Depletion and Abundance...

Victory Garden!

Depletion and Abundance are just two sides of the same coin. We're no longer speaking of the future when we talk about climate change and peak oil. So now the project is to accept depletion, and still find a good and abundant way of life, not just for ourselves, but for those who will come after us. We can do this - it is one heck of a challenge, but we have to find a way, so we will. That's what this site is for - finding a way forward.

I am the author of three books. Depletion and Abundance: Life On the New Home Front explores the path to finding a good life in spite of tough times. A Nation of Farmers:Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil analyzes our current food situation and offers steps for creating meaningful food security. Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage and Preservation explores the connections between food storage, food preservation and our democratic heritage.

But What Will We Eat at the Apocalypse Now?

Sharon November 20th, 2012

There are, of course, a lot of critical issues going on right now, and you can count on your blogiste to keep you up on them.  Besides the fallout from Sandy, crisis of arctic sea ice and all the agricultural issues that need to be brought to the  light, what really matter is this:  What are we all going to eat when the zombies come, now that that perfect survival food, the Twinkie, is no longer available.  Particularly since Israel and Gaza seem bent on bringing the zombies in extra-soon, before we have time to properly grieve our loss. And do not forget to take care of your college homework or have it done by experts at to guarantee that you will get A+ for your next homework assignment.

Of course, you could stock up on survival Twinkies, buying the last thousand cases so that you and your family will have a food that can be passed on to your descendants with no reduction (or increase) in quality.  Or you could smuggle them over the border - I’m told that Hostess brands have been licensed to a Canadian company for some time.  This, along with the useful foresight of being a net-energy exporter,  is just another proof that Canadians are much better prepared to survive disaster than we are.

For the millions of Americans, newly aware of the possibility of climate related disaster, or store shelves emptied by gas shortages, however, the question becomes - what survival foods can take the place of Twinkies?  The answer is bleak.  While any number of nutritious, delicious storage foods are available, many of which, properly packed, will not degrade for many years, the category of food that will outlast the human race without noticeable change is now gone.  The species that rise to fill the ecological niche of human beings after our destruction will simply have to evolve without the help of Twinkies, Ho-Hos or even Sno balls (the pink Sno balls, which of course, are  known to actually cause DNA mutations will be particularly missed.)

What does the zombie-ready reader do now?  How do we counteract the growing sense of despair as we are cast back on the traditional resource of whole grains, legumes, nuts, dried fruits and the fruits of our preserving labor, none of which could ever equal either the sugar-high or radiation absorption capacity of the Twinkie.  For the millions of us who had planned to subsist entirely on dry-as-pasteboard “cake” with benzene-flavored “cream” filling, this is a stunning setback.  What WILL we eat as the mutant cockroaches approach?  How can a meal of lentil- kale soup, fresh cornbread and marinated lemon carrots with a dessert of pumpkin-chocolate chip bars ever seem anything but deeply disheartening in the face of our Twinkie-less future?

All I can say is that if you have already come to terms with the knowledge that a stable climate and endless cheap oil are not part of your future, you can work through the unbearable suffering accompanying the knowledge that Twinkies won’t be there for you.  We will soldier on through disaster after disaster, knowing that what is lost can never be reclaimed, enduring the suffering of a diet based on real food.  The pain may never end, and the fear of the future, but humans endure, as the last few, precious, golden Twinkies do, no matter what you do to them.


So What Are You Making for Thanksgiving?

Sharon November 20th, 2012

So what’s on for Thanksgiving dinner at your place?  Wanna pass on that favorite recipe that you simply can’t get away with not making?

Here’s the (still slightly tentative) menu for us - w e just added a few more guests at the last minute, and I might find myself compelled to add more food, even though it probably already excessive.  But hey, this is my favorite cooking project of the year!

