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Can meat eaters be green? October 26, 2010

Posted by Andreas in Column, Environment, Global warming, Life, rant, Society, Sustainable Living.
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Can meat eaters be green?

(This column was first published on 2010-09-08 at News24 here)

I’ve been an omnivore all my life. Although I’ve wrestled with the idea of vegetarianism at various times, I’ve never found the arguments particularly convincing.

We come from a long line of hunters and eaters of meat. Cut marks on almost 3.4 million year old animal bones tell us so, as does the tooth enamel of our distant hominin ancestors. Hunter-gatherers are so called for good reason. We have evolved on a mixed diet that includes meat, and some of the essential nutrients our bodies require, including vitamin A, vitamin D and the amino acid tryptophan, are exceedingly difficult to find in plant sources.

In recent years, however, vegetarian and vegan activists have added a new charge against us carnivores: you can not consume meat and also claim to be an environmentalist. The main culprits behind this claim are cows.

Cows, the argument goes, are fed grains like maize and soy which are grown on huge tracts of land – some of which used to be Amazon rainforest – with massive inputs of fossil fuels and water, and since they also belch voluminous quantities of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, they have monstrous carbon hoofprints. A 2006 report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation revealed that 18% of the world’s anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions – more than what’s generated by all of transportation put together – comes from livestock.

So does this spell the end of my meat eating days? Well, no. It turns out that there are cows and there are cows, and not all of them eat grains or contribute massively to climate change.

Good cow, bad cow

Let’s start with the “bad” cows. After the Second World War, the so-called Green Revolution was driven mostly by the large-scale production of artificial nitrogen fertiliser using huge amounts of cheap oil, gas, coal and electricity. This allowed the farming of livestock animals including cows, which had previously been integral providers of soil fertility on farms through their manure, to be separated from the production of grains.

Grains were now grown industrially, on big, state-subsidised, monocrop factory farms with nutrients provided by synthetic fertilisers, resulting in major surpluses during the second half of the 20th Century. Crammed into high-density “feedlots”, cows could be fattened and brought to market in record time on a diet of this cheap grain, while being responsible for criminal levels of greenhouse gas emissions and noxious effluents by the pond full.

And then there are the “good” cows. Cows that are allowed to graze on pastures of mixed grasses, their natural diet. Cows that are part of agricultural systems that carefully integrate animals and perennial polycultures and mimic nature’s cycles, rather than being production units in disaggregated food factories generating pollution and waste and demanding constant inputs of non-renewable resources. Cows that are carbon-neutral or perhaps even carbon-negative.

On his Polyface Farm in Virginia, pioneering family farmer Joel Salatin, for instance, rotates cows and chickens on pastures of mixed perennial grasses which are neither plowed or artificially fertilised nor sprayed with pesticides and also host foraging pigs, turkeys and rabbits. Over a period of more than 45 years, Salatin, who only sells his produce locally, has been able to raise the carbon content of his pasture soils by 6.5%.

Soils contain about two-thirds of the planet’s carbon reserves – more than forests, oceans and the atmosphere put together – and while industrial farming of annual monocrops depletes soil fertility and leads to billions of tonnes of soil erosion annually, Salatin’s roving bovines continually fertilise their pastures and sequester carbon in the soil they help to build.

It has been estimated that system’s such as Salatin’s, which combine appropriate livestock and mixed, predominantly perennial crops, are capable of removing substantially more CO2 from the atmosphere than they emit.

None of this should be an excuse to relax and enjoy another bite of your rump steak though. If we want to be environmentalists and eat meat, too, it’s our responsibility to find out where our meat comes from and how it was produced. It’s our duty not to eat grain-fattened, factory-farmed meat, and to support local farmers who raise good old pasture-fed, soil-building, carbon-sequestering, sustainable cows.

