Saturday, April 19, 2008

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

what does hunger look like?

Question. What does hunger look like? If you live in America it’s likely you don’t know. It’s true that in the US 12% of our population is food insecure, meaning about 1 in 8 of us don’t regularly get enough nutritious food to eat. But the majority of us don’t see those people or their hunger very often. It’s more likely that most of us associates hunger with a dark skinned and dusty child sitting quietly with flies buzzing about, a la Sally Struthers commercials and her plea to save the children. I’d like to speak for a moment to the politicians, the leaders in this country so that they might get a better idea of what hunger really looks like, because not all hungry people are going to sit quietly and die waiting on someone to send donations.

Haiti’s government fell on Saturday when senators fired the prime minister after more than a week of riots over food prices.

Stone-throwing crowds began battling U.N. peacekeepers and Haitian police in the south on April 2, enraged at the soaring cost of rice, beans, cooking oil and other staples… The unrest spread this week to the capital, Port-au-Prince, bringing the sprawling and chaotic city to a halt as mobs took over the streets, smashing windows, looting shops, setting fire to cars and hurling rocks at motorists.

“It has not been lowered enough,” said a young man who identified himself only as Givens. “If they don’t further lower the price I think people are going to protest more. There will be problems, more unrest. Even the National Palace could be set on fire because we are in trouble.”

[President] Preval reiterated that Haiti could not afford to cut taxes on food because it needed the revenue to pay for longer-term projects that create jobs and boost agriculture.

And here in lies an interesting point. The future is almost certain to mean less energy available and fewer resources with which to grow food, including less fresh water and healthy topsoil. It’s easy to imagine how hard it will be, in such trying times, to launch a cohesive, coherent, top down change in our model of agriculture. Just as it becomes obvious that change is absolutely necessary, those who currently have the power to institute large-scale change will find their power waning. I remain skeptical that even a major change in terms of who holds office will provide the capability of those in political power to significantly cope with the scope of this problem- the growing shortage of a basic human necessity.

Need proof? The World Bank announced today that, “The world is moving towards a food crisis that may lead to wars and riots…” You think? Thank you for such a clear “prediction” of what lies ahead. Of course when asked about hunger around the world and specifically in Africa World Bank President Robert Zoellick suggested, “that sovereign wealth funds around the world allocate $30 billion – 1% of their $3 trillion assets- to investments for African growth, development, and opportunity,” which means he just doesn’t get it. Mr. Zoellick suggests throwing money at the problem. What a novel idea! The problem is we’re eating their food you moron, with our land export model of agricultural commodity production; to say nothing of the food we are burning in our gas tanks, our overly meat-intensive diet.

Ready for the scary part? The resulting rise in price has already caused instability with only 6.5 billion people on the planet. Population projections point to more than 9 billion people by the middle of this century. The people of the African continent don’t need to grow their economies and develop as Mr. Zoellick suggests in order to feed themselves. To be sure there is ample room for a rise in the standard of living of the average African but what they need more than anything is for us to stop acting like we’re somehow entitles to more than our fair share of this planet.

ABC ran an article today entitled, Food riots ‘an apocalyptic warning‘. What are they thinking? That’s the kind of headline that could ruin a rich world leader’s day. Because anyone with half a brain must realize that people are not going to just sit quietly and starve in the real world. This is not a television commercial. Recently there have been food riots in Haiti, Morocco, Egypt, Bangladesh, Mexico and in others Countries. Last October the Director of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization had this to say. “If prices continue to rise, I would not be surprised if we began to see food riots.” There’s at least one leader who saw this coming. But the rest of them, and to be fair many of us, haven’t given much thought to the day when our gluttonous eating habits might bite back. Because of our abusive attitude towards our environment and its resources, which we have taken for granted, that day might be arriving shortly.

But here’s another question. How long until we see food riots here in our country? Do you think the citizens- ur, ah, consumers in this country haven’t noticed the rising price of everything, including food? Do you think we still believe in the stupid core rate of inflation thingie that doesn’t include the cost of food, let alone the cost of the gasoline needed to drive to the store and buy that expensive food? The following is from Forbes (that leftist, conspiratorial, commie rag)

Kimberly Stevens, a 42-year-old resident of Lewisville, Texas… is also refusing to buy into the official Washington line that the nation’s inflation rate is only 3.4%. This outraged reader says, “As far as I am concerned, Bernanke, President Bush, Clinton, Obama and the rest of them live in a fairy-tale world. They do not go shopping each week and have no idea what the cost of goods is.”

A gallon of the Horizon organic milk she buys for her two boys has soared from $1.99 to over $5, an increase of 250%. In the past year, a loaf of bread has surged nearly 50%–to $2.29 from $1.59. Her Kraft cheddar cheese has gone from $1.99 to $2.50 for an eight-ounce package–a 25% rise. A dozen extra large eggs are up from 79 cents to $1.19, or about 50%, while ground beef, Stevens insists, is up more than 60%, from $1.79 a pound to $2.99.

