Sunday, August 31, 2008

Police Action

Yesterday, as usual, was a long day of preserving. Toward the end, as we were exhausted and getting ready for some down-time, we were alerted to a serious situation going on.

The Republican National Convention will be descending on this town (has been descending), starting tomorrow. Of course given the last 8 years there are a lot of people upset about the Republicans and politics in general. One group in particular, the RNC Welcoming Committee, has been planning some disruption and protesting for at least a year - and I'm sure there are other groups planning protests as well.

So last night we got a call that a Friend from meeting had taken sanctuary because she feared her arrest was imminent. The St. Paul police had decided to do a preventive strike against these "dangerous criminals/terrorists" (something like that), round up the leaders of the Welcoming Committee, arrest them, and charge them with conspiracy to riot.

Of course it wasn't just the St. Paul police on their own that decided this. It's kind of become the way the current administration deals with dissent. The Friend we know is a pacifist and agrees that perhaps she doesn't agree with all the tactics of this group - but I find it hard to call them "dangerous criminals". I certainly don't think it was necessary to break down doors to arrest people. I don't think it was necessary to stop people on the street, handcuff them and get them face-down on the ground - only to release them after questioning.

My friends, this is all about fear. They're trying to get us scared enough that we don't protest, don't carry signs, don't pay attention to what the government is doing, and don't say anything about it.

Ironically, this action has made Jeremy and I more interested in attending the march tomorrow!

I know this probably sounds weird coming from me, especially since I'm so averse to conflict. And I'm also not very knowledgeable about civil disobedience, riots, protests, marches, sit-ins, walk-outs, etc. Honestly, over the past eight years I've become more and more disenchanted with these forms of communicating to the government. Did any of them stop Bush from doing just what he wanted? If every citizen in the entire US signed a petition or marched, would that stop Bush from doing something? I kind of don't think so - which is sad and scary.

Perhaps that's what the "audacity of hope" is all about. Though I feel a bit disenchanted about the government, perhaps things can be turned around. Perhaps we can put an end to war. Perhaps we can put an end to unnecessary extreme poverty, to malnutrition, to giant corporations running the world, to bad government, etc! Maybe that's naive, but I don't care.

So Jeremy and I did our part in the story that has unfolded the past two days. A number of people stayed overnight in the meetinghouse to show solidarity and support for members of the Welcoming Committee. Jeremy and I woke up early this morning, gathered some supplies, and got to the meetinghouse around 6:30. Then we whipped up a breakfast of blueberry pancakes, fresh-baked bread, home-made jelly, and bunch of oven-baked tomatoes, potatoes, and carmelized onions sprinkled liberally with herbs from our garden. It was wonderful to be able to support Friends in this way, with something that we are gifted at. Today the kitchen, tomorrow the RNC!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Preservation update

I haven't posted about any preservation activities since July - but that doesn't mean we haven't been spending every weekend slaving in a hot, humid kitchen with all four burners going, canning and drying and blanching and freezing from morning till night. 'Cause, that's what we've been doing...

When I came back from Iowa Yearling Meeting Jeremy was just putting the finishing touches on his weekend project: curried bread & butter pickles, cauliflower chipotle pickles, and a few jars of red cauliflower and garlic...

In following weekends we dried a ton of our cherry tomatoes from our garden...

... made some chicken stock from chicken feet we bought at the farmer's market (we called it chicken jello when it was done - so gelatinous!)...

...we bought a ton of rattlesnake beans, shelled, blanched, and froze them...

...we bought a ton of edamame on the bush, blanched and froze them...

...Jeremy made some beautiful sun-dried tomatoes in the oven...

...we made corn relish with a ton of sweet corn we picked up at the farmer's market...

...Jeremy picked another huge batch of crab apples from the neighbors tree and we made a ton of apple jelly.

Today we picked up about 30 pounds of tomatoes at the market, which we'll combine with the pounds of tomatoes that came in the CSA and we'll probably can some, freeze some, make some salsa, make some ketchup, make some tomato paste....

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Local Quiche

I think quiche is one of our favorite meals. Perhaps because there are so many variations, perhaps because you can throw in so many greens, perhaps because it is so rich, or perhaps because we make it so well (just to toot our own horn).

