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Let the Revolution Begin….in Detroit?

Today I am off to Detroit to attend the U.S. Social Forum.  What’s that?  It is more or less a regional version of the World Social Forum.  Not very helpful, huh?  Try this (from Wikipedia):

The World Social Forum

The World Social Forum (WSF) is an annual meeting, based in Brazil, that defines itself as “an opened space – plural, diverse, non-governmental and non-partisan – that stimulates the decentralized debate, reflection, proposals building, experiences exchange and alliances among movements and organizations engaged in concrete actions towards a more solidary, democratic and fair world….a permanent space and process to build alternatives to neoliberalism”.[1]

It is held by members of the alter-globalization movement (also referred to as the global justice movement) who come together to coordinate world campaigns, share and refine organizing strategies, and inform each other about movements from around the world and their issues. It tends to meet in January at the same time as its “great capitalist rival”, the World Economic Forum’s meeting in Davos, Switzerland. This date is usually picked in hopes that having a meeting that promotes alternative answers to world economic problems opposite the World Economic Forum will help the WSF’s ideas get better coverage in the news media.

Seth Freed Wessler gives a nice summary of what it will look like (full article here):

as many as 20,000 of these progressives—lefties, radicals, liberals, agnostic independents and the rest—are expected to arrive in Detroit this week for the second U.S. Social Forum. It’s the domestic outgrowth of the the World Social Forum, which can be understood as Davos for those not convinced that markets alone can solve the globe’s problems.

The gathering will run all week and will consist of panels, workshops, marches, mixers and work on the ground in Detroit. It promises to pull people from across movements, generations and regions and will be about as multiracial as the country it’s about. It’s raison d’être: To “declare what we want our world to look like and … start planning the path to get there.”

More on the US Social Forum (from their website):
The purpose of the USSF is to effectively and affirmatively articulate the 
values and strategies of a growing and vibrant movement for justice in the United States. Those who build towards and participate in the USSF are no 
longer interested in simply stating what social justice movements
 “stand-against,” rather we see ourselves as part of new movements that reach
 beyond national borders, that practice democracy at all levels, and understand 
that neo-liberalism abroad and here in the US is not the solution. The USSF 
provides a first major step towards such articulation of what we stand for.

Why Detroit?

To win nationally, we must win in places like Detroit. The Midwest site of 
the USSF marks a fierce resistance movement for social, racial, gender, and
 economic justice. Detroit has the highest unemployment of any major city in the 
country—23.2% (March 2009)—with nearly one in four Detroiters unable to find
 work. Michigan has had the highest number of unemployed people in all 50 states
 for nearly four years. Thousands of living wage jobs have been permanently lost
 in the automotive industry and related sectors. Some think that it will take at 
least until 2025 for Michigan to recover from the economic collapse and social

What is happening in Detroit and in Michigan is happening all
 across the United States. Detroit is a harbinger for what we must do in our communities!
 As grassroots activists and organizers, we work to address the indignities 
against working families and low-income people, and protect our human right to 
the basic necessities of life. In Detroit, we can make change happen!

The US Social Forum provides this space—drawing participants from
 different regions, ethnicities, sectors and ages across the U.S. and its 
colonies. Community-based organizations, Indigenous nations, immigrants, 
independent workers organizations, unions, unemployed, youth, children, elders,
 queers, differently-abled, international allies, academics, and advocacy organizations will be able to come together in Detroit for dialogues, 
reflection and to define future strategies.

This is my first time attending a social forum gathering.  It brings togethers the leaders of movements from all around the world as people begin to organize to create a different world.  A world where peopole do not abdicate all reasoning to “market forces.”  A world beyond capitalism.  A world where people have equal rights, true political power….basically the world that we all dream about but the one that most of us gave up as fantasy upon reaching adulthood.  These are the people out there standing up to the corporations, fighting unfair economic and political systems, and fightring for environmental, economic, and political justice one community at a time.

I imagine that I won’t find to many Tea Party members at these sessions, unless they are there to protest against them.

My beret is packed; let the revolution begin!

