An interesting word I’m betting we’ll be hearing a lot more. Merriam Webster definition: A secondary or unintended consequence <pollution and other externalities of manufacturing>.
Externalities are not necessarily negative, though the current usage implies that they are. Example: today the Supreme Court will hear a case about air pollution caused by burning coal for electricity generation blowing across state lines. Who pays, is the issue. The underlying idea is that with an externality, neither the cost (or benefit, for that matter) is accounted for in the event, whatever it might be. So if you are barbecuing in your yard (in the example from Marketplace) and the smoke drifts across into your asthmatic neighbor’s yard, who is responsible for the harm done? It’s akin to the irrational notion that in the interdependent web of life that is our world, there is such a thing as ‘away.’
In terms of our current food system, unaccounted for costs include everything from the impacts on the environment (transportation, farming methods), to waste (1/3 of all food), to the healthcare impacts from poor nutrition, e.g. the obesity epidemic that comes from a diet high in cheap fats and sugars, that is, processed and fast food and sodas.
If these externalities were included in the actual cost of our food, we might be surprised to find that local, organic and sustainably-farmed food is actually cheaper. What are the chances externalities will become part of the business equation any time soon? It may be trending, but I’m not holding my breath. However, a new report from Harvard School of Public Health, see the article in Smart Planet, indicates we don’t have to wait for the powers that be to act in our behalf. It found that although a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and nuts costs more than one based on processed foods, the difference is about $1.50. The difference in your well-being: beyond calculation.
For an even more complete discussion on this important topic, check out: How Different Would the World Be If We Paid the True Cost of Food and Farming.
Trust Center for a New American Dream to come up with a new take on giving just in time for the holidays. It’s called So Kind, the Alternative Gift Registry, and I love, love, love it! Anyone can create a registry for any occasion and samples include a wedding registry and baby shower. Most of the gifts are not stuff, no surprise. It works a little like a time bank in the sense that you can make requests and/or offer gifts. The best kinds of gifts are enjoyed by both giver and receiver, right?
I’ll admit I get nostalgic for Christmases past when my children were little and contented with one or two well-chosen items. I even liked assembling those sleds and other things with many moveable parts — an evening of playing Santa’s Elf, sipping a glass of good Cabernet, after the children were tucked away. Of course, the boxes were often more interesting and conducive to creative play than the toy — wagon, doll house, etc. they held — and although I haven’t taken a poll on this, I suspect that may still be true. I’m no cultural historian, so I can’t put my finger on exactly when things got out of hand with holiday gift-giving, both in terms of the duration of the retailing season leading up to Christmas Day itself, and the outsize expectations to which we have become conditioned. Cars? Really?
All I want for Christmas this year is to disappoint a few Big Box stores, and to reward people who think out of the box about where we are going as a consumer culture. Recently, Transition founder, Rob Hopkins announced that he quit Amazon (they didn’t make it easy). His thoughtful, timely essay about what this means is just such a gift. It came one day after 60 Minutes (and Panorama in the UK) did reports on how Amazon operates and its plans for the future, e.g. 30 minute delivery of your package by drones. Maybe it’s just me, but I think the money we’re spending on these clever solutions to very trivial ‘problems’ could be better spent elsewhere. An end to hunger and homelessness? Relief work around the globe? If you are of like-mind, you might consider this a good time to make gifts in a friend’s name to Paul Farmer’s Partners in Health or Doctors Without Borders (USA)*, to name just two necessary organizations. These are also gift alternatives that will keep on giving when the last bit of tinsel has been vacuumed off the carpet.
*Both are highly rated by Charity Navigator, which could also use your support.
Post-project blues today, as the intensity of the last weeks on Symphony of the Soil begins to retreat from my body mind. Cheer up strategy: Top Ten things I want to appreciate and remember:
- Deborah Koons Garcia is a true visionary, and as un-Hollywood-ish, unassuming and nice as the girl next door. No assistant; no entourage; no problem. Even accepted a congratulatory kiss on her cheek from my spouse.
- So far, I’ve done no postmortems re: what could have gone better (maybe I’m done with that for good). Better, some thoughts about where to go from here: Sow It Forward How to fund your garden. Maybe an herb and butterfly garden for my congregation.
- A couple of dozen friends attended or bought tickets even if they couldn’t (thank you!), and everyone who saw it was moved by the film. May its message lodge in their hearts and minds.
- Kindness of strangers, e.g. the Muvico staff are helpful and very nice, especially the manager named Minty.
