The Most Important Graph in the World

Monday, May 18, 2009

Vermont beats Oregon to the punch: State-House Garden

H/t to Energybulletin.net. Isn't it wonderful to imagine that big green quad in front of the Capitol building in a huge, blooming variety of vegetables, berries, replacing the ornamental cherries with sweet cherries . . . etc. Let's give the Golden Pioneer something great to look at!
At Vermont State House, time for green thumbs

MONTPELIER — Signs of the times: a cash-strapped state government cutting the budget for flowers outside its Capitol – and frugal Vermonters stepping up to plant vegetables instead.

A Statehouse known for the green legislation that gets crafted inside — and for the crunchy, green ethos of many of its constituents — now sports two long, narrow plots of organic vegetables on either side of the steps leading to its front door.

"We're the only state which has a capital that doesn't have a McDonald's," said Carolyn Jones, a Montpelier sixth-grader. "We're a green state, a healthy state."

What organizers are calling the first Statehouse vegetable garden in the country got its start Thursday, as a crew of students from Montpelier High School brought 150 lettuce seedlings from the school's greenhouse to plant under the gaze of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, whose statue graces the top of the building's golden dome.

The youngsters — whose school's Web site touts a "Composter of the Month"—braved a steady rain to do the planting, while adult organizers and dignitaries huddled under a party tent nearby. Sopping wet, the teens disappeared as soon as the plants were in the ground. (17 May 2009)

Are you getting a little nervous about the economy?

Need a little encouragement? Have you thought about gardening for food instead of for the benefit of lawn-fertilizer companies? Check it out: One Million Gardens.

"There is a growing recognition that the great unrenewable resource is arable soil in this world"

Long video (about 90 minutes) but outstanding. Really.


Salem sits smack in the middle of some of the most verdant soil in the world, soil that is well-watered and enjoys copious sun during the northern summer. When the big industrial phood machine grinds to a halt from lack of fossil fuels (or inability of anyone to be able to pay the freight to use that much oil to move things around), we should be able to live--and live well--on local foods. And we seem intent on sprawling ever more, paving over this beautiful and productive land. And, for now, we're still trapped in the industrial phood system that says you should not even have the option of keeping a few hens, you must be dependent entirely on fossil fuels for your every meal.

No one has done a better job showing the essential evil of this corporate-controlled system and its hydra-like ability to take a blow and grow a new head full of fangs at the very point where the damage was (briefly) inflicted than Michael Pollan.

Amy Goodman, who should win Pulitzers annually, interviews him. Choice bits below, but you really should read the whole thing -- and then watch the video:

Goodman: Can you talk about corporations in other ways, like Monsanto, talking about the sustainability of genetically modified foods?

Pollan: Yeah, Monsanto is very much on the attack right now, pushing its products, particularly in Africa, and making the case that the most sustainable agriculture will be intensive production on the land base we have. The argument is that there’s only so much arable land in the world, we have ten billion people on the way, and that the only way to feed them is to get more productivity over the land we have, to further intensify agriculture, using their genetically modified seeds.

And the word “sustainable” is never far from their lips. And they have this amazing ad campaign. Two things are notable about it. One is that the language of sustainability and the critique of industrial food is being picked up by some of the major players within industrial food, either as an effort to co-opt the rhetoric or simply confuse the consumer and the citizen.

The other thing is that it’s very interesting that Monsanto should be arguing that it has the key to improving productivity. If indeed what we need to do is improve productivity, don’t look at genetically modified crops. They have never succeeded in raising productivity. That’s not what they do. If you look at the—the Union of Concerned Scientists just issued a report looking at the twenty-year history of these crops, and what they have found is that basically the real gains in yield for American crops, for world crops, has been through conventional breeding. Genetic modification has—with one tiny exception, Bt corn used in years of very high infestation of European corn borers—has not increased productivity at all. That’s not what they’re good at. What they’re good at is creating products that allow farmers to expand their monocultures, because it takes less management. So, if indeed we need to go where Monsanto says, there are better technologies than theirs.

