September 2010

It is time to celebrate all the past and future accomplishments of the Fair Trade movement! October is officially Fair Trade month. This year, Fair Trade USA (formerly Transfair) and others in the fair trade world are looking to bring awareness to the labor and trade issues our world faces with the overall theme of “Every Purchase Matters.” This theme seems fitting since there are now more fair trade products than ever on the market. From clothing to rice and even olive oil, there is an abundance of fairly traded items hitting the shelves, and every single choice you make as a consumer directly affects producers lives.

So just what exactly does Fair Trade month entail? Along with providing education and bringing awareness to fair trade, there are hundreds of celebrations, giveaways, and discounts occurring across the country. Starting tomorrow, October 1st, Fair Trade USA will be launching a new website where users will be able to vote on which fair trade issues matter most: Fighting PovertyProtecting the Environment, Building Sustainable BusinessEmpowering Women or Supporting Education. Also on this website they will be featuring fair trade partners which will result in event announcements and product give-aways! And to top it all off, any donation of up to $10,000 made to Fair Trade USA during October will be matched 100% by the board of directors.

Now you may wonder, what can you do? First, vote on the importance of fair trade issues, spread the word about fair trade month to friends and family via Facebook/Twitter or traditional word of mouth, volunteer with your local Fair Trade Towns campaign (or start a new one in your neighborhood), or attend a fair trade event (or throw one yourself). And don’t forget to think consciously about your purchases and shop fair trade! A simple choice of deciding to go fair trade will impact the lives of fair trade workers and communities.

Lastly, be on the lookout for Autonomie Project’s celebrations as well. We have exciting things coming in the month of October! Happy Fair Trade Month!!!

-Team AP

When I first heard of The New York Times article about farms experiencing a hipster invasion of sorts, it left me with an image of  young fashionable twenty-somethings breaking into farms and fashioning ironic mustaches onto a bevy of unsuspecting farm animals.

That ‘stache is lookin’ tight, horse!” –anonymous hipster farmer/ rebel.

The article, upon further inspection (aka: reading),  does not focus on the terminology “hipster” but more so on the notion that this sudden interest in farming internships is a  trend among young adults. The internet buzz surrounding the article seems to be translating this, rightfully or wrongfully, as an article focused on hipster farming.

It is likely that this surge has nothing to do with “hipsters“ -a seemingly arbitrary term that is tossed about with spite by people who could easily fit into some aspect of the alleged “hipster” mold themselves about other people who fit into other aspects of the mold, but more to do with a pattern of behavior among a certain age group.  This inter-hipster hate is sort of like Christians hating on Judaism, or vice versa, for either being too religious…the age old tale of the pot, calling the kettle black.

Perhaps this growth in interest in internships of a sustainable nature shows the effects on the collective consciousness of a generation of people who came to age in time of immediate information–where factory farming was being publicly decried and  the environment was continuously being protected by a leftist blog community…AP, I am looking at us! (This conspiracy runs deep, I tells ya’!)

Between the great recession and the constant influx of discoveries of  the over the top ways in which we- especially in the Western world- tend to live and how these lifestyle choices negatively effect the environment has left some people looking for alternative ways of  approaching their day to day lives. By rejecting the notion of “consume, consume, consume” that is shoved down our throats from birth, and embracing fully their role in living a sustainable lifestyle, they are fully practicing what they are preaching.  Instead of reducing these people to a label, we should give them appreciative head nod…sudden movements are known to scare hipsters….I kid, I joke therefore I am.

Evan Dayringer, an intern at the farm featured in the Times article, explains, “…you don’t get a lot more fundamental than farming. So really I’m hoping it’ll be almost like a vehicle: I’ve got farming, I’ve got food, I’ve got shelter, I’ve got people, and then I can incorporate things into that as I go forward.”

“Think Globally, Act Locally” is being personified in someone like this young lad. He shouldn’t be reduced to a stereotype and therefore dismissed as a useless hipster- a term that implies that someone is only embracing a belief, a fashion or an artist because it is oozing trendiness.

