Tags: animals, Body & Mind, environmental issues, health, Nature, sustainable development
SYDNEY—California has become the newest region to ban lightweight plastic bags, joining four states and territories in Australia in restricting the use of disposable plastics. The move comes as Australian researchers study the toxicity of plastics, which are polluting the marine environment at a molecular level.
The Californian ban was signed into law on Sept 30, making plastic bags in grocery stores and pharmacies prohibited from July 1, 2015, with convenience and liquor stores to follow a year later.
In Australia, non-biodegradable lightweight plastic bags are banned in Tasmania, South Australia, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, but the legislation does permit the use of compostable, bio-degradable bags.
While the bans on bags represent important progress, researchers are finding the threat of plastics goes deeper than the disposable products we can see. Professor Richard Banati from the the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) says the full lifecycle of plastic is not yet understood and its degradability is questionable, particularly when litter is left to float in oceans.
The present paradigm is “the solution to pollution is dilution” but his research indicates otherwise.
“Dilution has its limits,” he said in a phone interview.
Beyond the Visible
There is no doubt that on a visible pollution level plastic is a huge problem. Scientists have found evidence of plastics choking or smothering many marine animals and ecosystems.
In a report released last month, Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) found plastic constituted most of the rubbish floating along Australia’s coastline, with densities ranging between a few thousand pieces of plastic per square kilometre to more than 40,000 pieces.
“About three-quarters of the rubbish along the coast is plastic,” said CSIRO scientist Denise Hardesty after collating data from survey sites every 100 km along the Australian coastline. “Most is from Australian sources, not the high seas, with debris concentrated near cities.”
Professors Banati’s work, however, looks beyond the visible. Using nuclear scientific methods he is examining a more insidious interaction – plastic contamination at the molecular level.
Following the results of an earlier collaboration with biologist Dr Jennifer Lavers, who was researching plastic in shearwater birds, the two scientists found that when plastic interacts with sea water, it absorbs heavy metals, becoming more toxic as it degrades. Looking at shearwater feathers at the molecular level they have identified the presence of plastic particles.
“Micro plastic particles are perfectly bite sized pieces for things like krill, zoo plankton, filter feeders and all of the marine creatures at the very base of the marine food web,” Dr Laver said.
Professor Banati is now collecting a larger sample for further research, conducting his own survey from Hobart to Sydney Harbour.
His aim is to identify the full life cycle of plastic, its impact on marine life and the food chain.
The forensic method, he said, will make plastic traceable and in that respect make producers and consumers accountable.
It is the increasing use of plastic on a mass level that is the concern. Identifying the full life cycle of plastic will allow for a better understanding for industry and government of how and when it can best be used.
“Traceability will allow us to make policy decisions,” he said.
Tags: environmental issues, Food, GMO, Nature, Society, sustainable development
By Jonathan Benson, contributing writer to Natural News
No matter what personal views you might have on genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), these relatively new biological creations are wreaking havoc on both the environment and human health, as thoroughly demonstrated in the scientific literature. And here are seven concrete examples of why:
1) GMOs lead to superbugs and superweeds. There is no denying the massive ecological changes that occur as a result of GMOs and their respective growing chemicals. Farmers all across North America now face a steadily increasing onslaught of “superweeds” and “superpests” that have spawned as a direct result of biotechnology.
Among 13 major pests examined as part of a 2011 study published in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe, five of them were found to be completely immune to the poisons genetically implanted into Bt corn and cotton, for instance. And more recently, Brazilian farmers have reported that GMO corn is no longer resistant to pests.
2) GMOs are killing off our pollinators. GMO proponents often argue that, without biotechnology, the world would starve. But weedkillers and other chemicals applied to GMOs are killing off bees, butterflies and other pollinators that are vital in the production of one-third of the world’s food crops.
According to the latest data, honeybees, which are responsible for roughly 80 percent of the pollinating duties, are dying off at a rate of 30 percent per year. Neonicotinoids and other pesticides leave residues on crops, which are then picked up by pollinators, destroying their insides and causing them to eventually die. German professor Hans-Hinrich Kaatz told SPIEGEL ONLINE that GMO crop chemicals appears to alter bees’ intestines, making them highly susceptible to parasites and infections.
