View from Nob Hill, San Francisco, circa 1300 AD

How many of you have admired one of California’s many stunning views and thought to yourself, I wonder what this would have looked like a few hundred years ago?  I spent last night enjoyably looking through a book my Dad shared with me that did just that.  “A State of Change: Forgotten Landscapes of California” combines scientist Laura Cunninham’s field notes, sketches, paintings and prose into a rich exploration of California’s natural heritage.  I was delighted to see so many familiar places transformed through her expert eye. A painting of San Jose before there was San Jose, the South Bay before there were the salt ponds, before and after pictures of El Cerrito Hill and Lake Merritt, overlays of the Sacramento River in 1874 and 1974…. I also enjoyed geeking out on some of her nice charts and diagrams, and mentally comparing them to similar illustrations I’ve designed.  While it is sad to see these vanished landscapes brought to life so vividly, it would be sadder still not to even know what we’ve lost.

Robert Gottlieb’s new book “Food Justice”

I managed to escape my office today long enough to attend a talk by Robert Gottlieb on his latest book, “Food Justice.” I haven’t read it yet, but took a look through the table of contents during the talk and came back to my office and ordered myself a copy.  Gottlieb and his coauthor Anapuma Joshi set their book apart from many of the other food-oriented books out now by addressing food’s implications for social justice from start to finish: growing the food, transporting it, serving it, eating it (not sure if they get into waste too).  Most activist groups and scholars that I know of tend to focus on just one aspect of food, for example, industrial agriculture or organic food.  This results in groups that could conceivably give each other a lot of political support remaining fairly separate instead.  I do see some signs of convergence though.  For example, the food movement, which has largely relied on market-based strategies such as organic labeling to promote their cause, is increasingly looking to policy solutions in the Farm Bill and other laws.  And some environmental justice groups in the Central Valley, which have largely relied on community organizing and policy solutions to advance their causes, are interested in exploring market-based solutions to help lead their communities out of poverty (see, for example, the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment’s new project to help farmworkers become organic farmers).  Hopefully “Food Justice” is a sign of increased collaboration to come between these groups.

I’m also looking forward to reading the review of the book written by long-time sustainable agriculture educator Cristof Bernau in the upcoming edition of Human Ecology.

New publications on the Golden State

I’ve lived in California since kindergarten.  After 22 years (!) in California’s public schools, I’m still enamoured of our beautiful, complex, troubled Golden State.

So, I’m very excited about these two new journals:

California Northern: A New Regionalism I’m working my way through the first two issues.  So far I’ve read the interview with Fresno-based author Mark Arax (whose book “West of the West: Dreamers, Believers, Builders and Killers” I really admire), and the beginning of a retrospective piece on Jerry Brown’s first governorship.  Next on the list is a “The Central Valley Islands: Charges of racial exclusion and neglect on Modesto’s fringe”and”Ending the water wars: Agribusiness and the Inland Empire want more water they don’t need.”

Boom: A Journal of California The first issue comes out next month. Full disclosure: yours truly will have a piece on the Central Valley in it, : ) but I’ve also signed up as a subscriber.

Sustainable seafood? Maybe not…

I spent much of this weekend talking with science writer Erik Vance and other friends about Erik’s recent article and radio interview:

Here’s what I was most struck by:

  1. Erik’s discovery of what he calls “eco-fibs” in high-end restaurants: when the description of how, where and by whom a certain fish on the menu was caught is patently false.  It’s problematic but somewhat understandable when a restaurant and a diner differ on how to define a sustainably caught fish, but it’s entirely another to give specific information about the fish that is just not true.
  2. The fish seasonality chart.  Many gourmet chefs and diners have gotten used to the idea of eating fruits and vegetables according to when they are in season locally, but who ever thought of doing the same with fish?
  3. The graphic depiction of different types of fishing methods: longlines, bottom trawlers, Scottish seines, rod and reel.  There can’t be that many people who really know what these mean, and the chart makes it nice and clear.
  4. Erik’s description of many modern fishing methods as comparable to “aquatic slash and burn.”  Yikes!

I hope Mr. Vance writes more on this topic!  I, for one, would like to hear his “fish” take on some of the debates going on in sustainable agriculture movement.  How d0 we link individual purchasing choices by restaurants and consumers to larger policy battles that regulate the way we eat?  Is there some kind of oceans equivalent of the Farm Bill, for example?