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Posts tagged ‘health’


Waste by Tristram Stuart

Image via Bookchanging.

Title: Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal

Author: Tristram Stuart

Year of Publication: 2009

Genre Keywords: agriculture, conservation, corporate, environmentalism, equality, government, health, malnutrition, policy, poverty, social problems.

Summary: Can you imagine? We live on a planet where people die from starvation and malnutrition every single day . . . but they don’t have to. The wealthy produce and consume more than enough food to ensure everybody’s thriving. In fact, the amount of food we waste as a matter of course could feed all the world’s hungry if we were only more careful about how we use it! Tristram Stuart takes a penetrating look at the ways British supermarkets, food suppliers, restaurants, farms, fisheries, and families all contribute to the problem of waste. Obviously we can’t send our near-spoiling tomatoes to West Africa to alleviate starvation . . . but with foresight, we could stop producing more food than we can consume, liberating land to use for crops that can actually help the global poor to get fed.

Who’ll Love It: If you’ve got a head for facts and figures, it’s fascinating reading. But even those who are less mathematically inclined (self included) will get the vivid picture Stuart paints of the shocking travesty of human wastefulness and the ways we can combat it. For anybody interested in reducing their environmental footprint – or, for that matter, spending less money at the supermarket – the book is full of information that will teach you how to consume more sustainably.

How Can I Make A Difference? A lot of the large-scale wasters in Stuart’s book are corporate: big supermarkets, agri-business, and commercial food producers. But there are ways to save even on the individual level. Even the most frugal of people – and I come from a long line of very frugal people – can learn from Tristram Stuart’s eco-friendly ideas. Nor do you have to go as far as he does to cut back your wasteline. (Stuart describes dumpster-diving for perfectly good food that’s been tossed out by wasteful businesses instead of purchasing his meals.)  Some less extreme suggestions for trimming your waste and  your budget:

  • Write a shopping list while you’re still at home, so you can check for forgotten items in the back of your fridge, cupboard, and freezer.
  • Don’t shop hungry! People who buy groceries after having eaten are less likely to impulse-buy unnecessary items.
  • Plan your menus so you can use up leftover cooking materials.
  • Stick to your list: don’t be seduced by marketing schemes trying to get you to buy more.
  • Wasted groceries

    Image via InfoChange India.

    Get a big freezer. It’s an economical way to make it possible to buy bulk meats or produce near the end of its shelf life and save it until you’ll be able to eat it. You can also freeze bread to keep it from going stale.

  • Visit farmers’ markets, where you can buy knobbly-looking produce that often gets rejected by fussy supermarkets.
  • Do your homework, and refuse to buy food from companies that use unsustainable practices . . . just like when people began avoiding tuna that wasn’t dolphin-friendly or started favouring brands of chips that cut out trans fats. Now it’s a marketing feature!
  • Eat the crusts off your bread. Alternatively, turn them into breadsticks, bread crumbs, and croutons. Whatever you do, don’t just toss them in the trash!
  • Skip the step in the recipe that tells you to peel potatoes, carrots, parsnips, apples, or pears. It’s often not necessary and it stretches your food purchase – you paid for that apple peel!
  • Learn more about what best-before dates really denote. Food that’s “expired” usually isn’t. It may have passed its absolute freshest point, but it’s a very long way from being inedible.
  • Cut back on your meat consumption, and consider using parts of the animal considered unconventional in the Western world. There are some great recipes available if you’re willing to look!
  • Teach children about where their food comes from (that’s the land and the people who grow it, not the supermarket shelves) so they learn to respect it as a product of somebody else’s hard work, not an inexhaustible and free resource that they can waste with impunity.
  • Don’t force guilt on people for failing to overeat: that’s a waste, too. Instead, learn (and help others learn) to take no more than what you’ll eat, finish what’s on your plate, and take what’s left over to work or school as a hot lunch instead of fixing a sandwich. Or serve it as leftovers in place of the next night’s cooking.

Ever Wonder “What’s the Harm?”

Some people believe strange things – live and let live, right? What’s the harm? Tim Farley, creator of What’sTheHarm.net, wants you to know. Why? Because he’s committed to critical thinking, and he wants to demonstrate that, in a lot of ways, failure to think critically can actually cause harm.

Tim Farley, creator of What's The Harm dot net

Tim Farley, creator of What'sTheHarm.net - trading card courtesy of My (Confined) Space.

The cases on What’sTheHarm.net cover a broad range of failures to think critically – from the plainly absurd, like driving into a building because the GPS said so, to the truly sinister, like families torn apart by repressed memory therapy gone awry. The consequences may be directly or indirectly related to the question at hand: one anecdote tells of a family who brawled with neighbours because one family’s decor disrupted the other’s feng shui. The consequences of each incident are given in terms of financial loss, jail time, injury, or loss of life; the site estimates “368,379 people killed, 306,096 injured, and over $2,815,931,000 in economic damages”.

But the real point of focus is that these consequences are not abstract; they happen to real people just like you and me. And the harm done might affect the person who’s failing to think critically, but often it also affects others, sometimes primarily. Each page repeats the same unifying coda: “Here are [x] people who were harmed by someone not thinking critically.”

From what I can tell, Tim Farley considers all the things he debunks on his website, from acupuncture to witchcraft, absolutely false and deceptive. I’m not sure I’m willing to go that far in every case. Some of it – like Holocaust denial or refusing children blood transfusions – I’m absolutely with him. But are ghosts real? Could there be actual psychics? How about demons? I hesitate to say that, just because science cannot detect them, they aren’t real. After all, science deals with material things, and I believe reality goes beyond the strictly material.

Other things are grey areas. For instance, the section on chiropractic medicine lists cases in which chiropractors seriously injured patients, which is horrible. But are these valid indictments of chiropractic practice as a whole, or cases of unscrupulous or incompetent practitioners, or simply people making mistakes? The same could be said of psychics who lie or fail, and in many other areas of the site. Cases of failure or swindling do not necessarily make the practice false.

Farley acknowledges – and for the critical thinker, this is important – that his site proves nothing. It’s all anecdotal. But anecdotes can be powerful in convincing people to think carefully about the decisions they’re making and the potential effects.

Which, in the end, is all that this site is about. No one is trying to make you a non-believer: believe it or don’t. Non-believers will support the site for promoting accurate information to answer the question, “What’s the harm?” And for the true believer, weeding out the fakers and swindlers is crucial to winning credibility for the Cause, whatever it may be. Get rid of the fake psychics, for instance, and the real ones – if they exist – might be able to gain some respect.

In short, whatever you believe, you should check out What’sTheHarm.net if you have an interest in any of the following topics:

  • Alternative medicines and physical therapies
  • Autism and vaccination
  • Communication, information, and misinformation
  • Conspiracy theories, particularly [insert noun here] denial
  • Divination, prophecy, and predicting the future
  • Health care
  • ‘Natural’ or ‘organic’  lifestyles
  • Paranormal topics
  • Religions, especially those that are perhaps not-so-mainstream

Image courtesy of Western Michigan University.

If nothing else, it gives you a starting place for a fresh inquiry into whatever field interests you, and highlights the red flags you’ll need to watch out for to protect yourself from fraudsters. Even something that’s true can involve some shady characters, and the topics covered on What’sTheHarm.net have varying levels of credibility.

Critical thinking does matter, and the lack of critical thinking can cause problems. This website gives us a great starting place for talking about why.

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