misconceptions about Navajo food

Written as extra credit for Mr. Vecenti’s NIS 226 Navajo Nation Government class.

Last Saturday, June 4, I was about to do a presentation in Window Rock to the Navajo Nation Youth Council. I had received an invitation from a fellow member of Generation Indigenous, Triston Black, who that morning was elected as President of the Youth Council. My presentation was a proposal to start a Navajo Youth Working Group on Climate that will be modeled off of the EPA National group I’m a member of and which can be used to provide feedback directly to National environmental policies and programs. Food sovereignty was one of the bullets in my many topics the group could discuss and research. Before I managed to give my presentation, Vice President Jonathan Nez stepped into the room to discuss food sovereignty and the importance of gardening. He invited us to his Vice Presidential house after our meeting for a cookout and to see his demonstration.

I carpooled over to the event with my friend Chris Brown, a graduate of Yale University who came back home to work in the health programs with COPE. Chris was telling me some of the gardening initiatives he has been a part of with COPE. I knew COPE was involved in food sovereignty topics, having gone to a conference in the fall at the Tribal Museum, but I hadn’t realized to what extent they were promoting the same ideas. I told him about the AISES initiative I was helping write grants for, a collaborative community garden project through Navajo Department of Agriculture at the Navajo Nation Fairgrounds. Apparently my group isn’t the only one talking about using that space for a community program. However, the project is stalled to the point that we are only doing periodic demonstrations and plantings at the Ag building while we await approval for in-kind surveying services on the garden site.

When we got to Mr. Nez’s house, we were asked to sit with our food and listen to a number of speakers representing different groups. Mr. Nez again addressed us, stressing the importance of family building through gardening, of eating healthy, organic, non-GMO foods, and of buying and selling Navajo-produced rather than importing. He proposed many adjustments to the system. One of the women in the gathering told me she had helped push the “Junk Food Tax” through in recent years. Everything they said I agree with, yet I couldn’t help but notice the sugary Brisk teas and sodas, bottled water, bags of chips, pizza, and mutton stew. At least there were vegetable trays and someone cut a watermelon, but all of the food came with Basha’s bags and labels. I’ve shopped at Basha’s before and know how limited the green section is, let alone the organic, and most certainly let alone the non-GMO section. I found it mildly hypocritical to preach one thing while eating another. I mentioned to Mr. Nez the La Montanita Co-op in Gallup, a place that sells local, organic, non-GMO food – and a lot of vegan products – in a crammed store. He had never heard of it, but Chris had and he told him the directions.

When we were done eating, we learned that it was time for us to do the next plots. We were shown how to plant a “Lasagna Style” garden. Although we were all in nice clothes (and someone even had on heels), we picked up the tools and began digging shovel-deep. In sections, we removed dirt, piled in the lasagna ingredients, then moved the dirt from the next section onto the top of the first, continuing until the whole row was completed. The layers included laying down cardboard and wetting it, then adding various mixtures of straw, manure, pine needles, compost, and these mysterious handfuls of ash and what they referred to as “protein” to make the soil rich. Mr. Nez stressed how wonderful the soil is on the Navajo Nation and how we need to be growing crops. I wondered how many kinds of crops he’s tried growing in the sandy, alkaline soil…where any moisture gets whisked away immediately. This environment definitely requires certain crops that know how to thrive here.

As we completed the lasagna garden and planted kale, melon, and other seeds in the beds, Mr. Nez showed us the various holes being dug to the west of the garden. These holes were in a square array with a few feet of separation between holes. They were layering these holes in the same way. He explained this is where the corn, squash, and beans were being planted in a Three Sisters style garden. He then helped cleaned up the area, and I noticed that some of the workers were throwing their watermelon rinds into the lasagna layers. However, Mr. Nez was collecting all of the trash and throwing it into the same bin. Someone noticed that their recycling bin had become a trash bin, so people worked to separate again. Before we left, with seed samples provided by Tolani Lake, I asked Mr. Nez if he had spoken to the Department of Agriculture. I told him about the demonstrations there and how they have an enormous list of programs doing this kind of work. He said he wants to see it at schools and in more communities; I asked if he had talked to Carole Palmer because she has been a part of starting many of these gardens at schools all across the Reservation, and she knows dozens of other organizations doing the same. He didn’t seem like he knew what I was talking about.

This morning, I saw Chris’s picture on the Native News Online feed and realized our gardening day has been published on the national media. I glanced through the article and saw, yet again, the mentioning of a Three Sisters garden and how Mr. Nez has this new vision for the Navajo people. While I absolutely agree with his vision – about wanting to control the food system, getting Navajo produce in the Basha’s stores, fighting diabetes and obesity through a more traditional diet, etc., I couldn’t help but be frustrated on many levels. I am definitely impressed with how active Mr. Nez is and how he has popped into more than one of my meetings in the several months that I’ve lived in the Window Rock area. He is constantly on the move. I believe he does leave a positive impression with the youth. I also believe he is hasty to push his programs without doing his research, and I had a long conversation with people in already-existing organizations who reiterating everything I had thought.

I learned that Mr. Nez was already offered a list of all of these community projects in existence, but he either didn’t look at the list or refused to take it when it was offered. He has this attitude like people aren’t already doing this work whereas the work is being done, we just need help from someone like him to expose the work and support it. One of the largest problems with these projects is they tend to die. There is motivation for only so long, but keeping a project sustained is the issue. It’s more of a lifestyle change and less of a project fad to make these initiatives last. Another huge issue I see is this disconnect; for example, Mr. Nez preaching about very specific foods, then serving another. Or how he was throwing away watermelon rinds in the very same garden he was promoting compost. How else do nutrients get back into the soil if we don’t promote it? Fix nitrate all you want with crop types and rotations, but soil depletion is still a real thing.

