Meal Worms, Anyone?

Of all our food sources, what is the most efficient at converting carbohydrates to protein?

Not cattle, certainly. Ten pounds of feed generates one pound of beef. Plus each cow raised in the industrial system needs about 2000 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat, and a single cow can produce up to 132 gallons of methane a day. Methane is twenty times more heat-trapping than carbon dioxide.

Chicken? It takes ten pounds of feed to generate five pounds of chicken meat, and 468 gallons of water to produce one pound of chicken.

The most efficient protein source? And the most environmentally friendly?

Insects.

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I don’t actually know if ladybugs are edible

Ten pounds of feed produces nine pounds of cricket meat. Insects barely need water, and generate almost zero greenhouse gases. Insect meat is high in fat, which, contrary to the diet soda hype in the U.S., is critical for health. Insects reproduce rapidly, in small spaces. They can be used as food for livestock.

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Source: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, and the US Dairy Export Council, Finke 2012

Two billion people already rely on about 2000 edible insects as a source of food. We’re not just talking exotic chefs in Asia. Here in the U.S.A., the FDA allows up to:

— 30 insect parts in 100 grams of peanut butter
— 30 fruit fly eggs in 100 grams of tomato sauce
— 10 insects in 8 ounces of golden raisins
— 10 maggots in 100 grams of drained mushrooms

Bottom line: Americans eat about 500 grams of insects and insect parts every year. That’s the equivalent of a little over a pound of chicken.

Fans of the film “Snow Piercer” will appreciate the potential for insects as a food source. Or maybe not.

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Image source: StackExchange

 

Feeling brave and looking for your own arthropod recipe? If you’re in New Orleans, drop by the Insectatorium where the Executive Bug Chef is whipping up holiday treats.

How about this as a gift to yourself or a loved one?

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Image source: David George Gordon

David George Gordon’s Eat-a-Bug cookbook was listed as one of the New York Times best cookbooks of 2013. If you’re in Seattle, Mr. Gordon’s home town, you can join one of his cooking demonstrations.

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Image source: David George Gordon

Moi? Truth be told, the only insects to pass my lips (except the FDA-allowable ten bugs per eight ounces in my raisins), were chocolate covered ants a so-called friend fed me for a joke, many, many years ago. She watched me chew with bright-eyed glee that would have tipped off anyone but the most ardent chocolate lover. They tasted, incidentally, the way ants smell.

Still — Scribbler is willing to bet there will be more insects on plates in the not to distant future. Maybe even on mine.

Have you tried eating or cooking with insects? How did they go down? Or up?

Book Review: A solution to global warming right under our feet

We know there are billions of tons of carbon floating around in the atmosphere that weren’t there 200 years ago.

What if there was a way to put it back, for free?

There is.

Microorganisms  –  billions in a tablespoon of healthy soil — can absorb carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and turn it into soil carbon, reducing the need for fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified seed, protecting land and crop from drought, improving crop yield, restoring range and grasslands.

It sounds too good to be true.

That’s why New York Times bestselling writer Kristin Ohlson’s book, The Soil Will Save Us, is worth a read. Ohlson takes readers on an around-the-world tour, from Zimbabwe to Oregon to Australia, visiting agronomists, horticulturists, farmers, ranchers and herders who are changing the way we grow food. She profiles farmers experimenting with low tech solutions to some of our biggest challenges — sustainability, food shortages, obesity, and yes, climate change.

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Not necessarily because farmers are joining the fight against climate change by design. 70%, according to the industry-connected American Farm Bureau, don’t believe humans are causing climate change. Farmers do, however, prize carbon in soil. It’s what makes soil black, rich and fertile.

Take her introduction of a farmer in North Dakota, Gabe Brown:

          He [Gabe Brown] had been carrying around a slim 4-foot metal rod. … We walked into the cornfield, which seemed to be at least a foot taller than any of the neighbors’, and he nudged it into a bit of bare soil. And then — and then! — he pushed all 4 feet of the rod straight into the ground, all the way up to his knuckles.
         “I can’t believe that!” I think I dropped my recorder. “Do it again!”
          So he walked a few feet away and shoved the rod into the soil again, then it pulled it out and held it out to me. “You try it.”
          My arms aren’t nearly as substantial as Brown’s. Where his arms bulge with muscle, mine jiggle. Without much expectation of success, I took the rod and pushed it into the ground. I tried it in several places. And each time, I pushed the rod all the way up to my knuckles.
          I knew what an amazing thing this was, since I’ve been a backyard gardener ever since I was 25. Even after years of babying my beds with bags of compost, I never had soil like that… I could hardly stick a fork in my lawn back in Cleveland! But through his management of this harsh landscape, he had created soil that was so rich with microbial life that they had built aggregates going down at least 4 feet. Four feet of carbon-rich soil, stacked with billions of tiny cups to hold water.
          Brown shrugged. “I don’t worry about drought.”    
                                                              from The Soil Will Save Us, Kristin Ohlson

