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.