A few years ago, after the release of Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth,, interest in taking steps to halt global climate change surged. The film was in part the inspiration for the first Isthmus Green Day event.
Now the national attention has been distracted by tea parties and health care... and public skepticism often gets in the way of change. "Don't tell me I need to change my light bulbs," is typical of this sort of scoffing. Programming at the third annual Isthmus Green Day at Monona Terrace yesterday aimed to counter that skepticism, with information ranging from conserving local land to promoting healthy farming practices.
Did I manage to see everything? No. But every year I make the rounds of the booths at Green Day and learn something new. I admit to not having been paying close attention to the details of Madison's new plastic bag recycling program. Now I know all about it. (Not curbside. And no bubble wrap!). I sat in energy-efficient hybrid cars. I saw local art made from recycled wine bottles. I sampled local cheeses from Ruegsegger Farms. Yes, I picked up a few more grocery eco-totebags. (I actually have enough of these now so that my participation in the city of Madison plastic bag recycling program should be unnecessary.)
Environmentalist author Bill McKibben, wearing a t-shirt from his climate change group 350.org, spoke about kicking environmental action into high gear -- we don't have as much time as we used to think we did to try to halt global warming -- and signed copies of his just-released book Eaarth.
Local environmental consultant Sonya Newenhouse had practical suggestions for, yes, changing light bulbs (it is still important), improving the efficiency of our household appliances, going carless sometimes if not always, and decreasing our energy use overall. If you can't get new efficient toilets, get a converter kit from Sustain Dane. Start by looking your water and gas/electric usage up online and see where you stand.
Newenhouse and her Madison Environmental Group are looking for the next local environmental stars (Newenhouse calls them eco-heroes) -- folks who are willing to commit to a year-long challenge of decreasing their energy usage and share their stories, via blogs and probably an appearance at next year's Green Day.
The house was packed to see Chicago restaurateur and Top Chef Masters winner Rick Bayless speak about his efforts to promote local agriculture. Bayless related his experience with Belleville's Snug Haven Farm and its winter spinach. The experience of needing more of the product and helping the farmer grow more by providing a loan for capital improvements was the seed of Bayless' Frontera Farmer Foundation.
Snug Haven's winter spinach was also the starting point for Bayless' restaurants and providers freezing produce like tomatoes and fresh fruits so that they can be used all year.
In between explanations of how his restaurants have increasingly worked with local purveyors, Bayless made simple tamales with local ingredients, including that spinach, and a fresh salsa. He also talked about making fresh Mexican cheeses with milk from local pasture-fed cows, which he said epitomizes the "flavor of here and the flavors of another country."
Bayless took a number of questions from the audience, as the tamales and the salsa were whisked offstage by his assistant. (I never did locate them.) While Bayless had nothing but great things to say about Madison and its relationship to locally sourced food, he does not see himself opening a restaurant here, as one questioner asked. Bayless noted that his three restaurants in Chicago are all right next door to each other and that's ample evidence that he "does not like to commute."
And that -- during an event promoting less energy consumption and more emphasis on the local -- was fitting.