Sunday, April 27, 2008

Global Food and Style Expo 2008 Recap

Well...where to start? First of all, while this show is mainly about food (there are a few token clothing booths), it's not the kind of food the average person eats every day. No, this show is mostly about the kind of food you impulse buy at Whole Foods or that comes in a gift basket you got from your boss. Also, it's sort of the antithesis of the local foods crowd: big companies, importers, exporters, etc.

The keynote speaker was Bobby Flay. I was unimpressed, especially when during the Q&A, he entirely dodged a question on food bans. Of course he did have to field some pretty ridiculous questions, including not one, but two not-so-skinny women, complaining about overuse of things like cream and lard , chiding him for not including more low fat foods on his shows. Rightfully, he pointed out that almost no one in this country is fat because of uncommon ingredients like duck lard.

Much of the show was simply overwhelming. At first I wanted to try everything, but I quickly became more selective. You can only stand so many mustard pretzel dips.

One of my first stops was Wholesome Sweetners. On the rare occasion I do bake, I like their rich organic fair-trade brown sugar. Their new raw honey was fantastic, unfortunately, when we asked why they weren't sourcing locally, they said that there were no organic beekeepers in the U.S. Hilarious, one of my companions was an organic beekeeper, and not the only one either.

These cute gummy bears were made with organic tapioca syrup and tasted much better than most vegan gummies.

At another booth I tried Goji berries, which were good, though I think the whole superfood thing is overhyped. That same booth also had yacon chips, made from a Peruvian tuber, which tasted more like melons than potatoes.

Some of the more unusual offerings came from the Japanese and Korean booths. A friendly Japanese businessman expounded on the benefits of the Maitake mushroom, showering us with packets of a maitake supplement. We were confused, but when I got home I looked it up and it seems like it has interesting properties. In the U.S. it is known as Hen of the Woods.

In other news: while I like kimchi, I don't think it's the next sushi.

I loved the truffles from The Tea Room, they were the best I'd had in a long time. The red raspberry rooibos was my favorite. The really really dark chocolate at Vere, was unusual, but people seemed to be flocking to their booth.

The only teas that pretty impressed me was from Great Lakes Tea and Spice. I really liked their peach white blend.

I tasted what seemed like a million dips, but the only memorable ones came from Herbal Delights.

The only clothing that caught my eye was from Synergy, simply because I had bought one of their dresses before and I love the way they fit.

The trends? It seems probiotics are in. Someone was even hawking a probiotic yogurt for dogs. My favorite was the Nancy's Kefir, though I wish they would offer whole milk kefir. Other trends seemed to include granola snacks and raw vegan items.

In the end though, I much prefer more local-food oriented food gatherings. Having ingested the equivelent of an entire Harry & David gift basket, I left the expo with a a nice capitalist stomach-ache.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The End is Near111!!!

Sam's Club, Costco limit rice purchases as prices rise

Does this mean that the boxed rice that has been sitting on my shelf for ages will soon be considered a commodity investment?

Grandmother hypothesis and slow food

In class yesterday we were discussing how to adjust to eating better food. Upper and middle income individuals can usually afford to sacrifice some income in terms of less hours working and more hours cooking or in terms of spending more on food. However, what about people who are barely getting by in the first place?

The solution touted by most people in government programs. Others favor community groups, but I started thinking about this a different way.

Children don't work, but also don't do well at managing to procure and prepare their own food. But who else doesn't typically work? Grandparents!

Students of evolutionary anthropology may have heard of the grandmother hypothesis. Humans are pretty unique for their long postmenopausal lifespans, which means that human women often live far past their reproductive years. A waste of resources on non-reproducing individuals? No, apparently grandmothers in the past played an important role in helping to raise children.

My grandmother helped out my busy mother with food and in many ethnic communities this is still relatively common. Grandma isn't likely to be part of the workforce, so the opportunity cost of having her go to the farmer's market and cook a healthy meal is low. Unfortunately, it's increasingly common to have grandparents live far away from their grandchildren, either in retirement destinations or nursing homes.

