Organic Food for all

Organic FoodI’m not entirely sure when Organic Food came to the spotlight but I remember back in the 1980’s reading about a scandal in Europe that there was twice as much consumed organic vegetable than produced. The eating healthy is not a 2015 fashion statement. It is a way of life.

I have been raised on organic food from milk, meat, deli, produces to honey. Never had allergies or ailments but the common cold. Several years ago I started having allergies, tree pollen, mold, grass. Not severe enough to have to drug myself yet it was annoying and frustrating as I never had any. My doctor told me that young I was exposed to the good anti-allergen but today I wasn’t due to the food processing done before it reaches my kitchen.

Organic Food vs. Mass Produced Food

A big problem of organic food is that it needs a lot of manual labor and doesn’t provide the same yield than conventional farming – According to Nature Journal of Science,  about 34% less yield with worse results for produces and wheat but identical for strawberries. As population grows, more and more food is needed while available land for farming doesn’t increase even in some case decreases thus yield has to increase through the use of  fertilizer and other chemically based techniques such as GMO (genetically modified organism).

Another problem is shelf life of organic food. When I say shelf life it’s not about in our fridge as we do not purchase fresh food weeks ahead of time but food in supermarket. If that shelf life increase by 20%, that 20% savings on the cost of selling those produces thus lower sell price. How is that attained? Though GMO for sure but also thought chemical processes. A good friend of mine bought a chicken breast from the CO-OP (100% local and organic) and the same chicken breast from a big box. Cut a slice from each and placed both on a dish under a meshed cover. 4 days later, the organic chicken smelled bad and had to be trashed. It took the non-organic one 8 days to stench. How come? The processing of the non-organic meat adds anti-bacterial substance to increase the shelf life.

According to USDA (US Department of Agriculture), even after washing them several times some vegetable and fruits continue to carry significant amount of pesticide and other conservative agents – USDA developed a dirty dozen list of those produces (Potatoes, Apple, bell pepper, celery etc…)

Another problems is us, we want everything at anytime. I remember as a child we had oranges in winter, salads in spring, summer and fall, smoked salmon for winter Holidays and lamb in spring only. Today I can find any of these all year long. Why? because producer and processing factories respond to our request thus produce them out of season by GMO modifications and the use of artificial agriculture.

Bottom line to feed the masses, lower the costs and provide a constant quality product all year around farmers and processing plants heavily use chemicals. These chemicals affects us ways we can’t even imagine.

Are non organic additive that bad?

They can be such as Nitrates and Nitrites used in cured meat so they can keep the delicious pink colors during long shelf life in supermarkets has been classified by WHO (World Health Organization) as carcinogen when ingested. Same with Potassium Bromate used in breads and crackers to keep them from falling apart while baking. My favorite one is Propyl Paraben which is used as a preservative in many processed food from bread, vegetable, beverage and meat, so almost everywhere and can decrease testosterone, decrease sperm count, increase cancer growth and can acts as a synthetic estrogen all these at high level which no one can measure yet. Eating a piece a bread spiked with Propyl Paraben won’t damage your testosterone for sure but if most of your daily food is tainted by that additive what impact it can have? also how does that additive interacts with those added to the cereal bar you just ate? Is the impact of the non-dangerous levels for an adult body the same for a child? more dangerous?

Going Organic all the way

When our local supermarket closed its door we decided it was time for a change and we signed up with a local CO-OP Lakewinds instead of going to a big box shop.

Now we not only eat organic but we also buy local as much as we can it part of our citizen responsibility to our environment and to keep jobs and money in our community. Also it offers a much higher quality food than before, and welcome back taste and flavor.

It’s true that organic food is more expensive but in the long run it’s way cheaper.



Do you want to volunteer abroad?

I recommend to many people to volunteer abroad for at least 3 months, it’s still the best way to learn about the culture and the country. Well, I was recommending until someone came back to me saying that his family of 4 can’t spend $30,000 in program fees plus the air tickets to go volunteer in Ghana.

I was stunt and googled volunteer abroad to discover that spending 3 month abroad and it’s true that $7,000+ per person seems to be a rule of thumb for a family of 4, this doesn’t include the $2,000 air ticket cost for volunteering in Africa. Total cost close to $40,000 for a family of 4 – giving your time to help is now an expensive adventure.

I have been abroad for 10 years in Africa and 5 in Middle East. I can tell that some people are making a lot of money on the American generosity! Over $7,000 per person for lodging and food in Africa is abusing when you see that projects where you’ll volunteer at provide food and lodging and the fine prints of your Volunteer Abroad agency makes sure that the food is safe and the lodging appropriate – a huge costs for checking on your food no? I hear that insurance for volunteers abroad is expensive which is true but I inquired several companies who gave me quotes around $500 for a family of 4 – these policies include medical evacuation and other force of nature evacuations.

Bottom line, if you want to volunteer abroad do a lot of homework, search for sponsored organizations and local organizations that really need your help and not your savings. Nevertheless I still recommend volunteering abroad to anyone who feels that their free time can be put to good use and if you need information on my favorite organizations, contact me and I will be pleased to send you the information.

My wood fired pizza oven is done

I finished building a wood fired pizza oven. It’s what is called an in-chamber fired oven with a dome design from Chicago Brick. The oven looks like an igloo which is based on the ancient Neapolitan (Italian) wood fired oven design.

I had a wood fired pizza oven when I lived in the Republic of Congo and it was something I wanted in my back yard. I researched pizza ovens for about 5 years before I made a decision, it took time not because I was lazy researching but because there are multiple designs and choices available from DIY, partially DIY to turn key oven. The latter being the most expensive solution – about $7,500 to $10,000.

