It’s TED Talk Thursday on 350orbust, and I’m reposting this talk from TEDx Austin 2011. I’m presenting about GMO/GE foods at a regional diabetes conference this week, and as part of my preparation I listened to Ms. O’Brien’s talk again. Her journey from Wall Street executive to food activist is worth listening to more than once:
It’s TED Talk Tuesday on 350orbust. Louise Fresco is a former UN director, a contributor to think tanks and an advisor to academies in Europe and the United States. The TED website describes her this way:
A powerful thinker and globe-trotting advisor on sustainability, Louise Fresco says it’s time to think of food as a topic of social and economic importance on par with oil — that responsible agriculture and food consumption are crucial to world stability.
In this TED Talk from 2009, Ms. Fresco:
argues that a smart approach to large-scale, industrial farming and food production will feed our planet’s incoming population of nine billion. Only foods like (the scorned) supermarket white bread, she says, will nourish on a global scale.
We woke up this morning to a hazy world, like many of the other communities in northwestern Ontario. Our corner of the province has 100 forest fires burning, and two First Nation communities north of us, Keewaywin and Sandy Lake, are being evacuated today. So far this year 178,514 hectares have been burned, compared to last year (a slow fire summer) in which 13,863 hectares were destroyed by fire. The average is 61,479 hectares, so we’re well over that this year, and it’s not even the end of July. A friend who lives in downtown Red Lake took this photo of this morning’s sunrise over Howey Bay:
Eating local is part of moving away from oil dependency to local resilience. The good news is, it’s also healthier and tastier than the pre-packaged fast food and junk food that makes up the average North American diet these days. As rates of diet-related disorders such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease soar, eating more fruits and vegetables and less processed food laced with sugar and/or salt becomes a way to live longer and happier, not just live more lightly on the planet.
Today is “Meatless Monday“, where people are encouraged to cut out meat as a way to eat healthier and combat climate change. In our household these days, every day is meatless because our two university-aged daughters are home for the summer, and they are both vegetarians. Luckily, they are both good cooks, too, so Mark and I haven’t missed eating meat. And both girls make an exception in their vegetarian diet for fresh,local fish, so that has been a delicious supplement to our mainly meatless diet.
Last night Emma, our youngest, took charge of making supper. The result was a delicious, mostly local meal of homemade pasta, fresh pesto made with basil from our garden, and a strawberry lettuce salad also made with garden-fresh ingredients. What a blast for the taste buds that was!
Here’s the link to the pesto recipe that Emma used (although she used 4 cups of basil, and decreased the olive oil to 1/2 cup): Basil Pesto Recipe.
As I was preparing to post this, I got another reminder, besides the smoke, that I live in northern Ontario. I heard our dog barking madly, and looked up to see a black bear in our backyard, not 10 feet from my office window. I would have loved to have snapped a picture, but our dog chased it off promptly. My oldest daughter arrived home on her bicycle five minutes later, taking in stride the fact that she had met up with the same black bear on the road!
I decided the focus for my blog this week was going to be food, as these days in our household there is much talk about and action on getting our garden in, now that we are back from holidays. Mark is the gardener in our household, while I provide support services like bringing out glasses of ice tea and weeding sporadically. I do play a more active part in the harvesting, preparing, and eating department. However, since I’ve become more aware of the crucial role food plays in our unsustainable North American lifestyle, and particularly after reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I’ve promised Mark that I will change my non-gardening ways. He remains skeptical, but I’m optimistic. There’s so much room for improvement, how hard can it be?
Rhubarb is the harbinger of spring up here in the northern climes. It starts to peek up from the dirt while there’s still patches of snow lingering in our yard. Mark is a big rhubarb fan, and as a result we now have 5 large, healthy rhubarb plants around the yard.
The great thing about rhubarb, from a gardener’s point of view, is that it’s a perennial which needs a minimum of attention from one spring to the next. That’s the kind of plant I can appreciate. And from an eater’s point of view, unless you are a rhubarb-hater (I know a few!) there’s little that compares to a fresh rhubarb crisp or a homemade rhubarb muffin. Nutritionally, rhubarb is a good source of Vitamin C, fiber, and calcium. As a child growing up on a prairie farm, rhubarb was the first harvest from my dad’s garden and we kids would eat the stalks raw, dipped in sugar.
