The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 7, 2007


A chance to generate a little heat

In the six years since September 11, 2001, the Police and Fire Departments, Board of Health, Carlisle School and other officials have worked many hours on disaster preparedness, yet Carlisle still lacks the capability to provide emergency shelter during a power outage.

Why? One reason is that the cost originally estimated was prohibitive — over $450,000 to provide a permanent diesel generator and fuel storage tank to fully power the entire school campus. Perhaps a backup system cn be included in a new school construction project, but a low cost alternative is available sooner. A new estimate places the cost at only $20,000 to provide basic backup power to the Corey Building, the town's designated emergency shelter.

The information on this more economical alternative has been gathered by Bill Risso, an engineer serving on both the Board of Health (BOH) and School Building Committee. Specifically, to provide some heat and lights and run the water, toilets and the elevator, he believes the town needs only a 15KW three-phase portable propane or diesel generator costing between $13,000 to $17,000. He estimates that roughly another $1,000 may be needed for a fuel tank, such as a propane tank large enough to run the generator for two or three days.

Installation costs may add another couple of thousand dollars, but preliminary work has already been done. This spring a state grant helped the BOH finance a $3,600 project to rewire the school's electrical circuits. An electrician installed a 100-amp three-phase electrical panel and a manual transfer switch to allow connection of a backup generator to the boiler room and water pump equipment. Risso envisions the generator would not only be able to heat the gym, but would be able to deliver small amounts of heat to the other school buildings in order to keep pipes from freezing. Both Risso and BOH agent Linda Fantasia said that they have been unsuccessful in finding any homeland security grants large enough to cover the entire cost of the generator.

Hopefully, a calamity like a large-scale nuclear explosion or terrorist attack will never hit Boston. A $20,000 portable generator would not begin to make a difference in a situation like that, but it might be useful in a more typical Carlisle emergency, such as a blizzard or ice storm. If the town were without power for an extended period, residents without heat or water would be able to warm up in the gym and collect a few gallons of water. Even without a storm, if electricity were interrupted during a school day for any reason, a small backup generator might help the school stay open.

This type of project has a tendency to fall through the cracks, because it is not clear exactly which part of town government should take responsibility for the expense — the Board of Health? School? DPW? Police or Fire? Perhaps the Selectmen could lead a discussion on the benefits and cost of a portable generator while the FY09 budget is still being drafted.

Other people's kitchens

When I was little, we celebrated traditional holidays with a focus on Italian food and rituals. That system satisfied most occasions, but when it came to holidays like Thanksgiving, the older generation chefs were flummoxed. The roast turkey would appear on the table, but rather than form a Rockwellian centerpiece, it was a garnish to accompany the homemade brodo, antipasti and lasagna more familiar to my family as the structure of a ceremonial meal.

Over the years, this habit has loosened, primarily because newer family members harking from different geographic and ethnic backgrounds are taking more responsibility for food preparation when my far-flung clan boomerangs back to the formative homestead for holidays. The first Thanksgiving after my youngest sister married, her husband volunteered his signature frozen filet-cut green beans with canned mushroom soup and onion chips casserole. I don't remember that dish gracing our holiday table more than once (although my daughter Dixie thought it sounded pretty good just now, and who knows how the in-laws stock their own Midwestern pantry out of ancestral sight). But the early emphasis on keeping cultural purity as the backbone of a holiday meal raised the bar for the introduction of any new dish to the repertoire.

Indeed, food preparation for the holidays in someone else's kitchen requires no less than moral equality with the home chef. Not to be too dramatic, but food preparation boils down to a matter of life and death. Melding backgrounds of households from different ethnic and geographic groups can be disorienting, as Michael Pollan alluded to in The Omnivore's Dilemma when he focused on cultural taboos, rituals, recipes, manners and culinary traditions to keep food choices simple, nutritious and safe. Pollan's prescriptions apply to everyday meals; holiday meal preparation merely magnifies the risks because everything that leaves the home chef's kitchen comes marked with her seal of approval.

First, local cleanliness standards can't be compromised. There is simply no use arguing with the home chef's rules. Produce is washed as many times as her heart desires. If she wants to use a separate cutting board for poultry, garlic, dry goods and cooked produce, doesn't that make sense? Nothing that a little spiked eggnog and an investment in cutting boards can't cure.

Bigger issues arise when it comes to the source of the food we prepare. Here's where the difference between a dish brought into the kitchen (pre-arranged with the home chef, of course) may throw some oil on the fire. Where did the food come from? Is a grocery bag from Whole Foods good enough? Was the produce grown within 100 miles of the food preparer's house? A really sharp eye wants to watch the food being prepared to ensure it measures up to the quality control of the home chef passing off the dish as having her seal of approval. "How much sugar did you use in the sweet potato casserole? Marshmallows? That's interesting, dear."

I would venture to say that most people don't invest their food choices with morality decisions, with vegans and vegetarians possible exceptions. But it's all connected — vegetarianism, global warming. I'll be in my own kitchen this Christmas and moral cooking will be my gift to the planet.


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2007 The Carlisle Mosquito