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Monks and nuns become hoteliers in economically challenging times: monastic doors open for travelers in Europe

those staying at the Monasterium Poortackere in Ghent, Belgium, can choose between luxe and the spartan

(quote)

When Kathleen Mazzocco was researching places for an affordable family vacation in Italy back in 2002, booking a room in a convent was “like shooting in the dark.” The guidebook to religious lodgings that Ms. Mazzocco used had no photographs, and she wasn’t sure the information was up-to-date. But by the time Ms. Mazzocco, a public relations consultant from Lake Oswego, Ore., returned to Italy last year, making a reservation at a monastery was not so different from booking a regular hotel. She found the cliffside Monastero S. Croce, in Liguria, on the Internet, viewed photos of it on the monastery’s own Web site, sent an e-mail message asking about availability, heard back promptly, and, at the end of her stay, paid with a credit card. “They’d entered the modern age,” she said.

Friar Fausto tends Monastero S. Croce's bar

For centuries Europe’s convents and monasteries have quietly provided inexpensive lodging to itinerants and in-the-know travelers, but now they’re increasingly throwing open their iron-bound doors to overnight visitors. They’ve begun Web sites - many with English translations and detailed information about sampling monastic life for a night - and signed on with Internet booking services. Some have even added spa offerings. Occupancy has shot up at many places, and some of the more centrally located are often fully booked.  read more »

Convenience at a cost. Bottled water no less polluted than kitchen tap, in addition to plastic pollution

how pure is bottled water?

(quote)

Bottled water sold in markets and convenience stores may be no more free of pollutants than the water that pours from the kitchen tap at a fraction of the cost, said an environmental group that tested samples. Ten top-selling brands of bottled water contained a total of 38 pollutants including fertilizer, industrial chemicals, bacteria and the residue of drugs such as Tylenol, according to a report by the Environmental Working Group based in Washington, D.C. The bottled water showed an average of eight pollutants in each sample.

Americans drank more than twice as much bottled water in 2007 as they did in 1997, guzzling 8.8 billion gallons at a cost of $10.3 billion in 2007, according to the Beverage Marketing Corp., a research and consulting firm based in New York. Although commercials often show pristine mountain springs, the reality is that bottled water often comes from city water supplies, said Renee Sharp, an Environmental Working Group senior scientist. "If you're going to pay 1,500 times more for bottled water than for tap you'd expect that you'd be getting a cleaner, better product," said Sharp. "And that's not necessarily true."

display put up by San Francisco's Public Utilities Commission to urge people to switch from bottled water to tap  read more »

Senseless overfishing - world's marine fisheries losing $50 billion each year

World Bank and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calculate the losses at 50 billion US dollars per year

(quote)

The world's fishing fleets are losing billions of dollars each year through depleted stocks and poor management, according to a UN report. The World Bank and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calculate the losses at $50bn per year. Half the world's fishing fleet could be scrapped with no change in catch.

'no take zones' have been shown to improve fish stocks and biodiversity

The report was launched at World Bank headquarters in New York and has been debated here at the World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Entitled The Sunken Billions: Economic Justification for Fisheries Reform, it argues that reforming the way fisheries are managed could restore stocks and build profits. "There are two reasons why we are experiencing the huge loss," said Rolf Willman, a senior fisheries planning officer at FAO and one of the report's authors. "One is that global fish stocks are much lower than they could be, so it is harder to catch the amount of fish that we could. "If stocks were higher we could catch the same amount at lower cost. The second reason is that where fishing is poorly regulated, we have much greater harvesting capacity than we need," he told BBC News.  read more »

Taking best of international cuisine, Melbourne becomes world's latest destination for inventive, delicious food

At The Press Club, chef George Calombaris brings his classical training to traditional Greek dishes, like this fusion dish of char-grilled octopus, smoked butter kozani saffron makaronadas (a Greek pasta) and edible amaranth flowers

(quote)

