Friday, May 03, 2013 4:17 PM
Some of our best
online-only material from the month of April
While we may have shed our “Best of the Alternative Press”
tagline, Utne.com is still all about envisioning and realizing alternatives—whether
that’s a different kind of politics or a new way to collaborate on a DIY
science project. With that mind, here are some of our favorite blog posts,
articles, and book excerpts from the past month.
For Story of Stuff
filmmaker Annie Leonard, one big alternative begins with liberating ourselves
from overconsumption and recognizing the commons all around us. “We have to learn to
share more and waste less,” she says in an interview with former Utne editor Jay Walljasper. “The good news is that these changes not only will enable us
to continue to live on this planet, but they will result in a happier,
healthier society overall.”
In a similar vein, in “The Ideabook,” author Katie Haegele
explores how repurposing
vintage clothing—you might call it cross-generational sharing—can help us
connect with the struggles, changes, and styles of the past, especially if we
approach that past knowingly.
Sharing is also a big part of Dani Burlison’s post
on California’s Maker Faire, an annual festival of crafts, science
projects, and innovative ideas. With a strong emphasis on collaborative
learning and a DIY ethos, the Faire creates a unique space where experimentation
is encouraged and cooperation is essential.
For those who envision larger changes, Starhawk’s new EmpowermentManual and a new book of Howard Zinn speeches offer inspiring models
for making it happen. While Zinn explores the life
and enduring significance of activist, writer, and all-around awesome
person Emma Goldman, Starhawk’s blueprint
for social change gives us the tools to realize the kind of transformation
Goldman had long fought for. As Starhawk writes, the first thing such struggle
requires is a positive vision for change: “We are most empowered when we know
what we do want, not just what we don’t want.”
That’s certainly true of the teachers’ movement Nancy
Schniedewind and Mara Sapon-Shevin describe in Educational Courage. The
reform agenda may be powerful, they write, but it can’t stop them from envisioning
and working toward a truly democratic education system—one
where social justice and connection to a larger community are front and center.
We can also see some of that hopefulness in Jon Queally’s surprisingly
optimistic update on the climate movement’s anti-Keystone campaign. The
State Department’s official “comment period” may be over, writes Queally, but
the fight sure isn’t.
A little less hopeful, but no less informative, is Suzanne
gif blog on the history of corporate power in Washington—from the Powell Memo to corporate
personhood. “Nearly 80 percent
of the public opposes the Citizens United decision,” Suzanne writes. “That it hasn’t
been reversed goes to show how skewed the current balance of power is.”
Equally sobering are the campaign
finance stats Lawrence Lessig shares with us, from the time Congresspeople
actually spend begging rich folks for money (a lot) to the 132 Americans—that’s
the .000042 percent, if you’re curious—responsible for 60 percent of
Super PAC funding in 2012.
To realize real alternatives, it seems, we’re going to have
to confront the system of institutionalized bribery holding sway over Washington—or,
as insiders call it, politics.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013 3:35 PM
Myranda Escamilla doesn't know exactly why she collages animal skulls, but her work dwells on life, death, and our culture’s disconnect from the wild.
A little over a year ago, Myranda Escamilla walked into an
antique shop in Port Isabel, Texas, a beach
town near her home in Brownsville.
Inside, she happened upon two deer skulls that have altered her work as an
artist—and likely her life as well.
“My intrigue with skulls came from seeing my father collect
them when I was a child,” she explained in an email. “He tried his hardest to
keep most activities outdoors. Although admittedly I could never appreciate our
adventures at the time, I now miss the fragrant smells of nature—the
beach mist, dry and wet sand, young trees, their sap and the feel of
flower petals running through my fingers.
The stillness and calm it
brings is overwhelming in the best way. Life is dull when it is
spent mostly inside, encased and enclosed. The erratic nature of wildlife as
opposed to our way of living—as humans, with our emails and texts, faxes,
game boys, and laptops—is mysterious, beautiful, boundless, and colorful.”
Escamilla accepted the skulls “as they were—blank
and natural,” but was intrigued by the thought of changing them. “How
could I alter an already interesting and beautiful specimen to make
it more beautiful? I was challenged and that was enough to prompt me to
take my wallet out. And so they went home with me.”
She embellished the first skull with small cuts in a napkin,
the second she painted to look distressed, “as if it was being reborn or taking
on a new soul.” Over time, her collages have become increasingly intricate.
When asked where the impulse to collage animal skulls comes from, at first
she can’t explain. “It just happens and perhaps it is my subconscious, but
if that is the case I cannot help but ask—what is it saying, what does it
mean? Those questions drive me nuts. I do not think about it often
and I try not to ... too knotty.”
But when I admit that they first struck me as a reminder of the way humans
have sought—and in many instances found—ways to control the natural world, that
I find her skulls both beautiful and ominous, she has more to say.
“I suppose the skulls can be something of a reminder
of what has been lost and what should be held near our hearts. Many
times, I have obtained skulls that were either going to be thrown away or left
outside to wither. In adding ‘a human touch’ I am ultimately giving it a piece
of myself, honoring its forgotten existence, if you will.
“Perhaps they seem ominous and haunting because they
are in fact, no longer living. We tend to associate skulls with death, the
macabre, fear and the unknown. Death strikes immense curiosity in me, I
cannot fathom it—how we live and live and live and then ... all is gone. What
should you make of your life if it is bound to cease at any moment?
“Working with skulls helps me to become
more comfortable with the inevitable final stage of life, to accept
it. The juxtaposition presented by the skulls is so striking because you
are instantly caught between life and death.”
Monday, April 15, 2013 10:27 AM
How corporate power is ruining your life, explained in animated GIFs
when 20 million Americans hit the streets to celebrate the
first Earth Day:
And it wasn’t just a party.
People of all ages and political stripes were demanding regulations protecting earth,
air, water, and wildlife.
Not everyone was happy about it, though.
When Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer from Richmond, Virginia, heard about Earth Day:
Why? Powell served on the board of directors of several international
corporations—corporations whose profitability would be hampered by all the new
When Powell thought of a way to stop them:
He schemed up
a memo—titled “Attack on American Free Enterprise System”—and presented it to
the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on August 23, 1971. In it, he laid out a broad
plan: corporate leaders would use an “activist-minded Supreme Court” to enact
“social, economic, and political change” in favor of corporate power.
What the rest of America
The memo was secret, so barely anyone knew about Powell’s plot until
Really, Powell’s idea wasn’t totally new. He had already sued the U.S.
government on behalf of
the cigarette industry, saying the
government’s assertion that cigarettes were dangerous was
controversial and that cigarette companies had a right under free speech to promote their product in whatever
way they liked. It worked. America’s
response was to keep ‘em lit:
And when President Nixon nominated Powell for the Supreme Court and the
Senate voted him in (less than six months after the Chamber read his memo):
With Powell on the Court, corporations got busy creating legal
foundations to fund lawsuits across the country. They introduced the idea that
corporations were “persons,” “speakers,” “voices,” and “protectors of our
freedoms.” They said that government regulations over pollution, wages, or
political spending made corporations feel like this:
Meanwhile, Americans were cleaning house. The Clean Water Act was
passed in 1972. After this came the Endangered Species Act (1973), the first fuel
economy standards for cars (1975), and the Toxic Substances Control Act (1976).
“Strength,” Powell had written in his memo, “lies in organization, in
careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over
an indefinite period of years.”
By 1978, Powell and his cronies were ready to take his plan to the next
level. A few corporations got together to challenge a Massachusetts law banning corporate spending
in referendum ballots. They wanted to use corporate funds to defeat a
progressive income tax vote later that year.
When they lost,
progressives were all:
But then they took their case to the Supreme Court, where Justice
Powell had been waiting for just such an opportunity:
Powell cast the deciding vote (5-4), declaring that
“corporations are persons” and corporate money is “speech” under the First
Amendment, ushering in the current era of corporate power.
Between 1978 and 1984, Justice Powell overrode laws citizens had agreed
on, in favor of legislation benefitting the pharmaceutical, energy, tobacco,
and banking industries. By the time he resigned in 1987, the corporate world
had made up its mind:
When the agribusiness industry spends $75-145 million a year lobbying to make sure America always has a good supply of junk food at its fingertips:
“The health of Americans is secondary to layers of taxpayer
subsidies and preferential treatment for corporate food giants and coal and
utility corporations, resulting in epidemic-level rates of obesity, asthma, and
type 2 diabetes,” writes
Jeffrey D. Clements for YES! Magazine. And this in spite of healthy profits for pharmaceutical and health care corporations (which spent over $2 billion lobbying the government between 1998 and 2010).
That’s not all. Between 1998 and 2010, military contractors spent over
$400 million and ExxonMobil spent $151 million lobbying. But “control of our energy
policy by global fossil fuel corporations and unregulated corporate lobbying,
even for weapons the Pentagon doesn’t want,” Clements writes, “leads to endless
war in the Middle East and uncontrolled
It also means we continue
to drive everywhere. When we build roads for cars that pollute the air and
suburbs that destroy wilderness:
So, we pay with our health, with endless war, and destruction of the
environment—but there's more. Corporate rule is also why we’re broke.
Yep. Between 1998 and 2010 the Chamber of Commerce spent $739 million
lobbying in favor of big business. The results? “Corporate-friendly trade and tax policies
have moved jobs overseas, destroyed our manufacturing capacity, produced vast
wage and income inequality, and gutted local economies and communities,” writes
What that means for the
What that means the rest of us:
Then, in 2010, the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission gave
corporations the go-ahead to spend as much as they wanted influencing
Politicians who failed to do what corporate lobbies asked were punished
with negative ads funded by the corporate elite. So now when our elected
officials look at us:
And while corporations love consumers, this is what they say when we
try to act like citizens:
Case in point: Monsanto, when Vermonters tried to enact labeling laws
for recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH):
And when people try to get environmental protections, fair wages, or an end to military offensives, one corporation or another is always:
Nearly 80 percent of the
public opposes the Citizens United
decision. That it hasn’t been reversed goes to show how skewed the current
balance of power is. Many
representatives and citizens’ groups are calling for a constitutional
amendment to reverse it and end money's use as "speech" altogether. When that day comes, we may finally be able to slow climate change, end
war, get healthy, and get paid.
This article is based on Jeffrey D.
Clements essay, “Rights
are for Real People,” from the Spring 2012 issue of Yes! Magazine. Clements is the author of the book Corporations Are Not
Friday, April 05, 2013 11:12 AM
With moss, graffiti artists and activists get green, literally speaking.
Quick, what can you make with a handful of moss, some yogurt, and a
can of beer?
Over the last several years, gardeners and graffiti artists
have been discovering common ground—on walls. While it’s difficult to pinpoint
the origin of the moss graffiti movement, Edina Tokodi—a.k.a. Mosstica—seems a
likely source. The Hungarian artist has been putting moss in public spaces since
2004 (above, a work from 2008; below, from 2004).
Since then, word has spread (alongside striking photos) about
how to make and grow this fuzzy paint. Methods vary slightly, but most follow
the general formula of this recipe
from Destructables or this
concoction featuring beer and corn syrup from Gardening Guru. These simple approaches have made the technique
accessible to internationally recognized artists and Occupiers alike.
While moss’s inclination to keep trim makes it a clear
choice for wall growth, the bryophyte has another quality that makes it ideal.
Because the “paint” making process involves putting the moss in a blender, this
technique would only work with a plant that spreads via spores. One drawback to
moss: unless you live in a rainy clime, this art will require upkeep. In drier
regions, the moss must be sprayed religiously.
Set in London,
Anna Garforth’s Grow seems to
encourage the wilderness that’s crept back into an unused plot of land (slated
for redevelopment). “It’s amazing how quickly the wild reclaims its space and
carries on growing even after is has been destroyed,” she writes.
Many are touting moss graffiti as a green alternative to
spray paint— aerosol and solvent free, with fewer cans left on the ground. While
street art techniques like wheatpasting have been environmentally-friendly
options for quite some time, the stunning effects of this green graffiti cannot
green graffiti at Environmental
Graffiti, or check out Good’s
round-up of cool
guerilla gardens from around the world.
Cattle (Brooklyn, 2008) and As It
Started (Budapest, 2004): Mosstika; Occupy: finiculi,
Grow: Anna Garforth
Tuesday, March 26, 2013 3:36 PM
When it comes to bottled
water, cash-strapped parks have been putting Coca-Cola’s interests ahead of the
common good. Now, a growing coalition is demanding change.
The National Park Service (NPS), like
most Americans these days, is broke. Unlike the
rest of us, it has corporations like Coca-Cola whispering promises of money in
its ear—money that parks desperately need to staff, maintain, and protect the
grounds. But there’s one thing the public has learned about corporations: they
don’t give without asking for something in return.
For Coke, “donating” a
fraction of a percent of its revenue (roughly .0013%) keeps its Dasani bottled
water for sale in parks and buys the exclusive right to use park logos in advertisements.
As marketing schemes go, it’s brilliant. Coke greens its image, turns a profit
in the park, and writes it all off at tax time. Since August of 2011, the
National Park Service has been working on a
billion dollar corporate-financed endowment, and Coke has been in on the
plans since the initial fundraising summit.
But the deal might not stay this
sweet for long. Watchdog group Corporate
Accountability International is leading a coalition pushing national parks
like Yosemite, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Mt.