I’m busy with a work project that has a looming deadline, so I don’t have a lot of time to devote to gardening right now, as the project is consuming most of my waking hours. However, I did find time a few days ago to pick some rhubarb and make muffins, which in turn provided sustenance to Mark as he planted our home garden, so I’m kind of helping with gardening. My daughters were lobbying for our usual rhubarb muffins, but I tried out a new recipe and after tasting the result they gave it their stamp of approval. I found the recipe on smittenkitchen.com . I like the recommendation to mix a portion of the streusel crumbs into the batter, which I’d never done before. I made a few adjustments to the original recipe, so here’s my version of Rhubarb Streusel Muffins:
1/4 cup (31 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (28 grams) spelt flour (if you don’t have spelt, use whole wheat)
1 tablespoon (13 grams) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (38 grams) light or dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons (42 grams) butter, melted (I used light olive oil)
1 large egg
1/4 cup (50 grams) light or dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons (38 grams) granulated sugar
5 tablespoons (71 grams) butter, melted and cooled to lukewarm ( I used light olive oil)
3/4 cup (177 ml) sour cream (I used yogurt)
1 cup (approx. 120 grams) spelt or whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (63 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup diced rhubarb, in 1/2-inch pieces (from about 6 to 8 ounces of stalks)
Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease 16 muffin cups.
Make streusel: In a small dish, stir together flours, sugars, spices and salt. Stir in butter until crumbly. Set aside.
Make muffins: Whisk egg in the bottom of a large bowl with both sugars. Whisk in butter, then sour cream. In a separate bowl, mix together flours, baking powder and baking soda and stir them into the sour cream mixture, mixing until just combined and still a bit lumpy. Fold in rhubarb and 1/3 (feel free to eyeball this) of the streusel mixture.
Divide batter among prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle each muffin with remaining streusel, then use a spoon to gently press the crumbs into the batter so that they adhere. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until tops are golden and a tester inserted into the center of muffins comes out clean. Rest muffins in pan on cooling rack for two minutes, then remove muffins from tin to cool them completely.
The changing global climate related to unchecked burning of fossil fuels threatens food security, livelihoods and the environment worldwide but particularly those who are already most vulnerable. This summer, we are seeing this in the extreme weather events that have destroyed food crops in Pakistan and Russia.
Here in North America most of us take our food system and security for granted. It’s hard to imagine a time when we can’t buy apples from New Zealand and plums from Chile in the middle of winter. But climate change, and the end of cheap oil, will dramatically change our current food system. The good news is that our present method of delivering and growing food is relatively new, having developed in rich industrialized nations over the last 50 years. The “old-fashioned”, more local ways of growing and preserving food are still within living memory, even in North America and Europe. Human beings are also infinitely creative. Here is a video on the Windowfarms project, one response to the need and desire of urban dwellers to have access to fresh produce they’ve grown themselves. After viewing the video, I now know what I’m going to do with the windows in my daughters’ bedrooms when they leave for university in September!
Since I discovered Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” while writing last Monday’s blog posting, my family and I have become devoted fans of both the show and the man himself. I had heard of the British celebrity chef before, and a few years ago gave one of his cookbooks to my young nephew, George, for Christmas. George is a “foodie” from way back – according to his mom, he was eating black olives at the age of one, and started boycotting McDonald at the tender age of eight. At 13, George is on his way to being the best cook in a family of good cooks. George was way ahead of me and my family in joining the Jamie Oliver fan club, but as I mentioned we are now firmly in that group.
One thing I find interesting about “Food Revolution” from my perspective as a mother and educator concerned about climate change, is the resistance that Jamie runs up against time and time again when trying to change American’s attitude towards food. Several of the people he encounters in Episode One are openly hostile, even though Oliver has the numbers from the Center for Disease Control (aka “scientific proof”) to back up the claim that Huntington Virginia, the American city that he chose to launch his “revolution” in, is the unhealthiest city in the nation. Huntington has the highest obesity rate in an increasingly obese country, with the increased disease and death rates that go with that statistic. Yet, local radio show host Rod Willis who says “We don’t want to sit around and eat lettuce all day…I just don’t think you can come in and tell us what to do. Who made you the king?”
