Archive for Spirituality

Inserting the culture back into agriculture

To complement yesterday’s post on creating a solidarity economy and corresponding responsible consumer culture here in Recife, I really enjoyed the reflections from fellow Fulbrighter Gustavo on his blog, Dinner-Bell.

It’s amazing and in some ways puzzling to me to watch how food markets are developing in the U.S. It seems like more and more energy is being put into reconstructing the diversity, quality, and geography of traditional food systems and that there is more and more interest in consuming local produce and learning (or relearning) to consume in post-industrial (pre-industrial?) ways… I’ve often thought that, in addition to ecological ways of producing food–i.e. farming methods that mimic ecological processes so that food production is environmentally sound and sustainable–there are also ecological ways of consuming food that mirror or parallel the process of growing food. After all, food is made up of living things, which are limited by their nature and their relationship to the seasons, the soil, the weather, and their relationship to other living things. I think one of the reasons that I love cooking and that am so fascinated by the world’s different cuisines is because of all of the almost ecological knowledge encoded into traditional cooking.

As I become more familar with agroecological farming systems in this part of Brazil, ie those that take into account natural, diverse ecological growing systems along with the people that sustain them (that’s a shoddy, quick definition), I too have been thinking about the way that farmers are re-capturning ‘pre-industrial’ knowledge of farming systems, the farming systems of their ancestors, and correspondingly developing their own local sales outlets via farmers markets and direct farm-to-consumer sales, in a new iteration of traditional trade systems.  It’s like they’re forming ‘novo-traditional’ market outlets- that’s not an academic term, but my own way of trying to coin what I am seeing.  It’s particularly fascinating in an era of rapid supply chain consolidation, where large chains own just about everything (supermarkets, sales outlets, transportation mechanisms, and sometimes even the farms themselves.  Chiquita is a prime example.)  Gustavo captures this:

From Monsanto’s patenting of plant genetic material and the legal system’s support for the privatization of life to Walmart’s tremendous share in the supermarket industry, private companies have never had so much power to impose their values and profit motive on the way we eat and the way we produce our food. This has led to an illusion of diversity and a reality of stark agricultural and gastronomic monotony.

The northeastern region of Brazil could be poised to defy these global market trends… given the proximity to the land, social technologies which make an adequate water supply avaliable all year round, farmer-led seed diversity banks, close relationships (sometimes even family ties) between farmer and consumers in small and medium sized cities.  And, as Gustavo mentions in his blog, “knowledge and this infrastructure exists (however precariously) in developing countries…” Challenges are of course financing, access to knowledge & technology, will power, climate change & effects on soil, water, production cycles.  But despite the challenges, farmers in Afogados and Umarizal seem committed to trying it out, to making agroecology and direct local sales a viable way to support their families’ livelihoods.

Jumping from concepts of ecology/agroecology to a larger vision of our earth as a living, breathing system… just yesterday a German friend living in Brazil passed along a link to the work of Joanna Macy.  Macy is a self-described eco-philosopher living in northern California, who has pioneered “The Work that Reconnects.” On the homepage of Macy’s sight, she says that The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on Earth is not that we are on the way to destroying the world—we’ve actually been on the way for quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other.

So I guess this is my moment to share with you the continuation of thoughts that have been running through different currents of my life. Food, nature, farming, spirituality, my roots: Grandma Gussie’s dill pickles and Jewish food heritage and Grandpa Joe’s young life on a Gernam farm, exploring yoga, learning to breath.  With the hectic and endless life of an organizer over the past 5 years I had no time to really stop.  To think & reflect on what this all means.  How trade, poverty, the earth, and our relationships to one another are really interconnected, my role within it, where I am most ‘strategically’ placed to support the ‘great awakening’ and work towards some semblance of sanity in this world.  I’m still not sure.

For your own exploration.  Joanna Macy’s site //  Gustavo’s food and food politics blog // More on agroecology here and here.

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twenty-seven years, one resolution

I only do this until I get dizzy & then I lay down on my back & watch the clouds, she said. It sounds simple but you won’t believe how many people forget the second part. http://www.storypeople.com

Moonwalking. Paraíba, Brazil. June 2008.

