Posts Tagged ‘food’

Sugar Coated Documentary

I think it’s fair to say that Sugar Coated didn’t really sugar coat their concerns about the sugar industry. Gary Taubes, Robert Lustig, and Ancel Keyes were all names I recognized when they came up. One of the things that surprised me, though, was that despite Ancel Keyes winning, the fact that there are very serious people with very serious concerns about sugar isn’t new at all. Of course, neither is an industry rerouting money for studies and sponsorships to redirect the discourse. In fact, they point out all through the documentary that Big Sugar’s MO is just the same as Big Tobacco’s. As long as there’s enough doubt as to the danger, legislation can’t be passed and they’ll survive.

I have some disagreements with some of their statements. I don’t think that sugar is sugar is sugar. I think that there is a genuine difference between High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), white table sugar, honey, maple syrup, and agave. However, teasing out those differences would have distracted from the overall message which is that there’s too much sugar out there in everything, and especially in processed food. Since most of what’s in processed food is HFCS, and HFCS is terrible, I can roll with the general sentiment.

The increase in processed food and sugar intake coincided with Ancel Keyes “winning” the debate over whether it was fat or sugar that caused heart disease. Big Sugar bankrolled him against a doctor in London , John Yudkin, who had serious concerns about what sugar might be doing to people. There were the same article headlines in the 1970s that there are right now, does it cause diabetes, hyper activity, tooth decay? Since then, particularly in America, we have reduced our meat and fat intake and increased our processed food intake because of a concentrated effort on the part of the sugar industry to paint themselves as harmless, even helpful. When you make low-fat processed foods, what we were being told was healthy, they taste terrible. The fix to that is to add sugar. Check it out next time you’re looking at yogurt or ice cream. The low fat version is almost never a lower calorie version, and in some cases is actually higher calorie. In a strange twist, though, apparently we haven’t changed our vegetable intake at all since the 1980s.

I appreciate that they point out this isn’t just about fat people. Calories in versus calories out isn’t the whole picture. In fact, when you just look at the non-obese, 40% have the metabolic diseases that we blame on obesity. Which means there’s something going on other than just people getting fat. It’s not a moral question or a question of self control. They interviewed an endurance athlete who was on basically a zero fat diet for years because he’d done his research and that’s what was recommended. Since he was monitoring his daily fasting blood glucose, he got to watch himself become pre-diabetic. This was not on cookies and ice cream, this was on oatmeal and sports bars and endurance training. But there “is no evidence to connect sugar to chronic disease.”

I thought it was quite interesting when they pointed out that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, something of grave and increasing concern among children, is basically the human version of fois gras. It’s just done on a voluntary basis versus the standard force feeding used for geese. This, along with all of the other diseases that are popping up in children are not only a massive and growing burden on the medical industry, but are of increasing concern of shortening lifespans.

Of course, when you’re looking for research on the harm potentially caused by something, if it’s as big and pervasive as sugar, it can be hard to find research that sugar doesn’t have its sticky fingers in. Government has been reducing research grants for decades, and industry is more than happy to fill the void. Just make sure that you’re coming up with the right answers or you won’t get that grant extension for this project or a new grant for the next project.

They do talk about essentially a sin tax on sugar to make it less accessible. I’m not a huge fan of the idea because it wasn’t that long ago that Denmark instituted a tax on saturated fat using the same reasoning. They recently repealed it since a whole bunch of people were popping over to Germany for their cheese and butter. However, we don’t really, actually know enough about what’s definitely good for us versus definitely bad to be sure we’re taxing the right bad things. If you don’t believe me, just pop into two opposing food forums for a visit. On the other hand, I like their idea of restructuring the farm supports to actually support things we know are good for us, like vegetables. I think that should be paired with backing off the subsidies that go to sugar and grain industries. If sugar and grain are no longer unreasonably cheap compared with real food like vegetables, the food industry will naturally move away from them to protect their bottom line. We just need the people advising the food bill to be farmers, not “food industry” lobbyists.

In the end, we use sugar to say “I love you” but it’s starting to ring as hollow as that chocolate shell bunny in your Easter basket. We need to read labels, but we also need labels that are readable to the average shopper. We need to listen to the experts, but we also need some assurance that the experts aren’t in the pocket of the business they’re supposed to be watching. It’s not a simple problem, therefore it’s not a simple solution. However, we do need to be working on a solution for the health of ourselves and our kids rather than the health of the sugar industry.