It's also a great partnership meal for us, since I make the crust and Jeremy does the rest. But we're both equally capable of making the whole thing on our own. Here, in photos, is the recipe and details for the quiche I made last week.

The Crust

Of course you can just buy a crust from the store, but it's much better to make your own. We can usually get three quiche crusts out of the following recipe and the leftover dough can be kept in the freezer. I got this recipe from my mom. It was one of those emergency-recipe-question calls where I had volunteered to make dinner for the house and I just wasn't sure what recipe to use and I needed help! My mom probably pulled this out of a cookbook I have a copy of, but for some reason I still trust this handwritten recipe more: scribbled on two sheets of lined paper, barely stuck together at the top with the remnants of the rubbery bit that holds together these note pads; random notes; stained with different food bits and spills; and some of the words nearly gone. Here it is, in all it's glory, as originally written down:

2 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp fresh herbs (rosemary, sage, oregano - chopped really fine) or 1-2 tsp dried
8 tblsp unsalted cold butter
6 tblsp vege shortening or margarine
5-6 tblsp ice water (2 tblsp vinegar or lemon juice to one cup water)

flour, salt, herb; blend in butter, etc. sprinkle water 1-2 tblsp at a time
when a ball - its enough
knead a little, divide; flatten; wrap airtight; fridge 30+ min; roll out, put in pan
prick w/ fork
line w/ foil; put in beans - 12 minutes 375 degrees
lose foil + beans; bake 5 min

I know - it's amazing that I use the recipe, it hardly makes sense! It's actually quite easy and I'll explain it a bit more now - but I just had to share that silly recipe I wrote down.

1. Measure a cup of cold water and add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Put this in the fridge or freezer till you're ready for it.
2. In a bowl, mix the flour, salt, and herbs. (Note - if you don't put in the herbs you can use the dough for pies as well.)
3. Work the butter and shortening into the dough - with forks, pastry cutter thing, or grate the stuff in (but do use BOTH butter AND shortening).
4. Sprinkle the cold lemon water over the flour mix a few tablespoons at a time and mix the dough up. When it all comes together and you can make a ball, stop adding water. The recipe says 5-6 tablespoons of water, but that's an outrageous lie. It takes more than that, but the amount depends on your flour (I think). I use whole wheat pastry flour and it seems to need a lot of water to keep it all sticking together. But add it a little at a time!
5. You can knead the dough a little bit, but I don't think I do that. Any kneading I do happens in the process of getting the dough to stick together, dividing it into two parts, forming balls, and then flattening those a bit.
6. Once you've got those dough balls, wrap them up in plastic wrap or plastic bags and put them in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
7. Take your dough out, roll it out to the thickness you like and fit it into your quiche pan.
8. Prick the bottom with a fork - this keeps it from forming giant air bubbles when it pre-bakes.

9. Here is where I start to diverge from the original recipe. Preheat the oven to 45o degrees.
10. Line your crust with foil and pour in some dry beans, like garbanzos, or other things to weigh down the crust. This also keeps it flat - though sometimes I wonder if its necessary. I do it anyway. Bake in preheated oven for 5 minutes. After this, take out the foil and beans (or whatever) and you're ready to put in the quiche ingredients (which hopefully you've been working on while the dough was chilling and pre-cooking).

(Local ingredients here are the butter, flour, and herbs from our garden.)

The Filling

The filling can be just about anything. Jeremy is a big fan of the Quiche Lorraine recipe in his beloved, and battered, New York Times Cookbook.

We use the amounts listed for the milk, eggs, etc - but as for the filling, we kind of make that up each time depending on what we have.

1. Fry up some bacon in your trusty cast iron skillet, then set the bacon aside. (Bacon courtesy of a local food co-op we visited while we were driving here in March! It's been in the freezer.)

2. Leave the bacon juices in the pan and saute some garlic tips (spears, whatever they're called). Remove the garlic tips and set them aside. (Garlic tips courtesy of our local Farmer's Market.)

3. In the same pan (or another, whatever you prefer), slice up one onion and saute it till it is wonderfully carmelized and a bit translucent. (Onion courtesy of our CSA...or farmer's market...)

