Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Pleasures of Speed

My home computer has been just craaaawwwwling along in recent weeks. So frustrating -- waiting from 30 seconds to 2 or more minutes for just about anything to load (online or from the hard drive), and taking at least five minutes to be ready for action after booting up or coming out of standby status. We have a lot of fairly large games on it, and it's an aging system, and I have DSL, not cable, so I figured there wasn't much that could be done.

However, I recently noticed that my Desktop Weather program had been frozen for a couple of days and that things were running sloooowwwwer than ever. It finally occurred to me that this was a program that initializes upon start-up and regularly tries to refresh itself. Hmm, I murmured to myself, I wonder what would happen if I uninstalled it? And while I'm at it, how about if I change the settings on my security software so that updating itself is not the first thing that happens every time the computer wakes up?

OMG, as they say. What an amazing difference. I feel I've been reborn. I can start up the computer, open the program I want, and away I go -- no drumming of fingers, impatient tapping of toes, or going down the hall to do something else for two minutes. Not what most people mean when they talk about the pleasures of speed, but it's how I'm defining it this week!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Fairly Local Thanksgiving

My eldest daughter was home from college this week, and we ate out more than usual. Thanksgiving dinner was undoubtedly my most-local meal of the week. I did not order a special free-range organic turkey, but took advantage of the ".59/lb with a $25 purchase" offer on an Our Family turkey at Econofoods. Not the gourmet's choice, I'm sure, but it worked with my schedule and my budget. I'm certain it was a local turkey, however, since Our Family is the Nash Finch (based in Minneapolis) store brand and this is one of the biggest turkey-growing regions in the country. I really am shifting most of my limited meat purchases to local, small-scale producers, but I didn't manage that this time.

With the turkey we had garlic mashed potatoes (potatoes local, the garlic probably not, though the labeling was unclear in this instance), roasted local carrots, local Brussels sprouts, and Sno Pac local frozen organic sweet corn, and there was a local onion, diced and sauteed, in the stuffing (I feel apologetic that the stuffing was of the commercial bagged sort, albeit improved by the addition of the onion and some non-local but organic celery and browned pecans). And there was some other not-so local stuff as well. My vegetarian sister-in-law cooked a Tofurkey, which she said was really quite good, and my mother-in-law supplied a couple of Baker's Square pies. I'm no longer married to their brother and son, but they are my family too, after 25 years' history together. And I was grateful for that, and for them, and for having all the kids with us this Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


I'm grateful for many things, as usual, this year. One thing that's been particularly on my mind has been the current environment regarding the environment! As a result of serious, widespread awareness of global warming, combined with the soaring cost of gas (high by our standards, and certainly hard on many families' budgets, but still low compared to its price in many other countries,) "green" is finally being taken seriously. I see that as a very hopeful and positive development.

I'm grateful for the local food movement, which brought home to me that choosing the food we eat is inescapably an agricultural and ecological act, not just an economic, nutritional and gustatory one. And I'm grateful for our co-op, which makes it so much easier to act on that understanding and to support our local small-scale, often organic farmers.

I'm also grateful for an eight-year-old boy who has finally allowed me to start reading him one of the best children's books ever -- Half Magic, by Edward Eager -- and for his shrieks of laughter during the funny bits, and for his ability to be serious and sweet and insightful and wacky and bouncing-off-the-walls energetic (but not too often, for which I am also grateful). I'm grateful for a lovely 15-year-old girl who is learning to drive with her usual determination, is gradually coming to terms with some difficult changes in her life, plays the flute like an angel, strives to play the violin just as well, and yearns to make a life in music. And I'm grateful for the exciting opportunity to see a mature and poised 18-year-old girl, my amazing first-born, loved by so many who know her, move into a new phase of life at college four states away, ready to stretch her abilities, explore her options, and discover new passions.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Local Eating This Week

I have a new blender and took advantage of it this week, making smoothies with fabulous Cultural Revolution organic yogurt (from Iowa) and Sno-Pac frozen organic blueberries and strawberries (from southeastern Minnesota). Oh, okay, there were some decidedly nonlocal (but fair trade) bananas in there too, bought for the first time in ages, as I try to think of ways of expanding my eight-year-old son's very limited repertoire of acceptable foods (he who lives mainly on grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza, and chicken patties, making pizza sauce and organic ketchup about his only "vegetables." Thank goodness for Flintstones vitamins.).

