Conscious Choice

How Google Earth Is Helping to Save the Real Earth

The map didn't make sense. It was one of those grainy, black-and-white topographical maps, the kind of 8 ½ x 11 photocopy you get in the mail to inform you of an upcoming construction project near your home. The kind you turn this way and that until you give up trying to figure out what it corresponds to in the real world and just toss it into the trash instead.

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What the World Might Look Like When the Millennials Run It

If you can't remember a time when the world was not wired, you are a member of the Millennial Generation -- the 33 million Americans between the ages of 15 and 25. You are special. You are different. The fate of the planet is on your shoulders. No pressure.

Before your arrival, the largest, richest and most influential generation in American history were your parents -- the Baby Boom Generation -- the some 78 million Americans born to G.I. Dads and Lindy-hopping Moms in the years after the end of World War II. Succeeding them, born between 1964 and 1977, was Generation X, clocking in much smaller, at 37 million. But with over 80 million Americans born after 1977, Generation Y is the new large and in charge generation. Gen Y includes Echo Boomers (loosely defined as the children of the Boomers born after 1977), and Millennials, (those born after 1982). Like their Boomer parents before them, the opposite ends of the Gen Y/Echo/Millennial generation are vastly different from each other. And Millennials, say experts, "are unlike any other youths in living memory: More numerous, more affluent, better educated and more ethnically diverse than those who came before." Those words from William Strauss and Neil Howe, social scientists who coined the term "millennial" in their book Millennials and the Pop Culture (LifeCourse Associates, March '06).

Perhaps the most outstanding detail that distinguishes this generation -- from even those born just a couple of years earlier -- is their level of media consumption, particularly online. Today, the average teenager spends more than 72 hours a week using electronic media -- cell phones, internet, television, music and video games -- according to a 2006 study.

"There's an intense focus on openness, sharing information, as both an ideal and a practical strategy to get things done," explained Mark Zuckerberg, 23-year-old Millennial wüunderkind and founder and CEO of Facebook, in a recent interview with Fast Company. On, students log in daily to chat, flirt and connect -- the average user frittering away eight hours a month on the site.

All that time spent social networking has indoctrinated Millennials into the cult of groupthink, refashioning them into the most collaborative and team-oriented generation the world has seen in many a decade. This manifests in "a wide array of positive social habits that older Americans no longer associate with youth, including a new focus on teamwork, achievement, modesty and good conduct," say Strauss and Howe.

Millennials spend 16 hours a week on the Internet -- and that's not including emailing. Recent research from the Pew Internet and American life project shows nearly 80 percent of the 28 and younger set regularly read blogs, compared with just 30 percent of adults 29 to 40. And roughly 40 percent of teenage and 20-something Internet users have created their own blog, as compared to just a sliver of 30-somethings -- a mere 9 percent.

Thirty-five-year-old entrepreneur and youth-marketing guru Anastasia Goodstein turned her fascination with the evolving Internet habits of Millennials' into a book, Totally Wired: What Teens and Tweens Are REALLY Doing Online (St. Martin's Griffon, March '07). She calls Millennials the "mash up generation," because they're constantly taking bits and pieces of popular culture and then remixing them -- essentially creating their own tailored subcultures.

Out of Myspace and Into the World

But with personally-crafted online networks right at their fingertips, Millennials are confronting some harsh realities when they step outside their virtual world. Julia Dossett, a 25-year-old Marketing Associate for the Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago, observes this phenomenon in the numbers of her peers who seem to resist engagement in a personal and professional commitment because "they are waiting around for the ideal to come along." This can breed apathy, resentment and a sense of entitlement.

"None of these will help my generation actually reach the potential we were encouraged to achieve as children so long ago," Dossett laments. "We were raised to believe we could do anything we wanted and be anything we wanted, and that nothing was out of reach. But now that we are young adults living away from our parents -- I think we sometimes find the choices overwhelming."

Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and author of Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled -- and More Miserable than Ever Before (Free Press, March '07), blames much of Millennial angst on the over indulgences of boomer parents. "They were raised by 'helicopter' parents who constantly hovered over them -- providing unending praise, support and, perhaps, unrealistic expectations that the world was their oyster," says Twenge. This group is highly optimistic -- they expect to go to college, to make lots of money, and perhaps even to be famous. The misery is produced, says Twenge, when these overly confident youngsters hit a stressed-out work place rife with uncertainty.

"Many people reaching their twenties find that their jobs do not provide the fulfillment and excitement they had anticipated," Twenge continues. "And their salary isn't enough to afford even a small house."

Millennial dissatisfaction in the workplace has not gone unnoticed by employers. Anastasia Goodstein recounts a recent Wall Street Journal article about a company that hired a praise consultant to help assuage the egos of young employees. "This is a generation used to veneration and attention and getting a pat on the back," Goodstein explains. But still, Goodstein wonders what kind of praise the consultant might offer. "Maybe 'Great job, you showed up today!' "

On, 20-something bloggers Ryan Paugh and Ryan Healy hope to "create an anonymous dialogue between our generation and the corporations struggling to understand our attitudes about work." In a recent post entitled "Where Should a Millennial Draw the Line?," Paugh writes, "Part of being an entry-level worker is just waiting for something big to come your way. In the meantime, you bite your lip and act busy. Preceding generations say it's normal. I say it sucks. If what our elders say is true, we're supposed to keep on truckin'. Eventually we'll have some real responsibility and the downtime will be nothing less than treasured. The problem is, I don't live my life on blind faith."

Richard Florida, best-selling author of Rise of the Creative Class, gets Paugh's message loud and clear. "This generation values intrinsic rewards more so than salary and benefits," says Florida. "A culture which fosters tolerance and learning is one they will seek out and thrive in. The organizations that do this best will be the ones that prosper in the creative age."

Political Scenesters

Smart, savvy and civically engaged, there is no doubt Millennials will affect profound change on the political level. When they start occupying elective offices, expect new initiatives to protect children, promote literacy and safety and reform dysfunctional educational systems. Experts also anticipate this generation will affect profound political change on a consumer level, especially concerning where and why they open their pocket books. Their loyalty will lie with socially responsible business practices.

In fact, they're dedicating their time to efforts they care about more than ever before. In 2003, 83 percent of college freshman were volunteering -- up from about 66 percent in 1990 (a side effect of increasingly competitive college acceptance rates perhaps, but nice nonetheless).

And for those dismayed by the general public's apparent distrust of smart politicians, here's a great sign: Eight in ten teens now say it's "cool to be smart." Test scores are up, and 73 percent of high school students say they want a four-year college degree.

"Two things represent my generation," concludes Chris Hales, 25-year-old CEO of Anti-Matter Media a Chicago-based multimedia company. "Technology and the 'Do-It-Yourself' aesthetic. With the increase of technology, opportunities for networking with others seem endless, enabling us to turn out more authors, films, record labels and artists than previous generations. When you put the two together you have the recipe for a generation that is willing to go out and make stuff happen on their own."

Five Eco-Diets Get Put to the Test

I am your run-of-the mill vegetarian. I started up after a college cafeteria gave me dry Salisbury steak with a side of food poisoning, kept it going for a girl, then firmed up a deepening veggie philosophy with some essential reading. I stuck with it from there because I’m healthy as hell, think there is little more appealing than fresh arugula salad, and, really, who would doubt a diet promoted by Einstein?

But these days, regular old vegetarianism -- which 10 percent of Americans claim to be, by the way -- is just one jumping point for molding a healthy dietary conscience. As meals today come complete with a carbon footprint, more of us are eating with the health of the watershed, soil and sustainable farming in mind. Everyone’s favorite (albeit omnivorous) food guru Michael Pollan said it best with his sage advice for healthy eating: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.�

Still, like any new dietary trend, sustainable diets are subject to extremes, as well as their own fair share of loopholes and problems (think Atkins and a bunless triple-cheeseburger with bacon). I decided to see for myself what’s on the menu for the vegan, for the 100-mile-dieter, for the raw foodist, the slow food advocate, and the strictly organic consumer, noting how these diets hold up beyond theory and in surreptitious practice (i.e. is that really organic?). To aid my assessment of each diet’s feasibility, sustainability, health and strain on the wallet, I attempted to practice each method for one week.

Don’t Panic, It’s Organic

Since J.I. Rodale began promoting organic farming in the 1940s, “organic� has come to mean opposition to the practices of industrial farming. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has now officially defined “organic� as, in short, food grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers or sewage sludge, free from irradiation, genetic modification or -- for animal-products -- growth hormones or antibiotics. A USDA organic seal has been in existence under five years, but the time-consuming process of certification has limited the amount of farmers whose products carry the seal -- even if many (often smaller) farmers are practicing organic methods. This is bad news for me since I’m limiting my diet to USDA approved organics. Let the search begin…

Price: Quite pricey. Add $0.50 to $1.00 per item if you want to upgrade to organic. My grocery bill for the week went up a whopping $30.00.

Prep Time: Factor in conscientious label-reading, asking questions and spending quality time with a Sharpie, crossing off bogus terms like “all natural� from labels. Here’s a cheat sheet: “USDA Organic� is made with 100 percent organic ingredients, just “Organic� means ingredients are 95 percent organic and “made with organic ingredients� must be over 70 percent organic. “All natural� means absolutely nothing.

Health: Organics guarantee no pesticides or harsh, petrol-based fertilizers, with a growing finding of health benefits.

Sustainability: When farmers are held to organic standards, the surrounding environment benefits. Still, a simple meal could log a hefty carbon footprint. My organic enchilada recipe went on one heck of Spring Break before arriving on my plate -- including Mexico, Chile and Argentina. When local farmers nearby have fresh tomatoes, it’s going to be hard to argue that those hundreds of gallons of jet fuel are worth the guarantee of a pesticide-free salsa.

In the Garden of Vegan

The sustainable vegan diet focuses a critical eye on the conventional raising of livestock, a practice that is unsustainable and, many vegans believe, antiquated and cruel. The ecological problems stem from animal feedlot operations (AFOs). “By definition,� reads a passage on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, “AFOs produce large amounts of waste in small areas. For example, a single dairy cow produces approximately 120 pounds of wet manure per day. The waste produced per day by one dairy cow is equal to that of 20-40 people.� Meat and other animal products require gads of energy and water to produce. Mass-production of these products includes antibiotics and questionable feed practices, and leaves us with a whole lot of waste to contaminate the rest of our food chain. The vegan’s answer? Cut out the animal products.

Price: Plenty of room to price shop on this diet, and by definition you sidestep some of the pricier parts of an “average� diet -- meat and dairy.

Prep Time: No time added.

Health: Moderate. As with any nutritional regimen, eating healthy on a vegan diet still requires making smart choices. While vegans substitute most major sources of fat and cholesterol like eggs, meat, cheese and milk with heart-healthier alternatives like soy, beans and nuts, a vegan diet isn’t necessarily all health heaven. French fries, a can of coke and a sugary slice of vegan carrot cake for dessert are all still fair game.

Sustainability: Good. For every hunk of beef, slice of cheese and glass of milk you replace, you are giving a nod to the veggie farmer and shying away from problems plaguing the animal products industries: run-off, overuse of antibiotics and growth hormones. Still, there are no limits on your food’s carbon footprint (grapes from Australia, anyone?).

A Raw Deal

While sticking to foods prepared under temperatures less than 118 F makes for meals packed with nutrients, consuming only fruits, vegetables and nuts in caloric quantities equivalent to your average carb-heavy cooked diet can take some getting used to. Just three days into this diet and I had a daylong headache, my stomach was in knots, and the rest of my digestive system wasn’t so happy. I caved and headed to a favorite vegan restaurant for a hot meal.

But this wasn’t necessarily a sign of the diet’s failing -- it just shows that eating uncooked, unprocessed food is a radically different take on preparing chow. Raw foodists believe that heating and processing ingredients kills important enzymes, those unseen creatures in our meal that break down the food, molecule-by-molecule, and aid in digestion. Less enzymes, claim raw foodists, makes for more toxicity in the body -- leading to lethargy, obesity and generally bad health.

After recovering from the initial shock of going raw, I got back in the saddle with one of the best meals of all the diets combined: raw lasagna (zucchini, squash, pine-nut ricotta and basil pistachio pesto) at New York City raw restaurant, Pure Food and Wine. Afterwards, I felt like a million bucks -- sated, energized and just plain healthy. Maybe raw foodists are on to something after all.

Price: Moderately high. Many raw foodists eat organic (understandably, as they are only rinsing their food), and favor exotic and costlier ingredients like cacao, cold pressed oils and tropical fruits.

Prep Time: You’d think time would be saved since you need not turn the stove on. But after slaving over a food processor and blender (simultaneously), triple washing, slicing, dicing, mincing and soaking food for hours -- think again. Expect to add up to an extra hour of prep time.

Health: Raw food dieters believe that cooking food destroys important enzymes, bacteria and micronutrients that aid the immune system and general health. The marriage of fire and food may kill many nutrients and good bacteria, but it also kills dangerous bacteria and helps make food easier to digest (although many raw dieters note the cleansing properties of the diet).

Sustainability: Strong. On par with an organic, vegan diet.

Livin’ Like a Locavore

The “100-mile diet� began in 2005 at the home of Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon in Vancouver, British Columbia. Inspired by a vacation in a new cabin where they ate off the land for a few weeks, the duo staged a year-long experiment of only eating food grown within 100 miles of their home. In part, Smith and MacKinnon’s 100-mile diet was a reaction to the growing organic movement. “The original ideals of the organic movement included local,� said Smith in a radio interview. “[And that’s] the system to shoot for… Organics will follow.� The “real crisis in the food system is a crisis of transparency,� added MacKinnon. Eating locally puts knowledge of the health and safety of the food supply back into the hands of the consumer.

Price: Farmers markets, co-ops and CSAs are usually cheaper than your average grocery story.

Prep time: Much creativity is required for preparation -- you’ll have to do a bunch of gardening if you don’t live near a great farmers market -- and you’re stuck with what’s in season, which means learning to cook that cardoon, celeriac and oyster root soup.

Health: The health concerns of the 100-mile diet are readily apparent. Your diet is limited to what is growing. This may mean milk and potatoes for days on end. Don’t live near olive trees? You’ll have to use local butter to cook your food. Bread shouldn’t be a problem, unless the wheat fields are just beyond 100 miles. Still, MacKinnon cites the benefit that local food is usually harvested at its peak, which means that it has developed to its nutritional max. And eating what’s in season breaks repetitive eating patterns (you can’t fall back on spaghetti and marinara sauce if it’s not tomato season), thus introducing a wider range of nutrients into your diet.

Sustainability: Shining. Eating locally counters the bulk of the carbon footprint created by the average diet, and promotes diverse -- and therefore more sustainable -- farming.

Slow Down, You Move too Fast

Slow Food begins with gastronomy, the science of good eating. “There isn’t a ‘Slow Food Diet’ per se,� says Jerusha Klemperer, of Slow Food, USA. “We basically consider Slow Food to be food that is good (in that it tastes delicious and is clean), produced in a way that is ecologically sustainable, and is fair (produced in a way that fairly compensates),� he says. Slow Food founder, Carlo Petrini says the goal is to “bring gastronomy in service of the environment.� Petrini believes this happens when people stop, (or slow down) and think about what they eat and where it comes from. But “ultimately,� says Klemperer, “Slow Food is about reviving the pleasures of the table, eating your meal in a communal setting -- not at your desk, not in front of the TV, but at a table, with other people.� Slow Food is an approach to diet as philosophy rather than regimen -- which comes as quite a relief to me, after all this dieting.

Price: To ascribe to the Slow Food movement, first and foremost you must “buy good food.� This means organic and local, fresh and unprocessed. Petrini says that the average person must get used to paying more than double what they pay now for food.

Prep time: To truly eat slow takes effort -- and is decidedly not conducive to a 50+ hour workweek. With full meals extending up to six hours to prepare and eat, a slow meal once a week -- as an event -- is probably the way to go.

Health: “Welcome to a society where we spend more money to lose weight than to eat,� says Petrini. Putting more time and thought into food, he believes, is a good way to reverse this backward way of looking at nutrition.

Sustainability: Excellent. Slow Food is based on the marriage of a good diet and smart ecology.

My Diet, Myself

If you haven’t seen the 2004 documentary Super Size Me, you should rent it -- if only to witness the intriguingly gruesome health collapse of the protagonist, who attempts to subsist on a diet of 100 percent fast food. But the shock doc’s main point is not that McDonald’s is bad for you -- because, well, duh -- but rather that the average American thinks so little about the quality and history of the food they put into their body.

The sustainable diets I’ve explored have one unifying priority -- they aim to return thought back into diet. But, once the rules become unthinking habit, loopholes appear. Sure going raw can be healthy, but eating three Chilean avocados a day could leave you with high cholesterol and a hefty carbon footprint. The trick to eating with a conscience is to mix and match ideologies to create meals that are healthiest for you and the planet. After this experiment, I’ve signed up for a share from a local farm, put a number of raw recipes on heavy rotation, bought more organic (but only when there’s no local choice), and thought twice before buying processed foods. I’m no longer following the set rules of any sustainable vegetarian diet in particular. Instead, I like to think that I have graduated from “run of the mill� to fully sustainable vegetarian.

The New Rules of Food

What if you knew the story behind everything you ate, such as where the food came from, who grew it and how? Imagine the landscape from which it came, perhaps a thriving collection of family farms. What if you knew the people that grew the food, knew that they got a fair price for it and that they actively worked to protect the landscape?

