Sunday, August 21, 2016

May You Live in Interesting Times

Having buckets of seed in the closet is like storing cordwood in the shed, food in the freezer, and rice in the pantry; it's a small insurance policy and a good way to keep food costs manageable. ~ Peter Burke, Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening, p. 55. (Chelsey Green Publishing, 2015)

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day. As conversations often do these days, it drifted onto the topic of the upcoming Presidential election.

While I'm not entirely convinced that we have the worst candidates ever, I've seen some very pessimistic prophesies that predict a very rocky next four years regardless of which of the two candidates gets elected.

In the early days of our country, two individuals would vie for the position of POTUS. There was a winner and a runner up. The runner up became the Vice President. It seems that the practice was discontinued during Thomas Jefferson's presidency. Imagine if that were still the practice today: Reagan/Carter; Bush/Gore; Obama/McCain; Clinton/Trump.

So, my friend and I were discussing the election, and I related the story of this very pessimistic prophecy, stating that it's going to be interesting (like the old Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times"), and he said, "So, I should start stocking up."

We chuckled, and I observed that he had some good storage areas - garage, basement.

Then, I told him that, maybe, he didn't want to store up canned foods, but rather seeds, and maybe he should consider planting some apple trees on his expansive (suburban) lawn.

When I got home, I saw the above quote, posted by my friend on Facebook.

Store seeds.

Today, we went to our garden plot and found overripe tomatoes and some beans that would be better left to dry on the stalk, as they'd reached that stage of too tough for steaming or eating "green." The seed saving has begun.

My friend didn't dislike the idea of saving seeds, but he also commented that he'd be storing rum. Between our two families, we'll probably be in good shape ;).

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Wanton Consumption ... A Birth Right?

Every now and then, I hear something or read something in which the entitlement attitude is so strong that my entire body has an intensely negative reaction, and I have to remove myself from the situation lest violence ensue.

Not really. I wouldn't get violent, but I do want to yell at the speaker until he/she recants the statement and begs forgiveness from the non-human, unrepresented masses who suffer immeasurably from those very privileged and entitled feelings and sentiments. Or from the humans who have and still do suffer across the globe so that we, pampered citizens of the United States, can continue to bask comfortably in our artificially sustained, climate controlled environments.

My oldest and his family were visiting recently. He has been waiting until his son was old enough to take his family to the Boston Museum of Science, which he very much enjoyed seeing as a youth. So, we all went.

The museum is dynamic with the exhibits changing frequently, and most of the exhibits are interactive, allowing visitors to actually work on problems and find solutions, or just to learn through doing rather than just seeing. Last time we went, there was an exhibit on Ancient Egypt. This time, there was a pretty amazing exhibit on spiders. I also loved the living wall - three stories high and planted with nine different plants - most of which are typical household potted plants, and several I recognized as being good for cleaning indoor air.

One of my favorite exhibits, not surprisingly, is the one on energy, which talks specifically about renewable and low impact choices. There's an interactive display in which one is given six magnetic pucks and five energy choices: fossil fuels, solar power, hydro power, nuclear, and wind. The object is to choose the best combination to light up the city of Boston with the least environmental impact. We played with it for a while, and I was finally able to light up Boston using a combination of hydro, wind and fossil fuels. I was disappointed that in order to power itself, Boston still required fossil fuels.

Which is probably why, after coming home at the end of a wonderful, very educational day, and seeing this very entitled comment, I reacted so negatively. I had just come from playing with an exhibit that shows, at our current level of usage, there's not much chance that we, as a population, will ever be able to release ourselves from our dependence on fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas), and the more we insist on our own, personal comfort, the more we destroy this place on which we are wholly dependent for our lives.

I grew up in the coal fields, and witnessed, first hand, the destruction of not just the beautiful land, but also of the communities. I saw how the coal industry kills, not just the environment, but also the people, who become bent and broken and old before they reach my age. They live in perennial poverty and constant deprivation. It's heart-breaking.

