Check Out these Amazing Bat Facts on National Bat Appreciation Day!

Sound Wave Bat - Urban Hermits

Hi all,

It has been brought to my attention that today, Sunday, April 17th is National Bat Appreciation Day. Bats are often depicted as creepy creatures who exist in a nocturnal world opposite to our own. However, they are fascinating and important parts of the ecosystems they inhabit. Unfortunately, they also face many challenges that threaten their populations. Don’t take it from me, though, check out these amazing bat facts from Bat Conservation International!

Perhaps, someday I’ll pay a visit to Bracken Cave.



Larz’s Mission: Don’t Buy Pets as Easter Gifts this Spring

Hi folks,

Spring has begun. The flowers will soon be blooming and warmer temperatures are on their way. Some of you might also be planning to celebrate Easter. Here at Urban Hermits, we are celebrating our own special holiday: Larz’s 1st Hatchday! Along with this holiday, however, is an important story.

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Larz was found by a staff member at the Bronx Zoo last April. He was left at an office doorstep in a dog carrying crate. The staff member suspects that he was an Easter gift, likely for a child, but that the owner’s family lost interest or did not know how to care for him.

Unfortunately, this is a common issue during the spring. Spring chicks and bunnies are beloved but inappropriate Easter gifts. Zlati Meyer of the Detroit Free Press recently penned an article about the challenges of giving chicks as gifts. While the article particularly focuses on the spread of salmonella, it brings up issues associated with giving birds as gifts. Caretakers need to be committed to a long-term relationship (chickens can naturally live more than 10 years) and should understand a birds’s dietary, behavioral, and habitat needs. Immediately, it becomes evident that this is above the head of young children. The same goes for bunnies. Often, families decide that these obligations are too much and they decide to either put the animal up for adoption or sadly, release them into the wild to fend for themselves. A few friends of mine recently adopted a bunny they found wandering in their back yard around Easter time, he is one the lucky ones.

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From left to right: Tél, Sufi, Larz, and Django

Thanks to my friend at the Bronx Zoo, we were able to adopt Larz to our flock. Today he is doing great. He is very anxious and hyper but loves spending time with Tél, Sufi, and Django. His favorite food is carrots, which he loves to mash up, turning his face orange. We enjoy our time with Larz, but in the back of my mind I remember that he was once a scared, abandoned bird. This is Larz’s mission: bringing attention to taking responsibility for animals dependent on us and brining attention to spring/Easter pets.


Larz, Urban Hermits, and the rest of the flock!







The University of Washington: Failing Animals and Stunting Science

Lab Rat | Urban Hermits

Animal research is an area of controversy that we have given some attention to here on our site. While some important scientific findings have stemmed from this research, it is important that we ask, “at what cost?” New scientific developments as well as ongoing ethical discussions have forced us to reevaluate our need to exploit animals for research. One particularly noteworthy development is the NIH’s recent decision to defund all chimpanzee research. For this reason, I am shocked by the University of Washington’s decision to construct a large underground research laboratory to house their 650-plus primates, along with tens of thousands of other research animals.

The rationale behind the development of UW’s new animal research laboratory is to consolidate where their research animals are kept, improve conditions for humans and nonhumans, as well make it easier for proper oversight. This oversight is primarily provided by IACUC’s, or Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees, the Institutional Review Board equivalent for animal research at universities. Through my monitoring of these groups and my experience as a student at Penn State University, I have found that IACUC’s consist of researchers who experiment on animals and are sympathetic to those who do, willing to approve any project as long as the harm to the animal is not egregious. What they will not reject, however, is research that has minimal scientific value but is harmful to the animals. For example, a researcher could easily get a project approved that examines fear responses in mink, holding captive and harassing animals with little benefit to society. Such studies are simply ploys to produce sparsely read academic journal articles.

With animal research in the spotlight, UW’s new lab has received a lot of media attention, both in opposition and support of it. Animal rights activists argue that the underground lab is to keep the facility out of the public eye while animals are tortured and killed. Proponents counter by stating that the facility will improve welfare and will allow for beneficial scientific advancements. They also argue that researchers have been wrongly stereotyped as callous and insensitive to animals because of a few high-profile cases of abuse.

I argue, however, that it is difficult to respect life when it is encapsulated in a sterile, controlling environment. Where rats live in transparent drawers by the thousands, stacked up to the top of walls. Where primates only leave their enclosures for surgeries.

UW decides to live in the past while other universities and institutions look for ways to move beyond animal research.

