If you haven’t gotten to watch my TEDxSeattle talk, now’s the time. It’s a 14-minute encapsulation of the core messages of my new book, Blessing the Hands that Feed Us (Viking 2014)
If you haven’t gotten to watch my TEDxSeattle talk, now’s the time. It’s a 14-minute encapsulation of the core messages of my new book, Blessing the Hands that Feed Us (Viking 2014)
Happily holding our banner in a downpour under the shelter of my Mary Poppins-with-bling umbrella, I begin my next career as an organizer of protests, pickets, demonstrations, and other such human installations for a cause.
At 2 PM the sun was out. By 3 a chill wind blew up the hill from the ferry. At 3:45 I took my plastic lawn chair, umbrella and sign over to the sidewalk in front of Wells Fargo Bank, satisfied to be a lone crazy making a sit (I don’t stand for long these days) for Standing Rock. A few minutes later Aubrie and her dog arrived, she with signs, dog with great enthusiasm. Just as the skies opened about 2 dozen people showed up with hand written signs and great determination. We chanted “Water is Life. Mni Wiconi.” and waved our colorful umbrellas at commuters likely confused by what they saw.
It was hard to really communicate a complex message for the drivers whizzing up the hill in the rain. We stood in solidarity with the #waterprotectors at Standing Rock in North Dakota. We stood on behalf of the 70 million people whose drinking water would be at risk if the Dakota Access LLC completes the pipeline slated to bore under the Missouri River. We stood on behalf of future generations, Continue reading Rain is Life!
First shot: a freeway cloverleaf at rush hour.
Cut to foreshortened slo-mo shot of people in a generic city looking worried and harried bobbing down a sidewalk on the way to work.
More shots of toddlers watching TV, teenagers taking Selfies, unemployment offices.
This is the visual vocabulary of a degraded life in the consumer culture where there are no more brass rings of happiness on the not so merry money-go-round. In 10 seconds we recognize this truth for so many people – maybe ourselves.
Cut to a village in rural Mexico or Africa or Asia, where older people sit on rickety chairs on porches of thatched houses as children play in the dirt with a few sticks or hoops or maybe an old can. Everyone is laughing. This is visual vocabulary for “we’ve lost our way”, or “what ever happened to the simple life?”
Perhaps you’ve even come home from a visit to villages like that and said to your friends, “I don’t get it. They have nothing and they are happy.” A friend’s teenage daughter came home and refused to sleep on her bed or eat anything but rice and beans in protest to the tinsel culture she’s doomed to inhabit.
We need to get out of this trite movie. Right now.
Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”
Stupid simplicity is thinking that there are only two options, either this or that. Civilization with its discontents or village life with it’s sweet pleasures.
Stupider still is wasting time justifying your choice. However, stupid simplicity is also changing this up as “both/and.” That is still accepting that there are two viable options.
Life is complex. There are hundreds of options of what kind of village you live in, from a dozen to 20 million. There are hundreds of options of where you rest your head at night, from a tent to a mansion and how you get to work, from walking to flying and how you make enough to support the life you choose. There are many household styles, from single to intergenerational family to polyamourous pansexual anarchist communes. And all of these are on a time continuum, as in your parents saying “I was a hippie in the 70s, an investment banker in the 80s, started a tech company in the 90s … that failed… and ending up teaching social studies.”
It’s like learning to live at sea rather than on land. As mind numbing and violent as video games may be, the better ones do train you to make strategic choices under pressure and see what happens, knowing that whatever happens actually defines the game you are now playing, ad infinitum.
You can see that the “They have nothing but they are happy” conundrum suffers from binary confusion. Are there are haves and have nots? No, there are different forms of having. And there are different experiences of what we have. Some of the people on the rush hour freeways may be listening to their favorite podcast or the complete Shakespeare canon over the course of 6 months. Some may be fuming over a fight with their kids. Or risking the veins in their temples bursting in rage from the-world-according-to-talk show host.
Some people on that sidewalk might be heading home to their family or a date with someone wonderful. Some may have been fired. Some hired. And some may be between the three jobs they need to feed their family.
In the happy village there may be a crop about to fail or a child that dies for no good reason.
Binary thinking eliminates all this richness and complexity. So I propose we try sorting wealth in 4 buckets, not just the money one, to help us see more about happiness and having. Others have sorted wealth in different ways, many quite elegant. This sort is just a baby step towards getting out of binary stupidity
This is the bucket we spend a lifetime trying to fill. The one that leaks so it can never fill. The one that can never fill because the quantity of our desires grows faster than our capacity to satisfy them.
In this bucket are most books, blogs, financial independence systems… including the 9-step program in the book I coauthored with Joe Dominguez, Your Money or Your Life.
In this bucket are most of the financial instruments you will use to accumulate savings and go from relying 100% on earned income to relying largely on passive income. I can’t say 100% because everything from portfolios to real estate to benefactors must be tended.
In this bucket, too, is your stuff. If my closet, kitchen or storage shed are any example, easily 50% of what’s in this bucket is at the bottom and never used, including those pieces of paper called honors, degrees and newspaper clippings from a glorious sprint through fame.
Many ways to fill this bucket exist. A salaried job is one. Inheritance is another. The list goes on. Building a successful business. Investing in the stock market. Owning productive property – from range-land to houses to farms. Storing wealth in art or minerals. Gambling. Often overlooked is that spending less than you earn is how the bucket actually fills. The less you spend the faster it fills. More overlooked still is that the size of the bucket also determines the amount needed to fill. If your lifestyle does not expand unduly while your income grows – which may depend on other kinds of wealth below – you can achieve enough at the level of money and stuff wealth.
Those laughing grannies and kiddos remind us of heart wealth. There are four distinctions in this bucket:
Self-knowledge: the better you understand yourself the less friction you create in the flow of well being. Experience is a great teacher – if you learn, so anything that happens in your life can educate your heart. I have found several personality systems very useful: The Enneagram and Human Design are two that have advanced my self knowledge light years.
