Eating Liberally

Eating Liberally Blog


What part of this equation does the FDA not understand? At a time when food born illnesses are on the rise, food safety inspections have declined drastically thanks to deep budget cuts at the FDA.

Our food supply is tainted, all right—contaminated by corporate interests who got our government to gut the FDA with abattoir-like alacrity. Eric Schlosser spells it out in a damning op-ed in today’s NY Times:

Since 2000, the fast-food and meatpacking industries have given about four-fifths of their political donations to Republican candidates for national office. In return, these industries have effectively been given control of the agencies created to regulate them.

The current chief of staff at the Agriculture Department used to be the beef industry’s chief lobbyist. The person who headed the Food and Drug Administration until recently used to be an executive at the National Food Processors Association.

Cutbacks in staff and budgets have reduced the number of food-safety inspections conducted by the F.D.A. to about 3,400 a year — from 35,000 in the 1970s. The number of inspectors at the Agriculture Department has declined to 7,500 from 9,000.

The FDA’s food safety budget has been shrinking for years, according to the NY Times. William K. Hubbard, a former FDA associate commissioner, told the Times that money has been shifted to oversight of drug and medical devices, while the portion of the budget devoted to food safety has fallen from 50 percent to 25 percent since the 1970s.

Mr. Hubbard, who retired last year, said the agency was currently so stretched that they can do little more than react to outbreaks, rather than try to prevent them. The agency needs more money for research, more staff to develop guidelines and regulations and more inspectors, Mr. Hubbard said.

“F.D.A. is in a position that all they can do is send in inspectors after the cow has left the barn,” Mr. Hubbard said. “They don’t have the ability to set standards and enforce standards.”

Of course, if the FDA actually set foot inside the barn—or, rather the CAFO, as in Confined Animal Feeding Operation—they’d have to face up to the fact that the feedlots are what’s feeding the outbreaks of this especially virulent strain of E.coli, which was virtually unknown before the advent of agribusiness.

A recent newspaper headline about the scallion-borne E. coli outbreak doesn’t mince words: “Nearly 100 ill after manure found in Taco Bell onions. ” When you put it like that, it’s pretty revolting, and Americans would be up in arms if they connected the dots between the feedlots and the outbreaks. But that report comes from the Independent, a British newspaper, which dares to make a connection the American media won’t touch with a virtual 10 foot pole (hat tip to AmericaBlog):

The 0157:H7 strain of E.coli was unknown until cattle were taken from their traditional grazing grounds, pushed into industrial feedlots and fed grain and corn instead.

Faeces from those animals, in turn, can sometimes enter the water supply on big farms and find its way into irrigation canals in vegetable fields.

So the cows are confined to bacteria-breeding feedlots, the foxes are guarding the henhouse, and the Democrats, led by Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, are trying to pass the Safe Food Act, which would consolidate the FDA and the Department of Agriculture and give them the authority to test for pathogens, demand recalls, and punish companies that knowingly sell tainted food. Our current FDA can do none of these things.

Let’s hope their legislation will enjoy bi-partisan support. After all, as Eric Schlosser notes, “Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, you still have to eat.”


The North Pole is melting…the reindeer are molting…and Santa’s getting really steamed:

“Every year, I put a big lump of coal in the climate change naysayers’ stockings, but these guys are just not getting the message. Texas Governor Rick Perry actually sent me a thank you note!”

Santa’s dreaming of a greener, more carbon-neutral Christmas. Sure, the holiday shopping season’s heating up, but so is the planet. Do we have to buy into the annual madness? All that shipping and shopping, all that wrapping and excess packaging; it squanders fossil fuels and generates an extra one million tons of trash per week between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Nearly half the waste that goes into North American landfills is paper and packaging.

So how do we attain a more sustainable holiday? We can start with a little thing called “source reduction.” Well, OK, it’s not a little thing, really. It means buying less and creating less waste, and that’s a big step for so many of us who love to shop and buy stuff. But it might be the greatest gift you could give this year (along with some homemade cookies.)

