Tag Archives: food

Pertinent Lessons from Our Recent Past

A little off the beaten path for tourists in London is the Imperial War Museum.  It’s still a quick tube ride from the central part of the city and it is just a two stops away from the always tasty Borough Market.  Plus, depending on the line you take you will get to stop at the Elephant & Castle station.  I think that name is just smashing.

The museum has all the usual exhibits that glorify the British Empire—one quarter of the world’s landmass, one quarter of the world’s population, the sun never sets on the British Empire, etc.—through World War I and II with a small, yet quite impactful, exhibit on the Holocaust.  However, the part of the museum that I found most interesting dealt with the home front during World War II.

The home front usually gets short shrift in any analysis of a war effort.  World War II in Britain was a little different because the horrors of war made it across the English Channel in German raids on London and other cities.  Children were shipped to the countryside where it was deemed safer and Londoners huddled in shelters as bombs or rockets rained down.  With a stiff upper lip, so to speak, the nation kept calm and carried on.

My daughter and I probably spent close to an hour in the home front exhibition looking at the types of food that were available or not available and why or the measures taken by households to conserve materials in order to supply troops.  The impression that my ten year old daughter was left with was how little a house could make do with if it had to. Her seven year old brother, naturally, loved the display of World War I grenades.

As we face an uncertain climate in the coming decades and the attendant consequences of that climate change we may be forced into a situation where our everyday begins to resemble the home front during an armed global conflagration.

Victory is in the Kitchen

Victory is in the Kitchen

It is my belief that we can make some of the biggest impacts from the comfort of our homes and the center of our homes is the kitchen.  It is the place where my family spends the most time together and it is probably where I spend the most time teaching my children.  Some parents play catch or go on hikes, I teach my kids how to dice onions, mince garlic, deglaze pans, and build flavors.

Change starts at home.  The food we choose to make and eat forms the core of our value system as self-described environmentalists.  If you are not trying to be a better human in the kitchen you might as well stop sweating the other stuff.

Food: Don’t Waste It

Food Dont Waste It

In the United States it is estimated that 30 to 40% of food goes to waste.  Given the impact of agriculture on climate change this is unacceptable.  Furthermore, given that in this age of abundance when we are dealing with diseases of over consumption, e.g. obesity related illnesses, there are still millions of people that go hungry every day.

Make Do and Mend

Make Do and Mend

Repair is the forgotten action that we can take to conserve.  Almost everything, save for our homes and automobiles, is basically disposable in modern capitalist economies.  Even big ticket items like appliances are seen as disposable, which blows my mind.  Here’s the thing, repairing stuff has never been easier.  The internet is literally chock a block full of people posting repair instructions, wiring diagrams, parts lists, etc. that can help even the least handy of us repair many of the items we once viewed as disposable.

Can I do Without It?

Can I Do Without

Is there a better question to ask yourself about any purchase that you make?  The most environmentally conscious purchase is usually one that we do not make.  Sure, there are the obvious wins like replacing high usage light bulbs with the most efficient LED bulbs or replacing a fifteen year old refrigerator with a more efficient model.  However, many of the “green” purchases we make are just adding consumption to the system that is destroying our planet.  It may be made of organic cotton, but do you really need another t-shirt?

Self-Indulgence at This Time is Helping the Enemy

Self Indulgence

I just love how direct some of the messaging was during World War II.  This poster is basically saying, “Don’t be a dick, we’re fighting a war here.”  How many of our problems, with regard to climate change, could be solved if people were just somewhat less self-indulgent?  I will let you stew on that thought for now.

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You Must Read—The Wizard and the Prophet

517K8QxDd0L._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_It has been a while since I suggested a book on this blog owing to my having read a lot of turds and a lot of fiction.  However, I have recently finished a book that I think would give anyone with an environmental bit grist for the thinking mill: Charles C. Mann’s The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World. 

The book is a narrative using Norman Borlaug, the “wizard,” and William Vogt, “the prophet,” as the central characters in a century long development of visions for how we must develop in the face of social, economic, and environmental challenges both natural and manmade.

