Self-sufficiency in Surbiton

1975 was the year the Jefferson’s moved on up, the year Baretta and (more significantly for me) his parrot found their way onto the airwaves, the year that Anne Romano moved to Indianapolis with her two daughters, and the year that we saw a horrifying vision of what space uniforms might look like in Space 1999. At the time, I’m pretty sure I could have told you when each of those shows was on the air – and, I went out of my way to be staring at my TV set whenever they were.

Somehow, these stories seemed important.

A mere four decades (or so) later, somehow they don’t. I don’t even think I could muster the curiosity to watch a whole episode of any one of them. But there is one series that started airing in 1975 that I find myself watching every couple of years: The Good Life (which, if you’re from the US, and watched PBS, you might know as Good Neighbors).

The Good LifeIt was a charming, witty show about a couple that decides to opt out of the rat race, and become self-sufficient. The series follows them as they turn their home in a residential neighbourhood into a small farm, much to the dismay of their dear friends and neighbours. There are no special effects, no impossibly beautiful people, no murders, no perfect NY apartments, no space ships, and no parrots … but there are pigs and chickens, not to mention great chemistry between the characters.

More significantly, almost 40 years later, the show seems even more relevant than it was then – and Tom & Barbara’s determination, passion and values are worth emulating (not something that can be said of many TV couples).

If you’ve never seen The Good Life before, there are far worse things to spend money on on Amazon. The scene below is from the first episode…


Tainted soup and green pineapple

It’s rare that I eat something and wish that I had thrown it away instead.

But it happens.

In fact, I spent much of last week wishing I had thrown away a particular bowl of soup – specifically the one that I ate in Sentral Station in Kuala Lumpur, and which led to a fever, chills, a few nights’ worth of lost sleep, and general gastrointestinal grief. Needless to say, my desire to write about food suffered.

But the experience did remind of a striking photo series by Klaus Pichler that I ran across several months ago. The project was inspired by the same UN study that inspired 222 million tons; it is called One Third (one third being the estimated ratio of all food products wasted worldwide), and was done as a way to draw attention to the issue of food waste.

The food in the photos shares one thing with my tainted soup: it’s well past it’s due date –yet it’s beautifully photographed. If you’re curious, you can click on the moldy pineapple below to see the full series.

Moldy green pineapple

Place of production: Guayaquil, Ecuador
Cultivation method: Outdoor plantation
Time of harvest: All- season
Transporting distance: 10.666 km (linear distance)
Means of transportation: Aircraft, truck
Carbon footprint (total) per kg: 11,94 kg
Water requirement (total) per kg: 360 l
Price: 2,10 € / kg

Big brains don’t make you smarter about everything

I was just admiring the beautiful sari of the young woman ahead of me, when she let out a scream and fell flat on her backside. The bag she had been holding had just been snagged, and the thief was just a few steps down from her, brazenly going through it’s contents, pausing occasionally to warn her off with a glare. She was too terrified to move.

I’ve always wondered what I would do if faced with a situation like this, and now I know: I laughed. And it wasn’t just a little laugh either; it was a big belly laugh.

Maybe I’m a bad person.

In my defense, the young woman’s whole family was laughing too – and they were laughing way harder than me; it was tough not to. The thief in question was only a foot tall, and kind of cute, as macaques tend to be.

Macaque with ice cream cone

Trying to figure out what to do with ice cream

It was one of many thefts I saw today. Earlier, I’d seen another macaque steal an ice cream cone right out of a boy’s hand. And moments after the sari clad bottom hit the stair below me, I heard another scream and turned just in time to see macaque running up a pole with a bag of peanuts I’m pretty sure he didn’t buy himself.


So here’s my travel tip for the day: if you run across a troop of monkeys, and you happen to be holding food, just give it to them. It’s easier on everyone.

Macaque with peanuts

After the peanut heist

Macaques think about food more than Parisians, and one reason for that is the inferiority of their spit. Turns out one of the things that distinguishes us from other primates is a few extra copies of the amylase gene – something I learned on the train this morning (from the June 9 issue of New Scientist) as I was on my way to Batu Caves (the site of the aforementioned thefts). That means that we produce more salivary amylase, the digestive enzyme that breaks down starches – and that allows us to extract more energy from starchy grains and roots. Other primates are stuck eating lower calorie foods like fruits and leaves, and the net of it is that they have to spend much of their time foraging and chewing. Fun fact.

But here’s the irony: thanks in part to our saliva, we can support big energy-hungry brains without eating constantly, which means we think less about food, and – based on my observations today – are dumber than relatively small-brained macaques when it comes to food and food waste. Photographic evidence follows…

Monkey drinking from carton

Some human thought this was garbage, but this macaque realized there was still food to be had here

Macaque eating flowers

Most humans don’t realize flowers are food – even this infant knows better

Macaque eating coconut

Many folks drink the milk then throw them away, but there is lots of food left, and it’s worth the effort to get it out

Macaque eating banana

If you’re smart, nothing goes to waste

I posted more pictures if Batu and Malaysia here.

Home sweet home

Earth seen from spaceThere are many things to like about this time-lapse video (made from images taken from a satellite in geosynchronous orbit), but I’ll highlight just one: it serves as a nice reminder of how interconnected everything is on our little globe.

For more views of Earth, you can check out http://planet–

Fertile grounds

Turning food waste into fresh food is a neat trick if you can pull it off – and that is exactly what the founders of Back to the Roots are doing. Their first product, Grow Your Own Mushroom Garden, is a cardboard box (made of recycled materials), filled with coffee grounds (that would have otherwise ended up in landfill) and oyster mushroom spores. Just make a slit in the box, mist it twice a day, and within a couple of weeks you’ll have mushrooms. After that, you can flip the box over, and start again.