Learn more about the US Social Forum Here

Here is the Program that will be explored during the 5 day event:  ( A detailed summary can be found here)

USSF 2010 – 14 Major Program Tracks


a. Poverty on the rise: Un- and Under-employed, Underpaid, and Underground
b. Privatization and Failures of Public Goods: Health Care, Education, Water, Electricity
c. Debt-based Economy: Foreclosures and Credit
d. What is a Solidarity Economy? Bringing together international and domestic economic strategies to create models based on solidarity, equity, and justice.
e. Fighting for New Economic Practices: Green Jobs, Living Wage, Fair Trade, Community Land Trusts, and Cooperative Solutions
f. 21st Century Socialism, the Commons Movement, and others

a. Building Power, Resiliency and Sustainability through Ecological, Social, Energy and Environmental Justice Movement
b. Transition from Oil and Fossil Fuel Economy towards Ecologically Clean, Renewable and Sustainable Alternative Energy.
c. Food security, Agriculture & Small Farms
d. Water Rights & Access
e. Waste and Toxics/ Corporate Polluting & Regulations
f. Exploitation of Natural Resources, Climate Change and Environmental & Community Destruction (disaster and loss of biological and cultural diversity)

a. Domestic and International Movements for the Rights of Indigenous People’s, Self-Determination, Treaty Rights and Sovereignty.
b. Struggles for land, forests, water, and economic, social and environmental justice.
c. Indigenous movement and leadership in social movements.

a. Gentrification and Housing
b. Displaced Peoples: Internal Domestic Displacement (i.e. as a result of crises liek Katrina), People without citizenship and Environmental Refugees
c. Detention, Deportation and Sanctuary
d. Forced Migration: Human Trafficking, Migrant Work, Sex Slavery
e. Domestic and International Movements for Reparations and Landless Peoples

a. Relationship between social movements and electoral politics
b. Rebuilding Society: current experiments and future alternatives
c. Federal and state takeover of local governance
d. Radical Democracy

a. Exposing Right wing strategies, diverse interests, and structure; use of Left tactics and racist responses
b. Dividing communities with a Moral Agenda: Against LGBT rights, Reproductive Rights and Gender Justice
c. Attacks on the Left domestically and internationally
d. Right-wing on the rise internationally: electing fascist leaders and parties
e. President Obama: What it means & what it doesn’t; what does Center forces mean for social movements

a. Building Alliances and Leadership in all generations, culture, race, genders and other differences
b. Confronting & Undoing Systemic Oppression: Racism, White Supremacy, Patriarchy, Class Oppression, Heterosexism, Ableism and other systems
c. Building alliances across locations and political borders (local, national, rural, urban, nations, Indigenous Nations)
d. Creating healthier relationships between people, inside organizations and in movements

a. Non violent Direct Action
b. Grassroots organizing
c. Electoral organizing
d. Left/revolutionary organization building
e. Education Organizing, Popular Education and Consciousness Raising
f. Using Human Rights framework
g. Self determination struggles
h. Faith based organizing
i. Advocacy, Legal Strategies, Policy

a. U.S. Workforce: Job Elimination, Cutbacks and Layoffs
b. State of Organized Labor Movement
c. Independent Worker’s Movements, Centers & Radical Labor Organizing
d. Building A Movement for All Workers: Alliance Building amongst Organized Labor, Workers Excluded from Labor Protections, Unorganized Labor, Immigrant Workers, Undocumented Workers, and others.

a. Culture as resistance and resilience
b. Art Activism and Cultural Events
c. Generating our own media, sharing our stories, popularizing our messages
d. Corporate Media and Media Consolidation
e. Communications and organizing

a. Liberatory approaches to ending violence
b. Converging personal and political transformation in social movements
c. Creating effective organizing models based in transformative values
d. Prison and abolition: alternatives to prison, transformation of communities most impacted by prison industry, and building political power of ex-offenders
e. Spirituality and healing for renewal and resistance

a. Prisons, policing and military recruitment of poor communities & young people
b. Homeland security: detention, rollback of civil rights, and repression of social movements
c. War and Occupation and US Intervention
d. Mobilizing Fear to Justify Endless War & Intervention: Islamophobia, sanctions, red-baiting, moral values
e. Building a strong anti-war movement

a. From Detroit to Dakar, 2011 – Building Solidarity and Movement Nationally and Internationally
b. Palestine: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions
c. Building Alternative Poles of Power (for example, Latin America bloc or other alliances in countries & continents)
d. Global Justice versus Free Trade
e. Challenging US roles in international bodies (i.e. United Nations, NATO, WTO, G20 and others)

a. Race and Class Oppression in Detroit
b. Technology and the Decline of the Manufacturing Industry
c. Community and Labor responses: labor organizing, converting condemned manufacturing facilities
d. Revitalization of Detroit and other communities
e. Take Action: work brigades, solidarity projects