Provided by our friends of Chinese heritage who feel that turkey is a poor substitute for duck:

Chicken bao (chinese style dim sum buns)

Peking duck

My portion:

Turkey roasted with 100 cloves of garlic

Roasted garlic gravy

Cornbread-dried fruit stuffed squash (vegetarian entree)

Cranberry-raspberry sauce

Cranberry-port relish

Cornbread-carmelized onion stuffing with chicken livers (best stuffing on earth)

Herbed mashed potatoes and celery root

Sweet potatoes with coconut milk and lime

Lime-soy marinated  brussels sprouts

Shredded carrot-beet-apple and winter green salad with preserved lemon dressing

Balsamic-glazed roasted onions

Pumpkin rolls

Pumpkin Pie (non-dairy of course, since we’re kosher, but you can’t tell)

Apple-Quince-Almond crisp

Sweet potato and chocolate cake

So what about you?

Is It Normal To Let Your Kids Get Eaten By a Bear?

Sharon November 9th, 2012

I wrote this five years ago, but I think all the discussion of free-range parenting merits a reconsideration.  My kids are now 7, 9, 11, and 12, and they range much further and freer than they did five years ago, but still I’m more careful than my parents - not because of fear of strangers, but because of the number and speed of cars.

My neighbor and I were discussing a favorite children’s book the other day. The book is Robert McCloskey’s classic _Blueberries for Sal_ in which a mother human and her daughter go blueberrying, and have a minor mix up with a mother bear and her cub. The book is charming and wonderful, and one of my own childhood favorites, now beloved of my 3 year old. My neighbor was telling me that she loves the book, but can never read it without a frisson of horror at what a neglectful mother the parent in the book is. And she’s got a point. After all, the mother of a child who is clearly a toddler tells her daughter to go pick her own blueberries and leave mother alone in peace to pick hers, on a wildlife rich hillside, where bears are known to be.  Mother, the book tells us, wants to pick blueberries to can for winter. Given such parameters, she can’t spend the whole day watching her daughter, who is left to take care of her own needs.

But, of course, the book is of a much older parenting era, from when my parents were children.   My neighbor and I both remember from our own childhoods that the kind of parenting illustrated in the book was normal. By four my sisters and I roamed our housing project with other children, playing in the woods behind it or on the gravelled hillside. We weren’t allowed to cross streets, but otherwise, we were remarkably free. Living on a busy, urban street at 6, my five year old sister and I crossed several busy urban streets walking alone to school.  By seven and six we trick-or-treated alone at night on city streets.

A generation later, neither my neighbor nor I permit or children to walk long distances, cross streets alone, or roam the neighborhood without supervision. Now some of that, in my case, has to do with having an disabled oldest child who cannot be trusted. But most of it has to do with higher parenting standards today. Letting your children roam is perceived as unsafe, and to some degree it is.  In response, “free-range parenting” which grants children more freedom has arisen as well, but there is still considerable debate.

Some of our attentiveness to our children seems to be paying off. Children’s death by accident rates have fallen significantly since 1970, mostly in a reduction of deaths in traffic accidents. In Britain, for example, such accidents fell by 75% from 1970 to 2000, while the population and number of cars grew.

On the other hand, absolute numbers of deaths on playground equipment and by child abduction are about the same - in 2005, 25 children died on playground equipment in the US, in 1970, 28 did, on the old “deathtrap” equipment we used to use and love. So in some areas our greater caution is providing real results - several hundred kids each year who aren’t dying in car accidents, for example, while in other areas, it isn’t making much difference.  Many parents worry a lot about abduction, which isn’t a very big risk at all, and which we really haven’t affected much by anything we’ve done (although we are MUCH more aware of it because of media attention).

The sheer number of cars on the road, the speeds they travel at and the reality that quite a number of kids did die in car accidents and still do  means that we have a real reason to fear letting them roam the way our parents did. And yet, there’s also a cost - by not allowing children the range of independence and freedom we did, our kids lose something. They lose maturity, judgement, independence, autonomy, time in the world as children. They lose contact with nature, and solitary imagination, playtime with other children. Their world is much more processed and managed by adults - safer, but less free.

And, of course, there are physical consequences - fewer of our children may die from road accidents, but more of them may have shortened lifespans from obesity, take medications for hyperactivity that in some cases (not all) is merely shorthand for not enough exercise. In _Last Child in the Woods_ Richard Louv exhaustively documents the effects of nature contact on children, and documents the consequence of  what he calls Nature-Deficit disorder, which include behavioral issues, depression, obesity, sensory issues, anxiety, and slower development of things like independence.

