Category Archives: Politics

Men need to

(ETA: I have no idea why the template formatting is so screwed up on this entry. Possibly because I had to re-edit the pictures and then re-upload. It’s making me crazy.)

I ran across a fabulous AdWeek story today, about the UN Women campaign using actual results from Google autocomplete searches — which are aggregated from actual Google searches done. 

Unwomen hed 2013

 So I of course said, “Huh. Well, maybe it’s just the same if you do the searches only with ‘men’ instead of ‘women’.” 

Or, not so much:

Mencannot

Menshouldnt

Menneedto

Menshould

Yeah, yeah, I know: “Men use the interweebs more, and this is just what they search for.”

Good to know.

 

 

Visions of the future

 

You’ve probably heard about the remark presidential candidate Rick Santorum said recently about Barack Obama:

“President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob.”

Let’s assume Mr. Santorum is quoting Mr. Obama correctly. Mr. Santorum himself has a bachelor’s, law degree, and MBA, for what it’s worth, so it’s safe to say that he doesn’t think a college education is snobbery. This quote tells us a lot about Santorum’s vision of the future.

With all the brouhaha of late over the factories in China building our electronic gadgets (almost all of our electronic gadgets, not just the one brand name that we hear over and over again), what seems to get lost a lot of the time is that while these factory jobs are mind-numbingly boring with long hours and living on in corporate dormitories, they are a huge step-up from second-rate factories (which aren’t getting the big inspections and Nightline specials), which are themselves a huge step-up from the backbreaking rural agricultural work that would be most of these workers fate without these factories. This isn’t to say I want to work in this factories or I want you to work in them; just that they are, in fact, relatively better than the alternative.

Thirty to forty years ago China was fighting for its right to live in the Middle Ages (no, thank you, Mao and the Gang of Four), and now it’s  pushing forward as fast as possible to live in the future. China doesn’t want to be the land of manufacturing, it wants to be the land of innovation.

The Chinese government’s latest five-year plan emphasizes the need for long-term investment in research and development, to shift China from being “factory to the world” to being an innovation-driven, knowledge and service economy. The Chinese understand that being an innovative brand-owner like Apple or Nike is much more profitable than being an original equipment manufacturer. They have Japanese and South Korean examples such as Sony and Samsung to follow. The five-year plan also calls for doubling the percentage of gross domestic product from creative industries. Young people born after the “opening” in 1989 are leading vibrant arts and fashion scenes in the major cities.

Their vision of the future is quite different than Santorum’s.

 

Here in the US, we have lots of types of jobs: we have agriculture (by and large this is all BigAg stuff now; family farmers are a convenient myth), unskilled labor (mostly going overseas), skilled labor, and what Richard Florida calls “the creative class.” The creative class are the people who companies fight over to hire and retain. They’re the innovators, the people who are not just cogs in the machine and who can’t just be replaced by a warm body.

The flight of the creative class

In Flight of the Creative Class, Florida analyzes why certain places have attracted more than their fair share of the creative class — and what other places have to do to get them (and keep them). He argues quite strenuously that the US, particularly post-9/11, is going out of its way to discourage innovators and creators from coming here.

You may have heard about two British travelers recently denied entry to the US after they tweeted about coming here to “destroy America.” If you have a choice of two relatively equal destinations, and one of them denies entry to people who have made jokes on Twitter, you might just decide to go to the other one.

If that happens too often, people who have a choice of places to go to stop coming to ours. In which case, we’re massively screwed, because a huge reason the US has continued to be so successful is because it has welcomed immigrants and innovation. It’s welcomed the strange and offbeat. These days, when other countries ratify gay marriage and our government refuses to recognize those marriages as legal, where do you think those married couples are going to go?

(The creative class, by and large, has learned to think around corners, because they put a and b together and get wxyz. If you belong to a minority outside the mainstream, like gays or Jews or ethnic minorities, you learn to think around corners a hell of a lot faster than people who live happily in the middle of the stream and think that’s the only way to be. Which is why it’s important for the creative class to know how we treat our minorities.)

