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Lancing A Slow Boil

On the one hand, the folks at Slow Food Nation have done an awesome job of staging this high-profile, low-impact extravaganza; the Marketplace and Victory Garden at San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza are giving the public a lovely and luscious lesson in all things local, while Friday’s Food For Thought forums brought out a galaxy of sustainable superstars: Vandana Shiva, Wendell Berry, Carlo Petrini, Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Eric Schlosser, and Dan Barber, to name just a few.

And the trail-blazing steps the Slow Food folks have taken to spread the sustainable gospel and curb the carbon footprint of this Sasquatch-sized shindig are truly heartening, from Food and Water Watch’s tap-touting, bottle-banishing water stations, to the composting exhibit demonstrating the alchemy that transforms waste into that precious commodity we call black gold, to the clever use of reclaimed materials everywhere you turn.

On the other hand—hey, are those teeth marks? Geez, can’t Alice Water’s Ambassadors of Good Food count on nothing but goodwill when they give a humble (and hungry) blogger entrée to the “VIP preview” of the Taste Pavilions?

This “monument to fresh delicious food” transformed a 50,000 square foot pier at Fort Mason into a dazzling culinary display that Destin Joy Lane, the luminous leading light of the Eat Well Guide, rightly described as a “Willy Wonka playground for adults.” For me, it was Alice Waters In Wonderland--a lavish through-the-local-looking glass array of seductive sips and snacks declaring “EAT ME!” or “DRINK ME!” The Ice Cream pavilion had me grinning like a Chesire Kat, lapping up every last drop of the dreamy, creamy confections in my corn-based compostable bowl.

The Taste Pavilions showcase the finest, hand-picked regional foods, chocolate, wine, teas, coffees, etc. from the cheesemongers, brewers, bakers, beekeepers and others who are leading the real food renaissance. So why can’t I just give my impressions of this gourmet gala without biting the hand that feeds me—especially when the food is so undeniably delectable?

Well, maybe because my mantra, according to agrarian “it” girl/Greenhorns director Severine Von Tscharner Fleming, is “My name is Kerry Trueman, and I care about what’s true, man” (if only I could return the favor and devise a clever slogan for soil-saving Sev, who’s to the manure born and a genius at making shit happen.)

So I’m compelled to sound off about a couple of slightly sour notes in the middle of this sweet ‘n’ savory symphony. As I noted in a previous post, a whiff of elitism clings to the Slow Food contingent despite all the fine work they do on behalf of building a better food system. Look, I’m as fond of artisanal cheeses and biodynamic wines as the next sustainable ag advocate, and of course there’s a place for such gourmet goodies in the grand scheme of things.

But there were some critical components of the good food movement missing at this invitation-only event. Clearly, in this case, VIP didn’t stand for Very Inclusive Party: the complexion of the crowd ran--if I may poach a line from Dorothy Parker--the gamut from A to B, as in alabaster to barely beige. It’s safe—and sad—to say that the audience at the Republican convention next week will feature more people of color than we saw at Fort Mason.

I fear there’s a parallel here to The Unbearable Whiteness of Green that Van Jones laments in the environmental movement. Jones has noted that it’s a tough sell asking folks who are just treading water to get worked up about the fact that polar bears are having the same problem as climate change melts the ice sheets out from under them.

And speaking of climate change, what was up with the speaker (whose name I didn’t catch because we arrived at the pier mid-way through her remarks) who stated that the single most important change you can make to your diet if you’re concerned about global warming is to “eat organic.” As Anna Lappé’s Take A Bite Out Of Climate Change website clearly spells out, you’ll get way more mileage out of eating less meat and shifting to a plant-based diet. Anna’s participating in the Food For Thought Climate Change and Food forum later today and I’m sure she’ll make this point effectively and eloquently. Here’s hoping that will help offset the misconception conveyed to the crowd last night at Fort Mason.

Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle, our most high profile advocates of eating “low on the food chain”--i.e. putting fruits and vegetables front and center on your plate--were among the happy eaters at the Taste Pavilions last night. But where were the fruits and vegetables? Admittedly, the more populist, free-to-the-public Marketplace does feature lovely local produce, so perhaps the Slow Food folks thought it redundant to add fruits and veggies to the culinary cornucopia of cured meats, fish, cheeses, honeys and jams, breads, pickles and chutneys, chocolate, coffees, teas, beers, wines, spirits, olive oil, ice creams, and native foods.

Given that part of Slow Food Nation’s stated mission is to support “clean,” i.e. “environmentally sound,” food, though, it seemed odd that produce had no presence at the Taste Pavilions.

But at the end of the day, the kudos far outweigh the quibbles. I arrived in San Francisco Friday mid-morning a sweaty mess after a two-hour drive from Boonville where I’d been visiting friends, and rushed straight to the Herbst Theater to hear the forum on Building a New Food System. The panel featured, among others, Marion Nestle and the Center For Food Safety’s Andrew Kimbrell.

It was the only Food For Thought forum I was able to attend yesterday (for a terrific write-up of all the day’s forums, see Paula Crossfield’s post over on the Slow Food Nation website.) But the lively and thoughtful discussion of the dire need to reinvent our broken food chain was a fine example of how Slow Food Nation is bringing experts and eaters together to take on this challenge.

Marion Nestle ventured beyond simply blaming the Big Food baddies for the lousy diet that kills more Americans each year than Al Qaeda could ever hope to. She noted that without campaign finance reform, there’s no hope for fundamental change in our food system. She cited another culprit, too; Wall Street’s obsession with quarterly profits, which compels food manufacturers to focus all their energies—and their vast resources—on persuading Americans to fill up on empty calories.

So, at the end of the day, I wholeheartedly share my fellow blogger Bonnie Powell's enthusiasm for Slow Food Nation; any conference that provides The Marionator, as we fondly call Dr. Nestle, with a platform from which to fire away at the forces that have held our nation hostage for so long to fake foods that are as artificially cheap as they are artificially flavored. And you can join the call for real reform of our food system, too, by signing on to the Declaration for Healthy Food and Agriculture that Marion and some of her fellow famous foodies recited at a Slow Food Nation reading on Thursday evening. Can we change our food chain? Yes, we can. Along with you!

Slow Food Nation: Taking America Out To The Foodshed

A swarm of 40,000 to 50,000 locavores will descend on San Francisco this Labor Day weekend to attend Slow Food Nation, a four-day extravaganza of teach-ins and tastings that's being billed as a kind of "Woodstock for gastronomes."

I'd rather go to a Woodstock for garden gnomes, myself -- at least those Lilliputian lawn ornaments share my fondness for front yard farming. Gastro gnomes, on the other hand, sound like elitist elves who are overly fond of artisanal cheeses and grass-fed beef. Do we really need a celebration of such highfalutin culinary novelties at a time when high fuel and food costs are making it harder for people to keep their pantries stocked with even the most basic staples?

Well, yes, we do, because we need to remember that the fresh, unadulterated, minimally processed, locally produced foods that Slow Food Nation is showcasingwere our pantry staples, before the military-industrial complex annexed our food chain a half a century or so ago in the name of progress.

Our great-grandparents would be flabbergasted to learn that grass-fed milk in glass bottles bearing the local dairy farm's logo is now a rare luxury item available to only the affluent few who are willing to pay $4 for a half-gallon of milk.

Back in the day, our breads were fresh-baked and free of high fructose corn syrup, and our eggs and bacon came from chickens and hogs that rolled around in the dirt and saw the light of day. The word "farm" still evokes nostalgic pastoral images for most Americans, but there's nothing even remotely benign or bucolic about the fetid, brutal factory farms that supply us with most of our meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products today. And unmasking this unsavory reality is as much a part of Slow Food Nation's agrarian agenda as dishing out local delicacies.

