Archive for September, 2009

Howard Dean: We Will Reform Health Care—with or without the Republicans

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

The progressive side has made some great strides in health care reform, and with Howard Dean‘s help we’ll make it across the finish line with a good bill—one that includes a strong public option.

In this interview with Gothamist, Dean spells out something that is glaringly obvious to the American people, but which seems to be escaping the notice of many top Democrats: Republicans are not interested in reforming health care. They’re not interested in improving the Senate bill currently in markup. All they want is to kill reform so they can capitalize politically on a Democratic defeat. They don’t care about millions of uninsured Americans. They want to hand President Obama a defeat and they don’t care how many sick folks have to die to get there.

…Your new book is Howard Dean’s Prescription for Real Health Care Reform. First of all is this prescription your own or is this more or less identical with legislation currently in Congress? Well, it’s similar. It’s based partly on the plan that I put forth in 2004, and very much based on Obama’s plan that he had during the campaign. His plan was really an excellent plan, and I go into that in great detail in the book. The book is a lot of fun. First of all, it’s plain English. Second of all, it’s co-written by two people from the Center for American Progress who know a huge number of details about health care and could fact-check it all. And third of all, it’s a great resource book at 133 pages, where it doesn’t just tell you about what’s going on here, it tells you how other countries’ health care systems work, and how to contact your congresspeople to get them to do what you want.

Are there any things which you think your book asks for that don’t seem to be on the table right now in Washington? Well one thing that’s not on the table which I clearly admit is that I think we ought to pay for it using a carbon tax. It’s much simpler. And as you know it’s still not impossible. They’re getting all twisted up now around how to pay for the thing. A carbon tax is much easier. I think cap-and-trade is in trouble in the Senate and a carbon tax would have the same effect as cap-and-trade, and would also be able to draw off a lot of revenues for health care.

Do you think that Obama is the kind of person who would tackle two giant things at once? Health care reform and climate change? He already has, the climate change bill has already gone through the House with cap-and-trade, and he has made it very clear that that’s up next.

Right, but not with a carbon tax? Yes, but I’m not going to get into a critique of everything the administration doesn’t do: except health care reform without a public option. You know without a public option it’s really a waste of money.

Why would it be waste of money? Because we’re basically putting $60 billion dollars a year into the system we already have which got us to where we are today.

And it would require people to have health insurance, but that would allow companies to charge as much as they wanted because they would have a captive audience? Yeah, exactly. I mean, if they don’t pass that with a public option, it’s an extremely foolish bill. Massachusetts is proof. Massachusetts has got something called universal access, which is wonderful. There are no cost controls of any kind.

And what have been the results there? Great coverage and the most expensive rates in the country.

Democrats have the necessary numerical majorities. What or who would stop a straight party-line vote to make this happen? Well as you know there are a lot of people in our party, well not a lot, some people in our party who are very much beholden to the health insurance industry, and that’s obviously a problem.

Are there someone whose arms you’re twisting? I know on your website Mary Landrieu comes in for some pressure. That’s not my website. That’s the Democracy for America website, I’m just a consultant to them. I generally have not gone after other Democrats. Which isn’t to say that I won’t. We’ll have to see how they all vote. Right now I’m giving everybody the benefit of the doubt and hoping that they’re going to do the right thing in the end.

Well that’s very sweet of you. You know, though, you have a pugnacious reputation. Yes, I do. It’s well-earned, I might add.

Do you think it will come down to a straight party line vote? Yes. I don’t believe we’ll get any Republican votes. Possibly one. But let me just say, a vast majority of Americans—and Democrats—want a public option. I believe that since the Democrats are going to write the bill and Republicans have signed out and just decided not to do anything about it, and since a majority of the majority party wants a public option, we’re going to have a public option. I can’t tell you what form it will have, but I have my ideas, which I’m not going to share with you.

Obama has certainly used the language of a “unifying approach,” being conciliatory, working with both parties, and yet that doesn’t seem to have resulted in any cooperation from the other side. Why do you think that is? Because I think they’ve made the calculation they made in 1994, that “if we can take this bill down we can take down Obama’s presidency.” That’s what their goal is. They don’t give a damn about health insurance. Frankly, they don’t give that much of a damn about their country. Their party has come first for the last eight years.

Do you think that Obama should start changing his approach? And try a more aggressive one? I think he already is.