Whos your city book cover

I like all of the stuff by Florida I’ve read, by the way, like Who’s Your City, which comes up with a reasonable explanation for why, in the age of the Internet, you still live in Silicon Valley if you want to do computers and you live in Milan if you want to do fashion and you live in New York City if you want to do finance.

 

InThe Great Reset, Florida compares the current depression to immense economic upheavals of the past — the Great Depression and the Long Depression of the 1800s — and asks if we can’t learn something from those difficult, society-changing experiences and apply it to what we’re going through right now. Each of these economic disasters led to a fundamental shift in how we worked and lived, and he is fairly certain we’re in for this now as well. If we can prepare, we’ll be that far ahead of the game.

The great reset book cover

When Kansas or Texas or (insert name of state here) seriously starts arguing about teaching creationism in schools, I joke that “there’s another state of kids who won’t be competing against my kids for spots in college!” Only it’s not a joke. We can either teach our kids to face the future with an ability to handle complex scientific thoughts, or we can stick our fingers in our ears and chant “La la la” a lot. Everyone who thinks the second one is a great vision of the future, please identify yourselves so we can make sure not to involve you in any of the grownup discussions.

When politicians talk, they are telling you about the future they think about. What kind of society they think we should aim for. What kind of people are going to meet the challenges of the post-2008 depression. The general theory behind getting a college education is that the person has learned enough about a variety of subjects — history, math, literature, science — that they can understand what’s going on around them. The object isn’t to burden students with tens of thousands of dollars of debt, even though that’s definitely one of the side effects. I agree wholeheartedly there isn’t anything you can learn in college that you can’t learn elsewhere. But one of the things college is supposed to do is expose you to people and ideas you might not otherwise run into in your own insular little world. So that you can learn to put two or three crazy, unrelated ideas together…and create a new innovation.

The future is hard and scary and unknown and nothing is a given. You can dig in and work, or you can give up and pretend it’s all going to work out if we just hunker down over here and don’t let scary foreigners in with their scary ideas.

When Rick Santorum refers to a dream of a well-educated populace as snobbery, it tells you something about what he sees.

 

That pain in my chest

Monday morning I was sitting in bed, reading the news on the iPad, when I felt a pain on my left side. Not a sharp pain. Much more like the pains I used to get when I was younger and my chest would constrict and I would have to take very deep breaths to expand the muscle.

I ran some errands and then I went to the gym to lift weights. My chest felt fine…except when I lay down to do the chest press. Mind you, actually doing the chest press felt fine — in fact, the pain went away when I did lifted the barbell. When I was just laying there, though, the pain intensified.

Weird.

I made dinner (fish fillets, cheesy orzo, and salad). We watched Buffy. I went to bed. The pain was worse, but I figured a good night’s sleep would help.

At 3am, I woke up with some of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced in my life, and I’ve had two babies. A couple of times I actually felt my heart beat arrhythmically (not the first time I’ve felt that — my heart can be a little weird), but combined with the pain it was terrifying. Getting out of the bed was excruciatingly painful. I wondered if I should drive myself to the ER. I decided that wondering if I should go to the ER without waking Darin meant I still thought I had a choice in the matter, so I dug through the medicine cabinet, found some five-year-old Vicodin, and went back to bed.

In the morning the doctor’s office told me to come in immediately. The doctor asked if I was having shortness of breath, and I said the problem I was having with breathing was that it hurt to expand my chest, not that my breathing was impeded in any way. Then she asked me if I’d been on a plane recently (“Um…early January?”) or if I’d had a cold recently (“Nope”). The nurse gave me an EKG. The doctor read it and said, “The good news is you haven’t had a heart attack. The bad news is your heart is really angry about something, so I’d like you to get a CT scan.” The nurse scheduled the scan for me at a local MRI/CT place.

On the form the doctor had written “Pulmonary embolism?” The question mark did not reduce the anxiety I was having.