So don't be distracted by the aroma of wood-fired focaccia wafting from the Fort Mason Center "Taste Pavilions"; Slow Food Nation has the potential to spark a crucial dialogue about where our food comes from, how it's grown, and why all that matters. With forums featuring the good food movement's marquee names, including Wendell Berry, Vandana Shiva, Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle and Eric Schlosser, this Alice Waters-sponsored shindig could be the watershed event that puts America's foodsheds on the map.

Don't know what a "foodshed" is? Don't worry, nobody else does, either -- the word is still so obscure it hasn't earned an entry on Wikipedia. It means, essentially, the area through which food travels to get from the farm to your plate. That would have been a pretty short trip a few generations ago, but in this era of globalization, our foodshed now encompasses the whole world, more or less.

This far-flung food chain has enslaved us with a false sense of abundance, turning the produce aisles of our supermarkets into a seasonless place where you can find berries and bell peppers all year round. But this apparent bounty diverts us from the fact that industrial agriculture has actually drastically reduced the diversity of the foods that our farmers grow.

As small and mid-size farms got swallowed up by the massive monoculture operations we now call "conventional," the varieties of fruits and vegetables grown on those farms got whittled down to just those few that shipped the best and had the longest shelf life. Breeders chose to focus on species of livestock and poultry that fatten up the fastest, such as big-breasted but bland Butterball turkeys so top-heavy they can't reproduce naturally and have to be artificially inseminated. For this we give thanks each November?

This focus on economies of scale, and the illusory "efficiency" of a food system dependent on cheap fossil fuels and perpetual subsidies, gave us, the richest nation in the world, the cheapest food. And we are all the poorer for it.

Along the way, we lost hundreds of different kinds of plants and animals; currently, "at least 1,060 food varieties unique to North America are threatened, endangered or functionally extinct in the marketplaces of the United States, Canada, and northern Mexico," Gary Paul Nabhan writes in Renewing America's Food Traditions, a new book that celebrates the distinctive culinary regions of our country that Agribiz almost obliterated in recent decades.

But Renewing America's Food Traditions is not just a book; it's an alliance: Called RAFT for short, it's a collaborative effort from Slow Food USA and six other sustainably minded organizations. RAFT's mission is to inspire what the folks at Slow Foods USA call "eater-based conservation" by preserving and promoting the culinary heritage and extraordinary biodiversity that blessed this country for centuries before we shifted gears and became a fast food nation.

Nabhan is participating in a Slow Food Nation forum, "Re-Localizing Food," along with Pollan, Dan Barber and Winona LaDuke, but this powerhouse panel is, alas, already sold out, along with most of the other forums featuring the rock stars of the real food movement.

Thankfully, the Slow Food Nation folks are offering some free events and exhibits, too, including the Marketplace, which promises "to transform San Francisco's Civic Center Plaza into an urban garden, farmers market, outdoor food bazaar andsoapbox," and the Slow Food Nation Victory Garden in front of City Hall, whose impressive array of organic heirloom vegetables is being donated to local food banks.

In keeping with its goal to promote all things sustainable, Slow Food Nation aspires to be a "zero waste event:" In addition to recycling and composting food waste, plates, flatware and packaging, Slow Food Nation is joining forces with Food and Water Watch to banish bottled water from the four-day festival. Echoing Food and Water Watch's Take Back the Tap campaign, the event will instead offer five tap water stations where folks can refill their water bottles -- or, if you didn't bring your own, you can buy a reusable, eco-friendly stainless steel canteen.

Not content to just spare us the spectacle of 50,000 good food fanatics washing down all those sustainable snacks with bottled water, Food and Water Watch has posted a much-needed guide on its Web site for the rest of us on how to "Free Your Event From Bottled Water." Pair this with Slow Food Nation's Declaration for Healthy Food and Agriculture, to be unveiled on Aug. 28 at San Francisco's City Hall, and you've got a virtual road map to a real revolution, even if you're not going to San Francisco.