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Food Choices Documentary

I’m not going to lie. I knew this was going to be pushing veg*nism from the start and that’s why I watched it. I wanted to poke holes in it, and boy are there holes to poke. But, like a lot of documentaries, even if you’re not sure about the premise, it can still have some good information.

Right in the beginning, I think the second inverviewee, we see Dr. T. Colin Campbell. Coming from the paleo/primal side of things, I promptly rolled my eyes. While he is far from the only person interviewed, I’m sure his name will give the tenor of the information offered. On the other hand, as was noted near the end of the film, if you shoot the messenger, you don’t have to take seriously the implications of their message. Since that’s a very good point, let’s set Dr. Campbell over in the corner for a minute and use the message for target practice.

Once upon a time, the only people who really got what we now consider “lifestyle diseases” were the amazingly wealthy, the kings and queens. Fast forward to now, and a whole lot more of us are living as relative royalty. Compared to the Pharaohs and Queen Elizabeth I, I’ll buy that. For the most part, at least in wealthy countries, we have at our disposal basically all of the refined foods and animal products that we choose to eat. It is now through “nutritional ignorance and lifestyle choices” that we still suffer the same diseases.

They do look at our closest genetic relatives, chimpanzees, and point out that they are frugivores. Ok, as long as we aren’t being strict in the definition. They also point out that we are built more like frugivores than omnivores. Because our big brains and opposable thumbs haven’t given us any technology to move past killing meat with our teeth and eating it raw. (The shot of the narrator chewing on his very patient cat was pretty cute.) Then someone points out that all of the animals we eat for meat are vegetarians. Clearly they’ve never watched a chicken go after bugs or meat scraps. Also, since they point out that meat is, in the end, muscle, it does make sense that some animals do use plants to build said muscle. It’s called the food chain and we learned about it in elementary school. Even, yes, rhinoceroses, elephants, and buffalo, some of the biggest animals on the planet at this point. I’m guessing no one noticed that all those three do is eat in order to get enough calories to maintain their size.

The part where I can’t disagree much is the take down of modern, CAFO meat production. It’s dangerous for humans, it’s terrible for the planet, and it pretty much only benefits the really, really big meat conglomerates. They also bring up the problems with fish, which most don’t. They use the Sea Shephard folks who are, well, a little further out there than most, but the facts are solid. The ocean has lost 90% of the big fish that we consider commercially viable and while their bycatch numbers might be exaggerated, it’s still a serious problem.

They do make a brief mention that “commercial” eggs are particularly bad, given their Omega 6 contents and the microbiome created when you use GMO feed. What they don’t do is talk about how backyard, properly cared for chickens can combat these problems. They also touch on organic, grassfed beef. It’s benefits are a total fabrication by the meat industry, don’t you know? After all, it’s more land intense, and even if they’re humanely raised, there’s no way to humanely kill them, so it’s still eating death and fear. There’s just no way around it!

I did find it interesting that they discussed the place of calcium and protein, which people do question. I did know that calcium isn’t actually all that useful for bones unless it’s in balance with the other nutrients like vitamin D and magnesium. (They didn’t mention the second part of that sentence, just the first.) Protein I know less about. What I do know is that whichever side of the fence you’re on, the ADA recommendations are wrong. They’re either way too high or way too low. The fact that human breast milk has the least protein of any mammal was interesting. A juxtaposition that I found entertaining was in one part they discussed that you can’t get too little protein from a diet of plants,  as long as the calories are sufficient. In another part, they mention that just because the protein line on the label gives an amount, that doesn’t mean your body can process and use all that’s offered. Hmm.

My main beef with the documentary (yeah, I said it), is that they don’t propose veganism just for some people. They propose it as the best and really only option for anyone. They  don’t even allow for vegetarianism. Although I suppose when you think of milk as “cow secretions,” it might be less appetizing. Despite the popular euphemism of a “plant-based diet,” what they insist works for anyone and everyone is a low fat, plant only diet. This includes children. Apparently in Dr. Spock’s last book, he declared that children should be vegan because there’s no need for animal products for health and therefore no need for them to develop the taste. This would be the same Dr. Spock who’s books spent more time on anicdotal evidence than science.

Of course, it ends on a moral note. Even a lot of these statements I can agree with, out of context. “The boat is sinking, so plug the biggest hole.” “We have an invisible belief system that makes us love some animals and eat others.” “It doesn’t matter how healthy we are if the planet isn’t healthy.” “People aren’t stupid, they’re asleep.”

