Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Bullseye Diet

I'm stealing this idea from my co-author, Aaron Newton - but it was so cool I couldn't not write about it. In the process of writing our book about how to de-industrialize agriculture _A Nation of Farmers_ Aaron suggested that instead of one 100 mile (or 200 mile or whatever) diet, we think in terms of a bulls eye model, which emphasizes bringing as much of your diet as possible home to your local area.

This would look like a dart board, with a bullseye in the center. That center dot would be your home. And the first question is "how much of my food can I produce here." For some people, the answer will be very little - only sprouts and a few windowboxes, perhaps. For people like me, the answer will be 'a lot' - but the first step is to evaluate your home for food production possibilities. Be imaginative. You think you can't keep any livestock, right? What about rabbits for angora wool, or meat. How about bantam chickens, kept in cages like pet birds for eggs? What about bees or worms?

You can't garden out front, because of zoning restrictions? Well how about replacing your front yard lawn with ornamental edibles - beautiful blueberry bushes, grapevines trained to an arbor, a pecan tree. Got shade? Rhubarb and gooseberries will tolerate it, as will many medicinal herbs. And the bottlebrush beauty of black cohosh will look just like you planted it for pretty.

We all know that growing food is important, but it is necessary to realize just *how* important. Industrial conventional agriculture is an ecological disaster. Industrial organic agriculture is increasingly organic only in name - and is just as doused in petroleum as conventional. Agriculture of all kinds is a major contributor to greenhouse gasses. But moreover, food yields are levelling off and falling due to climate change. North Africa lost 2/3 of its grain crops this year, the Australian grain crops dropped by more than 50%. The world has its lowest food reserves since measures have been taken. This is a recipe for famine - large scale, worldwide - even here.

The smaller the plot of land you work, the more productive it is (after some practice). A person with one garden bed who manages it inch by inch can produce yields per square foot that dwarf anything a conventional farmer can produce. A farm of 2 acres is often 200 times more productive in total output (according to Peter Rosset's Paper _Small is Beautiful__) than a conventional farmer's use of land. Industrial agriculture is far to *inefficient* in its land use for us to risk continuing it, when human lives are at stake.

Up to now, we've thought of efficiency in terms of less labor - if few people could produce more food, that was an efficiency. But it was only efficient because energy was cheap and abundant, and we're at the end of those days. Now, with a growing world population, climate change and falling yields, we need to return to efficiency PER ACRE - the project of generating the most possible food from each bit of productive land we engage with. Doing so means land for wildlife habitat, the chance to restore stripped soils, the hope of arresting some of the ecological crisis we've encountered.

The key, then, is getting as many people involved in farming and gardening as possible. My own assessment is that we need 100 million new Farmers, broadly construed. That is, we need about 1/3 of the American population to take real responsibility for producing some of their own food. It isn't enough just to create demand - more is going to be asked of all of than simply wanting. Because one out of three means taking responsibility. If we're to raise food on a small, highly productive scale, we need much more participation. I've written more about this here:

The next ring would be the food in your neighborhood. Is there a community garden? Could you create one in a public park or on a vacant lot? Is anyone else growing food? Could you get someone else growing food? I got my neighbor to start a food producing garden by offering to put one in for her as a thank you gift. Aaron gardens on the land of his elderly neighbors, growing food and sharing it with them. My old friend Laurie is growing a garden on her church grounds. Are there churches, businesses, or other folks with land you could engage with? What about getting the neighborhood teenagers involved?

What about foraging in your neighborhood? Even in Manhattan, Wildman Steve Brill offers foraging classes to teach people to eat their local weeds. How much of your food could you get from the neighborhood that way?

Ok, next step would be your town. Are there right to farm laws? Could you get some instituted? How about changing zoning to permit livestock or front yard gardens? Are there any farmers there? Can you patronize them? Have you considered advertising? Put up a sign saying "I would like to buy organic produce from within my community" - maybe someone will start up a market garden. Check into local immigrant communities - many brought their agricultural traditions with them, and they may have surpluses for sale if you ask. Are there old farms with retiring or aging owners - does your town have a plan for protecting that land from development?

So the first three bullseyes are probably all within 10 miles of you. The goal is to get as much as possible, as close as possible. For me, that would be quite a bit. I can get milk, eggs, meat, and most of my produce locally. That isn't normal - but a gardening movement that gets food back on people's properties means that this will be increasingly possible.

The next step would be your immediate bioregion - perhaps 25 miles from your town. And then outwards to 50 and 100 and 250. But remember, every community, every region has a foodshed (like a watershed) that has to feed it. The further out you go, the more likely you are to bump into someone else's foodshed. For example, if you live in Manhattan, by the time you get 100 miles in any given direction, you've bumped into the foodshed for at least one other medium to large city, as well as a number of heavily populated suburbs and small cities. For example, if you look towards Connecticut, the foodshed for Manhattan at 100 miles is also the foodshed for New Haven, Hartford, Providence (in the sense that it is less than 100 miles for each of these), as well as Bridgeport, Stamford, Waterbury and a host of suburbs and cities. Go north towards me, and you've run into the foodshed for Poughkeepsie, Albany, etc...

I'm not criticizing the notion of a 100 mile diet, which has been a powerful tool in teaching people to look locally for food sources. And now, at the beginning of this movement, the 100 mile or 250 mile diet is a great tool. But what if the movement grows, as we hope it will. Can 8 million New Yorkers (or 8 million people in Tucson/Pheonix - I'm using NYC as an example here) have a 100 mile diet? The answer is probably not - it means the foodshed for the region will have to expand. But the only way we can do that fairly is to ensure that as much food as possible is being grown where the people are. That means Victory Gardens on every lawn, in city parks, in neighborhoods. And it means prioritizing food from your very immediate foodshed - from the center circles of your bullseye.

That won't be easy for many people, and it is a long term project. We can't necessarily do it today. But the local food movement is growing fast, and demand alone won't ensure that hunger never strikes Americans, and that we always have enough excess to offer succor and hunger relief to the people who are running out of food because of climate change we caused. If we're to burn carbon sending grains around the planet, they should be going to the world's hungry, not to us, whenever possible.

Like a darts game, you won't always hit your circle. But with practice, you can get a little closer every time. The more food you create in your community, the better off we all are.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Putting Another Log on the Fire

So I got my first internet based marital proposition from someone in federal prison (minimum security, I was assured!) the other day. I'm so proud. Not since I got debunked by the right wing wackos at has a tribute to my work meant so much. I hear Ann Coulter gets 150 proposals a day, but this is my very first
;-). I'll call him "Rambo" since he mentioned that movie twice in his (long) email to me.

Now ordinarily I wouldn't make fun - not all prisoners are bad guys, and it certainly has to be one hell of a lonely life. But the gentleman in question was not overly subtle about his goals in marrying this "rollecking farm girl with a survival orientation" (ok, I really liked that phrase, even though he seemed unaware or unconcerned he was proposing bigamy...can we just skip the Groucho Marx puns here ;-), and I feel it acceptable to make a bit of fun, given the language of the proposition. Particularly since he wanted me to wait until his parole in 2013. I was forced to tell him that a. I'm happily monogamous and b. if I weren't, I'm really not into delayed gratification.

Now this is pretty funny for me. I'm not the sort of woman that people get agonizing unrequited crushes on. The only way I'll ever be the loveliest girl in the room is if I have dinner with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, and these days a date with my husband is an evening spent romantically planting corn or shoveling out the compost pile. I suspect the gentleman in question noticed I was female, the only real relevant requirement, and decided to take a shot. And a lovely esteem enhancement it was, despite the use of the unfortunate term "lay" to describe my person ;-).

What really interested me about the email I got was this - the gentleman in question
graciously offered me his protection in the coming hard times, including an explanation of his experience and training. He knows I live somewhere in the state of New York, and he warned me that I could expect to be overrun by "hordes" of people from Manhattan any time now, when the peak oil apocalypse comes. And as appreciative as I am - Eric, while a wonderful man with many gifts has no experience in underwater demolitions (although given that I live in upstate NY and the creek on my property is rarely more than a foot deep, that might not be tops on the list of survival skills I'm seeking), I did have to decline, if only because I doubt we have until 2013 before the consequences of peak oil begin.

The gentleman in questions seemed sincere, if a little crude, but the proposition he seemed to be making seems a bad sort of deal for me. He'll protect me from marauding hordes while I farm, have babies for him (oh yes, this was specifically mentioned - I don't think he realizes that babies already come with the package), and do the "woman-stuff" (his term). Now I'm no starry eyed idealist, nor am I a pacifist. I have a fairly firm and practical relationship to the preservation of my family, my life and my livestock. Guns are useful tools out here in the country, and while I'm not buying my ammo by the crate, I'm also a pragmatist - I'll use whatever works in my quest to keep coyotes from eating my geese and the wolf from the door.

But I, apparently, get to do all the easy girl work of growing the food while breastfeeding, and cleaning. How nice for me! The gentleman was very clear on this fact - he has no agricultural knowledge of his own, and it seemed as though the "farm" was even more compelling than the "rollicking" part (I just like to write "rollicking.") Oh, and he mentioned cooking too - he wanted to know if I was a good cook. Well as it happens, I am, and not a half-bad farmer either. And I conceed that in some conceivable situations I might need someone to hold the shotgun while I'm mulching the corn, somehow, the "you cook, clean, plant, harvest, hoe, and I'll play Rambo" deal didn't seem like the best trade off I've ever gotten. See, I've gotten oddly accustomed to sharing work equally, with a real partner. Some days are more equal than others, but the "protection for sex and dinner" deal just doesn't look that good from my end.

May I offer a suggestion to the male survivalist lovelorn (and any really tough lesbians with the same assumptions ;-)) - peak oil doesn't actually mean that we get to go back to living the "Put another log on the fire" life (And ain't I gonna take you fishin' with me someday/Now a man can't love a woman more than that...). There are whole forums out there are of people who imagine that handling peak oil is just a matter of a good gun, an isolated homestead and someone to do the cooking and sewing. I've got to say, I suspect that the reason those forums tend to have a 8-1 male female ratio (and half the guys seem to be single), may have something to do with the fact that underneath the rhetoric there's a "Yay, back to the stone age with all the girls" theme. Often, women are referred to as "our women," most often by people who don't own any ;-).

But the thing is, it doesn't matter how many guns you have or how much ammo you've got - unless you live in the movies, if the purple haired mutants come around, two people are going to get their asses kicked by 3 or more people. Isolated homesteads aren't that common, actually - most of them are surrounded by other people who also like isolated homesteads, and they all get to be isolated together. And unless you plan to revise our incest taboos, at least once a generation (and probably quite a bit more often), everyone is going to have to come out of their cave and get to know the neighbors.

So obviously, soloing isn't the answer (sorry Rambo!). Which means communities. Which means doing the work of community building - you know, having relationships with people. I'm not talking about setting up an ecovillage (no implied attacks on people who are, just not my thing) - I'm talking about building community with the people who live near you. And the way you do that is usually not exciting or dramatic - it rarely (at this stage) involves everyone learning to work together to defeat the marauding whatevertheyare a la the Magnificent Seven (Shoot, I was aiming for the horse!). Mostly, it involves knowing people well enough to trust them. And how do you do that? The boring way. You stop up and have a chat. You ask after the baby or the grandkids. You bring soup when someone gets sick and have a party now and again. You barter. You trade. You talk. You offer to help with something, show up, do a solid day's work, and do it again next time, proving that you mean what you say. That is, you do all the girly (and men do it too - I'm making fun here) stuff of talking, having relationships, being nice, paying attention and helping out.