How differently would we eat if we got to know our food better?

Basic knowledge of where food comes from and how it is produced is lost on many Americans today and with it a trust in the food supply that sustains us.

With the rise of a highly industrialized society, an industrial farming system has developed along with it. Farms have become ever more mechanized, specialized and distant from most of the population. The federal government has contributed to the trend through legislation, with consecutive farm bills that favor big concentrated commodity growers -- sometimes known as "factory farms" -- while nearly ignoring local growers with smaller operations, sometimes collectively called "family farmers."

Now, when you walk into your local grocery, you see shelves chock full of all the marvels of our food system, with colorful packaging and displays. But do you know where it comes from? Do you trust it? In most cases, there is no information beyond the basic government approvals and ingredient lists. But for a growing number of people, particularly in the age of food safety scares, the lack of information is unacceptable. Many Americans want to get to know their food, and the story behind it, better.

A new food movement is growing out of these concerns. Concerned citizens, farmers and others are starting to work on a new set of rules for the food system. These rules or standards would ensure sufficient incomes for family farmers, fair treatment of farm workers, proper care of farm animals and conservation of the environment. While some are working on the specific rules, others are figuring out how to communicate about the issue and efforts to others. They're devising ways to convey the stories behind food, so grocery shoppers know more about a cut of meat or a bag of beans and can use this information to make better choices.

This food and farming conversation is gathering force, appropriately, in the Midwest. Many leading thinkers are gathering in March at the Family Farmed Expo (, a two-day event in Chicago that contains events for the general public. Local experts on the subject will be on hand as well.

"When national organic food standards were adopted in the early 90s, there was a choice," says Jim Slama of Sustain USA, a Chicago-based non-profit that works on food and farming issues. "At that time, the feds chose to emphasize environmental standards in the strictest sense, to certify whether the food production system avoided artificial fertilizers and chemicals. But they chose to ignore other values related to producing and selling food, values that many people care about."

Slama and his colleagues are at the forefront of a "food convergence." Previously, food-related issues were addressed separately as individual groups focused on organics, local production, fair trade or family farm issues. Today, these groups are coming together to look at food from all angles with the belief that collectively, they can have far greater impact.

Four key topics of discussion include certifying family farms; fair trade standards; organics and beyond; and local food and flavor.

Certifying Family Farms

Fred Kirschenmann has watched with alarm as the number of independent family farms decline across the Midwest. The North Dakota farmer and senior fellow at Iowa State University's Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture noted that this tragic disappearance was occurring even as demand was growing for specialty food products.

"New markets are opening," says Kirschenmann. "In many cases, markets for organic foods, but they really take organic to another level. They come from peoples' rising desire to buy food that protects the land and animals, supports farm families and farm workers. These markets demand food products that independent family farmers can, by their very nature, best provide."

This new demand for food can be summed up in three things food must convey: memory, story and relationship. People want food that carries the land's qualities and nutrients to their tables -- that's its memory. They want to know where it came from and follow it to its source -- that's its story. And they want to enjoy a trusting relationship through real communication with the producer.

Kirschenmann joined like-minded rural advocates and food activists to form the Association of Family Farms (AFF). The organization's goal is to differentiate themselves in the marketplace by forming cooperatives and creating their own unique brands, which they will certify with a special seal.

Like the ubiquitous "UL" (Underwriters Laboratories) label on household goods, the AFF seal will appear on food products from meat to wheat. It will certify food in three ways: 1) environmental stewardship on the farm; 2) social standards, such as fair treatment of farm workers; and 3) fair business practices including fair compensation for family farmers.

AFF is composed of farmers from local marketing organizations and co-ops and is gradually expanding through regional committees. In addition to the AFF seal, Kirschenmann foresees an interactive website that will provide detailed information about the food, and the farmers and practices used to produce it.

Fair Trade Standards

For AFF to work, it needs solid rules and agreed-upon standards by which to judge whether a food item deserves the seal. The group is drawing upon the Portland-based Food Alliance, whose certification programs support sustainable agriculture. Their standards are comprehensive and touch on every aspect of the farm economy and call upon farmers and ranchers for the following:

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One Great Big Plastic Hassle

In the seminal 1967 film, The Graduate, baby-faced Dustin Hoffman was told the wave of the future -- "Plastics." The lucrative career tip slipped on the QT to young Benjamin the day of his graduation bore no cautionary message about the veritable Pandora's Box the petrochemical plastics industry had opened in the post-war era some twenty years before the film's setting. The overzealous Plastic Man knew the only thing he needed to know: The world would always be hungry for plastic.

That celluloid prediction has proved right on target. Cheap, durable and convenient, plastic has been the country's chosen miracle-material since World War II. When added to polyvinyl chloride (PVC), the petroleum-based industrial chemicals in plastic -- chief among them plasticizers such as phthalates (THAHL-ates) -- make our upholstery comfier and our pipes more flexible. To keep up with the world's affection for all things plasticized, the U.S. produces a billion pounds of phthalates a year.

Today, phthalates are one of the top offenders in a group of 70 suspected endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that we spray in our homes and yards and use in our makeup, nail polish, detergents, flame retardants, plastic bottles, metal food cans and even children's toys.

When we're done with these products, we flush them down our sinks or burn them in our incinerators, where their runoff filters into our national waterways. Even if you eschew plasticized products in your personal lives, it's impossible to avoid contamination; EDCs are in the bodies of every man, woman, child and fetus in the U.S.

A scan of the usual green media suspects turns up a lot of material on this silent phenomenon. Beyond EDCs, public waterways are contaminated with growth hormones and antibiotics from cattle feed, residual hormones from birth control products and other medicines, waste chemicals and pharmaceuticals. These substances can pass intact into the water supply through conventional sewage treatment facilities, dumps and landfills, or wash off into surface water and even percolate into ground water from animal waste fertilizers contaminated with traces of such compounds. And yet the subject remains largely under the public radar.

Pioneer zoologist Theo Colborn began following the chemical trail early on. In her landmark book, Our Stolen Future (Dutton, 1996; Plume 1997 paperback), Colborn reported countless examples of reproductive disorders among wildlife -- from sterility in bald eagles to small genitalia in male alligators. After tracing the animals' disorders to chemical exposure, Colborn suggested that EDCs profoundly affect one of the body's main communication networks -- the endocrine system -- by either mimicking natural hormones or blocking their uptake to the body's receptor sites.

Short-circuiting hormones can disturb everything from human development and behavior to reproduction and immunity. And scientists believe even the tiniest hormone variation at certain critical points in fetal development can have a profound effect on a child's future health.

Disturbing public health trends are bearing out these grim theories. Maida Galvez, M.D., a New York-based pediatrician, often talks to parents concerned by the accelerated rate of their daughters' sexual development. "I've seen the onset of breast budding as early as the age of six," Dr. Galvez says, noting that normal breast development begins to occur around ages ten to 11.

To date there has been little research in the area of "precocious puberty," as it's called, but Galvez is currently part of a multicenter study of 1,200 adolescent girls to determine if exposure to the hormone disruptor family of phthalates is behind the trend.

A much-publicized 2005 study was the first to show the connection between phthalate exposure and incomplete genital development. Dr. Shanna Swan's study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives (August, 2005), showed that pregnant women with higher urine concentrations of some phthalates were more likely to give birth to sons with "phthalate syndrome" -- incomplete male genital development -- a disorder previously seen only in lab rats. Swan's findings support the hypothesis that prenatal phthalate exposure to levels found in the general U.S. population can adversely affect the reproductive tract in male infants.

Environmental exposure to EDCs is the suspected cause of declining male testosterone levels over the past two decades, as well as the declining male birth rates in industrial areas such as Seveso, Italy, and the Dow Chemical Valley in Sarnia, Ontario.

Last September, Vicki Blazer, a fish pathologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, found that more than 80 percent of male small mouth bass in the Potomac were growing eggs. She'd seen the problem a few years earlier in a pristine area of West Virginia.

Blazer believes the fault may lie with us. "We're all putting things into the environment. Hopefully people will think twice whether it's important not to have dandelions in the lawn and dump pharmaceuticals down the toilet," says Blazer.

The publication of Colborn's Our Stolen Future concerned Congress enough that it ordered the EPA to create a screening system for endocrine disruptors. The resulting 1996 Food Quality Protection Act was the most ambitious toxicology program ever conceived. Yet so far, the EPA hasn't conducted a single test.

"Clearly they've fallen down on the job," says Erik Olsen, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The EPA, citing technical difficulties and facing a proposed budget cut, predicts it will be 2009 before it establishes a testing protocol.

Meanwhile, the agency approves about 700 new chemicals a year, relying on the manufacturer's assurances for safety.

Facing government inaction, consumers have taken the lead in protecting themselves from EDC exposure. When the CDC found in 2000 that exposure to the plasticizer dibutyl phthalate (DBP) was more than 20 times greater for women of childbearing age than for the average person, a consumer group began its detective work.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested 72 name-brand beauty products for industrial chemical ingredients. Their report, "Not Too Pretty" (2002), found that nearly three quarters of commercial products contain phthalates, used to keep mascara from running and polished nails from chipping.

The grassroots consumer action resulting from the report was enough to pressure OPI (the major supplier of products to nail salons) as well as manufacturer Sally Hansen into agreeing to reformulate their products in late 2006.

Avalon Organics, supplier to Whole Foods, jumped onboard, becoming one of 450 signatories to the Compact for Safe Cosmetics campaign, an industry pledge to follow the European Union's lead in removing carcinogens, mutagens (chemicals which mutate the DNA of an organism), and reproductive toxicants (which adversely effect puberty, behavior and reproduction) from products, replacing them with safer alternatives.

Today if you screen the ingredients lists of most body care products for phthalates you'll find them on nail polish labels, but not in shampoo and other beauty products, where they are often masked as "fragrance." Stacy Malkan of Health Care Without Harm says that's changed her buying habits. "Now I won't buy products with fragrance on the label." (For more better buying habits, see sidebar).

Overwhelmed? Don't be says Gina Solomon of the NRDC. "People freak out with 85,000 chemicals out there, but in reality it will probably turn out to be a relative handful that are the real problem we need to deal with."

In December 2006, San Francisco became the first city in the nation to answer this charge when it banned baby products containing any level of BPA (plastic #7) and certain levels of phthalates. San Francisco officials based the ban on the European Union model that requires about 30 thousand chemicals be tested prior to their approval.

But single-city bans, while bold, are not going to stem the toxic tide. "What we need is chemical policy reform from the ground up," says Dr. Solomon. As it stands now, most chemicals released in recent decades are given a blanket assumption of safety. "The innocent-until-proven-guilty attitude in the U.S. is backwards," she counsels.

As scientists continue to tackle testing our chem-saturated environment, EDC damage to human health is likely to rank up with cancer as the environmentally induced medical concern of our time. Meanwhile, you can take action by pressuring your local officials, and -- like Benjamin in The Graduate -- reject the plastic world in favor of the real deal.

Can We Create A World Without Waste?

Aside from Oscar the Grouch, few people would argue that trash is a good thing. In addition to being stinky, ugly and a pain to lug out to the curb, the detritus of modern life causes problems on a far grander scale. Landfills and incinerators have been linked to a host of human health issues, and as for the environment -- you don't have to be an ecologist to know that lingering piles of plastic, metal and toxic goo are bad news all around.

Yet, we continue to throw things away -- and how could we not? What else would we do with that annoying cellophane packaging? The to-go boxes? The packing peanuts? The after-dinner scraps that even the dog won't touch?

Part of the solution is as simple as a blue bin. Curbside recycling is still an incredibly effective way to save energy and divert tons of plastics, cans and glass away from landfills. Another answer is composting, which would address more than 60 percent of what ends up in residential dumpsters.

But in addition to getting the word out about these tried and true solutions, a new movement is taking a more holistic approach. Rather than focusing solely on what to do with existing waste, the "Zero Waste" movement looks at a product's entire life cycle -- and redirects the conversation toward usable options for every step along the way. The ultimate goal is to eliminate waste as a concept entirely -- a lofty aspiration indeed. But Zero Wasters say loftiness is part of the point -- after all, creating a trash-free world is going to take nothing short of revolution.

Starting from Zero

The idea behind Zero Waste is simple: basically, nothing with a second use should be thrown away. And if something doesn't have a second use, it shouldn't exist. The Berkeley Ecology Center, a West Coast leader in the Zero Waste movement, puts it this way, "If it can't be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production."

While Zero Waste depends on careful attention to what we do or don't toss in our home trashcans, its ultimate task is to take a bigger view of how waste is handled on an industrial level. According to the Grassroots Recycling Network (GRRN), an international Zero Waste advocacy group, "The goal applies to the whole production and consumption cycle -- raw material extraction, product design, production processes, how products are sold and delivered, how consumers choose products and more."

It's one thing to tell consumers to stop throwing banana peels in the trash bin, but quite a larger task to convince industry to adopt Zero Waste. Still, Eric Lombardi, executive director of Eco-Cycle, a Zero Waste-oriented non-profit based in Boulder, Colo., says that industry is more amenable to the concept than you'd think. "Waste is money, and industry gets that better than anyone," he explains. In addition to offering various recycling services, Eco-Cycle consults businesses on how to reduce their overall waste. That means spending time peering into the dumpster, where they'll notice trashed items that could have been avoided through smarter purchasing decisions. "We'll agree to pick up those hard-to-recycle items like computers and plastic bags and shoes," he says, "and then what's left? Mostly junk plastics. That's when we talk with the people who do the purchasing to stop buying the things that end up in the dumpster."

You Make It, You Buy It

Of course, industry interest in Zero Waste isn't generally motivated by goodness of heart. One of the principal tenets of the Zero Waste strategy is Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), which, although new to the United States, is already well established in Europe -- in part due to the pressing problem of limited landfill space. In an article for, Guy Crittenden explains, "True EPR connects producers with the downstream fate (and costs) of their products and packaging... [which] drives eco-efficiencies up the value chain, culminating in design for the environment."

The beginnings of an EPR policy in the US are visible in the growing number of landfill bans on toxic products, such as cathode ray tubes, large appliances, tires and electronics. In anticipation of future regulations on waste, some companies are voluntarily devising initiatives for reclaiming their waste, such as Sony's and Apple's takeback recycling programs. Of course, such programs also provide companies with that increasingly precious public relations commodity: green street cred.

At the very least, Zero Wasters are set on halting incentives to make waste. According to GRRN, "Markets today are heavily influenced by tax subsidies and incentives that favor extraction and wasteful industries." It's mainly for this reason -- and not for lack of the appropriate technology -- that waste has persisted, even in the wake of increasing environmental awareness. GRRN estimates that we have the existing technology to redirect 90 percent of what currently ends up in landfills.

Which begs the question: If we didn't send it to landfills, then where would it go? To recycling centers and municipal compost heaps, partly. But Zero Wasters say we shouldn't just be asking how to get rid of our waste. Just as fungi turn rotting logs into fertile growing material, we should be able to do better than piling up our waste and covering it with dirt.

And while it's fun to conceive of wackier and wackier recycled products -- corn husks turned into countertops! pencils made from recycled paper money! water bottles morphed into cozy fleece outerwear! -- Brenda Platt, of the DC-based Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), stresses the importance of finding the highest use for recyclables, to allay the energy wasted in production. In the case of glass bottles, for example, that would mean refilling them (such as with milk bottles), followed closely by turning them into new bottles, transforming them into art glass, and then maybe making "glassphalt," a material that has been used as an alternative to conventional asphalt since the '70s.

Such efforts can be facilitated by the existence of local "Resource Recovery Parks" where manufacturing and retail businesses share space, equipment and services, as well as reuse, recycling and composting facilities. In some cases, waste from one business becomes a resource for another business within such parks, creating a closed loop.

There's no doubt that Zero Waste is an idealistic -- if not near impossible -- goal. But whether or not it can be done in every instance, says Eric Lombardi, is really beside the point. "Being on the path to zero is the point," explains Lombardi. "Because once you have established zero as the goal -- you being the government, you being a CEO -- then you have a benchmark against which you can measure your future actions."

Perhaps one of those future actions will be recycling your trashcan.


Seven simple steps to trashing your trash

Let's face it -- we know better than to dispose when we should be Reusing, Reducing and Recycling. But we're busy, forgetful and, well, does it really make that big of a difference? You know the answer. So clip out these friendly reminders on how to bring your personal waste closer to zero. Just think: you'll never have to take out the trash again!

1. Feed the garden
Think like nature for a moment -- why would you throw away all those food scraps, when they could be transformed into beautiful, nourishing garden compost? Over 60 percent of municipal waste could be composted -- so find a more productive resting place for your banana peels.

2. Have bag, will shop
Of course, this one we know by heart. And it's still true. Carry canvas bags everywhere you go -- put them in your car, tie them to your bike -- and you'll have a final answer to the "paper or plastic" question.

3. Sort it out
Recycling rates have taken a downturn recently. Are we losing faith in the power of recycling? It still works! If you want your recyclables to be put to the highest possible use, sort them well. "Single stream" recyclables -- as opposed to glass bottles mixed with paper -- make for better recycled materials.

4. Think bulk
Brenda Platt of ILSR makes a point of buying groceries in bulk. Rather than buy single-serve applesauce cups for her kids, she opts for the big jar and scoops it into smaller containers herself. Simple? Yes. But simple is key.

5. Positive reinforcement
It's the same technique we use for supporting fair trade companies and organic farms. Support those companies that are making a point to reduce their waste -- and avoid the rest. Eric Lombardi, of Eco-Cycle, says we've got to "reward the recyclers. The clean companies must win the profits."