The tag line for their product is: No green thumb required – so Bonnie Lee and I decided to give it a try. Now, everyone knows that mushrooms are like vampires, and not too fond of direct sunlight (and the instructions tell you as much), so we started off our garden in the darkest corner of the kitchen.

On day 2, we noticed a distinct fishy smell coming from the back of the kitchen, and so we moved the mushroom garden onto the balcony, and tucked it where the sun never shines (under the worm composter) – and there the mushrooms thrived for 6 days.

Alas, our mushrooms would never see day 8. My theory is that I didn’t tuck them far enough under the composter the night before and that they got a bit of sun – but, whatever the reason, what greeted me when I went to mist them that day was a bunch of mushroom-shaped Styrofoam. You may not need a green thumb to use this product, but basic common sense comes in handy. Need to get me some of that.

I harvested the Styrofoam, and fed it to some very grateful worms, then put the box back under the composter – determined to get it right with side two, after I come back from my next business trip. Just before I left on that trip though, I got an unexpected harvest: a single oyster mushroom, which made a great addition to my last breakfast in LA (compliments of Bonnie Lee).

There are a few things I like about this product:

  • I’m a big fan of mushrooms.
  • If you post a picture of your mushrooms & mushroom dishes on their Facebook page, they’ll donate a kit and curriculum to the elementary school class of your choice – and potentially kick start the little gardener or environmentalist inside a child or two.
  • Some people who buy the product will choose to compost the grounds when they are done, so some food waste is kept out of landfill.
  • Even if the grounds do end up in landfill, they have at least been reused on the way there, and more has been gotten out of the initial investment in water, sunshine, and nutrients that went into growing the coffee.
  • It makes people think and talk about ways to divert food out of the waste stream.
  • It’s inspired me to try growing mushrooms (perhaps more exotic ones) in our own coffee grounds, which is obviously a greener way to go. I’ll let you know when I figure out that trick.
  • I think the mushroomy coffee grounds will make a nice treat for our worms.

If you happen to be in L.A. provides resources that help Californians reduce their environmental impact and take action to stop climate change … and is a client of Bonnie Lee’s. If you happen to be in L.A. the evening of May 17, this may be of interest.

And the nominees are…

Once upon a time, I worked for a company called IBM, and lived in a city called Tokyo. One of my roles there was to drive the adoption of social media (inside the firewall). I spent a whole lot of time thinking about, observing and participating in online conversations – and came to see the value of them as this: you learn. And that’s the main reason I started this blog in January.

I was passionate about the issue of food waste, though I only had a little bit to say about it – maybe enough material for an entry or five. But I knew that through the act of writing, I would come to think more deeply about the subject, and start to connect with people who would push me in new directions. I was excited at the prospect of finding those people, and those directions.

Two of those people turned out to be Shannon, who writes dirt n kids, and Nicole Brait, who writes The Sustain Blog – both of whom recently received nominations for  the Kreativ Blogger Award and the Versatile Blogger Award, for obvious reasons. Shannon writes with humor and warmth about the things she’s passionate about (dirt & kids). She also manages to raise 4 kids without generating more than a small bag of trash a week. Nicole writes about a variety of sustainability topics, and has made me consider things I would never have thought of, like raising bees (although we have no yard, which I guess is a show stopper).

So, what do these awards mean? Well, for one thing, they give you the opportunity to highlight a few blogs you like, and nominate them for an award. Both Shannon and Nicole included 222 million tons on their lists of nominees. Many thanks to them both for that [insert acceptance speech here], and now it’s my turn to highlight a few blogs that I enjoy:

All of these are ones I check out regularly (though there are many more). Some have been nominated before, but I just wanted to highlight them here for those with similar interests. And some would not consider Grist a blog per se, but it is built on WordPress, so I decided it could be included.

As a nominee, I am also meant to share 7 fun facts about myself, so here goes:

  1. I’m a fan of sci-fi – and have written a few SF stories and one screenplay (all of which I hope to sell one of these days).
  2. I serve at the pleasure of Edo & Pyx, two feline foundlings from Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan – and once spent 8 weekends enlisting the inhabitants of a small Japanese village in a massive (and ultimately successful) search for Edo, who was lost far from home.
  3. Mac. Not PC – though I did like OS/2 in it’s day.
  4. I have a real passion for photography. I started sharing some travel pictures and stories online on Geocities in 1999 to show our families what we were up to in Asia, and have been sharing pictures on flickr since 2005.
  5. These days, I am consulting in Singapore about ⅓ of the time, and am in a state of perpetual jet lag.
  6. I hope to spend more time writing, speaking, thinking, and doing something about food waste and other issues I care about, and am looking for ways to do that. It’s time to make a difference.
  7. I have reason to believe that I’m being stalked by royalty.

The bosses

If that’s breakfast, this must be Singapore

Mee siam

Mee siam

I’m tired – a special kind of tired, born of twenty hours on a planeful of babies who took turns at voicing their displeasure. I’ve been up 47 hours, with the most recent 10 of those spent working.

Yup, tired sums it up.

So I will be brief.

I am in Singapore, and as far as this blog is concerned, that means a few things:

  • I’ll be away from my kitchen, so no recipes for a few weeks.
  • I’m in a country with a love of food, and a very different relationship to it than the US. If it’s a typical Southeast Asian country, then consumers here waste about 10 times less food than typical American and European consumers. I need to see if I can find some stats, and learn how people pull off that trick.
  • Thanks to this trip, and others to this fair city, my carbon footprint is Sasquatch-sized – so I find myself motivated to learn more about carbon negative activities and carbon offsets. If anyone has and suggestions on specifics to explore, please share them in the comments.

So, hopefully I’ll have a few minutes in the next three weeks or so to escape work, learn a few things, and share.

For now, though, it’s bedtime.