Most significantly for the Navajo people, the types of foods and styles of gardening is something that is clashing significantly. Even in Mr. Nez’s garden, his use of the Three Sisters model is infuriating to many traditional farmers and educators. I have seen this model planted in schools as well and have been asked to dispel this myth. This style of gardening is specifically Iroquoian. While many tribes used companion planting, Three Sisters very distinctly refers to the New York region of the country – quite the opposite to where we were here in Arizona. You know this is true because even the various seals used within Navajoland demonstrate the four sacred crops. Yes, corn, beans, and squash – of varieties native to this region – are part of those crops. But tobacco is being left completely out of the picture. To me, that’s almost sacrilegious to leave ceremonial tobacco out of traditional planting initiatives on Dine Bikeyah.

To follow this last point, planting corn in a square is also something completely foreign to the southwest. The Hopi are known to have planted their corn in spirals. There was also the importance of where you plant, and before land ownership was a practiced thing on the Navajo Reservation, crops could be planted where they best thrived rather than wherever a particular owner of a plot of land could arrange to have a garden. This included planting corn in areas known to flood, or also planting peaches in canyons such as in Canyon de Chelly where the walls protect the trees from the awful winds this area is prone to, particularly in the spring.

Finally, there are a few conversations I don’t hear being discussed enough when it comes to food. I feel like so many demonstrations happen for planting, but how many happen after the planting is done? How many harvesting, canning, or seed-saving talks are given? Will Mr. Nez be doing this as well? And, most importantly to me, what about the Navajo traditional plants? This includes knowing the names in Navajo of the plants (which we were not given at the demonstration) and knowing the traditional medicinal plants. When I give my talk at the Chinle Science Camp this coming Monday, I will be stressing these exact points. Most importantly, I will try to instill in the kids the need to view food as medicine, and vice versa. Some plants are more clearly for caloric or nutritional purposes than for healing, but there are places where the two completely overlap. And realizing mutton, frybread, and certain other dishes are not in fact Navajo in the genuine ethnic sense I think is important to reconsider how the diet here has changed so rapidly.

I don’t mean to undermine the efforts Mr. Nez is making because I know how easy it could be to just sit there as the Vice President and not engage with the community. He obviously is very active in the community. I just wish he would listen more to the community, to the projects we have going, and to the experience we have before trying to promote a “new thing” that is in fact very old and popular. With his help, however, we could potentially really turn around a lot of projects, unite the community, and dispel many of these myths and bad practices I have mentioned. I will continue to reach out to him about the activities already happening, whether through the youth or not, and hopefully there will be a change for the future of Navajo food sovereignty.

Your Privilege is Showing: How Climate Change Movements Miss the Point

Let’s cut to the chase: The current climate change movement, on both a national and international level, is an excellent cause with a plethora of misguided notions.  Not a piece you were probably expecting to come from a 2016 COP22 Youth Delegate candidate.  But it’s a piece that has to be said, and it has to be said now.

Before we continue blasting the world with our thoughts about environmental and social injustices, before we unite across state lines and borders to commit ourselves to challenges of the best intentions, we need to realize the lenses on our own faces.  We need to become familiar with the privileges we have that give us a voice.  We need to be aware of the hypocrisy of our actions, and how some of our actions actually silence those who, for whatever cause, have a limited participation.  With so much of our advocacy moving into cyberspace, we must acknowledge how many off-the-grid victims of climate change are left out of the conversation.  We use globalization as a strength, but isn’t globalization also our biggest enemy?

PRIVILEGE ON THE CLIMATE CHANGE FRONT
Many of us have privileges for different reasons, and if you’re reading this right now you already have one: internet access.  It’s so crucial for us as individuals to understand what privilege is and also for us to acknowledge it.  In order to make any true social change, understanding privilege and power is key to success.  These privileges are things we have access to in our lives that are in fact luxuries.  They might even be social classes or citizenships we were born into that were simply a roll of the dice.  Yet these privileges affect us both passively and actively.

When privilege affects us passively, it may be because, e.g., we do not experience discrimination or struggle financially day-to-day.  A lack of discrimination, or a lack of financial difficulty, therefore becomes our accepted norm.  In fact, it might not even occur to us how many privileges we have because we haven’t experienced a lack of that privilege.  On the other hand, privilege affects us actively when it creates a lens through which we see the world.  We have a certain idea of how life “should” be, usually based on our norms, and we end up transposing our ideas cross-culturally without even realizing it.  It’s sometimes hard to see a lens when we don’t even realize we are wearing it.  (Click here to read more about how I think our cultural lenses affect our conversations with “developing”, “impoverished”, and even indigenous communities in an interview by Chloe Maxmin.)

Today, we live in a global economy.  Our actions, more than ever, have a rippling effect that touches even the most remote face that we will never get to see or know.  This is so evident to those passionate about climate change and carbon emissions.  We understand the earth is one being, that the trees are its lungs, and that water is a sacred, shared source.  Our days move in a rhythm with the same fiery, gaseous, and extinguishable sphere in the sky.  Even before the internet, we were synchronized in this way.  Our existence, whether spontaneous or planned, relied on this synchronization in order to come into being.  Yet we are weaving that interconnectivity even closer to the point of complete interdependence.

So how does this globalization affect the movement against climate change?  The more and more we become interdependent in our global economy, the more and more we rely on international movements to address global changes.  Carbon emissions is at the forefront of this struggle.  However, we can’t help but be hypocrites; for, as we strive to resolve shared issues from globalization – like carbon emissions – through international efforts and coordination, we are in fact reinforcing the same principles we are trying to defeat.  We look to international leaders, we rally the people from every corner of the globe, we use the effective global communication tool known as social media, we buy cotton shirts in support from unknown material and labor sources, and we hop on a jet plane to get us everywhere in between.  In this way, we become hypocrites – and we exclude those without the same privilege as ourselves from the conversation.

