Craft Beer (from Recycled Food Waste)

A win for beer lovers.  A win for New York City.  A win for Americans.  And a win for our planet.

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Overproduction is built right into the business model of most bakeries. While we devour much of what is made, huge quantities of perfectly good grain are tossed.

But Tristram Stuart, an Englishman who began battling food waste 15 years ago, long before it became a popular cause, discovered a way to turn bread, an inexpensive product with a short shelf life, into one that’s long-lived and lucrative: craft ale.

After coming across a recipe, he refined it with Hackney Brewery in London and then contracted with Hambleton Ales in North Yorkshire to produce it in quantities. In 2016, Mr. Stuart began selling Toast, an English ale with malt and citrus notes, at London restaurants, online and through a growing number of distributors. Using roughly one slice per bottle, his team of three has recycled 3.6 tons of bread in its first 15 months.

Now, in his first satellite operation, Mr. Stuart, 40, has begun making beer in New York. Working with Chelsea Craft Brewing Company, in the Claremont section of the Bronx, Toast produced the pilot batch of its American Pale Ale in March.

On Saturday, the first bottles of the ale were sampled at the Tribeca Film Festival for the screening of “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste,” a documentary produced by Anthony Bourdain in which Mr. Stuart is featured.

Toast Ale, From Recycled Bread, Is Now Brewed in New York, The New York Times (Apr. 24, 2017).

An Act of Love.

fullsizerender336Since [S]’s birth, I have watched both with fascination and gratitude as family and close friends have bestowed on her their time, attention, and affection.  As a result she’s received plenty of playtime, warm hugs, and an abundance of cuddles.  She’s also been the recipient of thoughtful and generous gifts, including classic children’s books (think Dr. Suess’ The Lorax and A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh) and an educational activity table that teaches the alphabet, numbers, directions, music, and animals. 

This week, a friend of ours gifted [S] a kitchen play set, consisting of a sink and an oven.  Unlike many–if not most–of the play kitchen sets, this one wasn’t made of bulky plastic.  And it wasn’t pink.  This kitchen set was made entirely from recycled and/or recyclable materials.  Various-sized cardboard boxes were used as foundation; black plastic bags were used to cover stove burners and dials; Gatorade bottle caps were repurposed as knobs; and, white paper was used as a finish.  The kitchen set was personalized with a “[S]’s Kitchen” embellishment on the oven and came with its own muffin tin (a rusting no-longer used tin, painted a kid-friendly red). 

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[S] washing dishes.
The woman who created these gifts did so without my knowledge or input.  Indeed, one day, when everyone was recuperating quietly at home, she texted a photo of the set and asked if it would be okay to stop by.  I was rendered speechless.  Literally.  I was deeply touched by her thoughtfulness and amazed by her ingenuity and creativity.  “I left it white so [S] can paint it whatever color she wants,” she explained.  “When you leave Okinawa, you can just take it apart and recycle the pieces,” she continued.  “I thought you might want it for her to play with because everyone’s been sick,” she finished. 

[S] has played with the set every day since she received it.  The first day, she bent down and peered at the closed oven door.  “Where’s the light, Momma?,” she asked.  Then, she was baking cookies.  The next day, as I started washing dishes, she moved the kitchen set across from our kitchen.  “Look Momma, I’m washing dishes,” she delighted.  This evening, after a long day of work, I prepared [S] a peanut butter and jam sandwich for dinner.  After eating, she went straight to her refrigerator (the cabinet under the sink).  “Here Momma,” she said handing me an imaginary item.  “It’s a sandwich.”

I am equally entertained and intrigued witnessing [S] at play in her new kitchen.  Using a burp cloth as a dish towel, [S] casually threw it over her shoulder when she was finished, imitating me.  “I do that,” I said, laughing aloud.  My inner voice cautioned me, remember this.  As caregivers are aware, my affectations, habits, and mannerisms are being passed down to a new generation, just as are my attitude, outlook, and actions.  

To that end, I am proud that [S] is grateful for–and delighted by–her new environmentally-neutral kitchen set, for I am as well. 

For Love of the World.