The conciliatory approach just can’t work with Washington currently? Right, and I think that Washington is always way behind where the American people are. I think the American people really would like bipartisanship and I think the President has done the right thing by trying to get it. But it clearly isn’t going to happen, and we have to have a bill—for the sake of the country.

One of the points of your book is that health care reform is beneficial and maybe even necessary for American business to stay competitive. Why is it that no pro-business Republicans seem to agree with that? Republicans are trying to kill the bill. They’re not interested in the merits of the bill for discussion. If they were, it would be a better bill, but they’re not. They’re interested in killing the bill so they can kill the bill. It’s all political on the Republican side. There’s no substance on the Republican side. It’s just politics. As was obvious with the summer recess, the people negotiating with Baucus just kept backing away, that’s what they’re doing these days, the Republicans can’t take yes for an answer.

Do you think that there are no Republicans in the senate who will cooperate at all? I think there’s one possibly, Olympia Snowe.

If you were in charge of passing this health care legislation, is there anything you would do differently from what Obama has done so far? No, I think he’s done a great job so far. He’s tried to be bipartisan; that’s what the American people want, and now he’s just got to deliver a really good bill.

Read the whole article here.


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Dream a Better World: An Excerpt from Social Change 2.0

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Unlike author David Gershon (Social Change 2.0: A Blueprint for Reinventing the World), I was a child of the Eighties. The Cold War was in full swing. Fear of Soviet-style Communism kept us awake at nights, and hanging over our heads was the near-palpable feeling that nuclear bombs could drop out of the sky at any moment, beginning a conflict that would wipe out all life on planet Earth in minutes.

Today, that fear has been replaced with a seemingly more remote, but just as deadly serious, concern that our very way of life could lead to the downfall of the human race and civilization as we know it. It’s a scary thought. But we mustn’t give in to hopelessness.

David Gershon in his new book proposes that humanity needs a new dream to inspire real change. Hope to replace fear.

The following is an excerpt from Social Change 2.0: A Blueprint for Reinventing the World by David Gershon. It has been adapted for the Web.

I came of age in the 1960s, when, with the music of the Beatles serving as the soundscape, America was stirred by antiwar protests, civil rights marches, and dreams of a better world. This heady time impressed on my young psyche both the firm belief that we can change the world, and the equally firm desire to do so. My favorite Beatles song, although he was not still a Beatle at the time, was John Lennon’s “Imagine.” I loved the song then, and I still love it today, because it is unapologetically visionary and optimistic about what is possible for our world. Its power comes from Lennon’s willingness to dream and his courage to share his dream with others. “You may say I’m a dreamer,” he told us, “but I’m not the only one.” (In a 2007 global jukebox poll “Imagine” was voted the world’s favorite song ever. In fact, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter once remarked that when visiting countries around the world “you hear ‘Imagine’ used almost equally with national anthems.”)

Like John Lennon and so many others, I dream of a world that is possible but does not yet exist. In large and small ways I have spent most of my adult life attempting to create such a world. Along the way I discovered the secret of being a dreamer. If your dream is compelling enough it draws forth your passion and this keeps you motivated to stay with it even when the odds are against you. And if you stay with something long enough, eventually you wring out the truths needed to bring it to fruition.

I also draw inspiration from how Thomas Jefferson handled the assignment given to him by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin to write a statement declaring America’s independence from Great Britain. Jefferson transformed what could have been a mundane document into a transcendent vision of possibility for how human beings might live. His dream for America stunned Adams and Franklin and became the rallying motto of the American Revolution. Thomas Jefferson was inspired. He tapped deeply into his imagination and crafted a document that would come to epitomize the American dream and inspire many to seek this country’s shores in search of it.

He courageously envisioned the world anew and then helped create it. Some have called the creation of America one of the great social innovations of human civilization. The boldness of this dream inspired him and stirred the blood of his fellow patriots. With this inspiration they were willing to release their attachment to a known but deeply compromised reality and embark on a transformative journey to create a world of fresh possibilities.

It is time to dream again. So many of the assumptions we have been operating with as a human community have proved faulty that this generation must literally re-envision them. And with the accelerating unraveling of our planet’s life support system and the deterioration of so many of our social systems, we are being called to create rapid transformative change. But the current social change tools at our disposal—passing laws, adjusting tax policy, and public protest—were designed for slow-moving incremental change.

