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Sustainable Songstress Sue West’s Rural Revival

I’m not sure what to call this musical genre: green bluegrass? Low carbon country? Whatever it is, I love it, and I think a lot of other people would embrace Wisconsin singer Sue West’s green-tinged, gospel-flavored folk music, too; it’s an authentic, timeless kind of music that hugs you back. As one fan wrote in an open note to Sue on CD Baby: “Listening to your music is like being rocked by strong arms.”

No doubt West’s own arms are pretty strong, since she makes her living as a sustainable farmer. When she’s not busy picking her guitar you might find her picking berries, particularly the wild ones for which her website, Wild Fruit Folk Music, is named, as is her first CD, Wild Fruit, of which she wrote:

I enjoy writing and recording songs about life here in rural Wisconsin. You may know me as the "Egg Lady." Life on the Rush River with my hens and my dawgs is full of poetic moments. I have captured many of them in the songs that I share through my performing and my cds. If you have any curiosity at all about what fills the thoughts of your local organic egg producer, look no further.

West’s a stellar example of a locally oriented eco-entrepreneur/artist, making a living by sharing the fruits of her labor, literally and figuratively. Her website offers such sustainably produced products as homemade beeswax hand balm and her own home-roasted coffee made from certified organic, fair trade Mexican Altura Chiapas. She sells the coffee “handground…in re-used recyclable bioplastic produce containers,” or, if you prefer to grind your own, the “whole bean is sold in homemade cloth bags made from "rescued" shirts.”

She’s just as eager to share her horticultural knowledge as she is her music and farm products; as a certified Master Gardener, part of her mission “is to learn about plants and to teach people what I have learned. As I research the big topic of native plants and permaculture, I will share my learning here.”

Somehow, in addition to doing her farm chores, making her balms and coffee, studying permaculture, and writing/performing her music and poetry, West also finds the time to cook, and to write about that, too:

As I worked in the kitchen tonight, I mused over the many newly-taught micro-decisions one faces when attempting to live green. Do I grab the easy canister of herbs from goodness-knows-where, or take time to go in the other room with scissors to tackle the rosemary shrub? Do I boil up some Kr*ft mac-n-cheese, or start peeling potatoes? Burger for protein, or some slower-cooking lamb grown by a neighbor?

Grandly, we think globally, act locally, but now, simply but powerfully, we cook at home. This choice can really rack up some good karma fast. We decide where and what to buy, how to make it, what should be done with the refuse of our feast, what the serving size will be, and with whom we shall share the bounty. If we eat out, we look for chefs that are making the same kinds of decisions, with the same concerns.

I’ve never been to Wisconsin, don’t know that I’ll ever have a chance to go, but thanks to Sue West and her determination to share the “peace, joy, and healing” that she finds “in nature and in my own sustainable farming efforts,” I can be transported to a rural community with whom this diehard New Yorker has more in common than conventional wisdom might suggest. And after all, who’s more in need of a soothing sustainable soundtrack than us harried city dwellers? Not to mention the beeswax balm; my hands are perpetually chapped from all the wringing.

Originally posted on TakePart.com.

Let’s Ask Marion: What Can Wal-Mart Do To Promote Sustainability?

(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: My question for you this week comes courtesy of Rand Waddoups, Wal-Mart's Senior Sustainability Director (or something like that). Apparently, he's been reading Michael Pollan, and it's got him thinking about what his employer--who happens to be the number one food retailer in the U.S.--could do to fix our broken food chain.

Waddoups posted an entry on Wal-Mart's corporate blog on Tuesday entitled "Sustainable Industrialized Food?" in which he quotes Pollan's observation that we're "eating a lot of edible food-like substances, which is to say highly processed things that might be called yogurt, might be called cereals, whatever, but in fact are very intricate products of food science that are really imitations of foods."

He then asks:

I know food, in general, is a very sensitive topic for a lot of people, but what do you think should and can be done in the short term to make the industrialized food chain better? What products should Wal-Mart have that they don't to meet your desires for a more sustainable food assortment? If you could choose one item you would want removed from stores, what would it be?

Dr. Nestle: Remove one item? I'd say cigarettes--which is what Wegmans has already done--but I think it's the wrong question. Wal-Mart needs to ask a different question: What could Wal-Mart do to promote a more sustainable food system?

Here, the answer is lots. Retailers control the food chain. If retailers say "we insist that our suppliers demonstrate that their foods are grown sustainably," guess what: they will be. So how about Wal-Mart sets up some standards for the production of foods it sells? That ought to have an immediate impact.

