Thursday, November 15, 2007

Eat "Local" for Thanksgiving

Last March, I attended a Climate Change Continuing Legal Education (CLE) conference at the University of Washington. The whole meeting had a profound effect and impressed upon me the urgency of addressing global warming. In October, we traveled to Japan so that Dave could meet with and listen to the most highly qualified scientists and world leaders to figure out how to approach solutions to climate change. Unfortunately, in this country we have some loud mouthed ignoramuses who spew political talking points based on discredited "science" causing a delayed reaction to a critical, immediate and real problem.

My husband is actually a conservative scientist. He does not buy into things without proof. He is not terribly worried about pesticides in our food, for example. But global climate change? The meeting in Japan shook him up. Specifically, the whole issue is much much worse than scientists orginally thought and it is happening at a rate far faster then ever imagined. Since Dave is a public health scientist because of his cancer research and the effect of chemicals in our bodies, he is worried about the unimagined public health consequences of a warming earth. We know that the ice caps are melting and the glaciers are disappearing. Coastal villages near the Arctic Circle are sinking. Islands near the equator are losing beaches. However, the effect on disease is not immune from global warming and we do not know what we do not know.

One frightening example is the brain-eating ameoba that killed six boys last summer who were swimming. It has shown up more than in previous years in lakes and ponds and likely will continue to increase with warmer waters.

" 'This is definitely something we need to track,' said Michael Beach, a specialist in recreational waterborne illnesses for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

'This is a heat-loving amoeba. As water temperatures go up, it does better,' Beach said. 'In future decades, as temperatures rise, we’d expect to see more cases.' "

Another horrifying illustration is a rare tropical fungus that has shown up in British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. Eight people have died, many others have been made ill and animals have been killed. Again, warmer summers have caused this bug to rear its ugly head where it normally would not be able to exist.

"Scientists say the fungus may be thriving because of a string of unusually warm summers here. They say it is a sign of things to come.

'As climate change happens, new ecological niches will become available to organisms, and we will see this kind of thing happen again,' said Karen Bartlett, a scientist at the University of British Columbia (UBC) who played a central role in the search for the disease's cause."

The credible scientific consensus is that global waming is human caused by an excess of CO2 emissions. The United States leads the world with its CO2 contribution. China and Russia are next in line. I wish the brilliant scientists of the world were as vocal as the stupid global warming deniers, but most of them are quiet non-rabble rousers like my husband. I fear the message is not getting out. Dave was a little disappointed with the lack of dynamic exciting speakers in Kyoto. Al Gore has brought the issue to our attention but we need more than Al Gore to drown out the deniers. In any event, we are going to try to do our part as private citizens.

About half of the CO2 emissions in the Puget Sound area are due to transportation which includes airplanes, trucks, trains, ships and cars. http://pscleanair.org/default.aspx Efforts that we as individuals make to reduce the amount of time and miles the goods we purchase spend on the highway reaching our grocery stores will make a dent. As a result, purchasing locally grown and produced foods is now being encouraged. In California, there were big billboards everywhere we went with the message to buy local products. This can be a challenge up in our corner of America which is far away from the warmer places where produce is grown.

Yesterday, in the paper was an article suggesting that if we all served at least one local item for Thanksgiving dinner, it would help with the reduction of the transportation CO2 emissions. In addition, buying locally supports local farmers and ranchers and helps save farmland from housing developments which in turn saves our salmon habitat. It is a good thing to do all the way around. A list of options for various aspects of a typical dinner was provided.

We will be having seven people for Thanksgiving this year and today I decided to see how many parts of the meal I could supply from local sources. It was not easy and I think I blew the whole endeavor out of the water with the ingredients for party mix made with Chex cereals. For this one snack, I caused trucks to come to Seattle from Minnesota for the cereal, Texas for the pretzels and Virginia for the peanuts. Yikes! But how can you have Thanksgiving without party mix? Other than that, I did pretty well:

1. Stuffing mix. Franz bread cubes came from Portland.

2. Turkey. I ordered a Northwest Natural which is produced and distributed by a Seattle company.

3. Cranberries. I bought fresh ones most likely grown and packaged in Washington. It was hard to tell from the package but Washington was listed. I make cranberry orange relish and of course, we cannot grow oranges around here. At least not yet. With global warming I may be able to buy locally grown oranges next year.

4. Potatoes. The small sack came from Mount Vernon a few miles north.

5. Onions. They were grown in Prosser, WA.

6. Apples. These are for the sweet potato casserole and where else would they be grown?? They were marked with an obvious red Washington logo. I do not know where the sweet potatoes came from but I bought fresh rather than canned which helps cut down on manufacturing and travel.

7. Pickles and olives. OK, the pickles came from Wisconsin and the olives from New Jersey--ouch. But, I did buy pickled asparagus from Sunnyside, WA!

8. Egg nog and whipping cream. I have not yet bought the dairy products but Wilcox is the best egg nog and it is local.

9. Green beans. My traditional green bean dish is made with frozen french cut beans, water chestnuts from a can, canned cream of mushroom soup and almonds. In light of the party mix disaster, I will forego this casserole and try to buy locally grown fresh green beans that I will either saute or roast with local garlic.

10. Pumpkin pie. Nope. I do not mess with canned Libby's pumpkin shipped from Ohio and the recipe on the label.

11. Smoked salmon. Our smoked salmon spread and smoked salmon to be served as appetizers were line caught wild by my hubby and smoked by him, too.

12. Wine. Undeniably local. The wine we serve will either be from Walla Walla or it will be from Dave's wine club and produced in Seattle in our friend's basement from local grapes.

13. Herbs. We still have sage, thyme, oregano, and tons of rosemary growing in our own yard.

The point is, my little bit of shopping is not going to change the world. But if we all try to make a few painless changes, it can go a long way towards reducing our CO2 contribution by the goal of 80%. It is still possible to slow this alarming process down if we face it and accept the reality of it. I do not want to have to worry about my future grandchildren dying from a tropical fungus.

Besides, buying "local" oranges at Pike Place Market would not be right. It would not be right.

UPDATE: The front page article in my newspaper this morning and the lead story on the CNN website reiterate what I have tried to emphasize here in my post. Global climate change is more extreme than previously thought.

"Climate change is 'severe and so sweeping that only urgent, global action' can head it off, a United Nations scientific panel said in a report on global warming issued Saturday."

"Failure to act will leave nearly 1 billion people at risk from water and food shortages, droughts, coastal flooding and severe storms, concluded the delegates, who have been meeting in Valencia, Spain.

The report emphasizes that global warming is 'unequivocal' and that there is high confidence that humans are responsible. Global temperatures have risen about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century."