Category Archives: Food

Time to Eat Your Car?

So, by now you have certainly noticed the price of gasoline continuing to climb. And you may have even noticed that a few things are a bit more expensive in the grocery store. Well you are not the only one to have noticed that things are about to get out of hand.

In a nutshell, what the World Bank (and others) are noticing is that the price of oil has a wee little something to do with the price of food, in on way that is obvious to most people and one that might not be so obvious.

The obvious reason (that might not at first be so obvious) is that nothing you eat is grown or made here. See any banana trees outside your windows? Your tomato plants all nice and healthy after the snow squalls yesterday? Turns out that the average morsel of food on your plate has traveled some 1500 miles to get there. And that is the overall average for the whole country, so I am going to guess that us northerners may have it a bit worse. So, transportation costs alone will add a bit, perhaps quite a bit to your food bill. But that is not the biggest impact that transporation will have on your food budget.

Your car also is very hungry and has to be fed.

In searching for renewable energy sources we hit upon the idea of using ethanol in the place of gasoline. Which sounds fantastic. Ethanol comes from plants and plants are solar energy, right? Also, ethanol was sold to us as a boon for the farmers of America. “Fill-er-up” and save the family farm. Or something like that. Turns out that almost none of that is exactly true.

It is true that ethanol is usually made from corn and that in a sense corn is a renewable resource. Unfortunately, the way most corn is grown, it uses up tons of non-renewable resources. Those conflakes of yours are soaked in oil — not corn oil, the crude kind.

Turns out that the high price of oil is squeezing the price of food on two fronts.

First, modern agriculture requires literally tons and tons of oil. From making fertilizers to running water pumps to trucking the stuff all over the globe, agriculture consumes huge quantities of fossil fuels. The higher the price of oil, the higher the price of food. But wait there’s more!

Now as more corn is diverted from the food chain into the ethanol plants, the price of food goes higher still! Land that could have been used to say, grow broccoli (OK, more likely wheat) is given over to corn — corn which no one will ever eat. Did you just hear the price of eggs going up again? Less corn on the market means more expensive chicken feed. More expensive eggs that cost more to ship than ever. Thank goodness ethanol is such a good deal and is saving the family farm!

Sorry, wrong on both counts.

Ethanol is not a good deal by most calculations. In fact it is a terrible deal.

The most optimistic number I have seen says that for each barrel of oil needed to make and transport ethanol we get about 1.3 barrels of energy (to compare apples to apples). For crude oil currently each barrel invested in finding, extracting and transporting yields something like 20 to 200 barrels of energy. So, ethanol has a long way to go, or oil has a long way to fall.

And ethanol does not really save any family farms. As you may have already figured, ethanol favors the kind of huge, monocropped factory farm that degrades the land and generates huge profits (and subsidies) for companies like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland.

The only way out of the coming food crisis is to use less fossil fuels, both in agriculture and transporation. But fortunately there is a way to start doing that. Which we will talk about next time.

Pub Memories

I received the following in an email the other day, and have been given permission to post it here.  If I get enough Pub memories, I will start a page just for them.  Feel free to put your memories as comments, or you can email me.  If you have pictures from way back when that would be most appreciated!

I have to tell you, the Scott Streak Steak and Pub will always have a special place in my heart as well as my career. In 1990, I came to Wausau to help out with the upstart State Senate campaign of a blue collar guy named Russ Decker. At the time our headquarters was two doors down from the Steak and Pub. The pay was lousy and sporadic at best. I was sleeping on couches and the floor of the headquarters while working insane hours to help someone I believed in.

Tom Bergs, Todd Rasmussen, Frankie and the entire staff at the Steak and Pub welcomed me with open arms, fed me when paychecks didn’t show up and we shared a few coctails while listening to one of the best blues collections I’ve ever heard. It was a shame when the blues collection went up in smoke, literally. By the end of the campaign it became the running joke that our campaign was actually being run out of the Steak and Pub. It wasn’t far from the truth.

In the end, Russ Decker surprised everyone and won that election. To this day Russ stands as one of the finest elected officials Wisconsin has. For the next several elections, it became mandatory that the Democratic campaign headquarters be located near the Steak and Pub. In 1994, we secured an office right next door and threatened to get out a sledge hammer and build our own walk up window to the Steak and Pub.

