Marja-Leena Rathje
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a low-carb diet

Thanks to an email alert from the local Finnish community, last night my husband and I enjoyed an interesting creative documentary film on CBC Newsworld's Passionate Eye :

RECIPES FOR DISASTER, a Millennium Film of Finland production, directed by John Webster, in its first public screening.

What happens when a determined young family gives up all oil-based products for a year?

Filmmaker John Webster and his family decided to own up to their transgressions and kick their addiction to oil. They committed to a one-year "oil detox". It's quite simple really: the family will go on with their suburban lives, but without using any fossil fuels, driving cars or flying in airplanes. They won't buy anything packaged in plastic like food, makeup, shampoo, toothpaste or kids' toys. This last item proves a particular challenge to Webster's two young sons.

Recipes for Disaster shows that at the core of the impending climate catastrophe are those little failures that we as individuals make every day, and which are so much a part of human nature. And a lot of it has to do with oil consumption.

This charming and intimate "family drama" reveals the overwhelming challenge the Webster's have taken on. But despite the initial shocks, by using logic, sound judgement and common sense, this family does what it takes to combat the existing recipes for disaster that we all blindly follow.

We were surprised and delighted to hear Finnish, spoken mostly by the wife (with English captioning) and to see familiar Finnish landscapes. The film is often quite funny, such as the image of a man's huge belly with the declaration that it was time to go on a low-carb (carbon not carbohydrate) diet! In one almost tragicomic scene, Webster on leaving the oil-guzzling motor behind, rows his family on their boat for many hours to their summer cottage and is frequently asked by passing boaters if he needed help. The film brought the issues of climate change into the personal realm without the heavy-handedness of some other climate change films.

Check the film's website as to when and where the film is being shown again and if you have the opportunity, do watch it! 

P.S. I was also reminded of the even-broader efforts of the No Impact Man.

Oh, and check out the many comments at CBC !

UPDATE: Feb.20, 2008. Some of you may be interested that the CBC Documentaries Moderator has offered this information:

We're sorry but we don't have the necessary rights in order to offer Recipes for Disaster online or on YouTube.

We're told that a DVD will be available soon. Please contact the distributor in Germany at:

We do hope the repeat the film during our repeat season in later spring/summer. Please check for updated schedule information!


Hi Marja-Leena...this sounds great. And also really difficult to try and do. I've considered doing other types of things like the group who went a year without buying anything new other than food, etc. but in the end, I still drive my car and buy Lean Cuisines. I feel so terrible about it too...

Hi Elise, yes, it's very hard, and one day we may be forced into it. A few years ago, we got rid of one car, my husband cycles to work, but I still drive some. We've made other changes but I still feel bad that it's not more. We may be going back to horse and buggy, grow our own food, can, etc. just like my grandparents did.

I don't watch tv--but I am curious: how did they heat their house?

Peter, we rarely watch TV either, just the odd exceptional program. John Webster bought an electric heater, a large flat thin panel, very different from what we see here in Canada. He checked with the utility that the electricity came from a green source. At their cottage, he sawed (no chain saw!) and chopped wood for the stove.

I wish I'd taped this show so I could revisit some scenes! I hope CBC shows this program again.

Often when people glibly talk about clean energy sources and how we won't need oil when we've got them it seems to me they fail to think about how much we need oil for manufacture and plastics and the stuff we make out of them, not all of which we could comfortably manage without now. We should be treating oil as a really precious resource, and we're burning it and turning it into pointless junk like there's no tomorrow.
I enjoyed No Impact Man's blog; the synopsis of that article on consumption was interesting, the idea that we consume to communicate, and to find meaning, for example. In some ways, opting out to live more quietly and away from it all means some forms of consumption are more tempting than if we lived in a city: we order books, for example, rather than going to a library and borrowing them, and we need (or think we do) to construct more sense of our culture in our home environment than if we could just walk out of the door and see it around us all the time. We try to keep it down, but it's quite hard sometimes. Like losing weight! (Seriously...)

Lucy, I agree with everything you say! What gets me is that people who say climate change isn't happening, don't comprehend the other big issue that we are running out of oil (and water). We need to conserve what's left. You don't have a library in your town? That is hard. (And so is losing weight, I know!)

I thought of you when I watched the film (completely independently of seeing this posting) and wondered if you'd seen it. Wasn't it great! I found the conflict within the relationship very interesting - especially the sources, such as what others will think, arguments of convenience, etc. Really an interesting idea.

Here's a blog that pretty much focuses on what screw-ups we are from an ecological impact perspective (although they do have some happy stories too); the latest posting is on "post-fossil" world:

Something that we also fail to consider when thinking about the petro-chemical planet: look at our agri-business practices of heavy petro-based fertilizers and pesticides; so working on purchasing organics along with the 100 mile diet and cutting out plastics and cosmetics is all worth considering. I suspect our collective hand will be forced, and we'll have to cope in a very different world with non-inexpensive petrochem options, so it doesn't hurt to think of these things when reaching for your typical brand of toothpaste, shampoo, bottle of milk, car keys, Roundup ... :)

Amie, welcome! I'm so glad you saw the film too! Oh yes, the whole agri-business thing and everything you mention is a huge issue. It's really quite scary thinking about feeding our over-populated world when so much food comes from so far away. Our collective hand will be forced, but will it be soon enough?

That's a great link and I've added the blog to my growing eco-environment reading list, thank you!