Posts Tagged ‘food’

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.

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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.

GMOs Will Save the World!

You’ve heard that argument. You may have even used it. It’s very popular, particularly with the folks that think people are starving because we’re not producing enough food on this planet. (A lot of people think that. It just isn’t true.)

I just watched an interesting Ted Talk by a plant geneticist defending GMOs- though she did say that the term GMO is more or less meaningless in the science community. She is very passionate about what she does and is clearly a good-hearted person, at least as much as one can tell from a short talk. However, there were a few points that I’m not totally there on.

The first is not so much a point as a theme. You’ve heard this one before, too. Any plants that have been bred have been genetically modified. One of her comparisons was the nearly inedible predecessor to corn and the yellow monstrosity grown across the Great Plains. She was making it a gradient from breeding to inserting virus DNA into mangos to make them resistant to a disease. Technically, that’s true. There’s also a gradient from cloning cells or even human tissue up to cloning a full human. In both cases, at some point between the two extremes, we really should be stopping and asking ourselves if this is actually a good idea.

The second point was about improving a plant to deal with the more extreme weather events we will have as the climate changes. Her project was to create a rice that could withstand weeks of flooding instead of days. Wonderful idea, great for that part of the world that eats a lot of rice and will be flooding. A lot. However, instead of taking the variety of rice that did so naturally and offering it as an additional option, they just pulled the pertinent gene out and stuck it in the variety everyone was already growing anyway.

As fans of evolution and heritage breeds know, life on this planet survives because of genetic diversity. Different things confer superiority under different circumstances. Right now, we have German Shepherds and Chihuahuas. At this place in history the Chihuahua has an evolutionary advantage because it fits in a purse and is cute. At some point in the near or not so distant future, things will change. German Shepherds will regain the advantage when being pocket-sized means you’re dinner, not adorable. If we have discard all of the German Shepherds because they don’t fit the current circumstances, then when little means dinner, we could potentially lose the domestic dog.

What does this mean for the rice? By picking and choosing what we think is an advantage and adding it to the one genome that works now, we are crowding out all of the other varieties that may save our bacon if things go in an unexpected direction. There’s only so much space to grow rice, and if everyone’s growing exactly the same rice, things can go badly very quickly. Just ask the Irish.

The third point is golden rice. I am not an ogre, I would not wish blindness and death on those children for anything. However, putting Beta Carotene in rice is kind of like eating McDonalds but thinking you’re healthy because you take vitamins. Being a little bit further from the edge of death is not the same as being healthy. My thoughts on this could be a post in and of themselves — maybe I should do that — but for now, let me say that a child who is so malnourished they lose their vision will need more than one nutrient. What if, instead of investing whatever it took the scientists to create golden rice, we took that money and used it to help local farmers grow carrots, sweet potatoes, and kale? How many more nutrients would those children then have to grow strong bodies and minds? Who knows, it might even spark some community businesses that will give them jobs when they grow up.

The final point is her evasion of the question of unintended consequences. She is right that any time we do anything, there is the potential for unintended consequences. What the GMO folks don’t seem to grasp is the potential scale of those consequences. If I breed the German Shepherd to the Chihuahua I might have a really ugly litter of puppies or I might have the next designer breed. Maybe both. If, on the other hand, I choose to clone dinosaurs, I may lose half my staff and the whole island to those dang raptors. Or I make a mint giving tours. Manually manipulating DNA in plants falls somewhere between those two extremes. However, when you take a plant that is wind-pollinated and you plant it where the pollen can blow to any of the many surrounding farms, the potential scale increases. We don’t know enough about DNA to know every possible outcome of our cutting and pasting, but that doesn’t seem to be slowing us down. We’ll just medicate and modify any negative consequences that come along, right?

I am not against GMOs in any kind of wholesale sense. The things they can do, and the things it has taught us, are just too cool for that. However, I think it might behoove us to consider other options before getting out the scissors and glue. Can we breed for the trait we want and maybe gain other good ones while we’re at it? Are there existing varieties that already exhibit it that we could cultivate more of in addition to our favored variety? Are there other fruits or vegetables that could be grown there that would help to round out a healthy nutritional profile?

Perhaps the long and short of this post is that while GMOs can be very useful, they should be the last resort when saving the world, not the first.