Goodman: What about companies boasting that they use real sugar, like that’s a health claim.

Pollan: Well, you know, it’s very interesting. Since this book came out, where I argue don’t buy high-fructose corn syrup and don’t buy products with more than five ingredients, suddenly the industry is—you know, they’re so clever. I have to hand it to them. But now they’re arguing that their products are simpler, and there’s new Haagen-Dazs 5, which is a five-ingredient Haagen-Dazs product. You know, it’s still ice cream. Ice cream is wonderful, but we shouldn’t treat it as health food because it now has only five ingredients. ... Frito-Lay potato chips now is arguing that they’re local. Now, you have to remember, any product is local somewhere. Right? This food doesn’t come from Mars. But to think that Frito-Lay as a local potato chip is really a stretch.

So—and on the high-fructose corn syrup thing, now that you’ve got Snapple and soon-to-be Coca-Cola making a virtue of the fact that they contain real sugar, no high-fructose corn syrup, what that is is an implicit health claim for sugar. And that is an incredible achievement on the part of industry, to convince us that getting off of high-fructose corn syrup has made their products healthier. It has done no such thing. Biologically, there’s no difference between high-fructose corn syrup and sugar.

Goodman: Well, explain why you were going after high-fructose corn syrup.

Pollan: Well, my argument about high-fructose corn syrup and why you should avoid it is it is a marker of a highly processed food. I’m just trying to help people, when they’re going through the supermarket—the main thing you want to avoid is processing, you know, extreme processing. And high-fructose corn syrup—I mean, think about it. Do you know anyone who cooks with high-fructose corn syrup? It’s not a home—it’s not an ingredient you’ll find in a home pantry. It’s a tool of food science.

My problem with it is its ubiquity through the food system. You have high-fructose corn syrup showing up where sugar has never been—in bread, in pickles, in mayonnaise, in relish, in all these products—that they basically have found that if you sweeten anything, we will buy more of it. High-fructose corn syrup is a very convenient, cheap ingredient, because we subsidize the corn from which it’s made.

But to boast about your product not having high-fructose corn syrup as being some kind of virtue is really stretching it. And I think what we see here is another example of the food industry’s ingenuity in taking any critique of industrial food and turning it into the next marketing strategy. It’s a lot like the low-fat campaign, you know, which began as a government critique of food, you know, beginning with George McGovern in the ’70s saying we should eat less red meat because of heart disease. Whatever you think of the science of that, which turns out not to have been that good, it was a well-meaning campaign to improve the American diet. Industry came back and re-engineered the whole food system to have less fat in it and no fat in it. And that campaign sold a lot more food. And, in fact, since that campaign, we’ve been eating about 300 more calories a day, and we’re a lot fatter. So, you can’t—you just can’t underestimate their ability turn any critique into a way to sell food.

So, I’ve had to update my rules. And with all this new marketing based on these ideas, my new suggestion is, if you want to avoid all this, simply don’t buy any food you’ve ever seen advertised. Ninety-four percent of ad budgets for food go to processed food. I mean, the broccoli growers don’t have money for ad budgets. So the real food is not being advertised. And that’s really all you need to know. . . .

Goodman: Can you talk about how the food system affects healthcare and the whole issue of healthcare reform?

Pollan: Well, I think that we are soon to recognize that we are not going to be able to reform healthcare, which depends on getting the cost of healthcare down, without addressing the American diet, the catastrophe of the American diet.

The CDC, Centers for Disease Control, estimates that of the $2 trillion we’re spending on healthcare in this country, $1.5 trillion is for the treatment of preventable chronic disease. Now, that’s not all food, because you have smoking in there, too, and alcoholism. But the bulk of it is food. Food is implicated in heart disease, which we spend, you know, billions and billions on. It’s implicated in type 2 diabetes. It’s implicated in about 40 percent of cancers. It’s implicated in stroke, all sorts of cardiovascular problems.

