This era in history may be remembered as the "Peak Age", a brief time when nearly all materials used to power and create our society reach the maximum extraction and production potential. Past this point, all of these resources become increasingly difficult to extract until they are no longer economically viable resources to be using. There are hundreds of examples of resources, currently embedded in our industrial society, which have reached their peak in the 50 years surrounding 2010, but the one which will most impact our society is petroleum.

The goal of living for 100 days without oil is to understand the extent of our dependance on oil in American society today. Specifically, how it will affect my life, as a 25 year-oil living in Minneapolis, MN. By using myself as a metric I can take a close and conscious look at where oil dependance occurs in all aspects of our daily lives : How we transport ourselves from one place to another, what we eat, how much waste we create, how water is cleaned and transported, where oil is used as; an energy resource, in conventional medicine and for hygiene and how oil affects how we entertain ourselves and communicate with others. By demonstrating how someone would be forced to live without using any oil resources, outlining both what the sacrifices will be as well as the benefits, we can can identify the many systems which will have to be re-designed in a world without cheap oil, and explore a new way of living in which we live in an energy balance.

(At the bottom of this page is a link to my version of a flow diagram of 'Where Petroleum Exists in Our Daily Lives' (using information from the Energy Information Administration-Annual Energy Review 2008 fig 5.0 Petroleum flow) click and zoom to enlarge)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


29 October 2010

The next step in my food preservation efforts was to blanch and freeze the bell and hot peppers.  I have frozen peppers before, but never blanched them first.  Again-the National Center on Home Food Preservation at is a great resource.  According to the Center, "Blanching (scalding vegetables in boiling water or steam for a short time) is a must for almost all vegetables to be frozen.  It stops enzyme actions which can cause loss of flavor, color and texture."  Blanching can also clean vegetables so they preserve longer, helps to slow the loss of vitamins, and makes them easier to pack (slightly softer). 

The website has a list of recommended blanching times, for bell peppers it was 2 minutes (when sliced into 1/2" wide slices).  Blanching is easier than canning:

step 1_clean all veggies and cut to the size you want

step 2_boil water according to the amount of veggies going in. Use one gallon of water per pound of vegetables (this is easy to determine if you look at your grocery store receipt to see how many pounds you bought.  I had about four pounds so I did four batches in a 1 gallon pot. 

step 3_put all veggies in the boiling water.  A good way to do this is to use a wire mesh basket and lower it into the water, this way you can quickly get all the veggies out when the time is up and put them in the ice bath.  When you put veggies into the water the water should return to a boil within 1 minute (or you don't have enough water)

step 4_start counting the blanching time as soon as the water returns to a boil.  "Blanching time is crucial and varies with the vegetable and size.  Under blanching stimulates the activity of enzymes and is worse than no blanching.  Over blanching causes loss of flavor, color, vitamins and minerals." (NCHFP website) list of blanching times here:

step 5_when blanching is done, quickly transfer veggies into an ice bath to stop the cooking. 

step 6_lay veggies out on a towel to get the water out, this help them not stick together when frozen

step 7_put in jars, let sit for a few minutes and drain water.  Leave at least 1/2" of head space (room between veggies and top of jar)

step 8_fruits and vegetables which are frozen can last 8-12 months at 0 degrees F

As for my other foods:

I am storing my potatoes in a cool, dark corner of my closet.  They should be put in a place that gets very little light and is well ventilated.  Potatoes can be stored for 4 weeks in these conditions, if I were to store them longer they would need to be in kept at lower than 50 degrees F.

Onions and Apples:
Supposed to last for at least 2 weeks if kept dry and away from the sun.  I am storing the apples in my fridge and the onions in a box in the cupboard.  The trick with these guys is they aren't supposed to be stored together or they will expedite rotting.  I'm hoping they last me four weeks...we'll see

A great resource for vegetable storing is here:

however, it is somewhat contradictory to other sources, such as this one (which include many packaged food storage times:


28 October 2010

I received a gift from the gods in the form of local, organic tomatoes yesterday at the co op.  It is super late in the season for tomatoes, and being that we just got our first frost, I'm guessing the last of the bunches got picked in this batch.  I stocked up on 24 tomatoes (enough to last me 1 month) and did my first canning today!

