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Rio 2016: Fighting Deforestation while Selling Burgers

The 2016 Olympics kicked off in Rio, Brazil with the opening ceremony on August 5th. During the event there was acknowledgement of climate change with images that illustrated rising temperatures, melting polar ice caps, and rising sea levels. Following these images there was narration about how the host country would plant a seed for each athlete after the ceremony, implying that this could be one way to combat deforestation and climate change (of course, this gesture doesn’t change the various scandals and incidents preceding the games in Rio). Read More

ChinaFit Expo 2016: Vegan Health Trending?

Brighter Green Associate Wanqing Zhou traveled to China in June and attended the 5th ChinaFit Convention and Trade Show in Beijing. She was one of the lead panelists at the Health Nutrition & Vegan Forum.

Wanqing reported that around 10,000 came to the larger expo and 180 bought tickets to the Vegan Nutrition and Health Forum. She shared her photos and experiences from her trip to Paraguay in November 2014 (including deforestation, soy plantations, and related struggles for indigenous groups), eco-agriculture in the U.S., and farm-to-table examples in Japan. Read More

Judaism and Animals: An Ever-Evolving Relationship  

Recently, I attended the Jewish Outdoor, Food, and Environmental Education (JOFEE) Networking Retreat at Isabella Freedman Retreat Center in the Berkshires, Massachusetts. For a little over three days, experts in their fields⎯ranging from rabbis to environmental educators⎯gathered to strengthen their knowledge base, expand their teaching skills, and grow their network. I attended workshops on Jewish animal ethics, classroom activities about animals, and engaging youth with animals through text study.

There were many takeaways, but I think the most important one was how hungry many of us were to learn more about our ancestors’ relationship with animals and discuss our own struggles to connect with the many creatures that surround us.

In Judaism, so many of our traditions involve animal products, including covering ourselves in a shawl made of sheep’s wool during prayer, eating meat on the Sabbath, and wrapping tefillin⎯a set of small black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah⎯around our arms and forehead every day of the week (except the Sabbath). These practices, which were and are meant to connect us to animals and nature, are now being re-examined and in typical Jewish fashion, we are left with more questions than answers:

  • How do we continue to embrace our connection with animals without causing suffering?
  • What is the compromise between maintaining tradition and moving forward with the times?

Perhaps it is the fear, the fear among many, that if we do away with the customs of our ancestors, we may lose our connection to them, and if we lose that, what else might we lose? Could it be that it is our inability to trust in the survival of Judaism while making modifications to ritual and tradition that keeps many of us from embracing change?

A Vegan in Norway: Food, Policy, and Public Attitudes (Part IV)

Mia MacDonald traveled to Norway in October 2015 to visit the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo and to be a tourist. This blog is the third in what will be a four-part series on her experiences and observations during the trip.

Some context for my trip: Norway’s current wealth is based on the exploitation of oil and gas reserves located in the North Sea in the late 1960s. Timber and fish farming are also major industries. But a national “green” agenda exists, too, and is getting stronger. Recent Norwegian governments have dedicated hundreds of millions of dollars to forest conservation in places like Brazil and Indonesia. And transitioning to a “green economy” less dependent on fossil fuels and promoting of renewable energy is a national policy priority.

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Sustainable Development Goals

In September, I heard Norway’s government minister for climate and the environment speak as part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals summit in New York. Norway aims to be a “low emission nation” by 2050, she said. “Carbon taxes are smart” she added, and said the government was developing a plan to reduce food waste.

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Electric Car Charging Station

Norway is also encouraging its citizens to buy electric cars and is offering generous subsidies to make this more likely. “It has to be more expensive to pollute than to use environmentally-friendly fuels,” Norway’s deputy minster of climate and environment told the International New York Times. So far, Norwegians have purchased nearly 70,000 all-electric cars.

But contradictions persist. Norway is one of only two countries in the world that disregard the International Whaling Commission ban on the commercial hunting of whales (Iceland is the other). In 2014, Norway killed 736 minke whales, a record number. Less than 5 percent of Norwegians it’s estimated want to eat whale meat, which is associated with the country’s poorer past and can hardly be seen to fit with Norway’s new “green” image. The whales are also feeling the effects of marine pollution and run off from land-based agricultural operations.

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Whales

Earlier this year when Norway sought to export the meat of the hunted whales to Japan, Japan balked. It cited heavy contamination of the “meat” with pesticides like aldrin, dieldrin and chlordane that are known to cause birth defects and even cancer.

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Factory Fish Farms

Norway is also the world’s largest producer of Atlantic salmon, and the second biggest exporter of seafood. Most of Norway’s fish farms resemble factory farms on land. They are crowded, mechanized, and often riddled with sea lice. The concentrated fish wastes are polluting, too, realities that the Norwegian fisheries department admits are environmental hazards. Still, the fishing industry is economically important and has strong government support. Interestingly, the world’s top exporter of seafood is…China.

A Vegan in Norway: Food, Policy, and Public Attitudes (Part III)

Mia MacDonald traveled to Norway in October 2015 to visit the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo and to be a tourist. This blog is the third in what will be a four-part series on her experiences and observations during the trip.

Literature House

Away from Fragrance of the Heart. I got the sense that “vegan” and “vegetarian” are becoming more mainstream in Norway, both the words and the ideas behind them. The existence of the Vegan Oslo website and app suggest this, and the creators of that say Vegan Norway versions are in the works. Some other evidence: I had dinner one evening at Oslo’s Literature House and the menu had vegetarian options. When I asked about a vegan meal, the chef came out of the kitchen, spoke to me in perfect English, and prepared a really nice vegetable plate with orzo, Italian pasta, leafy greens and mushrooms that tasted like they’d just been dug up from the soil. My Norwegian colleagues suggested that maybe they had been; after all, it was summer and I learned Norwegians love foraging, particularly for berries.

At another dinner, in a home just outside Oslo, my hosts cooked an excellent vegan pasta dish for me – fresh mushrooms, spinach, and lots of garlic and olive oil – that they ate too…although along with a plate of lamb chops. The concept of “hipster” is in among Oslo’s young people, one of my hosts told me. Her teenage daughter is a fan of “hipsterism”, and the Grünerløkka neighborhood of Oslo, which I’d planned to visit, was a center of hipsterdom.

Grunerlokka-today

I set off for Grünerløkka the next day. First I visited the Edvard Munch Museum, and then strolled through the botanical gardens on a rainy, cool day that made the shrubs and flowers look fresh and lovely. The weather was a sign that the Norwegian summer was coming to an end. On the western side of the gardens, I explored some of the terrain of Grünerløkka. I passed Middle Eastern restaurants, cafes, and several small shops stores selling vegetables. I’d expected to see mostly potatoes or other plants that grow in the ground, a monochrome display. But I was pleasantly surprised by how much produce was available and the varied colors and textures of it; perhaps they were made more vibrant by the backdrop of grey weather.

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Mountains and Fjords

I was also on the outlook for a vegan restaurant, housed on a street I could see on my map. I’d anticipated a good meal. I couldn’t, though, find the number. And I didn’t have service on my phone to open up the Vegan Oslo app, even though it would have been a perfect time to use it. So, I never got to what I thought was my destination. Instead, I found myself back near the center of the city. I ended up eating the free dinner in my hotel. It wasn’t terribly vegan friendly, but I could eat several salads and bread, and that was good enough. That was my last night in Oslo. I never got to leave the city to visit the mountains and fjords as part of an epic, 12-hour (or more) train journey I’d read about. I simply didn’t have enough time. Maybe that means a return visit is in order and without another gap of 10 years.