February 27, 2017

Irradiated Food: Would You Like Cancer With That?

If you see this symbol on food packaging, or on the shelf by the food (or if the food is glowing),... don't buy it. 

Don't think you have had enough radiation exposure already in your lifetime? Don't think that medical exposure through X rays and other diagnostic procedures have given you enough? How about Chernobyl or Fukushima fallout? Or the global effects of thousands of nuclear bomb tests? Or natural radon gas in your basement?

Still not enough? You want more? Someone must be asking for more, because that is what we are getting. Now the industrial food industry is giving you a dose, and wants to give you more. Yes, right in the foods you eat every day.

Would you like a bit of cancer with those irradiated fries?

Over the weekend I was reading that my government has just approved ground beef for the irradiation process, and Health Canada would like Big Meat to consider other products for the same treatment. I don't eat meat, so didn't feel affected.

However, my false sense of security evaporated quickly with a bit more research.

I found out that irradiation is already used in Canada to treat foods like potatoes, onions, wheat, flour, spices and some seasonings. In this nuclear attack on our food, industrial food processors bomb their products with radiation in order to kill bacteria and parasites, and extend shelf life.

Dr. Samuel Epstein, chair of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, is quoted as saying, "Every man, woman and child who takes a bite of irradiated food increases their chance of getting cancer. It is no exaggeration to say that our government has turned people into guinea pigs."

But it will increase profits, so it is approved. Pure insanity and greed running rampant. It is as insidious as nuclear fallout. What we really need is to end industrial food processing, or at least clean up this notoriously dirty and unsustainable method of food production so that blasting our food with radiation does not even need to be considered.
Eat me! I'm radioactive.

By this time, everyone who should know does know, unless they are in deep denial, that there is no safe level of radiation. Period. Radiation kills.

It may kill slowly, and you may not be able to conclusively link it back to a particular radiation exposure (that is the beauty of it for the whole nuclear industry), but it is a killer, and this has been known for many decades.

It is hard not to feel like there is some one, or some thing, consciously trying to kill me. And you. But we can fight back.

Organic products can not be irradiated. Food you grow yourself, or is grown sustainably by people you know, is also a good bet. It will contain radiation from many of the sources listed above, but at least it won't have more added to it just before you and your family consume it.

In Canada irradiated products are supposed to show the benign looking symbol that appears to be similar to something good and green, like recycling. Don't be fooled. Such products should have to sport the truth, which would be something more like the international symbol indicating radiation danger.

With proper food growing, processing and handling, irradiation is not required. At all. Ever. No thank you - I do not want an increased risk of cancer with my meal.

The truth about irradiated foods. Danger!

1. Irradiation damages the quality of food.

2. Irradiation produces toxic byproducts in the food.

3. Irradiation using radioactive materials is an environmental hazard which exposes workers and consumers unnecessarily.

4. Irradiation is a quick fix with long-term consequences.

5. Irradiation doesn't solve the problem, it just covers it up.

February 24, 2017

More Thermal Cookery

The old stove on left features a "thermodome" that lowered over the cooking pot after the heat was turned off.

OK, after our recent experiment, I admit I am obsessed with thermal cookery. Or to be more exact, I have always been obsessed with energy efficiency.

The efficiency of a modern electric cook stove has a thermal efficiency of about 15%, meaning that 85% of the energy is wasted. This is partly because converting fossil fuels to electricity produces an energy efficiency of 20-45%, depending on the power plant.

There is much room for improvement, since this is about the same efficiency of an open fire, a truly ancient technology.

One way we can improve on the efficiency of the cooking process is by using thermal retention which prevents heat loss to the point that food continues cooking without additional energy.

Using thermal retention to cook foods can save up to 80% of the energy required for normal cooking, depending on the thermal cooker and heat source used, and on how long it takes to get the hot pot into the cooker.

An electric stove, when used with a thermal cooker, doubles its efficiency to about 26%, which still is not that good, but much better than the electric stove alone.

This old stove shows a "thermowell", a built-in thermal cooker. With the pot shown, one could cook three different foods in one pot. 

