January 2011

My birthday is in December and to my delight one of my good friends, Andrea, made me amazing homemade vegan peanut butter cups and mailed them from NY to CA. After opening my package, I was amazed to sink my teeth into these delightful desserts and had to share them with my friends. After I devoured my treats, I soon craved more. I wrote Andrea asking for the recipe and to my delight, she quickly emailed the recipe. As it turns out, she got the recipe from Alicia Silverstone, who just wrote the vegan book the Kind Diet. Since, she sent me the recipe, I had to try it myself and pass it on to my lovely blog readers. Trust us, this easy and fun recipe is worth the two-hour wait! They also make a nice present, especially with Valentine’s Day fast approaching.

Vegan Peanut Butter Cups 

Prep Time: 15-20 minutes    Cool Time: 2.5 hours

1 Cup Vegan Chocolate Chips

3/4 Cup Organic Crunch Peanut Butter

3/4 Cup Graham Cracker Crumbles

1/2 Cup Organic Earth Balance

1/4 Cup Organic Evaporated Cane Juice or other sweetener

1/4 Cup Soy Milk

1/4 Cup Organic Chopped Peanuts

In a small muffin tin, line the muffin circles with preferably recycled or eco-friendly muffin liners and set aside. Melt the Earth Balance in a small saucepan and stir in the peanut butter, graham crackers, and evaporated cane juice. Remove from heat and with a spoon, put the peanut butter mixture into the liners at about halfway or 2 tbsp per cup. In another sauce pan, heat up the soy milk and add in the chocolate chips. Stir until the chocolate is melted. Pour the chocolate over the peanut butter in the lining until they are filled. Sprinkle the peanuts on top. Place the tray in the fridge for 2.5 hours and serve or wrap as a gift!

Ok, ok. So we know, it is the State of the Union, not the environment. But as environmentalists ourselves, we couldn’t help but respond to Obama’s State of the Union speech. Obama mentioned the environment several different times throughout his speech. Since his campaign, Obama has pushed that he will increase federal funding for green energy. However, 2010 saw the Clean Energy Bill crash and burn and with a Republican controlled House the outlook was not so great. But there may be a light at the end of the tunnel, as there were a few encouraging items the President covered in his speech.

To keep with Obama’s theme, one of the “biggest things” we were excited about was his new plan to push America into energy efficiency. Not only did he set a new goal of 80% clean energy by 2035, but he directly mentioned moving funds from subsidizing oil companies and investing them in what he called clean energy. Now, we, of course, totally back such a move, seeing as how investing in energy efficiency and new green technology is smart in this age. What we did not like was that the President lumped natural gas, nuclear power, and even “clean” coal in with real green energy such as solar and wind. We were very disappointed by this since investing in those types of energy is no better than investing in oil. Not to mention there is no such thing as “clean” coal.

Another piece of the speech we appreciated was his historical reference to the Space Race and Sputnik. Being history nerds and all, we are always game for historical parallels that can shed light on contemporary issues.  The President mentioned that the US is falling behind China and several other nations in solar and wind technology. He referred to this as “our Sputnik moment,” meaning we should use this early failure to push us into developing our own renewable energy. These are all positive and encouraging ideas for the future of our country. Within his speech he also mentioned increasing the number of electric cars on the road and developing high speed rail systems.

All of these goals are exciting and we are happy he mentioned them. However, as many have pointed out, he failed to mention Climate Change as something we should address, albeit he did imply the problem by suggesting we invest in green technologies. Still, many environmentalists expected him to at least mention the issue, especially as the weather in 2010 was all over the place and it turned out to be the hottest year on record.

We are guessing his failure to mention this issue had to do with his attempt at “reaching across the aisle,” as they say. It is no secret that many in the Republican party question Climate Change and have been fighting any legislation on it. Since this is such a controversial topic, he might have chose to exclude it. Still, this is no excuse. In the State of the Union speech, he is speaking to the people as well as his political partners and foes.

Overall, we applaud the President for his efforts to bring this nation up to speed in green industry, renewable energy, and alternative transportation. Even with his incorrect “renewable” references and his failure to mention impending Climate Change, we still find this a positive speech, environmentally speaking.  Now, let’s see it get into action! Don’t forget to write your local congress representatives and let them know you want to meet these goals and more!

