Sunday, December 28, 2008

Am I the last person to discover this blog?

I'm labeling this "politics" though it probably ought to be "politics, silly."

I'm heartened though, by the fact that the president-elect offered to buy shave ice for the reporters following him around Oahu.

If you only read one article about global food

this is a good place to start:

I like Lang's (member of the newly formed UK Food Council) list of four things to address:

1) an oil-based food system in the face of declining oil supplies

2) water scarcity - we need to know the water cost of our food, and not import food from countries experiencing water shortages (undermining those countries food sovereignty further)

3) biodiversity - doing agriculture in a way that enhances it "how can food systems work with the planet and biodiversity, rather than raiding and pillaging it?"

4) getting real about urbanization

The article also notes that while global food prices have dropped a bit since earlier this year (see item 1 above - and consider the current unnaturally low price of oil) 40 million more people around the world have been pushed into hunger in 2008.

Here is Tim Lang in a sentence:
"The 21st Century is going to have to produce a new diet for people, more sustainably, and in a way that feeds more people more equitably using less land."

Are we up to it?

Christmas feasting all year?

French gastronome Raymond Blanc wrote an opinion piece for the BBC's Green Room (12/23) in which he asked people to think about the little extra they spend on quality food for holiday feasting, and consider doing that throughout the year.

the punchlines:

"We don't need cheap food any more than we need junk food. We need good, wholesome, nutritious, interesting food, sold at a realistic price, and grown in a way that does not damage the environment but enhances it.
And if that means saving a bit of money by spending less on the tinsel, why, what better time than Christmas to learn that lesson and teach it to our children?

Bon appetit et Joyeux Noel!"


Thursday, December 25, 2008

What to do while you wait for Santa

And I thought messing with cut out cookies was too fussy. Check out this Oaxacan creche.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Pollan Fan Club episode # 973

Probably everybody else has already seen this - certainly a few have told me about it -

A little new material, much recycled - but for a different audience - probably ones who can identify with Moyers taking the grandchildren to MacDonald's so they can cheat on their diet.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

We all should have voted for Cynthia McKinney

In spite of all the lobbying by organic, sustainable ag, and related consumer groups, Obama is about to appoint the dreaded Vilsack, former governor of Iowa, Secretary of Agriculture. The little lip service the president elect has given to agricultural issues has been just that, apparently. Vilsack is reportedly a fan of GMOs and a friend to Monsanto. Just what we need. GRRRRRRR.

Monday, December 15, 2008

NPR Sunday - my radio fare during my early morning travels - is featuring a series on economical holidays. Yesterday's item was about saving money on novelty cupcakes using cake mix and canned frosting purchased at the supermarket and 7-11. It was appalling, and I notice there are no positive comments on the web site, where I left my remarks, too - much tempered from the cussing I was doing in the car yesterday...

Here they are, for those who don't want to click through

There's nothing environmentally friendly about cake mix and the 7-11 - unless it's that one can walk instead of drive to the neighborhood convenience store. Local, seasonal ingredients - and where local isn't an option, organic - prepared in energy efficient ways would be the best choice. Haven't you been reading Michael Pollan or Barbara Kingsolver? Canning what I can grow and gather in summer and fall as jams, chutneys and salsas is my choice.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Still waiting to see what the food and politics message is

I've been overwhelmed lately with just too many volunteer bits and pieces added to high demands in both part-time jobs. I've got a stack of things to blog about, and can't see much time to do so until next week.

But right this very minute I am so annoyed I had to say something.

I'm sure glad I haven't been holding my breath waiting for Obama's nomination of an agriculture secretary.

But I'm also annoyed with the press and with the sustainable/organic ag advocates.

First the press - why is agriculture not seen as an environmental appointment? Few things have more impact on air and water quality, conservation of land, soils, diversity. And, for heavens' sake - forestry is part of agriculture.

Then the lobbyists - a visionary journalist can not necessarily run a government department. In order to get reform there must be someone in the role who can deal with all the parties involved. We don't need a GMO advocate in Monsanto's pocket; but neither do we need a "crunchy granola" type.

I just had to get that last one in there. Yesterday someone I interviewed - in the rust belt - said she was not a "crunchy granola environmentalist". I let her know that I make my own and eat it almost daily. I still have no idea what she was talking about. Perhaps someone privileged enough to be an idealist about environmental activism? without regard to economic justice implications? If so, I'll borrow her phrase.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Count Your Blessings

and thank God for them.

One of my blessings this year is that I have been so busy thinking and writing and talking about food issues - but that means I don't get to my blog as often as I would like. I just finished a little paper for the ENEJ - Episcopal Network for Economic Justice - on food, health, environment and the poor, and I have some more work to do for our food system working group.

I hope to do some writing here over the holiday. I've got notes on scraps of paper and oodles of electronic bookmarks to follow-up - even a few photos I could post - perhaps I can get to them on days off from paid work.

And I'm taking a jar of cranberry chutney with me - a 6000 mile condiment!

May your condiments be many and those at your table happy and thankful.

Gleaned Clean

An AP article, November 23, from Platteville, Colorado, was picked up by the NY Times, which is where I spotted it. A farm family opened up their 600 acres north of Denver. People were invited to glean potatoes, carrots and leeks.

40,000 people showed up.

Seems to me this reflects the increasing hunger in our land, especially hunger for fresh produce, as incomes decline and jobs are lost.

I noticed early this fall that on the west county bulletin board here there were only one or two offers of free fruit and produce. Last year there were so many. Either people are learning to dry or can themselves, or they are getting their surplus to food banks, or they are inviting programs that serve the hungry to glean. Or maybe the folks who took their surplus last year remembered and called them up at the right time. Whatever. The need is greater, and connections to get the surplus to those who can benefit seem stronger. No need to offer up those apples or potatoes anonymously. And beware what happens when you do!

I wonder if the Millers in Colorado will try an open invitation again...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

fall foods

Martha Rose Shulman steals her recipes from the same people as I do.

This is a particularly tasty, wholesome and inexpensive one. I've already made it once with squash from my garden. But it's even better, Martha Rose, with a splash of sherry, dollop of sour cream or full fat yogurt, and/or a little grated fresh ginger as garnish.

Now if I could only remember where I stole it from originally...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Some US hunger stats

Here is part of an article from Religion News Service:

(emphasis mine - think about it!)

Feds say hunger rose in 2007
Food insecurity in America continued to rise last year, and participation in the food stamp program is approaching record highs, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday (Nov. 17). In 2007, 11.1 percent of U.S. households reported food insecurity -- what used to be labeled as “hunger” -- up from 10.9 percent in 2006.
About 4 percent of households were severely food insecure, meaning one or more adults had to adjust their eating habits because the household lacked resources for food. The food stamp program now has more than 30 million people enrolled, an increase of 9.5 percent from 2006, and half of all babies receive supplemental nutrition from the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, according to the report.
“Even before this year's severe economic downturn, more households were struggling to put food on the table,” said the Rev. David Beckmann, president of the anti-hunger group Bread for the World. “As the crisis continues, federal nutrition programs are working overtime to keep up with the need.” .... Ashley Gipson

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The world and I are crazy

I have been spending far too much time doing other things lately. Two days after I got back from Iowa I headed to Berkeley for a day for science and theology connections. I've been cooking and preserving with the last of the garden's summer produce, and with the Massachusetts cranberries my family sent. (Food miles: bad; cultural foods: very good) this week I have been focused on getting things ready for the Celebrating Creation table at our diocesan convention. And I'm not sure I'm going to make deadline on a paper about food system for the Episcopal economic justice network. In between all those things there is work for the cluster congregations and for the communication department at world headquarters - things for which I actually get paid!

But if I'm crazy, it seems the world is no less so. The food news item which keeps catching my attention is that MacDonald's profits are going up, and fast food outlets are the only restaurants making money. It's all about cheap food. Cheap, calorie dense, nutrient low food. As we spiral downward into recession, will the American diet get even worse? What will be the tipping point to get people to spend more time and less money on food?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Organic Cats of Iowa

I have much to report - some factoids, some observations, some reflections - from the Lutheran Sunday Scientist Symposium on Food and Faith. But before I do much blogging, I need to write my article for Episcopal Life Media.