A LIMITED PARTICIPATION
Social justice and environmental justice are not mutually exclusive things.  In fact, our Western lens tends to separate all things that should not be separated.  To think that human rights can be preserved without addressing environmental protection is a foolish notion that will destroy us if we cannot separate ourselves from it.  Yet as the culture of modern, Western society strives increasingly to separate the two, the inseparability between indigenous communities and the protection of their natural resources become evermore clear.  Our disconnect from where our food comes from, who makes our clothes, and even our cultural values translates into a disconnect from humanity and social justice.

When we operate with this disconnect, we risk framing our actions and the reasons why we do them in a way that limits how people feel they can participate.  This circles back to privilege and to having an expected vision of what life should be like.  It’s easy to make a movement where you encourage people to shower only 1 minute a day, ride their bike instead of drive to work, and buy only locally-sourced, organic foods.  Well, there are many places in the world where the population cannot participate in such a movement.  And it doesn’t have to be a remote corner; sometimes it’s in the American backyard.  Even where I live on the Navajo Reservation, many people don’t have running water so they can’t reduce shower time; they might hitch-hike to work, but they can’t bike clear to the border cities where the work and the bus routes only connect major towns a few times a day; and we live in a “food desert” where some folks don’t have electricity for refrigeration, so the choice is usually between a bag of chips or canned conventional food.  Yet it’s undeniable that the Navajo Nation is feeling the effects of climate change.  In some ways, these changes are contributing to the food desert effect.  So how can these exceptions be inclusions?

My example is just one of many, and it’s something I’ve thought about more and more as I’ve traveled.  So often the people being affected the most by climate change are the same people who don’t live with the luxuries that we “cut back on” here and there to “reduce” our impacts.  Of course, it isn’t just about how we rally ourselves socially and who is or isn’t included in social media movements.  It’s also about who is making the decisions on how we live and our health.  The policy-makers who separate themselves from the rallying public and who negotiate behind closed doors are making decisions that will affect the health and prosperity of literally every being in the world.  Talk about privilege, and talk about power.

Another example that I think really embodies the same concept of limited participation actually has to do with public art.  Public art is such a powerful tool of communication, a wordless language that transcends boundaries and delivers messages of varying complexity.  But public art can also be incredibly exclusive.  In the United States, public art is too often used as a tourist statement to encourage people to visit and come into an area.  Sure, it might positively impact local business, but the art the movement introduces is static pieces that live among the unintended audience.  The art isn’t meant to necessarily do anything for the citizens in the area, and it especially tends to exclude certain citizens like the homeless.

A classic example of how public art can be exclusive is the Fremont Troll of Seattle.  The bridge where this art piece is now used to house sleeping homeless people and some alleged drug activity.  As a way to “creatively address” this “problem”, the “public” united to install the Fremont Troll.  On the surface, it looks like a nice idea; but really, the statue displaces the “problem” rather than addresses it – and it most certainly alienates the people the art is actively targeting.  It simply strengthens and widens that social divide/gap.  It reinforces the already present issue that homeless people are not viewed as citizens, as part of the public.  The alternative?  Public art that is in fact a fluid space, inviting participation from the community.  Urban peace gardens are an example of this.  They serve as educational platforms open to any human and they rely on the community’s efforts to keep the installations running after the artists have created them.

If we really want to make a difference on the climate change front, we have to be aware of how we limit participation.  Maybe we are limiting others, and maybe policy-makers are the ones limiting us.  Regardless, we have to avoid reinforcing these gaps by building a Fremont Troll and to instead create a change that runs deeper than just a bandage on a communal wound.  We have to actively seek voices and participation from all demographics and situations, in spite of the nature of the movement and because of the movement itself.  Movements that look to include all kinds of experiences, and which add real perspective to privilege in every form it takes, it’s those movements that are more like the education tool of the urban peace gardens.  They work to include every story into the need for change. 

Ironically, Chloe’s blog also touches on this issue, describing her experience between “us” and “them” while participating in COP21.

THE HYPOCRISY OF OUR METHODS
As I mentioned briefly when addressing privilege, the methods we have to have access to in order to participate – such as transportation, cell phones, and social media – are also methods that reinforce our hypocrisy.  The most obvious is when we have to take a plane or a car to a conference on climate change, or to promote having Zero emissions by 2050.  But some of them aren’t as obvious, and not acknowledging them weakens every effort we could dream of making to combat a changing climate.  Do you know the environmental and social consequences of your cell phone?  Of the coffee you drink?  The clothes you wear?  The manufactured bike you ride?  The alternative energy you promote?

While I admire the #ZeroBy2050 movement from the COP21 Youth Delegates last year in Paris, I think it is also a good example of how we tend to really miss the point.  Yes, zero emissions is an amazing concept.  But there are numerous flaws.  Perhaps the biggest offender is the support of renewable energy.  During the #ZeroBy2050 movement at COP21, the participants were fighting to get language entered into the Paris Agreement that would call for the complete phasing out of carbon emissions by 2050.  Similar to the Break Free campaign, which aims to abandon fossil fuels completely, this movement vehemently promotes “clean energy” in place of emissions-generating operations.

