Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Kindly Hand Me My Cape . . . I Mean My Plate

Saving the world is supposed to be difficult. Lessening our impact on the planet, painful. A bike ride up a hill towing two boys and a week's worth of groceries. Turning compost with a too small shovel as soldier flies swarm your face. Emptying a lukewarm bath, bucket by sloshing bucket, onto a dead front lawn.

Fighting global warming is not supposed to be pleasurable. It is not supposed to feel like the sun on your cheeks as you wander through the brimming stalls of a farmers' market. It shouldn't taste like a just picked cherry tomatoe or offer the peace of homemade soup bubbling on the stove as autumn's chill creeps in.

Eating locally was one of the first steps I took toward lighter living. It was the easiest. I first "went green" in California's spring time. It was the most enjoyable. It took me a full year to liken hanging laundry to meditation but only one visit to the farmers' market to revel in the bounty, the flavor, the connection. Because voting with my fork has always been so wonderful, it never really felt like an environmental act. It never seemed like it could make a true difference. But after two sessions at Slow Food Nation, my green superhero costume is changing. I'm ready to toss the cape for the plate.

I attended two Food For Thought Sessions. The first, Building a New Food System: Policy and Planning, featured Andrew Kimbrell (an amazing speaker, founder of the Center for Food Safety and editor of Fatal Harvest), Marion Nestle (NYU Professor on Nutrition, Food Safety and Public Health and author of What to Eat), Paula Jones (Director of San Francisco Food Systems) and A.G. Kawamura (of aerial pesticide spraying fame and the Secretary of California Department of Food and Agriculture). The second session, Re-Localizing Food, featured Michael Pollan (like he needs an introduction!), Dan Barber (Director of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture), Winona La Duke (Native American activist, Vice Presidential candidate under Ralph Nader in 1996 and 2000), and Gary Nabhan (founder of Renewing America's Food Traditions and author of Coming Home to Eat).

Here are some of the things I learned:

30% of global warming is attributable to industrial agriculture. (Kimbrell)

Only 5% of health care dollars in this country are allocated to preventative measures. (Kawamura)

National security advisors have long urged that we decentralize the food supply which is exquisitely vulnerable to terrorists. Local food systems are the answer. (Pollan)

An official in the United States Department of Agriculture opined that we should grow no food in the United States. Our land, this person thought, should only be used for homes and recreation and our food should be grown in third world countries because it is more economical. (Nestle)

Although 90% of people want labels for genetically modified foods, it is simply out of the realm of possibility due to corporate influence. Without labeling, for GMO, organic, humane, fair trade, though we cannot know what we are buying and therefore cannot vote with our forks. (Kimbrell)

Andrew Kimbrell challenged us to become "paradigm warriors". He relayed a story told by a Native American chief. Native American women were sitting by the river working when a baby floated down. They rushed in and rescued it. Shortly thereafter, the river brought two more babies by and they, too, were promptly rescued. This continued with ever increasing numbers of infants bobbing down the river. Instead of simply pulling babies out of the river, though, the women needed to find out who was throwing them in. The story reflects our current ecological predicament. We need to stop the bleeding but also get to the root of the problem. Kimbrell presented a choice - between the industrial paradigm or an ecological one. One that asks the question: what is the true carrying capacity of the Earth? what is the real environmental bottom line?

The panelists were as concerned with losing farm land as with losing the knowledge base behind farming - which can disappear in a single generation. We need to get youth enthused about farming if we are going to have a long term impact.

To adapt to climate change, we must preserve diversity, which is where old heirloom varieties come in. Dan Barber told of being sent corn seeds from a variety once grown by Native Americans many many years ago. It is a strain no longer grown on the continent. Dan reluctantly planted the corn seeds - in a traditional Native American three sisters garden. 100% of the seeds germinated. The crop resisted disease, rot and pests and produced the most delicious corn he had ever eaten. Heirloom varieties evolved over time to adapt to a particular place, to withstand local pests and disease. When we plant in our own gardens, we should reach for the oldest variety possible.