Social-Emotional Intelligence: we turn to stuff and money to meet needs that can’t be met materially and therein lies so much grief – and debt. Developing this muscle allows you to express yourself clearly, listen without (too much) reactivity, enjoy differences, ask for what you want, set boundaries. This is also the domain of taking down those boundaries consciously to let the exquisite wealth of love flow.
Spiritual-ethical foundation: Whether you believe in a transcendent divine or an animate earth, you build wealth here by examining your beliefs, making an effort to align values and actions, and embody the truth that we are all connected. Doing this you have a chance to be an ethical person and build rich soil of dignity, patience, leadership, wisdom to anchor your deep roots.
Self-care: it took a cancer diagnosis at nearly 60 year old to alert me to the fact that I didn’t actually care about myself. I cared about a lot of other things and people but I did not know how to nurture myself from a space of deep kindness.
In Your Money or Your Life we talk about 3 kinds of FI: financial independence, financial integrity and financial intelligence. FI1 is your money and stuff bucket. FI2 is your heart wealth bucket. FI3 is smarts wealth. It’s accountability, knowing how much you own, how much you owe, how much you earn, how much you spend and whether all that is working for you… buddy. This also includes all the skills and knowledge you acquire to make your life interesting, enjoyable lucrative and stable – from bicycle mechanics to gardening to small engine repair to accounting to sewing to cooking to leading groups to giving speeches to doing complex equations for building bridges. Half the time we spend on the internet we’re building this wealth – the other half we’re pouring our brains out our ears but that can stop.
My dear dear friends, it may come as a surprise or an annoyance or an insult or a relief but we are not doing this alone. If we have strong common wealth, we can all have smaller buckets and less struggle to fill them. Amazingly the consumer culture – everything about it – occludes our sense of the common good. Just a reminder, our common wealth includes:
Actually, if we are very very smart we will realize that life gets easier for us as individuals the stronger the common wealth becomes. We build it through community participation, neighborliness, investing in local capacity, taxes, policy making, service projects and, because I am writing this the week of Trumps volcano of vulgarity, being civil.
How to put these 4 buckets into practice in your own life – that’s another blog post. For now, hopefully, we’ve stepped outside of boring dualities and into fascinating and empowering complexities.
In just two months the Standing Rock Sioux non violent resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline boring under the Missouri River has grown from a few Water Protectors in prayer and ceremony to 4 camps where well over 200 tribal groups and 10,000 people have passed through – and many are staying for the winter to keep the water and land safe and the pipeline from being built. As you may know, it’s heating up. Arrests. Multiple actions not only in North Dakota but in Iowa with the Mississippi Stand and the amazing October 12 action closing down all the major pipelines crossing into the US from the tar sands in Alberta.
How can those of us not on the front lines help? We can educate ourselves, raise awareness through social media, act on local “keep it in the ground” or divest/invest or water protection issues. And we can send support to those on the front lines. Here are a variety of ways you can feed, clothe, shelter and protect the water protectors.
The Indigenous Environmental Network has been working for many years on many fronts to challenge threats to land, water and culture.
This Standing Rock Legal Team fundraiser is through a Fundrazr campaign
The Sacred Stone Camp gofundme campaign puts money towards where the immediate needs are – there’s no way to know how it’s spent but it’s run by the Sioux
If you want to help with the winter camp for those who are staying in the cold, risking arrest, doing non violent prayerful demonstrations, here‘s their current Amazon Wishlist.
A Medic and Healing team has formed to provide services to all 4 camps. They are in the middle of nowhere in the winter with people risking health and harm and need western and indigenous medical supplies plus equipment like stretchers and splints and even a 4wd to transport patients. Here’s two campaigns to help with these needs. This one is an Amazon Wish List and this is for building a wellness center.
There are many more fundraising efforts. Here are pages of GoFundMe campaigns. Here are some on YouCaring. See what touches your heart personally. Hundreds of us are trying to help in dozens of ways, from caring for the dogs to the horses to the warriors to the women, from making films to delivering needed materials.
Here’s what I know. The more I participate, the more a deep need within me is filled – a need for justice, for standing up for what is right and against what is wrong, a need to actively care, a need to say No to trashing the earth, to take my last stand. I become part of this global outpouring of human caring. Somehow the Sioux have made room for all of us to participate and we are flooding in however we can. I know that using your social networks and social media to tell the many stories of this up-wising helps. I know I am healing something even more important, helping decolonize my mind, our minds, our society and return the earth to the best caretakers, all caring peoples together resolving the dark history of this continent. So these lists are an invitation to you to join in this important work, not a plea or a pledge.
(I begin, again, to tell stories via this blog. Recently I visited Standing Rock where the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota Sioux are in non violent resistance to the building of a crude oil pipeline under the Missouri River, their main water sources, and across land where their ancestors are buried)
In September 2016 I drove from the Black Hills in South Dakota to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in Cannonball North Dakota with a large suitcase full of winter coats, blankets and an air mattress – feeling compelled the way a blood cell in might race towards the heart with a sense of purpose, duty and joy.
I had a long standing trip planned to South Dakota for September – and my proximity to Standing Rock – albeit 300+ flat prairie miles away – exerted a inexplicable magnetism on the needle of my inner compass. In retrospect, here’s how I am beginning to explain it to myself.
My story of Standing Rock, and I’ll wager many of yours, starts with “I saw it on Facebook.” It was early July when a friend started reporting about her role as a legal advisor at the Sacred Stone camp. She talked about calling on her full quiver of legal tools to stop the boring of the Dakota Access Pipeline under the Missouri River next to the Standing Rock Reservation. She also talked about the muddy road and no sleep, about her devastation when the Army permitted Dakota Access’s access to the lands of the Heartland, about her own human failings and her tenderness towards her all too mortal allies. I entered not just through issues but through her heart.
Mni Wiconi. Water is Life.
