Archive for November, 2013

Food Choices and Vegetarianism

Norway is imposing Meatless Mondays on their military. I am not ok with this.

Cultures of all shapes and sizes have food limitations. You don’t go to India and expect to eat beef. You don’t go to Muslim countries and expect to eat pork. I don’t really understand the Jewish rules of mixing meat and dairy, but I know they exist. Meeting a Mormon at a coffee shop is maybe not the best idea. (I tried this once. Oops.) Some religions and social groups expect or demand vegetarianism or veganism to participate. I am perfectly ok with all of that.

I am not a vegetarian, but I have friends and family members who are. There are things in the vegetarian and particularly the vegan movement that rub me the wrong way, but I accept that they are allowed to have their own opinions. I might think you’re wrong, but I defend your right to be so. One of the things I really like about the vegetarian movement is that it promotes thinking about your food. I, personally, don’t agree with the conclusions they have come to, but I applaud the fact that they are coming to any conclusions at all.

My problem is that the military is not a religious, cultural, or socially-motivated group. I don’t know the rules of entering and leaving the Norwiegan military, but I’m pretty sure that not having the option of meat one day a week isn’t going to be an acceptable reason to drop out. People join the military for dozens of different reasons. I’m willing to bet that stopping climate change isn’t usually very high on the list.

I have become pretty convinced that my body does not accept plant protein as protein. Most people can handle it, but there are some that lack the enzymes needed to make the conversion. This means that the most perfect balance of beans, grains, and legumes will mean nothing to my body. If I were meatless once a week, I would have to increase my meat intake on the other six days to make sure that I averaged out at the necessary protein levels. In a job that requires both physical and mental growth and sharpness, dropping my protein level means that I might not have the physical or mental ability to, say, keep the people in my unit from getting killed.

I’m afraid I don’t have a link to back me up, but once upon a time, prisoners were fed on bread and water because it helped to keep them docile. What does bread and water lack? Primarily protein. I’ve also heard that monks used vegetarian diets for much the same reason. Again, I don’t have a link for that one. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not sure that docility and religious devotion is what one should strive for in a military force.

My final problem with this is that it is promoting the idea that a vegetarian diet is a solution to global warming and environmental degradation. It’s not. I agree 100% that modern meat production practices are very, very bad for the environment. I do not agree in the least that meat production is bad for the environment. It is possible to raise meat animals in a way that increases biodiversity and topsoil in their fields. It’s not done very often at the moment, but it does exist. As an aside, animals raised in this manner are better for the people eating them, too. Producing grains and legumes, however, pretty much requires destroying both biodiversity and topsoil in their fields. Even if you grow them organically, you have to remove the native plants and animals from that section of land. If you don’t grow them organically, the impact just gets worse. After all, it wasn’t the ranchers that caused the Dust Bowl.

I believe that people should be given choices. I believe that a military is required to provide vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and kosher meals in addition to their usual fare. What I do not believe is that they have any right to dictate what food choices their members make. If a person is placed on a diet so they can meet their physical requirements, that’s one thing. Deciding that everyone will eat a certain way is another. After all, imagine how it would go over if they instituted Fish-only Fridays?

Why Grass?

Step 1: Pull the weeds. Preferably barefoot.

Step 1: Pull the weeds. Preferably barefoot. You won’t get them all, but this will give the grass seed a fighting chance.

Iiiinnnhale. Duuude.

Wait- wrong one. Don’t know all the rules about that one, so it’s on hold. Too bad, too. Hemp happens to be a super useful material as anything from clothing to supplemental animal feed. Selling the buds would really just be a bonus income. However, lawn grass happens to also be good for more than just ornamental purposes.

But who would plant grass during drought conditions? Despite the flooding up in Boulder, most of the state is still under some sort of drought condition. In fact, the drought conditions are part of the reason the flooding was as bad as it was. Water slides right off the surface of baked-hard ground. The reason I am planting grass now is, in part, to do my part to reduce future droughts and flooding. A lot of people assume that xeriscaping and other water- and environmentally-responsible landscaping techniques require scraping off your grass and installing rocks or concrete slabs. At best you get some scrubby-looking native flowers. That’s not necessarily true.

