Ecoterianism: A New Way of Eating

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Ecoterianism: A New Way of Eating

Written By Carlos Peláez

Can you make more conscious food choices that are better for the environment without sacrificing your favorite tastes?

I am not a vegetarian or a vegan. My diet has always focused on what I like to eat because that’s the way I have always eaten. Recently, I read some facts that gave me some cause for concern: A one-pound steak requires approximately 1,800 gallons of water, which is the equivalent of more than 100 showers. That’s a lot of water! And for a state like my home state of California, which is in the midst of a major drought, I have cut back on watering my lawn and begun taking shorter showers—but I had never considered cutting back on eating meat.

The cuisine in the Los Angeles area has a lot of variety, with delicious vegan and vegetarian options (see some of my favorite vegan and vegetarian restaurants below). I have a great opportunity to try all sorts of food that I may never have heard of, and surprisingly, I always find that it tastes great. An added bonus is that I am finding appealing options without meat, which matters to me because it helps reduce the amount of water required to prepare these foods.

I started to experiment. Could I cut out eating red meat, chicken, or fish? I started thinking about all of my eating habits—not just meat—realizing that there are a variety of environmental considerations to take into account when evaluating your diet.

After a month, I did go to In-n-Out and order a delicious hamburger, but then I returned to what I think of as a new type of diet: I call it Ecoterianism.

The term “Ecoterian” introduces a diet that is neither vegetarian nor vegan, but one that considers the environment in your food choices. The idea is to reduce consuming foods that drain more resources. You can still eat meat and fish. You can simply choose to reduce the amounts of foods that are resource-heavy to produce.

Try this for a month. Let us know what you think, and help us spread the work about making conscious food choices with their environmental impact in mind.

LA Eats

If you are in the Los Angeles area like some of us here at Blueprint Earth, here are a few recommendations for restaurants that offer meals that are packed with flavor but they don’t focus on meat:

Plant Food for the People. This is a food truck that serves tacos using jackfruit vegetables that are not fully ripened. The effect is that they replicate the texture of carnitas. The food truck moves around; find out their schedule on their website.

Veggie House. This is a Thai restaurant with soy and tofu used instead of meat. Link to their Yelp page so you too can enjoy this great restaurant:

Crossroads. This restaurant has cheese, ice cream, calamari, and many more items that are all vegan and delicious! It’s a great place for a date or special celebration.

Taco Bell. Maybe you don’t consider this as the culinary gem of the world, but fast food has its place in our society. If you want to have options that could help your ecoterian crusade, try Taco Bell’s vegetarian menu. You might be surprised!

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Preparing a Gray Fox Museum Specimen

Written by Sheila Mcclure

Specimens are important for our ongoing study of the Earth's environment and biodiversity. Blueprint Earth volunteer Sheila McClure gives us a step-by-step view on the process.

A museum research specimen of a mammal usually consists of a study skin (filled with cotton) and a cleaned skull. The skin is removed from the specimen, treated with absorbents and filled with cotton. Wires or wooden dowels are used to support the legs and tails of the specimen.

I was fortunate enough to be selected to prepare a museum specimen of a gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) as a project for a mammalogy class. Prior to this, I had only prepared a mouse specimen. There are specific protocols to follow to ensure successful specimen.

My fox had been hit by a car and found by a biologist, who carefully preserved the carcass in the freezer, noting the exact location and circumstances under which it was found.

A fox takes some time to thaw, due to its well-insulated pelt, which I had not anticipated. Gasoline and a toothbrush were used to clean the small amount of blood from its fur. The fox was weighed, sexed and measured, including her total length, tail, hind foot, and ear lengths.

Once the tasks of dealing with the external part of the specimen had been accomplished, I began to remove her pelt, eventually stuffing it with cotton and wires. This had to be done very carefully so the pelt could be retained as close as possible to its original condition.

Starting with an incision just above the urogenital area to an area near the forelimbs, I worked the skin off of the limbs and body and eventually the tail. It was difficult to remove the skin from the head and ears, but with perseverance, I was successful. The pads of the fox's feet were injected with formaldehyde as a preservative to maintain a lifelike appearance. Upon completion of stuffing with cotton, wires, and dowels, I stitched up her ventral incision, placed her on a board and pinned her limbs and ears in a standard position. Museum specimens are made rather flat to fit in a drawer.

