Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Goals not shoulds

Some years back I was trying to sort out my alcoholic family legacy, and doing some bibliotherapy around codependency. Turned out I am not very co-dependent. But I recall one very important learning from Codependent No More. It was "Goals, not shoulds." Get away from blaming and shaming yourself, and work on positive goals, not the negative apodictic. ("Thou shalt not...")

I think this is why I was taken aback when a friend told me she was never going to read The Omnivore's Dilemma because everyone who does becomes a fanatic, and if she wants a banana she's going to have a banana.

Now there were several things going on here, as it turns out. One was a criticism of me, I think, though a pretty gentle one. Another was that kind of stubbornness we can all identify with - your standards will not rule my life, thank you very much. It is not nice to feel judged. The third, though, was pretty troubling to me, a tale of guests asking their host where the food came from - is this fresh, seasonal, local, sustainably harvested, etc. This last was pretty appalling. I guess I have just assumed that while reading Pollan's book might well change someone's perspective, it would be in terms of choices they made themselves, or organizing so that others could have better choices, but not in guilting others.

There is a world of difference between striking up a conversation about food sources and practices in a public place - at the market, for example - and criticizing someone who has invited you into their home, or is treating you to a meal out. But there is no end to rudeness, apparently, especially among those who are affluent enough to exercise the most choices.

And there does seem to be a blurring of lines between the goals we set for ourselves and our attitude toward others. The 'not shoulds' part means as well that we must not shame or blame or others.

How about the line we heard on Sunday from the letter to the Colossians:
"Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink"

And don't try doing it to them, either.

Purity codes had no place then, and have none now. Though I must say I have noted that we do have informal dietary codes in our popular culture, which shape shift as fats go out of style, and then carbs, and who knows what next. I have actually preached on the text "It's not what goes into his mouth that defiles a man."

We need to cut one another some slack on all this. We need to help one another find goals that build up, not rules that tear down. We need to be ready to explain our own disciplines, but not impose them on others. We need to be more flexible as guests. And frankly just polite. (There are few people I invite to dinner any more because of all the rules people set for themselves. Some tell me they will bring their own food - but then why am I, a good cook, bothering? Let them clean their house. Or maybe we could go on a brown bag byo picnic. )

note to self

Next year taller bean poles.

The garden is beginning to yield. I have high hopes as long as we can stay ahead of the gophers, who seem to have developed a taste for marigolds.

I'm also very encouraged by the vision those of us involved in the garden so far are developing. We are thinking theologically and largely.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Do you live in a farm state?

Well, the Farm Bill is all over the news now that it is being considered on the floor of the house. There was a story on my local Fox affiliate (I watch it for the weather) a few nights ago, and I stayed in bed an extra quarter hour this morning to hear the NPR coverage. Things have heated up on the ecunet list "Farm Bill", too.

It's interesting to me that issues are not covered until they come to a head legislatively, when your average citizen can't do much about it. Interesting, but not surprising. We are a nation of consumers, not citizens - we consume our news, rather than using it to shape our lives and common will.

But I digress.

The most interesting thing in the Morning Edition piece was a reference to how Nancy Pelosi had to consider farm state interests. Apparently neither Nancy nor the NPR folks realize that she IS from a farm state. Where do they think the lettuce, spinach, nuts, wine and cheese come from?

Really, there is this bias, which comes up on the ecunet (actually Luther Link) list, too - that farming is about the Midwest.

I spent a day with two high school classmates this week, one from Florida and one from Southern California. We were viewing Sonoma County cows and talking about the Happy Cow ad campaign - and the Floridian said she had only recently heard of California cheese. Where she lives it's only about Wisconsin.

California has been the leading dairy state for years, and is catching up with Wisconsin in quantity of cheese produced. California also excels in the variety of cheeses offered, including Mexican style and artisan.

(In checking the facts on California cheese, I stumbled upon a web site called America Eats with all sorts of interesting articles. Link to the right - check it out!)

And finally to the point - if we all thought of ourselves as coming from "farm states" wouldn't it make a difference in the way we develop policy and programs? Wouldn't it make a difference in food security? Wouldn't it make a difference in the environmental impact of our growing, sourcing and eating practices?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

garden update

When I began working at the community garden site, it looked like our biggest issue would be weeds or clay soil. But it appears the gophers are winning the award for biggest hassle.

Last week I discovered that they had taken down a marigold. I didn't plant them in gopher baskets because I couldn't imagine a little critter wanting to eat anything that smelled like that. Actually, they took the plant down - but then left it there, rather than pulling it into their tunnel.

