Tag Archives: local

Stop Buying Water for Your Shower

We all know that bottled water is bad.  It’s usually just tap water put into plastic bottles and dropped off in pallets at our local grocery store.  You end up paying dollars for something that costs cents when it comes out of the faucet in your home.  Add in the plastic waste and you get a bad environmental actor that no one wants to defend.

But what about your shampoo and shower gel?  Look at the first ingredient.  I am betting dollars to donuts that the first ingredient listed is water.  How much water?  Seventy to eighty percent depending upon the formulation. [1]  Shower gel is in the same boat and considering its rise to prominence over bar soap I am guessing that most people have multiple bottles of what is mostly water in their showers. [2]

Every one of those bottles of shampoo and shower gel are just a step up from buying bottled water.  I have always been a bar soap guy finding the entire loofah and shower gel combo unsatisfying on a number of fronts.  Foremost among those is what wondering what is lurking in the folds of that loofah that do not get clean.  Sorry for that image, folks.

Bar soap is the easy answer to shower gel.  Hell, it’s also one of the easiest things to get from a local provider because almost every farmers market I have been to over the past decade has a soapmaker or two.  Or you could get the soap that I like the bestPacha’s Dirty Hippie.

The shampoo angle seems a little harder until you do a little digging.  I would not have thought twice about it until a friend re-gifted me a Lush Seanik shampoo bar.   All I could remember thinking was why I did not come across this concept sooner.  Now, I do not care to afford Lush’s products although I do love their ingredients and social bent.  Once the Seanik bar ran out I bought some J.R. Liggett Old Fashioned shampoo bars and I am working through them currently.

Bar soap and shampoo bars come with none of the packaged plastic waste that comes from shower gel and liquid shampoo.  If we really want to make a change in the way we consume things we really need to examine the nature of the products that we buy and the packaging that those products come in.  A little paper wrapper seems like a much better solution than an empty plastic bottle.

 

  1. http://chemistscorner.com/how-shampoos-are-made/
  2. http://fortune.com/2016/08/25/bar-soap-declining-sales/
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Friday Linkage 2/3/2017

Well, this week happened.  It was a week in which I found myself agreeing with Dick freaking Cheney.  The man better known as W’s Darth Vader actually came out against Trump’s horrible ban on refugees as “against everything we stand for and believe in.

Never mind the failure to actually limit immigration or entry into the United States from countries that have exported terror to the United States—yes, I am wondering why Saudi Arabia was left off the list and it could not have anything to do with Trump’s sons business dealings.  You remember that Eric and Don Jr. are running the empire now, right?

On to the links…

This Map Might Make You Think Twice About Trump’s Immigration Ban—I wonder why Donald Trump and Steve Bannon did not include Saudi Arabia—home to almost all of the 9/11 terrorists—on their list of countries?  Oh right, conflicts of interest:

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Republican Bill to Privatize Public Lands is Yanked after Outcry—Your voices matter.  When a snake oil salesman like Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) is forced to back down amid public outcry, you know something is working in this messed up world.  Keep up the heat and make sure that every member of Congress knows that we are watching.

‘It’s A Big One’: Iowa Pipeline Leaks—The number of gallons of diesel fuel leaked is being debated.  Of course the oil company says it is fewer than reported, but who really believes them?  Remember this every time someone says that oil pipelines are so safe.

US Coal Industry Will Continue Historic Decline Through 2017—In spite of Donald Trump’s rhetoric coal will continue to fall out of favor in the U.S.  It is called a death spiral for a reason.

The Great Energy Disruption—When you go back and look at these projections, as the author points out, many of the assumptions driving the models are wrong…to the better.  Renewable energy generation has gotten cheaper, faster.  Energy storage has gotten cheaper, faster.  The beat goes on.

Who Installs More Solar Power? Republicans and Democrats are Pretty Much Tied.—Must not be any of the Republicans elected to Congress.  Those guys hate solar.

The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt May Be The Start Of The Everyday Electric Revolution—This is why the Chevy Bolt may be the true winner of the electric vehicle war to come…it’s kind of boring, in an everyday get my stuff done kind of way.

The Next EV Revolution: Think Trucks and Buses—If you are looking to get some serious savings in terms of oil consumed in the transportation sector look to heavy duty commercial vehicles.  This quote from the article encapsulates the opportunity perfectly: While medium and heavy trucks account for only 4% of America’s 250+ million vehicles, they represent 26% of American fuel use and 29% of vehicle CO2 emissions.