Norman Borlaug is probably the more well-known of the two having won a Nobel Prize for his work advancing the basic components of what would come to be known as the “green revolution.”  In Iowa Borlaug is a state hero.  Heck, he is memorialized in the National Statuary Hall Collection with a bronze statue.  It oh so immodestly states on the statue’s base, “THE MAN WHO SAVED A BILLION LIVES.”  Humble indeed.  I guess when you have a Nobel Prize, Congressional Gold Medal, and Presidential Medal of Freedom you can say these kinds of things.

William Vogt, although lesser known, is equally influential in that his ideas and many of the people he influenced have come to define what we consider to be modern environmentalism.  Vogt’s thinking about the intrinsic value of nature, as opposed to those like Gifford Pinchot who viewed nature as something to extract value from, get a the core of the attempts at conservation in the Twenty First Century.

More important than the biographies of the two men is the concept that each represents a pole in a battle for the vision of how we are to live on this planet.  As it states in the title these are presented as a wizard camp and a prophet camp.  Each camp’s vision for how we interact and thrive on this planet is based on a foundational philosophy.  The wizards put their faith in our ability to invent or innovate our way to a more prosperous and sustainable future.  The prophets put their faith in the inherent superiority of nature and seek to have humans adapt to fit.

Think about this as a continuum with each camp on the opposite ends.  At the extreme ends of the continuum exist the viewpoint that their particular world view is correct and the other is fundamentally wrong.  Now, in reality no one is entirely on one end or the other save for people we would label as cranks, eccentrics, or worse.  People exist on some spot along this continuum and understanding their placement goes a long way to understanding their views on the environment.

This is a particularly interesting construct to utilize in a world where we are facing the impacts of human caused climate change.  Some people will advocate that modern science is the only way to adapt.  Other people will pontificate that a major change in lifestyle is the only solution to humanity’s predicament.  Real change will come from some blending of the two, but in a polarize world that might not be so easy.

The other interesting idea that pops up in the book as an anecdote is that organisms have an instinctual or biologically deterministic drive to expand or grow until collapse.  Perhaps whatever camp we fall into is merely window dressing prior to a general calamity brought about by deep seated biological signals.  Interesting.

Friday Linkage 3/23/2018

Back in the saddle, so to speak.  Coming back to work after more than a week off is hard.  It seems to be getting harder and harder to come back to work after anytime off, however, which leads me to believe that I am due for a life change.  Maybe I will embrace the ski bum life in my 40s?

On to the links…

Documents Show Ryan Zinke Ignored Public Support for Bears Ears in Favor of Oil and Gas—This is going to be an interesting race over the next few months: Between Ryan Zinke and Scott Pruitt, who will be the most corrupt member of President Trump’s cabinet?  My money used to be on Pruitt, but now I am not so sure.

Ryan Zinke Claims Wind Energy Contributes to Global Warming—I know that the next line is, “I’m not a scientist.”  But, WTF?

EPA Chief Scott Pruitt Held ‘Courtesy Call’ Meeting with Big Trump Donor—In any other administration this is called corruption, but in Trump’s America it is standard operating procedure.  Pay for access?  You betcha!

A Whopping 86% of RNC Venue Rental and Catering Expenditures Last Month went to Trump Properties—The Republican Party is now the party of Trump, grifters, and con men.  Corruption is the order of the day.

The World Added Nearly 30 Percent More Solar Energy Capacity in 2017—Yes, the growth rate is down from the prior years.  However, this is still a big number.

Ireland will Phase out Coal by 2025—Another one bites the dust.

20% of US Population Produces 46% of Food-Based Emissions—My dad used to be a fanatic for the 80-20 rule.  That is to say you can get 80% of the benefit of something with 20% of the effort.  Or, if you are a business professor, 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers.  This is not quite as severed, but it goes to show that relatively small percentages of the population are responsible for an outsize volume of emissions.