I’m a Masters candidate in Mechanical Engineering for the purpose of studying alternative energy, what goes into the systems, and how they have yet to improve.  I am in this field solely for the purpose of understanding the technologies and what we are actually promoting.  One of the biggest flaws of these alleged “clean energy” sources: they depend enormously on the mining industry.  I’ve experienced across so many different organizations and communities this diehard approach to going “alternative” without having seriously considered that the “alternative” is not “clean”.  True, renewable sources will last us longer, but the current technologies we have leave us tied to mining, no matter how much we want to keep it all “in the ground”.  And it’s not just the metals and rare earth materials that go into fuel cells/solar panels and wind turbines, it’s also the metals and chemicals in our painted bikes and modes of transportation and the gold in the circuitry of all our electronic devices.

Yet, the more you think about it, our world works in a balance.  That’s part of what we are fighting for, right?  To maintain the atmospheric balance.  To reverse rapid changes we have made since the Industrial Revolution to which Nature is struggling to adapt.  But we can’t completely eliminate carbon emissions.  It sounds radical to say, but carbon emissions are also part of the balance.  When we say “carbon emissions”, we simply mean “carbon dioxide” – a key component to the atmosphere.  Too much of it can have serious ramifications.  For example, too much CO2 in the atmosphere heats the earth during radiation.  It also causes an imbalance in calcium carbonate precipitation in the ocean water, leading to the acidification of the ocean and the dying of coral reefs.  (Read my term paper on this topic here.)  But the same can be said if we dramatically reverse and completely eliminate carbon emissions.  We have to be careful that we don’t promote the idea that no carbon dioxide equals a healthy planet.  Rather, we have to find a way to strike a balance.

Saying we will not burn fuels that create carbon emissions also means we must strike down every effort to promote biomass energy.  Why?  While burning coal, oil, and gas does produce far more emissions, burning woody mass is not “clean” either.  Here in the southwest, biomass offers an alternative to fossil fuels that also has an alarming abundance.  When we get forest fires, they tend to rage for long distances at greater intensities.  The tendency is to fight them, yet forest fires are crucial to the ecosystem here.  Certain seeds only open when burned, generating young trees.  Fires create breaks that keep disease from spreading across entire forests.  Climate change, sadly, is having a negative impact on the natural phenomenon of these fires as well.  All of these factors result in crown fires that lick up the dense, dry, unburned undergrowth and fuel the intensity of the flames.  Encouraging people to burn this undergrowth through biomass projects would help reverse our negative impacts on the natural cycle of fires, but, of course, it would technically produce carbon emissions.

My mom always talks about diet by saying “Everything in moderation.  You can have too much of any thing, even if it’s good for you.”  I think our attitude about climate change and natural phenomenon should be like that too.  Not nonchalant, but in a way that accepts there are meant to be periods of drought, there are meant to be periods of flood – as long as it’s the way of the world deciding what happens and not humanity’s greed that is causing the changes.  I think this perspective is really important and grounding if we want to seriously make a difference.

When I was younger, I used to be zealous about changing light bulbs. Then my focus shifted to changing the systems that determine how we use energy, because, as the saying goes, “we need system change, not climate change.” As a youth delegate to COP21—the international climate-change conference in Paris last December—I witnessed the most sophisticated political skills the world has to offer focus on one goal: to change the fundamental components of our energy systems. They failed. In Paris, I learned that there is an even deeper level of change required to prevent climate catastrophe. It’s not system change—it’s human change.

-Chloe Maxmin, In 2016, No More Human-As-Usual

It really is human attitude and perspective that is the underlying, root cause of so much turmoil in our world today.  It is a disconnect from the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the social/environmental impacts of getting those products to our hands.  We can’t fully depend on policies to govern how we rule ourselves.  As Chloe says, the change for humanity and the health of the world has to come from within.

SO WHAT CAN WE DO?
I don’t have the solutions.  In fact, I go through days of doubt when I’m convinced there is no solution.  But what I can say is self-awareness is at the core of this movement.  For the collective human body to make a change, that change has to come from within the individuals.  To create this change and self-awareness, we have to acknowledge where we do and don’t have privilege; we have understand the implications of everything we do, purchase, and consume; we have to be aware of the lenses we have.  We have to include, not exclude.  We have to share stories alongside facts, because it is the facts the policy-makers want to see and it is the stories the people want to hear.  And always, always, always, we have to keep an open and honest perspective.
To see how these topics have surfaced in my own global challenges, and how I’ve questioned “What does solidarity look like in the eyes of climate change?”, click here to read my experience in Nicaragua from May 2016.
 
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A repost of a watercolor I did after being inspired by the street art in Nicaragua.  Read my post on my trip to Nicaragua for more information.

on Diné Family Day: why i hate Thanksgiving

I live on the Navajo Reservation, work for the Navajo Nation government, and have today off because today is Diné Family Day.

Operative word here: FAMILY

In the words of my boss this Wednesday, before President Begaye ordered a half-day of work, “Have a good Thanksgiving…and have a good Family Day.  Be with your family that day.  Or whoever is your friends, if you are alone.”  I know he was probably directed that last bit towards me, as I had told him I would have to spend the holidays with my friends in Saint Michaels.  But, regardless, I wouldn’t be spending the time in a store.

This time of year, I never know what we’re really celebrating anymore.  The October, November, and December months are jam-packed with holidays, but the spotlight is on sales, buying things, and handing out candy and change to the Goodwill.  Admittedly, Halloween and Christmas are my favorite holidays – but they’re my favorite on account of the atmosphere, the changing weather patterns, the music and creativity…

What is Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving
is, of course, a controversial topic.  It’s supposed to memorialize the exchange between one group of English and one group of Wampanoag.  However, 55 years after the exchange, the residents of Massachusetts began massacring the very peoples that had saved their lives, launching Turtle Island into the start of hundreds of years of genocidal policy…which still continue today in various discreet forms.

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We are supposed to be thankful for what we have…while remembering what was stolen to get here?

