My pal Maureen made a bunch of worm composting bins for us city-dwelling environmentalists. I recently expanded mine into full-fledged Worm Flats, adding a second layer for super-simple worm management. (The worms migrate up to the second “floor,” leaving behind the now-easily emptied lower “floor.”) It’s worked flawlessly so far. Just watch the short video to join in the fun:

Farm to table (in Wicker Park)

Nicholas Day wrote recently in the Chicago Reader about the new certified-organic pizzeria opening soon four blocks south of me. One interesting bit:

bq. These days, any local organic product is precious. According to Slama, Illinois residents bought $500 million worth of organic food last year, 95 percent of it grown out of state. And still, he says, “there were tens of millions of dollars in demand that weren’t met.” In hopes of increasing production, Sustain helped write the Illinois Food, Farms and Jobs Act, which was introduced in the state legislature last month. It calls for the governor to appoint a task force that would develop policy recommendations for a local organic food system, and to earmark $5 million to support those recommendations.

With proper coordination, a project to increase local organic-food growing capacity to capture even a small share of the state’s organic-food market could yield millions of dollars in revenue for farmers and “farmland preservation projects”:http://www.thelandconnection.org/files/saving.html.


John and Dottie mince no words:

bq. If we had to sum up the taste, overall, of inexpensive American Chardonnay today, we’d say the single most notable smell and flavor is pineapple, with syrupy sweetness, some acetate or nail-polish remover, far too much alcohol and a bizarre overlay of unintegrated acidity, as though a big sack of industrial-strength acid mixture had been dumped into the tank at the last minute to compensate for the lack of natural acidity.

a thousand cuts

From the Economist, 9 Dec:

bq. The term ‘food mile’ is itself misleading, as a report published by DEFRA, Britain’s environment and farming ministry, pointed out last year… It transpires that half the food-vehicle miles associated with British food are travelled by cars driving to and from the shops. Each trip is short, but there are millions of them every day.

(Incidentally, this is the first post I’ve made from a BlackBerry. Scary.)

Sprawl’s pathology

Jeff Speck interviews the CDC’s Richard Jackson in Metropolis Magazine about the ongoing effort to portray sprawl as a public health issue.

It has been asserted that I’m too negative when I describe this situation [the sprawling built environment], and it’s true that we doctors tend to focus on pathology. But we know the treatment for these problems. We know how to build communities with central commons surrounded by civic buildings, with sidewalks, parks, and transport, with kids and old folks being able to get back and forth to their daily destinations. I think we are at the right moment to reinvent American communities back to what they were at their absolute best.

In fact, the focus on pathology — on those big, ultimate causes of death rather than the smaller causes leading up to it — has played a large role in blinding medicine to the problem for decades now.

Another prototype on its way

Wild Oats brought People’s Market to Evanston, Supervalu just premiered Sunflower in Lincoln Park; Chicago’s underserved natural foods segment seems to be quite popular with small-city companies looking to test new concepts in the big city.

H. Lee Murphy at Crain’s Chicago Business reports:

bq. Roundy’s Inc. of Milwaukee, which operates 143 supermarkets in Wisconsin, plans to bring an upscale grocery concept called Metro Market to Chicago next year, sources say. “We’re in a growth mode and looking to expand,” a Roundy’s spokeswoman says.

Metro Market’s one 53,000 square foot location is on the east side (near north?) of Milwaukee. I stopped by (wholly incidentally) last year and don’t remember anything in particular; the press release description sounds promising but still quite Wisconsin specific (a dozen varieties of sausage made on the premises daily, adult-sized cupcakes, pierogies and a Friday fish fry with rye bread). Interestingly, Bob Mariano, current CEO of Roundy’s, was head of Dominick’s before its sale to Safeway.

Supervalu describes Sunflower as “efficient” and “convenient”; one of its most promising features is is compact footprint: 8-12,000 SKUs in 12-15,000 square feet.

Cars make you fat

William Saletan in Slate notes that “[Chinese] households with [motor] vehicles have an obesity rate 80 percent higher than their peers.” (The link in the article doesn’t lead to a good source.) Sure, that correlation probably has two huge confounding factors: income, as rich Chinese both own cars and eat more; and maybe a bit of selection bias.* Yet it’s nice to think that such a big correlation implies at least a little bit of causation.

Incidentally, elsewhere in Slate “Joel Waldfogel”:http://www.slate.com/id/2148759 points to British evidence that taller people are paid more because they’re smarter, while “Daniel Engber”:http://www.slate.com/id/2132990/ links heavy babies to bigger adults. All of which sets me up as an outlier again: against American male norms, 87th percentile by birth weight, 5th percentile by adult height, and, well, an immodestly high figure on intelligence. Of course, earnings — well, never mind. (Of course, a decades-old British data set also wouldn’t account for Jewish or Asian Americans, two short[er] groups with above-average incomes.)

* This seems more likely in the U.S., where not driving is an anomalous choice. Bicyclists as a group may be skinnier than average, but no one claims that the act of playing football makes one hefty.