Lastly, I brushed her fur and left the skin to dry.

Specimen preparation is somewhat of an art and working on this project gave me an appreciation for all the specimens in the museum that are so neatly stuffed and sewn together that they almost appear life-like.

With biodiversity declining around the world, properly prepared and cared for specimens are becoming increasingly valuable. As species become scarce, studying them becomes more difficult.

Natural history collections provide samples of species that may otherwise be unobtainable. Data gathered from prepared skins may provide insight into why a species is in decline in the wild, as well as how individuals vary over time and space.




Helping Wildlife


Helping Wildlife

Written By Katie Vincent

Most people who spend time in nature will at some point see an animal that appears to be abandoned, suffering, or otherwise in distress. Animal lovers will often feel the impulse to help the animal somehow. But when is helping an animal actually helping, and when does it do more harm than good? The answer isn't always easy.

Recently in Yellowstone National Park, well-meaning tourists found a bison calf that appeared to be abandoned and in distress. Fearing for the calf’s welfare, the tourists put the calf in their car and drove it to a ranger station for assistance. Rangers attempted to reintroduce the calf to its herd, but the attempt was unsuccessful and the calf had to be euthanized. Without knowing if the calf truly was abandoned, it is difficult to say whether it had any chance at survival before being handled by humans, but the car trip and time away from its mother may have sealed its fate. (Read more about the story here.)

When is helping an animal actually helping, and when does it do more harm than good? The answer isn’t always easy.

Baby animals that appear to be abandoned often pull at heartstrings the hardest. When I attended an exotic animal training college program, two of the animals I was assigned to train were a mule deer and a coyote, both animals that had been “rescued” as babies by individuals who believed that the animals were abandoned, but it was more likely that they were just alone for a few hours. I was very grateful for my time with these animals, but they never should have been removed from their homes. While baby mammals are often incorrectly perceived as abandoned, baby birds are much more frequently assumed to have fallen out of their nests and been abandoned when they are actually still fledglings that are still being cared for by their parents.

Sometimes human actions have directly caused distress to animals, such as instances where animals are shot, poisoned, trapped in fencing, or attacked by dogs. These are obvious situations to get animals help. If humans caused it, humans should fix it. Sometimes the animals in distress are domestic animals that have escaped or been dumped.

 Blueprint Earth founders Jess and Carlos Peláez have rescued Gregory, a king pigeon.

Blueprint Earth founders Jess and Carlos Peláez have rescued Gregory, a king pigeon.

Blueprint Earth founders Jess and Carlos Peláez rescued their second king pigeon from their backyard. They found their first pigeon, Alonzo, in the talons of a hawk, which Carlos successfully frightened away before bringing the pigeon to a vet. They now have Gregory, who was sitting on a neighbor’s lawn. As white, fat meat pigeons, they were both very visible to predators and ill-equipped to flee from them. Gregory and Alonzo are undeniably lucky; not only were they saved by Jess and Carlos, but they are now their pets. These are domestic animals, not wild, so there was not much hope for them outside of being found and cared for by humans.

If you ever see an animal whose welfare you are concerned about, it’s usually best to call an expert, such as an animal control officer, a park ranger, or a local wildlife rehabber before you make any attempts to touch, interact with, or help the animal. This is the safest option for both you and the animal. An expert can determine whether intervention is necessary or advisable.

Attempts to help wild animals can be disastrous if the animal has a fighting spirit, a disease, or an angry mother nearby. Some important rules to keep in mind when you see wildlife are to keep children and pets away from them, never to give food or water to an animal unless instructed to by a professional, and to never keep a wild animal as a pet. Doing so is frequently illegal and possibly detrimental to the animal in question.

The desire to help animals in trouble is a reflection of our caring, compassionate nature, but always take a step back and think before you react in order to ensure the best possible outcome for yourself and for the animals you care about.


Mission Mojave: The Final Piece to My Graduate School Application Puzzle


Mission Mojave: The Final Piece to My Graduate School Application Puzzle

Written By Rashonda Stubblefield

Applying to college is never a fun or relaxing process, especially when your goal is to secure a funded position in a physical sciences graduate program (a master’s or a doctorate). Therefore, planning must take place several years ahead of time. 

 Part of the planning process: daydreaming in the Mojave and imagining next steps!