The top of my list of errands was: go to AAA, tell them I’d bought a new car, ask what rates they were going to offer me. But I didn’t feel much in the mood. I sat in the AAA office and did searches on “embolisms.” After a few minutes I decided that my current insurance would cover the new car until I could work out the messy details and headed home, had some lunch, and waited for my appointment.

CT scans are slightly different than MRI machines — you’re not totally encased in a scary coffin (I’m not claustrophobic and the MRI machine scared the crap out of me), but you’re inserted in this giant tube that whirls around you. The technician puts a catheter in your arm to inject you with the fluid that shows up on the scan. You have to hold your breath. It’s a deeply unpleasant experience all around.

When I got on the table I told the tech I needed help lying down. He asked me when the last time I ate was, and I said, “About an hour ago.”

“You have to fast for this. We can reschedule.”

“Can you find out if that’s true?” I asked. “Because I really need this test done today.”

The doctor in charge said I could do the test, but I should have a basin nearby in case I tossed my cookies. Then the tech said I needed to raise my arms above my head. I couldn’t do it. Raising my left arm was incredibly painful; letting it drop by my head felt like someone was knifing me in the side. He tucked a pillow under the arm so it wouldn’t have to drop all the way back. We did the test and at the end the tech had to lift me off of the table. Had I really gone to the gym and done my full workout on Monday? I could barely move.

I called the doctor’s office an hour after the test. Then an hour and a half later. Still no word. The pain in my chest was much, much worse, possibly because of the whole left-arm-over-the-head thing. The nurse finally called me back at 4:30.

“The scan was clear,” she said. “We’ll phone in a prescription for Vicodin.”

“Could you ask the doctor to look at it again? Because I am having the worst pain of my entire life.”

She said she’d call me back.

She did and said the doctor was absolutely certain about the scan. Chances were very high I had a pleurisy (an inflammation of the lungs), the kind of thing you usually get when you have a cold.

This pain was much worse than I could remember having from a chest cold. “Is there anything else could it be?” I asked.

The nurse said if the pain continued I would have to come in again and run some more tests. Awesome.

I went to the pharmacy, where I got my five dollar bottle of Vicodin pills (which might have greater efficacy than the five-year-old kind). The pharmacist had to give me a consult, so she could explain how to use it and what to be cautious of. “Any questions?” she asked.

“Yes. Why is this drug considered ‘fun’? I’ve taken it before, I don’t get get why it’s fun.”

“Neither do I,” she said. “It just puts me to sleep.”

We got Chinese takeout last night and I took my drugs. Generally painkillers don’t work for me (which is why I never think to take them), but I could definitely feel the difference when I took the Vicodin. We watched Buffy and then the series premiere of Angel, and I remembered how much I didn’t like Angel as a character on Buffy, but loved him on his own show.

There’s a scene where Doyle explains why he’s there helping Angel, and his speech includes a recap of everything we know about Angel’s life.

“Why is Doyle telling Angel stuff he clearly already knows?” I asked the kids.

“Because viewers might not know about it,” Sophia said.

“That’s what I was going to say!” Simon said.

My kids are awesome.

After that I went to bed, which was difficult because moving too suddenly brought the pain back. I woke up in the middle of the night and took more Vicodin.

This morning the pain has lessened a great deal. If it had felt like this yesterday, I wouldn’t have called the doctor in such a panic. I’ve taken my Aleve (the Vicodin can wait until I’m sure I don’t need to operate a car). And I am really grateful I have access to such great medical care when I need it.

Not a few times yesterday I wondered what I would have done if I didn’t have insurance. Or if I’d been afraid of being fired because I was going to miss a day of work. Heck, lots of employed people are experiencing the joy of no health insurance. I’m guessing I would have put off a visit to the ER until I’d been sure I was dying. And if it had been a pulmonary embolism (which you need to deal with immediately), I probably wouldn’t have gotten that far.

Our society needs to figure out what our priorities are.

