Archive for January, 2009

Strategies for Community Food Security: The Local Foods Coop

Sharon January 15th, 2009

So a while back on a list I read, there was a discussion about who should lead a national movement to sustainability that addressed our current set of crises.  This is a big question, and a big job.  My personal vote for our Gandhi was Bob Waldrop, and no, I wasn’t kidding.  If you don’t know him and his work, you should check him out at He’s one of the few people on the planet I think who could actually move mountains. Among his many other accomplishments he’s run for mayor of Oklahoma City (I’d vote for him for anything - the man is a national treasure) and he was the founder of the US’s first local foods coop  Here’s a great sample of some of his wonderful and compelling writing: or you can read the interview he kindly gave us at hen and harvest: (You can also play  “duelling best beards in the Peak Oil Movement” option if you want to check out our interview with the great Albert Bates: ;-).)

The food coop is, I think, one of the best tools available to us for community food security - and for just plain getting better stuff to eat.  The magic of it is that you don’t have to believe in any particular worldview to think that bringing great local farm food to consumers is worthwhile.  Food coops are a gift to all of us even if nothing bad ever happens and we manage to start running the planet on hot air or snow or something (I’ll happily volunteer some of my snow for the greater good ;-) ). 

There was a time when coops popped up all over, but perhaps because of the growth of whole foods and farmer’s markets, the coop model hasn’t been as popular - but it needs to be brought back.  It connects people with local resources, and as solid, stable markets are created, it encourages other people to join in the project of growing food, preserving food and otherwise fostering local economies and everything else that’s good.    There are more and more local food coops built on Bob’s model - here are links to find them:  So far they are almost all in the west - I think we folks in the East had better get our acts together and create one!

And not only did Bob pull together this amazing local food system (with help, this a good bit of work and not a solo project), but he’s given instructions on how to start one in your community.  There is even software available for tracking orders and putting things together here:  So you really have no excuse for not starting one in your town or region, do you?

Remember, this is potentially not just a way to bring in food, but a way to get more people involved in the local economy - Bob doesn’t just make the show run, he sells his own bulghur and hot sauce through the coop.  You could do that too! 


Random Favorite Food Storage Recipes

Sharon January 15th, 2009

Hi Folks: The recipes here cover the range of food storage and preservation techniques, from recipes for eating out of your root cellar and season extension to straight pantry cooking.  I thought some of them might be fun additions to your menus.  These are some of my favorites.

Tex-Mex Millet: Another recipe borrowed (ok, stolen) from _Veganomicon_, this frankly, kicks ass.  It tastes like Spanish rice, but better.  I’ve changed it to be a bit more of a pantry thing, but the original is pretty terrific too.  Maybe they won’t sue me if you run out and buy their cookbook.

2 tbsp butter or oil

2 cloves garlic

1 cup millet

1 onion

2 pickled jalapenos, diced, or to taste (I like a lot more, but then I’m a chile head)

2 cups vegetable or chicken broth or bullion

5 tablespoons tomato paste

½ tsp salt

1 tsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground coriander

Sautee the onion, garlic and jalapeno in the oil until golden and soft, about 7 minutes.  Add the millet, stir and sautee another 5 minutes, until the millet looks golden and toasted.  Pour in the broth and add tomato paste, salt, cumin and coriander. Bring the mixture to a boil, lower heat, cover and cook on lowest setting for ½ hour, or until all the liquid is absorbed.  Fluff up and eat.______________

Dehydrator Apple Granola bars: My kids love granola bars, and I love that I don’t have to actually bake these.  These are very tasty and have absolutely no fat in them, other than what’s naturally in the oats

 3 tart apples 
2 cups rolled oats 
1/2 cup silvered almonds 
2 tbsp. brown sugar 
1 tbsp. honey in 1/4 cup water 
1 tsp. salt 
1/2 tsp. cinnamon 

Peel and grate apples. Place in a bowl with the other ingredients and toss lightly until thoroughly mixed. Place mixture on a dehydrator sheet and dry for 2 to 3 hours, or until crunchy. Cut into bars and store in an airtight container.__________________

Pumpkin Pancakes: These are extremely nutritious, really tasty, cheap and filling.  My kids adore them, and so do the adults.  I like them with cranberry sauce, actually, but maple syrup is traditional.

