So, everyone I know is following Obama’s early decisions (Guantanamo-closing edicts, yay!), but honestly, though it pains me to admit it, I am obsessed with just one Obama-related question. (Well, two, but I’ve already told you how desperately I want the Obamas to adopt a mixed-breed shelter dog.) What I’m wondering about is whether or not the new first family is going to plant a garden on part, or all, of the White House’s available open space.
A garden? I can feel your irritation from here. Our New Depression looms, banks are collapsing, unemployment runs rampant and you’re going to bray at me about a garden? Ha ha ha, you laugh, and resolve to leave the lights on all evening, just to spite me.
Well, that’s mean, but I’ll tell you this: gardening could be a skill we desperately need to hang on to. There are a lot of bad things happening out there, but the funny thing is how much could be helped by just a bit more gardening. Here’s how it works: you grow a little bit (or a lot) of food yourself; you save money on the food you grow; it tastes better, and is healthier for you, for a lot of reasons.* Saving money on food helps you cope with high mortgage payments, the loss of a job, expensive health-insurance premiums and more.
When we garden there’s less pollution, fewer trucks on the interstates, less oil from elsewhere needed to power our dinner across the country, less global-warming gas, and greater security in case the shit hits the fan and we can’t schlep food from far away. And trans-national and trans-global systems are inefficient, petroleum-consuming, global-warming gas-producing and detrimental to the quality and nutritional value of the food.
The miracle of YouTube last week spat out an informational film, just put out by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries (MAFF). It illustrates, in under six minutes, the problem of Japan’s food supply, 64 percent of which now comes from outside of the country: imported foods mean imported diets. More meat. More grain to feed the meat. More overweight people.
The video encourages its (Japanese) watchers to take responsibility for consuming a more “traditional” diet, by eating more local foods. According to MAFF, increased demand for Japanese food will make farmers more prosperous, revitalize the farming community, generate jobs and improve the state of the environment. All by going local. It’s a remarkably comprehensive and honest call to arms to be issuing from a government ministry.
Which I guess brings me back to the Obama’s front lawn. Rethinking our food system is in fact one of the most direct ways to address many of our other environmental, financial and health dilemmas — the production of food consumes more resources than anything else we do, so it’s a great place to start reducing our impact, while doing something that’s health-giving, and potentially (if you garden organically and compost) carbon neutral, or even carbon-fixing.
As Joel Salatin, the organic farmer made famous in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, says of our present-day food system, you can always “opt out”— by buying locally grown, minimally processed food. Or growing it yourself. And the day the first family opts out, even a little, is the day we may start making our way back, as a nation, to better health, greater food security, and less damage to the environment. And we don’t even have a Department of Food (I nominate Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, and Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary… are you listening, Barry?).
Go to Eattheview.org to sign a petition encouraging the Obamas to turn that useless lawn into a garden.
*More exercise for the grower; higher nutrient content for not having been stored and shipped for weeks; cooking at home with fresh produce always beats store-bought processed foods and week-old veg healthwise, etc.