Just in – this video of myself, Stephanie Mills and Caroline Woolard on Communities of Trust at the New Economics Conference at Bard in June 2012. A wonderful discussion of the edge between living in a money economy and living in a community of reciprocity and mutuality – the how it works, joys, challenges, wisdom and innovations.
Antioch Graduation Speech on Hope in Spite of it All
Thank you for selecting me as your graduation speaker, and congratulations on your success. In my short time today I want to say why – even with a future as uncertain and discouraging as the one staring us in the face – I am filled with hope. Yes, we live in one of those times in history when the stakes are high and here’s reason #1 for hope: daunting assignments actually bring out the best in people. There’s no script for our times and in that is reason #2 for hope: In the absence of certainty, hope is sanity because it lets you move into the unknown as if life is rooting for you to succeed. How could it be otherwise?
Life itself is an ally, we don’t need to generate hope, and we just need to cooperate. – and that’s reason #3 for hope. All living things get up each morning not knowing what the day will bring, yet we go on mating and birthing, flowering and fruiting assuming the conditions for flourishing are always there to receive us. Read the rest of this entry »
“Chick” Callenbach was always thoughtful – kind and considered. So of course he considered us all in his last month, and wrote a final essay of wisdom and encouragement that apparently was found on his computer after he died, with instructions for publication. Here it is – one more testament to his calm ability to see what’s wrong yet point to how we can wander towards safety. He was a mentor and friend – we first met on the porch at Breitenbush in 1984 and last visited perhaps 3 years ago in his home in Berkeley with his wife Christine.
[This document was found on the computer of Ecotopia  author Ernest Callenbach (1929-2012) after his death.]
To all brothers and sisters who hold the dream in their hearts of a future world in which humans and all other beings live in harmony and mutual support—a world of sustainability, stability, and confidence. A world something like the one I described, so long ago, in Ecotopia and Ecotopia Emerging.
As I survey my life, which is coming near its end, I want to set down a few thoughts that might be useful to those coming after. It will soon be time for me to give back to Gaia the nutrients that I have used during a long, busy, and happy life. I am not bitter or resentful at the approaching end; I have been one of the extraordinarily lucky ones. So it behooves me here to gather together some thoughts and attitudes that may prove useful in the dark times we are facing: a century or more of exceedingly difficult times.
How will those who survive manage it? What can we teach our friends, our children, our communities? Although we may not be capable of changing history, how can we equip ourselves to survive it?
I contemplate these questions in the full consciousness of my own mortality. Being offered an actual number of likely months to live, even though the estimate is uncertain, mightily focuses the mind. On personal things, of course, on loved ones and even loved things, but also on the Big Picture.
But let us begin with last things first, for a change. The analysis will come later, for those who wish it.
Hope. Children exude hope, even under the most terrible conditions, and that must inspire us as our conditions get worse. Hopeful patients recover better. Hopeful test candidates score better. Hopeful builders construct better buildings. Hopeful parents produce secure and resilient children. In groups, an atmosphere of hope is essential to shared successful effort: “Yes, we can!” is not an empty slogan, but a mantra for people who intend to do something together—whether it is rescuing victims of hurricanes, rebuilding flood-damaged buildings on higher ground, helping wounded people through first aid, or inventing new social structures (perhaps one in which only people are “persons,” not corporations). We cannot know what threats we will face. But ingenuity against adversity is one of our species’ built-in resources. We cope, and faith in our coping capacity is perhaps our biggest resource of all.
Mutual support. The people who do best at basic survival tasks (we know this experimentally, as well as intuitively) are cooperative, good at teamwork, often altruistic, mindful of the common good. In drastic emergencies like hurricanes or earthquakes, people surprise us by their sacrifices—of food, of shelter, even sometimes of life itself. Those who survive social or economic collapse, or wars, or pandemics, or starvation, will be those who manage scarce resources fairly; hoarders and dominators win only in the short run, and end up dead, exiled, or friendless. So, in every way we can we need to help each other, and our children, learn to be cooperative rather than competitive; to be helpful rather than hurtful; to look out for the communities of which we are a part, and on which we ultimately depend.
Practical skills. With the movement into cities of the US population, and much of the rest of the world’s people, we have had a massive de-skilling in how to do practical tasks. When I was a boy in the country, all of us knew how to build a tree house, or construct a small hut, or raise chickens, or grow beans, or screw pipes together to deliver water. It was a sexist world, of course, so when some of my chums in eighth grade said we wanted to learn girls’ “home ec” skills like making bread or boiling eggs, the teachers were shocked, but we got to do it. There was widespread competence in fixing things—impossible with most modern contrivances, of course, but still reasonable for the basic tools of survival: pots and pans, bicycles, quilts, tents, storage boxes.
