Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Just a Reminder

I'm no longer at this address, so don't forget to update your RSS feed and any links you have to my site to www.sharonastyk.com



Sunday, February 24, 2008

If You are Looking For Me...

You won't find me or my new writings here anymore. I've moved to www.sharonastyk.com. See you there!!!


Tuesday, February 19, 2008


A couple of notes for y'all:

1. There are still four spaces left in the online food storage class. The in-person one (much less in depth than this) was a lot of fun - I really enjoyed it, and can't wait to get into more detail about food storage. That class concentrated almost entirely on bulk purchasing and dry grains, but I'm looking forward to getting into preserving your own and a host of other things. So if you were hoping to join, but presuming the class was full up, please send me an email at jewishfarmer@gmail.com.

I'll also be putting up preliminary materials for those following along online next week. I'm looking forward to the blog conversations we'll have about this.

2. So only a short time after I premiered my latest blog, I'm shutting it down - and this one too. But that doesn't mean I'm going to stop blogging (give up my rantings - never!). After I premiered Depletion-Abundance, an online friend of mine, Deb, kindly emailed me to say that she thought the site sucked ;-).

Note: Edited to correct - Deb didn't actually say it sucked. She said it reminded her of oatmeal - but I thought this was funnier. But I don't want to give anyone the impression that she was rude - far from it.

But she had a cure for this - she offered to help me set up a brand new website that would cover blog, books, and other materials. She wouldn't even take my firstborn son in return - so I hope she'll take my profuse public thanks!

So Deb has designed a gorgeous new site for me, and kicked my behind into taking it seriously. She's been working like a dog on it, and I'll be premiering the site sometime next week. All the material from here will be available there (link coming), including the older archived posts from both sites. Plus there will be new material. In the meantime, there probably won't be many new blog posts in the next few days, as we transfer stuff over. Bear with us - it should be a short term problem.

I'll put up an announcement when the time comes, but I just wanted you to know that it is in the offing.



Monday, February 18, 2008

Everyone Talks About their Period, but Nobody Does Anything About It...

...Except Crunchy Chicken.

One of the things I like best about Crunchy's writing is her straightforward bluntness on bodily issues. In fact, she rather puts me to shame - I was once famous for that sort of thing. When I was doing AIDS education, I used to do a "15 ways to put a condom on a banana (or a partner)" demo that managed to embarass almost everyone. But since I've become a staid peak oil and climate change writer, I've hardly even mentioned bodily fluids or the orifices from which they flow. This is a pity, and must change.

Well, Crunchy has done me one much better - she's not only talking about menstruation, she's making change in the world. Millions of young African women miss school because they have no menstrual supplies. Commercial makers of disposables are supplying some of them - and getting a lot of advertising credit for it, but the pads are then burnt, and the free supplies are a temporary measure, designed to create a market for disposable products many poor women and girls can ill afford.

Crunchy has started a non-profit, working with aid agencies, to get women to sew or donate reusable pads to these women - and asked me if I'd help. Not only do I want to help, but I can't say enough how much admire Crunchy's passion - and her speed. It was less than a week before she had a project up and going. So I strongly recommend that all of my readers read Crunchy's posts on this matter:http://crunchychicken.blogspot.com/2008/02/last-monday-i-posted-about-how-i-was.html and http://crunchychicken.blogspot.com/2008/02/using-your-sewing-skills-for-good.html and visit her new website here: http://www.goods4girls.org/ and make a donation, either of your time or money. I will be.

You will also soon be able to donate through this site, but as you all know, I'm a techno-moron, and the addition of something as complex as a donation button to my blog is way, way beyond my skills. So I'm relying on a kind friend to help me.

And, as long as we're talking bodily fluids here, may I also recommend that everyone think seriously about their own, as well as the menstrual needs of the world's poor. Disposable menstrual products bite - they aren't as pleasant or comfortable as the reusable ones, they cost tons more, and they add to landfill waste and used ones produce methane, an greenhouse gas with many times the warming power of carbon. While teenage girls may not yet be ready to carry around used pads (although it is perfectly possible to do so very discreetly), all us grownup women have no excuse.