- Teaching myself how to use Twitter effectively (even about hash tags) and connecting with some journalists I hadn’t known before. Fun!
- Walking the mile from the parking lot behind Clematis up to City Place, confirmed that West Palm Beach is a very likable, liveable city, and even has a hill (well, for Florida).
- The margaritas at Longboards (upper Clematis) are world class! Especially when you are thirsty for one and indulge infrequently.
- But Malpeque oysters at $3 a pop? Not even for this foodie. Great blackened Mahi tacos, though.
- Crowded into a booth with some interesting new people at the post-event reception. Laughter non-stop. Food-sharing. My scene.
- This has made me ultra-ready for a Slow Thanksgiving. Slow Everything. Next event I’m planning, a ‘memory potluck’ for Slow Food Gold and Treasure Coast. Everyone brings a dish with a story behind it, and shares both. Tweet me if you want to come @MarikaStone1
Image credit: http://www.mariaandtom.com/agent_files/top-ten-blue.jpg
Rain, yay! My two little vegetable plots will be so happy. Perfect day to prepare for the first meeting of the North Palm Beach Slow Food Book Club this week, courtesy of Slow Food Gold and Treasure Coast and Books-a-Million in Jupiter, November 13, 6-8 pm. Our first book, Marion Nestle’s latest title, Eat Drink Vote, is not only a wry nod to the earlier best seller on a completely different subject, it is also wry on its own account, which is a good stance to take in the world of food politics. By that I — and the book, mostly — mean the disconnect between what is known to be healthy for humans and what provides the most profits to those who grow and process food, and the role government plays (huge!). Food politics, of course, also plays out in more personal ways when people who have every right to seek out what is best for their own health, turn it into a food fight. But that’s a topic for another time, maybe.
It seems especially poignant to be reading Eat Drink Vote a day after the banning of trans fat, which gives me hope that eliminating HFCS and GMO seeds from American food production may also be possible in my life time. And it’s probably no accident that I’m reading this book during a period of concentrated work on Symphony of the Soil, which comes to a close November 17 with the local screening. Healthy soil = healthy crops = healthy food. Thank you, Deborah Koons Garcia!
How we feed ourselves and the impact on the environment (soil, water, air) and other creatures have been inseparable concerns since the summer day I found, in a Cape Cod vacation rental, a little book called The Higher Taste compiled by The International Society of Krishna Consciousness based on the teachings of its guru. I won’t say everything in that small volume resonated with me, but it did make me quit eating red meat. And if that wasn’t enough, my work in public relations took me to a meat packing plant in the Midwest around the same time. Frances Moore Lappe’s Diet for a Small Planet followed and more recently the work of Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan.
So, what do you do with a book that is almost 50 percent cartoons? Exactly. So I already know I’m not going to learn a whole lot from Eat Drink Vote about how we got into this mess. The very first cartoon is on the cover — an upended pizza slice labeled New Congressional School Lunch Food Pyramid — will tell you where Nestle is going. And I also realize that Fixing the Food System: The Food Movement (Chapter 10) depends upon “participants in this movement [voting] with their forks every time they make a food choice.” This is the only way to get something done in our democracy, it bears repeating. So, even though Eat Drink Vote is preaching to a convert, I love a good argument, especially when it tickles my funny bone.
If you’ve visited your local hardware store (yes, a few still exist), you may have noticed that the canning section is much larger and better stocked than it used to be a few years ago. A larder like the one pictured here would be familiar to member of The Greatest Generation (that of my parents) who understood what it meant to preserve, conserve, repair, and maintain. These skills about preparing for anticipated shortages or disruption in supply are slowly coming back into fashion, like vegetable plots and backyard chickens.
Usually, the only time serious stocking up enters my mind is during hurricane season, an annual ritual for Floridians and blessedly unnecessary in recent memory. But I started to thinking about stockpiling a little differently after a conversation the other night with someone who used to work for one of the largest retail conglomerates in the country. He and I agreed that the public response to global warming lacks appropriate urgency, but as a businessman, he had a novel — to me — idea as to one possible cause. At least some of it had to do with stockpiling, he said, and he offered the following example. His cable provider (and ours) has the technology to greatly improve its service to customers, but is apparently hampered by the fact that a lot of money is tied up in hardware dedicated to the existing system. Until that was used up, the logic apparently goes, upgrades don’t make economic sense. It’s like my friend who understands why she needs to switch ASAP to energy-efficient CFLs, but wants to use up her current supply of conventional light bulbs first.
