The perfect is often the enemy of the good

What will eventuallly become dinner
What will eventuallly become dinner

The above is a quote from this long, thorough and extremely well researched article on Mother Jones about the world’s food crisis and what to do about it.

The article details the problems facing food production in this century. It looks at the alternative farming methods that are not quite organic:

After decades as an unrepentant industrial farmer, the tall 59-year-old realized that his standard practices were promoting erosion so severe that it was robbing him of several tons of soil per acre per year—his most important asset. So in 2000, he began to experiment with a gentler planting method known as no-till. While traditional farmers plow their fields after each harvest, exposing the soil for easy replanting, Fleming leaves his soil and crop residue intact and uses a special machine to poke the seeds through the residue and into the soil.

But he still uses pesticides, only much less than he used to. The organic farmers though, turn their backs to him. And this kind of attitude is all too common in the battle for a sustainable planet. Instead of embracing every attempt to do things differently, better, wars are waged against different ideas as to how to save the planet.

The article also looks at food miles:

Consider our love affair with food miles. In theory, locally grown foods have traveled shorter distances and thus represent less fuel use and lower carbon emissions—their resource footprint is smaller. And yet, for all the benefits of a local diet, eating locally doesn’t always translate into more sustainability. Because the typical farmers market is supplied by dozens of different farms, each transporting its crops in a separate van or truck, a 20-pound shopping basket of locally grown produce might actually represent a larger carbon footprint than the same volume of produce purchased at a chain retailer, which gets its produce en masse, via large trucks.

And at the notion of only eating locally produced food:

Conversely, rural areas with good farm potential will always be able to outproduce local or even regional demand, and will remain dependent on other markets. “One farmer in Oregon with a few hundred acres can grow more pears than the entire state of Oregon eats,” says Scott Exo, executive director of the Portland-based Food Alliance and an expert in the business challenges of sustainability. “Attention to the geographical origins of food is great, but you have to understand its economic limits.”

Finally, about the need for government funding and hitherto unconsidered economic factors:

If we’re going to ask the market to pull in a new direction, we’ll need to give it new rules and incentives. That means our broader food standards, but it also means money—a massive increase in food research. (Today, the fraction of the federal research budget spent on anything remotely resembling alternative agriculture is less than 1 percent—and most of that is sucked up by the organic sector.) And, yes, it means more farm subsidies: The reason federal farm subsidies are regarded as anti-sustainability is mainly because they support the wrong kind of farming. But if we want the right kind of farming, we’re going to have to support those farmers willing to risk trying a new model. For example, one reason farmers prefer labor-saving monoculture is that it frees them to take an off-farm job, which for many is the only way to get health insurance. Thus, the simplest way to encourage sustainable farming might be offering a subsidy for affordable health care.

Discussing whether to buy organic or not, whether to buy Fairtrade or not and whether to look at food miles while shopping or not, mostly produces answers along the line of: “I read an article about how this Fairtrade operation wasn’t fairtrade at all and the workers on the tea plantation were treated awfully and underpaid, so I’m not going to support Fairtrade any longer.” Or “They can’t really check if eggs or flour is produced organically and I don’t really believe it is, so I’m not buying it – I’m not going to be fooled by that label into paying more for my foodstuffs.” Add your own answers. I find this pitiful. These people don’t stop shopping at Tesco’s just because they once in a while get a rotten tomato or meat that’s not tender. And they don’t stop dining at their friends’ house because once they got a dish they didn’t like. And they don’t stop driving their car, because they have a minor accident. But any excuse will do, to do nothing on this count. They also can’t be bothered to sort their rubbish, because so many other people don’t, so why should they?

What do I do and is it enough? To take the last first, NO, of course it’s not enough. I’m such a slave to convenience that there are endless things I could do, but don’t. What I do do, however, is to buy mostly organic – I guess that about 50-65% of what we eat is organic. Everything that can be bought Fairtrade, we buy Fairtrade. When we were in Costa Rica last year, we visited some fair trade coffee farmers and if we hadn’t been convinced before, then that visit convinced us for good. I’m also trying to look at food miles. Oh, but it’s so difficult! Yet, sometimes it’s easy, like when the choice is between American and British apples! And I’ll choose non-organic British apples over organic American apples. We should of course forego our beloved blueberries, when you can’t buy British, but I admit that I still buy them. From Chile or Argentina. And what about coffee? Should you buy African rather than South American, because there are fewer airmiles? I don’t really like African coffee :-(   What I’ve started doing lately, after reading Mark Bittman‘s book Food Matters, is to use less meat. Husband doesn’t favour a lot of no-meat days, so instead I just use less meat and more veg, beans, lentils etc. in each meal. So far it’s worked fine and I’ve found that my “I don’t like beans” standard reply to such recipes, shall now change to “I’m not too keen on kidney beans and I don’t like baked beans”. It was on Mark Bittman’s blog I found a reference to the above article.

I believe, that just because something is not THE ANSWER to a burning question, it doesn’t mean that we have to scrap that notion entirely. Because the Perfect is often the Enemy of the Good!

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So so sad and so so frightening

I used to grow these in my garden (echinacea) and they attracted scores of bees and butterflies.
I used to grow these in my garden (echinacea) and they attracted scores of bees and butterflies.

