Author Archives: Zo Zhou

About Zo Zhou

I (Zo) started twospoons as a project first for me to fill in the hours between *ahem* studying, but began to realise that it could be a really useful collaborative thing. The aim is to get students more aware of food, and to discover the joy of being able to make really delicious and healthy food without stretching their credit limits. My focus is really in Christchurch, New Zealand but the principles can be applied anywhere. Basically I try to buy in season (or use ingredients that are quite cheap no matter what the season), stray outside the supermarket and adapt recipes to make them either simpler, more in tune with what's easily available (and findable), and to have some creative fun in the process! Hope you enjoy reading/looking, but most of all, I hope you enjoy cooking :)

Getting along, and moving on.

Political passion can be powerful in creating positive change, but it can also be unnecessarily divisive. Today I attended the Occupy Christchurch demonstration, which is in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. There were a huge range of issues that attendees cared about, from specific (fracking in Canterbury) to general (people before profit). While it was great to see such solidarity in our increasingly individualised society, I couldn’t help being concerned about the potential for Occupy to turn into a binary and oversimplified good/evil movement, ending not in consensus and much needed change but indignant defensiveness and bitter disappointment. This concern of mine is not unique to the Occupy movements, nor left-wing political movements more generally – it applies to any political discussion, media coverage, article or simple slogan. The stubborn arrogance I’m talking about has been espoused by people all over the political spectrum, and is often present in many of those contentious issues: arguments about vegetarianism being a prime example. There’s no way everyone will agree on everything, even if you believe that those who disagree with you are uninformed or stupid. However, I think we are missing far too many opportunities to be nicer to each other, find common points of interest despite our disagreements, and solve common problems.

My concern about the Occupy movements is that they have been painted (a bit unfairly, since that isn’t their sole purpose) as protesting against a certain set of people, rather than a certain set of policies. Occupy has been framed as simply being against right-wing political parties, greedy corporations and the financial industry. Understandably so, some would argue, because many of these groups crafted the policies that have caused the problems Occupy are against. However, there is nothing positive or progressive about name-calling. You’re never going to get someone you just insulted to agree with you (you do give them a reason to insult you in turn though). You’re unlikely to inform anyone, or “raise awareness” about the causes of social problems through clever puns on a politician’s name (you do give the opposition reason to paint you as a raving, mean-spirited jerk though). You’re never going to learn anything yourself by point-blank refusing to listen (you might become so absorbed in your own beliefs that people literally ask what you’re on about though). Perhaps worst of all, you’re never going to enrich your own life or the life of others. It’s easy to revolve around criticism, simplify problems, reduce policies to certain individuals/groups – just don’t think you’ll ever get anywhere if that’s all you’re doing.

Of course, it’s easy for me to just criticise, but I also want to suggest a better way forward. I’m glad that Occupy Christchurch has planned to do the latter as well, in the form of an inclusive discussion that will hopefully welcome everyone. Two things stood out today that give me hope. First, a sign reading something like “I’m in the 1%, but I support the 99%.” Second, someone in the movement shaking the hand of a guy in young ACT who got booed for voicing his opinion that the crowd didn’t like, and thanking him for coming to an event which obviously he didn’t necessarily agree with fully. If we all listened to people we disagreed with more with an open mind, we would not only strengthen our own beliefs, but also discover that we have more in common with our “enemies” than we ever thought. Only on precious common ground can lasting and positive change be built.

So here are my suggestions for participating in politics passionately, but also progressively:

  • If you’re going to criticise something, focus on policies and/or outcomes, not people or parties.
  • Really listen to people you normally disagree with – the only way you’ll ever change their minds is if you can genuinely understand why they think the way they do.
  • Be open to compromise on details as long as you remember the bigger picture.
  • Find and foster common ground.
  • Disagree respectfully, with reason.
I’ll admit I don’t always stick to these principles myself, and that I enjoy the odd chuckle over puns on our Prime Minister’s name. I think it’s time to grow up though, and realise our demands for a better society also need to start from within.

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It ain’t easy being green.

“People buy time from the economy, and the economy then robs them of it”

 

 

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Fast fashion: about as good as fast food.

To kick off this extended review of Lucy Siegle’s book, “To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?” I’ll start with a bit of personal background (which kind of reflects the way Lucy guides her discussion in the book, something that I found quite helpful). The next bit will look at some of the core points from the book that particularly interested me, and the last bit will be a critique and discussion of what I think Lucy could have expanded, and where I think I will expand my fashion future. 

