27 January 2013

Choice is Addictive

I made a commitment a few weeks ago to get back to the theme of this blog, compassionate climate action — this time, focusing on food growing and food security. So I'm rereading The 100 Mile Diet right now, a wonderfully written, evocative book that definitely makes me think about my food choices.

The other day, however, I started thinking about my food choices from a different place. I visited Walmart for the third time in my life (don't ask). After provisioning my hubby for a stint of granddog-sitting (don't ask), we wandered a bit. Suddenly, in the middle of an aisle in the middle of a warehouse-sized everything store bigger than the community I live in (well, almost), I stopped and burst into tears. 

"This is what's killing everything," I sobbed, leaning on the super-sized cart. "All this. All this choice, all this sense of entitlement. People thinking they can have anything they want, anytime they want, at the cheapest possible price."

I heard a woman with a cart filled to overflowing with boxes of processed foods telling the cashier that her daughter was considered "difficult" at school. I so wanted to say something, but decided against it. I wanted to ask her if she'd like a simple antidote (fresh fruits and vegetables) for her child's behaviour, but chickened out. 

So perhaps I've been barking up the wrong tree when I call Wall Street and fossil fuel corporations "the juggernaut." Maybe Walmart and all the big box stores in North America are the juggernaut — and we're pushing ourselves under the wheels. 

Choice is addictive. It's not fossil fuels we're addicted to, it's choice. The word "choice" comes from the French choisir - to choose. 

What if we started choosing to let the Peruvians eat their own asparagus in December, and the Californians their own strawberries in January? What if we chose to buy less food, waste less food, eat less food? Or at least less unhealthy food? I'm all for everyone in North America eating more kale! (And learning to grow it first.) What if we set up information booths outside every grocery store to tell shoppers what fruits and veggies are in season? Or to offer them a different nutrition lesson each time they shop? To show them the connections between their food choices and the climate change emergency? What if every region had a community farm and every school a schoolyard garden?

What if we started choosing to acquire our food in a way that contributed to the healthiest possible future for ourselves, for our children — and for the Earth? Could that kind of choice ever become addictive?

20 January 2013

The Nitty Gritty of Locavorism - Backyard Chickens

The permaculture chicken
The term "locavore" officially entered the English lexicon in 2007, when it made it into the New Oxford American Dictionary. I read that just a few days after receiving a copy of The 100 Mile Diet, a book I loved when I read it back in 2007. And I received that book just before attending a Poultry Raising workshop in my community, put on by our Transition group.

When I was vegetarian, I considered cheese and eggs to be gifts from the animals who gave them. It took me 30 years to acknowledge something important: "Gifts" taken, indeed stolen, are not gifts at all. My husband and I switched to a vegan diet when we finally clued in that the horrendous ways we treat animals in our industrialized food system - even those we don't kill - made a mockery of our denial. 

I was happily vegan for a few months until a sweet student of mine who lovingly raises chickens very proudly gifted me with a dozen of her eggs. I took those eggs home and told my hubby we were eating them. We still eat eggs very rarely, but if we've met the chickens and know their human, we're open to accepting their eggs as a gift. (So I can't really say I'm vegan, can I? But the label keeps me from eating milk chocolate, which is a good thing.)

Zorah's "Mom with Chicks"
That's why I attended the Poultry Raising workshop yesterday. What I discovered is why a vegan friend of ours in the city fought against her municipality's move to allow backyard chickens. These animals take a lot of care! Raising them is not a lark, it's hard work! I've decided to never again look a gift egg in the mouth.

I thought I'd share with you some of what I learned:
  • There are about 100 poultry diseases. Vigilance is necessary at every step. You can never put new chicks in with an older flock, and you've got to dedicate one pair of boots just for the chicken coop.
  • I was in my 50s before I realized that chickens don't naturally lay eggs all year. (Obviously a city girl.) Without artificial light to fool them, hens go into "molt" during the shortest days of the year and stop laying. The rest of the time, they're churning out about one egg per day, although one speaker said they go in cycles, laying for about 14 days, then taking a few days off. Heritage breeds aren't as productive as hybrid birds, but they'll lay for a longer period.

  • Chickens know what they need in their diet and, if allowed to roam freely, will go out and get it. (Chickens are sometimes used to help baby turkeys learn how to feed.) Their food of "mash" or pellets can be supplemented with sprouts and insects. One of the speakers is developing a mealworm farm!
  • Chickens also need grit and calcium (crushed oyster shells or something similar).
  • Broodiness (the inclination to sit on eggs until they hatch) has been bred out of many chicken breeds, but if a hen does become broody, it's important to give it a nice nest of straw or hay (so her eggs won't roll out). You can keep hens from becoming broody by collecting their eggs often.
  • Keeping a rooster is a good idea if you're going to let your chickens range freely. He'll act as the flock's protector, sometimes losing tail feathers (or worse) in very brave encounters with birds of prey.
  • Turkeys like to sleep in trees - and they LOVE to eat walnuts and blackberries!
  • You should always act as though your poultry has salmonella. For example, eggs must be washed in water slightly warmer than the egg. Washing them in cold water sucks bacteria into the shell.
  • If pecking at each other becomes a problem, simply paint red dots on a piece of wood and nail it up on the outside of their coop. They'll start pecking at the red dots, hurt their beaks - and stop! (If only people learned that easily.)
Chickens are smart, fun and loving animals, I learned. Like dogs, they seem to have domesticated us humans thousands of years ago. What role can they now play in helping us assure their - and our own - survival in a world of climate chaos?