Rainier, and the Liberty Bell’s Independence Hall National
to nix bottled water. Instead, park-goers will use their own bottles to refill
and the bottled water industry are using one national treasure to profit from
another at the public’s expense,” says Kristin Urquiza, director of Corporate
Accountability International’s Think
Outside the Bottle campaign. She continues, “Water, like our parks, is not
Whether or not that sounds
like a battle cry, it might be. Back in 2011, Coke attempted to block a
ban on bottled water in Grand
Canyon National Park.
The park hesitated but followed through with the ban, reducing its waste stream
by 20 percent—500 tons a year. It also cut the cost of recycling removal by
30 percent, estimates the NPS Branch Chief of Sustainable Operations and Climate
This week, groups representing
more than 150 organizations and 40,000 park-goers are delivering petitions to
park superintendents across the country, asking that they stop selling water in
plastic bottles. In San Francisco,
the president of the city’s Board of Supervisors, David Chin—along with the
executive director of the Sierra Club’s Bay chapter and celebrity rock climbers
Alex Honnold and Hans Florine—will deliver that request in the form of a three-by-five-foot
public, not Coke executives, should be in the driver’s seat when it comes to
park policy,” said Florine, who holds the world record for speed climbing El
Capitan in Yosemite along with Alex Honnold.
“We know park employees across the country are eager to do the right thing
here. Today, we’re giving them the support they need to act in the public’s
Honnold, “Bottling and transporting water is a colossal waste of resources that
the parks should in no way help promote. If anything, the sales of bottled
water fosters a kind of disposable view of the world around us that is anathema
to the park's mission to ‘preserve unimpaired’ our wild places.”
least 14 of the nation’s 398 parks have already gotten rid of water sold in
plastic bottles. Find out more about Think Outside the Bottle: "10 Reasons Why National Parks Should Buck the Bottle."
Tuesday, March 05, 2013 11:41 AM
A sustainable future means teaching kids about climate change and living in balance with the earth. Green School's "Greenest Student on Earth" contest will reward three environmentally conscious students with a year-long scholarship.
When it comes to saving the
planet, there’s plenty of urgent action to take
right now. But as we struggle to slow the environmental destruction that’s led to
a changing climate, we must also plant the seeds of permanent and profound sustainability.
It makes sense to start with children, for whom a small shift in direction now can
lead to an entirely different path later. An international school in Bali, Indonesia,
aims to do just that.
Aptly titled Green School,
the organization teaches sustainable thinking and practical skills to students
from pre-kindergarten through high school, including kids in their own
sustainable future. “We have to teach the kids that the world is not indestructible,”
says Green School co-founder John Hardy in a 2010 TED
Talk. No one knows exactly what the future holds, and kids need to be
prepared to live on a planet that could be very different than the one we
inhabit. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are still important, Hardy muses, but
the adults of the future are going to need a broader skill set—from building with
bamboo to planting medicinal gardens.
In 2012, Green School
was recognized by the U.S. Building Council as the “Greenest School
on Earth.” The campus itself is solar-powered and self-sustaining, a product of
Hardy’s three-tiered philosophy, “be local, let the environment lead, and think
about how your grandchildren might build.”
This year, Green
School is looking for environmentally
conscious, action-oriented students to attend classes at the Bali
campus. The school’s “Greenest Student on Earth” competition starts March 5 and
ends on April 22, Earth Day. At the close of the competition, three students—one
each from elementary, middle, and high school—will win a one-year scholarship
to Green School.
To enter, the school asks that students submit a 2-3 minute video answering the
question, “Why are you the greenest student on earth?” The video should
highlight environmental achievements, hopes and goals, as well as how the
student would benefit from a year at Green
Winners will be announced June 5, World Environment Day. For more information watch the video below and visit the Green School
Friday, February 22, 2013 12:30 PM
ethnic tensions over the coming Kenyan elections, one filmmaker sends his
message of healing through a well-established network of DVD pirates.
"Before the 2007 post-election violence occurred
my country was seen as an island of stability in a region of conflict,"
says Patrick Mureithi in his recent documentary, Kenya: Until Hope is Found. The election results he refers to—which many have since agreed were flawed—resulted in clashes that killed more
than 1,200 people and displaced another 500,000.
At the time, Mureithi had been filming a documentary, ICYIZERE:hope, about
a reconciliation workshop in Rwanda
that brought together survivors and perpetrators of the country’s 1994 genocide.
But in the years since Kenya
became the site of its own ethnic conflict, Mureithi has turned his attention
closer to home. With a new vote just a week-and-a-half away, tensions between
tribes have been rising. While many groups are taking steps to make sure the
elections are peaceful, the threat of violence looms.
Part of the problem, according to Mureithi, is that
people have not had an opportunity to heal from the trauma of the last election.
"In a country that has one psychiatrist for every half-million of its
citizens,” he says, “one of the most pressing issues to be addressed is that of
unresolved psychological trauma. As a nation, how can we heal in order to avoid
repeated cycles of violence, in order to ensure that our children have a secure
Hope is Found documents a three day
workshop called "Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities," with severely
traumatized residents of Kibera, a neighborhood that Mureithi describes as
largest slum and the epicenter of the violence."
But it was not enough for the men and women included
in the workshop to experience healing—Mureithi wanted every Kenyan to have
access to the same process. So when he finished his documentary last December, he
handed it over to his local DVD pirates. "My reasoning was that since they
have the most efficient distribution system in Kenya, then they would be able to
get the film into as many hands as possible," writes Mureithi. "As I
type, their vendors are selling the film country-wide for less than 80
shillings (approx $1)."
Video: Kenya: Until Hope is Found
To make a
tax-deductible donation to Patrick's February trip to Kenya and the continuation of his
work, visit http://josiahfilms.com/donate/.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013 10:29 AM
After news reports and books raised awareness about the link between commodities trading
and starvation, food justice advocates took action and big bank Barclays responded.
This morning I opened my
email to a note from journalist Fred Kaufman that read, “Yes, a book can make a
difference!” Attached was a report that Barclays, a large UK bank, had announced
that they would stop trading in food derivatives markets.
This was good news. Fred and
I had spoken last fall about his new book, Bet the Farm, which
exposed the connection between agricultural derivatives markets and price spikes on staples like wheat—with impacts around the world ranging from
starvation to riots. In the interview, I picked his brain on topics from deregulation
in commodities markets to what everyday people can do to stop unethical trading
schemes. I wrote about it all in “Spinning
Wheat into Gold,” but one big takeaway was that rallies and political
action are going to be the most successful way to get banks to change and to
get tougher governmental regulations back. Looks like he was right.
activist campaigns in the UK
raised awareness about the human cost of speculation on food, Barclays chief
Antony Jenkins announced today that the bank would stop doing it, writes Miriam
Ross for the World Development Movement.
Until now, Barclays
has been the UK’s
biggest bank to buy and sell on the food derivatives market. While the
bank’s agreement to end such trading is a victory, one campaigner with the
World Development Movement emphasized that it is not enough for banks to opt
out of agricultural commodities markets. There must be increased regulation so
that they don’t start again.
Here in the
states—where wheat speculation was born and the commodities index was
invented—we have yet to see a strong movement emerge to end such trading.
theatre at a Barclays protest rally, photo by World
Wednesday, January 23, 2013 9:51 AM
When it comes to trashing the planet, Americans are ready
for change, and the ever-growing popularity of biking and buying organic aren’t
the only evidence. Across the political spectrum, people agree on ending
subsidies that encourage environmental degradation. And a majority of
Americans support a shift to clean energy and more regulation over toxic
chemicals. Our economy is struggling, but many Americans believe that a better one
is possible—one that puts people and the planet first. So why isn’t it
That’s the question Annie Leonard, creator of the animated
video series The Story of Stuff,
addresses in “The Story of Change.”
Back in 2007, Leonard’s first video, “The Story of
Stuff,” connected the dots between resource extraction and sweatshops, planned
obsolescence and pollution, urban growth and the influence of corporations in
government. This unsustainable system “didn’t just happen,” Leonard told the
internet. “It was designed.”
By the tens of thousands, viewers emailed her to ask how
they could help. Leonard made more videos, demystifying topics from emissions
trading to the
federal budget. Although the series has been popular, it hasn’t translated
into public demand for change.
A lack of information wasn’t the problem, Leonard realized. She
looked at the stats and found that most Americans are on-board with increased protections for people and the environment. In the “Story of Change” video, she
states that “74 percent of Americans support tougher laws on toxic chemicals,
83 percent want clean energy laws, and 85 percent think corporations should
have less influence in government.”
In an interview
with Lauren Feeney for BillMoyers.com,
Leonard expands on this idea. “[A]t this
point in the U.S., most environmentalists still focus on
providing more information to the public, as though one more fact sheet or pie
chart is what’s needed to inspire people to take action. I believe that what’s
really needed is to reengage our citizen muscles.”
“One of the things [Leonard] has noticed based on responses
to ‘The Story of Stuff,’ writes
Simon Butler of Green Left, “[is]
that, as a society, ‘we are forgetting how to make change.’” In “The Story of Change,” Leonard creates an
equation for change: a clear goal, teamwork, and political action.
One group that’s on the right track? Occupy. Leonard told Butler that she finds
hope in the movement and supports it enthusiastically. “The Occupy movement is
taking back our spaces, taking back our discourses, it is striving to take back
our government and in many ways it is taking back ourselves.”
Sources: Story of Stuff, BillMoyers.com,
See Utne Reader on “The
Story of Cap and Trade,” “The
Story of Citizens United v. FEC,” and “The
Story of Broke.”
Wednesday, December 05, 2012 12:30 PM
A Pair of Pears' guide to DIY gift wrapping.
Whether you’ve been too busy, broke, or lazy to finish (or start)
your holiday shopping, it’s not too late to find or make thoughtful gifts. And
with an emphasis on local, DIY, and green gifting, you can avoid the mall
the internet, your telephone, and a credit card, you can help support your loved
ones’ favorite local spots. Chip in for a visit to that zero-waste locavore
restaurant your sister loves. Treat your mom to an hour with her local
masseuse. Get your stepdad a round of golf (not the greenest, maybe, but better
than another tie). Asking yourself what your loved ones like to do is usually
easier than trying to figure out what they want. Alternatively, consider
sharing some favorite local finds from your area. Whether you choose practical
items (honey, soap) or extravagances (chocolate, wine), you’ll be sharing a
piece of your everyday life.
has a creative streak. Whether your strengths are in the kitchen, the garden,
or the art studio, there’s a gift waiting for you to make it. Here are a few
ideas for getting started. Food
Republic has slightly-sinful holiday treats, from vanilla bourbon to spicy
candied bacon fudge (yes, you read that right). Odessa
May Society’s DIY tulip-and-daffodil-bulb gift basket will bring the
reassurance of spring to friends who get the winter blues. For music and poetry
lovers, ABeautiful Mess shows how to make wall art out of verse. And if you have
paint chip samples secreted away somewhere, How About Orange reveals how to
turn them into magnets
patterned wall art. Love drawing or graphic design? Handmade soaps,
lotions, teas, salves,
perfumes and colognes offer a blank slate for designing labels and packaging
that shows off your style.
a hungry mind with a year’s worth of food-for-thought and support the independent press. Here are some of our favorite
For the environmentalist: Orion
The informed optimist: Yes!
friend who hates consumer culture: Adbusters
The new parents: Brain,
The intellectual cyclist: Boneshaker: A
The practical cyclist: Bicycle Times
The farmer (or wanna-be): Small Farmer’s Journal
The hardcore sustainable do-it-yourselfer: Mother Earth News
left-leaning news junkie: The NationThe open-minded
conservative: American ConservativeThe
feminist: BitchThe empowered girl: New Moon(Or
Reader with a friend!)
seem strange to donate instead of giving a gift, but if you’re buying for the
family activist this will likely supply the desired warm, fuzzy feeling. Talk
to them beforehand about causes they support.
to buy and use less this holiday don’t have to stop at the gift. In case you
thought newspaper and brown paper shopping bags couldn’t look classy, check out
guide to upcycled gift wrapping. A
Pair of Pears and Redesign
Revolution offer more ideas for making DIY and reusable wrapping look
Still freaking out?
For practical advice on paring down and handling holiday stress, see the Mayo
Clinic’s tips for
coping with the holidays.
A Pair of Pears' guide to DIY gift wrapping; Sweet & spicy nuts via SassyRadish, licensed under Creative Commons; Gift for the Gardener by Odessa May Society; November/December 2012 cover of
; Cloth gift wrap from The Merriment Blog (via Redesign Revolution).
Tuesday, October 23, 2012 10:15 AM
If you’re the kind who ventures out on foot after dark,
you’ve almost certainly noticed a hypnotic blue glow flashing inside windows throughout
the neighborhood. And when you see people held captive by a box of moving
light, you can’t help but think that humans seem complicit in their own
capture—even if you’re no stranger to a great episode of Planet Earth or Arrested
Development yourself. Does it matter whether they’re watching American Idol, Mad Men, or Real Housewives?
