On Swine Flu and Pork Production

I really don’t want to add to the panic over swine flu, but I would like to take the opportunity to say just a little bit about the factory farming conditions that are being pointed at as the possible source of the outbreak. Just indulge me for a second, my pork-loving friends!

The conditions at Smithfield Foods plants (follow this link, please!), specifically those dealing with pigs and their waste, are one of the MANY reasons I stopped eating pork three years ago. While I abstain from all pork, I understand that it can be yummy (I often dream about eating bacon!), and I fully understand why people keep eating it despite the mounting evidence of its uncleanliness. And I really don’t think small farmers producing pork products (especially organic operations) on a small scale are the problem. Large-scale, industrial factory “farms” (CAFOs) HAVE proven to be a problem, though, and Smithfield is one of the worst offenders in this arena, in my humble opinion. I’m ashamed of my beloved Paula Deen for hocking their products.

The following paragraphs are from the Organic Consumers Association newsletter. It looks like Smithfield’s horrific business practices may have finally caught up with all of us.

Despite company denials, a number of Mexican and U.S. news outlets are pointing to Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pig producer ($12 billion in annual sales), as a likely source of the deadly outbreak. Smithfield sells pork and operates massive hog-raising operations in 40 nations, including Perote, Mexico, in the state of Vera Cruz, where the outbreak originated. For months, local residents and workers in Mexico have complained of pollution, contamination, and illnesses from the Smithfield plant. For years, Smithfield has been criticized in the United States for polluting rural communities, endangering public health, and exploiting workers and farmers.

Factory farms, such as Smithfield, feed pigs massive amounts of antibiotics, resulting in swine incubating and spreading antibiotic-resistant germs. These antibiotic-resistant pathogens are considered a major human health hazard by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Given these serious public health concerns, a number of health and safety organizations have called for limits or a ban on the practice of feeding antibiotics to farm animals, including the American Public Health Association, American Medical Association, Infectious Diseases Society of America, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

There’s also a great article on this from Huffington Post to check out that explains more about factory farms and how/why they’ve gotten out of hand.

I get a lot of crap for not eating pork, and I get it. I’m not a vegetarian, and I’m not a completely ethical eater, altough I’m working on it. I try not to gross people out when they ask me why I quit eating it, but the truth is, most pork produced in this and other industrialized countries is so much more than just unhealthy. It can give you BRAIN WORMS, worm balls in your intestines (and just because you kill the worm balls by cooking them doesn’t mean you’re not chewing up WORM BALLS, PEOPLE), and neurological disorders in workers JUST FROM WORKING AROUND PIG BRAINS. And that’s in the industrialized countries, folks. It gets a lot worse in poorer countries with lower hygiene standards. I’ve said it a million times, but I’m betting that two of the world’s major religions recommend abstaining from pork for a damn good reason.

Smithfield has ignored accusations and pleas from the EPA for violating the Clean Water Act and have been slapped with the highest EPA fine in HISTORY. They’ve had lawsuit after lawsuit brought against them by human rights organizations. People living near these plants are at risk of being poisoned to death JUST BY BREATHING, not to mention the many, many workers who have fallen in pig shit “lagoons” surrounding the slaughterhouses and immediately been killed by the unnatural, toxic sludge before they even had a chance to drown. Smithfield has taken their plants to poorer countries now, Mexico in particular, and the conditions have been protested by people in the areas on multiple occasions and for many reasons. And now they might be to blame for what has the potential to be a global pandemic. I’m not trying to spread the fear, because I’m not afraid – this is still isolated, under control, and not an emergency.  But at the same time, it’s a reality that this swine flu virus has the potential to become devastating if it gets out of hand for any reason. And it all started because we can’t seem to get into our heads that what Smithfield and other large-scale factory “farms” do is NOT OKAY. We keep buying their honey-baked hams for our Easter and Christmas celebrations or their brats and sausages for the grill or their bacon for our kids’ breakfast because we don’t connect that eating experience with this one, which is one of the cleaner images on this subject.