We are being called to reinvent not only our world, but also the process by which we achieve this reinvention. If the current social change tools of carrots, sticks, and protests are not sufficient, what else do we have? Are there assumptions we might rethink about what motivates people to change? Taking a page from Jefferson’s playbook, might we be able to motivate people to change because of a dream that inspires their imagination, enlivens their sense of possibility, and lifts their spirit as human beings? Or to ask this question in a more tangible way, how might we empower people to voluntarily adopt new behaviors that help them, their community, and their organizations operate at a higher level of social value so we can realize more of our potential as a human species?

I have been attempting to answer this question over the past three decades, at the individual, local, national, and international levels; working with government agencies, nonprofit organizations, corporations, and ad-hoc community groups; in developed and developing countries alike, and around a multiplicity of issues.

My research has taught me that people are willing to change if they have a compelling vision and are provided tools to help them bring it into being. The vision must touch their core to engender the necessary passion and commitment needed to overcome the inevitable obstacles on the path of realization. They need others of like mind going on the journey with them to stay motivated. And with a well-designed transformative change platform that is replicable, these behavior changes can be widely disseminated throughout a community, organization, country, and across the planet.

I have also seen that when individuals become personally part of the solution it creates a new dynamic in the way we tackle large societal challenges. We are able to see beyond the traditional social change formula of business as the problem and government as the solution, with nonprofits lobbying government for better regulations against business and citizens sitting on the sidelines complaining about the coziness between politicians and business.

When citizens are empowered to adopt socially beneficial behaviors, such as a green lifestyle, for example, an opening can occur for traditionally adversarial relationships to establish new arrangements of cooperation and collaboration in service of this new voting constituency and purchasing community. When all the parts of a system begin working together and there is no “other” to combat or protect against, more innovative and generative solutions start to emerge. I call the process of bringing the whole system into collaboration building a unitive field.

The model of social change that I have been describing represents what systems theory calls second order change—change that transforms and reorganizes a system to a higher level of performance. When the easier-to-implement change solutions are exhausted and prove inadequate for the magnitude of change required, the system goes into stress and must either evolve or breakdown. This book represents an attempt to expand the parameters for social change solutions so that we can evolve our social systems. I call it “Social Change 2.0.” It stands on the shoulders of “Social Change 1.0”—command and control, financial incentives, and protest—because it could not function optimally without the rule of law and a democratic form of government that allow for free expression. But it is designed to go beyond the constraints purposefully built into this more incremental approach to change.

The Social Change 2.0 framework aspires to tread in the territory where some have thrown up their hands and wondered if change was really possible. It addresses issues that are complex and require many people to change fundamentally; issues for which there are no easy solutions and those that exist are exceedingly difficult to implement and require the cooperation of the whole system; issues which if not adequately addressed will cause an ecological or social system to break down. These issues include global warming, depletion of our nonrenewable natural resources, chronic poverty, disease epidemics, terrorism, ethnic and racial animosity, the disenfranchisement of women and minorities, and overpopulation.

You can read the introduction in its entirety here.

Why Build With Straw Bale?

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Haven’t you ever wondered, what IS a straw bale house?

The following is an excerpt from Serious Straw Bale: A Home Construction Guide for All Climates by Paul Lacinski and Michael Bergeron. It has been adapted for the web.


Why are bales a good choice in a cold climate? Can bale walls be designed to withstand the vagaries of weather in the snow belt? These are questions we’ve been asking of ourselves for a good many years, and they have now become the guiding questions behind this book. To begin at the beginning, however, we must ponder this question of why. The idea of building a wall of bales seems to entice people’s imaginations. Why bales? We have come to believe that people are searching for alternatives to the plywood palace, to the modular mentality that has come to dominate the mainstream construction industry. Most new houses today are made of the same materials: machined sticks and sheets of wood, plastic, metal, and gypsum. They are usually assembled according to the same set of principles, so that once you’ve built a few, they get pretty boring. Except for that small percentage in which a designer, owner, or builder puts some real thought into creating a form and finish that suits the owner and the site, these houses somehow feel the same.

There are three main reasons that straw bale construction is different. First of all, bale walls look very different from sheetrock walls. They look like the product of a human, rather than the product of a machine. Though bales are a new material (which makes design work challenging and fun), the feel of the finished wall harkens back to the preindustrial era. It seems that as our lives become increasingly technological, more and more people want to surround themselves with spaces that feel handmade and timeless.

