The Survivor

We interrupt this dull series of articles about rainwater harvesting for important breaking news at our urban homestead–the development of the SurviveLA signature cocktail–the Survivor.

For a long time we’ve cursed the previous owners of our compound for their useless, inedible landscaping. One of the plants they left us that we’ve lived with for all these years is an ornamental pomegranate tree (Punica granatum) that, while attractive, we had previously assumed was useless due to the very small fruit. We’ve tried to eat them, and found the flavor a little too tart, and the seeds difficult to extract. Thanks to a tip on the internets, we discovered that the answer to using ornamental pomegranates is to juice them.

The fresh juice was surprisingly sweet and flavorful, leading us immediately to grab the cocktail shaker and develop the long overdue SurviveLA cocktail:

3 oz pomegranate juice (from your own tree, of course)
1/2 oz Triple Sec
1 oz citrus vodka

Now, we’re more the stern gin drinking types around here, but the citrus vodka seemed to provide the right note of tartness to balance out the sweet pomegranate juice. The name, Survivor, is in part a dedication to the plant itself. Pomegranates can survive with little or no water in terrible soil and never seem to need to be fertilized.

As a symbol the pomegranate can be found in all of the cultures of the Mediterranean. From the Wikipedia entry:

In the sixth century BCE, Polykleitos took ivory and gold to sculpt the seated Argive Hera in her temple. She held a scepter in one hand and offered a pomegranate, like a royal orb, in the other. “About the pomegranate I must say nothing,” whispered the traveler Pausanias in the second century AD, “for its story is something of a mystery.”

We propose that Hera ditch her scepter and instead grasp a cold martini glass containing the newest cocktail of 2007, the Survivor.

Be Idle

Homegrown Revolution attended a talk at the Eco-Village by Cecile Andrews, author of Slow is Beautiful: New Visions of Community, Leisure and Joie de Vivre and Circle of Simplicity: Return to the Good Life. Part of the Urban Homesteadin’ thing involves simplifying one’s life, but we just can’t get behind the all the deprivation and mortification that often goes with American’s puritanical approach to the new simplicity. A compelling speaker, Andrews echoed our wariness and used the Slow Food movement as an counter-example to the pitfalls of the simplicity movement.

The Slow Food movement began in Italy as a reaction to the invasion of American style fast food which threatened Italy’s rich culinary traditions. The genius of the Slow Food movement according to Andrews, is that it linked the pleasures of good food with the issues of knowing where our food comes from, supporting local farmers, and caring about the environmental implications of agriculture. In other words, Slow Food is not about deprivation, but instead it’s about pleasure, kicking back with friends, and general celebratory idleness. So with the Slow Food movement, or with a pleasure based simplicity, while we pursue environmental justice we should also be having a damn good time. In so doing, happiness becomes both the pathway and the result of our life journey.

Life is too short to be miserable. A kitchen disaster this morning with a terrible granola recipe from Frances Moore Lappé’s book Diet for a Small Planet, reminded us that while the thesis behind that book, that modern agriculture is causing tremendous harm, is more valid than ever, the solution offered by the food activists of the 1970s, namely a bland vegetarian diet is just no fun at all. So in the spirit of the Slow Food movement, SurviveLA would like to share one of our favorite recipes, from Lynne Rosetto Kaspers’ book The Italian Country Table. Kasper discovered this linguine with pistachio-almond pesto on the island of Lipari off the coast of Sicily and SurviveLA suggests that you make up a pot, have some friends over and celebrate idleness by eating, drinking and generally doing nothing. We like to use mint that we grow in the garden — mint is one of the easiest herbs to grow and we recommend that everyone have a patch or pot of it on their homestead (it tolerates shade, but it can be a bit invasive so stay on top of it or make this recipe often!). We’ve also substituted basil when we have that on hand.