We all need to learn, or relearn, how we would keep the rudiments of life going if there were no paid specialists around, or means to pay them. Every child should learn elementary carpentry, from layout and sawing to driving nails. Everybody should know how to chop wood safely, and build a fire. Everybody should know what to do if dangers appear from fire, flood, electric wires down, and the like. Taking care of each other is one practical step at a time, most of them requiring help from at least one other person; survival is a team sport.
Organize. Much of the American ideology, our shared and usually unspoken assumptions, is hyper-individualistic. We like to imagine that heroes are solitary, have super powers, and glory in violence, and that if our work lives and business lives seem tamer, underneath they are still struggles red in blood and claw. We have sought solitude on the prairies, as cowboys on the range, in our dependence on media (rather than real people), and even in our cars, armored cabins of solitude. We have an uneasy and doubting attitude about government, as if we all reserve the right to be outlaws. But of course human society, like ecological webs, is a complex dance of mutual support and restraint, and if we are lucky it operates by laws openly arrived at and approved by the populace.
If the teetering structure of corporate domination, with its monetary control of Congress and our other institutions, should collapse of its own greed, and the government be unable to rescue it, we will have to reorganize a government that suits the people. We will have to know how to organize groups, how to compromise with other groups, how to argue in public for our positions. It turns out that “brainstorming,” a totally noncritical process in which people just throw out ideas wildly, doesn’t produce workable ideas. In particular, it doesn’t work as well as groups in which ideas are proposed, critiqued, improved, debated. But like any group process, this must be protected from domination by powerful people and also over-talkative people. When the group recognizes its group power, it can limit these distortions. Thinking together is enormously creative; it has huge survival value.
Learn to live with contradictions. These are dark times, these are bright times. We are implacably making the planet less habitable. Every time a new oil field is discovered, the press cheers: “Hooray, there is more fuel for the self-destroying machines!” We are turning more land into deserts and parking lots. We are wiping out innumerable species that are not only wondrous and beautiful, but might be useful to us. We are multiplying to the point where our needs and our wastes outweigh the capacities of the biosphere to produce and absorb them. And yet, despite the bloody headlines and the rocketing military budgets, we are also, unbelievably, killing fewer of each other proportionately than in earlier centuries. We have mobilized enormous global intelligence and mutual curiosity, through the Internet and outside it. We have even evolved, spottily, a global understanding that democracy is better than tyranny, that love and tolerance are better than hate, that hope is better than rage and despair, that we are prone, especially in catastrophes, to be astonishingly helpful and cooperative.
We may even have begun to share an understanding that while the dark times may continue for generations, in time new growth and regeneration will begin. In the biological process called “succession,” a desolate, disturbed area is gradually, by a predictable sequence of returning plants, restored to ecological continuity and durability. When old institutions and habits break down or consume themselves, new experimental shoots begin to appear, and people explore and test and share new and better ways to survive together.
It is never easy or simple. But already we see, under the crumbling surface of the conventional world, promising developments: new ways of organizing economic activity (cooperatives, worker-owned companies, nonprofits, trusts), new ways of using low-impact technology to capture solar energy, to sequester carbon dioxide, new ways of building compact, congenial cities that are low (or even self-sufficient) in energy use, low in waste production, high in recycling of almost everything. A vision of sustainability that sometimes shockingly resembles Ecotopia is tremulously coming into existence at the hands of people who never heard of the book.
Now in principle, the Big Picture seems simple enough, though devilishly complex in the details. We live in the declining years of what is still the biggest economy in the world, where a looter elite has fastened itself upon the decaying carcass of the empire. It is intent on speedily and relentlessly extracting the maximum wealth from that carcass, impoverishing our former working middle class. But this maggot class does not invest its profits here. By law and by stock-market pressures, corporations must seek their highest possible profits, no matter the social or national consequences—which means moving capital and resources abroad, wherever profit potential is larger. As Karl Marx darkly remarked, “Capital has no country,” and in the conditions of globalization his meaning has come clear.
The looter elite systematically exports jobs, skills, knowledge, technology, retaining at home chiefly financial manipulation expertise: highly profitable, but not of actual productive value. Through “productivity gains” and speedups, it extracts maximum profit from domestic employees; then, firing the surplus, it claims surprise that the great mass of people lack purchasing power to buy up what the economy can still produce (or import).