Women as chattel

 

Honestly, this stuff isn’t hard to figure out. We have all seen this photo:

All male birth control panel

An all-male panel testifying before Congress on birth control. An all-male panel that doesn’t include one doctor. When Democrats proposed women to be on the panel, they were told the women weren’t “qualified.”

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Rick Santorum’s biggest financial backer — and in the world of big-money politics, this means this guy has bucks, which in the US means he has power — “joked” that women should use aspirin as birth control.

“You know, back in my days, they’d use Bayer aspirin for contraceptives,” Friess said on MSNBC. “The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.”

Women, mind you, need to be the ones to say no. And if they don’t, well…it’s all their fault, isn’t it?

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The Virginia state legislature passed a bill that would require women to have an ultrasound before they may have an abortion. From the article: “There is no evidence at all that the ultrasound is a medical necessity, and nobody attempted to defend it on those grounds.” No, this is all about women being forcibly penetrated for no medical reason — under Virginia state law, the very definition of rape.

During the floor debate on Tuesday, Del. C. Todd Gilbert announced that “in the vast majority of these cases, these [abortions] are matters of lifestyle convenience.” (He has since apologized.) Virginia Democrat Del. David Englin, who opposes the bill, has said Gilbert’s statement “is in line with previous Republican comments on the issue,” recalling one conversation with a GOP lawmaker who told him that women had already made the decision to be “vaginally penetrated when they got pregnant.” (I confirmed with Englin that this quote was accurate.)*

They had already made the decision.

They made the decision once, and so therefore their bodies are now fair game. Women should only be allowed to make one decision in their entire lives, and then men will tell them what to do from then on.

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Senator Scott Brown, apparently trying to prove he’s not really from Massachusetts, cosponsored a bill “would allow employers and insurers to limit specific health care coverage, including contraception, based on religious or moral objections.” And yeah, Obama let the conservatives go to town on that one for a while before knifing it to death, because this election year kabuki is stupid. Lots of people have made jokes about “What happens when an employer decides on Sharia law for their employees?”

How about a much easier scenario than that, guys? How about when an employer decides that an unmarried woman who gets pregnant is clearly a whore and refuses to cover her medical bills unless she gets married?

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An entry on Alternet asked, “Do Conservatives understand how the female body works?” What the hell? Why are you even bothering to ask? The Republican/conservative mindset is that women are things that exist only to serve male needs. They’re not intelligent enough to know what they are, or what they want, or what’s good for them. Only men know enough about this stuff to testify, right?

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Twenty years ago I read that the entire war on abortion was no such thing — it was a war on Griswold v. Connecticut. For those of you who don’t know what that is, that’s the Supreme Court decision legalizing contraceptives. You know, because there was a time they weren’t legal.

And damn if that analysis hasn’t been proved to be correct over and over and over again.

We know that conservatives could give a flying fuck about actual pregnancies. They don’t want access to birth control (which, let’s face it, is framed solely as a woman’s problem here), they don’t want to fund medical care for the mothers, they don’t care about the psychological care of mothers who are pregnant unwillingly, they sure as hell don’t care about those kids once they show up in the world. So, if they don’t care about the pregnancies, the mothers, or the kids, why on Earth are they putting so much time and energy into making sure women get pregnant and stay pregnant?

Because if women don’t have control over their own bodies, they have no control over their own destinies. Yes, it is that simple.

Their actions and words are very clear: They want women to be second-class citizens, dependent on whatever help and ministrations men decide to bestow upon them.

Why do they want this? Well, it’s fun to have power over people, I guess. It’s reassuring to know that you’re superior simply because you happened to be born with a penis instead of a vagina. There’s no surprise that religion is strongly featured in a lot of these stories: Christianity and Islam have extremely strong anti-woman components to their theology, and regarding half the human race as, well, subhuman isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.

We live in a scary time where nothing is assured, and having control over another person is kind of like having control over your own life, I guess.

