Jan 312012

Two very precocious eleven year olds, one the daughter of the filmmaker, try to find out where there food comes from and attempt to understand the politics of food. Check out their web site. Blurbs by Michael Pollen, Kofi Annan, Alice Waters, Marion Nestle (author of Food Politics), Chef Ann Cooper (author of Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children), Aaron Woolf (filmmaker of King Corn) and several others. This film, which is quite charming because of the personalities of the two young ladies, seems to be directed at kids but is very sophisticated in its approach to food.

What’s On Your Plate is now also a book:

“In What’s On Your Plate?, seven kids and their families explore the food chain, sharing fundamental questions and vital discoveries. With honesty, humor, and creativity, they face serious issues including the lack of access to fresh food; health problems such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and food allergies; and the national school lunch program. They celebrate time together by cooking and gathering at the table. The stories, recipes, and terrific activities in this book will inspire readers of all ages to be conscious of what they’re eating and where it comes from, and to make positive changes in their homes, schools, and communities.

The What’s On Your Plate? project about kids and food politics started out as a documentary film from the point of view of two curious 11-year-old girls, Sadie and Safiyah. The film was broadcast on Discovery Channel s Planet Green and has been screened hundreds of times around the world, from Washington to Wisconsin, Glasgow to Seoul. Along the way, the girls spoke with friends, teachers, farmers, food activists, politicians, and each other; their journey inspired this book.

As Sadie and Safiyah say, “We’re talking about our neighborhood. What about yours?”

Ten companies produce the majority of supermarket food. Do you know as much as two eleven year olds in NYC about where your food comes from?

Jan 272012

Many of the food related films I listed in the post titled Zeitgeist try to present their material in an entertaining way. King Corn, for example. Or Supersize Me. Knives Over Forks takes a different approach; more straightforward. Just the facts. It’s stated in the title which one can translate as: “Healthy food instead of surgery.”

Very much like Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, the filmmaker makes himself a guinea pig to come to a self-determination as to whether the recommended treatment works. In this case, the treatment is what the film refers to as a “plant based diet.” They eschew the term “vegetarian” for good reason. “Vegetarianism” carries lots of baggage with it because to motives for vegetarianism are so varied. Someone might be a vegetarian for ethical, spiritual, economic, environmental, cultural, health reasons or all of the above. Most of these concepts can lead to argument.

In Forks Over Knives advocacy for a plant based diet: grains, vegetables, nuts is offered strictly for health reasons. The doctors, T. Colin Campbell a biochemist who has spent his career studying the effects of nutrition and Dr Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr. a cardiologist and heart surgeon make the case that animal based food—meat, eggs and dairy, are responsible for our poor health and that switching to a plant based diet can actually reverse conditions like heart disease and diabetes without resorting to drugs, or worse—the knife.

I suppose that one can be “fat, happy and living too long” but it seems to me that there is a lot of unhappiness, suffering and economic loss in the following statistics:

51% of Americans will die of heart disease, half by sudden death

47% of men will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes

So will 39% of women

70% of Americans are overweight; 33% are obese

75% of America’s health care costs go to five diseases and conditions: heart disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, Type II diabetes, and obesity.

This doesn’t sound like much fun to me and will represent heartbreak and loss to many families. In the spirit of Transition, it doesn’t appear to be sustainable economically. How long can we afford to pay these unnecessary costs? Is changing to plant food that extreme?

If it is possible to make dramatic changes in ones health by adopting a plant based diet that doesn’t seem extreme to me. What does sound extreme, as Dr. Esselstyn points out in the film, is 500,000 people a year having their chests cut open, then their legs so that veins can be removed and grafted to by-pass damaged heart vessels.

So, Forks Over Knives lays out the evidence for you to consider. The principals, Drs. Campbell and Esselstyn Jr. are both near eighty, still looking good, still working and advocating for what appears to an absurdly simple solution to America’s chronic health problem.

