Future Food – A Short story

One website I regularly enjoy reading is Big Think, a site with commentary covering numerous categories of progressive throught, such as in science, politics, ethics and philosophy.

Some time ago, the site held a short story competition, with contestants given a weekend to write a science fiction tale around the subject of ‘future food’. I couldn’t help but give it a go, and here is the final product.

It didn’t win any prizes, but I enjoyed telling the story. I hope you enjoy.

“What does it taste like?”

I cant remember the taste of a real apple. Or a strawberry.

Now that I think about it, there are lots of foods that I cant remember eating. You know, the real ones. The ones grown in the dirt or picked from really big trees.

Mum says that I did get to eat some when I was much smaller. I ask her how old I was when I ate them. She always replies “when you were about 2 or 3 buddy”. I’m 11 and half now.

Whenever I ask Mum about what the real ones taste like and why cant we have them now, she seems a bit sad, gives a little sigh and explains to me that they don’t grow very well now, its too hot for them, and that only people with a lot of money can afford the ones that are left.

I dont really understand what Mum means. The other day at school I secretly used my Google Goggles to see if I could find a better explanation on the internet, but I still dont understand it really. It says something about a tipping point when suddenly the temperature all around us jumped up really quickly. Snow melted in places it hadn’t for millions of years. Lots of animals went extinct. The internet says it happened in 2052. Lots of people, old people like my Nan, died when it happened.

I don’t remember Nan, but Mum says she would be fond of me and all the questions I ask.

The little black machine makes a funny noise when Mum uses it. Woooshhhzappppp! Woooshhhzapppp!

The kitchen benches are too high for me to see what happens when Mum points the machine at the tub and pulls the trigger. I grab the box that it came in down from next to where Mum is getting dinner ready. Food Matter Materialisation Device says the box. “With improved nano-wave particle identification technology – better tasting food for you and your family at every meal”.

Mum grabs another tub of pure matter particles from the cupboard, points the gun-like machine at it and starts pulling the trigger again.

Woooshhhzapppp! Woooshhhzappp!

Our new food gun isn’t as great as Sam’s one. Sam’s my best friend at school. His family live in a big house in Werribee, an inner suburb of Melbourne. Their house is much bigger than ours. I think Sam’s family is rich. Their food gun does everything really quickly, even cooking the food perfectly when it forms.

Dad had to buy a new one the other week because I had broken the last one. Before Mum had finished cleaning up after dinner I grabbed it ran to my room, pretending to shoot things. I accidently pulled the trigger and a piece of my desk started to melt and turn into a zucchini. Mum had just made some zucchinis for dinner and had forgotten to turn it off. The gun didn’t work quite as well after that.

I ask Mum how the gun works. She says she’s not really sure, some very smart scientists built it. She says that all she knows is that the processor shoots energy waves of different lengths into the particles and, depending on what food you ask the processor to make, it pulls out the particles it needs to make that food.

“Why can’t I see the waves Mum? I can see waves at the beach!” Mum explains that the waves are tiny and made of light, and we can’t see them without special goggles.

“And then” says Mum, “the processor assembles all the little bits of matter into the right order so that it makes something that looks like, feels like and tastes like the real thing”.

I hear the front door close and then something heavy falling to the ground. It was Dad.

“Please turn your skateboard off and put it away when you’re finished playing with it!’ He cries out. Whoops! I must have left it hovering next my shoes when I came in.

Rosie, the automatic vaccum cleaner, weaves it’s way around my legs. It’s name isnt’ really Rosie. I named it that after the cleaner robot on The Jetsons. Nan first showed me The Jetsons which she said was from her childhood.

Woooshhhzapppp! Woooshhhzappp!

Mum puts the last bits of the freshly made vegetables in the oven.

“Do they taste as good as the real thing Mum?” I ask.

“Sorry?” Mum asks. The beep of the super-conductor oven setting itself must have drowned out my question.

“The apples. The ones from the tree. Do they taste different to the ones we have now?” I repeated.

Mum kneeled down to me.

“Well buddy, sometimes the real ones looked a bit funny, or had some marks on their skin. Not like the ones we have now. But, when the juice from a real apple runs onto your tongue, it was delicious.”

“Mum!” I begged.


