Chicken Taquitos (NRC – Part 2)

This week of the NRC project features chicken³ (no, that’s not a footnote).

I had chicken taquitos for dinner the other night. Trader Joe’s, a grocery store with its headquarters in Monrovia, CA, prides itself on having “innovative, hard-to-find and great-tasting foods”. Well, as I found from examining the ingredients listed on the taquitos box, their food really is quite innovative. With these delicious meat tubes, they have achieved chicken inception. Chicken within chicken…within chicken. Chicken³.

This is the list of ingredients on the box (I put them into a bullet-ed list here, but on the box it’s listed in brackets, all in one paragraph):

  • chicken
    • chicken
    • water
    • flavoring
    • chicken base
      • chicken meat in natural chicken juices
      • salt
      • sugar
      • corn syrup solids
      • chicken fat
      • flavoring
      • autolyzed yeast extract
      • tumeric
    • chicken fat
    • spices
    • sodium phosphate
  • tortilla
    • corn
    • water
    • lime
  • soybean oil
  • modified food starch

What the (chicken) fluff. Isn’t that kind of ridiculous that the chicken is ‘incepted’ into itself? This makes the meat included in these delicious pipes of carne seem very processed, amirite? What is the deal with processed food anyway? A lot of people say it’s bad for you, but what is the true deal? This is a question I want to answer in this project.

At first glances, sodium phosphate looks a bit ominous. That said, sodium phosphate is just the name of a chemical compound. A fancy -ate or -ide name doesn’t necessarily mean eating it will have a negative impact on your health. For example, you could go around calling the stuff you put on your food every day sodium chloride but it’s no more dangerous to your health than calling it salt. There’s a fair amount of people who would say that “chemicals” are bad for you. Pray tell, what do you define as a chemical? Definitely, there are substances that are bad for you (e.g. too much “nitrate” in your drinking water from nearby agricultural run-off) but it seems there is too much alarmism about BIG BAD CHEMICALS IN YOUR FOOD. Another question I want to answer in this project, how do you define bad chemicals in food?

This is only one dish and already my NRC is looking like it’s going to get complicated. Bring it on!

As part of my fact-finding mission so far, I have emailed Trader Joe’s and the Water, Sewer and Street Bureau of Arlington County. I haven’t heard back from Trader-J’s but I am going to have a call with someone who was listed on my email as “Water Quality” in the next week to talk about dat H-two-Oh.

These first few weeks of the project have been focused on overall questions. I have been thinking about how I want to approach the whole thing. Do I list all the things I consume every single day (e.g. keeping a consumption journal?) or do I focus on specific case studies as I did in this post? Maybe I’ll do both. Who knows what the future holds! You just gotta keep checking back to find out.

–squariel

Where does it come from? (NRC – Part 1)

Hello lovely people!

I just finished a book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. In it, Rubin sets out on a year-long project to determine the meaning of “happiness” and to boost it in her own life. At the beginning, she set out personal commandments for herself, such as “Be Gretchen”. She made a resolutions chart with concrete actions that would improve her happiness and fulfill these personal commandments. Each month, using these commandments and resolutions, she focused on improving a specific area of her life. The book is phenomenal and had great insights into personal happiness.

As I read it, I realized what one of my resolutions would be.

I frequently think about overpopulation. It really scares me. I think that human consumption of natural resources will damage the world irreparably if it continues unchecked. There are many scientists out there who argue that we have already gone too far. All in all, it makes me feel lousy and I want to do something about it.

My mini-“happiness project” is going to be aimed at answering the question: where does it come from?

In this project, I aim to determine the actual amount of natural resources (e.g. coal, water etc.) that I am using, sometimes implicitly, when I consume goods, be it food, clothes or running the AC in my apartment. As I was trained as an engineer in school, this particularly excites me because I’ll be using equations to quantify the “natural resources costs” of my consumption (YAY MATH!).

I do not think this will be easy, or that I will even be able to comprehensively determine the exact NRC, or natural resources cost, of all of my actions. I foresee needing to call various companies to determine where their products come from and how they were produced. 

This is just the start of my quest for increased understanding of this massive trend. There is so much debate these days about global warming, climate change and our effect on this planet. I always find it hard to see what is the absolute truth. Looking at it from a scientific method perspective, to determine the “truth” you need data and an outcome that can be repeated. I’m going to focus on the data from my own life and go from there.

Here I go!

Let’s start off with my toilet because it involves two of my passions, drinking water and wastewater (yep, you have some normal passions there Ariel…). Every time I flush, 1.6 gallons (6 litres) of potable water is sucked down into the sewer system. I have been up for 2 hours this morning, and I have already used the toilet 3 times (I drink a lot of coffee…). That’s 4.8 gallons (18 litres) right there. I also use toilet paper. I’ve counted the number of squares I pulled out on two occasions. The first occasion, I counted 12 squares. On the second, I counted 10. From this sample, I average at 11 squares. 