One spinoff of Forks Over Knives is Engine 2 Immersion started by Dr. Esselstyn’s son, an former triathlete and an Austin, Texas firefighter:

Jan 252012

An important part of self-reliance is taking care of yourself; that is, making an effort to live a healthy lifestyle. In my opinion, we have delegated the responsibility for our health to the hospital/pharmaceutical complex. They aren’t doing a very good job. There is simply too much chronic illness; too many people on too many meds.

Food is key to health. Our food system produces unhealthy foods full of chemicals, preservatives and synthetic flavorings. Garbage in; garbage out. Most of the 17,000 items one finds in the local supermarket are garbage without sufficient nutrition to support or maintain good health. In fact, most processed food (and by “processed” I mean anything in a can, package or wrapper) is counterproductive to good health. It is a testament to the human body that we can eat horrible things consistently and continue to live.

Unfortunately, there are a good number among us who are fat, sick and nearly dead, victims of addiction to unnatural food. It’s hard not to have some sort of food addiction, e.g. sugar as we are bombarded with opportunities to eat poorly. Most of us are in denial about our atrocious eating habits as in, “I don’t eat that much sugar.” Or, “I don’t eat that many carbohydrates.” Or, “I don’t drink that much pop.” Or, “I don’t snack that much.”

This is what makes the film Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead so fascinating. It’s the case study of two overweight, unhealthy fellows who make a decision to turn things around. In their case they decided on juice fasting as the method. The first guy is a wealthy, young Australian who is making this film about his 60 days of juicing. For the first 30 days he lives in NY City and wanders about looking for juice bars with his camera and sound man interviewing people he runs into on the street, people who are often overweight. People were generally not receptive to the idea of fasting of any type. And, let’s face it, fasting is not easy. One is uncomfortable for the first several days. The body begins to detox and throw off waste which often causes headaches and flu-like symptoms. Thinking about food becomes an obsession.

On Day 31 our hero, now somewhat thinner, gets in his car which has a battery powered juicer in the trunk and heads out across the USA stopping occasionally to share juice and talk about diet and health. People are sympathetic but, for the most part, unwilling to change their eating habits even to the point of acknowledging that they could die early deaths. He finds one woman willing to try it for ten days. She does so with good results. And, at a truck stop in the mid-West he meets at 420 lb long haul trucker who suffers from the same chronic illness as our filmmaker—urticaria, or chronic hives, a sign that the immune system is totally out of whack. He shares a glass of juice and offers help to this large young man who is obviously fat, clearly sick and on his way to being dead.

The filmmaker completes his sixty days having dropped from 309 to around 220 lbs and returns to Australia to continue his health makeover by exercising and eating healthy foods. He gets a phone call. The trucker wants to take him up on his offer to help. He returns to the USA, takes the very fat man to the doctor for a physical and then to lodge on a lake so he can juice without distraction. At this point our trucker can hardly walk, is depressed, but committed to get his life together. He begins to juice. He finishes ten days and decides to go thirty. After thirty days he has become a fixture at the local health food store and is giving classes in juicing. He demonstrates his weight loss by displaying six bowling balls. “This is what I’ve been carrying around,” he tells them.

He decides to go sixty days on juice and his body begins to return to its former shape, the shape of the swimming champion he had been in high school. He becomes an evangelist for a juice fast. He shifts from a dog paddle in the lake to a crawl stroke. He throws a football with his son. His older brother has a heart attack and he mentors his brother through a juicing program. By the end of the film he is unrecognizable as the fat fellow from the truck stop. In the last scene, he is running, not jogging, down the road.

Dietary changes are possibly the most difficult lifestyle modifications one can contemplate. If requires swimming upstream against family and society. It will result in fewer dinner invitations. It’s obvious that most people will opt for diabetes and heart disease before changing the way they eat.

It’s hard to beat a couple of good case studies for motivation and I have to confess to wiping away a tear as our former trucker, virtually half the man he was at the start of film, ran by the camera, a look of determination on his face.

