Why Your Supermarket Sells Only 5 Kinds of Apples

Why Your Supermarket Sells Only 5 Kinds of Apples (Mother Jones, Mar/Apr 2013)

“In the mid-1800s, there were thousands of unique varieties of apples in the United States, some of the most astounding diversity ever developed in a food crop. Then industrial agriculture crushed that world. The apple industry settled on a handful of varieties to promote worldwide, and the rest were forgotten. They became commercially extinct—but not quite biologically extinct.

Even when abandoned, an apple tree can live more than 200 years, and, like the Giving Tree in Shel Silverstein’s book, it will wait patiently for the boy to return. There is a bent old Black Oxford tree in Hallowell, Maine, that is approximately two centuries old and still gives a crop of midnight-purple apples each fall. In places like northern New England, the Appalachian Mountains, and Johnny Appleseed’s beloved Ohio River Valley—agricultural byways that have escaped the bulldozer—these centenarians hang on, flickering on the edge of existence, their identity often a mystery to the present homeowners. And John Bunker is determined to save as many as he can before they, and he, are gone.”

I found this wonderful read in a comment thread under the also great (and recommended) article, The Awful Reign of the Red Delicious. I think what John Bunker is doing is absolutely amazing, and now I want to learn more about apple trees.


On Naming Women and Mountains

image courtesy of Lonely Planet

On Naming Women and Mountains

“The truth was more complicated. In my mind, Lucy Rebecca Bryan and Lucy Bryan Green represented two disparate identities. Lucy Rebecca Bryan was the girl who once argued that everything in the world was either black or white, right or wrong—self-righteous enough to think that she knew the difference. She was the teenager who sustained a series of flirtations in hopes of converting her crushes to Christianity. She held the incongruous (and equally offensive) beliefs that she deserved all the good things in her life—loving parents, a college education, thick hair and long legs, intelligence, sorority membership—and that God had given them to her. It took my husband to drag me out of that box of my own making.

It was Lucy Bryan Green, not Lucy Rebecca Bryan, who learned to embrace feminism, pacifism, and non-consumerism; who dared to befriend gays and liberals and atheists. She was the one who wrote a novel, who learned to garden by trial and error, who trekked all 212 miles of the John Muir Trail. The man whose name I took played a fundamental role in me becoming that person. I didn’t want to go back. I wanted to move forward.

I also wanted to take responsibility for my contributions to the mess that my marriage had become. Anger that would boil into door-slamming, hair-pulling, glass-shattering rage; my need to control everything, down to what time my husband woke up in the morning and the clothes he wore; my anxiety, which made basic tasks like doing the dishes or shopping for groceries seem insurmountable—I wanted to work on those problems as Lucy Bryan Green.

And I still liked my name. It didn’t seem fair that he could take it from me. He’d already taken the canoe, a whole bookcase’s worth of books (along with the bookcase), half the set of glass nesting bowls, our nicest chef’s knife, two watercolors I’d painted, our cast iron patio furniture, our Honda CRV, the pine bedframe we’d stained by hand, all of the power tools, and most of the money in our bank account. Those were just the things. When he left, so did his family, many of our friends, my sense of security, the belief that I was unconditionally loved, my trust in God, my identity as a married woman, my plans to have children, and my sense of self-worth. I wouldn’t let him have my name. He’d taken enough.”

Another wonderful essay about the power and privilege of names. I love the metaphor of women and mountains; the lyricism and imagery are especially moving.

(See also: What Happened When We Gave Our Daughter My Last Name)

The Day We Set the Colorado River Free

The Day We Set the Colorado River Free

“It’s been more than 50 years since the Colorado River regularly reached the sea. But this spring, the U.S. and Mexico let the water storm through its natural delta for a grand experiment in ecological restoration. As the dam gates opened, a small band of river rats caught a once-in-a-lifetime ride.”

The story of the Colorado River is about as American as it gets; history, adventure, and politics all play a role. This is a tale of rebirth, but the ending isn’t exactly happily ever after. It’s happily for a little while, at least.

The Conservatives Who Rebel Against Obama by Blowing Diesel Smoke at Priuses

The Conservatives Who Rebel Against Obama by Blowing Diesel Smoke at Priuses

“Prius Repellent” is a perfect introduction to one of the Obama era’s great conservative subcultures: the men and women who “roll coal.” For as little as $500, anyone with a diesel truck and a dream can install a smoke stack and the equipment that lets a driver “trick the engine” into needing more fuel. The result is a burst of black smoke that doubles as a political or cultural statement—a protest against the EPA, a ritual shaming of hybrid “rice burners,” and a stellar source of truck memes.