6. Shrink wrap
What better motivation to waste less than reducing the size of your trash receptacle at home? Substitute a small plastic grocery bag for your trashcan, and wiser purchasing habits will follow naturally.

7. Your Trash, Their Treasure
Repeat after me: there is no "junk," there's only useful stuff yet to find a home. Before you look to the landfill, consider giving your broken fridge or over-lounged loveseat a chance at a happier second life by posting it for giveaway on websites like or And will actually buy your spent ink-jets, conked-out laser cartridges and defunct cell phones for their recycle program, giving the money generated to charity.


Top Five Trash-free Towns

Searching for a waste-free world? Start looking for property in one of these enlightened locations. They've got big plans for creating less waste.

Berkeley, CA
In Berkeley, the birthplace of curbside recycling, the Berkeley Ecology Center's fleet of recycling trucks runs completely on biodiesel, and Urban Ore, a local for-profit "total recycling" center, rehabs and resells items that people would otherwise pay to send to the landfill.

Boulder, CO/Santa Monica, CA
You won't find trashcans at some weekly farmers' markets in these towns. Santa Monica's Main Street (Sundays only) and Boulder's Zero Waste farmers' markets offer patrons a choice between composting and recycling their waste -- an ultimatum that prompted vendors to offer compostable to-go materials and patrons to bring their own canvas bags.

Seattle, WA
The Wasteless in Seattle program includes bold new measures to reduce waste -- such as mandatory recycling with fines for violations -- and the Take-it-Back Network, which sent 600 tons of computer monitors and other components back to retail stores in 2004.

New Zealand
In 1999, the New Zealand government launched the Zero Waste New Zealand Trust, an initiative that offered $25,000 (NZ) funding to councils that adopted a Zero Waste resolution. Since then, 48 of 74 (66 percent) of all local councils have made the switch.

In response to a 1991 German packaging law requiring suppliers to take back and recycle up to 70 percent of their packaging, the Green Dot program was created, in which consumers deposit Green Dot-certified packaging refuse in specially designated bins. It then gets picked up and recycled -- all paid for by the manufacturers.

The FDA Eyes Your Garden

Even before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), released its final ruling on the herb ephedra, banning it for sale after April 12, the feeding frenzy had begun.

Many see the FDA's action to prohibit the sale of ephedra, or ma huang as it's also known, as the opening salvo of an attack on all supplements, especially botanicals, and the landmark law that protects them, 1994's Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). They fear that if the supplement act is overhauled or rescinded, millions of consumers may be denied access to what are mostly safe, effective and inexpensive wellness enhancers and alternatives to prescription drugs.

"We're not saying, 'don't sell them.' We're saying, 'don't sell them over the counter.' Regulate them as you regulate prescriptions." So said Rep. John Sweeney, (R-NY), at a Feb. 3 press conference announcing an initiative to extend the ephedra ban to what he and Sen. Charles Schumer, (D-NY) called 'copycat' formulations to ephedra. Rep. Sweeney said that "Congress made a mistake" when it passed DSHEA. Sen. Schumer added that if FDA fails to act, "We will move legislation in this regard."

While critics say that the products are unregulated or underregulated and pose untold risks to the health of a nation, another group, advocates of alternative and complementary medicine, sees supplements as the cornerstone of a rational and overdue approach to healthcare. The national healthcare system currently consumes 15 percent of the nation's overall spending -- higher than any other industrialized country. And even as insurance companies continue the upward spiral of annual rate increases, 40 percent of the citizens in the richest country on earth are without basic healthcare coverage.

Ephedra sinica. Love it or hate it, use it or not, no dietary supplement has raised the hackles of and polarized so many consumers, government officials, politicians, scientists and the industry that sells it. Additionally, no supplement has ever been so misrepresented, attacked and slandered in mainstream media. And while the door on ephedra is closing, the face-off in this complex and emotionally charged story continues.

Curiously, the ban on ephedra will not affect the sale of over-the-counter and prescription drugs containing the herb's synthetically derived active compound ephedrine, which is used in decongestants and other bronchial remedies such as Sudafed.

An Old Familiar Feeling

This situation looks strangely similar to the agency's 1990 banning of the amino acid L-tryptophan. This then-popular dietary supplement, used to relieve depression, anxiety and PMS, as well as to control pain and induce natural sleep, was implicated -- and then cleared -- in the deaths of a number of users in the U.S. in 1989. Investigators found that a faulty manufacturing process at a Showa Denko facility in Japan was responsible for a contamination of the product, which caused a deadly flu-like condition called Eosinophilia-Myalgia Syndrome (EMS).

Surprisingly, L-tryptophan is still available by prescription, but at a much higher cost, and it has been used, uninterrupted, in baby formulas and animal feed since the 1989 incident. In fact, in 1993, a U.S. patent was issued to use L-tryptophan to treat and cure EMS, the same condition that prompted the FDA to take L-tryptophan off the market in the first place. Go figure.

Now, some observers are looking suspiciously at the 2002 FDA approval of Eli Lilly's drug, Strattera, a non-stimulant drug, which is used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Psychiatrists, who have been increasingly diagnosing adults with ADHD, have typically treated them with stimulants. According to an article in the October 2002 issue of Current Psychology, stimulants produce significant improvement in 30 percent of patients and mixed results in another 40 percent. Ephedra, of course, is such a stimulant.

In its Feb. 6 ruling, FDA provided what it says is a blueprint for how the agency intends to regulate supplements in the future and remove from the market those that it considers "an unreasonable risk" to public safety. While it's too early to tell exactly how the agency will implement its new strategy (the final ruling was released right at press time), a few indicators don't bode well for the industry or consumers.

During a speech at the University of Mississippi in January, FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan said: "We will be doing more work in the coming months to more closely evaluate the potential safety risk of these products, and we could take further action to remove unsafe dietary supplements from the market." On the hit list: bitter orange, aristolochic acid and usnic acid -- all used for weight loss, and chaparral, comfrey, willow bark and wormwood. No one knows what might be next.

The ban of ephedra marks the first time the agency has removed a dietary supplement under DSHEA, passed by Congress after many years of contentious, often hostile clashes from the two opposing sides of the supplements issue. Through the spirited actions of citizen-based advocacy groups, industry companies and health food store retailers, hundreds of thousands of consumers communicated with their congressional representatives in the early '90s demanding continued, unfettered access to dietary supplements. The outpouring was unprecedented at the time, eclipsing everything but commentary over the Vietnam War years earlier.

In passing the DSHEA, Congress stated that there may be a positive relationship between sound dietary practice and good health, and although further scientific research is needed, there may be a connection between dietary supplement use, reduced healthcare expenses and disease prevention.

At the time of its passage, President Clinton said about DSHEA (pronounced "da-shay" for shorthand): "After several years of intense efforts, manufacturers, experts in nutrition, and legislators, acting in a conscientious alliance with consumers at the grassroots level, have moved successfully to bring common sense to the treatment of dietary supplements under regulation and law."

The legislation, in essence, amended the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 to alter the way dietary supplements are regulated and labeled. DSHEA, for the first time, created a legal definition for dietary supplements as foods and not drugs. The law also allowed specific, science-based structure/function claims on supplement labels, which enabled manufacturers (for the first time) to educate consumers about the health benefits of the products as they related to particular health conditions.

The passage of DSHEA was to mark the beginning of a golden era for supplements and natural health. Ten years later, that dream has crumbled.

Risks and Benefits

In trying to understand the heated and often contentious debate on ephedra, supplements in general and the viability of DSHEA, one must understand what everyone involved refers to as the "benefit-to-risk ratio" of consumer products as they relate to public health policy. In the case of ephedra, FDA determined that the herb, traditionally used to help alleviate allergy and asthma symptoms for more than 5,000 years, but now used mostly for weight loss, energy and performance enhancement, had no health benefits and created grave risks to public health -- primarily increased blood pressure that could lead to heart failure and disease.

At a news conference announcing the upcoming ephedra ban, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said government scientists had concluded ephedra-based supplements "are simply too risky to be used."

By comparison, the agency's stand on pharmaceutical drugs is that the benefits outweigh the risks because of all of the supposed safety research that is required before drugs are released for public consumption. That hasn't stopped the agency from releasing, and then recalling, a number of these purported "proven" substances.

A report commissioned by FDA in 2003 and cited in its final ruling found that only five deaths could be directly attributed to the use of ephedra. Yet, media reports and supplements opponents, including the New York legislators mentioned above, quote the number of deaths attributed to ephedra use at 155. According to a report from the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), 12 million to 17 million people in 1999 consumed approximately 3 billion servings of ephedra products.

On the other hand, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association, overmedication and adverse reactions to pharmaceutical drugs in hospitals killed 106,000 people in 1994. And this doesn't include the number killed outside of hospitals or those deaths that went unreported. It is estimated that aspirin kills 1,000 people per year. And last year, allergic reactions to peanuts killed nearly 100. Apparently, the benefit-to-risk ratio of these products, both the domain of FDA, is OK.

Contrary to FDA's contention in its final ruling, a good amount of scientific research shows that if taken according to label directions and strict dosage limitations (a maximum of 90-100 mg per day), ephedra is safe. As Mike Fillon, author of Ephedra Fact & Fiction (Woodland Publishing, 2003), points out, many of the deaths popularly attributed to the herb involved significant additional factors, making it unlikely ephedra was the main culprit.

It's true that not all products are safe for everyone. Just as all human beings are distinctly unique, with different physical and mental attributes, their physiologies differ, too. Some people are allergic to or can't tolerate certain foods, such as nuts, dairy or corn, to name but a few. This is also true of some drugs and dietary supplements. It's a no-brainer that consumers who are pregnant or have a history of high blood pressure or heart attacks should not take ephedra. And responsible supplements companies have indicated this on their labels for years.

"Ephedra is symbolic of a bigger issue, and that is how we look at the 'assured benefit' vs. the 'acceptable risk,'" says Jim Turner, a Washington-based attorney, who is chair of the board of consumer-advocacy group Citizens For Health (CFH) and the Campaign for Better Health, a project of CFH. "The government has come in with a no benefit/high risk position and is now trying to spread that position to other supplements -- it's guilt by association. This is bad public policy from the consumer point of view.

"The problem is that there is no way to divide the world of products that are safe and effective and unsafe and ineffective for everyone," Turner adds. "Every product will have some positives and some negatives."

Turner says a better approach would be a post-marketing, post-approval surveillance system for both pharmaceuticals and supplements to get the highest benefit-to-risk ratios at a reasonable cost. Such a system would create an early warning system, he says, that would quickly weed out problem products. Failure to implement some workable system will ultimately bankrupt the country, as according to estimates Turner quotes, at the current pace, 40 percent of the country's gross spending will be on healthcare by 2050.

A Biased Media

Adding yet more fuel to the fire in this debate is mainstream media, which has overwhelmingly taken an anti-supplement stance in its coverage of ephedra. Repeated claims in media outlets such as the New York Times, The New Yorker, Associated Press and others that the industry or a particular supplement product is "unregulated" by FDA are simply false. FDA has always had the power to remove unsafe products from the market.

Not that certain members of Congress have heard the message. At least five bills are currently floating around the hallowed halls of Congress that would severely impact the viability of DSHEA. The most onerous of them, inappropriately named The Dietary Supplement Safety Act (S 722), introduced by Sen. Richard Durbin, (D-IL), could restrict access to whole classes of supplements because of only one adverse event report, without proof that a dietary supplement was the cause of the adverse event (remember L-tryptophan?). In addition, the legislation would essentially halt investment in scientific research to prove the health benefits of supplements.

The good news is that Washington insiders report that Durbin's bill has no chance of passage in this session of Congress. But there's always next year, and the year after that.

Both FDA Commissioner McClellan and his boss, HHS Secretary Thompson, have made it clear that DSHEA is not sacrosanct. At the December 30 news conference announcing the impending ephedra ban, McClellan said: "I do think that when FDA reaches a conclusion like this, we ought to be able to carry it out to provide the protection that Americans need. And we will be doing our best to defend this in court. And if that's not sufficient, it may be time to re-examine the act."

And Thompson said in response to a question, "I've already indicated that I would like to see the law changed,"

Not everyone thinks DSHEA needs to be altered, however. Sen. Orrin Hatch, (R-UT), a staunch supplements supporter and a key sponsor of the original DSHEA legislation, last year introduced -- with fellow supplements advocate and DSHEA sponsor Sen. Tom Harkin, (D-IA) -- The DSHEA Full Implementation Act (S 1538). This legislation would give FDA the federal funding it says it needs to fully implement and enforce DSHEA, specifically, an adverse event reporting system, improved health claims analysis and the ability to enforce good manufacturing practices.

"DSHEA is a strong law that properly implemented will protect the interests of consumers," Hatch told a Senate committee in October. "The law gives the FDA abundant tools to remove products that are unsafe from the market.

"In the nine-plus years since DSHEA was enacted, there has been too much talk that the law handcuffs FDA and too little effort to apply the law. It is impossible for this law to protect consumers if it is not enforced," Hatch added.

With ephedra, it appears that FDA is finally enforcing the law -- at least its version of the law. The rest could well be up to the courts, as lawsuits and legal challenges are likely. And like most legal matters, it's all in the interpretation.

Meanwhile, the supplements industry and millions of consumers are collectively holding their breath waiting to see how FDA will use its legal authority to regulate supplements in the future. The fate of many products may hang in the balance. "If it's based on sound scientific principles and based on law, we'll support it," said Michael McGuffin, president of AHPA, just a few days before the final ruling was released.

Ana Micka, president and CEO of CFH and the Campaign for Better Health presents yet another viewpoint: "In spite of the high usage of supplements (more than 30 percent of the population) and alternative health (more than 40 percent) in the U.S., it's not a visible community and not a block of voters.

"There are definitely competing voices in politics, and right now we're not a loud, dominant voice. We have to do a lot of work as a community to organize and present our views for new health and wellness solutions in this country."

This story originally appeared in the March issues of the Dragonfly Media publications (

Clothes with a Conscience

I thought it only fair to begin an article on responsible clothing with a little personal audit. Let's see -- my Kookai jacket doesn't say where it was made, but the label's Chinese characters are a dead giveaway. My British Karen Millen pants -- purchased in a jet-lagged delusion before remembering one dollar does not equal one pound -- say "Made in Cyprus." My "Silver Woman" cowboy-inspired shirt was a Goodwill purchase and doesn't seem to have a label; and my tattered cotton tank-top's label is long since gone.

So, am I wearing sweatshop-made clothes? Probably. But how can I know for sure?

I set out to ask folks who made "Kathie Lee Gifford" and "sweatshop" household words a simple question -- or what I thought would be a simple question: Whose clothes should we buy? With over 80 percent of consumers now saying they are willing to pay more for products made under "good" conditions, my sense is a lot of people would like to know the answer.

Turning that desire into action seems more pressing than ever. The garment industry, spreading across 200 countries, employs as many as 10 million people and is renowned for labor rights abuses and workplace injuries. In the U.S., the industry is not necessarily much better. The Department of Labor itself estimates that roughly 65 percent of the 5,000 garment shops in Los Angeles do not comply with U.S. labor laws.

Unfortunately, unlike "fair-trade certified" products, we have no one-stop label to be sure our clothes are made "sweat-free." Today, we can buy fair-trade certified coffee (or tea, bananas, or chocolate) and know we are supporting democratically run cooperatives and ensuring farmers get a fair price. But clothes, which cost more than our morning lattes, have no equivalent guarantee. The Fair Labor Association -- a nonprofit monitoring organization -- is developing a certification process, but even its certification will only ensure that a 5 percent random sampling of a company's factories audited are "sweat-free."

A big obstacle is the structure of the industry. Difficult to automate, clothing manufacturing still relies almost entirely on the human touch: hands at machines sewing fabric. Because clothing is often made piecemeal -- a sleeve here, a zipper there -- the work is also mostly subcontracted and mobile, further confounding monitors and human rights advocates.

"It is challenging to find out where the factories are, let alone to regulate them," Dara O'Rourke told me from his offices at U.C. Berkeley, where he researches the labor and environmental practices of companies producing garments, footwear, electronics, and more. Global companies like The Gap, he explained, typically subcontract with as many as 5,000 factories in 50 countries.

"It is the structure of the business," O'Rourke explained, "that is driving conditions downward. Even firms with reputations as good corporate citizens, or environmentally sound," O'Rourke said, "often disclose nothing about where or how their goods are produced. The vast majority refuse to publish the names or locations of their factories or allow independent groups to look into them," O'Rourke told me. "Right now it's virtually impossible for me to say whether one company is a "good" company or not."

If you don't mind point-and-click shopping, a few new companies do offer union-made or "sweat-free" guarantees: Maggie's Functional Organics, SweatX, American Apparel, and to name a few. You can also choose to shop local where you know who you're buying from personally.

With these few exceptions, being a responsible shopper goes beyond a "do buy" list. It's not just about our shopping choices; it's using our power as citizens to transform a flawed system -- making conscious choices together. Thankfully, the ways to do so have never been clearer.

Hey Harvard, Who Made Your Boxers?

First, we can take a lesson from the kids...$3 billion a year, that's the annual sales in collegiate apparel. Sure, it's only a fraction of the global industry, but it's still, well, $3 billion! Since the mid-1990s, students in the U.S. and Canada have been pushing their universities to support fair labor through their purchases of everything with a school logo, from baseball caps to boxers. Founded in 1998, United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) already has 350 affiliate campuses and has signed on 120 schools with their monitoring partner, the Worker Rights Consortium.