Brown, who owns land outside Bismarck, started out as a conventional farmer. “He tilled, he applied fertilizer, he sprayed pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and he hung fly-killing ear tags on his cows.” He also experimented with no-till and organic farming, but with mixed results. Then, a 4-year cycle of hail, drought and late frost left him too poor to afford fertilizer. He took another look at the soil in plots he’d been experimenting with and realized it had improved dramatically. He began to study and apply practices such as no till and mixed crop farming. Before long, his neighbors were asking for tips. Then farmers from all over the world began consulting him.

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Gabe Brown in one of his fields. Photo credit: Prairiefire Newsletter

Brown’s expenses are now a fraction of what he paid as a conventional farmer. His yields are above average in the community. He hasn’t used fertilizer since 2008, doesn’t use fungicides or pesticides, and only uses an herbicide every couple of years.  Brown has no doubt that what he calls regenerative agriculture can help solve our problems with atmospheric carbon.

The hitch? There are several. Our current farm program is geared to a monoculture system. As Gabe Brown says, we are “stuck in the current production mode.” Many people are invested in the sale of chemicals. Farmers are understandably risk-averse, and leery of the 4 to 5 years it takes to restore soil health.

But we can change. Ohlson writes, “As entrenched as chemical farming seems to be, it’s only been with us for 50 years.” It won’t be easy to turn this boat around, but we can do it. A lot of people have already started.

Ohlson’s book will make you rethink the potential for soil management and farming, and offers hope for a new way to address many of the challenges we face, including climate change.

Don’t miss this great 3 minute talk by Gabe Brown, on his farm.

Here’s an interview with Ohlson on Science Friday.

Wise Ones Correspond About Monsanto and GMO’s

Where do you stand in the GMO debates?

Oregon (my home state) and Colorado, will vote this fall on whether or not genetically modified foods should be labeled.

 

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The vote is not, of course, about labeling, but about how easy it should be for people to opt out of the grand GMO experiment.

In 2012 and 2013, Pepsi, Monsanto, DuPont, General Mills, Kellogg, Dow, BASF, Cargill, ConAgra, PepsiCo, Coca Cola, Hormel, Syngenta, Bayer, and other corporations donated $68 million to defeat similar labeling measures in California and Washington.

It’s no wonder. Eighty percent of the foods produced by these companies contain genetically engineered ingredients.

Also, these companies no doubt would like to keep the focus on whether or not to label, rather than on whether or not messing with the gene pool and saturating the soil and water with glyphosate is a good idea.

The issues aren’t simple. Genetic engineering is credited with saving the papaya industry, and almost all of the sugar beets in the US are genetically engineered — how that happened is a whole other story.

Scribbler relies heavily on friends and family to help untangle sticky wickets like this. Professor M and Judge A, who are in their mid 80′s (and request anonymity), agreed to share part of their e-mail discussion on the subject.

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Aug. 22

M –

I feel hornswoggled, bamboozled, deceived. Monsanto, in its latest reincarnation, proposes to become a universal ag. extension agent, advising its customers how to cash in on carbon credits.

They will do this by farming with new GM products while using carefully selected, superficial, organic methods; methods to reduce but not significantly eliminate environmental, biological and soil degradation. Run-off, water pollution and erosion caused by glyphosate, pesticides and manufactured fertilizers will be less troublesome. Promise! A little improvement will be better than none, I guess, but hardly worth further experimentation on us by bio-fuel manufacturers, junk food producers and cattle feeders.

As before, Monsanto has produced zero science that proves its products (as distinguished from sound agronomy), will benefit yields or crop quality beyond a few years. Soil improvements it promises are likely to be near the surface rather than deeper down where needed. Great PR though.

Most countries outside the US are not buying this latest, cynical ploy and there has been vigorous opposition here also. But Monsanto is now too big in the US to fail? Right?

Have a pastry made with GM flour. Protect yourself against agent orange.