The Really Really Free Market – Cape Town November 12, 2009

Posted by Andreas in "The Economy", activism, anarchism, Environment, Facebook, Life, Politics, Society, South Africa, Sustainable Living.
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We’re having the very first ever Really Really Free Market in Cape Town this Sunday (at Zandvlei in Muizenberg where the kite festival normally happens)  and Meghan made this beautiful flyer:

Colour flyer-2

Colour flyer-1

Join the Facebook group and pray for good weather 😉

Penis 101 November 10, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Life, Men's health, Sexual health, Society, South Africa.
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I wrote this for the Health24.com ManZone recently:

Penis 101

I often wonder about men and their penises. We joke about them, brag about them, feel embarrassed by them and name them after dead American Presidents. Women content – perhaps with some justification – that we use them more frequently than our brains when it comes to decision making. Psychologists have us believe that girls envy them, but feminists decry them as sexual and cultural weapons. In the era of HIV/AIDS they’ve become the real Weapons of Mass Destruction in our society.

Basic functions

So why is it that when penises are constantly on our minds, the vast majority of men know so very little about them? Of course we all know the two basic penis facts:

1. Drink too much beer and eventually urine will gush out the front end.

2. Become sexually aroused, get an erection and there are several mechanisms to eject a sticky fluid out in the same direction.

Beyond these rudimentary insights, however, most of us are essentially clueless.

Girls vs. Boys

Compared to the detailed medical understanding that most teenage girls have of their entire reproductive system, we guys wallow in the depths of ignorance. You know what it’s like: give your girlfriend or wife a chance to elaborate and they launch straight into fallopian tubes this and ovarian cysts that, leaving you utterly befuddled. Ask any grown man about the whereabouts of the epididymis or the corpora cavernosa, on the other hand, and all you’ll get are blank stares.

You see, for all the macho bravado and enthusiasm most blokes exhibit when it comes to telling cock jokes, most of us don’t actually like talking about our penises. Not with our partners, not with our mothers, not with our doctors and most certainly not with our mates.

From around the time when they get their first period, most girls are initiated into a process of lifelong education concerning their private parts – at special school classes, through regular gynae visits and most importantly by talking to their mothers and other women around them. Guys don’t benefit from anything even remotely comparable. I don’t know about you, but my dad certainly never sat me down for an informal chat about things going on “down there”.

An introduction to your penis

“So what!?” I hear you complain. “Most women don’t know the first thing about crankshafts, the off-side laws in rugby or braaing either.” The point is, of course, that should you wake up one morning and find that yesterday’s one-night-stand left you with the Cooties, or your wife looks at you accusingly because after months of trying you’ve still not managed to impregnate her with your long-awaited first-born, you may regret knowing so little about the inner workings of your own nether regions.

So in the spirit of public education and brotherly solidarity we have decided to put together a couple of articles to give you the lowdown on the penis. Nothing gross, don’t worry. Just some basic information – a “Penis 101” of sorts:

How the penis works
How an erection happens
What’s wrong with my penis?
Penis resources
Penis size per country
The lowdown on the penis
The lowdown on your testicles
Your foreskin
Erectile Dysfunction (ED)

Attack of the man boobs October 29, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Life, Society, South Africa.
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I wrote this for the Health24 ManZone recently:

Attack of the man boobs

What’s worse, a woman with fake boobs or a man with real ones?

Personally, I’d always go with the natural look, even if it sometimes falls short of what the media and society at large consider to be perfection. When it comes to the human body, the natural and real are just so much more interesting to me than the manufactured and artificial.

That’s not to say that I’m not concerned about the state of my chest, of course. Like most men, I find the prospect of developing man boobs quite disconcerting. So I regularly find myself checking out the situation when I’m in the shower and although it’s fair to say that I’m some way from growing proper moobs, it’s equally apparent that my pecs have seen better days.

If I was made of more free-spirited stuff I’d show you a picture of what my torso looks like today, but I’ll spare you the abuse. Suffice it to say that things have changed somewhat for the worse.

