My thoughts about culture and our present conditions. As Dianne Moore says in Learning to Love a Wounded World, "This requires a willingness to feel everything…. the horror and the beauty of what is here…. the fear and the Love.”

How About Slow Food and Micro Business for a Future Democracy?

Capitalism and democracy entered the lighted scene on the world’s stage at about the same time, and they have become almost inextricably intertwined since.  In some ways of thinking they are associated as necessary elements of the same basic strivings for individual freedom — strivings we hold historically dear in the USA.  Strivings that most of us take for granted emerge from a foundation of human dignity that we consider spawned a world shaking revolution on this continent in the 18th Century.  These would be those recently sullied and soiled so-called liberal impulses of enlightenment from the age of darkness in the writings that philosophical theorists, like Adam Smith and Jean Jacques Rousseau, were working from. 

But capitalism and democracy aren’t really about the same sorts of things… not any more than the writings of Adam Smith and Jean Jacques Rousseau were about the same philosophical and social issues.  In fact, today, free market conservatives of the neoliberal camp would embrace the writings of Adam Smith wholeheartedly, while they may very well find themselves labeling Rousseau a socialist, or worse.  The two concepts when examined closely can be found to be structurally and conceptually very different ways of organizing ourselves.  Their differences produce a kind of schizophrenia of social institutions, and while people who engage in these different institutions move in and out of them somewhat effortlessly, the intellectual experience that takes place during their engagement and the attitudes about the world formed as a result, are, by their very nature, of very different kinds when the institutional behavior comes under the social science microscope. 

The often unexamined question of how the institutions that make up our human constructed world influence our ways of thinking about ourselves and our relationships with others is a large and often esoterically laced topic.  Perhaps it is unfortunate for my concerns when it comes to sharing them, but it seems necessarily one that is excruciatingly important to my own understanding of this issue.  In fact I’ve already touched on it elsewhere — Introducing the Lucifer Effect.  But I’ll just nod to it forn now,  and I’ll save it for a different discussion at another time.  This one is about food, small business, and how they relate to a topic I hold dear, ecopsychology, or, how the environment, ecology and our minds interrelate to form a cognitive whole in each of our ways of thinking about the world we construct for ourselves.  Ways of thinking that for each of us are uniquely formed as only our experience and consciousness of that experience make it.  Hypothetically no one is likely to create an exact duplicate in their minds to another’s.  This can be socially both fascinating and frustrating, depending on one’s personality, I suppose.

Now, when I use the term capitalism, I distinguish it from a conceptual economics that might evolve out of small business and farming activities where individuals are able to retain control of their efforts and therefore the economic, environmental and social results of them.  As a contrast to this, a capitalism based on the notion of "freedom" where freedom involves absence of restraint to do as one pleases with one’s property, which an individual can increase exponentially to grow a business enterpise which will only be constrained by market factors and the limits to their self described need is a capitalism that we see has led to the evolution of huge collective organizations under legal structures we call corporations.  These corporations by their legal nature are sociopathic entities and the "limits of their self described need" is the profit which the onners of corporations share.  We have a range of corporate organizations, so it’s important to recognize that some, like S corporations, don’t necessarily follow this pattern, but are often just owner operator small businesses that take advantage of the legalities incorporating offer.  Most of which are legal protections that arise from a govening environment that itself has had to adjust to these mega economically-oriented collectives, which in some ways can be seen to be legally required to become a social and planetary cancer that grows without much social concern.

So, given the current sense that our entire social system is in a crisis, a financial and economic crisis which is on center stage, but other crisis also loom in the wings, a global systemic change with unknown consequences, some of which focus on the climate itself, but eco system collapse issues lie beyond that focus as well, I believe it’s fair to ask a mega question in relation to some of the local strategies we mere humans who must find survival strategies on a day to day practical basis have raised: Can the USA sustain itself on slow food and micro small business?

Another companion question many of us have been asking for some time now, is:

Can the USA sustain itself with it’s current food system? A system
which has been radically transformed over the last century to take
advantage of the availability of fossil fuels? Along with that
transformation has gone nearly all those little details about personal
survival strategies implied in the above question.

I guess another way of asking it is: Does the US have a choice about
whether it transforms from its current system to a "slow food" (and
implicationally micro business) economy?

Well, I think that calls for a study, or more than one study, from
there we can go to a feasibility plan and all the things that are
involved in intelligently managing a project.

