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How's the weather?
Questions about food and the environment

By Ramin Takloo-Bighash
June 21, 2004

I do not know what it means to be a liberal; all I know is that nowadays it’s a curse to be one. Somehow worrying about the environment is labeled liberal; giving a damn about international treaties is tool; caring about anything that is, to my opinion, worth caring about is considered liberal. I guess, as Chris Rock once said, there are things we are liberal about and there are things we are conservative about. And somehow being conservative about food and weather is liberal.

A couple of weeks ago that new movie came out “The day after tomorrow.” It reminded me a small piece that I had written about a year ago:

Today is April 7th, 2003 and last night we got two inches of snow in Princeton. Today it felt like winter, and from the window of my office in the Fine Hall I didn’t see nothing but winter. I wonder if this is the beginning of another ice age. Another ice age? Hmm I hadn't thought about that, but if you ask me, I'd say it's the early effects of the green house age.

Somebody should explain it to our beloved president that this is as serious as taking over the world, if not more. A while back, they had somebody on Fox News. I never watch that channel unless when I'm too happy and I know I shouldn't be; watching that channel replaces the sense of euphoria with such disgusting madness that I feel is more apt for our times.

Anyway, that particular time they had a weather-channel professor from some mid-west state university who happened to be - I don’t know exactly what but maybe - president's weather adviser. So the interviewer asks her, "What do you think about the green-house effect? Is it really as serious as some people say it is?"

She says, in her expert opinion, that, after a very serious pause and moving her glasses back with fingers that were attached to manicured nails that didn't go too well with her academic status, "Well, there are always changes in weather patterns that are somewhat beyond our control," - true - "but really let's think about it. Last year in Siberia the lowest temp reported was -60 c. Now I want you to realize that that's really cold."

The interviewer says: "Yeah, it certainly is; even thinking about that number makes me want to put on more clothes." The expert goes on "Now wouldn't it be better if the lowest temp reported in Siberia would be -40 instead of -60. Wouldn't that be a much more comfortable winter?"... I'm thinking - scratching my head -... here, insert a moment of awe... "Damn! Why didn't I think about that?!"

And then I wonder if anybody really buys what she's selling? The sad realization is that most do. The soon-to-be-homeless creatures of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are living witnesses of what's about to happen to us. Some smart comedian once said, "It's not earth that is in danger. Earth will be ok. It's us who will get screwed," and I believe that.

The next piece, written a couple of months ago, is concerned with food.

The other day we discovered a head of lettuce in our fridge; an early settler of our icebox after moving to the new house back in August. That makes this piece of lettuce about six months old; I wonder how many lettuce years is that. The lettuce had aged quite well, especially considering the fact that the passing of time had left no scars on this mammoth; apparently even the blackout of the last season following Isabel had not affected the green smile of the lettuce.

Even now, while I write these lines, the veggie Noah is well and alive and is planning to reside in the refrigerator for the remaining months of 2004, as a volunteer in a survival study led by my wife. Back home in Iran, where the grocer personally knew the farmer who had grown the vegetables, greens really did go bad; they didn’t have the life-expectancy of Japanese women.

And besides, things were seasonal. Get this: Orange trees do not produce in winter, nor do apple trees in summer. Back home, specific seasons meant specific fruits; no! it was the other way: it would not be summer until the arrival of water-melons, sweet juicy ones with crimson flesh. Surprised? I thought so.

Where do our vegetables come from? If vegetables could speak, I wonder how many languages and dialects we would hear in the vegetable isles of Super Fresh; what stories of ancient grape civilizations destroyed by gamma radiation; what folk songs describing gruesome details of experiments by white-coat wearing creatures who did not look like farmers.

I am writing all of this to bring you to this point: What we feed our cows just spreads the mad-cow disease; there the solution is simple: we kill the psycho cows, the rest of them will learn to behave. On the vegetable side, however, things are potentially a lot more complicated, to the extent that maybe well beyond our modest, couple of thousands year old, understanding of nature. The warning signs are everywhere and I don’t think it is wise for us to wait for our frozen carrots to do the moon-dance to declare them mad.

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