Blogs

Laughing Liberally To Keep From Crying: (Not So) Funny Business

by Justin Krebs

Instead of a joke or a video today, Laughing Liberally wants to share a true story that's a little sad at first and then a little happy.

Comedians are always looking for breaks.  Part of why Laughing Liberally formed was to give comedians a forum for smart, political humor that was often frowned upon in comedy clubs.  So, you'd think we'd be overjoyed by this invitation from ABC News

ABC News Research Team has discovered your website and we wanted to extend this exciting opportunity to you.

...

Send us your VIDEO joke because we're going to take the best submissions and air them on Sunday, November 18th as part of This Week's 'Funnies'.

A chance for national exposure...so why aren't our comedians laughing with joy?  Because of the part of the message from ABC I left out:

The Writers strike has forced most of the late night comedy shows into re-runs. But that doesn't mean the political humor has to stop- You be the comedian!

We at This Week are looking for YOU to help fill the void!

"The void" = "The workforce." In short, they wanted us to become scabs.

I was indecisive:  We're not in the business of strike-breaking.  But I also wanted all of the hard-working comedians who rarely get the shot they deserve to make their own decision, and so we forward the message to them.

And the comedians of Laughing Liberally refused.  Baratunde Thurston sent back the guild rules he chose to respect.  Lee Camp sarcastically suggested it was a great opportunity for someone who didn't want a career in writing.  And as Katie Halper commented:

Isn't this clearly scabbing? Am not being sarastic here, but is there anything I don't know about the strike that would make this anything but scabbing? Of course i love publicity, but we are laughing liberally, not scabbily.

The writers' strike is an important fight, as Jane Hamsher and Matt Stoller have both noted.  We on the Left need to pay attention to it:  to talk about the excesses of corporatocracy, about the rules and roles of new media...and about the respect you give professionals who strike.

You don't cross the picket line.

As Living Liberally's Josh Bolotsky noted:  "Laughing Conservatively wouldn't face this kind of moral dilemma."

PS:  ABC wrote to us from the email account: [email protected]  So we talked back.  I'm sure they'd love to hear from you too.

THE FARM BILL: UNTANGLE THE WEAVE? OR KNIT ANEW


Guest Blogger Annie Myers

(Kat: This past Monday, I had to choose between attending a talk by No Impact Man and a panel at NYU on the farm bill. I opted for NIM—more on that later—but happily for us, one of NYU’s Real Food movement movers and shakers, Annie Myers, attended the panel, titled “The Farm Bill 2007: Understanding the Political, Agricultural, and Nutritional Impact” with guests Marion Nestle, Dan Barber, and Christina Grace. Here’s Annie’s oh-so-astute take, cross-posted from her blog, Thoughts on the Table):

Michael Pollan must have come up eleven times in the two-hour event. With all due respect for the author to whom I might as well dedicate most of my writing, I can’t help but wonder who the next hero will be. We need a new one.

First up of the three guests on the Monday night panel, Marion Nestle lowered a magnifying glass on one, minute proposal of the Farm Bill, that of Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), regarding nutrition standards for school lunches. The rather dysfunctional proposal has brought on excitement and anger from all sides, including both emotions from the very people who had advocated for just such a bill. The “its-better-than-nothing”s endorse the proposal, the “its-too-easy-for-corporations”s say no, and Nestle herself supports the bill with extreme hesitation, and a roll of the eyes. Her reason for speaking about the proposal at all was that “no issue is too small” for the Farm Bill. Even this one little provision attracted pages of published controversy, and it’s one of a gazillion clauses included in a monster legislation. Over a thousand pages long, the Farm Bill is accessible to no one, and understood by not a single member of the House of Congress. Clearly, Nestle concluded, there’s something wrong with how this legislation works.

Nestle was hinting at a perspective I’ve found particularly lacking in the movement for agriculture guided by sustainable, worker-supportive, fair trade principles. We who are up for it sludge through the Farm Bill, and the best of us – whether we’re organizations, institutions, or just crazy individuals - come up with proposals that cut subsidies, end subsidies, fund specialty crop research, or at least somehow cut down on this CORN production, that we’ve all learned from Michael Pollan is a major reason for why we’re stingy, fat, and hated.

What we DON’T consider, is scrapping the Farm Bill altogether. It’s demonstrably ridiculous, in and of itself. To address 3 million square miles of land with 1 Farm Bill simply doesn’t make sense. Agriculture is regional, for one thing. Not only are the culture and politics different in Iowa than in New York, but the land is too, and the climate. A bill with provisions for avocados in California should not be legislating the cows in Maine. Nutrition and Hunger and Agriculture and Trade may be much like adults playing Twister - mischievously intermingled, entirely inseparable, and always (somewhere) hurting – but these forces of the economy need not share the same budget and bed.

Money to support agricultural research should not detract from Emergency Food Programs, and whomever pens provisions for popular exports should not simultaneously sign off on subsidies deemed illegal by the WTO. Not to mention that politicians hassled by agricultural lobbyists shouldn’t be forgiven for forgetting nutrition programs in the meantime! And New York City representatives who disregard something called a “Farm Bill” just because they’re city folk shouldn’t have to be told that the “ag” legislation is crucial to aid New York City’s nearly 1.3 million food insecure individuals. How can we blame politicians for siding with big industrial agribusiness, or settling for the status quo, when the alternative (of actually reading the Farm Bill, and figuring out what’s best for one’s state) is as daunting as Tolstoy! It’s much easier to let Monsanto, Archer Daniels, or Cargill explain the Farm Bill like a bedtime story.

Of course, the Farm Bill proposals of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Oxfam, and the National Family Farm Coalition, for example, are innovative and progressive, and are certainly steps in the right direction. But we need to think bigger than a Farm Bill proposal. We need to take the twister-playing issues in the Farm Bill and get them interacting through a different game: synchronized swimming, perhaps, or a maypole dance.

In response to my concerns, Nestle said that election funding really has to change. As long as we have the Iowa Caucus, she said, no presidential candidate is gonna stick their neck out for truly progressive agricultural policy. Maybe she’s right. I’m not sure what we need. But we can at least take the new, trendy interest in the Farm Bill further than the “Buy this! Buy that! Vote with your dollar!” mantra, and foster some truly innovative, political thought. If people did it in the ‘30s, and the ‘70s, we can sure as hell do it now.

Recommended Links:
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)
National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC)
Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
Midwest Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
OXFAM
And for more coverage of the panel, visit the Wild Green Yonder.

Some Parties with Potential:
Nyeleni
Landless Workers Movement
Via Campesina

THE O’BRIEN RETORT: HOW DO WE OVERTHROW THE CORNARCHISTS?

(featuring our favorite Iowa farminist, sustainable ag advocate Denise O’Brien (pictured right, with me), founder of the Women, Food & Agriculture Network, who sets down her spade to take up our questions about all things ag:)

Kat: Minnesota Democrat Collin Peterson, who heads the House agriculture committee, recently revealed the depth of his allegiance to industrial agriculture with his contemptuous, dismissive remarks about the growing consumer demand for local and organic produce. It seems that in the proverbial heartland, corn truly is king, and even the democrats are in the oh-so-deep pockets of Agribiz.

The Farm Bill's in desperate need of reform, but with dems like Peterson holding the purse strings, we're unlikely to see many meaningful changes in our agricultural policies.

So, how can we encourage citizens in Commodity Crop Land to vote for more progressive, pro-sustainable ag politicians?

Denise O’Brien: One of the first things that citizens must do is step up to the plate and run for office. I know that isn’t for everyone, so if you don’t want to run, find, encourage and support someone who will.

John Tester stepped forward in Montana. I did in Iowa. There are many others. We need to continue to build a strong foundation of progressives that will continue to chip away at the core of our political parties. The worst thing we could do would be to abandon the political process altogether. Handing over our democracy is a bad idea – we have responsibility to future generations.

The other point I would like to make is that it is important to maintain pressure on those that do not agree with us. If we don’t make our voices heard, that person who is supposed to be representing us will think they are doing their job in responding to the powerful, moneyed interests. We need public financing for campaigns!

Kat: How did you, an organic farmer and progressive democrat, manage to garner 49% of the vote when you ran for Iowa's Secretary of Agriculture last year?

Denise O’Brien: The time was ALMOST right. To gain the kind of support I got, there had to be several factors that merged. One was my life long commitment to sustainable/organic agriculture and living a very public life of an activist. Two was the dissatisfaction of folks throughout Iowa that no one was talking about local control and the confined animal feeding operations – mostly hogs. Three was people are ready for change in the Iowa landscape. Corn and beans represent a monoculture that is ruining the land and our communities. The convergence of issues was, as I stated earlier, almost enough. If there had not been the interference of the insurance company, American Farm Bureau Federation, this would have been a real victory for progressives. As it is we will certainly claim a moral victory.