My knees are telling me its time for some juice fasting.

Jan 232012

One of my goals for 2012 was to use the word “zeitgeist” in a sentence (which I’ve just done). Having watched a documentary film called “Ingredients,” then realizing that there have literally been dozens of films about food in the last few years I realize that the national zeitgeist is changing.

Ingredients isn’t the best food movie I’ve watched but it’s interesting because a lot of it is filmed in Oregon. It’s all about local food and how chefs at higher end restaurants are concentrating on high quality ingredients. It’s nicely done and makes the point that we should be in closer touch with our food supplies.

Once you begin exploring the available documentaries you will discover that you could spend several weeks watching docs about food:

Food Matters (2008) takes a hard-hitting look at what we eat and how it affects our health and what we can do to eat better.

Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead (2010) in which two men whose bodies have been trashed pursue a rigorous healing path to regain their health.

Forks Over Knives (2011)  Two scientist report on how processed foods have led to epidemic rates of obesity diabetes and other diseases.

Deconstructing Supper (2002) A chef travels the world in an exploration of genetically modified crops.

What’s On Your Plate (2009) A filmmaker follows her daughter and another eleven year old as they spend a year investigating the politics of food in America.

Food Beware (2009) Documentarian visits a village in France where the mayor has decreed an organic menu for the lunch program of the local school.

To Market to Market to Buy a Fat Pig(2007).

Continue reading »

Jan 202012

In January sitting with my stack of seed catalogs I often find myself making those strange little noises a cat makes when contemplating a bird. It’s disconcerting.

Through the wonders of modern marketing technique the seed catalog has developed  to resemble something akin to pornography, albeit soft core. I had a stack of catalogs in my carry on this past Tuesday and worried that TSA might do a more thorough search of my bag and reveal the purient titles: Peaceful Valley, Uprising, etc.

Gardening, after all, is about sex. The garden is a sensual place where the gardener may even act as a surrogate. (I fondly recall the hand pollination of my lovely Oregon Homestead squash blossom this past summer). The seed catalog is all about temptation, full of vivid descriptions attempting to stimulate, then seduce us into desiring then acquiring the seed.

Seed catalog writing is working its way up to becoming an art form:

“The…purple dragon is a showstopper. The 6-7″ tapered roots have a stunning deep reddish-purple skin and orange or sometimes concentrically orange and yellow colored flesh. But how do they taste? Our customers love them for their sweet, spicy, and full flavor for fresh noshing. These carrots respond well to attentive thinning…”

“While its light green color and predominantly ribbed fruit might worry some…the big, sprawling plants (of the Costata Romanesco) produce prolifically with an added bonus of very large male flowers for stuffing.”

You get the picture.

Absorbing the information in the seed catalogs is the secret pleasure of winter for the avid vegetable gardener. The names are alluring: Uncle Willie’s (a dry bean), Coueur de boeuf (a cabbage), General Lee (a cucumber), Devil’s tongue (a lettuce), Red cloud (a beet), Aunt Mollie’s ground cherry (“the closest we can come to a tropical flavor from our Northwest Garden). Who, I ask, could resist Aunt Mollie’s ground cherry?

I will have to admit there is something perverse about ordering seeds from Hawaii (where we are most winters and are right now).  Fingering the pages of the wish books from West Coast Seeds, Territorial, Abundant Life et al. one should be looking out the window at cold and snow rather than leaping whales. But that’s how it is. No seasons here. One gardens and harvests perpetually. Last evening I plucked four oranges off a tree, picked a basket of arugula and basil. Then with one of those long fruit pickers nicked a couple of huge avocados from the giant tree overhanging the veranda. Fifteen minutes later—salad. The tropics is sometimes too much of a good thing.

My seed list is growing longer. My resistance is low. The descriptions are addictive. This is going to cost a fortune. These people, these seed people don’t just stop at the seed. There are gardening toys and tools, bedding material, wraps and potions and books to tell you how to do it.

