Sunday, May 30, 2010

Oil and tears don't mix

Sunday, May 30/10 7:30 a.m.

There are two tear drops on the table just below my key board. They're not dried up yet and they dropped there shortly after 7:00 a.m. when I listened to the news for the first time since yesterday morning.

I've been trying to avoid hearing anything or reading anything about that oil leak off the coast of Florida ... because I've known in my heart how awful it is and that it is going to do nothing other than kill things, kill everything in its winding paths.

I really wanted the cement injection thing to work and stop that leak. And it hasn't worked. And all the images of ruin that I read again and again when I went through my teenage phase of reading science fiction short stories flood into my mind.

And now, there's some talk about putting a cement dome over the thing to siphon off the oil. Well, that's the first thing I thought of weeks ago ... based on a bit of logic and the same lot of science fiction. I recall from first aid that if someone has a cut aorta the first responder can only put on a thick cloth and press down. Surely there's some physics-y/engineery equivalent that should be on a ship stationed right beside any oil rig.

And I keep asking what the people who want to drill oil under an ocean are thinking? ($$$$) And how can they not have had in place at least ten crisis domes and hoses and pumps and back-up holes and really thick cloths that actually work? ($$$$) What are they thinking? ($$$$)

And even though I am not an adherent of any of the formal religions ... right now I want them all to be damned. And for those who have any conscience and have seen what they've done, perhaps they know they are.

Ten minutes to write this. The tear drops have dried but they've left a mark on the table. What are the marks on our hearts?

With love to any readers,

Why's Woman

Friday, May 28, 2010

Just what does local food mean?

A few notes written after reading the article Just What Does Local Mean? by Michael S. Hand and Stephen Martinez ... I try to figure out what they are talking about, and well ... I guess I just start talking for myself.

Many individuals and groups are using the term ‘local’ in regards to food, but they don’t use the same meaning of the word. ‘Local’ doesn’t just refer to a set distance between food grown and eaten; nor does it mean a set political boundary, as for example: ‘this food comes from the province of Ontario’.

There are practical reasons to define the term ‘local’. If a city spends $500,000 on an advertising campaign to urge people to buy local food there needs to be a definition of the word ‘local’ so that those who run the project can tell if it was successful ... meaning they’ll know if taxpayers’ money was spent effectively. A practical definition for such a project might have ‘local’ food defined as food (i) both grown and processed (ii) within the county surrounding the city or the city itself.

Hand and Martinez point out that most food buyers are not thinking just about geography when they describe what ‘local’ food means to them. We make both personal and public demands on the food system. The authors use an interesting term, social distance, to refer to factors that have to do with the personal relationship between the food producer and grower and the ethical practices of the grower in relation to the buyer’s values. Some of my own suggestions for such social interaction factors are:
- making one’s food purchase directly from a grower at a market, receiving weekly delivery by CSA, or buying from a food cooperative
- knowing something about the way animals are raised/treated – whether this is outdoor grazing time, number of animals per pen or use of antibiotics as preventative procedure
- if buying an item from a major chain, e.g. Loblaw’s – does the package name the town the apples come from

My guess is that the food system makes all of us a little bit nuts. Even without reading/listening to any media item discussing escalating prices, pesticide contamination, displaced rural workers, starving people in countries that grow luxury food for export, fossil fuel shortages’ effects on farm equipment, soil depletion, decreased nutrition in produce, shipping distances, carbon footprints, methyl bromide fungicide that kills every living thing in the California soil where the tasteless oversize strawberries grow for Christmas in Ontario ....

... just going to the grocery store can make a person crazy ...

The canned fruit? Well, there are no fruit canneries in Ontario. Depending on whether one is buying Dole, Del Monte or President’s Choice ... one is buying from India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, China, or the U.S. What is local when this is the choice? Two years ago when I bought tinned peaches, I chose the U.S. point of origin, laughing a bit hysterically that at least they were from the same continent. This year I’m buying fresh and putting them in the freezer. Fresh will be from whatever market I can get to by bicycle, on foot or by bus; I will make sure the peaches didn’t go to the Toronto food terminal first before coming to London.

Another thing about food buying that makes us all crazy is that we have to change our definition of ‘local’ with every food item we select.