Kat: Can we ever hope to overthrow the cornarchists?

Denise O’Brien: This is a good question. I believe that nature will win out and overthrow the “cornarchists” as you call them. Basing a system of agriculture on two crops has not been--and will not be in the future--good for Iowa or any rural area. Diversity will prevail in the long run if we do not ruin everything in the meantime. I have been an activist in farm policy for over 30 years yet I remain optimistic about the future of agriculture. The changes to agriculture have come from the consumers, farmers are too tied into the system that abuses them to recognize that change needs to be made. Citizens want cleaner water, soil and air and pressure must be kept on those who make the laws in order to get the change we need.

Eating Liberally Food For Thought: American Way Gone Astray?

by Kerry Trueman, Eating Liberally

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Dennis Kucinich and Alan Greenspan haven't got a lot in common, but they agree that when it comes to the war in Iraq, "It's the oil, stupid," as Beltway bellower John McLaughlin put it on his show yesterday. McLaughlin aired a clip from the recent Democratic presidential debate in which Kucinich said:

Everyone knows that the war against Iraq was about oil. This administration is trying to gain control of Iraq's oil with the help of Congress...

Then, McLaughlin read a quote from Greenspan:

I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.

Yes, and I am saddened that we're sending Americans off to die so the rest of us can continue to live large.

McLaughlin noted that Iraq has some of the largest oil reserves in the world, an estimated 300 billion barrels, and that if Iraq's parliament passes the oil law drafted by the Bush administration, American companies will control 63 of Iraq's 80 known oil fields for the next thirty years.

Back in 1954, when Armistice Day was rebranded Veterans Day, President Dwight D. Eisenhower called upon all Americans to observe November 11th as follows:

On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.

Our current administration prefers to promote enduring access to cheap gas and billions of dollars in government contracts to well-connected cronies. And our heritage of freedom's been slaughtered on the altar of 9/11, turning us into a tortured--and torturing-- nation.

In the parting speech of his presidency, Eisenhower warned of "the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power" from the military-industrial complex that's gotten us into our current fossil-fueled fiasco:

A HOMEGROWN REBELLION

How did planting a vegetable garden go from being a civic duty to an act of civil disobedience? During World War II, our government called on us to fight food shortages by growing our own fruits and vegetables. Americans who had never picked up a trowel rolled up their sleeves and got digging, and managed to grow nearly forty percent of the produce we consumed during the war.

In an era when we rely more and more on imported foods, the notion of food security, or food sovereignty, is truly a foreign concept. Towns across America have laws against replacing your lawn with a lettuce patch, despite the fact that it wouldn’t take much of a kink in our twisted food chain, whether from a man-made crisis or a natural catastrophe, to screw up our food supply.

But gardeners are tearing up their turf and planting tomatoes in defiance, and websites calling on mowers to become growers are flourishing, from Kitchen Gardeners International and Path to Freedom to Sustainable Urban Gardens and Edible Estates.

Lawns have become a luxury we can’t afford, a symbol of “gross waste and mindless affluence,” according to Heather Flores, author of the edible landscaping manifesto Food Not Lawns.

“The average American lawn,” Flores writes, “could produce several hundred pounds of food a year.”

And may soon have to, if our climate change cassandras turn out to be right about how global warming is going to kink up our food chain. From James Howard Kunstler’s The Long Emergency:

The crisis in agriculture will be one of the defining conditions of the Long Emergency. We will simply have to grow more of our food locally. The crisis will present itself when industrial farming, dependent on massive oil and gas “inputs” at gigantic scales of operation, can no longer be carried on economically. The implications for how we use our land are tremendous, and the unavoidable change is likely to be accompanied by severe social turbulence, not to mention hunger and hardship…food production at the local level may become the focus of the American economy.

Those bans on front yard food gardens will be a thing of the past. Along with all those ordinances that forbid clotheslines on the grounds that air drying your laundry is an aesthetic offense. You think a laundry line’s unsightly? Try a bread line. Now, that’s an ugly sight.

THE AMERICAN WAY, GONE ASTRAY?

