Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What's with SUV drivers?

Based on two recent incidents, I have decided that many people who drive SUVs are idiots. (ok - this is going to be a rant, so prepare yourself.)

About a week ago an SUV cut us off as my husband and I were driving on the service road bordering our apartment complex. The operator of that oversized vehicle whizzed by a parking space, seeing it only at the last moment. As we pulled into the space, his backup lights came on. He pulled alongside our car, got out, and approached the driver's window wanting to know what we thought we were doing. He challenged us to get out of the car and discuss why we had stolen his parking space! He left his SUV in the middle of the one-lane service road, blocking traffic and instructing all motorists who approached to back up and go around. He kept us prisoners in our car until I called Security at our apartment complex. This whole incident took more than half an hour, during which time we had no idea if this SUV driver was armed & violent or just highly egotistical and stubborn. In legal parlance I'm told this is "menancing behavior." He's lucky I didn't call 911 as the security guard suggested.

And then TONIGHT I was nearly killed by another SUV driver. This self-absorbed fool was making a left turn out of our apartment complex as I was crossing the street on a green light, walking in a pedestrian crosswalk. He headed straight towards me. I thought he would brake, drive to one side, or slow down, but he didn't. When his vehicle was about 3 feet from me, I yelled at him. I forget what I said -- something like, "hey~ look out!" To which he replied in a disgusted fashion (after recovering from his initial surprise), "oh, just keep walking." Well, I didn't. I made him drive around me as I gave him a piece of my mind -- most likely to no avail.

So... what's with SUV drivers anyway?

An article entitled Bumper Mentality from the Washington Monthly explains it very well. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

" ...the bigger the SUV, the more of a jerk its driver is likely to be."

"According to market research... SUV buyers tend to be 'insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood. They often lack confidence in their driving skills. Above all, they are apt to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors and communities. They are more restless, more sybaritic, and less social than most Americans are. They tend to like fine restaurants a lot more than off-road driving, seldom go to church and have limited interest in doing volunteer work to help others.' "

"Armed with such research, automakers have, over the past decade, ramped up their SUV designs to appeal even more to the 'reptilian' instincts of the many Americans who are attracted to SUVs not because of their perceived safety, but for their obvious aggressiveness."

"SUV drivers tend to overestimate their own security, which prompts many to drive like maniacs..."

"The "kill rate," ... for SUVs is simply jaw-dropping... Government researchers have found that a behemoth like the four-ton Chevy Tahoe kills 122 people for every 1 million models on the road; by comparison, the Honda Accord only kills 21."

Got the picture? My advise is to give SUV drivers a wide berth. Your life may depend upon it!

© 2009, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Thoughts on Food, Inc.

In Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation's food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that's been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government's regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nation's food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. We have bigger-breasted chickens, the perfect pork chop, insecticide-resistant soybean seeds, even tomatoes that won't go bad, but we also have new strains of e coli--the harmful bacteria that causes illness for an estimated 73,000 Americans annually. We are riddled with widespread obesity, particularly among children, and an epidemic level of diabetes among adults.

Featuring interviews with such experts as Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma) along with forward thinking social entrepreneurs like Stonyfield Farms' Gary Hirschberg and Polyface Farms' Joe Salatin, Food, Inc. reveals surprising -- and often shocking truths -- about what we eat, how it's produced, who we have become as a nation and where we are going from here. Food, Inc. opened
in the US and Canada on June 12, 2009. US filmgoers can click here to find a nearby theater and purchase tickets.

(Photo & text above are used with permission, courtesy of Food, Inc.)

Last weekend I saw Food, Inc. With this post I'm adding my own recommendation to the rave reviews it's receiving in the press. The film moves in a structured way through a variety of foods and the policies that control our food production. Like any good documentary, it relies on the facts to make its points and keeps hyperbole to a minimum.

Even though I already knew quite a bit about how animals in the food system are mistreated, I wasn't aware of the policies to which farmers must adhere in order to maintain their agribusiness contracts. Nor was I aware of just how few mega-businesses really control our food supply. Or that Tom's of Maine is owned by Colgate-Palmolive and Wal-Mart is the biggest distributor of Stonyfield Organic Yogurt. This movie contains lots of provocative facts to ponder, that's for sure!

Food, Inc. closes with the reminder that we "vote" on how our food is produced with every dollar we spend. It stresses the fact that our individual choices are what will make a difference. The movie does not, however, talk about organizing and collective action. That is perhaps its only failing. One of the biggest points made by Food, Inc. is that control over food is very political. What it doesn't say is that to combat a powerful political force, we need to use collective methods like lobbying, leafleting, boycotting, even marching in the streets. These sorts of tactics demonstrate that we as consumers and taxpayers are united in our efforts.

The Food, Inc. website melds into a more activist site called Takepart.com that offers all sorts of useful lifestyle change suggestions, educational aids, and links to related sites like Center for Food Safety. Please take time to browse and acquaint yourself with all these sites. They help us find ways to be more politically active in matters related to our food supply.

I would also encourage readers to get involved with Farm Sanctuary. (As recounted in my 9/16/07 post, my own Visit to Farm Sanctuary turned me into a more committed vegetarian.) In addition to sheltering farm animals, Farm Sanctuary does a fair amount of political organizing to teach people how to make a collective impact for change. A similar organization not mentioned on Takepart.com is Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT). These and other organizations that stress political action as well as individual choice will help us make a difference.

Before action, though, comes education on the issues. Food, Inc. does an EXCELLENT job relaying the facts and demonstrating the need for change on every level of the food industry. If you're in the US or Canada, go see it. If you're outside North America, watch for it. And feel free to share your thoughts in a comment here.

© 2009, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Vegetarian Thursday

Did you know that the city council in the Belgian town of Ghent has declared every Thursday to be a vegetarian day? All the townspeople are encouraged to forego meat, fish, and shellfish, maybe dairy and eggs as well (the article wasn't clear). The people of Ghent want to be a "pioneers in the fight against obesity, global warming, cruelty to animals." Click here to read the entire story published in the Guardian on May 14, 2009.

While my decision to be a vegetarian is based on cruelty issues, others have been motivated by the environmental impact of changing our reliance on meat and animal products. The Guardian article refers to United Nations data which concludes that "meat production and consumption are to blame for 18% of greenhouse gases – more than cars." The 2006 UN report characterizes the devastation caused by the meat industry as "one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global." For more on this subject, check out Wikipedia's article on Environmental Vegetarianism. All of the information there is footnoted; the citations include many respected sources.

I've been a vegetarian for only two years, and in order to stick with it I have not been able to be eliminate all animal products. I don't eat beef, pork, and poultry. I still eat fish as well as dairy products. However, I have started buying organic milk because those cows live on pasture, eat a natural diet, and generally lead more stress-free lives than their counterparts on massive dairy farms. I buy eggs that sport the Certified Humane logo at the top of this post. I have switched to cruelty free cosmetics which sport the leaping bunny logo below, and I'm trying to use more cruelty free household products. (Click here to learn how to buy all kinds of cruelty free items.)

Maybe I will join the people of Ghent and exclude all animal products from my diet for just one day a week. On that day I could try to expand upon my vegetarian cooking skills. Hmmm... Something to think about. Care to join me?

* H. Steinfeld et al., Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, Livestock, Environment and Development (2006).

© 2009, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement