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Take Out: A Story of Stir-Fried Servitude

Eating Liberally Food For Thought
by Kerry Trueman

If Lou Dobbs could wave a magic wand and make all those pesky undocumented workers disappear, he'd do it in a heartbeat. And while that might be a triumph for law and order, it would also be kind of a hollow victory--pretty soon our empty stomachs would begin rumbling, and we'd be grumbling:

Who's going to pick our produce?

Who's going to pluck our poultry?

Who's going to chop up and stir-fry our chicken and broccoli?

Who's going to deliver it to our door?

Millions of illegal immigrants make enormous sacrifices-leaving behind loved ones and paying smugglers a fortune--to come to the U.S. and work long hours for low pay doing lousy jobs. You probably don't give that a whole lot of thought when you dial the Chinese restaurant down the block to order your won ton soup and lo mein.

Filmmakers Sean Baker and Shih-Ching Tsou are out to change that with Take Out, a day-in-the-life saga about one of those guys you grab your bag of food from and hand a dollar to before you shut the door and forget his face. The film opened last Friday at the Quad Cinema in New York City, where Take Out takes place, and illuminates the lives of an ignored but integral segment of our population.

Take Out stars Charles Jang as Ming Ding, an illegal Chinese deliveryman who pedals his way through a drizzly day made more dismal still by ruthless loan sharks. Ming's morning starts with a bruising wake-up call from his debtors, who barge in to the cramped apartment he shares with umpteen other immigrants and demand that he come up with $800 in interest on the massive debt he owes his smugglers by the end of the day.

Ming borrows much of the money from friends but has to double his usual take in tips to make the difference. His scramble to cram as many deliveries as he can into his day takes him-and us-from the hallways of housing projects to opulent lobbies and every class of New York City dwelling in between. His customers run the gamut, too, from kind to curt to cruel, or just surly and obnoxious. Not content to provide a sampler of New York stereotypes, Take Out gives us flashes of humanity behind those front doors--and inhumanity, too.

The repetitiveness of Ming's day, the seemingly endless series of hallways and elevators and apartment doors and customers thrusting dollars, makes for a movie that's monotonous in a mesmerizing kind of way. The filmmakers opted for a neo-realist approach that made a virtue out of their bare bones ($3,000) budget, forcing them to film the movie in a real Chinese restaurant while it remained open for business. The end result blurs the line between documentary and drama, but yields a sharply drawn portrait of a life most of us couldn't imagine and would prefer not to think about.

The film is perfectly cast and its cinema verité approach makes its message all the more compelling. While the Broken Borders brigade is fixated on erecting barriers, Take Out asks us to step outside of our individual fortresses, just for an hour and a half, and see the view from the other side of our front doors. It's a powerful ploy; as Nathan Lee wrote in his review of Take Out in last Friday's New York Times, "I'll tip more, I promise!"

The Obama Pound: In Historic Moment, White People Exposed To "Fist Bump" For First Time

Laughing liberally To Keep From Crying
by Katie Halper

The Obama pound, exchanged between Michelle and Barack on Tuesday night, marked a historic moment. Yeah, there's that whole first black nominee for president thing. But more significant, is the fact that the greeting which has been described by confused white journalists as a "fist bump," "closed-fist high-five," "a frat-tastic fist bump" and a "'Hezbollah' style fist-jabbing" is finally being introduced to mainstream culture. The introduction of "The Pound" into our national vocabulary will have ripple effects. It already has. People previously unfamiliar "the pound" are seeing the world in a whole new way. For instance, they should now realize that when the New York Times' Ashley Parker wrote about Reggie Love "offering closed-fist high-fives to members of the news media...." she was not describing a painful caveman greeting, but said pound. (I think the Times owes Reggie a correction.) I can't find an official history or definition of the pound, but here is what I found on

