Archive for May 28th, 2008

Where Should I Go?

Sharon May 28th, 2008

So have I mentioned I have a book coming out soon ;-) ?  A lot of people have asked me where they can buy it.  I will be putting up information about ordering autographed copies (while supplies last) directly from me shortly.  Otherwise, New Society is offering a discount coupon that will allow you to pre-order it at a lower price.  I’ll post a link for that as well, and no, I won’t be offended if you need to husband your resources and order it more cheaply than I can offer it ;-) .  In fact, I’m also all for people getting books from their libraries - although I suppose I shouldn’t say so.

One of the things I’m supposed to do is help promote said book.  And I’m getting a ton of requests by email to do talks and various things - very exciting.  That means going places and giving talks, teaching classes and doing readings from _Depletion and Abundance_.  This is a double-edged sword for me - I love teaching, I love meeting people, I love talking to them.  That part is absolutely a blast.  The hard part is finding the time to be away from home, and finding the balance I need between the environmental consequences of this and the potential benefits of raising awareness and, well, making a living.

We are getting to the time at which I have to start figuring out where I’m going, and when, so that we can plan our lives for the coming year.  This gets complicated for a host of reasons.  #1 is that while I don’t rule out flying, I won’t fly if I can get there by some more environmentally friendly method, like a big carpool or a train.  That means, no matter how cool it would have been to actually go to the big Peak Oil Conference in Michigan this weekend, there was no way I could, because I would have had to fly (and because the book was due this weekend) since I can’t be away from my garden in early June for more than a day or to.  That’s why I’m sending video and calling in, which is almost but not quite as much fun.

On the other hand, when I was invited to Pakistan to talk about biofuels and their ties to food systems this spring, had it been possible for me to go, I would have flown, since the trains from Albany to Pakistan are extremely poor and no one seemed to want to pay for the Queen Mary to take me ;-) .  I’m told that luxury cruise liners aren’t carbon negative anyway - pity.  Again, if you want me to fly somewhere, I’d have to really believe that there’s a good reason for it, and that it will help more people than the carbon hinders.  So far, I haven’t quite found the justification, no matter how badly I really did want to see Islamabad.  You can try and persuade me, though ;-) .  Note, I don’t claim perfect moral purity here, either.  You will have better luck getting me to spend a lot of energy going somewhere I really want to go (say, Hokkaido) than somewhere I’m not at all interested in, like, say, Disneyworld.

There are other complexities.  If I am going to spend three days crammed into a train bunk the size of a coffin, crossing the country, I am going to do all of my visits to a given area while I’m there.  My husband and children probably would prefer that I didn’t disappear for a week or more than once or twice a year.   So planning a trip involves trying to coordinate a host of other bookstore stops and other visits.  It also involves me planning the economics of the issue - doing a reading somewhere I’m going to be anyway is no big deal, but filthy lucre does come into the issue if there’s a long trip, and an extended period not doing other things that keep the family fed.  I get requests to volunteer my time, and I try as often as I can to say yes - but I can’t only do volunteer work, much as I’d like to ;-) - again, I’m trying for some balance.  So generally, if you’d like me to read and I’m going to be there anyway or nearby, no worries, if you want an extended chunk of my time for something big, we’d have to talk.

 I’m getting a lot of emails right now from various people inviting me to various thingies, and my impulse is to say yes to everyone, but realistically, that’s not going to be totally feasible.  So even though I know I’m presuming a lot to assume y’all want to meet me,  I thought I would post a broad sense of my itinerary here, and if you want to put in dibs for me to come by during one of those trips, send me an email (I can’t swear I’ll respond before the book is done).  I’ll also put the information on my appearances page once I have my life back in a few days.  I’ll also be updating the information about classes, and taking registrations for the ones I plan to do in July and August.  Look for it in a week or so.

Anyway, broad outlines of where I’m thinking of going when in the Fall:

Boston, probably in late September, working around the Jewish holidays.  Since I’ve got family there and it isn’t very far, this is one is pretty flexible.  Southern ME and NH would be easy from there too, since my Mom is up on the North Shore.

New York City: I’m going to be there very briefly for a panel in July, but am planning a more extended book promotion visit around Halloween.  Again, I’ve got family here, and the train ride is only 2 1/2 hours, so I can do this one more than once if necessary.  But figure Halloween.