At first, I favored a 100% DIY wood fired pizza oven but it can be very complex construction made of somewhat hard to find and expensive material like clay, food class firebricks etc… I loved a cob based oven. Cob is a building technique based on the combination of clay, straw and sand. When mixed correctly together, these materials make a terrific, long lasting, heat resistant base to build a wood fired oven. Remember, my African weekend cabin was made of cob exactly as it is built since thousands of years around the world. Unfortunately, clay can be difficult to find and quite expensive if you choose the artistic type. I recommend this book if you want to build a cob based oven:  Build Your Own Earth Oven.

I went then to a different route looking at pre-built wood fired pizza ovens. I prefer the Neapolitan igloo style for their technical particularity that makes the oven more efficient. The chimney intake is several inches lower than the dome itself. Many other designs put the chimney at the top of the vault or the dome throwing a great quantity of heat through the chimney thus reduce the duration of cooking time considerably.

I had three serious brands in mind, Forno Bravo, IsoKern and Chicago Brick Oven – my favorite was Forno Bravo with their Giardino line but when I requested a quote for the Giardino70, I got shocked by the shipping charges – over $900 including the crate. I like the Giardino as I could customize the oven as I wanted. The IsoKern line called ISO’ven has a nice design but I read several times that the dome material doesn’t retain heat too long, the oven can cook and grill fast at high temperature but  it doesn’t have all the specification of a real Italian wood fired oven.

I picked the Chicago Brick Oven Etna Model 750 which comes with $280 freight charge only. The Etna 750 has 8 square feet of cooking surface more than enough for me to explore wood fired cooking. The “kit” comes with a 3 piece oven (dome, hearth, arch), cast iron door, flue adaptor and ring, insulating board, insulating blanket, insulating door, pizza peel and a cleaning brush.

I typed the “kit” as it needs a base, a chimney, an external building and decoration – not very difficult to build but still lots of work and surprises.

I fixed the battery problems of my Motorola Droid RAZR

I fixed the battery problems of my Motorola Droid RAZR

During my vacation, my Motorola Droid RAZR was a real pain, the battery drained so fast I had to put it on sleep mode to try to maintain enough juice to be able to make calls.

I was quite frustrated and promise myself to return to Verizon to have it checked and changed if needed. I did everything needed to have to smartphone hold a charge for at least 10 hours but nothing worked, 6 hours was the very maximum I could get from the Droid RAZR while I could have the Motorola Droid X running for almost 24hours.

If I forgot to put it on charge at the hotel, the android phone would be off the next day and would take so much time to charge in the car that it would not be useable the next day, yes it was that bad even with Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, and data background turned off! What the point of having a very powerful smartphone if the only way to use the features is to have it plugged in?

Until… at the airport waiting for my flight back home I realized that my live wallpaper might be the problem, I was using the very cool Map live wallpaper which show my location in the background – great but something I totally forgot is that live wallpaper is constantly using the GPS for the location and downloading the local map… each time I move around the thing is working hard to keep the wallpaper updated. Nice but very costly.

I replaced this cool live one by regular static wallpaper, et voila! No more battery drainage and after re-adding Wi-Fi, background data and GPS my Droid RAZR holds the charge for at least 12hours. As I write, I’m still on last night charge and I’m still at 60%.

Bottom line, if the battery of your Motorola Droid RAZR is going out fast, check if there is not a cool app running 100% of the time in the background. In my case it was the Maps live wallpaper.

Travel, driving in Los Angeles what technology could do

Travel, driving in Los Angeles what technology could do

We spent 10days inLos Angeles and we were stunted by the driving habits of that city! Los Angeles is so large that the only way to go from one point to another is to use the very complex freeway system. These freeways have about 5 lanes in each direction and are ruled by a 65 miles per hour (MPH) speed limit for cars and 55 MPH for trucks and trailers. The first remark is that no one is driving at these speed limits and the traffic flow is more around 80-85 MPH. I drove at speed limit and it was a difficult exercise as cars and trucks were passing me from left and right some honking, throwing fingers and even bottles.

My main issue is that higher the speed, much higher the risk of accidents and the damage caused by those accidents. The risk factor is not linear but exponential and grows much faster than speed – same with accident casualties.

My secondary issue is economical and environmental. A car like the Ford Escape I rented which as a gas mileage of 30 miles per gallon (30 MPG or 7.8 L/100kms) at 65 MPH sees its mileage drops to 22 MPG (10.68 L/100kms) at 85MPH that’s 37% increase in gas consumption! When you know that each car drives 23 miles per day in LA and there are 12 millions cars using the freeway daily for a total of 276,000,000 miles driven daily that 37% increase cost tons of money. If the average consumption of LA cars is 30 MPG at 65 MPH and 22 MPG at 85MPH the cost difference is about $12,000,000 a day! Yes that’s $ per year at 5 days a week.

When you know that every gallon of gas burnt produces 19.4 lbs of CO2 the 37% increase in speed generates some additional 66 million pounds (33.000 tons) of CO2 per day compared to driving at 65 MPH – that’s just 8.6 million tons of additional CO2 per year…

What is the solution? Enforce speed limits by using technology to catch and fine the offenders then reduce the limit to 55 MPH. Technology could come from fixed radars, self reporting chip installed in cars and why automatic system embedded in the freeway system. Fine collected would pay for the technology and road improvement in LA. Let’s see in another post with which ideas I can come-up with.