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There are SO MANY more reasons to not eat pork at all, but if you take nothing else from this, please just start buying your pork products from smaller, local operations, organic if it’s available. Just google it, and I promise you’ll be surprised at what’s easily and readily available. There’s some available every day at the Dallas Farmers Market, and there are several producers in North Texas I found online in 30 seconds. If we stop buying their products, they WILL change. A few year ago, enough people started buying milk without bovine growth hormones that pretty soon afterward, Starbucks got on the no-rBGH bandwagon to make their customers happy. And then, wonder of wonders, Borden and all the other major milk producers got on the money train and started offering organic, rBGH-free milk, too. But it was because people started voting with their wallets.

We can make this better, but only if we stop handing our own money over to corporations like Smithfield. I seriously don’t want to sound like the guy on the five o’clock news, but your life might depend on it one of these days. In the meantime, check out the OCA’s swine and bird flu center to find out how to send a message to the folks in charge about suspending the operations of the corporations that have created this mess.

Hands

An oldie but a goodie. Jewel performing “Hands” in Austin.

If I could tell the world just one thing
It would be that we're all OK
And not to worry 'cause worry is wasteful
And useless in times like these
I won't be made useless
I won't be idle with despair
I will gather myself around my faith
For light does the darkness most fear
My hands are small, I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
Poverty stole your golden shoes
It didn't steal your laughter
And heartache came to visit me
But I knew it wasn't ever after
We'll fight, not out of spite
For someone must stand up for what's right
'Cause where there's a man who has no voice
There ours shall go singing
My hands are small I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
I am never broken
In the end only kindness matters
In the end only kindness matters
I will get down on my knees, and I will pray
I will get down on my knees, and I will pray
I will get down on my knees, and I will pray
My hands are small I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
My hands are small I know
But they're not yours, they are my own
But they're not yours, they are my own
And I am never broken
We are never broken
We are God's eyes
God's hands
God's mind
We are God's eyes
God's hands
God's heart
We are God's eyes
God's hands
God's eyes
We are God's hands
We are God's hands

Tour Dallas 2009

Last weekend was the Tour Dallas, a bike tour of the city that takes you through downtown, residential areas, by White Rock Lake, and back to downtown where you started. In past years, it started at the American Airlines center, but this year, the starting point was Dallas City Hall. Here we are at the starting line. My friend Julie (who took this picture) and her dad did the 30-mile, but we went with the 20.

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I rode with Dad and Jon. I started doing the Tour in 2005, so this was my 5th ride. Dad has come with me for three or four of those years. That’s him there in the black jacket with the blue strip of shirt hanging out. This is on the Commerce Street bridge (I think), which was entirely blocked off for us. I took most of these action shots while riding, so they’re not perfect, but they were the best I could get. Here’s one of downtown in the early-morning fog.

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One of the things I like about this ride is that there’s a wide range of folks out there, both in age and degrees of physical fitness. There were kids (and babies being towed!), older people, athletic folks and people who probably don’t ride a bike very often. They stress that it’s not a race but a tour, and the proceeds go to pay for the police protection and children’s diabetes groups. It’s a nice chance to ride through some areas of town you’ve never seen and to experience areas you are familiar with in a new way. The streets, houses and buildings really do look way different from a bike than from the rolled-up window of your car.

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My friend Stephen from TWL rode with us (he’s in better shape than any of us!). Here we are at the break point. It’s usually about half way through, but it was at about 15 miles in this time, which in my opinion, was a bit far for amatuers like me who were tired!