We are the only parents in history to spend this much time and energy protecting our kids. And, of course, it isn’t a hard sell - who doesn’t want their kids to live. If you offered most parents the blunt choice “ok, your kid can live to 68 and die of obesity and diabetes related consequences from being kept at home and indoors too much or your kid can have a 1 in 100 chance of simply dying when a car hits him” who wouldn’t take the 68?

During most of history, most parents provided either benign or not too benign neglect by the standards of the day. Most parents were more like Sal’s mother than like I am - they expected children, from a very young age, to entertain themselves while they worked, when they weren’t working alongside them.   Some historians argue that in the past, in some societies, many parents simply didn’t allow themselves to become deeply attached until it was clear the children had left early childhood and the danger of death. Lawrence Stone argues this in _The Family, Sex and Marriage In England 1500-1800_, but Stone’s conclusions have been disputed, and there is a simple dearth of evidence to be overcome.

Many traditional societies that are or have been in existence until recently are deeply affectionate to their children, despite the high risks of infant mortality. But it is definitely true that most societies have judged children to require less care and attention by a primary caregiver after infancy than we do.

For example, women in all parts of society have always worked both in and out of the home. Historically speaking, poor women who worked often left their children home alone for long stretches, very small children left with nearly as young older siblings, or in the 19th century, perhaps dosed with alcohol or opium to keep them from doing anything dangerous. At home parents in the 18th century made babies where clothes with giant pillows embedded in them to keep them from getting too badly hurt, or tied them to trees or furniture - but still lost children to fireplace accidents, injury, drowning, etc…

What is different about the way we parent now? One of the major differences is the sheer amount of attention we have to give our children. As domestic labor of all sorts has decreased, and many of the traditional functions of homemaking have been dropped, Juliet Schor notes that we’ve transferred that time to parenting. People are still spending about the same amount of time they were on domestic labor 100 years ago - only this time, they are attending their children and vacuuming, both to higher standards, rather than making candles and baking bread.

Barbara Ehrenreich has observed that no human society has ever simply allowed women only the work of childcare and domestic labor - women were simply too valuable, and other needs so basic that the notion of an at-home life with children at the center simply didn’t emerge until the 19th century. Which raises, of course, the question of whether any future, low energy, less industrialized society will be able to give to their children the same degree of safety attentiveness that we are now.

But this isn’t the only difference. One of the major differences is the structure of childhood itself. For example, my four year old sister was struck by a swing at the playground near our home, and lost two teeth and received a concussion. This crisis was resolved by the fact that the playground itself was full of children, including children who to my five year old eyes were near-adults - big girls and boys of 10 to 12. One of them ran for a nearby neighbor, another carried my sister home across the road. One of the most important differences was that all the children of the neighborhood played together this way - it was not a matter of letting a four or five year old wander the streets alone, because older children could be counted on to be present. Similarly, there were many more adults at home, and a custom of adults sitting on porches and otherwise keeping a general eye on things. If we began to do something wildly unsafe, the chances were good someone’s mother or father would stick their head out and yell at you to cut it out. And the chances were good you’d obey - adults had status.

We have learned, gradually, to relax with our children in places like our synagogue, and trust that if one of our sons goes out with a friend, there will be adults hanging about to keep an eye out, and that if someone misbehaves, a firm correction will be issued - perhaps by Mom or Dad, but also by friends who know that they can correct our kids. But there are comparatively few places like this in our children’s lives. In many neighborhoods, there is simply no one home for long hours, older children are at after-school programs and lessons, rather than out playing, and children’s lives are formal and structured. So letting your kids roam the neighborhood means letting them roam alone - much less safe than in groups.

And, of course, there are those cars again. More cars, going faster, with less experience keeping an eye out for young kids, and less reason to expect that kids might be playing in the roads.I live on a rural road, and might reasonably expect that my street, with perhaps one car every 20 minutes except during commuting time, would be a paradise. But I’ve seen folks come barrelling over our hill at full speed with no awareness of who might be on the other side, and have had one close shave myself while walking it - I don’t think I’m entirely ridiculous to fear what might happen to a five year old with less well trained reflexes and less fear of stupid drivers.

