Sep 282010

I don’t want to be an evangelist for a vegetarian diet, though I have been a strict vegetarian since 1973. What people eat is their business, not mine. From a transition standpoint, however, and from the viewpoint of sustainability, I think I can argue that in hard times a vegetarian diet would be easier to manage. The problem most people have with a veggie diet is the fear that they won’t get enough protein. Others  can make the argument as to why protein is not really an issue better than I can. I will attest to the fact that I’ve never found it a problem.

A second argument against vegetarianism is that certain body types need meat and certain people don’t feel well on a vegetarian diet. This one is hard to dispute but I can only attest that I’ve known hundreds of vegetarians and even raw foodists of various body types and most seem to survive on the veggie diet.

I am suggesting that everyone experiment with a vegetarian diet. Consider it preparation for hard times. Try it for a month so you know you won’t die. Learn to prepare brown rice, quinoa, couscous and polenta. Sprout some sunflower seeds. Cook big veggie soups. Roast and steam vegetables. If you crave fat, experiment with nut pates and nut milks. Make some cheese. Clever cooks might want to attempt some meat substitutes like gluten steaks.

Recently there have been a couple of high profile additions to the ranks of vegetarians. Pro golfer Phil Mickelson was recently diagnosed with something called psoriatic arthritis. He is getting a shot each week for the condition but has also switched to a veggie diet. This is not his preference. In fact, it causes him some PR problems as he is a principle owner of Five Guys Burgers. Phil told assembled reporters that he guessed they’d have to develop a veggie burger.

And then there’s Bill Clinton:

Sep 262010

Back in early May I wrote about sugar and my pledge to quit eating it. So how’s that going? Well, actually, pretty well. Still not eating sugar, chocolate, ice cream, desserts with sugar, condiments with sugar, cans of stuff with sugar or the new, re-branded “corn sugar” aka high fructose corn syrup. Result is I’ve lost fifteen pounds of sweetness. As a percentage of my weight, not huge. But noticeable, and helpful for endurance and reducing knee pain. But I think that fifteen pounds is all I’m going to get from not eating sugar. I’ll have to figure out something else to give up to get down to the next level.  Hopefully, I have reached Peak Waist.

Our food supply is essentially junk, cans of stuff laced with corn syrup, corn fed beef loaded with antibiotics, chickens that have never seen the light of day, water full of chlorine and fluoride.  Another big advantage of living on an island—cleaner water, cleaner air, access to chickens that can actually walk, chicken eggs with yellow yolks, and the opportunity to buy grass-fed beef.

I’ve been a vegetarian for many years. Vegetarianism is no guarantee of good health. There’s just as much junk veggie food. And now vegetarians must come to terms with the truth that soy products and our old standby, tofu, are junk food as well producing a number of unsavory side affects and compounded by the fact that 90% of soybeans are now GMO.

“The average number of products
carried by a typical supermarket has more than tripled since 1980,
from 15,000 to 50,000. In 1998 alone, manufacturers introduced more
than 11,000 new foods. More than two-thirds of them were condiments,
candy and snacks, baked goods, soft drinks, cheese products, and ice
cream novelties–much of it loaded with empty calories.”

The food and candy industry spends about $6billion  a year advertising. Restaurants spend almost as much. Thus, we are compelled to buy Cheetos and eat Bic Macs.

Getting ready for the future means getting healthy, cleaning up, eliminating poisons from the diet. The best advice is to not eat any packaged food or processed food. Everyone needs to work on Peak Waist.

Sep 242010

What’s Transition Whatcom up to? They have several events on the calendar.

Check here for their events schedule.

Most notable: on Oct 3 from 4-5pm Transition Whatcom is sponsoring a visit to Village Books by James Kunstler who is touring for his novel The Witch of Hebron. Kunstler is always provocative and a prominent writer of both fiction and non-fiction.

Note that their Oct 10 event involves the Beach School
Time: October 10, 2011 from 9am to 4pm
Location: Bellingham City Hall

Event Description:
A Transition Whatcom Event!