Farm Lesson: 1+1 =/= 2

We live in a very linear world. The only right answer for one plus one is two. Given how our world is constructed, it really has to be that way. If one plus one sometimes equals 11, well, the cogs that make the widgets work might not fit. Farming, however, is not linear. Not even if you’re good enough to be able to plow straight lines. Sometimes it’s a good thing- one doe-goat plus one buck-goat tends to equal one to four kids. On the other hand, one lettuce start plus one lettuce start planted in the same hole will get you, at best, two half-heads of lettuce. Half-heads are fine of you’re just growing for your dining room table, but they don’t sell very well at market. You have the same problem with onions and garlic- only you’ve invested many more months of labor to get two half-bulbs.

What’s the point of this lesson? Farming is as much an art and craft as a science. There is a lot of information out there to be found, and most of it is very, very helpful. However, it’s too easy to rely on someone else’s answers that are presented as “the answer.” If you take a strictly science, linear, only-one-right-answer approach, you might be successful for a while. Maybe. But I am willing to bet that you won’t be making the land entrusted to you the best that that land can be. As a former Girl Scout, I do feel that we should be leaving things better than we found them, not worse. It isn’t until we embrace the art and craft of farming- and really embrace our piece of the land- that we can listen to what the land is asking us to do.

Where it’s wet, the land often asks for lime because the soil is too acidic for a lot of plants to really thrive. Most farming and gardening books are written by people in wet environments. After all, most of the food and ornamental plants we grow originated in Europe and passed through the East Coast to get to Colorado. Taking the books at their word and adding X amount of lime to your soil on an annual basis is, probably, not a terrible thing to do if you live where it rains quite a bit. If you do that in a dry place, like the Eastern Slope of Colorado, you will ruin your land in very short order. There is a reason that it’s almost impossible to grow blueberries around here, but lavender tends to grow like a weed. It is too dry to have the acidic soil blueberries need, but your lavender will almost never be over-watered. Which is a good thing. You can even talk about grass in these circumstances. There is absolutely no reason you can’t have a very pretty green lawn. However, all of the water and chemicals that have to go into keeping a Kentucky Bluegrass lawn green are because the land around here simply cannot support a grass that was bred in and for the well-watered South-East. If you found a local grass (or even better, grass mix) that you found attractive, you could cut your watering in half or better. You would also be promoting healthier soil because you could reduce or eliminate chemical additives.

I really enjoy reading Joel Salatin. I think he’s got a lot of good things to say, and he’s really not afraid to go against convention. However, he lives in Virginia. I was reading one of his writings and he insisted that the water laws out West are ridiculous. There’s no such thing as not enough water. It’s all in how it’s managed. In Virginia, that’s true. It’s about getting rid of excess water more than anything. However, I know people who have what are called “junior water rights,” or newer water rights on their property who have not had access to water some years. Yes, they bought the rights that were available (that’s often a separate transaction than purchasing the land), but the senior water rights in the area had first dibs on what was available. If it’s a dry year, the availability might not trickle down to the junior rights. This is a problem that is specific to dry areas of the country, so it is not really addressed outside of the areas to which it applies. Therefore, the statement that he is so sure about cannot actually be applied to this area.

How the land needs to be managed is more complicated than wet versus dry, north versus south, sea level versus altitude. It comes down to each individual property- and even each area within the property. Did you know that in the Andes, there is a type of potato for each direction a slope can face at each altitude? We’ve forgotten how to think like that in a country that only grows french fry potatoes. However, if we can re-learn that our front yard has different circumstances and therefore different needs than our back yard, we may not have identical landscaping to our neighbors, but we can have landscaping that works with our land instead of against it.

As an aspiring farmer, I am having to nurture my inner artist as well as my inner crafter. It’s the artist that can look at a property and see that with this elevation, that soil type, and so much shading, 1+1= purple. It is the crafter that can take the answer of purple and turn it into the plants and animals that will not just survive, but will potentially improve the piece of land. My land is not the same as your land, so your answer may be mauve, or teal. Or 42. The only thing I can tell you it won’t be, not exactly, is what that book or podcast or YouTube video says it has to be.

Feeling Like Cassandra

I’ve been watching Hercules. The Kevin Sorbo one- sometimes you just need some silly in your life. It can get preachy on values and such, but sometimes it really whips out a gem. I’m not sure how intentional it was, but “Atlantis” is an amazing parallel for those of us that see our blue island in the solar system as sinking.

