Posts tagged ‘land use’

Revisiting Veganism

I’ve been vegan for over a year now. This week it was my birthday, and as a gift, I got a little pack with certificates saying that I’m now Shirley the cow’s and Hamish the pig’s ‘best buddy‘.

These guys live at Edgar’s Mission, and Shirley’s story was the catalyst to my becoming vegan. I wanted to sponsor him since he was the one that set me on the path.

Hamish is just super cute!

Anyway, it reminded me of when I first read Shirley’s story, so I thought I’d revisit the post I wrote at the time. What do you think? Was I on the right track?

I think going vegan was one of the best decisions I ever made. :)

In my pack from Edgar’s Mission, I got a booklet entitled Eating Up The World: the environmental consequences of human food choices. It’s produced by various vegetarian/vegan societies in Australia, so you could get a copy through any of them if you wanted one. It’s also available online at that link. I thought it might be biased considering the producers, but they cite all their sources. Anyway, the booklet really confirmed my decision for me, from an environmental standpoint. It clearly outlines how choosing not to eat animal products is pretty much the single greatest individual activity you can take to help reduce climate change. I think that’s pretty awesome.

Here are some of the main points (I didn’t know a bunch of these before I read the booklet!):

  • It takes 50,000L to 100,000L of water to produce 1kg of beef, but only 2500L to produce 1kg of white rice and much less for most other grains, fruits and vegetables. (This totally makes me think of how I was often told to eat less rice during the drought, because it was such a water-intensive crop and not suited to the Australian climate – which it’s not – but no-one ever told me to eat less beef.)
  • Over 67% of water in Australia is used for agriculture (as compared to 9% for household use), so we should concentrate our water saving efforts on what we eat/wear etc. About 90% of household water consumption comes from food consumption. People eating an omnivorous diet use approximately 3.5 times as much water for food than people eating plant-based diets. Are you seeing a connection here?
  • Australia’s livestock will produce more warming over the next 20 years (via methane) than all our coal-fired power stations combined.
  • 60% of Australia’s land is used for grazing.
  • The UN identified ‘…animal agriculture and food consumption as one of the most significant drivers of environmental pressures and climate change, stating that “a substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products”…’
  • 92% of land disturbance in Australia, which includes clearing forests and bushland, increased erosion, changes to the water table, acidifying and compacting soils, spreading weeds, unsustainable levels of manure and climate change, is caused by animal agriculture (55% beef, 36% sheep/wool, 1% dairy). The remaining 8% is all other industries. That’s EVERYTHING ELSE.
  • 5kg of wild fish is needed to produce 1kg of farmed fish.
  • Fish is one of the most contaminated foods on the planet.
  • Some parts of the ocean have been so over-fished that they are now ‘dead zones’ covering tens of thousands of square kilometres.
  • Australia now imports 30% of our oil (we used to drill our own, but it’s been dropping since 2000 – Australia has already reached peak oil). Animal agriculture uses considerably more energy than plant agriculture, considering transport of feed and livestock, operation of farm facilities including heating, cooling, lighting and slaughter facilities and the constant refrigeration required for storage of the animal products.
  • 27,000 children under the age of 5 die of poverty and starvation every day around the world – and we grow 50% more edible grain worldwide than is required to feed every person on the globe. That extra food plus more is given to farm animals.
  • The world’s cattle (so not including anything but cow type animals) eat enough food to feed more than the whole world’s population.
This has actually put a bit of a different spin on things for me. For a long time I’ve been thinking beef production is one of the better types of animal agriculture, because from an animal rights perspective, the animals live better lives than many other species. However, from this booklet, it sounds like beef is the worst environmentally. I was actually surprised that poultry and eggs didn’t show up on the graphs – I know the animals are smaller but they’re so extensively farmed…
Guess it’s a good thing I’m vegan so I don’t have to make any tough decisions. I just don’t eat any of it. Easy.
Thanks Shirley. :)

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April 24, 2011 at 10:42 pm 4 comments

Christmas Ham: Just Say No

I’ve just had a mini perfect storm of incidents that have gotten me thinking about factory farming again.

