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Originally posted on 25 September 2009.

I love this town.

No, I really do. Whenever there is a need, the entire town comes together to support that need. And the need last night was to support Colchester Farm, CSA, the place where so many of us get our food from June to October. The evening started with a cocktail hour, featuring delicious local foods (I went back for the roasted pepper ravioli several times), most of it made by local chefs, including Kent County High School, and several of the Colchester Farm board members. This was followed by a showing of Food, Inc., which, if you haven’t seen yet, you should. Soon.

I wanted to start by praising our town though- we’ve kind of taken food on as our issue, for whatever reason. Possibly its just because we have access to so many wonderful local foods, grown by so many wonderful people who are such a part of the community. We’re proud of our food, proud of the fact that we’re a town in the so called middle of nowhere, which in reality is the middle of a cornucopia of delicious things to eat. And so fortunately we don’t constantly have to look the full brunt of the realities of the industrial food system right in the eye. We at least have other options.

So in some ways Food, Inc. didn’t have much to do with us. But in others, it hit a point very close to home. Most of the farming done on the Eastern Shore is in commodity crops- corn, grain, soybeans- and most of it goes to feed chickens down on the lower shore. Actually, there are plenty of chickens up this way too. If you sit out on 213 late, late at night you can watch the empty trucks go north, and if you wait long enough, you can watch them come back again, full of chickens on their way to the slaughterhouse.

The movie isn’t for the faint of heart. If you don’t want to see the inside of a chicken house (and I have to say, this was a pretty decent chicken house, as far as they go- there were no cages and it actually had windows), don’t watch this movie. If you want to continue to eat industrial food completely unawares of what you’re putting in your body, of the horrors you’re supporting by eating that cheap chicken, don’t watch this movie. But if you’re interested in what plagues our food system- what plagues us, right here, on the Eastern Shore, then watch this movie.

I’ve talked so much about what’s wrong with the food system on this blog that I don’t currently feel the need to reiterate. The movie didn’t reveal anything to me that I didn’t know- but I’ve also made it my life’s work to take on the industrial food system, so I’d be curious to hear the reaction of someone who actually (for some reason?) still eats fast food. But the movie made a good point- not only do most people not know what’s going on behind the scenes in the places their food comes from, they’re not allowed to know.

If you want to trace your food back to the source, good luck to you. I hope you have a lot of time and a lot of money. We aren’t allowed to see inside those chicken houses- we definitely aren’t allowed to see inside the slaughterhouses. If we were- as sustainable farmer Joel Salatin says in the movie- our food system would be something rather different. That’s why he slaughters his chickens in an open sided shed, and invites all the people who buy food from his farm to come and watch and participate.

There was also a strong theme of better regulations for food in the movie. But at the same time, a lot of us are struggling locally to be able to get access to local meats and dairy because of the overbearing regulations of the state of MD. The contradiction came up during the Q&A, but I personally don’t think it’s a contradiction at all. I believe they even said, in the movie, that when you’re selling to a place like WalMart you need those regulations, you need to have had your food inspected and carefully labeled and have the assurance that it doesn’t contain E. coli, because the consumer has no other way of knowing. The shopper at WalMart can’t go out to the farm and meet the farmer and take a look around, because likely the farm is on the other side of the world- and likely the process that food item took to get from that farm to the WalMart would be more than enough to stop the consumer buying the item, anyway.

But in the case of local foods, you have the option of seeing what you’re buying produced first hand. Not everyone wants to watch their chickens get slaughtered- but when I talked to the guy who I plan to get chicken from last night, he invited me right on out to the farm to meet the chickens, allowing me to feel a little bit better about consuming meat. Locally, it really is a case of buyer beware- if you choose to buy locally, you are responsible for checking out the person you are buying from, not USDA. A farmer last night pointed out that this is a big risk for farmers- they could easily get sued- but I’ve heard a great suggestion that would solve that problem all around. What if we were allowed to opt out of the conventional food system? What if, as we do in so many other areas of our life, we were allowed to sign a waiver that said, we don’t want to participate in the conventional food system, thanks so much, and we hereby take responsibility for our food choices upon ourselves, swearing never to sue our local farmers, because we’re part of a community, and its our responsibility as well as theirs to double check on the process and make sure our food is safe?

