Monday, June 3, 2013

The U.N.'s New Food Source: Bugs. Really.

Eat-a-Bug cover compAs the food culture in America has grown, exotic foods have made their way into mainstream diets. Quinoa, agave, and edible flowers are now found in most grocery stores as ordinary meals become more diverse.

It was only a matter of time before someone raised the ante to bug cuisine. I blame The Lion King.

On May 13, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization published a news report that advocates for entomophagy, or the practice of eating insects. Predictably, the concept confused many people, and disgusted even more. But strong evidence supports this recommendation.  U.N. officials predict that increased entomophagy will promote human health, create jobs, and improve the environment. However, will this reasoning be enough to convince the Western world to trade steak for crickets?

David George Gordon's Eat-a-Bug Cookbook explains that our cultural disdain for eating insects stems from the Western history unfairly demonizing insect "pests" that hindered technological advances. Gordon has maintained for years that entomophagy is actually a "widespread, nutritionally beneficial, and unquestionably wholesome practice" that over 80% of the world's population engages in. Though it may seem repulsive to us, other cultures regularly feast on insects.

Of course, most people don't eat these creatures plain. They savor the insects in flavorful dishes like savory soups, stir fries, and baked goods. Gordon, the "Bug Chef," shows this with his book's tasty recipes which include Scorpion Scaloppine and Orthontera Orzo.

Gordon's cookbook also explores the entomophagy's history and anthropology. His research, along with other sources, shows that eating bugs is an ancient, time-honored practice. National Geographic relates that the Ancient Greeks and Romans harvested beetle larvae and cicadas, and many Latin Americans still savor traditional dishes that include tarantulas, ants, and worms. The article also describes the consumption of crickets in India, flies in Japan, and grubs in New Guinea -- diverse entomophical practices in our diverse world.

Also, John the Baptist survived the desert on honey and locusts. Just saying.
With such popularity, these bugs must not taste all that bad. Of course, different bugs have different favors. Most people describe  larvae as similar to mushrooms or escargot. Spiders and scorpions apparently taste like shellfish. Other bugs are citrusy, although most are considered nutty.

Besides the taste of this tradition, the nutritional benefits of entomophagy are well known. Time reports that bugs are natural source of protein and fiber, and can easily form a healthy addition to our diets: "insects scoring high in nutritional content include silkworm pupae reaches, bamboo caterpillars, wasps (yes, wasps), Bombay locusts and scarab beetles." Their nutritional density ranks higher than most meats.

Farming edible insects also provides a global outlet for sustainable farming, which would provide many jobs in an eco-friendly manner. The Wall Street Journal claims that "Raising insects for food would avoid many of the problems associated with livestock."  Farming insects is much more efficient and less destructive than cattle, for instance, using less land, water, and waste.

So with all of these benefits against a rich background, will people give crickets and worms a try? After all, if was good enough for Simba, it should be worth a taste test.

What do you think?

You can find more about the culture and practice of entomophagy with Gordon's upcoming revised cookbook.
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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Film and Sustainability: The Great Gatsby and Greed

the-great-gatsby-official-trailer-2-videoHey guys, remember when we talked about The Pursuit of Happyness in April, and asked if wealth actually brings joy? Well hold onto your bucket hats, because today we're examining the same question through the lens of The Great Gatsby, a tale of the other side of the mirror.

Chris Gardner and Jay Gatsby have startlingly similar backgrounds; poor men who struggled their way up to the 1% through hard work and a burning determination. Perfect examples of The American Dream, right? But while Gardner's tale seems plausible, Gatsby's story ventures into the extraordinary -- probably because Gatsby is an extraordinary man, according to the narrator Nick Caraway.

Gatsby, played the The Greatest Gatsby yet Leonardo DiCaprio, lives some miles outside of New York City in his castle of a mansion. He's obviously wealthy -- just how wealthy no one knows for sure -- but his source of income is suspect. Hints show that it could be from bootlegging alcohol, or gang involvement, or both. But though his fabulous life remains somewhat of a mystery, it fits right in with his historical setting.

The Roaring Twenties are an entrancing age, especially to today's harsh economy. We have a morbid fascination watching the top of American society rise to unprecedented success, not knowing that everything will fall harder than they can imagine within a few short years. But judging by the way they live, they seem to consider themselves as untouchable immortals, drinking ambrosia of gold and booze.