Yesterday, I was talking with a colleague about being vegan. He’d just found out that I am vegan and was telling me he sometimes thinks about it. Sometimes he’ll be eating a steak and he’ll stop and think: ‘This used to be a cow’. Then he’s sickened and can’t continue eating it. But the next day he’ll be back to eating meat – except any goat products. He had a pet goat as a kid and can’t stomach anything from goats; meat, cheese, milk… nothing. I wondered aloud if Mr Teeny-bop would go the same way once we move to our own house (we’re looking at the market at the moment) and get some backyard chickens. Would he stop eating chicken altogether? (Even if he doesn’t, at least I will know his eggs are cruelty-free.) I told my colleague that my son is old enough to make up his own mind. I also was careful not to denigrate my colleagues choices about eating meat. I’m always careful that way. Sometimes it annoys me that I’m so non-boat-rocky (this has been a challenge for me before). I want to tell everyone off and try to convince them what bad choices they are making but then I remember I have to work with them.

Anyway, the second thing in my perfect storm is that a friend of mine sent me a link to the Slow Food Sunshine Coast Hinterland group (I grew up on the Sunny Coast), and I was looking around on their Facebook page and found a link to the Factory Farm Map. A quick look at the site really appalled* me but as always, I thought: that’s in the USA. I know we don’t farm our cattle like that in Australia (almost all beef cattle are grazed), and I know we do factory farm chicken but that’s getting an increasing amount of attention (particularly cage eggs; Coles has recently agreed to reduce prices on free range eggs and phase out cage eggs, and Woolworths and MacDonald’s have pledged to increase the use of free-range eggs in their stores since last year). Not that that’s an excuse, but I guess I already had knowledge about those industries, so it didn’t get me thinking in the same way.

What the site did get me wondering about was the other kinds of animals ‘produced’ in Australia. A ex-colleague of mine had dairy-farming family in the Darling Downs and insisted that the cows weren’t factory farmed, and that the family farm was typical of the industry. She claimed that many of the horror stories came from the US and didn’t apply in Australia. I know from previous research that even the friendliest dairy farms still routinely impregnate cows and remove the babies from their mothers. And what about the pigs? I love pigs! So I thought I’d put my google-fu to work.

The sheer amount of information out there is so phenomenal that today I just limited myself to pig research. (That doesn’t mean I don’t care about other animals; I just started with pigs and got a bit overwhelmed.) I found that nearly 400,000 pigs are factory farmed in Queensland alone (5.7 million Australia-wide). The conditions in which they live are so horrible it’s hard to believe that people actually put them into those situations^.

Look at this video from Animals Australia Unleashed to learn more about the conditions in Australian piggeries.

pig in sow stall from unleashsed.com.au

Pigs get so stressed in their little stalls they begin obsessively biting the bars.

It’s well documented that many sociopaths first start out by being cruel to animals. A look at the pictures from piggeries makes me wonder if many Australians are supporting a ghetto of violent offenders (aka factory farm workers) with their pork, ham and bacon purchases… because there’s no way to look at those pictures and not see animal cruelty. Those pigs didn’t put themselves into tiny cages sow stalls. People put them there. How anyone could do that is beyond me. It made me cry (and I’m not one of those people who bursts into tears at the drop of a hat).

Then I listened to the latest radio ad from SaveBabe.com, aimed at getting people to think about factory farmed pigs right before the peak meat season (aka Christmas). It’s predicated on the fact that pigs have the intelligence of a 3-year old. The ad is from the perspective of a mother pig in a sow stall, describing how she feels… spoken by a little (presumably 3-year old) girl. It’s a very emotionally evocative ad. I had another little cry and then decided to do something about it.

So as a result of my perfect storm (thinking about factory farms + feeling disgruntled that I am so moderate in expressing my views to other people) I decided to take my new-found knowledge and share a little of it with my friends via Facebook, talk about it with people at work in a non-threatening (but firm and decisive) way, maybe mention it to my family at Christmas. The vast majority of the people I know are omnivorous, although generally open-minded about alternative dietary options… but I think after looking at some of those pictures, floating along with their open-mindedness is not enough. I need to try to do something. So I shall share here and elsewhere and commit to being more vocal, and see what comes of it. Do I think people will give up their Christmas ham because of my actions? I don’t know. It feels like such a small thing to do to help those poor pigs and other animals, but when I think that the average vegetarian saves approximately 100 animal lives per year, it gives me the hope that raising awareness can really make an impact. All I can do is try.