Even if you’re not ready for a Buy Nothing Christmas, you can get inspired to have a more joyful, less dollar-driven holiday season with Bill McKibben's Hundred Dollar Holiday. And non-profit organizations like Alternative Gifts International and Heifer International offer all kinds of innovative presents you can give that let you do good with your dollars. Doesn’t the warm glow of altruism beat the emptiness of crass consumerism any day?

If you’re in NYC, come learn about more carbon neutral ways to celebrate the holidays at Eating Liberally’s Take Back the Holidays Tea Party this Saturday (i.e. tomorrow, December 9th) from 4 pm to 6 at the Tank, 279 Church Street between Franklin & White. (there’s no cover charge, but donations to offset our food costs are always welcomed.)

Our special guest will be Elizabeth Royte, author of Garbage Land: on the Secret Trail of Trash, a down ‘n’ dirty expose of our wasteful ways. Royte’s a modern day muckraker in the finest—and most literal--sense of the word; who better to explain how our choices as consumers can help stem the tide of trash that engulfs us every December?

And after we’ve empowered you with ideas for a more fun-filled, less fossil-fueled holiday, we’ll fill you up with festive food in the finest Eating Liberally tradition: Big Tent fruit & nut cakes; Trans FatCat-Free scones, Meet the Cress & Face the Bacon tea sandwiches, and more. So if you’re in the neighborhood, please come join us, and celebrate the season Liberally—help save the planet one byte at a time!


Farmers are famous for rising early, and Southern California farmer Phil McGrath’s no exception. But you might find him riding a wave rather than his tractor first thing in the morning. McGrath’s surfing the sustainability wave, too, buoyed by a tide of shoppers seeking organic specialty crops like heirloom beets and bok choy.

The 300-acre McGrath Family Farms spanned 7,000 acres back in 1871 when Phil’s great grandfather bought the fertile farmland. Now, developers drool over this prime piece of real estate between Ventura and Camarillo, but where others see McMansions, McGrath envisions an eco-dude ranch.

McGrath dreams of a seven-acre agricultural learning center where he can share the three E’s of sustainable farming: environmental responsibility, social equity, and economic viability. His classroom will be a 1932 one-room schoolhouse he moved to his land and is currently renovating. The plan also calls for a produce stand, housing for workers and interns, and maybe some slightly swankier accommodations for urbanites seeking a rural retreat.

McGrath Family Farms evolved over the last century from a cattle and sheep farm to dairy, and then to vegetables. In the 1980’s, the giant produce growers of Central California’s “Salad Bowl,” now our nation’s Petri dish, began creeping south, and for a while McGrath got caught in the monoculture maw.

“That was a really big deal,” McGrath told the Los Angeles Times. "The cultural change was one of the biggest events I've seen in this area in my lifetime. And it happened so fast there seemed to be no other way to go."

For a while, tilling for agribusiness paid off; the companies leased the land and the equipment, and paid McGrath a decent salary to run things. But the big produce growers beat a retreat after a few years, and McGrath took the opportunity to try something different.

Now, he leases 270 acres to a company that grows organic raspberries for Driscoll’s, and plants the remaining 30 or so acres with niche market vegetables, along with a few fruits and flowers. The McGrath Family Farms are certified organic, and the produce is sold directly to restaurants, farmers’ markets, and the Farm to School program in McGrath’s local school district, all within 60 miles of his land.

While McGrath worries that his farm might someday be whittled away by sprawl, he also wonders whether he runs the risk of growing beyond the bounds of his own agrarian ideals:

“...we have to start asking ourselves, how big do we want to be? Can we get too big to be sustainable?"

A better question might be, can McGrath contain himself? Moments after musing about the dangers of overexpansion, he’s telling the Times, “You know, another thing I've been thinking about is maybe putting in a small dairy. We could sell our own eggs and cheese. And maybe we could even put in a certain amount of vineyard land…”

I say go for it, dude. And now, when I buy a box of Driscoll’s organic raspberries at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, I won’t feel so guilty about these trans-continental treats, because I know some of the money’s going to farmer Phil. Sometimes, stopping sprawl trumps buying local.