Around the early 1900s, kitchen stoves were designed with heat retention features, and were called "fireless cookers". Some old stoves had insulated bells that lowered over cooking pots to retain heat (marketed as "thermodomes"). Others had thermal cookers or insulated "wells" built right into the cooktop that pots could be lowered into for thermal cooking.

One such stove boasts of a "New and Improved Thermowell" that does one hour of cooking with only 10 minutes of energy use. Another was sold as the stove "that cooks with the gas turned off".

A 1950s era electric stove that still featured a built-in thermal cooker.

As power became more abundant, such efficiencies were lost. The good news is that we can re-introduce this energy saving technology quite easily in our modern kitchens with materials we may already possess.

Sample Cooking Times In A Thermal Cooker

White rice: 5 min on heat, 1-2 hours in cooker
Brown rice: 10-15 min heat, 2 hours in cooker
Potatoes: 5-10 min heat, 1-2 hours in cooker
Creamed soups: 2 min heat, 1 hour in cooker
Dried beans (soaked): 10-15 min, 3-4 hours in cooker

It is hard to imagine a more cost-effective technique to lower energy use than a homemade, DIY thermal cooker. See our post about trying out our first DIY thermal cooker HERE.

February 22, 2017

DIY Thermal Cooker

Camping cooler? No. DIY Thermal Cooker in action.

When it is easy to use a seemingly endless supply of energy, we tend to use more than we need. When using energy efficiently is more difficult or time consuming, the tendency is to use it more thoughtfully and frugally. That is what thermal cookery is all about.

Also known as "retained heat" cooking, this ageless method has been around since humans discovered that insulating a pot of hot food with banana leaves, or buried in the ground, is a great way to use energy more efficiently.

A thermal cooker is essentially a slow cooker without a power cord. Of course one can buy all manner of fancy thermal cookers, but this method hasn't been used for thousands of years because it is complicated or expensive.

The thermal cooker is a perfect DIY experiment in simple living, and one that Linda and I investigated this week in the NBA Simple Cooking Research Laboratory, or, our "kitchen". Armed with white lab coats and oversized magnifying glasses, we started with sorting/rinsing 3 cups of pinto beans, destined to become one of our staples, refried beans.

Bringing dried pinto beans to a boil and 10 minute simmer on the electric cooker.

On the stove top we brought the water-covered beans to a boil, then simmered covered on medium heat for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes we took the bean pot off the stove and immediately put it into our DIY Thermal Cooker, a camping cooler stuffed with a large blanket. You can also use straw, sawdust (shouldn't that be "treedust"?), balled up newspaper, old pillows, an old sleeping bag, or any other insulating materials.

The blanket was stuffed firmly around the pot, lid closed, then left to continue cooking overnight. The next morning the still warm beans were done and ready for flavouring and mashing to make refried beans.

The vessel used for the cooker can be about anything as well. It can be built in a cardboard box, laundry basket, hole in the ground, or a heat retention bag sewn specifically for this purpose.

Example of heat retention bag for thermal cooking.

Why waste energy when there is an easy way to use it more efficiently? Perhaps because that more efficient method may not be as convenient. Unfortunately, convenience always entails unintended consequences, like excessive waste. But the worst of it is that convenience-at-all-costs leads to a less beautiful, self-sufficient, mindful life.

Rather than convenience, I like to think about what the most efficient and life-affirming way of doing things might be, even if that means something I do is "harder" or more difficult. Imagine life if we never did things that are hard to do. Just because something is harder, doesn't mean it isn't beneficial.

Conducting experiments in living more simply, and trying out new things, is not inconvenient, it is challenging, rewarding and a great deal of fun. The DIY thermal cooker was a good example of that principle. We are adopting this energy efficient method of cookery in our kitchen. I mean, laboratory.

See more on thermal cookers HERE.
"Cooking, ultimately, is about heat, how heat enters the food and what happens to the food when it enters." 
- Cooking For Engineers

February 19, 2017

Playing In The Snowy Woods

Regular readers of this blog will know that I usually post about 3 times a week. This past week was different. Why? Because of three words: Big. Snow. Storm.

Despite winds that whipped up 3 metre (10 ft) drifts, the power never went off. Nor was my internet connection severed. No, it was the great outdoors calling to me that kept me away. Over the years I have learned to respond when I hear nature call, and nothing beckons me outdoors more excitedly than a Big Snow Storm.

