Food Matters

Mark Bittman is a food columnist for The New York Times and an advocate for ‘”conscious eating,” a practice you can begin by changing what you eat.

In his latest book, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating he writes about the environmental impact of industrial farming and how individuals can make a difference by cutting down on the amount of animal products they consume. Why? Because industrial farming (fish farming, chicken farming,  egg and dairy farming)  has an environmental impact.

How can you start? It’s not becoming a vegetarian. Eat more fruits and vegetables and skip a few helpings of meat.

According to Bittman,  Americans raise and slaughter 10 billion animals each year for consumption.

If we all decreased consumption of animal products by 10%, he thinks we “would have both an environmental impact and an impact on all of our mutual health.”

His book is manifesto + self-help manual + cookbook.  Save yourself and save the planet.

Bittman acknowledges another writer’s influence – Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto and The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.

Here’s Bittman’s 2007 TEDtalk on what’s wrong with the way we eat now.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

The third connected post this weekend is about another traveler on the locavore path.  Barbara Kingsolver is probably best known for her novels – particularly The Bean Trees and  The Poisonwood Bible which won the National Book Prize of South Africa and was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award and was chosen as an Oprah’s Book Club selection.

She is also the author of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life a non-fiction book about her family’s experiment to eat only locally grown food for a year. Along with her husband and daughters, she moves to a farm in Virginia. They grow and can  tomatoes, learn about roosters, make cheese, and learn to do what it takes to eat what is in season.

Kingsolver’s background is interesting. Born in Maryland with some of her childhood spent in Africa where her father was a medical doctor and some in Kentucky, she attended DePauw University on a music scholarship for classical piano, but ended up switching to biology. In the late 1970s, she lived in Greece, France, and Tucson, Arizona, working variously as an archaeological digger, copy editor, housecleaner, biological researcher and translator. She earned a Master’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona.

“If we can’t, as artists, improve on real life, we should put down our pencils and go bake bread.”
Barbara Kingsolver

King Corn Versus An Urban Rustic

I heard a brief interview on the radio with independent documentary filmmaker, Aaron Woolf.  He directed Greener Grass: Cuba, Baseball, and the United States, and Dying to Leave: The Global Face of Human Trafficking and Smuggling. His latest film is King Corn.

King Corn is a film about this ubiquitous king of crops that ends up in everything from apples to antifreeze, body lotion to batteries, margarine to magazines.

The crop has come a long way in 6,000 years ago from Mesoamerica to your kitchen. It is grown on every continent (except Antarctica) and in the U.S. it gets 93 million acres of  land. Do we really eat that much corn? Well, yes – if you count all the corn that goes to high-fructose sweetener and to grain to feed cows that we will eat.

In the 2007 film, we follow two college buddies, Curt and Ian, to Greene, Iowa (home of their great-grandfathers) and watch them spend a year planting and harvesting one acre of corn.

The project is small time in the corn world, but they learn about subsidies, surpluses, and the nutritional aspects the industry of an industry that’s growing in proportion to America’s bellies.

Maybe you don’t think of farming as industry, but corn has certainly helped to eliminate the family farm with industrial farms. As with other industries, decisions about what crops to grow and how they are grown are often based more on economic considerations than their effects on the environment or consumer health.

There’s more on the film at and

What actually interested me more in the interview I listened to with Woolf was his store  Urban Rustic, a grocery store in Brooklyn, NYC.

The store’s mission is to raise awareness about where our food comes from – and to sell groceries.

Here, things come mainly from local farmers, butchers, cheesemakers, and other producers. It’s got a general  general store look but with a  juice-and-coffee bar and an elevated dining area.

Everything sold has a story about where it came from and how it was produced.

One lesson learned and told in the interview is that some things turn out to be counter-intuitive. For example, the kiwi from New Zealnad might actually have a smaller “carbon footprint” than the tomato from southern New Jersey due to modern transportation systems.

Locavore Nation

Listening to the podcast edition of the program The Splendid Table (episode January 17, 2009) got me thinking about several topics that I will write about this weekend.

The show sponsored “Locavore Nation” in 2008. Locavore isn’t a word that most people probably know, though it was is the 2007 “Word of the Year” for the Oxford American Dictionary.

A locavore is someone who eats food grown or produced locally or within a certain radius such as 50, 100, or 150 miles. The locavore movement encourages consumers to buy from farmers’ markets or even to produce their own food, with the argument that fresh, local products are more nutritious and taste better. Locally grown food is an environmentally friendly means of obtaining food, since supermarkets that import their food use more fossil fuels and non-renewable resources.

“Locavore” was coined by Jessica Prentice from the San Francisco Bay Area (see also on the occasion of World Environment Day 2005 to describe and promote the practice.

The podcast was a final (I suppose) check with their  Locavore Nation volunteers to see what conclusions the year-long project inspired.  There were fifteen people from around the country that they grouped by regiosns.