I began to learn a new hashtag vocabulary. #mniwiconi. #waterislife. #noDAPL, I learned about the issue, about the 1200 mile pipeline, about that Enbridge Energy Partners began without all the permits in place, about the 500 gallons of Bakken crude oil per day that will run through the pipeline when it’s complete, about the fact that it won’t even feed America’s habit for oil, but rather feed Energy Transfer Partners’ bottom line as they sell it to China, about how they will bore underneath the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, about the inevitability of spills, about the millions who will lose access to their water when that happens, about treaty rights being abrogated. In the mirror of these facts I saw the fact that the rent check on this edifice of stolen land and broken promises and genocide is coming due.
Why did this campaign strike my heart when so many other posts float by on my screen, the cheerful celebrations of marriages and babies, the indignant links to murderous wars and black men falling on the streets of our cities?
The refrain Mni Wiconi, Water is Life drew up from the well of my past my own relationship with water and spirit.
Nearly 50 years before my pilgrimage to Standing Rock I embarked on a classic generational pilgrimage. in 1969, just 23 years old, I went on the road with a van, a dog and a guy. By early winter we’d passed through CA and followed the sun to Mazatlan, Mexico. There I walked into the warm Pacific Ocean with enough LSD in my veins to open the doors of my heart to a sense of Universal Love. For hours I let the waves wash my fears away and walked out feeling reborn in the earth’s original baptismal font. I sat up all night with 3 friends under a dome of stars still winking iridescent colors, pouring out a river of words about the shape a life base in love might take. We bonded as a module of 4 around those words. A community grew around us, the remnant of which I was slated to visit in South Dakota.
By 1969, 10 years of back to the land, space age motor home building and further spiritual quests under our belts, we were traveling in said motor home on a self-styled mission to be of service to others. The vision on the Mexico beach, though, had become like a religion. I’d become good but not quite real.
We camped for a few days at Lassen Volcanic National Park at, as I recall, Manzanita Lake Campground. We planned to start breaking camp by 7 AM, but I was up far earlier and walked down to the Lake. Fog hung low below the trees and mist rose from the lake in the early morning light. A loon’s call struck my heart, the sound of a solitary soul. I took off my clothes and walked in the water up to my neck without flinching at the cold, my breasts floating, skin goose-bumping in alarm. I wasn’t cold or lonely or rehearsing the story I’d tell later. I felt profoundly free, the way I had in the ocean. Baptised again as the ever-present quiet self, always there behind the big ideas and high ideals.
Mni Wiconi. Water is Life.
Thirty five years later I was living in a large house in Seattle with a group that had grown out of those early days. Your Money or Your Life had been conceived, written, published and become a best seller in that house. I was 15 years into traveling the world as a missionary for putting money in service to life (and life in service to love). In February 2004, though, that all came to a screeching halt. I was diagnosed with a cancer the size of a proverbial grapefruit in my gut and had just had it removed. Recovering on a couch in the living room, I had three prophetic dreams on three successive nights. The first two dreams are for another story, though I will say they have informed my life ever since. In the final dream I was walking across a parched landscape, my mouth dry and lips split from thirst. As I woke these sentences came:
I am drinking dead water.
I need to drink living water.
By water I will be healed.
More awake, a fourth sentence came: I have to leave this house.
As I puzzled what to do about such a dream, I spoke with a friend for whom cancer had also been a teacher.
“You know that living water is how Christ spoke of himself to the woman at the well.”
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Dead water was everything dead in my life. Assumptions. Relationships. Even identity. Being almost 60, debris certainly circulated through my spiritual veins.
Living water was taking in only what added health and vitality to my body and soul. It turned out I had to live by myself to even discern what inside me wanted to live.
By water I will be healed. At first I thought that I needed to drink water from a spring, rather that the channeled, piped, treated liquid out of the faucet, far from it’s riverbed home. Then I realized it wasn’t water id drink, it was water beside which I would live able to see the great cleansing tidal sweep of the ocean.
Mni Wiconi. Water is life.
Fast forward to May 2016. I have lived for a decade on this island in Puget Sound, drinking wonderful water pumped from a well head less than 1000 feet from my home. I have been healed, and this place is part of it, the tides, the smallness of the community, the local food and nourishing relationships. If you recall the sweet tale, Madeline, about girls in a perfectly orderly little Paris boarding school, you’ll recall the head nun, Miss Clavel, woke one night and said, “Something is not right.” This is how I felt on my island as I learned about the fight to keep the black snakes of pipelines carrying Bakken Crude – from the Tar Sands in Alberta and oil fields in the heartland – from reaching any port on any coast. These healing waters are threatened by our thirst for oil.
I’d heard about Idle No More in Canada, First Nations elder women waking from the slumber of marginalization, ready to fight. I’d heard from Reuben George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation in Vancouver how by using their treaty rights they are stopping the Kinder Morgen Pipeline. Something in me said “Yes, this is how it happens!”
I now have enough arthritis that walking can be a challenge, though medicated I do much better, but when I learned that one of 350.org’s Break Free From Fossil Fuel actions would be in Anacortes, I could not stay away. The Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest organized a 3 mile march. Holding on to the arm of a young friend, I made it. There Jewell James celebrated that his Lummi Tribe had won their battle to stop the Cherry Point Coal Port from being built because of their treaty rights to their fishing ground. Treaty Rights. Not civil, not activist. Yes, this is how it happens.
Jewell James told us he carved a totem pole every year to deliver to a tribe that is battling big energy companies and that everywhere the totem pole went, the tribes won. Deborah Parker from the Tulalip tribe, one of Bernie Sanders’ picks for the Democratic Platform Committee, spoke as well. And again Reuben George who said, when Kinder Morgan offered to have a conversation about the impasse, “You are a corporation. I represent a nation. I only speak with other nations.” We also welcomed another tribe arriving by canoe – surely one of the canoes that was later towed to the Missouri River to paddle to Standing Rock in a show of solidarity.
I knew I was in the presence of the right relationships to turn the tide: grounded in the spirit of the land and of the Creator, indigenous led, asserting treaty rights. It was as if I had waited my whole life for the real grown ups to come and tell us hyper-active, self-centered kids to settle down and stop tearing up the house. Here are the earth-honoring people claiming their rights, their spirit-led way of life, welcoming us to walk with them.
