Archive for June, 2009

WATCH: Learn How to Cut Up a Chicken. From a Salatin.

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

It’s barbecue season! When all your friends gather round, sip on cool beverages, and shoot the breeze. It is, in other words, the perfect time to showcase skills at the grill. And if you’re choosing to grill meat this summer, instead of a veggie burger, then you might be faced with a bit of a dilemma. Do you spend the extra buck or two on free-range, grass-fed, or otherwise organically raised meat? Or save your money in support of your savings, buy the cheap brand, and in so doing support industrialized food raised in feedlots? I know, money’s tighter than usual these days. But if you go with the former, you’ll save money on healthcare in the end. Because while industrial feedlot meat may be cheaper, it’s really bad for you. Okay, okay. barbecue season is supposed to be fun. I’m not trying to be a buzz kill, but having fun doesn’t have to mean forgetting that the choices we make when it comes to food are political.

Two more things. One: Joel Salatin‘s Polyface Farm—one of the most influential places in the U.S., and featured in The Omnivore’s Dilemma and the new film Food, Inc.—has become a key player in the food movement; his farming methods have caught the attention of media nationwide. Two: If you’re a meat-eater, it’s a good thing to know how-to cut up a whole chicken, especially if you’re raising your own. So with these two points in mind, I ask you: is there a better way to learn how to cut up a chicken than from the man who revolutionized the way chickens were raised?

Revolutionize your barbecue season by getting to know more about your food. Start by watching this video of Joel Salatin’s son, Daniel, who helps him run Polyface Farm (and no doubt learned everything from his dad). Daniel will walk you through the process of cutting up a whole chicken. Free lesson!

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WATCH: Dean Clashes with Colbert on Real Healthcare Reform

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Former Governor of Vermont and former chair of the Democratic National Committee Dr. Howard Dean sparred with a freshly buzz-cut Stephen Colbert on last night’s Colbert Report. The topic under discussion (besides the Governor’s poisonous liberal kidneys)? Real healthcare reform, and Dr. Dean’s new book / roadmap to reform, Howard Dean’s Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform: How We Can Achieve Affordable Medical Care for Every American and Make Our Jobs Safer.

Colbert was in top form—but that kind of goes without saying—and Dr. Dean was quick on his feet as well, poking fun at the three-page, no-numbers, Republican healthcare “plan,” while managing to get a word in edgewise about the 50 million uninsured in this country.


The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
President Obama’s Health Care Plan – Howard Dean
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Stephen Colbert in Iraq

California Dirt-Poor Farmer: I’m Not Fazed by Poverty

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Novella Carpenter is from Oakland, CA and is doing what many people dream of (and many other people fear)—she’s an urban farmer with hardly any money, struggling to stay financially afloat. She’s got pigs that eat only leftover food scraps, goats that cost her a bundle at the vet, bees, chickens, rabbits, and enough vegetables to sustain her and some underground restaurants that buy her stuff under the table. At times, she has no more than six bucks in her bank account. Talk about a financial nightmare. So why do some people dream of a life like this, while they’re safe in cubicles staring at their beachscape computer desktop wallpaper? Because it’s about following a dream and working the land. Oh, and being happy. What a concept, huh?

Carpenter writes on urban farming, and weathering the financial storm:

If it’s such a money pit, why do I try to be a farmer at all? I suppose it runs in my blood, as does poverty. I grew up poor with my back-to-the-land parents in Idaho. On my birth certificate, my father listed “rancher” as his profession, though we never had more than 20 head of cattle. We lived in a trailer and I remember many meals of Spam. But after the ranch got going, we ended up eating very well on the farm’s bounty: wild venison, freshly picked strawberries and milk straight from the cow. After my parents divorced, my sister and I went to live with my mom in rural Washington State. A single mom raising us on the low income of a schoolteacher meant times were tough — we had enough to eat but couldn’t afford name brand clothing or any extras. My sister and I both got jobs before we were 14. When I was in high school, I always wanted to be a doctor: it meant money and status. Later, on scholarship at the University of Washington, I realized that I wanted to be a writer instead. My mom took it with grim humor: “What pays worse than a teacher?” she laughed. “A journalist.”