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Jon has been pretty sniffly and tired the last couple of weeks, fighting off something, but he was a trooper and did the full 20 miles. He got a used-new bike recently and got to try it out. I borrowed the bike but this is my fancy new helmet from REI. I will eventually be fully outfitted for biking and not have to borrow anything. Here’s Jon on Swiss Avenue, which was pretty easy this year. Usually, Swiss is the hardest part for me, because it’s a really long, slightly-uphill street, and by the end of it, I’m beat. I always have to stop multiple times during the ride, but this time, I didn’t stop at all! I guess going to the gym this year really paid off!

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Here are Dad and Jon crossing the finish line. We rode together for some parts, separately for others, but we all finished within a couple of minutes of each other.  The weather was perfect – cool and overcast – and we had a great time! Come out and join us next year!

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Community Garden: First Harvest

It was a good week in the garden! This week marked our first harvest. It’s not much, but it’s certainly more than I’ve ever grown with my own hands, so it’s an exciting thing!

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Our broccoli has flowered (oops), and it’s past its prime, so we took three of the four heads (the last one isn’t ready quite yet, or it’s just really small). I read that you can leave the plant in, and it will continue to give you some more side shoots from the stalk, about as much as the original head altogether. We had a flower tasting, and apparently they taste like broccoli. Weird.

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Jen pulled up an onion to see how it was doing, but they’re still like the small green onions you buy – about as thick as a small magic marker. She put it back.

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The first round of radishes are almost all ready, though! We all took a few for some salads this week.

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The biggest surprise and victory of the week, however, was my first asparagus spear poking out from the mulch!

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I couldn’t believe it! It was so much work to put in, and I know it won’t give us any asparagus for at least a year, so I was shocked to see a little spear pushing up. I did some research, and it turns out they push up after a few weeks the first year, and you just let them go. The second year, you can eat a few, but you’re still supposed to wait to harvest fully until the third year. At least, that’s what I’ve read so far on other people’s sites. I was just so excited to see that at least one of the three crowns I planted has been thriving down there.

It was a fun thing, to be able to pluck things from the ground that weren’t there when you started. I can’t wait to eat some of it. Happy Easter to you all!

Community Garden: March

I’m behind on posting photos of the garden, mainly because I have a very slow computer at home who discourages me from loading stuff from my iPhone. I love the dear old girl, but she’s nearing retirement age, for sure. Here’s a March recap. We’ve been getting a good bit of rain, and the rain collectors are full. My dad said that in his experience, rainwater consistently grows his lawn so much better than city water. I haven’t gardened before, so I don’t know the difference, but it’s nice to know that all the water we’re using from our cisterns is straight from the sky, not treated by the system with any chlorine (at least in this incarnation).

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This is our flowering broccoli. Apparently, Google tells me, the harvesting window for broccoli is quite short, like 4 days, and after that, the little green tips begin to flower. Richie, in whose back yard this garden resides, told me that all the little green bits at the end of the spears are really flowers that just have not yet bloomed. Who knew?? In any case, we missed our window, and we’ve got half broccoli, half yellow flowers. Raw, the flowers taste like broccoli. It’s a little freaky.

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These are our potatoes, which seem to be humming along. When these get to about 6 inches tall, Redenta’s says to add three more inches of soil, and so on as they grow. That’s a sugar snap pea plant there next to them. The cage is really just to encourage the little thing to grow…not taking off quite yet.

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These three plants are a fabulous new addition from Jen. She planted us some yellow squash (not sure of the variety), and the seed packet said to plant 6 per hill. They sprouted really quickly, and they’ve stayed about this size for the last couple of weeks. They’re supposed to vine out pretty big, so they take up a bit of room, but it’ll be worth it here in a little while.

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The tree growing on part of our plot just exploded, and it hangs in our faces when we go through the gate. We still don’t know what it is…anyone?

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Here are Richie and Perl, such a sweet little Cabbage Patch Kid. She’s got pink eye this week. He’s such a natural gardener and parent. He carries her around, sometimes in a pouch, like it’s the most natural thing in the world, talking to her as he waters and weeds. Their son has a little watering can and helps sometimes. It’s nice to have him out there – he gives us tips and answers our questions.

