Archive for August, 2012

Why We Should Listen to What George Monbiot Has to Say, A Book Review.

Posted in Activism, Books, Economy, Environment, Food For Thought, Politics, Social Justice, Society, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2012 by animal_static

I know that I posted a book review a few weeks ago but I am trying to cram in as much extra curricular reading as possible before I get locked into another eight months of academia.  Not to say that I don’t love what I choose to study but there is something to be said for freedom of choice.  I just finished a somewhat current (2009) volume by George Monbiot entitled, “Bring on the Apocalypse, Six Arguments For Global Justice”, which is definitely worth a read.  Monbiot is of the idea that the Right Wing approach to government which is prevalent in the most powerful (Western/Northern/G8) nations has enabled and cultivated social and environmental scenarios that are contributing to the ultimate demise of the planet and creating an expanding social divide between the rich and the poor.  I agree.

Image from bookrabbit.com

The world is not what it seems, you are being lied to but the truth is out there and George would like to help you find it.  Government and media (sometimes synonymous) are experts at altering our perceived social and environmental realities.  We are stripped of collective identity and told that individualist consumer oriented goals (buy that house, car, second car, second house, lest you be left behind and find yourself worthless) are what we should be striving for.  Environmental disasters are downplayed or swept under the rug, an unsustainable auto industry is lionized as a true expression of freedom, social movements are under reported, and your governmental policies ARE being dictated by industrial lobbyist groups.  It’s all quite negatively overwhelming.  Luckily there are activists like Monbiot who are able to present us with some well thought out ideas that help to strip some of the veneer from the right-wing neoliberal agenda.  There are going to be some right-libertarians out there who will state that unbridled free markets are the ultimate expression of personal freedom but guess what;  that path has yielded enough blood and horror to prove it an inhuman pursuit.  Lets ask Chile, Argentina, and virtually every indigenous population on earth how they feel about it.

Image from redmolotov.com

The “arguments” in this book are collections of essays which fall under the categories of God, Nature, War, Power, Money, and Culture.  While not hitting the nail on the head with every single essay, Monbiot does a fantastic job of exposing some of the cracks in the informational facade that we are presented with by the government and media via popular news venues and “democratic” process .  Like all books dealing with current issues this one too shall eventually fall by the wayside but will not find itself in the tar pits of literary history.  The sentiments expressed within are valid critiques of problems that have thwarted humanity in one form or another since the arrival of surplus commodities which have freed parts of the population from the labour pool thus enabling religious/cultural pursuits and unbalanced power dynamics.  These easily accessible essays provide a decent foundation from which one can step stone to more in-depth critiques of sociopolitical factors that do affect most aspects of our lives and for that reason alone this book is quite valuable.

Not trying to be punny here but anyone willing to take on issues like the Vatican’s bigoted obsession with homosexuality, Americas love affair with oil and torture, the British governments submissive relationship with big business, shoddy climate change science, and media manipulation is OK in my book.  This is a guy who knows a lot about a lot of things that matter and has not been bought, hence a guy worth listening to, but as with all things, you decide.

I would love to hear what you think.

Cheers.

AnimalStatic

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Homelessness and the Troubles of Moving From NIMBY to YIMBY.

Posted in Activism, Canada, Economy, Environment, Food, Food For Thought, Health, Politics, Security, Society, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2012 by animal_static

I think about homelessness a lot.  What it is and how it comes to be.  Social circumstance, mental health issues, domestic abuse, unaffordable housing, economic downturns; These are all elements that non-exclusively contribute to what is largely viewed as a homeless blight on our urban (and rural)  neighbourhoods but would be better regarded as a failing from a society bent on individualistic consumer goals.  Our North American existence is set against a  backdrop of government budget cuts and a Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) philosophy based on aesthetics and fear. Homelessness is criminalized and sensationalized, effectively stripping the humanity from street populations.

Homelessness is painted with a broad brush and most people misunderstand the true scope of what it means to be without a home.  It’s not just about physical bodies occupying physical space in our city streets.  The lack of tangible shelter creates an emotional vacuum and replaces well-being with fear  and certainty with uncertainty. A stable place to rest ones head  instills confidence and a sense of security but the lack of said shelter exacerbates a wide range of problems for a demographic that is already harassed by poorly trained police forces, thwarted by municipal and provincial policies, unable to predict and plan for mundane aspects of daily life that most of us take for granted, and shunned by the majority of the population.

When we think about homelessness we think about single individuals begging for our money at inopportune times (man those shopping bags are heavy), block our paths downtown, are visibly intoxicated, and OBVIOUSLY making no contribution to our city living minus the added threat of dirty needles and something extra to step over on our way to work in the morning.  What is the reality?  The reality is that well-paying jobs are hard to come by in the post recession economy and wages have not kept up to inflation.  Housing on the west coast is really expensive, and competition for vacancies is high as municipally supported housing developments absolutely do not cater to affordable housing.  What emerges is an impoverished working class that hold down jobs but do no make enough money to maintain a fixed address.  Here on the west coast we see entire families that couch serf for indefinite periods of time.  The kids go to school and the parents go to work while having no real sense of home.  These folks are known as the “hidden homeless”.

Image from The Guardian

The effects of the cuts to the healthcare budget under the Gordon Campbell Liberal government are also worth noting.  The nutshell;  Cuts were made, facilities were shut down with no provisions for made for the added strain on standard health care provision.  What resulted is an increase in subsidized housing for mental health patients in standard rental complexes, which creates its own unique set of problems, and a whole bunch of people with no place to go and no way to integrate into the work place.

