"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Throwback Thursday - Post from the Past

Lately I've been pretty lazy about writing. I'm not entirely sure why, but ever since we got back from our year in Oaxaca (www.newtomexicanlife.blogspot.com), it's been more and more difficult for me to keep up the pace on blogging. When I look back to the first few years of this blog, I see that I was writing three or four times a week. Now, it's more like once every ten or twelve days. There are plenty of reasons for that - my duties as a mom have become more demanding as the girls grow up and start doing things like gymnastics and developing their own social lives. I have an actual job now - albeit one that only provides me with a few hours of work a week. And the Gleaner's Pantry eats about six hours a week as well. 
It might also be the case that in the past six years I've simply said just about all I have to say about life on the homestead. The seasons repeat themselves endlessly, but I have no wish to do the same. There are always new things to learn, and indeed I am always learning them, but topics like trimming goat hooves and fixing fences no longer hold the fascination for me that they did when I was doing them for the first time, instead of the five hundredth. I'm not sure what will become of the blog - it might morph into a kind of farm journal, documenting breedings, births, test results, and planting times (which was one of its original functions) or it might just dwindle away.
According to my counter, it appears that there are still a lot of you out there reading - unless my counter counts visits by spam-bots - and I'd be very interested to know if you are still enjoying this blog. Also - what's going on in your lives and on your farms? It seems that a few years ago I had a more lively conversation going on between several regular readers who had blogs of their own and were interested in the topics of sustainability and self-reliance. If you are still out there, please make yourselves known! I would love to visit your sites and get the conversation going again. 
In the meantime, I am going to borrow a meme from Facebook: Throwback Thursday. While I hope to get my butt in gear and write new posts a bit more often, I can at least post one column a week from the past of this blog. Here is one from 2009, about low-carbon eating. Enjoy. 
Today's Ethical Conundrum: Low Carbon Food Choices
I feel like I already do a pretty good job of minimizing my family's environmental impact when it comes to our food choices. Of the food we eat at home, 80-90% of the meat is home-grown and very very local. Milk, eggs and cheese are produced on the farm for well over half the year, and for the rest of the year we just don't eat a whole lot of those things. This year to date I have bought two dozen eggs from the supermarket, and perhaps five or six gallons of milk. Maybe five pounds of cheese. From May to October, a high percentage (70%?) of our vegetable and fruit consumption is also from producers local to within a few miles, due to the success of the trade network.
However, I have by no means banished high-impact foods from our lives. Most significantly, we go out to eat at least once a week. When I eat out, I pretty much throw away the rule book. Sure, I wouldn't knowingly eat a critically endangered species ("I'd like the pan-broiled panda, please - NO, the bluefin tuna sushi."), but I know that my meat is most likely conventionally raised in a CAFO, that my chicken was battery-farmed in cages too small to spread their wings, and that my milk products are chock-full of antibiotics and artificial hormones. I can't see myself as one of those people who spends fifteen minutes grilling the waiter about the liberal-progressive credentials of the food ("Is this tofu organic? Was it grown in Brazil? Were any indigenous people displaced as their rainforest homes were clear-cut for a giant international conglomerate to grow GMO soybeans?"), so that means we just need to eat out less often. Good for the pocketbook, too. We spend far too much on restaurants.
Even when it comes to regular old grocery store shopping, I could certainly do a better job. Today, for example, I went to Costco with my sister. You could argue that Costco is already a good choice, as buying in bulk cuts down on packaging. Well, only if you buy the twenty-pound sack full of plain rolled oats and not the giant carton of individually wrapped, highly processed, forty ingredient oat n' honey granola snacks. On this trip, the only processed "convenience" foods I bought were a big ol bag of fishsticks and a three pound package of chicken-apple sausage. Everything else was staples: rice, butter, oil, flour, fresh fruit. In between items include mega-jar of olives and full-case of canned diced tomatoes.
But let's examine that fresh fruit, shall we? I bought a flat of pomegranates from California. Pomegranates are in season. Also, California is not Mars. It's two states away from me; same coast. Could be worse. But could be better. Of course, if I'm ever going to eat pomegranates as long as I live, they will never be local. Until we retire to Mexico, that is. Pomegranates are my absolutely favorite fruit. One box of poms once or twice a year is not something to beat myself up over. However, there are other items which are not once-or-twice a year, but once or twice a month.
Oranges, lemons, and limes.
Today I bought a pineapple flown in from Costa Rica. I read that pineapples are the single highest- carbon item of produce on the shelves. I only buy pineapples once or twice a year, but still - how much guilt do I want to ingest with my plate of fruit?
How good is good enough? How low is low enough? What level of virtue should I strive for? What level of personal responsibility for planetary destruction am I comfortable with? When does sane, sober responsibility morph into crazy, obsessive behavior? Is there even any such thing as too much virtue? Is there any acceptable level of harm? These are questions that apply much more widely than food choices, of course.
I've actually recently been having a discussion with my brother - a thoughtful, intellectually rigorous, highly educated man with loads of integrity who nonetheless disagrees with me most of the time (how is that possible?) about the limits of personal responsibility for communal suffering. He's a political conservative and seems to be comfortable with limits that leave me feeling desperately, squishily, quaveringly, liberally guilty. I guess each of us can only consult our own consciences with searching, fearless honesty and try as hard as we can to live by it's dictates.