Throughout history, youth has often been equated with an openness to embrace a movement, the most obvious example being the hippies of the sixties and their anti-war/ pro getting high on reefer movement. It is important to not pass sustainable life choices off as a passing fad embraced only by hip youths. who do not know enough about disappointment. Eco-friendly living is to be applauded, especially when practiced in such a productive all-encompassing manner.

In addition to these accolades, we should encourage each other -both those young and hipper than us and those old fuddy duddies who watch the weather channel for fun-to not pass this lifestyle off as something that is a finite, passing craze that will be considered lame or dreadfully passé  in another five years. Eco-friendly living is not Pogs, bell bottoms, or rollerblading backwards downtown in gold lame hot pants (wait, that may have just been me) and should not be seen as something that is only embraced for some type of coolness factor.

Regardless of how you feel about eco-lifestyles or hipsters,  when the zombie apocalypse inevitably occurs, locate the nearest hipster and beg them to school you in the ways of organic farming, they are easily located by the lens less fashion glasses and their knowledge of bands you have never heard of. They may be your only hope of survival.

I kid, or do I? Dun, dun, dun!!!

-Meghan Hurley

Elvis Presley, Madonna, Marilyn Manson, and now Lady Gaga. What do all these musicians have in common? They were all controversial and use shock value to gain attention. The inter-webs have been ablaze lately with Lady Gaga’s latest stunt. At the 2010 MTV Music Video Awards, she surprised fans and spectators with a dress made of raw meat, that included a slab of meat atop her head and the shoes on her feet.

Of course wearing raw meat is going to attract the attention of animal rights activists, vegans, and fashionistas. Upon first look at the get-up you might be appalled at someone wearing raw flesh, not to mention the wastefulness and the fact that it is a DEAD ANIMAL.  After some thought you may think,  maybe this is a statement? Maybe she is trying to attract attention to the fur/leather industry, you know, pointing out that they too are made from animal flesh. Or maybe it was a feminist/sexual statement? Showing that women are viewed as a piece of meat? Maybe a commentary on the fashion industry? Anything?

It appears this is not so. After Lady Gaga herself was asked, what does it all mean, it is clear it was just another way to gain attention from fans and the media. Her answer to that question:
It’s certainly no disrespect to anyone that’s vegan or vegetarian. As you know I’m the most judgment-free human being on the Earth. It has many interpretations, but for me this evening it’s [saying] if we don’t stand up for what we believe in, if we don’t fight for our rights, pretty soon we’re going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones.

What? Her explanation is not really an explanation at all. It seems she got her wish though, everyone is talking about her, even us. Maybe we should learn a lesson in this and stop looking for deeper meaning in our pop stars, who are really just making danceable, fun music. At least with all this chatter, vegans and animal rights are getting equal amounts of attention.  PETA chimed in, pointing out their disappointment in her fashion choice, “Lately, Lady Gaga has been having a hard time keeping her act “over the top.” Wearing a dress made out of cuts of dead cows is offensive enough to bring comment, but someone should whisper in her ear that there are more people who are upset by butchery than who are impressed by it—and that means a lot of young people will not be buying her records if she keeps this stuff up.

In fact, PETA claims that interest in the meat dress has driven more people to their website and they have encouraged many to download a vegan/vegetarian starter kit. Ellen Degeneres, a vegan herself, also felt it necessary to address the issue. Shortly after the awards show, Lady Gaga donned the dress once more to go on Ellen’s talk show, where no doubt Ellen must have been disgusted by the outfit. In an attempt to show the star that options were out there, Ellen gifted her with a vegan approved bikini made of kale. All this increased interest in vegans and vegetarian lifestyles, might actually be the unintentional positive consequence of having to look at a dead animal carcass as an outfit?