Here again Marx had a telling phrase: “Crisis of under-consumption.” When you maximize unemployment and depress wages, people have to cut back. When they cut back, businesses they formerly supported have to shrink or fail, adding their own employees to the ranks of the jobless, and depressing wages still further. End result: something like Mexico, where a small, filthy rich plutocracy rules over an impoverished mass of desperate, uneducated, and hopeless people.
Barring unprecedented revolutionary pressures, this is the actual future we face in the United States, too. As we know from history, such societies can stand a long time, supported by police and military control, manipulation of media, surveillance and dirty tricks of all kinds. It seems likely that a few parts of the world (Germany, with its worker-council variant of capitalism, New Zealand with its relative equality, Japan with its social solidarity, and some others) will remain fairly democratic.
The US, which has a long history of violent plutocratic rule unknown to the textbook-fed, will stand out as the best-armed Third World country, its population ill-fed, ill-housed, ill-educated, ill-cared for in health, and increasingly poverty-stricken: even Social Security may be whittled down, impoverishing tens of millions of the elderly.
As empires decline, their leaders become increasingly incompetent—petulant, ignorant, gifted only with PR skills of posturing and spinning, and prone to the appointment of loyal idiots to important government positions. Comedy thrives; indeed writers are hardly needed to invent outrageous events.
We live, then, in a dark time here on our tiny precious planet. Ecological devastation, political and economic collapse, irreconcilable ideological and religious conflict, poverty, famine: the end of the overshoot of cheap-oil-based consumer capitalist expansionism.
If you don’t know where you’ve been, you have small chance of understanding where you might be headed. So let me offer a capsule history for those who, like most of us, got little help from textbook history.
At 82, my life has included a surprisingly substantial slice of American history. In the century or so up until my boyhood in Appalachian central Pennsylvania, the vast majority of Americans subsisted as farmers on the land. Most, like people elsewhere in the world, were poor, barely literate, ill-informed, short-lived. Millions had been slaves. Meanwhile in the cities, vast immigrant armies were mobilized by ruthless and often violent “robber baron” capitalists to build vast industries that made things: steel, railroads, ships, cars, skyscrapers.
Then, when I was in grade school, came World War II. America built the greatest armaments industry the world had ever seen, and when the war ended with most other industrial countries in ruins, we had a run of unprecedented productivity and prosperity. Thanks to strong unions and a sympathetic government, this prosperity was widely shared: a huge working middle class evolved—tens of millions of people could afford (on one wage) a modest house, a car, perhaps sending a child to college. This era peaked around 1973, when wages stagnated, the Vietnam War took a terrible toll in blood and money, and the country began sliding rightward.
In the next epoch, which we are still in and which may be our last as a great nation, capitalists who grew rich and powerful by making things gave way to a new breed: financiers who grasped that you could make even more money by manipulating money. (And by persuading Congress to subsidize them—the system should have been called Subsidism, not Capitalism.) They had no concern for the productivity of the nation or the welfare of its people; with religious fervor, they believed in maximizing profit as the absolute economic goal. They recognized that, by capturing the government through the election finance system and removing government regulation, they could turn the financial system into a giant casino.
Little by little, they hollowed the country out, until it was helplessly dependent on other nations for almost all its necessities. We had to import significant steel components from China or Japan. We came to pay for our oil imports by exporting food (i.e., our soil). Our media and our educational system withered. Our wars became chronic and endless and stupefyingly expensive. Our diets became suicidal, and our medical system faltered; life expectancies began to fall.
And so we have returned, in a sort of terrible circle, to something like my boyhood years, when President Roosevelt spoke in anger of “one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-fed, ill-clothed.” A large and militant contingent of white, mostly elderly, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant right wingers, mortally threatened by their impending minority status and pretending to be liberty-lovers, desperately seek to return us still further back.
Americans like to think of ours as an exceptional country, immune through geographical isolation and some kind of special virtue to the tides of history. Through the distorted lens of our corporate media, we possess only a distorted view of what the country is really like now. In the next decades, we shall see whether we indeed possess the intelligence, the strength, and the mutual courage to break through to another positive era.
No futurist can foresee the possibilities. As empires decay, their civilian leaderships become increasingly crazed, corrupt, and incompetent, and often the military (which is after all a parasite of the whole nation, and has no independent financial base like the looter class) takes over. Another possible scenario is that if the theocratic red center of the country prevails in Washington, the relatively progressive and prosperous coastal areas will secede in self-defense.
Ecotopia is a novel, and secession was its dominant metaphor: how would a relatively rational part of the country save itself ecologically if it was on its own? As Ecotopia Emerging puts it, Ecotopia aspired to be a beacon for the rest of the world. And so it may prove, in the very, very long run, because the general outlines of Ecotopia are those of any possible future sustainable society.
