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<Amanda Park Taylor>

05/06/10 4:00am

The following is the transcript of a speech given Amanda Park Taylor to the NYU Green Society.

Hi, Happy Earth Day!

My name is Amanda Taylor, and I write about the environment for the L Magazine. My beat is pretty homegrown and local: small things you can do to lessen your impact on the environment, green happenings in the city, and the like. I write about food-related issues, from permaculture to greenmarkets, a lot: besides being one of the chief pleasures of human existence, food is a great, and crucial, way of addressing, and lessening, our environmental impact. My love of food has played a huge role in my becoming more environmentally aware, and the state of the environment has played an equally big role in my thinking more about food, what to eat, and where it should come from.

So when I was asked what I wanted to talk about today, the easy answer was food; and the two food issues that most concern me, vegetarianism and food waste.

But to be honest, I really didn’t know how to tie the two together: I became a vegetarian when I was a teenager. While I later came to appreciate the environmental impact of vegetarianism, it began as an ethical issue for me. When I was a teenager, amazingly, no one talked about global warming at all.
Food waste is something I got into at an early age too, first as an occasionally dumpster-diving punk—it seemed terribly badass, as an adolescent from the Upper East Side, to pull stuff, especially food, out of the trash. Then as I got a little older, I saw it as a path to a kind of food justice, through groups like Food Not Bombs, which, if you’re not familiar with their work, feeds the hungry with food recuperated from the trash of markets, bakeries, and stores. Dumpstering, which has also come to be known as Freeganing, was a way to subvert various systems I found myself in opposition to: factory farming, industrial agriculture, and multinational food companies. Beyond the politics, dumpster diving was free, fun, and happened late at night: I was a poor night owl with anti-capitalist tendencies and a strong stomach, it was a perfect match.

Still, I’ve never really found the link between vegetarianism and freeganism—it’s a connection I feel, viscerally, because I care about these two approaches to our food supply, but planning this speech, I found it hard to articulate that connection in any real way, except to say that both were food issues that had to do with the environment.

Then last week I had a dream about giving this speech: in my dream I was brilliant, and the talk was full of great ideas—I had an enormously complex diagram of food systems that I explained to you all, and at the end I got a standing ovation. Marion Nestle, who teaches here at NYU, and Michael Pollan, two of my food heroes, were down here in the front row, and in my dream they stood up cheering. It was great, but when I woke up I couldn’t remember any of my presentation, except the first line ‘Where are we?’

It didn’t seem like much of a question. Or not the RIGHT question. I wasn’t going to get any help with this speech by tapping my subconscious, it seemed. But then I thought some more.

Where ARE we?

Well, for starters, we’re here in the United States, the meat-eatingest country on the planet. In the USA, in the year 2000 (the last year I could find detailed numbers for), we killed 8.9 billion animals for food—another 857 million died in food production, before slaughter. And that was 10 years ago—our meat consumption has been growing steadily. Wikipedia tells me that ‘around 10 billion animals are slaughtered every year in 5,700 slaughterhouses’ in the US.

04/23/10 2:47pm

Because we love you, we’ve been cross-posting Amanda Park Taylor‘s new freegan/dumpster diving project The Repurpose-Driven Life (here and here) and today brings us to the heart of the trash the matter: in a half-hour look through the trash at a local health-food deli, Ms. Taylor was able to salvage 34 pounds of usable food. Yup. All the gory evidence after the jump…

34 pounds

dumpster diving

not too shabby for the first official foray. of course, in the weeks leading up tonight i’d been flexing my trash-picking muscles just a little bit, scouring the neighborhood trash for at least one [re]usable item every day. i actually didn’t have to do much scouring…

but tonight a first ‘jump’ into a commercial dumpster yielded this bounty:

7 packets vegan chili [$4.50 each]

3 boxes vegan bbq tofu [$4.99 each]

1/2 pound cooked shrimp [not pictured; for the dogs]

11 smallish yogurts, assorted flavors, plus one very slightly opened plain yogurt, which i elected not to eat myself, but instead fed to my dogs [probiotics are good for them too].