Mni Wiconi. Water is Life.
We live here on the Salish Sea. We are defined by our watersheds, our inland waterways, our magnificent marine life, our annual rain and our tides. Water is life.
In just over a month, I read the first post about Standing Rock on Facebook and heard felt drawn to feed with my little load of nourishment the heart that is beating at Standing Rock.
Two months later I arrived at Sacred Stone Spirit Camp in my rental car with that big suitcase I’d hauled from Whidbey Island and dove in as one of many, in service to the complex society forming in good will and hard work and sobriety now that winter is coming and these Lakota intend it to be Dakota Access Pipeline’s last stand.
Mni Wiconi. Water is life.
By water we will all be healed, all who allow themselves to feel the pulse of Standing Rock and participate in stopping the black snake that a Lakota prophesy said would one day come up from the earth to spread death and destruction.
We all have a story of how we fit in these times when the tree of life is being shaken to its roots. We don’t have to understand or control the story, we just need to let whatever is alive within each of us feel the pulse and move, possibly leaving much dead water behind, allowing the tides of living waters to heal us.
Here is the report I wrote before returning to South Dakota and to the people who’d been magnetized long ago to a vision born in the ocean in Mexico of a community rooted in love and service, which I had seen in action among the #mniwiconi #waterprotectors:
A quick first impression before getting on the road. 6 hours is not enough to say anything true so pick your sources of information and stay tuned to them. I brought my suitcase of love, blankets and jackets from Whidbey to Sacred Stone camp which is on private land (Lakota Sioux LaDonna Bravebull Allard) where the winter camp is being built. No photos allowed so I could not objectify the camp, but just plunge in and offer help. Half a dozen teepee’s and for the rest it looks like what it is: an orderly squatters camp with strong will and big intentions with a sweat lodge by the river. (where they are doing ceremony… and consider themselves the ceremonial camp). Their intention is to build as alt energy, alt buildings and systems village as possible – and soon so they can endure the winter. I saw a typical lodge of a northern tribe being built – just the frame was up using sweat lodge building techniques.
I brought my gifts into a chaos of clothing. most of it like mine filled with love and solidarity but once unpacked simply a welter of jackets and pants, large and small, mens and women’s and children’s. I arrived around 3. by then 3 large storage tents erected. When I left around 6, 2 or 3 more had been assembled. Since pawing through old clothes is one of my skills, I worked with a team of cheerful women to sort, bag, box and we self-organized quickly. There’s an inner intelligence to emergent systems like this camp where the gap between vision and reality is great and everyone is there to help. A feeling on industry and good cheer. The camp leadership is clearly indigenous, but many of the workers were white and young, some with dreads, some having arrived on a colorful school bus painted with the Baba Nam Kevalam chant.
My main connection was a woman from Seattle holding down the medicine tent. I gave my $ donation to her for supplies as they at this moment need larger items like splints and stretchers to make a real infirmary for the winter. Folks asked me where to send money or what is needed. honestly, i am sorting that out. For eg: they asked for jackets, i answered the call but so did MANY others and it’s not clear how much is enough anymore.
The medic said they need teams who come equipped with skills, money, materials and time and who do a well executed project beginning to end – like the people from the northern tribe building a lodge. I can imagine my permaculture friends getting organized to build part of the winter encampment – a straw bale or cob structure – but I have no idea how such a team knows who to coordinate with. YET.
I can also imagine a tech team that can work with the people in the camp to keep the website up to date without having to be on site adding to the food in/poop out demands on the land. For now, they are overwhelmed with emails and just sorting through offers and such is big. As I said, emergent. As I said, I only had my eyes on it for a few hours.
I have friends who do church missions to the 2/3 world. I can imagine organized church groups figuring out how to help in an organized way. In a way, organization itself is needed and growing like a fetal brain there. There are now people taking on to keep the several camps working in tandem, sending what’s needed to the right place. As far as I can tell, there are 4 camps, some small, some large, some ceremonial, some statesmenlike with flags of all participating tribes and a microphone where groups can offer their blessings and solidarity
Here’s my top of the head sense of how we all participate:
1. Pray. Hold the highest and best outcome in your heart. There are apparently moles already seeding doubt and conflict (plus the basic mole called human nature). We all need to strengthen the good spirit and deep intelligence of the Sioux tribes leading this water protection. They offer us a great gift, showing us how to be #waterprotectors
2. Sustain attention. This is not a news cycle event. This is a long fight and we are being given by our tribal brothers and sisters a big opportunity to join them. We can keep researching the stories and telling them. Your Facebook and other social media, your email lists, your chances to speak in your groups are all the media. We can write congresspeople when asked. We can organize solidarity events. We can host booths at conferences and festivals to share stories and raise funds. We all have busy lives and short attention spans, so just the effort to keep the world’s awareness on this fight – here, in iowa and anywhere the black snake winds – is attention the DAPL folks wants to go away.
3. Legal and financial strategies are being developed. I invite you to join me in learning what they are and how to help. It’s a bit like a bull fight. We are small and colorful but we are learning how to bring down the raging bull (Wall Street). Legal battles and pressure on those who fund the oil industry to divest are like the picadors who put in darts that begin to bleed the bull’s energy. I have seen in the past few years the movements coming together – from issues to understanding the source of our collective distress in the financial systems and the national security state. More of us see more of how that system operates. The bull can out wait us. It can find an opening and charge through. It can distract us, even with our inner doubts and guilts. So I for one intend to stay close to those who are developing the legal and financial strategies and will support them however i can.
Do you have enough money?
Will you ever?
Are you making a living or making a dying?
These questions posed in the first edition of Your Money or Your Life are just as fresh and in your face as ever. Does it need a face lift, though, to stay relevant for another generation? Take the survey to help us know the answer.
In just a year Your Money or Your Life will celebrate her 25th birthday. It’s not just a book anymore. It’s a classic. A phenomenon. Nearly a million copies in about a dozen languages. Many tens of thousands of people changed their lives in small and large ways using the tools. Phrases like “Money is life energy” and “No shame no blame” and “Gazingus Pin” have entered the culture.
