THE JUDEVINE MOUNTAIN EMAILITE: A Cyberzine

An On-line and On-going Journal of Politics and Opinion

#51

25  June 2012

*****

To be interested in food but not in food production is clearly absurd.

Wendell Berry

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FOOD: Part III

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In This Issue:

DAVID’S NOTES

A review of Wendell Berry’s BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE

STEALING FROM GIANTS

Ben Hewitt

WHAT PRICE FOOD?

Jeremiah Church

A LETTER FROM JAY LORENZ

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DAVID’S NOTES

a review of

BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE: On Farming and Food

by Wendell Berry

with an introduction by Michael Pollan

Counterpoint, 2009

         I’ve got to get something off my chest. In the November 9, 2009, NEW YORKER, Elizabeth Kolbert (born in 1961) calls Michael Pollan (born in 1955) “the Father of the Local Food movement.” This statement is an insult to Wendell Berry (born in 1934) and to Sir Albert Howard (born in 1873) who is the father of all of this. Wendell Berry was advocating for and preaching about all the current hip topics like eating local and organic this and that for decades before Michael Pollan or Barbara Kingsolver (also born in 1955) and so on were out of diapers. And Wendell wasn’t even in diapers when Sir Albert Howard was born. But typical of Wendell Berry, he gives full credit to Sir Albert Howard for being everybody’s progenitor. Too bad Elizabeth Kolbert didn’t do her homework and isn’t as knowledgeable and magnanimous as Wendell Berry. Both Pollan and Kingsolver are Johnny-come-latelys to this movement; they both know it and admit it. Kolbert should have known it too. Okay, that’s out of the way.

First, before anything else, anybody who wants to learn how to write should read Wendell Berry. As Michael Pollan says in his introduction to BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE, “I have learned as much from the construction of his sentences as from the construction of his ideas.” Berry’s prose is elegant and simple. (Can anything ever be elegant and complicated?) It’s Biblical, which is not surprising since Wendell is too.

Second, BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE is a compilation of articles about farming, farms, farmers and food that Wendell has written over the years. Now between the covers of a single book, these essays are essential reading for any interested in food, for anyone who eats. As Wendell says, “To be interested in food but not in food production is clearly absurd.” This book is a kind of Wendell Berry Farming and Food Bible.

There, in the two preceding paragraphs, are two reasons to get this book and read it. I hope you will. It’s a pleasure to read and to think about.

I have a series of quotes from BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE, which I culled from the book while reading it that I am forbidden from publishing because the quotes are too long; they are longer than the usual short quotes allowed in a review and there are too many of them. Each has a category title I made up. I would be happy to send the quotes to anyone who is interested, with, of course, a recommendation to buy the book itself. Write to me at david at davidbudbill.com and I’ll email them to you.

*****

STEALING FROM GIANTS

by Ben Hewitt

In middle March I walk the upper pasture, stumbling under the weight of a pair of five gallon buckets sloshing sap. The ground is nearly bare; the winter past was a feeble, fleeting thing, almost dreamlike in its rapid passing. Did it really happen? Was I really there? Why, I got the plow truck stuck only once, and two full rows of firewood remain in the shed. I’ll be glad for them come fall.

A gallon of sap weighs eight pounds and I carry ten of them (or maybe nine; I’ve lost some over the bucket rims). Seventy, eighty pounds. Not so much, but the far taps are a quarter mile down the field, hung from the old maples that define the border between our land and Melvin’s. Big, graceful trees, overseers of decades and generations. I think of all the cows that have loafed in their shade. I think of all the storms they’ve survived, all the haying seasons they’ve known. The horse-drawn mowers, then the old Ford’s and Massey’s, and now Melvin’s big Cat that can lay down the entire field in an afternoon. And every year, I take their sap. It humbles me to consider all they have seen and all I has taken from them, as if these somehow juxtapose each other in a way that makes me unworthy of their gift.

I am suddenly glad for the toil of it all: The trudging through the late-February snowpack to drill and tap and hang, and now the daily shoulder-burning haul up the field to the small evaporator, where we’ll boil down to the sweet essence of it all.

Halfway there. I stop at another tree, but of course the buckets are too full. I’ll have to come back.  Down in the valley, I hear the distant whine of a two-stroke engine, either an end of season snowmobile run along some shaded ribbon of snow or an early season dirt bike. I hear the change in tone as gears shift. Dirt bike. It fades into the distance and now I can hear the high-pitched bleating of the lambs in the barn and I know they are running to-and-fro, energized by the warmth and sun and perhaps some instinctual knowledge that soon they will be turned out to the season’s first tender shoots.

This spring has felt more relaxed to me than usual. I’m not sure why; maybe it’s because the winter was so mild. Or maybe it’s simply because I’ve gained another year of perspective, another 12 months in which to consider that things will unfold as they unfold. To be able to work and live amongst my family and farm for another year is an honor so great it leaves me almost breathless, and I’ve come to feel as if I owe something to that honor. I’m not sure what, exactly, but to approach it with as much equanimity as I can muster seems a good place to start.

I heave the buckets off the ground and resume the slow walk home.

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 WHAT PRICE FOOD?

Editor’s Note: On August 10, 2009, I did a commentary for Vermont Public Radio called AFFORDABLE FOOD FOR ALL about the new whole foods movement and who can afford the food and who can’t. It looked back on my 40 years as part of the Back to the Land movement here in northern Vermont and asked some questions. To read the commentary or listen to it (it takes 3:06) go to: http://www.vpr.net/episode/46665/

This following essay by Jeremiah Church is a response to my “Affordable Food for All” commentary on Vermont Public Radio

WHAT PRICE FOOD?

Jeremiah Church

I am a student and farmer in Morrisville, a 23-year resident of Vermont.

David Budbill’s commentary raised my blood pressure because it carries an assumption that I’ve long wrestled with: that local food is more expensive than “conventional food.” I want to challenge this on a few fronts, but first, let me agree with him: it is, in most cases, more money up front.

However:

1. Local food is not ALWAYS more expensive. To give a few examples: Ben Gleason’s Vermont grown and milled wheat flour is less than 1/2 the price of King Arthur’s equivalent. Cabot cheddar trim from Cheese Traders is $3.00/pound. Raw milk is available in my area for $4.00/gallon. Shelburne Orchards sells pickup beds full of apple drops at the end of the season for $50. Granted, these examples are specific and inconvenient, but such are the characteristics of local food. “Specific” means they each retain the character of the place, and “inconvenient” means you might have to go out of your way to meet your neighbor and enjoy better food.

2. Gardening is cheap, and has always been closely aligned with the local food movement. The recent economic downturn led to a tremendous increase in the number of folks gardening across America. Local farmers and organizations offering seed exchanges, gardening know-how, tomato starts, and community garden plots provide a support structure for gardening.

