martes, agosto 23, 2016

A different perspective on organic standards

Book Review: Organic Revolutionary: A memoir of the movement for real food, planetary healing, and human liberation. By Grace Gershuny, 2016.

Carmelo Ruiz

It has been taken as an article of faith by not few American environmentalists and food activists that organic agriculture was originally a concept filled with revolutionary promise, that was poised to replace the corporate-dominated toxic US food system with a decentralized, ecologically sound, healthy, and socially just, network of eco-farms and eco-villages producing food using the latest eco-technologies. And that the main reason this has not happened is that “the US Department of Agriculture jumped into the organic bandwagon, turned this agricultural revolution into a bureaucratic nightmare and watered down its standards in order to please major corporate retailers and food processors. Now the term ‘organic’ is fast becoming meaningless.” So claims this discourse.

Those of us with some familiarity with the US organic farming scene have at some point heard this account of the rise and fall of organic, along with the list of alleged sellouts who started out as radical hippie back-to-the-landers who became corporate suits or federal bureaucrats. Organic farmer and social ecology professor Grace Gershuny provides a more nuanced view of these processes of transformation in her book Organic Revolutionary: A memoir of the movement for real food, planetary healing, and human liberation. The main focus of this book is the story behind the green and white USDA Organic label, which American grocery shoppers are becoming increasingly familiar with. The process that led to the implementation of the label, as well as nationwide organic standards, is a very contentious one, involving the USDA bureaucracy and countless stakeholders, and is narrated by the author from a very personal perspective.

Gershuny is no dispassionate detached observer. The story of organic is the story of her life. Not just her professional and public life; her love life and family life are also inseparable from the broader drama of Organic USA. For this reason, Gershuny’s history of organic standards and labeling is necessarily an autobiography- and inversely, she could never tell the story of her life without going through the whole history of the organic movement.

The author tells her journey: how her father was influenced by the ideas of maverick Ralph Borsodi, founder of the School of Living, and her early work with the New Alchemy Institute, the Northeast Organic Farmers Association, and the Institute for Social Ecology, back then affiliated with Goddard College. She also provides a brief and useful primer on the origins of organic agriculture, explaining the valuable contributions of its forebears, like F.H. King, Rudolf Steiner, Sir Albert Howard, J.I. Rodale, Vinoba Bhave, and Scott and Helen Nearing. Gershuny also emphasizes the importance of philosopher and social critic Murray Bookchin, founder of social ecology, as an early critic of pesticides and industrial agriculture, and as ecological visionary:

Most people credit Rachel Carson and Silent Spring, published in 1962, with inspiring the environmental movements of the sixties. But Murray Bookchin had published the largely unnoticed Our Synthetic Environment a few months before. While Carson wrote from a scientific perspective and Bookchin from a political and social viewpoint, they converged in raising the alarm about threats to human and non-human health posed by a range of environmental and foodborne toxins… Bookchin, however, identified distorted social relations - not ‘modern technology’ in general - as the root of the ecological crisis. The oppression of nature is an outgrowth of the oppression of one group of humans by another - otherwise known as hierarchy. Although few in the incipient organic movement were aware of the book, Our Synthetic Environment outlined the major thematic ideas that shaped its early development. (P. 45.)

In 1994 she accepted a staff position at the USDA’s newly formed National Organic Program, whose role is to implement the 1990 Organic Food Production Act. Some grassroots activists frowned at this “uncool” move on her part. But as Gershuny explains:

One of my goals in taking on this work for the USDA was to help introduce more organic-friendly thinking within this huge bureaucracy, second only to the Pentagon in size. Never again, I swore, would an organic farmer walk into an Extension Service office and be scoffed at. Once this law was implemented, every federal agricultural agency would have to offer assistance… I saw the sanctioning of organic farming by its former arch-enemy as a turning point in the radical transformation of American agriculture. (From the prologue)

Her account of the various conflicts, contradictions and trade-offs involved in setting up the US organic standards, written simultaneously from the perspective of the committed activist and of the government insider, is must reading for those who want to understand the process by which the USDA Organic label appeared on grocery shelves all over the country. This federal government work sent Gershuny straight to public controversy and made her the object of accusations of “selling out”. Some activists wrote her into the list of “bad guys” in the “government-corporate takeover of organic” narrative described at the beginning of this review. She complains that they have totally misrepresented her views and her work at the USDA without even bothering to check the facts, much less talk with her directly. More than anything else, Organic Revolutionary is Gershuny’s bid to set the record straight.

The messages coming from many activists seemed contrary to the organic principles that we all claimed to espouse, and the demand that the standards must be as high as possible actually played into the likely agribusiness agenda of preventing organic agriculture from becoming any threat to business as usual by limiting it to a tiny niche market. (From the prologue)

This book contains a much needed perspective on the debates that rage within the US organic movement, including labeling and nationwide standards, the role of the US government, and the reconciliation of radical politics with real world practice. Gershuny’s views are unpopular- and will surely remain so- with some activists and organic advocates. But regardless of their viewpoint, readers will come away enriched from reading Organic Revolutionary.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Carmelo Ruiz is a graduate of the Institute for Social Ecology’s MA program and took a summer class with Gershuny. He has also worked with some of her most outspoken critics and attackers.

Ruiz is a Puerto Rican author and journalist and visiting professor at the Institute for Social Ecology and Bates College, and a senior fellow of the Environmental Leadership Program ( ). Since 2004 he directs the Biosafety Blog ( ). His most recent blogging venture is The World According to Carmelo ( ). His Twitter account is @carmeloruiz.

