10 Mile Diet

About Vicki Robin and the 10-Mile Diet

In July 2010, when Tricia Beckner asked me to only eat for a month  what she can produce on her CSA farm-ette, just to see what happens, I was game for an adventure in hyper-local eating. This blog documents the day by day joys, tribulations and discoveries of that experiment.  At the end of the month I turned the blog into a book proposal and now, two years later, it’s become a book called Blessing the Hands that Feed Us (Viking/Penguin 2013/4).

Blessing The Hands that Feed Us is…

o A funny, informative, inspiring story about my effort to eat within 10 miles of my home in September 2010
o A brief education on relocalization, transition, and the global crises
o An introduction to “relational eating” – eating in the context of community (which is the way it is, we just forgot)
o A personal story of hope lost and found in my life as an activist
o A call to participate in re-regionalization of our food systems
o A spiritual story of redemption through community, of finding a true home
o Profiles of farmers and a community becoming stronger through food and feeding one another
o A topography of Whidbey’s local food territory that others can use in their lives and communities
o My next book after Your Money or Your Life – part of a series on finding sane ways to live in a crazy world – and by doing so, nudging that world back to health and wholeness.

A Facebook Page, http://www.facebook.com/BlessingTheHandsThatFeedUs, will keep filling as my research, speaking and writing evolve.

Stay tuned. I feel so blessed by this opportunity to eat good food, belong in and to a great community, and bring my gifts of observation and articulation to this great food movement.

October, 2012



Vicki’s 8 food rules from 10 mile eating ~ One more time

(First published on October 5, 2010, at the end of my 10-mile diet but worth repeating 3 years later)

I’m noticing that the heightened awareness and savory, sweet flavor of being on a 10 mile diet is fading as I expand my circle of food to nuts and cheeses and things that come in jars with labels and more than 5 ingredients.  I’m inclined to develop some “food rules” to remind me of the clarity that came through eating here – very here.

Rules, values, ethics, covenants, pledges – these all direct our wayward energy towards “the good, true and beautiful.” Ideally we’re just aware. Present. In blissful union with reality. I wish I were there all the time. But short of that – and we’re mostly far short of that – there are rules of the road to the good life.

I’m not alone in generating “food rules”.

Michael Pollan’s recent short set in his wonderful book, Food Rules, is:

  1. Eat food.
  2. Mostly plants
  3. Not too much.

Another friend’s simple rule: Ï don’t eat anything with eyes.

I mentioned before a diet book that recommended:

  1. Eat when you are hungry.
  2. Stop when you’re full.
  3. Eat what your body wants.
  4. Don’t eat standing up.

I’ve watched a clerk in a store I frequent melt away. Her rules:

  1. No sugar
  2. No eating after 6 PM
  3. Lots of water.

Vegans have rules. Vegetarians have rules. Health nuts have rules. And locavores have rules. Even breatharians have food rules.

Here are my 10-mile derived truths – which have rules associated with them. Rules that I will surely break but that will be there for me from this day forward to re-orient.

1. All food comes from somewhere. I want to find out where so I can in a way thank those that feed me, reward good practices and protect the livelihood of small to mid-sized farmers (sounds funny, i mean the land not the people). This could be a daunting but fascinating task. Eating local solves that issue so…

Rule: I will purchase as much as possible direct from the producer.

2. Food is love. Producing it. Cooking it. Eating it so that your body may be nourished. Death as an animal or vegetable and rebirth as us, living one more day. Our own death, if we don’t rest and rot forever in stainless steel boxes, feeds life. This doesn’t imply we must slather it with unctuous sanctity , but that we can make a good faith effort to honor the life sacrificed that we may eat. In the community where I lived for 35 years we said grace before every meal. Rub dub thanks for the grub. Bless this food to our use and our  lives to your service. Thank you. Yay God. The pausing and holding hands bound us together at the end of busy dispersed days, slowed us down to the speed of savoring, appreciated the cooks, and began the happy ritual of sharing our days as we shared our food. Food is social. I will simply eat more with others, cook more for others, eat out with others. I will glory in my ability to feed people, to take from my stores and make a feast (if only fried rice) for friends.There is no such thing as “food” or a solitary “eater.” We live in community – of people and food and the living world.

Rule: I will say grace, eat slowly and savor-ing-ly, and with others as often as possible in my solo, willful and busy life. I will cook for others as much as possible. From scratch.