1 cup pumpkin, squash or sweet potato puree

1 egg plus 1 tbsp soy flour (or 2 eggs)

1 cup milk, buttermilk, soymilk or water

3 tbsp honey or sugar

1/2 tsp salt

2 ½ cups whole wheat flour

Mix together egg, orange vegetable puree, honey and liquid.  Mix dry ingredients.  Whisk together and fry in a pan with a little oil over medium heat.  Eat with jam, apples sauce, honey, maple syrup or pancake syrup.________________

Beets with Tahini Sauce: Ok, I know you hate beets, or think you do, but this is the platonic beet recipe - people who hate beets coming running up to beg for seconds, I swear.  There is something about this amazing combination that just transforms the beets.  Try it – really.  I’ve adapted the recipe from May Bsisu’s spectacular book _The Arab Table_.

5 large or 10 small beets, peeled and diced.

2 tbsp oil

3 tbsp yogurt

2 tbsp tahini

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

Coat the diced beets with oil and roast in a 425 oven until tender (you can steam them if you prefer).  Meanwhile, mix all other ingredients.  When the beets are tender, toss with the tahini-yogurt sauce.  This can be served warm, cool or at room temperature and is absolutely amazingly good.


Bamboo Shoot Soup - If you have bamboo, you have bamboo shoots.  You can use the canned ones, but they aren’t as tasty.  This soup kicks butt when you are tired or grumpy or sick

6 cups vegetable stock (or chicken or whatever)

3 tbsp light soy sauce or to taste

1 tbsp sugar

2 cups julienned sliced bamboo shoots (you can used canned too, although the taste is inferior)

1 cup diced carrots

1 cup sliced onions

1 cup sliced mushrooms (you can used dried and rehydrated shiitakes or fresh mushrooms)

1 cup dried tofu sheets (available at asian grocers), broken into bite sized pieces

3 tbsp cornstarch

1 tsp white pepper

¼ cup of hot sauce (or to taste - we use chile-garlic paste) 

Bring stock to a boil. Add soy sauce, sugar and vegetables and cook until vegetables are tender.  Dissolve cornstarch in ¼ cup cold water, and stir into soup. Keep stirring until mixture thickens, about 5 minutes.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  Serve with hot sauce and fresh cilantro, if available._____________

Stuffed Cabbage with Dried Fruits, Mushrooms and Wild Rice: This is adapted from Georgeanne Brennan’s lovely book _France: The Vegetarian Table_ and has become my favorite way to eat stuffed cabbage.

1 large cabbage (savoy is the easiest to separate)

2 tsp salt

4 tbsp butter or good oil

1 large onion, diced

10 dried prunes, chopped

¼ cup golden or regular raisins

4 dried apricots, chopped

¾ fresh or dried and reconstituted wild mushrooms – the more flavorful the better

2 tsp while pepper

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tbsp chopped rosemary

2 cups wild rice (can use regular rice or another grain, but wild rice is the best) cooked until tender in meat or vegetable broth or apple cider

1/3 cup heavy cream

Vegetable or chicken broth

Peel off the dry outer leaves of the cabbage, if any.  Put the whole cabbage in a pot, cover with water and add salt, and boil for 15 minutes.  Remove cabbage from pot and drain in a colander until cool.  Unwrap and remove leaves from the outside in, setting gradually aside.  When it becomes impossible to keep removing leaves, cut the stem out of the center, and chop the center cabbage – you should have six cups of chopped cabbage.  Melt the butter in a large skillet, sauté cabbage and onions until transluscent.  Add dried fruit and mushrooms and cook for 5-7 minutes, until tender.  Add pepper, cumin and salt to taste.  Remove from heat and mix with cream and rice.Wrap a small amount of filling in each cabbage leaf, fold until closed and place in a baking dish. Pour enough vegetable broth over to come about halfway up on the cabbage, cover baking dish and bake 35 minutes, until tender.



Storing Pet Food

Sharon January 15th, 2009

I warn y’all, this will probably be incomplete by necessity - there’s no way I could hope to discuss every single pet or critter in existence.  You’ll have to research your own sustainable African Pygmy Squirrel diet, I’m afraid.  Actually, I’m going, just for reasons of length, to say that we’ll stick, today, to cats and dogs. 

