Solar Power isn't Feasible!

Solar Power isn't Feasible!
This cartoon was on the cover of the book "SolarGas" by David Hoye. It echoes the Sharp Solar slogan "Last time I checked nobody owned the sun!"

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"If only life WEREN'T that simple...!" Part 1: Bringing home the Bacon...

 (Note: This is part one of a multi-part series that evolves the more I learn just how simple life can be, and strive to share these simple truths with anybody who will listen. Alas, that seems to be the most complicated part!)

As a kid growing up in the turbulent late 1960s  and early 1970s, with the war raging, polluted air and water everywhere and most conspicuosly right in our own back yards, the population bomb ticking, an oil crisis crippling the economy, inflation high, the possibility of nuclear war with Russia and ecological collapse looming, the "what me worry" attitude of MAD magazine's Alfred E. Neumann seemed appropriately and particularly mad.  There was everything to worry about and very little to celebrate.  Yes, I grew up worried.

But today, at 50 years of age, on a planet of 7 billion (double what it was when I was a kid!), with true peak oil on the horizon and climate change very much in evidence, the only things I'm worried about (and they are big anxieties) are nuclear proliferation and species extinction.  The rest all seems so very... simple.

And even those two big issues seem solvable.

What changed for me in the intervening decades is that I went out into the world with worries about specific problems and to my astonishment found specific and very simple solutions.

So let me be specific, and maybe I can help you stop worrying too... !

We will try to break up our simple story into the usual existential categories: Food, Shelter, Water, Energy and Waste Management, although not necessarily in that order since there is a lot of overlap.
Let's start with...


"Bringing Home the Bacon" or "How simple it is to grow your own food...

Remember how we were all going to starve to death because agriculture is failing everywhere -- topsoil and nutrient loss, desertification,  new plant diseases that would make the potato famine blight blush?

Well agriculture is indeed failing but NO we won't starve.

At least I won't, and you don't have to either.

Turns out we don't need agriculture.

 I know, I know...

Look... let it GO.

It was a bad experiment and it took us 10,000 years to realize it. It didn't make us any healthier, in fact Spencer Wells documents the toll it took on our bodies in his excellent book "Pandora's Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization".

Fact is agriculture made a few people very very very very very very very rich for thousands of years and provided nutritionally iffy (and later downright crappy) starches and sugars that were easy to transport and store (even if it did require the creation of armies and city-states and a host of political problems) and were cheap enough, once economies of scale kicked in, to feed entire armies and hordes of slaves (so you could reserve the protein and fat for the rich) keeping them just high enough on the calories to go and die for you and build your pyramids.

And the great thing about agriculture was that the species it relied on -- wheat, corn, rice, barley, oats, sorgum, sugar cane -- were weedy grasses that seemed to follow people around whenever we screwed up and scorched the earth, when we foolishly cut down our forests, or when climate changes expanded the deserts.  Grasslands are generally successional from desert to forest and in certain conditions they will persist and evolve marvelously complex ecosystems with deep deep perennial root systems and associated microbes that can support vast assemblages of animals.  Natural history has it that we evolved our marvelous ability to hunt in huge groups and develop sophisticated weapons in a savannah landscape peppered with patches of forest and swampland.  But we didn't eat that much grass -- we left that to our prey species.

Whenever there was a fire, however, or in riparian areas where flooding seasonally wiped out larger vegetation, certain annual grasses would sprout up in the aftermath of disaster and start to reclaim the land for more complex ecosystem dynamics to come.  And at some point in our cultural evolution we decided to rely on these "disturbance ecology" species and use them to develop a system of profit and haves and have nots. The rest, as they say, is history.

But we don't NEED grain agriculture or sugar -- just as any Eskimo (I mean "Inuit", but since Eskimo means "eaters of raw meat"  it is appropriately used here).   And heck, you couldn't make your own daily bread without a lot of help, certainly not in a disaster, so put that electric bread maker away and tune in to a different reality...

