Archive for February, 2012


The Race to Clean Energy: An Interview with Amory Lovins

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Originally posted on GreenSource.

Amory Lovins is an American environmental scientist who serves as chairman and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute. He is widely considered among the world’s leading authorities on energy efficiency. Harvard and Oxford University-educated, Lovins has worked in the field of energy policy for four decades, briefed 19 heads of state, and published 29 books, including the recent Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era.

GreenSource: What were the seeds of your interest in sustainability?

Amory Lovins: When I was young, a friend and I guided in the White Mountains and I developed an interest in mountain photography. That complemented my book learning about the serious problems in the world for which energy seemed to be a master key—if we could figure out energy, it could either solve or teach us how to relate to many of the other problems. That’s been my life’s work.

GS: The title of your book Reinventing Fire is very provocative.

AL: As it says in the preface, fire made us human, fossil fuels made us modern, and now we need a new fire that does all the same things for us that the old fire does, but the aim of the new fire is to do our work without working our undoing. It’s a slightly Shakespearean allusion.

GS: You talk about combining industries to capture efficiencies of scale, but I can’t imagine how to get different industries to cooperate.

AL: We took advice attributed to General Eisenhower: if a problem cannot be solved, enlarge it. If you can’t solve a design problem it’s typically not because it’s not small enough to be bite-size, but rather because the system boundary is too small to encompass all the options, degrees of freedom, and synergies you need to solve it.

With that in mind, we integrated the four sectors that use energy—namely transportation, buildings, industry, and electricity. It’s much easier to solve the automobile and electricity problems together than separately. Collaboration across sectoral boundaries creates important new forms of value that can be profitably met. That’s a substantial part of the $5 trillion of value we find sitting on the table for the next 40 years of the U.S. energy system, using no oil, no coal, no nuclear energy, a third less natural gas with no new inventions, no Act of Congress, and the transition led by business for profit. That last phrase is the fundamental driver. This is not forced by policy, but results from individual firms seeking their own durable advantage.

GS: How do we go from a lack of unification, and siloed industries, to something that’s more seamless and integrated?

AL: This change is going on all around us; the sectors sell to each other already. As a Chinese proverb says, the fish doesn’t know it’s in the water. I’m not so concerned about whether countries have coherent and collaborative policies, because we’re not relying on central governments to make this happen. You might ask, Why did China make energy efficiency its top strategic priority for development in the 11th Five-Year Plan? It wasn’t because a treaty made them do it. It was enlightened self-interest. That’s why China is now introducing the biggest carbon-trading zone in the world in the 12th Five-Year Plan. Absent any global agreement, they’re doing what makes sense and makes money for China.

GS: The existing power grid in most places in the United States is not equipped for renewable energy. It would take a lot of work to get those things into a proper interface.

AL: There are certainly changes needed in how we run the grid and how we authorize and technically enable our distributive generators to connect. That’s normally signaled through price—if you knew that running a load of wash cost six times more now than it would later, you might change your mind about doing it now. We’re not compromising convenience; in fact convenience, health, and productivity would be markedly improved in the kinds of buildings we’re describing. That’s already observable among the people who have such buildings. I happen to live in one. The resulting gains in health and productivity are typically one and sometimes two orders of magnitude, that is, factors of 10 more valuable than the direct energy savings.

GS: Your perspective is very optimistic. Many say we’re not moving quickly enough. What about the naysayers?

AL: I suggest they read the book and listen to what’s happening in the market. Do they know, for example, that for the past three years half of the new generating capacity installed worldwide is renewable? Do they know that in 2010, other than big hydro, renewables became bigger in installed capacity than nuclear power worldwide, and got $151 billion of private investment, and added 60 billion watts of energy? Do they know that by the end of 2011, the world will be able to make 60 billion watts of photovoltaics every year—and that number’s been growing 65 percent a year for five years? In the spirit of applied hope, I’m asking people to look at the evidence and realize that the new energy system I’m describing is emerging all around us as a result of pragmatic decisions in pursuit of profit. Anyone who tries to finance and lease a non-green building in today’s market will understand that things have changed.

Photo © Judy Hill Lovins

 

Lovins lives in Old Snowmass, Colorado, at 7,100 feet, keeps a passive solar banana farm, and is on his 36th banana crop.

Celebrate Women’s History Month: Books by (Unreasonable) Women on Sale!

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

March is Women’s History Month, paying tribute to the generations of women whose commitment to nature and the planet have proved invaluable to society. In honor, we have put a selection of titles by Chelsea Green women authors on sale.

Whether you want to learn more about saving heirloom seeds, mastering the how-to of sustainable and organic gardening, initiating radical political action, or organizing your community—we have a book for you.

As author Diane Wilson once said, paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw, “The reasonable woman expects to adapt to the world; whereas the unreasonable woman expects the world to adapt to her. Therefore, all progress DEPENDS on the Unreasonable Woman.”

We have some wonderfully ‘unreasonable women’ here at Chelsea Green and are proud to continue to publish groundbreaking books to help you examine your food choices, fuel political change, dig in to the joys of gardening, and organize for resilience within your community.

Happy reading from the folks at Chelsea Green Publishing.

P.S. Don’t forget to check out our full list of books on sale here: http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/sale/


The New Feminist Agenda: Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work and Family

 

The New Feminist Agenda Book Cover Image

By Madeleine M. Kunin

 

Feminists opened up thousands of doors in the 1960s and 1970s, but decades later, are U.S. women where they thought they’d be? The answer, it turns out, is a resounding no. Looking back over five decades of advocacy, Madeleine Kunin analyzes where progress stalled, looks at the successes of other countries, and charts the course for the next feminist revolution—one that mobilizes women, and men, to call for the kind of government and workplace policies that can improve the lives of women and strengthen their families.

