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Peak-Oil Prophet James Howard Kunstler on Food, Fuel and Why He Became an Almost Vegan

Kunstler dishes on the collapse of our institutions, why "recovery" may never come and how to survive the fall of farming as we know it.

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Fast food is not a new phenomenon in the USA, however. Frances Trollope's sensational travel book of the 1830s, The Domestic Manners of the Americans dwells on the horrifying spectacle of our hotel dining rooms, where people bolted their food with disgusting manners. Americans have been in a tearing rush for 200 years.

KT: In The Long Emergency, published in 2005, you predicted with astounding accuracy how the subprime mortgage meltdown would unfold. Your latest novel, World Made By Hand, takes place in the near future after a massive flu outbreak that originated in Mexico. Um, what should we start worrying about next?

JHK: Worry about the "recovery" that never comes and the insidious collapse of our institutions and arrangements that will proceed from this. Worry about lost incomes and vocations that will never come back (e.g. marketing exec for Target, Inc.) and the need to find new ways to be useful to your fellow human beings (and incidentally perhaps earn a living). Worry about finding a community to live in that is cohesive enough to stave off anarchy at the local level. Worry about building the best garden you can and making good compost. Worry about how difficult it is to learn how to play a musical instrument at age 47.

KT: You recently wrote "there's no way we can continue the petro-agriculture system of farming and the Cheez Doodle and Pepsi Cola diet that it services. The public is absolutely zombified in the face of this problem -- perhaps a result of the diet itself." OK, so how will we stock our post-peak-oil pantries? Do we really need to start hoarding rice and beans?

JHK: Get some kind of a hand-cranked home grain mill. Personally, I think it is indeed a good idea to lay in a supply of beans, lentils, rice, oats, other grains and don't forget salt, boullion (soups can sustain us with any number of ingredients), dried onion flakes, spices (chilies and curries especially). Our just-in-time, three-day's-worth-of-inventory supermarket system is very susceptible to disruption. And we're very far from establishing workable local food networks in this country.

The fragility of petro-ag is being aggravated by the collapse of bank lending now. Farmers need borrowed money desperately. Capital is as important an "input" as methane-based fertilizers. I think we could see problems with food production and distribution anytime from here on.

KT: You're an avid gardener -- do you grow much of your own food? Do you worry that you'll have to guard your greens with a gun if our collapsing economy sends the mall rats outdoors to forage after the food courts run out of pretzel nuggets?

JHK: I don't grow any grains. I have successfully grown potatoes, but won't this year (I'm renting my current house and its accompanying property). This year, I'll be planting mostly leafy greens -- collards, kale, chard, lettuces, plus some peppers and tomatoes (pure frivolity). It is not hard to imagine that food theft will become a problem. The trouble, though, is that the sort of people liable to do the thieving are exactly those with the poorest skills in cooking. You have to know what to do with kale to make it worth stealing. It may be more like kitchen theft: "... what's that you got on the stove, pal?"

KT: You evidently enjoy cooking and entertaining. Who would your dream dinner guests be (limiting your guest list to those folks who are currently among the living)?

JHK: I have a pretty good revolving cast of characters among my friends locally who make regular visits to my table. This week, a farming couple who are renting 20 acres off a wealthy land-truster (and doing a great job of market gardening) are coming over, along with the Rolling Stone environmental reporter and his wife, who is writing a gardening book. I don't need no steenkin' outatown celebrities.

 
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