3. Local food is cheaper in the long run. Here is a short list of the unpaid bills of the industrial agriculture system:

  • Federal commodity subsidies: in 2007, the federal government paid $5 billion in commodity subsidies, of which Vermont received $1.8 million. The average state got $17 per person while Vermont got $3.  The commodity structure is so skewed towards enormous industrial farms that states with lots of small-scale ag like Vermont get very little.
    • Solution: Allow Consumers to choose
    • Source: http://farm.ewg.org/farm/dp_analysis.php?fips=50000&yr=2007
  • Illegal Monopoly Profits: Record low dairy prices over the past year have forced Vermont farmers off their land. Meanwhile Dean Foods, which controls 70% of fluid milk in the region, posted a 150% gain in net profits over 2008.
    • Solution:  Eliminate the middle man to give a greater portion of the food dollar to farmers.
    • Source: http://sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/news/?id=8f6da8d9-cfc5-4099-8773-4d8506323bd6
  • Federal/state energy subsidies: It takes about 10 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of food energy in the industrial system. This energy itself is also subsidized- the federal government paid about $16.6 billion in energy subsidies in 2007. The upshot? Artificially cheap energy allows industrial farmers to continue inefficient practices on taxpayer’s backs.
  • Peak Oil, Mass Extinction, Global Oceanic Dead Zones, Obesity, and Heart Disease: all symptoms of an industrial food system; all of which we or our children will eventually pay for. Why not just eat better now?

Bottom line: local food costs less if you pay the full price for industrially produced food.

4. Americans CAN afford local food. Check out this graph:

Source: http://www.ilfb2.org/fff06/51.pdf.

We spend less than 10% of our income on food, the lowest in the world. The average country shells out 20% of its income on food. Many, if not most, of us can afford better food.   (http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/CPIFoodAndExpenditures/Data/Table_97/2007table97.htm).

For some, access to good food is a real problem. The local food movement addresses food security through the work of Salvation Farms and the Vermont Food Bank in gleaning 88,000 pounds of food from farms in the Lamoille Valley over 3 years, among other ways.  In this way, vibrant farms contribute to food security for all members of a community. http://www.vtfoodbank.org/our_programs/gleaning_program/.

Budbill ended his commentary with the question “How is the sustainable agriculture movement going to get good, affordable food to all Vermonters, rich and poor alike?” The solution has to cut both ways: consumers need to understand that the industrial food system is artificially cheap, and farmers need to continue to work make good food available for everyone. Consumers are waking up to the fact that they pay for their food once at the supermarket, again in their taxes, and again in their health care bills. Local farms have long been a proponent of affordable food, from EFT machines (food stamps) at farmer’s markets, to grow-a-row programs, to community gardens. The continuation of these trends will see a local food movement that serves everyone.

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A LETTER FROM JAY LORENZ

David,

Here is a story that I heard many years ago and is a reflection of the status of modern American agriculture.

Lettuce—grown in California with water transported across a basin from Arizona. The field worker picks off the outer layer in the field. It gets washed where another layer is peeled before being boxed for shipment to New York City. There, the prep cook washes the lettuce peeling off yet another layer. A leaf goes on a plate with a scoop of tuna neatly placed on top. The patron eats the tuna and the lettuce is thrown out. Think of the amount of fossil fuel that was used to grow and transport a vegetable that is essentially water across the country…just to be thrown out.

And another bone I have to pick, this one involving the production of biofuels, particularly ethanol. This is a subject that sees little daylight in daily politics. Commercial ethanol production requires distillation of plant material, typically corn.

What is the energy source for the distillation? Most often it is fossil fuel. Simple laws of thermodynamics: you can’t get a net gain in energy by converting corn to a liquid energy. Think of the amount of fossil fuel energy that goes into fertilizer, herbicides, the production of farm equipment, the fuel to operate the farm equipment, the fuel to transport the product, and then the fuel to distill the product to ethanol. We could reduce our dependence on foreign oil a lot more by just burning gasoline directly in our cars than by using the fossil fuel to produce ethanol.

And would the land-base be better utilized for growing food for people? There can be some justification for ethanol if the energy used in distillation were wood or coal (I can’t burn either in my car). However, I’m not seeing the value in such a trade-off.

How often are business and personal tax incentives used to mask the true costs of our actions?

I know of no right answer for our food and energy issues, but one thing I do know is there is a place for truth and honest discourse.

Jay Lorenz

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CONTRIBUTOR’S NOTES

Ben Hewitt lives with his family in Cabot, Vermont. You can read more of his work at www.benhewitt.net

Jeremiah Church is a young farmer who lives in Morrisville, VT. He has a portable stone oven that he hauls around on a trailer behind his pickup truck to various locations to make pizza for people.

Jay Lorenz met David while studying the ecology of the eastern coyote in Judevine in the mid-1970s. Currently, he is a senior biologist with a leading full-service engineering firm. One of his current projects is environmental permitting of a wind farm in California.

David Budbill is a poet and a playwright and editor of this cyberzine. His website is at: http://www.davidbudbill.com/ 

 

                  Coming in JME #52:

                  Something Political

                  just in time for the election

                   

Read More...

To be interested in food but not in food production is clearly absurd. — Wendell Berry

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FOOD: Part II
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In This Issue:

DAVID’S NOTES:

ISSUES OF CHOICE: Thinking Outside the Aisles
by Diana McCall

 

DEMAND CREATES SUPPLY
by T. Hunter Wilson

WHY DO WE HAVE TO MAKE THESE CHOICES?
by Todd Fleming Davis

THE PRACTICE OF GROWING
by Valerie Linet

CONTRIBUTOR’S NOTES

* * * * * 

DAVID’S NOTES

It’s been more than a year since the first Food issue of the JME. Finally here’s the second one. I thought this issue would be the last one on Food, but I’ve gotten so much material on the subject that I’ve divided it into three parts. Therefore, JME #51 will be about Food also.

At the heart of this issue of the JME, and the next, is the question: How much of our money are we willing to use to pay for our food? We are so used to spending so little for cheap food–which is cheap in more ways than one–that it’s hard for all us to get Food into its proper position in our budgets.

The four contributors to JME #50 come at this issue from different directions.

Between their essays are quotations from the Big Daddy of this issue, Wendell Berry. All of the quotations in this issue are from Wendell’s BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE, Counterpoint, 2009.

In JME #51, the last of the Food issues, I’ll offer a little review of BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE. Stay tuned.

* * * * *

OUR ASSAULT ON EDEN

For a long time now we have understood ourselves as traveling toward some sort of industrial paradise, some new Eden conceived and constructed entirely by human ingenuity. And we have thought ourselves free to use and abuse nature in any way that might further this enterprise. Now we face overwhelming evidence that we are not smart enough to recover Eden by assault, and that nature does not tolerate or excuse our abuses.

Wendell Berry, Bringing It to the Table, p. 9

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ISSUES OF CHOICE:

Thinking Outside the Aisles

by

Diana McCall

We may complain that we don’t have money to afford organic lettuce and local goat cheese, but in the end like all complaints these are issues of choice. For example, if I say I don’t have time to get to the gym, make a meal from scratch, or learn a new skill, I am being a victim of my unstated priorities. I am overlooking how I choose to spend my time.

And so it is with my food choices. How I spend my money on my food is as much a matter of conscious choices, priorities and perhaps most significantly habit and culture, as it is a matter of how much money I actually have to spend.

In my life here in North Carolina, money has often been short. But I have never let that stop me from having the best local, lovingly prepared food on my table. Food for my family is a social event and for me in particular an expression of my values, my aesthetics and my spirit.

I keep food affordable by growing a good deal of it at my community garden. I grow for my own family. I also supervise and educate volunteers from area elementary schools, high schools and colleges about how to grow food for our greater community. This food–over 3,000 pounds grown and harvested year round–is donated to a local food pantry and to a meal site that serves nearly 200 people every week.