For those of us who need a little guidance in this endeavor (me! me!) below is a wonderful, easy to follow guide published by Gourmet magazine on it's fabulous and highly recommended "food politics" page. Gourmet recently ceased publication after some sixty years and I feel it is a great loss. Not only was it a terrific resource for everyone interested in cooking, but under it's most recent editor Ruth Reichl it was a strong voice for justice and fairness in our agricultural system, and a voice that got results! The web site is still alive, though probably not for much longer. Please visit the food politics page Food Politics : gourmet.comwhile it is still around. Meanwhile, enjoy this easy to follow guide for making low-carbon food choices:
Ever since a 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization found that the world’s livestock industry sends more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than transportation, pressure has been building on food manufacturers to measure, and ultimately to reduce, their carbon footprints. In March of this year, the British government’s Environmental Audit Committee called for the establishment of a standardized system of labeling to show the impact of consumer goods and services on the earth’s atmosphere.
In general, consumers in England are more familiar with carbon issues than we are. The government-backed Carbon Trust has been pilot-testing a Carbon Reduction Label for a few years now. But American companies are now getting into the act: In January, PepsiCo certified the footprint of its half-gallon carton of Tropicana Premium orange juice with the help of the Carbon Trust, and it plans to release the footprints of Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Gatorade, and Quaker Chewy Granola Bars in the future. (Tropicana has also partnered with Cool Earth in a “Rescue the Rainforest” campaign.)
Opinion varies as to what extent the footprint numbers will affect consumer behavior. Without a meaningful point of reference, the numbers are all but meaningless: The carbon footprint of that half-gallon of Tropicana orange juice, in case you’re wondering, is 3.75 pounds of carbon dioxide. Some have suggested that rather than listing the total pounds of carbon dioxide emitted, the labels should indicate how much carbon is embodied in every dollar spent, a system that would enable consumers to compare the impact of anything from a candy bar to an mp3 player.
Even if carbon labels don’t immediately change consumer behavior, they can help pinpoint the origins of our energy use and emissions and could likely spur reductions. In the meantime, here are some fast facts about the food system’s impact on climate change, as well as some tips on how to reduce your own footprint. The information is courtesy of the Cool Foods Campaign, a project for the Center for Food Safety and the CornerStone Campaign. To learn more, visit coolfoodscampaign.org.


Agriculture emits greenhouse gases through the production, packaging, and transport of pesticides and fertilizers. These chemicals cause erosion and pollute water, two processes that also emit greenhouse gases. The machinery used on industrial farms—from tractors to irrigation systems—creates further greenhouse gases, as do livestock: Their waste is often stored in “manure lagoons” that emit methane. (Cattle, of course, also emit considerable amounts of methane in the digestive process). Finally, the grains that comprise the livestock diet have been refined by methods that are energy-intensive as well as polluting.
Once harvested, food is packaged and then transported an average of 1,500 miles, steps that further contribute to climate change.