3 large bunches of parsley, which i can’t stand, but hoped to be able to get to someone who’d want it [failed]

2 bunches cilantro

11 apples, assorted varieties [gala, red delicious, granny smith, cripps pink, fuji] all organic

17 ripe pears, several varieties

4 eggplants

1 small yellow squash

2 peppers, one red, one green

5 assorted oranges

1 lemon, 1 lime, 1 grapefruit

the protein was a pleasant surprise; in the past i’ve found bread and produce in abundance, and a shocking amount of meat, which i don’t eat, but relatively little vegetarian protein. a dozen organic eggs were the highlight of one night a few years ago- i live on mostly eggs, beans, soy products, and seitan i make myself.

the yogurts were getting close to, but hadn’t passed their sell-by dates. sealed yogurt lasts a very long time- much longer than the packages would lead you to believe. don’t get me started on sell-by dates [post to come, very soon].

freegan bounty

04/19/10 12:46pm

We introduced you last week to the Conscientious Objector’s new project, The Repurpose-Driven Life, in which she will attempt to document every useful item she finds in the trash for an entire year (including food) as an investigation (and indictment!) of our horrible throwaway society. Luckily for you, we will be repurposing her posts right here at The L Mag. Today, a note on technique

garbage scale

I’m retrieving things from the trash, and keeping a running tally of how much my gleanings weigh—I wanted to keep a big-picture tally for the whole project, in addition to enumerating the finds day to day, and there’s no other way to quantify finds as diverse as fruit, yogurt, towels, clothing, and crackers. of course, weight is the universal measurement for ‘trash’ disposal and ‘waste’ management: please see the list of Essential Numbers for an overview of our waste situation as illustrated by some illuminating facts and figures.

All weights have been taken using relatively crude household methods (hold the bag and stand on the bathroom scale, itself a trash find, was the first: I’ve since acquired a few slightly more sophisticated, or at least easier to use, tools), and almost always include packaging (in the case of food products) and the bags in which I bring things home (in the case of anything that fits into a bag). It’s just too much work to do it any other way. Of course, to pass on food to others who need it, I have to leave it packaged—I’m not going to give unboxed food to the soup kitchen, food pantry, or my neighbors.

So when I say ‘20 pounds of cereal’ that’s 20 pounds with boxes and bags. Which means it’s really 19.5 pounds of cereal or something, but you get the drift.

04/14/10 4:26pm

free food

  • All in a night’s work, all free.

As she writes in her column this week, Amanda Park Taylor—our beloved Conscientious Objector—is embarking on a crazy project in which she’ll be documenting all the useful stuff she finds in the trash (by weight and by value, with plenty of photographs, along with recipes for food finds) for an entire year… The project lives over at TheRepurposeDrivenLife.com, but we’ll be cross-posting here at TheLMagazine.com. (Because we love her and she loves us.) And so, without further ado

Where Are We Going? Where Do We Go From Here?

I’ve been pulling things out of the trash since before I can remember. Clothes. Furniture. Food. Two croissants atop a cardboard box in a garbage can in Montmartre. 17 loaves of organic bread in a Brooklyn dumpster last week. A door with a mirror that almost broke my back three summers ago. Towels. Rugs. A small dresser with Tiffany and Co. sterling serving pieces in the bottom drawer.

I have become obsessed with all the things we throw out, and I have become obsessed with saving some of them.

The waste seems to be accelerating, a natural corollary of our ever-accelerating, ever-cheapening consumer culture. I started finding stuff daily, or very nearly, a few years ago, and ramped up my efforts at ‘placing’ it—taking food to people I knew needed it, towels and bedding to the local animal shelter, building supplies to a local materials-reuse group, and clothing to friends or the local thrift shop.

pastries in a bag

Now I’m immersed in the thrown away. I’ve started seeing patterns, knowing which buildings are profligate, and which are not. I’m starting to have notions: reading about how much we waste here in the United States, and many other places around the world, I’m beginning to understand that our addiction to the garbage can is like our addiction to oil, or our addiction to eating meat—unsustainable.

If we didn’t waste all the food we DO waste, we could both feed everyone who’s currently undernourished, and take a significant amount of land out of energy-intensive food production, and return it to a carbon-absorbing natural state (more facts and figures on all wild claims herein at a later date, I promise).

