Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Restaurant Conspiracy-Continued

The new Quiznos commercial shows a Subway Sub next to a Quiznos Sub....and everyone agrees the Quiznos Sub is much better. What the commercial fails to mention is that the Quiznos Sub contains 5 times as many calories! Subway's 6 inch Sub is about 550 calories and the small Quiznos Sub is about 1850 calories. OK, it is better....but is it 1300 calories better?

I am seeing quite a few restaurants that fail to disclose their calorie counts: TGI Fridays, Olive Garden, etc. Seems like these places are actually hiding the nutritional information on most of their foods. At least McDonalds has the balls to be honest about 600 calorie burgers! TGIF has a Jack Daniels Cheese Burger that serves up 1750 calories!!! Super-Size Fries are lightweights (570) compared to Cheesy-Fries (3015). Love pasta? Olive Garden keeps most of their menu secret...why? Because Pasta Alfredo and 3 breadsticks is 2250 calories and their chicken salad is over 1000. Denny's does have their info online...Country Sausage Platter is 2100 calories and has 4 ounces of pure fat!

The harder people try to maintain or lose weight, the worse the options become for healthy dining! It is scary to think that McDonalds may be one of the healthiest menus available only surpassed by Subway (which is actually going out of their way to offer healthy foods.)

Since the 1950's we have been eating out more and more and as a group we are gaining weight. Now I see get our patronage these restaurants stuff their foods full of oils and calories and then refuse to talk about nutritional info!

Resturants defend their non-action by saying that low calorie items are available as well as splurge items but the problem with that is how are diners supposed to tell the difference? For many years I have ordered appetizers instead of full meals thinking that I was getting lower calories and now I find out that the meal STARTERS are over 2000 calories by themselves! As if that isn't bad enough similar entree's calorie count varies widely between different chains. At your typical Mexican restaurant, the two plate-sized (white) fl our tortillas stuffed with melted cheese and with sour cream and guacamole on the side can run you 900 calories but at On The Border a very similar meal hits a whopping 1860 calories.

Some of the “X-Treme Eating” options highlighted in the March issue of CSPI’s Nutrition Action Healthletter include:

• Ruby Tuesday’s “Colossal Burger.” Ruby Tuesday actually became the first big chain to put nutrition information on its menus. Unfortunately it scrapped that initiative, presumably because it meant the sale of fewer Colossal Burgers. With 1,940 calories and 141 grams of fat (more than two days’ worth!), one of these megaburgers is equivalent to about five McDonald’s Quarter Pounders.

• Uno Chicago Grill’s “Pizza Skins.” “We start with our famous deep dish crust, add mozzarella and red bliss mashed potatoes, and top it off with crispy bacon, cheddar, and sour cream,” says the menu. The menu doesn’t disclose that this fusion of pizza and potato skins—which is meant to precede a meal of pizza—packs 2,050 calories, 48 grams of saturated fat, and 3,140 milligrams of sodium (more than a day’s worth). “Even if you split it with two other people, it’s like eating dinner before your dinner even hits the table,” Jacobson said.

• Ruby Tuesday’s “Fresh Chicken & Broccoli Pasta.” Pity the poor diner who thinks this healthy sounding entrĂ©e is on the light side: Thanks to its Parmesan cream sauce and layer of melted cheese, the 2,060 calories and 128 grams of fat make it the equivalent of two 12-ounce sirloin steaks, two buttered baked potatoes, and two Caesar salads. (CSPI calls this dish “Angioplasta.”) At least Ruby Tuesday has the guts to give out menu information!
Eat at Ruby Tuesdays?? Try the Point Reyes Blue Cheese Chips as an appetizer, Alpine Swiss Burger, Fries with ranch dressing, fresh strawberries and ice cream for dessert. Split that between 2 people and serve with a glass of wine apiece. Even split in half it's 1750 calories EACH. Thats right 1 "meal" can be 3484 calories!

• Cheesecake Factory’s “Chris’ Outrageous Chocolate Cake.” There’s room enough on Cheesecake Factory’s sprawling menu for advertisements, but evidently no room for nutrition information. If one is undecided among brownie, pie, or cheesecake for dessert, this 1,380-calorie menu item helpfully provides all of the above. It’s the equivalent of eating two Quarter Pounders plus a large fries—for dessert.

Federal MEAL Acts were introduced in the U.S. House and Senate in the last Congress, but restaurants in New York have avoided the menu guidelines so far, stating, "It's is impossible to fit enough information on the menu to be useful to consumers." Nutritional front runner, Subway has taken the step toward menu labeling with little effort, new menus feature the calories counts of each item.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Great Plastic Menace

No matter how careful I am about recycling, reducing, and re-using, I still end up with many pieces of plastic going into my trash. I get all these little bits and pieces that are just not recyclable by any currently available system.

