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September 16, 2014 / Martha

DON’T HAVE A COW: How Bad is Beef?

Photo by abbamouse on Flickr, licensed under creative commons.

Photo by abbamouse on Flickr, licensed under creative commons.

“All animals are equal,” Orwell’s pigs proclaim in the novel Animal Farm, “but some animals are more equal than others.”

I’ve always loved this quote and the round-about ways the pigs describe their own special status. But lately while researching the myriad problems around beef, I’ve thought about this quote again and again. Meats are often seen as interchangeable when we talk about their place in our diets. Eating animals can be seen as equally problematic from a humane standpoint. Similarly, we often don’t differentiate between meats with the labels we use for one another — “vegetarians,” “vegans,” and “meat eaters.” But the more I read, the more it became apparent that from an environmental standpoint, meats are not equally damaging.

Chances are you’re aware that beef is bad for the environment –if you’ve kept up with our blog series on the subject or read the lead article of our last magazine issue, you’ll know that beef has a disproportionately large impact on our water, climate and even our own health.

But a study conducted by Gideon Eshel, Alon Shepon, Tamar Makov and Ron Milo published earlier this summer quantifies this disproportionate impact in a way that knocked me out of my socks. The study notes that while there’s a general understanding that meat has a higher environmental cost than plants, there isn’t a lot of information comparing the different types of meats on the same standards. The study authors sought to remedy that lack of comparative data.

They found that “beef production requires 28, 11, 5, and 6 times more land, irrigation water, GHG and Nr, respectively than the average of the other livestock categories.”  Let’s take a look at that fact in a more visual format. The study authors were kind enough to send me the numbers behind their summary graphs. I’ve reproduced them here (without standard deviation included).

Here’s the resources used by various meats and plants.

co2 and land

n and water

The study authors note that beef – the least efficient on all four counts – is the second most popular animal category in the average US diet “accounting for 7% of all consumed calories.”

So what’s the solution? In an interview with us Denis Hays, the author of Cowed, explains that while he admires vegetarians and vegans, his first priority is to convince meat eaters to reduce the amount of beef they eat. “If we can persuade those people to reduce their consumption from 1.6 pounds of bad beef every week to, say, one-half pound of good, healthy beef from the right sources, the benefits for human health and the environment will be profound.”

And Dr. Alon Shepon, one of the authors of the study agrees about the potential impact of curbing beef consumption. “Beef’s inefficiency in GHG, water, land and fertilization towers over all other” categories, he told us. “Exchanging beef with other animal products including other sources of meat reduce the environmental impacts associated with food production.”

apples

If you’re reducing the amount of beef you eat, make sure you’re replacing it with other yummy foods. I particularly like savory apple recipes in the fall.

So for all you vegetarians and vegans — keep up the good work, and consider focusing on beef if you talk to your friends or family about meat consumption. For you meat eaters who want to make a difference, the “low hanging fruit” in your diet is beef — reduce that and make a world of difference.

If you’d like a more personalized analysis of your diet, take our food-print quiz to find out how you can make your diet even more climate-friendly and how you compare to other Americans.

Finally, don’t let yourself equate beef-reduction with depriving yourself of good food. Check out some of my favorite autumn vegetarian recipes here and here.

September 11, 2014 / Green America

DON’T HAVE A COW: Can a Vegan Diet Improve Athletic Performance?

Susan Levin is a vegan nutritionist and an avid runner.

Susan Levin is a vegan nutritionist and an avid runner.

by Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D

A quick Google search of “vegan athletes” generates over 3.8 million hits, up 2 million since spring of this year. The New York Times alone has over 800 stories related to the phrase, a two-thirds increase since just a few months ago. My suspicions have been confirmed—more and more people are adopting vegan diets to support improved athletic performance, and the concept has intrigued others.

Professional vegan athletes are hardly a rarity—from triathletes, ultra-runners, tennis players, and even mixed martial arts fighters. Do they do it because they are animal rights activists? Proponents for what’s best for the environment? Well, maybe those are some side benefits. But these athletes are first and foremost professionals; they get paid to win. Not being the fastest or the strongest is out of the question. And they have tapped into gold when they can find a way of eating that gives them that extra edge beyond their competitors.

Why Vegan Diets Are Effective for Athletes

There are a few possible reasons why vegan diets and people who eat them benefit in athletic performance.

  1. 1. Higher in Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the primary fuel for activity. There’s no way around that fact. Carbohydrates that you consume are broken down into glucose for immediate use or stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles. Glycogen is that all-important material that the body uses during endurance sports. Much of the goal of training is to maximize the amount of glycogen you can store and then use for your event. And what does a well-rounded vegan diet look like? It’s loaded with high-carbohydrates foods—fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains. On average, a meat eater consumes less than 50 percent of his or her diet from carbs, a vegetarian about 50 to 55 percent, and a vegan around 50 to 65 percent.

  1. Heart Healthy

It probably seems pretty obvious that a healthy heart can benefit physical performance, especially for the athlete that intends to exercise throughout life. A vegan diet, naturally cholesterol-free, low in saturated fat, and high in fiber, helps support this most essential muscle. People who avoid animal products also have lower blood pressure and less heart disease!

