A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics
In a world where so much attention is needed everywhere to stop injustice and environmental destruction, it can be overwhelming to know which path to take. Many of us seek to live as sustainably as possible, yet yearn to answer the question of where we should be placing our efforts so that we can ‘make a difference’ on a real tangible level in society. ~Nicole Vosper
Let’s think for a moment of what most of us would like to accomplish. With the broadest of strokes, we can perhaps agree most would stop and correct all aspects of social justice from poverty to our legal/penal systems and the environmental/cultural destruction caused by big ag and other corporates. We are beginning to understand how our consumer habits cause suffering to others and often lead to wars.
Bioregional Based Eating and Economies: “… enables people to break their dependency on a regime by creating their own goods and services. You cannot get rid of oppressors when you depend on them for essentials.”
This piece is titled “Beyond Local: Bioregional Based Eating and Economies” (BBEE) because it is, as a friend would say, an example of “Solutions focused management” because it sets us on a trajectory to accomplish our goals without major protests, demonstration or battles of any kind. It leads to a healthier life for all beings including our earth and her waters. Yet the whole idea is intensely political in that if we practice Bioregional Based Eating and Economies, we also limit the power of the corporate-military-industrial machine by returning the power of commerce to the people.
Wendell Berry tells us:
“One way we could describe the task ahead of us is by saying that we need to enlarge the consciousness and the conscience of the economy…This is revolutionary, of course, if you have a taste for revolution, but it is also merely a matter of common sense.”
Although the term bioregion is nearly self-explanatory, let’s do a quick definition courtesy context.org and the North American Bioregional Congress:
Bioregions are….”the natural geographical divisions that already exist in the world around us. These bioregions are geographical areas which are defined by natural boundaries, such as rivers, or particular land forms which set them off as distinct from adjacent regions. Each bioregion is further defined by the kinds of flora and fauna that grow within it, which may be unique to it, or just exist in greater numbers or density than in adjoining areas. Unique human cultures which are shaped by the rigors, abundances, and general nature of the bioregion also contribute to its definition. Bioregional boundaries, being created by nature, often cross the arbitrary political lines drawn by humans in their creation of… states, and other subunits.
“Bioregionalism” deals with the bioregion as a whole system comprised of a set of diverse, integrated natural sub-systems (atmospheric, hydrologic, biologic, geologic) run by ecological laws with which humans (as one species among many) must work in cooperation if there is to be a sustainable future. These laws form the basis for the design of all long-term human systems, economic, technological, agricultural, and political. Political ecology is the politics of bioregionalism.
Granted the exact name doesn’t matter if we understand the idea enough to practice, I’m using the Bioregional Based Eating and Economies because it is easily understood. I was inspired share the practice via a combination of Dr. Martin Reinhart’s Decolonizing Diet Project, the Bioregional work of Peter Berg and the food/economy teachings from my own and from Grandmothers worldwide. To explain further would be best accomplished by thinking about how do we apply it and practice it in our lives.
Before we begin, you need to warned – if you choose to practice Bioregional Based Eating, you will be making a few (but not painful) changes in your lifestyle. Changes can be tough on us especially given the market doesn’t stock its shelves with an eye on the environment and social justice.
Still with me? Here are just a few simple starter strategies – try one at a time.
1) Learn about your bioregion – what foods grew naturally and in abundance before civilization destroyed their habitats. Many are still to be found. Learn about domestic crops that can be grown sustainably in your region.
2) Learn about nutrient dense food.
An exemplary example in my bioregion is what I like to call Staff of Life Cornbread. It is delicious, healthful and very pretty; it is a mixing of bioregional ingredients into a tasty, nutrient-dense food that can be applied to a host of bioregional ingredients. (Please see recipe following article.)
3) Find and support local, area, state, and bioregional producers and growers of food—not ‘boutique food’ at boutique prices—food for the people. You know what I mean. Not upscale, trendy, pricey food boutiques, but real food that is available to all and at prices we all can afford. Don’t have any in your area? Start asking why.
Awhile back, when speaking to a group about BBEE, I mentioned how there is no flour from our state in the local grocery stores, yet we grow plenty of it. Members of the group told me the good news about a couple of places to find state grown wheat flour. It means someone is paying attention; someone is trying – but the retail stores carrying the flour are trendy and expensive markets, not the types frequented by the single working mom of three, or the family of four living in one of the local apartment complexes. Those folks, like many of us, don’t have the dollars to shop at fancy bread stores.
4) Reduce consumption of National and International Trade-Route food and try to know when it is the natural, seasonal time for an area to have an abundance to share (seasonal production).
Again, the idea of carefully using Trade Route food is nearly self-explanatory, but here are a couple examples.
Quinoa? If you live in most of North America, you don’t live anywhere near quinoa plantation so it should not be a part of your regular diet. Do you know the monoculture of quinoa in Peru has has left many people in poverty and hunger and has destroyed much of the land’s natural food diversity? (Not to mention much of their traditional culture, as well.)
Bananas? Do they grow in your backyard? Your bioregion?