My attempts at photos weren't great. On the tour of small organic farms Saturday afternoon my best results were photos of farm cats. You can't have a small scale dairy - goats or cows - without cats - and everywhere there were adolescent cats. My favorite was this one, who stayed in the same position for minutes on end at Small Potatoes Farm as Jim Hartmann talked about which vegetables had made it through the first frost and which varieties of garlic were being planted - and as cats blissed out in the unseasonable warm sunshine.

Friday, October 31, 2008


One of the things that strikes me again and again is the need to affirm and recover local knowledge in the transition to a sustainable food system.

Local knowledge has not often been taken seriously (a hangover from the 19th century missionary movement?) in fostering "better" agriculture practices in the developing world.

But one of the things I wonder is, how long does it take for local knowledge to be lost? If folks have been emulating industrial monocropping for more than a generation, as is true in some places, how much helpful local knowledge have they retained? Are the elders there to transmit it? And how does local knowledge hold up in the face of accelerating climate change?

In the U.S. it may be even more challenging. We are so mobile - it takes a while even to figure out where the local knowledge is. I don't know the history of the land where our community garden is, and I bet no one tending a plot there does. This is something we need to research - and find the folks with the stories.

I worry a lot about the loss of household skills in food preservation and preparation. I met a woman on the plane yesterday, about two decades younger than I am, who grew up in rural Iowa in a household where everyone went fishing and berrying and there were work parties at harvest time to can and prepare foods for freezing. Frankly, I never thought I would meet someone younger who did these things; it was reassuring. There still are people to pass these skills along. But Faith now lives in a "town home" with no garden space, and has lost touch with all but a few sources of local, sustainably grown food.

One of the five R's for Environmental Change-makers is ReSkill. The challenge, I think, is how to find and nurture those who can help us with the work of reskilling, of handing on the local knowledge, the skills of a local, sustainable, secure food system.

A brief for agricultural change

I've been carrying around a paper by Lim Li Ching posted on the Oakland Institute web site, "Sustainable Agriculture: Meeting Food Security Needs, Addressing Climate Change Challenges" which advocates for a transition to sustainability to deal with both.

The paper includes startling statistics on increasing food prices, a critique of the Green Revolution, a summary of research about the gains to be had from using sustainable agricultural methods, and some ideas about how to get there.

The most striking thing to me was the evidence for high gains in both crop yields and farm income in the developing world when switching to sustainable practices. Just a little gain in developed countries, compared with 50-100% gains in the 2/3 world.

The paper also led me to conclude that if we wish to decrease the degradation of our agricultural lands and lower other environmental impacts of industrial agriculture in this country we would shift our subsidy system to 1) reward farmers for carbon sequestration, and 2) help support them during the several years of transition back to diversified, sustainable farming.

another Pollan report

This arrived in my email inbox last evening:


Obama Response to Pollan Article!

"I was just reading an article in the New York Times by Michael Pollen [sic] about food and the fact that our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil. As a consequence, our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector. And in the mean time, it's creating monocultures that are vulnerable to national security threats, are now vulnerable to sky-high food prices or crashes in food prices, huge swings in commodity prices, and are partly responsible for the explosion in our healthcare costs because they're contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion in healthcare costs. That's just one sector of the economy. You think about the same thing is true on transportation. The same thing is true on how we construct our buildings. The same is true across the board. For us to say we are just going to completely revamp how we use energy in a way that deals with climate change, deals with national security and drives our economy, that's going to be my number one priority when I get into office, assuming, obviously, that we have done enough to just stabilize the immediate economic situation."

But there's the rub... What will need to be done in the short term that will work against reform in the long term?

BTW - in passing a few days ago I heard a caller to public radio suggest Michael Pollan for secretary of agriculture. Maybe not - journalism turned advocacy seems to me a different set of skills than administration and planning - with advocacy, of course.
But is there a likely candidate who has the skills and knowledge but is not bought and sold by industrial ag? Is there someone who will renew the traditional connection between environmental concerns and agriculture? (Forestry, after all, is a part of the Department of Agriculture.)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

No Comment

In an article in yesterday's New York Times on breeding and genetically engineering crops for drought resistance (emphasis mine):

"No single approach is likely to suffice for all types of dry conditions. 'Probably no one has found the magic gene yet,' said Jian-Kang Zhu, a professor of plant biology at the University of California, Riverside. 'Probably there is no magic gene.'

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fear mongering and elections

I wasn't going to say much about Proposition 2 here, because it seems to me such a no-brainer. We've all seen the Meatrix, right? And we like the A in the LOAF acronym for ethical eating - Animal friendly?

But last night I heard an ad on television which made me very angry. It appealed to people's fear of food borne illness (bird flu!), it appealed to people's xenophobia (food from Mexico!) and it appealed to people's romantic notions of "farmers" - who would all be out of business.

Please, let's not call people who own CAFO's farmers, with all the farmer in the dell images the word conjures up. Watch the Meatrix again, to deromanticize your notion of industrial farming.

Here's the link to Oprah's exploration of the topic:

And here's a nice quotation from the Nicholas Kristof opinion piece that apparently got her going on this topic. (Think of him as a former Oregon farm boy who eats meat.)

"I draw the line at animals being raised in cruel conditions. The law punishes teenage boys who tie up and abuse a stray cat. So why allow industrialists to run factory farms that keep pigs almost all their lives in tiny pens that are barely bigger than they are?"

And one more resource. The National Conference of Churches Eco-justice unit has published a children's curriculum on "Sacred Food" with lots of info about animal cruelty. I just learned of this today, but will review it soon. You will need to go to their site and sign in to download it, an unfortunate feature of their work.

Finally, I just noted on the Prop 2 web site that United Farm Workers support Prop 2. If you can't think about animal rights, think about human rights, and the tremendous toll it takes on workers in CAFOs to disregard the life and comfort of animals day in and day out. Dakota by Martha Grimes was my least favorite book she's written, but the descriptions of the stench, the stress and the learned callousness of those working in a CAFO made me shudder.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Precedents for presidents

I might have to change the name of this blog to the Michael Pollan report...

He reprised and extended his NY Times article of last week on Fresh Air yesterday. If you prefer podcasts to reading on-line, you can download it here:

Much of the interview is scripted from the article, but there are additional details. One factoid I liked especially was that during WWII Victory Gardens supplied 40% of our produce needs in this country. Wow! I knew it was good, but not that good. Pollan offered this while mentioning Eleanor Roosevelt's victory garden as a precedent for the next president tearing up the south lawn of the White House and getting planting. As he pointed out, this leading by example would be far easier to implement than changes requiring legislation.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Michael Pollan's open letter

Now that my baseball season is over I continue to catch up on my food reading.

First, a pet peeve vindicated. Both Marian Nestle and Michael Pollan refer to "healthful" food. Of course, I want my tomato plants to be robust, and my chicken - if I ate it - not to be diseased - but when we speak of the effect of food on our bodies it is healthful food we desire and "healthful" we should use, not "healthy".

I'd heard of Michael Pollan's modest proposal in his open letter to the Farmer-in-Chief elect, to turn the South Lawn of the White House into an organic garden. But I hadn't realized the letter, which appeared in last Sunday's New York Times magazine, was so thorough.

He begins with the thought that little has been said about food during the campaign (my observation, too, in these notes) but that three issues that keep coming up all have food policy dimensions: energy independence, climate change, and health care.

He also points out the international dimensions of food policy which sorely need attention, and food's interrelationship with national security.

"While there are alternatives to oil, there are no alternatives to food."

Pollan's basic proposal is to resolarize our food system.

Will we be able to produce enough food this way? The only way to find out, he figures, is to try. He points out some of the upside, and also identifies the challenging bit - the people needed to farm when sun energy, not fossil fuels, are the basis.

There are several little things he suggests that intrigue me. His idea of real estate developers needing to complete a "food system impact statement" is probably something we have needed for a couple of generations. Fortunately I live in a part of the world where there is now some attempt to confine sprawl and preserve ag lands - but not enough.

I also loved his idea for a second bar code on food products, which could be scanned by consumer devices, not just store equipment, and would tell the story of that food item's production and journey. This is way beyond COOL.

Perhaps dearest to my heart is push for decentralizing our food system in this country. "Whatever may be lost in efficiency by localizing food production is gained in resilience."


I've finally done some reading up on the Country of Origin Labeling regulations which went into effect September 30 - except that there is a 6 month grace period.

The faqs at USDA could be better written, but here they are

It seems pretty clear to me that these regulations are next to meaningless.