  1. More Health Conscious

Research has shown that people who follow vegan diets also consume more fiber, antioxidants, less fat, and zero cholesterol. Statistically, vegans also tend to be more educated, consume less alcohol, and watch less television! All of this lends to ideal conditions for refining athletic performance.

  1. Better Digestion

Fiber, which is only found in plants, helps aid with digestion, thus making those who consume it literally feel, well, lighter! Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate. Once consumed, it passes through your long digestive track mimicking tiny scrub brushes and speeding up overall digestion. No one wants to run a race while carrying several meals and snacks in their gut! Fiber keeps food moving and your gut clean.

  1. Rapid Recovery

Some athletes have suggested that consuming a healthful vegan diet speeds recovery time. If you recover faster, you train more, thus getting an edge over your competitors. While different reasons for this have been proposed, it may be as simple as plants are extremely nutrient-dense, providing plenty of antioxidants and phytochemicals to support healing.

In Summary

Exercise and vegan eating have their own respective benefits. Being active boosts your psychological well-being, your immune system, bone mass, and strength and balance, while decreasing your risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and depression. Vegan diets reduce your risk for heart disease, obesity, cancer, and diabetes. Together, these two powerful lifestyle choices can make a super fit being.

Most importantly, vegan diets are not just for professionals! Adopting a healthful, plant-based diet—full of fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains—may be the best tip you can get for finding the energy and motivation to get off the couch and see what you are capable of doing.

Try not to jump, pedal, swim, or run when you feel this good!

REFERENCES

Dunford M. Sports Nutrition: A Practice Manual for Professionals. 4th Edition. American Dietetic Association.

Mangels R, et al. The Dietitian’s Guide to Vegetarian Diets: Issues and Applications. Third Edition.

Jacobs KA, et al. Int J Sport Nutrition. 1999;9:92-115.

—Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., is director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting preventive medicine, especially better nutrition, and higher standards in research. She is also an avid runner and vegRUN.org coach. 

Are you an athlete who eats less meat or a vegetarian or vegan diet? What differences have you noticed in your performance since adopting a plant-based lifestyle? 

September 9, 2014 / Green America

DON’T HAVE A COW: Eating Less Meat as a Family

Green America technology director Hans Bauman (left) with two of his three children.

by Hans Bauman

Don’t get me wrong: I used to love a juicy steak as much as the next guy. But when my wife and I realized the impact our diets were having on the environment, we decided to stay away from Costco meat counter with its bulk-size offerings of cheap beef.

Climate impact was a big initial motivator. The fact that it takes so much water and feed to produce beef, compounded with the high carbon impact of the cow’s waste, means that I couldn’t call myself an environmentalist unless we stopped buying beef.

So over the past decade, my wife and I shifted our family from being weekly omnivores to a diet that contains lots of local vegetables, sustainable fish, and regional poultry and eggs. As a special treat a couple times a year, we’ll splurge big and buy local, grass-fed beef or lamb at the farmer’s market. Our three kids are on board, and I’m amazed we don’t have to argue about it as a family.

The industrial nature of food production means that the lovely slabs of meat at the grocery store were shrink wrapped in an industrial warehouse that completely disconnects us from the animal.   I  think it’s important that you understand what you’re eating. Beef comes from a once-living animal called a cow! Once you really consider what goes into a hamburger—and share it with your kids!—that used-to-be-my-favorite McDonald’s Quarter Pounder becomes a LOT less appealing.

We talk about these food concerns with the kids, including why we try to eat local produce as well. They realize now that a steak is an extra-special treat and that at certain times of the year there are going to be lots of greens or no tomatoes. Sure, my wife and I get complaints from the kids sometimes, but we also find that, as the Rolling Stones say, “you can’t always get what you want” isn’t a bad message in life.

When making pasta sauce, ground turkey works as a great beef substitute. We often make burritos, and if you’ve got some good stuff to put in there (avocado, fried spinach, or maybe fried zucchini), you really don’t need to add meat. Veggie pizza is a crowd pleaser and, of course, pasta with cheese and a side or two of vegetables is a meal any kid will scarf down.

As a culture, we Americans eat too much high-impact meat. I know that entirely cutting out meat would be even better for the planet, but I feel good knowing that even our less-radical approach is lessening our impact on the world. And by instilling these values into my kids, we’re building these values into the next generation of eaters.

There are lots of resources to help either scare you into eaten less meat (the film “Food, Inc.” really opened my eyes) or to help you make more sustainable choices:

• Check out the upcoming issue of the Green American on why it’s important to eat less (or no) beef in particular, as well as less meat overall. Select articles are available here.

• Find out more about Food, Inc., and watch it free if you have a Netflix account.

• Forks Over Knives is another eye-opening film that’s also available on Netflix.

• The Moosewood restaurants offer plenty of delicious, family-friendly vegetarian recipes on their site, and they’ve published several excellent cookbooks as well.

