Les Leopold is the author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street’s Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity—and What We Can Do About It. In this video, just uploaded to Chelsea Green TV, he explains the basic concepts behind the financial collapse and Wall Street’s run on public money so that even the layperson can understand.
Archive for April, 2009
You might find this surprising, but most of us here at Chelsea Green are not vegetarians. We do have a few veggies and vegans, but the majority of us (including me) eat meat. Of course, we opt for local, grass-fed, antibiotic-free, hormone-free, humanely-treated meat whenever we can, but it’s not always an option—leaving us with only industrialized, packaged, shipped, corn-fed, medicated, abused, hormone’d, and labor-intensive options. (Hardly, gives you the warm fuzzies, eh?)
So, in the interest of raising awareness about the huge impact the industrialized meat production has on our health and environment, we’ve decided to put our veggies where our mouth is and cut industrialized meat out of our collective diet for the month of May. We’ve teamed up with the great folks over at YourDailyThread.com to ask you to take the pledge with us.
How much of an impact on the environment could industrialized meat production really have, you ask? Here are some truthbombs to explode knowledge into your ecobrain!
Truthbomb: Livestock production accounts for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions—more than all the world’s cars combined!1
Truthbomb: It takes 40 calories of energy to produce one calorie of industrialized beef.2
Truthbomb: Walking uses more fossil fuel than driving—if you get your calories from industrialized red meat.1
Surprising, no? When we think about industries that damage the environment, most of us immediately (and rightly) think of oil, coal, transportation, etc. Not many people could accurately name U.S. industrial meat production as one of global warming’s largest contributors. But when one takes into account the chemicals, the grain, the fossil fuels, the medications, the shipping, the storage, the packaging, and the medical aftermath associated with eating a diet full of corn-fed, industrialized meats…it is not hard to see why it is so detrimental to our world.
Note: Local, grass-fed, un-drugged meat is not harmful to your or the environment. If you are lucky enough to have a local farmers that practices healthy meat production, we urge you to support their businesses. If you don’t know of meat producer near you, check out LocalHarvest for a great alternative to industrialized meat.
Cutting industrialized meat out of your diet entirely saves 5,000 lbs of carbon emissions per year. By cutting industrialized meat out of your diet for just the month of May, you’ll be cutting 420 lbs. of CO2 out of your carbon footprint.
So please join us and YourDailyThread in taking the Meatless for May pledge. You can do so by “attending” our Facebook Meatless in May event. Below, Tracy and Lauryn explain.
If you’re tempted to take the pledge, but don’t know what to eat or where to get it, check out the following books to help you get started. Remember, going veggie for a month is great—going LOCAL veggie for a month is outstanding!
Vegetarian Recipes for Community and Family
by Julia Ponsonby
From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, a Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious, Easy-to-Grow Edibles
by Eric Toensmeier
|Fresh Food from Small Spaces
The Square-Inch Gardener’s Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting
by R. J. Ruppenthal
|Sharing the Harvest
A Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture
by Elizabeth Henderson, Robyn Van En
The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods
by Sandor Katz
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
- Pimentel, D., & Pimental, M. (2003). Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 78(suppl):660S-663S.
Will Allen grew up on a small farm in southern California and served in the Marine Corps between the Korean and Vietnam wars. He received a PhD in Anthropology (focused on Peruvian tropical forest agriculture) and taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of California, Santa Barbara, before being fired and sentenced to a year in jail for civil rights and antiwar activism. He returned to farming and farm labor full time in 1972 and has been farming organically ever since in Oregon, California, and Vermont, where he now co-manages Cedar Circle Farm. He is also the author of The War on Bugs.
Salmonella contaminated pistachios, peanuts, tomatoes, melons, and jalapenos and the slaughtering of downer beef are glaring examples of sloppy farming and processing combined with regulatory failure. All of these regulatory failures and bad farming practices didn’t cause only bankruptcies or huge cuts in 401-Ks, they sickened hundreds of millions and killed hundreds of thousands of people over the last thirty years!9
The following is by Will Allen, author of The War on Bugs:
Taxpayers are demanding that government enforce existing regulations and create more stringent rules to limit the excess and greed in banking, insurance, housing, and on Wall Street. But, in the rush to regulate, we can’t forget to oversee industrial agriculture. It is one of our most polluting and dangerous industries. Like the financial sectors, its practices have not been well regulated for the last thirty years. Let me run down a few of the major problems that have developed because of our poorly regulated U.S. agriculture.
Carbon Foot Print: The U.S. EPA estimated in 2007 that agriculture in the U.S. was responsible for about 18% of our carbon footprint, which is huge because the U.S. is the largest polluter in the world.1 This should include (but doesn’t) the manufacture and use of pesticides and fertilizers, fuel and oil for tractors, equipment, trucking and shipping, electricity for lighting, cooling, and heating, and emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other green house gases. Unfortunately, the EPA estimate of 18% still doesn’t include a large portion of the fuel, the synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, some of the nitrous oxide, all of the CFCs and bromines, and most of the transport emissions. When they are counted, agriculture’s share of the U.S. carbon footprint will be at least 25 to 30%.
Oftentimes we see all greenhouse gasses as being equivalent to carbon dioxide (CO2). But, methane emissions are 21 times and nitrous oxides 310 times more damaging as greenhouse gasses than CO2. Since agriculture is one of the largest producers of methane and nitrous oxide, the extent of the agricultural impact is staggering. Unless we change our bad habits of food production and long distance delivery, we will not be able to deal with climate change.
Fertilizer Pollution/Dead Zones: Factory farming is polluting the ground, river, and ocean water with high amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous, and other fertilizers. High levels of nitrates and nitrites were found in twenty-five thousand community wells that provided drinking water to two thirds of the nation’s population. More than fifteen million people in two hundred eighty communities are drinking water with phosphorous or phosphates which mostly come from industrial farming operations.2
Nitrate and phosphorous fertilizer runoff flow into the rivers and ultimately end up in the ocean. The river water rides up over the heavier salt water when it reaches the ocean and algae blooms develop on the fertilizer rich water. When the algae die, the bacteria use up all of the oxygen in decomposing them. This creates an oxygen dead (or hypoxic) zone. In 1995, scientists identified 60 dead zones around the world.
Recent results published in 2008 identified 405 oceanic dead zones.3 The prime cause for dead zones is the use of highly soluble synthetic fertilizers, which are overused to obtain maximum yields. The government regulations on the total maximum daily load (tmdl) of synthetic nitrogen, or phosphorous fertilizer coming off of farms were established under the Clean Water Act. But those statutes are routinely not enforced. There are exceptions, but in general the regulators have been in a thirty-year coma.
Pesticides in Water: In addition to fertilizer pollution of our food and water, high amounts of pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones are also in the food, soil, water, and air. More than twelve thousand wells that provide water to 100 million people have arsenic or lead concentrations above the health based limits established by the U.S.EPA. Arsenic has been used on crops in the U.S. since 1867 and lead-arsenic since 1890. Arsenic is still widely used today on turf crops, corn, soy, and cotton as an herbicide or defoliant. The EPA, FDA, USDA and almost all state agencies, however, do not even keep good track of arsenic use. It is hard to regulate when you don’t know how much is being used.