I can still remember the first time I heard the phrase “fair trade.” It was at my first job in 1999 at a small independent coffee shop in my home town of Shingle Springs, CA.  A hip woman in her 30’s, who seemed ancient to me at the time, asked me if our coffee was fair trade.  “Fair trade?” I thought to myself. The next year I started college and I quickly answered my questions about fair trade, as well as global economic issues.  In the last decade, fair trade has come a long way in my life, especially through Autonomie Project, but the movement itself has made tremendous strides.

This year ushered in a new year and forced us to reflect on the last decade. In the last ten years fair trade products have expanded beyond coffee to rice, flowers, and olive oil to name a few. Demand and sales have grown exponentially, growing three times as much in the later half of the decade. But perhaps more importantly, the real life impact of fair trade has been huge. The Fairtrade Foundation published a review of fair trade benefits in the last ten years. The review examined  case studies, most in coffee, and most of the cases showed  serious economic, social empowerment, and environmental improvements with fair trade policies. This means fair trade is directly affecting and improving people’s lives and changing the way we structure our world.

It is not to say fair trade is perfect, in fact it should be a system constantly improved upon. Since it is clear fair trade meets most of its goals, the next decade should focus on expanding fair trade, as well as perfecting the policies. I have high hopes for the next few years, as the US now has garment certification, which will include some of our products. This is really exciting and could mean the beginning of several more products. Also, the conversation has already started about how to improve fair trade requirements and new certifications.

Looking back at the last decade is hopeful and encouraging. Let’s see how much more we can improve upon our current system and new products, as well as new countries where fair trade can make an impact. This is our world and we need to influence the way the world is treated. Now is the time to start and let’s start the teens right!

-Gina Williams

I’ve only had vegan food once or twice since there aren’t many in my hometown East Side San Jose/Milpitas, so when I discovered that Green Café Vegan Cuisine had opened up in McCarthy Ranch in Milpitas, I called up my friends immediately to schedule a lunch date.

Milpitas is a tiny suburb between San Jose and Fremont. It’s definitely no Berkeley or San Francisco when it comes to vegan cuisine. The vegan chain restaurant Loving Hut is the only other vegan choice in Milpitas, so I’m certainly glad Green Café opened up here.

Green Café is located next to Banana Leaf in the McCarthy Ranch plaza, a popular spot for residents like me because of its many restaurants. The restaurant was fairly easy to find, and at 2 PM I had no trouble with parking.

Happy Drumsticks

As I enjoyed the soup—which was flavorful and light—I scanned the decent sized menu. The menu provided the name of each dish in both English and Vietnamese. The menu includes agood selection of appetizers, salad, soups, noodle dishes, and sandwiches. They offer many popular Vietnamese dishes like Phở and Bún Huê.

As we waited for our items I finally had a chance to really take a look at the restaurant. It was small, clean and cozy restaurant that had an at-home vibe. Natural sunlight streamed in from the large windows and two doors that were propped open. The place was very quiet—probably because it was already late in the afternoon, or perhaps because this restaurant opened up just last November.

Golden Rolls

We didn’t have to wait long for the appetizers to arrive, and when they did—boy it was difficult to resist for a few minutes as I shot a photo of each. They were DELICIOUS. I’ve always beenwary of vegetarian or vegan meat (the time I accidentally got a veggie burger at my school’sdining hall was definitely not a pleasant meal), so I was hesitant about getting the HappyDrumsticks. It’s fried soy protein served with a spicy sauce. The inside was moist and theoutside was perfectly fried and crispy. The texture was a lot like chicken, though it wasn’t as chewy as meat. They alternated the regular drumstick bone with a piece of yummy sugarcane that you can munch on. Our other appetizer, the Golden Rolls, was very good as well. They’re crispy fried rolls filled with vegetables, tofu, carrot, taro, and bean thread. It was full of flavor and the sauce gave it a little spicy, sweet kick.

