Energy and the Future of Food

BlueberriesThe longest I have ever gone without eating was five days. I passed these days out on a friend’s land in northwest Vermont some years back, resting beneath a tarp and a layer of bug netting amidst swarms of mid-summer mosquitoes. I hoped that by filtering out some of the distractions that graced my life – not least among them food – I might enjoy some quiet reflection and figure a few things out. I gained from this adventure an intense appreciation for food and the myriad ways it nourished me, and at its heart this essay is a natural outgrowth of that experience. This essay is about food, but more than that it is about one of the many challenges we will face acquiring enough food over the coming decades: finding the energy we need to power the many processes we use in the service of food production.  Continue reading Energy and the Future of Food

Got Empathy?

BombIn a recent news article renown author and physicist Stephen Hawking was asked what feature he most wanted to magnify in people today. His answer was characteristically concise: “The quality I would most like to magnify is empathy.” Empathy is commonly defined as the capability to understand and share the feelings of another. Hawking saw empathy as the natural antidote to aggression, which he views as the single greatest threat to humanity. We possess technologies that can be amazingly destructive, among them nuclear weapons. A major nuclear war, Hawking believes, could mean the extinction of the human race. Only by calming our trigger fingers with a heightened sense of empathy can we persevere.  Continue reading Got Empathy?

Beyond a Blind Date with Science

AlanAldaFebruary 2nd was a cold, snowy Monday in northern Vermont. Flights in and out of the airport were cancelled and the public school system closed while plows toiled to keep roads passable. Despite the inclement weather, actor, director and science enthusiast Alan Alda arrived at the University of Vermont to offer a late afternoon lecture titled Helping the Public Get Beyond a Blind Date with Science. The talk was well attended, not only because Alda is a noteworthy celebrity but also because his theater and acting background all but guaranteed a fun and engaging experience.  Continue reading Beyond a Blind Date with Science

The Road From Selma

SelmaA bit over a week ago I saw the best movie I’ve had the pleasure of watching in ages. The movie was Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay and starring David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, among others. I found the film overwhelming, not only due to its subject matter (it chronicles the political tensions and personal stories of those involved in the march from Selma, Alabama to the state’s capital of Montgomery in 1965 to protest the barriers the state erected to prevent African-Americans from registering to vote), but also because of the bigotry and hatred it portrayed some of the white antagonists as having. I left the theater angry, not because I thought the ticket a poor investment – it was the best $9.75 I’ve spent in a long time – but because it reminded me of how perilously short the strides made in the United States have been with respect to institutional racism.  Continue reading The Road From Selma

Thinking of Plants

Poison IvyYears ago, while walking north along a trail not far from my home, something drew my attention to the carpet of green on my right. Knowing the area was littered with wild strawberries I scanned the ground hoping perhaps I’d glimpsed a ripe berry in my peripheral vision. Rather than finding tasty edibles, I instead found a plant I knew all too well. As I knelt a safe distance from a sizable patch of poison ivy, this plant, one that had been the bane of my existence all of my life, that had even sent me to the hospital on one occasion, offered me an invitation that would change my life.  Continue reading Thinking of Plants

Genetically Modified Escalation

Vandana ShivaThis past Sunday, author and activist Vandana Shiva paid my hometown of Burlington, Vermont a visit. She praised Vermont’s GMO labeling law (Act 120), which the state legislature passed earlier this year and the governor promptly signed. I couldn’t attend Shiva’s talk in person but watched a recording, and quickly appreciated why she’s so revered by her supporters: she’s a superb speaker; emphatic, animated, sharp as a razor and fierce in her delivery. Her poise and confidence while standing behind the podium were something to behold.  Continue reading Genetically Modified Escalation

Cooked to Perfection

Michael PollanEach year the University of Vermont chooses a book that all first year undergraduates are expected to read. This year they chose Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, by Michael Pollan. If Pollan is anything, he’s certainly an excellent storyteller. As part of the curricula associated with Cooked, several groups teamed up to bring Michael Pollan to campus for a question and answer session and book signing this past Thursday evening, and I was lucky enough to attend the event.  Continue reading Cooked to Perfection

Equity and Access Finally on the Menu at Farm to Plate

Farm to Plate Network GatheringI spent this past Thursday and Friday attending the 2014 Vermont Farm to Plate Network Gathering, an event organized by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund to bring together people from throughout the Green Mountain State’s food sector. The Farm to Plate Network supports the Vermont Farm to Plate Initiative, a statewide push to, among other things, strengthen the state’s economy by expanding its food production, processing and distribution sectors, creating revenue for Vermont businesses and jobs for the state’s residents. My primary connection to the initiative is through the Energy Cross Cutting Team, a group charged with writing a section on energy use in Vermont’s food system for the Vermont Farm to Plate Strategic Plan. This assignment’s proved a bigger undertaking than we originally anticipated, but we’re plugging away at it.  Continue reading Equity and Access Finally on the Menu at Farm to Plate

Myths and Realities of the Paleo Diet

Bison calf suckling its motherThis past Thursday evening I found myself at a local health food store offering a lecture titled The Paleo Diet: Myths and Realities. The Paleo Diet advocates eating like paleolithic peoples supposedly did, avoiding grains, legumes, dairy products, refined sugars and oils, and processed foods more generally. I say ‘supposedly’ because the diet of people throughout the paleolithic was, if nothing else, variable. While refined sugars, oils and processed foods weren’t on the menu, evidence from fossilized dental plaque suggests grains and legumes very much were [1]. And while pre-agricultural peoples didn’t milk wild animals, when hunters killed lactating females the mammary glands, which contain the makings of milk, were likely consumed along with the rest of the animal.  Continue reading Myths and Realities of the Paleo Diet

Vermont Traditional Foods and Health Symposium

While I enjoyed traveling to the Regional Wise Traditions Conference put on by the Weston A. Price Foundation last weekend, the symposium I attended in Burlington and Shelburne this past weekend was more my style. For the last few years Shelburne Farms has organized and hosted the Vermont Traditional Foods and Health Symposium, which, this year, ran from Thursday evening through Saturday afternoon on September 25 – 27. The symposium was fantastic, and I thought I’d use this post to talk about it.  Continue reading Vermont Traditional Foods and Health Symposium