Kiera Butler

Kiera Butler

Senior Editor

A senior editor at Mother Jones, Kiera covers health, food, and the environment. She is the author of the new book Raise: What 4-H Teaches 7 Million Kids—and How Its Lessons Could Change Food and Farming Forever (University of California Press).

 

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Maine Gov: "Worst Case Is Some Women May Have Little Beards"

| Wed Feb. 23, 2011 2:31 PM EST

Today, the Bangor Daily News reports on Maine governor Paul LePage's weird comments on the chemical bisphenol A. Last week, LePage remarked:

"Quite frankly, the science that I'm looking at says there is no [problem]," LePage said. "There hasn't been any science that identifies that there is a problem."

LePage then added: "The only thing that I've heard is if you take a plastic bottle and put it in the microwave and you heat it up, it gives off a chemical similar to estrogen. So the worst case is some women may have little beards."

Quick, someone call JAMA! We have a scientist in the house, folks.

Unfortunately, bizarre though LePage's comments may be, he's not the only one confused about BPA, as I reported in my piece on BPA in canned foods. The FDA can't seem to make up its mind on the issue, despite National Institutes of Health's finding that BPA is of "some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures."

Also, I don't want a beard, even a little one. Just saying.

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How Clean Must Food Containers Be Before Recycling?

| Mon Feb. 21, 2011 6:30 AM EST

From Econundrums reader Holly comes this question:

City recycling instructs you to put clean containers in the recycle bins. But I've become increasingly frustrated trying to get certain pet-food cans, yogurt containers, and margarine containers cleaned without using a lot of water. I feel that the water I use, the gas to heat the water, the dish soap, and the paper towels are wasting natural resources as well as costing me money. So how clean is clean enough?

This question irks me every time I throw a take-out salad container into the recycling. Will my leftover vinaigrette contaminate the whole bin? And if it does, will the recycling plant decide it's not worth the effort to clean and simply throw it into the trash instead?

I decided to call Recology, the company that runs San Francisco's recycling program, to ask about the fate of dirty food containers. According to Recology spokesman Robert Reed, most facilities won't throw away a container simply because it's dirty. And it's not a giant deal if containers have little food residue on them (say, the yogurt your spoon couldn't extract from the plastic cup).

But here's the interesting part: The cleaner your containers, the more they're worth on the recyclables market. Municipal facilities first sort recycling by type (paper, several kinds of plastic, tin, etc.), and then by quality. Workers separate clean recyclables from soiled ones, into bales. "If the bale is lower quality, there is less revenue coming back into the system from the sale of recyclables, which helps pay for the program," says Reed. The takeaway: By providing clean recyclables, you can actually save your city (and ultimately, taxpayers) money. 

Jennifer Berry, a spokeswoman for the recycling experts over at Earth 911, agrees. "It's a consistent refrain that I hear from recyclers that the 'cleaner' the product, the more it's worth and the more desirable it is."

Soiled containers are particularly problematic in communities where plastic and paper are transported together, since paper can easily absorb oil and other residue. But dirty plastic-only streams decrease cities' revenue, too. To wit: Frank Cvetovac is the operations manager at Epic Plastics, a manufacturer of plastic goods that buys its materials from municipal recycling facilities. One of Epic's regular suppliers doesn't have a very clean stream. "We offer them 25 or 30 percent less than market value, since we have to do so much work on our end to get it into usable shape," says Cvetovac.

That said, Berry and Reed agree that you should follow your city's guidelines on cleaning out containers, since facilities' equipment and capacity vary widely. But in general, you don't have to get all Lady MacBeth about it. "Remember that you don't have to get items clean enough to store food or eat from—so you don't necessarily have to use so much water that they are sterilized or completely grime free," says Berry. You might consider running containers through the dishwasher if you have one. If not, use a spatula to get most of the gunk out before you chuck it in the bin.