You have a whole host of choices here - long lasting, very comfortable cups like the Keeper and the Diva Cup (I have a diva):http://www.gladrags.com/category/menstrual-cups, and various cloth pads that can be made: Note, the ppatterns Crunchy is using work well for ourselves too: http://www.goods4girls.org/2008/02/sewing-patterns.html or bought: http://www.moonpads.com/ or some other site - my own come from gladrags, and I've been very happy with them:http://www.gladrags.com/ but She Who Must Be Crunched has a list here:http://www.goods4girls.org/2008/02/how-to-donate.html. While you are doing good in Africa, if you aren't using reusable menstrual supplies, do good here, for us and the entire planet, and switch over.

And men, I don't want to hear any whinging about this post. In fact, unless you are gay or celibate and never interact with women under 60, you should be reading this with some interest. Perhaps you have a daughter, a friend, a sister, or a wife who might be interested in this information. There are lots of women out there who might be nervous about doing this because they've been taught that menstruation is dirty or bad. It helps to have a husband or friend who deals matter of factly with your period, and who (if the relationship is intimate enough to allow for this) is gently encouraging (without pressure) to make the conversion.

And please, folks, donate to Crunchy's project. It is such a little thing - and a huge thing - women's education is enormously important for their political and social status, their reproductive future (education is tightly correlated with birthrates) and their economic and environmental security. It would be easy to underestimate how important this is. Fortunately, Crunchy hasn't!

Goods for Girls

And next on the bodily fluids parade: the reusable condom, its engineering and the future of sperm (which isn't actually a joke - I've written about this: http://casaubonsbook.blogspot.com/2006/09/hey-engineers.html)



Saturday, February 16, 2008


I confess, until I started rioting, I was one of those people who liked to think in the shower. When you have four children, a shower has magic powers - it makes a cone of silence around you. It warms you when you are cold, it cools you when you are hot. And until I started paying attention to my water usage, I showered a lot - it was a self-indulgent pleasure. While we're not actually keeping our water usage down to the 90% reduction - we can do it, but we don't like it and we're not in a water short place, so we've gone up to a more comfortable 70% - there is still the hot water to deal with.

The funny thing is that when I began to cut back to shorter and cooler and less frequent showers, I didn't mind it that much. The only time I missed long hot showers was on the first day of my cycles, when I could remember how much pleasure I got from hot water against my back, easing my cramps. And for a while, I grumped around for a bit over the fact that I no longer took morning showers, or long hot showers at all.

And then it occurred to me that I could have my first-day-of-the-cycle shower if I wanted - I just had to shorten the other ones. So this month I did that. I skipped one extra shower a week, and shortened my other ones slightly. And a few days ago, I stood in the water in the morning, blissfully contemplating how good it felt that hot water on my back.

But it didn't just feel good. It felt *GREAT* - all day long I felt wonderful. And it struck me that this is the payback for all the scrimping and conserving we do - the transformation of ordinary comforts into a delight.

We get this too with our small percentage of non-local food. We buy a very few non-local fruits and vegetables each week. And each week, my husband and the children choose carefully - what shall we have? One week it was mangos, and none of us have ever tasted anything so delicious as those juicy, dripping yellow fruits. This week it was avocados, and every molecule of our bowl of guacamole was scraped out and enjoyed with homemade tortilla chips. My sons discuss what special fruit they will choose next week at the coop - and what we should do with it.

But, if these pleasures are so acute, why deny yourself at all? Why not get mangos every week
if we love them so? But when I ate all the tropical fruits I wanted, I never enjoyed a mango like I do now. Would my children take so much pleasure in their selection? Would I, if we had them all the time? Experience suggests to me that we would not. The funny thing is that most of the denial isn't a hardship - that is, the intensity of the two experiences doesn't run in parallel. Having fewer showers isn't awful at all, merely a mild inconvenience - but having an extra one is terrific! Occasionally limits do feel awful, and then we have to rethink "is there a way to make this better?" Usually there is - and often we can get the hardest things down to nothing more than a minor inconvenience - and one, shortly, we become used to and don't notice at all.