3) GMOs allow corporations to control life. With natural seeds, farmers are free to save and reuse them year after year in self-sufficiency. But GMOs require seeds to be repurchased year after year, placing control of food and life into the hands of a select few transnational corporations, who, since they maintain an oligopoly, can charge high prices and keep farmers in their servitude.
4) GMOs cross-contaminate natural crops. If GMOs could exist in their own private, agrarian bubbles, their threat to humanity might be containable. But because they grow in the open air alongside other natural and organic crops that require pollination, the threat of cross-contamination is almost certain, which means the entire global food supply stands to eventually become contaminated.
5) Accidentally growing GMOs is a crime. Believe it or not, biotech corporations like Monsanto have actually sued non-GMO farmers whose crops were damaged as a result of genetic drift. This is because GMOs are patented intellectual property, meaning they can’t be grown without permission and payment.
6) GMOs place an unmanageable burden of debt on farmers. Farmers are typically lured into growing GMOs based on empty promises of increased yields and fewer crop losses. But when this doesn’t pan out, they become locked into a system of debt that, especially in poorer countries, often leads to total bankruptcy. This is part of the reason why some 1,000 Indian farmers now commit suicide every month, as they are left with no way out but to pay the piper money that they don’t have.
7) GMOs destroy biodiversity, the life-force of our planet. The viability of our planet is dependent upon a rich stock of plant life that is varied, abundant and well-balanced within the confines of a biodiverse ecosystem. But GMOs are the antithesis of all this, perpetuating a system of unsustainable monoculture that breeds soil erosion, mineral loss and, ultimately, death.
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Tags: Body & Mind, CCP, China, environmental issues, health, Nature, Society, sustainable development
By Hong Jiang
China’s environment has been so thoroughly assaulted by urban and industrial development that pollution in air, water, and soil has reached alarming levels. “It’s on a scale and speed the world has never known,” according to Jennifer Turner, director of the China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson Center. What do we know? What can be done?
Beijing’s air pollution reached a level so dramatically high in January 2013 that a new word, “airpocalypse,” was coined for it. The word has since been used to refer to the alarming air pollution in Beijing and other Chinese cities.
Beijing’s PM2.5 level reached beyond 500 in January 2013, with the high index recurring in 2014.
The smog-choked city experienced a visibility so low that it put schools and work at a halt.
World Health Organization (WHO) measures PM2.5, particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, as a health indicator, as it can penetrate the blood stream and enter the lungs, causing respiratory disease, lung cancer, and various other ailments. Safe exposure to PM2.5 is 10 micrograms per cubic meter annually, and 25 micrograms per cubic meter over a 24-hour period—called PM2.5 index 12 and 25, respectively.
A research report released by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences in February 2013 ranked Beijing as the second worst in living environment among 40 major cities in the world, according to the Daily Mail. The study considered Beijing “barely suitable” for living due to its severe air pollution.
Smog is especially severe in northern Chinese cities during the winter heating season when coal burning adds to air pollution. In October 2013, the northern city of Harbin had the record PM2.5 index of 1,000, with visibility reduced to less than 50 meters, according to data from China’s environmental protection agency.
China’s unbridled and coal-dependent development serves as the direct cause of air pollution. China consumes half of the coal in the world, used to fuel the world’s second-largest economy.
Air pollution has caused great harm to human health. Based on a “2010 Global Burden of Disease” study published in December 2013 in The Lancet, a British medical journal, air pollution led to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010, which is about 40 percent of the global total.
Air pollution has reduced life expectancy by 5.5 years in Northern China, according to a study done by researchers from China, Israel, and the United States and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year.
China’s airpocalypse not only chokes the Chinese cities, but also affects other countries through long-range transport of air pollutants. About 40–60 percent of fine particulate pollution in Japan comes from China, said Hiroshi Tanimoto at Japan’s National Institute for Environmental Studies to New York Times. The effect on Korea is even greater. Pollutants have crossed the Pacific to affect the western part of the United States.
