In meat descent? Seek out Muslim suppliers

Mama G (Mom to the Left) described her family’s meat reduction and functional vegetarianism. She would, she says, buy meat that was slaughtered fairly and (I intuit) was easier to get than an hour-long run to the closest Whole Foods.

I am no vegetarian but I eat very little meat. In the last seven days, I have had a taste of Hubby’s lamb at one of our favorite — but soon to close — Chinese restaurants and a roasted chicken thigh from a Pakistani take-out yesterday. Like Mama G, I’m concerned with inhumane raising of animals and their slaughter, labor conditions of slaughterhouse and packing employees and the environmental costs of eating meat. I suppose I have a health concern, too, but that accents — not drives — my desire for more ethical outlets and reduced consumption.

When I owned a car and cooked meat at home, I would drive to one of a number of Muslim groceries or butchers in the suburbs and buy halal meat. Perhaps that’s an option for Mama G and those in a similar pickle. Why?

  • I may be wrong, but halal slaughter isn’t as industrialized as commercial meat slaughter.
  • Meat slaughter isn’t a happy affair, but I would rather see it handled by someone with a sense of divine responsibility than not; there’s no point for the butcher to be dehumanized or the animal conceptualized as a messy protein blob.
  • Working in smaller quantities, I had a better idea of where the livestock came from — like the time I saw a goat carcass unloaded from a truck identifying a West Virginia farm.
  • I get a sense more of the beast is sold and used.
  • You aren’t going to get pork, which is O.K. seeing how miserable the conditions are for factory swine.
  • Halal meat is usually cheaper than kosher or organic/fair/Whole Foods-like meat, since cost is a consideration. For lamb, it tends to be cheaper than ordinary grocers, too.
  • You sometimes have a real service butcher who can cut meat to your specifications.
  • You can sometimes get other staples there, like feta cheese, olives, pita bread, peas, tea and spices that might be unavailable or more expensive elsewhere.

Failing a full-service halal grocery, sometimes you can get halal meat in a cryovac pack or, as with my chicken thigh, eat at a halal restaurant (many of which have good vegetarian options, too.)

Lastly, there’s an affirmation of American pluralism that comes from conducting business outside your ethnic and religious custom; indeed, I bet a few dozen regular non-Muslim customers at a neighborhood halal grocery might start to build bridges that community meeting and rallies never could.

Recycled paper products worth buying

Hubby and I live behind a Whole Foods so we could buy our recycled paper consumer goods there, right? Except I get them next door at the CVS, a major drug store chain, ubiquitous in Washington, D.C.

Why? Their basic (not the premium) house brand toilet paper and paper towels — the later I don’t use at home, but will get for Day Job — are 100% recycled paper, 60% of the fibers being post-consumer. They don’t splash the fact on the front of the wrapper, but the information is plainly printed on the back. That’s pretty good recycled content, and is a fair match to Whole Foods’ house brand at less cost. (I think the Seventh Generation brand is too expensive.) When I have two equally attractive and responsible options, I’ll pick and promote the one that costs less and is easier for others to adopt.

Oh, and for office paper, Staples has a 100% post-consumer recycled copier printer that I use for home printing and I haven’t had a problem with it. It compares favorably to other economy papers, but is more expensive. But hardly enough to notice if you make an effort to conserve in the first place.

See, that wasn’t hard.

I love my “clean” union-made, USA-made blue jeans

Did you see the recent episode of Independent Lens entitled “China Blue” on PBS? It is the undercover story of real Chinese garment workers who make blue jeans for the American and other markets. The workers make pennies to make our clothing while their bosses, the distributors and the marketers grow rich. Paid $100 for designer jeans? Chances are that all the line workers combined made less than a dollar. And the sorry state is that nearly all clothing bought in the US today has a similar backstory.

But there are alternatives: union-made clothing from the United States and other countries where workers have the right to organize. Better yet, workers can own their business and share in the decisions and profits. Some of these union goods are expensive — but cost is no guarantee that the workers are well-treated: some sweatshop goods are quite costly. And some union and worker-cooperative goods are quite reasonable.

Over the next few months I’ll feature these as I replace parts of my well-warn wardrobe.

Right now, I’m wearing my US-made Union Line jeans. I wrote about them about a year ago and I love them. The khakis which I gave grudging approval then are now my favorites in part because the cloth is so robust. They support a perma-crease that makes them look fresher longer, and thus need washing less often (which in turn makes them last longer.) A pair of old Dockers feel like a diaper by contrast.

Union House still has the jeans, but so does Union Jean Company, No Sweat, Justice Clothing, and The Union Shop, so you can comparison shop or buy from the store that has other things you want.

I heart Reverend Billy . . .

and the Church of Stop Shopping.

I’ve been following him/them for quite a while.

Love the look. (UUEnforcer, are you taking notes?) Love the message. Love the music.

Here’s a movement I could believe in. Heck, I’d show up on Sunday. And it looks like Reverend Billy is on tour.

Remember: Shopping keeps the demons in the zoo . . . .

