“Cook by color.”
~ ‘Schwartzy’ ~
SlimC had instructed the cast of his fanciful new reality-TV show project, Kiss Me on Kalea, to fly out to Tahiti, take the ferry for the short hop over to Moorea, and meet up for dinner at Cook’s Bay Resort restaurant the night before the departure, which would be at sunrise the following morning. The crew of Kalea, along with SlimC, would join the cast at dinner for all to get to know each other a bit before heading out to sea for seven days.
Captain Bob, Lua, and I had been given brief profiles of the cast members ahead of time to give us some sense of the species of characters we’d be dealing with during our voyage to Rarotonga together. Judging from their biographies, they surely had differing motivations for signing on to the show.
Knowing something about their personal histories might help when dealing with any conflicts between them, should they arise. And if no issues arose, well by golly we should work at a-risin’ them ourselves to deliver the drama and help boost the show’s ratings.
No one wants to see people getting along swimmingly (no man-overboard reference intended) on a boat for too long on a reality-TV show. After all, respectful behavior, polite conversation, and smooth sailing does not good drama make.
We got cleaned up after two days of sweaty, messy boat work and a short shakedown cruise.
The boat test was uneventful other than the load-stressing that the new crossbeam lashings took, causing them to stretch a bit. This is not uncommon with any virgin-rope binding. The stretching was just enough, though, to trigger the most unsettling sensation that the boat was kinda coming apart underneath us.
The lashings required significant re-tightening—and pronto. Other than that—and demonstrating to Lua how two mature, professional, middle-aged men could quickly devolve into babbling bonobos when isolated at sea, far from watchful eyes of respectable dirt-dwelling adult members of human society—there were no serious flaws revealed.
After showers and my re-acquaintance with the novel feel of laundered clothing, we strolled over together to the restaurant to await the arrival of the half-dozen cast members. When Bob politely reminded Lua that the restaurant required footwear, she just smiled and responded, “Oh, it’s alright Mister Bob, they know me there,” and giggled away the matter.
As we walked into the dining room, I observed SlimC talking with an older gentleman seated next to him at the bar. The balding, disheveled, grey-haired fellow was wearing a wrinkled wool tie and a tattered, coffee-stained corduroy jacket with leather elbow patches on the sleeves.
SlimC was boasting to the barely coherent barfly sitting next to him—a perfect caricature of a burnt-out college professor—about his success as a reality-TV show producer; and getting very little reaction from the scraggly sot, asked him what his name was.
“Schwartz … M. Schwartz … Michelangelo Schwartz,” grunted the man.
“Yeah, right,” responded SlimC. “Do you even know what reality TV is Schwartzy?”
“Sure do,” the drunk replied.
“Do you ever watch any of the shows?”
SlimC didn’t much care for his overly frugal conversation style and his apparent lack of interest, but he persisted, “Which one’s best,” hoping one of his more popular gems would be named.
“Oh, you must mean the most recent one, the one just released last season—Petulant Paramours of Palm Beach County?” SlimC was hoping for some clarification and perhaps to coax more than two words from the boorish boozer.
“No sir. My favorite one will be the last one that is ever made; and the sooner it comes out, the better,” responded the man as he turned away and staggered out of the bar, proving himself capable of using as many words as necessary to deliver a zinger like that to a cocky Hollywood producer.
SlimC, being the thick-skinned, reptilian, ratings-whore that he had become, shrugged off the comment and turned toward us just as we approached to meet him. Unfazed by the bar patron’s low regard for his chosen craft of dubious repute, he greeted us heartily with handshakes and we exchanged the usual formalities.
Bob introduced Chef Lua to SlimC. Then we took our places at the table to wait for the cast of love-seeking, 40-something second-chancers to arrive. All I could think of at the moment was the disturbing quote from existentialist French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre: ‘Hell is other people.’
The three male members of the group were the first to show up. They came in together, having apparently already gotten to know one another somewhat on the ferry ride over from Papeete.
