Friday, December 10, 2010

Adding Fat to the Fire

It’s December 7th and I’m standing in front of the roaring fire at Hampton Court. This fireplace is part of the massive kitchen complex where all of the meals for the court of Henry VIII were prepared.  Over a meter high and four wide, this was the place where they cooked, in a typical year, 1,240 oxen, 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 760 calves, 2,870 pigs, 33,000 chickens, 24,000 larks and 53 wild boars. The spits are right here to be seen and I’m ready to hop on one.  I’m staring into the flames and I’m thinking about the irony of how good this fire really feels. Minus degrees centigrade outside and I simply can’t get close enough. The man responsible for the fire keeps asking me to move back. I take one step back and then inch forward again when he looks the other way. But my thoughts move to the Carmel Forest in Israel, or what remains of it. How can fire be so welcome in one place and such a nightmare in another? When we left Israel a few days ago the fires were still raging out of control, people were leaving their homes and others had lost their lives. These beautiful flames of orange, red and blue were continuing to ravage everything in their path. And here I was, paralyzed by the cold and aching to touch them.

Before this all started I wanted to write an entire blog on butter. Yes, butter—or rather, the lack thereof.  I’d spent days before my planned annual Thanksgiving celebration scouring the shelves of various supermarkets in Israel—all in search of butter! “Where’s the butter?” I intoned to myself, mimicking that famous Wendy’s commercial from the ‘80s. But really, I wasn’t laughing. In fact, I was frantic. There was absolutely no way to make a tasty dinner without butter and there wasn’t a stick to be found. How could I make crust with—margarine? I mean, to this butter aficionado, all substitutes just taste BAD. Well, thank God (and I did) I discovered a stash of foreign-made butter in the market at Gan Shmuel. Leave it to the Kibbutzniks to look out for our better interests. I could relax. My meal was saved.

Now the obvious question is what does my frenzied search for butter have to do with the savage fire on the Carmel? Moreover, who would ever dare to talk about something so mundane and something so monumental in the same breath? Well, to be honest, the virtual simultaneity of these disasters, one personal, the other national, got me thinking. Digging around a bit on the internet, I discovered that both had something to do with—you guessed it—global warming. Now I normally wouldn’t attempt to write anything about global warming. I know virtually nothing about science, being more of an arts and literature type. But between having no butter and watching local neighborhoods burn down to the ground, this seemed like as good a time as any to jump into the fray.

Al Gore’s fascinating documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, (2006) was a frightening wake-up call for me. My attempts to reduce my share of global warming, clearly placing me among the virtuous, include driving a Prius, reading the newspaper online, lighting my house with “green” lights (though as far as I’m concerned they do no better than to “dim” the rooms) and, when possible, walking. Yet, despite global efforts, as well as my own meager ones, December in Israel began with temperatures reaching 30 degrees centigrade and my kids still going to school in shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops!! It was hard enough to swallow the fact that Hanukkah was already upon us, its usual correspondence with Christmas being absolutely nil; how could we kindle the lights during—gulp—summer?!  

Yet on December 2nd, the second night of Hanukkah, the arid conditions caused by the unusually warm winter our reckless treatment of the environment was causing, were accelerating the spread of the flames in the forest. There had been no rain for as long as anyone could remember. None at all—maybe something back in late October. Adding fat to the fire, both literally and figuratively, the slow-to-begin winter was to blame for the shortage of butter. Apparently cows produce less milk and butterfat when it's hot out. Israel isn't the only country affected. In fact, the unusually hot weather around the world has created a global butter shortage and significantly raised prices. (We may yet see an end to those butter sculpting contests so popular in the U.S.)  

I loved the chat I found online that suggested that farmers might be able to increase milk production by giving out gold stars or smiley stickers to the cows that yield the most milk. Not to panic anyone, but apparently the agricultural forecasters have warned that by next spring we’ll also be short on eggs. In fact the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture has just approved the import of 10 million eggs from Turkey! Can you imagine that? Several weeks before the blaze ironically melted the freeze of diplomatic ties between the two countries, officials were negotiating for something that in normal atmospheric conditions we should have been able to produce on our own!

Hanukkah is now over. Yet this year, as I lit the beautiful candles on our Menorah night after night and recited the Shehecheyanu, the prayer for special occasions that gives thanks to God, my mind leapt to the flames on the Carmel. The not incidental connection between this religious holiday, and the reality of how we daily contribute to the overheating of our environment, is worthy of our consideration. What has become of winter? Where is the rain? How can everything be so dry? What is happening to our planet, what can we do to save it, and, equally significant, what will the world be like without butter?  The admittedly pathetic, but not entirely tenuous, connection between these catastrophes, demands our attention. Lacking any real answers I've come to the conclusion that my personal efforts will best be assisted by a healthy dose of prayer. 


  1. Light & fat & faith... love the meandering mind!

  2. beautiful Caroline! And I love getting a glimpse into your life. Ah, butter!

    And shame on you, not letting me know you were blogging! Now I need a snow day to catch up on all your posts :)

    xo Lisa