All posts by Compost

The Art of Foraging

How can you increase your food security, help the environment and live a healthier life for free? Reclaim Foraging! Its like food just grows on trees! And in the San Francisco Bay Area it is insane how much of this food falls from the trees uneaten and unappreciated. Lemons, guavas, strawberry tree fruit, loquats, acorns, olives and plums litter sidewalks and parks. Chickweed, purslane and lambsquarters ubiquitously offer their succulent bodies for our dinner plates. Meanwhile folks are paying high prices in yuppie grocery stores for the same foods that have been shipped from far away. There is a toll on the environment from industrial agriculture, shipping and packaging. Wake up, learn the food around you, participate in your own sustenance and thrive.

When we forage, we eat what is offered to us, we participate in maintaining an ecological balance by eating what is in abundance. We learn the lay of the land and the seasonal changes. We begin to learn and follow the hoops of the ripening webs of life around us. We partake of food that is arguably more nutritionally rich than that grown in the sterile soil of mono–cropped and sprayed industrial farms.

Yes, harvesting and preparing our own food takes time and effort. But it is very tangible work and gathering is old in our bones; we were gatherers much longer than we have been farmers. Isn’t it better to gather your own food than to work a mindless job and pay someone else to provide it? And as we all begin to appreciate the possibilities of producing a substantial portion of our city food locally, we will value useful and edible plants and replace un–useful public and private landscaping with our newly found bounty.

You will expand your palate, impress strangers and be a hit at the potluck. How ’bout some cattail fritters? Chickweed salad? Roasted dandelion root tea? Rosehips and manzanita cider, nettle lasagna, acorn cookies, seaweed cheese puffs? Throw in some snails and roadkill and you have a feast. Bon appetite.

Stop That Train: Foil the Coal Export Plan

Coal. The sleek seductress and poison pill. Will humans leave her sleeping or destroy our life support system to fill our addiction?

The struggle to halt coal exploitation is happening on many fronts, and one important nexus is the battle in the Pacific Northwest to stop “The Coal Trains” — a variety of proposals to move unfathomable amounts of coal by train from Montana’s Powder River Basin to Pacific ports so it can be shipped to China. Every leg of this proposal is an unacceptable wound to Mother Earth: from the despicable strip mining in Montana; to the 18 or more daily mile-long trains trailing coal dust through communities in three or more states; to proposed construction of new ports, like one near Bellingham WA in a sensitive herring and salmon habitat; to a giant increase in large ships and the likelihood of an oil spill in the precious Puget Sound (home of the Orca whales) or other waterways; to the shipping of national natural resources all the way across the Pacific to be burned in dirty coal plants in China that put unacceptable levels of CO2 and other pollutants into the atmosphere.

There is so much money to be made that numerous corporations are salivating to get coal trains moving. There at least 6 sites from Coos Bay, Oregon to Canada, including sites along the Columbia River, the Olympic Peninsula and Cherry Point near Bellingham that are under consideration for coal export terminals. The “developers” include the perennially evil Peabody Coal (that hauled away John Prine’s “Paradise”), SSA Marine (who called in the police that shot at Oakland port protesters) and Goldman Sachs. They want to capitalize on China’s interest in cheap coal and the desire of the coal industry to open new markets as natural gas fracking floods the US energy market with artificially cheap gas which is cutting domestic coal consumption. So much for “national energy self sufficiency” arguments.

Its up to regular people in target communities to oppose these devastating energy projects. Fortunately Bellingham, the site of the largest proposed port, is not an easy push over. The public hearings about the Environmental Impact Statements have been packed with articulate citizens pointing out the numerous health, environmental and economic threats of this project. Bellingham also collected double the required signatures to put a “coal transport ban and Community Bill of Rights” initiative on the ballot. It was later blocked by a court order and the local city council. Nonetheless, the campaign galvanized local resistance and underscored the public desire to empower local autonomous decision making over state or federal bureaucracies.

The Bellingham 12 are a group of activists facing legal charges for blocking train tracks to bring attention to the Coal Train as part of Occupy’s West Coast day of action on Dec. 12, 2011. “The Bellingham 12 are working hard to fight our charges in court on the basis of the necessity defense to prevent a greater evil”, explained Andy Ingram, one of the twelve activists. “It’s imperative that we as a community here in the Northwest and across the world try and create a culture where direct action and confrontation of wanton industrial development is socially acceptable and encouraged, so that we have the slightest chance of preserving the health and integrity of the planet as we’ve known it up until now.”