I look for free food in our community. Fruit trees in particular are a great source of free food. In the fall I often knock on doors and ask permission to harvest fruit from backyard trees. I also barter for food, and I use my skills as a home chef to barter for luxuries like pottery, music lessons and school photos of my children.

To keep food central to the spirit of the home, I have to think outside the aisles of the chain grocery store. I do this literally as well as figuratively. I rarely step inside the main aisles of my box grocery store. Packaged food is low in nutrition and high in long-term cost. I am concerned about my family’s and the planet’s health. Instead I shop the perimeter of the store, focusing on high quality yet affordable dairy and fresh produce. The money I save there allows me to support my local, family-owned health food stores where I purchase flours, grains, legumes and oils in bulk. Each week I choose a few specialty items that are more expensive, such as local goat cheese or local sausage, but still within our budget. These items are the highlights of the week’s snacks and meals and are greatly enjoyed, as food should be. They nourish our bodies and our souls, making the investment of a few extra dollars well worth it.

I educate myself on storage and preservation techniques and how to prepare food from scratch. This all takes time, but you are either in control of time, or time is in control of you.

And so it is with our food choices. Do we allow marketing and a feeling of scarcity in our pocketbooks to dictate what we put on our tables? Or do we choose to consciously put quality food before our families that gives us a connection to our bodies, our place, the people we live with and our community?

* * * * *

RETURN

Because industrial cycles are never complete–because there is no return–there are two characteristic results of industrial enterprise: exhaustion and contamination.

Wendell Berry, Bringing It to the Table, p. 23

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DEMAND CREATES SUPPLY

PRICES DROP AS THE MARKET DEVELOPS:

Thoughts on Early Adopters,

Class, Local Food, Anti-Lock Brakes, DVD Players, Photovoltaics

and Shipping Costs

by

T. Hunter Wilson

The matters of class you raise are important, [in JME #49, at: http://www.vpr.net/episode/46665/  (3:06)]  to be sure, but complicated too. Class and the decision to buy local food are not merely a matter of money. Whatever our generation of back-to-the-landers may be able to afford now, many of us came with those values at a time when we could not have afforded Farmers’ Market prices if Farmers’ Market had even existed. A lot of us grew food partly because you could save money by doing so, but mostly because we thought we’d get better food, and learn more about our land and our climate and ourselves if we did.

Moreover, don’t underestimate the value of “early adopters” in establishing a market. Everything from anti-lock brakes and DVD players to solar panels and organic milk started out as ridiculously expensive options only the wealthy could afford, but the prices drop as the market develops. The New Yorker, many years ago, had an article pointing out that if the US Government installed photovoltaics in every location where it was then cost-effective, where they were running generators or hauling batteries or whatever, that would drive down the price of photovoltaic systems, and if they kept doing that at each new, lower price point, photovoltaics would end up being vastly more cost efficient.

The principle holds, I would guess, with local food.

Also, on the opposite side of the cost equation, as shipping becomes a larger and larger proportion of the cost of food, as industrial fertilizers become more and more expensive (as they will if energy costs continue to rise), having an established foundation for local alternatives, even if they are more expensive than what we now pay for industrialized food, will be important for everyone.

* * * * *

Editor’s Note: Regards supply and demand, read this article about the shortage of slaughter houses–at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/28/us/28slaughter.html?emc=eta1

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THE INDUSTRIAL MIND

The industrial mind is a mind without compunction; it simply accepts that people, ultimately, will be treated as things and that things, ultimately, will be treated as garbage.

Wendell Berry, Bringing It to the Table, p. 37

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WHY DO WE HAVE TO MAKE THESE CHOICES?

by

Todd Fleming Davis

I’ve been reading Wendell Berry and writers like him since I was an undergrad in the early 1980s.  His vision of community, of sustainable agriculture, of locally grown foods raised in a healthful and responsible way, has long been a desire of mine.  (My father was a veterinarian whose undergraduate degree was in Ag from the University of Kentucky. As you’d guess, many dinnertime discussions focused on how our food was raised, both animal and vegetable.)

Now as a professor of environmental studies, I often talk with my students about these very subjects.  Yet I’m plagued by the fact that the healthiest foods, the healthiest land to live on and raise that food on, is ruled by the almighty dollar.

I’m a case in point.  My first teaching job in 1989 paid $14,000, and my wife Shelly earned no money as a graduate student.  Our big night out every couple of weeks was a single cheese with everything at Wendy’s, which was at the end of our apartment complex.

Only recently—and I feel so very fortunate—have we been able to purchase organic foods on a regular basis, and one of the ways we’ve been able to do this is through friends who farm in a sustainable manner.

My promotion within the Penn State system has given us enough income to make better choices for eating and living.  In fact, the real reason we’ve been able to join coops and support folks who farm organically is because my employer has made it possible.

Before moving to Pennsylvania and getting promoted these choices weren’t available to my family.  (And we lived in a home of 1200 square feet with one car, no cell phones, no internet, etc.  We’re Mennonites, and if you haven’t been around Mennonites, we’re fairly frugal folks.)

While we’ve always tried to raise a garden, to can and freeze some of our food—something that I might add is not available at this point to everyone because of economic and geographical circumstances—in the early years of our marriage (and sadly even when we first had our children), I remember purchasing vegetables that I knew had been grown under the auspices of the agri-industrial model, laced with pesticides and herbicides and fertilizers of all sorts.

Yet our bodies needed vegetables and these were the ones we could afford.  And the milk.  And the eggs.  And the bread.  And the cheese.  Let’s be blunt:  I bought what I could afford, which compared to some of our friends was pretty good.  But why in a country blessed with such bounty should any of us have to make these choices?

I only pray that my students—who are smarter than I ever was and who have energy and drive—will figure out a way to make good foods available to everyone, regardless of the size of their wallet.

* * * * *

COURTESY AND SYMPATHY

To farm well requires an elaborate courtesy toward all creatures, animate and inanimate. It is sympathy that most appropriately enlarges the context of human work.

Wendell Berry, Bringing It to the Table, p. 96


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* * * * *

THE PRACTICE OF GROWING

by

Valerie Linet

        My desire to farm is like a bizarre relative that doesn’t look like the rest of the family. I grew up in Brooklyn, where my first 20 years included lots of subway rides and other elements of urban life, but very little soil, and not even one tractor. Perhaps eating fresh figs from the tree in our city garden influenced me more than I could have imagined. Maybe seeing raspberry canes bearing fruit each summer got under my skin, even as I resisted my mother’s urgings to help weed the snow peas and chives out back.

        Over the past decade, I’ve gotten into the habit of growing food, and I’ve begun to feel nature’s shifts in my own bones. When I first began gardening, I spent a year working on an organic community-supported farm (CSA) in New Paltz, New York. In the CSA model of agriculture, community members buy “shares” in a local farm, which provides them with a box of fresh vegetables each week. Many members shift their focus over the course of a season or two, from simply getting fresh organic produce, to active community participation, advocating and supporting sustainable farming through any number of efforts. It seems that the more service a member does for the farm, the more the farm feeds them.

        The question of why I farm hit me full force in the middle of my first growing season. I felt the need to understand and express my desire to rise early and hoe arugula beds, so I turned to writing, as I often do. These are excerpts from my journal in the Summer of 2000:

                Why do this? Why work a hard, dirty job when I could do something nice and clean that pays the bills? What can I offer the world by hand weeding carrots?