Now I can't swear that Rambo's services might never be useful. But I do know, that fixating today on Rambo's solution is the quickest way to bring about the nasty future he wants to protect me from. Social breakdown and violence happens when infrastructure fails. So building shadow infrastructure - ordinary people prepared to pick up the slack when institutions fail is a #1 priority. What we need right now is as much engagement as possible with other people. And even with Rambo at my back, I can only fight off, oh, maybe 12 (yeah, right) marauders (personal nukes are on my "to get" list right after the solar panels ;-). Ultimately, a bigger group of people, or a luckier one or one with less to lose can always take what they want. The best hope I have is to make sure that things don't degrade that far. Because if they do - I've already lost. Civilian casualties, accidental deaths and friendly fire constitute almost 40% of all deaths in any given conflict - not starting the battle is my potential salvation. Speaking as a Mom, I don't want to win anything that involves my kids getting hurt even accidentally. If it ever (g-d forbid) comes to that, we'll deal. But when you've got an investment in the long term, short term thinking is a big mistake.

So Rambo, I'm afraid we just weren't meant to be. But I do want to throw his offer open - he didn't strike me as a picky sort, and I do have quite a few female readers. So if anyone is looking for a man with demolitions experience and an eye to survival, I'm sure he won't mind if I pass his email along.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Discipline and Pleasure

What a fun title for an essay, don't you think? Nicely evocative of Foucault, and equally of S&M, it sounds like we're on entirely different sort of blog, doesn't it ? Unfortunately for all of you (and my chances of getting rich writing this stuff), I'm not speaking of anything quite so sexy, but of the pleasures of self-discipline.

And that's a tough sell in America. We tend to associate pleasure with the release of discipline - sex is all about letting go, and so are our personal pleasures - we get our fun from exceeding limits, refusing to be constrained. Fun is blowing too much money shopping or eating a quart of Ben and Jerry's alone. And trust me, I've done my share of that sort of fun.

But there are other categories of pleasure that depend on self discipline. Consider sports, for example. If you run the bases backwards, you've ruined the baseball game. We make all sorts of limiting rules to make sports fun to play, fun to watch - and the delight is in seeing how one can produce the best results within the disciplinary structure of the rules. If we blow them off, we're entitled to shout (if we're being extremely polite) "but that's not sporting." And the notion of sportingness - the idea that some kind of structured fairness is required to get the best possible results is a deep one.

Or art, for that matter. Sonnets without form aren't sonnets. Even the freest art forms begin with limiting structures - the frame around the canvas, the first positions of ballet, the language of poetry. The limits get pushed all the time, but before you push the limits, you understand them, you work within them, so that you know what you are extending.

How about childhood? It isn't just to keep Mom and Dad from going crazy that parents establish discipline. Research has shown that children are most comfortable within firm, and known boundaries. It is scary to have no limits, to run wild in the world without constraint. 'No" and "we do this, but not this" help children understand and adapt to their world. Chances are, most of us have fond memories of the structures created by discipline - if they were part of our lives, we usually remember sit down family dinners, coming in when the street lights go on and homework time with a mix of irritation and fondness - but more fondness, often, than irritation. We take pleasure in childhood in part because of its boundaries.

Courtesy and manners are another kind of self-discipline that can come with enormous pleasures. Who doesn't like to receive a thank-you note, or doesn't prefer a stiff "let's agree to disagree" to a punch in the face. When important events occur, the structure of how we birth and wed, welcome and mourn become a means of comfort.

The simple fact is that discipline is part of culture. The way we limit ourselves is also the way we indicate our membership, and our love.

Several people have reminded me that in order to be compelling, the Riot for Austerity has to convince people that they will have fun doing it. And they are right. But in order to call this optimization exercise fun, we have to think hard about what fun is.

Fun is both blowing all the limits occasionally, and living gracefully within them. I'm all for feasting, celebration, riot (that's why we're doing this, after all), dancing in the streets, mocking power, getting drunk, welcoming guests - occasionally. This is fun stuff, and we need it in our lives. But we can't spend every day drunk, or spending too much, or overeating. The simple fact is that we've lost our sense of balance, and we often do these things too frequently.

Everyday pleasures are different. They come from self-discipline. The discipline that creates ritual, routine, self-comfort. They come from culture and limitation. Within these limits - within the straits of "what we customarily eat, do, say, don't say" is where our comfort lies. This is, perhaps, the art of daily life, the creation of beauty and artistry, craft and delight from the simple boundaries set around you - your time, the people, the way you treat each other. This is the pleasure of storytime, chicken soup and bread for dinner, singing together, playing your game or climbing your tree or reading your book. It is what we do, and it is constrained because without constraint, it wouldn't be ours.

And that's where the pleasure of the Riot for Austerity lies for me. It increases my taste for the festival moments, makes the day of special foods or wild dancing a deeper pleasure, and at the same time, it reinforces the delight of ritual. Self-discipline requires that I think, be mindful and aware of what I am doing, what choices I'm making. It requires I extract the maximum pleasure and comfort from each use of energy, instead of heedlessly simply taking.

In the Riot model, the food is better, fresher, tastier, and cooked at home. It is more nutritious and offers more sensory delight. The shower I take is more deeply appreciated, because I can't use water heedlessly. There is less waste, and less burden of managing waste. There is more reason to be in the moment, less reason to run from place to place, a slower pace, more quiet, more reason to watch and listen and learn. There is a greater intimacy with the world around me - an awareness of my watershed, my foodshed, the sources of my energy. It turns out, that for me, I can easily derive the same amount of pleasure or more from less - so what was my past usage for?

But more importantly, there's a sense of life as art. It requires a greater creativity and imagination than my daily life before the riot. What I do is now a dance of balance, a poetic form they didn't teach me about in graduate school, in which economy and discipline combine to create something a little more than what I had before.


Monday, June 25, 2007

Getting Over Picky

Yesterday's project was a serious strawberry harvest, and today I'll make lots and lots of jam - 50 pints, I estimate. Strawberry is the univeral favorite among the kids, so we grow lots. The kids helped (hindered ;-)) with the picking in their own inimicable ways. Eli plopped himself down on the straw and began a two-fisted strawberry eating project, with an occasional languid toss of one into a basket. Isaiah took his bucket and began a quest for only the biggest, reddest, ripest strawberries, which meant his picking rate was about 6 an hour, 4 of which were promptly eaten. Asher likes to pick, but by the time the strawberries get from his little hands to the bucket, they often must be discretely disposed of, while lavish praise for helping is dispensed. Only Simon really picks at this stage, and he takes great pleasure in bossing people around while he does it. "Don't step there, Eli, you'll squish the strawberries." "Isaiah, no eating!" (Here Mommy intervenes to say that Eli is fine and so is eating - her mouth is full, so she's no hypocrite ;-). And when Asher accidentally ate a green strawberry and said "yuk," Simon erupted in outrage "No saying yuk!"

Now this last is a firm rule in our household, although there are exceptions for babies eating truly gross things like green strawberries or dog food (don't ask). But my kids are powerfully enjoined never, ever to complain that food is "yucky" or "gross." They can say "this isn't my favorite." They can say, "no, thank you." They are not required to eat anything they don't like (although seconds and dessert, if any, depend on reasonable eating). But the first "ugh" or "yuk" gets you a very stern warning, and a second means you leave the table and don't eat again until your next meal. The same is true about discussing food that is not present in the same terms. None of my children have ever had to have this happen more than once.

This rule also applies to regularly visiting other children who I babysit for, and has been applied by Isaiah (to Mommy's horror and embarassment) to a visiting guest who was describing a meal she strongly disliked. And while we had a long talk afterwards about how being a good host and not embarassing guests or making them uncomfortable, I've never been sorry about this rule. My children can recite our reasoning as well, "This is very important to Mommy. All her jobs are about making other people have enough to eat, so we don't waste food and we don't say mean things about it, and we do say a blessing before we eat."

The world is a hungry place. Millions of people world wide don't get enough food - 2 billion are food insecure, including millions in our own country. Hunger and its associated illnesses kill millions of people every day. Saying "gross" to food that is good for you, nutritious and just doesn't happen to suit your palate seems to me to be wrong. Everyone has food preferences - but the notion that there's an inherent ickiness to anything someone considers food is just wrong - or rather, it isn't anything more disgusting that what you eat.

Seriously, think about it. Grossed out by someone who eats organ meats? Why is muscle tissue somehow nicer? Don't like the idea of fermented, spiced kimchi? But you eat the coagulated milk of live animals as cheese? Grossed out by vegemite? Well, other people think peanut butter is just as vile. You eat pringles, and you want to tell someone their rutabagas are bad ;-)?

Me, I don't like anything gelatinous (no aspic) and I avoid soft boiled eggs. Never acquired a taste for vegemite, and I'm only so-so about chocolate (I like adulterated with other things, like peanut butter and fruit, and in milk form - people who are serious chocolate people tell me this is heresy). I keep kosher at home, and won't eat non-kosher animals when out, and I try to eat sustainably whenever possible, although I don't bitch when I'm a guest somewhere else. But I don't find anything wrong with the things I don't eat, and there are circumstances in which I would eat all of them. Visiting a distant connection on Java, for example, we were fed an elaborate meal by a very poor family. I'm still not totally clear on what sea animal was involved, although I'm sure it wasn't kosher - but it was delicious, and offered with generosity and kindness.

I'm one of the less-picky people on the planet. I've eaten things in my travels that ordinarily get a chorus of "EWW!" - and liked many of them. My husband is similar, and together we've managed to raise four comparatively unpicky kids. A lot of this is sheer luck - you spin your wheel, you take your chances. For example, we have an autistic son, and autistic children are notoriously poor eaters, often because they have strong sensory issues with food textures and smells. Eli is a spectacularly good eater by autistic standards (actually, compared to many of my friends' kids he's a spectacularly good eater, although there are things he avoids, like cheese) This is a huge advantage in our quest to cut emissions and eat sustainably - because it means that we can truly take advantage of what is fresh, local and in-season. Some of it, however, I think is a product of two things. We eat everything. And we garden.

I was talking strawberries to a friend of mine the other day, and she was saying she buys them all year 'round for her daughter because they and bananas are the only fruits her daughter will eat. We, on the other hand, eat strawberries like mad for a month in June, and then enjoy dried strawberries, strawberry sauce and strawberry jam until the next year's harvest. When the first strawberries come in, everyone eats the few bites with reverence. A few days later, when there are enough, we gorge until the juice pours down our faces. By the end of the month, we've eaten strawberries every day, canned dozens of jars of jam, lived with the scent of dehydrating strawberries, and we're ready for something else. And here come cherries, peaches, plums, raspberries and blueberries to take up the slack.

But, of course, my children *eat* cherries, peaches, plums, raspberries and blueberries. But a child who eats only strawberries and bananas can't eat a seasonal diet - even imagining a modest importation of bananas, that's a tough, fruit-free life. And since this child also doesn't eat whole grains, chicken in non-nugget forms, greens, peppers, carrots, broccoli or any vegetables other than corn, peas and cucumbers, that lack of fruit is a real problem, health wise.

