Sustainability and the Long Tail

It strikes me that the “long tail,” the economic model popularized by Chris Anderson, either IS or IS NOT about extinction. With the long tail, says Wikipedia, “Businesses with distribution power can sell a greater volume of items at small volumes than of popular items at large volumes.” What this means to me is that I can find and buy whatever I want, usually on the Internet.

It’s well known around our parts that legions of bookstores have been forced to close directly or indirectly because of internet competition. No doubt this was a factor in brick-and-mortar Tower Records’ demise as well. This greatly affects the quality of life in our communities. Don’t get me wrong: it’s nice to have the choice of what I want to buy – and to be able to buy exactly what I want.

Take lightbulbs. I have a lamp that in rather ominous terms calls specifically for “Type B” lamps: “RISK OF FIRE. USE ONLY TYPE B LAMPS.” Now – I don’t even know what Type B lightbulbs are. And did I find them when I walked to the local hardware store? Nope. Did I buy the dangerous, threatening Type A lightbulbs instead? Yep. Could I have found Type B lightbulbs on the long-tail of the internet? Most certainly. Given the choice, here I am willfully risking fire over the potential closure of local hardware stores. Provided the dangerous B bulbs don’t burn our house down, this means I choose sustainability.

For local, sustainable food, the long tail might mean a species, one way or another. Oddly enough, as Barbara Kingsolver points out in her latest great book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (which of course mildly ironically has a corresponding Web site), widely consuming and hence escalating demand for rare vegetable foods means they are more likely to survive as species – for instance, special heirloom vegetables such as tomatoes or potatoes. Not so for wild animals! For example, for our threatened pacific wild salmon. More consumption means more risk of extintion (though the salmon farmers would have you believe otherwise). It could be that long-tail models are both helping and hurting when it comes to sustainability.

Speaking of salmon, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s excellent seafood guides, the one place they still run abundantly free and wild is up in Alaska. And in fact I’ll be out for the next two weeks on the Dawn Princess as it leaves its long-tail wake in the oceans up towards Alaska. While I don’t expect to be twittering or flickring (well, probably flickring) nearly as much, you CAN catch a glimpse of everywhere we go with the bridge cam. I’m sure you’ll be on the edge of your seat!

We’ll try to leave a few salmon left over in the sea for everyone.

eating well x2

i feel so lucky that we have so many local, organic choices, particularly if we want to try to grow some little human inside our bodies.

sometimes, it can be so overwhelming to try to eat the “right things.” i went to the corner store and bought an odwalla because i was thirsty (echinacea) and then didn’t like the taste today for some reason, so i left it by the garbage garbage can. while the clothes were in the washer, i wound up after a walk at the whole foods down at fillmore, where, since i was still thirsty, i searched for a different odwalla. i was thinking of the ginseng, but then reading the label, it said ‘seek advice of your practitioner if you are lactating or pregnant’ (like i’m going to get on my cell phone, from the store, and patch a call straight through to my doctor — “i’m considering drinking this beverage?” — “ok, we’ll connect you to her *right away*”); that scared me off, so i bought a femme vitale instead, thinking that certainly wouldn’t bear any harm to the fetus or the breast milk. i then went back and changed the clothes into the dryer and started to drink my drink and read the label, and saw the same print, albeit in tinier font, on the bottle! probably the mah dong herb or whatever was in there. so then i started to think about spontaneous abortions and, mad at odwalla, i stopped drinking it and threw it into the trash this time. i’m guessing now that even the wellness had that warning on it, but later when i walked by the corner trash can, i was nonetheless happy to see at least that someone had taken the rest of the wellness echinacea drink. sheesh, we need to know _everything_!

i’m glad that in san francisco we have a lot of local, organic choices that help make it easy for us.  leanne signed up for the weekly email letter from … in this week’s newsletter is some good information about organic milk and which brands are the best.  good pointer to straus:


i put many of the leftovers and leftover ingredients together to make an uber-leftover meal tonight and i think marlena spieler would be proud. lovely marlena and alan graced us wednesday night with their presence, various fresh herbs and vegetables, and a fabulous dinner. we were thrilled when we were treated to a repeat performance again last night, and david and blake came to round out the rowdy crowd.

i can’t even begin to recount the menus, but the ingredients included chickpeas, rocket (say that with a british accent), zucchini and eggplant, tomatoes and garlic and pasta and cream, dainty pink turnips, frilly dill and chervil, pomegranates and persimmons with baby lettuces, flat-leaf parsely (my secret unsung love), potatoes and cumin, cumin, cumin, garlic, goat and sheep and cow’s cheeses including boursin, drunken goat, cave-aged gruyere, a wonderfully mild feta (bulgarian?), wines and sparkling waters, cumin and garlic, broken bread, friends and stories, newfound and old, and and and and and …

top it off in the morning with peets coffee and croissants from citizen cake, and we’re feeling on top of the world, special, lucky, warm and well-fed.