Author Archive

Deserved accolades for Portland restaurant scene

There are a lot of reasons I love living in Portland. And the New York Times has done justice to one of them: our amazing restaurant scene. I’m sure the tourism crews in the city and state are diggin’ yesterday’s lengthy piece, “In Portland, a Golden Age of Dining and Drinking.” For those of us living here, it’s not news. But it’s a good feeling to know we live in a city where the ingredients that make for a high quality of life – local, sustainably grown food and people who revel in producing and preparing it – are in such abundant supply. The article also touts our local wines, micro brews and distilled spirits. I would add my favorite, terrific local coffee roasters, to the list as well. (Another New York Times reporter recently featured Portland’s burgeoning and distinctive tea culture.)

If you have read this blog, you know my bias for things local. Local businesses and the people who own and work at them give communities their unique character. In Portland, we are blessed with many fantastic locally owned restaurants. I look forward to the day the New York Times returns to feature Portland for the thriving locally owned businesses of all sizes and types and their thousands of loyal customers that have stood up to America the Franchise and declared victory for what makes our community special.

Thursday, September 27th, 2007
Posted in Food and Drink, Oregon, Sustainability | No Comments »

Misperceptions of economic relocalization

For economic relocalization to become something more than a fringe movement, it has to make clear that it isn’t simply about the selling and purchasing of goods and services within a narrowly drawn geographic region. I say this because yesterday I heard Karla Chambers, an Oregon farmer sympathetic to efforts to localize our food supplies, tell a large group of sustainability-minded individuals that Oregon farmers cannot survive on local markets alone. We simply have too small of a population. Ninety-two percent of the agricultural products grown here leave the state, she said. Oregon is a natural-resource state, and we can’t consume all that we produce.

I take from her comments that she would view relocalization (a term she didn’t use) as far too extreme to be seriously considered. To her, the goal of relocalization is the end of global trade; that economies should consist exclusively of local companies trading with each other and people consuming only what they can purchase locally. I certainly don’t see it that narrowly, and I don’t believe the majority of relocalization advocates do either. Exporting will never disappear completely. Even if a global energy crisis hits, producers will resort to horse-drawn wagons and wind-propelled ships if that’s what it will take to move their products to markets that want them. After all, countries depended on international trade centuries before fossil fuels and combustion engines came along (of course, much of it was forced trade from colonization).

The point is global trade is here to stay, and clearly it is better economically for a state or community to be a net-exporter than a net-importer. The economic case for relocalization isn’t in becoming a substitute for global trade; it’s in raising awareness that too much of the income produced locally is leaking out of our communities because it is increasingly spent on goods or services from providers that are not locally owned. Think big-box and other chain retailers that source almost nothing of what they sell from local businesses and ship their profits off to headquarters in other states or countries. Keeping money circulating in a local economy multiplies its value by up to three times as it changes hands from one local producer, retailer or service provider to another.

Those of us sympathetic to economic relocalization want to see much more of our communities’ personal and business income stay home and multiply in value. That means citizens spending more of their disposal income with locally owned businesses and local businesses looking more to each other for products and services. And yes, we must also continue to help our local businesses dependent upon national or international markets to compete and win. Bringing money into our local economies from elsewhere is vital.

The issue isn’t either/or, local or global. It’s that political and economic leaders focus almost exclusively on the so-called global traded sector. They all but ignore the leakage of dollars to out-of-state businesses that set up shop in our communities. In fact, they exacerbate the problem by using tax subsidies to encourage many of those very same outsiders to locate here – not exactly a recipe for economic sustainability. The most productive economic debate is asking how to keep more of our money trading locally and help local business owners, like Karla Chambers, win globally.


In case you’re wondering

I’ll be away from the blog for a couple weeks. See you back here toward the end of the month.

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007
Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The country moves on, but not New Orleans

I wanted to be back in New Orleans Wednesday, standing with its citizens as they observed the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I never visited the area before the storm and the flooding. I saw it for the first time last October after making my way by car along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and onward to New Orleans. I needed to see for myself what nature and human incompetence and indifference had wrought. Three months later I made an unplanned return trip to the city with a group of Portland volunteers to help gut flooded homes.

Hurricane Katrina hit me just as hard as 9/11. If 9/11 stole my feelings of security as an American citizen, Katrina filled me with anger and frustration. It’s been nearly six years since the Twin Towers fell, and only two since the levees broke. That may explain why I still feel more raw emotions in the aftermath of the hurricane. Or maybe it’s because our nation’s responses to the two catastrophes were so starkly different. One heroic. The other shameful. Americans came together after 9/11. We stared dumbfounded into our TV sets after 8/29, unable to find our greatness.

