Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Bacteriapalooza, 2008

(Here we go again)
"Are tomatoes safe to eat yet? Which tomatoes can we eat?”

These are not unreasonable questions about our newest food dilemma, referring to the blasted salmonella on the blasted tomatoes, but they aren't even close to answering the questions about the giant, freaking mess of a pickle we're in. Same with the e. coli spinach scare from last year. The question shouldn’t be when or which; it should be why.

And not an ordinary why, but a probing, brass-tacks, root-of-the-issue why.

Our food system is broken. That’s why our tomatoes and spinach are poisoned. These poisonings are the canary in the coal mine. Industrial agriculture is, plain and simple, not the way we should be growing vegetables. It’s a waste of fuel, a waste of water; it’s destroying our soil and draining our aquifers dry. It’s also destroyed the nutrient value of our food and it's, at least in part, the reason for our obesity epidemic.

True fact: vegetables are 90% water. Water is heavy. Heavy stuff is expensive to move. We’re spending $5.00+ on diesel for tractor-trailers to send little chlorophyll-ed bags of water 2500 miles across the US so folks can have tasteless, mealy tomatoes or bland strawberries or whatever, year ‘round. But there’s more: these sad vegetables are mainly grown in California, with Colorado River water. Most of California is naturally a semi-arid desert, not a green, rich, food-growing oasis. Growing industrial quantities of vegetables in California is only made possible by stealing vast, and I do mean VAST, amounts of water from the Colorado River system. The Colorado River is an ecosystem that is currently on its last legs. By the time the Colorado reaches its delta, there isn’t any water left- one of the great river systems of the world is being destroyed mainly for the sake of our broken food industry. Never mind that millions upon millions of humans shouldn’t be living in the desert in the first place.

Ok, so here’s the rundown-- We’re essentially transporting little bags of endangered river water from a region of the country that cannot afford to give up water, with fuel we can't pay for anymore. Like the great Wendell Berry said, though I’m paraphrasing here- we took a system that wasn’t broken, and broke it.
You know what I'm going to say, because I am nothing if not a one-note song on a broken record. Home gardening really is a major part of the solution, unless you're a federal lobbyist for the California Department of Agriculture- then the solution might be as Byzantine and absurd as pipelining Great Lakes water all the way to California.
Now, of course, home gardening can't take the place of all crops, especially grains. But think of all those little water bags in your grocery store- tomatoes, lettuces, leafy greens, peas, beans, potatoes, onions, sweet corn, cabbages, herbs- which can be grown on a surprisingly small plot of yard. Tear up some of that useless grass and build a pretty, formal French-style potager in the front yard, and at least a few of your neighbors will want one, too. Or dig up the back yard and lay in three seasons' worth of vegetables, line the fence with scarlet runner beans, gourds and winter squash, and watch your backyard become a playground for songbirds, hummingbirds, and bees (yes, it's true- and the occasional squirrel and rabbit pest, as well). Set up a beehive in the corner of the yard to pollinate your own crops and you can harvest your own honey- another very heavy product to transport-- and, bonus-- it’s been recently discovered that keeping home hives of bees just might help with our ongoing global bee crisis. Keep a few chickens and let their poop enrich the soil- they work wonders in the pest control department, will gladly eat all of your kitchen and garden scraps, and home-grown eggs are every bit as fabulous as home-grown tomatoes. And with all of this, you get a fair bit of exercise, you turn off the TV, and you can have a conversation with the family or your neighbors. And you get the eat the best food that money can't buy.

The answer is laid out, right before us.


heather t said...

I was mentally jumping up and down with joy and rage and complete agreement while reading this.

My sad little garden. I'm trying but it's just not enough.

ilex said...

Heather, I thank you, ma'am.

You sound like you need a garden consultation. What seems to be the problem? Can you pinpoint it?

plantainpatch said...

Bravo!!! My head was nodding while reading.

Garden Wise Guy said...

Ilex - you go, girl! Great posting about how our diets are so inextricably connected to big ag and the lobbies that continue to work against our best interests. This is my first time here, thanks to your comment at my Garden Wise Guy blog (thanks for stopping by).

