Middlebury, Vt.

Life in the middle of Vermont.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Food for 350

Spurred by the recent harvest and the impending winter, a lot of us have been thinking harder about food this month.

This week we’re turning that thinking into a special effort to collect donations to the local food shelf (at the co-op in the donation box inside the entrance), and to share the season’s bounty during a giant potluck.

The Middlebury Farmer’s Market has been an ongoing inspiration for this focus on the scrumptious and nourishing. The market has been in its true glory since late August, but it has never been so glorious as this month. For example, last Saturday at the market you could buy -- in addition to the usual squashes, jams, meat and root vegetables of autumn -- green beans, watermelon and strawberries.

Imagine that: Local strawberries in mid-October, courtesy of the hard work of Scott Green and Suzanne Young, the Singing Cedars couple.

Things have reached the point where, in a couple of years I expect to be able to go the winter farmer’s market in the Town Hall Theater and buy fresh local lettuce.

It makes sense that we think a lot about food. Everybody has a tummy and we all get hungry several times a day. What could be more natural?

But it’s that very naturalness - -and the threats to nature in the form of environmental degradation and climate change – that have now also made food into a political and social concern.

This Saturday, Oct. 24, we’ll put some of the recent rethinking about food into action around climate change and feeding the hungry, as part of the International Day of Climate Action (www.350.org).

In Addison County, throughout the U.S. and in more than 100 other nations around the planet, hundreds of thousands of people will participate in activities that will create a global awareness of the number 350 -- the most important number in the world.

Most important because 350 parts per million carbon is, over time, the maximum sustainable level of carbon in the earth’s atmosphere.

We’re now at 387, and climbing.

Ahead of the coming December negotiations in Copenhagen to come up with an
international treaty of climate change, it’s fitting that the main events in Addison County this weekend will focus on food.

In addition to the “Food for 350” drive to collect 350 donations to the local food
shelf, on the Middlebury Green at noon on Saturday, hundreds of hearty and hungry souls will gather around what they hope will be 350 potluck dishes (www.350.org/middlebury).

It’s a fine way to celebrate the increasingly important role that local food production plays in Vermont culture. What better way to honor the bounty of earth’s autumnal fecundity – and to note how climate change would imperil that bounty – than to gather and eat?

Of course the world won’t change just because we have a good meal. As the core organizers of Saturday’s actions put it:

“Make no mistake—getting back to 350 means transforming our world. It means building solar arrays instead of coal plants, it means planting trees instead of clear-cutting rainforests, it means increasing efficiency and decreasing our waste.

“Getting to 350 means developing a thousand different solutions—all of which will become much easier if we have a global treaty grounded in the latest science and built around the principles of equity and justice. To get this kind of treaty, we need a movement of people who care enough about our shared global future to get involved and make their voices heard.”

Eating well, and locally, is a sly, fun way to get people involved.

The food movement, and the clever political uses to which food is now being put in service of admirable aims, have been an eye-opener for those us who cut our political teeth on the civil rights movement and ending the Vietnam War.

We came of age in a time when effecting change meant waging a kind of war – against racism, against the tragic arrogance of America’s wars in Southeast Asia. Combating those evils, we had reasons to be angry even when our primary weapons were nonviolent organizing.

To be sure, there’s plenty to be angry about when it comes to global warming and the changes in climate that threaten the very balance of nature. For starters, there’s mindless consumption (we can look in our closets and living rooms for evidence of that), corporate greed in the coal and oil industries, and enduring cowardice on the part of our elected leaders.

Organizing around food, though, changes the conversation.

When we talk about food we’re less likely to be pointing fingers at what the other guys are doing wrong. Instead, the conversation starts with our common interest in what tastes good. And what tastes best is often what’s been grown close to home.

From the standpoint of our increasingly unstable climate, it matters where the food we eat was grown. Transporting edibles from distant markets – peaches flown on 747’s from Chile to the U.S. in January, then trucked hundreds of miles to supermarkets – consumes a lot of fossil fuel. Burning fossil fuel is a primary cause of climate change and the overheating that threatens life on earth.

All of this has a special resonance for Vermont, home of the original back-to-the-land movement. After all, that movement was first spurred by Scott and Helen Nearing and their compatriots, then by Sixties and Seventies refugees seeking a simpler life in the Green Mountains.

In this century, it was a group of Middlebury College students, inspired by Ripton writer Bill McKibben and Jon Isham, an economics professor, who created the model for Saturday’s International Day of Climate Action.

Their first big effort to get our political leaders to address climate change, back in 2006, was a week’s walk from Robert Frost’s old stomping grounds in Ripton, up to Burlington. Then it was the first national day of climate action, called Step It Up.

Now here we are on the verge of the first day of actions all over the planet.

It all started with a bunch of local dreamers. As Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Irreversible global warming will drastically alter where and how we can grow our food. It will displace millions of people and potentially cause widespread hunger on a global scale.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s not too late to act, and to eat.

I hope this Saturday, you’ll come become a part of that (not so small) group of thoughtful, committed citizens. Bring a small dish to the Middlebury Green (RSVP at middpotluck@gmail.com). Drop a can in the “Food for 350” bin at the co-op.

And be glad for a full belly, and a day full of hope for the planet.

- 30 -

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