If you want to see a model of how we can survive -- and even thrive -- in an increasingly warming world, book a table at the White Dog Café.
Sprawling across three brownstones that front a narrow side street just west of center city Philadelphia, the White Dog serves up a hearty New American cuisine that has won over food critics and attracted a large and loyal clientel. But good eats alone aren't what bring patrons back for more. It's the White Dog's commitment to the region it calls home.
Every dish is quite literally a taste of southeast Pennsylvania.
The Big Juicy Burgers on the lunch menu come from grass-fed cows that graze on a small, family farm some 40 miles away. An Amish-area farm supplies the eggs (from free-range chicken) that fill out the Three Egg Omelette. The cheese in the beet salad starter comes compliments of goats gamboling in meadows just beyond the city limits; beers -- Stoudts, Sly Fox, Victory -- are native brewed.
The White Dog's regional outreach nourishes a local economy that's a win-win for all involved. The short distance from farm to plate is good for the environment, limiting the commute of gas-guzzling and carbon-spewing delivery transports. Area farmers gain reliable markets for their goods. The greater Philadelphia region benefits from financial transactions that recycle funds within their communities. The Café itself is able to offer fresh and usually organic fare that’s good for patrons, suppliers and its own bottom line.
The arrangement works for southeast Pennsylvania, and it can do so elsewhere. (To learn how other communities are doing just that and to see how you can join the effort, click on this link to the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies). Local is the new organic, and, the way I see it, we'll have to start living much closer to home to have any chance of prospering in a rapidly changing environment.
So, what's the connection to green burial?
As the green burial movement gains traction, we'll see the rise of a market in "natural" funerary products, from coffins that biodegrade harmlessly and quickly in the environs of the grave to cloth shrouds with lowering straps stitched into the fabric. Most will prove better for the planet than the hermetically-sealed steel caskets that for now are still standard feature of modern burial. Others will turn out to be more green-washed than true green.
How to tell the difference?
First, figure out what's necessary. Edward Abbey's simple, desert burial (the subject of last week's post) reminds us that less is almost always better for the Earth. Mother Nature does green burial best when nothing stands in her way. Like compost, the body's decay happens. Our job, as Abbey said, is to just "get the hell out of the way" of the natural process.
When you decide to use coffins or shrouds or urns or other funeral/burial goods, try -- as the White Dog does -- to purchase those produced closest to home. In Grave Matters, I profile an octogenarian living in Iowa who buys a plain, pine box from a nearby carpenter. The arrangement worked to the benefit of buyer, seller, the economy of eastern Iowa and the planet.
The arrangement could have worked to even better advantage, certainly. The coffin's white pine, for example, was timbered in northern Minnesota, a good day's transport from its point of sale; the forest where the pine was felled, I believe, is not sustainably harvested. So, while sold locally, the coffin is in some deeper way not a completely home-grown or green product. (An issue, by the way, that some casket makers are addressing, a topic of a future post).
Perfection is a worthy goal. That doesn't mean we should necessarily shun natural funeral products that fall short of such high green standards (particularly, again, since the small "e"co good is likely world's better than the standard, mass-produced alternative). It does mean, however, that we should set high standards and encourage producers -- and ourselves -- to reach for them.
Keeping it local in death is a good place to start.
The photo above pictures the entrance of the White Dog Café. You’ll find more information on the White Dog’s commitment to local economies in this story I wrote many years ago for Hope magazine.
Mark Harris Author, Grave Matters (www.gravematters.us)