The GOP's Still Partying Like It's 2006

Jack Abramoff's name returns to the headlines
as John McCain is questioned on secret emails
suggesting that "Straight Talk" may be all-talk.

Karl Rove re-emerges on the frontpages
in a story of political manipulation & abuse,
as Newsweek's guy makes news rather than observes it.

Harriet Miers steps back into the spotlight
as Congress was forced to hold in contempt
Bush's one-time pick for the Supreme Court.

You'd think they'd learn, but basically...
the GOP's still partying like it's 2006.

McCain already promises four more years
of Bush's war & Bush's economy...
do we get Bush's cronies & corruption as well?

Raise a glass to scandals gone by,
and another to the ones that keep coming back,
as you share your views & a little booze
at your local progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY
Find - or start - a chapter near you.

A Conversation with Chris Metzler, Director of "Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea"

Screening Liberally Big Picture
By Josh Bolotsky

We recently had the opportunity to have a conversation with Chris Metzler, director of Screening Liberally NYC's February selection, the critically acclaimed Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea. We talked about Sonny Bono, John Waters and where his film fits (or doesn't fit) into the recent spate of eco-documentaries.

How did you come to this project?

Like a lot of things in life, it was purely coincidence. I grew up in the Midwest - I didn't even know that the Salton Sea existed when I moved out to Los Angeles for school - and one day, decided to take an exploratory road trip, camping with a friend and maybe checking out other parts of the dessert - you take a few wrong turns here and there, and you wind up upon this huge body of water, the Salton Sea, and just kind of quickly fall in love with it, just based on water being out in the desert in such huge amounts, but secondly, the kind of apocalyptic landscape, which was my own fascination. That's got things started. Congressman Sonny Bono had been interested in restoring the Salton Sea, seeing it as both an environmental wetland, and also a place for resorts and boating and fishing…as a result of this discussion about making Sonny’s dream come true, we wanted to explore how those attempts at restoring the Salton Sea were going to go.

It seems like the residents of the Salon area have become used to extravagant promises laid at their feet every couple years, whether it be through Sonny Bono, or the [longstanding] hope it will become a large retirement community - in making the film, was that something you had to consciously overcome in gaining their trust, that you weren’t going to be someone coming in with promises as happens every few years.

That was one of the difficult things that Jeff [Springer, co-director] and I anticipated from the beginning – we knew that the Salton Sea had this long history of nothing ever being done, and that most of the film and news coverage of the Salton Sea had been very negative. Given how just complicated a place this was, [we figured] it deserved some unbiased, entertaining journalism. Once we started meeting people in the community, there was something that drew them to us - we didn't have to overcome any inherent skepticism… and most embraced us from the get-go. Maybe it’s just because so much of the other coverage of the Salton Sea often dealt with politicians and scientists and they really just appreciated that we were going straight ot the people who had lived in, thrived and struggled in the community for so many years.

One unique aspect of the film is that you're talking about an potential ecological crisis which, unlike a lot of the eco-documentaries that came out in the last several years, is not directly related to climate change..Have you had difficulty explaining to people this is a separate issue?
The Salton sea being such an obscure issue…drawing attention to it and explaining why it's an important film in addition to being entertaining does present a problem. That's one of the reasons why when we market the film and present it to people, we [emphasize] the carnivalesque factor. 'Come and watch this movie about what these unique people have created in this place you’ve never heard of.' In a lot of discussions we try to have with people after the screening, [we tend to present it as] a microcosm of these larger environmental issues that are going on in other parts of the US and the world…Some of the things you see going on down there could, through climate change, happen elsewhere. It’s a great example of the environment run amok, whether you discuss the flooding that happened in the 1970’s, and how that relates to Hurricane Katrina, or the rapid evaporation of the water of the Salton Sea, and the dust storms that might be affected, that relates to climate change, [similar to those in] other parts of the world, where, if temperatures continue to rise, you’ll have more exposed dried lake-beds…In a way the Salton Sea is a parable to other things that the larger part of society might have to deal with in upcoming years.

How did you get John Waters? His voice is so perfect for the film.

At first we didn’t really want a narrator, because we wanted to let the people of the Salton Sea to speak for themselves. But given some of the larger issues which were difficult to condense and explain in interviews, we decided we needed to rely on a narrator, and we thought, if we needed to use as narrator, we needed some a little unorthodox and untraditional, and John Waters came to mind given his unique voice, but also his own deep affection for people who live on the fringe…As we started doing a little bit more research on John Waters, and watching his films from a different perspective we also recognized that while we often associate his films with comedy, with a camp value, all of them deal with these undercurrents of larger social issues…Coincidentally, he was friends with Sonny Bono from his film Hairspray, and kind of liked the idea of doing this as a payback to Sonny, who had done something really important for him.