We all know the destruction drilling for oil wreaks on the environment, especially when it's deep water drilling, which is, really, the only untapped oil fields we have left to pump dry. How many coral reefs and sensitive coastal habitats do we need to destroy before we say, "Enough! I'll learn other ways to stay cool during the summer."?

The environmental nightmare caused by fracking for natural gas is all over the news. Fracking has resulted in the contamination of huge areas of ground water. Here in Maine, we are currently in a severe drought. Out West, they've been experiencing a severe drought for the past ten years. Can we REALLY afford to poison anymore of our water so that we don't sweat during the summer?

In short, we are killing our world so that we can live with a year-round, indoor temperature of 75°.

The comment that put my knickers in a twist was a person railing against her electricity provider's recommendation that she set her air conditioner to 78° to save money on her electric bill, and her assertion that she was not going to die of heat stroke in her apartment by having the AC set so high. I'm pretty sure if one is just sitting, watching television, that 78° is not hot enough to result in heat stroke (but to that, maybe if one turns off the television - and all other heat producing appliances in the apartment, 78° wouldn't feel so hot ... just a thought).

And I thought of that display, and all of the coal it takes to keep her apartment cool enough for her (below 78°, presumably).

And I thought of the fact that I've given up a lot of convenience to save money on my electric bill and have a lower impact on the environment. I don't have an air conditioner. I don't have a clothes dryer. I don't have a television or a VCR or a DVD player or a stereo with a CD player. There's no microwave in my kitchen, or kitchen-aid, or toaster oven, and my dishwasher is a counter-top model made for a single person who lives in a tiny home. I don't have a gas-powered lawn mower. In fact, I don't even have a lawn mower. What little lawn I do have is cut using a battery-powered weed-whacker. It takes a week to "mow" my lawn, because each of the two batteries only has about 15 minutes of charge, and I only have one charger, and it takes a whole day to recharge the battery. Fifteen minutes a day, for a week = lawn mowed. Wash, rinse, repeat. For the whole summer.

I don't say any of that to pat myself on the back, but rather to contrast attitudes. I don't think I'm a paragon of virtue, but when it comes to energy usage, I don't carry the attitude that I deserve to be cooler simply because I exist.

Recently, I stumbled across an article about an Eco-cooler. It is made from discarded plastic bottles (hooray for repurposing!), and it works to cool a very small, indoor space. It was developed in Bangledesh, where the average temperature during the summer hovers somewhere around the level required to smelt iron. It's hot. It's humid. And people live in tin huts. Even in the hottest places here in the US, we have dozens and dozens of opportunities and methods of getting cool that people who live in places like Bangledesh don't have. Talk about privilege. At very least, we have unlimited access to clean, drinkable water that's often cool as it comes out of the pipes that nearly every American apartment has as a necessity, not a luxury.

I posted the link to the cooler on my FB wall, because I thought it was very cool - you know, recycled materials, non-electric climate control device. A friend posted a rebuttal she had received from her friend about how it doesn't work. Well, excuse me, but for what it was designed to do ... and WHERE ... it does work.

For that little entitled Princess, who complained about 78° being too hot, it wouldn't work.

Which is why Boston will never be wholly powered by the hydro dam that runs across the Charles River, and on which the Museum of Science was built, or even by a combination of wind power and the dozens and dozens of solar powered homes I saw as we were leaving the city.

People don't want to give up their conveniences, because we live in a country in which we believe we work hard for what we have and we deserve to be happy and comfortable, and I wonder why a laborer in southeast Asia, who toils 60 hours a week under a baking sun in 110° temperatures with no reprieve from the heat ... often, not even a cool drink of water ... deserves less than I do.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Growng Food

I have a small yard. It's average-sized for a suburban yard, which are usually right around a quarter of an acre (or 10,000 sq feet-ish), but for where I live (Maine) and for what we're trying to do (be self-sufficient), it's a small space.

As such, I'm always on the look out for ways to grow food that don't take up a lot of space, but will give me the biggest bang for my buck.

