Winds bring change. Just as March winds usher in the warmer days of spring, November winds transition us to the brittle-cold days of winter. Each November as a nation we celebrate Thanksgiving, the one truly American holiday. At Thanksgiving, the traditional time of the fall harvest, we give thanks for our food…for the food that we eat for warmth and energy and also for everything in life that feeds and nourishes our soul. Gratitude: It is a linchpin of health.
Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday for many of us…no gifts, just the opportunity to be united through good food and good fellowship…the essence. And, this November, we are united, too, as a country when we head to the election polls and anticipate the winds of change in the form of a new set of national leaders and the hope of new policies for clean energy, the environment, and biodiversity.
The recent free-fall in global financial markets and the shaking of confidence world-wide serves as a strong reminder that we are united, also, as a global people. This alone can be a gift. As never before, we truly grasp the strong interconnections that link our economies, our environments, and our general state of well-being. It is a humbling time when the destiny of us, the many, appears to rest in the hands of but a few.
Yet, this can be an empowering time for each of us individually. Change always brings possibility, even if it is just the fresh opportunity to simplify and to see life in a new way. November 2008, as few before it, offers a Thanksgiving setting that invites us to reflect, to refocus, and reframe. It gives us an opportunity to redefine prosperity for ourselves. While the Dow plummets, the sun still rises to share its light and energy to all. We can stop to enjoy the warm glow of the sun’s energy. We can dance. Laugh. Sing. Walk. Read. Breathe. Listen. All are free. All connect us to the Earth, to life, to the essence.
Have you ever noticed how often a still photograph seems to reveal things we hardly noticed before? A potentially great family photograph is marred by a crumpled paper or a candle askew, annoyances we notice only afterward. Or, on the positive side, photographers and painters like Charles Burchfield help us see nature with a sharper, more appreciative eye. Photography and paintings freeze a scene. Part of their appeal is that they slow us to a stop and help us see with greater clarity…to pay attention. Perhaps they remind us how little attention we pay in the normal course of living.
This year, we sold our family house, a home where we spent many adventure-filled years while our kids were growing up. Polling our offspring, in turn, about our decision to sell brought a single quick response from our youngest. Saying nothing of losing the beautiful property, she cried simply, “Oh, THAT is SO sad… Daddy and I will NEVER be there again to put up the Christmas tree together.” [Don’t you just love it! Speaks volumes about the way children value time and attention.]
Thanksgiving reminds us that no matter the external conditions of the world, traditions, connection, and memories…the essence… endure. When we pay attention…to our children, to the way we use fossil fuels… and to the way we feel after we eat different kinds of foods, and the same foods prepared differently…we enrich our lives and our planet.
Traditions and Connections. Some of the most treasured moments of children center around the dinner table, around the gaming table, and around family adventures together. Rising gasoline prices and tighter family budgets can be a gift, giving us permission to drive less and connect more. We can try to enjoy life in different and perhaps richer ways, creating in our home or backyard our own personal brand of prosperity. All it takes is a little creative thinking. How can we enjoy more time at home? For me, this is treating myself to some knitting, a jigsaw puzzle, or some fun cooking adventures. When my kids are around, it is playing a simple game of Memory…why is it the kids always win!!!
We can cook together as a family and pause long enough to appreciate the vital, life force of whole, fall harvest foods. We can take time to set the table, to value each place around the table, to understand the implicit value given to each person just having his own place there, and to relish each who comes to share in the experience.
We can slow down enough to express gratitude for our food. To enjoy and take pleasure in food. To take time to set the table, to light a candle. And, …to chew.
Chewing1 is the most natural of all taste-enhancing strategies. When we consciously chew our food, there is no need for taste-enhancing excitotoxins (October ’08 newsletter).
Like many of you, my days are busy, and I often get caught up in multi-tasking. So, I cook early in the day to make sure there is healthy food in abundance. When I am alone, I try to light a candle, sit down, and eat with chop sticks. Chop sticks help remind me to slow down, to chew, and to truly taste each bite.
