Category Archives: Environment

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.

BE BOLD. ASK QUESTIONS

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?

 

EARTH WEEK BEGINS: THE MOVE TO SOUTH PORTLAND

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 WEEK ALERT: FILMS, FOOD, AND FARMERS

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!

THE BEST KIND OF DAY: LUNCH WITH DIANE AND THEN A TRIP TO THE BOWDOIN MUSEUM OF ART

LunchYesterday, my husband, Clif, and I had the best kind of day. Our friend Diane invited us over to her house for lunch, and what a terrific time we had. As my daughter Shannon put it when I told her about our day, “You always have a great time when you got to Diane’s house.”

Yes, we do. Not only is Diane an accomplished cook, but she is also such a gracious hostess. She has the true knack of making guests feel special, at ease, and cared for. In addition, the conversation is always lively, revolving around movies, the environment, books, and art.

TableFor lunch, Diane served a baked cheese dish with vegetables, baked sweet potato fires, and a salad to go with it. I brought bread, and we went to one of my favorite places for dessert—Gelato Fiasco. I love ice cream, but I adore gelato, and whenever we visit Diane, we plan to go to Gelato Fiasco.

As if all this weren’t enough, Diane has a real artistic flair with food presentation. I hope the pictures give an idea as to how beautifully she arranges the food on the plates.  

Passive solar heating panelThen there is Diane’s dedication to the environment, which always inspires us. Here is a passive solar heating panel (a hot-air solar panel with solar electric thermostat controlled circulating fans). Diane has installed three of them to help heat her house. Diane tells us those panels have made a real difference in the amount of fuel she uses. With the panels, Diane uses a third less propane–what she uses to heat her house—than she did before having them installed. These panels are not very expensive, and anyone who has a house facing the sun should consider installing them. Diane’s panels are from a company called ClearDome Solar Thermal.  In fact there are many simple do-it-yourself plans for similar passive heating panels available online. A couple of examples are the plans from Worcester Polytechnic Institute or this one from good old Mother Earth News.

In between lunch and gelato, we went to Bowdoin to check out two exhibits at their Museum of Art—Medieval English Alabaster Sculpture from the Victoria and Albert Museum and comic book artist Robert Crumb’s rendition of Genesis. Both were worthwhile. I was more impressed with Crumb’s work than I was prepared to be. No point in mincing words—Crumb is not my favorite artist. His work is too angry and too obscene for my taste. However, he seems to have been sincerely fascinated with Genesis, and except for a few naughty pictures, his rendition is straight up. It’s a rather mind- boggling exhibit, with the original full-size drawings, complete with text, for the whole book being on display.  

But the best part of the Bowdoin trip was an exhibit of Inuit Art at the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum. Oh, the exquisite carvings—some of animals, some of people, some of spirits. Large or small, they had true power. I hope to get back to Bowdoin for a second look before the exhibit is taken down—next December, I think.

Another excuse to go for gelato, and, if we’re very lucky, maybe Diane will invite us over for lunch.