 

                CSA farming satisfies some of the need I feel to heal and nourish the earth, myself, and others. Alongside the other farmers and members, we are taking part in the work of sustaining ourselves by connecting our hands and minds to the soil that provides for us. We are refusing to buy into the myth of the “perfect vegetable”(one without any insect holes or blemishes), and are interested in accepting a naturally grown tomato as it truly is. The farm is a place where we can look around and see our dependence upon one another and on this land for our very lives.

 

                It is no longer acceptable for me to play a passive role in the increasingly impersonal and degrading food system, where our culture clearly defines our place as consumers. We are encouraged to have insatiable cravings for food that is grown on the other side of the world, whether or not it is in season, or is processed beyond recognition.

 

                There is no room in that model for the consumer to see the plants grow, greet the farmer who tended them, or teach his/her children that the earth can feed them. Is it possible to describe the nourishment we receive from participating in the labor that food production requires of us? It is possible to establish a place dedicated to the exploration of nature’s cycles, discovery, creation, and growth? Our work is to continue discovering how to do this, and in the process, hopefully we’ll be helping to create a healthier, saner, more balanced world.

        Frost came early that Fall, so I spent two or three days preparing the main vegetable garden for its first big blow. I spread row covers tightly over vulnerable plants. I patched holes in green house plastic, protecting the crops inside, and picked all the less hardy vegetables in the field one last time.

        My experience surveying the fields the morning after the first frost illuminated the reality of impermanence for me in a way that nothing else had before. It’s easy to be intellectual about these things, but my heart dipped and turned when I saw how the Rosa Bianca eggplants—those round, pale, pinkish-purple jewels that had hung heavy on strong stems—had transformed into brown, wilted creatures. And no matter how much I had heard about it before, I suddenly felt bitten by the truth of taking something so short-lived for granted, and then being shocked and saddened by its departure. The seeds I had known, sown, and nurtured as they grew, had turned into barely recognizable remnants of life.

        Right there, though, in those moments, the practice of growing seemed to me a solid teacher of life and death. One which challenges me to look at the fact that one day something I love is a part of this living world, and the next day it is gone. Before, there had been no room in my summer mind to believe that winter would come.

        Farming beckons me to accept life as it is. Nature has its own powerful wisdom that I need to trust. Cold weather arrives in time for earth to rest and lie fallow, rejuvenating for fresh growth in the spring. Death makes space for new life. There are times that call for hibernation, reassessment, quiet, and subtle movement. For now, I will continue working with Nature’s own cycles through growing food—letting my trust in the process grow and allowing this wisdom to enter my life, moment by moment.

[Author’s Note: This piece was excerpted from a longer essay, originally printed in TURNING WHEEL, in 2001. For length, I have omitted passages here, which explore the relationship between my Zen Buddhist practice and the practice of growing food.

 

 * * * * *

GRAZING ANIMALS

Why use fossil fuel energy to bring food to grazing animals that are admirably designed to go get it themselves?

Wendell Berry, Bringing It to the Table, p. 64

 

* * * * *

CONTRIBUTORS’ NOTES

Wendell Berry is the well-known poet, novelist, short story writer and essayist. All of the quotations in this issue are from his BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE, Counterpoint, 2009.

Diana McCall is mother to three children, a goddess in the kitchen (her email is: diana@goddessinthekitchen.com) and a yoga instructor who lives in Black Mountain, North Carolina.

T. Hunter Wilson is a poet and teacher of Writing and Literature at Marlboro College, Vermont. He lives in Marlboro in a house he built himself and is active in local government.

Todd Davis is the author of four books of poems, most recently The Least of These (Michigan State University Press, 2010) and Household of Water, Moon, and Snow: The Thoreau Poems (Seven Kitchens Press, 2010).  He hunts and gardens in the village of Tipton, Pennsylvania, with his wife and two sons.

Valerie Linet is a Zen student, poet, freelance writer, gardener, and social worker. She lives in Upstate New York in the Catskills. She and her partner, Jeffery, have recently acquired four new chickens.

David Budbill is the creator and editor of The Judevine Mountain Emailite. Copper Canyon Press will publish his latest book of poems, HAPPY LIFE, in September of this year.

  
* * * * *

 

Coming in JME #51:

Food: Part III

A review of Wendell Berry’s BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE

STEALING FROM GIANTS, 2010 by Ben Hewitt

WHAT PRICE FOOD? by Jeremiah Church

WE NEED A NEW WAY TO FEED PEOPLE by Gail Osherenko

Read More...

To be interested in food but not in food production is clearly absurd. — Wendell Berry

* * * * *

FOOD: Part I
* * * * *

In This Issue:

DAVID’S NOTES AND A COMMENTARY:

REACTIONS TO DAVID’S COMMENTARY

BEN HEWITT’S THE TOWN THAT FOOD SAVED

FOUR WEBSITES TO LOOK AT

CONTRIBUTOR’S NOTES

* * * * * 

DAVID’S NOTES

This is the first of two JME’s about food. The second will be along in a couple of weeks. 

On August 10, 2009, I did a commentary for Vermont Public Radio called AFFORDABLE FOOD FOR ALL about the new whole foods movement and who can afford the food and who can’t. It looked back on my 40 years as part of the Back to the Land movement here in northern Vermont and asked some questions.

Read the commentary or listen to it (it takes 3:06) at: http://www.vpr.net/episode/46665/

The commentary caused a lot of reactions. Here are some of them.


* * * * *

Reactions to My Commentary of August 2009 

TWO-THIRDS LOCALLY

I’ve been asking myself the same question about Farmer’s Markets vs Price Chopper.  In my case, I’m trying to find the middle ground: raise what I can, get fresh/sustainably-raised products when it makes sense, buy staples at Price Chopper.  We spend at least 2/3 of our food money locally.
Karen Kane

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CHEAP FOOD AT THE EXPENSE OF GOOD FOOD

Yeah, it’s a real problem. But on the other hand, you’ve gone through many years when you had very little money, and good food was still important to you. So I think part of the problem is a cultural one: how do you get people to spend more of their disposable income on food instead of lots of consumer goodies. I think we used to spend 10% of our income on food many years ago, but spend much less now. Since the 1950s, our agricultural policies have pushed cheap food at the expense of good food, and it’s going to be very very hard to change that dynamic.

Altoon Sultan

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A LOT OF EDUCATION NEEDED

You bring up an important perspective on this movement.  I think that a lot of the Price Chopper customers don’t go to the farmers markets because they not only think the prices are higher, but that many do not know how to shop for slow food products or prepare food from scratch.  There is a lot of education needed plus some way to make the slow foods more affordable for all.

Joanne Harrison

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MAYBE IT’S NOT MEANT TO BE

The issue you’re addressing, of course, is a tough one, insoluble.  You’re looking not only for economic justice, parity, but also, implicitly at least, for everybody to be aware, conscious of nutritional & ecological choices, good taste, & so on–a tall order.  Maybe it’s not meant to be?  Human beings being what they are.

Howard Nelson

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REDUCED HEALTH CARE MEANS MORE AFFORDABLE FOOD

You end with a question: “40 years after moving to Vermont, the question still remains: how is the sustainable agriculture movement going to get good, affordable food to all Vermonters, rich and poor alike?”