If you do not already, you might try candlelight and special sets of colored/decorated chop sticks for every family member. Blessing the food when you sit down, candles, fine china and glassware, or chop sticks help to slow the pace and lift the meal hour to a higher level.
Suppressing Symptoms. In a former life, I was the chief economist of a large Wall Street firm at a time when recessions were expected and viewed as normal corrections to excess. Recessions did serve a purpose. They made us pause to think and regroup. In hindsight now after the freefall of global financial markets, perhaps we better appreciate that corrections are constructive.
In recent years, we developed a variety to ways to override natural economic cycles. We also created ways to override the laws of nature when it comes to raising food and caring for our health. In the realm of economics, politics seem to demand “growth.” Politics has no tolerance for a contraction in GDP. Yet, what does this measure really tell us about prosperity and quality of life?
America is a service-based economy so our capital stock is people. This means that mothers raising children in the home are in the capital investment business. Yet, when we measure GDP, we impute no value for their time and energy at home, neither in raising children nor in the value added they lend as they prepare home-cooked meals. Neither do we impute in our calculation of GDP the value added for the work of those who take the time to grow, harvest, and cook food at home.
To keep growth “on track” in more recent years, we devised a host of innovative financial instruments. Easy money and “investment” psychology drew more and more people with less and less capital into real estate as a protective investment. Real estate seemed the hope just to stay even. The system essentially compelled one to play the “game.”
I am reminded of the double-digit inflation rates of the 1970s during the early phase of my professional career. At that time, Eric Rinner, my seasoned and senior German colleague who had taken refuge from Hilter here, warned, “The more people learn to live with inflation, the fewer are left at whose expense they can do it.” Substitute what you wish for inflation…easy credit, derivatives…the result is the same. As more and more people play a game, it eventually reaches a point when it cannot be sustained.
Pain-avoidance in the political/economic realm of finance shares parallels with how we raise our food. Using the single-minded nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium strategy and genetic engineering (November 2007 newsletter), we have learned to “trick” nature into magically growing bumper crops, as we maximize output with minimal input. As a nation, we eat what is cheap and in abundance, on our road to becoming overfed and undernourished.
Commercial agriculture has also relied on cheap energy to provide mass-produced food. (As you probably know, America possesses just 3% of the world’s oil, yet we consume one-quarter of total global oil output.) Bill McKibben in his book Deep Economy traces the history over the last hundred or so years of our nation’s spectacular growth that was propelled by this one-time bonus. Once we stumbled upon the amazing gift of oil in the ground and put this finite resource to use, our economy set out on a whole new trajectory of growth. Oil replaced the pain of human labor. People left the land and moved to the city to take up factory jobs. We began to lose touch with the land and the true relationships of input and output.
The suppress-symptoms/pain-free concept of modern times spreads to the area of health, as well. Rather than suffering through a cold, which itself can be cleansing and corrective and restorative, drug companies encourage us to reach for the nearest cold “remedy.” We are taught to suppress symptoms rather than to trust the immune system, to rest, and to let the body take its natural healing course. The magic of cold capsules and other pain-relief medicines allow us to ignore important messages from our body. Rather than being stopped in our tracks and forced to pause to ask “Why?,” we stay on our feet and carry on with our day. In so doing, we miss important lessons, as well as the corrective and cleansing process that an occasional cold may offer. Animals instinctively know best. We can learn a lot from them. To mend any ill, they stop eating and seek rest to allow the immune system to take over and do its job.
Easy credit, re-packaging mortgage debt, passing the “hot potato,”…no questions asked. Commercial farming and food processing…re-structured foods, fractured, re-packaged…no questions asked. Fossil fuels and pollution…no questions asked.
Easy money, cheap food, cheap energy, easy drugs. Where does the fallout from pain-free “Up, Up, and Away” leave us and our children’s generation? I believe crisis leads to awareness and opportunity. Opportunity to redefine. Opportunity for change. Opportunity, one by one, to make a difference…locally… so, globally!