Originally published on

The Fast Track To Slow Food

Look, I hate the military-industrial complex as much as the next hemp-seed snacking, kombucha-brewing, raw-milk swigging real food revolutionary. After all, they’re the ones who saturated our soil with their surplus nitrogen in the wake of World War II, reversing generations of careful land stewardship in the name of moving forward. They declared corn King, and turned our supermarkets into minefields littered with fat, salt and sugar bombs. Our blown-up kids? Just collateral damage in the eternal battle to boost Big Food’s bottom line.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Agribiz ascendancy; the same military-industrial complex that locked us into this fuel-ish food chain also gave us the key to free ourselves--the Internet. Presumably, the Department of Defense didn’t develop this technology in order to empower citizen activists, but isn’t it nice to finally have an unintended consequence we can cheer about? Unlike, say, cross-contamination from genetically modified crops, or E. coli-tainted produce, or fertilizer-fed algae blooms or—oh, nevermind.

The Internet has proved to be extremely fertile ground for the good food movement, nurturing a virtual community of sustainably minded farmers, foodies, and activists. Websites championing the agrarian agenda are sprouting up everywhere, like Roundup-resistant super weeds, ready to take on the unsustainable status quo.

The challenge, now, is how to keep track of them all. And that’s where the Eat Well Guide’s new booklet Cultivating The Web: High Tech Tools For The Sustainable Food Movement comes in handy. This nifty free guide is available now, in its entirety, on the Eat Well Guide website, and a print edition will make its debut later this month at Slow Food Nation (full disclosure compels me to admit that I was a consultant to this project, which turned out wonderfully nonetheless.)

Cultivating The Web gives a terrific overview of the many ways that such digital tools as social networking, YouTube, and wikis have helped promote an alternative food system, one that aims to give all Americans access to what the Slow Food folks like to call “good, clean, and fair” food. That’s good as in delicious, clean as in sustainably produced, and fair, meaning the workers who grow it are not exploited, and the fruits of their labor are not just for an elite few.

There are anecdotes and quotes from a cross section of movers and shakers in the real food revolution highlighting the many ways that cutting edge technology is being used to revive our local communities, help folks find fresh, healthy foods, and support sustainable agriculture. My favorite is from environmentalist Bill McKibben:

It is undeniably odd, and lovely, that one of the most important parts of our food system--a little behind rain and sun and seed, but not so much--are the new digital tools that allow us to bypass the big advertisers, the mega-chains, the junk peddlers and instead find the myriad other people growing, processing, cooking, and eating actual delicious food.

Whether you’re curious to know more about organic standards, or contemplating a stint working on a farm, or looking to find a CSA in your neighborhood, or trying to figure out what varieties of fish are sustainably harvested, you’ll find pages of resources in Cultivating The Web to steer you to the websites with the information you’re seeking. And the beauty of the online edition is that it will be continually updated, as new and noteworthy sites spring up.

In the not-quite-five years since The Eat Well Guide made its debut in conjunction with The Meatrix, its scope has widened from its original focus on sustainably-raised meat, poultry, eggs and dairy into a comprehensive, free online directory that lists thousands of outlets all over the United States and Canada where folks can find fresh, locally grown food, from farmers’ markets, shops and restaurants to CSA programs and family farms. And they’ve added advocacy organizations, as well as “water conscious ratings” for establishments that offer tap water instead of bottled, and practice other conservation measures.

Anyone who travels knows how incredibly hard it can be to find healthy eating options on the road; now, the Eat Well Guide is also launching a new interactive mapping tool, Eat Well Everywhere (EWE), to help you locate fresh, local foods wherever you go. A mash-up of Eat Well’s listings and Google Maps, EWE gives travelers the chance to get off the beaten—or, more accurately, battered and deep-fried--path and create a custom “eat-inerary” of restaurants, farms, and even B & B’s where you can soothe your road-weary soul with real food.

The very notion of using high technology to promote eating low on the food chain may seem incongruous to some folks—specifically, Wendell Berry. Berry, one of America’s most august agrarians, penned an essay back in 1987 entitled “Why I Am Not Going To Buy A Computer.” He saw no upside to this new technology:

That computers are expected to become as common as TV sets in "the future" does not impress me or matter to me. I do not own a TV set. I do not see that computers are bringing us one step nearer to anything that does matter to me: peace, economic justice, ecological health, political honesty, family and community stability, good work.

