Category Archives: Environment


I just finished reading “A Warming Planet Struggles to Feed Itself” written by Justin Gillis and published in the New York Times on June 4, 2011. The title pretty much gives you the gist of this long but very worthwhile piece. Gillis notes how weather disasters are responsible for failed harvests all across the planet. For example: Floods in the United States, drought in Australia, and extreme heat waves in Europe and Russia. Farmers all over the world, from Mexico to India, are seeing their crops damaged by “emerging pests and diseases and by blasts of heat beyond anything they remember.” Most scientists believe that climate change is, by and large, responsible for this and that climate change is “helping” to destabilize Earth’s food system.

As a result, consumption of wheat, rice, corn, and soybeans—the foods that pretty much feed the world—has outstripped production for most of the past decade. Stockpiles are going down. Prices are going up, pinching those of us in rich countries and bringing hunger to millions of people in poor countries.

According to agricultural experts, in the upcoming decades farmers “will need to withstand whatever climate shocks come their way while roughly doubling the amount of food they produce to meet rising demand.” (The population is projected to reach 10 billion by the end of the century.) At the same time, farmers also need to reduce the environmental damage that can come with farming. To produce more food while causing less environmental damage is a tall order indeed.

While Gillis expresses the hope that we can develop crops to meet the challenges brought by climate change—there is a type of rice that can withstand floods by waiting until the water recedes before germinating—there is no denying that this is a sobering article. Who knows what the eventual outcome will be? None of us can see into the future. Maybe ingenuity, creativity, and innovation will help us get through the approaching era of climate chaos and an ever-increasing population. I sure hope so.

I just wish that the leaders of the world would take this problem more seriously, that they would start addressing the problem right now, this minute, and not delay the way they usually do.



Bread CartoonThe project: To bake and give away at least one loaf of bread each week in 2011.

The reason: A personal protest against the rampant selfishness of our society.

The bonus: It’s good spiritual practice.

From now on, I’ve decided I will write a monthly Let Them Eat Bread Report. Somehow, it seems better to combine them and give a monthly bread count rather than a weekly report and count. (I reserve the right to change my mind, of course.)

In April I gave one loaf of bread to Jenn Currier, whom I’ve already written about; two loaves to my daughter Shannon and her husband, Mike, who continue to be quite the bread recipients; and one loaf to Judy and Paul Johnson, who recently returned from their travels to the Southwest.

We met Judy and Paul at The Senator Restaurant in Augusta, where I could order fish and chips for an upcoming article in Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine. (How I love to combine things!) Paul and Judy spoke about the Southwest, and no talk of this region can avoid the subject of water and how little there is to go around. In specific, the Colorado River is being diverted by the United States for various uses—electricity, agriculture, drinking water—so that little of it reaches the natural end of its run—Mexico, which desperately needs the water, too. According to, only 10 percent of the water in the Colorado River reaches the border of Mexico, with the river sometimes “dying out in the desert during dry years before it reaches the Gulf of California.”

In Maine, where we are blessed with abundant rain (and only the occasional flood), we tend to take water for granted. Even in our so-called dry spells, the well on Narrows Pond Road has never run out of water. (Yes, I knocked on wood before I wrote that sentence.) As our friend Diane Friese has noted, “We should be so grateful that we have such an abundance of fresh water.”

In fact, the lack of water in the Southwest influenced Diane’s decision to stay in Maine. She loves the Southwest and had been debating as to whether she should move there when she retires. Quite sensibly, Diane spent a month in New Mexico, to get a sense of how it might be to live there full time.

“There’s not enough water for everyone,” Diane told us upon her return. And she couldn’t, in good conscience, as someone who really cares about the environment, add herself as another resident to an area that already has more people than it can comfortably support. Diane would like to go back for a visit, but not to live year round.

Bread might be the “staff of life,” but without adequate water we are in big trouble.

Total loaves of bread given in April: 4

Total for the year: 24

I’m almost halfway to my goal of giving away 52 loaves of bread this year, and we’re not even halfway through the year yet.



A couple of days ago, in the food section of the Portland Press Herald, Meredith Goad wrote about a home (a mansion, really) and its kitchen, which is part of the Falmouth Kitchen & Tasting tour. The house is 10,000 square feet, has ten bathrooms, and gold-plated faucets. There is even a morning room, which sounds like something straight out of a Jane Austen novel.

