Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Reclaiming Our Food Supply

  Let's rewind the clock five years. Now-President Obama was on the campaign trail vying to become the Democratic candidate. While making speech after speech, and meeting thousands of people across America, he vowed as President, to strive to: "let folks know when their food is genetically modified, because Americans have a right to know what they're buying." I could be wrong, but I think the majority of us agree with that statement. However, fast forward to the present, and we're still talking about the same issue. So what gives?

  This, by no means, is meant to be an assault on our president. But unfortunately, it's clear he made that statement before he discovered exactly who has a say in how our government is run. It's to show that we can have all the good intentions in the world, but our system is backwards.

  Our food supply is controlled by politics, and unfortunately, we have little-to-no-say in what happens. Through lobbyists and campaign contributions, corporations such as Walmart, Archer Daniels Midland, Tyson Foods, Monsanto, Cargill, and Kraft Foods have planted themselves front and center in the battle for control over what ends up on our plates. That stranglehold has wreaked havoc on the environment, our health, farmers, workers, and our future (follow related posts/links below for more information on GMOs and their effects).

  It seems easy enough: 93% of Americans have said they want GMO foods labeled (while it's estimated that 80% of processed foods in US stores contain GMOs), so what's the hold up? Put money aside, and do what's best for the people, right?

  But what we're seeing is Capitalism at it's best (or worst?). "Nearly all of human food production, seeds, food processing and sales, is run by a handful of for-profit firms which, like any capitalist enterprise, function to maximize profit and gain ever-greater market share and control."

  I'm no business major, but I guess that's called an oligopoly, or a near-monopoly:
  • Four corporations, led by Walmart, control more than half of grocery sales. Walmart alone gets more than one quarter of every grocery dollar spent in the US.
  • Three companies -- Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta -- own 47 percent of the world's seeds. And they own 65 percent of the global proprietary maize market.
  • Nearly every major commodity -- wheat, corn, soy -- is controlled by just four corporations.
  • More than 90 percent of soybean seeds, and 80 percent of corn seeds used in the United States are sold by one company: Monsanto.
  Since 1996, the US acreage in GMO soybeans has grown from 7 to 94 percent, with GMO corn skyrocketing from 1 to 88 percent of cultivation. A trend began in 1996 in the US, and not for the better.

  A study released in September by the D.C.-based watchdog group Food & Water Watch reported that between 1999 and 2009, roughly $547 million was spent on lobbying and campaign contributions to ease regulatory oversight and prevent labeling of genetically engineered crops.

  There are so many issues, and so many question-marks; so where do we start? How do we effect change?

  One step is to continue to push for GMO food labels. If we can identify foods in the grocery store, it becomes that-much-easier for us to avoid. The Just Label It Campaign is nearing 1 million signatures. 17 states also have potential legislation in the works for GMO labeling. So progress is being made in that regard.

  However there are more levels in the system that need changing. Labeling is a start, but revamping our food supply system is what's really needed.

  Pressuring Congress to end agribusiness subsidies, and begin spending our money on sustainable healthy foods and farming. "Pass a 2012 Farm Bill that reinvests public money in an economically diversified, ecologically sustainable and more locally-oriented food system." There are dozens of steps that can be made, and these are just a few. Read more about those ideas, and get a clearer understanding of the big picture here.

  Another example of how the line between big Agriculture and politics has been blurred: FDA senior adviser, Michael Taylor (who was appointed by President Obama in 2009) formerly served as vice-president of Monsanto. Sign the petition asking President Obama to 'cease FDA ties to Monsanto.'

  Most European Union countries have managed to keep GMOs out of their grocery stores thus far. And when modified foods do wind up on store shelves, you able to easily identify them because of labeling. It seems Europeans are winning the battle to keep control of their food supply. Monsanto has halted sales of modified maize in France recently, and BASF announced it would move its GM development plant from Europe to the US.

  When government is involved, I'm sure we all think there are bigger fish to fry (economy, ongoing war, etc). But really, is there anything bigger than our health, and the health of our future generations?

  As food policy expert Michele Simon says, "Single-day actions here and there won't cut it when powerful food industry lobbyists are roaming the halls of Congress and state legislatures all over the nation every day of the year."

  We need to get involved, and start paying attention. Take control of our food system by reclaiming our  "land, our labor, and our economy from corporate monopolies." It's a big mountain to climb, but I think we can do it. I look at it this way, if you can affect just one person, you are doing your part!