While we don’t know how much was used, we do know that nearly 30 million people in the U.S. are drinking water contaminated with Atrazine, Simazine, Telone II, 2,4-D, or 2,4,5-T. All of these chemicals are related to DDT and were first sold in the 1940s, after they were developed in World War II. Simazine and 2,4,5-T had their EPA registrations cancelled more than twenty years ago because they were so deadly; yet millions of people in the U.S. still drink water contaminated with these two terrible war toys. All these DDT relatives caused cancer and multiple birth defects in tests on laboratory animals. They continue today to greatly damage bird populations in farm country.
Two of these war materials, 2,4-D, and 2,4,5-T along with Dioxin were the poisons in Agent Orange, the defoliant that killed and crippled so many Vietnamese and American soldiers and turned jungle into denuded ghost lands. Somehow, the officials at EPA and FDA seem to think that it is OK for millions of U.S. citizens to have these two killer chemicals in their drinking water.4
Excessive Pesticide Use Today: Factory farmers continue to use enormous quantities of the most toxic poisons.5 In 2006, four of the six most used farm pesticides in California were among the most dangerous chemicals in the world. Farmers applied more than 35.7 million pounds of four pesticides: Metam sodium, Methyl bromide, Telone II, and Chloropicrin.
Metam sodium, the third most used California pesticide in 2006, is closely related to the chemical gas that escaped in Bhopal India in 1984 and killed 30,000 people and injured 200,000. Fourteen million, eight hundred thousand pounds were used in California in 2006. Metam sodium is a biocide, causes multiple birth defects, farmworker injuries, and is very toxic to birds and fish.
In 2006, California farmers used seven million pounds of Methyl bromide, the fourth most used farm pesticide in the state, and the notorious destroyer of the ozone. The EPA registration for Methyl bromide was scheduled for cancellation in 1995 as a result of Montreal Protocol agreements. But, wealthy and politically connected California strawberry, fruit, and carrot farmers found their way around those restrictions and still were allowed to apply 7 million pounds in 2006 (the last year for which we have records). Methyl bromide causes birth defects, cardiac arrest, nervous system damage, and is responsible for many thousands of deaths since 1936.
The fifth most used chemical in California in 2006 was Telone II (1,3-Dichloropropene). Telone II is a cancer and birth defect-causing fumigant that has been very deadly and dangerous to farmers, farmworkers, school kids, and rural residents since the 1940s. When it first came out it was called 666. This is supposedly “The Mark of the Devil”. Telone II has lived up to that name, killing and injuring untold thousands. Its California registration was due to be cancelled in 1995 because it was a cancer causing air pollutant. But, with the pending loss of methyl bromide, it was reregistered for limited use. They didn’t apply real strict limitations, hovever, because California farmers used about 7 million pounds in 2006.
The sixth most used farm chemical in California was Chloropicrin. This chemical is tear gas, the highly effective anti-riot gas that is released in major demonstrations. One might ask “Why are we using tear gas on our food?” The answer is that it is a deadly biocide. It is usually combined with methyl bromide to provide a warning taste and smell (that methyl bromide lacks) and because it greatly increases the fumigation toxicity of both poisons. It causes several birth defects, causes severe respiratory damage, and is very toxic to fish. California farmers used 6.9 million pounds in 2006.
In 2004, California Strawberry growers used 184 pesticides. They applied an average of more than 335 pounds of pesticides per acre. Metam sodium, methyl bromide, chloropicrin and Telone II accounted for 74% (or 248 pounds) of the pesticides used on each acre of strawberries. Four of the world’s most toxic chemicals, accounted for almost three-quarters of all pesticides used. Strawberry shortcake, anyone?
Data? What Data?: California is the only state that has collected pesticide use data in the U.S. (New York recently passed the same law). Unfortunately, for all the other states, we do not have good data. California began collecting use data from farmers and applicators in 1970. The USDA and most states only collect survey data, not actual usage amounts. Because California has real data, and because California provides half of the fresh produce in the country, their information is an invaluable guide to the level of poisonous exposure that U.S. farmers, farmworkers, food handlers, and customers have endured on farm products for almost forty years.
We analyzed the use of pesticides on crops from California’s data set for the Sustainable Cotton Project and for The War on Bugs book. We found that factory farming has been very dependent on the worst poisons for all of the forty years that records have been kept. Although California has good data and toxicological analyses, it has not been aggressive in acting to cancel the registrations on even the chemicals it knows to be most poisonous, even those that cause multiple birth defects and cancer.
The USDA and each state should collect pesticide and fertilizer use data as California has for pesticides. Without real data, claims of increased or decreased use are groundless. Having the data will enable us to set real goals for chemical use reduction as European countries have. Then, and only then, will we be able to see if usage is declining or increasing and how many of the most toxic chemicals are used on our food and in our communities.
Besides collecting actual use data, we must evaluate all the farm and industrial chemicals as they are doing in the E.U. with REACH (Registration, Evaluation, And Authorization of Chemicals). Such data would greatly supplement the evaluations by Cal EPA and U.S.EPA, which are good, but significantly incomplete because they grandfathered in many chemicals that required no testing. REACH is currently evaluating even the grandfathered chemicals!
Even though our existing analyses are incomplete, the data from both CalEPA and U.S.EPA are sufficient to begin to phase out dozens of the most toxic pesticides. Many chemicals are so toxic that we need a goal of a 50% reduction every five years. We must begin these reductions because cancer and birth defect clusters are now common in most U.S. farm communities and people are being exposed to multiple pesticide residues on their fresh and processed food and on their clothing.
Confinement Animals/Excess Antibiotics and Hormones: I have pointed out in The War on Bugs and in other articles that our confinement animal operations (where most of our meat comes from) are a serious health and safety threat.6 And, as we have all come to realize, they are very poorly regulated. Overuse of hormones and antibiotics has left us with antibiotic resistant meat, large quantities of antibiotics in rivers and drinking water, and even antibiotic resistant pork farmers and consumers. Beef cows are often injected with hormones, milk cows with genetically modified growth hormones. The U.S. meat supply is so dangerously unhealthy that large amounts of it are regularly recalled (about 200,000,000 pounds of beef in 2008) and some of the more suspicious or contaminated meat has been allowed by the FDA to be irradiated since the 1990s. Nuked meat?
We raised 11 billion meat, milk, and egg-laying animals in the U.S. in 2008. By 2008, we produced nearly 69 million pigs, 95% in confinement. We raised 300 million commercial laying hens in battery cages, Ten billion meat chickens, and half a billion turkeys were confined in abusive close quarter conditions. About 33 million beef cows and 9.7 million dairy cows spent their dreary days in disgusting feedlots and dairy barns.7 These facilities and their meat products are rife with disease that the public is advised to combat by thorough cooking. In December, 2008 Consumer Reports found that 83% of the 525 meat chickens they studied had salmonella or campylobacter. With deadly diseases on all but 17 chickens out of 100, customers are asking: What about the salmonella on my drain board or my hands? No wonder there is so much food borne illness!
