Sunday, December 20, 2009

Eating in the Snow: Dark Days Update

Here at Chez Raven, located inside the beltway of Washington DC, we were blessed with almost twenty inches of snow this weekend!

My family spent much of the weekend sitting on the couch watching the snow, enjoying fires in the fireplace, listening to books on tape, knitting, and drinking warm beverages.

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We started the morning with migas (made with local eggs, cheese, onions, and salsa as well as home-grown parsley picked just before the snow--but non-local beans) and mimosas (made fresh with non-local clementines and champagne):

migas and mimosas

mimosas during snow

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I spent most of the day knitting holiday presents in the warmth of our house while David and our son shoveled the driveway, made snow forts, and went sledding.

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Our brisket dinner cooked all day in the crockpot. I added to the pot a few onions, some turnips, mushrooms, carrots, shredded cabbage, and dehydrated greens. Before serving, I shredded the meat and added it back to the liquid. We served the stew next to mashed potatoes.  Everything was local except the tomato paste I added to the sauce.  We enjoyed some local red wine along with our meal.

local dinner--during snow

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Dessert during the snow was homemade eggnog with local milk, egg yolks from local organically raised free-range chickens (important if you're consuming raw eggs), and maple syrup from the farmer's market. The adults spiked with non-local bourbon.

egg nog

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This time, we decided not to have our meals at the bistro table on our deck.  The lump on the left lower than the table is my chair!

bistro table in snow

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Making the Oil Last

image source: Jewish Review

Chanukah/Hanukkah is a beautiful holiday celebrating the universal hope for the return of the light as we approach the winter solstice.

It is also a time when Jews celebrate both the victory of the weak against the mighty, as well as the "miracle of the oil" when one day's worth of sacred olive oil in the eternal lamp stayed lit for eight days as the early Jews rededicated their temple after its desecration. This event was perhaps the world's first oil shock, and resource conservation is obviously the moral of the story. (Well, perhaps everyone doesn't read it that way.)

We are facing questions of oil again now. Again we ask ourselves: "How long will it last?" Peak Oil activists deal with this issue. And climate activists ask us to try to use less oil in order to save the planet. We have to recognize that this time, we should not expect a sequel to the Hanukkah miracle.

Thinking about the holiday from these perspectives can shake our ideas about long-celebrated traditions. Jews all over the world celebrate by eating foods cooked in oil, especially latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts). As Culiblog says, "Now I don’t know why it took me so long to question the logic of this, but why do we celebrate this miracle of oil conservation by massively increasing oil consumption? Shouldn’t we be eating the opposite of oily foods? Shouldn’t Chanukkah be an oil fast, a holiday of raw and steamed vegetables and bike riding?"

my post is continued here

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Journey to Green, part 2

For my entire life, I have enjoyed gardening--especially growing herbs and vegetables. I'm sure I got the desire to grow my own food from Granny, and from my mother who carried on the tradition for many years. Growing up, I had cherry tomatoes growing outside my playhouse. In college, I kept a pot of mint on my windowsill for making tea. In grad school, a variety of herbs on a fire escape. And as soon as we bought a house, David and I began to plant vegetables in our back yard. There have been years when we've grown a lot and others when we've let the weeds get the better of the beds. I did not plant in order to be self-sufficient or for environmental reasons. I did it because it was a pleasure. As our son grew up, he got excited about what we were doing and enjoyed puttering around in the sunshine as we dug, planted, and weeded.

Every summer we spent days away from our garden at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. And in 2005 when our son had just turned 6yo, one of the themes was American Food Culture. I was excited to learn more about the variety of food traditions and tastes from all the cultures that make up this diverse country.

What I really did not expect is how world-expanding this summer festival would be for me. Rather than only celebrating the abundance of cooking creativity around the country, the festival focused on SOLE food--that is, sustainable, organic, local, and ethical food.

Slow Food was there, articulating the connection between the pleasure of community and the politics of our food practices. I loved their message and it resonated with not only my hedonist side but my old-fashioned plain side. They also talked about the need to celebrate and protect our native foods to keep them from being eradicated. This was an entirely new message for me.

I also learned much more about how organic farming methods not only were good for our bodies but good for both the workers on organic farms and the land itself. I learned how "corporate organic" was an inferior choice to sustainably-raised organic (even when it is not certified organic). And, due to lectures about naturally-raised meat and animals' role on a family farm, I even started to question some of my beliefs about vegetarianism and began to think about eating certain kinds of meat again. (This is a question that continues to rattle around in my head and one where my practice changes over time.)

Perhaps even more important to my increasing radicalization was the presence of Berkeley's Edible Schoolyard. They planted a garden on the national mall complete with an outdoor pizza oven to demonstrate and a shady gazebo-like structure to welcome visitors to sit together. My son and I went everyday for two weeks, listening to folks talk about everything from the how-to's of gardening to the goals of the schoolyard project. The organizers got to know my young son so well that they pulled him on to the front and handed him a microphone so he could explain the purposes of mulching to newbie gardeners.

The Edible Schoolyard combines lessons in organic growing, healthy food preparation, community celebration of that abundance, and even a chance to practice a new language. (The school where the Schoolyard is located is middle school which includes a high number of students new to the US.)

At the end of the festival, the head of the Edible Schoolyard told my son that if he was ever in California, he should stop by for a tour. As luck would have it, we happened to be going to a conference in San Francisco just two months later! So we had the great fortune to visit the real schoolyard with its little chicken tractor and beautiful plants--and also the cooking-and-eating facility and the seed saving room. My son held chickens in his lap, collected and saved amaranth seeds, and help fold tablecloths in the dining room.