China’s airpocalypse goes hand in hand with China’s rank as the top emitter of greenhouse gases, aiding the driver of global climate change and the threat of global warming.
Water ‘Too Dangerous to Touch’
If air pollution is bad enough, water pollution is an even worse problem and more difficult to resolve, said a report by The Economist.
“There are large parts of the urban water supply which are not only too dangerous to drink—they are too dangerous to touch,” said John Parker, globalization editor at The Economist, in a video interview. “You cannot even wash in them.”
Data from the Chinese government in 2011 shows that over half of China’s large lakes and reservoirs were too contaminated for human use. Groundwater, which accounts for one-third of China’s water resources, suffers similar pollution. Of the more than 4,700 groundwater-quality testing stations, about 60 percent showed “relatively bad” or worse pollution level. Half of the rural population lacks safe drinking water.
Chemical, pharmaceutical, and power plants spew pollutants into waterways, creating dead zones where they flow. A notable example is central China’s Huai River, pronounced dead by Elizabeth Economy in her well-known 2004 book on China’s environment, “The River Runs Black.”
If China’s air pollution makes airpocalypse, water pollution has created incidents that attract international attention. In 2007, Lake Tai suffered from a heavy carpet of blue-green algae that is cancer-inducing, and its gruesome images have circulated on the Web. The 2006 incident of a chemical spill contaminated Songhua River in Northeast China, and the government cover-up was widely criticized. Many more incidents, however, go under reported.
Some incidents of water pollution can be sadly surreal. Urban waterways in the eastern city of Wenzhou were so polluted by chemicals that a lit cigarette set the water on fire, as reported in the Daily Mail earlier this year. This is not the first time a river was on fire, and other images of water pollution show water turning black or red or orange, or carpeted with algae or dead fish.
A report on chinadialogue indicates that in 2012 over half of China’s cities had water of “poor” or worse quality. Ma Jun, an environmentalist who heads a Beijing-based green NGO, told chinadialogue, “Tackling water pollution is as serious and worthy a challenge for the authority as combating air pollution … water pollution poses a bigger health threat to about 300 million people living in rural areas.”
Polluted Soil and Food
China Daily, an English-language newspaper published by the Chinese regime, ran an editorial stated, “Soil contaminated with heavy metals is eroding the foundation of the country’s food safety and becoming a looming public health hazard.”
Nearly one-fifth of China’s farmland is polluted, according to China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Land Resources. Chemicals such as cadmium, nickel, arsenic, lead, and mercury poison the soil, as they are dumped into waters used for irrigation.
Early this year, the Ministry of Environmental Protection admitted that there are 450 pollution-related “cancer villages” in China. Prior to that, soil pollution and its threat to health and food received limited media attention, and the Chinese government had kept data on soil pollution as a “state secret.”
The change was partly brought about by a recent scandal of cadmium in rice that set off a Hunan rice scare. According to the mainland business magazine Caijing, the city of Guangzhou inspected local restaurants and found excessive cadmium level in 44.4 percent of rice and rice products. Most of the rice came from Hunan Province.
According to Caixin’s New Century Magazine, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and other institutions had reported on cadmium pollution in 2009. They sampled 100 rice paddies near mines throughout Hunan Province, and found that 65 percent of the samples exceeded the cadmium safety limit. The contaminated rice had entered the local and national market.
WHO’s website states, “Cadmium exerts toxic effects on the kidney, the skeletal, and the respiratory systems.” The heavy metal is leached from mines and chemical factories in Hunan.
Also under the spotlight are Hunan’s new cancer villages, among which, Shuanqiao. China Youth reported that 26 people in Shuanqiao died of cadmium poisoning. Soil samples there showed cadmium content 300 times the permitted level, and 509 of its 2,888 villagers were tested positive for cadmium poisoning. The chemical came from the Xianghe Chemical Plant, whose pollution villagers have complained about since 2006. This example is just the tip of the iceberg of chemical poisoning in China.
Worrisome ‘War Against Pollution’
Facing catastrophic environmental pollution, the Chinese government has become alert. Prime Minister Li Keqiang announced early this year at the National People’s Congress, “We will declare war against pollution.” Li said, “Smog is affecting larger parts of China, and environmental pollution has become a major problem, which is nature’s red-light warning against the model of inefficient and blind development.”