My dad texted me yesterday, “I hope you’re in an area that understands the true meaning of the holiday…who respects Mother Earth”.  I would like to think that’s true, but I also see how much the kitschy, off-the-rez border town lifestyle has consumed my neighbors.  It’s like when I lived in France: we all flocked to Camaïeu, craving a piece of affordable French fashion only to find our French peers seeking the exotic American styles that they thought were in vogue.

And that brings me to an enormous hypocrisy in our “American culture”:

  • We insist we have to be thankful for what we have, but we don’t always understand what it took – or what we took – to have it.
  • We rally against large corporations, forming unions, and spew hatred against the 1% that controls so much of our money, yet we are obsessive consumers willing to feed our money at the drop of a hat into these monopolies that are utilizing a foreign workforce.
  • We want to be grateful and equal, but we also want to have the one-up on those around us, we want to have a taste of anything that someone else is able to have, and we don’t think about the greater consequences behind our actions.

The Meat & Grocery Store Culture
Thanksgiving was about survival.  It was about learning how to manage with what you have, how to farm and harvest.  Today, rather than throwing together humble plates of maize, squash, beans, root vegetables, and maybe some venison or fowl… Today, we joke about how much we over-ate, all of the turkey we spent hours preparing, the dozens of lavish dishes….but is it really that funny?

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One depressing reality of American gluttony is that our meat culture is, literally, destroying the planet.  A solid 51% of global emissions are caused by animal husbandry, a number that you feed into every time you purchase a meat, dairy, or egg-based product.  So forget turning off the lights or cutting your shower short – if you eat a burger, you’re causing way more damage than that will ever reverse.

During the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, 300 million turkeys are slaughtered for centerpieces.  I’m not saying that because you should be vegetarian! or something.  I’m saying that because I’m an environmentalist, concerned about sustainability, about ethical practices, and about what we are putting into our bodies.  Peta is an over-aggressive organization, but all it takes is a short video to understand that ethical animal husbandry in the industrial food world simply does not exist.  But there are other factors that should make anyone cringe.

While most turkeys live in the wild to be a decade or so old, the ones raised on farms are sent to the slaughterhouse at about 5 to 6 months.  This is only possible because of the chemicals and hormones injected into the poults (baby turkeys) cause unnatural growth side effects.  To demonstrate the changes in the industry, consider this: In 1970, the average turkey raised for meat weighed 17 pounds.  Today, he/she weighs 28 pounds, resulting in many animals with broken legs and distorted bodies because, well that’s just not natural and their bodies can’t keep up.

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But meat isn’t the only thing that I find upsetting about our destructive society.  It’s also the produce we buy.  Arguments for organic and non-GMO products aside, we have a collective insatiable palate.  We’ve tasted the exotic coconuts and pomegranates, we crave watermelon in the winter, and it doesn’t matter where we live….we will eat it because, well, this is America dammit and it’s our Constitutional right!

We are so out-of-touch with the origins of our food, with the real world consequences of our choices.  We want to fight against raising taxes, emission regulations, and whatever else…but we will freely reap the benefits of having access to a global economy without once batting an eyelash at the problems this gluttony causes us.  We would rather not think about how the dishes we cooked use out-of-season vegetables and fruits, shipped to Minnesota from Mexico and Peru.

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But why is being apathetic considered the norm??

Insert cries of: Shop local!  Shop small!  Shop seasonal!  Shop Organic!  Shop non-GMO!  Keep the integrity of our food and protect the livelihood of our farmers worldwide!

The Must-Have Culture
Piggy-backing off of the must-have culture of our food ethics is the must-have culture of our consumerism in general.  Rather than retaining DIY skills in big cities – with the exception of trendy Pinterest boards and “projects” – we are obsessed with the luxury of having whatever we want whenever we want it.  But that all comes with a cost.  That cost may not be one we see as we pull the credit card from our wallet; but it is a cost that will have more consequences than monetary if we don’t change our ways.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  Take only what you need.  Unless you’re on a shopping spree.

We buy new things all the time.  We buy plastic things all the time.  Antiques become talking pieces.  Convenience becomes the norm.  Anything that takes any more effort because this baffling topic, like You seriously don’t have a microwave?  You don’t have television??  You AIR DRY your clothes?  HOW DO YOU LIVE??

Yeah, I get those all of the time.  My internal response: How do you live with your conscience, or do you not have one?

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I’m not trying to be negative or cynical; I’m just trying to be the voice of logic that too few people are choosing to listen to.  When we become a must-have culture, we are jeopardizing so many freedoms.  We will stand up and rally for our freedoms, but we are simultaneously throwing them away.

When you fall into these Black Friday sales, you are abandoning your values.  You are abandoning your families, and supporting the large corporations who take family time away from their workers.  You are feeding into the monopolies.  You are supporting the manufacture of products outside for the US which, in turn, takes away from American jobs and supports foreign employment systems that treat humans as less than what they are.

We might be willing to throw a dollar or two into the Salvation Army pot come the holidays, probably out of guilt, but we are neglecting the amount of damage we are creating by our hypocritical consumer practices.  No dollar will fix that; only a revolution in our spending practices can.

Don’t Shop on Black Friday: State Parks are Offering Free Admission

Yes, it’s that bad.  Even State Parks that have historically suffered to make ends meet are now offering free admission to get your hypocritical asses out of the chain stores.

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Maybe you don’t see how this will affect your lifetime.  But it will affect the lifetime of your descendants.  And anyone who cares about his or her children should care about the children of his or her children, and so forth.  It’s the same damn thing.

Yesterday, I made organic, vegan dishes for me and my friends.  Today, I will not enter a store but will instead do homework and work on xeriscaping my lawn.  What we do may not be perfect, but actively trying is a start.