These enormous populations of animals also produce a lot of manure, and massive amounts of methane and nitrous oxide. The largest amount of nitrous oxide comes from fertilizer used on farmland that produces feed for confined animals. High methane emissions come from mountains of animal manure and digestive gasses, and a lesser though significant amount, from unsustainable grazing. Seventy to eighty percent of our farm production and acreage is used to produce the aforementioned 11 billion beef cows, pigs, poultry, milk cows, sheep, and goats. Fertilizer use in the U.S. is variable depending on the needs of the crop and the natural fertility of the land. Corn and cotton farmers, who grow the corn and cottonseed to feed these confined animals, use 200 to 300 pounds of nitrogen per acre and about 100 pounds of phosphorous. This is much more nitrogen and phosphorous than the crops can use in a single season, but the farmers are advised to use “enough” to get the highest possible yields. So, most of the nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizer that the plants don’t need and can’t use are flushed into rivers, lakes and the ocean.
I could continue further with this litany of unregulated farm problems, but these are the major issues. We are living in a very polluted and dangerous food world, partly because of the unregulated excesses of U.S. industrial farming. If we are going to bring down our high rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and birth defects we have to change our food choices and how that food is raised. Besides creating profound health and safety problems, industrial farming is a huge unregulated contributor to global warming and an enormous user of energy. We must regulate and significantly reduce the U.S. farm use of fuels, pesticides, and fertilizer. These are not choices! These are necessities! If we are going to seriously tackle climate change and fix our health system, we have to change our form of agriculture.
We Can’t Fix Factory Farming!: The Pew Charitable Trust and the Johns-Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health conducted a study in 2008 and determined that the U.S. factory farming system is dangerously out of control and that many practices, including animal confinement, and the prophylactic-use of antibiotics and hormones must be phased out. A second study, also in April of 2008, by the Union of Concerned Scientists concluded much the same.8 Both studies found that the current factory farming paradigms are simply not sustainable for the land, the drinking water, the confined animals, the rivers, and the oceans, and they are seriously damaging our public health. The Union of Concerned Scientists reminded us that we will be subsidizing these bad farming practices once again on April 15th when we pay our taxes. That is the second payment for “cheap food”.
For more than one hundred years U.S. and European safe food activists’ demanded real regulation of farm chemicals. But, it was always a pipe dream, since chemical firms, the universities and the government all alleged that the pesticides were safe and that farmers couldn’t get good yields without chemicals. So, the regulators looked the other way. However, farmers around the world have demonstrated that they can produce as good or better yields of quality food and fiber without dangerous and damaging chemicals. Still, the regulators continue to look the other way and still refuse to stop the poisoning.
Salmonella contaminated pistachios, peanuts, tomatoes, melons, and jalapenos and the slaughtering of downer beef are glaring examples of sloppy farming and processing combined with regulatory failure. All of these regulatory failures and bad farming practices didn’t just cause bankruptcy or a huge cut in 401-Ks, they sickened hundreds of millions and killed hundreds of thousands of people over the last thirty years!9
Each day seems to bring more pesticide spills and injuries, more poisoned food, more contaminated drinking water, more dead zones and more residues on our food. Consequently, immediate regulation of and a rapid phase-out of the most toxic farm chemicals now seem like urgencies, instead of pipe dreams.
If We Can’t Fix it, Let’s Change it!: While U.S. factory farming can’t be fixed, the good news is that changing U.S. agriculture it is not an unattainably complex goal. However, it does call for a paradigm shift. We must stop pretending that fossil based fertilizer and fuel is endless, sustainable, or environmentally justifiable. The Green Revolution is over! After one hundred years of use the jury is in. What looked in 1909 like a cheap and efficient fertilizer has polluted our drinking water, turned deadly to the oceans, is increasingly more expensive, and today is doing more harm than good. We must dramatically reduce the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and began an immediate phase out.
In 1945, only five percent of the nitrogen used on U.S. farms was synthetic. Now, more than ninety-five percent is. Before the synthetic takeover, farmers grew fertilizer crops and applied small amounts of composted manure for fertility and tilth, to increase organic matter, and to feed the microorganisms. These techniques and more modern ones are used by both organic and non-organic farmers today and enable them to produce high yields of quality produce, meat, fiber, oilseeds, and grains. Farmers all over the world are getting higher yields of calories per acre on diversified organic farms than on monocultural chemical or GMO farms.
We can solve the dead zone problem by switching back from synthetic nitrogen and soluble phosphorous fertilizers to organic plant-based fertility. This is not rocket science and it is not a long shot with outmoded technology. It is, in fact, achievable within a few years. As a plus, fertilizer crops sequester carbon, which our currently barren soils in the fall and winter don’t.
We can eliminate the cancer and birth defect clusters and high pesticide residues on our favorite foods by using biological IPM strategies to control pests and diseases. Releasing beneficial insects, altering our growing practices, rotation of crops, soil balancing, and careful monitoring of pest damage are a few of the successful techniques that thousands of farmers are using to control pests and eliminate poisonous pesticides on their farms.
This is a challenging time for farmers, with many sorting out how can they produce their own energy on the farm as well as auditing and reducing their use. Most of us know that the cheap era of fossil fuel is over. With agriculture being responsible for such a large percentage of fossil fuel consumption, it is essential that resources be invested in alternative energy strategies by farmers, entrepreneurs, and by state and federal government agencies.
At this critical juncture, we should see these factory farm problems and their solutions as an opportunity. This is an opportunity for us to demand that Washington regulate our food supply. It is a chance to make real changes in our own diets by eating safe foods, supporting local organic farms, and frequenting farmers markets. Additionally, each of us can grow chemically free vegetables and fruits in our own yards, like the Obamas are doing at the White House.
It is also a time of opportunity to assist farmers and merchants in converting U.S. farming and the food system. To do this, we need much more government investment in the reinvigoration of our agricultural extension service. These new or retrained extension agents would help farmers make the transition to sustainable and organic agriculture (as some currently are). We also need access for young and not so young farmers to financial aid and government held farmland. Clearly, we also need lots more regulators. Only the government can address these issues. But, we must pressure the Obama run EPA, USDA, and FDA to address them as if they were urgent.
U.S. organic farmers developed a set of standards in the 1970s and 1980s to regulate farms and farmers with third party inspections. They did this to assure a suspicious public that the food they produced was really organic. The standards they enforce require crop rotation, an organic fertility and pest control program and prohibit the use of toxic fertilizers, chemical pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, genetic modification, sewage sludge, irradiation, and the feeding of animal protein to animals.
“Conventional” food in the U.S can be grown with all the farming practices outlawed in organic. Conventional is a semantic ploy to avoid calling the food “chemical”, or “poisonous”. Whatever you call it, it should be regulated and the most damaging practices should be made illegal.