The Chinese government has plans to clean up the environment. In September 2013, the government launched a $280 billion plan to clean up the air, and early this year, it announced an investment of $300 billion to tackle water pollution. Experts are uncertain, however, whether these investments will change the situation.
What is worrisome is the regime’s persistent attitude of a “war against nature,” that has rendered past investments in the environment limited in their effect. In Mao’s war against nature, draconian actions in agriculture destroyed the fabric of the rural ecosystem. Post-Mao pursuit of economic development has only trumped the past trend with unprecedented pollution in air, water, and soil from industrial and urban growth.
Experts on China believe the root of China’s environmental problems lies with the top-down control by the Communist Party, which has been trapped in corruption and a lack of political accountability and rule of law. Economic incentives for officials have continued to leave pollution unchecked. As some polluting factories are closed, others pop up.
“Environmental problems are one of the main outcomes of a one party-ruled, corrupted, non-humane government,” said Ahkok Wong, a university lecturer in Hong Kong, to the ROAR Magazine.
Environmental pollution has increasingly become a source of discontent and protest in China. In the 1990s, rural protests in China already included pollution-related land loss. Since the 2000s, large-scale protests expanded to cities where citizens reject polluting factories and plants. According to a Pew survey, environmental issues accounted for half of the protests in 2013 in China.
Short of fundamental changes in the political system, it is hard to foresee major environmental improvements.
As Mao obliterated traditional Chinese belief of harmony between human beings and heaven, and as the post-Mao communist regime continues to favor development over the environment, the moral foundation of the Chinese people has also been eroded, aiding corruption and disregard for others and the environment.
Without a rebuilding of a moral system, the Chinese environment will continue to suffer, along with the Chinese people.
Hong Jiang is associate professor and chair of the geography department at University of Hawaii at Manoa. She specializes in China’s environment and culture.
For more photos: China’s Environmental Catastrophe
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Tags: Culture, Nature, photo, picture of the day
By Benjamin Kim
Erez Marom was born in 1980 in Holon, Israel, where he still lives today, though his annual trips to Iceland inspire him greatly. He spends about a month in Iceland each time conducting workshops and finding new treasures to photograph.
He writes on his website: “Upon first visiting Iceland in late 2011, I fell in love with its eeriness, its people and especially its out-of-this-world landscapes. But back then I wouldn’t have guessed that this country and I would develop such a special, deep, and long-lasting relationship.”
His parents encouraged him to pursue an artistic career. He started playing the drums when he was 9 years old and is still an active musician today.
In 2008, some photos taken with a DSLR (digital second lens reflex) camera and his passion for photography began. He especially focuses on travel and nature photography, making Iceland a perfect subject. He has also captured the beauty of India, Nepal, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Peru, his native Israel, among other locations.
Sights of the Northern Lights and Iceland’s fjords have long been favorites of photographers, but Marom captures unique views that make the viewer appreciate the beauty of Iceland anew.
Tags: environmental issues, Nature, sustainable development
Bees are the most important thing… Without bees, very little food… Or you have to do like in China where so many bees have disappeared because of pollution, the have to do it manually. But, they are many people…
Originally posted on GARDEN OF EADY:
Do you have a bee-friendly garden?
The lovely bees are looking for 2 things in your garden: nectar and pollen. If you think that your garden does not need bees, you might be wrong. You may know that some plants are pollinated by birds, butterflies, moths and wasps, but the most of the work is done by bees.
How can you make your garden bee-friendly? It is very easy.
Here are a few tips for you.
• It is recommended to plant several colors of flowers. Bees love especially white, yellow, blue, purple and violet.
• You can plant flowers of different shapes
• Do not use pesticides because they might kill bees too
• Choose plants which are flowering through spring, summer and fall
• Grow flowers in clumps
• Plant herbs like: bee balm, borage, catnip, coriander, fennel, lavender, mint, rosemary, sage, thyme
• Use native plants (bees…
View original 61 more words
Dr. Gary Greenberg is an expert at exploring the beauty of nature at the microscopic level. He started out as a photographer and filmmaker. His photos of pancreatic cancer cells were used as the planet Krypton in the first Superman movie.
