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Detritus=Innovation=The Future

Posted Aug 06 2013 7:49am
Photo of Elizabeth Royte in the montado (cork oak forest) of Portugal
This is Elizabeth Royte. She wrote the excellent article in Whole Living Magazine* about zero waste , which featured my friend Holly Elmore of Elemental Impact as the "Kevin Bacon of Wasted Food" (plus also included mention of the food pantry with the garden ). 

She is one of the people with whom I traveled to Portugal recently to visit the imperiled cork oak forests and factories.  

And she is also the author of these three books, all of which constituted my summer reading

I've thought of Elizabeth a lot lately--the way we'd have all of seven minutes until dinner and she'd manage to somehow fit in a swim. The penetrating questions she asked and copious notes she took. How she hung someone out to dry very publicly one time when she uncovered a contradiction. And let's not overlook the incredibly cool "journalist field work" clothes she wore. In short, she's dogged, ruthless, and doesn't wrinkle (literally and figuratively) in the heat.

Her books are extraordinary and pretty much showcase not only her hands-on willingness to do anything (including collecting rats and kayaking through sewage) but especially her intelligent, insightful ability to grasp the nuances that make many actions or decisions neither fully right nor wrong**. 

For instance: yes, residential recycling is good, but municipal waste is only 2% of the total--the real impact can only be made by producer responsibility (example: when producers were required to take back their packaging in one European country, packaging decreased extraordinarily); and bottled versus tap water is kind of a toss up once you add in all the toxins and problems with each. 
Jennifer Kongs, managing editor of Mother Earth News, in Lisbon

I can see now why one of the other people with whom we traveled (Jennifer Kongs, the managing editor of Mother Earth News) had to read Elizabeth's book, Garbageland, as assigned reading in a college Environmental Studies class.
When I told Elizabeth I had gotten her books to read while traveling, she replied, "You are a glutton for punishment (though I thank you for ordering my books!). I implore you not to haul these books around. Bring Shades of Grey or some light, fast reading for these plane rides! A woman cannot live on bad environmental news alone."

Yet, like Holly (an eternal optimist like I am), I don't find the truth about environmental destruction despairing (plus, I've already fully accepted the possibility of annihilation--see And Into This Madness Came the Monkey Origami on page 26 of my book ). I find in it all the inevitable and exciting necessity for innovation and creativity.  I see, at the heart of it, the need for artistic thinking beyond what we as a species can even imagine right now. Just as the plethora of existing computer-related careers didn't exist when I was growing up, the environmental solutions careers that will provide employment and opportunities for our progeny don't yet exist either. Yet they are coming (see Note to Schools: 90% of the Future's Jobs Don't Yet Exist ). And perhaps the way that recycling bin will change lives and save the world is merely by getting one ten-year old thinking, questioning, and imagining as he or she drags it to the curb this week. (See If You Can Imagine It, You Can Achieve It ).

the back side of the brick that is pictured above
When my friend David and I cleaned out my new bed at the different community garden I recently joined, we found some detritus. I told David that I wanted to bring it home, to make something with it. Pictured is what I made. I will add it back to that garden bed as a decorative reminder of what is yet to come in our collective future on our shared FoodShed Planet.

* In case you didn't know, Whole Living is yet another excellent national magazine that folded recently (as did the local publication, Edible Atlanta--so glad I got this article about a national treasure published in the nick of time). The good news? New magazines keep starting. An especially warm welcome to the truly outstanding newcomer, Modern Farmer, and a continued bravo to Garden and Gun.

** You can read Elizabeth's article about the cork trip here , and yes, she does come to the same conclusion as I did--in support of saving the cork forests. I'm guessing the editor of Elizabeth's article added that stock photo of the cork oak tree. Below is what it really looked like when we visited. (Also, see A Purely Visual Telling of How Cork Is Harvested .) Talk about a great example of using natural resources wisely and creating a product that can be returned to the earth! (Interested in more? See my "Talking Cork with Pattie Baker" series of articles-- don't miss the one specifically about innovation !) 

eclectic food-for-thought for a changing world
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