Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Beyond Our Differences

Tonight, I found myself at a film screening hosted by the Minnesota International Center called "Beyond Our Differences" - a movie about the connective value of global spirtuality. Last winter, I joined MIC and got these free passes to any event (that allowed them) and I've been sitting on them all year. Being cheap, and not wanting to let a good educational opportunity go to waste, I made plans to go.

Admittedly, global spirtuality isn't really my thing. I'm not interested in prosteletyzing and I don't go to church all that much. I invited my friend Megan, who is a pastor in her grown up life, but she had to bail on me due to pastoral duties. Still, in the interest of self-improvement and stepping out, I went.

I was pleasantly surprised - the movie was uplifting, even beautiful. My favorite part was when it listed the golden rule, as spelled out in each of texts of the major religions:

"Do Unto Others as you would have them do unto you" - Christianity
"Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill" - Buddism
"Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself" - Baha'i
"Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself." -Confucianism
"Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you." - Islam
"That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow." - Judaism

I felt validated that it had its roots across so many other faiths. It underscored my own belief that this indeed is the most important way to live your life and the most important sentiment to take away from organized religion. The director interviewed many religious leaders - and highlighted individuals (both well known and not) who were putting their faith into action, and creating new standards for compassion and understanding.

I actually stayed for the dialogue afterwards, and it was super interesting - mostly due to the self-effacing director, Peter Bisanz, at the podium. As soon as the movie closed, a tiny woman in the back row asked: "Why didn't you focus more on the genocides of the world, perpetrated by hate and religious intolerance?"

His answer (to paraphrase): I'm not in the practice of focusing on fear. Others do that too well. I'm in this line of business to create hope and look for connections, not divisions.

(I had to leave before I fell in love with this guy.)

Anyway, it was a super interesting way to spend an evening. Please, go see the movie. It might still be airing on PBS.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Eat Your Greens, Leave the Politics

I've finally picked up Michael Pollan's "The Omivore's Dilemma". I'm barely 100 pages in, and I already feel my interest waning. I might be remiss in writing before actually finishing it, but since that's highly unlikely, I'm going to use my only platform to complain about why I'm probably not going to finish it.

The main reason is, while I find food politics interesting, I also find it hard not to get defensive. I understand that it's important to read things you don't necessarily agree with (or assume you won't agree with, seeing as you can't pick up the book for longer than five minutes). But, I have a major obstacle to overcome.

I and many of my friends in the upper midwest grew up on farms, or near farms, in small (getting smaller) towns. All in all, about 2% of the US population is directly involved in agricultural practice (3% if you include indirectly involved individuals such as farm credit bureaus, implement dealers, crop insurance salespeople, etc). And if you think most of these farms are in the hands of evil land-grabbing consolidated "corporate farms" - check out this interesting factsheet from the EPA. 90% are owned an operated by individuals or families.

So, understandably, I get a little irritated when the public eye is turned to agriculture because roughly 98% of the US population has any idea what US agriculture is like. They don't know what it takes to run a farm, live in a deeply rural area and try to make a living while the rest of them live in glass houses and throw stones. Forgive me if it feels a little....off. (Of course, if we were all limited to commenting only on things we knew about, politics and the blogosphere would die off rather quickly......)

Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), the summer documentary "Food, Inc" and even last weeks' Time magazine (cover article: The Real Cost of Cheap Food) have all focused public debate recently on environmental negatives of the current agricultural structure (although, to it's credit, Time magazine gave a small nod to farmer's, saying that they're smart enough not to crap all over the land that gives them livelihood. Um, thanks?)

What Michael Pollan, et al have done for us is to put more emphasis on what we put in our bodies. Everyone has a say in that. Everyone has decisions to make when they go to the grocery or (shudder) the fast food joint. I'm not saying things shouldn't change. Every system can be improved. But I do have a problem with placing blame on those who have turned growing food into a business. This is America, after all, we're all driven by capitalism to make things more efficient, including (horrors!) food. Pretending that that doesn't apply to our food systems is just willful ignorance.

I got into a debate with a fellow at work a few weeks ago, who was pontificating pompously about the fabulosity of local organic food. Now, I don't have a problem with local, organic food. However, I find it very hard to have an academic conversation regarding the positives of organic food when the US population at large seems to have issues with eating just plain ol' vegetables regularly. I mean, let's not put the cart before the horse, here.

All of this was driven home today, when I was blithely munching away on my home-made asian chicken breast spring green salad. The director of finance, sitting across from me, blurts out:

Why are YOU eating so healthily?

I blinked at her, trying to measure my retort.
'Why wouldn't I?" I responded.

I may finish the book, who knows.