Chart of the Month: Driven by Tesla, Battery Prices Cut in Half since 2014—Think about that for a moment—battery costs have been cut in half in approximately three years.  This is before the Gigafactory and mainstream EVs really hit the market bringing some true economies of scale to bear:

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Going Local: The Solution-Multiplier—In the age of Trump local matter more than ever.

Diageo Opening Guinness Brewery in US—With all the great craft beer in America, do we really need Guinness to open up a destination brewery?  I have had their rye pale ale and it does not belong on the shelf with a hundred other great American beers.

Nation’s Bacon Reserves hit 50-year Low as Prices Rise—In case your week was not crappy enough there may not be enough sweet, savory, delicious bacon to salve our wounded souls in the era of Trump.  WTF?

The Horror of the Open Bar

There is one last frontier remaining for the craft beers of the world…the wedding.   Imagine my horror this past weekend when I went to the open bar—featuring what some would call top-shelf liquor—for a beer only to discover that my options were limited to Budweiser, Bud Light, and Heineken.

Of note is that the couple getting married are craft beer drinkers and the groom even spent some time working in the tap room at Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland, so these are people who are known to drink an IPA or two.

The willingness of wedding caterers to offer craft beer is something that will have to overcome their fear of failure. They are operating under the principle of not failing versus succeeding wildly. People go to weddings and remember seeing a couple get married, visiting with family, watching some middle age men dance quite awkwardly, and waking up the next morning with a trip staring them in the face. Having a truly memorable culinary experience is pretty far down the list, so the caterer just tries not to be a failure.

It is a shame because these events represent a great opportunity to increase craft beer’s reach into the marketplace. One, people spend a lot of money on weddings. Two, the cost of failure for a consumer at a wedding is low so they are apt to try something new. Three, who wants to be limited to choices like Budweiser, Bud Light, and Heineken? Especially after you have spent the afternoon before the wedding enjoying a Burning River IPA.

The only place where I have seen craft beer crack the wedding bar is in Wisconsin where the wedding organizers feel it is a patriotic duty to have a keg of New Glarus’ Spotted Cow on tap for all of the out of town guests to enjoy.

Colorado Feels like the Future

This is not some screed where I quote from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. For those of you who have not tortured yourself by actually attempting to read that magnum opus of conservative crap hole rhetoric, Colorado plays a major thematic role. Instead this is my thoughts about how Colorado seems to be moving toward a vision of what I think the United States will increasingly look like in the coming decades.

As I spent more than a week in the Centennial State I began to formulate some thoughts. Here goes:

In terms of politics, the state is polarized. Outside of Denver metroplex that stretches to the north to include the liberal paradise of Boulder, the state is relatively conservative. However, population trends and other demographic forces do not favor the continued strong influence of constituencies outside of the more progressive Denver metroplex. Sure, conservatives and libertarians will make a lot of noise—witness the recent tomfoolery about secession in the northern part of the state—but those voices will increasingly lack electoral heft save for the most gerrymandered of districts. Don’t believe me? Look at Representative Steve King of Iowa. He’s the Republican douche who prattled on about immigrants being drug mules and what not. Real class act. Earlier this month he held a “rally” in his district and this was the turnout:

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Oh yeah. So, while hateful views and rhetoric like the sewage being spilled from Rep. King’s mouth may play well of Fox News—which has a demographic problem itself as it’s average viewer is easily old enough to receive full Social Security benefits—it is increasingly not something most people want to hear. Remember, Steve King is from a district in a state that gave then-candidate Barack Obama his push to the national stage with a stunning caucus win and twice voted for the man to become President. This is also a state that has allowed gay marriage since 2009 and has not imploded in some biblical event. This is what the future looks like for the right if increasingly exclusionary voices are the only ones to get heard.

The state’s left leaning politics, combined with a libertarian bent towards personal liberty, have already pushed forward one of the most progressive agenda items in the United States…the legalization of recreational marijuana for adults. Imagine that the U.S. police and prison industrial complex were no longer calling the shots in support of a broken system that enriches those exact entities at the expense of the greater nation. Imagine a cessation to the incessant drug war that has consumed U.S. society for the better part of forty years. I saw this future in Colorado where an adult can walk into a shop and buy weed as if it were no more prohibited than alcohol. Amazing.