~ Tucker ~
Tucker was a young, rich, ambitious Internet software developer who had quickly risen to the role of CEO. His company made most of their money from ads on their many sleazy websites. He was an atheist and a staunch Republican and was known to be a cold, cunning, ruthless man.
In conversation, he rarely blinked and would stare through you with an unsettling half-grin. He was blessed with ferocious Hollywood good looks, which included a head of thick wavy dark hair and big brown puppy-dog eyes, and was uninterested in anything other than quick money-making schemes.
Tucker signed on to the show hoping to boost his public profile and further inflate his ego and his wealth. His wife of ten years had left him after it was discovered that he had had an affair with one, or two, or … er … possibly ten of his young, attractive female employees.
~ Paul ~
Paul had been a Wall Street commodities trader and hedge fund manager early in his career. Whip-smart and driven, his early successes on The Street helped him build a personal fortune and drew him into the unhinged world of potent recreational drugs that eventually resulted in a ferocious heroin addiction.
The love affair with uncharted states of consciousness shipwrecked his career and sank his marriage—the heroin proving to be more desirable than his relationship with his wife. On his path to redemption, he joined a congregation of Unitarian Universalists and sought to regain balance and joy in this life.
He re-established a healthy friendship with his ex-wife, though she’d already moved on to a new relationship with a slick but far more stable insurance agent who drove an exquisite custom metallic-tungsten Tesla.
Paul was looking forward to having some offshore time with other single, middle-aged professionals who might help him figure out what to do next with his life.
~ Jack ~
Jack was a scientist. His interest in marine biology began early in life when he would spend his summer days picking up clumps of seaweed that washed up on the beach and examine all the tiny crabs and other small, squirmy sea dwellers that clung to that miniature world.
Jack lived with his girlfriend for twelve years during and after college before she left him for a rich, world traveling, smooth-talking day-trader. In the end, she didn’t have the patience and psychological self-reliance to be a loyal companion to an often distracted, passionate student of Nature.
Jack was brilliant and witty. With his rugged good looks and great variety of interests, including playing bongos with a local Latin-jazz band, one would think he’d be a real catch. But he had the unfortunate habit of socially ‘checking out’ whenever he was onto something big; and he was often onto something big.
He was quite concerned about the massive amounts of plastic pollution in the oceans and was hoping to collect some first-hand data on this trip.
The women showed up about ten minutes later. Julie walked in first, followed a few minutes later by Clara and Jan, who seemed to be talking about some just-discovered shared interest.
~ Julie ~
Julie was a successful self-made restaurateur, having built her business steadily over two decades. She was proud of being an early adopter of organic produce and local sourcing. Julie was easygoing and cheerful and loved dogs. Politically, she considered herself a Democratic Socialist and was a very effective and passionate community organizer.
Julie had agreed to participate in the silly reality show as a break from her busy professional and social work and would be content to find a warm companion, more so than a hot new romance. Her architect husband had passed away from pancreatic cancer three years earlier.
~ Clara ~
Clara was a very attractive but embarrassingly overconfident local politician. She engaged in shameless self-promotion at any opportunity, including participating in a new reality-TV show. She never went out in public without multiple layers of makeup, unnecessary as she had lovely natural features.
Clara had divorced her husband after she got bored with his too-predictable, risk-averse ways—or maybe it was his respect for science. She was an Evangelical Christian and had her own special way of processing world trends and historical events—let’s just say she never gave much thought to deep time—in either direction.
~ Jan ~
Jan was a corporate lawyer for an oil company. She was a tall, striking woman with long straight blonde hair, large green eyes; and she was wicked smart. Jan was a passionate Republican. I could already see her and Tucker hitting it off with their shared interest in fast talk and fat paychecks.
But Jan had an unpleasant mean streak and loved provoking people unnecessarily. She was always fishing for a good verbal tussle, trying all manner of bait to hook unwary prey.