Finally, we need to internationally harmonize our regulations, so that there is as much unanimity to the rules as possible and the enforcement is transparent. This is just as important in food as it is in finance. We are all too connected globally to pretend that we should not worry about another culture’s food regulations or health concerns. Ideally, we should all embrace a more rigorous international REACH-like program that would protect farmers, farmworkers, processors and consumers.
Hopefully, the Obama administration attitude toward regulation will extend to U.S. agriculture. If it doesn’t, we are in deep shit! And, I’m not talking manure.
- U.S.EPA Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks, 1990-2005 (April, 2007)
- Environmental Working Group (EWG), National Tap Water Quality Database. U.S. EPA Data Bases on Water Pollution, required by the Clean Air Act.
- Dr. Robert J. Diaz, Professor of Marine Biology at the Virginia Institute for Oceanography, and Rutger Rosenberg, Science, Aug. 15, 2008, Spreading Dead Zones and Consequences for Marine Eco Systems.
- Environmental Working Group (EWG), National Tap Water Quality Database. U.S. EPA data bases on water pollution required by the Clean Air Act.
- California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA), Department of Pesticide Regulation, Pesticide Use Reports: 1970-2006.
- See Allen, Will, The War on Bugs, Chelsea Green, Vermont, March, 2008, The Death of Food, Alternet, April, 2008. The Real Cost of Cheap Food, Alternet. June, 2008.
- Data gleaned from USDA, ERS , Orange County People for Animals, U.S.EPA,
- CAFOs Uncovered: The Untold Costs of Confined Animal feeding Operations, Doug Gurian-Sherman, Union of Concerned Scientists, April, 2008. Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Production in America, Pew Charitable Trusts and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, April, 2008.
- The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 1999 that food borne illness in the U.S. sickens 76 million people, 325,000 end up in the hospital and more than 5,000 die, every year. Food And Water in 1996 estimated that pesticides kill about 10,000 people a year. Adding these figures over a 30 year period equals several hundred thousand dead from the U.S. food system.
With all the news of toxic pollutants spilling into our rivers lately (and ending up in our drinking water), this is a good time to examine the role of activism in stopping chemical plants’ irresponsible actions.
In this excerpt from The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved, author Sandor Katz tells the story of how environmental activist and fellow Chelsea Green author Diane Wilson became the eco-warrior she is today; Diane took on the corporations that were wrecking her little Gulf Coast town and proved that sometimes one person can make a difference.
The following is an excerpt from The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Food Movements by Sandor Ellix Katz. It has been adapted for the Web.
Clean Water Activism
Rather than cherishing and honoring water as the precious life-giving substance that it is, our profit-driven culture squanders it and pollutes it, without regard for long-term consequences. Major sources of water pollution include toxic industrial waste, agricultural chemicals, and feces. Some waste flows directly into waterways; in other cases it enters sewer systems, where “sludge” is filtered out and the water is treated with “purifying chemicals” (an oxymoron) before being released back into surface water supplies.
One purifying chemical often added to water, chlorine, has been hailed as the greatest public health achievement of the twentieth century, preventing the spread of infectious disease through public water supplies. Chlorination is a cost-effective means of killing waterborne bacteria. But chlorine has some distinctly unhealthy drawbacks. Chlorine reacts with organic compounds, which are especially prevalent in water from surface sources such as lakes and reservoirs, to form compounds called organochlorines or trihalomethanes, known in the lingo of the water purification industry as disinfection by-products. These compounds have been linked to an increased incidence of cancers, as well as birth defects, asthma, decreased fertility and sperm counts, and other human health problems.
Arguably, an increased risk of certain diseases is well justified by the tremendous public health benefits of chlorination. But it’s important to understand that chemically purified water involves tradeoffs. We lose something for what we gain, and it would be far better not to contaminate the water in the first place. And chlorination isn’t the only or the best way to make contaminated water potable, though it is the cheapest. Many other methods, among them safer chemicals, ionization with copper or silver, ultraviolet light, reverse osmosis, and, of course, filtration, offer water purification alternatives.
Another chemical widespread in municipal water systems is fluoride. Before it became known for preventing cavities, fluoride was considered an industrial pollutant. Fluoride is a toxic by-product of many industrial processes, including the production of aluminum, and high levels of fluoride exposure have been linked to many different human health problems.
Not dentists but rather aluminum industry scientists first proposed water fluoridation as a strategy for cavity control. In 1945, with fluoride emissions at an all-time high due to heightened wartime production, the federal government started its first water fluoridation experiment in Grand Rapids, Michigan, intended to be a fifteen-year study. With this pilot program barely under way, a full-on water fluoridation campaign emerged. Edward L. Bernays, often referred to as the father of public relations, orchestrated it at the behest of Oscar Ewing, the long-time lawyer for Alcoa (a major aluminum manufacturer) who was appointed in 1947 to head the federal agency overseeing the Public Health Service (PHS).
Bernays was remarkably successful at giving fluoride the image of being safe and effective for cavity prevention, without substantive evidence. The Michigan study was aborted, and PHS officially endorsed water fluoridation in 1950. Since then two-thirds of U.S. water systems have been fluoridated. Unfortunately, despite the wholesome image, there are growing questions about both fluoride’s effectiveness and its safety. Critics charge that the chemical’s cavity-prevention qualities have been overstated, and that water fluoridation is a cause of many different bone problems, including defective development, fractures, bone and joint cancers, and arthritis, as well as lowered IQ levels, neurotoxicity, and thyroid and pineal gland problems. One of the major groups crusading against water fluoridation is the union that represents scientists employed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Union members, who have reported political pressure to arrive at predetermined conclusions, call for “an immediate halt to the use of the nation’s drinking water reservoirs as disposal sites for toxic waste.”
Water supplies everywhere benefit from informed activists demanding clean water. In some places river cleanup campaigns have achieved remarkable successes, for instance with the Hudson River in New York. But rivers are not cleaned up overnight; this work requires dedication, organization, follow-through, and perseverance. Passionate water lovers in every region are engaged in clean water campaigns, investigating the inflows and outflows within particular watersheds, drawing attention to major polluters, promoting water conservation, and organizing to demand enforcement of clean water laws.
One fierce voice demanding clean water has been that of Diane Wilson, a fourth-generation Texas shrimper and mother of five who has doggedly challenged various powerful industries polluting the Gulf of Mexico. “I’ve got four generations in one town,” explains Diane. “That’s why I battle here.” Diane became concerned about water quality in 1989, after a shrimper she knew who was suffering from cancer showed her a newspaper article on the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory, which named their home, Calhoun County, Texas, as the most toxic county in the nation. That single article propelled her into a life of activism. As she tells the story:
I was extremely inexperienced—I’ve always been on the bay all my life. I’ve dealt with water and the elements and the tides and the fish—but I never ever would’ve considered myself an environmentalist. So all I did was call for a meeting, and I had such repercussions from this county, from the political structure—from just calling a meeting, and it just puzzled me. I didn’t know what was going on, I was naïve, all I knew was those numbers that were in the paper. I got the bank president, the county commissioner, the mayor, I got economic development and city secretaries, all down at the fish house. I was suddenly getting all this hate—it was bizarre. I couldn’t figure out why would they care—I was just a woman down in Seadrift calling a meeting. They didn’t want me to have the meeting, they just wanted me to forget it and be a good citizen and stop causing problems. I had my meeting, and was promptly attacked by probably a dozen mayors, chambers of commerce, and businesses. They believed that just questioning industry, the corporations, was going to cause an economic problem.