When I came back to Wausau after living in Key West for five years, my first stop was lunch at the Steak and Pub. Tom was cooking and on the wall behind the bar was a sign from the Damn Good Food To Go restaurant in Key West. I was home again.

Jim Smith, Director

Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee

Farmers Market Continues

Click for Larger ImageI don’t think very many people need reminding, but the farmers market is going strong down on Riverview Drive Saturdays and Wednesdays. Now the strawberries and snap peas are in — nature’s candy from the fruit and vegetable side of things. I think everyone I have met in Wausau was out at the market this morning, good to talk to all of you. Hope to see more of you next week.

I will also remind folks of the Market Place Thursdays that place on the 400 block on, well, Thursdays. Wausau Area Events has upped the ante on the marketplace by adding entertainment, coming up next on July 12th will the Frisbee Dogs, you will want to come out and see that.

I noticed this popcorn stand at the farmers market this morning as being a new addition to the “family” ourt there. It is great that things continue to grow. Click for Larger ImageI will say that I think there is more opportunity for folks who sell ready to eat food products at the Marketplace Thursdays. There are a number of folks on Saturday who sell baked goods and other yummies, but I don’t see them on Thursdays. There is a baker that is a regular on Thursday, and he seems to do booming business. I am sure that popcorn, sandwiches, drinks or whatever would also sell like gangbusters when the families and kids show up for the shows on Thursdays. Just something to think about.

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You

Bill CoadyBy Bill Coady

I really wish I had been able to more effectively plug the Exhibitour in advance, but being a participant really limited my time, as you may have noticed by the lack of recent postings here.

My firsthand impression of Exhibitour was absolutely fantastic, even though I was not able to get around to the other venues. The weather was perfect, and the big crowd of people happily strolling up and down Third Street was very heartwarming. Even more heartwarming was the number of people I talked to who noticed this and said, “Wouldn’t be nice if there were this many people downtown all the time?” And who knows, with the changes that are surely coming in transportation and some new ventures and ideas downtown, maybe we will see a resurgence. I certainly hope so.

One of my few Exhibitour PixBut I have to say that as nice boost as Exhibitour was for downtown, it was a total blast for me. One of the occupational hazards of being a photographer is the thought that nature and the camera do all the work and that I am just a conduit. But many kind people reminded me that perhaps I see things differently and maybe even uniquely. Thank you very much for that. When the evening was over, I felt like I had nothing but “thank yous” left to give. I hope I don’t forget anyone here, if I do, my apologies.

First, I have to thank Leah Alters and Wausau Area Events for putting together the whole idea. This is big city stuff and everyone involved in the concept and planning did a great job. Things seemed to run very smoothly, and I like said, downtown was filled with happy people. Doing their jobs perfectly, I would say.

An enormous “Thank You” has to go to Lisa and her crew at the First American Center. Lisa was kind enough to invite me to exhibit there and also purchased several prints of mine for display in the building. Without this “pump priming” I don’t know if I would have been able to display as much of my work as I did. Lisa and her co-workers, Dale and Brian, did everything (and I mean everything — from schlepping tables to keeping the ice bowls filled) to make sure things ran smoothly and that people had a nice experience. For me the equation was pretty simple: “No Lisa, No Exhibitour.” Thank you so much for the opportunity and making it happen.  Oh, and Dale and Brian — thanks a ton for the Bottle Rockets ticket, they are an awesome band.  Hope the two of you made it home OK. 😉

I know they got paid, but I am so glad that the John Greiner Trio was there to provide the musical backdrop for the evening. I told John that Lisa had asked me, “Who do you want for music?” When I looked at her and said, “Duh,” she was on the phone to John right away. Good call. And for those of you lamenting the end of Kelly’s and John’s regular presence there, he wants everyone to know he has found a new home. His big band, The Swing Shift Band, is playing at the American Legion Hall on Thursday nights. He told me his first time out there was Thursday and he had a 14 piece band there and got a great reception. Fourteen great musicians on one stage in Wausau? You gotta get on this. See you at the Legion Hall.

