Heifer International: Working To End World Hunger, One Llama At A Time

Got an extra $20 burning a hole in your pocket and want to make a difference in the lives of others? Buy a flock of ducks. Eighty-five dollars will get you a camel share, while a mere $48 purchases a share in a “Knitter’s Gift Basket (a llama, alpaca, sheep and angora rabbit).”

Since 1944, Heifer International has provided livestock, and animal husbandry, agricultural and community development training to over 125 countries, including the U.S. The goal: to help end world hunger and poverty by improving breeding stock, providing valuable dietary supplements such as milk and eggs, and creating viable business enterprises for commodity products such as cheese, wool, honey, or crops cultivated by draft animals like horses and water buffalo.

The livestock species used to support disenfranchised communities are diverse, but traditional to their respective regions. They include goats, sheep, honeybees, beef and dairy cattle, water buffalo, yaks, horses, donkeys, llamas, alpacas, camels, rabbits, guinea pigs and poultry.

When I was a kid growing up on a small ranch in Southern California, we used to donate our male dairy goat kids (which, if sold here, would most likely be relegated to dinner) to Heifer. Although the program no longer ships live animals overseas (it’s easier and safer/more humane to ship frozen semen), the concept remains the same: using top bloodlines to improve the quality and enhance the genetic diversity of herds or flocks in impoverished regions.

Heifer teaches the concept of the “Seven M’s: Milk, Manure, Meat, Material, Money, Motivation and Muscle.” These are the benefits livestock animals provide to people in developing nations. With the training provided by Heifer employees and volunteers, the cycle of poverty can be broken, and families and villages can thrive. During the holidays or for birthdays, I like to make animal gift donations in the name of the recipient, an especially valuable lesson for children (who, let’s face it, really don’t need another electronic piece of crap to foster their ADD and lack of global awareness).

Never doubt the power of a furry friend to change the world. To make a donation, click here.

Check out this Heifer International gallery of animals and their proud owners from around the world:


Got Milk? This Swiss Soft Drink Does

It looks like soda. It tastes like soda. But the Swiss soft drink pictured above has a peculiar key ingredient: milk whey. First introduced in the 1950s, Rivella beat out both Coke and Pepsi in sales in its home country, and a spokeswoman once said the Swiss people are “almost as familiar with it as breast milk.” Still, the drink remains practically unknown throughout the rest of the world. Efforts in the early 2000s failed to introduce the drink as a “health food” product to Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, and today the Netherlands is the only country that seems to have embraced the product, drinking up 90 percent of Rivella’s foreign sales.

My assessment? The first sip was okay, mostly because I wasn’t told that it was made from milk. My boyfriend, equally unaware and severely lactose intolerant, was even more aghast when the key ingredient was announced to us. Needless to say, he steered clear of a second taste. I was a little reluctant to take another sip after hearing the news but had no complaints about the carbonated apple juice flavor. Besides milk, Rivella is made with lots of fruit and herbal extracts, and sources say that the filtration process used for the serum removes all the fats and proteins from the whey, making the soft drink rich in vitamins and minerals. Next time, I’ll probably try the version of Rivella with the yellow label, which is made with soy rather than dairy milk – it should be a little easier to stomach for both my boyfriend and me.

[Wikimedia photo by Parpan05]

Italy battles buffalo mozzarella fraud

There’s a cheese scandal brewing in Italy, and it involves buffalo mozzarella, one of the country’s most famous foods. Served on pizzas and pastas, with antipasti, in salads or just enjoyed by the handful (what? I’m the only person that does that?), the cheese is known for its quality and purity. But it seems that much of the cheese passed off as 100% from buffalo milk actually contains trace amounts of cow’s milk. In some cases, it was even as much as 30%.

So what’s the big deal? I’m not sure I could discern the taste difference between pure buffalo mozz and one with cow’s milk. The problem is that Italy’s authentic buffalo mozzarella is produced under the EU’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) seal, meaning that all products bearing that seal need to be produced using certain ingredients and procedures. According to LeaderPost.com, the concern is not about health issues or taste, but rather ” to protect the “Made in Italy” label.”

It seems the scandal even reaches to the highest levels. The president of the consortium of buffalo mozzarella was also found to have watered down his cheese. He was removed from his post by the Italian Minister for Agriculture and replaced with a temporary leadership group.