• The Vegan Mom is a great blog for families who want to eat vegan sometimes or transition to a plant-based diet all of the time—in a way that won’t make your kids clamor for Burger King.

• Don’t forget the Anything Vegan sisters, who love to help families transition to a plant-based lifestyle. Even if you don’t opt for vegan nutritional consulting packages from this member of Green America’s Green Business Network, you can find plenty of terrific recipes on their site and social media. See their blog entry from last week, and look for an article featuring them in the upcoming Green American.

—Hans Bauman is technology director at Green America. 

What are your favorite resources for eating less (or no) meat with kids?

 

September 4, 2014 / Tracy Fernandez Rysavy

DON’T HAVE A COW: 4 Sneaky Ways to Veganize Your Family’s Plate

P24Jasmine Simon and Marjorie Simon-Meinefeld are two sisters who discovered through personal experience the joys and health and environmental benefits of eating vegan. As vegan chefs and certified plant-based nutritionists, the sisters know all sorts of tricks to get the most flavor out of your vegan dishes and get your family on board with plant-based eating. Through their business, Anything Vegan, they offer vegan nutrition consulting (remote and in-person), vegan personal chef home-delivery services, vegan cooking classes, vegan catering, and wellness planning. They are also popular speakers, including at the Green Festivals®

Marji and Jasmine graciously agreed to let Green America reproduce an excerpt from their free e-book, 10 Sneaky Ways to Veganize Your Family’s Plate, below. To get the full e-book, sign up for their newsletter at AnythingVegan.com.

And read more about Marji and Jasmine’s journey to embracing a plant-based lifestyle and tips for making the vegan transition simple and joyful in the upcoming Fall 2014 Green American.

Is trying to get your family to eat healthy like pulling teeth? Do your kids hate vegetables? Does your man think a vegetable is a garnish? Is your woman’s idea of eating healthy getting a beef burger without the fries?

You have now been recruited by the Anything Vegan Espionage Society. You now have 4 secret tips to make your undercover operation a success. Let’s get started.

1) Keep Your Secrets. As an AV Operative You Must Keep the Confidentiality of the Mission. Keep a low profile on your vegan changes. Don’t talk about how the food is healthy or how they have to eat healthy food. That can be a turnoff. Don’t force the subject or you will meet resistance and fail! So instead of dragging them kicking and screaming into the dining room, just do it.

There is a common rule of vegan infiltration that must be followed: Say Nothing! The best way to overcome stubborn objections is not to tell them that you are making healthy decisions for their plates. That’s right—keep your secrets. If you tell them ahead of time, their preconceived ideas of what tastes good and what tastes weird will override their taste buds. Did you ever think you were drinking orange juice but gagged when you discovered it was grape juice in the cup? There was nothing wrong with the grape juice, but your brain already decided what it “should” taste like. Any deviation from preconceived ideas may be perceived as “tasting bad”. So don’t let them know you’ve changed anything. If they notice something is different, simply say “Thank you, I think I’m becoming a better cook. Glad you noticed.”

2) Create an Illusion. Find foods that they already love and quietly substitute animal ingredients with vegan foods. In our full e-book (get it free by signing up for our newsletter),  we give you recipes that show you how to begin doing this. But use your imagination to figure out what you can use in place of meat, eggs, dairy, and bad sugars. You should become familiar with the many meat, dairy, and egg substitutes that are in most local supermarkets now in the frozen aisles or by the fresh fruits and vegetable aisles. They are even in Walmart and Target now! These are good transition foods. The truth is that for you to be a vegan, you don’t need a lot of money for great food. But until your knowledge and skills get you to the point of making your own vegan substitutes, there are plenty on the market to choose from. This is a great time to become a vegan. Most of the food substitutes presented may cost a little more per pound, but you will eat a lot less of these than you do of meat and dairy to feel satisfied and full. As you become more comfortable creating more grain-, fruit-, and vegetable-based meals, you will use less and less of these processed foods, and may eliminate them all together as well. But for now, relax, have fun and enjoy the process.

Use egg substitutes in your baking and cooking. There are plenty of egg substitutes available for baking or preparing a dish that calls for eggs. Ener-G Egg Replacer is a reliable egg substitute for use in baking. It is available at health food stores and most grocery stores.

Tofu is great for egg substitutions in recipes that call for a lot of eggs, like quiches or custards. To replace one egg in a recipe, purée 1/4 cup soft tofu. It is important to keep in mind that although tofu doesn’t fluff up like eggs, it does create a texture that is perfect for “eggy” dishes. Tofu is also a great substitute for eggs in eggless egg salad and breakfast scrambles.

In desserts and sweet, baked goods, try substituting one banana or 1/4 cup applesauce for each egg called for in a recipe for sweet, baked desserts. These will add some flavor to the recipe, so make sure bananas or apples are compatible with the other flavors in the dessert. (thanks to Peta.org for this concise egg-sub info).

Make pizzas with vegan pepperoni by Lightlife instead of pork.