Going back to the movie's original context, F. Scott Fitzgerald's depiction is especially fascinating since he wrote The Great Gatsby during the Jazz Age's peak. Fitzgerald resembles Caraway; both within and without of American society, able to participate while staying distant enough to see the truth. When he wrote the book in 1925, no one was aware of the impending economic collapse. Yet he hints at such a catastrophe, perhaps prophetically, with his book's sense of urgency and frustration. And, of course, his social critique of materialism feels like the loud voice of reason that America, preoccupied with enjoying itself, willfully ignores.

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Images of excess pervade the film. The sheer extravagance both enraptures and alienates the audience. Designers clutter flapper dresses with sequins and crystals, Gatsby's parties drench guests in confetti and alcohol, and New York's violent lights never go out. 

And speaking of Gatsby's parties, which the whole city attends every weekend, their over-the-top quality perfectly shows the fun but meaningless nature of materialism. There is a zebra in his indoor pool! Nobody needs that! Though its momentarily gratifying, the massive consumerism pressing upon the characters only exacerbates their deep discontent.

While all of the characters have their own sources of unhappiness, Gatsby's ambition and false assumptions drive him to the edge. Nothing is enough for Gatsby. As a poor young man, he wrongly believed that becoming rich would make him happy. Then, after he made his millions and still felt unsatisfied, he went after lost love to redo his disappointing youth. And apparently his attitude was common for the time. Lines taken from Fitzgerald's other writings describes the movie's setting well: "The parties were bigger. The pace was faster, the shows were broader, the buildings were higher, the morals were looser, and the liquor was cheaper." Like his society, Gatsby keeps demanding more and more until, ultimately, it blows up in his face.

Set to a wonderful soundtrack that matches the hedonist ethos with a daring mash-up of hip-hop and jazz, Gatsby's fate shows the problematic side of the American dream just as Gardner's rise shows its optimistic side.

What are your thoughts on the film?

For more analyses on The Great Gatsby, click here for the book and here for the film.

Monday, May 20, 2013

TreePeachRelianceIt’s now mid-spring, which means the season’s fruits and vegetables are finally in! Mid-May and early June are the peak season for wonderful produce like strawberries, asparagus, kale, and the first watermelons and peaches. But these foods can be fragile, and often spoil mere days after purchase.
To get the most out of your groceries, here are some tips to keep produce fresh longer without any equipment:
  • Place countertop fruits like apples and pears out of direct sunlight. Leave them in an open bowl rather than in bags, which speed the ripening process (conversely, if you want to ripen fruit, reverse these rules).
  • However, mushrooms last longer in a paper bag, so you get a green light there.
  • Separate fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator, and place them in ventilated bags (not plastic, which harms the environment) But put berries in their own sealed container.
  • Especially keep tomatoes, avocados, and bananas separate form everything else.
  • Keep herbs and stalky vegetables like asparagus and celery upright in a glass of cold water, or even in a vase for a fragrant bouquet.
  • Buy local produce so you know that it is fresh off the farm
  • Prevent potatoes from sprouting by storing them in a dark, cold place away from other vegetables. Potatoes emit ethylene when they age, which spoils other produce (Except onions. They like each other for some reason). And keep potatoes away from places that are too dry to prevent them from wrinkling like an old man.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Since May is National Bike to Work Month, now is the time to try commuting by bike. Whether to work or school, biking can save time & gas, reduce stress, and raise your energy. 

The biggest challenge to commuting by bike is gathering the guts to try it. Though starting a bike commute can be a difficult move, after some practice it is actually quite manageable.

