From Food Apartheid to Food Sovereignty

“Food justice activist Karen Washington wants us to move away from the term ‘food desert’, which doesn’t take into account the systemic racism permeating America’s food system,” and instead use the term food apartheid, “‘which brings us to the more important question: what are some of the social inequalities that you see, and what are you doing to erase some of the injustices?'” Food apartheid: the root of the problem with America’s groceries, by Anna Brones in The Guardian. “In my neighborhood, there is a fast-food restaurant on every block, from Wendy’s to Kentucky Fried Chicken to Popeye’s to Little Caesar’s Pizza. Now drugstores are popping up on every corner, too. So you have the fast-food restaurants that of course cause the diet-related diseases, and you have the pharmaceutical companies there to fix it. They go hand in hand. The fact is, if you do prevention, someone is going to lose money. If you give people access to really good food and a living-wage job, someone is going to lose money.” “Why don’t people with capital come into my neighborhood and think about investing in the people who already live here? Give them the capital, give them the means of financial literacy, teach them how to invest, teach them how to own homes, teach them how to own businesses.” (Visit the link to read the full interview with Ms. Washington.)

How To Fight Food Apartheid — How To Grow Change through Black-led Agriculture: An Interview with Leah Penniman, by Adina Steiman in Food & Wine. “It’s so powerful, and this is something I had to learn as an adult because it certainly wasn’t taught, but pretty much anything you can think of that we cherish in organic and regenerative agriculture from raised beds to compost to polycultures, you can trace back to African and African American innovation. So Cleopatra is the first person in history to have been recorded as a vermi-composter. The Obambo people of Namibia had the first raised beds. We have the 26 different polycultures in Nigeria, and that’s the basis of what a lot of people call permaculture today—these mixtures of different plants in a mutually supportive ecosystem and on and on and on.”

Farming While Black (Leah Penniman’s website and also the title of her book). “Soul Fire Farm, cofounded by author, activist, and farmer Leah Penniman, is committed to ending racism and injustice in our food system. Through innovative programs such as the Black-Latinx Farmers Immersion, a sliding-scale farmshare CSA, and Youth Food Justice leadership training, Penniman is part of a global network of farmers working to increase farmland stewardship by people of color, restore Afro-indigenous farming practices, and end food apartheid.”

Owning Something But Not Remembering Where You Put It, Or Even THAT You Have It …

… Is the same as not having it at all. Worse, actually. Because you or I paid the money and expended the time to acquire the item. And now can’t remember where we put it.

I have just now done that with a big Tupperware container. Can’t find it for the life of me, and it’s the perfect thing to store leftover 4th of July cake. Oh well!

One of the permaculture design principles is “Stocking.” It means having the stuff you need on hand in appropriate quantities, neither too much nor too little. And remembering where it is stored.

You might find this hard to believe, but even when I was living in a 19-foot travel trailer (with all my possessions under that one roof; none in storage), I still managed to forget where I kept things. And forget entirely that I owned certain things!

Sometimes I would find an item years later, spoiled by heat or time, never having been used.

One thing I’ve found that helps is to periodically go through each cabinet or closet. Pick a different room or space each week, say, and take a couple of hours. And come to think of it, I haven’t done that lately with the kitchen cabinet where I store plastic containers for reuse. That cabinet is packed to the gills, and could be hiding an entire small family, let alone a tupperware container!

Update: I did end up finding that nice tupperware container, and that yummy leftover cake is now safely stored for maximum shelf-life. (Now to tackle my boxes of sewing supplies to see if I can find a certain piece of fabric I’ve been looking for …)

Musings of a Doomer Lite

“I hope your food is growing well.” (Email from one of my doomer/prepper buddies in Texas, who grows a huge garden that would feed a platoon.)

My response to him: “Re growing food, I am terrible at gardening. I do it, just not well. In summer I mainly forage. If I can’t make myself useful enough to trade for food when push comes to shove, well hey, I’ve lived a good long life. And I know lots of ways to go that are readily at hand, and am prepared to go. But I don’t think it’ll come to that. Somehow at least one of my skills will be useful enough to trade. Not everyone can be good at everything.”

I wrote the above the day before yesterday.

Then yesterday, two different neighbor couples stopped by my driveway to say hi. They always enjoy my yard, and we always talk about plants and other good stuff.

Both couples are growing food at their places. Lots of people, actually, are growing food and doing other actions to reduce their reliance on distant, hyper-centralized, hyper-industrialized systems. We trade seeds and encouragement.