It’s disgusting. But I can’t pull my eyes away.

Jan 162012

My reaction to Carl Hanson’s very moving and inspiring memorial service is to wonder why I worry about all the stuff I worry about. If things get bad fast (or slow) it won’t matter if you have a fifty pound sack of beans, some gold coins, a thousand rounds of ammo, a garden or a water purifier. All those things might make life easier or safer or less stressful but unless you have a group of friends to help you and support you when times are tough all the other preparation you make will be worthless.

A community of thoughtful people will be our most important asset and we clearly have this kind of support on Lummi Island. We don’t all get along all the time (I’ve probably repeated Ed Scott’s description of Lummi a hundred times so far—”an argument surrounded by water.”) But an island, particularly a small one, makes for an interesting kind of club. There’s automatic membership if you live here. There’s associate membership if you have a connection. It’s the kind of place where people pull together very quickly when there is a need.

Carl was a guy who showed up when needed. It was always fun to see him race by on his tractor, looking straight ahead, focused on his mission. And, a couple years ago when he almost drove over the edge while mowing a neighbor’s bank it was no surprise to see his good friend Bill racing on an even bigger machine to rescue him.

Somehow the island draws people like Carl, people who you can like immediately without reservation. People who you sense are reliable and dependable, hospitable and helpful. Most of us aren’t as good as Carl but there are a lot of folks around here who come close, which makes me appreciate how smart we were to move here. I expect that being in the right place will make the future easier and better.

Carl Hanson was one of those guys who you think you know well even if you don’t. I certainly was on the edge of his life not having lived here that long. But we had some nice interactions and I particularly recall a sunny day on the beach where we found him resting up against a driftwood log watching his granddaughters play in the sand. It was easy to relax with him. It’s a nice way to think of Carl, basking in the sun and gazing across the water, chatting about kids and grandkids—the really important things.

Our last visit with Carl wasn’t as picturesque but was more memorable. We were on a walk a couple weeks before he died and came abreast of Westshore Farm as Carl was retrieving his mail. We stood in the road,  as is the island habit, and talked. Cars slowed and pulled around or stopped for a minute to say hello. Carl had complained to me a week or so before that the steroids he was taking made him very emotional and as we stood together and talked he repeated his unhappiness with a drug that would make him burst into tears. We talked about other things, the apple trees and how they might need some pruning and what would happen to the place when he was gone. He wasn’t happy with the way he was feeling and it was clear he was ready to go. And I thought while he was talking that it might be important for a strong, competent fellow like Carl to be able to leave near the top of his game.

I’ve had a few chats like this with people who knew they were leaving soon. Some were ready (prepared…preppers). Others weren’t prepared and, as a result, had much more pain and inner turmoil. Getting ready for the big, final, GO does take some courage and preparation.

As a pilot, Carl was able to view the island from the air on many occasions. No doubt he saw it as a whole. He saw the big picture. What he saw, he liked.

It’s interesting that many people got their first impression of the island while guests at Westshore B and B. We are lucky that this first impression came from our finest ambassadors, people who helped set the standard for how our community behaves. Because of Carl, and Polly, we are a community much better prepared for the future.

Jan 132012

A nice mess of mache

Is it wrong to feel a bit smug after returning from the garden on Jan 12 with a half dozen beets, some carrots, a handful of sun chokes and enough mache for a salad? Mache or corn salad aka fleld lettuce, lamb’s lettuce, nut lettuce, repunzel or field salad is a member of the valerian family. Just so you know, mache has three times the vitamin C as lettuce.

I was gifted with three small plants wrenched out of the community garden last summer. I transplanted them to a small bed in the lower part of our garden. I thought they were dead but the wilty looking plants surprised me by bolting. They reseeded and now, in January, plunging a shovel into frozen soil, I can harvest  fresh greens in mid winter, mix them with some young kale and chard leaves that grow wild in the garden and have a tasty salad without having to leave the premises.