The “ecology in one country” argument was an echo of an actual early Soviet argument, as to whether “socialism in one country” was possible. In both cases, it now seems to me, the answer must be no. We are now fatally interconnected, in climate change, ocean impoverishment, agricultural soil loss, etc., etc., etc. International consumer capitalism is a self-destroying machine, and as long as it remains the dominant social form, we are headed for catastrophe; indeed, like rafters first entering the “tongue” of a great rapid, we are already embarked on it.
When disasters strike and institutions falter, as at the end of empires, it does not mean that the buildings all fall down and everybody dies. Life goes on, and in particular, the remaining people fashion new institutions that they hope will better ensure their survival.
So I look to a long-term process of “succession,” as the biological concept has it, where “disturbances” kill off an ecosystem, but little by little new plants colonize the devastated area, prepare the soil for larger and more complex plants (and the other beings who depend on them), and finally the process achieves a flourishing, resilient, complex state—not necessarily what was there before, but durable and richly productive. In a similar way, experiments under way now, all over the world, are exploring how sustainability can in fact be achieved locally. Technically, socially, economically—since it is quite true, as ecologists know, that everything is connected to everything else, and you can never just do one thing by itself.
Since I wrote Ecotopia, I have become less confident of humans’ political ability to act on commonsense, shared values. Our era has become one of spectacular polarization, with folly multiplying on every hand. That is the way empires crumble: they are taken over by looter elites, who sooner or later cause collapse. But then new games become possible, and with luck Ecotopia might be among them.
Humans tend to try to manage things: land, structures, even rivers. We spend enormous amounts of time, energy, and treasure in imposing our will on nature, on preexisting or inherited structures, dreaming of permanent solutions, monuments to our ambitions and dreams. But in periods of slack, decline, or collapse, our abilities no longer suffice for all this management. We have to let things go.
All things “go” somewhere: they evolve, with or without us, into new forms. So as the decades pass, we should try not always to futilely fight these transformations. As the Japanese know, there is much unnoticed beauty in wabi-sabi—the old, the worn, the tumble-down, those things beginning their transformation into something else. We can embrace this process of devolution: embellish it when strength avails, learn to love it.
There is beauty in weathered and unpainted wood, in orchards overgrown, even in abandoned cars being incorporated into the earth. Let us learn, like the Forest Service sometimes does, to put unwise or unneeded roads “to bed,” help a little in the healing of the natural contours, the re-vegetation by native plants. Let us embrace decay, for it is the source of all new life and growth.
As you all know, I’ve added a layer to my sustainability cake: local food. I just posted a comment through the Young Farmer’s Coalition about a bill moving through the House that can help them flourish – and encourage all of you to do the same. Time is short: comment period ends May 19. Post here now.
Here’s what i wrote (second part their standard language)
Dear Chairman Lucas,
Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony to the House Committee on Agriculture on the next Farm Bill. My district representative is being copied on this testimony.
I have lived on Whidbey Island in Washington for 7 years and have eaten the fresh healthy food our farmers produce – even though the price is higher than the industrial farming outlets called grocery stores. Now I am writing a book about it called BLESSING THE HANDS THAT FEED US and, as a NY Times and Business Week best selling author of YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE, I have high hopes of my message going far and wide.
One part of my message is that we need a “Marshall Plan for Young Farmers” – meaning less than 2% of our population farms, the average age of farmers is nearly 60 and our national security and food safety depends on domestic food production. Young farmers face huge obstacles – I know because I feature some in my book. They need training, land and financial support:
* training in growing regionally appropriate crops and marketing them successfully… and this needs to be free or low cost.
* land, either that they own or have secure tenure on for enough years to merit their dedication.
* Mechanisms to level the $$ playing field between industrial and local/organic food; price supports, rebates, tax credits…
And those who choose to start small farms, sell at local markets, feed their regions fresh, affordable, accessible, organic and yummy food need to be our heroes and heroines.
As it’s estimated that 125,000 farmers will retire in the next five years, it’s absolutely critical that Farm Bill programs help citizens get started in this challenging field.
I ask that the Committee endorse all of the provisions of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act (H.R.3236), including:
*Mandatory funding for Individual Development Accounts at $5 million per year. This program helps new farmers raise capital to start farm businesses and is tested and proven by organizations like Practical Farmers of Iowa and the California Farmlink.
*Mandatory funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program at $25 million a year. This program funds essential education for new farmers around the country.
*Authorize a new microloan program, to enable young and beginning farmers to better access FSA loan programs.
*Revise FSA rules to make loan programs more accessible to more young and beginning farmers.