3. I am my food system, not apart from it picking and choosing but part of it, giving and receiving. This is a shift from food being out there like an automat where we select this over that. Once you see yourself as woven into a food system, not just a shopper in a market where the system is hidden from view, more than what goes into your mouth transforms.

Try this experiment. Since our eyes are on the front of our faces, we orient to a perceptually 2 dimensional picture that is “out there.” We reach into that picture and grab what we need. We drive into it to get somewhere. Now imagine you had eyes in the back of your head as well. Between your shoulder blades. In the small of your back. At the back of your knees – and your knee caps. Suddenly the stuff of life is around you, not just out there. That’s the shift from being a shopper to being in the center of a food system.

Apart from all the other learnings – the threshing wheat with an egg beater, the economics of paying my neighbors for food they raised – there is this startling shift of awareness that feeds my soul as well as my body.

Rule: I will allow my life as an eater to make me aware of the web of life that supports me, and all of us. I can use a phrase as simple as ‘food system’ to remember.

4. Food is political, there’s no way around it. From raw milk being illegal to politically distorted feedback systems that make packaged food cheaper than real food. From school lunches of pizza and purple milk to ever growing number of hungry in our midst.

Rule: I will inform myself about the food system, the regulations and laws and customs that give us both obesity and starvation. I will vote about it. I will write about it. I will donate.

5. Food is complex. The way we live is shaped around the food we eat even when eating is done in cars, in cities, far from source.

The spread of the human comes from our mastery of food production. Civilization itself has marched across the face of the earth – as Bonaparte said of armies – on its stomach. Feeding. Occupying now almost all niches where energy (food) is available for the picking or planting.

Agriculture, as we all know from our history and geography lessons, permitted human settlements which permitted stratification of societies, money, specialization, slavery – you name it, taming grains and animals gave it to you. The intoxicating aroma and effect of spices and drugs connected the known world, Asia to Europe to Africa, from millenia before the Common Era.

Breakthroughs in food technologies – the Green Revolution, Selective Breeding, Genetic Modification, Industrial Agriculture, even the Farm Bill – solve the problems of starvation while feeding the problems of diminishing productivity and a population that now is so large we can’t all be fed.

Food is complex because of this history and its unintended consequences. The food problem  is the overshoot problem which is the annual increase of births over deaths (aka population) problem, and if you want a hot potato try talking about that! I am dedicated to the work of “learning to live well together within the means of the earth.” No amount of “Eat your peas, think of the starving children in China/Korea/Bangaladesh/Pakistan/Africa” can solve our mal-nourishment and mal-distribution problems. They are systemic. Hunger, I fear, is going to creep into lives that thought they were secure. And when we are hungry we are cranky. I don’t know if I will live to see the consequences of our choices in my one short lifetime (when I was born there were 3 billion people on this planet).

Rule: I can nudge the system in the right direction with my choices and I intend to. I will support local sustainable agriculture everywhere.But I will work towards the ideal John Robbins talks about “May all be fed.”


6. Food is highly emotionally charged. People have pride and shame, fear and longing around weight, size, diet du jour, longevity, inability to feed the family, diet related illness. And I am people. I am a lifelong “diet-er” – and even if I were thin as a rail I’d still somehow have an eating disorder since I look at food as a threat or reward, as comfort or sport, as right and wrong – and myself as good or bad depending on which system I’m beating myself up with now.

Rule: I will ground myself in the presence of judgment – of myself, of others, of others of me – and just love the one I’m with. We are all such marvelous day-glo beings, full of color and life.

7. Food is great. Tasty, tangy, creamy, yummy, oily, colorful, salty, biting, sweet, juicy, spicy, crunchy, crisp, meaty, fishy, slithery, chewy, nutty, hot, refreshing, subtle. Lord strike me dumb at least (or dumber) if I don’t fully savor every bite of that miracle called food.

Rule: I will enjoy the sensual delicious act of eating.

8. Food is fun. It’s always there to select and cook and eat, to think about, to learn about, to write about and especially enjoy. It shouldn’t be stuck between “more important things”, like a gas station or pit stop for the body. My agent thinks this endless stream of words that have poured out of me in this last month may be a book. A good one even. Michael Pollan meets Barbara Kingsolver meet Irma Bombeck or Joan Rivers. As i said, “transforming our relationship with food”. 10 mile eating isn’t a new food system. A new set of imperatives. I have stumbled into a new relationship with food. \ I can offer others this way of engaging with food – which may result in more justice, health, appropriate weight, sustainability and fun. What do you think?