The thing that frustrates me about food movements is that the sides have so very much in common, but they will not or cannot get past the details to allow for other points of view to maybe be right for the person holding them. The information that’s presented is a little shallow, but not bad. I think they come to the wrong conclusions, but that doesn’t mean they don’t also have good points. I’m sure we can all agree that everyone could stand to eat more vegetables.

What the Health Documentary

I’m rather torn about this one. I really, really disagree with the final assessment that going vegan will fix everything, but the research inditing the food industry is impressive. The commercial meat and pharmaceutical industries are terrible and the people that should be protecting us from dangerous food and practices are in the pockets of the companies we need to be protected from.

American medicine works on the disease model. In other words, you get sick and go to the doctor to be treated. We don’t go to the doctor to learn how to prevent getting sick in the first place. I, and the documentary, really don’t blame doctors for this. Between having no time with patients, patients that only come in when they’re sick, and never actually being taught that what you eat can do you good or harm, modern American doctors aren’t in a position to be able to prevent disease. This, of course, works very well for the pharmaceutical industry. If you don’t ever fix the problem then you may well be medicated for the rest of your life. Each of those medications that you take has a profit margin. Unfortunately, according to the documentary, the folks in charge of deciding what doctors learn appear to be actively opposed to changing this and teaching nutrition.

There is, actually, an up side to doctors not providing nutritional advice. If they did, there are a limited number of options they can give without risking being called a nut job and being sued for bad advice. The first place they always turn is to the current food pyramid which is created every five years by the US Diatary Advisory Comittee. This committee is made up of folks who have taken money from one or more of the following: McDonalds, Kraft, Mars, Dannon, the beef industry, the egg industry, the dairy industry, and Anheiser Busch. I’m not really sure why a beer company felt the need to contribute, but I’m sure they had their reasons.

Of course, it isn’t really any sort of secret anymore that government is run for and by big business, so let’s look at non-governmental bodies who care about our health. If you can wade through enough pages, the American Diabetes Association promises to give you food tips to help manage your blood sugar. I’m sure they aren’t influenced by the money the group gets from Dannon, Kraft, or Bumblebee. According to the documentary, chicken is actually the worst meat for carcinogens since we eat it far and away more than any other. Surely the American Cancer Society . . . Oh, they take money from Tyson and Yum who owns KFC. The American Heart Association is totally against red meat and cholesterol. There’s no way their beef recipes in the healthy eating section are influenced by the income from pretty much every beef congress in the country, along with Tyson, Subway, and Domino’s Pizza. (I am having a hard time finding their list of corporate sponsors to link.) As a last ditch effort, surely Susan B. Komen, that pure, pink bastion of cancer research and cure effort can be trusted to only put their stamp on things that are good for you! Like Dietz & Watson, makers of processed deli meats which are a Group 1 carcinogen like cigarettes. (They aren’t actually equivalent, but they are in the same group.)

Then there’s the direct influence that the big food companies have on government. The meat and dairy industries apparently disclose spending $138 million annually on lobbying. This has resulted in things like ag-gag laws where you risk being branded a terrorist if you record the current state of corporate animal husbandry and share it. It is, of course, the big companies that enforce it, not your neighbor with 75 laying hens and a milk cow. I’m sure they don’t have a single thing to hide behind a law like that, right? That amount actually pales in comparison to what the pharmaceutical industry spends. At $238 billion annually, they spend almost twice what the oil and gas lobbyists spend. I can’t be the only one that finds that frightening.

They do go through the usual song and dance about us not being carnivorous apes and being anatomically frugivores. And, of course, if you have trouble with a veg*n diet it’s not because there’s anything wrong with the diet, but you’re obviously doing something wrong. What I can go along with is that there are major changes in people’s bodies within the first couple of weeks of going vegan. Positive changes. That actually makes a lot of sense if you’re pulling someone off a standard American diet. All of a sudden the body is being given fiber and vitamins. It’s being given the building blocks of life instead of fast food and soda. This is no different than feeling better on a juice diet or fasting. It’s being given a break from the daily abuse it’s been absorbing. What I have to wonder, though, is if a veg*n diet is being used in place of medication and one is expected to then be veg*n for the rest of one’s life, is this really different than being medicated for the rest of your life?