Jan never revealed why her marriage fell apart, but I suspect her husband had had enough of her unrelenting combativeness and probably ran off with a mild-mannered librarian to compensate for too many years of verbal abuse. She figured she’d just have some fun hooking up with one of the male castmates on the show to monopolize the camera, get noticed by an agent once the show airs, and then drop her legal career—and the credulous castmate—and become a shock-jock talk-show host.
~ ‘Man plans; the gods laugh’ ~
These six landlubbers from the mainland—none but Jack had ever stepped foot aboard a bluewater cruising sailboat before—would be our close companions for the next seven days as we made our way to Rarotonga. I wondered how they would get along. Would there be any emotional breakdowns during our time at sea—great for TV ratings and for SlimC’s career, but not so great for the breakdownee, and certainly a potential catastrophe for our minimalist crew of three.
But by far of greatest interest to me—would any of these characters, specially selected for their soap-opera good looks and incompatible personalities, find anything resembling romance during our very short, close-quarters time together?
As Lua and I ambled back to our rooms for the night, after an eerily too-pleasant dining experience with the whole gang, I asked her what she thought might happen over the next seven days with this ensemble of attractive and intelligent but varyingly damaged individuals.
“Well, Mister Rico,” she hesitated for a moment, “I think that something special is going to happen on this trip, but probably not anything we expect. You know what they say, ‘Man plans; the gods laugh.’”
Then giggling with a childlike delight, she disappeared into her room for the night.
~ Boarding Kalea ~
Of great relief to a good majority of our sea-wary passengers from the mainland, the first leg of the journey to Rarotonga would be a short half-day passage from Moorea to Maiao—a small three-square-mile member of the Windward Islands in French Polynesia. We would not lose sight of terra firma for very long on this first day out, a reassuring thought for the novice ocean travelers, ditto for the captain and crew of an amateur-built, lashed-together wooden boat on its maiden open-ocean voyage.
Captain Bob had instructed the group to be ready at the dock just after sunrise so that we could get an early start. Surprisingly, all of the cast members were on time and ready to go with no obvious signs of late-night carousing or head-throbbing hangovers.
The resort’s service skiff ferried us out to Kalea in two groups. Bob, Lua and I went out first to make sure the decks were clear, the cabins were ready, the boarding ladder was secured in place and the instructions for using the hand-pump manually operated marine toilet were clearly posted.
Marine toilets, or ‘heads,’ are notoriously fussy and unreliable contraptions, and one careless user can quickly disable these most sinister of sanitation systems without much effort, making future ‘head calls’ for all passengers a matter of finding a spare bucket and a private place to do one’s business.
As we approached Kalea, she appeared to be tugging gently on her mooring line, free spirit that she was, even in the perfectly still wind and wave conditions around the stunning translucent lagoon that morning. It was as if she was telling us she’s been tethered for too long and was anxious to sail off into blue water and surf those long, smooth, open-ocean swells of the South Pacific.
The skiff dropped the crew off and sped back to the docks to retrieve the others. They motored up twenty minutes later. With calm conditions that morning, they did not have much trouble boarding Kalea from the small skiff by way of the narrow boarding ladder. Bob and I were ready to help, if asked, but most of the passengers enjoyed the challenge of managing the delicate maneuver themselves.
Jan almost took an early spill ‘into the drink’ when she took that first step onto the springy trampoline netting and momentarily lost her balance. I quickly moved in her direction to lend a hand, but Tucker out-quicked me and helped her regain her footing with an arm wrapped tightly around her slender waist.
I looked over at Bob and smirked, as a wry reminder of his own embarrassing dunking at the dock a few days earlier, and as a shared hunch of what may be brewing between these two alleged love seekers.
Bob had instructed me to familiarize the male cast members with the boat as soon as they came aboard. I was to show them to their cabins and make sure they knew where to find everything, how to use the safety gear and how to conserve water when showering. Also, most importantly, we were to read the instructions together—out loud—on how to properly operate the head. Lua would do the same with the female passengers.
