Monday, July 19, 2010

Forum on Vegetarianism

Interesting forum on the environmental implications of our food choices over at Blue Marble at Mother Jones: link. The guy talking about waste was interesting, and not something I've considered before. Essentially we waste a far greater percentage of vegetative food than animal based food- more veggies than meat end up thrown out, uneaten. Overall I feel pretty secure in my stance on the issue: we should eat vastly less meat overall and that which we do eat should be sustainably raised. A diet that features a small amount of grass fed meat is ecologically superior to an exclusively plant based diet.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Feeling philosophical

There is a staggering and insidious arrogance that is indigenous to the human condition. Staggering because its scope and ambition are so great, insidious because its origins are so inseparable from the experience of being human.

Humans have an incredible ability to predict and control the world around us. It has gotten better and better over time- our knowledge of the way the world works has become increasingly robust, and our ability to leverage this knowledge to meet our own ends has enabled technological development that could have never been imagined by even our great grandparents- very near relatives given the scale of human history.

Utilization of this wondrous facility of human comprehension is not in itself arrogant. Rather, it is the assumption that is implicit in human thought- "Because so much of the world around can be broken down and understood in measurable and predictable ways, it is possible to reduce the entire universe and all of human experience into measurable and predictable truths".

This, tragically, turns into a desperate struggle for control. When the operational assumption is that everything is governed by absolute processes, be they scientific or Godly, and that it is possible to know them, the temptation to strive to master them is nearly irresistible. Complete knowledge should logically lead to complete control.

Somewhere Frodo is hiking with a ring...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Freedom from expectations

There is without question a benefit to having a blog that no one reads. I have enormous latitude in selecting what I'd like to focus on, and I don't have any audience expectations to worry about. Of course, it could make you wonder about what the point is.

Well, I suppose I'll answer that. I would, at some point, very much like to have a blog that some people do in fact read. If I were to have a number of people reading what I am writing, I'd want the time invested to be worthwhile. So, this is practice. The difficulty is to write a blog that is coherent and integrated rather than tangential and unfocused. This would be easier if I wanted to write about one thing. I want to write about many things, actually, from a variety of perspectives- personal, experiential, professional.

In a lot of ways, I find this to be the conundrum of my life. In my clearest moments, I can glimpse integration and wholeness, and briefly see the patterns of possibility that animate my hopes and dreams. And at other times, those same patterns seem lifeless, frozen and rote. They don't inspire action, they don't even inspire alertness. At these times, the mechanical nature of the taxonomic mind renders even the most inspired vision to be but an overwhelming and insignificant set of tasks.

A blog is an attempt to utilize written language to convey a perspective on a given set of topics, unfolding over time. As the unfolding occurs, I'm left wondering if I can maintain fidelity to an idea- the original word that is the name of this blog- or if in my wandering I'll become unmoored from that altogether, left to start a new blog, that I can arbitrarily set as a marker for a point that denotes leaving one set of categorical experience for another.

If I had any remaining readers, I'm sure I've lost you now.

Perhaps next time I'll revisit the concept Permavorism, and see if there is still relevance, or if I've left the virtual building.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Large scale change in behavior requires behavior change

Well, I stopped posting for a while. That was fairly predictable, but I'm not ready to give this blog up for dead yet. One thing I've notices is that the focus of the blog has been narrower than I think it should be. Not that I need to share everything that is going on in my head, but I think that by focusing overly intensely on the agriculture side of food and the environment, I am really not engaging with the aspect of this blog that I think could be the most unique.

By training and vocation, I am a psychotherapist. As I've discussed previously, the consumption of food is a common moment in the lives of all people in which the arbitrary boundary between person and environment is unambiguously suspended. The food brings with it a natural history, as Michael Pollan has so brilliantly described in The Omnivore's Dilemma. That entire history is swallowed in a moment of convergence with a human consumer, and is integrated into the being of that consumer. That moment can occur mindlessly, degrading the health of the consumer and the quality of the environment, or it can be done with intention and attention, honoring that moment of union.

The focus of this blog has thus far been the natural history of the food, from field to fork. But the procurement, preparation and consumption of foods are behaviors, actions taken by human beings with capacities for choice and the exercise of will. As is clearly evident in the manifest dysfunction of our eating lives, these decisions are agonizing and are correlated with incredible misery. The choice of what and when to eat is filled with incredible ambiguity for most people, convinced of the importance of healthy eating, but unsure of what that means and of their own ability to maintain fidelity to such an ill-defined ideal.

