Embracing Ugly Food


As “eco-friendly”, and “green” as I thought I was, I didn’t actually learn to truly respect food until about this time last year, when I started volunteering at my local food pantry at Friends In Deed (which I’ll likely do again for the 5 weeks I’ll be back in LA next month).

At the pantry, we received a lot of ugly food. Food that’d been battered and smashed, food that hadn’t made it to the store shelves in time, food that sat on the shelves a little too long. There wasn’t a week that would go by without at least a truck or two delivering entire bushel boxes’ worth of quickly spoiling produce, and it was up to us volunteers working in the back to make sure that as much of it as possible wound up in the hands of the poor and hungry who were lined up outside.

If I’m honest, I have to say that my time there was so memorable and fun thanks, in no small part, to the other volunteers, who were often almost as poor as those lining up outside. I’d take those women’s company over a monied, “eco-minded” blogger any day. They were bringing their lived experience to their work there, and it was amazing just to be around them. One of the women would tell us about what it was like to grow up poor in Mexico, and how, even when her family had barely anything to eat, if there were bugs in the rice, then there’d be no rice. (We heard this story during a period of a few months where we were getting regular deliveries of 50-pound bags of jasmine rice that we would painstakingly comb through, looking for bugs. Most of them had bugs.) Or, in another favorite moment of mine, how another woman, when faced with bushels upon bushels of moldy sweet potatoes, grabbed a knife, and just started hacking off the moldy parts since most of each potato was still perfectly edible.

So it wasn’t until there that I really saw the potential, the beauty, and the life that was still present in ugly, unsalable food. I learned to get over my superficial squeamishness; learned to artfully ignore expiration dates; and when I started taking home some of the produce we’d worked so hard to process, learned to cook with the ugly food and appreciate it in just the same way as the people lining up outside.

See, ugly food forces you to be resourceful. It forces you to respect the food on its own terms. If its moldy, eat around the mold. If it’s squished, prepare it differently than you otherwise would. If it’s spoiling quickly, enjoy it now. 

This is how much of the world still eats, and how the whole world ate up until about 100 years ago. You didn’t just throw out a head of cauliflower because it looked weird, and ran off to the store to replace it with a shiny new one. In fact, you probably wouldn’t have let the cauliflower get that far to begin with. Food was precious. It still is.

For now, I’m bartering with some of our neighbors, and this is what most of the produce I get looks like: I give them homemade vegan cheese, they give us entire grocery bags of organic produce. Our neighbor actually gets paid in grocery store seconds from a tutoring job she does, and some of it is too far gone for them to even get to in time. So off to us it comes.

And while I’m definitely not perfect, and while some of it still winds up going bad before I can use it, I still use as much of it as I can, because that’s how you respect your food. That’s what we do in exchange for what it does for us.


MORE Fiber, Fermentation, and Shojin Ryori

Well, my little experiment was a complete success. The low-fiber diet did exactly what I wanted it to do on the GI front, which was pretty darned enlightening, and now that I’ve gone back to my old diet and seen how quickly I go back to chronic upset, it would be ridiculous for me to say that fiber is a good thing for me to be eating as much as I typically do.

Unfortunately, my IBS was the only thing that was helped by eating low-fiber. My adrenal fatigue took a bad blow, and because of my lack of calories (being vegetarian and all), I was frequently low on energy. Unfortunately, plant-based sources of protein and calories often also tend to be sources of unacceptably high levels of fiber unless I go the processed route.

The fact of the matter is, though, that I can’t keep eating upwards of 40 or 50 grams of fiber a day. (And maybe you shouldn’t either – read the links in the previous post.) My goal from now on it to keep it under 15 grams daily; I was doing well under 10 during my fiber fast, and while my bowels were super happy, my appetite… wasn’t. I was eating white rice, tofu, miso, eggs, ramen, and not too much else, and the blandness was driving me crazy. And I’m definitely not alone in feeling this way about low-fiber foods. Moreover these complaints come from people who eat meat too – I don’t even have that much!

Over the course of the next week I’ll be doing more research on low-fiber diets and writing up some recipes for things that I’ve tried and love, and things that I think would love to try when I get the chance. Check out the link in the last paragraph: there are some good ideas to start with there, and the savory bread pudding is something that a vegetarian or vegan could definitely make. Just avoid “healthy” bread – plain white is all that’s allowed.

So to start, I’ll remind everyone of this plain white bread recipe. It’s not “sandwich” bread, but it is hella easy, it counts as unprocessed white bread, and you can make it from your favorite brand of all-purpose white flour. Win-win!