There’s probably not enough ‘local’ wheat grown in Ontario to supply all the bread that’s used in the province. In the summer, I’m not doing my own baking. Since I cannot afford the $4.00 and $5.00 a loaf wonderful market breads – we eat a lot of bread at my place – whatever is on sale at ValuMart wins.

In November and December, it is unlikely that one will find Canadian grown brussels sprouts in ValuMart (despite Canada being a great place for brassicas); so I get Canadian grown green cabbages through March. You do notice I’m saying Canadian, not Ontario?
An acquaintance who is trying hard to eat a ‘100 mile diet’ rejoiced that she found a supplier of peanut butter, one of her favorite foods. My peanut butter of choice - President’s Choice because it doesn’t have added stuff – is ‘processed in Canada’; there’s no information on the label concerning where the peanuts were grown. No extra stuff wins on this one. Local cannot be my choice on this item because I don’t have the time or vehicle it takes to get to the place to buy it. The neat thing is that the acquaintance is probably documenting her 100 mile journey and others will be able to benefit from things she figures out.

There are probably at a dozen factors to consider on every food item we buy. The importance of the factors changes with the food item. Tally up the decisions and compromises needed on a twenty item grocery list and is it any wonder that we have days when we stop reading labels, buy what’s on sale, and give up?

But not all the time. Not on every item.

And for every item we think about and measure with that social distance yardstick, there has to be a win for ourselves – healthy body, mind and spirit, and for the grower.

More and more people realize that we long for ‘something’ that we are not getting from the food we eat, and from the process by which we buy it. This is changing. This is going to change more.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Clock radio dilemma

The following appeared in my notebook, in my handwriting. I don't remember writing it, very much ... it's the sort of partial story that bypasses my mind and goes straight to the page sometimes.

"The clock radio had never worked. It should have gone straight from its squeaky styrofoam delivery coffin to the trashbin. But she'd struggled with the settings, even used a magnifying glass to increase the incomprehensibly bad translation from the Chinese (Taiwanese?) to try and figure the impossible. It went off at 3:00 a.m. the first morning - possibly some homage to the time of day a near-indentured factory worker had to rise to get to a 12-hour a day manufacturing job ... making hundreds more plastic throwaways for someone half a world away. The radio began changing channels randomly, alternating between a.m. and f.m. stations never heard in her all CBC household. And it alternated awakenings between radio and emergency vehicle siren. After 2 weeks she began to awaken, consistently, about 5 minutes before the 6:30 wake up they'd settled on. She wondered why she didn't throw it out - more specifically why she didn't climb onto the roof and hurl it to the road below. But she didn't. She kept flipping the radio set-switch, expecting it to work properly ... denying that not only did it not begin the morning at the correct time, but that when she wanted to play music at other times of the day she had to click the switch one level up past 'play', then click down two notches below then go back to 'play'. She wasn't quite sure when she'd noticed that this was a consistent quirk.
"A big part of the problem was the 21st century dilemma of how and where to throw out the damned radio. Documentary voices nagged her. 'Stuff like this can't just go in the trash.' What electronic parts or circuit parts were in there? Would it eventually end up in some Chinese village, being dismantled by a bare-handed, unmasked 10 year old girl? Then fed into a continually smoldering fire to recover whatever metal has value - by that same child whose life expectancy drops by a day for every trashed radio she drops into the flames? Given the number of former radios, circuit boards, small appliances that are discarded, is life expectancy a negative number in those small dis-manufacturing villages that get onto the TVO documentaries?
"How to throw something out? ... that is the contemporary question. Whether 'twas nobler and easier forty years ago when everyone simply didn't know about toxic waste or health hazard?'

There is nothing noble ... and there is no ease in this ... then or now.

Why's Woman

Saturday, May 8, 2010

This is not a weed

This is maralroot.

From the Richter’s herb specialty catalogue ( my herb-interested husband read that this Siberian perennial was easy to grow and has ‘remarkable metabolic and tonic effects … a potent adaptogen that ‘helps help athletes increase indurance, reflexes and concentration, and helps them to recover faster from exertion. Studies show that the root extract greatly increases the work capacity of muscles and normalizes blood sugar levels quickly after exertion, and improves memory and learning. Contains ecdysteroids which have anabolic-like growth promoting effects without the side effects associated with drugs. Violet flowers appear in the second year, reaching 80-160cm/30-60in in height. Grows in deep, well-drained fertile soil in full sun. Very hardy. Seeds are said to respond to outdoor exposure in seed flats over winter, but we find that seeds germinate in flats without cold.’

