Carlo Petrini and Slow Food: A Joyful Revolution

Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini gave the keynote address at the National Heirloom Exposition last Tuesday. For those of you who don’t know, the Slow Food movement began out of protests against a McDonald’s that was slated to open near the Spanish Steps in Rome in the 1980s. Slow Food has since grown into an international organization that promotes food biodiversity and traditional farming practices.

Petrini spoke eloquently and without notes through a translator. He called our food system “entropic,” adding that our agricultural system is, in fact, in a crisis of entropy.  When it takes 300 calories to produce 100 calories of food, according to Petrini, we clearly have a system headed towards collapse. When it comes to the health consequences our out of control food system, he noted the ironic fact that more money is spent on weight loss and obesity than buying food.

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More On the National Heirloom Exposition

Squash tower at the National Heirloom Exposition

Quite honestly, between the lead and zinc in our soil and an endless heat wave that seems to portend climactic disaster, I’ve been a bit dispirited with our little urban homestead project this summer.

The Heirloom Exposition up in Santa Rosa lifted me out of my petty depression. The amazing speakers, exhibits and vendors, left me inspired and ready to get back to work.

This week I thought I would report on some of the many talks I attended as well as share links to interesting projects and products that I saw at the expo.

The Return of the Paper Collar?

During the summertime in the warm climate we live in I often find myself wishing for the return of the paper collar. What better way to deal with ring around the collar than to just throw out the old collar and put on a new one? I have a theory (unproven, admittedly) that using paper collars would have less environmental impact than all the water and detergents we use to scrub out ring around the collar. Of course, the best solution would be to adopt collarless shirts. The folkloric apparel in hot climates tends towards white and collarless or, at least, short collars. Until dashikis make a comeback I predict we’ll see the same paper collar trend that hit the Victorians:

It is hardly twenty-five years since the advent of the paper collar. Prior to that time the average man wore neck-gear made from linen fabric, or was content to go without collars, except on Sundays and legal holidays. Then the collar was frequently built in with the shirt and worn with a loose, limp and decidedly comfortable manner. The mechanic going to his daily work despised collars altogether, and in order to see an aggregation of white linen, stiffly starched and held about the neck with satin stocks, it was necessary to attend church or go abroad at a Fourth of July celebration, Then it was that some genius discovered that there was nothing like paper, and produced that useful, convenient and always done up article the paper collar. It struck the popular fancy the paper collar did-as a cyclone strikes a Western hamlet, carrying everything before it, and so complete a revolution of gentlemen’s toilet was never before effected in so short a time. Everybody, or pretty much everybody, appeared out in clean paper collars. Their advantage over any other collar was apparent. They never needed the careful attention of the washer-woman, and after one had been worn until it was in a state of dilapidation, another, bright, clean, folded without a wrinkle, was ready in the box to take its place. The banker if he was not too old-fogyish, wore paper collars; the business man, the society man, the workingman, even the dudes of those days wore paper collars.

-Taken from Manufacturer and Builder December 1886

A note from the Mrs.: This post is a good indication of the lengths Erik will go to avoid laundry.

California Homemade Food Act in Trouble

UPDATE:Good news! Governor Brown signed the bill into law yesterday, September 21, 2012.

The California Homemade Food Act, AB 1616 would make it legal to produce non-hazardous foods such as bread and jams in a home kitchen and sell them. The bill is sitting on Governor Brown’s desk awaiting his signature. Unfortunately, the bill is under attack by lobbyists who want to stop entrepreneurial opportunities for small businesses. The League of Cities is itself in league with these anti-small business lobbyists and sent out the following letter:

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All Haste Is of the Devil: Carl Jung as Homesteader

Carl Jung pumping water in the Tower at Bollingen. From the Library of Congress.
It’s a holiday here in the US, so we’ve turned things over to a special guest blogger, Dr. Carl Jung, who comes to us via the special astral internet plan we get from AT&T. As it turns out, Jung was quite the off-grid homesteader when it came to building and living in his special retreat tower in Bollingen, on the shore of Lake Zürich.

I have done without electricity, and tend the fireplace and stove myself. Evenings, I light the old lamps. There is no running water, and I pump the water from the well. I chop the wood and cook the food. These simple acts make man simple and how difficult it is to be simple!