Part of the planning process: daydreaming in the Mojave and imagining next steps!

There are so many aspects that come into play in a successful application: You must have a high undergraduate grade point average, solid letters of recommendation, and a dynamic personal statement. Then, of course, there are a myriad of other activities and experiences that can make your application stand out, which is imperative in our day and age, with so many people applying for very few spots.

Field work is an important part of your experience for earth and environmental sciences. This is where Blueprint Earth comes into play, and it’s no accident that it’s the perfect addition to your resume. The Mission Mojave project gives young scientists a hands-on learning experience that is truly priceless.

I first heard of BE through a call for volunteer researchers that was forwarded from the geosciences department chair at California State University Northridge. I was just starting my senior year as a geology undergrad, and I wanted to get more experience in my field. I visited and was impressed by the scope of their goals. Their plans were lofty but seemed well thought out, and the fieldwork looked educational and fun.

I went on my first field season with BE in October 2015. I immediately felt like I was with my “people” after meeting Jess, her husband/co-founder Carlos Peláez, and a few returning volunteers. The experience was the perfect combination of challenging fieldwork and fun camaraderie. We also had a National Public Radio (NPR) journalist and photographer come out to the desert with us!

The BE Mission Mojave experience was much like a weekend field trip in a geology class. We were introduced to the field gear and what types of observations we would be making. I was happy to find that I would finally learn how to use a GPS device to do more precise mapping of spatial data. This data would then be uploaded into Google Earth and ArcGIS to be collected and analyzed. My minor is in Geographic Information Science (GIS), so I was very eager to work with the raw data.

I had thought of myself as more of a computer geologist than a field geologist, because I had so many experiences of feeling rushed and frustrated in the field components of my coursework. I knew I had to improve my skills and confidence as a researcher in the field. The pace and atmosphere of Mission Mojave was very different than the field experiences I’d had previously. I felt more relaxed and was able to make hundreds of my own observations and theories. I found the whole process exciting in general.

I have a feeling that my work with BE helped to put me at the top of the application pile.

I loved the experience so much that I did another field season with BE last January. Then it was time for graduate school applications! I already had my three letter writers in mind, but if one of them had fallen through I would have had no problem asking Jess for a letter of recommendation. Even though I was one of many volunteers, it was clear to me that Jess is such an observant and caring person that she could write a caring and thoughtful letter tailored to who I am as an individual.

I believe my volunteer work with BE was a great asset on my resume. Geology professors almost always have some component of fieldwork in their research, so experience working outdoors, camping, and getting good data looks great (and shows that you have the grit to handle inclement or uncomfortable weather!).

In February 2016 I received the exciting news that I had been working so hard for—I was accepted to North Carolina State University's Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences department as a master’s candidate!

I have a feeling that my work with BE helped to put me at the top of the application pile. There are few opportunities like BE out there for undergraduates, and I believe that Jess’ work will inspire other organizations to follow suit.


Madagascar In Words and Pictures


Madagascar In Words and Pictures

Blueprint Earth volunteer Desiree Espericueta shares poetic notes and photos from her field experience in Madagascar, demonstrating that BE volunteer trips into the Mojave are just the start of other Earth-exploring adventures! On a sobering note, despite being a remote island (and the stuff of fun, animated movies), this fairytale environment is just as susceptible to harmful human intervention as other places on the planet, with the evidence to prove it. It is worthy of our attention and affection, says Espericueta. She writes:

The forests of Madagascar showed me more than I could have asked for and taught me every day in unexpected ways. This fairytale island was the most giving and gracious of lands, offering breathtaking views in every direction and a larger-than-life array of unique plants and animals, never once making me feel unwelcome or uncomfortable.

I left Madagascar understanding the astounding beauty and diversity of the island that sits on the brink of extinction if ignored. The gem that is Madagascar is invaluable. There are compassionate people and dedicated scientists working toward saving the wildlife of this island by creating no-take-zones, forming protected forest boundaries, and earning grants for educational and environmental movements. When, though, will we plant enough trees to replace what has been taken? One afternoon, while on a survey, our team was sharing our favorite idioms, and one of the Malagasy forest experts aptly said: One tree is not a forest. I am forever indebted to Madagascar for showing me the hauntingly beautiful meaning of this phrase.