  1. pound: a greeting between two mutual friends. In reality, a fist from one person is "pounded" against the fist of the other person, accompanied by both persons saying "pound."
  2. Pound: The knocking of fists as a form of greeting, departure, or respect see daps
  3. Dap: The knocking of fists together as a greeting, or form of respect. He gave me a dap when we greeted.
  4. dap: a fist-on-fist greeting, front-to-front as if each person is punching each other on the hand. He gave me a dap when we greeted
  5. dap: The Dap includes simple to very intricate series of rhythmic hand slaps, clasps, hand and arm gestures exchanged between two persons as a sign of personal greeting, respect and group solidarity. Has origin in greetings developed and practiced by members of Black Power organizations founded in southern California in the early 1970s and then became common place and outlawed practice among African-American draftees and soldiers stateside and abroad during the latter years of the Vietnam War. Was soon adopted by huge duck bill cap, suspender and knicker attired African-American street and club dancers who originated the dance known as "Lockstepping." Best known Lock Stepper is Fred Barry aka Rerun from the hit 1970s black TV sitcom, "What's Happenin'?" simplest of Daps is to tap closed fists together one time horizontally or vertically.

Emergency update! The Right Wing pundit who creatively described the pound between Michelle and Barack as "'Hezbollah' style fist-jabbing" must have read my post. His blog post no longer contains the following sentence:

"Michelle is not as "refined" as Obama at hiding her TRUE feelings about America-etc. Her "Hezbollah" style fist-jabbing-mouth-twisted anti-American speeches is STRAIGHT from ISLAM!"

Thank you for admitting you were wrong. I interpret your delete as an apology and I accept it.

Bush in Six Words

Drinking Liberally Shot of Truth by Justin Krebs

"Married librarian, never read a book."

Doesn't that just about sum up the story of George W. Bush? If you think so, then you might award Felix Gill of Salt Lake City first place in the "Bush in Six Words" competition.

The contest is inspired by the story of Hemingway once being challenged to tell an entire story in six words. His response: "For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never worn."

So, how would you sum up a life of so few accomplishments with so few words? A few other Salt Lake Citizens, challenged by their chapter or Drinking Liberally (a surprisingly large group for a state not known for drinks or liberals), have already submitted their suggestions in advance of tomorrow night's special event in Utah:

"Thanks for all the new Democrats" - Joe Spencer

"Heckuva job, Bushie. Door, meet ass." - Jeremiah Roth (SLC-DL co-host)

A quick Google search reveals that this same challenge has been tackled by others, with such bi-partisan results as: "criminal appeaser hypocrite user...that's enough," "Does what needs to be done," and "I only need half that: 'Worst President Ever'"

So can you sum it up? Post your version below, or email the SLC chapter at saltlakecity (at) drinkingliberally (dot) org -- and if you're in SLC tomorrow, join them for their special event and recite your six words in person.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Eat ‘Em

I was served woodchuck stew for dinner last Thursday at an upstate farm and thought it was quite a novelty, but apparently it’s just the latest thing; today’s New York Times offers a recipe for woodchuck au vin along with tales of woe from gardeners weary of sharing their prized homegrown produce with gate-crashing critters.

The woodchuck I ate had romped and chomped his way through a farmer’s fields like a shoplifter at an open-air salad bar, poaching the gorgeous organic greens already bought and paid for by the farm’s CSA members. So the woodchuck had to go. And since he had to be sacrificed so that others might eat, they figured it was the honorable thing to do to eat him.

One gardener profiled in the Times piece—who requested anonymity out of fear that slaughtering and sautéing up woodchucks may still be just a little outré— overcame his initial squeamishness and ultimately killed 19 woodchucks, altogether:

He was finally able to make a little bit of peace with shooting the woodchucks on his property by cooking and eating them. “It was a way of taking full responsibility for taking a life,” he says. “Almost like a spiritual journey.”

Matt and I have taken less lethal--but potentially illegal--steps to deal with the woodchucks in our garden, so I’d best not give the details. One more humane method of handling hungry invaders is to simply plant extra, or, as another gardener tells the Times:

“I do what the Bible says: Leave the corners of your field unharvested for the poor and strangers among you.”