And why doesn't this sweet little girl eat any fruit? Well it is possible that there's a real underlying issue to her pickiness - that she has sensory issues, unrecognized food allergies or some other deep reason. But I know her family well enough to guess not - I'm guessing the root is simply that her Mom is a picky eater too. Her Mom doesn't eat cranberries, eggplant or beans of any kind, squash, sweet potatoes, any cheese but cream, brown rice, brown bread, or drink unflavored beverages (ie, water). And Mom, perhaps because she too knows the pain of eating something she doesn't like, doesn't require her kids to try things, and gently passes along her own prejudices. When they came to dinner, older child would eat only plain rice (white) or pasta (also white) at my house, and they would ask me to produce a seperate bowl of these, even if they weren't on the menu. Now I'm big on guests being curteous to hosts, so I did, but there was some discreet eye-rolling.

Now I'm not talking here about food allergies, medical conditions or religious and ethical scruples, or distaste for stuff we shouldn't be eating anyway (hostess snowball prejudices are good with me) but about garden variety pickiness, the "I just don't like it." And most (not all!) of the picky kids I know come from picky parents, or non-picky parents who make food into one of the BIG DEALS. I've never met a little kid whose parents made a big thing about not liking things who didn't do the same, or one whose parents scrutinized every bite and worried a lot about it (and again, I'm not talking about people with medically fragile kids who need to worry about these things) who didn't appear, at some point to have thought "Cool, found a button to push - fun!"

The thing is, most picky parents don't really admit the connection. A friend of mine's son suddenly went from eating all vegetables to nearly none, but his Dad ardently denies it has any connection to the fact that Daddy only eats lettuce and peppers. Friends of mine wince when their kid complains about the food at my house (and no, not because we make a big deal about it - they don't even know about our rule), but I've heard the mother say, "No, honey, you won't like that. I'll get you something else." Hmmm...

I'm going to take the risk of ticking a lot of people off by saying that at least 80% of food pickiness in the absence of aggravating conditions (sensory stuff, toddlerhood, etc...) is of parental creation. We're tolerating it, even encouraging it - and there's a real and serious price. We've somehow got the wacky idea that their health is less important than that they screw up their courage and eat some brown rice. Yes, it is fine to hate lima beans. Everyone is allowed a couple of things they don't eat simply because they don't want to. But if you also don't eat tepary beans, black beans, soy beans, pinto beans, adzuki beans, along with 20 or 30 other things, you've cut signficantly back on your ability to adapt to a changing world and diet. Dealing with children's picky eating, which is really important, starts with dealing with adult pickiness.

In children, elderly people and the sick, this can actually be fatal. Studies done in World War II Britain on dietary changes caused by the war showed that young children, elderly people and sick people will, when confronted with a major, sudden, crisis induced dietary change will simply stop eating - the medical term is "appetite fatigue" and it is real and serious phenomenon. Most of them eventually adapted, but periods of malnutrition can have long term consequences for babies, young children and people made vulnerable by illness and disability. And sometimes people just died, unable to make dietary adaptations.

So (and g-d forbid) given a situation where favorite foods became suddenly unavailable, people in your family who don't have a wide-ranging diet, particularly one of foods that are often available without trucking, could really suffer from this. The solution is to get used to eating your local diet now - while also trying lots of new things - new grains, new tastes, new ways of eating things, particularly those that suit your area.

It certainly reduces your ability to eat locally and sustainably if you are a picky eater. You can join a CSA, but you are likely to get a basket full of things that you don't want to eat sometimes - maybe if you have a friend whose pickiness is a perfect mirror image of yours it would work, but otherwise, it means wasting food. You can grow a garden, but a lot of the best storing crops and the things that get you through a winter are "hard" foods - if you don't any root crop but onions and potatoes, it'll be one long winter. How much richer would things be with beets, celeriac, shallots, carrots, parnsips, parsley root, kohlrabi and turnips?

How do grownups get over long-ingrained habits of not eating things, of thinking "yuck?" Well, first we realize how high the stakes are. In a rich, priveleged world, where your emissions don't matter and you can buy the three vegetables you like every week, and if you don't enjoy the meal at the dinner party, well, you go home and eat again, it doesn't matter what you eat much. You still get fed. You still get a reasonable approximation of balance (in some cases - we're most of us not eating enough produce, and we've certainly got dietary health problems up the wazoo). But we don't live in that world any more - none of us do. Pretending we can is lying to ourselves.

We don't have the luxury of not caring about our impact. We don't have the luxury of wasting food - food I waste at home means more at the store out of my budget and more ecological impact, and moral problems in a increasingly food scarce world. And the day may not be too far away when more and more of us can't afford to be picky - food prices are rising rapidly, in large part because of the ethanol boom. Millions of Americans are hungry now - it may not be that long before we are affected. So we simply can't throw good food out, or demand only expensive, extra meals for ourselves. Health care costs are rising fast enough that we simply can't afford to get sick because we don't eat well. And if hard times do come, not being adapted to a locally, sustainbly available diet could actually kill people, harm our children's growth, and make us sick.

The same is true for even healthy people about abrupt dietary transitions. If you eat a lot of meat 3 times a day, and suddenly your protein source has to shift to legumes because of poverty or lack of access, you are in for some serious intestinal distress. Have you only been eating processed foods and bleached grains? Well, tolerating whole grains, especially lots of whole wheat will not be a pleasant or easy experience. Have you always, always, always used canned cream of mushroom soup in your Christmas greenbeans? How traumatic will it be in hard times to switch to chard with a homemade sauce? It is far easier to adapt to eating whole grains right now, to put some beans in your diet gradually, change your holiday specialties one at a time.

But if you've hated broccoli for fifty years, it will be a challenge to start eating it. Now if you have plenty of locally available, healthy green options you love around, there's no reason to choose the broccoli over the kale. But what if broccoli is it - if the bugs got the kale crop? You need to eat it and you might as well like it. Or what if you are a meat and potatoes person, and now you are being told that you can only eat grassfed meat, and not that much of it? How do you get there? Now the good news is that you only have to do this for local, seasonal, sustainable foods - if you think twinkies are vile, you don't have to do anything about that. No worries about your extreme distaste for barbecue chips, and go right on hating McNuggets - in fact, we encourage that. The other good news is that the things your are learning to like - whole grains, fresh vegetables, not so much meat - these things are really good for you. There's really no down side.

The first thing to remember is that you have overcome instinctive food preferences before. There are exceptions, but comparatively few people loved coffee, beer, wine, tea, sushi or strong cheese the first time they tasted it. It took a while to develop a liking for these tastes. Similarly, I'm going to bet that your idea of a perfect day no longer involves candy for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Tastes change. You can change them. We just have to do the work. They say a toddler often has to see a food on their plate 20 times before it seems familiar enough to eat it.

What's the magic trick? Lie. Like a rug. Lie to yourself. Lie to your kids (but don't do in an obvious way - kids are really not stupid). Explore your acting talent. You are going to convince yourself to not only like X hated food (one at a time), you are going to enjoy it. So the first step is to tell yourself you will like it, and to eat a little. Trust me, it won't kill you. Try the kindergarten method - three bites. And then keep putting it on your plate. Smile at it. Think friendly thoughts. Think how wonderful it is to try something new. Think how lucky you are to have it. Find something you like about the taste.

Perhaps the problem is the cooking method - do you cook vegetables until they are grey? Do you like highly seasoned foods, and most veggies are kind of bland? Try a quick steam, or eating it raw. Or perhaps you should add hot sauce, lots of garlic or herbs. Learn to cook your food well. Throw it in with something you do like - put the greens in with the bacon, or toss the peppers in with your pasta salad. Decide to like it - and keep trying for at least a few months, introducing the food regularly to your table. Cook it several ways - my mother likes peeled broccoli stems and raw, fresh picked asparagus, but not broccoli florets or steamed asparagus. Try it raw, steamed, pureed, tossed with pasta, covered with something you like.

Convince yourself that meat isn't the main part of every meal - a lot of this is simply attitude adjustment. Maybe you'll always prefer turkey to baked beans, or no kale to kale. But being able to eat the kale and the baked beans enriches your life.

Don't complain about your food. Be grateful for it - don't call it names, and if you can thank someone or something for it - G-d, the farmers who grew it, the soil it came from. Food matters in this world. We can't afford to treat it lightly.

Teach your kids the same lessons. Remember, no matter how many faces they make, it won't kill them to eat kale. It is a time-honored tradition to torture your children with green vegetables, and as far as I know, no one has died yet. Don't over-sympathize with their distaste - kids tastes are much more malleable than yours, and you aren't doing them any favors.

IMHO, the best hardline method is simply to keep serving them the same meal until they eat it - won't eat beans? Ok, but nothing else is offered, and there will be beans again for lunch tomorrow. When they get hungry enough, they'll eat. Loving every bite is not a prerequisite for life, and missing the occasional meal won't kill anyone.

I admit, I'm usually not that hardline. But you don't get seconds or dessert unless you eat everything. You don't get snacks between meals - if you are hungry, that plate of beans is still there. And you don't, under pain of getting to know just how yucky hunger is, complain about the food.

But hardline alone isn't enough to make your kids really good eaters - they also need to know what's wonderful and fun about food. That means getting them involved - bringing them into the kitchen, the garden, out to the farmer's market. Get them involved in the process - where did that carrot come from? Take them to the pick your own and let them get their own apples. Let them have their garden and have them help in yours. Let them have their own chickens, care for them and be in charge of the eggs.

There's something really different about food you've grown yourself. Kids who wouldn't touch a zucchini or eat eggs normally will beg their parents to help them cook zucchini frittata (assuming someone's mentioned that there is something you can do with both those things) if it is *their* zucchini and *their* eggs. Simon and Isaiah were very resistant to salad, but they've invented their own - rainbow salad. It has chopped nuts, dried fruit, greens they pick and edible flowers - johnny jump ups, daylily petals, begonia petals, borage flowers, nasturtium blossoms. With lemon-herb dressing they'll eat their weight, and pick the ingredients as well.

Food is, afterall, fun. It tastes good. If they don't have to compete with sugarfrosted flakes, there's really nothing not to like about a ripe peach, or a berry. If you act like you like homemade tofu marinated in garlic sauce as much as steak, your kids will never know that the two aren't supposed to be equally good. And since they both *are* good, your kids will grow up liking them both, most likely. Who knows, after a little practice at this deception, you might even believe it yourself.

If you are looking to eat a local diet now, when in many places options are at their broadest, try joining Liz at Pocket Farm on her "One Local Summer" project



52 Weeks Down - Week 9 - Deplasticize Your Life

If you didn't see the article on plastic oceans (the one with the horrible turtle pictures), you should definitely read it here - this is really important: Because we all knew that plastic never breaks down entirely, but I don't think everyone realized that what happens is that plastic fragments and mixes in with your water, your soil, your food, and the food and water of plants and animals, and then it makes its way into our bodies. How is a really troubling and scary story. Definitely read the article.

Now this is stuff never, ever meant to be ingested - full of endocrine disrupters (messes with your hormones), carcinogens (warm plastic mixed with liquid creates dioxin among other things), traces benzene (liver cancer) and all sorts of things that no one ever meant for us to eat, breathe and bathe in.

Now this plastic warms the planet a couple of times - when it is manufactured from oil, when it is recycled (if it is, most isn't - more on this in a minute), and when it goes into a landfill and helps mix with organic garbage to produce methane. And since cancer treatment isn't exactly low input, you could argue that it warms the planet again - when we have our surgeries and other treatments from the illnesses caused by becoming a plastic world.

