Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Nature as a Commodity

Laws and the market economy shape the way humans interact and view the non-human environment. We live in a time when the market has a big say in what we eat, what we buy and what our interaction, or lack of interaction, is with the environment. Laws restrict our actions while markets shape our options and choices. The expansion of cities and transportation systems have created a medium where products and commodities are imported and waste exported. Interaction with the non-human environment has become limited and not as necessary as it used to be. We have become distanced from the production of the goods—the natural environment-- and this has resulted in us seeing nature as a commodity.

The American consumer demands cheap items and food. The market has met this demand but this has created a disconnect between humans and the non-human environment. Due to the expansion of cities and the inability of places to be self-sustaining, products and food are shipped in from elsewhere, resulting in the process of production becoming unseen. We have been disconnected from the basic and physical process of production and therefore have been led into thinking of food as a commodity rather than something important in our culture that brings community together, or provides nutrition. Michael Pollen’s Omnivore’s Dilemma demonstrates humans’ distance from the non-human world that becomes our food, and our minimal relationship with the production process. We are so distanced from the production of what we eat that we see food, not as part of nature, but as an object to buy. “When we only think of animals as sides of beef to be eaten, we may obliterate the problem of the kill from our consciousness” (Sax 1980, 43).

People’s demand for cheap food results in the market putting out cheap food. “It is odd that something as important to our health and general well-being as food is so often sold strictly on the basis of price” (Pollen 2006, 244). Price is what determines what we buy, not the quality or where it comes from.

The market has also standardized food. “Standardization, has bombarded us with the message that all pork is pork, all chicken is chicken, eggs eggs, even though we all know that can’t really be true” (Pollen 2006, 244). With the market telling us that cheap is better, and that food is food no matter where it comes from, quality of food no longer plays into what we eat and buy. The cheapest is said to be the same as the more expensive. We no longer need to know where our food comes from because it is set out for us right in the grocery store, no interaction with the environment or the farmer is necessary. These are the forces that have turned food into a commodity. In fact, “our food system depends on consumers’ not knowing much about it beyond the price disclosed by the checkout scanner” (Pollen 2006, 245).

Humans beings are so disconnected from the production of their food that it no longer even looks like natural food. The market demand is cheap food that is easy to prepare in our fast-paced lifestyles and the “industrial food chain has made energy dense foods the cheapest on the market” (Pollen 2006, 107). Energy dense foods tend to be the over-processed foods that no longer look like anything our grandparents ate. These foods include everything from chicken nuggets that look like rectangle pieces of dough to prepackaged TV dinners. The chicken nuggets no longer look like the chickens from which they came. We barely even associate a chicken with the nuggets anymore. We no longer need to see the chicken that is associated with the nuggets. We just need to go to the store and buy the processed product.

Many problems exist with the way our food is marketed, but there are also problems with farming law. In Pollen’s book he describes visits to farms where he sees and experiences the full process of production. One of his experiences is at Polyface farm. Polyface processes their own food in order to keep the connection with nature. Joel, the owner, promotes “relationship marketing” where the buyers buy directly from the farmer and therefore create a “marketing” relationship. But even Joel runs into problems with the current laws when it comes to the regulations restricting the processing of food in areas zoned for agriculture (Pollen 2006, 234). He wants to process his own food because he believes that “having customers bag their own chickens preserves the fiction that they’re not buying a processed food product” (Pollen 2006, 235). “Joel is convinced ‘clean food’ could compete with supermarket food if the government would exempt farmers from the thicket of regulations that prohibit them from processing and selling meat from the farm” (Pollen 2006, 236). Even the farmers who fight for “relationship marketing” and promote human connections with where their food comes from, have problems staying afloat when farm laws favor big production though commercial markets.

Another problem with the market is that it has become “totally out of sync with nature” (Pollen 2006, 252). As humans who have come to buy products from the grocery store instead of the farm, “we have to battle the idea that you can have anything you want any time you want it” (Pollen 2006, 252). Because of the demand for cheap food as well as ALL food ALL the time, the market imports food from other countries where they can grow certain foods year-round, when we cannot. This process disconnects human from the seasons. In the past, humans used to eat according to what products were in season. The market has skewed the natural process of food and has created an even bigger barrier between humans and the things they eat.