So, for starters, I recommend this study (since someone else has already
thought about the meta problem and made an effort to begin):

Life Cycle-Based Sustainability Indicators for Assessment of the U.S. Food System

I suspect that in looking at this issue closely, we will quickly
discover that the questions don’t just apply to USA sustainability, but
to the whole world now

If one takes the trouble to read the study, I believe the reader will discover that our concerns about the sustainability of our current food system are addressed systemically, and they are addressed in a
reasonably clear scientific manner, beginning with: Hypothises: We can continue to
practice these practices using fossil fuel based inustrial agriculture.
In doing so, here’s what that will entail, here are the sustainability
factors we are faced with.

Their conclusion is that we probably can’t continue with these
practices.  We are gradually
destroying our productivity potential here in the US, and the world as
a whole is facing a similar threat thanks to these same practices which
we’ve also benevolently extended to the world since the onset of our
"humanitarian" based green revolution in the middle of the last centry,
mostly after WWII, has been helpful in transforming many of the locally
based inefficiencies in agricultural practices into our highly
efficient methods. The correlation between this and any discussions of
US global imperialism is of course trivial.

This modernizing, development process has caused a few minor
distractions to order and civility on the planet by displacing a few
people, and, well, we now have some minor slum problems to deal with,
along with issues of employment now that these inefficient agricultural
practitioners are no longer inefficiently practicing. But don’t worry,
we also have employment opportunities for some of these folks through
national armies and police, and don’t forget our corporate militaries
that can be hired if things get out of hand.

So not only have "we" transformed the U.S. Agricultural system, we have
been instrumental in organizing a globally integrated industrial
agricultural system through exporting our unique industrial agriculture
methods!

We have, of course, done that with the most generous and humane
intentions through a combination of government coordinated programs
from our humanitarian-oriented major agricultural universities, like
the one I attended in Michigan, Michigan State University, and of
course our utterly humanitarian-oriented mega agricultural
corporations, like Mansanto, Dow, Cargill, and so forth (these
universities and industries are of course the foundation of your
concerns about genetic engineering, so be careful, you may be attacking
a fundamental coordinating element of the U.S. government here with
your concerns.) It’s not a particularly long list but the members’
names are all fairly familiar to many of us, and in terms of measuring
their impact on our US agricultural system, if you correlate financial
measurements to control of the primary resources involved, I believe
you will find that their impact is quite high.

Complexity and a Vertically Integrated Food System

I feel it’s important to go step by step to understand the complexity of
what’s been put in place. Some may consider this attention to detail "pedantic."  I disagree with applying the term pedantic to
that process, however. It has utterly negative connotations that imply
the application of a degree of unnecessary energy to a problem. In
corporate circles those who make such efforts are often tolerated with
a degree of humor. Yet, without them many serious decisions cannot be made.  Anyone — which is most people I in my experience — who has not been involved in the intricacies
of doing feasibility studies and strategic planning could easily conclude that the patience and attention to detail may
certainly seem pedantic, the work of nerds. But if one has attempted such problem solving, then that person has had to
come face to face with the reality of attention to details in order to actually
achieve some degree of understanding about something of serious consideration. So here I am, pedantically belaboring the point, but I speak from experience as a strategic planning consultant some years back.  CEOs I’ve come to know don’t like
to take part in such work much either, because their mode is usually about macro
decision making in their command hierarchy, that’s their "unique" skill set that sets so many in awe of them, like generals, and their role, so those of us who do such work often provide them
with "executive summaries." Even those "summaries" don’t tend to fit
into nice publicly consumable sound bite essays very well.

Had our family farm survived into the seventies somehow, our farming
methods would have turned into gold for us, because we could easily
have become certified organic, and because there was a greater
awakening to the values of organically produced foods, some of it
ethical, some of it maybe quite reasonably chemically real as far as
nutrition in the food itself. These remain highly debatable questions.

However, while we could have survived once the organic and natural food label gained a foothold in our food system, we were still facing the vertical integration controlling the bulk of that market.  By vertical integration I am referring the concentration of control along the supply chain, from gene to supermarket shelf.  What’s happened with that phenomenon is a concentration of megacorporate influence on all levels of our food supply, and these corporations are integrating food from sources they control in nations all around the globe, so the integration of supply and demand includes transportation energy costs as well.  "The typical American meal travels 1000 miles" according to analysts.  Not only is that extraodinarily expensive when it comes to energy expenditures, it’s potentially dangerous.  It makes the entire system dependent on long supply chains that can be disrupted.  Without adequate backups, a longish disruption could prove utterly disastrous at a local level.