He later earned a PhD in biomedical research. He has invented high-definition microscopes, and has used microscopes to capture stunning images of sand, wine, food, and other objects we encounter daily.
Here are some of his photos of sand at the microscopic level. You can see more of his sand images in his book “A Grain of Sand,” or on his website.
See more of Dr. Greenberg’s work on other subjects in the gallery on his website.
Tags: Body & Mind, Nature, Science
The full moon can cause people to have a restless night’s sleep, according to research
By Richard Gray
With a reputation for triggering the appearance of creatures of the night, a full moon has often been associated with restless sleep.
However, new research has shown that the lunar cycle influences the way we sleep far more than simply causing us to cower beneath the covers.
Scientists have found that people’s sleep patterns are tuned to the waxing and waning of the moon, even when they were unaware of whether it was a full moon or not.
Tags: Nature, Science
By Tara MacIsaac
The science behind sunsets has a lot to do with how thick the atmosphere is between the sun and one’s vantage point.
Google+ hosted an online conference Monday with meteorologists to discuss age-old questions like “Why is the sky blue?” The conference was part of a ramp-up to Sunset Day on September 19. Netizens are asked to submit sunset photos on September 19 to the Google+ Sunset Day webpage.
The photos should ideally be taken on September 19, but may be taken on the days leading up to Sunset Day. They must be uploaded, however, on Sunset Day.
So why is the sky blue? Why does the sunset come in different colors? Why is the sky on Mars red?
The color we perceive in the sky has to do with how far the light must travel to reach our eyes, and which colors in the white light get filtered out along the way.
Brad Panovich, Chief Meteorologist at NBC Charlotte, explained that when the distance between the sun and our eyes is the shortest, violet is the color that makes it through the atmosphere best without being scattered.
Technically, the sky is violet, not blue—our eyes compensate and we see it as blue.
Thus, midday, the sky is blue because the sun is overhead and the light has a shorter distance to travel through the atmosphere.
This diagram, shared by Tim Brice of the National Weather Service El Paso, shows what happens when the sun sets. The light coming in from an angle in the evening must travel through more atmosphere to reach our eyes. When this happens, blue and violet are scattered, leaving more red and orange light.
Some factors in the atmosphere can also affect the color of light reaching our eyes. Smoke particles, for example, filter out yellow light, leaving more vibrant red.
Why is a sunset by a lake or another body of water especially beautiful? Panovich said it isn’t necessarily that the light is affected; it could simply be that a large body of water often means better visibility of the horizon without trees and other obstacles.
Meteorologist Morgan Palmer said people have asked him “Why is the sky on Mars red?”
The answer is that the wind and red soil combined creates a red dust in the atmosphere. He thinks without the dust, the sky would be a deep blue.
Tags: Nature, Science, Society
By Jack Phillips
A Bermuda Triangle 1817 tsunami that tossed ships as far away as the Delaware River near Philadelphia was triggered by an earthquake.
At the time, reports said that a “tidal wave” tossed the ships, but according to a report on Tuesday, it was actually a tsunami triggered by an earthquake.
LiveScience.com reported that the tsunami was caused by a 7.4-magnitude earthquake that hit at around 4:30 a.m. on Jan. 8, 1817. It was discovered that the quake, which was originally between a magnitude-4.8 and a magnitude-6, was actually much stronger.
U.S. Geological Survey research geophysicist Susan Hough found the source of the quake via newly found archival records.
“That was the eureka moment,” Hough told LiveScience. “Darned if that wave doesn’t hit the Delaware River and slow way down.”
Ships in the Delaware River also shook in 1858, 1877 and 1879.
“It was interesting enough to mention,” Hough told the website. “People were feeling earthquakes on ships, and earthquakes can damage early ships. Maybe this is part of the thinking that there were strange things going on in that part of the ocean.”