The kitchen, which Goad describes as “not so large that it is overwhelming”  has “four ovens, two dishwashers, two warming drawers…” Four ovens! I will admit that from time to time, I have wished for two ovens, especially around the holidays, but what possible use could a noncommercial cook have with four ovens? Isn’t this, well, a bit much? In fact, isn’t it too much?

I suppose that is the point—the glorious excess of it all. As primates, we are all concerned with status, even though we live in the 21st century in a country that supposedly eschews class. And in our current culture, where one oven is the norm, four ovens are so over-the-top that few people can compete with such a display.

Now, I would not want to live in a country where the government dictates how many ovens a family might own. Although I am a firm believer in social services, that would be far too much governmental control for my liking. But wouldn’t it be nice if people with enough money to live in a 10,000 square foot mansion with four ovens followed the Dalai Lama’s advice and used some self-restraint?  Especially since this country is already using more resources than the planet can comfortably provide?

Since I am clearly in fantasy land here, I will go one step further: Wouldn’t it be great if our sense of status came from self-restraint rather than showy display? Not repression—no one likes a Puritan. Not a stingy, bare-bones existence—no one likes a martyr. But instead self-restraint, which might mean being content with two ovens and a bib house that wasn’t a mansion, no matter how much money you had.

A final note of irony: This tour is a benefit for Preble Street’s Maine Hunger Initiative, and I’m sure they will be very happy to receive the money. From here I could easily segue into a piece about how strange it is that one of the richest countries in the world still must deal with hunger.

But I won’t.



Nothing cheers me up as much as reading about young people working in gardens and on farms. Today, I read an article from the Bowdoin Daily Sun and learned that on Eco Service Day, some of the Bowdoin students took time out from studying to clean eggs, spread hay, plant seedlings, and prune apple trees.

Good for them!

Another cheering bit of news from that same article in the Bowdoin Daily Sun: “[T]he increasing popularity of local agriculture comes from younger Mainers (and more broadly, Americans) who are interested in restoring a connection to the land.”

Let’s hear it for young farmers. We certainly need them.


On Wednesday, I walked into Winthrop to meet Shane, one of the town’s librarians, for lunch at Mia Lina’s. I am happy to report that spring has finally come to central Maine. The grass has turned a bright green, bird song fills the air, water rushes by in the ditches, and the maple trees are in bloom with lovely but modest red flowers. Spring is here, it is here. And even though the day was  gray and damp, the walk, filled with so much to look at and to see, was a pleasant one.

Mia Lina’s is a little pizza place on Main Street, but the food there is better than average. One of my favorite things to order is the chicken teriyaki salad, little chunks of nicely marinated chicken sprinkled over romaine lettuce mixed with other tidbits—cheese, peppers, and olives. A little drizzle of Italian dressing, and you have yourself a pretty good salad. I also love the Lina bread, fresh dough cooked with cheese and served with a side of tomato sauce for dipping. However, although I can eat a whole order by myself, I shouldn’t do so, and I only get Lina bread when I’m with someone who wants to share it with me.

Shane ordered the ravioli, which came with garlic bread, and he said it was tasty.

While the food was good, the conservation was terrific. Shane is about the age of my eldest daughter, but already he is a great conversationalist, a true gift that not everyone has. Shane talks, but he also listens, and because he is devoted to books and music, his mind is lively and interesting.

Along with a little personal chitchat, we talked about what we were reading. Shane just finished reading Swim Back to Me by Ann Packer. Shane spoke about how moved he was by this collection of two novellas and some short stories. As Shane described the opening novella and its two teenage protagonists, he certainly made me want to read it.

In turn, I told him about three books I’ve recently read, which all receive “stars” in my reading journal. The first is Elizabeth Tova Bailey’s The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, a short but soulful memoir about a debilitating pathogen Bailey contracted when she was young, and how, as an invalid, she found solace watching a snail a friend brought to her.

The second is Carl Safina’s The View from Lazy Point. Safina is a marine biologist who can write beautifully and affectingly about the oceans of the world. He also includes stern lectures about overfishing and global warming and controlling our appetites.

Then there is Joan Reardon’s As Always Julia: The Letters of Julia Child & Avis Devoto. The title is self-explanatory, and I hope to soon write a proper book review for this blog.

From there we moved to music—to the great singer/songwriters of the 1970s as well as the wonderful music of the 1990s.