“In this important new book, Madeleine Kunin argues that empowering women to succeed at home and at work is both good economics and good social policy. She presents a convincing roadmap for how we achieve that vision, and calls on all of us to be part of a brighter future.” —President Bill Clinton

 

The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times

 

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By Carol Deppe

This book is packed with expert advice on plant varieties and discusses the best way to grow, prepare, and store five “key crops”—potatoes, corn, beans, squash, and eggs. Beginner’s as well as the most expert gardeners will find this an invaluable resource, with new information, recipes, and simple tips for self-sufficiency they won’t find elsewhere. At its heart, this is a realistic book about how resilient gardeners (and their gardens) can flourish even in challenging times.

Take a look at Chapter One: Gardening and Resilience here….


Wild Flavors: One Chef’s Transformative Year Cooking from Eva’s Farm

 

Wild Flavors Book Cover Image

By Didi Emmons

Curiosity sparked Emmons’s initial venture down the Massachusetts coast to meet the celebrated farmer Eva Sommaripa, whose 200-plus uncommon herbs, greens, and edible “weeds” supply many top Northeastern chefs.

Wild Flavors follows Didi through a year in Eva’s Garden and offers both the warmth of their shared tales as well as the exquisite foods Didi came to develop using only the freshest of ingredients and wild edibles. Alongside the unique seasonal offerings, Didi provides profiles and tips on 46 uncommon plants, and shares Eva’s wisdom about staying connected and maintaining a sane and healthy lifestyle in an increasingly hectic world.

Wild Flavors is a finalist for this year’s International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) cookbook awards in the Food Matters category! READ MORE…


Diary of an Eco-Outlaw: An Unreasonable Woman Breaks the Law for Mother Earth

 

Diary of Eco-outlaw Book Cover Image

By Diane Wilson

As George Bernard Shaw once said, “All progress depends on unreasonable women.”

And in Diary of an Eco-Outlaw, the eminently unreasonable Wilson delivers a no-holds-barred account of how she—a fourth-generation shrimper, former boat captain, and mother of five—took a turn at midlife, unable to stand by quietly as she witnessed abuses of people and the environment.

“An unstoppable tale of true bravery . . . This book will shake the ground beneath your feet.” —Janisse Ray, author of Pinhook


The Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm: A Cultivator’s Guide to Small-Scale Organic Herb Production

 

Chinese Med. Herb Farm Book Cover Image

By Peg Schafer

Peg Schafer, longtime grower and teacher, guides readers with information on propagating, cultivating, and harvesting Chinese herbs, and presents fascinating new scientific data that reveal the age old wisdom of nature and the traditional systems of Chinese medicine. Through 79 detailed herb profiles—all tested and trialed on Schafer’s certified organic farm—Schafer offers easy-to-follow information, suitable for both growers and practitioners, for growing efficacious wild-simulated herbs

In a recent issue Herb Companion magazine writes about their tour of Peg’s herb farm (and includes an excerpt). It sounds like they had a wonderful visit. READ MORE…


Thinking in Systems: A Primer

 

Thinking in Systems Book Cover Image

By Donella Meadows

Thinking in Systems is a concise and crucial book offering insight for problem solving, on scales ranging from the personal to the global. Edited by the Sustainability Institute’s Diana Wright, this essential primer brings systems thinking out of the realm of computers and equations and into the tangible world, showing readers how to develop the systems-thinking skills that thought leaders across the globe consider critical for 21st-century life.

“They are resilient, self-organized, and hierarchical, yet systems will often surprise us because many relationships in systems are nonlinear…An accessible introduction to systems for nonspecialists. Recommended for general readers and all levels of undergraduate students.” —A.A. Batabyal, Rochester Institute of Technology, ALA Choice. Currently adopted by Villanova, University of Vermont, University of North Carolina, and Harvard.

Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners

 

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By Suzanne Ashworth

Seed to Seed is widely acknowledged as the best guide available for home gardeners to learn effective ways to produce and store seeds on a small scale. This newly updated and greatly expanded second edition includes additional information about how to start each vegetable from seed, which has turned the book into a complete growing guide.

Suzanne Ashworth has grown seed crops of every vegetable featured in the book, and has thoroughly researched and tested all of the techniques she recommends for the home garden.


Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture

 

Radical Homemakers Book Cover Image

By Shannon Hayes

Radical Homemakers is about men and women across the U.S. who focus on home and hearth as a political and ecological act, and who have centered their lives around family and community for personal fulfillment and cultural change. It explores what domesticity looks like in an era that has benefited from feminism, where domination and oppression are cast aside and where the choice to stay home is no longer equated with mind-numbing drudgery, economic insecurity, or relentless servitude.

If you ever considered quitting a job to plant tomatoes, read to a child, pursue creative work, can green beans and heal the planet, this is your book.


Growing, Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life, and Vegetables

 

Growing, Older Book Cover Image

By Joan Dye Gussow

Gussow’s memoir begins when she loses her husband of forty years to cancer and, two weeks later, finds herself skipping down the street—much to her alarm. Why wasn’t she grieving in all the normal ways?

With humor and wit, she explains how she stopped worrying about why she was smiling and went on worrying, instead, as she always has, about the possibility that the world around her was headed off a cliff. But hers is not a tale, or message, of gloom, it is an affirmation of a life’s work—and work in general.


Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

 

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By Riki Ott

The extraordinary tale of disaster and of community healing, written by a commercial salmon “fisherm’am” who is also a PhD marine biologist. Ott examines shifts in scientific understanding of oil-spill effects on ecosystems and communities, exposes fundamental flaws in governance and the legal system, and contrasts spillprevention and response measures in the Sound to dangerous conditions on the Alaska pipeline.



The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot

 

End of AMerica Book Cover Image

By Naomi Wolf

In a stunning indictment of the Bush administration and Congress, bestselling author Naomi Wolf lays out her case for saving American democracy. In authoritative research and documentation Wolf explains how events of the last six years parallel steps taken in the early years of the 20th century’s worst dictatorships such as Germany, Russia, China, and Chile.

