Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Growing food

“A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.” ~Franklin Roosevelt

Do you like this flower staring at the sun? It belongs to one of our potato plants. I grow them in containers.
 Did you know that a conventional potato from the store may contain 35 pesticides? A conventional tomato may contain about 40 pesticides. Washing it does not make much of a difference.

 Growing food is an endeavor of love, but industrial agriculture has turned it into an act of destruction. Somebody may have made you believe that industrial agriculture feeds the world. This  is a fallacy.
 One billion people  are hungry as I write this post. By destroying the foundation of food production industrial agriculture worsens hunger and poverty.

 Only 30% of the food that people eat comes from large-scale industrial farms. The other 70% comes from small-scale farmers working on small plots of land.  In addition to being more expensive due to the cost of pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers, industrial agriculture is responsible for 75% of the ecological damage being done to the planet.  It pollutes more water and fails to conserve it.  Vandana Shiva’s book “Who feeds theWorld?” explains that these figures are routinely hidden, ignored and denied.

   We need an urgent plan to transition this system into one that is sustainable and fair to everybody. As I write this, Republicans are defunding the Research Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Iowa.
  If you genuinely care about animals don’t forget to educate yourself on the horrendous abuse that industrial farming inflicts upon domesticated animals. Here's an article on this important issue.

  The promise of GMOs to use less chemicals and  water turned out to be false. Research has shown that GMOs  are responsible for the use of more pesticides and herbicides, the emergence of resistant weeds and pests, and, as a consequence of this, they continue to destroy ecosystems and create new problems.

  Sustainable agriculture is based on ecological principles. It creates jobs, strengthens communities, and treats animals with respect and kindness. It minimizes its impact on the environment and strives to preserve the health of ecosystems through the enrichment of the soil with organic matter, integrated pest management, diversity of cultures and rotation of crops.

   Enriching the soil should be a priority.  In order to produce nutritious food we need healthy soils.  The soil needs to be enriched with organic matter. Healthy soil teems with life, but industrial agriculture treats the soil as an empty inert container, loading it with synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. These chemicals destroy soil fertility by killing  organisms in it. The excess of nitrates it injects into the soil end up polluting the water. The chemicals create dead zones in lakes, rivers and oceans, where no life can thrive.

 Healthy soil produces healthy plants by making them more resilient and resistant to pests and diseases.
  Good quality soil also allows to conserve water, but  industrial agriculture ignores this fact, so it requires intense irrigation systems to function. Water is a precious resource and the only ones that benefit from wasting and polluting water are the corporations that  get paid to try to purify it. This leads to more inequality and injustice because drinking water becomes more expensive. High concentrations of nitrates in drinking water increase the risk of cancer.

 We all know that climate change is not a hoax.  A healthy soil is better able to endure climate adverse conditions due to its efficiency in regulating water and its capacity to hold onto moisture, which is another reason to nurture the soil instead of destroying it.

 Alber Einstein must have been ahead of his times when he said, “When the last bee disappears, humans will disappear.” Today 75% of bee populations in some regions have been killed over the last three decades because of toxic pesticides and monocultures. Climate change is also contributing to the decline of pollinators.  

Losing bees is not only about losing honey. More than 140 fruits and vegetables depend on hardworking honeybees for pollination. We’ll lose small family farms and local businesses. We will lose an estimated $15 billion dollars in agricultural revenue.

 Neonicotinoids play an important role in the decline of bees. Avoid using these chemicals altogether. Make sure you plant untreated seeds to grow  the flowers whose nectar bees need to feed on, such as Aster, Black-Eyed Susan, Blazing Star, Calstrop, Currant, Huckleberry, Purple Coneflower, Woodland Sage, Scorpion Weed and many others.  Let’s all be part of the solution instead of the problem. Check the ones that are native in your area and grow them.

 Let’s remember that many scientists have been persecuted and threatened for exposing their research on GMOs, pesticides and herbicides. Examples of scientists who have been in these situations include Arpad Pusztai of the United Kingdom, Gilles-Eric Seralini of France, Tyrone Hayes of the University of California, Berkeley, Vicki Vance of the University of South Carolina, and many others.

 Diversity of cultures is also necessary to create an environment that produces food in sustainable ways, but industrial agriculture relies on monocultures. In doing so, it erodes the soil and contributes  to the decline of pollinators. Industrial agriculture claims to have a “high yield per acre”, but high yield does not mean high nutrition per acre. Their soil is deprived of nutrients , so they produce tasteless food that lacks nutrition.
   Vandana Shiva explained it well: "Life evolves through cooperation and self-organization. Fifty trillion cells cooperate to create the human body. Millions of species cooperate to shape ecosystems and the planet. Plants cooperate with each other. Take, for example, the mixed farming system of corn, beans and squash. Nitrogen- fixing beans provide free nitrogen to cereals, and the stalks of cereals provide support for the bean stalks to climb. The squash provides cover to the soil, preventing soil erosion, water evaporation and the emergence of weeds. Together, these crops provide nutrition for soil, animals and human beings."