 

Feral Pig Diaries Day 3: OK, but How Does Wild Hog Taste?

| Mon Feb. 14, 2011 6:30 AM EST

This week, I'm reporting from outside Savannah, Georgia, on my first-ever hunting trip. We're after invasive feral pigs, which have proliferated over the last decade in much of the southeastern US, competing with native species for food and wreaking havoc on land with their rooting. I'm hanging out with Jackson Landers, who aims to whet American appetites for invasive species like hogs, lionfish, geese, deer, and even spiny iguanas by working with wholesalers, chefs, and restaurateurs to promote these aliens as menu items. Read "Feral Pig Diaries Day 1: Moonshine and Teen Swine" here, and "Feral Pig Diaries Day 2: Do Hogs Like Supermarket Danishes?" here. My introductory post (wherein MoJo takes a field trip to the shooting range) is here. A word to the squeamish: The Feral Pig Diaries do contain a few graphic images.

After having seen zero pigs (well, except a dead one) during the first few days of my Feral Pig Diaries project, I couldn't wait to get to Ossabaw, a mostly uninhabited island, 20 miles off the coast of Savannah, with a major hog problem. Ossabaw's 26,000 acres of dense forest, salt marshes, and sand beaches is usually closed to the public, but the Georgia Department of Natural Resources was nice enough to arrange a trip out so I could see the pigs and the trouble they've caused firsthand.

My friend Caroline and I set out early from her parents' place, just outside Beaufort, South Carolina, and met David Mixon and Ed Van Otteren, both biologists from the DNR, in a supermarket parking lot. We followed them to this dock, hidden away at the end of a winding drive in the tiny coastal community of Pin Point, Georgia (birthplace of Clarence Thomas!).

We made the 20-minute trip to the island in this little boat, threading our way between barrier islands, where the Ogeechee River empties out into the ocean.

The day was cold and damp, but we hardly noticed since we were busy gawking at the birds: cormorants, horned grebes, bufflehead ducks, and a whole mess of scaups overhead that changed direction with the wind every few seconds. Especially cool was a bald eagle perched on top of a pole on a marshy island (left.)

Also cool was the driver of our boat, DNR wildlife technician Andy Meadows (right), who has lived on Ossabaw for 11 years. His only (human) neighbors are a few other DNR staffers (including a full-time hog shooter) and 98-year-old Eleanor Torrey West, the only remaining member of the family from which the DNR purchased the island. "Miss West," as she's known, lives in a mansion on the island's north shore, where she keeps a pet hog named Paul Mitchell, named (I kid you not) after the hair products guy because it has a cowlick.

I asked Andy if there was a good chance we'd see a hog, and he assured me that he sees them every day. Although pigs were first introduced to the island in the 1500s by Spanish settlers, Ossabaw's current hog population is the result of centuries of mixing with domestic pigs. Ossabaw wasn't always uninhabited; it was farmed till quite recently. At one point before the Civil War, the island held four cotton plantations and 1,200 slaves. 

Once docked at the island, we climbed into a truck with Andy, and David and Ed followed in another truck behind us. From a narrow causeway, we saw a marsh full of bird action: great blue herons, snowy egrets, wood storks, wood ducks, oystercatchers, and one little pied-billed grebe who was making a racket. After the jump: a gory-ish image (but it's not too bad).

Feral Pig Diaries Day 2: Do Hogs Like Supermarket Danishes?

| Wed Feb. 9, 2011 10:15 AM EST

This week, I'm reporting from outside Savannah, Georgia, on my first-ever hunting trip. We're after invasive feral pigs, which have proliferated over the last decade in much of the southeastern US, competing with native species for food and wreaking havoc on land with their rooting. I'm hanging out with Jackson Landers, who aims to whet American appetites for invasive species like hogs, lionfish, geese, deer, and even spiny iguanas by working with wholesalers, chefs, and restaurateurs to promote these aliens as menu items. Read "Feral Pig Diaries Day 1: Moonshine and Teen Swine" here, and my post from Day 3, "OK, but How Does Wild Hog Taste?" here. My introductory post (wherein MoJo takes a field trip to the shooting range) is here.