Well, thirty-one years later, The Eat Well Guide’s using computers to build community, support family farmers, and bring eaters and growers together on a scale that was unimaginable a few decades back. Is it time for Berry to eat his words and get an Apple?

The Dead Zone Diet

Steak or salmon? Millions of menu-mulling diners ask themselves this question every day. Enjoy your dithering while you can, folks, because the day is coming when you may not have the luxury of choosing the lobster over the London broil. For those with a more populist palate, I’ve got some bad news, too; a future with no more fried clam strips or canned tuna, for you.

Why? Because fertilizer runoff from industrial agriculture and fossil-fuel use are causing catastrophic “dead zones” in our oceans, “killing large swaths of sea life and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage,” according to Scientific American.

It’s Agribiz vs. Aquabiz, and at the moment, the farmers are beating the waders off of the fishermen. Scientific American notes that “there are now 405 identified dead zones worldwide, up from 49 in the 1960s.” And once a marine habitat falls victim to hypoxia, i.e. oxygen deficiency, the outlook is grim:

Only a few dead zones have ever recovered, such as the Black Sea, which rebounded quickly in the 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union and a massive reduction in fertilizer runoff from fields in Russia and Ukraine. Fertilizer contains large amounts of nitrogen, and it runs off of agricultural fields in water and into rivers, and eventually into oceans.

This fertilizer runoff, instead of contributing to more corn or wheat, feeds massive algae blooms in the coastal oceans. This algae, in turn, dies and sinks to the bottom where it is consumed by microbes, which consume oxygen in the process. More algae means more oxygen-burning, and thereby less oxygen in the water, resulting in a massive flight by those fish, crustaceans and other ocean-dwellers able to relocate as well as the mass death of immobile creatures, such as clams or other bottom-dwellers. And that's when the microbes that thrive in oxygen-free environments take over, forming vast bacterial mats that produce hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas.

How fitting! More toxic gas from the same chemical companies who gave the world Agent Orange. Except that in this case, it’s an unwelcome by-product. Oops! Sorry ‘bout that!

But don’t worry, Monsanto and DuPont are on the job. They’ve come up with a great new biotech solution to the mess they’ve made of our oceans; “NUE” crops, as in “nitrogen use efficiency.” These NUE crops are engineered to have roots that absorb more nitrogen, reportedly allowing farmers to “produce the same yield with half as much fertilizer."

I’ve got a better idea. Why don’t we stop looking to the same corporations who have screwed up our environment to fix things? As Prince Charles told The Telegraph the other day, the multinational companies promoting the use of GM crops are conducting a "gigantic experiment I think with nature and the whole of humanity which has gone seriously wrong." Charles has predictably been labelled a luddite for daring to challenge "a system that is fundamentally flawed," as Grist puts it. But it's the Better-Living-Through-Biotech crowd who's just too blinkered to see the Big Picture--you know, the one where all their brilliant breakthroughs come back to bite us on the ass.

There’s the Roundup-resistant strain of super weeds Monsanto’s helped create, for example, and let’s not forget another great Monsanto innovation, Posilac, aka rBST, the bovine growth hormone designed to wring more milk out of our dairy cows. Unfortunately for Monsanto, cows are not sponges but, in fact, living, breathing creatures whose bodies aren’t equipped to cope with the stepped-up production induced by artificial hormones.

Consumer rejection of rBST-tainted dairy products finally forced Monsanto to admit that it’s looking to dump Posilac, but you can bet they’ve got any number of equally ill-conceived “breakthroughs” in the pipeline that promise to solve all the world’s food crises. In fact, the Agribiz apologists will tell you that industrial agriculture is our only hope.