Fish and shellfish have had to be labeled since 2005, but I still find my questions are not always answered at the supermarket. And if you go to a fishmonger that doesn't sell produce, they don't have to disclose country of origin. Ditto a butcher.

In all cases, any food that has had something done to it other than something mechanical (slicing or dicing or grinding in the case of meat, but not peanuts) is exempt.

The produce department of your supermarket must inform you, but the deli department does not need to.

Only fresh and frozen foods are covered. Canned and dried foods have had something done to them.

Chicken that is grown here and goes to China to be cut up - well, you won't be told that.

Offal - not covered. So those chicken livers, where all the toxins are concentrated - who knows where they are from. Only muscle meats are covered.

Labeling does not need to be readable with the naked eye. The USDA notes that stickering of fruit and veg is not 100% effective. No kidding. You need a magnifying glass for much of it.

Foods that are combined with other foods are not covered. Frozen peas, si. Frozen peas and carrots, not necessary. Breaded chicken or fish pieces, no.

Which reminds me - grain products are not covered. This is only about perishable food, which I guess means food that will deteriorate rapidly without refrigeration or freezing.

Some things not covered by COOL legislation are covered by tariff laws. Things that you've noticed have been labeled with their countries of origin for years would be because of this.

It seems to me the best tack is still to ask. If enough of us ask enough questions of our retailers we will encourage them to know where things come from, not just prices. If enough of us not only question, but refuse to buy products whose origins are muddy, and tell retailers about it, we may eventually skew the system so it works to our benefit. Right now it's a nod to us and endless exceptions responding to pressures of various trade groups.

Here's a one page summary

I'm off to the garden where I know the origin of my produce. Santa Rosa Creek, Laguna de Santa Rosa, Russian River watersheds, California floristic region, North America.

Late for October 12

How many of these foods did you eat today? Or, better yet, imagine a day with none of them. All are indigenous to the Americas.

kidney/lima/butter/pole/kidney/navy/haricot/snap/string beans
blackberry and raspberry
blueberry, cranberry and huckleberry
cacao (chocolate)
cashew nut
black cherry
corn/maize and popcorn
concord grape
capsicum/chili/cayenne/paprika/bell/sweet pepper
pumpkin/squash/vegetable marrow/gourd
(cucurbits are tricky - they are a global family and given to natural hybridizing and sports)
wild rice
sunflower, including Jerusalem artichoke
sweet potato (which is emphatically not yam - which is an African food plant - no matter what it says at your supermarket)
tomatillo/ground cherry

Some of these crops which we now grow traveled from South American and the Caribbean to Europe and beyond, then were transplanted to North America. This has confused their stories. But such a long list does make one pause and give thanks for the stewardship of first peoples in the western hemisphere.

hectic autumn

I seem to have missed World Food Day and World Poverty Day, not to mention Indigenous Peoples' Day and the advent of COOL, so on a curiously free Sunday - except for garden chores at home and at the community garden and the last AL game of the year - I am going to do some catching up.

It's not that I haven't been thinking and talking about food issues. Our local food systems working group resumed meeting for the fall on Wednesday. My goal for working with this group is to push for a thorough baseline survey of our county food system. If we know where we are starting from, we will know where the leverage points are to improve - access, sustainability, localness and worker justice. I drafted a paper for the group which others will now add to, to make our case.

At dinner on Friday I chatted with folks from St. Stephen's in Colusa where there is interest in a community garden. Chatted may be the wrong word - I really dropped the whole load. Someone pushed the right button and I cranked up the enthusiasm - the evangelist of community gardens c'est moi.

I think our gardens are going to be needed even more with so many people's income and wealth declining while food prices rise. I don't know what kind of saving home or community gardening growing represents in the food budget, but I know the quality is better, and time spent in the garden is time spent in wholesome activity that doesn't cost a penny. As people cut back on shopping for recreation and expensive vacations, why not spend time in the garden? And you don't need a special outfit for it like you do, it seems, for every sport these days; you can wear your oldest clothes. Gardeners become re-users and producers, not so much consumers - which addresses one of the sacred cows of our U.S. economy that got us into this mess in the first place: consumerism.

Also on the food front, I was happy to be able to take tomatoes and baby green beans and squash from my plot for a raw veg platter at the Total Ministry Gathering reception. I also made homemade roasted tomato salsa to go with chips - which turned our really well for a first time improv. There is something about the companionship in good food that makes a meeting better. Most of the food at our gathering was prepared by members of the Redwood Cluster who were also participants in our conference, so that earth, food, friends in Christ were all connected. Whatever the topic of a meeting, such efforts make a difference. When the topic is servant leadership as a note of Total Ministry, it makes all the difference.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More Episcopal Community Gardens

I keep learning about more community gardens at Episcopal churches, ones I would have liked to have included in my article.

St. Mary's, Los Angeles built a community garden last year, the Yamazaki Memorial Community Garden. A quick web search yielded only this photo.
For those of you who aren't familiar with it, St. Mary's is a 100+ year old congregation rooted in the Japanese American experience. John Yamazaki, for whom the garden was named, was a new priest when he went to camp - internment camp, that is - during World War II. I had the privilege of knowing him when I worked in the Diocese of Los Angeles.

The neighborhood around St. Mary's is no longer one of folks of Japanese descent, but of newer immigrants from Mexico and Central America, and near the current Korea Town. The garden is proving to be a place where commuter members of the congregation and those who live in the neighborhood can come together. Thanks to Steve Nishibayashi for bringing this to my attention.

Just today I learned about a garden at St. Andrew's, Arlington, Virginia, serving those in need in their area. They have a blog - using the same canned header and color scheme as this one! - where you can see pictures of their pretty large garden. It's posted to the right.

If you didn't see the photo album published by Episcopal Life On-line, here is the link:

Monday, October 13, 2008

Is there such a thing as faux pho?

In catching up with emails and feeds I came across this fun article on fake foods,0,2298491.story

which raises all sorts of questions about what is fake and what is real and why that might lead to questions about much more than food.

The first fake food I remember eating as a child was mock cherry pie - which was a winter pie made with fresh cranberries and raisins.

Oh - but what about margarine? and when does a fake food become it's own reality?

I do eat soy simulations, for example, and find myself thinking of some as definite fakes and others as their own real thing. One eats soy burgers for the burger experience. At least I hope one does. Surely it is not for the taste, but for the bun and condiments? And tofurkey anything is really an ultra-processed food fantasy, because first the tofu needs to be made, and then all the distortions need to be wreaked on it to make it resemble meat. True confessions: I do eat tofurkey Italian sausage, again for the meat experience, which doesn't quite make it, but also for the spicy taste. But I think of soyrizo as a food with its own integrity. And you have to think of soy milk as something else, because if you compare it to milk, you will always be disappointed. But "soy beverage" is just too awkward.

The writer does mention Lent in passing - but there might be a fascinating project in searching old cookbooks for fast day deceivers.

And one has to wonder, prices being what they are and climbing while wealth and incomes fall, will there be new fake foods for this new era of belt tightening?

The article would have been even better with more attention to Japanese faux foods. I recall the first time I explored a vegan cookbook with all the clever fakes from the Buddhist tradition, with their emphasis on the visual.

As for Japanese inventions that are widely available, I have been known to say "It's not imitation anything, it's real surimi."

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Susatainable Fishing

A BBC story caught my eye, and led me to a new World Bank - FAO report on fishing.

The reality would seem to be simple - more and more effort, at greater and greater cost, for less and less fish - with the endpoint somewhere around mid century. We probably already knew this.

The antidote seems to be major reform - and the article suggests that if there is a move toward reducing the size of fleets and building up stocks, fishing could be profitable again worldwide.

The pull quote in the BBC story says it all:

"Sustainable fisheries require political will to replace incentives for overfishing with incentives for responsible stewardship. " Kieran Kelleher, World Bank fisheries team leader.

Ah - political will. With the opposite of political will being short term gain (or supposed short term gain) and greed, I think.

Reading the article I wondered how much of the resistance to a change to sustainability comes from the way of life of fishers - my sense, having known some, is that there is almost more emotional attachment to fishing as a way of life, generation to generation, than there is to farming. Turns out the report does have some things to say about this - and the need to invest in the transitions of persons who are displaced by increased management of fisheries. But what about beyond the economic considerations - to considering what such displacement does to people's sense of self, sense of place in creation?

