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The Femivore’s Dilemma

Peggy Orenstein, New York Times
Four women I know — none of whom know one another — are building chicken coops in their backyards. It goes without saying that they already raise organic produce: my town, Berkeley, Calif., is the Vatican of locavorism, the high church of Alice Waters. Kitchen gardens are as much a given here as indoor plumbing. But chickens? That ups the ante. Apparently it is no longer enough to know the name of the farm your eggs came from; now you need to know the name of the actual bird.

All of these gals — these chicks with chicks — are stay-at-home moms, highly educated women who left the work force to care for kith and kin. I don’t think that’s a coincidence: the omnivore’s dilemma has provided an unexpected out from the feminist predicament, a way for women to embrace homemaking without becoming Betty Draper. “Prior to this, I felt like my choices were either to break the glass ceiling or to accept the gilded cage,” says Shannon Hayes, a grass-fed-livestock farmer in upstate New York and author of “Radical Homemakers,” a manifesto for “tomato-canning feminists,” which was published last month.
(11 March 2010)

Poultry is a Feminist Issue?

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon’s Book
… Now to the meat of the thing – the essay, which profiles Shannon Hayes’s book _Radical Homemakers_ attempts to argue that focusing on food has given women a new set of choices.

… You’d think I’d love this, wouldn’t you ;-)? And in some ways I do, but I’m troubled by it too. It may well be that Peggy Orenstein’s (the Times article’s author) “friends with coops” are taking the first steps in a radical disconnect from their culture of affluence, but it is more likely that they are getting chickens so that their lucky kids won’t have to eat factory farmed eggs. This, in and of itself is not totally trivial – every contribution to reducing the number of CAFOs in this country is a good one – but without larger context, it isn’t an answer to the problem that women have rotten choices. It isn’t a third way if it is only viable for affluent women. Nor is it a third way unless it represents the accomplishment of something meaningful – if it establishes the possibility that others could have the same set of choices.

Orenstein uses the word “precious” here – and I think it may be in her community. Contrast that, however, with the women that Hayes is writing about in her book (full disclosure, Hayes once contacted me about interviewing me for the book, but from one thing and another it never happened) – most of them with household incomes under 40,000 dollars, most of them engaged collectively (with extended family or partners) in a project where everyone, male and female, does a lot of domestic labor. Hayes’ work is about rejecting consumer culture and the assumptions about the “housewifization” of economic activity that make invisible domestic labor, that translate into valuelessness. She focuses on women in _Radical Homemakers_ but finds that the most successful households are the ones that have the highest degree of egalitarianism – that is, what’s radical about it is that everyone involved is working to expand the household informal economy and limit the control exercised by the formal economy. All of this may be true of the women Orenstein knows – but there’s no indication of it in the article.

I have often argued that the version of American feminism that largely succeeded – the one in which freedom was framed in the terms money and the right to work 60 hours a week for someone who times your bathroom breaks – succeeded because it was so very profitable for industrial capitalism. Besides the enormous pool of new workers, it offered new consumers, and created a large market for households to purchase services once done for free by women.
(14 March 2010)

Global hunt for phosphates is on

Jim Jones, Times Live (South Africa)
Are we facing a food disaster with catastrophic shortages of fertilisers? Will the world feed the three billion or so more people likely to be added, by 2050, to the six billion already on the planet?

The influential magazine Nature may not have set the ball rolling last October when it wrote of looming shortages of fertiliser inputs, but it certainly helped keep the ball in play. And the recent rash of acquisitions and deals over fertiliser resources has added fuel to the fire, while the lack of transparency in the global fertiliser industry has not helped quell concerns.

… Need we worry? After all, substitutes or new resources have always been found for other commodities that have experienced supply shortages. So why not with the phosphates?

The authoritative US Geological Survey (USGS) puts it bluntly: there are no substitutes for phosphorus in agriculture. And phosphate fertilisers cannot be recycled like tin cans; they wash away forever.

… As Fortis Bank puts it, we are years away from “peak phosphates”. And already countries such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan are opening new facilities and planning further solid production increases.

Whatever the prospect for resources, the scramble for access to them is on, overtly and covertly.
(14 March 2010)
Incredible example of short-term thinking. On the one hand, phosphates are irreplaceable and a key part of our agricultural system. On the other hand, “peak phosphates” is years away — so we don’t need to worry about it? At least the subject has made the mainstream press.

Water Wisdom

Vandana Shiva, Resurgence
Since 1966 – and as a consequence of the introduction of the Green Revolution model of water-intensive, chemical farming – India has over-exploited her groundwater, creating a water famine.

Intensification of drought, floods and cyclones is one of the predictable impacts of climate change and climate instability. The failure of monsoon in India, and the consequent drought, has impacted two-thirds of the country, especially the breadbasket of India’s fertile Gangetic plains. Bihar, for example, has had a 43% rainfall deficit, and the story is the same in many other parts of India.

In the final analysis, India’s food security rests on the monsoon. Monsoon failure and widespread drought imply a deepening of the already severe food crisis triggered by trade-liberalisation policies, which have made India the capital of hunger. They also imply a deepening of the water crisis.

The monsoons recharge the groundwater and surface-water systems. Since 1966, as a consequence of the introduction of the Green Revolution model of water-intensive chemical farming, India has over-exploited her groundwater, creating a water famine. The chemical monocultures of the Green Revolution use ten times more water than the biodiverse ecological farming systems.

Vandana Shiva is an Indian feminist and environmental activist. She is the founder/director of Navdanya Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology.
(14 March 2010)
Also at Common Dreams.