Larry Hildes is an attorney with the National Lawyers Guild in Bellingham who is representing the Bellingham 12. He has also represented front-line coal activists in Montana and Tennessee. “Coal is an evil any place where it’s produced, it has caused suffering… It is the mining, transportation and burning of coal that is the single easiest attackable major cause of climate change. It is one of the most pervasive examples of putting profit ahead of the earth, putting profit ahead of people. They come up with more and more destructive means to pull it out, and the whole process is just flat wrong. It is wonderful that people are standing up against it, putting their bodies on the line all over the world to say no to it. It makes me really, really hopeful, the fact that there are people fighting this in West Virginia, Montana and Wyoming, here in Washington and Oregon, Australia, in China — all of the places where coal is inflicting human and environmental destruction, people are fighting it and are fighting it hard.”

There has also been resistance from the Native Tribal communities, a strong political force in the Pacific Northwest. “We have to say ‘no’ to the coal terminal project,” said Cliff Cultee, Chairman of the Lummi Nation. “It is our Xw’ xalh Xechnging (sacred duty) to preserve and protect all of Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point).” Cherry Point is the location of a 3,500-year-old village site and is “full of sacred sites and burial grounds”. The proposed development is just north of the Lummi reservation and could gravely affect the fishing and gathering rights of numerous tribes. The call to stop the Coal Train was heard at a recent gathering in Seattle in support of “Idle No More” (a growing and exciting movement coming out of indigenous peoples in Canada).

“The fact that people have done civil disobedience on both sides of the border, both ends of the supply line is fabulous. There are people organizing to stop this everywhere. In every town along the route there are people in large numbers organizing. … Helena is mobilized, Bozeman is mobilized, Spokane, every place all along the rail route there is major opposition to this thing, it is enormously hopeful.” says Larry Hildes. “I’ve never seen an environmental movement like this, on this scale… this one is very large, and very broad and yet very radical. That’s fantastic. Which is what we need, that is how we are going to stop this.”

GMO Labeling: What’s at stake

Proposition 37 on the November ballot in California “Requires labeling of food sold to consumers made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways [and] prohibits marketing such food, or other processed food, as ‘natural’.” Genetically engineered food is a big deal. Yeah, there’s a lot of “big” to be worried about these days, but the future of food is indicative of the future.

Monsanto and other big agricultural corporations are conspiring to control food in a way that is evil, stupid and destructive.

Genetic Engineering has been around little more than 30 years. In this short time, Monsanto and others have managed to legalize and patent these new life forms, exempt them from government testing, avoid labeling, and corner the market on the production of some food staples with their patented, engineered seed.

The results? Over 90% of US grown soy uses “Round-up Ready” seed which is genetically engineered to survive applications of Round-up herbicide. This has facilitated the spraying of millions of pounds of Round-up on crop lands which then leaches into waterways. Our food now contains more herbicide and questionable genetic ingredients. Monsanto has trapped and sued many farmers into a devil’s bargain of buying their seed and herbicide repeatedly. And as predicted by any sane biologist, weeds have become resistant to the Round-up and now chemical companies are scrambling to legalize crops resistant to their stronger, more toxic herbicides (like 2,4-D, an ingredient in Agent Orange).

In the meantime, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been allowed into the US food supply, without labeling or tracking, onto a mostly un-informed populace. It is estimated that about 70% of processed food in an American supermarket contains some GMOs. They are in non-organic corn, soy, canola, cotton and all their by-products, oils, corn syrup, soy sauce, dairy from cows treated with rBST, and sugar beet sweeteners.

And conveniently for the chemical food giants, there are no easy ways to link this with any of the strange new illnesses and allergies that have been occurring. There was NO ONE I knew with a wheat allergy when I was young. Okay, I’m not a professional scientist, but have there been any studies about GMO’s effects on our intestinal flora, for instance?

