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Fukuoka meets fusion–“lasagna gardening”

13 Jun

In the US, a woman named Patricia Lanza has made popular Fukuoka Masanobu’s techniques of “do-nothing” farming–she followed, in turn, the earlier work of a woman named Ruth Stout.

Her concept selects and adapts particular features of FM’s work, and is known as “lasagna gardening.” It’s called this because it starts off with sheet mulching and wild mulching–laying sheets of cardboard over grass to tame it and get rid of weeds, and using plant matter on the spot for compost, letting it have its unruly way, rather than putting it in a tidy (“”) pile in a corner to gestate. It’s a kind of translated version of do-nothing farming that still involves some of the processes (sheet mulching, notably, and lack of interest in tilling). But it also drops some key features, such as the compelling autobio, the relation to a general critique of modernity, and questions about the role of the local vis-à-vis spiritual/mystical/Romantic/poetic histories.

Cover of Lanza's Fukuoka adaptation/localization

See what you think, by paging through it at Amazon

Is anything added? Anything lost? How does she imagine the task of adapting, localizing, translating? And what does “culture” (i.e. from cultivare, the word meaning ‘to grow’) mean to her, do you think?

Sustainable Food, Where It’s At

13 Dec

In the past week or two I’ve come across 2 TED talks related to food (I do realize this is a bit late for anyone who was looking for possible essay topics):

The first is about adding insects to our diet!

And the second is on creating Sustainable Restaurants!

Please comment if you watch either of these.  I’d like to know what you guys think!

Sayonara, Hashima

16 Nov

A bit more info on Gunkanjima (the slang name for Hashima island). The mine closed in 1974, when demand for coal petered out (and prices stabilized after the big “oil shock” OPEC oil embargo of 1973). A nice article in the nifty magazine Cabinet has some testimony from a Korean guy who was mobilized to work there, and explains how it was a “company town” for Mitsubishi.

The mine was deep under the sea, the workers reaching it by elevator down a long narrow shaft. The coal was carried out from a spacious underground chamber, but the digging places were so small that we had to crouch down to work. It was excruciating, exhausting labor. Gas collected in the tunnels, and the rock ceilings and walls threatened to collapse at any minute. I was convinced that I would never leave the island alive.

Schoolchildren spelling out "Sayonara Hashima" in the schoolyard in 1974.

The writer of the article gives some specs, too:

Indeed, Mitsubishi owned the island and everything on it, running a kind of benevolent dictatorship that guaranteed job security and doled out free housing, electricity and water but demanded that residents take turns in the cleaning and maintenance of public facilities. Thus the people of Hashima huddled together, all under the wing of “The Company” and all bent on a common purpose.

But coal is not edible. The community depended completely on the outside world for food, clothing and other staples. Even fresh water had to be carried to the island until pipes along the sea floor connected it to mainland reservoirs in 1957. Any storm that prevented the passage of ships for more than a day spelled fear and austerity for Hashima.

The most notable feature of the island was the complete absence of soil and indigenous vegetation. Hashima, after all, was nothing more than a rim of coal slag packed around the circumference of a bare rock. A movie shot there by Shochiku Co. Ltd. in 1949 was aptly entitled Midori Naki Shima (The Greenless Island).

Olive harvest @ Caltech

6 Nov

It’s always interesting to see how other campuses are working with the urban nature on their grounds. On Friday, I stopped by a festival at Caltech, in Pasadena. The occasion was a harvest on their famed Olive Walk, which sports many of the 130 olive trees on campus. The day featured the last of the harvest, which had begun a few days earlier, when the Grounds crew picked some of the olives from the higher tree branches. This is what olive-picking looks like:

Volunteers pick olives, which then fall to the ground onto tarps.

The olives are then collected and put into large bins. This is what the take looked like, toward the end of the harvest.

Bins of green and black olives waiting to be taken for pressing.

According to organizers, the last festival was in 2008, when volunteers–mostly students–harvested 2500 pounds of olives, and the Grounds crew harvested another 3500 pounds. This yielded about 127 gallons of olive oil. Some cooking demos and a lunch accompanied the olive-picking. Here, one volunteer presides over pots of herb-infused olive oil.

Mythili Iyer (class of 2012) serves up samples after a cooking demo.