Tags: Body & Mind, environmental issues, Food, Nature, Society, sustainable development
By Channaly Philipp
Biodynamic chocolate business lets nature rule, and the results are world-class
The cacao farmer felt he had no choice. He called Santiago Peralta, the man who normally bought his cacao, and offered to sell him his land so he could move to the city.
Peralta asked, “What are you going to do in the city? Beg for money?”
He went to meet the farmer, who said his back caused him pain and he couldn’t carry the bags of cacao anymore.
The solution? Peralta gave the farmer $120 so he could buy a donkey.
That was four years ago. The farmer has carried on with farming cacao, and he never went into the city to beg for money.
Instead a donkey trend caught on. “Everyone started getting donkeys, just like that,” Peralta said.
Peralta, 41, makes some of the best chocolate on Earth, working with 3,000 farming families in his native Ecuador. Pacari Chocolate, which he and his wife Carla Barbota launched in 2008, swept last year’s International Chocolate Awards, taking home 23. These awards are where the world’s finest chocolates are put to the test through blind tastings.
If there was ever the notion that exceptional chocolate could only come out of Europe’s strongholds of culinary achievement, that victory proved the idea wrong. An increasing appreciation for regional authenticity has meant regions that used to be completely off the radar are coming into their own in the most surprising ways.
Just like a bottle of wine, a chocolate bar can reveal its provenance, its terroir, and even when it came about, as long as its flavor remains true to the cacao beans that were used.
Generally, in a mass production process, those flavors are flattened and standardized through over-processing and over-roasting and result in chocolate bars each as predictable as the next. Take a Hershey’s bar, for example.
The business of staying true to the bean is completely different. Pacari’s “tree-to-bar” production, for example, oversees every stage, from the cacao trees to the finished product, in the process creating income for all along the chain, from farmer to packager.
Ecuador has been producing cacao for hundreds of years, becoming the world’s largest cacao exporter in the late 19th century. Its production made fortunes, and played a crucial role in securing its independence from Spain, with farmers seeing the allure of being able to sell not only to Spain, but to other nations as well.
Its geography is particular: a small country, where jungles, deserts, mountains, and volcanoes all juggle for space, with climates ranging from desertic to monsoonic.
Peralta points out different characteristics of single-origin Pacari chocolate bars, tying region and flavor: floral and fruity from the Manabi region, which is dry, and caramel notes from the Esmeraldas region, which is rainy and green.
Then there is the spectacular limited edition Nube bar, which won the gold at the chocolate awards. Peralta won’t reveal the location of the cacao trees whose beans yield a chocolate that’s unbelievably floral—the aroma smacks of roses. It’s all in the terroir and the specific year. These results can’t be engineered; they are happy surprises from nature.
You could call it an accident, but Peralta is willing to partner with Nature and let her have her way, resulting in incredible flavors.
“It’s like love,” he muses. “You don’t control things in life. I have a friend, he’s a great chocolate producer in a company in the U.K. called Booja-Booja, who says, ‘Relax: Nothing is under control.’ Relax! You have nothing to do with it. You’re trying to go one way but the flow is the other way. You don’t control anything.”
Peralta is pushing the envelope as far away from mass production methods as possible. All his chocolate is already organic, and he pays double the market price, a premium far above the going Fair Trade rate, which he said pays 6 percent above the market price (he has little to say that is complimentary about the labeling scheme).
And he’s also making biodynamic chocolate, using an agriculture approach that takes into account the rhythms of nature, pioneered by Rudolf Steiner. The Demeter biodynamic seal took four years to obtain.
Biodynamic means power, you accept the forces, you act with the forces, you go with the flow, you don’t produce 24/7 – Santiago Peralta, co-founder, Pacari
“Biodynamic means power, you accept the forces, you act with the forces, you go with the flow, you don’t produce 24/7.” He became familiar with biodynamic concepts while living in Germany for a year. And he’ll admit, there are some strange practices, but he says they work.
For example, one practice calls for a cow horn filled with a mix of cow waste and silica, buried in the ground. As the concept goes, the silica powder acts as conductor for light and energy, sending concentrated energy underground, benefiting the cacao trees.
Only about 20 grams per hectare of the mixture is used for the cacao trees. There are no fertilizers, no pesticides.