My official local meal of the week, however, was this evening's squash, carrot and ginger soup, which also made good use of the blender. The idea of a squash soup with ginger has been simmering for the last couple of weeks, ever since it was suggested by Laura of Urban Hennery, who is running the Dark Days Eat Local Challenge. I searched online and found a recipe that sounded good and didn't call for orange juice or much else in the way of long-distance ingredients.

Going with what I had on hand, I used more squash (a whole delicata squash bought last month at the farmers' market) and fewer carrots (the last of my farmers' market carrots, along with a local onion from the co-op) than called for in the recipe, but either way the Vitamin A content is wonderful. I had fresh ginger left over from last week's curry, and that and the other seasonings were the only non-local ingredients. We ate it with fresh, organic multi-grain bread (made by Brick Oven for Just Food Co-op), cheddar cheese from Wisconsin, and golden, organic, grass-based Pastureland butter from southeast Minnesota -- the best tasting butter I've ever encountered. A simple but delicious supper, made even better by being shared with two dear friends.

Carbon Offsets, Revisited

A few weeks ago I was pondering carbon offsets. Since then, I've read Carleton's thoughtful Shrinking Footprints blogpost about offsetting vacation travel. I've also noticed that Click and Clack, the Car Talk guys from NPR whose names are really Tom and Ray Magliozzi, have a webpage urging people (1) to drive less and choose transportation best suited to the task (one human being shouldn't need to fuel four tons of steel and 300 horsepower every time they need to go somewhere), and (2) to consider purchasing carbon offsets. They provide a nice resource page with further info on companies that sell offsets.

So, I've taken the plunge. After visiting several sites, I chose CarbonCounter.org, a project of The Climate Trust, to purchase my offsets. I liked the breadth of the types of project they invest in. They have, as do most of these sites, a "calculate your carbon footprint" tool that weighs your household energy usage, vehicle use, and air travel to give you an idea of the level of offsets to purchase. For about the price of a large pizza per month, I will be investing in projects aimed at energy efficiency, renewable energy, carbon sequestration, cogeneration, material replacement, and transportation efficiency. I can soon consider at least my home energy use and travel to be approximately carbon-neutral. I have also signed up for Xcel's WindSource program and am focusing my food purchases on more local sources. My contributions in these ways are small, but I believe in their power.


American Public Media (the program production and distribution arm of Minnesota Public Radio) has a series and a nice website called Consumed, which addresses the sustainability of our consumer society:
We are what we buy — a glib adage to be sure, but it prompts an interesting question: Is our consumer society sustainable? American Public Media takes on that question in this special series. We follow consumerism from its origins to its dominance in the world's economy and, arguably, its culture. And we examine how, and if, it might be adapted to reduce its destructive consequences while keeping store shelves stocked.
It's an issue that seems particularly pertinent as we enter the peak shopping period of the year -- a time when we often buy things simply for the sake of buying (and giving). There can be so much emotion and stress caught up in the idea of creating memorable holidays, proving our love and esteem for those around us, and keeping up with internally or externally imposed standards of giving. My blogging sister-in-law recently queried, "What Would Jesus Buy?"

Today's Midday program, at noon on KNOW 91.1 FM, presents one element in the Consumed series: an American RadioWorks documentary on "The Design of Desire" -- in part, a scientific look at what goes on in our brains (and in particular our pleasure and pain centers) when we shop. It could explain a lot.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Oxford Word of the Year: Locavore

The Oxford University Press has announced that The New Oxford Dictionary's 2007 Word of the Year is "locavore":
The past year saw the popularization of a trend in using locally grown ingredients, taking advantage of seasonally available foodstuffs that can be bought and prepared without the need for extra preservatives.

