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Food & agriculture - June 19

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Free Nitrogen! Comes with a Handy Dispenser!

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon's Book
...After a long and tedious toilet training process, my son Isaiah finally clicked into big-boyhood last week, when he discovered peeing on trees outside. He was *so* excited and pleased with himself - now he and big brother Simon can try and hit a spider on a leaf from 5 paces (sorry, spider!), and discuss who went further at considerable length, to Mommy's utter bemusement. Some days it seems like they spend more time with their pants down than up, but who am I to ruin their fun?

We do have some firm rules. No peeing in the container plants (I couldn't figure out what was wrong with my poor impatiens). No peeing off the porch when Mommy is sitting and reading just below it (hmmm...rain...that's funny.. not a cloud...ick!!!). And strong encouragement to pee in the nice bucket that we keep. Because while Mommy may not fully grasp just how cool it is to play "shoot the grasshopper," Mommy is a major fan of free nitrogen.

You see, we all of us, during garden season, fertilize our garden with our urine. I use a commode we inherited from Eric's grandparents, and the rest of them use a bucket outside, and the commode in. Human urine is powerful fertilizer - every day people in the US discard 7 million pounds of nitrogen and trace minerals in the form of human urine. In fact, if you go to the farm store, you can buy artificial pee, called "urea" - except that that stuff is made with natural gas and lots of fossil fuels, whereas the other stuff comes out whether you like it or not.

The thing is, one of the scariest elements of the forthcoming energy peak is that we are terrifically dependent on anhydrous ammonia and other artificial nitrogen sources, mostly derived from natural gas, to feed ourselves. If we are to keep eating, we need to find another source of nitrogen. Conveniently, the artificial nitrogens that have been supporting the human populace (in our food) gets recycled through our bodies and comes back out in highly usable form. You just have to dilute it 1-10 to keep it from burning your plants.

And natural nitrogen, rather than the artificial stuff, is much gentler, and somewhat less likely to float downstream destroying the oxygen in the oceans. We apply way more artificial nitrogen than soils can absorb, and it is creating the famous dead zone in the gulf of Mexico - fish can't live there because a vast excess of nitrogen has destroyed the capacity of the sea to carry oxygen.

While feces can contain all sorts of bacteria, urine is generally sterile, and there's virtually no health risks to putting urine on your garden.
(17 June 2007)
My nomination for best title of the year.

Another one from Sharon: Lose the Petro-Lawn.
-BA


The 100 Mile Diet
(Audio)
CSJR, Global Public Media
For one year, James MacKinnon and co-author Elisa Smith abstained from foods grown outside of a 100 mile radius of their Vancouver home. In this interview for CJSR radio in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Jason Melnychuk learns more from the co-authors of The 100 Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating.
(15 June 2007)


Slow Food guru spreads gospel in high places

Jasper Gerard, The Observer
Carlo Petrini saw Prince Charles last week and has the ear of top politicians. Jasper Gerard meets the man with a mission to change the way we eat
----
Not since Jesus rustled up a feast from some fishes and a few loaves of bread - beat that, Nigella - have we invested food with such spiritual qualities; and if food has become the faith of a decadent West, its high priest is Carlo Petrini. When the founder of the Slow Food Movement met the Prince of Wales last week it was hard to say who was having the audience.

Ditto when the Italian campaigner and writer met the Conservative leader David Cameron, and David Miliband, the Environment Secretary. When in America Petrini might pop in on Barack Obama or Al Gore. Time has included him in a series of 'European heroes', who created the 'ethical consumer'.

Petrini came to prominence two decades ago when he stopped McDonald's opening by Rome's Spanish Steps. His non-lethal weapon of choice at the time? Plates of penne. But does he have a bigger point, or is he merely a kind of modish Dalai Lama figure for those who think nothing of paying a small fortune for purple broccoli, dusted with powdered linseed or potatoes sold 'with added earth' from Kensington's new and uber-fashionable emporium, Whole Foods Market?
(17 June 2007)

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