What will you do (or refuse to do) to show that you care?

you are what you eat – a short story from life.

“The problem with kids these days is they don’t know where their food comes from. If you don’t know your McDonald’s burger is a slaughtered cow, you don’t deserve to eat it.”

Dad grew up on a beef farm. Dad’s a hunter.  Dad knows how to kill, and therefore dad knows how to eat.  He knows where his food comes from.

Once, I was talking in school and I asked a bunch of friends at the lunch table if they knew where their food comes from. “I don’t want to think about it,” said one friend.  A few friends looked sickly at their meatloaf.  “It’s animal muscle, that’s all.  Those cows we pass on the way to school, they just chop them up.  Meat is bloody.  That’s all.”  They looked at me in horror.

I guess they didn’t deserve to eat it. And they didn’t really want to sit with me at lunch anymore, either.  You are what you eat, but they eat lies.  They numbly buy food from the store, don’t ask questions, and tell themselves it’s a burger, not a cow.  They don’t even know where their food comes from, never planted a seed, never shot a gun or drawn an arrow.  They eat lies.  They live lies.  They are lies.

My dad isn’t a lie. My dad is pure truth.  But people hate truth, because truth is only beautiful if you can make poetry from ugly things.

Sometimes truth hits you when you’re at peace and don’t expect it. I remember skipping through the woods one autumn day and coming across my dad.  He was bent over the fire pit.  A small flame was starting in the middle of the stone ring.  He was crouched with a pile of feathers.  I came up behind him and asked what he was doing.  “Turning the kill into cordon bleu,” he said, holding up a pheasant from that morning’s hunt.  I blinked.  I hadn’t realized mom didn’t cook with chicken.  Now it made sense.  We don’t hunt chickens.  If only my friends knew they’d eaten venison tacos last week…

I wanted to continue walking through the woods, to see the wildlife that is easier to see in the fall when the leaves are down and the food is disappearing. But something kept me tied to the fire pit.  I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t.  I had to watch as dad picked up a pheasant, slightly warm because it had died only an hour before.  He opened its wings in his hands.  It was beautiful and helpless.  He took a wing in each hand.  He pulled.  It tore.  It sounded like a bed sheet tearing.  I didn’t know bodies could tear.

I watched my dad tear a bird in half.

I backed away slowly as he threw the useless scraps into the fire, to keep the dogs from rooting through the trash. It wasn’t even the sight, it was the sound.  I hadn’t thought death could have so many sounds.

That night, mom cooked up a plate of dad’s truth. My cordon bleu had never tasted better.

machine babies.

Next week, I will begin co-teaching an 8th grade world religion/social justice class.  As part of my preparation, I have been reading a series of books recommended by the program Heed the Call.  One of the books I’m reading is called Nurturing Children and Youth by Tracey L. Hurd.  The first chapter opens with “The Infant and Young Toddler – Newborn through Age Two” and discussing the physical development of children.  Naturally, I’m thinking about this topic and every way possible that society is messing it up.

According to the book, an infant triples his bodyweight in the first year of his life.  His brain grows from 1/4 of its adult size to 3/4 of its adult size.  Yes, he will grow half of his brain by his first birthday.  HALF.  I didn’t even have to continue reading to have a mental digression on these facts.  I mean, HALF!?

Remember when Time Magazine published this controversial cover?  People didn’t like it.  Why?  Because: 1. It was “racy”, and 2. “Who breastfeeds her grown-up child??  What a bad mother!”  Well, I have a slew of problems with those reactions.

To counter the first, how many times are women these days arguing for their freedom of dress?  I see all these articles now about women believing they shouldn’t be sexualized because of how they dress, that they should be allowed to do how they please and not worry about a man’s reaction to their choices.  Yet there are men – and women – alike who look down on public breastfeeding.  They see it as nudity.  “Go do that in the bathroom,” they say.  (At my university, we have a special room in the bathrooms in one hall that is a “lactation station”.)  I think that’s ridiculous because, not only is it hypocritical, but breastfeeding is such a fundamental part of a child’s development as well as his relationship to his mother.  It’s natural.  Furthermore, if babies have to eat in the bathroom, then lunch should be served there for everyone.

To counter the second reaction, I think it’s quite ironic to label the mother on the cover as being a bad example.  In fact, she’s an excellent example.  Naturally, children are supposed to grow out of their ability to digest lactose.  This usually happens when they’re young children, not toddlers.  I, too, went through this phase.  Why does this happen?  Well, because we’re not supposed to consume dairy products beyond our development.  I mean, you want to talk about weird?  It’s weird that humans drink cow milk!  Think about it.  It’s for calves!!  What are we, five??  Not only does this excess dairy lead to health complications and not actually help with osteoporosis (it’s a marketing strategy, thanks government), it’s just not sustainable.  So while we have adults drinking cow milk, they’re also turning their noses up at children drinking human milk.  And why do Asians/Natives and some others phase so slowly out of lactose tolerance?  Because it’s natural to keep drinking mom’s milk so you can continue developing.  Yes, mothers can produce milk for many years after birth.

Why did this all come to my mind?  There are so many women these days using baby formula.  I think that’s horrible!!  If you’re going to be a mother, be a mother, damnit.  These aren’t machine babies.  You didn’t grow it in a petri dish.  It’s a HUMAN, made from HUMAN, meant to consume HUMAN.  I’m sure some day machine babies drinking machine milk will exist when the world has really lost all hope, but, for now, let’s be real, please.  NOTHING replaces human product just like NOTHING replaces human touch, love, and childrearing.  Pop culture needs to wake up and realize it is what’s messed up.