 But for those of us with traditional pets and critters, the question of storage always arises.  Obviously, we want to take good care of our animals.  And good care is complicated - is it better to have more, lower quality food with a longer shelf life, or higher quality food with a shorter one?

 My own feeling is that it is a balancing act to find the optimal combination of nutrition and storage life.  It isn’t always trade off like above, but sometimes it is.  I’m assuming here that we want what it best for our animals, but also for their humans - that is, a balanced perspective that makes sure they have the healthiest possible food, that supports the best possible principles, and our longer term objectives.

 So let’s start with dogs.  Dogs are omnivores, and capable of more flexible diets than many animals.  Dogs have been known to thrive on commercial pet foods, on raw food diets like BARF and on homemade, cooked dog foods.  Originally, dogs lived mostly on human scraps and their own hunting and foraging.

Dogs do have very sensitive stomachs - which means that if you plan to have your dog live on something in a crisis, the ideal is to have them eat it now, at least as part of their diet.  They do not handle abrupt shifts very well.

Most basic commercial dry dog foods come with a 1-year lifespan - this is before opening.  Unlike most human foods, most Vets seem to agree that dog and cat foods should be stored IN THE ORIGINAL PACKAGING - that the packaging itself provides a measure of freshness - so if you are storing pet foods, I would recommend keeping them in airtight containers, in the original packaging - perhaps in large storage bins.  This is kind of awkward, but provides a measure of reduction of rancidity and vitamin loss.

 I don’t love commercial pet foods - besides the problem of industrial food production in general, they often have an awful lot of crap in them.  Many of the cheaper versions are high in corn, which is tough to digest.  I’ve written before about the ethical issues of the meat product sources - at this point, 1 in 7 cows in the US feedlot system doesn’t qualify for human consumption due to ill health - almost all of them go to the pet food industry, and IMHO, they make the feedlot system viable - that is, if we weren’t willing to feed the sick cows to our pets, the losses of a system that makes 1 in 7 too sick to be slaughtered by the rather appallingly low standards of the industry would be too big a cost to bear.  I’m also not convinced that these sick cows are good for dogs.

The other issue that some pet food companies actually use euthanized dogs and cats as a protein form in their pet foods - besides the ethical issues for animal lovers, this seems to be a dangerous disease vector.

The pluses of these foods is that they do keep a long time, and that they probably have a reasonably balanced diet in them.  These may be the single easiest storage option - they should keep a full year.  Accumulating a year’s supply of food is fairly inexpensive, a non-trivial consideration for strapped households.  It is always better, IMHO, to feed our animals imperfect food than to end up abandoning or euthanizing them because we cannot afford them.

I distinguish high quality, organic commercial pet foods from the general run of commercial pet foods.  These usually use better, organic meats, and there is more meat and fewer and better fillers.  These are generally better for your pet, and worth it if you can afford them.  They should probably only be stored 6 months, however, because there are more oils that may go rancid.  Again, keep the food in the original packaging.

 Wet canned dog foods vary a lot in quality and nutrients - the low quality industrial ones have the same problems as the above, while if you have the money, there are some good things out there.  Canned foods will store for several years and can expand your storage - even if you can’t store enough for your animal to live on, they could balance a homemade or cheap dry food diet.

Next, there’s a BARF diet, which involves feeding your animals mostly raw meats.  There is some controversy about the inclusion of raw vegetables in this menu, you’ll need to do your own research on that.  I’ve seen many BARF animals do extremely well - the problem is that in a crisis, a BARF diet requires you to be an adept butcher and have a large quantity of livestock on the hoof or small animals easily caught.  This, to me, seems unlikely - I don’t discourage people from trying to hunt pest animals in tough times for their pets, but I don’t think relying on this as a primary diet is something we can expect.

Which brings us to homemade pet foods.  There are a lot of recipes out there, and I think that most of these are probably pretty good, although I do suggest storing vitamin supplements if your vet recommends them.  Generally speaking, these consist of either brown rice or rolled oats, some meat, eggs or milk and some vegetables, all cooked together.  There’s some good precedent for these diets in dogs - for example, herding dogs in the Pyrenees lived in milk and oatmeal.  Some dogs, at least are well adapted to them.