More drilling won’t help

Even if Dick Cheney sinks exploratory drills in every single playground in America, there will never be enough oil to slake the SUVs’ unending thirst for tar:

bq. “SUVs alone burn half the total for all passenger cars, far more than their fair share and more petroleum than our entire country produces in a year.” — Mark Morford, writing in the SF Chronicle

And since we’re dealing with an nonrenewable resource, faster consumption now merely hastens “the inevitable decline and fall”:http://www.salon.com/tech/books/2004/05/19/end_of_oil/index.html :

bq. “We believe oil markets may have entered the early stages of what we have referred to as a ‘super spike’ period — a multi-year trading band of oil prices high enough to meaningfully reduce energy consumption and recreate a spare capacity cushion only after which will lower energy prices return… Perhaps the ultimate answer to high how oil prices need to go before demand destruction occurs is derived from knowing when American consumers will stop buying gas guzzling sport utility vehicles and instead seek fuel efficient alternatives… Based on our analysis of gasoline spending and the economy noted above, we estimate that U.S. gasoline prices may need to exceed $4 per gallon.” [Goldman Sachs analyst report, quoted at “Energy Bulletin”:http://www.energybulletin.net/5017.html%5D

or this, from “the Financial Times”:http://news.ft.com/cms/s/f20cfb8a-920d-11d9-bca5-00000e2511c8.html (reported by Kevin Morrison and Javier Blas):

bq. “The rapid rise in global oil demand should lead the industrialised world to promote alternatives to oil as well as energy conservation, the International Energy Agency said on Friday. The warning, from the West’s energy policy adviser, signals a sharp turnaround by the IEA, which has previously tried to cool oil markets by blaming prices on speculators and short-term supply disruptions…. The agency also plans to release a report next month entitled _Saving Oil In A Hurry_, which will cover among other issues the topic of energy efficiency in consuming nations. Energy analysts said a new drive on energy efficiency could be difficult because most of the increase in oil consumption is in transportation, where there are few economic alternatives.”

At a new year’s party, the conversation turned at one point to survivalist techniques for dealing with the forthcoming civil war between Red and Blue — with the assumption that we Blues are in trouble since the Reds obviously have a better armed populace. (And no, I’m not a good shot.) At the rate we’re going, we may very well end up in armed conflict, but I’m a bit more optimistic. Even in the event of a peak-oil situation or currency crisis (both of which some pessimists predict will happen this year), I’m encouraged by the natural resilience of diverse ecosystems — human in the city and natural in the countryside — to absorb shock.

Toby Hemenway, formerly a permaculture farmer in rural Oregon, came to different conclusion than most of the pessimists–the socially denuded countryside, completely stripped of social capital by capitalism, would implode during a crash while the socially diverse cities would maintain their resilience. It’s worth reading in its entirety; an excerpt follows the jump.

Continue reading

Chicago’s obesity czar

Christopher Conte writes in _Governing_ about Chicago health commissioner Dr. Terry Mason and his new “war on obesity”:, in the context of both national and local efforts.

[My opinion coming soon]

bq. With this mix of promising starts, disappointing gaps and unknowns, how can Terry Mason, the city’s new health commissioner, best contribute to the effort to reduce obesity? He can, of course, add a strong voice to the chorus urging people to improve their eating and exercise habits. But public health advocates say government is uniquely able to contribute in another way: It can change the environment in which people make unconscious, daily decisions about such behaviors. And that, experts say, may be crucial. As the long, sad story of failed diets and abandoned resolutions to get more exercise demonstrate, relying on individuals to change by willpower alone doesn’t have a good track record…

bq. Some Chicagoans would like to see Mason join the effort to make the city more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly… That attitude, [Benet] Haller [of DPD] says, repeatedly thwarts the department’s efforts to make Chicago a more pedestrian-friendly city. Drivers oppose efforts to increase housing density for fear it will lead to parking shortages, for instance, and businesses insist on surrounding their buildings with parking lots rather than locating on the sidewalk where they would be more welcoming to people on foot. The issue is politically radioactive, says Haller, who adds that he would welcome the health commissioner’s support.

bq. Perhaps even more eager for an alliance with Mason is the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation. It is working with the city to close a few miles of city streets one day this summer for bicyclists and pedestrians, a first step toward a goal of closing 68 miles of city streets on Sundays. The group’s ultimate goal is to make it much easier for people to bicycle city streets every day. To do that, it would deliberately slow down automobile traffic by making changes such as reducing the size of lanes and intersections–another politically explosive idea. “We need to broaden our base of support, and public health is a big piece of that,” says Rob Sadowsky, the federation’s executive director.

Ogilvie Market

“Virginia Groark”:http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-0605130220may13,1,2838462.story?coll=chi-newslocal-hed breaks the good news in today’s Trib: the bowels of Northwestern Station will soon host an indoor, year-round public market:

bq. Operating under the name French Market of Chicago, Bensidoun USA Inc., an international operator of fresh-food marketplaces, has been selected to open the 15,000-square-foot market in the northern end of Ogilvie Transportation Center, said the firm’s executive vice president, Sebastien Bensidoun.

Apparently, Bensidoun (a contract operator of markets) runs a few markets in the USA already, including contract farmers’ markets in “several suburbs”:http://bensidoun-usa.com/list%20market.pdf (and Lakeview?) and in “White Plains”:http://www.westchestercountybusinessjournal.com/archive/041204/041204wrop08.html. Those seem like pretty standard operations; maybe we can hope for something more like the famed “Blvd. Raspail organic market”:http://www.bensidoun-usa.com/marche%20de%20raspail%20bio.html.


Today’s odd web find: sure, I understand taking photos of meals and posting to Flickr, but thanks to the wonders of the web, you can find out what vegetarian curry aboard Air New Zealand (and any number of cuisine/airline combos) looks and tastes like. Or maybe an “Air Zimbabwe meal circa 1981”:http://www.airlinemeals.net/oldies/AirZimbabwe.html is more to your taste.

(FWIW, I’ve stuck to Indian vegetarian [often vegan, sometimes yogurt or cheese] in-flight meals ever since an unfortunate food poisoning incident involving a turkey wrap on a flight to PDX.)