Re: Buzz Alterin’

Dear Editor:

You say that shade-grown is not a make-or-break aspect of coffee choice. It is if you want to see the Baltimore oriole. The species is declining by 4 percent a year because the trees it needs are being replaced by coffee plantations. Monoculture coffee plantations are a disaster for many species of birds.

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Linda Keenan

Hyattsville, Md.


Re: Buzz Alterin’

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Dear Editor:

Thanks for the informed response in which you explained the triple certification of coffee. I realize you have limited space in your column, but I have a couple of comments on some of the distinctions you made.

You are correct in stating that shade certification is offered by two labels, namely Rainforest Alliance and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, which provide the “Rainforest Alliance Certified” and the “Bird Friendly” labels, respectively. Both of these labels provide the consumer with the assurance that the coffee has come from farms with an array of social and/or environmental benefits.

The biggest difference between the two certifications is the degree to which they deal with social issues; whether or not organic certification is a prerequisite; and the issue of land tenure. Rainforest Alliance includes social criteria in its certification, along with farm practices related to the shade trees associated with coffee production. It encourages an “integrated pest management” approach, which, while allowing the use of agrochemicals, tries to minimize their use via a number of management strategies. Most, if not all, of the Rainforest Alliance-certified farms are large, single-owner estate farms.

By contrast, the SMBC’s Bird Friendly label addresses the biophysical aspects of shade only, applying the criteria to large estate farms and to cooperatively run organizations alike. It insists on organic certification prior to having the Bird Friendly seal applied. The criteria are based on years of ongoing scientific field work, and the basic thinking underlying the seal criteria is that if the habitat is there, birds will come and use it.

Indeed they do. And the birds serve as an indicator of overall ecological health of the system.

We here at the SMBC feel that the habitat issue is an important one. Hence we insist upon organic certification. There is simply too much literature on the impact that agrochemicals have on birds and other wildlife to ignore them when talking about habitat health. Organic certification is the only way to be sure that the system is chemical free.

For consumers, as I’m sure you know, there are two reasons to consider organic foods: personal health and environmental health. As it turns out, the roasting of coffee pretty much eliminates any chemical (pesticide) residues that might otherwise affect one’s health — they get burned off. But things at the level of production are another matter. The chemical-free production process associated with organic farming is the only way to be sure that the coffee system is not endangering the workers who cultivate and harvest the crop, as well as the wildlife associated with the agroforestry system.

Robert A. Rice

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center

Washington, D.C.

Editor’s note: You can find more discussion on eco-friendly coffee in Gristmill, Grist‘s blog.


Re: Do It Yourself

Dear Editor:

I appreciated the excellent article by Audrey Schulman. There was a study done of Yaqui children in Mexico that demonstrated dramatically the inability of children to draw figures after exposure to pesticide drift. It compares the efforts of kids living in the foothills, free from pesticide use, and those residing in the agricultural valley. Evidence continues to mount about the effects of these and other chemicals on children’s development and health, cognitive and otherwise. Thank you for sharing this kind of information with your readers.

Liberty Goodwin

Toxics Information Project

Providence, R.I.


Re: In Farm’s Way

Dear Editor:

Tom Philpott writes of Joel Salatin’s book: “What we get … is a kind of grab bag … some of it borderline offensive. More than once, Salatin informs us that he’s a ‘Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist.’ In a pretty good chapter denouncing genetically modified food, which contains a sophisticated critique of the ‘objectivity’ of science, Salatin argues unedifyingly that GMOs ‘violate God’s Genesis plan.’ Elsewhere, he gratuitously lashes out at abortion doctors.”

I understand that Philpott wants to warn the stereotypical “green” reader that Salatin may hold opinions that are objectionable to them. However, as an evangelical Christian and faithful Grist reader, I feel compelled to remind us all that not every person who is concerned about the environment follows the same script. A growing number of conservative and evangelical Christians are joining the fight for environmental protections pioneered by their more liberal friends and neighbors. Sometimes, the most effective way to build a coalition is to appeal to many different viewpoints, including those who believe in God’s Genesis plan, and to try not to take offense at every opinion that differs from our own.

Diane Fitzsimmons

Norman, Okla.


Re: You’re Only Humanure

Dear Editor:

Thanks for providing info about composting toilets. You used the appropriate term “humanure” in your title, but didn’t include The Humanure Handbook in your link to the various designs. I mention this because you refer to the typically high cost of most commercial composting systems. The approach recommended by author Joe Jenkins is simple, affordable, and effective. Cost should not be a barrier to installing a composting toilet.