Another great talent I had the pleasure of sharing the evening with was Josh Ernst. Josh and I did not get to talk to much as we both were a bit busy. But I could not help by notice that while I was sipping Diet Coke and trying not to sweat through my clothes making small talk, Josh turned out something like 50 pots and bowls and other works. Considering my art consists of pushing a button, I was amazed at how quickly and easily he could take a lump of clay and form it into something both decorative and useful. His finished works he had on display were quite beautiful. I think you will be hearing more from this young man.

Another talent was on display, but maybe most folks may have missed this artist. The folks at the Downtown Grocery provided delectables that kept me and every one else going for the evening. The Chai Tea was perfect, we should have ordered several more 55 gallon drums of that. 🙂 Everything else was scrumptious as well. Thanks to Kevin and his crew.

Thanks to the folks who came up and said they are Wausaublog readers, it is really nice to know you are out there. Yes, I get statistics about how many page views there are, but it is so nice to actually know that people are reading this and appreciate it. Community happens face to face, so I am glad I could meet you. And even though community is face to face, you can still participate here by commenting on the posts. Let’s not only see the same hands each time, OK?

And thanks so much to everyone else who stopped by. The comments were wonderful and it was nice to see people enjoying my work and the whole evening. It was deeply gratifying.

Finally, and this may be strange, but I want to thank Wausau. Wausau as a city and a place. While talking with people at the exhibit, I realized and started saying that almost every picture displayed was taken within five miles of downtown. I hadn’t really realized that before. But there it was, from our newest skyscraper to silos in the sunset — all within biking distance of each other. Wausau is an amazing place, and can be a very exotic locale, if you make it one. I am so glad I am here.

Thank you all very much.

ps I wasn’t really able to get good pictures of my own event, as I was told that I was not allowed to “hide behind the camera.” So, this picture I snuck away to take will have to do.

Deepening the Local Economy

Eds Note: Kevin Korpela, of the Downtown Grocery fame had a few comments on the post “Deep Economy and Happiness,” but I felt its length and importance made it worthy of its own post. Here’s Kevin.

By Kevin Korpela

The individuals/events noted in the post, “Deep Economy and Happiness,” such as Kat and Tony in Athens mentioned by Brendan, the River Drive Farmer’s Market mentioned by Jim, and the return of a re-tooled River District Marketplace on the 400 Block, are examples that can help break the routine in our search for the happiness that is thought to be missing. Fortunately, Central Wisconsin is home to a number of active participants working to nurture community-minded, local-food, and “deep economy” concepts to help find again a new/old state of well-being. The primary vehicle to source a new-old way of thinking as outlined by Bill McKibben might be the return to local economy models. Three active participants — Moonshadow Farm, Farmshed.org, and Downtown Grocery — share with those individuals/events stated above the ability to nurture local-food economy concepts through earth-friendly practices, community organizing, and old-fashioned ideas:

Blaine Tornow and his Moonshadow Farm CSA, , located just west of Wausau is a farm that has been certified organic since 1990. The farm and its connection to people is important to Blaine as he reaches into the community by working with school teachers, such as Mrs Wisse at South Mountain School, to organize farm tours for elementary kids while lending new goslings to the kids to give them a hint of the responsibility and efforts required by farmers to tend the earth and its creatures.

Farmshed is a start-up association working to strengthen farm-to-market connections through community events, farmer presentations, public discussions and targeted projects. This grass-roots organization formed in January 2007 soon after the announcement by Sen. Julie Lassa, Stevens Point, on her plan to lead a “Buy Local, By Wisconsin” Campaign, SB 89. Farmshed is a diverse group of individuals (including farmers, professors, students, and a chef) have met regularly since January to organize a structure, a vision and a mission to grow farm-to-market awareness. Farmshed has successful organized three community events in the past two months and this past week the Steering Committee met as-a-whole for the first time to share ideas and organize its future and its relation to the community.

DowntownGrocery is nine-month old neighborhood grocery store that is trying to combine the best notions of a farmer market experience with the seven-day-a-week advantages of a grocery store and a commercial kitchen. More important perhaps, the store has its own farm and it offers a farm (Moonshadow Farm and its many farmer friends) its own grocery store. The conversational phenomenon of a lively farm market has been witnessed in this store not only by me but by a good number of the store’s customers and staff. It’s sort of an old-fashioned “corner” grocery plus an everyday farmer’s market building community through sharing real food with good conversation while nurturing a local-food economy. The store, of course, is just a small start-up retail store, so there’s plenty ideas to implement but it strives for those Deep Economy concepts explained for “…truly working together not only to make a living, but also to build community in a real sense.”