Dennis Kucinich and Alan Greenspan haven’t got a lot in common, but they agree that when it comes to the war in Iraq, “It’s the oil, stupid,” as Beltway bellower John McLaughlin put it on his show yesterday. McLaughlin aired a clip from the recent Democratic presidential debate in which Kucinich said:

Everyone knows that the war against Iraq was about oil. This administration is trying to gain control of Iraq’s oil with the help of Congress…

Then, McLaughlin read a quote from Greenspan:

I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.

Yes, and I am saddened that we’re sending Americans off to die so the rest of us can continue to live large.

McLaughlin noted that Iraq has some of the largest oil reserves in the world, an estimated 300 billion barrels, and that if Iraq’s parliament passes the oil law drafted by the Bush administration, American companies will control 63 of Iraq’s 80 known oil fields for the next thirty years.

Back in 1954, when Armistice Day was rebranded Veterans Day, President Dwight D. Eisenhower called upon all Americans to observe November 11th as follows:

On that day let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.

Our current administration prefers to promote enduring access to cheap gas and billions of dollars in government contracts to well-connected cronies. And our heritage of freedom’s been slaughtered on the altar of 9/11, turning us into a tortured--and torturing-- nation.

In the parting speech of his presidency, Eisenhower warned of “the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power” from the military-industrial complex that’s gotten us into our current fossil-fueled fiasco:

Throughout America's adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations…

…Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in newer elements of our defense; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research -- these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel.

…Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea. Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

If only we had an alert and knowledgeable citizenry. Instead, we’ve got what Bill Maher called “the haves and the been-hads”:

In America, it's not the haves and have-nots. It's the haves and the been-hads. If you, the citizen, deliberately vote for someone who won't give you health care over someone who will, you need to have your head examined. Except you can't afford to have your head examined.

George Carlin, one of our nation’s most astute (and hilarious) satirists, is so disgusted by the state of our democracy that he thinks voting is for fools, as he recently told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer:

Lehrer: I read that you don’t vote, is that right?

Carlin: That’s right, that’s right…

Lehrer: You’ve been quoted saying that elections only give us the illusion of choice, that’s how you feel?

Carlin: Yeah, I think Americans are led to feel free by the illusion of choice, all through this culture. The only choice you really have in this country is paper or plastic, cash or credit, diet or regular, Coke or Pepsi. We don’t really have choices in this country.

Lehrer: Do you not believe in electoral democracy?

Carlin: No! I think, first of all, if you look at the structure of the political process, the electoral process, in this country—the haphazardness, the illogic of some of the steps, the primary system, the electoral college, the voting where we can’t get hardly half of these citizens to vote, even…

…the fact that immediately upon election, re-election begins, the cycle begins over for the person who’s been elected, they have to raise money, they have to please people, they have to pay off debts. The lobbyists come to town with all of their money and get what they want, essentially: big pharmaceuticals, big agriculture, big insurance, big real estate, big oil, you know the bigs...that’s why I don’t believe in this process and I think it needs to be blown up.

Lehrer: So is real choice unattainable? Has any country ever met those standards?

Carlin: I don’t think so…I divorced myself from the human race a long time ago—and from this culture, this nation—because I think the human race has chosen to organize itself poorly.

I think we were given great gifts; we were given this opposable thumb, the ability to walk upright, binocular vision, and a mind that could distinguish between the objective and the subjective.

And we have used these gifts to produce tequila lollipops that have a worm in the middle…cellphones that’ll make pancakes, you know—it’s an absurdity, we have been diverted with toys and gizmos from our lives being stolen from us in this country.

Lehrer: But to say that you’ve divorced yourself from the human race, it’s such a big statement. It backs up what the previous caller said, which is that you’ve gotten more cynical over time.

Carlin: Cynical is a word that I apply to people like the Ford Motor Company who chose to continue to make the Ford Pinto when the gas tanks were exploding because it would have been cheaper to pay off the widows than it would be to retool—that’s cynicism.

Lehrer: How do you characterize yourself?

Carlin: As a skeptic, and a realist. Now, I buy the fact that there is a definition of cynic that fits me and I’ll take that, that’s fine…

…what happened was at some point I realized that I didn’t really see a good ending to any of this—I still don’t, you can smell the end coming, you can smell it! We don’t know we’ve already had peak oil, we’ve already had peak water in the south west and the south east, people don’t know this, they go about their business…

Which, in our current culture, is to spend, spend, spend. If the sub-prime mortage meltdown keeps diluting consumer confidence, our whole economy will tank. That’s why it's our civic duty to honor Veteran’s Day by buying more stuff. You don’t want all the sacrifices of our soldiers to be in vain, do you?