Use vege-ground crumble instead of ground beef in your lasagna.

Replace the dairy cheese in your mac-n-cheese with Anything Vegan’s O’So Cheesy alternatives.

Use vegan chik’n patties instead of chicken. Season it with the seasonings you normally use for chicken, then fry or bake it. Dress it up the same way as you would do with a chicken patty. They even make chicken nuggets.

So, roll up those sleeves, and get going… What’re you waiting for!? Have fun!

Check out our upcoming cookbook for lots more specific guidance and transition recipes.

3) Outwit Their Taste Buds. Introduce new fruits, grains, or vegetables, but cook them with the same seasonings you’ve always used. Start small by substituting rice or soy milk for cow’s milk, vegan butter for dairy butter, delicious Anything Vegan cheese alternatives for dairy cheese, etc. as suggested in tip # 2. Start using more and more fresh grain, fruit, and vegetable ingredients.

People cannot break habits without replacing them with new habits. What you want to do is create new habits by purposely creating meals using lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and for drinking, lots of plain water. We believe that as people know better, they do better, but only within a community, with support, and understanding. This is where you come in. As you work on changing family habits, there are things you can do each day to make it easier.

Drink plenty of water daily. Replacing soda with water can help you drop up to 50 pounds. Think before you drink – what are we putting into our body? Water refreshes and replenishes your cells, brain, skin, hair, and everything else. This is an instant energy pick-me-up too. And you won’t crave as much junk.

Eat a nutritious breakfast to avoid feeling ravenous—you can then better control snacking and lunch choices.

Eat healthy snacks often throughout the day—nuts, fruits, raw vegetables. These things cut up and carried around in little baggies keeps our cravings down for the junk food.

Reduce your sweet tooth by eating less and less un-natural sugar. In a short time you will get the same “sugar-satisfaction” without the processed sugar.

Eat only until you are no longer hungry—not to Thanksgiving full. Train your family by preparing small portions of food at each sitting. You can always get seconds if you really want to but wait 15 minutes before taking that second plate to give your brain time to register what you just ate to see if you really want more. This is a good time to catch up on each other’s day.

Be guilt-free if you occasionally deviate from your new eating habits. Give yourself a break already! The world beats us up enough—don’t do it to yourself, too. If you eat the occasional cookie with egg ,don’t make a federal case out of it. And the same goes for how you treat your family. The key is for everyone to keep doing better in your goals each day without making yourself feel bad about what you don’t do at this time. Good feelings and congratulating yourself for what you do right will encourage you and them to continue and to want to do more. And this is the most important thing.

4) TAKE ACTION NOW! They’ll never know they are eating healthy vegan meals. Here a delicious, easy vegan recipe to get you started.

Family Dinner: Vege-Crumble Spinach Lasagna

VegeLasagna

The tofu “ricotta” has a wonderful creamy texture and boasts all the familiarity of the traditional lasagna that most of us grew up with. Paired with the veg-crumble instead of ground meat, this is a family favorite. For more cheesiness, add O’So Cheesy vegan cheese to each layer.

INGREDIENTS 1/2 to 1 pound (225 to 455 g) lasagna noodles 2 packages (10 ounces each) fresh chopped spinach 1 package (16 ounces) firm tofu (not silken) ½ cup nutritional yeast 1 tablespoon raw turbinado sugar, agave nectar or other natural sweetener (optional) 1/4 cup nondairy milk (such as rice, oat, soy, almond, or hazelnut), (add more if needed) 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or 2 peeled garlic cloves 2 tablespoons lemon juice 2 tablespoons fresh basil, minced 1 teaspoon vege-salt or sea salt (or to taste) 4 to 6 cups tomato or pasta sauce of your choice (be sure there is no meat added) 4 garlic cloves, minced “crumble seasoning mix” (½ teaspoon each of salt, pepper, garlic powder, basil or oregano) 1 package of vege-ground crumble or vege- saugage.

DIRECTIONS Preheat oven to 350 degrees F; (180 degrees C, or gas mark 4).

Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions or use “no-boil” lasagna noodles. Drain and set aside. Wash fresh spinach in cold water and drain. Place tofu, sweetener (if using), milk, garlic powder, lemon juice, basil, nutritional yeast, salt and half of the garlic into a blender or food processor and blend until like a cottage cheese consistency. The tofu “ricotta” should be creamy but still have body. Transfer to large-size bowl, and stir in spinach. Add salt little by little until it’s just right for your taste. In a medium sized skillet heat oil. Add vege ground crumble, onions, the rest of the garlic, and “crumble seasoning mix”. Sauté until browned. Cover bottom of 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33 cm) baking dish with a thin layer of tomato sauce, then a layer of noodles (use about one-third of noodles). Follow with half the tofu filling then a thin layer of ground crumble. Repeat in the same order, using half the remaining tomato sauce and noodles, and all remaining tofu filling, fresh spinach, and ground crumble. End with remaining noodles, covered by remaining tomato sauce. Drizzle O’So Cheesy cheese over the top or use a vege shredded cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 30 to 55 minutes, until hot and bubbling. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes more. Let set for at least 20 minutes before serving to be sure it sets nicely and holds its shape when cut.

