Picture
The holidays are always a good time to revisit the amount of waste we generate in this country because probably at no other time during the year is more waste produced than during the holidays. Its a good reminder too that no longer is recycle the operative word but REDUCE! If we consume less, there's less energy and resources used to produce and less stuff to throw away.

NPR's Science Friday with Ira Flatow had a great interview this past Friday, November 23rd about the amount of food wasted in the United States. Here is a link to the podcast. On the show was Dana Gunders, Project Scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council and Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland.

Over 40% of the food produced in the US gets thrown away and only 3% of it gets recycled or composted .When you consider that 50% of the land in the US is in agricultural production, we are squandering a lot land not to mention a lot of food. In the process, we are exploiting the natural resources used to produce that food such as fossil fuels for farm equipment, water for irrigation and soil fertility. And with water becoming a finite resource, its scary to think that 80% of the water used in this country goes to growing food.

To bring that into perspective, Project Scientist, Dana Gunders, made a great reference point, "Throwing away half a hamburger is equivalent to taking a one hour shower for the amount of water needed to produce that half a hamburger." Jonathan followed that up with another staggering statistic, "The amount of food wasted each year in the United Sates could fill up Crater Lake twice...TWICE!!

Food gets wasted at every step along the supply chain starting on the farm then at the grocery store and in our homes. On the Farm, food goes unharvested in the fields either because there was a surplus with no buyer or the price per bushel is too low to make it financially feasible to harvest. In the grocery store, tons of food gets thrown away each day simply because it has past a "suggested" Best If Used By date. Documentaries like DIVE expose this wasteful scenario and the dumpster divers who feed their families "well" off this trash but also rescue it for food banks and pantries. And we know all too well the amount of food that we each waste in our own homes. We buy in bulk because it is a good deal and then it goes bad in our refrigerators. And we don't plan meals properly. We buy a bunch of carrots when we only need one or buy a bunch of cilantro for one recipe but don't find a recipe later in the week which will use up the rest of the cilantro.

We are all trying to save money. But before we say we can't afford organic, think about all the money we are throwing away in the food we buy. Over $165 billion dollars gets thrown away each year in the United States. With food costs rising, consumers need to be more conscious, grocery stores need to be more thoughtful in how they transition expired food and our agricultural  industry needs to efficiently manage their land and water resources.

In this context, when we talk about feeding the world, we don't have to look much further than the end of our forks!

 
Picture

Picture
When I first came up with the "foodlust" concept, I tried to visualize what it might look like in a logo. I kept visioning this debonair, swashbuckling gentleman dipping a leek raptured by its earthly wonder. Foodlust is after all "a deep respect for food" and if consumed with foodlust, we would cradle the bounty of mother nature in awe and amazement at what she provides. We would not take our food for granted, expect it to be cheap, super-size everything, and let it go to waste.

I had a friend draw up this picture in my mind and I've included it here along with my interpretive tribute to foodlust.

This past week, I harvested my first leeks! It took five months but who's counting. It was worth the wait! They weren't the fattest leeks I'd ever seen but they had lovely, long white shanks! I learned this trick of long-white shanks from 4-season gardener, Eliot Coleman...when your leek seedlings are 10" tall, you loosen them from the ground trimming roots and tops and then transplant them into 9" holes. In his book, Winter Harvest Handbook, he says, " If you have never grown leeks this way before, you may find it hard to believe that it will work - but it does!" And it did!

Picture
Volunteers and clients from Project Mana's food distribution in Truckee, CA.
Along with the leeks, was a whopping 56lb. harvest! It was our biggest yet. Like most of our harvests, 70% or more is donated to our local hunger relief agency, Project Mana. It was an incredible day and a big celebration! Over the past month, a traveler named Terry from Wyoming, had come out to the growing dome every week to volunteer. For his hard work, I would load him up with an arm full of veggies to share with his fellow travelers at the local hostel. He humored me by taking the photos of me with the leeks.

The following is a photo essay over the last week. My friend Daphne Hougard, who is a professional photographer, came down for the 56lb pickin'. She took the one of me with the carrots and the gorgeous one of the dome's interior at sunrise! Enjoy the harvest!