But as Frances Moore Lappé wrote on Huffington Post last week, the notion that we should be looking to Agribiz to feed the world is pernicious propaganda spread with the aid—sometimes unwitting—of a lazy and uninformed media. The story that’s not getting out is the fact that farmers all over the world are finding new ways—and reviving old ones--to produce food without destroying our soil and water. As Lappé notes:

On every continent one can find empowered rural communities developing GM-free, agro-ecological farming systems. They're succeeding: The largest overview study, looking at farmers transitioning to sustainable practices in 57 countries, involving almost 13 million small farmers on almost 100 million acres, found after four years that average yields were up 79 percent.

We managed to feed ourselves for centuries without relying on chemicals and we can do it again. As environmental journalist Claire Cummings writes in Uncertain Peril:

Our success as a species did not come about because we imposed our values on nature. As a survival strategy, domination is doomed…Our outmoded engineering technologies require us to exert too much command and control over nature in an endless cycle of tyranny…

…Genetic engineering has misled us into believing that we have to reformulate nature according to our own designs. Even if it works, it’s a dead-end strategy, because it forces us to live within the extremely limited confines of the human imagination.

Limited, indeed. Who could have predicted that those amber waves of grain we grow from sea to shining sea would wind up destroying those seas—aside, of course, from the marine biologists who’ve been “sounding the alarm on hypoxic zones for decades”? Imagine this; if we don't take drastic steps to halt the growth of these dead zones, the question of whether to order the meat or the fish could become as obsolete as VHS vs. Beta. Better learn to love your veggies.

NY Times Grumps Dump On Locavores

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The New York Times giveth, and the New York Times taketh away. On the one hand, Nick Kristof’s eloquent plea to treat our farm animals more humanely moved me to tears. On the other hand, I’ve barely got enough digits to count the noxious “let’s not save the planet” columns that John Tierney, Stanley Fish, and Stephen J. Dubner have tossed off in recent weeks like rancid croutons.

John Tierney—the thinking man’s John Stossel--delivers his trademark contrarian drivel with 10 Things to Scratch From Your Worry List, in which he gleefully skewers a whole herd of sustainable sacred cows: plastic bags, plastic water bottles, food miles, the Arctic meltdown, and so on. Treehugger tackled half of his half-assed claims, noting that:

This may all be a joke to Tierney, but the truth is some of these issues are areas of real concern and because of this piece, his misinformation will be quoted back to us in comments every time we write about any of these subjects for the next two years, as the word from The authoritative New York Times.

Then Stanley Fish had to weigh in with a weary, Larry David-style kvetch in which his eco-freak wife sabotages his quality of life with recycled toilet paper, fluorescent bulbs, and grass-fed beef, of which he says:

It is of course expensive, but what is worse, it tastes bad. That is, it tastes like real meat, gamy and lean, rather than like the processed, marbled, frozen, supermarket stuff I had grown up on. I’m sure it is a better quality, and that buying it sustains the local community and strikes a blow against agrabusiness, but I just don’t like it. And since I hate vegetables, becoming a vegetarian is not an option.

Never mind that he can’t spell agribusiness and writes off a whole world of botanical bounty from amaranth to zucchini. I’d dismiss this as a tedious Andy Rooney-ish tirade, but actually, Andy Rooney gave a shockingly spot-on spiel last month about how Agribiz has spoiled our milk; it was a rant worthy of a raw-milk renegade. Fish, by contrast, comes off like just another tired, deflated geezer à la McCain mocking Obama’s call to keep our tires inflated. Hey, when Andy Rooney’s hipper than you are, maybe it’s time to retire.

And then there’s Stephen J. Dubner and his Freakonomics blog, where he recently wrote a post entitled Do We Really Need a Few Billion Locavores? in which he recounts his family’s disastrous attempt to make homemade orange sherbet:

It took a pretty long time and it didn’t taste very good but the worst part was how expensive it was. We spent about $12 on heavy cream, half-and-half, orange juice, and food coloring — the only ingredient we already had was sugar — to make a quart of ice cream. For the same price, we could have bought at least a gallon (four times the amount) of much better orange sherbet.