I had initially posted a different article about Rolling Coal, with the hilarious title, Rollin’ Coal Is Pollution Porn for Dudes With Pickup Trucks, but then I thought… let me find something a little bit more thoughtful, and less reactive. This idea still baffles me, but y’know,

“the motivation for political coal rolling is roughly the same one that gets people buying guns and ammo after mass shootings. The expectation, every time, is that liberals will capitalize on the shootings to ban guns, so it’s time to stock up.

The use-it-before-liberals-ban-it instinct is powerful. Since 2007, environmental activists have campaigned for an Earth hour, 60 minutes in which people turn off all electricity. Since 2009, the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute has responded to this with Human Achievement Hour, a call to spend those same 60 minutes by keeping the lights on.”

So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

P.S. My friend Emily read this and responded, so I decided to share her comment here, because she knows things about cars, and she’s funny:

The main mistake in all of this is putting a political spin on it. It didn’t start as anything political. In the automotive world, there has always been tension amongst groups… Import cars vs domestic cars, lifted trucks vs lowered trucks, Ford vs Chevy vs Dodge, Audi vs BMW… You name it.

Rollin coal as a “street trend” got its start and popularity when diesel trucks would puke smoke on import cars (mainly Hondas). Why? Because it’s obnoxious. It’s right up there with purging your nitrous valves on another car, revving as you pass another modded car on the highway, and a slew of other silly stuff that car people do to each other. The dislike of the Prius was fueled by Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear UK, but it represents a general attitude that follows a population of Prius owners: Simply, they have their nose up in the air because they drive a Prius (complete with Coexist and Namaste stickers) and shop at Whole Foods. The video of the woman going off on a diesel truck owner who had his truck idling in a parking lot did nothing for the popularity (or lack thereof) of the little hybrid.

The attitude “against liberals” has very little to do with who is in office or not in office… It’s more about the attitudes that have been displayed (mainly the condescending tone which both articles posted above are dripping with). The really funny thing about the original article posted is that the truck in the very middle of the photo collage, the red F150… It’s actually burning biodiesel or vegetable oil. Pump diesel gives the dark black smoke. Other alternative fuels burn lighter and with a slight brown tint.

Can We Build in a Brighter Shade of Green? [Sept 2010]

Can We Build in a Brighter Shade of Green? [Sept 2010]

“A so-called passive home like the one the Landaus are now building is so purposefully designed and built — from its orientation toward the sun and superthick insulation to its algorithmic design and virtually unbroken air envelope — that it requires minimal heating, even in chilly New England. Contrary to some naysayers’ concerns, the Landaus’ timber-frame home will be neither stuffy nor, at 2,000 square feet, oppressively small.

It has been a good deal more expensive to build, however, than the average home. That might partly explain why the passive-building standard is only now getting off the ground in the United States — despite years of data suggesting that America’s drafty building methods account for as much as 40 percent of its primary energy use, 70 percent of its electricity consumption and nearly 40 percent of its carbon-dioxide emissions.

Energy Star and LEED aim for efficiency improvements of at least 15 percent over conventional construction — and both programs can earn a variety of tax credits and other incentives. The passive-home standard, perhaps because it’s unfamiliar to many officials who create efficiency stimulus programs, is eligible for few direct government subsidies, despite the fact that homes using it can be up to 80 percent more energy-efficient, over all, than standard new houses and consume just 10 percent of the heating and cooling energy.

Add photovoltaic solar panels or other energy harvesting systems, and passive homes can quickly become zero-energy-use homes — or even power generators that can feed electricity back to the grid.”

For more about passive houses, including graphics, check out Passive House Alliance US. Since this article is almost 4 years old, I wanted to do some research to see if more people were building these homes in the United States. There were only 13 homes at the time of the article’s publication; now, according to Passive House Institute US, there are at least 116. In Hillsboro, Oregon, a suburb of Portland, a 150 unit project is currently under construction, and once completed, will be the largest passive structure in the United States.

Since passive building started in Europe, they are naturally way ahead of the United States on projects. According to this article, “some 25,000 certified passive structures — from schools and commercial buildings to homes and apartment houses — have already been built in Europe.” In Germany, there are plans to build a hospital.


Horseshoe crab blood (and, why conservation pays)

Horseshoe crab blood (and, why conservation pays)

Horseshoe crab-like creatures were here when the dinosaurs appeared, and they were here after the dinosaurs disappeared. They survived ancient global warming and ice ages alike. And then people happened. 

“Over a hundred years ago, they were ground up and put on land as a fertilizer,” says Eric Hallerman, professor of fish conservation at Virginia Tech. In places like the Delaware Bay, 90 percent of the crab population was wiped out, and not a great many people cried about it. 

Then in the ’70s, people discovered that they need the crabs for something much more valuable. “Every human on the face of the earth, if they’ve ever been given an injectable medicine, has been touched by LAL,” says Allen Bergenson with biomedical firm Lonza. 

Love this. Environmentalists need to keep reframing the conversation, and they will continue to see more changes for the better.