Can you imagine what WalMart would say to that?

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So here’s the last of the load of links from my old blog. Go over there and read, if any of it sounds curious.

Sweet Surprise (High Fructose Corn Syrup, anyone?)
Part 2 of Sweet Surprise

Ranting about local foods

The Food Crisis

Peeing Outside

Why Burger King is Completely Abhorrent

Green Blow Jobs

Bottled Water! Oh My

End of The Long Summer – Oh this was one of my favorite posts…

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Originally posted on 6 June 2009.

One thing, at least, Germany has in common with Chestertown. Well, again, sort of. Usually two or three times a week, every city or village has a farmer’s market.

The curious thing about the German farmer’s market is first, it’s size. Every one I’ve been to has been something of a crowded affair, with as many stalls as possible squeezed into a square that if you could see it empty would leave you with the impression a full out market could never actually fit into it later. And yet there are aisles of metzgerei (meat sellers), and gemuse and obst (vegetables and fruit) and always an apfelwein stand. You can usually, at least in the ones I’ve gone to, barely fit between the stands, between the narrow aisles and the many people with their oversized shopping bags and baskets and bikes.

The other thing, and this makes me miss my own farmer’s market despite the size and variety offered by the German markets, is that these are not my neighbors. Presumably they grow their vegetables in the vicinity of the city, but I wouldn’t know. For all I know they’re dragging their produce from the next state over. And, with my slow and careful German that apparently no one can understand, I have no way of asking. I prefer to shop from people I know by name, or at least by face, from having seen and spoken with them week after week.

I wonder where this bounty of German vegetables comes from. I suspect they are not all German, especially when we arrive at the market in early May to find zucchini, which in Germany’s climate really should not be ripe until at least August, and apples, which should not be ripe until at least October. Yet here they are, along with a wide array of other out of season vegetables that my friend’s mom tells me are probably from Greece. This is not the idea I have of farmer’s markets: the food is fresh, definitely, and maybe it is less pesticide laden or has traveled a shorter distance than the food in the grocery store (Greece is 2,100 km away, while New Zealand or Ecuador, where many grocery store vegetables come from, are more like 18,200 km). But I always come to Germany hoping to eat German vegetables, and other than spargel (asparagus- Germans love this stuff, especially the white kind, which we don’t have in the states), I am usually disappointed.

The same goes for other foods. Maybe I don’t notice it as much at home, where I’m not thinking about it as much, but looking for German cheese at the market came up with nothing (at least I found some from Holland, the next country over), and even the famous German bread, much to my disappointment, is baked from dough made somewhere else, in a big factory somewhere maybe, and only baked on the premises. It still tastes good, but with that in mind I start wondering about preservatives and artificial sugars, which at home I would avoid at all costs.

It makes me wonder. When I go with my friends to the store, they want to drink Italian wine, or Californian. I only want to drink German, because finally I have a selection of some of my favorite wines in the world, and they are grown and fermented only minutes away. But it really brings into perspective how seldom even someone who thinks most of the time about where her food comes from in actuality is eating locally. After all, I drink German wine when I’m at home.

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Originally posted on 22 June 2009. This was a fun one.

When Local Makes it Big

So I like to talk about local foods on this blog. When I use the term, I am thinking in my head of something like… oh, I don’t know, food that comes from Kent County. Maybe if I were to stretch it I would include food from the Western Shore- maybe all the way to Virginia, maybe as far as PA, but that’s really pushing it. I can get most of what I need from a pretty compact area.

But now the Frito-Lay company is marketing their foods as local. That’s right. The massive national conglomerate that brings you junk food galore is claiming that their potato chips are local- at least in the areas that are more or less adjacent to their processing plants.

Back up for just a second. My brain quite literally balks at this concept. Frito-Lay- a division of Pepsi, which is actually an international corporation- is making claims of locality?

It makes a certain amount of sense. People want to know where their food is from, especially as issues of food security become more prevalent in the news, as well as more and more press in regards to the numerous benefits of the local food movement. Big companies are going to want a piece of the market, just as they did with the organic label (as the article points out). But as a result, the organic label has been worn so thin it means next to nothing. Almost anything can be labeled organic. And now, it seems, the same will be done with local- a term that seems so straight-forward it’s hard to imagine any way in which it could be co-opted.