On the other hand, I’ve seen how extreme our fears have gotten, and perhaps mine are just as excessive. I’ve seen parents say that their children can’t be considered safe playing on their own front lawns, for fear that the child might run into a busy street. This is certainly true of toddlers and even four and five year olds, but I’ve seen parents make this argument about children who are 7, 8, 9 or older. I’m not sure in our reasonable desire to keep kids safe, we aren’t doing more harm than good.

It is remarkable, to me, how much we’ve consented to sacrifice for our cars. Our children’s freedom to run around is only one thing - our health, their health - cars are the leading cause of death in children, teens and young adults. Our rising asthma rates, and, of course, global warming are prices as well. In fact, it seems that we’re willing to sacrifice anything, pretty much, to keep the cars coming down our streets. What if we weren’t? We parents clearly think that our children’s relationship with nature is something worth sacrificing to keep them alive, and I, for one, cannot say we’re wrong. I want my kids *living* - but I’m not sure we’re making the right trade off. I want my kids living and in nature, my planet to have a sane climate and my kids healthy. Might it not be wiser and more loving to give up the economic and social benefits of cars, in order to have fewer dead and maimed kids?

But all of that is, in part, a side issue, since this column is about the price of parenting while doing other things. What happens if more of us go back to domestic labor, if the time we put from homemaking into parenting has to go back there.  What happens if more of us go back to working from and at home, and fewer of us have the time to give our kids all the attention we have been? Does that mean that a few of them will get eaten by bears? Is the only choice neglect and death or not letting our kids out of our sight?

To some degree, I think the reality is that that is the choice - that we have to risk our kids lives to some degree to give them lives. What degree that is, I don’t know. It isn’t a perfect solution - and it isn’t clear to me what the point of optimization is - the minimum number of children that have to die by accident so that the rest of the kids can have a meaningful childhood. Somewhere between the youth spent in a bedroom, wrapped in cotton wool and Huck Finn’s trip down the Mississippi lies a happy medium, and I haven’t found it.  Nor do I know if it is possible to identify that point.

Going to a less industrialized society means reducing some risks (car accidents), and raising others (fire). It means most likely having less time to supervise our kids, and it means that some parents will probably experiencing horrible outcomes. It probably also means in some ways other of us will get physically and mentally healthier children. Depending on how non-industrial, some of the consequences will be more serious than others. It depends what we lose, and what we can keep up. Bike helmets? Ration vaccinations to those able to pay? Do we try and keep the cars on the road at the expense of things like education and health care? That seems to be where we’re headed.

A few months ago, my autistic oldest son opened a locked door, opened a latched gate and, while Mommy was catching up on sleep and Daddy was changing a diaper, started walking down the road, bouncing his ball. It was 15 minutes before Daddy noticed that he’d gotten out and the gate was open.

We were lucky. Eli happily bounced his way down our rural road for nearly 3 miles before we found him.  He was not struck by a car. He didn’t go off into the pond and drown, he didn’t wander across the fields and get lost, where, unable to call out if we called him, he might have died of exposure. A neighbor spotted him, didn’t remember who he belonged to and stayed with him.  Another neighbor, on his way to work, stopped, seeing me frantically racing up the road calling Eli’s name.   He asked “are you looking for a little boy?” I climbed into his car (not waiting to see if he wanted to drive me somewhere or not, I was a little Mom-crazy) and ordered the poor man to take me to my son. He did. My heart started beating again, and eventually I stopped crying and praying. Eli was fine. We got better locks. It was my personal vision of hell.

The irony is that this escape was motivated, I think, by my seven year old’s desire to get out from under his parents’s thumb. He’s autistic. His judgement is impaired. We can’t trust him to wander - which means that his father and I watch him constantly, are always with him. But he also has a powerful urge to be alone, and an appropriate 7 year old’s desire to explore, have adventures and do cool things. There’s nothing wrong with his intellect and he’s an ordinary kid inside, with ordinary desires to do stuff. It is hard to know what Eli was thinking because he can’t talk to us, but I suspect that some of my fear was created by the protection I’ve so lovingly arranged for him.