Spicy Fried Rice

Our orders came out as we were eating the last of our appetizers. You can tell they care about presentation—each item was lovely, colorful, and looked delicious.

I thoroughly enjoyed the spicy fried rice, which was fried rice with tofu, soy protein, carrots,green beans, basil, and Thai spices. The slight spiciness lingered after each bite and it was neither too dry nor moist. It was just perfect—and I’ve tried a lot of fried rice! I definitely recommend that dish. The Humble Curry was good as well. The potatoes and tofu in the curry were cooked nicely. Overall, though, my friends and I agreed we still prefer Indian curry over Vietnamese style.

Hot & Spicy Noodles

My vegan friend, Niv, had the Special Vegetable Noodle. Although she enjoyed the dish overall,she found that other vegan restaurants, like Di Lac in San Jose, had more flavorful noodles. My other friend only liked—not loved— her order of the Hot and Spicy Noodles. She agreed with Niv that she’s had better noodles elsewhere. The noodle items they had just weren’t really anything special—they said—although they reassured me that they were still both good and cooked well.

We wanted to order vegan Caramel Flan as dessert, but unfortunately they were out! I will have to get it next time.

Overall if you are in the South Bay, I recommend Green Café for casual, affordable vegan dining. I particularly recommend getting and sharing one of the many entrees with an order of fried rice, rather than ordering individual meals like the noodle soup dishes. I’m no vegan or vegetarian (though I am cutting down on my consumption of meat!) but I definitely put Green Café on my list of frequent dining spots because of its affordable price, friendly service, and overall good food.

-Michelle Thai

Thus I pensively wrote down on a scrap Scientology flyer at the divey but homey Lanesplitter Pizza on Lake Merritt in Oakland, CA.  Home of my favorite vegan slice in the world, so far.  It was Lanesplitter, the East Bay pizza mini-chain that still reflects a mom-and-pop status, that had me ruminating and redefining my definition of purchasing goods and services “locally.”

With five locations and a great menu, the establishment seems poised on expanding out of it’s 10-mile radius; how far would be too far to remain “local?”  And, of course, not all the ingredients in the slice I was eating were grown or produced locally, and probably not even purchased from a locally owned and operated supply company (maybe global?).  But, the few bucks spent on the final product, that awesome slice, were helping a hometown favorite thrive.  The politics of “local” are complex.

Would it be possible for me to spend every earned dime in a local fashion: in my neighborhood, my city, the general Northern California region, or perhaps no further than the entire state?  How far would I have to look to find things I needed to survive, let alone those superfluous items and trinkets that constantly flaunt their attractiveness in our 21st-century USA?

This debate is nothing new; I already purchase almost all my fruits, veggies, nuts and grains from organic farmers located primarily in Northern California, as we here are lucky enough to have the immense Central Valley and Sierra Foothill breadbaskets in our backyard.  Almost, because certain things I desire – but are absolutely unessential to my survival – cannot be found in this state, or country, or even general latitude, such as bananas and mangoes.  This then brings up another major consideration in many of our diets: coffee, and most teas, which will not grow in our country or hemisphere.  And what would many of you do without coffee (you know who you are)?  So, certain choices I make on a daily and weekly basis, such as purchasing goods that can only be produced in the tropics, seem to absolutely break my intentions of buying local-only.

However . . . if I buy my coffee from the Blue Bottle Coffee Company in Oakland, which doesn’t grow but roasts and sells its organic product in the same facility, wouldn’t I be doing more for my local economy, the spirit of community and the environment (not to mention my taste buds) than buying a can of the estate-grown, multi-national Folgers from Safeway?  Yes, definitely; but is my desire for coffee itself more important than supporting a local company that still must transport its beans thousands of miles using various forms of polluting transportation?  It seems that I would need to sacrifice this coveted beverage, which not only provides physical but social stimulation in my favorite nearby coffeehouses, if I were to behave as a truly local consumer.  The pros and cons are still being weighed.