But let’s think this through. If, in some places in the country, Frito-Lay buys potatoes from farmer’s within a relatively local radius of their plant, this is at least preventing them buying potatoes from the other side of the country, shipping them to their plant, and then distributing them nationally. This article says nothing about whether the chips from a certain plant are also distributed locally, but regardless, matching local farmers to local plants is a step in the right direction, right?

Well…

Yes, it’s better than shipping potatoes back and forth all over the country, as frequently occurs with other products. Frito-Lay has also banned the use of genetically engineered corn and potatoes in their products, and that may be an even greater step toward sustainability. But can their products be rightfully called local? There are a few missing pieces- whether the chips are distributed locally, for example, or if the chips from one particular plant are still sent all over the country, whether the ads are only displayed locally or not. Not to mention the simple fact that Frito-Lay has plants all over the country, and most of them only produce a few of their many products, which then have to be shipped over terribly long distances…

It makes you wonder, certainly. As the article eventually articulates, local, in the minds of most people, not only means local (regional), but small-scale. “Local” seems to imply some sort of added value aside from the mere distance between the buyer and the grower. However, this isn’t inherent to the term, and I think when we’re talking about what we value in our food it’s important to be as specific as possible, and not presume that when we say “local” or even “organic” anyone will have the faintest idea what we mean. I know for me, the best part of buying local (from within Kent County) is that I’ve met the farmers face to face, and usually have a nice little chat every Saturday morning at the market. I doubt I could do this with any of the farmers who grow for Frito-Lay.

As a point of interest, according to wikipedia (Frito Lay) the Frito company started in 1932 producing 10 lbs of chips per day, in the owner’s kitchen. I’m going to take a stab and guess that these were, in fact, locally distributed.

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My Christmas present to you! The original Green Vagina lecture, that got banned from my “work” blog on grounds that I couldn’t use the word vagina in a work related context. Screw that. Here it is, originally published sometime in April before being banned and republished (without the word vagina, or reference to herbal birth control) in May 09. It was written as a lecture so imagine me saying these things, as opposed to you reading them. I originally gave this lecture in Savannah in… 04? and again in MD in 06? and mostly recently in MD this past spring.

All right. We’re here to talk about periods. I intend to get very personal, so if this is going to be a problem, you may want to exit now. Now: who hates getting their period? Who was told by their mother the first time they got their period that it was a curse, that it would be the bane of your existence, that you now had to suffer for the rest of your life, or until you got pregnant or menopause, those blessings of female existence.

I was oddly enough sitting at my desk yesterday rewriting this lecture when I got my period. And as I sat at my desk, hating my life, I decided to give up and go home and work there, because sitting at your desk when you have your period and have, as I do, debilitating cramps, is really not a lot of fun. So I went home and did what I usually do when I get my period, which is put on pajamas, curl up in bed with my laptop and a movie, eat something, put a heating pad between my legs, drink some tea, and have a cocktail. And after a couple hours of this, and maybe a nap, maybe doing some work, I feel pretty damn good. In fact, I find that I’m happy about having my period. In fact, I tell myself, if I could do this every time I get my period, I would look forward to it.

But wait. This lecture is supposed to be about the environment! What does this have to do with it? Well, a lot. For one, if you aren’t even comfortable talking about your period, you’re going to have a problem with most of the alternatives I’m going to offer tonight. The reason we even ended up with the products most women use today is that women were uncomfortable with their bodies, uncomfortable with talking about them, and uncomfortable with finding out the facts. Not to mention, willing to let themselves suffer when it came to their periods. We expect it to suck, and therefore it does.

So let’s talk “feminine hygiene.” By the way, I hate this term, and at the end I’m going to ask you what you think we should call it instead. So. Disposables have only been widespread since the 1930s. The only way they became popular was that they allowed women to drop money in a jar on the counter without speaking to the clerk. Kotex introduced the equivalent of the disposable pad in 1921, while the self-adhesive pad wasn’t introduced until the 1970s. Before that, women used rags, fabric, wads of cotton, sponges, whatever worked best, and usually washed and reused the same rags each month. There were belts, suspenders, or sanitary panties with hooks or tabs to hold pads in place, because tight fitting underwear is a recent trend. For thousands of years, women have used reusable pads that they likely made themselves, and no one seemed to mind.

