Friday, 6 February 2009

Calm Down Dear.... its more sustainable!

Hello, its Rhodri again. Having pondered the thermodynamic properties of recycled pens I found myself considering another relatively minor detail of a sustainable life: pasta. Actually, any boiled food would qualify for consideration. I read somewhere that food can be cooked slowly using less energy to produce the same result. I think I read it in Ecology Begins At Home by Archie Duncanson - a great little book with a great title. We are after all part of the human ecosystem within the greater global ecosystem and the same rules apply at all levels - we're back to thermodynamics. And why not? It is the foundation of the universe.

So, pasta and thermodynamics. Well the second law tells us that everything around us is inexorably decaying and breaking down into a less ordered state. Left to itself, pasta, with the help of microbes and weevils would break down into its constituent parts. By boiling it, we speed up a natural process of decay. We control the rate of decay for our own benefit to produce a more palatable and easily digestible stage of decay. Hammering pasta or vegetables with high heat does speed up the rate of decay and puts food on the table quicker but the gain is relatively small - how fast do you need your food? For an extra ten minutes of cooking time you can save energy, money and lower your carbon footprint. I now add ten minutes cooking time to all my boiling and actually turn off the gas once the water has boiled. The water stays sufficiently hot to cook the food without gas. Sitting in the hot water, cells break open, molecular bonds are severed, new molecules reconfigure - the laws of the universe apply at all times and at all levels.

So this, like all aspects of a sustainable life, is a way of working with nature. Nature's going to win anyway so you may as well work with it. I think it was the Victorians who were responsible for the British cuisine of limp, tasteless boiled food and they saw nature as something to be conquered and tamed. We are now paying the price for that way of thinking because nature can never be tamed. It may be hundreds of years going about it but in the end, nature (largely in the guise of the second law of thermodynamics) will have the last word. With that in mind, why boil vegetables anyway? Why not eat them raw? We have a perfectly good system for breaking down cells and molecules, its called the human digestive system. That's only a rhetorical question: I like hot, softened vegetables....... and raw pasta?! Well I did eat some once when I was a student but it was late at night and I was rather drunk.

Anyway, I was thinking about starting a slow food campaign until I discovered that there already is one. This lead me on to thinking about all the various sub tribes of sustainable living. I hope the number grows. It resembles other times of great social cultural change - the English Civil War with its Levellers, Diggers, Quakers and other sects and factions. Similarly in Russia in the twenties and both Europe and North America in the sixties. So we have the slow food movement aligned to Cittaslow which is itself basically trying to achieve the same thing as Transition Towns, and you have town councils, Agenda 21 groups, independent development trusts and eco-centres and hey - why not join the international Ecomunicipailty movement? What I hope we don't end up with is a fierce civil war in which peaceful little market towns become battle grounds until one faction with the most charismatic and ruthless leader emerges triumphant. That is the precedent set by history - Cromwell, Stalin, Hitler, Napoleon..... ? My tongue is in my cheek and my fingers crossed. Plurality is central to the sustainable development paradigm. Lets not forget that. Slow down, take the gas off and open your mind.

On the theme of historical parallels, could that be the twenty first version of Timothy Leary's famous mantra? I got first dibs if it is.

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