4. Rinse and remove the stems from a bunch of greens and chop these up. Add these to the onions, add a little chicken broth (if necessary) and steam the greens till they're done. (Variety of chard and kale courtesy of our garden out back.)

5. While those are steaming, mix the following:
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper (we just grate fresh black pepper in)

(Dairy courtesy of several local dairies.)

6. Grate 1 cup of Gruyere cheese and 1/4 cup of Parmesan (Uh - the Gruyere is local, but the Parmigiano Reggiano is straight from Italy.)

7. To your pre-baked quiche crust, spread in the garlic tips.

8. Then crumble up the bacon and add that, as well as the onions and greens. (I harvested most of ours and they cooked down to almost nothing. You can put in a whole lot more if you like, and if you end up with extra milk/egg mix that doesn't fit, you can just bake that in a little container on the side.)

9. Then the cheeses.

10. Then strain the milk/egg mixture over the rest of the ingredients.

11. Bake for 15 minutes (at 450), then reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake until a knife inserted one inch from the pastry edge comes out clean.

This recipe claims that amount of time will be 10 minutes longer and my mom's recipe claims a short baking time too, but we've never had one cook in less than about an hour. So give yourself lots of time and cover the quiche with foil if it's starting to get really brown on top but still not all the way cooked. With this quiche I waited till it was set a bit and added a bunch of halved cherry tomatoes (courtesy of our garden out back). I wish I'd added more - they were excellent!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Beans, beans, the American fruit...

Whenever I think or say the word "beans" I think of this little rhyme and am reminded of my grandpa. He used to recite this rhyme (at the dinner table no less!) when we were little:
Beans, beans, the American fruit
The more you eat, the more you toot
The more you toot, the better you feel
So eat some beans at every meal!
I'm sure my grandma shook her head and glared at him, but it made he and us kids laugh. I don't know where this rhyme came from (and there are many versions), but I'm pretty sure it's not actually talking about green beans.

But that's what I'm talking about. Green beans. And peas. And lima beans. Or (in all categories), lack thereof.

Our sweet peas pretty much stopped producing and dried up. I just removed the dead stalks yesterday and piled them in the compost bin. I thought they would have produced more, but perhaps they didn't like their environment.

Our half-dozen lima bean plants that survived have actually produced lima beans! In the end we'll probably end up with a half dozen or dozen actual lima bean pods. I'm sure that will make a tasty side dish for one meal.

Our rattlesnake beans have been producing the most enormous, colorful beans ever. But for some reason, the whole crop is now dropping all its leaves and any beans left growing on the vine are dying.

Our scarlet runner beans and blue lake pole beans are growing up over the garage roof! Or at least trying. They are huge and seem to be doing well, except for the problem that they haven't produced a single bean yet. The scarlet runners have managed to push out a few blooms now and then (though they're at least 8 or 10 feet up there!) and I noticed the first blooms on the blue lakes just today. I just don't know if we're going to get any beans off of these before fall and winter set in.

It's kind of sad and disappointing, but we're not too worried. We just keep saying: it's an experiment. We did a soil test, but we still weren't really sure how the soil was, what the conditions would be, if the plants that needed it would get enough sun, etc. We're making plans for next year's crop already.

It might include bush beans because those have been doing pretty well - the half of the crop that came up anyway. We've had several meals with sides of fresh picked, steamed green beans or marinated, barbecued green beans and they are quite tasty.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Never again?

(I started writing this at Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative while I was listening to a talk about things going on in Israel/Palestine.)

Dear world, especially the US,

Don't you remember? Don't you remember Rwanda? Do you remember almost a million people killed, brutally, in just 100 days? Do you remember how the world turned our backs and let it happen? Do you remember how ashamed we were and how we said "never again"? Never again!

We first said that after the genocide of the Holocaust. And then we said 'never again' after Darfur, Cambodia, Guatemala, Bosnia, etc...

Well, we're letting it happen again! In fact, we're part of it, allowing it, funding it. We're allowing Israel to occupy Palestine, kill their people, drop bombs, kill their children, take away their homes, burn their farms, build a wall to separate them. We're allowing this!

Yes, Palestinians are fighting back, but the violence of an oppressed people is different than the violence of oppressors (not that I think violence in any case is the answer). Media would have us believe that the conflict is equal, equal killings and loss, or they would convince us Palestinians are far worse than the Israelis. But evidence doesn't support that view.

