Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “food”

Elves, Dwarves and Political Activists

“You can’t be serious!” she exclaimed, wrinkling her nose as though I had just made a pass at her, or uttered a politically incorrect sentiment. “You write about elves and dwarves running from one end of the world to another killing each other and making long speeches? I thought you were a serious writer.”

In honesty, she had not seen me for a few years, and even then, knew me in the context of my more political work environment. To her credit, she recovered and apologized, and I was able to refrain from pouring my drink into her lap. It was, after all, a good scotch.

images-2-1Friend or not, intentional or not, it still hurt. I thought I had passed this stage, smoothly presenting myself as ‘an author who writes in two genres’. I have practiced my opening line and it is now delivered with confidence.

I am involved in social justice causes. Even in my short eight years living in the US, I have built a fair resume of involvement. I have taken students almost every year to New Orleans, not only to help rebuild a community, physically and emotionally, but to bear witness so that the millennials will not make the mistakes my generation did. I have been involved in various campaigns here and abroad.  I know my local food bank well. Hey, you never had a black President before I came to the US! 

But yes, I love to lose myself in Middle Earth, Alaegasia, Westeros and, dare I add it to the list: Odessiya. It’s a nice break from the intensive campus environment to deal with stubborn dwarves and idealistic elves. While closeted in an urban concrete jungle, I can escape on a horse and gallop through ancient forests, over great ice plains, and to quaff an ale or puff a pipe (without the health risks) with good friends, all from a computer screen or ebook reader.

hobbits-in-pub The San Francisco Bay Area is intensely populated by a variety of the human species often identified by salt-and-pepper haired, wrinkled, colorful attire, and provocative bumper stickers. These aging ideologues have rich resumes of demonstrating against wars, civil rights. Watergate, and more recently, more wars, gay rights, and gun control.

While there are many who have fallen by the wayside, succumbing to burnout, those who have maintained their energy to keep demonstrating and fighting for what is right, all seem to have a secret place they go to recharge, relax, and to return energized to help create a better world to live in. It might be literature, meditation, family, friends, food, nature … it doesn’t matter. As a friend once said: Fixing the world is a marathon, not a sprint.

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Yeah, I write about elves and dwarves doing brave acts and striving for justice and honor. Sure I write about battles and loves, about friendships and magic, about the power of nature and good fighting evil.

It energizes me and often provides clarity and vision. And if I do occasionally wonder what Seanchai or Shayth might do about gun control or why some people are denied the rights and opportunities their neighbors have, well that’s because fantasy is not quite as far-fetched and detached from reality as my shocked friend might think.

God created the world in six days and on the seventh s/he rested…and may well have deservedly read Lord of the Rings.

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Here’s to whatever it takes for each of us to continue the journey we’ve chosen!

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. In celebration of the upcoming launch of Ashbar, the third in the Wycaan Master series, Tourmaline Books are offering for August only,  the 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Award for YA – At The Walls Of Galbrieth – for 99 cents (kindle only).

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Beyond Genetically Modified Food – Roger Ingalls

There’s a new food source coming and it makes GMOs (genetically modified organisms) look like child’s play. Soon, your food may be printed.

Normally I’m not in favor of manmade or DNA altered organisms getting into our food system because our bodies have not evolved to properly recognize and chemically breakdown many of these foods. It’s no accident that obesity and diabetes correlates to the rapid adaption of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in processed food and drinks. HFCS is a manmade invention and the human body cannot adequately deal with it. However, 3D printed food may be a different but positive development.

picture from SMRC

picture from SMRC

If you’re not familiar with 3D printing, click here.

There are two basic reasons why I believe food printing could be a good thing. First, it will be a very efficient way to produce food and second, food could be composed exactly the way an individual may need it to maintain health. Fundamentally, food is made of proteins, sugars, oils, macro and micro nutrients and water. Like ink in a printer cartridge, these building blocks for food can be printed in layers to form an edible meal and the printer can have a built in hotplate to cook the food as it is being formed.