As a young associate working at a New York City law firm, I was tasked with researching legal issues ranging from the mundane (service of process rules) to the fascinating (the application of the attorney-client privilege to third parties).  I recall the first time I was asked to present my research  findings orally to a senior named partner of the firm.  Called into his office, I was told to sit down.  My lengthy research memorandum sat on his desk, next to his resting feet.  Leaning back, seemingly relaxed, he asked me whether a U.S. subsidiary of an international logistics company was able to deliver goods to Cuba using a non-U.S. port of exit without violating U.S. law.

Having spent many hours researching and writing about this issue, I was nearly an expert on the matter–my only preparation for this impromptu meeting.  Peering at me from over his glasses, he asked, “So, what’s the answer?”  I took a deep breath and began, “Based upon the research, I think that . . . ”  Immediately, he sat up straight.  Interrupting me before I could finish my first sentence, he said, “I don’t give a fuck what you think–and neither does the client.  Tell me what the law is.” 

He was, of course, right.  My thoughts on the legal issue neither were requested nor were instructive.  The client wanted to know–and was paying for–the state of the  law.  That was straightforward:  No. 

This single interaction has shaped much of my adult life, crystallizing a known, but often overlooked truth:  facts matter.  Opinions and thoughts on a matter may be intriguing, provocative, and, even, enlightening, but they don’t change the facts at hand.  In today’s age of opinion passing as news, it is of little surprise that some people confuse fact with opinion. 

Our earth is warming.  As a result, all aspects of our ecosystem are being negatively impacted.  With rising temperatures come rising waters, extreme weather events, and the extinction of life.  Humans, in large part, are responsible for the increase in global temperature.  And humans can act to reduce further harm.  All of the above statements are fact.  They are not up for debate.  They are not posited by some fringe scientific element.  Rather, these findings have been reached by world renowned scientists and have been accepted by most as truth.

Recently, I told a group of women of my deep concerns regarding the human impact on our environment.  Plastics filling the oceans.  Garbage filling our lands.  Pollution filling our air.  “I used to not recycle and now I’m doing a better job,” one woman replied.  Not wanting to belittle her efforts, I declined to tell her that the ultimate goal is to live without the need to recycle.  Bring a mug or a jug with you, eliminating the need for plastic straws, plastic lids, and plastic cups.  Carry reusable utensils in your bag, eliminating the need for plastic forks, knives, and spoons.  Buy grains and legumes in bulk using a reusable container brought from home, eliminating the need for plastic tubs and bags. 

Given that it is a season of hope and a month of resolutions, I thought I’d share my top three 2016 environmental wins. 

  1.  France became the first country in the world to enact a ban on plastic dinnerware. As of 2020, plates, cups, and cutlery, will have to use bio-sourced, compostable equivalents—or return to the old-fashioned wicker picnic hamper, packed with reusable china, silverware, wine goblets, and after-dinner coffee mugs.  
  2. In November, California voters approved Proposition 67, the statewide ban on carry-out plastic bags, 52 percent to 48 percent, defeating big plastic.
  3. Adidas is now selling 7,000 pairs of shoes (at the price of $220) made from ocean waste.  The “upper” is made of 95% ocean plastic — scooped up near the Maldives — and the rest of the shoe is made from largely recycled materials as well. It’s called “UltraBOOST Uncaged Parley.”

#GetInspired

Finding Inspiration.

Earlier today, I heard someone describe the 2016 U.S. election season as interesting.  I’m not certain why.  To me, this election season has been anything but interesting.  It’s been insulting to the intelligence of Americans as meaningful issues were neither discussed nor debated, but rather dismissed in favor of the newest sensational headline.  Donald Trump failed to articulate any one solution to the hundreds of dire problems facing our country and, yet, certain Americans still believe he has what it takes to President of the United States.  How can this be?

I voted for HRC and am proud to say that I did.  No, she’s not perfect.  No one is.  But she understands how government works.  She understands why she alone could not change the tax code.  She understands the complexities in the Middle East and Asia.  She knows that she is seeking a job where her actions will have significant consequences and speaking off cuff may be damaging if not dangerous.  Donald Trump has no such bona fides.  To the contrary, he has confirmed his ignorance on important matters repeatedly throughout this debate.  This, aside from his comments regarding women.