The three men each had their own cabins in the starboard hull. Tucker took the forward single cabin, Paul took one of the doubles, and Jack took the remaining single cabin at the rear. The spare double cabin was used to store tools, repair supplies, life vests, and other maintenance, repair, and safety essentials. It was also available as a secure place for either Bob or me to check out for a while, if things ever got too stressful.
Julie took one of the double cabins in the port hull, sharing it with extra food stores, towels, and snorkeling equipment. Lua occupied the second double cabin—she also required the extra space to store sealed containers of fresh produce, rice, beans, jerky, nuts, crackers, cereal, flour, spices, potatoes, water, pots, pans and other galley supplies.
Clara and Jan each took one of the single cabins at each end of the port hull.
~ Hoisting Sail ~
Once the passengers were settled and all equipment stowed away, we motored slowly out through the narrow pass, watching carefully to make sure we didn’t drift sideways onto the jagged and unforgiving shallow reef. After clearing the last coral heads, Bob and I hoisted the twin sails and set the autopilot steering on a southwesterly heading toward tiny Maiao.
The winds were moderate and steady and the skies clear. We glided along effortlessly at our anticipated cruising speed of just under 10 knots, propelled forward by the predictable trade winds of the South Pacific.
During the short passage to our first port of call, Captain Bob and I stayed busy trimming sails, tightening lashings, and rearranging items on the deck to ensure our passengers were safe and comfortable, as they slowly developed their sea legs. Bob also made sure the cameras were all working properly and running continuously to capture any action on the deck that might be of interest to SlimC.
Just after noon, Lua emerged from her cabin with trays of vegetarian sushi and spring roll kits complete with tangy ginger-soy dipping sauce. The sushi rice was rolled around julienned carrots, red bell peppers, celery, and scallions, which made for a very tasty and colorful finger food. She had whisked together some soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, and wasabi paste to make a most delightful dipping sauce for the sushi.
With the spring rolls, Lua figured the passengers would have some fun wrapping up the pre-cut red bell peppers, beets, carrots, cucumbers, and radish sprouts in the delicate rice-paper wrappers themselves. The idea was a big hit with the passengers—mostly.
Tucker and Clara were a bit confused, thinking these were just appetizers and real food like steaks-on-the-grill would soon follow. But that never happened. And they didn’t make a fuss. This time.
We all sat around the table, just forward of the pilothouse, each of us assembling our own spring rolls, with varying levels of success. After some light prompting from Bob, the passengers opened up a bit and shared personal stories about careers and previous relationships.
~ Romance Forecast ~
Their distinct personalities were becoming ever more clear, and I couldn’t help but wonder what their interactions might be like in the days ahead. I could already sense some sizzle between Tucker and Jan—not surprising, given that they were both fiercely attractive and master people-players. They could easily live the fast-lane life together, for a short time anyway.
But that relationship could just as easily self-destruct rather quickly from a fire burning too hot, or from a flame-out, if Clara enters the picture and steals Tucker away, purely out of competitive zeal. Clara, after all, seemed also to be a virtuoso player and a smooth, strategic operator. She knew how to get what she wanted.
And how would these two vivacious vixens get along with each other? Both are highly competitive. Both are striking in appearance and view the other as the only direct competition. One, a blonde with a sharp mind and even sharper tongue, the other a brunette who stands her ground and doubts not that God always has her back.
Surely, Paul and Julie could find their way into each other’s embrace, as they both have been through very difficult times and seem to have warm, forgiving hearts and honest expectations. The resonance Paul feels with newly discovered Unitarian Universalist principles and Julie’s strong social consciousness could be the strange attractor, in the controlled chaos that makes up most relationships, that draws these two souls together.
Now as for Tucker and for Jack; if one is white, the other is black. Jack, the scientist, dreams of unlocking the deep mysteries of Nature and sharing his findings, with little regard for wealth or material comfort.
