Monday, February 22, 2010

Lenten Ginger-Miso Tofu Broccoli

Once again, I am giving up meat for Lent. I first gave up meat for Lent back in 2006, because I had been reading about how much of a toll our meat consumption takes on the earth. For most of history meat was a luxury that families would only have occasionally and if they could afford it. Now, western culture tends to consider meat the main event of any meal, even though much of the world still leaves on staples like rice and beans. Or ramen noodles and mac 'n cheese. Plus, there are ethical issues with the meat industry around the treatment of the animals and the environmental impact of factory farms and food transportation. Giving up meat is a way for me to practice self-denial in a way that honors creation, stands in solidarity with the less privileged in the world, and helps me to think about how much consumption impacts the world. And maybe I'll get around to reading a Michael Pollan book.

During the last few Lents, I have gradually gotten better at eating vegetarian without being totally unhealthy. My first year giving up meat was also my first year living on my own and working full time at church, so when I came home for dinner I was usually tired and too hungry to put much thought into food. I ended up eating a lot of boxed rice and noodles. I've improved since then, and this year I am determined to do even better. Lots of fruits and veggies. And less carbs and cheese. This weekend was a disaster in that area, what with my fact that my friends love to gorge on cheesy carbs when we hang out (and the fact that they left all of the leftovers at my house) - but this is a new week.

Tonight I made a ginger-miso tofu dressing that I found on the Food Network website. I tried a version of it a couple years ago, but this recipe is out of this world. The dressing is salty and tangy and so good that I think I might use it as a regular salad dressing. The silken tofu makes the dressing creamy and adds protein. I stir-fried some broccoli (I love stir-fried broccoli), doused it in dressing, and stirred in some more silken tofu. Delicious.

My next project will be making my own hummus - as soon as I can local some tahini.

NPR's Marketplace Looks at Strip Mining

Kudos to NPR for covering coal mining issues! Check out this interview with Jeff Biggers from today's Marketplace. Biggers' book Reckoning At Eagle Creek talks about the effects that strip mining had on the hollow where he grew up in Illinois, and addresses the myth of clean coal.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Illuminating Coal

When I talked to Appalachians in eastern Kentucky last month, coal was a big topic on everyone's mind (the other big topic was prescription drug addiction). As someone who tries to stay up on social and environmental issues, I was taken aback by how little I knew on the subject of the coal industry. But over and over again I was told that coal is the source for over 50% of our nation's energy. Several different people told us, "Every time you switch on a light, someone at the other end mined coal so you could do that. People don't think about that." In eastern Kentucky, the people have a complicated relationship with King Coal, because it is the industry that keeps the region from sinking completely into poverty. Then again, almost all of the money made from the plunder of Appalachian resources like coal and timber has left the region. People there have problems with the way coal is mined, but for many people coal mining is their livelihood.

I had brought to my experience a sort of vague idea of coal as one of the bad sources of energy, but I had never given it much thought. Over the course of my time in Kentucky I learned more than I ever imagined I would about coal. I learned about the beautiful process through which coal developed over periods of time that make the span of human existence seem like a blip. I learned about various forms of coal mining, and the fact that some coal companies are basically playing Jenga with mountains - digging out tunnels closer and closer together until the pillars holding the roof up start to buckle and everyone high-tails it out before the mountain just collapses on itself. I saw a mining operation where the guy running in charge was doing his best to mine responsibly an sustainably. When I asked him what he wanted me to tell the people back home he said, "We're not all bad guys. We're doing the best we can, and maybe coal mining isn't the best thing, but its what we have until we can figure out something else."

And I learned about mountain top removal mining. Rather than going through the cost and effort of underground mining, they blow the top off of a mountain, dig the coal out, and push the debris into the valleys. This way of mining is cheaper and takes far fewer people than other forms of mining. Some of the negative impacts on the community are destruction of property, pollution of the water, scarring of the landscape, job loss, and disruption of the natural water flow. We drove through a town that doesn't have running water part of the year because the blasts nearby broke the water table. And then there's the issue of sludge ponds, which I also talked about in a previous post. The most frustrating thing I learned is that for $1-2 dollars more per ton, coal could be mined and cleaned in ways that created more jobs, better preserved the mountains themselves, and did not leave behind sludge. According to the US EIA, the current price of coal per ton in Central Appalachia is around $59.

Of course there's no such thing as clean coal. I am certainly an advocate of developing renewable energy sources - after all, once coal is gone, its gone. But given the fact that coal still accounts for half of our energy, and is a main industry in Appalachian America, we can't get rid of it just yet. Unfortunately the problem has been completely oversimplified in the public and largely overlooked in the public debate. The debate is framed in a way that forces you to choose "Drill, baby, drill" or "Coal is Evil" when really a better option would be to try to mine coal in a way that does the least harm and creates the most benefit for the communities, while trying to come up with other sources of energy for the country and new industries for the coal mining communities.