Food for Thought

It was an amazing day at the Slow Money National Gathering today here in Burlington, VT.  This movement is about creating an alternative to our unsustainable industrial food system.  The presenters were humble, good-natured, and stunningly intelligent and pragmatic.  I challenge anyone to not be inspired by the stories of their efforts to create healthy food in a way that is both profitable and ecologically sound.  Their efforts to figure out how to allow people like you and me to invest in our local communities and support our local farmers and artisans.  Or current legal system actually makes it very hard to do this.  Despite all the odds people are making it happen.  It is real.  An odd mix of financial gurus, social entrepreneurs, and farmers are working together to create this new future.  What’s all the fuss about?  Well, here is a great article that was in Time Magazine about our current food system and its trappings. 
Friday, Aug. 21, 2009

Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food

Correction Appended: Aug. 20, 2009
Somewhere in Iowa, a pig is being raised in a confined pen, packed in so tightly with other swine that their curly tails have been chopped off so they won’t bite one another. To prevent him from getting sick in such close quarters, he is dosed with antibiotics. The waste produced by the pig and his thousands of pen mates on the factory farm where they live goes into manure lagoons that blanket neighboring communities with air pollution and a stomach-churning stench. He’s fed on American corn that was grown with the help of government subsidies and millions of tons of chemical fertilizer. When the pig is slaughtered, at about 5 months of age, he’ll become sausage or bacon that will sell cheap, feeding an American addiction to meat that has contributed to an obesity epidemic currently afflicting more than two-thirds of the population. And when the rains come, the excess fertilizer that coaxed so much corn from the ground will be washed into the Mississippi River and down into the Gulf of Mexico, where it will help kill fish for miles and miles around. That’s the state of your bacon — circa 2009. (See TIME’s photo-essay “From Farm to Fork.”)
Horror stories about the food industry have long been with us — ever since 1906, when Upton Sinclair’s landmark novel The Jungle told some ugly truths about how America produces its meat. In the century that followed, things got much better, and in some ways much worse. The U.S. agricultural industry can now produce unlimited quantities of meat and grains at remarkably cheap prices. But it does so at a high cost to the environment, animals and humans. Those hidden prices are the creeping erosion of our fertile farmland, cages for egg-laying chickens so packed that the birds can’t even raise their wings and the scary rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria among farm animals. Add to the price tag the acceleration of global warming — our energy-intensive food system uses 19% of U.S. fossil fuels, more than any other sector of the economy.
And perhaps worst of all, our food is increasingly bad for us, even dangerous. A series of recalls involving contaminated foods this year — including an outbreak of salmonella from tainted peanuts that killed at least eight people and sickened 600 — has consumers rightly worried about the safety of their meals. A food system — from seed to 7‑Eleven — that generates cheap, filling food at the literal expense of healthier produce is also a principal cause of America’s obesity epidemic. At a time when the nation is close to a civil war over health-care reform, obesity adds $147 billion a year to our doctor bills. “The way we farm now is destructive of the soil, the environment and us,” says Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist with the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). (See pictures of what the world eats.)
Some Americans are heeding such warnings and working to transform the way the country eats — ranchers and farmers who are raising sustainable food in ways that don’t bankrupt the earth. Documentaries like the scathing Food Inc. and the work of investigative journalists like Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan are reprising Sinclair’s work, awakening a sleeping public to the uncomfortable realities of how we eat. Change is also coming from the very top. First Lady Michelle Obama’s White House garden has so far yielded more than 225 lb. of organic produce — and tons of powerful symbolism. But hers is still a losing battle. Despite increasing public awareness, sustainable agriculture, while the fastest-growing sector of the food industry, remains a tiny enterprise: according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), less than 1% of American cropland is farmed organically. Sustainable food is also pricier than conventional food and harder to find. And while large companies like General Mills have opened organic divisions, purists worry that the very definition of sustainability will be co-opted as a result. (See pictures of urban farming around the world.)