FREEGANOMICS

Wretched excess is the recurring theme of our food chain from start to finish:

First, Agribiz monoculture deadens and depletes our topsoil, sucks up an absurd amount of water, and contaminates our air, land and whatever water it’s not already wasting growing commodity crops.

Then, all that corn and soy gets converted into feed for livestock or the crappy convenience foods and sodas that we now produce in such abundance that every man, woman and child in America could consume 3900 calories a day, as many of us already appear to be doing.

Finally--because even our ever-expanding appetites can’t handle all the surplus food created by this uber-efficient assembly line of agricultural atrocities--a staggering amount of food goes into the garbage, and, eventually, a landfill, where it rots and generates yet more greenhouse gases.

So, to sum it up, we’re depleting our resources and destroying our environment in order to gorge on garbage and then create even more garbage, bringing this truly vicious cycle full circle.

America spends an estimated $1 billion a year to dispose of excess food, according to the EPA’s own website, which also notes that:

More than one quarter of America’s food, or about 96 billion pounds of food a year, goes to waste--in fields, commercial kitchens, manufacturing plants, markets, schools, and restaurants.

And while some of this food isn’t edible, a tremendous amount of it is, but only a fraction of that food finds its way to soup kitchens and other institutions that feed the hungry.

That’s why I’m all in favor of the freegans, the hunter-gatherers of our hyperconsumptive era who’ve transformed dumpster diving from being a means to a free meal into a social movement. Freeganism offers spent shoppers a new way to sustain themselves without buying into our big box culture.

As someone who’s salvaged just about everything but food off the eternally bountiful sidewalks of New York City, I’ve always been curious about the whole freegan culture, so I was happy to have a chance to hear a couple of New York City freegans speak last Tuesday at an event sponsored by NYU’s Footprint Forward No-Impact Week, dedicated to inspiring NYU’s student body to shrink its collective footprint.

New Yorkers throw away an estimated 50 million pounds of food a year, according to the Los Angeles Times, of which 20 million goes to the poor. So that leaves 30 million pounds of food for the freegans.

You may assume that a lot of discarded food is past its expiration date and unfit to eat, but as the freegans have found, much of the food that supermarkets and restaurants throw away is perfectly fresh and fine to eat but can’t be donated to charity because of food safety concerns, which is understandable.

But a lot of food gets thrown out for reasons that seem arbitrary and stupid. A woman who attended the talk, an employee of a certain Austin-based upscale food chain, described how the store would have to discard entire boxes of organic apples simply because they had been stored adjacent to conventional apples, which violates the standards that regulate the sale of organic produce.

The apples can’t be sold as organic, but no one has the time to remove the little “organic” sticker off each apple so they could be sold as conventional. So they go into the garbage, along with perfectly fine, fresh bread products shipped to the wrong vendor—say, with a label for Trader Joe’s instead of Whole Foods. They can’t put it out on the shelf, and it’s cheaper and easier to just throw it away. Presumably some of this food could be donated, but that requires arranging for pick-up and distribution.

The bonanza of edibles the freegans routinely discover in their dumpster dives is both jaw dropping and heart sinking. And I’m sure they’re only salvaging a tiny fraction of the tons of food that are being discarded.

Someone at the talk asked whether dumpster diving is illegal. According to the freegans, it’s kind of a gray area. Urban freegans are less likely to run into trouble than suburban freegans, who have been charged, on occasion, with trespassing.

Of course, the real crime is throwing away billions of pounds of perfectly fine food, and spending billions of dollars to dispose of it. But that, unfortunately, is just business as usual in our crazy food chain. So don’t turn up your nose at these rebels who rummage through our refuse. If, as Benjamin Franklin said, “God helps those who help themselves,” then I guess the freegans are doing the Lord’s work.

Fifty Two Weeks

Fifty-two Tuesdays from today, Americans will go to the polls.  As the campaigns and other big institutional players spend hundreds of millions to get us to vote, there are lessons from past cycles that we hope they keep in mind:  that they don't need to reinvent the wheel, that effective electoral initiatives should support lasting infrastructure and...in the Living Liberally spirit...that some of the best ways to get people to vote are social.

Below are a few projects that got it right.  These programs in particular aren't necessarily the right ones for 2008, but they each had elements that make voter engagement and turnout effective, lasting and fun.