Here's the report: "The Sunken Billions: the economic justification for fisheries reform",com_docman/task,doc_view/gid,742/Itemid,98/

I love Swiss Chard

as you might have guessed from the photo here. I've been struggling to get some started in my community garden plot, but something keeps chomping it. I will probably have better luck growing it again in the planters in my small backyard - in fact, I think I already am.

There's one chard plant - from the spring's donation of starts - growing in Marilyn and Stan's plot. They don't eat it, so I have been harvesting it - and it's power as a cut and come again vegetable never ceases to amaze me.

What does amaze me is the number of people who don't eat it or don't know what to do with it.

Here among the NY Times healthful recipes for the week are some recipes.

Most use other seasonal things and things I can source locally. I am hungry just reading these recipes!

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Tale of Two Stories

When you don't have an absorbing audiobook or aren't mentally rehearsing a sermon on the Sunday morning drive of course you turn to NPR.

Yesterday's show had two interesting food stories, especially when you take them together. One was about the Obamas' favorite restaurant in Chicago, Rick Bayless' flagship. Reporter Daniel Zwerdling clearly has a pretty narrow range - all Mexican food in the US is not TexMex - but he probably never has explored the slow food traditions in New Mexico or California, which include much more than Chili's and tacquerias.

You can find a recipe for Michelle's favorite steak tacos a la Rick on the NPR web site.

If you can afford the steak.

The other story was about a young couple who live in the Sacramento area and are caught between student loans and an 80/20 ARM on their house (which has declined in value in two years from $285,000 to <$150,000). They work three jobs between them, and have $200 left after fixed expenses at the end of the month. What do they eat? Rice, beans and multi-vitamins.

The young woman recalled her grandfather always having a pantry stocked with non-perishable foods. With a friend's generosity in the form of grocery gift cards she planned to stock up on meat and pantry items.

This at a time of year and in an area where produce abounds, and at far cheaper prices that we in vineyardland pay at farmers' markets and produce stands. I wanted to yell at the radio - please at least buy some California apples, onions, and winter squash - and maybe even some almonds.

And if you can hang onto the house, don't just sit in your backyard after working your two jobs - plant a garden.

I'm wondering if the chasm is widening between those who eat out at mid-high end places with some regularity, and those who don't eat out at all. And I'm wondering if the home arts of kitchen and garden will be rediscovered to make the most of what we can afford at the market. What would be truly wonderful - if eating in one another's homes became common again as a means of celebration.

Friday, October 3, 2008

I feel like doing a kind of "dear diary" entry today. What a day - I filed my story for the November Episcopal Life about environmental education at Episcopal Camps, we got real rain - for which the garden and I thank God - the Red Sox beat the Angels again AND

the on-line photo album of Episcopal Community Gardens was finally published!

I had such a wonderful time doing this story, phoning and emailing with folks committed to community gardening all around the country. There are a couple more that I did not receive photos from, but with whom I am in touch. Several have blogs which I am going to post links to here.

They are all wonderful witnesses to that place where care for the earth, care for the poor, and building community among generations and cultures come together.

Friday, September 26, 2008

a conversation I could have had

I don't always listen to our local foodie radio program - in fact, I don't listen much - but this one caught my attention. Host Michele Anna Jordan and organic gardener Wendy Krupnik talk about preserving the harvest.

Just scroll down to "Mouthful" and listen to the September 21 program.

There's some sort of weird dialogue and music at the beginning, but hang in there.

I've been concerned, with the resurgence in home gardening, about all the people with no experience in home canning. Perhaps the best advice they give is to be sure to get a good reference book.

Like Wendy, I don't do pressure canning and I do have a passion for seedless blackberry jam - but my jars don't seem to come back at the same rate as hers do.

Like Michele, my best applesauce is gravensteins laced with zinfandel.

I do have one comment for both of them - the latest edition of the Joy of Cooking has restored the chapter on food preserving and some of the traditional recipes. The edition they are griping about is the one before this, I think.

My latest trick - not energy efficient, I am sure, but so much easier - is to roast tomatoes and assorted other vegetables tossed in olive oil, then just puree with the immersion blender. Instant thick sauce for pizza or pasta, which I can freeze in one person sized containers (re-used). Tonight I simmered some mushrooms in wine until all the wine was evaporated and added them to the tomato and veg puree. Now I've got to go heat it through one more time before packing it for freezing.

Urban Farmer Makes Good

The second farmer ever to win a MacArthur Foundation genius grant is Will Allen of Milwaukee.

His story is not just a marvel of urban agriculture, but one of community development, integrating human good with sustainable farming.

One of the themes that emerged so clearly in my recent researches about Episcopal communinty gardens - the way growing community and growing food work together - is elevated to an art form by Mr. Smith and his neighborhood colleagues.

For all of us who care about food systems, this is something to celebrate, big time.

For me on the local level, thoughts are turning to how we can do more to develop an integrated system at the TLC community garden that would allow us to do our own plant starts and have worm composting. But before we can have greenhouse dreams, we need a sound shed. And we need a few more gardeners - to get to that critical mass where year round, integrated systems can happen. Growing community, growing produce.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Opposite directions?

After some pretty boring weeks, the New York Times food pages this Wednesday actually contained several articles of national interest.

Two in particular caught my attention.

One talked about the growing trend in nutraceuticals. (I'm not sure how to spell that, and I'm not sure blog spot's spell checker will either.) These are also called functional foods. Which would make ordinary, unadulterated food dysfunctional, I guess. But I digress. The trend is to add things that are unrelated to packaged foods. So it wasn't enough to add more strains of bacteria to our yogurt, a mild digression, but now we have to have secret fiber and maybe secret omega 3's. The source of omega 3's are sardines and anchovies. So you can fore go fish and maybe get them in your breakfast cereal - not from plant sources, like flax meal, but from marine bycatch.

Scientists and nutritionists are saying it's a leap from simple fortified foods to these nutraceuticals. The article reports that they are also saying we don't know enough about how the good for you elements in various foods work together with other components in those foods. Seems like vitamins in isolation don't pack the punch they do when they are an integral part of a fruit or vegetable or animal source.

I'm sure there are people who not only choose individual foods because they've heard of their benefits - blueberries, say, or tofu - but who subsist on these new synthetic foods, on medications and vitamin pills thinly veiled as food. It's the food of the future. Ah - and I remember when tang, the beverage of the astronauts, was all we needed.

But the counter trend is that more people are choosing diets of whole, seasonal foods. More people are returning to cooking. And fewer people are on diets! There are significant decreases in the number of folks on reducing diets, and some growing evidence that people who add more fruits and vegetables to their diets and do their own cooking are slimmer - without dieting. Hey - this is like the trend we experienced around Lent - don't give something up, take on a positive discipline for 40 days and 40 nights. On a more somber note, surely the number of people purchasing whole food and doing their own cooking is going to increase as incomes and wealth continue to decrease. Maybe we'll rediscover that happy meals and functional food begin at home.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Candidates on Agriculture

As we might have predicted from the primaries, Obama doesn't have much of a food platform.

At Science Debate 2008

we learn from two candidates' responses to 14 key questions that both support GM crops. Obama wants appropriate testing to ensure safety for the environment and human health, and McCain envisions a new "green revolution."

Which basically shows that Obama doesn't know much about the science, or the issues of ownership of genetic material, and McCain participates in the Hope in Science of an earlier time when everybody of his generation did. Better living through chemistry time.

And then there's Sarah Palin, who would probably just keep saying that it doesn't matter if genes exist or not - enough times so that those who fear expertise would believe it. She's the truthiest!

Time to go in search of the green party position.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

More on less

I caught the tag end of an interesting interview with Professor David Pimentel (Cornell) on Living on Earth yesterday.

While driving home from the garden I learned that a 12 oz can of diet soda, which contributes 1 calorie of food energy to one's body, requires 2200 calories of energy to get to you. Specifically, it takes 600 calories to produce, and 1600 calories to put it in the aluminum can.

Pimentel and his colleagues have been coming up with figures like this for a number of the foods on our plates. He suggests that we could reduce the amount of oil that goes into our food system - about 500 gallons per person per year - and thus reduce what our food system contributes to greenhouse gases - by changing our habits. 50% - think about it. That may be the biggest prediction of possible change I've heard yet.

But think about it - while we can make changes as individuals, we also need to somehow make these changes in concert - by exerting real pressure on agribusiness and industrial food production and marketing. Just because I stop buying diet sodas doesn't mean they don't still take up half an aisle in most markets I visit. Just because I buy my pears from the grower doesn't mean the specials on pears shipped from hundreds of miles away that never ripen quite right will stop.