If we could recuperate all the usable goods that get thrown out every day- all the clothes, shoes, textiles, dishes, etc. how much energy could be saved, how many households provided for, how many charitable groups bolstered by donations of goods to use or sell or distribute?

Time to quantify, or at least document, a small slice of the waste, and its diversion.

04/14/10 3:40am

I’ve been pulling things out of the trash since before I can remember. Clothes. Furniture. Food. Two croissants atop a cardboard box in a garbage can in Montmartre. A dozen loaves of organic bread in a Brooklyn dumpster last week. A door with a mirror that almost broke my back three summers ago. Towels. Rugs. An entire bag of clothes from J.Crew, my size. A small dresser with Tiffany and Co. sterling serving pieces in the bottom drawer…

I have become obsessed with all the things we throw out, and I have become obsessed with saving some of them.

The waste seems to be accelerating, a natural corollary of our ever-growing, ever-cheapening consumer culture. I started finding stuff daily, or very nearly, a few years ago, and ramped up my efforts at “placing” it—taking food to people who I knew needed it, towels and bedding to the local animal shelter, building supplies to a local materials-reuse group, and clothing to friends or the local thrift shop.

Now I’m immersed in the thrown away. I’ve started seeing patterns, knowing which buildings are profligate and which are not. I’m starting to have notions: reading about how much we waste here in the United States, and many other places around the world, I’m beginning to understand that our addiction to the garbage can is like our addiction to oil, or our addiction to eating meat—entirely unsustainable.

If we didn’t waste all the food we DO waste, we could both feed everyone who’s currently undernourished, and take a significant amount of land out of energy-intensive food production, and return it to a carbon-absorbing natural state (and provide a little space for wildlife in the bargain). We’d dramatically lessen our consumption of fossil fuels, of pesticides and fertilizers. There would be fewer trucks on the road, spewing less pollution, and less agricultural runoff causing fewer algae blooms and the resultant dead zones. Not to mention less fresh water squandered irrigating crops that will never be eaten. The best estimates put food waste in the United States at just below 50 percent of food produced. Many studies point to food—meat in particular—being the single greatest contributor to our impact on the environment. If nearly half of it is going to waste, we’re doing a lot of unnecessary damage.

If we could recuperate all the usable goods that get thrown out every day—all the clothes, shoes, textiles, dishes, etc.—how much energy could be saved, how many households provided for, how many charitable groups bolstered by donations of goods to use or sell or distribute? How many fewer ships would have to cross the oceans bringing us those products?

As any regular reader will know, I’ve covered this ground before, writing about freeganism in New York a number of times. The problem of waste is still here, though more and more frequently getting the attention it deserves in mainstream media. And I, part of the less-than-mainstream media, am going to be regularly adding my voice to the growing chorus of waste theorists.

For me, it’s time to quantify, or at least document, a small slice of the waste, and its diversion. For an idea of what can be found in the trash cans and dumpsters of this fair (and profligate) city, come visit me at my new blog, TheRepurposeDrivenLife.com, where I’ll be digging, and dishing—in more ways than one—every day (you can also find my discoveries at TheLMagazine.com, where I’ll be cross-posting). Depending on your inclinations, be disgusted, delighted, enraged or appalled, or just come and learn how to freegan, and what to do with your finds. Expect recipes, photos, and a place to talk about your own experiences in the land of the discarded (if you have them). Happy hunting!

03/31/10 4:00am


Writing this column, week after week, I sometimes feel like all I do is complain, or apprise others of things to complain about. But, at long last, something to cheer about: the decades-long ban on beekeeping in New York City has been reversed. I wrote about the antiquated law last year, after having been put in touch with several of the groups that were fighting the ban. Bees are good for the environment, and with scores of New Yorkers already clandestinely nurturing hives, to no ill effect, why not do the right thing and encourage urban apiarists?

Well, common sense prevailed: bring on the bees (and local honey). This sweet victory left me wondering what other common-sense laws might be passed to improve life in the Big Apple, and improve the local environment.

The easiest place to start is a plastic bag ban and tax. Plastic bags last forever, and we use billions of them every year. They clog storm drains, choke (and kill) sea animals, and flutter endlessly in tree branches. They keep otherwise biodegradeable trash from biodegrading properly. And, of course, their production requires millions of gallons of oil, a non-renewable resource. We do not need them: there are 100 percent compostable versions available, made from plant-based materials. The 4th Street Coop recently took the laudable step of switching to these Biobags, eschewing the use of any new plastic produce sacks.