The fundamental elements would be in a powder form and could be stored for decades. This would greatly reduce food shortage all over the world because stocks could be built up during good production years. This type of food system would conserve valuable resources such as water and energy. Food would be assembled where needed (no or limited transport cost) so the energy goes straight into making the product and the same is true for water.

In 30 years the world population will grow from today’s 6 billion to 9 billion. We will need all forms of food production such as genetically modified factory farms, urban grown food, feed lot animals and aquaponics. 3D printed food assembled from basic elements will be just another needed source to feed the hungry masses.

It’s OK to be Food Secure – Roger Ingalls

Have you seen or read the weather reports coming from America’s heart land? Heat and lack of rain are playing havoc with the crops. The prices for corn, soybean and wheat have jumped over the past two days (5.5%, 3.6% and 3.1% respectively). This may seem like a small increase but when you consider that 70% of everything we consume uses these three commodities in some way, it is a significant jump. Hot, dry weather is expected to stay with the nation’s breadbasket for awhile which may further impact crop yields and prices.

Picture from Standeyo.com

To those who understand our so-called modern food system, it’s obvious that we, the consuming public, have lost control of the basic necessities we need to sustain ourselves. The enticement of farm subsidies has created a corporate rush to drive out traditional local farmers. We now have consolidated and centralized mega-farms all practicing similar techniques. This lack of diversity exacerbates weather related events leaving the public at risk (food shortages and high prices). In addition, food prices are no longer solely established by supply and demand. Since deregulation under the Bush administration #2, it is now legal to speculate on food commodities in ways similar to stocks, hedge funds and oil which further drives the price of food. Yes, Wall Street is now gambling on our food. Lastly, corporatized or industrial farming is fossil fuel intensive so food prices are tied to oil and natural gas.

So how do we take back control of our food? This is really an economic and marketing question. We need to develop a substitute food system with value that will motivate consumers to switch.

It just so happens that an alternate food system does exist and has been successfully implemented in an American country very close to our border. Cuba had a farming system similar to the US, Europe and other industrialized nations but they relied on imports from the Soviet Union for oil-based pesticides, natural gas based fertilizers and diesel for transportation of goods from farm to city. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, Cuba’s supply of fuel and fossil-derived chemicals dwindled to near extinction. Fortunately for the Cuban people, their government saw what was coming and developed a smart strategy to replace industrialized chemical farming. They rolled out a farming system based on biological fertilizers, biological/cultural pest control and implemented it right in the cities. Essentially, they created organic urban farming out of necessity. Here are a few amazing statistics and other information:

1)       With a workforce of approximately 4.8 million, they’ve created 350,000 new jobs.
2)       Local production of fresh vegetables increased a thousand fold, yields per square meter increased from 1.5 kilograms to 25.8 kilograms.
3)       Food production is local so transportation is eliminated, food is fresh and harvested when ripe and not chemically gassed to ripen as with industrialized farming.
4)       Diets and health of the Cuban population improved, food is nutrient rich and free from toxic petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers.
5)       Urban farmers earn more than government workers and are as respected as doctors.

By duplicating something similar to the Cuban urban farming method we can take local ownership of our food, create jobs and enjoy healthier, tastier food. Just as important, we reduce the risk of shortages and high prices by decoupling food from the oil industry and speculative gambling by financial institutions. Urban agriculture is formed on multiple locations and managed by many small companies or sole proprietors. This creates additional diversity in produce and farming methods, thereby further improving food security.

Take a few minutes and really think about this organic local food system. It’s not a backward approach; it’s scientifically progressive with a thorough understanding of biology and how a living ecosystem really works. Imagine the positive benefits this would bring to your community: healthy food growing in every available space, people working and food secure, produce businesses or co-ops within walking distance for most everyone, a thriving self-made community.

It’s OK to say no to 1940s industrialized chemical farming practices, it’s OK to say no to market manipulation by financial institutions and IT’S OK TO BE EMPOWERED!

Another Empowering Women’s Organization

I read almost every solicitation that I receive from a non-profit. I can’t help it. A lot of my time is spent raising funds for San Francisco Hillel, the Jewish Student Center, and I send out my fair share of letter campaigns. 