All too soon it was time for Shane to go to the library to begin his shift and for me to return home for household chores.

But a little book and music talk can sure brighten a gray day.


Earth day potluck foodYesterday was a busy day getting ready for the Earth Day potluck dinner sponsored by the Winthrop Green Committee. My husband, Clif, and I agreed to help with the dinner, and on Narrows Pond Road, it was a flurry of cooking and getting things ready—quiche, chili, apple crisp, napkins, cups, pitcher for water. The list goes on, but I will stop.

For the quiche’s crust, we bought whole wheat pastry flour, made from wheat grown in Maine, and yesterday was the first time I have ever made a crust with anything other than unbleached flour. Although I prefer the taste of unbleached flour (we couldn’t find any that came from Maine),Earthday potluck I was pleased with the results. The crust had the “heavy” taste that comes with whole wheat flour, but it was flaky, and it actually meshed nicely with the smoky cheddar cheese quiche. However, rolling the dough was not easy. This flour does not have the elasticity of unbleached flour. A novice pie maker would have been saying more than a few bad words while rolling out the crust, which had a tendency to tear and stick. Fortunately, I have rolled out many, many pie crusts in my time, and I was able to produce a decent-looking crust, albeit with a few patches.

PiesBetween 25 and 30 people came to the potluck, and overall it was a success. The food was delicious—we “green beans” are good cooks. Along with what Clif and I brought there were mashed potatoes with goat cheese, a cabbage slaw featuring Maine apples; mussels; deviled eggs (one of my favorites); and lots of desserts. In fact, this potluck was dessert heavy, always a potential with a dinner where people bring what strikes their fancy rather than what they are assigned. Never mind! Dessert is good. I especially enjoyed Rose Dawbin’s pear cobbler made with the pears from a tree in her own backyard.

There were a few snafus, which inevitably come from the first time of organizing an event. If Clif and I help with next year’s Earth Day potluck dinner, we will keep them in mind. (No doubt, other little things will crop up. That seems to be the way of such things.)

After the dinner, we showed the movie Fuel, which was excellent. Really, one of the best environmental movies I have seen in a long time and one of the few that has really made me reconsider my position on an environmental matter—biofuel. Basically, the movie charts the filmmaker Josh Tickell’s personal commitment to biofuels—from the early days when it seemed like an unalloyed good thing to the present, where many environmentalists have turned against biofuels.

Tickell is still a fan of biofuels but acknowledges there is good biofuel—algae and fast-growing trees—and bad biofuel—corn. He makes a convincing case that it must be part of a green energy mix—that large mobile equipment such as tractors, trailer trucks, and planes simply cannot run on electricity. (We’re all waiting for Mr. Fusion, but until that day comes…)

The second realization I had while watching the film is that unlike the era of oil, which I hope will be ending soon, the next era (the green era?) will not have one major answer to take care of our energy needs. It will involve many components, ranging from conservation, solar, wind, geothermal, biking, walking, and yes, even biofuels. This is a radical departure from our current dependency on oil as a primary energy source. (There are other sources of fuel, but nothing is as portable and as powerful as oil.)

Finally, it struck me that right now, if we’re careful, with our current technology, we have the means to live sustainably and comfortably and reverse global warming. (Please note that by comfortably I don’t mean that we can consume mindlessly. We who live in rich countries absolutely need to conserve and control our “appetites.”) Other countries such as Germany and Sweden are showing how it can be done. Unfortunately, the oil companies have such a grip on this country that the battle for green energy will be long and hard as it involves subsidies and incentives from the government. And let’s just say that oil companies are not into sharing.

But we can do it. We have to do it. And I don’t think I’m overstating the case that it’s up to us–to me and you and the many—to be on the right side of history.

Anyway, if you get a chance, please do watch Fuel. It will boost your spirits. It will give you hope. It will encourage you to act. And, as I noted in a previous post, action encourages optimism.




In yesterday’s post, I wrote about Mark Bittman and Ted Danson, both of whom are committed to the environment and to the well-being of our planet. Danson has no patience for pessimism, and Bittman noted that “[T]here is always plenty of good work to do.” I’d like to expand on this a bit, both, in general, with the environment, and in specific, with food, which is completely twined with the environment.

