Today I read a New Yorker Magazine article, "The Last Bite: Is the World's Food System Collapsing?", written by Bee Wilson. It's a provacative piece, mixing things those of us in sustainable food systems often talk about (agriculture, population growth, demographics) and stating the obvious, but mixing it up with some new (and old) ideas, theories, and commentary. Such as,Thomas Malthus (historic theory); the fact that food crises are currently occuring in thirty-three countries (per the World Food Bank); and some discussion of a new literature - "food-politics" books - and their sometimes frightening conclusions. (And I admit to having a stack of ten of those particular books at home right now, with more on the way).
The basic premise of Wilson's piece is "that the global food market fosters both scarcity and overconsumption, while imperiling the planet’s ability to produce food in the future."
This makes sense to me. Too many people have too little (or nothing) to eat; too many of us have access to too much "food" that has traveled a long distance, is unhealthy, overprocessed...and which makes us fat to boot.
Clearly, the larger food system in which we participate needs some serious adjustments. We can help make those adjustments occur more quickly by taking an active interest in our role as consumers each and every day. This means making a commitment to improving our health - and the health of the environment - by producing and consuming on a more local basis.
A good way to up your local consumption is by growing even some of your food. It's the perfect time to get a garden going. Don't think you have the time? Little ambition? Even a small container garden can help feed your family, and will also feed something else: your soul. Contact your local Master Gardener organization or visit your local nursery for ideas and guidance.
Today, you can become more informed about food systems issues by reading Wilson's article. She's also authored number of other terrific pieces about the food system, and has published some books that will be of interest to anyone interested in the food system and our role as consumers. Google her. Worth it!
"A Garden for Everyone. Everyone in a Garden."
A Los Angeles Times home improvement blog, titled "Pardon Our Dust," discusses a ember-blocking roof vent invented by a San Bernardino firefighter. Blogger Kathy Price-Robinson pulled a quote by UC Cooperative Extension wood durability advisor Stephen Quarles from a UC ANR news story to add to her post with a link to the complete story. Here's the quote:
"Quarter-inch mesh cannot stop embers and flames during wildfires. This is an example of conflict in code preferences between building and fire officials. Smaller mesh screens would do a better job of keeping out fire and embers, but these same screens plug up more easily."
The new invention is a baffled vent cover, made of 26-gauge galvanized steel, that allows air to flow freely but blocks embers from passing through. An article about the baffled vent covers in Fire Engineering magazine says the baffle material acts as a heat sink, virtually eliminating the threat of fire embers entering through a structure's vent openings.
The new sensory laboratory at the UC Kearney Research and Extension Center won high visibility over the weekend in a prominent story on the front page of the Fresno Bee business section. The new lab was dedicated in April and is the subject of the ucanr.org feature story for May.
Fresno Bee reporter Dennis Pollock wrote that sensory research mixes science with people's senses -- especially taste -- to come up with fruit that shoppers are more likely to enjoy.
"Such results will benefit not only the consumer but our agricultural industries," the article quoted Mary Lu Apaia, a UC Riverside sub tropical horticulturalist based at Kearney.
The story said the new lab takes the place of a "makeshift" facility with less than optimal conditions because of distracting sounds from cooling equipment and odors from fruit stored in a freezer.
"This is a people science. People [the tasters] are my instruments," it quoted staff research associate Sue Collin. "I don't want any distractions."
The Fresno Bee story included mention of all the commodity and grower groups who contributed cash to construct the new laboratory.
My work as an historian of wartime gardening efforts is a small piece of my larger work as an historian of the American homefront during wartime. Without understanding the battlefront, one cannot truly understand the homefront. (And one cannot understand the American homefront without comparing it to other homefronts, so I find myself studying other nations, as well). I am in the odd position of being a person adamantly opposed to war, but also its constant student.
When talking about the power Victory Gardens had on the American homefront in particular, it's easy to focus on the positive, and I do. There's the fact that Americans increased food production and improved their diets during a period of challenge. That they used gardening as a way to create common purpose among a diverse people. That gardens provided a means to re-introduce a producer ethic that had been increasingly lost in a nation that was becoming more consumer-oriented, and to educate a younger generation about their food system. And so much more of value during wars that were horrific.
I sometimes find my current framework challenged by individuals who view Victory Gardens within the larger context of war and the unhealthy sort of nationalism that often parades as patriotism. They view the context of war as divisive. I appreciate their concern, because I struggle with the ambiguity and those concerns on a daily basis.
Recently, I was intereviewed by Lisa Kivirist, a writer/innkeeper/ecopreneur/organic grower who is doing important work in the area of rural women and economy. Lisa is also a Food and Society Policy Fellow. The article appears under the title Planting Patriotism: Recreating The Victory Gardens For Modern Times In the article, Lisa quotes me. I include that quote - and some of Lisa's comments - here to clarify my philosophy about Victory Gardens, and why I think the term works today.
Lisa: "...Hayden-Smith isn’t a historian stuck in the past – she’s an advocate championing bringing the Victory Garden concept back to create a sustainable food system for future generations. Historically, World War II Victory Gardens were kitchen gardens planted to help relieve wartime food shortages. Hayden-Smith defines Victory Gardens more broadly:
Rose: “A Victory Garden today can be any garden with a purpose that you define personally. That purpose can be a family project to raise food for your household or a community effort to grow produce for a local food bank or whatever else you see as a need.”
Lisa: "Such mission based gardening moves our food choices beyond our own personal plate and into the political realm: Make a statement with your garden, vote by example for self-sufficiency and independence. Why rekindle the Victory Garden concept today?"
Rose: “Victory Gardens showcase patriotism in its truest sense, with each of us taking personal responsibility for doing our individual part to create a healthy, fair and affordable food system."
I want to thank Lisa for encouraging me to articulate my philosophy. I hope you'll learn more about her work and visit her website.
The American homefront today is far different than the homefronts of WWI or WWII. While Victory Gardens have little formal connection with our nation's current military involvements, they have everything to do with purpose, personal mission and goals, and a sustainable food future.
"A Garden for Everyone. Everyone in a Garden."
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With a heat wave settling in on California for the next few days, the UC ANR news and information office shared its collection of helpful information for preventing heat stress in outdoor workers, which is compiled in a media kit on the news and information Web site, http://news.ucanr.org. The news release went out yesterday, and the information was made available to the Fresno Bee's 157,546 readers this morning.