So after a dump of 60cm (2 ft) of lovely white stuff I set aside my "work" and let my inner child go out to play. I played till my lungs were scrubbed clean with fresh air, my cheeks rosy, and my legs sore. There really is nothing more fun, or beneficial to your health, than a day playing in the snow.

Even better is several days playing in the snow. While out, my face hurt from smiling constantly.

The forecast is for temperatures above freezing so the big melt is coming, confirming that taking advantage of the white playground in my back yard while it existed was the right thing to do. Now I wait for hiking and biking weather. And write.

“I used to love those days when it was so cold everyone else would be tucked away inside trying to stay warm. I would be the only one out walking, so I could look across the fields and see miles of snow without a single footprint in it. It would be completely silent - no cars, no birds singing, no doors slamming. Just silence and snow.” 
- Damien Echols

February 14, 2017

Finding Sanctuary In The Simple Life

Simplicity provides sanctuary from the buffeting winds of modern consumer life. In this place one will enjoy great inner peace.

I was crossing the field behind my house on snowshoes yesterday, headed for the shelter of the forest below. I was fighting my way through a white out while being buffeted by wind gusts reaching 100 km/hr. It was scary and strangely exhilarating, like life in general these days.

After almost being knocked over, I made it to the edge of the trees. More than other days, it really felt like going "into" the woods. In the open deciduous trees at the forest fringe, it was still quite windy, although I didn't feel like I would be blown away any more.

That part of the forest is like a vestibule, or covered porch. The real shelter is just a bit farther in where the spruce forest begins. The spruce forest grows close in, the trees not minding rubbing snow covered shoulders with each other.

It is here that one can find total reprieve from the wind, regardless of speed or direction. Although I could hear the freight train wind around me, where I was in the trees was complete calm and tranquility.

While the snow was blowing horizontally at face-stinging speeds in the field, just a bit farther on I stood in a pocket of peace surrounded by snow covered spruce. Here, unbelievably, the snow was gently falling straight down.

Afterwords, while warming up by the fire back at home, I thought of how a simple life is like that pocket of calm in the spruce trees. Living a slower life with fewer things with which to concern yourself, provides sanctuary from the wild storm of complication raging all around.

It was only because I knew that the forest would provide me with sanctuary as soon as I got to it, that I was fearless in striking out across the wind-blasted expanse of the open field. So it is with the sanctuary provided by simplicity.

I can engage in the world without fear of being blown away by it, because I am always able to return to the calm, tranquil existence that simplicity provides. And who couldn't use more peace, calm and tranquility in scary times?

For fast acting relief from the storm, simplify your life. A spruce forest is also good.

February 10, 2017


We've been bamboozled.

We've been bamboozled into giving power over to an out of control system. It's a game, and most of us have lost.

Scientist Carl Sagan knew that when we give our power away, we almost never get it back. Lending our support to the consumer scam is a good example. Now it is a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut, and it continues to suck the power from both people and the Earth.

"One of the saddest lessons of history is this", warned Sagan: "If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. Them bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken."

Living to shop, rather than shopping to live, has usurped our power. We should want it back, but we have been taken and don't even notice that it is gone. And has been for a very long time.

One way we can regain our power, tear it away from those that lie for fun and profit, is to speak the truth about the way things are, for Sagan also said, "If it can be destroyed by the truth, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth."

When we quit rejecting the truth about our profligate lifestyles and the repercussions they have for the whole globe, the whole thing starts to crumble. We see through the lies and we destroy that which holds power over our better judgment.

We realize it doesn't have to be this way.

The Truth About The Consumer Bamboozlement

1. We have been trained since birth to want things we do not need, and wouldn't ever want if it weren't for the high pressure tactics used against us.

2. We would be happier with less work, less stuff, and more freedom to live the simple lives we really desire.

3. It is not about you being happy, or content. The system is not for your benefit. It is foisted upon us so that major players can take your power. And your money. And your life, cradle to grave.

4. It is not the only way to do things, and it has not always been this way. At the most, only the past 300 years have been focused on getting you to give away your money and your life so a small group can carry out a global coup and enslave everyone.

