Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mean Greens: A University of North Texas Cafeteria Goes Vegan

When students returned this August for their fall classes at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas, they were treated to a healthy surprise – the UNT Dining Services has converted the Maple Hall cafeteria to become a new 100% all-vegan full-service cafeteria, Mean Greens. The decision was based on a survey of University of North Texas students in which 15% responders were vegetarian and 5% were vegan – and, of course, to attract more students with specific dietary preferences to the campus.

In order to create the perfect vegan menu, UNT Dining Services staff visited a number of restaurants in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for inspiration, and according to a press release by the UNT Dining Services, “The culinary staff has been creating recipes using nothing but fresh herbs, vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains.” Apparently, the University of North Texas is the first in the US to open an all-vegan cafeteria to meet the plant-based needs of its students.

But that’s not all – the UNT Dining Services will also make, on the spot, any vegan dish upon request by concerned students. In “White Paper: A Vegan Diet,” published by the UNT Dining Services, vegetarian or vegan options are offered at other cafeterias on campus, with each item being labeled with a “V” next to each item. However, “If a nutrition card is not available on the food being served or the student has questions about the food preparation, a manager is always available to assist the student with his or her questions. If a student is still concerned about food preparation of the item, he or she can ask for the food to be prepared a different way as long as the ingredients needed are available in the cafeteria.” Moreover, managers at non-vegan cafeterias are requested to maintain at least one vegetarian option daily for students who didn’t want to eat meat for either environmental, compassionate, or health reasons. Students at the University of North Texas can also visit a registered dietician at the UNT Wellness Center for consultations on the planning of a healthy and balanced vegan lifestyle.

In an interview with NT Daily, Ken Botts, director of special programs for UNT Dining Services, stated, “We put a lot of effort into designing recipes that would provide protein, would provide the necessary vitamins and nutrition to a balanced diet, so chances are, you’ll get a better balanced opportunity in your food choices at Maple than you would at any other eating establishment in and around campus.” Opened to the public on August 22, the concept for an all-vegan cafeteria began a year ago.

Speaking to the University of North Texas News Service, Botts commented, “Most schools only have one or two cafeterias, so it is difficult for them to dedicate an entire dining hall to one type of cuisine. We are fortunate to have five cafeterias on our campus, so it made sense to diversify the dining halls to offer more variety. UNT has a very diverse population with many different tastes and lifestyles, and we believe that this new dining option will be attractive to current students and community members.”

In addition to begin the first vegan university cafeteria in the nation, Mean Green is also going green: plates are used instead of the traditional cafeteria trays, which cut water usage by 40 percent. And surprisingly, not all students who dined at now popular vegan cafeteria are vegans or vegetarians – they’re simply students who love good, healthy food.

Impressed by the university’s decision to provide healthy food to its student body, Animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals honored the University of North Texas with the Compassionate Campus award. Kudos to UNT for blazing the vegan trail in the cattle-country Lone Star State!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

US Top Climate Scientist Arrested in Protest of the Keystone XL Pipeline

NASA's climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen
Photos: Josh Lopez via tarsandsaction on Flickr/CC BY

The arrest of US preeminent climate scientist James Hansen on August 29, 2011, for protesting outside the White House has brought more media focus to an issue that has been pretty much ignored by mainstream media. With arrests now climbing to nearly 600 in over a week, what exactly has caused famed NASA’s scientist to take to the street with faith leaders and commit a peaceful act of civil disobedience? The proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline by TransCanada that is now sitting on President Obama’s desk, waiting for a green light. 
Photo by Tar Sands Action
The Keystone XL is a 1700-mile pipeline that runs from Canada through the US, carrying tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, through the US to the Gulf Coast. According to Tar Sands Action, “If built, the pipeline could bring as much as 900,000 barrels per day through the U.S., and put fresh water, clean air and the climate at risk.” Back in June 2011, Dr. James Hansen explained in an essay, “Silence is Deadly,” why tar sands, and the proposed Keystone XL, is disastrous for our nation as well as the planet.
The U.S. Department of State seems likely to approve a huge pipeline to carry tar sands oil (about 830,000 barrels per day) to Texas refineries unless sufficient objections are raised.  
The scientific community needs to get involved in this fray now. If this project gains approval, it will become exceedingly difficult to control the tar sands monster. 
Although there are multiple objections to tar sands development and the pipeline, including destruction of the environment in Canada and the likelihood of spills along the pipeline's pathway, such objections, by themselves, are very unlikely to stop the project. 
An overwhelming objection is that exploitation of tar sands would make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts. The tar sands are estimated (e.g., see IPCC AR4 WG3 report) to contain at least 400 GtC (equivalent to about 200 ppm CO2). 
Easily available reserves of conventional oil and gas are enough to take atmospheric CO2 well above 400 ppm. However, if emissions from coal are phased out over the next few decades and if unconventional fossil fuels are left in the ground, it is conceivable to stabilize climate. 
Phase out of emissions from coal is itself an enormous challenge. However, if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over. There is no practical way to capturethe CO2 emitted while burning oil, which is used principally in vehicles. 
Governments are acting as if they are oblivious to the fact that there is a limit on how much fossil fuel carbon we can put into the air. Fossil fuel carbon injected into the atmosphere will stay in surface reservoirs for millennia. We can extract a fraction of the excess CO2 via improved agricultural and forestry practices, but we cannot get back to a safe CO2 level if all coal is used without carbon capture or if unconventional fossil fuels are exploited. 
I am submitting a comment that the analysis is flawed and insufficient, failing to account for important information regarding human-made climate change that is now available. I note that prior government targets for limiting human-made global warming are now known to be inadequate. Specifically, the target to limit global warming to 2°C, rather than being a safe "guardrail", is actually a recipe for global climate disasters. I will include drafts of the "Paleoclimate Information", "Earth's Energy Imbalance" and "The Case for Young People and Nature" papers, which are so far only published in arXiv; we will submit revised versions of all
of these papers for publication this summer. 
I also will comment that the pipeline project does not serve the national interest, because it will result in large adverse impacts, on the public and wildlife, by contributing substantially to climate change. These impacts must be evaluated before the project is considered further. 
It is my impression and understanding that a large number of objections could have an effect and help achieve a more careful evaluation, possibly averting a huge mistake. Brief pointed comments may be just as well as longer statements.
James Hansen
 As predicted, just last week the State Department has already approved of the pipeline.

To date leading environmentalist, author, and founder of the climate campaign Bill McKibben, former White House official and Yale dean Gus Speth, gay rights activist Lt. Dan Choi, Dr. James Hansen, an 84-year-old grandmother, and many others have been arrested. Supporters for the protest include dozens of religious leaders, Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT-I) and celebrities Mark Ruffalo, Thom Yorke, Danny Glover, Josh Fox, and 20 top US scientists.

Environmentalist, author & founder of Bill McKibben being arrested
Photo: Shadia Lopez
Renowned gay rights activist, Lt. Dan Choi, being arrested in front of the White House.
Photo: Josh Lopez
According to Bill McKibben, “This is the largest civil disobedience action in the environmental movement in a generation, and if they really aren’t even discussing it with the president, that signals a deep disrespect for their supporters, especially young people who have demonstrated that the environment is a top priority.”

Let’s hope President Obama is listening and paying attention, and shows that he cares about the environment and our nation by tossing the Keystone XL proposal right in the garbage bin. Do the right thing, Mr. President.

Note: For the full text of Dr. James Hansen's "Silence is Deadly," please visit