Thursday, November 29, 2007

Carnival of Ethics, Values, and Personal Finance = 1st Thursday of the Month

The Carnival of Ethics, Values, and Personal Finance will be posted the first Thursday of every month from now on. (I think that makes more sense than "every fourth week," if you were wondering why it wasn't up today.)

Check out past editions, and submit your posts for future editions...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

PF Blogger running for Co-op America board!

Attention Co-op America members-- Betsy Teutsch (of the great blog Money Changes Things, which I bet anyone who likes Money and Values would enjoy) is running for the board of directors of Co-op America. Look for your ballot in your latest mailing (you can vote until December 31, but the ballots are arriving now.) You can also read her candidate statement and more at this post of hers.

Oh, and if you aren't a Co-op America member, why haven't you joined yet? Their tagline is "Economic Action for a Just Planet." They have a ton of awesome projects, articles, action alerts, and guides on issues from fair trade to green energy to recycled paper to buying less. They also have the incredible National Green Pages with hundreds of screened and approved socially and environmentally responsible businesses. (Anyone can access it online, and you can get a hard copy if you're a member.) In other words, they're doing a lot of great work around the issues central to my blog (and Betsy's) and I highly encourage you to get involved. (If you're not ready to join, you can always just sign up for their e-mail list...)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Fancy, Frugal Favorite: Eggplant Parmesan Made Easy

As I've said before, one of my best strategies for resisting dining out too much is to learn to make my favorite fancy restaurant dishes at home.  One meal that I love but have struggled with is eggplant parmesan. 
Now, I know how to make eggplant parmesan at home, but it's such a hassle that I find myself avoiding it.  Cut the eggplant, drain the eggplant for an hour or more, dip the eggplant in flour and then egg and then bread crumbs, fry the eggplant, bake the eggplant... I've done it occasionally, but it's just a lot of work, and I end up feeling like I'd rather go out to a nice Italian place where they'll do it for me.  
Until I discovered the most wonderful shortcut: Trader Joe's eggplant cutlets!  They are pre-breaded, can stay in your freezer until you need them, and only take a few minutes to cook.  All you need to do is add sauce, cheese, pasta (or bread if you're doing a sandwich) and you're done! 
"So what?" you say. "Why are you so excited?  There are lots of pre-made options that make cooking easier.  They are also much more expensive.  It's all about the trade-offs."
Well, these delicious cutlets are also dirt cheap, at least in my opinion: $2.59 at my local store for a one pound package, which typically provides four or more portions.  That's not even much more than for a fresh eggplant (which is, what, about $1.50 to $2 a pound?)  Plus, it's only partly pre-prepared, which means I can use my own sauce, etc.  Total no-brainer for me.
Okay, now I sound like a shill for this particular product, but it just seems like such a rare find.  I'd love to hear from the rest of you: what food options have you found that are time-savers without being significantly more expensive?  If we come up with good ones I'll edit them into this post or do a follow-up post.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Socially Conscious Gas Guide, Part 3: Human Rights

Without further ado, I'm finishing my Socially Conscious Gas Guide by compiling some info for you on the international human rights records of some gas companies. This adds onto the info in Parts 1 and 2 on workers' safety and rights (which are also human rights, of course!) and the environmental records of the companies.

Here are human rights incidents involving various companies, in no particular order:

  • Shell
    • Nigeria: More than 10 years after nine local activists involved in protesting Shell's environmental and human rights violations in Nigeria were framed for murder (allegedly with Shell's assistance) and executed, Shell continues to contribute to violence in the Niger Delta. For example, Amnesty International documents how in 2005 the Odioma community was burnt to the ground and many community members (including children and the elderly) tortured and/or killed; the violence was over the disputed ownership of oil-rich land which Shell had purchased from one community while bypassing the other.
  • Chevron:
    • Nigeria: Chevron is also involved in violence in Nigeria. In one example from 2005, locals came to a Chevron oil terminal to protest (apparently peacefully) Chevron's failure to live up to their agreement to provide jobs and development projects for residents; in response, government security forces killed one and injured 31 others, while Chevron did not report the incident or provide medical aid. Chevron is also being sued for an earlier incident in which security forces fired on and killed protesters.
    • Burma (Myanmar): While most U.S. companies do not invest in Burma because of U.S. sanctions, Chevron was grandfathered in. Chevron is a major investor in the Yadana pipeline project; Unocal (which is now part of Chevron) paid $30 million in 2005 to settle claims of murder, rape, and forced labor as part of the pipeline's construction. Chevron continues to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties to the brutal regime for its share in the project.
    • Ecuador: Chevron is accused of intentionally dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste into the Amazon over several decades; aside from the environmental damage, illness and cancer are increasing, and some indigenous groups from the areas where the dumping occured are on the brink of extinction.
    • Chad and Cameroon: Along with Exxon-Mobil, Chevron is a key stakeholder (25%) in the Chad-Cameroon pipeline project, which is causing environmental damage and increasing poverty along its path, while enriching the cruel and corrupt government of Chad. Not only that, but the legal agreements signed between the companies and the governments of Chad and Cameroon provide financial disincentives for the governments to intervene if the human rights of their citizens are being violated.
  • Exxon-Mobil
  • BP
    • Colombia: BP has a partial stake in the Ocensa pipeline; in the late 90s it allegedly helped arm a notoriously brutal army unit to defend its interests.
    • Indonesia: BP's Tangguh project is being developed in West Papua, which was annexed by Indonesia in the 1960s and whose people generally do not support Indonesian rule; BP's dealings have been with the Indonesian government, and human rights groups worry how the project will effect the already violent and volatile region.
    • BP also previously owned a portion of PetroChina, which was involved in human rights violations in Tibet; it sold its shares in 2004.
The case of Venezuela and Citgo:
  • This will depend on your perspective; Citgo is owned by Venezuela, which may be a good thing or a bad thing in your book. Its profits go to the Venezuelan government/the Venezuelan people (depending on how you look at it), which could be seen as good, bad or mixed for human rights-- I personally think it's mixed but on balance a good thing, but make up your own mind (based on reading as much as you can about Venezuela from a variety of different perspectives, I hope!)
Am I missing anything? Please comment and I'll add it to the post. This research has taken a lot longer than I expected, and yet I still feel like I'm missing stories. Sadly, there are probably all sorts of human rights violations out there that I haven't documented, but I think I've done a pretty good job at compiling those generally thought of as the most egregious...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Avoiding the food rip-off at convention centers (and other places they overcharge you when you're trapped!)