This is all well and good, unless, like us, you’ve only got a fifth of an acre and most of it is a steep, shady slope. There’s no extra space to “plant extra”. We share the berries with the birds, and the squirrels steal most of our hazelnuts, so I am sympathetic to farmers and gardeners who feel driven to drastic measures.

And this conflict between two-legged and four-legged eaters is only going to heat up; as today’s Wall Street Journal notes, higher food costs are inspiring more and more folks to rip out their lawns and plant veggies instead. The growing recognition that maintaining a lawn is a catastrophic waste of resources is contributing to the boom in vegetable seed and seedling sales, too, while flower sales are falling.

But edible landscaping also feeds the hunger to spend our leisure time doing something more gratifying than, say, shopping or plopping down in front of the tv at the end of the day—or mowing the lawn on the weekend.

Artist Fritz Haeg has been challenging the tyranny of turf and helping front yard farmers homestead for several years with his Edible Estates installations. The most recent Edible Estate was recently installed in Baltimore, where the Eat Well Guide’s Leslie Hatfield was among the eager green thumbs pitching in to help a neighbor get growing.

Leslie was also present for the woodchuck stew last Thursday, along with the rest of the Eat Well gang and our fellow blogger and Greenhorns filmmaker Severine Von Tscharner Fleming, with whom we went off on a field trip to visit some of those new American farmers that we’re always championing. Severine’s posted her eloquent take on the decline and renewal of the American landscape over at her blog, The Irresistible Fleet of Bicycles.

It does look as though the tide of lawn lemmings is at long last turning. But this mass conversion of grass to veggies may bring an influx of other rodents to our backyard buffets. Will we let them nosh, or will we quash and sauce them?

Let’s Ask Marion: Waste Not, Want Not?

(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:The NY Times recently reported that, at a time when food shortages are plaguing so many countries, Americans waste an extraordinary amount of food, equivalent to "a pound of food every day for every American." Moms have been chiding their kids to clean their plates for decades on behalf of starving children in ________(insert deprived region of your choice). And, for decades, kids have wondered what eating those last bites of brussels sprouts could possibly have to do with some poor malnourished kid in Kenya. Is there a connection between America's overloaded plates and empty bowls elsewhere in the world?

Dr. Nestle:Yes, I saw that article. It has a great graphic of all the food a family of four wastes in a month superimposed on a map of the United States. I filed it under the heading of “let’s blame the world food crisis on wasteful Americans.” I don’t buy it. Americans have been wasting food for years. We can afford to. If we couldn’t, we wouldn’t. In any case, half the food dollar is spent on food prepared outside the home, so a big chunk of that wastage is in the production and distribution system. According to the USDA, wastage amounts to about 1,400 calories a day on average for every man, woman, and child in the country (that still leaves us with 2,600 a piece).

Once again, the blame goes on personal responsibility, not policy. The world food crisis is your fault. If you personally didn’t waste so much, children in Haiti and Africa wouldn’t go hungry? Wouldn’t that be nice? Of course we should all be careful not to waste so much, and now that food prices are going through the roof, my guess is that we won’t. But I’ve been collecting reasons for the world food crisis, and wastage is just one of them. Try these:

• Climate change is depressing crop productivity
• Natural disasters--cyclones, earthquakes, droughts, and tsunamis—are disrupting agriculture
• The war in Iraq is disrupting agriculture (among other things)
• The war in Iraq is raising oil prices
• Increased demand in developing countries is raising oil prices
• The war in Iraq is depressing the U.S. dollar
• Our huge trade imbalance with China is depressing the U.S. dollar
• Commodity speculators are raising crop prices
• We are growing too much corn for ethanol
• We all are eating too much meat (animals eat a lot of grain)
• People in India and China are demanding more meat
• Something about reduced interest rates that I don’t quite get

I’m sure there are more. Most of them make sense. Nearly all of them seem more important that food wastage, but OK. We can all do our part and be more careful. But surely the world food crisis is about politics, not personal responsibility.

