Friday, February 6, 2009

Rated G(reen): the Best Environmental, Food and Health Movies

It is Oscar time and we are all trying to catch that last movie everyone has been talking about. Whether at the water-cooler at work, on twitter, Facebook or even across the dinner table, we all love to talk about movies. Of the dozens of nominees this year, it appears that only two have green/public health themes -- WALL.E and the documentary The Garden.  But over the past few years there have been plenty of films that are truly worth taking a look at.  The following are a list of films my husband and I have watched over the past year or so (love Netflix) that I think you should watch.  They are listed in no particular order, just put them in your queue and enjoy.  Movies are rated from 1-3 green thumbs (1 is a watch, 2 should watch, 3 MUST watch.)

Story of Stuff with Annie Leonord 
Throughout this 20-minute online film, activist Annie Leonard, the film’s narrator and an expert on the materials economy, examines the social, environmental and global costs of extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal. The “Story of Stuff” examines how economic policies of the post-World War II era ushered in notions of consumerism — and how those notions are still driving much of the U.S. and global economies today. It is definately worth watching and forwarding to all your friends.

What happens when you mix water with big business? Nothing good.  Flow shows when you combine the public health and private interest you get "pollution, scarcity, human suffering and corporate profit." Water is a $400 billion dollar global industry; the third largest behind electricity and oil. There are estimates that from five hundred thousand to seven million people get sick per year from drinking tap water. So you want to be freaked out?  You want to have horrible dreams?  Well this is the movie for you. Moving from the US to India, from small farms to "industrial" spring water, Flow will get you to look at your tap at lot differently, and will hopefully get you to make more conscious decisions about how you use water.  This movie was one of the things that got me to have my water tested in my home.

Do you have kids in school? Do you pack a lunch for them every single day? If not, they probably are buying what the school is serving. If so, you want to know what your kids are eating in school, well so did Amy Kalafa and Susan Rubin. These moms were fed up that their children were eating highly-processed food filled with additives and preservatives at school. Two Angry Moms, the film and the movement, address an issue of great concern to parents across the country. What is happening to the health of our children and how does school food factor in? The movie not only shows what is wrong with school food, it offers strategies for overcoming roadblocks and getting real food into school cafeterias. Kalafa and Rubin provide solutions to the problem that include the connection between the cafeteria and the classroom. The movie explores the roles the Federal government, corporate interests, school administration and parents play in feeding our school kids.  For additional watching head over to TED.ORG and watch Anne Cooper's talk on School Food.

If you're anything like me, you consider Michael Pollan something of a food guru. I hold The Omnivores Dilemma as the bible of the sustainable food movement. A core theme of Pollan's book is the impact industrial corn plays across the entirety of US, and now global, society. For those of you are interested in an introductory course on the corn, you must see this documentary by two college friends, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis. A great visual into to corn industry and the American food system, "King Corn" should become required viewing for all schools across the country to teach children to eat better. For a more indept review of this movie read my post titled King Corn: We are what we eat.

Want to know what goes into making a building green and what can go wrong? Well so did the filmmakers of King Corn.  Set in South Boston, The Greening of Southie is about Boston’s first residential green building, and the skeptical workers who are asked to build it. From wheatboard cabinetry to recycled steel, bamboo flooring to dual-flush toilets, The Macallen Building is something different––a leader in the emerging field of environmentally friendly design. But Boston’s steel-toed union workers aren’t sure they like it. And when things on the building start to go wrong, the young developer has to keep the project from unraveling.  An interesting look on the contrast between the ever changing green movement and an insular community resistant to change. 

Killer at Large examines the startling details of the American obesity epidemic and why this issue has crossed from a public health crisis to a national security issue. The film starts with a clip from a press conference with Surgeon General Richard Carmona who when asked what is the most pressing issue Americans face today he planing states, “Obesity. Because obesity is a terror within. It is destroying our society from within and unless we do something about it, the magnitude of the dilemma will dwarf 9/11 or any other terrorist event you can point out. Where will our soldiers, sailors, and airmen come from? Where will our police and firemen come from if the youngsters today are on a trajectory that says they will be obese?” The movie provides a perspective on one of the most pressing health issue of our time and serves as a call to arms to take a stand and reverse this deadly trend – which is poised to cripple our nation’s health care system and bankrupt our economy within the next 20 years. Killer at Large will be available on DVD on March 31st, 2009.

If you are still debating if you should join a CSA then you must watch the documentary about John Peterson, a.k.a Farmer John, a midwest farmer whose life parallels the history of American farming in the late 20th century.  Peterson came from a family of farmers who struggled, like most farmers, to make ends meet. Peterson's father died when he was teenager, which forced him to be in charge of the farm. By the 1980's, when most farmers were trouble, so was Peterson who had to sell off most of his farm to make ends meet. Destitute and depressed, Peterson took time away from farming and returned in the '90s. Deciding to change his farm from a mono-culture, chemical dependent farm, to an organic farm and connect himself to the land, Peterson turned his farm into the one of the largest CSAs in the country.  Peterson is a truly unique individual and is interesting to watch.  To be honest, the movie is a bit slow, but is worth the time and effort to get through. 