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The art of editing – Guardian books podcast

As the digital revolution sweeps through publishing, is editing in decline? We find out how the 21st-century editor works, with Diana Athill, Matt Weiland, Karolina Sutton and many more
The upheavals of the information age have transformed traditional publishing, a revolution that has arrived along with a rumble of complaint from critics over editorial standards. But is the art of editing in decline? And if editors are under pressure in the 21st century, if the quiet business of improving a manuscript is simply out of tune with our always-on world, then how does that affect the books on our shelves? What, indeed, do editors actually do all day?
Diana Athill, Matt Weiland and Francesca Main explore how editing combines talent spotting, cheerleading, project management and a close engagement with the text, while the critics Alex Clark and DJ Taylor examine the strains on contemporary publishers. Literary agent Karolina Sutton describes a profession transformed, while Kathryn Sutherland offers a historical perspective and translation specialists Stefan and Tara Tobler consider the wider world.
Reading list
Stet by Diana Athill (Granta)
The Prose Factory by DJ Taylor (Chatto and Windus)

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lunes, agosto 22, 2016

Documental sobre Vieques

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domingo, agosto 21, 2016

Nuevos acuerdos de comercio legalizan el robo corporativo y vuelven ilegales las semillas campesinas

"Desde 2001, GRAIN le ha seguido la pista al modo en que los llamados acuerdos de libre comercio (TLC), negociados por fuera de la Organización Mundial de Comercio (OMC) y con mucha secrecía, se están utilizando para ir más allá de los estándares internacionales existentes sobre el patentamiento de formas de vida. En este documento, actualizamos la información que tenemos sobre los TLC que están legalizando el robo perpetrado por las corporaciones mientras amenazan la capacidad de los campesinos para guardar, producir e intercambiar semillas en todo el mundo."

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(Incomplete) Chronology of Puerto Rico’s political ecology

By Carmelo Ruiz


1959- Founding of the pro-independence organization Movimiento Pro Independencia (MPI) and its newspaper Claridad.

1964-66- The local press informs that the government plans to approve strip mining projects. The MPI and the autonomist group Vanguardia Popular present environmental objections. The debate around mining marks the birth of the modern ecology movement in Puerto Rico.

1969-79- A period of generalized violence against the independence movement, which included police brutality, mob violence, bombings of homes and businesses of prominent independentistas, arson attacks against Claridad and its printing press, abductions and assassinations. The evidence gathered from journalistic investigations and declassified documents of the Puerto Rico and US governments points that these attacks were the doing of corrupt agents of the Puerto Rico Police Intelligence Division, Cuban exile terrorists, the FBI and the CIA.

1970- Founding of Misión Industrial, Puerto Rico’s leading environmental organization.

1971- The MPI is transformed into the Puerto Rico Socialist Party (PSP).

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viernes, agosto 19, 2016

Music recorded on cell phones

Recorded in New York City for Pitchfork Radio & Sonos. Tracklist and more information available here:

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Carmelo Ruiz: Un informe que no pone fin al debate

Desobediencia y dominó #NoalaJunta

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jueves, agosto 18, 2016


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Lynda Barry on Bullseye

Lynda Barry on finding your creativity and working with preschool children

Lynda Barry is a self-identified "freak", a cartoonist, a writer, and for the last couple of years, she's also been a college professor teaching interdisciplinary creativity at the University of Wisconsin.
What does that mean? Well, she encourages students to abandon their fears of creating and embrace their work and process.
Lynda talks with us about using monsters as a tool, why we're sometimes afraid to draw, and working with Matt Groening in high school.
Lynda Barry’s book The Greatest of Marlys is now available in hardback

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No te quedes callado, protesta!

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martes, agosto 16, 2016

Nikki Glaser on Bullseye
Bullseye with Jesse ThornNikki Glaser on developing a sex-comedy talk show, giving relationship advice, and working in uncomfortable situationsNikki Glaser is a comedian and host of...

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn

Nikki Glaser on developing a sex-comedy talk show, giving relationship advice, and working in uncomfortable situations

Nikki Glaser is a comedian and host of the Comedy Central series Not Safe with Nikki Glaser. She find humor in talking honestly about sex. On her show, she’s hooked up her friends to a lie detector and asks them about their sex lives, stayed inside of a strip club for 24 hours, attended a foot fetish party, and so much more.
Nikki sits down with Jesse to talk about developing her Comedy Central show with her boyfriend, even when they were in the middle of a breakup. They also chat about working for MTV, going to Trump rallies, and why she just can’t have as much fun at pools any more.
Nikki Glaser’s show is called Not Safe with Nikki Glaser.

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lunes, agosto 15, 2016

David Bollier on Writer’s Voice With Francesca Rhiannon

For the vast majority of human history, the dominant economic system was the commons. In fact, many anthropologists believe that it was our ability to cooperate in using shared resources that drove our evolution, including the development of language.

So how did such a fundamental mode of human behavior fall into such disuse — and even ill repute? We hear a lot about the “tragedy of the commons” and nothing about its incredible success, even where practiced in our capitalism-dominated world. And just as an aside — what about the tragedy of private enterprise? You don’t have to look very far to see how putting private profits over social needs is bringing us to the brink of planet-wide disaster.

David Bollier is at the forefront of the modern commoning movement. He was part of the first effort to establish an international legal framework for the commons and is the author of several previous books about the movement. We’ve talked with him about some of them previously on this show.

Bollier’s new book, co-edited with Silke Helfrich, is Patterns of Commoning. Collecting contributions from Commoners around the world, it richly demonstrates the vitality of the movement and its expansion into multiple arenas, from seed banking to free and open source software.

The book covers neighborhood commons, both urban and rural (like the Potato Park of Peru, pictured above); arts and culture commons, technology commons, exchange and credit commons and biocultural commons. In its pages, a new, more convivial and sustainable means of organizing our economy comes to life.

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Presentación del libro de Angel Agosto