I am skeptical of the sturm und drang surrounding the 38 “synthetic ingredients” that the National Organic Standards Board allows in processed foods that wear the “USDA Certified Organic” label. Of the three examples cited in your article [xanthan gum, ammonium bicarbonate, and ethylene], none is particularly harmful, and they are all derived primarily from natural sources. I have researched what the chemicals are and how the NOSB allows them to be used, and posted the information on my blog. I have not seen similar research in Grist or any other media outlets.
I think it is a shame that media outlets and the Organic Consumers Association keep talking about the 38 “synthetic chemicals” in their news releases and stories, but do not actually give consumers any useful information about them so that we can make up our own minds about whether or not we want to support companies that use these food additives.
Editor’s note: You can find more discussion about organics and synthetics in Gristmill, Grist’s blog.
Re: Trivial Pursuits
Your “perfect eco-day” article was exactly what I was looking for. In a world often filled with depressing environmental news, I’ll be happy to know I’m doing something.
New York, N.Y.
Re: Trivial Pursuits
Every time I read one of Umbra’s rants about how the little things aren’t what we should be obsessing over, I want to scream and yell. I understand that there are much bigger environmental issues to worry about, but can someone please remind Umbra that she writes an advice column, and what people write to advice columnists about are the things that they need advice on?
I’m sorry if paper vs. plastic or air vs. paper don’t get her rocks off, but these are the things we deal with every day, and if we all made an effort to tackle these little things, then we’d see some pretty big change in industry.
It just irks me that she is so damn snotty about it. What good does it serve if someone new to environmentalism does a search on paper vs. plastic, stumbles on one of Umbra’s snotty replies about how she’s sick of this and all the other small questions, and then decides it’s not worth it and just keeps using paper in plastic?
Please, remind Umbra that she is representing an organization that routinely asks readers to donate money, and that by being a snotty asshole she is turning people like me off from wanting anything to do with you.
Google says that the drive from Fresno, Calif., to downtown Chicago is 2,209 miles long. Let’s assume that Umbra is right and a 1,638 mile truck trip carrying 38,000 pounds of produce emits 6,000 pounds of CO2. Then a 2,209 mile trip emits about 8,000 pounds. That’s a little over a pound of CO2 for every five pounds of produce carted from the Central Valley to Chicago.
Using your freezer for nine months emits 332 pounds of CO2. I have no idea how much food you can pack in a freezer. Let’s be generous and assume that we are freezing around 300 pounds of food.
Which means that shipping the veggies is … wait for it … about five times more carbon efficient than buying local and freezing. Unless I’m mistaken, it looks like the numbers you present don’t make much of a case for buying local. Sadly enough.
An underlying assumption was that the questioner’s electricity came from coal. Here in Texas, we have pollution-free electricity options. This tilts the equation even more toward freezing.
I’m not sure why this article was considered Grist-worthy. Can you please explain? Unless the Brits are using fur from endangered bears, how is their use of bear fur any different from their use of leather?
We have lots of bears here in Alaska. I like to watch them rather than shoot them, but they are legal game, as are caribou, moose, waterfowl, salmon, etc. People eat these critters and make stuff out of their skins, pelts, and feathers. Is this wrong? Is it better to make stuff out of petroleum-based polymers?
PETA has a particular point of view about this, of course — one not shared by many environmentalists, especially those of us with science backgrounds.
I am frustrated by the seemingly widespread practice of assuming values can, and should, be lumped into groups. Why would someone expect that a person working for Grist would be a vegan? Because they work for an environmental publication? Why does vegan follow from that?
The same thing happens with war protests — people go down to protest the war, and suddenly they are caught up in every “liberal” cause imaginable. The assumption is that because people are protesting the war they must also be opposed to abortion, eating meat, and to the unjust incarceration of a particular person. At the end of the day, the minority of people who make these assumptions turn off the majority, and turn away people who may have been on the fringe of supporting an additional cause.
Perhaps you don’t want a person who eats meat to be part of the environmental movement, but there are a lot of us who do. Real progress will be made when we begin to incorporate differing values, rather than trying to change or ignore them.
While it is true that Whole Foods is patronized by rich, intellectual tree huggers (like myself, when I’m in the States), the fact is they are still a big buyer of organic products and produce, which has a market impact. So go easy on the snob factor.
I hate being that guy. You know, the one who points out every little non-PC nuance in an otherwise good-spirited piece. But after reading the latest Grist List, I can’t help it. When I read, “Like Bette fans, we can’t keep it straight,” something struck me as, shall we say, less than comfortable. There was an implication that gay people try to be straight, or should try, or in some way prefer straight. I’m sure this was not your intended meaning, but nonetheless that’s what I read. And, because I love Grist so much, I couldn’t let this by without calling attention to it. Thanks for all you do!