Obviously a kale bikini is going to get far less attention than a dress made of raw meat, but maybe she could actually make a statement with it.  Not to mention a veggie bikini is going to smell amazingly better than a dress made of rotting flesh. As a long-term vegan, I am personally disgusted at her choice in fashion and upset that an animal had to sacrifice it’s life for a pop star’s need to be in the public eye. Ultimately, this poor cow died in vain  and quit literally. Pretty abhorrent and cruel, if you ask me. What do you think of the dress?

-Gina Williams

Looking back, I realize that my childhood school lunches were a sad affair- not only because my brown bag lunches usually consisted of a flattened sandwich that was a little more than lukewarm come lunchtime, but also because these home packed lunches were horrible for the environment. Between the individually wrapped fruit roll ups, the disposable brown bag and the one use sandwich baggie my lunches were essentially a giant middle finger to Mother Nature. It wasn’t intentional or malicious, but still if I had access to a time machine I may go back and inform my parents of the advantages of living an eco-friendly lifestyle–just after I travel back in time stop good ol’ Abe Lincoln from being assassinated  and right before I go forward in time to steal next week’s winning lottery numbers…space time continuum be damned!

In 2010 parents are not able to hide behind an ignorance of the negative effects a wasteful lifestyle has on the environment, we all are aware of global warming, even those naïve enough to not believe in it. Now that I have sufficiently guilted you, I can offer some very simple steps that you busy parents can take to ensure that your child’s lunch is delicious to both their and Mother’s Natures sensitive palates.

Reusable Snack Bag By Waste Free Lunch

1.) Black List Your Brown Paper Bag:

Brown paper lunch bags not only allow your child’s Sammie to get flattened under the weight of errant text books by lunch time, but they also are terrible for the environment. As with most items, something that is single use is not eco-friendly. Switching to a reusable bag or lunch box is your eco-friendly alternative. There are plenty of adorable options out there that will keep your child’s beautifully constructed sandwich in tact while keeping those brown bags out of  garbage cans and land fills.

If you are feeling extra ambitious, you can even make your own reusable sandwich wrap, perhaps a fun project that you are your offspring can tackle together!

2.) Go Organic, Vegan or Vegetarian:

Regardless of your stance on eco-friendly lunches –hopefully since you are reading it your stance is, “Yay! I love feeding my kid in the most ecological way possible!”– you definitely want to feed your child food that is not only nutritious but delicious as well. The good news is that being an eco-friendly lunch packer does not mean you have to sacrifice taste.

Whenever possible, purchase organic and local ingredients. The closer the food is made to your home, the lower its carbon footprint! Even if you are a carnivore through and through, you may want to switch it up every so often by serving your child a vegan or vegetarian lunch! Meat comes with a huge carbon foot print- we are talking Big Foot proportions- between the fuel it takes to grow the grain to feed farm animals and the amount of methane cows  releases into the atmosphere via their gas, skipping on the meat and dairy will make your packed lunch an eco-friendly power house!

Your kids will not be missing out on flavor, there are many awesome vegan recipes online including delicious ones that can be found right here on the Autonomie Project Blog, such as this one for homemade fruit leather, a recipe that does not call for three layers of wasteful packaging.

3.) Just Say “No” To Juice Boxes:

We can all agree, while adorable in their pint-sized stature, juice boxes make for a ton of excess packaging. From the individually plastic wrapped straws to the box that houses a dozen smaller boxes, these wasteful extras put a strain on the environment.
By purchasing a thermos, your child can still indulge in all the delicious juice needed to quench their lunch time thirst. By purchasing a larger bottle, or making your own juice and filling this reusable thermos  you cut down on oodles of waste.

4.) Strut Out The Reusable Cutlery:

Sometimes what’s easiest- in this case tossing in a disposable fork or spoon in your child’s lunch- is not the right thing to do. Purchase reusable cutlery that will fit into your child’s adorable reusable lunch box. Notice a theme here? Good, you get a gold star! Reusable goods are the corner-stone to green lunch!