Tucker, on the other hand, values efficiency in human affairs and solely for the purpose of making himself wealthier. He considers ‘doing business’ a ruthless sport of winner-take-all competition and relishes the idea of crushing and humiliating a business opponent rather than negotiating a ‘win-win’ deal. He thinks of himself primarily as a ‘brand’ in the marketplace rather than a person in community.
To Tucker, Nature is nothing more than a vast pool of resources to be harvested and mined from a dead rock spinning around a hellish sun in a cold and meaningless universe, and all for the unimpeded pursuit of power, pleasure, and privilege.
Tucker’s worldview was a natural outcome of the values, knowledge, social organization, and norms that coevolved around fossil fuels—and the cornucopia of energy resources, material throughput, ‘magical’ technological innovation, and extreme wealth that those fuels made possible—and naturally selected for individualist attitudes, materialist values, and for a reductionist understanding of how the world works.
Both Jack and Tucker were each very smart, confident, self-reliant individuals, but viewed the world, and their role in it, in profoundly different ways. How would these two bulls get along?
Julie and Lua shared a common interest in the culinary arts, hospitality, and humor. I pictured them enjoying each other’s company while preparing meals, sharing recipes, and talking about the rest of us:
“Did you see the way Captain Bob was staring at Clara?” Julie might say. “He seems to find her very intriguing, but I can’t tell if it is physical attraction or a desire to push her overboard.”
“Maybe both!” Lua would respond, jokingly.
And finally, what could be said about Kalea’s crew? The three of us were getting along very well together and enjoying each other’s company. We were a jazz trio, each a master of their own instrument, contributing to the common goal of crafting beautiful experiences for ourselves and our passengers, often improvising, varying tempo and tenor to match the mood and constantly listening to each other for cues on when to shift modes.
~ First Landfall ~
By early afternoon, Maiao appeared on the horizon. We zig-zag tacked our way upwind to a pristine isolated patch of shoreline and slowly inched up onto the smooth, sandy beach, being careful not to damage Kalea’s shallow fin keels. With the gentlest of bumps, Kalea kissed the shore.
Bob and I scrambled up onto the forward trampoline. I grabbed the lightweight aluminum Fortress anchor and jumped off of the forward crossbeam into knee-deep water dragging the unspooling anchor line behind me. Walking up the soft, sandy beach to higher ground, I wrapped the anchor line around the base of a palm tree and buried the anchor’s flukes deep in the ground.
Bob jumped in the water behind me. Lua and Julie handed us the canopy tent, beach chairs, platters of food, beverages, and the requisite supplies for a bonfire that evening, while the others surveyed the gorgeous natural surroundings from Kalea’s deck.
Bob enticed the passengers to forage for firewood by setting up a friendly match between them, knowing they were all highly competitive characters. While they were away, he set up the video camera on a tripod stand a few feet away from where we would erect the large canopy tent for the bonfire that evening. He tucked it away behind a clump of palm trees, so that it would not be apparent to the cast, though they knew there would always be cameras around somewhere—that was part of the deal, after all.
The cast returned with an ample amount of firewood. Nature-boy Jack, not surprisingly, was carrying the largest load. They set it down under the canopy and we arranged it into a small mound.
We were all set for the evening event.
~ Mindful Foodies ~
Julie had helped Lua prepare the meal for the bonfire event. I had wandered into the galley earlier in the day to see what delightful creation Lua was concocting for us. Julie and Lua were absorbed in a conversation about American diets. As a successful self-made restaurant owner-manager and community organizer, Julie had been a pioneer of organic produce, local sourcing, and ethical treatment of farm animals.
The topic of food and diet was on my mind lately. I had recently heard from a good friend whose son had suffered from asthma from a very young age. My friend began experimenting with the boy’s diet and discovered that when he stopped eating the normal American diet—sugar, fats, chemicals and additives—he got much better. He could breathe more freely. When the boy occasionally yielded to temptation and indulged in a hamburger or soda, his body would immediately rebel. The source of the problem was clear.
