forward thinkers

I’ve been deeply inspired recently, about our path toward the future – for us, the planet, and hopefully, many (if not most…a girl can dream, right?) of its inhabitants.  Two of my favorite magazines have featured a couple individuals that are re-thinking the status quo.  One of them is turning the world of recycling plastics on its head – and one is challenging what qualifies sushi as sushi while taking on many of the invasive species in the Northeast.  Both these guys rock and are people I would readily call, Heroes.

Biddle with his plastics
Biddle with his plastics

In a recent issue of Popular Science (either February or March) an in depth article was written on a fellow named Mike Biddle.  Biddle has discovered how to recycle plastics down to their base element.  Click on the Popular Science link above to read the whole article (I encourage you to do so for an eye opening view of recycled goods).  Also, click on the link for Mike Biddle and check out his TED talk.  But for now, here is a paragraph for you from the article:

…Biddle had quietly achieved what most thought impossible: He had discovered how to separate certain mixed plastics completely. This was no mere down-cycling. Biddle could take the plastic from, say, a laptop, reduce it to its purest form, and sell it back to a computer company to make another laptop. What’s more, at his facility in Richmond, California, Biddle could produce recycled plastic with as little as 10 percent of the energy required to make virgin. In a world where people use 240,000 plastic bags every 10 seconds, where passengers on U.S. airlines consume one million plastic cups every six hours, where consumers in total discard more than 100 million tons of plastic annually, closing the loop on production and recycling could reduce global dependence on oil, the source material for virgin plastic. It could conceivably influence not only the price of oil, but global flows of trade as well. And it could dramatically reduce the wholesale smothering of communities across Asia and Africa with hazardous e-waste. If Biddle could convince people to give him waste rather than dump it around the globe, he could conceivably change the world.  (taken from the Popular Science Magazine article)

I want him to change the world!  Imagine not having to produce any more plastic.  We can use, and re-use, and re-use again and again, all the while using less energy.  Awesome.  This sounds like improvement, at last!  This reminds me of my dear grandparents…perhaps yours as well, yes?  The way they let nothing go to waste.  Everything was re-used or re-purposed: old nylons tied up the seedlings in the garden; dishwater was collected in a tub and dumped over the flower bed; coffee cans held nails; old clothing was cut down into swatches of cloth and blankets or quilts were made out of them; egg cartons were seedling starters; left over vegetables and foods were buried into the garden soil to build the biggest earthworms ever! that caught the best fish ever!…you name it, they did their best to re-use it.  I love that we are heading back in this direction – of thinking about how we can re-use and re-purpose.

Bun Lai eating his catch
Bun Lai eating his catch

The other inspiration found me yesterday afternoon, as I took a lunch break and read my new Outside Magazine (this magazine rates as one of my serious favorite reads – pick it up if you haven’t before!  click on the above Outside link to take a peek at their online rag).  The article features Bun Lai, a sushi chef in New Haven, Connecticut who owns a restaurant called Miya’s…only the sushi he is serving is what some (probably most) would call, unusual.  Bun Lai is all about taking on the invasive species that are taking over the waters in his neighborhood, and turning them into delicious, palatable food…sushi, to be exact.

Read this excerpt from the article:  Six years ago, Bun Lai blew up his menu.  He didn’t want to feel bad anymore from putting foods like white rice and sugar into his body or anybody else’s.  And he didn’t want to feel bad because he was serving the last bluefin on earth.  He began to wonder if sushi could be used to heal bodies, communities, and oceans.                                                                                             First, he swapped white rice for brown.  “Then, he says, I started taking ingredients away.  First octopus, then sea urchin.  I knew that would be easy.  I wasn’t killing it with sea urchin anyway.  Then the big stuff started going.  Unagi.  That pissed people off.  Then I did yellowtail.  Then tuna.  When I told my waiters I was removing tuna, they started hyperventilating.  For them it can be really, really difficult to explain what we’re trying to do.” 

Instead, Bun Lai began replacing these delicacies with items he hunted locally.  He began foraging the invasive species (seaweeds and animal life) that were taking over the Atlantic ocean, and nearby rivers, as well as greens that were devouring the grounds all around him, greens that were invasive to his region.  Every time an ocean liner crosses the oceans, they bring along “passengers” on the underside of the ship, and these “passengers” land in new waters, breed, and begin to populate, and often, take over.  (this is only way these invasions occur…there are many other ways as well…but it’s something to consider when we decide to buy an item that has a stamp saying “Made in China or Argentina” or whatever distant country).  There are many many examples provided in the full article of what happens when new species are introduced to unknown climates, waters, etc. and it brings a very new perspective to the way we do business in our world.

The article reminds us that “the America we grew up with (the gen-x generation on up especially) is history. It’s been clogged by zebra mussels and snuffed by snakeheads. It has been swallowed by Burmese pythons and smothered by kudzu.  It has been swarmed by crazy ants.  Forget the notion of stable ecological communities that have existed for thousands of years; what we have now is an endless war zone where invasive insurgents go from building to building, routing the locals.”

Bun Lai replaced his sushi tuna with sustainable options, like smoked Connecticut mackerel, and Mississippi catfish.  There was backlash at first, but after a challenging decade, his restaurant now has a loyal clientele who eagerly devour his unusual sushi, and praise him for what he is doing.  As do I.  Lai remains dedicated to eating the overlooked options that are all around his territory, and making them a satisfying, delicious solution for how to proceed, and re-imagine, our meals.  

golden gates

Oh…one more bit of fabulous, forward thinking news – San Francisco announced this week that it is banning all bottled water in the city!  They are the first city to do so…hoping this is only the start to a new trend.  Cheers to you San Fran, Bun Lai, and Mike Biddle – and to all you forward thinking progressives out there, looking out for our world – my heart is happier that you exist.

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