I also have been thinking - the diet soda example inspired me - that the American way of reducing diets probably increases the energy expenditure per calorie. Whether it's the prepared meals of some plans, or the pressure to eat out of season foods because they are diet foods, or the meat laden high protein diets - these strategies that reduce calorie consumption have got to increase planetary cost per food calorie.

And then there's the question of how we make the case for reform in our congregations. Shunning meat a few days a week and eating seasonally just isn't as sexy as buying a prius or maybe even changing the light bulbs. Maybe because it isn't a technological solution, but a set of choices must closer to our hearts, technically and metaphorically. People get emotional about their cars, not so much about their light bulbs - but less emotional about both, I'm thinking, than their mother's meatloaf (pro or con), their glass of milk or macaroni and cheese, their right to eat the foods they like most every week of the year. So - continuing to muse - shouldn't we in the religion business be able to touch those emotions somehow, to reshape attitudes and practices around our participation in our food systems?

Some things to do:

Work toward cutting the total amount of meat, dairy and eggs in our diets by 2/3. That's 2/3 of the average American consumption now. (And, yes, I recognize that there is room for some cuts in even my diet, without going totally vegan, by reducing my consumption of cheese and ice cream.)

And cut the amount of waste in our food purchases - both in overbuying and in reducing the number of shopping trips powered by fossil fuels.

Next I want to know if in Pimentel's team's interdisciplinary work they have compared the energy costs of methods of food preservation. As I've suggested before, I think freezing is probably the most energy greedy, but need to do some more searching for data.

You can read or listen to the interview which inspired this post here:

Saturday, September 6, 2008

shUN meat

The BBC on-line science news headline reads:

"Shun meat, says UN climate chief"

IPCC chief Rajendra Pachauri will be speaking Monday evening in London. Assessments by various UN agencies report that 16% of greenhouse gases worldwide come from livestock production, and 13% from transport.

Of the livestock sector, the biggest producer of greenhouse gases is the clearing of forests for grazing.

Surveys show that people are anxious about their carbon footprints - but are they anxious enough to give up their Whoppers and bangers?

(Seems to me many of the green actions people are willing to undertake are a little like the child who gives up spinach for Lent.)

And will the successor to the Kyoto protocol contain goals for reducing the emission of greenhouse gases in the livestock sector?

Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Who is this woman anyway?

I really resist putting my photo on-line - even on my Facebook page - but you probably deserve to see who is writing most of the entries in this blog. I had Karen at the TLC community garden take some snaps of me, thinking about an Alfred Hitchcock touch in the harvest photo essay on which I am working for Episcopal Life on-line. Now you can see it first. Here I am with Gregory's scarlet runner beans, the prettiest thing in the garden. The beans, not me.

Why organic matters

An article in the science section of the NY Times earlier this week caused me to think about why organic matters. It's not because eating organic will make you healthier or more righteous. It might make you healthier, and whether or not it contributes to righteousness is not ours to judge. But it will contribute to a lessening of the planetary overload with nitrogen, an important factor in climate change and other environmental impacts.

We've been carboned to death with warnings about the big C, but there is also the big N. Life is made up of many elements, and the nitrogen cycle matters just like the carbon cycle and the water cycle and many other less studied cycles.

Dead areas in the oceans are largely there because of nitrogen run off from crop land fertilized with synthetic fertilizers. Much nitrogen is wasted in growing that favorite source of sweetening and ethanol, corn. The Times article reports that with raising beef about 6% of the nitrogen inputs actually end up in the meat we - make that you - eat. The rest is run off - or gas off.

Plants - except legumes which can fix it from the air - must have nitrogen to grow, and it's in every amino acid. But too much of a good thing is not wonderful.

In organic farming, nitrogen inputs are from natural sources, like composted animal manures and plant material. These forms of nitrogen are both less concentrated and more readily assimilated by the growing plants. Hence much less nitrogen is lost to air and water where it can cause harm.

The reason to choose organic when possible, then, is not about me or you, but about the health of the planet. It's also a reason to push for consideration of nitrogen, not just carbon, in national environmental legislation.

The article points out that one of the reasons no one talks about nitrogen is that environmental activists want simple messages to deliver to their audiences. This is what gets us stuck in the "change a light bulb for Jesus" mentality. Much easier to give people one thing to worry about, and one thing to do, rather than encouraging to them to think about complex topics. But the interplay of environmental stresses and issues is complex. And the impact of one basic human activity, such as eating, on all of them requires careful thought about many impacts.

I'm still struck by the British movement to have the label "organic" reserved for produce which has not been flown in, no matter how it has been grown. Surely somebody there understood the interrelationship of climate change impacts from transportation and from industrial farming. We need more of that kind of thinking.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Diet Discipleship?

Eric sent me the link to this article on Beliefnet

which is a good summary of some of the things going on at churches of various denominations around the country - community gardens, vegetarian options at potlucks, CSA deliveries, concern for the epidemic diabetes among poor parishioners.

Buy I balk at the phrase "diet discipleship". Dear God, please free us from purity codes. It's bad enough that we have all the food taboos in popular culture. Ethical reflection, thoughtful choices - but thou shalt not preach negative apodictic diets!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Conventional Food

I watched quite a lot of the coverage of the Democratic National Convention (a good thing to do when it's too hot to do anything), but I heard precious little about food issues - except a nod or two to rising prices. I hope I missed something.

Aside from food, in the economic justice dimension, I find it interesting that so many want to claim working class origins - but so few talk openly about the poor and the working class today. It's always the middle class we hear about.

Last evening Jon Stewart asked what kind of a silly remark is "We Are the Ones We've Been Waiting For." Dear, dear. It's the title of a book by Alice Walker. And as far as food system change goes, I'm not sure we are the ones we've been waiting for, but it appears we are going to have to be the ones to do it.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Evolution of Healthful Diets

Last week I finished reading Why Some Like It Hot by Gary Paul Nabhan. Published in 2004, the book is a sound treatment of the adaptation of peoples to their local diets. I must say - it got off to a really slow start. But the latter chapters on the indigenous peoples of the American Southwest and Native Hawaiians were really interesting. Communities where obesity and diabetes were epidemic recovered health by returning to a diet of traditional crops and foraged wild foods. This book is not a platform for some wiggy blood type diet, or a pseudo-anthropological call for people to return to being hunter-gatherers. Rather, it's a reasoned treatment of science and culture, and their impact on human and environmental health.

Nabhan reasons that the increase in diabetes these days can be attributed to four things:
1) a loss of wild foods
2) a loss of diversity in crops and livestock
3) the unnecessary refining of so many foods, resulting in the loss of fiber
4) the development of so many additives to industrial foods, additives to which our bodies have no long term adaptation.

One of the things Nabhan points out is that human adaptation to local food stuffs does not seem to take hundreds of thousands of years, but more like just hundreds - fewer generations than many scholars have thought. (Let's hear it for evolution!)

In the chapter on the Waianae community on Oahu he quotes Dr. Terry Shintani:
"In traditional medicine it is recognized that there is really only one disease that all of us must learn to resist: arrogance. It is simply arrogant to think that we can violate the laws of nature and get away with it."

The implication is that we need to eat our native foods, the ones to which our people's bodies
have adapted over generations.

But this left me pondering - what about those of us who are dispersed and dislocated from the places where our ancestors lived? Surely that's a lot of the human community these days?
If you are Pima living in southern Arizona, or Hawaiian or hapa living in Hawaii - well fine. But what if you are from Africa via Jamaica living in Toronto? from Japan living in Sao Paolo? from Croatia living in Auckland? from Oaxaca in Chicago?

What if you are from assorted northern European tribes living in the Mediterranean climate of California? Some of the things that might be traditional foods for my sort of person would be grains that grow in crummy climates, like rye and oats - rhubarb and berries, particularly berries in the heath family - fish from the North Atlantic and Baltic - root vegetables native to Europe, turnips maybe? But that'd be racking up some food miles to eat that diet. While a few might be grown here, most aren't. And even when someone tries, they just aren't right somehow. You can keep California blueberries and Oregon cranberries as far as I'm concerned.

So to be healthy are we all supposed to go back where we came from?

CSA's on the rise

A NY Times article this past week reminded me that I had never posted the link to the Local Harvest locator. It does seem like CSAs are everywhere. Niece Pam in Massachusetts is pleased that she has a share in one, as her backyard produce consists of tomatoes, herbs and chickens not quite laying yet.