5. Of those years, only about the past 60 have been about having extreme consumption as The Goal in life.

6. Most people on the planet do not partake in shopping for pleasure, but big business will not be satisfied until everyone is participating. The planet will collapse far before that ever happens.

7. It feels great to not buy anything, and quit being bamboozled and exploited by the taking advantage of our baser emotions and desires.

February 8, 2017

Who... Us?

Yes... You! And me, and them. All of us.

Many people would like to see a better world, but not many are willing to consider simpler lifestyle alternatives in order to attain it. Some even say that individual efforts can never amount to anything, so why bother?

Others say there are no alternatives to a Buy Everything economy, and all the unintended consequences are just the cost of doing business. Many of us, including author John Michael Greer, know differently.
"There was always an alternative—deliberately downshifting out of the embarrassing extravagance that counts for normal lifestyles in the industrial world these days, accepting more restricted ways of living in order to leave a better world for our descendants—but not enough people were willing to accept that alternative to make a difference while there was still a chance."   - JMG

Voluntary simplicity, downshifting, deindustrialization, simple living, right livelihood, intentional living, anti-consumerism, aestheticism, are all examples of the alternatives that encompass more restricted ways of living that would help heal our ailing planet.

None of them are new ideas.

Epicurus pointed out over 2000 years ago that the troubles entailed by maintaining extravagant lifestyles tend to outweigh the pleasure of partaking in them. He concluded that what is necessary for happiness, bodily comfort, and life itself should be maintained at minimal cost, while all things beyond what is necessary for these should either be tempered by moderation or completely avoided.

Many in the human family have always lived in such ways, and continue to do so today. It is those of us in "developed" nations that need to take on simpler lifestyles, and the sooner the better. We have to decide what to temper with moderation, and what to avoid completely.

Who... Us?

Yes, you, me, them. Us. All of us.

For those of you that have already adopted a simpler lifestyle - congratulations. You have officially avoided the rush.

February 6, 2017

Think Crazy Good Thoughts

We live in an insane time. Maybe every age feels that way. Is being well-informed overrated, like science, logic, and rational thinking are these days? Is our very sanity overrated?

Miguel de Cervantes said, “Too much sanity may be madness and the maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be.” Do we dare to open our minds and see life as it should be?

One must be mad these days to suggest that there might be better ways of doing things than the current status quo. OK. I will be mad. Be insane. I will continue to think crazy thoughts, like those of NBA reader Alex, who commented on the post "The Environment... is F***ed" from last week.

"Renewable energy needs to be quickly implemented. Cities should be car free zones. The world needs to go plant based. A universal world income should come into force. National parks need increasing in size. A return to primitivism as described by Lao Zi is probably the way forward. Internal cultivation is key."

Or how about these insanely good ideas from NBA reader and house fire survivor, Madeleine, while remaining optimistic and describing that more beautiful world she knows is possible.

"That would be a world where it was so expensive to drive a car that everyone would choose to cycle, walk, or car pool. That would be a world where there were no supermarkets, only farmer's markets and bulk whole foods suppliers, and where one could easily buy second hand and locally made clothing. That would be a world where your town centre housed little shops that repaired everything, from your toaster to your shoes and clothing."

Now that is crazy stuff for sure. Crazy good. Thank you, Alex, Madeleine, and everyone else that contributes such beautiful thoughts and ideas here on our blog. We need more thinking like this to build what Charles Eisenstein calls "The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible".

Before this world is manifested, we must be able to brainstorm it, and visualize what that world looks like. We have to think, big, crazy, beautiful good thoughts, and take on the challenge to see life as it should be. As it could be.

Imagine that more beautiful world with an open mind, and eventually, Manifesting becomes Manifested. Despite what some may say, a better world is possible.

Then we can be both well informed, and a little less mad.

"When any of us meet someone who rejects dominant norms and values, we feel a little less crazy for doing the same. Any act of rebellion or non-participation, even on a very small scale, is therefore a political act."

- From The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible

February 3, 2017

The Environment?

"The environment? It's fucked."

So declared the cartoon whale on a t-shirt I bought Linda 25 years ago. It really got people's attention at the time, but mostly they just laughed uncomfortably and moved on. Linda recently pulled it out of the place that old shirts go to die, and put it into her winter 2017 collection.