Step away from those scallions! The feds are closing in on the source of the E. coli that’s sickened dozens of people in three states, so far. The culprits they’re eying are green onions, ‘regular’ onions, cilantro, tomatoes and lettuce from the New Jersey distribution center of McLane, a Texas-based company that supplies ingredients for all 1,100 Taco Bells in the Northeast.

“New Jersey’s health commissioner has said the most recent case of E. coli was reported Nov. 29,” the AP reports, “so the danger of infection might have passed.”

Or not. In the meantime, three dozen or so people have been sickened, nine are in the hospital, and most Taco Bells in the region remain open, if empty.

As the AP notes, “most E. coli infections are associated with undercooked meat.” But the state and federal health inspectors aren’t even inspecting the meat. Why not? Well, for one thing, the USDA’s more stringent standards have made our meat supply safer than it once was, so the source is more likely to be some kind of produce.

But mostly, it’s because the FDA’s safeguards for our food system are voluntary, and right now, McLane’s not volunteering any meat samples. The five foods the feds are testing were selected by McLane. Meat samples were neither requested nor offered.

The public wasn’t promptly notified of the outbreak, either; New Jersey health officials refrained from revealing the contamination for several days, The NY Times reported yesterday, “in part over concerns for possible overreaction by the public.”

Which prompted Karin J. Lauria of Marlborough, Mass., to send this letter to the editor:

So health officials delayed telling the public about the Taco Bell E. coli outbreak because they were concerned, you report, about “possible overreaction by the public”?

I think precaution would have been a more responsible and reasonable characterization of potential public response to such information. Then again, maybe a well-informed public is bad for business.

It seems to me that the most dangerous infection here is the one in which certain people believe that the risk to corporate profits deserves greater consideration than the risk to public health.

That sickness seems to be going around a lot these days.


OK, so they’re not exactly Paris and Britney, but where would Big Pharma be without Big Food? I’m not one for conspiracy theories, generally, but there does seem to be a pretty healthy symbiosis between all the unhealthy food Americans eat and the robust receipts of drug companies like Pfizer.

Pfizer is freaking out, now, thanks to yesterday’s drastic crash-and-burn of Torcetrapib, the drug that was supposed to boost the company’s profits by raising our good cholesterol levels. Torcetapib could have made Pfizer some $6 to $8 billion annually.

Of course, they’ve already got Lipitor, which is expected to earn Pfizer some $13 billion this year. Lipitor “is the biggest selling drug that there has ever been,” John Simon of Fortune magazine told CNN’s Ali Velshi this morning.

Ah, but the patent on Lipitor is about to expire, which will surely reduce Pfizer’s receipts as effectively as Lipitor’s generic cousin will presumably lower our bad cholesterol.

While Torcetrapib showed great promise at raising good cholesterol, it had the unfortunate side effect of killing an unacceptably high number of people in clinical trials. Pfizer’s stocks took a dive on Wall Street this morning, according to Reuters, which states that Torcetrapib’s failure “leaves Pfizer with a multibillion-dollar hole in its anticipated future revenue stream.”

“But of course, there’s the other drugs that are not as heavily marketed, called diet and exercise,” Dr. Jerry Avon, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, told NPR’s Robert Siegel on All Things Considered yesterday. “The difficulty is that our consciousness, our airwaves, are really saturated with promotions for products that are patented, and simple lifestyle things are really no one’s business to advertise, so we hear perhaps less about that than we ought to…”

Some of us, myself included, may be genetically predisposed to have high cholesterol. The first time I got my cholesterol tested, the doctor told me I’d have to give up cheese. My new doctor, a dairy farmer’s daughter, thankfully didn’t prescribe anything so drastic, but she didn’t prescribe any drugs, either. She told me to watch what I eat and exercise. I did, and it lowered my cholesterol levels to a healthy range.

Maybe I listen to my doctor because she’s such a great walking advertisement for healthy living herself. She belongs to the Park Slope Food Coop, and the last time I saw her, she looked fabulous in a Diane Von Furstenburg wrap dress. Truly the hippest HIP doctor you could get.