Rule: Continue to write about, think about, research, advocate for  – and eat – food. Bon Apetit.

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Food Waste – the problem and possibility

I talked yesterday with Dana Frasz, founder of FoodShift. Here’s how they describe the problem:

wasted resources
Food waste squanders water, depletes soil, wastes fossil fuels, and adds greatly to the world’s carbon footprint. 25% of all fresh water consumed in the U.S. is used to produce food that is ultimately wasted and 300 million barrels of oil are used each year to produce food that is ultimately wasted.
toxic results
Almost all uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills where it accounts for almost 15 percent of U.S. methane emissions. Methane is twenty one times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide.
costly problem
Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year in food and it is costing and additional $750 million just for disposal. The average family of four throws out around $2,200 in food each year.

Add to this data the fact that agriculture accounts for about 14% of the greenhouse gasses – and that may not include transportation to market (will check!).

We equate the changing climate with transportation, seeking solutions from high mpg cars to carpooling, to bicycling. Yet agriculture is not – yet- the focus of our attention, creativity and strategies for change. Clearly eating less meat helps, but until we talk about small and mid scale regional agriculture as the future of food, we aren’t talking.

And look at the cost of wasted food: $2200/year/family of 4. That’s over $6 a day. How might we spend that $6 if we didn’t throw food away? Could we pay more for organic food, both fresh and processed. Could we pay for healthier cereals and breads? 

These days I’m seeing how our food choices are part of a system. Not JUST less meat. Not JUST less waste. But how do less meat and less waste link – and by doing both, what other benefit comes?


Blessing the Hands that Feed Us has led me into caring not just about food but the systems that bring food to our table – some of them are deeply nourishing (our local communities), some of them operating at great cost to farmland, farmers, fertility, forests and communities. It’s taken me a long time to even somewhat wrap my mind/arms around the enormity of our food system and the ramifications of the micro-policies and 11th hour riders to bills that tilt the balance further towards industrial  production. 

This list of the top 50 people in Food will help me know the players, understand their relationships and understand how they exert power over what we the people eat


Sorting through the GMO issues

Join me as I dig for a place to stand about GMOs (genetically modified organisms)

Let’s get underneath the “frankenfood” and “fish in your tomatoes” positioning of the fight against GMOs. GMOs aren’t the devil.

Actually, compassionate people, trying to solve real problems for farmers and hungry people, went into their lab to see if they could create crops that survived pests and droughts, that produced more per acre (and unit of labor).

And curious people – like we always do – pushed the edges because we wanted to see further and deeper.

It’s not a given, though, that the next stop for such research is corporate profit. Once our food system gets into the hands of the profit system, then the fight begins. Once food is a traded commodity on global markets we the eaters have lost control of what’s on our plates.

Now, back to the problems with genetically modified food entering our food system.

1. “Transgenic” means that genes from animals go into vegetables. Fish that tolerate cold provide genetic material for tomatoes we’d like to tolerate cold as well. Why in the world! I’ve read very reasonable arguments about the need for faster prototyping than traditional plant breeding affords us. Given that climate change will rapidly alter our agricultural map, we can’t afford the 10 years traditional plant breeding takes. GMO’s will be our way of surviving. Yet there is something that makes us uneasy about fish in our tomatoes. But could this simply be like when the automobile came in and people thought the human body could not tolerate speeds over 20 miles per hour?

2. Allergies and preferences:  If I could die from eating peanuts, how can I be sure there are no nuts in my corn? How can I be a vegan with fish in my tomatoes? For now, buying organic guarantees that my veggies are veggies. However, this is one front line of the movement. We barely kept a provision out of the organic standards that allowed GMOs. The battles isn’t over.

3. Precautionary principle: this is the simple notion that if we don’t know whether an action will do long term damage, better to wait than to barge ahead. GMOs are a very new kid on the genetic block. Twenty years. We might know what the first and second generations of the altered seed do, but we do not know how these plants and animals, once “in the wild”, will affect the unaltered stock. We don’t know if GMO salmon will mate with wild fish, and how that will spread around the world, and if those salmon will be coded to self destruct in 10 generations. Putting GMOs into our own bodies is one thing. Putting them into nature is another.

