Tag: climate change

The Future of Food*

organic veggies 2-22-18 copy
Organic local carrots, winter radishes, & kohlrabi. Watercolor pencil & gouache on paper, 15″ x 11″ © J.Hart 2018

Instagram is filled with seductive photos of food from high end bloggers, chefs, and assorted foodies. Some of these creative food aficionados were even kind enough to respond to my recent posts. A thank you to all the bloggers who commented and responded!

Now, as a practicing foodie, I appreciate both the pleasure of food sensually and visually. However, our present huge interest in using food as a creative outlet gives me pause. It seems to me that it  rests upon a faith that the supplies that support it, the diversity of crops, both vegetable and animal, coming in from all over the planet, will continue to exist, certainly through our lifetime. I think that is very unlikely: what is more to be expected is that we will lose, in the very near future, many of the foods that we take for granted:


In our present situation, it is heat that is, in the next couple of years, going to radically change the way we eat and drink. It is going to mean that the huge fields of corn, soy, and wheat-with which the mammoth industrial corporations support their empire of fast, processed, and cheap food-will be burned and destroyed by fire and drought. It also means that smaller crops like barley which supports the cheap beer that is the main alcoholic beverage in the States will also be affected.


Very high temperatures during the growing months will make harvesting basic crops like strawberries by hand very dangerous.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/brand-connect/ucdavis/protecting-californias-farmworkers-as-temperatures-climb/

The short-term solution will probably be night harvesting, and, of course, the development of robotic harvesting:  https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/09/07/437285894/4-labor-intensive-crops-farmers-wish-they-had-robots-to-harvest.

Not only heat, but lack of water or too much water at the wrong time, will affect basics like olive oil:

The systematic destruction of the soil and ecosystems will eventually eliminate crops like cocoa:  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/13/chocolate-industry-drives-rainforest-disaster-in-ivory-coast

Finally, the change in the weather and the creation of what Elizabeth Kolbert calls the new Pangaea – the unimpeded spread of microbes, fungi, and insects carrying diseases throughout the globe – are leading to the destruction of crops and the disappearance of foods we have learned to take for granted like bananas and oranges.

This does not even begin to cover the destruction by industrial fishing of ocean habitats that support the seafood we are all encouraged to eat for better health. (Here in Dallas, the grocery stores sell a relatively inexpensive shrimp caught in the Gulf of Mexico. Needless to say, I am hesitant, knowing what I do about the dead zones and massive pollution in the Gulf, to buy these shrimp!)

So one issue is that cooking as if the whole world is one’s grocery store is a reflection of a fossil fuel dependent mentality that refuses to imagine that this way of living will shortly end. Even health books promote, without being aware of it, a static delusional world view. Recipes, such as those I just found in  Dr. Mark Hyman’s Eat Fat, Get Lean cookbook (which advertises a combined paleo and vegan diet), depends heavily on foods, like coconut and avocados, which have a huge carbon footprint for North America.

The other more difficult problem is that cooking as a commodity for consumption by the wealthy (food as art!) normalizes habits that are destructive to the planet.  I can imagine in the not too distant future millions of poor people worldwide starving; the middle class here paying much of their income for food and being disappointed that the wide diversity of food they were used to is no longer available; and the superrich continuing to eat as if there is no tomorrow!


(This is probably the best opinion piece on the coming food catastrophe. It is not the first time that I have posted this, nor will it be the last!)

So my suggestion, as always, is to move away from the exotic and expensive in cooking as in life: to focus on your area’s food traditions and local crops; and grow some of your own food. Your recipes will become more wholesome if less photogenic and novel, but the planet will thank you!

*Warning: this post is what I call a Cassandra Report. As many of you may remember from Greek stories, Cassandra was a beautiful woman with whom the god Apollo fell in love. He gave her the gift of prophecy, but she rejected him. Enraged, he cursed her with the ability to tell truth about the future, but the inability to have anyone ever believe her!

So my modest guesses of what the future will hold for us are Cassandra Reports. As a disclaimer, I do not believe that I am clairvoyant. However, I do believe that anyone with a good imagination and the courage to accept change, can “foresee” the future: you do not need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows! (Bob Dylan)


Alienated from Nature

cacti on Avondale ave. web
Cacti on my block in Dallas

In a recent blog post, I wrote briefly about a family that became disconnected from their past: their connection to the land, their cooking traditions, and their own bodies. This happened over three generations as the family members made radical changes to fit into the rapid revolution of the society around them. Like most Americans, they  believed that what everyone else was doing must be right, and progress can never be wrong.

Except in our present dilemma, the mainstays  of our progress “cheap, fast, & easy” are wrong; and they are sickening us and will eventually lead to our destruction. But why can’t most of us understand this, and why are we not focussed on saving ourselves and our planet (which are clearly the same thing)?!