No-Knead Crusty Bread

  • 3 c. flour
  • 1 1/2 c. water (or enough to make it floppy and sticky)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. dry yeast
  1. Incorporate all ingredients in a large bowl until consistently mixed. Let sit for anywhere between 8-18 hours at room temperature.
  2. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 450F with your baking vessel – a dutch oven or similar lidded pot – inside so that it can heat up too.
  3. Dump out the risen glob of dough onto a liberally floured work surface with liberally floured hands. Work the dough into a ball shape if you want. Amorphous blobs turn out just fine too.
  4. Take the pot out of the oven and deposit the dough into it, covering with the lid. Bake for 30 minutes or so, then take the lid off and bake for however long until the outside gets brown and crusty – about 10-15 minutes.

Raw Cat Food: The Process

In my last post about the myriad benefits of transitioning our carnivorous pets to carnivorous diets (and preferably raw, whole animal products), I was just re-starting out myself, and didn’t have a good way of explaining my monthly food prep for Lucky. Nor did I have enough time to have a reliable routine worked out.

So now that I’ve been at this for a few months, here it is in pictures!

Here we have some purchases from a small, local Asian market: duck gizzard, chicken heart, “economy” beef tendon cuts, pork heart, and pork spleen. Up above are two cans of not-raw wet food; they’re supposed to be for dogs, but seeing as how there’s nothing in them that a cat shouldn’t also be eating, there’s no point in spending extra on smaller kitty-sized cans. One of them is a “shepherd’s blend” of parts, and the other is turkey, fish, and something else. The important part is that they both have liver, which is a necessary part of a cat’s diet, though like I said in the previous post, it only needs to make up a small percentage of the overall diet.

Oh, and all of this cost me about $20 at the most, and should last me 3-4 weeks.

Chicken hearts are a good size and don’t need to be cut up, so here they are, spaced out on a cookie sheet to go in the freezer.

The spleen once I took it out of the packaging. My cat LOVED this stuff.

Cutting, cutting… It’s best to leave the pieces as large as possible to keep your pet’s jaws strong and give their teeth something to gnaw on. Bite-sized is only good if you’re just starting out.

And contrary to what I just said, I usually cut up duck gizzards even though three of them are a meal. My cat is pretty apathetic towards duck gizzard (which is different texture-wise from chicken gizzard), so I’ve found if I halve them, there’s a better chance she’ll eat them.

And this is how I handle the wet food. I just get heaping spoonfuls and freeze them like the other meat.


And as soon as they’re all frozen (to the touch – they don’t have to be frozen all the way through, just enough for them to not stick together) I organize them into freezer bags and tupperware containers. Then all we do is run the kitchen faucet until the water’s hot while we dig out a couple cuts of meat, throw it in her bowl, fill it with hot water, and let it sit for a minute to just barely thaw. Our cat does not mind eating still mostly-frozen food, otherwise we’d have to let it thaw in the fridge overnight/all day and that would be a pain.

Do note that bones are a pretty essential part of your little predator’s diet, but my cat is really finicky about them, and we’re trying to figure out how to buy RMBs (raw meaty bones) without paying lots of money for popular cuts like chicken thighs or spending an hour chopping up a chicken carcass with knives not meant for butchering. Take my word for it: don’t try to hack up a frozen chicken bone. It will permanently ruin your average kitchen knife.

Hope this little guide helps!

Day 161: Herbal Recipes: Oxymels


As a pagan, a simple living eco-nerd, and as someone with a fascination with folk magic traditions, I’ve always found Brandon’s blog to be a captivating and informative read. Here are some of his recipes for medicinal vinegar preparations.

Originally posted on Mountain Man Traditional Healing:


I’m starting a series of posts on herbal preparations and giving out some great and easy recipes I use all the time. Here’s the inaugural post: oxymels!

Oxymels are sometimes called “sipping vinegars” and are a great way to preserve medicinal herbs. The process basically starts the same way as medicinal vinegars, but then honey is added as a sweetener, thickener, and preservative. Personally I really enjoy medicinal vinegars, especially since I’ve started avoiding alcohol, but for some folks vinegars can be a little intense. Oxymels are a great way to have the same benefit from the vinegar tincture but in a more palatable form. Here are a few recipes I make all the time:

Oxymel base: 1 part herbal matter : 3-4 parts vinegar and honey (depending on how sweet you want it).

Usually I make these in a quart jar. Divide the jar into fourths, fill ¼ of…

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On Fiber, Fermentation, and Shojin Ryori

I’ve got IBS. (Who doesn’t these days?) And I’ve been to my GP, seen the gastroenterologist, and gotten the same half-assed treatment that most other Americans with IBS wind up getting: “Eat lots of fiber, drink lots of water, take lots of probiotics, and don’t be afraid to keep some Imodium around if you need it. Next!”

