Activism…the point being?

It seems to me that established activism groups have been slow on the up-take of potential benefits with social media and the internet. The recent Kony 2012 campaign proved this – a video designed with a specific SM strategy that went viral, while many other equally (if not more) important issues plodded along with candle-lit vigils or email petitions.

The question I’ve been pondering is – does any of it matter? 80 million views of a video is not going to get a man experienced in hiding in African jungles captured, neither are some candles in a city park far from Syria going to get Assad to resign.

When I protested in 2003 with 500,000 others against the Iraq invasion, even then it felt like the entire population of Australia couldn’t change Howard’s mind. It felt unlikely that any of the Occupy sit-ins were going to achieve anything, yet still those folk sat-in, and just like the war protests they changed nothing. The people that think the system is broken agreed with them from their lounge-rooms; while people who thought they were whingeing hippies continued yelling at them from their loungerooms to ‘get a job’.

GetUp and Avaaz – the online petition sites – appeal to me because I’m not so keen on writing personal letters, even though I know it might be more effective. I just feel like I have limited knowledge on whatever the topic is, and will be shot down by anyone who has access to advisors or funds for research. Slacktivism in action. It’s why the Kony campaign was at least effective in getting it’s message out – people felt like their click changed something. Which of course it didn’t. I have read some success stories from the online petition sites, but still feel a little hopeless with each click.

So, I’m a big sceptic (not the only one) but still participate in hope. Hope that someone will change their mind, but how often does that happen? Not just the powerful, but us commoners? About major things, not where to go for dinner. Major change sometimes meaning admitting we were wro…wr….wrong. Are our minds open enough to this?

I prefer changing my actions and sharing my slacktivism to writing letters and organizing protests; hopefully this encourages my framily to think a little about their own actions in whatever the cause. I hope this happens in any case. It certainly happens in reverse – when I witness the actions of my framily, it reveals a little about their beliefs, but also triggers me to consider my own thoughts on said cause. If I see a way I can improve I take it, even if it is just filling up on previously absent knowledge. Recent cases are – how little I knew about the plight of West Papuans; and re-enforcing the horrors that a colonialist approach has inflicted on Australia’s Indigenous peoples from 1778 until today. Is this how social evolution (rather than revolution) works – people sharing and being inspired by other’s actions? If so, social media is at the heart of battles to come, even if it is slacktivism.

Perhaps this is why I do this blog – because I have doubt that group activism makes lasting change and find it more likely to succeed through personal discussion with those closer to me. It’s also why people shouldn’t feel hesitant to share the good things they do. Just do it on Facebook please.

PS  I think this post rambled a bit, but it’s been hanging about for days because it’s all been disjointed in my head….but I need to move on, and get it out there. An aim with the blog was for things to be clearer in my head if I wrote them down…hasn’t worked so well with this one.

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Eggs Ain’t Eggs

The topic that welcomes me back into my blogging – postponed due to an action packed holiday schedule back in Australia – is timely for two reasons. The first is that eggs organically became the topic of conversation in Australia a couple of times; the second – and of equal importance – in the news this week is the EU enforcing their Jan 1st ban on battery caged eggs being sold within their borders.

Caged eggs still exist in Australia – in fact they hold about 70% market share – despite most people recognising that they’re a bad idea. If egg cartons had pictures of the conditions the hens live, and said “UNNATURALLY HOUSED EGGS FROM STRESSED HENS”, clearly no-one would buy them. The labelling is misleading, and often terms that we think mean better conditions for the hens are in fact still caged eggs or an equivalent – just with an opaque name. So, a quick look through the common terms.

Cage eggs (and assume anything without a description is as bad as this) – a laying hen that is unfortunate enough to be producing eggs from a cage is subjected to living it’s entire life on the equivalent of roughly an A4 piece of paper; never, ever sees daylight or fresh air; lives in a cage with between 3 and 20 other birds; with nothing but wire mesh for flooring; gets feed an unnatural diet; and after all that only lives for about one year. Something is wrong when this situation is PERMITTED BY LAW.

Barn-laid eggs – doesn’t this invoke images of an old farmer with a straw hat wandering out to pick up a few eggs, just for you? In legality, barn-laid means caged eggs without the cages. Essentially they build massive sheds to house the hens, who hang around on the ground, all 5000 of them packed in as close as they would be in cages. The never-seeing-daylight, unnatural food and lifespan all persist.

Free-range eggs – now we’re onto something, right. This is where the chickens are running around without fences and the farmer has to coax them into a coop at night to lay your eggs. Again, reality a lot different from the image on the box. Free-range eggs only differ from Barn-laid ones in that the hens must have access to the outside. That seems OK? Well, it depends on how one defines ‘access’ – if access is one small door in a shed housing 5000 birds then the outside just became a little more difficult to reach.