Process is the second reason. Conventional construction is mathematical and precise, while bales and plaster are sloppy and intuitive. These characteristics are inviting to amateur builders, not only because they make bale construction easy to learn, but because they stand in contrast to the obsessive efficiency that most of us have had to accept as a part of the industrial economy. People see bale construction as a chance to cut loose.

Third, bale construction feels like an alternative to ecological waste. It’s akin to recycling. Recycling enjoys broad support across the political spectrum, because it’s obvious, it’s easy, and it gives people a sense that they can at least do something that is not harmful to the planet. While our agriculture is far from perfect, it does produce a lot of straw, so using some of it for construction makes intuitive sense.

Bruce Millard, a thoughtful architect from Sandpoint, Idaho, has developed this idea about building with bales a bit further. “Once people try this type of construction, they absorb it and agree with it, and begin to recognize it as a concept, as a psychological departure from the idea that industry is somehow more sophisticated than nature. It brings the left and the right together; it functions as a stepping block into an ecological way of building and living. People begin to ask, ‘How can I put this to work in the rest of my life?’”

Bruce sees the bale itself as a short-lived material. “We will soon realize that straw is very valuable—it will start going into particleboard and panelized materials, and it might be mixed with wood fiber for paper production.” Bruce uses the bale as an introduction to a whole array of recycled-content panels and blocks.

Bales also tend to serve as an introduction to traditional natural building techniques from around the world, all of which have much longer track records than the bale itself. Loose straw has been used for millennia in combination with clay and sand, for everything from plasters to load-bearing walls. Five-hundred-year-old examples of straw and clay infill are still in use in Germany, and this material has actually been rewetted and put back into wall cavities during restoration. Thatch makes a beautiful, durable, insulative roof. These and other techniques must be explored and developed if we are to continue to create decent housing for future generations on this planet. (See chapter 15, “Beyond the Bale.”)

Why Build a House of Straw Bales?

“Didn’t you learn anything from the first little pig?”

A mouthful of oatmeal and an earful of propaganda against building with straw; many of us were spoon-fed this breakfast throughout our childhoods. How is it, then, that perfectly sane people can consider living in a house whose walls are bales of straw? Maybe urbanization, suburbanization, and the decrease in the North American wolf population has lulled them into a sense of complacency about this domestic predator. Or maybe bales make such unusual walls that many of us are just willing to take the risk.


The most compelling among many reasons to build with bales is the quiet beauty of bale walls. Unlike walls of panelized materials, which require layers of ornamentation to bring life to their unnaturally uniform surfaces, bale walls look and feel as if they were made by hand. Their deep windowsills and gentle undulations lend a comfortably safe, quiet feeling to the interior of a home, while the plaster finish softly gathers and reflects light, changing in subtle ways as the sun shifts through each day and season. The effect is a heightened connection between indoor and outdoor worlds, an especially important relationship in climates where people spend a good part of the year inside buildings.

“We fell in love with the deep windowsills and rounded corners.”
“I like the massive feel, and the flexibility, of the bales; you can do anything with them, curvy or straight.”
“The house has a solid, embracing feeling, like it has its arms wrapped around me.”

Paul often describes bale walls as “plastered stone for the person of moderate means.” This is not to imply that bale walls don’t have a character of their own, which they certainly do; the point is that the massive, rounded feel of the bale wall is reminiscent of the old-world solidity of stone. (Bale walls also offer far more insulation value than stone walls, but we’ll get to that later.) Part of the appeal of bale buildings is that they just feel safe. Storms can be howling outside, or cars roaring along a nearby highway at twice the reasonable rate, and after the (good-quality) door clicks shut on a straw bale house, you will find yourself in near total silence. This sort of quiet allows the home to act as a refuge for the psyche; a place where the senses can escape the busy din of the postindustrial world.

Insulation Value

Straw bale houses may look and feel like plastered stone or earth houses, but they are in a different thermal category, entirely. Old stone houses are cold. New stone houses are typically built with foam insulation, either sandwiched between two independent stone walls, or blown onto the inside face of the stone. Both of these methods are quite expensive. Plastered bales, on the other hand, provide a highly insulative wall at a price that is competitive with quality conventional construction. [...]

