Archive for January, 2011

Maggie Kozel Shares the Story of Her Mentor

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

The following piece written by Maggie Kozel, whose new book is The Color of Atmosphere: One Doctor’s Journey In and Out of Medicine, appeared originally on the website of the Wing to Wing Women’s Mentoring Project.

 At fifteen, the worried child of an abusive, alcoholic family, I was hardly on the fast track for a successful career.  By the time I had my school bus epiphany I smoked, included alcohol in most social events, and did more than my fair share of experimenting with drugs and boys.  But there I sat on the bus that morning, staring out that window, hoping for a future.  I was thinking about how much I loved biology class. It was the first time I had felt so connected with something much larger than myself.  The more biology I learned, the hungrier I was to know more. But I wasn’t sure where that could lead me.  And then suddenly, in defiance of my lifestyle and my gender, I connected the dots.  I could be a doctor!

At a focal point somewhere just beyond that pane of glass, every ray of confidence and hope I could generate converged to form a marvelous image – an attractive, grownup me in a white coat, handily diagnosing illnesses, ordering tests, writing prescriptions.  Happy. Successful. Respected. In the span of a few electrifying moments, a daydream had turned into a life plan – and an escape plan as well.   I didn’t worry if I was smart enough.  I never considered that I might not get into medical school or bothered to count the years it would take before I could step out into practice.  I knew where I was going, and I thought that was all that mattered.

I worked hard throughout high school and I babysat every chance I got for the family of a prominent Manhattan physician.  Dr. Kevin Cahill, a product of Ivy League academia, talked to me about my future in medicine as if I were the most likely candidate in the world – thick eyeliner and dubious social circle notwithstanding.  “You’re different, Maggie,” he said to me one time, his intellectual drawl reminding me of Mr. Howell on “Gilligan’s Island.”  “When I look at you I see your strength.” If Dr. Cahill thought I was strongly constructed, then that was just further proof of what could slip by the notice of adults. But I was relieved that I could fool him, and pleased that he approved of me and my grandiose plans.

One night when Dr. Cahill was walking me home he began to tell me about his upbringing in a large Irish Catholic family; he understood how difficult it was to grow up with an alcoholic parent.  We both knew what he was referring to, but I was too stunned and embarrassed to respond.  Never before in all my sixteen years, had any adult who had witnessed my parents’ mean brand of drunkenness– not aunts, uncles, grandparents, the priests who lived across the street, teachers, or neighbors – never before had any of them made even the most oblique acknowledgement to me of the daily horror show I called my home.

Dr. Cahill must have wondered, as we walked on in silence, if his surprising story had fallen on deaf ears.  It hadn’t, but it took a while to appreciate fully what had happened on that summer stroll. Without benefit of lab coat or beeper, Dr. Cahill had shown me what a real doctor could do.  He wasn’t so easily fooled after all.  He could look straight at pain without averting his eyes.  He saw what needed healing without being told, and he said what needed to be said. The Medical Barbie of my school bus vision, no longer up to the task, stepped aside.   I was beginning to flesh out my own image. I wanted to be able to do what Dr. Cahill could do.

Dr. Cahill didn’t let go.  He continued to discuss my medical career as if it was a foregone conclusion. He wrote letters of recommendation for me, arranged interviews, sent me autographed copies of the books he wrote. I don’t think I ever thought of him as a mentor. I do know that I was continually dismayed at his determination to be helpful.  And I was subliminally empowered by the fact that someone like him saw something unique and valuable in someone like me.  Fast forward a few short years and I was sitting in my apartment in Washington, DC, writing him a letter, sharing funny anecdotes about anatomy lab, and expressing once again my gratitude to him for helping to make my dreams come true.

Read the original article at the Wing to Wing project.

The Color of Atmosphere is available now.

Les Leopold: Financial Socialism by and for Wall Street Elites?

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

As bonus season arrives, the gap between the American people and Wall Street couldn’t be wider. And where is Washington in this great divide? Don’t ask.

At a moment when Americans desperately want jobs on Main Street and expect Wall Street to pay its fair share, Washington officials are hard at work — seeking jobs for themselves on Wall Street. (Congratulations, Peter Orszag, on parlaying your position as Obama’s OMB director into a top job at CitiGroup, the bank that received hundreds of billions in taxpayer bailouts and guarantees on your watch!)

Most Americans rightly sense that our mixed free-enterprise economy, which once built a broad middle class, has devolved into a system of financial socialism by and for elites. The public wants and deserves answers to these basic questions:

1. Why do people in the financial sector make so much more money than the rest of us?
Mainstream economists claim that your income reflects the economic value you produce — at least in free and open markets. But are proprietary traders, for example, really 100 times more valuable than neurosurgeons? In the UK, some economists say no: The British New Economics Foundation calculates that “While collecting salaries of between £500,000 and £10 million, leading City bankers destroy £7 of social value for every pound in value they generate.”

Let’s try a back-of-the envelope calculation of Wall Street’s net social value. Compare their bonuses and profits for roughly the last five years (about $500 billion) with the economic losses produced in the financial crisis the bankers caused (about $4 trillion in value destroyed, not counting the ongoing travails of the 22 million people who haven’t yet been able to find a full-time job). For every dollar “earned” on Wall Street, about 8 dollars were destroyed. (In case you’re suffering from financial amnesia and forgot how the financial sector single-handedly caused the economic crisis, please see The Looting of America. Chapter One can be found gratis on

There’s plenty of room for argument about this kind of calculation. But even Wall Street wizards would have trouble defending the billions they’ve acquired by profiting from a bubble that blew up the economy. What’s the real value of junk CDOs that were rated AAA and then sold for enormous profits before they blew up? We could make a strong case that those who profited from such bubble investments – like the people who sold synthetic CDOs to Wisconsin school districts — should pay back their fraudulent profits. (In fact, the school districts have filed a lawsuit toward that end.)

2. Do current profits of financial firms come from tax-payer bailouts?
The old free-market mantra was that you could make as much as you wanted, so long as you were willing to accept all the risks that went with it. Joseph Schumpeter, a great defender of capitalism during the 1940s when much of the world was turning towards socialism, called the process of winning and losing “creative destruction.” In his vision of capitalism, the best and the brightest staked everything in their quest for success, and only the true innovators survived. Inefficient enterprises would be left by the wayside.

So… are the survivors of the economic collapse like CitiGroup, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase, receiving their just rewards?

Actually, it sounds a bit quaint these days to suggest that the rich must actually suffer the consequences of failure. These top financial institutions did not have to pay for their reckless gambling and gaming because they were deemed to big too fail, and so were bailed out. Goldman Sachs, for example, made a very bad bet when it purchased $13 billion of financial “insurance” from AIG to cover its toxic assets. AIG, due to its own enormously bad business decisions, could not pay up and was on the verge of bankruptcy. Had it gone under, as Schumpeter probably would have urged, Goldman Sachs would have received pennies on the dollar for its bad gamble, and might have gone broke. Instead, AIG was bailed out by taxpayers and Goldman Sachs got 100 cents on the dollar. It gambled, lost, and instead of suffering the consequences, was made whole by the government. And now Goldman Sachs execs are hauling in tens of millions in bonuses (disguised as stock options, even as its profits slip a bit from astronomical highs.)