For each time I use and flush the toilet in my home, 1.6 gallons of potable water and 11 squares move from my toilet bowl into the sewer system. To calculate the cost of this action, I need to determine the cost from the very beginning.

  • Where did the water in my toilet originate in nature?
  • What treatment process did it undergo before being pumped into the distribution system of my county?
  • How much energy was spent getting that water from the treatment facility to my toilet bowl?
  • How about the toilet paper, what tree(s) is it made of?
  • How were those trees cut down and processed?
  • How did the raw material get to the factory that makes toilet paper?
  • How did that toilet paper get to the store where I bought it?
  • Once the waste is in the sewer system, how did it get to the wastewater treatment plant?
  • What is the treatment process of waste at the plant?
  • How was it discharged back into nature?

There you have it, answering this list of questions is my homework. I’ll report back with my findings soon!

–squariel

The light spectrum…

ImageAcademics is a strange, strange world. My research and focus has stemmed from trailer parks and natural disasters, to algae reactors for cancer research. My experience has ranged from non-profits whose budget is $750 (from two bake sales) to the unlimited federal system. Although none of it seems to make any sense at a surface level, these are all related in the gravities of the cellular level. Overall, it is about vulnerable populations.

Being an Urban Planner and being a Civil Engineer are two fields with a breadth of opportunity, which are engulfed in combining the natural and built environments. A triumph that has yet to create a model of true sustainability for all participants and citizens (these are two very different bodies) has yet to come to fruition. As my academic career comes to a close, only 2 semesters left in total, I am struck with the complexity of meaning and purpose. There is always someone being left out, a periphery to address or to some, to ignore, and the magnificent money making business of corruption that is seen in every policy and every project. What concerns me the most is when projects that are aqua-centric, are exploited. The fundamental proof of existence and life that is prostituted for money or used as a controlling device is beyond sickening. From forcing indigenous peoples to pay for water, diverting groundwater sources thus drying the wells, dumping pollution into waterways, fracking causing tap water to catch fire, intentional poisoning, deliberate failing of projects for tax breaks, the list goes on and on and on. Call it naïve, but I know there is a way to stop this.

A motivation and symbolic gesture: the color black (feeling helpless in the grand complexity of global concerns and problems) can be understood as the absorption of all COLOR (causes, concerns, positive and negative, everything). This is meaningful growth, not dark and isolating although the issues concerning water may sometimes feel that way.  Understanding all components to reality is the first step in creative solutions and problem solving. What feels or appears negative may be the most important forward progression. I think, with it all said and done, I have learned this. Accepting the negatives exist may in fact be the first step towards becoming an active global citizen.  Maybe. It is difficult to read endless accounts around the world regarding water, but trying to create a positive and safe environment is a motivation many people are working towards through engineering, planning, education, art, film, political activism, human rights, policy, and countless other efforts.

Life Straw! Mini Water Purifier

My dream company to work for!! One day, one day… Check them out, absolutely incredible!!

Awesome Stuff To Buy Online

This is really neat invention that will allow you to drink water from questionable sources when you’re out on a long hike and don’t want to carry too much weight. It filters at least 99.9% of waterborne bacteria. This is very impressive but expected if you are filtering particles up to 0.2 microns.

Considering it’s only $25, it’s a great buy for anyone that likes be out in the wild for longer periods of time. You never know what may happen and water is a first priority. Although not the worst of the 7 enemies of survival, it surely will kill you the fastest and it is only a result of poor planning and preparation!

This lab instructor has balls enough to use this straw to drink from poo water! Watch Video

If you check out their Website, it looks like they have more plans than just using the…

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Fascinating!! Intelligent design, purposeful meaning, interesting aesthetic, and future driven, how buildings should be made.

Fascinating!! Intelligent design, purposeful meaning, interesting aesthetic, and future driven, how buildings should be made.wbrfrontview

Philanthropists shouldn’t just give money to charities

http://www.waterforpeople.org/assets/pdfs/rethinking-hydrophilantropy.pdf

This is a blog post about my favorite article up there ^^^^ (read it. memorize it. show it to everyone you know and discuss it in depth). In many ways, the article is talking directly to me.

“For instance, engineering students would not be allowed to implement a project in the United States, it is not clear why they are allowed, and even encouraged, to implement in developing countries.”

Yes, addressed to me.

I implemented a (water and sanitation) project in a developing country as an engineering student. I was encouraged to do so by family, professors, and friends. Everyone gave me such positive feedback when I told them about it. My father bragged to his co-workers that I was his daughter that was going to “save the world”. There were a multitude of (rather hefty) grants offered at my university for just these projects. There was even a major that was created in my time there that focused wholly on global development.

And yet, I did it wrong.

[Side note: I am not putting blame on anyone in particular, including myself; I believe the push for projects like the one I did is a systematic issue and a product of old thinking. I want to get the new, creative and effective thinking out there.]