Who knows where this shit comes from. But this is what they want, and they are saying it OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

Listen up.

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All of these political moves by conservatives are a lot easier to understand if you follow this simple rule:

Whenever you hear the phrase “family values,” substitute the word “patriarchy.”

There’s an even better quote I am reminded of when I hear these Republican proposals

“The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

– Maya Angelou

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One of the main reasons we’re getting this deluge of bullshit now, of course, is that the economy is looking up. The Republicans have nothing — they can’t even wave the banner of gay marriage anymore. So they’re going straight to their book of greatest hits.

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And by the way, can we stop making jokes about all-female panels debating men’s health insurance access to Viagra? Women being pregnant and men getting erections are not equivalent. Let’s stop pretending they are.

Gay marriage

“Proposition 8 served no purpose, and had no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California.”

Today’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional

I don’t remember the first time I heard about the concept of gay marriage. As I recall, dimly, through the mists of my memory, it was something Andrew Sullivan proposed. Or maybe he was just the first well-known proponent with a large megaphone to speak through. Or maybe I’m wrong entirely, I don’t know.

I do remember thinking: Gays getting married? Wow, that sounds kind of weird. Then, about 30 seconds later, my attitude was pretty much at Yeah, whatever.

And that was before I realized all of the social and legal benefits that go along with legal marriage. I know, I know, I’m slow sometimes and need some things pointed out to me. When you’ve always had a privilege, you don’t think much about what it must be like to not have it and sometimes you need things explained to you from different viewpoints. Everything I take for granted as a result of my marriage, other people — who are just like me in every way, except the gender of their partner — do not get to have.

That is ridiculous.

That is wrong.

We, as a society, have to be better than that. We have to have higher aims.

I’ve never heard an argument against gay marriage that didn’t boil down to: my religion says it’s wrong, or the whole idea makes me feel icky so I want it go away.

These are bad arguments. There’s no two ways around it: if you’re against gay marriage, you want to take rights away from other people for no better reason than you think they shouldn’t have them.

Here is an accurate distillation of my feelings about social progress:

You know our motto here at Kung Fu Monkey: Everybody who wants to live in the 21st Century, stand over here. Everybody who wants to live in the 1800′s stand over there. Thanks. Good luck with that.

John Rogers, Kung Fu Monkey, “Prop 8 Overturned” (2010 edition)

 

 

SOPA/PIPA

You’ve heard about these acts. The Internet’s gone dark today. You haven’t called your representatives. Why should you do anything? Well, because you’re not asked to do that much in general, frankly. And sometimes you just have to stand up and be counted.

Call your representatives and say, “This is BAD. Vote NO.” Christ. Just do it, would you? (It’s hard living in an area where my congressman is always against this stuff, but yours might not be. CALL.) If you have zero idea of who your reps are and where they stand, Pro Publica has done the legwork for you.

An analysis of SOPA and PIPA from the right-wing Pajamas media. (Because when lefties analyze stuff, they’re biased.)

Oh, you want balance. Here’s the notoriously left-wing Cato Institute on why SOPA is a con. (The oh-God-don’t-send-me-to-Cato version.)

SOPA/PIPA are supposed to shut down online piracy of movies and other media and save jobs? Yeah, not so much. A Hollywood professional on why SOPA/PIPA are bad.

“Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power”

– Benito Mussolini

 

Afghanistan for kids

I’m one of the parent volunteers helping out with the 6th grade book club, which is part of Project Cornerstone, a YMCA-driven project in Santa Clara County not only to promote reading but to promote stories about values and questions kids might have. Project Cornerstone is really cool, and in middle school they create book clubs that offer lots of young adult novels with nary a vampire in sight.

This month’s book is The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis. None of the kids has had a chance to read the book yet, so today we had a discussion of some of the background of the book, which concerns a young girl in Afghanistan who pretends to be a boy in order to support her family. Since we didn’t know anything about the book, we did some fun stuff, like marking off a 10-foot by 10-foot square in the middle of the carpeting to show the size of the place the protagonist lives in, and we discussed the subject matter.