Why live the simple life? Jung says,

. . . we have plunged down a cataract of progress which sweeps us on into the future with ever wilder violence the farther it takes us from our roots. Once the past has been breached, it is usually annihilated, and there is no stopping the forward motion. But it is precisely the loss of connection with the past, our uprootedness, which has given rise to the “discontents” of civilization and to such a flurry and haste that we live more in the future and its chimerical promises of a golden age than in the present with which our whole evolutionary background has not yet caught up. We rush impetuously into novelty, driven by a mounting sense of insufficiency, dissatisfaction, and restlessness. We no longer live on what we have, but on promises, no longer in the light of the present day, but in the darkness of the future, which, we expect, will at last bring the proper sunrise. We refuse to recognize that everything better is purchased at the price of something worse; that, for example, the hope of greater freedom is cancelled out by increased enslavement to the state, not to speak of the terrible perils to which the most brilliant discoveries of science expose us. The less we understand of what our fathers and forefathers sought, the less we understand ourselves, and thus we help with all our might to rob the individual of his roots and his guiding instincts, so that he becomes a particle in the mass, ruled only by what Nietzsche called the spirit of gravity.

Reforms by advances, that is, by new methods or gadgets, are of course impressive at first, but in the long run they are dubious and in any case dearly paid for. They by no means increase the contentment or happiness of people on the whole. Mostly, they are deceptive sweetenings of existence, like speedier communications which unpleasantly accelerate the tempo of life and leave us with less time than ever before. Omnis festinatio ex parte diaboli est—all haste is of the devil, as the old masters used to say.

Text from Jung’s highly engaging autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. These are Jung’s notions, not my own. As a blogger, Twitterer and Facebookafier, I’d be a hypocrite if I said I was in 100% agreement. But, it sure is nice to be away from the computer sometimes. And I still refuse to get that “smart” phone. Your thoughts? Leave a comment . . . 

Film Industry Blocks Bike Lanes, City of LA Doesn’t Care

Film industry trucks block bike lanes all the time here in Los Angeles, particularly along busy and fast moving Sunset Boulevard. Shutting down a bike lane on Sunset forces cyclists to merge into traffic that is sometimes going as fast as 50 miles an hour. It’s a tragedy waiting to happen.

Not much room between a fast moving bus and a film industry truck.

As to the legality of blocking a bike lane I don’t have a good answer, but in my opinion it doesn’t matter. Even if it is legal, that doesn’t make it right or safe. Is a film production worth a traumatic brain injury or a death?

Those of us who ride a bike in Los Angeles need your help. I want get the word out that:

  • Elected officials in the City of Los Angeles (in this case, Councilman Garcetti’s district) do not take the safety of cyclists and pedestrians seriously enough.
  • The film industry values profits over human lives.

Please Tweet, Facebook and link to this post even if you don’t live here. Appeals to the police department and elected officials in the past have done nothing to fix this problem. All we get are excuses and, once LAPD calls the film crew, hand made signs like the one below:

In Portland, Oregon cyclists get a detour:

To contact those responsible for this situation please email the following:

Film L.A. (the non-profit entity that coordinates and processes filming permits): [email protected]
Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti: contact form 

Like most cyclists here in LA, I also drive, walk and take public transportation so I understand this issue from all sides. We need equity in our transportation choices and we all need to stay safe.

UPDATE: Looks like the city has “fixed” the problem with slightly more official looking signs:

Too bad it’s still dangerous. I guess it’s going to take a death to fix this problem.

UPDATE 8/29/12: More coverage in The Eastsider and Streetsblog.

Quebec Kitchen Garden Saved

From BoingBoing, an update on the Drummondville, Quebec kitchen garden, seen in the time lapse video above. City officials have backed down on asking for the garden to be removed.

Drummondville town officials announced the decision [Link is in French] this week during a special session of the Municipal Council to discuss the case. The decision could create a ripple effect in other cities worldwide as zoning laws are a constant debate in urban environments. Roger told us, “The Drummondville case was one of the highest profile examples of a local municipality challenging the right to grow food in one’s own yard. While it took place in Canada, it quickly attracted international media attention because of the garden’s beauty and productivity. The win is significant because it helps establish a precedent that other urban and suburban gardeners can refer to when similar challenges arise in other parts of the world.”

Thrive: How Doughnuts Can Save The World

I flipped on the car radio the other day just as some new age guru was discussing why he thought that so many people don’t have a lot of money these days:

Host: There is not lack of resources?
Guru: There is not. We will always be able to create more. And we don’t need to know how or why. I see poverty as being this incredibly dangerous disease. I mean, how many horrible things are happening in the world today because of poverty? How many crimes are being committed? How many people are being killed or injured?
Host: Because of the belief in a lack of resources?
Guru: Exactly. If we all believe that we can create whatever we need as we need it that would go a long way to stopping crime, stopping oppression, theft and many other terrible things that happen in this world.

So apparently, according to this guru, we can imagine resources into being. This is precisely the sort of delusional thinking that John Michael Greer has warned will show up when oil and food start to get scarce. It’s also the same feel-good philosophy that Barbara Ehrenreich critiques in her book Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America.You can find this cult of positive thinking on all sides of the political spectrum, both left and right. And it has, apparently, survived the 2008 economic meltdown in which it played a big role.