*Reaffirm the existing cost share differential for BFRs within EQIP. Also, reaffirm the advance payment option allowing beginning and socially disadvantaged producers to receive an advance payment for the project’s costs for purchasing materials or contracting services, but increase the limit on the advance payment from 30 percent to 50 percent of costs.
* Amend the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program (FRPP) to make farm viability part of the purpose of the program and to give discretionary authority to the eligible entities that implement the program to give priority to easements with an option to purchase at the agricultural use value, deals that transfer the land to beginning and farmers and ranchers, applicants with farm succession plans, and other similar mechanisms to maintain the affordability of protected land.
These and other provisions within the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act will help new growers succeed and I urge you to include them in the next Farm Bill.
Oi! (Hi in Portuguese)
Please join me for the Taste of Brazil learning journey in October. Inspired by my new book, Blessing the Hands that Feed Us (2013), I have asked a high-integrity eco-social tour company, Aoka, to co-host this trip to the country of my soul – Brazil – where we’ll see first hand the challenges and opportunities of feeding everyone fresh, organic, affordable and abundant food.
Why Brazil? Why not closer to home?
The best way to know your culture is to get outside it. You see around your blind spots. You see your assumptions for what they are.
Sao Paulo is a sophisticated, thriving sub-tropical city of nearly 20 million, with a few ultra rich and millions who live in warrens of homes built to no code except what works, powered by filched electricity and with dubious sewage. Yet everyone eats! And the city is known for exquisite and varied cuisine.
Don’t you wonder about this miracle of food? See the range of strategies, from small scale permaculture farms to ginormous distribution points for food to feed the city and nation, from fresh organic cuisine to traditional Brazilian, and you will understand food systems better than 99% of eaters.
We’ll learn about Fome Zero, the commitment to feeding the nation, about the MST, landless peasant communities that squatted on unused land and now farm it. We’ll learn about the global research project on Metropolitan agriculture – the fascinating study of how cities “metabolize” food, and how to do it better.
You’ll see behind the tourist façade to the dynamism of Brazil and meet with experts. Informed eaters will change the world – you’ll go home inspired and wanting to make a difference.
Why me and food?
Yes, I’m known for the best selling book, Your Money or Your Life, but local food and regional food systems is where my attention has landed. I just delivered the first draft of my new book, Blessing the Hands that Feed Us, to my publisher and I am so fired up about teaching about transforming our relationship with food.
Food is life. Food is also hope. I now believe we have a shot at regenerating our regional food systems for a healthy future. This trip is part of my work for the future. I want you to join me – in Brazil and in this growing food movement.
Do you want to come but need more information?
Here’s the website with details about each day of the trip.
Here’s a special email address for this trip email@example.com – if you want to come, but need a bit more information or have some concerns, email me and I’ll address everything. Don’t let anything stop you if you feel drawn to join us.
Here’s the email of the trip organizer, Daniel Contrucci firstname.lastname@example.org. Founder of Aoka, our award-winning eco-social tour company, he’s an exquisite soul and has combed Sao Paulo for the richest opportunities for learning. His English is perfect, so feel free to ask anything about what to expect.
About the cost. The trip is not a bare-bones, inexpensive journey. Brazil is an up and coming global power and the Real (their currency) is very strong. Don’t expect an exchange rate like Mexico 30 years ago! Rather, imagine a week in New York City, eating well, sleeping in nice hotels and having intensive learning experiences daily with experts.
Also, very important! Daniel can help you design side trips before or after our week together. Go to the Amazon. Go to some glorious beaches. Visit John of God. Feel the beat in Bahia. Tour Rio. Go to Iguassu Falls. Visit indigenous communities or meet with people in your field. Daniel would love to help you design the perfect trip.
The dates are October 7-14, 2012. I want to share this adventure with you.
What are you waiting for? Sign up before June 1 and received a $100 discount.
Tchau! (Bye) Beijos (Kisses) e abraços (hugs),
Boy do I have some great opportunities you can jump on, if you choose.
* Some are free,
* some expensive but worth it,
* some are simply a chance to celebratewith me.
The free one is my class as part of the Spring of Sustainability Shift Network Teleclass series. The expensive one is a fantastic learning journey to Brazil. The celebrations… okay, we’ll start with one. The rest – my new book, speaking engagements and comedy troupe – will be at the end.
Albert Einstein and me
You read that right. The Post Growth Institute selected the all-time top 100 contributors to a paradigm shift. No, I’m not there – but they also list the 100 honorable mentions, and there I sit, with Einstein as well as Michael Pollan, Jared Diamond and Jane Goodall. In your day-to-day-life of dreams and setbacks you can wonder if you are making any difference – or a difference big enough to matter. This honor gives me juice for the journey. It is a reflection of my decades long efforts to promote the simple idea of having “enough” at a material level so we can soar in our hearts and souls and service.