I love growing things in containers. They're super easy to use, because they can be moved, they don't need a lot of soil, they don't (usually) need a lot of weeding, and crop rotation doesn't require much energy or planning. Depending on what one puts into the pot, there could even be several plantings of different things throughout a season. We had radishes in one container, they were harvested, and now we have carrots in that same container.

I also love repurposing and reusing materials, and I know that anything that can hold dirt, can be a garden.

This year I went a little overboard with that philosophy, and decided to try something I haven't really seen anywhere else, yet. I planted lettuce in a cardboard box.

And it's doing really well.

I've already harvested three salads for my family of five from this box, and it's still thriving. I have a few more banana boxes lying around. Perhaps it's time to plant a few more of these phenomenal "containers.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

You Are What You Eat

I was walking through the stacks at the library the other day ... just strolling down the aisles ... when a book title jumped out at me. Genetically Engineered Food was what I saw out of the corner of my eye, and I had to stop, back-up and look a little more closely.

Genetically Engineered Food: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers by Ronnie Cummins and Ben Lilliston is the complete title.

I decided to check it out. Given the huge controversy around GE foods and foods grown from GMOs, I thought it was a new book, and I just wanted a closer look.

It was published in 2000 (!!!).

I remember the huge scare when Bt corn was "accidentally" leaked into the human food stream through some tainted taco shells. Those companies that had the contaminated taco shells (and yes, contaminated is exactly the right word, because that's how everyone felt at the time - that our food had been contaminated) voluntarily recalled them, refunding money and releasing a statement about the taco shells and apologizing for the egregious error.

Fast forward many years, and suddenly, more than 90% of the soy in this country is from genetically engineered seed. More than 80% of the corn grown in this country is from GE seed (and was originally only grown for animal feed, but is now in all corn-based products that aren't specifically labeled "organic" or "GMO-free"). And sugar? If it's not labeled "cane sugar", it's from GMO beets. Everything that has added sweetener in this country contains GMOs.

Chew on that for a second.

Or, just chew on the fact that in 2000, there was a book written and published about how to protect oneself from genetically engineered foods, and sixteen years later, we are still FIGHTING, uselessly, to get companies (the very same ones listed in the book as either openly and proudly admitting that they use GMOs or excusing themselves by saying everyone else is, too) to label their products that are GMO - since we know they aren't going to not use them.

Back in 2000, FritoLay stated: We have no plans to market or advertise any claim of "Genetically Modifed-Free" products ... Since we are also a large buyer of agricultural commodities, and more than a quarter of the North Amiercan crop is derived from biotechnology, just like other food companies, we could have biotechnology ingredients in our products. Translation: Yeah, we use them, because everyone does.

Coca-Cola company stated that *if* there are genetically modified ingredients in their products they "are destroyed in the processing." What? That makes no sense to me. If the ingredient is destroyed in the process, why bother using it at all?

Nestle, who also believes that water is a commodity that should be bought, sold, and controlled, stated, in effect, in places where consumers don't want GMO foods, they won't use GMOs, but as long as GMOs are legal to use and consumers don't care, they will include them. I have a friend who likes Haagen Daaz, because she has severe food sensitivities. Nestle owns Haagen Daaz. I wonder how safe that ice cream really is.

Kellogg company just flipped off the entire American public, stating, in effect, that their grain is American grown and all of the farmers are growing GMOs. So, they're using the GMOs, and we can just suck it.

General Mills says that "some of their products may contain ingredients that have been improved through biotechnology." Of course, we are now learning that GMO crops are not better than organic crops, not for the environment, not for farmer productivity, not for those who eat them ... although this knowledge does not, yet, seem to be common.

Quaker Oats says that they can't be bothered to worry about whether or not their products contain GE foods, because "there is no system in place to separate these foods."

Hormel says that "... developments in plant genetics ... have significantly improved crop productivity and food quality," and therefore, they will "continue to support the crop and vegetable industries' efforts to provide the safest and highest quality products available." Translation: GMOs are good. The science is sound. Scientists are GODS! Anyone who disagrees is an idiot luddite.