This is what I learned:

  • Some kids hadn’t heard of Afghanistan.
  • None of them knew where it was, although Sophia came closest with “near India.”
  • Some kids had heard the word “Taliban.” They didn’t know what it meant, though.
  • A few knew there had been a war there recently. Even fewer knew that the US had been involved.
  • A couple knew that the predominant religion there was Islam.
  • Almost none of them knew anything about the conditions for women there.
  • Almost all of them tried the hummus I made, and several tried the dried fruits that another mom brought.

We had a discussion about the title. None of the kids knew what the word “breadwinner” meant. We discussed why bread was slang for money, and why bread is so important. (I’m guessing not many of these kids have had to recite “Give us this day our daily bread” too often.)

I have no idea how atypical I was as a child (okay, okay: I was very atypical), but I watched the Evening News with Walter Cronkite every  night with my dad. I didn’t always understand what “Vietnam” or “energy crisis” or “M2″ meant, but I had some exposure to the news. A lot of these kids — from very well-informed, very successful families — are not getting this. I only point this out not to rag on these kids (they’re in 6th grade, after all) but to point out that it’s never too early to start talking to your kids about world events. Or to use big words like “breadwinner” with them. They were really, really interested! They want to know this stuff!

I have high hopes for book discussion next time.

TEOTWAWKI

The LA Times has an article today about TEOTWAWKI: The End of the World As We Know It.

The predictions range from the benign — that this will be a year of spiritual breakthrough, the beginning of a new era of nonviolence and sustainability — to the worst sort of disaster movie cataclysm. And the Maya calendar is just the start. A hodgepodge of other theories has sprung up around the same date.

 

There are groups who claim that an uncharted, unseen planet called Nibiru will strike Earth or nearly hit it; that the Earth’s polarity will reverse (so that north is south and south is north), wreaking widespread havoc; or that solar storms will destroy civilization by disrupting power grids. Most of the predictions are timed to coincide with the “end” of the Maya calendar on Dec. 21, the winter solstice.

The reason the whole Mayan nonsense resonates, of course, is that we all have a sneaking suspicion we really are at a fin-de-siècle. That we really are approaching the end of the world. That we’re all going to die, undoubtedly in some horrible, purely painful and torturous fashion, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

Global warming is real and we may be past the tipping point. Mussolini had a term for governments run by corporations. We’ve had nine years of the Bush tax cuts and all of those job creators have given us a 9% unemployment rate. (And, as my Dad used to say about Hollywood stars and their reputed ages, that number is what they’re admitting to. And didja notice the unemployment rates back in 2001? Good times.) And let’s not even talk about health care.

On the other hand…what this means is that there’s no better time to try new things. Because if things are only going to get worse, this is the time to do that thing you’ve always wanted to do, people.

A really great quotation I like to reflect on from time to time comes from Dr. Howard Thurman:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Which means whatever you choose to do this year, do it because it makes you feel great. Because it puts you in the moment. Don’t do things that you have to hide or that you’re ashamed of.

It’s also important to recognize that each of us cannot solve all of the world’s ills. Whenever I start to think about the magnitude of the problems out there, I get completely paralyzed. I can really only make changes in how I behave, and hopefully if I feel strongly enough about the problem and possible solutions I can inspire other people to do something about what they care about.

Like Peak Oil. Worried about Peak Oil? Want to stop participating in so many fossil fuels being used? You don’t need to buy a Prius (not much of a solution, actually, given that it takes fossil fuels to make a car), although I will never speak against riding a bicycle everywhere. The first thing you have to realize is how much fossil fuel production goes into food production. Solution: buy local and eat vegan. Most people won’t do these things, of course, because that would mean they were suffering in comparison to the abundance they have now. (Fresh tomatoes and strawberries in December!)