Then Friday evening when I watered I discovered that one of the zucchinis looked poorly. It perked up a bit with some attention from me, but it really did look like the gophers had been circling its roots. And all this was happening dangerously close to the heirloom tomato.

Why is it that I don't mind sharing with the quail, but I really resent the gophers?

All in all, though, things are looking good. We got a very late start, planting Memorial Day weekend and up through early June, and some of that from seed. But we are taking the first of the zucchini now, and the crookneck squash have finally produced female flowers and a few infants. A few of the sugar pumpkin vines have fruit four inches in diameter. The romano pole beans are blooming, though the other varieties seem sluggish. Both pepper plants and all seven varieties of tomato have set fruit. The romas are showing some white and yellow - not just green. Actually that's an interesting story. A roma plant appeared stressed initially, didn't grow much, but set a cluster of fruit - kind of a teenage mother. Now the plant is catching up and it looks pretty good - and it will also be the first to produce ripe fruit.
The grape tomato, though, is vying for king of the jungle, with the sunflowers also in the running.

I'm glad we decided for this year, when it's really just a sample of things to come, to plant some things that are showy. People who didn't know they cared are noticing the pole beans, sunflowers, sprawling pumpkins and gourds. But I do wish that I had digital camera so I could show you with more immediacy the changes I note every time I water.

Tomorrow we meet with the city water conservation folks, to plan for future expansion.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

a little irony?

I get my news eclectically, and perhaps in ways that might appear random, mainly from the radio and the internet, plus the tv for weather. I am frequently struck by what a huge proportion of it is about a) the middle east or b) celebrities I am not celebrating. Yesterday I was listening to a Robert Segal NPR interview with Colin Powell on the way home from somewhere, primarily about the war on Iraq and the senate's posturing with their overnight debate. Now here's the interesting part: toward the end of the segment, in identifying that legislators do have other things to deal with, Powell mentioned two farm bill issues! Interesting that a retired general and secretary of state notices - while almost no other newsmakers or newsbenders seem to.

And the push is on - to get a faux reform bill through the Congress. The California Coalition for Food and Farming is urging Californians to let Speaker Pelosi know how they feel about this.
There IS coverage of the issues in the print media.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What are you bringing home the bacon in?

As long as we are posting information that is tangential to food issues -

An article on designer canvas bags from WholeFoods in today's NY Times cites Worldwatch as the source for this statistic:

Americans throw away about 100 billion plastic bags a year.

So do the math. That's almost one bag a day for every man, woman and child.

Now take stock - be honest. How many do you throw away in the average week? month? year?

The point isn't paper or plastic - it's reduce the number you take of both, and then reuse what you do take. Then recycle (or compost for paper) what you can.

I'd love to know how others are doing at this. Please post a comment...

When I blow a dollar on a bottle of water...

From Sunday's New York Times
Ideas & Trends: A Battle Between the Bottle and the Faucet
Published: July 15, 2007

THOSE eight daily glasses of water you’re supposed to drink for good health? They will cost you $0.00135 — about 49 cents a year — if you take it from a New York City tap.

Satisfying the National Thirst ...

New York ads offer tap water as an appealing choice over commercial beverages.

Or, city officials suggest, you could spend 2,900 times as much, roughly $1,400 yearly, by drinking bottled water. For the extra money, they say, you get the added responsibility for piling on to the nation’s waste heap and encouraging more of the industrial emissions that are heating up the planet.

But trends in American thirst quenching favor the 2,900-fold premium, as the overflowing trash cans of Central Park attest. In fact, bottled water is growing at the expense of every other beverage category except sports drinks. It has overtaken coffee and milk, and it is closing in on beer. Tap, if trends continue, would be next. . . .



My impression is that bottled water is being consumed as the last safe soft drink - as a consumer alternative to packaged beverages that news reports tell us are bad for you: alcohol, caffeine, sucrose, fructose, sodium,...

There is the consumer validation of buying a product, consuming a healthful beverage, and then throwing the container away. Of course if you chuck it into a recycle bin then you can add virtue to the list of features and benefits.

Tap water, by contrast, takes work: finding a glass, a drinking fountain, a canteen in your knapsack. What a drag.

"When I blow a dollar on a bottle of water, I buy Perrier!"--old Robin Williams routine

NYC dept of environmental protection, info on drinking water

"People need water"--Paul Ward, architect of the Pat Brown era California state water plan

Friday, July 13, 2007

Marion Nestle videos

Well, I would have preferred more shots of the food and fewer of the shopping guy, but you can get the lowdown on food shopping from Marion Nestle in video short form on the Treehugger blog.