“You didn’t answer my question! Do the ones we eat taste as good as the real ones?” I asked impatiently.

Mum glanced away, and then turned back to me with a kind of pitied look. The kind of look she gives me when we lose footy by a few points on the weekend but tells me we played really well.

She turned away slowly again.

Her shoulders lowered a bit and her back hunched forward a little. She stared out the window.

I was starting to get impatient with the pause.

“Close enough Buddy. Close enough”.


When it rains, is stores!

As with most of my projects, the search for the right materials without resorting to a visit to the local hardware store results in some time passing before I have everything I need to finish a job.

Recently I was fortunate enough to get together the final bits and pieces (and a helping hand from my sister’s boyfriend) I needed to build a stand for my water tank and connect it to my shed.

I already had the tank and had given it a good rinse, bought second hand from a local. I’d been given a heavy duty plastic pallet which could handle the weight of a full tank of water. And recently I sourced some sleepers from the in-laws property, and some plumbing supplies from the local tip shop.

And alas, the tank is now set up and, after some decent rain, is full and being put to good use.


The tank is set up from the ground so that my watering can can fit under the tap, and to also use gravity to force the water out at a reasonable rate without using a pump. The faucet has a hose connector attached to it to make for easy watering.

The bottom level of the stand is made up with the three sleepers making up the border, with sleepers screwed in inside the box to support the plastic pallet and the tank. The pallet is sitting on top of the enclosed bottom level sleepers, with another three sleepers screwed together to make a border around the pallet to keep it in place.

The resulting stand, I think, looks pretty good and a does a great job!

Plumbing the tank wasn’t as difficult as I thought it might. I pulled the down pipe which connects the gutters to the drain out and using some existing pipe elbows and some found at the tip shop, re-routed the rainwater out from behind the shed, along the side of the shed and into the inlet hole.

All it takes is some good measurements, and the simple understanding that water can’t run up – you can see from the pipe attached along the side of the shed that it is on a slight angle down to ensure that the water runs properly down into the tank.

Finally, I’ve added another pipe to the overflow outlet, which currently runs into a big old pot. The idea will be to find another container for this overflow to run into, possibly an old wheelie bin which can then be adapted with a tap to allow this to be used as a portable water source.

The project wasn’t as daunting as I thought it might be, and would encourage anyone to have a go at it. Even if it isn’t with recycled materials, hardware stores carry equipment to divert rainwater from downpipes so that it can stored and used when needed. And of course it adds a further degree of sustainability to your garden and, in my case, to my growing veggies. Even a small roof area can collect a usable amount of water.

I am blessed by the fact that the gutters installed on the shed roof are constructed in a way to stop leaves and other objects from flowing down into the downpipes. For a normal gutter, it would be best to put some shade cloth or other gauze like material to trap leaves and dirt from running into the tank.

Although I haven’t done it yet, I’m planning on adding something to the pipes to catch smaller object from falling into the tank, with the idea of being able to use the tank water (after testing it properly of course) as drinking water.

I’d love to hear any stories or suggestions from people who have done the same thing, or are planning on doing so.

The tragedy proprietary rights impose on the commons

A recent focus of Australia’s attention was on the actions of three protestors who boarded a Japanese whaling ship to remonstrate with the crew members catching whales in and around designated Australian sanctuaries.

The three activists were then detained on board, requiring intervention by the Australian Government to have them released.

Viewpoints on this issue varied significantly within Australia, even though it can be said with confidence that most people disagree with Japanese whaling in all forms and in all areas.

Conservative chants about the sanctity of the protection of property by law were widespread. The act of trespassing by these three men on the Japanese ship was abhorred as illegal, immoral and detracting, if not completely destroying, the noble intent of their actions.

Greenpeace recently reported an incident with similar connotations, where a Court in Denmark was asked to punish an activist for trespassing on boats found to be illegally fishing in an area barred from such activity to save an endangered endemic species of Cod.

Whilst I am relying solely on the Greenpeace report as to the conduct of the court proceedings, and making an assumption that the law of trespass on private property by persons not acting with a greater authority than an ordinary person, there could be no doubt that the protection of property would see the activist convicted, despite the cause and the positive impact the actions had in enforcing the fishing ban. As far as I am aware, there exists no ‘noble cause’ exception to either the criminal or civil trespass laws.