And, you know, in a sense, the healthcare crisis is a euphemism for the food crisis, I mean, that they are identical. And I do think that President Obama recognizes this. And I think that you will see programs to address this, because that is how you could—you know, a better School Lunch Program would be a down payment on the healthcare reform, because you would reduce long-term the costs of the system. Treating a case of type 2 diabetes costs the City of New York, every new case, $500,000. It is bankrupting the system. And it’s preventable.

Goodman: How is it treated?

Pollan: Well, type 2 diabetes is, once you contract it, it’s $13,000 a year in additional medical costs. It takes something like ten years off of your life span. It means an 80 percent chance of heart disease in your life, a possibility of amputation and blindness, you know, being tethered to machines and drugs your whole life. It’s a very serious sentence, and it’s entirely preventable with a change in lifestyle.

The interesting thing is, why don’t we have really powerful public interest ad campaigns to inform people about this? I mean, the way the government could save the most money the most easily would be having a public advertising campaign about the dangers of soda. There are a great many children that, simply by getting off soda, avert this whole course. . . .

Goodman: What about large corporations buying up the farmland of poorer countries?

Pollan: Well, this is going on. There is a growing recognition that the great unrenewable resource is arable soil in this world and that countries like China realize that they will not be able to feed their population on their soil base, because of their numbers, but also because they poison so much of their soil. Their soil is polluted, and they have a serious problem with that. So they are buying up huge swaths of land in Africa.

This is a political disaster, you know, waiting to happen. I mean, Africans are going to stand by while their best farmland is being used to feed Chinese? I mean, I don’t see this as a sustainable solution for anybody. But this is what’s happening.

And we should take note and realize that our farmland is so precious, and we should be very careful about developing it, and we should certainly be careful about letting it run off into the Mississippi River because we’re failing to put in cover crops and things like that. . . .

"The Chicken Whisperer" (Streaming audio)

Archived shows available for listening there:

Backyard Poultry with the Chicken Whisperer

Andy Schneider, better known as the Chicken Whisperer™ has become the go-to guy across the nation for anything chickens. Over the years he has helped a countless number of people start their very own backyard flocks. He is not only a national radio personality, but also a special contributor to Mother Earth News Magazine, Grit Magazine, and Farmers Almanac. He is the owner of Atlanta Pet Chickens, Classroom Chickens, and is the Founder/Organizer of the Atlanta Pet Chicken Meetup Group that has quickly grown to over 575 local members! He has been featured on CBS News Atlanta, HD News New York, NPR, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Front Page Story), New Life Journal, and many other local and national publications. He is currently working with CNN and Farmers Almanac TV on stories about keeping backyard poultry. In fact, he is currently working on a "How To" video series called “Backyard Poultry with the Chicken Whisperer™” with Farmers Almanac TV that should be released this spring!

UPDATE! The Chicken Whisperer’s new book, which is titled “Chicks are Easy”, should be released by the end of 2009! Then in 2010 he plans to release his second book titled “Peep Show”. Great titles for great books!

Backyard Poultry with the Chicken Whisperer™ is a nationally broadcast radio show all about keeping backyard poultry, and living a self-sufficient lifestyle. Each week the Chicken Whisperer™ welcomes special guests from all around the nation to talk about keeping backyard poultry, and living a more self-sufficient lifestyle. Guests include certified avian veterinarians, feed representatives, product representatives, FFA members, 4-H members, poultry club members, and the who's who in the backyard poultry industry. Show segments include Today’s Special Guest, Chicken Trivia Contest, Chickens in the News, Chicken Happenings, FFA Across the USA, and Self Sufficient Lifestyle. The show also frequently goes live to poultry shows all across the nation, and interviews show coordinators, show judges, and show participants. Tune in every Saturday morning at 9:00am EST.

That's the spirit!

Someone at Salem-News.com has tossed out some ideas for a bottoms-up approach to dealing with Salem's funding shortfalls. He's asking you to send your ideas to him, but you're welcome to put them in the comments here too.