Clearly, the “free and open” market did not determine who should be spared “creative destruction.” Instead, CitiGroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase et al were saved because of their deep political connections. These companies would be kaput were it not for taxpayer bailouts, hastily contrived loans, and all kinds of market guarantees from their friends at the Fed. Schumpeter would have recognized this scheme in a flash: It’s precisely the kind of crony socialism that he detested, only this time the game was was designed by and for financial elites in the world’s largest capitalist economy. (Please don’t compare the Wall Street rescues to the GM and Chrysler bailouts. Wall Street received ten times as much and will pay themselves a hundred times more than the top auto-executives. And the auto industry didn’t topple the US economy and send millions to the unemployment lines.)

3. But since Wall Street is paying us back, why shouldn’t they go back to earning whatever they can?
Let’s follow through on that logic. Let’s say you raid your husband’s pension fund for $100,000 and take the bus to Vegas, naively hoping to triple your money. As luck would have it, you lose it all. Desperate, you manage to borrow another two million from a rich friend (Wall Street calls it “leverage”) — and then you really load up on your bets. Tragically, you lose that too. I hate to tell you this, but you’re in big trouble now. Don’t expect the government to come around and offer to cover your losses with taxpayer bailouts so you can keep on gambling till the lights go out, and then, if you win, pay back the government. That is, unless you’re too big to fail — say, a very large, well-connected investment bank. In that case, party on!

It’s true, Wall Street has paid us back for much of the bailout money we gave them. That’s the good news. The bad news is that, having been rewarded for their bad behavior, they’re now back at the casino tables, playing many of the same games that took down the economy in the first place. This time there are even fewer players who are now way too big to fail. And fewer players means less competition — hence the rise in banking “fees,” especially for the average consumer.

4. Where does all their wealth come from?
There are only two possible sources for all the money the financial sector is spewing: The bankers are either creating new wealth or they’re siphoning off wealth from the rest of us. Hedge fund honchos like to boast about how they weren’t bailed out and therefore are entitled to their enormous hauls. (The top 10 in 2009 earned an average of $900,000 an HOUR. The top 25 earned as much as 658,000 entry level teachers.)

But our noble hedge fund managers have a great deal of difficulty accounting for what I call their “paradox of productivity.” You see, there’s supposed to be a connection between the productivity of your employees and your profits. Apple Corporation, for example, earned about $6 billion in 2009 by expertly engaging its 35,000 employees. (They went on to earn $6 billion in the last quarter of 2010 alone.) Along the way they offered us an array of popular new products that people are enjoying and putting to use. Appaloosa, the hedge fund, earned about as much as Apple in 2009 by speculating on god knows what. But it has fewer than 250 employees and it’s not at all clear what these individuals added to our economy — certainly not the iPad. How can 250 workers, no matter how wise and talented, produce as much real worth speculating on stuff as 35,000 Apple employees can make inventing, manufacturing and marketing useful products? They can’t. So hedge funds must be siphoning off wealth from elsewhere, not creating it themselves. (If you think I’m wrong, please prove otherwise, because I haven’t found a single book or paper about hedge funds, even from insiders or academics, that explains this paradox of productivity.)

Ever since the crash, I’ve been calling for a ban on Wall Street bonuses and for new taxes on the financial sector. Though I felt like I was hollering in the wind, apparently most Americans agree (if we can believe the polls cited above). I naively thought that during the crash the government would come done hard on Wall Street as it did during the 1930s. I was wrong. Instead we have institutionalized a festering problem that allows Wall Street to continue siphoning off the nation’s wealth. So we have to think about a more radical restructuring. I believe the only way to end financial socialism for elites is to turn the core of high finance into group of heavily regulated public utilities — like power, water and electricity (not semi-private entities like Fannie and Freddie before they were nationalized).

Financial socialism for elites has failed and will fail again, plunging millions of Americans into joblessness and sinking our nation deeply into debt. Big government has many faults, of course. But the American people, I believe, can tell the difference between public utilities that aim to serve the economy and a private oligopoly that only serves a tiny elite. Ironically, those who run the government don’t want government to end financial socialism (maybe because of financial industry campaign contributions–or because of Wall Street’s inviting revolving door). It may take another crash before Washington is willing to listen.

Read the original article on The Huffington Post.

Les Leopold’s books, The Looting of America and The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor, are both available now.

Read an excerpt from Old Southern Apples

Friday, January 21st, 2011

The following is the excerpted introduction to one of our latest releases: Old Southern Apples, Revised and Expanded Edition by Creighton Lee Calhoun.

Lee is one of the foremost figures in apple conservation in America. Old Southern Apples reflects his knowledge and personal experience over more than thirty years, as he sought out and grew hundreds of classic apples, including both legendary varieties (like Nickajack and Magnum Bonum) and little-known ones (like Buff and Cullasaga). Representing our common orchard heritage, many of these apples are today at risk of disappearing from our national table.

Illustrated with more than 120 color images of classic apples from the National Agricultural Library’s collection of watercolor paintings, Old Southern Apples is a fascinating and beautiful reference and gift book. In addition to A-to-Z descriptions of apple varieties, both extant and extinct, Calhoun provides a brief history of apple culture in the South, and includes practical information on growing apples and on their traditional uses.

Old Southern Apples Excerpt

Save 25% when you purchase Old Southern Apples, now through January 31st, 2011!

How to Spend $100 Million to Really Save Education

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

by Anya Kamenetz, author of DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education

The elite has become obsessed with fixing public schools. Whether it’s Ivy League graduates flocking to Teach for America or new-money foundations such as Gates, Broad, and Walton bestowing billions on the cause, “for the under-40 set, education reform is what feeding kids in Africa was in 1980,” Newark, New Jersey, education reformer Derrell Bradford told the Associated Press last fall.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is the latest entrepreneur to join this rush. He announced in late September that he planned to donate $100 million to the city of Newark to overhaul its school system. Zuckerberg, a billionaire by age 23, has little experience in philanthropy and no connection to Newark; he met the city’s mayor, Cory Booker, at a conference and was impressed with Booker’s ideas for school reform. Plans are still sketchy, but Zuckerberg has endorsed merit pay for teachers, closing failing schools, and opening more charters.

So will this princely sum produce a happy ending? Unlikely. The Zuckerberg gift, like all social action, is based on a particular “theory of change” — a set of beliefs about the best strategy to produce a desired outcome. The United Way has one theory of change about the best way to feed the hungry (direct aid funded by international private donations). Che Guevara had a very different one (self-help through armed revolution). Unfortunately, the theory of change behind the recent infusion of private money into public schools is based on some questionable assumptions: First, public schools will improve if they harness more resources. Second, charter schools and strong, MBA-style leaders are the preferred means of improvement. And third, a school’s success can be measured through standardized testing.

