April 16, 2003
funny in Kansas
Arts and Entertainment
By Paul Reidinger
Bringing up baby
SPRING IS THE season of renewal: Last week I had dinner at Chez Panisse (for the second time in two months, a record) and was struck by the parade of baby vegetables baby radishes to start, baby carrots with peas under slices of grilled (and apparently brined) duck breast emerging from the kitchen. One was relieved that, despite the dark clouds of war (largely caused by oil fires around besieged Baghdad), the earth still reliably offered up its bounty according to its ancient solar schedule.
You cannot eat at Chez Panisse without being at least dimly aware of the issue of sustainability. That luminous theme has been central to the restaurant from the beginning. You can be sure if they're serving it to you, your pleasure won't be spoiled by worries about whether what's on your plate is the result of overfishing or pesticides or loss of topsoil. Chez Panisse has proved, among other things, that a sustained commitment to caring for the earth need not be dreary and can actually make a difference can, by heightening awareness, help change patterns of production and consumption.
But as our latest oil war illustrates, the issue of agricultural sustainability is embedded (if I may) in the far larger issue of industrial civilization's sustainability. As Richard Heinberg points out in his new book, The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies (New Society, $17.95), virtually all modern food production depends on a steady supply of cheap petroleum, whether to fuel the trawlers that work well-managed halibut populations or the planes and trucks that bring the halibut and the baby radishes and baby carrots and everything else to market. Oil is the blood of industrial civilization, and we are rapidly exhausting the globe's reserves of it. When the oil clock finally strikes midnight (and, as Heinberg sees it, it's already about 11:58, time for one last traffic report), the world we have known all our lives will simply cease to exist.
Whatever the outcome of George and Dick's excellent adventure in Iraq, Heinberg foresees a new Stone Age, complete with a dead power grid. This strikes even me as a pessimistic forecast, overlooking as it does the human capacity to innovate and adapt. Still, a victory (or perhaps a freedom) garden might be a prudent undertaking, and perhaps we will once again see the Chez Panissers foraging en masse in the hills of Berkeley.
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And a happy birthday to Mitchell's Ice Cream (688 San Jose at 29th Street), which, along with fellow icon the Corvette, is celebrating its 50th. So get into your Corvette (while there's still gas) and get out there for a taste.
Contact Paul Reidinger at firstname.lastname@example.org.