Other sources:

Washington Post Brings Cruelty to the Forefront: Challenging USDA Policies

This past week, reporter Roberto Ferdman penned an article in the Washington Post discussing uncover footage collected by animal rights group Compassion Over Killing. The article states:

“An undercover video taken at one of the nation’s largest pork producers shows pigs being dragged across the floor, beaten with paddles, and sick to the point of immobility. By law, pigs are supposed to be rendered unconscious before being killed, but many are shown writhing in apparent pain while bleeding out, suggesting that they weren’t properly stunned. ‘That one was definitely alive,’ a worker says.”

The footage is from Quality Pork Producers, a Minnesota slaughterhouse affiliated with Hormel Foods. The graphic video can be viewed here, if you are interested. Compassion Over Killing describes the scene as, “USDA-Approved High Speed Slaughter Hell”.

The account of the investigator is very unsettling and the article raises some large marco-level concerns present in industrial animal agriculture in the US. There is a particular focus on the recently approved and controversial high kill line speeds that have been criticized as dangerous to workers, cruel to livestock (as they are often not properly stunned prior to slaughter), and difficult for inspectors to monitor. In fact, earlier this year, Kimbery Kindy wrote an article for the Post regarding USDA inspectors safety and welfare concerns about new line speed standards which would increase the rate of slaughter. To make matters worse, in an effort to cut costs, the USDA has called back its number of inspectors, allowing them to be replaced by industry-based inspectors. As the article asserts:

“Over the years, HIMP has drawn a growing number of skeptics, including former inspectors and factory workers, who say the changes allow processors to increase profits at the expense of animal welfare and food safety. They point to a key difference between the traditional inspection system and the pilot program, which places the responsibility for the initial stages of inspection — the sorting out of diseased and contaminated carcasses — on the plant instead of the government. This, they say, allows for companies to speed up the process, hide violations, and, ultimately, compromise the food supply.”

Shout out to the Washington Post for regularly bringing these issues to the forefront, demonstrating that the USDA continues to fail animals and consumers through cost-cutting, as well as the grim consequences our insatiable appetite for meat.

Tennessee Enacts Animal Abuse Registry…But Now What?

Folks, its been too long, but I knew I was setup for a comeback to the Interwebs. While my inspiration is diffused over many of the topics I have been thinking about since I last wrote, today I was motived by a story out of the Volunteer State.

Today, Tennessee made history by becoming the first US state to enact an animal abuse registry. This registry would work like many other criminal registries (think the sex offender registries many states require). In this specific case, individuals convicted of crimes related to animal abuse are required to self-register or face further penalties. First time offenders are registered for two years, and I am assuming repeat offenders are required to register for life.

Many organizations and governments have discussed animal abuse registries in recent years as a means to appropriately punish offenders of crimes against animals and to also provide a publicly accessible list of individuals who are unfit to care for or work with animals. Possible benefits could include shelters knowing which individuals are not suitable for adoption, who not to employ in an animal-based business enterprise, or simply making an informed decision as to hiring a petsitter.

While Tennessee is the first state to enact a registry, which is expected to go online in January, 2016, various other states such as California, Colorado, and New York have seen activism, both among government and non-government organizations, promoting a registry. In fact, in 2014, New York City approved an animal abuse registry. These accomplishments seem to be the beginning of a larger movement that will likely catch on in other cities and states.

While this is at face value a big win for animals, agricultural and laboratory animals continue to be left in the dark. The Tennessee animal abuse registry only applies to companion animals (and possibly wildlife…although not clearly specified at this time) and this appears likely to be the case for future animal abuse registries. This sets a dangerous precedent where the majority of the animals that we interact with in our society are being further excluded from legal protections. Obviously, this is done intentionally; the cost and resources needed to enforce animal abuse laws in animal agricultural industries, particularly industrialized operations, is high. It also challenges our often taken for granted relationship with agricultural animals. Finally and most importantly, preventing abuse in industrialized animal agricultural industries or laboraties is not simply a matter of prosecuting rogue workers; the whole system is abusive, providing inadequate care and fitness, both physical and mental.

More work is needed to be done on the behalf of not just companion animals, but those in industries, laboratories, and anywhere else where they are defenseless and subjected to human will. Extending legal protections to companion animals is a victory, but only a first step into awarding necessary protections to all and for becoming a more compassionate and just society.

To those dedicated to these goals, keep up the good fight.

A closing note: If you take an interest in Animal Rights issues, check out a book review I wrote for the open source (but peer-reviewed) journal Between the Species.

And for more stories related to animal abuse registries, check out the Huffington Post’s archive.


Kombucha Adventures!

