The Omnivore’s Dilemma: Grass

Pollan, M. 2006, The Omnivores Dilemma. NY. pg. 185 – 273, The Penguin Press, New York

Who would have thought that people actually farm grass, and no I don’t mean grasses grown for their fruits such as in corn, rice or barley, but “cosmetic” grasses that we are used to mowing and mulching over the tree in our suburban front yards or seeing as huge tufts when we go hiking in our great grasslands. Well, coming from a rural farm in the middle of the mountains, I’m not surprised at all. In my opinion, it happens to be one of the best ways to feed your livestock, at least for the environment and for the animals.
It seems that we have not only changed the way livestock eat, but also how livestock are defined. It is perfectly acceptable in today’s society to know that a good majority of a cow’s life is spent in a pen in a barn feeding on a grain that isn’t a part of the species’ natural diet. It saddens me to see this, since I’m sure the cows would much rather be grazing in an open pasture on long green tender leaves that provide most of the nutrients and vitamins that they require to stay completely healthy. Reading this week’s section of this book showed me that there is a ray of hope for grass feeding to become the norm once again and not something that just small time farmers such as myself practice. In this section, Pollan visits a rancher, Joel Salatin, who truly believes in grass-fed livestock and follows the path that grass-fed beef takes from the pasture to the plate over a course of five chapters. I think that this visit helped Pollan understand the proper way of raising animals, as well as the reasoning behind the choice to grass feed livestock, which allowed him to write an entire chapter of his book on the subject. It’s stubborn traditional farmers like Joel that I tend to have a lot of respect for.
Growing up, all of my family’s livestock were not grain-fed (other than the occasional treat of oats for the horses), but they were set in the middle of an open hay field. This hay field is irrigated by a large irrigation system fed by a pipeline dug into the stone of the mountain. Other than a yearly drive to the Lytton highway hayfields for a load of supplementary high quality grass to feed the livestock in the winter (since we never did cut and bale our own after the year of winter-kill), this was a truly fossil fuel-free way to feed livestock. Of course, with this type of feeding comes great responsibility: the animals must be rotated around the plot of grass to not completely destroy the natural habitat. Also, I can’t stress how important it is to not let livestock out of the enclosure or barn for extended periods of time. They will eat themselves to death on a member of the fabacea family: metacago sativa. Livestock, in my experience, love this stuff and will not stop for anything (sickness included) in order to get their lips on it. I can remember days where I would go around the pasture cutting this crap to nubs with a hand sickle, and throwing it in our compost heap.
Not only does grain feeding animals on corn cause a decrease in nutrients and vitamins in a naturally grass-fed animal’s diet, but the cramped dusty lifestyle they live promotes disease so we must pump them full of antibiotics and hormones, which in turn, we consume on the dinner plate. Grass-feeding these animals in an open pasture requires none of this nonsense, allowing farmers to cut down on medical bills and expensive formulas they don’t really need.
Not only is this change beneficial for the cattle, but it can also be beneficial for us directly as well. I used to take fish oil supplements for my joint clicking during workouts, but they are so darned expensive, forcing me to take alternate routes through diet. I always thought that eating fish and plant products were the only sources of substantial omega-3 fatty acids, but my father surprisingly told me once that eating grass-fed beef yields the recommended dosage of omega-3 as well. I love all seafood, however it’s not always the cheapest option to obtain some of this stuff. Then again, neither is beef anymore…

The Botany of Desire: Marijuana

Pollan, M. 2001 The Botany of Desire, pg. 113-179. Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York

