Archive for December, 2009

Book: The Vegetarian Myth


vegetarian-myth-coverAn interesting book from a unique point of view that can certainly help spark some lively conversations amongst friends. Lierre writes about how she moved away from being a vegetarian and has included a few more living things to her diet adding to the billions of creatures she & her vegan friends were accustom to eating.

To support her points, the book is packed full of research and references (The 272 pages contain 603 endnotes).

Three quotes I’ll note:

I’m not asking How many people can be fed? but a very different question: How can people be fed? Not, What feeds the most people? but What feeds people sustainably? We need a full accounting … because nothing else is sustainable. To quote George Draffan, “I’ll repeat the obvious: sustainable systems are the only ones that are sustainable.” p.126

Derick Jensen [writes]: If your experience … is that your food comes from the grocery store (and your water from the tap), from the economic system, from the social system we call civilization, it is to this you will pledge back your life…. If your experience … is that food and water come from your landbase … you will make and keep promises to your landbase in exchange for this food…. You will be responsible to the community that supplies you with food and water. You will defend this community to your very death. p.56

Soy started out as a legume that was rotated with other annual crops throughout Asia. Because it can fix nitrogen, soy was used as a green manure. [not as a food] … Phytoestrogens are produced by more than three hundred plants, but soy is the only one that humans eat. Chapter 4

In fact, after reading Chapter 4, I’m almost convinced that breaking my blender to process my own tofu may not have been worth the effort.

Finally, a question which came up while discussing said book over a corporate Christmas luncheon: What about the millions of healthy vegetarians and vegans who live in places like India and Vancouver?
It did make me realize that the book tended to focus on what I’d consider a “western” veggie diet … lots of soy milk, salad and tofurkey. Vegetarianism has been common in Indian for generations and it might be interesting to contrast & compare some of the health statistics between western & eastern hemispheres.

City proposes cuts to tree maintenance budget


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A great article from Apartment613!

Courtesy of jhscrapmom on flickr

Courtesy of jhscrapmom on flickr

Trees are the thin green line holding our cities back from the concrete abyss. Adding a line of ash or maples instantly transforms the mean city streets to a more humane and hospitable place and adds both beauty and privacy to the urban space. However, the advantages of the urban forest go beyond aesthetics to the more practical domains of energy savings and air quality. For example, having a tree in front of your house to break the wind can result in energy savings of 10-15%. They are also giant air filters, absorbing as much as 7,000 particles per litre of air as well as sucking up carbon from cars and buildings.

Given all these economic, environmental and social benefits, the proposed $2 million cuts to the city’s $11 million forestry program is a bit of a puzzle. According to the CBC, the cuts will mean that the regular trimming of Ottawa’s 310,000 trees will happen only once every 32 years, instead of once every 5 to 7 years as is currently the stated practice (although apparently that time line is more aspiration than fact). One disturbing (and completely unsubstantiated) rumor floating around is that the city will choose to just cut down trees that may become a problem over the next few years rather than deal with the risk.

The cuts to the tree budget are part of the city’s efforts to deal with a number of upcoming fiscal shocks that ironically have little to do with the deepest and most widespread global recession of recent memory. Instead, the strain is largely coming from the $36.7 million settlement to the contractors of the canceled north-south light rail line as well as money for the $13 million for the green bin program, $20 million for infrastructure and a $10 million increase to the police budget. Other fiscal measures on the table include cuts to OC Transpo bus routes, eliminating the $500,000 Crime Prevention Ottawa program and a 4% hike in property taxes.

Don’t get me wrong; fiscal probity is important, and it’s always hard to find budget cuts that won’t cause some self-righteous blogger somewhere to complain. However, it seems as if the council’s priorities in this case are a little off kilter. For example, they just pledged to spend $12 million ($6 million more then intended) on an electronic system to announce the stops in buses – not exactly on my list of things to spend on when I have a $32 million bill coming in. I have no beef with the police, but given that their budget has doubled over the last decade did they really need $10 million more this year? Couldn’t they have got by with only $8 million?

Upkeeping trees is a policy to improve energy efficiency, clean the air and beautify the city all at once. Not upkeeping trees endangers both a valuable resource and public safety. This might save money, but it is certainly a waste of common sense.

World Corn Production… Go Canada?


WOW! This has to be the best visualization tool for the world’s agricultural data which I’ve found to date.

Gapminder has done an incredible job here exposing some of the UN’s data and made it very easy to ‘fool around’ with.

Here is one of the animated graphs I’ve made:
CornHarvestedVisualization from Gapminder World, powered by Trendalyzer from

For each country it shows hectares of corn harvested, the yield (kg per hectare) and the total number of tons produced. Hit the “Play” button to see it change over time! Bubbles moving up it means the country harvested more hectares of corn, bubbles moving right means the country has improved overall yield.

There are three things that instantly struck me:

  1. Canada is not the agricultural powerhouse which I had perceived it to be. There are MANY countries which plant far more hectares of corn than we do! (The Philippines cover twice as much land as we do with corn crops — pretty incredible considering their size and how many other crops they grow like rice and oil palm [see image below: orange islands beside British Columbia for contrast])
  2. It really makes me wonder if GMO corn improves a nation’s overall yield. It is my understanding that France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Austria and several other countries have banned the cultivation of GMO corn. However, their annual yield is right up there with Canada’s. In fact, most of said countries SURPASS Canada’s annual yield.