So how did we get stuck on disposables? Well, for years, women have been made to feel ashamed and dirty about the natural functions of their body. Early advertisements told women that disposable pads could help them hide their problems by disposing of the evidence. The same theory seems to persist in today’s advertising, when we’ve even gotten to the point of pads with “silent” packaging so the other women in the bathroom won’t realize you’re opening a pad. Our society expects us to hide our periods and pretend nothing is happening- like we’ve got some kind of terrible disease. If we’re buying “sanitary” products, we must assume we are unsanitary. Whatever embarrassment you feel probably came from negative advertising. Periods aren’t discussed openly. Very few of us had positive first periods. The usual response is, “oh, now you get to spend the rest of your life “inconvenienced” once a month.” Likely this has an effect on our periods- how much of PMS is really irritation that for five days you have to continue to deal with the world when you’d rather stay in bed all day eating chocolate and sleeping?

Many other cultures celebrate a girl’s first period with a party and gifts. Others hold menstruation to be a time for meditation and reflection, when women can take a break from regular life. Our culture still seems to think menstruation is a punishment from God. Long ago, women’s cycles followed the cycles of the moon, often menstruating during the dark of the moon and ovulating during the full moon. Even now, women with irregular periods are sometimes advised to leave a light on while they sleep to emulate the light of the moon- which will regulate their periods. This is known as the Dewan effect.

Tell me- what’s unnatural about your own blood? Knowing your own body and being aware of your cycles gives you self-confidence, especially the first time you observe all aspects of your cycle and are not only able to predict the exact time you will get your period, but feel when you ovulate, and, amazingly enough, this can also improve your health and destroy some of those symptoms normally associated with periods- fear, pain, agitation, etc. A positive outlook can go a long way. It’s no big deal if someone knows you have a period. Are you afraid they’ll find out you’re a woman?

Disposable pads are made of wood fiber, polypropylene, and polyethylene (#5 and #4 plastic). Tampons are made of a cotton rayon blend with a polypropylene cover, unless you buy those which are all cotton or have a cardboard applicator. In a woman’s lifetime she can use over 15,000 sanitary pads or tampons, adding up to about 250 to 300lbs of waste. There are 85 million women of menstruating age in America, throwing away about 13.5 billion pads and 6.5 billion tampons per year (2001). Can you even picture 13.5 billion pads? These fill landfills and clog the sewer systems, and can take over 500 years to degrade. Over 170,000 tampon applicators were collected along US beaches in one year.

In addition, both tampons and pads can contain traces of dioxin, a carcinogen. This is left over from the bleaching process, and over time can accumulate in the system, causing, surprise, cancer. Have you ever noticed how the ingredients aren’t listed on a box of tampons? Tampons also put you at risk for Toxic Shock Syndrome, which occurs when bacteria build up in the vagina from the fluid absorbed by a high-absorbency tampon. The FDA uses research provided by tampon manufacturers to tell the public that tampons are completely safe- even though there are no federal standards of quality or absorbency that could determine which are less likely to cause toxic shock.

And one more thing, and this is a new section. How many people have seen those ads by Always pads about the sad girl who is sitting at home because she has her period, and then gets to go to school because Proctor & Gamble donated pads to her and other teen girls in Africa? There are several problems with these ads. First off, I highly doubt all these girls were just sitting around at home bleeding all over creation before P&G stepped in. They most likely had SOME method of soaking up blood- but I will accept that since the European invasion destroyed traditional knowledge in Africa, many women are denied access to the most basic necessities, including the clean water that would make reusable options more viable. However, if we’re poorly equipped to deal with thousands of pounds of trash from disposable pads and tampons, you can imagine Africa is even less so. Watch one of those ads again. And then think about what the ads selling tampons and pads are telling you. We are helping more girls hide their periods- and creating more waste- and that’s acceptable! Because consider this- if everyone were using the alternative options I’m about to outline for you, how would companies like Proctor & Gamble make money?

