Another Reason to Plant a Garden This Year

January 26, 2009

Consumers may pay more for spring lettuce and summer melons in grocery stores across the country now that California farmers have started abandoning their fields in response to a crippling drought.


This reminds me of Kunstler’s rant about the ‘3,000-mile salad.’   We rely on areas like California’s Central Valley for fruits & vegetables more than most Americans realize.  Economies of scale are great when they work in our favor, but the flip side is that when these huge farms fail to deliver the crops we expect from them, we have few other options to explore.

This is also starting to bring water resource conflicts to the front of the news as well:

With such a grim outlook, many California farmers including Giacone are investing millions to drill down hundreds of feet in search of new water sources.

Depending on how much it rains this winter, federal water supplies could be slashed down to nothing this year, forcing farmers to rely solely on brackish well water. But the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation won’t make an official decision until late February, said Ron Milligan, the agency’s Central Valley operations manager.

Since it isn’t raining, farmers that are trying to stay in business are drilling further and further down to find & drain underground reservoirs.   For those that may not know, the term ‘brackish’ indicates that there’s more salt in the water than in normal freshwater, which means that in order to survive, the farmers are increasing the salinity in their fields by irrigating from this source… extracting perhaps more yields over the next few years but drastically reducing the long-term fertility of the fields.

It’s been a cold winter here, but one of the things I’m thankful for is that I live in a state with abundant fresh water… assuming we can stop polluting it.

Back to Breakfast

December 16, 2008

Like many Americans, I have a bad habit of not eating breakfast during the week.  I’m usually busy getting both myself and the kids ready for the day, so any morning caloric intake is usually coffee and some milk at work… sometimes augmented with whatever crap I can find around the office.  Not healthy, and I have no real excuse beyond laziness and lack of planning.

With the weather getting colder in a hurry, my stomach has been growling in the morning more often, so I decided it was time to get back into the swing of things and start planning out breakfast again.  I’m one of those folks who can eat the same thing on a regular basis, so my morning diet is usually unvaried during the work week: oatmeal.

I go old-school for the oatmeal, using the plain old Quaker Oats or bulk oats from Trader Joe’s or similar places.   None of this ‘quick oats’ or packaged stuff.   I use the recipe found in Nourishing Traditions for basic porridge:

  • 1 part oats
  • 1 part warm water
  • 1-2 tbsp plain yogurt
  • 1 part cold water

I use 3/4 cup for the ‘part’ size… you can vary it depending on how hungry you are, or how many people you’re cooking for.   If you’re cooking a large batch then I’d add a bit more yogurt, but not too much more.

Mix the oats, warm water and yogurt in a bowl or plastic container, cover and let sit at room temperature overnight.   In the morning, bring cold water to a boil, add the oats mixture, and cook until ready, which should only be a few minutes.    I then add some brown sugar or honey to taste and pour the mix into a pre-heated insulated  food jar (like this one) and it stays nice & hot until I make it to work, even when it’s as cold as it is outside today (-5 F this morning) and I have to walk outside a fair distance to the building. Nourishing, simple and cheap.

I don’t have the book in front of me, but the active cultures in the yogurt neutralize some enzymes in the oats that block absorption of nutrients.  That’s why it’s important to use warm (not hot) water with the yogurt and let the mix sit overnight.    It also has the side benefit of reducing cooking time for the oatmeal significantly… it takes me maybe 3-5 minutes tops to cook it in the morning.

I’m a fan of traditional methods of cooking… the Nourishing Traditions book is put out by the folks at the Weston A. Price Foundation.  If you’re interested in eating healthy in a way that doesn’t involve fat-free, heavily-processed or  powdered crap that comes out of a box, check them out.   It’s eye-opening stuff.

Anyone else have some good ideas for basic breakfast foods?

Midwest Floods push corn prices higher. Be ready to pay more for meat…

June 13, 2008

For those of you outside the Midwest, we’ve been getting hammered with heavy rains over the last week or so, which have resulted in massive flooding in Southern Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and elsewhere. Matt at FGLB is dealing with some water in the basement right now, as is my boss, who lives in Rochester.

