Urgent Evoke

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What I'm having for dinner on March 10, 2020

In my post-apocalyptic 2020, peak oil, bio-engineered epidemics, widespread strife and economic collapse mean that virtually all food is sourced locally. No more Florida oranges, or Kobe beef, at least not in my neighborhood. The cost of getting the food across the country or across the world, without it spoiling, would be a literal fortune.

(What can I say, I just finished reading Paolo Bacigalupi's The Wind-Up Girl :)

Here in Southern California, we're lucky. We eat like kings compared to the rest of the world. Our local climate and natural resources mean we can grow massive amounts of a wide variety of foods.

In Los Angeles, though, while we have lots of choices, most food is still very expensive. The huge population and lack of rainfall means that our food does need to be transported in from the SoCal countryside, or the water for it does, and the high level of demand continually pushes the prices up.

So for dinner tonight, my family is eating with friends. The cost and scarcity of food means that communities like ours band together for meals as much as possible, to enrich the experience and to pool our resources.

We eat early, usually long before sunset. Most of our cooking equipment is solar-powered. While some of it can be used at night due to batteries that charge up from solar panels during the day --as opposed to things like our community's large solar oven, which is directly sun-powered-- the cold nights mean that we need to use more energy cooking the food, and it gets cold quicker. Plus, these days, it's actually pretty dark at night!

We're starting off with a salad comprised of native and water-wise plants. Before the food crisis we never really considered these plants food. But our friend Ashley introduced our neighborhood to these plants, and it turns out with the right knowledge and the right spices, they can be almost as tasty as the more water-intensive (and thus expensive to grow) vegetables we used to eat. Now almost all of us grow them in our front yard, and in the community garden down the street. They also grow them in the city gardens; one of them's a few blocks over, but they have poor security and anything you plant there is usually stolen as soon as it starts to look even slightly edible.

Next we're having chicken (somewhat of an indulgence). Since there's only a few chickens to be shared among the community, we've chopped it up and cooked it into a stir-fry with vegetables, rice, beans, and spices. This style of cooking is something we adapted from Chinese cuisine; historically in many regions of China, meat was an extravagance, so there's a large body of recipes and cooking knowledge based around the practice of chopping the meat up into small pieces and distributing it through a much larger dish. It's amazing how just a little bit imparts its texture and flavor to the entire dish so well; it's kind of hard to believe we ever wasted the flavor of meat by eating huge chunks of it at a time, like the steaks and fried chicken buckets of my youth.

The rice and beans in the stir-fry are water-intensive to grow, but they were grown in a nearby, more verdant region of SoCal, dried, and shipped to us in bulk. Each of the households in our neighborhood keeps a store of dried versatile foods like this, since they require no refrigeration. Properly kept, they last pretty much indefinitely, and are a great resource in the periods when fresher foods become scarce. We all chip in to buy large shipments as a community, and in fact that purchase is pooled into an even larger amount by a collective that coordinates dried goods purchases and deliveries for the Culver City region. This is also great for luxuries like spices, coffee (a personal vice of mine), and tobacco (for the very few people who still consider that a worthwhile expenditure).

We don't always indulge in dessert. Tonight, though, one family that lives down the street has invited my wife and I to come over after the community dinner. They've offered to share with us some delicious tawny port wine. They have relatives down in Escondido that operate a winery, and brought them a case as a gift last time they visited.

The food isn't as extravagant or diverse as the meals I had 10 years ago, in 2010. And I'll admit, I do occasionally feel a deep, intense need for things like Carolina-style barbecue or Fresca or the processed candy bars that used to be sold on every street corner. But to be honest, I have a lot more fun with food these days. I put in a lot of the work it takes to get it, and I see it being cooked, and I share knowledge, recipes, tips and styles with my neighbors on a daily basis. It's a much richer experience. I've built much closer ties with my neighbors, and made many more close friends, than I ever did prior to the food crisis --at least since my undergrad college days when I lived in dorms. I wouldn't trade these benefits for anything. And if by some miracle the food crisis ends tomorrow, and we go back to the days of plenty, I really hope this close-knit community will continue these practices. We've gained a lot of richness through this scarcity; I hope we wouldn't trade one type of scarcity (food) for another (community).

Views: 9

Comment by Sarah Shaw Tatoun on April 23, 2010 at 6:08pm
A really insightful post, JWR. I think if people really thought about what they're giving up for some conveniences they might choose differently.
Comment by sunnydupree on April 23, 2010 at 6:38pm
I think that this post shows foresight and a reality that is being repeated in countries all over the world. On my quests I am actually pretty naive and I appreciate your viewpoint. In response I really like your community food sharing and meals. Food is such a social binder isnt it?
grace and peace sunnydupree
Comment by JWR on April 23, 2010 at 10:46pm
Thanks for the kind words Sunny and Sarah!


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