The Newark Public Schools already belie the first assumption. They allocate $22,000 per year per student, more than twice the national average of $10,000. Yet Newark graduates only half its charges. Private-sector education crusaders often counter that it’s not just money they bring to the table — it’s a mind-set. Whether from Silicon Valley or Wall Street, they believe that empowering the chief is the key to a school’s success. These execs are expected to foster competition, raise expectations, emphasize metrics, and take on the unions. It’s a logic embraced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for one, in his decision to appoint a magazine publisher, former Hearst Magazines chairwoman Cathie Black, as the chancellor of the New York City Department of Education.

Zuckerberg wants to follow this playbook by insisting that Newark install Mayor Booker as the head of its school system, which would require skirting state law. Already, local activists have threatened a lawsuit, a move Zuckerberg shrugs off. “For me, this is more like a venture-capital approach where you pick the entrepreneur, the leader that you believe in, and then give them a lot of leverage,” he told the blog TechCrunch.

Venture capitalists, and those who take the VC approach to school reform, love the independently run public schools known as charter schools, another trend Zuckerberg is likely to promote in Newark. Charters function like an educational startup. They give ultimate power to leaders, freeing them from many district rules, including union agreements, and they depend on a round-the-clock work ethic. Sadly, charters fail at similar rates to startups — and when they do, children can be the casualties. A 2009 national study from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that 37% of charter-school students performed worse than their counterparts at public schools: 46% matched up, and just 17% showed clear gains.

Of course, such “performance” stats hinge on one central metric: standardized test scores. And it’s here, I believe, that the philanthropic narrative of school reform breaks down. A growing chorus of educational iconoclasts, including Diane Ravitch and Sir Ken Robinson, argue that such scores are exactly the wrong gauges of success. What do they really measure? “Taking tests again and again does not make kids smarter,” Ravitch says. “Their motivation does not improve, their interest in their education does not increase, and their achievement does not improve.” Judging schools based on test scores means pushing students to conform to a single standard deviation, rather than cultivating their individual passions.

Many of the people who disagree with Ravitch and Robinson (and me, for that matter) are smart and dedicated. The face of their movement is former Washington, D.C., schools chief Michelle Rhee, who is profiled on page 94, revealing why she’s pushing her new billion-dollar program. Also included in this package: suggestions from a wide range of experts, from elementary-school principals to philanthropists and union chiefs. Put it together, and you’ve got a foment of ideas all aimed at benefiting children. Whatever your policy position, that’s a good thing.

Our continued prosperity in a postindustrial economy depends on creativity and innovation. And that’s why Zuckerberg’s decision to follow the popular script disappoints me. I wish he had taken his $100 million, and some of his smartest people, and designed a new framework for education from the ground up, much the way he built Facebook from a dorm-room idea to a global brand. Is it possible to craft an education platform that’s as participatory, offers as much opportunity for self-expression, and is as magnetic to young people as Facebook itself? That would be a theory of change worth testing.

13 Radical Ideas
How would you spend $100 million? the answers are as varied as the edu-experts we asked.

Radical Idea #1
Radical Idea #2
Radical Idea #3
Radical Idea #4
Radical Idea #5
Radical Idea #6: Rethinking Teaching
Radical Idea #7
Radical Idea #8
Radical Idea #9
Radical Idea #10
Radical Idea #11
Radical Idea #12
Radical Idea #13: Build a Better Classroom

How Would You Spend $100 Million To Save Education?
We want to create a discussion about investing in the future of education. Contribute by tweeting your answer to How Would You Spend $100 Million To Save Education? Or ask anyone who tweets for his or her ideas by including their Twitter username in your question.

This article appeared originally in Fast Company magazine.

Anya Kamenetz’s DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education is available now.

Sustainablog reviews Holy Shit

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

“Holy Shit!” is damned right. Here’s a book about just that — manure. Precious, plentiful, misunderstood manure. Cow manure, horse poop, human feces, dog shit, you name it, Gene Logsdon writes about it.

In this recent book from good ol’ contrary farmer Gene Logsdon, the wonder and mystery and amazing fertilizing power of manure is revealed. Simultaneously, the book will make you wonder why we let this, uh, natural resource cause so much harm when it could be doing so much good! “Managing manure to save mankind” is no light statement, but it’s very, very real.

Farmer or not, Holy Shit has appeal beyond those folks living in the country and growing crops like our own Mr. Logsdon has been doing for dozens of years. Logsdon dives into the proverbial pile and beautifully (and with great wit) describes the power of poop in its amazing ability to fertilize and enrich the world’s soil, instead of polluting our waterways and air. I learned, for instance, that some places have the nerve to burn the stuff, on top of letting it pollute the waterways! Why do we spend billions of dollars each year letting manure cause so much harm when it is worth so much?

Currently, much of the industrialized world flushes their business away, never to be seen again, but Logsdon bravely explains why this practice is unsustainable, and could be reversed to help build up the soil fertility that has been lost through years of exploitative farming practices.

Logsdon’s musing on cow pies and road apples is inspirational, and that’s no joke. With years of firsthand experience, Logsdon is the real deal: he speaks what he preaches, and provides many an example of how to better handle the vast loads of shit this world’s people and animals produce.

Environmentalists, farmers, gardeners, and everyday citizens take note: this is an important (and very entertaining) read about something we deal with everyday, but actually have extremely little understanding of.

Read the original review by Ziggy on Sustainablog.

Gene Logsdon’s Holy Shit: Managing Manure to Save Mankind is available now.

Bob Cavnar’s Houston Chronicle Op-Ed

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Last week, the presidential oil spill commission issued its final report concluding that the blowout of BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico was certainly preventable, was caused by identifiable mistakes made by BP and its contractors, and resulted from complacency and poor risk management — placing doubt on the safety culture of the oil and gas industry as a whole. The commission also pointed out that the regulatory agencies charged with oversight were outclassed by the industry and failed to keep up with rapidly developing technologies of deep-water exploration. The combination of these failures resulted in the BP disaster.

The commission’s conclusions are surprisingly astute for a panel that had no member from the oil and gas industry. Though I don’t agree with all of the panel’s conclusions as to who is to blame for the catastrophe, its recognition of systemic failures and inadequacies of both safety policy and systems were spot on. However thorough the conclusions and recommendations are, though, they are of little consequence outside the world of media and Washington politics. Because the White House ignored calls for a more inclusive commission – including not just environmentalists, academics, and politicians, but representatives from the technical disciplines and the industry itself – the conclusions and recommendations of the commission have already been dismissed by those most in need of them, members of the industry itself.