That was two years ago, and I gotta say, I’m really not doing much better. In fact, I slowly discovered that fiber wasn’t the answer. Not only was it not the answer, but it seemed to make things worse. And then I self-diagnosed (with the input of my mom, who is seeing a functional doctor for the same thing) with Adrenal Fatigue, where I found out about the perils of overhydrating – of drinking too much water. If you have AF, then staying hydrated is tricky because of our body’s weakened ability to retain salt and other minerals, which can make us chronically deficient in magnesium and potassium. And that’s on top of the typical American’s baseline tendency to be minerally deficient.

I had long suspected that probiotics had become a racket, and knew that Imodium, while it technically worked, didn’t actually fix anything. So that left me with no good answers for how to go about dealing with my intestinal woes. Then a few days ago, I came across an interesting website: GutSense.org.


Now, the details are definitely not for the squeamish; suffice to say, I’ve experienced a lot of what the author explains. He’s affiliated with a few of his own interests, namely a book about the myths perpetuated about fiber as an essential part of the human diet, and a series of supplements to help reestablish gut flora after a colonoscopy, after surgery, or anything else that can kill off the bacteria living in your gut. To me, though, this guy seems to be more reliable than a lot of other homeopathic snake oil I’ve seen out there for a few reasons, namely that he cites actual sources for his claims. So I’m inclined to try following his advice.

What’s important about this site is what I wound up learning about fiber, and how it pretty solidly matched my own experience toying with fiber levels in my diet over the past few years.

In his IBS FAQ, he writes this:

Q. How come they recommend “Increased fiber intake for constipation,” if fiber is a well-known gas- and diarrhea-producing substance?

To me, that‘s either the biggest “medical mystery”, or the biggest “medical idiocy,” or simply outrageous negligence, or, perhaps, all of the above. In fact, to unravel this mind-boggling incongruity for myself and others, I wrote a book entitled “Fiber Menace: The Truth About the Leading Role of Fiber in Diet Failure, Constipation, Hemorrhoids, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease, and Colon Cancer”, and you are welcome to read it.

If you are a skeptical medical professional reading this, and, all things considered, I don‘t blame you a bit for being skeptical, consider the following two quotes from the American College of Gastroenterology Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders Task Force [link]:

“Fiber doesn’t relieve chronic constipation and all legitimate clinical trials demonstrated no improvement in stool frequency or consistency when compared with placebo.”

“In the management of IBS, psyllium is similar to placebo. In fact, the bloating associated with psyllium use will likely worsen symptoms in an IBS patient.”

Psyllium is a source of soluble and insoluble fibers found in Metamucil-type laxatives, and their digestive properties are identical to all other types of fiber.

There’s a lot more on there. A lot more. Basically, he outlines the following timeline for how and why IBS develops, and how and why it never seems to get resolved:

  1. It all starts with a loss of bacterial flora in the gut. This can be from antibiotics (whether prescribed or from non-organic meat and dairy products), x-rays, bowel prep for surgeries, excessive use of laxatives, chlorine or arsenic in tap water, mercury in fish, and a whole host of other things. He calls this disbacteriosis, which, while the intestinal flora is considered vital to our health, is not a medically accepted term or condition for reasons unknown.
  2. Loss of gut flora results in harder, smaller stools, which our bowels aren’t really designed to pass.
  3. Constipation. Though because “constipation” means that you haven’t had a bowel movement in no fewer than 3 days, the author prefers to call this “impacted stools”. This stage is only apparent if you’re already on a low-fiber diet, apparently. Those of us who eat lots of fiber already have a harder time recognizing that we have a problem, though the problem is still there.
  4. Treat the constipation with more fiber. He writes: “Medical professionals and Dr. Moms alike recommend dietary fiber and fiber laxatives to “naturally” alleviate hardness, particularly when stools are small and dry. Fiber bulks up (enlarges) and moisturizes stools by either retaining water, blocking water absorption, or both.”

For the purpose of this post, I’ll stop there, since I want to talk about fiber.

What does fiber actually do? If you’ve ever made a flax egg before, then you already know. A gram of fiber can absorb many times its weight in water, and that’s exactly what it does in your body. This can actually dehydrate you, encouraging you to drink more, and inevitably results in loss of minerals through overhydration. And not only that, but it actively discourages the restoration of gut flora. The author explains so here:

The by-products of fiber‘s bacterial fermentation (short chain fatty acids, ethanol, and lactic acid) destroy bacteria for the same reason acids and alcohols are routinely used to sterilize surgical instruments—they burst bacterial membranes on contact. And that‘s how fiber addiction develops: as the fermentation destroys bacteria, you need more and more fiber to form stools. If you suddenly drop all fiber, and no longer have many bacteria left, constipation sets in as soon as the large intestine clears itself of the remaining bulk.

For some reason this point is causing intense consternation and controversy among the “experts” on all things fiber. If you are one too, and believe that I am stretching the facts to fit my point of view, please note the following:

(1) The operative phenomenon here isn’t that “fiber causes disbacteriosis,” — butexcess fiber’ — as in “the fermentation of excess dietary fiber.”

