Asparagus Pee Book Report

Omnivore's Dilemma - click for AmazonOne of my recent reads was The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a fascinating book written in the same spirit as Fast Food Nation that helps us examine how and what we eat.

The book is presented in three parts, where each part ends with a meal reflecting that section’s theme. In the first section, the author follows a bushel of corn from an Iowa cornfield to a meal at McDonald’s. In the second, he investigates “big organic,” culminating in a meal built around a “free-range” chicken from Petaluma named “Rosie,” then contrasts that with a real organic meal from a small grass-fed chicken farm managed in the true spirit of organic agriculture, recycling waste, maintaining the viability of the land, and keeping the livestock healthy and relatively happy. In the third and last section, he serves a meal composed of only those things he either killed, grew, or gathered himself. (It confused me greatly this evening that the book has only three big sections, but the subtitle is “A Natural History of Four Meals” &#151 but then again, I read it a few weeks ago, and I eventually figured it out.)

I think the greatest lessons I brought home from this book are:

  • Our agricultural economy is a government-subsidized economy of corn to a much greater extent than I was aware. It surprised me a few years ago when I visited my only Iowa farmer relative, Uncle Junior, that he said that the biggest consumer of corn was Coca Cola. According to this book, they switched from sugar to high fructose corn syrup when it was invented in 1980 (“Classic Coke” my ass…). If you take all this to heart and start looking around, it’s truly scary where corn actually shows up – the main ingredient in both Cheetos&#153 and Meow Mix&#153 is, yes, gosh you catch on quick, yes, it’s corn.

    As an Iowa non-farm boy, I also grew up believing that corn-fed beef was the best beef money could buy, but it turns out that cows evolved to digest grass, so in order to fatten them up quickly on surplus corn in vastly overcrowded CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations), they have to keep them on antibiotics and nurse them along on hay whenever they get too sick to keep eating the corn. Not to mention the sewage problems.

  • In order to call a chicken “organic free-range” there is a requirement that they don’t use cages, and there has to be a door in the enclosure that opens to the outside. Unfortunately, they pack the poor birds into Quonset huts as tightly as possible without cages, red contacts, and de-beaking, and that open door is only opened when they are five weeks old (to prevent infection), but they slaughter the chickens at seven weeks. It goes on…
  • Wild is good and natural, but who has the time? This author guy, Michael Pollan, spends like, three or four weeks hunting mushrooms &#151 hey, this blog guy’s got to eat. Meat. Now.

    Bottom line is he has a meal he cooks himself of meat from a wild boar that he shot (turns out Northern California has them, let loose to forage by the Spanish settlers), cherries from a neighborhood tree, mushrooms from a fresh burn in the high Sierra pines, lettuce from his garden, etc.

    I just had wild boar in his honor at a local restaurant in Lotus, CA a couple of weeks ago when The Lady Janet and I went out for our 14th anniversary, and it was interesting, but not that special, as opposed to say, rabbit, when it’s done so that it doesn’t just taste like chicken, free range or otherwise.

I am not a huge worrier about foodstuffs &#150 I’ll pretty much stick anything in my face that tastes good. But if you want to worry about food, my advice is simple: try to eat as low on the food chain as possible and don’t eat anything unless you take the time to learn what it’s made of &#151 see, it turns out that Soylent Green&#153 is actually corn! Co-o-rn! (Yes, thank you very much, Mr. Heston.)

Earth in the Balance?

Click to view on Amazon.So what about global warming, anyway? Is it real? Or is it just a trumped-up card in the “pollution is bad, dependence on foreign oil is really bad” litany? Have you had enough rhetorical questions? Or should I go on?

It may be a dead horse, but Al’s beating it again, and regardless what you think, it deserves critical thought, so I’ll give you a few useful linky-doodles to explore, and I’ll share my opinion.

Al’s got a new movie called An Inconvenient Truth that revisits his arguments from Earth in the Balance, and it’s sweeping theaters across the nation.

Almost simultaneously, Michael Shermer’s Skeptics Society hosted a weekend seminar called The Environmental Wars, with guest speakers like John Stossel and Michael Crichton who agree to disagree with global warming. There’s lots of information and debate over on DeSmogBlog, and The Commons, and this article from PasdenaWeekly. Please read and think and draw your own conclusions.

As for myself, it seems to me that there is a fair amount of incontrovertible evidence that greenhouse gasses are on the rise, that on-average, global temperatures are on the rise, and other indicators point to a global-warming trend that is a real and serious phenomenon to be reckoned with. I’m also fond of the title of the new book and movie – it seems to me that there’s a kind of “reverse Occam’s Razor,” in that it makes a lot more sense to me that the neo-cons and others with a stake in an oil-based economy would like to see global warming as crackpot worry-mongering, whereas, I can’t really see any self-serving advantage to saying we should protect the environment, cut down on energy waste, reduce pollution, and cut our dependence on foreign oil.

Shouldn’t we do all that regardless? Nonetheless, here are some competing views:

Disclaimer: I honestly tried to Google a few good “counterpoints” against global warming, but “global warming myth” actually turned up some really good counter-counter-arguments against the idea that global warming is a myth, and doggone it, the guys speaking out against global warming just don’t seem as smart on the whole as those speaking in favor, at least to me.

Men With Banjos (Who know how to use them)

Tonight I happened to be up watching David Letterman, and they featured a band called Men with Banjos, featuring Steve Martin and Earl Scruggs. It was five guys picking their asses off with Paul trying to keep up, and it was cool.

Letterman tried to flirt with Steve Martin, but he was so authentic that he was like, “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m really just here to play banjo, and the real star here is Pete Wernick,” without saying or doing anything.

I was moved.

Oh, by the way… you know how Willie Nelson’s old guitar has a hole in it that he’s actually worn through the body over the soundhole with his pick??? Well, Steve Martin’s banjo has big black streaks above and below the stings that tell me that he has loved his instrument often and well. The man plays that thing.