The local 10-10-10 event begins at 9 am on the steps of Bellingham City Hall. Live music, info booths and speakers get us started, with Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike planting our first tree in the Bellingham Public Library grounds at 10:10 a.m. Then we load up bike trailers with our assembled plants and head to the school to plant the new additions to the school garden. Bring your energy and enthusiasm, and a shovel if you can!

We will be planting at Alderwood, Birchwood, Columbia, Roosevelt and Parkview Elementary Schools, Shuksan and Fairhaven Middle School, Squalicum High School – all in the Bellingham School District plus Beach Elementary School (Lummi Island) and the Lummi Nation School.

We still need bike trailer folks to transport the plants from City Hall to the schools, Planters at each school, and help with staging the Kick-off event.
The day before (Saturday) we need a pick-up brigade to transport donated compost to the school locations.

Be a part of this great event:
Tristan Bach:
Rob Olason:
Stephanie Davis:
Jill MacIntyre Witt;

Sep 222010

Commenter Windy had this to say about my post on We’re Doing Nothing About Peak Oil:

“One of the problems with addressing peak oil is there is no alternative and unless the laws of physics change there won’t be one.  All of the so-called alternative energy sources and alternative transportation designs are thinly disguised frauds intended to harvest subsidies from a clueless federal government.  If oil doubles then food prices will double.  When oil is gone then 2/3rds of the food will go with it.  The world population is on the verge of 7 billion and it is likely that in a world without oil we couldn’t support even 1/3rd that.  So when you talk about preparing for peak oil you either have to talk in doublespeak or speak the truth and scare the bejesus out of everyone.  There is no alternative to cheap energy, there never will be at least not an alternative that will support billons and allow for democracies to exist.  You are literally talking about the end of the world as we know it.  The good news is it won’t happen suddenly (unless Russia and China see an opportunity) and it won’t happen soon.  It will happen gradually and you still have a few years to eat drink and be merry.”

I suppose if one’s goal is business as usual there is no alternative. But that’s the whole point of the Transition Movement: we need to get ready for something different. There are alternatives to cheap energy: scaling down, scaling back, living closer to work, working at home, developing local sources of food, getting by with less, driving less, car pooling, using public transportation, rebuilding the train network, higher mileage standards, ridding junk food from the diet, behaving sustainably. Peak oil doesn’t mean no oil. Peak oil means a declining supply of oil.
And, yes, we are talking about the end of the world as we know it. Will it necessarily be worse? I don’t think so. We had great cities and great civilizations before the age of cheap oil. The end of cheap oil will mean lots of good things. For example, it could mean the end of corporate dominance of our food supply. We finally got a chance to view Food Inc. the documentary film which demonstrates how completely our food supply is controlled by a small handful of companies, companies who could give a rat’s ass about health, environment or their workers. There is a lot of focus in the film about the meat industry which essentially provides death and extermination camps for animals, fed on the wrong diet and genetically engineered to provide the tastiest parts of meat. Food Inc. ends with an optimistic beat but I found the film overwhelmingly  depressing. We are so screwed when it comes to our food supply. Corporate greed and malfeasance have reached the point where one looks forward to “the end of the world as we know it.”

The fix is in on the Federal level. There’s no one who will take a principled leadership position.

Continue reading »

Sep 202010

There are several systems of medicine in the world. Our hospital based system is referred to as allopathic. Contrasting systems are naturopathy, Chinese, and Ayurvedic. Americans are pretty much locked in to allopathic practice (by insurance and a huge amount of brainwashing). Allopathic practice essentially involves the application of drugs to sets of symptoms which are normally identified with a name (ie. lupis, or fibromyalgia, diabetes). The overriding premise of allopathy is that once you get your disease you must treat it with chemicals or radiation. You are sort of stuck with it and might work your way to remission. But, once you are diabetic, that’s it. Insulin forever. It’s much like saying that once your leg is broken, that’s it.

But the body seems inclined to heal itself. The broken leg being a good example. Sure it helps to have it set properly. And, hospital based medicine does a good job with trauma. It also helps to have a cut pulled together and stitched. That done, the body follows its design and begins to heal. Why won’t any diseased organ or system heal naturally if given the proper environment and conditions to do so? Naturopathic medicine postulates that the body can heal itself without pharmaceutical assistance. It’s a concept which is difficult to get through one’s head. The following  talk in seven parts by Doc Shillington clearly outlines the principles of naturopathy. It takes an hour to listen.