I'm happy that I don't need to subscribe, but then I realize being smug about it probably is not nice! How many people have the advantages I do, with a nearby farm stand and supermarket with lots of 100 mile produce - and people I know. How many people have a chance to participate in a community garden that's nearby, and have or can make the time to do so. And how many people have work that allows them to visit other farms and vineyards?

Today on the way home from Lakeport I visited a homely farm stand near Kelseyville. I came away with a cantaloupe that actually smelled, a couple of pounds of onions, and twenty pounds of Bartlett pears for $12.50 How many people are that lucky or have that much fun on the way home from church?

(Lake County is known for pears, walnuts, and, increasingly, wine. A fine combination.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I'm ready

for tomato jam

I will probably use the recipe in Fancy Pantry by Helen Witty, a cookbook I've relied on for 20 years. (I've already made the annual batches of seedless blackberry jam - with wild blackberries gathered from behind the community garden - and peach preserves with rum - with a gift of peaches from a parishioner's backyard tree in Ukiah.)

But the tomatoes are finally coming in - in this patchy weather year which slowed everything - and I'm ready for a new tomato turn.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Yes, but we must cultivate our garden

Just a note to recommend conversation around the topics treated in "Gardening at the Dragon's Gate" by Wendy Johnson - who gardened at Tassajara and at Green Gulch Farm near Muir Beach in Marin County California, both SF Zen Center projects, and now carries on in her own garden near Stinson Beach.

Lovely beginnings - friends who got me started on it also got me thinking about community gardens in Snohomish County WA where I now am (mostly). . . some local churches have (I think) gotten into community gardens as well as food banks -- making the connections from land to table.

What is going on around here for sure is Annie's Kitchen at Edmonds Lutheran Church - open to all, and all sorts of folks come. It's free, using donated food from local grocers, and cooks and servers are volunteers (including some from St Alban's, Edmonds, my own place). I'm wondering if we might cultivate a garden (displacing some himalayan blackberry bushes, at least temporarily) out behind our education building.

Meanwhile two of my 'bio-intensive' organic gardening enthusiast friends are staging a pumpkin growing competition in Santa Cruz..... will fog-kist squash beat out hillside sunned?


At Christ Church, Bayfield WI, a couple bring produce grown in their garden to the sherry hour after High Mass - help yourself and leave a cash donation for Lutheran World Relief (one of the most efficient charities, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, so you get a lot of bang for your buck - as well as string beans and summer squash).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

On a confused note

The same L.A. councilwoman who would not get behind saving the South Central Farm is the one behind a ban on new fast food restaurants in the same neighborhood. Does she not understand where good inexpensive food comes from? You've got to grow it and cook it yourself to compete with the $1 menu.

Olympian eats

I'm not quite sure why I am so interested in the Olympics. Perhaps my life is less exciting than I thought.

Of course, I am paying attention to the food angle. There was a really culturally disparaging piece on NBC about Chinese food. The implication was that they'll eat any part of any creature - and the critic apparently just faked eating things, not really tasting them. When did making fun of another culture become acceptable again? Let's criticize China for the tiny underage gymnasts, but not trash their centuries of amazing food culture.

The ads would suggest that the successful athlete eats fried chicken sandwiches on white buns with pickles as a vegetable (MacDonald's), Coca-cola, and Pringles. Mmmm. Actually it might be tasty- but nutritious?

The little vignettes about American stars are pretty interesting from the food angle, too. I wonder what is going to happen to Michael Phelps when he stops training for six months given how much he eats. How long does it take for the metabolism to begin to drop? He commented in the biosnip that basically, he "just shovels it in." Sleeps, eats, trains, eats, plays with his dog, eats some more. An interesting contrast with Natalie Coughlin who was depicted - both by NBC and local news - as enjoying a variety of activities, not just competitive swimming. And - yea Natalie - though I'm sure that Berkeley influence helps - she enjoys a trip to her neighborhood farmers' market and cooking for her friends.

Here's my analysis: At any given time there are probably about 1 or 2 billion people alive of an age to compete in sports. Only one of them can be the most decorated - and it may be worth ignoring good health habits and being single-minded to the point of not worrying about later until later to get there. But our local girl Natalie has gold medals and the beginnings of a fun and well fed life - lifelong.

update: Natalie won six medals, the most of any American woman in swimming at any Olympics. But somehow the media didn't bother to celebrate the fact.

Meanwhile, Shawn Johnson's biosnip showed her in her West Des Moines supermarket, reviewing her image on packages of all sorts of processed industrial food. AND - they sculpted her in butter! But one of her sponsors is Orowheat (bread and butter!) and she reports eating only the occasional junk food item.

update: Iowa's woman track star was sculpted in ice at the State Fair. What does this difference say?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Questing in locavore land

I'm back from Vancouver, B.C., where I participated in the conference of the Association of Anglican Deacons of Canada.

It seemed like a good thing to pay attention to the food (as though I wouldn't anyway) and stimulate some conversations about it.

The venue where we met was something of a mixed bag. I appreciated the fact that no one was pushing bottled water - there was a filtered tap in the cafeteria where one could refill one's water bottle - and there was not much of the individual packaging one sometimes finds in such contexts. But the lack of a vegetarian option at dinner and the dearth of local seasonal fruit was a big disappointment. When I skipped the business meeting Saturday afternoon to go to the UBC anthropology musuem I managed to find a patch of blackberries - the invasive Himalayan kind, but still blackberries - on my wandering way back to my room. (There was an area roped off for habitat restoration behind the museum where the blackberries were invading over the far fence.)

The other thing which surprised me at the conference were the quantities of meat which many people seemed to be putting away. One woman did comment that at home it's porridge or muesli and fruit for breakfast, so bacon and sausages were an away from home treat. Perhaps this was the dynamic.

It was fun talking with people about their gardens, farms and local food adventures in the various provinces. One woman lives on a sixteen acre farm - range fed beef in inland B.C. Another, I think from southern Ontario, reported having a meal with ten different veg from her garden a few days before leaving for the conference. And I could taste the berries of the maritimes just hearing about them. The saddest story was from a woman whose Ontario town is being converted from dairy farms to suburban tracts. And the most fun was drinking the homemade wine women from the Diocese of Kootenay (inland B.C.) had made - though it was from purchased Lodi grapes!

The wine and cheese at Vancouver School of Theology on our first evening included some Ontonagon Valley wines - as well as Napa! There was also a good local cheddar among the cheeses. The Saturday evening buffet banquet included wild salmon, potato salad, and a golden beet salad which were big hits with me. Local beer and more Ontonagon wine were available at the cash bar.

On Sunday after the closing Eucharist, I should have gone to Granville Market, but was too tired for a major adventure. We walked way too far to a neighborhood bordering the university lands and wandered into an eatery identified as a diner, but really a fish and chips place. It felt like slipping throught the looking glass into a Monty Python routine. I met my need for some 100 mile fruit at an Asian grocer nearby where they had huge local cherries for $2.99 a pound. Then back to the same neighborhood that evening for a trendier meal. The British influence caught up with us again though - we Americans puzzled over what "upside down pudding" was. What is the difference between upside down and right side up pudding? Of course, it was an individual steamed pudding - and I, with a grandmother who was the queen of puddings (yes - I know - there is such a dish - bread pudding dolled up with jelly and meringue) should have guessed that.

Perhaps the best eating surprise was the fact that food vendors at the airport charge no more than they do at locations outside the airport. Coffee and a bun at Tim Horton's (Dunkin Donut equivalent) costs the same in the city and at the airport. "We have an anti-gouging law," offered the woman in front of me in line.

The locavore impulse is never pure, of course, and rarely as influential as one would like. There are always cultural and economic influences on what is possible in honoring the seasonal, local and sustainable. But it's fun to explore them.

Prince Charles on GM crops

"If they think this is the way to go, we will end up with millions of small farmers all over the world being driven off their land into unsustainable, unmanageable, degraded and dysfunctional conurbations of unmentionable awfulness," he said.

Thanks to BBC News UK for quoting him in a story on their web site.

Monday, July 28, 2008

another food fight

Yesterday I caught a snippet of news from the World Trade Organization talks in Switzerland. Not much is getting done, and a lot of that has to do with fights over agricultural subsidies. The proposal on the table is for the US to take a 70% cut in subsidies and the EU 80%.

