Thursday, March 26, 2009

Blogging from Anchorage

Okay, not a very inventive title. Hung out in the airport for a while, until Dimitra found me and took me to the Voyager Hotel, a nice hotel in downtown Anchortown. I figure that since I'm down here for a blogging panel, I might as well blog, hey what?

So: the commonality among the bloggers on this panel that I see is most are very political in their choice of topics. Me, too, I suppose, although this particular blog wanders all over the place in terms of subject. You'll rarely find recipes, but you will find personal tidbits, and lately, it being the season, a bit of springy gardening notes and agriculture-related stuff.

As in: I recently planted tomatoes (Mr. Stripey, red currant, Siletz, and something else, I forget what), OS Cross cabbages, sweet red peppers, and three varieties of artichoke (hah! good luck with that, Deirdre). Mostly I avoid hybrids and go for organic seeds from heirloom varieties. This year we plan to do a decent-sized garden, and I went through all the seeds and pulled out everything that was ten years old or more. I'd saved seeds from last year and the year before from my squash, and have some unidentified nightshade family seeds (eggplant? pepper? probably not tomato, since they aren't fuzzy). Some of the seeds I'm planting this year are around 15 years old.

My reading material for this trip dovetails nicely with all the recent reading and work I've been doing on CSAs. It's a book by Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce, which so far is spending a lot of time talking about how dire a situation we're in (this is in 1993) and how only a complete refiguring of business will save life on earth, that business, or the corporate institution, is the most successful and dominant institution on the planet, and that it's gotten us into a huge mess because it assumes (where have I heard this before?) no limits to growth, and the real costs of what it does aren't figured in. And it is backed by popular support for the economic model/thought paradigm it works in (democratic free-market capitalism). I haven't yet gotten to the chapters on solutions to this mess.

Of course, since this was published, there's been a grassroots shift developing in the economic workings of the world. It's pretty clear in the food end of things: the locally grown, organic or biodynamic, community-supported agriculture model has been developing for twenty years but has taken off in the last ten. We finally have presidential family planting a vegetable garden on the White House lawn again (and it's seen as so significant that it is international news! how's that for telling?). Aha. Politics!

Food security gets even more political. The oft-cited figure that better than 95% of Alaska's food comes from out of state originates from University of Alaska research, I think, but I can't find when or where this figure comes from. Sometimes I see it as 90%, other times 98%. It's also expressed as "three days' worth of food on supermarket shelves" (or two days). But, as Phil Loring pointed out recently in his column Outpost Agriculture, Alaskans do a lot of subsistence hunting and gathering. Folks in the cities drive out to pick berries, go moose hunting, etc. Still, I'd bet the great majority of our food comes from Outside. Most of us are very very dependent on good transportation and artificially cheap prices for food. And that means, lessee, subsidies, federal grants and earmarks, lots of consumption of, er, oil...which gets VEDDY political.

And then there's food security in the sense of seed diversity, the control of gardeners and farmers over their own food and the biodiversity created by generations upon generations saving their seed. That's one of the really nasty side effects of multinational corporate agribusiness: monocropping. The use of just a few, often or even usually proprietary varieties is a killer to our food security. Never mind the genetic manipulation of, say, corn and soybeans--it's that lack of variation that's the real problem.

It all comes down to sustainability (o gack, the dreaded buzzword -- except it's not a cliche, it's a damn survival necessity). Which all gets back to my garden, and food miles. If the food I grow or harvest is within walking distance of my house (berry patches, mushroom spots, garden beds), and I save my seeds and compost our kitchen waste, then I have saved a ton of real cost. Storing that food for the winter adds a cost, however, as we heat our house and use electricity to keep our food frozen. Drying it or canning or creating a root cellar would cut some of the energy use, and doing all this stuff at home definitely cuts down on the stupid packaging that we end up throwing out (jars, shopping bags, annoying little labels on the fruit and vegetables, shrink wrap, boxes made of foam, etc.), which saves on those big plastic garbage bags, and saves on trips to the dumpster, etc.

There's an interesting side effect to this whole topic for me--it makes me very aware of the power of individuals to effect profound change. Simply growing a pot of basil rather than buying it in the store makes a big difference, because it ripples out down the source chain. Alaskans are vulnerable because we are so dependent on nonrenewable fuels, on goods shipped up from Outside. (Although I hear we are the highest per capita for year-round bicyclists and pedestrians, which is good for our health and fuel economy.) Getting involved in local projects also makes me aware of this strength of personal action, but somehow it's the food thing that seems more active. Buying local food or goods, or going to a local store rather than a chain, is significant to me too, but there's nothing like getting my hands dirty in the garden or eating tomatoes I grew myself to make me feel like I'm doing something positive for the world. It's an immediate sense of accomplishment.


Ishmael said...

Nice to see there'll be at least one person from outside ANC who made it! You and the five people left at the ADN. Have a good one!

Simiolus Rex said...

Madame Editor! You are now in W.A.R. Country (watch out for the oompa loompa driving a Hummer)! Jaime just called to tell me the news and I am still chuckling my ass off.

Deirdre Helfferich said...

Mr. Melville: at least I'm not in snow up to my armpits!

Mr. Rex: I figured my intrepid cartoonists would have all kinds of fun with Palin's choice for attorney general. Hoo ha!