Although such arguments need not be reproduced here, the ins and outs of this issue extend to every aspect of our material lives: clothing, furnishings, entertainment, transportation.  Is sacrificing one aspect of responsible purchasing for the benefit of another justified?  And who can weigh such a balance; the value of personal enjoyment found in a high-def, flatscreen TV, the usefulness of a plastic broom, the necessity of commuting to a car-accessible career, versus the obvious and multifarious detriments caused by supporting Chinese sweatshops and violent skirmishes in desperate countries?  Has it become impossible to find and accomplish these things by pushing our dollars no further than our area codes, short of learning to make and grow every single little thing yourself while living and working no further than you can see?

How much financial and personal sacrifice will be necessary for me to satisfy my own subjective definitions of “buying local?” I will answer all of these questions myself before the year is out.  But in any case, if it comes to it, I may find it considerably difficult to give up on the Lanesplitter vegan slice.  A blessing, and a curse.
-Jeremy Pearson

Different cultures around the world have celebrated the start of a new year at different times. The current Gregorian calendar, which we follow here in the States, marks the New Year in January to honor the Roman god Janus. Janus is the god of gates or doorways, always facing forward and backward. The symbolic nature of looking forward as you look back is never more relevant than the start of the new year. Thus, many cultures today, including our own, reflect in the month of January as they simultaneously start a new year.

With that idea in mind, we wanted to take a moment and reflect on the triumphs and setbacks for the environment during 2010. Last year was filled with great strides and environmental disasters. As we look over what was accomplished or hindered during the last year, it is important to see where these events may take us in the next year and decade.

Worst Environmental Losses of 2010:

Gulf Oil Spill: Obviously the biggest and worst environmental story of the year was the Gulf Oil Spill, which not only claimed the lives of workers, countless flora and fauna, but lasted for several months. The spill came on the tails of President Obama announcing a move to increase offshore drilling. The devastating spill, whose true effects will only be measured in the coming years, temporarily halted further offshore drilling. However, an entire region and eco-system was ravaged by this irresponsibility. Hopefully, this disaster as well as the spill in Michigan will encourage our leaders to re-think offshore drilling and invest their efforts in more renewable sources.

Hottest Year on Record: 2010 was certainly a scorcher! It wasn’t just in your mind that the summer felt hot. In fact, 2010 was the hottest year on record, with global temperatures at an all time high.  Not only was it hot, but intense storms in places such as DC and London had everyone feeling the weather was, for lack of a better term, whacked out. Seventeen countries total reported record high heats and rising temperatures in the oceans led to irreversible coral bleaching. To make matters worse, 2010 also set a record as the year with the highest CO2 levels ever. This is scary stuff.

The Climate Bill is Killed: Congress failed to pass the Climate Bill, which would have regulated pollution as well as offshore drilling. The bill failed to pass during the summer on the heels of the oil spill. With the midterm elections giving the Republicans power in the House, it seems unlikely the bill will see the light in the coming year. However, we can hope that the effects of the weather and last year’s oil spill will make them spring into action.


Best Environmental Wins of 2010:

First US Offshore Wind Farm: 2010 wasn’t all bad weather and devastation. In April of last year, the very first offshore wind farm in the US gained approval. Cape Wind, which is proposed to be built off of Cape Code in Massachusetts, battled with opponents for years, including the all powerful Kennedys. However, the state received approval and federal funding to begin the project. New renewable energy is on the horizon, quite literally.

Child Nutrition Act Passed: It had been thirty long years (that’s right: thirty), since any upgrade had been made to school nutrition! With the urgings of Michelle Obama, those thirty years came to an end and the Child Nutrition Act was passed late last year. The act makes it more difficult for students to purchase junk food on public school campuses, regulates nutrition of food, including healthier lunches, increases school food purchasing from local farms, and provides more free school lunches for the disadvantaged. With childhood obesity numbers soaring, it is out with the soda and in with the carrots!


First Mass Marketed Electric Car: After decades of setbacks and hybrids stealing the scene it was encouraging to finally see a true electric car on the market! Nissan finally released their much anticipated Leaf, their 100% electric car.  Technically this is the first mainstream-oriented electric vehicle in history (not counting the prematurely discontinued GM EV1) , even though it still costs over $25,000 to have one. The introduction of this vehicle is very hopeful for the advent of more electric cars as well as other green technologies.

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