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The middle part here is doing pretty well overall. I’m a little concerned about the spinach, because it seems like they should be a bit bigger by now. I’m pretty sure they’re too crowded, but I don’t know how to fix that problem. I don’t know how it works – do you pull up some and replant elsewhere, or do you just rip some out? And if you’re just supposed to rip some out to make room for the rest to grow larger, what’s the point of planting that many in the first place? The radish rows seem to be functioning fine that close together.

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In fact, I pulled one up to see how it was doing, and it seems like they were almost but not quite ready. I washed off and ate the one I pulled, and it tasted like a radish! I couldn’t believe it! I made a radish! For someone who cannot sew on a button, this is a major accomplishment.

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Jen also planted us some wildflowers along the plot’s front row inside the cement blocks. I’m sure there are some weeds in there somewhere, but I’m pretty sure these are wildflower sprouts.

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Two weekends ago, Jon and I began what we didn’t realize was going to be a major undertaking: clearing out the space between the plot and the fence to make room for a small bed for climbing plants like beans and cucumbers. MAN. The soil was nearly half rocks, and breaking it up was really tough! Then we had a ditch, basically, after all the rocks and roots had been removed.We cleared off most of the stuff growing on the fence and all the weeds on the ground. It was really bushy back there, and altogether, it took about 5 hours, which we were really not expecting. Jon went back last weekend and put in this bed, using bricks found in the yard (the woman they’re renting from is the biggest pack rat I’ve ever seen, including random debris like giant piles of bricks and roof tiles). We haven’t planted yet, and we need to fill in the slope a little, but we’ll get to that eventually.

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We’re still having so much fun watching our little garden grow. It’s funny (and a little embarrassing), but as urban dwellers working around computers all day, never having grown anything of our own before, we find ourselves just standing there looking at it a good amount of the time we’re there! It’s just so pretty and peaceful out there. I never thought of Oak Cliff as either of those things, but it seems I was wrong.

A Word on Coexistence

When it comes to my own car, I have never been a big fan of bumper stickers. I have had a small, tasteful Apple computer sticker on in the corner of the back window for many years, because I was so very exuberant and proud about owning my own Mac back in 2003 that I just had to put it on to share my happiness with the world! It wasn’t until last year that I decided (after much hesitation) to make the leap into statement-based bumper stickers with the addition of the “COEXIST” sticker. The letters of the word are made up of religious, gender- and ideologically-related symbols.

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If my car is going to make a statement to the world, I think it’s a simple, straightforward and worthy one: let us all – with our varying opinions, creeds, sexual orientations, political beliefs, and general styles and states of individual existence – find a way to peacefully live alongside each other. It seems quite simple to me, and a sentiment I imagine most of us share on some level. But over the last 6 months or so, I’ve gotten so many derisive reactions and snide comments about it. I have to say that I’m surprised, especially considering the educated, city-dwelling individuals in question.

Now, I’m not a hippie. I went to SMU. My parents are Republicans. I’m not trying to say with this sticker that I agree with everything symbolized here – I don’t. I’m not trying to say that I find them all equally true – I don’t. But what I am saying is that we, in our differences, NEED to find a way to maintain our individual belief structures while peacefully coexisting alongside each other. That’s all. I have beliefs and opinions, many of which are set in the stone of my heart and mind. I also fully recognize that many people I love fully disagree with certain aspects of those beliefs and opinions. AND THAT IS OKAY. You don’t have to agree with me for me to love you or live next door to you or drive you to the hospital or work with you toward a common goal. I’d certainly hope that you are able to have people in your life who disagree with you on issues you hold dear, because although it may be uncomfortable, it can also be such a rich source of blessing. I am a Christian, and I truly, firmly believe that, were Jesus here, he would call for some peaceful coexistence right now – in this city, this country, and this international community. I’m really not trying to get preachy, because I have my own lenses through which I see the Other, and I know that (although I’m working on it). I’m just processing this bumper-sticker issue out loud, because it has taken me by surprise, and I feel like it’s important to talk about these things in order to resolve them.