The plastics industry has spent a long time convincing us that plastics are recyclable - they have those nice arrows, so they must be ok, right? But in fact only a few varieties of plastic are recyclable, plastic recycling is quite energy intensive, and after you recycle that plastic container into a bumper or recycled plastic lumber, that's it - next stop is the landfill or your water table.

So what do we do about this? The first thing is to buy no new plastic, or as little as humanly possible. Don't take that plastic bag at the grocery store - when you do so, you are saying "make another." Don't buy things packaged in plastic if you can avoid it - and tell your store manager "I'd really like to purchase that - but not with all that plastic packaging." Whenever possible, buy things with no or minimal packaging, or that uses recycled glass, metal or paper only. The only way to stop the plastic plague is stop making a market for it.

That's never going to be perfect - there are some necessary things that only come in plastic. In our house it is disposable pull-ups required by law for our disabled son. Computers only come in plastic - and electronic waste is a whole 'nother issue, to be discussed soon. But the less you use, the better. In other houses it will be something else - but minimize plastic usage and keep looking. Here's a fascinating blog by a woman who trying to spend a whole year without plastic

What about the plastic you do have? The first thing you want to do is get it out of contact with hot food, acidic foods or liquids. Food grade plastic buckets are probably fine for dry goods you keep cool. But I strongly recommend avoiding plastic for things like olive oil, honey, molasses, etc... I don't like plastic bristle toothbrushes, plastic baby bottles or anything else that goes into your mouth, although we have some too. Personally, I also dislike plastic bath toys, although I haven't fully eliminated them. But pthlates (soft plastics) and hot water don't mix, especially in the bodies of little people. I often wonder whether when we finally trace the origins of autism, we'll find it is a plastic problem - but that's just my personal speculation.

The easiest way to avoid plastic at the grocery store is to bring cloth bags, buy in bulk (particularly in places that will allow you to bring your own glass containers for things like honey, olive oil, vinegar and molasses), and choose items packaged as minimally as possible. Remember, metal and glass are more energy intensive in manufacture than plastics, although their lifetime impact is less because they can be recycled multiple times - so minimizing all packaging is a good idea. Plastics are also in a number of makeup and body care products - I don't know about you, but I don't think "pretty" is worth the PBDEs and POPs and their consequences. Buy plastic free.

While having plastic mixed with your food isn't such a good idea, it is always a good idea to reuse the plastic you do have - don't just throw it out. When you do that, you begin the process of putting it into the world's food chain. Plastic materials can and should be used for any non-food or bath purpose you can think of, because the longer they are in use in your house, the longer their total time before they start shredding into the soil. So store your screws, crayons and stitch counters in those plastic containers. Wear those acrylic sweaters until you've worn them out, and replace them with wool or organic cotton. Fix that plastic stuff whenever you can, don't just throw it out. We brought it into the world - we have the obligation to keep it useful as long as possible.

And the plastic you *can* justify purchasing is recycled plastic, especially for long term usage - go ahead and use plastic lumber on your deck, as long as it is made from 100% recycled plastic. We want more of the plastic we have to be recycled - at the same time that we stop making more. But most important is simply to stop buying it - to find alternatives whenever possible and tell people "I don't want to bring more plastics into the world."


Friday, June 22, 2007

Constitutionally Unsuited to the 21st Century

The last two weeks have been madness here - multiple end of school events, a big synagogue charitable event, deadlines for articles, for submission of homeschooling materials, for preparation for a class I'm teaching, various social and community obligations, lots of short notice changes, appointments and schedulced events, and, of course, lots and lots of work in the gardens and on various books.

I've found myself living a life rather like the one that a lot of my friends do, in which days are scheduled to the hilt, much time is spent running around or getting ready to run around or doing things. This is rather unlike my own life, and that's by intent. Generally speaking, we try hard to keep a comparatively slow pace, but things snuck up on us. And I don't it like it very much. I hate when I'm saying "ok, we're home from 2:30 to 3:15, and then we've got to..."

Perhaps there's something wrong with me, because I know plenty of people who arrange their lives this way and seem contented. Two of my dearest friends maintain two fairly high powered jobs, their kids have a full schedule of activities, they are active volunteers at the synagogue, the school she teaches at and the university he does. Their kids play sports, have music lessons, all sorts of social activities and they seem not only happy, but comfortable. They are actually remarkably good at this life - most of the trouble comes from the fact that neither parents sleeps more than 5 hours a night.

I on the other hand seem to be ill designed for this. I find myself rushing, and worrying about being late, and that's when I start snapping at the kids "Simon, come *ON* - get your shoes, we have to leave *RIGHT NOW!*" I don't feel I write well or think all that clearly when my mind is on something else as well. And it leads me to wonder whether there's something wrong with me personally, whether, in fact, I am simply constitutionally unsuited to the pace of 21st century life, or whether there's something wrong with the expectation that we'll all run around like this.

My kids mostly seem to have inherited this lack of taste for running around. My three year old, Isaiah is a particular homebody, who will happily spend hours picking chard and flowers for the table, and often asks if he can stay home with whoever is not going somewhere. This week pushed all of us - my 20 month old was calling 'Go home, go home' by the end of the day yesterday, in which we dropped of educational materials, brought end of school thank you gifts (which Mommy had stayed up making the night before) to eldest child's school, dropped Mommy off to volunteer at the shul, took the kids out for a picnic with friends, came back, picked me up, rushed home, cleaned the house, baked cookies for playdate, had playdate and sent husband out to make music with his new banjo while I stayed behind to make tofu, do laundry and catch up on email.

Now I really am open to the notion that it might be me. Except that a lot of the people I know, even the ones who do it to themselves quite voluntarily (as opposed to the folks I know who work 2 or 3 jobs just to get by), seem to worry about it. A lot of them talk about looking forward to a slow down period, or needing a rest, or feeling stressed out. And, in fact, it turns out that Americans in general seem to think that they really need to relax pretty badly.

For example, I recently received a magazine in the mail that seemed mostly to be about how people could "pamper" themselves. Advertisements like "You Work Hard. You Deserve to Be Pampered" and "Life is Hard. Embrace Luxury. Pamper Yourself" certainly seemed to emphasize how stressed out we are and how badly we need to be taken care of by someone. Since that person couldn't possibly be ourselves - that is, we couldn't meet our own needs for care - someone else has to do it, preferrably at an expensive spa, cruise or resort. Or, if you can't afford that, several of the ads suggested you could, in fact, come up with an inferior version of self-pampering if you were to purchase perfume, body lotion or the right underwear.

Now the infantilizing description of pampering isn't an accident, I suspect. Because only if we are stressed, exhausted, miserable and regressed to toddlerhood will we really miss the basic point - the 4K that the pampering vacation requires as a prerequisite requires you to work your heinie off during the year getting stressed and miserable. If, as seems likely for most Americans, you put it on your credit card, well, by the time you pay it off, you may have worked an extra 2 or 3 weeks just to justify that one week of "pampering." Even if you get a massage every day, and lie in the pool and the sun, is it really worth that much extra labor?

In _Deep Economy_ Bill McKibben does a careful analysis of a great deal of data on personal happiness trying to answer the question of whether the life we live really does make us happy or not, and the answer he comes up with is a general "no." There's been a steady drop in the number of people who consider themselves happy since the 1950s. The most fascinating figures in McKibben's book is the one that documents that money buys happiness up to a point - that until about the 10K (American equivalent) income ceiling. But, for example, when homeless peopel are housed, even in a slum, their estimates of their own satisfaction are about the same as the average college student's. Which suggests to me not only does money not buy happiness after a certain point, but that our life as a whole isn't good even for very young, comparatively unfettered people.

The message we get - we're all supposed to work really, really hard, all the time, except when we regress into total consumption is a crazy one, but, of course, it is useful to the economy at large. Tired, stressed out people don't have the energy to make dinner - much better to run through the drive through (and don't think I'm judging anyone here - the only reason we *don't* do this is that all the drive throughs are so far away we couldn't possibly justify the trip as faster ;-)). They don't have the energy to make things or do things - easier to watch tv. They don't have the energy even to *think* critically about stuff. In fact, I find that myself after a high stress week - I find that when I'm tired and overwhelmed, it is very hard to care about other people, or the future or much of anything. I just want to be fed and nurtured and entertained and not have to think. Those are the days I want the 20 minute hot showers, the take out meals, mindless television and someone, anyone to "pamper" me.

Now for comparatively lucky and wealthy (by world standards) people like me, you can make trade offs on this one. My family's household income is in the mid 30s most years. It stays pretty stable because if I make more money, we compensate for that by Eric working less. Some of that is necessity - we don't have daycare, and the kids are homeschooled, so someone has to be around. And some of it is desire - we don't want to rush too much. This year is unusual - I've got two book contracts and am working *a lot* more than usual - and I'm not always too thrilled about it. Both books should be done by early next year, and after that, if I ever get to write another, I've sworn we'll never live like this again. And by the standards of your average overscheduled family, we're still pretty low-key.

But what about most people in the world, who need to work long hours in order to stay employed and feed their families? They don't really have a choice. Or what about parents who don't have our advantages in education and who feel like they need their kids to have a lot of experiences for them to be able to compete? What about single parents, or those supporting disabled or elderly family members, people without health insurance? That is, what about most people, who might prefer to work less, but also feel unable to give up security in order to have a little breathing room?

One of the things that helps us is having a Sabbath. One day a week, we rest - and it can be a challenge to let go and stop work. But one day a year stands as a real holiday in our week, an oasis of relaxation, peace and pleasure in which we simply do not do the same work we do every day. On our sabbath we don't consume, we don't clean, the children don't have chores, we try not to drive (except for religious and community things), we don't spend money. We do nap, take walks, spend time with friends, eat good food, read, sing, talk, play. And every week we emerge, restored. It isn't alway easy - but we consider this a great gift.

Whenever I tell this to people, they immediately reply that they couldn't do that. And I do understand - many people can't. But many could - religious Jews, rich or poor, for centuries have insisted - we will not work Saturdays, we will not buy Saturdays, we will act, in our own homes, as though we are free and at peace, even if the world around us mistreats us. There's something powerful in claiming the right to a day of rest and peace, an act of resistance to the notion that there are those who have the right to compel you to do things - to work, to buy, to do. Of course, there are those who simply can't find the power to do this alone. But we don't always have to be alone

The options for those who would take more time away but lack the resources to do so are poor for individuals. But there are alternatives for people acting together. It was the labor movement that managed to get us the 5 day work week, the abolition of child labor, and all other changes. The women's movement and concerted advocacy got women in the job market and access to almost all work. Over the next decade, we're likely to experience a vast national retirement - baby boomers are going to be moving out of the workplace and leaving jobs open. By necessity, there are going to be fewer people working full time and more people out of the job market. This is likely to be stressful in many ways, as productivity makes some falls (fewer people doing more work), and there's more work for fewer bodies. This is also likely to make workers more powerful - and that's a good thing. It is conceivable that workers might be able to get their hours cut, or reduce the sheer numbers of workers in the workforce while raising salaries back to the days of one worker (although who shouldn't be decided, as it once was, by gender) being able to actually support a family. This, of course, requires a degree of economic stability that may not happen - but on the off chance it does, we ought to take advantage.

Alternately, of course, if the more likely economic crisis occurs, we may not have much bargaining power at all - people desperate for work don't. But then, the creation of local economies and local markets will be all that much more urgent, and we'll only be grateful for any work we've done now on those things.