Join in on this lollapalooza of sustainability. What a line-up of the “greats” of this movement! You can join in for free through The Shift Network which produces tele-seminars with a global reach using the Maestroconference platform, what I call conference calls on steroids because you can raise your hand, take polls and get in small group discussions – all from your telephone.
[Click here] to learn more – and sign up.
My title is: Transforming Your Relationship with Food – and is based on a year plus of local eating experiments and now writing a book about it. This taste might be delicious enough, but if you want more, why not join me on the learning journey, Taste of Brazil. See below
Food! We eat daily. We depend on food. The well-being of future generations depends on how well we treat the soil and seeds, how well we utilize diminishing resources like water and fossil fuels, how active we are building thriving regional food systems. The future of food is up to all of us – yet we know so little about how food gets from field to fork. Come learn by exploring the food networks in one of the most populous sprawling cities in the world.
We’ll spend a packed, enlightening week in Sao Paulo and environs
The food system that feeds you is largely invisible. It is a logistical triumph, and it is more fragile than we care to know. We’ll pull back that Wizard of Oz screen and see how it works – from massive warehouses to well tended Permaculture farms – so you can understand it and see how to be involved in your life and community in assuring safer, healthier, affordable, regional food for all.
This trip will attract eco-tourism travelers, academics, activists, agriculturalists, advocate for policy shift – as well as eaters who want “a taste of Brazil”. The rich mix of participants alone will help us all learn.
If you are a student, you may be able to get academic credit for the learning journey through your institution. If you commit to inform and inspire your community through talks or events, you may be able to raise part of the money that way – either in sponsorships before or in your lectures later. If food and food systems is part of the big contribution you want to make to the world, perhaps a Kickstarter campaign could raise what you need from your networks. We’ll help you get really creative in offset the cost of this learning journey.
Blessing the Hands that Feed Us
You’ll notice a theme! I’ve turned my attention to local food – eating it, researching it, and writing about it. For me, working on food security, justice, sovereignty, accessibility, sanity, wholesomeness is the richest work I’ve done to date on sustainability. No longer trying to staunch the flow of resources out of the earth and into landfills via consumerism, I’m now working to literally change how we eat so that future generations can eat.
Eating closer to home means more vital local economies, healthier, fresher, more nourishing food and “relational eating” – caring about, investing in and ingesting of the communities we live in. relational eating is an act of belonging, not just eating anywhere food, anytime you want, bought in anonymous outlets that require nothing more from you than money. I’m almost done with the second draft of this book on shifting from being a consumer in the endless food-courts of the world to becoming an eater in a local food system. It’s due in 6 months and I have a shot at delivering a wonderfully human and useful book for eaters everywhere.
Follow my progress by liking the page on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BlessingTheHandsThatFeedUs. I’m posting links daily to the wealth of inspiring and hopeful articles I find as I write.
“Local food?” says Phyllis Wertzl my comic alter, a Jewish mother come to visit her daughter Rachel on Whidbey Island, “In New York all food is local. We go down to the street and it’s right there.”
If you aren’t on Whidbey you may not care about Comedy Island, my improv and sketch comedy troupe. I simply want you to know that people are laughing their heads off while we knock their socks off – quite a clean up job at the theater every time we perform. It’s feeding my soul and realizing a dream. I always wanted to be Lily Tomlin when I grew up. Throw in Whoopie Goldberg, Ana Devere Smith, Eve Ensler and Elaine May… Perhaps I’ll live long enough for that too.
I’ll be at Bard College in upstate New York to speak – along with dozens of luminaries of alternative economics – at the Strategies for a New Economy conference. It promises to be a transformational event. I hope you can join us – especially if you are on the East Coast and travel is not difficult.
Life is good – mine, yours, the whole enchilada
I’m grateful to be alive in these times, with friends and networks like you working along side me to leave this world in better shape than we found it. Boomers are the generation who thought we could stop the bomb, stop overshoot, replace toxics with love. It’s a bigger job than any of us imagined, but we have generations behind us to encourage us and generations ahead of us we can support to keep on with the work. Through studying local food systems – the ones that are growing up in the cracks of the sidewalk, not the industrial strength ones that are crumbling by their own weight – I am gaining hope for the future because I see it growing greener in front of my eyes.