We apologize for the posting haitus, but are happy to be back! In my time away from blogging I have become very interested in fermentation. This interest largely began with a book I saw at a tea room about fermenting vegetables and beverages. Scanning over the pages,  I found myself enthralled with the idea of microbiomes in food that can be consumed to improve the biomes in our bodies, as well as preparing a new array of delicious foods. I bought the book and hurried home, beginning a fermenting spree. Over the course of the next several months, I hope to share some some of my favorite fermented products, as well as easy recipes so you can follow along  at home.

Today, I am going to discuss a product that has gained a lot of attention in recent years: Kombucha.

Bottled Raspberry Kombucha

Bottled Raspberry Kombucha

Kombucha is fermented tea with a very distinct flavor and visceral experience. It is presently tart and bubbly. It is produced when a culture of a few types of bacteria and yeasts feed on a mixture of tea and sugar. This little party responsible for fermenting the tea is the SCOBY  (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts), which forms a small squishy puck. When given tea and sugars, the SCOBY will thrive and feed off of the sugar, caffeine, and tannins to produce lactic acid, CO2, and a variety of vitamins. The longer the tea sits at room temperature, the more sour and carbonated the tea will become as the colony happily eats. By home fermenting, you can control the tartness as you like to taste.

An interesting characteristic of the SCOBY is that it will produce a baby colony if it is given sweetened tea. In essence, for each batch you will have another SCOBY. (This is why the SCOBY is sometimes referred to as the “mother”) You can share them with loved ones and friends.

What’s so great about all this? Well, I like to compare it to someone who has a green thumb or enjoys gardening. You are watching and tending to a living organism that fluctuates and changes before your eyes. It is pretty fascinating. There are also potential health benefits to probiotics. There happen to be a wide variety of claims when it comes to Kombucha, but a general consensus is that the bacteria in the drink are beneficial for the human intestinal flora and that the drink is a nutritious alternative to carbonated sodas due to the colonies ability to produce traces of vitamins and minerals.

Making Kombucha is simple and fun, but requires one particularly unique and somewhat uncommon ingredient: the SCOBY. The easiest way to get your hands on a SCOBY is to order a “starter kit”, which includes the SCOBY as well as a small amount of Kombucha (sometimes called starter tea). If you are very fortunate and know others who are fermenting Kombucha, see if they would be willing to offer you or sell you a SCOBY. There are many places to look online, like Cultures for Health, although I purchased mine from a Fermentation on Wheels, a traveling food educator.

Kombucha SCOBY mother

After purchasing my SCOBY from Fermentation on Wheels! (Don’t put in the sunlight! Oops.)

Once you have the SCOBY the process goes pretty simply. To start, you’ll need plain caffeinated black or green tea, granulated sugar, and your SCOBY with starter liquid. Below are specific measurements of ingredients for your first batch based on a 2012 article in Urban Farm Magazine. Note that the amount can  be adjusted as needed, but we recommend making at least a quart.

3 and 3/4 cups of water (filtered unless your tap water is good quality)

2 bags of black or green tea (Can use loose tea as well, brew to taste)

1/2 cup of white granulated sugar (no stevia, no honey, no brown sugar)

SCOBY with 1/4 cup starter tea (already fermented tea)


1 quart jar

First, bring two cups of water to a boil in a pot that can fit at least a quart, setting aside the rest of the water. When the water comes close to a boil, add the half cup of sugar and allow it absorb fully into the water. Then, once the water comes to a boil, turn off the stove and add the two tea bags. Allow the tea bags to seep until the water begins to cool so that the tea bags are seeping minimally. Then, add the remaining 1 and 3/4 cups of water to further cool the liquid. Let the pot sit until it cools to room temperature. This may take a few hours. Once the sweetened tea cools, pour it into the quart sized jar and then add the SCOBY and 1/4 cup of starter liquid. Again, it is very important that the sweet tea is cooled so it does not kill the SCOBY. Afterwards, cover the jar with a cloth and a rubber band so that debris does not fall into it, but so that it is not sealed. This is because the SCOBY needs sufficient oxygen.

Now you have your tea and it will begin fermenting. It will need to sit for at least 3-4 days, but after then you can taste it to check if the sugar has been absorbed and if the flavor is to your liking. The tea should taste a begin to taste a bit tangy. The longer it sits, the more tangy it gets. Depending on the amount and taste you prefer, you may choose to have you liquid sit longer. Some will let it sit for as long as 14 days! When your tea is where you like it, remove the mother culture with a 1/4 starter liquid for your next batch.

