La Alternativa

Today’s Wall Street Journal (paid subscription required) has an article on the Cuban equivalent of Martha Stewart, Margarita Gálvez Martinez who writes a column for the Pinar del Rio dioscecan bulletin Vitral and if tough times are coming, SurviveLA would rather have Margarita on our side than Martha. While Martha is out fretting over terry pillows and Halloween cupcakes, Margarita is surviving.

Cuba has faced some very tough years since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the loss of trade (oil for sugar) from the former Soviet Union. Gálvez’s advice falls under what Cubans call la alternativa, or alternatives for the luxuries we in the US take for granted. As the Wall Street Journal article notes, Gálvez’s advice has included everything from salad dressing that doubles as hair conditioner, beauty treatments that consist of soaking in bread crumbs and warm milk, a flan made with fruit or vegetables rather than scarce corn starch and eggs, and laundry soap made from the jaboncillo tree. What we like most about Gálvez is that she is a strong proponent of urban gardening, maximizing every available space for food, a contrast to Martha Stewart’s useless pesticide and fertilizer drenched flower gardens. See the the film Power of Community How Cuba Survived Peak Oil for more on Cuba’s inventive urban gardening.

While we hope that the US does not face a Cuban style economic crisis, we at SurviveLA believe that it’s time for la alternativa for other reasons, namely reducing our environmental impact and rampant consumption.

If you speak Spanish, please enjoy Gálvez’s recipe for vinegar made from pineapple rinds or banana peels. There is an recipe in English (not quite the same) here.

Moringa!


Photo by Harvey McDaniel

One of the big inspirations for starting our front yard urban farming efforts at the SurviveLA compound is a Philippino neighbor of ours who has turned his entire front yard and even the parkway into an edible garden featuring fruits and vegetables from his native land, most of which we have never seen before. This morning, while walking the dog, I found him cutting hundreds of long seed pods off of a small attractive tree. He didn’t know the English name of the tree, but he told me that he likes to slice the seed pods and cook them with chicken.

Thanks the the “internets” I was able to figure out that the tree is the “Moringa oleifera”, a truly miraculous tree that, in addition to producing edible seed pods, is also used by indigenous people for regulating blood pressure, dealing with joint pain and treating inflammation. The seed pods can be pressed to produce a high quality cooking oil. The leaves are also edible and the plant is drought tolerant and will grow in poor soil. Native to the southern foothills of the Himalayas, the Moringa tree is cultivated in many parts of Asia as well as Mexico and Africa.

Here’s what Wikipedia says:

The immature green pods, called “drumsticks” are probably the most valued and widely used part of the tree. They are commonly consumed in India, and are generally prepared in a similar fashion to green beans and have a slight asparagus taste. The seeds are sometimes removed from more mature pods and eaten like peas or roasted like nuts. The flowers are edible when cooked, and are said to taste like mushrooms. The roots are shredded and used as a condiment in the same way as horseradish, however it contains the alkaloid spirochin, a potentially fatal nerve paralyzing agent, so such practices should be strongly discouraged.

The leaves are highly nutritious, being a significant source of beta-carotene, Vitamin C, protein, iron and potassium. The leaves are cooked and used as spinach. In addition to being used fresh as a substitute for spinach, its leaves are commonly dried and crushed into a powder, and used in soups and sauces.

The seeds may be crushed and used as a flocculant to purify water. The Moringa seeds yield 38–40% edible oil (called Ben oil, from the high concentration of behenic acid contained in the oil) that can be used in cooking, cosmetics, and lubrication. The refined oil is clear, odorless, and resists rancidity at least as well as any other botanical oil. The seed cake remaining after oil extraction may be used as a fertilizer.

The bark, sap, roots, leaves, seeds, oil and flowers are used in traditional medicine in several countries. In Jamaica, the sap is used for a blue dye.

The flowers are also cooked and relished as a delicacy in West Bengal and Bangladesh, especially during early spring. There it is called Sojne ful and is usually cooked with green peas and potato.