She was right, I’ve never made over $25,000 a year working in publishing and then doing free-lance writing. Then I started farming and any extra money has gone toward that. It’s like I’m drawn to poverty because it’s a comfortable place for me. I’ll admit to feeling a strange glee when I look at my bank balance and it’s at $6. There’s a tightrope-walking feeling about it. Something awful but thrilling at the same time. I would never know what to do if I actually had money. I don’t save well, and spend money frivolously. When I got my first advance for my book, I bought two goats. Maybe I knew that they would literally eat up my income, that they would become like dependent children, always needing something. The rest of the money, I put in the stock market — at the highest point it had been in the Dow’s history. You all know how that’s going.

I’ve never been a poor person who is able to hide the fact of my poverty, either. I somehow always manage to stain my clothes, have a bad haircut, and drive cars that get more and more dilapidated. I never learned how to take care of things because I’m used to them disappearing. The material world escapes me. I’m hopeful, though, like so many Americans. Hopeful that this next month is going to be much better. I even keep a running tally of things I will buy once I finally make some money (in no particular order). […]

Read more of Novella Carpenter’s piece on urban farming, from SFGate.

Wendell Berry in Prison if Animal Identification Law Passes

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Wendell Berry—longtime small farm activist, cultural critic, poet, essayist, novelist, and iconic social revolutionary—says he will go to prison if the NAIS law passes. NAIS, the National Animal Identification System, is currently in its “listening session” stage among groups of small farmers in the US. And suffice it to say, the law is not going over well. It basically would mean tagging or branding every single animal on every single farm…no matter the size. That means my teensy homestead/farm will become a governmentally controlled, bureaucratic nightmare, and “freedom” in the very basest sense of the word—being able to grow one’s own food—will be eradicated from reality for good.

It’s a brave new world. But Wendell Berry is on the front lines of this war. He says: Take me to jail! If the NAIS law passes, he’s prepared to go behind bars in solidarity with young folks trying to make sense of this world self sufficiently. And right he would be.

Berry says:

The need to trace animals was made by the confined animal industry—which are, essentially, disease breeding operations. The health issue was invented right there. The remedy is to put animals back on pasture, where they belong. The USDA is scapegoating the small producers to distract attention from the real cause of the trouble. Presumably these animal factories are, in a too familiar phrase, “too big to fail.” [&#0133]

I understand the principles of civil disobedience, from Henry Thoreau to Martin Luther King. And I’m willing to go to jail to defend the young people who, I hope, will still have a possibility of becoming farmers on a small scale in this supposedly free country.


Read Wendell Berry’s full testimony here, from FoodRenegade.

Taxing Healthcare Will Destroy the Democrats: Greider

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

If the Democrats try to fund healthcare reform by taxing union workers’ health benefits, as some Blue Dog Democrats would like, they are going to lose the unions—and probably the progressive groups, like MoveOn, as well. That’s according to The Nation’s William Greider, writing for AlterNet.

“Centrist” Democrats like MT senator Max Baucus are bending over backwards in the name of bipartisanship, caving to the insurance lobbyists and ignoring the will of three-quarters of the American people. We have to force them to do the right thing: create a public option that is not built on the backs of the American worker.

Policy thinkers and rightward-leaning “Blue Dog” Democrats look upon the proposal as a tempting opportunity to raise lots of revenue for healthcare reform, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently estimated could cost as much as $1.6 trillion over ten years. Limiting existing tax exemptions could produce more than $418 billion in the same span of time, according to the Joint Taxation Committee, a significant down payment.

Problem is, a big switch on taxing benefits would double-cross a major constituency and break some important promises. During the presidential campaign, Obama attacked John McCain for proposing the very same idea. Obama further promised he would not increase taxes on the middle class. “If you tax health benefits, you are taxing the middle class,” Panvini explains. The issue was critical, he adds, in persuading many white working-class voters to put aside racial fears and return to the Democratic Party.

If the president embraces the plan, the consequences, Panvini thinks, could be explosive. “If any of these Democratic senators vote for this, they will be voted out in 2010, and this will definitely be used against Obama in 2012. People are already hurting, unemployed–and then you are going to tax them more? That’s crazy.” […]

“Basically, this is coming from Baucus,” Panvini said. “He and [Republican Senator Chuck] Grassley are…not backing off. He might even have the votes in his committee. Baucus thinks this is the lazy way to get the money.”

Read the whole article here.