I can remember a hot summer day when my friend and I were walking down the street, and we came across a tent with an older gentleman who was sitting in a folding chair at a plastic table. I thought to myself, “oh it’s one of those silly ad booths”, the kind you come across every now and again.
The man speaks up, “Hey fellas, can you sign this petition I have here?”
I look at him, and I ask, “What kind of petition?”
“Oh It’s a petition to legalize marijuana in our wonderful country.” he replies.
I then ask, “Why should I sign the petition?” and he had no response. He just sat there staring at me as if he was trying to think of a convincing reason for me to sign his paper and then to simply move on with the rest of my day as if it meant nothing at all.
I received no response to my question that day, and I am still searching for the answer. Why do people desire intoxication so much that they would go out on the street and ask for signatures with little to no prior preparation or thought of why they may be doing it in the first place. I feel that remembering that man’s vacant stare that day helped me understand that there may be no obvious answer to why humans desire this type of thing.
I don’t currently use drugs other than a daily heap of caffeine and the occasional pain/illness relief you can buy over the counter at your local grocery store. It’s not that I am anti-marijuana. I don’t have anything against the people who choose to use it either (hell, some of my best friends are regular users), but I simply don’t seem to have the same type of desire to set aside reality for a bit and enjoy life from a different perspective. Personally, I feel it is a waste of time and money, to be honest.
Pollan’s chapter 3 of Botany of Desire discusses the history of humanity’s relationship with marijuana and the trip on which we have taken each other. Pollan is a terrific story-teller. His story spanning pages 122-124 in which he details how he scrambled to hide his forbidden plants from the law had me laughing hysterically the whole time. His writing is done in such a way that it really captures his emotions and helps you feel the anxiety that he felt when the unsuspecting wood cutter transforms into the town sheriff. He sets the stage for this chapter well with this piece, captivating the reader’s attention by showing that he has personal experience with the plant and the wonder of why he ever planted those seeds that produced nothing but a high heart rate and a feeling of panic.
I recall Pollan’s earlier statement in this book: “Plant’s are nature’s alchemists” (pg. xix) I feel that this topic is where this statement really shines. The plant-related biochemistry that most people recognize and have at least some knowledge of (I hope) is the biochemistry of drugs. The effects that some of these compounds have on animal bodies and mind is truly amazing and fascinating. Not only do humans desire these plants to feel tingly and euphoric, but we desire them for their practical uses as well. We owe a lot of saved lives to plants that produce these substances from soil, water, and a touch of starlight. Hopefully people will never lose sight of what a wonderful kingdom Plantae really is.

The Triumph of Seeds: Coffee

Hanson, T. 2015 The Triumph of Seeds pg. 143-160 Basic Books Philadelphia

Most books about coffee that I choose to read are these long-winded, drawn-out history lessons that my mind wanders from now and then due to the disengaging content. This book has a history lesson in the section “The Cheeriest Beans”, but It displays it in a way that I can enjoy. The author tells the story of Gabriel-Mathieu de Clieu and the coffee tree he supposedly stole from the Paris botanical gardens and brought across the Atlantic Ocean, sharing his water ration with the travelling plant the entire way. Once his coffee tree fruited, he shared it with others, eventually turning coffee into the global multi-billion dollar industry we know today. Of course, Gabriel-Mathieu de Clieu is not responsible for all of this coffee, but It’s a nice little story of one person who brought coffee across the Atlantic that the author wished to share with us.
As with any book that contains chapters on biochemistry, I really enjoyed the bit where the production of caffeine was discussed. It turns out that caffeine is a very strong natural insecticide that can protect the plant against many species. I found it very interesting that the plant produces caffeine in its shoots as it grows, and when it fully matures, it converts all of the caffeine production to the things that matter most: the seeds, fruit, and flowers. I didn’t know that citrus plants produce caffeine either, until now. It’s strange how the coffee plant produces caffeine in its nectar, since this would ideally repel insects, thus reducing the amount of pollinators that visit each flower. According to Hanson, however, researchers have found that in the right dosage, caffeine doesn’t act as a repellant to some insects (honey bees in this case), but as an attractant. Is it possible that there are only a few insects that are resistant to the caffeine produced in the nectar of the flower? If so, that would be a very cool way of selectively choosing pollinator species for the coffee tree.
In the final section of the chapter, Hanson visits Slate Coffee Bar in Seattle, Washington, where he meets a head barista named Brandon Paul Weaver. I have nothing but the utmost respect for good dedicated baristas that take pride in their work, baristas who have a passionate artistic view of coffee and the complex nature of the plant. I think Brandon is the perfect example of one of these baristas that take coffee-making to the next level, so much so that he won top barista honors at the Northwest Brewers Cup in 2013. ‘“It’s like making toast,” explained head barista Brandon Paul Weaver. “White bread and whole wheat bread are very different, but if you burn them they taste exactly the same.”’ (pg. 158) I really loved this analogy as it shows how each coffee has different qualities, but if you burn the beans to a crisp, they hold none of that uniqueness that careful roasting brings out in the final product. Now I don’t mean to be in any way snobby or conceited; I enjoy a good cup of Nabob or whatever the hell I can grab on the busy mornings, but if watching world-class barista James Hoffmann (CEO of Square Mile Coffee Roasters) making coffee taught me anything, it is that when you have time, “Make the cup of coffee that you want rather than the cup of coffee that you need.” For people like me, that is the start to the perfect day. Grind, tamp, and pull the best shot of espresso that your abilities allow.