And then there's the fact that most Americans don't even see this complex problem playing out. We really don't think about coal when we turn our lights on and off (or leave our computers on all the time). The coal industry is allowed to exploit Appalachian communities because the majority of the country doesn't even know that this is happening. Fortunately, some of these issues are gaining a little more visibility. MTR has been popping up in the news and even on the Colbert Report recently. There was an article in the Washington Post yesterday about the complicated politics in Appalachian communities that touched on coal-related issues.

My hope is that as more people become aware of the complexity of the coal problem, we can stand in solidarity with the people in Appalachian communities as our country struggles to create jobs so that communities can thrive. We can factor the experiences of the Appalachian people in our conversation about how to use and provide energy. When I asked people in Kentucky how we can stand in solidarity with them - no matter what their opinions about the coal industry were - the answer was overwhelmingly consistent. Use less energy. Turn off the lights. Unplug your computer. Think about how much electricity you're using, because people are working hard to power your life.

There are plenty of ways to stay engaged with this issue - writing letters to representatives, finding out about organizations like Mountain Justice and watching films from organizations like AppalShop. But if you never do any of those things, I pray that you will think about the people in coal mining communities every time you turn on the lights.

Additional Links:
"Coal Comfort" on the Colbert Report

Fabulous short movie on MTR:

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Why I'm Happy

I just read an article in which Lori Gottlieb, a woman in her 40's, argues that her expectations in her 20's and 30's were unrealistically high and she should have just married one of those guys who were good enough. I took issue with this article for a number of reasons. For one thing, people have been telling me for 10 years that my standards were too high, when really I'm just not interested in dating for the sake of dating. I'd like to get married someday but not enough to make the search a priority in my life. Plus, I'm sick of articles that assume single women are all living the Sex and the City life. I'm not dumping dozens of guys for dumb reasons! And some of the things that are important to me (would he be a good father? could we run a household together?) are the things she says we should "settle for."

At one point, she says that most of her single friends complain that they never see their spouses, so her conclusion is that we may as well just pick a guy who will help around the house, because we won't see him much anyway. If you ask me, that's more depressing than being single for the rest of my life! I know that marriage is full of stretches where it is difficult to stay connected or even spend time together, but why start out expecting that to be the norm? And what happens when you're kids are grown?

For the record, while life-long singleness is not my first choice, I really believe that I can be content if it works out that way. Now I'm sure Ms. Gottlieb would say, "You say that at 26, but wait until you're 46." And sure, what do I know? I'm in the age bracket where she was apparently throwing away scores of suitable men. But my relationship status has been set to single for the last 5 1/2 years. And when I say that I mean haven't been on a date, haven't kissed anyone, single single single. I know. Shock. But guess what... I'm still alive. (It really hasn't been that bad!) And in that time I have figured a few things out about how to be content and live the life I want. Would I like to be in a relationship at some point in the foreseeable future? Yes please. But in the meantime, I have (almost) gotten a master's degree, traveled to Africa and Europe and Asia (And Canada, Alaska and Hawaii), tried my hand at youth ministry, developed a wonderful network of friends, learned to knit, spent vacations with my extended family, discerned a clear idea of where God is leading me in life, and found a role that I love within the Pecometh community.

One of the things that annoys me about the whole idea that we should focus on getting married is this: Even if a woman does get married, she stands a good chance of being divorced or widowed. So instead, why not encourage single people to develop better support networks so that whether they are married or single, they are emotionally fulfilled? When I get home late at night and climb into bed alone, I know that I can call Pam and she'll probably understand my problems better than any guy anyway. I have great friends, lots of family nearby, and a fabulously supportive church family. I have been particularly blessed in this area, but I also intentionally started looking to my friends and family to fill some of the voids in my life.

I say all of this partly because of the many conversations I've had with my single friends about the fact that some of our friends are getting married and having kids, and I know that there are a million voices emphasizing the importance, desirability and strategy of finding a spouse. I wanted to be one more voice urging my friends to love their lives - married or not. It's not always easy, and sometimes being single is lonely. But marriage is lonely sometimes too. And I can think of several women I know who are in their 40's and 50's, and are single and content. Some of them have even have kids. There would be challenges certainly, but I could think of worse ways to live!

But anyway, with Valentine's Day looming nearer, would I like to get a non-platonic valentine for once? Well I certainly wouldn't mind it. But either way I have a fantastic date planned with two of my fabulous single friends, who I haven't seen in awhile. We are three independent, opinionated, slightly traditional but moderately feminist, intelligent, spiritual, fun-loving, occasionally artsy-fartsy, sometimes irreverent, often sarcastic but generally kind women who would make excellent wives and mothers if I do say so myself (and we are available in Catholic, Protestant and Jewish varieties). Why wouldn't men be clambering to marry us? I certainly haven't given up hope for us, and I am also very proud of the fact that we are pursuing worthy goals and making space in our lives for new opportunities and blessings (you are, M and B!). It may be a little selfish, and I may regret it someday, but right now I love the way my life is unfolding so much that I just can't be bothered to go running in all directions looking for a husband.

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