But whether or not we can work less, there are things we can choose to do in order to slow the pace of our lives. One of them is to try and make in our communities the things we now go far afield for. Things like food coops, babysitting coops, community gardens, farmer's markets, local swap groups, small cottage businesses, homeschool groups, afterschool programs, play groups, summer stuff for kids to do.... Because the less we have to run around to meet our needs for support, friendship, good food, and other basics, the more we can relax. Those of us with the luxury of time can offer to share it with those who don't have that luxury - "Can I pick up some stuff for you at the farmer's market?" "Can I give you some basil?" "Could Rose come over and play with Steve and Annie after school one day a week?" "Could we get together once a month and bake together, and freeze extras?

And for all of us, a little work and time on self-sufficiency can reduce our need to work overtime, or maybe allow one family member to work part time or not at all. Reducing our needs, producing more of our own basic wants and needs, these things can be the key to more time, more freedom, less clock punching and more time doing whatever it is that makes you happy.

And perhaps we can change our notion of what constitutes luxury or pampering. There's no doubt that time for yourself and time for pleasure are an enormous factor in our quality of life. But the person who works 55 hours a week and then comes home to dishes and laundry, 51 weeks a year so they can have someone bring them drinks and rub their backs the other week doesn't sound lucky to me - it sounds to me like someone who doesn't get nearly enough pleasure or luxury. Pampering, in the sense of being able to take care of yourself and have a little private joy is something that most of us should work to make an everyday thing - that doesn't mean expensive luxuries or fancy scented crap - that means being able to do what brings you joy on a regular basis, whether that's playing with your kids, or listening to the birds sing, reading on the couch or tinkering in your workshop, praying or singing, dancing with friends or playing pickup basketball. Instead of working long hours just to have those things, we should be seeking ways to meet those needs not once a year, but daily, and as part of a more peaceful life.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

We Simply May Not Have Time to Wait for the Technology Fairy

The simple facts are these - the IPCC report, which is scary enough, is vastly more conservative than it should be. It turns out that by every measure, the earth is warming faster than expected, and feedback loops are starting to build. In a paper released yesterday, major climate scientists evaluated 400,000 years of climate data and suggested that climate change could be far more deadly and far more rapid than we think.

Here's the article, sent to me by several people:

It turns out that we have much less time to fix this than the IPCC or anyone else believes - a decade at most. And that our future is that much bleaker. And this article speaks only of one of the

The most disturbing bit of the article is the last line, particularly when read in parallel with the last comment of Ban Ki-Moon in the article I posted about yesterday.

Here's what climate scientists say it will take to save the world, *along with* "draconian" emissions limits: "We conclude that a feasible strategy for planetary rescue almost surely requires a means of extracting [greenhouse gases] from the air."

Now here's what Mr. Ban says about saving Africa from climate change induced drought: "Any real solution to Darfur's troubles involves sustained economic development," perhaps using new technologies, genetically modified grains or irrigation, while bettering health, education and sanitation" (if you missed this article, the link is here:

That is, at the end of each article where a little hope is supposed to be offered, we are told that the only hope is a technological breakthrough - that is, that the authors can't imagine anything that would fix this except a magic visit from the technology fairy. I don't think I'm pushing the evidence to admit that in both cases, the speakers don't fully know what to do, and they are, if not scared, at a loss to offer a real and immediate solution.

I've talked about the problems of waiting for technologies to emerge before. The whole process of developing them is quite carbon intensive, and with a decade to keep the planet from roasting, and vastly less to keep more violence from breaking out in Africa, we need a faster plan than "hope for new technologies."

Moreover, just as our plans for renewable energies at this stage are working on the (wrong) assumption that we can still keep our private cars and still keep our houses at 70 degrees, and still be affluent, so too is at least Mr. Ban working on the assumption that we're inevitably stuck with the same economic and political models. The simple hopelessness of his call is based, in part, on the inability to imagine real change. And it is hopeless within those parameters. It is hopeless if we have to wait for technology fairies. It is hopeless if we have to keep growth capitalism up and running forever.

The only hope we have is the notion that the assumptions we make are merely assumptions - that we don't actually have to live as we do right now. That we don't have to extract food from the third world, while burning our own dinners in our cars. That we don't have keep growing - in fact, we can't. That we can't reduce our usage by not 50%, but 90 or 95%.

As far as I can tell, there is no better plan than this. Build soil. Plant trees. Grow food. Make Do. Do Without. Give what you can to others. Fix your mistakes. Cut your emissions to the bone, and then cut them some more. And every time it hurts (and it will sometimes), close your eyes and imagine your nieces and nephews or your children or grandchildren or your friend's beloved children grown to womanhood and manhood in a world where there is food and peace and water. And then imagine them without. And ask yourself "What else don't I need so I can bring about a decent future."

Otherwise, when we say we can't do it, we're choosing the next generation's future. The places we love underwater. Wild creatures that live only in zoos. The deaths of more than a billion people from drought and famine - some of them people we love personally, and all of them people we should be capable of caring about.

On the plus side, the Riot for Austerity is growing *FAST.* We're working on transitioning to the creation of local groups in people's communities - because that's how we need this to spread, house to house, neighbor to neighbor. I know, it is hard that way - some of your neighbors won't care. But give it time - the great thing about human beings is that very quickly, under the right cultural pressure, they forget they ever objected. Think about it - how many people living in the US will admit to having been a racist? Three? And yet there were tens of thousands of people all over the country who once were unashamed to admit to it - maybe millions. If you ask in Germany whose parents were involved, you'd get the impression that the Nazi party was 8 guys in a beer hall. The reality is that we re-write our history pretty fast. The neighbor who paves his lawn and loves his Hummer today is tomorrow's "I was an environmentalist back before it was cool." Our job is to nod and grin.

So put up a flyer in your library or at your post office, put an ad up online. Start a local group today! Link it to something else - "Carbon conscious banjo players" or "Fantasy Baseball Rioters for Austerity." Make it fun. Throw a party. Get in the pool. Eat some good, local food. And remember, live your life with joy, but as though other people's lives depended on it - they do.

BTW, I'm going to be on KMO's C-Realm Podcast going up today - I'm flattered, because KMO has a lot cooler people than me on. In fact, he invited me on to discussion population issues raised by his prior guest, Dr. Albert Bartlett, but I also got to talk a little about sustainable agriculture, democracy and why my turkeys won't stop pooping on my porch and eating my geraniums. I have infinitely slow dial-up, so those of you with decent connections will probably hear it long before I do - let me know if I said "umm..." every six seconds or not ;-)


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Elegy in Fragments

I receive news feeds on various issues from several sources. Every morning I get up and check my email, and see as many as 30 or 40 related news items on climate change, economic policy, energy, international events. I call it my in-box of doom, because so often the news is truly frightening, or achingly sad. And every once in a while, this vast grief of prose turns into poetry. That happened yesterday when Roel sent me this statement by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon:

""The Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change," Ban said in a Washington Post opinion column.
UN statistics showed that rainfall declined some 40 percent over the past two decades, he said, as a rise in Indian Ocean temperatures disrupted monsoons.
"This suggests that the drying of sub-Saharan Africa derives, to some degree, from man-made global warming," the South Korean diplomat wrote.

"It is no accident that the violence in Darfur erupted during the drought," Ban said in the Washington daily.
When Darfur's land was rich, he said, black farmers welcomed Arab herders and shared their water, he said.
With the drought, however, farmers fenced in their land to prevent overgrazing.
"For the first time in memory, there was no longer enough food and water for all. Fighting broke out," he said.

A UN peacekeeping force may stop the fighting, he said, and more than two million people may return to rebuilt homes in safe villages.
"But what to do about the essential dilemma: the fact that there's no longer enough good land to go around?""


Think about those words. "For the first time in memory, there was no longer enough food and water for all. Fighting broke out."

Think about how mystifying it must be to see the water stop coming and the food run short and know that other people are making this happen. Where does your anger go, except to the person next to you?

I read recently an interview with a Bangladeshi peasant who lost his farm and his land to flooding. He will now live in a slum, and eat and drink what he can get, in a house that is not his, rather than farming the land his grandparents farmed. He said, "I am told that all of this is because of electricity, but I promise you, I have never had even a single light bulb?"

How many lightbulbs have I had? Have you?

Roel appended a prose of statistics to append to his own elegaic observation "What will peacekeepers do in Darfur? Grow food? Make land?"

What indeed? I can grow food. Apparently, we can flick a switch and stop the rain. But I can't make land, and I cannot make it rain.

Here are some numbers. That the drought in Australia comes with only 10% less rain - but that higher temperatures and increased evaporation mean 70% less water. Rainfall in sub-saharan Africa decreased 40% in 20 years. That 1/3 of all arable land has been rendered unusable or is in immanent danger of doing so from poor agricultural practices. That in the last 50 years, the population of Africa has tripled.

That yesterday, here in America, we made 5 BILLION gallons of ethanol from food people might have eaten. And today we'll do it again. And again. Energy independence, you know.

That today each one of us will turn on a light switch, throw some clothes in the dryer, toss on a load of laundry, and a man without a lightbulb will wonder if he lost his land because it was his fault.

And when it is our turn to learn what it is like not to have enough food and water, where will the fighting break out?

I once wrote that peak oil and climate change aren't the end of the world, that life goes on. And it does - for some of us. And for the rest, a small and endless, and desperate series of apocalypses ensues.

We did this. We have to fix it. What will we do?


Monday, June 18, 2007

52 Weeks Down - Week 8 - Lose the Petro-Lawn

I live far enough away from my neighbors that I can't hear what they do now, but I have vivid memories of Saturday morning in my small city, when all of a sudden, sleep was interrupted by the sound of a rhino passing a kidney stone. Oh, wait, it was just everyone in the neighborhood firing up their lawnmowers.

The average American uses 18 gallons of gas on their lawn a year - lawnmower, leaf blower, string trimmer, sprinkler, hauling the products, and landscaping eats up half our average personal water use. The average homeowner is putting 20xs the pesticides on their little lawn per acre that commercial farmers use on their land. Many of those chemicals are untested, undertested, and carcinogenic. The extras, along with the chemical fertilizers, run off into our local water tables. And running your lawnmower for an hour puts as much greenhouse gasses into the air as driving 20 miles, according to the EPA, not to mention particulate pollutants that cause asthma and other illnesses, and noise pollution as well that can damage hearing and reduce your ability to be outside and enjoy your neighborhood. Mowing the lawn is especially toxic for the mower.

And think about all the *time* you are spending on your lawn - it isn't just eating up oil and gas and chemicals, but every Saturday morning (or whenever) you are devoting your limited free time to standing behind a lawn mower that smells bad, makes so much noise you can't hear nature. Instead of listening to the birds and smelling the fresh air, you are riding or walking behind a big old machine. And for what? So the neighbors can glare at you if you let the lawn get over 1.5 inches long?

Time to re-think the lawn rituals. There's a lot we can do. First and foremost, consider checking out H.C. Flores's _Food Not Lawns_ - an inspiring book about all the things your lawn could be.

First of all, think about replacing your lawn with something else. How about trees that shade and cool your house, protect them from winter winds, and absorb carbon? How about native grasses and wildflowers that would attract beneficial insects and native pollinators? How about xeriscaping that wouldn't require watering? Or replace it with a vegetable garden - grow a beautiful "V" of eggplants, kales or peppers, and wait for the neighbors to ask you about it.