I heard some of President Obama’s speech to the Turkish Parliament this morning as I was getting ready for work, and his words were such a relief to me. They underscore for me the reason I continue to keep this sticker on my car despite the rude comments, eye rolls and snide remarks. These were his words to a predominantly Muslim, democratic nation:

“Let me say this as clearly as I can: The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam.

In fact, our partnership with the Muslim world is critical not just in rolling back the violent ideologies that people of all faiths reject, but also to strengthen opportunity for all its people.

I also want to be clear that America’s relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot, and will not, just be based upon opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, we will bridge misunderstandings, and we will seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world – including in my own country. The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country – I know, because I am one of them…

…Our focus will be on what we can do, in partnership with people across the Muslim world, to advance our common hopes and our common dreams. And when people look back on this time, let it be said of America that we extended the hand of friendship to all people.”

Hammer and a Nail

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I’m so excited that the Indigo Girls are coming to town in May, and even more so that I’m going to see them at the Lakewood Theater, which used to be a movie theater, so it’s pretty tiny. It’s gonna be awesome. I was listening to some of the “Nomads, Indians and Saints” album over lunch, and the “Hammer and a Nail” song struck a chord in me.

This last season has been one of renewal for me on many fronts, not the least of which is that I joined a community garden. I’ve been learning how to amend soil, picking through soil for rocks, getting the knees of my jeans muddy as I plant seeds in the ground, and watching my garden slowly grow before my eyes. Being out in the sun, wind, and cold while working the ground and learning about how to grow food has been really wonderful – very cathartic, physical action. A lot of my life, at least since I took this new job, occurs in silence and solitude – listening, thinking, learning, watching, reading. It’s not always passive silence, but quiet nonetheless. And if you’ve known me for any length of time, you know that goes against my nature. So to be out in the garden, making something happen, interacting with the soil and the people around me, has been a wonderful change.

I’ve also been involved for the last 6 weeks or so with a wonderful little community of people affiliated with Church in the Cliff, a great little emergent group in Oak Cliff. They’re all different from each other, but one commonality seems to be that they are all very much about social action/justice/change in their own fields. This group, more than any other I’ve been a part of, insists on being there for each other and those in their community in an effective and authentic way. Recent discussions have centered around connecting with others, and therefore connecting with life, and also the vital importance of taking action instead of living in endless deliberation and preparation, even when taking action may lead you into the unknown. I thought the “Hammer and a Nail” lyrics fit quite nicely with this season in Janie Land. Hope it speaks to you, too, whatever season you find yourself in.

Clearing webs from the hovel
a blistered hand on the handle of a shovel
I’ve been digging too deep, I always do.
I see my face on the surface
I look a lot like narcissus
A dark abyss of an emptiness
Standing on the edge of a drowning blue.
I look behind my ears for the green
Even my sweat smells clean
Glare off the white hurts my eyes

Gotta get out of bed get a hammer and a nail
Learn how to use my hands, not just my head
I think myself into jail
Now I know a refuge never grows
From a chin in a hand in a thoughtful pose
Gotta tend the earth if you want a rose.

I had a lot of good intentions
Sit around for fifty years and then collect a pension,
Started seeing the road to hell and just where it starts.
But my life is more than a vision
The sweetest part is acting after making a decision
I started seeing the whole as a sum of its parts.

My life is part of the global life
I’d found myself becoming more immobile
When I’d think a little girl in the world can’t do anything.
A distant nation my community
A street person my responsibility
If I have a care in the world I have a gift to bring.

Gotta get out of bed get a hammer and a nail
Learn how to use my hands, not just my head
I think myself into jail
Now I know a refuge never grows
From a chin in a hand in a thoughtful pose
Gotta tend the earth if you want a rose.