This is a tragedy on several levels. There the lost knowledge of the elders, the loss of family bonds, and increased burdens on the parents.

I would say grandmothers are the missing part of a lot of sociological conundrums, from childhood delinquency to healthy diets.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Weepies- Simple Life

I'll kiss you awake, and we'll have time
To know our neighbors all by name
And every star at night.
We'll weave our days together like waves
And particles of light.

I want only this, I want to live
I want to live a simple life.

GMOs: Missing the point

With all this talk about gm crops underperforming, I think people forget that the common GM crops were not modified to increase yields. This is also something the right forgets when it trumpets GM crops as some great solution for this food crisis.

Fundamentally, GM crops are easier to manage. Last week in one of my classes, some of the students from farms were talking about how they used to have the arduous job of "walking the beans": meandering out in the soybean fields in the hot summer sun, looking for weeds to spray. Now they just douse the entire field every once in awhile. They brag about how nice their fields look.

To contrast, managing an intercropped organic field requires intense labor and finely honed knowledge.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Parents push for organic school lunches

"There needs to be a reality check," said Diane Duncan-Goldsmith, director of food services for the Iowa City school district. "Is this something schools can do? Maybe if we want to have $4 or $5 lunches."

Not to sound cavalier, but that sounds cheap to me. I spend most of my income on food these days, but given that it has helped me cure my illnesses, I don't think it's a bad deal. No $12 a week Prilosec or $30 a month asthma medication. People discount health too much. An extra dollar or two for a child's lunch might mean thousands of dollars saved if that child can avoid the health problems that plague typical Americans.

It does leave less money for other things though. I'm sitting here typing wearing a skirt from my freshman year of high school and a shirt from last year's dorm lost and found "abandoned and free" box. I spent spring break working on a farm instead of in Cancun.

If I didn't live in a "slave cell" AKA graduate student housing, I could spent a lot less though. I know a couple that spent less than their usual budget on food when they ate 100% local because they had to stop eating out and going to bars. Keep your own garden and it goes down even more.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Paleo Rules

Michael Pollan's rules about eating from In Defense of Food are a good framework, but ultimately don't take a stand for what humans evolved to eat.

The article by Cordain in Implications of Plio-Pleistocene Hominin Diets for Modern Humans in the anthology Evolution of the Human Diet: The Known, the Unknown, and the Unknowable is academic, but also provides a good "rules" framework.

According to Cordain, the diet we are most evolved to eat is:

  1. Omnivorous (typically, high vegetable content by weight, and high meat content by caloric contribution)
  2. Low in sugar
  3. Proper omega-3: omega-6 ratio... 1:3 is optimal
  4. High in protein
  5. High in micronutrients, mostly from diverse plant foods
  6. Low net acid load...most hunter-gatherer diets are net-base yielding
  7. High potassium to sodium ratio
  8. High in fiber
Unfortunately, this is a diet that is difficult to follow these days. Feedlot meat has an unfavorable fatty acid composition, fish stocks are poisoned, and domestic varieties of plant crops are higher in sugar and lower in fiber. Thankfully, if the need arises, these basic rules allow me some flexibility to adjust my diet with the inclusion of some agrarian foods without sacrificing the major benefits.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I didn't know...

that those teeny tiny specks were the actual seeds! I bought a some vanilla beans and realized that.

Apparently they are very hard to germinate

Also, in a classic lesson on environmental economics, Florida gives away water to Nestle...for "free"...and it isn't going to turn out well. The state gets to collect some taxes, but actual residents need the water now that Florida is in a drought. Lesson in economics: there is no such thing as free and when you don't charge based on usage, you have problems with overdrawing.