Picture
Daphne Hougard Collection
 
Picture
The Slow Food snail
I pulled out my wooden, travel utensils; opened my reusable container; and began eating my seasonal, organic broccoli and asparagus tossed in pasta and olive oil. Admittedly, I sat smugly enjoying  my pack lunch and the cacophony of crunching that filled my head. When I looked up, my green balloon quickly deflated. The man sitting across from me in the airport waiting area at Gate B16 wore a polo shirt with the Monsanto logo emblazoned in the upper left-hand corner…the enemy! I smirked at the irony. I looked down and admired my version of a happy meal and kept eating. My neighbor to my right was reading a newspaper. The headline read, “Fast Food on the Rise.” I looked to my left thinking I was maybe on candid camera. But instead, I saw a heavyset man hand his overweight mother a large, Ziploc bag full of prescriptions. She was slouched in a wheelchair. Her skin gray and sunken and dark bags hung heavily from her eyes. She fumbled with the bag. With shaky hands, she gave the bag back to her son and in exchange, he gave her a 6-Piece Chicken McNuggets.

She was dressed nicely in blue capris and a tailored, jean jacket. Her red Mary-Jane shoes matched her red cap and her white blouse stood in bright contrast. I lowered my fork and slowed my chewing. They didn’t notice my anthropologetic stare (I made that word up). But the social commentary was flashing in neon lights…Taking pills for the poison she is about to consume. Really?

It is hard to believe she doesn’t see the irony in her actions or make the connection between her health and nutrition. Is it apathy, education, denial, economic status? Comparing her outfit to her health, it is obvious that being treated for a disease seems to be more socially acceptable than not sporting a fashionable style. People will spend $100 for a pair of jeans but spend only $2.22 for a sandwich. Where are the priorities? A healthy meal will help you live a long life, a nice outfit will get you to the next season.

The real irony is…I was headed to the Slow Food National Congress in Louisville, Kentucky (pronounced Loul-ville). It was this past weekend.

Picture
Going through airport security on the way home, this sign made us chuckle.
Slow Food is an international organization which advocates for "good, clean and fair food;" and the systems we need to fulfill that vision. Slow Food celebrates the pleasure of the table, community and the responsibility that comes with being an informed eater. Essentially, it is the opposite of fast food as depicted in the photo to the right. The movement got started in Italy in 1989 when the founder, Carlo Petrini, was appalled to see a McDonald's at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome.

There are Slow Food chapters in over 150 countries and roughly 2000 members in the United Sates alone. The National Congress is an opportunity for elected delegates from U.S. chapters, typically board members, to gather, share ideas, learn new organizing skills, vote on amendments and pull from our collective power to be successful back at home in our shared pursuits.

Slow Food is seen by many to be an elitist, affluent group of foodies looking more like a scene out of Sunset Magazine than an engaged group of activists seeking fundamental change in the food system. I knew my own chapter was a progressive group of go-getters who saw the potential of a national organization to give a voice to food justice in our small, mountain community. But what I found is that the feeling is mutual and universal among all chapters. I discovered genuine, motivated people inspired by Slow Food's mission to restore the connection we share with our food. The conference reinforced that Slow Food is an organization focused on serious issues aimed at fixing our broken food economy from pushing legislation in the 2012 Farm Bill and protecting SNAP benefits for food insecure populations to petitioning to get GMO foods labeled, educating children about good nutrition and unveiling the true cost of food.

All assembled, there were 150 delegates united and dedicated to making ecologically grown food a right not a privilege. It makes sense that Slow Food is comprised of grassroots activists. Otherwise, we would be just as disconnected from our food system as the ones we hope to transform. Sauteing Swiss chard, having a developed palette and postering over the latest issue of Food & Wine does not make a person better than someone who does not share or know these interests. Having the knowledge is one thing. Doing something with it is another and that is what Slow Food is all about; channeling that passion to make a difference.

Picture
a blurr of swing dancing to Kentucky bluegrass the night of our barn dinner
During closing remarks on the last day, the floor was open to comments. A gal named Eve from Chicago raised her arm and was handed the mic. She stood up and shared a story about meeting the hotel's parking lot attendant earlier that day. The employee asked what conference they were attending. The gave a concise description of Slow Food not expecting it to resonate. Quite the contrary. His eyes lite up and demonstrated that he understood the basic issues, "That's good work! You're helping to make food healthier with less chemical pesticides and fertilizers, right?"

It proved that people get it! They know! They know that much of the food out there is bad for us and the environment. It affirmed the good work they are doing and that all the volunteer hours are worth it because they are fighting for people like that employee of the hotel. Eve finished with this simple and profound statement. I think it is my favorite from the weekend, "Change is hard, but the need is universal!"