According to the Energy Information Administration the average American garbage can is 11% plastic by weight and 25% plastic by volume.(1) I am blessed to live in an area that offers pretty good recycling options.(2) I can recycle plastic jugs and bottles(not caps), round dairy tubs(not lids) and plastic shopping bags(no paper receipts and wet ones go in the trash).
So now I am left with all the plastic that I can’t recycle like the lids, plastic wrap, 6-pack rings, bread bags etc, etc. As a crafty person, I re-purpose a lot of these items into usable stuff: I made a beautiful lamp out of CD’s for example, but the majority of this waste plastic is overwhelming.

A little research has made me aware of just how big a problem plastics are becoming in the ocean. Visualize an island twice the size of Texas. Now look closer and realize the “island” is actually made of discarded plastic. Nasty, huh?? A vast landscape of traffic cones, milk jugs, Bic lighters and plastic bags, TWICE THE SIZE OF TEXAS!(4)

What is even worse is that sea life becomes entangled in the mess, eats the shiny pieces and even feeds the plastic bits to their offspring. More than a million seabirds die from ingesting lighters and bottle caps instead of food. Thousands of birds wash ashore dead with their bellies full of tampon applicators, construction cut-outs and pretty scraps. One bird was documented with over 1600 pieces of plastic in it’s gullet. (4)An estimated 100,000 marine mammals per year are killed as a direct result of plastic. We seize up over the Makah Indians killing a gray whale(6) but yet we allow plastics to contaminate the sea?

Where does all this food sized plastic come from? Mostly from us. Each day we handle dozens of small pieces of plastic(hand sized or smaller) and each piece gets discarded in turn when we are done with it; a piece of tape here, a bottle cap there, a foam ear plug, maybe-the list goes on and on. Once it passes out of our hands, we do not feel the responsibility anymore. We did the right thing by recycling what we could and “safely” disposed of the rest. Except that “safe disposal” only means safe for us. it doesn’t mean safe for birds, or safe for animals, and it definitely doesn’t mean safe for the Earth.

Lately I came across a new thought: What if all the plastic that we brought into our homes had to stay in our homes forever? No more throwing it away, ever! What if every single piece became our responsibility for the rest of our lives? How would that impact us and how could we deal with all that plastic? Well on a global scale that is exactly what we are doing. We are creating plastics that we will have to deal with for thousands of years. In fact, “Except for the small amount that’s been incinerated-and it’s a very small amount-every bit of plastic ever made still exists.”(4)

A Personal Experiment: for the past 2 weeks I have been separating out everything that is neither biodegradable or recyclable and already it is starting to add up. Old lighters, plastic wrap, lids, rings and those evil supermarket receipts printed on toxic paper.(3) I have about 10 pounds so far even though I am actually very careful about accepting plastics, in fact, I think about every single piece of plastic like it is radioactive! Each piece I touch makes me wonder, “Do I like this enough to bring it into my life forever?” The point is to actually see how much plastic I use. And I actually plan to live with it for a while -my goal is a year.

I have sewn up some cloth bags to store the trash in. I am packing it down as much as possible and when the bags are full, I plan to strap them together and make something like an ottoman(I hope) and hopefully not a SOFA. I borrowed this idea from Designer, Inna Alesina. Her idea is to use recycled plastic to make pillow forms. Then we would stuff the forms with trash, strap them together and make furniture.(5)

Could you live with a year’s worth of trash? Our planet will be living with all of it, forever, so a year’s worth can’t be too bad, right?



As long as companies are allowed to produce a single scrap of non-recyclable material, that material is going to end up in the ocean. The key is not curb-side recycling but rather stopping the problem at the source. Make EVERY item recyclable, period.

Update, June 28,2008

I am still saving my plastic scraps and I have about 30 pounds on hand now. The first 15 pounds were sold as an ottoman at my last garage sale for $5.00. It was a bundle of plastic scraps about 16 inches square, upolstered in a black velvet I scored at the Goodwill Store. ;-) Seems that people will buy anything for the right price!

Extinction: Tragedy or Destiny?

Should endangered animals be saved? Every single species has a potential for extinction and millions of species have already gone extinct without any interference from humans. Humans have also been the direct cause of several extinctions including dodo birds, Tasmanian tigers, and passenger pigeons. Was it wrong? Of course it was, but could we have saved them? Probably not.

Currently polar bears are in real danger of extinction due to human actions. Thousands are starving to death every year and the numbers a declining at such a rate that humans likely will not be able to stop it. But should we make heroic efforts to save them, maybe not. Without their natural habitat, polar bears will need to be artificially supported throughout their individual lives. This means either the bears end up in zoos(much like what has happened to pandas) or we would have to track each bear and make sure that each one is getting enough to eat every day of their lives. And, someone would have to be responsible for killing seals to feed to polar bears.