Along with Michael Pollan and many others, I believe the answer lies in radically reducing the cost of health care. Once people (who are often made sick by bad food) don’t have to spend huge amounts of their income on health care, they will be able to pay for good food at the price it actually costs to produce (without corn and soy subsidies).

Phil James

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THE WELL OFF BEING ENTERTAINED WELL AND FED WELL TOO

Yes, I’d just turned on the radio, doing dishes, and heard this familiar voice. A very tricky idea, I think. We go to farmer’s market here every Friday. We are fortunate to have the resources to spend that kind of money and support local folks. It goes farther than food. You may also know, with your performing, I need to find pockets of wealth, so I go to places like Bergen County and along New Jersey’s coast with my slide shows. Ends up, we have the well off being entertained well and fed well too.

Jerry Schneider

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ALL AGES AND MOST ECONOMIC CLASSES

Yep, we were part of that back to the land resulting in gentrification too.  I remember when the only cheese was “store cheese” and the bread was Wonder.  This town has always been a place of wealth and education, but it seems that the divide is larger than in years past.  Our Sustainable Woodstock effort is looking at all these issues.  One thing, David, I notice that all ages and most economic classes come to our two farmers’ markets here.

Peggy Kannenstine

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THE DELICATE BUT INSISTENT ISSUE OF CLASS

I do agree that the farmer’s market goers are for the most part the affluent class. Norwich is a prime example of that. Though, the question of ‘affordability’ is a difficult one. Growing, hunting, and foraging your own food, should be everyone’s first skills.

And class division is also about culture and attitude, not just economics. Several years ago, I took a workshop on social classes– the Human Services Agency sponsored it. The instructor said, ‘it’s wrong to have this assumption that people always aspire for the higher socio-economic class.’ She was right, I thought. I am not in the wealthy class, and I don’t have any desire to move up to the wealthy class. It’s the identity thing.

Another thing I remember from that workshop: what people want from food. The people in the poor class want A LOT of it, to fill the belly. The people in the middle class want it to be TASTY. The people in the wealthy class want it to be PRETTY. (Well, Japanese people might be the exception to this rule. . .)

When I write about Vermont in a Japanese newspaper, it’s hard to ignore and at the same time equally hard to articulate, this delicate but insistent issue of class in this country.

Chiho Kaneko

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THE CONDITIONS OF WORKING PEOPLE

I’m glad you are highlighting the conditions of working people and raising questions about the consequences in relation to the sustainable/healthy food movement.  Growing poverty doesn’t allow the means (or even the education) for people to enjoy good food. Cheap mass production of unhealthy food for the masses in the service of big profit is very disturbing.

One book on the topic of inequality that I read at NYU was INEQUALITY MATTERS. It’s pretty tame (and I don’t agree with their remedies), but still, it has many stats on growing inequality since the end of WW II.

The top 1% had 1500 times the wealth of the bottom 40% in 1983, but they had almost 4400 times the wealth of the bottom 40% in 2001.

In 1960, the gap in terms of wealth between the top 20% and the bottom 20% was 30-fold.  Four decades later it is more than 75-fold. In fact, research from tax return data has revealed that the average real income of the bottom 90 percent of American taxpayers declined by 7 percent between 1973 and 2000, while the income of the top 1 percent went up 148 percent.

The post-WW II boom, that at least benefited some US workers, is over and global competition just pits workers against workers among nations in a race to the bottom.  All we are left with are more bad paying jobs, more outsourcing to cheap platforms of labor, and a national debt that isn’t sustainable.

And as people get paid less and can’t buy the products produced, then the system (like the housing market) will continue to implode.

The food part is obviously one connection to this whole mess.

Jonathan Keane

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RELOCALIZING VERMONT

Here’s an idea I’ve been contemplating for awhile, encouraged by Carl Etnier’s program on WGDR (http://www.wgdr.org/) in Plainfield, Vermont, called “Relocalizing Vermont,” which is to make some of our wonderful field available as gardening plots to folks in Plainfield village who may not have room to garden at their apartments. At no cost, and sharing the overabundance of horse manure we have due to my sister-in-law keeping her horses on our land. And perhaps folks could share seeds, since one packet often has too much for one family gardener.

I just learned that Nancy Chickering, a local emergency room physician and member of the Unitarian Church of Montpelier, as am I, has coordinated community gardens for Montpelier area for nearly 20 years and I’m hoping she can help me move from thought to action.

Your piece is an additional goad to get moving.

Alexandra Thayer

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FARMS TO SCHOOLS

One answer to your question is: Farms to Schools. More at: http://www.farmtoschool.org All the kids, rich and poor get to eat and garden and prepare and talk to their friends and families…that’s good, and that is from the new, young and very smart new breed. And they do a lot of it outside!

Madeleine Winfield

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THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS

The long-term viability of the localization concept depends on its accessibility to the entire community, and that in turn depends on how well local producers can adapt their unique models to address the specific needs and composition of the communities that they are a part of.

I think that there is great vision and momentum, but, as with anything, the “devil is in the details” – and the details are what the big discussions need to be focusing on.

Tony Risitano


 

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Ben Hewitt’s The Town that Food Saved

Ben Hewitt, someone I’ve known since he was in diapers, has written a book called THE TOWN THAT FOOD SAVED about the agricultural renaissance in Hardwick, VT, and the questions that the so-called new life for a famously down and out town raises about affordable food.

This book is highly recommended.

For links to information about the book, reviews, etc. go to:
Ben Hewitt: http://www.galaxybookshop.com/book/9781605296869 and to Ben’s blog about book at: http://galaxybookshop.wordpress.com/2010/03/05/ben-hewitt

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Four Websites to Look At

The  Center for an Agricultural Economy, Hardwick, VT: http://www.hardwickagriculture.org

GardenShare, Richville, NY: http://www.gardenshare.org

Foothills Family Farms: a collection of family farms in Western North Carolina: http://foothillsfamilyfarms.org

Pete’s Greens, Craftsbury, VT: http://www.petesgreens.com



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Contributor’s Notes

Karen Kane gardens, cooks, and writes about French food in East Montpelier, VT.

Altoon Sultan is a artist and a gardener who lives in Vermont. She has an excellent blog, about her garden, food and art at: http://altoonsultan.blogspot.com

Joanne Harrison lives in Morrisville, VT.

Howard Nelson is a poet. His most recent book is The Nap by the Waterfall (Timberline Press, 2009). He lives in Scipio, NY, in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

Phil Nyokai James is a shakuhachi player, performer and teacher. His website is at: http://www.philjamesmusic.com He lives in Portland, Maine.

Jerry Schneider, sometimes called “The Butterfly Guy,” flits around the country doing nature slide shows in schools and libraries. He lives with wife, daughter and dog in Hardwick, VT.

Peggy Kannenstine is a well-known Woodstock, VT, artist who paints in her studio at home and also works in her town and state, furthering the arts and localvore/sustainable community efforts.

Chiho Kaneko is an artist who writes a weekly column about Vermont for a newspaper in northern Japan. She lives in Hartland, Vermont, with her baking husband.

Jonathan Keane holds a Masters degree from New York University with a concentration in poetry and politics; he currently works for a major publishing house in Boston.

Alexandra Thayer is a grandmother, mother, activist, radio listener & programmer, lover of poetry and music and partner to a wonderful man who adorns her fields with renewable energy.