Friday, October 15, 2010

News from the Gulf

So I recently heard from my friend's deckhand in the gulf and he provided me with an update on what is going on. He told me that most of the surface oil has been cleaned up and that now the challenge is waiting for all the dispersant affected oil to rise to the top. "The oil is at the bottom of the ocean floor (due to the dispersant). Wait until it starts floating again. I say ten years it will take (for all the dispersant affected oil to rise to the top). It's ten times worse than the Exon Valdez"
He also informed me on the mass amounts of people getting sick due to having to handle the oil with the dispersant in it. He said there have been tons of people sick with everything "from breathing problems to staff infections." The news is not good. I asked him why they used dispersant in the first place and he just told me that all the oil field workers had told BP not to use them, but they just would not listen.
I was wondering if maybe it had something to do with avoiding the physical sight of oil (to keep morale up), because when dispersant is used, it is within the water and you can not see it on the top, therefor it makes the whole process look like it is moving faster and being cleaned up faster than it really is?
On a lighter note, I just heard the other day that the marshes of Louisiana are doing alright! And that they have released the Mississippi river to allow fresh water to wash out the bayous. This is definately good news.
So I live in Grand Rapids Michigan and beginning last year we have had ArtPrize, which is a city-wide event where artwork is submitted and hung publically around the city and voted on. This year we had an awesome piece dedicated to the gulf oil spill.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Marine Conservation

So I have recently become more interested in the conservation of marine life. I began watching Whale Wars which is a show on Animal Planet focused around the conservation society Sea Shepherd and their anti-whaling campaigns in the Antarctic. The show follows their two most current boats, the Steve Irwin and Bob Barker as they search and prevent commercial Japanese whaling ships from processing whales in the Antarctic.

According to international conservation laws, only a certain number of whales are allowed to be caught each year for scientific research purposes. The Japanese whaling fleet of 9 ships claims to be using the whales for scientific research (even says so on the side of their ships) but it is clear that the Japanese are using this claim as an excuse to conduct commercial whaling. The Sea Shepherd actions are said to be in accordance to the 1982 United Nations Charter for Nature which states under Implementation section 21 part (c) & (e):

21. "states and... other public authorities, international organizations, individuals, groups and corporations shall:
(c) Implement the applicable international legal provisions for the conservation of nature and the protection of the environment;

(e) Safeguard
and conserve nature in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

According to the UN Charter for Nature, independent organizations have a right to enforce international conservation laws if they are being broken.

The Sea Shepherd conservation society has really caught my attention and I am considering applying to join one of their campaigns in 2012. Their other campaigns include a more recent Gulf Rescue Plan as well as Bluefin Tuna, Defending Galapagos, Canadian Seal Slaughter, Sharks, and Dolphins, specifically in Taiji Japan.

I recently watched the award winning documentary The Cove. The documentary focuses on the massive slaughter of dolphins that occurs every September in Taiji Japan. Ric O'Barry is the head of the conservation efforts to save Japanese dolphins. If you are not familiar with him, he is a world known marine mammal specialist who stared and trained the five dolphins in the hit TV series Flipper. Once Kathy, the most used dolphin in the show, died in his arms because she chose not to take another breath, he began his efforts to free and fight for dolphins around the world.

The Cove is an incredible movie that really communicates the human characteristics of dolphins, such as the misleading 'smile' dolphins always seem to have as well as the visible 'happiness' and energy that is rarely accurate to the creature's true feelings when held in captivity.

These are my thoughts for the time being, I would encourage everyone to look into these violations and begin doing something, even if it is just passing on the knowledge you acquire on your own. I have provided the web sites for every organization and person I have mentioned, that should get you started.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

World Powers Cause Conspiracy as Distraction

Current Oil Spills (following info from link)

Cedyco Corp.'s Orphaned Well Spill, Barataria Bay, La.
Cause: A barge hit an abandoned well near the Gulf of Mexico early Tuesday
Amount spilled: Unknown
Spread: One mile of Barataria Bay (the well can be seen below, emitting a plume of oil and natural gas)