Of Meat and Men

Turns out you CAN make your own meat.

Yeah yeah, every backyard gardener thinks it is easier to grow plants.  After all, they don't run around and poop on things, and they keep their metaphorical mouths shut, not a peep out of them when they are hungry and they don't whine (or scream!) when you chop them up to make salads.  Sure, they'll signal their displeasure with a wilted or yellowed leaf from time to time, and they are prone to certain rots and insect infestations, but on the whole they seem very tractable.

The problem is, unless you are going to grow soybean or Mayan breadnut trees, they aren't going to yield much protein, and often they are deficient in one or another essential amino acid,  so to live "high on the hog" so to speak, you are going to have to grow alot of different kinds of plants and strive for "protein complementarity", adding foods together to get all the right amino acids. 

I was a vegetarian for a number of years, and a vegan for an additional 7 months and I enjoyed my shopping excursions (I felt like a hunter gatherer) and cooking experiments.  But it was my visit to the Bedouins of Syria that turned me back into a facultative omnivore with carnivorous leanings.

Facultative means here that what I eat depends on my environment; I'm still perfectly happy to eat vegan or vegetarian in places where there is botanical abundance.  But when the sh!t hits the fan and starvation threatens I'm not convinced I have the skill or will have the land, or water, or nutrients or resources or time necessary to grow my own plant food and keep my family alive and healthy.  The bedouins argued exactly that with me, and they should know since they had to adapt to the desert wastelands of Arabia when the first civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Mauritania, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and elsewhere collapsed, taking with them vast areas of once productive agricultural land, turned to desert through bad irrigation practices, soil exhaustion and overgrazing.

The bedouins I visited in Syria said, "our sheep and goats and camels travel with us on their own legs and require very little water. They eat scrub vegetation that is thorny and unpalateable to human beings and turn it into life giving Haleeb (milk) from which we make our laban (yoghurt) and jibn (cheese) which are fermented and need no refrigeration. They give us fresh meat that also needs no cooler because they carry it with them on their bodies until it is time for sacrifice.  We have this relationship, the animals and us. We shelter and protect them, and  they also give us life... 
"The farm on which you are staying on the other hand... it destroys the land.  It uses up the precious sweet water that is beneath the desert and sends it to the city in the form of bread or fruits and vegetables or tobacco.  It leaves behind MilH (salt) that kills the land so even the desert plants can not grow. And it attracts pests and diseases that they then fight with chemicals that poison our water and land and food. So why do you think being a vegetarian is more friendly to our environment?"

I had no good answer within that context and it was useless to argue about factory farming versus small scale horticulture, and about organic farms versus ones that use artificial fertlizers and herbicides and pesticides, and about grass fed beef versus cattle fed soybean grown at the expense of a Bolivian rainforest.  These were Bedouins, and their reality was right in front of us -- a parched landscape that had lost its fertility thousands of years ago because of human desire to "make the desert bloom" for a profit.

Their point to me hit me like thunder when I left their wedding party after eating the most delicious fresh sheep cheese and returned to the farm I was staying on, watching the fellahin (peasants) toiling in the hot sun, weeding, ploughing, spraying...

Keeping animals was easier, particularly when you could rely on them to feed themselves...

As this is all about simplicity for us moderns though, my return to civilization made me rethink that. How would I feed my animals in the city, with no grazing land at all, whether pasture or scrub vegetation?  So perhaps growing meat wasn't so simple afterall.

Okay, I explored the other "micro-meat" options.  At home in Los Angeles I had started trying to grow my own soybeans (I always wondered why vegetarians seemed content to grow corn and tomatoes and herbs but depended on the supermarket for their primary protein!) and things were going well until some garden snails destroyed my whole crop.  Then it dawned on me that I could eat the snails, and when a little research showed that, in fact, these particular snails were the same species that the French call the delicacy "escargot" I had quite a great feast (the snails that everybody puts poison on their lawns to kill in California actually are escapees from a failed attempt to start a supply chain for French restaurants!).