Washington DC and possibly points in the Southeast - Either the week between Christmas and New Year or right after the New Year.  We’ve got family there, and assuming that the economy doesn’t tank, we might take the train down en famille, and then if there was a desire for my presence, I could go further into the Southeast by train.  I’ve already got one invite, but the date is a bit up for grabs.

Then There’s the Really Long Train Trip - I’m still mulling over when to take it, but I’ve got a tentative invite to go to Edmonton in January (isn’t that where everyone wants to go in January? ;-) ).  Mid-January is good because of childcare issues - DH is still off university then.  So what I would probably do is go across the US, stop somewhere in the middleish if time allows, cross to CA or Seattle, visit my Dad in Bellingham, WA, go north to Vancouver, and then to Edmonton.  I could, perhaps go back across the Canadian Prairies to Toronto, I’m told.  So if you live somewhere on this route, it is possible (not at all definite) that I might be coming to a whistle stop near you.



The Great Disconnect : Why Relocalization Prevents Hunger

Sharon May 28th, 2008

“I am worried about the decline of farming communities of all kinds because I think that among the practical consequences of that decline will sooner or later be hunger.” - Wendell Berry

I was struck yesterday by this news report about the problems food pantries are having with new needs and fewer donations.  Although the whole thing is disturbing the most disturbing part to me was this passage:

 ”‘If gas keeps going up, it’s going to be catastrophic in every possible way,’ said Ross Fraser, a spokesman for America’s Second Harvest.

Food banks sometimes have to move food 150 miles to a food pantry, he said.

‘You’re going to get to the point where they are going to have to decide whether it’s cheaper to just give a food pantry a check,’ he said. ‘The price of gasoline is going to drive the price of everything else.’”

This is troubling not just because of its wider truth, but because the problem being articulated was precisely the difficulty in the Great Depression.  There was again, plenty of food to be hand, but most people were too poor to buy it, and producers couldn’t get enough to make it worth bringing to market.  I recently included this in _A Nation of Farmers_ and was chilled by how strong the echoes were.

Oscar Emeringer, testifying before a Congressional subcommittee in 1932 described the paradox of “appalling overconsumption on one side and the staggering underconsumption on the other side…” and described wheat in Montana left unharvested because of low prices, thousands of bushels of apples rotting beside the road in Oregon, an Illinois farmer who killed 3,000 of his sheep in a fall, and threw their bodies into a canyon because the cost of shipping the sheep was greater than the cost of sale. In Chicago, men picked for rotting meat scraps through garbage cans.  He goes on to add, 

“The farmers are being pauperized by the poverty of industrial population and the industrial populations are being pauperized by the poverty of the farmers.  Neither has the money to buy the product of the other, hence we have overproduction and underconsumption at the same time and in the same country.”

But I might just as easily have begun with the pleas of a Chicago school Superintendent, who begged Congress for funding for schools.  11,000  school children had no food at all at home, and were being kept alive by a collection taken up by teachers and parents.  But the teachers had not been paid for 3 months, and their ability to keep their students alive was fading.  As summer approached, William J. Bogan pleaded with the Illinois Governor,
“For God’s sake, help us feed these children during the summer.”

We are not there yet, but this passage of the above article seems an early harbinger:

” In Baton Rouge, La., the public school system has found students hoarding their free and reduced-price lunches so they can bring them home and have something to eat at night.”

The nutritional value of school lunches has already declined due to the rising cost of food.  Now we stand on the cusp of the summer months, in which millions of American schoolchildren who used to be assured of a free breakfast and lunch will now have access only to park lunch programs that can feed a tiny percentage of them. 

The way market forces and economies of scale prevent producers and consumers from connecting in hard times may well be the single best argument for a relocalized agriculture.  The scale of industrial production, in which food is transmitted long distances, advanced purchased on contract and unavailable to million and billions of poor people is destructive all the time - but it is acutely destructive in times of energy shortage and high prices. 

If we can bring food production into the cities and suburbs, getting as many lawns as possible covered with gardens, as many balconies and rooftops covered with containers, if we can bring food production back to the near areas of those regions, there is hope for those who eat and those who grow to come together in ways that are mutually beneficial.  If not, as energy prices rise and food prices move out of reach of more and more people, things, as they say, fall apart.  As they already are for the poor.