Not all pleasures are diminished by frequency, but as we get accustomed to things, they no longer delight us. Thus, we must find new sources of stimulation, new delights - usually by raising the bar higher and seeking out more and more of what we look for. And more and more gets us into trouble pretty quickly - not only because we consume more and more but because there isn't always more to be had - so we feel dissatisfied.

I know someone, who, for their child's fifth birthday, took him and two of his friends to Disney World for the week, including a party with a favorite cartoon character. They spent thousands of dollars, and reported to me how much the child had enjoyed himself. And I have no doubt that that is true. For his fifth birthday, my son had a group of children, lunch, a homemade cake, and enough balloons for each child to have one. And he too, had a glorious birthday. It is possible that the child who went to Disney World had exponentially more pleasure, perhaps thousands of times more pleasure, but I doubt it. At the end of the day, Simon told me, "That was a great birthday." What would he have said if we'd taken him to Disney World "That was a super-duper great birthday?" How big is the difference, if it never even occurred to you that Disney was an option (I'm not totally clear that my kids know Disney World exists yet, which is fine with me.)

I am by nature no ascetic - I like my pleasures - I like to eat, have sex, giggle with my family, be warm, be comfortable. My children are like all children - they love treats, sweets and anything special or new. If there is a difference between us and other people it is this - we try as hard as we can (with varying degrees of success) to keep the bar for happiness low. In fact, we consciously try and move it backwards as often as possible - not because we like to sacrifice, but because we enjoy the sheer intensity of the pleasures that come with it. We're not ascetics, we're sensualists - and the most sensual pleasures are available to you when you work at avoiding becoming jaded.

When I was a child, my mother was into healthy eating. We ate carob brownies (to this day I can't bear the stuff) and macrobiotic stuffed peppers instead of chocolate ones and hamburger helper. I remember acutely the tragedy I felt it was when my mother informed me that I was going to remain the only one of my peers who never got to have a marshmallow fluff and peanut butter sandwich for a school lunch. But once a year, every year, my mother would tell us "Today we're not having dinner - we're having ice cream sundaes." And we would go out to a local restaurant that was an early leader in the "sundae bar" phenomenon, and make the most elaborate ice cream sundaes imaginable, and my mother would never mention the green vegetables we didn't eat, and would enjoy her own dessert with ours. I remember every single one of those moments, and remember thinking that I had the best mother in the whole world.

It was only later that I realized how much our delight in those moments depended on the reality that my mother and step-mother provided a healthy dinner with vegetables 364 days of the year, how a life where ice cream was a norm (and of course I had ice cream more than once a year ;-)) would have taken the shine out of that glorious, glorious experience.

We did it for the first time this year. One day over winter break, when it was cold and snowy, the children were told "Today " - the kids were encourage to spend the whole day in their pajamas. No one had to go anywhere or do any chores, and dinner was all the ice cream sundae, with all the stuff you could possibly want. And the boys kept asking us, "Are we really going to have ice cream for dinner?" Yes, we really were. And we did. And it was great.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Online Food Storage Class Info

Ok, folks, I'm putting together the online food storage class that there was so much interest in. I thought I'd offer it in four weeks, over the month of March.

There will be four components, and this class will go considerably beyond the talk I'm giving on Saturday, so you don't need to feel bad if you live too far away to attend ;-).

-A weekly blog post, with discussion on my regular blogs. This will be open to everyone. I'll also post some recipes from the weekly "how to eat it" section on my blog.

- A set of follow along readings. The list of readings for each week (not required for participation but helpful) will also be available on my blog to anyone who wants to participate.

- A group for registered participants to discuss food storage issues. I'll be around to answer questions and facilitate discussion. This will also include recipes, additional materials, and suggestions.

-Help setting up an individualized food storage program based on your family, concerns and conditions.

The course will be divided into four week-long sections.

Week 1: March 6 and 7: The Basics: Why store food? What kinds? How much? Where to Put it? How long to keep it? How to eat it? How to ensure a nutritious, balanced, good tasting food supply?

Week 2: March 13 and 14: Buying in bulk, finding sustainable sources, cooking with grains and legumes, adapting your diet to "store what you eat, eat what you store," accoutrements (buckets, grain grinders, etc...), spices and seasonings, food storage on a budget.