But we don’t have the luxury of philosophizing about food. With the exhaustion of the soil, the impact of global warming and the inevitably rising price of oil — which will affect everything from fertilizer to supermarket electricity bills — our industrial style of food production will end sooner or later. As the developing world grows richer, hundreds of millions of people will want to shift to the same calorie-heavy, protein-rich diet that has made Americans so unhealthy — demand for meat and poultry worldwide is set to rise 25% by 2015 — but the earth can no longer deliver. Unless Americans radically rethink the way they grow and consume food, they face a future of eroded farmland, hollowed-out countryside, scarier germs, higher health costs — and bland taste. Sustainable food has an élitist reputation, but each of us depends on the soil, animals and plants — and as every farmer knows, if you don’t take care of your land, it can’t take care of you.
See 10 things to buy during the recession.
See the top 10 food trends of 2008.
The Downside of Cheap
For all the grumbling you do about your weekly grocery bill, the fact is you’ve never had it so good, at least in terms of what you pay for every calorie you eat. According to the USDA, Americans spend less than 10% of their incomes on food, down from 18% in 1966. Those savings begin with the remarkable success of one crop: corn. Corn is king on the American farm, with production passing 12 billion bu. annually, up from 4 billion bu. as recently as 1970. When we eat a cheeseburger, a Chicken McNugget, or drink soda, we’re eating the corn that grows on vast, monocrop fields in Midwestern states like Iowa.
But cheap food is not free food, and corn comes with hidden costs. The crop is heavily fertilized — both with chemicals like nitrogen and with subsidies from Washington. Over the past decade, the Federal Government has poured more than $50 billion into the corn industry, keeping prices for the crop — at least until corn ethanol skewed the market — artificially low. That’s why McDonald’s can sell you a Big Mac, fries and a Coke for around $5 — a bargain, given that the meal contains nearly 1,200 calories, more than half the daily recommended requirement for adults. “Taxpayer subsidies basically underwrite cheap grain, and that’s what the factory-farming system for meat is entirely dependent on,” says Gurian-Sherman. (See the 10 worst fast food meals.)
So what’s wrong with cheap food and cheap meat — especially in a world in which more than 1 billion people go hungry? A lot. For one thing, not all food is equally inexpensive; fruits and vegetables don’t receive the same price supports as grains. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a dollar could buy 1,200 calories of potato chips or 875 calories of soda but just 250 calories of vegetables or 170 calories of fresh fruit. With the backing of the government, farmers are producing more calories — some 500 more per person per day since the 1970s — but too many are unhealthy calories. Given that, it’s no surprise we’re so fat; it simply costs too much to be thin.
Our expanding girth is just one consequence of mainstream farming. Another is chemicals. No one doubts the power of chemical fertilizer to pull more crop from a field. American farmers now produce an astounding 153 bu. of corn per acre, up from 118 as recently as 1990. But the quantity of that fertilizer is flat-out scary: more than 10 million tons for corn alone — and nearly 23 million for all crops. When runoff from the fields of the Midwest reaches the Gulf of Mexico, it contributes to what’s known as a dead zone, a seasonal, approximately 6,000-sq.-mi. area that has almost no oxygen and therefore almost no sea life. Because of the dead zone, the $2.8 billion Gulf of Mexico fishing industry loses 212,000 metric tons of seafood a year, and around the world, there are nearly 400 similar dead zones. Even as we produce more high-fat, high-calorie foods, we destroy one of our leanest and healthiest sources of protein. (See nine kid foods to avoid.)
The food industry’s degradation of animal life, of course, isn’t limited to fish. Though we might still like to imagine our food being raised by Old MacDonald, chances are your burger or your sausage came from what are called concentrated-animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which are every bit as industrial as they sound. In CAFOs, large numbers of animals — 1,000 or more in the case of cattle and tens of thousands for chicken and pigs — are kept in close, concentrated conditions and fattened up for slaughter as fast as possible, contributing to efficiencies of scale and thus lower prices. But animals aren’t widgets with legs. They’re living creatures, and there are consequences to packing them in prison-like conditions. For instance: Where does all that manure go?