I have been negligent in winter gardening but made more of an effort this year to plant some stuff that I could leave in the ground. I’m amazed that the beets still taste good as do the carrots. Not quite as tasty as in summer but good and only a few steps away, stored live in the ground and mulched with leaves to try and keep them from freezing.

The sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes) are supposed to be eaten in winter. We roasted some along with beets, carrots, the remaining potatoes, shallots and garlic (the shallots and garlic are storing quite well). Sunchokes are a very useful crop. You could make fuel with them if you had a field full. I started mine with a handful I bought at the co-op. Once they get going there is no stopping them, a striking sunflower that grows eight feet tall and even makes an occasional bloom. They leave behind some tasty tubers which are often difficult to clean but worth the effort.

One notices fewer trips to the store in the summer months but we have been pleasantly surprised at how little we are spending this winter on groceries. We are eating lots of frozen greens, beans, squash, pickled beets, pickles, kim chee we traded for, salsa verde, pesto, chutney, frozen onions, shallots, garlic and pickled garlic. It’s a bit repetitious but we find that a bland meal can be made tasty with lots of condiments.

We extended out eating season by freezing, canning, pickling and storing. Next step is to extend the growing season using cold frames, cloches and hopefully a greenhouse. I have one more season to achieve my goal of growing half our food. Getting closer.

Jan 112012

A good friend reports that his discussion group  last week, “was very optimistic and happy, most believing that we are just in another down cycle and things will be returning to “normal” in the best of all possible worlds.” Discussing the Occupy Wall Street movement with another friend I was told that they are just a bunch of people who ought to be looking for work. This is the “dirty hippie” meme put forth by the mainstream media.

In an era when our major TV networks and cable news are owned by a handful of large corporations those who seek the truth are forced to look elsewhere. The internet has been important in this regard. Anyone (this blog as example) can pontificate or point to articles of interest and make an effort to influence a circle of readers, small though that circle may be.

On the internet one can find recaps of the economic situation like this one which are so clear and well-articulated that the arguments are difficult to refute. This writer lays it out with some predictions which you can bookmark to validate or invalidate his point of view.

I lean toward getting my information from individuals who I have highlighted in past blog posts: Kunstler, Greenwald, Adams, Sinclair, Fosse, Rawles,  and others I have probably mentioned in passing: Dr. Sircus, Smith, Taibbi, plus others I haven’t mentioned at all like Tim Bolen.

Sara Miller McCune

So here’s another recommendation for a source of information less tainted by corporate interest: Miller-McCune Magazine which you can subscribe to for $15 a year. This is a non-profit magazine started by Sara Miller McCune, owner of Sage Publishing which publishes academic books and journals. It’s one of those big companies you never heard of (unless you have a Ph’d). They also have a free newsletter where many of their excellent articles are reprinted. And, if you are inclined you can “like” them on Facebook.  You can sample some articles here.

It is rare in this day and age to find a news source not controlled by a giant corporation trying to drive their point of view into our psyche. With Miller-McCune a single  person still controls the company with a caveat that it can’t be sold after her death unless it loses money two years in a row. Her personal story is worth reading.

She writes: “We have no specific political agenda to promote, and hardly any axes to grind. Our passion is simply to find solutions to problems and improve the quality of life on the planet.”

A refreshing take from an independent publisher.

Jan 062012

Everyone on the island knows the Grange as that building where all important events (that aren’t held at the school, church or library) are held. Some are aware that there is an organization functioning out of the Grange that puts on a pancake feed, salmon feed, offers some scholarships, provides dictionaries for school kids and collects aluminum cans. Most, maybe even a lot of the members of the Grange, are unaware of the long and important history of The National Grange of the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry.