5.) Refuse To Purchase Individual Servings:

When faced with purchasing the already separated into individual serving sized snack and the larger, bulkier, not ready to grab and toss into your child’s lunch box snack you should always aim for the latter.

When purchasing snackables for your beloved little scholars, always seek out the path with the least amount of packaging. Fruit is delectable to taste buds and often comes wrapped in its own natural casing…bananas, I am looking at you pal, way to be a handy-dandy snack! Even when indulging your offspring with the occasional store-bought cookie, purchase the larger package and allot the appropriate serving in one of your child’s reusable lunch accessories!

If these five steps are a little too verbose, here is a cheat sheet to packing an eco-friendly school lunch: avoid excessive packaging, reuse whatever materials you can and be aware of where your ingredients come from. Got it? Good, there will be a pop quiz at a later date and time…and no, I can not tell you when, that is the point of the “pop” in the pop quiz.

Packing a school lunch with a mind for the environment takes minimal effort and shows that you not only care about your child’s present but also their future.

-Meghan Hurley

It was the best of brunches, it was the worst…er, I mean, also best of brunches? Alright, enough with the Dickens’ reference. This past weekend we had a good old-fashioned AP road trip, where we traveled to Washington DC and Philadelphia for a vegetarian festival. The DC Vegfest was a blast and we met a ton of great people, not to mention we were nestled in the booth next to Vegan Treats, where we were tempted all day with delicious cakes.  Before setting up for the Vegfest, we arose early enough to stop and have brunch at DC’s own Sticky Fingers Bakery. Once finished with the Vegfest, we headed to Philadelphia, where we had the chance to also eat vegan brunch at a restaurant called Mi Lah’s Vegetarian. We thought since we had the opportunity to try the same brunch dish at both restaurants in two different cities, two days in a row, we would compare them!

Sticky Fingers’ French Toast

Let’s start with Sticky Fingers Bakery. The bakery nestled in a busy part of DC, has a bit of a deceiving name. Although, it is entitled, bakery, and they do offer multiple baked goods, they also have a pretty extensive brunch and lunch menu. We were really excited to be there and had trouble deciding what menu item to choose from as they ranged from “Blueberry Pancakes” to “Tuna Melt.” With a little help from the friendly staff, who were as sweet as their pastries, we were able to decide upon two items: the Biscuits and Gravy and the French Toast. For about $6 you can order either but if you make it into a meal for $9.99 you get your main dish plus home fries and tofu scramble. Also, of note, while we were waiting for our plates, Ian MacKaye of the band Minor Threat and a longtime vegan strolled in and ordered breakfast. This spurred childhood memories to go along with our brunch!

Sticky Fingers’ Biscuits & Gravy

For the sake of this article we will focus on the Biscuits and Gravy, although the French Toast was exceptional. Because I knew I would be eating vegan goodies all day, I opted just for the main dish but added a side of tempeh bacon. When the dish was served, it looked delicious and very presentable on a cute colorful plate. The biscuits were delectable: light and buttery, just as you would expect them. The gravy was also quite delicious and tasted homemade with fresh herbs sprinkled upon it. This definitely gave it an extra flavor. I also really, really enjoyed the tempeh bacon, which had a nice full smoked flavor to it. My only disappointment was that the gravy had no meat substitute to imitate traditional biscuits and gravy. Although, not normally a fan of mock meat, I thought adding some tempeh or tofu would add to the dish. Still, it filled me and sent my taste buds soaring for the rest of the morning.

Mi Lah’s Tofu Florentine

The following day we stopped in Philly on our way back to Boston. We were excited to find good reviews online about a restaurant called Mi Lah Vegetarian. Judging by the name and the decor (Asian Buddhist style) you might expect this to be a pan Asian restaurant, however, they mostly serve American and International style dishes.  In the window, they proudly display their “BYOB” sign, although it being about noon, it was a little too early to bring our own booze. We were met with friendly service as well and also relied on the waiter to help us with our decision. After much contemplation and a coin flip or two, I decided to try the Biscuits and Gravy once again to see how it would compare to the previous day and we also ordered Tofu Florentine. The Tofu Florentine was deliciously served with plenty of tofu and a side of kale and tomatoes. Both dishes came with sweet potato home fries and fresh fruit.