Julie explained to Lua: “The very fact that Americans are having a national conversation about what to eat, and that we are struggling with the question about what is the best diet, suggests to me that we have simply strayed too far from the natural conditions that gave rise to our species—from eating the food that fueled our bodies and kept them strong during our long evolutionary history.”
“The right diet is, after all, really quite simple,” she continued, “Real, whole, fresh food—primarily a vegetarian diet—is best. But unfortunately, the relative prices of cheap, fatty, junk food compared to nutrient-rich, high-quality food; limited access to healthy food; increased inactivity; and the cumulative effects of massive food advertising campaigns; all contribute to a national obesity epidemic. The standard American diet—high in saturated fats and processed foods and low in plant-based foods and complex carbohydrates—is making us fat and killing us slowly.”
Julie told us that many food manufacturers, restaurants, and fast food chains carefully combine fats, sugar, and salt in precise ratios to reach a ‘bliss point,’ which triggers brain systems that increase the desire to eat more—even with a full stomach! And these tend to be energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods and are relatively cheap.
“I agree that a vegetarian diet is best,” Lua replied. “A plant-based diet reduces the risks of so many chronic degenerative diseases such as obesity, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Vegetarian diets are far more healthful than the typical American diet, particularly in preventing, treating, or reversing heart disease and reducing the risk of cancer. A low-fat vegetarian diet is the single most effective way to stop the progression of coronary artery disease or prevent it entirely.”
I had heard that cardiovascular disease kills one million Americans annually and is the leading cause of death in the United States. A vegetarian diet is inherently healthful because vegetarians consume less animal fat and cholesterol (vegans consume no animal fat or cholesterol) and instead consume more fiber and more antioxidant-rich produce.
Julie added, “By switching from the standard American diet to a vegetarian diet, you could add several healthy years to your life. People who consume saturated ‘four-legged fat’ have a shorter lifespan and experience greater disability at the end of their lives. Animal products clog arteries, zap energy, and slow down the immune system. Meat eaters also experience accelerated cognitive and sexual dysfunction at a younger age. And foods rich in protein such as meat, poultry, fish, and seafood are frequently involved in foodborne illness outbreaks.”
I had seen a documentary a few years ago that showed that residents of Okinawa have the longest life expectancy of any Japanese and likely the longest life expectancy of any people in the world. That fact came from a 30-year study of more than 600 Okinawan centenarians. Their secret: a low-calorie diet of unrefined complex carbohydrates, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, and soy.
Julie continued, “Most health care practitioners recommend that we increase our intake of nutrients such as calcium the way nature intended—through foods. Foods also supply other nutrients such as phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamin D that are necessary for the body to absorb and use calcium. If you avoid dairy altogether, as some of my restaurant customers do, you can still get a healthful dose of calcium from dry beans, tofu, soy milk, and dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, collards, and turnip greens.”
Julie explained that good nutrition also gives us more usable energy. Too much fat in the bloodstream means that arteries won’t open properly and that muscles won’t get enough oxygen. The result? You feel zapped. Balanced vegetarian diets are naturally free of cholesterol-laden, artery-clogging animal products that physically slow us down and keep us hitting the snooze button morning after morning. And because whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables are so high in complex carbohydrates, they supply the body with plenty of energizing fuel.
“Some people become vegetarians after realizing the devastation that the meat industry is having on the environment,” Julie said. She told us that, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, chemical and animal waste runoff from factory farms is responsible for close to a quarter million miles of polluted rivers and streams. Runoff from farmlands is one of the greatest threats to water quality today.