The book cuts across political parties and ideologies and speaks directly to those among us who are concerned about the ever-tightening noose being placed around our liberties.


DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education

 

DIY Book Cover Image

By Anya Kamenetz

“Kamenetz shows us ‘higher education’ as a crumbling facade. It doesn’t work well or deliver on its promise. Meanwhile, a thousand alternative flowers are beginning to bloom and the means for any of us to educate ourselves have become available. Let’s get on with it.” —James Marcus Bach, author of Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar

 

 

 

More Women Authored Titles On Sale

 

 An Unreasonable WomanPearls, Politics, and PowerThe Farmstead Creamery AdvisorLmits to GrowthgatheringFarmer and the Grill

The Color of AtmosphereFood Not LawnsLuminous FishEthical MarketsSharing the HarvestThis Organic Life

 

** Sale runs through April 14, 2012**

Eight States May Legalize Marijuana This Year – Did Yours Make the List?

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Reposted from our friends over at NORML, here’s a rundown of eight progressive states that are set to stand up for sensible marijuana laws in the coming year. We know Marijuana is Safer, and so do many of you, our readers. If you’re lucky enough to call one of these states home, we hope you’ll help push the movement along and help de-criminalize this benign and beguiling plant!

2012 has only just begun and it is already shaping up to be one of the most exciting and active years for marijuana law reform in some time. More than a dozen state legislatures are currently considering reform measures in some respect and 8 states are attempting to put legalization initiatives before voters this November.

Many of these efforts are still in the signature gathering stage. Check out the list below to see if you might be able to vote ‘Yes’ on marijuana legalization in your state this year and how you can get involved to make that a reality. In addition to the legalization initiatives below several states, such as Ohio and Massachusetts, are  working to also put medical marijuana initiatives before voters this year. To stay up to date on all the efforts to reform marijuana laws you can follow our “Legalize It 2012″ hub on Facebook and Twitter.

California

Regulate Marijuana Like Wine

Details: “The “Regulate Marijuana Like Wine” initiative intends to repeal prohibition of marijuana for adults, strictly regulate marijuana, just like the wine industry, allow for hemp agriculture and products while not changing laws regarding medical marijuana, impairment, work place drug laws, or laws regarding vehicle operation. This initiative would also provide specific personal possession exemptions, require dismissal of pending court cases for marijuana possession, and ban the advertising of non-medical marijuana.”

Learn More: www.regulatemarijuanalikewine.com

Repeal Cannabis Prohibition Act 2012

Details: “Aims to repeal current state criminal laws prohibiting the personal possession, use, transportation, and cultivation of cannabis by adults 19 years of age and older. During the first 180-days following the passage of the Act, the Legislature is authorized to create the California Cannabis Commission. This Commission will develop appropriate regulations for the commercial production and sales of cannabis, including licensing and taxation. Individuals are allowed to possess up to three pounds and grow a 100 sq. ft. canopy without being subject to regulations. It maintains penalties for possession by persons under 19, distribution to persons under 19, and driving while impaired.”

More Info: www.repealcannabisprohibition.org

Colorado

Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act

Details: “The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012 makes the adult use of marijuana legal, establishes a system in which marijuana is regulated and taxed similarly to alcohol, and allows for the cultivation of industrial hemp.”

More Info: www.regulatemarijuana.org

Michigan

The 2012 Michigan Ballot Initiative to End Marijuana Prohibition

Details: “Proposes a state constitutional amend that states: “For persons who are at least 21 years of age who are not incarcerated, marihuana acquisition, cultivation, manufacture, sale, delivery, transfer, transportation, possession, ingestion, presence in or on the body, religious, medical, industrial, agricultural, commercial or personal use, or possession or use of paraphernalia shall not be prohibited, abridged or penalized in any manner, nor subject to civil forfeiture; provided that no person shall be permitted to operate an aircraft, motor vehicle, motorboat, ORV, snowmobile, train, or other heavy or dangerous equipment or machinery while impaired by marihuana.”

More Info: www.help.repealtoday.org

Missouri

Show-Me Cannabis Regulation

Details: “A constitutional measure which would regulate cannabis like alcohol, provide access to medicine for cannabis patients, and open a market for farming industrial hemp in Missouri.”

More Info:  www.show-mecannabis.com

Montana

Montana First: Ending Criminal Penalties for Marijuana

Details: “The new petition is for a proposed amendment to the state constitution. It would add just two sentences to a portion of the constitution concerning adult rights, which already contains a reference to the legal age for the consumption of alcohol. [Stating] Adults have the right to responsibly purchase, consume, produce, and possess marijuana, subject to reasonable limitations, regulations, and taxation.  Except for actions that endanger minors, children, or public safety, no criminal offense or penalty of this state shall apply to such activities.”

More Info: www.montanafirst2012.org

Nebraska

The Nebraska Cannabis Initiative

Details: “Add Proposition 19 to the Nebraska Constitution whose object is to regulate and tax all commercial uses of cannabis, also known as marijuana, and to remove all laws regulating the private, noncommercial use of cannabis.”

More Info: www.neprop19.org

Oregon

Oregon Cannabis Tax Act of 2012

Details: “The Oregon Cannabis Tax Act 2012 is a citizen’s initiative campaign to regulate marijuana and restore hemp. Just as ending alcohol prohibition and regulating that market has protected society, regulating marijuana will help wipe out crime. Restoring hemp, made from the seeds and stems of the marijuana plant for fuel, fiber and food, will put Oregon on the cutting edge of exciting new sustainable green industries and create untold multitudes of new jobs.”

More Info: www.cannabistaxact.org

Citizens for Sensible Law Enforcement: Initiative IP-24

Details: “Currently known as IP-24, the measure would allow adults over 21 to use marijuana for personal use without fear of criminal sanctions. The bill has substantial safeguards to protect children and public safety. With hundreds of signature gatherers on the streets every day, CSLE is confident the measure will appear on the November 2012 ballot.”