From Henriette’s Herb Page ( ‘Very pretty plant, it is. And people who walk by ask "what's that"? Because it's only in flower for about a week, after which the show is over, and it's rarely grown outside specialty gardens (like a largish herb garden) so people really haven't ever seen it before. Digging the root is major work, and as if that wasn't enough, cleaning it is even more work. No wonder the Russians dig 2nd year root instead of the far larger root clumps of 4-5 year old plants. Don't grow maral root in clay, you'll never get the wire-like tangled roots up. I know, because a friend working on a local herb farm tried just that, a decade or two ago. They made no progress at all with a spade, and about as much with a tractor pulling the plants up. It simply won't work.

We didn’t know which part of the garden this plant would like when we started them from seed in 2009, so we put out 10 in various locales around the gardens. They came through our freeze/thaw winter and are all growing well, the ones in direct sun and best soil are ‘flowering’, if it can be called that. The blossom-seed-head, which looks like a dried thistle even while in bloom (where was the violet-like flower?), looks ominously like something that will carry a lot of seeds. Maybe the finches will like them? Will we have extra healthy finches?

G'Kar's statement of principles

If you are a Babylon V fan, you know who G'Kar is. If you don't know the 1990s television show, just reading the statement is enough. As written by Michael J. Straczinski ... and, for those lucky enough to remember, in the wonderful voice of the late Andreas Katsulas

G'Kar's statement of principles

"The universe speaks in many languages, but only one voice.
The language is not Narn, or Human, or Centauri, or Gaim or Minbari
It speaks in the language of hope
It speaks in the language of trust
It speaks in the language of strength and the language of compassion
It is the language of the heart and the language of the soul.
But always it is the same voice
It is the voice of our ancestors, speaking through us,
And the voice of our inheritors, waiting to be born
It is the small, still voice that says
We are one
No matter the blood
No matter the skin
No matter the world
No matter the star:
We are one
No matter the pain
No matter the darkness
No matter the loss
No matter the fear
We are one
Here, gathered together in common cause, we agree to recognize the singular truth and this singular rule:
That we must be kind to one another
Because each voice enriches us and ennobles us and each voice lost diminishes us.
We are the voice of the Universe, the soul of creation, the fire that will light the way to a better future.
We are one.
We are one."

The fifth thing

'... we still must live on the world we've created - lightly, carefully, gracefully.'

The above is the last line in Bill McKibben's new book Eaarth. I trust he won't think I'm trying to spoil the ending of his passionate, well-researched and thought out book by noting it down.

I need to remember and act on the words above, not just in the way I garden or make purchases, but in the way I deal with people. People are 'in the world' as much as the plants and animals ... although there are times and meetings where I get pretty darn frustrated and don't want to treat anyone carefully, lightly, or gracefully ... which is why I need to remember the line.

And does it count as 'lightly, carefully, gracefully' if my way of interacting with people at a meeting has had to be augmented with specific 'how to handle people' exercises taken from a business group dynamic book, and rehearsed beforehand?

You know the sort of books ... they teach you how to 'hear' other people, but really you are using a formula to manipulate the situation to get something or to avert problems. And you have to hope that the person you are trying to 'dialogue' with hasn't read the same business communication book, because then it won't just be that you hear yourself rhyming off a script, but you might be caught out.

My husband tells me that in the 1980s works by Carlos Castenada were popular. I've never read his books, but Castenada says that the hunter/warrior must have these qualities: cunning, ruthlessness, sweetness, patience. I admit that I've always liked the list of four because it seems to me to be practical, realistic. Husband just now mentions that there is a fifth thing: if you apply those four, the spirit becomes active at opportune moments.

Perhaps this fifth thing is the balance or intuition that one develops, the knowing of what the right thing is to do?

There are times and people and places where I sure wish I had more of the fifth thing.

'lightly, carefully, gracefully'

Why's woman