I also bred and ate crickets and grasshoppers (the grasshoppers you can actually get in Oaxacan restaurants in Los Angeles like the wonderful Guelaguetza Restaurant, fried with cheese, called "Chapulines con Queso").  And I ate lots of beetle larvae, which every science teacher knows how to breed in a tupperware container with some bran and apple cores. We call them mealworms and many a school child has tried them on "insect eating day" at the Natural History Museum.

But my attempts to convince people about "man eating bug" (with excursions into silkworm eating, and ant salads, and waterbugs and live termites and  even live jumiles (stinkbugs in the Hemiptera) in an indigenous  Cuernavacan marketplace) didn't win me a lot of converts, particularly among prospective mates. I even lost one girlfriend after simply mentioning what I had tried on my last trip to Mexico.

So while I'm quite convinced we can grow insects and snails, and even guinea pigs, which they eat in Peru, at home in the city, it doesn't do much for the majority of us who are expected to "bring home the bacon" so we can live "high on the hog". 

So to the question "where's the beef" I turn my attention to "there's always the pig".
Real pigs, not guinea pigs.  And yes... in the city.

Pigs in the forest

When I was staying with a Dyak tribal group in Borneo in the mid-80s, deep in the primary rain forest, we went hunting and gathering for plant food (they weren't agriculturalists) but not for animal protein.  The Dyaks, like the Batak I visited in northern Sumatra, ate "Babi Hutan", otherwise known as "forest pig".  Romantic legends suggest that all forest people run around with spears and bows and arrows wondering where their next meal is going to come from.  There is no denying the sport of hunting (I recently went pheasant hunting with my Uncle Mark in Wisconsin) but human beings rarely put their lives at the mercy of the unknown when they can help it.  My former professor Susanna B. Hecht, who lived among native peoples in Amazonia, used to delight her UCLA classes by saying "it isn't that they didn't know about animal husbandry, of course they knew how to keep animals.  It's just that they were smarter than that.  Instead of going through the hassle of trying to corral an animal in a fenced enclosure and then taking up the burden of going and getting food for the animals and risking their animals developing diseases because of the unhealthy living conditions that an animal pen creates, they used their genius to influence the plants that grew around their village so that the animals were always around and were well fed.  This botanical sophistication and knowledge of animal behavior made it simple to just go out and silently, with a blow pipe, harvest meat on the hoof.  They reasoned "animals have legs - they should go and forage for their own food. Why should we waste our time feeding the animals.  But if we grow what they like within easy walking distance, they won't go away, they'll stay near our homes".

It was a kind of quasi-domestication that few post-Roman Empire Europeans understood (the Celts and Druids would have understood it very very well as they did the same thing!).

In the case of the Dyak group I stayed with in the forest, they took it one step further -- they had an open door policy for the pigs, building their homes on stilts with the top floor being kitchen and bathroom and the bottom floor being a pig paradise.  It had gathered brush strewn about in one area where the pigs could safely bear and raise their piglets and a wallow beneath the upstairs toilet hole.  To ensure that the pigs would come around they would simply take a... er... go to the bathroom.

Yes, pigs are sh!t eating creatures, as are dogs.  We got first hand experience with the dogs when we were staying with friends in California who had two massive setters and our toddler did his business in the potty.   It was our son's habit to play with his LEGO Star Wars figures while on the toilet and the lightsaber and helmet of one of them fell in the potty with the poop.  He called out to us saying, "I dropped some LEGO in my poop!" and this attracted the attention of the dogs.   One of the them  came in and tried to lick the poop in the potty right from between our son's legs, causing him to scream out. We shooed the dog away and brought our son to the bathtub to wash and he said, "but who is going to save my LEGO?". At that moment the other dog came bounding past us and attacked the potty, devouring our son's bowel movement.  When we were finally able to push the dog away all that was left was an empty potty with spotlessly clean LEGO pieces.