*

August 23 2014. 8:35 PM

A –
We agree the world is going to the dogs. They made the catastrophic error of not letting you and me run it when we were younger.

Monsanto has indeed significantly replaced the ag. schools in dealing with the farmers. Not quite sure why. They cost much more, but maybe they also more often deliver what the farmer wants?

Data on CO2 impact of deforestation in today’s Economist. Not as bad as I thought. Comparable to international flying, such as we do next week. Much less than auto use.

M

 *

August 23, 2014,. 10:04 PM

M –

I expect you will enjoy your flight even more now that Monsanto will take care of your plane’s CO2.
What a brilliant marketing tool: use faux extension agents to sell product! Much better than writing mortgages for people with no money.

A

Monsanto at Oregon State University? Using organic methods? Hiring themselves out as — expensive — extension agents?

Clearly more investigation is called for.

Where have your inquiries on GMOs led you?

 

 

Score One for Pollinators

Geranium jolly bee

Image source: kfjmiller via morguefile

Are you following the news about the collapse of bee colonies? If so, you probably know that neonicotinoid insecticides (dinotefuran, imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam) were linked in a recent Harvard study to bee deaths.

This spring our town, Eugene, Oregon, passed a ban on neonicotinoids, the first community in the country to do so.

In Oregon we had our share of bee wipeouts last summer, including one in June, when an estimated 50,000 bumblebees were killed after a licensed pesticide applicator violated the label and sprayed blooming linden trees with the neonicotinoid dinotefuran (brand name Safari). The intended victims were aphids, and the site was a Target parking lot. Within weeks, another massive bee die-off was reported in Hillsboro, where trees had been sprayed with the same pesticide.

Other states and communities are trying to pass laws restricting neonicotinoids, which is good, because not much is happening at the national level. The EPA is studying the issue, and their study is not scheduled to be completed until 2018.

If you’re following the fight to protect pollinators, check out Saving America’s Pollinator Act, H.R 2692, introduced by Reps. John Conyers (D-MI) and Earl Blumenauer (D- OR). It would limit the use of neonicotinoids until a review of scientific evidence and a field study demonstrates no harmful impacts to pollinators.

Meanwhile, restrictions need to be put in place locally, town by town. Hopefully, Eugene is the first of many.

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Photo source: playfuldragon via morguefile

Know any beekeepers, or have you kept bees yourself? What’s happening in your area regarding bees and other pollinators?

Good news on climate change: Garlic

Good news on climate change? Anyone?

It’s probably progress in the right direction that the issue has started appearing regularly on the front pages. It only took five rounds of being taken to the woodshed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Still, it’s not clear how we’re to fix things, or if that’s even possible. Politicians sure aren’t jumping on the bandwagon. In Oregon’s Voter’s pamphlet for the upcoming election, only one out of 48 candidates even mention the topic. And, on a gorgeous day like today it’s particularly hard to wrap my head around the idea. It’s too big, and too depressing.

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Things look fine. Three Sisters, Bend, Oregon

When good news about climate change surfaces, I glom onto it like cling wrap to a bowl.

For example:

Garlic can cut emissions of methane gas.

When it comes to global warming, methane is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and methane gas emissions have increased by 150% in the last century. Cows produce methane in their manure, and when they fart and burp. Each cow produces between 30 and 50 gallons of methane a day. With about 1.4 billion cows in the world, that’s a lot of gas.

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Photo source: Yvonne Parijs-Bosman via Queen of the Cows

And garlic? A three-year study at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth demonstrated that cows fed garlic produce 50% less methane than non-garlic eating cows.  “Garlic directly attacks the organisms in the gut that produce methane.” Still unknown: whether garlic affects the flavor of the milk, but we’ll take that as it comes. For now, bravo Aberystwyth scientists. Yay.

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Image source: hotblack via morguefile

Is climate change on your mind? Have you done anything to change your lifestyle or are you politically involved in climate change issues? Do you know of any leaders we can vote for, or innovators who are inventing/promoting solutions?

Sources: Do Cow Farts Actually Contribute to Global Warming?

Garlic May Cut Cow Flatulence

How Garlic May Save the World

Me and My Petroleum Distillates

What’s in your cleaning cupboard? Got anything poisonous? Are you sure?

You might have trouble finding out.

Take Petroleum distillates. As part of a remodel, we received a sample cleaning solution as a “gift.” It worked pretty well — magically, wonderfully well. It did everything — polished mirrors, cleaned sinks and counters.

