All You Can't Eat Shrimp

I first sampled shrimp at the Lawrence, Kansas country club, where I was a guest of my sophisticated girlfriend's parents. On the buffet was a huge bowl of chilled peel and eat shrimp, which seemed to be the most luxurious food I'd ever seen. I had to ask my hosts how to peel them. Years later, I saw my first shrimp farm on the coast of Ecuador. It was an innoccuous collection of pools that had been carved out of a swampy mangrove forest -- cheap land with easy access to the right water for raising shrimp. Few people seemed to care much about mangroves, even though they were well-known to be essential breeding grounds for fish, rays and other creatures, and also served as great storm barriers. These forests were bristly and rugged, and everyone liked the money the shrimp brought in. Later that evening I ate arroz con camarones, a delicious dish with rice and shrimp, and I marveled at how inexpensive the meal was. In subsequent years I noticed an ubuiquity of shrimp in my American life. Cheap restaurants served it with impunity. It became the go to downmarket luxury protein. Whenever I saw a box of frozen shrimp labeled "Product of El Salvador" or "Product of Ecuador" I thought of those denuded mangrove swamps along the coasts. I began to buy only wild shrimp, when I could. But the mangrove forests, which are pretty repetitive, impenatrable, and unsexy, as far as forests go, continued to disappear.  For instance, the Philippines, where nearly 1 million acres of mangrove forests have been stripped from the coastlines of that country's many islands. That's 4/5 of all the mangrove forests that once ringed the archipelago. It's not just shrimp farms, either. Around the world, everything from coal plants to luxury hotels has taken the place of mangrove swamps. This video explains why that is a problem.

Notice how the mangroves absorb the shock of the waves. Surely, the people on the top floor of the rooming house in the video below would have appreciated mangos more than shrimp stir fry a few weeks ago when the typhoon hit.

Smart people are coming with all sorts of engineered, concrete and steel strategies for dealing with rising oceans and furious storms. Perhaps we should plant mangroves in tropical areas (and other flora elsewhere), rather than trying to hold the seas back with man-made barriers. The Philippines has announced plans to restore 94,000 acres of mangrove forests in Tacloban and places like it that where devastated by the recent typhoon. Similar efforts are underway in Vietnam. Curiously, many of these reforestation efforts are taking place on shrimp farms that have been abandoned by their owners as untenable. The Mangrove Action Project can tell you all about it. I wonder if Red Lobster would like to contribute?




90 miles of teak 

Ralph Lauren has 30 miles of three-rail fencing on his Colorado ranch getaway. The fences are made entirely of teak. An absurd thought, really, to import 90 miles (three rails @ 30 miles each) of teak, not counting the fenceposts, from Honduras or Indonesia, or wherever, to high Colorado. I can understand the impulse: the teak will last forever; it will require minimal upkeep, and it looks fantastic. Plus, Ralph gets to say, "Thirty miles of teak split rail fencing," whenever he feels like it.

Oprah likes the fences very much. I also think they are pretty. But I'm sure that, no matter how well sourced the stuff was, there are a lot of fence rails from endangered tropical forests on Ralph's ranchy getaway. Of course, I can't prove this. And I'd love him to sue me for saying it, because that would boost the traffic to my blog. But I'm pretty sure that I'm right.It could be that I'm a bit jealous, since I was born in Colorado and love Ralph's land. But I'm not sure about that. His tipis are filled with Western tchotchkes, such as rail beds, antique Navajo blankets, pioneer dolls and hand-painted American Indian symbology. They are like props in The American Girl Doll collection.

Beautiful, yet symptomatic of a problem, I think. That problem, of course, is need. Unfulfillable desire. I think Ralph Lauren is a really talented designer and businessperson. He has exquisite tastes in cars. Some of his men's clothing is perfect. His stores are so well done, even if not really to my taste. My favorite pair of cord pants, years ago, came from his store. His recently aquired daughter in law has the coolest name imaginable:  Lauren Bush Lauren. I mean, the guy is golden.

I just wish he wouldn't have imported all that teak from tropical forests to make his ranch "perfect." And I wish he'd invite me to stay in one of his tipis, but take out 3/4 of the stuff. Imagine what the inside of an actual Indian tipi looked like. Well, don't imagine, look at the inside of this Plains Indian tipi: 

They might not have the finesse of Ralph, but they've sure got the authenticity

thing down pat. Anyway, love to you, Ralph. But enough is enough!


Not temporary

Temporal shortsightedness is the tendency of humans to focus on the present without considering the future. 


Right now the world tends to value benefits and costs of energy production and use based on this shortsightedness, with no thought of costs down the road. The prices of oil and coal, for instance, do not reflect the future costs of carbon in the atmosphere. And the current cost of solar and wind power do not reflect future reductions in carbon.

Joseph Lassiter, a professor at Harvard Business School, discusses this issue at Working Knowledge. His article looks at some of the new technology companies, including Bill Gates' Terrapower that are trying to repurpose current nuclear waste as fuel for further nuclear power. Now that would be an incredible breakthrough.  I've seen nuclear waste, stored in containers outside a nuclear plant I was touring. While I was told that of course it was safe, and that no one could steal it or convert it into nefarious weapons, it didn't look all that secure to me. Depends on whose army, I guess.

But if we can repurpose nuclear waste, the story of nuclear energy changes. In the end, Lassiter advocates nuclear power as a way to bring clean electricity to every person on earth. And he says the market, not governments, should be allowed to lead the way. He's also into fracking, another technology with many questions and few clear answers, other than economic benefit in the short term.

I don't know the answer. And I'm skeptical of sweeping statements. But something has to give, and soon.



Green Number Crunchers

Good news: the guys in the green visors are starting to keep it green for the rest of us. The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board  helps investors understand which companies are taking things like climate change and environmental costs into account when they run their numbers. Armed with that information, investors can decide where they want to park their money -- in whole-thinking companies, or not. Whole, we hope.


Thinking About Food

Wow. Fiona Apple sings the theme song. Fantastic, haunting animation. Great storyline about a little farmer discovering the truth behind a giant food processor. Plus, it promotes good food and undermines predatory corporations. Love this video/ad from Chipotle.     Films like this make you wonder about the true intentions of a business like Chipotle. But does it really matter in this case whether the truth is that we are being crassly manipulated, or that we are witnessing true corporate activism? I think it's the results that count. And this ad, which surely is going viral, will have a big effect.