A new generation has come of age into an even more complex financial world than the one 25 years ago. Rather than one career young people can look forward to 7 or more different jobs. Without the option of very inexpensive state or local schools, most students graduate with frankly obscene debt loads. A BA was enough in 1990. Now an MA is assumed. We wrote the first draft of the book before word processors! Now digital natives can track data and get answers via their phones. However, there’s a perennial wisdom between the covers of Your Money or Your Life. It asks you to examine your assumptions, face your behavior, dig for your values, wrap your mind around a much bigger picture than your one little life and question the money game itself. It’s not about strategies. It’s about your relationship with money, which isn’t just money and the things money can buy. It’s about the good life.
If you would like to help us understand how Your Money or Your Life, in some form, with adaptations and updates, might serve another generation, please take this survey.
I’m happy to present to you this lighter, easier on the pocketbook version with a subtitle I like a lot more: Lessons from a 10-Mile Diet.
Let’s, on this Thanksgiving, reflect on whose hands we are blessing as we sit down to a meal.
Perhaps we start with the hands of God or Gaia or the God of your Understanding as they say in AA. Just imagine. The amazing marriage of sun and seed that brings over a quarter of a million edible and medicinal plants species to us, not by the glory of agriculture but by the glory of the gift of biodiversity. Then imagine…the amazing marriage of plants and animals, plants that capture the energy of he sun and animals that capture that energy through eating plants – and one another. None of this through the brilliance of human intervention.
The earth is designed for all to flourish – and for all to eat from the bounty of our generous Sun. Life sacrifices itself for life to continue, an endless relationship of feeding and being fed, birth to death. A ton of food a year goes through our bodies, life sacrificed that we might life. See infographic below. Continue reading A bessing for the hands that feed us – for Thanksgiving
Our first 10-Day Local Food Challenge comes to an official end today – though any day is a good day for a personal local food challenge.
Everyone’s experience this month counts. Those who did it. Those who started and stopped. Those who meant to but didn’t get around to it.
All of you will get the final survey and we hope all of you will use it to let us know how it went. There is no failure. Only information.
Being a local relational eater in a consumerist world takes courage and commitment. A lot of it. We swim against the tide, and the current is strong. The three sirens of consumerism – comfort, control and convenience – are at play in what and how we eat.
Comfort means we might slide into a romance with sugar, salt and fat, the foods our bodies are designed to crave. We may reject new flavors, new foods and the necessity to cook what comes out of the local ground because change itself is uncomfortable. We may not want to be weirdos – out of step with friends and family.
Control means we do not want to face that food isn’t a product, it’s a relationship with the ups and downs of seasons and the climate and that farmers aren’t factory workers, they work hard to supply us with food, often against many odds. The industrial system gives us the illusion of control, but it depends heavily on a diminishing supply of fossil fuel and clockwork supply chains. What looks solid because grocery stores are always stocked is actually fluid and subject to disruption.
Convenience means we are now accustomed to 24/7 grocery stores and pre-cooked foods and claim we are too busy to plan shopping trips and menus and cook in batches from scratch and the other simple skills of now by-gone home-makers (men and women).
How we are going to draw people out of that trance and into what we know as real nourishment is a grand puzzle.
All of us receiving this newsletter are engaged in some way or another in that puzzle – both in changing ourselves and changing the systems that feed us.
The survey will bring these challenges and strategies into sharper focus. Please, when you get the survey, do it. We will probably hound you because your experience is all we have to go on to make an honest assessment of making a local food shift.
Scroll down to read stories from this week on the Facebook group and blog. We’re refining the survey tool now to harvest what we’ve learned; what questions do you want to ask the challengers?
Report from Vicki on Terra Madre
I just spent a week at the bi-annual Slow Food Conference called Terra Madre coupled with the Salone de Gusto, a bodacious 4-trade-show-halls worth of food tasting from every region of Italy and the world.
Slow Food is the big tent – or barn – that includes most of what local eaters care about. Good food. Shared with friends. Grown in the soils of your region. Tended with care. Cooked with love. Good, clean fair food. It’s what I came to call “relational eating.”
Because I was in the Piedmont region, I gave myself an extra day to go to Alba to eat white truffles and drink barolo wine. It occurred to me that I was doing a perfect 100 mile day. A friend told me that when he went to the annual cheese fair in the neighboring town of Bra, he asked the man at the stall with his favorite cheese about a photo tacked to the back of the booth. It was of an older man with a hand on the shoulder of a boy. “You and your son?” “No, my father and me. Taken right here.”
Local eating comes naturally for people rooted in a place. My experience at Terra Madre and with the 10-Day Local Food Challenge underscores what I learned 4 years ago doing my 10-mile diet: eating is an act of belonging, not just an act of consumption.
Local food isn’t just another product, it’s how you participate in the life and vitality of your place on earth.
Local food compared to anywhere food is, pardon the expression, apples and oranges.
Comfort, control and convenience apples from the 24/7 grocery store can hit the spot, but missing are the hundreds of distinct tastes of heritage apples and the security of knowing that if you care for the trees around you, they will feed you for your whole life and the empowerment of being a co-producer, an actor in your food system. We could also point out that the skins of those anywhere apples are bred to be thick to resist bruising, not to be tasty. And those apples are likely sprayed. And not fresh picked. They are missing the nourishment of context. Of belonging. Of being a living being in a living world, sharing food.
The consumerist mind doesn’t give a hoot about all this really. The Slow Food movement has been working for decades to awaken people to the pleasures of the table and the importance of the thousands of varietals of foods to our humanity.
I’m getting on the Slow Food bandwagon. You can too. Join.
Maghan Kasper Andruscavage
I learned to be polite around friends and fam, but having this local challenge gives us a “thing to talk about” with friends. The specifics involved raises the awareness of everyone we talk to, which is awesome.