Many developing countries are pressing for more.

The US would go along with the proposal, but only if tariffs are reduced on some manufactured goods coming from developing countries.

Meanwhile, agricultural net exporters among developing countries - Paraguay and Uruguay are mentioned - are screaming unfair.

And France is worried about protecting appellations for its various agricultural outputs.

Here's the latest
Though I have to admit that after reading it, I am still not clear what did - or didn't - go on.
I do wonder though - why the US primary negotiator have her eyes closed for so much of the brief interview shown in this clip?

I'm going to read this latest briefing from the Oakland Institute
and hope I get a picture that's in focus, eyes open.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing

And it's not a good thing when this happens at the World Bank Group apparently. While they have adopted strong environmental guidelines, they are still funding projects which devastate habitats in the developing world.
An internal review recently published a report to that effect.

An article in the New York Times this week included this comment

"Korinna Horta, an economist at the Environmental Defense Fund, described how the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank’s private-sector arm, had promoted the expansion of livestock herds, soybean fields and palm oil plantations, which all tend to propel deforestation in the tropics, even as the World Bank simultaneously warned about forest loss and created a fund to curb deforestation."

Livestock, soybeans to feed the livestock, palm oil because it is transfat free (though not a big health treat!). Food issues.

Inflation at the market

As long as I'm on the subject of prices, let me continue that thread.

I've been watching prices at the supermarkets, and trying to track how rapidly the cost of food is inflating.

For myself, I've noticed that sustainably harvested fresh seafood is pretty much unaffordable. I look at the items with the green stripe on their price tags longingly each week. Fresh local milk - not even the organic kind - is now over $1.50 a quart.

I noticed a loaf of good quality industrial bread (or whatever you call bread that does not come from a local bakery) at over $5.00 for a 1 1/2 pound loaf. Since I only buy bread when it's too hot in the evenings to bake, or when I want a locally produced baguette or the like, the price of flour is of more interest to me, and I've already mentioned that I can no longer afford the much traveled King Arthur brand.

I have to confess that I do usually keep a bag of two of frozen vegetables in the freezer in case I get caught between crops in the garden and visits to Imwalle's for produce. I note that the price of frozen food has certainly skyrocketed. This makes sense, too, in that frozen food requires not just the cost of transport, but constant energy inputs to keep it frozen. (I was trying to explain to somebody the other day why canning involves less energy for preservation than freezing, and they just didn't get it. With canning all the energy inputs are up front.)

Some increases in food prices really do reflect an increase in environmental costs; others do not. One of my concerns, though, is that as prices continue to rise, more people will be forced to make choices on the basis of price alone, not on taste, nutritional value, or sustainability. Let's hope that more local foods are a better value by comparison; and that folks retreat from the overpackaging trends of late (that amazing 100 calorie phenomenon, for example) as they learn to pinch their food pennies.

Quotation of the day - at least

In an article in yesterday's New York Times about the upcoming Slow Food festival in San Francisco Carlo Petrini, Slow Food founder, is quoted in translation thusly:

“I always say a gastronome who isn’t an environmentalist is just stupid, and I say an environmentalist who isn’t a gastronome is just sad.”

The article, by the way, is quite balanced in its critique of Slow Food USA as elitist. It occurs to me that in many places in this country we don't have even the vestiges of local food traditions that could connect rich and poor, urban and rural, in the way they seem to have been able to do in Italy.

Are $85 dinners really going to help democratize this movement?

The free events are pictures of food, and lectures and dances about food. Let them eat photography.

I know that much as I am sympathetic to what Slow Food is trying to be, I won't join my local chapter because of the cost, and because I know the cost only begins with the membership fee. No, let me put that another way: why would I shell out good money to join a group whose events I could not afford to attend?

I'll just stick to being an environmentalist/gastronome on my own.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

What I didn't do this week, and why

The week has gone, and I did not apply for the environment and economic justice position on the Episcopal Church staff.

The more I read the job description, the more I was convinced that this position is going to be a business-as-usual organizing job. I do not see much hope of changing that given what I perceive to be the culture in the bureaucracy these days.

What do I mean by this? Well, I mean that most of the time in the job would be spent telling people what to think and do about the church's official positions on various economic and environmental issues.

For some time I have seen this conventional style of organizing as much in need of reform as conventional parochial ministry.

From a user perspective, I find that I don't always agree with the email blasts I get from our church's Washington, D.C. office. I feel sometimes that I am being talked down to - that things are being simplified for me in ways that are not helpful. I even feel this sometimes when it is not one of "my issues" on which a position is being advocated. There also seems to be little wiggle room depending on what part of the country one lives in, and its cultural context.

I would not want to address issues without making room for the great variety of local contexts, nor without helping people engage the issues from the perspective of faith: fostering dialogue between our lore and traditions and values and the issues at hand.

I've probably been more opinionated in this blog than is helpful - I think that's the way of blogs - but if I am working with a group of folks on issues I want to help them explore the complexities. I'd want to help them connect the issue with their faith and their daily life. I would want much room for reflection, not just the scripting of actions.

It's pretty easy to write talking points; it's also easy to build mailing lists. It's a lot more difficult to nurture genuine networks, where real dialogue and collegiality can take place. I've worked as an organizer, and I know that sometimes the rewards come based on how many people you've reached, not how much change you've effected.

I also know that often the press of duties is such that there's no time to tell those you've organized how and what difference they have made.

Perhaps this is why I prefer to work at redeveloping small congregations: there is more respect for the unique context and mix of gifts that is each congregation, each baptized person.

There were two other things that troubled me about the job. It looked like there were so many committees and offices on the organization chart to which connections needed to be maintained that there would be no time to do what I feel needs to be done: work with and for the congregations and dioceses of the church. I do not think the environmental staff position should be just a conventional advocacy job, but one which is connected to congregational development, liturgy and communication. We need to transform our congregations, our church life - not just tell folks in D.C. how to vote. I think, too, that there should be time for those in such positions to answer emails and return phone calls from folks around the church who are knowledgeable about the issues.

And how can you have a job about environmental concerns and economic justice with 50% travel?

I guess basically I saw this job opening as another church staff position participating in consumerism, not fostering a participatory church.

Now I have to figure out how to do what needs to be done without support.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Agricultural parables

Yesterday I preached on the parable of the sower, hoping that folks would here it not as judgment (are you rocky ground? a thorny weed that strangles out the good) but as encouragement for the wild sowing of seed in our Christian ministries.

Today Betsy phoned and suggested I look up this version:

One any gardener could appreciate.

I'm also working on my own parable for today's church, in light of all the fussin' and fumin' around the Lambeth conference. I'm calling it the parable of the pot bound plant.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Local, Local, Local and Local

The New York Times has assembled links to many resources on local eating - from the Times and other sources - here:

And in my own little local sphere, I've got squash.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Handy seasonal produce locator

Check out this map at the Epicurious site. You can find what's in season for any month in any state.

I haven't visited the Epicurious site much lately, but they have added lots of features related to seasonal eating, now comparing favorably to the BBC Good Food site. AND - you don't have to translate the seasonableness. (We in northern California are a little ahead of Britain in harvest times, but have a shorter season for cool crops.)

Why don't we have more picnics?

I love picnics, but have found it difficult to persuade others to enjoy them with me. Do I have the wrong friends? Would people rather eat in their cars? do fast food? I realize that some people despise picnics. A few of them made rather pungent comments on this week's Minimalist column. But I think we need more of them - picnics, not anti-picnic cranks.

So I've posted a link to the 101 quick picnic recipes, and partly because I want a quick link to them. Many of the recipes are meatless, and most have ingredients that are in season at the same time. All are simple. And I think some of them are the kind of thing it wouldn't be bad to make ahead on a hot morning and leave in the fridge for supper after the evening's weeding and watering at the community garden.

Gastro-tourism, I guess

A week ago I was traveling to Portland, Oregon for a meeting.

Or at least I thought I was traveling to Portland.

The meeting was actually at a suburban hotel frequented by airline crews, and near a regional mall - suburban Anywhere, USA?

So it wasn't the green experience I was expecting when I heard the key word "Portland". Recycling? Local, seasonal food? Not much.

And listening to the three flight attendants in the van with me on the way back to the airport I realized their lives are about 180 degrees out from mine. I don't think they have a local, and all their topics of conversation seemed to come under the heading "consumer notes". I think I am going to start making a list of the things you can live without.