But most people ignore their doctor’s pleas to eat more peas and do less vegging. Some 97 million Americans, roughly a third of us, are considered obese, and the estimated annual cost of obesity related problems is about $80 billion a year and growing.

Being overweight costs us a lot on an individual basis, too. According to last Saturday’s NY Times, the more you weigh, the less you’re likely to earn, while your medical costs will probably be significantly higher.

The article cited a study by a couple of nutritional scientists at the University of Wisconsin who calculated the average hidden costs of a super-sized meal: an additional 67 cents gets you 73% more calories for 17% more money. The scientists figured out that the future medical costs for this “bargain” would be $6.64 for an obese man and $3.46 for an obese woman.

“The deep dark secret of American agriculture (revealed only by agricultural economists behind closed doors) is that there is far too much food available—3,900 calories per day for every man, woman, and child in the country,” notes Marion Nestle in What to Eat, “whereas the average adult needs only a bit more than half that amount, and children much less.”

We know we need to eat less, but the ugly truth is that corporations like Kraft, General Mills, and McDonalds need us to eat more and more. And Pfizer needs us to keep needing Lipitor. If Americans actually stopped overeating and started working out it would be a disaster for Big Food and Big Pharma.

But what’s good for their bottom line has turned out to be really, really bad for the average American’s, which explains why New York City’s Board of Health just unanimously approved the trans-fat ban.

Faux grassroots groups like the Center for Consumer Freedom will cry foul, of course, and claim that the city has no business regulating an FDA-approved product. Consumers should be free to exercise their own “personal responsibility” when deciding how to eat.

What the corporations who fund these campaigns are really defending, of course, is their own profit margins. As CNN’s Ali Vilshi said today, in an unrelated story, “This country depends on people spending money. Two-thirds of the economy is Americans spending money largely on discretionary items.”

He was talking about the droves of people defaulting on their mortgages. “This is a problem, when people can’t spend, and their credit gets ruined, in America. It affects all of us, ‘cause it goes all the way through the food chain, as it were.”

Most Americans don’t really need junk food and cholesterol lowering drugs, but if we stop buying them, we’ll endanger the health of our country’s economy. So I guess it’s our patriotic duty to pig out and pop pills.


Can California garlic growers find a level playing field in a flat world flooded with cheap Chinese garlic?

America’s largest garlic grower, Christopher Ranch, had 1,200 acres of garlic growing a decade ago. Now, the California company grows less than 300 acres of garlic, thanks to competition from China.

This year, for the first time ever, the amount of garlic Americans buy from China will exceed California’s total garlic production. And no wonder; a 30-pound box of Chinese garlic wholesales for around $15, versus $28 for California garlic.

Mike Mantelli, Christopher Ranch’s general manager, told the NY Times “The Chinese garlic totally caught us off-guard and knocked us down.”

Our government spends over $15 billion annually to subsidize the five commodity crops favored by agribusiness: corn, cotton, rice, wheat, and soybeans. Garlic farmers, along with growers of lettuce, strawberries, broccoli, and other so-called “specialty crops,” have never received any such handouts.

And they’ve never had to ask, either. These farmers have managed to grow $52.2 billion worth of crops on just 11 million acres, according to the NY Times. Compare that to the commodities growers, who required 215 million acres—and billions in subsidies—to generate an expected $52 billion in revenues this year.

But American produce farmers fear they’ll be washed up by the red tide of Asian exports. So California’s garlic growers have teamed up with about 75 growers of everything from nuts to flowers to lobby for changes to the federal farm bill. They’re asking not for subsidies, per se, but rather for money to help them market their products, and to support research and conservation.

Agriculture secretary Mike Johanns seems receptive to the produce growers’ lobby, which submitted a bill in September asking for more than $1 billion to help them compete domestically and abroad. It doesn’t hurt that the farmers seeking help come from politically critical states such as California, Arizona, and Florida.