Botany of Desire: Sweetness and Control

Pollan, M. 2001 Botany of Desire, pg. 3-58, 183-238. Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York

The first chapter of this book that I read for this entry was all about the apple. The chapter starts with the American tale of Johnny Appleseed, a man that travelled from place to place scattering apple seeds wherever he went. The apple – a very highly prized fruit in modern society was also very prized in previous decades: “Sugar was a rarity in eighteenth-century America” (pg. 16). This statement introduces the idea of why we are discussing the apple in the first place. With only the rare occasion of finding a beehive to obtain one of the things that we are geared towards starting at birth (the sense of sweetness), sweeter apples were a welcome crop to Americans, and of course it isn’t as simple as people creating new breeds of apples to satisfy their cravings, it’s the apples themselves that are creating them. Apple seeds naturally contain a small amount of cyanide, possibly to deter predators from destroying the seeds while consuming the fruit. The apple trees continue to make the flesh sweeter and sweeter and the seeds more bitter, in hopes that the predator will eat the fruit and spit out the offspring unharmed. This is yet another example of how plants have enslaved other organisms to spread their genes.

Here I go again talking about plants as if this was a conscious choice rather than a product of natural selection…

Back home on my ranch, I can think of 8 different apple trees that produce edible fruit. They are all of distinguishable types, including Golden Delicious, Macintosh, and Red Delicious, however there are two trees that just don’t match any of the typical variations (that I know of). One of these trees produces very small fruit, yellow in colour, with the brightest blood-coloured crimson streaks I have ever seen on a fruit. The other is a wacky one, producing overly enlarged fruits that outweigh any apple I’ve every held in my hands. The flesh is spongy and bland. The outer waxy coating on the skin is so thick that the apples appear grey when they fully mature, to a size where all of the branches bow at an unnatural curve due to the fruit load. Pollan’s book makes me think of this tree when he mentions that many apple trees planted by seed are very different from their parents. Maybe this bland fruit was a product of one of the random seeds my family planted long long ago, but since the tree is situated at the bottom of the steep hill where the rest of the orchard is located, I think that it was created when an apple from one of the other trees rolled down the hill and spread seeds that germinated into this monster.
In another chapter I read, Pollan discusses the potato, a vegetable that I can recall my father growing only once. Pollan chooses this vegetable for this chapter (control) since he was granted the opportunity to grow one of Monsanto’s genetic misfits: the “NewLeaf” potato. This vegetable is one of the examples of why I used to be a dedicated anti-GMO advocate (my conversion to pro-GMO will not be discussed here). This plant is a nasty one. Who in their right mind would knowingly grow a plant that contains the genes encoded in every cell (most importantly the pollen) to produce a Bt toxin, originally inserted to liquify the insides of the potato’s number one enemy: “the Colorado potato beetle” (pg. 187)? Maybe some people think that this is a good idea. Maybe they would grow and eat these things in their own gardens, however would I? Hell no! I prefer my body’s cells to remain the way they currently are: intact.
As I read through the book, one line really hit it home for me. That was when Pollan quotes the wonderful Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life: ‘”Man does not create variability.” Now he does’ (pg. 196). This really summed up the chapter nicely into one nice statement. It reminds me of what the scientists before us understood and thought to be true, and I can’t help but wonder if that is the way that Darwin preferred our biological world, that is, untouched and unharmed by man. It makes me wonder if he’s constantly rolling in his grave to this day for what we have done: created variability that “favours” us as a species, rather than the planet as a whole. The selfishness of man knows no boundaries.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.