Mi Lah’s Biscuits & Gravy

But since our focus is on the Biscuits and Gravy, I will tell you it was unique and mouth-watering. The first thing we noticed was that the portions were HUGE. In fact, this meal filled us for the remainder of the day! The Biscuits and Gravy were served with fried mushroom that closely reminded me of fish and I had to share it with the rest of the table, who loved it. The Biscuits and Gravy themselves were quite good although not as soft and flavorful as Sticky Fingers’. The best thing about this dish is that layered on the biscuits were a veggie sausage patty and a giant scoops of avocado. That may seem odd to pair avocado with gravy but it was unique and scrumptious. I devoured mine in minutes and savored  it thoroughly!

Both restaurants offer delicious vegan brunches as well as dinner items. I enjoyed both styles of restaurants as well, counter service and sit down. I think both biscuits and gravy were delightful, yet different in their own way. We are sure to visit both restaurants again soon to try some of their other items but can assure you that both places offer a mighty tasty Biscuits and Gravy and we are sure glad we tried it. It is a far, far better brunch that I tried, than I have ever tried before.

-Gina Williams

Last week, it seemed environmentalists had hit a wall. The California Legislative branch was set to vote on a statewide plastic bag ban. The state would have been the first to put a ban on the destructive bags. The bill was defeated last week much to the dismay of California environmentalists and even Governor Schwarzenegger, who was in support of the ban. Many believed the state would have saved millions on the cost of cleaning up discarded and pollutant bags. Although the bill had big names and the public backing it, the plastic bag industry lobbyists did their dirty work.

This statewide ban comes on the back of the city of San Francisco plastic bag ban of 2007. The ban, considered successful applies to all chain grocery and convenience stores. The city reduced plastic bag production and waste by 5 million bags a month! Residents haven’t seem to take issue with it and do not mind bringing their own re-usable bags shopping. The ban in San Francisco brought world-wide attention and other cities and countries around the world have followed suit. China, who banned free plastic bags in 2008, reduced plastic bag consumption by 66% and saved 1.6 million tons of petroleum.

These are staggering results and US cities can learn from them. In fact other cities in California are looking to institute their own bans, similar to San Francisco, due to the failure of the Senate including Santa Cruz. Although, California is known for its cutting edge environmental policies, a small city out of Texas is gaining some attention from the state’s failed ban. Brownsville, Texas, a city of about 140,000, passed their own ban the same week in which California’s failed. The ban will bar any supermarkets from giving plastic bags for free, but they will still be available for purchase at $1 a bag. Although the ban takes effect January 5th, the city is already gearing up and during the fall, they will be doing exchange drives for recyclable and reusable bags.

It is unfortunate that bans need to be placed in the first place, but if your city still allows plastic to be given for free, take a stand. When you shop bring reusable bags with you, encourage family and friends to do the same by giving reusable bags as gifts, and suggest to your neighborhood grocery store to start giving incentives for people to give up the plastic bag. Many stores have already instituted a discount for those who bring their own bags. If that’s not enough, contact your city or state council leaders to consider similar bans.
It is not often that an environmental leader such California, takes cues from unexpected ground breakers such as Texas or even China, but hopefully it will help drive the message: something has got to change. Plastic bags are in fact a unneccesary component of modern life. As consumers, it is our responsibility to change the industry with our buying power instead of relying on the government (especially when pandering to lobbyists) to solve the plastic problem.