Kombucha SCOBY Mothers

The “mothers” or SCOBYs have been removed from the fermented tea and are ready to be set aside in some starter liquid. (Notice the light one is the newer “baby” and the dark one is the older “mother”)

Next comes my favorite part – the “second ferment”. This is when you can add flavors and extra carbonation to your batch. Prepare a few jars or bottles to store your tea. Grab your flavorings: a chunk of ginger, some fruit, some mint leaves, some dried flowers, whatever. Add it into the bottle and then add your tea. This time you are going to close the cap and allow the bottle to sit at room temperature for at least one day. Depending on the sugar content of your flavoring, the tea will continue to ferment and create a lot of CO2. You should check your bottles every so often and burp them to avoid a messy explosion.

Kombucha Second Ferment

Raspberries are adding to the carbonation in the second ferment.

At this point, you have your SCOBY and its starter liquid. You can make a new batch to feed the culture or make it dormant. For each brew, your SCOBY will grow a baby colony as a layer on its top. The more you feed it, the more SCOBYs you will end up having. This is where a SCOBY hotel comes in handy. It is just a small jar where you can put your excess mamas and babes when you don’t have the time to tend to all of them. You should still feed them though every 4-6 weeks, just with a smaller recipe using the same tea to sugar ratio. Putting the jar in the refrigerator will make the colonies go into a much slower ferment, as if they were sleeping.

Happy fermenting! I’d love to hear of anyone’s experience in the comments below!

A few notes:

The trick is keeping the sugar ratio to 10% of the volume of your brewed tea. For a while, I thought that I was using way too much sugar for the recipes I was referring to. But I realized, the sugar is not for me – it’s for the culture. If you use less than the 10% per volume sweet spot, you risk inviting other bacteria and microorganisms into the picture. The excess sugar makes for a pretty harsh environment for bacteria aside from the ones in your SCOBY. On top of that, the sugar is used as food, and an acidic environment is also crucial to kill off unwanted bacterias and yeasts that may enter the batch from the air.

Temperature plays an important role in any fermentation process. Kombucha develops best in the temperature range of 74F to 84F. The general rule of thumb is that the colder the temperatures, the slower your ferment.

SCOBYs like the dark, don’t let them sit in direct sunlight.

Keep an eye on your SCOBY and make sure that it does not turn black or blue. If so, you will have to dispose of the Kombucha as this is a sign it is unsafe and molding. A healthy SCOBY will appear as shade(s) of white and brown. Also, wash your hands before handling your SCOBY directly.

Don’t over-do it. Try drinking a maximum of 8 ounces a day to avoid lactic acid build up.

Sanitation is key, brew at your own risk!

Warm Up and Cleanse Yourself with Delicious Tom Yum Hed!

Hi all,

If you live in the Northeast or the Midwest, you’re in for a cold weekend! At times such as these, I like to relax inside and enjoy some healthy and delicious Tom Yum Hed, a Thai soup that is vegan friendly. Here is our official Urban Hermits recipe! Enjoy!

Preparing Tom Yum Hed is very easy, the tricky part is making sure you have all of the right ingredients. Here’s what you’ll need:

8 cups water

1 lime

1 stick of lemongrass (if you can’t find the whole stalk, go ahead and buy a couple roots or packages of stalk, whatever your local store has. Full stalks are easiest to find at ethnic/asian grocers)

4-5 button mushrooms, but other types will do fine.

3 cubes of salted vegetable bouillon

1 firm tomato

fresh cilanto

2-3 stalks of green onion

thai basil (optional)

a chunk on ginger

3 cloves of garlic

1 red bell pepper

dried cayenne/red pepper

soy sauce

Put the 8 cups of water is a pot and heat it until a boil. While you wait, chop the red pepper and mushrooms, tomato and cilantro. Dice the garlic and green onion. When the water comes to a boil, add the 3 bouillon cubes and wait for them to dissolve.IMG_0759

Next, add the lemongrass, chunk of ginger, chili/cayanne pepper (to taste), the thai basil, and green onion. Also, cut the lime in half and squeeze out as much juice as possible into the broth.IMG_0762

Let the broth simmer with the added ingredients for a couple of minutes. Then add the mushrooms and chopped bell pepper.IMG_0764

Once the mushrooms and chopped bell pepper cook down a bit, add the chopped tomato and cilantro. You don’t want these to cook too long to avoid them becoming mushy. Let it go for a couple of a minutes and then you’re set!

For additional flavor, add soy sauce to taste! Enjoy!


Why Criticizing Science as “Biased” Gets Us Nowhere; An Example with Fox News


Hi all,

I am always fascinated to hear claims that particular scientific studies are, “biased”. While it is true that there is a lot of unscientific and fradulant findings being published all the time, we need to understand that scientists are people, who hold values and have opinions just as we do. What makes a good scientist is being able to create an objective platform from which empirical research can be conducted. A scientist, or any good thinker for that matter, needs to be able to disconnect their work from their values, beliefs, and attitudes. That being said, it is unreasonable to expect someone to go into science if they have no interest in what their are studying. However, it seems that is what we sometimes expect.