Pollan, M. 2006, The Omnivores Dilemma. NY. pg. 15 – 119, The Penguin Press, New York

Corn on the cob used to be my favourite vegetable for its versatility in dishes. Grilled corn is amazing in wraps, salads, soups and salsas. Even by itself, it is wonderful steamed, grilled, or roasted over an open fire. That is the versatility of corn that I knew when I was younger. Oh how horribly wrong I was. At that time (and currently), the industrial world had entirely different plans for what a shocking amount of us today still think of as an innocent simple grain. It is, however, not any more a grain that we just simply eat off the cob, then flossing out the bits and pieces of style from between our teeth. Corn has found its home in forms where I’m sure it would have never seen itself when it was first “domesticated” in Mexico. Corn has settled into its new home as processed food, biofuel, and that god-awful high fructose corn syrup. Not only has corn settled here, but it’s not showing any signs of moving out, and I don’t think it will (at least for a long time). In this reading, the author discusses all things corn, a topic I have had strong opinions on since I first learned about the true form of the corn industry.
Pollan wrote this book with the initial intent of following a grain of corn from seed to the table, however this can pose a major challenge. Not only has corn become a monstrous cut-throat industry, but it has reached the point where corn is an unrecognisable product once it hits the table. I really enjoyed how the author spent time with the actual farmers and got their perspective on the subject. Pollan didn’t just interview these farmers either; he actually went out and did some of the work with them during his quest to follow corn to the table.
In Iowa, corn rules. Corn hasn’t just taken over the economy of Iowa, but the entire landscape. In Iowa, all farmers grow is corn. “Why do they do it?” (a question Pollan asks on page 48). It’s not like they make any money doing it. More farmers means more corn, which then means lower prices of corn. What I have decided, from reading this book, is that the farmers are stuck in this position. If the farmer doesn’t grow the only crop that is needed in the state (corn), then he/she shall starve. If their yield is low and their grain quality sub-par, then the farmer will also starve. This increases the initiative for the farmer to increase their yield/quality every year, which creates even more corn and competition between farms. George’s friend Billy, has now resorted to driving a big rig truck (an industry that has also definitely seen better times) in the off-season to pay off all the debt he has accumulated spending money on farming equipment: “Yield is everything”.
I don’t even know where to start with my endless rant on chemical fertilizer,something that Pollan discusses in section 4 of the book: There Goes the Sun. I’ll keep it nice and simple and discuss its effects on the environment. This stuff is truly terrible for ecosystems. Farmers today are pouring this trash onto their fields in an excess of almost twice of what is needed to produce the optimal crop. It ends up evaporating into our atmosphere creating acid rain, and it runs into lakes and rivers polluting our drinking water. Let’s not forget about the incident we had with blue-green algae in Lake Eerie in 2011. The algal bloom that year created vast amounts of HAB toxins in the water creating huge dead zones. These toxins couldn’t be boiled or evaporated out of the water, only increasing in concentration when boiled rendering it undrinkable to humans. Why did this algal bloom happen? Corn. Over-fertilization in the area created huge amounts of run-off rich in phosphorus and nitrogen into the lake: A truly harmful disaster.
I liked how Pollan compares humans to corn on page 37. He discusses how modern hybrids have become able to tolerate the corn equivalent of city life for us, as well as how the plants have become genetically identical to one another. No plant is different in nutrient uptake or productivity, a truly socialistic society of plants.
“Back and forth and back again, a half a mile in each direction, planting corn feels less like planting, or even driving, than stitching an interminable cloak, or covering a page with the same sentence over and over again.” This passage immediately made me think of Stephen King’s “The Shining”, a book that displays some of the most memorable insane psychotic behaviour, including Jack Torrence writing a book that consisted of only one line over and over again. Maybe the modern day farmer feels the same way Jack did in that book: Stuck in the cabin fever-inducing state of Iowa, closed in by the forever growing heaps of 34H31 and 33P67 at the grain elevator.