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

A declining economy will affect our ability to get medical care. Transportation costs and the inconvenience of travel will inhibit the ability of islanders to travel for medical care. It seems prudent to me that everyone familiarize themselves with self-care, taking responsibility for one’s own health and not relying on pharmaceutical solutions as remedies.

Sep 182010


“The U.S. was warned in 2005. Its own Department of Energy commissioned a report by Robert Hirsch to examine peak oil and its potential consequences to the US. The introduction stated:

“The peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem. As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and, without timely mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented. Viable mitigation options exist on both the supply and demand sides, but to have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in advance of peaking.”

The main conclusions reached by the experts who worked on this report were:

1.    World oil peaking is going to happen, and will likely be abrupt. World production of conventional oil will reach a maximum and decline thereafter.
2.    Oil peaking will adversely affect global economies, particularly the U.S. Over the past century the U.S. economy has been shaped by the availability of low-cost oil. The economic loss to the United States could be measured on a trillion-dollar scale. Aggressive fuel efficiency and substitute fuel production could provide substantial mitigation.
3.    The problem is liquid fuels for transportation. The lifetimes of transportation equipment are measured in decades. Rapid changeover in transportation equipment is inherently impossible. Motor vehicles, aircraft, trains, and ships (and ferries) have no ready alternative to liquid fuels.
4.    Mitigation efforts will require substantial time. Waiting until production peaks would leave the world with a liquid fuel deficit for 20 years. Initiating a crash program 10 years before peaking leaves a liquid fuels shortfall of a decade. Initiating a crash program 20 years before peaking could avoid a world liquid fuels shortfall.
5.    It is a matter of risk management. The peaking of world oil production is a classic risk management problem. Mitigation efforts earlier than required may be premature, if peaking is long delayed. On the other hand, if peaking is soon, failure to initiate mitigation could be extremely damaging.
6.    Economic upheaval is not inevitable. Without mitigation, the peaking of world oil production will cause major economic upheaval. Given enough lead-time, the problems are soluble with existing technologies. New technologies will help, but on a longer time scale.
The Hirsch Report clearly laid out the problem. It urged immediate action on multiple fronts. It is now 5 years later and absolutely nothing has been done. In the meantime, it has become abundantly clear that worldwide oil production peaked between 2005 and 2010. The Hirsch Report concluded we needed to begin preparing 20 years before peak oil in order to avoid chaos. We are now faced with the worst case scenario.”

Sep 162010

I made a jar of bread and butter pickles. Actually, several jars. They are all lined up on the counter in clear quart containers as pretty as pickles at a fair. The turmeric and mustard seed powder provide a spicy yellow cast to the green of the cukes. The finished pickles seem to float in a cloudy suspension of flavor, a promise for the bland winter winter months when the zesty taste will remind us of the garden.

Learning to can is a breakthrough in the re-skilling process that I believe is a necessary step in increasing self-sufficiency. Canning seemed difficult the first few times. But it turned out to be a management problem, organizing pots and burners, juggling jars and lids. It’s not that hard; just time consuming and energy consuming. It takes lots of electrical power and gallons of water to process a jar of pickles. On a kitchen-sized scale you couldn’t charge enough for a jar to even get your money back. But that’s not the point. It’s not a business. It’s preparation for time when the store may not have pickles, or beets, or jam or jelly or chutney, or beans or for a time when one can’t easily get to the store or for a time when one doesn’t have money to buy them. And, it’s an attempt to extend the eating season.

When I was growing up our family never seemed to have much food on hand. Both my parents worked and at six o’clock mom and dad would burst in with a bag of groceries and whip something up. There might have been some freezer jam making in the summer but our food was mostly stored by the local grocer. Many of us still live this way with three or four days of food on hand, about the same amount the stores have. Some claim that if the trucks were to quit running the groceries would be gone in a few days.

