There's bound to be an upside to every disaster, I suppose, and you might say the bright side of the Bush economic free-fall is the once and final (we hope) death of standard conservative ideals like "every man for himself" and "starve the beast". Seems things work better when we do the opposite.
1) California is fighting the cost of food by going back to an old, anti-conservative model. They've thrown "Look Out for #1" on the trash-heap in favor of communities combining in a joint effort.
This is how far some people will go these days to get locally grown food: In California, more than 40 residents volunteered their back yards to an aspiring young farmer who couldn't afford to buy land of his own. In exchange for a weekly supply of produce, they would let him till their all-American lawns into rows of lettuce, broccoli, squash and peas.
These weren't Bay Area yuppies, either.
In working-class Chico, about 85 miles north of Sacramento, the residents who offered property to 28-year-old Lee Callender last October included a a real estate agent, a retiree, a school administrator and a newspaper deliveryman, who offered a plot behind his trailer. Callender had so many options, he was able to select seven properties close enough together that he could bicycle between the plots and begin to cobble together a business.
"We were inundated with calls," Callender said. "People said, 'Please use my land. Make it productive.' "
The term "foodie" is no longer reserved for an exclusive club of chefs and discriminating diners. Today, food has become a focus -- and a cause -- for a broad audience, from individuals such as the Chico residents offering their yards to an idealistic urban farmer, to corporations such as Chipotle, which this month announced that each of its more than 730 restaurants will be required to buy a percentage of the produce it serves from local farms.
Sodexo, the world's largest food-service company, now sources from 700 independent, regional farmers and is overhauling its menus to focus on seasonal and local ingredients. Wal-Mart announced last month that it plans to buy and sell $400 million worth of locally grown produce at its stores in 2008. "It's no longer the fringe elements," said Tracey Ryder, founder of Edible Communities, a publisher of regional food magazines. "We call it the new mainstream."
When the going gets tough, the smart start working together.
2) In Utah they're benefitting by throwing out that old neoconservative shiboleth, deregulation. Utah regulates the price of natural gas and it's the cheapest in the nation. So when gasoline prices went through the roof, Utah's govt had given its citizens an option. And they exercised it.
The best deal on fuel in the country right now might be here in Utah, where people are waiting in lines to pay the equivalent of 87 cents a gallon. Demand is so strong at rush hour that fuel runs low, and some days people can pump only half a tank.
It is not gasoline they are buying for their cars, but natural gas.
By an odd confluence of public policy and private initiative, Utah has become the first state in the country to experience broad consumer interest in the idea of running cars on clean natural gas.
In fact, some unique factors apply in Utah. Natural gas prices at the pump here are controlled and are the cheapest in the country, while the price of conventional gasoline is one of the highest. Questar Gas, the public utility, has compressed-gas pumps around the state open to the public, a fueling infrastructure that few states can match.
The only reason these factors are "unique" is the kowtowing we do to oil companies. Every state in the union could have done the same thing over the past 30 years but they didn't because the oil companies didn't want them to. Progressive pols who argued for alternatives found themselves in races where huge amounts of oil $$$ was arrayed against them.
These are two examples of what we could do if we once had some govt help and the right infrastructure set up to support alternative fuels. Eisenhower once said:
I think that people want peace so much that one of these days government had better get out of their way and let them have it.
Well, maybe we can say that California and Utah prove that the people want a sensible economy so much that maybe the oil companies had better get out of our way and let us have it.