Undaunted, Diane started asking lots of questions. She learned about all the major chemical and plastic manufacturers that dump toxic waste into the Gulf of Mexico, and she focused her efforts on organizing people to oppose a huge polyvinyl chloride (PVC) factory expansion proposed by Formosa Plastics, a notorious polluter. While fighting the permit Formosa was in the process of seeking from the EPA, she recounts:
Just by a fluke, I was talking to the EPA attorney one day and she thought she was talking to Formosa’s attorney (we’re both named Diane), so she started talking to me about the discharge and what they were putting in the water. I found out that the process didn’t matter, the EPA had allowed them to go ahead and start discharging like they were going to get a permit anyway, so it was like a little game they were playing with me and the only one they hadn’t told was the public. When I realized that the law didn’t matter, that they were going to do what they were going to do and the federal government was going to work along with them, I was so outraged. I thought something had to be done to make people realize exactly what this meant, because most people don’t think about it—it’s like losing part of your civil rights. So it dawned on me to sink my shrimp boat, because I knew that action would force someone to look at it—it’s kind of like a farmer saying he’s going to burn his farm. That was a painful decision because I truly loved that boat, I had been shrimping on it a very long time, but I believe sometimes when you appeal to a higher law you have to be willing to go out there.
Diane sank her boat right atop Formosa’s discharge pipe out in the bay. When the Coast Guard arrived, “they said I was a terrorist on the high seas.” But the resulting publicity compelled Formosa to agree to a plan for zero discharge by recycling all its waste.
Diane Wilson is an activist who has demonstrated that a single individual’s actions can make a big difference. “People have to be willing to get out there and do more than write a letter,” she exhorts. “It’s when people put themselves on the line, when you get face to face with your corporations and your politicians, when you have a sit-in in their office, they see you.” Diane regards fear as the major reason why more people don’t engage in direct action. “By just doing actions where we put ourselves up against our fears, you conquer that fear and it makes you stronger,” she says. “We need to be bold and imaginative and brave. We’ve got to be heroes.”
Author R. J. Ruppenthal explains how he got on the path that led him to write Fresh Food from Small Spaces—his sustainable growing, fermenting, and sprouting guide for urban dwellers—in this podcast from Crop to Cuisine.
RJR: I was living in smaller homes—apartments and condos in urban areas—like a lot of people do. And somewhere along the line I got the idea that I wanted to grow a plant or two, and so I tried it in a sunny windowsill in an apartment, and, uh, wasn’t too successful at first. But I started reading up on growing vegetables, and I thought, well, that would be neat to have, you know, a few handfuls of something I could eat out of my own plants.
And then the next place that we lived had a bit of a balcony. And so I got some containers and filled them with good soil, and I started to grow some various vegetable plants on the balcony—including tomatoes, snap peas, beans, chard—and pretty soon the whole balcony was full and it was extending over into my neighbor’s area, so, uh, sort of ran out of space there.
But I realized along the way that I had sort of improvised some ways to make the most of the light that was pretty limited in that growing space, and that also there may be other possibilities for using urban spaces. And so next I got into sprouting—which is growing sprouts from seeds and eating them as salad or sandwich or stir-fry sprouts—and then fermentation, and some other things.
So I realized that people who are in my situation, having limited space, didn’t really have access to a lot of information about that. I had, you know, a whole bookshelf worth of gardening books and sustainable living guides and all this stuff, but it wasn’t really geared towards people in smaller homes. So that’s what I aimed to do with this book, was put together what I’d learned and what I could glean from other folks.
Raw milk may be the single most briskly traded illicit commodity in the US, after illegal drugs. So what’s the attraction?
Author Sandor Katz sheds some light on the underground raw milk trade.
The following article is an excerpt from The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Food Movements by Sandor Ellix Katz. It has been adapted for the Web.
I’ve been astounded by how widespread the raw milk underground has become. It really is a grassroots movement because obtaining raw milk, in most places, involves community-organized effort bringing people together for a purpose, and generally that purpose involves breaking the law. It’s happening all over. The New Yorker reported in 2004, “In a Hell’s Kitchen basement the other day, Manhattan’s first shipment of raw milk—unpasteurized, unlicensed, unhomogenized, and illegally transported across state lines—was delivered to the grateful, if wary, members of a private raw milk coven.” An Atlanta raw milk organizer I know is part of a “totally illegal” goat milk co-op: “I split the drive once every five weeks with five other women to a farm that’s one hour away. We buy raw milk, cheese, and yogurt she makes.”
In many places a gray area exists between raw milk that is specifically illegal and that which is specifically legal. It is in this quasi-legal realm that much raw milk distribution takes place. For example, in Australia real milk is being distributed and sold as beauty products: “body milk” and “body cream.” There is no law prohibiting this and no way to control what people do with their body milk when they get it home. Where I live, in Tennessee, as in several other states, farms may sell raw milk directly off the farm “for pet consumption only.” A Wisconsin cheesemaker is marketing her raw cheeses as “fish bait.”
The most widespread means of circumventing laws prohibiting the sale of raw milk is to redefine the relationship between the parties so that no sales transaction takes place. Generally the way this works is that a group of consumers will enter into a “cow-share” or “goat-share” contract with a farmer, whereby they technically own the animal and pay the farmer to maintain it on their behalf. In this way the sales transaction is eliminated, and so laws restricting the sale of raw milk are not actually broken. The economic exchange is for a service, which the farmer provides by feeding, caring for, and milking the animals. Raw milk drinkers from an area often enter into a share together and take turns picking up the milk. This is a great food-consciousness and community- building exercise: shareholders get to know each other, and they all get to experience the farm and the farmer and the animals at regular intervals. And they get good, real, raw milk.
Grassroots raw milk distribution networks like this are happening all over the United States. The Web site of the Weston A. Price Foundation’s Campaign for Real Milk lists hundreds of contacts around the United States. Though the details of state laws vary widely and are shifting somewhat (see pages 172–174), people everywhere want access to better milk.
Interest in raw milk has been growing thanks in large part to a woman named Sally Fallon. Sally has devoted herself to spreading the nutritional teachings of Weston A. Price, an Ohio dentist who in the 1930s traveled the world exploring the relationship between diet and health and wrote the book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration (1939). Price’s studies of isolated populations still practicing traditional diets led him to the conclusion that traditional diets—featuring milk and other animal fats with enzymes intact as well as live ferments, and excluding processed foods and refined sugar—held the keys to human health.
Weston Price’s research was respected but relatively obscure until Sally Fallon began popularizing it in her 1999 book, Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook That Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. She formed the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) with the ambitious mission of “restoring nutrient-dense foods to the human diet through education, research, and activism.” The foundation now has more than three hundred local chapters in the United States and more than fifty chapters abroad, mostly in Canada and Australia, but also in Brazil, China, and elsewhere. Sally’s work has galvanized a grassroots movement of people organizing access to real milk and other farm products at the local level.
