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!

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

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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.

Image: http://www.stcplanning.org/index.asp?pageId=153

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.

Sources: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-foie-gras-ban-lifted-20150108-story.html

Images:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/82/Foie_gras_en_cocotte.jpg

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/53/Foie_gras_-_gavage_in_Rocamadour,_France.jpg

Have a Peaceful Thanksgiving from us at Urban Hermits!

Happy Holidays, folks,

Thanksgiving marks the beginning a busy time of year with friends and family (and honest but unfruitful attempts at getting your work done). After Thanksgiving quickly comes other holidays such as Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years, and whatever other holidays you may celebrate. While Thanksgiving is a time to enjoy family, friends, and good food, it is not so jolly for others: particularly the approximately 46 million turkeys killed, mostly in large confined industrial operations. This has led some to reconsider their Thanksgiving plans by participating in “Peacegiving” and “Thanksliving”. Here are some ways to do so:

Consider these vegan Thanksgiving menu items.

Consider adopting a turkey to provide for animals at Farm Sanctuary.

Finally, on that topic, see how these turkeys celebrated Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all and stay tuned to Urban Hermits!

Illustration: Lauren Korany, Urban Hemits

Sources:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/11/131122-thanksgiving-2013-dinner-recipes-pilgrims-day-parade-history-facts/

U.S. House Considering Ban on Animal Cosmetic Testing

Check out these brands of cruelty free cosmetics!

Check out these brands of cruelty free cosmetics!

Hi folks,

I wanted to follow up from a post from this past April regarding World Week for Animals in Laboratories. In that post I discussed the millions of animals, hidden from our sight, who are subjected to product and medical testing.

Animal testing is a difficult subject which has evoked fierce debate over how to balance important medical research with the well-being of laboratory animals. In his book Animal Rights Without Liberation: Applied Ethics and Human Obligations (2012), Alasdair Cochrane distinguishes between therapeutic and non-therapuetic testing. Therapuetic testing is designed to save human lives and cure life-threatening ailments. This type of testing hasn’t been considered as controversial by the general public, but animal rights advocates have discussed the extent to which such research should be carried out and if it is always the best way to make discoveries about human medicine. Non-therapuetic research, on the other hand, consists of testing for the sake of creating knowledge and is not intended to directly prevent human suffering. A lot of testing in cosmetics and cleaning products falls into this category. Awareness of this issue and rising public concern has resulted in bans in the European Union and Isreal. The US House of Representatives is now considering such a ban, particularly aimed at cosmetic animal testing and the sale of cosmetics tested on animals. However, to be introduced, your help is needed! Click here to be linked to the Humane Society of the United State’s page on the proposed bill and consider supporting it by contacting your representative!

In the meantime, consider cruelty free cosmetics and products! One company that comes to mind that is widely available and with a large variety of products is Lush Cosmetics.

 

Sources:

Cochrane, Alasdair (2012). Animal Rights without Liberation: Applied Ethics and Human Obligations. Columbia University Press: New York.

Image: http://www.worldanimalwelfare.org/buying-cruelty-free

An Important Piece on Egg-Laying Hens

We live in a world where people have become increasingly concerned about where their food comes from. Productivity is not the only thing that matters, as social factors, such as values, attitudes, and norms have a profound impact on peoples’ expectations of how food is and should be produced. Animal agriculture is a particularly hot topic because it raises numerous concerns regarding sustainability and our obligations to sentient beings that are entirely dependent on us.

In this month’s issue of Harper’s Magazine, Deb Olin Unferth has penned a beautifully written and powerful piece about the debate over how to best house egg-laying hens and some of the problems plaguing this industry in general. She concludes:

Any way we look at it, it seems impossible for the egg industry to meet all our demands: happy hens, cheap eggs, an unlimited supply. The question of the cages turns back on us: How much are we willing to pay? How much are we willing to make the hens pay? If we continue to eat eggs at the current rate—a historically unprecedented high number—the hens who produce them will be treated horribly (Deb Olin Unferth 2014:50).

Although to view Harper’s online, you need a subscription, the non-profit United Poultry Concerns has posted a copy. Click here to read the article and be sure to share it with others!