Polar bears are declining because they are not able to adapt to their changing environment quickly enough. If we can stop polar melting they would have a chance but if we can't do that then it is better to let the species pass into history than it is to put them all in zoos eating horse meat for the rest of their lives.

The same is true for all endangered species. If we can't fix the main problem that is causing the extinction then it makes no sense to preserve a species by dooming that species to live in an unnatural state.

Would you keep the last passenger pigeon in a cage to preserve it from extinction or let it fly free for it last remaining days?

Monday, September 10, 2007

The real cost of CFL Bulbs.

Every website about global warming urges us to "replace one regular bulb with the new CFL and save X tons of CO2 emissions." The first CFL I bought came wrapped in a non-recyclable clam shell casing roughly the size of a small shoe box. What is eco-friendly about that? My regular light bulbs come in a simple, RECYCLABLE paper box. WalMart has stated that their sales goal of CFL's for 2007 is 6,000,000 units. 6 MILLION plastic shoe boxes going into landfills from just one source!

Regular light bulbs are fairly nontoxic and break down into glass, aluminum, a bit of brass, and a little argon gas. All fairly simple and non-toxic. CFL bulbs on the other hand contain argon and mercury vapor and phosphors. These TOXIC chemicals have to be disposed of in special ways-In my case by driving them to the recycling station. If you break a CFL you risk exposing yourself and family to mercury and the bulb is no longer recycleable so mercury is sent to a landfill.

Regular light bulbs are 4/$1. CFL's are still around $3.99 each.

My regular light bulbs are made by Americans, working good wage jobs in St Louis Missouri (GE is planning to close this factory in 2008) Philips Lighting has its corporate office in Somerset, New Jersey with manufacturing plants in Danville, KY; Bath, NY; Salina, KS; Fairmont, WV; Paris, TX. CFL's are made by hand in China by workers who make around 9 CENTS per hour while being exposed to Mercury Vapor on a daily basis.

Regular bulbs travel up to 500 miles by truck and train(with American drivers) to reach consumers across America. CFL's travel thousands of miles on ships manned by low wage foreign sailors.

Regular light bulbs are made mostly in American Factories under the close watch of the EPA, and maintain very high standards concerning air, water and soil contamination. CFL's are made with almost no environmental oversight, causing huge swaths of contaminated ground. The areas around CFL plants in China typically show mercury poisoning in the soil, water and air. These very areas are also, typically where the factory workers live and grow subsistence gardens, thereby ingesting even more mercury.

Regular light bulbs use 60 watts per hour. CFL's use 13 watts per hour. BUT, when I turn the regular bulb off, the energy savings is then equal to or better than the CFL.

As with any of the new eco-friendly products, think before you buy. The actual cost of many of these new ideas can be very steep and cruel when compared to traditional products . In 99% of cases it is much better to use old light bulbs more responsibly than it is to buy the new CFL's. DON'T SWITCH IT OUT--JUST SWITCH IT OFF!


Thoughts on Personal Furniture...

No matter how careful I am about recycling, reducing, and re-using, I still end up with many pieces of plastic going into my trash. I get all these little bits and pieces that are just not recyclable by any currently available system. In the past I have tossed these items in the trash and hoped for the best but now there is an option: keep it around as Personal Furniture!

Designer Inna Alesina recently presented a design for furniture that is basically recycled plastic shapes that are filled with non-recyclable plastic instead of air. When the shapes are full, they are strapped together to become an ottoman, chair or even a sofa.

I have to say this is a great idea! Since Inna is not currently offering the shapes for sale, I am going to try the same idea using re-purposed fabric. I will make some basic shapes and keep one by the trash can. Instead of tossing those plastic scraps away, I will stuff them into my future living room set!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Composting 401

At this point just about everyone knows to put food scraps in the compost bin but that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to composting.

I have a large compost pile that yeilded about 3 cubic feet of beautiful black soil this spring. I compost just about everything possible while still keeping it look like compost and not a garbage dump.

Vegetable food scraps
coffee grounds
tea bags
egg shells
shredded paper
paper plates
small amounts of cardboard
household sweepings and vacuum contents
tissues used for nose blowing
paper egg cartons
house plant trimmings
pencil shavings
outdated vitamins and minerals
small amounts of raw fish.
small amounts of newspaper
Fish tank water & activated charcoal
pet wastes
wine must(sediments from making homemade wine)

Do Not compost:
Heat sensitive paper like fax paper.
metal shavings
toxic house plants like poinsettia
cooked fish

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Carbon Reduction Verses Saving the Environment??

Lately everyone seems to be getting on the Carbon Footprint bandwagon but I think a majority may be missing an important factor considering how much damage is allowed to the environment in the name of "reducing carbon emissions. Saving the environment is much much harder than the carbon issue in that environmental damage can be a direct result of trying to reduce carbon emissions. Every solar panel, or CF light bulb or rechargeable battery carries with it a legacy of huge environmental damage. Every single item that is manufactured causes pollution somewhere.