Many people I know who are concerned about the destruction of our ecosphere are asking the same question, but many more are avoiding the whole subject. This is very troubling and makes me wonder if our species is suicidal or just hopelessly narcissistic. Happily, much smarter people than I have written books answering this question, the best of which are George Marshall’s Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, and Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. (Margaret Heffernan’s Willful Blindness is also a good read on this topic.)

The bad news is that the ecodestruction we are experiencing is part of what is termed a “wicked problem” in opposition to a “tame problem.” A wicked problem is multivalent, incomplete, contradictory, constantly changing, and complex. It is also, in case you haven’t noticed, very anxiety-producing! And we humans have many strategies to cope with extreme anxiety, from denial to avoidance to willful blindness. The silence we see in main stream media is a reflection of the lack of discussion of environmental destruction and extreme climate change within families.

The good news is that many societies far less wealthy or technologically advanced than ours managed to create a healthy lifestyle over a very long period of time while maintaining and even improving their environment, and we can use them as templates for our own problems. The connections that can be found between a Highland New Guinean community that has been living well on the same ground for close on 46,000 years (!) and early 21st century Americans seems  to reside in a localization of information about the environment and how to best use it. The first necessity seems to me to pay a patient and profound attention to both the great and small expressions of the natural world.

And this brings me back to my typical American family: urbanized, insulated from Nature by technology (did I fail to mention that this family has a television in every room and runs the TV from the moment they awake to the minute they go to sleep?), and unaware of the changes in the natural world around them. But they are not alone in this. Most people in my neighborhood have their properties sprayed with pesticides and have the leaves that are falling at this time of year collected and carted off the grounds. My own daughter views a spider or a roach that has found its way into our apartment to be a terrifying apparition!


So what I am suggesting is not a radical “naturalization” (for want of a better word) of our lives, but, to begin with, a small more localized awareness of our environment. Pay attention to the trees, the birds, the insects, the small mammals that are your neighbors. One of the interesting things about going to live for a couple of months in a very different environment is how amazing the flora and fauna are here compared to where I come from!    https://www.facebook.com/dfwurbanwildlife.page/?hc_ref=ARTxkOeVeA9-Xmx2bf4jx0RRVuRJbD-q2E-2XeQTY7QaaBnlviR5Qv7NtvzAqnen_UM

One of the reasons that I moved to Montreal, Canada eight years ago (beside it being the best place to dance tango in North America!) was the amount of wild nature that can be seen even in the heart of the city. I have raccoons, skunks, foxes, raptors, ground hogs (what the French call marmots)  near my apartment in Verdun (though I would prefer a bit more distance from the skunks and raccoons!). There is an ethical value to letting a bit of wildness into your neighbourhood (and that includes not manicuring your garden into a green desert): it will give you a more realistic idea of our place in the natural order, and will work against the human folly of arrogance.

So take a break once in a while from the man-made world (I don’t call this the “unnatural” world: we, each and every one of us, are creatures of nature): turn off the machines, close down the screens, shut out the mechanical noise. Even at her most domestic and everyday level, Nature is far more engrossing, complex, and subtle than anything invented by humans. And for a wake up call on what is the real bedrock of our world and our health, check out The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health by David Montgomery & Anne Bilké!

Because if we are not even aware of the natural world around us today, if we don’t even pay attention to it in our everyday lives, how can we be expected to care about its future planetwide demise?!








News vs. Noise


After a break of almost ten years, with the election of Trump I began once again to watch “the news.”  I read two newspapers (The Guardian & The New York Times), check out the headlines of one other (The Washington Post) and visit a couple of online sources: The Rachel Maddow Show (for her historical slant on the news); some online magazines (Treehugger ; Orion; and Facebook (in order to follow Bernie Sanders, Rep. Guiterrez from Chicago, & March for Science).

In the U.S., my news choices are considered left of center politically, but to most of the rest of the industrialized world, they are very much centrist. What becomes apparent after a few weeks of following the news, is how little actual information in presented, and how repetitious the stories and commentaries are. After a news story has peaked, it often disappears even if the event itself is still in play.:


The news is also very generalized and homogenized, much like our food, housing, and clothing. During this past horrific hurricane season, all the news outlets carried the same story describing the storms themselves with barely a mention of the global warming that was responsible for their ferocity and size:



The other thing about the news is that almost all of it is “noise” not really news. My daughter the other day asked me how to differentiate between news and noise; in other words, with the limited time we have, what subjects should we pay attention to and what should we dismiss?

My answer to this is in the present climate is the following:

1. If the news is about an existential threat, it should be followed and understood.

So the recent information about the demise of flying insects is newsworthy:


while Trump’s tweets or speeches  (for instance, his inability to make empathetic condolence calls or his dislike of football players’ civil disobedience) are not.