This is reminiscent of the tone of the climate change discussion in North America. We North Americans are addicted to our unhealthy fast food to fuel our bodies in the same way we are addicted to unhealthy fossil fuels to fuel our cars and our economy. Both the food system and the energy system are entrenched and efforts to change either of them come up against stiff resistance. And both are disastrous in the long-term, for our bodies’ health and the health of the planet.
The climate change deniers try to paint Al Gore as incompetent scientifically and money-grubbing, and attempt to refute the scientific evidence piling up against the claims that people can’t change the earth’s climate, or claim that climate scientists are conspiring to perpetrate a fraud on an unsuspecting public, and so on. One look around the streets of Huntington, and it’s abundantly clear that there is a problem with super-sized adults and children, with the correspondingly super-sized health problems. Yet, like the climate change deniers who wouldn’t recognize a melting glacier if it was sitting in their backyard, there are many people in Huntington who aren’t willing to acknowledge that there is a problem. And these same people seem very willing to attack Jamie for trying to bring attention to the disastrous diet that children are fed in the schools every day, and in many homes.
Yet Jamie soldiers on against the odds, because he seems to care deeply about giving children a better future. He works to change the food served to children one school at a time, against a system that calls a deep-fried chicken burger and fries a balanced meal because there’s an optional salad with it, and yet claims a 7-vegetable pasta dish isn’t balanced because “there’s not enough vegetables in it” (and yes, french fries are considered a vegetable!). Jamie Oliver is inspirational for me, both as a mom who has always tried to feed her family healthy food (with occasional lapses, I admit) and as a climate change activist. As he said to the skeptical radio show host, “If everybody in America was like you, nothing would get done.” That’s a good response to climate change deniers as well!
Here’s “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” Episode One, Part One:
If you want to watch more, most past episodes are available on YouTube.
If you want to show your support for Jamie, you can sign a petition. Click here to go to the petition page (if you are not in the USA, there’s a link to click on that will take you to an international petition).
If you’re on Facebook, you can click here to become a fan on the Food Revolution page.
Click here to read Elizabeth Kolbert’s article, “Why are Americans fat?” in The New Yorker, from July 20, 2009.
This weekend I attended a supper that featured locally and sustainably grown food, part of a larger “Growing Local” conference. The food was delicious, the entertainment good, and the conversations interesting. It turns out there is a strong connection between the food that we eat and the production of climate-changing pollution. How so, you ask? Here are a few statistics that demonstrate how agriculture emits carbon dioxide through transportation, fertilizer production, and other means (from veg.ca):
Deforestation (partly to clear land for agriculture) is responsible for 13% of climate change through the release of stored carbon dioxide. Methane causes 17.3% of climate change due to livestock digestion, animal manure, rice paddies, dams, fossil fuel extraction, and landfills. Nitrous Oxide (N2O) accounts for 5.4% mostly due to fertilizers.
Livestock generate more greenhouse gas emissions, in CO2 equivalent, than transportation and it’s also a major source of land and water degradation.
The food that North Americans eat now takes far more energy to get our table that the energy we get from eating it. Brian Halweil, author of Home Grown: The Case for Local Food in a Global Market points out:
A head of lettuce grown in the Salinas Valley of California and shipped nearly 3,000 miles to Washington, D.C., requires about 36 times as much fossil fuel energy in transport as it provides in food energy when it arrives.
The winners in this kind of unsustainable, energy-intensive food system aren’t local farmers or consumers, it turns out. Halweil goes on to say:
The big winners are agribusiness monopolies that ship, trade, and process food. Agricultural policies, including the new Farm Bill, tend to favor factory farms, giant supermarkets, and long-distance trade, and cheap, subsidized fossil fuels encourage long-distance shipping. The big losers are the world’s poor.
And, a new study from the University of Arizona shows, that in the United States at least, 40% of the food produced and shipped in that energy-intensive way ends up being thrown out without even being eaten. So it turns out we, the consumer, can save money and make a difference in the production of greenhouse gases just buy making sure we eat our leftovers. Buying less junk food and more food that requires little packaging, like fresh fruits and vegetables, also decreases our carbon footprint – not to mention being better for our overall health and our waistlines!
Fighting global warming can start right in our own kitchens, by changing what we put on our forks everyday. Today is Monday, so in the spirit of making a difference, consider joining the “Meatless Monday” movement. For more information as well as recipes, click here. For some of our family’s favourite vegetarian dishes, click here.
For more information on this topic, check out these links: