Posts Tagged 'food'

Rejecting Agrofuel: What To Do

The diamond-cut life is about more joy, more integrity and less consumption as we deal with global warming. The food-as-fuel track that the U.S. is on assumes unlimited consumption (driving alone, for instance) with no particular joy or integrity.

What are practical, concrete things we can do? Here is what my household is doing to use less gas and discourage the business of agrofuel (food-as-fuel). Please write in with your ideas too (click Comments at the top of this post.)

Put your household on a fuel or gasoline diet. For instance, how much do you intend to spend on gas each month? (average $3.65/gallon in Oregon at time of this writing). Having healthy limits is what adults do. Some ways we live happily within our fuel diets:

  • Use public transit I am using only public transit today and not touching a car. To see the fun of this, read the 200-word piece Secret Lover, Secret Watchdog. (written before I started carpooling to Salem for my new job)
  • Walk for errands of two miles and less
  • Bicycle to destinations of five miles and less
  • Post a handmade map on your refrigerator of all the cool things you can do within walk/bike distance of home. Spring and summer weather make this much easier.
  • Post a list of all the fun things you can do AT home
  • Carpool or vanpool, especially for long commutes. I have great fun with this. See Carpool Survivor

Check out Drive Less Save More as a good resource for driving less. By June 1st it plans to have a Trip Diary that we can all use to record our non-drive-alone trips. That which gets measured gets improved. I’m going to use it!

Tell your Congresspeople you don’t want food used as fuel. Say that we should be using less fuel, instead. Here’s an easy place to find their contact info.

When you have to drive, drive the most fuel-efficient car you can. But, even then, don’t use that as an excuse to drive more than necessary. Tomorrow I’ll write about the new hybrid we just bought. Is your money on the Prius or the Honda Civic hybrid?

Photo courtesy of “CaptPiper”, graphic added by Hanmi Meyer.

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Update On Cooking For Climate Change

My post cooking for climate change needs freshening here as sustainability’s body of knowledge keeps growing. As per Michael Specter’s well-researched piece in The New Yorker, it turns out that being a locavore — eating just things grown close to home — does not necessarily reduce our carbon footprint.

Come again? How could two Oregonians (my husband Thor and I) possibly drink wine from Australia and create a smaller carbon footprint than if we drank pear brandy from Hood River, just one hour up the Columbia Gorge?

The Australian wine may have been shipped by sea, which shipping would use one-sixtieth the fuel that flying it in would use. Its grapes may have been grown without petroleum-based fertilizer, and harvested and processed with low-energy methods. If the pear trees in Hood River had been grown out of season in a heated greenhouse, sprayed and fertilized to the nth degree and watered with water pumped uphill– then the pear brandy’s carbon footprint to us sixty miles away in Portland might be holistically bigger than the wine from Australia.

Holistic is the key word. Our culture trains us to think in compartments, not in a unified whole. But sustainability is always about the interdependent whole: everything is related to everything else.

A last note about food in general — while I enjoy good meals as much as the next person, I don’t think we should lean on it as heavily as we do in our culture for entertainment. If we invested less of our time and money on food and spent more time using our bodies for honest physical work and transportation, we’d be much stronger both financially and physically.

Biodiesel Now Yielding 3.5 to 1?

Some folks are familiar with how we heat our home with biodiesel, with real success. The kind we use is made from vegetable oil that had its first life in restaurants, (and is usually discarded in places less funky and sustainable than Oregon). All of which is another reason I love living here.

My understanding had been that traditional (not recycled) biodiesel was not sustainable, i.e. uses so many fossil-fuel inputs it’s no improvement over just using, for instance, petroleum. But yesterday I read biodiesel yields 3.5 to 1 according to newer research.
I’d like to hear other people’s evaluation of this report, since the author is the National Biodiesel Board. They’re assuming soybeans as the source.

Biodiesel is different from ethanol, and it’s taken me awhile to understand the difference. Ethanol is made from corn, which strictly speaking is a renewable resource. However, agribusiness uses ENORMOUS fossil-fuel inputs to grow that corn. I think ethanol takes us down the wrong trail altogether.

For one thing, growing food to feed gas-tanks when millions in the world are either starving or without food security is unethical. For another, to think that ethanol can move us toward energy independence from the Mideast I’m afraid it is a wet dream born of addiction to the fossil-fuel-based way we are living in the U.S. As Thom Hartmann writes so lucidly in his book The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, we have to start living differently, consuming differently, than we are doing.

What I maintain is that in many cases, we can be happier in the process. More tomorrow.

Obama, Racism and the Primary World

Bob Herbert’s column in the New York Times this morning questions whether racism in the U.S. has abated enough to elect our first black president. While I hope it has, I have a related but deeper concern.