4. Viruses: How do we “shoot” genetic material through a cell wall, a clever structure designed to protect the innards from foreign bodies? Viruses – fragments of genetic material – know how to do that so we use virus material to escort the new codes into the original DNA. For me the precautionary principle says that we mustn’t aid and abet viruses, even as slaves.

5. Traditional agriculture: to the degree that GMOs allow industrial scale farming to financially outcompete diverse, small and mid-scale farms, they are a problem This is the sovereignty issue, an important one for me. We do not want to turn over our most basic need and right – to feed ourselves – completely to corporations. Then we truly are serfs.

Food affects our health, our children’s children, our freedoms, our security, our ethical ground of being. And so we need to be vigilant about how our food system is altered. We need to check innovations against our values, common sense and science. We also need to check them against our fears and our prejudices. It’s hard work, which is why most of us want to just cook dinner and be done with it. It’s not been easy for me to sort this out, and I’m not sure yet I see the whole picture with clarity.

However unclear we are, though, we have to agree that labeling GMO foods is essential to preserve our ability to make a considered choice. This is where the might of corporations comes in. In Europe when labeling came in GMOs went out. Monsanto knows this, and their legal department is ruthless in squashing all demands.

If we care, we need to support labeling campaigns. Prop 37 in California died in part because of Monsanto’s firepower and ability to seed doubt in voter’s minds. In part, though, it’s because the food movement wasn’t as aligned, focused and mobilized as it needs to be. That means you and I need to sign on to such battles, knowing simply that we do not want to risk corporate control of our food system. Next up: Prop 522 – GMO labeling – in Washington State.

I’m still finding my way in this broad food movement.  I am not going to be overly cautious, though. I’ll put out what I think and see what you think and together we’ll learn.

And by the way, all this is another reason why i think that regenerating regional food systems is important, which in part means eating my neighbor’s kale – and paying them for it.

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Why does dinner have to be sooo complicated?

Why does dinner have to be so complicated?

It used to be you opened the fridge. pulled out some potatoes and meat and vegetables (or opened a can, box or freezer bag), did some stove hocus-pocus and there it was: dinner.

Now the choices boggle the mind. First, there’s food labels. Someone like me might look for words like natural, real, whole, fresh and local, while someone else goes for creamy, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth. We’re both buying concepts though. These words have no agreed upon meaning. We depend on the feel of them because few of us grow any of our own food.

Then there’s justice issues. Most of our food comes from elsewhere, produced by people we don’t know. How are the workers treated? What is the gap in wages between the company owner and the people on the factory line? and those in the fields? Do the farmworkers have a place to sleep. Decent sanitation? Following that line of thinking can lead to despair, anger and a realization that our food is cheap because someone, somewhere, isn’t being treated with full respect and honor.

On top of that, we find we need to care about how the soil is being treated. And the air and water. Whether today’s snack is creating tomorrow’s cancer or climate change. Talk about ruining dinner

And then there are the food allergies. These days you invite someone for dinner and you have to find out if they are allergic to: wheat, peanuts, nuts in general, gluten in general. And you need to know where they land on the scale of animal, vegetable, mineral. Do they eat raw, vegan, vegetarian, meat as a treat, only fish and chicken, omnivore. Do they burp with raw onions. Fart with beans. Break out in hives with strawberries.

I hope I can – as I speak and write – help people relax a bit around this dilemma. Develop a personal set of criteria and a personal set of strategies for meeting those criteria. Simplify the process.

I also hope to inspire many people to bring their eating closer to home, thereby knowing directly where that food comes from, who grows it, how, where their farmer’s kids go to school, and how we as eaters can partner with our “feeders” so there is a “wholeness” and “realness” to our food because we are in relationship with the plants, animals, fields, soils, air, water and human community. Food as where we are from, not just what we buy. As who we are and what we care about, not just what we like and who else likes it on Facebook.