1/2 cup unblanched whole almonds, toasted

1/2 cup shelled salted pistachio nuts, toasted

1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted

1 large garlic clove

Pinch of hot red pepper flakes

2 1/2 to 3 1/2 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil, or more to taste

40 large mint leaves (a blend of spearmint and peppermint if possible)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound linguine, spaghetti, bucatini, or other string pasta

6 quarts boiling salted water

1 1/3 pint baskets (1 pound) flavorful cherry tomatoes, quartered

1. Mix the cooled toasted nuts. Coarsely chop about one quarter of them and set aside.

2. In a mortar (a processor is second choice), pound (or grind) the garlic to a paste with the hot pepper and 2 to 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Work in the remaining whole nuts and a little more than half the mint leaves until the mixture looks like very course meal, with pieces of nuts at about 1/8 inch. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Tear up the remaining mint leaves.

3. Cook the pasta in fiercely boiling water, stirring often until tender yet firm to the bite. As the pasta cooks, gently blend the pesto, tomatoes, and 1/2 tablespoon of the oil in a deep pasta bowl.

4. Sim off 1/2 to 3/4 cup of the pasta water just before draining, and drain the pasta in a colander. Add the pasta water to the bowl. Add the sauce, pasta, chopped nuts, and salt and pepper to taste and toss. Then toss in the reserved torn mint. Taste for seasoning, adding extra oil, mint, salt, and/or pepper if needed. Serve hot or warm. No cheese is used here.

Roundup

SurviveLA is embarrassed to admit that we used to have a bottle of Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller around the compound. Embarrassed because one of Project Censored’s top 25 censored stories of 2006 includes this piece on the evils of this product:

Third World Resurgence, No. 176, April 2005
Title: “New Evidence of Dangers of Roundup Weedkiller”
Author: Chee Yoke Heong

New studies from both sides of the Atlantic reveal that Roundup, the most widely used weedkiller in the world, poses serious human health threats. More than 75 percent of genetically modified (GM) crops are engineered to tolerate the absorption of Roundup—it eliminates all plants that are not GM. Monsanto Inc., the major engineer of GM crops, is also the producer of Roundup. Thus, while Roundup was formulated as a weapon against weeds, it has become a prevalent ingredient in most of our food crops.

Three recent studies show that Roundup, which is used by farmers and home gardeners, is not the safe product we have been led to trust.

A group of scientists led by biochemist Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini from the University of Caen in France found that human placental cells are very sensitive to Roundup at concentrations lower than those currently used in agricultural application.

An epidemiological study of Ontario farming populations showed that exposure to glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, nearly doubled the risk of late miscarriages. Seralini and his team decided to research the effects of the herbicide on human placenta cells. Their study confirmed the toxicity of glyphosate, as after eighteen hours of exposure at low concentrations, large proportions of human placenta began to die. Seralini suggests that this may explain the high levels of premature births and miscarriages observed among female farmers using glyphosate.

Seralini’s team further compared the toxic effects of the Roundup formula (the most common commercial formulation of glyphosate and chemical additives) to the isolated active ingredient, glyphosate. They found that the toxic effect increases in the presence of Roundup ‘adjuvants’ or additives. These additives thus have a facilitating role, rendering Roundup twice as toxic as its isolated active ingredient, glyphosate.

Another study, released in April 2005 by the University of Pittsburgh, suggests that Roundup is a danger to other life-forms and non-target organisms. Biologist Rick Relyea found that Roundup is extremely lethal to amphibians. In what is considered one of the most extensive studies on the effects of pesticides on nontarget organisms in a natural setting, Relyea found that Roundup caused a 70 percent decline in amphibian biodiversity and an 86 percent decline in the total mass of tadpoles. Leopard frog tadpoles and gray tree frog tadpoles were nearly eliminated.

In 2002, a scientific team led by Robert Belle of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) biological station in Roscoff, France showed that Roundup activates one of the key stages of cellular division that can potentially lead to cancer. Belle and his team have been studying the impact of glyphosate formulations on sea urchin cells for several years. The team has recently demonstrated in Toxicological Science (December 2004) that a “control point” for DNA damage was affected by Roundup, while glyphosate alone had no effect. “We have shown that it’s a definite risk factor, but we have not evaluated the number of cancers potentially induced, nor the time frame within which they would declare themselves,” Belle acknowledges.

There is, indeed, direct evidence that glyphosate inhibits an important process called RNA transcription in animals, at a concentration well below the level that is recommended for commercial spray application.