NYT: making palms greener, fairer

A little story in today’s New York Times about farmers in the Chiapas state of Mexico who grow, select and process palm fronds for U.S. churches who use them on Palm Sunday. These “eco-palms” keep the forests in better shape and because the farmers add value in improved quality and packaging, make a better income. U.S. churches seem to sponsor the economic activity, or at least promote it: the article is unclear. Lutheran World Relief, which has other fair trade projects, has some connection and an informative slideshow. Ditto the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

But there’s a problem. The variety of palm — sago, I think; again, some detail would be nice — doesn’t have the long ribbony fronds you need to make palm crosses. An opportunity for palm growers in other regions, I’m betting.

U.S. Churches Go ‘Green’ for Palm Sunday” (New York Times)

Celiac disease and Communion

I cannot believe that after nearly four years of blogging I have not written about celiac (coeliac) disease (and other gluten-intolerance diseases) with respect to Communion. (Perhaps I did; several of my early posts were completely destroyed by Internet worms.) Hubby and I talked about this last Saturday over sandwiches and some yummy chickpea-flour crisps, marketed as gluten-free.

In short: persons with celiac disease have a “lifelong autoimmune intestinal disorder” where gluten — the springy protein in wheat, rye, barley and triticale, and perhaps oats — destroys the part of the intestines that absorbs nutrition. (Source.) All of these grains must be carefully avoided, even in small trace amounts. No bread, no pasta, no beer, no malted milk. I’d want to curl up in a ball and hide in a hole. But friends want friends to be included, also at church.

This means making an accommodation for Communion, which has been received with different levels of success in various churches. I experimented with an accommodation in my last pastorate, even though there were no known celiacs in the congregation, using cubes gluten-free rice bread in foil. (Site where I got the idea.) I had hoped to make a targeted outreach. Why? Catholic (the “non-independent” kind) canon law is clear that communion hosts (bread) made without wheat is invalid. And there’s no way to guarantee perfectly gluten-free hosts. A segment in this week’s Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly reminded me that some Catholics are trying to accomodate, but there continue to be some people who cannot be helped as canon law is written.

I’m not talking about a tiny number of people; the NIH estimates that about two million Americans have the disease.

Sensible people should be aware of gluten-immune disorders, even if Communion is their last worry. Friendship and community is linked to food, and food generally and wheat are intertwined. Good to know that formula doesn’t work for many people.

Something other than the $100 laptop

The $100 per child laptop, now formally (but inconsistently) known as the Children’s Machine, is verging towards US$150 delivery price and the name — well, it reminds me of an ill-fated crusade centuries ago.

News has it that people in the wealthy West can buy one of these computers — originally forbidden — provided the purchaser buys one for a child in the field. The wide interest among wealthy tech-users has made me suspicious. Does the gee-wiz factor trump local concerns for affordability, propriety and sustainability? What about the millions of dollars poor nations’ education ministries will pour into imported hardware? What of theft, corruption and the risk of toxic materials? While I appreciate the goals of the $100 laptop, I wonder if the means have trumped the ends. How can the technology, information and communications needs of the world’s poorest and least connected people be met on their terms, in a fashion that respect their ability to create and maintain systems. The laptop project seems imposed in the old, deprecated “west to the rest” model of missionaries of old.

I have found seven projects that I think better respect these emerging technology, information and communication needs. Some use computers, some don’t. Some will want your money, others don’t need it. Think of this list as opportunities you may not have known of.

  1. Campware, based in Prague, creates open-source software for managing radio stations and newspapers, modes of journalism that are vital for supporting fragile democracies and for informing large numbers of people at low cost. (Radio has the additional virtue of reaching the non-literate.) Its founding donor, the Media Development Loan Fund, is based in New York and will gladly take your donations.
  2. The Hesperian Foundation produces books — these can also be downloaded as PDF — and (seems to) coordinate(s) translation about primary medical care for people without access to trained medical professionals. Specialized books help women, persons with disabilities and those working to prevent HIV transmission. You can donate to them, too.
  3. Geekcorps is a Washington-based, USAID-supported initiative of the IESC. Their work in Mali, especially in the remote north of the country, has mixed local solution and open-source software to create Internet access, radio stations and opportunities for small business.
  4. Whirlwind Wheelchair International, a program of the Urban Institute at San Francisco State University, “works to make it possible for every person in the developing world who needs a wheelchair to obtain one that will lead to maximum personal independence and integration into society.” (Citation) They focus on open-source design and local production.
  5. The Open Prosthetics Project, while smaller, deserves note in the field of prosthetic limbs.
  6. Ecology Action promotes small-scale, organic biointensive farming and trains persons in the technique, some in remote, poor and ecologically fragile areas. Long time readers of Mother Earth News and the like will be familiar with biointensive farming, which would make adequate, low-input local agriculture possible on remarkably little land.
  7. Anywhere Books is a project to produce books on demand through a “digital bookmobile” in Uganda. (Site not loading.)

There are many others. Feel free to add your own.

“And service is our prayer”

I was tickled when my spell-checker tried to make Grameen into sacrament. Grameen, of course, refers to the famous microfinance entity (and by extension, it values) that has made it possible for some of the world’s poorest people to create businesses, and with them an income, security and dignity.

These entities — there are several, the Grameen Foundation USA, Accion International and Oikocredit come to mind — deserve your support as investors and supporters. Please consider them when you make out your 2007 charitable giving.