Enbridge Oil Spill, Kalamazoo River, Mich.
Cause: Unknown; spill began Monday
Amount spilled: 19,500 barrels (819,000 gallons)
Spread: 20 miles along the Kalamazoo River
Workers responding: 150, being doubled as of today
Boom deployed: 14,000 feet, being increased to 31,000 feet today

China National Petroleum
Oil Spill, Dalian, China
Cause: Explosion in an oil pipeline in Dalian on July 16
Amount spilled: 1,133 barrels (47,600 gallons)
Spread: 140 square miles of the Yellow Sea
Workers responding: Thousands, many of them fisherman and residents of the area

BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Gulf of Mexico
Cause: Explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, April 20
Amount spilled: Worst-case estimate was 60,000 barrels a day (2.5 million gallons) before the well was shut off.
Spread: 2,700 square miles of visible slick estimated as of July 15; 57,500 square miles of fishing grounds remained closed as of this week
Boom deployed: Roughly 3.5 million feet
Boom staged: Roughly 905,390 feet
Total boom: Roughly 4.4 million feet
Workers responding: More than 29,000 overall

So a barge hit a natural gas well in the Gulf near the Louisiana coast, like there aren't enough problems in the Gulf already.


...and an explosion occurred in China, providing them with their very own oil spill

Wall Street Journal

Now there is an 800,000 gallon oil spill in Kalamazoo Michigan, just an hour south of where I live!


I have concluded that the worldly powers have banded together to create this conspiracy to distract us from the aliens.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Gulf's Floatel

So I have been talking to my friend Kevin who is an oil-field boat captain out on the gulf and he told me of a Floatel, or a floating hotel, that has recently been placed off the coast of Louisiana. The Louisiana floatel is for the oil-field workers currently cleaning up the gulf oil spill. He described it as a whole bunch of white boxes with four people living in each box. The people staying at the floatel go out each morning on boats to work on the oil spill and then go back in the evening. Kevin also mentioned the chaos of so many people living in one small area such as this, especially so many men. He told me that they are currently sending out security guards in order to "keep the peace."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Gulf Coast Road Trip: Louisiana

After Mississippi we headed to Port Sulfur Louisiana where we stayed in a building run by Mennonite Relief Services. On our way to Port Sulfur we stopped through New Orleans and ran into a women named Sherry who is the manager of a local bar as well as a lawyer. She has grown up in New Orleans and spoke to us about the denial associated with the oil spill. She talked about how the people in New Orleans are stubborn and will deny there is a problem until they can't anymore. She said that the younger generations will most likely move away and the older generations, who are attached to the New Orleans way of life, will stay. Above all, she said people will not give up their sea food.

When we stayed in Port Sulfur, we drove further south to a bar in Venice where we ran into a man named Todd who is a commercial fisherman in the area. Todd told us that not many locals are being hired by BP to look for oil. He also told us stories about his friends who quit school in the 7th and 8th grades just to become fishermen, and how they can no longer fish. One very interesting thing Todd told us was the reason the cap for the oil broke. He told us that it shattered because it froze and all that needed to be done was for methanol to be pumped down with the cap to prevent it from freezing.

After we went to the bar in Venice, we headed to Joshua's Marina where we ran into oil-field workers. A worker named Kevin has been the captain of his own boat for 6 years and is currently employed by the energy company, working on cleaning up the oil spill. He told us about how they are currently using the "Kevin Costner solution" which is a device that separates the oil from the water.

While we were staying in Port Sulfur we had the opportunity to be brought out on the Gulf by a local Vietnamese fisherman. We experienced dolphins swimming only feet from the boat and pelicans flying over us. It was beautiful and heart breaking at the same time. We had recently been informed of dolphins showing up dead on local beaches due to coming up for air and being suffocated by the oil.

After being in Port Sulfur, we visited Cut Off Louisiana where I attempted to find information on the Houma Indian I am named after, Marie Melodie Dupre. We couldn't find any information on her, even after calling all the baptist churches in the area and all the Dupres in the phone book, so we continued down to Grand Isle where we heard the oil spill was the worse.