Many in our society follow routines or seek isolation in the hopes of finding happiness. The examples cited in Bill’s post suggest that there are a number of citizens offering opportunities and options, each in their unique way, to help break routines and encourage conversations to find again that new/old state of well-being. Those opportunities and options include notions of earth-friendliness, community organizing, old-fashioned ideas, and the hopeful return of the viability and vitality of the family farm and its direct farm-to-market connection.

Deep Economy and Happiness

Bill CoadyBy Bill Coady

As part of their wonderful “Affluenza” series, UWMC brought environmental author and activist Bill McKibben to town.  Starting with the title of his latest book, Deep Economy: the Weath of Communities and the Durable Future, he wove in something that is often forgotten when we speak of the economy and especially material wealth — happiness.

Now, it is true, as McKibben pointed out, that “happiness” is a tough thing to measure.  But it is also true that although we may not be able to define happiness, to paraphrase a famous Supreme Court wag, “we know it when we see it.”  According to McKibben, a fair amount of research has been done correlating the answers to a simple question (Are you happy?) to actual states of well-being that can reasonably be called happiness.  That is to say, if someone asks you, “Are you happy now?” the answer you give will actually mean something.

And it turns out that people have been asking whether or not we are happy.  McKibben stated that an annual poll has been asking exactly that question for well over 50 years, and the results over the years has not been encouraging.  Turns out that the happiness that we as Americans report has been declining over the years.  Alot of years.  In fact, the peak year for happiness in this country, according to this polling, was 1956.  Ouch.

Now, if happiness has been declining for 50 years, we know that material weath does not, in itself, bring happiness.  The material weath of this country has skyrocketed since 1956, you don’t need an economist or pollster to tell you that.  McKibben says that one big factor in the decline of happiness in Americans is what he called “hyperindividualism.”  He cited two trends that illustrate what he means.  The ubiquitous iPod being one, but also a trend in home building — dual master bedrooms.  Apparently the solution to spousal snoring in modern America is not some ear plugs, but to add another 1000 square feet to your McMansion so you won’t be disturbed in anyway.

McKibben feels that it is community that is lacking, and one of the main reasons for the decline in happiness in America over the last 50 years.  And his solution, though not unique, is not a Band-aid either.  McKibben feels it is important to rebuild our trully local economies — which will then rebuild our local communities.  He feels that this will both improve our happiness and save our ecology.

McKibben gave a number of examples of where local efforts could replace the huge, centralized economic structures, for example, rather than building huge power plants more people could generate their own power with solar or wind and both feed into and take from the existing power grid.  But two of the examples that he mentioned struck home with me, and I hope with other readers of this here blog.

It turns out that one of the fastest growing areas in the food “industry” is farmers markets.  It also turns out that while sales of recorded music is basically flat, ticket sales for live music — and music festivals — is the fastest growing part of the music industry.  McKibben cites these trends as part of the “Deep Economy” not just because they are local, but also because they really are a different way of doing “business.”

I don’t think anyone has to tell you that going to a concert is a different world from listening to a CD at home.  It is impossible to compare the two experiences.  The CD may be sonically perfect, but the shared experience of the concert is so much richer.  It seems that the farmers’ market experience has the same kind of richness built into it.

Researchers followed people around at the grocery store and at farmers’ markets.  What they found was quite interesting.  Turns out that people have 10 TIMES more conversations at the farmers’ market than they do at the grocery store.  You may be able to load up on calories at both places, but the farmers’ market truly helps build community at the same time.

This is what McKibben means by “Deep Economy.”  Truly working together not only to make a living, but also to build community in a real sense.  I know we can do that here in Wausau, and I hope this blog will continue to be on the “cutting edge” of our new deep economy.

I will have more to say about McKibben’s thoughts on global warming and other environmental issues in a future post.  That post may take a while as I will be out of town for the rest of the week.  Play nice while I am gone.