That pigs and dogs gladly eat human feces is something that the Dyaks turned to their advantage, a rather sophisticated form of recycling that Westerner's may not be able to stomach, but which could save our lives in a disaster (if only my Irish ancestors had remembered these truths instead of being seduced into eating the low-value Potato starch and relying on the tuber agriculture introduced to Ireland by the British via the French we would have never suffered the losses of the great famine).

In Sumatra we visited restaurants built over ponds with birdcages hanging over the pond.  The birds weren't just for decoration, though they were lovely and gave the dinner a marvelous symphony (or cacophany, depending on your point of view).  The bird cages were open on the bottom so their poop would fall in the pond where the carp and other fish that they served in the restaurant lived.  Inspection of the human toilets showed that they also discharged into the fish pond from which we were eating.  Yet to survive and survive well, one doesn't have to feed one's future  food on the wastes of one's previous' meal, at least not a meal that passed through your own body.

Of course pigs don't NEED to be fed on other's body wastes; this is just an extreme example that people need to know in order to get through hard times.  Pigs are happy rooting around in the forest for truffles and grubs and whatnot, and the Batak man I travelled on a bus with through Sumatra and dined with at a roadside piggery was proud to say that hunting pig was as easy as it was fun; a day of sport followed by many days of feasting. Our conversation  started  on a bus filled with farmers and their chickens when he, with his tatoos and distended ear filled with heavy earrings and chains of pig tusks over his bare chest, poked me in mine and asked, "Christian or Muslim?".  Not sure what was the politically intelligent thing to  say, I naturally went with my expansive truth:
"I am raised a Christian but I also have Christian and  Muslim relatives, even Jewish ones... we are a very mixed family you see..."  I thought I'd covered all my bases there and at most we could have an argument about obligations to love one's family regardless of creed or religion...
He smiled to reveal sharpened teeth. 
"So you eat babi hutan?"
"I have, yes, I have eaten forest pig".
He slapped me on the shoulder in delight.
"I am Christian.  I eat Babi Hutan.  This is why I am Christian.  When the missionaries from your religions came to speak to our Batak people some wanted us to become Muslims like the farmers down there... (he gestured to the valley below as the bus strained to climb up the narrow winding road toward the still forested slopes that I was travelling to in order to visit orangutan researchers)... some wanted us to become Christians.  When we found out that Muslims won't eat Babi Hutan, but Christians will, naturally we all decided to become Christians.  Think about it -- what kind of a God would forbid a man to eat Babi Hutan?  What kind of a God would force a family to work all day in the fields in the hot sun when there is food so delicious and easy to get in cool and shady forest? This is why I am Christian. Come, we will eat Babi Hutan together at the next rest stop. You will be my guest!"

In a forest here in Germany we have gone wild pig and deer hunting with our friends, the Sayn-Wittgensteins, whose family castle sits atop hectares of land that look much as they might have in Medieval times when many Germans still lived from the bounty the forest could offer.  Huge oak trees drop prodigious amounts of acorns on the forest floor, and the deer and pigs turn these bitter but abundant seeds into great pork and venison which we enjoyed by the roaring fire in the castle at night.  At a  trip to a restaurant near the Baldeneye Sea in our own city of Essen, a restaurant surrounded by big oaks, I collected enough acorns in 15 minutes from the porch to make my own meal that weekend at home (I leached the tannins out through boiling). But while I was preparing the acorns to make them edible, reflecting on the time and energy I was investing and knowing they wouldn't be a complete protein by themselves, I thought, "what if I had a pig to eat these acorns, wouldn't that be marvelous".

Of course Germans are big pig eaters and are proud of their pork industry.  We've visited pig farms in the region and spoken with the farmers. The question was, "how simple would it be to do in the city?"