(2) Let me remind you that wine in the vat left for too long turns into vinegar, all the bacteria die off, and the fermentation stops. Bacterial fermentation in the wine vat, dear opponents, and in the pile of feces happens to be exactly the same process.

(3) Finally, consider this corroborating quote: “Colonic bacteria ferment unabsorbed carbohydrates into CO2, methane, H2, and short-chain fatty acids (butyrate, propionate, acetate, and lactate). These fatty acids cause diarrhea. The gases cause abdominal distention and bloating.” (Malabsorption Syndromes; The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy.) Let the diarrhea run its course a day too long, and disbacteriosis will soon follow. (God, I love those rare moments when Merck and I are singing the same tune.)

I mean, there’s a reason that folks with severe IBS aren’t allowed any fiber in their diets at all. (A relative of mine isn’t allowed fruit and barely any vegetables for this reason.)

So what the hell am I supposed to do? How, exactly, does a vegetarian avoid fiber?? This is actually something I’ve been thinking about for some months now, and I may have to re-think a lot of how I approach food. Honestly, I’m glad to have an educated medical professional confirm what I was already beginning to sense happening with my own body, and not just that, but also provide a plan for getting back to normal. I may not have to deal with IBS forever. And that is definitely worth a diet change to me.

This means doing homework on cuisines that feature few, if any, high-fiber grains, with little emphasis on cheese and dairy products (for other reasons the website outlines; also for my Adrenal Fatigue). I need to be able to get protein from non-meat, fiber-free sources like eggs and tofu. If I do eat high-fiber vegetables, I should see about getting into the habit of pickling and fermenting them to break some of that fiber down, and also to maximize my ingestion of live cultures, which might help me to restore all that gut flora that I don’t have anymore.


Tsukemono market. Flickr

I was already into the whole fermenting thing after realizing that I could make kimchi at home, which was my gateway drug to the wide, wonderful, world of Korean pickles and Japanese pickles (tsukemono). Not fermented, exactly, but preserved. And then that research, of course, led me to finding out how to make your own miso paste and soy sauce.

I’ve also been dabbling in fermented drinks since that one time I made Sima, a fermented Finnish lemonade that uses baker’s yeast. (I know how it sounds, but trust me, it was good.) For a few weeks back during summer I was trying to get a ginger bug started so that I could make sodas, but for some reason they were all just not quite coming together. Then I read about how non-organic ginger is irradiated, killing all the natural yeasts present in the root and its skin, and gave it another go with some organic pieces. But that’ll be for another post – if I can get some sodas successfully brewed, that is!

But yes, saurkraut, kimchi, kombucha… these things are all in my future. ;]

Shojin Ryori

In thinking about what the heck I’m going to eat as a low-fiber, dairy-free, vegetarian, only one thing really stood out to me: Buddhist temple food, also called shojin ryori in Japanese. There’s an emphasis on simple preparation, simple flavor, and simple food all around. Seasonal ingredients, boiled, steamed, or fried, and served with a few equally simple sauces. With, of course, plain rice.

I learned a lot about Asian cuisine when I was going to college in NYC – my roomate and friends were Taiwanese and Korean, and we all had a special love for traditional Japanese food. I learned how to make miso soup, kimchi, and Japanese curry. We ate a lot of dim sum, and I wound up working on a little comic about dim sum, so I know my way around that type of food like the back of my hand too! But in my day-to-day, I really did eat a lot of Asian-style food. I had access to people who knew how to read Pinyin packaging, I had access to a really badass rice cooker, and so the big grocery store in Manhattan’s Chinatown became my go-to for cheap groceries. Gai Lan, a very healthy vegetable in the cabbage family, was usually 99c a pound, and I practically lived off the stuff. Bok Choi was similarly priced, and so soup made with that, some miso, dashi, and either somen or Korean-style noodles also became a staple.

In other words, aside from sandwiches and Mexican food (which is what I grew up with), far-east Asian cuisine is stuff I could eat – and have eaten – every day.

Curious about trying out Shojin Ryori with me? Until I get my hands on a book or three, I’ll be going by a guide from Tofugu.com, “How to Eat Like a Buddhist Monk”:

Part 1: What is Shojin Ryori?
Part 2: Shojin Ryori Ingredients
Part 3: Prepping Your Foundation
Part 4: Get Cooking!

Here are some more recipes from Sotozen-net. And here’s another website dedicated to exploring the food of the Zen monasteries – most blog posts are mindful meditations on and explanations of ingredients, or what’s going on in the culture of the cuisine, but there are some recipes too. And if you’re more curious about traditional Korean food, then there’s always my favorite resource, Maangchi.