I hope videos like this one will help some of my friends and family think about the choices they are making with their food. Why harm other creatures if you can live without doing that, right? I hope they think that too.

Go here to watch a longer version of the video.

*I’ve written before about why factory farms are bad. Alternatively, click each part of the ‘Find out how factory farms affect all of us’ section at the top of the Factory Farms Map page or look at the Factory Farming – The Facts page from Brightside Farm Sanctuary.

^If you’re concerned that some of the sites included in this post may present a biased view since they are animal welfare sites, try looking into intensive pig farming on Wikipedia (I know it’s not necessarily unbiased either, but I think it’s closer to a middle ground).

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December 4, 2010 at 2:09 pm Leave a comment

Spotlight: Sustainable Cork

Do you remember a time when all wine and champagne bottles had a cork stopper? I barely do – I was only just old enough to start drinking alcohol when plastic corks were introduced. Not long later, screw top lids came in. I thought these were both great ideas. I’m not great with a corkscrew. Inevitably, small bits of cork would end up in my wine. It’s not so hard to pick them out, but you know… it’s a pain. Especially if you’re on your third bottle. Not that I would drink that much…

So anyway, I tended to choose bottles with plastic corks, or better yet, screw-top lids.

I won’t be doing that anymore. Now it will be cork every time for me.

Why the sudden turnaround? Well, I was reading some Fake Plastic Fish articles yesterday, and found an old piece on cork. I followed the links and found a link to the Cork Oak Landscapes section of the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) site. It includes an article and a beautiful video outlining why the cork industry is important. (There’s no spoken audio so it’s accessible for Deaf folks.)

This WWF news clip on Youtube paints a more detailed picture (sorry, no captions).

Essentially, plastic stoppers and screw-tops have reduced the demand for cork. As a result, some cork farmers are leaving the forests behind (moving to the cities to find work) or replacing them with non-indigenous tree plantations (like pine or eucalypt). This action is increasing susceptibility to desertification, fires and the extinction of native species (like the endangerd Iberian Lynx). Note that cork production in Mediterranean areas has been going on for millennia, so this is a pretty major change.

What amazes me the most about cork production though, is that it’s extremely sustainable. The trees don’t get cut down – which contradicted my (admittedly hazy) ideas about cork manufacture – but are in fact carefully looked after so they can continue to act as the livelihood for generations of the same family. To make cork, the bark is harvested. This bark then regrows and is harvested again. This is done with specially designed axes that don’t harm the trees. Cattle graze in the forest, keeping the grass low and reducing the risk of fire. Overall, it’s a natural, environmentally friendly way of life that we should be looking to preserve.

Instead, I’ve been unknowingly destroying it by choosing lids that are marginally easier to remove. Bad hippy. I know I didn’t do it on purpose, but I feel kind of guilty; I want to go buy copious amounts of corked wine to make up for it, but I won’t, because I just don’t drink that much. Instead, I’m posting here, in the hope of spreading the word.

So guys, listen up! Buy wine with real corks! Save the cork forests and the animals and this gentle way of life!

P.S. If you need a reason to buy cork that is closer to home than Portugal, how about not poisoning yourself with the petro-chemicals plastic stoppers are made of and screw-top lids are lined with? Give it a try.

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July 4, 2010 at 10:55 am Leave a comment

The Story of Stuff

I just read a great article about Annie Leonard, who created The Story of Stuff. The Story of Stuff is a short, animated film that explains our consumer lifestyle and how it is affected us and the planet – from go to whoa. Here’s the video if you haven’t seen it before (you can choose different languages and captions if you click through to the site).

I like how the article allows Annie to better explain some of the points people have refuted. I also like how it gives us a bit of background to how she got into environmental activism. I especially like how the article is appearing in a major magazine – Elle – so lots of people will get to hear more about The Story of Stuff. Good stuff, Elle!

P.S. I really like the idea of a kampung. Does anyone know of any western (specifically Australian) types of these? Mostly I’ve seen eco-villages, but they don’t allow you to keeps cats and dogs and that doesn’t work for me (although I understand their reasons). I would love to live near like-minded people, eventually, and the whole sharing of resources and community appeals to me.

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June 15, 2010 at 2:15 am Leave a comment

Spotlight: Rescue a Battery Hen!