Pound for pound, a pig produces approximately four times the amount of waste a human does, and what factory farms do with that mess gets comparatively little oversight. Most hog waste is disposed of in open-air lagoons, which can overflow in heavy rain and contaminate nearby streams and rivers. “This creek that we used to wade in, that creek that our parents could drink out of, our kids can’t even play in anymore,” says Jayne Clampitt, a farmer in Independence, Iowa, who lives near a number of hog farms.
To stay alive and grow in such conditions, farm animals need pharmaceutical help, which can have further damaging consequences for humans. Overuse of antibiotics on farm animals leads, inevitably, to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and the same bugs that infect animals can infect us too. The UCS estimates that about 70% of antimicrobial drugs used in America are given not to people but to animals, which means we’re breeding more of those deadly organisms every day. The Institute of Medicine estimated in 1998 that antibiotic resistance cost the public-health system $4 billion to $5 billion a year — a figure that’s almost certainly higher now. “I don’t think CAFOs would be able to function as they do now without the widespread use of antibiotics,” says Robert Martin, who was the executive director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production.
See more pictures of what the world eats.
See photos from a grocery store auction.
The livestock industry argues that estimates of antibiotics in food production are significantly overblown. Resistance “is the result of human use and not related to veterinary use,” according to Kristina Butts, the manager of legislative affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. But with wonder drugs losing their effectiveness, it makes sense to preserve them for as long as we can, and that means limiting them to human use as much as possible. “These antibiotics are not given to sick animals,” says Representative Louise Slaughter, who is sponsoring a bill to limit antibiotic use on farms. “It’s a preventive measure because they are kept in pretty unspeakable conditions.”
Such a measure would get at a symptom of the problem but not at the source. Just as the burning of fossil fuels that is causing global warming requires more than a tweaking of mileage standards, the manifold problems of our food system require a comprehensive solution. “There should be a recognition that what we are doing is unsustainable,” says Martin. And yet, still we must eat. So what can we do? (See pictures of an apartment outfitted for goat-milking.)
Getting It Right
If a factory farm is hell for an animal, then Bill Niman’s seaside ranch in Bolinas, Calif., an hour north of San Francisco, must be heaven. The property’s cliffside view over the Pacific Ocean is worth millions, but the black Angus cattle that Niman and his wife Nicolette Hahn Niman raise keep their eyes on the ground, chewing contentedly on the pasture. Grass — and a trail of hay that Niman spreads from his truck periodically — is all the animals will eat during the nearly three years they’ll spend on the ranch. That all-natural, noncorn diet — along with the intensive, individual care that the Nimans provide their animals — produces beef that many connoisseurs consider to be among the best in the world. But for Niman, there is more at stake than just a good steak. He believes that his way of raising farm animals — in the open air, with no chemicals or drugs and with maximum care — is the only truly sustainable method and could be a model for a better food system. “What we need in this country is a completely different way of raising animals for food,” says Hahn Niman, a former attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice. “This needs to be done in the right way.”
The Nimans like to call what they do “beyond organic,” and there are some signs that consumers are beginning to catch up. This November, California voters approved a ballot proposition that guarantees farm animals enough space to lie down, stand up and turn around. Worldwide, organic food — a sometimes slippery term but on the whole a practice more sustainable than conventional food — is worth more than $46 billion. That’s still a small slice of the overall food pie, but it’s growing, even in a global recession. “There is more pent-up demand for organic than there is production,” says Bill Wolf, a co-founder of the organic-food consultancy Wolf DiMatteo and Associates. (Watch TIME’s video “The New Frugality: The Organic Gardener.”)