For decades, people have worried that television and movies
would take away the public’s agency, the collective drive to do anything but
work and buy things advertised on TV. It’s a justifiable fear. People do seem
pretty entrenched in a lifestyle that revolves around working, eating, and
Of course, there’s also a history of resistance to this
prescribed lifestyle, and not just among academics. Ray Bradbury wrote his 1953
novel, Fahrenheit 451,to caution
against “the moronic influence of popular culture through local TV news and
the proliferation of giant screens and the bombardment of factoids.” In 1967, Timothy
Leary urged a gathering of 30,000 hippies to “turn on, tune in, drop out” (a
phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan). Such messages urged audiences to avoid a
lifestyle of shallow entertainment and consumption in favor of unmediated
experience and action toward positive change.
But money has a way of rendering its critics useless. Now
the hippies’ peace sign is converted into profits at big box stores, where
workers are underpaid and money
is funneled to warmongering presidents. And the purchase of a tie-die
rainbow dress from a popular bohemian concept shop might well further
the career of a dogmatist politician. From hippie to hipster, attempts at
cultural overhaul have been bought, sold, and used against those trying to
change the system. What’s a rebel to do?
Some have attempted to fight fire with fire. While punks,
hip-hop kids, and culture jammers didn’t invent the art of the remix, they
popularized it. On the surface, remixing seems pretty innocent. Take a sample
of culture—an instrumental hook, an image, or word from a magazine—cut, paste, and
make it your own. Most memes (and their variants) do this for a laugh, but it
can be seen as an act of defiance. Those who remix refuse to passively consume.
They insist on answering the nebulous assertions of mass media, however small
their voices may be. It’s a fine line, though, between remix and copyright
The group has emerged as a leader in defense of democratic control of information threatened by corporate copyright and money’s influence on Capitol Hill. Anonymous
understands the value of open-source culture and has fought to protect it. In its own gesture of
sampling, the group turned a mask worn by the fictional protagonist in V for Vendetta into a real-world icon of
rebellion. The mask has a complex
history of evolving meaning, explains Molly Sauter on HiLobrow, beginning with Guy Fawkes’ involvement in a failed plot
to assassinate King James in 1605. Though Fawkes was killed, his legend lived
on through folk tradition, a comic book series, and that series’ Hollywood film adaptation. The popularity of the Guy
Fawkes mask sold in costume shops post-film was waning when an internet forum playfully
revived it to serve as the face of Epic Fail Guy, “a stick figure who failed at
everything,” writes Sauter. “It’s unclear whether this association had anything
to do with the historical story of Guy Fawkes (whose Gunpowder Plot was, in fact,
an EPIC FAIL), or whether it was due simply to the marketing blitz for V
for Vendetta. Either way, the initial popularity of the mask within the
Anonymous community was directly due to its association with Epic Fail Guy, and
only indirectly (if at all) to political sympathy with either the historical
Guy Fawkes or V for Vendetta.”
When Anonymous began its sidewalk protest of the Church of Scientology, the mask was worn mockingly
to expose the religion as an “epic fail,” suggests Sauter. However, as Anonymous’
actions gained recognition, offline embrace of the mask caused its meaning to
“The symbolism of the mask itself,
adopted by anti-authoritarian protesters from [Occupy Wall Street] to the Arab Spring,
seems to have reverted to more closely embody the meaning in the V for
Vendetta comics and film. Rather than overtly mocking those targeted by
the protesters, the mask (an anarchic folk hero with a smile and curved
mustache) serves as a political identifier. The wearer is identified as anti-authoritarian,
a member of an online generation that values the freedom of communication and
assembly that the internet has so powerfully enabled.”
The meaning of the mask was influenced by many, but
controlled by none. It became a sign, a word in the language of resistance. Far
from simple imitation, this transformation seems to have happened almost by
Though the mask signifies rebellion, it has not escaped the
constructs of copyright and consumption. Nick Bilton of The New York Times points out that every time a mask is purchased, protesters
of the world’s largest media companies, Time Warner. There is no denying
this claim, but Bilton misses the point. Rather than inventing a new icon of resistance,
which would in time be packaged for the masses and sold à la peace signs, Che
Guevara, and the Obey Giant,
protesters have reclaimed an item that media companies had rendered all but
meaningless. It’s a product, sure, but it gives dissidents something no advertisement sells: temporary anonymity. In freeing its wearers from identity,
the mask also frees them from their individuality, allowing them to be
subsumed, for a fearless moment, by a greater cause. It’s almost the reverse of
Bilton’s argument—critics of corrupt capitalist practices have found a way to exploit
the system, which distributes the face of their protest.
The Guy Fawkes mask is not the only example of this leap from mass media to
the streets. In an article for Guernica Rebecca Solnit wrote that a friend arrested at an Occupy protest had posted“Max
gave me the Hunger Games salute in jail today. It was awesome,” in a status update on Facebook. “In
this way,” writes Solnit, “do fiction and reality meld in misery and triumph
[…].” It seems people are expanding the vocabulary of the 99 percent, and symbols
spread wide by mass media make for a convenient starting point.
The messages contained within film, television, and books
inevitably infiltrate public thought and discussion. The more aware we are of
their influence, the more control we have over it. In the hands of engaged
audiences, mass media have the potential to contribute to a broad language of
protest. By using the internet and streets as a public forum, people create and
change this language, and the gap between citizen and consumer narrows. Rebellion
can be co-opted by consumerism, but the reverse might also be true.
Images, top to bottom: "televisión lado A" by Ángel Raúl Ravelo Rodríguez
licensed under Creative Commons;
Epic Fail Guy; Anonymous crop, from a 2008 photo with Graham Berry at the Hamburg conference on Scientology, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, October 19, 2012 9:19 AM
Black Moth Super Rainbow
Available on Rad Cult (October 23, 2012)
If airports are the ghost towns of the future, Black Moth
Super Rainbow is already there, playing an all night party amidst crumbling
walls, deserted storefronts, and lines of empty chairs. Mechanically processed
vocals floating through distorted synthesizer riffs somehow manage to sound
warm and friendly. Shadows shift as people filter in and the desolation is
slowly replaced with dancing. It seems entirely possible that an alien
spacecraft could land on the cracked tarmac at any moment, amidst echoes of the
In the cultural subconscious, the sounds of modular synths
and vocorders are inextricably linked to spaceships, robots, and boxy white
text on black computer screens. Because Black Moth Super Rainbow tends toward
such instruments, the music often has a party-on-the-Starship-Enterprise vibe. Cobra Juicy is no exception. After a few
seconds of rowdy pep-band percussion, the album transforms into a retro-futuristic
exploration of analogue electronica. It might seem impenetrable and
disorienting unless you regularly listen to Boards of Canada, Air, and Pink
Floyd all at once—and it might even if you do. This is fringes of the fringes
songwriting and, while BMSR has plenty of fans, the music is a creative experiment
probably never intended to be understood or loved by the masses. There’s an
urge to try to wrap your head around it all, but it’s only when you stop
analyzing that the sounds begin to make much sense. Once the moog-era novelty
wears off, we hear danceable beats, straightforward hooks, and melodies meant
to delight rather than impress.
Cobra Juicy is the
product of BMSR’s own transformation. Frontman Tobacco (Tom Fec) reported
feeling confined by the project after 2009’s Eating Us. He went solo for a couple of albums, then got inspired
to return to BMSR—without the rest of the band. He laid down several tracks,
trashed most of them, and made new ones. Though the band will be joining him
for the live tour, clearly this is not a man who gives in to sentimentality. Rather
than nostalgia for a dead future, tracks like “Spraypaint” and “I Think I’m
Evil,” seem to be coming to terms with the weirdness of now. Others, like
“Psychic Love Damage” and “We Burn,” revel in the strange and sad while finding
something beautiful in them. Cobra Juicy
owns our culture’s dated expectations and eerie optimism, turning the history
of our imagined future into a new thing that’s vulnerable and joyful, sinister and
lovely all at once.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012 9:24 AM
Since the dawn of the internet age, activists have been
talking about going digital. Some of them even pioneered tactics for electronic
civil disobedience. But it wasn’t until a subculture of hackers became
politicized that a popular movement took off. The result is a subversive,
unapologetic, and surprisingly powerful activism. Anonymous may have a
reputation for pranks and crime, but by early 2011 the group’s reputation as an
influential, if loosely organized, hacktivist collective was solidified.
Read Quinn Norton’s history of
Anonymous in Wired, and Molly
Sauter’s background on the Guy
Fawkes mask at HiLobrow.
Keep up with Anonymous at AnonNews.org
NYU Media professor Gabriella Coleman on Anonymous
Zuccotti Raid Footage shot by NYPD’s Technical Assistance Response Unit (TARU)
Tuesday, October 16, 2012 3:34 PM
Sand rises around the Great Wall of China in a 2007 Diesel ad. Text in the upper right corner reads "global warming ready."
Perhaps by now you’ve heard that Perrier, the sparkling water company, has come up with a way to fix climate change. Ring the bells. Bang the drums.
You’re probably wondering what the idea is. Are the people of Perrier campaigning to end subsidies to oil companies worldwide?
Are they encouraging people to drive less, buy less stuff, and stop pillaging Planet Earth?
The company’s plan is to send a lithe young woman into space to pour some sparkling water on the sun. Yes. That’s the plan.
Well, OK, not seriously—but they made a commercial about it. Because the sun is the problem, and putting it out is the solution.
Earth to Perrier, it’s 2012 calling. The record setting heat-waves, droughts, fires, and storms are only going to get worse. No one knows exactly what will happen but people generally agree that there will be disruptions to our supplies of food and water, not to mention changes to our habitats. There will be other consequences we haven’t predicted. Climate change isn’t a marketing gimmick, and shouldn’t be used as way to sell more stuff.
Because global warming is caused by general overconsumption, most advertising makes climate change worse, if indirectly. It’s not just that we drive too much and fly too much (though we do), it’s that everything we buy comes to us at cost to the planet. That includes sparkling water. It’s not that an advertisement like this is actually more harmful than any other ad, it’s just unforgivably irreverent.
Of course, Perrier is not the first to do this. Italian clothing brand Diesel offered a series of “Global Warming Ready” print ads in 2007. The ads featured young, wealthy–looking white people in post-climate-change settings around the world. Parrots have taken the place of pigeons at St. Mark’s Square in Venice. The Great Wall of China is half-covered in sand. Jungle wildlife encroaches on the Eiffel Tower and at Mount Rushmore, Lincoln’s nose is barely above water. The roofs of skyscrapers have become islands in Manhattan.
It doesn’t look so bad, really. I mean, if climate change is all about hanging out on rooftop beaches and looking fabulous, count me in. I’ll spend every last penny on high-end clothes and sparkling water. I’ll call it stocking up.
The strange thing is, as audacious as these ads seem, they’re also soothing. “Everything will be fine,” they whisper. “Buy more stuff.”
If the cause of climate-changing emissions is overconsumption—of fuel but also of products—then advertisements are a big part of the problem. Perrier and Diesel are not the sole offenders, but the last thing we need is reassurance that altered, extreme climates will be tolerable with new clothes and bottled water.
I questioned writing this post for a couple of reasons. First, I’m extending the reach of the ad to people who may have chosen to live outside advertising’s reach. People who don’t want to be manipulated into buying things. People who don’t want to waste time and energy chasing material goods beyond basic needs. Second, it would be very easy to derail my argument like so: Now here’s a person who takes everything too seriously. Can’t we just sit back at the end of a long, hard workday and watch TV? Advertising is just that, advertising. It doesn’t actually affect anyone. It’s not so bad, watching this imaginative commercial, with rich colors and beautiful people and a lovely sense of resolution. It makes me happy … and thirsty.
It may be true that I have no sense of humor, but in a situation this grave, why should I? Our government is not responding to dangerous levels of pollution. Our president couldn’t be bothered to attend Rio+20. A group of children sued the Environmental Protection Agency for neglecting to protect the atmosphere, and the case was dismissed by a U.S. District Judge who claimed it was out of his jurisdiction. Our legislators are too busy collecting bribes from Big Oil and Big Industry to create policies that would make sustainability economically attractive.
This is a failure of leadership and a failure of the market. We must respond by making climate change a high priority within the culture. That does not start with soothing advertisements from companies trying to make a dollar before the unpredictable rises up around us.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012 10:28 AM
For many people, poverty means a diet of highly processed
foods and the attendant poor health. Reversing such a trend might seem
overwhelming, but the founders of Wholesome Wave saw it as an opportunity. Michel
Nischan and Gus Schumacher created the Double Value Coupon Program, making SNAP
benefits worth double in farmers markets. The program is now enabling health,
strengthening local economies, and empowering communities across the United States.
Utne Reader assistant editor Suzanne Lindgren
interviewed Michel Nischan by phone in late August 2012. Here is the
Utne Reader: When we
read about Wholesome Wave and the Double Value Coupon Program, we thought it
was an innovative idea, so we started looking into the organization.
Michel Nischan: We’re really proud of the work we’re
doing here and we’re thrilled to say that we’re seeing it have an impact.
That’s all any of us can hope for, especially those of us interested in food
and social justice. We feel pretty good about it. It’s been easy for us to
sleep at night.
First I wanted to ask you about the origins of
Wholesome Wave. What inspired it and how did it come about?
I’ve been a locavore chef for over 30 years now. My
focus on locavore came because my parents really should have been farmers and
were displaced by the conventional agricultural takeover of the small American
family farm. So back after World War II they kind of were forced from their
birthright. I really should be a farmer in Missouri right now that cooks well, you
know? But I’m perfectly happy doing what I’m doing. That was the background of
why I was doing what I was doing as a chef.