My mum is talking about getting chickens. It will be a while before she gets them, but she is very enthusiastic. Her local council has changed the law so her yard is now considered big enough, which she finds ironic. She had chooks in suburbia as a kid, then they were regulated out (only poor people and farmers had chooks – suddenly everyone was rich enough to buy their own eggs, so it became illegal to keep them). She and I had an interesting (if abbreviated due to time constraints) discussion about how everything comes full circle and we’re going back to the environmentally-friendly way things were done in the past.

Mum also saw an eco-coop at a university environmental day which caught her fancy. It was nice and big and had a trough on top where you could grow veges (like lettuce). Clearly the garden part would be conveniently handy to the chook manure!

In addition to those little incentives, Mum just plain likes chickens. Let’s just say that this weekend wasn’t the first time she and I have talked about her childhood chook, Penny. (Sadly, a snake got Penny when Mum was about 5 or 6.) Cows might make her nervous (‘They have such big faces!’), but she gets this really sweet smile on her face when she talks about chickens.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I suggested Mum rescue battery hens and she seemed keen on the idea. Mum is always keen to rescue animals in distress (I think she would be vegan if she allowed herself to really think about it, but let’s not get into that debate.)

Hens one month after adoption

Hens, one month after adoption. (Photo from The Battery Hen Adoption Project.)

I read about battery hen rescue on the Queensland Vegsoc forum (I feel like I’m reading everything there lately!). I’m going to send her links, but here are three threads about battery hen adoption, some with links to photos, for you all to read too.

  1. Jan 2010 hen adoptions (there’s a very moving poem on p4)
  2. March 2010 hen adoptions
  3. May 2010 hen adoptions.

The organisation that rehomes the battery hens is Brisbane-based. It’s called The Battery Hen Adoption Project. They have some really good information on their site about taking care of the chooks when they first come home. Of course everything is new to the poor bald chickens; they don’t even know how to sleep sitting down, or have a concept for getting up and walking to the water/food dishes to eat and drink.

There’s also the saddest video on the site:

I really want to rescue some hens now! I can’t wait til we’re not renting anymore. (I have visions of a strawbale type of construction to be a lovely, fox-free coop for them to sleep in at night.) I am also pleased with the idea of supplying Yankee Elv and Mr Teeny-bop with some truly free-range eggs, since they both still eat them.

In the meantime, I guess I will have to make do with visiting Mum’s chickens, when she gets them. I wonder, if she gets them in winter, if they will need jumpers like these…

If you want to keep chickens in Brisbane, get all the info on ourbrisbane.

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May 31, 2010 at 2:13 am 6 comments

Spotlight: Composting

So it’s taken me a good long while, but I finally have our compost bin up and running! I used this post on You Grow Girl to guide me, but I didn’t add quite as much to the bin as I want to keep using it as I go along, not fill it up right away.

You could buy a special composter, but I decided to use a big, old, concrete laundry tub as my compost bin. It has three sections, so it will be easy to turn the compost from one section to another as required. I put a bit of gutter guard we had lying around over the drain holes to stop them getting clogged.

The compost bin is an old concrete laundry tub.

The compost bin is an old concrete laundry tub.

First I put in a layer of ripped newspaper (darned free papers they keep dropping off in spite of our No Junk Mail sign).

First, a layer of paper...

First, a layer of paper...

Then I put in a layer of browns – mostly dead leaves, sticks, dead camelias and crusty old passionfruits and grapefruits that have been rotting on the ground. I can add to this with old pasta, pet hair, paper and other dead bits and pieces from the garden.

Then, a layer of browns...

Then, a layer of browns...

Next came a layer of greens – weeds, passionfruit leaves and frangipanis. I’ll be adding to this with grass cuttings I don’t use to mulch the garden, tea bags and food scraps.

Next, a layer of greens...

Next, a layer of greens...

Finally, I wet the compost. It’s supposed to be as wet as a wrung-out sponge, so I think I overdid it a little bit.

Finally I wet the compost!

Finally I wet the compost!

Luckily the tubs have drain holes from when they acted as sinks, so the compost won’t stay too wet. I added ice-cream containers underneath to catch any drips (with bricks in the containers to weigh them down).

Too much water - luckily there are drainage holes!

Too much water - luckily there are drainage holes!

