on Grist: “Fossil fuel companies have been lying about climate change for more than 30 years”

As early as 1977, the report’s authors note, “representatives of fossil fuel companies including BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, and Shell attended dozens of congressional hearings in which the contribution of carbon emissions to the greenhouse effect and other aspects of climate science were discussed.”

An email written last year by a former Exxon employee recounts that by 1981, the company was very concerned about the prospect of carbon dioxide emissions triggering climate change and bringing on regulation

So naturally they did what any self-respecting big corporation that was worried about the terrible beast of regulation, and they started lying about what they knew, and spinning what was there to convince people there was sufficient doubt in the science that maybe just maybe…

View original 270 more words

What Rob Greenfield and Mick Dodge Have In Common

So I stumbled upon RobGreenfield.TV a while back via my favorite social network, Diaspora*, and navigated around some before coming across this article:

As of today it has been one year since my last shower. Yes, I know that sounds crazy and a year ago I would have agreed with you. I was a regular showering guy for the first 26 years of my life. Well, maybe not every single day, but just about.

So how does a regular showering guy end up going 365 days and counting without taking a shower? It started with a long bike ride across America to promote sustainability and eco-friendly living. I set a bunch of rules for myself to follow to lead by example. The rule for water was that I could only harvest it from natural sources such as lakes, rivers, and rain or from wasted sources such as leaky faucets. And I kept track of exactly how much I used too, with an aim of showing just how little we need to get by.

I made it through the 100-day bike ride without taking a shower and for me that was quite the task in itself. But everything had gone so well that I decided to continue my showerless streak. I set a goal for 6 months and when that day passed I figured I might as well go a full year without a shower.

So here I am now, one year later, to tell you story of my year without a shower.

I might as well bring this up right away. You think I’m really stinky right? […] When I say that I haven’t showered that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t bathing. I swam almost daily in places like this:

Rob Greenfield Water


But I learned that by living naturally I didn’t need cosmetic products anymore. I just used some soap, toothpaste, and essential oils and found that to work real well. This compared to previously using colognes, deodorant, shampoo, lotions, and all sorts of other products full of chemicals. And guess what?  I had no lack of friends! […]

I learned that the average American uses about 100 gallons of water per day. But I was able to use less than 2 gallons per day on my bike trip. That’s just 8 Nalgene water bottles. (This was not including the natural water and leaky sources that I bathed in.)

Rob Greenfield Drinking

Most importantly I learned to really appreciate every last drop.

I mean, this is all amazing and inspiring and great stuff! I think 100 gallons of water per person per day is a downright shameful amount of water for anyone to use, and everyone* ought to be seriously critical of their water usage.

But this just reminds me of a comment thread on Diaspora* that turned sour when someone started telling me that being “truly healthy” and “truly sustainable” meant that I shouldn’t need deodorant, toothpaste, medicine, or any modern convenience whatsoever. He didn’t want me taking antidepressants because they’re “poison”. (And clinical, chronic depression isn’t?) Anyways, long story short, I got agitated and told him to get out of my post because he was failing spectacularly at solidarity.

But it got me to thinking a little bit– why are characters like that know-it-all on Diaspora*, and this Rob Greenfield person, always men? And why does it never occur to them that the people they are talking to aren’t all men also? And that, maybe, in not being a man, things are just a little bit different? When this happens–and let’s face it, it’s almost a constant in our society–whether it comes from a man or a woman or someone else, it’s called androcentrism. 

One of my favorite guilty pleasure shows right now is the Legend of Mick Dodge. I love that program because Mick, a wildman of some 20 or 30 years, doesn’t give a rat’s ass about television, celebrity, drama, and even likes messing with the camera crew following him around. This winds up having the effect of reminding the viewer that they are, in fact, watching a TV program and not there themselves; which, to me, is an amazing “fuck you” to the whole reality format of the show, and the genre itself. But one of the things I realized after watching a handful of episodes is the complete lack of women in Mick’s world. None of his off-grid friends are women and none of his apprentices are women. It’s a total sausagefest. What gives?

I really mean that as a rhetorical question, because I know exactly what gives. Patriarchy and sexism, to put it bluntly. It’s all in the collective social consciousness: bushcraft, “roughing it”, is a man’s skill; peeing outdoors is par for the course for a man, weird and gross for a woman; men are allowed to be dirty, ugly, and hairy, while women who are un-manicured are often considered subhuman; and so on.

But there are other things at play when I hear healthy men preach about how amazing it is to be free like Rob or Mick.

Show of hands: how many of my female-identified or female-perceived readers would be OK scrubbing down, in your street clothes, via leaking fire hydrant in the middle of New York City, like Rob Greenfield did during his bike trip? I know I wouldn’t. I would be worrying about my safety, to be honest. What more obvious invitation for harassment could there be on a NYC street than a young perceived-woman, completely wet, sudsing down in public on a hot day?

Or how about: how many of my female-identified or female-perceived readers would be OK skinny dipping near a trail, alone, like Rob did during the same trip? I would never, in a million years, do that. The worst-case scenarios are just too real for me to risk it.

The other guilty pleasure show I watched last year, Live Free or Die, featured only a single woman out of a total of five subjects; is it any coincidence that she was also part of the only married couple on the show that lived in a proper house? She and her husband were roughing it, to be sure; I don’t believe they had much in the way of electricity or running water, and money played a very small role in their day to day lives and exchanges with neighbors. But, given the four different lifestyles featured in the program, it should come as no surprise that a woman would only be found in the safest of them: with access to a male partner, a house with doors, and a life that didn’t necessitate wandering the wilds, far from any reliable aid should something, or someone, become a problem.

How come this reality, the reality of being women and perceived-women, is never acknowledged by bushcrafters and advocates of rewilded living? The realities of emotional and physical violence (perpetuated by men), the realities of having having a uterus and needing birth control as a safety measure, and the realities of living up to (and often failing because of hypocrisies inherent to these tropes) what a woman is supposed to be?

And yeesh, that’s not even touching on what happens when a male stranger can’t immediately recognize your gender, or worse, thinks he’s been tricked. That is a very dangerous place to be, and has resulted in many an assault and murder of a trans person**.

So what do Rob Greenfield and Mick Dodge have in common? They’re men, and as such, are granted certain protections by that fact while out on the road or in the wilderness. And I think some of us would like to see the likes of them openly acknowledge that a little more often. Or better yet, use their popularity to do something about it.

With that, I’d like to end this post with a quote by Sylvia Plath:

Yes, my consuming desire is to mingle with road crews, sailors and soldiers, barroom regulars—to be a part of a scene, anonymous, listening, recording—all this is spoiled by the fact that I am a girl, a female always supposedly in danger of assault and battery. My consuming interest in men and their lives is often misconstrued as a desire to seduce them, or as an invitation to intimacy. Yes, God, I want to talk to everybody as deeply as I can. I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night…

*In developed countries
**Mostly trans women of color; may you all rest in power