FERN’s Friday Feed: Read it and eat

Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.

The gustatory potential of American libraries


“In cities from Helsinki, Finland, to Canberra, Australia, libraries offer more than just a place to take a break between using fast and free internet and researching ancient Martian glaciers,” writes Mackenzie Filson. “They’re stocked with cafés and wine bars (yes, really!) that encourage lingering with a culinary experience all their own. Think: chickpea bánh mì, wild mushroom soup made from sheathed woodtufts foraged in a nearby forest, and cask Côtes du Rhône on tap. Not a shrink-wrapped cake slice, lukewarm Styrofoam cup of drip coffee, or soggy egg salad sandwich in sight. Public libraries in the United States outnumber McDonald’s, Susan Orlean points out in her 2018 book The Library Book. … Libraries are one of the last truly equitable ‘third places’ we have left in the United States, a free-to-visit gathering space patronized more frequently than movie theaters in 2019, according to a Gallup poll. And yet our nation’s libraries are a largely untapped dining locale.”

Is the Ojai Pixie dust?

FERN and The California Report (audio)

Ojai, California, “is surrounded by orchards, some olive and avocado but mostly citrus. Ojai’s ag production numbers can’t compare with other parts of Ventura County … but it’s iconic among citrus lovers, known for producing high-quality Valencia oranges, originally, and more recently the Ojai Pixie tangerine,” Lisa Morehouse explains in a FERN story from last summer that was just nominated for a James Beard award. “The valley’s climate has been ideal for citrus, but that climate is getting windier, drier and hotter. A recent study showed that Ventura County’s temperature has warmed more in the last 125 years than any other county in the lower 48 states. The corresponding rise of wildfires and drought has caused some Ojai growers to fallow orchards. Some farmers are questioning whether agriculture even has a future in the Ojai Valley.”

Oregon town is a national bellwether on the fate of gas stoves

The Washington Post

“The liberal stronghold of Eugene, Ore., might seem like an unlikely place for the fossil fuel industry to flex its muscles. But in the months ahead, the gas industry is preparing to pour millions of dollars into a campaign to overturn Eugene’s ban on gas hookups in new homes, turning the city into a test case for blocking similar bans nationwide,” writes Anna Phillips. “As climate activists push for electrification across the country, the future of gas-burning stoves, furnaces and other appliances is increasingly in doubt … Dozens of cities and counties have adopted bans on gas hookups in new buildings, part of an effort to cut emissions from homes and businesses that account for about 11 percent of the nation’s carbon pollution.”

Our immortal plastic

The New York Times

“There is a strange psychic logic at work here; in filling the oceans with the plastic detritus of our purchases, in carelessly disposing of the evidence of our own inexhaustible consumer desires, we have been engaging in something like a process of repression,” writes Mark O’Connell. “And, as Freud insisted, the elements of experience that we repress — memories, impressions, fantasies — remain ‘virtually immortal’ … Is this not what is going on with microplastics? The whole point of plastic, after all, is that it’s virtually immortal … Consider this fact: Of all the plastic created, since mass production began, more than half of it has been produced since 2000. We can throw it away, we can fool ourselves into thinking we’re ‘recycling’ it, but it … will show up again, in the food we eat and the water we drink. It will haunt the milk that infants suckle from their mothers’ breasts. Like a repressed memory, it remains, unalterable by time.”

The sketchy blue-carbon market


“So-called ‘blue carbon’ aquatic ecosystems like … seagrass meadows and tropical tidal marshes store an estimated 300 billion tons of carbon worldwide,” writes Mark Harris. “A mangrove swamp might contain 25 times as much carbon as a similarly-sized patch of terrestrial forest. These capacities have made wetlands appealing targets for the fast-growing, near-trillion-dollar carbon accounting industry, which uses carbon offsets and carbon credits to—hopefully—reduce global CO2 emissions. Each offset or credit is supposed to represent an actual ton of CO2 sequestered or prevented from entering the atmosphere. To ensure that happens, the science behind them, and oversight of the projects that generate them, must be rock solid. This is far from certain today, where even the largest schemes have faced accusations of shoddy measurement, weak verification, and outright fraud.”

Why we embraced ‘the French paradox’—and how it all fell apart


“There’s nothing wrong with a glass of wine with dinner every night, right? After all, years of studies have suggested that small amounts of alcohol can favorably tweak cholesterol levels, keeping arteries clear of gunk and reducing coronary heart disease,” writes Tim Requarth. “Now, 25 years later, you’re likely feeling a fair bit of whiplash. According to new guidelines released in recent months … the safest level of drinking is—brace yourself—not a single drop … Why was it common knowledge yesterday that alcohol in moderation is good for you, but it’s common knowledge today that no amount of alcohol is OK? A closer look at how alcohol’s so-called cardioprotective effect gripped science and the culture reveals what led to the biggest flip-flop in health and lifestyle advice in recent memory. One entity that was never far away: the alcohol industry.”