One important finding: how long I could eat from what is on hand before going to market. Still eating. But will now go to pick up staples. How much GHG reduction by not making regular trips to market and eating locally? What if we added in that component for all of us? It would be substantial.
Although I’ve completed my official challenge, when my 10 days ended, I resolved to make certain that at least one meal per winter day would feature local fare. So far, so delicious.
Maghan Kasper Andruscavage
I will only buy local milk and yogurt. Because its sooooo easy!! And I know I can commit year round.
I finished my 10 day challenge now about 5 days ago and am starting to evaluate what changed. A lot! … Some items I just hadn’t taken that step to start actually buying and using them even though I thought I should. Like goat’s milk. …for the challenge I bought and used the goat’s milk, yogurt and cheese. And now that I broke the ice so to speak I will definitely continue doing so. They taste great and I know are healthier for me and the planet. And it’s supporting the education of young people into holistic and organic life and food. So that change will be permanent. And I’ll continue to become more aware of the need to go ahead and act on things that I know are right and need to change in my life.
Watch out team! I’m swimming in inspiration at Terra Madre. Here’s what I posted on the Food Day website (in the middle of the night because I’m so full). What do you think of it?
I am at Terra Madre in Italy – a great place to be on Food Day. As a food activist I’m learning important ideas here about being effective.
1. Align with movements. I, like many Americans, start small groups because I don’t see in my immediate sphere who is working on what I care about. I’m looking for who and how to align with.
2. Align movements. My community had too many small non-profits with such specific mandates that we split the attention and money pies. If we could create a common cause or common goals, we could be more powerful in making change.
3. Participate in policy making. It’s hard to know timetables and requirements of governments developing policies, ordinances, laws, budgets. But once a local authority or state has mandated change and put money behind it, one can move a lot of money into campaigns, projects, pockets of the disadvantaged.
4. Work with foundations for early stage project development. A Foundation with your agenda might put money behind your project. One programs that’s now very large started with $5000 to one Farmer’s Market.
5. Expose injustice in the system. People are disgusted at waste. They are disgusted by what we feed our kids. People like Jamie Oliver and Tristram Stuart are shamelessly shaming schools and grocery stores by muckraking stories with pictures and movies and stories. Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, exhorts us to be radical, fierce, to stand up for and stand up against – because everything is at stake.
How can you not love food when in Italy, especially when you are at Terra Madre?
But something different is happening to me. Something less utilitarian. I’m “feeling” the flavors, because I am among people with reverence for food. For the thousands of different types of squashes and beans and apples and grains. This wheat versus that one. The soil, the air, the length of the season. I don’t really taste the difference myself – yet. But I am tasting the passion of the person who offers it.
I’m staying with a lovely couple in Turin who offered me their special marmalade bought on vacation on an island in France. “It is our favorite one!” So I put a thin smear on my bread. “No more!” They wanted me to really taste it. It was good, sure, but more so because of their stories.
How could I have missed this with all my talk of food!? I can feel my utilitarian mind shattering. In part, of course, it’s because I am drenched in the utilitarian American consciousness. I was a purveyor of frugality for umpteen years. So I need to take the girdle of frugality off, at least for my days here at Terra Madre. And let this experience in.
Yesterday I walked miles and miles to go from lecture to experience to lecture to experience. It’s a huge venue – the old Fiat factory with, I’m told, even a race track on the roof. I met people who can help me with my projects – the 10-Day Local Food Challenge and a local food grocery store/deli/education center – but my eyeball feast was the Ark of Taste. This is the Slow Food project of preserving the biodiversity of foods being lost to industrialization. Oh, the squashes. Something came over me. I wanted to have these seeds and grow them all. Or at least some. The beans! So many varieties and through them I could feel the peoples in pockets of the planet who for centuries had cultivated these beans, who felt about their beans the way I feel about my community.
Off I go to dive in to another day of swimming through food.
Terra Madre is the biannual Slow Food Conference to build and connect the movements for good, clean and fair food … and I’m here for the first time. I consider it a pilgrimage of sorts, paying homage to the millions of people around the world who grow, process, distribute and defend real food and the hundreds of organizations that work on different slivers of the pie. so to speak.
The opening ceremony last night stirred us all, with production values closer to a rock concert than a conference. Traditionally delegates from every country in the world, when called in alphabetical order, parade out, waving their flags. It’s a tableau that says, “Food is culture. It is the soils and climates of patch of the earth and the diversity of plants we eat and our traditional ways of preparing them and the cycles of the year that weaves us together as a people.”
Many Italian officials as well as regional Slow Food leaders took the podium to tell a story or make a statement. Courageous locals have reclaimed their rights to their traditional foods, agriculture and wild crafting. In Mexico they are defending indigenous corn varieties from GMO pollution. Elsewhere fisherfolk are reclaiming their fishing rights from corporate poachers.
Alice Waters of Chez Panisse (original local food restaurant in Bay Area) talked about her decade+ working to connect children with food through school gardens. Michelle Obama even recorded a statement for us about the importance of our work.
As the italian government officials were celebrating their own wins and making broad sweeping statements I wondered: “If I had 3 minutes to say something worth saying to these thousand or so people, what would it be?”
1. Live it or lose it: Good clean fair food isn’t just a stand; it’s a way of life. Let your daily life reveal to you the ways that the commodified, corporatized food system has a grip on your craving, behaviors, habits and patterns. The three sirens of consumerism – comfort control and convenience – lead us down a path of least resistance and so we wander into our eating styles barely aware. Defending what we love against the tide of these sirens, and getting out of their grip is real work – but we need to do it. We need to spend more time and money. Maybe circumstances make it really too hard, but any effort points us in the right direction.
2. Power to the eaters. When food becomes a commodity, we forget that it – and we – are part of a living world. We envision a flourishing, sustainable food system and nourishing foods grown in healthy soil – but there are gnarly system conditions of the money economy that undermine our best efforts. Once anything is drawn into the corporate financial system – ourselves included – our power to change it is diminished.
