Friday, June 29, 2007

Feminist Economics in Thailand

I have traveled to Bangkok and am participating in the International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE) conference in connection with my work at the editorial offices of the journal Feminist Economics, which is based at Rice University.

The conference is at Ramkhamhaeng University, which is one of the largest schools in the world. Over the next three days, scholars, activists, and leaders from government and NGOs from thirty-five countries will present talks at the conference. Many will focus on issues of major importance to this region of the world including international trade, sex work, migrant labor, and the informal labor market.

At the opening plenary, the speakers were Dr. Juree Vichitvathakran of the National Institute of Development Administration in Bangkok, Naiyana Supapung of the National Human Rights Commission in Thailand, Jean D’Cunha of the UNIFEM East and Southeast Asia Regional Office, and Jackie Pollock, the Director of the MAP Foundation for the Health and Knowledge of Ethnic Labour, Chiang Mai.

Unfortunately, I could not attend the first two talks. D’Cunha spoke about migrant workers in Southeast region, many of whom are domestic workers. She spoke about the situations of women who clean houses and take care of children. Jackie Pollock spoke about Burmese migrants to Thailand. She started her talk with a story of a migrant worker who came to her office asking for help. Her employer had not paid her for three years.

I'm hoping to share more as the conference goes on!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Green Parenting Goes to Asia

Pretty soon the whole family will be travelling to India via a brief stay in Bangkok. I left today. MaGreen and BabyG will be leaving next week. I took all the family stuff packed up in my bags so MaGreen won't have to lug around much more than our 18 month year old progeny and her entourage of snacks and toys.

MaGreen thought the trip itself would go pretty well because the preparations have been vein-poppingly stressful. Passports that don't arrive. Supply orders that don't go through. Ungainly sized visa lines. Travel doctors priced for mightier Maharajas than we. Now I'm stuck in Atlanta because my flight got cancelled. Apparently, a volcano erupted in Russia and the plane would not have had enough fuel to fly around it.

If the whole experience is to balance out, Laws of balance ought to come out on our side once we're overseas.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Families Rising

I know it is a little late to share a father's day e-card, but this one really gets at Green Parenting issues. It was released by Families Rising, which is an effort by MomsRising to open to men. I encourage all the US folks out there to add their names to the email list so we can all put childcare issues at the forefront of the national agenda. (Please share info about similar efforts outside the US if you know of any.)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Frog Nights in Houston

I walked my baby to sleep this evening. She climbed in the stroller when I rolled it out. She knew what kind of ride it would be as she hoisted herself in. It was intrepid of her to venture out with her father as the sun set. I had dressed her in a white long-sleeved shirt and white pants. I smeared the remaining little strips of exposed wrist and ankle with insect repellent. Storms have swept through the city over the past two days leaving big puddles everywhere. This gulley, bayou, and sewer drained swamp-turned-city is saturated. It is one of those nights when you think about the precariousness of our city, how we live on a gigantic concrete platform moored by thousands of oak trees over a heaving lake of clay. Usually when I pass people in the street after dark, they remain silent but this evening everyone said hello, maybe to tacitly acknowledge the beauty of a near flood or else to stave off fear with human voice.

At first, my baby babbled to herself. Then she began to strain against the belts by arching her back. She whined rhythmically, a plaintive kind of chant. I thought I would have to let her out so she could push the stroller herself or toddle across the nearest concrete lot. But all of sudden she was asleep and I realized she had been struggling against her circadian rhythms, trying to reset her own clock with a last burst of energy. The belts held her down, but it was the discipline of her own cells that did her in. I turned around and headed back home.

And then the frogs came out.

I saw dozens. Most leaped into the groundcover and under tree roots as we approached. Some frogs did not startle though. I bent over and looked at them closely as the baby slept.

A runner passed us from behind as I ambled along. I must have looked funny trying to stir up the frogs. He may not have noticed the frogs at all. He was probably too involved in his exercise to think about why I was running the tip of my boot along the puddles. I imagine he focused on his breaths, between which he rushed out a “hello” as he rushed by. I checked my baby and I felt thankful that I had her there, her weight in the stroller, her body heavy in sleep, slowing me down to frog-watching pace. I was glad to be a father fettered by my baby’s dependency.

Today was my first father’s day with my baby. Last year, she was in Salt Lake City with her mother helping Grandma Helen and Grandpa Lou. So I feel like I have a right to share my grandiose thoughts about the state of the world. On my walk, I thought about how vulnerable frogs are to toxins and that it must be a good sign that after all that has been perpetrated on the air, the water, and the land, these frogs have reclaimed one night. I thought about the hopefulness of finding frogs in Houston. I felt that hope in my heart, I felt it radiating in the world.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Navigating the Bamboo Wagon

When I was registering for our wedding, a few years back, I asked my very particular aunt Patricia to recommend sturdy kitchen products. Among her many recommendations were bamboo cutting boards because, she said, they are light and bamboo is more sustainable to harvest than many of the woods we traditionally use for the likes of chopping upon.