Setting urgency aside for a moment, this seems a crippling form of scarcity mentality (vs. abundance, see Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) and I began to wonder how pervasive it really is. I didn’t have to look too far to find out. Banks? Definitely, hoarding cash during the recent government shutdown, on the premiss that there would be a run by depositors a la the Depression. But, more weirdly, also after the TARP bailout, despite the understanding (unregulated) that they would put the cash into the economy. In 2012, U.S. Corporations broke records for stockpiled cash — $147 trillion. Might not some of that wealth have helped alleviate unemployment? Even Apple Computer is reportedly hoarding cash at an unprecedented rate, 70% of it overseas. And then there are all those spare auto parts tucked away in dealerships and repair shops all over the country, standing in the way of a more robust adoption of the EV. Remember the EV1? Could it be deja vu all over again?
I think my adopted state is in for some difficult times ahead as sea level rise and salinization of the water supply begin to impact the most vulnerable communities. We are going to need an abundance mindset to get through it, not the zero-sum game of scarcity or mattresses stuffed with cash or coin.
“Sometimes the fate of the Earth boils down to getting one person with modest powers to budge.” So writes Rebecca Solnit in a recent HuffPo piece, Bigger Than That. She describes what happened when a bureaucrat defending the status quo (because he is stuck in ‘ordinary-time’ thinking) meets Divest activists who want to defund the fossil fuel industry, one endowment at a time. The article itself is bigger than that and worth your time. Solnit is well-versed in, and passionate about, her subject yet manages to inspire optimism against all the odds.
That climate change is the elephant in the room is a cliché. We get a lot of support for failing to recognize the big, obvious issue that we are all, to one degree or another, complicit in the melting of Artic ice, drought in Australia, forest fires and monster storms. It’s easy these days to blame media, corporations and government lackeys for inaction on global warming. It can make you feel powerful, yet is a waste of time and energy, of which we have neither. Better to find the one thing you can do, and do it, because if nothing else, it can be a very humbling exercise.
Support the divest movement if you can’t physically join the students at Harvard or Brown calling their respective schools to account. Hooray for The Harvard Crimson taking a stand in an Open Letter to President Faust: …we believe it will take the world’s most renowned academic institution to reign in the world’s most wealthy, powerful, and destructive corporations.
Today, Congress is negotiating the Farm Bill. Do you understand what this could mean for the future of food in our country? Why are so many people opposed to GMO seeds? Who is Vandana Shiva anyway? Why is the health of our soil vital to life on the planet? What is Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition movement, up to these days? How does the Slow Food movement fit into the big picture of climate change? More questions. Few answers. I have made food security my thing because I can. What’s yours?
Here’s Wendell Berry on Moyers and Company recently: We don’t have a right to ask whether we’re going to succeed or not. The only question we have a right to ask is what’s the right thing to do? What does this earth require of us if we want to continue to live on it?
It must be something in the air or drinking water, but I am coming across this consumer vs. producer idea more and more lately. Just today, someone posted on Facebook a story about how Cuba, which became an engineering and technological wasteland after the US left and the Soviet Union’s economy stalled, has pulled itself– out of necessity — into the 21st century by a new DIY ethic – one might even say ‘chic.’
The other item that floated to my desktop was that in Greece, whose economy is in dire straits, young people have given up looking for jobs in urban areas and are going back to the land. The reason they can is that, somewhere in their backgrounds, there is a homestead that belonged to a grandparent or other relative, a house and a garden in a village. Romantic? I doubt it. Practical, yes. They are returning to places where they can learn what previous generations took for granted about self-sufficiency and making a decent life without so goddam much stuff. Many are taking up farming or learning to prepare food. They are acquiring survival skills and building community at the same time.
Maybe these are important models for us to study in the post-consumer age we may be entering. Consumers – especially those wired to their electronic ‘friends’ — don’t generally make for great neighbors. But people who make things (or create ideas), have to connect with others: mentors, partners, co-workers, and customers. Producers live in a world of ideas and possibilities that encourages generativity, in the sense of “making your mark” on the world, creating or accomplishing things that matter.
It’s not too late to get our hands dirty, to build things, to maintain and repair the things we have, to share our new found skills with others. In fact, in a future where the cult of go-it-alone individualism is sure to be severely tested, it is about time.
Photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com / Foter / CC BY