Everywhere I look lately, I feel as though I can not escape negative press and stories about the second largest religion in the world. This sort of rhetoric is distressing and a little scary, especially in such a tolerant nation. What I don’t see in the presses is the positive impact Islam has on individuals and communities. Often the mainstream media picks up the sensational story and shies away from the positive, “boring” stories. However, aside from all the rhetoric and negative focus in the media, Islam, like any religion, has a positive impact.

One exciting new trend we have heard about in the Islam world is the focus on Green. More and more followers of this religion are focusing on the Quran’s lessons on the environment. Although unreported in the mainstream media, the Huffington Post recently published a fantastic article entitled “Muslims Go Green For Ramadan,” about one Israeli man who began an environmental movement within his religion. Mohammad Rabah created a national conference to educate imams on the greener side to the Quran, creating videos and other educational materials. Rabah aims to show imams as well as the world that the Quran teaches the  “importance of moderation, conservation and environmentalism.”

This idea especially becomes important during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which already inspires conservation. Rabah’s message has been picked up by many in the Islamic community around the world, encouraging them to conserve everything from gas to water. The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago organized a “Green Ramadan” and even handed out “Green Ramadan Resource Packs,” which provided information on recycling and sustainable paper products. Zaher Sahloul, a chairperson on the council, relates his insight: “Our lives are becoming full of excesses and indulgences. We use fasting in Ramadan to cap our eating, our drinking and our impulses, so why do we not use it to protect our planet?

Beyond the month of Ramadan, the Green Islamic Movement is spreading throughout the world. In the UK a group called Inspired by Muhammed focuses on the socially progressive teachings of Islam such as animal welfare, environmentalism, and human rights.  Here in the States, there are several environmental Muslim groups such as the grassroots Muslim Green Team and the US capital city’s DC Green Muslims. Another exciting development in the Green Islam world is the construction of the now hotly-contested Park 51 in New York City, which will be the country’s first LEED-certified Islamic community center, a fact also ignored by many in the media.

It is interesting how religion, faith, and spirituality can tie into one’s commitment to the environment, but I think it is an important development. Our Earth is something we all have in common, no matter what creed or lack there-of we subscribe to. I think it is essential that we highlight the reasons people care about the environment, all groups that are involved in the movement, and make new, exciting developments known. I find it inspirational that so many Islamic groups and devotees are drawing from the teachings of this religion to better our environment. However, I do wish mainstream media and the public at large would pay closer attention to the positive side of religion and let go of their negative emotions, preconceived notions and stereotypes, so together we can focus on making our world a better place.

-Gina Williams

Labor Day has come and gone and the official end to summer has hit.  With the little ones going back to school and the bigger ones shipping off to college, you may be searching for treats to send them off with.  This week, we have put together an easy, delicious, and healthy snack recipe ready to be packed in a school lunchbox or mailed off to the dorms. We all want our children to be healthy and eat right and there is no better way than to provide them with quick and easy nutritious treats.

Our vegan recipe this week is one my Mother and I used to make the week school began: homemade fruit leather! There was nothing I loved more than fruit roll-ups as a child, however, many of those on the market are packed full of additives, high fructose corn syrup, and harmful dyes.  As well as being less than healthy, many products have wasteful packaging and are not easy on the wallet. My Mother found a solution to this: we made them at home! Before you buy a box off the shelf, consider trying out this recipe: it is fun, easy, and you can customize the fruit you use. Below we have provided a recipe in true fall fair: Apple Cinnamon. However, the recipe is really easy to tweak to any fruit or fruit combination you would like. Just make sure you use 2 Cups of fruit and lemon juice (to keep them from browning).

