Thursday, February 28, 2008

Terror in your local terroir

Or, is the companion of Peak Oil Peak Wine?

Well, I think this article is right - in the face of everything else, worrying about the impact of climate change on our wine does seem a little trivial.,1,3861092.story

And apparently that's what folks around here think, as so few attended the international conference described. Or it may be that they are oblivious. Or hoping for the best outcomes, as in the prediction for the Russian River Valley. Or perhaps they are just confused: predictions vary widely on what the actual impact on our coastal Mediterranean climate will be. More rain or less is one of the big questions.

Or perhaps they just agree with the climate change denier from the Napa Valley.

Whatever. It's interesting to think what warming temperatures might mean for other crops, or shifts in crops. Might more citrus be grown further north in California? If grapes aren't such a good idea any more, will we put more land back into warm weather food crops? If we need to irrigate more, will some agricultural land eventually be abandoned for that purpose, turned back to rangeland? We certainly don't have enough water to sustain the human population as temperatures rise and water crops more than we do now.

Friday, February 22, 2008

What's next, butter tastings?

The lead article in the food stories feed from Wednesday's NY Times was on small dairies.

I've just gotten around to reading it now. On Wednesday, among other things, I was doing my weekly older person's discount shopping. Looking for some cream to make a quiche with, I discovered some that actually came in a GLASS bottle, from Marin's Strauss Creamery. I thought I'd fallen into a time warp.

None of this will solve the problems around wholesome local food for folks who aren't rich, but for those of us who can re-order our priorities, who can choose to buy less of the good stuff, it's a blessing.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

footprint, foodprint, facts and fallacies

The article by Michael Specter in this week's New Yorker poses some interesting questions about food miles as a helpful measure for understanding and calculating one's carbon foodprint.

Calculations have to include more than miles, and the closest apple may not be the least expensive in terms of energy.

But then the carbon cost may not be the only reason local is attractive.

Specter does admit (this might have been in his interview of NPR's Fresh Air today) that local food usually is fresher and tastier.

But there is also the fact of human community and sense of place, of wanting to see or visualize where your food comes from, and know the people who grew it, or feel you do. There's also the economic goal of keeping money circulating in your own community, or county, or region. It's back to the adage of the Environmental Commons folks - not food as commodity, but food for community.

And if people have to be sentimental about something, I'd far rather it were their food than, say, their cars, or their plasma tvs, or their huge houses.

I'm not, as Specter puts it, mistaking morality for science here - I'm saying there is a place for both.

Incongruous in Iowa

I'm home now, but the last six days in Iowa were disappointing and confusing on the food front.

I know there are people in Iowa who care about soil conservation, diversity in cropping, alternatives to CAFO's, and local food security, but not in the hotel where our meeting took place or any of the places I ate. And there was fair ignorance of the New American Oxford Dictionary's 2007 word of the year, "locavore". There also seemed to be a general confusion of vegetarian with vegetables. There were no whole grain foods, and one of the dinners I was served appeared to be a one pound bag of deluxe frozen mixed vegetables which had been boiled and buttered.

The incongruity oscar, though, goes to the folks at the meeting who one evening had a lengthy conversation about Michael Pollan's seven latest words (Eat well. Not too much. Mostly plants.), CSA's, Farmer's Markets, etc., and the next went out to dinner at a restaurant where the smallest portion of feed lot mammal on the menu was a 14 oz. steak.

Next time I go to Iowa I'm packing prunes and soy nuts.

Friday, February 15, 2008

I think we already knew this

but it's nice to have it confirmed by careful research -

the best diet - feeding the most people with the most effective land use - is one that includes a little meat/dairy and the rest low fat plant foods.

When I saw the deer in the snowy suburban backyard where I am visiting here in Iowa, I commented that if I lived where game were that readily available, I might still eat meat.

Of course, if you have to plant a vegetable garden to feed the deer, then you might think twice, but these deer seemed to be browsing on shrubbery that would not be useable human food.

And don't you love the term "foodprint"?

green restaurants

Sometimes costs cause us to think up greener or more sustainable solutions, and as one of the folks interviewed for this article points out, "the cost of doing business poorly is going up."

But I'm now wondering - how do I know, other than from observation, what green practices the restaurants I go to are doing? I'm not aware that I've seen any green certifications around home or while traveling.

Friday, February 8, 2008

more food vs. energy greed

The studies are out in this week's Science: when one takes account of the impact of land use, bio-fuels can generate more greenhouse gases than they save.

It seems the only biofuels that help are those made from agricultural waste.

Think about it: even if no new land is cleared to grow crops for biofuels, people growing those crops are going to have to a) clear new land to grow food or b) import their food from somewhere else. And soils are being depleted even more rapidly in middle America as the conventional rotation of corn and soy is being abandoned for corn, corn, corn and corn. Meanwhile rainforests in the global south are begin destroyed to grow the soy beans for our imported pig feed.

What is wrong with this picture?

A spokesperson for the UN Energy Program is quoted in the NY Times this week confessing the error of "dressing up biofuels as the silver bullet of climate change."

Suppose there is no silver bullet (and no Lone Ranger or Tonto either) - we are then left with accepting our planet's limits, and reducing our energy usage.

The carbon cycle just IS folks - and there are no long term ways to affect it, change it, short circuit it, whatever. I want to think I am oversimplifying - but harking back to college courses in ecology, I doubt it. There are limits to what we humans can do can change the basic nature of reality, and it seems to me that using our wits and technological acumen to reduce energy usage from carbon in dead plants (whether dead yesterday or eons ago), while at the same time building community that is both strongly local and connected, is the only sane alternative.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

A guide for policy makers

is the subtitle of the item I've just added to the sites list on the right.

It's a report from the Robert Wood Johnson foundation, short and attractive, but full of the kind of ideas we need to put in the hands of our elected officials, because it encourages systemic thinking about food access.

I'm struck by the note about providing food processing/kitchen space in economically distressed areas. I know there are a million health code issues, but it does seem there ought to be something we could do communally to enable folks to process gleaned and community garden produce for their home use.

I am now mulling over the possibility of having a tomato canning night in the church kitchen adjacent to our community garden. Why not share equipment and make a party out of it? Some equipment is costly, and home kitchens in affordable housing get smaller and smaller - assuming, I guess, that folks only use the microwave and coffee maker. And canning alone is no fun. I can invoke my parents and grandparents - communion of saints canning parties? - but it would be much better to have useful company. And it would also be a way of handing on skills - which are in short supply among younger folks.

Is this something other congregations could consider? Newer church buildings often have pretty lame kitchens (microwaves and coffee makers again), but older ones often have sizable ones that are underused. My thoughts are running away with me: what about the big kitchen at St. John's, Lakeport and all those Lake County pears?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Farm Bill update

Advocacy does make a difference.

From the Episcopal Public Policy Network

The Farm Bill: Right now versions of the Farm Bill have passed both the House and the Senate. Neither is all that we would have hoped. Now, a conference committee is working to hammer out the differences to come up with a final bill for passage. President Bush has promised to veto both chambers’ version of the bill, in part because neither makes changes to the unfair commodity-payment system as urged by Episcopalians and other advocates. This veto threat gives important leverage to reform proponents.

I will certainly be happy when our legislators stop electioneering and jockeying for position with the candidates - and get back to addressing issues.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Struggles of affordable local restaurants

I've been wondering for some time why we don't have a medium or inexpensive restaurant around here which features local food. Is it the price of ingredients, or some snob/class consideration. While thinking about this and cleaning up piles of unread magazines, etc., I came across this article, which sheds some light on the struggles.