There is also new research that shows that brief exposure to commercial glyphosate causes liver damage in rats, as indicated by the leakage of intracellular liver enzymes. The research indicates that glyphosate and its surfactant in Roundup were found to act in synergy to increase damage to the liver.

UPDATE BY CHEE YOKE HEONG
Roundup Ready weedkiller is one of the most widely used weedkillers in the world for crops and backyard gardens. Roundup, with its active ingredient glyphosate, has long been promoted as safe for humans and the environment while effective in killing weeds. It is therefore significant when recent studies show that Roundup is not as safe as its promoters claim.

This has major consequences as the bulk of commercially planted genetically modified crops are designed to tolerate glyphosate (and especially Roundup), and independent field data already shows a trend of increasing use of the herbicide. This goes against industry claims that herbicide use will drop and that these plants will thus be more “environment-friendly.” Now it has been found that there are serious health effects, too. My story therefore aimed to highlight these new findings and their implications to health and the environment.

Not surprisingly, Monsanto came out refuting some of the findings of the studies mentioned in the article. What ensued was an open exchange between Dr. Rick Relyea and Monsanto, whereby the former stood his grounds. Otherwise, to my knowledge, no studies have since emerged on Roundup.

For more information look to the following sources:
Professor Gilles-Eric, [email protected]
Biosafety Information Center
Institute of Science in Society

The prevelance of glyphosate in store bought foods is yet another reason to grow your own vegetables and fruit if you can.

As far as weed control goes, there are some weeds such as crabgrass which are very difficult to deal with, and Roundup used to be SurviveLA’s last-resort option. Fortunately there are alternatives.

First of all we are mulching much more than we used to. Newspaper topped with leaves and twigs seems to work great, and the newspaper takes much longer than one might expect to break down.

While not appropriate for our dry climate and incendiary native plants, it’s possible in wetter climes to burn weeds with a propane tool such as these.

Ultimately, SurviveLA has replaced Roundup with a zen expression, “If you see a weed pull it”.

Zombies!

I don’t know could’ve been a lame jogger maybe
Or someone just about to do the freeway strangler baby
Shopping cart pusher or maybe someone groovie
One thing’s for sure, he isn’t starring in the movies.
‘Cause he’s walkin’ in L.A.
Walkin’ in L.A., nobody walks in L.A.
Walkin’ in L.A.
Walkin’ in L.A., only a nobody walks in L.A.
-Missing Persons

A number of loyal SurviveLA readers have forwarded us links to a new book, The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks. We haven’t read this book but we were, about a month ago, nearly run over by a zombie motorist. So get out the tin foil hats, and we’ll tell you the story.

But first some background. One of the first things we did when we founded our “homestead” a few years ago was to increase the amount of walking that we do in the interest of our environment, to squeeze in a little more exercise, and also to save money on gas. Like most Angelinos we used to drive everywhere, including destinations that were just a few blocks away. We discovered the power of traveling by our own two feet after a friend of ours convinced us to join him on a 42 kilometer walk-a-thon from East LA to the ocean as a benefit for the brave folks at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker. On that trip we realized that walking, even up to 24 kilometers is perfectly feasible, though admittedly beyond that distance it starts to get hard. While we don’t walk such long distances in the course of a normal day, it’s still perfectly reasonable to take trips up to 5k.

Incidentally, for you engineering types, there is a handy way of estimating travel distances on foot devised by Scottish mountaineer W.W. Naismith in 1892. Naismith says that it takes an hour for each five kilometers. You must add a half hour for each 300 meters of elevation gain – though there probably won’t be much elevation gain in the course of your urban journeys unless you reside in San Francisco.

So, SurviveLA started walking more, taking trips to the bank, post office and other destinations in our neighborhood. Distances that once seemed too far on foot, now were a matter of routine and the sphere of what we consider walkable has increased dramatically in the past few years, changing our view of the city and acquainting us with many things we overlooked while driving.

Unfortunately it’s no coincidence that the Missing Persons wrote their song about Los Angeles. Walking sucks here — sidewalks are cracked, twisted and broken, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation considers pedestrians to be a nuisance, old people get tickets for taking too long to cross the street, and drivers are either oblivious, chatting on their cell phones, or outright homicidal.

