Monday, September 28, 2009

People are still going hungry so I am still fasting this year

I am reposting the comments I had last year around Yom Kippur. The only thing I am adding this year is that in addition to fasting, I also decided to take the day off. It is really hard to function in a job especially when you are chasing little kids when you have not eaten all day. Also, the day seems to normal if I go to work, I am trying to add some kind of difference to this day in addition to the fasting.

As many of you know, tonight is the first night of Yom Kippur, so I will be fasting for the next 24 or so hours. (It might not be 24 hours exactly depending on when GG and I eat tomorrow and I ate kind of late tonight, but still...) I was talking to a co-worker who is taking tomorrow off since it is Yom Kippur and she is fasting. I have no idea if she is going to a synagogue tomorrow, but I would not be surprised if she was. So I started to think about why I am fasting this year. I have not been to a synagogue in at least 2 or 3 years and not regularly since I graduated from undergrad seven years ago. So why am I fasting? It is not related to the idea of fasting to concentrate more on prayers, which never made sense to me in many ways as it was harder to focus having not eaten. It is not because I am especially religious. It is not even because I think that this is God's commandment, so I must follow it. I am a cultural Jew, someone who does the routines and rituals like fasting for Yom Kippur, lighting the menorah and eating latkes for Chanukah and not eating bread for Passover. I don't even light the candles for Shabbat or do any of the rituals like I used to do. But the fasting is the only one of the rituals for a holiday (I am not including the Shabbat rituals here) that I really follow for reasons outside of this is just part of my identity and Jewishness.

I fast because it is a reminder to me that I am lucky to have food on my table. I am lucky that I can eat three meals a day and snacks in between if I want. I am lucky that I do not have to decide between food or bills or gas. I am lucky that I have never truly experienced food insecurity. I went through some rough times, where I had to watch my food budget, but I was always able to eat. I work in public schools now where the snack that we feed to kids may be their breakfast or their lunch depending on whether they are in the AM or PM session. Where the fact that they get milk or juice and some cookies or crackers means that they will have eaten at least once that day. This may not apply to all of the kids that I work with, but I suspect that at least some of them do not eat at home before they come to school or at least not three meals at home. I think about the fact that I have the luxury to make a choice to not eat for a day and that many people for whom this is not a choice. There are days at the end of the month where there is nothing to eat for some, something I have not had to experience. I think about the fact that when tomorrow night comes, I will be able to eat again, not always an option for everyone. Fasting is hard, it is difficult and I seem to think more about food and drink when I am fasting than usual, but I know that this is only temporary. I know that I have people who care for me and that will help me if I ever truly do have issues where I cannot afford to pay for groceries. This year I also think about those families who are now struggling more than ever. Those families who got stuck in sub-prime mortgages or other tricks by shady lenders and are experiencing economic distress that they are not used to. I think about how some of these families are still trying to live the same way they had, while others are now just trying to now put food on the table and keep the electricity turned on. I am lucky to not have these struggles and so I fast for those who do, so that I may be more empathetic.

I also think about how this is supposed to be a Day of Atonement. There are many things I am sorry for, but I really think that our national leaders need to atone for what they have done to us as a nation. They need to atone for sending people to fight a war over oil. They need to atone for the lives they have cost us as a nation. They need to atone for the economic crisis that is now dragging our country down. And they need to atone for the hatred and bigotry that they have allowed to flourish i.e.-homophobia, racism and sexism. My actions probably affected one or two people, probably no more than ten, but when you send people to war to die you are affecting many more than my ten. I think there is a passage during the Yom Kippur prayers where we ask God for their forgiveness of our national leaders, I cannot do that. Our leaders need to ask forgiveness from first the peoples of this nation and then if their are so religiously motivated, their God.

To those of you who are fasting like me, I wish you good luck in your you fast. It is hard and by tomorrow night I will be ready to eat whatever we have for dinner, but I also like to try and make this fast meaningful to me and so I hope that if you are fasting you do it with meaning.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Because a pirate without treasure is like a monkey without a spatula

It be talk like a pirate day so here is my favorite pirate song.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The death penalty should be illegal

This is why I oppose the death penalty. I oppose it because it is inhumane and cruel. When it takes two hours to find a vein to execute an individual that is cruel and inhumane. Most doctors will not administer lethal injections, so this job is left to those who do not know what to do. We are supposed to be a civilized country, we are supposed to have a ban on cruel and unusual punishment and yet we allow the death penalty. Allowing the death penalty and being a civilized country do not mesh. Either we ban the death penalty or we admit that we are a barbaric, vindictive country who is only out of blood. Life in jail with no parole is punishment enough, especially if this time is spent in solitary confinement, we do not need the death penalty.

The death penalty is supposed to be a deterrent and yet, who does it deter? There are still over a million people a day that are victims of violent crimes. So obviously the death penalty is not working. How we deter individuals from committing violent crime, I do not know. But we need another solution other than the death penalty.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Is organic farming a crazy idea?