As if that weren’t enough, the taxing of bags in places that have banned them has raised significant money to further environmental causes. Ireland reduced its consumption of bags by 90 percent, and in the first year after introducing its Plastax raised nearly $10 million. Given the current economic situation here in the city, and the state, that’s money that could be used to replace decimated environmental and educational funding, right? Right. And it would end up relieving retailers of the need to spend billions on all those plastic bags, costs that are passed on to consumers.

Another common-sense quickie, in much the same vein, is the passing of an even Bigger Better Bottle Bill. I know, the recently expanded bottle bill went into effect last November, finally giving�ƒ�€š�‚ bottled water bottles the same five-cent deposit that soda and beer bottles and cans have had for years. One of the major improvements of that new bill was its reassignment of uncollected funds—the deposits paid that aren’t redeemed by returned bottles—from the bottling companies to the state: those deposits could shape up to be a real windfall for New York.

But lobbying by drink-makers kept some drinks off the list, despite the fact that their containers litter our streets by the millions: iced teas, sports drinks and flavored waters sidestepped the ban and remain deposit-free. And deposits aren’t just meant to lessen the waste stream, but also to encourage recycling and the attendant, significant energy savings. So why exclude some drinks? In fact, why not put a deposit on every recyclable container: wine bottles, yogurt containers, vinegar bottles—the more the merrier, and the greater the savings and revenue.

Finally, the most common-sense change would be to legalize marijuana and tax it the same way cigarettes and alcohol are taxed. All research points to pot being no more harmful than alcohol or cigarettes, and our attitude toward it is just like Prohibition-era attitudes towards booze: overblown and expensive. Legal pot would create a massive revenue stream that could be channeled into all kinds of environmental action, from building parks to cleaning up toxic sites. Not to mention the savings from fewer arrests, reduced court costs, and thousands of “criminals” kept out of jail. Pot growing would create green jobs, keeping land under cultivation rather than building on it, and produce an all-natural, high-value (teehee) product that can be produced locally.

As a treatment for illnesses from cancer to MS to anxiety, legal pot would be cheaper and less toxic than many pharmaceuticals—one serious threat to the environment right now is pharmaceutical residue that ends up in our water and soil. Pot-as-treatment might reduce our dependence on pharmaceuticals, and their presence in our environment.

So why not smoke green to go green?

03/17/10 3:20am

The ASPCA recently sent me an email about the imminent demise of the state-funded spay/neuter program. As we all know, money is tight in New York, City and State, and sacrifices need to be made.

But abandoning low-cost spay/neuter for low-income residents is what a friend wryly called “penny wise, dog-pound foolish.” The fastest way to save money sheltering animals is to reduce the number that ends up at shelters. The most effective way to lower the number of unwanted animals is to promote spaying and neutering. The easiest way to get people to spay and neuter is to make the procedure affordable.

Some will tell you that people, especially poor people, just can’t be bothered to have their animals fixed: that they’re stupid, or lazy, or ignorant. Nothing could be further from the truth—many people (especially in the current economy) cannot afford the $125-300 cost of a private surgery. Anecdotally, I’ve brought animals to numerous low-cost mobile clinics and they’ve always been filled within minutes of opening: pet owners get up at the crack of dawn, wait in the cold for hours, to have their pets fixed. The need is there, the willingness is there. Will the clinic be there?

Experts have suggested that a single spay surgery can prevent 55 unwanted animals from being born—and eventually ending up in the shelter system. Remember that shelter costs are many: employees collecting animals; the maintenance of vehicles to transport them; employees to catalog and classify animals as they enter the system; others to care for them as they wait for adoption, rescue or death; veterinary care; euthanasia expenses;s and, finally, disposal of the body.

The average cost to handle each homeless animal that ends up in a shelter is $176. If a spay prevents 55 unwanted animals, that single surgery saves $9,680. If it saves even one unwanted litter (two to ten pups or kittens), it more than pays for itself.

