What, we’ve wrecked wild bees now, too?  »


Two fun studies show that bees are having more troubles thriving in the age of modern agriculture than we thought.

First, honeybees aren’t the best crop pollinators; per a study published in Science, they get a lot of help from bumblebees and carpenter bees.

Second, wild bees hate monocultures, and don’t like to pollinate in single-crop areas.

Claire Kremen, a conservation biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who’s a co-author of the first study in Science, says one of the biggest problems for wild bees is the agricultural specialization that has produced huge fields of just one crop.

The almond groves of California, for example, are a sea of blossoms in February. It’s a feast, as far as the eye can see, for honeybees that come here from all over the country.

"But for the rest of the year, there’s nothing blooming," she says.

That means there are no bees. “In fact, in places where we have very large monocultures of almond, we don’t find any native bees anymore,” Kremen says.

 So what does that mean for us? Will the fact that large-scale monoculture is bad for bees force us to change the way we farm? Is smaller-scale, more diverse farming financially feasible for modern farmers?

Home gardeners, at least, could learn to plant a variety of flowers and food plants together. As for commercial agriculture, we’ll see.

[Photo by Jimmy Smith via Flickr]


Bees might actually be more afraid of us than we are of them, for real  »

Despite my morbid fear of bees, I try to respect them. If I see one, I run screaming at least 20 feet before looking to see if he or she chased me. But it seems as though this behavior might hurt their little bee feelings: A recent study at Newcastle University says that bees can have “pessimistic biases,” meaning “the tendency to perceive threat or anticipate negative outcomes”—but only when they’re feeling pessimistic. Wait, what? Yes, when bees are feeling bad, they behave like something bad is about to happen.

The researchers trained a group of bees to associate two odors with two foods, one that bees like and one that they don’t. After this, the response of the bees’ mouth parts was measured in response to “ambiguous” odors, to see if they would open their mouths to eat, or not.

To further test the bees’ responses, half of the subjects were plopped into a badger-attack simulator (such a thing exists?!) and then measured their neurological responses. When the bees were scared, they responded negatively to the stimuli. A negative experience—a.k.a., being treated cruelly by researchers—made the bees assume the ambiguous odor would not be food. Neat, right? Neat and mean!

Had you already assumed that bees have feelings? Why risk it—most other creatures seem to. Still, this study’s results are pretty awesome. Apply them to your life, and go say nice things to a bee today. Buzz!

[Beautiful cartoon by Megan Rascal]


Ask a Vegansaur, vol. 03  »

It’s that time again: I’ve accumulated enough questions/found enough time in my busy schedule of unemployment (now accepting paying-job leads!) to write another round of Ask a Vegansaur! This one only consists of two questions because they are long. Deal with it.

Tim asks: We know that the traditional vegan rejects honey as part of the general “exploitation and abuse of living creatures” principle. But what about the use of bees as pollinators? Bee colonies are used in large numbers for commercial agriculture. Should “real vegans” mostly reject strawberries, blueberries, almonds, and other “confined bee” pollination-required forms of vegetable matter?
Dang, Tim, you smart! Before I answer the question, I’d like everyone to know that when you eat figs, you might be eating wasps: Wasps can get trapped inside a fig while pollinating its flower and subsequently DIE. That’s nasty, but I digress.

In truth, I have not thought about this much before, but I’m going to try to answer this question reasonably and intelligently. Although bees can’t give consent, I would say that it’s difficult to “force” bees or other insects to do your bidding because they are relatively small and hard to trap. Bees can and will leave the hive for any reason their bee brains deem fit. You can smack a bee or squash it, but it’s risky to humans. Plus it’s hard for the layperson to gauge a bee’s emotions, so you won’t see a bee squealing in fear like a pig about to be slaughtered.

I feel beekeeping is on a different level than factory farming. All we ask the bees to do is pollinate (the byproduct of honey is another topic), which they’d do anyway, and then we harvest the plants. So while almonds, berries, and the like might not be vegan in the sense that they’re technically the result of animal byproducts, I don’t think it’s necessary for vegans of any stripe to avoid them. Am I in the wrong? What do you readers think?

Ellen asks: I work at a grocery store where they put labels on the products for specific nutritional info. Now, I was looking at some of the info on some products that weren’t labeled vegan, and they did not contain any animal ingredients, but there is a statement saying that they may have come in contact with milk/eggs or that the product is processed in a facility [with] non-vegan products. Would you still consider these foods vegan? Or are they considered non-vegan because of the chance that they came in contact with something like that?
One of the unfortunate facets of veganism is that we have to place a lot of trust in the products we choose to consume. Readers might recall the Emes Kosher-Jel scandal of 2005 or so, in which a product most vegans considered “safe” was shown to contain gelatin. While that was unfortunate, I don’t think that made anyone who had consumed it no longer vegan.

