December 31, 2020. OK, we got some of the details wrong, but we were onto something. Love wasn’t really all you need, but look how important you think it is now. Pretty important, ya think? Look at the health data that shows how and why you actually do get by a lot better with a little help from your friends.
While we were protesting the military-industrial complex, we totally missed the agricultural-industrial complex. Dig this: In 1970, the average American consumed 680 calories less per day than today, despite frequent outbreaks of the munchies. What happened? President Nixon’s farm policy started the corn and soybean subsidies that made soda and junk food the cheapest calories around, supported by fertilizers and pesticides from the folks who brought us napalm and oil spills.
As for me, well, I felt those good vibrations and by sheer luck began to establish what turned out to be great habits in terms of my own health and happiness. One year four of us rented an old farmhouse off campus; three of us made a lot of yogurt and brown rice and stir-fried a lot of locally grown squash and onions. (Our fourth housemate refused to eat anything that didn’t go well with ketchup.) The fledgling food co-op was, uh, too fledgling so we stuck to the local farm stands.
We avoided the supermarket as much as possible, probably because they sold all that stuff mass-produced by The Man and mass-distributed by The System, aided and abetted by mass media advertising propaganda. And because the supermarket’s where our parents shopped.
Now, of course, we find out that our industrial food system really isn’t good for our health — not for your personal health or for our collective health. And now, right now, it also turns out that you can — conveniently and economically — do something about it. You don’t even have to drop out and join a commune. You can just tune in, via the internet. I found my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture group) with a Google search, and bought my farm share with a click. I get great, affordable food — and delightful new relationships with a bunch of neighbors and with “my farmers”.
For the purpose of eating, my connection to “the land” is still mostly indirect except for the fruits and vegetables I grow in my garden. (Of course, my CSA share is a lot more direct than going to the supermarket for thoroughly processed packaged food or produce that spends two or three weeks in trucks and warehouses.)
For the purpose of exercise, my “back to nature” wandering in the woods evolved to a passion for hiking. Even in an unaltered state, it’s still the most beautiful and joyous and rigorous exercise I get. Kathy (my wife) and I did 60 miles in five days on steep terrain at high elevation – before we self-quarantined. Talk about Better and Cheaper: $25 bought a one-week pass to the spectacularly beautiful Glacier National Park.
I remember going to Washington, D.C. in 1970 for the first Earth Day. We all knew the “be-part-of-the-solution-not-part-of-the-problem” mantra, so it was pretty shocking to hear about the scale of environmental problems looking for solutions. Well, it’s pretty shocking that it’s still shocking, but after fifty years we can see the beginning of solutions that we can implement for ourselves. From LED light bulbs to small-scale solar energy devices, there’s stuff that actually works and saves money at the same time.
How and what you eat and which light bulb you buy — every little choice affects the planet as well as your own health and pocketbook. When you can get your food from a CSA or local farmers market, you don’t just save money because you cut out The Man and bypass The System. You cut out the negative environmental impact of industrial farming and the time and cost inefficiency of cross-country transport, refrigeration and storage. More important: you create a reliable market for local, small-scale farmers who grow and raise safe, fresh food for you and your family, friends and neighbors.
So, yeah, man, everything really is connected to everything else. Every day, I’ll propose another better, cheaper and more responsible way to eat and exercise — and to get the added health benefit and sense of well-being that comes with doing things with friends. Some days it’ll be about stirring polenta – slowly – with your significant other; other days, it’ll be gardening or taking a hike with some neighbors. Every day, I’ll offer something to share or talk about with your friends, family or commune. Subscribe now – a new way every day for a whole year – for $10.
With a little help from my friends “Survival time may be enhanced by strong social networks… After controlling for a range of demographic, health, and lifestyle variables, greater networks with friends were protective against mortality…” Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health
That’s me on the right, 1970. Guess which one’s Mr. Ketchup
Grow your own
I just dug out my 1971 Last Whole Earth Catalog and re-read Wendell Berry’s “Think Little” essay. Here’s a paragraph: “Odd as I am sure it will appear to some, I can think of no better form of personal involvement in the cure of the environment than that of gardening. A person who is growing a garden, if he is growing it organically, is improving a piece of the world. He is producing something to eat, which makes him somewhat independent of the grocery business, but he is also enlarging, for himself, the meaning of food and the pleasure of eating. The food he grows will be fresher, more nutritious, less contaminated by poisons and preservatives and dyes, than what he can buy at the store. He is reducing the trash problem; a garden is not a disposable container, and it will digest and re-use its own wastes. If he enjoys working in his garden, then he is less dependent on an automobile or a merchant for his pleasure. He is involving himself directly in the work of feeding people.“
If you still have your copy, check out his accompanying poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”. If not, try his The Gift of Good Land.
And for the latest, greatest thinking from Stewart Brand, creator of The Whole Earth Catalog, read Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto
Calories per Hour:
Gardening burns 325
Dancing burns 370
Running burns 675
Brisk Walking burns 300
Strenuous Hiking burns 550
So don’t overlook dancing. Crank up the tunes.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that rapid adoption of LED lighting in the U.S. over the next 15 years can:
Deliver savings of about $280 billion.
Avoid 133 new power plants.
Reduce lighting electricity demand by 62% in 2025.
“The estimated bill for marketing domestic farm foods was $466 billion in 1998… 80 percent of the $585 billion spent for these foods. The remaining 20 percent, or $119 billion, represents the gross return paid to farmers” (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture report) Things aren’t getting better: “In 2006, 19 cents of every dollar spent on U.S.-grown food went to the farmer…” (USDA Economic Research Service, 2008) Gee, who got the other 81 cents?