 If you are in the business of pesticides and herbicides, consider switching to another business: the business of massive composting. Garbage is nutrition. You can invest in a business that turns garbage into compost. By making compost you can help to feed the soil, and by nourishing the soil you foster the production of healthy food and help to maintain the integrity of the ecosystems. This is beneficial for the future of your children.
 A true patriot should be expected to nurture the soil, not to kill the organisms that live in it. Earthworms are the best fertilizers. Start composting now. Instead of sending trash to landfills, where it pollutes the air and soil and increases the temperature of the planet through the production of methane, you can turn it into a valuable resource that will be treasured by farmers and gardeners and by anybody who is interested in the art of growing food and flowers.

 Growing food should  be an act of compassion and empathy, not of destruction… do you think those workers like to spray your fruit and vegetables with chemicals? Many of them are immigrants who work under the threats of those who exploit them.  These workers are coerced into spraying chemicals that harm their own health.
Ask yourself: where is the chicken coming from? How was she treated? Let’s be mindful of what this means.
 Poisoning the soil, water and air does not feed the world. It contributes to food insecurity, social injustice, inequality and wars. Worsening climate change and the effects of it is an act of terrorism . Let’s acknowledge this simple truth instead of hiding it behind the veil of propaganda. Pesticides and herbicides may be beneficial to the fossil fuel industry, but not to the health of humanity and the environment.
 Even the fossil fuel industry will eventually suffer, because we all live in the same planet. (They just don’t have the foresight to acknowledge the consequences of their current actions).

  Perhaps you are considering to support a CSA (community supported agriculture), or you may want to volunteer for one of the community gardens in your area ; you may want to grow some of your food. You can do so in containers if you don’t have a garden.

Go ahead: write a blog post on this subject. I challenge every reader of this blog to read about the food they eat and to write about what they do to reduce their carbon footprint and on how to lead a more sustainable lifestyle.  
Small changes can be the beginning of bigger changes. They can be the starting point of a different kind of mindset and attitude, one that is more devoted  to being healthier , more considerate and caring.
Spread the word. Inspire others. Share ideas.
 If you educate yourself on this important subject you will discover that there is a lot that you can do to become part of the solution.
 Remember that educating others is also part of our  mission.
Did I awaken your interest?
I found some links for you.
 Growing food takes time, knowledge and observation.  When we do so we are more attuned to nature, to the rhythms and patterns. We become deeply connected to  the creatures and plants that surround us. We become aware of how they interact with one another, and we learn something everyday.
Look at this leather jacket. Every time I get the soil ready to sow seeds I find a few   of them (they are pests to the vegetable plants), so I put them on one of the bird-feeders.  Chickadees and Cardinals devour them. I can assure you that birds turn up to feast on them  in less than five minutes.

As we restore our union with Mother Nature, we clear our minds, open our hearts,  get more creative and feel happier.
It’s time to return to the soil; I have a lot of work to do.

“Let us all return to the soil
That lays the corners of its garments
And awaits for us.
Life rears itself from her breast,
Flowers bloom from her smiles,
Her call is the sweetest music.
Her lap stretches from one corner to the other,
She controls the strings of life.
Her warbling waters bring
The murmur of life from all eternity.”

Rabindranath Tagore

Monday, April 17, 2017

"1984" by George Orwell

"Of course the people do not want war... But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them that they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism. " German Field Marshall

 A reader of this blog took the time to e-mail me the post I deleted by accident. Thank you , Claire. I appreciate your time and cooperation.
 Today I’m publishing my post on “1984” again, with a few “upgrades”.
  If there is something about the plot and/or characters that offends somebody, please bear with it. George Orwell is now dead so you can’t bully the author. Excuse my sense of humor here. I know, I know. Women are not expected to have this kind of sense of humor (unless they use it to pester a woman who opposes the bully in power).
 Thankfully, I’m married to a man who loves my sense of humor.
 Do people get annoyed by the use of pen-names? Hopefully not because George Orwell is a pen-name. Ladies and gentlemen: live and let live.

Here’s my essay on “1984” by George Orwell.

 ‘1984’ is a dystopian novel about a country called Oceania. (The name Oceania probably alludes to the isolationist nature of its people).  Oceania  is constantly at war, but its citizens do not know why it is at war. They do support it, though, because anybody who is not a supporter is considered a traitor.
  Hatred and rage fuel the support of this endless war. 

 Anyone who dares to oppose the dictator’s ideas or think differently is vilified and will disappear. Those who work for the party are instructed to manipulate the truth as needed.  In fact, nobody is expected to  care about the truth because their lives would be at stake if they did. Freedom is considered to be blind obedience to the leader. 
 Physical movements and facial expressions are closely monitored by screens in people’s homes, political prisoners are treated worse than criminals and love does not exist; hatred and fear condition everybody’s behavior. Blind obedience to Big Brother is what matters.