Large-Scale Animal Agriculture Is Threatening Rural Communities. Congress Is About to Make it Worse.—Here is a thought exercise.  What has Congress made better over the last few years?  Name one thing.

How Millennials are Changing Home Design—Maybe the headline should read, “How Millennials are Realizing that Most Homes are Just too damn Big!”

What’s Quelling the Anxiety of Electric-Car Drivers?—Charging corridors, increasingly common vehicles on the road, actual experience with an EV…these are the things that tipping points are made from and we are seeing reality on the road.  I actually saw a Tesla Model 3 in western Nebraska off I-80 on the way to Colorado over spring break.  It had Illinois plates and was heading west.  Road tripping in an EV.

The Last Male Northern White Rhino in the World has Died—Shit, that sucks.

Friday Linkage 4/21/2017

Jason Chaffetz chooses not to run in 2018.  John Ossoff almost pulled it off in deep red Georgia.  Damn. Things might actually be looking up.

Oh wait, Trump is talking tough about North Korea.  Mike Pence is talking tough about North Korea.  Is it time for the tail to wag the dog and our lunatic politicians to wrap themselves in the flag before starting a war.  Worked for W.  Too bad it did not work out for the country.

On to the links…

The United States of Work—Read this entire article before commenting or dashing off a response email.  Think about its implications.  Our private employers have become a de facto parallel state to the federal government.

7 Reasons Why Today’s Left Should be Optimistic—I have hope because when you actually ask people if they support things like single payer healthcare, social security, worker protections, etc. the support is overwhelming.  We just need to translate that support into votes.  Ahh, the easy stuff.

6 Ways Trump’s Administration Could Literally Make America More Toxic—Our vigilance is required more than ever.  Plus, we have the opportunity to hit members of Congress with the reality that they have supported an administration that has made the air and water we depend on for life more toxic.  Defend that in front of the people.

6 Times Trump’s EPA Head did Exactly what Industry Told Him To—Scott Pruitt is the fossil fuel industry’s meat puppet.  He does what they want and that has allowed him to rise to his current position.  He is not an original thinker or a policy professional.  He is a shill for fossil fuels.

The 3 Stages of a Country Embracing Renewable Energy—I’ve got a number thing going on this week.  It’s a little bit too much like Harvard writing, but the idea is important.  What the world will look like as countries enter into the third stage of renewable energy development will be critical to our future on this planet.

Climate’s New Best Friend—Get used to the term “stranded assets.”  Basically, oil companies made plans to develop fossil fuel sources when prices were high.  Now that oil is under $60 a barrel these projects are no longer cost competitive.  Hence, stranded assets.

Europe’s Coal Power Is Going up in Smoke – Fast—The death spiral is real in Europe.

Ice Energy & NRG Announce World’s Largest Ice Bear Energy Storage Deployment—Shifting peak electricity demand is a huge component of making our grid greener as the prime hours of solar production are just short of the peak demand from residential users.  Plus, the wind blows hard at night when no one is using electricity.  This is a low tech, established solution to shift demand to other times of the day.

Walmart Secures 40 MWh of Energy Storage for Southern California Stores—Big box stores are a prime location for energy storage.  Why?  Land, lots of land, parking lots, and a need to make sure that the freezers stay cold so they do not lose thousands of dollars’ worth of frozen pizzas in a power outage.  Helping to balance the demand load is a nice little side benefit.

Here’s What Our Food Might Look Like in a Climate Change-Induced Dystopia—Top Chef Hunger Games this is not.

Tokyo’s Skyline Set to See 45 New Skyscrapers by 2020 Olympics—When people tell me that we cannot quickly add buildings to our urban landscape for housing I wonder what they would say about Tokyo?

One Key Way Soggy California Could Save Water for the Next Dry Spell—California may be out of the worst of its recent drought, but the state is essentially on a roller coaster of moisture and has been for thousands of years.  Preparing the landscape for the next cycle is critical.