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Let’s Ask Marion: Does Popcorn Deserve A Pass To The Movies?

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

Kat: My Screening Liberally colleagues have asked me to recommend "a nutritious alternative to popcorn" that Screening Liberally chapters could serve at their film screenings. But is popcorn itself really such a terrible snack? Obviously, if you drench it in butter or oil, it becomes a fat bomb, and then there's diacetyl--the "butter" flavored chemical that gives the workers exposed to it the debilitating illness called "popcorn lung." But if you start with non-GMO, organic popcorn, say, and you pop it in just a wee bit of canola oil and sprinkle it with nutritional yeast, the way they do in those hipster indie movie houses, haven't you got yourself a pretty healthy snack, provided you don't consume a Paul Bunyon-sized tub of it?

Dr. Nestle: Hey--this sounds like my new column in the San Francisco Chronicle in which I discussed, of all things, pizza. The editors wanted to know whether pizza could ever be healthy? Of course it can. Popcorn too. Popcorn has the benefit of being mostly air (it's popped, right?). Air has no calories. So a cup of popcorn is just 30 calories. Air doesn't have much in the way of nutrients either, so that cup of popcorn has a few minerals, a gram of protein, and a teaspoon of starch. Not much good, but no harm done either. BUT: nobody has just a cup and nobody just eats popcorn. Every tablespoon of fat--butter or oil--adds at least 100 calories and throw sugar on top of it and you've added some more. It's still a lot better than most things you get in movie theaters, but I want real butter on mine, not that phony stuff.

The valued niche of your guilty conscience

In the quest for tips to live a more environmentally friendly life I came across National Geographic's True Green 100 everyday ways you can contribute to a healthier planet.

For a mere $19.95 (not including tax and shipping and handling) you can buy yet another book about how to save the planet.

These books of tips pop up all over the place, lining shelves of Barnes and Nobles, Whole Foods, and apparently National Geographic.

It is oxymoronic to spend 20+ dollars on a product that you could just as easily access on the internet without the use of resources like paper.

When did saving the planet become a niche in the already densely populated consumeropolis? Rather than coming to the table to share knowledge about preserving our planet, we have bullied our way to the market, milking consumers' guilty consciences to the last drop.

Telling people they are irresponsible if they spend their hard earned income on gas or food and not "green" products is not a valid response to the catastrophe that is today's environmental woes.

It is unethical to charge for a product that will advise them on something that should be part of the universal collective. It would be nice to see more sites and organizations that care more about the planet than profits.

Unless I see a disclaimer that profits from the product will be given to an organization doing work in environmental issues and that the product in question is made from reused materials, I see no justification for charging people for information that should be shared willingly and freely.

These are a few site I have found that provide useful greening tips freely online:

  1. The Green Guide (National Geographic's very own website where you can find some of the same information as in their True Green)
  2. Green Living Tips
  3. Green Tips at About My Planet
  4. Eco Tips from Global Stewards

      Happy greening everyone!

A Seedy Campaign In The Name Of Good Taste

There’s an awful lot of b.s. being spread in this election year--thankfully, some of it’s actually being put to good use growing delicious, nutritious fruits and vegetables. The rising cost of food and gas is fueling a grassroots movement to uproot our grass and grow our own food instead. Once, throwing tomatoes was a form of protest. Now, growing tomatoes is the way to just say no to the status quo. Isn’t that a sad sign of the times?

If only we had a commander-in-chief who called on us to grow our own crops, instead of to shop! It sounds implausible now, but there was a time when our government actually encouraged us to get off our cans and get canning. The current administration is famously reluctant to encourage preserving of any kind, be it sweet or savory.

A couple of generations ago, our government championed home food gardening as a civic duty, a way for average Americans to help ease the food shortages we suffered during World War II. And the campaign worked; in 1943, we managed to grow 40 percent of the vegetables we ate in the U.S.

Our nation’s last energy crisis drove us into the dirt, too; in 1975, “49 percent of U.S. households were growing vegetables,” as Bruce Butterfield, the National Gardening Association’s market research director, told the Washington Post recently.