~ Agro-Industrial Complex ~
Julie explained that pollution from today’s agricultural practices include confined animal facilities, plowing, pesticide spraying, irrigation, fertilizing, and harvesting. During the rapid evolutionary period of fossil-fuel-based hyper-growth and expansion, agriculture transformed from an agroecosystem culture of relatively self-sufficient communities to an agro-industrial culture of many separate, interdependent, distant actors linked by global markets and fueled by the burning of massive quantities of cheap hydrocarbon fuels. This form of agriculture brings the whole supply chain—from seed to supermarket—under the centralized control of a few very large corporate players.
This revolutionary change in technology and organization gave people the false sense of control over—and apartness from—Nature and of being able to consciously design their future while, in fact, mounting problems were only being shifted ‘beyond the farm’ to distant locations and future generations.
The majority of the nutrients in the world’s agricultural soils have been so deeply degraded by industrial farming practices, that our farmlands are effectively on life support: they require a continuous supply of chemical fertilizers just so plants can still grow. And these manufactured fertilizers are derived from rapidly depleting fossil fuels creating an obvious long-term thorny existential challenge—a real predicament: how to grow more food for ever more people using less fossil fuel energy.
While modern agricultural technologies undoubtedly bestow a seductive sense of mastery over Nature, they do so only locally and temporarily. They do not, in fact, control Nature in any meaningful way. For example, while pesticides do kill some pests, solving an immediate threat to crops, the vacant niche left by the pest is soon filled by a second species of pest or by a naturally modified version of the original pest—a ‘Superpest’—with evolved resistance. Nature abhors a vacuum, after all.
And these pesticides don’t stay neatly put, Julie explained. They drift and disperse to interfere with the agricultural practices of other farmers, or their by-products accumulate in soil and groundwater aquifers to plague production and human health for years to come. So while each individual farmer seems to win control over Nature, new problems are created beyond his or her farm and across seasons for others.
“The EPA estimates that nearly 95 percent of the pesticide residue in the typical American diet comes from meat, fish, and dairy products. Fish, in particular, contain carcinogens and heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic, lead, and cadmium that can’t be removed through cooking or freezing. Meat and dairy products can also be laced with steroids and hormones,” she told us.
“Did you know that about 70 percent of all grain produced in the United States is fed to animals raised for slaughter?” Julie added. “The seven billion livestock animals in the United States consume five times as much grain as is consumed directly by the American population. If all the grain currently fed to livestock was consumed directly by people, we could feed on the order of 800 million people. If the grain was exported, it would boost the U.S. trade balance by some $80 billion a year!”
She went on to tell us that many of her restaurant customers have given up meat recently because of their concern for animals. Ten billion animals are slaughtered for human consumption each year. And, unlike the farms of yesteryear where animals roamed freely, today most animals are factory farmed—inhumanely crammed into small cages where they can barely move and fed a diet tainted with pesticides and antibiotics.
These animals spend their entire lives in crates or stalls so small that they can’t even turn around. Astonishingly, farmed animals are not protected from cruelty under the law—in fact, the majority of state anticruelty laws specifically exempt farm animals from basic humane protection.
And meat accounts for about ten percent of Americans’ food spending. Eating vegetables, grains and fruits in place of the 200 pounds of beef, chicken, and fish each non-vegetarian eats annually would cut individual food bills by several thousand dollars a year—a number that is sure to rise rapidly as more people adopt ‘middle-class’ lifestyles and resource shortages and environmental protection pressures make meat ever more expensive.
“Those are just a few of the many reasons why a vegetarian diet is best. And when cooking, it is a good idea to cook by color,” Lua said. “Cooking by color is a good way to ensure you’re eating a variety of naturally occurring substances that boost immunity and prevent a range of illnesses.”
She explained that disease-fighting phytochemicals give fruits and vegetables their rich, varied hues. All rich yellow and orange fruits and vegetables—carrots, oranges, sweet potatoes, mangoes, pumpkins, corn—owe their color to carotenoids. Leafy green vegetables also are rich in carotenoids, but get their green color from chlorophyll. Red, blue, and purple fruits and vegetables—plums, cherries, red bell peppers—contain anthocyanin pigments.