But even if something like Peak Oil works your mind too hard (I certainly get depressed at the idea), you’re better off spending a little time every day doing something, anything, that makes you feel more alive, more connected, more creative is a good idea. That sort of thing will resonate more than spending one more damn minute worrying about something you’re not able — or willing — to do anything about.

And that’s my main resolution for 2012.

 

 

 

Food, Inc.: the review

We went to see Food, Inc. last night—we are at the cornucopia section of the summer, where there are so many movies we want to see, yet instead of the three options I usually send Darin for our movie choices, I sent him only this one. It’s a documentary, it’s not a fun topic, gosh only knows how long it will be in theaters. So off we went to see it, and of course Darin ran into someone he knows. (This is a fairly frequent occurrence, honestly.) I did get my usual Red Vines, but Darin passed on the popcorn. Which, really, was all for the best.

Food, Inc. is sort of a greatest hits of current factory farming/industrial food complex criticism that we’ve read about from such writers as Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation) and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma), both of whom are featured prominently in the film. Their theses are, to logline it: We have become removed from the source of our food; if we knew what went into our food we’d demand serious change; it is in everyone’s best interest to be fully informed about what the food manufacturers are presenting to us.

The movie presents an overview of the major factors involved with the industrial-caloric complex: the political, the economic, the medical, and the environmental. The political, showing the toothlessness of the federal government (when the USDA can’t even shut down processing plants known to be producing unsanitary food). The economic, where food—by which I mean food “product,” or the crap that litters our stores—is made so cheap by the vast corn subsidies our government gives “farmers,” by which mean the multibillion dollar conglomerates like Archer Daniels Midland or ConAgra or Tyson. The medical, where there’s no debate about how our modern Western diet is killing us. The environmental, where the runoff from the CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, where animals are grown and live their entire lives in a cesspool of their own manure) is destroying watersheds, killing towns, and encouraging the growth of diseases like our old friend, e coli.

I also have to criticize the movie for sacrificing depth for breadth. For example, one section of the movie is the story about the low-income family who can afford dinner for a family of 4 at the Burger King drive-through (primarily because everything at Burger King is heavily processed food, dependent on the ubiquity of cheap corn). The family goes to the supermarket to find healthier, fresher choices and they simply can’t afford it. Broccoli is not deeply subsidized. Burger King is. The father is taking various medications for diabetes, the cost of which severely reduces their food budget even more. The younger daughter is now at risk for developing diabetes soon. The film gives us lots of statistics about the rise of diabetes in our country…but then assumes we know the connection between this food and the diabetes, because it sure as hell doesn’t explain it to us.

The clear culprit of our current food system is the corn subsidy. Surprisingly, the film doesn’t call for the subsidy to be ended (or at least severely changed). That may be the take-away they’re hoping we get from it, but it never says it out loud. Of course, maybe they’re worried about being sued about that kind of thing. The film does explain that, unless you’re Oprah and have the money to pay the team of lawyers to fight the Man, you’d better shut up and keep your head down, or otherwise the ranchers/Monsanto/other will sue you to kingdom come.

Many people say, If the price of food rises, people won’t be able to afford it! The answer to that one is pretty goddamn clear to me: we can’t afford what we’ve got going on now, and if people can’t afford it, it’s time to pay them some more goddamn money, isn’t it. (And stop making them spend most of their food budget on diabetes medications.) Our American way of life is not sustainable, and we have to rethink what our real priorities are here. If Food, Inc. gets people curious about the topic, so much the better.

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If you are interested in this topic and don’t know where to start, here are some great books to check out. They’re popular science, meaning they’re written for normal human beings to read. (With the possible exception of The China Study, which has lots and lots of scientific studies and research for the biggest wonk to wade through, but you can still read plenty of stuff in there without going cross-eyed.)

  • Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.

  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.

  • In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. This is a good overview of the problems and issues confronting us in the modern food age and asks us to really think about what we’re going to do about it.

  • Food Matters by Mark Bittman. I like Bittman’s food writing for the NY Times a lot, and this book is another good overview of the issues we need to deal with, like, NOW about our the industrial-caloric complex. Plus: recipes!