It Was Just a Drink With Friends

I didn't see it coming. When a group of friends got together to have a drink in May, 2003, we were frustrated with our country's politics, we were convinced there was something more we could do, and we were hopeful that together we'd figure out some way to support the creative, progressive efforts we knew were out there somewhere.

But at the time, it was just a drink with friends.

Five years, 50 states and 250 chapters later, what we've learned is that gathering socially around liberal ideas wasn't only going to help generate new contributions to the political was the new contribution to the political moment. Drinking Liberally has given lonely peace activists in conservative towns the means to find each other; has offered independent publishers and authors a natural network for their books; has welcomed insurgent candidates to a receptive crowd; and has invited a new generation of would-be activists to take their first step into political engagement.

And it's still just a drink with friends.

It was a new drinking buddy named Owen Roth who came up with the name Drinking Liberally 4 months after we started meeting. It was our new partners David Alpert (just yesterday praised as "Blogger of the Month" in the Washington Post) and Katrina Baker, whose friendships we found at our weekly happy hours, who propelled the organization nationally. It was over drinks in that same backyard each Thursday night, that we got to know Phillip Anderson of The Albany Project, Jessica Valenti of Feministing and the guys at Advomatic who will soon be launching the new Living Liberally website.

There's something to be said for good drinking buddies.

We've shared a pint with Atrios, who, after the '04 RNC in New York, helped make DL a national brand in the blogosphere; Markos, who has visited more chapters (during his Crashing the Gate book tour with Jerome Armstrong) than I have; the folks at Netroots Nation who have welcomed our comedians and happy hours as part of their conference's social engine; our compatriots at Young People For, who helped us hire our first fulltime staff; and Matt, Chris and Mike at OpenLeft who have offered a platform that has elevated our writers and comedians as contributors to liberal culture.

So thank you all for sharing a pint -- or a pitcher -- with us over the past 5 years...and for sharing your time, you ideas, your energy. Around the country you've proven the importance of sharing a drink with a few friends.

And here's a special message for our 5th birthday from a champion for progressive causes, an advocate for justice and compassion:

See more congratulations videos and learn more about 5th Anniversary events at Happy Birthday, Living Liberally.

Top Ten Hagee-isms: New and Improved

Readers may recall that in an effort to counteract the media's anti-McCain bias, I gathered the top 10 best quotes uttered by McCain's spiritual advisers. While the liberal press was giving its undivided attention to Reverend Jeremiah Wright, I decided I would highlight the invaluable but overlooked and ignored contributions McCain's own religious allies, most notable Pastor John Hagee, whose endorsement McCain went out of his way to seek and "ye shall" find. In light of recent revelations about Hagee's spiritual insights into the Holocaust, I am updating this list so it truly reflects the utterly amazing and unbelievable words of Hagee. (Pastor Rod Parsley, if you're reading this, I apologize to for cutting you from the updated top ten list. I do appreciate you commitment to destroying Islam and his attempt to raise awareness of the low lesbian life expectancy. But you and Hagee and are too special to have to share a top ten list. I will make you your own next week.)

So here are the "Updated Top Ten Hagee-isms," new and improved, with never-before-released hits from his "Thank God for Hitler" sermon.