In a Climate-Changing World, Organic Farms Yields Better Resilience

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Scientists are in agreement that climate change and its effects are well under way, affecting everything from severe weather to sea levels to agriculture. Happily, new research shows that organic farming methods (not using chemical fertilizers or pesticides, diversifying crops, etc.) help crops and soil become more resistant to systemic shocks and more resilient to those shocks.

Organic farming: it’s a win-win.

From Solve Climate:

IPCC projections and models used to discuss climate change in the future tense: something we could head off. No more. As we’ve noticed, climate change discussions have switched tenses — glaciers will melt has become glaciers are melting. Agriculture will be stressed has become agriculture is stressed.

There’s a corollary. Talk of climate change prevention has become talk of mitigation and adaptation.

For cities, that means flood walls. For farms, it means a transition to agro-ecological farming methods, ways of farming that harmonize with natural processes rather than relying on external, artificial-or-chemical inputs, or genetic engineering, to increase yields.

That transition will have many benefits.

The first is that it will actually prevent climate change. Organic farming — one way of carrying out agro-ecological farming — has been shown to increase carbon sequestration in soil relative to non-organic methods. Furthermore, extensive research, most recently by agronomist David Pimentel of Cornell, has shown that transitioning to organic and local farming could cut energy inputs into the U.S. food system by 50 percent.

“United States agriculture is driven almost entirely by these non-renewable energy sources. Each person in the country on a per capita consumption basis requires approximately 2,000 liters per year in oil equivalents to supply his/her total food, which accounts for about 19 percent of the total national energy use,” Pimentel said.

In addition to cutting fossil fuel use and decreasing carbon emissions, a shift to organic farming and the resultant increases in carbon sequestration will make agriculture more resilient and more resistant to onrushing anthropogenic climate change.

Resistance and resilience are technical terms: as ecologist Alison Power observes, resistance is a system’s ability to not be affected by a “perturbation,” such as a sudden drought or hurricane. Resilience is the measure of the agricultural system’s ability to respond to a “perturbation” that does affect it—in other words, how quickly it returns to its former level of functioning, or how close to its former level of functioning it can get to.

There is strong evidence that organic-farming systems, which are usually a mix of diverse-plant communities—the furthest thing from the plains of monocultures that are the mainstay of American agriculture—are both more resistant and more resilient than other types of planting systems.

Read the whole article here.


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Slow Money: Investors Show an Appetite for Slow Food

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

Woody Tasch, author of Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered and co-founder of the Investors’ Circle sustainable investing group, is taking the slow money movement nationwide. His goals? To invigorate local economies, renew the soil, create shock-proof communities, and slow down the culture of greed that led to the global financial collapse of 2008 and the Great Recession of 2009.

You know. No big deal.

From the L.A. Times:

What is slow money?

A network of investors, donors, entrepreneurs and others committed to building and steering major new sources of capital to local food systems. More broadly, it’s part of a larger questioning in the wake of the financial craziness of the last X number of years, part of an emerging dialogue of fundamentally rethinking how to repair some of the problems of globalization and, including, markets gone crazy.

How can slow money help small local businesses?

Local food systems are just one pillar of local economies. Small businesses that have more direct, strong connections to their local customers and investors from the region are going to be more resilient and stronger businesses. This is all about building relations on local and regional levels of enterprises on one side and investors on the other.

Are you creating these networks from the ground up?

It’s a big job, and it needs to happen relatively quickly for our health and security in face of future shocks of various kinds. Depending on how much money starts coming through Slow Money, we would be seeking to put that network in collaboration with existing networks and intermediaries to the extent possible. Where needed, we are also very willing to create new ones.

You want to create new capital markets to invest in sustainable, local, food-related businesses?

That’s the beauty and challenge of what we are doing with Slow Money. It’s not a typical fund structure. We didn’t go to market to raise a $100-million fund. We are actually gathering a lot of people with us and looking at how can we do this on a mass scale.

How can we take it forward and have maximum impact in the shortest amount of time? Because I feel a real sense of urgency. There is a chance we can actually get organized around this and then move as fast as we can in other sectors.

Many small-business owners are struggling in the recession. Why should they take the time and possible risk to find more local places to invest their money?

This is a transition. This is not one-size-fits-all. But it’s a direction people know deep down we need to go in, so people just need encouragement and to take whatever small steps they can.