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Local food and farmworker justice

My new fav organization is http://foodtank.org. Danielle Nierenberg and Ellen Gustafson are just birthing it. Please become a founding member – I am. They are combining research and action. I trust their work, and knowing who to trust these days is important. Responding to an article about farmworker injustice I offered the following commentary. I’d love to hear what you think about the article and my comment!

thank you for asking us to weigh in on this article. these are terrible stories and statistics. many issues are brought together here: justice, sanitation, workplace hazards, education, economics. in fact, so much is conflated that it’s too black and white. For e.g., what scale of farms and what type of crops are the worst offenders? Can we name names? If so, consumers can avoid products for social justice as well as personal health. Is there any org/agency that rates farms/corporations for their social justice practices? Are conditions the same on (industrial mono-crop) organic farms? If so, buying organic is treating issues of justice while supporting good soil and climate practices.
how else can consumers help?
“Vote with your dollars” – buy the most just food you can.
“Fasts” – a personal ethicial/spiritual practice of not engaging in a habit or practice you want to eliminate. So refusing to eat one food known for human rights abuse.
“Boycotts” – joining a collective campaign to punish the “bad guys” by not buying their products. Will FoodTank offer such campaigns? If not, who does?
“Witness” – go to the farms/factories of the worst offenders and bear witness. Simply stand. Look. Possibly hold a sign or do theater.
“Protest” – march, write letters to representatives, storm the gates,
“Shame” – write opeds, send emails, go on radio and TV and simply tell the story of what you have seen or learned without hyperbole. The facts alone are brutal.
“Research” – for a college report or an ngo org or a news media outlet, gather facts, get to know the issues deeply. This could lead to an advanced degree, a Pulitzer, or just a blog with a hundred followers.
“Blog” – tell your story. reveal your facts
“Organize” – join or start organizations that engaged in some or all of the above. you don’t have to go it alone. in fact, the problems are systems so solutions will ultimately be both individual and systemic.
“Go local” – Commit to food grown by people you can know on farms you can visit. This may mean growing some of your own, adjusting to a regional and seasonal diet, joining a CSA, buying at the local farmers market, buying at a local coop that does your farm visits for you, spending more on food but wasting less so overall costs stay balanced, gleaning, cooking more from scratch with ingredients grown nearby. You can define local as your town, your county, your state, your region (anywhere from a 10-mile to 500-mile diet). If the problems cited in the article are in your circle of local, you can make a big difference by using any/all above methods to “out” the practices and practitioners. They may go to your church or sit on a committee with you. Their kids may go to your kids school. So local has not just the power of the fork and wallet, it has the power of witness, protest, research, writing and organizing.


If “consenting adults” works for sex, why not milk?

As soon as I started my 10-mile diet I became a criminal. No, not local marijuana (which now is legal in Washington). Local milk. Selling milk to your neighbor from your cow or goat is against the law.

I’m thinking about it today because the FDA just announced new food safety standards, saying we should prevent contamination rather than just react to outbreaks. This means further regulations, many so costly that small producers can’t reasonably comply. I’m all for the nation’s food supply being safe – but this ruling raises a concern. Hear me out. And tell me if I am off base. Please!

Raw milk – good for you, bad for you?

Raw milk is regulated by states, and the battle to legalize the sale of it has many fronts. Most advocates believe raw milk is better for your health because beneficial enzymes are destroyed with pasteurization. Most detractors say the milk, if not properly handled, can make you very sick and should not be sold right from the cow or goat. Pasteurization kills off the pathogens and protects the milk supply for the nation.

After much research – inconclusive since each side is adamant about their arguments – I stand somewhere else. It’s about sovereignty, subsidiarity and small farmer prosperity.

I believe that “neighbor to neighbor” trade of food should be exempt from the stringent – and costly – licensing and regulations that keeps the big guys in line, while still holding the little guys accountable to their customers for the quality of their product.

Organic in fact but not in label?

Most of my local farmers grow organically but they don’t sell their food as organic because they can’t afford to pay the fees for licenses and for inspectors to come out at required intervals. They are already at a disadvantage financially. Small scale hand raised food is inherently more expensive than large scale, highly subsidized, mechanized or undocumented workers harvested, factory processed food. Most of my local farmers have excellent procedures for harvesting, washing and packaging their food. First, they care. Second, their reputation is shot if even one person gets sick. This is performance based evaluation (people don’t get sick, the food is healthy and fresh) versus regulation based assurances (the inspector was on site to verify compliance). Third it behooves all of us to have thriving small scale agriculture in our regions.