However, the Danish Court, quite surprisingly and despite a plea of guilty to the charge, acquitted the activist and Greenpeace Nordic on the basis that the trespass was justified.

From a purely legal perspective, this finding is absurd, but a debate about how a court could find the two not guilty without a legal basis, and given the plea of guilty, is not the intent of this article.

The immutability of legal protections granted by law in all its forms, even where the protections are contra to ideas of morality, justice or equality (which you may read as equality between all life or equality between humans) is the current concern, as is mantle on which such rules are placed.

The most extreme extrapolation of this concern, where pronounced laws are all-powerful and must be obeyed despite their effect, can be seen in the Nuremberg trials of Nazi criminals. The regular defence raised in these trials was that despite the allegations that their acts were ‘crimes against humanity’ and international law, they were acts in accordance with the laws of Germany. Therefore, they argued, they could not be prosecuted, given that the laws were assented to by a sovereign government.

Modern day examples that might be used are the forced evictions of people from public areas which featured prominently in the Arab Spring uprisings and Occupy movements. Whether you agree with these movements or not, the actions of such protestors of voicing their concerns and seeking change, in their view, for the betterment of society, were met with the enforcement of proprietary laws over the land on which they stood to voice these concerns, even where these actions in themselves did not cause damage.

A more regular example is the removal of protestors from otherwise public lands where logging licences have been granted to a private company. The removal, and the following charges laid, are based on a legal protection to the licensee over the land from adverse actions of people who, other than their intent to protest, would be allowed on the land.

The imbalance seems most striking where law securing property rights is utilised to protect the furtherance of activities that in themselves may be illegal, immoral (whether that morality be derived from religion, ethics or otherwise) or against the will of some part of society, whether it is a majority or minority will. Further, where the damage caused by such protected activities is not caused to a person or to an object over which another person has proprietary rights that can be enforced, the law, particularly criminal law, struggles to appreciate the validity of those ‘criminal’ actions such as trespass taken to halt the destructive, but protected, activities.

It cannot however be said that pedestal of proprietary rights over land has remained at its lofty heights throughout time. Much like free market capitalism, exceptions to the general rule have been introduced so that the tragedy of the commons does not forever plague us.

For instance, laws regulating pollutants contaminating and emanating from private land is regulated through Environmental Protection laws, as they do for proposed constructions on private land which may affect protected public land, such as in the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth).

A more regularly used piece of regulation which acts to restrict the use of private land is found in local planning regulations, which of late have been updated to involve considerations of climate change and rising sea level when local Councils are considering a building or planning permit.

The questions for the future must be: Can (or will) government imposed regulation adapt to the evolving environmental conscience in a timely manner? Further, equitable outcomes achieved through regulation, at least historically, require complex legislation. Just look at the taxation laws in most developed countries which have this aim.Therefore, will environmental prosperity through equitable regulation be so complex as to end up being unworkable?

Finally, will the idea of private property forever restrict appropriate environmental action which alters the allowed use of land where competing economic interests are effected?

Although small-scale or singular domestic housing application have been rejected outright under current regulations (see reports of the recent Narrawong Planning Control Decision for example), large-scale, environmentally destructive but economically advantageous (depending on who you are) developments continue to get approval. Looking outside Australia, the Tar Sands Pipeline between Canada and the USA is another example of environmental issues being in conflict private proprietary rights to the use of land and natural resources.

Could the idea of property, an idea that was once exclusively linked with power, and which wields lesser but still formidable power now, be the problem itself? Could the abolition of private property be the means of overcoming the accumulation of private wealth with legal protection to the detriment of adjacent land, rivers, oceans and atmosphere?

Were use of property influenced not by private interests in an economically driven society but by a truly communal, active, local community, the considerations of local environmental features effected by any action taken on that community’s land would receive paramount recognition and protection, and not a disconnected, procedural, uninterested view that such consideration generally receive now.

Such a change would need to be preceded by changes both in societal organisation and in psyche. The time for economic rationalisation of all actions and the strive for global economic growth would need to be replaced with concern for local issues and communal provision of the necessities for life such as shelter, food, water and clothing. Personal growth and satisfaction would need to flow away from consumptive self-gratification and into self-awareness, awareness of other people and awareness of other living things. Rights dependent on legal proclamation need to be replaced by universal rights of all beings, whether human, faunal, floral or natural.