My own feeling is that a combination of a small amount of stored commercial dog food (the very best quality you can afford)  and homemade supplements may be the best option overall for long term storage - that is, your storage of commercial dogfoods will last longer if you only need a little of it, to balance them nutritionally, and that can provide meats that may be hard to come by in storage.  For example, we can store oats and dried milk, which can be made into yogurt and mixed with canned vegetables for a pretty decent fresh food, to combine with the commercial dry food.  Homemade recipes that rely on inexpensive vegetables, bulk purchased grains and either home canned or raised meats and eggs, or bulk purchased dairy dry dairy products (or your own homegrown, obviously) will probably do well in both the nutritional and pocketbook department.

These two sites have recipes and nutritional information about homemade dog foods: 

Ok, what about kitties?  Cats differ from dogs in that they are obligate carnivores - they *have* to eat primarily meat.  While dogs can get along on a vegetarian diet, cats really can’t - yes, I know some people do it, but I’ve not found any vet that recommends it. 

Cat dry and wet foods have approximately the same issues as dog ones - they have some virtues and some non-virtues.  I won’t rehash, because they aren’t that different.  I will say that I’m somewhat persuaded by this vet who recommends against feeding any cat an exclusively dry food diet (she’s got a good cat fud recipe too, a lot of information about nutrition, and some strong opinions disagreed with by two of the vets I consulted, but ymmv):  The above vet also says we shouldn’t be feeding beef at all to cats, for various reasons - I don’t know if that’s right, but she certainly has a point when she notes that cows probably were not the usual prey of small cats in the wild, and I admit, I enjoyed the image it generated.

Because meat is expensive, energy intensive and time consuming to store without a freezer, storing the components of homemade cat food without electricity gets more complex than storing the components of homemade dog food - that is, cats can’t live long on brown rice and milk.  They can and should have small amounts of vegetables in their food, particularly greens, but the majority of their food should be meat based.

A homemade storable diet for cats, assuming that you don’t have a large livestock farm and lots of butchering offal to offer them, would probably involve raising a meat source - pigeons, quail or rabbits being the most accessible to apartment dwellers.  This could be mixed with Vitamin E tablets, cod liver oil,  the eggs of any poultry kept, kelp or iodized salt and bone meal.  Canned clams (not tuna in large quantities) might supply some of the taurine, as might the hearts of butchered animals or hearts obtained from anyone who didn’t want them.

 I have to say, however, that unless you are prepared to raise and butcher livestock, or unless you are committed to pressure canning a ton of cat food, it probably makes sense to store the highest quality commercial foods you can afford for your cats, both from a cost standpoint and from a cat health standpoint.

If I had no choice, my solution for my cats would be to do the best I could, to provide as much meat as possible.  What I wouldn’t do if I could avoid it is turn them loose to hunt their own - feral or loose cats are a major predator for a number of threatened species of bird and small animals.  Just as I don’t think it is cool to use excess kitties in cat food to keep our pets fed, I don’t think it is ok to drive other animals to extinctions.  So that means being prepared.

 For both species, I recommend people also store a bit of kelp (for trace minerals) and nutritional yeast (which provides B vitamins and improves their health).

Edited to add: As people are considering their steps into the informal economy, one area I think might be extremely successful is the production of local, sustainably produced, small scale pet foods.  Even though people have less money to spend, many are extremely attached to their pets (me too), and if you can produce reasonably cost effective, healthy dog or cat foods, that might be a small business that was both useful now and one that might take off if the supply lines for conventional pet foods get cut or people simply want to support local economies.  I recommend it as a possible job.




Sharon January 15th, 2009

Sourdough is not specifically a method of preserving bread, although I do find that my sourdough loaves stay fresh longer than my yeasted ones.  But sourdough is a food preservation issue in two ways.  First, it is a ferment, which acts to preserve something (in this case, leavening power), it is also a substitute for a perishable commercial product, commercial yeast.  It is possible to capture yeasts directly, but sourdough is easier to keep and maintain, and it is delicious as well.

In order to get sourdough, you need to make a sour.  Now you can buy them at various places, but quite honestly, I think that’s not very appealing - why find some commercially uniform source of sourdough when you could have the fun and benefit of harvesting wild critters and tasting what your natural ecology produces.

 Thus, I offer up this reference:  There’s enough info here to keep you busy for a while - happy baking!