—Marjorie Simon-Meinefeld and Jasmine Simon

What are your favorite tips for veganizing your family’s meals?

September 4, 2014 / Elizabeth

Two Years of Broken Promises

Green America and China Labor Watch (CLW) today released the findings of an undercover investigation we conducted in August 2014 at one of Apple’s 2nd tier supplier factories: Catcher Technology in Suqian. 

Apple report image for facebookThis factory manufactures metal casings for a number of consumer electronics companies including Apple, Inc. While at the factory, the investigator worked on parts for the iPad. This factory also continues to produce parts for a 5th generation iPhone, and its sister factory, Catcher Technology in Taizhou, is producing parts for the iPhone 6.

The investigator discovered extensive violations of Chinese labor laws, as well as violations of Catcher’s policies and Apple’s Supplier Code of Conduct, which details standards for worker rights and environmental sustainability for any company supplying to Apple.  Many of the violations were similar to those found in an April 2013 investigation of the same plant, the results of which were shared with Apple by CLW.

Many of the same problems found 16 months ago at Catcher still exist today, and some are worse. Moreover, we’ve uncovered many new violations in 2014. This compares labor violations at Catcher between 2013 and 2014, including indicators of violations of law and corporate policies.

Apple-supploer-Catcher-02

These findings make it clear that in spite of Apple’s commitments, there is need for much more action on human rights and health and safety for workers in the factories where Apple products are made. 

Help keep up the pressure on Apple>>

September 2, 2014 / Tracy Fernandez Rysavy

DON’T HAVE A COW: A Sneak Peek at the Fall “Green American”

FallGAMCover2Cows have a profound impact on our planet. In fact, if you want to reduce the environmental impact of your diet, the single-most important thing you can do is eat less beef—or none at all.

According to a 2013 report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), raising beef and dairy cattle contributes 9 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide (14.5 percent for all types of livestock).

However, researchers from the World Bank and International Finance Corporation say that figure underestimates the impact of livestock on the climate crisis. Add in the rainforest lands that are razed to make way for livestock grazing (primarily cattle), and you end up with a figure closer to 51 percent, they say in a 2012 report for Worldwatch.

And that’s just the climate crisis. Consider the tons of genetically modified soil and corn grown to feed cows. The pesticides applied to those fields that runs into the ocean, causing “dead zones” where no life can survive. The stunning amount of water cows need: It takes 840 gallons to produce one pound of conventional beef, according to Denis Hayes, co-author of Cowed: The Hidden Impact of 93 Million Cows on America’s Health, Economy, Politics, Culture, and Environment. The unspeakable cruelty practiced in conventional slaughterhouses.

In our upcoming Fall issue of the Green American, we talk with Hayes—president and CEO of the Bullitt Foundation and founder of the first-ever Earth Day—about the considerable environmental and health impacts of raising and eating cows, and what to do about it.

As a first step, Hayes recommends zeroing in on your beef consumption and making what beef you may choose to eat local, grass-fed, and organic. (There’s evidence, Hayes says, that the best-managed grass-fed cattle farms can actually be a carbon sink.)  But even more importantly is the fact that everyone needs to cut their beef consumption in half, at least—grass-fed beef requires more land than conventional beef, so converting the world to grass-fed beef but maintaining current consumption levels would be an environmental nightmare.

Of course, the best option would be for people to go vegetarian or vegan. Our upcoming issue features two sisters—and co-owners of Anything Vegan—who are vegan chefs, caterers, and nutritionists, offering their best advice for going vegan simply and joyfully.

But, as Hayes notes, “according to a poll done for Vegetarian Times, just 3.2 percent of American adults are vegetarian.”

Those of us at Green America wish that number were much larger, but, as Denis says, “wishing won’t make it so.”

That’s where our “Don’t Have a Cow” blog series comes in. Every Tuesday and Thursday throughout the month of September, Green America staff and select outside experts will be blogging about our favorite ways to eat less meat and go vegetarian or vegan. Use the magazine to spread the word to the 97 percent who eat meat in your community about why everyone should eat less meat. And use the tips, recipes, and resources we’ll include in this blog series to challenge yourself and everyone you know to further in shrinking your dietary impact.

If you’re already vegetarian or vegan, we invite you to share your expertise with others in the comments sections.

In that spirit, here’s my favorite, simple recipe for (vegan) hummous, from the family recipes of a Lebanese friend. 

Hummous bi tahini

19 oz. chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans)

¼ cup sesame tahini

1 clove garlic

½ tsp. salt

¼ cup lemon juice

Drain liquid from the chickpeas and set liquid aside. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a food processor or blender, adding only enough liquid to achieve desired consistency. (More liquid = thinner dip.) If you like your hummous lemony, you can add lemon juice in addition or instead. Blend 2-3 minutes into a smooth paste. Place in a small platter. Sprinkle with olive oil and garnish with fresh parsley.