Organic Vegan Apple Cinnamon Fruit Leather

Makes 1 Medium Cookie Sheet

1 1/2  Cups Organic Apples, Peeled and Cubed
1/2  Cup Organic Apple Sauce, Unsweetened
1 Tsp Organic Lemon Juice
1 1/2 Tsp Organic Cinnamon

In a blender or food processor add the apples and apple sauce. Blend until the mixture is the consistency of applesauce.  In a mixing bowl add the lemon juice and cinnamon and mix.  Pre-heat the oven to 150-170 degrees.  Pour mixture over non-stick or oiled cookie sheets and let them dry for 10-15 hours in the oven. If you have a dehydrator, this will take 7-8 hours.  You will know when the leather is dry, when it is no longer moist and is tough, much like store bought fruit leather. With a pizza cutter or knife, rectangle strips or roll up. You can either wrap the leather saran wrap or store in jars/other re-usable containers. Now your fruit leather is ready to be packed away in school lunches, mailed off in a care package, or eaten on the spot.

For some other great fruit combinations, check out the following list. Remember, the mixture should be 2 cups of fruit combined (can include apple or other sauces), lemon juice, and any sweetner or spice you may want.

Other Fruit Combinations:

Strawberry Banana
Peach Apricot
Berry Mix (Blueberry, Raspberry, Blackberry)
Goji Berry
Mango Pineapple
Pumpkin Nutmeg
Cranberry Orange

Perhaps not so far from the truth.

On August 19th, the Community Farm Workers Alliance NYC, allied with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a community-based organization of mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida, organized a protest in front of the new Trader Joe’s store in New York City’s Chelsea Neighborhood.  Their goal was to educate shoppers about the extreme and unconscionable abuses farm workers are enduring in their region; Florida tops the nation in the amount of fresh-market tomatoes produced.

Chelsea Now, a local neighborhood publication, was on hand to survey the seen and speak with some of the CIW staff members present.  One of them, Julia Perkins, related some horrifying incidents illustrating how brutal certain farm labor employers can be.  In 2008, two employers were sentenced to 12 years in jail for forcing laborers to sleep in locked trucks overnight, binding their wrists in chains. Perkins explained, “They would close the truck and lock them in overnight with no ventilation, no light and no bathroom facilities —workers were forced to use the corner of the truck. They deducted $5 from their paycheck to wash off with a garden hose out back, and food is deducted as well. It’s horrendous.

This brand of exploitation – the subjugation of workers and their rights to the point of mirroring traditional slavery practices – is executed by those who own and operate farms, but it is important to understand that such crimes are allowed to continue because those who purchase tomatoes in high volume – restaurant chains and grocery chains – either aren’t aware or turn a blind eye. When those buyers choose to begin selecting produce grown with higher labor standards, growers’ profits are threatened unless more humane changes are made.  In effect, the restaurant or supermarket wields the financial power and thus can control, or “own,” the industry standards and the people involved in production.

Here’s where Trader Joe’s comes in.

Through persistent action the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has come to agreements with some of the nation’s largest food companies; as Chelsea Now reports, they include “Taco Bell and its parent company, Yum Brands, the world’s largest restaurant multinational; Burger King; McDonald’s; Subway; Whole Foods; and the food service companies Bon Appétit Management Company, Aramark and Compass Group.”  This impressive corporate lineup has agreed to pay slightly higher prices for tomatoes, potentially doubling workers’ daily income.  Although not a revolution in farm labor standards, it’s certainly a start.  However, Trader Joe’s has so far been unwilling to sign an agreement to help stop the exploitation of workers that pick the tomatoes that appear on their shelves. According to a CIW flyer, “farm workers picking tomatoes for Trader Joe’s chain of supermarkets earn 40-50 cents for every 32-pound bucket of tomatoes they harvest.”  Such a sorrowful total can only amount to impoverished living standards, and Trader Joe’s seems unwilling to share any information on their produce sources.  Only after repeated questioning did the company’s publicist, Alison Mochizuki, respond to Chelsea Now in an email with this message: “At Trader Joe’s, we work with reputable suppliers that have a strong record of providing safe and healthy work environments and we will continue to make certain that our vendors are meeting if not exceeding government standards throughout all aspects of their businesses.