In the end, the documentary leaves me impressed with the facts that support their final conclusion, I just think they came to the wrong conclusion. Get off the standard American diet, eat more vegetables, think about where your food comes from and who is paying the people that are telling you what to eat. Just look at all of your options before you decide exactly which whole foods diet actually makes sense to you.

Rotten Documentary

I just watched Netflix’s documentary, Rotten. It left me with a few distinct thoughts. Know your farmer. That includes your honey and tilapia farmers. Encourage your kids to play in the dirt and eat wild plants. Have them bring in a couple handfuls of plantains to toss in the dinner salad for the family. I had no idea garlic was such a troubled food. There is always more than one side to a story, and if there’s money involved, the side we’re hearing should probably be getting some serious side-eye. More and more often, there’s a lot of money involved.

Each of the six episodes had their own focus: honey, allergies, garlic, broilers, milk, and fishing, specifically in New England. As they are all just under an hour, they can’t cover all of the issues in each of those categories. Instead, they focus on the human costs involved. A big portion of most of them involves looking at the regulations in the given industry as well as import/export rules. The theme across all of them seems to be that the regulators are trying, for the most part, to do good, but there are so many costs for the people on the ground doing the actual work that most American farmers and fishers simply can’t compete in the global market. Particularly when the global market has every incentive to not play fair.

The flip side of that is that while the regulators are trying, they are invariably ignoring the people who know the industry and would love to help fix it. According to the folks doing the fishing, the regulators aren’t counting the fish accurately when they’re coming up with their quotas for the season. They’re also using a system that Norway has already determined is terrible for the small businesses as theirs had been mostly been wiped out by the time the system was implemented over here. I suspect that most of the people whose families have been fishing for generations would be willing to buy into a system that let them keep food on the table in their house and would ensure there are enough fish in the sea for their children and grandchildren to do the same. The dairy farmers said, “The farm used to support the family, now the family supports the farm.” As for the chicken growers, they’ve been handed all of the risks and none of the benefits in a system that will actually kick them if they’re down whether it’s their fault or not. People wonder why the number of farmers is dwindling alarmingly? This might have something to do with it.

American farming and fishing has its issues. It always has. I am not saying that the family-sized businesses always get it right and never make more trouble than they solve. However, through each of the episodes there seem to be three major themes that are causing problems: globalization, big money, and cheap food. If a shortcut can be made by using cheaper labor, diluting the food, substituting cheaper ingredients, or any other tactic that will increase the profit margin, it’s taken with no concern about the non-monetary costs. In America, we’ve gotten used to the idea of cheap food, so when we go to the store, we look at the farmed tilapia, not the wild-caught cod. If that tilapia was farmed on a local scale, that’s probably fine. Actually, fish farming is a pretty cool way to get healthy protein into food deserts as long as it’s done well. But the label at the store probably doesn’t tell you where it came from. When there’s big money involved, they can afford to bring in this cheap fish that was raised where labor costs are low. Unfortunately, that often corresponds with unsanitary conditions when raising and butchering them. It also sends money out of a community that probably can’t afford to lose it.

I suspect most people have heard about the adulterated honey from China at this point. Apparently it’s far more profitable to put non-honey syrups into jars, ship them to other countries, relabel them, and sell them in the US than to just sell actual honey. All of this while constantly keeping ahead of the scientists who are testing for non-honey Chinese honey. This leads to all sorts of messes over here like apiaries depending on shipping their bees all over the country for pollination contracts because honey prices aren’t enough to make ends meet. All of the bees in the country meeting once a year to pollinate almonds means that once per year they get to trade diseases. Thieves also know exactly where to find thousands of hives all packed up for easy moving.

What I didn’t know was that China also has a massive interest in garlic. As in, 90% of the world’s garlic is grown there. While you cannot dilute garlic cloves with non-garlic cloves, the processing to make bulbs into peeled cloves does not require any sort of skilled labor the way bees do. In fact, it appears that prison populations do a whole lot of the garlic processing. This labor is even cheaper than US prison labor and it has fewer quality controls. While most of the Chinese garlic exporters pay massive tariffs to get their garlic here, there’s one company that doesn’t. The large US company that they work with is disputing the allegation that they are using their influence to protect this particular company, of course. The lawsuit brought against the Chinese company also has some strange financial dealings on the other side, so it isn’t without concern. However, I think it’s safe to say that if we didn’t have large international companies trying to play the money games only they can play, the small New Mexico farmers could focus on growing garlic not lawyers and payouts for trials.