So what will it take for sustainable food production to spread? It’s clear that scaling up must begin with a sort of scaling down — a distributed system of many local or regional food producers as opposed to just a few massive ones. Since 1935, consolidation and industrialization have seen the number of U.S. farms decline from 6.8 million to fewer than 2 million — with the average farmer now feeding 129 Americans, compared with 19 people in 1940.
It’s that very efficiency that’s led to the problems and is in turn spurring a backlash, reflected not just in the growth of farmers’ markets or the growing involvement of big corporations in organics but also in the local-food movement, in which restaurants and large catering services buy from suppliers in their areas, thereby improving freshness, supporting small-scale agriculture and reducing the so-called food miles between field and plate. That in turn slashes transportation costs and reduces the industry’s carbon footprint.
A transition to more sustainable, smaller-scale production methods could even be possible without a loss in overall yield, as one survey from the University of Michigan suggested, but it would require far more farmworkers than we have today. With unemployment approaching double digits — and things especially grim in impoverished rural areas that have seen populations collapse over the past several decades — that’s hardly a bad thing. Work in a CAFO is monotonous and soul-killing, while too many ordinary farmers struggle to make ends meet even as the rest of us pay less for food. Farmers aren’t the enemy — and they deserve real help. We’ve transformed the essential human profession — growing food — into an industry like any other. “We’re hurting for job creation, and industrial food has pushed people off the farm,” says Hahn Niman. “We need to make farming real employment, because if you do it right, it’s enjoyable work.”
See pictures of the global food crisis.
See pictures of the world’s most polluted places.
One model for how the new paradigm could work is Niman Ranch, a larger operation that Bill Niman founded in the 1990s, before he left in 2007. (By his own admission, he’s a better farmer than he is a businessman.) The company has knitted together hundreds of small-scale farmers into a network that sells all-natural pork, beef and lamb to retailers and restaurants. In doing so, it leverages economies of scale while letting the farmers take proper care of their land and animals. “We like to think of ourselves as a force for a local-farming community, not as a large corporation,” says Jeff Swain, Niman Ranch’s CEO.
Other examples include the Mexican-fast-food chain Chipotle, which now sources its pork from Niman Ranch and gets its other meats and much of its beans from natural and organic sources. It’s part of a commitment that Chipotle founder Steve Ells made years ago, not just because sustainable ingredients were better for the planet but because they tasted better too — a philosophy he calls Food with Integrity. It’s not cheap for Chipotle — food makes up more than 32% of its costs, the highest in the fast-food industry. But to Ells, the taste more than compensates, and Chipotle’s higher prices haven’t stopped the company’s rapid growth, from 16 stores in 1998 to over 900 today. “We put a lot of energy into finding farmers who are committed to raising better food,” says Ells. (See pictures of the effects of global warming.)
Bon Appétit Management Company, a caterer based in Palo Alto, Calif., takes that commitment even further. The company sources as much of its produce as possible from within 150 miles of its kitchens and gets its meat from farmers who eschew antibiotics. Bon Appétit also tries to influence its customers’ habits by nudging them toward greener choices. That includes campaigns to reduce food waste, in part by encouraging servers at its kitchens to offer smaller, more manageable portions. (The USDA estimates that Americans throw out 14% of the food we buy, which means that much of our record-breaking harvests ends up in the garbage.) And Bon Appétit supports a low-carbon diet, one that uses less meat and dairy, since both have a greater carbon footprint than fruit, vegetables and grain. The success of the overall operation demonstrates that sustainable food can work at an institutional scale bigger than an élite restaurant, a small market or a gourmet’s kitchen — provided customers support it. “Ultimately it’s going to be consumer demand that will cause change, not Washington,” says Fedele Bauccio, Bon Appétit’s co-founder. (See pictures of two farms in Nebraska.)