The idea was to try to get at least 80% of their food from local, organic, seasonal sources and then incorporate it into tasty, healthy meals.  (The show is about food, after all.) The participants had blogs on the site.

Since I came in at the end, there was a lot to read. I looked at the East group (no one from from my home state though) and starting reading some posts.

The blogger I looked at in the most detail was Autumn Long.

“I’m 24 years old, and I live in rural north-central West Virginia. I was born and raised in West Virginia, and in 2005 I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in Anthropology. I live on a 75-acre farmstead that is composed mainly of forested hills. My husband, Dan, and I live “off the grid” in a “hand-built” house that is a work in progress. Dan’s parents are our closest neighbors and have owned this property since 1981. We have a horse, a donkey, two dozen laying hens, five cats, two dogs, and one hive of honeybees.

Dan and I both work part-time (I’m an editor and writer; he’s a landscaper) and consider ourselves full-time homesteaders. Together with my in-laws, we maintain ample pastures, two hayfields, large vegetable and herb gardens, fruit trees and berry bushes of various stages of development, and a small pond stocked with bass and catfish. The forest provides us with firewood and edible and medicinal plants and mushrooms. Dan and I make maple syrup each spring. We try to grow as much of our own food as possible, and we enjoy brewing beer. This year we plan to raise a couple of pigs and some roasting chickens.”

I like that she is a writer, and that they seem to have a jump-start on the locavore lifestyle. But what actually got me started reading her posts was her retrospective last blog post.

“When I was approached last year to participate in the Locavore Nation, it sounded like it would be well organized and enthusiastically supported, and would generate a lot of public participation. Fast-forward to a year later, when a few steadfast bloggers are still stubbornly churning out occasional entries despite a steady waning of interest by all (or at least most) involved parties. I’ve tried to keep up my end of the bargain, but I can’t help but feel that I’m often writing just to hear myself talk, so to speak. I wish there would have been better organization and more encouragement and support from the people who created this project in the first place. A great opportunity has been wasted in many ways.”

That seemed pretty honest. Of course, I also can identify with bloggers who feel like they are talking to themselves. (I had that same feeling doing a late-night college radio program many years ago.)

I did some searching, but didn’t turn up a new Autumn Long blog. I hope she does some vanity search and comes across this bcause I think she should continue her blogging on her own.

Like the cabin blogs I wrote about earlier, I find that getting someone’s personal take on something like this really makes your education about the topic more meaningful.


How is the donkey?
Are your honeybees having that hive collapse problem I read about?
Did you continue eating locally? What’s green to eat these winter days?

Yours truly,


More: from PBS “10 Steps to Becoming a Locavore”

December 21, 2012

Some people disagree about what humankind should expect on December 21, 2012. There’s not even agreement on whether or not that is the correct date. But you’re going to hear more about the date during the next three years.

December 21, 2012 is calculated to be when the Maya’s “Long Count” calendar marks the end of a 5,126-year era.

One writer, Lawrence Joseph, forecasts widespread catastrophe in his book Apocalypse 2012: An Investigation into Civilization’s End.

Spiritual healer Andrew Smith predicts a restoration of a “true balance between Divine Feminine and Masculine” in his books The Revolution of 2012, Vol.1 The Preparation and The Revolution of 2012: Vol. 2 The Challenge.

Daniel Pinchbeck anticipates that in 2012  a “change in the nature of consciousness” will occur assisted by indigenous insights and psychedelic drug use.

Hunab Ku

Others say that 2012 is another end-of-the-world, Y2K hoax that will amount to nothing more than another day in 2012.

Maybe there will be a convergence. Maybe  the growing interest in earth religions will cause ud to reconnect with the Earth and we will save ourselves. Maybe the Maya are right.

The Maya civilization. You studied it in school – remember? Advanced writing, mathematics and astronomy and torture and sacrifice. Or was that the Inca? You still confuse the two.

The Maya lived in Mesoamerica around A.D. 300 and 900. They used a “Long Count” calendar. It measured out more than 5,000 years. Then it resets at year zero.

For the Maya, making it to the end of a whole cycle was cause for real celebration.

Personally, I like the 2012 count. Right now I’m working as part of a grant program at a college. The grant runs out in 2012. I’m thinking it’s a good year to retire. So, I’m betting that 2012 is the start of a brave new world. It’s in the stars.

In fact, it is in the stars. On the winter solstice in 2012, the sun will be aligned with the center of the Milky Way for the first time in about 26,000 years. Some say that this means whatever energy typically streams to Earth from the center of the Milky Way will indeed be disrupted on 12/21/12 at 11:11 p.m. Universal Time. Set your alarms.

Did the Maya really figure that out?

“It would be impossible the Maya themselves would have known that,” says Susan Milbrath, a Maya archaeoastronomer and a curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History. What’s more, she says, “we have no record or knowledge that they would think the world would come to an end at that point.”

Who’s right?  What should we plan for Year Zero in four years?