The Cool Foods campaign’s “FoodPrint” reflects the total amount of greenhouse gases that have been created as a result of the growth, processing, packaging, and transportation of any given food. By making better choices, consumers can have significant impact. When seeking out the “coolest” foods, just ask yourself a few simple questions:
1. Is it organic?
Organic foods have been produced without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, growth hormones, and antibiotics. In addition to the emissions from fertilizer mentioned above, nitrous oxide, another potent greenhouse gas, is emitted when these chemicals are applied to farmland. Conventional fertilizers also pollute water sources, kill sea life, emit still more methane, and contribute to erosion, a process that creates carbon dioxide.
What you can do:
Buy “certified organic” by looking for the USDA organic label at your local market.
2. Does this product come from an animal?
Conventional meat is the No. 1 cause of global warming in our food system. Animals in industrial systems are sprayed with over two million pounds—and their cages are treated with another 360,000 pounds—of pesticide every year. They also ingest a whopping 84 percent of all antimicrobials (including antibiotics) used in the United States and half of all the grains grown in the country.
What you can do:
Limit your consumption of meat, dairy, and farmed seafood. Buy organic, local, and grass-fed meat and dairy, as they are produced without synthetic pesticides and herbicides and may use less fossil fuel. Look for seafood that is wild and local and whose stocks are not endangered.
3. Has it been processed?
Unlike fruits and vegetables, processed foods require the use of energy-intensive canning, freezing, drying, and packaging. Processed foods are usually sold in packages and containers listing their ingredients and tend to be found in the center aisles of grocery stores.
What you can do:
Try to do most of your shopping in the outside aisles of the supermarket, where produce and other whole foods are displayed. If you must by processed products, opt for “certified organic” whenever possible.
4. How far has it traveled to get here?
The transportation of food accounts for over 30,000 tons of greenhouse gas per year.
What you can do:
Buy local (or relatively local) if you can. Look for country-of-origin labels on whole foods and try to avoid products that come from the other side of the globe.
5. What sort of package does it come in?
Plastic packages are manufactured using oil and, as such, are responsible for creating over 24,000 tons of greenhouse gas every year.
What can you do?
Avoid excessive packaging by choosing whole foods: loose fruits and vegetables, as well as bulk cereals, pastas, grains, seeds, and nuts. And remember to bring along a reusable grocery bag.


Dr24hours said...

To this list I'd add: how seasonal/geographical is it, even if locally grown? Growing crops in areas they are not native to is highly inefficiant, in most cases. Commercial greenhouses, even organic ones, are not anything like carbon or water neutral.

Anubis Bard said...

Don't stop writing! Some of us are still reading.

Koffeekid Smalls said...

I have immensely enjoyed reading your blog over the last few years, even during your year long visit to mexico. I think you have a lot of readers like myself who just don't comment very often. I don't have a farm, Just a cat, dog and a few ferrets. I live all the way across the country in the southern part of New Jersey.

I would be disappointed if you stopped writing, I have learned so much from you and you even inspired me to try growing my own garden this last summer.

I once wrote a blog and eventually stopped but I enjoyed doing it because it became almost like a personal diary that I was able to read years later and remember all the finer details that I forgot about that day. and while, yes some of my posts seemed boring and trivial, some of my readers loved them the most.

Thanks for letting us into your life over the last few years and I hope we get to see more!

Aimee said...

Koffeekid -
thank you so much for taking the time to write me this note. It means a lot to me to know there are people out there reading. I'd love to know how your garden experiment went! There are a lot of very good gardeners out there writing blogs, but not so many like me, not-so-good gardeners who persevere anyway. Welcome to the club! We also have ferrets, and I don't think I've ever written about them or posted pictures! Now I have an idea for my next post. Thanks again,