People shouldn’t feel like they have to jump overboard, but let’s realize as a society and economy that we are very imbalanced right now, dependent on distant sources of supplies from people we don’t know. It sounds like I am an isolationist, and I don’t mean it that way. But an element to this is we are not in control; we are not creating what we need.

Read the whole article here.


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Food For Thought (And Your Bookshelf)

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

For those out there interested in food preservation, you’re going to need a bible (or at least, several bibles.) You know what I mean; that little something in your kitchen library you reach for in moments of canning bliss. That tome you turn to when you’re waiting for your kombucha to ferment.  Just listen to Deborah Madison. She recommends Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation by Gardeners & Farmers of Terre Vivante

I live on a dirt lane in a small, historic New Mexican village. In the middle of the lane is a place where raised stones mark the sides of a six-foot square. I had driven over these stones for years, wondering what they might signify—an old well or perhaps a cistern?—until I happened to have a chat with my neighbor, Modesta. In the course of discussing all our wormy apples, she told me how people here used to store food for the winter, chiles and other vegetables, in pits of sandy soil. “Like that,” she said, pointing to the patch of stones. “That was a storage pit. There are lots of them around here.” And it was probably used not that many generations back.

It’s good to know how people have, through time, preserved their food—to have a window to view the old techniques and traditions. Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning gives us just this opportunity. The methods here may well inspire us with their resourcefulness, their promise of goodness, and with the idea that we can eat well year around and quite independently of our long-distance food systems. Mostly what’s required is curiosity and the willingness to use some elemental tools—air and sun for drying, the earth for holding, salt for transforming and preserving, paper for wrapping, oil for banishing air, ashes for preserving freshness. These basic things are the stuff of old world techniques, and not all are in the past.

The oldest technique for preserving food, drying, is still commonly used in New Mexico. Corn is roasted or slaked with lime and then dried in the sun on tin roofs or wire screens. Chiles are dried then ground to make molido, apples are sliced and dried on strings on clotheslines. The long red ristras of chiles are still stored food even if they now have the dual role of ornamenting homes. On the farm they hang from the eaves of barns where the dry air passes freely around them, discouraging mold. A ristra placed in the kitchen makes it easy to pluck off chiles when cooking. Although green chiles are no longer buried in sand pits like the one in my lane, two techniques for doing so are described in this little book should you want to try. Covering food with earth, drying it in the air, fermenting it in salt, burying it in fat—all traditional techniques of food preservation—should not be so impossibly far from our plates and palates today as we might, at first thought, assume.

It’s tempting, if one is nervous about the future, to say that it’s good to know about the old ways of putting food by because we might need to know about them someday, just to survive. True, this could be a life-saving book, but this isn’t the main reason to read it. There are good reasons that don’t involve an uncertain future, those that have to do with taste and flavor, processes that preserve nutrition, such as lactic fermentation, as well as pleasure and poetry. One of my favorite descriptions in Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning, a method for storing apples, involves wrapping them in dried elderflowers. Imagine the pleasure of being sent to retrieve such an apple, brushing off the still fragrant flowers, discovering that the fruit has changed from an apple to something mysterious and enchanting. Or, consider how simple is it to wrap tomatoes in paper to extend their precious season where frosts come early. This is a book I turn to when I find myself with a bounty of fruit, which is frequent enough in northern New Mexico that preservation matters. It guides me with the most direct ways to transform fruit into jellies and syrups, chutneys and preserves, without drowning it in sugar or killing it with pasteurization. The combinations are subtle and poetic, not quiet like others I’ve encountered. Take, for example, Melon Marmalade with Mint, Pear Jam with Walnuts, Blackberry Jam with Hazelnuts, or Cinnamon Dark Red Plums preserved in vinegar. The Bicolored Grapes in Vinegar are said to be divine with game—how enticing. I have some venison; where are the grapes? We all have these fruits and nuts, but what different ways of aligning them are given here. There are also foods we might have but really don’t know how to use, like buckthorn berries, linden flowers, elderberries, and wild greens and mushrooms, but can learn about should we encounter them. Thinking of the velvety winter oyster mushrooms in my farmers market that will, in fact, not last the winter unless I dry them, I am happy to know how to go about it.