Pigs in the City

It was when working on my Ph.D. with the Zabaleen, Egypt's Coptic Christian Trash Recyclers, that I encountered the simplicity of urban survival in the face of poverty thanks to a symbiotic relationship with pigs.   The Zabaleen have been migrating to the urban slums and informal areas  of Cairo for nearly a century now, as productive land-holdings in the countryside are taken away from them, or become too expensive due to land speculation, or become mechanized, displacing labor, or fail because of ecological exhaustion, rising salinity  and desertification.

When they move to the city and build their dwellings, they tend to arrive with all of their animals, chief among them, their pigs.  In the years before the tragic "swine flu slaughter" when the Egyptian army eradicated most of this living protein treasure, mistakenly equating the name "swine flu" with Egyptian pigs (by the time the strain of virus we called "swine flu" started traveling from the Americas to other parts of the world it had evolved into  a  human disease that had little to do with swine, whatever its zoonotic origin may have been), my friends and colleagues there were famous for their succulent pork, fed completely on the city's organic garbage.  The pigs in many of my friends' apartment buildings generally lived on the ground floor but often had free range of the house; getting to the roof sometimes to work on our solar hot water systems we had to jump over a sow and her piglets who liked sleeping on a particular part of the staircase.
As a graduate student living on very little money  in the nearby Islamic slum of Darb Al Ahmar, it was my great pleasure to go into the Coptic informal area and get some relief from my usual diet of 'ful' (fava beans) and 'ta3miya' (falafel, also made from beans) and 'kushari' (a noodle dish with lentils and tomato sauce).  I craved protein and my Zabaleen friends always had it to offer.

These were people living on a dollar or two a day and they were inviting ME over for huge feasts of high quality roast pork, grown in their own homes. There was never any concern about "running low on food"; the delicious and savory meat, so generously offered, was often accompanied by fresh eggs, chicken, duck and goat meat and sheep cheese, all from the roof.  Moussa's family even had a cow and a calf living in the upstairs bedroom, and this was familiar to me because my former student Alvaro in South Central L.A. had a bull in his backyard in the 1990s.

The thing is that it is possible to produce plenty of food in the city.  The fact that we see this happening in the poorest parts of the world, and that people in such "slums" and "ghettoes" are actually often eating a better diet than the rest of us who are addicted to the "army and slave rations" that rural agriculture provides in the form of breads and cereals and tuber starches and sugars should give the rest of us great hope.

What could be simpler than keeping meat on the hoof in the home that is quite happy living on our kitchen and toilet wastes?  Your cultural prejudices may make you find such a thing currently abhorrent, but with all due respect to my observant  Jewish and Muslim friends, we may all want to re-visit and reform our attitudes toward what we consider 'kosher' or 'halal' or clean or un-clean in a world where population is set to reach 9 billion or more within our lifetimes and the carrying capacity of our environment is strained to the max.  If modern medicine declares animal protein fed on waste material to be 'clean', i.e. pathogen free, then our religious and cultural attitudes need to be reformed to reflect this new understanding (remember that the founders of our religions didn't have any knowledge of the microbial world or tiny parasites  and had to use blunt instruments of prohibition to try and keep us safe).

But the essential point here is that whether we are talking about pigs or fish or many other animals, there is a great circle of life and rather than just singing Karaoke versions of Elton John songs from the Lion King and thinking we are doing something to "save the planet" we might instead be adopting some of the simple practices of the people for whom necessity really is the mother of invention.

But what about us vegetarians?

Now there will be those who will read about the simplicity of providing animal protein to a growing population who will take offense saying, "hold on there, you say it is simple, and I'll agree, pigs and carp you might get to grow in the city eating nothing but materials we now consider waste. And it may be "healthy". But there is nothing simple about slaughtering another living being, particularly one as intelligent and compassionate as a pig.  You face considerable moral complexities when you take the knife or the gun to a sentient being, and it is proven that pigs are as intelligent as dogs if not more so."