Within the environmental movement, there is, as a rule, an enthusiasm for action and projects, which can include gardening, cooking, buying locally, composting, and any other number of green activities. But sometimes “Sir Doubt” comes calling, causing environmentalists to wonder just how worthwhile personal action really is as Earth continues to heat up, plastic pollutes our seas, and the fish population plummets. It really is hard to argue that things are improving overall. (The local food movement is the bright exception.) Then comes the nagging question: What good can one person do?

What difference does it make if one middle-aged woman hangs her laundry, cooks from scratch, recycles, buys locally, limits how much she drives, and tries very hard to control her penchant for adding more clutter to an already full house? If I bring my own cup and fork to the Red Barn, a very casual local restaurant, how much, really, am I doing for the environment when everyone else is using plastic forks and cups, which get tossed into the trash? I will admit that at times I feel as though I am a lone salmon swimming upstream in a culture of carelessness and waste. And, yes, sometimes it can get discouraging.

But the other night, my husband, Clif, and I watched a documentary called Escape from Suburbia, a mostly mediocre movie with a few very good flashes, one of them being Guy Dauncey, a writer, speaker, and activist whose books have been endorsed by Bill McKibben and Jane Goodall. If Sir Doubt has visited Guy Dauncey, then he has been roundly vanquished by this ebullient environmentalist. In the film, Dauncey spoke of the “layering of solutions” that must be put together, that we need all kinds of people, with many different talents, to work on the vast problems that climate change and peak oil are bringing to this planet. Then he said something that really caught my attention. That is, “action encourages optimism.”

Dauncey is right. Doing things, however small, that are good for the planet can bring a feeling of optimism, a feeling of hope that maybe, just maybe, enough people doing the right thing will actually make a difference. And what’s the alternative, really? Giving in to pessimism? Saying, oh the hell with it, let’s just trash the planet and make it unlivable for our children and grandchildren?

No, this I refuse to do. Danson, Bittman, and Dauncey words and actions are examples for the rest of us to follow. On this advent of Earth Day, I will take their messages into my heart as I continue to hang out my laundry, recycle, and do all the other myriad of little actions that are not only good for Earth but also help spread optimism, something we will especially need as the planet continues to get warmer.

So readers, I hope you have a very optimistic Earth Day filled with environmental action that extends throughout the year.


In the opinion section of today’s New York Times, Mark Bittman’s column is about Earth’s oceans, which are endangered by overfishing and acidification. The overfishing speaks for itself, and those who love to eat fish must follow the actor Ted Danson’s advice to “Be bold. Ask questions.” It means that we have an obligation to to find out which restaurants serve fish that are not being overfished, that are caught sustainably. The same, of course, is true for the fish we buy at the grocery store. Sometimes we feel foolish doing so, and indeed, in a conversation with Mark Bittman, Ted Danson acknowledges that he sometimes feels foolish, too. But we must get past this embarrassment, which can extend to other green activities, such as bringing your own cup or spoon or napkin to places that serve ones that are thrown away. After all, why should we feel embarrassed about not using things that must be thrown away? But we do, and I have. It’s a strange world we live in.

However, I am digressing. Bittman’s second point about the acidification of oceans is perhaps less well known outside of “green circles.” Simply put, the CO2 that modern societies produce in such abundance not only leads to global warming and climate change, but also creates carbonic acid in the ocean, making it, well, more acidic. This is not good news for ocean life, especially for mollusks. The acidification makes it hard for them to build their shells, and what affects them “trickles up” to other marine life. Truly, everything is connected.

The link to the conversation with Ted Danson is included in Bittman’s column. It’s only five minutes long and well worth watching. Danson’s activism and optimism are inspiring. Indeed, Danson has no patience with those who are pessimistic. I was also moved by one of Mark Bittman’s comments: “There’s always plenty of good work to do.”

Yes, there is. And what better time to keep this in mind than during Earth Week?



Painting the dining roomYesterday, my husband, Clif, and I went to South Portland to help our daughter Shannon and her husband, Mike, paint their new apartment. As Clif put it, “We’re definitely doing our bit for Earth Week by helping them with their new apartment.” Yes, we are. Right now, Shannon and Mike’s daily commute is an hour from Farmingdale to Portland and then they must come back again, of course. While we will miss having them “right around the corner” in Farmingdale, South Portland is exactly where they should be. It is true we will now have to drive over an hour to visit them, but it will be once a month or so, much less than their current daily drive. A real savings in carbon emissions. So, clan Graves/Mulkeen is definitely doing its part for Earth Week.