Also on the topic of proper animal housing, I have been thinking a lot about the fight for fire safety in animal agriculture. Animal agricultural facilities are not held to the safety standards required in many of the buildings we live and work in (i.e. smoke detectors, sprinkler infrastructure). This, however, is problematic as the high stocking densities and confinement found in large operations are extremely dangerous to these animals when fire or other natural disasters strike. For example, just this past month, approximately 13,000 pigs were burned to death in Minnesota and 20,000 chickens died in Pennsylvania due to barn fires. The installation of basic fire safety equipment could have prevented the death of thousands. Click here to learn more about this issue.

I encourage you to think of the impact you have on egg laying hens and all animals in agriculture. Small changes and taking responsibility for our footprints can make a HUGE difference!

Until next time,

Urban Hermits

Illustration: Lauren Korany, Urban Hermits November 2014

Make your own Fiery Heirloom Tomato Salsa!

Hi folks,

It is Fall and the air is cooling down, which means the growing season is coming to an end for most of us (unless you live somewhere warm!). That means two things: you might be feeling chilly and you have a lot of produce to use up. Well, let me show you how to address both: by enjoying some delicious heirloom tomato salsa! This salsa has a good balance of bold taste from several different heirloom tomatoes and heat from habenero and/or serrano peppers. Allow me to walk you through…

Before getting started, here’s what you’ll need:

2 pounds of heirloom tomatoes (farmer’s markets are great places to pick some up!)

1 yellow/sweet onion, cut into 4 quarters

1 green bell pepper, de-seeded and cut into quarters

2 hot peppers (I used Serrano and Habanero, if you like it more mild, try Anaheim); I would recommended that you remove the seeds, but for those that like it hot, keep the seeds in!

3 cloves of garlic, pressed or minced

1 lime

1/3 cup of fresh chopped cilantro

vegetable oil, ground black pepper, cumin, kosher salt.

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Some fresh ingredients (note that not all of the cilantro and hot peppers will be used!)

Next go ahead and cut the tomatoes into halves. If any of the tomatoes are particularly large, cut them into quarters. Next, heat up your broiler. The broiler is like a grill in your oven. Newer ovens sometimes have it on the top, so you’ll want to put your vegetables on a high rack. Older ovens have a separate compartment, usually at the bottom, which you can insert a tray or use the one included. For more information on your broiler, click here.

 

When the broiler is heated up, arrange the onion and pepper quarters, HALF of your tomato halves/quarters, and hot peppers on a tray or sheet of foil coated with vegetable oil. Sprinkle kosher salt and black pepper as desired over vegetables on the tray/sheet. Then let the vegetables broil until tender and slightly charred. This may take about 10 minutes or so. Flip the vegetables over when the first side appears done to let the other side char. When done, carefully remove the tray and let the vegetables cool.

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Putting the fresh vegetables into the broiler

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Charred veggies!

Once the vegetables are cool enough to handle, dice all of them to as small/thin as desired. Then, take a bowl and mix the charred vegetables with the sliced fresh tomatoes and cilantro. Feel free to add some of the oil from the sheet/tray into the bowl, as it adds some good flavor. Mix together and apply pressure to squish the ingredients. I prefer a wooden spoon for this. Then, added cumin as desired. I probably use 1.5 tablespoons or so. Squeeze the fresh lime over the salsa until you can’t get any more juice out of it.

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The non-broiled ingredients

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All ingredients added together and squished and mixed

Let your salsa cool a bit and you’ll be ready to eat it. However, if you’d like to save some or make a larger amount than I describe in this post, consider canning your salsa. For more information about how to do this, check out one of our previous posts about pickling! Use the same process as described to sterilize and seal the jars. In the meantime, enjoy!!

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The finished product!

Sources:

http://www.theparsleythief.com/2011/09/fire-roasted-heirloom-salsa.html

http://www.thekitchn.com/kitchen-basics-how-to-use-your-112585

What We Learned from a Pigeon

Portrait of Franco, the homing pigeon

The way I met Franco was not very glorious. My roommate and I were on the couch near our front apartment window when she noticed something white hopping around the parking lot. It appeared to be a dove of some sort. We ran down the stairs to get a closer look. My roommate, Stassia, grabbed a shoebox before going down, knowing that the animal was injured. She got down before I did, and when I opened the door to the lot, there was no sign of the dove or my roommate. I began shouting her name. The two were in a stairwell behind a building, my roommate holding the shoebox closed. She had caught the dove.