I’m not objecting to food that travels more than 50-100 miles (a decent measure for accountability) from farm to fork being regulated to assure safety. Milk, for example, leaves regulated farms in large tankers and is combined at the bottling plant – we have NO way to know whose cow our milk comes from. Absolutely!

Why I trust my neighbor as much as the FDA

But my neighbor who sold me their one cow’s milk is a different story. I as a consumer want to legally buy that milk because:

  1. I trust this neighbor
  2. I really like the  milk – way more delicious than the store milk
  3. I want this neighbor – and all my neighbors – to be able to earn money legally from what they produce at this small scale, enough to pay taxes and buy clothes and buy what they can’t produce. This is how we lived just a few generations ago!

Mechanisms for assurance

Because of this, I am willing to sign a consent form assuming personal responsibility for my choice. Alcohol kills yet it’s legal. Cigarettes kill yet they are legal. Couldn’t we require warning labels on local milk and/or require customers to sign a waiver? If you work out at a gym you sign a waiver; you hold yourself, not the gym, responsible for your sprains and bruises. You are taking your health into your own hands. Why not something similar with milk you buy from a neighbor’s cow? Or perhaps you need to prove that the buyer is a neighbor. You take their address. Or perhaps you have to prove that they are a personal friend. You get an existing customer to cosign for them. All this is in the realm of reasonable when you are dealing with people in community.

Why it’s important

Why do we need to bring this kind of trade above ground? Because more producers and consumers can benefit. It builds the local food capacity. Why is this important? Here are reasons that make sense to me:

  1. If we don’t want to participate in the food industrial complex, we can opt out without opting out of foods we love
  2. Industrial food is not inherently safer! According the FDA’s own press release “The burden of foodborne illness in the United States is substantial. One in six Americans suffer from a foodborne illness every year. Of those, nearly 130,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from their illness. Preventing foodborne illnesses will improve public health, reduce medical costs, and avoid the costly disruptions of the food system caused by illness outbreaks and large-scale recalls.” One in six!
  3. If you believe that raw milk is better for you and your children, you can purchase it. Most countries do not ban the sale of raw milk.
  4. If you believe that regional food security is important, you allow more very small scale producers to enter the market. If they scale up beyond several cows or a dozen goats, their customers will likely not be their friends and neighbors and so stricter regulations would kick in.
  5. If you don’t want your beautiful rural community overtaken by mono crops and mega corps and big box shopping plazas, then small scale producers have to have a shot at making a decent living. Growing peppermint is one things. Drying it and selling tea sachets is another. The value of the peppermint goes up astronomically.  Raising, slaughtering and butchering animals for home consumption is one thing. Being able to sell roasts and chops to your neighbors without a USDA inspector watching (at your expense) makes those animals a small income stream as well as dinner.


Subsidiarity is a principle that says that problems are best solved closest to those affected. We need the UN to debate global issues like climate change and rights of women. We need national governments to preserve the rights for all citizens – and regulate our food and drug supply – and review rulings for constitutionality – and level the economic playing field, busting up monopolies, enabling entrepreneurs, using taxes to encourage beneficial action and constrain greed . We need state governments to innovate, regulate and respond to regional needs. But on the matter of neighbor to neighbor trade, we need local adaptations. There can be community review boards. There can be covenants and ordinances to provide some protections. But we can assume that people have common sense and allow them to make their own considered decisions about buying milk, eggs, cheese, meat, vegetables and herbs. Most of that is already legal without draconian costs to the producers.

How does this strike you? Why do you believe as you do? Where are you willing to risk for personal freedom and where do you believe it’s right to regulate?

All this from the desire for a spot of milk in my tea in the morning. But such is the unfolding of wisdom, starting from a small seed or irritant, and growing into mighty issues and insights.

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Nourishment versus calories

A friend, hearing the topic of my book, said she had a lot of stories to tell about her own bulimia, anorexia and body. I realized this is the obvious first thought when you say you’ve written a book about food. Here’s what I wrote back. What do you think? How would you say it?

My food work is NOT about the many aspects of personal food dysfunction. it starts there (as i am a child of my food culture) but is really about our relationship with nourishment – and the hands and lands that bring that to us. it is to fall in love with food as the source of our lives, and to pull back the curtain to reveal the systems – healthy and unhealthy – that produce that magic of stocked shelves and colorful farmer’s markets. to mend the disconnection with our communities via food. 

I have many thoughts about nourishment versus calories. More on that as time goes on.