 

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Seeing the Light- Q and A with Robert Thurman

One of my favorite reads is Deborah Soloman’s weekly interview in the NY Times Magazine. Her questions evoke brilliant, hilarious, and oftentimes annoyed responses on behalf of the interviewees; given my deepening ventures yoga & meditation, I found this weeks’ to be particularly delightful.

What do you think about when you meditate? Usually, some form of trying to excavate any kind of negative thing cycling in the mind and turn it toward the positive. For example, when I am annoyed with Dick Cheney, I meditate on how Dick Cheney was my mother in a previous life and nursed me at his breast.

The New York Times


June 29, 2008
Questions for Robert Thurman

Seeing the Light

As a professor of Buddhist studies at Columbia University and the first American to be ordained as a Tibetan monk, you don’t need to be reminded that the people of Tibet want to reclaim their country from China. Why won’t the Chinese give it back? The Chinese have been brainwashing their people into thinking that Tibet is an inalienable part of their territory. No Chinese people lived in Tibet before 1950. Zero. It’s absurd they claim that they were there.

We should point out that you’re a friend of the Dalai Lama and your new book is called “Why the Dalai Lama Matters.” Does he ever visit you at your apartment in Manhattan? He used to come to my house in the old days, but nowadays the State Department is all over him, so he stays in a high-security hotel. I get a handshake and a hug in the hall.

Why do you think President Hu of China keeps denouncing the Dalai Lama and has not met with him? Fear. The only reason I see is fear.

Do they actually need to meet? Can’t they just talk on the phone? They haven’t given the Dalai Lama the number. The Dalai Lama would definitely call.

What do you say to Tibetan dissidents who feel that the Dalai Lama needs to be more aggressive with Beijing? I think he’s been a bit too appeasement-oriented myself.

Yet, like him, you recommend autonomy for Tibet as opposed to complete independence, which would leave the country within Chinese borders. The Tibetans have been oppressed for almost 60 years. It’s not practical to demand independence at this time.

In a recent article Slavoj Zizek argued that the Tibetans are not necessarily a spiritual people — that we’ve created that myth out of a need to imagine an alternative to our crazy Western consumerism. Zizek is simply misinformed. It’s leftist propaganda meant to legitimize China’s aggression in Tibet.

As a Buddhist, how do you reconcile your pacifism with the roles your daughter Uma has played in films like Quentin Tarantino’s bloody “Kill Bill”? Quentin is kind of obsessed, he’s a wild guy. But he is very brilliant. We trust that his motive is to show people the foolishness of violence rather than to glorify it. I hope that’s true.

You initially discovered Buddhism after leaving your first wife, Christophe de Menil, of the art-collecting clan, and running off to India. Actually, she divorced me. She didn’t want to go with me to India to seek enlightenment.

Has Buddhism become more accepted in America since the early ’60s, when you first embraced it? People still think the Buddha was some weirdo who said, “Life is suffering.”

What do you think about when you meditate? Usually, some form of trying to excavate any kind of negative thing cycling in the mind and turn it toward the positive. For example, when I am annoyed with Dick Cheney, I meditate on how Dick Cheney was my mother in a previous life and nursed me at his breast.

You mean you fantasize about being breast-fed by Dick Cheney? It’s a fantasy of releasing fear and developing affection. It’s a way of coming back to feeling grateful toward him and seeing his positive side, finding the mother in Dick Cheney.

What would Freud say about that? Freud would freak out. He would say, “Well, you are seeking the oceanic feeling of the baby in the womb.” Infantile regression — that’s what he thought the quest for enlightenment was.

When I want to feel compassion for an unlikable person, I imagine him as someone’s adored son. Some lamas do that. They say that that’s easier for Americans, because often Americans have personality problems with their moms.

Do you consider yourself enlightened? Someone who goes around saying, “I’m enlightened,” is almost categorically not.

INTERVIEW CONDUCTED, CONDENSED AND EDITED BY DEBORAH SOLOMON

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