3. Food is relational not just nutritional. This is slow food’s message. Our technologies – from electronics to transportation – makes it easy to slide out of our place on earth and away from communities that care for and about us. So eating becomes a solitary act of fueling, rather than a ritual of connection. Again, keep swimming against this tide.
These many thousands of people surely know this – but does anyone say anything from a podium in 3 minutes that we don’t know if we are gathered around shared concerns. Perhaps some story of triumph or venality will move us, but mostly we listen for the courage to keep up the good work.
I also got to the stadium and back on public transportation which pleased me. To get off a plane in a country where my Spanish and Portuguese don’t match the Italian, underslept, and just jump in and swim pleases me.
On to day one! Lots of tasting. Lots of conversations. My communities at home have asked me to pay attention to how people in cities can feed themselves good clean fair food. How traditional wildcrafting and herbalism is faring in this movement. How children are being educated and included. Justice. and most of all, my “job” is to enjoy the pageantry and food.
To get these updates sign up for the Local Food Challenge mailing list]
“A local eating challenge is a crash course in reconnection, putting us back in touch with the people who produce our food, the landscapes we live in, and even our own bodies. It is philosophy and politics lived out loud, a delicious demand for a new way of eating.” —J.B. MacKinnon, author, The 100-Mile Diet and The Once and Future World
The 10-Day Local Food Challenge is just a week old and already toddling. Nearly 60 people have signed up for the mailing list (and if you want updates on the campaign beyond October 1, you should too). Over 40 people have taken the opening survey. Some cool data below. Next week Transition US is hosting a tele-salon to introduce the 10-Day Local Food Challenge to you and hopefully many people like you. Sign up. Spread the word.
Comments and questions have already inspired me to write an essay exploring definitions of “local.” Yes, that’s below as well.
And I’ve processed 3 pounds of corn, 10 pounds of tomatoes and 5 pounds of green beans. I have salmon on order from a local fisherman. I have a monumental supply of local Rockwell field beans. And I’m buying up many pounds of potatoes from a biodynamic farmer; his crop has blemishes that make less committed consumers not buy them.
Yes, September is the time to gather food for your October Challenge.
Who’s showing up
From the surveys we can say…
We already have people from the UK, Tasmania and Nova Scotia and well as us US’ns.
What are the top 10 exotics? Tell you next time.
Comments from the survey
“Most produce, eggs and meat I eat are locally grown throughout the year. This will be a fun challenge to see what I miss and notice the things I eat frequently that perhaps aren’t from here.”
“I grew up on a small farm during the tine farmers were told to “get big or get out.” I remember my dad saying, “If someone doesn’t help the small family farmers we’re going to disappear.” And for the most part, that’s exactly what happened. But now, we might have a chance to turn that around and reclaim our food supply, providing access to real food before all hope of doing so is lost forever.”
“I will be trying this experiment in Tasmania, which is a GMO-free state of Australia. But I am realizing how much harder it will be to find food produced within 10 miles (easy within 20 or 30+) plus locally -produced food tends to be very expensive.”
Is it local?
Local food as a consumer preference is definitely on the rise. Some obvious connotations are: fresh, clean, nutritious and some sort of vague neighborliness. But the term has no fixed meaning. No standards or certification. It’s a bit like love: can’t define it but know when I feel it.
Challengers preparing for their 10-days within 100 miles have asked:
Here are 9 ways I’m currently slicing the local pie:
Miles: “Food miles” is a way to measure carbon pollution from food transport, but it’s not perfect. The global corporate industrial food system is a miracle of logistics. Apples from New Zealand could be more freshly picked than apples at the Farmers Market. Tonnage in the belly of an airplane might put less carbon per apple into the environment than a 1975 Ford pickup truckload from a nearby orchard. Distance traveled, though, stands in for many values we bundle as “local.” The shortest distance – out your back door or walking to the closest farm stand – is the most local. Obviously. Without measuring the carbon to took to make your shoes!
Geography determines climate, wind, sun, rain, soils and flows of food (10 miles over the mountain is further than 50 miles on the flat). It locates us in a real place on earth and represents the part of local that understands that food isn’t just a commodity – it’s part of the ecology of life.
Who decides is very important. In a food system dominated by corporations, these replace people as the “deciders”. When it comes to what goes into our mouths, local means that someone accountable to my community has taken this food from seed to plate, someone I might praise or complain to. Subsidiarity is a term for “making decisions as close as possible to those affected by the decisions.” For climate policy we need international forums. For seeds and soils, shouldn’t those decisions be locally sourced?
Scale: A farm can be an acre. Or 5. Or 50. Or 500. Or 500,000 (Ted Turner’s ranch). The US Census says if you earn $1,000 or more per year selling agricultural products, you’re a farm. And if you earn $250,000 or less, you are a small farm. Local favors the little guy over the corporation.
Method: Do we need industrial scale, mechanized, input intensive farming to “feed the world?” According to Olivier de Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, agroecology (organic, ecologic), and not industrial scale, is the key to doubling food production in 10 years globally. Small is also beautiful where the climate is concerned: “A third of all greenhouse emissions come from agriculture, so we need to focus our efforts on an agriculture which does not degrade the soil and which increases carbon capture (i.e.agroecology).” Local farmers tend towards these soil building, low chemical input methods.
Ownership matters – farming your own land in your own way matters not just to you the farmer but to the prosperity and stability of your local food economy. In today’s market, many young farmers can’t afford to buy farmland, so they lease, functionally becoming tenant farmers – even as older farmers are aging out of farming and want to pass along their land, while still harvesting the one last crop (enough money to be secure in older age). Local means grappling with this farmland transfer issue. And it is gnarly.
Economy: a thriving local food economy creates jobs. Not the highest paying by any means, but enough for young people to bring their families back to rural communities. It also diversifies the economy, adding an important sector.
Culture: Is Italian food local if you come from Italy but live in the Bronx? Hard to say, but local, like “slow”, connotes generations around the table and the bonds that create stability.
