Haiti: a Short Film by Federico Cintrón-Moscoso

You may remember the September 2011 Picture Show here on Recycled Minds - pictures from Haiti by our good friend, anthropologist Federico Cintrón-Moscoso. Since then he has been working on video captured during that same trip to Haiti in July. This beautiful video is the first of two planned in his ethnographic collection. Beginning from the skies above the small island nation, and taking the viewer down to and through the streets, Cintrón-Moscoso aptly captures and expresses the many social and cultural contrasts that characterize daily life in Port-au-Prince.

Cintrón-Moscoso's description of the short series:
Este es el primero de dos filmes etnográficos producidos como resultado de mi viaje a Haití en julio de este año. Este primer film representa una "página" de diario en la corta semana que estuve allá como parte del Comité de Solidaridad con el Pueblo de Haití. Se sitúa en, y entre, las calles de Port-au-Prince y Leogane las cuales siempre están llenas de actividad. La brevedad del montaje es contrarrestada por la riqueza cotidiana de las imágenes y su diálogo constante--muchas veces cargado de contradicciones sociales y culturales.

We would translate, but like to challenge the reader once in a while! Stay tuned here at Recycled Minds for the second video, which is due soon. You can also visit Cintrón-Moscoso's, "Cultura de Papel," to check out more of his work.

Shots in the Field: Finding the Value of Research-related Photos

A rich and diverse Q'eqchi' Maya Homegarden in southern Belize. Photo courtesy of doug reeser.
by douglas reeser on November 21, 2011
Recent social movements around the world have been fueled by the constant flow of images sent from protests, crackdowns, and marches to thousands of interested observers. If you’re part of a social media site, you have probably seen an influx of images of all types in support of (or perhaps denouncing) the Occupy Movement. Whatever your political persuasion, it is clear that the circulation of images remains vital to many aspects of our lives. Images have become so ubiquitous – think advertising - that we have lost track of exactly what their influence on us is.

Voices of Occupy: Radical Networking

By Cyrus Kleege
The third piece in Recycled Minds' Voices of Occupy series is written by Cyrus Kleege, who has been participating in and following the critical narrative of Occupy Wall Street. Kleege is a professional book clerk, amateur writer and activist living in Brooklyn. You can read more of his writings at Occasional Vitriol and Rich Jerk Quote of the Week.

poster by r.black
A massive set of protests has been planned for November 17th in New York City. It remains to be seen whether they will evidence strong, continuing support for the Occupy movement. In recent weeks it seems that those who wish for the failure of the movement have been taking the proverbial gloves off, with more harsh police tactics in evidence as several cities (St. Louis, Burlington, Salt Lake City, Portland and others) have attempted to evict Occupy encampments from public spaces. The intense antagonism toward the movement is the inevitable result of its success in mobilizing massive numbers of people around progressive causes and capturing the media spotlight that was so reluctant to shine on it in the beginning. If the forces of reaction are successful in driving the movement out of the public squares, it will still have done much to energize the left in America and should leave it in a stronger position to win battles on policy and shift the nation's consciousness in a progressive direction.
The reason for this is an aspect of OWS that seems obvious, but hasn't been discussed much in the media. Occupy Wall Street has become (perhaps unintentionally) the best vehicle for what I'd call “radical networking” (you can call it movement-building if you really want to avoid the business school connotations of the former). OWS, with its lack of demands (actually, the important thing is that it has many) and its sharing of decision making between individuals and between multiple nodes of activity brings together causes that might have seemed distinct in the past, and allows them to coalesce into an umbrella movement that's greater than the sum of its parts.
I'll give you an example from my own experience. A few weeks ago, wanting to do more than march in general support of OWS, I joined one of its many autonomous “working groups” who meet outside of Zuccotti Park and attempt to use the same horizontal decision making process that the General Assembly does to come to agreement about issues that fall under the purview of their particular group's focus. I am a union shop steward at my workplace and feel strongly that organized labor is a powerful and positive social force that can be credited with much of the progress that occurred in American social relations in the twentieth century. I hoped that organized labor might be able to bring to bear some of its institutional resources in service of the Occupy cause, and  that Occupy's freshness and energy might play some part in re-vitalizing the state of organized labor. Days before I signed up for the Labor Outreach Committee, my union (The United Auto Workers) officially endorsed Occupy Wall Street. When New York City's Mayor Mike Bloomberg had tried to clear Zuccotti Park on the pretext of a cleaning of the area, members of my union, both rank-and-file and paid officials of the international went to the park in the wee hours of morning to stand down the NYPD. I was exceedingly proud.
The OWS Labor Outreach Committee is dedicated to getting more rank-and-file union workers involved with the Occupy movement and using the momentum of OWS to aid organized labor in its varied battles. Occupy supporters, some union members and some simply sympathetic to the struggles of working class people, have joined picket lines in support of locked-out Teamsters at the Sotheby's auction house and demonstrations for Communications and Electrical workers fighting to get a decent contract out of Verizon. It seemed that my hopes had been realized when a week ago the New York Times ran a story under the headline, “Occupy Movement Inspires Unions to Embrace Bold Tactics.” Labor has been on the retreat for decades. It has lost members to outsourcing as well as to legislative attacks. At the same time it has lost the sympathy of many who would benefit from its power as they accept fear-mongering pro-business propaganda as gospel. (I'll be surprised if I don't get at least one hateful comment after revealing that I am one of those scary 'union thugs') With Occupy Wall Street entering the picture it seems like there is finally a chance that the momentum will be in the other direction.
Because OWS isn't solely focused on one issue it can marshal the energies, talents and enthusiasm of all its supporters in service of all of the more narrow progressive causes that others have fought for for years. Since OWS has focused on issues of economic inequality and class power it has avoided the single-issue tunnel vision that has hamstrung the left for decades. Since the ascendancy of the post-1960's right-wing in America, the left has generally seemed willing to give much ground on the broad issue of economic justice and has instead focused on an array of secondary problems. Without the recognition that all of these problems relate directly to the way in which economic power is distributed in society, the left allowed itself to become balkanized into multiple, often mutually hostile groups dedicated to their own pet issue or brand of identity politics. Occupy Wall Street seems to me to be ushering in a new era of radical networking, welcoming all of those who fight against one or another of the ill-effects of economic injustice, the corporate power that thrives on it and the political corruption bred by it. It facilitates their ability to act in a concert with each other. Each specific cause gives purpose and focus to the movement as a whole, and the movement as a whole lends power to each of its parts. Unions who lend their support will gain allies in their workplace struggles, while they lend support to those opposing Hydraulic Fracturing in the Marcellus Shale, who will fight against unfair foreclosures and the corporate “reform” of the public school system. I think that this is a great thing, and hope that the Occupy Movement can maintain its momentum. If you're near NYC, come out Thursday and be a part of it.