The future of protecting environmental qualities requires more than just further incremental encroachments on historical ideals of rights to property and profit, attempting to leave the remainder of the economic system intact. It requires a relinquishing of these ideas, replaced with small-scale, communal, self-sufficient, conscious and conscientious existence.

Silent Saturday – My Clean Energy Future

Climate Scientists from Macquarie University, The University of Melbourne and Monash Sustainability Institute recently held a competition for anyone to create a film demonstrating the positive effects of a clean energy future, called “Green Screen Climate Fix Flicks“.

The purpose of the competition is part of the greater purpose of the association of these three organisations to raise awareness of and promote sustainable living. Given the similarity between this objective and that of my blog, I thought I’d have a go.

Using the camera in my phone and my trusty old laptop, here is what I came up with – “Silent Saturday“.

The film features my new (figuratively speaking) water tank and stand and new veggie patch, which are to be the included in a future article covering the new additions to my backyard, the tomato plants the topic of my last post, my bike, the often cited Portland tip shop and vegan cooking, all elements of my idea of sustainable world.

I really hope you enjoy it.

You say tomato, I grow tomato!

Welcome to the first article for the year.

Over the small break from work and blogging, I spent some more time than I usually find for digging up the garden and turning these evolving green thumbs a nicer shade of soil brown. I will post another article looking at all the activities I undertook, including digging a new patch and planting in pots (including an old washing machine cylinder).

But, the purpose of this post is one particular veggie I planted, the beloved tomato. Whether cooked as part of a hot breakfast, cold in a salad or between bread as part of a toasted sandwich, how could I not want to have a go at growing them?

I gathered some seedlings from friends and family, and had a collection of 10 of varying ages. The largest plants were planted at the southern end of the new veggie patch, so that they couldn’t block out the smaller plants. The same principle applies to all plants in a patch, as can be seen with the eggplants and capsicum plants I’ve put in with the tomatoes.

Like always, a well prepared soil with plenty of compost dug into it greatly enhances the prospect of a successful crop. Further, tomato plants start to droop pretty quickly in hot weather, even though they are a summer fruit, and a good watering at the time of planting and during their life is essential.

There are some extra tips with tomato growing. One, is that the plants need to be staked once they grow to height where they start to flop due to the weight they are carrying. The stakes don’t need to be anything special, I grabbed some long thing pieces of wood from the local tip shop (which the attendant thought was nothing but trash and refused to charge me for) and I’ve tied he plants to them using elastic from some old singlets and some old shoelaces.

The second tip is to pull off any branches that begin growing in the fork where two other branches already exists. This forces the plant to focus on growing the fruit, as opposed to growing more branches, and will see your crop grow immensely. The following two photos show what to look for:

Here is the branch growing in the fork….

And now its gone!

Some of the more mature plants started fruiting within 2 to 3 weeks from the time they were transferred into the garden using these two tips. The smaller plants are well established and have few small flowers, sure signs that there will be more to come.

Finally, in order to be truly sustainable, leave aside some tomatoes to take the seeds from which can then be planted the next spring/early summer for your next crop. To do this, cut the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds. Either using a sieve with running water or on a paper towel, remove the tomato flesh from around the seeds. The seeds need to be left for a couple of weeks to dry out. Once dried, simply store them (using old glass jars is great for storage so long as they are clean and dry) until needed.

Enjoy the process, learning is half the fun. If anyone has any comments or further tips, please feel free to comment.


Dig it up! The veggie patch bears more fruit

I was watering the veggie patch the other night, when I spotted the tops of a number of carrots in the line of seeds I had planted and which had been growing the quickest.

Eager as I have been lately to taste more of what I had grown after recently picking the peas I had grown, I started to pull up the carrots that were just showing their tops out of the soil.

One by one, the thick orange roots that supported the green foliage I had been feverishly watering for the last number of weeks came out of the ground. It is amazing that these had started from some of the tiniest seeds that I had grown.

There are still more carrots waiting to be pulled up which need some more time to grow.

Given that the shrubs that had grown from the potatoes that I had planted had mostly died off, bar one which continued to grow, I decided that it was time to see if the potatoes had flourished to the same extent that the carrots had. Unfortunately, only the potatoes growing as tubers to the longest lasting plant had grown to a decent size.