Step 2: Dig the ground over. I did it one shovel-full deep, but the further down you loosen it, the easier it will be for the roots to grow.

Step 2: Dig the ground over. I did it one shovel-full deep, but the further down you loosen it, the easier it will be for the roots to grow.

When you want to fill a bowl with water, you pour water into it from above. If you put a plate over the bowl, you catch a little water in the plate, but the rest of it ends up on the counter, completely bypassing the bowl. If you cover the bowl with a sponge, though, some of the water lands on the counter, but some of it does make it into the bowl. More soaks through if the sponge was damp to start with.

Our bowl is the aquifer that provides the water in our wells. We’re close to the Ogallala Aquifer. By putting in rocks and concrete, we are creating a plate-like surface which shunts the water off into streams rather than giving it a chance to soak into the ground. Water that ends up in the ocean does us as much good as water that lands on the counter. The dirt that is either left totally bare or covered with rocks quickly becomes about as permeable as concrete, so not actually pouring the concrete on it doesn’t give you much advantage. Healthy plant life, on the other hand, has roots that break up the solid soil. They also tend to keep at least some water around their roots, given half a chance, so you don’t just get a sponge over the bowl, you should have a damp sponge. This is the best we can hope for, since we can’t pour rain directly into the aquifer.

Step 3: Add the grass seed. Note that the ground is uneven. That helps the water to stay  long enough to soak into the ground.

Step 3: Add the grass seed. Note that the ground is uneven. That helps the water to stay long enough to soak into the ground.

Note that I said “healthy plant life.” Putting in a lush, mono-culture of Kentucky Blue Grass will pull more water out of the ground to keep it growing than it could hope to help return. It also tends to demand more fertilizers, herbicides, and maybe pesticides. Those kill off the fauna in the soil that help keep the soil permeable to both water and roots. You don’t necessarily have to plant local flora, though I would suggest it, but you do need to think about what flora will actually do well locally. Colorado is a harsh state. The details of why it’s harsh depends on your location, but all locations have pretty serious problems when it comes to growing plants.

Step 4: Cover with several inches of straw or clean leaves. This will keep the seed moist until it can get roots established.

Step 4: Cover with several inches of straw or clean leaves. This will keep the seed moist until it can get roots established.

Planting a variety of local grasses in your yard might mean that it’s not as perfect as the Jones’ yard, but it gives you a few advantages over them. For starters, you can spend less time watering, weeding, and fretting about it and more time enjoying it. You won’t have to keep your pets and kids off of it after chemicals are applied. It will also be able to handle more abuse from said kids and pets. When you plant plants that want to be here, they will grow willingly. When you plant a variety, the particular type that does well there will thrive. This means that you might have different grasses in the sun, the shade, and that weird dry spot, but you should have grass in all of them. Healthy grasses also out-compete most weeds. They may need some help in the first year or two, but after that, the grasses should take care of their own weeding.

The stepping-stones are so I don't walk on the new grass. I'm only doing a section at a time since the ground is hand-turned. Also, I don't want to steal too much of the dog's yard at a time.

The stepping-stones are so I don’t walk on the new grass. I’m only doing a section at a time since the ground is hand-turned. Also, I don’t want to steal too much of the dog’s yard at a go.

Possibly the most important reason for planting healthy, non-chemically-grown grass in your yard is that you are creating top soil for future use. Once upon a time, people grew a large percentage of their food right in their own back yard. When Big Ag fails- and it will- we will need to start doing that again. If you start creating a healthy soil now, you’ll have less work to do later to put in a garden. In the meantime, you could also experiment with eating the leaves of any dandelions or lambs-quarters that happen to shoulder their way into your lawn.

Going back to the original question- Who plants grass in the middle of a drought? Maybe you should.

Plant between August and October so cool-weather grasses sprout in the fall. This gives them a head start on weeds in the spring. You can overseed with warm weather grasses in the spring to keep your lawn green all year.

Plant between August and October so cool-weather grasses sprout in the fall. This gives them a head start on weeds in the spring. You can overseed with warm weather grasses in the spring to keep your lawn green all year.