Sunday, March 27, 2011

Thinking Pre-Seasonally

This is not my usual thing, but I think it's worth blogging about because I feel change is a coming, and not in a good way. Those of you who know me will find this sudden turn toward apparent pessimism a bit disturbing, but I see it as an opportunity to anticipate and prepare for what is heading down the pike toward us. If you have a feeling that things are just not quite right, don't ignore it. This is not just fear-mongering, doomsaying or 2012-apocalyps- hysteria--I'm saying that if you look at history, we've got it coming. I'm writing about this here, because I have an audience, (thanks for reading and sharing), and dealing with what is coming has everything to do with food and community.

A bit of backstory:

A few years ago my Dad (AKA Dr. Doom) shared with me a book by the name of the 4th Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe. Around page three the authors (writing in 1997) predicted September 11th--roughly the time-frame, the method, and the aftermath. This got my attention. I read most of the rest of the book, and the jist of it is this: every hundred years or so, western societies go through a convulsive change, known as the 4th Turning, which ushers in a new era, also known as the 1st Turning. This is largely driven by cycles of history (social theorists will recognize shades of Wallerstein here), and the generations of people who are born and come of age during various periods of history. They refer to these cycles as seasons of history, and according to them we are now entering a "saecular winter". I am of the Nomad generation (called Thirteeners by Strauss and Howe) that will (with the Boomers) have to take leadership through this seasonal change. So, here, in the way that I can, I am going to start leading.

Strauss and Howe could see the 4th Turning beginning in 2005, give or take a few years. I would argue that 9/11 and the 2008 economic crash are highly related, and manifestations of a system in trouble seeking change and equilibrium. I believe we are well on our way into the 4th Turning, which lasts about 20 years, on average. Strauss and Howe call it a "crisis", which I think is just a slowly unfolding global set of events that will be more or less horrific depending on where you are when these crisis events erupt. There are economic, social, political and ecological dimensions of this, and every place will have its own unique manifestations. How we react to, lead and organize through this crisis will determine how we end up on the other side of it. Forget about American exceptionalism (if you ever believed it). The 4th Turning levels the playing field. I highly recommend that you read the book yourself, so I won't narrate much more about it here, other than what I see coming and how we can deal with it.

Here in Athens, we have economic problems with poverty that are clearly related to racial inequalities, past and present. This is related to our social problems that leave our communities deeply divided, both within and between. We have political problems that are related to our economic problems--corruption in government and tax/spending priorities that privilege the super rich. Our ecological problems relate to climate change and our susceptibility to drought, which will limit our primary economy activities (agriculture and forestry) from providing capital to the economy. Case in point, wildfires in SE GA, today. The 4th turning is, of course a social, not an ecological phenomena, but climate change and the crises this generates will only exacerbate the challenges of the 4th Turning. In Athens these will be the deepening of poverty and eruptions of violence not unlike what just happened here with the shooting of a police officer. The state, in an attempt to gain control, will increase its powers, and this never bodes well for human or civil rights. Inflation is likely to increase (and/or the devaluing of currency) and the fragile and flimsy basis of our economy will continue to falter. Investments may soon be meaningless, so we need to think about real material security through food and real social security through community.

Strauss and Howe suggest that we can best weather the 4th Turning if we start thinking now--what they call pre-seasonal thinking--about how we will have to live during the crisis, and what we want life to look like on the other side. As for me, I am saying adios (to the degree that I can) to the infrastructures that I depend on for food, water and energy. I believe these infrastructures will fail (or will fail to meet the needs of most people), and our manifest vulnerability to corporations and governments will be laid bare. I also believe that this crisis will be manifested by inflation and further contractions of our economy, which will limit our ability to consume (and make our consumer-based economy shrivel). We need to learn new habits that reflect our limited choices in the coming year. I will blog about this and more as these efforts get underway.

The second general area of preparation is linked to our dependence on institutions and our lack of inter-dependence as a community. I have eggs to share (and soon lots of other produce), so I am going to start using them to build community in my neighborhood. We'll have to stand together, or we all will fail. I have to say that I know precious few of my neighbors, but I aim to get to know them, and make the food forest of my yard a resource for our whole community. I also intend to reach out to the wider community in Athens through a community kitchen in one of the poorest, but most historic, neighborhoods in Athens.