Monsanto and co. are pros at manipulating political and regulatory processes and the media and legal system. A judge just refused to hear a case brought against Monsanto by thousands of farmers and concerned people to protect them against being sued for having been contaminated by Monsanto’s GMO seeds, as the Canadian farmer Percy Shmeister was.

I once attended a sparse Berkeley City Council meeting that also happened to have a decision before the council about whether to ban milk from cows that had been treated with a genetically engineered growth hormone from school lunches. I found myself sitting in back of a row of about a dozen unfamiliar suit and tie folks with briefcases. The council decided against banning this milk in the Berkeley Public school system and the row of un-Berkeley like folks simultaneously arose and exited, seemingly quite pleased with themselves.

And now Monsanto etc. are throwing millions against the initiative on this fall’s California ballot to label food that contains GMOs. Monsanto thinks that people will choose not to buy and eat food with GMOs if they can figure out what foods contain them. And they are right. So far, the American public has been the world’s GMO guinea pigs. Given knowledge and choice, we may try to quit.

The way food is produced has major effects. The dystopia of a Monsanto monopoly on food would be horrible. Large farms would grow unhealthy food by pumping chemical fertilizers onto dead soil. Water would be depleted and contaminated and the natural world assaulted by increasingly toxic herbicides. This dystopia could lead to ecosystem collapse and famine.

There are healthy and sustainable ways to produce food. Look to localized permaculture systems. These offer decentralized control of our food, perhaps with more hands-on participation, which can be a health benefit in itself. We can derive food from living natural ecosystems which offer abundance, beauty and enjoyment. We can be nourished by this earth without destroying it. But we will have to push back against Monsanto. Start your own gardens. Buy local and organic food. Research GMOs. Save your own seeds. Glean and forage. We have fed ourselves like this for ages.

Proposition 37 gives Californians a chance to label GMOs this November. Monsanto will play dirty to defeat it with confusing and powerful TV ads. All we’ve got is ourselves to retake control of our lives. This matters!!!

Paradigm shift pronto to tender loving science

While scientists at our universities frantically try to crack the secrets of life in the service of financial profit, there is blindness to the crisis at hand. A crisis arguably created by the thoughtless embrace of advancing technology, leaving torn ecosystems, toxins, cancer and other new diseases, pollution, loss of topsoil, extinctions, climate change, and dying fish in its wake. Science, as it is practiced now, is not going to get us out of the fix it has gotten us into.

We need a shift in our understanding of “nature”. It is difficult to conceptualize and articulate what is missing from inside of the paradigm we inherited. It has something to do with relation, wholeness, spirit. We have lost part of the hoop of wisdom and it is hard to know what is still recoverable.

It’s not just that science needs to look at different things; we need a whole new approach to understanding our world. Scientists are the priests of the current religion of the world elite and have so narrowed their means of understanding that they are now missing the whole. It is not only that science is currently under the employ of capitalism; it is that science has discovered how to manipulate parts of nature but is woefully ignorant of the depth of the Weaving of Life. This is the web of life unraveling. To understand it we need to know ourselves as part of this whole and embrace the mystery as integral. The science that believes itself to be objective and rational leaves out poetry, magic and beauty and cannot lead us to the reweaving we need to survive.

Science has generally approached nature by capturing, manipulating, dissecting. Nature will not reveal her beauty and truth this way. How many hawks do you have to trap in your net and shackle before you understand the magnificence of their soar? How can we discover the wonders of nature by observing it in freedom? How must we be free ourselves to do so?

My heart aches to know what is happening to the animals in laboratories. How have we come this far astray? Are experimenters trapped in the same way, deprived of natural light and air? Do rats heal with love? How are they different when they are living free…running through tunnels of a nest of different plant branches collected and placed for decades by their ancestors? Can you hear them? Does their spirit talk to yours? What if you were both free and wild? What would you say to them? How about ants? Slow down and watch them communicate. What are they doing? How are we connected? How are we kin? How shall we live together?

Wake up humans! What matters is the soil that grows the food and the health of the life in the soil. We got lost down the microscope, discovering the world of small and seeing — then manipulating — nature’s building blocks. How miraculous. Nature has patterns but, tunneling to decipher the codes, we are lost; we forget where we are. We need to stand up from the microscope, stretch and reconnect, remember, reunite with the whole of which we are part and breathe. We need to notice the beauty in nature, observe her rather than dissect her, court her with respect and patience.