I used the great resources from the National Center for Home Food Preservation found online at

Here is how we did it:

step 1_get really scared about Botulism:
There is some serious risk of botulism when canning.  Botulism is a bacteria that can only grow in anaerobic (no air) environments and is a very serious form of food poisoning.  There are botulism bacteria on almost all fruits and vegetables even if you wash them, but they only become an issue if they are not exposed to air.  Because of this, sanitizing jars and peeling the skin off of produce is important when canning.

step 2_sanitize canning jars (pint size masons) by boiling them in water for 10 minutes.

step 3_put tomatoes in boiling water for 30-45 seconds (until skins crack) and then dip in a waiting ice bath.

step 4_slide skins off of tomatoes and compost them!

step 5_halve (or you can leave whole) tomatoes

step 6_choose whether you want to 'hot pack' or 'cold pack' tomatoes:
At his stage you have a choice.  You can either put the tomatoes directly into the sanitized jars -cold packing.  Or you can boil them for 5 minutes-hot packing.  The advantage of hot packing is you get all the air out of vegetables (there is always at least 10% air in produce).  This air can potentially cause problems with spoiling.  I can't say I really understand this, but I opted to hot pack because I was scared. 

step 7_strain boiled tomatoes and pack into jars.  Here was the interesting part: I was able to pack 12 tomatoes into each pint jar!  (they lost quite a bit of water in the boiling process)

step 8_ladle boiling tomato water to fill the space in the jars up to 1/2" from the top. 

step 9_free any trapped air bubbles by squishing a small spatula around in the jars

step 10_screw lids on snugly (not too tight because you want air to be able to escape while boiling (this is how the cans pressurize), and place jars into a large pot of boiling water.  I used a stock pot which would just barely fit 4 pint jars. 

step 11_make sure the water level is at least 1" above the jars, cover and boil for 45 minutes (time starts when the water starts boiling).  While boiling, be sure to watch that the water level doesn't get too low.  I had to continuously replace water because my pot was too short and water was splashing out the whole time.  You want to make sure the water NEVER stops boiling, so add little amounts of water at a time.

step 12_remove jars with a jar lifter and cool on a rack. 

step 13_listen for the pop!  This is the most exciting part about canning (at least we thought).  When the cans cool to the point where the pressure outside is different from the pressure in the cans, they seal themselves by pulling the can lids down and making a 'popping' sound. 

step 14_after 12-24 hours of cooling (yeah, a long time) test for the seal (unless you already heard them pop) by pressing on the center of lid.  If it pops back up, the can isn't sealed and you will have to do it over again or eat the contents before they spoil.

food for one month!

jar lifter

canning setup

peeled + halved tomatoes

jars boiling

12 tomatoes in each jar! 

jars after cooling (tomatoes have sunk to bottom like they are supposed to)
 The whole process seems like such a fine-tuned method, doing it for the first time was kind of stressful.  Plus we were really scared of botulism.   Doing this every year at a certain time could become a really interesting ritual (as it used to be) and would have a huge impact on how much energy we use throughout the year.  I noticed while at the co op buying tomatoes that the bell peppers were already being sourced from Holland.  Holland!?  That's far.  Even after this project I would like to make a goal of canning enough foods to last for a few months each year. 

It doesn't really make sense to me to can produce that isn't local however.  Peaches and nectarines, for example, while good canning items are never grown locally so using more energy to can them doesn't make sense to me (except that at certain times of the year they become unavailable EVERYWHERE). 

By canning enough foods to last a few months we can essentially 'extend our growing season' a few months.  I have thought it would be hard to eat ONLY canned foods for an entire winter.  However, mixing in a few fresh foods (fruits and such) with the canned goods could help make foods more appetizing and each "almost" local all year round.