How willing are consumers to rethink the way they shop for — and eat — food? For most people, price will remain the biggest obstacle. Organic food continues to cost on average several times more than its conventional counterparts, and no one goes to farmers’ markets for bargains. But not all costs can be measured by a price tag. Once you factor in crop subsidies, ecological damage and what we pay in health-care bills after our fatty, sugary diet makes us sick, conventionally produced food looks a lot pricier.
What we really need to do is something Americans have never done well, and that’s to quit thinking big. We already eat four times as much meat and dairy as the rest of the world, and there’s not a nutritionist on the planet who would argue that 24‑oz. steaks and mounds of buttery mashed potatoes are what any person needs to stay alive. “The idea is that healthy and good-tasting food should be available to everyone,” says Hahn Niman. “The food system should be geared toward that.”
Whether that happens will ultimately come down to all of us, since we have the chance to choose better food three times a day (or more often, if we’re particularly hungry). It’s true that most of us would prefer not to think too much about where our food comes from or what it’s doing to the planet — after all, as Chipotle’s Ells points out, eating is not exactly a “heady intellectual event.” But if there’s one difference between industrial agriculture and the emerging alternative, it’s that very thing: consciousness. Niman takes care with each of his cattle, just as an organic farmer takes care of his produce and smart shoppers take care with what they put in their shopping cart and on the family dinner table. The industrial food system fills us up but leaves us empty — it’s based on selective forgetting. But what we eat — how it’s raised and how it gets to us — has consequences that can’t be ignored any longer.
With reporting by Rebecca Kaplan / New York
The original version of this article mistakenly referred to the Bon Appétit Management Company as the Bon Appétit Food Management Company
See the top 10 green ideas of 2008.
See TIME’s Pictures of the Week.
The Tale of Two Cattle
How did your hamburger get to your plate — and what did it eat along the way? The journey of beef illustrates the great American food chain
ORGANIC (1% of all cattle)
This is the way all beef used to be raised — and how some people still imagine it is. Bill Niman tends a small herd with one of the lightest hands in the business and produces what Bay Area chefs swear is unparalleled beef
Diet: Grass
Niman’s cows eat only grass, along with a smattering of hay. That’s the normal diet for cattle. Their rumen, a digestive organ, can break down grasses we’d find inedible
Supplements: None
Niman gives no supplements whatsoever to his cattle — no drugs, no hormones, no additives. That’s not ironclad for organic beef — some companies might use antimicrobials — but generally the animals are supplement-free
Environmental Impact: Living with the Land
To prevent his ranch from becoming overgrazed, Niman shifts his cattle around the land, ensuring that the grass has time to recover between feedings. The result is a surprisingly low-impact hamburger, since grass doesn’t need chemical fertilizer to grow and its presence helps prevent soil erosion. There’s no need to clean up manure — with Niman’s low cattle density, the waste just fertilizes the land
Human Impact: The Omega Effect
Beef has a bad rep among nutritionists, but that might be partly unfair for grass-fed steaks. According to research from the University of California, grass-fed beef is higher in beta-carotene, vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids than conventional beef
CONVENTIONAL (99% of all cattle)
The vast majority of all American cattle start off on open ranges, but that’s where the similarity to their organic cousins ends. They’re shifted after a few months to the tight quarters of an industrial feedlot, to be fattened up as fast as possible
Diet: Grass and corn
Conventional cattle feed off grass pasture for the first several months, but at the feedlot, they’re switched to a heavily corn-based diet, which makes them gain weight faster but also makes them get sick more easily
Supplements: Chemicals
In part to help them survive the crowded conditions of feedlots, where infections can spread fast, conventional cattle are given antibiotics in their feed, and sometimes growth hormones, bloods and fats
Environmental Impact: Waste
A 1,000-head feedlot produces up to 280 tons of manure a week, and the smell can be powerful. All that feed corn requires millions of tons of fertilizer and, ultimately, a lot of petroleum
Human Impact: Fat Attack
Feeding corn to cattle for the last several months of their lives doesn’t just get them fatter faster; it also changes the quality of the beef. Corn helps produce that marbled taste many of us love, but it can result in beef that is higher in fat — helping to fuel the obesity epidemic

