National Catholic Reporter

The Independent News Source

Eco Catholic

Why supermarket tomatoes suck


The produce section in your local supermarket bulges, even in February, with a year-round supply of perfectly round, bright red-orange tomatoes. They almost seem like our birthright as Americans. But in a new book Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit, investigative food journalist Barry Estabrook reveals the huge human and environmental cost of the $5 billion fresh tomato industry.

Fields are sprayed with more than 100 different herbicides and pesticides. Tomatoes are picked hard and green and artificially gassed until their skins acquire a marketable hue. Modern plant breeding has tripled yields, but has also produced fruits with dramatically reduced amounts of calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin C, and tomatoes that have 14 times more sodium than the tomatoes our parents enjoyed. The relentless drive for low costs has fostered a thriving modern-day slave trade in the United States. How have we come to this point?

Fr. Bob Stagg: 'We want to live out \"green values\" in everything our parish does'


“We are called to care for Creation.” says Fr. Bob Stagg, pastor of The Church of the Presentation in Upper Saddle River, NJ. Presentation is the first Catholic parish nationwide to be accepted into the GreenFaith Certification Program, the country’s only interfaith environmental certification program for houses of worship. I talked with Fr. Stagg about his parish's participation in the program.

NCR: Where are you located?

Fr. Bob Stagg: We’re right on the New York border, a 45-minute ride west of New York City. We’re a large parish and about 40 percent of our people work in the city.

How did you get involved in the green activities?

Star of the month: Sadr


Sadr (pronounced “sadder” or “sudder”) is the central star of
the beautiful Northern Cross asterism of Cygnus the Swan, which rises in the East this month and then gradually ascends to the top of the sky. The name comes from an ancient Arabic phrase — “the hen’s breast.”

With a temperature around 6,500 degrees Kelvin, this yellow supergiant star may not be much hotter than our Sun, but it is tremendously luminous, shining around 65,000 times as bright. Found at the northern end of the Great Rift, a dust lane that appears to divide the Milky Way, Sadr lies in a region of glowing interstellar clouds that may contain numerous star nurseries. It is
believed that this dying star is around 1,500 light years away and
once was twelve times the size of the Sun. Look below the “crossbeam”
star and you’ll find the open star cluster of M29.

South Sudan priest: Finalize borders so people can grow crops


By Bronwen Dachs, Catholic News Service

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- Sudan and South Sudan need to finalize their borders so that people in the world's newest country can get to work growing crops in the lush fertile region, said Fr. Peter Othow, coordinator of development and aid for South Sudan's Malakal Diocese.

"People who live in the border area are tense," Fr. Othow said in a July 10 telephone interview from Malakal, which is seen as one of the potential flashpoints along the 1,300 mile-border with Sudan.

"They can't settle, because they feel that anything could happen," he said, noting that during a surge of violence in May people fled from surrounding rural areas to Malakal and are afraid to go back.

Some have moved a mile south of "where they think the border will be, so that they are free to cultivate" the land, he said.

With "good security, everything can be achieved," said Fr Othow, who was born and raised in South Sudan.

He said church programs aim to help communities to be "food secure without depending on the North or neighboring countries."

We are made for music


Born in New Jersey, Louis Sarno now lives in the village of Yandoumbe in the forests of West Central Africa with the Bayaka people, known to the outside world as Pygmies.

Sarno is a musicologist and when he heard snatches of Bayaka music on the radio, he was intrigued by its depth and raw power. He was determined to seek these people out and discover more about the music that so enthralled him.

When he first arrived in their midst,. he was given a small beehive-shaped house. The Bayaka were living in a settlement attached to a sawmill built by Yugoslavs. The ongoing destruction of the rain forest had forced them temporarily out of their millennia-old home.

Sarno lived at first on a diet of tadpoles and manioc flour. Despite offering money and gifts, all he heard from them was drunken yodeling. After months of this, one evening he lost his temper, lectured them, called them lazy drunks.