On our family trips to my father’s parent’s farm in Virginia I was in awe of the food. There was a root cellar packed to the brim with jars of virtually everything: fruits, veggies, jams and pickles. On the floor were bins of apples and potatoes. Hams, bacon and shoulders were salt/saltpeter cured in a separate storage building, the meat house, then put into a burlap or paper sacks and hung on poles along the meat house rafters for curing.  They’d last for years. (My cousin Lew, who still owns his father’s farm across the street from our grandparent’s former farm says, “In our meat house, on a damp fall day I can still smell ham when I go in there, even though there hasn’t been a pork product in residence for 30 years or more.”)

This was pretty much a subsistence farm, operating until the early fifties not unlike it had operated in the nineteenth century. The folks on the farm knew how to do everything from digging an outhouse, planting a garden, caring for animals, putting food by, fixing machinery, baking, carpentry and dairying, to the small things like giving haircuts. It was operated by family members with a few long-time helpers from the neighborhood.

Contrasted to the Virginia farm was my maternal grandfather’s farm (they called them “ranches” for some reason) in the San Juaquin Valley where mono-culture was taking over—in this case alfalfa for hay. There was no garden, no jars of food on the shelf. And the workers were from Mexico. We called them “wetbacks” back then. These farmers, though, still had some skills. They could fix stuff, keep machinery running and handle a cow or two. They relied much more heavily on chemistry rather than manure.

I compare the ability of previous farm-based generations to my nuclear family where we hired everything out because my dad didn’t have time to do it, though he had probably learned it on the farm. He was working. Mom was working. My brothers and I were sitting around after school watching TV. We didn’t learn much that was practical. We lost all those skills that were there just a generation or two before.

I’m betting we’re all going to need to relearn skills that we’ve lost. We won’t have to learn every skill. Knowing who can do things is a skill in and of itself. But it’s important to recapture what has been lost while we’ve been driving around in cars buying stuff.

Digging a garden and getting something to grow is huge accomplishment, not to mention getting a fence up, constructing bean poles, plus sharpening and refinishing tools.

A  jar of pickles is a big victory for me and an important step in re-skilling.

Sep 142010

Taking responsibility for your own food leads one to an attempt to 1). Extend the growing season and 2). Extending the eating season. The traditional methods for doing this are canning and freezing and we are busy doing both having frozen lots of pole beans and beet greens. We’ve also pickled lots of beets and made zucchini relish and bread and butter pickles. It’s comforting to have shelves full of jars of food, particularly tasty condiments, jams and chutneys, to spice up meals during the winter months.

But canning and freezing are not very energy efficient. You need to use large quantities of water and significant amounts of electricity to preserve food this way. In addition, much of the nutrient value of the food is lost  through canning (less through freezing) as you heat the food to kill bacteria. More importantly, enzymes are destroyed by heating.

The raw food movement is based on the idea that life-giving enzymes are
destroyed by cooking and the tremendous heat imparted to canned foods in the water bath to create safe seals.

I’m trying to learn techniques of extending the eating season to supplement canning and freezing. Preserving Food Without Canning and Freezing is an excellent place to start.

There are lots of traditional (pre-electric) techniques for storing and preserving food: cold storage, drying, lactic fermentation, salting, storing in oil, sugar and alcohol. Preserving Food Without Canning and Freezing is packed with interesting ideas. Here’s a sample:

Nasturtium seed capers
Toward the of summer collect the green seeds from nasturtiums that have lost their blossoms. Put these in a jar along with dill leaves and a good white wine vinegar. The taste and shape are somewhat reminiscent of capers.”

Sep 122010

Some of the Maine Islands didn’t like the fact that they had no seat at the table. So they went to work and got their own tables and with it the tax base to run their islands.

In 2002,  Chebeague Island started talking about self governance:

On June 9, 2005 NPR filed this report:

“Many of Chebeague Island’s 350 year-round residents feel they pay more money in taxes then they get back in services. But those pushing for self-government say money is not their primary concern. Some worry that the mainland town government doesn’t take their needs into account sufficiently. Others note cultural differences.  Cumberland was once dominated by farmers. It’s now a Portland suburb, a bedroom community for urban professionals. The island remains rural and many of its residents are lobstermen.