We need millions more small, even tiny farmers in order to de-industrialize our food system. And the places we most need food producers is in the places people live right now - in your neighborhood. During World War II, American Victory Gardeners produced 40% of the nation's produce - many of them in cities. We can ensure a safe, reliable, healthy food supply by growing food on our lawns - in fact, we need to do this.

We can also use permaculture techniques to design a gorgeous landscape of edibles and medicinals on your lawn. Many food producing and useful plants are gorgeous - you don't have to tell anyone that you eat the acorns from your white oak, that those flaming autumnal bushes are blueberries, not burning bush, that you had daylily petals in your last salad and that last time you got a cold, you treated it with something from the border of coneflowers. Toby Hemenway's _Gaia's Garden_ is a great place to start here, as is the magazine _Permaculture Activist_.

But say you've got to have a lawn - the deed restrictions say so. Well, if I were you I'd start talking to local zoning boards about changing the rules - all these zoning restrictions about lawn heights, no clotheslines, no front gardens, no chickens...these are energy wasters. If we're going to be aware, we need to change the rules. But if you can't do that, the next best thing is to cut down on the energy you use on your lawn - reduce fertilizer, mowing, water use, and dump the chemicals altogether.

You can still mow the lawn with a push mower. My family uses one - we mow over 1/2 acre with it, and don't find it too strenuous. If you've only ever used an old push mower, you'll be shocked at how well they work. My 5 year old can push it, and when his friends come over, they fight over who gets to mow the lawn. It is quiet, pleasant to use, and will save you money on gym memberships, because it provides a nice upper body workout.

You could also switch to an electric mower, or to sheep, if you can get them in past the covenants. But I really love my push mower. The other tool we use constantly is a scythe - with 27 acres, the only way to keep things up is to let some of the longer grass go to hay, and scythe it down when we're done. Scything is a *ton* of fun - relaxing, pleasant, soothing. Eric's birthday is tomorrow, and when I asked him what he wanted to do, he asked if he could spend the day scything one of our fields. I am not joking - scything is a blast. Now this might not work for everyone, but it also substitute for string trimmer.

If you do need a powered mower, cut the grass less often - optimal height is around 3 inches. There's no reason to devote all your spare time to this. And don't leaf blow, rake - it really won't kill you. If you can't do these things yourself, teenagers are a time honored tradition. Show them the push mower and the rake, pay them well and don't forget the occasional glass of lemonade.

Instead of using groundwater or city water to water your lawn, either let it go dormant in hot weather, or collect rainwater whenever possible and use that. If you stop adding commercial fertilizer and replace with compost, more organic matter in the soil will also improve its water holding ability. But remember, dormancy is a normal, natural response - when it gets hot and dry, that's what the grass is supposed to do.

Don't fight the weeds unless you really have to - most of them are products of disturbed soil and some are edible or useful. Remember, your land is an ecosystem - no ecosystem has just one species in it. And get out on your lawn - don't just mow and go back into the house, but get outside. Put a table out, or chairs, and wave to your neighbors as they pass by. Use those lawns to build community. Invite people to join you. Put up bird baths and bat boxes, make butterfly gardens and plant some tubular red flowers for the hummingbirds - invite not just your human neighbors but your flying ones as well. Track your ecosystem. Make lists of the birds and animals you see. Get out a magnifying glass and identify bugs. Get to know your lawn as a living thing, and invite more living things to enjoy the space.

Best of all, tell your neighbors what you are doing and why. We can turn our lawns into something more than a way to make noise on a Saturday morning.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Free Nitrogen! Comes with a Handy Dispenser!

Sometimes I think that having grown up with a lesbian Mom and step-Mom and two younger sisters, I was inadequately prepared for life with a husband and four sons. Now don't get me wrong - it isn't as though I didn't know anything about males. I have a father, and male friends, uncles and during college and graduate school, I lived with more men than women. But by 18 or so, and certainly by graduate school, the men in question had learned that getting girls required a bit more grace than waving your genitals in their faces. Mostly.

But my background makes me much better qualified to answer questions about first periods, whether boys will really die from blue balls and when a bra is officially required for gym class than Isaiah's recent query about whether when he grew up he could pee all the way up to the sky or not. Thank G-d for Daddy.

After a long and tedious toilet training process, my son Isaiah finally clicked into big-boyhood last week, when he discovered peeing on trees outside. He was *so* excited and pleased with himself - now he and big brother Simon can try and hit a spider on a leaf from 5 paces (sorry, spider!), and discuss who went further at considerable length, to Mommy's utter bemusement. Some days it seems like they spend more time with their pants down than up, but who am I to ruin their fun?

We do have some firm rules. No peeing in the container plants (I couldn't figure out what was wrong with my poor impatiens). No peeing off the porch when Mommy is sitting and reading just below it (hmmm...rain...that's funny.. not a cloud...ick!!!). And strong encouragement to pee in the nice bucket that we keep. Because while Mommy may not fully grasp just how cool it is to play "shoot the grasshopper," Mommy is a major fan of free nitrogen.

You see, we all of us, during garden season, fertilize our garden with our urine. I use a commode we inherited from Eric's grandparents, and the rest of them use a bucket outside, and the commode in. Human urine is powerful fertilizer - every day people in the US discard 7 million pounds of nitrogen and trace minerals in the form of human urine. In fact, if you go to the farm store, you can buy artificial pee, called "urea" - except that that stuff is made with natural gas and lots of fossil fuels, whereas the other stuff comes out whether you like it or not.

The thing is, one of the scariest elements of the forthcoming energy peak is that we are terrifically dependent on anhydrous ammonia and other artificial nitrogen sources, mostly derived from natural gas, to feed ourselves. If we are to keep eating, we need to find another source of nitrogen. Conveniently, the artificial nitrogens that have been supporting the human populace (in our food) gets recycled through our bodies and comes back out in highly usable form. You just have to dilute it 1-10 to keep it from burning your plants.

And natural nitrogen, rather than the artificial stuff, is much gentler, and somewhat less likely to float downstream destroying the oxygen in the oceans. We apply way more artificial nitrogen than soils can absorb, and it is creating the famous dead zone in the gulf of Mexico - fish can't live there because a vast excess of nitrogen has destroyed the capacity of the sea to carry oxygen.

While feces can contain all sorts of bacteria, urine is generally sterile, and there's virtually no health risks to putting urine on your garden. Even if you have a UTI or salmonella (one of the few things that can be excreted in your urine), exposure to air means that pathogens die pretty fast afterwards. The most conservative estimates are that you shouldn't use urine directly on plants a month or less before harvest. Since we tend to pour it on teh ground around them, that's not a problem, and for our personal use, we don't worry much about the urine (if you live in a place where tropical diseases like leptopirosis and schistosoma are endemic, you probably want to have your household tested before you use your urine and not take anyone else's free pee - these could be passed on if you had them, which is pretty unlikely). We don't use it on sale crops, however.

In Sweden, however, farmers often use urine from city toilets (urine diversion systems are in place, and the urine is held in tanks until it is collected) on the farms that feed Stockholm. Swedish studies have found urine to be similar in composition to fish emulsion, which is great because the little fish like menhaden and others that are used to make fish emulsion are important to ocean ecosystems and feed larger fish. Those little fish are being depleted for organic agriculture, and aren't a great alternative in the long term (there are some sustainably harvested fish emulsions).

You can also compost urine, or put it in a big barrel (six months in a barrel in your garage and it will stink to high heaven, but be pathogen free). You can pee on a few straw bales, leave them for a rain and then mulch your garden with them. You can use it to water your houseplants. Ideally, just don't dump it in drinking water and flush it away!

Now us girls can collect our pee easily enough, but boys really have a natural advantage in this regard, plus my three year old regards it as a potential hobby, the kind of thing you really devote a lot of time and energy to. And I'm very grateful, even if I don't quite understand the appeal. Plants fertilized with urine really grow beautifully. Peter Bane of _Permaculture Activist_ says that a person's yearly urine output can provide all the high nitrogen fertilizer a half acre needs.

So I spend a lot of my time smiling at the "Mom, look, I peed on a *big* tree this time." I just nod and tell Isaiah how proud I am of him. And I am. I did laugh, however, the other week when he was in the bath, flipped over onto his stomach and complained to Daddy, "Daddy, my penis gets in the way." Daddy's reply? "Get used to it, sweetie." There are times when I *know* I'm just not up to a task. Thank G-d for Daddy, because that just wasn't in my manual ;-).

Happy Father's Day!


Friday, June 15, 2007

I've Deleted "Environmentalism as Spectacle"

Just FYI, I've deleted the "environmentalism as spectacle" thread, because I think I shouldn't have written it. My apologies to those whose comments are lost.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Could Rationing Be Made Palatable?

Could a system of energy rationing, or even rationing of high energy goods and foods work in the US? The conventional answer is that it is politically impossible to even consider it, and that the public would never go along with it. But a closer look at the history of rationing during the second World War suggests that it might not be so unthinkable, and that in fact, rationing has historically been viewed as highly positive, pro-democratic and good public policy by the general populace. Now there are obvious historical differences between now and the past, but the framing of rationing may be more important than the exact historical context - in World War II, for example, where few real risks of famine or severe shortage existed, rationing was quite popular. Now, facing actual shortages and potential crisis, rationing is probably not as hard to sell as many people believe.

This is important because there are a number of public policy initiatives that include rationing plans. Among the most important are Richard Heinberg and Colin Campbell's Oil Depletion Protocol, discussed in Heinberg's book of the same title and George Monbiot's proposal for carbon credit cards described in _Heat_. These are excellent and highly rational programs that create just responses to difficult issues, and they deserve to be given more attention than they have. I believe that in part, they have been underestimated because of the assumption that rationing is politically infeasible.

Formal rationing, whether voluntary or mandatory, is preferable to traditional capitalist rationing by price or taxation models. For genuinely scarce items for which everyone has a basic need, rationing is really the only just system. Energy, food, water and many basic consumer goods (shoes, energy lowering infrastructure adaptations, basic clothing) fall in the category of things that should not be rationed by price if they come up short. Otherwise, we risk doing irrevocable harm to the poor and those who are disproportionately unable to handle service disruptions - the elderly, the disabled and children. Rationing by price also penalizes those who already use the least energy in many cases, rather than those who use the most, and thus is less effective than formal rationing at reducing usage. It also creates strong social unrest and internal conflict, including violent conflict, at times when unity and engagement are most necessary. In short, rationing just plain makes sense.

It is also worth noting that rationing is not a distant hypothetical. State and local government imposed rationing of water is already occurring in Australia and in some parts of the American southwest, in response to extended, devastating droughts. Projected short term and regional summer shortages of gasoline could also result in localized rationing. Rationing is something that is beginning, for the first time since the 1970s, to re-enter the American parlance again. Understanding how rationing works within the culture is an important first step to making rational and wise rationing policy choices. If we make errors in initiating rationing, we risk turning the public against the whole procedure, and cutting rationing out of our options. On the other hand, careful public education about rationing, and framing of its implications can make rationing a political success in the face of both local energy and environmental crises and world wide ones.