If we are going back 25 years in how we treat Mother Earth, you might as well have some authentic and appropriate clothing from the time. Protest like it's 1992!

The 2017 version of the shirt, if there was one, might say something like, "The environment? It's really fucked". Or super fucked, or fucking fucked. It's not just me and my foul mouth, because lots of people are saying, or at least thinking, the exact same thing.

The shirt's sentiment seems appropriate for a time that has the doomsday clock set closer to midnight than since 1952, when the first hydrogen bomb was exploded into the atmosphere by the USA.

Also appropriate for a time that governments propose allowing resource extraction in parks and other protected areas. When Linda and I lived in British Columbia, about 5 years ago, the business-boosting provincial government there was talking about opening up the parks to industrial activities like logging and mining.

At the time I thought, "That is why the powers let us have those parks in the first place - to save all the resources to be used by big business interests at a later date." Thankfully public outcry was enough to delay this terrible idea. Hopefully it will not catch on anywhere else, because if it does, we are really in trouble.

Will we survive this latest version of environmental mayhem? Many species aren't, and whether humans will make it or not is a hot topic of discussion these days. Just do a search for "will humans go extinct" and check out the distressing results. Or don't.

Just like the whale shirt, things are getting seriously cartoony. Surreal, looney tunes, and dystopian are a few words that come to mind. If we don't get serious about this, how will we help the environment get some much needed healing time?

Resistance, that is how, according to scientist Brad Werner. When he was asked by a reporter, "Is the Earth indeed fucked?", Werner replied, "Pretty much, unless people start a serious global rebellion". I do like the sounds of that. Kudos to this complex systems researcher for a bit of truth telling, a rare commodity these days.

"Resistance is basically when people, groups of people, step outside the culture. They adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture." 
"An important solution is environmental direct action, resistance taken from outside the dominant culture, as in protests, blockades and sabotage by indigenous peoples, workers, anarchists and other activist groups."
- Brad Werner

I can get behind that, as can many Not Buying Anything readers, which warms my soul. Many of us are already doing it. If not, what are you waiting for? If not now, when?

Resist, resist, resist.

Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Then we can ensure Linda's brand new whale shirt for her winter 2042 collection says:

"The Environment? It's Fixed."

February 1, 2017

The Wilderness

There are wild things in the wild lands behind my home. The blob in the middle of the photo on the bank was a dark brown mammal the size of a large house cat. At first I thought it was a river otter, but it was not.
Not sure what it was, besides amazing to see.

There is no place more simple, more basic and more real than the wilderness. Wherever I have lived I  have made sure that some form of wild area was close at hand as a refuge from the concrete and craziness. Somewhere I could experience total silence, total dark, unfettered nature, and wildlife.

What qualifies as wilderness depends on who is looking. An argument could probably be made that there is no true wilderness left, but I have personally experienced some amazing places far from the herd. I have hiked into remote mountain wilderness areas, but even there it only takes one jet to fly over to remind you that civilization is never farther away than just above your head.

Behind my new home is a forest-covered slope that descends into a valley wilderness with a beautiful brook at the bottom. The forest has all the hallmarks of an old growth ecosystem, and walking or snowshoeing through it is as wild and primitive as it gets.

Most definitions of "wilderness" mean something like "a natural environment on Earth that has not been significantly modified by civilized human activity".  From what I can see, my backyard forest fits this definition, although I do not know the history of this part of the world, which goes back several hundred years.

While hiking in the forest, which extends unbroken for kilometres in every direction, I had the good fortune to have a sighting of a small wild mammal by the brook. It was more evidence that this is wild land, and wild creatures are living here successfully. I love to know that such a wild community exists where I live.

The creature I saw is a member of the weasel family, but which one, I am not sure. I like to think that it could be a pine marten, or a fisher, two species that are rare in these parts. Both of those species require old growth forests and wild lands to live happily. Given that this is a large tract of exactly what these animals need, it makes sense that it could be one of them.

As I crouched by the rushing brook watching the dark brown animal move stealthily along the bank, I felt a deep connection to both this land and the things that live here. I can understand completely the pine marten, fisher, and other living things that need wild areas unaffected by the long reach of the civilized world.

To thrive, I do too.