Colorado’s prominence in the pantheon of craft beer is unquestionable and I am an unabashed fan of many of the breweries that call the state home. More so these breweries represent a more local and human scale future to the production of the foodstuffs that we consume. For anyone who does not believe that smaller scale producers can survive in a broader industrial context I would point you to the thriving craft beer industry in general and those breweries in Colorado in particular. Why do I believe that these examples of small scale success bode well for other endeavors into more localized and human scale production that is better for our bodies, souls, and planet? It is harder to think of an industry with more entrenched giants than beer—the formerly big three of Budweiser, Miller, and Coors—who over time erected a gauntlet of barriers to entry in an effort to create a moat around the market for beer in the United States. Guess what? The only segment of the beer industry that is growing is craft beer and it has a long way to go.

The state is also dealing with the nasty effects of climate change in real time. While the impacts of climate change might be theoretical for other states it is already rearing its ugly head in Colorado. Drive through any national forest in the state and you will see acre upon acre of dead timber that was killed by a beetle normally held in check by cold winters and healthy trees. The increasingly warmer winters and unreliable snow are forcing the vibrant ski tourism industry to evaluate a future where there might not be so many days where people are willing to shell out big bucks for lift tickets. If you think that this is just about the high Rockies you would be mistaken. In Colorado Springs the community has dealt with massive wildfires, exacerbated by unreliable rainfall, and the subsequent problems of flooding when rains finally soak denuded hillsides. Many communities along the Front Range were devastated last year when 1,000 year floods—whatever that means in a climate change reality—inundated communities at the base of the mountains.

There are other things that I saw when I was driving that made me think maybe, just maybe there is hope in our future if Colorado is the guide. It’s not a comprehensive network and it bypasses some communities, but the efforts to bring light rail across the Denver area are laudable. Soon, a light rail extension will finally link the airport—which is in bumblefuck relative to downtown—and the city of Denver. It’s still a place ruled by the car, but stand still long enough and you will likely be mowed down by someone riding a bike.

Get a chance to drive around and you will start to notice solar panels everywhere. If you start at the airport there are fields of them near the road leading to the parking structures. From there you will see solar panels on top of houses and on commercial buildings. Heck, right off I-25 in the heart of deep red El Paso County—where they renamed the freeway the Ronald Reagan Highway or some such shit—there is a big array. Solar gardens sell out in no time flat and you see installer trucks driving all over the place.

I am rambling a bit, but I wanted to get these thoughts out there soon after my return from Colorado. What do you think?

You Must Read—The Town Saved by Food: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food

Growing and making food is hard work. The story of the second half of the Twentieth Century is how the developed world essentially outsourced the production of food from the farm to the fork. We ceded control to a variety of interests including, but not limited to, industrial farms, mega corporations, ubiquitous restaurant chains, etc.

Fewer farmers feed an increasingly larger number of people, but the food being produced is increasingly suspect as it is designed to survive the rigors of industrial production. This means that tomatoes are picked green and rock hard only to be gassed with a chemical in order to turn red and sell. Animals are raised in horrific conditions in order to meet the exacting production schedules of slaughterhouses that cost hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s a race to the bottom in terms of health for both our bodies and communities so that corporations can profit from homogeneity and economies of scale.

However, a kernel of the “old ways” survived in place throughout the United States waiting for an environment which was more hospitable. As the Twenty First Century began ever growing numbers of people began to question the insanity of a food system that can produce a hamburger and a soda the size of a small barrel of oil for a buck.

9781609611378Ben Hewitt’s The Town that Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food Hardwick, Vermont provides a lens through which to document the emergent viewpoint that the future of food in America is local, sustainable, and on a scale that is easy to comprehend.

Hardwick is not the first place you would suspect to be a flashpoint for the growth of an alternative to the dominant foodways of the United States at the beginning of the new century. It’s best days are considered behind it as the granite industry withered in the face of competition from poured concrete and the rugged terrain of Vermont was never regarded as the best place to farm. However, these same characteristics make it ideal.

It’s hard to rebuild the food system in Iowa because every acre that can be farmed is slowly being aggregated into massive monocultures of corn and soybeans as farmers chase the elusive goal of scale. You are not going to find storefronts and buildings with reasonable rents or list prices in communities where tech companies flourish and yoga studios pop up like Palmer’s pigweed. Places like Hardwick offer a chance to fail without bankrupting your future and that of your children.

The interesting component of the story of Hardwick is that there is a central tension between the new practitioners of local food, the established community members who have been practicing these tenets for the better part of forty years, and the larger community. You’ve got people who came to the area in the 1970s, opened a co-op, and fostered the ideas for years only to be usurped in some ways by newcomers talking about scale and monetization and markets. On the sidelines you have locals wondering just what the hell everyone is making such a big deal about.