In addition to breastfeeding, studies have been done that mouth-to-mouth feeding is also a natural practice.  That probably freaks a lot of people out, but after watching a video on the Youtube channel Vsauce, I realized how fascinating “premastication” is.  Although a lot of people seemed up in arms when actress Alicia Silverstone posted a video of kiss-feeding her son (some folks said it was like she was “making out” with her son), I feel like any fan of the Paleo diet can understand peoples’ interest in reverting to more natural habits.  Did you know, they thinking kissing came from this method of weaning?

So before you go bashing breastfeeding in public, into childhood, or as a method period – and before you get grossed out by kiss-feeding – consider how much grosser the general American populace’s habits are.  I mean, do you even know what’s in the food you’re eating?  What are you seriously putting in your body?  You don’t know the chemicals, the genetic origins, the implications on your own body.  You could be literally eating your way to cancer if you don’t handle all your own food and instead rely on other people to supply it to grocery stores and in restaurants.  Why do we pretend so much that we can manipulate things we naturally put into our bodies?  Why do we think artificial replacements are going to be a cheaper solution to a just-as-healthy lifestyle?  What makes us think that baby formula can honestly replace breast-milk when a baby will use that formula to CREATE ITS BRAIN?  (Sure, there are some cases when formula might be necessary, but that’s rare.)

I just see so much hypocrisy in the mainstream culture regarding food and raising children.  I feel like it’s cool now to just skimp out on everything.  So tell me, why are people even parents these days?  Why?

Forks over Knives.

First, I just want to say – wow, yesterday was like whiplash after I posted and then everything blew up in my face for completely isolated reasons.  But that’s irrelevant.  I guess.

I’m trying to catch up with myself here – I’ve been reading so much and not writing as much, plus work is a lot at the moment.  But I watched a documentary this past week called Forks over Knives.  It’s about how horrible animal products are for people, basically.  They made all kinds of correlations between health, age, diet, etc… and backed their claims up with things like evidence of how Asian cultures have adopted American eating habits in many regions that are now suffering in health like we are despite their notoriously clean history.

The doctors in the film were interesting characters and I was shocked to Google one and find out he is in fact living in my neighborhood in Cleveland.  Then it made sense.  I’m in a wealthy part of the city and right beside my old college, Case Western Reserve, where they have the Cleveland Clinic.  Yeah, that makes sense.

While I was researching more on the topic and contemplating finding the book to read too, I was coming across a lot of interesting words and ideas.  For example, fruitarianism.  Eating only things that fall from plants – the perfect peaceful diet.  Nuts, fruits.  Limited, though.  The reason why Apple is called Apple because Steve Jobs was practicing this diet at the time.  It is possibly more akin to our natural diets than we realize, but it results in deficiencies.  Another concept I saw is “forest gardening”, which supports the sustainable practices I was mentioning previously in my small farms rant.  It combines more practical, natural settings to grow plants like the prairie studies are researching.  And, finally, I found a phrase that I really enjoy: “environmental veganism”.

Environmental vegetarianism is the practice of vegetarianism or veganism based on the indications that animal production, particularly by intensive agriculture, is environmentally unsustainable.[1] The primary environmental concerns with animal products are pollution and the use of resources such as fossil fuels, water, and land.

I’m a fan of that.  And this documentary doesn’t stray far from that concept, although it primarily focuses on health of the human body.  But I’m glad I already practice similar eating habits to those covered in the film.  I’m glad I know my homeopathic remedies well.  I find it silly to think we’ve “rediscovered” the power of plants when, realistically, we are just reinventing a wheel that mother nature made, we used, and then we subsequently forgot.

The Small Farm Crisis in America.

My mom texted me a few months ago.  “Dave’s selling his cattle.  He’s going beef now – can’t make money anymore in dairy.”  That hit me hard on two levels.  First of all, I always grew up with dairy.  Grandma had the beef farm.  Seeing brown cows every day at the property line instead of spotted ones and Oreos (who are sometimes also for beef) was regular at home and I could tell already it would feel strange to me.  No milking stalls.  No “Got Milk?” sign.  Just cows awaiting slaughter, staring blankly towards my house all day then going home to be fed.

But that’s not all that hit me hard.  The second part – and by far the worst – is hearing someone say they “can’t make money anymore in dairy”.

We live in Pennsylvania, for God’s sake!  Milk is our STATE DRINK!  We are rolling hills and mountains lined with crooked, topographically-tilled cattle corn fields and littered with silos and milking barns.  Sun-up, to sun-down, to late night, with electrical bulb-lit barns, farmers are out there growing the crop, tending to the herd, then milking them away.  How can we be losing money like this?

I don’t think there is a simple answer, but I’ll spell out what I see: 1. Government regulations, 2. Consumer persuasion, and 3. Industrialization of the farm.

1. GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS
Not long ago, one of my neighbors sold his farm.  He was older, it was too costly, and no one would inherit it.  It was sold and developed and I now can see houses on a hillside across the valley from us.  What a shame.  My mom around the same time explained to me how someone had come in and drained the reservoir behind Dave’s because they want to drive a superhighway through our valley.  In response to this, and with concern that no grandson wanted to inherit his farm, Dave signed into the Pennsylvania farmland protection program so as to preserve his land from development.  Soon after, his partner left him and he was forced to downsize.  I think everyone thought he was crazy for keeping the farm running at such profit levels and in his advanced years.  That’s when EPA rolled in and threatened him for violating standards with watershed pollution.  He was forced to make changes in his practices and to plant trees and lay fence through the creeks to keep cows out of direct contact with the water.