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Subversive gardening

Roger is funny, clear and connects the dots between population growth, shrinking resources, obesity in a world of hunger, and the possibility that turning our lawns into lunch (vegetables) is a doable revolution. All in 18 minutes. Also, read the comments – some reveal how resistant folks are to simple, self-generated food solutions. What’s with that?

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What’s a complementary food system?

The food systems that feed us – natural and national – are like the glass pieces in a kaleidoscope. I turn my head this way and that, trying for a whole picture. I think I’m beginning to see it, but still, as Paul in the Bible said, “through a glass darkly.”

Last week I tried explaining my current understanding to a very well informed acquaintance. The piece about complementary food systems had her puzzled.

I use that term for the possibility and importance of regenerating regional agricultural capacity.Right now, we have spotty capacity, unequal to the job of feeding the people. We are highly reliant on industrial agriculture.

In medicine, natural remedies and modalities were at first labeled quackery,  then alternative and now, with much research and demand, complementary. Massage and chiropractic and homeopathy and naturopathy are included in many insurance plans and recognized as part of the range of effective treatments. Small scale family farms and market gardens are currently sidelines in our food system, little protected and left to compete with industrial food on an unequal playing field. Here’s what I wrote to this acquaintance:

Our conversation helped me clarify the idea of a complementary food system and how it’s just a name for building regional food production, processing and distribution capacity. I want people to see that it is possible – though very challenging – to restore the vitality of our regional food system. In 1950 (my lifetime!!!) most food eaten in western WA was grown here.

We live in the midst of a supply chain miracle aided by fossil fuels and corporate consolidation and vertical integration and agricultural inputs and nano tech and Reaganomics and a lot more. Every innovation seemed to make life better (better living through chemistry) but to me there is a sorcerer’s apprentice quality of what we have now. we are beginning to drown in the unintended consequences of a system no one really can grasp anymore.

With relocalization as a lens you start to map a system you can actually see and influence. Not reject the good and necessary of the industrial system but begin to see gaps and opportunities, begin to define for ourselves our goals for our productivity, begin to see where we can stop being complicit with what we don’t choose for ourselves and families. it’s not the new “right way” – it’s just a lens that animates my creativity and desire to participate.

Also, I lived in an intentional community for 3 decades and it trained me to think in terms of the collective well being, knowing through experience that my life gets easier and better if i am attending to the needs of the system in which i live. it is a unique lens. old hippies have this in their experience for sure, not many doggedly followed the path into this millennium.

Through the lens of individualism – our western miracle of myopia – the industrial system looks okay. “Works for me” as we say. Through a community lens, though, it is ravaging the living biotic and social systems that real people in real communities ultimately depend on not just for food but for love and belonging and meaning. I think this is why I am following this inkling to see where it goes.

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Talking with my mouth full

Friday night my mouth was fullStitched Panorama of spoken words, aimed at introducing relational eating to interested eaters. I was at the Geodome at the Seattle Center and spoke after the audience of 25 had toured the Universe through the magic of the Geodome software beamed on the inflatable intimate “planetaium”. Everything was a wow. The show and my talk.

Writing a book is not the same as giving a pithy 1-hour talk you hope will move, amuse and motivate folks. I think I found my groove – or at least saw the on ramp in the distance.

Blessing the Hands that Feed Us is in the capable hands of the editors at Viking/Penguin, but in the year between now and publication I want to speak with groups and audiences in workshops and conferences and grocery store lines. I want to craft potent language that will…

  • get people laughing and crying and thinking and scheming
  • pull back the Wizard of Oz screen on our food system,
  • evoke the inner and outer power of relational eating (eating in the context of a living system),
  • reveal why local is important and how it can actually “scale sideways” so that we can again feed our people closer to home.

I hope to offer a talk in your sector of the heavens – to keep the Universe metaphor – and see your smiling faces somewhere in my travels. I hope by the end of this year of waiting I’ll actually have a pearl of a talk to offer you and your communities.