Re: You’re Only Humanure

Dear Editor:

Her Excellency the former Governor General of Canada, Adrienne Clarkson, has described herself as “totally and utterly an evangelist for composting toilets.” With such an example before her, how can Grandma possibly object?

Robin Marwick

Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Re: You’re Only Humanure

Dear Editor:

Umbra is full of poop. Every composting toilet I have seen or had to use stinks. As far as I can tell, they are not yet ready for prime time.

Lesley Maul

San Jose, Calif.

Editor’s note: You can find more discussion on composting toilets in Gristmill, Grist‘s blog.


Re: Low With the Flow

Dear Editor:

You forgot to add the golden rule: If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down.

Joey Kimmet

Rudyard, Mont.


Re: Gobble It Up

Dear Editor:

I heartily disagree with Tom Philpott’s attitude. A vegan Thanksgiving is not about being puritan. It’s about caring, making connections, and expressing gratitude while imposing as little harm as possible. The Church of Alice Waters is about pretense and denial. The society we live in has more than enough of that already.

Cathleen Young

Berkeley, Calif.


Re: Gobble It Up

Dear Editor:

Your suggestions for an “eco-friendly” Thanksgiving were the final turnoff for me and several other soon-to-be-former subscribers. It seems that your editors and writers are all meat-eaters doing their best to grudgingly acknowledge the many non-animal-eaters who might be on your list, but I must say your arrogance leaves a bad taste in my mouth. You — and the Alice Waters worshipers — unabashedly and self-righteously claim the higher ground because you “give animals a good life” before slicing their heads off. And you tell vegans to fast because otherwise we’d be supporting environmental devastation in Brazil?

Here’s some news for you — most vegans and animal activists have enough compassion for both humans and animals. We support human rights, purchase fair-trade, organic, local ingredients, and don’t dwell in some hypocritical arrogant universe that says you can care about only one or the other.

Thanks for your suggestions, but this year, I’ll do what I do every year: feast with like-minded, conscious vegans on a variety of locally grown, cruelty-free, plant-based dishes — including a gorgeous centerpiece whose head and legs don’t have to be hacked off and whose entrails don’t have to be removed before making it edible.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

Founder and Director, Compassionate Cooks

Oakland, Calif.


Dear Editor:

I have been a subscriber for quite a while now and have wondered why Grist is not more vocal about the benefits of veganism to our planet. It is beyond my understanding how a true environmentalist could advocate for using less energy, water, etc., and not consider the ramifications of meat-eating. I am very disappointed in you.

Jillene Wenzel


Re: Is There a Procter in the House?

Dear Editor:

The vegetable oil that Procter and Gamble is using in its products is palm oil from Indonesian palm plantations where forests have been destroyed to make way for them. These forests are home to critically endangered orangutans and others. I have just returned from witnessing the devastation firsthand.

Steve Tyler

Orange, Calif.


Re: Unnatural Disasters

Dear Editor:

While I recognize that the Sacramento Valley is in flood danger, I am tired of people using Katrina as a scare tactic to menace the residents of this area. Rep. John Doolittle [R-Calif.] is already using the threat of a Katrina-like catastrophe to try and push through the building of the oft-proposed Auburn Dam, which would be seismically unsafe as well as big, ugly, and environmentally destructive. Please, no more fuel on the fire.

L. Jensen

New Haven, Conn.


Re: A Second Ganz

Dear Editor:

Marshall Ganz’s work seems to be along the lines of Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone — pointing out that Americans are becoming less engaged with their communities and less likely to participate in a broad variety of organizations and causes, including environmental ones. What I don’t get from this article is what Ganz proposes as a solution.

Does he have a prescription for how to revitalize mid-century levels of face-to-face participation in clubs and chapters? Or does he have a plan to capture the essential benefits of the community involvement of yesteryear in the new internet communities that are springing up everywhere? What’s the prescription, doc?


via Gristmill


Re: The Mod Squad

Dear Editor:

I am glad that I signed up to receive your publication in my inbox; it always contains helpful and relevant information.

I am not glad that the articles are littered with the predictable assortment of political smears; for example, “Mod Squad,” which proved itself incapable of showing gratitude toward moderate Republicans. Please put all such litter in its place and clean up the environment of the discussion on ecological matters. To the extent that the world we are trying to save belongs to any of us, it belongs to all of us, not to any one political party — hence the obvious need for unity.

Stephen Dunn

Jonesboro, Ga.


Re: Gift Rapt

Dear Editor:

I just wanted to say a quick thank you for your gift guide. It was incredibly helpful to have a consolidated list of eco-friendly gift suggestions and consumer products. Thanks!

Sarah Nash

Chicago, Ill.