Yankee Elv got me a big piece of wood from Reverse Garbage to work as a lid, and I’ve used bricks to weigh it down so no animals get in. I can’t imagine they would anyway – the bin is in the fenced area under the house so nothing bigger than a possum could get in there.

Yankee Elv got me a lid, and we already had the bricks.

Yankee Elv got me a lid, and we already had the bricks.

Now I can divert the majority of our kitchen rubbish into the compost bin! I’m very pleased about it, especially when you consider articles like this one indicate that people in the US waste 28% of their food (I imagine Australian stats are similar). I hope I don’t waste that much, but whatever I do waste will at least no longer be going to landfill. Have a look at this video if you wanna learn more.

I’ll be using these two posts to guide me on what I can add to the bin:

In several months, I should have some compost to put in my garden (or give to Mum as a gift, just in time for mother’s day). Now all I have to do is control myself enough to not go fiddle with it everyday just to see how it’s doing!

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December 10, 2009 at 10:31 pm 3 comments

Fibres: Natural vs Synthetic

Wool vs acrylic? Cotton vs polyester? Hemp vs nylon? I know the natural fibres are typically more comfortable to wear, but what’s better for the environment?

Cotton, wool, hemp, acrylic, polyester...?

Cotton, wool, hemp, acrylic, polyester...?

You might think it’s a simple question – surely the natural stuff is better, right? But when you consider the impact of sheep on the environment or the amount of water required to sustain cotton crops, it does get you starting to wonder… especially when you factor in recycled (and sometimes recyclable) synthetic fabrics, like polyester made from old PET bottles.

But then again… maybe all the hoo-haa about recycled fabrics is just a bunch of greenwash. Check out this article on O Ecotextiles for more information.

Ultimately, I don’t know. I think I need to explore O Ecotextiles a little more and hope to be enlightened. At the moment, though, I’m leaning towards natural, especially when you look at the energy required to produce fabrics, the actual content of the fabric (oil in the synthetic fabrics is kinda off-putting) and the life of the fabrics after we’re finished using them (natural fibres will biodegrade, whereas synthetic ones won’t). Based almost purely on personal opinion, I think probably the best choice would be yarns produced from the by-products of some other industry (like soy yarns, which are made from soy fibres left over from making tofu), or yarn that is removed in a mutually beneficial way (alpaca removed by brushing, shearing pet sheep in summer etc).

Anyone know more and care to share?

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December 3, 2009 at 4:59 pm Leave a comment

Reduce: Factory Farmed Eggs

Treehugger included an article on urban chickens the other day. Check out these photos – they look so cute!

Chicken friends! (Photo by Todd Parsons on Good.Is)

Chicken friends! (Photo by Todd Parsons on Good.Is)

Although I don’t eat eggs myself, Mr Teeny-bop does, and I would love to be able to get his eggs from chickens I know are free range. I buy the free range eggs in the supermarket, but you know that free range doesn’t always mean the kind of free range you think of when you imagine the chickens. Sometimes it just means they have a tiny hole in the barn they can go out of if they want to get outside – tough to do when there are hundreds of chickens in the barn. I was telling Yankee Elv last night when we were grocery shopping that you can’t fall for those ‘cage free’ eggs – unless they’re labelled free range, the chickens don’t even legally need to have access to the outside world. ‘Cage free’ just means they’re not in cages. They can still be crowded into a tiny space.

I know a lot of people say eggs aren’t vegan, and technically they’re not (that being said, technically I’m not vegan). I personally believe that eggs from pet backyard chickens are ok to eat even on a vegan diet though. I just don’t like the taste. Another bonus – the chickens can eat food scraps. This is especially good if your compost bin or worm farm tends to get a little full…

Lots of people have chickens in their backyard. The people next door used to, and the people over the back still do (I hear them clucking all the time.) Sometimes they break out and come into our courtyard, but I don’t mind. The birds are too big for the cats to want to chase them and Loodle doesn’t even notice them. In Brisbane, it’s ok to have chickens in urban areas, but you have to have a yard of a certain size to own a rooster. It’s to do with reducing the noise from them crowing.