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

Diamond, J.  1999,  Guns, Germs, and Steel: The fates of Human Societies. Ch. 4,5,6,8, W.W. Norton and Company, Inc. New York

My perfect day always starts with espresso and some milk. I sat at my table drinking my daily morning necessity, reading more of “Guns, Germs, and Steel” this morning thinking to myself: “Why is it that something like this coffee first cultivated in Ethiopia, is now grown in over 70 countries? The coffee I drink regularly is harvested in Nicaragua. Coffee had a long way to travel from first being cultivated in the Horn of Africa all the way to Central America. Why spend all the time and energy to move cultivation of a plant from a place where it is known to be successful to other areas? Why grow plants in soils other than where it is first cultivated? Maybe it’s for convenience. Maybe it’s to reduce cost, or maybe its just the simple fact that Growing coffee in Ethiopia just isn’t as productive as it is in other countries.
In this book Diamond discusses the movement of cultivated crops from one country to another and why humans first started to cultivate these foods. He does this in a way where he mostly just states hard known facts. I can see why someone would really not enjoy reading a piece like this maybe calling it “dry” or “boring”, however I enjoy it. Sometimes I love to read dreadfully boring books, and this is one of those cases I guess. I actually enjoy reading the textbooks I buy for incredibly inflated prices at the bookstore.
I think it is important for us humans to understand the history of our own culture, as well as other cultures to some extent. Diamond helps us do this by describing basic concepts and history throughout this book. He introduces the reader to the experiences of different cultures and people from around the globe. Not only does he discuss the differences between hunter gatherer lifestyle, and agricultural lifestyle but he also discusses the reasons why humans broke away from this lifestyle to agriculture and sometimes back again.
I really like how he described carbon dating in this book. Not only was it necessary to create an understanding of carbon dating for the readers, but I feel that he explained it in a way that allowed somebody with little to no chemistry/scientific background to understand this relatively complicated process. It’s always nice to see that an author doesn’t only focus on one central demographic.
At around noon today, still in deep thought about the book I had dove into this morning, I went to get yet another cup of coffee and bumped into my friend Mark. He asked me what book I was holding so I showed him. He then told me that he plans on reading it since he recently picked up a copy at a yard sale for dirt cheap. I told him I think he would really enjoy the book (him being a history major).I’m definitely not a very big history person but this book seemed to be an exception for me as Iv’e completely enjoyed it so far. The only history I can stand to read about is history of war and science. This book kind of mixes the two into a big mashup of the two topics which for me is lovely, as they are two very related topics. Diamond Is able to describe the different topics in great detail without making it seem like just a regurgitation of information he learned throughout his life. The book has no humour whatsoever, but brings something that a lot of books these days fail to provide for the reader: knowledge. Sure, I love books that provide ideas or topics of discussion to ponder, but it’s sometimes important to read books that you know that you can learn facts from directly in my opinion.
As I sat down to finish the final little bit of the reading, I pulled my last shot of coffee for the day. and as I stared into the thick rich crema that formed on the surface, I thought to myself: “Maybe I’m thinking about this too much. Maybe humans just do what Is most productive and what works best. That is why to this day, we still grow crops and livestock used by humans in a much earlier age. Not only do we still grow these calorie rich and useful foods at a much later date, but we always tend to grow them in their most optimal and productive habitats.” I’m sticking with this opinion on the subject. After all, It’s not every day you see a bag of coffee beans grown in Antarctica.

Botany of Desire & Guns, Germs, and Steel: Domestication

Pollan, M. 2001 Botany of Desire, xiii-xxv. Random House Trade Paperbacks, New York; Diamond, J. 1999, Guns, Germs, and Steel The Fates of Human Societies, Ch. 7 W.W. Norton & Company, New York