This is not going to be very zero waste – as a lot of these ingredients will be packaged, and I may be buying shrink-wrapped produce (bleh), oh well – but it will be seasonal, it will be very easy to buy in bulk, and best of all, this stuff is easy for me to make. If it’s going to be a scale of “raw carrot” to “tempura”, then it’s no big deal. (Tempura is far from the most complex thing I’ve made.) And if all of this helps my IBS? I will definitely be letting the world know.

In the meantime, though, I’ve got some walnuts to contend with!

What Does It Take to Plant a Forest?

Originally posted on Raxa Collective:

Indian man, Jadav "Molai" Payeng, has single-handedly planted a 1,360 acre forest In Assam. PHOTO: Jagran Indian man, Jadav “Molai” Payeng, has single-handedly planted a 1,360 acre forest In Assam. PHOTO: Jagran

For many people the sight of a dead snake would be an unpleasant but not tragic image, but for Indian activist Jadav “Molai” Payeng it was a call to action that inspired him to create an entire forest. When Payeng was just a teenager in 1979 he came across a bed of dead snakes on the sun-baked shores of the Brahmaputra river. The limbless beasts had been stranded on the barren banks and perished in the unmitigated heat due to the lack of shade or tree cover. Payeng wept over the corpses but resolved to turn his sadness into action.

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Peak Everything

Or, Stuff We’re Running Out of and Have No Good Way to Replace

I’m sure you all are well-familiar with the peak oil phenomenon, but did you know that oil isn’t the only thing that modern civilization needs to survive that we’re depleting at an alarming rate or is almost gone altogether? Here are a few lesser-known resources that may no longer naturally exist by the 22nd century.


Phosphorous mine in Israel. Wikipedia

Phosphorous is a weird thing– you probably recognize the word from the periodic table of elements hanging up on the wall of your chemistry classroom. How in the heck could we be running out of a basic element? Where is it all going?

For you gardeners out there, you probably associate phosphorous with fertilizer, and rightfully so. Commercially-produced chemical fertilizer is where all of the world’s supply of phosphorous is going, and it’s going there at breakneck speed. Phosphorous, nitrogen, and potassium form the basic nutritional needs of just about every plant on earth; this is where you get your fertilizer ratios from: 9-9-9, 6-20-10, and so on. The problem is that the phosphorous in these commercial formulas come from rock phosphate, a sedimentary formation that takes millions of years to form, and is only found in a few geographical areas on earth.

From Resilience.org:

Phosphorus (chemical symbol P) is an element necessary for life. Because phosphorus is highly reactive, it does not naturally occur as a free element, but is instead bound up in phosphates. Phosphates typically occur in inorganic rocks.

As farmers and gardeners know, phosphorus is one of the three major nutrients required for plant growth: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Fertilizers are labelled for the amount of N-P-K they contain (for example 10-10-10).

Most phosphorus is obtained from mining phosphate rock. Crude phosphate is now used in organic farming, whereas chemically treated forms such as superphosphate, triple superphosphate, or ammonium phosphates are used in non-organic farming.

Philip H. Abelson writes in Science:

The current major use of phosphate is in fertilizers. Growing crops remove it and other nutrients from the soil… Most of the world’s farms do not have or do not receive adequate amounts of phosphate. Feeding the world’s increasing population will accelerate the rate of depletion of phosphate reserves.


…resources are limited, and phosphate is being dissipated. Future generations ultimately will face problems in obtaining enough to exist.

It is sobering to note that phosphorus is often a limiting nutrient in natural ecosystems. That is, the supply of available phosphorus limits the size of the population possible in those ecosystems.


A peat harvest in 1905. Wikipedia

I don’t know of any source that make reference to a “peak peat”, but from my understanding of the bell curve that peak predictions rely on, it would make sense to consider peat through this lens.

Peat is basically like a thick, cakey mud that’s dug up from moors and bogs for use in a number of different industries. In rural areas with few trees, it’s cut up into bricks, dried, and used as fuel for stoves and fires. In places like Russia and Finland, peat actually constitutes a sizable percentage of grid energy. Because of its high carbon content, it’s also used to purify water and also, with sphagnum moss, used as a potting soil additive to improve texture and water retention.

Unfortunately, being the product of thousands of years of anaerobic decomposition under special wetland conditions, peat harvesting is completely unsustainable. What’s more, peat bogs are huge carbon sinks, which are both a blessing and a curse for us at this point in time. Good, because under ideal conditions, these areas help mitigate climate change, and bad, because, well, some of the larger ones to be found in tundras all over the world are beginning to thaw for the first time since the last Ice Age, and have the potential to release billions of tons of methane in the process.