No industry likes to be preached to and scolded as the oil spill commission has done in this report, no matter how well deserved. There was an alternative, though. The objective of the commission was to determine the causes of the blowout and subsequent spill, then make recommendations to prevent this kind of disaster from occurring again. The problem is that in order to initiate necessary changes, something actually has to be done. That means getting the industry itself to admit mistakes and accept changes to their way of operating. We all knew that the industry as a whole would resist changes to offshore operational and safety procedures for two reasons. The first is simple: money. The second is that the industry believes it knows better than everyone else how to drill big, deep oil wells in deep water because it’s complicated and they’ve been doing it for years. To them, no environmentalist, bureaucrat or politician is ever going to tell them what to do. In our deregulated nation, oil companies remain free to keep profit as their top priority, and set their own safety standards.

That could have been different. The Obama administration missed a golden opportunity for a teachable moment in this tragedy due to its own proclivity to push the oil and gas industry away. That distance from the industry is the key reason the White House was so far behind in its response to the blowout to begin with: There was no one close at hand who knew what they were looking at or who recognized the potential scope of this disaster. You could tell in the early White House statements that the president wasn’t being well advised. In establishing the commission, the administration continued on this path, excluding any industry representation on the commission itself and hiring engineers and scientists only in staff or lower-level advisory roles. The panel itself was appointed to meet political objectives, relegating its primary objective – improving safety – to secondary importance.

Because the administration made little more than a token effort to include influential industry representatives on the commission, the results are predictable. The industry will reject the report’s important conclusions and recommendations wholesale, and the new Republican-controlled House will support that rejection. Since much of the significant change must be legislated, if the industry doesn’t support that change, the House leadership will simply do the same; therefore, nothing will improve. Had there been an industry member on the commission, that member could have sold the industry, and the Congress, on making critical changes to make drilling in the deepwater safer.

Clearly, it’s a missed opportunity.

Read the original article at The Houston Chronicle.

Bob Cavnar’s book, Disaster on the Horizon, is available now.

Robert Kuttner: Consolation and Inspiration from Dr. King

Monday, January 17th, 2011

On this, the commemoration of the 82nd anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth, we can take some solace from what Dr. King did in the face of forces far more annihilating than the ones that progressives face this cold January.

Impossibly enough, he built a movement.

He did so in an era when the consequences for challenging the racial order in the American South were swift and brutal. You lost your economic livelihood, or your life.

In 1955, when Dr. King led the Montgomery bus boycott, the chances of such a movement seizing the nation’s conscience, and within less than a decade including the full moral authority of an American president, were just about inconceivable. He was a minor 26-year-old radical, hardly known outside his own circle.

In 1955, except for a recent Supreme Court decision on school segregation widely held to be unenforceable, there was no support from the government to end the racial order in the South. The Democratic Party was fatally dependent on the votes of Southern racists. The Republican Party of Lincoln was failing to lead even on something as rudimentary as a federal anti-lynching law.

Yet within a decade, the legal foundations of what Pulitzer Prize winning author Douglas Blackmon called “slavery by another name” had crumbled. Half a century later, public attitudes were continuing to evolve, glacially to be sure, but in the direction of Dr. King’s arc of justice. Far sooner than he might have expected, our country elected an African American president.

I mention all this not just because this is the day to remember Dr. King, but because we progressives have been depressing the hell out of each other lately and wringing our hands about President Obama’s missed opportunities.

It is all too easy to make a list of why all political possible avenues to a more progressive society are blocked. If you want to wallow in it, here is the list:

  • Wall Street capture of both parties.
  • An alliance between billionaires and disaffected common people.
  • The Citizens United case ushering in a new era of money overwhelming citizenship.
  • A grievously weakened labor movement.
  • President Obama spending his prestige seeking a nonexistent middle ground.
  • A right wing media machine/echo chamber with no counterpart on the liberal left.
  • An almost certain Republican takeover of both houses of Congress in 2012.
  • A prolonged era of deep recession that, weirdly, energizes the right rather than the left.
  • A new dark age of theocracy and denial of verifiable scientific truth
  • A national psychosis embracing guns as a basic civic right.
  • Public services hitting stall speed where citizens turn away from government remedy.

Okay — depressed?

Well, the prospects that African Americans faced in 1955 were far worse. And, against all odds, unimaginably brave men and women, some honored and some still unknown, went out and built a movement.

And you could say the same of every other cause that has resulted in real social progress over the last century. A bottom-up social movement came first, presidential leadership came afterwards.

Organizing in the mines and mills proceeded long before Senator Robert Wagner imagined sponsoring a bill to legalize collective bargaining, or President Roosevelt embraced the labor movement.

Women’s right to vote did not come from presidential leadership but from bottom-up struggle. Women’s economic rights were added to the Civil Rights bill of 1964 by cynical reactionaries in the hope that it would kill the bill. Today, our daughters take for granted rights that their grandmothers doubted would ever come.

Homosexuals, as recently as half a generation ago, were the last group that an American could openly ridicule without being called a bigot. So gays and lesbians built a movement whose moral power could not be denied.

The disability rights movement was built from the bottom up, to the point where George H.W. Bush felt compelled to sign the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which seemed to come out of nowhere. It didn’t; it came from the bravery of unsung people.

I could go on.

As readers of The Huffington Post may recall, it drives me and many other progressives nuts that in a moment when heedless capitalism has disgraced itself, President Obama has not been more like the two presidents of the past century who helped lead radical, transformative change — Franklin Roosevelt and the Lyndon Johnson of the civil rights era. But in both the 1930s and the 1960s, the movement came first, the likelihood of success was even slimmer, and mainstream political embrace followed.

At a time when the economic dreams of tens of millions of Americans are being crushed, I have no doubt that we shall see another progressive social movement, beginning with a tiny brave minority, and coming to have real transforming influence. Dr. King put it well: “Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.”

Those who say it can’t be done in an age of trivializing media, or the paradoxically fragmenting and disempowering role of the Internet, or the undertow of private amusement, or the hegemony of big money, are too cynical. The great social movements of the past were even more impossible.

Dr. King declared, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” He also said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”

Read the original article on The Huffington Post.

Robert Kuttner latest book, A Presidency In Peril, is available now.

Woody Tasch: Buffett, Gates, and the Story of Enough

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

“When is enough enough?”  Bernie Sanders asked during his filibuster against the Lame Duck tax bill in December.  During the speech, he referred to Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, two of the world’s richest three people.  (If you haven’t been paying attention, they’ve been pushed down to the number two and three spots by Carlos Slim Helu, the Mexican telecom tycoon who is now worth $53.5 billion.)

The reference to Gates and Buffett in a speech about Enough was a result of their project called the Giving Pledge, which encourages billionaires to give away more than half their wealth.  And while this may not seem immediately relevant to life in the hills of Hardwick or the dales of Dorset, it raises important questions about the meaning of Enough, about ways in which we might, as a society, secede from the cult of He Who Dies With The Most Toys Wins and, maybe, just maybe, about ways to put back into the soil—the soil of the restorative economy and the actual soil—what we take out.