Please share your favorite vegan recipe in the comments section below!

 

 

August 28, 2014 / Sam Catherman

Bank of America Reaches Record Settlement with Justice Department, and Taxpayers Cover the Costs

Over the past year, the Justice Department has reached multiple settlements with the country’s largest financial institutions regarding their involvement in the 2008 financial crisis. JP Morgan Chase forked over $13 billion this past November, Citigroup settled for $7 billion this July, and now Bank of America will pay a record $16.65 to the DOJ. While all of these settlements involved the sale of toxic mortgage-backed securities to unknowing investors, the recent case is different. Under the guise of providing relief to homeowners who have lost their houses, BofA will actually stick the taxpayer with a bill of up to $5.8 billion for their wrongdoings.

mortgageThe settlement, reached last Thursday, is unique in that it actually allows Bank of America to write-off most of the cost as a tax deduction. Previous settlements with similar large banks contained more restrictions on this practice, but BofA will be able to treat the payment as if it were just another operating cost, for tax purposes.

Approximately $5 billion of the grand total is considered a “civil penalty.” Typically, money paid to resolve a civil penalty cannot be written off as a business expense, but a tenth circuit court ruled earlier this month that businesses may write off penalties such as these as a “compensatory cost.” If Bank of America doesn’t try to write off these $5 billion of civil penalties, the other $11.63 billion portion of the settlement will still stick the taxpayer with a $4 billion tab. If they succeed in writing off the civil penalties, the taxpayer will be on the hook for $5.8 billion.

This latest settlement seems particularly egregious due to the facts that there were no individuals prosecuted in the case, and the assistance programs set up to pay back defrauded homeowners are extremely difficult to qualify for. Even if we look past the fact that no single company in the history of the United States has paid this much money for a single case, the underlying problem still exists. The banks were able to get away with unlawfully ripping off millions of people who didn’t know any better, and there were no real consequences. Without consequences, there is no real deterrent for behavior like this to occur again in the future.

If you’re tired of supporting these behemoth institutions that let struggling Americans foot the bill for their deceitful practices, there is still a way to receive the financial services you need. By banking with a community development financial institution you can be sure that your account supports something positive. No longer will you contribute to a banking industry that continues to get away with financial crimes.

Green America’s responsible finance programs have the resources to help you ditch your megabank and take charge of your own money. Check them out today and start putting your money where it belongs: back in your own community.

August 27, 2014 / Green America

GREEN YOUR SCHOOL: NYU’s Student & Labor Action Movement

As students start getting ready to go back to school, some of them are also getting ready to embark upon a new year of greening their campuses. Green America editorial fellow Sari Amiel discovered five inspiring examples of how students are making their campuses more socially just and environmentally sustainable. Every Monday and Wednesday from August 14th through August 27th, we’ll post one of Sari’s stories here on our blog.

A USAS "speak-out" demonstration marked the six-month anniversary of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse.

A USAS “speak-out” demonstration marked the six-month anniversary of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse.

When New York University’s Student & Labor Action Movement (SLAM) is not actively influencing its university’s policies, the group is opening students’ eyes to the abuses that foreign and domestic laborers face on a regular basis.

Each year, SLAM works on three to four major projects. Its labor committee alternates between protesting local injustices and participating in national campaigns that United Students against Sweatshops (USAS), of which SLAM is a chapter, organizes.

“Difficult working conditions is a universal issue,” says junior Anne Falcon. “We work on international solidarity campaigns, which just show how everything is interconnected… Fighting issues here [in New York] reverberates around the world.”

This past year, SLAM worked on USAS’ End Deathtraps campaign. This movement arose in response to the collapse of the Bangladeshi Rana Plaza factory, which caused 1,137 deaths. Just prior to the building’s collapse, garment workers had been ordered to return to their stations even after local police had deemed the building unsafe.

As part of the campaign, SLAM asked NYU’s administration to change its Labor Code of Conduct, which outlines its clothes suppliers’ responsibilities, so that these companies are required to sign The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. This Accord is a legally binding document that requires retailers to take meaningful steps to improve workers’ safety at their supplier factories.

SLAM also organized a die-in as part of the campaign.  In this event, students laid in the hallway outside a meeting of the University Senate, which has both student and faculty members. After persuading the University Senate to pass a resolution in favor of changing the Code of Conduct, the group sang carols about workers’ rights outside the president’s office.

On May 1, the End Deathtraps fight continued with SLAM’s four-hour sit-in at the university’s Gould Welcome Center. The group urged NYU to stop purchasing JanSport merchandise due to the sweatshops that VF Corporation, its parent company, does business with in Bangladesh. SLAM was granted a meeting with university officials, and, five days later, NYU stated that it would stop placing orders with JanSport unless it and VF signed the Accord. For Falcon, this sit-in was the most difficult event to plan and participate in.

“Our plan was to occupy the Welcome Center for as long as it took to get a meeting with administrative officials, so we might have stayed over the entire weekend,” says Falcon. “They might have locked us in, because it was on a Friday.”