Executive Director, Josh Viertel, closed the conference reminding us to celebrate! Celebrate food with music and friends. Without, our work is meaningless! We need both both the pleasure and the responsibility to have balance and be effective.

It reminded me of one of the first potlucks I attended after college. During college I took food for granted and after graduation, I didn't want to spend the money. That all changed the night I was invited to a dinner party by my friend Mel. It was at the house of Byron and Shalley. People I did not know, yet! I was greeted by the wafting smells of salmon being smoked on the back deck as I arrived. The meal was an explosion of flavors I had never tasted. I remember we started calling Byron's food Byranian because it was so unique; a fusion of Asian, Thai and Hawaiian. We still reference that moniker to this day. As the dishes piled up in the sink, an array of instruments started emerging from cases and behind chairs. A 3-hour jam session ensued. I had never experienced anything like it before, twenty or more people making music on the fly just feeding off the energy and direction of their fellow players. I have no musical talent but i played a pretty good set of wood sticks. I struck the wood sticks to the beat smiling from ear to ear. I was so happy to be apart of this gathering, this celebration and new friends! I didn't know it at the time but it was when I first learned about Slow Food!

 
Picture
I'll admit...ever now and then, the point of purchase displays with candies and sweets will get the worst of me. I blindly grab for the Reese's or Kit Kat hoping no one will notice as it tumbles into my pile of groceries on the counter. I call it a vice but really, it's something I not very proud of. So on this day of frights, riddled with confections, I decided to dig a little deeper into the available alternatives as well as look at which of the leading brands are the lesser of evils.

I think the fear for most people when switching to a more eco-conscious treat are the snarls you'll get from the kiddos asking to smell their feet. If you are a house not serving name brand sweets you might get labeled as the house that hands-out apples and pennies or worse yet...egged or TP'd!. The good news is, you can be healthy and still be cool. The wrapper may not say M&M or Snickers but the packaging is still fun and festive. And if chocolate is anything like organic vegetables which tastes better than conventional, then environmentally friendly treats will taste better too. One bite and these happy snacks won't be the last in the Halloween sack to be eaten. For a list of what ecological options exist, check out these two sites: EcoFabulous and the Mother Nature Network. From chocolate eyeballs and gummy worms to organic rice-krispy treats and peanut butter poppers, kids will be ringing your door bell all night.

I'm not here to argue that candy is better for you if organic. It's still sugar and can rot your teeth. It's more a matter of supporting companies that are planetary-minded and source good ingredients rather than the industrial food complex. Unfortunately, some of the organic brands are owned by these big agri-businesses. We either need to be happy these options exist or research further to see which companies are the greenest. Here is a great map to let you know who owns what organic brands, click here. When it comes to the traditional candy aisle, however, it is better to use a rule of thumb when making a selection rather than scrutinizing over the difference between Hershey's, Mar's and Nestle. Look at the ingredients and avoid the big three...high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils and palm oil. Food products containing palm oil contribute to the clear-cutting of rainforests for unsustainable palm tree plantations. These practices release loads of carbon dioxide into the air and destroy critical habitat for animals like the orangutan.

Not to make the villains in this story look good but I was reading an article in Fortune Magazine about the positive initiatives of Cargill, the seed trading mega-corporation. Their business strategy is largely responsible for the broken food system of today. But to their credit, in effort to find new cocoa producers, they have partnered with Mar's Co. to help revitalize farmers in some of the most depressed places in the world like Vietnam. One of the profiles described the rags to riches story of one farmer, Trinh Van Thanh. One one hand, I was happy for this father of three but on the other, it sounded like he had become a mini-me of his corporate sponsor no longer falling victim to hunger but to greed. It spoke nothing of the farming practices they were pushing upon these new partners. Most likely, it is one addicted to a chemical regimen of fertilizers and pesticides. Will it be another boom town? Have these growers been sold a bill of goods that will fail in five years and leave them struggling? Time will tell.

 
Picture
I had dinner with some girlfriends this evening on a backyard deck with Lake Tahoe in the distant background. Not a bad spot! Each of us catching the other up on our summer adventures against setting skies. They were eager to hear about what I've been learning on the farm and in my ag courses.

One friend had just returned from an island vacation with her extended family. She agreed with the concept of the food revolution being more of a social movement and liked the idea of creating more food hubs to help organic farmers get their food to like-minded markets and finding ways to preserve farmland and get more people farming. "That is all well and good," she said, "but how do you broach the sustainable food subject with friends and relatives who either don't see or care about the value of our food?"