He Was Magnificent: What You Can Do When You Have To

Sharon January 14th, 2009

One of my best friends had a baby last night.  Noah, my new godchild slipped into the world at 8:10 last night, a healthy 8lbs, 3 oz, despite being several weeks early.

“Slipped” sounds so clean, and simple.  And it wasn’t - and it was.  My friend and her husband had had contractions on and off all day - they had been to the birthing center and were told that to come back when the contractions were 4 minutes apart for an hour.  So they went home, took a nap, had something to eat, and when things got intense, took off for the 1/2 drive to the birthing center.

Then things got exciting.  Her water broke in the car, and she hit transition.  My friend who is a mild sort of person refers to transition in the front seat of a moving vehicle on a freezing night as “not much fun.”  I would probably use stronger language, personally.  And shortly after they crossed over from Massachusetts to New Hampshire, my friend ordered her husband to pull over, because the baby was coming right NOW.

My friend’s husband pulled over into an empty parking lot, raced around to the other side of the car, pulled her boots and pants off, managed to dial 911 and give a rapid precis of their situation, dropped the cell into the snow, pulled off his sweater, and caught his infant son, all in the matter of a couple of minutes.  He was, from the description my friend gave me, utterly magnificent.  The paramedics arrived in time for the wrap up, and mother, baby and Dad are all doing just fine.

What’s funny is that Dad had been very worried about just this scenario.  My friend delivered her daughter in her previous pregnancy quite rapidly - with time enough for the midwife to arrive at their home for a homebirth, but still on the high-speed order of things.  Several times during the pregnancy, my friend had joked to her spouse that he might have to deliver the baby, and my friend’s husband always disavowed any chance that he could do it successfully, expressing his fear of doing so.   We were assured that he would do something awful, probably drop or harm the baby by accident, that there’s no way he’d know what to do, and that he’d likely panic. 

Now from my perspective “not wanting to deliver your own kid in a car” falls in the category of perfectly reasonable preferences.  My friend’s husband was gently teased about the possibility, but we were gentle, because he was so obviously worried about his own ability to do so.  And yet, when the reality struck, my friend and her husband did everything right, with the speed, clarity and grace (except, perhaps for listening to the birthing center people in the first place) that were called for by the realities of the situation.  My friend had little choice in her response, although she certainly didn’t panic or overreact to the scenario. My friend’s husband did have a choice - he could have been immobilized by fear - but doing so would have been completely unacceptable to him, and so he was not.

The distinction between “what you can do when you are sitting around worrying about possibilities” and “what you can do when the situation demands it” are, for most of us, quite vast.  Most of us routinely understate our own abilities to deal with extremely difficult and stressful situations.  And of course, we’d all rather skip those situations entirely.  But I think it is important to make the distinction between what we do in times of exigency, necessity, or even when we are powerfully moved, and what we do when we are simply sitting around talking about what we might be willing or not to do.

Perhaps the single most common response I get to any given strategy that I propose that involves moderate inconvenience is “people will never…”  This is always phrased with a certainty about the nature of human nature that cannot be argued with.  And, of coures, it can’t be.  Because if we “know” that people will never do something, there’s nothing further to be said.

But in fact, human beings through their history have shown themselves able to do all sorts of truly astonishing things.  They endure conditions that are literally unthinkable to most of us - they tolerate cold and heat that most of us would say we couldn’t endure.  They eat foods many of us would never touch.  They live in social and economic systems that are completely alien to us.  They go without food and water for religious and cultural reasons.  They go to jail for their beliefs, put their bodies on the line in front of bullets and bombs for their beliefs, they find, for the things they value most, reservoirs of strength they did not know about.

But, of course, not Americans, I’m often told.  American-ness is permeated with a chronic tendency towards a rhetoric of exceptionalism (almost always delivered by Americans about their fellows, and often by people who themselves give the lie to what is being said) - either Americans are fat, selfish, drooling idiots who stare at the tv all day and greedily and intentionally consume everything in sight, or they are the single noblest people in the world, superior in every way, acting as they are because of divinely ordained right to whatever they want (I realize I’m overstating a bit).  In either case, the assumption is that Americans will never make radical shifts in their lifestyles.  The former assumes they won’t because they are too fat, too lazy, too ignorant and too selfish.  The latter assumes that we won’t because we feel we deserve what we’ve got.