Madeleine Winfield has lived in The NEK for forty years, tai chi/chi gong/yoga and sitting her way, family and friends her connection, while she transitions out of 35 years of marriage.

Tony Risitano is Warehouse/Fulfillment Manager at High Mowing Organic Seeds, one of the premier organic seed companies in America. More about High Mowing Organic Seeds at: http://highmowingseeds.com

The masthead quotation from Wendell Berry is from his new book Bringing it to the Table (Counterpoint, 2009, 340 pgs., $14.95), isbn: 978-1-58243-543-5
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Coming Soon

THE JUDEVINE MOUNTAIN EMAILITE: #50:

FOOD PART II

Quotations from Wendell Berry’s BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE

ISSUES OF CHOICE: THINKING OUTSIDE THE ISLES: by Diana McCall

WHY DO WE HAVE TO MAKE THESE CHOICES? by Todd Fleming Davis

THE PRACTICE OF GROWING by Valerie Linet

WE NEED A NEW WAY TO FEED PEOPLE by Gail Osherenko

WHAT PRICE FOOD? by Jeremiah Church
And a review of BRINGING IT TO THE TABLE.

 

Read More...

In order to survive we must keep hope alive — William Parker

* * * * *

HEALTH CARE: PART II
* * * * *

In This Issue:

DAVID’S NOTES:

HEALTH CARE: PART II: YOUR RESPONSES TO JME #47
(Mostly from Canadians)

CONTRIBUTORS’ NOTES

* * * * * 

DAVID’S NOTES

I HADN’T PLANNED ON THIS 

I had not planned to do another issue on Health Care but your responses to JME #47 were many and excellent. I thought I should share with all of you what a few of you said. Thus the bulk of this brief issue is what I’ve gotten back about issue #47.

BRAIN DRAIN BECAUSE OF HEALTH CARE?

I want to mention specifically one contributor to this issue who is a recent immigrant to Canada who also recently found out she had cancer. She is an extraordinarily gifted actor and writer who is now afraid to return to the United States because of our Neanderthal health care system. In a recent phone conversation she allowed as how it would not be wise for her to return to the United States to live unless something drastic happens to America’s health care policies.

How many other Americans are there who went to Canada or France or England or Switzerland or somewhere else and are now afraid to come back here because of our health care system?

Does the American health care system contribute to a Brain Drain?



* * * * *

SOME OF YOUR RESPONSES TO JME #47 

HOW FORTUNATE I AM TO BE IN CANADA

How fortunate I am to be in Canada, huh? Man oh man. The whole debate about health care in the U.S. has really changed my feelings about the possibility of moving back south of the border. Especially now that I’ve had cancer, I just don’t trust that I would be cared for if I lived there. And the fact that U.S. society can’t agree that the health and well being of its citizens should be a national priority is deeply disturbing to me. Rugged individualism gone wild, I guess. I pray that Obama will be able to get something reasonable passed, but I’m skeptical, and frankly, more concerned than ever about his safety.

Abby Paige
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Abby also sent us this link to a survey by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showing a large majority of physicians support a health plan with both private and public options: http://www.rwjf.org/healthreform/quality/product.jsp?id=48408

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VIBRANT MOVEMENT FOR SINGLE PAYER HEALTH CARE IN VERMONT

I want to let you know that health care reform at the federal level will leave our expensive for-profit health care system in place. At best, there will be a small public option that will cover only a small percentage of people.

But we do have a vibrant movement for single payer health care in Vermont. As Bernie Sanders has said, “The quickest route toward a national health care program will be when individual states go forward and demonstrate that universal and non-profit health care works, and that it is the cost-effective and moral thing to do.”

There are two bills presently before the Vermont House and Senate [H100 and S88], which would establish a single payer system in Vermont.  A short leaflet that explains the bills is available here.

You should email your state representatives and ask them to support H100 and S88.  Bernie Sanders is hoping we in Vermont can show the way, and I think we have a chance if we rally our forces together and make our voices heard.  We need to telephone our local representatives and ask them to support H100 and S88. And we should tell all our gubernatorial candidates that we want them to work for single payer in Vermont.

Ellen Oxfeld
Middlebury, VT

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NOT SOMETHING WE LIVE WITH HERE IN CANADA

Up here in Canada we hear about the debate and how divisive and absurd it is, but the anger and intensity of the debate I’m hearing from you and your contributors is not something we live with here in Canada. Thank god! In fact one thing I remember from my year in America is the intensity of the political dialogues around the dinner tables, on the dock, etc. Good thing you guys have your mountain retreat with all those nasty bugs and all that rain to keep your minds otherwise occupied!

Jan Kubanek
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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I BRISTLE

As a former Canadian citizen I always bristle when I hear the Canadian health care system criticized.

Judy Murphy
Bennington, VT

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RACE IS THEIR TRUMP CARD

Health Care for all and the Public Option are clearly being hit by the backward and the un-informed, and as in the election, race is their trump card; fortunately, John and Sarah lost, but they and the Republicans obviously haven’t given up. . . . I was pleased to see Jimmy Carter and Bill Cosby come out with the R word and call it as it is: Racism, pure and simple — along with a contempt for the middle class with people once again working against their own best interests in their blind fear of Socialism and People Who Are Different.

Kathy White
Beaufort, SC

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DROP THE LANGUAGE OF “RIGHTS”

An interesting and diverse assortment of views. I especially liked Miriam Schubert’s piece: it’s so simple and so real. [See it again at: http://www.davidbudbill.com/jme47.html#cansys]

I find myself getting stuck when people talk about a “right” to health care, just as I get stuck at that quote about how we’re endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable “rights” . . . .

The problem with asserting “rights,” it seems to me, is that people get awfully self-righteous about them: how, after all, can you deny anyone their “rights” unless you’re a bad person? . . . .

Instead, the health care debate might become more fluid. That probably requires dropping the language of “rights” and seeing instead where generosity in the electorate can be enlarged and fearfulness assuaged. . . . Obama’s concluding rap in his health care speech about our national character was wonderfully pertinent in this regard: he didn’t ask us to respond to somebody’s assertion of “rights”; instead, he asked that we tap into that part of our character that cares about the distress of others. (He’s also pretty respectful of the fact that there are a lot of different ways to care about the world, and that differences of view deserve respect.) “Rights” freeze dialogue and leave it nowhere to go; “character” and respect for other views leave things more fluid . . . .

It’s not just the conservatives who get locked into self-“rights”eousness. That language on all sides can destroy rather than create.

Schubert ends her piece saying, “Civil society means caring for one another, the healthy caring for the sick and the young for the old”: that’s creative language in the context of this debate. May there be more of it!

David French
Shelburne, VT

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MYSTIFIED WHY THERE IS ALL THIS DEBATE

Thanks for your superb selections on the (sickening) health care debate. We do know the strengths and failings of the Canadian system, but no government would dare take it down or revise it down. Overall, we are happy with it and don’t have to worry about losing coverage through cancellation by an HMO, or losing coverage due to job loss.

We are mystified why there is all this debate on an issue that was sorted out to almost everyone’s satisfaction so long ago in Europe and Canada.

George Kubanek
Montreal, Quebec, Canada


 

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CONTRIBUTORS’ NOTES

Abby Paige is an actor and writer who lives in Montreal.