Stevenson, the state's spring expert, says to look at the big picture. "As I see it, a real problem is the public thinks of water as limitless and valueless. ... The less water you pull out of the ground, the better for the spring,'' he said.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Hai, I b takin ur monies

A Bumper Crop of Bureaucracy

ESSEX, N.Y. — When Salim B. Lewis and his wife, Barbara, began building three suburban-style homes in 2006 for the workers on their 1,200-acre organic farm here, they didn’t realize they were wading into a regulatory brawl with the state that apparently set off an interagency dispute...

in March, the Adirondack Park Agency, which has varying degrees of jurisdiction over the nearly 6 million-acre Adirondack Park, assessed a $50,000 civil penalty against the farm, equaling the second-largest fine the state agency had ever imposed.

While the Lewises had obtained local building permits, the park agency said that they failed to obtain permits from it, even though it had not sought permits for a house in three decades. Most farms in the area limit themselves to building mobile homes for migrant workers, and the agency had scant records that it had even required permits for those. Mr. Lewis, a former Wall Street investment executive, is most likely the only farmer in the region wealthy enough to build large, comfortable houses for his workers

Critics of the agency saw it as an odd position to take for a regulatory body with environmental concerns at its core. Should the Lewises sell their farm, as they have threatened to do, a developer could build 30 homes on the property. Local lawmakers called it an example of the park agency overreaching its authority...

Mr. Lewis said he feared that if the park agency was granted jurisdiction over his farm, he would be bombarded with permit requirements. Should that happen, he added, “we’re out of the farming business.”

“No other farmer can fight it,” he said, referring to the agency “All of them have told me you’re the only guy who can fight this.”

Interesting because he can fight it. Most farmers I know that have disputes with the government simply have to go out of business, usually silently, though often marked by an empty booth at the farmer's market.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Milk Substitutes: Walnut Milk

I never understood vegetarians. Compared to meat, milk certainly contributes just as much to the deaths of animals and it's arguably less healthy. I'll drink it if I know the source, but most of the time I avoid it, especially since there aren't many local sources for it around here and bad milk tastes so terrible that it isn't even worth it.

Unfortunately, the substitutes aren't much better. Soy milk is an industrial heavily-processed food and soy itself has some issues1. Rice milk seems to need a lot of sugar to taste acceptable and commercial nut milks tend to contain additives.

So I usually make my own nut milks. Use of nuts for milks dates back at least as far as the middle ages and can be made with simple whole ingredients.

Almond is the most popular nut milk, but I prefer using walnuts because their omega-3:omega-6 ratio is more balanced. There are many ways to make nut milks, but what I do is soak the walnuts for a day to remove the bitter tannins, rinse, and then blend with water with a 1:4 walnut to water ratio. Then I strain through cheesecloth. The remaining pulp can be used in raw vegan recipes. I usually flavor the milk itself with a bit of vanilla and local honey.

It lasts for a few days and certainly tastes a lot better than soy milk or industrial cow's milk, especially when used to make chai or hot chocolate.

1. I do eat fermented soy like miso occasionally, since it definitely has some benefits and fermenting removes most toxins

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hipster-farmer music: Bon Iver...even my music eats sustainably

Saw Bon Iver yesterday with all Justin Vernon's falsetto folk goodness. Stereogum has a great interview where he talks about eating really locally in Wisconsin:

I hunt for food and for the tradition. I do hunt every year but only during legal seasons. My family is not a hunt-for-sport kind of family...That's what it's mostly about: being outside in the quiet, and catching your meat the only true and honest way there is.

We do our own butchering, yes. We do send scrap meat and other things to a sausage place in Milwaukee, WI for fun stuff, like Cajun Brats or Venison bacon, but we do our own cuts. Last year I paid for a guitar repair with a shoulder roast. Gordy was jazzed, said he plucked some mushrooms out the back of his property and had the best meal of the year.

Scots Wha Hae

Why Some Like it Hot by Gary Nabhan is an interesting book focusing on human microevolutionary adaptations to diet and how eating traditional foods is healthier. Unfortunately, as some reviewers on Amazon point out, he gives Northern Europe the short shift. Undeniably, Northern Europe has churned out some pretty horrifying foods from semla to shortbread.