The problem with this assessment is that either way, we slander and belittle ourselves. We tend to assume we will not change, or if faced with a crisis, we will fall apart, die, riot mindlessly or give up.   But this, to me, seems unlikely.  That is, I suspect that in the coming crisis some people will riot, and some will probably and unfortunately die or give up.  But saying that we know from our present circumstances that “people will never sacrifice” ignores the fact that until this past weekend when Obama actually used that word, no one ever asked them to.  Of course many people (not all - I am aware of thousands of people who sacrifice things even without such a call to action)  would be unwilling to sacrifice without a clear rationale for doing so, without the invocation of a national crisis, without the sense that others too were going to be making sacrifices. 

And just as my friend’s husband professed himself both unwilling and unable to a deliver a baby when no one was really seriously asking him to do so, most of us, speaking in hypotheticals, without our passions engaged, and while advertising and the weight of our culture push us firmly in the other direction, are unwilling to commit to anything really different.

And yet, within humanity is the capacity to live with almost any kind of reasonably humane circumstances - and often to live well there.  In order for us to believe that our current rate of energy consumption is the only way we can live a decent life, we must slander our grandparents and their grandparents and all the people who came before us, slander all the world’s majority who live without the things we do.  We must rewrite history to say that all those lives before us were ones of unendurable suffering, ones not worth living.  For Americans, to say that Americans must remain as they are now, requires us to believe that living the life akin to the one that Benjamin Franklin lived - one with outhouses and no electricty, the ones that helped form our nation, were unworthy of us.  Now it is one thing to say that you’d rather not use an outhouse (unless of course, you are our own modern Franklin, Greenpa ;-) ) or get along without a washer, and still another to sit around in a party game about what is possible and claim you couldn’t live without your coffeemaker and washing machine.  But those do not represent our real experiences of the world of urgent necessity, or even commitment.

Because just as my friend’s husband found, when something is needed - and by needed I mean either practically necessary because there is no alternative (ie, the baby is coming or the power is out) or when something is needed because a body of people are committed to its rightness and seriousness (ie, the embargo requires us to make our own cloth, or the bus boycott requires elderly women to walk miles each day) we find in ourselves capacities that we hardly knew were there.  While sometimes the worst does happen, often we are surprised by outcomes - simply because we underestimate people.

Those remarkable capacities are particularly hidden by the culture of consumption (I initially wrote “the American culture of consumption,” but while it is a deeply American sin, it is not, I think by any definition American “culture” so much as culture’s  antithesis), which constantly convinces us to rely on fossil fuels, on corporations, on anything but ourselves.  The can of industrial peas convinces us that the production and preservation of peas is not our work - it belongs to industrial farmers and industrial canning plants.  The rototiller convinces us by its very existence that it is needed, because the shovel is infeasible - never mind that using a rototiller can be as physically demanding and difficult as using a shovel.  The constant narrative that if we buy this, our lives will be transformed denies us access to the real, internal, moral capacity for transformation.

But I for one do not believe that the capacities for adaptation that have made possible the tremendous range of forms that human lives have taken are gone in one or two generations. I think, instead, we are shifting from the conversational mode of estimating our own and one another’s capacities “Oh, no, I could never deliver a baby - I’d probably drop it” to the actual shift in society that drives us to push past our sense of what we or other people can and will do, and presses us to discover who we are at our deepest points, and what we really, truly can do. 

I do not doubt that some people will fail these tests, or handle them imperfectly - in a world of human beings, there are always mistakes and failures.  But I know this - had my friend’s husband truly been paralyzed by panic, my friend, gentle but courageous soul that she is, would have reached down in the midst of her pain, in that empty, icy parking lot, and caught her own son, and prevented him from falling.  And in the next moment, her husband, broken from his moment of panic, would have recovered and called 911, apologized and done what he could to make things work.  That is, even when we fail, often there are moments when we can redeem ourselves and move on to success.  Even if we begin imperfectly, there are often second chances.

And, of course, my friend’s husband did not fail.  He rose to the occasion, as most of us would.  He was, as I have said, truly magnificent. And when events force us to become more than we think we are, well some of us, perhaps even most, will be magnificent too. 


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