I thought we said never again? Never again would we sit by while a people group was targeted, killed, pushed out, denied human rights.

Why are we allowing this to happen again?

Paul Rusesabagina (made known in the movie Hotel Rwanda), said the following in a BBC article:

"The most abused words are 'never again'.
When they were saying that in 1994, it was happening again and again and again and again. So 'never again' to me is not enough."

Perhaps "never again" isn't enough.

Friday, August 8, 2008


Another thing I gave more thought to while at Iowa Yearly Meeting was the idea of local food. Jeremy and I have been working toward this since moving here - thus all the gardening, canning, making jam, the CSA, and shopping at the farmer's market.

I was pleased that the Peace & Social Concerns committee included a bit about local food in their minute:
"Our eating habits also should be considered. It is estimated that the food for an average American meal travels 1500 miles from the farm to the consumer. Studies have shown that the livestock industry contributes more to greenhouse gas emissions than transportation does. We need to eat locally grown food whenever possible. Community garden plots, community supported agriculture, and re-learning how to preserve foods will help, as will reducing meat consumption."

A day or so later I was reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (a book I've been hearing about forever!) and read some disturbing things about the nature of our food. Kingsolver talks about how we as a nation have moved away from being agricultural (lots of us anyway) and our food is produced in massive amounts by massive farms. This means some pretty oily food:
"We're consuming about 400 gallons of oil a year per citizen...for agriculture... Tractors, combines, harvesters, irrigation, sprayers, tillers, balers, and other equipment all use petroleum. Even bigger gas guzzlers on the farm are ...the inputs: synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides use oil and natural gas as their starting materials and in their manufacturing. ...
Getting the crop from seed to harvest takes only one-fifth of the total oil used for our food. The lion's share is consumed during the trip from the farm to your plate. Each food item in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1500 miles."
Add to that CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations - which you can read about in Omnivore's Dilemma) where animals are treated pretty badly and have to have lots of drugs to keep them "healthy" because of the conditions they're in; and enormous farms growing only one crop: monocultures of corn and soybeans. (The monocultures, by the way, are bad for bees, who also need a balanced diet. But they're not just disappearing because of monocultures, it's also all the chemicals the seeds and plants are bathed in.)

Interestingly, because of all these fertilizers and pesticides and whatnot, "U.S. farmers now produce 3,900 calories per U.S. citizen, per day. That is twice what we need..." How do you get Americans to eat all this extra food? Super size me. Packaging is bigger, portions are bigger, everything is bigger (including us!). Some people in the food industry (or somewhere) thought that with this great advancement in technology we could solve the problem of starvation in the world. We could grow enough food for everyone! And so it appears that we are (or are part of a worldwide system that can). But people are still starving around the world. I suppose the reasons are complicated and don't have to do at all with lack of food, but people not being able to afford to buy food. Things are going to get more difficult with rising oil prices. A recent New York Times article notes that the cost of shipping things is "crimping" globalization. It costs a lot more to ship food from other parts of the world here, or to send our food to other countries to be processed before coming back here to be sold.

I did find out recently what happens to some extra food. It goes to the landfills.
There is a great new article from Grist that gives some history about how we got to where we are.

But enough about why we're here and how we got here. We're here. So what now? So now: back to being local. Back to growing gardens, joining a community garden if you don't have yard space, joining a CSA. Back to canning and preserving, freezing and drying, making jam, and storing things away. Back to knowing where your food came from, even the name of the farmer that grew it.

It's an incredible learning curve I have to say. As Kingsolver puts it, people used to know (to just know) when the first and last frost dates were, what they could grow in their area, when to harvest things, how to preserve, how long things kept, and on, and on! They didn't have to rely on half a dozen books, the internet, and late-night/early-morning phone calls to mom like we do.

So we're learning these things again and honestly, it's really exciting! It's also a lot of work and can be tiring and stressful. But, as I've said before, it's wonderful to run out to the back yard and pick tomatoes or lettuce or beans for dinner. And fresh tomatoes just smell so wonderful! And there is such a sense of accomplishment looking at our growing stockpile of canned and frozen things (pictures on that soon!).