Until the problem has been solved, visitors to Italy may (unbeknownst to them) wind up eating cheese that isn’t 100% buffalo milk. Of course, it will probably be just as delicious anyways.

[via NPR]

Oscar nominees for best movies that capture place: Six nominees

Each year I see all the movies nominated for Oscars in all the major categories–plus more. As I watch movies, where they are filmed and how the place influences the story interests me. Perhaps this is because when one travels, the places one travels influences the experience.

There’s not an Oscar for movies that best capture a sense of place, but if there were, here are my suggestions for movies that came out this year. As you read the list, think of movies that have struck you. My list is from this year’s movies, but any movie and any year counts.

Best movie for capturing the sensuality and sexiness of place:

Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

This whole movie made me drool over Barcelona, Spain and the city of Oviedo, another location. The architecture, art, the fountains, the glasses of wine, statuary and little courtyards–divine. Plus, it was sunny! As a bonus, that delicious feeling of being young women off on a European adventure was perfectly captured. Who wouldn’t want to have a romp with Javier Bardem?

Best movie for capturing a place that is past its prime:

The Wrestler

With the economy’s downturn has come the closing or downsizing of beloved attractions. The scene in the abandoned carousel room at a no longer in use boardwalk in New Jersey where Mickey Rourke’s character danced with his daughter encapsulated that longing for simpler times and childhood memories gone-by

Best movie for capturing the intricacies of cultural interactions and neighborhood change:

Gran Turino

I was so disappointed this movie wasn’t nominated. The scenes between Eastwood and the Hmong immigrant family from Cambodia were superb. Also important were the shots of the neighborhood in Highland Park, Michigan. My favorites were when they kept plying him with food, something he eventually relished. What a wonderful tribute to the idea that culture is mostly about what makes your heart sing.

Best movie for capturing a place of color and vibrancy:

Slumdog Millionaire

As much as I wasn’t all that enamored with Slumdog Millionaire as a package, the vibrancy, sounds and colors of parts of Mumbai drew me in. Plus, what a feat to capture the footage in the sprawl of Dharavi, the “slum” community there.

Best movie for capturing how place influences how people live:

Frozen River

As I watched Michelle Leo steer the car across the ice of the St. Lawrence River next to the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation in Upstate New York, I thought about how where people live can affect outcomes. The storyline and place was a perfect match. I can still hear the sound of the ice crunching.

Best movie for capturing place that has been a heartbeat of change:


San Francisco’s role in the movement of gay rights was an integral part of this film. Along with depicting the important people like Harvey Milk and Cleve Jones (who started the Names Project, the AIDS Quilt), this was a terrific look at how the city has played an important role in U.S. history.

Best movie for capturing the sense of self discovery that travel brings:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons

All the footage of Benjamin Buttons traveling as a young man, particularly in Nepal, brought back memories of how travel is an integral part of developing a sense of self. Anyone who has washed out clothes and hung them on a piece of string in a country that is not your own, knows what this feels like.

Going to China? Avoid the Milk

If you are not familiar with the well-publicized tainted milk in China story, here’s a brief summary. Melamine, a chemical that causes kidney stones, was found in baby milk. Well over 1,000 babies have fallen ill and there have been two reported deaths. The melamine has been found in products manufactured by Sanlu company, but traces have also been found in some of the milk produced by other companies, including a Shanghai-based ice cream maker.

Milk dealers (apparently there is such a thing) have been arrested as part of an operation to get to the bottom of the tainting. Several dealers altered their product to make it seem more valuable before selling it to Sanlu. Now the scandal has taken another twist. It appears that the provincial government in Hebei (where most of the milk originated) was involved in a cover-up effort by Sanlu. Bribery and facilitating the paying off of parents whose children had been stricken by kidney stones are among the charges.

So things are not all roses in China after the success of the Olympics. Luckily, it seems that officials are now on top of this one (too late?). Health inspectors usually give execmptions to larger food producers, visiting them only a fraction of the times they visit smaller operatiions. According to the Dongguan Times, that practice is now on ice and everyone is being inspected. Looks like the worst is over, but, if you’re headed to China anytime soon, you might want to avoid the milk.