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Culture Change e-Letter #5

Sustainable Eating

by Jan Lundberg

My lemon balm bush early this summer fed me fresh peaches, tomatoes, squash, and eggs.  This is how:  Down at the farmers market on my town's plaza-park on a few Saturdays, I engaged in bartering that brought me more value than the herbal bundles were worth on the open market.  

Why?  The farmers and vendors must have been glad to support real trading with me, and they rewarded me accordingly.  And when they didn't need the lemon balm, some farmers made gifts of veggies they had trouble selling.

The above is one of several alternatives for feeding oneself in this cash 'n carry, high-interest credit card economy.  "Sustainable living" means greater freedom than today's main expression of freedom: standing in line at a fancy food store and shelling out fifty to a hundred bucks.  Truly sustainable living is an art as well as a challenge, because the dominant culture dictates we get in line: for class, for a job, for the military, for prison, for a meal at a Jesus Saves soup kitchen.

Other short-term strategies for eating include Food Not Bombs, a volunteer organization providing healthy outdoor meals weekly or daily in some cities. Also, dumpster diving is a time-honored and universal practice that my own father did as a young provider, although there are hazards.  More questionable is taking the unilateral "five-fingered discount" (shoplifting). This is generally considered unacceptable, but on the other hand, one can consider that food is a basic human right.  The stores selling food are society's main distribution point for almost all citizens.  After all, things have gone downhill for providing for ourselves, which had always been so easy:

Where is the land  
That featured 
So many a creature

Obviously, a whole alternative economy based on everyone suddenly swapping and scavenging on a small scale cannot appear overnight, when we are faced with our massive population being fed by petroleum-run corporate farms.  Hmm, this brings to mind the waste and inequities that could be designed out of existence.  If the greedy were to share the land, and people began to participate in a real community, we'd have poverty and despair on the run.  Yet, how to go about this is unthinkable to almost all Bush and Gore supporters, for example.

We have failed as a society to provide all citizens with food, housing, health care and education.  In former times, those needs were provided by the community or tribe, but now they are almost always paid for by money or credit.  Impersonal institutions offer versions of what we are told we need, and we are forced to participate in jobs and training (college, usually) to qualify for the right to slave away our years achieving questionable material security.

One can go off into the wilderness to live as a hermit or family (provided skill levels are excellent), but the opportunity is becoming more rare due to government protections.  And in Alaska, global warming is melting permafrost, and raging rivers' volume grows due to glacial melting.  In India, tribal peoples have for many years been removed from wilderness-residing, but they may enter preserves to forage on a limited basis.

In many parts of the world, climate change is rendering less productive the land being farmed for crops; this is on top of soil erosion from overtilling, insufficient fallow time, damage from energy- and water-hogging cattle, and salinization from over-irrigation.  Major global-warming interests recently pointed at organic farmers (yes) as contributing to greenhouse-gas emissions from tillage which releases bacteria-generated nitrous oxide.  Additionally, corporate as well as small-farm produce-providers rely on oil for transporting manure and food; the transportation's pollution ironically adds to food insecurity due to global warming caused by oil-fuel combustion.  This points out the need for local food production that may use bike-carts for hauling produce (see our Pedal Power Produce webpage).

Sustainable eating seems to be the basic challenge, and down the line it will be more so.  For some, maximum gardening is the main strategy.  In Arcata, northern California, I'm typical for emphasizing my gardening, although the takeover by my front-lawn parsnip, potato and comfrey plants approaches—oh my gosh—depaving.

In most of the U.S., the attitude is still "Why worry about my food supply when there's always the supermarket?"  Due to oil-supply insecurity, this generation of citizens will soon be wishing they had created far more gardens and had saved farmland from urban sprawl.  Not only does food actually come from someplace else than shelves and coolers, so does traditional medicine.  But modern peoples no longer collect their healing herbs, although you still see Romans on hillsides collecting dandelions and more.

A whole lot of healing must occur; it doesn't happen automatically or by simply leaving it to experts.  Going beyond the healing of our environment, and promoting peace, we need a "regime change" very close to home: our front yards are dominated by grass and lawn chemicals.

I was foraging for flowers last night, and banged my ankle in the dark.  It was a puncture wound, so when I got home I took a leaf of comfrey ("aloe of the north") and put it on the wound overnight in my sock.  Today I'm great, happy to say.  The body is a healing organism, when it isn't busy being distracted.  My view of the human animal is that its main purposes, in terms of time spent are, in this order: (1) eating/digesting, (2) healing, and (3) having sex/babies.  It is significant that those things aren't on lists of job/career opportunities.