This trend of eating locally, gardening, etc is growing around the nation (just keep an eye on your local paper) and I have a feeling it will soon be a necessity, not just an interesting hobby. Don't worry if you've never planted a seed, never done u-pick, or never canned a thing in your life. Jeremy & I (and scores of others) will be there to help.

p.s. wondering what "locavore" means?
- from wikipedia
- how to become a locavore

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Alternative transportation

While at IYM-C I picked up a brochure from Quaker Earthcare Witness titled "Traveling Gently on the Earth: What Would John Woolman Drive?"

As Woolman traveled around the US preaching against slavery he often went by foot refusing to use horse-drawn coaches, saying "So great is the hurry in the spirit of this world that in aiming to do business quickly, and to gain wealth, the creation at this day doth loudly groan." And that was in the 18th century!

In the 21st century:
  • Thousands of tons of car-related chemicals are washed into waterways and aquifers annually
  • 63 million tires were dumped in 1996, adding to 800 million tires already in dumps. Tires are breeding grounds for mosquitoes and are a fire hazard.
  • Vehicles kill thousands of pedestrians and over a million animals every year.
  • The US consumes 26% of the worlds petroleum; 43% of this energy is used for cars and trucks
  • Motor vehicles account for 33% of carbon dioxide emissions, a major contributor to global warming
  • In urban areas, road surfaces cover about 1/5 of available land.
Of course the list goes on. (Thanks Quaker Earthcare Witness!)

As friend Jedidiah commented the other day, perhaps we do still need cars. But there are a lot of things we can do to cut down on our usage of them.
I do have to say, about the Priuses, that just getting a Prius and driving it around as much as you would a 'normal' car isn't the answer. Some Friends spoke to this at IYM-C and Friend Carl had a whole lot to say about it a few months ago.

But, what happens if you have to travel greater distances? Air travel has become ubiquitous but it costs more than just the ticket price. There is a lot of fuel involved in this option as well.

I'd like to take a stand here for train travel. I rode Amtrak up and down the Puget Sound from Seattle to Portland and Salem for years. It was usually an enjoyable way to spend 4 or 5 (or 6+) hours: watching a movie, meeting new people, catching a nap, enjoying the scenery, not stressing out about the traffic, reading books, doing homework. I even worked on a quilt one time!

However, the state of train travel in this country sucks. A recent article in Good Magazine, Train in Vain, spells out some details. A few juicy details:
  • Rail service is impractical because most of the time, it’s cheaper and faster to drive or fly.
  • Rail service is unreliable because more often than not, the trains are really, really late.
  • In Europe, reliable high-speed routes are now being connected across the continent: the French TGV regularly hits 200 mph; the Eurostar zooms the 300 miles from Paris to London in just 2 hours and 15 minutes; in Japan, the Shinkansen has been zipping along at 130 mph since 1964—1964!—and the island nation’s most popular long-distance intercity route serves 385,000 passengers daily.
  • America’s trophy system, the high-speed Acela..., peaks at 150 mph for two short lengths of track, which total a meager 18 miles.
  • Despite having the largest rail network of any country in the world... in terms of passenger miles, the United States ranks below not only France and Japan, but also below under-developed countries such as Egypt, Pakistan, and Indonesia.
  • George Chilson, president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers (and a lot of other people) sees the railroads as a priority for America, as a solution to congestion and rising gas prices.
  • Per passenger mile, an Amtrak train uses about half the energy of an airplane, and can carry twice the number of people. It’s also the passenger-carrying equivalent of 16 lanes of highway.
  • Though Amtrak is entirely owned by the U.S. government, funded at the government’s discretion, and has its leadership appointed by the president and subject to Senate approval, it still has a mandate to achieve profitability and financial independence.
  • Those of you thinking about which candidate to vote for, McCain has been a vocal critic of the rail system.
  • And sadly, Amtrak, too poor to own nearly any of the rails that it runs on, operates on borrowed infrastructure, using tracks owned by private freight companies who are legally bound to let Amtrak roll on their rails, but little else. Meaning that when a freight train needs to get by, Amtrak waits.
For shorter distance rides, it's hard to beat Amtrak. But long-distance is another story. A round-trip ticket from Portland, OR to Minneapolis is about $245. This beats airfare for sure. But, your train leaves at 4 in the evening and doesn't arrive till two days later, early in the morning. That means two nights sleeping in those train seats. If you want a tiny roomette so you can lie down and sleep more comfortably for those nights, that will set you back $200 - $500. So your total may climb closer to $1500!!