1. NEW! "God says in Jeremiah 16 - 'Behold I will bring them the Jewish people again unto their land that I gave unto their fathers' - that would be Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - 'Behold I will send for many fishers and after will I send for many hunters. And they the hunters shall hunt them' - that will be the Jews - 'from every mountain and from every hill and from out of the holes of the rocks.' If that doesn't describe what Hitler did in the Holocaust... you can't see that. So think about this - I will send fishers and I will send hunters."
- Pastor John Hagee in a sermon

2. NEW! "Then god sent a hunter. A hunter is someone with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter. And the Bible says -- Jeremiah writing -- 'They shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill and from the holes of the rocks,' meaning there's no place to hide. And that might be offensive to some people but don't let your heart be offended. I didn't write it, Jeremiah wrote it. It was the truth and it is the truth. How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel."
- Pastor John Hagee in a sermon

3. NEW! "Theodore Herzl is the father of Zionism. He was a Jew who at the turn of the 19th century said, this land is our land, God wants us to live there. So he went to the Jews of Europe and said 'I want you to come and join me in the land of Israel.' So few went that Herzl went into depression. Those who came founded Israel; those who did not went through the hell of the holocaust."
- Pastor John Hagee in a sermon

Here are some oldies but goodies...

4. "Do you know the difference between a woman with PMS and a snarling Doberman pinscher? The answer is lipstick. Do you know the difference between a terrorist and a woman with PMS? You can negotiate with a terrorist."
- Pastor John Hagee in his book What Every Man Wants in a Woman (Charisma House, 2005)

5. "The Quran teaches that [all Muslims have a mandate to kill Christians and Jews]. Yes, it teaches that very clearly."
-Pastor John Hagee

6. "I believe that the Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans...I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they are -- were recipients of the judgment of God for that...There was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came. And the promise of that parade was that it was going to reach a level of sexuality never demonstrated before in any of the other Gay Pride parades...The Bible teaches that when you violate the law of God, that God brings punishment sometimes before the day of judgment."
-Pastor John Hagee

7. "The military will have difficultly recruiting healthy and strong heterosexuals for combat purposes. Why? Fighting in combat with a man in your fox hole that has AIDS or is HIV positive is double jeopardy."
- Pastor John Hagee on "Don't Ask Don't Tell"

8. "[Gay marriage] will open the door to incest, to polygamy, and every conceivable marriage arrangement demented minds can possibly conceive. If God does not then punish America, He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah."
- Pastor John Hagee

9. "It is impossible to call yourself a Christian and defend homosexuality. There is no justification or acceptance of homosexuality.... Homosexuality means the death of society because homosexuals can recruit, but they cannot reproduce."
- Pastor John Hagee

10. "Only a Spirit-filled woman can submit to her husband's lead. It is the natural desire of a woman to lead through feminine manipulation of the man...Fallen women will try to dominate the marriage. The man has the God-given role to be the loving leader of the home."
- Pastor John Hagee in his book What Every Man Wants in a Woman (Charisma House, 2005)

The Final Living Liberally State: North Dakota

Drinking Liberally Shot of Truth

A progressive organization doesn't get to 50 states without a lot of friends along the way - and we want to take a minute to thank Open Left for being one of our most crucial friends when we were aiming for what seemed to be impossible.

As of today, North Dakota is the only state without a Living Liberally chapter. Loyal readers will know that we've spent the last month trying to spread our network of progressive groups into all 50 states, with only four standing in the way: the aforementioned North Dakota, and Hawaii, Oklahoma and West Virginia. We reached out to the Open Left community for help in plugging the holes, and largely thanks to your help, we now have chapters in 49 states - in Martinsburg and Charleston, West Virginia, in Norman, Oklahoma, and in Kahului, Hawaii.

But as much as we appreciate the OL readership's role in helping Living Liberally expand, we'd like to make a special shout-out to Chris, Matt and Mike. In the past year, we've had some amazing experiences and incredible milestones alongside this terrific trio - producing film and book reviews tailored for leftie readers, tracking the growth of the social side of the progressive movement, and, of course, completing our 50-bar strategy.

That's why we're asking two things of you this Tuesday afternoon:

1. If you know anyone in North Dakota, yourself included, who would like the honor of spreading Living Liberally to our 50th state, then contact us at info (at) livingliberally (dot) org.

2. If you haven't yet had the chance to participate in OL's fundraising drive, we humbly ask you to help out some of the progressive movement's best friends:

Donate to Open Left