Local Food Fluffery

What is local food? Is a local chicken organic? Does a local chicken eat local
watermelon? OrganicWatermelon? Where does a local chicken come from?
Where does local watermelon come from?
Photo by dooglas carl for Recycled Minds.
by douglas reeser on November 14, 2011
While looking through some news feeds earlier today, an NPR piece on local food caught my eye.  The piece cites a report from the USDA that claims that "marketing of local foods...grossed $4.8 billion in 2008—about four times higher than estimates based solely on direct-to-consumer sales." The extra growth is a result of an increase in sales to restaurants and supermarkets. From the reports, sales of local food is showing promising growth trends, however, questions remain.

The NPR piece includes an interview with a USDA economist who reveals: "Forty percent of all fruit and vegetable producers are now selling locally." And even though her numbers don't explicitly track growth, "that to me suggests some growth." So, numbers showing that fruit and vegetable producers are selling more locally don't exist, but they must be because this USDA economist thinks they are.

NPR then finishes their piece with this:
Although the $5 billion number sounds big, it represents just 2 percent of American agricultural sales. The rest — 98 percent — comes largely from sales of big commodities like soybeans and corn. Even so, the next set of numbers on local food sales from USDA should reveal whether local food is a fad, or a business model that's here to stay.
These numbers don't seem to add up. If 98% of agricultural sales come from commodity products like soybeans and corn, and the remaining 2% represents local sales, there seems to be something missing from this picture. Where do all the agricultural products that are shipped around the country fit into this picture? Think Florida strawberries, Maine cranberries, and the many fruits and vegetables that are available in your supermarket that are not grown locally. 

I decided to take a look at the report that NPR links to in their article. There are certainly more interesting factoids in the summary report, including that "small farms (those with less than $50,000 in gross annual sales) accounted for 81 percent of all farms reporting local food sales in 2008." This makes sense to me, as I can see that in most cases, a farm with low gross annual sales is likely not producing in large quantities. The problem remains, however, with the word "local."

Nowhere in either the NPR piece or the USDA report is the term "local" defined. Yes, small farmers rely heaviest on direct-to-consumer sales through outlets such as farmer's markets. According to the USDA report, "Large farms accounted for 92 percent of the value of local food sales marketed exclusively through intermediated channels." This introduces into the local food framework large farms that are using intermediated channels (distributors) to sell their products. Without a clear definition of "local" (and no regulation on the use of the word), local could mean anything. In a global economy, could the U.S. be seen as local? Is Mexico local to the US? What is local is dependent on the scale at which you look at it. 