If this choice were rationally made on the best available information, we wouldn't be seeing the runaway dysfunction that has come to embody our culture of food. But clearly, it isn't- not that the "best available information" has been very good. Obesity rates are high, and treatment for weight issues is famously unsuccessful. People can often be helped to lose weight, but nearly everyone regains it.

Millions of people long to change their eating behavior. Such a change could be a boon, not only to the individuals directly involved, but to those involved in alternative systems of production and distribution of nutritious, whole foods. Farmers and members of a much shorter distubution chain have a lot to gain by a large-scale rejection of our current food system and an embrace of a more meaningful, environmentally sound one. Leaders in the development and implementation of behavior change technologies could have a huge role to play in helping facilitate that shift. I will explore this theme in depth on this blog.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Wisdom vs. Progress

This vintage interview, circa 1973, just came whizzing through my RSS feed from Mother Earth News. It's with Wendell Berry, the Port Royal, Kentucky author, farmer, and activist. I am not as familiar with Berry's work as I *should* be- I say that based on both his reputation and the few items he's written that I have had the opportunity to enjoy. The interview itself is quite remarkable, and touches on some themes that I found noteworthy enough to comment on here. He is deeply critical of modern America, to the point of sounding nearly old-fashioned. It seems clear, though, that he isn't coming from a reactionary desire to return to the days of yore, but is instead commenting on the rather impatient nature of progress unmoored from the rhythms and cycles of life. The value of devotion to a task, for instance, is presented as a lost tradition- replaced by an unquenched desire for instant gratification and quick fixes.

I think that this is a particularly important criticism to spend time with, and to differentiate between what this critique of modernity is and is not. The attitude expressed in this interview, and echoed throughout the food and agriculture reform movement today, is sometimes written off as romantic and Luddite- more concerned with form at the expense of function. That is not what I hear as I read through this interview, it isn't what I hear in the voices that have come to represent those of us interested in a safe and just system of food production, distribution, and consumption.

The advancement of human knowledge is a profound and important task. There can be no mistake about that- this is a changing world, with a changing ecology and constantly changing human societies. Reverting our techniques to those of the days of yore is neither practical or desirable. But advancing knowledge can be done selectively, with wisdom and discrimination. Without attention and systemic thinking, our focus can become monomaniacal, such as trying to produce 180 bushel an acre corn. Certainly, we can engineer incredible technology to boost yield and decrease labor, but is it serving the needs of the land and of society? Are we being mindful of the systemic effect of overproduction of monoculture crops? In the face of a growing health crisis, should our primary focus be on producing commodity crops that form the backbone of highly processed, refined food products that are correlated with metabolic syndrome and obesity?

Slowing down does not mean going into reverse. Taking time to observe- the basis for all scientific inquiry- is not a reactionary suggestion. What do we, as individuals and society, value? Are our current dominant modes of production in sync with these values? We need a bigger lens with which to view these questions, beyond the bottom line and the bottom dollar.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Don't ever throw away the green tops of leeks! After using the white bottom part in whatever delicious thing you are making, throw the tops in a bag in the freezer. When you have a few minutes, put them in a stock pot with garlic, herbs of various sorts and any other veggies you have lying around. Boil them for about an hour or so, strain out the veggies, and you've got really good vegetable stock. Put it in mason jars and freeze 'em. Good veggie stock is a valuable, valuable commodity in the kitchen- and it costs about four bucks a quart at the supermarket.

Tonight I used this stock to make a tomato paella that was ridiculously good. With a salad and a loaf of Em's fresh baked bread, we were eatin' good. And I have four quarts of leek stock in the freezer.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Remember those coal ash spills in Tennessee a while back?

The floods in W. Virginia resulting from mountaintop removal mining?

The tragedy a couple weeks back in which 29 died in a non-union, unsafe Massey Energy mine?

11 dead, and an ecological disaster unmatched since the Exxon Valdez- perhaps the largest oil spill in history before it's all over?

These are the ecological and human consequences of coal and oil without even considering climate change. Who would have thought our behavior could be so destructive to the environment?

Environmentalists, that's who. But I suppose we are all just hippie freaks and eco-zombies. Who really cares about clean air, water, food, and a livable climate?