Browngirl Going Green

June 13, 2010, 4:05 pm
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It’s been frickin’ hot lately here in the Bay Area—and while the Bay definitely has its fair share of hot spots, Oakland is generally not one of them. It’s warmer here, yes, than in San Francisco most of the time, but not as hot as, say, Concord, Pittsburg, Antioch or other points further east and farther away from the ocean.

So it’s a little weird that in early June—when at times the weather can be so mild in the Bay that you wonder whether you’ve got the dates right in your calendar—we’re having 80+ degree weather. Climate change? Natural fluke? I’m no weather expert, but I have lived here all my life, and I can say that the weather has become more erratic and extreme of late, shifting from cool and rainy (just a week ago) to swelteringly hot and back again. Weather in the Bay Area always has been a bit changeable and unpredictable, but generally we don’t get more than a 10-degree swing from month to month. And while I generally do like heat, and my tomatoes in the garden are loving it, it’s been a little strange.

Of course, all this heat is coming when all of us are thinking more and more about our dependence on oil as a fuel source, with the BP spill still leaking and tons of birds and other wildlife in the Gulf dying or suffering, and whole communities being devastated by this awful disaster. And in the local Oakland Tribune, there was an article today about how the waters of the Bay are rising, threatening to displace more than a quarter of a million residents from their homes in the next 50+ years.

On a positive note, however, there is a silver cloud to the BP oil spill tragedy—that hopefully it will get more people to open their eyes to the reality that we cannot keep exploiting the earth’s natural resources without some pretty terrible repercussions. And also, that we need to realize that everything is connected, and that the extreme weather many of us are witnessing is only one symptom of a larger problem.

In the meantime, I await my new oscillating fan/ionic filter for my home, and hunker down to do some reading and gearing up for some writing workshops, and continue to try to live as green as possible during what promises to be a hot, hot summer.


One Way to Help: A Fundraiser’s Request

I sent this email out to several of my colleagues and friends, because as a fundraiser and an activist I can’t just sit idly by while animals die, people’s livelihoods are destroyed, and an entire eco-system is plagued by man-made death and destruction. It’s bad out there. So please do what you can to help the people who really do care about the environment and communities of the Gulf Coast to hold BP accountable and aid in the cleanup efforts. This is just one way to help, but it is a way.

Hey there,

It makes me so mad to watch the news every night and see how badly the oil spill is affecting the Gulf of Mexico. The environment, the communities there, the whales . . . it’s crazy.

Luckily, there’s one easy thing we can do to help. The Gulf Restoration Network is keeping us up-to-date on their blog, and you can take action to make sure BP cleans up its mess by clicking the link below.

Also, please consider making a donation to their work. I found about GRN through my friend Judy Hatcher, a long-time environmental justice activist who knows what’s what in the movement, and so I trust her opinion. GRN was her first referral to me when I asked about ways that I could help with this awful crisis in the gulf.

Thanks and take care,
Towards a just and sustainable world-

Turning Garbage Into (Black) Gold
April 12, 2010, 12:05 am
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For the past several months I’ve really been enjoying spending time with my so-called ‘garbage’. It all started when my worms got killed. My red wriggler composting worms, that is—and yes, I said ‘killed’. Well, I don’t know if they died right away, but I’m sure they didn’t live for very long.

Okay, let me back up a bit. So I’d been keeping a a small worm composting bin on the tiny covered back porch of my second-story apartment for almost two years. And then, I got it into my head to try to start gardening in the backyard, which was kind of a mess. There were tons of weeds growing in a semi-jungle environment back there, but there was also an abandoned black plastic worm bin tucked amongst the foliage. I think it’d been left by an old neighbor who’d moved away, and since my one worm bin wasn’t really big enough to ‘keep up’ with all my kitchen scraps, I decided to start a second worm composting ‘farm’ in this recovered bin.

I was very excited—I bought more worms from a local East Bay woman who sells them online and set up this second bin in the yard, since I didn’t have much more space on my back porch. After getting the worms settled in their new home, I stepped back, brushed my hands off, and grinned at the idea of fistfuls of lovely, fertilizing vermicompost, or ‘worm compost’ (basically, their poop/waste) to use in my garden someday.

I would check on the worms every few days, feed them and make sure they weren’t getting dried out—it was summer and pretty warm, and even though I had the bin in tree-shade, the worms need a moist environment or else they can shrivel up into little grayish worm carcasses. Not cute, nor very conducive to producing vermicompost!