This election season has schooled me that cyber security is a threat that must be combated now.  If we cannot control the security of our written communications, how does that bode for our financial markets, innovation, and businesses?  Imagine the headlines were the Republican National Committee’s e-mail hacked?  What if Kellyanne Conway’s e-mail accounts were hacked?

Enough.  Since I voted by way of absentee ballot, I have had the privilege of ignoring the recent election news.  I have turned my time and attention to thought provoking articles that fill me with inspiration and awe.  It’s been a welcome break from the so-called election news.  And it reminds that our humanity is a driving force for social justice and economic progress.

I am hopeful that we will be able to spend time in Cambodia before leaving Asia next year.  If so, I feel righteous about leaving a partially used bar of soap by the sink.

* * *

RE:PRINT (BBC NEWS): The American student who gave Cambodian children a chance to get clean

bars of eco soap

When an American student saw a Cambodian woman washing her child with detergent, he was horrified. But then he thought of a place he could get large quantities of soap free of charge. Two years later, he’s already supplying villagers with a safe way to keep clean, and also with jobs.

Samir Lakhani was spending the summer building fish ponds in a Cambodian village when he saw the mother scrubbing the young child with laundry washing powder.

He was devastated, he says. Detergent can harm the skin, and contains toxic chemicals that can cause itchy eyes and vomiting. Hygiene is important to prevent disease, but this was not the way to clean a human being.

“Immediately, to any Westerner, it was like – this process and practice needs to be rectified – we need to do something about that,” he says.

Samir Lakhani

Then something clicked. The NGO he was working for, while taking a break from his environmental studies course at Pittsburgh University, was based in Siem Reap – a thriving tourist hub a stone’s throw from the magnificent, 800-year-old temples of Angkor, which draw more than two million visitors a year.

With over 500 hotels and guesthouses to service them, Siem Reap produces a lot of leftover soap.

“There is probably no better place on Earth to start soap recycling than Siem Reap,” says Lakhani.

He returned immediately to his hotel room, determined to find a way to do it.

Making eco-soap

“I purchased meat cleavers and meat grinders and cheese graters. I turned the hotel room into a laboratory. We had bubbling cauldrons. I was probably put on the watch list,” he says.

He mugged up on chemistry, reached out to scientist friends, and soon emerged with a technique for combining discarded bars of soap into a new composite bar of “eco-soap”.

From there things grew rapidly.

First he went to hotel to hotel, asking for leftover soap. The NGO he was volunteering with – Trailblazer Cambodia Organization (TCO) – put him in touch with local students to help with soap production, and provided space for them to work.

Once back in Pittsburgh for his final year of studies, he started crowdfunding. Then he succeeded in obtaining sponsorship from major hotel chains, to enable him to train and pay soap makers.

“I didn’t study at all, as you can imagine. I was focused on this,” he says.

Lakhani nonetheless graduated last year and now divides his time between Cambodia and the US.

Two years after his eureka moment, his Eco-Soap Bank organisation employs 30 staff in three hubs across Cambodia, collects soap from 170 hotels, and has supplied 650,000 people with a safe way of getting clean.

soap-making workshop

Women sell eco-soap in villages, a “couple of hundred” schools are given it free of charge, and “hygiene ambassadors” from partner NGOs train the schoolchildren to wash their hands properly.

In many rural communities in Cambodia soap is seen as a luxury. While some people use detergent, others may only rub their skin with ash or soil. Handwashing is rarely more than pouring water over one hand, then the other.

This leads to a slew of illnesses, including parasites, lung infections, typhoid and diarrhoea.

“Diarrhoea is the number three killer of children in Cambodia,” says Dr Nget Pises, a paediatrician with Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap. Children miss school and infections pass through the family, preventing parents from working.

Soap can kill about 70% of bacteria, he says. Studies have shown that proper handwashing can reduce the instance of diarrhoea by 40-60%.

For the soap makers, Eco-Soap Bank also provides a way of making a living.