Since then, I’ve noticed bamboo products popping up all over the place: in clothing, furniture, cooking utensils, diapers, and even, as a reader pointed out awhile back disposable plates. In other words bamboo, like hemp did a few years back, has entered into popular green-consciousness as a miracle child. It is the product you don’t have to feel guilty about buying, or perhaps even, you could feel proud about buying.

The idea behind the bamboo boom is that bamboo isn’t actually a tree, it’s grass. Thus, it can be harvested and within three years, the population will have regenerated. The shoots send out an immense amount of oxygen into the air. Moreover, the ‘wood’ as my aunt pointed out, is light but durable. Clothes made from bamboo are very, very soft and hypoallergenic. As far as I can tell, these are the primary reasons so many people have been so enthusiastic about bamboo products.

Of course, when anybody tells me they’ve found the perfect product, the one you can use endlessly, the all good source for x, y, or z, I hesitate. I begin feeling a little unsettled and squeamish. I smile noncommittally. I sneak into my skeptics den, first chance I get. I Google it.

My first foray into the world wide web on the matter of bamboo turned up numerous websites about how Japan’s insatiable need for disposable bamboo chopsticks was depleting bamboo forests in China. Several animal species rely on them. Panda bears, for example, eat them. Humans in the region of the forests rely on them to clean up the atmosphere. So while it’s true they aren’t ancient Redwoods, they function the way trees do in regards to the ecosystem they exist in.

Further searching led me to a few stories about how difficult it is to monitor the manufacturing of bamboo: like any process in which pulp is made into product, a number of toxic chemicals are needed to enable the process. There is no regulatory system governing the way these chemicals are disposed of. Although many companies state that they responsibly harvest bamboo, because there’s no regulatory system, consumers need to take the companies’ word for it.

I am certainly not an expert on bamboo. But it seems strange that this half of the world (where the US is) thinks of bamboo as an unending supply of miracle pulp, whereas campaigns on the other, bamboo-growing side of the world are encouraging people to investigate the realities of deforestation. There seems to be a disconnect between desire (the perfect green building material/fiber exists), possibility (it is possible to grow and harvest bamboo responsibly), and reality (but it doesn’t always happen, and the forests are being depleted.

Does this mean I think bamboo is bad? Of course not. The advantages of responsibly grown and harvested bamboo are well documented. Though I am skeptical about the existence of wonder products, I do believe it is possible and likely that many of the companies claiming to responsibly harvest bamboo are doing so. Probably a number of them aren’t. The problem, as I see it, is that there’s no easy way for me discern the history of whatever bamboo I buy.

So far as I can see, the industry isn’t regulated enough for ecologically minded folks to embark on a bamboo product free for all. I do hope that in time manufacturers and companies can benefit from bamboo’s versatility, and that it will be easier for consumers to trust their bamboo isn’t some Giant Panda’s lost lunch or the cause of some river’s ailing fish.

For me, this means that I might buy a couple bamboo products from companies I trust for some reason or another, but I’m not going to go looking for bamboo like it’s the grail of green. I might get a chopping board one day, or a bamboo spoon. Bamboo furniture? I think it’s better to buy used wood, if it’s possible. Bamboo clothes? Maybe organic bamboo I know the source of, but nothing I’ve read has convinced me regular bamboo clothing is more ecological than, say, rayon (a wood pulp broken down into fibers).

And, getting to the question a reader posed many months ago, and that spawned this post, how do I feel about disposable bamboo plates? If disposable chopsticks are such a huge issue, I can’t see how disposable plates wouldn’t be. Moreover, I fail to see anything green about a product made to throw away after a single use, even if you can compost it.

On The Benefits of Bamboo:
Bamboo Renewability
Bamboo A Versatile and Renewable Resource
Disposable Bamboo Dinner Plates

On The Troubles With Bamboo:
Bamboo Flooring: Is it Really Treehugger Green
World Bamboo Diversity Falling to Deforestation
Bamboo Paper: Not Forest-Friendly
Loss of Bamboo Threatens Rare Animal Species
Chopsticks Economics and the My Hashi Boom

Friday, June 08, 2007

Vegetarian Burgers for Babies and Toddlers (and Moms and Dads and Grandmas and Uncles and...)

Like most vegetarian parents I know, we have striven, since BabyG started eating food other than breast milk, to ensure she’s getting all the iron, fat, and nutrients she needs. I’ve read about many tricks other vegetarian parents have used to ensure their children get the right nutrients on a lot of other websites, but one idea that has worked the best for us and that I haven’t seen written up very often, is making bean burgers.

I began making my own burgers when I realized that BabyG, who turned her nose up at anything that came on a spoon, would greedily eat Quorn, tofu, or bean burgers. Since buying these foods is expensive, I’ve learned how to whip up a batch of veggie burgers for BabyG over the last few months. It’s very easy. It’s satisfying because after you get the basic idea of what you need in order to make a burger stick together, you can mix and match protein, fat, vegetable, and grain sources to ensure your baby is getting a good variety of foods in her diet, over time.