27 October 2010
Definitely in a funk today.  Lonely, tired, frustrated, everything seems hard.  There have certainly been highs and lows throughout the last 74 days… 
The first few weeks were difficult because I was immediately dealing with issues of survival: How do I feed myself with only local foods? How much water can I use, will it be enough?….I was excited to be learning many things really quickly, however, and the high of living a totally different life gave me the energy to keep going and learning…
After a few weeks I had an understanding of food issues enough to let those issues take a back seat and started to get really excited about the possibilities that many of the changes to my life were real benefits.  I was eating better and felt like I had tons of energy all the time.  Biking around in late summer/early fall it was warm; friends would bike around with me wherever I was going.  We all had time on our hands (before the semester started) so I had a lot of people helping me out with little things, spending long, leisurely evenings cooking delicious local meals.  I was really optimistic about the way this kind of life was really making me feel.  I felt really connected to everything, connected to the people around me, to the food I was eating, the water I was using, the amount of energy I had to transport myself around everywhere…it was refreshing in a way I hadn’t felt before. 
The last few days, I have really felt like things are starting to get hard.  The last of the local produce is leaving the grocery store and I’ve had to spend the past few days scrambling to can and blanch vegetables (hoping they are enough to last the last 3 weeks).  It’s hard to get out of bed in the morning knowing that the first two hours of my day and are going to be a lot of work (making food for the day, picking aphids off of plants) all the while being freezing cold from dousing myself with 1 gallon of water in an attempt to clean up.  Then I get on my bike and go the 8 miles to class in another city in 25 degree weather, alone, in the dark.   I would say my mood in the morning is almost directly proportional to how cold it is in my house (and outside).  

I’ve had to abandon many of the things I guess I would call ‘rituals’ which meant something to me, however seemingly insignificant (like having a cup of espresso in the morning or grabbing a bite to eat between classes with friends).  It isn’t that these things can’t be replaced with other things (except dietary restrictions), but the transition to a new way of life has definitely shaken things up for me.   
Throughout the project there have been feelings of guilt if I’m not able to keep up with doing something.  Feelings of helplessness or laziness when I simply can’t make myself get on my bike to run simple errands.  Feelings of loneliness and isolation having to do many things myself because I am the only one living this way right now. 
All of this has really made me think about what ‘quality of life’ really is, what do we do that really makes us happy?  How much of our time doing daily activities are things that really contribute to our happiness.  People do all kinds of crazy things seeking ‘excitement’ or ‘happiness’; going to expensive, crowded theme parks, dropping themselves out of helicopters, spending a lot of money shopping, substance abuse/addictions… the list goes on.  What is interesting, though, is stopping to think once and a while when doing any of these things “is this really making me happy?” and “why is it making me happy?”, or, “why is this NOT making me happy”.   I am realizing that not everything about living within our means is all butterflies and flowers-there is certainly a struggle. The real question is, ‘does this struggle do anything for us?’
My advisor Virajita would say-It makes us more creative.
Maybe in a post-cheap oil world, we will be living more creative lives by the challenges presented to us.  The excitement we currently seek out doing bizarre and additive things we would be getting just living our normal day-to-day lives.  “Creativity is the component that allows us to do anything we want”. 
I have a new and deep appreciation for my Scandinavian and German ancestors who lived in Minnesota (and in similar climates in Europe before the) who struggled with many of the challenges I am faced with now, storing food, harsh weather…The difference there, as my advisor pointed out, is that they ALL lived that way.  They weren’t doing this alone.   Whole communities got together during harvest time to lend each other a hand with tasks they could not possibly accomplish themselves.  Surviving was a way of life, built into their religion and rituals.  And it wasn’t always easy, it probably wasn’t even always enjoyable, but it must have brought people a connection and happiness that they shared enough to want to keep living that way. 
Talking about the project with a friend one day, she said, “When I think about your project, it feels like life to me”.  I couldn’t describe it better.