More Info: www.ompicampaign2012.org

Washington

Initiative 502

Details: “Washington State Initiative Measure No. 502 (I-502) would license and regulate marijuana production, distribution, and possession for persons over twenty-one; remove state-law criminal and civil penalties for activities that it authorizes; tax marijuana sales; and earmark marijuana-related revenues.”

More Info: www.newapproachwa.org

For more information, check out Marijuana is Safer, in our bookstore and on Facebook, where it has almost 700,000 fans!

…On second thought, they have enough fans. Go visit Chelsea Green on Facebook, and join the conversation around other aspects of “green” living!

Love, Money, and Valentine’s Day

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Reposted from the Winnipeg Free Press.

Valentine’s Day is the second-busiest day of the year next to Mother’s Day for florists like the family owned Winnipeg business McDiarmid Flowers.

But when the holiday of romance falls on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, there seems to be a lot more love to give — at least when measuring the volume of flower sales.

“Flowers sell much better on those days, because when people have Valentine’s on Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday, they tend to go to the lake, get a theme hotel, go across the border or go for a big meal at a fancy restaurant,” says Gayle Sidney, co-owner with her mother, Marion Shewchuk, of the River Heights shop.

On average, people spend between $75 and $100 on flowers when Valentine’s falls in the middle of the week, compared to $40 or $50 when it falls closer to weekends.

Still, flowers are the most popular purchase on Valentine’s Day, according to a recent American Express-sponsored survey. The U.S. poll found consumers estimate they’ll spend about eight per cent more this year than last year — or about $200.

The credit card firm’s survey states the increase is part of an overall up-trend in consumer spending.

One could suppose the better we feel about the economy, the more love we feel emanating from our wallets.

That Valentine’s Day spending is connected with the health of the economy is hardly surprising, says an expert on the history of the holiday.

Over hundreds of years, Valentine’s Day has evolved from a Christian celebration of martyrdom into a celebration of romantic love. And its popularity in the modern context is intertwined with the rise of industrialization and finance about 150 years ago, says English literature professor Heather Evans at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

Ironically, this period of tremendous change, which deeply shaped society today, also marked a shift in how we ‘love’.

“The same period that saw the development of Valentine’s Day as a commercial venture is the same period that saw a shift in the construction of marriage from one that is primarily for the purpose of transferring money and other forms of power to one being based on love,” Evans says.

Today’s typical Valentine’s Day fare — the box of chocolates, the cards, the heart-shaped decor and even flowers — were a new phenomenon during the 19th century, only made possible by the advances in printing, marketing, textiles and other modernizing innovations of the day, she says.

Increases in industrial production allowed for greater distribution of goods and, in turn, wealth, which led to an expansion of the middle class. By the mid-1860s, Valentine’s Day became more popular because a large portion of the population had the disposable income to spend on consumer goods that were not necessities for survival.

Romantic love, like most other things in a free-market society, became affordable. Or at least those items that represented its spectacle — chocolates, cards and other gifts — could be produced in large enough supply to meet a growing demand, partially created by a newly emerging advertising biz.

Love could be commoditized, packaged and priced, while marriage was becoming less about transferring wealth and solidifying economic status and increasingly more about the freedom of choice among the middle class to pursue relationships on mutual romantic interest.

That is not to say money and marriage today are not deeply connected. Instead, Evans says, love, marriage and Valentine’s Day are like most everything else in our free-market civilization. Their value is often measured in dollars.

So while we love ‘love’, we love money, too.

“We love it in so many ways,” Evans says with a laugh. And whether we like it or not, money is a fundamental common denominator, even in affairs of the heart. Still, calling Valentine’s Day a ‘Hallmark Holiday’ — a means for retailers to boost sales of their products — is a little too cynical, in Evans’ view.

“It’s very difficult to point fingers at Valentine’s Day without thinking of it in that larger context,” she says. “It simply says something about who we are.”

Somewhat oddly, though, our market system on the one hand puts a price on love as measured by how much we spend on the holiday, or how much we spend on engagement rings or marriage.

But on the other, it also largely excludes aspects of civilization that are often most associated with love, such as nurturing and co-operating, says a renowned U.S.-based economic theorist.

Hazel Henderson is an acclaimed futurist, recently named by Wired UK as one of the Top 50 people most like to change the world, who coined the term the ‘love economy’ decades ago. She concluded modern-day economic indicators — like gross domestic product (GDP) — largely ignore unpaid work that goes on in homes and communities, such as raising children, volunteering and housework.

She says economists like to refer to GDP as a pie with two layers, the free markets and the underneath, the public sector that supports it.

But Henderson says that excludes all that goes on in the home and community that is largely unpaid.

“I began to wonder what was wrong with economics, and why did we not count this?” says the president of Ethical Markets Media, who is also a pioneer in socially responsible investing. The answer, she concluded, was that the fundamentals of modern economics developed alongside the Industrial Revolution, the growth of the middle class and many of the holidays that are widely commercialized today, including Valentine’s Day.

“It was all about competition and individual maximizing of your own self-interest,” she says.

But Henderson says human nature also includes nurturing and co-operation.

“That’s what I meant by the ‘love economy,’ ” she says.

“If you don’t acknowledge that — whether you’re a government in Ottawa, Washington or wherever — you’re playing with a map of only half the territory.”

When put into dollar figures, the love economy is worth tens of trillions of dollars in GDP every year, she says.

Yet, it’s almost entirely excluded from the equation in modern economics, even though the ‘economy’ can’t survive without it.

“While all these competitors go out there and earn money in the cash economy, there is somebody back home who is keeping home fires burning, taking care of the kids and binding up the wounds of the competitors when they come back home.”

Henderson says we fail to factor the ‘love economy’ into the marketplace, often to our peril.