But the Nobel Prize for delusional thinking, however, should be awarded to Foster Gamble (of the Gamble family half of Proctor & Gamble) for being the auteur behind of one of the most bizarre documentaries I’ve ever sat through, Thrive What On Earth Will It Take? You can watch Thrive in its entirety on YouTube via the link. And if you’re a connoisseur of so-bad-it’s-good cinema and conspiracy theories, you really should take a look at this thing.

Most of the film takes place on a kind of interview studio/spaceship inspired, perhaps, by the one Carl Sagan deployed in Cosmos. But unlike Sagan, Gamble is not one to let inconvenient facts like the laws of thermodynamics interfere with all that free energy we can just will into existence. The central thesis of Thrive is put forth by an outsider physicist (sporting a sort of new age mullet) who explains that there’s a form, resembling an oversized and transparent jelly doughnut that, when combined with one of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic shapes, can create energy out of thin air. Or, at least, that’s what I think he said. Confirmation that this jelly doughnut energy thingy works is delivered by UFO abductees who witnessed (during anal probe sessions?) spaceships using the jelly doughnut energy vortex to fly around the galaxy. Further confirmation comes from crop circles, Nikola Tesla and a montage of perpetual motion machines.

Of course, oil companies, international bankers and Freemasons have stomped down their collective jack boots on the free energy generating jelly doughnut. David Icke, British sportscaster turned reptilian conspiracy theorist, is brought on to flesh out the geopolitical segment of Thrive. This segment culminates, for me at least, in the amazing revelation that seed companies are working on a spermicidal corn to control the human population.

Along the way we hear from Indian GMO activist Vandana Shiva and Deepak Chopra, which probably explains this disclaimer at the end of the film:

Personally, I’m thanking my lucky stars that Kelly and I ended up on the cutting room floor of a 2012 doc that came out last year, but that’s another story.

So how does Gamble suggest we fight off the evil bankers/one world government? Thrive concludes in the same way a lot of more mainstream environmental documentaries end these days, with tepid suggestions about shopping for organic food, buying recycled yoga mats, “organizing” and switching to credit unions.

In a blog post entitled “Merlin’s Time,” John Michael Greer sums up what I wish mainstream eco-docs would conclude with (Thrive is so outre that, as a work of unintentional conceptual art, it should just stay as it is). Greer says that what we really we need to do is,

learn, practice, and thoroughly master a set of unpopular but valuable skills – the skills of the old appropriate tech movement – and share them with their neighbors when the day comes that their neighbors are willing to learn. This is not a subject where armchair theorizing counts for much – as every wizard’s apprentice learns sooner rather than later, what you really know is measured by what you’ve actually done – and it’s probably not going to earn anyone a living any time soon, either, though it can help almost anyone make whatever living they earn go a great deal further than it might otherwise go. Nor, again, will it prevent the unraveling of the industrial age and the coming of a harsh new world; what it can do, if enough people seize the opportunity, is make the rough road to that new world more bearable than it will otherwise be.

In that new world we’ll have to grow and fry up our jelly doughnuts from scratch and they won’t fly us around. Neither, thankfully, will they be made with spermicidal corn syrup.

What Do Microbes Have To Do With Homesteading?

So what are the activities that microbes make possible around the homestead? To name just four:

  • Fermentation
  • Beekeeping
  • Soil Fertility
  • Human beings

Pretty important stuff. In fact, new systems thinking, applied to our natural word, is demonstrating that things like human beings are really just symbiotic sacks of microbial life. An article in the Economist, “Microbes maketh man” discusses just how important microbes are to human health:

The traditional view is that a human body is a collection of 10 trillion cells which are themselves the products of 23,000 genes. If the revolutionaries are correct, these numbers radically underestimate the truth. For in the nooks and crannies of every human being, and especially in his or her guts, dwells the microbiome: 100 trillion bacteria of several hundred species bearing 3m non-human genes. The biological Robespierres believe these should count, too; that humans are not single organisms, but superorganisms made up of lots of smaller organisms working together.

Natural beekeeper Michael Bush has made the same argument about bees. Elaine Ingham has emphasized the importance of microbes in soil.

Mess with the complex interdependent relationships between microbes and people, soil etc. and you’re asking for trouble. This, for me, is the argument against things like GMOs, Miracle Grow or conventional chemical beekeeping. We don’t know enough, and probably never will know, how 100 trillion bacteria will react to our latest innovation. Best to be conservative when it comes to microbial life.

Looking forward to seeing more of this microbial paradigm shift in science.