I'd also love to hear projects you all recommend that aren't included below.

Democracy in the Park - In 2004, a New York-based group realized that phonebanking didn't have to take place in a union hall or law office...you could organize your own call-in campaign from your cell phone.  Volunteers used weekend minutes as they hung out in Central Park.  It expanded, to include Democracy in the Quad (the campus version).  The positive energy generated from these sessions kept volunteers involved after the '04 race, as Democracy in the Park joined New York's ACT-Now, which still continues to mobilize activists (unlike ACT, the national group from which ACT-Now originally took its name, which disappeared soon after the election).

When MoveOn created a brilliant tool to allow anyone to phonebank from their own phone in 2006, they did another smart move:  they empowered anyone to host Calls for Change house parties.  While the freedom to phone voters on your own time is great, the opportunity to do so in the company of others helps commit you further.  Nothing wrong with a little positive re-enforcement and maybe some snacks while you work.

TheBallot.org - Just as ActBlue has allowed anyone to become a fundraiser, this program allows anyone to become a vote-getter -- giving you the tools to create your own voter guide.  Created by the League of Young Voters, it's a fun idea -- in San Francisco yesterday, someone handed me their personalized ballot for today's city elections and initiatives.  When there's a candidate or issue the major organizations are overlooking, a passionate individual can create her own guide...and help educate friends along the way.  (You can also find other guides that folks have created on the site).  When it comes to voting, peer encouragement goes a long way.  And shaping the voter guides shouldn't be left to large advocacy organizations and political clubs anymore.

It's a project that hasn't been too widely used yet, but has great growth potential.  And hey, it told me why Prop A is good and Prop H is bad in today's election.

Parties at the Polls - Community-oriented celebrations can boost voter turnout.  That's the concept behind this project that Working Assets (now CREDO Action) helped pilot last year, which organized social events with food, entertainment, guest speakers and kids games near polling stations on Election Day.  The idea is to draw people out, create a positive environment around the election and give them every incentive to vote.

In test precincts, it has worked, boosting turnout among unlikely voters and giving community groups a non-partisan way of engaging in Election Day.  If you want to poke around at the resources and rationale behind last year's pilot program, check out the 2006 site.

Do More Than Vote - Volunteering needs to be easy.  Furthermore, with so many organizations out there doing great work, sometimes the best thing you can do is point people to the right outlet rather than creating a new structure yourself.  That philosophy powered this simple, direct menu of volunteering opportunities that pointed you directly to campaigns and organizations in your area.  In the final days of the '06 race (which the website still shows), the effort was to plug people into field operations.  But throughout the summer and fall of '06, each page promoted a range of ways to get involved:  whether you had one hour (Calls for Change), one evening (a local phonebank), one weekend day (trips to contested areas) or longer, there were ways you could Do More Than Vote.

I was directly involved in DMTV and the Poll Parties, and big fans of the other programs.  All of them got it right.  Whether they should be created again for '08 is a separate question, but empowering individuals, making volunteerism fun and easy, and supporting infrastructure that will last beyond 52 weeks from now should be priorities for everyone.

So go ahead and use these ideas.  Bring them to your effort, your campaign.  Let's make this election year work for the progressive movement.

LET’S ASK MARION: DID WOMENS’ LIBERATION STRAIN OUR FOOD CHAIN?

(With a click of her mouse, EatingLiberally’s kat corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Food Politics and What to Eat:)

Kat: Peg Bracken, author of The I Hate to Cook Book, passed away last month, prompting a reexamination of the legendary 1960 bestseller that launched a rebellion in kitchens all over the country. Bracken’s book was directed at the legions of wives and mothers who felt oppressed by the obligatory nature of their daily cooking chores, and yearned to throw in the dish towel.

Bracken’s recipes relied on short cuts such as cake mixes and canned soups and vegetables, freeing millions of harried housewives from all that tedious peeling, sifting, and chopping. Julia Child’s equally legendary Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published the following year, launching a culinary counter-revolution, but Bracken’s populist portrayal of cooking as drudgery outsold Child’s glorification of gastronomy three-to-one.

Our current crop of celebrity chefs runs the gamut from made-from-scratch maven Martha Stewart to canned cuties like Rachel Ray and half-baked Sandra Lee, but the percentage of families who sit down to an even “semi-homemade” meal is at an all-time low. Overworked, stressed-out moms are taking a lot of heat from some quarters for getting out of the kitchen, but who’s really to blame for our convenience food-dominated diet? Was the I Hate to Cook Book a progressive, pre-Friedan feminist manifesto, or a culinary cop-out?