Lactic fermentation, an old preservation technique that is suddenly new again, produces foods that have biological energy—that is, they are alive and do something good for those who eat them. Sauerkraut is well known (though mostly in its imitative form), but imagine radishes, those humble little roots that so many people toss into the compost (hopefully) because they had been forgotten in the back of the refrigerator. They can be chopped—red, black and pink ones—layered with salt, covered with brine and put away until the dead of winter when you might well be wishing for something crisp that didn’t travel thousands of miles. Chard ribs, too, are treated to salt and brine, as are cucumbers, leafy vegetables, even tomatoes. I’m not sure exactly how these foods might taste, but I can guess—intense, concentrated and alive—and I’ll know in a few months.

Drying fruits and vegetables in the sun focuses their flavors while making it possible to keep them past their season. The results are, to my taste, much better than those dried in a dehydrator, although that might be what people in moist, gray climates have to do. But imagine dried plums (yes, prunes!) pears and persimmons, grapes (raisins, of course), but also string-dried turnips and fermented tomato coulis. You can dry bread and preserve yeast, and make vegetable bouillon powder. One of the most enticing notions is clarifying animal fat with herbs and vegetables to use in the cooking of what must be the most savory dishes imaginable. Anyone who is now buying sides and quarters of beef, pork or lamb, as many are in lieu of going to the store for an industrial roast or a chop, is in just the right position to use such an idea.

These deeply useful techniques are expressed in words that include the distinct personalities of their keepers. Taken together, they open the doors to a big new pantry full of flavors and textures many of us have yet to experience. I know that even from my own limited experience using this book in its former incarnation, Keeping Food Fresh, Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning can give us food that sings, not the blues of freezer burn and heavy syrup, but the joyful chorus of elemental flavors wrought by sun and air, salt and vinegar, fat and fermentation on the good foods we grow. It offers an exciting entry back into the world of real food. Use it and the past will become present.

Deborah Madison

October 2006

Galisteo, New Mexico

Making an Example Out of Athletes: An Excerpt from Marijuana Is Safer

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

In the minds of a lot of folks (mostly from earlier generations), smoking marijuana is not much different from shooting heroin, or snorting cocaine: it’s all drugs. Of course that’s not the case. In truth, marijuana causes less harm to a person’s health and state of mind—and to society as a whole—than alcohol, but it’s controlled as ruthlessly as much more harmful substances.

It isn’t only law enforcement agencies bringing the hammer down on pot-smokers. Just look at the case of Michael Phelps. The mainstream media, USA Swimming, and Kellogg’s all piled on the condemnations in an effort to appease outraged and disappointed fans. Fans that took away the wrong message from “the bong hit heard ’round the world”: not that you can win 8 Olympic gold medals and still enjoy the occasional toke—but that even the best and brightest can be brought down by our silly, archaic marijuana laws.

The following is an excerpt from Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? by Steve Fox, Paul Armentano, and Mason Tvert. It has been adapted for the Web.

In the sports world, the Michael Phelps controversy was anything but unusual. While his indulgence may have generated more headlines than the actions of a lesser-known sport star would have, it was certainly not the first time a successful athlete had been raked over the coals for allegedly using marijuana. In fact, as we noted earlier, Phelps was not even the only athlete to generate pot-related headlines on Super Bowl Sunday 2008. Just four months prior to the big game, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who scored the game-winning touchdown and was named Most Valuable Player, had been deactivated by his team and fined $10,000 after he was arrested for having a small amount of marijuana in his car. In 2008, the National Football League (NFL) imposed a similar one-game suspension on New England Patriots running back Kevin Faulk, who pled guilty to marijuana possession charges after an off-duty cop caught him with a few marijuana-filled cigars at a nightclub. He also lost two game checks as a result of his off-the-field indiscretion. In all, Faulk’s financial punishment for this minor act of possession was approximately $300,000!

More famously, after failing repeated NFL-mandated drug tests for pot, Miami Dolphins all-pro running back Ricky Williams announced his decision to retire from football, albeit temporarily, rather than participate in a league that prohibited his off-field use of marijuana. (Williams stated that he used cannabis therapeutically to treat symptoms of social anxiety.) The star athlete faced a virtual nonstop torrent of public and media criticism for his decision. Of course, had he just gone along with the status quo and consumed alcohol when he wished to relax—like all of the “good” NFL players do—there would have been no disciplinary action, no media outcry, and no reason for the all-pro running back to have even considered retirement.