More than $2 billion is spent every year by local governments alone to shelter millions of unwanted animals… and then destroy many of them. And then there’s all the money spent by private organizations, rescuing and re-homing animals, which easily doubles, but probably triples or quadruples that figure.

Last month an uproar broke out over the shooting of eight animals at a municipal animal control facility in Houston, Alaska. Four cats and four dogs who had been at the shelter since November were shot by a city police officer, at the behest of the town’s mayor, because the town did not want to pay to have them euthanized at the local vet’s office: the price of death had gone from $65 to $130.

Back here in New York State, our low-cost program, the Animal Population Control Program, or APCP, which is funded by the $3 extra license fee paid by owners of unfixed dogs, is about to be cancelled. I called the NYS Department of Agriculture to find out where those funds would go in the future, and what happens to other funds collected to support the program: you can order a special vanity plate with pictures of dogs and cats on it (that reads “Our Best Friends”), the purchase of which is supposed to donate $20 to the fund. My calls weren’t returned.

Please contact the Governor and your state politicians and ask that the program be reinstated. Or donate to the awesome Toby Project, which is positioned to pick up the slack when the city’s funding runs out. Across the state shelters and rescues can always use donations to support their spay/neuter initiatives. The lives you save…

03/12/10 1:33pm

puppies

  • “Please, save us, you’re our only hope.”

File under “Why fiscal crises suck, non-human victims.”

Puppies, kittens, the sick and elderly of both species, are not getting the food they need.

The NY Center for Animal Care and Control, our already underfunded and mismanaged (by the bozos in the Department of Health which oversee it) city shelter, has had its budget slashed even further.

Now they can’t afford canned cat and dog food (and kitty litter). Click through to save all the little animals.

Canned foods are absolutely necessary for very young animals, sick animals, and those with dental problems/injuries. Enterprising animal rescuers have negotiated a deal with a wonderful Queens-based pet food wholesaler, C+K, which is offering cases of canned food and bags of litter at 5% less than their wholesale price, so that we, the general public, can purchase them directly by calling 718-894-4302.

Delivery will be taken care of by others: all you have to do is pick up the phone, tell them what you want to donate (Dog food: $17.76/case, Cat food: $19.20/case, Litter: $7.75/ 40 pound bag) and whip out your credit card. (Again, that number, 718-894-4302.)

A case of dog food for less than you spent on takeout last night. Less than three beers + tip. And it will literally save lived. PUPPY LIVES.

Operators are standing by (between the hours of 9am and 6pm weekdays, 9am and 3pm Saturday).

03/03/10 3:15am

Unless you were hiding out in a cave, without internet, it was hard to avoid the story of Tillikum, the killer whale who killed one of his “trainers” last week. Over the days that followed the event, comments spread on Facebook, the New York Times speculated on Tilly’s mental health, and calls to kill, or free, the orca popped up everywhere.

The keeping of animals for human amusement has a long and storied history, and the stories are usually about great suffering and cruelty being inflicted on the animals. Early zoos in China and Egypt were expressions of imperial power: the time, energy and money required to capture, transport and maintain (however briefly—mortality rates were tremendous) all those exotic animals could only come from an organized, centralized authority.

These days we’ve reinvented the zoo, and the animal exhibition, or at least put a different spin on them. Animals in captivity are “nature exhibits,” the places that hold them captive are “educational centers” for ” wildlife conservation.”

I grew up going to zoos, here in New York and elsewhere, a lot. The Central Park Zoo of my childhood was a nightmare I didn’t quite see—lions and tigers in concrete cells, lined up like their stuffed cousins in the Museum of Natural History across the park. I still remember the smells (not good), and the interminable pacing of the big cats measuring out their days in 12-foot lengths along the bars of their cages.

When I was older, I visited the zoo in Rome. Wolves in pens not big enough for my Jack Russell terrier, bears in such advanced stages of boredom and neglect that exposing children to their state was more abusive than educational. Why did hundreds of animals have to die slow, miserable, premature deaths so that we could watch them?

In the wild orcas live, on average, 30 years for males and 50 for females, with some making it to 60 or 70 years old. The Humane Society tells us that captive orcas seldom live past 20. In this respect Tillikum, the oldest orca in captivity, at about 19, is one of the lucky ones. The HSUS also lists the greatest threats to orca survival: among them, “capture for the public display industry.”