“I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”…Helen Keller
Opportunities…Locally, So Globally
It is exciting that grass-roots efforts to reconnect with the soil and preserve the environment are spreading fast. Last year, Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food climbed to the top of the New York Times Best Seller List. Today, on college campuses across the nation is sprouting the Real Food Challenge, www.realfoodchallenge.org, intended to spread to college students a greater awareness of food quality, provenance, and sustainability. And, there is growing support for the WhoFarm Project, www.thewhofarm.org, a non partisan drive to create an organic farm at the “new” White House. The intension is similar to Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden in 1943, a model she created for Americans to follow. And follow they did: by the end of the Second World War, 20 million American gardens were growing 40 percent of all the produce needs of the nation.
Michael Pollan is a key inspiration on the food front, speaking out to help shift government policies, from a petroleum-based to sun-based sustainable agriculture. He has just published a summary piece, “Farmer in Chief,” which was featured in the New York Times, October 12, 2008. We provide excerpts in an appendix on pages 9-11 for those of you who might not have seen it. It is too important to miss.
On the energy front, and today at the top of the Times book list is Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded. It is a brilliant work. Like the painter Birchfield and like Pollan in the area of food, Friedman synthesizes and frames with great clarity the clean energy/environmental/political dilemmas of today to help us understand, think, and create solutions before it is too late. Friedman steps in at this time of opportunity to inspire us with concrete strategies to shift away from fossil fuels toward clean energy, to mobilize individually and as a nation. It is compelling reading.
To follow up and to keep the momentum going, Friedman has created a blog: www.thomasfriedman.com/chapter18. This is Friedman’s effort to extend the 17 chapters of Hot, Flat, and Crowded into and eighteenth chapter, an experiment on his part to invite “serious people to contribute serious ideas” for the transformation of our system from Dirty Fuels to a Clean Energy.
With growing awareness, we can connect to the earth and create our own prosperity for now and for the future…all within a small radius of home. We can make a difference by cooking whole foods, shopping at farmers’ markets, supporting a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), or raising in our kitchen fresh herbs for cooking to enjoy with family favorites. As a beginning to reduce carbon load in the environment we can drive less, walk more, switch to energy-saving light bulbs, turn off lights in empty rooms, and be mindful of time when we open the refrigerator.
If we live in detached housing with a backyard, we also have the option of raising some of our own food and composting. We can cultivate good topsoil with a worm farm. With a moist basement, we can even think of involving the kids in a family root cellar. For whatever might appeal to you across this spectrum, the following list of resources can help you create your own adventures of discovery:
Farmers’ Markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs):
Growing Sprouts or Herbs:
www.amazon.com for a Biosta Sprouter, or its equivalent.
Fruit and Vegetable Dehydrating:
For a comparison of leading dehydrators check
Through a process termed “biological transmutations” many dried fruits and vegetables actually pack greater nutrition than the fresh versions. I think this is Mother Nature’s way of providing man with greater nutrition during the long, cold winter famine months.
Tips compliments of my neighbor, Brendan O’Neil, President of the Vineyard Conservation Society.
For a communal tumbler-type composting station:
For a model of a regional composting facility:
Worm house for Cultivating Topsoil:
Worm farming, an idea generated from my friend Joyce Roy, is an economical way to convert organic waste into materials to enrich your soil. It will also save you trips to the local landfill. Worms convert kitchen and garden waste, and even cardboard into food for the soil. eHow explains how to buy a worm farm.
The following are recommendations of my neighbors, Clarissa Allen and Mitchell Posin, who maintain a root cellar in their 1770 house. Mitchell points out that “Root cellars are not new. That is why people used to dig basements.”
Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables by Mike and Nancy Bubel.
With the current grass-roots efforts to raise eco-sensitive children, we can, indeed, hope our children’s lives, full of awareness and connection to the land, can truly be an improvement on our own. What a wonderful thought! This November, we can all give thanks for that.
Copyright 2008 Pathways4Health.org