I’m not a full-on doomer or prepper. I’m more of a “doomer/prepper lite.” I think it’s wise to have a certain amount of food, water, and other basic necessities stored up for emergencies. But I’m not out to build a fortress. I firmly believe that what ultimately matters is the ability to connect with people and share resources. (Though I do have to remind myself of this at times when I panic because I don’t have that food-growing green thumb.)

Re-Branding Environmentalism

Starting a bullet list here. What do people value, what are they willing (even if they have very limited income) to spend lots of their hard-earned money and time on? To me, an environmentalist seeking to popularize green living on a deep cultural level, it can feel discouraging that everyone’s willing to pay for cable TV, cruises, concert tickets, lawn-manicuring services, and other relatively expensive items, yet begrudge paying a few extra bucks to shop at a locally owned store instead of MegaLoMart. Or buy local organic produce; or grow some of their own. And why so many people (again, including people at the very low end of the income scale) are willing to pay several thousand dollars a year to own a car, but won’t pay a similar amount extra to live in an area where they can walk or bicycle to their jobs and just about everything else they need.

But instead of fighting that energy (which after all is just another force of nature like a stream or a waterfall or a breeze), we can align ourselves with it. By so doing, we can accomplish a green cultural shift naturally and with less effort.

Here’s my start on a bullet-list of things that are strongly valued by the dominant culture. Over time, as additions occur to me, I will fill this in with examples of eco activities that can feed in to each item. And possibly I will also add more list items.

• Entertainment

• Outdoor family fun

• Health, fitness

• Adventure, excitement

• Convenience

• Security

• Sex appeal

• Youthfulness

• Independence; freedom

• Stress relief

• Pets (pampering them, ensuring their safety and wellbeing)

What To Do When No One Will Listen To You (Part 2)

Write. Write down your thoughts, ideally on paper or your own website or both (as opposed to just on social media where they will vanish). The written word is great because it will sit and wait indefinitely — even across lifetimes — for its readers to arrive. Another great thing I find about writing is that it helps me unload and sort my brain regularly so I’m less tempted to talk too much, babble incoherently, interrupt people, etc. — all of which I have done on far more occasions than I care to admit.

Don’t make people expend an inordinate amount of labor to figure out what you’re trying to say. Summarize your basic point in 1-2 simple sentences. If you are communicating via an online channel and sending links, never send what I call “naked links.” Always include 1-2 sentences in your own words summarizing what the link is about and why you are sending it to this person. If you’re not willing to take the time to do this, why should your intended recipient be willing to take the time to click on a link and wade through content that might be of no interest to them, and try to guess why you sent it?

Not trying to be harsh, but communications takes bandwidth, and I don’t just mean electronic bits and bytes; I mean human attention. With the noise-to-signal ratio at an all-time high right now, we each need to do our part to streamline our communications. If you feel passionate about something (be it a petition against sprawl development or a GoFundMe for a business you love that is about to go under), it can be hard to express yourself in words about it. It can seem easier to just send a link to someone else’s words about the subject. But slow down, take a deep breath, and take a minute to add a few of your own words; your recipients are more likely to listen and maybe share. This is one case where we can actually streamline communications by adding a few words. (Think of it as a mini cover-letter for your cause, event, etc.)

You can read Part 1 of this post here.

Bottled Guilt

When I say I hate bottled water, I’m not kidding. I hate everything about it. I hate the plastic bottles it comes in, that are engulfing the planet. I hate that it’s one of the worst yet most successful marketing hoaxes and eco travesties ever perpetrated. I hate that it’s got so many people thinking they can’t just drink tapwater; can’t prepare drinking-water supplies for a hurricane simply by filling a few big wine bottles or milk jugs from the faucet.

I’ve often said that in order to accept a drink of bottled water, I would have to be stranded in the desert and about to die of kidney failure. And since a bottle of bottled water would not be likely to appear in such a scenario, it is likely that I’d be able to uphold my virtue all the way to the grave.

But, the other day, I caved. And I wasn’t even out in the middle of the desert! I was helping out at a community-aid event, it was a broiling hot day, and I couldn’t find a faucet to refill my steel water bottle. And so, after about an hour of trying to tell myself there was no reason for me to be all that hot or thirsty, I broke down and took one of the plastic bottles of water that had been provided for volunteers. I opened it. I drank it. Over the course of the day, I consumed three bottles of bottled water. And felt guilty as hell, and utterly disgusted with myself.

Now, when it comes to refusing bottled water even under the most challenging conditions, I have always prided myself on exhibiting the superhuman stoicism of Lawrence of Arabia, in this scene with his Bedouin friend Tafas:

T.E. Lawrence : [Lawrence pours in some water] You do not drink?