Or when there’s a drought, a refreshing biodynamic mixture is applied over the trees.
“Just a tiny amount. Can you imagine?” asks Peralta. “Normally you need to pump oil from the Amazon, passing the mountains, to Esmaraldas port, passing Panama, going to Germany to make [oil] into a chemical, coming back, taking a truck” to then apply half a ton of chemicals per hectare, which would take someone a week to do. With the biodynamic method, one person covers eight hectares a day with a pump, just walking around.
“This is sustainable. And the cacao is stronger, you can tell it’s stronger.” The crushers that crack the cacao beans had never stopped in years of production. But the first year cracking the biodynamic cacao beans, it happened.
“But just taste it, it’s better,” he adds.
The biodynamic methods were used to make Pacari’s Raw chocolate bar, which has won multiple awards. The chocolate is minimally processed, at low temperatures, and is the only biodynamic chocolate in the world.
“It’s a special chocolate where you see a lot of flavors, every time you try it, you get something different. It’s not a chocolate, which is a nice chocolate, which is gone. It’s still in your mouth. It’s there—boom, aggressive. It has personality, tannic, like wine.”
The flavors evolve as the chocolate melts on your tongue, in turns dry, woodsy, fruity.
The nutritional profile is particular, too: Antioxidant counts are through the roof.
Direct Trade Cacao
Maricel Presilla, a chocolate judge, culinary historian, and chef in Hoboken, N.J., as well as a winner of a James Beard Award, has seen the benefits that a direct-trade approach has had on farmers. She herself comes from a family of farmers in Cuba, where her grandparents were cacao farmers.
She has seen stark differences between farms that were using biodynamic methods and ones that weren’t. During a dry spell, the biodynamic farm’s trees were full with cacao for harvesting. “Next door,” which wasn’t biodynamic, “they had nothing.”
“People begin to care a lot more about the land,” she said. “They see the land as alive, in tune with the seasons.”
Not only that, but cacao, she said, is a “generous plant that likes to live with other plants” so it’s not rare for farmers to also grow coconuts, bananas, and coffee, for their own use. “A typical sight on a cacao farm is to see a farmer carrying plantain, yucca, something like that.”
When Peralta started working with farmers, he began working with farming families. “We believe in family relations in southern countries. It’s very important.”
Peralta wanted high quality, organic cacao, which wasn’t a hard sell for the farmers. “A lot of people don’t believe in chemicals—a lot of people don’t have the money to pay for chemicals.”
He started offering prizes for the best cacao among the farmers he was working with, and also came up with practical, simple, and more importantly, cheap solutions to improve the quality of the cacao.
Some had social consequences, for example, cacao used to be packaged in 100-pound bags, which only strong men could carry. Now, the bags were smaller, able to hold 50 pounds at the most, which opened the door for women to work.
“The women are more clever with money,” Peralta said, so the way the money is spent has shifted too. When men used to get paid, their friends would wait around on payday, hoping for a round of drinks. “Just one stupid thing. We saw it, we changed it, and now life has changed for these people.”
There are small adjustments like these and larger community initiatives, but all of these come about because of direct relationships with farmers.
Peralta spends about a third of his time in the field. The farmers are his friends, his associates, he says.
Presilla says something as simple as paying a premium for cacao has a huge effect on the life of farmers.
Both Peralta and Presilla are members of a relatively new organization, Direct Cacao, formed last year in Honduras. “We have the best chocolate makers from Europe and America involved,” she said. It will open to new members this month.
The goal is to establish a direct network between farmers and chocolate makers, as exemplified in Peralta’s work. There will also be educational programs, and a first international conference in the Dominican Republic.
Ever since the practices in the Ivory Coast were exposed, large companies have been careful. “Even companies that seem to be gigantic do something that is good. Mars, for example, pours millions of dollars in research.” Still, she said, “You cannot have great chocolate inexpensively.”
In the normal chocolate production chain, the divide is wide and long between raw material and finished product. The history of chocolate production is rife with exploitation and in the Ivory Coast, infamously spawned child slavery and human trafficking years ago.
In Ecuador, there are cacao farmers who had produced cacao generation after generation, but had never tasted chocolate.