Although a little disappointing, trial and error is part of the fun. Next time, I’ll try planting the potatoes in a sunnier part of the patch to see if that will promote better growth.

Apart from the remaining carrots, only the brussels sprouts are left, and they need some tending to eradicate their growing attraction to some moths – but that will be part of another article looking at organic ways to deter pests.

If any gardeners out there have any suggestions or questions I’d be happy to hear from you!

Green Computing

Is there such a thing?

If the benchmark for being green is reducing consumption and waste, then probably not. Or at least it isn’t if you use anything that could be loosely classified as modern technology.

The breakneck speed with which computers and computer programming has developed and the consumerist fervour this is attached to purchasing the latest technology, now results in a pandemic-like effect of outdated technological products ending up as waste.

Added to this is the obvious increase in energy use to load and use this technology or recharge their batteries.

But, the expansion of the internet and, more particularly, the use of the internet to store and provide access to information, to allow people to publish themselves and to draw attention to issues that might otherwise fail to be publicised (unless you’re fortunate enough to own a printing press and have a worldwide distribution team), has played an integral part in advancing social causes.

And thus the paradox of the use of technology (which has a greater positive impact on social issues than, say, handing out flyers but which has a greater subsequent creation of waste and use of energy) to advance environmental interests arises.

The paradox is usually termed hypocritical and used to discredit the likes of those involved in the Occupy protests or any environmental protests, such as when such a protester is seen using an iPhone or any type of similar technology.

Given the significant advantages that come with technology and the positive environmental effects that it can have, throwing away your computer may have a greater negative environmental effect rather than a positive one, depending on the use to which you put it.

Assuming that you use technology to gain or disseminate positive social and environmental information, the challenge is greening your computing.

Reducing your computing energy use relates more to your power source, so switching to green energy is a great way to reduce your technological footprint.

But how to do away with waste when the computing power of technology doubles every 18 months to 2 years (Moore’s Law)?

For those who are in the market for a computer, look for computers that are easier to upgrade, particularly in relation to memory.

When your computer slows down after a period of use, look to clear out programs and saved items that you no longer use. All operating systems have their own tools to delete unused programs, to clean up temporary files and defragment the hard drive. Creating free space on the computer allows programs to operate much more efficiently. Also look at how many programs begin running automatically when your computer starts, as this is the cause of many frustrated users staring at their computer while it slowly goes through its start-up processes. A simple google search will show you how to do this on any operating system.

If you are looking for hardware, start at a swap fair. These markets are on most weekends in Melbourne (see here) and contain almost everything you might need. Alternatively, there are a number of retail suppliers of used hardware. Buying an external hard drive to hold all your photos, music and movies will significantly reduce the use of your computer memory and increase computer speed.

And if you you’ve upgraded your computer to the best of your ability, but still have problems with slow running programs, there is the option of trying a new operating system – for free.

Linux systems are open source operating systems for your computer that can be downloaded for free and installed on your computer. What is great about these is that there are a number of different organisations developing their own Linux-based system, and most don’t require the latest computer hardware.

For example, my 7-year-old laptop has an OpenSUSE operating system, which I downloaded and installed for free. I chose this operating system after using a few distribution questionnaires which informs you which system would work best on the system you have.

I downloaded and burnt the operating system which automatically does all the things that need to be done to get the system running, including partitioning the hard drive. Although it might take a bit of playing about to learn the new system, choosing the right system means the learning curve isn’t too steep.

What I also like is that by supporting open source software, you are reducing the reliance placed on the traditional companies like Apple and Microsoft, which control increasingly large percentages of the personal technology market which, in a capitalist driven, free-trade world economy, can never be to the advantage of the average person. 

Doing this isn’t as scary as it first sounds, and there is great assistance provided by the operating system providers.

Finally, if all this still doesn’t help save your beloved battling box of bytes, think carefully of how you dispose of it. If your computer still works well albeit it slower than what you like, or can’t support specific software you need to use, consider donating the computer to charity. There are some charities that can refurbish computer to be provided cheaply to those who would otherwise struggle to gain access to the information you freely access.

And who knows, from this the next activist might be born.