Tafas : No.

[Tafas shakes his head like saying no]

T.E. Lawrence : I’ll drink when you do.

Tafas : I am *Bedu*.

[Lawrence pours back the water in the tincup to canteen]

At that Juneteenth festival, though, I forfeited my Bedu credentials. Oh, the shame!!!

Later, back home, I realized the whole drama had been completely avoidable.

One, I am always telling other people not to feel guilty when they end up having to violate their eco standards in order to get their basic needs met. I could take my own advice; that would be an option.

And two, knowing how I feel about bottled water, I could be sure to always keep a gallon jug of water (or two) in my bicycle panniers before setting out for an event on a hot summer day.

Easy-peasy! How did I not think of that before? What happened, I think, is that I had built up a bunch of anger and frustration about various little things, and not stopped to handle that anger and frustration. And, as often happens, the anger made me stupid. Once I cleared my head, solutions became obvious.

By the way, speaking of plastics, welcome to Plastic-Free July! According to Veronica Penney in the New York Times “Climate Forward” newsletter, Plastic-Free July started in Australia about a decade ago; it has become a worldwide thing; and last year, about 250 million people signed the pledge to reduce their use of plastics.

Further Exploration:

Definition of “Manichaean” from (a great site to bookmark if you love learning new words, and/or doublechecking that you correctly remember a definition of a word that is in your passive but not your active vocabulary): “Of or relating to a dualistic view of the world, dividing things into either good or evil, light or dark, black or white, involving no shades of gray.” (Visit the link to read about the definition and get some usage examples.)

The Story of Bottled Water: If you want to know why I find bottled water so odious, watch this 8-minute video by Annie Leonard (acclaimed creator of The Story of Stuff).

A Good Zero-Waste Group — “Zero Waste Zero Judgement”: I joined this Facebook group to fill the void created by the shutdown of the Journey To Zero-Waste group, and now that I’ve been reading the posts for a few days, I can wholeheartedly recommend it to you. Unlike J2ZW, this group ZWZG 1) allows posts related to #BlackLivesMatter and racial bias (as long as they also relate to pursuit of Zero-Waste); and 2) allows, with prior approval, self-promotion posts; and also does a “self-promotion thread” weekly. (Please be sure and read the rules before posting! Getting to promote our sustainable/regenerative cottage enterprises is a privilege we don’t want to lose!) One of the recent posts that caught my eye as being helpful to a wide audience, is a post asking people for suggestions on alternatives to bottled water, from a woman whose husband works construction and doesn’t trust tapwater.

Plastic-Free July website: info, resources, take the pledge, take the “Pesky Plastics” quiz, and more.

What To Do When No One Will Listen To You

Switch people: If no one will listen to you, maybe you’re trying to talk to the wrong people. Find other people. There’s more than one way to the top of the mountain. And, government leaders may be officially in charge but they don’t have all the power.

Switch channels: If no one will listen in person, try writing letters. Or posting on social media. Or blogging. Or radio. (It’s not all that hard to get on the radio as a guest if you have something worthwhile to convey, and can do it in a coherent and rational manner. If no one wants you as a guest, call in to the show. Or, get podcasting equipment and start your own podcast.)

Switch tones: If no one will listen, it could be because your tone is persistently whiny, derogatory, too loud, etc. As frustrating as it is to not have anyone care what you have to say, strive to maintain a calm, strong, peaceful tone.

Switch mentalities: stop thinking of yourself as “poor me” “a person who is never taken seriously”; etc. Instead think of yourself as persistent, diligent, tough, a person offering great resources, a voice for the voiceless, a force of nature like dripping water that will always find a place to flow.

Tag experts: If you can’t get anyone to listen, write a post on social media and tag a recognized expert in the area you’re talking about. Or write a letter to the editor, making reference to an authoritative source. Link to expert books/articles; boost experts. If you have something to say, back it up with information that’s already out there.

Call on people as centers of influence: “You are a leader in the community. I could really use your help getting this idea out there. Will you help me?” Flattery is OK as long as it’s true and for a good cause.

Switch modes: Instead of trying to talk and push your solution, listen. Learn what’s bugging people. The solution you’re trying to offer might not be the right one for the time and place. But by listening to what’s on people’s minds, what their priorities are, you will be in a better position to offer an idea, resource, or solution that meets people right where they need it. And whether or not you can solve someone’s problem, listening from the heart is a kind, compassionate act. Furthermore, switching to full-on “Listen” mode for awhile can be a great relief for us activists. Pushing to make oneself heard is exhausting!