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Howard Dean Fighting for Healthcare Reform on The Colbert Report Tonight

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Howard Dean will be talking healthcare reform with our favorite right-wing TV personality, Stephen Colbert, tonight at 11:30 EDT on Comedy Central (and probably 3 more times throughout the day tomorrow, then archived online at

He’ll be discussing the public option, the feasibilty of a single-payer system, why Blue Dog Democrats are siding with Republican obstructionists (I hope), and, presumably, plugging his book, the highly-anticipated Howard Dean’s Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform: How We Can Achieve Affordable Medical Care for Every American and Make Our Jobs Safer.

I love love love Stephen Colbert. Only eight and a half hours to go…I’m counting the minutes!

Save Money By Saving Rainwater

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

It’s been a rainy, rainy June on the east coast. Sun has peeked out for maybe an hour here and there, but otherwise it’s been gray, dismal, and all around not summery. It’s a drag, no question about it! But despair no more—there happens to be one exception to this depressingly soggy month. For those residing in the wet areas, you can save actually money by saving your water. You think that’s rain you feel on your shoulders? Nope. That’s actually cash money falling right from the sky. And for the sake of making lemonade out of June’s lemons—I invite you to save money this rainy month by collecting your rainwater, for drier days to come. Start by creating a simple rain barrel.

The following is an excerpt from The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit by Stephen & Rebekah Hren. It has been formatted for the Web.

Rain Barrel
Renter friendly.
Project Time: Afternoon.
Cost: $20–100.
Energy Saved: Low. Catching rainwater preserves the mechanical energy of the falling water created by solar distillation and releases it later when plants need it.
Ease of Use: Easy.
Maintenance Level: Low to medium. An occasional cleaning may be required, and some spring and fall maintenance is likely in colder areas.
Skill Levels: Carpentry: Basic. Plumbing: Basic.
Materials: 55-gallon food-grade barrel or premanufactured rain barrel, 45-degree turn that matches existing gutter, self-tapping metal screws, extra length of downspout, two wood posts at least 4 × 4 × 8, scrap 1 × material, nails OR 6–8 cement blocks (8 × 16). If modifying regular barrel: 3/4-inch PVC bulkhead fitting or other 3/4-inch fitting with gasket, 3/4-inch hose bibb (sillcock), fiberglass or metal window screen.
Tools: Wood saw, hack saw, drill, drill bits, level, ladder.

The barrel. Rain barrels are often sold at garden shops and agricultural supply stores. Typically they are 55–80 gallons and made of solid black polypropylene plastic that will hold up well for 20–25 years. Some enlightened municipalities sell discounted barrels or hold rain-barrel-building workshops.

Modifying a regular barrel. All that distinguish a rain barrel from a food-grade barrel are a perforated, screened top to let in water but keep out mosquitoes, a hose bibb (also known as a sillcock or wall hydrant) about a quarter of the way up from the bottom of the barrel that a hose can be attached to, and an overflow spout at the top.

Suitable food-grade barrels are not hard to find for free; just make sure the one you use didn’t ever contain anything caustic. Large food producers are often willing to part with extras to whoever bothers to ask. Locally, we know of folks who have been given barrels by a Coca-Cola bottler, a pickle company, and a salad dressing maker. It’s worth spending a little bit of time on the phone asking around if you’re otherwise going to have to pay retail for a rain barrel, especially if you want more than one, because modifying a food barrel is relatively easy. There are also Web sites like where you can find useful materials for free in many parts of the country. Look for a waste or scrap exchange in your area!

For the faucet we like to avoid threading our own fittings, which takes a specialized tap tool. Instead, you can use what is sometimes referred to as a “bulkhead fitting” to make the watertight connection through the tank. These can be hard to find in home improvement stores but are readily available and inexpensive over the Internet. Browsing through the plumbing aisles you might find an even better fitting to use, for example, water heater pans include a nearly perfect fitting that can be unscrewed, with a gasket already attached.

Drill a pilot hole (with a spade-tip bit or small hole saw) into the barrel about 6–8 inches up from the bottom that matches the part of your fitting (whether threaded or straight) that will go through the tank wall. If you’re using a bulkhead fitting, remove the locknut from the fitting, leaving the gasket on the body. Insert the body through the hole in the tank from the inside, trapping the washer between the inside tank wall and the fitting. Screw the locknut back onto the outside of the fitting for a leak-free installation. You may need to employ a friend to hold one side to get it tight. Next, screw the hose bibb onto the fitting. Depending on what type of fitting you ended up with, you will need either a male or female hose bibb.

