Notes on Mark Bittman’s “Behind the Scenes of What We Eat”

Last week Erik and I went to see well-known food writer Mark Bittman speak on food policy. He spoke in a huge room in The California Endowment–and it was a full house. Afterward, Erik and I compared it to being in church. We were surrounded by people of the same faith, being told things we already know, and being reminded to be good. And I don’t mean that in a bad way! It never hurts to meditate on how to be better, to do more. Bittman is an engaging speaker and it was a great evening. I took notes, and will share a little of what I learned.

He spent a good deal of time describing how our national food system and food policy is depressing and screwed up. We all know this, right? Factory farms, fuel waste, massive environmental degradation, obesity crisis, etc. & etc.

(One quick scary fact from the roll of shame: Did you know that 80% of antibiotics used in the US are fed to farm animals? That number has been shooting up fast for the last 20 years. Why are they used on animals? Not so much for illness, but rather to prevent illness in animals living in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, and to speed growth. They’re prophylactic. Lovely. Antibiotic failure happens to be one of my favorite doomsday scenarios.)

Bittman believes that in 50-100 years we will no longer be shipping food across country or across planet–we’ll be relying on local/regional agriculture systems, based on family farms. Whether this shift is a positive, pleasant transition or made in a state of dreadful calamity, is entirely a matter of how soon we begin working on the shift.

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All Politics Are Local

I thought it appropriate on election day to repeat one of my favorite equations for happiness–a stoic flowchart that comes via Mark Fraenfelder of BoingBoing.  At the end of the day, about half of America will be happy, and half will be dismayed. All we can do is remember that beyond voting, we cannot control the outcome of the election. So a stoic would advise us to not to rail against what we cannot change or affect, but to focus on what we can change–ourselves, and our immediate environment: our household, our block, our school district, our city.

All politics are local and the good thing about local politics is that you can make a difference. For instance you can:

  • start a community or school garden
  • volunteer to teach gardening or food preservation
  • plant trees
  • build neighborhood resilience and tolerance
  • create bike lanes and walking paths
  • legalize backyard poultry and bees

Not that these local goals are necessarily easy, but they can be accomplished. And they all address resource depletion. By all means go vote today, but let’s get together after this mess and work on what is really important.

Vote Yes on 37!

I don’t normally discuss politics on this blog. I feel that the topics we discuss under the banner of homesteading–such as gardening, alternative energy, alternative transpiration, home ec, health and fitness–unite people across the political spectrum. Overall, I’d rather focus on what we can do and what we have in common rather than the constant diet of strife and discontent served up by mainstream media.

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Chairs, are they killing us?

Even American cats sit in chairs.

The knee injuries I’ve accumulated running, hiking and fencing have a lot to do with basic flexibility problems. Mrs. Root Simple likens my inflexibility to that of a ginger bread man. So should I plant my stiff derriere on the nearest yoga mat? Or should I throw out all our furniture? I’m thinking the latter. Let me explain.

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Social Media as a Homesteading Tool

One of the things I love most about this blog is that I get instant feedback and advice. Yesterday I asked for a source for olive trees and Ginny (thank you Ginny) left a comment with the address of a nursery I did not know about. An hour after reader her comment, I came home with a small Frantoio olive tree. Exactly what I was looking for.

I would never have found this tree without blogging. Blogging is a great way to keep notes on what you’re doing and connect with other like minded people. Should blogging interest you I recommend going with WordPress over Blogger. We’re going to switch over next month. And set a deadline for yourself–blog at least three times a week.

While there are many things to dislike about Facebook (principally that those of us who use it are doing free market research on ourselves), it has proven useful for me on many occasions. I’ve used it to solicit gardening advice, find a place to celebrate a birthday, borrow a guitar and keep up with friends and family. And I’ve learned a lot from what Facebook friends have posted about their homesteading adventures. Yes, the privacy issues are alarming but, having written two books now, our life is public anyways.

I think that it’s healthy to look at new technology critically and to take a break both daily and monthly from all the screen time we seem to accumulate. And I’m not a fan of cell phones, even though I own one. They seem like tracking devices with phone privileges to me. Perhaps some of you will show me the smart use of a smart phone. But I also believe the Luddite path is a dead end.

If you write a homesteading/gardening/cooking/home ec blog, or know of a good one leave a link to it in the comments. And friend Root Simple in Facebook here.