So does this whole "eat your heritage" thing just not apply to people from Northern Europe? Well, I think people just aren't going back far enough in history. Scottish Food in Season's Larder Page lists all sorts of foods that are really delicious and healthy. Venison, edible seaweed, shallots, kale, plums, tayberries, barley...doesn't sound bad to me. Actually, it sounds very close to the diet that I've found is best for me. Just avoid the prepared foods, which are a relatively recent invention, and the Scottish diet is just as admirable as the traditional Pima diet that Nabhan praises.

Now that offal is trendy, maybe I'll even start eating haggis.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Why I Hate Ethanol

Interview with my environmental econ/international trade professor, which is a great summary of the food vs. fuel situation.

Money quote: "Given the questionable environmental benefits of corn-based ethanol, the large diversion of corn from food/feed that it requires and the limited potential to rely on it to achieve meaningful independence from foreign oil there is a need to rethink our current policy efforts towards promoting its production."

Addendum to Eskimo Post

Addendum to this previous post:

The typical Western diet yields a net acid load estimated to be 50 mEq/d (148). As a result, healthy adults consuming the standard US diet sustain a chronic, low-grade pathogenic metabolic acidosis that worsens with age as kidney function declines (146, 149). Virtually all preagricultural diets were net base yielding because of the absence of cereals and energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods—foods that were introduced during the Neolithic and Industrial Eras and that displaced base-yielding fruit and vegetables (147). Consequently, a net base-producing diet was the norm throughout most of hominin evolution (147). The known health benefits of a net base-yielding diet include preventing and treating osteoporosis (150, 151), age-related muscle wasting (152), calcium kidney stones (153, 154), hypertension (155, 156), and exercise-induced asthma (157) and slow the progression of age- and disease-related chronic renal insufficiency (158).

Cordain, Loren, Eaton, S Boyd, Sebastian, Anthony, Mann, Neil, Lindeberg, Staffan, Watkins, Bruce A, O'Keefe, James H, Brand-Miller, Janette
Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century
Am J Clin Nutr 2005 81: 341-354

So, perhaps while many high-protein foods have a high acid load, the net acid load, which can be brought lower by eating fruits and vegetables, is ultimately what matters.

Eskimos and protein

Fanatic Cook: High Prevalence of Osteoporosis Among Alaskan Eskimos

I have the anthology Hunter-Gatherers: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on my desk because I'm doing a project on native diets.

Peoples of the far north, while interesting, aren't terribly relevant to debates about humanity's evolution because, in the scale of human evolutionary history, they haven't been there very long. They prove it's possible to survive on a diet of 90-98% meat, but that doesn't mean it's optimal. Unlike most hunter-gatherers, Eskimos have a high incidence of Osteoporosis.

However, Eskimos who are still following their traditional diet are still a lot healthier than most Americans. Unfortunately, most have now adopted a Westernized diet, which has led to high rates of obesity and diabetes.

It's theorized that the high rates of osteoporosis are caused by eating excessive amount of protein. Most illnesses in Eskimo populations, like diabetes, seem to be the result of civilization, but in this case, even pre-contact skeletons seem to be marred.

That said, skeletons from other societies that ate a diet high in both plant and animal foods are often remarkably healthy. This leads me to wonder if the real problem is the lack of plant foods, rather than the amount of protein.

From Kiple's A Moveable Feast:

...the healthiest ancient skeletal population turned up so far in a study of health and nutrition in the western hemisphere represents individuals living on Brazil’s south coast from about 1000 BCE to 1000 AD. Like so many of their North American counterparts, they enjoyed this good health because they remained hunter-gatherers –actually fishermen and shell fishers – who produced highly visible mounds while consuming a varied and protein-rich diet.

Another good example are the Ache of Paraguay. They eat an impressive amount of animal foods, but also rely on hundreds of plants.

De-Ramenizing in College

My freshman stable was those packaged fake-chicken flavored ramen noodles. When I missed dinner, I ate those, despite the fact that they really provide very little sustenance and tasted abominable. These days, just the smell of them makes me queasy.