Channy, a 40-year-old mother, joined a few months ago. She had previously worked in a garment factory and a laundry, but finds recycling soap much less physically demanding.

She takes leftover hotel soap, slices away the outer layer of scum and cuts the bars into chunks. These are dunked into a chlorine solution for two minutes, then placed into a mould and pressed into a new bar of soap.

It’s multi-coloured, heralding the fact it’s made up of many different bars. It smells clean, a bit like a swimming pool, and with a note of jasmine tea. That’s because she stirs in tea leaves, and occasionally flowers from the roadside by the workshop.

Some soap is also sold by village women.

“From a wasted product that was going to be thrown in the trash – we get it into the hands of a soap vendor in the community, that’s going to be economically stimulating the village and creating income for themselves,” says Lakhani.

Whatever else may change in the country, Lakhani remains confident that the future is bright for soap recycling in Siem Reap.

“If anything has held consistent in Cambodia, it’s Angkor Wat tourism industry,” he says. “People will come and they will generate the soap.”

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$5 Million (Taxpayer) Dollars

I’m responsible for our household budget.  As a result, I am on the hunt for cost-saving measures constantly.  Coupons.  Discounts.  Rebates.  Sales.  Imagine my shock to read that on-base grocery stores, known as the commissary system, spend more than $5 million dollars a year on disposable plastic bags.

Five million dollars a year.  This, on an item that ends up in garbage cans and recycling bins, if not in our oceans and on our beaches.  In fighting to preserve our environment, plastic–including plastic bags–is enemy number one.  Plastics are not biodegradable, but as they breakdown toxins are released into the environment.  Just as bad marine life, including birds and turtles oftentimes eat plastic bits and bags, mistaking them for food.  And don’t get me started on the effects BPA has on our environment, our marine life, and our food.

We have a reusable bag collection that I keep in the back of my vehicle.  Some of the bags date from 2009 and have seen better days, but they still get the job done.  I also keep a small reusable bag in my backpack or handbag.  This allows me to refuse plastic bags when purchasing items out in town.  Regardless, this doesn’t mean we don’t have plastic bags in our home.  We do.  Sometimes we forget the bags or use a different car for our weekly shopping.  But most times we forego plastic bags in favor of the environment.

On my first visit to Ireland, my companion took me grocery shopping and we hauled our purchased items to the vehicle without bags.  Inquiring why there weren’t any grocery bags, he looked at me and replied, “Well, you don’t want to pay for them, do you?  I forgot to bring them.  We’ll do without.”  And we did.  It was simple.

I see the plastic bags being hauled out of the commissary.  They are oftentimes double-bagged, the net effect being twice as bad for our environment and overall government fiscal health.

My solution to this problem would be simple:  stop providing plastic bags at commissaries.  Full stop.  People will figure it out.  Trust me.

The Aftermath of a Birthday Ball?

During my high school years field parties were celebrated.  Such a thing is exactly as it sounds–a party in a field.  Typically, the field was at or around a high school in the county and the party included alcoholic beverages, mostly cheap beer and wine coolers.  The participants?  High school students who had been informed of the impromptu mass party.

Given that I attended high school before the advent of mobile phones (at least affordable pocket-sized mobile phones), I recognize it was a feat to organize such a meetup.  Given that the invitations were via word of mouth, oftentimes there was speculation that the police were aware of the planned event.  The fix?  The time and location of the party changed.  Yes.  Just like that.

It was, of course, inevitable that the police (or security officers) would learn of the field party location.  Indeed, the question was never whether the party would be busted, only when.  When the police came the protocol was simple, ditch and dash.  The result?  Bottles and cans–empty, full, or somewhere in between–dotted the landscape of the field after the revelers fled.  It wasn’t pretty.  But what do 16 and 17 year old kids know?

The armed services Birthday Ball season began a few weeks ago in Okinawa.  Each service hosts one or more formal ball to celebrate the establishment of the service.  Given the limited on-base venues available to host such a formal celebration, the Officers’ Club around the corner from our home is the site for many balls throughout October and November.