In my first year of Uni I met some amazing people. They seemed to know so much more about why the world was so screwed up. Young and eager, I wanted to do right by myself, and others, but I didn’t really know how. I tried to educate myself by attending Oxfam’s meetings about Fair Trade, and joined the Greens on campus. I began to question everything I bought. How was it made, and by who, and at what real cost? It sounded “green,” but was it? What’s the alternative? The questions always seemed particularly pertinent when it came to clothes and shoes (now it’s food). I started appreciating my mother’s addiction to buying things second hand, and bought a pair of No Sweat sneakers, which I walked to Uni in almost daily until they got holes in the soles (it didn’t take long, actually, and I felt a little betrayed to be honest). This is about the time fast fashion, the topic at the centre of Siegle’s book, began to kick off in New Zealand. Anyone who has bought a few new items at a mall in the last few years will know what I’m talking about: clothes and shoes that have become so cheap that even students can somehow afford them. Lots of them. Enough to be on trend for every trend. Then came the fashion blogs, which made buying all these cheap items socially acceptable (with a few gifted luxury extras): if these individuals, who now work with labels at the design level and get interviewed by international fashion magazines, could do it, surely everyone could. With fast fashion, it was. It was all incredible enticing. Like Lucy, when fast fashion emerged, I simply stopped having time to think about the wider consequences of the garments I was about to buy. Every sale item felt like a score, not a sore, even in my fairly eco-conscious mind.

One day I just stopped reading the countless (literally…I was too lazy to count them) fashion blogs in my google reader. I felt tired, and the magical fairy dust of fast fashion wore off. It’s a bit like the feeling you get after having too much fast food actually. Boy do the first few bites feel worth it, but then you need a lie down. Well, during this lie down, I stopped being interested in acquiring the next addition to my wardrobe (which had overflowed so much I had to dedicate a second rack to my wearables). Don’t get me wrong, there are pieces I still adore, and I haven’t stopped caring what I put on in the morning. There are still things I admire (even started a fashion blog dedicated to my admiration). I’m still not sure why I stopped wanting to buy new things, but when I read the blurb of Lucy’s book I felt like my neglected conscience finally broke out and did a smug little dance. My willful ignorance had finally found an exit.

As it turns out, the rather grisly truths about fast fashion were far worse than my conscience had imagined. When Lucy told her story about being sucked in to the sales rack, I felt relieved that I wasn’t alone. This relief soon turned into horror at the reality of continued sweatshop labour that has arguably gotten worse since the Nike and Gap scandals, and remorse for the people (mostly women) making our frivolous bargains a reality. Then there’s the guilt and fear about the ecological consequences of fast fashion that will inevitably come back to haunt us. My boredom with fast fashion turned into revulsion when reading Lucy’s book. I felt physically sick at some points, because quite unlike with food, the fast fashion purchases I had made were totally unnecessary – not just in a survival sense, but I mean they did not make me more popular, or happy…hell, some of my fast fashion doesn’t even make me look more attractive (and I know I’m not alone in doing this!). They were made in vain, in all the senses of the word.

It has been a few weeks since I finished the book, and now I feel a bit empty (not in an emotional way, just in a bit of a “now what?” way). I’ve had a peek at my long-dormant fashion blog feeds, scrolled through some relatively inspiring sustainably-minded designers, and currently am re-coveting some $200 bike pants I’ve been wanting for over a year. No new fashion purchases in months, although I did attend a clothing swap. I don’t feel empowered at all though, and I will elaborate on this in my eventual critique, but for now, I’m still waiting to be woken up, this time not into the nightmare that is the real world, but hopefully something that I realise is not a dream after all.

 

 

 

 

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Eco survival week at UC

A quick message about Eco Survival Week on campus from the 11-15 October. Check out the awesome events and hop along to some if you have time. There are so many amazing events I’d love to get involved in but since two of my papers didn’t get offered formal extensions, I need to get myself into writing mode!