Shannon and Mike’s new apartment fills the whole downstairs of a gracious old house. While the apartment needs painting and cleaning—not to put too fine a point on it, but the previous tenants were far from meticulous—it has wonderful bones, including a built-in China hutch in the dining room, French doors, wood floors, and a fireplace in the living room. The young landlord, who is also Mike’s cousin, had planned to spend a couple of months working on the apartment before renting it, but because Mike is his cousin, he let Mike and Shannon have it sooner. As it is, Mike’s cousin has done substantial renovations, including a new ceiling and a wall.

What a difference a coat of paint makes! In truth, even a coat of primer does a lot to brighten shabby walls. We painted the dining room and the living room, and we’ll be heading down tomorrow to give those rooms a second coat.

It hardly needs to be said that food opportunities abound in southern Maine. After all, not long ago, Portland won the Best Small Town Foodie Award (or something like that!) from Bon Appétit. While Portland might be Maine’s foodie epicenter, the foodie effect spills out to the surrounding communities and even, somewhat, to the rest of Maine. So while our main focus was definitely on the apartment, from time to time our minds did turn to food matters. A few days earlier, I had read about Scratch Baking Co. in South Portland and how delicious and reasonably priced its food was. Shannon mentioned that a coworker has seen customers line up outside the shop before it even opens. It just so happens that Scratch Baking Co. is only a little over a mile from the the new apartment. Eager to see what the food was like, we stopped there before we even went to the apartment. Disappointment! Scratch Baking Co. is closed on Monday. Ah, well, we said philosophically, there will be other times.

Instead, we got some good sandwiches from a shop—can’t remember the name—just down the street, and we sat on the long front porch as we ate. Our dog, Liam, was hitched to one of the posts, close enough to be in begging proximity. The house is only a mile and a half away from the ocean, and there are birds everywhere—cardinals, ducks, chickadees, even pigeons, which I do not mind at all. When I took Liam for an afternoon walk, I walked by a marsh, and I heard a bird song of such astonishing melody and variation that I had to spend some time looking for the bird. I found it—a medium-sized bird with a slender beak and no distinguishing marks. As far as I could tell, it was shades of brown, gray, and white, and it was fairly plump. But what a song! I’m assuming this bird was a male who was trying to attract a mate. I was bedazzled by the the bird’s song, and I hope he was successful in finding a partner.

After a day of painting, we had all worked up an appetite, and we decided to stop at Stonyfield Café, formerly O’Naturals, in Falmouth. We were all in the mood for one of their noodle dishes, and the great thing about Stonyfield is that their noodle dish is a mix and match kind of thing. Clif got his with peanut sauce, chicken, peppers, and snap peas; Shannon had beef, chickpeas, teriyaki sauce, and snap peas (I think!); and I had mine with chicken, snap peas, mushrooms, and carrots with a sesame-ginger sauce. The noodles, served in a big bowl, each came with a generous piece of their brick-oven flat bread. We all cleaned our plates and felt properly nourished, primed for more painting in the days to come.

Note: Mike was sick that day and had to stay home. But he’s feeling better and will soon be ready to help paint.




Earth day (April 22) is a week away, and various communities around Maine have events planned not only for the actual day but also for the whole week. This is certainly the case in Winthrop. My husband, Clif and I are helping with A Mostly Maine Potluck Dinner to be held on Earth Day at Winthrop High School, but there are many other events offered as well—films and workshops for both children and adults. The town of Winthrop’s website has a list of events. Readers in central Maine might want to check it out.

For those who live within driving distance of Portland, there is a Food+Farm series, featuring the movie The Greenhorns, which is about young farmers. There will also be a talk given by the food writer and activist Anna Lappe, whose most recent book is Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It. The Food+Farmers series starts this Thursday, with The Greenhorns being shown on Saturday. Unfortunately, there just isn’t time in our schedule to go to Portland this Saturday. Otherwise, Clif and I would be there.

The subject of young farmers is one that is dear to my heart. In the United States, the average age of the farmer is 57. (I’ve written about this both for A Good Eater and for the magazine Maine Food & Lifestyle.)  After, all no farmers=no food, and with the price of land and the cost of health insurance, we better darned well be thinking about how we can help the next generation of farmers.

Anyway, lots to do in Maine for the upcoming week!