Archive for February, 2009

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: February Discussion Notes

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

I have yet to speak to anyone who was not impressed with Michael Pollan’s book.  To me, the reason we have been so affected by the information in his writings is largely due to the lack of access to such elsewhere.  A lifetime of corporate and government marketing informing us about what our food choices should be has left impaired our judgement.  We are left alienated from what producing and consuming food is really all about. Many thanks to Sandy and Kyle for sharing your thoughts and insights and inspirations.  Here are some major points and ideas that arose during our discussion this month:

Corn, corn, everywhere:

It was shocking to learn that on average 1/4 of all food sold in a super market contains corn.  Why?  The government has created, sustained and managed a surplus.  Sometimes the motives have been good, sometimes questionable (or worse).  Regardless, now our economy is tangled in it.  We all pay the price, farmers and consumers alike.

 In the United States, Pollan makes clear, we’re mostly fed by two things: corn and oil. We may not sit down to bowls of yummy petroleum, but almost everything we eat has used enormous amounts of fossil fuels to get to our tables. Oil products are part of the fertilizers that feed plants, the pesticides that keep insects away from them, the fuels used by the trains and trucks that transport them across the country, and the packaging in which they’re wrapped. We’re addicted to oil, and we really like to eat.

Oil underlines Pollan’s story about agribusiness, but corn is its focus. American cattle fatten on corn. Corn also feeds poultry, pigs and sheep, even farmed fish. But that’s just the beginning. In addition to dairy products from corn-fed cows and eggs from corn-fed chickens, corn starch, corn oil and corn syrup make up key ingredients in prepared foods. High-fructose corn syrup sweetens everything from juice to toothpaste. Even the alcohol in beer is corn-based. Corn is in everything from frozen yogurt to ketchup, from mayonnaise and mustard to hot dogs and bologna, from salad dressings to vitamin pills. “Tell me what you eat,” said the French gastronomist Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, “and I will tell you what you are.” We’re corn.

Each bushel of industrial corn grown, Pollan notes, uses the equivalent of up to a third of a gallon of oil. Some of the oil products evaporate and acidify rain; some seep into the water table; some wash into rivers, affecting drinking water and poisoning marine ecosystems. The industrial logic also means vast farms that grow only corn. When the price of corn drops, the solution, the farmer hopes, is to plant more corn for next year. The paradoxical result? While farmers earn less, there’s an over-supply of cheap corn, and that means finding ever more ways to use it up.(taken from

 What can we do?  Read labels, if there is no need for corn in the product that you are buying, don’t buy it.

 The American Feedlot:

In taking a closer look at where most meat comes from, one cannot look away unchanged.  Pollan purchases and follows the life of a feedlot cow.  In the process, he uncovers the environmental and ethical horrors of the process.

 What can we do?  Know where your meat comes from.  If cost is a factor, eat it less often, but buy the good stuff.  Buy from local, trustworthy sources such as Dave’s Meat and Produce on I St.  or The Meat Shop of Tacoma (, or my personal favorite option: don’t eat meat.

Know Your Alternatives:

The picture isn’t entirely bleak.  There are farms and communities that are getting it right.  Call it the slow food revolution, the organic lifestyle or living locally, there are many names for bringing food back to the basics.  Pollan closely follows farmer Joel Salatin to see farming is it was meant to be.  At Polyface Farms in Virginia Salatin follows the Principle “All Flesh is Grass”.  Joel considers himself a grass farmer or even more appropriately a sun farmer.  Ultimately, this is where all energy and life that grows for consumption is created.   To learn more about these amazing, pure and commonsense practices visit their website at


For most of us, other then picking blackberries from the roadside during the summer, the idea of foraging for food isn’t practical.  However, Kyle came up with a great idea for urban foraging. During the warm weather months, we all pass homes in our neighborhood (or elsewhere), that have saturated fruit trees that appear to be unattended.  Why not approach these home owners?  Maybe even offer to harvest their crop in exchange for a share.  In addition, plan a swap or share with friends and neighbors that you already know.  To take it one step further, contact a local farm and offer a work for food exchange.  There is free food to be found!

Sustainable Tacoma

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

This month The University of Puget Sound has a fantastic line-up of events, lectures focusing on sustainabilty.  On February 21, UPS hosted a sustainability expo. featuring earth friendly community groups, vendors and more.  If you missed the event, I have highlighted some of the participants bellow.  I was reassusring to see that we live among people who are passionate about making possitive changes in the environment.  Whether you are considering volunteering in a community group, making changes on your home front, or becoming more informed of your options, please check out the links bellow.

This was a family outing for us.  While the kids loved having the opportunity to “drive” the city bus and collect tattoos,  it was hard to stop at all of the booths.  I am certain that I missed out on some great information.  Here is a very short list of who was there, please leave a comment or email me with any of the “holes” that you can fill.

People For Puget Sound

We’re a citizens’ group established in 1991 by Kathy Fletcher to protect and restore the health of our land and waters through education and action. Our members, partners and volunteers are located throughout the Puget Sound basin. Our staff works out of offices in SeattleOlympia and Mount Vernon and our board of directors represents the communities we work in. 

Do you live in the South Sound?

Wet Wednesdays and South Sound Saturdays Restoration 

Want to get muddy, work hard and feel good? Dan Grosboll will have you whacking weeds, planting native species and mulching to your heart’s content.  He’ll provide the tools, training and snacks.

  • 10:00am – 3:00pm
  • For details and directions: Dan Grosboll

 Tacoma-Pierce County BUILT GREEN

For a list of members visit

Parent Organization
Master Builders Association of Pierce County

Area Served
Pierce County – unincorporated areas and 23 cities within the County

To work in partnership to create safer, healthier and more efficient homes, reduce impacts of construction and development, and improve and protect the valuable community and natural resources of Tacoma and Pierce County. We will achieve this by:

Using a voluntary, market-driven approach

Delivering a credible standard for home construction that reflects the Master Builders Association’s commitment to building better communities through environmental responsibility

Providing information and education to enhance the capacity of our design and building professionals to employ effective technologies, products, and practices to achieve the standard

Actively promoting the features and benefits of these practices to homebuyers, making BUILT GREEN™ the preferred consumer standard.

E-Cycle Washington is a new program that provides responsible recycling of computers, monitors and TVs in our state. As of January 2009, electronics manufacturers in Washington will take responsibility for recycling these products.

Recycling is provided free of charge to households, small businesses, school districts, small governments and charities at authorized collection sites.

 Tacoma Power

From the fish in the streams to the kids in our schools – environmental stewardship is an important part of what we do at Tacoma Power.

Learn about our:

Formerly Pioneer organics, Spud is an online grocer that focuses on local and organic products.  The website makes it easy to research the food that you are buying and the farms and companies that produce them.  Anything that is produced in the NW is marked “local” and there are links to all of the company web pages.  Though the prices are more then conventional non-organics, I found them to be competitive with Marlene’s and often better the Metropolitan Market.  I just placed my first order and was really excited about the prospect of shopping for the bulk of my groceries online.  Delivery is free on orders over $35 orders. There is, however, a deposit on delivery bins (somewhere around $8, I think).  save $25 spread over the first 3 orders by using the promo code Local 9.