In response to this SurviveLA has adopted an aggressive pedestrian style and we are relieved to hear that amongst our friends we are not the only ones to have yelled and banged on people’s cars. A certain punk rock Canadian type we know of once kicked out the headlights of an aggressive motorist with his steel tipped boots when the idiot almost ran down the guy’s kid who was in a stroller he was pushing. We don’t recommend this militant pedestrianism, but in the heat of the moment we often lose our normal zen like tranquility.

The award this year for the most militant LA pedestrians must go to a duo we found out about when we discovered the poster here at a crosswalk where we frequently have issues with motorists. It reads,

Please help me find this man and his wife (both in their late 50′s) – they were walking & stepped out in front of my car – angered (in a rage), he hit my stopped car w/his hand (denting it) . . . After hitting my car they both fled on foot – splitting up. I followed the man for an hour as he ran through the hills – but he got away.

Aside from their somewhat older age these angry pedestrians could have been us. We’ll note the fact that the motorist left out the part where he, no doubt, almost ran the couple down. SurviveLA congratulates this subversive pedestrian duo and we wish we could take credit for their revolutionary actions!

Which brings us back to the zombie issue. Last month, after returning from our thrice a week run along the western edge of the Silver Lake Reservoir we were walking home and attempting to cross West Silver Lake Drive in a crosswalk at a stop sign at the same spot where the angry pedestrian duo had their showdown, when a brand new sparkling Mini-Cooper came at us at a high speed making use of the rounded corners our city has thoughtfully designed to allow motorists to take turns as fast as they can. We threw our hands up in anger and prepared to smack the car when the driver stopped finally, allowing us to cross. Now here comes the weird part – we made eye contact and we swear that the driver was a genuine zombie! We’re talking literally here not making another one of our gratuitous swipes at the so-called “zombie hordes”. This Mini-Cooper zombie had deep set eyes, slightly tattered clothes and was obviously having one of those fresh out of the grave bad hair days. This was well before Halloween, so we don’t think this was some sort of costume. The brand-new and clean condition of the car suggested that we were dealing with a zombie of means and not some homeless person. She didn’t seem “goth”, and the nearest nightclub is Spaceland, hardly a goth hangout. As we crossed the street she continued to stare at us with a look that suggested the desire to consume the flesh of the living. All joking aside, it was a truly strange interaction, beyond the normal “The Great Architect of the Universe gave me the right to drive however I want” attitude that we expect from the motoring public.

Our encounter with the Mini-Cooper zombie proves that there may actually be a zombie menace out there and perhaps Zombie Survival Guide author Brooks should take his subject more seriously. SurviveLA suspects the cause of contemporary zombieism to be the effects of consumer culture and/or television viewing. What’s the cure? In short, we think it’s the exciting new urban homesteading lifestyle. What’s the strategy to overcome zombieism? We are no fan of the Unabomber, but he may be right about this one – just substitute the word “zombie” for “American” – which is perhaps redundant, anyways:

. . . it would be bad strategy for the revolutionaries to condemn Americans for the habits of consumption. Instead, the average American should be portrayed as a victim of the advertising and marketing industry, which has suckered him into buying a lot of junk that he doesn’t need and that is very poor compensation for his lost freedom.

Getting Out

Walking back from our run this morning, we noticed a black mushroom cloud spreading out above our neighborhood, causing SurviveLA to briefly ponder the possibility that we might have to get the hell out of our beloved hometown. It turned out to be just your average hay truck fire on the 101 freeway, meaning there was no need to saddle up the Xtracycle for a long distance human powered escape.

Thankfully, if we did have to get the hell out we now have a handy guidebook. The fine folks at Process Media, publishers of Preparedness Now have just released a sequel for those who choose to run rather than prepare called Getting Out, Your Guide to Leaving America. We completely understand the sentiment of wanting to get the hell out of this proto-fascist banana republic we live in and we endorse this book for those who don’t want to hunker down and do the homestead thing. SurviveLA even has a former colleague in Chanai India who got out of the US several years ago and now has an interesting job and his own ultra low-cost homestead.

Despite the allure of more exotic places, Survive LA has decided to stay put and it’s time to get to work!