People want to buy their Wish-Bone salad dressings and Gogurts. They are familiar, cheap and convenient products. It can be a touchy conversation and one you want to go well so you both feel happy with the outcome. I've thought about this conundrum many times thinking how we need a set of communication tools and tips to help convince friends and relatives respectfully but swiftly. We can't be judgmental in our approach because people will turn off but we also need to start seeing light bulbs go off at a faster pace than they are currently in order to increase the groundswell for a healthier tomorrow. Times a tickin! If you've got ideas, send'em my way. Please!

Most people will agree that pesticides are bad and chickens should have room to roam but they still buy chemically drenched veggies and factory farm eggs. Why is that? For one, they don't see the direct connection to the food they are eating. It's not like they are picking the eggs up at a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) and see the conditions in which their food was raised. But the bigger reason is...Price! We are a price driven society. And even though food is one of life's three basic building blocks along with water and air, we want food to be cheap. But we will pay high prices for other consumer goods like fashion, electronics and toys. If we measured status by what we ate and not how we looked, the tables would be turned. We need to view ourselves not as consumers but as eaters (just learned this concept in the book I'm reading entitled, Farmer Jane).

Bottom line, food needs to be a priority. We make our children a priority. The food we feed them and where it comes from should be a priority. Once upon a time, we use to spend 25% of our salaries on food now it is less than 10%. If we reprioritized our buying habits, we would spend less on dressing our lives and more on nourishing our families. And if worried about price, then we should find ways to not waste so much. 40% of the food produced in the US gets thrown away either before it reaches the market, at the market or in our homes. If we shopped more consciously, we would throw less food away in our homes leaving more money to buy food grown sustainably.

 
Picture
A friend forwarded me an article from The New York Times this weekend by Mark Bittman entitled, "Bad Food? Tax It, and Subsidize Vegetables." Then today, Grist.org's Tom Laskawy commented on the article in his blog post. Thought I would chime in with my two cents...

The title pretty much sums it up...tax junk food and use the money to subsidize "healthy" food, namely vegetables. We need more people thinking along these lines so we can have a serious discussion about all the ways we can get out of the food fight we're in. But...I've got a few questions for Mark and Tom. Let's start with the term, "healthy." Its meaning is pretty broad. Does it mean just more fruits and vegetables or does it mean fruits and vegetables grown sustainably? Big difference, because one uses the current industrial model of growing food conventionally and the other requires supporting more small-mid sized farms to grow food organically.

It seems that taxing and cutting taxes is the solution to just about every economics discussion. That's an arm-chair economists opinion but probably not too far off. And whenever the word "tax" gets thrown on the table, people freak out and start a tug-of-war...tax good, tax bad, tax good, etc... All I know is, the conversation to change how we grow and produce food should not start with "tax." It just gets everyone hot and bothered and they forget what it is we are really trying to do...make healthy, quality food accessible and available which will improve not only one's personal health but that of their community. Taxing could raise some serious coin for the food movement but it should be a tactic not a strategy. A tax discussion will just bring out the boxing gloves making it a political debate when it is really one of food justice and social justice otherwise known as food sovereignty. My other thought is...would the tax be charged to the consumer or would the manufacturer be taxed thus increase the price of the product to cover the tax? When consumers are asked to pay more, like with gas prices, there is an initial slump but after enough times goes by, people just get use to the new price and go about their business. We could tax the food but would it really change buying behavior?

Finally, by the time a bill was passed which allowed a tax on sugary and processed foods, we could have redesigned the entire food system and begun to be implement real change. Let's take a whole systems approach versus using old politics to solve the problem.

 
Picture
When it comes to our country's perception of food, this picture says it all, Price Chooper! A lot of supermarkets are using this approach to attract customers... Save Mart, Save-A-Lot and my personal favorite - Grocery Outlet! Terms like this cheapin food not only in cost but in perception. It creates an imprint so we associate food with finding the best deal versus the best quality. It's not to say, you can't find good deals on food grown sustainably but when you reduce the decision to just price, people forget to think about the story of their food. We should want to know the story of all the things we buy to make sure the materials were sourced consciously and the workers rights are being upheld. But for this discussion, we are talking about food. The stuff we put in our bodies to keep us alive. Come on people! You'll pay over $100 for a pair of Jeans, $50 ever couple months for a haircut, $2.50 for an energy drink, etc... Shouldn't we pay a little bit more for our food to know where it came from?