Science went awry, following the cold logic of Bacon and Descartes that saw nature as separate and inanimate, as something to control. In a different history we might have followed Novalis and Goethe, who approached nature respectfully, enticing her as a lover, to reveal some of her mystery. Can we find a way to re-embrace nature as beloved kin? Can we unhitch from the track of logic that leads to our predictable demise? What would it look like, this wooing, courting of nature to work with her?

It would look like free time to sit in nature, still, listening, watching, smelling, feeling. Listen, listening, lightening the load. Observing, protecting, enhancing wild places, creating space for diverse species to thrive and adapt. It would look like permaculture, living systems; like wild, diverse poly-cultures, and wetlands to revitalize water we have pooped in. Localized diverse agriculture, rooftop gardens, compost, and bio-remediation. It would look like prayer and sacred respect, honoring, participating in the cycles. It would look like simplifying, slowing and deep remembering.

Open yourself to evolve with life on earth. Let birdsong in your heart.

Looking back at the tipping point

I had a revelation recently that we are beyond the realm of “politics” and more into “evolution”, that the scope of what is set in motion is beyond our human wills to turn around. And yet of course, it still seems relevant what we do; as the day of action, the decision what to eat, the words sung, may be the straw that carries a species through.

I find myself strangely at peace to accept the larger cycles of life that include extinctions. Nothing breaks my heart more than to imagine the disappearance of such beautiful and amazing creatures as Sand Hill Cranes, Sea Otters, Checker-spot Butterflies, all the birds and salamanders, insects, fish flowers; life people know so little of as it disappears forever. Are we alive on the planet with the last pair of Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers? How many other species will we see the last of? How many will we not notice?

And yet. These are the generations of Mother Earth. She has three times already raised a planet full of amazing beautiful species that have come to cataclysmic ends. And some species made it through and new life came again. It seems we are in the third major species die-off on the planet. Now. Kinda a lot for a mere human psyche to wrap around. But hey, I remind myself, there are lots of agents for mutation that will hasten new life to evolve and fill the niches; chemicals, radiation, biotechnology, nano-tech. And whatever does live, I was reminded by Dan, “will have a lot of available carbon.”

So just try not to be so attached to the beautiful world we know now.

And then there are the humans. I have to say some days I’m rooting for us but other days I feel this foolish species has caused enough trouble. ‘Spose it’ll be determined by if we can wake up and adapt or not. Humans sure are fascinating and creative. What other creature has come up with tapestries, orchestras, ipods? Thousands of unique languages. Cathedrals, plastic, poetry? What would it all mean without us?

And what does a human do with the precious day in these times? Enjoy it? Try like hell to save wild places? Awaken the Brethren? Grow gardens? Carry on like we don’t see?

Seems to me it would help if we would wake up and protect the diverse life on earth and that which sustains it. Stop using anti-bacterial soap for goodness sake and all those toxic chemicals in our “products.” Simplify. Slow down. Walk. Reconnect with the earth, with food, with community. Wash with water. Detach from stuff. Sing. The adaptation required is profound. People lived for a long time without all the toys that surround modern Americans. Make decisions in light of the whole, and listen to your heart. Care and Share. We children of the changing times, surf the waves of change with beauty. Adapt. Can we tip human consciousness?

Requiem for an Oak Grove

They cut down our beloved Oak Grove. It was an epic struggle pitting Berkeley activists and neighbors and a ragtag group of tree-sitters against the legal and financial might of the University of California with its plans to build a high-tech gymnasium to enhance their football program, three stories into the earth adjacent to the Hayward earthquake fault. The University, not beholden to the municipal laws against cutting old oak trees, nor the desires of their host community, presented their plans for Berkeley as a done deal and expected to plow ahead as usual. But the Oak Grove called our hearts and we rose to protect her. We filed lawsuits, we made phone calls, we conducted educational tours of Strawberry Creek, we marched to the Chancellor’s home and most noticeable of all we sustained the longest North American urban tree-sit in the branches between a city street and the Memorial Stadium.