From Gardenrant.com:

Peat moss is mined, which involves scraping off the top layer of living sphagnum moss. The sphagnum peat bog above the mined product is a habitat for plants like sundews, butterwort and bog rosemary, as well as rare and endangered animals like dragonflies, frogs and birds, not to mention the living moss itself.  Despite manufacturers’ claims that the bogs are easy to restore, the delicate community that inhabits the bog cannot be quickly re-established.  Yes, peat moss is a renewable resource, but it can take hundreds to thousands of years to form.

Like all precious wetlands, peat bogs purify fresh air and even mitigate flood damage.

And there are archeological reasons to preserve peat bogs.  In the acidic moss below the living layer, wooden artifacts of people who lived long ago survive, even the remains of the people themselves.  CO2 is also preserved – trapped in the moss, but released into the air when mined. In fact, peat bogs store about 10% of all fixed carbon.

In the U.S., peat moss is almost exclusively used by the horticulture industry. 40,000 acres of sphagnum are currently being harvested in Canada, with 90% of the product destined for gardens in the U.S. In the U.K., where peat moss is burned as fuel, as well, nearly 94% of the lowland bogs have been altered or completely destroyed due to harvesting.  And most of our peat is shipped hundreds of miles, often when it’s wet and heavy, which adds further to the fuel required for shipping.

Many conservationists, gardeners, and wetlands scientists in these countries have recommended a boycott of peat. The Royal Horticultural Society hopes for a 90% reduction by 2010.  Areas in Ireland have already banned the harvesting of peat moss altogether.

For those of you looking to replace peat moss in your gardens, coco coir is a relatively renewable resource (and actually does the job better), and conifer needles do a good job of acidifying your soil.


El Chino, an open-pit copper mine in New Mexico. Wikipedia

Copper is another basic element from the periodic table that we’ve all but used up. It’s used in countless industries for countless applications from the pipes in your house, to your city’s high-tension power lines, to the ammo in your handgun, to the some of the smallest components in your electronic gadgets. Copper is also a component in a number of important alloys, including brass and bronze. The stuff is understood to be the first metal to be extensively used by humans, and its adoption dates back at least 10,000 years.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise that 97% of all the copper that has ever been mined was dug out of the ground in the last 100 years and change. Let’s phrase that a different way so I can convey how mind-boggling that is: it took us 10,000 years to mine only 3% of the copper humans have ever used, and only 115 to mine the rest.

If you’ve ever done work on your home or electrical projects, you’ll know that copper is expensive. And if you’ve ever driven around the deserts of the US Southwest, you’ll probably have seen billboards about copper theft. Speaking of copper theft, from Wikipedia:

Copper wire thefts have also become increasingly common in the US. With copper prices at $3.70 a pound as of June 2007, compared to $0.60 a pound in 2002, people have been increasingly stealing copper wire from telephone and power company assets. Gangs have been created, a black market for copper wire has emerged, and men even have been injured in power plants while trying to obtain copper wire. Other sources of stolen copper include railroad signal lines, grounding bars at electric substations, and even a 3000-pound bell stolen from a Buddhist temple in Tacoma, Washington, which was later recovered.

For example, Georgia, like many other states, has seen enough copper crime that a special task force has been created to fight it. The Metro Atlanta Copper Task Force is led by the Atlanta Police Department and involves police and recyclers from surrounding metro areas, Georgia Power, and the Fulton County DA’s office.

A piece from Mines 2 Markets details what claims of peak copper mean:

The trigger now is the demand to wire up the cities in Asia’s booming economies, in India and, particularly, China. China’s vast programme of urbanisation and industrialisation exploded demand for copper from 2000 onwards. Urban population increases (by 2025, one billion people are projected to live in urban areas) will create 221 Chinese cities with over one million people (Europe has 35 such cities). On official data, China accounts for around 40 per cent of current world copper demand. […]

The use of the word “peak” has become emotive. Peak theory, most often associated with oil, was first postulated by American geophysicist M King Hubbert. A Shell employee, he created a model projecting that oil production would peak by 1995, a concept long contended.

But there are major differences between oil and copper, most importantly that copper stays around, and then stays around some more. The International Copper Association (ICA) says 80 per cent of copper ever mined is still in use. The cent or penny in your pocket may contain remains of some ancient Egyptian piping.

Complicating the picture, control of copper supplies is seeing structural change. Industrialised nations have preferred to focus on “new economy” high tech activities and services, believing that minerals could always be acquired on global markets supplied from overseas.

Resource nationalism and labour unrest are key threats to production according to CRU. Increasing government interventions in the copper market are frequent: increased taxes and royalties in Chile, Peru, Zambia, Russia, China, India and, recently, Australia. There has been loss of licences in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and more governments acquiring stakes in mining businesses. […]

Billions and billions are being spent across the copper industry, driven by thoughts of a booming Asia. The market rates investment in copper mines higher than for other non-ferrous metals, while demand, as Rio Tinto forecasts, continues its upward trend.