The key to actually saving the environment is to stop creating a need for the things that cause the damage. For example, I may want to buy a new Prius hybrid to lower my CO2 emissions but if I did that then I would be contributing to the environmental damage associated with the manufacturing processes including nickel mining in Canada and battery productions in China that have literally killed the areas around the operations right down to the bedrock.

To actually Save the Environment, consider a few of these suggestions:

Keep your car tuned up. Combine trips.

Learn to live with less lighting. Use lamps where you need them instead of lighting up the whole house.

Adjust your home heating and cooling and use layers of clothing to stay comfortable. Heat less of your house. Consolidate your activities to one or two rooms instead of heating and cooling the whole house.

Eat less meat and grow a little garden. Plants trees or tall plants along the sun side of your house to help cool it in the summer. Buy locally-Avoid foods that have to be shipped great distances.

Use what you have longer. Take care of the things you buy so they will last longer. Re-use what you have for other purposes. Donate unneeded items to charity-buy used stuff at charity stores instead of new when possible.

Rethink chemicals. Buy less of them, use less of them. Most cleaners can be cut 50/50 with water and still work well. Be careful of how you dispose of chemicals. Never put anything in your drains that you wouldn't want distilled into drinking water.

Don't drive when you can walk or bike(even a motorcycle is better than a car.) Don't buy new when you can make do or reuse.

Live with less...maybe then we can ALL live longer and happier.

Shutting Down the CO2 Machine

In 2006 China took over the dubious honor of being the #1 producer of CO2 in the world. American's collectively let out a sigh of relief...."It's not our fault anymore!" And so another falsehood enters into the American Culture. It is now easy to think..."Why should I work so hard to reduce CO2 when I know that China is not?" The hidden truth is that the per capita CO2 emissions in China are still far far below the of the US, it takes about 10 Chinese to make as much CO2 as it takes 1 America. And, when you subtract the CO2 associated with the Chinese industries for export products then the ratio drops to about 25 Chinese to 1 American in CO2 production.

This is because, tragically, China has become #1 by building industries to sell energy efficient products to the US. They build CFL's-We buy them, They build batteries for the Toyota Prius-We buy them, They build solar panels-We buy them. A large portion of "China's" CO2 footprint really belongs to America because we buy the products of their industries.

This is the classic example of the idea of "global" warming is out of step with the current standards for reduction.

The average person in the US tries to REDUCE their carbon footprint by buying energy efficient light bulbs, hybrids and re-usable shopping bags without thinking of where those products come from and what effect those industries are having on their local carbon footprint. This is NOT global thinking and it does NOTHING to alleviate the problem. All we are doing, so far, is moving the mess out of our country. The mess is still being produced but it is "out of sight".

The only solution for reducing carbon dioxide is to MAKE LESS by reusing items we already have (plastic shopping bags and well-tuned small cars) and stop buying new crap that makes more CO2 emissions.

Look around your house and find all the items made in CHINA and know that the CO2 emissions to make those things belongs to YOU!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Paper, Plastic, or Canvas??

Paper, Plastic or Canvas??? This is a question we face with every trip to a store but what is the Best choice? It is easy to say that a reusable canvas tote is the best choice but is it really the best choice? Actual carbon-footprints vary depending on the sources of the bags. Recycled plastic bags are showing up in many markets. Most paper bags are post-consumer recycled paper (not usually from "trees" directly.) Canvas tote bags are costly(compared to plastic or paper) and are mostly made in China under questionable working conditions. When we add up the materials(new canvas), the construction(underpaid workers in bad working conditions), add a huge PLASTIC graphic on the side and shipping across the world, then canvas tote bags get very expensive for the environment and for humans.

To be the MOST eco-friendly, just re-use the bags you already have and save the environmental expense of making new tote bags. Double or triple the old plastic bags and double up on paper bags and they will last through a hundred shopping trips. Or, you could re-use a pair of old jeans and make a tote that will last as long as you do.

At the very least look for bags made of re-used materials (Canvas from sails or denim from old jeans maybe) by someone in your neighborhood.

Beware of any eco-friendly ideas that require the purchase of a new item! Every new item including tote bags require a manufacturing process that adds to the over all problem. Right now, being green is a fad that inspires people to buy more, more, the future being green will mean buy less, use less, and use what you have until it is worn out. When you buy stuff you are feeding the FAD...when you actually start re-using what you already have then you are MAKING A DIFFERENCE!

BTW, I got my Free Tote Bag from Yahoo Answers and it arrived in a PLASTIC BAG and has a huge plastic graphic on the side and it is "Made in India"!