Monday, July 28, 2014

Fiesta del Maiz - Xilonen Ceremony

I attended the Fiesta del Maiz - Xilonen Ceremony on Sunday at Prospect Park to distribute articles, promote my upcoming cooking class (a fundraiser for the Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy), and to enjoy this celebration of traditional, non-GMO corn.  I had some interesting conversations, and shared the park with organizations doing great work to improve our environment and society.

“Fox” Orozco, an Aztec Dancer, was one of the first people to greet me.  I took in the smell of the white sage he was smudging to "start the day off right,” and gave him a brief description of my writings promoting the importance of returning to a traditional diet.  When I  visited his booth later in the day, I was grateful to hear that he really appreciated my article, Stolen Corn.

SLOLA’s beautiful heirloom corn.

The Seed Library of Los Angeles was an organization that I had just learned about, and I was excited to chat with them.  SLOLA’s mission is to preserve genetic diversity and increase food justice and food security by saving heirloom seeds, and by creating a local community of seed-saving gardeners.  A beautiful selection of native corn seeds were on display at their table, and David King, SLOLA’s board chair, was knowledgeable and enthusiastic about sharing their great variety and diverse culinary uses.

It was nice to have my friend Samyrha stop by and visit, along with one of her friends from the nearby community garden Proyecto Jardin.  They had just harvested some beautiful, heirloom corn from their garden - huge and multicolored.  We shared a pot of quinoa and ate from improvised corn-husk spoons as we talked and caught up.

Samyrha hanging at the Arroyo Sage table.

I was happy to find another friend, Dennis Uyat, setting up a table for Comida No Bombas next to me.  Dennis is an old garden-club buddy from Pasadena City College, and another member of Proyecto Jardin.  He’d told me before of his work with  Comida No Bombas, but I became very impressed after learning more.

Always good catching up with Dennis.  Such a good dude!

Comida No Bombas is a collective of young people who deliver free, vegan meals to folks in need - by bicycle!  They use food that otherwise would have been wasted, and wrap it in biodegradable packaging.  While other organizations provide food of questionable salubrity, in styrofoam packaging, with plastic utensils which end up as litter on the ground - Comida No Bombas seems to have all the right bases covered.  Their model benefits our environment, our health, and our society - and should be replicated in every city, nationwide.

I enjoyed other interesting conversations with people throughout the day - all to the backdrop of Danza Mexica Cuauhtemoc’s dancing and ceremony. A volunteer with the Seed Library shared how a family history of farming inspired her to preserve biodiversity. Another woman shared her knowledge of natural, Mexican remedies for colds and injuries.  Anet Aguilar, of the Facebook page Yo Soy Maiz, discussed with me the importance of identifying sources of non-GM masa and corn for the Latino community.

The issue of preserving the genetic integrity of natural, non-GM corn is an issue of preserving cultural identity.  After learning the disadvantages of genetically modified corn, I resolved to avoid it as much as possible.  Unfortunately, this also meant avoiding and losing a part of my culture. Fond memories of my Nana making tamales, and of eating my favorite ones (tamales dulces!) returned to me.  Before finding non-GM alternatives, I felt a sense of loss that I would not eat those foods again.

Attending the Xilonen festival left me encouraged that a desire to preserve the living heritage of natural, non-GM corn is growing.  Embracing the health-giving foods of our ancestors, voting with our lifestyle, and opting out of the industrialized food system in favor of sustainable agriculture has the power to impact our health and environment for the better - and in ways that are far more powerful than casting a vote at the ballot box.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Ethical Vegans Should Refuse Plastic

For several years I have followed a mostly-vegan diet for the health benefits it provides.  Although I am not an ethical vegan, I do support humane treatment and compassion for animals.

The author, center, showing off vegan fried rice at Kushi Institute

Over the years, I have become increasingly concerned about the profound impacts our modern society is having on the creatures of the world and their habitats.  Few technologies are having a more destructive impact upon wildlife today than the proliferation of disposable plastic.

The evidence of the destructive impact of plastic pollution on birds and sea creatures is abundant.  More than 90% of northern fulmar seabirds have eaten plastic, some of their gizzards becoming completely filled with it.  Whales have washed ashore with stomaches full of plastic.  At least 100,000 marine creatures and approximately 1 million seabirds die each year from plastic consumption and entanglement, while sea turtle populations are plummeting due to plastic pollution.

Creatures on land aren’t faring much better.  Camels, sheep, goats and cattle have all died after ingesting plastic in the Arab world, as have elephants and holy cows in India.  Various other animals on land are suffering from the negative effects of plastic pollution.  Humans are no exception.

Toxic chemicals leached by plastic into food such as phthalates and BPA have been linked to various health problems, including cancer, diabetes and obesity.  Plastic particles which break down in the ocean attract toxic chemicals onto themselves that work their way up the food chain - and onto our dinner plates.  These microscopic plastic particles have been found to outnumber plankton - the base of the ocean food web - by a ratio of 6-1.