“Part of the whole problem that most of the economies are in now after the whole Wall Street debacle is we’re not recognizing the extent to which all industrial societies — not to mention developing countries — rely on creative goods and services and production that are unpaid.”

Greed is validated as a motivator of competition, yet the lust for profit has led to financial crisis after crisis, while the ‘loving’ aspects of our human nature often get trampled as a result.

Still, Henderson says, nothing is wrong with free-market enterprise in and of itself. It’s that we’ve chosen to exclude aspects of our lives that are equally important from our economic calculations.

So, while we can buy our loved ones tokens of our love this Valentine’s Day, the product of our romantic love — a family — largely remains off the balance sheet.

[email protected]

Nothing Says Love Like Filet

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

A new post from Shannon Hayes, author of The Farmer and the Grill, perfect for Valentine’s Day! I wonder if the butcher has any filet mignon left at this late hour…

In the fifteen years Bob and I have been together, we’ve figured out how to orchestrate the perfect romantic evening.  Flowers and chocolates were long ago dismissed.  Jewelry goes largely unappreciated.  Fancy restaurants or elegant stays in romantic B&Bs are over-rated.  An amorous evening for us means staying home with a vodka martini in one hand, a plate of grassfed filet mignon in the other, and the romantic crackling fire of a hot grill just outside the kitchen door.

For years, filet mignon was a cut I shied away from.  Since it comes from the muscle on the animal that does the least amount of work, it doesn’t pack the same beefy intensity as a chuck eye steak or London broil.  I dutifully cooked it until it was medium rare, but found myself bored with the flavor by the third bite.

Then I read about the health benefits of raw or super-rare meat, how it is easier for the body to digest.  So I experimented with a piece of filet…and discovered a world of delicate flavor that I’d never before appreciated.  Filet mignon does not have the characteristic intense beef flavor that is so prominent in other cuts, so when left rare, the other two components that mark the distinctive grassfed flavor – the taste of minerals from nutrient-rich soils and the sweet herbaceousness from lush pastures – are much more pronounced.  Compared to a rib eye or sirloin steak, a rare piece of filet mignon tastes almost floral.  The flavor nuances are so delightful and interesting, I myself rhapsodizing about the extraordinary taste to the very last bite.

Admittedly, a piece of filet makes for a pretty pricey dinner.  The tenderloin muscle on a beef makes up less than 2% of the overall carcass weight.  There is not a lot of it to go around.  But even at $28 per pound (our farm market price), the cost of a home-cooked filet mignon dinner is a whole lot cheaper than dinner out.  And since it is best cooked out on the grill (even in the depths of winter on a snowy Valentines’ day), there’s not a lot of prep work in the kitchen (leaving ample time for sipping cocktails), and there are very few dishes to wash up later (leaving ample time for other pursuits).  Here’s how we cook the filet in our house:

Grilled Filet Mignon with Lemon Herb Butter

Serves 2

  • 1 pound filet mignon steaks, 1 1 /2 inches thick (two 8 ounce pieces)
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 recipe Lemon Herb Butter, see below

Sprinkle the steaks on both sides with the salt and pepper.  Set them aside and allow them to come to room temperature while you light one side of your grill.

Allow the grill to heat up.  When you can hold your hand four inches above the grate for no more than 3 or 4 seconds, lay the steaks across the grate and sear them for 2 minutes on each side.

Remove the steaks to the cool side of the grill.  Put the lid on, and allow them to cook indirectly for 4-5 minutes.  Serve immediately, topped with a generous dollop of Lemon Herb Butter.

Lemon Herb Butter

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • ½ teaspoon granulated garlic
  • ½ teaspoon fine salt
  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Beat the butter until light and fluffy, then blend in the remaining ingredients.  Serve immediately, or cover in an air-tight container and store in refrigerator for up to one month.

Shannon Hayes, host of GrassfedCooking.com, is the author of The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook, The Farmer and the Grill, and Radical Homemakers. She works with her family raising grassfed meat on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in upstate New York. Her newest book, Long Way on a Little: An Earth Lovers’ Companion for Enjoying Meat, Pinching Pennies and Living Deliciously, is due out in September. Copies of her books are available through GrassfedCooking.com at wholesale and retail prices.

Gordon Edgar: Grass, Farmland, and Where My Cheese Love Story Begins

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

This Valentine’s Day, we’d like to share one of our favorite sorts of love story — one that involves food! Enjoy this tale of budding turophilia (that means “cheese-loving”) from one of our fun, recent titles, Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge by Gordon Edgar.

I was called to jury duty last year. When we walked into the courtroom for selection, each potential juror had to inform the court of his or her name, neighborhood, and occupation. When my turn came (and, like a punch line, I was last), I said, “My name is Gordon Edgar, I live in Duboce Triangle, and I work at Rainbow Grocery Cooperative as a cheesemonger.”

Everyone laughed. The lawyers laughed. The potential jurors laughed. Even the judge and the court reporter snickered. Only the eighty-five-year-old plaintiff, who had been run over by the defendant, didn’t crack a smile—but she had an excuse since she only spoke Cantonese. Her lawyer recovered, and then asked me, in open court, for any cheese tips I might have.

Like everyone else ever in the history of jury duty, I was frustrated by the glacially slow jury selection process. We were in our second day, and since the plaintiff’s attorney was getting paid quite well, I didn’t feel like sharing my professional knowledge for free. “Don’t get me started,” I replied curtly.

After we were chosen, the remaining jurors asked if I could bring cheese to the deliberations. I brought chunked pieces of four-year-aged Gouda, Bravo Silver Mountain Cheddar, and Italian Piave in clear, compostable, sixteen-ounce bulk containers for the lunch breaks. I brought doughnuts to our two-hour deliberation because it started at eight thirty in the morning.