So what am I supposed to do when I need a quick meal? Because of bad decisions and just plain stupidity, I live in a graduate housing room that is depressingly kitchenless. I have a microwave, a minifridge, and sink. At first I mostly ate out, but I've gotten a lot better at making the microwave do my bidding.

In last week's NYT, Mark Bittman wrote about microwave cooking. When microwaves first became popular, hundreds of cookbooks for them were published with recipes for everything from cake to steak. People realized pretty quickly that those things don't belong in the microwave and most of those cookbooks are now found in the bargain bin at thrift shops.

As Bittman points out, it does a decent job at steaming vegetables, but I eat most of my vegetables raw. He provides a recipe for a tempting chocolate pudding, but I'm not about to eat that for dinner.

When I first moved in I got the Kafka microwave cookbook, that while outdated, pointed out that fish cooks well, but good fish tends to be expensive in Central Illinois. The best local source of protein around here is eggs. Numerous local farms have free ranging chickens and you can get a dozen for about $1.99 to 4.00 depending on the farm and husbandry methods.

Early attempts at eggs in the microwave were a disaster. Most attempts were hard, discolored, or just plain unappetizing. Finally, I've come up with a decent method, mostly by not subjecting the eggs to much microwaving. I just boil water, drop the egg in, microwave for one more minute...and I have a pretty damn good poached egg.

Lately I've been eating a lot of soba, which are Japanese buckwheat noodles. Decently priced and with a better nutritional profile than most noodles, they can be served either hot or cold. Then cook quickly in the microwave without becoming mushy.

For a meal at home I serve them hot sauced and topped with grated carrots, poached egg and wakame. For a bento to carry to class they are great cold with the same type of sauce. For a sauce I usually use a base of miso and almond butter, mixed with tamari and a little vinegar until I get a nice consistency. Finally, I top with the Spice House Argyle Street Asian Blend. Delicious, and it only takes a few minutes. More protein, vitamins, and minerals than ramen, but with less carbs.

.5 cup organic buckwheat noodles

1.5 tsbp almond butter
.5 tbsp miso
1 tsp raw apple cider vinegar
.5 tbsp raw black sesame tamari

1 raw shredded local carrot or cucumber
1 poached local egg
some seasoning and seaweed

I mix everything together when eating.

These are ingredients I keep in my pantry, but I've made this at friends' apartments using cheaper ingredients like peanut butter instead of almond butter and normal soy sauce and vinegar.

Monday, April 7, 2008


Not to brag or anything, but I read that my EEE PC uses about the same amount of energy as a CFL lightbulb. Pretty impressive. It's also basically made me paperless since it's a lot nicer to carry than a bunch of paper notebooks and textbooks.

Small is beautiful. It uses a simple form of Linux instead of bloated Windows. I'm always finding a new use from a phone alternative (Skype) to an electronic recipe book small enough to not hog my kitchen counter.

I try not to buy new computers too often though because of the impact of manufacturing and later, recycling difficulties. So I like that it doesn't have a lot to break, like the CD drive that broke in my last laptop. Buying an external anything from a Lacie Harddrive for more space or a CD burner is a lot easier than replacing them inside a laptop. Plus an external hard drive is subject to a lot less heat stress, so usually they last a lot longer.

Hay is for horses...

and cows...and it's damn expensive. One of the last small milk operations here is closing down because of ridiculous hay prices combined with weather-related pasture declines. In one of my classes we talked about how some poor horse owners can't cope with the price increases, but since the slaughter ban, it costs more to get rid of a horse than to let it starve. Animal control has been hit with a lot of horse cases.

In that same class, a representative of the Illinois Corn Growers talked about how great ethanol is. However great it might be (it's not as far as I know), the price increases that have resulted from ethanol subsidies hurt small-scale agriculture the most.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

My Diet I

Looking back at my health problems, it's easy to see the domino effect. My senior year of high school was incredibly stressful and I suffered from intense headaches. Unfortunately, I discovered Excedrin Migraine, which had the added bonus of caffeine, so I could stay up late studying headache-free! I continued taking it regularly through my freshman year in college, which is when I discovered another stress-salve: cake and ice cream, which the dormitory provided in abundance.