Now for some solutions. You could start with all organic non-chlorine bleached tampons, though that does nothing to solve the waste problem. The cost is about the same or a little more than regular tampons. There are also reusable options. If you feel the need to use a reusable coffee cup in the morning, there is no reason not to use reusable pads or a tampon alternative. These include cups like the Keeper or Diva Cup and natural sponges. The Diva Cup is a small silicone cup that collects blood and is emptied when full. It usually can stay in up to 12 hours, and will last 10 years if properly cared for. The come in different sizes, to accommodate a variety of vaginas. The initial cost is $35, which over ten years amounts to about 29 cents per month. Natural sponges are animals that live on the ocean floor, which are dried out and cleaned and can be reused for about six cycles. They are, however, dead animals and have to be scraped off the ocean floor, which is not exactly an environmentally friendly option.

Reusable pads come in an amazing variety of options. You can purchase them from one of many female run companies such as Glad Rags or Lunapads. A starter kit costs anywhere from $30 to $150. Or you can make your own out of scrap fabric. They are usually cotton with a terrycloth liner; some also have a piece of nylon for extra protection. They come in all shapes and sizes and colors and if you make your own you can of course customize for the best fit. They’re bigger than normal pads because they wrap around, but they’re also more breathable and are highly recommended to women that have problems with frequent irritation or infection, which can be caused by the plastic backing of disposable pads.

There are always issues with any choice. Just look at tampons- in some countries they’re sold with little plastic finger covers so that women don’t have to touch themselves. That sounds strange until you realize that some countries don’t sell tampons with applicators. You don’t have to make the switch all at once- people will start by using reusables at night or at home, which can cut over 1/3 of the waste. Yes, you have to clean them yourself; yes, you have to get over touching your own blood. People will see them and wonder. Reusable pads will get stains, but if you soak them in cold water and wash them the stains will be minimal, and stains do not mean they are dirty. They make special bags so you can carry them around during the day, though Ziplocs work just as well. You can generally wear them longer than disposables because the cotton is more absorbant (and also less likely to leak). You really only lose from 2tbsp to one cup of fluid during each cycle. Plus, you never get the adhesive stuck to your hair.

“To make the switch from disposables to reusable products requires an attitude change from being able to throw away the mess (or is it the evidence?) of our menses and perfume and deodorize at the same time, to accepting the reality of this natural part of our bodies.”

And the new topic for this year, that I am going to discuss very briefly, is birth control. I never used to discuss this in my lecture because, well, for a long time I thought the benefits of not getting pregnant outweighed the downsides of birth control. But having since found other ways to avoid getting pregnant, I thought I would go ahead and share.

There are two reasons this topic is really important for girls. One, like the pads and tampons, there is an environmental concern in regards to birth control. There have been a lot of rumors circulating in regards to hormones ending up in our water supplies, and whether these are all true or if we really have to worry yet, no one seems entirely sure. It’s typically safe, when it comes to pollution, to err on the side of less pollution is better.

The second, and this has been subject to even less research, is that birth control in its many conventional methods has not been proven to be entirely safe for all women. Most methods haven’t been out for a long period of time, and several have been pulled from the market after they were discovered to have negative effects on our systems, such as Norplant, and suspicions have been raised about many of the other forms- though no one has bothered to figure out what exactly all the side effects are.

I’m not going to go extensively into alternatives, because this is kind of an area where you have to choose for yourself. Some people don’t seem to have the same bad reactions to hormones as others, and some people have a harder time counting days and paying attention to their own bodies. And sometimes accidents just happen. Believe me, I have been contemplating going back on regular birth control when my boyfriend moves here. But I am one of those people who can’t tolerate hormones in my system. Even aside from the risk factor, I do not personally like to be dependent on pills, and especially on doctors, to take care of my body any more than I like being dependent on pads made of plastic that come from the drug store. If there is a more localized alternative, that gives us control over our own bodies, and puts the knowledge of how they work back into our own hands, then that’s the option I’m going to take.