Ain’t nobody got the money to do that.  I respect the EPA and it is part of my job to make sure projects are up to spec with the regulations, but how can you expect people with 200-year-old farms and old buildings to suddenly change their ways?  When they already have no profit?  When they’re in fact being environmentally-friendly to an extent by maintaining old materials instead of tearing things down and building new ones. Of this exact vein, a clipping my mom mailed to me in Ohio that she found in the Tribune-Review addresses these small farmer concerns, saying they’re “weary of new regulations” in Pennsylvania.  It talks about just what I have pointed out, how farmers use old barns, old methods, old wooden tools that may face tough laws soon that restrict how they handle their produce, meat, and dairy.  They cry, What can we do?  If we want local, organic, small family farms to operate, we cannot be so god-awfully stringent like this.

I understand the need to monitor health of food, but at what cost?  Everything we eat is to be controlled?  Our foods supplemented like our water without our consent because someone decided it’s better for us?  When we are constantly learning we were wrong about our previous health-related insights?  We say we need to support America, but aren’t we tearing it down from the inside out and encouraging imports and cheap labor and poverty?  Why are we letting the American Dream die?  Sometimes I feel like government regulations will soon leave us feeling like we’re living in (WARNING: SPOILER ALERT FROM THE HUNGER GAMES SERIES IF YOU HAVE NOT READ MOCKINGJAY) District 13 of the Hunger Games, where food is regulated down to the last calorie and you can’t take more than your share or act outside of your daily schedule.

(SPOILER OVER)

2. CONSUMER PERSUASION
So why do we buy the things we buy?  How is Dave going out of business with dairy?  What is causing this?  I think back to his “Got Milk?” billboard and realize how silly these nutritional notions Americans have are.  The lead of a “Save Your Bones” program discusses how milk actually depletes calcium and argues that countries that drink more milk have higher levels of osteoporosis.  Not only that, but modern milk is a processed food.  Think of Asians who, like me due to my Indian blood, cannot drink lactose.  Their cultures didn’t have milk outside of infancy/young childhood because they didn’t raise crops and drink the milk of other animals yet look at their health ratings, some of the best if not the best in the world.  Finally, like so much of our food, milk is almost always fortified.  You are better off telling your children to eat more dark greens!  No cholesterol, cheap, fresh, unprocessed, low fat, natural…

Then why does the government do these things?  I couldn’t tell you.  There must be some kind of profit in it for them.  Meanwhile, the other problem is that these small farms are selling their milk to large collectors who mix the milks regionally and mass-produce cartons.  These small farms are selling at minimum prices because everywhere you go in Pennsylvania you see signs like “Milk sold at state minimum!”  Who benefits from that?  The collector and the cheap customer is who, leaving people like Dave to break their backs for far-too-less money with inflation, regulation, and every other crisis knocking on their doors – not to mention global warming causing late frosts and draughts and wreaking all kinds of havoc on crops.

Why do we get so riled up about big chains like Wal-Mart who take over small businesses, but we let the same things happen to our farmers?  Why do we allow ourselves to be brain-washed by lower prices?  Higher prices don’t always mean the better choice, but a little research can tell you you’re making a lot of poor choices in the grocer’s.  Why do we fill our buggies with these “fillers” and products that undermine small-farming to keep your budget comfortable?  And, honestly, you can’t blame these big guys.  I mean, they’re just doing their job.  The only ones we can blame are ourselves for submitting to this monopolizing behavior and supporting it through purchases.  Think about what you’re doing.  The consumer has all of the power.  The producers just provide what will fit the demand in the most profitable way possible.

3. INDUSTRIALIZATION OF THE FARM
That is my lead-in into the final point I’m making: High demand of cheap, lower-quality goods is causing farms to become industrialized, thus defeating the whole concept of small, local, and healthy.  Instead, America wants fast, cheap, and easy.  Since animal farms might be hard to imagine as well, picture the huge agricultural farms in the Plains states.  Endless rows of soybeans and corn stalks.  Huge combines and plows combing and tearing up the land.  We are in a topsoil crisis, yet we continue to destroy the ground with machinery, chemicals, and high-yielding but genetically washed-out crops.  Why are we doing this?

Farmers just cannot compete on a small farm using traditional equipment.  We’ve already upgraded to tractors from horse-drawn plows, but it keeps getting worse.  Without an incredibly expensive combine and other contraption, famers cannot possibly meet the demand to yield enough produce for a solid profit.  They have to get big-scale and possibly hire some hands to get them there.  It’s not longer a family business but an industry.  And do you have any clue how environmentally-bad single-crop farming is?  How it destroys the land?  An intriguing prairie study I read in Biomimicry addresses that along with many other concerns.  (I wrote about that here, on my Cleveland blog.)

What’s worse is we are corrupting the God-given (literally or for emphasis) genetics that were evolved to be on this planet.  There are reasons things are here, whether godly or naturally.  Natural Selection.  There are ecosystems in existence.  We, as humans, were borne out of its byproducts, in the same environment, eating its literal fruits.  And now we have big-scale company monopolizing the system and destroying the beauty that was here, companies like DuPont Pioneer (to whom my company sadly caters in projects).  DuPont Pioneer is developing genetically-modified seeds and playing god, encouraging farmers to coerce, and dominating fields with single, unnatural crop types.  Sure, some benefits seem obvious (outside of profit, of course), but is that really helping the farmer?  Is it really helping us?  The planet?  How is making a crop withstand one disease going to prevent it from the next?  Similarly, I don’t support getting flu shots.  Let nature take its course.  That’s what it’s meant to do.  A resistance will build.  We will be better for it.  Nature will find its way to destroy what it wants to destroy regardless of a stupid, genetically-messed up seed.

Phew.

And so my rant concludes – for now.

But, in sum, I say support your local, organic, small farms, don’t support industry, low prices, or genetically-modified food, and keep in mind that the government has reasons for regulations, but some of the things it does are not necessarily worthy of worship.