Archive for November, 2010

Apocalypses

Posted: 23 November 2010 in Everything Else...
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Plural.  Not “The Apocalypse!” (always capitalized or with an exclamation point or both as here), but apocalypses.  Everyone has their own cherished one about how it all comes crashing down.  In simplistic political terms we have the apocalypse of the right: big government snatches your rights and reduces you to serfdom; the left: big business snatches your rights and reduces you to serfdom; the greens: climate change fundamentally alters the world and, you guessed it, we all end up as serfs.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not rejecting any of these scenarios and I think there is a cautionary tale (and even more than that) in each one.  The overwhelming, allegiance building, war making state is a big problem and in its aspiration to be “god” it will do most anything to maintain its preeminence.  Examples, at this late date, are probably not required.

Big business is, well, a big problem.  Too big to fail is simply too big.  Corporations are not cool, cute, visionary (no, I am not going to link you to the ads for Apple, Geico and Chevron respectively).  They are bent one thing: increasing shareholder value. That is why they exist.  In addition to the employee/agent problems, they care not at all for you, me or any employee who has sacrificed her life for the company name.

And global climate change is real and we are helping it along. Sure there are plenty of real and functional “deniers”… but come on!

Yes… there are good reasons for these apocalypses and some bad things are going to happen (I am basing this on a rather cursory historical analysis).  The problem with proliferating apocalypses is that, after a while, we can’t bear to think about them.  While a small minority of highly devoted people make apocalyptic narratives of one sort or another their cause célèbre, the rest of us just get overwhelmed.  We have too many horror stories about “the end”.  (In fact, we even have a sub-genre of science fiction– the “post apocalyptic”–that gives us the potential “logical” outcomes of what various of the extant apocalypses suggest.  My personal favorites in this sub-genre are The Road and World War Z: an Oral History of the Zombie War).

So… enough apocalypses already!

Or not.

See the simple meaning of apocalypse is “to lift the veil” or “to reveal” something that is hidden.  This is what John, a well-known master of the genre (and, unfortunately, widely attributed with giving us the gory sub-genre) was doing in his famous letter to seven faith communities in Asia in the first century.  He was revealing something about the heinousness, the bankruptcy, the violence and the dehumanizing forces of the Roman Empire (at least that’s what most scholars believe he was doing).  He lifted the veil so that those communities could take courage.  He told a story of violence, death and betrayal (things that the faith communities had, unfortunately, experienced first hand).  He also told a story about how it was all a charade.  How the great power Rome was merely a fleeting entity getting its 15 minutes of fame (okay 30 minutes) on the global stage of history.  He used apocalyptic language (a-ha) to veil his own unveiling and tell his readers that a time was coming when all the wrongs they had experienced would be righted.

Apocalypse.  Unveiling.  Pulling back the curtain.  Revealing.

I think we need more  of these kind of apocalypses.  We need more unveiling.  We need to hear the truth about how what was once a crime against humanity became standard operating procedure for the US government in the so-called global war on terror (talking about torture here).  We need to see more truth about how a handful of bankers and traders could make billions (that’s right “b” not “m”) creating (they only could make this up) “securities” that created only insecurity.  We need more truth about how civilians, the purported beneficiaries of all these wars, are the ones that get killed in such massive numbers. We need more unveiling…

We need more apocalypses.

Robert’s Farm (VII)

Posted: 1 November 2010 in Robert's Farm

It has been a while… Been going to the farm and leaving summer behind and preparing for the winter has meant some of the hardest work I have done in a long time…

Butternut Sqaush from the Farm

Last week we harvested–by hand–over 2800 lbs (nearly 1300 kgs) of butternut squash.  This hard-skinned squash holds up well once it’s picked; it can be loaded into large bins; it doesn’t bruise or get crushed when piled up; and most importantly perhaps,  provides an astounding 457% of the US recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A per serving!

Packed in the flesh, within the light brown shell of this robust vegetable is a mega-dose of what I learned many years ago is something of a “wonder-micronutrient”.  As I was picking up the squash and loading it in bins I reflected on the first time I had heard of Vitamin A.  My first public health assignment in the sands of Mauritania was a harrowing one: cholera, severe and acute malnutrition, malaria–all exacerbated by the worst poverty I had ever seen.  Kids were dying of diarrhea, withering away like the dry grass that lasted about 3 weeks after the rainy season ended.

Underlying so many of the problems–in nutritional terms–was the fact that people’s immune systems, especially the first lines of defense in all the linings of the body–skin, stomach walls, surface of the eyes, intestines–were compromised due to a lack of Vitamin A.  Who knew that this little nutrient could be so important?  A compromised immune system meant the ubiquitous pathogens had an easy route into the depths of a child’s body where they could wreak the worst kind of destruction.

We worked with communities to help them start gardens in which Vitamin A-rich vegetables could be grown–all the orange and red flesh things like beets, squashes and carrots and a variety of green leafy vegetables.  Some thought it would never work–nomads wouldn’t mix that stuff with couscous.  And yet, after several years and lots of hard work, gardening took off and carrots and beets and other strange things started showing up in the daily food of lots of people and, people made some money selling the surplus in the surrounding regions.

Standing in Robert’s field I was transported back to the sands, the palm groves and the markets in which Vitamin A made a difference in the lives of so many people.

I give you the simple (but tasty) butternut squash.  Bake and drizzle honey on top; mash it and mix in a little butter; make a stew with red lentils (write to me for the recipe!) and, as you do, think about how happy all the linings of your body are.  How capable they become to ward off the attacks that come from all the things that float in our air, water and food.  Think about how such a small thing can make such a big difference.