Still others worry about schools. Last year, the mainland-based school district proposed eliminating the fourth and fifth grades in Chebeague’s school. Older students already ride the ferry to school. Many islanders worry that the move to transfer younger children to the mainland would lead to the shutdown of the island school.

Losing an island school is often the first step to losing an island’s year-round population. “If that happens, we’ll lose our community that everybody here just… cherishes,” says island mechanic Dave Stevens. “It’ll turn into a summer community. We’re just not about to let that happen.”

Though other islands have done it, secession won’t be easy. Both the town of Cumberland and the Maine legislature must approve before Chebeaguers get a chance at self-government.”


Years earlier, “…in 1993, Long Island seceded from the City of Portland to form its own independent town, comprising Long Island itself and several smaller islands. The secession process was unprecedented in Maine history at the time. The Town of Long Island maintains a high level of municipal services and amenities. Its mil rate, at less than $5.50 per thousand, is the lowest in Cumberland County and one of the lowest in the state.

“…since gaining sovereignty Long Island has improved its roads, refurbished the community hall, built a major library/school addition, purchased an emergency boat, and established a town hall where islanders can take care of all the business they previously did by way of a long ferry ride to Portland. All this, and taxes are a third lower than they would otherwise have been.”


Chebeague Island  “won independence from Cumberland after votes in the Maine Senate (31-3) and House of Representatives (131-1) on April 5, 2006. [1] The separation took effect on 1 July 2007.”

The Island Institute has this to say about Self-Governance and Secession:

Governance has changed significantly over the history of the islands; some islands incorporate as a municipality with neighboring islands, others become independent from mainland governance or other islands, some remain as plantations governed by the State’s Land Use Regulatory Commission (LURC).

Today, of Maine’s 15 year-round island communities, eight are independent municipalities, two are part of one town, three are part of a mainland municipality and two are plantations.  Some island communities have decided that they would prefer to secede from their mainland municipality and establish self-governance.

Secession is a long, difficult process, but it does happen.   In 1992, Long Island in Casco Bay successfully seceded from the City of Portland to become an independent town.  In 2007, the Town of Chebeague Island was established after the island seceded from the Town of Cumberland.  Secession can, however, be an extremely controversial topic, dividing families and pitting neighbor against neighbor.  The Island Institute believes that all island communities have the right, if not the duty, to make the best decisions for their future sustainability.  We carefully and thoughtfully consider each discussion of secession based on an island’s needs and circumstances.

Here’s a link to an article from April 2009 on how things are going on Chebeague:

Sep 082010

I’ve obviously become fascinated with the fifteen populated islands in the Maine Archipelago. They are dealing with many of the same problems and challenges we face on Lummi Island: transportation to and from the island, resupply, maintaining schools, accommodating summer visitors, making money, renewable energy, clean water, waste disposal, development, governance and sustainability.

There are many similarities between the Maine Archipelago and the San Juans (which we belong to geographically, if not politically). The Maine Islands have been at it a lot longer and they have more help.

The Island Institute is a non-profit organization with 30-35 employees and a nearly $5 million annual  budget that acts as an umbrella organization for Swan’s, Chebeague, North Haven and all the the others in this interesting and varied  group.
The Island Institute has a list of priorities worth emulating. Click the link for more details on each of their priorities:

1. Affordable housing.  “Affordable housing is essential to the sustainability of vibrant year-round island and working-waterfront communities.”

2. Climate Change. “This project began with a lobstermen’s round-table discussion of observations that might be tied to global warming: changing times for peak catches; changing weather-patterns, etc.”

3. Fisheries. “The sustainability of Maine’s year-round islands and its working coastal communities depends on healthy fisheries.  Should they collapse, these vibrant places would soon lose their schools, their young families, their churches, libraries and historical societies and their general stores.”

4. Historical Societies. “Historical Societies play important roles in communities, storing the collective memories of current and past residents and offering a glimpse of the past events that have impacted and determined the community’s development and identity.”

5. Island Agriculture. “Since its inception in 1983, the Island Institute has focused on island sustainability, working in partnership with year-round islanders, whose heritage is that of living and thinking sustainably.”

6. Island Governance. “Self-governance is extremely important to most island communities because it ensures that the people who best understand these unique challenges and needs – islanders – make the decisions that most affect their lives.”