The first time I met Sally Fallon was at a conference of the Northeast Organic Farming Association in 2003. Sally delivered a keynote address that posed the question, “What kind of economic and political system would we have as a consequence of making food choices that are truly healthy and fundamentally supportive of optimal development and superb well-being, instead of merely convenient?” In exploring this question, she made it vividly clear that she is much more than a nutrition guru.
Sally Fallon has a radical analysis, and her dietary ideas are interwoven with an economic and political vision. Her vision of health encompasses not only individual nutrition but community well-being, with milk as the centerpiece of an economic revival. The farmers producing raw milk and dairy products are finding prosperity providing raw milk from pastured cows directly to consumers. The direct-to-consumer raw dairies stand in stark economic contrast to the standard arrangements that are driving small dairy farmers out of business at an alarming rate: purchasing all the inputs (such as grain, rBGH, and antibiotics), then selling the milk to bulk processors, who pasteurize, homogenize, package, and market the milk and receive most of the profits. Providing healthy milk directly to consumers is dramatically more lucrative for the farmers. It takes prosperity back from the mass processors and returns it to the farm and the community.
“The one major impediment to this happy picture,” says Sally, “is the anti-raw milk agenda—scare-mongering propaganda and compulsory pasteurization laws.” But rather than accepting these laws as prohibiting a raw milk revival, she sees the possibility that they can actually benefit farmers and appealed to the assembled organic farmers to join the raw milk underground:
In fact, now that we are rolling back the propaganda and creating more and more customers for raw milk and related products, these pasteurization laws can actually work to the benefit of farmers. If people can’t get raw milk in stores, they will make the effort to come to the farm, or pay you for the service of delivering your products to their doorstep. The farm-share system also allows you to provide other value-added products which health laws prevent you from selling directly—farm-butchered meat, sausage, baked goods, and so forth could be “provided,” not “sold,” to farm-share owners.
Like community-supported agriculture, this is a structural revolution.
The people who are part of this growing market for raw milk defy any easy political categorization. The raw milk scene is very “family values”— because the people who get most passionate about milk are mothers. “Passionate moms will win!” is Mark McAfee’s raw milk movement mantra. Sally Fallon is a passionate mom who became a nutrition crusader as a result of what she learned while trying to feed her kids well. S., the organizer of the Nashville-area raw milk underground, is another passionate mom. She’s a Christian who homeschools her two kids, and for a while she embellished her e-mails with a quote from George W. Bush: “The proper response to difficulty is not to retreat, it is to prevail.” I’m not accustomed to being allied with people who find inspiration in Bush, but I am never one to demand total ideological agreement.
S. sent an e-mail to Tennessee raw milk enthusiasts recommending that we support a Republican candidate for governor who had been sympathetic to the legislative effort to legalize on-farm raw milk sales. “According to my sources, if all the raw milk supporters out there got busy and started supporting her we could see some real progress made for the raw milk bill,” wrote S. “I know some of you are Democrats, but I guess how you vote will depend on how much you want to see raw milk legalized in this state. You may have to hold your nose and vote for the Republican gubernatorial candidate this time, if raw milk is important to you.” Raw milk is important to me, but not more important than environmental protection, or health care, or the rights of queers and immigrants to exist, or of women to control their own bodies, or of workers to organize into unions. Even if I were a single-issue voter, raw milk wouldn’t be that issue.
It’s interesting how an issue such as raw milk, which is a question of freedom from regulations ostensibly designed for consumer protection, challenges peoples’ political ideologies and alignments. Is the state really just trying to protect milk drinkers? How much influence do the milk processors—the major organized stakeholders—have in blocking legal reforms that would regulate direct farmer-to-consumer raw milk sales? How much freedom should people have to reject the prevailing public health dogma and assume the risk of drinking raw milk? Is the answer different if they are feeding it to their children?
Though we have not explored the differences in our political values, S. and I find common ground to stand upon. Our shared interest in the availability of raw milk—as well as a shared sense of the absurdity of the very concept of the state prohibiting the trade of a food in its unadulterated form—speaks to the broad appeal of issues related to food quality. “How can we buy raw oysters, sushi, and other raw things at restaurants, and not have the freedom to buy fresh milk off the farm?” asks S. “Official health restrictions are discriminating and arbitrary.”
We’re hearing a lot about swine flu on the news these days. The phrase “global pandemic” is being tossed around quite a bit. All that’s missing to take us from the realm of the merely worrisome to the zone of full-blown panic is Dustin Hoffman in a hazmat suit.
But curiously, one phrase I haven’t been hearing an awful lot in connection with the swine flu is “factory farm.” A Mexican industrial hog farm is the likeliest point of origin for the virus, of course—the cramped conditions making them ideal incubators for all sorts of new disease—bird flu, human flu, and swine flu, mixing in some kind of hyper-evolutionary genetic soup. Scary stuff.
And it’s all the more reason to support small, local farms, buy organic, and cut down on meat consumption. As we’ve seen time and time again, in the food system as well as others (yeah, I’m looking at you, Wall Street!), smaller is better; slower is better; local is better.
The Huffington Post’s David Kirby has more:
Officials from the CDC and USDA will likely arrive in Mexico soon to help investigate the deadly new influenza virus that managed to jump from pigs to people in a previously unseen mutated form that can readily spread among humans.
One of the first things they will want to look at are the hundreds of industrial-scale hog facilities that have sprung up around Mexico in recent years, and the thousands of people employed inside the crowded, pathogen-filled confinement buildings and processing plants.
Industry calls these massive compounds “confined animal feeding operations,” or CAFOs (KAY-fohs), though most people know them simply as “factory farms.” You have seen them before while flying: Long white buildings lined up in tightly packed rows of three, four or more. Within each confinement, thousands of pigs are restricted to indoor pens and grain-fed for market, while breeding sows are kept in small metal crates where they spend most of their lives pregnant or nursing piglets.
In the last several years, U.S. hog conglomerates have opened giant swine CAFOs south of the border, including dozens around Mexico City in the neighboring states of Mexico and Puebla. Smithfield Foods also reportedly operates a huge swine facility in the State of Veracruz. Many of these CAFOs raise tens of thousands of pigs at a time. Cheaper labor costs and a desire to enter the Latin American market are drawing more industrialized agriculture to Mexico all the time, wiping out smaller, traditional farms, which now account for only a small portion of swine production in Mexico.
“Classic” swine flu virus (not the novel, mutated form in the news) is considered endemic in southern Mexico, while the region around the capital is classified as an “eradication area” – meaning the disease is present, and efforts are underway to control it. For some reason, vaccination of pigs against swine flu is prohibited in this area, and growers rely instead on depopulation and restriction of animal movement when outbreaks occur.
U.S. and Mexican epidemiologists and veterinarians will surely want to take swine samples from Mexican CAFOs and examine them for the newly discovered influenza strain (No one knows exactly how long it has been in circulation). And though it is too early to know if this new virus mutated and incubated on Mexican hog CAFOs, the industrialized facilities unquestionably belong on the list of suspects.