Just read in yesterday’s Times about the plight of the (bumble)bee. I’ve read about the trouble of the bee population diminishing rapidly before, but this article, in such a conservative paper, really spells it out so there’s no misunderstanding it: If nothing is done – and maybe even if something IS done – the bee and the bumble bee will be extinct in Britain 8 years from now. Eight years! In evolutionary terms that in the blink of an eye!

If there was ever a really good and totally tangible reason to buy organic products, this is one. For more reasons than one: To reduce pollution with fertilizers etc. To encourage the exchange of crops from one year to the next. To encourage the re-entry of clover, which is apparently the most important crop to attract honey bees.

So come on now, all you out there. Buy organic! Not just baby food, but everything you can lay your hands on.  It’s not always easy and I myself could do much better. I also realise that for some people it’s not an option for economic reasons. But I know that a lot of my readers could easily afford it if they so chose! Quite a lot of the foodstuffs that we can’t get in the organic versions in the supermarkets, we could buy online if we could be bothered. And here in England we can buy lots of lovely organic stuff at the farmers’ markets. But if we at least start by buying the food basics organically, it’s a start. So organic fruit, veg, bread and flour. And organic chickens, veal, beef and lamb.

And you garden lovers out there! You’ll be first to suffer, because a certain species of bees, specialising in fertilization of so-called deep-throated flowers like foxgloves, irises, red clover etc. are almost already extinct and their southern European brothers, which are being imported to take their place, don’t have long tongues and thus can’t fertilize the above mentioned flowers. So throw your fertilizers in the bin and get out there and do your bit for the bee!

Take out the time and read the article if you think I’m exaggerating!

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Samsø via The New Yorker…

A reporter from The New Yorker went to Samsø recently to learn about the island’s status as “Denmark’s Renewable Energy Island” and how they’ve actually had considerable success in renewing their energy sources so as to leave less of a carbon footprint. So Samsø is now energy selfsufficient. Well done!

Where they have not succeeded, the article informs us, is in cutting down on the actual energy consumption. Selfishness, is the simple answer to the question of why… We’re all waiting for the neighbour to start cutting down on consumption before we’ll consider it ourselves, says the interviewee. I tend to agree…

Apparently, Samsø has had the status of Denmark’s Renewable Energy Island for 10 years now and I had to read about it in The New Yorker. If you go to the project’s homepage and take a look in their press section, you understand why. It’s not exactly something that has mesmerized the Danish media…

But some international media have visited and reported. NBC, Italian RAI Uno, CBS and more.

The reporter from the New Yorker also visits Switzerland and the father of an organisation called the 2000 Watt Society. It does not have it’s own homepage, but it’s pretty well covered in the article and also on this Swiss organisation’s homepage. Its goal is rather obvious and it suggests numerous ways to get there. But you and I can’t do it on our own. Our governments and local councils must take the lead. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t do anything at all. At the moment we Europeans use 6000 watts (the Americans use 12000 watts), so must reduce our consumption with two thirds. What can we do?

  • Drive less – in more energy-efficient cars (walk more, use public transportation more). Shop for more than one day at a time. Share the school run with another family. Get the (bigger) kids to walk or use public transportation. This is England (or Denmark, depending on the reader…), not Chicago or Philadelphia…
  • Fly less. This one’s hard because the footprint we leave everytime we do it is HUGE! I’ve just flown around the world for the pleasure of it! And been to Denmark twice in two months! And David flies (that’s work, but still flying) to Berlin or Geneva or whereever almost every week!
  • Don’t buy more food than we can eat. Use leftovers instead of binning them. (Try entering some of the contents of fridge into Google – you’ll be surprised!) Be conscientous when sorting rubbish. Compost if possible. Collaps all cartons before binning them. When they take up less space, we need less containers = less lorry-miles.
  • Change all lightbulbs to energy-saving ones. It also saves money! And switch the light off!!!
  • Try to think in food-miles while shopping. It’s not easy, but the exercise is educational…
  • Try to avoid the dryer and hang clothes instead. Fill up the machines, both washer, dryer and dishwasher.

I do believe that every little thing counts. And – for instance – everytime we pick an energy-saving lightbulb from the supermarket shelf, we encourage the supermarket to buy more of those and less of the other ones.

More about sustainable living and about the importance of diminishing our carbon footprint NOW on 350.org. Why not become a “fan” of 350.org on Facebook?

And more about sustainable living on the microplane from No Impact Man and on Carbon Footprint.

This is a portable eco fridge. The above picture is an energy-saving halogen bulb. Both and lots more can be bought at the Ethical Superstore.

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350!!!!!!

Global warming… Copenhagen 2009… Waterlevels rising…

The answer, apparently, is 350!

OK, so what’s it all about? I didn’t know that that number had any kind of significance until a little earlier today, when I read about it on the No Impact Man blog.

350 is the red line for human beings, the most important number on the planet. The most recent science tells us that unless we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, we will cause huge and irreversible damage to the earth.

The above is quoted from the about-page on 350.org.

When the object of the countries participating in the next climate conference (the one in Copenhagen, thanks to Ms. Hedegaard) is to agree on 450 (optimistic) or 550 (much more likely), it dawns on you why some people out there suddenly think they need to build an entire organisation around the number: 350.

The post on No Impact Man is full of good and solid references.

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