Existential threats include problems with our food supply:


And science-based articles on extreme climate change that will in the near future make the earth much less habitable than presently:


2. If the news is about action taken, it is worth knowing. This is more difficult to find out about as the government becomes less transparent and more secretive. Rachel Maddow is good about following underreported stories. With the foxes in charge of the henhouse in the present Administration, these stories become more important:


3. And finally, and most difficult to find (hence this blog!) news about what to do under these difficult circumstances both politically as the federal government is dysfunctional and dangerous:


and the state governments are very uneven:


In California where the state is helpful:


compared to Texas where it is not:


And what to do personally:


Better choices, for me, begin with the actions I take including resistance to information, much of which comes under the heading “news,” that is distracting, anxiety-provoking, and/or unhelpful. In this blog, I want to show you how I am deciding on the best actions to take in these hard times, and hopefully it will help you in your planning too!











Art & Climate Change



The above is one of the few articles that I have seen on the losses artists have endured because of extreme climate change. I have not seen to date any articles on what artists in Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands have suffered. Seeing the nightmare of losing one’s  studio and all the accumulated artwork in it, makes me wonder again: what is the best way for an artist to set up for the climate-induced disasters of the coming age?

As artists, we live with certain constraints, especially if we are painters still working in an easel tradition:

  1. we need art supplies. Even if we choose to live a minimalist lifestyle (certainly my goal), depending on what type of art we do, we will use many more tools than, say,  writers do.
  2. we need studio space in which to do our work, and store our supplies.
  3. and we need inventory: I am a painter, and I have lots of paintings and drawings and sketchbooks that I can sell or use for future work. These things are, in essence, my equity.

Now if a fire or flood destroys these things, insurance will pay for very little. Insurance might pay for supplies or the studio, but there is no way to replace the paintings (as I understand it, the supplies that went into the paintings can be reimbursed, but not the actual value in terms of work time and potential sales).

So I have been thinking of two paths: one to minimize the risk; the other to soften the blow.  Let’s start with the latter: what can make the loss of artwork less painful?

1. Photograph in full file and store online and in hard drive everything that would be difficult to part with, and I mean everything: paintings, drawings, sketchbooks. It is the same with important photographs, and papers (birth certificates, passports, wills, drivers licenses, etc.) but for a different reason. You just want to have a record of the papers, but you want the peace of mind to know that you will be able to reproduce the art, either as a print or a gclee, if the original piece is destroyed. Paintings can also be repainted using good photographs as references. We tend not to make copies in this day and age, but if the work is really important, it can be remade.

2. Practice non-attachment. One way is through Buddhist study and practice: http://www.zen-buddhism.net/buddhist-principles/four-noble-truths.html. Another more secular route is by accepting randomness as the basis of reality. The best book to read on this is Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan. For a quick synopsis: https://medium.com/personal-finance-series-by-richard-reis/black-swan-101-beware-the-highly-improbable-316658109d46.

Thinking about how to minimize the risk, I have come up with a number of ways:

  1. Store in secure storage units that are fire and flood resistant though I assume that this is an expensive choice.
  2. Leave the paintings with as many friends as possible. These paintings are “on loan” and if I sell them or need them for a show, I just retrieve them. Not having them all in one place, like my studio, also gives me some more peace of mind, and I like the idea that the art is giving pleasure and not sitting wrapped up unseen somewhere!
  3. Edit ruthlessly so you have a smaller inventory.  I have an artist friend who keeps everything he does. He has reams of sketches, piles of sketch books, and closets full of paintings. And certainly there is a widely understood assumption that true professional artists produce prolifically.  But I don’t believe that artists should either be like industrial manufacturers or hoarders. Paintings can be gessoed over and painted over. Or the old canvas can be removed and new canvas put on the old stretchers. Again, if the painting that is to be destroyed has been photographed, it can still act as inspiration or reference. And destroying a piece because it is not that good is cathartic and keeps the art from becoming too “precious.”
  4. Switch media! Easel painting was invented in the 14th century as a way to make painting more accessible physically: easier to move. But seven centuries later, easel paintings have unfortunately joined the overwhelming flood of objects that crowd our homes, use up the Earth’s resources, and are just one more commodity to purchase. As a change, I have been looking at Print on Demand (POD) where the image is uploaded to a website and the buyer can buy it as a print without the artist having to keep inventory; books, again a POD situation; and in situ murals. This last is where painting in our time has gone to live, and in a strange historical reversal, some of the most dynamic painting being done today is found on walls for public consumption, as was the case for most of recorded history!

These are just my first raw thoughts on life as an artist in the time of extreme climate change, but I would be grateful to hear the ideas of other artists!