Next you’ll need to either drill holes in the top or cut a chunk out of the lid to let in water. If you’re cutting many holes, use at least a 3/4-inch bit and make at least a dozen holes, mostly in the middle. This will produce lots of obnoxious plastic filings, so do it someplace where you can sweep them up and throw them in the trash. If you decide to cut a square out of the lid, a jigsaw or hacksaw will do the trick. You should attach window screen (fiberglass or metal) to the top of the barrel to keep mosquitoes from entering. Drill pairs of small holes along the edge of the top and then weave scrap pieces of wire through the holes and the screen in about 10 different locations. Alternatively, you can place a large piece of screen over the top of the entire barrel and tie it down around the outside perimeter with wire or twine. The downspout will rest on top of this screen.

In case of downpours when your tank is full, make an overflow drain on the top of the tank. You can follow the instructions above for the faucet hole, but install the overflow drain not more than an inch below the top of the tank. It is also possible to attach barrels one to another via the overflow port.

The stand. Getting that rain barrel up off the ground at least a few feet will mean more water pressure and easier watering. Depending on the lay of the land and where your garden is, you may want it to be up as high as 4 feet, although making a steady stand that high is a little more difficult and rain barrels that high up look somewhat strange.

The easiest and most reliable stand is made from stacked pairs of cement blocks. Level the area underneath where your barrel will go, usually directly in front of your gutter, although you can use side turns for your gutter to move it a few feet to the left or right. Place a pair of blocks side by side, preferably with the holes facing up, as this is stronger. Alternate direction for the next set and build up the base to the desired height.

For a wood stand, cut four 4 × 4 posts to the desired height. Using scrap wood, make a square by nailing equal-length boards to the sides of the four posts about halfway up. The length of the sides should be slightly larger than the diameter of the barrel so the barrel can sit on top without overlapping the edge. Add another row of boards around the top, and then nail in scraps of wood on top to support the barrel. Do a thorough job of nailing and use boards at least 3/4 inch thick, because a full rain barrel can weigh more than 400 pounds.

Level the stand and put up your barrel. If you don’t have an overflow faucet on your barrel, be conscious of where the overflow will go. You don’t want to cause erosion.

The downspout. Full rain barrels in cold climates can freeze solid and potentially burst, so in most of the country it’s wise to remove the barrel during winter months. Black barrels that get plenty of sun can keep water above freezing in marginal climates, but you are taking a risk leaving the barrel full. Cold climates make dealing with the downspout a little more difficult, as the removed barrel will leave the curved downspout high above the level of the home, potentially spraying the home or causing erosion during drainage.

The best way to deal with this is to keep the existing length of downspout intact and purchase additional gutter (measure the width before you go to the store) for the rain barrel. Basically you’ll be making a summertime section of gutter for when the barrel is in operation and then replacing it with the original gutter when it starts to get cold.

To install the new downspout, once your barrel is in place, remove the old downspout and with a hacksaw cut a new piece of downspout that will end about 6 inches above the tank. Attach the new shorter piece of downspout to the gutter. Next you will cut a second short piece of downspout that will run from the wall to the top of the tank. Measure from the new downspout to the tank at approximately a 45-degree angle and take into account the added length of the 45-degree piece that will connect these two pieces (probably adding about 2 inches). Cut a piece of downspout to this length, and attach it to the 45-degree turn using some self-tapping metal screws, and then screw this whole piece to the downspout along the house.

The other option is to use a length of flexible gutter to connect the gutter to the barrel. You may find it more difficult to keep this in place, however.

Food, Inc., Takes on Industrial Agriculture: NY Times

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

The way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000. That’s according to Michael Pollan, in the new documentary Food, Inc.

What Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle did for the meat-packing industry, Robert Kenner’s new film aims to do for modern industrial agriculture (though rather than aiming for the heart and hitting the stomach, the film aims for both and scores two solid hits). The quest for bigger, fatter, cheaper food has given us predictability and low prices, but at the cost of our health, our environment, and our collective conscience.

Nicholas Kristof reviews the film for the New York Times:

Growing up on a farm near Yamhill, Ore., I quickly learned to appreciate the difference between fresh, home-grown foods and the commercial versions in the supermarket.

Store-bought lettuce was always lush, green and pristine, and thus vastly preferable to lettuce from my Mom’s vegetable garden (organic before we called it that). Her lettuce kept me on my toes, because a caterpillar might come crawling out of my salad.