An Almost Perfect Night

Bill CoadyBy Bill Coady

Over the past month or so, for a variety of reasons, I have been doing something I have not done a lot of in my life — hanging out in bars.  I am generally such a stick in the mud that my better half did in fact ask me, “How can you stand to spend so much time hanging out in bars?”  I guess I should explain all this.

I am your basic non-smoking teetotaler.  Smoke filled rooms make my physically ill, and I do not suffer fools, especially drunk fools, gladly.  So, hanging out in bars has never been at the top of my “to-do” list.  Which actually has always bugged me quite a bit.

As much as I didn’t like the idea of being in dark smoky room where people getting “loosened up” were screeching at each other, there is a very important reason I would like to hang out in bars.  Live music.  I love music.  It just works its way into my soul.  Really deep into my soul.  All kinds of music — blues, rock, jazz, swing, even classical.  I love to hear it and love to watch as talented people really get into their art.  But I have not been partaking as often as I could or as I would like.

I have always taken advantage of things like the Concerts on the Square, which is a near perfect venue for a person like me for live music.  Clean, open and free.  I am pretty much there every week.  I have never been much of a Grand Theater person, just too rich for my blood.  Not so much in absolute terms (although seats are a bit on the pricey side) but rather in relative terms.  For the price of seats at a two hour show, I can buy five CDs that will last almost forever.  But overall, I have been missing a lot of live music around town.  Until lately.

Needing to expand my horizons for the blog a bit and having been asked to snap a few pix for the local alternative weekly got me “hanging out in bars.”  And overall it has been pretty darn good.  It is pretty easy to “stand” it right now.

Count me as one person who loves the no-smoking ordinances!  It is so nice to be able to go into a place and be able to breath.  And taste the food and drink.  And be able to see the performers through non-watery eyes.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, legislators and activists that put these laws through.  And I apologize to club owners for not getting out sooner and taking advantage of this new atmosphere — literally.  I am there now though, and I hope that other sticks in the mud like myself (I know us sticks are legion!) will follow.

I do want to mention three venues I have experienced in my new found nightlife and just give a quickie review to hopefully entice more of you out and about.

Let’s start with the grandaddy of them all, the Scott Street Pub.  The Pub certainly has the vibe, that is for sure.  You can almost feel the ghosts of all the performers that have been there.  The set up for live music is pretty good, with a little stage area and plenty of room for seating and even dancing.  The shows I have been to there were more low key and “folky” so were not big parties as perhaps Dino experienced with the Lucky Stiffs.  Unfortunately the service at the Pub is a bit lacking.  One show I went to was supposed to have a cover charge, but no one bother to collect it (or maybe that is service!)  Food and drink choices tend to be spotty, things listed on the menu are sometimes not available, but overall the food is good.  The Pub is certainly reliable for music, but not so much so for overall experience.

Just around the corner, Kelly’s Martini Bar is almost ALL service.  A wonderfully friendly waitstaff walking around with their silver canisters are ready to serve up an amazing selection of “martinis.”  Being a teetotaller, I didn’t sample the wares there, but menu is amazing.  It strikes me that the drinks are more akin to wine coolers than martinis, but people seem to like them.  Kelly’s sticks more to jazz as their musical selection, and there are lots of great jazz acts around town.  Unfortunately, the building is not set up ideally for music.  There are two separate rooms with seating and the performer sets up in the hallway between the two rooms.  Not ideal, but it works.  Much more of a “grown-up” experience than the Pub and very pleasant indeed.

And a bit further down the street — in Stevens Point to be exact — is another wonderful venue. Clark Place is a near perfect combination of Kelly’s and the Pub.  It certainly has the street cred of the Pub.  Clark Place has live music nearly every night.  Features both local and national acts.  The posters around the place can serve as a musical education in themselves.  Clark Place has a real stage (with a really nice background) for the performers and a terrific sound system.  The room is huge and very open feeling, more like a theater than a bar.  The service, though not at the level of Kelly’s is quite good, and for $6.50, the pizzas they serve up are well worth it.  Clark Place is a near perfect place to get your music fix — even with the drive to Point.

I am sure there are other places for me to check out and when I do, you will read about them here.