I remember thinking when I was a child and I found wild plants: “Why does this celery not taste like celery?”, “Why are these strawberries so small?”, “Why the hell do the flowers on this wild rosebush pale in comparison to the gigantic horticultural monsters we see at weddings and funerals?”. Not long afterwards, I read about artificial selection in school, and it all became clear after that. Humans love things that are pleasant to their senses. This is what drives us to create variations of living organisms that barely resemble the wild predecessor the came before. The two books discussed in this entry not only describe some of the different artificially selected plants we have “developed”, but when, how, and why they were “developed”. Were humans even the driving force that developed these different varieties, or were the plants creating these varieties to drive the humans to spread their genes?
“Botany of Desire” so far, seems to be a constant clever metaphor that humans are bees collecting the product of plants, and then spreading their genes. Humans have been using plants to their advantage for a very long time, as illustrated by these two books. Not only are plants used by humans as food, but they are also used in our shelter, fuel, medicine/drugs, textiles, and tools (the list goes on). With all of these uses for plants that humans have, comes an increased demand to have them accessible with optimal phenotypes, which allow humans to make the most of the “domesticated” species.
The interactions between plants and people, in my opinion, is a constant developmental product of coevolution between the two parties. Simply put, humans sow seeds in order to produce something that can be used by them, however the plants sowed by the humans are continuously changing their phenotypes to increase the chance that humans will plant their offspring, therefore increasing the individual plant’s fitness. The book, of course, discusses plant cognition and state of awareness. This is where the question that Pollan asks originates: “Who is domesticating whom?” Like him, I believe it’s a bit of both.
The process of natural selection is all about offspring. If an individual cannot produce viable, fertile offspring, then that individual is less fit than others that can. A great example of this case is mentioned in “Guns, Germs, and Steel”: seedless fruit. Since the fruit produces no seed, the plant is unable to reproduce, therefore it is deemed as a less fit individual. This is not so good for the plant, however do humans really care about this? Of course not! People in today’s society just seem to want the optimal product without any “defects” (seeds in this case), created by the natural process of the wild that could inhibit the pleasure of eating the fruit.
I really like how Pollan used four plants that I think all of us can identify with: apple, tulip, marijuana, and the potato. The four plants split the book up into nice, clearly defined chapters, that relate to the different desires humans have that are satisfied by the different plants (apple = sweetness, tulip = beauty, marijuana = intoxication, and potato = control).
A passage that really caught my attention were the second and third paragraphs on page xix of “Botany of Desire”. I really love these paragraphs because of how much I love to study the various products of plants and the processes that create them. The entire passage really captures the reader’s attention, in my opinion, and makes the reader think about how cool plants really are! It is incredible that plants are able to produce such amazing compounds from “water, soil, and sunlight”. My favourite line in the two books so far is the line that precedes these paragraphs: “Plants have travelled all that distance and then some—they’ve just traveled in a different direction”. I love organic chemistry.

The Triumph of Seeds #1

Hanson, T. 2015 The Triumph of Seeds pg. XIX-XXV, 3-18, 55-80 Basic Books Philadelphia

This book discusses how seeds overcame and dominated all other plants in terms of density over the years. Rather than telling the story in a textbook-like fashion, however, the author tells it from his point of view. The book is organized into nice little sections that make navigating the topics easy (seeds nourish, unite, endure, defend, and travel). From what I can tell so far, the story discusses the overall uses, dispersal, history, characteristics, and physiology of seeds and seed plants.
In the beginning of the book, the author tries to crush a stubborn seed that wouldn’t even take a scratch to its hard outer coat when he smashed it with a hammer and the edge of his desk. This is a good example of why I would recommend this book to people who are looking to learn more about seed plants and their characteristics. Not many would expect a plant to produce such a robust, relentless, and hard substance. In fact, I’ve already recommended this book to my mother and father, who are avid gardeners. Hopefully they will read it!
The “nourish” section of the book begins with the author’s story of how he grew many avocado seeds in water. I found this very intriguing, so the next day I decided to try it for myself. After making a sandwich with avocado, I suspended the pit in a glass of water with 3 toothpicks stuck into the outer portion of the pit, hoping for a sprout in some time. I always hope to get results in my experiments, however I don’t know if the pit will sprout in Kamloops B.C.; I’ll just have to wait a couple months and see. Maybe it will never sprout. That’s the intriguing thing about the sciences (especially sciences to do with plants): unpredictability.
My favourite section was the chapter where Hanson was recreating the famous Mendel pea genetics experiment. He took many pea seeds and sowed them in his garden. He then collected the mature pea pods, and analyzed his crop for characteristics. One line in particular stood out to me during this part of the book: “And now, after months of tending, here was exactly the expected result: a small jar of smooth, round peas, as if the Bill Jump genes had simply disappeared. I picked up a handful and let them run through my fingers, sensing what Mendel must have felt: the satisfaction understanding a system well enough to predict it.”(pg. 79). This made me think about why we recreate these types of experiments for ourselves. Not only do we do it to support reproducible results that scientists have produced before us, but we do it to gain a level of understanding with our peers that we would otherwise not have if it weren’t for the re-creation of experiments.
Overall I’ve really enjoyed this book so far, so much so that I skipped ahead a couple of chapters to a chapter labeled “The Cheeriest Bean” and read it. This chapter caught my eye when I first opened the book and gazed at the table of contents, so I flipped to it, and I found a section on my favourite seed: the coffee bean. This topic however, is for another post.

