Culture Change e-Letter #2
Hunting and Gathering in Ecotopia
Today I gathered nuts along the trail, eating some and putting most in a bag that had previously contained seaweed. I had already "bagged" some fresh meat that I need in my diet occasionally. (We all evolved eating meat, and after years of being mostly vegan, I'm finding certain red meat the right thing for me.)
The nuts had spilled out of my bike box unbeknownst to me as I pedaled along this trail. So, not having money to replace the organic walnuts, I retraced my steps (my revolutions) and found them one by one on the ground. They had not been stepped on or ridden on yet, and I deem them okay to consume because cars don't go there. The key is not to step on your own nuts, if you're hurrying in the heat.
If the bird population were what it should be, I woulda seena woodpecka, or any bird at all, right? Nothing. Not having learned from the environmental crisis, or believing it to be only an aspect of big dirty cities, our little town intends to build a road along this nature area where I'd spilled the walnuts. The road supposedly would solve a speeding problem along a parallel road, by reducing congestionso the public works department says. Traffic-calming the old road is apparently too radical and cheap a notion.
Arcata is supposed to be "the greenest town in America," according to the mainstream media hype. But the city government recently allowed a chain video store to build an ecologically dead, really ugly structure across from city hall, destroying a fine cedar tree, andattention gatherers!plum trees and blackberries. In times past, the unused land had seen a bike rental business there. Pot smokers, who couldn't afford to hide in comfortable buildings, occasionally smoked a bowl in the midst of the greenery, unseen by any passersby. Doing away with such anarchic space might have been a reason to pave the place, knowing cArcata's rulers.
The U.S. has been losing 1.5 million acres per year of prime farmland to urban sprawl. And that figure, which varies depending on how "well" the economy is doing, probably does not include urban food production zones. However, an incipient trend is depaving; Arcata is maybe second or third in the nation in reclaiming paved land for gardens through citizen action.
The U.S. responded to World War II with, among other things, Victory Gardens. When I met author Theodore Roszak, and told him I was with the Alliance for a Paving Moratorium, the first thing he said was, "The Victory Gardens of World War II were from depaving." But today, under the current mayor of New York City and his predecessor, bulldozing healthy community gardens (as "squats") has been a passion of law 'n order officialdom and its "developer" backers.
A crisis similar to World War II hit Cuba when the Soviet Union collapsed and Cuba suddenly had no more petroleum. No gasoline, and no petrochemicals for agriculture. I don't know how they got their collective ass in gear so fast, but we didn't hear about mass starvation, did we. What they did was create 30,000 urban food gardens/farms in Havana for its two million people.
Arcata, with 16,000 souls, would therefore need almost 400 community gardens or local farms within city limits, when our petroleum becomes history. But instead there are two or three urban food production zones. Well, maybe six if you count the few depaved average-sized driveways. In case depaving sounds outrageous to you, there are plenty of lawns and some wasted pasture here (and maybe near you beyond Ecotopia). When the Big Discontinuity hitsfinal petroleum shortageearly this century, the idea of local food production by any means necessary will not seem crazy at all. Radical, yesthe word means "to the root" in Latin.
I did not forget to talk about the meat I got. It was store bought, just like my walnuts. I got both from the giant corporate co-op, at one time the largest health food store in the known worldand that was before its recent expansion. Rather than raise workers' pay above minimum wage, the Co-op became a caricature of growth to cater to consumers looking for packaged convenience, organic and otherwise. Anyway, this meat was locally grown lamb without any hormones added. (For some garnish, plenty of wild onions pop up around Arcata for a couple of months, and mint's around in other months.)
I don't like my meals to have faces, but I had been advised by knowledgeable friends to eat red meat occasionally for the improvement of my health. I finally took their advice, and they were right. I feel and maybe look better. Supposedly there's an amino acid in red meat you can't get in a plate of tofu and rice. And red meat in your diet seems to reduce stress. Boy, that line can get me some hate mail from stressed out vegans! But how do they explain the considerable meat in our diet for the past million years or so?
True, there is twenty times the protein per acre when land is devoted to grains for humans rather than grains for animals that are eaten by humans. Alright, I say, "Let the vegans eat cake or bread!"
The lesson here is that there are too many people doing everything. Talking on phones, driving cars, eating meat, you name it. People don't seem to have the intelligence or the will to heed Paul Erlich's The Population Bomb's message (1969). So we will have to run out of petroleum for feeding the overpopulation, before things will change significantly. The SUV, as a past monster of excess and wastedespite its role as a shopping cartcould someday engender more hate and fear in the children of the future than kids ever had for Tyrannosaurus Rex or "Jaws."
In Eating Oil, by Maurice Green (1978), it is shown that the U.S. can do without fossil fuels for agriculture only by reducing the population "to the 120 million it was in 1930... and then order most of the remaining population back to work on the land." Just driving to the market for a loaf of bread can add an additional 50% increase in fossil-fuel input of the history of that loaf reaching your mouth, wrote Dr. Green, a former chemical company executive and crop technology professor. So-called organic bread is thus steeped in petroleum still.
What is real, then, in a world so commercialized and technological that you could say we're caught in one big glorified feed lot? When you have to spill your own food to gather any? Animals we once were and shall be so once againfrom a song I wrote. After the grand adjustment to sustainable living, i.e., within the ecosystem's carrying capacity again, after the Big Discontinuity, we will be lucky to have the primitive people's food situation. The number of species of food they ate were in the hundreds, typically. That's one reason the concept of work was unknown to them.
In People of the Earth, Brian M. Fagan's textbook on human evolution and world prehistory, there is a brief description of life in the Illinois River Valley between 7,600 and 7,000 years ago: "As long as this Middle Archaic population remained stable, they could find most of their food resources within 3 miles (4.8 km) of their settlement."
Hey, I'll take that right now, if only it were possible. I'd give up the Co-op and its giant parking lot of oil stains where 150 years ago mighty redwoods stood, and salmon were smoked over the fires. At least the Co-op gives us bulk tofu for today's barbeque, and sells lighter fluid and briquettes for the fire.
- Jan Lundberg
©2002 Sustainable Energy Institute
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