Because food manufacturers are being held increasingly responsible for food allergen content, good hygiene practices for workers and machines are becoming more popular. We should try to do the best we can with what we have. The point is that we’re thinking about it. The more we support vegan products, even though they might share facilities with non-vegan ones, the more likely the companies might be able to afford their own facilities one day.

To answer your question succinctly (tl;dr): Yes, I still consider these products vegan, especially because the likelihood that they came into contact with trace animal products is minimal.

Want to Ask a Vegansaur a question? Email me, and try not to be a jerk!

[Image by fklv via Flickr]


Movie Night at Hayes Valley Farm: FRIDAY!  »

The very, very cool Hayes Valley Farm has started screening movies! That’s right: movies at the farm! You can learn all about it here (and maybe get inspired to get involved and volunteer). The film starts at sundown, but the gates open at 6 p.m., PLUS, it’s by donation (they suggest $5), so if you’re seriously down on your luck, you can name your price (but don’t be a dick).

The movie for tomorrow is the very apt Vanishing of the Bees, a documentary that traces the earliest reports of Colony Collapse Disorder, and offers plausible causes and solutions to curb the systematic loss of bees on a global scale. The choice was made “in response to the violence against our hives at Hayes Valley Farm, [so] we wanted to transform the incident [wherein 100,000 honeybees living in the Hayes Valley Farm hives were killed] into an opportunity for education and outreach within our community,” according to the press release from the HVF.

For those of you not aware of the good doings at the HVF, tomorrow’s movie night is a great opportunity to come and check the place out. It’s pretty darn awesome that a group of dedicated volunteers has managed to turn an abandoned on-ramp into a functional, permaculture-based farm. They’re always having neat events (yoga at the farm? Awesome!), and their website is loaded with recipes, permaculture/farming/gardening tutorial videos, and other assorted farmly goings-on. Highly recommended!


Your summertime Friday link-o-rama is high on sunshine, and righteous anger  »

SF Animal Care and Control rescued these barn swallows whose nest “in an area of a residential home” had been vandalized. They made them a new nest with this basket! [via Pawesome]

Events and happenings!
Hello bunny-fans! Missed your chance for a rabbit at the previous Harvest Home Sanctuary event? That’s OK, because there’s another, even bigger one tomorrow! On Saturday, July 22 from 1 to 6 p.m. at the House Rabbit Society (148 Broadway St. at 25th Street in Richmond), you can visit the bunnies, eat veg food—including vegan chai cupcakes and sno-cones—listen to live music, and of course, adopt! There are 80 rabbits who need homes! COME ON DO IT GET A RABBIT THEY ARE THE BEST. Check out some of your future best pals here. Maybe bring your single bun to make a friend!

Any Canadian readers? Vegansaur Jordan informs us that the Edmonton Humane Shelter is in the middle of an "Indy Cat 500" drive to adopt 500 cats between July 16 and 31. Apparently Edmonton is full of cats—at its previous cat-adoption event, the EHS adopted out nearly 200 cats in two days! Come on, Canada, spay and neuter your kitties, already.

On Monday, July 26, Hot Spud opens. Hot Spud is a baked potato restaurant, run by Simone Powers, formerly of Café Gratitude. It is not a vegetarian or vegan restaurant, but perhaps Chef Powers, who “perfected her baking skills” at a raw restaurant (…) will one day offer a vegan option. However! Reader Xin is the baker for Wicked Grounds (“San Francisco’s first and only kink café and boutique”), and reports that all the baked goods are vegan, including: “scones, cookies (chocolate chip, peanut butter oatmeal, and double ginger), waffles, and other specials depending on what I feel like doing, like cinnamon rolls (which are ridiculously fatty and delicious). You should totally come check us out!” Thanks, Xin! [Hot Spud news from Inside Scoop; awesome tip from awesome Xin]

Articles of interest!
The Department of Homeland Security wants Your (“alert, outgoing, active, confident”) Purebred Dogs! They will pay! And yes some of the trained officers (the dogs become actual officers) have attacked civilians in the course of performing their duties, that’s OK because they’re dogs, these things happen. Meanwhile, breed-specific legislation has allowed the slaughter of thousands of innocent pit bulls across the country. [Tom Scocca and Pawesome]

Hey remember last week’s super-gnarly episode of Top Chef where they murdered live crabs without even blinking? Turns out the Maryland crab industry is really, really exploitive of the migrant workers—mostly women—who come every season to pick the crabs. It’s unbelievably fucked up! [Shut Up, Foodies, to which we were referred by SFoodie—thanks]