I will concede that point.  Killing isn't simple for me, and I've been lucky that my Dyak and Coptic friends did the slaughter and butchering for me.  One time in Central Borneo I was treated to a meal of dog and pork at a roadside Dyak restaurant and I had to choose my own dog and my own pig for the meal.  The dog choice was surprisingly easy, considering that the dogs on offer were mangy ugly mutts, all snarly and reminiscent of Stephen King's Cujo or the zombie dogs in Resident Evil.  But the pigs were so cute and loving, and they all wanted to nuzzle my hand with their muzzles, grunting satisfaction that they had a visitor... I literally couldn't bring myself to point to any single individual and imperiously signal their slaughter. I had to have my Indonesian colleague, do it, he being a  Muslim who didn't care for pork anyway and certainly wouldn't eat dog  (though he was indulgent with me experiencing his country's different cultures).

And anyway, when I was training to be a  clown in Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus |
Clown College, the famous Lou Jacob's son was a clown who kept pet pigs and trained them for his act and prevailed upon me at the age of 13 that pigs not only are extremely bright but made marvelous home companions (he lived with his in his circus trailer).  Years later the actor Luke Perry, who kept small pigs as pets, brought one from his litter to a birthday party my band was playing at for our friend John G. Avildsen (who directed Rocky and Karate Kid and Lean on Me and Power of One among other great films).  We talked pig for a while, extolling their virtues and he offered to give me one, but I was traveling too much at the time to have pets and anyway didn't know at the time how easy they can be to feed. And no, I don't think I could have killed Luke Perry's ever so soft and cute pet pig.

So  my point is, yes, being a carnivore does carry with it its own complications (though most vegetarians I know drawn the line with fish, some even  considering them to not be categorically "animals").  Still, fish and clams and mussels and 'shellfish' can all be grown on "garbage" (i.e. recycled nutrients) and when it comes to pigs, there is no reason why we can't do as the Tuscans of Italy do, and create a swine dairy industry to get our protein without butchery. Ah, blessed are the cheesemakers!

Pig cheese?

Absolutely! Imagine if you could grow your milk and cheese at home with the only inputs being your kitchen and market scraps and, for those even more adventurous, toilet wastes too? Think its impossible? Then you've never tried  "Porcorino: The Rarest Tuscan Cheese".

Turns out the Italians have been making cheese from pig milk for millenia.  It is a delicacy with a flavor somewhere "between brie and peccorino".  In fact let me quote from the website whose link I have provided above because it is so poetic:

"In a town nestled in a thickly wooded valley on a volcanic slope in southern Tuscany you may be able to discover what is certainly Italy’s most closely-guarded culinary secret, a rare cheese made from pig’s milk called Porcorino (Porcherino in the local dialect).
Italy’s most closely-guarded culinary secret, a rare cheese made from pig’s milk called Porcorino (Porcherino in the local dialect). Shaped into firm, exquisite rounds only an inch or two in diameter, produced in small quantities almost exclusively for local use for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, some food scholars have speculated that one of the objects on the table in Da Vinci’s famous fresco of The Last Supper in Milan, is in fact a round of this tasty food...


It has a consistency both firm and runny, somewhere between brie and peccorino. The flavor clobbers the hard palate with a sensation nearly indescribable in its complexity and overwhelming richness: a product of the swine to make one swoon. Imagine a milky tiramisu that melts and vibrates before exploding with overtones of porcini mushroom and a back taste hint of chestnuts (perhaps a product of the pig’s diet). Imagine damp woods, crisp autumn leaves crunching under foot, a dog barking in the distance. Imagine wild strawberries and rotting logs.

Porcorino 2

Challenges to Porcorino production are great. Although pig milk, at eight and a half percent butterfat, is exceptionally rich and the proportions of components like water and lactose are similar to those of cow milk, pigs produce on average only thirteen pounds of milk a day, far below that of a cow (at 65 pounds). For now production is limited to a few thousand liters every year from a small herd of half-wild swine.
Milking a pig is extraordinarily difficult, to say the least. For one thing, they have fourteen teats as opposed to a cow’s four, and when stimulated to produce oxytocin, they eject the milk for only fifteen seconds at a time (the ejection time of a cow, by contrast, is well over ten minutes). Hence it requires enormous dexterity, skill and speed. Only two or three members of one family carry on the tradition. They are now quite elderly and the young are moving away to Rome or Florence. It isn’t at all certain the tradition can be maintained."