Ask any earthworm.  Here are a few data points from Earthworm Economics:

  • There are some 1,000 billionaires on the planet, 400 of them American.
  • In an acre of fertile soil, there are 50,000 to 2 million earthworms, none of them American.  (Estimates range widely, conditions vary from hummock to swale, from Butterworks Farm to Lucky Penny Farm to Full Belly Farm.  There is no Earthworm Department of the Census or Forbes list of the richest 400 earthworms.)
  • 90 million acres of American cropland is devoted to corn.  75% of this goes to feed livestock and cars.  Since 1776, a third of America’s topsoil has eroded.

The story of Enough is told in chapters of money, food and soil.

In the 20th century, our food and our money became fast.  Our farms became factories.  The erosion of our soil accelerated, as did the erosion of our sense of connection to one another and our sense of collective purpose.  Our money zoomed around the planet with ever accelerating speed, increasingly complex and abstract.  We raised children who thought that food came from supermarkets and investors who thought that investments came from computer screens.  We filled our land with chemicals, our portfolios with zeros and our heads with financial speculation. (“What will be the stock price of McDonalds on the day of the 10 billionth person?”) We ignored the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico—not the one caused by BP’s oil, but the one caused over decades by billions of tons of agricultural run-off coming down the Mississippi River.  In the 20th century, the idea of Enough became as rare as an earthworm under an ethanol plant.

In the 21st century, can philanthropy, even radically generous philanthropy of The Giving Pledge kind, come to the rescue?  Can it rekindle an abiding sense of Enough?

Yes and No.

Yes, because the idea of giving away more than 50% of your money helps us all look in the direction of putting back as much as we take out.  The act has about it both an air of ageless morality and a sense of modern urgency.  The Giving Pledge may or may not contain, but is consistent with, an implicit recognition that facing the global predicaments of climate change, financial volatility, social inequality and political inertia, neither economic growth based on consumerism nor philanthropy as usual will be sufficient.

No, because if we are going to build a restorative economy, an economy that values preservation and restoration as much as it values extraction and consumption, an economy that heals broken social and ecological relationships while it creates wealth and commercial opportunity (rather than relying on strategies of Wealth Now/Philanthropy Later), we are going to need billions and billions of dollars of investment capital.  We are going to need investment capital and investors of an entirely new kind.

We need to move beyond philanthropy as usual.  Perhaps even more urgently, however, we need to move beyond investing as usual.

This recognition has lead thousands of us to the Slow Money Principles, one of which states:

Paul Newman said:  “We need to be more like the farmer who puts back into the soil what he takes out.”  Recognizing the wisdom of these words, let us ask:

  • What would the world be like if we invested 50% of our money within 50 miles of where live?

  • What if there were a new generation of companies that gave away 50% of their profits?

  • What if there were 50% more organic matter in the soil 50 years from now?

Today, what if, following the leadership of the Giving Pledge and in honor of the New Year, we were to make a resolution, no, our own kind of pledge, to set about the task of moving beyond investing as usual?

I am ready to make the following Slow Money Pledge:

I hereby commit to investing 1% of my money in small food enterprises near where I live, in order to enhance soil fertility, expand access to fresh food and build a healthier local economy.

In recent years, as market demand for local and organic has grown, and as aversion to the excesses of derivatives, hedge funds and all manner of financial razzmatazz has begun to take root, a new family of financial products and services has begun to emerge.  Slow Money, with its local and national networks, is just one catalyst in this movement, this process of incubation and financial innovation.  There are many others, including community development financial institutions, the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, Kiva, Kickstarter and RSF Social Finance.

Investing in small food enterprises offers us particular opportunities to roll up our sleeves, to sink our hands into the soil.  That’s one reason why over $4 million has been invested in 12 small food enterprises that participated in Slow Money’s national gathering at Shelburne Farms last June.

As this national process builds, let’s continue to explore ways to collaborate with friends and neighbors to put money to work more directly at the local level.  Let’s be ready to imagine and calculate in new ways the financial, social and environmental returns that will arise from such investing.

Where to start?  How about buying a farm and leasing it on concessionary terms to a young organic farmer?  How about expanding a CSA?  What if groups of us in communities around the country undertook one such investment per year?

If we are more ambitious, and have the financial capacity, we could look to the infrastructure for farmers markets and local food distribution; community kitchens and food incubators; composting and seed production; slow food restaurants; niche organic brands; biologically benign agricultural inputs; regional food processing facilities; and, other enterprises that repair the holes left in the social fabric and ecological web by industrialization and globalization.

Only a precious few of us have 50% of multi-billions to give away.  But many, many precious millions of us have money sitting in financial institutions, where it is under the guidance of Mr. Invisible Hand and Mr. Smokestacks In China and Mr. Slightly Better Regulated But Still Giving More Bonuses Than Ever Wall Street.

And while 1% isn’t 50%, it is an important beginning, a beautiful beginning.  It is our start down the road to the world that comes after “Enough is enough.”

Woody Tasch is the founder of Slow Money, an NGO that is catalyzing the flow of investment capital to local food systems.  He is Chairman Emeritus of Investors’ Circle and author of Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing As If Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered.

This article appeared originally at Vermont Commons and at TriplePundit.

Read an excerpt from Meat: A Benign Extravagance

Friday, January 14th, 2011

The following is excerpted from Simon Fairlie’s book, Meat: A Benign Extravagance. This piece appeared originally on the web at Rhys Southan’s website, Let Them Eat Meat.

The Fence

In the 1960s, the American biologist Robert Paine conducted an experiment involving the removal of a predator species from a seashore environment:

When he removed the main predator, a certain species of starfish, from a population of fifteen observable species, things quickly changed. Within a year the area was occupied by only eight of the fifteen species. Numbers within the prey species boomed and in the resulting competition for space, reasoned Paine, those species that could move left the area; those that could not simply died out.[1]

Commenting on Paine’s experiments, Allan Savory remarks: ‘I witnessed a similar disruption in two much larger communities in Africa’, namely the Luangwa valley in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and the lower Zambezi Valley in Southern Rhodesia, where he worked as a biologist:

Both areas contained large wildlife populations – elephant, buffalo, zebra, more than a dozen antelope species, hippo, crocodiles and numerous other predators. Despite these numbers, the river banks were stable and well vegetated. People had lived in these areas since time immemorial in clusters of huts away from the main rivers, because of the mosquitoes and wet season flooding. Near their huts they kept gardens that they protected from elephants and other raiders by beating drums throughout much of the night or firing muzzle-loading guns to frighten them off. The people hunted and trapped animals throughout the year as well.But the governments of both countries wanted to make these areas national parks. It would not do to have all this hunting going on, and all the drum beating, singing and general disturbance, so the government removed the people. Like Paine, we, in effect, removed the starfish. But in our case we put a different type of starfish back in. We replaced drum-beating, gun-firing, gardening and farming people with ecologists, naturalists, and tourists, under strict control to ensure they did not disturb the animals or vegetation.[2]

The result was a change in grazing behaviour by many of the animal populations, and a rapid deterioration in environmental quality. ‘Within a few decades, miles of riverbank in both valleys were devoid of reeds, and most other vegetation. With nothing but the change of behaviour of one species these areas became terribly impoverished and are still deteriorating as I write.’