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I’m pleased to report that I am, once again, done

On Wednesday, just in time for Thanksgiving, I put the last correction requested by the publisher into the manuscript, added the last endnote, wrote the last informational box and – somewhat dazed – discovered myself at the end of the long list of editing tasks and… dare I say … done! I’ve felt done two other times this year. Once when I sent the finished first draft to Viking/Penguin June 1. Once when I sent the book (sans info boxes, recipes, other frills) to the publisher on September 1 and now, having entered the hundreds of edits from the publisher and having written all the new material requested.
Join me in a simple prayer. That I am done done done. And join me in another simple prayer. That the book now has a smooth journey down the book birth canal and comes out healthy, happy and completely irresistable… before the end of the coming year.

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How much is that chicken in the window

That’s the subtitle of the section in Blessing the Hands that Feed Us (Viking/Penguin 2013) where I work through the precise calculations that Shelby does below. On my 10-mile diet, looking for protein, I found a neighbor who’d sell me a chicken… for $5 a pound. Talk about a culture war! My inner skinflint was battling my local yokel. So I got online to research price of feed, chicks, fencing, attrition, time and sadly concluded that if I wanted to “bless the hands that feed me” I’d need to put $25 in that hand for the chicken. Here’s how Shelby Grebenc figures it out in her Denver Post article: Feeling grateful yet? Teenage poultry farmer dishes straight talk:

Over the past year I have been trying to earn money. I have been doing this by helping plant a big garden and then selling lettuce and other vegetables that I raise at farmers markets.

I also have chickens and I sell eggs at a local dairy, farmers market, and from roadside signs telling people how to get to my house. I also sell live chickens and broilers.

People around me use words like “organic,” “farm fresh,” “local-food movement,” “free range” and “sustainability,” and I thought farming might be a good idea since we sort of do this for our family anyway. My dad raises our own cows because he does not want my brother or me exposed to growth hormones and antibiotics that are used to raise commercial meat. Dad thinks this is one of the reasons that my brother and I are thinner and smaller than our friends. I think it could just be that we work our tails off.

I charge $4.25 for a dozen of my eggs and $20 per broiler chicken based on my costs. Baby chickens cost me around $2 each. I lose around 10 percent of them because they just die for no reason when they are little.

An egg-layer chicken takes around 28 to 32 weeks to lay its first egg. A broiler chicken takes six to 20 weeks before it is ready to eat. All during this time, I have to feed, water and keep them warm. The layers are not laying eggs to sell yet. Heat lamps use electricity, and an electric bill can be around $200 per month. Continue reading

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One community’s real food map

This is a rich depiction of what real food is, and how we all participate in building real food systems. I’m ever more inspired by the possibility of revitalizing food systems to feed their people, and how engaged eaters can help map the systems, identify gaps and resource producers and distributors and food outlets to become more prosperous together.

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Great short film about the Good Cheer Garden

I write extensively in Blessing the Hands that Feed Us (Viking/Penguin 2013/4) about Good Cheer garden. As part of the Whidbey Institute Thriving Communities Conference series, Chris Korrow, Aimie Vallat and Jerry Milhoun teamed up to produce videos about the food exemplars from our island. In the “a picture is worth a thousand words” category, I’d like to introduce you to my food-community via this clip.

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Why I farm – by Georgie Smith

I asked the farmers in my book to tell my why they farm, what they love, what makes it hard, what eaters need to know. This answer from Georgie Smith of Willowood Farm in Ebey’s Prairie (also a writer) is priceless wisdom and a penetrating peek into the small farmer’s life.


  1. Why do you farm/raise livestock?

Because I can’t not farm.  Farmer’s don’t become farmer’s to make a million dollars.  They do it because that is who they are.  Then the struggle is how to match up who you are with how to make it financially viable.

  1. What is rewarding about farming/livestock – so rewarding that you do it despite the difficulties and economics?

The reward of seeing a crop brought to harvest.  The end of day when you are body tired but mind satisfied by the tasks accomplished.  The realization that you’re daily work creates a product that is not nebulous in its importance (how important TRULY is that new GAP shirt?  Or the latest IPhone?).  It is food.  It sustains and nourishes and provides life.

  1. What makes farming/raising livestock tough economically or otherwise? Continue reading

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Blessing the Hands that Feed Us; Summary Oct 2012

Here’s a single sheet description of what the book is and does. What do you think? 2.0, 3.0 and beyond are all coming as I search for how to tell more than just you what this new work is about. It’s food and farming. It’s community and belonging. It’s hope for the future. It’s a lampost on the road to revitalization of regional food systems. It’s Erma Bombeck meets Barbara Kingsolver meets Michael Pollan.