It isn’t an irony I know how to navigate, and I’m not sure how other parents should. But I suspect most of us are going to have to risk our children in some way, balancing one risk (not enough food for the winter) against another (accidental death) in a less certain, less secure world. I suspect we may get happier, more confident, more competent children from this harrowing by fire that demands they learn to keep themselves safe, but that will be no real consolation for those of us who pay too high a price.

But there are some things we can do to keep this freer world safer for kids - reduce the sheer number of cars, teaching more safety skills to our children. Perhaps most of us could have “walk only” areas in our towns or communities. More of us could risk a little bit more, so that there were more children of various ages working together to protect one another. And perhaps we can bring more adults home to work and domesticate, so that children need not be roaming their world unobserved or unprotected.

Sharon, who is perhaps reading too much into _Blueberries for Sal_ ;-) .

Want to See My New Book?

Sharon November 9th, 2012

The cover of _Green Sex_ is now out (and you can pre-order if you want!):  The book will be out next summer.

Preserving Food Around the Year

Sharon September 28th, 2012

Note, this comes from _Independence Days_, but I think it bears a repeat.I do want to emphasize that while you can go crazy trying to can or dry every single thing you’ve ever liked to eat so you can have it every day of the year, honestly, I think that in many ways, that’s just as nuts as  eating the pasty supermarket strawberries in January. That’s not to say that I’m not just as addicted to salsa in the winter as you are, just that the more you can get used to eating the foods that are actually in season, either fresh (think season extension) or stored fresh in a

root cellar or  equivalent, the easier on you all this preserving will be, and the easier it  will be to find the time to do it. Prioritize, prioritize, and prioritize.  On the other hand, sometimes a little hard work really does save us time. Yes, it can be a pain to chop up all those tomatoes for pasta sauce, but it is so convenient to be able to dump the whole wheat pasta into the pot and pour it over not gloppy, super sweet, supermarket sauce, but your own roasted tomato and vegetable sauce. You are investing time now for freedom later.

So here’s my food preservation year. It sounds more impressive than it is, since often I don’t get it all done. I’m going to start my preservation year when things first start get going, in May. Some of you will be able to start it much earlier, others later.


  • Can rhubarb sauce —  a favorite dessert, and quickie breakfast dumped over raw rolled oats. It tastes much better than it sounds.
  • Freeze eggs for baking and scrambling.
  • Sell any extra eggs.
  • Bake eggshells, pound them up and store in a coffee can to be added to home-produced chicken feed and to the watering can.
  • Lactoferment dandelion green kimchi, although this isn’t really a “storage” item since it always gets eaten almost immediately.
  • Freeze and can up any squash or sweet potatoes we haven’t used up. I’ll also coat some eggs with shortening and store them at room temperature, but because I won’t want them until fall, that will be later in the season. They keep about six months, so I do this more with late eggs.


  • Pickle garlic scapes.
  • Dehydrate strawberries.
  • Can strawberry jam, strawberry sauce and strawberry-rhubarb pie filling.
  • Freeze snap peas.
  • Dehydrate sweet shelling peas.
  • Dehydrate greens (this is especially good for greens on the verge of bolting late in the month —  they can be ground up and added as a filler to flours and soups).
  • Can mint syrup for adding to water in the winter.
  • Dry onions.

I should also pickle some early baby beets, but somehow I never get to it.


Preserving Boom Begins!

  • Can blueberry jam, blueberry sauce, currant jam, currant juice, peach sauce, peach jam, apricot sauce, apricot jam, raspberry sauce, raspberry jam, peach chutney.
  • Dehydrate blueberries, apricots, peaches, black currants, red  currants.
  • Can beets.
  • Make kimchi out of various greens and roots.
  • Freeze grated zucchini to use as a meat extender for ground beef.
  • Dehydrate zucchini.
  • Pickle green beans. (I don’t bother to preserve green beans any other way. We don’t like them frozen, dried or canned, so they, like asparagus, are one of those things we enjoy when we’ve got them.)
  • Dry and braid garlic.

