Happy May Day! Boycott Amazon, Whole Foods Target and Instacart

On May 1, 1886 a coalition of American labor groups organized a general strike in support of an eight hour work day. Today, 134 years later, we can honor the memory of those who gave their lives for better working conditions by supporting Amazon, Whole Foods, Target and Instacart workers and not crossing their picket line.

Workers at these dystopian corporations are walking out during their lunch break to ask for protective equipment, hazard pay, paid sick leave, cleaning supplies and contact tracing. Chris Smalls, a former Amazon worker fired from his job for complaining about conditions tweeted, “It’s time to join up! Protect all workers at all cost we are not expandable or replaceable enough is enough TAKE THE POWER BACK!”

Life in a Pandemic

One of the things I’ve noticed about my neighborhood’s reaction to our stay in place orders is that both kids and adults are chalking the sidewalks. It’s the first time anyone has ever done this here and I like the gesture. It reminds me of the sort of collective neighborliness of the Portland City Repair movement.

With time on their hands people are de-cluttering, deciding which objects are important in their lives and which ones are not. One of my neighbors set up a temporary rack to give away clothes.

And our neighborhood’s little library is overflowing with books. Someone even put some rolls of toilet paper and rubber gloves in the box.

At the same time, it’s easy for comfortable people like me to get isolated and out of touch with what many in the world, facing sickness and financial uncertainty, must be going through.

Pope Francis had a reminder tweet for those of us in the comfortable class:

Responding to this crisis responsibly is an act of solidarity with other people, particularly with the elderly. We’re sheltering in place not to protect ourselves but to protect the vulnerable. Many people are also still working, risking their lives and the lives of their families to bring us comfortable folks our food and electricity and treat us if we get sick. Then there’s families with young kids at home wondering how they are going to hold down jobs while providing 24/7 childcare and unexpected homeschooling.

A callous disregard for the elderly (open up soon to save the economy!) shouldn’t be surprising in a culture that values individualism and the cultivation of a personal entrepreneurial self while, at the same time, not providing enough support to people who now can’t work. Insidiously, many who have legitimate concerns about not being able to work also are victims of an ideology that says it’s lazy to accept help. We have plenty of resources in the developed world but we have a system that can’t seem to put things on hold when our survival depends on it.

The elites don’t help matters with cringy responses like this:

And this:

I’ve also noticed a subtle media bias towards coverage of the folks who are comfortably sheltering in place like me. It’s not surprising. Most journalists, writers and podcasters are more likely to be sitting at home so it’s not surprising that we don’t hear as much about what life is like for those who live in fear and uncertainty.

We don’t know what the future holds. There are simply too many variables to know what will happen in the coming months. Will we have another wave infections? Will governments bail out corporations or individuals? Will we have a recession or depression? Will there be a revived interest in urban homesteading or will we go back to shopping and consuming? I’m wary of suggesting a silver lining in this crisis. For many, around the world, it will just be awful.

I’m curious how you, our readers, are doing? Leave a comment and let us know what your situation is and your thoughts about the future.

Saturday Tweets: The Chapel Perilous

Two self portraits by Edvard Munch–one during and one after suffering from the Spanish Flu.

Make a simple sifter coffee roaster

“Black Swan” author Nassim Taleb on warnings over systemic risks from global pandemics

Museums reveal their creepiest objects in Twitter battle

It Came From the ’70s: The Story of Your Grandma’s Weird Couch

The Bread Influencers

Flock of sheep visit empty McDonald’s restaurant during lockdown

Super-rich jet off to disaster bunkers amid coronavirus outbreak

Coronavirus Is the Crisis of Conspiracy Theorists’ Wildest Dreams

QAnon-ers’ Magic Cure for Coronavirus: Just Drink Bleach!