Besides the human tragedy we see playing out around here and regaining respect for the sheer power of nature, there will be at least one other follow-on effect from all this: rising food prices. Estimates are coming in that between 3 and 10 percent of Iowa’s corn crop will be lost for this season. Other states in the region will lose a percent of their crop as well. As a result of this, corn prices have been surging over the last few days, passing $7 per bushel, which is nearly double what it was last year. I heard a news report on this subject on MPR this morning, and an econ professor from the U of M stated that he expected to see prices rise on animal products, since most of the corn that was lost is feed corn. He specifically mentioned beef, pork, poultry, eggs & dairy products… they had risen around 5% in the last year, and he expected them to rise again. He also mentioned that around 38% of the corn crop is going into biofuels right now, which won’t help food prices or support for corn ethanol.

Best wishes to Matt and everyone else trying to stay dry…

“You are going to cause a riot, a revolution, and this time, it is going to be bloody.”

March 28, 2008

I expect to see more stories like this as the year moves on.

The spring thaw is coming, and I plan to get my veggie garden in by the end of April.  Not only is it a healthy choice, but it will also likely make economic sense.
HT: Urban Survival 

Welcome to Squanderville

March 26, 2008

Here’s an interesting article from Time Magazine regarding the current financial mess we are in. The end of this story isn’t particularly pretty if you’re an American citizen, but not so bad if you’re Chinese, Korean, etc.

I’ve been watching the financial crisis develop for a number of months now, and while I’d like to believe differently, I am pessimistic about the way the American economy is heading. Gas prices are still relatively stable, but I’m seeing more and more evidence, both concrete and anecdotal, that food prices are rising, and doing so at a fast clip in some cases. My family’s food bills seem to be creeping up… thankfully spring is on it’s way and with it the re-opening of the farmers’ markets and my nascent vegetable garden.

While I think the US economy is slowing down and may truly go into a depression at some point, I don’t think the wheels are about to fall off. I’ve thought that we were in major trouble several times in the past, and the resiliency of the system has continued to amaze me. Some of this is psychological, I think. The US dollar, like other fiat currencies, is worth what people think it’s worth, and a large mass of people fervently wish that it keeps as much of it’s value as possible. Many global fortunes will be destroyed if the dollar becomes more useful as toilet paper or heating fuel rather than as a medium of exchange. The power of positive thinking in action, I guess. Or, it could be that on the deep political level, a number of decision makers around the globe also understand that the “full faith & credit” of the US is also backed up by a large arsenal of weaponry, both conventional and nuclear.

A possible ray of hope: housing prices in my neighborhood have dropped far enough that some houses are starting to sell. A rough estimate so far is that housing prices have taken around a 20% haircut in my immediate neck of the woods. YMMV, of course. My one neighbor a few houses up is doggedly sticking to something close to a 2005 price for their home, and are swinging in the wind as a result.

The rest of this post deals with some personal & health issues. If you’re not interested, then thanks for visiting.

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Looking Dinner in the Eye

January 17, 2008

Interesting article in the NY Times today about one take on the ‘locavore’ fad that’s starting in cuisine. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver killed and butchered a chicken on one of his cooking shows (free registration required, or use BugMeNot) as part of a campaign to raise awareness of consumers’ demands for cheap food and the effect that has on both livestock and the farmers that raise them.

Mr. Oliver performed some other acts to show how animals are treated (more like mistreated) on factory farms, and to be honest, the end of this article almost reads like a pro-vegetarian tract. Quote:

“Mr. Oliver’s message to supermarket shoppers is clear: the only reason for the miserable lives lived by most chickens is your insistence on cheap food.”

He’s right, of course. We are usually two or more steps removed from the people that produce the food we consume, which allows us the ability to not think about how the choices we make affect both producers and animals. We may be able to suppress the thought that we’re screwing a farmer over when we buy vacuum-packed slabs of meat in the supermarket; most of us would have issues looking the farmer in the eye at the farmers’ market and doing so in person.

I’m not a vegetarian. I lived as one for a period of several years a while back but left that life choice for a variety of reasons. My wife has told me that if she had to butcher her own meat, she’d be a vegetarian, and I suspect that I would be as well. I can prep fish without much problem, but I don’t know that I could slaughter a pig or a cow. My guess is that I could get used to it eventually, but it would be hard.


Michael Pollan – Our Decrepit Food Factories

December 16, 2007

Any time Michael Pollan writes a new story, it’s worth mentioning.   His latest, “Our Decrepit Food Factories,” is here.  (Free registration required, or you can us Bug Me Not).