Today almost every campus has a "code of conduct" for its garment production, for which USAS takes much credit. And it has now expanded its efforts to support living wage campaigns and union drives across the globe.

"The anti-sweatshop student movement has changed the climate around these issues," says Tom Hayden, past California assemblyman and state senator. "We ought to take advantage of that climate to make changes on the policy level." And that's exactly what Hayden and thousands of others are doing around the country.

The Power of Procurement

In a landmark measure just before Arnie won the recall, California Governor Gray Davis signed SB 578, a law prohibiting the state of California from buying anything that was produced under sweatshop conditions. "It's essentially saying that California expenditures reflect our state labor policy," says Sophia Heller, legislative aid in State Senator Richard Alarcón's office. "It's putting our money where our mouth is."

If you think school buying is big, imagine the scale of government purchasing. This law applies to all state purchases -- from highway patrol uniforms to office furniture and computers. And there's ongoing citizen power enlisted in this bill's enforcement: A state-sponsored website will list pending bids for contracts so organizations like Sweatshop Watch and other community groups can alert the agency when a bidder or a sub-contractor is a known sweatshop.

But don't think this is just a kooky California fad. Popping up across the country are parallel purchasing policies. Dan Hennefeld, director of Uniform Procurement at UNITE, the union representing apparel, textile, and related industry workers, told me similar laws have passed in New York City, Boston, and Milwaukee and the states of New Jersey and Maine all within the last few years.

Unions: The Anti-Sweatshop Guarantee

Procurement policy is one way to change the system. I asked Adam Neiman, CEO of, a union-made apparel company, what would be another crucial mechanism, his answer was clear: unions. "Not that many generations ago, garment workers here in our country sent their workers to college," Neiman said. "The U.S. and Europe got very wealthy, and we wouldn't have done it without unions. Maybe that's exactly what's needed in the developing world -- what worked here." When I suggested some socially responsible businesses argue they don't need unions, they live their values, Neiman responded: "This is business. There should be a contract, not a handshake. If you're so righteous, put it in writing."

Supporting unions is also key, because they're contagious. Neiman explained: "If you just have a great factory run by a great manager, all workers elsewhere can hope for is that a job opens there for them." If you have a union, it can inspire workers in neighboring factories to form their own.

One of the best examples is the recent success of the Korean-owned Kukdong factory in Atlixco, Mexico. In 2001, workers there submitted a complaint to the Workers' Rights Consortium about egregious rights violations. With the help of the U.S. student movement and activists at organizations like Sweatshop Watch, the 1,200 workers at Kukdong, producing for Nike and Reebok among other brand names, organized and formed one of the first independent unions for garment workers in Mexico. Those workers have already won their second contract and are helping organize workers in the same state.

Fairly Grown, Fairly Made

Shopping with the whole world in mind means we think not only about how our clothes were made -- but what they're made of. As Chris Treter of Organic Consumers Association (OCA) says, "There are sweatshops in the factories and the fields."

Treter directs the "Clothes for a Change" campaign at OCA, a nonprofit public interest organization with 90,000 volunteers on its rolls. The campaign has already signed on American Apparel, a sweatshop-free clothing company with a factory in downtown Los Angeles which has launched a "sustainable edition" that includes six different styles made from 100 percent certified organic cotton. The campaign is also a big supporter of Maggie's Functional Organics whose 100 percent organic products are produced by a women-run cooperative in Nicaragua.

Bena Burdna, the CEO of Maggie's, says buying organic cotton is particularly important because it's the second most pesticide-dependent crop in the world (tobacco is first), accounting for 10 percent of global pesticide use and 25 percent of insecticides.

The impact of choosing organic clothing goes well beyond the environmental benefits -- it's a matter of life and death. According to Treter, in the U.S. alone, 10,000 farm workers and people in surrounding communities die every year from pesticide exposure.

So why hasn't organic clothing taken off? "Consumer demand isn't there...yet," Treter said. I wonder if that would be true if all of us knew what Treter knows: To make just one cotton T-shirt uses one-third of a pound of agricultural chemicals. I think about what Burdna said: "Your skin is your biggest organ and it breathes." I look at my cotton tank-top with new eyes.

We Have the Power

In the face of global supply chains and distant decision makers, any one of us can feel like such a tiny piece of the puzzle. But people who are seeing real change -- Kukdong workers, anti-sweatshop students, organic activists -- remind us of our power. And more of us are doing something. In one recent study, half of Americans reported that they "punished" a company in the last year for "bad social performance." Nikki Bas from Sweatshop Watch has seen the impact firsthand. "We were involved for almost four years in the Saipan campaign [against The Gap]. A lot of what we asked consumers to do was write letters and protest, and the company eventually settled."

"There is no question that if you write a letter, send an e-mail, make a phone call," Bjorn Skorpen Claeson from SweatFree Communities, a national network of local anti-sweatshop campaigns, echoed, "[the companies] know there are hundreds more like you out there. It's really important that you tell yourself you make a difference and not bury your conscience."

I think back to my personal clothing audit. I'm definitely not a poster child for sweatshop-free clothes. But I now see ways to be part of changing the norms, values, and structures so that someday the question of what companies we should buy from will be irrelevant as all clothes will be sweatshop-free.

Anna Lappé is the co-author of Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet. This story originally published by Dragonfly Media.

Could Marijuana Be Legal in Illinois?

"I'm hoping they never do this again to anyone. Because if someone else was as sick as I was, and has been through what I've been through, they might not have been able to live through it. I knew inside of me that for the sake of my health, I had a right to do what I did."

-- Brenda Kratovil, on her arrest for marijuana possession

I am sitting across the kitchen table from Brenda Kratovil in her Beach Park home just a few miles north of Waukegan. It's early in the afternoon and Kratovil and her husband have just returned from the nearby Lake County Courthouse. There, in a preliminary hearing, a judge has just ruled that she could not introduce medical necessity into her defense on charges of marijuana possession.

When we meet for the first time after the hearing, Kratovil is quiet. I'm not sure if she is more upset and angry or just sad. I imagine perhaps all these emotions are with her. But now, back at her home as she begins to tell me her story, I also understand that I am speaking with a woman whose spirit remains strong, despite her current legal difficulties. I suspect Brenda's many health challenges have steeled her to life's harder edges.

Brenda Kratovil tells me she has had glaucoma for over 20 years. Legally blind, she was also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) 15 years ago, and has been on disability since the age of 18. What now has the Beach Park mother of two in so much trouble is the fact that she uses marijuana to relieve her symptoms. Kratovil, who hopes to eventually be able to legally use medical marijuana -- under a little-known Illinois statute -- first got the idea of trying the drug to relieve her eye pain from a specialist she saw in Arizona shortly after she was diagnosed. The physician couldn't prescribe marijuana but suggested the drug might lower the intra-ocular pressure that was causing her so much discomfort.

He was right. When she smoked marijuana, Kratovil had less pain. Her vision also improved. The plant may also have provided some relief for her. Ms. Kratovil has used marijuana since to manage her symptoms.

None of this mattered much on Sept. 4, 2001, however. That's the day the Metropolitan Enforcement Group (MEG) of Lake County, a police task force, raided the home Kratovil shares with her husband and two teenage children. Apparently, a neighbor had seen some small marijuana plants growing in the back yard and called police. For several hours, police ransacked the family's residence in a search for more drugs or information on local dealers.

Notably, police did not arrest Kratovil at the time. That happened about three months later, when they returned and, in front of family and neighbors, Kratovil was handcuffed and taken to jail. But her ordeal was not quite over yet. Six months after the first raid, the MEG crew returned and, with their guns and dogs, embarked on one more intrusive romp through the family's home.

It was, not surprisingly, a highly traumatic experience. Both searches left the house in complete disarray, says Kratovil, with beds turned upside down, drawers emptied onto the floor, and the children's things scattered helter skelter. According to Kratovil's lawyer, David Stepanich of Vernon Hills, $300 in cash was also taken from the home, forfeited as alleged "drug money." The first search was also conducted without a warrant after police warned Kratovil that it would only get worse for her if they had to return later with the required warrant.

In the aftermath of the raids, the family has endured ostracism from neighbors and repeated visits from local police whenever minor incidents of vandalism or other crimes happen to occur in their area of town. The stress of it all has also taken a toll on Kratovil's health and for several months following the MEG raids she struggled with flare-ups of her symptoms. "When I watched my daughter crying with one of the officers telling her he could take me to jail and put her in Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), I felt so bad," says Kratovil, "I thought, this isn't fair."

What's Going On Here?

Unfortunately, what happened to Brenda Kratovil was not only unfair, it was not an isolated occurrence. Last September, in another more highly publicized incident, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana in northern Santa Cruz County, about 65 miles south of San Francisco. The group grows marijuana for use by registered members, who suffer from cancer, diabetes, and other diseases. The group was also not breaking any local or state ordinances, as Santa Cruz County residents had voted 10 years before to legalize the use of medical marijuana. Statewide, California voters had approved a similar measure in 1996.

In fact, eight other states -- Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii, Colorado, and Maine -- have all, in recent years, passed laws with provisions for the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The justice department, however, remains unequivocal in its opposition to marijuana use in any form, continuing to classify it as a Schedule 1 drug, effectively banning its use except under the strictest research conditions. Consequently, the Bush administration has given the go-ahead for the DEA and other law enforcement to step up prosecutions.

Clearly, some states and local municipalities are at loggerheads with the federal government over the issue. In the Santa Cruz incident, the mayor and local police sharply rebuked the DEA's action. But what's behind the sharpening jurisdictional crosscurrents are not only the medical arguments of a small, activist minority but the shifting winds of public sentiment. A recent Time/CNN poll finds 80 percent of Americans now support the use of marijuana for legitimate medical reasons. Other estimates point to as many as 76-million Americans who have tried marijuana. Many of them also cannot help but reject from their own experience the propaganda of zealots like White House "Drug Czar" John Walters, for whom marijuana remains a sinister "gateway drug" to other, harder evils like heroin.

Unfortunately for the drug war crusaders, the issue of marijuana's possible medicinal benefits is not going away. There is today a small but growing registry of nearly 2,500 individuals using marijuana under state or local provisions, according to a recent Government Accounting Office report. Ironically, a few patients -- invoking an obscure federal program -- receive their marijuana directly from the government. To be sure, there is a persuasive body of clinical evidence that marijuana is useful in treating the symptoms of a number of health conditions and drug side effects.

But why should any of this be surprising? Marijuana is a plant, and medicine derived from plants is hardly a novel concept. In fact, marijuana's primary active constituent, D9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), has undergone controlled study and is already approved for clinical use. Notably, the Scientific Council of the American Medical Association in June 2001 called for "continued research into marijuana's potential therapeutic effects," citing its possible value in aspects of HIV care, treating cancer pain and the effects of chemotherapy, chronic pain, insomnia and other conditions. A similar endorsement and call for wide-scale clinical trials came in a 1999 report, "Marijuana as Medicine: Assessing the Science Base," issued by the Institute of Medicine.

In the treatment of glaucoma, the anecdotal evidence is also there that marijuana helps. "There's no question that the data is very well established that marijuana does lower eye pressure," says Michael Savitt, M.D., an ophthalmologist who has treated Kratovil at the North Shore Glaucoma Center in Libertyville, IL. Dr. Savitt says he believes prescription eye drops work better than marijuana, but acknowledges that some patients, like Kratovil, do not tolerate the drops well and have not benefited from laser surgery. "In those few patients, especially for whom the disease is painful, marijuana could be used to help in control of their pressures," notes Dr. Savitt. "For Brenda, I know she feels that it helps her and makes her more comfortable."

Avoiding the Issue, Lake County-Style

If none of this mattered much to the MEG folks, it also didn't factor in at Kratovil's pre-trial hearing last December. That's when a Lake County judge denied her lawyer permission to introduce the medical necessity defense at trial. Curiously, the judge cited Kratovil's failure to formally apply under Section 11 of the Illinois Cannabis Control Act for permission to use marijuana for medical reasons. The Illinois statute, which was passed in 1971, allows physicians to apply for written approval from the state police to use marijuana for research purposes in a treatment setting.

But it appears that the judge was engaged in specious reasoning, since, for years the state program has, essentially, been put on ice. "The Illinois program has been effectively unenforced since 1984," says Bryan Brickner, director of the Illinois chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). "It's a victim -- along with many other state programs -- of the 'War on Drugs' launched by the Reagan Administration." Back then, authority for the Section 11 provisions was transferred to the Illinois Department of Alcohol and Substance Abuse. Brickner adds that the move was inherently political, as all medical-related aspects of marijuana research now fell under the rubric of "substance abuse." In other words, it was a way of burying the law. Apparently that move was effective because as far as Brickner or Kratovil's attorney, David Stepanich, are aware, Illinois' medical marijuana statute has never been exercised.

In response to the pre-trial ruling, NORML is now formally requesting that Kratovil be allowed to apply for inclusion in the state program, under Dr. Savitt's supervision. The outcome of her application could prove to be a test case for the future of medical marijuana in Illinois. But however Kratovil's case is eventually resolved, her legal troubles highlight the trenchant absurdity of so much of the so-called war on drugs. Classifying marijuana as a Class 1 drug, in other words, a highly dangerous substance and of no redeeming medical use -- worse even than the most potent opiates and narcotics -- is more than a scientific stretch. Actually, it is a mentality in serious need of thought reform.

The dogged refusal of the federal government to reclassify marijuana's medical status would seem inexplicable were it not for the plant's unique cultural history and notoriety. The drug war evangelists have long seen in every puff of a joint the implicit vapors of impending moral decay, as if marijuana and marijuana alone imperils Western Civilization in ways mysteriously elusive of alcohol or nicotine. It's a hysteria that goes back to the 1930s, when Harry Anslinger, a former prohibition agent turned U.S. Commissioner of Narcotics, led the drive to make marijuana illegal (before 1937 there were no laws banning its use). Anslinger managed to persuade Congress to outlaw it with lurid descriptions of marijuana users as "Negroes and entertainers," lovers of "Satanic music" like jazz, and just your basic all-around degenerates.

Unfortunately, such "Reefer Madness" stupidities never quite seem to go away; they just reinvent themselves to suit the times. Now we are told that using marijuana gives support to terrorists -- as government-sponsored commercials declared (with Orwellian flair) in their debut during 2002's Super Bowl game. Such claims might otherwise be laughable were it not also for the reality that the prisons are packed with drug offenders.

According to NORML's Brickner, as many as 26 percent of state prisoners in Illinois are convicted of drug-related crimes, with arrest rates for all drug offenses having risen dramatically over the last ten years. Nationally, there were more than 500,000 marijuana-related arrests between January and September of last year. Of course, while most arrests today for marijuana possession in small amounts are not likely to result in imprisonment, NORML receives many reports of cases where arrested individuals subsequently find their employment in jeopardy.

A Cruel and Brutal Ignorance

If legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana use remains unlikely in the near future (several recent, more far-reaching decriminalization initiatives were defeated in last fall's state elections), the trade winds are destined eventually to steer us toward the shores of more rational, humane drug policies. In 1999, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that medical necessity was a legitimate defense in the manufacture and distribution of marijuana. It proved to be a short-lived victory, however, later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2001. But the mere fact that a circuit court was willing to rule as it did shows that the medical marijuana issue has come a long way, no matter the twists and turns of a legal battle that may play itself out for some time.

As for Brenda Kratovil, she deserves our compassion, not hard-nosed, letter-of-the-law vigilance by prosecutors, judges, and police. When measured against the hardships of her life, such a stance amounts to nothing short of a cruel and brutal ignorance. The pros or cons of marijuana use belong in the realm of a public health debate, not a criminal or moral crusade whose front lines consist of gangs of cops given free rein to terrorize and run roughshod over people's lives.

Marijuana use per se is also not the same thing as drug abuse. Actually, when used for legitimate medical reasons, it is the opposite.

Mark Harris is a freelance writer based in Chicago, IL.

A Test Case for Medical Marijuana

As we go to press, Brenda Kratovil waits to go on trial for felony marijuana possession. Her lawyer, David Stepanich of Vernon Hills, IL., tells us that he plans to ask the court to reconsider a motion on her medical necessity defense. Stepanich admits that without earlier precedent in Illinois case law, the medical necessity defense is an uphill argument. Nonetheless, he insists it's vital to raise the issue.

"The courts and cops and prosecutors will do whatever they can to keep the debate narrow-minded and conclusory [shut out further evidence]," says Stepanich. "But we want to go to the heart of what this case is really about. This is also a case where the lack of a search warrant and the threats by the cops to tear-up Brenda Kratovil's home were rewarded, not punished by the court, which so far has acceded to every whim of the police."

Still, Stepanich remains hopeful that while Kratovil's application to use medical marijuana under Section 11 of the Illinois Cannabis Control Act is pursued, the court will, in the interests of compassion, agree to a negotiated plea that will spare his client jail time or a felony conviction. Bryan Brickner, Illinois NORML spokesperson, adds that the courts should consider that Kratovil now has a physician willing to formally sponsor marijuana research in treating her condition. But whether the courts actually will do so remains to be seen.

Read it For Yourself!