I support Amtrak, and I am looking for ways to support massive improvements to the system. I hope someday we will have an excellent and speedy train system, more options for when to travel (trains only leave Minneapolis once a day), and I would hope the price wouldn't be so outrageous. The price of transportation should reflect the true cost of resources and in that sense, air travel should be more expensive than train travel!

If you want to help now, here is information from NARP on the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

What would John Woolman do?

Hello faithful readers! Last week I was in Iowa at the annual sessions of Iowa Yearly Meeting Conservative. I had a great time, though enduring heat, incredible humidity, and swarms of bugs.

My mind is full and racing with all the things I learned, new ideas and connections, and new energy. So for the next little bit I'll be sharing some of the things that came out of Yearly Meeting.

First of all, a minute that was approved late in the week. I was so impressed with this statement. It was crafted by a subcommittee of the Peace & Social Concerns Committee and I believe they've been working on it for at least a year. Read on...

Humanity is no longer in a right relationship with God's creation. Because of our numbers and the way many of us live, we are using resources and impacting the environment in ways that cannot be sustained, the primary example being our dependence upon fossil fuels. Society’s consciousness of this has recently been heightened by rapidly increasing oil prices. People are becoming aware that the way of living that we have become accustomed to cannot continue. If we don't make changes voluntarily, they will be forced upon us.

There has been an unspoken assumption that it is acceptable for developed countries to use a disproportionate amount of resources compared to underdeveloped countries. As oil supplies dwindle and prices soar, there is a growing potential for conflict to arise world-wide over remaining oil supplies. Vast resources are required, not only to produce personal automobiles, but for the infrastructure to support them, including highway systems, parking, car washes, supply stores, repair shops, auto insurance, licenses, sales lots, highway patrol, and gas stations. Exhaust from all types of vehicles contributes to greenhouse gases and global warming.

Our communities are built on the assumption that we all have the means to travel great distances to get food, go to school, work, and meeting. This has an enormous impact on oil supplies.

Friends could help provide leadership by redesigning our communities and lifestyles in such a way that we can forego automobiles. Improved systems of inter- and intra-city mass transportation will be one key to this. There are organizations working to expand and improve rail passenger transportation. Creating more bicycle trails and encouraging the use of bicycles is important.

The challenge of giving up automobiles is much greater in rural than urban areas but the factors at work are the same. If those who do have alternatives to personal automobiles would use them, it would help those who need more time and resources to develop their own alternatives.

The ease and relatively low cost of long distance travel by air has led to a sense that rapid travel over long distances is normal and acceptable. This has made the air travel industry a major contributor to global climate change. Friends are encouraged to avoid air travel and to work to reduce the need for long distance travel. We need to explore ways to do business remotely. This is a new area that will require trial and error to see what does and does not work for us.

Our eating habits also should be considered. It is estimated that the food for an average American meal travels 1500 miles from the farm to the consumer. Studies have shown that the livestock industry contributes more to greenhouse gas emissions than transportation does. We need to eat locally grown food whenever possible. Community garden plots, community supported agriculture, and re-learning how to preserve foods will help, as will reducing meat consumption.

Friends are encouraged to work with the Friends Committee on National Legislation, and their local, state, and national representatives to help pass environmentally responsible legislation, including government support for improved mass transportation, and blocking construction of new coal and nuclear fission power plants. We have seen the unintended side effects of legislation promoting the increased use of ethanol.

We encourage Friends to be examples as we explore creative ways to promote renewable energy, reduce energy consumption, recycle, and facilitate the use of local foods and products. There is an urgent need to curb oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions dramatically, right now. Until some of these physical and social changes occur, it may be difficult for some Friends to give up their cars. Doing so as soon as possible is our goal, and could be a catalyst for change of the magnitude needed to reduce the current rate of environmental damage.

I understand the Earthcare committee (who crafted this) met over the year by email or phone only and never met face-to-face until they gathered at Yearly Meeting last week. Way to live what you're preaching!