I still can't believe what I ate back then. Sugary cereal in the morning, dessert with both lunch and dinner, and "late night," an a la cart well-stocked with Haagan Daaz, giant muffins, Little Debbies, and soda. Besides gaining twenty pounds, I noticed a gnawing sensation on my side.

Given my daily use of ibuprofen, my doctor suspected an ulcer and just handed me some Prilosec, a proton pump inhibitor (PPI). PPIs inhibit acid secretion in the stomach and are used to treat disorders of gastric acid production, such as chronic heartburn, as well as ulcers, since the decreased acidity allows for faster healing.

I didn't follow my doctor's advice and instead stopped taking ibuprofen and tried to improve my diet. I became an almost-vegan and learned to love industrial foods like soy milk and Boca burgers. Unfortunately, I didn't get better and the gnawing sensation turning to searing heartburn and a diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Eventually I had to go on Prilosec.

It worked, but not perfectly. I could feel the creeping acidity in my stomach and I looked and felt bloated all the time. My middle-aged paunchy doctor confided to me that I shouldn't worry, that PPIs were safe and that he himself expected to be on them for the rest of his life. This just depressed me...I was only twenty, I didn't want to be dependent on these drugs for the rest of my life.

A few months later I started having more sinister symptoms, which my doctor ascribed to IBS, which I had been diagnosed with as a freshman. It wasn't until I collapsed and ended up in the ER that I got a real diagnosis: chronic salmonella. I wonder if the PPI use was related. A study connected PPI use with pneumonia, the authors noting "reduction of gastric acid secretion by acid-suppressive therapy allows pathogen colonization from the upper gastrointestinal tract." PPI use is at an all-time high in America, so is food poisoning. Humans evolved an acidic stomach for a very good reason.

Recovering took a long time and I did a lot of research on diets and health. I found this study about low-carb being good for GERD. At the same time I read Jared Diamond's essay The Worst Mistake In The History Of The Human Race for a class and was struck by the idea that while agriculture has led to some progress, it certainly hasn't made us healthier. I started researching the Paleo diet and adopted a modified version of it for the summer.

My basic premise was to eat mostly paleo foods, with a few "agrarian foods" (a la Weston A. Price), and almost no "industrial foods." I'll write more later about my exact diet, but at the end of the summer almost all my symptoms, from headaches to bloating, were gone. Despite increased consumption of fat, I lost a lot of weight. I'm no longer on any medication and while my diet sometimes includes beer and candy, I always operate on the basic premise of eating primarily foods humans evolved to eat.

It's sad that the standard line on GERD is to avoid fat even though there seems to be little documented connection. I was told my low-fat diet of soy milk and rice was the right one. Macronutrients put food into shallow categories, placing radically different foods like coconut and fried chicken into the "evil" high fat label. If only doctors would stop preaching about macronutrients and instead suggest that patients eat real food.

Friday, April 4, 2008

EU and Small Farms

Old Ways, New Pain for Farms in Poland

But European Union laws are intended for another universe of farming, and Polish farmers say they have left them at a steep disadvantage. If they want to sell their products, European law requires farms to have concrete floors in their barns and special equipment for slaughtering. Hygiene laws prohibit milking cows by hand. As a result, the milk collection stations and tiny slaughterhouses that until a few years ago dotted the Polish countryside have all closed. Small family farming is impossible.

In early March, hundreds of Polish farmers demonstrated outside the office of Prime Minister Donald Tusk, complaining that they were losing money on each hog they raised. Anyway, Mr. Master said, raising pigs for sale was a nonstarter. He is forbidden to slaughter his own pigs, and the nearest abattoir that meets European Union standards is hours away; there are only five in all of Poland.

Depressing. Modern food law is increasingly monolithic, unwilling to accept non-industrial farming. I love how the EU-cronies in the article don't even address this, but just gabber "oh, well, they will just have to get used to not having subsidies." Never mind that Western European small farmers got subsidies to help them adjust to new food safety laws.