Illinois Cannabis Control Act, Section 11

(Selected applicable excerpts)

Statute #720 ILCS 550/11

Sec. 11. (a) The Department, with the written approval of the Department of State Police, may authorize the possession, production, manufacture and delivery of substances containing cannabis by persons engaged in research and when such authorization is requested by a physician licensed to practice medicine in all its branches, such authorization shall issue without unnecessary delay where the Department finds that such physician licensed to practice medicine in all its branches has certified that such possession, production, manufacture or delivery of such substance is necessary for the treatment of glaucoma, the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy in cancer patients or such other procedure certified to be medically necessary; such authorization shall be, upon such terms and conditions as may be consistent with the public health and safety. To the extent of the applicable authorization, persons are exempt from prosecution in this State for possession, production, manufacture or delivery of cannabis.

(b) Persons registered under Federal law to conduct research with cannabis may conduct research with cannabis including, but not limited to treatment by a physician licensed to practice medicine in all its branches for glaucoma, the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy in cancer patients or such other procedure which is medically necessary within this State upon furnishing evidence of that Federal registration and notification of the scope and purpose of such research to the Department and to the Department of State Police of that Federal registration.

(Source: Public Act 84-25.)

These Birds are Real Turkeys

Like other turkeys, the birds in the poultry pen at Blue Valley Gardens in southern Wisconsin are headed for the Thanksgiving platter. However, the feasts that Matthew Smith's hand-raised birds star in are more than a meal. They're the center of a national movement to save "remnant" strains of turkeys that may have graced the table of your grandmother's mother.

Smith's turkeys are legacy strains -- Narragansett, Bourbon Reds, Jersey Buffs and Standard Bronze turkeys. They carry the genes of Thanksgiving dinners past. Prized for their taste, they nearly disappeared under the Darwinian economics of modern agriculture that prizes high yield and low production cost -- a factory approach with little concern for the animals or food aesthetics.

But a taste conscious organization, Slow Food USA, has launched a campaign to save legacy turkeys. Around the country they've enlisted farmers like Smith, who practice sustainable agriculture at Blue Valley Gardens, 40 rolling acres about 20 miles west of Madison, Wisconsin, to raise legacy strains. Nearly 5,000 birds -- more than 150 in Chicago -- were sold by Slow Food this year.

At $3.50 to $5 a pound, legacy turkeys are more expensive than the ubiquitous dollar-a-pound Butterball. That doesn't matter to Eva Wedel, a Crystal Lake music teacher, who says she'll pay the price for fresh, great tasting turkeys that were raised humanely and naturally. "I don't care how much it costs. That doesn't matter," says Wedel, who will prepare one of Smith's birds to celebrate the holiday with her relatives at their family farm in Argyle, Wisconsin. "What matters to me is that it's a legacy turkey. I'm certainly willing to pay for something like this that keeps many strains in circulation.

"This is putting your money where your mouth is. I'm interested in promoting small farms and organic foods, small businesses and healthy fisheries. There are people who are willing to put more of their disposable income into food [when] they agree with the philosophy."

Bucking the Trend of Broadbreasted Turkeys

It's big business philosophies that dominate the nation's turkey production. The eight-billion-dollar-a-year industry has grown the past 25 years -- buoyed by consumers seeking a source of low-fat protein. Between 1975 and 2000, per capita consumption of turkey grew from eight to 17.75 pounds, according to the National Turkey Federation.

Nearly all the 267 million turkeys Americans eat each year are Broadbreasted Whites. Through the tweaking of its genes by selective breeding, the Broadbreast provides the poultry industry with a quick-growing, meat-laden bird with an oversized breast that can be quickly and cleanly processed. While it may be the perfect bird for mass production, perfection takes its toll.

For the Broadbreasts, the tolls include a breast so unwieldy that males cannot mount females to reproduce. Hatcheries must artificially inseminate them to perpetuate the species and the industry. The large breast causes some birds to topple over when they walk by the time they mature in 15 to 18 weeks at 15 pounds for hens and 35 pounds for Toms. Their weight can cause leg problems and heart abnormalities.

A Broadbreast's home life is nothing to aspire to, either. To maximize profits, commercial birds are packed together by the thousands in sheds and buildings while they are being raised. Each bird has an average of three square feet of living space, according to the Web site The beaks of commercial birds are clipped so they don't peck each other in their tight quarters. The birds may receive antibiotics, but the National Turkey Federation dismisses concerns over potential drug residues, saying the drugs are out of the meat before it is on a supermarket shelf. Their diet consists of corn and soybean meal, water, vitamins and minerals.

Animal rights activists have protested not only the conditions under which livestock, such as the Broadbreasts, are raised, but many protest the act of meat eating altogether. Nonetheless, it is judicious meat eating that is the only way that legacy breeds will be saved. In other words, consumers need to buy these birds in order for the niche industry to survive.

Legacy breeds may find themselves on the wrong side of the commercial gene pool but they possess something factory birds don't: rich taste. Italian food critic Carlo Petrini was troubled that industrialization was standardizing food flavor and purging from the palate thousands of food varieties and flavors. In 1986, he founded Slow Food. In the U.S., turkeys are Slow Food's highest profile campaign. Slow Food has enlisted family farmers like Smith, who practice sustainable agriculture and humane livestock farming, to grow legacy birds, keeping the strains alive for flavor diversity while providing niche growers with a new profit center.

"They taste better," Martins of Slow Food USA says. "That's why we did it. History wouldn't have been enough to save them. And they were on the brink of extinction. We were on the verge of losing a part of our taste culture. "We hope that people will support this subversive movement to defend our right to taste."

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC), a Pittsboro, North Carolina, non-profit working to save 100 livestock breeds from extinction, had three of the four Slow Food birds -- Narragansett, Jersey Buffs and Standard Bronzes -- on its critical list, meaning there were fewer than 500 breeding birds in North America. Bourbon Reds were listed as rare, with fewer than a thousand breeding birds.

Saving legacy breeds is critical because the Broadbreasted Whites have lost many of the traits that make turkeys, well, turkeys. They're genetically damaged, says the ALBC's Don Bixby, and the industry could be just a virus or disease away from wiping out the breeds. "We've only used Broadbreasted Whites commercially for 40 years and 40 generations of very narrow genetic selection," says Bixby. "It's what we call in-breeding. It's the issue of mono-cropping. Because they are genetically identical, they'll all be susceptible to whatever comes along."

Bixby says legacy birds provide Thanksgiving meals a whole different taste experience. "This is not your Butterball, canola-injected, processed-in-ice-water bird," he says. "The meat is much firmer. I discovered that I don't eat as much turkey because the gustatory experience is so different. The taste and texture is more pronounced. It's a much more satisfying experience."

The taste comes from the environment in which legacy strains are raised. "Putting turkeys back outdoors where they can exercise, be in fresh air, forage for food -- it's good for them, us, and the environment," Bixby says. He adds that the meat of legacy birds tend to be dryer than commercial birds so he tells people to find a pre-1940 cookbook for a recipe to prepare them.

North Americans have been fixing turkeys for thousands of years. Turkeys, one of the few types of livestock domesticated in North America, were tamed in Mexico around 100 A.D. The first birds arrived in Europe in the early 1500s with Spaniards -- some say Cortez brought them back -- who returned from their exploits in Mexico with turkeys tamed by the natives. Turkeys reached England in the 1520s.

While the popular belief is that the Pilgrims came to the New World and found forests filled with wild turkeys with which to celebrate the first Thanksgiving, the truth is that they brought domestic turkeys with them when they left England in 1620.

As with all livestock, farmers tinkered over the centuries with the birds, trying to develop varieties that looked better, resisted disease, grew faster, delivered more meat, had a better taste, or could make them more money. And legacy turkeys are no exception. They were bred for commerce.

In the U.S., gene tweakers developed the Narragansett turkey - named after Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. It's a cross between the native Eastern Wild Turkey and domestic birds brought back to North America by New World colonists, according to the ALBC. The Narragansett became the standard for New England's turkey industry.

The Jersey Buff made the scene in the 1870s but by the early 1900s was already a rare strain. It was difficult to produce birds that fit the standard color, which was of value because its white pinfeathers were hard to detect once the bird was processed. In Kentucky, breeders used the Jersey Buff to breed the Bourbon Red. The Bourbon Red's heavy breast and rich taste made it more salable and profitable than the Jersey Buff.

Another legacy strain, the Bronze, ironically helped launch the commercialized Broadbreasted strains. In the late 1920s, a Washington farmer crossed an English strain with an American Bronze and came up with a bird that grew to nearly 50 pounds. By the 1940s, the Broadbreasted Bronze -- another strain that needs artificial insemination to survive -- had displaced the Bronze as the bird of choice.

By the 1950s, processors that didn't want birds with dark pinfeathers -- because they looked unsightly on a naked Thanksgiving turkey -- were rewarded with the Broadbreasted White, a bird that yielded a lot of meat and was unmarred by pinfeather discoloration. It continues to reign as bird of the masses.

For 10 years, you could find the Broadbreasted Whites at Blue Valley Gardens, the farm that Smith, a University of Wisconsin horticulture graduate, bought in 1984. He lives there with his wife, Susan Lampert-Smith, their 14-year-old son Ben and 10-year-old daughter Lily.

Unlike frozen factory birds, Smith's Broadbreasts were raised in small flocks, hand-fed and ready for delivery to customers at Thanksgiving. "The hens would be in the low teens, 16 or 17 pounds, and the toms would dress out at 28 pounds. That was in 18 weeks," says Smith. "When people would pick their birds up some would ask me what you do with all of that turkey. I'd say, 'Eat a lot of leftovers.'"

Blue Valley Gardens brings about a dozen crops to market each year -- broiler chickens and eggs, strawberries, Shiitake and oyster mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, potatoes, garlic and herbs. Smith is best know for his white asparagus, some of which ends up on the plates of guests at the Ritz Carlton in Chicago via an organic foods marketing group, Home Grown Wisconsin. About 75 percent of his produce is sold locally, much of it at Madison's famed Farmers' Market, the Saturday morning affair that brings thousands of buyers to the square around the Wisconsin Capitol from spring to fall.

Smith says that he saw a New York Times story on legacy turkeys last fall and knew his customers would buy them. "I went full bore into it," he says. He ordered three breeds -- Narragannsetts, Bourbon Reds, and Jersey Buffs -- from hatcheries. The first birds arrived in May, a full two months before he'd start raising the season's Broadbreasts. But the legacy birds grow slower, taking 10 weeks longer than the Whites to mature.

"They're more like wild turkeys," says Smith. "They're more into the greens and things like that and less into the grains. And of course they're not going to put on a lot of weight eating the greens."

Smith planned to raise the turkeys outside in a "free-range" environment, but great horned owls killed several of his birds. The 55 survivors are now housed in a 2,000-square-foot pen covered with a netting where they can roam outdoors, eating bugs, grass, melon rinds, corn husks and silk, cabbage, other greens and grain. They dig depressions in the ground and lay in the Wisconsin sunshine. They roost at night in a shed, off the ground, safe from owls, raccoons, coyotes and other predators.

Next year, Smith plans on expanding the poultry pen. And he says he's going to keep a male and female Narragannsett and try his hand at breeding. One of the flock will also be prepared for his family's Thanksgiving platter. "My vices are eating good food and drinking good beer," he jokes. "I don't raise any animals and vegetables that I don't care to eat."

Brian Leaf, a freelance writer based in Rockford, Illinois, writes stories about business and the environment. Contact him at

This Rare Historical Moment

When Frances Moore Lappe posed the question of why societies finally abandoned the divine right of monarchies, she found the reason was that people simply stopped believing in it. Ideas have real power, much greater than political or economic structures. It's what I like to call the B.S. factor -- belief systems.

And everywhere you turn these days, belief systems are crashing and burning like a meteor shower. From Enron to Arthur Andersen to the Catholic Church and even major-league baseball, people's faith in institutions is disintegrating.

People in this country are realizing that we have the best government money can buy. When Bush Lite proudly kicked off his regime as America, Incorporated, you have to wonder why he didn't propose reconstituting the Senate and the House as Fortune 100 and Fortune 500. If we enforced truth-in-advertising laws, Senators and Congresspeople would wear jumpsuits like race-car drivers sporting the logos of corporate sponsors. Then we could easily distinguish the Senator from General Electric and the Congressperson from Disney.

Corporate economic globalization contains the seeds of its own destruction, and we may well be witnessing the beginning of the decline and fall of the corporate empire. Enronitis is systemic. Arthur Andersen globalized fuzzy math, the arithmetic of corporate accounting in 1995, and they're going to have a heck of a time doing a factory recall. Whenever people say free trade, I always ask if free is a verb. What we actually have are highly managed monopolies that epitomize crony capitalism and insider trading as a way of doing business.

The rest of the world is certainly onto it, which is why European and Japanese capital is begining to flee U.S. companies. Consumer confidence is not looking too promising either when three-fourths of American citizens think big business has too much influence over government and society.

Around the world today people are rising up in defense of the Earth and demanding a democratic process over the decisions that affect our lands, our communities, and our lives. The pro-democracy movement is gaining momentum worldwide, and recent events indicate that it is only going to pick up steam, far sooner than many people may have expected.

Just over the last couple of years, countries across Latin America have generated a political groundswell against the failed experiment of so-called "free-market" capitalism. Popular uprisings have derailed the privatization of state-owned companies and utilities, because 44 percent of Latin Americans still live in poverty and the number of unemployed workers has more than doubled in a decade. And with China's acceptance into the WTO, the next giant sucking sound from the South is going to be jobs leaving Mexico for China.

It's going to get even dicier because the never-ending war on terrorism is anathema to economic globalization, which is predicated on the free flow of goods, services and workers across borders. This time they've shot themselves in the foot, or actually a little higher.

Ecology does not recognize national borders, and planetarization demands that we create a restorative economy grounded in healthy ecosystems and job creation. It also calls upon us to celebrate the world's rich diversity of cultures, and to forge a working community of nations committed to social justice. Without social and economic justice there can be no peace with the Earth.

This rare historical moment offers us a gleaming opportunity. It's up to us to step into the breach with alternatives, with solutions that work. We are finding over and over again that solutions residing in nature surpass our wildest conception of what's possible. There is great hope in how little we know and what little we do know.

We can start with a Marshall Plan to hasten the extinction of petrochemicals. Even oil executives acknowledge that we have entered the beginning of the end of the Age of Oil. Large companies including BP, Shell, Daimler-Chrysler, and Ford are making sizeable commitments to renewable energy, though it's still marginal to their core business. The emerging alternative energy industry may well mimic the vertiginous expansion of the oil industry just 100 years ago. Wind and solar photovoltaics grew around ten-fold in the past ten years.

While the United States political class tries to march us backward into the future carrying a sack of coal, much of the rest of the developed world is going green. Iceland is the first nation totally powering its electricity with renewable energy, and it's well on its way to breaking through as the world's first hydrogen economy to run its cars without gas. Germany has committed to doubling its economy by 2060 on half the power, using mostly renewable energy. Japan has seized the global market on photovoltaic cells. Denmark is the world's leading wind producer, a profitable industry employing more people than its entire fishing and shipbuilding sectors. But of course those Danes are crazy: They say environmental protection is more important than economic growth anyway.

Sweden will close a second nuclear reactor in 2003 in its plan to phase-out nuclear energy by 2010. Germany has committed to a phase out of its nuclear plants. It's worth remembering that those four hijacked airplanes flew perilously close to twelve separate nuclear plants, and that no private insurer will back the 103 nukes in the country.

Cars getting 78-235 mpg are already rolling off the line, and zero-emissions hydrogen fuel cells and hyper cars are close behind. Energy efficiency is of course the single most cost-effective approach, capable of halving our energy use by itself.

Wind power from seven Northern Plains states alone could provide all the nation's electricity needs. The North Sea winds have enough force to power much of Europe. Solar collectors in just 2 percent of the world's deserts could supply the hydrogen needed for the world's current energy consumption.

The technology is here now. Solar, wind, and hydrogen technologies are infinitely better proven than any Missile Defense Shield and they will give us true national security by removing the choke collar of OPEC and our own Oiligarchy. The only energy crisis is the energy to make the transition happen faster.

These soft technologies also lend themselves to localization and decentralization. They can be democratic by design. Power to the people is not an abstraction.

This same kind of transformation is starting to happen across the board, demonstrating our capacity to reduce human footprints by 90 percent while improving our standard of living and creating jobs, decidedly better than flipping burgers and telemarketing.

There are many deep wounds to heal, not the least those of the human spirit. This transformation also demands a change of heart flowing from an empathic connection with the fullness of the living Earth. It's about the sanctity of all life.

The choices we make today are going to have long-lasting and far-reaching consequences. As human beings, perhaps our greatest facility is how rapidly we re-invent culture.

Kenny Ausubel is the president of Bioneers. The Bioneers Conference in Marin last weekend drew thousands of participants. To learn more, read Bioneers: Help and Hope for the Planet and Eco-Conferences for Inspiration.

Food of the Future

The overflow of people at the ECO-FARM conference was bustling with energy. Dr. John Reganold, one of the new heroes of the organic movement, had just presented findings from a study that compared organic, integrated, and conventional apple production in Washington State. The goal of the work was to compare the various systems and determine levels of sustainability, incorporating factors like yield, profitability, and environmental impacts. The compelling results led to a cover story in Nature, one of the world's leading scientific journals.

After a five-year period, the study determined that the yield of organic apples was comparable to the other systems, a significant finding when you consider the fact that naysayers regularly charge that "organic can't feed the world." In addition, the organic system produced sweeter apples, better profit margins, and impressive environmental benefits. Reganold, still beaming from the pride of landing a cover story, was animated in his discussion of the implications, saying "When you put all those parameters together -- soil quality, horticultural performance, economics, environmental impact, energy efficiency -- then the organic system gets first place."