Even as my heart aches from the destruction of these beautiful living elder trees and the community of animals and people it sustained, I am so grateful we made our stand. I wonder how I keep jumping into these struggles when the odds are so against us, and yet if we give up because of that, then we automatically lose. I cry for the birds soaring in circles where their home once was and for the students who are so lost but I am uplifted by the community we have woven and the brave and beautiful actions of so many. What have we created? What have we learned?

The tree-sit was quite a sustained effort. We kept aloft a canopy of three to more than a dozen elves from Dec. 2, 2006 until Sept. 9, 2008. We survived several raids of our support camp and constant police harassment. The University eventually built two fences with barbed wire around the sit, lit up the night with diesel powered lights and kept a mini-police force around us 24-7. When UC attempted to block food being sent to the sitters, a posse of older women calling themselves the Grandmothers for the Oaks came with a home cooked Thanksgiving meal and continued to supply quality nutrition in a beautiful ritual of defiance every Sunday for almost a year. The support camp, being one of the only places to sleep outdoors without getting a ticket, also attracted the homeless, travelers and crazy people many of whom gave valiantly to the effort. It was a challenging situation where the services provided and the peace that was kept should be appreciated. It was, however, a stretch for the shiny faced college elite to grok the depth of what was going on.

There are critiques that could and should be made. We could have organized better with regular meetings and clear decision making methods. We could honor and hone those who stand out as leaders and insist on honest communication so the group is represented. We could encourage more diverse voices to speak out. We could cast our web for allies more consciously.

We underestimated the Public Relations campaign against us. Many students echoed back UC’s propaganda, all of which was easily challenged if given a fair forum. Though the tree-sit got impressive coverage, most of it was sensational and did not represent the core issues we were challenging; turning around human behavior to abet global warming, democratic control of public land, understanding and respecting natural systems, negotiation rather than power plays, corporate takeover of a state university, respecting a Native American burial ground and sacred site, being logical about not building on an earthquake fault, etc. The construction of the high-tech gym is just the first of a long list of bad development projects UC wants to inflict on the local environment and the future direction of humanity. They have just begun construction of a huge vivisection lab at the head of University Ave and they want to build dramatically in our fragile Strawberry Creek Canyon, including a lab paid for by BP (formerly British Petroleum) to research genetically engineering plants to provide fuel for American SUV’s by industrial mono-cropping vast areas of third world countries.

But we made a stand against the plan and that is a tremendous victory in itself. The vast wheels and levers of development were challenged. A student stood next to me on the last day of the sit as we watched the last four tree-sitters clinging to the top of the redwood. We were both inspired, it was clear that these brave men believed with all their heart and had stood with all their might. The student understood that there was a deep and powerful resistance and message and he talked of sharing this with other students. And this is our hope; that the action we took will inspire others that something needs to be changed and that individuals can choose to make a stand. Of course UC sent out its message too; that the system is intransigent to change and that it will use force. But this is the “Big Game” of our time. Can we awaken as a species and turn around our destruction of the web of nature that sustains us before we annihilate ourselves and other species? We have nothing to lose by trying.

As our hearts cracked open with the murder of our tree elders, I felt the flood of love for all the very many who had done something. We wove a community. We shared and learned and strived together. We climbed trees, had meetings, wrote letters, shared acorn pancakes, danced, took the streets, built platforms, cared for each other, ran a bike powered radio station, played drums, distributed flyers, called press conferences, talked to students, floated balloons of food, grew oak saplings, sang, prayed, celebrated with circuses and concerts, went to court, went to city council, went to jail, and held our ground.

And some dared to ask why we weren’t saving important trees like those in the Amazon. No, we are protecting the trees right here in our neighborhood and as Ayr suggested, “why don’t you go into a bar and ask that question?”. We are doing something.

That is the key to hope. !Vivan los Arboles!

Beware the biofuel hype – more tech alone won’t build a sustainable world

Humans are at a crucial turning point. Will we choose to live sustainably on this planet or will we pursue the false dream that Americans can continue to drive SUVs if we just apply new technologies? The possibility of “green” technology is seductive. Increasingly, the propaganda machine is pushing biofuels — ethanol and biodiesel — as a magic way to allow everyone to keep driving their Hummers. Yet on deeper examination, if biofuels continue to be developed to the scale necessary to replace even part of the fossil fuels currently used every year, biofuels could end up being far more destructive to the planet than fossil fuels have already been.