Eater interviewed GZA and guess who’s vegetarian! And apparently really into raw food, and staunchly against pork. There goes your theory, Tara Duggan and Eric Tucker (that one stung, you know?). Might we suggest this goddamn amazing-looking vegan Cuban-style sandwich, should you find yourself craving something melty and meaty one night? Or ever? [Eater and Vegan Happy Hour]

Hello penguin! This fine fellow, a Magellanic penguin was rescued by SOS Fauna Marina on the coast of the Department of Maldonado, Uruguay. According the the L.A. Times, “at least 100” of these penguins were rescued after being soaked “in an hydrocarbon” [all sic] while migrating. [image AFP/Getty via L.A. Times]

Hey, how’s the Gulf oil spill cleanup going? WELL: the fresh water from the Mississippi river being pumped into the wetlands to keep the oil out is poisoning all the oysters, who live in saltwater! It seems like the river water went right to the oysters through channels that oyster-farmers demanded be built years ago, because the levees kept out too much of the Mississippi and the salinity was too high. Man, we can’t get anything right! At least WE CAN STILL EAT THE REMAINING OYSTERS AND THAT IS THE IMPORTANT THING. Fish are basically vegetables, anyway. As for animals who eat fish, as of July 20, 1,282 oiled pelicans have been rescued—that doesn’t mean “saved” or “cleaned” or “released,” just “taken from the wild, covered in oil”—and 969 oiled pelicans have been found dead. Super. Right? Super. [WSJ and BBC]

So back in April, the Supreme Court heard U.S. v. Stevens and was all, OK this animal-torture porn conviction is way harsh, it totally infringes on your First Amendment rights. Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) then sponsored a bill that says, essentially, trafficking in actual animal-torture porn is ILLEGAL and BAD and we will FUCK YOU UP if you do it—but SIMULATING IT? That’s…withing legal limits. Hunting and fishing videos and stuff, you can sell those too, but that’s all. And that bill passed the House yesterday in a 416 to 3 vote! Hooray! Now it’s in the Senate, where “it is expected to pass,” but you know, we’ll see. Those jerks loooove to pick fights. [L.A. Times]

Farm news! It is time for farm news. SFoodie totally kicked our ass reporting on farmers markets this week, which is super-lame of us and we are shamed. To wit: the Homegrown Marin Market, which we were absolutely going to tell you about before its debut last week, was pretty all right! There was vegan currywürst (NB friends: the umlaut is in “würst,” not “curry,” otherwise you’d pronounce it “cure-y”)! The Mission Community Market seems like it was a good time, too; very block-partyish, like the organizers had hoped for. Maybe if someone paid us to go places and report on things we would be better at this “job,” dang it. Over at Hayes Valley Farm, someone maliciously gassed two entire, mature honeybee colonies, and attempted to murder a third. The colonies were home to something like 60,000 to 100,000 bees. While we don’t believe in eating honey, humanity needs bees to pollinate flowers, and this is gross cruelty. Bees are awesome and we all need them TO SURVIVE so maybe murdering them is NOT THE ANSWER. Goddamn. In Africa, years of “careless interbreeding” of native cattle and European cattle has resulted in a major loss of genetic diversity in African cows, which is never, ever good, especially when “70 percent of rural Africans” rely on cattle for food and income. The new cows have no resistance to native diseases! And the climates are too harsh for them! So they’re dying all over the place! Whoops! [SFoodie; Hayes Valley Farm; TreeHugger]

Finally: Mike Tyson, vegan, gives a strange interview these days. This collection of veg cookbooks is fine and all, except that one of them clearly has A FISH ON THE COVER. Still, the recipe for Babycakes' cornbread is at the bottom of the page, so, win some, lose some. Most importantly, congratulations Cinnaholic on the good review from SFoodie! You deserve all the accolades coming your way!! (PS: Inside Scoop, taking photos and being snide does not count as a “review” so get it together and eat a cinnamon roll already, they are delicious.)


From Treehugger today:

Rare Bee Species Lives Alone, Makes Nest out of Flower Petals

How pretty! What a lady, this bee. I found some more info at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. This bee, the Osmia avoseta, has been found in Iran and Turkey. Oh and guess what? The AMNH says that, like the Osmia avoseta, 75 percent of bee species (and there are 20,000 known species) are solitary—did you know that? I did not. I guess being a bee is a lonely sort of life. Kind of like being a Megan Rascal. JUST KIDDING I’M SO POPULAR!

From Treehugger today:

Rare Bee Species Lives Alone, Makes Nest out of Flower Petals

How pretty! What a lady, this bee. I found some more info at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. This bee, the Osmia avoseta, has been found in Iran and Turkey. Oh and guess what? The AMNH says that, like the Osmia avoseta, 75 percent of bee species (and there are 20,000 known species) are solitary—did you know that? I did not. I guess being a bee is a lonely sort of life. Kind of like being a Megan Rascal. JUST KIDDING I’M SO POPULAR!

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