Very occasionally I’ll get eggs from my co-worker (she has chooks), but it’s a pain in the neck to arrange and she travels a long way into work everyday, sometimes by train. It’s not the most convenient thing to have to transport eggs like that too often. I don’t know the over-the-back neighbours so we can’t share in their bounty. I wonder if there is some kind of egg-share thing going on in Brisbane. It would be cool if so, people could sign up and give away (or sell) any eggs their backyard chickens produce, after they’ve taken the ones they need.

I wish I could have chickens, but in a rental house, it’s just not possible. One day, I will.

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December 1, 2009 at 12:03 pm 1 comment

Spotlight: Population Growth

Population growth is such a dilemma for me… I know that if I have more kids I want to have more than one. I have had the experience of raising an only child and wouldn’t want to do it again – siblings are so important to a child’s social growth. But is it worth giving a kid a sibling if doing so could damage the planet they will have to live on after I’m gone? This is especially relevant if everyone thinks the same way and wants lots of kids too. I’m so unsure about how to move forward with that.

I found the most awesome simulation of population growth/decline, relative to CO2 emissions. Check it out at breathingearth.net.

Screenshot of the Breathing Earth simulation.

Screenshot of the Breathing Earth simulation.

Basically, it shows how many people are dying and being born, and how much CO2 is being emitted – by country, as you watch. You can hover your mouse pointer over different countries to get statistics at the bottom left. The key at the bottom is pretty easy to follow, and there’s an explanation of where the data came from below the simulator.

This is a stupendous way to really see the impact of population growth and CO2 emissions and how they’re linked. I was surprised to find that even small, apparently eco-friendly countries (like New Zealand, for example) often have something like a birth rate double that of their death rate. And I really thought Australia was at Zero Population Growth (ZPG), but maybe stupid Costello’s 2006 census speech, imploring Australians to have more children – ‘one for mum, one for dad, and one for the country’ – has reversed that. What a twit. Alternatively, maybe I confused ZPG with a downward trending birth rate percentage – it’s still higher than the death rate, but not by as much as it was some years ago.

In fact though, I’ve been hovering over lots of countries in the simulation and Sweden is the only one I’ve found with a ZPG. I’ve found none with a negative growth. It doesn’t seem to matter if the country is rich, poor, at peace or experiencing war, which continent it’s on…

CO2 emissions are consistently high across the board as well, but of course they are higher for larger countries, and particularly larger countries in the west. Although Australia’s seems quite low, when you compare it to the population, it’s actually pretty significant.

This brings me back to the question of what to do about having more children.

  • Do greenies (and ultimately everyone) have to be altruistic and give up their dreams of multi-child families? We’ve seen how that works in China, with the One-child policy. Now there are significantly more boys than girls and impacts such as decreased marriage prospects, increased crime and social difficulties are becoming obvious. I don’t think this is the best choice.
  • Perhaps international adoption needs to be made easier and more socially acceptable. For example, I would love to adopt, but in Queensland, you need to have been married for at least two years to even be eligible, and since gay marriage is illegal, that’s not going to happen for me. Plus, Australia has limited adoption arrangements with other countries, and many of the countries with an abundance of orphans (such as war-torn countries) are also very conservative and against sending children home with same-sex parents. Even so, in an ideal world there would be no war, no illness and thus much fewer orphans, so ideally, this wouldn’t be a long-term solution.
  • Do we need to revisit the idea of a kibbutz, so children get to grow up with ‘siblings’ without the corresponding population increase? I’m not the biggest fan of the way the ‘Children’s Societies’ were managed, but some kind of communal living and financial/social equality appeals to me. A lot of eco-villages work similarly, but based on the experiences of similar living situations in the past, it seems that many of these places work well in theory but not so well in practice.

It’s not an urgent issue for me, but dudes, if you have any ideas, I’m open to suggestions.

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November 26, 2009 at 2:12 pm 4 comments

In Vitro Meat

In Vitro Meat (IVM): bring it on.

Check out this article from H+ magazine (ok, number 6 is gross and sensationalist, but otherwise…).

It’s cheaper, healthier, better for the animals, better for the planet… I think we should go for it. I also think governments of nations highly dependent on agriculture (like Australia) need to start diversifying, stat. Build an IVM factory, start farming hemp, build some solar or wind farms, something… cos those huge cattle stations are going to dry up with the drought.

Yikes. Creepy but cool.

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November 24, 2009 at 12:55 am Leave a comment

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