Our extremely wasteful lifestyle is based on stored energy from generations of ancient plants which have decayed into coal and oil deposits. If we switch our society’s fuel source over to the living plants of the present, our planet will be rapidly stripped of its ability to support diverse life.

Miguel Altieri observes that “Dedicating all present U.S. corn and soybean production to biofuels would meet only 12 percent of our gasoline demand and 6 percent of diesel demand.” According to a European Union sponsored study, meeting the EU’s target of replacing 5.75% of fossil fuels with biofuels would consume 14-27% of EU agricultural land. This means that to meet the developed world’s voracious appetite for fuel, biofuels will largely be grown in the third world and exported so rich people can drive.

In a world where rich people’s fuel needs compete with poor people’s food needs, starvation caused by fuel-greed is a huge danger. Already, the expanding cropland planted to yellow corn for ethanol has reduced the supply of white corn for tortillas in Mexico, sending prices up 400 percent. This led to food riots in Mexico and peasant leaders at the recent World Social Forum in Nairobi to demand, “No full tanks when there are still empty bellies!” The average fill up of a 25 gallon SUV tank with ethanol will require the same amount of grain as it takes to feed a person for a year. For the US to continue its current rate of consumption, it would take the yearly equivalent of the grain needed to feed 6 billion people, or the entire 1999 world population! (And that’s just for the USA.) Billions of people could starve if we merely switch to biofuels and refuse to change our lifestyle.

Biofuels will also not lesson the total carbon dioxide released into the earth’s environment associated with fuel use. The same amount of CO2 is released by the burning of biofuels as petroleum diesel. The argument that the CO2 taken out of the atmosphere by the growing of biofuel crops will make this carbon “neutral,” ignores the fact that greater amounts of CO2 were removed by the rain forests and peat bogs destroyed by the crop production. According to Biofuel Watch in the UK, “A report by the Dutch consultancy Delft Hydraulics shows that every tonne of palm oil results in 33 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, or 19 times as much as petroleum produces. I need to say that again. Bio-diesel from palm oil causes 10 times as much climate change as ordinary diesel.”

The rapid transformation of Indonesia, Borneo, and Malaysia’s rain forests into palm plantations, to provide fuel for first world nations to continue driving our SUV’s, has other great costs. The destruction of this habitat will mean the world’s loss of many beautiful and unique life forms. It could likely mean the extinction of the Orangutan, Sumatran Tigers and Rhinos, Gibbons, Tapirs and Proboscis Monkeys. As the demand for oil crops pushes agriculture into virgin habitat, other natural areas in the world are threatened as well. Rare scrub land habitats and rain-forests in Brazil and Colombia and natural lands in Asia and Africa will survive or fall based on the decisions of first worlders. The effects could also be devastating for the natives peoples around the world who live on and preserve these precious habitats.

The glorified hailing of biofuel crops saving the environment is cynical and dangerous. As giant petroleum companies and Republican leaders get excited about it, our red flags should go up. The proposed deal between British Petroleum and the University of California, at the cost of academic independence, is a frightening turning point. It would divert precious academic resources away from conservation and into a nightmare of genetically engineered crops, human and animal suffering and a public university being used to make profits for a corporation. It replaces the goal of public benefit with private profit.

According to Miguel A. Altieri and Eric Holt-Gimenez, “The only way to stop global warming is to promote small-scale organic agriculture and decrease the use of all fuels, which requires major reductions in consumption patterns and development of massive public transportation systems, areas that the University of California should be actively researching and that BP and the other biofuel partners will never invest one penny towards.”

Hoping that growing our energy needs can solve our problems completely ignores the immense environmental and social toll that industrial agriculture has already had upon the world and the U.S. The “Green Revolution” and the exporting of industrial agriculture to third world nations has turned out to be disastrous. Loss of topsoil, contamination of water and soil and human bodies, loss of successful local crop varieties and destruction of local economies have been the legacy of this “gift.” The initial increases in production quickly faded and the countries were left in debt and committed to agriculture requiring large petroleum using machinery and massive inputs of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

The same happened in this country with the loss of family farms and large swaths of land being destroyed by petroleum intensive farming. “We’ve already destroyed the prairie, and the topsoil in the Midwest is going, going gone” noted Tad Patzek, UCB professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Add to this the dangerously unpredictable consequences of new genetically engineered crops, and one could argue that modern agriculture is the most destructive environmental force on earth.