  • Food Politics by Marion Nestle. This is an excellent in-depth investigation of what makes it to your plate and why.

  • What To Eat by Marion Nestle. After Food Politics so many of her friends said, “So what am I supposed to eat, anyhow?” Nestle then went into a supermarket and investigated what the hell is actually on the shelves. Wonderful reference tome.

  • Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People In the World by Greg Critser. Critser investigates where all this cheap corn came from (the Nixon administration) and the effects it’s had on our food and our health. If you want an explanation of what high fructose corn syrup is and why it’s bad for you, check this out.

  • The China Study by T. Colin Campbell. If, like me (being a good indoctrinated American), you said, What on Earth can we learn from the Chinese about nutrition, the starvation of whom we’ve been made guilty about for years? Well, this ain’t the Cultural Revolution and China exports food to us. (Think about that.) Campbell makes it pretty clear that the absolute first line of defense against what’s known as “the Western diseases” is what goes into our mouth. You can argue with his conclusions—but this is a pretty dense scientific tome and he’s published, y’know, actual scientific papers on these topics.

  • The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter by Peter Singer and Jim Mason. Singer is a philosopher who specializes in the ethics of our food choices, which seems specialized and arcane until you realize it touches just about every single aspect of our lives. The book uses three families who have very different food philosophies (fast food, organic and free range food, vegan) as the jumping-off point to investigate where we get our food from and why it matters. I absolutely will not eat turkey ever again after reading this book (sorry, Aunt Lil, but no way, no how, am I eating turkey this Thanksgiving, or ever again at any other time). Singer is vegan but he doesn’t disparage the families who choose to eat meat: he investigates why and and where their food is coming from.

Feel free to suggest others in comments.

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In my continuing quest to go vegetarian cut way back on the amount of animal products I consume (I’m sorry, I’m such a weenie, I’m just not a labels person), I have started made it my default behavior to search restaurant menus for the most vegan meal possible. That is to say: a salad without cheese as a main listed ingredient >> a salad with cheese >> a salad with fish >> fried chicken sandwich with slab o’cheese and mayo.

Holy God, it’s nearly impossible.

Seriously, play this game at the next restaurant you go to. Look for the vegetarian dish. Find the meal where you can easily remove the animal products and have anything left. When vegetarians complain about pretty much being offered green salad (and usually iceberg at that) or maybe some roasted vegetables on pasta, they are not kidding. There is such a huge range of vegetarian cuisine out there and the general public does not see any of it, unless they go to an ethnic restaurant, such as Indian or Ethiopian. (Many vegetarian entrees at Chinese restaurants are often cooked in chicken broth, so that’s a big ol’ No.) And there’s an upper limit, even for me, on the amount of falafel and hummus I can consume. Admittedly, it’s a pretty high upper limit, but a limit nonetheless.

No wonder people think vegetarians are odd: they’ve been crammed into the odd corner.

I’ve taken to using apps such as VeganXpress and VegOut to try to find someplace in the neighborhood to get something to eat. I think I need a few new ones to help me out. If you have any suggestions, leave ‘em in comments.

After the movie last night we went to Rock Bottom Brewery, where I played the “anything but iceberg lettuce” game—I have nothing against salads, salads are the best, I actually love eating huge gigantic salads now, but I don’t want that to be my only thing—and came up with… the Tex-Asian vegetable potstickers. Which turned out to be (more or less) samosas in a vaguely potstickerish wrap. Well, I guess it’s a start.

Followup to yesterday

Darin points out that the supremely stupid Maureen Dowd column (redundancy alert!) about Twitter contains the following exchange:

ME: Do you ever think “I don’t care that my friend is having a hamburger?”

BIZ: If I said I was eating a hamburger, Evan would be surprised because I’m a vegan.

Enough with the burgers already. We need to find a new standard food.

(Admittedly, Biz’s response is somewhat of a non-sequitur. Okay, more than just somewhat.)