Week 3: March 20 and 21: Food storage local - how to base your food storage on homegrown and local sources. Long term food preservation strategies, storing seeds, meat, milk and vegetables, staple produce as a grain substitute. How to eat seasonally from food storage.

Week 4: March 27 and 28: Special Circumstances, special diets, medical issues, appetite fatigue, infants and children. Community food storage ideas, and getting the idea of storing food out in your own community. Setting up your own plan and implementing it gradually.

The classes will be offered on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during March. That is, new posts will go up on Tuesday mornings on my blogs, and new discussion topics and materials on the class discussion group will go up around the same time. I'll be available to comment, offer help, answer questions and help set up plans during Tuesday and Wednesday each week, on and off - that way, no one has to be there at a specific time. On Thursday evenings, I'll post the next week's reading materials.

The cost for the class will $125 for the course, and for this first time, will be limited to 25 participants, so that everyone gets a fair share of my time. It is free to follow along on the blogs, but since this will represent a large investment of my time, and I hope to be able to offer participants help getting started and setting up their own goals, I do need to cover my costs. I don't want to exclude anyone, however, so if you need a sliding scale, email me and we'll talk. My goal is to make this as accessible to as many people as possible.

If you are interested in registering, email me at jewishfarmer@gmail.com, and I'll follow up with you this week, confirming registrations and sending more details. Please bear with me as I get this organized - I wasn't expecting quite the enthusiastic response I got to my initial query, so I'm still pulling things together by the seat of my pants ;-).



Heat or Eat - An Expanding Crisis

Well now, listen people let me tell you some news
I'll sing a song called the crude oil blues
We're low on heat .n all
We're low on gas
And I'm so cold I'm about to freeze my A..self

We got the crude oil blues
Cause the winter time sure gets cold to the bottom of my shoes
Well my hands are shakin' and my knees are weak
But it ain't because of loveIt's from lack of heat

I'm gonna tell you a story anout this drunk I know
He kept his basement full of homemade brew
But the winter got so bad it screwed up the boy's thinkin
'He got so cold he had to burn all his drinkin'

He's got the crude oil blues
He said the wintertime can sure get cold to the bottom of your shoes
He said, burnin' this booze just destroys my soul
But there's one thing about it honey
When you're cold, you're cold - Jerry Reed "Crude Oil Blues"

If you've been following the situation in Tajikistan, you know that we're seeing an acute variation on a crisis that is occurring in a number of cold places all over the world, including the US. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7239279.stm.

"The crisis has already gone far beyond power supplies, affecting every sphere of this impoverished and fragile society.

Humanitarian agencies say hundreds of thousands of people are suffering from severe food shortages.

"People are spending all they have on trying to keep warm, and they don't have enough money to buy food," says Zlatan Milisic, the country director for the UN's World Food"

When it happens here in America (thankfully less often) we call it "Heat or Eat" and this fall the Boston Globe reported on rising cases of children suffering from malnutrition in winter because their parents cannot afford to feed them and keep them warm. Now this is nothing new, but the tripling of heating oil prices (the Northeast uses almost all the country's heating oil) and rising natural gas prices have increased the severity of the problem: http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2007/10/21/the_heat_or_eat_dilemma/

"Federal research shows that while both rich and poor families increase their expenditures on home fuel during the winter, poor families offset this cost through decreasing food purchases, with an average 10 percent decrease in caloric intake. Parents know that children can freeze to death more quickly than they starve to death, and so most decrease food purchases first to pay for heat. Many inevitably sacrifice on both fronts, living with food scarcity while heating their homes with cooking stoves and space heaters, both of which dramatically increase the risk of fires, burns, and carbon monoxide poisoning.

These untenable choices wreak havoc on the health of children. Babies and toddlers lose body heat more rapidly than older children and adults because of their higher surface area-to-mass ratio. When babies' bodies have to divert already-scarce calories to maintain body heat, cold and hunger intertwine to jeopardize their health and growth as well as their future ability to learn and relate to others.

The health effects of energy insecurity surface in emergency rooms at hospitals like Boston Medical Center during the cold of winter. Medical researchers found a 30 percent increase in the number of underweight infants and toddlers in the BMC emergency room in the three months after the coldest months compared with the rest of the year."