The Grange started as a farmer organization after the Civil War but really didn’t catch fire until the Panic of 1873 which was the country’s first great depression—renamed “The Long Depression” after the Depression of the 1930’s glommed onto the title of “great.” Debt burdened farmers were hurt by tight money and a depression in the silver market, so it made sense for farm families to band together to lobby and campaign for their common well-being. At its peak there were a million members advocating against such things as railroad monopolies and for free rural delivery. (Support of the Post Office is still important to the Grange).

As the family farm declined, so did Grange membership resulting in fewer and older members. Granges like the Lummi Island Grange deemphasized farming as their primary focus and began to operate more like a service club to benefit the community.

We joined the Grange because it is made up of a group of people on the island worth being associated with who were actively trying to make a difference in the community. From a Transition standpoint, the Grange meets all the requirements of a group that will provide support to the community in any kind of a crisis.

And, I predict that our Grange will soon begin to take initiatives promote and improve food security for the island and assist people to regain lost skills.

The Grange is an organization with tremendous potential to affect island life and what happens here in the future. And, for this reason alone I would urge islanders, particularly younger islanders, to consider joining the Grange.

Jan 042012

Nancy Ging has created a website for Lummi Islanders which does what Next Door does and more.

http://lummiislanders.com/ is set up like as a web site and offers links to news, local weather, local tides, an events calendar plus links to local websites. Using the Lummi Island Community Portal you can do all the things that Next Door does (post videos, photos, list events, sell stuff, tout suppliers and other resources, post jobs and locate local blogs. It’s an all Lummi Island site like Next Door. The difference is that it is all managed locally with no reliance on off islanders.

Next Door has proven that the community needs a way to communicate easily and Next Door does a good job in a social network format.

But, experiment with the Lummi Island Community Portal and see if you like it and if you think it would work for us as well or better than the Next Door site. The Lummi Island Community Portal is locally owned and operated (by Nancy Ging).

Jan 022012

I’m recommending you read these three pieces that analyze where we’ve been and where we might be headed. One by a social critic/novelist and Peak Oil messenger (Kunstler), a second by a S. American journalist (Escobar), and the last by an organic chemist (Collum). They are quite long. You might want to wait for a rainy day. (Click the name for the link).

James Kunstler

Brief excerpt: “… wrap your mind around life in an economy organized around farming, with a much sparser distribution of big urban centers, and far fewer people overall. Don’t imagine for a moment that your grandchildren will be zinging across the landscape in electric cars sampling one theme park after another while “networking” with “friends” on cyborg social networks implanted in their brain jellies. Think of them grooming their mules in the summer twilight.”

Pepe Escobar

Excerpt: Anti-Americanism is on the raise everywhere in the world.

Pepe Escobar: Except in the Persian Gulf. (laughs.)

Would you say it’s a bit tragic given the friendliness of the ordinary American people?

Pepe Escobar: It’s true. I have been going to the U.S. since I was a kid, I traveled to at least 40 states, I lived there on both coasts, I have friends in the U.S., a lot of people who read my stuff know where I am coming from, but I also have a lot of readers who are saying: you are a Taliban-Communist-Apocalyptic-Anti-American bla-bla-bla – the whole thing. They still don’t get it.

One thing is to be very fond of the country and American pop culture, American entertainment, American icons in music, in literature, in cinema, in architecture, in art etc., and another thing is to criticize their foreign policy. If you grew up like myself, I grew up in Brazil and Europe during the 1960/70′s – the military dictatorship installed in Brazil in 1964, when I was ten years old, was an American coup.”

David Collum

Excerpt: “So why do people care what an organic chemist thinks about investing, economics, monetary policy, and societal moods? I can only offer a few thoughts. For starters, in 32 years of investing I had only one year in which my total wealth decreased in nominal dollars; whatever I am doing has worked. I also ride the blogs hard, am fairly good at distilling complexity down to simplicity, seem to be a congenital contrarian, and am pretty well connected (for a chemist). I am Joe Sixpack, a 99er of sorts with a growing unease.”