“What about garlic!” I cried out. “Garlic rules! It has great health benefits. And more importantly, garlic is a winner, ‘cause from a distance, you look thinner.” Lua and Julie mercifully chuckled.
I made my case. Garlic has been recognized as a wonderful health aid long before writer Bram Stoker introduced the modern legend of the ‘vampire’—a beast repelled by garlic—to the public with his 1897 novel Dracula. In the book, Van Helsing uses garlic as a protective agent. It’s believed that Stoker lifted that idea from garlic’s many medicinal purposes, particularly as a repellent of blood-sucking mosquitos.
~ Re-localizing Food ~
“All kidding aside,” I went on to say. “I have read about big changes in food shopping behavior. And I think Big Food is getting bigtime nervous. Sales of processed and packaged ‘food products’ are plunging because shoppers are rapidly losing interest in what food manufacturers have to offer. Frozen dinners and sugary breakfast cereals are losing their appeal. Shoppers are slowly turning away from these kinds of processed foods as they are learning more about their questionable ingredients and lack of nutritional value. It used to be that shoppers would delight in walking down every aisle of the grocery store, but today much of their time is being spent around the perimeter of the store, where its vast collection of fresh products are found. If fact, the outlook for the center of the grocery store is so glum that industry insiders have begun referring to that space as ‘The Morgue.’ Perhaps the end is near for Big Food.”
Julie recounted what she had learned in the restaurant business about what goes on in food factories—what is being added to food products to make them look, taste, and keep the way they do, and what too much sugar, fat, and salt do to our bodies. And consumers are beginning to take more notice of the constant recalls and contamination scares.
At the same time, many people are realizing that cooking with fresh, whole, natural ingredients isn’t so difficult and can actually be quite rewarding physically, psychologically, and socially. There are many resources that provide instruction for quick, easy, healthy, and delicious meals that can be pulled together in almost the same amount of time it takes to heat up a frozen pizza.
“With our current agro-industrial system, for every one calorie of food we eat, ten calories of fossil fuels are expended in producing it. It seems to me that the sooner we can get on with re-localizing our food system, teaching our children about good nutrition, recognizing the value and enjoyment of simple cooking skills, and nourishing our bodies with fresh, local, seasonal ingredients that profit local farmers and small businesses, the better,” Julie said. “I would love to see grocery stores clear out all those center aisles and repurpose that dead-food ‘morgue space’ for family friendly activities, booths for local artists, stages for performers and live music, and other ‘place-making’ activities so that food shopping—going to the market—becomes a favorite pastime and community building experience, as it once was.”
I knew that regular celebrations featuring food, music, dance, and games had always been a common feature of community life prior to the current age of global markets and large-scale civilization. The loss of festive, vibrant local community gathering places feels like a cold blanket of frost on our collective joy. We are missing that periodic break from the tedium of the working day—that local and convenient opportunity for enrichment and enchantment.
“Fortunately, community farmers’ markets are on the rise to meet a growing demand for local, organic foods and for ethical business practices, and they are accelerating the trend toward greater food justice and democratic control. These family friendly, place-making ‘DIY’ markets enable residents to purchase locally grown produce directly from farmers themselves and support environmentally sustainable family farms that care for the soil and for the environment in which our food grows,” Julie added. “These markets return money to the local economy—while a large percentage of profits from corporate ‘chain’ stores flow out of the community. And fresh sustainable produce means better health, lower obesity rates, and lower healthcare expenditures. These markets are clear across-the-board winners!”
“I just hope that my local farmers grow lots of garlic,” I said. “I’ve heard that it doesn’t take much work and is marvelously self-perpetuating—you can use the crop from one year to plant the following year’s bounty. And not just that—garlic also conveniently repels aphids, beetles, vampires, and other blood-sucking Beelzebubs like corrupt politicians, crooked lawyers, and cranky neighbors!”