‘Certified’ Organic eggs – this one can be just as confusing as the rest! It means that the hens’ feed has no chemicals or additives in it; and that chemicals and synthetics have been avoided to the last resort – especially with regards to anti-biotics. It doesn’t however, guarantee a place out in the sun for the hens – they only need to meet free-range space requirements – and although standards prohibit overcrowding one can imagine it happens on the larger scale farms.

A whole other post is probably required – books have been written in fact – about all the other horrible things humans do just to get eggs for breakfast: but briefly they include – beak cutting; restriction from any sort of natural behaviour like foraging or nesting; and pre-emptive over-use of anti-biotics. These practices would apply to all farming types aside from organic eggs, and are the result of large scale factory farming. Even organic eggs cannot escape the elephant in the cage – what happens to the chicks that are unlucky enough to be born male and therefore of no financial value? In Australia alone, 12 million male chicks are killed every year. Not a typo – 12,000,000. Not cool. They die because you and I want to eat cakes and frittatas, fact.

My own personal view is that it is hard, even for certified organic farms, to be running a successful business whilst having the animal’s welfare first and foremost – if the operation they are running is large scale. I’ve done the feeding at my uncle’s chicken shed and it’s enough work controlling a dozen hens let alone 1000. One of my main reasons for staying vegetarian is animal welfare, and I’m not sure I can justify buying eggs from anyone other than small scale producers like neighbours and friends with a few hens scratching the lawn.

In the process of writing all this I’ve realised I can be better:

– We still occasionally buy the free-range eggs (organic of course) from the larger supermarket downstairs because we feel like a chocolate brownie or something, and our carton is empty. That needs to stop.

– A good tip I’ve read, not just about eggs but all food products, is ask to visit the farm where they’re produced – if the producer says no, they’ve probably got something to hide. I’m still yet to do this at all, but I should.

Finally, here’s my main problem with eating eggs or not, and it not only applies to eggs but is a big hurdle in making a full transition to veganism : there’s a social element to food. One of the major ways my paternal family celebrates special occasions is with cake, there’s always at least two cakes on offer (sometimes for only about 7 people), and often it’s 3 or more. Is it fair to my family in the midst of singing happy birthday to ask about chickens’ living conditions? Plenty of my friends are scared at the thought of having to cook vegetarian meals, I fear a vegan path leads me towards social exclusion, at least in a culinary sense. Which is not cool, because food is the most binding of social and cultural fabric.

Whilst I wrestle with that dilemma, I’m going to visit the producers of the eggs we use at home; and be more forthcoming with conversations about eggs…for those friends who I want to cook me dinner.

Small Habit, Big Change – Buy organic eggs, preferably from a farmer you know (your local farmer’s market is a good start)

Who To Trust?

MSG is bad for us right? Well, it all depends on who you believe. I’m using MSG as an example here, but this situation probably occurs with every product available – which research can you trust? I saw an article today about soy milk vs cow’s milk and there were so many varied and opinionated responses in the comments section that reflect how individual our diets can be.

Firstly, what most debaters can agree on about MSG, condensed into about three lines and as my best interpretation – a Japanese scientist in the early 1900s wondered why a particular type of seaweed soup tasted so good, and discovered MSG was the responsible party. He extracted the compound from the seaweed and ‘bottled’ it. It came to ‘western’ cultures after WWII, when American troops occupying a Japanese base wondered why the Japanese rations tasted so much better than their spam. They took samples home and MSG is now used in as a flavour enhancer in more items than we care to imagine.

If one is interested enough, or feels like looking, there is plenty of research to suggest that MSG causes more problems than just the occasional headache from eating Chinese food. Scientists opposed to it have linked it to many conditions/diseases like Autism, ADHD, Diabetes/Obesity and Cancer; as well as plenty of issues surrounding it’s effect on unborn/newborn/ailing.

This kind of research is of course not good publicity for the fakefood* companies that depend on MSG for profit, and they try hard to push the case for it’s continued use. If one purely listens to mainstream media, one is likely to come across articles such as this that seem to relieve MSG of all blame. First question that springs to my mind is – How much do such journalists get paid? Of course, this research is also conducted by scientists, so who or what to believe is still the question.

A large indicator for me that companies put profits before people is their active promotion of less transparent labeling for food, confirmed with a quick glance at the alternative names for MSG. If I see any of these names on an ingredients list –

Glutamate

Hydrolyzed anything

Yeast Extract

Gelatin

anything Protein

E621 or additive 621 or flavour 621 or anything else 620-625

– then the product goes back on the shelf. These are just the more common replacements, there are plenty more at this website. The issue for me with this list is that (yeast extract) vegemite pizza is such a good hangover cure, but we’ve managed to reduce our intake to about every second weekend. Chips/crisps are another problem, and a main culprit for MSG-addictiveness. I had an experience over a year ago where I ate most of a box of Pringles myself, and woke up the next morning with what felt like a hangover despite not drinking anything. After devouring a vegemite pizza, I swore off Pringles for life (successful so far), and only eat plain salted chips now. Know what – they’re good enough to satisfy the junk cravings.

