Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Sustainability Debate

I have read a couple of interesting articles lately with a sustainability focus. Matt Ridley suggests at ( that a move towards self-sufficiency romanticizes sustenance living and ignores the fact that specialization in product and food creation has brought real benefit to the global population.. Balance that thought with "One Local Family" ( -- blogging a year in the life of the Levitch family of Scotsdale Arizona who have committed to buy everything they need from local shops and vendors for 365 days. The Levitch's aren't giving up electricity or anything, they are just committed to supporting their local shop merchants, restauranteurs, and farm markets in order to keep a vibrant economy alive in their area.

Then there are those who are giving up the creature comforts of life -- in the 70s they were the back to the landers, and now they are typically the "off-griders". Evidence of this continuing trend is more than amply supplied at the Off-Grid Living blog ( forums. Off-grid living does mean giving up electricity and returning to a way of life focused on sustenance and simplicity. Then, for those of us interested in food as our passionate endeavor, there are both the 100-mile Diet and Slow Foods movements to consider.

Here at the Modern Sufficiency "headquarters" (really my desk in the living room), we have decided that we don't want to go back to life without Google, the KitchenAid, coffee or the propane fireplace (my elbows just couldn't take it). But we DO want to know where our food comes from and attempt to increase the quality and health benefits of our food. And we do enjoy the "work" of considering what we cook, eat, buy, and grow. And we are looking for ways, sustainable ways (I mean we both still work outside of this) to achieve a closer to home diet.

It is immeasurably pleasurable to me to have a carboy of mead bubbling away beside the propane fire; to have the sourdough starters (one whole wheat locally sourced and ground by me and one that is made with your basic supermarket white) springing to life on the bookshelf beside the kitchen table. The breads that come with these starters is better than anything we can buy.

I love our homemade sauerkraut and am assured of the nutritional whallop of all the fermented foods that I make. On the other hand, I don't think I am willing to make sausages without a tiny bit of preservative to ensure I don't poison everyone. After all, Saltpeter after all has been used for centuries to preserve foods for long periods of time.

Today in our southern windows, we have two Aerogardens (small hydroponic growing appliances) sprouting heirloom tomatoes and saved-seed hot peppers for early spring consumption.

So it doesn't have to be an either/or choice. You don't have to give up on your sustainability goals because you don't have a woodstove or become Amish to achieve them. Producing something for your family that is edible, wearable, or tradeable doesn't mean everything has to be hand grown, hand sewn or produced by your own hand. But some of it, quite a bit of it, can be.

It can be as simple as changing out some of your landscaping to include food producing plants. An apple tree in the yard is beautiful both to look at and to provide fruit that is miles ahead in taste from the long distance travelers in the supermarkets. Or you could, like us, try your hand at making your own pastrami and cheese.

Sustainability is a mindset -- a mindset that is aware that the global spice trade made our food more enjoyable but requires a transportation system that sometimes harms the very places sending us those fragrant additives. It is a mindset that says, yes, I can grow a few tomatoes on my deck in the summer and then buy and preserve an area's bounty in glass jars in my basement for consumption during our long winters. It is one that seeks some balance between the rampant consumerist culture that we live in and our romaticized notions of our forebearers life of sustenance. It is also one that says: "I am tired tonight, let's go to the local burger joint for dinner. I will deal with the weeding tomorrow."