About halfway through my career--18 years ago--my son
Chris was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. I learned very very quickly that what
we fed Chris would have more to do with the quality of his long term outcome
than his insulin regimen and everything else around banishing the disease.
During pouring myself into the study of what to do to help Chris, I started
learning about Type II diabetes, which is far more prevalent. The thing that
really broke my heart, well there were two things that broke my heart. The
first is that it’s diet preventable, caused by a poor diet in the majority of
cases. Some of it is hereditary, but the majority of it is caused by poor food
choices and lifestyle. The second thing that broke my heart is that the
majority of people that suffer from it are living in the type of poverty that
disallows them from being able to change or prevent such a condition from
happening to them or their family members.
I hit a point of probably undiagnosed clinical
depression, because I was chef of a white tablecloth restaurant, feeling good
about doing local food because I could charge 30 dollars for an entree, then
learning about the number of Americans suffering from this terribly devastating
disease and they really had no control over being able to prevent it. It was at
that time that I was introduced to Gus Schumacher, the co-founder of Wholesome
Wave. He’s our executive vice president of policy. He’s the guy who helped us
get our incentive program into the Farm Bill that passed the Senate. Our
fingers are crossed.
Anyway, I was introduced to Gus because I had this
desire to do something about it. Gus, when he was Under Secretary of
Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services--which is the third
highest in the USDA behind the Secretary of Agriculture--Gus’ proudest moment
was creating the Farmers Market Nutrition Program for Women Infants and
Children living in poverty and for seniors living in poverty. It was terribly
underfunded, which he had nothing to do with, but a disappointment for him.
So he and I were both going through our own phases
of, ‘Damn! How can we make this better?’ And we founded Wholesome Wave in 2007.
We started back in 1999 doing hobby kind of stuff, helping non-profit friends
of ours and refugee and immigrant farmers get better prices by introducing them
to restaurants, et cetera, et cetera. We were having fun, but we formally
founded back in 2007 around the last Farm Bill.
So it was kind of like, my son getting diabetes, Gus’
programs getting underfunded, the energy around that but also the opportunity
we saw when we realized that there are so many people in underserved
communities that are in a position to benefit from better food access. And when
you combine all of their food assistance benefits, it’s tens of billions of
dollars a year that come into the American economy that can only be spent on
food. We saw that as a big opportunity for local farmers, for environmental
protection, et cetera.
One of the things we found so innovative about the
program is that, not only does it help people afford the food that they want to
eat, but it’s also great for the local economy.
Absolutely. One of the things we love--and you guys
may have come across this on our website--in our data outcomes we surveyed I
think it was 1700 farmers in 2010 and 2200 in 2011, around 600 federal benefits
consumers in 2010 and 1300 in 2011. In the farm sector, 10 percent of the farms
had to increase acreage, diversify crop plantings. It was either 8 or 12
percent actually added hoop houses. The SNAP and the WIC people were showing up
when it was sleeting and raining and snowing and cold when, pardon the
expression, all the white people were staying home because the weather was bad.
Underserved community members were going because it was their only healthy food
access. The farmers were blown away by that. They diversified crop plantings,
they added infrastructural investments. On the consumer end, we asked the
question, ‘Why is this program important to you? Why is going to the market
important to you?’ Is it that the market accepts the benefits, is it that the
market doubles [the value], et cetera. We always expected those to be the two
top reasons. The number one
reason--and it was something like 87 percent said it was most important in 2010
and 91 percent in 2011--quality of produce. Number two was that the market
accepted the benefits and three was supporting local farmers and businesses.
So it’s not that folks in
these communities maybe want the access. They’re desperate for it, they just
can’t afford it. When they provide affordability with something as simple as a
two-for-one sale they come in droves and they continue to come after the
benefit is gone. It’s good stuff.
Was the Double Value Coupon Program the founding
program of Wholesome Wave?
It’s the founding program. We
actually were dabbling, because I had opened Dressing Room restaurant, which I
own and the late actor Paul Newman was my partner. So I knew I wanted to do
Wholesome Wave, we knew we wanted to deal in underserved communities and get
more affordable food access. Our initial concept was, ‘Let’s figure out how to
do this,’ that’s before we founded. So we funded, with the proceeds from
Dressing Room restaurant, a farmers market in the parking lot of Westport
County Playhouse. It was the first producer-only farmers market in Fairfield County, Connecticut.
You know, there were farmers markets, but a lot of them were reselling stuff
that they got at the Bronx Produce Terminal. So we did a producer only thing
and we thought if we could introduce these guys to a really lucrative market we
could talk them into going into Bridgeport or Norwalk. We learned very
quickly that that wasn’t going to work, so that’s when we felt that the
incentive program would be the thing that would really help make markets viable
in underserved communities. Farmers
will go anywhere if they know that people, want their produce, will buy it, and
that they can go back at the end of the day with an empty truck and decent
amount of money.That’s a good thing and that’s exactly what the
program did, so it was our founding program. When we formalized Wholesome Wave,
we formalized it out of the Double Value Coupon Program.
And the growth that’s happening, is that all
through Wholesome Wave, or are there other programs like it starting on their
We’re aware of a few dozen
programs out there that have started on their own because they just say, ‘Wow,
we could do that.’ And they’re going out and raising their own money and
they’re doubling it, they’re getting EBT machines. We think that’s fabulous.
We’re working through a network of 70 non-profit program partners. With doubling
we’re in 29 states and Washington
D.C., in over 400 markets. What
we don’t want to be is the kind of non-profit where it’s like, ‘Here’s our
concept, here’s the way you have to do it. We’re coming into your community, we
gotta set up an office, everything has to be this color and this language.’ We
don’t do that because we realize that urban communities are different than
rural communities, that Eastern are different that Western are different than
Southern or Central-Western. There are really great people on the ground in all
regions of the world working on food justice issues. To come and set up in
somebody else’s community and have brand stability to put them out of business,
as well ignore the fact that these organizations are talented, capable,
passionate, and already have deep relationships of trust established in the
communities they’re working in. So that’s the way we went in. When Gus and I
were doing the hobby stuff, we were very familiar with the W.K. Kellogg
Foundation. Gus was a consultant for them, I was on their conference planning
committee for a couple years, we’d gotten to know a lot of the Kellogg grantees
and other groups that were out there that weren’t funded by Kellogg that were
doing really great work. When we started the program we immediately went to
non-profits we knew we could trust, they had deep relationships in their
community and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this idea. What do you think?’ They said,
‘Wow, we love it. How do we get in?’ Then we’d say, ‘Well, all we need from you
is that you craft a budget and you have to build it out so you’re the cashier
of the market, you’re taking responsibility for an alternative currency, so
that we’re not creating an opportunity for fraud. So the accounting management is important and the data collection.
Those two things are what thread all of our 70 partners together. Those are the
things everybody has to do the same. Otherwise, they can call it whatever they
want. It’s Double Dollars in D.C. It’s Market Match in California,
it’s Double-Up Food Bucks in Michigan.
You know, do whatever you want with that stuff, but we all have to agree that
if we’re going to change the legislation and shift the way public dollars are
working to get a better outcome, we need to be able to build a case that’s irrefutable.
We really probably have, indirectly, 250 Wholesome Wavers. It’s working
beautifully and it allowed us to deploy rapidly and the outcomes are powerful.
Tell me about the programs Wholesome Wave has
started doing since this one.
It’s interesting because we had
another founding program that we just backed off on. We had very limited human
resources and the marketplace wasn’t quite ready for the concept. It was a
program called Green Wave, and that was a farm to college program.
We recognized the energy that was being created by
the Yale Sustainable Food Project when Alice Waters went in and got really mad
about the food they were serving in the cafeteria there and said, ‘There must
be a way you can take just one of twelve campuses and have everything come from
local, organic producers, cooked from scratch for the kids.’ They still have
not been able to do that. It was a big mission, but it did create all of these
contracts now, where institutions of higher learning are requiring the Aramarks
and the Sodexhos to go a certain percent local by certain years or they can
lose their contract. But we also saw that they couldn’t enforce the contract
because these food service companies could prove that they couldn’t get the
amount of food to be able to meet the mandates.
I was on the advisory board--Alice invited me and Gus both to be on the
advisory board of that--so when we looked at it we said, ‘Listen, we need to
push some of this upstream. We need to find mid-size producers that can come up
with a tractor load of tomatoes, a third of a tractor load of eggplant, a
couple tons of onions and have oven-roasted pizza sauce that can be made into
pasta sauce, oven-roasted vegetable lasagna, and can be turned into a soup, a
variety of different things, so we can take these tractor loads and put them
into a condition where there’s the skill and infrastructure level that these
kitchens can handle.
It was funny because Alice looked at it and she was like, ‘Oh,
look how big the kitchens are. There’s no reason we can’t do this.’ And I’m
looking at them with my background in food service, saying, ‘This kitchen can’t
handle a tractor load of tomatoes.’ They don’t have the equipment to be able to
put it into that form where they can serve the local food year-round Connecticut only has a
five-month growing season, and three of those months school’s out of session.
So what do we do, right?
We started that program and just backed off on it
because people weren’t getting it. But now there’s all this energy around food
hubs. We always believed that if we were going to be successful steering public
money in the direction of helping more people across more socio-economic
demographics to afford locally grown food and demand it, that the businesses
don’t exist to be able to take advantage of that new market we would be
creating. It would be an incomplete mission. We would end up doing all this
great work only to have the big boxes of the major multinational food companies
swoop in and figure out a way to get into the vegetable business. So, the
Healthy Food Commerce Initiative is our newest, most exciting program, but it
was part of us from the very beginning in that, ‘How do we use instruments like
farm credit, new markets tax credit, social finance, funds like Imprint Capital
and RSF out of San Francisco, and some of these others and help steer them and
help re-arrange the instruments so they’re appropriate for these types of food
How do we get the businesses and these really
excited, engaged entrepreneurs the technical assistance they need so that they
better understand the opportunities for their business so they can accept
financing and pay it back. So we’ve believe that school food’s going to be
changed to the types of facilities that are co-owned by farmers and community
entrepreneurs that can change school food in 10 school districts without having
to rebuild 12,000 kitchens, which is not going to happen on current school
budgets, and hire 100,000 more cafeteria workers, which isn’t going to happen
on current school budgets. That’s a good one.
And then our Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program
we actually started working on almost immediately after we deployed the
doubling. We realized with the doubling that for that program to be successful
and be widely accepted by people living in poverty, we didn’t want to make a
condition of them being able to take part in the two-for-one sale having to
roll their sleeve up. And be monitored for health outcomes. We knew we needed another program and we
also knew that the health outcomes would be important if we wanted to target
the Affordable Health Care Act and really look at the Measurable Prevention
Clause, Title VI Section 4013, because that’s an even bigger pot of potential
money for local farmers than the Farm Bill. We designed the program, we’ve
raised enough money so that doctors and nurse practitioners in underserved
community health clinics working in conjunction with nutritionists can actually
advise--triage an entire at-risk family--advise them to eat better and to
exercise and then give them the resources to eat better.So they
go to markets where we already have the non-profit program expert collecting
data and managing alternative currency and we’ve created this wrap-around
community of practice which also includes the community member, instead of them
just being separate silos of something that might be available to someone
living in poverty. Everyone is touching the same patient, the patient’s giving
feedback, everyone’s acting like neighbors. We’ve broken the silos down.
Because it’s a private prescription and it doesn’t require someone to spend
their food stamps--so it’s not a two-for-one sale, it’s a doctor saying, ‘You
need to eat better, here’s your prescription’--the families are enthusiastic
about coming back once a month to be measured for health outcomes. Those are
our three programs and then we have the policy department, which Gus heads.
He’s the one who’s been sharing all of our outcomes in Washington in a way that’s equaling policy
Visit Wholesome Wave online.
Read Nischan’s essay, “The
Economic Case for Food Stamps,” at The
Learn more about his work as a
chef and policy innovator at Food
NOW, and PBS Food.
Video: TEDxManhattan: Great
Tomatoes For All
Wednesday, September 26, 2012 10:09 AM
The phrase “radical ecologist” may have connotations but these words,
traced to their beginnings Latin and Greek, amount to a roots-based study of the
relationships between living things. There couldn’t be a more accurate summary
of Nance Klehm’s work, which ranges from landscape design and art experiments
to writing and leading urban weed-eating tours. Connect the dots between all of
these activities, and you have an outline for re-connecting city-dwellers to
Utne Reader assistant editor Suzanne Lindgren
interviewed Nance Klehm by phone in late August 2012. Here is the transcript.
Photo by Jason Creps.
Utne Reader: We’ve selected you as an Utne Visionary for 2012
mostly because of what we’ve read about your urban foraging and the
tours—sharing that knowledge with other people—but I know that you do a lot of
other things too.
Nance Klehm: I never know what aspect of my work people are
interested in because it is a matrix. It’s all part of the practice and also my
public offering. So I was like, ‘Huh, I wonder how they found me and through
what channel.’ OK, I’m ready to go.”
How did you become
involved in urban foraging?