Dr. Nestle
: Or neither, but yes, there I was right in the middle of it at home with two small children in the suburbs and, alas, bored out of my mind (fortunately The Feminine Mystique came to the rescue, but that's another story). OK. I admit it. I did "Hate to Cook" and Julia Child, sometimes in the same meal. My social group of that era was devoted to serious, competitive home cooking, and we vied with each other to see who was best at mastering "Mastering." I can't say I won those competitions, but I tried my best and learned a lot about cooking in the process.

Years later, when I met Julia Child for the first time--at a dinner at her Cambridge house arranged by mutual friends--I presented my copy for signing. It looked used as it was, with pages yellowed, splattered and glued together with Hollandaise failures. So I was grateful for cake mixes; with just a few additions of eggs, vanilla, or other real things to disguise the metallic chemical taste, I could produce serviceable cupcakes or birthday cakes with minimal fuss.

"Hate to Cook" promised us that we could make food our family liked with what we could find in grocery stores. I realize all of this is ancient history, but grocery stores of that era did not have the fresh, organic ingredients you can get practically anywhere now. "Mastering" depended on having decent ingredients around and it forced home cooks to demand them. My cook friends started growing their own herbs and vegetables and driving miles to find little Italian stores where you could find--if you looked hard--the makings of excellent sauces and really good coffee. Once we all got used to cooking a la Julia, the "Hate to" canned fruit and onion dip mixes just didn't work anymore. But we still all looked for and used short cuts whenever we thought nobody would notice.

I mention all this because "let's blame mom for this too" is simplistic as well as annoying. If we want people cooking, and teaching kids about where food comes from and how to cook it, the doing of all that needs to be easy and fun and the results need to taste great at the end. People have to start somewhere. It's just fine with me if they start with Rachel Ray. If she gets people--men, women, and children--back into the kitchen once in awhile, she is performing a great public service. Tastes evolve. Good cooks experiment. When fun and delicious seem more rewarding than eating it fast, people will be cooking again. And that's happening too along with all the other contradictory trends going on in the food scene right now.

Eating Liberally Food For Thought

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SPILLING THE BEANS ON THOSE AMBER WAVES OF GRAIN

By Guest Blogger Eve Fox

Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney, the stars of the just-released documentary King Corn, first developed an interest in food and agriculture as classmates in college. After graduation, they moved to Greene, Iowa, to find out where their food comes from. With the help of government subsidies, friendly neighbors, genetically modified seeds, nitrogen fertilizers, and potent herbicides, they planted, grew, and harvested a bumper crop of corn from a single acre of farmland. Curt's cousin, documentary filmmaker Aaron Woolf, came along to direct this hair-raising, heart-sinking foray into our corn-fueled food chain.

Berkeley food blogger Eve Fox interviewed Ellis and Cheney last week, and gave them some great questions to sink their teeth into, so we're pleased to be posting her Q & A here. King Corn is currently playing-or about to open--in cities all over the country. Check KingCorn.net for theaters. Please go see it!

EF: What surprised you most in making the film?

Curt: The most surprising part to me was the reality of farming. I had this pretty romantic notion of what life on a farm was like. Granted we were only growing one acre of corn, not hundreds or thousands of acres, but we really only farmed for a few hours and during those few hours we never really had to touch the dirt at all. It was amazing to me how divorced from the land our experience of farming was.

Ian: I agree with that. I was also surprised that the majority of the country's calories are stored in a few dozen buildings in the Midwest.

EF: I was really shocked by the use of anhydrous ammonia as a fertilizer.

Curt: We were totally shocked. We actually went to an anhydrous ammonia factory (though it's not in the film). It's made by burning an incredible amount of natural gas. When Ian applied it to our acre before we planted our corn, one of the farmers, Rich, picked up a handful of the dirt and showed us a dead earth worm - and said, "You see here how applying the ammonia kills everything in a four inch swath." It was pretty unbelievable to us that the first act of farming was to kill all the living things in the soil. Seemed kind of counterintuitive.

Ian: That's not what Wendell Berry would do.

EF: Has this exploration changed your interpretation of the term "corn-fed"?

Curt: Very much so. It has this sort of wholesome connotation but it turns out that things that are corn-fed are really very far from wholesome.

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