The “locavore” movement encourages consumers to buy from farmers’ markets or even to grow or pick their own food, arguing that fresh, local products are more nutritious and taste better. Locavores also shun supermarket offerings as an environmentally friendly measure, since shipping food over long distances often requires more fuel for transportation.

“The word ‘locavore’ shows how food-lovers can enjoy what they eat while still appreciating the impact they have on the environment,” said Ben Zimmer, editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press. “It’s significant in that it brings together eating and ecology in a new way.”

“Locavore” was coined two years ago by a group of four women in San Francisco who proposed that local residents should try to eat only food grown or produced within a 100-mile radius. Other regional movements have emerged since then, though some groups refer to themselves as “localvores” rather than “locavores.” However it’s spelled, it’s a word to watch.

Note that the Oxford experts in the English language use the apostrophe in "farmers' market"! (See my earlier self-flagellating rant on this subject here.)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Local Meal of the Week: Beef & Potato Curry

I was a bit late getting to my official local meal of the week, though I'd had a supper of Thorn Crest Farm's eggs (wow, those dark golden yolks!) and Brick Oven toast a couple of days ago. Tonight I made an easy beef and potato curry, with ground grass-fed beef from Thousand Hills Cattle Co., farmers' market potatoes and onions, Sno-Pac frozen organic peas from Caledonia, MN, and the last of my little tomatoes from my own garden. With it we had some pita bread that I deemed local by virtue of the fact that it had been in my freezer quite a while! The only other non-local ingredients were the minced garlic from a jar, some fresh, grated ginger, curry powder, and a sprinkling of salt. Not the fanciest meal in the world, but it made the house smell good and warmed the stomach going down.

Friday, November 9, 2007

A Little Political Fun

Here's a fun little exercise: USA Today's Candidate Match Game. You answer 11 questions on major issues, and see which candidates' answers most closely match yours. I was led to this via my sister-in-law's blog post, All Those President Men, Part 2, which sent me to the wonderful Salon article Stop lying to yourself. You love Dennis Kucinich (you have to get past a couple of ad screens to read the whole thing... but it's worth it). That article sends you to the match game with the prediction that if you're a Democrat you'll watch Kucinich rise to the top.

Anyway, good lord, despite thinking I was pretty much John Edwards' girl I found that my number-one match was someone I have barely heard of, if at all, and didn't know was a candidate! Seriously! My second-best match was, gulp, John McCain -- a man I certainly respect but don't expect to vote for (and is not of the party I generally support), and the third-best was... Dennis Kucinich. Salon was right, I guess!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go read about Mike Gravel. Apparently I love the guy.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Interesting Concept: Vertical Farming

I Stumbled Upon something new recently: vertical farming. The idea is that multi-level hydroponic farming -- in skyscrapers, even -- could be accomplished in the middle of cities and elsewhere to bring food closer to those who need it. The story has been covered recently in Popular Mechanics and on CNN Money:
The term "urban farming" may conjure up a community garden where locals grow a few heads of lettuce. But some academics envision something quite different for the increasingly hungry world of the 21st century: a vertical farm that will do for agriculture what the skyscraper did for office space.

Build a 21-story circular greenhouse, says Dickson Despommier, an environmental science professor at Columbia University, and it can be as productive as 588 acres of land - growing, say, 12 million heads of lettuce a year.

With the world's population expected to increase by 3 billion by 2050 - nearly all of it in cities - and with 80 percent of available farmland already in use, Despommier sees a burgeoning need for such buildings. So he talked to fellow academics at the University of California at Davis about using rooftop solar panels to power 24-hour grow lights and found NASA-like technology that would capture evaporating water for irrigation.

Follow the links above to read more. Interesting stuff!

We're Lucky to Have a Co-op!

Last night at Just Food Co-op a few of us sat around talking about Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Kingsolver and her family spent a year growing their own food or trying as much as possible to purchase it from local producers. She mentions her local farmers' market as one great source, and clearly enjoyed getting to know the people she was buying her food from. But she didn't mention having a local co-op.