Clothing has recently been revealed to be another source of such “microplastic” pollution throughout the world’s oceans.  Many ethical vegans, in an attempt to avoid animal-sourced products and materials, choose to wear synthetic “vegan” clothing.  Such clothing, however, can be far from plant-based or natural, and is often made from petroleum-based materials - or in other words, plastics.

Microscopic plastic threads which shed from synthetic clothing make their way from the washing machine into the ocean and are taken up by filter feeders such as clams, mussels and small fish.  These creatures, including Lugworms, the “earthworms of the sea,” play a key role as food for other species and are profoundly harmed by ingesting the PCBs, dioxinsDDT and other pollutants absorbed by synthetic clothing threads.

A better option for ensuring animal welfare would be to rely upon truly natural materials which biodegrade and pose no threat to the environment.  Organic cotton, hemp and other plant-based fibers are the superior choice, and I think responsibly-sourced, ethical yarn could also be a part of the solution.  If the alpacas, llamas and sheep providing the wool are managed with a focus on animal welfare, vegan-friendly yarn could be peacefully-produced and provide another alternative to synthetic materials.

The time has come for us all to be concerned not only with the food that we eat, but also with the packaging that it comes in.  Single-use and disposable plastics are the greatest source of plastic pollution on the land and in the sea.  By refusing single-use plastics, using natural materials for clothing and supporting the meaningful regulation of plastics, ethical vegans - along with all the rest of us - may take steps to improve conditions for all life forms and to truly live according to shared principles of compassion.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Essential Ohsawa

I have recently been reading a compilation of the writings of George Ohsawa, the great scholar, healer, educator and philosopher who founded the modern macrobiotic movement.  I found the following exert to be extremely profound, and yet surprisingly commonsensical:

“I believe that illness is the crystallization of an error in our judgement, the tangible sign of a lack of natural orderliness in our lives.  In allowing this condition to arise, either through poor thinking, ignorance, or apathy, we have done something wrong.  To be healthy again, we must make a change - we must do something right.  We must re-establish the orderly kind of existence that underlies and guarantees health.

By macrobiotic living, you undertake the rewarding task of putting your life in order, starting from its most basic point - eating and drinking.  Righteous food is the materialization of God.  God is revealed to us in it and by means of it.  Our body - converted food - thus constitutes a speck of God himself.  The very reason that we can even live in this universe is that we are a speck of Him.  And the reason that this speck becomes sick or unhappy is that it forgets its origin; it loses sight of the totality of which it is a minute part.

If we know God or wholeness and at the same time are deeply aware of our own personal “speckness,” we cannot avoid being beautiful, healthy, wise, and happy.  To realize this and then to live with that realization as our motivation is macrobiotic living.”

Ohsawa defined “God” broadly, using the word interchangeably with nature, truth, or the whole.  The chief importance of the term is to illustrate that we all share a common origin in nature, or the universe.  Ohsawa recognized an order in nature which could be applied universally.  As Essential Ohsawa states in its End Note:

"George Ohsawa believed beyond the shadow of a doubt that he had found, and was teaching to others, the key to the kingdom of heaven - a practical way to understand the Order of the Universe and one’s place in that order.  In the face of such incredible truth, all problems such as pain, suffering, anxiety, fear, and sickness melt into their opposites and a life with real joy results.”

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Eaton Canyon Closure and the National Recreation Area Bill

There has been some public outcry in response to recent reports that the Forest Service is to close a dangerous portion of Eaton Canyon.  As someone who loves exploring the local mountains, I understand that restricted access to our open space can be troubling.  However, I also find myself avoiding several once-beautiful open spaces which have now become trashed and destroyed.  Eaton Canyon is quickly becoming one of them.

During my last visit to Eaton Canyon, I witnessed several inexperienced climbers heading up the cliff to the second waterfall.  More troubling was the amount of plastic trash and graffiti left behind.  Plastic bottles, caps, straws and bags floated in the pool below the falls, spoiling any experience of nature.

It became apparent to me that in order to preserve and protect the waterfall at Eaton Canyon, access needed to be either completely restricted, or allowed under the supervision of patrolling park rangers or some other type of authority.  Without some type of regular supervision and maintenance within this easily-accessable natural area, Eaton Canyon will remain a place where littering, graffiti, and other irresponsible behaviors are carried out with blatant disregard for any law or sign.

Major graffiti damage to Eaton Canyon

Perhaps, as I have discussed with others concerned about the area, the National Recreation Area bill which has been submitted to Congress could help being improved visitor services and more rangers to the San Gabriel Mountains.  Permits could be issued to ensure that experienced canyoneers are granted access.  If such improvements can help stem the tide of pollution, graffiti, trail closures and general neglect of the Angeles National Forest, then this is a bill we should all hope will pass.