Pigs are nature’s notorious “mixing bowls” for inter-species infections, and many swine flu viruses have long contained human influenza genetic components. Then, in the late 1990′s – when industrialized swine production really took off in North America – scientists were alarmed to find that avian influenza genetic material was also mixed into the continent’s viral soup (see below). Fortunately, it was not the dreaded and lethal H5N1 strain, which most people know of as “bird flu.”
So where did this new, virulent and highly infectious influenza emerge from? According to Mexico’s Health Minister, Jose Angel Cordova, the virus “mutated from pigs, and then at some point was transmitted to humans.” It sure sounds like something happened on some farm, somewhere.
For years, leading scientists around the world have worried that large-scale, indoor swine “factories” would become breeding grounds for new pathogens that could more easily infect humans and then spread out rapidly in the general population – threatening to become a global pandemic.
We know that hog workers in Europe and North America are far more likely than others to be infected with potentially lethal pathogens such as MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), drug-resistant E. coli and Salmonella, and of course, swine influenza. Many scientists also believe that people who work inside CAFOs are more at risk of contracting and spreading these and other “zoonotic” diseases than those working in smaller-scale operations, with outdoor pens or pasture and far lower animal density.
For a change of pace, this is just a good article on the state of modern war. Nation-states and bloated military budgets are becoming less important in a world of decentralized terror cells that share information and tactics at the speed of thought in a sort of open-source warfare network—”wiki-warriors.” How can America meet the challenges of 21st-century global guerrillas? A scary thought, but something we should be thinking about.
From the Wired Danger Room:
For years, now, no one has had a better read on the enemies that America has been fighting — from Afghanistan to Iraq to Indonesia to here at home — than John Robb.
The former Air Force counter-terrorism officer, technology analyst, and software entrepreneur recognized early, early on the kind of threat we were facing. That’s because he had seen it before, in the digital realm. These overlapping terror networks looked and acted a lot like the open source software community online: independent operators that are quick to learn, quick to change, quick to swarm, and beyond dangerous to any competitor.
In his new book, Brave New War, he forecasts how these “open source guerrillas” will continue to grow in strength — and how they might eventually be stopped.
Our own Kris Alexander sat down with Robb recently, to discuss the book, and the state of the world. They talked about everything from “wiki-war” to $4 gas to a “brown-out” future. Here’s part one of the interview:
Q: Tell me a little about your new book:
A: Right after 9-11, the analysis that I saw from the media and military was insufficient to explain what we were facing — too much hype and too little analysis. So I started a weblog, Global Guerrillas, that used my operational and analytical experience combined with my experience in the high tech field to put together a new framework that made more sense. That in turn led to the book Brave New War.
One of the first things I noticed was that rapid globalization was forcing a correspondingly rapid evolution of warfare to take advantage of the new conditions. Global systems themselves like the Internet amplifies actions in a non-linear way which creates feedback loops that can dramatically escalate the impact of violence.
9-11 is a great example of how the underlying dynamics of globalization make a radical acceleration in conflict possible. Small groups can now produce results from actions that far exceed anything in history. However, this isn’t restricted to Islamic terrorists. Warfare is evolving is across the board at a rapid rate. I see it everywhere from Brazil to Columbia to Nigeria and Iraq.
That poses a big problem for the US military. They don’t have an historical guide to work from. Our previous experience with guerrilla groups in Vietnam, and beyond, operated substantially differently than what we see out there today. Today, there are no cohesive centralized movements to fight. No wars of national liberation. Warfare is now an open-source framework of loose organizations.
Q: So it’s like “wiki-war”?
A: Right. It is a ground-up phenomenon that challenges the Nation-state’s monopoly on violence.
Please forgive the market analogy, but it’s like Microsoft’s experience with the Internet. Before the Internet Microsoft dominated the computer industry. The arrival of the Internet changed things. Microsoft is still a player, but all the talent is gravitating away from the Windows platform towards the web. In warfare, you see the talent and innovation gravitating away from the nation state. As states decline, alternatives spring forth.
My book traces the development of these alternative non-state groups that are challenging nation-states across the world. I write about how new methods of warfare are emerging that go beyond simple terrorism. I illustrate this with examples of the campaigns against oil, the power grid, and the fuel systems in Iraq. I also show how loose groups can hollow out a state with these attacks. Under this type of assault, states can lose control and an entire commercially motivated set of groups can emerge that want to perpetuate the chaos.
Q: There have been reports of Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, having his military study the Iraq insurgency. Is that the future of state vs. state warfare as well?
A: Yes, states are adopting many of the methods we see in development among non-state groups. For example, Saddam learned this lesson from the first Gulf War. He couldn’t fight us as equals so he organized his military for an insurgency with the Fedayeen Saddam. Hezbollah is another good example. Now, Venezuela and Syria are both looking at ways to replicate Hezbollah’s recent success in Lebanon in their own defense.
Hugo Chavez is smart to organize his military for a guerrilla war. He’s knows he’s a potential target. Also, he can’t fight any major power conventionally. Therefore, he’s organizing his military for small group warfare. He’s making some smart purchases by focusing on small weapon systems instead of big-ticket items.
Let’s face it: Big-ticket systems make small states dependent of the supplier of the system. Saddam’s Iraq was a good example of this. They were totally dependent on other states to keep their weapon systems running. Now you are seeing states move away from this and purchasing weapons they can use for fourth generation warfare.
Times are tough, but Americans are showing a willingness to get tougher as well. The economic crisis seems to be forcing us into a sort of wartime mentality of sacrifice and contribution not seen since World War II. Mostly out of plain old honest necessity, more people than at any time in living memory (to be fair, I’m only 31) are growing their own food at home, in the process reconnecting with the Earth and transitioning to a more sustainable lifestyle. It’s hard to get more local than tomatoes from (what used to be) your front lawn.
And while other book publishers are struggling to stay afloat, those with a strong backlist of sustainable gardening books—like your humble Chelsea Green, proponent of environmental stewardship for 25 years and counting—are flourishing.
From Publishers Weekly:
Despite publishing’s massive layoffs and other cost-cutting measures, many gardening publishers have noted an increase in their annual sales. This is due in large part to a renewed excitement surrounding books on organic gardening and, especially, sustainable gardening techniques. Chelsea Green publisher Margo Baldwin says gardening publishers are releasing titles on sustainability to tap into peoples’ desire to “live simpler, more affordable lives.”
Often, grim financial news brings resurgence in a ‘back to the land’ mentality,” says Storey’s publisher Pam Art. “We saw this in the 1970s in the face of sky-high fuel prices and we’re seeing it again. Gardeners in general are usually more aware of the environment, following environmental practices like composting, avoiding synthetic chemicals and pest deterrents.” Storey’s answer to this “back to the land” movement is The Backyard Homestead, edited by Carleen Madigan, a former Horticulture magazine editor who learned many of the book’s techniques while living on an organic farm in Boston. “The book is a compendium of advice on how to feed families using plants and animals raised at home,” says Art. “It shows readers how to grow fruits, vegetables and nuts; how to churn butter and make their own wine; how to raise chickens and pigs; and how to do it on less than a quarter-acre.”