Industrial Agriculture uses large-scale monocultures and high levels of chemical nitrogen fertilizer, largely responsible for the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Herbicides and pesticides end up in ground and surface water and contain toxic endocrine disrupters. It takes three to four gallons of precious fresh water to create a gallon of ethanol, threatening already strained water supplies. In addition, the creation and use of genetically engineered corn, specially designed for fuel production would surely contaminate corn grown for food. It has been shown clearly, in the brief time GMO corn has been grown, that it cannot be contained.

There are many changes people can make that really will help the world. We must stop relying on personal vehicles and only drive when a car is full of riders. Divert money from roads, parking, and medical expenses from air pollution into public transit systems. Create local economies where jobs, food sources and community are all localized, minimizing commutes and goods transport. Create community and rooftop gardens. Tear up half of the unused streets and plant fruit orchards. Simplify our life styles. Consume less. Travel locally by foot or bike. Vacation in your own home or neighborhood. Find joy in free time and community rather than things.

The solution is not a technological fix. We should know that from living in the age of cancer from the chemical revolution. Think beyond the destructive norms of the TV lifestyle. STOP DRIVING! It is the single most effective way you can personally change the world. The writing is on the wall. You are responsible for suffering every time you choose to get in your car instead of taking the bus or walking or biking.

And once we have quit cars, if we can, our lives will actually become more peaceful, healthful and enjoyable.

For more info check www.biofuelwatch.org.uk

Eating Snails

“Eat what is locally abundant” is my ecological mantra, which has led me to the delightful treat of Berkeley Escargot. That’s right, those cute snails devouring your garden are edible. In fact, they were brought here by the French for food and have naturalized here as an exotic pest. The biggest pest in my garden — chomping down little seedlings to stubs and generously helping themselves to my brassicas. What to do? Poisons are definitely out. We can’t poison part of the chain of life without affecting the rest of it. (Consider that and don’t use anti-bacterial soap and sanitizers — but that’s another article). Snail bait is dangerous to birds, dogs and children. Diligent hand picking of snails, especially on wet nights can be quite effective. But then what? Toss them in the neighbor’s yard? Step on them? I believe the highest honor and ecological act is to eat them. (Or feed them to your chickens and ducks if you have them.)

Here’s how I do it. When they get to be too many, I collect them up and put them in a large cardboard box. It’s sort of fun, like an Easter egg hunt — kids love it. You will soon learn the secret, preferred hang outs of these “land clams.” I try to set them up nicely for their last days with some of the plants they were eating, a dish of cornmeal (or similar) and a lid of water. Then I seal off the box well and leave it outside in the shade for 2-3 days. (If the box gets wet, the snails can stage a break-out ). When I come back , I see most of their poop has turned from black to yellow, letting me know they have been enjoying their last corn meal. It is thought that this “purging” is important to remove any toxins and to enhance flavor. I have eaten them without this step and survived but I would definitely do it if your neighbors use poisons.

I then put on a big pot of salted water to boil, then gather into a colander the little dears. I honor and thank them as I quickly rinse and dump them to their quick death by boiling. Being mostly vegetarian, it is a bit difficult, this killing, but I am coming to terms with my role as predator, understanding even its benefit to the prey.

I simmer for 15 minutes to a half hour, let cool and then I process them. It is my excuse to watch a video. I set up with 3 bowls, one to rinse my fingers, one for compost and one for the snail meat. Using a cheap dinner steak knife, I stab the tip into their foot and pull them out of their shell. The University of California pamphlet on snail eating says to remove the black tip of the spiral. After that I rinse them in a colander for some long minutes to remove the slime. They can then be frozen for a special occasion.

Frankly, I haven’t quite enjoyed eating them yet . . . they taste like, well, snails and are kinda slimy. But there have been some mostly successful recipes: Lisa’s French Chowder and the snail cakes were the best. Next I’m going for the deep fried snails. The Snail Dip and the Lasagna weren’t too good but try experimenting with any clam recipe. And explore how they are prepared in the many other countries where they are eaten. Bon appétit.