It is a time of choice. In my book I suggest that at very least we each sprout seeds on our kitchen counters. The seed is the future. Seed, soil, sunlight and water = life. Be nourished by watching a small garden in a glass jar – and be nourished by eating them. From there, graduate to container gardens, backyard gardens, community gardens, school gardens, food bank gardens, market gardens… and pretty soon you’ll see the world growing. Enjoy this film – and then:
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Best to you
(and her finger puppets)
While this blog is called “Your Money or Your Life” I am migrating the core understanding of living your values financially to living your values through your eating – and I’m bringing you along. The book arising from the potters wheel of my mind is called Blessing the Hands that Feed Us. I have asked some of my local farmers featured in the book to answer questions about why they farm, even in the face of minimal net income.
As the answers roll in, I am more in love with them and my work as a “word farmer” – our motivations meet in love for the tangibles of earth and life and the intangibles of love and service.
In response to one farmer I wrote something rough but heartfelt and I wanted to share it:
“i don’t know if i told you that i am calling what i discovered “relational eating” – that eating is never a lone act, tho the industrial systems fosters that illusion. It is a relational act. Our food is connected to seed and soil, farm and farmer, forest and forager, and the living system, especially when we eat the food of our locale, food that breathes the same air we breathe. The industrial/commodity system hides all that like the glasses in the Emerald City and the tricks of the Wizard of Oz.
i learned from the YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE work that the consumer culture lives like a vampire, by breaking human bonds and sucking our vitality (to be terribly graphic). every bond broken engenders the loneliness and insufficiency that sends people into consumerism to fill non material needs. so it is with food. we are nourished without being related and it is fundamental insanity. i suspect “lone eating” and being nourished by processed and packaged food-like substances contributes to all food disorders, personal and systemic.
this appears to be up to the lone individuals to fix in their own lives, but it is not. it is up to us to change our collective approach to nourishment.
Another dynamic of the consumer culture: problems are systemic but our notion of freedom makes us believe our power is in personal solutions. While fine for the aware individual, it is disaster for all of us eating the output of the invisible grinding system, permitting the industrial/commodity approach to food to make problems we as individuals – believing in a false notion of freedom – must solve. Now the problems are multiplying so we the people are crazed with trying to know enough to fix ourselves.
I say reversing this dynamic starts with seed and soil and farmers like you joined by eaters like me who advocate for change, join organizations, build businesses, raise money, spend money locally, lobby, work for change, partner with farmers in every way, allowing them to grow our food while we grow their capacity to farm.
This is all relational eating. This is what i bow before and what my words are dedicated to – as well as the pure joy when the words are flowing and when i know my words have carried ideas across the chasm between my heart/mind and another’s – and inspired a shift in them as well.“
Here’s some reflections from my personal journey seeking – and finding – love.
It is St. Valentine’s day. He was a saint – a confirmed bachelor in love with the divine – who illegally married Christian couples. Risky business in his time. Is it an accident that Governor Christine Gregoire of my State, Washington, just signed into law the right of same sex couples to marry? Defending the right to celebrate romantic love in the face of repressive societies marches on. Saint Valentine, the near-myth goes, was beheaded. Opponents of same sex marriage are after Gregoire’s head too.
While today we celebrate Cupid’s arrows, I want to celebrate whatever might have inspired Valentine himself to the single life. We can’t consult him (if there was a him), so I’m free to riff on these other flavors of the open heart.
A long life and many loves have taught me that the heart simply wants to love. It’s actually indiscriminate – given it’s head, so to speak, the heart would pour out love in great effulgent song. In fact, music, drama, stories, art, dance all vibrate our hearts. We laugh, cry, hold our breath, worry and wonder as the stories unfold. We show up en masse to be moved in this way.
The heart without someone or something or somewhere to love ends up lonely and sad. We think we lack someone, but I think the lack is of a receptacle big enough to receive all we have to give.
I’ve noticed this with all my human loves. When they end, part of my grief is my heart’s confusion about where my love goes now. It shrinks back into its little hole in the chest and waits for another occasion to run out the door, arms flung wide.
Sometimes you encounter a love that lasts a lifetime – in your own coupling or seeing another’s. It’s sweet and tender from beginning to end. We all go to weddings and cry because our hearts recognize themselves in the willing mutual surrender – if only for a moment – to another fragile being. When our friends first fall in love, we congratulate them, sometimes squealing like teenagers whispering at their hall lockers. What is it that so loves love? That heart of our hearts that simply wants to pour out in wild abandon.