Why Shopping Should be a Last Resort—We should all have a copy of this taped to the door of our refrigerators at home:

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You Must Read—American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood

We are what we eat, we are told. But we Americans do not eat what we truly are. We are an ocean nation, a country that controls more sea than land and more fishing grounds than any other nation on earth. And yet we have systematically reengineered our landscapes , our economy, and our society away from the sea’s influence. As of 2012, Americans ate a little less than 15 pounds of seafood per person per year, well below half the global per capita average and miniscule in comparison with the 202 pounds of red meat and poultry we consume. [Page 233]

Paul Greenberg is familiar to readers of this blog because I was a big fan of his prior book Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food. The author is back with a take on seafood that is closer to home, which is appropriate given the rapid rise in local food movements across the United States.

51dbCQm3YhLAmerican Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood is about the relative dearth of seafood eaten by American diners that is sourced from American waters. Through the lens of three types of seafood—oysters, shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico, and Alaskan salmon—Greenberg illustrates the odd market forces at work with respect to American sourced seafood.

Nothing illustrates his point better than the juxtaposition of Alaskan salmon and imported tilapia:

It was then and there that it hit me—the bizarre devil’s bargain that Americans have entered into with their seafood supply. Americans now harvest our best , most nutritious fish in our best-managed Alaskan fisheries and send those fish over to Asia. In exchange, we are importing fish farmed in Asia, with little of the brain-building compounds fish eaters are seeking when they eat fish. [Page 190]

Yes, we basically trade Alaskan salmon for fish that is barely fish. Tilapia is fish with training wheels. It is fish for people who find the flavor of cod, haddock, or Pollock not quite bland enough. My father, who slurped oysters with the best of them, referred to it as “Chinese junk fish” because it offered none of the benefits of fish while serving up a host of economic and environmental concerns.

We, as a whole, do not really consider the bounty of the sea. Cattle and the steaks that are cut from their carcasses are the apex foodstuff that comes from American land followed closely by the legions of swine and chickens processed into McRibs and nuggets of various odd shapes:

We need to understand that the marshes of Louisiana are not just an idyll to observe egrets and alligators; they are a food system, one that provides a large portion of the catch in the continental United States. If we choose to , we can support the environment that is home to shrimp, redfish, bluefish, blue crabs, oysters, flounder, sea trout, and others. Yes, there is a small risk of contamination from eating wild seafood from the Gulf. But that risk, when compared to all the other food risks we take as a nation, is infinitesimal. [Page 155]

It’s about consumer behavior and realizing the bounty that is present on our shores. If we could just get out of the whole bland white shrimp, slightly pink salmon, and piles of tilapia complex their could be a huge outpouring of economic support for American seafood. The challenge lies in getting people to accept something that is outside of their comfort zone. Ironically, this has been done already with more familiar land based foods. A few years ago odd cuts of beef like flank or skirt were sold for a fraction of the price of more mainstream cuts, but now those flavorful cuts command a premium. Heritage breeds of pork and poultry populate our palates in increasing numbers every year. Why can’t we do the same with food that swims?

But the future of the American catch depends not only on American governance , but also on the behavior of American consumers. There is no more intimate relationship we can have with our environment than to eat from it. [Page 16]

Take a weekend, read Greenberg’s American Catch, and think about the next type of seafood that you order at a restaurant or buy at the supermarket. Make it Alaskan salmon or Gulf shrimp or an odd filet that the fishmonger at the co-op is all excited about that week. America depends on it.

Friday Linkage 9/11/2015

Winter is coming. At least that is what my daughter thinks now that the air conditioning is off for the summer and the night time temperature is dropping into the 40s. She is constantly asking how many days it is until ski resorts in Colorado open. We might have created a monster here.

On to the links…

US Solar Capacity Now Exceeds 20 GW—Believe it. I am hoping to add my own little bit to this number before the close of the year with an approximately 5 kWh system on a west facing roof. Permits be damned.

Why Solar PV is Unstoppable – and Renewable Targets will Cost Little—Fossil fuels are looking over their shoulder at the ultimate killer app in solar. Once deployed it is cheap because the fuel is free and the lifespan is long because the technology is solid state.