What are your next projects after Plagues?

Both Jeff and I are drawn to projects about outsiders – we think those are the ones who are the real risk-takers in society because they've decided to live life in the way they want to. We have some projects going on [in this vein,] one about evangelical backpackers Christians following the path of the Apostle Paul, a documentary on gay truck drivers, another on outsider artists in the south – the documentary coming out later this year is one on the black punk band Fishbone…We try to disguise our films as entertainment, with a lot of information in there.

Mocking Fox News...While On Fox News

Laughing Liberally To Keep From Crying

One of our beloved Laughing Liberally regulars, Lee Camp, had the golden opportunity this weekend to tell us what he thinks about Fox News...while on Fox News.

After having performed for both Yearly Kos's and for the Young Democrats of America, it's nice to know that Fox News got to meet the same gentlemen us liberals know and love - as did Dan Abrams. Congrats, Lee!

No Way Bush Makes the Hall of Fame

A scandal of deception & hubris
shook Americans faith in their institutions
& Congress rushed in to take action.

Hearings came quick, with bold questioning,
& people were held accountable for misdeeds
as the public tuned it to watch.

A proud Texan stuck to his guns,
even as his story frayed, opinion turned,
humiliating him & threatening his legacy.

Now...if Congress can do it to Clemens,
why on Earth can't they stand up to Bush?

Treat the pumped-up case for illegitimate war
like pumped-up, illegitimate athletes...
& there's no way Bush makes the Hall of Fame.

If only Congress had some way
to punish the President more seriously...

You'll never strike out sharing your views
as you share some booze with left-leaners
at your local progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY
Find - or start - a chapter near you.

No Way Bush Makes the Hall of Fame

A scandal of deception & hubris
shook Americans faith in their institutions
& Congress rushed in to take action.

Hearings came quick, with bold questioning,
& people were held accountable for misdeeds
as the public tuned it to watch.

A proud Texan stuck to his guns,
even as his story frayed, opinion turned,
humiliating him & threatening his legacy.

Now...if Congress can do it to Clemens,
why on Earth can't they stand up to Bush?

Treat the pumped-up case for illegitimate war
like pumped-up, illegitimate athletes...
& there's no way Bush makes the Hall of Fame.

If only Congress had some way
to punish the President more seriously...

You'll never strike out sharing your views
as you share some booze with left-leaners
at your local progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY
Find - or start - a chapter near you.

Shooting Liberally Takes Aim Today

Drinking Liberally Shot of Truth
by Justin Krebs

I admit that I was skeptical when local liberal drinkers in New York suggested Shooting Liberally. "We have some groups that call billiards nights Shooting Liberally...isn't that enough?"

Personally, I am not enthusiastic about guns -- even in safe, legal, regulated, recreational settings -- so I didn't really get it. Fortunately, it wasn't up to me. As these grassroots ideas tend to grow on their own, this one took root -- and tonight, in three cities, Shooting Liberally begins.

Billed as a program "for the First Amendment enthusiast ready to move on to the Second," Shooting Liberally is arming progressives with a new hobby...or rather, recognizing a hobby many of us already have. While the New York outing will bring mostly newcomers to Manhattan's only gun range, the gatherings in Charleston, South Carolina, and Denver, Colorado, will feature a mix of gun-owners, experienced hunters and relative rookies. (Contact info for all the local organizers is on the temporary Shooting Liberally site -- if tonight goes well, these events will become more frequent.)

The more I tell people about the idea, the more surprised I am by the energetic and positive responses. "We've been meaning to go to a gun range," was the reply of one liberal millennial friend living in DC. Another: "My uncle is a big Dem and runs a gun club -- he'll love this."

The experience around the country may vary -- in NYC, you would need to bring your gun in a locked case if you possess your own, and you need to plan ahead to reserve the range; in Charleston, it can be far more spontaneous as permissible areas and gun ownership are far more prevalent -- but the bond is common...many Liberals like to shoot.

And being Liberals, they want to shoot smartly, safely, and in the company of a community - and most of all, want to prove that being a responsible sportsman and supporting sensible gun control isn't an oxymoron.

Don't worry, we won't start Drinking Liberally until afterward.