 Torture and starvation await anybody who dares to challenge the system in any way.  Another strategy of the ruling Party is to destroy words. “We’re cutting the language down to the bone. Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?” “There will be no thought as we understand it now. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”

  Winston is a thirty-nine year-old man who works for the Ministry of Truth. He helps to change the historical facts but, in reality, he is a free thinking person who would like to sabotage Big Brother’s dictatorship. He falls in love with a woman, and they both challenge the system by loving each other and having secret encounters that they must plan in advance.

 When Winston becomes a political prisoner a member of the inner Party confesses to him, “Our civilization is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy - everything. Already we have destroyed the habits of thought which have survived from before the Revolution. We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman. No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer. ..”
   “There will be no loyalty, except loyalty toward the party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science”.
The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power”. “We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power”.

 The truth is distorted to meet the leader’s interests; conformity becomes the rule.
 The society in which the authoritarian regime thrives is designed carefully to disregard critical thinking and to believe blindly in their leader. His authority is not to be questioned, and those who dare do it are punished and labeled as enemies. George Orwell portrays the dynamics of this society with striking details.

 The features that make Big Brother powerful are the following:
-Exacerbated nationalism
-Mindless slogans and repeated lies
-The destruction of language
-Use of songs and ceremonies to venerate the leader

  The past becomes mutable for the government can manipulate history by rewriting the historical facts and changing the data to keep the dictator in power.  This is done because the omnipotence of the dictator can only be preserved through lies and irrationality. 

  In Oceania the proletarians - also called “the proles”- are the majority of the population. The Party claimed to have liberated “the proles”, but, in reality, the dictator does not care about them.
“So long as they continued to work and breed, their other activities were without importance.”
“All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working hours or shorter rations”.
   Contradictions are at the heart of the regime. In ‘1984’ the Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture, and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. 

    The question that lingers in my mind is whether these totalitarian leaders succeed because of the ignorance and/ or apathy of the masses or the conformism of the intellectuals. I think it is a combination of both. As Albert Einstein said, “Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.”

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Apologies to the readers of this blog...

Dear readers,
                     On December 3 2016 I wrote a post on "1984", a novel by George Orwell.
                     The novel became a best-seller on January 21 2017 and it was shared in movie theaters all over the world on April 4 2017.
                      Today I deleted the post on "1984" by accident. This action was not intentional. I don't know how to recover it, but I hope that you consider reading this book.
                     Sorry for the deletion; enjoy the read.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Sylvia and Aki (children's book)

  “Sylvia and Aki” by Winifred Conkling is the true story of two American girls of different cultural backgrounds who grew up in the 1940s in the United States of America.
     The narrative is attuned to their joys, fears, dreams and loving families, and it reveals how their happy childhoods were disrupted by the evils of segregation, discrimination and social injustice. Unexpected challenges and hardship threatened the well-being of their families and their future.

  There is an afterword that gleans relevant historical facts and relates them to the lives of the characters. We can learn a lot from history; literature offers us unique opportunities to do so.

   I highly recommend “Sylvia and Aki”. It is a book that invites us to honor friendship, learn about history and spend quality time with our children.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Still I rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room?

Just like moons and suns
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hope springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Digging in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Maya Angelou

Saturday, October 1, 2016

"The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood

I’ve already described some of the outstanding qualities of Margaret Atwood’s oeuvre: ingenious satire and social insight along with well developed characters and plots.
 In "The Handmaid’s Tale" the United States of America is taken over by fundamentalist Christians. Under the new regime women are not allowed to read, work or think. They are only expected to obey  the rules that powerful men create. Women are forced to reproduce. The dissidents are severely punished.
  As part of this regime there is an underworld in which rich privileged men use women as a source of entertainment. When a woman is raped they say that she deserves it; it is God's plan.  Margaret Atwood wrote this book in the 1980s, yet it appears to be of relevance today.


  White women in America earn 75 % of what white men make; African American women make 63 %, even with the same level of education and experience; Latina women only make 54% of what white males earn. These figures show clearly that gender and ethnic discrimination go hand in hand.

 We all deserve the same respect, dignity and consideration. (And, by the way, if you don't like to hear a woman yelling, then don't excuse a man for doing so, even if he is white and American).

 If you want to understand how unconscious and conscious biases determine the way women are judged and treated differently I recommend the well researched book by Iris Bohnet: “What Works: gender equality by design.” In addition to exploring  the complexity and consequences of these biases through concrete examples, she proposes solutions to this important issue.

Friday, September 30, 2016

It will trickle down

This week I wrote my poem "It will trickle down", which was published by Leaves of Ink. You can read it here.
 I hope you enjoy it.