Some people can't afford to shop for the food or medicinal herbs they need, and some even refuse to buy food (as a wage-slave, anyway).  Can they easily start hunting and foraging?  Most likely their regional environment has been fenced or paved.

So, it's the dumpster, the soup kitchen, the food bank, the rare community food-garden, and spare-changing on the street.  Whether or not you agree with the basic right to have enough to eat, it's undeniable that in this "democracy" the two main choices we have are to work hard for money for food or go hungry.  Wide variations on this can include mugging someone on the street, which may reflect basic insecurity or cries for help—"Put me in jail where I'll be fed!"

Here's how one world traveler manages to creatively "pay" for food and live well on very little money:

Ayr is a musician, activist, citizen and lover.  He or one of his kindred spirits can often be found helping others stand up for justice.  This lands him in jail, as he insists on his right to stand or sit somewhere in public as long as he's not hurting anyone else.  Selectively enforced, ordinances against hanging out make him against the law almost everywhere in north America.  Ayr does not own much at all, but he is rich in friends.  As he is constantly seen engaged in social activities for the common good (such as tree-sitting) and having fun at it, he gets many offers to stay at people's houses or their tents while sharing in their food and projects.  A few times a year he works odd jobs when he is in need of cash.  By all means, Ayr is bad for the consumer economy.  He is a free spirit that does not offer the suburban white-picket-fence American Dream to some mate.

There is an alternative to working like a dog or like a criminal, or going on the dole and being malnourished: it is simply mass cooperation and mutual support.  It is also known as traditional community living.  Before having to work to buy food, humanity relied on village-based household industry and bartering.  Bartering is far older than paying for food, and the old system comprises maybe 99% of our time as a species on the planet.  Paying for food that is locked up is a recent system that maintains our modern enslavement and gross inequities.

People in modern society are indoctrinated at an early age to believe we are living in a time of steady progress since brutish cave-man living.  Today, the idea of growing one's own food is commonly considered low-class or quaint.  How much better for the economy to drive up in a fancy car, shell out cash for instant eats, and then go isolate oneself in front of the television (for four hours a day, the U.S. average).

When that American Dream seems unworkable to enough people, we will see a peaceful transformation to a reasonable, sustainable system—if we act soon.  Shouldn't the U.S. look at its food future now, instead of blindly going shopping and counting on factory farming and its attendant massive petroleum inputs?

Plants are nourishing, healing and help spread love among us.  One last story:  I introduced my lemon balm to a lily grower at the farmers market, and because of the herb's beautiful smell, it got me a lily which I planted for Mothers Day—even though the lily grower had never seen the herb before.  May lemon balm tea replace soda pop and bring you lilies and more!


Copyright in U.S. by Jan Lundberg 2002

For a ten-step program for sustainable living and growing food, visit the Culture Change website's page on climate protection, at:

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Articles of interest:
Measuring and controlling the actions of governments 

Anti-globalization protest grows, with tangible results. 
WTO protests page

Tax fossil-fuel energy easily
by Peter Salonius 

UK leader calls War on Terror "bogus"

Argentina bleeds toward healing by Raul Riutor

The oil industry has plans for you: blow-back by Jan Lundberg

It's not a war for oil? by Adam Khan

How to create a pedestrian mall by Michelle Wallar

The Cuban bike revolution

How GM destroyed the U.S. rail system excerpts from the film "Taken for a Ride".

"Iraqi oil not enough for US: Last days of America?"

Depaving the world by Richard Register

Roadkill: Driving animals to their graves by Mark Matthew Braunstein

The Hydrogen fuel cell technofix: Spencer Abraham's hydrogen dream.

Ancient Forest Protection in Northern California. Forest defenders climb trees to save them.

Daniel Quinn's thoughts on this website.

A case study in unsustainable development is the ongoing crisis in Palestine and Israel.

Renewable and alternative energy information.

Conserving energy at home (Calif. Title 24)

Culture Change/Sustainable Energy Institute mailing address: P.O. Box 3387 , Santa Cruz , California 95063 USA
  Telephone 1-215-243-3144 (and fax)

Culture Change (Trademarked) is published by Sustainable Energy Institute (formerly Fossil Fuels Policy Action), a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) California non-stock corporation. Contributions are tax-deductible.