Apologies for the light posting lately. Between trying to write a novel in a month, and traveling to a conference for work, I've had trouble finding the time to write.

The conference reminded me once again about the power of near-monopoly. In this case, there were maybe 5-7 restaurants in a convention center that must serve 40,000 or more people at once. As a result, not only were the lines extremely long, but the food was ridiculously overpriced. We're talking $5 for a slice of pizza, $11.50 for a small veggie wrap, and $4 for a 12-ounce bottle of juice.

Now, when you're stuck in a place like this for work, you may just get reimbursed for whatever you pay and so the price doesn't matter to you. (In fact, that's probably part of why they get away with it.) But a) I get a per diem, so saving money is in my own interest, and b) it bugs me to overpay in general, especially when the food is so mediocre. So I tried to find ways around paying the exorbitant prices:

  • Buying food the night/morning before. Stopping in a grocery store is always a good bet. Even overpriced convenience stores are often a better deal than the convention center prices.
  • Saving leftovers from dinner. This is easy for me since I have a smallish appetite and often have leftovers anyway. But if you don't, you can try to order big and/or fill up on appetizers or bread.
  • Looking outside the convention center. Many convention centers will have restaurants (or grocery stores or convenience stores) somewhere within reasonable distance, but they may be hard to find. Ask various members of the convention center staff for help and directions; sometimes the official Information people won't tell you because they're not supposed to, but guards, coat check staff, and others are typically much more helpful.
  • Bringing snacks and a water bottle. Even if you have to buy your main meal at the convention center, filling up a water bottle can save you from overpaying on drinks, and having snacks on hand mean that you can order a relatively small meal. And if you've got a long day, snacks can be crucial in tiding you over so you can wait to buy dinner until you're out of there.
Do you have any other tips to avoid being trapped into paying high prices for food? I think some of the same principles apply whether it's a convention center, an airport, a stadium, or anywhere else they overcharge you because you have no/limited choice...

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Go Bananas for Fair Trade: getting them in your grocery store!

Like other fair trade products I've written about before, certified fair trade bananas guarantee that the people involved in growing them-- small banana farmers and workers on banana plantations-- get decent pay and humane, respectful working conditions. And while many fair trade bananas are also certified organic, even those which aren't still must use less pesticides and more sustainable farming practices, which is good for the workers, the environment, and you. (You can check out the details of fair trade standards for bananas and other products here.)

Bananas are actually a really great product to go fair trade on. Because they're already so cheap, paying another dime or two per pound for the fair trade version doesn't break the bank-- but that makes a big difference to the farmers and farm workers, who get around 18 cents a pound instead of as little as 2 cents, partially thanks to the higher prices, and partially due to cutting out middlemen who take cuts of the profit. (The 18 cents figure is from Ecuador; prices vary by country, but Ecuador grows 33% of the world's bananas.)

But fair trade bananas are relatively new to the U.S. market, and many supermarkets don't sell them. (Europe has had them for much longer, and they've become very popular; in Switzerland, almost half the bananas sold are fair trade!)

If you want to look for U.S. stores that do sell fair trade bananas, try this search (it brings up around 100 stores that sell fair trade fruit-- including pineapple, mangoes and grapes-- but I'd be surprised if many of them have the other fruit but not bananas.)

But if you want to get fair trade bananas in more stores, get involved in Co-op America's campaign. You can sign on to a letter to major grocery store chains, which Co-op America will deliver to demonstrate consumer interest, and hopefully have an impact on those chains (many of which are already stocking other fair trade products). You can also print out the letter (or write your own) and bring it to your local stores.

Have you seen fair trade bananas in stores near you yet? I haven't, but hopefully this will help change that!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Carnival of Ethics, Values, and Personal Finance

It's time for the Carnival of Ethics, Values, and Personal Finance once again...

Please click here to submit for next month! The next edition will be up on November 29th. Contact me if you're interested in hosting...