Brad Miller, at the time a center for the Sacramento Kings in the National Basketball Association, also discovered the detrimental consequences of using marijuana to relax. In 2008, the league suspended him for five games after he tested positive for marijuana for the third time. This suspension cost him $693,000 in lost salary. In an interview with the Sacramento Bee following the suspension, Miller explained that he smoked pot to alleviate stress and to help him get to sleep. “It obviously wasn’t the right thing to do,” he said, “but it was helpful to my mental state.”8 Miller further acknowledged that he had begun using marijuana more frequently after making the decision to reduce his consumption of alcohol.

Professional athletes, perhaps more than any other group of individuals, understand and appreciate the value of being in peak physical condition. Their livelihoods depend upon them performing to the absolute best of their abilities. If they believe that relaxing with cannabis is less detrimental to their bodies than drinking alcohol, then what logical reason do professional-sport leagues have for prohibiting this option? Perhaps athletic associations, and the public, will ponder this question in the future.

8. Sam Amick, “Kings’ Miller Vows He’ll Rebound after Suspension,” Sacramento Bee, July 18, 2008.

Louisville, Colorado: The Bee-Less City

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Apparently–or at least according to our friend Dave Burdick in Boulder–Louisville, CO won an award for being the best place to live. And the reason: no bee stings.

Wait a minute. How can a city be “best”, if it’s bee-less? Not possible.

Sound funny to you? Well, since we’re big supoprters of beekeeping, I had to read on. And thank god, there’s a happier ending.


That’s right. In Louisville, bees are banned from residential areas, so it stands to reason that nobody gets stung by bees, right? It’s not something that most of us really focus on, but there’s always a little part of your mind, somewhere, dedicated to bee anxiety, right? So come on, let’s hang in L-ville — bee-free!

Kidding aside, there really is a bee ban in Louisville and some aspiring beekeepers are trying to change that. And commercial beekeepers say there would be real value in increasing the amount of backyard beekeeping in the area:

Commercial beekeepers are encouraging hobbyists in hopes of increasing the local bee population, which is now estimated to be about half of what it was 50 years ago.

Mite infestations in the 1990s exacerbated the bee decline, while commercial beekeepers on the east and west coasts began to report sudden colony losses in 2006 — a problem dubbed “colony collapse disorder” by researchers. The cause of the phenomenon is unknown.

Tom Theobald, a beekeeper who owns Niwot Honey Farm, says the situation is potentially dire.

“It’s a very fragile population,” he said. “Bees are critical to our food system. A third of agriculture crops are pollinated by bees.”

He said a bee colony pollinates flowers in about a mile radius. With feral colonies disappearing, he said, “if you don’t have an active beekeeper, you don’t have bees.”

To read the entire article, click here.

This October: Connect For Change!

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Something “wicked” this way comes…

On Thursday, October 22– Sunday, October 25, you may want to check this out.  The Bioneers by the Bay: Connecting for Change Conference. The Marion Institute’s 5th annual conference will be held in historic Downtown New Bedford, MA.


Bioneers by the Bay provides an opportunity for concerned citizens to meet with environmental, scientific, and social justice innovators to address the Earth’s most pressing challenges. They are planning a rather remarkable three days of live keynote presentations, afternoon workshops, an extensive Youth Initiative program, a downlink of the 20th Annual Bioneers Conference in California, an exhibition hall featuring sustainable businesses and organizations, a community action center, films, music, art installations, a farmers’ market and local & organic food.


On Thursday, October 22– Sunday, October 25 in historic Downtown New Bedford, MA.


They have scholarships and volunteer opportunities available—if you want to go to the conference they want to help get you there! For more information, please visit their website or call 508.748.0816.

Dean Confident Public Option Will Pass

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Dr. Howard Dean (Howard Dean’s Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform: How We Can Achieve Affordable Medical Care for Every American and Make Our Jobs Safer) is confident that, at the end of the day, we will get a strong health care reform bill out of Congress—one that includes a public option, a key component of reform the former governor has stood behind since the beginning. Dr. Dean is so confident, in fact, that he made an interesting wager with MSNBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman. If we do get a bill with a public option, the skeptical Dr. Nancy will buy him dinner.

Like many viewers, I really do hope Dr. Dean wins his bet.

Read the whole article here.


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