I often get asked my opinion on the relationship Americans have with cheese, usually by a customer who has a pet theory about how society works. Often these theories are pessimistic: Processed American Cheese symbolizes soulless suburban white-bread culture; commodity block Cheddars are emblems of Americans’ disconnect from their cultural roots; the relatively small number of choices we have (outside of a few urban centers) when buying cheese reveals how much control factory farming has over the food supply. Jury duty provided a good amount of time to think about this question: How do Americans relate to cheese?

When conversing with me over the counter, customers often declare that Americans, excluding themselves of course, don’t appreciate cheese. Yet every American, on average, consumes over thirty pounds of cheese a year. That’s less than half what the people of Greece, the world leader, consume, according to the International Dairy Association. Still, it’s good enough for seventh place in the world.2 In 2005 the United States produced over nine billion pounds of cheese. Clearly Americans love cheese.3

An oft-spoken critique is that Americans don’t appreciate “good” cheese. If we assume that “good cheese” means cheese in the $10-a-pound and up range, we have to remember that, in the more fancy-cheese-friendly nations, cheese is much cheaper. In Berlin I once visited a department store with a huge cheese selection. There was no American-made cheese there, but the same European cheeses we carry in San Francisco were about a third of the price. And this was a very high-end place. Ten thousand fewer travel miles, and a smaller number of people with their hands in the pie, make a difference in pricing, to be sure.

Holding a huge bag of cheese and trying to find an exit, I stumbled across the US food section. Imported Pop-Tarts were about $10 a box. Small plastic jars of Skippy peanut butter were even more. When American foodies mock other Americans for not appreciating fine cheese, they should remember that the US equivalent to French Brie is a forty-pound block of commodity Cheddar.

Of course it’s ridiculous to generalize about “Americans.” But I find there’s a default reaction—amusement—among most people when I tell them what I do, a fact confirmed by my experience in one of the most diverse civic gathering places of all: the jury room. The reason for their bemusement is simple: Most Americans think cheese is funny.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the cheese. I’d like to think it loves me back. But there is a certain absurdity associated with my job that I’ve become immune to noticing, and it’s helpful to get an outside view every once in a while. Cheese is funny to almost everyone except dairy farmers and cheesemakers. I have a great job: full benefits, worker-run store, decent pay for eating cheese all day long. I’m not complaining in the least. But when I say that cheese is funny, I mean funny in the sense that when I tell strangers what I do, as in the jury room, they tend to laugh.

Fancy cheese might be funny to most Americans, even if the individual ingredients aren’t amusing. Most cheese is made of milk, starter culture, rennet, and salt, and I’ll go into great detail about all these ingredients. But where’s the amusement here? Nothing funny about milk. In fact, before chemical companies began messing around with the recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), milk was looked upon as a symbol of purity. Starter culture determines certain chemical reactions in the cheesemaking process and the overall finished flavor, but starter culture is often used in breadmaking and no one laughs at bakers. Rennet, traditionally an enzyme from the lining of a calf’s stomach, used to coagulate milk, is not in any way funny. Gross yes, funny no. Salt? I can’t think of a less amusing basic ingredient.

As a whole, only fancy cheeses get mocked. Nobody, except elitist foodies, really laughs at processed cheese. Forty-pound blocks of commodity Jack, Cheddar, and mozzarella demand a grudging respect because they are honest and relatively cheap. They go on pizzas and nachos. They are useful.

But moldy, stinky, fragile little cheeses? People love to come to our store and laugh at them. I had to make a special sign for the Le Farto brand of French Reblochon because I got tired of hearing the same attempts at humor every day. The sign starts off by saying, ok, first off, we don’t wanna hear your “cutting the cheese” jokes. People, people! I assure you. I beg you. Your cheesemonger has heard that fart joke you are contemplating. Just move on.

The need customers have to make fun of the Le Farto puts a visible strain on their faces. I get to observe people physically trying to hold their comments to themselves, nudging their friends, pointing at the sign. The sign also gives us cheese workers free rein, if someone actually does attempt a fart joke, to just stare back at them and say, “Excuse me sir”—and 90 percent of the time it is a sir—“did you read the sign?” Shaming customers is not something one is supposed to do in retail work, which makes the technique all the more effective.

Of course, the occasional actually-French-from-France customers often say, “I do not und-air-stand. What iz zee meaning of zis sign?” And I have to explain what fart means. This can be quite embarrassing, depending on how much English they speak. Pantomiming a fart and a bad smell to a customer would probably get me fired at another job, but when the non-cheese-workers at our store see stuff like that they just shrug.


Notes

  1. Jean Buzby, “Cheese Consumption Continues to Rise,” Amber Waves (official publication of the USDA’s Economic Research Service), February 2005.
  2. Ibid.

What do we Know About Fluoride?

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Last week The Atlantic featured Paul Connett and The Case Against Fluoride: How Hazardous Waste Ended Up in Our Drinking Water and the Bad Science and Powerful Politics That Keep It There.

Although most countries abandoned the practice of forced fluoridation years ago, the debate is still a lively one here in America, where cities and states are still wondering whether to add the chemical to their water supplies. A bill being presented in New Jersey would, if passed, mandate that all cities start using fluoride. The argument for fluoridation is ostensibly to prevent tooth decay, but Paul Connett and his coauthors say the science behind the practice is not sound, and that governments who pursue it are medicating their constituents by force.

By Brian Resnick for The Atlantic.

The government has been drugging us for years.

Since the 1940s, municipalities across the United States have been voluntarily adding fluoride to their water supplies. Fluoride, as we all learned in elementary school, protects teeth against cavities. You’ll find it in toothpaste and in vitamin supplements. Children regularly get fluoride treatments at the dentist. We bathe in it, we eat it, and we drink it, knowingly or not, all of the time. This has been going on for nearly 70 years. Yet recently, it has become a source of contention for several communities across the country.