I came home from the summer festival understanding that food--in both its growing and its cooking as well as its distribution--is a way of combining the fight against hunger, the fight against corporate power and globalism, the fight for workers' rights, the fight for better health, and the fight for the planet.

I stopped hesitating: at that moment, I knew I was an environmentalist.

(continued from yesterday)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Journey to Green

I grew up during the 1970s.  My parents, who had been activists in the Civil Rights Movement, were in those years teachers at a liberal-progressive college in the small-town rural South.  Watergate and the first Earth Day and the early oil shocks are foundational memories for me.

Even more important to my world view, however, was my grandmother.  She was not a lefty--not political at all, really--but she cared deeply about the place where she lived.  Granny had lived through the Great Depression.  She had also been widowed twice by the time she was 40yo.  The two experiences combined to make her a very independent and resourceful woman.

Granny worked full time at the same department store for almost fifty years.  She went fishing and crabbing and clamming to feed us with the bounty of what surrounded us.  She had an enormous farm-garden in her backyard.  She had a compost pile and rain barrels set up around her house.  She brought home every plastic bag from her job and folded them carefully for reuse. She knitted ferociously.

Granny's sister raised animals (from chickens to rabbits to peacocks) in her yard (and snakes and huge spiders in her house), collected wild mushrooms and foraging greens, and crocheted ferociously.  The two of them were quite a pair.

So I grew up with liberal commitments to social justice, taught to me by my parents.  And I grew up with the influence of my grandmother's commitment to a life led simply and plainly using resources to their fullest.  But I never considered myself an environmentalist.

When I finished college, I moved into an apartment and began cooking for myself.  I had been a more-or-less vegetarian in college, simply because the meat was so poorly prepared in the cafeteria.  But reading Frances Moore Lappe's Diet for a Small Planet totally changed my thought process about choosing food.  She showed me that my daily choices were fundamentally linked to social justice--and even to Granny-style self-reliance.  Buying into industrial meat production seemed like using more than my fair share and simply wasting so much of the earth's abundance.

I still did not think of myself as an environmentalist.  I was in fact put off by the message of such environmental tracts as E - The Environmental Magazine with what I saw as its emphasis on a more pop-culture, consumer-driven image of life than I wanted to live.  I'm not sure this is a fair representation of the magazine then, much less now, but it was my reaction.  I put my efforts into the anti-war movement (responding to Gulf 1) and to the feminist and GLBT movements instead.  And I studied history as I slowly worked through graduate school.

When in 2001 I started spending all my time with David, I began to hear more about environmentalism from him.  I was still resistant, honestly.  I've always cared a lot more about humanity that about the planet, if I'm going to be honest--and so doing things right for society seemed more relevant to me.  Cleaning up a stream in order to allow native peoples to fish there safely was one thing--but making things pristine, apparently so middle class hikers could enjoy nature, did not.  The idea of preventing indigenous people from continuing to live in the rain forests of the Amazon--all in an effort to protect the environment--seemed wrong to me.

Of course, now I see how social justice and environmentalism go absolutely hand in hand.  I'm sure people back then understood that as well, but I did not.  On the other hand, what I did know is that David was deeply involved in both movements.  The other thing I knew is that my instincts towards plainness and towards social justice often meant the two of us were heading towards the same place of personal action.

David and I fell in love.  We eventually decided to have a child.  But I was reluctant to make that step until we had really confirmed that our dreams for the future were reconcilable.  Before we even started dating, David had told me he wanted four children.  I, meanwhile, had decided at the age of seven that I would have only one.  (And as any of you who know me realize, I am incredibly stubborn once I have made a decision.)

In an effort to convince David that 'onlies' are perfectly happy and normal people, I started reading up on raising only children.  One of the first books I ran across was Bill McKibben's Maybe One: A Case for Smaller Families.  This book changed my life in the way few books have.

First, it tapped into the issues of deep importance to David and convinced him that our future was definitely going in the same direction childwise.  Within just a few months, we were staring at two little pink lines and dancing around the room.

Secondly, it transformed how I saw environmentalism.  It was scholarly (something I have a weakness for), non-materialistic, and full of emotional honesty.  McKibben introduced me to a world of green thinking that was rooted in both social justice and deep kindness.

Knowing that Bill McKibben has been such a powerful moral voice within the environmental movement since the year I graduated from college (from the same college from which he graduated!) makes it seem remarkable to me that I stumbled across his work through the back door of parenting choices.

Parenting choices led me further down the environmental path.  I made the choice to have a homebirth with a midwife because it was a self-reliant low-resource option.  We used cloth diapers because they felt luxurious compared to a plastic bottom, but also because they are lasting and use fewer resources.  (In fact, our son's old diapers are still being used by others, a full decade later.)  The luxury and ease of cloth diapers led me to start using cloth menstrual pads, and then to start using cloth bathroom wipes.  We breastfed because it was the natural thing to do, because it was healthier for mother and baby, because it was both cheaper and easier than formula feeding, and because it seemed like the responsible use of the resources we have. We coslept--which avoided the crib.  We carried our baby in a cotton sling rather than a complex large stroller.  The idea of simple plainness motivated many of my choices--but by this point I was recognizing that being plain and being green often went hand in hand.

There was one more step that totally pushed me over and made me into a card-carrying environmentalist.  I'll share that story tomorrow.

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Thanks to Erin for raising such a fabulous issue for this month's APLS carnival.  What a lovely time of year to play over our pasts and see what led us to where we are today.


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