It was still dark when we got to Baker's property yesterday morning, but we wasted no time, since many mammals are particularly active around dawn. Jackson and I hiked a muddy road to the bottomland around a tidal creek. Along the way, we kneeled to inspect pig scat and hoof prints:

In this print, the grass the pig had trod on hadn't sprung back up, so Jackson guessed it was less than a half-hour old. We climbed into the hunting stand and loaded the gun just as it was just getting light and sat in silence, listening to the wind shaking the loblolly pines. We scanned the ground. We cocked our ears. We shivered. After less than an hour, we were both freezing and itching to go do some stalking by foot, and besides, we could hear this kind of distant yelping noise. We decided to go follow it. Jackson thought it sounded canine—a coyote or (boring, boring, boring) someone's dog, but I convinced myself that I was hearing the squealing of piglets. After the jump: Watch a video where I make a fool of myself.

Feral Pig Diaries Day 1: Moonshine and Teen Swine

| Tue Feb. 8, 2011 7:00 AM EST

This week, I'm reporting from outside Savannah, Georgia, on my first-ever hunting trip. We're after invasive feral pigs, which have proliferated over the last decade in much of the southeastern US, competing with native species for food and wreaking havoc on land with their rooting. I'm hanging out with Jackson Landers, who aims to whet American appetites for invasive species like hogs, lionfish, geese, deer, and even spiny iguanas by working with wholesalers, chefs, and restaurateurs to promote these aliens as menu items. Read my introductory post (wherein MoJo takes a field trip to the shooting range) here. Read my post from Day 2, "Do Hogs Like Supermarmet Danishes?" here, and my post from Day 3, "OK, but How Does Wild Hog Taste?" here. A word to the squeamish: The Feral Pig Diaries do contain a few graphic images.

The forecast called for rain all day in Savannah on Monday, but we weren't about to let a little precipitation come between us and the hogs. So we rose early and headed out on the hunt. I'll tell you all about what happened. But first I'd like to introduce my hosts:

This is Jackson Landers, a.k.a. the Locavore Hunter. Jackson quit his job in insurance a few years ago to write books about hunting and teach people how to do it at his home near Charlottesville, Virginia. Right now, he's really into hunting and eating invasive species. Jackson is a great teacher—I know because my temporary apprentice hunter license required me to basically stay glued to his side all day. He's also a genuine animal nut; his critter knowledge is vast. Some things I learned from Jackson today, in no particular order: why you have to lasso alligators instead of shooting them (like Rasputin, gators have a way of resisting death); where you're most likely to find armadillos that carry leprosy (near the Gulf coast); and how country music got its twang (imported by American cowboys returning from stints rounding up wild cows in Hawaii, where they enjoyed the sound of the local slack-key guitar. I don't really know if I buy this one.)

This is Jackson's father-in-law, Bob. He used to hunt a lot, though these days, he says, he pretty much sticks to shooting the pests around his property near Charlottesville, where he raises chickens and plans to buy a few pigs this spring. He makes planting and harvesting potatoes sound like a piece of cake, and would like to try his hand at shitake mushrooms. He's also an all-around nice guy and believes that no slice of pizza is complete without a meat topping.

This is Baker Leavitt, whose family owns the former horse farm where we're hunting, a thousand acres of dirt roads, fields, and woods strewn with Spanish moss. Baker says feral pigs have done a number on the land in the last few years, eating low vegetation, rooting, and wallowing. Baker grew up in Savannah, with plenty of hunting and riding horses (till he got thrown). He worked in local real estate till the market went south, and now he's in grad school in New York City. A few days before I came, Baker sent me an email from his Blackberry that said, "You ready to bust some hogs??" (Ready as I'll ever be.) And then, when he read my blog post about us hippies at the shooting range, he sent another: "No stinky patchouli!" Don't worry, Baker, I left that and my incense at home. After the jump: gory-ish images (but they're not too bad).

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