Start here:

food and climate change

I have spent a chunk of today doing environmental ministry things, some of which meant catching up on reading and following links.

One of the things that caught my attention is what isn't there. When I visited the site for the Church of England's "Shrinking the Footprint" campaign I found nothing about agriculture and food systems, even though I know there is much consciousness and concern about these topics in the UK, including among people of faith.

When I read the National Council of Churches "Faith Principles on Global Warming" I found the only specifics mentioned were energy consumption and carbon emissions. And this with all the work they have done on food and farming issue awareness from a faith perspective.

And when I followed the link from the NCC eco-justice notes for last month to the blog "Ride for Climate USA", recounting the cross country ride of the former managing director of Interfaith Power and Light, I learned that he had been ignorant of the issues around coal extraction in Wyoming (even though the state council of churches has been working on them for some time) and could tout "cow power" in Wisconsin without mentioning what methane contributes to the climate change picture.

Meanwhile, from secular sources I get invitations to events that tell me how I can vote against climate change three times a day (in my food choices), learn of the complex role conventional agriculture plays in climate change, and explore research into the impact more sustainable practices could make.

What's wrong with this picture? Is it because church bureaucrats are basically urban? Do denominations and organizations own stock in the agribusiness multinationals? Are we afraid that outing the contribution of conventional agriculture to climate change will diminish the sources of food for the poor? Or is it, as I fear, that we are too used to issue-of-the-month-club thinking and organizing, and unwilling to engage systemic complexities in our advocacy ministries? And are we vying for turf on our issues? Mine is the banner issue, yours subsidiary, or viceversa? rather than recognizing the connections?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Still more on the Farm Bill

Michael Krasny did a nice hour on the Farm Bill this morning. You can scroll down and listen or download here.


I was amazed at some of the email comments he read toward the end of the show. People in the Bay Area can be so myopic. (And a myopic liberal isn't really any better than a myopic conservative, IMHO.) Sure we need major change in farm subsidies - we need to value different things - but conventional farmers live pretty close to the edge financially, and there must be a plan for transition over a period of time. The vision should be clear by now, but the solution is going to be complex, which may be why congressmembers and senators seem short of the nerve to tackle it.

Mom's cooking

I'm one of those rarities - born in the vanguard of the boom, but with a mother who worked outside the home. My mother also cooked - supper every night. So I've wondered why this is no longer done - why is it that children whose mother's are employed get nuked chicken nuggets and Kraft dinner and take away pizza - instead of a hot home cooked meal of meat or fish and 2 veg. Reading this article in the NY Times


I realized one of the differences is that this author/mother gets home at 7:30 p.m. My mother worked in the days when not everyone overworked, and she took a job closer to home with less pay, rather than trading life for a commute. So she got home, back then in the fifties and sixties, at 5:15 p.m. Time to cook, eat, and many evenings get out to a civic or church meeting, to be involved in her community, not just with her job and family.

Times change, not always for the better. But thank God for one modern mom's commitment to feed her family real food, and then publish her ideas for doing so efficiently. Now, if she could just combine that with a consciousness of seeking a local, sustainable food supply...

The Composter

The Composter, newsletter of the Tucson Organic Gardeners
TOG InfoLine: 520-670-9158 has lots of interesting bits. The May issue has an article on What Those Food Labels Really Mean by Suzanne Havala Hobbs, DrPH RD (dietician & clinical assistant professor at UNC Chapel Hill): 100% Organic means something, Reduced means less, and Natural not much of anything. The seasons are very different from northern California – there are six, as you learn at Sabino Canyon nature preserve or Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and summer temperatures average 100F from mid-May through late August, with lows in the low 70s. There is an article in the Sustainability Corner on Envelopes – reuse or recycle? And lots about gardening. Ads for free manure for the taking, and Barbara Kingsolver & Steven Hopp signing books at Grace-St Paul’s Episcopal Church in a benefit for Native Seed/SEARCH. Had a chance to visit Tucson Botanical Garden (aka Bernice’s house) especially its heritage, xeriscape, and Tohono O’odum areas. “Corn, corn, corn, bad, bad, bad!” does not apply so much when it is a native crop not mixed into industrial products.

And there is a carrot cake recipe, from the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion.

We also had a wonderful visit with retired president of Arizona Historical Society, which gives you a broader perspective on how the people have lived on the land.