Yet behind the annual ebb and flow of surpluses and deficits, the conundrum of “peak copper” has yet to be tested. All that seems certain is that, like oil, in today’s money, cheap copper, at least, may have peaked.


dust storm, kansas, the dust bowl, the great depression, erosion, drought

Dust storm picking up over a barren field. History.com

Topsoil. You know the stuff: brown, full of humus, water-retentive, and alive with microorganisms and networks of fungi. All the healthy, natural deliciousness that allows plants to grow strong and healthy. Yeah, we’re running out of this too. And the US ought to be well-familiar with what happens when topsoil disappears. Remember that little thing called the Dust Bowl? From Resilience.org:

The world is losing soil 10 to 20 times faster than it is replenishing it. At the same time, population is growing exponentially – 9.3 billion by 2050, according to UN projections.

Areas of the world – particularly northern China, sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of Australia are already losing large tracts of arable land. Soil management is about more than heaping on chemical fertilizers. A 2008 New York Times article, Scientists focus on making better soil to help with food concerns, that examined the complex nature of simple dirt found that:

Soil does not arise quickly. In nature it starts with a layer of glacial grit,or windblown sand, or cooled lava, or alluvial silt, or some other crumbled mineral matter. A few pioneer plants put down shallow roots, and living things begin to make their homes in and on the surface, enriching it with their excrement, and enriching it further when they die and rot.The resulting organic matter feeds a whole underground ecology that aerates the soil, fixes nutrients, and makes it more hospitable for plant life, and over time the process feeds back on itself. If the soil does not wash away or get parched by drought, it very gradually thickens. It takes tens of thousands of years to make 15 centimeters of topsoil, about 6 inches’ worth.

The UN’s Global Environment outlook, published 2007, states: “Deficiency of plant nutrients in the soil is the most significant biophysical factor limiting crop production across very large areas in the tropics.”

Honorable Mentions: Lithium, Neodymium, Uranium


From Peak Generation:

Lithium is central to the electric cars, because it’s used to create superior batteries – and it’s starting to run out, too. Although clearly less urgent than the items above, this is here to make the observation that it’s wrong to assume that after hitting the peak in global resources we can carry on as before, except that the commute will be in battery-powered cars.

A typical ithium-ion cell can generate approximately three volts, compared to 2.1 volts for lead/acid and 1.5 volts for zinc-carbon cells. According to an April 2010 column Peak Everything? on “free minds and free markets” website reason.com, it’s running out fast:

For example, the Chevy Volt, scheduled to be at dealers this fall, will be energized by 400 pounds of lithium ion batteries, plus a gasoline engine to produce electricity to extend the car’s range of travel once the batteries are drained. In 2007, William Tahil, an analyst with the France-based consultancy, Meridian International Research, issued a report that alarmingly concluded that there is “insufficient economically recoverable lithium available in the Earth’s crust to sustain electric vehicle manufacture in the volumes required.” Tahil added, “Depletion rates would exceed current oil depletion rates and switch dependency from one diminishing resource to another.”

In fairness, a couple of companies are claiming to be developing far superior batteries, that use more common materials – but then if fuel cells lived up to their claims, we’d not even need these. In addition, seawater contains an estimated 230 billion tons of lithium, though at a low concentration of 0.1 to 0.2 ppm – but whether this be harvested in a world of declining hydrocarbons is open to debate.


Also from Peak Generation:

Neodymium is a rare earth metal that makes the strongest permanent magnets known. These are used in products ranging from magnetic computer discs to wind turbines.

Think that when oil supplies start to dwindle, we can all commute in a fleet of hybrid or electric vehicle? Back to reason.com:

For example, the magnets that drive a Prius hybrid’s electric motor use more than two pounds of neodymium. . . Because China can more cheaply produce neodymium than any other country in the world, that country is now the source of 95 percent of the world’s neodymium. Recently, however, China’s government warned that it would begin restricting exports of neodymium (and other rare earth metals) in order to insure supplies for its own manufacturers.

However, this item does state that inventors of a new AC induction motor claim to have eliminated the permanent neodymium magnets. But it’s still an example that driving a Prius is no solution to a future of peak resources.


From the MIT Technology Review:

Perhaps the most worrying problem is the misconception that uranium is plentiful. The world’s nuclear plants today eat through some 65,000 tons of uranium each year. Of this, the mining industry supplies about 40,000 tons. The rest comes from secondary sources such as civilian and military stockpiles, reprocessed fuel and re-enriched uranium. “But without access to the military stocks, the civilian western uranium stocks will be exhausted by 2013, concludes Dittmar.

It’s not clear how the shortfall can be made up since nobody seems to know where the mining industry can look for more. […]

But what of new technologies such as fission breeder reactors which generate fuel and nuclear fusion? Dittmar is pessimistic about fission breeders. “Their huge construction costs, their poor safety records and their inefficient performance give little reason to believe that they will ever become commercially significant,” he says.