Here’s the recipe I have made most frequently. I like it because the burgers are a pretty, pale orange and the cranberries are noticeable and exciting:

Cranberry Spotted Veggie (but not vegan) Burger
(vegans can use standard substitutions for eggs, cheese…)

1 cup white beans, dried (2 1/2 cups cooked)
2 T. Braggs amino acids or soy sauce or tamari
¾ c. marinara or ketchup
1 cup of shredded cheese (to bind burgers & add protein)
2 eggs (to bind burgers & add protein)
2 carrots, shredded
1 c. celery
1 cup dried, unsweetened cranberries
2 T. Herbs de Provence
Mix of cooked rice, amaryth, or millet; uncooked oats; or breadcrumbs if you’re out of all the rest. I add this until the mixture has a thick enough consistency to make into patties.

Cook the beans in 3 cups of water, in a pressure cooker, eight minutes. Mash the beans, then add everything but the grains and mix well. Finally, begin adding grains until your batter has a thick enough consistency that you can form them into balls, flatten them with your hands, and put them on a greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes on each side. If I want to take them to a barbeque, I still bake them long enough for them to be sturdy enough to sit on the grill (about eight minutes per side). People love them.

With that recipe out of the way, I want to say again that the glorious thing about veggie/bean burgers is that you can use anything in your cupboard, usually. You can use vegetables with high amounts of certain vitamins, or iron if you choose. If your baby isn't getting enough iron and hates iron drops, you can add some. Varying the recipe is a snap. Moreover, they are an ever expansive food that you can pack in a baby or toddler’s lunch, and have them munch on all day. You can put them on your sandwiches. You can barbeque them at home or take them to a barbeque. And one batch is usually enough to last our family and a couple friends about a week. They are a wonderful food.

Here’s the more general guide I follow when experimenting. You need: protein bulk, something to make the beans stick together, vegetables, nuts (good fats and protein), spices, and grains.

Bulk: 1 pack of tofu or 1 c. dried beans or 2 ½ cups cooked/canned beans
Fat: 1 cup of chopped nuts (if your baby is old enough/not allergic, of course)
Veggies: 1 to 2 cups. Whatever you want. If they are veggies that emit water, grill them; veggies like spinach or tomatoes, you may opt to squeeze juices out (but into your batter) after you grill.
Seeds and/or dried fruits: ½ to 1 cup
Spices: Herbs de Provence, curry, your favorite fresh herb, chile, salt (unless you add soy/Braggs/tamari), onions, garlic
Liquid: If I use tofu, I use less tomato sauce. But I always add tomato marinara of some sort.
Something to stick it all together: I use eggs and cheese. Vegans, I know, often use egg-substitute and vegan cheese.
Grains: I like using quinuoa or amaryth, for their protein properties. Rice and oats look pretty. Mashed potatoes and yams are another good idea.

Directions: Same as above. That is: Mash the beans or tofu. Add the rest of the ingredients. Then add the grains until you can make patties. Cook ten minutes on each side at 350. Sometimes I make a vegetarian gravy to go with this, using a little Braggs, a little not-Beef boullion, and flour. GreenDaddy was a big fan of it.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Is there Salmonella in your Tahini?

Our friend Chuck suggested we post this press release about Salmonella in the Whole Foods Tahini. I believe he supposes a high percentage of tahini eaters peruse these pages. Is it true?

I'm in the middle of a post about bamboo. Also, I just read a post somewhere else about a car that runs on compressed air. FYI, that was another of my ideas that weren't. Somebody stole it away, but I guess the good thing about those ideas is that it's best when they're stolen.

Whole Foods Market Issues Nationwide Recall of 365 Organic Everyday Value Sesame Tahini

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -- Austin, TX -- May 22, 2007 - Whole Foods Market is voluntarily recalling 365 Organic Everyday Value Sesame Tahini 16-oz, with a Best By Date of 10/02/07 or earlier because it has the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.

Food contaminated with Salmonella may not look or smell spoiled. Consumption of food contaminated with this bacteria may cause salmonellosis, a foodborne illness. In young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems, salmonellosis may cause serious and sometimes deadly infections. In otherwise healthy people, salmonellosis may cause short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Long-term complications may include severe arthritis.

365 Organic Everyday Value Sesame Tahini was distributed nationally through Whole Foods Market retail stores. The product comes in a 16-oz glass jar with the UPC number 0009948240599. The Best By Date is located on the top of the lid of the jar, any Best By Date of 10/02/07 or earlier is being recalled. No confirmed illnesses have been reported to date.

Potential salmonella contamination was brought to the attention of Whole Foods Market by the product's manufacturer. As a result, the company is voluntarily recalling this product as a precautionary measure and has put additional safety measures in place. No other Whole Foods Market Private Label products have been affected by this recall.

Consumers who have purchased 365 Organic Everyday Value Sesame Tahini can return it to Whole Foods Market for a full refund. Questions may be directed to the Company by calling (512) 477-5566 x20656 or via email at