One of the assumptions people make about rationing is that it was always resisted and resented. In fact, that's not the case - generally speaking, rationing, if instituted fairly, has been viewed fairly positively, as patriotic and necessary, a chance for everyone to contribute in whatever national crisis is being averted. As Amy Bentley documents in her excellent book _Eating for Victory: Food Rationing and the Politics of Domesticity_, in February 1942, rationing had a two to one approval rating. More than 60 percent of those responding to a poll asking what the government ought to have done differently during the first year of World War II responded that they felt that rationing should have been instituted sooner, and the OPA, which regulated prices and rationing had extremely high approval ratings (Bentley, 23)

Women especially liked rationing. Throughout this essay, I will be talking about the history of rationing, mostly in World War II America (I am focusing on the US because the US needs to reduce its energy usage most). Generally speaking, before rationing women were angry about shortages, frightened about nutritional deficiencies and often anxious about their own participation in the war effort as husbands and sons went to war and left them wanting to participate. Rationing, with the strong message that food was a battlefield we could win, was a way of engaging women, and to a lesser extent, older men and those unable to fight (men were the largest percentage of victory gardeners). Knowing that things would be fairly distributed not only relieved women's private fears of shortage, but enabled them to participate more in war and community work - for example, for women who took over factory work from men, knowing that they could expect to find food in the shops even at the end of the work day meant they were free to participate without fear of their children going hungry.

It is presently even more urgent that we engage women on the subject of rationing - American women make or strongly influence 90% of all purchases, cook 77% of all meals, and spend much more time with children than men do, thus influencing the not-inconsiderable purchasing impact of children. In general, women schedule, organize and plan household activities more than men - that is, they are responsible for finding time for sustainable practices (this is not how it should be, merely how it is). In the growing organic movement, according to Michael Pollan, women make 80% of all purchases (Pollan, 89). All of these things mean that rationing will not succeed if it is positioned without regard to gender. Thus far, programs like the ODP and Carbon Credit Card model haven't sought to use women's communities or women as spokespeople and advocates, and that may have something to do with their lack of popular support.

Historically speaking, because most rationing has involved food and clothing, it has been focused on women, and often led by them. In fact, ration systems have often been empowering for some women - the best example being women in India during Gandhi's revolution, but this is also true for women in the US during every major war and crisis. Energy rationing has largely focused on corporations and nations (mostly led by men) or it has been presented by men, with a heavy emphasis on technical details, and, in the case of Monbiot, with a strong dismissal of the power of the personal. But like it or not, the personal is often the currency of female discourse, and much of the energy consumption, along with consumption of energy intensive items like food and goods is driven by women - they need to hear this message, and because they are not being addressed, they are tuning out.

It isn't that people preferred rationing to no rationing, but they vastly preferred it shortages, lines and fears of inadequate nutrition. For example, in the 1970s, it was not rationing that came in for the greatest criticisms, but the long gas lines that people were forced to endure. Americans generally speaking were willing to go along with rationing during World War II and in the 1970s, and in other wars to voluntarily boycott, embargo and self ration goods. What they don't like is to have some people get things and others not - this is widely perceived as anti-democratic. This notion was reinforced by much US and British advertising - it was patriotic and democratic to use only your fair share, fascist and anti-democratic to buy on black markets, price gouge or hoard. The most important thing was that we all be in it together.

Writing about the American Revolution, the historian Timothy Breen coined the term "Rituals of non-consumption" to describe the ways that in a culture of constraint, people derive satisfaction, power and pleasure from not buying things, or living within strictures. He argues in "Consumer Virtues in Revolutionary America" that in fact, the American Revolution was in part a revolution of buying habits. Extending Breen's idea to the present, this idea of ritualized non-consumption and consumer revolution becomes a powerful way of drawing connections between the radical change required for a low carbon, low fossil fuels society, and between the founding political event of America (at least for Americans ;-). In fact, most wars have involved radical changes in consumer culture and behavior, including new communal cultures dedicated to enabling change and encouraging compliance.

For example, during the American revolution, British woolen products, cloth and other materials were embargoed by American patriots. Despite the fact that Americans had been discouraged from sheep farming and wood industry, almost overnight a homespun culture grew up, with thousands of women now producing their own fabrics and wool. In the northern states during the civil war, a similar embargo on cotton led to women making homespun again out of wool.
Not buying things is one of the most radical acts a community can engage in, and a powerful one. During times of war and crisis, leaders have always asked their constituents to refrain from using or buying something, or to replace it with homemade goods. During World War I, there was no formal rationing in the US (although there was all over Europe), but average citizens instituted voluntary rationing - in _A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove_ Laura Schenone records that Herbert Hoover believed formal rationing unnecessary, that in fact, the public would do it for him out of patriotism without the expense of a formal program, and he was quite correct.

"...Hoover urged, begged and shamed American women into voluntarily conserving food. 'Food will win the war,' he proclaimed. His sacred mantra was repeated over and over again on billboards, posters, and pamphlets, and disseminated by state and local governments, libraries, schools, colleges, businesses, women's clubs of every stripe and even chain stores. A master of the media, Hoover also got newspapers and magazines to scold women on a daily basis to save more food for the sake of liberty and democracy...Wouldn't American women conserve for the sake of their starving sisters across the Atlantic?"

And, in fact, American women responded enthusiastically. They cut food waste by 20%, reduced consumption of dairy products and meat dramatically, even formed "vigilance committees" to keep an eye on communal garbage cans for waste. 14 million "liberty gardens" were planted, and American women initiated "meatless days" and "wheatless days" that would, during World War II, be made mandatory. Millions of women participated, with no more incentive than that it was patriotic.

Herbert Hoover was a political conservative who believed very strongly that conservation of resources for the war effort should be voluntary. I'm not a political conservative, but it should be noted that it isn't merely conservatives who worry about handing the power to ration over to governments. In fact, the success of Hoover's model might be an important lesson for those of us engaged in voluntary reduction models - a way of resisting government beaurocracy and interference is to ration voluntarily sufficiently that external controls need not be extended.

And I must note here that despite the fact that Schenone clearly disapproves of Hoover's paternalism, Hoover's success should point out the possibilities of grassroots self-rationing. The fact that less than 100 years ago, an entire nation voluntarily went on rationing without any more government support than advertising should give us a vision of what is possible from a purely voluntary movement. It is well within the realm of possibility that a self-imposed model rationing program that grew popular enough (think the Compact, Craggers, or, dare I say, even our own Riot for Austerity ) might become the blueprint for a national program, with national support. At a minimum, such programs represent not just models, but existing social structures through which to transmit education material and support for those engaged, programs that might be put to use by governments in times of rationing. This is something to think about.

It is also essential to recognize that movements towards self-rationing indicate that rationing itself is not automatically viewed as an evil. In fact, often it is perceived as a meaningful way to make change. This also gives further evidence that the oft asserted claim that voluntary conservation can't lead anywhere is wrong - what was once done can be done again. Instead, this provides a powerful contrary model of privately led, voluntary programs. That said, however, even privately led programs were made much easier by government *assistance* and to make meaningful reductions on a large scale, government must either lead or follow, it cannot ignore the problem.

In 1942, the Roosevelt administration instituted mandatory rationing in the US. Some items, like meat, shoes and coffee, were rationed because of genuine shortages of the item - increased demand, reduced transport availability, or producers gone to war were among the reasons that these items were not often unavailable in shops, and rationing ensured that spot shortages would stop, that those who were not free to stand in line would still get their fair share. Others, like gas were rationed not because there was any gas shortage, but because a study panel determined that gas rationing was the best way to save tires, and rubber sources were being held by the Japanese. Some proposed rationing programs were dismissed, including rubber rationing for girdles. Women overwhelmingly protested this call for the end of the girdle, arguing that the back support provided by foundation garments was essential to their productivity. They won.

Other items were de facto rationed - factories were prohibited from making refrigerators, new cars and other luxury items, and there were simply none in stores. Again, American consumers were told it was their patriotic duty to invest their money in war bonds and other patriotic activities, rather than luxury goods. There was surprisingly little controversy on these points.

In 1941, there were real fears of shortages, inadequate nutrition, and hunger to match that experienced by much of Europe during the war. By 1942, Russians and Scandinavians really were starving to death, and the British were experiencing desperate food shortages. Americans were shipping food abroad, and being asked to share what they had with millions of other hungry people - to consume less so that others could have more. A famous poster of the period showed a middle class white man, his wife and two children at a table, joined by two American soldiers, and a stereotypical Russian, Englishman and Mexican in serape. The American family is reassured that they will get the majority of American food, but are told that we must make room at our table for our allies. "Don't begrudge it - but produce and conserve, share and play square with food." We have a strong precedent, then, from both World War I and II for a rationing that isn't simply based upon local shortages, but upon a world-wide mutual interest and concern.

Americans, for example, have in the past been willing to make do with less so that others will be less hungry. Again, this is a powerful iconography, one that argues strongly against the notion that only personal suffering would make the case for rationing. This is a strategy that might well be deployed by advocates of the ODP and Carbon rationing programs - the notion that Americans have to do with less to preserve the lives of their allies is not merely rhetoric any more - with global warming and the tragic consequences of rising fuel prices for poor nations, this might, in many ways be a more compelling argument than peak oil itself for a national rationing program.

In fact, in 1946, shortly after rationing was finally lifted, when it became obvious that 800 million people world wide were in danger of starvation because of disrupted food supplies and war related crop failures, more than 70% of Americans, in three separate polls, indicated that they would prefer to have rationing reinstated. Historians make a great deal of the orgy of consumerism of the 1950s, perceived as a response to war rationing. But it is perhaps even more significant that at the end of the war, most Americans were not only willing but enthusiastic about cutting back on their own new supplies of meats and sweets so that others would not go hungry. Bentley quotes a Mrs. E.H. Gembel as writing to Truman, "Sir, we support any measure necessary to provide for the starving people of the world. Get tough." (Bentley, 146). In fact, it was the US government, led by Herbert Hoover again, that resisted citizen calls for rationing. Women especially expressed their willingness to go back to rationing and eat less in order to serve the hungry. Again, addressing discussion of rationing to women may bear more fruit than discussing it before congress.

This flies in the face of the oft assumed notion that Americans would not be subject to arguments that are mostly about other people's needs. Now it is true that we live in a different era - but that works in more ways than one. We are, of course, less accustomed to privation. But we also have much more leeway to give. Again, what has been done can often be done again.

The iconographic World War II poster was Norman Rockwell's famous "Freedom from Want" poster, reproduced since in a thousand places. Rockwell created a series of posters to illustrate Roosevelt's four freedoms that should apply world wide. The Office of War Information, in charge of propaganda posters initially rejected Rockwell's images, which are among the most famous American paintings in the world now. Rockwell's images of "Freedom of Speech" "Freedom of Worship" and "Freedom from Fear" are among his best work. The "Freedom from Want" poster was more troubling and controversial in many ways - American allies criticized it because the image of the festival meal with giant roast turkey on it seemed a slap in the face to those going hungry, to say that, as Bentley puts it, "The scene illuminated the 'inalienable right' of Americans to eat their familiar and abundant foods in their traditional ways, and not just at Thanksgiving. (60)." But the image can be read another way - that what was powerful about Rockwell's illustration was his capacity to invoke the stability of the festival in times of restriction. That is, the image of Thanksgiving and the unified family (everyone, including the young men are home to eat here) is the reminder that restriction and the festival can exist simultaneously, indeed, that one can be made possible by the other. This too is an important message - instead of offering absolute restrictions, the notion that one conserves to celebrate, that careful husbandry enables generosity and abundance is important here was well.