If you have a more exhibitionistic streak, though, don’t let me stop you. If you are particularly proud of your upper body, bloke-knockers or not, send us a photo (ManZone@health24.co.za) and we’ll put together a gallery for ManZone readers to look at. We’re especially interested in hearing from anyone who has managed to get rid of their flesh pillows and before-and-after photos are most welcome.

Abnormally enlarged male breasts – the medical term is gynecomastia – are a serious problem for a surprisingly large number of boys and men that can lead to considerable embarrassment and emotional distress. Being a notoriously uncommunicative lot when it comes to important issues that affect us directly, most men have developed elaborate mechanisms to avoid talking about the issue. We’d rather discuss the minutiae of Formula 1.

Did you know that while man boobs can be a by-product of being overweight, in many cases they are the result of a medical condition most likely related to hormonal imbalances? Do you have enlarged breasts yourself, but have no idea what to do about them? It seems to me that an open and honest conversation about the issues involved would go some way towards making this less of a headache for so many of us.

One guy who doesn’t beat about the bush when it comes to mantits is Anton Marshall, front man for the Cape Town band Three More White Guys. He actually sings about them!

Marshall: “Our song Mantits is really about the pressure all large people – or out-of-shape people – feel. Most people don’t realise that in modern times guys are under as much pressure as women to have a flat stomach and chiselled chest. Take a look at a magazine and you’ll see all the images being thrown at us about what we’re supposed to look like. I was looking at one of those celebrity gossip rags and I remember thinking: ‘Man, that crap you’re saying about Jack Nicholson’s boobs is such bullshit. The guy’s 70! He’s my granddad!'”

ManZone: Do you think moobs are a big personal issue for many guys?

Marshall: “Yeah I think there’s a ton of ways people get ostracised and being differently shaped or overweight are just two of them. In my experience, men seem to do one of two things with the mantits issue: they either wear it like a badge or they completely retreat within it. There just doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. Ultimately, wellbeing is about more than just mantits though. It’s about feeling good about who you are.”

ManZone: Any advice for dudes with man boobs? Do we embrace them, take them to gym or to the plastic surgeon?

Marshall: “All and none of the above. It won’t do you any good to do anything without first deciding that there’s something wrong or right with it. I’ve personally come to accept that I’ll always have the potential to be overweight and out of shape. So I deal with that danger my way. I personally wouldn’t consider surgery right now. Or gym, to be honest. But I do feel I’m in control of my body at the moment and I’m just fine with that.”

More info:

Man boobs demystified
Exercise can get rid of your man boobs
Man boobs are more common than you think!
Men with boobs
UK men seeking smaller moobs

Toilet training boys August 25, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Life, Parenting.
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I wrote this for Parent24.com a while ago:

Toilet training boys

Dads should be responsible for teaching their sons toilet etiquette. I say this as the father of two boys who has unwittingly sat down on a toilet seat sprinkled with little boy wee far, far too often. So believe me, I understand the magnitude of the challenge.

If you’re unconvinced, let me paint you a picture that might change your mind. Remember the last time you went to a night-club or pub bathroom. As the evening progresses, levels of inebriation skyrocket and toilet bowl marksmanship takes a precipitous dive. The place turns into an apocalyptic nightmare from hell where just to get to the sink you have to wade through putrid puddles of what you hope is mostly water.

The culprits are men whose fathers neglected to teach their sons how to pee straight.

Mothers, quite frankly, just aren’t equipped to do the job – what do they know about the mechanics of urinating out of an external appendage? Besides, women clean up behind men enough. This is one area where fathers can bring their unique expertise as men to their parenting commitment. Single moms, I suggest you rope in a sympathetic male friend or relative.

I think my 8 year old son Benjamin is fairly representative of the pre-teen crowd. Since he is forever busy with incredibly important activities he always leaves matters until the very last possible moment, then rushes into the bathroom and generally does a shoddy job of relieving himself because he’s already halfway out the door to get back to his incredibly important activity. Fathering advice for little characters like him would simply include getting them to develop a rudimentary sense of forward planning and slowing down to do things properly.