Make your first commute easier with these tips for beginners:
  • Start slow and short. If you live a good distance away, consider biking part of the way at first. The remaining distance can be covered by bus, carpool, ect. Have a route mapped out before you start, with available bus lines every so often. Once you get more used to biking, you can build up to biking all the way.
  • Do a dry-run on the weekend before you try biking to work. This can give an idea of the time and energy the commute will take without the pressure of arriving on-time. And it lets you get to know your bike before you have to rely on it.
  • Wear a helmet! As the single-most important item of biking gear, this is very important. Other protective gear can be helpful, but you should never go on a bike without this piece of equipment. It's protection is even worth the worst potential kind of helmet-hair, so no excuses!
  • Bright clothing helps you stay visible to cars and pedestrians. This doesn't have to be neon biking pants; a reflective vest or colorful shirt will do. And if your commute in the dark, think about adding a flashing bike light. 
  • Find a biking buddy who knows how to commute by bike. A seasoned partner is an invaluable resource, and many bike shops have employees who will offer to ride with new bikers.
  • Carry a pack, or drop one off ahead of time if you're worried about looking fresh at work or school. Some essentials to add: a change of clothes, facial wipes, and a comb.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

SPU Takes the Commute Challenge: Bike to Work Month!

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During the month of May, National Bike to Work Month, Seattle Pacific University is hosting a Commute Challenge for faculty and staff! Participants of the challenge commit to biking to work at least three days a week, and keep track of their mileage. They are broken up into five teams: SPU Northenders, SPU Sharrows, SPU Southenders, SPU Psychlers, and Bike Profs.

To support our faculty & staff,  we will be posting bike-related articles throughout the month on our WordPress site: tips, tricks, information, and – my personal favorite – profiles of Seattle Pacific University professors and staff members who commute by bike.

This month is intended to educate and encourage more people to commute by bike, which is no easy task. People often hesitate to try biking to work for many reasons. They are afraid it will take too much time. Biking in the rain looks gross. They don't want to arrive sweaty and disheveled. This month attempts to fight these fears by spreading the benefits of biking and the available resources for bikers. Our biking tips and testimonials will address how to handle these very issues, and hopefully show that commuting by bike is actually easier than it looks.

We also encourage everyone in the SPU community –  whether staff, student, or supporter –  to try their hand at biking this month! Even if it is just for pleasure, biking is a healthy and eco-friendly way to get around. And with decent(ish) weather and a whole community of new bikers, May is just the month to try it!

If you want to share a biking story or ask questions about the dive into daily bicycling, please comment away! 

Click these links for more information about busing with bikesnavigating Seattle's streets, and the Commute Challenge.

Film & Sustainability Series: The Dark Knight Rises

imagesThough this film has been out for quite a while now, I must still warn everyone that spoilers await them here.

The Dark Knight trilogy begins and closes with the question of human sustainability. During its 7-year run, Director Christopher Nolan has peppered the films with the issues of clean water, the poverty gap, urban corruption. Nolan makes his loudest comment on conservation, however, by ending the series with two of the biggest concerns to human existence: the economy and the environment. And Nolan symbolizes these with his focus on nuclear energy.

Between the Dark Night and its sequel the Dark Night Rises, billionaire Bruce Wayne seems to have tried to replace his heroic Batman activities with philanthropic zeal — for a while at least. He founded a magnanimous (and expensive!) project to develop "clean" energy for all of Gotham. The benefits of such an endeavor, though largely unspoken, resonate the trilogy's theme of clean, ethical living. Unfortunately, Wayne cancelled the project without producing anything to show his investors, losing the  money and confidence of the Gotham elite and himself. After this massive failure Wayne becomes a recluse and withdraws from business and society altogether, marking the decline of Wayne Industry's sustainable works.

The kicker: Wayne's project actually succeeded.  Partway into the film, Wayne reveals that he created a nuclear fission core, capable of powering clean, sustainable energy for the entire city. But fearing its power, he keeps it hidden from the world. The reactor, Wayne learns during the development process, can be transformed into a nuclear time-bomb large enough to take out the entire metropolis. And Wayne won't take the chance of the reactor landing into the wrong hands.

The film begins with Wayne's colleague Miranda Tate attempting to persuade others to restart the project, expounding how important clean, sustainable energy would be for Gotham. Of course Wayne refuses, stating the project is dead and useless. To this Tate replies, "a man who doesn't care about the world doesn't spend half his fortune on a plan to save it." This line, spoken right after the return of Batman, ingeniously connects conservation efforts with Wayne's more exciting acts of heroism. Saving the world obviously comes in many forms.

The movie continues in this vein by building a humming tension centering around Gotham's seemingly inevitable collapse. Nolan clearly juxtaposes the unsustainable nature of the city's power players devouring decadence from its average, downtrodden citizens. As Catwoman impresses upon Wayne and the audience, "you're all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us."