Bear with me here for a minute. Hercules’ ship is struck by lightening and goes down. He’s found washed up on the beach of Atlantis by a kind and, of course, beautiful woman named Cassandra. She knew he was coming because she has visions. This is also how she knows that something terrible is going to happen to Atlantis. The legendary Cassandra was actually born of Troy and was cursed by the god Apollo to be able to see the future but never be believed. There may or may not have been a broken promise on her part, but mostly it’s because she turned down his sexual advances. The parallel is close enough for the show that was using it.

This Cassandra knows she sounds crazy- and people think she’s crazy- but she also sees how the garden her father raised her in no longer produces as it should. Rather like the people that are recognizing that even with increased use of chemicals, our food yields are not rising and are, in places, falling, despite the fact that no one in a position of authority would ever admit to it. Of course, Cassandra can actually see this because she lives outside of the city. Like a crazy person.

She doesn’t live in the city because she doesn’t want to be homogenized in with the rest. She feels no need to “keep up with the Joneses” and even believes that the myths of the gods are true. (Hercules was very confused to find himself called a myth.) As someone who grew up in the country and has been forced to live in cities due to circumstances, I sympathize with her. Each life makes its own demands on a person, and you need to pick the life whose demands you can actually accept. However, most of our world, and her world, are wholeheartedly city people. At one point, she mentions that the birds are gone which is a sign that whatever will happen is imminent. How many city people would know that little fact?

The entire city is run on the power of crystals- I wonder if that’s where the cartoon Atlantis got the idea or if that’s a “known” fact by people that study Atlantis? It gives them crystal-wave ovens (and annoying salesmen to go with it) and flying machines. Even street lamps. Not at all a blatant parallel to electricity, I’m sure.

While Cassandra is given the chance to speak, along with a back-handed insult, she is cruelly rejected by everyone when she can’t produce hard facts to back up her assertion that they are in danger. The problem with climate change is that it is not really happening on a human scale. I remember the snows we had when I was a kid in Pennsylvania that they don’t have now. The difference isn’t just because I was shorter. It’s the difference between being able to sled down our hill for most of the winter or only a handful of times during the winter. Looking around at the size and severity of storms on the rise is concerning, but hard to point to as a hard fact. Memories can be wrong and Katrina, Sandy, and this late-season hail storm were flukes, not the new normal don’tcha know? I cannot say that 2014 is x degrees warmer than 2013 and 2015 will be y degrees warmer which will cause z, and you’ll see it no later than 2016. The planet works on her own schedule, and it’s not a human one. There will be ups and downs, good years and bad, but the trend is not going in a good direction if you can look past what it means to next week’s stock prices. Not to mention the fact that there is no real historical precedent for this, so it’s really hard to predict what we have no basis for.

“In Atlantas, order and progress are supreme. You might say they’re our religion.” Replace “Atlantis” with “US” and, well, you get the picture. There is a constant theme with the Atlanteans that technology will solve all of their problems and to live anywhere else is to live among savages and uncivilized people.

Another parallel is invisible slaves. No, I’m not talking about oil, though that is part of it. I’m talking about the actual humans that were hidden under Atlantis to mine their crystals and the actual humans hidden in third-world countries to make our stuff. The sailors that had been with Hercules hadn’t all died as he’d feared. They’d been collected off the beach by the king’s men and put to work in the mines so that the citizens would have no idea there were slaves on the island. Ok, so technically we have moved beyond barbaric things like slaves and colonization in these modern times, but try telling that to someone who works 10 or 12 hour days to make not quite enough to feed their family. At least when we owned slaves it was in our best interests to keep our investments alive and more or less healthy.

I was wrong about what finally does the island in. I thought it was going to be the sky-scraper proposed early on that had a remarkably familiar shape . . . It’s Hercules, so jealous gods doing a Tower of Babel on it would be pretty much par for the course. But it wasn’t. It was the very human folly of mining under more of the island than the island could support and not listening to the warning signs that the invisible slaves and Cassandra were seeing. Kind of like burning too much fossil fuel for our oceans and atmosphere to absorb and not listening to the scientists and citizens that were noticing the early warning signs like increased storm activity and increasingly acidic oceans.

The final and best, or worst depending on your view, parallel is the chaos and deaths of ordinary citizens because they trusted their king to take care of them, not realizing that their king’s interests were in keeping the status quo while Cassandra just wanted to save people. Our “king,” be it government, industry, the stock market, has a vested interest in negating the words of our Cassandras for as long as they can. Their reigns were build on the world as it was, not the world the Cassandras know will be, however imperfect their visions are. The question is, who do you trust, and will you decide before the island disappears?