Perhaps it is a bit confusing to find such a canned, sterile and seemingly contradictory response from a company that projects an image of environmental and social responsibility, producing all-natural and organic foods and providing competitive wage and benefits packages for their own employees.  Even more confusing is their refusal to meet the CIW in their quest for justice, choosing instead to endure public criticism of their core values while placing their reputation in jeopardy.  Why would the apparently progressive Trader Joe’s assume a removed and guarded position on this crucial issue when the more conventional food companies listed above chose to yield to the voices of the people in need of human rights?  Right now only guesses can be made, and until Trader Joe’s heeds this call for change, thousands of poor people living inhuman lives will continue to rise each morning and pick their tomatoes.

-Jeremy Pearson

You may remember a few months ago when I posted about a new trend in American bars and restaurants: drinking and eating both responsibly AND sustainably. The Huffington Post devoted an article to highlighting nine of America’s greenest bars. One of these bars was Bambara located in Cambridge just across the Charles River from Boston. Bambara is conveniently located within walking distance of the Green Line’s Lechmere T Station and is tucked into Hotel Marlowe on Edwin H Land Blvd. Autonomie Project is fortunate enough to have Bambara in its backyard and I could not resist visiting the restaurant this past weekend.

Bambara is listed on EcoDrinking, a website devoted to establishing bars and restaurants as being green based on numerous factors such as sustainability, organic food/drink options, energy efficiency, and other green initiatives. The website specifically notes Bambara’s use of local ingredients to create organic drinks and entrées as well as their LED lighting and recycling program. Bambara lists numerous “environmentally friendly practices” they are currently using to further their mission of creating a “greener future”.

From the wine list to the take-out containers, Bambara has it covered when it comes to sustainable business practices. Their wine list only features wines that are sustainable, organic, or biodynamic. Recycled cane fiber makes up the content of Bambara’s take-out containers. In addition, the restaurant refuses to use disposable packaging when storing food. Styrofoam is essentially banned from the restaurant. Better yet, Bambara prides itself in its use of local ingredients purchased from local farms, ranches, and fisheries. Bambara has every reason to pride itself in its ingredients; my entire dinner was outstanding.

Thankfully, my friend, Christine, and I chose to venture to Bambara during Boston’s Restaurant Week. We made our reservation on a Saturday evening at 7:00 p.m., but we found that it was unnecessary. We were able to choose a nice high-top table across from the bar along the restaurant’s windows. For $33, we had numerous options to choose from for an appetizer, entrée, and dessert combination. It was immediately confirmed that the ingredients of their dishes were completely organic and fresh when we took our first bites. Christine and I raved to each other about the pasta we ordered. In fact, our waitress kindly noted that all of Bambara’s pasta is made from scratch in-house. You sure can tell!

Bambara’s dinner menu was extensive and impressive, but I think they could definitely improve their selection with additional vegetarian and vegan options. Many of the salads would satisfy a vegetarian’s needs as well as a vegan’s needs sans the various cheeses. However, every dinner entrée has some kind of meat or fish. New vegetarian and vegan options would definitely improve the menu and attract a larger market of customers. It would also add to Bambara’s green mission! I also noticed that the drink menu contains only conventional beers. Local breweries like Harpoon or Peak Organic would be excellent additions to the drink menu. It would also further Bambara’s mission to partner with local businesses. Despite this, Bambara’s cocktails sure do catch your eye on the menu. Bambara’s ‘Mother Earth’ is dubbed as an eco-friendly cocktail. It contains organic Tru vanilla vodka, Makers Mark Aperol, agave nectar, and orange juice. With more cocktails like ‘Mother Earth’, Bambara is sure to expand their customer base.

Overall, our experience at Bambara was outstanding. We did not feel too guilty about the food we ate since we knew we were being a bit greener and more sustainable by dining at Bambara! What more justification do you need? So next time you’re in Boston, take the T just one stop into Cambridge for a great drink and meal. There is no better way to enjoy time with friends and family than over an ethical and superbly tasting dinner out on the town.

-Derek Rogers

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