Woodbrook by David Thomson (1974) continues to give me new facts and feelings about farming in Ireland – he studied famine relief agency records. Incredible.

On Inishmore, westernmost of the Aran Islands, I saw “lazy beds”, raised beds for growing potatoes; there they are fertilized with kelp hauled up from the beach at low tide and dried on the limestone. …Most of the island seems to be limestone in flat long shelves that look like abandoned skyscraper foundations. The piled-up stones of the walls around the fields provide not only a place to put the rocks but wind shelter, some containment for cattle, and even a spot for the sun to warm. The enclosures are relatively small – though one brownie calf had a good quarter-acre to herself during weaning.

Dara Molloy, who farms traditionally, says that the islanders are trying to go green; e.g., using propane instead of petrol. And they continue to use not only mini-buses for tourist transport, but also the traditional “side car” with pony.

Enjoy this article from the Los Angeles Times about Reverend Billy (Bill Talen) and his bullhorn activism against consumerism, big box retail, the general Disneyficiation of the landscape....

And don't miss San Francisco Chronicle coverage of the Farm Bill

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Of mission and diets

I'm in a ruminative mood today, processing learnings of the last ten days or so.

On Sunday I preached on the gospel, trying to look at Jesus' instructions to the seventy in context so that I could extract some meanings for mission today. All who preach know that is not easy. Since then I have been wondering if there are lessons to be pulled from that passage in Luke and applied to our ministries around food and environment. Not anxiously hoarding, receiving what is at hand with thanks, not chasing after privilege or novelty, and remembering that it's not about us - all seem applicable. So much of the teaching is really about hospitality. What if we had an attitude of receiving hospitality toward our local foodshed and toward the planet? Being gracious guests might give somewhat the wrong angle - since it seems to imply that our real home is elsewhere (in heaven) and that's pretty tired theology. But the behavior of a good guest works in many situations, and could be a model for traveling light on the planet.

I wonder about the two by two message also. I prefer to do ministry in community, with others, at least cooperatively, but better collaboratively - but so much of my life is lived alone. My footprint would be much less if I shared living quarters, ate more with others, drove more with others. It was great during my at home vacation to have someone to eat meals with. While I'm proud of the fact that I don't resort to junk or heat-n-eat options when I dine alone, I ought to find more occasions to share meals.

If I ate more with others, I would probably eat less. Table conversation satisfies in a way that second helpings can't. Certainly I have a need for some strategies to help me lose the extra fat I have added since moving to Sonoma County. I don't feel that I can ever face another diet.

Last week in San Francisco I noticed how many fewer obese people there were. Maybe you can never be too rich or too thin to live in the City. You certainly can't be too rich if you want to own your housing. But I suspect that it has more to do with how much people take public transportation and walk there: another un-diet strategy good for you/me and the planet .

This morning on NPR I heard of web merchants who sell products for the obese - like 800 lb. test lawn chairs, and seat belt extensions. While I think fat people deserve more respect than they get, I don't want to go there - to that fat.

I started reading The Sex Life of Food by Penny Crumpacker. If it's any good I'll write more about it later. I offer her comment on a demonstration by fat people in D.C. in 2004:
" 'Fat is not a four letter word,' one of their signs read. But what fat is a four letter word that has been on a diet."

Saturday, July 7, 2007

holiday ramblings

I've been vacationing at and around home, and am now in Crescent City for the weekend. Not much time to write. In fact, it's only this morning, sitting in an overheated coffee shop (yes, heated - it's about 60F outside here on the north coast, and the barristas are skimpily clad) that I got around to reading the NY Times food news from midweek.


This is a good summary article on farm bill developments regarding some promise of beginning the move away from subsidies or large scale monocropping of the big five.

Vacation included some food and wine adventures. I went to yet another farm market, the one at the old Souverain winery, now Francis Ford Coppola's Rosso Y Bianco. Friday evening fun - live music, cheap pizza for wine tourist food - but disappointing in terms of vendors - only one local produce, and one value added, locally scented soaps. I begin to wonder if we are saturated in Sonoma County - too many farm markets for too few small scale growers of varied produce.

I've taken some pictures at the community garden, but there's a time lag given that I don't have a digital camera. Maybe next week I'll have something to show. We have baby zucchini, and tomatoes have set fruit.

Now I am off to the farmers' market here in Del Norte County, at the fair grounds. There won't be much produce yet, but it's still fun. And they do enable use of food stamps and other programs to provide access to local produce for the poor - good to see. AND I've got my cooler and hope to pick up some cheese bargains at Rumiano's shop.