I peeked in the box to see the bird and its potential injuries. The all white and very large pigeon was streaked in black as if it had hit a power line. It held its left wing limp at its side and beat it uselessly when trying to take off in the lot. I once worked at a wild-bird rescue center and thought we may be able to take the pigeon there to heal. Unfortunately, the center was closed for the season. Stassia and I decided it would be best to take the bird to an emergency vet to be examined.

When we arrived at the vet, the receptionist asked for a name for the bird. The box it was being held in was for “Franco Sarto” shoes. I announced that the bird’s name was “Franco.” In the patient room, Franco attempted to flap around. She looked starved and ragged. The vet inspected and observed her overnight to check for signs of west-nile virus. The vet called the next morning for us to pick up Franco. Thankfully, there were no signs of west-nile (as they would euthanize the animal). We took her home and kept her in a large rubbermaid box in our bathroom. We lined the box with towels and gave her water and parakeet seed. She ate. It was a great sign. She slowly recovered, loosing the black marks on her body and revealing pure white feathers. Franco had more visits with a vet who explained that she was a domesticated pigeon and couldn’t be released in the wild because she wouldn’t know how to survive. The fact that the bird was bred white also made her a beacon to predators, especially birds of prey. We kept her and built her a large cage. Stassia bought her “pants” to wear around the apartment so she could exercise while collecting her droppings. We loved watching her become more comfortable. For a while we thought that a) Franco was a King Pigeon and b) that she was a boy. Later, after a lot of research and talking with pigeon experts, we were informed that Franco was a homing pigeon, and built more like a hen (although still not 100% clear if she is a girl).

Homing pigeons are bred for ceremonies, such as funerals or weddings. These “release doves” are trained to return to the roost after being let out at the ceremony location. Ideally, the birds return back to the roost. However, due to the lack of camouflage and survival skills that these captive birds have, many do not come back. White doves symbolize peace in many religions and cultures. Breeders will isolate the gene for white feathers in the homing pigeons to embody the visual of the white dove. It seems to be that Franco was a bird like this. (King pigeons are white and bred for squab with the potential to escape from backyard breeders. The same issues apply.)

It never crossed my mind about what happened to the “doves” after releasing them. My great grandmother’s funeral released a pigeon and it seemingly went off to freedom. I was frustrated that I had not realized these birds were being used as props. Freedom was not there for an animal that relied heavily on humans for survival. Releasing it with the likelihood that they may not go home seemed cruel to me, as if they were disposable. The amount of research that Franco caused both Stassia and I to partake in really opened our eyes.

Franco also taught us that all animals have personalities. Her stubborn and stoic behavior became comical when her lack of gracefulness was seen. Companion animals are sometimes disrespected unless a price tag is attached; she is not a $500 parrot that people covet for its “exoticism” (don’t misunderstand me here, nothing against a parrot, just people’s mentality). She is seen by some as a “sky rat.” She was used and forgotten by someone. She was found. She has taught me to appreciate all life even more.

Illustration by: Lauren Korany, Urban Hermits

Mark Goes Places: Western Maryland!

Hi all,

The summer is coming to a close, but with the long Labor Day weekend, I wanted to make sure I got to experience the great outdoors one last time. Of course, Fall camping is my favorite and I still intend to get out for some of the cool autumn nights. This past weekend I headed down to the Maryland Panhandle, often referred to as “Western Maryland”. It is a pretty part of the country and very different from the the coastal plains and urban centers of Eastern Maryland. I stayed with some friends and family at New Germany State Park, which is adjacent to the serene Savage River State Forest. We did some good old fashioned car camping. The area provides lots of good hiking and some interesting history, as it was the site of a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. Also, in the 1950’s, there was a B-52 crash in the area. I took a photograph of the pilot’s grave located in the park (see below). The area was quite remote, tucked into an Appalachian mountain valley. No cell phone service, but I could fall asleep to the calls of Barred Owls. Here are some photos, enjoy!

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Setting up camp

Mountain wildflowers

Mountain wildflowers

Hello!

Hello!

Fording the creek

Fording the creek

Gravestone of fallen pilot

Gravestone of fallen pilot

Salamander friend

Salamander friend

Toad friend!

Toad friend!

Rolling hills

Rolling hills

Coffeeshop we stopped at on the way home in Frostburg,MD

Coffeeshop we stopped at on the way home in Frostburg, MD

All photos property of Mark Suchyta, Urban Hermits