If any of you would like a full lecture on alternative birth control, I will be more than happy to give one. But for now I’m just going to talk about one of the easiest alternatives to one of the hardest things to gain access to. The much debated Morning After Pill, which, even though it has been made over the counter, is still impossible to get in many drug stores thanks to the refusal clause, generally out of reach if you live in a state like Georgia where absolutely everything is closed on Sundays. There are two ways to avoid having to go for a morning after pill and answer awkward questions about your sex life, though I will say here if you have unprotected sex with someone you suspect of having a STD, you should go to the family center and get tested immediately. There is no alternative to HIV. However, if you have simply neglected to use another form of protection, you can either a) take more than your normal dose of birth control, if you are on the pill, and there are dosage charts online that list the number of pills that equate to one morning after pill; or b) take extremely high doses of vitamin C. The easiest way to do the later is to buy vitamin C supplements and take them regularly- about 500 mg per hour. Typically you only need to do this for two or three days, or until you get your period. If you start to feel a little nauseous, then stop immediately. There’s also an herbal method, there are a number of herbs that will prevent an egg from attaching, which is really what a pregnancy is- both alternatives and the morning after pill do the same thing, by thickening the lining of the uterus so a fertilized egg cannot attach. The easiest herb to access is parsley. Good old parsley, that you get on the side of your plate. Taken in massive doses or inserted directly into the vagina, it will not only prevent pregnancy but has been known to terminate them. So.

When it comes right down to it, the real question is, do you love your body? One of the most radical things you can do, for yourself and for the environment, is to care about yourself, and to be attuned to what’s going on. I mentioned before that with practice you can literally feel yourself ovulating. That kind of power can change your life. And if you care about yourself, and your body, you’re going to treat it right- and that means not tormenting it by trying to shove your period to the side, and trying to hide from the simple fact that you are a girl and you menstruate and I am here to tell you this is beautiful and amazing.

When I get my period, I am content with the world, and amazed with my body, that can shed its inner skin once a month and start over anew. Refreshed, knowing that when it’s over I’ll feel cleaner and more whole than I did at the beginning, and thrilled that each month I get to curl up in a cocoon of blankets and store up my energy for a day or two before emerging on the other side, new and energized and ready to face the world, because not only have I shed a cup or two of blood, but I feel as if I’ve cleansed all the impurities that were building up in my body, and not just the physical ones. Your body can do all that.

And, to not lose sight of the theme of this lecture, I strongly believe you can’t love the planet while you’re hating yourself. Look at the damage we do to the environment and how much of it has to do with how much we just don’t care about its effects on ourselves- thousands of kids get asthma every year from power plants, but we let it slide- thousands of people get cancer from pollutants in the air, in the water, and we do nothing… because we don’t know how to love ourselves, dirty and chaotic and imperfect animals that we are. If you can change that, you’ll be surprised how quickly everything else falls into place.

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Originally posted on 19 April 2009. Not really related to food, but as I am about to move onto a farm in the middle of a lot of people who have been farming for ten generations who aren’t too fond of outsiders, well. I thought it would be interesting.

Is Rural Green Living an Elitist Illusion?

I didn’t just post this because they use a Monty Python picture in the article. I swear.

No, I was actually just talking about this recently with some friends (my friends are so nerdy that we typically sit around talking about things like the true definition of sustainability). Hybrid cars are great and all, but I can’t afford one. Most people I know can’t afford one. I typically use the word “inaccessible” for most “green” innovations. Many argue that new green technologies will eventually trickle down, but I honestly don’t think we’ve got that kind of time. Products trickle down as newer, better innovations come along, but that can take decades- and it means that there will be even more sustainable products on the market, leaving those with the least money using outdated, inefficient models.

Additionally, how green is it if the majority of the population simply can’t afford it? It means only a small percentage can go green, leaving the rest of us… well, not green.

This article presents a good point, and turns it about a bit. Not only can “green” products be labeled elitist, marketed as they are to people with money (Whole Foods is a great example of this. I dare you to find a Whole Foods in a depressed area), but those toting the green products tend to look down on those who are lacking. There’s certainly a “greener-than-thou” attitude among a lot of the environmental advocates, comparing notes on whose wardrobe is more organic, who has the newest, most efficient car, who has the fanciest fair trade furniture. And that’s great and all. It’s better than all of those same people driving gas guzzling sports cars. But what about the part of the population who doesn’t have the disposable income for that sort of shopping?