The byline is sterility. No risk of infectious disease is acceptable. Never mind all the foods that slowly kill us from diabetes and heart disease or that it's OK for large-scale animal agriculture to overuse the antibiotics we use to fight such infections, thus breeding ever more virulent strains and depleting our medicinal arsenal.

Right now I'm reading The Devil's Picnic by Taras Grescoe. The chapter on raw-milk cheeses is really good. It's interesting because it contrasts the EU and US strategies. The US just bans most raw milk cheeses, the EU institutes HACCP, a food-safety protocol designed to eliminate the risk of food poisoning in an place where it would be devastating -- outer space.

The book quotes Jean Berthaut, of Fromagerie Berthaut, world’s leading producer of Epoisses, the French traditional cheese implicated in a Listeria outbreak that lead to EU regulation “A raw-milk cheese, bought form the farm—there is zero risk involved! We, the French, ultimately decided that completely banning raw-milk cheeses was a bad thing…so we’ve introduced Draconian regulations to guarantee sanitation and reduce risk to a minimal level. It’s an approach that’s a little more thoughtful—and complex, and courageous—than total prohibition”

But then the book goes on to note that the initial outbreak was from pasteurized cheese made by a factory (not an artisan) that was simply fraudulent and Taras goes on to explore how the regulations have consolidated cheesemaking and shut down a lot of small producers...who were never to blame.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Place You Love is Gone

I really wanted to love The Place You Love is Gone by Melissa Holbrook Pierson. Unfortunately, her often-obtuse writing style makes for a difficult read, but it did get me thinking about my hometown.

Marietta, Georgia is one of Atlanta’s largest suburbs. The Marietta I knew growing up is not the Marietta that exists today. The population grew by 40% during my childhood and continues to grow. Two lane roads are now highways.

I often think of the farms that disappeared before my very eyes, replaced by sterile subdivisions. Clearcuts were a common sight, stark because of the red clay soil. Most of the people that live in Marietta now were born somewhere else, they aren’t losing anything.

But then I remember that my family was alien too. They moved to Marietta from Miami before I was born. The house I grew up in was built to house Lockheed workers in the fifties. Presumably, it too displaced a forest or a farm.

Yesterday a Navajo professor spoke to one of my classes. I asked him about the problem of making people care in this age of displacement. Talk about coal mines tearing people from their homes is less effective when very few people seem to have a true home that they love and care about. The professor pondered and then said : indigenization.

It’s the concept of making people local again. Thinking about it, the local food movement is an indigenization movement and a very powerful one at that. I think about the huge differences in farmers markets across the state. Evanston has wild plums and purslane, but Urbana has farmstead goat cheese and fresh ripe blackberries. Each place has unique foods that you can’t get elsewhere.

In terms of where I grew up, my neighborhood was old enough that nature had reclaimed parts of it. Neglected lawns sprouted with wild strawberries, blueberries, and onions. Honeysuckle crept over fences. Snapping turtles made their homes in ditches. In the case of my neighborhood this was largely an unconscious encroachment, resisted by certain residents who religiously applied sod and pesticides.

But I wonder if this sort of thing could become a conscious movement to live in a locality instead of adapting a locality to the American Lawn Ideal. Edible Estates and similar Food Not Lawns and Backyard Habitat projects are a good example of this. The resistance comes from people who never question the tyranny of the grass monocultures they so assiduously cultivate.

A problem, I think, is schooling. I went to a school that focused on nature and then I was homeschooled, so I spent a lot of time experiencing native Georgia. My memories of home are microcosmic—of tiny tree sprouts, dew drops on spider webs, and bumblebees on marigolds. Unfortunately, this is unusual. I worked at a school camp one summer and their play grounds consisted of cement, woodchips, and a mowed lawn. No wonder no one in the area was bothered by industrially uniform green lawns.

Last night I remembered the wild onions, the way they smelled when you pulled them from the red clay in early spring. I remember that this was in the suburbs, that we shouldn’t give up when a farm is torn down to make room for houses, because anywhere there is soil, plants are eager to be welcomed.