Tag Archives: Kansas

How To Throw An Earth Day Party

earthday
image from theskywatcher

With the environment gaining more of the limelight than ever before, Earth Day is rising through the holiday party ranks, beating out Arbor Day and Hug An Australian Day for deserving a legit celebration. Earth Day celebrates the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970, and the concept is re-emerging. Earth Day is next Tuesday (but really it’s every day), so here’s how to start planning an eco-friendly Earth Day party.

1. Buy local or organic beverages

By purchasing locally produced or grown products, you are supporting the local economy and reducing the gas burned for the product to be transported to you. Free State Brewery, 636 Massachusetts, sells kegs of its locally produced beer, which start at $96 for a full-size (15 gallon) keg of its standard beer. Smaller kegs and different varieties of beer are also available.

Honor vodka is produced in Lawrence and available in most liquor stores. Several locally grown and produced wines are also available in many stores. Unfortunately, these are not usually separated out from traditional wines and liquors, so read the label to see where the product was grown.

Ace Frazier, who works at Mass Beverage, 3131 Nieder Rd., says local and organic wines are typically about the same price as their traditional counterparts.

2. BYOC—Bring Your Own Cup

You got the booze, but have guests bring their own reusable cups. This reduces the amount of waste generated and cuts back on your party’s dependence on foreign oil. You could also provide reusable, recyclable or compostable cups. Compostable cups are corn-based and will naturally biodegrade when in a composting barrel.

3. Get out

Students spend the majority of their days indoors, so go outside to celebrate. Use available natural light. If going outside isn’t an option, dim the lights inside or condense the party to one area of the house so you need less light. Replace old incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs to save energy.

4. Play old games with an environmental twist

Whether it’s Greenhouse Gas Pong or Presidents And Al Gores, have some fun with your environmental knowledge. Also try Environmental Bullshit (“I have one United States and two international treaties.” “Bullshit!”), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report drinking game (drink anytime you read “climate change”) or Ring of Fire (that’s engulfing the planet).

5. Above all, don’t forget the three Rs

Remember the point of Earth Day, and don’t needlessly buy anything that isn’t necessary. If you must buy, try to buy local or organic. It all comes back to reduce, reuse and recycle, even at college parties.

originally published in Jayplay magazine on April 17, 2008 (PDF). Click here for its original online home.

The Forgotten Greenhouse Gas

vegetarian
image from gogreen

“Too chicken to go vegetarian?”

A recent batch of ads sponsored by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) asks this question.

Though PETA’s primary concern is for the animals, eating meat is actually deadly for the planet, too. One of the leading contributors to climate change is the amount of methane gas released by current methods of agricultural production.

Methane is the chief component of natural gas, but the place that it’s coming from these days seems anything but natural. One cow farts and burps out more than 63 gallons of methane daily. Multiply that by the 1.3 billion cattle in the world, and the planet is going to need a bit more than a dose of Gas-X to cure this problem.

Not surprisingly, several so-called environmentalists have had trouble addressing this problem. Not once in his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, did Al Gore mention methane, probably because it’s the most inconvenient truth of all. Your flesh-eating tendencies are killing the planet (among other things).

The beef industry gets a prime cut of the blame, but the other industries are guilty as well. The production of two pounds of beef releases more greenhouse gases than taking a three-hour drive in your Hummer while leaving the lights on back home, according to New Science magazine.

It can be a lonely world come mealtime for us vegetarians in the Midwest (motto: Beef, it’s what’s for every meal of the day). Even food that appears to be vegetarian is sometimes cooked in animal fat or contains traces of meat.

Fortunately, dining services on campus have been receptive to the needs of vegetarians and others looking for the occasional meat-free meal.

“We are always looking for vegetarian recipes,” says Nona Golledge, director of KU Dining Services. “Even though someone may not classify themselves as a vegetarian, they still want healthier options.”

Golledge estimates that about 26 percent of Dining Services’ 5,000 recipes are vegetarian.

For students who don’t want to make the full transition, residence hall dining facilities serve soy Boca burgers and black bean burgers.

On-campus dining selections have a huge influence on what students eat. Golledge says that on an average day, the 20 on-campus dining operations serve about 10,000 people.

KU Dining Services recently introduced organic foods into select venues, and meat from Local Burger—a restaurant that serves only locally raised meat­—is offered in The Market in the Kansas Union. As consumers, we should buy organic and local products whenever possible because doing so cuts down on pollution while also supporting our local economy.

Becoming a full-fledged vegetarian is a bold and difficult move. I don’t know how many more films like Fast Food Nation and Super Size Me or visits to TheMeatrix it will take for people to make the move to eating less meat, but we can’t keep farting around with such a serious environmental problem.

originally published in Jayplay magazine on Feb. 21, 2008 (PDF). Click here for its original online home.

Challenging the Cash Cow

Switch to Grass-Fed Beef a Painful Lesson in Economics

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No. 68 isn’t lazy, but she hasn’t done much today but eat. Grass stems hang from her slowly chewing mouth, and she seems irritated that the humans have disturbed her in the middle of her all-you-can-eat special.