Beyond that the problems males have with peeing tend to be a combination of personal attitude and applied physics which can be summarised as follows:

● No man or boy ever has as good an aim as he thinks he does.

● Accidents happen.

● Even the most dead-eye practitioner has absolutely no control over random toilet bowl ricochet and splash back.

So what is a concerned father to do? Here are three basic practices to inculcate in you sons:

1. Sit down to pee.

2. If you do have to stand, in the name of all that’s hygienic, lift the seat.

3. Clean up your mess.

While propositions 2 and 3 should be self-evident and uncontroversial, I should perhaps unpack number 1 a little bit. Take a close look at the toilet in your bathroom. Even a bloke with half a brain will realise after a few moments that it was designed to be sat on. Obviously I’m not talking about urinals here. Personally I think the individual variety is just about acceptable, but the perpetually smelly, multi-user, gravity-driven types should be banned outright.

I got Benjamin’s 10 year old brother Josef to wee sitting down from when he was very small and it worked perfectly. Frankly, he didn’t know any other way. Until his uncle showed him how to do the business standing up, that is. Thank you very much, buddy!

Yes, of course there are situations when standing up is more practical than sitting. When you’re in the forest, say, or on top of a deserted mountain, but while we’re in civilisation, can’t we just all agree to take a seat, please!? Women around the world already do it with great success and fathers could do worse than teach their sons to follow their lead.

So if you’re a dad looking to make a practical contribution to your son’s development, why not pay a little attention to his bathroom habits and help him get to grips with some of the bits he might be struggling with? You might think it’s a thankless, behind the-scenes job, but if all of us fathers play our role, the world’s bathrooms, both private and public, will be better places.

Fake boob spotting August 19, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Life, Society.
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I wrote this for Health24.com a while ago:

Fake Boob Spotting

Pseudomammophobia is the irrational fear of fake breasts.

No it isn’t. I made that up. I think there should be a scientific word for the condition though. Surely the fact that the very part of the female anatomy most intimately associated with nurturing is gradually being replaced by plastic squeaky toys should have Freudian psychologists frowning in ominous unison all around the globe.

Impostor boobs are everywhere these days. Hundreds of thousands of women go under the knife for breast augmentations annually, making them the most popular cosmetic surgery procedure in the world. Reality TV shows such as E!’s Dr. 90210 portray creepy Los Angeles plastic surgeons as altruistic celebrities while the BBC3’s shockumentary Addicted to Boob Jobs follows women in the impossible pursuit of perfect orbs.

Who started this?
It was Japanese prostitutes who first had liquid silicon injected into their chests to impress American GIs at the end of World War II, long before modern breast implants were invented in the early 60s. Their current popularity is simply the most visible “gift” bestowed on us by the planet’s burgeoning porn industry pandering a fetish for uber-sized hooters that’s supposedly shared by all men.

Perhaps one of the scariest developments is the so-called boob jab. In a 30-minute procedure, a “hyaluronic acid filler” is injected into the breast from under the arm. Since the body gradually absorbs the filler, which is also used to treat aching joints in overworked horses (I’m not making this up!), the effects only last for a year or so. It’s the prospect of road-side boob refill stations that I find particularly disturbing.

Look, but don’t touch
According to British writer Tony Parsons, fakies “are not there to be fondled, kissed or felt, they are there to be admired, discussed, lusted after and photographed. The moment they are touched […] the spell is broken. And this is true of all fake breasts, no matter how much money has been spent on this act of female self-mutilation.” I guess it’s not altogether surprising that the part of a woman’s body that is most consistently adored, objectified and ogled by the majority of us heterosexual men would be turned into a commodity and consumer product.

In the past it was dead easy to spot fake breasts – any woman who appeared to be smuggling oranges, grapefruit or basketballs under her top was a guaranteed implantee. But the craft has improved substantially in recent times, and distinguishing fakes from the real thing is becoming more difficult. In the absence of a conclusive hands-on test, and if you’re not willing to risk a slap in the face for asking straight out, curious onlookers, like naturalists of old, have to resort to careful visual observation. To this end, the friendly folks at Howcast and Playboy have provided us with this educational video: How to Tell Real Breasts from Fake. Watch and learn.