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Mapping your biking route easily

Google maps currently doesn’t let you go anywhere even when you’ve selected that you’re walking, but MapMyRide.com has solved this problem. You can not only go anywhere you want, but turn on/off an option to snap your route to the actual roads. This is great if you’re planning to bike along the road but also take a shortcut through a park or something. Mapping a new route is easy, and you don’t actually have to join. Also it seemed to detect automatically what city I lived in and put me in the city centre (it thought I was in America initially) although I think it helps if you already use Google Maps. You don’t have to be a member already, and it’s totally free to use. They have some sort of iPhone app as well if you’ve got something like that and you’re biking in unfamiliar territory. They are currently testing out their new map which makes it easier to change that setting for “snapping” it to the road or letting your go off road (it’s on the right). Here are some screen shots of a route I drew to get to the Regent on Worcester for the NZIFF:

At the top right it tells you the distance your route is so far. There’s the new beta version of the map. I played with the”hybrid” map type this time, which uses the satellite view overlaid with translucent roads and their names.

In the new beta version, all the view settings are in a handy box in the top left, which looks like this (you can hide it once you’ve selected the options you want by clicking on the little arrow by “map options”):

The marker thing is quite useful if you were going to do a long journey and wanted consistent breaks or something I guess. Or if you’re biking for fitness.

Then there are the route drawing settings:

The “follow roads” button is currently selected, which “snaps” any points you click on to the roads. For example, if I click on one street, then a street three blocks away after a corner, it will navigate itself around that corner. Yay. Clicking the button so it’s not selected will let you go anywhere off road. “Un” is short for “undo the last point” which is good if you accidentally made a point and want to get rid of it quickly. “Cen” centres your latest point drawn and zooms in on it. “Clear all” clears your whole route so you can start afresh.

Then there are helpful options for the points:

I think this could be more straightforward using the delete button on your keyboard once a point is selected. These options are brought up if you click directly on a point.

Go and have a play around! Basically clicking means you want to go to that point, and have a route drawn from the last point (or a line if you’re off roading). Dragging will move the map around. Scrolling zooms in or out. Pretty straightforward really. Personally I do prefer the newer beta version, except it’s not as good as the old one at automatically detecting your location.

PS: If you want to send feedback to these guys about the beta version, I’m sure they’d appreciate it!

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Turtles are cute, and it is freezing.

Just you try to deny it. To start with the turtles, the NZIFF* is currently on in Christchurch, so if you feel like getting the warm fuzzies, go see Turtle: The incredible journey. It looks like a feel good film, just in case anyone tries to accuse me of constantly posting depressing news. If you’ve miss(ed) the screenings and need to acquire it through, er…other means, then you can donate to the Save Our Seas Foundation that appears to have commissioned it. You don’t even need a credit card. Yay. Unfortunately I can’t find info about a DVD release date. Anyway, the trailer really did warm the cockles of my heart.

Speaking of warmness (which the living room is currently not), the Greens are currently campaigning for a “Warm Healthy Rentals” bill that calls for minimum energy performance standards for houses. I’ve emailed Gareth and asked him what the Greens would support in terms of specifics, but the basic idea is to legislate basic housing requirements for rental properties. This is not to vilify all landlords, but it is meant to address the HUGE number of unacceptably insulated houses. It’s a real problem in the South Island, where temperatures get below zero quite often over winter. If you’re a fan, send the e-card and join the facebook page to show your support and join in the discussion.

*I forgot to blog about Inside Job, which was a pretty funny doco about the 2008 financial crisis that included interviews with some of the key players. Their faces are so funny when they realise the doco maker is not on their side. Its screenings have finished in Christchurch, but it should come out later in the year again (not as part of a festival probably). Interestingly it’s paid for by Sony, and that means the film is slick and looks totally professional. Cheers to the Dim Post for the heads up.

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Filed under economics, Film/Documentary, Government policy

Story of stuff expands

The first time I watched Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Stuff” I almost cried with joy. Finally, someone was communicating the most important issues of our time with a clear, simple message which also didn’t bore. The cartoons in The Story of Stuff really do justice to the phrase “a picture paints a thousand words,” without leaving you scratching your head about what the pictures really mean, thanks to Annie’s succinct commentary, complete with excellent analogies that give her arguments a common sense vibe. Best yet, she anticipates a lot of the “but what about x” questions that people are likely to have, and offers practical solutions.

Recently I caught a glimpse of “the story of cosmetics” which was great for people who see cosmetics as a necessity because it didn’t just advocate complete boycotting. The story of cap and trade however is probably the most pertinent to all of us, in the US and NZ, because National has implemented the “free permit” scheme too.  Lastly there’s the story of bottled water, which really does present some alarming figures about how big the problem of bottled water has become, and looks at the wider effects of picking up that pump bottle.

