Tuesday, July 20, 2010

How Bizarre Would You Be?

One of my favorite TV shows is Bizarre Foods with chef and writer Andrew Zimmern. He's smart and funny and truly adventurous when it comes to trying out local cuisine. Street food, bush tucker, state fair deep fried anything ... he'll try it all, and I believe he's only thrown up on camera once!

Zimmern's show of course is an exercise in sustainable eating and localism, and the title of his show somewhat ironic. After all, the foods that seem bizarre to Americans are simply "food" to other cultures. Of course, there are some truly strange victuals out there. I stopped watching once after Zimmern was offered a glass of sake with a beating frog's heart in it—but in this case he was at a Japanese restaurant famous for concocting weird edibles as tests of resilience and strength, a holdover from Samurai culture.

Mostly Zimmern spends his time eating head cheese, blood sausage, chitterlings, knuckle, tongue, sweetbread, etc—reminding us of a time when it was quite common to eat every last part of an animal in one sausage form or soup other. The show is also a reminder of just how narrow the modern factory farmed and processed American diet has become, to the point at which lamb or liver or hocks are as bizarre as most folks will ever get.

Growing up in England, with parents and grandparents who went through WWII (and in one case WWI), my diet still contained elements of more sustainable times, as well as times of hardship. We sometimes ate inexpensive and nutritious foods such as liver, tongue, haslet, blood puddings, pilchards, and suet—the last two are considered in this country things to feed cats or birds! If we had a beef roast on Sunday, then for evening tea we would eat drippings on toast—the beef fat cooled and congealed to a spread.

I often think of sustainable living in terms of "what era do we need to go back to?" In the case of diet—to use our food resources more frugally and to add more variety and localism—we'd need to travel back to at least 1940, the age before Kraft cheese, margarine, and Jello!

But I wonder if folks have the stomach for this? Well, how about a test?! At Wegmans in Fairmount, NY, you can go to the international foods aisle and purchase a classic British "throwback" food from the turn of the last century: Marmite. It's a sticky, brown, salty spread made from the yeast sludge left over from beer brewing. Deelish! Buy a jar and spread it on toast—if you pass the Marmite test, you'll have the stomach for other "bizarre foods!"

—Martin Walls, Syracuse Center of Excellence

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Renewable Energy Alchemy

Let me tell you about the wonderful opportunity I had recently, where I spent the day with the SUNY Oswego Energy Institute. This past Tuesday, students in the summer Energy Institute took part in an engaging, day-long training at the Renewable Energy Training Center at SUNY Morrisville.

Fifteen students attended the training which began with an overview of the facility and the various training programs offered. The attendees spent the morning exploring fundamentals of wood gasification and then created their own wood gasification “stove”. Here’s an example on YouTube that is similar.

The afternoon was spent gaining exposure to the RETC’s small anaerobic digester, producing methane currently from a couple of apples that have been digesting for several months. We then took a short field trip to a more macro-example in the form of the large scale anaerobic digester linked to a 270 head dairy operation producing energy from the digestion of the dairy waste stream.

It was a very instructive day for the Energy Institute students, and led to considerable discussion on the ride home for the practicalities, and possibilities of other renewable energy projects.

Thanks much to Ben Ballard for the opportunity to see all that the RETC has to offer!

-Thad Mantaro, SUNY Oswego

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

All Hail BP!

It occurs to me that mega-corpoations such as BP act like arrogant, bullying, empire-building nation states of yore because, well, they have grown so large—in terms of wealth and assets—that they are now analogues of nation states. One example of their wealth: Exxon's annual profit in 2006 was $39.5 billion, the equivalent of Ghana's GDP. It's "much reduced" $19.3 billion profit in 2009 is at the level Macedonia's GDP.

I'd go further to say we may be entering a phase in which certain corporations—most obviously banks and oil companies—will dominate even supposedly powerful real nations, dictating domestic and foreign policy beyond the specific areas of finances and energy.

There's nothing new in the corporate control of nations: Britain (arrogantly, bullishly) outsourced its empire building to the British East India Company. In modern times, oil companies have become quite used to the de facto control of territory, as the inhabitants of the Niger Delta have discovered. What's new in the case of BP is that the arrogance and bullying has clearly infiltrated the so-called First World: America, in other words, is experiencing what the Niger Delta, the Persian Gulf, and countless so-called Developing Nations have experienced: oil spills, environmental degradation, human displacement, compliant (or just plain scared) governments. The acceptable risks of the oil business.

Where will this end? A dystopian outcome might be war—the point when oil resources become so low and sought-after that real nations and oil companies begin to fight each other for them‚the oil companies employing mercenary armies they have gotten to know in recent wars, I imagine. The commerce-driven Opium Wars between Britain (dba the British East India Company) and China might be a template for this sort of conflict.

Too fanciful, I think. More likely is what already seems to be happening to BP. Older nation states often pulled themselves apart and went bankrupt when their arrogance and bullying—and empire building—created unsustainable financial situations—taxes that led to riots, ill-conceived alliances that led to more conflict (World War I), and so on.

BP may already be at this stage. One shocking part of the whole Gulf of Mexico oil spill for me is not just that BP had a poorly conceived clean-up and containment plan for the spill, it's that by not having one, they put the company at risk. In other words, BP is on the verge of bankruptcy. These mega-corporations--like Britain's King John—might just stupid themselves into irrelevance!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Citizens Academy Roadshow

In September, the SUNY Oswego Office of Business and Community Relations will partner with Beaver Lake Nature Center to offer a citizens academy on sustainability at Beaver Lake Nature Center.

A citizens academy is an interactive educational program that helps citizens learn what they can do to sustain a healthy, eco-friendly community. Weekly topics will include ecological principles, water and energy efficiency, sustainable food and buying and sustainable communities.

Meetings will run 11 a.m. to noon, Wednesdays from September 29th through November 10at Beaver Lake Nature Center. There is an all inclusive $10 fee for the discussion style class and materials, and the program is underwritten by SUNY Oswego.

We are very excited to offer the Citizens Academy in partnership with Beaver Lake Nature Center and we’re also very excited to have two a program graduates, Linda Costello and Mary Fran Yafchak, lead the program. Linda and Mary Fran completed the course together in the first Citizen's Academy in 2009. They found that experience to be motivating as well as informative and are eager to expand the discussion. Linda, in particular, has over twenty years environmental experience. This experience includes being a trained Habitat Steward, and teaching zoo camp at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo.

Those who complete the program will receive a certificate of participation and information on how to become engaged with local sustainability activities. Participants must preregister by calling Beaver Lake at 315.638.2519.