I started doing it on my own maybe 15 years ago, mostly out
of a response to the—for lack of a better word—loneliness of a city. I’m not
from cities, I’m not an urban person, or maybe I’ve become one as an adult. I
came to the city because it’s a world of ideas, and I realized that the world
of ideas is a lonely one. So I started going for long walks along the train
tracks near my house that go out about 50 miles from Chicago, west. And started identifying
plants. I come from a horticultural background, so identifying plants is
something that I have a facility for. I had a starting point from growing up
rurally and having a horticulturalist for a father and being part of a very
large nursery operation. I decided I was going to share that with others
about—I’m not very good with time—but I’d say it was about 7 years ago I
started doing public walks and invited people to come with me.
And why was that an
important addition for you?
Well, my motivation isn’t food supply. I mean it is, but
And that’s fine, it’s
I feel like that’s a very human-centric approach to the
landscape, and mine was to connect with my environment. I wanted to help urban
people better appreciate their surroundings and to find their place within that
through a sense of wonder and a careful engagement. That’s kind of the
underpinnings of my urban forages, although I talk about edibles, medicinals,
plants that we can use for fiber, building materials, etc. But the underlying,
overall thing is about reengaging the city as habitat.
I’ve noticed that
there’s been a lot of press about you, especially in Chicago, some in LA. Have
you been able to see people wandering around with increased knowledge? Are
people telling each other and is it having kind of a ripple effect?
Yeah, it is. It’s very much the fad now. There’s a foraging
restaurant opening in Chicago,
very high-end. It’s all the rage. There’s a great sense of wonder around
things. I recently was in Poland
working on some projects and I did public forages in both places. I find that
Americans are still having problems seeing their environment as something to consult.
And looking at eyes and faces is dollar signs, looking at it within the market
model. Americans, it will still take some time to connect them with their
environment in a way that’s not so conceptive or extractive.
I know you’ve done a
wealth of other projects from writing to composting to art. Do you want to talk
about some of those and fill in the blanks?
Again, to me it’s a web and if I think of myself as a spider
who has eight legs, I need to put down every leg to move forward. So I have all
these different pieces that I move forward slowly. They all have the same
passion and belief: that I want to connect people to nature and environment in
an experiential way. So I don’t use environmental terms, I don’t use political
language, I don’t use spiritual language. I don’t use any of those languages
because I’m trying to catch a really broad audience of socio-economic classes,
different formal disciplines and aspects of literacy, age from children to
elderly, and also to spiritual and political differences. I do pride myself
that I can talk to people with a low level of literacy and immigrants as well
as I can talk about evangelical Christians about the same things, and for them
to make sense and connect to them. And so, to summarize, it’s all about
re-engaging and re-envisioning our cities as habitat—for humans and every other
living creature, animals, plants, etc.—to look at our biological infrastructure
of air soil water. So all the work I do is within that.
What questions should
we, as people, be asking ourselves as we look around—to go along with what you
just said about reengaging and re-envisioning and imaging things as connected?
I think just asking yourself, where are you right now? How
do you feel about yourself? How do you feel about the world around you? Go
outside. Listen. Look, feel. A bigger question is, what systems are you
feeding? Not what systems do you feed on, which always seems to be the concern,
particularly around food policy and food debate. Like, “what are you eating?”
Who cares? What are you giving back to? What are feeding your energy into? What
economic systems, social systems, natural systems, political systems are you
contributing your life force to? So what systems do you feed? That’s the
deepest, most digging question I ask people, but I try to start with, ask
yourself where you are now.
I was blasting through European space and I was in so many
different places. I had to engage these things so fast. I kept having to tell
myself, “I am here right now. I am in the woods of … Finland, you know, for three days.”
And I have to engage that environment, the people who live there. And it’s a
huge translation, but always asking where are you now? Who are you now?
It sounds like people
all around the world are interested in this knowledge. You just go to Finland
and do a public forage? That’s pretty amazing.
I did that in Tampere, that’s
the second largest city in Finland.
I also did a forage in Warsaw,
Poland. I was
doing other stuff there, but that was on the side.
It’s interesting that
people around the world are interested in similar things. I don’t know why I’m
Well, I think it’s localized knowledge. There’s been a
couple times where I’ve had really large groupings of people—like 50 people—for
one of my forages. I ask them, “If you’ve come here for a culinary experience,
stand over here. If you’ve come here for a personal health experience, stand
over here. And if you’ve come to connect to your environment, stand over here.”
You could stand between those points too, so there’s three points in a triangle
and there’s kind of a physical scale. You could measure yourself and I could
visually see where people are coming from so I could swing the walk, with how I
talk about things.
And almost every place, it doesn’t matter what country I’m
in, or city, suburb, wherever, almost everybody is in the camp of connecting
with their own environment. I feel like that is a fundamental shift, and those
are the people, I think, that maybe I attract, because that’s the language I
use. It’s really heartening, you know? It just feels so great. They want to
care. They want to know about their environment and they want to care.
Well, you’re kind of
touching on it right now, but what keeps you inspired day to day, and over
Every morning I wake up, I’m really excited. [Laughing] I’m
always in a good mood in the morning and I just can’t wait to go outside and
see what’s happening with the day, with the plants, with my animals. I’m just
Alright … That’s
great. OK, so what’s important that I write about?
Well, I’m going to talk about two things. One is why a lot
of my work is based on soil. When I look at urban landscape, anywhere in the
world, I see evidence of disturbed ground, from all the things we like to do as
humans: build and rebuild and move around, etc., etc. Because some of this
disturbed ground is just disturbed and some of it’s contaminated, I’m really
interested in how plants will tell you the story. I can look at a landscape and
in general I can give you an estimate of when it was last disturbed—pretty
close—and I can also tell you the mineral composition of the soil, what plants
are in there. So many of the plants in the United States in urban areas are
Asian and European, what I call the Eurasian meadow. And they really tell that
story of migration.
I’m interested in soil and water as a starting ground to
grow health. The weeds that we see that are from Europe and Asia
that make up most of our landscape are not invasive, but they’re still
non-natives, right? And they’re healing the soil. They’re the first ones to
have been able to deal with these compromised, pretty poor conditions of these
urban areas. They are kind of the most important medicines, basic medicines
that we have in our area, but they’re also healing the soil. When I think about
food systems—which I’ve been involved with for 20-some years as an adult but
also because I grew up on a farm—that people talk a lot about annual food
production and they don’t talk so much about water and soil. Those are the only
things that we have to make our food healthy. I decided to redesign what I did
as a landscape designer and as a food producer in this city. I redesigned it to
get people to a more rooted base of water and soil. My forages—and I talk about
habitat in my forages also—connect people to deeper trends of health and
unhealth in a city. And I try to do that in a really open ended way, so people
don’t feel like their world is crashing down, but I want them to be aware of
why the plants that they see in their environment are there. What they’re doing
underground for the soil.
I’m actually really surprised that foraging would be what
Utne would focus on for me. It’s a practice of mine. I feel like it’s lighter
work, particularly with this trendy-ism around it. So that’s how it connects
with my larger question around food supply: that all these weeds we’re looking
at or foraging, so many things in our landscape are actually healing our soils.
They come there because we’ve disturbed the landscape through agriculture,
through developing cities, etc.
My concern around foraging is that, as Americans, people
need to be told not to grab everything. I’m going to be in the Bioneers, and
I’m going to be talking about soil the whole time, urban soil. When people just
think about the next cool thing that they can eat, or charge $15 in a
salad—like all these restaurants that charge $15 for a salad that I can pick
out of the sidewalk cracks in 2 minutes—bothers me. I also am bothered by the
idea that people see things as extractive still, the idea that they’ll pick
something too hard. I’m very cautious in how I approach foraging. I don’t want
it to be a new food economy like some other foragers in the nation are talking
about. I don’t think that’s right.
I can absolutely
Yeah, especially about relationships, especially about
giving back. I’m not trying to promote new tastes. I’m not doing this because
it’s … People come up to me and they’re like, “yeah but it’s free,” and I’m
like, “that’s not the point.” I’m really cautious of that. It’s certainly not a
primary way that I make money, maybe between 30 and 60% of what I eat is
foraged. It’s not something I necessarily want to promote, because I don’t feel
like people have the right consciousness to approach their environment. I see
it again and again in all my walks, that I have to slow people down and help
unravel their thought tendencies, eagerness. That’s the only thing I’m a little
concerned about. For awhile in Finland
they were talking about doing a foraging network. They have the woodlands, they
have lingonberries, wild blueberries, and chanterelles that I was able to
forage. There’s all these things in the woods, but it’s a very delicate place,
right? I mean, you’re in Topeka, you’re in Kansas, you understand
you’re in a farmed area and I am too. But they were talking about how great it
would be to map everything. I said, “Mapping? I actually don’t think it’s great
to map because that just means who knows how people are going to take it.” I’ve
been on mushroom walks and everybody just kind of tramples through the woods
and grabs the chanterelle or the morel or the puffball or whatever they see.
It’s really disturbing, like they’re in this kind of elephant mode. So I said,
what stops people from doing that? What are the ethics involved in that? We had
a long, hard discussion about ethics and of course the Fins have a better ethic
toward environment than Americans do in general, but I still brought up those
questions and they were considered.
In terms of my other projects, Social Ecologies is my
business site and Spontaneous Vegetation is more my activist/artist/provocateur/public
educator site. You’ll see with a lot of my projects—especially the one around
human waste, which I have worked professionally on this too, working in Haiti,
etc.—when I’m working on it in that provocateur place, my whole point is not to
be scatological for people in an urban area to poop along with me, and I
collect all the waste and compost and bring it back to me. But I got a huge
amount of press for that—national press, Time magazine, etc., etc. Or my big
worm project. These things are not to be icky, but I’m trying to go with the
most base level of, what is our relationship to our own bodies. If we care
about our own bodies, how do we care about other beings and our immediate habitat?
It’s not just an environment, it’s a habitat. How do we treat the land that’s
around us? That’s still an underpinning of that project. People just thought I
was being funny or scatological or something, and I’m like, “No, this is
empowering and this is about reconnecting with our bodies and see the landscape
as well as our body is the same. I was trying to get that across, but I kind of
fell short for a lot of people. I did it with a lot of humor, because you can’t
avoid it, right? And I did it with a lot of artistic strategies to get people
to look at these things.
You could just pick out any other project and look at those
sites and if anything else pops out you can use it because I still feel like
it’s the same through line.
People think I do a lot of different things. I’m like,
“Yeah, but it’s all the same spider.”
Learn about Nance Klehm’s current and past projects on her
websites, Social Ecologies and Spontaneous Vegetation.
Read her archived musings and recipes for Arthur Magazine, “Weedeater.”
Read about Mythological Quarter’s visit with Nance
Klehm, an account
of a forage at LA Weekly, or Chicago Reader’s report on Humble Pile, Klehm’s
waste composting project.
Video: Urbanforaging with Weedeater Nance Klehm
Thursday, June 14, 2012 2:10 PM
now on Paw Tracks (June 12)
“Every day of every year, I wonder what I’m doing here,” sings Dent May on
“Home Groan.” The song is an anthem for small-town kids, or anyone that forgoes
tastemaker cities to stay put. The sentiment is also representative of themes
woven through the album, Do Things, as May muses on existence—from
friendship to finding life’s meaning—with plenty of synth and slightly twisted
Lyrically, May is willing to challenge convention. Throughout
the album, he urges listeners to believe in themselves and their ability to
transcend difficulties. “There was a time when I never thought that I’d feel
good again,” sings May in a vaguely doo-wop style on the album’s title track.
The moral of this story? “Do things your own way.” Similarly, “Find It”
empowers listeners, telling them to stand by their dreams and discover life’s
meaning for themselves. “Rent Money” and “Parents” reflect on frustrations
with the adult world and focus on staying true to oneself in spite of
disappointments and obstacles.
There’s not a traditional love song on the album, though
there’s plenty of love. May mentions the importance of friends in at least 4
tracks. And while “Best Friend” seems to address a lover, the focus is on their
long and reliable friendship. “Wedding Day” and “Don’t Wait Too Long” speak to
the challenges of finding romantic love, and in “Tell Her,” he sings about the
frightening prospect of expressing love once it has been found. In each of
these cases, May has an answer: “don’t worry,” “do what feels right,” “say what
you feel.” The takeaway is consistent: trust life’s process and live from the
Musically, the album is joyful and a bit experimental. May
is not afraid to sound like a warped video tape of a Beach Boys concert, but
most of the time he pulls it off. The liberal use of synthesizer, drum
machines, funky bass lines, and close harmonies make for a lovingly campy sound.
Comparisons to the solo work of Animal Collective’s Panda Bear would be fair. Of course, that makes Dent May a logical pick for Paw
Tracks (Animal Collective’s label). Still, Do Things won’t fail to surprise and—for
Panda Bear fans—delight.
Do Things is a
refreshing combination of experimental play, honesty, and optimism. The
world is a strange, overwhelming place—perhaps most confusing at young
adulthood. Rather than offering tools for navigation, Dent May urges listeners
to throw out the map, get lost, and experience the surroundings. “Don’t know
what’s in store for me,” he sings, “but I think it’s gonna be fun.”
Tuesday, June 12, 2012 8:58 AM
At first, there seems a discrepancy: we hear incessant talk of low job
growth and economic distress, but see people tapping expensive smartphones and
buying the latest social-mobile app. Indeed, the technology and design
industries seem unaffected by the recession, set to continue on the same course
of planned obsolescence they’ve been on for decades. But a second look reveals
that advances in these sectors are helping people adjust to life in a
pared-down economy, in a world where the environment has become a main concern.