At the beginning of the year, Pinellas County in Florida halted water fluoridation for its nearly 700,000 residents. This, the result of a months-long campaign against what local tea-partiers saw as a Big Brother public health mandate. Pinellas County represents the largest population in the U.S. to halt the measure, but as The New York Times reported in October, “a growing number of communities are choosing to stop adding fluoride to their water systems.” The article cites 200 municipalities across the country that decided in recent years to forego the practice.

But why is politicized opposition to fluoride happening now?* The process has been in use since the 1940s, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hail it as one of the top preventative public health measures of all time. It is thoroughly supported by the American Dental Association, and when it was initiated in the middle of the 20th century, rates of dental cavities fell by 50 percent or higher, arguably because of fluoride. But opposition groups, notably the Fluoride Action Network, a non-profit dedicated to fluoride-danger awareness, put forth a much darker picture. They say the effect of tap water fluoride on tooth decay is hard to pinpoint, and in a large enough quantity, fluoride is a toxin — one that can possibly make bones fragile, lower IQ in children, and contribute to bone cancer. They insist cavities can be prevented by brushing alone.

Like many environmental issues turned political, the two opposing sides in this debate present a dichotomous, confusing picture. What should residents in a community debating the practice believe? Ask the CDC whether fluoridation is worthwhile, and the answer is a resounding yes. Ask the Fluoride Action Network, and it is a fearful no. When it comes to environmental issues, misinformation runs rampant and so does emotion. At the intersection of politics and science, it’s often hard for the public to arrive at an objective truth. …

For just about every point the CDC makes in favor of fluoride, Paul Connett [a retired chemist and executive director of the Fluoride Action Network] has a counterpoint. For his full argument, read through his co-authored book, The Case Against Fluoride. But here, his most pressing concerns:

  • Fluorides’ benefits are overstated. Connett says tooth decay rates in unfluoridated countries have decreased just as much as in the U.S. In addition, he points to other dental measures such as regular bushing and pit-and-fissure sealants that contribute to the decline in cavities.
  • Fluoride is a poison in high doses, which makes Connett worry about lifetime exposure. There are several studies from China which suggest that fluoride can affect IQ in developing children at levels of 2 ppm or greater. The NRC determined these studies to be methodologically flawed, but no researcher in the U.S. has pursued this topic.
  • Connett argues that the margin of safety of just a few parts per million is too small. “One of the things that makes this a very bad practice is that once you put fluoride in the water, you can’t control the dose,” he says. Someone who drinks two liters of water at 1 ppm is going to get as much fluoride as somebody drinking one liter of water at 2 ppm.

Read the entire article over at The Atlantic, where you can join the discussion.

And check out our book, The Case Against Fluoride, too!

Slow Wine: A New Wine Guide from Slow Food International

Friday, February 10th, 2012

Review reposted from FoxNews.com

What the heck is a slow wine? Is it a vino you portion out drip-by-drip? Is it anything like a sloe gin?

Well, no. It is none of those things. But it is a new set of guidelines that might help you drink a little bit better, a little more easily.

This past week, some friends across the Atlantic – you know, the ones who know a thing or two about wine and food (think Italian, not French) introduced for the first time in English the brown, blue, and white 343-page guide, Slow Wine 2012 ($25, Chelsea Green).  Originally published in Italian, the compact, soft-cover compendium of wine reviews is an offshoot of Slow Food, the seasonally-focused, eco-friendly, flavor-centric movement. . . .

Represented by the symbol of a snail, restaurants or products approved by the Slow Food get the organization’s logo to display in their window or on their package—and that goes for wine, too.

“We’re doing away with the point system. It’s outdated and superficial. Most consumers try to pick 90-point and above wines, and miss many good wines that don’t make the scores,” said the Guide’s Editor-in-Chief Fabio Giavedoni, pointing out that wine and food should be considered in the same light. “No one has ever asked, ‘What point score does this cheese have?’”

Indeed, the purpose of the guide is to simplify a curious drinker’s decision-making by doling out good, meaningful information, as opposed to what many wine drinkers are beginning to consider arbitrary numbers. And for those who just want a nice bottle of wine to bring home for dinner, simply scanning the local wine shop or grocery store’s abundant shelves can be enough of a head-scratcher.

Trying to figure out if a wine is a good value and delicious and responsibly produced? It’s enough to make a budding oenophile toss up her grape-stained hands and head for the beer aisle.

“We are the only wine guide that visits each winery, so the information is first-hand,” said editor Giancarlo Gariglio of the 200-person staff it takes to put the guide together each year. “We visit the vineyard, the cellar, and taste with the producer.”

How this translates in the book is a concise, easy-to-read entry for each Italian winery listed, telling you not just what the wines are like, but also about the owners and how they farm their land (organic, biodynamic, etc.), with special symbols that act as a quick-reference key to particular info about the producer: a bottle to indicate particularly high-quality (e.g., the equivalent of super high points); a coin, which represents good bang for your buck in both quality and price; and a snail, which means the wine at hand is engaging in farming and winemaking practices that don’t just taste good, but are good all around—for you, for the earth, for the whole shebang.

Read the entire article: http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2012/02/06/slow-pour-how-italian-movement-might-change-way-drink-for-better/#ixzz1ljOu9sGo

 

You can order your own copy in our bookstore, and start discovering the joys of Italian wine! But uh, no rush…

10 Reasons for Financial Optimism (If You Invest Locally)

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Reposted from LivingEconomies.org, by Michael Shuman

Even though these are tough times for tens of millions of Americans, there’s reason for hope.  That’s the message of my new book from Chelsea Green, Local Dollars, Local Sense:  How to Shift Your Money from Wall Street to Main Street and Achieve Real Prosperity, which showcases dozens of ways individuals, businesses and communities are reinvesting their money locally and creating new jobs.  To give you a little taste of what’s in the book, let me share my Top 10 Reasons for Optimism.