We were told by local people back in Mississippi that booms do not work very well because waves can go over them and the oil with it. There were huge booms all along the beach at Grand Isle. They separated the "hot" zone from the rest of the beach. You couldn't see the oil in the water, but it was there. The dispersal that has been released in the gulf to break up the oil, makes it so that the oil does not float on the top but it is dispersed throughout the water. This process seems to do more harm than good because the dispersed oil sinks to the bottom and is no longer able to be collected.

We had an amazing experience along the Gulf, made some lifelong friends and lifelong memories.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Gulf Coast: Mississippi

A friend and I just recently got home after a 10 day road trip to the gulf coast and back. The point of our trip was to travel along the gulf coast, interview and listen to people's stories about the effects of the oil spill.

The first places we visited along the Gulf were Gulfport, Biloxi, and Pass Christian Mississippi, none of which have seen oil quite yet. The first night we were there, we were told a good place to find local fishermen was Shaggy's Harbor Bar & Grill in Pass Christian. After sitting at the bar for a while we began talking to a local fisherman named Gerald. Gerald told us he originally from Chicago and he moved to Mississippi to fish. He expressed his frustration through the phrase, "we can put a man on the moon, but we can't put a cap on this thing?" He also expressed his fear of eating local seafood due to the dispersants being released in the water in order to break up the oil. He told us that there has been minimal research on the affects this type of enzyme has on fish and sea creatures.

The next day we attended a Vietnamese press conference in Biloxi that's purpose was to address the concer
ns of the local Vietnamese American boat people. The frustrations of the Vietnamese in the area have occurred due to the lack of representation and assistance . The press conference had representatives from Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. It also had speakers from various generations. My first observation upon arriving at the Vietnamese dock in Biloxi was the condition the dock was in. The dock was extremely weathered and had large gaps in it. The dock was in such bad condition that there were planks placed across the big gaps just in order to continue to use the dock. We learned that the condition of this city-owned dock was the result of Hurricane Katrina and the city has failed to fix it, even after all other docks in the area since then, have been fixed. This is a blatant example of racism.

The first person to speak was a Vietnamese Mississippi representative. She spoke broken English but she communicated well, her concern over how local people treat the Vietnamese in the area as aliens. She emphasized her American citizenship being received in 1990 and her husband's being received in 1987. One of the important things she mentioned was the difficulty with BP's compensation packages. Mortgages on many of Vietnamese fishing boats cost more than the boats are worth and BP is only paying back the worth of the boats. She threw out the number $450,000 for the average cost of a boat mortgage and then mentioned how BP is only compensating $350,000. Without work, the Vietnamese fishers can not make that $100,000 difference.
The next speakers were Tony Cao and Linda Nguyen, both from "Voice of the Youth". Their argument was that their parent's generation only knows how to fish and with the oil spill, they will not be able to do even that. The local Vietnamese need job security and training in other areas in order to live normal lives. Once of the areas that Linda focused on was the need for BP to hire local interpreters in order to provide jobs.
Chou Chin was the next speaker and he was from Houma, Louisiana. Chou was one of the only boat owners in the area who was not hired by BP to be an oil skimmer. He apparently did not meet the "criteria," even after applying multiple times. Chou expressed his sadness over the probability of never being able to shrimp again.
One of the last speakers was Wing Wen. He spoke at the press conference in place of his father who has been forced to leave his family and move further west in order to fish. His father was not hired by BP to look for oil.

The evening after
the Vietnamese press conference, we headed back to Shaggy's in order to find some more fishermen and other workers in the area. We were introduced to a man named Randy who works for the electric company and does his own non-commercial fishing between the coast and the barrier islands off the coast of Mississippi. He talked to us about a fishery meeting held downstairs at Shaggy's a couple nights prior to our visit. He told us about the concerns that were expressed at the meeting. The main concern was over outsiders moving into Mississippi, shrimping, fishing and being hired to look for oil by BP, because they can not do so elsewhere. Randy told us about how local people with boats should be the first to be hired by BP to look for oil, instead of people who are coming in from other areas along the coast looking for work.
While visiting Shaggy's for the second time, we made a contact with Keith, the manager and bar tender. He gave us his phone number and told us to call him in a month when the oil is predicted to hit the Mississippi coast, and he would provide us with the truth of what is going on.

...More to come...