13 January 2013

Turning Play Weapons into Garden Tools?

As my thumb heals, I'm finding lots of time to think about my new year's resolution to think less (ahem) and do more, especially where it comes to food growing and preserving, and learning the old arts (soap making, paper making ... Earth Mama stuff). 

I'm also seeing connections pop up everywhere. I've started taking an online course called School Gardening 101, and the section on the socio-emotional benefits of gardening for children fit right into a professional day spent with my colleagues the other day where we talked about social development, social thinking, and social and emotional intelligence. 

(No, my colleagues were not even remotely thinking about the school garden, but I was. It's always a bit surreal to me that educators can spend several hours talking about the welfare and best interests of their students without ever mentioning that their future is extremely threatened by the climate change emergency, but that's the way it is. 

We teach in non-integrated, non-ecological ways, separating our days into separate "subjects" as though math has nothing to do with science, which has nothing to do with art and language and social studies — and we talk about teaching in non-integrated ways, as well. I'm getting used to living in cognitive dissonance when I'm at work.)

But here's what I'd really like to share with you. When I first started working with my group of students over five years ago (it's an innovative family-based learning program), I quickly latched onto the word "pacifist" to help the kids create an ethic of peace, empathy and cooperation together. 

They've been great about respecting our pacifist nature, but as the boys have grown older, their play keeps turning to playfighting. They're able to turn anything into a weapon, it seems. (I guess encouraging their imagination and creativity can have its downside!)

I was just about to intervene in the gym the other day when play fighting (using little scooters and shuffleboard cues/sticks) was turning a bit too raucous (ie, someone was going to get hurt) when the mother of one of the boys ran over instead. 

A discussion ensued with my oldest student, a great kid who's very active but willing to engage in deep conversations for as long as he can stay still. We talked about whether boys' predilection for weaponry is atavistic (coming from a deep, ancient place) or even vestigial (having become functionless in the course of evolution). 

Can (should?) we help boys honour what could be seen as their role as protectors? And if so, how can we do this without them having to play fight so much? It's probably a much deeper anthropological and psychological question than I have time to delve into, so if you have any insights or references, please send them along in a comment.

But this Biblical quote keeps running through my head (and here's where we get back to where I started this rambling post):
And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. — Isaiah 2:4
If we started channeling the play fighting of boys into gardening ... if we had them turn their toy weapons into the tools of food growing ... would that give young males a sense of purpose in this strange world we're living in? Indeed, as the illustration above shows, young men and women could be working together for the common purpose of rediscovering the ancient agricultural arts that were more in tune with the climate (rather than forcing everything to grow anywhere). 

And the bonus would be fewer greenhouse (gardening ... popping up everywhere these days!) gas emissions, since militaries and their wars are the biggest carbon polluters on the planet! Hey, how many nuclear missiles does it take to make one wind turbine? I've got students who would love to beat those particular swords into plowshares!

06 January 2013

One Thumb Up! (And a New Form of Anarchism)

Not my thumb!
Ah, the Universe sometimes has a sense of humour. After resolving last week to become an "Earth Mama" in 2013, I started the year off by spraining my right thumb on January 2 in a fall while skating backwards (or trying to skate backwards, to be more correct). 

I'm right-handed. Have you ever noticed how much we use our thumbs, especially the one on our dominant hand? Some say it's our thumbs that make us human! In palmistry, the thumb deals with a person's will. According to palm reader, Comte C. de Saint-Germain, "People with large thumbs [that's me!] are governed by their heads, and are more at ease in an atmosphere of ideas, rather than in one of sentiments. They judge things better by reflection than by acting on the spur of the moment." 

The good sir knows me well, as I am indeed a thinker, not a doer. So becoming an Earth Mama is (a) put on hold until my thumb has healed and I can pick things up again, and (b) really going to pull me (kicking and screaming) into my discomfort zone. But for now, at least, I get a reprieve!

So I took advantage of not being able to do too much and spent two and a half hours with our young climate activist friend this afternoon, sipping chai and discussing our shared feeling that a lot of people — including former activists — have turned their backs on the climate change struggle. In just the past week, I've had four friends basically tell me that they're "movin' on" to other endeavours (peace, planting seeds of love, "deliberately living and feeling with appreciation"). Those are all tangentially related, but if there's no food, there's no peace, no love, no sense of appreciation. We all need food. 

But we also talked about government and corporations and other political woes. (Did I mention I'm an ideas person?) And we think we coined a new phrase! Corporate anarchism. If anarchism is a belief in the abolition of all government, then corporate anarchism explains who, exactly, has done away with our governments, abolishing any wisp of leadership from our elected leaders.  So we're actually living in anarchy ("a state of disorder due to absence or nonrecognition of authority"), because corporations don't recognize any authority but their own.

p.s. I just looked it up ... turns out we didn't coin a new phrase. Others are already talking about corporate anarchism online. Darn!