Ellen Oxfeld is a Professor of Anthropology at Middlebury College who specializes in the anthropology of China.

Jan Kubanek is currently an architect and amateur singer, formerly a carpenter and tile maker and future who-knows-what.

Judy Murphy was for 11 years a senior reporter at Sports Illustrated Magazine. She first came to the United States after marrying a New York Times reporter in 1959.

Kathy White is a former high school English & writing teacher, a left-wing snowbird from South Carolina, intent on biking and Yoga, and focused on 4 grandchildren under the age of 8.

David French is a former toiler in international development organizations who now concentrates on email and Buddhism.

George Kubanek is a Canadian who spends several months a year in the USA. He retired 10 years ago from the forest products industry where he worked on research and development.

* * * * *

Read More...

In order to survive we must keep hope alive — William Parker

* * * * *

HEALTH CARE
* * * * *

In This Issue:

David’s Notes: DISGUSTED!

A LETTER FROM TORONTO
by
David Kreuter

CANADIAN HEALTH SYSTEM WORKS
by
Miriam Schubert

THE HEALTH CARE BROU-HA-HA
by
Altoon Sultan

BARNEY FRANK SOCKS IT TO ‘EM

WHAT ABOUT THE COMMON GOOD?
THE LESSONS OF HISTORY
by
William H. Chafe

WATZAMADDAH WID OBAMA?
numerous sources

CONTRIBUTORS’ NOTES

* * * * * 

DAVID’S NOTES

DISGUSTED!

A woman in tears exclaims, They’re going to make all older people take suicide classes so that they’ll know how to kill themselves! She ends by saying, This is worse than Russia! No! Worse than Cuba! This is total Socialism!

She’s right. This whole debate is not about Health Care, it’s about Socialism, or so the Right Wing, Corporate Capitalists and their gullible American dupes would have us believe.

I’m so mad, so disgusted, I can barely see.

Thus: this edition of THE JUDEVINE MOUNTAIN EMAILITE about Health Care.

As James Wagner puts it in his blog for August 25th:

It’s our selfishness, which has always been behind our horror of “socialism” (and from our beginnings as a people, our distrust of any government).

As Altoon Sultan says later in this issue, It’s so disheartening to see this intense politicization of an issue that should transcend partisanship: good health care as a fundamental right for all Americans, regardless of income.

Or as Miriam Schubert says below, What an unconscionable system, completely counter to what one expects of a civilized society. Civil society means caring for one another, the healthy caring for the sick and the young for the old. How did this idea get lost in the USA?

Indeed, how did it?

Look under Capitalism and The Profit Motive for the answer.

For the rest of James Wagner’s tiny and well-put blog go to: http://jameswagner.com/2009/08/medicare_for_all.html and for a related blog on August 22nd go to: http://jameswagner.com/2009/08/this_should_be_the_f.html

For a detailed discussion of the issue listen to the Brian Lehrer Show for August 24th at: http://www.wnyc.org/flashplayer/player.html#/play/%2Fstream%2Fxspf%2F139104



* * * * *

A LETTER FROM TORONTO
by
David Kreuter

Here’s a letter I received from my friend David Kreuter who lives just outside Toronto.

. . .  when are you and Lois moving to Canada?  This health care issue in the U.S. is just unreal. A Hitler moustache on Obama for trying to give people some access to care? Come again?

Just back from 9 days in London. Another society with health care provided through the NHS.  The U.K. seems to be thriving to me – and not too many folks there would give up the NHS!

Three recent examples close at hand about our system here in Canada:

1. I needed some non-emergency cardio tests.  Tests and results available to physician within 8 days. 

2. Mammogram results for family member within 7 days of initial call.

3. Next door neighbours parent diagnosed with kidney cancer. From diagnosis to successful surgical removal: 8 days.

Not too shabby, eh?

I am not blind to our problems – lack of family docs, wait times, etc., but I would rather have those problems than the U.S. problems.

David Kreuter, 17 August 2009, Thornhill, Ontario, Canada


 

* * * * *

from our friend, Harriette Greene out in Marin County, California comes . . .

CANADIAN HEALTH SYSTEM WORKS

[from the Marin Independent Journal: Marin Voice, August 16, 2009]

By Miriam Schubert

CANADIANS have voted Tommy Douglas, known as the father of the Canadian Medicare system, the greatest Canadian of all time. Canadians may complain, but they love their system, which provides lifelong medical care for everyone. There are private clinics but everyone pays Medicare taxes.

I am a Canadian and I had breast cancer while living in Montreal. Last year, while living in California, the cancer recurred. Where do we get these myths about Canadian health care?

In Canada I was able to choose my surgeon, oncologist and radiologist from all the doctors in Montreal. I also chose a McGill University hospital for my surgery. After the operation, my oncologist prescribed all the needed tests, including a bone scan and an MRI, which were all done immediately.

I then started chemotherapy. At every appointment I had blood tests, my tumor markers were monitored, I saw my oncologist and had a breast exam. I saw my surgeon every three months. Throughout, my treatment was orchestrated by all the doctors who worked consistently as a team. After chemo I had a PET scan. Results were good, and I continued to see my oncologist and surgeon yearly.

Because my team thought ultrasounds the best diagnostic tool for my dense breasts, I had those every six months as well as annual mammogram and breast MRI. The radiologist also examined me at every imaging appointment.

Here, we are covered by Kaiser. Tumor markers are not routinely followed at Kaiser, but my oncologist did agree to test them last year. They were high. I continued to have tests every six months. The markers kept rising and I requested a PET scan. My oncologist said he could not justify it. Not justify it! This was a phrase I had never heard in Canada.

Finally, I broke a rib and that was enough to justify a PET scan. It revealed boney metastases and I got radiation therapy. I am now on a drug treatment regime recommended by my Canadian doctor, to which my Kaiser doctor has agreed.

My markers are low and I am feeling very well. But Kaiser has refused to do ultrasounds or MRIs. I get a mammogram every two years. I have never seen the radiologist who has decided mammograms provide adequate testing. My oncologist, whom I see regularly, has not examined my breast in 18 months.

Where is the rationing? I never had to argue to get treatment in Canada. I never had to know so much about my illness or to be such an advocate for my own case. I used to get calls, from my physicians in Canada, suggesting treatment. Not here.

I worked almost 40 years as a physical therapist in Montreal. I have treated thousands of patients with hip and knee replacements. There is no rationing, by age or anything else, and anyone who needs a joint replacement gets it. The medical team makes the decision. The waiting period, in Quebec, for a hip and knees is now three months. Furthermore, ceramic hips are considered the most durable kind of prosthesis and they are used regularly in Canada. My son is an orthopaedist in Iowa and bemoans the fact that ceramic, total hip replacements are not available in the USA.

I have had good care here, but the care in Quebec was better. Everything was done to get me healthy. And here, the out of pocket cost is much higher than the Medicare taxes I was paying in Canada.

There, when I was earning a high salary I paid high taxes. When I became ill and could not work, I paid nothing. Here, as I get older and sicker, my costs rise.

What an unconscionable system, completely counter to what one expects of a civilized society. Civil society means caring for one another, the healthy caring for the sick and the young for the old. How did this idea get lost in theUSA?