Community. For me, this is one of the most important aspects of local. A community is a web of relationships that hold you when you fall and support you when you go forth. It is a currency really – a flow of resources, from sharing love to borrowing luggage. It is a non-governmental safety net. The richer in connections a community is, the more needs it fills – entertainment, sociability, celebrations, service groups, and this can translate into employment in the money economy. Local food is a key part of a strong community because we literally come to depend upon one another for our daily bread.
Even with all this complexity, though, I’ll bet you – and I – still think that “local” is buying big red tomatoes from the farmer who grew them. Which it is.
Since Blessing the Hands that Feed Us came out in January, I’ve gone from author to activist with a passion for restoring regional food systems so we-the-eaters can have more fresh, local food and our food producers can have more fresh money in their pockets.
Especially exciting is the 10-Day Local Food Challenge. Click here to read all about it. Simply put, in October you’re invited to join an experiment: can you, for just 10 days, eat only what grows within 100 miles of your home? Be part of a grassroots research team exploring the question: how local can we go? Join the Transition US launch teleclass on September 23. More details below.
An All Local Grocery Store and Deli plus an Education and Distribution Hub
One stop shopping, right off the ferry, for local food on Whidbey Island. Because I want to bring my activism as close to home as my eating, I facilitated a Local Food Design Lab on Whidbey, where we clarified the need for a Local Food Center with everything from groceries to take out food to educational programs to a distribution hub. Guess what? We formed a non-profit group called the Food Shed and we’re underway, securing a building, finding merchants, making plans for remodeling the space. This sort of innovation is happening across the US and beyond. Food system activists are restoring distribution webs for local food, rebuilding food processing capability, digging in to challenging issues like land ownership and onerous regulations.
10-Day Local Food Challenge
Local, they say, is the new organic. It nourishes you: body, soul and community. But local sourcing is almost impossible. Few communities have enough local production to cover even 5% of eaters’ daily fare. Most of us depend almost entirely the corporate industrial food system for every bite we eat.
Local used to be the way everyone ate. Could it be again? Let’s run the 10-Day Local Food Challenge and see. How local can we go? For how long? The challenge isn’t just “can you do it?” It’s “can we do it? Can we all bring our eating closer to home? And if not, why not?
The experiment is simple: For 10 days or more eat food grown within 100 miles or less of your home. Give yourself 10 or fewer exotics, foods from afar (like coffee or oil) to make it do-able.
Why 10 days? That’s long enough to go through a life-changing experience but not so long that busy people can’t imagine doing it. Go more if you like. The longer you go, the more you see, the more you change.
Why 100 miles? In 2005, Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon began a one-year experiment in 100-mile eating. Their 2007 book, Plenty, told that story, inspiring thousands of people – and even whole communities – to try it. One hundred miles is now almost synonymous with “local”.
Also, 100 miles as the crow flies should be an abundant, varied eating region for most of us. You can cast a smaller circle if you want to, and go wider if you are sure that 100 miles still won’t work where you live. The USDA considers 400 miles “local” – a day’s drive. Some people think of their state as local.
The idea is to set the bar high enough so you stretch, but low enough so you are pretty sure you can do it. The point isn’t the miles; it’s community, belonging and abundant local food systems.
Why 10 exotics or less? Some foods are so essential to our well-being that excluding them could be a deal breaker. What are your exotics? Oil? Avocados? Chocolate? Coffee? Salt?
Why do it at all?
For fun, for curiosity, for integrity, for health, for the love of farmers and community, for making friends, for encouraging others to eat local food, for building an alternative to food-as-usual, for taking a stand for the food system we-the-eaters want: fresh, locally-produced, fair, affordable food for all.
This isn’t just an adventure. It’s grassroots research. Does the challenge actually inspire more people to eat more local food more of the time? And do our local food systems have enough to feed us? And if not, why not? We want to know:
▪ How did the experiment go?
Remember, this is an experiment. There are no wrong answers. No failures. All experience is information.
Sign up for the Challenge here.
Local isn’t the new right way. It just needs more room at our tables – and that’s going to require a lot of change.
Travel and Speaking
September 8 I’ll speak at the Coupeville Washington library from 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM. It’s in the meeting room at 788 NW Alexander St.
Join the Transition US teleclass: September 23, 11:30 AM -12:45 PM PST. Join live to participate in the conversation or listen to the recording.
Nebraska Wesleyan Univeristy, Lincoln, NE: Thursday, September, 18 at 10 am. I will be speaking on the the Visions and Ventures Symposium. Details HERE.
Slow Food Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, October 23-27, Turin, Italy. I will be in attendance, as an activist for local food, soaking up inspiration at one of the largest gatherings for all things related to “good, clean and fair food”. Details HERE. Anyone out there going too?
Let’s be relational eaters together
Won’t you dive in with me to transforming the way we eat from anywhere, anything, anytime eating to local relational eating? “Foodies” are known for their gourmet palate and artisanal preferences – but local food is so much more. It’s belonging to a people and a place – ending the restless search for greener pastures (fertilized by what?). It’s empowerment, taking back some of our food autonomy. It’s rebuilding rural economies – making it profitable for young people to come back to the farm after they’ve lost their city jobs.
Other food values have moved from the margins to the mainstream. Organic. Non-toxic. Vegan. It’s time for Local to build the capacity to feed the people. A lot of this has to do with the non-sexy parts of eating. Not glistening dishes but building local distribution hubs and gaining entry into markets. Even defining “what is local” is complex – but it has to be done. Incentives and priorities need to change.
All this is why I want you to do the 10-Day Local Food Challenge: we need to learn from the grassroots up what a local Live-it (not Die-it) means.
Ready Set Eat! Coming soon a game we can play together: the 10-Day/100 mile Local Food Challenge. I’ll post the game plan, mini-manual and helpful tools by the end of August. Any 10-days in September through November you can join in. For now, I stumbled on a tool to find a radius on a map, so I plugged in my home town and 100 miles to see where I will source my food during the challenge. I feel such affection for this territory of food. Try it for where you live. How do you feel? What do you think – can this territory feed you? If not, how wide a circle do you need to draw to feel assured of enough to eat?