Then one day my apartment manager (who lives off-site) called to tell me that some people would be pruning the trees in our backyard in preparation for some construction work for the building next door. ‘No problem,’ I thought. The next day, the landscapers that my landlord pays to cut down our jungle of weeds came by for their yearly clearing, which made me happy because that meant I wouldn’t have to figure out how to clear the ground for my garden, and since I was going to have all this worm compost eventually I got really excited by the possibilities.

From my apartment window, which looks out onto our terraced yard, I could see and hear the landscapers—two White guys in their late 20’s or early 30’s—buzzing away all the weeds and pruning back the trees. When it sounded like they were done, I went back there to feed and check on my worms, hoping that all the noise hadn’t sent them into shock.

But, to my surprise, my salvaged round black worm bin was nowhere to be found. I asked the landscapers, who were pretty laid-back and friendly, if they’d seen it, and they shook their heads no, but said that the maintenance guy had been around the day before, clearing stuff away and that I should call him. So I called the maintenance guy, who doesn’t speak English very well but managed to communicate to me that I should call the manager.

I was getting a little frantic by now about what might’ve happened to my worms, so I called the manager, who calmly and matter-of-factly told me, “Oh, we thought they were garbage, so we threw them away.”

I wanted to cuss her out right then and there. But instead, I patiently explained to her how worms can create compost, and how one of the reasons I was cultivating them is because she wouldn’t allow us to have the county-operated compost bins at our building. She sounded like she couldn’t believe what I was saying, but I guess I was indignant enough about it that she gave in when I asked her to reimburse me $20 for the worms that were ‘thrown away’—“killed”, I couldn’t help thinking.

Mortified and sad, I went back to the yard to report to the landscapers—whom I could tell would understand—what awful fate had befallen my worms. One of the guys’ mouths fell open in horror and he said, “They [meaning the worms] create their own eco-system in there—that’s like killing a little family!” I nodded gravely, and wondered where my worms were now. Stuck in some landfill miles away? Drying up under the hot summer sun? The thought made me shudder, but it felt better that someone else understood my pain.

A few weeks later, I also got a lot of sympathy for my murdered worms from my friend Wally, a 30-something African-American man living in East Oakland who’s an avid gardener as well as a certified master composter. Wally clutched at his chest when i told him what happened, as if he’d just heard about an incident of highly negligent parenting.

Needless to say, the landscapers’ and my friend’s reactions made me feel better, although they didn’t bring my worms back to life. I like to think that maybe they are happily living near the surface of my backyard, in some out-of-the-way spot under a tree, where they were unceremoniously dumped by the maintenance guy. But more than likely, they were thrown into the garbage, and died a not-very-pleasant death.

I did buy more worms eventually, and now have two worm bins going strong. The other silver lining to this story is that my apartment manager finally reneged and allowed our building to have the green county-provided compost bins, which means that ALL of our organic matter can be composted now (worms tend to not like or are unable to break down a lot of starchy things, citrus and meat/bones).

And lastly, I will be harvesting some crumbly, rich black vermicompost very soon, and using it on my vegetable beds. And that’s my story of how I helped turn some garbage into ‘black gold’.

Damn Good Pork
April 2, 2010, 3:34 pm
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Realized today that I never posted anything about how good the pork from the humanely raised pig that we bought (already slaughtered and butchered, of course—we’re not THAT hardcore!) a few months ago tastes. Well, as you can tell from the title of this post, it’s frickin’ delicious.

We’ve only eaten some of the smoked ham and the sausage so far, but the ham was meatier and more dense than ANY ham I’d ever tasted—my husband Henry said it was like a ‘pork steak’, which is a pretty accurate description of its texture and meatiness. The butcher had smoked it to perfection and just two slices were enough for my husband and I to have two meals’ worth of delicious portions. (One of the many positive consequences of buying more sustainably raised—and therefore more expensive—meat is that we tend to eat less of it, which is good for our health, but we enjoy it more).

The sausage was seasoned by the butcher (mild Italian style), and I used it to make a yummy pseudo-bolognese sauce (I didn’t use any veal, which I still have mixed feelings about, although the farmer that we got this pig from also raises open-pastured vea basically a baby calf that’s never weaned from its mother’s milk).

Next up for our sustainably raised porcine culinary explorations: making carnitas, and also homemade chicharrones!

Freedom Food

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, aka The Black Farmer (photo from The Black Farmer web site)

I found these two sites while I was poking around on the Internet, and it made me feel hopeful for the possibilities for the food industry in this country.