For us, tomatoes, corn and peppers do start this month, but they are too new to bother preserving —  I wait for the glut later in the season. I manipulate my cucumber harvest so that most of them come in around September, when it is cooler.

This is also when I seriously start my root cellaring garden. Some things, like parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash and Brussels sprouts have already gone in, but most of the carrots, beets, cabbage, celeriac, and other root crops are planted in July, as is some more kale and collards.


  • Can tomatoes for salsa, tomato sauce, and diced tomatoes.
  • Dehydrate tomatoes.
  • Dehydrate sweet peppers.
  • Freeze watermelon.
  • Can watermelon juice (surprisingly good).
  • Dehydrate watermelon (really good!).
  • Make watermelon rind pickles.
  • Freeze sweet peppers.
  • Pickle, dehydrate and freeze hot peppers (this depends on the variety: cayenne, kimchi, aleppo and poblanos get dried; jalapenos, fish peppers and bananas get pickled; serranos get frozen).
  • Freeze and dehydrate sweet corn.

I might make some cucumber or zucchini pickles too, if it isn’t too hot. Or I might not.

August is also when the last crops of greens, peas and favas go in, except spinach and arugula, which can keep going until September. Oh, and when I make raspberry vodka.


More of all of the above, plus cucumber pickles and beets. I also usually pickle some onions. By late September I may be harvesting dried-on- the-plant foods like dry corn, popcorn, amaranth and dried beans as well, or I might wait until October, depending on how things look. We also start canning applesauce and dehydrating apples. Most of the early apples don’t keep that well, so they are better eaten fresh, sauced and dried. Since September tends to be the last month I can reliably solar dehydrate, I try to do the dried apples then, but if I don’t get it done, they can be hung up behind the wood stove.


  • Harvest all the stuff we dried on the plant.
  • Can more applesauce, pear sauce, green tomato pickles.
  • Preserve late fruit (raspberries, apples, quinces, pears) in liquor.
  • Make apple butter.
  • Make cider syrup for pancakes.
  • Make late fruit leathers.

It is also when we start butchering chickens and turkeys, and if I’m really ambitious, I’ll can some of them —  the meat and the broth —  since I’m trying to minimize my freezer usage. Usually they get frozen, though. I make more late tomato sauce until the last harvest comes in. Also my own V8 juice.

We also start filling the root cellar — digging the potatoes, beets, turnips, harvesting the cabbages, etc. But the balance is hard. Because our root cellar is actually an unheated porch, we have to wait to put things in until it is consistently cold, but if we wait too long we get the fun of pulling beets out of frozen ground. So there’s always a race.


Most years, the race goes into November. We’re still preserving food, although the focus has moved away from canning and dehydrating. In November it’s cold enough to do large-scale lactofermentation. Until now, we’ve been making kimchi and sauerkraut in small quantities, to be eaten right away. Now we move towards big bucketfuls, because the process of fermentation slows down and we can keep it for months.

  • Ferment daikon, cabbage, carrots, napa, bok choy and other greens.
  • Dig potatoes and see if we have to buy more.
  • Put the carrots in buckets of sand.
  • Hang the onions.
  • Add in fall butchering and late canning.
  • Put up the coldframes and mulch things to overwinter.
  • Gather the nuts —  if we can beat the other nut-eaters.


This is the time to make presents and make cute little baskets of things. And to rest on our laurels a little. It’s usually a quiet time in the food preserver’s year. Most of the root-cellared stuff is new enough that there’s no need to preserve it another way, and there’s little new coming in, maybe just a few greens from the garden.

January – April

Now comes the project of management in earnest. You have to track the stores. When onions show signs of shriveling, we put them in the dehydrator. When the apples start to go soft, I start canning applesauce. A squash develops a spot? Great, cut it up and freeze it, or can it. It isn’t intense, the way summer preserving is, but it is constant, a little here, a little there, it all adds up. And that’s pretty much the way it will be until May, when the cycle starts again.

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