Organic methods have also come a long way since our day. An
industrially farmed land can be transformed into organic methods in
about five years, There will be a big drop in production and then an
upward curve, where the production can be up to 90 percent of the
industrial method before it. These are issues that come into play in any proposition that attempts to address the macro question: Can the USA sustain itself on slow food and micro small business?

And of course, the question I’ve also raised is, can we hope to do so by continuing what we have been doing to get ourselves into this situation, which may be an even bigger collapse crisis than we can imagine?

Slow Food Consciousness and the Ecopsychology connection

Food consciousness is an interesting phenomenon. In my experience it
transcends politics and political labeling, though it certainly does
get incorporated into bipartisan squabbling. The effect that the word "hippie" has had on considerations about food awareness through marketing propaganda,
like automatically categorizing granola bars with sandals and a rebellious lack of seriousness about life, and the like, is one example that comes to mind. My
father, on the other hand, pre hippie, never’s voted anything but
Republican, also read everything now associated with hippies long
before hippies ever came along. We had Rodale’s Organic Gardening
and Prevention magazines all over the house when I was growing up. He’d connected with
that way of thinking as far back as the early forties. On our own small family farm, with our diversity of cows, pigs, chickens and crops, we made our own
cereal from our own grains, for instance. We baked our own bread from
these grains, that sort of thing, which was considered by the agricultural industry itself regressive and somewhat primitive considering the tremendous "advances" in methods taking place in the Fifties and Sixties. We had a Jersey cow for our own milk
that I usually milked by hand, and about 50 Holsteins for the milk we
sold. I churned our butter from cream that was so thick it was like
cultured sour cream, but very sweet. So it has nothing to do with long
hair and bell bottoms.

When I think of sociological propaganda and how national consciousness
has been transformed with these various associations, I think of how
fairly non polarized environmentalism and organic food was up until the
end of 1970s, at least in my experience. I spent five years at Michigan
State and came out with a BS, a major and several minors, one in a
fairly new field they’d just designed within their agricultural program
which they called an environmental education minor. It was specifically
designed as a minor and their idea was to get everyone in the
university to get one if possible.

The program was taught in concert with, and as a conscious reaction to,
what many of the professors involved in the industrial agricultural
sectors of the university considered at that time to be the failure of
the Green Revolution, to which MSU had been a major contributor. So,
kids who were planning long term careers in agriculture were especially
encouraged to take courses in this new program so they could understand
the effects of industrial agriculture on the environment and hopefully
be better able to engage with finding ways to ameliorate them from
within the industry. I don’t know if any other university like MSU took
that approach.

I have a strong memory of one class with a one time guest lecturer, a
guy who’d spent much of his time in Africa in ag extension programs,
who came blustering into the room, sort of slammed his latest book on
the desk, and announced in a loud voice, "the Green Revolution has been
wiped out!" The title of his book had something to do with water and
its inevitable scarcity sometime in the future — somewhere vaguely
about now if I recall — if we didn’t begin to address the problem,
which basically we haven’t. So he lectured all hour about that. I
believe that was 1974.

The so-called Reagan Revolution was more than an economic program, it
was a designed sociological propaganda program that did a lot to
polarize the nation and categorize concepts. In response to the
national EPA and other efforts to create a regulatable environment for
public good, a fascinating propaganda campaign was introduced to use
these small farmer and business principles I grew up with and still
ascribe to, including the ever inflammable concept of private property
rights, to drive a wedge between environmentalist-oriented folks and
the ranchers, farmers and wildlife sports enthusiasts (euphemism for
hunters and fisherman).

The notions of "wise use" emerged in the late eighties out of a
coalition of groups with an emphasis on preserving individualism
independent from government intrusion, the associating of
environmentalists with extremists and "Nazis," and I think an
associating of environmental"ism" with urban people who could be said,
didn’t understand nature itself as city folk. I can see how these mix
and match associations helped to create what are now polarized
categorical binary oppositions where ideas that really don’t belong in
political camps have ended up in them. It’s so prevalent now that it’s
not easy to remember that these issues were once not so polarized. Of
course, I would argue there is no question that an endless hammering of
the polarizing content of conservative talk radio played a pivotal role.

It’s an interesting historical study of how a political consciousness
about things can be formed. People can change how they see things. They
have.

His consciousness is environmental, Rachael Carson’s cause was his I
recall. So there’s this correlation between food consciousness and
environment.

(To be continued)

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