Living Well Now

A weird and exhilarating Critical Mass last Friday started a fantastic and busy weekend of fun… The Committee for Full Enjoyment put out a new flyer (pdf) commenting on how little things have changed after 16 years of riding in Critical Mass. Here’s a couple of images that Adam Aufdencamp shot, one in the Marina and another as we were climbing the very steep and long Presidio hill in deep fog… places we’ve never been on Critical Mass. (Lately it’s been great how much we’ve found our way to new spots in the city, but this past Friday was frustrating because whoever was in front never stopped until an hour into the ride, having left hundreds of riders far behind, many of whom bailed.)

The big Slow Food Nation event went off better than anyone expected. I volunteered to work at the Food For Thought discussion on Saturday afternoon, featuring all the big names of the new food politics: Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Vandana Shiva, and Wendell Berry. I got to hear their speeches, and generally I was quite impressed. I jotted a few notes… Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation, a great book) followed Wendell Berry with a pointed call to bring food workers to the table. (The event’s slogan was “Come to the Table.”) He emphasized how poor most food workers are, and how excluded they are from the focus on taste, conviviality, gardening, etc. Following Wendell Berry was fitting, since one of Berry’s main arguments for decades has been to repopulate the countryside, re-establish an honorable and adequately rewarded life for farming, and radically decentralize food production.

Vandana Shiva pointed out that most of the world’s population is still farming as a regular occupation (especially if you consider the several hundred million women who have kitchen gardens outside their doors) and the problems we face can be addressed as much by stopping World Bank and international financial incentives for agribusiness, as by recommitting to family farms. The knowledge and traditional agricultural practices are still there, still largely intact in many places, and we here should direct our efforts to stopping international institutions that are bent on destroying those ways of life. This means halting the aggressive, subsidized export-agribusinesses that are so politically powerful in the U.S. and Europe, and stopping the fake “World Food Program” that funnels hundreds of millions to Cargill and other multinational food giants.

Carlo Petrini, who was simultaneously translated from Italian by moderator Corby Kummer (a charming guy who made funny translations that miffed Petrini in a curmudgeonly way), said a lot, but what I really liked was his story of Heaven and Hell: in both there is a huge table brimming with delectable foods; in both you are placed at the table. In Hell, you cannot reach the food; in Heaven, you are given a fork that is on a long extension, so you can reach the food, but cannot feed yourself–only the person next to you!

Alice Waters was asked for a wishlist to stimulate changes in the Slow Food movement (of which she is a board member)… she begged off, saying she wasn’t intellectual like the rest of the panel, and went into a typical Northern Californian emotional appeal, speaking vaguely about her feelings and how she’s inspired by the earlier panel’s discussion about Edible Education… sure, but… can’t she articulate something about how Slow Food needs to evolve? Or food politics in general?… Luckily the others had already done some of it, and Michael Pollan came in at the end to do a nice job of bringing it all together. He noted that five years earlier the same panel had gathered and at that point the whole issue was just to try to get Food into popular discussion… a lot has been achieved in five years. But now he argued for a Food Politics focused on eating our contemporary sunshine, rather than the historic reserves that we’ve depleted so rapidly… in other words, we’ve got to squeeze the oil out of our diet! And looping back to Schlosser, Berry, and Shiva’s arguments, he emphasized that we simply don’t have enough farmers (1 mil out of 300 mil), and we must promote agricultural work, both socially and financially…

In another moment of serendipitous synchronicity, John Robb also writes today about relocalizing agriculture from his rather different starting point. But it fits beautifully with the arguments at the Slow Food Nation panel.

Here’s a couple of shots of the crowded Victory Garden, surrounded as it was by “Slow on the Go” food booths, heirloom farmers from the region, and tons of informational displays…

Also, our own Slow Food Feast of Fools and Friends is coming up on October 19… having a planning get-together tomorrow night prior to my departure, so I’m excited that we’re rolling again. You can already get your tickets here.

The city was hopping all weekend, outdoor performances, good weather, just fantastic to be here, and thanks to Burning Man, depopulated a bit from normal… On Sunday the City closed the Embarcadero (half of it anyway) from near Chinatown all the way south to 3rd and Palou at the Bay View Opera House, from 9 am to 1 pm (lame that it didn’t carry on all day). But it was heavily used, and led to that sweet sensation of just how different city life could be if we’d just close a bunch of streets permanently…

We rode with a small posse of friends, and headed to the southern end first. Two blocks further south is the Quesada Garden, and at a recent Nowtopia Talk someone urged me to go back and take some updated photos, since they now have a nice mural sequence and the garden is thriving… so I did! Here’s James Ross, one of the founders, who I happened upon. He was very friendly and happy to talk about the garden and the neighborhood, and pointed out that there are two newer nearby gardens just up the hill from here. And all of them are focusing on growing food, leading the way towards real community and increasing self-sufficiency.

He’s in this mural panel too, lower middle right:

I have to admit I’m not crazy about this “socialist-naturalist-realist” art style. But this panel is sort of fun, showing kids cartwheeling on a grassy slope that is still covered in asphalt for now.

And to finish off, here’s a shot of the garden from the 3rd Street end, in beautiful end of summer sunshine:

Last last word: my good friend Iain Boal wrote a scathing review of Richard Barbrook’s “Imaginary Futures,” with a dose of skepticism heaped on Fred Turner’s much better “From Counterculture to Cyberculture” to boot… well worth reading, and here’s a couple of sentences that I just want to hold on to, so sharp and important are they:

”What then of the internet as an instrument of general emancipation, if, as it now seems, the technics of the virtual conduce to the production of monstrous subjects who are incomplete, lacking, overwhelmed inside. The corollary is a politics of resentment, and a paranoia that flourishes on the cusp of a plenitude always under threat of social death and incorporation into the machine.”

3 comments to Living Well Now

  • cc

    Hi Ellen,
    Lip magazine originally offered to host my blogging for free and I accepted. They also set up the software so I could do what I wanted to do… but they are defunct now, and the website is used mostly as an archive, and by me and Tim Wise as bloggers… so we’re keeping it alive. I tried to move my blog last fall, unsuccessfully after several tries, so though I’m being invited to move over to a couple of other places, I’m thinking I might just sit tight…
    thanks for writing!

  • ellen

    I’m new here, and this is my second post. I noticed that the URL for this blog appears as “”

    What is the connection?

    I had discovered Lip magazine right before it went out, at least I believe it is gone, and I really enjoyed it.
    Just wondering.

  • russell

    That Heaven and Hell story is a Buddhist one I read recently in a magazine. In the version I read, the people in hell don’t know what to do with the long forks but the people in heaven, sitting at the same amazing spread of food, use the forks to feed each other. Nice one…. From Minneapolis, Russell

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>