Okay, so milking a pig turns out to  not so simple, but not unfeasible and maybe easier for some than killing a pig.  The point is that it can be done and has been done and is being done and is anyway a whole lot simpler than dying of starvation.  And I say this as a Culhane whose family had to flee Ireland, despite having no dearth of kitchen and toilet waste and market wastes, because some potatoes went bad and their neighbors were literally turning to eating grass -- not wheat and corn and rice and sugar cane -- but lawn grass and weeds.

Keeping pigs for whatever reason, is a whole lot simpler than starving, or even worrying about "where the next meal is going to come from".

And the marvelous pig's ability and willingness to live on the waste products we produce makes them our salvation if we want to maintain our dense civilizations and feed the hunger for animal protein that urbanization seems to bring with it.

And that leads to the second and perhaps more important revelation of how simple life is once we realize how valuable garbage is:  where the energy is going to come from to get us past peak oil so that we can cook our pork?

 The anthropologist Marvin Harris pointed out in his 1975 classic "Cows,Pigs, Wars and Witches: The Riddle of Culture"  that the origin of the Judeo-Islamic prohibition against pork probably derives from a need to protect people from the Trichinosis parasite  that is known to infect pork and wild game.  Proper cooking was the answer to that, but proper cooking requires reliable energy.

So in our next meditation on how simple life is, we turn to how simple it is to get that reliable energy, not only for cooking but to cool and heat our homes, provide light  and generate electricity.
The answer of course, turns out to be the same as for raising pigs in the city.  It lies in our kitchen and toilet wastes.  I wish things could be more complicated, but they aren't.  Life simply IS that simple.

But that, we will explain in greater detail, in the next essay.  The following photos give you an idea of what I'm going to explore.   For now, give up your worries of starvation and befriend a pig farmer or think of getting a pet pig.  It might just save your life, with very little effort indeed!

German bacon being cooked on our biogas stove. In this case, while civilization is intact and legal restrictions keep us from keeping pigs, we buy our meat from the local market; Germany is famous for its pork industry which it claims is one of the "greenest" in the world.  But our cooking gas comes from what we would otherwise feed pigs if we had them: our kitchen scraps, put into an "Insinkerator" food waste grinder which was originally called "the Mechanical Hog" when it was invented in 1927 at a time when American families were giving up the pigs that used to be an essential part of every household.  To replace the food grinding services that hogs provided, Insinkerator created a machine to make garbage disposal as convenient as it was when there were pigs to feed at home. Today we use that machine to turn our garbage into feedstock for our biodigestor which is like a "mechanical hog"  that produces our cooking gas.

Our two "plastic pigs" on our porch in the rain. Come rain or shine they always produce reliable methane for our kitchen. The rainwater barrel inverted in teh center between the greenhouse and the black tank, above the solar collector, is filled with biogas at the start of the meal.
 A little mozarella with the bacon gives it extra flavor; eventually we would like to try Porcorino Pig Cheese from Tuscany which we will try to get next time we drive down to Italy.

Tomatoes and herbs we do grow on our porch, taking advantage of our biogas fertilizer -- the effluent that remains after we turn our kitchen wastes into methane.

Finally we add eggs to the mix. We dont' grow our own eggs at home yet, but our Zabaleen friends in Cairo grow both pork and eggs in the city so we know we can do this when we need to.

After the meal we've only used up a small fraction of the stored cooking gas so we have plenty for dinner and for tomorrow. The nice thing is that biogas production is a perpetual process so we will never run out of fuel. That is the easy part.

1 comment:

Jeff D said...

Thanks for posting, I really enjoyed reading it.