Friday, July 21, 2017

#168 Good food

Dear all,
Chuck and I are off for a week's solidarity paddle with Native Americans and allies on the Grand River in southern Ontario.  Wish us well as we take on a big physical challenge and seek to make the most of the opportunities that present themselves.
I'm thankful this morning for ceiling fans, long Japanese cucumbers, the first tomatoes, open-hearted grandchildren, bee-keepers, community of all sorts, and much more.

Good food

When a program was started at a local inner-city high school to have a little vegetable garden for the students, I was skeptical.  It was a lovely idea of course, but these were young people who had been fed a steady diet of junk food.  They had been shaped by the tremendous seductive forces of advertising, constrained by food deserts and poverty, enticed to sugar and salt addictions.  How could a few home-grown vegetables stand a chance against that powerful array of forces?  Who in such a situation would choose a carrot over a bag of chips?

It turns out that mine wasn’t the whole story.  These young people planted their seeds, tended their soil, watered, weeded and watched as their crops grew, then tasted the results—and sold them to their neighbors.  More than a few changed their attitudes and eating habits in a single growing season.  They had recognized good food and were ready for more.

There are several layers of lessons here.  First is the difference between tasty food, addictive food, attractively packaged food, low fat/carb/calorie/salt health food, cleverly advertised food, and good food.  And this is true whether we’re talking about food for the body, the mind, or the soul.  I’m not sure I could say exactly what the difference is, but these young people had no difficulty recognizing the real thing.

Second is the eagerness many of us feel to help others get more good food.  We try lots of things.  We explain, often in painstaking detail, the advantages of good food.  We point out all the dangers of the other kinds.  We try to explicate the big-picture context in which bad food proliferates.  We do our best to expose the ulterior motives of those who are peddling it.  While none of these are bad or wrong things to do—far from it—I seriously doubt if any of them would have had a bit of impact on the eating habits of these highschoolers.  The words and reasons and facts and arguments could flow over and around them endlessly as they continued to eat what they had always eaten.

We can also try delivering the product directly:  “Here’s some good food.  Try it; I think you’ll like it.”  Now this approach has promise.  We’ve increased the likelihood that someone will actually try—and it may even be effective at times.  But success rests less on the quality of the product than on the relationships between those involved.

If I like and trust you, I may accept what you have to offer with an open mind, and may even be changed as a result.  But there are a host of reasons I might brush you off, go through the motions without any intention of changing, or refuse point blank.  There’s something about power dynamics here.  Think about grown-ups trying to get children to agree to the healthier option, or people who think they know better coming at you with tidy solutions to your problems.   We sometimes resist.

But these high school students had grown the food themselves.  It was theirs.  They were able to experience and recognize its goodness while they claimed it as their own.  There was nothing to resist.

Then I’m thinking of the good food that comes in questionable containers:  a community that’s the real thing in a context of prejudice; the best in organic food that arrives class-segregated; a beautiful wilderness from which the native people have been removed; love from an alcoholic parent; new opportunities to stretch one’s mind at a university without vision.  In each of these situations, and probably many more, a hungry person who has recognized the nutritious food to be found there is likely to defend not only the food itself, but the context in which they find it as well.  If we would wish to challenge the container, we need to start by joining them in appreciation of the goodness of that food.

I think the news here is mostly hopeful.  People are likely to recognize good food when they can try it for themselves.  Young people are particularly good at this.  Probably the best bet for those of us who would like to share with others is to fully enjoy the food we have, be open about the joy we take in it, and look for ways to invite others into our experience.  


A great armload of greens
from the garden--
Swiss chard in the pot for dinner
Mint hung up to dry
enough for tea for months to come
Kale and basil chopped for pesto
so tasty and so easy to freeze
A harvest to nourish
body and soul.

Imagine:  A New Economy Is Possible!
Community resilience

A farm in Western Massachusetts is combining community-supported farming, a community land trust and a community currency, modeling what building sustainable, regional economic resilience might look like.

Indian Line Farm’s community-supported agriculture business model allows members to buy shares in a farm, improving access to high-quality produce, enabling farmers to stay out of debt, building a sense of community, and helping ensure the long-term financial viability of small farms. 

They encourage the use of a local currency, BerkShares, which can be exchanged for U.S. dollars at 16 branches of four different banks in the region. Users get a small bonus for exchanging into the local currency and a small penalty for exchanging back into U.S. dollars. Thus, buyers effectively get a five percent discount when spending at any local shop that accept BerkShares, while vendors have an incentive to source goods and services locally after they accept BerkShares.

They have also pioneered the community land trust Community Land Trust model, that  enables communities to use land for long-term sustainable goals like farming and affordable housing, while preventing profit-seeking land speculation that could jeopardize these efforts.

This farm and the town of Great Barrington show that by challenging existing notions of land ownership, currency, and consumption, communities can take the lead and be successful in creating sustainable and long-lasting social and economic systems.

Some things that have made me hopeful recently:

The 26 workers in Greece who have taken over a corner of their shuttered chemical factory and are modeling cooperative work structures and production for the needs of the community.

The 350 U.S. mayors who, along with 194 nations, have adopted the Paris Climate Accord, including the 10 largest cities in the U.S, and representing more than 65.8 million Americans.

South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, who came to power partly as a result of massive street protests against the previous president, and is challenging deployment on its territory of a U.S. missile system targeting North Korea.

Micro lending projects, where the value of a small initial grant can be multiplied many times over through a revolving loan fund, transforming the lives of thousands of poor women at a cost from the original grant of only a few dollars per person.

Toward a Right Relationship with Finance 
Check out this new book that I co-authored on Debt, Interest, Growth and Security.

The growth economy is failing to provide equitable well-being for humanity and a life-sustaining future for Earth.  However our institutional endowments and individual retirement are dependent on that same growth economy.  This book:
    • offers background on our current economic system--how it is based on unearned income on the one hand and debt on the other, with a built-in momentum toward economy inequality and ecological overshoot;
    • frames the conversation within the context of our deepest values and beliefs;
    • suggests plausible and historically grounded alternatives to the current system, particularly with regard to financing retirement; and
    • invites everyone to imagine new forms of durable economic and social security, and to help create the relationships and institutions that will make them a reality.
With many people now counting as never before on the performance of Wall Street for retirement security, how can this system be challenged with integrity and effectiveness?  Can we break with our dependence on financial speculation and build up new structures of security in a transformed, life-centered economy?

To order the book, or read it on line, go to and scroll down.

More resources

Resource from my friend Daniel Hunter, Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow; An Organizing Guide.

Recent posts on other web/blog sites:

In, Pamela Haines locates her family's homey DIY celebrations on a class spectrum of different connections to upward mobility.


Muscle Building for Peace and Justice; a Non-Violent Workout Routine for the 21st Century--an integration of much of my experience and thinking over the years: (or just google the title), a website that I've contributed to often (check the archives), a home for all the parenting writing I've done over the past 20 years.  NOTE THE NEW URL. START: a way to study and work together with others to create a better world.

For earlier columns, go to  I'm currently posting at