And another stirs pots of herby, buttery escargots to be eaten on french bread.

Volunteer Jim Workman dishes out escargots.

The event is the brainchild of Tom Mannion, Assistant VP of Student Affairs and Campus Life at Caltech. Tom also teaches a for-credit course called “Cooking Basics,” which he mentioned is the most popular course at Caltech. It is also worth noting that Caltech is the intellectual home of Harold McGee, the author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, the go-to book for understanding the scientific mysteries of the kitchen, including the health benefits of fermented milks, the effects of rigor mortis over time on shellfish, and  breakdowns of species of rice and their growing environments.

There are a few differences from our setup–this is a one-day event, with a lot of help from college staff and workers, whereas you have been tending the garden from scratch all on your own. Their connection to the larger communities and spaces around them, though, is something we might use for inspiration. The project started through student initiatives and experimenting with your old friend vernacular creativity:

In 2005, Kristen Kozak (’09) tried to preserve some olives by dry curing them, that is, using salt to remove the bitter taste. Unfortunately, the olives were infested by flies. The experiment was repeated with better olives in 2006 by Kristen and four other students  (Alex Roper, Robbie Xiao, Dan Rowlands, and Cathy Douglass, all also Class of ’09) and met with mixed results. What worked very well, however, was pressing them for oil. These students picked both green and black olives and pressed them with cheesecloth to separate the pulp from the oil and juice, and put the liquids in a jar to separate. The oil rose to the top and was then skimmed off. The students ate the oil plain and on bread. Also in  2006, undergraduates Dvin Adalian and Ricky Jones did their own olive oil experiment. Using a remedial set of tools and a set of instructions they devised themselves, they managed to purify 550 mL of oil. (For a more detailed account  of the process, click here.)  They distributed the oil throughout their residence (Ruddock House) and the biology division, to Caltech president and first lady Jean-Lou Chameau and Carol Carmichael, and to their friends and families. The verdict? “It was delicious.”

Are there similar resources waiting to be cultivated at USC? Keep an eye out on the grounds as you walk around. It took a couple years of prepping the olives to get rid of flies and make them consumable, but with a little planning, experimentation and collaboration, they did it!

Class location for Thursday October 7

5 Oct

Class will be held in room 108, of the University Religious Center (URC). It’s at 835 W. 34th Street, between College House and the University Health Center–across from the Raubenheimer Music Building.It’s a glassed-in room that juts out from the building.Here is a link to a Google map.

We will need a couple of volunteers to help carry pots and things from the car in front of the URC–at about 10:15 or so, and then to reload them back in the car.

Kitchens on or near campus?

11 Sep

I’m trying to finalize the date with the cooking class teacher. We’ve run into a bit of a snag–she needs access to a kitchen, but lives in Santa Monica. We can do that, as a last resort, but I fear it would make attendance difficult for some people…as transit time means we’d have to do it on a weekend.

So, if anyone has any insider knowledge of kitchens that we might use or rent near campus, that hold 30 people, I would be grateful if you would let me know. I have already unsuccessfully tried the Faculty Club and the local schools. And am now moving on to ask at local churches and museums. I can offer a couple hundred $$$ in donation/fee. Ideally, the class is as scheduled, 11-12:20 on Sept 30. The only “facilities” requirements are that 1) we can boil water; 2) we can all fit, and therefore see what is going on, and participate when the chef needs an assistant.

Thanks!

Conference and video: gender and culinary history @ Radcliffe

16 Aug

Source: Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study

Here is a link to videos from a fascinating conference at Radcliffe, which has a huge culinary collection in its Schlesinger Library. The theme is “gender and food,” and there are some fascinating panels–one on “sugar, sweet potatoes and China” looks at the Pacific version of Sidney Mintz’s classic book Sweetness and Power, which was about sugar, taste and the rise of the Atlantic trade systems (slave trade, beginnings of consumerism, settlement of the Atlantic/Caribbean).

Here’s what Drew  Gilpin Faust had to say–this is shortly before she became president of Harvard:

We are going to look at food both as a vehicle of creativity, joy, self-expression, even hedonism. And, at the same time, insist on looking at food as a source, and even instrument of oppression and deprivation.

Other good stuff on writing life histories via food, eating disorders, dealing with famines, and the history of freshness (!).