Paul Kelly, St. Lynn’s Press publisher, thinks the economic downturn is a boon for gardening books: “Because the ever-increasing price of food continues to be a major concern for consumers, new gardeners are becoming more willing to grow their food.” Sustainability meshes so well with gardening, he adds, because “at the root (no pun intended) of the home gardening movement is the thought of eating fresher, locally and healthier.” Kelly argues that when one makes the choice to eat a healthier diet, almost by default they become more attuned to the natural rhythms and cycles of nature—which in turn makes one more conscious of taking better care of the planet. The publisher’s Grow Organic: Over 250 Tips and Ideas for Growing Flowers, Veggies, Lawns and More by Doug Oster and Jessica Walliser, now in its third printing, “shows first-timers and old-timers alike that gardening offers many rewards, one of which is healthier and less expensive ‘store bought’ food,” says Kelly.
What might be termed the “old variety” of gardening books hurt the category’s sales, argues Plain White Press publisher Julie Trelstad. “The flood of coffee-table gardening books imported from Europe nearly killed gardening publishing, not only because of their expense but they were not applicable to U.S. gardening conditions.” But because of society’s current fascination with going green, Trelstad has noticed the “shift from ornamental gardening to food/sustenance gardening. People value organic food now and want to know where it comes from. Growing your own is the ultimate local food.” You Bet Your Tomatoes!: How to Grow Great-Tasting Tomatoes in Your Own Backyard. Or Garden. by Mike McGrath, out this month, will help facilitate this shift due to what Trelstad describes as its “funny, practical, inexpensive advice that will help me not only grow tomatoes but keep them alive, and will help me grow my own tasty, organic food.”
Coming next month from Eno Publishers is Rain Gardening in the South: Ecologically Designed Gardens for Drought, Deluge, & Everything in Between by Helen Kraus and Anne Spafford, which “teaches gardeners to use our most precious resource—water—wisely,” says publisher Elizabeth Woodman. “Rain gardens maximize rainwater, enhance the landscape and promote good environmental stewardship.”
Though a few publishers disagreed with the general enthusiasm encountered by PW, many supported their optimism with hard numbers. According to Baldwin at Chelsea Green, “This is the most significant category of books for us, accounting for 32% of our net sales in the last twelve months versus 22% in the previous twelve months.” She adds that net sales grew by an “astounding” 56% in the same period, while the entire list was up 5.4%. The publisher’s bestseller has been Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest, which is up 91% in the last twelve months and selling almost three times as well as it did three years ago. Baldwin has high hopes for Coleman’s The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year-Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses, which she explains champions the revival of small-scale, sustainable farming: “Eliot offers clear, concise details on greenhouse construction and maintenance, planting schedules, crop management and harvesting practices.”
The attractive thing about Rob Hopkins‘ Transition movement for many (most?) is the complete 180° tack it takes away from the scare tactics and depressing statistics of the traditional environmental movement. From “when oil peaks and climate change reaches the tipping point, we’re pretty much f***ed” to “actually, if we prepare ourselves and our communities, we’ll probably be OK, and could conceivably emerge stronger and relatively unscathed” is a nice change. Rather than making you want to crawl under the bed and suck your thumb to await the inevitable collapse of civilization and the endless hordes of shotgun-toting, petroleum-hoarding psychopaths straight out of Mad Max, the Transition movement actually empowers you—kick-starting the part of your brain hungry for proactive solutions. Farmers markets. Local currency. Re-skilling and cooperative communities. Resilience!
In this article from Elle magazine, Lisa Chase thinks about the future and pumps up for the coming storms:
Fifteen of us were gathered in the TV room of a house in Larchmont, our New York City suburb, where we were about to watch a documentary about the imminent, anarchic demise of the suburbs. “I assume you’re prepared to be hated by everyone in the room,” my boyfriend said as I headed out the door to the screening one bitterly cold night in February. “People do not like to be told that their way of life is coming to an end.”
He had a point. For four years, I have been quietly freaking out at the e-mails that arrive daily in my inbox, most of which don’t bode well for civilization. One news report that recently showed up said that as the arctic permafrost melts, it releases not only CO2 into the atmosphere, but also methane, which is 25 times more potent, so that we are, in the words of one scientist, “looking now at a future climate that’s beyond anything we’ve considered seriously in climate model simulations.”
Back in 2005, the documentary The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream sent me into the abyss about global warming and energy depletion. Lately, however, the movie has plucked me out again, because it turns out to be central to a new movement that proposes an eyes-wide-open yet fun (yes, fun) path forward for mainstreamers like me who know we have a serious environmental problem but aren’t willing or able to ditch life in “the great megalopolis smudge,” as one grim End of Suburbia wonk describes my living arrangement.
What attracted me to Transition, as the movement is called, was the word resilience, with its implications of being skilled, being ready, being confident, and therefore being optimistic about The Day After Tomorrow. The word is all over Transition’s literature, all over its YouTube clips. It seemed such a superior word to green and sustainable and eco—once hot, now almost clichés, and subject to corruption by the market. But resilience, you can’t fake. A resilient person is who I want to be. And if I’m not inherently resilient, can I learn to be?
Transition was founded by Rob Hopkins, an adorable-looking English academic with jug ears and a growing mob of admirers. According to the foreword of Hopkins’ engaging new Transition Handbook, he has “found a way for people worried about an environmental collapse to invest their efforts in ongoing collective action that ends up looking more like a party than a protest march.”
Transition began for Hopkins when he showed his students The End of Suburbia and they all got supremely depressed, before resiliently bouncing back to found Transition! In short, the film is about how in 1956, a geologist named M. King Hubbert, using a bell curve to chart the world’s petroleum reserves, predicted that global oil production would peak sometime around the year 2000 and then decline rapidly. Energy companies, government officials, academics, and environmentalists disagree on whether the peak has happened, or whether it’s five, 10, or 20 years down the pike. It’s impossible to know a precise date, because between half and two thirds of the world’s oil is in the Middle East, and those nations treat information about their reserves as if they were state secrets. However, since 2005, world oil production has not increased, even though global demand continued to rise (until the recession).
The descending slope of Hubbert’s bell curve is pretty damn steep, so if oil sources are depleting, the stuff will stop flowing faster than we can kick our addiction. Given that our electricity, our transportation, and most of our goods depend on oil, we’re pretty screwed.
This is where Transition taps in. The movement offers a framework for planning an orderly and even a “prosperous way down” the curve, to quote a book well known among Peak Oilers, to a world with less oil. Transition is about communities—in particular “relocalizing” them, and this you probably know something about: eating local and buying local, but also manufacturing local. It’s also about “reskilling”—learning to do the things our great-grandparents knew how to do, such as growing food and building things. Most importantly, Transition is about resiliency, or, as Hopkins says in his book, “a culture based on its ability to function indefinitely and to live within its limits, and to be able to thrive for having done so.”