Our recession isn’t happening in a vacuum, and advances in design and
technology, paired with an economy in flux, are changing the definition of both
work and the workplace.
From an architectural perspective, office layout has been changing since
before the recession, away from cubicles and toward flexible, open-plan
designs. Companies that depend on innovation have designed headquarters that
encourage play and serendipitous meetings. Pixar’s office drives foot traffic toward
a central area, encouraging impromptu idea sharing. Cisco, inspired by the
use of common space in universities, freed
its employees from traditional desks with wireless technology and
unassigned work stations. The shift encouraged collaboration, increased
employee satisfaction, and reduced infrastructure costs.
More recently, office designs have prioritized environmental efficiency. At Skype’s
headquarters, independent work spaces line the perimeter
of the LEED-certified
building, near natural light and away from noise. Like Pixar, meeting spaces
and break rooms are centralized, encouraging spontaneous collaboration. At
Google’s LEED-certified offices around the world, traditional cubicles and
meeting rooms have been replaced with playful spaces, from egg-shaped
pods to unassigned space-age
seating. Additionally, environmental, community, and employee
wellness are supported with bike-to-work incentives and
local, sustainably produced food in the cafeterias.
From open-plan and environment-centered office design it’s a
short leap to another innovation: coworking. A dearth of steady jobs has
created a new league of freelancers, and the desire to reduce carbon footprints
has made telecommuting more appealing than ever. Sure, there’s the local coffee
shop, but coworking offers a way for freelancers and telecommuters to stay
local and tap in to the perks of an
office by sharing costs, space, and resources. Aside from the benefits of
sharing an eco-friendly printer, coworking offers potential for collaboration
and networking, and can lead to serendipitous partnerships. Shareable has compiled a list
of resources for tapping in to the movement.
Paul McFedries of IEEE
Spectrum reports that sharing is “the driving force behind a new economic
model called collaborative
consumption, where consumers use online or off-line tools to rent, share,
and trade goods and services.” Coworking can also be a manifestation of
collaborative production, found in projects like Longshot!, a magazine that
encourages contributors to work together in satellite offices. From this angle,
it looks like social, mobile, and local have gone way beyond smartphone
applications—they could be the way we work in the future.
Image: Zonaspace coworking in Saint Petersburg, Russia, by коворкинг-пространство Зона действия. Licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, June 07, 2012 2:34 PM
Available now on Mute Records (June 5, 2012)
The Liars sixth full-length album is all about advancing
boundaries. Since the band’s first experimental rock release in 2001, it has been resolute in
defying genre designations, preferring instead to experiment with sound and
rhythm. WIXIW is no exception. Even
its title shares in the desire to challenge expectation. The configuration of
letters seems as much about shapes as it does about meaning. The palindrome is
to be pronounced, “wish you.” Read this way, the title carries hope and promise
beside other possibilities: longing, anxiety, confusion.
The album is full of similarly muddled emotions. Much of WIXIW consists of otherworldly
ambient-electronic tracks, ranging in sentiment from welcoming to sinister. The
album opener, “The Exact Color of Doubt” invites listeners into an expansive
soundscape decorated with rhythmic hand clapping. But the next track, “Octagon,”
leads them into a dark, bass-filled underworld embellished with the chatter of
bats and mice. The quick change in tone invites comparisons to Aphex Twin and
Amon Tobin, who displayed a similar dexterity in their ability to both soothe
After the first two tracks, almost all of WIXIW is a blend of beauty and
distortion. The upbeat rhythm driving “No.1 Against The Rush” is tinged with warped
guitar. The playful melodies and rhythms of “Ring On Every Finger” and “Flood
to Flood” are countered by ominous, droning vocals. “Ill Valley Prodigies”
balances an air of suspicion with endearing vulnerability. The title track is
catchy despite its anxious beat and schizophrenic melody. Those who make it to
“Annual Moon Words,” will discover a meditative psych-rock backwater, apparently
designed to usher them safely from the voyage that has been this album.
Music is powerful, and going into dark, scary places with a
stranger requires a degree of trust. It’s your own ghosts you’ll encounter, and
you don’t even know where you’re going. Sometimes a listener can justify
picking a few favorite tracks and skipping through the uncomfortable parts, but
WIXIW does not clearly distinguish
between the bright and dark. For many, this will make it hard to get inside the
music. Still, radiance interlaced throughout will offer almost any listener rewards.
With WIXIW, Liars review experimental
rock as they forge new territory. They explore a junk yard, a good dream, a
crime scene. They’re making something from it all, and they’re asking you to
Tuesday, May 29, 2012 4:18 PM
Hope For Agoldensummer
Life Inside the Body
Available now on
Mazarine Records (May 1, 2012)
At times, the voices in this Athens trio adopt the timbre of instruments
typical of their genre: violins and musical saws. Simple folk harmonies and
plucked guitar strings seem equally suited to float on a breeze through
summer’s open windows or hang in the air of a winter burrow.
Life Inside the Body
is founded on slow rhythms and old-fashioned close harmonies. A cappella tracks
like “Cold Cold Bed” and “Come Back” reveal a seemingly effortless intimacy
between the voices of sisters Claire and Page Campbell. Other tracks—“Come On,”
“Day Glo Grey”—add instrumental accompaniment, but keep a pretty straightforward
folk feel. The album is full of nuanced variation. While individual songs slip
into sub-genres, consistent vocals and pacing hold it all together.
The band is at its catchiest when edging into folk-rock
territory. Tracks like “Daniel Bloom” and “Shining Heart” borrow rock’s
backbeat for added texture. “Daniel Bloom” is the star of the album, with
ghostly, lyricless vocals and an enchanting guitar hook that immediately lure
listeners into the song’s fold. “Shining Heart” is not as immediately catchy,
but after a slow build, listeners are rewarded with an unexpected leap into a
joyous, longing refrain.
Other songs offer an even greater departure from tried-and-true
folk. The changing rhythms, bit of discord, and vaudeville feel of “Annie,” and
the wispy, high harmonies and playful lyrics of “Come Over” are welcome
experimental departures. These slightly eccentric vignettes seem the band’s richest
terrain for potential growth, especially if they can keep the tone more sultry
Hope For Agoldensummer was born of wishes: a reunion of two
sisters, an escape from the cold and dark of winter. Musically and lyrically, the
band seems to represent both the wish-come-true and an understanding that such
wishes cannot last. Claire and Page Campbell may be together, crafting soulful
indie-folk with musician-producer Suny Lyons, but winter will return and these
souls may part ways—if only to reunite later. It is fitting, then, that Life Inside the Body seems a bridge from
sorrow to satisfaction and back again.
Thursday, May 24, 2012 4:17 PM
You’re at the store. It’s been a long day, but it’s almost
over. You just need to track down some food that wasn’t grown in a chemical
bath or harvested by exploited workers. Thank goodness for labels: fair trade,
organic, natural, responsible. These things mean something, right? Well …
Let’s start with the good news. Over the last few decades,
consumers have become aware of corrupt practices in the food supply system and,
in their effort to avoid supporting these practices, have fundamentally altered
the marketplace. As of 2010, organic food was a $26.7 billion industry.
In 2011, fair trade accounted for a lower but still significant share at $1.2
billion. Ethical marketing campaigns have proven so effective that major
corporations want in on some of the profits. Such demand could have created a
positive transformation in the food industry. Imagine a world where even the
largest producers are committed to healthful food, sustainable practices, and
However, rather than altering business models to create such
a product, corporations are using the language of the natural food movement to mislead
people into buying exactly what they’re trying to avoid. The recent controversy
over Kashi cereals put a spotlight on the issue (thanks, EcoSalon). As a
look through comments on Kashi’s website
reveals, many customers felt a sense of betrayal upon learning that the
Kellogg-owned company uses its natural-food image to sell products that contain
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) grown with pesticides. Buying safe,
ethically-produced food is getting tricky, and cereal is just the beginning.
Officially, the “natural” label doesn’t mean much, though Californians
are trying to change that. They’d like the term to designate foods free of
GMOs. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration maintains
that such labeling is unnecessary because GMOs are essentially like any
other food. This stance is disingenuous, at best. Recent research indicates
intolerance stems from wide use of genetically modified (and untested)
wheat crops. Moreover, many GM crops are adapted for higher tolerance to pesticides.
The issue, then, might be less with the crops themselves and more with what is
being put on them. If you’re not sure which labels will steer you clear of
pesticides, this guide
to labels from Mother Jones offers a good starting point. But remember, the
game is always changing.
Next, we will have to keep an eye on labels reading
“responsible” and—possibly—“sustainable.” Writing for Dollars & Sense, John Latham reports that the World Wildlife
Fund (WWF) and other conservation groups have entered into a labeling compromise with the likes of Monsanto, Cargill, and BP. The
deal is that if these producers follow a set of guidelines, the conservation
groups will back labels reading “responsible.” However, the established
guidelines offer too little improvement over current practices to have the
intended effect of sustainability. According to Latham, the standards “are far
lower than organic or fair-trade standards; for example, they don’t require
crop rotation, or prohibit pesticides.” And although the WWF’s goal is to stop
Big Ag’s destruction of the rainforest, the guidelines “would still allow 25
percent of the Brazilian soybean harvest to come from newly deforested land.” Latham
quotes Claire Robinson of Earth Open Source, saying, “The [Roundtable on
Responsible Soy] standard will not protect the forests and other sensitive
ecosystems. Additionally, it greenwashes soy that’s genetically modified to
survive being sprayed with quantities of herbicide that endanger human health
and the environment.” Never mind responsible and sustainable—is it safe?
Questionable as the deal seems, it might be better than
nothing. According to Monica Echeverria of WWF, “the certification program
needs to set standards that a large proportion of stakeholders can subscribe to
and then raise these standards over time. […] The main reason WWF participated […]
was to address deforestation and its impacts on biodiversity and the people
that depend on healthy forests for their livelihoods. Deforestation is not
addressed by some of the other standards, including fair-trade and organic.”
It’s a good argument, but what about promoting companies
that are truly sustainable and calling to boycott Monsanto, Cargill, and the
others until they change their practices? Such a strategy was not even
attempted before resorting to a compromise that, in the end, deceives
Perhaps the World Wildlife Fund is right and the guidelines
will lead to sustainability over time. Meanwhile, it’s good to know that
“responsible” foods are probably laden with chemicals and contributing to deforestation.
If there’s anything to learn from the label debate, it’s that there are no easy
answers. We have to do the research and decide for ourselves.
Image: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Riza Caparros. Image is in the public domain.
Sources: New Hope 360,
Dollars & Sense
Tuesday, May 01, 2012 2:32 PM
wisdom has it that hindsight is 20/20, but twenty years after the
LA Riots we’re still looking back with questions. New stories about
what happened are coming to light, as are new analyses about
circumstances that gave rise to disorder. While many publications
are using this anniversary as a chance for reflection, the underlying
question always seems to be, “Could it happen again?”
Understanding the causes leading up to the LA Riots is crucial to answering that question. A People’s Guide to Los Angeles offers an excellent brief on the circumstances that led to the riots
(unfortunately, you’ll have to get your hands on a print copy). Authors
Laura Pulido, Laura Barraclough, and Wendy Cheng cite “four powerful
and intertwined dynamics: residential segregation, police repression,
economic restructuring, and collective resistance.” The Guide illuminates
how structural inequalities bred community activism, which played a
crucial factor in the Watts Riots of 1965, the creation of the Black
Panther Party, and the uprising in 1992 (all responses to widespread
abuse of power by the police).
The Mental Floss History of the United States offers more causes and outlines the five days of disorder following the acquittal of the officers that beat Rodney King. Los Angeles Magazine supplies a timeline focused on race-related civil disorder in South LA, as well as photo documentation of the riots. The final toll according to Mental Floss:
“[s]even thousand fires had destroyed 613 buildings and damaged another
960, while looters robbed and vandalized 2,700 businesses, many of
which never reopened. The total cost of the damage was $1.5 billion,
almost all in African American neighborhoods. As in previous riots, most
of the victims were also minorities: the death toll included 25 African
Americans, 16 Latinos, eight whites, two Asians, and two immigrants
from the Middle East.”
those impacted by the riots, Korean Americans have emerged with a
strong voice. Many Korean immigrants did not speak English fluently
enough to speak with the press in 1992. Their children are now old
enough to share powerful memories of 4-29, or Saigu. KoreAm has compiled an oral history
detailing how Korean merchants and individuals were targeted during the
riots, from looting and burning in Koreatown to media portrayal of
Korean immigrants as angry and violent. The publication also shares
reflections on how Saigu created solidarity within the Korean American community.
In Guernica, E. Tammy Kim, shares memories of the riot alongside her recent pilgrimage to South LA in search of “the lessons of 1992.”
A Korean American in Seattle at the time of the riots, Kim finds that,
while demographics have changed, many circumstances are the same. The
population is now mostly Latino, though African Americans and Koreans
still inhabit the neighborhood. “Outside Lee’s Market, I offered to help
Rita Nunley with two plastic bags full of groceries. An African
American woman, hair tucked into a kerchief and eyes ringed with dark
circles, she was a distant relation of Latasha Harlins [an African
American teen killed by a Korean shop owner in March, 1991]. In 1992,
Nunley was working for the Post Office. She remembers her boss locking
the staff inside the branch office until the coast was deemed clear.