The Secret History of Marxist Alien Hunters

Cardboard Space Igloo for Cats

How to Store Bulk Goods

Our present Covid conundrum has a lot of us thinking about bulk goods. Collectively, we’ve had our illusions about the reliability of our food system shattered. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Our “efficient” market system turns out to be not so efficient when there’s a crisis. As David Harvey puts it in A Companion to Marx’s Capital,

By rationalizing the way in which space is organized, you can save on movement costs. So the whole space-time structure becomes an organizational question of how capitalism works. This was the big innovation that the Japanese introduced into the labor process in the 1970s with just-in-time production, the tight scheduling of flows of goods in space and time such that you had almost no inventory anywhere in the system. This was the innovation which gave the Japanese car industry its competitive advantage over all others during the 1980s, and the Japanese raked in the ephemeral form of relative surplus-value until everyone else caught up. The downside of this system is that it is vulnerable to disruption. If one link in the spatiotemporal chain is stopped by, for example, a strike, then everything has to close down because there is no inventory.

So what to do for our households and communities? Buy food in bulk and eat from it. Restock as you eat.

Need some tips on how to store food? Utah State University has you covered. I’d emphasize the importance of buying foods you like to eat. And watch out for pantry moths. UC Davis has a nice fact sheet on dealing with pantry pests.

Lastly, share resources and techniques with your neighbors. Knowing the folks on our block, thanks to our neighbor Jennie’s monthly happy hour parties, has been helpful. We check in via Zoom once a week, trade food and backyard fruit and run errands for folks in deep quarantine. We need not equate emergency preparedness with the sort of destructive individualism partly responsible for getting us into this mess.

FlicFloc Sticker Shock

The Covid crisis has bulged by inbox with questions about many of the topics covered in our two books. Once again, people are baking bread, planting gardens and worrying about the fragility of our food chain.

In recent years we got a bit lazy around the old urban homestead. There were a few too many meals out and an over-reliance on convenience foods. But at least we had experience growing and processing our own foods. When the yeast disappeared from the store I got a sourdough starter going within a week. So I’d say that experience trumps equipment when it comes to the living from scratch lifestyle. It’s never too late to learn. If you’re just getting started baking bread or starting a vegetable garden now is always the best time to begin.

An interesting example of technique over tools comes with today’s blog post. I had intended to write about one of my favorite kitchen tools, the KoMo FlicFloc Oat/Grain Flaker. It’s a manual device that turns whole oat groats into rolled oats. You can then use those oats to make oatmeal, müsli or granola. I had assumed that I’m saving money by rolling my own oats. It turns out that’s not the case.

I bought a 50 pound bag of oat groats for $54 from Central Milling via a bulk order run by the King’s Roost. Already rolled oats are, for some strange reason, a dollar cheaper per bag at $53. Properly stored rolled oats will last up to 30 years without losing much nutritional value according to Utah State University. So here’s the lesson: start with bulk goods in buckets (that you actual cook from) before obsessing over kitchen gadgets (Johnny of Granola Shotgun already pointed this out on his blog). My monkey consumer brain just leaps to the fun gadgets before I consider the prosaic five gallon bucket, time in the kitchen cooking from bulk goods and, ugh, doing dishes.

That said, I still like my FlicFloc. It’s a beautiful object and there’s a certain amount of self-satisfied smugness that comes from turning the crank to mill your own breakfast. Perhaps the freshly rolled oats taste fresher but I can’t prove that. And you can flake other grains such as wheat, rye, barley, millet, spelt, rice, sesame, flax seed, poppy and spices. I can also use the oat groats to make oat flour with my flour mill (another gadget that I’ll cover in another post). Of course, maybe I’m just justifying an expensive euro-trashy kitchen gadget.

But before we leave the sphere of oatmeal I’d like to note one nice hack that Josey Baker suggests in his book Josey Baker Bread. Josey suggests soaking a mix of whole oat groats and flaked oats in water on the counter for a day or two at room temperature. The time at room temperature causes fermentation and gives your oats a pleasant, sour flavor. You can make a batch of it ahead of time and put it in the refrigerator after it reaches the right amount of sour funk. Baker suggests adding nuts and maple syrup to make your oatmeal more interesting.

Lastly, let me add that, back in 2015, I compared the results of the FlicFloc vs. a cheap, surplus store grain cracker. If you want to do your own flaking (I guess that makes you a flake) the FlicFloc works better.