Some organizations are promoting this miracle plant as a way to deal with malnutrition, since its ability to tolerate drought while still producing edible leaves makes it highly desirable.

We like plants like this that have multiple purposes, since in addition to food and medicine the attractive Moringa tree also provides shade. The goal that we have set for the new SurviveLA landscaping is that every plant must have multiple uses with priority given to stuff that is edible. We suspect there may be a Moringa Tree in our future.

Block Party Weekend


“Los Angeles is an army camped far from its sources of supply, using distant resources faster than nature renews them . . . Our region today is so dependent, so uninhabitable, yet so inhabited, that it must transform or die. Sooner or later it must generate its own food, fuel, water, wood and ores. It must use these at the rate that nature provides them. It can . . .”
-Paul Glover
Los Angeles: A History of the Future as quoted in the LAEV Overview

SurviveLA dropped in this weekend on a block party thrown by the apartment homesteading pioneers at the Los Angeles Eco-Village. Founded in 1993, the Los Angeles Eco-Village is a so called “intentional community” of folks who, basically, give a damn and are interested in improving our forlorn, polluted, and abused city.

The block party featured ecologically savvy and self-reliant touches such as solar ovens to cook the vegetarian buffet and photovoltaic panels to power the amplifiers of the bands entertaining the crowds on Bimini Street. The fine folks at the Bicycle Kitchen had a repair stand to fix people’s rides, while at the other end of the block the smell of spray paint filled the air as kids got to go nuts making art on some old sheets of plywood.

But what impressed us the most was the booth touting LAEV’s participation in plans to improve humble Bimini street with such things as trees, park benches, traffic calming measures and public art all made possible with a grant from the city and the MTA. Called SNAP, or Station Neighborhood Area Plan, this initiative provides grants to make the streets along a corridor around the congested and decrepit Vermont and Hollywood Boulevards, more pedestrian friendly. The reason the MTA is involved with this is the hope is that with these improved pedestrian amenities more Angelinos will abandon their Escalades and take public transit. SurviveLA wishes the best of luck to the Eco-Villagers in implementing this plan and we hope that the SNAP concept will spread to the rest of the city.

It’s time for all of us to follow the lead of the Eco-Villagers and throw our own block parties and make our streets fit places to meet each other face to face. Community building, i.e. breaking the walls that stand between us, is the first step in the transformation of ourselves and our neighborhoods.

Secure your Ride Part II

In an earlier post we discussed pro-wrestling scholar and Toronto bike outlaw Nicholas Sammond’s controversial bike locking strategy. Nic wrote us back to say that we got it wrong – he hose clamps his back wheel and locks the front, not the other way around. We stand corrected.

We’ll be looking at some other locking strategies later on. In the meantime this video demonstrates the frustrations of the ever evolving locking strategy problem as well as dissecting the social dynamics of crowds, specifically the fact that the more people who are around the less likely it is for anyone to intervene when something goes wrong:

Essential System #4 – Illumination

It’s all about LEDs my friends. LEDs are the way to go, lasting nearly forever and using very little battery power (make sure, of course, that you have batteries on hand). We have LED headlamps in our grab and go bags, but we also are looking into a new generation of LED bulbs for our Urban Homestead’s interior lighting.

As far as house lighting goes, while LED efficiency is rapidly advancing, compact fluorescents are still better from an economic perspective even though there are concerns about the trace amounts of mercury that compact fluorescents contain contaminating landfills. Still, compact fluorescents are far better than incandescents since they consume less power and hence create less greenhouse gas. Remember that power plants are America’s single greatest producer of greenhouse gases. And as far as conservation goes, it’s estimated that if every American replaced one bulb with a compact fluorescent it would be the energy equivalent of taking 1.3 million cars off the road.

But back to LEDs. For emergency purposes it might be wise to have a Forever Flashlight that requires no batteries. You shake the thing back and forth to run the light, with no batteries ever needed – the device’s only real disadvantage in fact is that the charging gesture, which uses Faraday’s principle of electromagnetic energy, is really lewd and may lead to crass comments from bystanders.