Whats the solution?

Everyone has an opinion, few act on them and so far no one has successfully come up with a plan to attack the problem.  It is a difficult task and one that is fraught with ethical problems.  Shelters are good, safe injection sites are good, education is good, and safe communal sleeping spaces are good but the idea of tackling a seemingly unsolvable problem is daunting.

Image from Woodwynn website

Woodwynn Farm located near Victoria BC has taken an innovative approach to regional homelessness where on site housing is provided for eligible candidates and residents engage in various aspects of farm life, building skill sets and ideally a sense of confidence that facilitates  participation in the regular workplace.  While this project is in danger of being labelled as paternal libertarianism I can understand its ideals and applaud any constructive effort to help people work through the vast array of problems that made them candidates for this program in the first place.  Woodwynn acknowledges that there is no “cure-all” that works for everyone but notes that there have been success stories and that makes it worth the effort.  Sadly, Woodwynn is embattled against its local municipality who seem determined to dismantle the existing camp which would obviously negate any future programs if they are successful.  Kudos are to be given to Woodwynn as they have openly stated that they will not be disassembling the camp any time soon.  Civil disobedience in the face of misguided authority is a beautiful thing.

Check out Woodwynn Farms here:  http://woodwynnfarms.org/

Comments are always welcome

Animal Static

You Are What You Read About What You Eat

Posted in America, Books, Economy, Environment, Food, Food For Thought, Health, Industry, Politics, Society, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2012 by animal_static

I recently finished a great book by Michael Pollan entitled, “In Defense of Food, An Eaters Manifesto” and I thought it was worth a share.  The authors credo: “Eat Food.  Not Too Much. Mostly Plants”, is unfolded against current eating habits and correlative social/health/industrial phenomena tied to the “Western Diet”.  What is the western diet?  According to the Author, the “real food” that we should be eating can be found on the peripheries of the grocery store and the more “western” items fill the middle majority of the store.  Sound flaky?  Like a flaked pastry wrapped in plastic? Not so much.  If you think about it, pretty much every store that you have been in is ringed by the bakery, the deli, the dairy, the fish counter, and……the produce.  So what is left?  Oreos, Stove Top, Hungry Man, Pizza Pops, and literally thousands of other items that contain hundreds of ingredients that most of us can’t identify (I am being presumptuous here but feeling secure in my assumptions).  We are presented with some good advice which states that if your grandparents or great grandparents couldn’t identify it as “food” then perhaps it is best to steer clear. The other thing that makes our diet “western” is the penchant to unbalance our plates with above average portions of meat, red, politically correct but environmentally unsustainable meat.

Pollan also gives us a breakdown of dietary trends such as vitamins and supplements, cholesterol, omega-3, trans fats, grains, and some of the effects that these trends have had on public health.  Like vitamins?  They apparently don’t do much.  The fact that you like vitamins is because you take a greater interest in your overall physical health and likely treat your body a little better than those who would sneer in derision when passing the supplements aisle on the way to the potato chips.  The truth seems to be that vitamins separated from their food sources aren’t very effective.  How about omega-3?  Comes from fish right?  Wrong.  Omega-3 is abundant in fish…that eat plants.  When you consider the health benefits of fish (protein, fats, oils, and acids) and plants as regular dietary staples it seems kind of silly to pump omega-3 into milk, eggs, and pills.  Especially when you consider that these animals would be richer in omega-3 if let to feed naturally rather than  on grain and synthetically formulated diets aimed at increasing food production.

Image sourced from Wikipedia

Pollan does a pretty decent job of laying out the rudiments of the politicalization  of our food.  Like Ethnic cuisine?  Keep it out of the White House or else.  If you aren’t a McDonald’s fan your favour in the polls might not last forever and if you want to run for office don’t dare oppose industrial farming lobbyists.  The government doesn’t want you to stray from its national nutritional policies which is backed by Big Agra and as a result we are made to feel weird and unpatriotic if we choose to support farmers who have diverse cropping methods, less than 100 000 chickens, and who might just want to sell us some real food for a real price (Probably a little more than you pay in the store but worth it).  Shop local and your chances of scoring some unique heirloom varieties that you won’t find in the box type grocery stores increases exponentially.  Purple tomatoes, red carrots, and multicoloured corn are all great.

POTATOES! Image from: http://www.specialtyproduce.com

One of my favourite aspects of this book is Pollans’ illumination of the problematic relationship between science and food.  Because food is SO complex, science, which in my humble opinion has strayed from its holistic philosophical roots, pursues a physicalist approach to food studies,isolating individual components of food.  In turn we are presented with beneficial or harmful properties of very small elements of what are in fact very complex organisms.  What you eat is equally important to what you do not eat and food can only be truly considered as a whole rather than its components.  In this regard we seem to treat food  like we treat our oceans.  We know next to nothing about how they work  but feel entitled to fill them full of garbage while appropriating individual components of a complex system in the name of self-interest but with paradoxical health effects .

Want to know who enjoys a good yoghurt enema?  Well you will just have to read the book to find out.

Check out “In Defense of Food” at Pollans website here:  http://michaelpollan.com/books/in-defense-of-food/

Comments and sharing are welcome.

-Animal Static