Rock art in the Cederberg July 7, 2009

Posted by Andreas in History, holiday, Life, South Africa.
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We spent a couple of days at Bushmans Kloof in the amazing Cederberg mountains last week. I was totally taken by the rock art in the area. There are over 130 individual sites (and many more in the Cederberg as a whole), ranging in age from around 2000 years to as old as 8000 years. Incredible!







Cat-proofing veggie beds May 21, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Gardening, Life, Organic Food, South Africa, Sustainable Living, Urban Agriculture.
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I built a couple of raised beds for growing veggies in a small corner behind our house some time ago. The main problem with them has been that our cat, Perry, has been using them as her toilet. Not good for growing food and really smelly, too! She has her own “facilities” right next to the beds, but I guess she finds them less convenient, so I set about trying to cat-proof the beds.

I cleaned up the beds and installed shade netting to keep Perry out of them. Here's the culprit inspecting my handiwork

I cleaned up the beds and installed shade netting to keep Perry out of them. Here's the culprit inspecting my handiwork

Veggie garden in cat exclusion mode! Of course in summer the shade netting will also help to keep out the scalding sun.

Veggie garden in cat exclusion mode! Of course in summer the shade netting will also help to keep out the scalding sun.

My efforts seem to have been reasonably successful, although keeping the cat out of the beds completely is never going to happen. I did sow some stuff in the beds and we’ve already harvested some beans.



Some suburban farming principles May 7, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, Gardening, Life, Organic Food, South Africa, Sustainable Living, Urban Agriculture.
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Nothing complicated here, just a couple of principles I’d like to follow as I start getting into this urban agriculture thing in our garden. It’s all a bit daunting at the moment as we head into winter and the whole garden goes into hibernation. Here goes:

DIY – I’d like to do as much of my gardening myself and don’t want “experts” to do the job for me. I’m very open to advice, suggestions and help, of course 😉

Organic – no synthetic fertilisers or chemicals in this garden! I’m hoping to broadly follow the principles of permaculture in my approach.

Sustainable – In our climate that means being particularly mindful of water requirements, but also of other inputs such as compost. I also want our garden to be fairly low-maintenance… I’ve got a job, you know.

Cheap – I’d like to use as many cheap and free resources as possible and am hoping that Freecycle and the Cape Town Talent Exchange (a local alternative currency system) will help achieve that goal.

Beautiful and functional – I’d like our garden to be a place that the whole family enjoys spending time in, while at the same time offering habitats for wildlife (I’m talking mostly birds, reptiles and insects here, not antelope and such…) and providing us with a steady supply of healthy, organic and fresh fruit and vegetables.

That’s about it for the moment. Will add more if I can think of any…

I wanna be a suburban farmer! April 30, 2009

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, Gardening, Life, South Africa, Sustainable Living, Urban Agriculture.

After my visit to Harvest of Hope I was really inspired to start getting our own garden into some sort of shape. I have long been fascinated by the idea of urban agriculture and the promise of a degree of food self-sufficiency and although I have spent some time in the past trying to apply what I’ve learned about these things in books and online in our home, our garden has fallen into a state of what I’d suggest is benevolent neglect.

My somewhat neglected attempt at a miniature food forest

My somewhat neglected attempt at a miniature food forest

That’s all going to change. One of the motivations for quitting my regular job a year ago was to start growing more of our own food and although my parenting and job commitments will keep me busy, I’m planning to do just that. Slowly, one baby-step at a time. I’ll keep you up to date with my progress.

Expanses of water-thirsty but unproductive lawn...

Expanses of water-thirsty, unproductive lawn...

Just for the record, here are some more pics of our garden from January 2009. Hopefully I’ll be able to report on gradual improvements as time goes by.