The Default Move For US Oil Is Downward. Here’s Why—An interesting technical analysis of the recent drop in oil prices and why we may be looking at a new normal. I think this price drop is a temporary reprieve that gives our economy some breathing room to start making a real transition away from fossil fuels.

Kauai Utility Signs Deal with SolarCity on Energy System to Provide Power at Night—Hawaii has mad renewable energy potential, but the problem is that peak demand continues after the period of peak production crests. This pilot project aims to level out some of that disparity and pump clean power back into the grid after the sun goes down.

Colorado Invests $1.2M In Low-Income Community Solar Projects—One of the biggest and most poignant critiques of solar is that it is something reserved for people with a large degree of discretionary income. Community solar that is subsidized by some degree may be an answer to this critique.

India’s Installed Solar Power Capacity Tops 4 GW—I am kind of a solar junkie when it comes to news stories. I love hearing/reading about new milestones.

Delhi Eyes 2 GW Rooftop Solar Power Capacity By 2022—Remember, this is rooftop solar so it is going on top of existing buildings instead of taking up ground in greenfield or brownfield sites. What is the potential across the world for such an endeavor.

India’s Wind Energy Potential Upgraded To 302 GW—The interesting thing about this number is that slightly more than half is available in what is considered waste land.

How Australia’s Electricity Demand Is Slashed By Solar PV—Simply put when solar panels are producing the most power is when there is a spike in demand. Point of use solar power generation is knocking down the peak of demand.

From Icky Bugs to Good Grub: Why More People are Eating Insects—I think that I read one or two of these stories each year that claims the boom in eating insects is a year or so away. It feels a lot like nuclear fusion. It’s a ten years away and that was true ten years ago.

In Praise of Cheap Knives—I am always reminded of a woodworker I knew who collected beautiful tools in a manicured shop, but no one could ever recall him actually building anything.

Winners and Losers in the Search for Lactose Free Living, So Far

It’s been an interesting month or so since my wife and I discovered that our daughter was lactose intolerant. The most unfortunate side effect of finding out this fact is that a seven year old has developed some attachments to certain foodstuffs that she can no longer eat. Parmesan cheese anyone?

Many trips to the New Pioneer Food Coop have turned into treasure hunts for dairy-free or, at the very least, lactose free versions of foods you normally associate with the dairy aisle. Naturally, there have been some winners and losers sitting on the shelf.

Winners:

Vegan American Cheese—We do not really eat American cheese on anything other than grilled burgers and grilled cheese. It’s kind of a one-off menu item, but those grilled cheeses are damn important when it is six o’clock on a weekday and you do not have anything in the refrigerator for dinner. Granted, American cheese of the dairy variety seems to defy logic as a dairy product given its highly processed nature.

Soy Ice Cream—There was nothing quite like the look on my daughter’s face when she realized that she was not going to be relegated to fruit pops and those bizarre ice pouches. I think that we probably spent more than $20 picking up a sampler pack of different soy based frozen treats. It’s the little things that can really make a difference.

Vegan Carrot Cake—This is a New Pioneer Food Coop bakery item, so your availability may be limited. My daughter went nuts for this slice of carrot heaven. She is requesting this as her birthday cake in December.

Need Pizzeria’s Vegan Cheese Option—I do not know if it is soy or rice or nut based, but my daughter devoured a personal size pizza the other day at this new establishment. Located in downtown Cedar Rapids, Need Pizzeria will be getting my business due to the cheese option and a great selection of local beers.

Losers:

Vegan Cream Cheese—My daughter loves cream cheese and bagels. Instead of a sandwich in her school lunch she would like a bagel with cream cheese. The vegan substitute was just not working.

Still Looking:

Parmesan Cheese Alternative—Please, tell me there is something that I can use to replace the Parmesan cheese in my daughter’s diet. She may actually choose to endure the upset stomach in order to enjoy her yummy cheese.