People all over the U.S. are excited about the notion of eating more locally -- to lessen the fuel burden of cross-country food transportation, to enjoy a sense of connection, season and place in relation to their food, and so on -- but in many areas it seems people depend on searching out and going directly to farmers to find their local products. Not that there's anything wrong with that itself, but it can take more energy and dedication than most of us have to seek out these local producers and buy from them individually. It makes it much easier when a local store or market, like Just Food, does that research and legwork and brings a variety of local foods to one easy location -- and provides a place where those local producers can sell their products, helping them stay in business.

We're lucky to live in one of the areas (MN-WI) where co-ops are most prevalent. I hadn't realized that in some regions they are not at all common. We're also fortunate that Just Food has a real commitment to supporting local farmers and producers, since some co-ops and natural food stores, while focusing on organically grown food, don't (yet) make local food a priority.

On another locavore blog, people were recently discussing how they find the local food they eat, and the fact that it can be quite difficult. Here's what I wrote:
I foresee that our local co-op will be my major source of local food throughout the winter, though our little farmers' market, which closes regular operations about now, does offer an occasional indoor winter market. The co-op is pretty committed to supporting local providers, so if there is something reasonable I'm looking for that they don't have in stock, I imagine they would have a good network for tracking it down, if it's available. If they weren't here, it would be a very different story. I "heart" my co-op!
And I do!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Discussion of "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" at Just Food tonight

Barbara Kingsolver's 2007 book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, about her family's year of eating almost entirely from their own garden and local suppliers (and the associated joys of eating fresh food in season and raising an heirloom breed of turkeys), will be the topic of discussion at Just Food Co-op's book group tonight at 7 p.m. in the co-op's community room. The event is free and open to the public. This book changed the way I think about the food we eat and the way our culture relates to food.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Major Study Finds Organic Food More Nutritious

TomatoesThe last several days have seen reports of the early findings from one of the largest-yet systematic studies of whether organic foods show any nutritional advantage over conventional foods -- and the answer is yes.

Last weekend the Sunday Times reported:
Official: organic really is better

THE biggest study into organic food has found that it is more nutritious than ordinary produce and may help to lengthen people's lives.

The evidence from the £12m four-year project will end years of debate and is likely to overturn government advice that eating organic food is no more than a lifestyle choice.

The study found that organic fruit and vegetables contained as much as 40% more antioxidants, which scientists believe can cut the risk of cancer and heart disease, Britain’s biggest killers. They also had higher levels of beneficial minerals such as iron and zinc.

Professor Carlo Leifert, the co-ordinator of the European Union-funded project, said the differences were so marked that organic produce would help to increase the nutrient intake of people not eating the recommended five portions a day of fruit and vegetables. “If you have just 20% more antioxidants and you can’t get your kids to do five a day, then you might just be okay with four a day,” he said.

This weekend the Food Standards Agency confirmed that it was reviewing the evidence before deciding whether to change its advice. Ministers and the agency have said there are no significant differences between organic and ordinary produce.

Researchers grew fruit and vegetables and reared cattle on adjacent organic and nonorganic sites on a 725-acre farm attached to Newcastle University, and at other sites in Europe. They found that levels of antioxidants in milk from organic herds were up to 90% higher than in milk from conventional herds.

As well as finding up to 40% more antioxidants in organic vegetables, they also found that organic tomatoes from Greece had significantly higher levels of antioxidants, including flavo-noids thought to reduce coronary heart disease.

Full results of the study are expected to be released over the course of the coming year.

Addendum: Why, I wonder, is the mainstream US media not picking up this story? It is all over the British, Indian and Australian press, and is being discussed as might be expected on sites that have an organic or food-industry focus, but I've looked through page after page of Google search results and found nothing from CNN, the New York Times, MS/NBC, etc.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Carleton & Kenyon Local Food Ventures Featured

Rob Hardy let me know about an article in today's Inside Higher Education about the growing momentum toward bringing more local foods into college dining halls and student special-interest houses, with particular spotlights on Carleton and Kenyon Colleges. It's a topic I've written about before, having been particularly impressed with the dedication shown by Kenyon's Food For Thought program.

Here is the article
, titled "Campus Food From Around the Corner."

Thanks, Rob!