Sustainable All

If you asked me for my political position on where the world should be going, I’d tell you. After all, it’s never great to write these things down, particularly on a public website where you are trying to foster a positive, happy vibe without some means to avoid the wrath of the countless people who disagree with you.

Instead, I’ll write about why I like cast iron so much.

What do you think the world will be like 25 years in the future?

We live in a disposable world, don’t we?

We’re arguing over single-use plastics — bags, straws, and wraps — as if the question is one of convenience trumping trash. In reality, it is a question of sustainability.

Everything we do shifts energy. Everything we do increases the general entropy of the universe. These are just laws of physics, not even opinion.

The opinion comes into play when we ask what the accumulated effects of billions of people shifting around energy and increasing universal entropy mean for this tiny ball of dirt and water and air upon which every one of us are bound past, present and future.

For as much as I love great cooking and hefty cookware, there is a often said but generally understated benefit to cast iron: it lasts forever.

The thing is that a lot of things last forever. That plastic straw you sipped your cola through for fifteen minutes will last in the ground as waste effectively forever. Well, okay, sure, ten thousand years is not actually forever, but it’s a heckuva long time on a human scale.

On the other hand that plastic straw is not usable forever. It’s usable for a few weeks under ideal circumstances, if you saved it and washed it and took care with it. But ninety-nine percent of the time a plastic straw lasts forever but is usable for fifteen minutes.

Cast iron pans last forever, but more importantly the are usable for a very long time. Generations in many cases. We can confidently say that any well-made cast iron pan is usable for good hundred or so years because we have examples of collector pans that date back easily as far back as cast iron pans were commonly manufactured. Yes, they take energy to cast and energy to mine iron from the ground and energy to move around the supply chain to get into your kitchen, but over the usable life of a pan — which can be very long — it even out, and likely even wins out.

On the other hand, there are much less sustainable ways to fry an egg.

In the next twenty-five years, say by the mid-40s, I really think we’re either going to need to have our collective mind firmly wrapped around the kinds of choices we make about disposable versus sustainable objects.

Do we drink from a straw or do we slurp from a cup? Do we love our non-stick Teflonā„¢ or do we cook on cast iron? Do we keep the species alive for a few more hundred years, or do we turn the Earth into an unlivable wasteland?

I think that decision, however we manage to get there — by consensus, force, or inevitability — will dramatically shift what the world in twenty five years looks and feels like.

Thirty one topics. Thirty one posts. Not exactly a list… but close. In December I like to look back on the year that was. My daily posts in December-ish are themed-ish and may contain spoilers set against the backdrop of some year-end-ish personal exposition.

Froze Up

About thirty six hours before I sat down to pen this post the city where I live got hit by a small ice storm.

I mean, technically, the weather service called it “freezing rain” but after an hour of that particular meteorological event (whatever one chooses to call it) every outdoor surface had been covered by a thin, slippery sheen of pebbled ice that sent traffic into chaos, all but shut down the city, and left people like me walking their dogs shuffling along the glassy sidewalks barely able to maintain a vertical posture.

At lunch (when it was a bit brighter and bit warmer, but not any less icy) I took a photo of one of the boulders in a nearby park while I took the dog on yet another shuffling scoot around the same.

It was as if someone had encased the meter-wide stone in a perfectly form-fitting layer of cold transparent glass, sealing the stone into protective, icy case visible from the outside but unexpectedly cold and smooth to the touch.

What is your perspective on the culture of 2021?

For some reason when I sat down this evening to write a response to my daily December question, I thought of this stone covered in ice, locked away in a little bubble of glass-like protection, visible to anyone who walks by but isolated and encased in something that prevents, at least without some kind of force, change or interaction from the outside.

My whole world was covered in a sheet of ice for the last day and a half.

Everywhere I look there is a slippery film that lets me look through and under and into the world beneath. But all I can do is shuffle along and feel the cold, slippery icy that separates me from what I really want to connect with.

Funny, but the whole world — friends, family, people, everything — feels a bit like that these days, too.