And the future looks even worse for nuclear fusion: “No matter how far into the future we may look, nuclear fusion as an energy source is even less probable than large-scale breeder reactors.”

Dittmar paints a bleak future for the countries betting on nuclear power. And his analysis doesn’t even touch on issues such as safety, the proliferation of nuclear technology and the disposal of nuclear waste.

The message if you live in one of these countries is to stock up on firewood and candles.

There is one tantalising ray of sunlight in this nuclear nightmare: the possibility that severe energy shortages will force governments to release military stockpiles of weapons grade uranium and plutonium for civilian use. Could it be possible that the coming nuclear energy crisis could rid the world of most of its nuclear weapons?

What about peak water?

Yes! That should definitely be on here. But, as a born and bred Southern Californian, the subject of water management and drought is near and dear to my heart, so it will be getting its own post.

People First at This Public Regrigerator

Originally posted on Raxa Collective:

Issam Massaoudi, an unemployed Moroccan immigrant, checks out what's inside the Solidarity Fridge. Massaoudi says money is tight for him, and it's Issam Massaoudi, an unemployed Moroccan immigrant, checks out what’s inside the Solidarity Fridge. Massaoudi says it’s “amazing” to be able to help himself to healthy food from Galdakao’s communal refrigerator. PHOTO: NPR

Last year, a small act of kindness in the desert country of Saudi Arabia warmed the hearts of many across the globe. An anonymous individual put a fridge outside his house and called on neighbors to fill it with food for the needy. And now a pioneering project in the Basque town of Galdakao, population about 30,000, aims to eliminate wastage of perfectly good groceries and food. Solidarity refrigerator is showing the world how a little generosity can go a long way.

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Can We Keep Cars Off the Streets

Originally posted on Raxa Collective:

Madrid's car-free zone is just under 500 acres. Only people who live in the zone are allowed to take their cars inside. Those who want to drive in, but don't live in central Madrid, need to have a guaranteed space in one of the city's official parking lots Madrid’s car-free zone is just under 500 acres. Only people who live in the zone are allowed to take their cars inside. PHOTO: Pictures Dot News

After over a hundred years of living with cars, some cities are slowly starting to realize that the automobile doesn’t make a lot of sense in the urban context. It isn’t just the smog or the traffic deaths; in some cities, cars aren’t even a convenient way to get around. Commuters in L.A. spend 90 hours a year stuck in traffic. A UK study found that drivers spend 106 days of their lives looking for parking spots. A growing number of cities are getting rid of cars in certain neighborhoods through fines, better design, new apps, and, in the case of Milan, even paying commuters to leave their car parked at home and take the train instead.

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Cooking with Scraps from Food 52

I love Food 52. I don’t know how I originally discovered it, I don’t know what the 52 means, and I definitely don’t know whether I’ll ever be able to afford anything from their online store (I’d kill for that whetstone…).

What I do know is that it is a fantastic resources for foodies and zero-wasters like me.

Since “moving in” with my Canadian partner almost 3 months ago, I’ve come to realize that many of my go-to meals that I’d been using for several years before suddenly aren’t all that useful. What I mean is that me, being raised in a Latino household (or several of them, really) in Southern California has given me a completely different idea of what comfort food is, and it’s given me a special appreciation for certain ingredients. While on the other hand, my husband, being raised on steak and potatoes in the suburbs of what he calls “Canada’s Texas”, has a vastly different idea of what a good meal is. Add to that the fact that I have a really poor sense of smell while he has an exceptional one, and many things that I find to be essential to a basic meal (strong aromatics, onions, peppers, fresh herbs), are sometimes unpalatable to him. And then there’s the fact that I’m practically vegan up here because dairy and eggs are so darned expensive, and…

Well, you get the idea.

The point is that I’m having to get creative unless I don’t mind resorting to PBnJ’s for dinner. Which I do mind. A lot. (We generally try to stay away from wheat and bread as often as possible. It’s bad for my hypoglycemia, and it’s bad for his metabolism.) And ordering pizza gets damn expensive.

So, kitchen burnout happens. And when I need ideas, I turn to sites like Food 52. Here are some of my favorite finds:

In addition to recipes, the site has a good number of articles on what to do with scraps or otherwise inedible plant leftovers.  I think you can all agree with me that kitchen waste sucks.

PS- My favorite recipe organizing app for the Android thus far is Chef Tap. I tried a number of them on my iPhone, even one that cost me $5. But this one is, hands-down, the best so far. The tagging system is amazing, and no more having to find and look up recipes from only your phone, let alone from just the app’s database, because there’s a desktop-friendly site that lets you manage your recipes.