When the sample ran out, I bought a jug of it.

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DANGER: HARMFUL OR FATAL IF SWALLOWED.

Never mind the strong smell. It made things look really good.

Now the bottle is almost empty. Reorder? Probably worth it to find out what’s in it. Also, maybe it’s time to look into why it smells, and if it does bad things to the water used to wash the cleaning rags.

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Avoid contact with eyes and prolonged contact with skin. Avoid prolonged breathing of vapors.

1. What’s in it? The only ingredient listed on the label is down at the bottom, in small letters, on the back of the jug: Petroleum distillates.

2. What are petroleum distillates? According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), it’s a synonym for Naptha and rubber solvent. It is flammable. Permissible exposure limit: 500 parts per million.

3. How much is 500 parts per million? How much time does it take for “breathing of vapors” to become “prolonged”? Unknown.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, another of my favorites, Spray n Wash laundry stain remover has a petroleum distillate, too. Hmm. Spartan Chemical Company’s material safety data sheet adds more info., pretty much unintelligible to me.

So, all that digging, and still hanging on the fence. Wear gloves. Don’t breathe it. Use sparingly. Already doing all of the above. Should be OK, right?  Maybe. Maybe not.

4. Should it be kept out of the water supply? Unknown.

5. Why is it so hard to figure this out?

Partly because there’s a labeling loophole that allows chemical companies to omit the names of ingredients in dyes, fragrances and preservatives. Partly because nobody is sure about the dangers. 

Friday (April 11, 2014) Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., introduced the Household Cleaning Products Right to Know Act of 2014 bill, which would require cleaning products makers to disclose ingredients. We can follow how that goes at his website.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Working Group turned out to be a good resource. They looked at 2000 household chemicals in 2012 to see what’s in them, and rated the ingredients in terms of the risks they pose.   Protect All Shine Plus isn’t on the list, but lots of other stuff is. Check it out. They give petroleum distillates an F, citing allergy and cancer risks.

OK, ok. Probably not worth the shiny sinks.

 

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Image Source: kakisky via Morguefile

 

Got any substitutes for me?

Mini Militants: Five Rules for Feeding Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds can weigh less than a penny, and have heart rates as high as 1200 beats per minute.

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Photo credit: Pslawinski, Wikipedia Commons

How do they stay alive in winter?

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Our hummingbird feeder

They have tricks:

They weave their nests with spider silk, which must be pretty warm.

They sit around most of the time.

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Photo credit: Morguefile

They consume more than their body weight in nectar (or sugar water) every day and supplement with insects.

They fiercely defend their territory from invaders.

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Photo credit: Morguefile

When food is scarce, they slow down their heart rates, as low as 80 beats per minute.

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They respect the flag. Photo credit: Morguefile

They train humans. I recently bragged to friends about single-handedly saving the hummingbirds from a cold spell by thawing out the feeder two or three times a day. My friends confessed they had all done the same.  We’re foot soldiers to one ounce generals.

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Photo Credit: Morguefile

FIVE RULES FOR HELPING HUMMINGBIRDS SURVIVE IN WINTER.

(1) Standard fare: 1 cup white sugar to 4 cups water. Heat to almost boiling so the nectar doesn’t ferment and intoxicate the hummingbirds, although that might be funny. In extreme cold, it’s OK increase the concentration of sugar, maybe 1 1/4 to 4, but return to normal concentration when whether warms. Too much sugar will cause harm to the birds.

(2) Healthy sugars for humans are bad for hummingbirds. Brown, raw and turbinado sugars can be fatal over time. Use white sugar.

(3) When it’s below freezing, take your feeder in at night, or rotate two feeders, allowing one to thaw while the other remains on duty.

(4) Change the food every few days so you don’t start any salmonella epidemics.

(5) Pipe cleaners and old tooth brushes work well to clean black stuff, like mold, off the feeder.

Follow these rules and you are qualified to be a hummingbird slave. The birds will reward you by appearing daily, even when it’s twelve below. The Aztecs believed hummingbirds brought sexual potency and skill at war, but there is no scientific proof, so admire and envy hummingbirds for their amazing metabolism, and wish the same for ourselves, especially at this time of year.

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We Need a (better) Sign!

To the Traffic Sign Wizards in Eugene: We’re still waiting…

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Spot the “bicycle crossing” signs:

Sign #1:

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See it? The orange one. Bicycle crossing. But where?  