And so, I am forced to consider what might be happening here. In the regions reported to be hotspots for local food (the Northeast and West Coast), organic foods have long been popular. To label something organic, the fruits and produce must meet federal regulations in how it is grown. Organic production has likely cut into profits of industrial agriculture, especially in the two aforementioned regions. By promoting "local" foods, which have no regulations, industrial agriculture can re-enter these markets under the guise of being healthy and good for the environment. 

At this point, "local" food has as much meaning as "natural" food. There are no regulations on the terminology, and so we as consumers can not know what is truly meant by the terms. The "local" potatoes at your grocery store may only be local on a global scale, and certainly are not guaranteed to be produced in any kind of sustainable or thoughtful manner. Whatever might be on a case-by-case level, without legal definitions of the term, consumers just don't know where their "local" produce is coming from. Buyer beware.

Pitching Big Food

Photo by Doog
by lana lynne on November 8, 2011
A new report published by the Center for Food Integrity, a consumer research group formed in 2006 by food industry power players (including Monsanto) to study consumer attitudes about the food system, gives interesting insight into the marketing research of Big Agriculture. The "consumer trust survey" used to compile the report asked people a variety of questions that revolved around the U.S.'s responsibility to "feed the world." While it found that support is waning for exporting food to help solve the world hunger problem, which is fascinating in itself, other interesting consumer attitudes came to light as well.

Noting a growing alienation from agriculture, the report states, "consumers aren't sure today's agriculture still qualifies as farming [because of ] generational and geographic distance between farmers and consumers, technological advances in farming, and changes in farm size and structure." If consumers don't see their food coming from farms, in other words, there is an inherent lack of trust, as the center uses as its guiding principle the idea that consumer trust in farmers is based on shared values.

What's also interesting is the priority goals delineated by their survey participants, which is broken down into goals driving consumer food choices, and perception of farmers' priority goals. Here, the farmers' goals are broken down further between commercial and family farms. The perception of the goals of commercial farmers are predictable, with affordable food and farm profitability at the top of the list. People evidently have slightly more trust in the family farmers, as people place affordable and safe food as family farmers' top two priorities. Consumers' own priorities? Also safe and affordable food, but profitable farms comes in last place.

As Tom Laskaway points out in his article on Grist, these consumer attitudes create a headache for Big Agriculture. Up until now, Big Agriculture has sold its practices (including the use of pesticides, GMO seeds, inhumane animal conditions, etc) to the public based on the idea that they are for the good of the world. If the report is true, not everyone is buying this rhetoric.

So what does this mean for the future of big farming marketing? From the sounds of it, a campaign full of down-on-the-farm goodness, tugging at the heartstrings of our nascent anti-big business sentiments.

First Friday Picture Show: The Photos of Jonathan K. Slingluff

This month's Picture Show features the photography of Jonathan K. Slingluff, a gallery owner and artist in Philadelphia, PA. Of his photography, he says, "The act of freezing a moment in time is often overlooked; what I mean by this is that we all shoot images with our phone or some device, with which we stop time for that moment. A photograph captures that moment, a feeling that the photographer tries to express to the viewer. Whether this be a clean black and white image or a photo of the family, it is frozen in time. I look at photography as a tool to express my poetry, and, like the writer/reader relationship of a poem, I may have one feeling for my photograph and the viewer may have a different one. Photography is my tool to show the world how I choose to look at it, through my eyes at that one fleeting moment." For more art created and curated by Jonathan, stop by The Pine Cone Gentleman or The Slingluff Gallery.

Yanomami Poetry

The Forest
photo by dooglas for Recycled Minds
by douglas reeser on November 2, 2011
Survival International, perhaps the leading advocate for indigenous rights worldwide, has a ton of great stuff going on over on their site. From news alerts, project updates, photos, and poetry, there is a wealth of information and resources to peruse. We urge you to check out their site, and offer you a sample of what they are doing. The following is a touching and timely poem by Davi Kopenawa, of Yanomami descent from the Brazilian Amazon.
I am the environment.
I was born in the forest,
and I grew up there. I know it well.
Without land and nature, we can’t live, the world can’t work.
You talk of the planet, yet you don’t
think it has a heart and breathes,
but it does.
You talk politics and study on paper.
But we study in the forest and look
carefully. You don’t know our wisdom.
It’s very different.
We understand that all living things have a noreshi - another living being which is born at the exact same time
as yourself.
Your noreshi may be a bird, or a boar, or a deer, or a fish, or an anteater, a
butterfly or any other kind of living plant or animal.
It rests when you rest, it feeds
when you feed, it sings when you sing.
It dies when you die.    
                                                                                                 - Davi Kopenawa, Yanomami, Brazil

Thanks to Davi and Survival International for sharing these touching words.