Despite the disproportionate emphasis given to the famous "Freedom from Want" poster, it is important to remember that Rockwell's dinner image appeared in context with the other three posters both in its initial publication in the _Saturday Evening Post_ and later in many reproductions. Thus, Thanksgiving, that in many households begins with a prayer is juxtaposed with images of people praying in the "Freedom to Worship" image, with the blue collar man who speaks up at the town meeting in "Freedom of Speech", and with the mother and father tucking their children safely into bed together in "Freedom from Fear." That is, these things are associated with each other - food rationing, not explicitly mentioned but in the psychological background, and its commitment to fairness and thus abundance for everyone is linked to democratic participation, to religion and religiousness, and also to security. Add to this posters such as the little girl canning at her mother's side, saying "We'll have lots to eat this winter, Mommy, won't we?" And we see the context that rationing must derive from - it isn't merely about scarcity, it is about enabling the creation of a moral context for us to eat and live within.

The same things could be said of the current 100 Mile Diet, and recent books that call for a moral commitment to better food - _Fast Food Nation_, _The Omnivore's Dilemma_ and Barbara Kingsolver's recent (and lovely) _Animal, Vegetable, Miracle_. For a long time, moral context in America has read "Religious Prohibitions about Sexual Behavior" - but even many American conservatives are rejecting this model, what Rod Dreher calls the "Look, it is Janet Jackson's unsheathed ta-ta" model of political conservativism. Calls for a wider, more environmentally conscious sense of moral context have pervaded religious communities of all stripes, as well as secular and political ones. Rationing advocates have the chance, if they are wise enough to take it, to frame rationing as a moral response to insufficiency, and to link it to other justice movements, and to imbue the act of conservation with a larger, collectivized meaning.

In fact, the whole notion that rationing is about democracy, equality, and sharing - not just with your literal neighbors but with your neighbors around the world is what made rationing acceptable, even preferable to other systems, such as price based rationing. Millions of American homemakers signed a pledge abjuring black markets, promising not to buy from shopkeepers who price gouged, and swearing to turn in ration coupons for their goods. The message, both promulgated by the state and argued by women themselves was that their willingness to play fair meant a shorter war, a more democratic system and a greater degree of justice. Women were justifiably proud of their willingness to ration.

There was anger over rationing - some shortages were greeted with frustration, particularly coffee. And there was a great deal of resentment over unequal treatment. For example, gas rationing was a particular point of contention, both in the US and Britain, where often political figures and people of local influence were able to get larger rations. Anyone who doesn't grasp the anger directed at Al Gore or Tony Blair for their failure to conserve when ordinary people, particularly blue collar people, are being pressured to do so ought to take a serious look at this phenomenon. Rationing can be perceived as just, fair and reasonable, but only if the exceptions are minimized, and limited to the truly needy.

World War II was remarkable because of the widespread, egalitarian participation. Everyone's sons went to war, not just the poor. Male Hollywood celebrities enlisted. All four Roosevelt sons went to war and the White House table went without sugar and coffee. While hardly perfect, even racial segregation was to some degree reduced and the stage set for greater change by the desegregation (fiercely resisted) of the armed forces. Women of all classes participated, if not perfectly equally, then in a way that marked radical change, in war work and endured largely the same restrictions. Famous women like Bette Davis and Lauren Bacall ran Stage Door Canteens, not only performing for soldiers, but making them sandwiches, washing the dishes themselves and dancing with the soldiers.

It wasn't that all hierarchy or inequality broke down - far from it. In fact, some labor gains were lost, and the Japanese internment camps represented a remarkable instance of simply hideous repression. But most people were bound by similar restrictions, and to an astounding degree, the restrictions were obeyed. Rich families as well as poor went without meat, or ate offal. Rich people as well as poor bought their shoes with ration coupons. In 1942, when a poll asked whether the government should ration items that *might* be in short supply in the future, 73 percent voted for immediate rationing to avert shortages and to increase the fairness of distribution. More than communal culture, the abiding concern was *fairness* - restrictions were acceptable, but they had to be applied across the board.

All of this should show that any rationing program must emphasize fairness and democratic equality - there need to be few exceptions, and the more people who share in deprivation, the more unifying the overall effect. Celebrities should be enlisted, and application must be regardless of class, race, gender and political affiliation. Environmental activists right now often make the case that their flying or traveling "enables others to use less energy" - but for every person we influence directly, another person is alienated because our message doesn't match our personal habits. Those who wish to advocate for these kinds of programs must lead the way personally - that means getting off the planes, and finding other ways to lead, except in the most urgent exceptions.

In a news item today, India announced it won't do anything about global warming until the rich nations do. The rule about fairness being an absolute policy applies across national borders, it seems - and justifiably so. Anyone who proposes to argue for rationing must argue for as just a system as possible - and must model that rationing. Hypocrisy gets us nowhere.

Along with egalitarian applications, education was absolutely essential to rationing in every era.
Recipes for meatless, wheatless and sugarless dishes flew down from national administrations, out of women's magazines and from neighbor to neighbor. Suggestions for how to build looms and make substitutes for tea and sugar were exchanged by women during the American revolution, and ways of preserving food without salt were passed through women's teas in the South during the civil war. Patterns for socks for soldiers, new card games that could substitute for going out driving or taking vacations - all of this was absolutely essential, for several reasons. First of all, because it helped people find ways to conserve and make do. But also because exchange is a central way we interact with one another - in a conserving society, where gifts and luxury foods are restricted, the exchange of suggestions, advice, kindness and mutual support substitute for goods and luxuries. When those things are taken away, the loss is felt more acutely.

Generally speaking, programs with the greatest success used *existing* social and community structures to transmit not just the requirement to conserve, but also classes and suggestions as to how to do it better. Such material was best absorbed within one's community - during World War II, attempts were made to offer nutrition classes to working class women, but the economic gap between them and the nutritionists was too great to engender good results. Eventually, a highly successful program of paying "block captains" to take classes and transmit knowledge within their neighborhoods and communities was undertaken, and immigrants, African Americans and working class people learned from their neighbors.

One of the important emphases of rationing was freedom of choice - the point system, applied to most foods, enabled people to choose how to use their rations. The US government, according to Bentley, made heavy emphasis of the link between the freedom to choose how to use your limited assets and democratic freedom. Both the ODP and Carbon Credit Cards are tradable rationing systems - politically speaking, this is likely to appeal to capitalist cultural assumptions, and can be linked to freedom, and also to justice for ordinary working people. The fact that ordinary people already use less energy than the rich is potentially a political selling point for those interested in appealing to those "squeezed" by things like lack of health insurance and increased food costs. The dual emphasis - that tradable rationing can improve the economic stability of lower middle and lower class households and that people are still free to choose how to use their energy should be strongly emphasized, and linked to democracy.

We need to make clear that the question is not "will we ration" but "will we ration by price, or will we ensure everyone gets some." Any system of rationing needs to draw very clearly a picture of the alternative - of shortages, lines, hunger, poverty. These are real consequences, and rationing should be portrayed as the collective, fair, and above all anti-elitist option.

The victory garden movement reiterated that what we do not buy, the ritual of non-consumption is even more important than what we do buy, and it did it while valuing anti-elitist skills such is agriculture and physical strength - it cut across racial and class lines. In parts of the south more than 90% of African Americans, often angry at their government in other respects, grew Victory gardens. The call for national victory gardeners was phrased as a form of military participation as essential as military itself. In a poem engraved on a statue dedicated to Victory Gardeners, we learn,

"Not he alone, nor the family that gathers at his table -
But all men everywhere, fighting for Freedom's cause,
Are richer for his work.
For the food he does not buy is theirs to have...
In camps, in ships on every bloody sea,
On battle fronts where food is life itself....
And in those dark and hungry lands now being freed -
Where food is more than life...
Where food means tyranny's long hoped for end.
The seeds of Victory are planted in his garden...."

The poem is heavy handed, of course, but it links ordinary acts, like daily gardening, placed in the context of rationing, to resistance to tyranny, and makes them available to ordinary people. These kinds of links are tremendously powerful rhetorically - more powerful, I would suggest, than the simple statement of necessity or any fear mongering. People are willing to endure remarkable things in order to feel powerful and valued. A rationing movement must make it clear that the consequence of participation is that you are doing something important. Fortunately, that's true.

Many people can be persuaded to view their ordinary actions, including their ordinary actions of conservation, and acceptance of rationing as acts of resistance and power. Ultimately, selling rationing will be about de-emphasizing what you don't have and about emphasizing the returns - particularly the returns in terms of social goods. Particularly emphasizing that individuals are acting in powerful ways by resisting is important - for example, in discussing Carbon Rationing, George Monbiot is somewhat dismissive of personal solutions. But to make rationing politically palatable, it must be represented as an independent way of resisting, shared by everyone. There is, of course, an inherent contradiction between these two things, and yet it is possible for them to function towards both ends in truth and in representation.

It is important to note that the recognition that acts of non-consumption are important and powerful is one that is extremely scary to corporate powers. All through World War II, Doris Kearns Goodwin documents that the rights of consumers and the rights of corporations were in constant tension. In fact, members of the OPA were appointed specifically to represent consumers against corporate authority. In some cases, consumers found that they were newly empowered to resist corporate authority. For example, a group of activist women in Syracuse, NY challenged the dairy industry on rising milk prices. When one of the leaders was derisively asked "Have you ever produced milk?" The woman in question stood up and announced in public that yes, indeed she had, that she had several children and had produced quite a quantity of milk, and moreover, that as a mother of soldiers and a war worker, she had a right to resist price gouging. In this case, a movement towards non-consumption had the undesirable (to corporations and many government figures) effect of empowering consumers, and encouraging them to resist corporatism. While this is by no means a certain result, a growing movement towards better, safer, local food has the potential to reduce corporate power in all spheres, simply by the fact that rationing means that consumption is political. Once people begin to see that, this extends into other areas of their lives. Framing energy rationing as a logical continuation of consumer movements like the slow food movement is likely to help bring public opinion around to accepting rationing as a structure.

All of this was predicated upon, of course, a reasonable threat of shortage and crisis. But such things are easy to come by these days - it is more than likely that this year will see shortages of gasoline for summer driving, and that the next cold winter will see a jump in natural gas prices. As climate change wrought drought continues, experiences of shortage and rationing by price will become more and more normal. And as we have seen, rationing has its virtues, particularly over shortages and unequal distribution. We have reasons to ration already. What we lack is a full articulation of the benefits of rationing.

It does not seem unlikely to me that a case for rationing energy (a la the ODP) and carbon emissions could be made compellingly within the next few years. Existing self rationing programs could be expanded, and should think carefully about how they might be adapted into regional, state or even national programs. Craggers and compact members may find that what they've created is the base structure for something much larger. Models will be needed, and existing community structures will be required. Getting outside the internet and outside of the current political parameters of peak oil and climate change will be important - there are large numbers of people who simply won't be involved with something they perceive as elitist or leftist in origin, but who would be willing to ration for reasons of patriotism, and because their neighbors are doing it. So one of the most important things voluntary rationers can do is bring rationing into their churches, to their local republican party, to their neighbors - not in a threatening way, but in a celebratory one. Support groups to help people cut emissions, reduction picnics and parties, recipe exchanges, techniques and cool tricks, sermons and library talks, movies and parties - these are the exchange medium of change. More importantly, these communal activities become a substitute for what is given up.

Rationing is both possible and potentially quite palatable, as long as it occurs in the context of public education and strong connections to current events. Rationing is democratic - much more so than price rationing, and making a good case for rationing is essential to good public policy.