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Filed under Climate Change, economics, Film/Documentary, media, Products

Quote of the day

I’m doing POLS essay research at the moment, and found this gem of a paragraph in Leiss, Kline, Jhally & Botterill (2005, p. 38):

Hierarchy, inequality, and power have shaped all societies, but were distinctly patterned in modern society. One of the most astute critics of the new relationships of industrial production was Karl Marx, who marveled at the immense power of the new systems of production, seeing in them as offering for the first time in history the means of unshackling society from scarcity and ameliorating the inequalities and hierarchies of the past. Yet he also argued that the promise of industrialization could not be actualized, because the new relations of production divided people, producing not simply more goods, but social classes and systemic inequality and continual economic crisis as well. The new arrangement of production allowed property and labor to be controlled by a privileged few, whose interests in deriving an adequate return for their capital investment held inordinate sway within society.

Clearly there are other complications, although I still want to give the authors a big bear hug for summarising Marx so succinctly, without making a clearly biased statement. It makes far more sense in the context of the chapter (entitled “from traditional to industrial society”), which does a pretty good job of pointing out the positive and negative aspects of both societies. It’s so nice to read commentaries on Marx which actually seem relevant and useful, as opposed to shallow comments about communism like “well why should I work my arse off when someone else is working for less but getting paid the same.” The hilarious thing is, that comment sounds more like it’s talking about modern capitalism, except the person working less is probably making more money.

PS. I’m not saying rich people are lazy, just observing that the more money a person/family makes, the less they then need to work, because they can let their excess wealth generate more wealth. Obviously not true for everyone, but it certainly gives already well off people a HUGE head start.

quote from “Social communication in advertising: consumption in the mediated marketplace.” 3rd Edition.

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Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring – Part 3

Following on from part 1 and part 2 in a series of summarised points about pesticide use presented in Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring. For some practical advice on smart biological controls in your garden to reduce pesticide use, check out Daphne’s Dandelions.

Beyond the dreams of the Borgias

The build up of chemicals due to recurrent exposure can have disastrous cumulative effects on individuals’ health. While many pesticides are labelled as safe, they often cannot account for the effects of multiple uses, or the effect of the interaction with other chemicals, or indeed the concentrations that can be achieved when combined with the use of neighbours and the wider community. Many of the tests are conducted in highly artificial lab conditions on rats whose diets are carefully controlled – very unlike the human diet.

Some farmers have been known to use pesticides that exceed the amount legally allowable on many foods, and there is often little protection afforded to the consumer in this regard.

Government departments that test foods are often underfunded and understaffed so that only a very small percentage of food sold is actually tested [additional comment: this appears to be the case in New Zealand as well]. When it is found to be dangerous, often nothing is done to warn the public or recall the product from the shelves, due to local and national laws that limit the powers of the related agencies. In cases where products have been withdrawn, it is after the fact and the damage has already been done.

A brilliant quote to summarise: “to establish tolerances is to authorize contamination of public food supplies with poisonous chemicals in order that the farmer and processor may enjoy the benefit of cheaper production – then to penalize the consumer by taxing him to maintain a policing agency to make certain that he shall not get a legal dose. But to do the policing job properly would cost money beyond any legislator’s courage to appropriate, given the present volume and toxicity of agricultural chemicals. So in the end the luckless consumer pays his taxes but gets his poisons regardless.” (p. 183, 2002 edition)

The human price

While some chemicals are known to be safe for humans, sometimes this is due to an enzyme in the body which may lessen its harm. However, if this enzyme is disabled due to contact with other chemicals, then the body’s defense is severely compromised. Since, in day to day life, humans come into contact with a wide range of chemicals, the risks of some chemicals that have been established as “safe” may be heightened from prolonged exposure to a range of chemicals (not necessarily other pesticides even, but food additives or natural substances), whose interactions cannot always be predicted.

The ability to directly point to any one chemical as the cause of particular symptoms is compromised by varying responses of individuals to such chemicals.

One in every four

It is becoming clearer that cancer can be caused by various environmental factors. While Carson does not try to prove that DDT based pesticides directly cause cancer in all individuals, she notes that, based on the knowledge of cells and what causes cancerous cells, and the knowledge of the effects of DDT pesticides, their use should be extremely limited given the potential cause-and-effect relationship. Cleverly, she addresses a question many may ask: why not just look to cures for cancer? She cites Dr Hueper, a cancer researcher who has also had much experience with patients. While treatment is obviously necessary, prevention can be far more effective and cause far less damage to individual health in the first place.