Croesus’ source in small-town America doesn’t think “people will be able to afford to go to work this summer” when she predicts gasoline will hit $4.50 a gallon. “My Jeep cost $35 a week to fill in 2005 when we bought it. It is now over $60 to fill. In the past month gasoline has gone up over 75 cents (a gallon).”

The cost of food and fuel for a month are $1,300 higher, “a big hit in a family budget,” she insists. “American people cannot continue to survive and fund our great economy with more and more of our income going to pay to get us to work and home again.”

“You cannot tell me that is 3.4% inflation,”

Please don’t assume I am actually in favor of food riots or that I condone them. I think that form of violence is counterproductive, not to mention a calorically expensive activity! Better to stay home and grow your own. But I’m wondering, as food gets more expensive everywhere, including here in the United States of America, will everyone think like me- that we should have a homegrown agricultural revolution in light of resource depletion, energy descent and widespread political impotency- or will they come for those who play politics while the world begins to go hungry? Perhaps those in charge should stand aside and allow us a more peaceful revolution. We’d like to grow our own food in local communities all over America. And we’d like to work with others all over the world who would like to do the same. When I talk about WWII Victory Gardens people ask me what victory might look like this time? Perhaps it’ll look like anything other than people rioting in the streets over food.

The following are all really interesting, at least to me.

Russian oil production drops for the first time in a decade.

Potatoes! A staple food that isn’t getting ridiculously expensive. Note: They are also ridiculously easy to grow. And don’t forget about sweet potatoes. The good news is I still have sweet potatoes from last year. The bad news is I still have sweet potatoes from last year.

A great audio recording of Tim Robbins almost speaking to, and then yes, actually going through with his speech to the National Association Broadcasters. This is one of THE BEST bits I’ve listened to in a while. Highly recommended and an excellent example of the power of the Tubes.

How might the gov’t best assist in food rationing, even if it will never come to that here.

Quick, leak-proof and consumer-oriented distribution of affordable food is critical to our nutritional security in these inflationary times. But a tectonic shift in efficiency will only come when two drivers stop controlling the same car.

And lastly, good news! Brazil might have located enough petroleum to power us for all of 2018!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

converging environmental crises teach-in

Converging Environmental Crises:
A Teach-In on Energy, Climate Change, Water, Agriculture and Population

Thursday, April 10, 2008
11:00am to 4:00pm EDT
Select "Converging Environmental Crises" in the Pull-Down Menu

If you're having trouble use the following directions.

The presentations are archived. Take advantage of this wonderful resource.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

sprouts beget sprouts

We have a new sprout in the house. As many of you know (because I haven’t posted anything new in almost a month and returning visitors have been greeted with her photo during that period) my wife gave birth to a baby girl in early March. Her name is Salem and we’re quite pleased. Her arrival coincided with the beginning of the planting season here in Southeastern America.. I know that sounds weird for those of you in the Northeast or in colder climates throughout the world but so does the idea of solid water floating down from the sky. What do you call it, snow? Sadly another winter has pasted with almost none of that white stuff and spring is fast approaching here in the South. Officially our last frost free date is April 15th and it’s usually a good idea to get potatoes and onions and some spring greens in the ground early in March. This is made more difficult though if you have a precocious two year old and a new born, even if you have an understand wife. Not to mention the fact that this spring I have the extraordinary opportunity to write a book about where we might ought to be going in terms of growing food and eating it in light of peak oil, climate change and widespread social injustice.

All of this means less time to actually spend in the garden which is a reasonable price to pay for a beautiful new baby daughter and the chance to finish this book with Ms. Astyk. It also got me thinking about all the people who are strapped for time and who might balk at the idea of having enough time to start garden. Now as I’ve mentioned before that there are a considerable number of us Americans who say they don’t have enough time to garden because they spend so much of it watching the idiot box. Just because they call it reality television doesn’t necessarily make it so. Reality will be on display when the world wakes up to our enormous dependency on petroleum, a nonrenewable resource which largely peaked in global production almost three years ago. Reality will settle in as we begin to recognize that burning petroleum (and the other fossil fuels we send up in smoke) is causing unpredictable and potentially devastating changes in our climate. Yes that is the sort of reality that will eventually trump the kind we can flip back and forth from this channel to that eating packaged processed foods and thinking about how well we would do on Fear Factor or American Idol. There is an enormous amount of time we waste in this country every year as we pretend to live by watching other people act out made up scripts.

However, as evidenced by my lack of a television and my still rather busy schedule it seems possible to fill up ones time without the idiot box. It also seems likely that as the growth economy falters under the weight of limited resources and the resulting rise in prices, many people are going to struggle to keep up. I was talking with a friend recently who argued that what we won’t see is a large number of people suddenly starving to death as food becomes more expensive in the US. What we will see is an increasing number of people eating cheaper, less nutritious food. It’s reasonable to expect that more people will try to work more hours to earn more money to be able to buy food as it gets more expensive. This will leave them less time to spend on projects like learning to grow more of their food. I think in part this means helping to share the message that more self-sufficiency means less of an obligation to make money which can translate into less time needed for making money and more time available for even more self-sufficiency.