This human race we all belong to, with all our different skin pigments, beliefs and so forth, is not the only game in town, i.e., on the planet. Think about it. All of this stuff we are eating this morning that is keeping us alive, the bread and butter and milk and coffee, comes from plants and animals, whose lives depend directly on soil, air and water.

That soil, air and water happens to be known — of all things — as the primary world. A fitting phrase to learn on Super Tuesday. The primary world is what’s holding this whole show together. Dismantle it and we all go down, all skin colors and political parties alike.

The problem is that we humans treat that soil, air and water as if it were a series of worthless, inanimate objects. (Sound like any history of racism you’ve ever read?) Global warming means the primary world is quaking under our feet. We are in danger. Things have to change fast.

While I certainly hope we’re up to electing the best president possible of any race or gender, our bigger problem is the way we’re treading on the planet. The primaries are small potatoes in the face of the primary world.


Cooking For Climate Change, Part 2

My husband Thor and I love to have people over for dinner. At the same time I’m addicted to sociability, I ‘m also passionate about choosing food with the smallest possible carbon footprint (similar to ’embodied energy’). Our guests keep coming back, so I gather our cooking tastes pretty good.

Here are the major guidelines we use:

  • Buying local food lowers carbon footprint more than the ‘organic’ label
    Example: Australian wine doesn’t make the cut for Oregonians
  • Build meals around what’s in season where you live
    Examples: citrus & avocados in Sun Belt; salmon & pears in Northwest
  • Avoid frozen food (freezing uses a lot of energy)
  • Exception: unless frozen food clearly reduces your car-trips to the store
  • Meat holds huge embodied energy, i.e. fossil fuel inputs
  • So, use meat sparingly as an accent or not at all
  • Build meals around pasta, beans, lentils, and whole grains
  • Right-size our servings of food
  • I.e., a normal serving of pasta is the size of one’s fist

Sidebar: When it comes to a quick bite out, we find that Burgerville is very diligent about sourcing from local farmers. And I understand they treat their employees well, too.

Cooking For Climate Change, Part 1

Last night some friends and I had one of our periodic ‘Green Girls’ dinner parties at my friend Colleen’s house. We had a blast sharing news, laughter, viewpoints and encouragement around sustainability. Colleen’s meatless eggplant mousakka was a hit.

We all eat more than 1,000 meals a year, for a big percentage of our carbon footprint. If we want to lighten our carbon footprint, the principle to embrace is that heating anything is a surprisingly big deal. It burns the fossil fuels that releases global warming gases. So if we’re cooking to combat climate change, we want to conserve heat at every turn. Some tips: (please write in with your own, too)

 

  • Make and post on fridge a list of your favorite no-cook meals
  • Examples: tuna salad, tasty sandwiches, crackers & cheese w/ fruit
  • Defrost any frozen foods before cooking them
  • Cook double amounts to create meals you can quickly reheat later
  • Use a stovetop burner no larger than the pan (40% of heat can be wasted otherwise)
  • Cover anything cooking on stovetop with a lid to conserve heat
  • Copper, glass and ceramic all conserve energy better than metal pans
  • When food is close to done, turn off and let coast on existing heat
  • Cook and eat with others whenever possible! — to cultivate community as much as to conserve energy

Coming up next: conserving embodied energy in Cooking For Climate Change, Part 2.

Thanksgiving, Patriotism and Right-Sized Eating

For Thanksgiving I’ll suggest (and practice myself) a novel idea: to not eat a great deal. Just a normal-sized meal, with more sociability than usual.

“Unpatriotic!” I can imagine you criticizing me. “Killjoy!” “The economy would nosedive!” “Anti-consumption equals Anti-Christ!” (OK, pardon my drama.)

In truth, I’m very patriotic. I love our forebears. In fact I suggest we be more like them — by not being overweight and not wasting so many resources in the process. For example, it takes 441 gallons of water to produce a single pound of meat, versus seven gallons for a pound of wheat. If we’re wondering how Atlanta will resolve its drought problem, maybe reduced consumption of meat should go onto the table.

And the average food item Americans eat travels more than 1,500 fossil-fueled miles to reach us. My household subscribes to a local farm for weekly doorstep deliveries. Lowered dependence on foreign oil: very patriotic.

As for our GDP: to the degree that our national economy depends on overeating (and overconsumption in general) it is ill and needs to recover. A group of Americans resolving to eat moderately this Thanksgiving can be a step toward that recovery. Write in and take Alison Wiley’s Thanksgiving Moderation Pledge.

I’ll close with a little self-disclosure. When I eat normal-sized meals I retain my normal personality afterward: alert, friendly, affectionate. (At least my husband thinks so.) When I eat to excess I become slow and stupid, almost as if drugged. How about you?

I’m not a nutritionist, but from what I gather, human stomachs can’t digest enormous amounts of food dumped into them. It piles up and putrefies, making us gassy and grumpy. How patriotic is that? And how sexy?