These are but a few of the companies that use GMOs without apology. Many of them, however, will not use GMO products in Europe, where the feeling about GMOs is a bit different. European farmers haven't been brainwashed into using these patented seeds only to become dependent on them, even though they are not better or more productive than conventional seeds.

Since 2000, there has been a marked increase in the number of cases of Type II diabetes in young people (Type II diabetes used to be an old person disease), a sudden outbreak of food sensitivities (especially to gluten), and an epidemic of childhood obesity. While correlation is not causation, it's also true that no one is seriously looking at whether or not these GMO foods might be a cause. Not in this country. Not in our part of the world where companies that are responsible for some of the most poisonous chemicals known to man are now making our food.

Vermont tried, unsuccessfully it seems, to get companies to label products which they knew to contain GMO ingredients, but it appears that our Federal Government is, once again, bowing to corporate pressure. A new resolution is going through Congress now to disallow States from passing bills that will require labeling of GMO-ingredients.

In short, our corporate controlled Federal government won't force these companies to state, exactly, what's in that package of cookies. No one wants us to know ... and apparently, given how prolific GMO ingredients now are in our food supply, and that fact that many companies have willingly bowed to consumer pressure in other countries, too few of us who eat really care enough to have demanded it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Too Hot to Cook Inside

I know all of my friends down in the south are laughing at my title. I live in Maine. Too hot isn't a thing, right? It's like when your thermometer dips down to 40°F, and we're up here digging out after the latest snowstorm dumped another two feet of snow on us, and the mercury hasn't managed to push us into double digits above 0°F in a month, and the wind is so cold it slices off pieces of one's face when it blows ... and then, you folks down south complain about being cold.

We laugh.

I'm sorry, but it's true. Forty degrees isn't even below freezing, and if one had to spend the night outside, one of those cheap sleeping bags from Target that kids use for sleepovers would be enough to keep one from freezing to death. That first 40°F day up here, after a long winter, feels like a heat wave. It's short-sleeved weather.

But let that mercury turn our thermometer red, pushing up toward those triple digits, and we'll whine with the best of 'em. We're just not equipped for hot weather up here, because hot in Maine is roughly equivalent to your comfortable weather.

It's in the upper 70's today, and it's a nice reprieve from the upper 80/lower 90 temps we've been getting for the past week.

Mainers are a bit like coconut oil. We melt above 80°F.

So, it's been hot up here. I don't have AC in my house, and so when the temperatures exceed a certain level, there's just no way I'm putting more heat in my house by turning on the oven. Couldn't pay me, in fact.

It's okay, though, because trying to live a lower impact life has taught us a few tricks about cooking without depending on electricity.

I've wanted to build an outdoor kitchen for a while. It hasn't happened, exactly, but we do have a really keen gas grill with a side burner, and so, that's where we're cooking. It's actually pretty incredible the number of things that one can cook ... not just grill ... on a grill.

Like, did you know that you can cook eggs in the shell on a grill? Just put the eggs on the grate over a low heat, close the lid, and leave for about fifteen minutes. Peel and eat the egg. They're like boiled eggs, without the water. Cool, right?

A grill with a lid works a lot like an oven, and so it's possible to bake on a grill, too.

Quiche on the grill comes out more beautiful than when I cook it in the oven.

Honestly, I don't think we really appreciate the versatility and usefulness of our grills. We all have them, but the grill is one of the most under-utilized appliances in our American homes. Sure, we all love a good BBQ. Hamburgers and hot dogs are summer staples across this great country, but there's so much more one can do with that grill.

Baked eggs, quiche ... heck, we even baked muffins on our grill a few years ago when there was a power-outage.

This week while the rest of my family was off at rehearsals at our local community theater (two of my daughters have been cast in West Side Story, and Deus Ex Machina is stage crew for the show), Precious and I were making pizza and corn on the cob on our grill. Both were delicious.

And tonight, our grilled dinner will be a little more normal, maybe. The plan is for spatchcocked, roasted chicken and grilled squash. Maybe I'll put that side-burner to use and boil some new potatoes from the farm stand.

All local food, low-impact cooking, and no added heat to my house. I call that a win.