The ecologist or park manager faced with these problems, will therefore normally try to simulate the role of predator. Culling large animals near the top of the food chain is the easiest way of controlling what goes on in a wildlife park. Anything else can be very labour intensive. It is true that there is a growing avant garde amongst nature conservationists advocating that animal populations should be left to sort themselves out – as at Ostvaardersplassen Reserve in the Netherlands where ancient varieties of cattle are uncontrolled and are killing off trees by bark stripping, making the area more open.[3] There is much controversy about the wisdom of this approach, and some also about its disregard for animal welfare: in the absence of predators, many animals die a painful and lingering death, unless they are culled. And if they are culled, why not eat them? Culling is either hunting, or else it is a waste of good food.

These problems loom even larger for ecologists in a vegan society, since vegans, by definition, refuse to be predators. Vegans cannot cull – at least not with any degree of ease or consistency. And there is a further problem to be faced: what to do about poaching? Poachers present a problem for all managers of wilderness, but they present a more awkward one for vegan wildlife managers for at least two reasons. A vegan society cannot buy off miscreants with factory-produced meat; and if vegans cannot cull, the pressure to get rid of nuisance animals rises.

So how would wildlife parks function in a fully vegan society? New animals could be introduced, but only with difficulty could surplus animals be removed, by capturing and taking them somewhere else where they might cause the same problem. It is easy to imagine that certain populations might grow, quite quickly, to the point where they started causing damage, not just within the park, but outside it. How would the vegan park manager stop wild boar descending from the woods to dig up gardens, squirrels in their hundreds crawling over nut plantations or destroying timber trees, badgers rolling neighbouring wheatfields flat, or herds of hungry elephants stampeding through cropland?

There are a number of courses that a vegan wildlife manager can pursue. One is to introduce predators and hope that these – in conjunction with a dearth of food during cold or dry seasons – will keep the prey population in balance. This might work in some cases, but in others it might not. Quite a few pests – for example elephants, badgers, wild boar and kangaroos – don’t have much in the way of predators and, like rabbits and rats, have long been controlled by the hand of the supreme predator, man. Whether that hand can be removed in such a way that animals do not cause intolerable damage to our agricultural interests is questionable.

A predator species can keep a prey species under check in relation to the available food supply. But if that food supply includes not only the wildlife park, but adjacent edible cropland, the predators will not stop the prey advancing into the cropland – indeed it is to the predators’ advantage to let them advance. In the absence of any pest control by the farmers, it is not difficult to see deer, feral goats, rats and rabbits expanding their field of operation, possibly followed by wolves, bears or large cats, not to mention hyenas, badgers and other scavengers and opportunists who would avail themselves of whatever else they could find in people’s dustbins and gardens. The bears and large cats would occasionally take out a human for good measure.

Of course, this would never happen on any scale, because the farmers wouldn’t allow it, any more than the 18th century Berkshire farmer, quoted on p 121, tolerated the presence of his Lordship’s deer. If the park managers failed to control pests, then the farmers would turn to poaching, not only to save the crops upon which their livelihoods depended, but also because they would reason that if wolves, bears, lynxes and foxes are allowed to predate, why aren’t humans? Enforcement would be near impossible, no matter how many vegan policemen were deployed, while reinvoking the Black Act and making hunting a capital offence would presumably conflict with vegan ethics. In such a situation it is likely that poaching (and probably poisoning as well) would be quietly tolerated, in much the same way that the eating of sacred cows is tacitly accepted in India.

It is for this reason that the Vegetarian Society’s ‘Green Plan’ drawn up by vegan Alan Long sensibly allows a measured amount of meat-eating:

Domestic species of farm animals, at present travesties produced by domestic breeding, would be allowed to assume the feral state in these reserves … In such feral conditions, animals may have to be culled … Casualties could be used for meat for those who want it.[4]

One wonders, in passing, whether Long refers to cultivated cabbages and beans as ‘travesties’. But for Peter Singer and more purist vegans the idea of ‘harvesting’ excessive populations of feral or wild animals is another form of ‘speciesism’. His solution to the poaching problem, and to the problem of inedible pests, is to control their population through the use of drugs or the release of infertile males to reduce female fertility. I will come to that shortly. But what is most revealing about Singer’s coverage of pests is the tiny proportion of his book which he devotes to them – just one page, compared with an entire chapter on factory farming and another chapter on vivisection. Pests, in Singer’s view are a side issue: this is how he introduces the subject:

It is possible to think of more unusual cases in which there is a genuine clash of interests. For instance, we need to grow a crop of vegetables and grain to feed ourselves; but these crops may be threatened by rabbits, mice, or other ‘pests’.[5]

Unusual? Rabbits, mice and other pests? Far more rodents have died as a result of traps, poisons or targeted anthropogenic disease, than have ever been killed in the laboratories he campaigns against. Singer seems blissfully ignorant about the perils of growing vegetables. Virtually every herbivore in the animal kingdom, from slug and carrot fly up to deer and wild boar, has long since sussed out that humans are more proficient at growing tasty food than nature is, and all do their utmost to partake of the feast. The smell of bacon may not awaken murderous feelings in the breast of vegetarian gardeners, but the sight of all their pea seedlings ripped out by pigeons often does. And nothing causes sleepless nights for conscience-stricken vegans so much as the sound of rats scuttling in the cavities of their walls.

Most vegans are currently protected from the ravages of pests through the discreet measures taken by the rest of society to keep them under control. Nonetheless a shift towards a vegan ethic has altered our relationship with wild animals. Fifty years ago a fox who dared approach a village in daylight would have been greeted by kids throwing stones and telling him to piss off, thereby establishing a mutually beneficial barrier between civilization and nature. Now we welcome nature with open arms, and when Reynard saunters down the street people point and say ‘ooh look, a fox!’ – with the consequence that foxes feel at liberty to take chickens in broad daylight. Savory complains that whereas baboons naturally run at the sight of people, in his neighbouring national parks they became so tame that ‘they sat on cars or got into them and trashed everything and had to be destroyed as a nuisance’. Similarly:

The remaining elephants in the park no longer fear humans. Although they are being culled at a high rate, they do not know that humans are doing it, as whole families are gunned down so that none lives to tell the tale. This deception is considered necessary as it is a national park and tourists require tame elephants. And they have become remarkably tame: their response to human scent is very different from what it was in the late 1950s when they were much wilder. Unfortunately tame elephants, or any other game interdependent with predators, are not natural and therefore lose their natural relationship with the plants in their community. Basically they linger too often and too long in the most favoured areas and thus overbrowse or overgraze.[6]

They are becoming like cows who hang around the gate waiting for feed. It is not only animal lovers who are responsible for this domestication of the wild, but also people who hunt for sport (as opposed to those who hunt for the table). As Ortega y Gasset noted, hungry hunters kill the first animal that comes along, and thus select for wildness – whereas sports hunters demand a challenge, ignore easy prey, and so select for domestication. When I worked as a beater on our local shoot, nothing we could do – shouting, firing guns, throwing stones, despatching dogs through the water – would persuade the ducks on the pond to take flight. Having observed what happened to those who flew on previous shoots, the survivors had sussed that their best tactic was to remain on the pond, because sports hunters don’t shoot sitting ducks.