7. Land Use. “Geography presents the most salient of island limits, but a finite amount of ‘space’ has many more implications than simply the amount of land available to build homes.  Wise, informed land use considers the importance of land for multiple uses: residential and commercial development, working-waterfront access, open space for recreation and wildlife, wetlands to recharge aquifers, and much more.”

8. Libraries . “Island libraries not only have some of the highest per-capita circulation rates in the state but also serve as critical gathering places, providing  relaxing and comfortable public spaces for community members.”

9. Marine Spatial Planning “This project is designed to document how island and coastal communities use and depend on marine areas.”

10.  Renewable Engery. “Because most basic services, such as electricity, communications infrastructure, oil and gasoline, must all be transported to the islands, their rising costs are becoming prohibitively expensive for many islanders.”

11.  Schools/Education. “Because island and working-waterfront communities place such a high priority on their schools and the education of their children, we have made them a focus of our own efforts.”

12. Working Waterfront Access. “For 25 years, the Island Institute has devoted extensive resources to protecting what remains of Maine’s “working waterfronts”—the saltwater access (both coastal and estuarine) that supports commercial fishing and a host of other fishing-related jobs…”

Very impressive, I think. Who is doing this kind of thinking and planning for Lummi Island?

Sep 062010

North Haven, one of Maine’s fourteen unbridged island communities, lies in Penobscot Bay approximately twelve miles from the midcoast city of Rockland. It is served by a Maine Department of Transportation ferry making three round trips a day from Rockland.

The island’s ferry link is of course dependent on the whims of wind and tide.

Its year-round population of 381 (2000 Census) swells in July and August with the return of families who own or rent seasonal homes on the Island. In 2007. North Haven celebrated the 160th anniversary of its name day (and its 161st year of independence from Vinalhaven).

North Haven is an island town proud of its traditions, its independence, its treasured natural beauty and its unique community of twelfth generation natives, fourth (as well as first) generation seasonal residents, retired and pre-retired baby boomers, maverick spirits, new arrivals, young year-round families, old bachelors, reconstructed hippies, young farmers, not-so-young Grangers, artists, sailors, artisans, fishermen, boat-builders, babies,  politicians (of past, present and future renown),  actors, makers-of-many-things, brides, romantics and curmudgeons. There is overlap among these categories.

North Haven supports an accredited K-12 community school, that is housed in a building completed in 2008, beautiful enough to inspire a generation of scholars, community spirits and re-dedicated island eccentrics.  Perhaps the most unusual public school in America, the North Haven Community School  was paid for by $6.2MM in private donations and $1.9MM in municipal bonds.

Every baby on North Haven has a name, of course. What is less usual is that everyone who lives on North Haven knows the names of those babies and salutes them, our future. We celebrate our Emmas and Anas, Cadens and Ezras and Zekes, Warrens and Baileys, Helas, Cyruses, Ritas (and of course all the rest).

The Town maintains its own water and sewer systems. The former is a state of the art slow sand filtration plant and the latter is a primary treatment facility.

The Town operates the North Haven Medical Clinic as a department of the Town. It is staffed by two family nurse practitioners in rotation with one another with occasional supplementary coverage provided by physicians and other nurse practitioners.
Volunteers staff emergency medical and fire services. No town is better served.

Law enforcement is provided by a Knox County Deputy Sheriff, proving that there is indeed law east of the Breakwater.
North Haven is governed by a Board of Selectmen, who are elected at an annual Town Meeting. On a day to day basis the Town is managed by an appointed Town Administrator.”
“The Maine State Department of Transportation operates a ferry service three times daily from the midcoast city of Rockland, at 9:30 AM, 2:15 PM and 5:15 PM. The Captain Neil Burgess makes the trip in about an hour in calm waters.

The Burgess can transport 19 passenger cars, fewer if the vessel is also carrying trucks. Vehicle reservations on the ferry are accepted no sooner than 30 days before the planned trip and are limited. In addition, Equinox Island Transport can transport individuals or groups such as work crews, wedding parties, or tours.

Air service to North Haven is available only through Penobscot Island Air.”