Maybe Rodney King was asking the right question years ago, “Can we all get along?”

There are two sides to the story of new businesses dedicated to ostensibly local food. In many rural communities local food has always been something enjoyed by the community and the bonds of community were not severed for various reasons. Shared poverty or hardship has a way of bringing people together into circles of friendship that serve as an insurance policy against the next bump in the road. When you receive help one day it is your duty to “pay it forward” when someone else you know might need a helping hand another day.

Local food can also become something that is elitist. In Hardwick the median income is estimated at $15,000 per year. That is one half of the population earns more than $15K while the other half earns less than $15K. It’s hard to see $20 per pound cheese being something enjoyed by the vast majority of the local community when that would comprise a good chunk of a monthly budget before other expenses were accounted for.

That is not to say the effort is wasted or misguided. If there are more producers of a greater variety of foodstuffs than the system is bound to be more resilient. If one farmer or cheese maker or brewer fails it does not mean empty larders, but only that a small percentage of the total production capacity has been removed from the market. It may mean higher prices—that damned supply and demand law—but the market should sort it out quickly. Producing food is hard work. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

The Town that Food Saved is not a blueprint for the revival of more localized and sustainable foodways, but it does provide insight into how one community is trying.

As a note, Claire’s—the restaurant that serves as a location through much of the book—closed in early 2014. In its place is another restaurant, the Vermont Supper Club.

Friday Linkage 6/28/2013

I want to apologize for missing last week’s Friday Linkage post.  There was a sudden death in my family and we ended up making a trip to central Ohio for the funeral services.  It’s amazing how “busy” you can be during the couple of days that funeral services happen without actually doing anything.  Wow!

On to the links…

Gagged by Big Ag—Ag gag laws, pushed by big ag, are an abomination.  Nothing says I am doing something wrong than lobbying for laws to make it illegal to expose what you are doing.  I think it will be interesting to see the legal boundaries pushed when someone finally brings a person to court under one of these laws.  I am guessing that it will work its way to the Supreme Court as a constitutional issue.

Food Miles are a Distraction.  Local Food is Not.—Food miles are easy because we are programmed to think about things in terms of miles—speed in our cars, length of a trip, frequent flier points, etc.  The distraction is that the distance which food travels tells only a small part of the food’s story.

Michael Pollan and Ruth Reichl Hash out the Food Revolution—I do not know if I would go so far as to say that these two titans of the food movement “hash” it out, but there are some interesting tidbits.

Bloomberg Plan Aims to Require Food Composting—How is this not a “win win” for everyone involved?  It reduces the amount of material going into the landfill, which when decomposing would release methane gas, and gardener’s gold—i.e. compost—gets produced as an end product.  Dig it.

16 Foods You can Regrow from Kitchen Scraps—If I can regrow the plant from the “scraps” does that change the meaning of the word scrap?  Just sayin’.

How Much Sugar is Really in Your Food—Watch this video and be amazed at just how much sugar we eat in our food.  Reminds me of Fast Food Nation when Eric Schlosser writes that there is only one menu item at McDonald’s that does not contain added sugar.  WTF?

An Arid Arizona City Manages its Thirst—I think this article is a little light on Phoenix.  Maybe a better term would be the Phoenix metro area because I remember cities outside of the actual city of Phoenix being blanketed in green lawns.  Those retirees in Del Webb’s Sun City would not want to give up that patch of Kentucky bluegrass like back home.

Consumer Reports says New CAFÉ Standards will Save Car Buyers $4,600—So, all those horror stories about the cars costing so much more money for consumers was really just short sighted scare mongering.  Amazing.

We Need a Fixer (not Just a Maker) Movement—For too long, we have allowed the culture of repair to die on the vine in the name of the latest and greatest.  It’s amazing how easily and cheaply some things can be fixed, but which usually result in the purchase of something new.  Bring on the fixers.

Pentagon Bracing for Public Dissent over Climate and Energy Shocks—It reads a little conspiracy theory like, but the bones are there to confirm that the Pentagon is worried about the disturbance that could be caused by public dissatisfaction over future climate and energy shocks.  I wonder what the black helicopter crowd thinks about this story?

Climate Change in Your Community—Plug in your zip code and see what climate change is likely to do in your area.  Now you know what to be upset about.

Huge Alberta Pipeline Spill raises Questions as Keystone XL Decision Looms—  The wicket for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline seems to have moved from one of safety to climate impact with the President’s speech on Tuesday.  However, safety cannot be ignored especially in light of the recent spills of tar sands derived liquid petroleum.