Singer’s proposal of ‘contraception for wild animals’ is perhaps the best option for vegans who want to maintain wildness. However it is not necessarily as simple as it sounds. The feral camels in the Australian bush, descended from animals imported to carry bales of wool, are now ‘the wildest camel herd in the world’, largely because nobody in the country which pioneered 120 foot transcontinental ‘road-trains’ has any use for ships of the desert any longer. There are already a million of them, and left to their own devices would double in number every ten years, so they are culled by marksmen from a helicopter. Interviewed on Radio 4, Tony Peacock of the University of Canberra commented:

Nobody would like to do it with birth control more than I – but it’s not possible. Our co-operative research centres studied birth control of wildlife for well over a decade and we spent probably in excess of AUS$80 million in research funds, but it just doesn’t work well enough. You still have the issue of accessing the animals. Unless they are very easily accessible and very high value it’s just impossible to do.[7]

Birth control of wild animals may become easier and more affordable in the future, but that prospect raises other issues. It sails worryingly close to genetic engineering, and would probably lead to domestication through a more sinister route. If we let scientists manipulate the fertility of wild animals they will inevitably start fiddling around with their genes, and before long, we risk finding large sections of the evolutionary process controlled by scientists – and in a vegan society, by scientists who might disapprove of speciesist activities such as predation. Left to their devices the lamb might indeed be lying down with the lion. Such an evolutionary outcome would presumably be acceptable to Singer, who not only coined the term speciesism, but is also a forthright advocate of genetic modification.

Singer omits to mention two other existing methods of pest control which, along with guns, are commonly used by farmers. The first of these is that adopted by the US Army in Vietnam – defoliation. Destroy the enemy’s habitat, so there is nowhere for them to hide, and soon you outnumber them. Farmers nowadays do not spend hours on a tractor flailing hedges and fighting back the advance of woodland for the hell of it, but because the more cover you provide, the more pests you harbour. Plant peas or wheat in a small field half-surrounded by woodland and the chances are that pigeons will eat all your pea seed and badgers roll your wheat. Plant acre upon acre of them in the middle of an arable prairie, and there will never ever be enough pests to make any impact upon your crop.

One option for a vegan farming system beset by pest problems would be to get rid of all the pestiferous hedges which demand annual maintenance and which are no longer needed for enclosing cows and sheep. That is what habitually happens in areas where farmers have got rid of their livestock; or where livestock are kept indoors all year round, as they are in many areas of Europe. England’s miles of hedgerows are unusual – a historical anomaly resulting from the fact that the countryside was enclosed before the invention of barbed wire. Permaculturist vegans would argue that the hedges and other biodiverse vegetation should be kept to provide a balance of predatory species – but that balance would be hard to maintain if the species that has been chief predator for several thousand years of evolution resigned from the position. The Campaign to Protect Rural England might protest at the disappearance of hedgerows, but from an environmental point of view removal could be justified if many more wildlife areas were created elsewhere on land formerly occupied by domestic animals or the crops grown to feed them. Efficient mechanized vegan farmers, supplying food for millions, would be less inclined to share land with nature and more disposed to spare land elsewhere for it.[8]

The other recourse traditionally taken by farmers is to fence off land that is under siege from pests – in the UK, typically deer, badgers or rabbits. It can be an expensive option but in our hypothetical vegan society the farmers have a potential ally. If the wilderness areas are managed by conservationists who want to maintain a natural succession (rather than by scientists who want to engineer an artificial one) then they too will be keen to demarcate the zone between the wild and the human with as impermeable a fence as can be devised and afforded.

Fencing has often been a tempting prospect for wilderness creators on the grand scale (and true wilderness has to be on a grand scale). The palaeontologist Richard Leakey, when head of the Kenya Wildlife Service, proposed fences around the Maasai Mara Reserve and the Tsavo National Park, ‘to keep animals away from people and people away from animals’, but had to abandon the plan because it would have interrupted some animals’ migration patterns.[9] Paul Tudor Jones, the billionaire managing director of Grumeti Eco-reserves, which has leased 340,000 acres to ‘offer 54 guests 21st century service in a sumptuous bush-chic setting’ wants to erect a fence along the Western edge of the Serengeti; and there are fences around National Parks in Zimbabwe and Namibia, which again interfere with animal migration routes.[10] In Botswana, where there are already thousands of miles of ‘veterinary fences’ designed to separate cattle from wild animals carrying tsetse and foot and mouth disease, the 240 mile long Makgadikgadi fence is:

the first of a new breed of fence designed to reduce conflicts between people and wildlife. Specifically, it was built to stop lions from attacking cattle, to stop villagers from retaliating against the lions, and to protect the grazing land of the wildlife in the park from the cattle.[11]

In Scotland, the proposed ‘Pleistocene Park’ wilderness at Allandale, according to one visitor, is ‘scarred by new fences’ some of which are electrified and sport DayGlo notices stating ‘Do Not Enter, Dangerous Wild Animals’ – a matter which has come into conflict with Scotland’s right to roam laws.[12]

Conservationists want to prevent humans wandering in and out of wilderness, because they might be poachers or because they might end up as prey. Farmers and villagers want to keep dangerous and nuisance animals inside wilderness areas. The easiest strategy for a totally vegan society would probably be to fence off the agricultural land from the wilderness on the same scale that the Australians erected their ‘rabbit proof fence’, or the Botswanans their miles of veterinary fencing. This fence would need to be tough enough to resist badger, wild boar or elephants, tall enough to prevent deer leaping over it, and well enough policed to deter poachers. It would probably look something like the fence around Glastonbury festival, sunk two feet into the ground. And it still wouldn’t keep the pigeons in.

The contrast would be stark. Within the flat grade one and two agricultural areas, there would be a tendency to cultivate as much as possible, with only a small amount of land devoted to shelterbelts, woods, hedgerows, banks and other landscape features. Strips of grain and vegetables would be interspersed with strips of clover or lucerne, in a manner reminiscent of the open field landscape that can be viewed in the more denuded areas of Eastern Europe. Nut and fruit orchards would consist of close-planted, easy to pick, early maturing dwarf varieties, for in a society without animals, there would be no incentive to plant standards with a carpet of grass underneath them.