My heart – like yours – has been on a long journey. Since my partner of 27 years died, I’ve bumped along like so many confused people later in life, regressing to teenagers to run romance around the block one more time or pondering why they are alone. I’ve had some unforgettable experiences, and some I’ve resolutely forgotten. I developed an ideal that I call “bonded yet free.” Can one be both madly in love and wholly oneself? I think that’s a koan, not a blueprint, but my life isn’t over so I hold it as a possibility.
So much has been written about the expectations and projections and fears and pains of giving our hearts to romantic love. No need for more on that! Let’s move on to the singularity of love.
Over time I noticed that I was happy most of the time just being single, free to follow my intuitions and instincts.
Yet in a coupled society, be it straight or gay, my happiness as a single felt out of place.
About five years ago I found a book called Quirky Alone. It celebrated those of us who are so ourselves that even when we partner we are two quirkies getting it on. Still, “quirky alone” felt like having a chip on my shoulder in a coupled society. I often said in those days, “Anyone I partner with would actually have to make my life better and every day I like my life more so every day the bar goes up.” Did I really really mean it?
Here are some thoughts single people have in a coupled society:
Someday I’ll meet “the one”. I just have to… want it more… let go and let god… expunge my resentments from past relationships… resolve my issues with the parent of the opposite sex… be willing to surrender… to change… to let someone else lead…give up being Peter Pan and grow up… let love in… learn to ballroom dance or fish or scuba dive or ski… edit my profile on OK Cupid… get out more… lose weight… move to another city. You’re avoiding love… you have inner work to do that can only be done in a relationship… don’t give up… don’t settle… keep the faith.
Here are things friends say to single people: you’re just too smart… to accomplished… too self-centered…you want it too much… you don’t want it enough… well, if you lost 10 pounds… Don’t worry, someday you’ll meet someone!
I began to question what actually was wrong with being single? Especially at my age when there are no kids to raise. I wondered if my intermittent desires to partner arose precisely from the fact that most of my friends are coupled. Did I want to have a partner just so my coupled friends would think, “Let’s have the So-and-Sos over for dinner,” so I’d feel more normal. I started calling couples “Salt and Pepper Shakers” – at least the ones who always go around together.
Recently I found a book called Singleism about the social stigma of being single. It spoke to me so loud I thought someone would tell me to turn down the radio.
It confirmed what I’d begun to think. What if nothing was wrong with me? What if for whatever reason I am designed to be unattached to one person so I can live something deeply real about me: I love loving and I express that love through friends and communities. I receive friends into my heart and with some I can pour out my heart in a way I’ve never done in a romantic relationship. I see the needs of my beloved – friends, groups and communities I care about – and invest my creativity in finding ways to make life better for a wider circle. For several years after my partner died I prayed for someone to come and love me, support me, admire and adore me, to see me and want me and be there as I wobbled. Who doesn’t want that? The answer always came back: your singleness is precisely what I want from you. I want your longing to drive you not into couple-dom but into service.
I’m no saint (Valentine or Vicki) but I now see that single isn’t an exclusion from normal society nor is it a disease, an unfulfilled state, a failure to really love, a reflection of my selfishness or not measuring up. It’s not “quirky alone” even. It is a way of life that supports my soul. I love who I go to sleep with. I love who I wake up with. I love how my heart pours into writing and speaking and leading and friend-ing and creating and philosophizing and beauty and comedy and evolving in wisdom. I suspect that many people in long term relationships have – by my age – have evolved to this state of self-love and self-expression. Their marriages rest in companionship rather than rise in eroticism. Perhaps even some coupled people envy my singleness but loyalty and fear of reprisal keeps them mum about it.
Would I like to be fully met by another being who is also fully single, also wedded to him/herself. Always. Would I like some of the services of partnership, like help around the house and affection and a live-in playmate and support when my courage flags. Always. Can that happen outside romance? I’m beginning to think that for me it only happens outside romance.
So let me today celebrate this love in me, you and all of us. It is not incomplete, second-fiddle, sloppy seconds or almost ran. It is our nature. For me this is closer to agape than eros – I don’t want to turn these feelings into sex. Let me celebrate how juicy and sexy and sensual and delightful and freeing it is to be single without any background noise of “Don’t worry, some day you will meet someone.”
p.s. – did you know that “cupidity” means “covetousness, avidity, hunger, acquisitiveness”? Makes you wonder, no?
Today, looking at the tiny house on wheels a teenager on Whidbey is building got me thinking about the motorhome – the Ultimate Vehicle – I and my clan built in the early 70′s. A decade ago, sure I wasn’t going on the road again any time soon – I gave it to one of our dearest friends, Jason Weston. He sent these photos of it in the desert a few years ago – still fabulous after 40 years. If you are a builder/tinkerer and want to know more, you can comment.