Rita had hoped the riots would change the city’s inequalities, but, 'Conditions are the same now,' she said. 'I don’t know why it’s not
happening again.'” Similar thoughts were echoed by South LA teens, whose
teachers struggle with how to teach the riots when the history is still being written.
A recent survey found that most Angelenos believe that racial tensions in the city have eased reports The Pacific Standard.
However, the same study found that “public education, transportation,
jobs, street quality, air quality, housing costs and health care quality
have gotten worse since 1992.” The Pacific Standard makes no mention of police brutality, though Tim Cavanaugh of Reason claims that the problem of a “police force more focused on terrorizing the citizens than on solving crimes [...] has been largely solved, thanks in large measure to William Bratton’s work as chief of police.”
While some publications can’t resist the temptation to fan the flames of racial tension, others show that racism does not always trump compassion. Recent Los Angeles Magazine covers, featured in coverjunkie, put a face on the ever-shifting social constructs of race and ethnicity. And The Awl’s Maria Bustillos reminds us that “Reginald Denny, a white guy, was rescued by a black guy named Bobby Green, Jr., who saw [Denny’s] beating taking place on live television, realized that it was going on nearby and rushed out to help.”
Sources: A People’s Guide to Los Angeles, Mental Floss, Los Angeles Magazine, KoreAm, Guernica,Pacific Standard, Reason, coverjunkie, The Awl
Images: First Marine Division along Crenshaw, from licensed under Creative Commons. "I am Black I am White I am L.A." from Los Angeles Magazine, design director Steve Banks, via coverjunkie.
Friday, April 27, 2012 2:36 PM
!WAR: ! Women Art
Available soon on ZeitgeistFilms
wandering through an art gallery, ignoring the art and instead tallying the
number of female artists on display. It may seem strange, but that’s exactly
what a group of women did in the late 1960s. Their findings—that women had been
almost completely excluded from the gallery system—were not entirely surprising.
group formed a coalition, Women Artists in Revolution, and the feminist art
movement was born. For the next 40 years, artist Lynn Hershman Leeson recorded
snippets of it, documenting art by women and interviewing any female artists,
curators and art historians she could find. Leeson accumulated over twelve
thousand minutes of video and archived nearly one thousand still images. !WAR is the condensed version of this
documentary’s main strength lies in putting feminist artwork into context. “You
have to ask yourself why it was necessary for [feminist artists] to do this in
the first place,” says Leeson. Through archival footage and interviews, !WAR illustrates just how difficult it
was for women (who have since become the foundation for feminist art practice)
to get into galleries, much less art history books.
an undergraduate at Harvard
University [in the early
1980s],” says art historian Amelia Jones, “I don’t think there was a single
woman artist whose work was discussed in any one of my classes.” Thankfully,
things have changed. !WAR shows how women exposed and subverted the
system that decides what artwork gets recognized and remembered. In revealing this, the documentary becomes more engaging than any textbook chapter on the
who lived this movement will enjoy !WAR,
but those that didn’t are the ones who most need to watch it. We need to see
life breathed back into feminism, see its passion and creative problem-solving
made contagious. We need to be reminded that feminism was once cool and, though gains have been made,
the fight for equality is not over.
Thursday, April 26, 2012 5:23 PM
Available now on Anti- (April 17, 2012)
Listening to Yann Tiersen’s Skyline
feels a bit like catching up with an old friend. Perhaps you haven’t heard from
this pal in a decade (the Amelie soundtrack), or maybe it’s only been a
couple of years (Dust Lane). Either way, like a childhood companion
you’ve run into on the street, you’ll find Tiersen aged but recognizable. And
though you might have to get reacquainted, chances are you’ll enjoy doing it.
At first, Tiersen allows us to hear the side of him
that we expect. “Another Shore” opens with a toy piano melody seemingly pulled
from the past. That lasts for about three seconds, and then Tiersen begins to layer
on percussion and guitar. Within the first minute, he has constructed a
dynamic, instrumental rock track, cresendos retreating into softer, timid
moments only to build up again.
But Tiersen has done more than find a new formula. On
Skyline, experimentation abounds as he
draws from a range of influences (think Air and The Books swapping
stories with My Bloody Valentine and Do Make Say Think).
“I’m Gonna Live Anyhow,” “Monuments,” and “The Gutter” are filled with layers
of idiosyncratic sounds, alternately quirky and beautiful. That combination is
well-trod territory for Tiersen, even as his choice of genre continues to
On the whole, Skyline feels expansive and agreeably surreal. The notable
exception is “Exit 25 Block 50,” with screams, hoots, and howls that seem an
apt accompaniment to a small-town haunted house. These sounds eventually morph
into something more tolerable, almost pleasant. Whether the listener will make
it there is uncertain. Still, tracks like “Hesitation Wound,” “The Trial,” and
“Vanishing Point” confirm that Tiersenhas found a balance between grit
and transcendence. There is distortion, there is melody, there is aching and
If Dust Lane was Tiersen’s foray into the depths, Skyline is his emergence, changed but triumphant. It is a
transformation that can’t be described as good, bad, or even stunningly
original. But it is authentic.
Wednesday, April 25, 2012 9:41 AM
Available now on ESL Music (April 17, 2012)
There’s a hotel in Palm Springs,
California, where the stars of mid-twentieth century
to escape fame. Poolside, they relaxed in the sun, put cocktails on their tabs,
listened to the latest breed of jazz. Still in operation, the getaway has
perfected the art of retro-modern. Today, the young, hip, and rich sit in
chairs designed by Eames and Saarinen, listening to an endless supply of
remixed lounge. This summer, they will be listening to Congo Sanchez’s Volume 1.
But here’s the secret: Sanchez sounds just as good in a lawn
chair by a kiddie pool. As with other albums from Eighteenth Street Lounge
(home to Thievery Corporation and Ursula 1000), the music of Congo Sanchez
surrounds its listener without necessarily drawing attention to itself. Sanchez
claims a blend of Afro Latin dub, but that’s more of a garnish on
ambient-electronic tracks like “Democrazy” and “Ghost Dance.” Cuban influence
is more distilled in the rhythms of “Oleada Calor,” while the horn section of “T.E.T.O.
(strut)” is clearly inspired by Afrobeat. All of this blends together in a
seamless, worldly carnation of jazz.
What we have here is practically a soundtrack for running
through the sprinkler and grilling burgers. It’s as relaxing with a lemonade as
it is with a gin and tonic. It is made of familiar ingredients, and yet you’ve
never heard it this way. The percussion energizes, the bass line grooves, the
synthy melodies and echos offer relaxation. My only complaint is that, at four
tracks adding up to just over 17 minutes, it ends too quickly.
Friday, April 20, 2012 4:57 PM
Margot Page wants her family to learn Spanish. She’d like
her children to understand, really understand, what a privileged life they lead in the U.S. She takes
them to Nicaragua.
Her kids aren’t the only ones to realize that our world is unfair, complicated,
and confusing on the norm.
On the first day's field trip, we watched a twelve-year-old girl make
a basket out of dried palm fronds in twenty-two minutes. She sat on a
stool in the family's living room, an area bound by corrugated roofing
lashed between trees to form walls. I hated to think how long it had
taken to gather the fronds—the surrounding area was largely denuded,
most trees having been sacrificed to cooking fires. I watched Hannah
watching; our eldest was exactly this girl's age. If the girl noticed
Hannah at all, I couldn't see it. She finished her basket, set it aside,
and picked up more fronds. Her brother was toddler sized, but he didn't
toddle; he sat quietly at her feet, scratching in the dirt with his
hand. A fellow student snapped his picture. The boy seemed used to it.
Ivy, who never met a small child she didn't want to play with and
generally treat like a doll, moved behind me.
That afternoon in the mercado, we saw we could buy a palm-frond basket for less than a dollar.
By the time they reach Granada, the entire family is thoroughly overwhelmed.
As we got off the bus, Hannah said, "It's like
the rest of Nicaragua,
By the time we got there, the kids were so
overheated, so exhausted, and their minds were so blown [by the surrounding poverty], we couldn't bring
ourselves to keep exploring. So instead of hauling them—or ourselves—through
the Sandinistas' network of underground tunnels, or learning about Francisco
Cordoba, the Spanish conqueror who founded Granada and then later got his name on the
currency, Anthony and I surrendered.
We gave up on history and architecture. We led no
thoughtful, age-appropriate discussions about privilege and power and how we
could justify our lives in the face of all we'd seen. Instead, we hung out at
our hostel, a converted Colonial beauty with fountains and courtyards and air
conditioning, and played in the pool.
self-conscious, apologetically honest observations in Brain, Child serve as a reminder to everyone that Americans (and
the rest of the West) are entitled. For all our self-loathing, though, the only
hope for decreasing global disparity is to confront it head-on.
Source: Brain, Child
Image:Woman in Granada by Tabea Huth, licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
Thursday, April 19, 2012 2:09 PM
It’s been awhile since Obama’s proposal for universal health
care was replaced by a compromise known as the Affordable Care Act. Despite
detractors from the right and left, Obamacare’s sell–that the Act would give
millions of uninsured Americans coverage–appeased many. But now, as we wait to
hear the Supreme Court’s decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable
Care Act, some have begun to whisper of a second chance for a single-payer
If the Supreme Court declares the Affordable Care Act’s
individual mandate unconstitutional, single-payer
will almost certainly be back on the table, writes Yes! Magazine’s Sarah van Gelder (citing Labor Secretary Robert
Reich and columnist Rick
Ungar of Forbes Magazine). Van Gelder argues that single-payer
is what Americans want. “In poll after poll, a majority of Americans have
expressed support for single-payer health care or national health insurance.”
This may be the chance to get it, but proponents will have
to make their voices heard. “[I]t would be a long and difficult process,” reasons Arnold Relman in The American Prospect, “that would be
bitterly opposed by the private insurance industry and its friends […]
Nevertheless, there are reasons I believe this transformation has at least a
chance of becoming reality.” With an informed, engaged public and strong
support from doctors, Relman writes, single-payer advocates stand a fighting
chance to win the attention of legislators and outweigh the influence of lobbyists.
The stakes may be higher than ever, since a single-payer
system would save Americans $570 billion, reports economist Gerald Friedman
in Dollars & Sense. Though a
single-payer system "would raise some costs by providing access to care for
those currently uninsured or under-insured, it would save much larger sums by
eliminating insurance middlemen and radically simplifying payment to doctors
and hospitals. While providing superior health care, a single-payer system
would save as much as $570 billion now wasted on administrative overhead and
monopoly profits.” In the midst of a recession, with great need to invest in
renewable energy sources, education, sustainable transportation, and local food
systems, Americans may have a chance to do more with their money than line the pockets of
insurance company shareholders.
Image by Keith Ellison, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012 12:43 PM
Ever feel like your entire life is unsustainable? Sure, you recycle, maybe even compost or bike to work. But your student loans are out of control and you’re working overtime just to pay the bills and eat organic. Health care, vacation time, and retirement savings feel like pipe dreams. One misstep and the whole thing could unravel.
Mostly, you try to avoid asking “what if?” But you’re not the only one looking for answers. The creators of Global Teach-In believe that if we put our heads together, we can come up with a set of solutions for the economic, environmental, and energy crises. April 25th, in cities across the US (and a handful of cities worldwide), Global Teach-In will aim to inspire and empower everyday people to create change. Speakers including Bill McKibben of 350.org, Pamela Brown of the New School for Social Research, and Robert Pollin of the Political Economy Research Institute will start conversations on topics from alternative energy to corporate personhood, single payer health care to the student loan crises. For anyone waiting to get inspired and be part of the solution, it's an opportunity not to be missed.
Image: "Change" by Felix Burton, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, April 16, 2012 10:55 AM
What would happen if the government had access to information you share on Facebook and could access it without you knowing? For now, the Orwellian question remains hypothetical. But if a bill before Congress is approved, it might enable that very thing.
The Cyber Intelligence Sharing Protection Act, or CISPA, boasts bipartisan support and the approval of many high-profile businesses, notably Facebook. Its creators claim it will prevent “catastrophic attack to our nation’s vital networks - networks that power our homes, provide our clean water or maintain the other critical services we use every day.”
But the bill has received harsh criticism from groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), and Anonymous. Now, get ready to put all those acronyms to use. The EFF accuses Congress of using fear of cyber threats to distract the public from the bill’s infringements on free speech. To that, CDT adds encroachment on Americans’ fourth amendment right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. According to CDT, “CISPA has a very broad, almost unlimited definition of the information that can be shared with government agencies […] is likely to lead to expansion of the government’s role in the monitoring of private communications [… and] is likely to shift control of government cybersecurity efforts from civilian agencies to the military.”
It's scary stuff, and groups like Free Press, Demand Progress, and Avaaz.org have jumped to action. Their “Stop CISPA” petitions are currently circulating through social media channels, including Facebook. The response has been extensive enough to warrant a response from Facebook’s Vice President of U.S. Policy, Joel Kaplan. On Friday, Kaplan wrote a letter assuring users that Facebook would not betray their trust. The comments below the letter are overwhelmingly negative, with many using the space to share information about the bill and others threatening to move to Google+.