The next evening it seemed the usual banal entertainment was beginning but as the drums picked up their pace, the women began a subtle yodeling similar to the music he had heard on the radio. He switched on his recorder, listened in awe.

Stalking the wild blackberries


A blackberry is not just an electronic device; it’s a fruit. I spent a good part of last weekend picking wild blackberries on my brother’s farm in south Missouri. It was the peak of their season. The picking task itself, on a warm, windy July morning, was not completely pleasant, with annoying little flies diving for my ears, predatory ticks lurking, and, of course, the thorn-bristling cane vines that persistently messaged “Wait a minute!” as I got tangled up in them. Puffy clouds scooted overhead. Wildflowers still brought their dots of color to the hillside. I disturbed several towhee birds, while two or three indigo buntings sang brightly in the nearby pine trees.

Last night my wife Linda made a cobbler and eight pints of jelly out of the harvest of this wild fruit that played a role in the history of the country.

The gecko in the sky


My little altar in my home is an exercise in diversity. It mirrors a spiritual journey marked by unanticipated twists and turns along the way.

One of my favorite Robert Lentz icons, “Christ of the Desert” graces the center. A white slender statue of Mary stands to one side of the icon. Kwan Yin, the Buddhist Bodhisattva of Compassion, occupies the other. Filling the rest of the space are a white candle with Monarch butterflies embossing its surface, a photo of Fr. Thomas Berry and snapshots of cherished friends who have become my anam caras, soul companions, through the years.

Each altar resident has its own history but I want to tell you about one in particular: The Gecko.

Gecko is a sparkling silver pin with tiny ruby eyes and he rests at the foot of my Jesus icon.

I keep him there to remind me of the Holy One’s penchant for sending us messages through her creatures. Barely two inches long, Gecko arrived in a carefully wrapped gift box from a good friend for my going-away party. It was January, 1992, a few days before my departure from Columbus, Ohio to study at a creation spirituality master’s degree program at Holy Name University in Oakland, California.

When your exposure is gravical, you need bombproof pro


Puppy Dome is a rock outcrop near Tuolumne Meadow in Yosemite National Park, Calif. The dome was often my weekend destination years ago when I was an avid rock climber and lived four hours away. A hunk of granite 300 or 400 feet high, it had many easy through moderate to difficult routes up its faces, great places to practice the art and technique of climbing.

Have Chinese coal plants been keeping global warming in check?


Global warming theory predicts an overall temperature rise over decades, but slowdowns, and even brief periods of cooling are not only possible; they’re inevitable. The climate system is complex and influenced by ocean currents, wind patterns, changes in vegetation and ice cover and dust particles in the air.

The decade that just ended is a case in point. While it was the warmest ten years on record, temperatures didn’t rise as fast during the 2000s as they did for the previous 30 years or so. And while they aren’t at all surprised by this, scientists are still trying to figure out why it happened.

One culprit named in a new study is the coal plants in China, according to a new study just released. If unchecked by pollution controls, the sulfur spewing from their smokestack creates atmospheric particles that reflect some sunlight back into space, counteracting the warming effect from rising amounts of CO2.

'Great Ball of Fire' author combines Carl Sagan with Dr. Seuss


For most of her life, Betty Kissilove hasn’t sent commercial holiday greeting cards to her family and friends. She writes her own ‘happy birthday’ messages using the medium of poetry.

So when this San Franciscan felt moved to write her own book about the universe story, the original birthday for us all – the planets, stars, galaxies, the bacteria, fungi, oceans, trees, rocks, critters, and human beings – she found herself naturally turning to verse once again. The result is a delightful retelling of creation in this frequently humorous, thought provoking work she has entitled Great Ball of Fire. It is dedicated to the late Passionist Fr. Thomas Berry, co-author of The Universe Story with Brian Swimme.


Subscribe to Eco Catholic


NCR Email Alerts


In This Issue

February 12-25, 2016


Some articles are only available in the print newspaper and Kindle edition.