* * * * *

THE HEALTH CARE BROU-HA-HA
by
Altoon Sultan

I’ve been pulling my hair out, banging my head against the wall––all those clichés of frustration––as I listen to the wildly misinformed health reform protestors and the outright lies of Republican legislators. It’s so disheartening to see this intense politicization of an issue that should transcend partisanship: good health care as a fundamental right for all Americans, regardless of income.

Should we have expected anything different, even with a charismatic President? The industry players are mightily influential and the legislature bogged down by inertia. The Senate has become an institution hampered by minority rule with the elevation of the once-rare filibuster to standard practice.

But even so, we are now further in the reform process than ever before; even if Congress doesn’t pass a public option with the bill, we can welcome what will surely be in it: the expansion of Medicaid, the end of lifetime caps on healthcare spending, the expansion of insurance with subsidies for millions of people who don’t currently have it, the end of pre-existing conditions exclusions.

This can be seen as just incremental, but it’s a move in the right direction, and one we should support and applaud.

. . .  and for more from our friend Altoon:

ALTOON SULTAN ON NPR

NPR’s Weekend Edition aired a letter of her’s on August 22nd. To listen to Altoon’s letter go to: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112134932

* * * * *

BARNEY FRANK SOCKS IT TO ‘EM

For those of you who have not yet seen this clip of a news conference where Barney Frank responds to a questioner who calls the Obama health care plan “Nazi” . . . go to:

* * * * *

WHAT ABOUT THE COMMON GOOD?
THE LESSONS OF HISTORY
by
William H. Chafe

  The tension between individual rights and community well being is as old as the story of America. From the time the Puritans arrived on our country’s shores, we have struggled over how to strike a balance. Our best moments have come when we put the good of the whole ahead of the interests of the individual – the Civil War, the Homestead Act, child labor and meat inspection legislation during the Progressive Era, Social Security during the New Deal, the fight against fascism in World War II, the civil rights revolution and Medicare during the Great Society. Now the issue is before us once again with the issue of health care. How can we make the tension between individual and communal well being a source of strength rather than have it become a debilitating weakness.

   Perhaps it is worth going back to the heart of John Winthrop’s vision for America as a “city upon a hill.” When he delivered his sermon, “A Modell of Christian Charity” aboard the Arabella as the Puritans arrived in MassachuesttsBay, he envisioned a new kind of society. The task of the settlers, Winthrop declared, was to embrace a covenant with God that would create a beloved community. “We must strengthen, defend, preserve, and comfort each other,” he said. “We must bear one another’s burdens, . . . make others’ conditions our own. We must rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes [that we are] members of the same body.

    Through much of its early history, Massachusetts witnessed the evolving tension between the common good and individual liberty. The notion of “just prices” (no one should seek excess profits) and regulated social behavior (no flashy clothes) competed with a growing capitalist economy and the rise of laissez-faire individualism.  Nothing better illustrated the dialectic between these competing values than the nation’s Declaration of Independence 135 years after Winthrop’s sermon.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” “Equal opportunity” parsed the tension between individual rights and the common good. Every person should have the same chance (a communal right) to distinguish themselves from their peers (individual freedom).

    Finding the right balance was never easy.  But the debate generated interesting crises, and creative legislative responses. Thus in the 1860s Congress passed the Homestead Act that opened up millions of acres of public lands so that individuals could migrate to the West and begin a new life as independent yeoman farmers. Then as manufacturing plants swept across the nation and spread their hold over the steel, railroad and meatpacking industries, Congress passed laws regulating the power of individual corporations to control the nation’s social and economic life. Theodore Roosevelt became the political personification of the common good, arguing that government should be a moral arbiter striking the balance between individual greed and communal well being.  Franklin Roosevelt, his nephew, carried the same message to a new level during the Great Depression with Social Security, a commitment to help that “one-third of a nation that is ill-housed, ill-clothed, and ill-fed,” and a raft of legislation to protect those most helpless against the ravages of the Great Depression – a movement brought to its culmination in Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society during the 1960s, including a Medicare bill that slashed dramatically the rate of poverty among senior citizens.

    Now, once again, the debate between these competing values has crystallized in a moment of political and economic crisis. Do we care about the common good? Are we willing to have one sixth of a nation denied the chance for regular check-ups and preventive health care? Is there really a conflict between individuals being able to retain their own insurance packages, and others having access to a publicly funded option? Can we sustain a vibrant democracy “of the people, by the people and for the people” when 50 million of us are denied the “equal opportunity” to enjoy decent medical care?

    Yes, the size of the deficit does matter. Yes, individual choices must be protected. But if the history of this centuries old debate teaches us anything, it is that we reach our greatest moments as a nation when we act on behalf of the common wealth. Or as John Winthrop said, if we wish to become a “city upon a hill” that others can look up to, “we must bear one another’s burdens [and] make others’ conditions our own.”


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WATZAMADDAH WID OBAMA?

The liberals and progressives, radicals and left-wingers, even Paul Krugman–surprise, surprise–are all now complaining about the wimpy nature of Obama’s fight for health care, which is, as Peter Suderman, in The Atlantic’s “The Daily Dish” for 21 August, says, is “particularly unrealistic given that Obama didn’t run as a progressive cage-fighter, but as a calm, pragmatic leader–with progressive sympathies . . . .

And don’t forget, as our friend Altoon says, “That’s why we all voted for him.”

Suderman continues: What did progressives expect? That Obama could simply roll into Washington and ignore the myriad forces arrayed against a liberal agenda? That conservatives, Republicans, moderate Democrats, and interested industry groups would simply go away or shut up? That Obama, through force of will and liberal coolness, could use his awesome rhetorical jujitsu skills to flip the opposition and defeat nutty right-wingers and conservative politicians forever? Unless you’re a character in an Aaron Sorkin show, that’s just not how national politics work.

for Paul Krugman’s entire complaint go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/21/opinion/21krugman.html?em

for Peter Suderman’s entire article go to: http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/08/progressives-betrayed.html#more

For more go to

“Don’t Blame Obama” at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/24/opinion/24douthat-1.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

“What If Obama Fails” by Matthew Yglesias at: http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-08-23/so-what-if-obama-fails/?cid=hp:mainpromo5

Andrew Sullivan in The Atlantic: “The Trouble with Politics” at: http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/08/the-problem-with-politics.html#more

Ezra Klein in The Washington Post: “The Liberal Revolt” at: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2009/08/the_liberal_revolt.html

Ezra Klein in The Washington Post: ” When Health Care Does Become a Negotiation” at: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2009/08/when_health_care_does_become_a.html

Karen Tumulty in TIME: “The Media Influence on Public Option” at:

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CONTRIBUTORS’ NOTES

James Wagner is an almost-daily art and politics blogger, http://jameswagner.com, who lives on Manhattan Island in the Chelsea section of the West Side.

David Kreuter is a computer guy and avant garde jazz fan who lives in Thornhill, Ontario, Canada.

Miriam Schubert lives in San Rafael, California. She was a lifelong resident of Quebec until she married an American and moved to the U.S. three years ago.

Altoon Sultan is an artist who lives in Vermont and blogs about her work and her garden at http://altoonsultan.blogspot.com

Barney Frank is the gay, Jewish–not to mention fabulous–member of the House of Representatives from a district in Massachusetts.

William H. Chafe is a professor of history at Duke University. He is a past president of the Organization of American Historians, and the author of The Unfinished Journey: America Since World War II.

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