The Black Farmer is, indeed, a Black farmer (that is, a farmer of African descent), who lives and farms in the West Country of England. He raises outdoor bred pork for sausages (or ‘bangers’ as British people call them) and other animals for meat. I have to say, just by reading the site and watching the video, those sausages do look damn good. And to know that they are humanely raised, outdoors, and are, as the site states ‘gluten-free’, makes them sound even better.

The Black Farmer claims that his meat products are 100% British Freedom Food, which piqued my curiosity. As you can see on the site, Freedom food is the British Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ official designation for meat, fish and any other game that has been raised in a humane fashion. The agency has created standards for the welfare of animals that are raised for human consumption, and these standards are posted on web site.

The RSPCA says that the standards, “cover every aspect of the animals’ lives, including feed and water provision, the environment they live in, how they are managed, health care, transport, and humane slaughter/killing. The standards are designed to ensure that all animals reared according to the requirements have everything they need for a good quality of life, whether they are kept on large or small farms, or in indoor or outdoor production systems.”

It doesn’t surprise me that the Brits have something like this in place, and that the RSPCA is a royally recognized charity (on the web site they state, “Her Majesty the Queen recognises the work we do for animals in England and Wales, and that our reputation extends worldwide) is not surprising either. The Royal Family are well-known conservationists and animal lovers, and Prince Phillip is a former President of the Board of Trustees of the World Wildlife Fund.

It would be cool to have a similar designation scheme in the United States—instead of having to rely on vague labeling like ‘hormone-free’ or even ‘free-range’. What do those mean exactly? And what government agency (if any) would define, measure and enforce these standards? Since nothing like this exists now in the US, it’s nice to envision something like Freedom Fund in this country. Has a nice ring to it, too.

First Poem Dedicated to Browngirl Going Green
February 25, 2010, 6:32 am
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I’m so honored that my friend and fellow Pinay writer Jean Vengua was inspired to write a poem for me after reading about my recentsustainably-raised-pig purchase. She posted it on her own blog,Local Nomad. Thanks Jean for the ‘pig-poem’!

For a Brown Girl Going Green
by Jean Vengua

kayumangging babae, the cogon
grass has turned to rye
and wild radish

on your birth day someone
sacrifices a pig
it’s not

the same, yet
it’s always
the same

Oakland, Elkhorn,
Pangasinan, each day

gleaned, killed, tasted; eating
flesh, stems, leaves

that this time we
will see

Pig, Beautiful Pig
February 21, 2010, 3:26 am
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Okay, so we didn’t get the ‘whole’ pig, alive and in its natural form. And yes, it was all cut-up and frozen and plastic-vacuum-bag-sealed. But still, this pig was beautiful to me. Not just because I could envision the many meals that my husband, friends and I will enjoy from the pork, but also because I’m amazed at the sheer bounty that one animal can provide to—in this case—six households! And while of course none of us are living exclusively off pork for the next six months, this is definitely enough protein (not to mention fat) to keep us all satisfactorily fed for a good while.

Pigs occupy special place of honor in Filipino culture, as well as Chinese culture (my husband is Chinese) and in the cuisines and cultures of many people from around the world. One of the few non-negotiables that I required for our wedding reception last year was that we have a whole roasted suckling pig (Filipinos call it lechon, and it’s served with the head and skin and everything), which was the big hit on the menu. Really, Filipinos can’t get married without a lechon. It’s a symbol of abundance and our connection to nature as much as a food source at these special celebrations.

Some dishes I’m planning to make are pork adobo, carnitas (although I’m not sure if I have the right cut of pork—shoulder—but I do have about a 2.5 pound roast), chicharron from the strips of fat that we got, and maybe even some lard. I have no idea how to make the last three dishes, but half the fun of doing things in more sustainable, natural ways is learning new skills. And if I can perfect carnitas (by far my favorite Mexican dish), I’ll be able to satisfy my carnitas-cravings with humanely raised pork instead of going without or shutting off my conscience for a meal of taco-truck tacos.

Here are a few pictures from the delivery this morning. Thanks to all the other buyers who went in on this purchase with me for your patience and cooperation. Thanks to Brian, Rose and their kids at Godfrey Family Farms for raising the pig. Thanks to the pig for giving its life so that we could be nourished so heartily and happily. And last but not least, thanks to the Great Creator for this bounty. AMEN!

PORK MEAT. Lots and lots of pork meat.

These are the folks who went in on the pig purchase with me. Most of them are friends of mine from social justice work, and a couple are from the Bay Area Meat CSA. The farmer, Brian Godfrey, is the tall guy in the baseball cap and light blue shirt. That's me in the middle with the purple hoodie, holding a big bag of pork fat.