This requires, as I know from experience, a transition however. One does not simply wake up and stop going to work and instead head off to tear up the lawn to plant potatoes. For a while at least it will be necessary that those seeking a higher degree of personal food self-sufficiency keep one leg in the formal economy and one leg out in the garden. Decreasing dependency on the cycle of: spend time, make money, buy food requires a stretch. And so with that in mind I am using this busy spring season of mine to stretch and to try and feel a bit of what it must be like to try and do lots of stuff and still have time to devote to growing food. IN thinking of how to do this, one idea jumped to mind early on- sprouts. Sprouting seeds in any windowsill takes very little time, a low level of green thumbness and requires a very low level of financial investment. It’s a pretty quick, easy and cheap source of excellent nutrition. So let’s start with that last part.

During the process of sprouting, most seeds because more nutritious as a food source. "Sprouting grains causes increased activities of hydrolytic enzymes, improvements in the contents of total proteins, fat, certain essential amino acids, total sugars, B-group vitamins, and a decrease in dry matter, starch and anti-nutrients." Eating sprouts is actually more nutritious than eating the seeds themselves. This isn’t a reason to give up on legumes but it is interesting to note that sprouts, one of the most nutrient dense foods available on the planet, can be grown indoors on any windowsill by even the busiest of souls.

And as I mentioned above, is doesn’t take much money to start sprouting. All that’s needed is a jar or several jars if the seed sprouting process is to be staggered over several days, making sprouts continuously available. A wide mouth jar will make extracting the sprouts easier. The jar will need a lid that is porous so water can be flushed out without losing any of the seeds. The low tech, super cheap version is a strip of old panty hose stretched over the opening of a mason jar , held in place by a rubber band. Or you can upgrade to a mesh lid that is easier to get on and off, allows rinse water to move more easily out of the jar and is easier to clean. I purchased my jars with mesh lids for about $5 each; not an exorbitant investment.
Next you’ll need a sunny windowsill. It seems reasonable to assume that almost everyone will have one of these. Any seeds to be sprouted will need to be rinsed and then soaked over night. Drain them the following morning and then rinse and drain at least twice a day. That’s it. It is possible to mess up sprouts. You can leave too much water in the jar for too long and the sprouts will rot. You can let the sprouts dry out and they will die, but that’s about all you can do wrong. If you stagger your jars you can keep an ample supply of sprouts around for a consistent source of healthy greens.

And this is important because when I talk to people about food storage there is often a focus on the stables. People naturally focus on storing carbohydrates and proteins and some stable fats. And this is reasonable because it doesn’t matter how nutritious your food is. If you aren’t getting enough calories you aren’t going to have enough to eat to stay healthy and happy. But it’s also important to have a steady source of the vitamins offered by leafy green vegetables. This could be tough to accomplish for those of us accustom to having such vegetables shipped to us in the winter in areas where it is harder to grow such greens with snow covering the ground. It is possible however, to grow a reliable source of nutrients, including those all-important B-vitamins with a low investment of time and money, in any climate. And the seeds themselves are cheap to ship, being dry, and they store for relatively long periods of time. It’s possible to order an enormous amount of nutritious green food for your diet for relatively little money and store it in a small amount of space in your pantry. Sprout when needed.

Now, I’m sure there are at least a few of you thinking, "I think sprouts taste yucky." And this is not just a problem I’m suggest others might encounter. My wife is one of you. Currently she’s a nursing, hormonal mother who is working to keep our older daughter from being, um, overly helpful, which is just another way of saying she keeps her from force feeding the baby carrots, in addition to all the other things she does. This is not a woman to whom I am willing to suggest stuff she doesn’t think she likes to eat; not right now. ;-) The goal instead is to find methods of presenting the sprouts in yummier ways. The task of finding a way to grow nutritious food in a pinch has become the task of finding a way to cook this nutritious food in a way in which my wife and daughter will eat it. Luckily it isn’t illegal to eats sprouts in other ways rather than just on a veggie sandwich. Stir frying them has been my most successful accomplishment on this front although I’m scheduled to try them in a few loafs of bread real soon and next I’ll dry dehydrating them and making crackers. Everyone like crackers right?

I will continue to experiment with different types of seeds for sprouting, different combinations of those sprouts and different ways of using them in meals my family will enjoy. I was excited though that out of a desire to do more to feed my family without investing much time or much money I found another way we can be more self reliant and healthier. This past month, while enjoying the labor of being a new double dad and a bread winner and an author I cast about for a way to quickly grow something good for me, and I remembered sprouts. Even as we deal with the chaos of life at the beginning of the 21st century- peak oil, climate change, small children who’ve learned how to shift the car into neutral- it is necessary to make change even while we deal with the current realities of our world. As we learn how to do so we become stronger, more flexible and more resilient. Imagine what we’ll be capable of when the spit really does hit the fan.