Thirty one topics. Thirty one posts. Not exactly a list… but close. In December I like to look back on the year that was. My daily posts in December-ish are themed-ish and may contain spoilers set against the backdrop of some year-end-ish personal exposition.

Friday Frights: Cast Iron Versus Magic

There are countless great arguments to switch to cooking with cast iron, but a socio-political one was outlined recently by the HBO Comedy show, Last Week Tonight, as they profiled a report on the effects to both our health and the environment from the types of chemicals used to make other non-stick frying pans.

You can watch the twenty-minute clip embedded below … which if you are unfamiliar with the show is a late-night, no-holds-barred news-comedy program. (And a language/political-bend warning for those with sensitive minds.)

To sum up ( if the clip doesn’t play in your part of the world) a group of chemicals called PFAs have been used to make all sorts of modern products since the 1950s. While there have been countless conveniences from these products, there have also been many environmental and human health problems that have been identified from the manufacture or disposal of things containing those chemicals.

One of the big, well known products is Teflonā„¢ which could be considered the non-stick alternative to a well-seasoned cast iron pan.

But where cast iron becomes non-stick through seasoning, a process that can be done at home and involves the polymerization of food-safe oils into a thin, slick surface on top of the raw iron, chemical non-stick coatings are factory applied and involve typical sorts of industrial side effects.

Of course, manufacturing cast iron cookware is undeniably a resource intensive effort, too. Mining, refining, extreme heat, and casting, not to mention the costs of shipping heavy pieces of cookware around the world.

Neither of these are perfect.

But as the scales weigh out the pros and cons, cast iron versus coated non-stick pans, factoring in things like longevity of the cookware itself, sustainability of the manufacturing process, impacts to our well-being and our world, and the accumulation of chemical debt that is incurred by the mass production and disposal rates of both these options, I more and more feel like those scales are tilting out towards cast iron.

The Brink

A couple weeks ago I stood at the edge of a cliff, half way up a mountain, looking west across a smoky haze shrouding the setting sun as it cast an eerie pall upon the landscape.

As the summer forecast creeps into higher and higher temperatures, the meteorologists are predicting that we’re entering another span of unseasonably hot temperatures for the third time in two months.

Smoke and heat. The world is burning, literally and figuratively.

And just yesterday the United Nations released another climate report, ringing the warning bell yet again to a mostly indifferent world, politicians with their heads locked into timespans of election cycles, not generational catastrophe.

In fact the little man who calls himself the leader of our province stood on a podium in front of the media yesterday and called the effort to adapt our energy habits to a changing climate that is literally killing us “a utopian impossibility.” Hardly a rousing, inspirational speech as much as a shrug and a “why bother even trying” approach. I have many reasons not to vote for his party, but the doubling down on the very thing that is destroying us has cemented my resolve.

I don’t like to get political here, but my dream of a fantastic vaccinated summer camping, cooking, and exploring has been trampled by air filled with so much smoke that it’s dangerous to go outside, temperatures so hot that my head pounds after a few minutes of exertion, and a head-in-the-sand, anti-vax ignorance that has stumbled us all into what should have been a completely avoidable approaching fourth wave of pandemic.

And now the understated conclusion from the UN report of our headlong rush into climate disaster and destruction of our fragile ecosphere tells me little more than that the rest of my life will be much of the same, if not worse, and as we hand things off to my daughter’s generation… well, let’s just say that the looming sense of nihilism I’ve been feeling over the last day has been justifiably gripping.

Travel broadens the mind and enriches the soul, and in travelling we learn that we are but small, temporary beings that have but a passing moment in a vast and complex society that is itself but a speck in an infinitely more complex universe.

We are mere passengers for a brief time on a world that neither needs us nor will adapt itself to us, and we are shaping that world for ourselves in a way that seemingly leaves us unable to survive in the singular place in that whole complex universe that will abide us.

Warm weather is nice. And yes, the smoke offers a unique opportunity for hazy romantic photos of the glowing red sky from atop a mountain hike. Yet, I would trade it all in the blink of an eye for a little bit more hope in our future.