Two years removed, our country continues to fail the people of New Orleans and surrounding parishes. As reporters in the city observed Wednesday, with the prodding of President Bush, there are signs of progress to be sure,

“But vast stretches of the city show little or no recovery. A housing shortage and high rents have hampered business growth. The homeless population has almost doubled since the storm, and many of those squat in an estimated 80,000 vacant dwellings. Violent crime is also on the rise, and the National Guard and state troopers still supplement a diminished local police force.”

And that’s to say nothing about the city’s decimated educational and health care systems. The people of New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast are suffering. Deeply. Still. And we can still help. For starters, check out US Sen. Mary Landrieu’s page on volunteering in New Orleans. Maybe we can give the victims of Katrina a reason to celebrate when the third anniversary comes around.

Friday, August 31st, 2007
Posted in Current Affairs, Hurricane Katrina | No Comments »

And you call yourself an environmentalist

I am a meat-eating environmentalist. And that would make me a hypocrite.

It says so right here in the NY Times: “You just cannot be a meat-eating environmentalist,” says a PETA spokesman.

Through stepped-up advertising campaigns, PETA and other animal rights groups are trying to educate us that eating meat does more to cause global warming than driving. And those they are going after most aggressively are environmentalists, reserving special wrath for Al Gore. The animal rights activists don’t believe the earth activists are doing enough to promote a non-meat diet. Especially after a UN report issued late last year concluded “that the livestock business generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined.”

I’m sympathetic to the causes of animal rights groups. But why hammer environmental types for eating meat or not promoting vegetarian or vegan diets? After all, it ain’t exactly easy getting yourself, much less others, to get rid of SUVs, drive less, walk or bicycle more, move into or build smaller homes, switch to CFLs and turn off the lights, stop flying, buy local, unplug appliances, reduce, recycle, reuse, buy carbon offsets, and on and on.

“So what,” seems to be the rabid herbivores’ response. As one vegan tells the Times:

“I guess the environmentalists recognize that it’s a lot easier to ask people to put in a fluorescent light bulb than to learn to cook with tofu.”

Environmentalists, and I’m sure many are also vegetarians, have all they can do to get people to change transportation and household behaviors that contribute to global warming. Let the animal rights activists carry the flag for vegetarianism. The only way we can expect to re-wire every citizen in this country so they contribute the least possible amount of carbon emissions is by sharing the duties.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think a strategy of telling those already doing more than most others to stop global warming, “You’re not doing enough,” will swell the vegan ranks anytime soon.

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007
Posted in Climate Change, Food and Drink, Marketing | No Comments »

What would you do if Wal-Mart called?

“He Sold His Soul to Wal-Mart,” the cover of September’s Fast Company magazine shouts.

The story inside doesn’t quite pay off the cover tease, but it offers a fascinating look at the life of Adam Werbach. Or at least what it’s been like since he decided to take on Wal-Mart as a client. That alone isn’t newsworthy. But the plot thickens when you recall or learn that Werbach is the former wunderkind president of Sierra Club and once called Wal-Mart “a new breed of toxin.” After a very public falling out with the environmental movement, Werbach was approached by Wal-Mart to help them with their now much-publicized sustainability initiatives. He eventually agreed. And in the past year his consulting firm has grown from eight to 45 employees, mainly to handle the Wal-Mart work.

The article gets to the heart — and soul — of one of the many contentious debates within the environmental movement. Are environmentalists better advised to become corporate insiders to move business toward greater sustainability? Or do they need to remain outsiders to a consumption-based economy that by definition is unsustainable and needs radical overhauling? Perhaps that choice isn’t as stark for the environmentalist who weighs whether to go to work for a progressive company such as Clif Bar. But when it’s the hated Wal-Mart, well, that’s a line most won’t cross. Had Werbach taken on just about any other corporation in America as a client, he wouldn’t be nearly as reviled by his former environmentalist kin.

While I haven’t walked in Werbach’s shoes, I can tell you this: If I had been approached with the same offer from Wal-Mart, I sure as hell hope I would have run away faster than it takes Wal-Mart to earn its first million dollars each morning.

How about you? Is Wal-Mart “beyond redemption”? Would you have stayed in the environmental movement and tried to make it more effective, rather than walk away like Werbach? Or would you have taken the Wal-Mart gig and figure on making a bigger difference there?

These are my questions.

P.S. Thanks to The Triple Bottom Line Blog for the tip-off on this article.