Small scale farmers have a greater chance to change our nation’s agricultural agenda than they have in ages, thanks to Democrats like Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, the next chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Harkin authored the Conservation Security Program in the 2002 Farm Bill, which supported better stewardship of our farmland but was chronically underfunded. He also founded the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program, which provides free fresh fruit and vegetable snacks to students in eight states. We can look forward to seeing the expansion of such progressive policies with Harkin at the helm.

So family farmers have more friends in high places, now, but the forces of globalization are surely more powerful than America’s agricultural policy makers. And agribusiness may balk at having smaller farmers get a slice of the subsidy pie. Tom Philpott of Grist summed up the current state of affairs a couple of weeks ago in a post entitled “Celebrate, but Organize:”

Politicians bow unto the agribusiness giants because they've done a wonderful job of organizing and bringing power to bear. Consumers who demand healthy, delicious, sustainably grown food can do the same. In fact, they are, all over the country. Farmers' markets, community-supported agriculture programs, urban gardens -- such initiatives are bubbling up everywhere, despite scant governmental support and sometimes outright official hostility.

But it will take concerted action at the community level to consolidate these efforts into a robust alternative to industrial food.

You can start by supporting your local garlic farmer, if you’re lucky enough to have one. We’re blessed with the very best, the legendary Keith Stewart, whose garlic is so good it’s out of this world, according to the blurb from the NY Times on the back of Keith’s marvelous memoir, It’s a Long Road to a Tomato: “Keith’s Farm grows garlic from another planet compared with the stuff in supermarkets.”

Garlic season’s nearly over in our region, so we stocked up last Saturday at Keith’s stall in Union Square. How long will we be able to hoard ten heads of garlic when we can’t help adding two or three or four cloves to every dish we make? What will we do when we run out? I guess we’ll have to get our garlic from California, because the price of garlic from China is just too high.


Scaredy Cat was afraid this pumpkin wouldn’t turn orange in time for Halloween, and it didn’t, because it’s actually a Queensland Blue Winter Squash. We planted three different heirloom squash vines this year, but this exotic Australian was the sole progeny of our pumpkin patch—ah, the vagaries of vegetable gardening (pumpkins and winter squash are the same thing, BTW, if you’re wondering.)

On the bright side, if your yard’s only going to yield a single squash, this is a great one to have, according to Elizabeth Schneider, author of Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini. Queensland Blue is what’s known as a “good keeper,” with an excellent storage life:

I admired the pumpkin for several months…before sacrificing it to a meal…Baked, the satiny solid smooth flesh turns a uniform orange-gold; it cuts with the richness of avocado and the density of cooked quince. It is not starchy in any way, but thick and moist. Its flavor is curious, unfamiliar—not like any squash I know. It tastes more like an intriguing green vegetable…

Sounds amazing; I can hardly wait to try it. But it’s such a perfect specimen with its deeply ribbed blue-green-grey skin, we may just leave it on the mantle for a month or two so we can show it off. After all, it’s truly one-of-a-kind.


We’re going to start adding our own recipes to this website any day now, but in the meantime, here’s one I’d like to share with you from Kraft Foods:

Partially hydrogenated coconut and soybean oil
Corn syrup
Whey protein concentrate
Modified food starch
Blue and yellow food coloring

What do you get when you mix all this together?

Add 2% avocado to this concoction of chemically altered foodstuffs, and you’ll get what Kraft has the gall to call “guacamole.”

“By passing off these cheap pastes as guacamole, Kraft and others are practically begging to be sued,” Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of The Center for Science in the Public Interest, noted back in April of 2003.

It took three and a half years, but on Wednesday, Gallo and Associates, a Los Angeles law firm with plenty of experience prosecuting consumer fraud, filed a lawsuit on behalf of Brenda Lifsey. Lifsey wants Kraft to stop marketing the dip as guacamole.

"We think customers understand that it isn't made from avocado," said Claire Regan, Kraft Foods' vice president of corporate affairs. "All of the ingredients are listed on the label for consumers to reference."

I guess that means that people who buy this dip are actually looking for some partially hydrogenated oil, corn syrup and whey to dunk their tortilla chips in.