There has been plenty of good news for organic advocates in recent years. Numerous studies have indicated the environmental benefits of growing food organically. It can improve biodiversity, protect wildlife habitats, and prevent the emission of vast amounts of toxic chemicals into our water, air, and soils. Some research has even indicated that the soil building process in organic farming stores significantly higher levels of carbon dioxide, thus providing a way to help reduce global warming.

Reganold's work went beyond the environmental benefits and began to explore other important elements that have been an intrinsic part of the organic movement for the past sixty years. For many farmers and consumers, organic represents the values that are most important to them. It is food with a mission -- representing care for the earth, compassion for animals, commitment to social justice, and support for local farms and communities.

In coming years, organic agriculture will embrace these values in a more defined way. This will occur through the combination of two other movements that are now picking up speed, the fair trade movement and regional food systems. Fair trade is a program that applies social justice criteria to a certification program for farmers and companies. Regional food systems encourage the production of food on a local level in order to minimize transportation and environmental costs, support local economies, produce safe and healthy food, and maintain family farms.

A system that incorporates certified organic food with fair trade labeling would go a long way to meeting the needs of consumers who want assurance that their food is produced with integrity. When combined with programs that encourage regional food production, a truly sustainable food system is in sight.

Agriculture as a Public Good

Ten years ago, most ag circles considered organic farming a joke. Its status was best summed up by an oft repeated quote attributed to Nixon era Agricultural Secretary Earl Butz: "When you hear the word organic, think starvation." Butz was part of the old school of agriculture. He and his cronies believed in "better living through chemistry," and thus corporate America set its sights on turning agriculture into agribusiness. Over time, a few large companies came to control most segments of our food production.

In recent decades agribusiness became the dominant force in food production, at a tremendous cost to farmers and our society as a whole. Millions of small farmers were -- and continue to be -- driven off their land. Many local processors and other farm support businesses have been shuttered.

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Waging Peace in a Terrorist Age

The terrorist attack against the United States was truly a heinous act of evil. Clearly the perpetrators and those supporting them must be brought to justice. Yet we as a nation must be careful to deliver a measured response based on facts rather than irrational military machismo. More than anything, we must avoid joining with the terrorists by killing innocent civilians.

The Cold War is over and the recent attack underscores the fact that the biggest threat to international security is terrorism. The assault on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center point out the immense challenge of stopping it. When eighteen zealots armed only with razors and plastic knives can kill thousands of people and cause tens of billions of dollars in damages it becomes perfectly clear that we need a new direction if we are truly to protect our nation.

Current military philosophy generally relies on the strategy of "an eye for an eye." The day after the tragedy, Elliot Cohen, a respected international relations expert at Johns Hopkins University was widely quoted saying, "We are going to have to begin killing people. It's not about bringing people to justice. It's about going after them and killing them." Many U.S. Senators and other military experts had similarly hawkish views of the situation.

Yet as Martin Luther King pointed out so eloquently, "the old eye for an eye philosophy ends up leaving everybody blind." And in today's environment the stakes are painfully high. Will the terrorists' response to our military retaliation against them be a biological weapon released into Chicago's water system? Or perhaps a nuclear bomb detonated in a van parked in downtown Los Angeles?

One of the eyewitnesses to the tragic events in New York was Satish Kumar, editor of the British magazine Resurgence. Satish gained international recognition in the 1960s, when he walked from his native India to France as a protest against the Vietnam War. (After walking through China, Russia, and Eastern Europe he was arrested and jailed by French President Charles DeGaulle, and eventually bailed out by philosopher Bertrand Russell, who flew Satish to England where he now resides.)

I spoke with Satish the day after the attack and he gave me an interesting perspective, based on his personal philosophy of non-violence in the tradition of Mohandas Gandhi. "What we have experienced in New York is a result of past violence and response to terrorists. More weapons and the use of force won't keep people safe. Only peace is true security," Satish said.

The situation in the Middle East is a painful lesson in the dynamics of violence. Palestinians and Jews are locked in an escalating cycle of violence and revenge which has engulfed the country in an atmosphere of fear and repression. The current mindset in the U.S. may invite similar patterns. Will our almost inevitable military response provoke even more atrocious acts of evil and escalate the fear associated with it? And will our fear of terrorism result in actions that deny U.S. citizens their civil liberties in the name of security? Turning America into a police state will only give more strength to those who choose the path of evil.

Satish strongly believes that the solution to terrorism is to advance higher forms of international non-violent conflict resolution. "We need to develop new forms of diplomacy, steeped in a non-violent response to terrorism," he said. "Only by undersanding the cause of hatred which leads to terrorism can it be responded to. The United Nations is a perfect forum to begin such a process."

Recent history bears this logic out. Many of the most extraordinary political successes in the twentieth century were based in non-violent conflict resolution. Gandhi's efforts helped to achieve independence for India from Great Britain and inspired a global movement against colonialism and racism. Other historic outcomes achieved through non-violent means include the American suffrage movement that won women the right to vote; huge gains in civil rights attained by Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement; an end to the Vietnam War, hastened by tremendous public opposition; democracy in the Phillipines and Eastern Europe, inspired by non-violent revolutions; and an end to apartheid in South Africa, encouraged in part by an international economic boycott.

Unfortunately, in the past year the U.S. has moved away from rather than toward international engagement. Prior to September 11, the Bush administration had done a number of things to alienate the international community. Prime examples are the rejection of the Kyoto Treaty on Global Warming and the Bioweapons Protocol to limit production of biological weapons. In addition, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has made it clear that the U.S. plans to build its "Star Wars" missile shield, in violation of our Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia.

In recent days analysts have concurred that the most likely result of this terrorism will be increased U.S. military spending -- beyond the already staggering $300 billion a year. As if missile defense or massive weapons programs could have done anything to prevent the September 11 tragedy -- or future domestic tragedies perpetrated by suicide bombers.

This isn't a situation that will be solved by more military spending and brute force. It will take world-class diplomacy and a commitment to justice rather than vengeance.

I believe our ultimate lesson in this tragedy is to learn to wage peace in this terrorist age. This requires us to understand and respond to the root cause of the hatred that inspires such unrepentant violence. I pray we find the strength to do so.

First Do No Harm

"Integrative Medicine" has become a catch phrase in our society and most alternative health practitioners would probably say it's a no-brainer to define. A short operative definition of "Integrative Medicine" might characterize it as the combining of the best of conventional medicine and the best of alternative medicine usually beginning with the least invasive therapies first.

For example, if a patient's health problem allows, a health practitioner knowledgeable in "integrative medicine" would more than likely initially decide to hold off on prescription drugs which often have destructive and toxic side-effects. Instead, the practitioner would begin with a gentler approach that encourages the patient's body to mount a defense of its own to overcome the health challenge (leaving the immune system stronger and more vigorous).

As most of us who prefer living naturally know, gentler yet very effective approaches include an encyclopedic list from acupuncture to nutritional therapy (my personal favorite) to yoga. Of course, you wouldn't tell somebody to drink carrot juice if they were just carried in from a car wreck. I suspect we'd all want the marvels of drugs and surgery on our side in such a case. (I'd drink the carrot juice sometime after they wired my jaw and the pain meds wore off!)

A perfect case in point for the harmonious meshing of alternative and conventional medicine is the work of Chicago-based Jon Pangborn, Ph.D. Dr. Pangborn, a specialist in nutritional medicine as it relates to the mindboggling intricacies of metabolic pathways, works with physicians who prescribe surgery, radiation and chemotherapy for their cancer patients. Through sophisticated nutritional analysis, Dr. Pangborn consults with the patients before cancer treatment to get them into "tip-top nutritional condition" to weather the rigors of the therapy.

"We certainly do need the cancer treatment that we have," he says, "because we don't know how else to deal with it but the treatment can be very, very stressful on the body's physiology." Following the treatments, he then resumes nutritional therapy. Dr. Pangborn says of patients with whom he's worked, "Frankly, they were a nutritional disaster after the (cancer) program. They were certainly free of cancer and I must commend the doctors for absolutely wiping out the cancer but they also pretty much wiped out the individual's nutritional status and [the doctors] admittedly...acknowledge this."

Unfortunately, despite all the talk of the new and unbeatable combination of conventional and alternative medicine (CAM), there's still a vast schism between the fantasy and reality of it all. Research shows that over half of Americans entering the conventional medical system have already made forays into complementary medicine, yet many are reluctant to talk about alternative approaches with their conventional doctors. What's wrong with this picture? I think Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, M.D. and herbalist in Albuquerque, NM summed it up nicely when she mused that patients would be better off talking to their doctor's receptionist about herbs rather then asking the doctor himself. I'm sure this could apply to MD's knowledge of other alternative therapies as well.

As I see it, the problem with making "integrative medicine" an effective and inclusive dimension of our health care is multi-faceted. Despite the increased visits to alternative practitioners, conventional physicians still clearly form the backbone (so to speak) of our healthcare. If I can draw from personal experience, regardless of my "alternative" bent, nearly everyone in my family who has a health problem automatically speaks in terms of seeing a conventional physician first. Therefore, as the gatekeepers to other therapies, these physicians must learn to become comfortable with referring out to alternative practitioners just as they do to other MD specialists. (Granted, there are holistic medical clinics that house various health providers-including MD's- but it only goes to show that there is a "we have to stick together to survive" mentality.)

Obviously, how can a referral be given when a physician doesn't have a clue as to what a particular therapy is or how it might benefit a patient? I think we should look beyond the petty argument that physicians want to keep all the business for themselves. I believe most physicians are so saddled with the frantic pace of their practices that they have little time to investigate CAM therapies. And it may be a few years before we have oodles of informed MD's pouring out of the country's medical schools. A study from 1998 showed that 42 out of 117 U.S. medical schools do not require CAM courses or offer them as electives.

Another issue involves patient compassion. As health providers at last year's International Conference on Integrative Medicine so elegantly pointed out, the toolbox of therapies is getting bigger but that doesn't make very much difference if it's still being served up in the same quick, cold and impersonal manner for which our medical system has become known. Two giants in this area of concern, Elliott Dacher, MD, researcher/author (Whole Healing and Intentional Healing) and Harvard Medical School's Arthur Kleinman, MD bemoan a healthcare system in which its healers are short on patient empathy, compassion and moral engagement. After all, they contend, these qualities are vital underpinnings to the healing process. Evidence shows that patients have turned to alternative healing, in part, for the quality of the relationships which they expect to be less dehumanized than those found in conventional medicine. But Dacher and Kleinman worry that the alternative healing arts, which are also steeped in a culture that rewards efficiency and profit, may become fraught with the same impersonality. Of course, discussing the blending of alternative and conventional medicine always brings up the much-debated aspect of insurance coverage. But, once CAM therapies gain momentum, I suspect the insurance companies will gladly fall into line. A handful of insurance companies have already stepped forward to cover CAM therapies. In addition, there are also a few brave and forward-thinking MD's (specializing in CAM) who have refused to kowtow to the insurance companies. These healers feel they can't let insurance company manuals dictate how they treat patients. So they simply stopped taking insurance reimbursements and work on a cash basis to apply the healing techniques they believe best serve their patients. Interestingly, patients have beaten a path to their doors.

If only we could wake up tomorrow and experience a world in which healers had mutual respect and understanding for one another. A world where health insurance would cover the most effective therapy of choice. And a world where the Rights of a Health Consumer always included a healer who treats you like family (or better!).

Wipe Your Way to Good Health

It seems we all have our pet names for it:.dodo, poop, number 2 or others not quite fitting for a family magazine. But no matter how you say it, regular, bulky but soft and easy bowel movements are vital to good health. Oh sure, most all of us have a little problem now and then. But something is seriously wrong when four-and-a-half million people in the U.S. say they are constipated most or all of the time.

As a nutritionist, I am as interested in what comes out of the human body (or if it comes out) as what goes in. Unfortunately, as most everything in the health arena, there are big disagreements as to how one should maintain bowel regularity. Conventional medicine generally pooh-poohs the use of anything beyond a high-fiber diet, more fluids and more exercise. Yet, complementary approaches embrace numerous other therapies based on theories that conventional medicine hasn't fully accepted.

Depending on whom you ask for advice, the gamut of recommendations can run from "don't worry if you only have two or three bowel movements a week" to "transit time for waste material should be no longer than eighteen to twenty-four hours." The latter means we should all be having at least one bowel movement a day. Generally, the health practitioners who say it doesn't matter that you don't dodo everyday are accepting the fact that most people eat a highly refined, high-fat and low-fiber diet: a sure-shootin' recipe for constipation.

Eating more fiber to induce bowel regularity is the golden rule. But there's a lot of consumer confusion over what constitutes heavy-duty fiber sources. Nutritional biochemist Ruth DeBusk, PhD, RD, is a forward-thinking specialist in bowel dysfunctions and works closely with six gastroenterologists in a Tallahassee, Florida digestive disease clinic. She has a four-part "anti-constipation" program that she's never seen fail. Her first directive is to increase fiber intake to 25 to 35 grams a day by eating fruits, vegetables, dried beans and peas. Talking in grams can be a foreign language if you don't have a nutritionist's education but it's easy to add up when you estimate that a serving of fruit or vegetables has about two-to-three grams of fiber. In addition, you can use the "dietary fiber" count on the Nutrition Facts label of food products. DeBusk points out that a half-cup of bran cereal gives 11-13 grams of fiber, about half the day's worth in one sitting!

DeBusk doesn't recommend whole grains as part of her fiber formula as she finds too many people are wheat and/or gluten sensitive. So it's imperative to learn if you are intolerant or sensitive to gluten as eliminating this from your diet can make all the difference. Moreover, it's always a good idea to avoid products with refined white flour. As one colonic therapist so aptly points out a mixture of white flour and water makes a very effective plaster and can do the same in your GI tract.

DeBusk's other anti-constipation recommendations include drinking eight to ten (eight ounce) glasses of water everyday. She also insists that because caffeine is a powerful diuretic that flushes water out of your system, you should drink a cup of water for every cup of caffeinated beverage you drink, such as coffee, cola or tea. Thirdly, DeBusk pushes regular aerobic exercise to tone the muscles of the intestines to keep them in shape for moving their contents along.

Her final recommendation has been used by alternative practitioners for years and is now being recognized among conventional medicine types as a vital component to digestion and good health. This is the use of live active cultures acquired by eating yogurt (certified living cultures) or taking high quality probiotic supplements. These cultures, or probiotics, are the friendly bacteria in our gut that are key to maintaining or restoring a healthy intestinal tract environment. The large intestine alone contains about three pounds of bacteria- both beneficial and detrimental. The unfriendly bacteria, under certain circumstances, will overcome the beneficial bacteria and produce toxins and carcinogens in the bowel. Constipation can result from an upset in this microflora balance and may even be a symptom of parasitic infection.

Another approach to relieving constipation, but generally scorned by conventional medical practitioners, is colon hydrotherapy or colonics. A licensed or certified hydrotherapist gently pumps gallons of filtered water in and out of your colon via the rectum to dislodge accumulations of stagnating fecal waste believed to produce toxins that can poison the body. Naturopath Mark Groven, supervisor of physical medicine at the Bastyr University natural health clinic in Seattle considers colonics a part of a total general wellness program, "We use colon hydrotherapy to tonify the bowel to help produce a better elimination practice for the body." However, he emphasizes that the treatment is not appropriate for people with medical problems such as appendicitis, hepatitis and ulcerative colitis and should be used only under the supervision of a naturopathic or traditional doctor. There's little in the way of scientific research documenting the benefits of colonic therapy but I've talked with many who are convinced that the procedure is pivotal to their continuing good health. Nonetheless, that sort of measure is considered anecdotal:. personal accounts that have not been verified by science.

There are a number of other approaches to ease constipation that also have no clear scientific evidence to support them yet appear anecdotally to be quite effective in aiding bowel movements. Complementary therapists often recommend a riser that sets in front of the toilet. When you sit on the toilet and place your feet on the riser, your knees are well above the level of your hips and makes for a squatting posture that's very conducive to elimination. Hand-in-hand with this is making sure you respond to the call of nature. Repressing your urge to defecate can weaken the signal and make matters worse. In addition, a little straining is a natural part of moving one's bowels but doing it to excess can contribute to hemorrhoids.

Using laxatives, even herbal laxatives, can be tricky because if used routinely and excessively, they can damage nerve cells in the wall of the colon. Laxatives act as chemical irritants stimulating the muscular walls of the colon to abnormally contract to expel the irritating substances. However, complementary practitioners do recommend several food sources that are natural laxatives and can become part of a daily routine. For instances, lemon juice is said to be very cleansing to the intestinal tract. Drinking a cup of hot water (always filtered!) with the juice of half a lemon first thing in the morning can add a capital R to regularity. You should rinse your mouth immediately as lemon juice can erode teeth enamel.

A tablespoon of ground flaxseeds, which can be added to juicing ingredients, yogurt or the like, can be a great intestinal lubricant. Aloe vera juice is another intestinal helper that aids in forming soft stools. Drinking a half-cup of aloe juice in the morning and at night can make life more pleasant for those who are bowel movement-challenged. Have you tasted aloe? It's very palatable. And let's not forget the old standby prune and its less potent cousin, the fig. Don't confuse yourself by trying all these at once; introduce one at a time, note any changes that take place and, if needed, add the others gradually.