Price of Photovoltaic Panels to Drop to $0.36 per Watt by 2017—It was not that long ago that producing panels for approximately $1 per watt was considered the holy grail of solar.  Now we are looking at a price that is nearly two-thirds less.  Cover the world’s rooftops in solar, baby!

You Must Read—Rebuilding the Foodshed

Ultimately, the size of our individual contributions matter much less than the scale of our multiplied efforts.  Page 222

Do you ever finish a book and realize that it hits on all of the salient points you feel are important to an issue?  Do you ever flip through the pages and realize you have dog eared dozens of pages with statements that you want to go back to ruminate on later?

9781603584234Well, for me the book that most recently did that was Philip Ackerman-Leist’s Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable and Secure Food Systems.  Ackerman-Leist is an associate professor of Environmental Studies and Director of the Farm and Food Project at Green Mountain College in Vermont.  So, the book has an academic tone throughout but that is more than compensated for by the fact that he just nails the issues confronting the burgeoning “food movement.”

Creating community- based food systems is one of the most intellectually challenging tasks of our age. Page 2

Well, there it is in a nutshell. Creating the local, sustainable, and secure food system that we need to be successful in the future is going to be a challenge.  Great.  This is a country that has a hard time kicking the habit of soda and Big Macs.  How exactly are we going to build a new food system?  I digress…

But if we ignore the less obvious and more disconcerting aspects of our food systems, then we certainly cannot begin to understand the full scope of the realities we face.  In the end, rebuilding local food systems requires us to connect with the neighbors we’ve never known as much as it does to share the bounty with our comfortable acquaintances.  Page 100

This why it’s going to be hard.  We are going to have to face the ugly reality that the problem is us and we are going to have to interface with people that we are not comfortable around.  It may take a village, but you need to know your village first.

One thing the Ackerman-Leist is very clear on throughout the book is that local, in and of itself, is not necessarily a virtuous thing.  I think as the food movement has matured more and more people have come to the realization that food miles, easy to conceptualize but fraught with shortcomings, is not the be all and end all to define food.

In the end, it’s not just about where the food was produced.  We must also bear in mind the impacts of its production, processing, storage, distribution, marketing, preparation, and even reclamation.  Where matters immensely in the food system world, but so do how, why, by whom, and for whom.  Page 23

What this book does supremely well is link the changes in our food system to changes in our patterns of behavior at home.  As we cook less in the home, we have outsourced that task to factories and restaurants.  This represents energy that is embodied in the meals we consume that we do not prepare for ourselves.  Most people do not think of food this way, but the author is very clear that food represents energy.  Once you break down food this way it is easier to see the flows through the economy.

The health of the soils that we grow our food in also represents energy because synthetic fertilizers are primarily derived from fossil fuels.  The current standard practices in agriculture are too energy dependent to be sustainable in the long run.  Ackerman is even more alarmist:

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you are compelled by a sense of urgency for local self-reliance or for national security.  Soil fertility is key to both.  Page 62

I cannot imagine seeing a right winger bloviate that soil health and fertility is a key component of our national security.  But, soil health and fertility are about more because reclamation of those attributes represents an economic opportunity:

…compost can be locally produced under local control with local dollars creating local jobs and resilience.  Page 82

This is an argument that is lost when the food movement brings its case forward to a national audience.  The creation of these local, sustainable, and secure foodsheds is about our economy just as much as it is about our heath and our environment.

Like all conversations about the food movement, the discussion inevitable turns back to the kitchen.  Why?  Because this is the one place where there is a tangible connection between our actions and the impact on the food system:

We can’t lose sight of the importance of the kitchen.  Hours spent in the kitchen and our time at the table are both critical elements in relocalizing food systems. Page 213

As you can tell, I am a big fan of this book because it brings home so many of the threads weaving through the food movement in a coherent way.  Tying it all together is critical to the future of the food movement because it is easy for these efforts to become Balkanized into rival factions that fight for pyrrhic victories. In some ways, this is where I feel the environmental movement has found itself fifty years after the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

One part of the book that I just loved was the placing of the bicycle at the pinnacle of energy efficient transportation:

Bicycle transport wins the efficiency game in linking local farms to consumers right in the neighborhood. Page 50

Can you just imagine fleets of two wheeled delivery people fanning out to distribute fresh produce across a city?  I cannot either, but it’s one hell of a compelling image.

NOTE: I read an uncorrected proof copy of the book, so my citations may not line up with the actual pages in the final sale version.