In a recent Fox News article, contributor Kelley Beaucar Vlahos discusses criticism (including her own) of some of the scientific studies that influenced New York State’s recent ban of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. Vlahos accuses the scientists of being “biased” and having ties to the “anti-fracking movement”. This report was peer reviewed, a process that is used to maintain scientific integrity. As reported, the peer reviewers did not know the authors. Furthermore, as a scientist myself (well, studying to be one), I can tell you that the peer review process is often blind, meaning that the authors have no idea who is reviewing their paper and the reviewers do not know whose paper it is at the time of review. The article, however, claims that the authors as well as reviewers were biased, as they are opposed to hydraulic fracturing. What it does not discuss, is why they are opposed. Does their opposition stem from some of their findings as well as other peer reviewed science? Someone is not just simply born a “fractivist”. Scientific studies need to be assessed by their methodology, not the personal characteristics of the scientist. There is no doubt that our attitudes and values affect how we filter information, which can certainly influence how we view findings, but part of being a good scientist is being aware of this.

Finally, the article claims that the scientists did not disclose their political views, etc. in the paper. While it is a standard to disclose conflicts re: financing, stake in ownership, etc., in science, it is not standard to have to disclose political views. For example, do I need to say that I am a “environmentalist, vegetarian…etc.” anytime I write something? Furthermore, if the way to eliminate bias is just to have “pro-fracking” scientists have their own study and then “anti-fracking” scientists have their study, why even have science? That would just be politics.

Dismissing peer-reviewing science as “biased” is totalitarian. It is an attempt to look past important findings that we may not like, which is exactly what Vlahos and Fox News are doing in this instance. We definitely need to understanding the context of scientific studies and it, but there is no purely “objective” study, at the very least there are values implicit in how we measure things. Although minimal, science needs some human input or else there would be no studies; but discarding studies as “biased” that go against your agenda, as opposed to challenging yourself, doesn’t do us any good.

Happy Hermiting, folks.


NY Times Publishes Stunning Article on Meat Animal Research Center; Consider Signing Petition

Hi folks,

Just a quick but timely post. The New York Times has recently published a stunning article about some of the concerns regarding animal welfare at U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska. What these animals have had to go through in the name or productivity is repulsive and arguably, not justifiable. Take a read regardless of where you stand on the issue and if you feel that the reports are unacceptable, consider signing this petition from the Humane Society of the United States to halt research at the facility.

Also, if it interests you, check out HSUS’s “State of Animal Union”, a parallel to the President Barack Obama’s recent “State of the Union”.

Until next time, fellow Hermits.

Federal Judge Overturns Foie Gras Ban; You Still Don’t Need to Eat it

In a setback for animal advocates, a federal judge struck down California’s Foie Gras ban this past Wednesday. The Los Angeles Times reports that U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson ruled that the ban was unconsitutional because it clashed with existing federal laws on poultry products. Foie Gras is a product that has been under fire due to its controversial and cruel method of production: force feeding a duck or goose until it develops liver disease, resulting in a fatty liver. Considered a French delicacy, California was the first and only state to ban the production and sale of Foie Gras through a bill passed by its state legislature in 2004. The bill went into full effect in 2012.

A Goose being force fed for Foie Gras.

A Goose being force fed for Foie Gras.

One example of a dish using Foie Gras.

One example of a dish using Foie Gras.

This ruling raises concerns regarding the future of California’s battery cage egg ban. The LA Times states that, “Experts said the ruling would have no bearing on California’s new egg law, which requires more space for laying hens, because eggs aren’t covered by the Poultry Products Inspection Act.” However, an issue around the 2013 Farm Bill (read our article about it here) was the King Amendment, which although not ultimately passed, attempted to regulate states’ ability to regulate any agricultural products that impacted interstate commerce, such as egg production. This bill was introduced by Iowa Senator Steve King. This is no surprise as California, the most populated state by far, consumes an enormous amount of eggs while Iowa produces the most. Back in 2013, I went back and forth with Pennsylvania (another large egg producing state) U.S. Rep Glenn Thompson on this issue.

There is hope, however. While there is reason to be skeptical that voters and representatives can regulate agriculture in their own communities, the Foie Gras ban, as well as other organizations, have brought light to this issue. If you oppose Foie Gras, you probably won’t eat it. Individual decisions can have just as strong of an impact as any state law. Refuse Foie Gras and avoid establishments which serve it.

And if you do eat it, well, you’re just an asshole.