Wednesday, September 26, 2007

True story

So, I went to the Sustainability Project lecture on transportation...

but had to leave early to catch the bus.

There are still three more classes in this free series, with lots of friends speaking and participating. The food lecture by DeAnn Bauer (EcoRealtor/Goddess)even featured pictures of Noelle Aguayo's fabulous garden. A talk by my favorite Garden Wise Guy, Billy Goodnick, is part of the October 16th class. I've really enjoyed the first three sessions, and learned a few things about the environment and my community.

All classes are at the SB Central Public Library, Faulkner Gallery, from 5:30-7:30ish (7:20 if you need to catch the 24X back to UCSB)

SESSION 4 / October 2nd
GOODS & SERVICES / Party Like an Eco-Rockstar!

Ten Ways to Make Your Next Event “Green” / Selecting Eco-friendly Services:
April Palencia, Peikert Group Architects; Elizabeth Waldrop, Village Realtors;
DeAnn Bauer, Village Realtors; Jennifer Downing, PMSM Architects
Panel Discussion

SESSION 5 / October 9th
HOME & GARDEN / Eco-Living, Gotta Love It!

Home Energy Efficiency: David Inger, VCREA Energy Projects Manager
Burke Remodel: Paul Poirier, Poirier & David Architects; Allen Associates
Doering Remodel: Bill Doering; Dennis Thompson, Thompson-Naylor Architects
Live Right, Live Small, and Have a Big Life: Isabelle Greene, Landscape Architect
Panel Discussion

SESSION 6 / October 16th
HOME & GARDEN / Find Joy and Heal the Planet!

Stancer Remodel: John Kelley, Architect; Lee Walmsley, Evergreen Landscape Arch.
Permaculture: A Revival of Common Sense – Larry Santoyo, Earthflow Design Works
The Wise Guys - Owen Dell & Billy Goodnick
Eco-footprint Reports – Paul Poirier, Poirier & David Architects
Panel Discussion

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Who to Woohoo Wednesday: Anne Hastings

It's easy to lose perspective in a community like Santa Barbara, especially when it comes to to a term like "poverty." While we have a lot of traffic at the Food Bank and many families struggling to make ends meet—and I don't mean to trivialize that struggle—being poor here is being rich in developing parts of the world.

In Haiti, for example, many people live on $1 a day. The country has struggled to find equality and justice since before its independence, and don't get me started about the role of the United States. Well, I'll just say one little thing, because it's relevant to the US Farm Bill. Our policies of subsidizing farmers in the US, and being sure that every corporation along the distribution chain gets to bleed out all the profit the (subsidized) market will bear, we end up having cheap rice to export. So we send it to our poorest neighbor, Haiti (again, being sure that all American shipping companies, etc., are generously paid). There, the rice is sold for much cheaper than the local rice, undercutting Haitian farmers, and pushing them off their land into urban slums. Where they enjoy the starchy goodness of US Humanitarian Aid. Meanwhile, the IMF and World Bank collects on debts accumulated by deposed dictators, payments guaranteed to keep the entire nation in poverty.

As you can tell, I get a little passionate about Haiti. So I was thrilled when the Walter H. Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion, and Public Life decided to host Anne Hastings, executive director of Haiti's largest microfinance organization, Fonkoze. The microfinance model gives women tiny loans, many under $50, but enough to transform lives in a place like Haiti. Fonkoze also educates and supports women in Haiti. Her lecture was entitled "Eradicating Global Poverty: Is It Really Achievable?"

Her talk at Victoria Hall last night gave background on Fonkoze, but focused on Hastings efforts to reach those living in extreme poverty. These people are living on less than fifty cents a day, with no concrete floor, often no roof, no latrine. The children must work instead of attending school. This is crushing poverty, or, as Hastings described it, "The poverty that kills." Hastings used the image of a ladder, on which one might climb out of poverty. "These are the people," she said, "who don't even have one foot on that ladder. Not a wheelbarrow, not a chicken, no way to get started." They are too poor even for microfinance. So, the new program helps them get that first foot on. It costs $300-$1000 for this 18-month intensive program which lifts a family of six out of killing poverty... (Gosh, one wonders... how could the US justify spending that much money on a foreign country? unless that foreign country has oil, of course...)