This isn’t just about Sea World (which is owned by the infamous Blackstone Group, btw) or the plight of Tillikum. It’s about a systematized for-profit abuse of animals. Orca shows are not educational, and they’re not good for the animals or, apparently, the people who “train” them. For every happy performer, scores have been captured, died in transport or captivity, or prematurely. Male orcas in the wild remain with their mothers for their whole lives, in large matrilineal groups, with lifelong familial bonds. They are not meant to live in swimming pools, with limited contact with others of their kind.

And what’s true for orcas is true for virtually all wild animals in captivity. They are bored and lonely, they are physically unwell: they fail to thrive and they die prematurely, all for our amusement. Some are carted around on trucks and trains to perform in circuses, others languish in roadside pens or zoological parks. I’m no longer amused.

As Jacques Cousteau famously said: “There is about as much educational benefit to be gained in studying dolphins in captivity as there would be studying mankind by only observing prisoners held in solitary confinement.”

02/17/10 4:00am


I know I don’t normally get embroiled in international trade issues, but last week I found myself riveted by a little article in the Times, detailing China’s latest report on its water pollution. Turns out there is far more pollution than had previously been documented, or even acknowledged. The most recent report has deigned to include agricultural waste—fertilizers, pesticides, stuff that seeps from landfills—as part of the total: these pollutants had long been excluded from any tally of pollution, presumably in an attempt to keep levels down.

Talk about a selective approach. Part of this is the result of expanded data collection, as well as the expanded definition of pollutants, but it’s hard not to think of China’s long history of industrial and environmental cover-ups and deceptions, attempts to keep their reputation unsullied, their products trustworthy, and consumers buying.

Put the words “China” and “agriculture” in the same sentence, and I immediately think of the disconcerting, nearly inescapable presence on U.S. shelves (and in U.S. freezers, fridges etc.) of “Grown in China” produce, and “Made in China” prepared foods. Sure, we all want some imported foods, but China has taken it to the next level, and then a couple of levels above that. One example is a deliberate, stated attempt to take over the apple market: we’ve let them (by buying their apples, at artificially low prices) despite the fact that some of the best apples in the world are grown just an hour from Manhattan (and throughout the northern states and Canada). Check out the frozen-vegetable section at Trader Joe’s if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

So we have the new breadbasket of the world finally coming clean(er) on just how dirty things are over there. And it turns out that much of that “dirt” has been generated growing, or producing, stuff for us. (The other half of the picture is industrial effluent, dumped by manufacturers into rivers and lakes. Same old, same old.) Though this country is hardly leading the way in pollution control, one of the reasons that stuff made in China is cheaper is that there are fewer controls, regulations and limits on the kinds of messes you can make manufacturing and growing. The cost of cleaning up isn’t factored into the price of the product.

The Times article, after discussing the dramatic upward revision of pollution numbers, went on to detail the total pollution capacity of China’s rivers. In brief, the amount of pollution being produced is three times the amount that the country’s bodies of water can absorb. Our consumption of Chinese products is leading, none too slowly, to the poisoning of a country on the other side of the world.

What does it mean that we’re exporting our pollution, and our environmental damage to another country, one apparently willing to take it? Is this really what we want to be doing to the planet, working diligently in the U.S. (some of us, at least) to tighten environmental regulations, and lessen our impact, both individually and as a society, as we continue to buy and buy, from China and many other places with cheaper labor and more lax regulation.

The sticking point is the buying: depending on who you listen to, as much as half of all the food in this country is wasted along the chain of supply, much of it towards the end of its journey from farm to table, either in the market or the consumer’s house. Assuming the worst, that means that half the food we import, half the product of those poisoned rivers, half the cause of that pesticide runoff, ends up in the trash before it’s eaten. And I know from personal experience (I’ve written about it here) that our garbage cans are often filled with perfectly good clothes, working appliances, unused cleaning products, and mountains of bedding.

It IS terrible, the state of the environment in China, and I’m glad the Chinese are working to clean it up. But we need to accept responsibility too, and look at our habits. The fridge doesn’t need to be full to feel secure, your drawers don’t need to overflow. Just because you can’t see the effects of your consumption doesn’t mean they’re not there.