Of course, constipation, in some cases, can be the result of complications that go beyond the scope of this column. Yet, as I tirelessly preach (nag?!) "listening" to your body is a first rate approach to good health. And if it says, "I need help" I urge you to find an integrative-minded healer who can coach you to inspire your body's natural healing energies.

For the Love of Food

Aiming to build a healthier food supply and a more sustainable food economy, the Chefs Collaborative is initiating a focus on local, artisan, and sustainable cuisine. The Chefs Collaborative is a group of about 1,500 professional restaurateurs nationwide. According to its newsletter, it is "a network of chefs and members of the food community across the U.S. who promote sustainable cuisine by teaching children, supporting local farmers, educating each other, and inspiring their customers to choose clean, healthy foods."

"Since 1993 and the inception of the group, our goal has been to create a more sustainable food supply. By getting to know the farmers, we learned things that informed us as chefs and helped organize what we were doing as chefs," said Chefs Collaborative Chairman Peter Hoffman, owner and chef of Savoy in New York.

Over the past five years, there have been major strides in building those farmer-chef connections. The chefs of numerous restaurants nationwide are developing and nurturing local relationships with growers. (In some cases, the chefs are actually involved with the farming process.).

Collaborative members began asking where produce came from, and then began making connections with farmers. They learned the stories behind particular items like heirloom apples or tomatoes or squash, so that the produce they served was not a mere commodity. Rather, chefs were able to highlight specifics, sharing the exquisite taste, unique stories, and growing histories of local heirloom produce. Thus, they began enriching the content of their menus and educating their clientele.

Lately, the Collaborative's campaign to highlight organically grown local produce has moved beyond restaurant kitchens. In Chicago, the Collaborative is deepening its involvement with the Green City Market. Thus, they hope to create an ongoing venue for consumers and food service professionals, who will always be able to access sustainably produced organic produce. It is challenging to maintain a seasonal menu with produce in northern climates like Chicago's. But according to Ross Cooper, author of Bitter harvest: A chef's Perspective on the Hidden Dangers in the Foods we Eat, "Chefs influence our food choices, and it is their responsibility to share their passion for sustainable, regional, seasonal food with other chefs, young culinarians, and the public." Thanks in part to these chefs, specialty items like mesclun mix are now more readily available inn Chicago than they were a few years ago.

Cooper's book highlights several innovative practices by chefs in New England and the Midwest. Rick Bayless has cultivated relationships with family farmers in Florida, California, and Arizona to provide his Chicago restaurants with produce from the partners' farms. At L'Etoile, of Wisconsin, chef Odessa Piper works closely with local farmers to store vegetables and dry fruits from Wisconsin's summer bounty. In Harborside, Maine, Eliot Coleman uses a series of greenhouses and layers of insulation from October to May -- and thus simulates the growing season of Georgia!

Seafood Solutions

As challenging as it is to deal sustainably with fresh produce, for the Collaborative, seafood is another matter altogether. Doug Hopkins, an attorney and ten-year veteran with Environmental Defense, offers staggering, disturbing evidence of the destruction we are causing to our oceans. "We are doing something wrong in the way we catch fish," observes Hopkins, "when an estimated 70 percent of the world's commercially-fished species have been fished to or beyond the [point] at which their populations can easily sustain themselves." In fact, according to Dr. Sylvia Earle, former chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the total worldwide seafood catch has been in decline since 1989.

Hopkins has identified several problems, from inadequate fishery management to too many boats going after too few remaining fish. Some industrial fishing practices -- especially regarding shrimp -- catch many non-targeted species, causing needless death and waste. Other practices such as trawling decimate the ocean floors and make it impossible for some species (like cod) to rebound. "We don't understand the biology of the sea and the species that we are overfishing. What we are doing are gigantic experiments," says Hopkins.

According to Cooper, "The ocean suffers from the same devastation as the land -- chemical pollution, overmining and overharvesting of resources, and unsustainable farming practices all plague the oceans as well... . Over the years, technology has advanced ahead of the ocean's ability to replenish itself."

Collaborative members realized that they needed to start thinking about seafood when they learned that 67 percent of seafood is eaten outside the home. Now these leading-edge chefs are taking a stand to make a difference in the consciousness of their customers and their seafood purveyors alike. Yet the movement to serve fish in a sustainable manner is just in its beginning stages. One initiative the Collaborative has undertaken, for example, is publishing a booklet called "Seafood Solutions: A Chef's Guide to Ecologically Responsible Fish Procurement."

Hoffman, one of the leaders of the sustainable seafood booklet initiative, says, "The booklet is designed to present options and tools. It is a way to organize information from environmentalists in a manner usable and practical for hard-working chefs." Hoffman recently outlined the contents of the booklet during a presentation at the Ritz-Carleton, where about eighty-five people -- chefs, seafood purveyors, and others in the food industries -- filled the ballroom to hear about sustainable seafood. Hopkins, Hoffman, Cooper, and Bayless all were part of the presentation.

"The first part of the booklet explains in clear and concise terms what the issues are. The second explores ways to begin organizing information in order to ask more intelligent questions. The third part begins a discussion of ways chefs are dealing with fish in their restaurants, stimulating a conversation and asking questions about what we are doing." The booklet concludes with a glossary and a list of resources, including suppliers of sustainably harvested seafood.

Though the booklet can't offer any perfect solutions, it does point chefs in the direction of sustainability. Given the complexities surrounding the issue of sustainable seafood, even this small step is critical to making the larger, long-term changes.

According to Bayless, "The goal of the Chefs Collaborative and its sustainable seafood booklet is to distill issues for chefs in a way that is both useful and simple. We want to show the simple steps chefs can take, acknowledging that every small step helps. The booklet will help them make better and more informed decisions." He continues, "When people are educated about what they are buying, when they are more informed, they will be able to make more conscious decisions."

One Fish, Two Fish

The Collaborative's education process centers on chefs being willing to take the time to ask specific questions of their purveyors of seafood. And as complex as the issue is, several experts suggested starting with just one type of seafood, and taking action. Hoffman, for example indicates that he has not yet attempted to deal with the issue of finding sustainable sources of shrimp. "That's next," he says.

Bayless, following the model he developed to access produce for his Chicago restaurant, has created an alliance with fishermen in Florida. Again, building this specific relationship allows him to support a small family enterprise and simultaneously access sustainably caught seafood. While admitting that the fossil fuel he expends makes this model unsustainable over the long term, he says that for the moment, it's answering a need in a complex situation.

Ultimately, the chefs who investigate and then undertake sustainable methods are poised for "the big win." As with organic produce, many of the most sustainably harvested fish are those with the highest quality and the best taste. Of course, as Cooper indicates, consumers will be the most powerful catalyst for change in the direction of sustainability. But the Chefs Collaborative deserves high praise for its willingness to give those consumers a little nudge, to get them going.

The Collaborative welcomes individual members who work in the food industry as well as others interested in promoting the group's mission and goals. To contact the Collaborative, call 781-736-0635; e-mail or visit their Web site.

Bobbye Middendorf is an independent writer and artist in Chicago.

Microlending Yields Life Changing Results

Is it possible to help the poorest people in developing countries break out of the Catch-22 cycle of their unfortunate condition? It is, according to the founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. With the equivalent of a $27 loan out of his own pocket, Muhammad Yunus pioneered what became the microlending movement as a viable way to help many of the very poor break the vicious cycle.

Around the globe today, estimates of microfinance programs and organizations range from between 3,000 a few years ago to 7,000 today, with as many as 16 million poor individuals being helped in developing nations. According to The Aspen Institute's FIELD (the microenterprise Fund for Innovation, Effectiveness, Learning and Dissemination) program in Washington, D.C., in the U.S. approximately 341 microenterprise programs exist.

Microcredit as pioneered by The Grameen Bank and pursued by other microlending programs is changing lives.

What Is It?

Definitions of microcredit, microlending, and microenterprise abound. The Microcredit Summit offers a particularly useful and concise explanation. This entity launched a worldwide campaign "to ensure that 100 million of the world's poorest families, especially the women of those families, are receiving credit for self-employment and other financial and business services by the year 2005." It explains that microcredit is about programs that "extend small loans to very poor people for self-employment projects that generate income, allowing them to care for themselves and their families."

The Virtual Library on Microcredit (VLM), a vast and important repository of data on microcredit aimed at researchers, practitioners, and community organizations internationally, offers an important extension to the definition. Hari Srinivas, VLM's coordinator and a member of the Department of Social Engineering at the Tokyo Institute of Technology in Japan, writes, "Microcredit is as much about money as it is about information." In this broader framework, "The key implications of microcredit [are] in its name itself: 'micro.' The small size of the loans made, small size of savings made, the smaller frequency of loans, shorter repayment periods and amounts, the micro/local level of activities, the community-based immediacy of microcredit." Microcredit is not one single solution, then, but "a menu of options and enablements that has to be put together, à la carte, based on local conditions and needs."

The Grameen Bank

After his studies at Chittagong University, Yunus studied economics at Vanderbilt University as a doctorate Fulbright scholar. He returned to Bangladesh in 1972, after a seven-year absence from home. Settling a scant twenty miles from the place of his youth, he became head of the Economics Department at Chittagong U. He was frustrated by the poverty and famine he saw all around him. The independence of Bangladesh in 1971 had taken a heavy toll and left the economy in shambles.

Yunus spent the next four years talking to villagers and trying to figure out how best to help. He experimented with a number of approaches until 1976, when the idea came together. That was the year he met Sufiya Begum, a thin twenty-one-year-old bamboo stool maker and mother of three. Begum exemplified the plight of the bamboo stool makers in the small village of Jobra. To buy the bamboo, they had to borrow money from local moneylenders. But at the end of each day, they had to sell their stools to the middleman, at a price pretty much determined by the middleman, as loan repayment. Their leftover "profit" was a pittance -- around two cents a day and woefully inadequate to support the stool makers, let alone their families.

With the help of a student, Yunus found out that there were forty-two villagers who depended on the trader for money loans that amounted to almost $27. Angered that so few dollars made the difference for the hardworking villagers, Yunus lent them $27 so they could sell their stools to whomever they wanted at a fair price. Soon after, Yunus realized that his action was inadequate to help all the people who shared a similar plight. What was needed was an institution that would lend money to people who had nothing.

Going against most recognized economic principles and skeptical, traditional banks, Yunus developed what would become The Grameen (meaning "rural" or "of the village") Bank system with the able and motivated but highly inexperienced assistance of student volunteers. He did this for three years before he tested it in a new location. It would be five more years before Grameen expanded seriously. From the beginning of his explorations into helping the poor until he expanded his program twelve years passed.

The loans made by the Grameen Bank are literally based upon trust, accountability, peer participation, and creativity. The institution makes small, uninsured loans. No collateral is needed. Yet loan repayment is nearly 100 percent. Grameen has so far managed to provide more than $2.5 billion in microloans in Bangladesh alone. This has helped an excess of 2.5 million families. Close to 95 percent of the bank's clients are women.

In 1998, two years after author David Bornstein wrote The Price of a Dream: The Story of the Grameen Bank (1996, University of Chicago Press), he offered this insight. "The Grameen Bank has brought an entrepreneurial edge to development -- creating new systems and continuously innovating in the effort to alleviate poverty more quickly and more effectively. It has recently introduced into Bangladesh a cellular phone system operated by women villagers. Grameen has developed systems to help hand weavers, fishermen, small-scale farmers, and is currently one of Bangladesh's largest Internet service providers. All its ventures are aimed at building systems to reduce poverty and create new opportunities for poor people."

Microlending Initiatives and Their Impact

Grameen-type operations and others have lately emerged around the globe. One of the earliest U.S. initiatives to follow the Grameen model in the mid-1980s was the Good Faith Fund in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, spurred in part by then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary. Thanks to the efforts of South Shore Bank of Chicago bankers Ron Grzywinski and Mary Houghton, and of Julia Vindasius, who was originally put in charge of this program, many rural residents were able to start to combat poverty through small businesses. The Women's Self-Employed Project in Chicago is another established South Shore Bank replication program.

Other pioneering organizations have included the Lakota Fund, a significant microlending enterprise, which assists Native Americans in the Oglala Lakota Nation in southwestern South Dakota. ACCION International, likely the largest microlending organization in the U.S. today, has been around for twenty-five years and, with its affiliate members, works to lower unemployment and poverty across the Americas through the provision of individual microloans and business training. ACCION U.S.A. (in twenty-one U.S. cities) and ACCION Latin America Network (in fourteen Latin American and Caribbean nations) helped over 450,000 clients in 1999. About 65 percent of the recipients are women. At ACCION Chicago, 704 loans have been disbursed providing more than $3.5 million to entrepreneurs. Its loan repayment rate is 98 percent.

Another champion in the microloan cause has been Working Capital. Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, this organization was founded in 1990 by former Peace Corps volunteer Jeffrey Ashe. Still one of the largest microcredit programs in the U.S. (and the largest in the peer group lending category), Working Capital focuses on providing group-level assistance, credit, training, and technical aid to low-income entrepreneurs. Working Capital has assisted about 5,000 individuals since its inception. Its loans range from about $500 to $20,000, and it has extended more than $3.1 million in loans. Their repayment rate is better than 90 percent.

In 1997, there were at least sixty-five nations with programs similar to Grameen. In Oklahoma, microcredit initiatives are helping to reduce alcoholism, thanks to Cherokee Nation's Chief Wilma Mankiller. In Chicago, programs are helping unwed moms go off welfare. In Uganda, microentrepreneurs are better able to tend to the food, housing, education, and medical needs of AIDS orphans. In South Africa, microcredit has enabled many to set up their own small businesses selling wares and is perceived there as a powerful tool to combat the high rate of unemployment.

The Microlending Movement Today

Most microcredit programs have been instrumental in improving entrenched societal ills associated with poverty.

While the human factor list of "success" stories abound from many corners of the world, the balance sheet isn't yet showing any U.S. microlending organizations that are breaking even.

In his book, Bornstein notes that some bankers "shunned" comparisons with the Grameen model because they saw little in common between a U.S.-based and a Bangladesh microenterprise. Many others thought it was too early to get into financial measurements and that attention to profits developed false expectations of donors and put unnecessary burdens on loan administrators and clients. "Instead, microbankers defended their program costs by 1) framing the issue in terms of social justice, and 2) posing the question: What is the cost of not providing these services?"

Today, four years after The Price of a Dream was published, Bornstein sees the picture differently. "My views on the importance of financial sustainability have changed," he says. "I think it's more important now for an idea to be politically sustainable. Many necessary programs will never make profits. But we have to think about spreading the concepts so more people understand their importance -- not just trying to make everything fit into the strict economic model."

Refreshing? I think so. Well, then, I asked, "what's your assessment of the climate in the more traditional financial community about microlending? Is there greater acceptance or are the skeptics still rampant?"

"Microlending has become a very well established feature of development efforts. There's no debate about that," says Bornstein. "What there is debate about is how much microlending has to be supported by other interventions, such as training, market supports, regulatory support, advocacy, infrastructure development, and so forth. And also to what extent it can be focused on the very poor vs. the moderate poor. People argue about things like appropriate interest rates and how many subsidies it requires. But financial institutions from the World Bank to local banks now see this as a good anti-poverty approach -- they're not looking to make profits in it. But there's still no approach that has demonstrated the ability to create employment for so many people so quickly, especially in the developing world."

The approach to the policies and strategies used by microlending programs vary, but one that's key in Bornstein's view is geography. He says that the urban/rural difference is enormous.

In his book Bornstein points out many other variables, with geography still a factor, that are debated in banking circles about the suitability of replicating or transferring Grameen-type operations to the U.S. There are issues of varying government regulations in the context of taxes, competition, supplier access, and responses to dynamic markets that make the barriers tougher here.

"If Yunus had an American counterpart who spent four years walking around a poor urban neighborhood in the United States (presumably close to where he or she grew up), asking people what they needed to solve their problems, what would have emerged?," writes Bornstein. "Would people have talked about credit? Or vocational services? Or improved public schools? Or locally based policemen? Or better political representation? The answer remains open to speculation. But one thing is certain: It cannot be ascertained from a distance."

Richard Taub is the Paul Klapper Professor in the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago and a professor in the Department of Sociology and Human Development. "The idea that one might be able to transfer such a program to the United States has distinctive appeal," he writes in his 1998 paper "Making the Adaptation Across Cultures and Societies: A Report on an Attempt to Clone the Grameen Bank in Southern Arkansas."

The problems, he adds, is that while the principles of Grameen are appealing and easy to replicate, the specific practices are significantly more difficult, if not impossible, to transfer. In his assessment "wholesale transplantation" of the Grameen model to the States, particularly the practices, will not work. Taub explains that the reasons have to do with differences in "the meaning and practice of group activities; population density and establishing a microloan program; poverty conditions and the amount of capital, and the skills, necessary to alleviate those conditions; and the safety net." Thus, Taub says, today's Good Faith Fund bears little resemblance to the Grameen model after which it was modeled.

Ashe says, "It's a different setting than what it was ten years ago. It was quite a heady period. Now there's a plethora of programs, competing. Where there was growth in the scale of operations, now things are stable. In the mid-1980s unemployment was edging 20 percent in Massachusetts; now it's closer to 4 percent." Ironically, the level of prosperity that we've been experiencing in this country has made it more difficult for microlending enterprises to find market share.

Ashe also says that there has been a decline in peer group lending, a move toward individual lending, and the window of opportunity has shrunk. The trend is for better, more extensive training, improved assessment of businesses, and generally less community development.