Melbourne has become the world's latest destination for inventive, delicious cuisine. The term "foodie" is often heard in Melbourne, such a mecca for good eating, you could call it the Southern Hemisphere Paris. Certainly, securing a reservation at chef Shannon Bennett's Vue de monde can be as tough to get as a table for two at one of Joel Robuchon's establishments. Culinary creations by Bennett, 34, a native of Melbourne who looks more like a surfer than a super chef, include what he calls a "virtual gnocchi," a cep puree treated to an in-kitchen chemistry lesson which defines its shape, then served accompanied by sautéed king brown and shimeji mushrooms and zucchini flowers and finished with a tarragon emulsion. Another crowd pleaser is the bouillabaise which is presented at the table in a glass-toped, 1950s-style coffee percolator filled with aromatic shellfish stock. After this concoction is brought to a boil, it is poured into a bowl of tartares of crayfish and king fish cloaked in buffalo mozzarella.

dining at Vue de Monde  read more »

Towers of food, farms in the sky: self-sustaining skyscrapers in the city, vertical farming gains new interest

'You could develop a community surrounding each of these vertical farms,' said Dr. Despommier, who believes that striking designs like this pyramid are key to the concept's success. 'You want people to say, 'I want that in my backyard.'

(quote)

What if “eating local” in Shanghai or New York meant getting your fresh produce from five blocks away? And what if skyscrapers grew off the grid, as verdant, self-sustaining towers where city slickers cultivated their own food?

vertical farm design modeled after the Capitol Records building in Los Angeles features a prominent renewable energy source: a rotating solar panel that, like a sunflower, gyrates to face the sun

Dickson Despommier, a professor of public health at Columbia University, hopes to make these zucchini-in-the-sky visions a reality. Dr. Despommier’s pet project is the “vertical farm,” a concept he created in 1999 with graduate students in his class on medical ecology, the study of how the environment and human health interact.  read more »

What is your dream job? Among Vocation Vacations' top 20: actor, chocolatier, voice-over artist, wedding planner

among top 20 dream jobs: brew master and writer/publisher (Juno Screenwriter Diablo Cody pictured)

(quote)

Everyone has a dream, right? Like rock star fantasy camps, Vocation Vacations gives ordinary folks the chance to live out a dream for a moment. It is the brainchild of Brian Kurth, a former business executive from Oregon. His company, born in 2004, connects curious people with mentors who have the dream jobs they've only, well, dreamed about pursuing. Here are the 20 most-popular "Vocation Vacations," according to Kurth.

Robert DeNiro

Actor
Yeah, we've all dreamed of being a Robert DeNiro or Angelina Jolie -- the lights, the fans, the glamour. How could you not love being a famous star of the screen or stage?

Baker
If you like to see something come of your work, then perhaps you're meant to be a baker. Because best of all, after you're through admiring it, you can eat your work.

Bed-and-breakfast owner
There's nothing quite as calming as spending time around the house. As a bed-and-breakfast owner, you can -- with a few guests.

Brew master
Consider yourself a beer connoisseur? Brew up your own drinks and maybe sneak in a sip on the job.

pie

Chocolatier
Like bakers and brew masters, chocolatiers get to sample their work. But going overboard might be a problem. How tough is it to be surrounded by chocolate all day? Talk about temptation...

Dog day-care owner  read more »

Italian shoppers use texting service to check and compare best food prices while at the market

Italy compares apples and oranges via text messaging

(quote)

The rising cost of food is a growing concern for many people across the world. There have been protests, and even riots, in countries including Mexico, India and Egypt, clear evidence of the struggle that many people are now facing. However, if Italians feel that their local food retailer is charging unreasonable prices, they can now call on a new service to help them haggle or walk away. Thanks to a short message service (SMS) text system set up jointly by the Italian agriculture ministry and consumer associations, shoppers can check the average price of different foods in northern, central and southern Italy.

Italy’s Department of Agriculture, Food & Forestry, along with consumer organisations, have come up with the SMS Consumatori service www.smsconsumatori.it, which tracks prices for over 80 types of fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy products and so on. To use the service, shoppers send a text message to 47947 for free, typing the name of the product they want a price for. They get a reply straightaway listing both a wholesale price and average retail prices in the north, centre and south. If a product comes in varieties, the service sends separate messages for each of the most popular ones.

Italians don't mind paying more for home-grown produce  read more »

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