I have had this article for about two weeks and it has been percolating in my brain for that amount of time. I keep thinking of blogging it and yet I have not. For a while I wanted time to think about it, but then I just didn't blog it and now it is time for me to blog about it.

This article takes on the "agri-intellectuals" and what the author, Blake Hurst, sees as their misunderstanding of farming and especially industrial farming. He points to all of these books that he says are not telling the whole truth to those who read them, that "[f]arming has always been messy and painful, and bloody and dirty. It still is." Well, no shit that farming is messy. But really is this a revelation and I am not sure that most writers would disagree with you on this point. Anyway, he begins with a story about an airplane ride in which a business man was sitting in front of him and spouting off about the whole farming industry and how as a farmer he saw this guy as talking out of his ass, but yet the businessman was able to hold sway over a group around him. Blake finally gets fed up with the guy making his points and Blake says that he is a farmer, but that he is not an organic farmer. Blake is not an organic farmer because he sees organic farming as unrealistic and idealistic As he says, "I deal in the real world, not superstitions, and unless the consumer absolutely forces my hand, I am about as likely to adopt organic methods as the Wall Street Journal is to publish their next edition by setting the type by hand.

Blake then goes on to elaborate about the person on the plane,

He was a businessman, and I’m sure spends his days with spreadsheets, projections, and marketing studies. He hasn’t used a slide rule in his career and wouldn’t make projections with tea leaves or soothsayers. He does not blame witchcraft for a bad quarter, or expect the factory that makes his product to use steam power instead of electricity, or horses and wagons to deliver his products instead of trucks and trains. But he expects me to farm like my grandfather, and not incidentally, I suppose, to live like him as well. He thinks farmers are too stupid to farm sustainably, too cruel to treat their animals well, and too careless to worry about their communities, their health, and their families.

This got my dander up and it continued to stay up as I continued to read this article. Blake continues to belittle and criticize anyone who is not a farmer in the same way he is. He picks and chooses certain sentences and ideas out of several different books and then stomps on them as being totally wrong and stupid. I can honestly say I have not read most of the books/authors he mentions, but I have read Michael Pollan who he seems to fault as the biggest of these agri-intellectuals. Now do I think that Pollan is perfect or has all of the answers, no. But Blake picks out Pollan's discussion on the increased use of cover crops such as soy and alfalfa to do more nitrogen fixing in the soil, so that we can rely less on chemical fertilizers to add nitrogen to the soil. Blake then suggests that Pollan talk to farmers before making this suggestion, but the problem is that Pollan did talk to farmers about this. He talked to farmers who are using this system and using it very efficiently both in his books and in the film Food, Inc. Blake also discusses how he is corn farmer and how corn farmers are family farmers and jump at the chance to use biotechnology as much as they can. I agree they do jump at the chance because corn is a subsidized crop here in the US and so the more they grow the more money they can make to help support their farms and their families. There is also the little matter that most corn grown in the US is not actually used to feed people, it is feed corn for animals. It is feeding cows that do not naturally feed on and digest corn, so that they are fatter and can go to slaughter faster along with chickens and pigs for the same reasons.

This is where my real issues with the article develop. He skips over some major issues. He talks about how turkeys are not smart enough to get out of the rain and turn their heads skyward and then drown, so now farmers have to keep poultry in chicken houses for their own safety. In theory this sounds good, in fact I have an ex-girlfriend whose family had chicken that they kept in a chicken house, but they did not have hundreds of chickens who were living in their own filth, whose beaks had to be cut off to keep them from injuring each other and in situations where it was so overcrowded that antibiotics had to be administered so that the chickens would not die because they were living in too close of contact. These all happen on these large industrial chicken farms. And yes I understand that the chicken houses are owned by family farmers, but these farmers are controlled by contracts from the large chicken producers. They sign a contract and the corporation can dictate how many chickens you have, what kind of houses they live in and what they are fed or the corporation will retract the contract leaving these families in debt and with no way to sell the chickens. Blake also ignores the issues with cattle farming, conveniently in my opinion as he knows there is no way to defend the ways cattle are raised, being fed corn they can't digest fully, pumped fully of hormones and antibiotics, kept in unsanitary conditions, being fed the remains of other animals and finally the ways in which they are slaughtered that leads to outbreaks of mad cow disease and e.coli in consumers.

Blake also leaves out the whole local foods movement and only attacks organic farming. The local foods movement may be more important that the organic foods movement. I and many others would take a locally grown food over an organically grown food that is shipped from thousands of miles away from our homes and stores. And don't tell me that local farms can't feed us and that local farms are not sustainable. I have seen many times over huge farmers markets that bring produce to the consumers that is locally grown and harvested. And the whole idea that farmers markets are only for the middle class is being debunked as increasingly farmers markets will accept WIC and food stamps.

I have run out of steam about this topic, but I have talked about food consciousness here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Yeah I have talked about this in one way or another many times on this blog and I will continue too, hopefully. As a side note, I wish I had written about this article when I first got it as I was less brain dead at that point, I think my points were more well developed and most importantly it might have jump started my blogging again.