Three hours of sitting in a too hot, too crowded theater taught me a few more things. I haven't read enough books on the food system by a long shot (and I've read alot). The fork is a mighty powerful utensil. And a superhero's job is never done. I've got a locally baked baguette smeared with farmers' market cheese and homemade strawberry hot pepper jam to devour right now. I'm just doing my environmental duty.

Kindly hand me my plate . . .


Burbanmom said...

Oh! I couldn't agree more! Eating locally and organically has been the BEST part of going green! I've always been a bit of a foodie, but learning where your food comes from (or better yet - growing it and/or preserving it yourself) adds a whole new dimension!

Living La Vida Local, BABY! :-)

Verde said...

Wow, that sounds great! What a wonderful opportunity to hear such amazing speakers.

Maya said...

I totally agree re. eating locally. Growing your own food is wonderful too; I love having all the organic kale my family can eat without paying $4 a bunch. So what books do you recommend?

kale for sale said...

I'd forgotten about Andrew Kimbrell. He was a great speaker. His organization, The Center for Food and Safety also sends out the equivalent of a monthly newsletter that you can sign up for at the link you included for him. I constantly learn new things from it.

The Food For Thought panels are also available for viewing or listening to at I listened to Re-localizing Food again the other day. Dan Barber is a great story teller.

Strawberry - hot pepper jam, Green Bean?! Definitely the food of a green superhero.

Green Bean said...

Burbs: So true. Growing and or preserving your own food makes it taste SO much better and so much less likely to be wasted.

Verde: It was the first event like this that I've gone to. Really great.

Maya: Nothing is more rewarding than harvesting your own food. Sometimes, when I dig a potato out of the ground or twist off a hot pepper, I remember when I first tucked that seed into the ground. What a miracle.

Katrina: Wasn't Kimbrell awesome!?! Thanks for the tip. I'll have to sign up for their newsletter.

Abbie said...

As usual, the food is my favorite part, too :)

Abbie said...

As usual, the food is my favorite part, too :)

Stephanie said...

I think food is my favorite part of sustainability. It is AMAZING how much better local food tastes. And that's why it doesn't feel like giving something up. =)

Which is also why I decided to join the food sustainability organization rather than the climate change one. I think this is one of the really big things too. Mmm food.

eco 'burban mom said...

Food started my journey. Once you have kids, watching foods that might have pesticides, hormones or chemicals pass their lips is just too scary. After that I started thinking locally. Then sustainably. After the food came our surrouding home and environment. Now, it's reaching out into my community and schools. It's rather tree-like how it takes root and grows. This post was a great way to bring me back to where it all started for me. Food! YUM!

GreenOfficeBlog said...

You're right, eating locally-grown organic products is both yummy and great for the environment. I always look forward to the time when Farmer's Market Season rolls around, because I know there will be plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to eat. Not to mention the fact that they don't release tons of pollution into the air as a result of cross-country transit. Locally-grown products are definitely fresher and tastier!

Green Bean said...

Abbie: Yup! Food is always the best part.

Stephanie: Yes, the food is SO much better that this is one of those changes that is positive all the way.

EcoBurbie: We've traveled much the same path. I agree that it is first the kids and then organic and so on and so on until you find youself emailing the principal to find out about creating a sustainable schoolyard. :)

greenofficeblog: Totally better - tasting, flavor, local businesses, less emissions, blah blah blah. Really and truly, our society would only benefit from transitioning back to a predominantly local food system with fair trade exceptions for things like coffee, chocolate, etc.

April said...

I planted my first garden this summer only to have the walnut tree in my yard kill off all of the tomatoe plants. Consequently, I have been planning to move my garden and prep the soil next weekend. I have been feeling a bit like, "I DON'T WANT TO!!" Thanks for the terrific reminder that local and homegrown food is of foundational importance when trying to build a more sustainable society and life. I will move my garden next weekend and I will feel good about it!

As a side...I just did a post on learning to hang dry my laundry. You said it took you a year to discover the meditational benefits of doing this. I would love any tips or insights you may have!


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