Nature fights back

While some chemical attacks can be effective on the target insect, often this paves the way for other pests to invade as the natural checks and balances of the new pest have been upset by chemical spraying. Sometimes the new pests or species resistant to the chemicals that have flourished in the absence of other insects can be dangerous not just to plants, but to humans and livestock.

While biological controls offer effective and low-cost alternatives to chemical spraying, they are incredibly rare. This is often because large chemical companies support research in Universities on pesticides, but not biological controls. This creates a wealth of attractive scholarships and staff positions. Biological control studies on the other hand are often underfunded, thus salaries are often low and positions few. Many of the leading entomologists on the other hand have had their entire research repertoire sponsored by the chemical industry.

While chemical sprays are not altogether ineffective, optimal results are actually achieved when they are applied sparingly and at the appropriate time, as they do not upset the natural predators and other checks on a pest. Chemical companies often have little motive to inform farmers of this fact.

The rumblings of an avalanche

Pest resistance is becoming an increasing problem, because unlike humans, insects can become resistant to a chemical in the period of two months to several years. Carson illustrates the problem with a few alarming statistics: “Before 1945 only a dozen species were known to have developed resistance to any of the pre-DDT insecticides…resistance began a meteoric rise that reached the alarming level of 137 species in 1960.” The problem of resistance was especially acute with vector (disease carriers) control programmes. Additional note: The problem is analagous to bacterial resistance through the excessive and unnecessary use of antibiotics for humans and animals, and anti-bacterial cleaners. In New Zealand, antibiotic resistant bacteria was a virtually nonexistent problem in 1999, but in 2008 an estimated 5000 cases were evident, according to the Institute of Environmental Science & Research. Read the full NZ Herald article for more, or google “superbugs”.

While DDT is still used in controlling disease-carrying pests (vectors), Carson argues that their use often exacerbates the problem by simply giving way to resistant strands, and notes several areas in which this is becoming an issue: mosquitoes carrying malaria, bacteria carrying houseflies, and body lice. Often vector populations actually increased after being treated with DDT pesticides, and one wonders why they are still used to control mosquitoes in the developing world today.

Due to the fast development of resistance to chemical pesticides, their use is not only futile but economically inefficient. Acquiring stockpiles of the latest miracle pesticide carries the very real risk of it being useless in a very short amount of time, yet great investment can be required for those relying on its properties.

The other road

In this chapter Carson describes an array of biological controls that could be used, and have been used with great success under certain conditions, with fewer ecological and sometimes economic, costs. What she stresses is that each is a biological approach that is “based on an understanding of the living organisms they seek to control, and of the whole fabric of life to which these organisms belong.”

The controls she mentions include:

The breeding and releasing of sterilized male insects, which was successfully used to control the screw-worm fly.

The introduction of a disease, bacterial or viral, to the target species’ environment, such as the bacillus thuringienis which causes fatal septicemia in the larvae of the flour moth. Damage to crops is far less than chemical sprays as the insects have less time to develop, and the diseases are often species specific so they don’t harm other living creatures, or if they do, it is much smaller in number.

The introduction of predatory or parasitic animals that attack or consume the target pest, as was used to control the gypsy moth, Japanese beetle, scales and mealy bugs. This method is used in many planted European forests, where they go so far as to build homes for woodpeckers.

Using or manufacturing the secretions of insects, such as the manufacture of a fake pheromone (sex hormone) to confuse male insects and prevent them from finding mates. This has been used in some cases such as the gypsy moths. Sometimes attractants are used in combination with poisons, but instead of spraying the whole lot over vast areas of land, the chemicals are administered to pieces of fiberboard, which are then scattered on the affected area. These pieces are unlikely to be eaten by other wildlife, and the residues are quickly dissipated, thus not contaminating soil or water.

The use of sound, such as the playing of female mosquito noises at a charged grid that zaps mosquitoes on contact. Repellant noises are also a potential avenue of research.

A quote which summarises the key messages in Carson’s book well:

“Through all these new, imaginative, and creative approaches to the problem of sharing our earth with other creatures there runs a constant theme, the awareness that we are dealing with life – with living populations and all their pressures and counter-pressures, their surges and recessions. Only by taking account of such life forces and by cautiously seeking to guide them into channels favorable to ourselves can we hope to achieve a reasonable accommodation between the insect hordes and ourselves. The current vogue for poisons has failed utterly to take into account these most fundamental considerations.”

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