Whether the fence would surround the agricultural land or the wilderness would depend upon the relative size of each; though for the wilderness to function properly it would have to be large enough to support a viable population of predators. In fertile areas with high populations there would be some reservoirs of pseudo-wilderness fenced off; in outlying regions there might be islands of agriculture. But at some point between the two there would be the main continuous fence dividing Nature on one side from vegan agriculture on the other – the coastline where the ocean of wilderness washed against the shores of civilization.

If this is starting to sound like a science fiction film it is because the chances of it actually coming to pass are, mercifully, remote. The fence represents a logical conclusion of the vegan project, rather than its most imminent expression. I bring it up because it lies at the end of a path which some vegetarians and vegans are inviting us to take, and because it is the most graphic symbol of the rift between humanity and nature which I suspect would arise as a result of a refusal to eat meat.

[1] Paine, R T (1966 ), ‘Food Web Complexity and Species Diversity’, American Nauralist, vol 100 no 910: pp 65-75.

[2] Savory, Allan with Butterfield, Jody (1999), Holistic Management, Island Press.

[3] Fenton, James (2004), ‘Wild Thoughts: A New Paradigm for the Uplands’, Ecos, Vol 25:1, 2004.

[4] Long, Alan (1979), The Green Plan, a Synopsis, The Vegetarian Society.

[5] Singer, Peter (1995), Animal Liberation, Pimlico, p 233.

[6] Savory, op cit. 7.

[7] Tony Peacock, on Radio 4 ‘Today’, 12 August 2009.

[8] The concept of a choice between ‘sharing land’ and ‘sparing land’ has been developed by Tim Benson of the University of Leeds, from: Rhys Green et al, ‘Farming and the Fate of Wild Nature’, Science, 307, pp 550-5, 28 Jan 2005. See also Chapter 8, footnote 36.

[9] Monbiot, George (1995), No Man’s Land, Picador; Poole, R M (2006), ‘Heartbreak on the Serengeti’, National Geographic, Feb 2006.

[10] Rogers, D (2006), Grumeti Reserves, Tanzania are the Ultimate Safari Destination. What are you Waiting for? October 2006,; Communicating the Environment Programme Factsheet 5, Musokotwane Environment Resource Centre for Southern Africa (n.d.) CEP Factsheet: Poaching,

[11] Flore, G (2006), ‘Good Fences, Good Neighbors? Can Botswana Simply Cordon off the Conflicts Dividing Ecotourism, Cattle Farming, and the Interests of Conservation?’ Natural History, June 2006.

[12] Taylor, P (2008), ‘Alladale’s Wilderness – Seeing through the Fence’, ECOS, 29:3/4.

Read the original excerpted piece at Let Them Eat Meat.

Meat: A Benign Extravagance is available now.

Civil Eats interviews Joan Dye Gussow

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

The marvelous folks at Civil Eats sat down with Joan Dye Gussow, whose new book is Growing, Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life, and Vegetables, for the following interview. Take a look!

In Conversation with Joan Gussow
by Paul Crossfield, January 12, 2011

I think its fair to call Joan Dye Gussow the mother of the sustainable food movement. For over thirty years, she has been writing, teaching (she is emeritus chair of the Teachers College nutrition program at Columbia University), and speaking about our unsustainable food system and how to fix it. Now more than ever, her ideas have wings. Michael Pollan, for example, has said “Once in awhile, when I have an original thought, I look around and realize Joan said it first.” In addition, she has been living what she teaches, growing most of her own food year-round in her backyard.

To learn more about Gussow’s work, I suggest reading this excellent article by journalist Brian Halweil. The New York Times also profiled her last spring as she was rebuilding her garden after it was destroyed by a flood. When I asked her about her newly rebuilt garden, she said, “It’s given me ten additional years of life, at least!”

I spoke to her recently about how far we’ve come, the future of the food system, and her new book, Growing, Older: A Chronicle of Death, Life, and Vegetables.

Your have been talking about food, energy and the environment for decades. Do you think there is real potential now for a big change in the food system?

I must say that compared to the reception my ideas got thirty years ago, its quite astonishing the reception they’re getting now. I am excited to see the kinds of things that are going on in Brooklyn, for example. People are butchering meat, raising chickens, and its become the sort of “heartland” of the food movement. But whether or not there’s going to be sea change in the whole system is so hard to judge. I am politically very discouraged, because of what happened in the [last] election and what has happened with our president whom we elected with such hope. He seems completely unable to get really really passionate about anything.

Do I have hope? Yes, I have hope because, as Michael Pollan wrote in the Omnivore’s Dilemma, what it means to say that something is unsustainable is that it will stop. And we have an unsustainable food supply. I believe the short-sightedness of both national and international leaders and their inability to do anything useful politically is so stunning that we’re going to come to a crisis period much sooner than anyone expects. But what I really believe is hopeful is that there are so many experiments going on on the ground now all over the country, everything from [Growing Power’s] Will Allen to what’s going on in Hardwick Vermont, and the Slow Money movement putting money into agriculture and the food system. There’s going to be models out there when we need them.

What do you think went wrong the first time around with the “Back to the Land” movement? and how can this generation get things right this time around?

Seeing young people in agriculture is so promising. However, I also know people who’ve hung in there who are in their 40s or 50s who have no retirement and no health insurance, and don’t know how long they can continue to farm. We’re only set up right now for those people to make a living in a situation where there are enough rich people to buy their food at a decent price. I know there are all kinds of groups working to make good food accessible to poor people, but the reality is that you can’t go into a supermarket for the most part and get anything good for someone in that situation to eat. And there is still a class divide, an economic divide between the foodie movement, if you like, and the reality of the world.

In 1980, they had just brought out a report at the USDA that studied organic foods. There was so much hope. There was an alternative energy center in the upper Midwest, and I remember getting a newsletter from them that was dated January 1980, and showed all of the things they were trying, and I wrote at the top, “The End.” Because it was clear that Reagan would just kill it all, and he did. He took the solar panels off the White House roof, he fired the one person at USDA focused on organic agriculture and he sent us back twenty years. And it was very hard at that point to keep the momentum going because there was no money in it. At least now there is money around the fringes. The thing that is different now is that it’s got publicity, it’s caught the eye of the press, which is of course dangerous too.

How so?

We’re such a faddish country. And of course you’ve noticed there is a real blow back. These attacks on “local” saying how naïve it is, how its better to import your lamb from New Zealand. And then you have the corporations gathering together to do a publicity campaign. The last one I saw was that the meat industry is getting together to push back against this notion that this way that we’re raising animals is not healthy.

Do you think this is the last gasp of industry, or do you think they have the ability to mobilize that other 80 percent against this growing movement?

[Laughs] Oh they have many more gasps left. I believe that is the reason that you have to keep hope alive, you have to keep moving along the way you believe in and keep telling the truth and trying to get the word out there. Because the reality is that the pressure is on the other side. There is a lot of money at stake, and they’re not giving up their livelihoods.

Continue reading this article at Civil Eats.

Joan Gussow’s Growing, Older is available now.

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