And the Future?

Can microlending become a sustainable "socially conscious capitalist enterprise" -- as Yunus called it -- in the U.S?

According to Ashe, "When it's all said and done, it's a very worthwhile undertaking. The links between businesses and the thousands of people reached help build social capital in really poor and lower income areas. But it's a long, slow, costly road. Ultimately, it can work. But it's going to take more money, more patience, and greater understanding of a process that's more complicated than what we had envisioned when we started with developing country models. We need funders to hang in there for the future to bear fruit."

To prepare for this future, Working Capital has trimmed down, is focusing more on urban areas, looking at larger loans, and finding more creative ways to streamline costs. Ashe himself is starting a new chapter in his life as we go to press. He's stepping out of Working Capital and into Brandeis University, where he'll be teaching students about international microlending programs and design. Each lesson he shares, he says, will reflect on every granted wish and on every scar that he has accumulated.

Bornstein offers a different twist to the question. He doesn't see profits for these programs in the near future. But he does think that sustainable microcredit programs can exist in this country. "They must be politically or socially sustainable, which is better in the long run," he says. "Look," he continues, "the United Nations is not financially sustainable, nor is the Catholic Church, except that both these groups are able, through persuasion, to get funding from governments and private citizens. Similarly, microcredit has established itself as a respectable, popular, politically feasible, economically sound proposition that does a good job at balancing investment type thinking and social change needs."

Even though microlending programs are not stacking up the plus signs toward profit on the balance sheet, it would be difficult not to interpret the good that such programs bring to individuals as "successes."

Srinivas sums it up beautifully when he writes, "The true value of a microfinance program lies in the change it can effect on the lives of ordinary people. It is the stories of ordinary people being able to overcome extraordinary odds that inspire other people to initiate change at the community level."

Yunus knows something of that inspiration. Referring to the future in Banker to the Poor (1999, Public Affairs, New York), he writes, "Before we actually translate something into reality, we must be able to dream about it. Any socioeconomic dream is nothing but the first step in the process of mapping the course to our destination. So the real question is not so much where we will be in the year 2050, but where we would like the world to be in 2050.... By that time, I want to see a world free from poverty.... Poverty does not belong in civilized human society. Its proper place is in a museum."

If I had a lighter right now, I'd flick the flame and hold it high.

Wrap Your Gifts in Green

Weeks of shopping, days of wrapping, hours of decorating and carefully arranging gifts underneath the tree -- and it's all over in a few minutes. While the kids chortle over new toys, you contend with a mountain of shredded paper, ribbon, and bows. It leaves you wishing you'd asked for a bulldozer.

Now multiply your small mountain of holiday rubble by millions of families nationwide. That's a lot of trash. Americans throw away 25 percent more garbage between Thanksgiving and New Year's, or an extra one million tons each week of gift-wrap, bows, fruitcake, turkey leftovers, and other festivity-induced offerings that don't make it to the New Year. According to the Use Less Stuff Report (ULS), a bi-monthly newsletter on waste reduction, if every household would reuse just two feet of ribbon each year, the resulting 38,000 miles of ribbon could tie a bow around the earth.

But a gift outlasts its presentation, and if chosen well, is meaningful with or without fancy entrapments. "Little kids just want to get to what's inside the paper," says Bob Lilienfeld, editor of the ULS Report. "They don't sit and look at bows or count the sheets of wrapping paper you used. You have a real opportunity to use less paper, because they really just want to get to the present."

Kids of all ages and cultures express kinship and friendship through gift-giving, so whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, you're bound to face the pressure to wrap a trinket or two. The trick is to avoid adding to that five million tons of holiday garbage. Instead of relying on rolls of gift-wrap, try shrouding your offerings in creativity. Our gift for the holidays is a list of practical and fun ways you can reduce your impact on the planet this season by wrapping gifts in "green."

Alternative Kinds of Paper Wrap

Festive paper wrappings don't just come in shiny red rolls. For example, do you buy fresh flowers for your house when family comes? What do you do with the floral-motifed paper or brightly-colored tissue protecting the blooms? Don't toss it, because that paper has another job to do: wrap up holiday gifts.

On that colorful theme, dig through your travel materials and pull out old maps you don't plan to use again. These large sheets are just the right size for books, small shirt boxes, ties, and other medium-sized gifts. And speaking of shirt boxes, simply stuff clothing into a shopping bag and wrap it up. You save on the freshly-minted paperboard -- which, of course, is both reusable and recyclable if you receive a few new outfits in those department store boxes yourself.

For more options, head for the refrigerator. Is it plastered with works of youthful art that only a grandparent truly appreciates? Then have the kids wrap their gifts to grandma and grandpa with their own artwork. If you're not willing to part with the art, wrap gifts in paper grocery sacks, and set the kids to work creating holiday originals with markers and crayons. Just don't be surprised when the folks ooh and aah over the wrapping more than the gift. But even if they're not enraptured by the artistry, they can simply recycle the packaging after you and the kids have gone.

Now that it's November, the 2002 calendars have nearly finished their tour of duty. So rip the first ten months off the wall, and use the eye-catching photos to wrap small gifts like jewelry boxes. For more photos, try old magazines -- which are recyclable, unlike most gift-wrap paper. You can match photos to a recipient's interests, like shots of anglers from an outdoor magazine for an avid fisherman or pictures of baked goods for a cook. The searching and pasting takes a little effort, but in the spirit of the holiday season, you show that you care.

Bags and Boxes

Now let's say you have an odd-shaped gift you're not sure how to package, or maybe you'd like to set an example by giving reusable packaging. Those popular gift sacks make great gift-wraps, but why buy them new when you can make your own? Simply save those little structured shopping sacks with handles that finer stores use to bag purchases. Sit down with your sack collection at a spacious work area with several tools: scissors, tape or glue, and scraps of holiday wrapping paper, ribbon, and/or a holiday themed magazine. Cut out holiday photos from the magazine or season's greetings from the gift wrap scraps, paste them over each bag's store logo, and presto! Holiday gift bags. Once you've placed the gift in the bottom of the bag, filch through old shoeboxes in the closet for tissue to stuff into the bags. You can use markers to color a holiday theme on the tissue.

After you run out of bags, use the same creativity on the shoeboxes. After you cover up the tennis shoe logos with festive magazine photos, spruce up the top of the box with old, sparkly costume jewelry. Or collect holly branches, red berries, pinecones, cedar sprigs, and other natural decorations from outside. A glue gun works wonders for adhering twigs to a box top, but good old Elmer's suffices in a pinch.

If you have a large sturdy box, try starting a new family tradition. Choose an unusual or holiday family photo, protect it with clear contact paper or lamination, and then glue it to the box. Using a permanent marker, write a funny story about the photo underneath it. Then pass the box along -- with a gift inside -- to the grandparents, aunts, or uncles, with the stipulation that the next time they give someone in your family a gift, they must add their own photo and story. In a few years, the photogenic box could become a centerpiece for the holiday dinner.

Simple cloth bags also make handy reusable holiday packaging. Here's a quick primer on making them. Fold some festive fabric in half with good sides in and cut a rectangle of the desired size, but do not cut the folded edge (this will be the bottom of the bag). You now have a long rectangle when unfolded. At each end of the rectangle, fold the rough edge in toward the inside of the fabric and sew down with a sixteenth-inch seam, then fold it over once again (same direction) about a half-inch and sew it down, leaving a tunnel for a ribbon or cord drawstring. Then, starting at the bottom of the bag, sew the edges on each side. Turn it inside out, thread ribbon through the tunnel, insert gift, and give with a clean conscience.

Around the House

Now it's time to donate stuff you never use to the green holiday cause. Do you have a collection of old woven baskets hiding out on a closet shelf? The baskets make a quaint presentation, and you can simply crinkle a little tissue paper on top of the gift and tie a bit of ribbon on the handle. For small gifts, how about using the same technique on those chipped holiday mugs in the kitchen? For larger gifts, turn to reusable tote bags, like those used for grocery shopping, which can pack away new jeans, books, even computer accessories. Then the recipients will think of you every time they carry their groceries out of the supermarket.

For big gifts, like bicycles or CD racks, draft seasonal tablecloths or sheets into double duty. Simply drape the cloth over the present, and stick a bow on it. Or, if you don't have any colorful cloth handy, consider simply applying the bow to more unwieldy presents.

If your kids savor their rewards following a little effort, take some pointers from the annual Easter egg hunt. The whole family can get into the fun of a treasure hunt. Place the first clue under the breakfast cereal bowl, and hide successive clues throughout the house, each clue leading to the next and then finally to the "treasure." The family involvement is definitely in the spirit of the season.

Say It with a Gift

You can also minimize gift-wrap by minimizing the size of your gift. Gift certificates are a traditional standby for that hard-to-get relative, while savings bonds are still good choices for youth. If you want to give something more personal, pick up concert tickets for the teenybopper or game tickets for the sports fanatic.

Children, parents, and grandparents also find meaning in a gift of time. "My favorite gift was when I was twelve," says Lilienfeld. "We lived in New York, and my father took me and two friends to a Yankees game. Some of the gifts you remember the most are emotional things, the good times we spend with other people rather than inanimate objects. Memory is part of the gift."

How about a certificate good for a winter season's worth of snow shoveling? Or ten "chaffeur"-driven errands? Or three home-cooked dinners? If your folks live out-of-state, offer a weekend vacation with the family. Mom and dad might appreciate a few certificates good for baby-sitting sessions from the grandparents. These gifts save on paper, goods, and materials, and they make the most out of family relationships.

One of the best wrappings, though, is a gift itself. Hide a trowel and seed packets in a plant potter for the family gardener, place new earrings in a jewelry box for the ladies, or stuff new gloves and scarf into a warm hat for just about anybody.

A Green Holiday Season

Now that you have a few green wrapping ideas, you may need some extra supplies. Keep the cycle going by shopping antique stores, flea markets, and estate sells. Tablecloths and blankets are always big items, though you might have to search for holiday-themed material, ornamental boxes and bags can be had for a song, and old costume jewelry and other knick-knacks are available for decorating. You're reusing and reducing at the same time.

Of course, there's another way to go green. "The easiest technique for reducing gift wrap," says Lilienfeld, "is to reduce the number of gifts. There are diminishing returns with more gifts, and it becomes 'oh, another one.'" So when seasonal consumerism swirls madly around you at the shopping mall, pause to take a deep breath and think about the meaning of Christmas, the spirit of Kwanzaa, the history of Hanukkah. Then think about the unique personalities of those near and dear, and choose one or two gifts with special meaning, something they'll treasure long after the gift-wrap's turned to dust.

Herbal Aphrodisiacs

The mere thought of aphrodisiacs is romantic, conjuring up images of love potions, sorcerers, and uncontrollable passion. Shrouded in a mist of myth and magic, the names of certain herbs are repeated over and over throughout history and across cultures. Science has finally begun to catch up to folklore in providing an explanation for the sexually stimulating effects of some herbs, but for others the ancient knowledge of what works still outstrips our more logical thinking.The way to a man's heart may be through his stomach, but the way into his bed might be found before the meal, via his nose. Neurologist Alan R. Hirsch, M.D., from the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, reported at the March 1998 American Psychosomatic Society annual meeting the results of his studies relating certain scents to changes in blood flow to the genital areas of men and women. The most dramatic results were achieved in men with a combination of lavender and pumpkin pie, which increased the blood flow to the penis by as much as 40 percent. A combination of black licorice and donut scents increased penile blood flow by 32 percent. (None of the scents tested had as significant an impact on women.) The smell of pumpkin pie includes the spices ginger, cinnamon, and clove -- all warming, spicy scents. Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) and cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) essential oils are both considered to be aphrodisiacs with energizing properties.Scent is a simple way to set the mood for romance, whether applied as a perfume or diffused through a room. Our sense of smell is primal. The nerve endings in the nose are barely separated from the limbic system of the brain, the "old brain" that serves as the center for our basic instincts -- including sexual desire. What better place to start a romance than at a juncture between the present moment and the beginning of time?The essential oils of coriander (Coriandrum sativum) and cardamom (Eletteria cardamomum) are derived from the seeds of the plants and have long-standing reputations as aphrodisiacs. Coriander's use as an aphrodisiac dates back as far as ancient Egypt. It is interesting to note that the seeds of the two plants share properties of aiding in digestion and sweetening the breath, being especially effective in mitigating garlic odors. Both essential oils have spicy aromas and blend well with a wide range of other oils. Coriander has a light sweet edge to it, while cardamom has a warm floral undertone. Ylang ylang (Cananga odorata) and jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum) essential oils are predominantly sweet floral scents with warm, sensual, euphoric properties. Promoting a sense of calm and relaxation, these oils have the potential to transport lovers far from the routines of daily life. Their intense fragrances suggest a tropical paradise and simultaneously soothe away inhibiting anxieties or distractions.Clary sage (Salvia sclarea), patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) and neroli (Citrus aurantium) essential oils are warm, rich, sweet, and slightly exotic. All are intensely sensual. Musky clary sage, noted for its euphoric properties, is also harmonizing, centering, and calming. Patchouli, likewise, has a balancing, grounding component in its earthy fragrance that helps to ease anxiety. Neroli may not be a good choice for a casual night of fun. Its scent and effect run deep; lending support to love and sexual-emotional connection. Rose maroc (Rosa centifolia) and rose otto (Rosa damascena) have similar properties. Harmonizing, comforting, and romantic, they are reputed to be particularly appealing to women. Though rose otto has a more profound and rich floral fragrance, it is rose maroc that is associated with passion. Both rose essential oils blend well with clary sage, lavender, and ylang ylang.Aura Cacia's recipe for Aphrodite's Amorous Blend combines two drops neroli, three drops each of rose absolute (Rosa centifolia), jasmine absolute, and sandalwood (Santalum album) with four drops ylang ylang. For perfume, add oils to one-half ounce jojoba oil; to spritz sheets, hair, or clothes, add to one ounce of alcohol instead and pour into an atomizer.Sensual massage allows aphrodisiac essential oils to be absorbed as well as inhaled and, of course, includes the erotic element of touch. Try Aura Cacia's Venus Massage Oil: Combine one ounce sweet almond oil, three fourths ounce apricot oil, and one eighth ounce wheat germ oil. Swirl together five drops each jasmine absolute, rose absolute, and bergamot (Citrus bergamia) with ten drops sandalwood and six drops clary sage essential oils. Add the essential oils to the base. Sensuous Body Massage Oil is a simpler blend, combining four drops each of sandalwood, lemon, and jasmine absolute essential oils with one ounce of sweet almond oil.Herbal aphrodisiacs that are ingested tend to have a common denominator of enhancing circulation, though some have other properties that are not fully understood.Ginger is a warming, soothing circulatory stimulant. Cinnamon is warming and generally stimulating. Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba), an herb popularly known for its ability to promote brain function through better circulation, may, when taken regularly, increase blood flow to the penis.Yohimbe (Pausinystalia johimbe) is one of the best-known herbal aphrodisiacs. It generally improves circulation, but also acts specifically on the sex organs, bringing blood closer to the surface and constricting the veins to keep it there. Yohimbine, the active ingredient in yohimbe, is an alkaloid that has received FDA approval as a treatment for male impotence. A synthetic version is also available. The list of people who should not use yohimbe is long, including anyone with heart or kidney trouble, psychological disorders, low blood pressure, diabetes, or ulcers, as well as pregnant women and the elderly. To avoid becoming aroused but severely nauseous, the herb should be consumed with 1,000 mg of vitamin C. It should not be taken with the amino acid tyramine (found in cheese, liver, red wine, and various medications) or with other over-the-counter remedies, prescription drugs, or alcohol. Dosage recommendations should not be exceeded. Potency wood or muira-puama (Ptychopetalum olacoides) is similar in effect to yohimbe, but milder; however, caution should still be observed regarding side effects. Additionally, some individuals are allergic to this herb. Damiana (Turnera diffusa syn. T. diffusa var. aphrodisiaca) increases circulation, but it also contains alkaloids that have a testosterogenic quality and act as a nerve stimulant for the sex organs. Additionally, damiana acts generally as a mild stimulant and an antidepressant, which may lower inhibitions and produce a sense of gentle euphoria.Wild green oats are known to boost the effectiveness of other herbal aphrodisiacs. As Deborah Mitchell notes in Nature's Aphrodisiacs (Dell, 1999), "once oats are in the body, they release testosterone that has become bound to other components. Bound testosterone is much less effective at stimulating sex drive centers in the brain." Oats have also proven to be effective in their own right. Several studies cited by Esmond Choueke in Aphrodisiacs: A Guide to What Really Works (Citadel, 1998) support the libido-enhancing properties of wild green oats (Avena sativa). A study by the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in California showed that "50 percent of women taking Avena sativa had an increase in the number of orgasms they experienced and in the amount of vaginal lubrication produced in response to sexual stimuli." Licorice's (Glycyrrhiza glabra) dark mystique may also be linked to its effect on testosterone levels. Mitchell cites the phytoestrogen sterols present in licorice that inhibit the conversion of testosterone to dihydrostestosterone, thus elevating testosterone levels in the body.Before embarking on your journey of love, thoroughly acquaint yourself with the herbs you are using. As herbal aphrodisiacs often affect the hormonal balance of the body, many should not be used during pregnancy. It is always recommended that you familiarize yourself with the potential side effects and cautions associated with a remedy you intend to use, but the number and range of side effects found in herbal aphrodisiacs make this precaution more crucial.

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