“We gave them chocolate for the first time in their lives,” Peralta said. “They said ‘It’s sweet! It’s really nice.’ Can you imagine? Your grand-grand-grand grandfather was growing cacao [and you’re growing cacao] and you never have tried it. They are very proud. We have the best chocolate, we have the best cacao on Earth.”
Tags: Nature, Science
By Epoch Times
Creatures we thought were long gone, creatures from millions of years ago, have been discovered alive and well, living among us. These living fossils take us back on a journey through millions of years of Earth’s history.
Tags: Body & Mind, health, Nature
The deep-golden petals of the common marigold Calendula officinalis have been used for millennia as an antiseptic in creams, ointments, poultices, washes, and tinctures. Everyone from soccer moms to mountaineers should have some on hand for occasions when an accident leads to cut or grazed skin, a burn or scald, or crushed body tissue of any kind.
Calendula ointments or creams can bring about such quick healing that it will amaze you. Even in severe trauma, calendula can eliminate any signs of inflammation, throbbing, and infection as early as the following day, without the development of scar tissue.
It is not only the main antiseptic ointment used by herbalists throughout the world, but also the petals contain resins that are anti-fungal as well. It acts to stimulate the lymphatic circulation, reducing swelling in lymphatic nodes and also mobilizes white blood cells, helping to fight infection.
Herbalists use calendula tincture or ointment instead of proprietary antiseptics and iodine tincture, which can be very harsh on the sensitive areas of the body. Since calendula can be applied to sensitive body areas, it is much more useful and effective for conditions such as diaper rash, bed sores, and ulcers of the elderly, or any itchy skin rash.
Making Your Own
While there are many creams and ointments on the market that contain calendula, I find that the best results are obtained from calendula cream or ointment that I have made myself. I use calendula that I have either grown myself or sourced locally so that I can be guaranteed of the amount and its freshness.
If you have not made your own creams or ointments before, calendula is an easy one to start with. Harvest the flower petals after the morning dew has dried and just after the flowers have opened in summer. Dry them at a low temperature and then mix well into the base of your choice—glycerin for creams and beeswax for ointments.
Marigolds are easy to grow, and once they are established in your garden, they will self-seed readily. The flower heads open and close with the rising and setting of the sun, and open flower heads in the morning forecast a fine and sunny day.
Plant marigolds in springtime in a sunny spot in well-drained soil without too much temperature variation. They are well-suited to growing in pots and window boxes. Plant in a standard potting mix combined in equal parts with composted fine bark. Deadhead or harvest the flowers regularly for your creams, as this will encourage continuous flowering.
Be careful not to confuse the medicinal calendula with the African marigold (Tagetes species). If you are unsure, check with your local nursery before attempting to make your own medicines.
A Long History
Calendula has an extremely long history, being first used in Indian and Arabic cultures. The Egyptians made use of its beneficial properties as did the Greeks, who flavored their food with the petals.
This long record of traditional use has commonly included the addition of the petals in soups for their taste, color (used instead of saffron), and of course medicinal properties.
In 17th century Britain, the peasantry considered the petals so important to the making of broth that none were considered well-made without the addition of dried marigold. Among its many other virtues, it was also said to strengthen and comfort the heart.
Traditionally, its principal internal use was for viral infections of the liver and the treatment of varicose veins. But this would have been prescribed with caution, as calendula can stimulate liver function too quickly and lead to nausea.
Calendula also contains high amounts of carotene, which can also be upsetting to the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas if taken in high doses. The plant contains high amounts of potassium, calcium, and sulfur, which together have a tonic effect on the liver, kidneys, muscles, and the heart, while also indirectly affecting the blood-flow rate.
Certainly the herb requires care when prescribed internally, and herbalists only rarely do so.
If you want to experiment with calendula, there are many recipes that include it, and many advise using it the same way the Greeks did—adding it as a garnish to either savory or sweet dishes.
The place it is most useful, however, is as an ointment in the medicine cabinet—the first remedy you should go to for first aid.
Luke Hughes is a classical Western herbalist and horticulturist based in Sydney, Australia.
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