So as our current war drags on and gas prices rise, it’s no surprise that Americans are once again flocking to their local garden centers, snapping up seedlings, and supplanting Bermuda grass with Bermuda onions. But this time, we’re doing it without the inducement of any pro-produce propaganda from the White House. The folks at the helm of our sinking economy are too busy backing the lenders to rally the back-to-the-landers.

The call to tear out your turf and grow turnips comes, instead, from humble homegrown heroes like Roger Doiron, founder of Kitchen Gardeners International and the creative force—and face—of the Eat The View campaign to launch a new generation of Victory Gardens, starting with the White House lawn.

Alice Waters famously tried to persuade President Clinton to install a kitchen garden and compost pile on the White House grounds. If only she had succeeded--the Clinton legacy might be burnished with black gold instead of tarnished by dirt. But Waters, undaunted, continues to spearhead--along with Doiron and a small army of trowel-wielding terroirists —a visionary agrarian platform I call YIMBY-ism; the Yes, In My Back Yard! movement. Waters has helped created a stellar example in her own backyard by marshalling the forces that recently transformed the lawn in front of San Francisco’s City Hall into the Slow Food Nation Victory Garden. It’s a blueprint for greener grounds all around us, and a recipe for true energy independence. Calories, after all, are just another unit of energy. Grow your own, and you’re on the road to self-sufficiency. The Path to Freedom lies through the garden. So let’s get this presidential campaign out of the gutter and into the dirt!

Cross-posted from Slow Food Nation.

Shy Away From the Fryer And Get Battered?

Well, of course arugula is bitter! Wouldn’t you be, if the media decided to disparage you as a symbol of all things elite and effete? The right is relentlessly deriding Barack Obama as “an arrogant, arugula-eating, fancy-berry-tea-drinking celebrity,” according to ABC’s Jake Tapper.

To which Jon Stewart replied:

“That’s right, and John McCain eats iceberg lettuce the American way—deep fried, on a stick, wrapped in bacon, stuffed in a Twinkie that’s been aged in the anus of an American bald eagle…and then wrapped in more bacon.”

The Beltway loves to stew over Obama’s eating habits; Maureen Dowd squandered valuable NY Times real estate to pontificate about his daughter Malia’s chilling revelation to Access Hollywood that her daddy doesn’t like ice cream. And now, the Wall Street Journal’s speculating that Obama’s thin frame may be as much of an issue for some Americans as his supposedly thin resumé. The article offers man-on-the-street soundbites from folks who say Obama is simply too fit to be president. And his healthy food choices could prove equally alienating:

Food faux pas have plagued presidential candidates in the past. On a 1976 visit to Texas, Gerald Ford bit into a tamale with the corn husk still on. He lost the election to Jimmy Carter. In 2003, Mass. Sen. John Kerry was labeled effete when he ordered a Philly cheesesteak with Swiss instead of the usual Cheez Whiz topping.

Sen. Obama's chief message strategist Robert Gibbs served as Sen. Kerry's press secretary during the cheesesteak debacle. A few days later at the Iowa State Fair, famous for its deep-fried Twinkies and beer booths, Mr. Gibbs noticed Sen. Kerry buying a $4 strawberry smoothie. He made a frantic call to campaign staffers: "Somebody get a f-ing corn dog in his hand -- now!"

Apparently there are plenty of voters who deem a candidate unqualified to be Leader of the Free World if he’s too much of a wuss to clog his arteries with fatty processed foods and develop even a hint of a beer belly. Do we dare elect a candidate with a fondness for fresh salad greens? He might do something really radical, like heed the pleas of the Rip-Out-The-White-House-Lawn-And-Grow-Veggies lobby (see This Lawn is Your Lawn video above.) And then what? We’d not only have arugula in the White House, but all around it, too. The horror!

Vertical Farming

Dickson Despommier, the brilliant mind behind the Vertical Farming idea that Travis recently wrote about, does an interview with BigThink.