So, clearly my feet are firmly planted on the ‘bad for us’ side of the fence, for three reasons. Firstly, I believe that anytime we process or extract anything from it’s natural state, we alter it in a way that changes how it behaves. So while MSG that exists in tomatoes or breast milk is fine for us, the additive is bad. Secondly, if the product is harmless (or any product for that matter), why do companies fight labelling laws? There should be nothing to hide. Lastly, I like to follow the money on these things; who has more to gain here – a huge company dependant on this product for maximizing profit, or an individual with a few book sales at best. I trust wherever the money isn’t.

Small Habit, Big Change – Buy plain salted chips instead of MSG-filled ones

*fakefood is my new name for things that we put in our mouth but are not really food.

A Natural Connection

I think I’m turning into my grandpa – my morfar as they say in Swedish (they are a very specific race and don’t have a general word for grandparent, rather mother’s father etc). This thought hasn’t concerned me so much as satisfied me – he is one of my favourite people in the world and if I achieve even a small part of what he has so far then I’m sure my immediate world will be happier.

There are two main indications that lead me to think I’ve taken a lot of his traits.

Firstly, he is constantly thinking about food. His children and grandchildren are often amused and occasionally stressed by how far in advance he can mentally prepare a meal – talking about dinner over breakfast is a regular occurrence. I suspect all people of a certain era do this, born out of necessity to prepare every meal themselves, from an age before fast food and take-away was within easy reach. I also behave similarly out of necessity – it is quite hard to match my food choices to many take-away options; and as mentioned in previous posts, my preference is to avoid packaging…soaking beans means I often out-trump grandpa by thinking about tomorrow’s dinner while tonight’s is on the stove. Not having many on-the-run lunch options means I have to think ahead about that as well. I’m comfortable with this – less fast food is healthier and less take-away makes the wallet heavier.

Secondly, the most recent time I spoke with grandpa he said – “the garden is one of my best friends”, which made me laugh heartily. It wasn’t (in my mind) a sad reflection on his friendship circle, rather an acknowledgement of how important his garden is in his life. My favourite pastime on Kangaroo Island is poking about the garden. Along similar lines is his attraction to the land – he grew up in country towns, which he (I think) fostered in his children, despite them living in the ‘big smoke’ of Adelaide throughout their youth. They have all at some stage owned land ‘in the sticks’ and increasingly I feel myself being drawn out of the city – to a life where the rise and fall of the sun constitutes time; where I can grow all my own food, be forced to think about what to make for next Tuesday’s dinner because there really is no other option; or get enjoyment from just being outside.

There are quite a number of other traits I see in myself that came from morfar – another prominent one is the urge to travel, especially on the road. Of course, I can picture things I do that come from my entire lineage, but a character connection with my morfar feels the strongest of all just now, even from half the globe away.

Change a Stranger’s Life

There are plenty of emotions that arise during all the documentaries we’ve watched recently, the most common ones I’ve had are amazement and anger. Constant amazement at how clever people are, and anger at corporations and (less often) governments for reducing that cleverness to greed for money. This is why a concept that my sister told me about is so brilliant – it avoids the greed of corporations and powerful people.

KIVA is a microfinance organisation that connects (relatively speaking) rich people in the developed world with poor people needing small amounts of money to do basic things, like grow food or become educated or start a business. How clever is that. Dr. Mohammad Yunus is credited with bringing microfinance to life in the late seventies, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work. His central idea is that where normal banks see poor people at risk of default, he recognized the inherent goodness in people and their desire to repay the good faith someone shows them. I didn’t spend too much time looking, but I found one stat that said 7% of prime American loans (i.e the ones considered low risk) are in default – KIVA stats suggest that almost 99% of their loans get repaid.

But to me, this repayment doesn’t matter. The amount they suggest as a loan is US$25, and they group my money with that of a few other people, so that the loan to the recipient is significant enough to start or continue their own business. It’s helping them to help themselves. In my eyes, if that $25 doesn’t get repaid then I’ve donated it to someone who needed it way more than me.

Also, they satisfy another criteria of mine when donating – avoid denominational organisations. Religion is a large multi-national organisation greedy for members and capital in exactly the same way as corporations and governments. Yes, their charities (much more often than not) do good work, but I see no need in them also promoting their own agenda at the same time, it is possible to help people and not simultaneously indoctrinate them. In that regard, with KIVA one can choose what project they would like to support, align it with their own interests so to speak.

So now I have contributed to Anais Veronica in Peru, who has a business selling sugar cane and needs funds to buy more stock and a bike to make deliveries more efficient. My amazement continues: from people’s lives in Peru – which are so different to ours; to the people who thought to connect us; to the fact that with today’s technology it happens in an instant.

Small Habit, Big Change – Help a poor person out of poverty with KIVA