I'll be posting a link to your blog right away, 'cause you're right up my alley with these issues of sustainability and thinking locally. I cohost a regional sustainable landscaping TV show in Santa Barbara, CA. We just premiered an episode that includes a segment about keeping our landscapes local and the concept of a 500 mile diet. If you pop back to my blog and find the Watch Me on TV link, you can watch the current episode. Also, the previous one has a fun segment about growing your own food.

Anyway, thanks for your visit and I'll be back (PS: I have a dynamic worm bin that's been going for a few years - I'm trying to name all the critters, but they keep moving around.)

Robbyn said...

Yes'm, yes'm, yes'm!
You know what strikes me about this...what always strikes me about the solution? It's simple.
I suspect that's the antithesis of how our economists and upper-level "decision makers" want to make decisions...there's no middle man.

And you're right about the obesity epidemic's key element being the craving of real nutrients our supermarket foods no longer contain...case in point, tomatoes. There is no way anyone who has not bitten into a home grown tomato fresh from the vine and still warm from the sunshine can even begin to KNOW how satisfying a vegetable can be. Something in our bodies, go "ahhhh" and breathe a sigh of relief and satisfaction at being provided real food!

Preach on, sister :)

d. moll, l.ac. said...

Right on, there is a book "Food Not Lawns" by Heather Flores. Be rad, grow your own food. Caught between the state of food and the price of oil surely a new widespread paradigm must emerge.

L.Bo Marie said...

mmmm, home food!
We're looking at getting a community garden going for GTI this year... we're a little late with such a short growing season, but any bit helps.

Carolyn said...

Amen Sister!!!!

Garden Wise Guy said...

Motown, not Chi-town: fixed

Melissa said...

well put...I just wish I had more than a balcony on which to grow stuff, but I guess we make do with what we have. Robbyn, I LOVE your description of eating a homegrown tomato...it's sooo true!

kate smudges said...

Amazing to think that it was only a few decades ago that people had big veggie gardens and rarely bought veggies at stores. Last night I was reading an article about container growing of exotic veggies here - on the Canadian prairies - where it was commented that it was so much cheaper to buy veggies at stores than grow them and then mentioned the few old-timers who still like to grow their own veggies. (The article was 2 years old and I wondered if the author would say the same thing today.) I've just turned one side of my front garden into a veggie patch - among the roses grows rhubarb from my parent's garden. They've always had a huge veggie garden - let's hope that more people get into growing their own food. Michael Pollan's book, In Defence of Food, opened my eyes with the question - do you know where your food comes from?

Thanks for this post.

Maggie said...

As my 5 month old grandson would say Goo Goo gaboo doo boo boo. Aaahh goo goo boo daa boo! Eeirhhhh!!
Lets make you President!

ilex said...

Plantainpatch: thanks very much for stopping by. Got any more scapes?

Garden Wise Guy- Love your blog. Thnaks for your support- I'm honored you'd link to me!

Robbyn- you are clearly my long-lost sister and I'm beginning to think we share a brain- yes it is indeed simple, yes, capitalism is the heart of all our troubles, and sun-warmed-tomatos are certainly the answer to all our problems. Ok, most. Naaahh, I gotta go with all.

D.Moll- I haven't read her book, but I know her work. What she's done is very impressive and she was way ahead of the curve. The new paradigm is upon us, right now.

Miss L.Bo- it is a bit late, especially in the great white north- how about a bed of nice green manure? The soil will be utterly fabulous by next year!

Hi Carolyn- hope all's well with the bucket garden!

Melissa- I do all my vegetable growing on a balcony. You'd be surprised!

Kate- I know, I think about it all the time. In just 3 generations we moved away from one of the things that truly makes us human- but even when store-bought was cheaper, it was never as good! Pollan is brilliant. He's written the right book(s) at the right time. Thanks very much for stopping by my blog.

Maggie- I don't (ever, ever) want to be president, but I sure would love to be the White House vegetable gardener! Seasonal and local in the White House, whhoo-hoo!