Facebook isn’t the only one responding. To combat negative press, “House Intel Comm” launched a Twitter account on April 11th. The tweets were composed in glowing Newspeak. “Rogers-Ruppersberger #cyber bill keeps the federal govt’s hands off the Internet, & doesn’t allow the govt to stop access to websites.” Spin this fine would give George Orwell a run for his money. Fortunately, such tweets only show how out-of-touch its authors are with people who actually use the internet. A “best of” collection has been immortalized by the bloggers of Techdirt, where the comment section shows that few have been fooled by the propaganda campaign.
If anything, it is the comment areas of these sites that should give us hope. Americans are not the passive, blundering fools we have been made to seem in the past. When given room to voice our opinions, we’re a feisty bunch (no wonder they’d like to keep tabs on us). The major thing missing from discussion in the comments section is that CISPA is not the only option. The CDT supports a bill proposed by Dan Lungren (R-CA) called the PRECISE Act, calling it “a strong alternative to CISPA by balancing cybersecurity, industry and civil liberties concerns.” This is the bill we should be talking about, in Congress and comments sections alike.
Sources: Congressman Mike Roger’s press release, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Center for Democracy & Technology,Techdirt, Facebook, CISPA homepage
Image: "A New Method of Macarony Making, as practised at Boston in North America," satirical illustration depicting two American colonists tar and feathering an English customs agent at Boston, Massachusetts. Mezzotint, 152 mm x 113 mm. Courtesy of the British Museum, London. This work is in the public domain in the United States.
Thursday, April 12, 2012 11:56 AM
Bread has been a staple of the human diet for centuries. Isn’t it mystifying, then, that increasing numbers of people are finding out they can’t have it? Something has clearly changed, causing a rise in sensitivity to wheat and gluten, but what? A recent book, Wheat Belly, offers an explanation, reports Matt Sutherland in Spirituality & Health.
The book was authored by William Davis, MD, a preventive cardiologist who has seen irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, and a host of other symptoms disappear with the elimination of wheat from patients’ diets. Gluten intolerant himself, Davis did a little research and discovered that, while humans have been cross-breeding wheat since Neolithic times, the stuff we eat today was bred for high yields in the mid-twentieth century. No one thought to check how human bodies would respond to the genetic make-up of these new strains. And though higher yields were meant to feed the world’s hungry, it seems Americans have ended up eating some of the extra, writes Davis. This may be contributing to obesity and diabetes as well as gluten sensitivity.
Thinking of kicking your gluten habit? Sutherland offers some simple ways to avoid modern wheat: eat more vegetables, fruit, nuts, and whole grains like oatmeal or rice. If you’re feeling experimental, try baking a loaf of bread with the grains your ancestors would have used, einkorn and emmer.
Source: Spirituality & Health.
Image: wheat harvest on the Palouse, Idaho, by the US Department of Agriculture. It is in the public domain.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012 11:24 AM
For most of us, music offers an escape from everyday troubles. We don’t often stop to think that music is subject to the same concerns: making money, finding a place to thrive, and staying true to itself within a rigid, often ruthless, industry. Some music prefers to avoid such mayhem. It parties on the fringes, sending an occasional dispatch for our edification. This primer on Cuban music and a socialist approach to the art of sound is one such report.
For New American Media, Greg Landau and interviewer Jacob Simas explore themes in contemporary Cuban music, illuminating a dynamic art that is at once traditional and experimental, a forum for both critique and celebration. Landau and Simas offer insights into trends in Cuban music while nonchalantly, almost inadvertently, exposing the effects of capitalist ideology on the music industry. If you can, listen to the audio version of the interview, which has examples of the music.
Source: New American Media.
; licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012 12:11 PM
Did you notice? You just got a tiny, imperceptible bit older. And there? It happened again. But instead of obsessing over each moment and its passage, a cultural undercurrent is crafting an appreciation for the process. There is a wrinkled beauty that comes with a life long-lived, some have found, and the challenges of old age offer opportunities for existential exploration and discovery. Acceptance, rather than resistance, can deepen the experience of life for old and young alike.
“There’s a whole adventure waiting to open up for people who are aging,” Lewis Richmond tells James Shaheen in Tricycle, “but they do have to get through that ‘I wish I were younger’ phase.” Richmond, a Buddist priest, meditation teacher, and author of the recent book Aging as a Spiritual Practice acknowledges that aging comes with many challenges. If we can recognize those and move beyond them, “there is something precious and new about growing old.”
An increased awareness of mortality and impermanence brings a certain amount of gravity with it. Yet this is when we begin asking the most important questions about ourselves and the relationships that define our lives. These questions can open us to growth. “There is a lot more static of regret and worry as you get older,” says Richmond, “that’s why meditation practice can really help. […] What’s real is that this is your life, and it happened, and there’s no going back. There’s only altering your attitude and perception about it so that you can go forward.”
Handled appropriately, these same realizations can enhance our ability to admire life’s complete cycle. In Shambhala Sun, Lin Jensen writes, “Aging is itself an agent of impermanence. The flesh gradually atrophies and the bones ache a little, signaling the end that is to come. I’m discovering aging to be an interesting uncharted territory to journey in.”
And what happens next? Whatever our deepest-held beliefs about life after death may be, life on Earth continues to cycle. Matter changes form. “Impermanence is midwife to the newborn,” muses Jensen, “new life springing from the womb of the old. Things rise and fall, rise and fall. In all that goes down, there lives a going up. This is reassuring when you’re witnessing the end of something.”
Still, the end is not as abrupt if we've shared our stories. Writing for The Good Men Project, Brandon Ferdig reveals how exchanges with his grandparents and elderly acquaintances have given him a more tangible connection to history, to the strength of the human spirit, and to fluidity between generations. Most of the time, writes Ferdig, “we gloss over the present with worry and daydream, missing the depth and truth of who we are.” Having taken the time to learn and appreciate the stories of elders around him, Ferdig has found more depth to himself. “The elders among us relate, in the most powerful and direct way, that heartache and challenges are something everyone has to face and that anyone can overcome; they reveal how change—to people, places and situations—is imminent; that there’s so much more to each person than what we see in them today—including ourselves.”
Image by Ann Gordon, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, April 05, 2012 10:56 AM
they may be, mushrooms have been making headlines as of late. It turns out the
fungi kingdom is capable of fixing some of our species’ biggest environmental
gaffes, and boosting the economy while it's at it. Paired with a little human
ingenuity, mushrooms could be our ticket to a viable
waste sites “so steeped in oil, dioxins, and other chemicals that hardly
anything can grow on them,” fungi have become part of a plan for accelerated clean-up, reports Michael J. Coren for Fast Company. Under the guidance of Mohamed Hijri, a biologist and
professor at the University of Montreal, a few of nature’s heavy-hitters
will be introduced to such sites to work their magic. First, willow trees will
be planted densely to absorb heavy metals. The trees will then be burned, their
ashes used as food for fungi and bacteria able to metabolize petrochemical
waste. Fungi selection is still underway, but has a big payoff. A process that
might have taken hundreds of years (or longer) can be accomplished in just a
are also linking young entrepreneurs to a green living, writes Sarah Stankorb inGOOD.
Inspired by a class in business ethics, would-be consultants and investment
bankers Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez instead opted to invest in closing the
food-to-soil loop. During their final semester, the young men began growing
mushrooms in a bucket of used coffee grounds. With a little legwork and a $5,000
grant from UC Berkeley, they soon had a deal to collect grounds from a west
coast chain, Peet’s Coffee, in which they would grow mushrooms for northern
California Whole Foods stores. Soon their company, Back to the Roots, was making money for both grounds collection and mushroom sales. As
if that weren’t enough, they’re giving away the used grounds (complete with
mushroom substrate) to local gardeners for compost.
of the beneficial uses of mushrooms is not entirely new. Mycologist Paul Stamets
has been working to bring awareness to the possibilities for decades. He made
major breakthroughs in 2008 with his TED talk, "Paul Stamets on 6 ways mushrooms can save the world" and
acknowledgement from Utne Reader,
which named him one the 50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World. Looks like his
ideas have spread, taking shape in inspiring new
Image: Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) mycelium growing in a petri dish on coffee grounds. By Tobi Kellner, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, March 30, 2012 4:49 PM
Lady bloggers just can’t catch a break. Whether they’re writing about politics, pop culture, or what they’re wearing, women must endure disparagement from a broad range of critics. It seems they have become a screen on which to project ideas of femininity, feminism, and a woman’s place in society today.
A recent essay in the literary magazine n+1 criticized “ladyblogs” for fussing over conventional concerns like hair and makeup. Not enough focus on “the harder to articulate, more insidious expectations about women’s behavior,” proclaimed author Molly Fischer. In short, female-interest sites like Jezebel, The Hairpin, xoJane and Rookie are not explicitly, politically feminist enough. Even using the term "lady," argued Fischer, is evidence of being uncomfortable with womanhood. If Fischer’s aim was to start a discussion, it worked.
Loyal readers of The Hairpin and Jezebel jumped to those sites’ defense in their own online essays. “Fischer isn’t wrong when she says the Hairpin publishes things about makeup and cats,” writes Emma Healey for Maisonneuve, “but to suggest that a site that featured “Ask an Abortion Provider” [...] or an essay on dealing with a stillbirth (just to name a few) doesn’t concern itself with the harder-to-articulateaspects of being a woman is disingenuous at best.” The value of these blogs, argues Healy, is that they do not separate being a feminist from being a woman or ‒ more simply ‒ a person.
Meanwhile, over at Thought Catalog, Joanna Rothkopf recaps the rise and near-fall of Jezebel, a bad girl site forced to clean up its impertinent tone after a semi-scandalous public interview with two of the writers. In Rothkop’s view, the repercussions (effectively silencing those writers) are evidence of a double-standard. “I am appalled by many of the things the writers said in this interview, but the fact that they were brave enough to speak as women without speaking for the whole gender is admirable and nearly impossible in a society that demands ideological consistency from women who self-identify as feminist or otherwise. […] Ultimately, women cannot break free from these imposed ideological constraints until we stop conforming to them.”
Put it all together and things don't add up. Female bloggers are reprimanded for being audacious and criticized for being virtuous ‒ both mostly by women. It seems that feminism itself may be having an identity crisis. Women raised with the notion that they can do anything, and given the added advantage of directly representing themselves online, cannot agree on what constitutes the contemporary woman, what we should say, and how to behave. The line between established notions of femininity and rebellion is no longer clear. We are left with more questions. What does it mean to be a feminist, a woman ‒ a person ‒ in an age of such mixed messages? How do we find the “ideological constraints” from which we are to break free? If nothing else, may the debate continue.
Image courtesy of Fotopedia, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, March 29, 2012 8:35 AM
In Arizona, an African American doctor creates street art to heal the Navajo Nation. In São Paulo, a graffiti artist documents the lives of the homeless and working-class. In New Orleans and Chicago, an artist creates a space for people to share dreams. There’s plenty of cool street art out there, but these three artists use walls, thought, and skill to change lives.
Jetsonorama began wheatpasting large-scale photo-collages in 2009, reports Sarah Gilman for High Country News, after experimenting with photography and small-scale wheatpasting for the two-plus decades he’d served as a physician on a Navajo reservation. His work evolved and last September, as part of 350.org’s EARTH initiative to bring awareness to climate change, the artist wheatpasted giant images of a baby’s face looking up at a cloud-like lump of coal. Writes the artist on his blog:
“everyone i talked with was raised on the reservation. they all identified coal as a cheap source of fuel, especially for the elders. [...] everyone in my small sample identified respiratory problems associated with burning coal in the home. everyone acknowledged that the coal mined on the reservation is used to generate energy off the reservation for surrounding megalopolises such as denver, phoenix, albuquerque, las vegas and l.a. they found this arrangement to be problematic.”
Jetsonorama’s work seeks to heal beyond coal and its effects on individual bodies. Each of his pieces functions as a conversation-starter, creating both dialogue and a source of local pride.
Amidst the rubble of São Paulo Brazil, Bruno Dias celebrates everyday locals, be they homeless, prostitutes, or street vendors. For art nouveau’s Kendrick Daye, Dias’ art “expresses the relationship between physical space and the people of the country.” When the audience begins to recognize a spray-painted image as the homeless man nearby or a face on the wall as a street vendor, we can’t help but wonder what became of those who are not in the photographs near their portraits. In this sense, Dias has discovered a way to document the everyday fates of the oft-overlooked. The artist does not pretend that his portraits begin to solve social quandaries such as homelessness and prostitution, but he does commemorate those most affected by poverty and social struggle.
In post-Katrina New Orleans, artist Candy Chang brought focus back to goals and desires by turning one wall of a decrepit building into a chalkboard. The upper left corner reads “Before I die…” and below it are nearly one hundred places for passers-by to fill in the blank. “Before I die I want to ______________.” Answers range from the daunting, “SEE EQUALITY” to the playful, “Swim w/out holding my nose!” For a city burdened with the task of rebuilding as the rest of the nation scrutinizes, what better to focus on than hopes and dreams for individuals, community, and society?
“Before I die…” is not relevant only to New Orleans, however. Because the work re-centers viewers and creates a forum for local conversation ‒ two things sorely lacking in our plugged-in global network ‒ it seems it would be relevant almost anywhere. Earlier this month, the piece was installed in Chicago. The space (pictured above) was quickly filled beyond the sanctioned blank lines, reports Christopher Jobson of Colossal. And since Chang created a toolkit allowing installation anywhere, “Before I die…” has popped up in countries such as Mexico, Kazakhstan, and Portugal.
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