From the Netflix website, it looks like they intend to have more seasons of this documentary in the future. While it’s far from comprehensive on any one subject, I think the breadth of what they’re reviewing is important as well. It’s not just about making sure you pick up honey at the local farmer’s market instead of Wal-Mart. It’s about understanding that the knowledge necessary for this country to feed itself is being slowly strangled because in food, as in so much else, it is becoming strictly about the bottom line. Who cares what’s lost and damaged along the way. Who cares who loses as long as the big companies win.

Finding My Power: To Farm or Not To Farm

This seems to be the perpetual question. On the one hand, if we don’t have farmers, we don’t have food. This should be pretty straight forward, right? On the other hand, it is difficult, verging on impossible to be a farmer and be able to afford to feed yourself. That should be a ridiculous statement, but it’s not.

In my blog about what it would take to gross $10,000, I only addressed the numbers generated from my interest in farming. This needs to be looked at from another angle, though. What are the numbers my current employment is generating and what are other possible income amounts broken down into the hours, weeks, and months they take to get to $10,000.

I am currently working at a temp job that I rather enjoy making $12 per hour. In Maine, I’m doing ok as a moderately skilled temp. To gross $10,000 I need to work 833.33 (call it 833) hours which is 20.825 (call it 21) weeks or 5 months. That’s a long time. It’s also not taking into account commuting time, gas, clothing requirements, or the fallout from not feeling like I’m contributing in any meaningful way to the world. Gas and commuting time are fairly easy to attach numbers to. I am commuting pretty much exactly an hour each way five days a week plus five 30-minute lunches, making my 40-hour week actually a 52.5-hour week. 40 hours times $12 per hour divided by 52.5 hours means that counting the commute and lunch, I’m being paid $9.14 for each hour the job is consuming. Gas is costing me about $38 per week and the vast bulk of it is for my commute. That means that 21 weeks of commuting costs me $798. At $9.14 per hour before taxes, that means about 87 hours are spent just paying for gas. That’s over 1.5 of my 52.5 hour weeks every 5 months are just paying for gas.

Let’s say I find a job with the same commuting and lunch time and cost, but I’m making $15 per hour for 40 hours. That’s 666.66 (call it 667) hours which is 16.675 (call it 17) weeks or 4 months. My actual time being used is still 52.5 hours per week, which means I’m actually being paid $11.43 per hour before taxes. 17 weeks of commuting at $38 per week is $646 or 56.5 hours. That’s just over a week every 4 months is to pay for gas.

Temping, like an increasing number of permanent jobs, does not offer insurance or any guarantee of hours. Unlike a permanent job, my temporary employer can send me home at lunch time and tell me not to come back for absolutely no reason other than they don’t need me. Poof- no more income. The staffing agency has it in their best interest to get me back to work as quickly as possible, but that might be days or weeks of unemployment. Have you ever tried to save an emergency fund on $12 per hour?

Farming also offers no insurance, no guarantees, and if you’re not careful, the potential to end up with no income and a pile of debt if it all falls apart. On the other hand, I will be using and learning skills that are actually useful in the real world. The world in which being able to feed yourself means knowing whether those berries are yummy or deadly. I have the potential to make my corner of the world healthier, cleaner, and better habitat for both my cultivated plants and animals and the local plants and animals that are using the same space. I can help to perpetuate skills, genes, and equipment that we will need when we realize that Agribusiness might not be working as well as advertised. Farming, particularly small-scale farming, demands a certain level of fitness that will keep me healthy long past the time when an office-bound body would fall apart. It has its own challenges for health, but at least you can often see them coming. I can build the business to embrace my strengths and interests and my income is limited only by my imagination and ability to manifest what I see.

Now comes the hard part. I have been told, am being told, will continue to be told that the responsible thing is to get a “real” job. I need to work on a skill set that employers are looking for. I need to invest time, energy, and possibly money in pursuing what society tells me is an acceptable, respectable, logical use of my time and energy resulting in a “fair” income. I will be paid what I am “worth.”

I was talking about this with a friend and he asked if I’d considered what I would regret not doing in 10 years. 10 years ago I was just settling into a job with a company that I had spent the previous couple of years building a resume to get into. It was a good, solid company. I knew people that loved working there. I was making more money than I had ever made before. I was studying hard to get the licensing to move up in the ranks exactly the way I was supposed to. I may have even had my first exam under my belt at that point. I was doing everything right.