No wonder Batman cannot trust humanity with the decision of sustaining or destroying itself.

chistian-bale-anne-hathaway-dark-knight-rises1-470x312In the end, Batman's enemy Bane takes the decision away from him by stealing and weaponizing his core reactor to blackmail the city of Gotham into submission. Nolan beautifully parallels Batman's threats. A source of energy efficient enough to power his city of 12 million, locked underground just as Bane was locked away in a Middle Eastern prison. Both Bane and this reactor contain dangerous potential which are realized once they hit the surface in tangent to threaten every citizen of Gotham.

Of course Bane plans on letting the core detonate itself after it becomes too unstable. In this film about the lack of durability and the lack thereof, not even Batman's most dire threat can sustain itself for long.
The terrible state of Gotham under the nihilistic warlord Bane depicts one extreme: annihilation. Nolan shows his audience the great and terrible power we humans have in carving our own future with today's technology. And in doing so, he bring into question the ethics of progress, urban environmentalism, and the limits of human nature.

Overall, Nolan beautifully employs the Batman mythology to engage with a issue that will only become more pressing as time passes. The Dark Knight trilogy's end doesn't answer all of Gotham's problems or tie everything up in a pretty bow, but it poses at least one significant question: Does the world needs better management of our resources as urgently as Gotham needed Batman?

Film & Sustainability: WALL-E

wall-e-and-plant1Using tried and true techniques that the company has mastered in the past decade, Pixar creates cute, comic movie characters to access serious themes that relate to the real world. Marlin the clownfish displayed the trials of single parenthood, Woody and Buzz witnessed the painful process of growing up, and, most recently, Merida must navigate the volatile nature of mother-daughter relationships.

In Wall-E, Pixar raises environmentalist awareness with a particularly sympathetic main character, and – in my opinion –  the most adorable robot since R2-D2.
This robot captures audiences with his big sad eyes, yes, but also with his tender reverence for old times. His past, however, is our present. WALL-E, to paraphrase John Green, imagines the future with a kind of nostalgia by presenting a futuristic reality that keeps glancing longingly at its much greener past.

Set in the year 2805, earth has become one ginormous landfill, so cluttered and polluted that it cannot sustain organic life anymore. It is every environmentalist's worst nightmare. In an obvious critique on consumerism, humanity has literally used up all of its resources and leaves earth to fend for itself.

Only the main character, WALL-E, inhabits Earth. He also has the impossible task of cleaning it up all by himself. Throughout the film flashed the massage "WALL-E: works to dig you out." His job is to maintain what is left of earth by sifting through its piles of trash. Due to centuries of neglect, all of WALL-E’s fellow janitorial-robots have perished, leaving him with only a cockroach for company as he works to clear humanity's mess.

The most stunning aspect of this near-apocalyptic world is the blatant waste. Technically speaking, WALL-E focuses on land pollution, or the contamination of the earth’s surface level by dumping waste and misusing soil; the kind of pollution only people can cause. WALL-E’s incredibly detailed animation shows a brown, desolate Earth with a skyline of compressed trash and a mountain of loose litter.

Clearly, pollution is the real antagonist of the film.

Fortunately, the earth couldn't ask for a better steward. WALL-E has a knack for fixing the broken and nurturing the weak. So it is only appropriate the WALL-E is the one to find earth’s first sign of life in decades, a fragile new plant sprouting among the waste piles.

This one plant comes to represent humanity's last hope to connect to their natural roots.
The human race, having abandoned the dirty Earth to live in a space-cruise ship, has grown animalistic due to its separation from nature. Lazy, gluttonous, and entirely dependent on technology, this “advanced” society seems less human than the robotic force it depends on. WALL-E, in comparison, seems that much more sensitive to the needs of others, including the earth.

The beauty of this robot lies in his compassion and resourcefulness. WALL-E never disposes what he can save and reuseHe stays functioning by scavenging parts from other broken down robots, and his home is full of trinkets he has saved and repaired.
Despite his technological nature,WALL-E has often been compared to early human figures like Adam and Prometheus – great classical men striving to make the earth a good home for humanity. Though he is no Batman, WALL-E truly stands up to Pixar's most noble heroes.

Tell us your thoughts about WALL-E: is it a warning of what might come to pass, or mere science-fiction fun?