The Boy Scouts Suck


SurviveLA did not get a wink of sleep last night while staying in the Joshua Tree National Park campground due to a bunch of Boy Scout dads who stayed up talking and laughing until 2:30 am in spite of the presence of dozens of other nearby campers. Thanks Boy Scout dads for setting a nice example for your kids, some of whom also stayed up until 2:30 engaged in a loud multi-player game boy tournament while others chased desert mice, and a special thanks to the Scout who accidentally kicked out the supports of our tent at midnight causing it to collapse upon us.

While we applaud the dads for getting the kids out in the wilderness for the weekend, we at SurviveLA just can’t get behind the vile and outdated Boy Scouts, whose ongoing attempts at being more relevant backfire so pitiably and whose founder, Robert Baden-Powell, was an anti-semitic, fascist, pedophile.

If we had kids around the SurviveLA compound, in keeping with our self-sufficiency goals, we’d form our own SuriviveLA Scout troop. Here’s how the SurviveLA Scouts would differ from the Boys Scouts:

1. SurviveLA Scouts are coed. Men and women have gotta learn to work together and you might as well start early. As Barbara Ehrenreich once said, “Men alone in groups are bad company”. It’s also no fair that the girls have got to whore themselves selling cookies.

2. Let’s teach our kids to make the world a better place without the Norman Rockwell fascist veneer.

3. Hipper uniforms. We suggest something like this.

4. An urban cycling merit badge.

5. All activities are outdoors. Lots of nature experiences. No computer merit badges and certainly no copyright merit badges.

6. Lastly, the SurviveLA Scout mission statement, borrowed from Edward Abbey:

One final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am-a reluctant enthusiast… a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards.

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.

Transcendental Taggers


“I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in which the corn grows.”
- Henry David Thoreau, “Excursions”

We found this amusing graffiti on our morning Xtracycle ride to the market. Which gives us a brief opportunity to clarify the SurviveLA mission. No, SurviveLA does not take responsibility for this high-brow tagging. In fact, while we believe in the forest and the meadow, we believe in growing the corn in the city. Unlike HDT, we like cities and we enjoy the amenities that go with urban living, mainly a critical mass of creative and interesting people living in close proximity. They’ll be no heading off to a remote cabin. We have no Walden Pond here, just Echo Park Lake.

That being said, it is our goal to bring Walden Pond to the city, that is to bring the amenities of rural life, i.e. nature and agriculture, to our lives here in this somewhat ugly but interesting place we call home, the City of Los Angeles. In short, we intend to put the Urban in Urban Homestead.

By the way, to the transcendentalist gangbangers who did the tagging – nice handwriting – you are obviously not the product of the same public schools we are.

Root Simple Visits Simparch’s Utah Compound

Root Simple is in Wendover, Utah this weekend on business and it’s here, in this hallucinogenic landscape of salt flats and casinos, that the artistic/architectural thoughtstylist collective known as Simparch has established a self-sufficiency experiment they call Clean Livin’. Located on the remote South Base section of the historic Wendover Airfield on land leased by the Center for Land Use Interpretation, Simparch’s project proves that self-reliance is possible in what must be one of the harshest climates in North America.

Clean Livin’ features a set of solar panels, batteries, a solar shower, a refrigerator, and a composting toilet all housed in and around a repurposed WWII era Quonset hut. Water is biked in with specially adapted cargo bikes. Solar power pumps the water up to the tower where it is heated by the sun in a black drum. A solar panel array and batteries provide more than enough power, all day and all night, to run power tools and pump some tunes out on the powerful stereo system.

The composting toilet features, what must be the most stunning view to be seen from any toilet seat perch in the world – the decomissioned Wendover Airfield’s munitions bunkers and the endless salt flats beyond.

Take the Streets!


From an exiled Kalifornian in Toronto comes this image of some riotous folks taking back the street. Homegrown Evolution sends a shout out to the folks at Streets for People who are responsible for this bit of street theater, but we could do without the hippie font. We also suggest a little more . . . bling.

In the interest of our revolutionary vision of home economics we suggest taking the streets LA style with the Homegrown Evolution Hollywood Stretch Hummer Cornfield:


It’s economy of scale the Homegrown Evolution way!