Slow Money….

* What would the world be like if we invested 50% of our assets within 50 miles of where we 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 our soil 50 years from now?

Yeah, I don’t know either.  But I hope to have a better sense of the answers to these questions by the end of the week.  I just took a 12.5 hour train ride to Burlington, VT to attend a “Slow Money” conference on Thursday and Friday.  (I figured the train was better for the planet than driving, plus I could use all that time productively)

What is the Slow Money movement all about?  From their website:
About Slow Money
BusinessWeek calls Slow Money “one of the big  ideas of 2010.” NPR calls us “a movement.” ACRES USA calls us “a revolution.”

Founded by Woody Tasch, a pioneer in merging investing and philanthropy, Slow Money’s mission is to build local and national networks, and develop new financial products and services, dedicated to:

  • investing in small food enterprises and local food systems;
  • connecting investors to their local economies; and,
  • building the nurture capital industry.

Soil fertility, carrying capacity, sense of place, care of the commons, cultural, ecological and economic health and diversity, nonviolence — these are the fundamentals of nurture capital, a new financial sector supporting the emergence of a restorative economy. And these are the fundamentals of the Slow Money Principles.

Slow Money’s goal is: a million Americans investing 1% of their assets in local food systems within a decade.

Because the first step is a fundamentally new way of thinking about money, our first step is a campaign to obtain signatories to the Slow Money Principles. Our next step is growing the Slow Money Alliance into a major national network that provides strategic and financial assistance to local initiatives around the country. The Founding Members of the Slow Money Alliance includes many recognized leaders in organic food, sustainable agriculture, philanthropy and social investing.
I am excited because they have a great list of speakers.  One of them I have met in person, a few were highlighted in Food Inc (if you have not seen this film, go rent it NOW), and/or a few have inspired me with their writing or speaking. 

Learn more about Slow Money here.  And the program for the gathering can be found here.

Confirmed Speakers

Alisa Gravitz, Executive Director, Green America
Eliot Coleman, Founder, Four Season Farm and Author of The New Organic Grower
Joel Salatin, Owner, Polyface Farm
Bill McKibben, Founder, and Author of Deep Economy
Gary Hirshberg, CEO, Stonyfield Farm
Will Raap, Founder, Gardener’s Supply
Erika Allen, Chicago Project Manager, Growing Power
Robert Zevin, President, Robert Brooke Zevin Associates
Tom Stearns, Founder, High Mowing Seeds
Michelle Long, Executive Director, BALLE
Chris Martenson, Founder, The Crash Course
Woody Tasch, Founder, Slow Money

Good Deed for the Day: Fight Coal

People often ask me what they can do to create a sustainable society.  It all seems so overwhelming at times.  The issues and forces are so large what can I do as a single person?  Some days I feel that way too, but remember these wise words:

“Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can
change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead

Each week look for a new way to change your life to make the world a bit more sustainable.  Find a way to use a bit less energy.  Buy a bit less stuff.  Talk to a friend and help spread the word about what we can do.  Pick up the phone and call your senator.  Sign a petition.

With email and the internet it is easier than ever to stay connected and learn about issues and spread the word.  I have signed up with a range non-profit organizations that are fighting to make the world a better place.  Many of these organizations send out action alerts on important issues.  They often provide an easy way to send a letter to your elected official or sign a petition that will be used to persuade decision makers.

One of my favorites is Green America.  In their own words:

What Makes Green America Unique
  • We focus on economic strategies—economic action to solve social and environmental problems.
  • We mobilize people in their economic roles—as consumers, investors, workers, business leaders.
  • We empower people to take personal and collective action
  • We work on issues of social justice and environmental responsibility.  We see these issues as completely linked in the quest for a sustainable world.  It’s what we mean when we say “green.”
  • We work to stop abusive practices and to create healthy, just and sustainable practice

Their current action is on sending letters to the shareholders of Southern Company — the company that owns the largest, single most-polluting coal plant in the country.  Please follow this link to send a letter voicing your concern.  Shifting away from the burning of coal should be a national priority as the pollution from this dirty energy source kills thousands every year and the carbon dioxide produced from the combustion of coal is the driving force of global warming.

They make it super easy to allow your voice to be heard.  They write the letter for you, though you can personalize the text if you like, and with a few clicks off it goes.  Being an activist has never been easier!
Here a  few screen shots to give you an idea of what it all looks like:

Find groups that you believe in and let them help you stay informed on key issues.  Use them to expand your impact by letting our elected officials and business hear what we expect from them.  You don’t have to make a contribution to join their action alert lists.  (Of course if you believe in the work they do, by all means make a donation — that is how they survive)

At least once a week, commit to signing a petition.  Sending a letter.  Making at least one phone call.  Ask 5 of your friends to do the same.  Before you know it, we’ve got a movement going here….

“Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can
change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead

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