10.  Wall Street’s Decline – Fortune 500 companies have long enjoyed an unnatural competitive advantage as all of us have unquestioningly forked over some $30 trillion of our retirement funds into their stocks and bonds.  This lemming behavior is now coming to a close. Occupy Wall Street has been so effective that even Newt Gingrich is questioning our fealty to “vulture capitalism.”  My book documents that the long-term historic rate of return for U.S. stocks has been an astonishing 2.6% per year.  Against that record, all kinds of many local investment opportunities seem fabulous!

9.  Main Street’s Rise – Evidence continues to mount that local small businesses are the best job producers in the U.S. economy, at least as profitable as their global competitors, and becoming increasingly competitive (thanks in part to groups like BALLE).  Local investment can pay off, big time, if we can figure out how to create, pool, trade and evaluate local “securities” more efficiently.

8.  The Crowdfunding Revolution – The bad news is that archaic securities laws have made it impossibly expensive for the 99% of us who are “unaccredited” to put money into the 99% of businesses that small.  The good news is that a remarkable coalition led by Tea Party Republicans and Occupy Democrats, and supported by President Obama, is on the verge of overhauling these regulations.  Even if the weakest of these legislative alternatives are passed, local businesses will be soon be able to take small investments ($100-1,000) from millions of unaccredited investors with little legal cost.

7.  Cookie-Cutting Offerings – If crowdfunding reform stumbles, the revolution will still happen.  Companies like Cutting Edge Capital are designing DIY websites so that you can go through the legal hoops to sell stock within one state at a tiny fraction of the previous cost.  For example, my colleague Jenny Kassan recently helped Workers Diner, based in New York City, do an affordable stock sale to raise capital from its employees, customers and neighbors.

6.  Better Understood Loopholes – Not every kind of investment requires a securities filing.  Some companies seeking local loans, like Equal Exchange, have partnered with their banks to create specialized CDs that allow their unaccredited depositors to invest.  Cooperatives have long borrowed from their members, with many delivering annual rates of return over 5%.  Awaken Café in Oakland raised tens of thousands in capital from its customers by preselling coffee (offering $1,200 advance purchases for $1,000).

5.  Small Town Initiative – Communities with fewer than 10,000 people have proven that local investment can be a successful economic development tool.  The Local Investment Opportunities Network (LION) of Port Townsend, Washington, has woven a network of “preexisting relationships” among dozens of businesses and investors, facilitating $2 million of investment since 2008.  Fairfield, Iowa, has mobilized about $300 million over 25 years into so many startups that it’s known as Silicorn Valley.

4.  Community Pools – While securities laws have made it difficult and expensive for unaccredited investors to participate in diversified local investment funds, there are exceptions.  Innovative revolving loan funds for local business are open to unaccredited investors in New Hampshire, North Carolina and Ohio.  A terrific investment club in Maine affiliated with Slow Money, called No Small Pototoes, allows unaccredited investors to participate.

3.  Local Stock Exchanges – In the next few years, perhaps even sooner, unaccredited investors will be able to buy and sell shares of local companies on electronic exchanges.  Early prototypes can now be seen in the platforms of Mission Markets of New York and the LanX of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  Once shares of local companies have some liquidity, it will be possible to assemble diversified portfolios, and mutual and pension funds might finally be convinced to begin investing locally.

2.  Self-Directed IRAs – If you want to invest your retirement funds in these options above right now, there’s no need to wait.  For a fee in the neighborhood of $100-200 per year, you can hire a custodian to oversee your IRA and designate almost any local investment opportunity imaginable, including municipal bonds and local real estate. Alternatives Credit Union in Ithaca, New York is exploring how to facilitate such investments by its members.

1.  Self-Investment Opportunities – Perhaps the most intriguing, readily available and safe local investment opportunity is to invest in yourself.  Buying a home, condo or co-op house you can afford generates a better return than Wall Street.  So does paying down your mortgage faster.  Or investing in energy efficiency in your home or a wind machine for your subdivision.  In fact, for most Americans, the high-return opportunities for investing in oneself are so many that they perhaps should stop investing in IRAs and 401(k)s altogether.

If you’re interested in learning more about these ideas, here are four things you can do:

Michael Shuman is a BALLE Fellow and Director of Research and Marketing at Cutting Edge Capital and the author (with Kate Poole) of the forthcoming BALLE manual: Growing Local Living Economies: A Grassroots Approach to Economic Development.  Michael’s book Local Dollars, Local Sense:  How to Move Your Money from Wall Street to Main Street and Achieve Real Prosperity is now available!

Peer 2 Peer University: The Latest in Do-it-Yourself Higher Education!

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Check out this exciting new venture from Anya Kamenetz, author of DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Future of Higher Education!

The Peer 2 Peer University is a grassroots open education project that organizes learning outside of institutional walls and gives learners recognition for their achievements. P2PU creates a model for lifelong learning alongside traditional formal higher education. Leveraging the internet and educational materials openly available online, P2PU enables high-quality low-cost education opportunities.

“Half a year ago we teamed up with Anya Kamenetz to bring a social wrapper to her book, The Edupunk’s Guide to a DIY Credential. We created a study group on P2PU and amazing things happened. We realized we wanted this kind of support to be available to learners anytime, anywhere. We also wanted to help people through the first big step into the world of DIY education – making a personal learning plan.

We took our experience with the study group and transformed it into a project based challenge on P2PU. Independent learners can sign up at anytime, work through the steps at their own pace and receive support along the way. People feeling more experienced in their learning journeys are encouraged to join as a mentor!

Why does building a personal learning plan matter? As more and more people are taking advantage of the access they have to information and social networks, their ability to use it towards continuing their education greatly increases. Being able to structure dispersed learning bolsters the ability to get recognition for it.

Anyone can take their dream and build a plan to make it a reality, whether it’s learning how to become a working class activist, a steampunk engineer, fluent in ancient languages, a better project manager, brushing up on dusty skills or making a radical decision to drop out and strike forth on your own..

SIGN UP and spread the word!”


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