I was not surprised to hear she is good friends with revolutionary Dr. Paul Farmer, the subject of Mountains Beyond Mountains (he'll be speaking at UCSB October 22.)

Haiti matters for more reasons than I have time to list here. So does poverty. Hastings answer to her own question, Is eradicating global poverty really achievable?: "I don't know. But we have to keep trying." Woohoo, Anne!

And speaking of the Food Bank, tickets are on sale now for the best soup in town at Empty Bowls on Sunday, November 4. See you there!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Goldilocks Hates Slow Food

and so do I.

While I love what the Slow Food movement represents, the term "Slow Food" sticks in my craw. Slow Food is, of course, a reaction against fast food and fast food culture. What's the opposite of fast food? Slow food. Hahahahaha.

What's wrong with fast food? Well, if you're reading this blog, you probably know already—f you don't know, Fast Food Nation is a good place to start. No question, it's bad stuff. Global, cultural, individual pollution.

So I hate that Slow Food defines itself in relation to fast food. I also feel like fast food is a problem because it is so extremely large, extremely corporate, extremely cheap, extremely fast—so extremely extreme. But is the correct response another extreme? That's what the term "Slow Food" implies to me. You're for us or against us. Fast food or Slow Food. What about Just Right Food?

I feel like maybe it's important to guard against extremism in food culture the same way we do in religion or politics. Just Right Food allows you to make informed choices. Do what you can. Can if you can. If you aren't spending the last days of summer canning heirloom tomatoes from your own garden, THAT'S OKAY. If you use a can opener, you are not a traitor to The Movement. Occasionally choosing convenience shouldn't mean exile to the Dark Side, but that's what I think of when I hear the term Slow Food. The phrase is like a Sicilian grandmother chastising me for cutting corners and spitting on her traditions, wagging a boney finger beneath her black mantilla, uttering curses...

I prefer to focus on an idea that nurtures me like a good meal. I love the term "locavore" a lot—it implies community, appetite, and a little silliness. As much as I love the Slow Food Movement, I wish we could call it something else.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

I Can't Believe It's Not Toxic!

The Jiffy Pop Tavern is safe from the Zaca Fire and hungry for business, but the ConAgravation theme continues.

As "news," we learn a guy in Colorado who eats lots of microwave popcorn developed lung disease. Fact is, this diacetyl disease isn't news at all.

C'mon. Is it really a surprise that microwave popcorn might have some scary stuff in it? Didn't folks notice that if the bag is microwaved for a few extra seconds, black acrid smoke-demons begin seeping from the bag? Do folks just shrug that off as an artificial "smoke-like fragrance"? It takes an exorcism to get that smell out.

It's not news. It's ConAgra. ConAgra has been poisoning its workers with scary, buttery toxins for a long time.

ConAgra Foods Inc, maker of Orville Redenbacher and Act II microwave popcorn brands, said Wednesday it will drop diacetyl from its butter-flavored microwave popcorn in the "near future" to safeguard its employees....The additive, which gives microwave popcorn a buttery taste, has long been linked with a rare lung disease, bronchiolitis obliterans, found in plant workers.

Oh. "Plant workers." Whew. I was worried people might have been in danger. Now that a consumer has been diagnosed with the "popcorn plant disease," there will be immediateish changes:

ConAgra spokeswoman Stephanie Childs said that after months of deliberations [!] the company now expects to remove diacetyl "within a year" to protect employees who are exposed to large amounts of the additive.

"We made that decision in order to provide our employees with the safest work environment possible, but also to eliminate even the perception of concern for consumers," Childs said in a telephone interview.

Don't worry, Ms. Childs. We have no such perceptions.