A number of these Friends led an interest group earlier in the week that talked specifically about giving up our cars and using alternative transportation, like bicycling. Part of what led them to this thought was, "what would John Woolman do?"

John Woolman was an 18th century Quaker who took on a concern about slavery. In his mid-twenties he became convinced that slavery was wrong - even though it was practiced by everyone, even Quakers, at the time. He traveled among Friends in the US talking to everyone about his beliefs. The story goes that Quakers as a whole were eventually convinced of this as well and Quakers freed their slaves 100 years before the government abolition of slavery.

So, seeing our dependence on cars and oil and the damage being caused to the environment, the question is: should Quakers be the first to give up their cars?

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Make Wealth History

In recent months I have come across several fascinating articles – all of them from The Ecologist.

There have been some great articles about the economy and the environment and consumerism. I could (and may) go on at length, but one idea in particular stuck with me and keeps coming up again.

It came from a very brief article called “How to be Free: The last untapped resource.” The author argued that we shouldn’t be trying to end poverty – but instead we should be putting an end to wealth. I’ve spent the last year or two studying international aid, economic development, microfinance development, and lots of theories about how to lift people out of poverty. One of the things I learned about was absolute poverty versus relative poverty. Absolute poverty is that extreme poverty where you don’t have the essentials of life: food, water, a place to live. Relative poverty is more about how poor you feel compared to others. If we all live in one bedroom houses and have enough food to eat, we probably feel fine. But if someone builds a mansion in our neighborhood we feel a lot poorer.

We should definitely put an end to absolute poverty. I hope eventually no one will go hungry or thirsty. I hope eventually everyone will have access to housing, health care, education, and jobs. But we don’t all (in fact none of us) need to own mansions, $20,000 cars, the latest electronic gadget, and things like that.

After all, argues the author of this article, what does it mean to end poverty? It means the poor of the world will be able to afford to buy stuff! But all 6.4 billion of us cannot live at the incredible high levels set by western countries, especially the US. That shouldn’t mean that we in the US continue at these levels while the poor become poorer and poorer. We in the western countries and the US need to reduce our levels of wealth.

The author, Tom Hodgkinson, says it better:
“The first thing you do with a little money is start to consume oil. You also buy more stuff, more plastics and more of the output of the industrial society…. The gradual elimination of poverty would mean that global demand for oil would rise… This means…that wealth is ecologically damaging. It is not eco-friendly. And it means poverty is eco-friendly.
“So when we talk glibly about our desire to end poverty, we need to reflect a little more carefully on what that means. In actual fact, one way to avoid environmental catastrophe would not be to end poverty but to end wealth. It is wealth, not poverty, that makes the problem. A self-sufficient subsistence life may look to us like poverty, but if people have all they need and enjoy life, what is wrong with being poor?”

I’ve been mulling this over for some time and then ran across another article in The Ecologist. This one seemed benign, just an interview with the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard. Patagonia is an outdoor wear company and they’ve been involved in recycling and organic cotton and other great earth-friendly programs for years. The green movement has no doubt been helpful to them. But then I read Chouinard’s last comment: “There is no doubt that we’re not going to save the world by buying organic food and clothes – it will be by buying less.”

I’m all for electric cars, solar and wind power, recycled and reused materials, organic everything, green this, earth-friendly that, and so on. But… is it possible we could cause just as much damage consuming vast quantities of green products? Maybe it would take longer, but overconsumption is overconsumption.

It’s nice that I can sit on my couch in my lovely apartment and blog about the virtues of poverty. But most people who are poor don’t see it as a good thing (and I’ve been there so I think I can talk). The point of making wealth history is that those of us who are wealthy need to take a look at ourselves. We need to forget about the Joneses and what everyone else thinks. If we aren’t happy with a house full of stuff and crushing debt, we need to do something about that. We need to remember the difference between need versus want. Perhaps we need to (as another Ecologist article suggests) downshift. We need a worldwide cultural shift – where downshifting, poverty, simplicity, and living with less are valued and the norm. Where working 60 hours a week and consuming as much as possible is looked down upon and is definitely not the norm.

Jeremy and I have been talking and thinking about this a lot lately – so stay tuned. We’ll be back with more thoughts on this…