  ~ Sabrina

Pin It

Do You Know What GMOs Are? 
The Effects of GMOs 
Dangers of Soy
Just Label It blog

Obama's GMO Food Labeling Promise
Michele Simon: Cracking the Politics of Food
Political Battle Over GMO Labels
GMO Foods

Big Food Must Go
Occupy Our Food Supply
Petition to Cease FDA ties to Monsanto
Just Label It

Monday, February 27, 2012

London: The Good, the Bad, and the In Between

Tower Bridge behind.

  Amazing, that in a little over two hours you can seemingly go from one universe to another.

  For me, riding the train through the Chunnel, to and from London, was the equivalent of going to another world. How can two places so close in geography be so different in culture and atmosphere?

  I guess when one of those places is one of the largest international cities in the world, you're bound to get an incredible experience not seen many other places. 

  Here are a few highlights (and the always unavoidable low-lights when traveling) from my two-plus days in London this weekend:

The Good:
    A look down onto the river from London Eye.
  • the view from London Eye -- even though it isn't cheap (almost £20, or $32), the ride on the giant ferris wheel is a must for everyone!
  • Tower Bridge -- loved the setting. The detail and the color is much different when you can see it in person! Very cool. 
  • Borough Market -- would love to have spent more time at the farmer's/food/everything market, and maybe had a quick meal. But we got there late in the day, when things were closing up. Reminded me a bit of Seattle's Pike's Place Market (with less fish).
    St. Katharine's Docks.
  • St. Katharine's Dock -- right off the Thames River, and under Tower Bridge. An area we sort of stumbled up upon, where we found the coolest Starbucks I've been to -- in an old gazebo-type building in the middle of the marina, and some beautiful (expensive!) yachts that were docked there.
  • Barclay's Cycle Hire -- we rented bikes for £1 per bike for 24 hours, and explored Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens by day, and rode back to Covent Garden from Tower of London by night (2.5 miles). A fun/different way to see and explore the city. Gave our tired legs a much-needed rest.
  • being in a International/Global city -- on any given street corner, store, or restaurant you can hear seemingly every language EXCEPT English. Also you're able to find any type of food you may have a craving for. 
  • stumbling upon cool parts of town you didn't necessarily intend on finding (St. Katharine's Docks, Borough Market and surrounding area, Kensington Palace Gardens - one of the most expensive residential streets in the world).
  • Tower of London -- visited twice the castle twice. Amazing views all around the grounds. Didn't go in, however. Would have cost another £20!
    Sunset on the Thames. London Bridge.
  • Covent Garden  -- another lively district, where you can find fruit and vegetable stands, along with various other types of foods and goods to shop for.
  • sunny weather! -- it's London, if the sun comes out, it's a good day. We had 2 straight days of sun.
  • happening to get to Buckingham Palace right as the changing of the guard was getting underway. Hoards and hoards of people gathered to watch and catch a glimpse. Made me wonder what it was like last Spring during the Royal Wedding.
  • Niketown London -- cause I enjoy anything Nike. 
    Buckingham Palace at the changing of the guard.
  • walking the Thames River at Sunset.
  • Big Ben & House of Parliament (Palace of Westminster) -- loved the detail you could see in the buildings, and hearing Big Ben gong. 
  • the Tube -- London Underground is easy to use--didn't get on the wrong train one time! And of course, 'Minding the Gap'.

The Bad:
    Big Ben, of course!
  • Pound to U.S. Dollar conversion -- buying anything, then converting how much you've spent to dollars, realizing you're grossly overpaying ($25 for an Italian pizza, $6 for a 1/2 pound of Starbucks coffee, etc..) 
  • being unable to explore the neighborhoods in Notting Hill and Kensington because you realize you need to ditch the previously-mentioned Barclay's bike rental bikes -- but not having a docking station anywhere in sight. We then found two different docking stations, that were not yet operational! One hour and several miles later, we finally got rid of the bikes! 
  • having tired/swollen legs & ankles (the life of a tourist!).
  • lots of construction -- understandable because London is preparing for the Summer Olympics (the Underground, Plazas, and various monuments were all being worked on). 
  • not knowing enough (ANYTHING?) about British & Royal history -- it's hard to fully get a grasp on the big picture when you have no foundation to start from. 
  • not seeing the Queen.
Tower Bridge and Tower of London.
The Ugly:
  • being in an English-speaking country and understanding, at best, 1 or 2 words out of every 7 spoken by a Brit. After constantly saying what?, at some point you just nod, and pretend to understand. I guess 'British' and 'American' really ARE different languages!
  • breaking your camera on the first day, and having your phone (which served as my back up camera) die by 6 pm each evening.
  • not quite trusting the 'look right' or 'look left' signs painted on the crosswalks, and standing on the corner, looking five times, both ways, before crossing the street.
    The cool Starbucks. Of course we went in for a drink!