We endured endless elk and venison — my Dad is still hunting at age 90 — or ate beef from steers raised on our own pasture, but “grass-fed” had no allure for me. I longed for delicious, wholesome food that my friends in town ate. Like hot dogs.

Over the years, though, I’ve become nostalgic for an occasional bug in my salad, for an apple that feels as if it were designed by God rather than by a committee. More broadly, it has become clear that the same factors that impelled me toward factory-produced meat and vegetables — cheap, predictable food — also resulted in a profoundly unhealthy American diet.

I’ve often criticized America’s health care system, and I fervently hope that we’re going to see a public insurance option this year. But one reason for our health problems is our industrialized agriculture system, and that should be under scrutiny as well.

A terrific new documentary, “Food, Inc.,” playing in cinemas nationwide, offers a powerful and largely persuasive diagnosis of American agriculture. Go see it, but be warned that you may not want to eat for a week afterward.

(It was particularly unnerving to see leftover animal bits washed over with ammonia and ground into “hamburger filler.” If you happen to be eating a hamburger as you read this, I apologize.)

“The way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000,” Michael Pollan, the food writer, declares in the film.

Read the whole article here.


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In the Fight for Healthcare Reform, Howard Dean All Alone Out There

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

The Senate and the House appear to be headed for a showdown. On TV, it sometimes feels like the lone advocate for a robust public option—one that would cover everybody and be cheaper and more efficient than private insurance—is former Vermont governor Howard Dean. Where is Kathleen Sebelius? Where are the Obama administration’s talking heads? Why aren’t they blanketing the airwaves with their message?

From Cenk Uygur, for The Huffington Post:

Right now, the House and the Senate are about to engage in an epic battle on whether to include the public option in health-care reform or not. Or at least, we hope it’s epic and that the House Democrats don’t lie down on this.

Rep. Donna Edwards was on our show and told us that in her opinion the House will not agree to a bill without the public option. She said, “I think that there is absolutely a strong sentiment in the House of Representatives, frankly, that we will not get a bill through there if we don’t have a strong robust public option.”

Great. At least someone’s fighting for real health-care reform. I know one other guy who’s been doing his fair share of the heavy lifting — Howard Dean. He’s been on nearly every show (including ours) explaining what the public option is and why it makes sense. He’s been an absolutely fantastic advocate for what appears to the Obama administration proposal. So, the question is — why is he all alone out there?

I’ve seen a great variety of Republicans all over TV trying to bury the public option in an avalanche of lies. They continue to say, without a hint of irony, that the public option will be an inefficient government run bureaucracy and that it’s so good that the private insurance doesn’t have a chance to compete with it. Which one is it, boys?

So, where are the Democrats? Where is the Obama administration? Where is Kathleen Sebelius? Why isn’t she on every cable show pushing for the Obama plan at the critical time when the public has to be won over? Why aren’t there dozens of people from the administration blanketing TV to make their case?

Miraculously, a new NBC/WSJ poll indicates that 76% of the population is already in favor of the public option. Either people must love this idea or Howard Dean is the best one-man fighter we’ve ever seen (maybe both). But, of course, some Senate Democrats have already given up on the idea. Yeah, why would you support something that only 76% of the country is in favor of? Better to side with your Republican buddies in the Senate in the name of bipartisanship.

Read the whole article here.


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LISTEN: Paul Armentano: The Future of U.S. Marijuana Law

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

While support for marijuana laws continues to build, the momentum of the movement to strike down draconian prohibition laws is by no means unstoppable. Attorney General Eric Holder, for example, continually states his opposition to using federal resources to go after people using or dispensing medical marijuana in accordance with their states’ laws—and all the while federal prosecutions continue. Meanwhile, in Congress, legislation has been introduced to protect these people who are abiding by the laws of their states.

What does the future hold for marijuana laws? Jeff Farias spoke with Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of NORML and co-author of Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink, to get a sense of the climate.

Listen Now

Eric Holder on several occasions, I can think of three occasions now where he has gotten up publicly and said that he will not authorize the use of federal resources to go after patients and providers in these states who are compliant with state laws. Yet we know that since he’s made those statements the DEA, for instance, has in fact gone after dispensaries in California—they have not filed federal charges, but they came in, they seized marijuana, they seized cash, they wrecked the place, and then they left. That doesn’t seem to be in accordance with Holder’s statements.

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