Tag Archives: sustainability

Parsnips, potatoes and peas: the President’s garden? (Updates)

Parsnip: n.  (Pastinaca sativa) is a root vegetable related to the carrot. Parsnips resemble carrots, but are paler than most of them and have a stronger flavor. They are native to Eurasia and have been eaten there since ancient times.

Potato: n. a starchy, tuber (Solanum tuberosum) of the Solanaceae family.  Potato is the world’s most widely grown tuber crop, and the fourth largest food crop in terms of fresh produce after rice, wheat, and corn.

Peas: n. the small spherical seeds or the seed-pod of the legume Pisum sativum. Although treated as a vegetable in cooking, it is botanically a fruit.

parsnip

Alice Waters has a(nother) grand idea: the President and Michelle Obama should establish and eat from a bounteous organic garden on the White House grounds.

In 1971 Alice co-founded the world-famous restaurant, Chez Panisse, less than a mile from my former home in Berkeley, California. Alice has been cooking, preaching and teaching “Local, Fresh, Seasonal, Organic” foods ever since, and is credited by many as the force behind America’s culinary revolution.

When my daughter attended King Jr. High, she was bringing home math word problems that favored candy, cookies and donuts to be multiplied or divided. The school lunch program depended on high fat commodity foods (vegetables??? that was the era of Reagan calling ketchup a vegetable!).  As a public health educator I decided something needed to be done. I consulted with the food service on healthier menus, worked in the classroom with the kids to expose them to new more healthful foods, and with the teachers to incorporate healthier foods in the math problems.

Improvements were very slight during my daughter’s school days, but I like to think I opened the door, because a few years later, Alice (with MUCH more clout than I) came in and proposed that the school install a big vegetable garden, the “edible schoolyard“, so that kids would have a very direct experience of working in the garden, being responsible for their crops, and learning to cook and eat them.  It was and is an amazing project, copied now in a number of other schools around the country.

So back to the President’s vegetable garden. I will go on record here to say that if Alice is on the case, it’s as good as done.

The next level, which will be more challenging to pull off, involves a major reworking of the USDA, the government’s incestuous involvement with agriculture (aka the giant corn, soy, beef, and pig producers). Another big gun from my home town, Michael Pollan, is on the case.

Pollan is a professor of journalism at UC Berkeley and best-selling author of such stupendous reads as Botany of Desire, Omnivore’s Dilemma, and In Defense of Food (and what a writer! what fascinating material, what an original mind, and he’s even funny… you can probably tell I heart Michael Pollan).

Pollan’s idea, which he wrote about at length in the New York Times Magazine before the election, is that the President (“the Farmer-in-Chief”) needs to create  Department of Food – which will concern itself with re-localizing the nation’s food supply, making agriculture practices environmentally sustainable, and re-introducing Americans to real food (as opposed to food products) and cultural food practices, like -OMG! – families eating meals together.

Obama did read the article, and responded to it in an interview with Time Magazine‘s Joe Klein.

I’m still not holding my breath for the parsnip to be on the president’s plate, although it’s might tasty in a mix of roasted root veggies.

Update 1/23/09: Check out the videos at Eat the View’s website on the proposed presidential parsnip-pea-potato patch. “This Lawn is Your Lawn” and “The Garden of Eatin'”  [P is for Puns… note to self: compile a post on puns – nominations accepted.]

Update 3/16/09: Check out the story about Alice as the “Mother of the Slow Food Movement” in the NY Times and definitely watch the video links listed in the last paragragh of her interview on Sixty Minutes. She makes a MEAN breakfast.

Perturbed but not yet pessimistic

Perturbed: greatly disturbed, made uneasy or anxious, confused.

Pessimistic: a tendency to take the gloomiest possible view of a situation.

Times are getting tough. People are perturbed. The usually optimistic are beginning to rethink their positions.

  • An old friend stopped by today. She is visiting from the Bay Area for a long weekend with her husband. Just before leaving town yesterday her boss at Oracle called her in to say she was being laid off.  Part of a purge.
  • My ex has a real estate investment that just went belly up.
  • My gig contributing feng shui articles to the local newspaper was terminated because that section of the paper is being eliminated (along with 20 more staff members).
  • My investment portfolio is down 22% since Jan.1.
  • Food prices have increased 5.3% in the past year.
  • Gas prices are $1.32 a gallon higher in Washington state than a year ago – more than 25%.

It’s not all bad:

  • My laid-off friend found a job in a different division of Oracle and will be able to work when she returns from vacation.
  • Many of us are driving much less and much less aggressively, which is good for the environment and our stress levels.  Some of us even have enough spare cash to buy a Prius
  • Many of us have returned to growing our own veggies… I’ve got lettuce, spinach, herbs, and blueberries right now. Beans, squash, tomatoes, beets, grapes on the way. How locavore can you get?
  • I still have a roof over my head, with enough rooms in my house to sleep extra folks if necessary. I don’t know if I can extend that offer to my ex though… (he still has his own roof).
  • The less I have, the more appreciative I am of what I do have: friends, family, health, music, dance, books, children, beauty, laughter. On and on. So much.

Plant more trees

In honor of the 38th annual Earth Day.

In the glorious Northwest, Trees R Us. But with the insane rate of home-building and logging, trees are going fast.

Developers raze the land, build a bunch of over-big houses, and then consider it landscaped it when they put in three rhododendrons, a Japanese maple, and some grass.

I have two big deciduous trees, one that keeps the house cool in the morning and one that keeps it cool in the afternoon. No air conditioner.

The New York Times Sunday magazine was all about living green this past weekend. Here’s what they said about planting trees:

Every schoolchild knows there is no poem so lovely as a tree. But does everyone know just how green they can be? According to Deborah Gangloff, the executive director of American Forests, a nonprofit conservation group, “Three trees will sequester one ton of CO2 over a lifetime of 55 years.”

She notes that a carbon calculator on her group’s Web site tells you how many trees you can have American Forests plant (for a $1 donation each) to make up for the miles you drive or the fuel you use to heat your home. “This is a feel-good thing,” Gangloff admits, “but we are really planting those trees.”

American Forests programs have planted 25 million trees since 1990. Some trees do more good than others. When it comes to helping the environment, urban trees “can be 15 times more effective than a tree merely standing in the forest,” Gangloff says.

Dan Burden, who founded Walkable Communities in 1996 in part to promote planting and maintaining trees in urban settings, claims in his booklet, “Urban Street Trees,” that “a single street tree returns over $90,000 of direct benefits (not including aesthetic, social and natural) in the lifetime of the tree.”

Shade trees near residential and commercial buildings can reduce demand for air-conditioning; deciduous trees lose their leaves in winter, allowing the sun’s heat through. Researchers have developed models to guide property owners on how to preserve and plant trees strategically to realize the greatest energy savings.

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, for example, determined the impact of planting shade trees and found that costs of cooling dropped 8 to 18 percent and the costs of heating declined 2 to 8 percent when a residential building was provided with a tree canopy roughly equal to two strategically placed trees.