I’m not saying I didn’t learn things from working there, but in the end, you learn things from walking face first into a wall, too. Just because everyone’s doing it and everyone’s saying you need to do it, doesn’t mean it’ll work. Not everyone can get through to Platform 9 ¾, and it turned out I’m one of the ones that can’t.

I can’t quit my job and start farming tomorrow. I do have access to land that I don’t have to pay for, which is more than most people in my situation can say. What I don’t have are a significant number of skills or the money for the infrastructure. 31 hives worth of materials (excluding bees) will cost me about $5,663- that’s 472 hours (12 weeks or 3 months) worth of work at $12 per hour before taxes and expenses. However, I can take the time I would spend looking for a “real” job, and the small amount of disposable income I do have and spend it on a small number of hives so that I can build the necessary skills. If things go well, the hives themselves may gradually generate the income needed to expand my operations. If things go badly, I won’t have spent more than I had and it could be chalked up to an educational expense.

I guess it wasn’t as much of a question as I thought.

Regaining My Power: Choice

What is choice, really? Do we have it? Are we sure?

The other day at work I asked, perhaps a little too loudly, if it was 5:00 yet, or Friday, yet, and someone piped up that we always have a choice. I have the choice to stay, or to act like it was Friday at 5 and make a bee-line for the door. It’s been kind of a long couple of weeks, so option B may or may not have gotten considered almost seriously. But I didn’t do it. I made the choice to finish out the day, to finish out the week. I chose to be there.

Right?

On the surface, yes, I made that choice. But if you really start to think about it, “Everything is a choice” is a rather disingenuous statement. There are about a million different directions to dive with this idea, but I thought I’d try and keep it on the surface. See just how many diverse places in our “Land of the Free” where the choices offered aren’t really choices.

I haven’t been sleeping well for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that heat, humidity, and I are not friends. If I had chosen to walk out of work that afternoon to go home and take a nap- something that would have been a good choice for my mental and physical health- I think it’s pretty safe to say that my employer would have chosen to tell me not to return. I’m sure that I’m not the only American worker who can’t take the chance of an impromptu vacation because we aren’t making enough each week to have built a rainy day fund. So it really wasn’t a choice.

Speaking of choices at work- what about choosing to have an unpopular opinion? If you’re in the rank and file, that choice- even if you’re right and it needs to be said- could have disastrous consequences for your career.

Back to the Land of the Free thing- how about our current choices for President? More of the same vs a young Hitler. What an awesome choice. Love him or loathe him, at least the Democratic Socialist would have offered a genuine choice! Something different than door A or door B that lead into the same building. And as far as I can tell, yes, the young Hitler is a fairly logical place for us to be given the political climate in the last 10 or 15 years.

You have the choice to live in your own home. Your corporate neighbors have the choice to make the air and water around said home poisonous, flammable, or carcinogenic. But you do have the choice to stay there or leave. If you can afford to.

You have the choice to take care of your reproductive health. Don’t let the harassers or the chance of getting shot stand in your way!

You have the choice to grow open-pollinated, wind-pollinated, organic food crops in an area that mostly grows conventional wind-pollinated crops. Just make sure you’re never down wind of your neighbors and you’ll be fine!

You can choose to go to college and get that degree that you’ve been told you need to get a good job. What’s a good job, again?

You chose to grow a beautiful garden full of vegetables instead of non-edible flowers and shrubs? Your home might be your castle, but don’t pretend it’s your pantry!

You can choose to own a tractor (or iPad, or GM vehicle). Well, maybe.

You can choose the perfect home for your land and family. As long as it conforms to everyone else’s views.

You can choose to be seen lending your support (or doing your job) at a peaceful rally or protest- just don’t get shot!

I can’t be facetious about the choices that led to needing those rallies and protests.

I know that I’m presenting more problems than solutions here. And I’ve only scratched the surface of the problems. But this is where I am in finding my power. The more I learn, the more I find out just how little power- just how little choice- I really have. Does a “yes” mean anything when “no” isn’t really an option, given the consequences that will probably or will definitely follow that “no”? No, it doesn’t.

We need to rethink this “choice” thing and whether or not we like the ones we’ve been given. Or perhaps start to figure out how to make our own options to choose between. If we’re given A and B, maybe we should all start choosing C.