  • being unsure if the British tip in restaurants -- they don't everywhere else in Europe! Yikes (we later found out that they do tip)!
  Anytime you travel, you'll have some great, and not-so-great moments. Thankfully the great moments were far more-frequent than the latter!

  Those are some of the moments that stuck out for me the most about London!

  All in all, I had a great time getting a little taste of the capital of England, and am hoping to make it back in the near future.

  Enjoy the pictures and video!

 Panorama view of London from London Eye.

They're nice to help us outsiders cross the street without getting hit.
Me with a few friends at Buckingham Palace.
End of the Changing of the Guard ceremony.
Required London Underground picture.
Looking up Westminster Abbey.
Westminster Abbey.
Big Ben and the House of Parliament.
Top of the House of Parliament.
Thames River, with London Eye behind.
Looking up Big Ben.
Big Ben and House of Parliament from the bridge.
V and I heading up the London Eye!
Almost to the top!
Still inside London Eye.
Tower Bridge.
The infamous bike!
Kensington Gardens.
Found the Peter Pan statue!
Kensington Gardens.
V telling me how tired she is. ;)
Kensington Palace Gardens.
Riding bikes in Notting Hill. Taken while riding my bike!
Finally found a docking station to get rid of that bad boy.
Niketown London. A must for this Portland girl.
Covent Garden. A big bowl of Paella.
V's excited. Or tired. One of the two. In Covent Garden.
Minding the Gap on the Tube.
Tower of London.
Tower of London.
Sunset at Tower of London.
V ready for round two on the bikes!

Friday, February 24, 2012

I'm going to London -- To see the Queen...


  No weekend game means a weekend off! It's the first time since I've been in Dunkerque that we've had a free weekend (with the exception of our break over Christmas -- when I went home). Many of my teammates are hopping on a train, and headed home. I, obviously, am unable to do that. So instead, I'm hopping on a train, headed to London!

  Of all the 'big' cities in Europe, London is one of the few that I haven't managed to visit just yet. But I'll be able to check Big Ben and the Tower Bridge off the 'European Bucket List' soon!

  Two days isn't nearly enough time to see all the sights in a city like London, but I'm hoping to at least get to the major attractions. I've done my research, and have asked anyone who is willing to listen, 'what do I NEED to see?'. So I have a pretty good idea of where I'll be going, and what I'll be seeing. Now it's just a matter of getting out there, and seeing it all!

  I know my travel buddy, V, has her mind set on finding a Starbucks, so I'll be happy to help her find an infamous green and white awning. And I certainly won't be mad if we stumble upon Niketown London either. Outside of those two things, I'm hoping our trip to London will be strictly British. (I DID just find out there's a Whole Foods in Kensington, so I might need to make time to buy a few groceries too!)

  Here's a not-so-short list of sights that need to be seen (and I'm sure there's even more that haven't made the list yet):
Oxford Street -- Europe's busiest shopping street, with roughly 300 shops
Tower Bridge -- The original crossing over the Thames. One of the most-recognizable London sights.
Tower of London -- also known as Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress. A historic castle on the River Thames.
Trafalgar Square -- public space in Central London. Location of numerous community gatherings and demonstrations.
Big Ben -- the famous clock tower at Westminster Palace.
Buckingham Palace -- the official residence of the British Monarch. Located in Westminster.
London Eye -- the giant Ferris Wheel (standing 394 ft/135 m tall) is the highest in Europe. On the River Thames, provides incredible panorama of London.
Piccadilly Circus -- another public space, in London's West End. A mini-Times Square??
Notting Hill -- made famous because of the Julia Roberts movie. An upscale, affluent neighborhood.
Hyde Park -- one of the largest parks in Central London. Contiguous with Kensington Gardens -- where I've been told to find the Peter Pan statue. :)
Borough Market -- read about it in a travel blog. Apparently you need to visit early, bring cash, and go hungry. Sounds like a good place to find a snack!
Westminster Abbey -- built in the 1066. A mainly Gothic church, and site of traditional coronations and burials for the British.
'Jack the Ripper' Walking Tour -- no further explanation necessary!
London Underground -- will be our primary means of transportation (other than our feet!)                                                                                                                                  And of course, The Queen -- Can't go to London, and NOT see the Queen, right?!? ;) I'll make sure to wave if I bump into her this weekend :)
  That said, I'm looking forward to putting my tourist hat on (so to speak), snapping a ton of pictures, and seeing as much as London as I possibly can! You can be sure, that I'll have a blog about our trip ready to read next week!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Trois Joyeuses: Carnival

Me and my teammates!