Following these actions, NYU did change its Code of Conduct, and it now requires the companies that make its logo apparel to sign the Accord.

Previously, SLAM participated in a USAS-led campaign against Adidas, which it alleged had neglected to pay severance to 2,800 workers that it laid off in Indonesia. This campaign was won nationally in April of 2013, after 17 universities, not including NYU, ended their contracts with Adidas, forcing the company to pay the severance.

On the local front, SLAM has a student debt committee, which is asking NYU to impose a 10-year freeze on tuition and increase the value of financial aid packages by 25 percent. Students voiced these demands in a protest that they staged during NYU President Sexton’s State of the University speech.

“NYU has the worst history of student debt in the history of higher education,” says Falcon. “We want our university, and every university in the country, by extension, to provide more resources for the students, as well as a more democratic means of resource distribution.”

Recently, SLAM achieved a victory in another of its ongoing local campaigns. SLAM claimed a member of the Board of Trustees at NYU Law School violated the rights of employees in his nursing home business by decreasing their vacation and sick days, raising the price of their healthcare, locking out workers, and preventing union formation. SLAM wanted him to resign from the Board, and he did so in May of 2014.

“We’ve had a really good track record,” says Falcon. “We’ve won a lot of our campaigns. So it just sort of happens that we’ve had to start new campaigns pretty much every year, which is fantastic.”

Which is remarkable considering the group is never granted an audience with the NYU president. Instead, it works with a school official whose designated job is to handle SLAM’s requests.

“[The administration can be] very unreceptive until we significantly escalate the pressure from our campaigns,” says Falcon. “The best way to apply pressure is by…getting more people [involved and] having actions in more public places, somewhere that everyone will see.”

SLAM has been featured in Democracy Now and The Nation, and the Huffington Post mentioned two of SLAM’s campaigns in its list of “the 25 Best Progressive Victories of 2013.”

—Sari Amiel

August 25, 2014 / Green America

GREEN YOUR SCHOOL: Fossil Free Stanford

As students start getting ready to go back to school, some of them are also getting ready to embark upon a new year of greening their campuses. Green America editorial fellow Sari Amiel discovered five inspiring examples of how students are making their campuses more socially just and environmentally sustainable. Every Monday and Wednesday from August 14th through August 27th, we’ll post one of Sari’s stories here on our blog.

Stanford students unite to "X out" the fossil fuel industry. Photo by Kira Mineheart

Stanford students unite to “X out” the fossil fuel industry. (Photo by Kira Mineheart)

On May 6, 2014, Stanford University became one of the first schools to recognize the importance of divesting its endowment from companies whose practices threaten students’ futures. Fossil Free Stanford (FFS), one of many student-run divestment groups in the country, was the catalyst behind its school’s removal of funds from coal mining companies from the endowment portfolio.

“I think a lot of the frustration with activism around climate change…is that you can make small-scale changes, but they aren’t really questioning the structures that got us into this,” says sophomore Mikaela Osler, FFS Student Outreach Coordinator. “[Divestment] is a symbolic statement saying that Stanford no longer supports [the fossil-fuel] business model.”

FFS was inspired by a talk, titled “Do the Math,” that author Bill McKibben, founder of the climate nonprofit 350.org, delivered on Stanford’s campus in November of 2012. To avoid a dangerous 2°C rise in the average global surface temperature, McKibben stated that 80 percent of carbon reserves should remain in the ground. Also, many scientists agree that atmospheric carbon—which now exceeds 400 parts per million (ppm)—should stabilize at 350 ppm for the world to avoid the worst effects of global climate change. Through his Fossil-Free Divestment campaign—which Green America supports and covered in the Jan./Feb. 2013 issue of the Green American magazine—McKibben asks people and organizations, primarily colleges and universities, to divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies in order to financially and socially pressure these companies to replace dirty energy sources with renewables.

“Fossil fuel companies are big,” says junior Michael Peñuelas, a Lead Student Organizer of FFS. “[The Fossil-Fuel Divestment movement is] a way to magnify our individual voices with an institution as a megaphone.”

Last year, FFS submitted a request for review to the university’s Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensure (APIRL), a group of faculty, alumni, and students that helps ensure that Stanford’s endowment fund does not go into socially and environmentally detrimental investments.

FFS’s undergraduates cooperated with graduate students, alumni, and faculty to drum up support for their cause. The group pushed the undergraduate Senate and the Graduate Student Council to pass resolutions in support of fossil-fuel divestment, they obtained over 400 supportive letters from alumni, and they drafted a letter that 170 fully tenured faculty members signed. FFS members also knocked on students’ doors, tabled, and organized rallies to increase students’ support for divestment. In Stanford’s spring elections, over 75 percent of undergraduate students voted in favor of divestment from fossil fuel companies.

“It was a big effort to get all the demographics in line,” says Peñuelas. “It’s very likely that [the administration] would never have considered divestment without student pressure.”