BUT - there was an up side. The Bob's Red Mill experience was just a few miles west of the hotel. I persuaded a fun colleague from Portland to take me there on a break. I did not see Bob. But I was able to buy (note consumer moment here) rolled rye, which I can no longer get anywhere locally and which is a key ingredient in my favorite roll recipe.

The Red Mill was a friendly place with helpful people. Through talking, observing and reading I realized that Bob does do a lot of sourcing of grains in the Northwest. So while I am grieving the loss, I am ready to make the switch from King Arthur products, saving money (it costs a lot to ship those grains from the Midwest to Vermont and then to California) and many food miles. And when I run out of this case of rolled rye, I can mail order myself from Bob.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Garden Bliss

Last evening when I finished fiddling around at the garden, tucking in a few more plants from among those donated, I straightened my back and had a moment of bliss, thinking how happy I am to have this garden.

I added a cucumber, another pepper, another eggplant, another tomatillo and some cinnamon basil - so I now have four kinds of basil. This seems like greed - but also sensory bliss.

I've also realized that given my struggle to find local garlic - or any California garlic - at our markets, I am determined to start growing my own. The soil is so much improved from adding compost that I think I can grow it over this winter and be successful. And I intend to learn to store it properly. Seems to me that one of the problems with market vegetables - and even farmers' market vegetables - is that things like onions, garlic, and winter squash are not prepared properly for keeping. Why would you when you can fly them in off season from Argentina, she said sarcastically.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

It was good to have a few days off, but to have them hot, and then to come home to even more of the same has left me enervated and even further behind in most everything, including this blog. This is the third little wave of extreme heat we have had this season - and it's just the beginning of summer. Is this the beginning of accelerating climate change, or just normal variation? I certainly can't remember such a hot June in all the years (now 23 in total) that I have lived in California.

I've been reading through the backgrounders from the UN climate change and food conference early this month, and I find that so much of it, though intended to describe the developing world, applies here.

I can't get the pictures of those drowned pigs in Iowa (from the News Hour) out of my mind. Would it have been possible to rescue the hogs if there hadn't been 3000 of them confined in that barn? Someone will scream sacrilege, but I couldn't help thinking about the difficulty in rescuing people who are living too close together without the means to help themselves to safety. Katrina images, I suppose. If we are the hogs keepers, then we are the ones responsible for their useless deaths.

If I were sentimental about animals imagine what I would be writing.

Meanwhile, I learned that National Geographic has a page with many stories about global food.
I'm posting the link on the list to the right.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Even more garden news

I almost forgot to post a link to this great story by Pat McCaughan on a community garden project in the Diocese of Los Angeles. I wish I could have been there!

Hope for African Food Security?

Here's what Kofi Annan said yesterday in a News Hour interview about the global food crisis as it is being addressed in Africa:

And the idea is to work with other stakeholders to ensure that the African farmer gets the right seeds, seeds that are high-yield and pest-resistant, and ensure that the African soil, which is the most depleted, is improved, working with the African farmers, making fertilizers available to them, the right type of fertilizers, and working with them on the quantities they should use, on water management, on storage, and marketing, so all along the value chain.

Reading between the lines here, I am wondering:

- is he well intentioned about developing sustainable food security in African nations?

- or is he letting us know that this will be an opportunity for vertically integrated global corporations to screw up African agriculture - so it's not dependent on food aid, but is in perennial debt to Monsanto and ADM (one of the news hour sponsors).

This page describing various iniatives of the organization Annan is heading
looks good - but I am not sure I am sophisticated enough in my knowledge to read between the lines.

On the bright side, in his News Hour interview Annan did address the problem of agricultural subsidies in rich nations. The interviewer, however, did not lead him into a deeper exploration of this question. Of course, not - the subsidies don't benefit farmers in the US for the most part; they benefit Monsanto and ADM.

The whole interview transcript is here:

What are you beefing about now?

The latest Episcopal Ecological Network newsletter contained a rant from one member about not eating beef. I get this, having done it for ten years or more. (Unlike stopping smoking, I did not note the actual date, since, as far as I know, beef is not physically addictive.)

What I also get is that rants are not the way to change hearts and minds.

If you've been reading this blog, I hope you've been reading the Minimalist in the Wednesday NY Times and the blog Bitten. If not follow this link for some sensible advice on how to move the meat off the center of your plate.

Meanwhile I've been thinking - if it's methane we're concerned about, surely we need to cut down the amount of dairy products we eat, too. And some food alarmist did opine that cheese is addictive. Oh my. I can substitute some soy products for dairy, but others are really unappealing. There's also the fact that we have good local dairies here, but no local commercial soy growers. How does one weigh food miles vs. bovine flatulence when deciding how to eat green?

Garden News

Word of mouth locally and news reports from Britain and the US all suggest that vegetable gardening is on the rise. Marian Burros reported on the phenomenon in yesterday's New York Times. Her gleanings about who and why seem to match what one can learn by observation and conversation.

It's the price of decent produce which is the trigger, even though there are lots of other reasons (exercise, food miles) to grow your own. She even suggests that if you don't take a traveling vacation, you have more time to garden. That's one I hadn't thought of: the gardening staycation.

At the TLC community garden things are finally beginning to move. One thing I've noticed is that most of the interest seems to be among younger and older adults - and the pictures in the NY Times article illustrate this.

Water has been in at our community garden for several weeks now, and my plot is planted - at least as much as I am going to do for this spring and summer. I now have two twenty food beds. Our second heat wave has finished off the peas, and I'm letting the last of the lettuces go to seed for next year. I'd already interplanted the hot weather crops in that bed - tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, eggplant, basil - so they'll keep on chugging as I pull out the peas. There are blossoms on the tomatoes and one of the peppers has set fruit. Nights have been warm, so the tomatoes should be setting fruit also.

My second bed is planted in green and shell pole beans, summer and winter squash. It needs a top dressing of the compost which was supposed to have arrived yesterday. There was not enough on hand to do the job right, but I was eager to get my planting done. I'm determined to get a few boxes built during the summer, and do some winter cropping this year. Probably chard will go in when the beans are done, and lettuce in the smaller boxes.

Late this afternoon I am going to help water down the rest of the plots so that they can be tilled and planted soon. I don't know what those gardeners are going to do for gopher proofing - my beds are lined with wire. But we have it on good authority - from Joe Imwalle - that tomatoes can be planted as late as Bastille Day and still yield in our climate.

Meanwhile, just the act of watering for a couple hours on a hot evening seems like a good thing to do - refreshing all the way around.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Coverage of the Global Food Conference

As I said a few days ago, I'm interested in which media outlets are covering the conference - and which aren't. NPR has had bulletins from Sylvia Poggioli yesterday and today - but with more emphasis on the politics than the science and economics. BBC is covering it, too.

Here's a quotation from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon:

"We have an historic opportunity to revitalise agriculture... I call on you to take bold and urgent steps to address the root causes of this global food crisis."

And here's the link to more quotations from the opening salvos:

I especially liked this tell-it-like-it-is approach from Croation President Stjepan Mesic:

"We must admit the fact that we have reached the present situation because of decades of mistaken understanding of global development, because of a truly brazen imposition of unacceptable models on other communities and ways of life, because of unfair rules of international trade and the hypocrisy of international financial institutions, because of favouring big business at the expense of ordinary people."

Monday, June 2, 2008

We've been discovered

Tourists are coming to Sonoma County to eat local and write about it for the New York Times.

While I can sing the praises of some of the places mentioned in the article, I would like to add that you don't have to be precious or pretentious to eat locally here. But perhaps it helps to live here, and to have a sense of how community (the opposite of tourism) and local food work together.

I hope these folks go home and do something about their local food system - and not just for well-to-do foodies.

Friday, May 30, 2008

High Level Conference on World Food Security

On the global scene, a major conference is coming up June 3-5 in Rome, exploring global food security, especially as it relates to climate change and bioenergy.

Today I got a press release on a statement signed by hundreds of heads of faith group and NGOs laying out their priorities. Or should I say our priorities, since Katharine our presiding bishop is one of the signers.

One of the concerns in the accompanying media advisory is that stakeholders in those sectors, and grassroots agricultural leaders and efforts generally, have not been heard adequately in the process leading up to this conference.

You can read the letter here:

It'll be interesting to see to what extent commercial US media follow this story. I'll be sure to post links here to any news from Episcopal media or RNS.