  Rio and New Orleans are renowned for their Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) celebrations. The masks, the colors, the beads, the over-the-top festivities. We've all seen the video and pictures, if we haven't been fortunate (or crazy?) enough to attend the celebration in person.

  With a little less fame, but just as much (if not more) excitement, energy, and spirit, the apex of the Dunkerque Carnival should be mentioned alongside festivities in New Orleans and Rio. There's one difference however. In Dunkerque, culmination of Carnival, known as trois joyesuses (three joyous days) does indeed last for THREE JOYOUS DAYS.

Dunkerque Town Hall.
  Sunday afternoon I again donned my green 'leprechaun' costume, outfitted with face paint and a green boa, and headed out to celebrate Carnival with my Dunkerquoise friends. This time we were headed downtown, to the city hall. The main event of fish and lobster throwing was to get underway at 5pm. But by the time we got into the city around 4, the streets were already crawling with costumed, drumming, happy party-goers.

  The celebration actually got started much earlier in the day. Sunday morning (while I was still sleeping), a group of infamous Carnival-goers called Los Beitounos, host a chapelle in downtown Dunkerque. For clarification, chapelle has nothing to do with church or a chapel. It's actually hosting your friends for food and drink before (and after) attending a Carnival celebration.

  We made our way through the blocked-off streets, and found a spot to wait til the clock turned five. As it got nearer, the city hall plaza got more and more crowded.

  I was only expecting the balcony doors to open at five, and for the mayor to start his annual throwing of fish. As you can see from the video below, I was caught off guard when a parade of people and band players came charging into where we were standing! Once we cleared out of the way, we settled back in and the balcony doors opened, and finally the mayor emerged.

  For 20-30 minutes, plastic-wrapped herring was thrown out into the crowd (you could later see people eating it). We were at the back of the plaza, out of harm's way. From the looks of it, the area in front of the balcony was like a war zone. Hoards of people jockeying for position and fighting to catch one of the prizes.

  In those 20-30 minutes, 6 toy lobsters were also thrown into the crowd. If you were lucky enough to snatch a lobster, you could trade in the toy at a fish market for some real lobster. However, the lobsters are something like a trophy, and many times, the toy is kept as a memento.

Aftermath of the fish & lobster throw.
  Once the lobster and fish throwing was over, the crowd dispersed. My friends and I wandered to the front of the plaza to see the remnants of the 'war zone'. Confetti, feather boas, shoes, cell phones, broken bottles, garbage, you name it, and it was lying there, mangled on the ground.

  We then met up with some other teammates, and waited for the final event of the night. After mingling and enjoying 1-2 euro rosé, sangria, and beer for a couple of hours, the night came to an end with the procession at Jean Bart Plaza.

  It was much like the events of the Bal du Chat Noir, where a band in the center of the ball room played Carnival songs while revelers sang, and took part in a circular march around the stage. Only this time the band was at the center of Jean Bart plaza.

  The march commenced at 7pm, and continued for an hour. It is said that you can see steam coming from the crowd, but I can neither confirm nor deny this tale.

Walking towards Jean Bart Plaza.
  After being outside in the chilly 40-degree F temperatures for nearly four hours, I had had enough of the Carnival fun. And with that, Carnival 2012 ended on Sunday night (for me)!

  However the rest of Dunkerque continued with the final two days of trois joyeuses. On Monday, there was a similar celebration at the Citadelle (or the Dunkerque Harbor). And the three joyous days came to an end on Tuesday with the parade through the streets of Rosendaël (a small neighborhood in Dunkerque).

  So Carnival is finally over, right? Nope. Not here in Dunkerque. The celebrations continue this weekend on the beach (in my neighborhood, Malo les Bains -- but I'll be out of town), and then finally Carnaval de Dunkerque comes to an end the next two weekends with two final balls.

  It's been a unique and wonderful experience. And who knows, maybe I'll be around next year to celebrate again!

....more pictures below!

Waiting for things to start.

My costume!
Here comes the band!

Lost in a sea of colors and umbrellas.

The mayor throwing fish & lobster.

A look into the night sky.

Aurélie with the girls!