Women for Women caught my eye for their very personal letter. This is an organization that helps women who have lost everything, often both material and personal, through violence and war. Their primary focus is on women from the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Rwanda, Afghanistan, and others.

Women for Women are able to :

– offer direct financial support for medicine and food

– provide job training skills and business training

– teach an empowerment program about their rights as women and citizens

The Woman for Women website offers many stories and testimonies. Warning – they can be tough to read. One interesting set of facts that I read includes the following data:

– women reinvest 90% of their income into their family and community compared with 30-40% of men (World Bank study).

– women hire at least one person to help with their businesses and train or mentor on average 4 other women.

– women are 70% of the world’s farmers, produce 90% of the world’s staple food crops, but own less than 2% of the land.

Finally, in the words of one of Zainab Salbi, Founder of Women for Women: “…it’s the Butterfly Revolution in action.  You make a gift of $20 and the impact of your decision is felt thousands of miles away, by a woman whose life has been devastated by war and conflict…

“The Butterfly Revolution is a metaphor for the concept that even small actions…like the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings…can have far-reaching effects. I believe that by taking action, every one of us have a major impact on making the world a better place for women in need.”

Please consider joining me with a $20 gift. You can click here and don’t even need to leave your chair.

Thank you.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Bill McKibben and the Durable Future

The other night I attended an interview of Authors Bill McKibben and Paul Hawken. I had just finished Bill McKibben’s excellent book, “Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future,” and was anxious to meet him and hear what he had to say. I had not read anything by Paul Hawken and he sounded interesting, but I’ll concentrate on McKibben’s work here.

Bill McKibben has written several books, but what he talked about in the interview was pretty much what was in Deep Economy. Mostly, McKibben advocates for smaller scale, more local economies and against globalization. His arguments take several forms.

As can be seen in many books of this general class, McKibben points out the waste involved (fuel, carbon output, etc) in global transport of food and other goods. In fact he talks about food quite a bit and gives many points to boost local farmers’ markets. He talks about something that is known to students of sustainability, but not the general public: that large, so-called “factory” farms actually produce considerably LESS food than smaller farms tended to closely by individual farmers with smaller-scale machinery. This is largely due to intimate knowledge of the variations in the land and to the ability to “intercrop,” or to plant one crop alongside or maybe in the shade of another. Large-scale machine farming makes both of these impractical.

But what is unique (or at least uncommon) about McKibben’s perspective is his attention to the social costs of globalization and the benefits of returning to local economies. He points out how our mobile economy has led to less socialization among neighbors, and people in general.

I can’t do it justice here, but Deep Economy is well worth reading. There’s a lot more to it but it’s not too difficult. Don’t be put off by the title, it’s written for non-economists. Bill McKibben is the founder of 350.org (focused on climate change and actually doing something about it) which is organizing a huge, worldwide day of action called “Moving Planet” on Saturday, September 24th. Go to the website www.moving-planet.org and find out what’s happening near you.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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Last Year, Same Story

At this time last year, I shared with you a passage from the 2nd chapter of Unwanted Heroes. Twelve months later, I am back in New Orleans with a new group of students, and I continue to be astonished by the connection between San Francisco and New Orleans. It is not surprising that so many people gravitate between the two cities. Each have their own unique architecture, music, culture, food…

And yet when I talk with people here there is something familiar, something connecting. I wonder whether the wound on the urban psyche inflicted by the Hurricane on the Gulf Coast, and the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco has anything to do with it? The knowledge that while we build and rebuild, everything is fragile. New Orleans and San Francisco share the knowledge that everything we hold dear in our fair cities could be destroyed…again.

New Orleans will rebuild and regenerate. San Francisco will continue to help, sending groups like our students and other means of help. We do it because of who we are, because of all we share. We do it because of the counter culture, the passion and the mystique. We don’t do it because we think one day we might need the help reciprocated. We do it because while so much is different, what binds us is even stronger.

The Fog Rolls In – takes place in a coffee shop in the financial district of San Francisco. It is told by a young and empathetic barista.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

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