Sign #2:

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The crossing is here. See the sign? Hint: it’s green, on a gray signpost, after the big tree. Directly across the street is a mid-block curb cutout.

Curb cutout for bicyclists:

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Would you be on the lookout for bicycles crossing here?

Time for the annual appeal to the city Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator and the Assistant Traffic Engineer to beg for better signage on this bicycle route. Join me! It just takes a few clicks. Here’s a link to the City of Eugene’s Transportation Department web page, with e-mail links for bicycle and transportation coordinators:  https://www.eugene-or.gov/index.aspx?NID=487

Previous appeals: http://jbw0123.blogspot.com/2011/12/bicycling-advocates-needed-part-ii-want.html http://jbw0123.blogspot.com/2011/11/civic-activism-save-me-from-this.html

Rape Seed II: Ready for RoundUp?

IMG_1586At last report, the Oregon Department of Agriculture was accepting comments on whether to allow canola, a.k.a. rapeseed, in the 3.7 million acre protected agricultural zone in the Willamette valley.

Canola can legally be grown in much of the state, but the protected zone is home to a $50 million/year specialty seed industry, and genetic purity drives the business.  Canola cross-pollinates with other crops, spreads easily and is notorious for transmitting disease and pests, so it’s a problem here. Also, although you won’t find this mentioned in official reporting, 95% percent of canola is genetically modified.  In Oregon, the Department of Agriculture doesn’t distinguish between GM and natural canola, hence no official discussion of  the matter, but the truth is, once Round-up Ready canola mixes with other brassica, it is darn near impossible to get rid of it.

Last fall the Oregon Department of Agriculture issued a quiet, some say sneaky, ruling (at 5 p.m. on a Friday night) allowing a temporary exception to the ban on canola, so farmers can grow it as a rotation crop and, with state and federal energy tax credits, to  press as an oil for fuel. Seed growers feared, with good reason, that temporarily admitting canola would mean a de facto end to international demand for organic cauliflower, broccoli, cabbages, mustards, kohlrabi and other brassica seed crops.

At a public hearing in September, 99% of the speakers, including biologists from Oregon State University, opposed allowing canola in the valley. Funny thing — while representatives from the big GM seed companies didn’t testify at the hearing, it’s hard to imagine a few weren’t around for the annual Farm Bureau Classic, a golf tournament sponsored by Monsanto, DOW and Syngenta, which was held the day before.

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Photo courtesy of Oregon Farm Bureau via Facebook

The Department of Agriculture issued a ruling allowing canola into part of the protected area. Undeterred, specialty seed crop farmers, biologists and activists kept the pressure on, and this week the Oregon House, rebuffed the Department of Agriculture and passed HB 2427, which would prohibit canola in the valley until 2019, and provide money to Oregon State University to study the risks of cross-pollination and disease.  It now moves to the Senate. If this is an issue you care about, contact your (or an) Oregon State Senator, a.s.a.p! Here’s how.  For more information: see Friends of Family Farmers, and The online research magazine for the Oregon State University Agricultural Experiment Station

Baggy Baggy

“I hate to tell you this,” the clerk says as she folds my new pants.  “But I’m required to. By law. I have to charge you five cents for a bag. Would you still like a bag?”  She raises her eyebrows in an ominous and foreboding way.

Our bag ban (see post) went into effect last month.  Plastic grocery bags are outlawed and stores are required to charge a nickel for paper bags.

Bellyaching abounds.  A woman buying groceries ahead of me in line, who looks like she probably has a few nickels to spare, commiserates with the checkout lady about the usurious bag fee. They roll their eyes, sigh and shake their heads.

One letter to the editor complains that cloth bags are bacteria laden. Isn’t everything bacteria laden? Never mind. Another letter writer wonders how he’ll line his trash can.

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Newspaper and rubber bands. Or skip the lining. That works, too. Uh-oh. Is that bacteria on the outside?

There are complaints about the five cents, it’s not the nickel, it’s the principle of the thing. It better be about principles, since nickels are worth so little we can barely afford to make them. What else can you even get for a nickel these days?

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Go ahead. Ask how much Hallmark charged me for this bag.

One man writes that from now on, he is going to shop in the neighboring town. So there.

I think people are secretly happy about the bag ban. It gives us something to talk about besides the weather. So much simpler and more accessible than crazy stuff like teacher layoffs and global warming.  Here is the crux of the national debates in our own little town, something we can really wrap our tomatoes in.

Good work bag monsters.

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Image Source: Check out Ban the Bag Facebook page