Please, take a few moments on a search engine to look at the history of banana cultivation. You will find destruction upon destruction of huge swathes of valuable, fertile land as the mega corporations tried to out-run the diseases caused when mono-cropping bananas…not to mention how thousands of huge container ships full of bananas go a long way toward killing our oceans and its wildlife with their bunker fuel – the leftover residue from oil refining and horridly polluting. Again – environmental and cultural devastation.
By all means, enjoy a lovely fair-trade quinoa dish very occasionally (while blessing and honoring the hands that made it possible). Relish the special treat of a banana pie made with fair trade, small farmer fruit (when – in my perfect world – after feeding their people, they have some extra to sell). But for daily nourishment, consciously buy from small, fair trade companies working with small farmers using environmentally sane growing practices as much as you possibly can.
If you are beginning to feel overwhelmed, remember these key words: “as much as you possibly can”. Honestly, it is nearly impossible to not purchase globalized food and material items, especially if one is not a member of the moneyed class. It is difficult because we have agreed to globalization and allowed cheap food to come from god-only-knows-where without any thought to consequences. But practicing Bioregional Based Eating and Economies doesn’t mean you can’t have chocolate or bananas or salad in the middle of winter – just a little less often and then from the best practice sources available to your budget. BBEE is not a rigid, inflexible system.
When I look at my dinner plate, I like to see at least three-fourths of it filled with bioregional food (local, state, regional) with the remaining quarter supporting ethical national and international trade route suppliers.
All bioregions have fruits, vegetables, grains and more—native and those that are or could be sustainably adapted in the region. We can feed ourselves with healthy, beautiful and delicious food without hurting our land. But we can’t do that if most of our food comes from outside our bioregion. Learn about the food native to and grown in your locale, state and bioregion.
5) Look at your meals and determine where your food is grown and produced. When you shop, look at the addresses on the labels/packages. Look for and know the difference between ‘grown and produced’ and ‘distributed by’.
Start buying/eating from as many local, regional and bioregional producers as possible. When in the markets, if you don’t see something that could be grown or produced in our bioregion, ask the department manager why. For example, I live in Michigan, a state which grows an abundance of beautiful apples. When a local market had apples from a state on the west side coast during our fruitful season, I had to ask ‘why?” (For the record, the dept. manager was a bit sheepish about the choice.) If you are polite and ask if they could look into getting more local, area, state, regional products, no one will get angry with you. They might give you a glib, corporate answer but that’s okay. Ask again on another visit, and again, and again.
Talk to your friends about Bioregional Based Eating. Understand the practice is not a fanatic diet; rather, it is an easy way of living that can do much to bring nature back into balance and to aid in ending corrupt, corporate economies.
6) Finally, grow your own. From a windowsill box of lettuce or a pot of tomatoes on your balcony to a small plot in a community garden or backyard—it is all valuable. Grow whatever your time and space allow and save your seeds to replant and to share. (FYI – Root veggies grow well in buckets!)
This little article is a scratch on the surface, just an introduction to Bioregional Based Eating. I didn’t even touch upon the general economy portion but, no matter. If you understand why our eating habits can either harm or help our world, our earth and our people, you also understand all purchases of material goods to be as important and can apply the concept to whatever you need to purchase. Make a conscious decision to buy items which are manufactured as close to home as possible. Try to plan and save a few bucks to get an item that will last for years rather than a cheap, basically disposable product. Of course, given our current system, it isn’t always feasible but we will never make it a reality if we don’t start trying. Baby steps – try one today.
Staff of Life Cornbread (Great Lakes Bioregion)
Use your favorite cornbread/muffin recipe or adapt this basic.
1 ¼ cup cornmeal (try to avoid the de-germed varieties)
3/4 cup flour
1⁄4 cup honey or maple syrup
4 teaspoons baking powder (non-gmo is available)
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk or leftover vegetable cooking broth.
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup of your favorite healthy oil.
Mix cornmeal and liquid. Allow to sit for a few minutes – until it absorbs as much liquid as possible. Stir in the egg, honey/maple syrup and oil. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl, then add to the cornmeal mix. Stir until just blended.
Fold in cooked shell beans, fresh or dried greens, onions or wild leeks, any on-hand fresh or cooked veggies and your favorite spices (a basic all-purpose works well).
Spread into greased 8” square pan or 12 muffin cups. Bake at 425 for 20-25 minutes.
(Bonus! Any leftovers are fabulous in stuffings!)
Often, I will make ‘griddle muffins’ rather than use the energy to heat the oven:
Using a heavy griddle or large skillet, heat a modest amount of oil on med-high heat. Drop and slightly flatten heaping tablespoon size portions of the batter into the oil. When browned, flip, cover and turn down the heat to just below medium. Allow to ‘bake’ until centers are firm.
This basic method is also wonderful for a sweeter, fruity cornbread. Add a little extra honey and substitute the beans, veggies and spices with dried cranberries, pumpkin or sunflower seeds or whatever else your taste buds might fancy.
Copyright 2017 Julianne Michaels