It’s perfectly legal to sell this glop as guacamole as long as the label isn’t deceptive or misleading. In the arbitrary world of food regulations. peanut butter must contain a minimum of 90% peanuts, but the FDA has no such standard for how much avocado guacamole requires.

Kraft’s guacamole is an especially egregious example of the mishmash of totally adulterated agribusiness by-products that dominate supermarket shelves and get marketed as “food” to the average American consumer.

Using actual avocados would eat into Kraft’s profit margins, presumably. Are avocados really so expensive, though? I just bought a bag of four at Trader Joe’s for $3.69—and they’re organic, too. But then Trader Joe’s prides itself on selling good food at great prices.

Kraft’s vision, according to their website, “is about meeting consumers' needs and making food an easier, healthier, more enjoyable part of life.” BusinessWeek reports today that Kraft plans to relabel its dip "guacamole-flavored." I’m not sure that’s going to satisfy Brenda Lifsey. After all, she’s suing Kraft because the dip didn’t taste “avocadoey.” It’s probably not going to taste guacamole-flavored, either.


That bag of brown goo in the back of your fridge was once a crisp, lovely green head of lettuce, bursting with nutrients. And you were bursting with good intentions when you bought it. “I’m going to fix you up with some goat cheese and toasted walnuts,” you promised. “I’ll dress you in a finely aged balsamic vinaigrette with extra-virgin olive oil.”

But apathy set in, followed by rot. Two weeks later, the lettuce that seduced you with its leafy green goodness is a gross, gooey mess you don’t even want to touch.

And that, my friends, is the sad saga of the average American lettuce. It started out with so much hope, a little seed sown in a Central California field. It germinated, took root, and leafed out with a little help from the sun and an irrigation system. A migrant worker stooped down to harvest it, a tedious and back-breaking task when you do it for hours on end, days at a time.

Your lettuce then traveled thousands of miles to meet you, burning god knows how much gas to get there. You bought it, brought it home, and left it to languish. And now, the final indignity—you’re throwing it in the garbage, because you never got around to setting up that compost bin.

Tim Jones, a professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona, has been studying food waste in America for decades. The average American family throws away $600 worth of food each year, he says, and much of it is fruits and vegetables. He explained why we waste so much produce on NPR’s Morning Edition last Monday:

“Fruits and vegetables are the single biggest category of wasted food. People think they’ll eat them, and then they don’t. They see themselves as being healthy people, so they buy those fruits and vegetables, ‘cause that’s what healthy people do, right? They eat lots of fruits and vegetables.

So they buy these, usually on a Sunday, let’s say, and then they, all week long, they get home from work, tired, they have prepared foods that they do have, and the next weekend, when they get around to finally having some time—let’s say on Saturday—they go in there and open it up, and most of it’s already mush.”

Jones offered several tips to keep your produce from perishing:

~shop on Thursday or Friday

~buy only what you know you’ll use

~cut away food blemishes instead of throwing the whole thing away

~freeze leftovers

But I have an even better tip. There’s a way to keep your fruits and veggies fresh for days and even weeks longer. The Evert-Fresh Corporation makes these miraculous green bags which absorb and remove the ethylene gas that most fruits and vegetables release as they ripen, keeping them fresh far longer. You can wash the bags out and use them over and over, too.

No, I don’t own stock in the company, which is based in a Texas town called Katy. And, at the risk of sounding like a Dixie Chick, it kind of pains me to admit that anything good ever comes out of Texas, with the exception of Molly Ivans, Jim Hightower, the late, lamented Ann Richards, my friend Frank, and—with a few caveats—Whole Foods. Frank would probably argue that I should also include the Container Store, which consistently rates as one of Fortune’s best places to work.

Anyway, back to the bags; they work incredibly well. There are only two kitchen accoutrements that I would describe as literally life-changing, and Evert-Fresh bags are one of them (the other is a pressure cooker, which lets you make amazing soups and stews in, like, ten minutes. Who needs a half hour with Rachel Ray?)