The 100-Mile Diet A Year of Local Eating (1st half)

Smith, A. 2007. The 100 – Mile Diet A Year of Local Eating pg. 1-133. Random House Canada Ltd. Toronto.

This book shows the view of someone who eats nothing but local food (within a 100 mile radius of home) for 1 year in South West B.C. (Vancouver). Not only does this book show what it is like to eat nothing but local food for 1 year, but it also discusses many of the benefits, as well as the morals that drive the authors to complete this challenge. So far, I have mostly enjoyed this book. The story is told in such a way, that it creates interest in the material and encourages the reader to think about things that we have never pondered. This book shows how challenging it can be to acquire local food in an area dominated by corporations that ship their product thousands of miles from farms to market.
At first, I found it somewhat difficult to understand the view of the authors, as I grew up on a ranch in the middle of the sticks for 18 years of my life. Living off the land is hard work, but it is very rewarding. I guess I have never thought about it before but, knowing exactly where your food and drink comes from, creates a strong feeling of security, knowing exactly what was used to grow, harvest, collect, and kill what you are consuming to ensure your own survival.
Living in the middle of a city like Vancouver, this is impossible to do for the authors, so they must intentionally seek sources and make sure that what they are buying is local. This adds stress to an already very stressful and busy world. I am all for cutting down on the use of fossil fuels to ship product from source to the dinner table, but it seems strange to me that these authors take up this challenge, and live in the middle of Vancouver of all places. Maybe it’s to display that it really isn’t that hard for someone living in those types of areas, to find food that isn’t from far away, and that this type of challenge can be met even if you don’t have your own personal resources, other than a small community garden.
While reading, I noticed that the authors were worried about salt: “No salt? It was only the staple seasoning of the entire world. I could taste it in the air, but couldn’t buy it in a box. We would have to ration the two-pound bag of Oregon sea salt that was already in our cupboard. We dubbed it “sinner’s salt”.” (pg. 25). The authors live on the coast. Isn’t it easy enough to make salt from ocean water? Of course I don’t know how easy it is to make polution free salt, especially in the Vancouver area.
The chapter that I am currently reading (September, pg.129) Is very sad for me to read as I am an avid fly and centerpin fisherman. It seems that our waters that allow all kinds of life to flourish, are constantly being pumped full of all kinds of nasty things. Overfishing and other human activity has led to a serious decline in local steelhead trout (and other fish) populations, over the years in the South Thompson River. These waters used to be the home of world-class fishing in places like Spences Bridge, and now the issue has gone so far that fishing in the South Thompson is closed from Nov. 1st to May 31st to allow the winter run to pass through unharmed. This is a very good thing to me, as it terrifies me to be threatened with the loss of such a beautiful creature in our local area.
Overall the book conveyed clearly that with a bit of effort, it is possible to eat locally, which can bring you closer to your food. It shows that this can be accomplished even in an urban area with few immediate resources at hand. Growing up on a ranch, I took it for granted because not only did my family enjoy living self sufficiently, but we were forced to, due to living in an isolated area.