While the group was building general support for divestment, APIRL researched the environmental and social impacts of fossil fuels. In spring of 2014, APIRL concluded that climate change would cause “substantial social injury.” Acting on APIRL’s recommendation, Stanford’s Board of Trustees voted to divest its $18.7 billion endowment from 100 coal mining companies. FFS had originally wanted the university to divest from the 100 coal companies and the 100 oil and natural gas companies that own the largest carbon reserves.

“[Stanford] chose half of the list that we gave them, which we were pretty excited about and proud of Stanford for doing, but…in the long term we are absolutely pushing for full divestment,” says Peñuelas.

Peñuelas also acknowledged that FFS conducted its campaign in a relatively favorable and receptive environment. Due to the existence of APIRL, the students faced an open dialogue from the administration. Also, as a school on the West Coast, Stanford does not rely on coal to power its campus or to provide jobs in the local community. Students at most other schools have not been as fortunate in their crusades for divestment—at American University and Harvard University, some were even arrested. Peñuelas believes that Stanford’s decision will move the divestment campaign forward, both in other colleges and for the public as a whole.

“We have dozens of articles, dozens of radio shows, [and] plenty of TV coverage of this,” says Peñuelas. “The direct proximate impact of Stanford’s coal divestment is not to end the coal industry, but it’s to cause a giant conversation, which it kick-started.”

The group plans to formally request that APIRL conduct a review of oil and natural gas companies in the coming months.

Sari Amiel

August 21, 2014 / Sam Catherman

Wind Energy Project Faces Political Roadblocks in Maryland

Wind power is at risk in Maryland. That is why this past week Green America, along with 20 other environmental groups called on Senator Barbara Mikulski (MD) to revise a bill that would halt efforts to construct an onshore wind energy project in Somerset County, MD. You can read a copy of the letter here. Green America, the American Sustainable Business Council, and the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Council also sent a letter to Senator Mikulski on behalf of hundreds of Maryland Businesses encouraging her to permit the wind farm to go forward.

WindSenator Mikulski added language to The Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2015 that would require Pioneer Green Energy to wait to begin construction on the Great Bay Wind Project until an independent study from MIT concerning the effects of wind turbines on naval radar testing at the Patuxent River Naval Base (Pax River Base) is completed. The issue arises from the Pax River Base’s highly sensitive radar system designed to test the stealthiness of fighter jets and weather wind turbines will interfere with the radar system. But, Senator Mikulski’s concerns are unfounded, as Pioneer and Pax River have already agreed that the turbines may be turned off during routine radar testing, with no interference to the military’s activities. Federal law states that the military must cooperate with alternative energy developers, and Pioneer says it expects the Navy to work with the company in order to reach an agreement to resolve the radar testing issue.

Representative Steny Hoyer, whose district includes the Pax River Base, wrote a letter with Senators Mikulski and Ben Cardin to local lawmakers raising concerns about the wind farm’s proximity to the military facility. The Pax River Base employs 22,000 people, contributes $7.5 billion to the state economy annually, and continues to grow at a time where other military bases are shrinking. Private contractors and foreign governments pay to use the base’s radar, and they fear that the interference from the wind farm would drive away those interests.

However, since Pioneer and Pax River Base are already in agreement on how to proceed with the issue (the turbines can simply be turned off during military activity), the potential harm to Pax River’s radar is little more than a red herring. Waiting for a study on the effects of wind turbines on the base’s radar testing will allow permit and tax-credit deadlines for the wind farm to pass. This would effectively halt any progress on the wind farm and cost the state of Maryland jobs and growth potential for clean energy.

Earlier this year, governor O’Malley vetoed a similar bill in the Maryland state legislature that would have delayed the project until the MIT study was completed. The governor cited safety measures that were already in place to deal with the wind turbines’ interference with military radar testing. To delay the project, said O’Malley, would send a “chilling message” to clean-energy businesses looking to set up shop in Maryland. 

There are a number of reasons to allow Pioneer’s wind project to proceed without interruption. The project would bring Maryland $44 million in tax revenue, at least 25 turbines providing 150 mw of clean, renewable energy, and hundreds of construction jobs. In addition to providing a path for sustainable economic growth for Somerset County, the wind farm could power thousands of homes while protecting the delicate Chesapeake Bay from pollution due to other energy sources. 

Green America is encouraging all Marylanders to call Senator Mikulski and let her know that you want her to withdraw her language from the Defense Appropriations Act of 2015 and let the Great Bay Wind Project go forward.

Please call Senator Mikulski’s office today at 202-224-4654.

Here’s a sample script:

As a Maryland resident, I support clean wind energy for our state.  I am very concerned that Senator Mikulski has introduced language to the Senate Appropriations Act of 2015 that would likely kill a new wind farm development in Somerset County.  The wind developer is already working to address Senator Mikulski’s concerns regarding the wind farm’s potential interference with radar that the nearby PAX river naval base.  Therefore a delay to conduct further studies is not needed, and could kill this vital new wind project, and prevent wind power from developing in the state in general.  

That’s why I’m urging the Senator to withdraw the language she inserted into the Defense Appropriations Act and allow the wind farm to go forward.

Thank you.   

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