  3. Annual yield jumps all over the place. While it does seem to trend slowly towards increased yield, the same happens for other nations who have more family farms and less access to technology.

Head on over to and make some charts of your own. It’s too easy… making a similar chart to the one above about strawberry production with a logarithmic scale.

Savour Ottawa – Eat local and let someone else cook!


Mmmm… fresh food. Visit for more pictures, videos and links.

Just the facts…


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…whoops, how did this make it inside the Matrix?

epic fail pictures

Eco Board Game Trivia Fail

Picture by: Derek Bunyak Submitted by: Derek Bunyak via Fail Uploader

“The Green Game” Help save the planet by being fat! Whenever you see a fat person cheer for them because they are helping the planet by dying young!

Foundations of Governance | Ottawa Public Library | BiblioCommons


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Book had a good overview of provincial governance and it was a short read since I only spent time on the Ontario chapter… (sorry PEI et Al.)

Rotating Kitchen art piece


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The Rotating Kitchen by Zeger Reyers started rotating last Friday and will continue to rotate until February 28th 2010.

Rotating Kitchen

Eko: A Traffic Light Augmented by Progress Bars


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Neat idea!

An evening meal in total darkness at Opaque


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There’s a restaurant like this in Montreal… anyone know what it’s called?

Entrance1.JPG.jpegThe room is pitch black. There is absolutely no light in here, not even an emergency exit or the glow of a cell phone. I can’t see anything. A slight panic flickers through my mind. For the next three hours, I will have to rely on my other senses to figure everything out.

I’m at Opaque, a fancy restaurant in San Francisco in which patrons dine in perfect darkness. Actually, I don’t really know if it’s fancy — the staff members are polite and the tablecloth feels expensive, but for all I know the room is a basement dungeon and my steak is green. In addition to offering a tasty five-course prix fixe menu, Opaque forces us to live without our vision for a few hours — most of us rely on the sense of sight heavily during our daily lives, and we don’t really know what it’s like to not be able to see at thing.

Mocha, our waitress, is legally blind. She has leber congenital amaurosis, a genetic retinal disease that causes her to see giant blotches of blind spots all across her field of vision — she can see basic shapes, but she can’t read or drive. Having lived with this all her life, she’s a pro at maneuvering through the darkness — once my date for the night, Julio, and I pick our food choices from a menu in a dimly lit lounge, she slips through a curtain and marches through the pitch darkness with my arm on her shoulder, forewarning me of a right turn ahead, then a slight left, until we reach the table.

There are very few places in the world where one can experience pure, complete blackness, and this is one of them. My eyes desperately scan the space for something they can see. I can feel my pupils dilating and my mind going wild with desperation. After a few minutes, my brain finally registers the futility of this hunt, and I close my eyes. I hear two people talking softly in the distance. My nose takes in the faint mustiness of the room. My fingers scan the table in front of me with my fingers. I realize that my other senses are stepping up to compensate for the absence of vision.

Mocha explains a few simple rules. Right now, there are two forks, a knife, and a napkin on the table, and nothing else. I am to meet her hands at the angled corner to exchange plates of food. The Pellegrino is straight in front of me; she recommends sticking my finger in my glass while pouring to prevent overflow. Eating in the dark can be a bit messy — I think I got more butter on my pinkie than I did on the bread.

For dinner, I have a salmon amuse-bouche, ahi tuna tartare with crispy wontons, a crudite plate with three kinds of veggies and dips, beef tenderloin with mashed potatoes, and chocolate cake. The whole meal costs $79, not including drinks.

Midway through the meal, I decide to take a bathroom break to wash my butter-covered hands. Mocha puts my hand on her shoulder and leads me back out through the curtains into the light. The bathroom is in the building next door. It’s nighttime, but the streetlights look offensively bright. I realize in a new way how messy the visual world is — trash all over the street, people flailing their arms wildly as they talk, wine bottles stacked one over another on a huge wall rack, paper towels tossed messily into the bathroom trash can. I can’t wait to get back into the peace and darkness.

Mocha tells me that some people come here to party but most come to make out. For me, what’s hitting this whole experience out of the ballpark is the way I am really just tasting the food I’m shoving in my mouth for what seems like the first time in my life. It’s like every single ingredient is self-separating inside of my mouth for a very detailed taste check.

By the time dessert comes, I’m feeling relaxed, peaceful, and at ease. I’m wearing a dress, but I sit back in the booth with my legs wide open, aware that nobody can see me so it doesn’t even matter. I make funny faces at Julio just for kicks, because I know he can’t see.

I manage to get through the entire meal without spilling anything… well, almost. Feeling confident and a little bit sleepy, I order coffee after dessert — I thought I would be able to hear the cream pouring, but apparently I didn’t because I got it all over my fingers when I picked up the cup, and my coffee tasted like milk.

It’s nearly 11PM when Julio and I emerge from the darkness. As we run across the dirty street avoiding the glaring headlights of cars passing by, we realize both how grateful we are for our vision and how nice it was not to have to see anything for the past three hours.

From The ‘Why Didn’t I Think Of That’ Files


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Banners attached to fly legs.
You can get your message across along with disease…

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