(Apologies for the age of many of the linked articles. I have no Google-fu, and I haven’t been collecting all of the most recent examples of the above “choices.” I’m sure you’ve seen as many as I have, though- maybe more as I’m not all that well informed, yet.)

Marshalling Our Resources

Our world is finite. That makes the resources within it, technically, finite. Those that don’t regenerate within a human lifetime are simply more finite than others. Even those that regenerate within amounts of time that we can truly understand run the risk of being made finite. When you harvest more salmon than they spawn, when you cut down more trees than you plant, you make a resource that should have been regenerative, finite.

What matters in the here and now, though, is not when (let alone if) a particular resource will run out. What matters is what we are doing to make sure that we aren’t squandering it for our children and their children. This is everything from how quickly we are extracting and frittering away precious ores to whether we are building or poisoning the soil in our yards.Will we need precious ores in the future? Maybe we will have figured a way around them, but let’s not use them all up, just in case. Will we need healthy topsoil in the future? Yes. So let’s not screw it up any more than we have.

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This is what you get when you have an overabundance of a resource. If it costs more to harvest an apple than it will sell for, then it doesn’t get harvested. There was a bumper crop of apples in 2015 in every part of the country, driving the price down so far that it simply wasn’t worth it for this farmer to harvest his full orchard. So they stayed on the trees until they fell of their own accord.

Now, leaving the fruit where it falls isn’t all bad. It feeds the small critters on and in the ground. It returns nutrients to the base of the tree itself. However, each harvest that doesn’t come in puts the farmer one year closer to selling out to something else. Something like a strip mall or a “house farm.” (Where I grew up, I saw a lot of farms become just bunches of suburban houses. The most disturbing ones were when they kept the farm name but replaced the crops with lawns.)

So, using an apple farm as our example, what can we do to truly marshal our resources? This farmer already has a couple of sidelines. He sells both apples and cider. I took this picture at a mush bowl, which was awesome. And potential income using his acres that are dormant in the winter. This is how you have to think when you’re a farmer. “This is what I have, now what can I do with it?”

Let’s look at the apples in particular, though. What we tend to be taught is that something is good for one thing. If you grow apples to sell, then that’s what you use them for. If you grow corn and the price falls through the floor, tough luck, right? The same with pumpkins or pork. But let’s talk about pork for a minute. Could you fatten some pigs on the harvest you can’t sell? Pick up half a dozen suckling pigs as soon as you figure out that you can’t sell enough to make ends meet. Run them in the orchard under the trees to pick up the apples as they fall. You have fenced in the orchard, right? Or, if you haven’t, what about chicken tractors worth of broilers? I’m sure you can fatten chickens right up on all the sugar that’s in apples. Just hope they don’t eat the seeds.

(Since starting this post I have learned that the current overabundance of commodity crops- particularly wheat and corn- are causing grain farmers to buy small numbers of cattle to fatten up on what it isn’t worth selling. This will have an unknown effect on the price of beef in the coming year as those cattle aren’t included in the national headcount. The things you learn at stock expos . . . )

What about that cider thing? Fresh cider you have to sell pretty quickly. Even if it’s pasturized, it doesn’t have that much of a shelf life. Hard cider became a thing, though, because when you take all of your unpasturized cider from the fall harvest and stick it in your root cellar to drink all winter, by spring, it has fermented into small cider. (Small cider or beer being alcoholic, but to a lesser degree than “regular” cider or beer.) If you’re more deliberate in the fermenting process, it probably won’t take as long and will yield something with an alcohol content that’s more in line with what we expect these days. Fermenting also has the side benefit of prolonging the shelf life. All of those apples that you couldn’t move in the fall? You’re selling in liquid form well into the next growing season, easing the cash flow.

If we really want to prolong the shelf life, then we make apple wine instead and freeze it to make applejack. I’m not sure if this counts as “distilling” since it’s cold, not hot, but you might want to check the laws before you go and sell it. However, this would have the potential of spreading an unsellable harvest over maybe two or three years.

We are trained from kindergarten on up that 1+1=2. What we need to relearn is that sometimes 1+1=pigs. Or 1+1=applejack. We need to relearn how to take what’s in front of us and instead of seeing how it won’t work for us, being a little creative and figuring out how it can work for us. We have enough resources. We just have to be smart about it.

 

If you’re thinking about this from the perspective of the justice system- check out this TED Talk. If you’re thinking about it from the perspective of gender, check out this one.