As the sun sets on her prairie buffet line in Lenexa, the time this black Angus cow has on the open land may be drawing to a close. Joanne Preston, the owner of No. 68 and 74 other cattle, takes some of her cattle to auction, where they are purchased and sent to a feedlot. So far, the cattle have munched mostly on grass for the majority of their lives, but once they hit the feedlot gates, their diet will be switched to a steady stream of corn.

Preston said she feeds her cattle grain in the winter to help them survive the cold, but the high feedlot doses these cattle may soon receive is unnatural — unnatural by nature but necessary for Americans’ demand for a 24/7 supply of beef.

The evils of economics have ensured a steady supply of grain-fed beef in the United States through corn subsidies and a seemingly insatiable appetite for hamburgers, even though grain prices have increased. However, some farmers have seen the benefit — but unfortunately, usually not monetarily — of keeping cattle grass fed their entire lives.

Thanks to federal corn subsidies, the price of corn is about 75 cents less than the cost to grow it. Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” writes that because of this, the U.S. Department of Agriculture helps farmers easily dispose of their surplus corn by having animals convert as much of it as possible into protein for people to eat.

Grass-fed calves don’t usually need antibiotics, but after switching to a diet of corn, Pollan said they become prone to sickness.

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“The shift to a ‘hot ration’ of grain can so disturb the cow’s digestive process that it can kill the animal if not managed carefully and accompanied by antibiotics,” Pollan writes in his article “Power Steer.”

But as demand for beef grew after World War II, the then-fledgling beef industry found a powerful tool in corn.

“Compared with grass or hay, corn is a compact and portable foodstuff, making it possible to feed tens of thousands of animals on small plots of land,” Pollan writes. “Without cheap corn, the modern urbanization of livestock would probably never have occurred.”

And neither would have McDonald’s.

“Farmers would optimize grass production to sell cattle at the end of the fall,” Larry Hollis, who specializes in cattle health at Kansas State University, said. “That used to be the way it was sold in the olden days, but that’s not how McDonald’s operates. They sell hamburgers 365 days a year.”

‘The market is all about dollar signs’

Local farmer Joyce Williams raises grass-fed cattle, but, at first, not because she saw the potential negative effects on the cattle.

“We have never fed them grain because we never realized that they needed it,” Williams said. “The cattle looked healthy and tasted good, so why did they need grain?”

Williams, co-owner of MJ Ranch in Lawrence, said the business has never made a lot of money from its grass-fed beef.

“The market is all about dollar signs,” Williams said, “but it’s not the right thing to do for the animals.”

However, market demands have changed, and more consumers look for grass-fed beef.

MJ Ranch has already sold out of its grass-fed beef for the year, the first time this has happened this early in the season.

Hollis estimated about 5 percent of cattle consumed in the United States were entirely grass fed, but said this niche market is developing.

Williams said the ranch has had a lot of visitors.

“People come to us and see that what we’re doing is what we say we are doing,” she said.

The Bottom Line

However, for some farmers, the cost of having more land for grass-fed is far more expensive than spending more money on pricier feed.

“You have to own a lot of grass or buy a lot of feed,” Hollis said. “Feed cost is extremely high, and it has affected the price of owning grazing land. This is driving up the price of grass-fed cattle because we are growing less corn.”

In the end, it boils down to an economic showdown, but the consumer seems to gradually be accepting a cow like No. 68 that is slower grown but more naturally raised.

Most cattle start as grass fed, even if they end up as grain fed.

“The grain gives the cattle the extra energy they need in the winter,” Preston said. “But they get good grass all through the summer.”

4 Things You Need to Solve Global Warming

global-warming
image from recon2020

Today I would like to say a few words about global warming.

And now that I’ve lost half my readers, let’s get down to business.

Concerns about global warming have fueled the need for fundamental changes in daily life. The green movement is emerging everywhere, and businesses are finally picking up on the trend.

As college students, we know the value of a dollar, especially because we usually don’t have one. A common misconception about switching to a more environmentally friendly lifestyle is that it will be outrageously expensive and too time-consuming to fit your busy schedule.

Not true.

Whether being green is something you’ve been practicing for awhile, something that you set as a New Year’s resolution or something that you think is a huge crock spun by Al Gore, there is one facet of it that college students in particular will love: Going green means saving green.

The first and best thing you can do is to admit the problem. This does not necessarily mean that you have to believe in global warming (so I will spare you a lecture on receding glaciers and the changing chemical composition of our atmosphere), but it means that you must realize the excess and mindlessness that is plaguing modern American culture. Behind all the science and terminology of global climate change is stuff you care about, such as saving money and being able to breathe.

Here are a few items to pick up when you’re ready to start your journey into the green beyond:

Your brain. Always helpful when stepping out of the status quo.

“An Inconvenient Truth.” This documentary has become one of the most visible elements of the modern environmental movement, thanks in large part to its speaker, former vice president Al Gore (ctrl-alt-del the “inventing the internet” jokes). Gore bridges the gap between scientists and the common people by translating the heavy, technical language of science into something the public can easily understand.

A recycling bin. An excellent first step to reducing waste.

A good pair of walking shoes. The absolute best way to avoid high gas prices and to not contribute to them.

originally published in Jayplay magazine on Jan. 17, 2008 (PDF). Click here for its original online home.