Food, justice and BP all get considered at Dwell on Design


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The Dwell on Design show satisfied lots of home improvement fantasies -- a rocking bed, gorgeous recycled wood cabinets and beautiful sleek bathtubs were just a few of my favorites. But at the same time, participants considered some of the serious, sometimes political, side to design and what has become commonly called the “built environment.”

Even if you had no money to spend, you could take home more than just business cards and brochures. Speakers discussed restaurant design, including the effect of all the new-style food trucks on chefs, diners and existing restaurants. Obvious connection between food and design, right? But some of the conversations strayed farther afield too.


On Sunday, for example, actor Ed Begley Jr. talked about his own “sustainable life” and encouraged his standing-room-only audience to start small, to make just one change this week toward using less energy. He may be famous, but he said he was broke when he started out doing “the cheap and easy stuff” back in 1970, when he couldn’t afford solar panels or other environmentally conscious renovations.

So he began by recycling, “and for those of you who don’t know, recycling is the gateway drug” to living sustainably, he said. Four decades later, he said, he lives a “carbon negative” life, thanks in part to his 1985 investment in a wind turbine.

Begley also talked briefly about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “We all need to look in the mirror. … We all want cheap oil. We all want cheap kilowatt hours and cheap oil. We all need to do everything we can to use less coal, less energy,” he said.

Aside from recycling, the “cheap and easy” steps include using vinegar and baking soda rather than cleaning products, bicycle riding, taking the bus, turning down the thermostat and installing weather stripping, he said.

At the other end of the L.A. Convention Center hall, panels organized by Evan Kleiman talked about food.

Kleiman, host of the KCRW show “Good Food” and chef/owner at Angeli Caffe, said food and design were good partners.


“You have a captive audience of people who are generally receptive to wanting more knowledge about their food and where it comes from,” she said. The show is a good opportunity to “add conversations about food and justice.”

In fact, urban design has a lot to do with how people buy or grow their food, several speakers noted. Vanessa Zajfen from Occidental College’s Urban and Environmental Policy Institute, noted there are only 90 farms left in Los Angeles County.

She has been working to connect growers from the region with schools and with poor people to make sure they have access to fresh, local food. Other people are working on developing a “food system” for the Los Angeles region -- a way to localize the food supply with food that is grown, distributed, consumed and recycled, all within a 200-mile radius of the city.

-- Mary MacVean

Follow on Twitter @mmacvean

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