—-

A Case Study: Our “Engineering Students in Belize” Project

  • built a large-scale (for 70 users) slow-sand filtration system.
  • installed 35 HydrAid water filters in a small, rural village in Belize.

We wanted to make it a sustainable project. We spoke to local government officials (even got them to come to the isolated village and sample the water. Once…), we spoke to the community “Water Board”, we organized a community-wide health workshop, we used PhotoVoice at the beginning of the project to see how people used water, we put up an anonymous message board at the local store where community members could ask us questions about the project and we could respond, we talked to everyone over and over (and over), we shared watermelons, armadillo, chicken, beans and rice, all manner of food to try and forge relationships. I went back to the community four times in total and lived there for 2 months during one summer. We worked with a group of local university students who we put in charge of continuing the project after we left.

But instead of requiring a financial contribution for the improved water systems we offered, we settled for “sweat-equity”. The recipients of the filters were made to participate in multiple user workshops. They didn’t pay us with money but with their time and attention. We had discussed charging for these filters but I will not go into the long, drawn-out story of why we gave them out, effectively, for free.

So there in lies the evil of the traditional hydro-philanthropists. They finance the project 100%. As Breslin notes in his article, giving out free services can distort the market. Furthermore, it can facilitate corruption. Certain governments have been known to allocate funds to improve the infrastructure of an area. When an NGO comes in and independently finances a project that improves WASH infrastructure in that area, the government officials will write off the community as “benefited” and pocket the funds.

A new(ish) initiative of requiring “sweat-equity” came to the surface in the WASH projects sector. NGOs and “well-meaning individuals” (like moi) thought that in the stead of cold hard cash, the fact that someone was willing to lay pipe or aid in the construction would demonstrate their commitment to the system and therefore ability to maintain it. Breslin argues that this is false. Just because someone helped lay pipes does not mean that they have the financial capacity to replace a pipe that springs a leak six months after the NGO has left. Breslin states that there needs to be a comprehensive set of sustainability metrics that a recipient community must adhere to, such as affordability of local spare parts. Looking at these metrics, the project I did adhered to scarce few.

That makes me pretty sad.

So here I am, working at a non-profit that does WASH projects in Africa. I learned a lot from my mistakes and I want to, no need to, carry that into my job now. I never want to be part of a project that does not strictly adhere to the sustainability metrics that Breslin argues for.

People shouldn’t just throw money at NGOs. The NGOs and implementing individuals should have to defend their proposed project before it is funded. They should have to consider all the sustainability criteria before implementation begins. Effectively, there needs to be a test as strict as the show Shark Tank for all entities proposing a WASH project.

Take-away: What the “hydro-philanthropy” sector needs is its own version of Shark Tank.

Side note 2: I am not, as it may seem, obsessed with Ned Breslin.
Ok… maybe I am a little bit.

Love from (rainy) D.C.!

a-say

Throwing Water

Shinichi Maruyama is a Japanese artist who only uses the medium of water for his incredibly unique photography. He calls them “water sculptures.” His inspiration comes from his Japanese culture where finding the beauty in the imperfect is beauty in itself.

His photographs have appeared in some of the most prestegious galleries in the world and when asked how he creates his pieces he responds simply, “with my hands and glasses of water.” Art is difficult to explain and given the subjectivity of whether one is preferred or not is dependent upon no other than, well you. I find his work to be overtly simplistic, and giving the fact that this solution is extremely complex the dichotomy leaves me amazed.

“No matter how many times I repeat the same process of throwing [it] in the air, I never achieve the same result. And I am so fascinated by this unexpected interaction of liquids colliding, which happens fairly infrequently, that I am overwhelmed by its beauty.” –Maruyama 2009

Enjoy!! ❤ Monique

Website: www.shinichimaruyama.com

Everyone wants to take a crap and not have to deal with it

These were the truthful, if blunt, words from one of the panelists, Ned Breslin, at an event my work co-hosted today called “The Business of Sanitation”.

Yes, I spent the day listening to people talk about the human “end product”. It made me realize that we need (really really need) to start talking about it more. Talking about it so we can do something to improve the current [global] system. There are water and sewer pipes buried beneath DC that have been there since the Civil War. That was between 1861-5 (yes I did just have to google the dates). No wonder they’ve been rupturing all over the place! That’s just in our own country, the problem is insanely dire in other areas. In the world, almost 3 billion people don’t have access to adequate sanitation. I’m sorry, WHAT?!

I could go into immense detail about the problem (which cannot be overstated) but I would be neglecting the really neat part about today’s discussion. Someone out there put on their good-ol’-Capitalist-American hat and thought, let’s make money off this shit. Literally. I listened to Ashley Murray today and she talked about starting a company that will take human waste, process it, and either turn it into fertilizer or into fuel. Smart moves.

There are cool things happening here; don’t write off the shit sector so quickly.

Good night from D.C.!

a-say