This morning, as I was walking to the gym, I noticed a few cars remaining in the Officers’ Club parking lot, which is neither an uncommon site nor a bad thing.  Indeed, I’d much prefer someone take a taxi home than get behind the wheel tipsy.  But what was an unusual sight were the bottles and cans of alcohol left in the parking lot.  It were as if a lot party had been broken up by base police.

This is not a post about moral outrage.  To the contrary, I understand that some will want to let loose and celebrate this annual event with pre- and/or post-ball partying.  What I don’t understand is why those who do so can’t take their empties with them to dispose of properly post-ball.  I questioned the responsibility, character, and accountability of those leaving garbage in the parking lot for others to clean.  And, then, I wondered whether anyone but me cares.

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Seeing Is Believing.

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Next month, if the weather cooperates, our family of three will drive to Naha, hop on a ferry, and explore the pristine waters of the Kerama Islands.  Okinawa’s Kerama Islands, located approximately 25 miles west of Naha, are comprised of approximately 30 islets, only five of which are inhabited.  The Islands are known for their coral reefs and pristine waters, having been designated as Japan’s 31st national park in 2014.

Tokashiki-Son, the island we will be visiting, is known for snorkeling and diving, as well as its resident sea turtles.  It is also known for its stripped-down accommodations.  Indeed, when I first inquired about visiting the Island, the MCCS-Tours employee directed me to an all-inclusive resort on a well-traveled island north of Nago, while gesturing towards [S].  But we couldn’t leave this part of the world without seeing the famed waters of the Keramas.  Divers and environmentalists alike note that the thriving coral reefs in these waters are a rarity today and caution that the rising water temperatures likely will impact the underwater beauty sooner rather than later.

Take a look for yourself.

#Amazing

Sea Seedlings, If You Will.

I love planet Earth.  This is not an unexpected sentiment considering I am one of its estimated 7.4 billion inhabitants.  I would expect that most of my fellow humans love this planet.  That said, civilization and humanity have taken its toll, leaving us with significant environmental challenges.  Take global warming.  First, yes, it is real.  Second, it affects the structure–and composition–of our planet.  Higher temperatures result in more severe and frequent weather (floods, droughts, heat waves, and storms); higher death rates from heat-related illnesses; increased air pollution; higher wildlife extinction rates; and, rising sea levels. Each of these issues produce multiple knock-on effects.  And so it goes.

When I speak about living in Cayman, someone will talk about its waters and diving.  Often, that conversation will take a turn to the dark side, discussing development, commerce and reef destruction.  It’s not a new topic.  But it is a sad one.  Last month, scientists reported that 93% of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was affected by a bleaching event.  And the only tropical reef in the continental United States, Florida’s coral reef, is disintegrating faster than scientists had predicted, in part, as a result of acidic waters.

Coral bleaching occurs when the algae living it its tissue leaves.  While it isn’t necessarily fatal, it leaves the coral vulnerable to disease.

 Coral Bleaching Infographic

Given the current state of the world, it should come as no surprise that Okinawa’s waters are not faring any better.  According to one study, at least 90% of Okinawa’s coral reefs have been damaged or destroyed.

Last weekend, during our trip to Yomitan, our family crossed a road to take in the view.  Upon looking closer, I said, “Oh, that’s Sea Seed.  I’ve wanted to go there.”  I had seen photos of the unique white structure online and was aware the place allowed children to touch starfish, but had no idea what it was.  As we started to make our way down the hill, Russell noted that we had to purchase tickets at the village across the street.  As he did so, [S] and I started the trek.

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The Coral Farm is a self-described man-made coral reef boasting approximately 50,000 coral nubbins growing in controlled water, four to five degrees lower than the open seas.  The Coral Farm cultivates and transplants coral into the sea, hoping to restore reefs.  Because the coral is indigenous to Okinawan waters, there is no risk of introducing invasive species and the nubbins are raised at the site until they are ready to be affixed to artificial bases.  Once the coral is full-grown, it becomes home to other marine life and, in two to three years, it will spawn, bringing new life to the sea.

I don’t understand the science behind the coral growth and transplant process and I don’t know success rates, but the before and after photos we were shown are impressive.

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#ThereIsAlwaysHope