While thankfully America's poor are not in the situation of the Takjiki people, it is also true that both parties are early victims of a dilemma that is likely to hit more and more of us, in both rich and poor nations - the conflict between meeting energy needs and food needs.

Thus far, biofuels have rightly drawn most of the attention in explorations of the link between energy and hunger, but they aren't the only such link. And heating energy is likely to be a particularly acute such interface, as both natural gas and oil supplies destabilize and rise in price.

Richard Heinberg's recent essay on the coming crisis over natural gas supplies that the US and Canada face http://www.energybulletin.net/40035.html suggests that a crisis point in heating energy could come upon us fairly quickly. The vast majority of Americans heat with natural gas, and a disruption in the Canadian supply is likely to send prices skyrocketing, and potentially, show up as actual shortages in some regions, although whether of the US or Canada is not clear:

"From a Canadian perspective there are some problems with the arrangement, though. First is the fact that Canada’s production of natural gas and conventional oil is declining. Second is that Canada uses lots of oil and gas domestically: 70 percent of Canadians heat their homes with gas, and Canadians drive cars more and further than just about anyone else. The problem is likely to come first with natural gas; as production declines, there will come a point when there isn’t enough to fill domestic needs and continue to export (roughly 60 percent of Canada’s gas now goes to the US).

That point is not decades in the future, it is fairly imminent."

A recent article observed that because of global warming issues, more and more new electrical plants are turning to natural gas. Given that the North American (and many regions of the world) gas situation is quite acute, such a rush to natural gas is likely only to raise prices and push heating energy costs even higher, and possibly impact availability. http://www.thestar.com/Business/article/301621

It is hard not to come to the conclusion, then that we in Northern regions face a heating crisis, and probably within a few years. And since we live in a society that practices cost rationing even for the most basic needs, that means that poor people in cold places will be increasingly priced out of heating energy. Or they will be priced out of food, as they futily stop eating in order to try and keep warm.

Meanwhile, natural gas based fertilizer prices will continue to rise along with the commodity, as more and more competition for gas ensues, further boosting the price of food, and making the heat or eat problem even more acute.

And what choices do we have as an alternative? Wood heating could be a decent option in many places, although not in urban centers where particulate emissions costs would be greater than the benefits. There is just barely enough wood in the US to warm the northern houses without losing forests, if carefully and sustainably managed, we all get used to colder temperatures and if we insulate as best we can, but we'd find ourselves with virtually no wood for building or paper making or any other use. Anything other than absolutely perfect management would result in deforestation - and something less than perfect management is far more likely than the alternative. Rising wood prices could give us the absolute incentive to deforest the landscape of the US, vastly increasing the consequences of climate change, topsoil loss, desertification and turning our country into the blasted landscape of post-apocalyptic novels.

We could grow more corn, this time to be burned in corn stoves, further accellerating global warming with artificial nitrogen and further putting pressure on food prices, pushing more of the world's population into hunger.

Electrification of heating is probably a necessity, particular in population centers, but right now, as we transfer more electric load to heating, that means more coal or nuclear plants, since no renewable build out can meet that need - we risk warming the planet more seriously in order to keep ourselves warm.

Or we can accept the current model, pricing people out and letting them starve and freeze - or see mass migration to already water stressed and overpopulated but warmer areas. The truth is that our energy problems *ARE* our food problems - the longer we view the two as distinct, the worse our problems will be. They cannot be seperated from one another.

We need some better choices than this - and the first step in such better choices would be taking up seriously the larger questions of where our heating fuel is going to come from. From there, we need to ask how our resources are best spent - and one of the ways in which they would be best spent would be in a massive reinsulation of American homes to require minimal heating fuel. If we're going to build anything out, it should be this - or rather, we should build them in - new levels of insulation and warmth. This will be as necessary in the South as it is in the North, as rising heat waves and failing electrical supplies raise heat deaths.

The Community Solution is working on this http://www.communitysolution.org/. At this point, the plan is simply too expensive to be applied in many houses without massive national subsidies that are at this point unlikely to be forthcoming. So the other thing we need is a plan for ordinary, poor people to keep warm (or cool), without destroying the planet and without starving to death.