Ok, now for the movie that will OUTRAGE YOU. This is one movie that will get you pissed off and probably make you call your Congressperson, Senator or whoever you want to rant to. Remember way back (last summer) when gas was $4 a gallon and looked to keep going up? When we all heard about how "the Electric Car was coming". Ford, Toyota, and GM said that a production ready electric car was only 5 or 10 years away. Well guess what? We already had a true electric car. Twelve years ago GM - the company that just got tens of billions of bailout money, launched the EV1, the world's first true production plug-in electric car. This film looks at the birth and untimely death of the EV1. This wonderful car required no petrochemical-based fuel and could be plugged in for recharging at home and at a number of so-called battery parks. The car was loved by just about everyone who owned it, including a number of celebrities. Who killed it? Watch this a prepare to get insanely mad.

This is far and away one of the most well known of the food/green movies out there. If you have not seen this 30-day eating journey of Morgan Spurlock it is a must. Spurlock's month long McDonald's food festival explores the fast food industry's influence on the American consumer and how public health is put aside for corporate wealth. It is just another look at the obesity epidemic and how our industrial food industry is killing Americans. Prepare to throw-up in your mouth a little watching this movie. But also prepare to never, ever look at fast food the same way again.

Other movies which I have not seen yet but are on my list are Sustainable Table What's on Your Plate? (2007) Food, Inc. (2008), Bad Seed: The Truth About Our Food (2006) The World According To Monsanto (2008) and The Future of Food (2004).

All the above mentioned movies can be rented on Netflix or purchase on the films website. Check them out and let me know what you think. Also, if you are interested purchasing Two Angry Moms to screen at your child's school, the library or for a large group, Amy Kalafa (one angry mom) has offered a $10 discount for orders over $50. Use coupon code DD010 at check out.

Follow me on Twitter @Green_Luvin 

Monday, February 2, 2009

Drinking Water: Is it safe? That depends on who you talk to.

Everyone has the right to clean and accessible water, adequate for the health and well-being of the individual and family, and no one shall be deprived of such access or quality of water due to individual economic circumstance.

In 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations created and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The 30 articles defined THE inalienable rights for all people and all nations.  Today, there is a call to add one more article to the declaration. "Recognizing that over a billion people across the planet lack access to clean and potable water and that millions die each year as a result, it is imperative to add one more article to this historic declaration, the Right to Water." 

If you've been reading my blog you know that I tend to focus on food issues.  But for a moment I wanted to focus on water. Water is life.   This is the first of at least two parts that will deal with water issues.  This blog will look at the issue of clean water in America.  Clean water in America?  Really?  Isn't all the water that flows through our pipes and into our homes safe?

Well, if you are like me, water is probably something you tend to take for granted. You take showers, you wash your clothes, you reach for the tap in your sink and you're pretty confident that clean, potable water will be there for you. But for billions of people across the world water; finding it, transporting it, and making sure it's clean, is the single most important part of their lives. 
Even here in the United States, clean drinking water is a very important issue, and one that most people are not aware of. A recent study conducted at the Southern Nevada Water Authority (as reported New Scientist on January 11) surveyed drinking water for more than 28 million Americans.  The survey screened water from 19 US water utilities for 51 different compounds.  The analysis revealed widespread low level presence of pharmaceuticals and hormonally active chemicals including beta blockers, herbicides banned in Europe, mood stabilizing drugs, estrogen hormones, painkillers, tranquilizers, antibiotics, anticonvulsants, anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-cholesterol drugs and many more.  

No need to go to the doctor just drink lots of water to get your daily does of FDA prescribed drugs. Now the amount in the water is a million times less than medical doses but no one knows what the cumulative effect of drinking this contaminated water is.   

After reading this survey I decided to contact my local water company to find out the real story of MY water. What I learned was that our water is very safe for what is tested for. But my water company just like every other one in the US does not test for antibiotics or other pharmaceuticals.  It turns out that in the U.S., all water utilities follow only what is required by the Safe Water Drinking Act (remember that President Bush raised the limits on the amount of arsenic allowed in our drinking water, so I'd question the Federally approved levels.) 

Now I am no doctor or scientist but you have to think that drinking water with any levels of pharmaceuticals has got to be bad for our health.  

This is not new information to the EPA. There is an entire section on the EPA's website covering Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) as pollutants which they refers to as "any product used by individuals for personal health or cosmetic reasons or used by agribusiness to enhance growth or health of livestock." According to the EPA "More research is needed to determine the extent of ecological harm and any role it may have in potential human health effects. To date, scientists have found no evidence of adverse human health effects from PPCPs in the environment." But rather then filtering it out, we will drink the contaminants until we like fish have genetic mutations.

So what can you do to make sure that water in your home is safe?  

Well you could put in a water filtration system like a reverse osmosis system but the system only filters the same contaminants that the local water authorities test for which are all within permissible ranges.  If you are not comfortable with government set levels that this is may be the way to go.  However, be forewarned, wastewater is a by-product of the reverse osmosis process. Better systems will make almost 4 gallons of water brine for every one-gallon purified, while lower grade systems can waste as much as 8 gallons of water per gallon purified.  

Radiant Life Company sells a 14 stage Biocompatible Water system that filters everything, including pharmaceutical residues. The system will run you $1,595 plus shipping and then you need a plumber to install.  It includes a reverse osmosis system as one of the stages so I would assume the wastewater by-product would increase with each additional stage.

Or could just by a carbon filter like Brita to be on the safe side and drink the water from the tap.  

It is all up to personally choice and preference weighing the health and environmental effects -- wasting water or not contaminating your body. I wish it was not one or the other.

But what we really should do is force the EPA to make sure our water is free and clear of all contaminants.  We need to create petition to amend the Safe Water Drinking Act to require all water utilities to test and filter our drinking for pharmaceuticals.  

Anyone want to help me?