Showing up is 90% of life, and I intend to show up for peace, community and self-sufficiency in the coming years.

Show up with me, y'all.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Towards a Reciprocal Social Economy of Food

It's been a good week for the traffic in banned foods. I bartered my illegal backyard eggs for illegal backyard honey from the Normaltown Beekeeper and I lucked into a source of raw m__. (Woohooo! Let the cheesemaking begin!) In the wake of the supreme satisfaction I got from both of these transactions, I decided three things.

1) the banning of backyard, homescale, out-of-the-system food production is not only unethical, it's a violation of human rights. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 3, I have the right to life, liberty and security of person. Given that waterboarding is legal and article 5 guarantees the right to be free of torture, I understand that I won't get much traction with this argument. Having said that, somewhere, I am guaranteed the right to provide for myself (i.e., life) when it doesn't hurt anybody else (chickens don't, bees don't, raw m__ doesn't). I have a right to liberty, which means I am free to do what I wish on my private property (as long as I don't hurt others), and I have a right to liberty in my economic transactions. Suck it, neoliberals. Last, salmonella-contaminated eggs and the like, threaten the security of my person, *from the inside*, and I have a right to alternatives that don't threaten my health, or the health of my unborn baby. (Just try it, Bobby Franklin).

2) the participation in the purchase and sale of food is the stupidest thing humans have ever done. (don't feel offended...I have been doing this for 35 years...and it's not too late to get smart). Buying and selling food not only stripped us of useful skills that could be exchanged for food (for more on this, see K. Marx, Capital, vol 1), it also handed over all of our rights in the food system to the brokers who buy and sell. For the most part those jokers who make money on transactions don't give a damn what goes into your body. The only reason they pretend to care is because, legally, they have to. This means that as long as they don't get caught, they will encourage (even demand) the farming practices that get the salmonella in your egg and the e. coli in your milk. Technical fixes, like pasteurization, are unnecessary when proper farming practices are followed, but they funnel a lot of profit toward the processors (oh, right the jokers who profit from transactions...). Let's get out of this system. Now. Here's how.

3) instead of a transactional system based on money, we need to have a reciprocal exchange system based on calories. I am borrowing this partly from the solar economy literature, but I also appreciate the beauty of it's logic. First, commodities like coffee that usually come at great cost to human and ecological life, would be worth nothing since they have no calories. Therefore there would be no incentive to ship it halfway across the world. (Coffee addicts, I don't envy you the headache you will have when you wake up from the dream of global capitalism. In the meantime, sleep well and dream of large cups of coffee). Second, calorie dense foods like meat would be very expensive, thus, limiting their consumption. I am a carnivore (see the 1 chicken, 10 meals blog post), but I do recognize the incredible waste, ecological devastation and animal cruelty caused by conventional meat production. Third, low calorie, nutrient-dense foods, like kale, would be widely available (a bit like 1 dollar bills are ubiquitous) and easy to get, which is not the case now. They are incredibly easy to grow as well, so they may even disappear from circulation eventually, as we get smarter. Fourth, grains and sweeteners would be very expensive, and would force us to figure out ways to grow our own, barter for them, grow them cooperatively or find substitutes, like potatoes and honey.

I could go on, but you get the picture. We need to move toward a steady-state food system in which the inputs are equal to the outputs. One way to do this, is to start increasing our awareness of the calories in our food and use this as a basis of exchange. We can all become growers of something and exchange this on the basis of calories. Or we can examine the kind of work we do, and the calories we expend doing it, and exchange food on the basis of this. Physical labor has sustained us for millennia and should be the basis of our health and vitality of our society and economy.

So, if I follow my own logic, I owe the Normaltown Beekeeper a dozen eggs. I exchanged a dozen eggs for a pint of honey this week. I should have given the beekeeper two dozen eggs if we follow the calorie math. A dozen eggs has about 1000 calories, while a pint of honey has 2000 calories. Now that I know, I'll catch up with him next time. I had to pay for my raw m__, only because I don't have anything to give the farmers that they don't already have. I've traded skills for money, and, I realize now, that that's a real shame. But...maybe they would like some ricotta cheese...

Make cheese, make a difference.