That’s where you encounter what this article calls “the rural poor,” and by extension, I’d imagine, the same group in urban areas. When people have less money (and I think college students, at least the ones I hung around, sometimes have a similar experience, even if it’s temporary), they become very innovative in their attempts to cut out expenses. For those in rural areas, especially in the UK, which this article refers to, they’ve likely been practicing sustainable methods for centuries. A hybrid car would be completely ridiculous in that situation- as would a reusable grocery bag, or organic cotton shoes, or any other of the trappings of middle class greenism.

It makes you, I think, really question what sustainability is. I personally don’t think it has anything to do with products whatsoever. Some may be “greener” than others, and may be improvements in terms of damage done to the environment- but if we’re really going to be sustainable, I think improvements are just not going to cut it. We need to rethink how we approach everything in our lives, and that, I believe, means cutting out the consumerism all together. What’s more sustainable, after all- solar panels, or not using any electric at all? Oh, I know how most people will react to this- I get labeled a luddite all the time- but I’m not suggesting we all go without electric, as I’ve said before. I’m just suggesting we take a long, hard look at the things we call “green” and ask if they’re really helping save the environment, or if they’re really just helping us feel better about ourselves- while we maintain the exact same lifestyle that got us into this mess originally.

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Originally posted on February 9, 2009. Still a frickin awesome book. It is amazing since this book came out how often I am hearing people referring to the ideas in it. This is the kind of case where an informed public can make a difference. We can all make choices about our food.

I recently finished Michael Pollan’s latest book, In Defense of Food. In it he argues that eating well is actually relatively simple, once you cut through the combined forces of the food industry, food scientists, and the media (which is maybe not so easy to do). I thought at first this book was not going to be as good as his last few (how could you top Omnivore’s Dilemma?) and in a way it’s not. It lacks the narrative that drives Omnivore’s Dilemma, the actual human drama of searching for a meal- something that we can all, on a very intrinsic level, relate to.

Though In Defense of Food is based more on science than human interest, it remains profound in that it is really a culmination of Pollan’s work to date. Starting with the story of the deeply symbiotic relationship between humans and certain plants in The Botany of Desire and progressing through how we get those plants to our plate in Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan finally comes full circle in his latest book, looking again at our relationship with plants from the biological perspective of nutrition, and combining this with how the way we raise our plants affects the nutritional quality of our food. It is worth reading if only to see these pieces fall into place. A quote:

“Health is, among other things, the product of being in these sorts of relationships in a food chain… It follows that when the health of one part of the food chain is disturbed, it can affect all the other creatures in it. If the soil is sick or in some way deficient, so will be the grasses that grow in that soil and the cattle that eat the grasses and the people who drink the milk from them.”

In addition, the book provides up to date information about the fallacies of nutritional science that will have you throwing all your other “nutrition” books out the window- and rightfully so, as it has always seemed absurd to eat by attempting to figure out the nutritional content of food, when for thousands of years people have got on by eating based on food combinations their culture has worked out, over thousands of years. The olive oil/ tomato combination, for example: olive oil makes the lycopene in tomatoes more available, but when it comes down to it, who the hell cares? The two work well together, and people have survived for centuries eating those two foods in combination. As Pollan says:

“You would not have bought this book and read this far into it if your food culture was intact and healthy. And while it is true that most of us unthinkingly place the authority of science above culture in all matters having to do with our health, that prejudice should at least be examined. The question we need to ask is, Are we better off with these new authorities telling us how to eat than we were with the traditional authorities they supplanted?”

Really, as he concludes, you only need nutritional science if you are eating industrial, processed foods, which don’t have much in the way of nutrition- unless you extract it from something else and add it in. His rules for eating well are sensible and don’t require a calculator, or much in the way of label reading, because when it comes down to it, if it has a label, it’s probably not something you want to be eating. I most enjoyed the rule of thumb, don’t eat it if your great grandmother wouldn’t have recognized it as a food, as this is one of my personal rules of thumb. He means, of course, if you took your great grandmother to the grocery store and handed her a tube of Go-Gurt, or whatever the hell it’s called- would she recognize it as a food?

Probably not. And maybe, neither should you.

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