Because we shuttle back and forth between the West Village and upstate New York, I have to try to keep two fridges stocked with fresh carrots, celery, apples, lemons, etc. Thanks to these bags I manage to do it. If you’re wondering, by the way, how sustainability advocates rationalize having a second home, we don’t drive, so we commute via mass transit, and the combined square footage of our tiny house and even tinier apartment is about 1200 square feet, whereas the average American home is now 2,349, double what it was in the 1950’s.

Our fifth of an acre gives us plenty of room to grow greens, and the green bags give me plenty of time to figure out how I’m going to cook them before they go brown.

And, on those rare occasions when we get stuck in the city for weeks on end and even Evert-Fresh can’t stop the scallions from getting slimey, well, there’s always the compost bin, which lets them get a second lease on life as “black gold” that helps grow the next generation of greens. How’s that for a food chain that won’t weigh you down?


If the rest of the world wants to live the way we do in the U.S., we’re gonna need an awful lot more natural resources—say, about five planets’ worth. I came across this scary, sobering statistic in a Washington Post profile of a place called Earthaven, an “ecovillage” struggling to live off the grid in North Carolina (hat tip to Elizabeth Royte of Garbage Land fame.)

Earthhaven’s residents have sacrificed many of the comforts most Americans consider absolutely essential in their pursuit of a more sustainable way of life. They rely on things like solar panels, rainwater cisterns, and compost toilets, a prospect which would no doubt horrify Ann Coulter, whose obsession with low-flush toilets as evidence of lefty eco-fascism is well-documented.

Admittedly, the folks at Earthaven are tilting at wind turbines in their quixotic pursuit of a purer planet. The global winds of change blowing our way are full of exhaust fumes and coal-plant particulates. We’ve spent the last few decades setting an abysmal example, and now the rest of the world wants to follow suit.

As NPR’s Morning Edition reported yesterday, “There used to be a limited number of cars in the former Soviet Union. But now that Moscow is reaping windfall profits from high oil prices, the Russian capital is now overwhelmed with traffic.” On Monday, Forbes magazine ran a report on “Prosperity and Pollution” in China which noted that Beijing’s streets, once clogged with bicycles, are now clogged with cars.

Yesterday also brought the news that Wal-Mart would be opening superstores all across India, where just 3% of consumers shop in Western-style stores, according to the NY Times. The Times noted that the news was not universally welcomed:

Local critics of Wal-Mart’s large-scale operations were unhappy about the announcement. They say that the ranks of the jobless will rise and that pollution will increase as shoppers drive to stores instead of receiving home-delivered produce. Small shops here typically extend credit and make home deliveries. “The entry of Wal-Mart will be like an economic tsunami in terms of its destructive impact,” said Vandana Shiva, an environmental campaigner who runs an organic food business.

…because of the nature of what Wal-Mart does, it will affect the people who grow food, the people who eat it and the people who sell it.”

I guess Wal-Mart got on the wrong side of Ganesh, the elephant-headed Indian deity who’s the Destroyer of Obstacles, because today comes word of new roadblocks that may keep Wal-Mart from colonizing India after all.

Back at home, we’ve got the publication of Sprawl: A Compact History (Hardcover) by Robert Bruegmann, a professor of art history and urban planning at the University of Illinois who maintains that the suburbs have been a great boon because they’re brought privacy, mobility, and choice to the masses.

Joel Achenbach, the Washington Post reporter who visited Earthhaven, wrote that his time there made him realize “how much energy is expended in mainstream culture just keeping other people out of our hair. There's a reason everyone on the block drives separately to the grocery store.”

Yes, and there’s a reason why there’s such a sense of alienation and isolation in so many American suburbs. Bruegmann calls opponents of sprawl elitists seeking to deprive the masses of their mini McMansions. Suburbia, he insists, is not culturally deficient and environmentally noxious, no matter what James Kunstler claims.

But when David Brooks, another big fan of the exurbs, went out on the road to promote his own salute to suburbia, On Paradise Drive, his book signings were held in predominantly urban areas. Why? Brooks’ own explanation was that exurbia just hasn’t gotten around to building bookstores yet. Too busy building Bed, Bath and Beyonds. Beyond what, exactly? As Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, “there is no there, there.”

And this is where the rest of the world wants to go?