June 1st, 2002


Paying for my free booze

I was invited to a book release party Thursday for the book Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture (http://www.fatalharvest.org/). I went mostly out of a sense of duty and to say hello to a few people I don’t see around much anymore. The free food and booze didn’t hurt, but then again it all came from a donation from my store so it wasn’t that exciting.

I hadn’t really been paying attention when my friend explained what Fatal Harvest was going to be exactly. I assumed it would be another chronicling of the potential hazards of genetically engineered food and he use of pesticides etc. You know, something I’d keep around for reference but not actually sit and read.

But WOW! It’s a coffee table book. By that I mean that it’s big enough to be a coffee table. Not only does it talk about GMOs and pesticides, but it gives the individual histories of many crops and their transformation into agri-business products, looks at the myths of corporate agriculture (that it feeds the world, that it’s cheaper,* etc.), and details the loss of many varietals as farming is homogenized. It’s also filled with photographs from all over the country: landscapes (both monoculture and biodiverse), farms, farmers, farm workers, and lots of machinery.** Even if it’s evil, I do love to look at farm machinery.

I also went to the book party because Vandana Shiva was there. She’s a physicist, ecologist, organizer and activist who’s also written a number of books on biodiversity, global trade and the world food system in general. She also gave the best speech I’ve ever heard at a political rally, during the Seattle WTO protests. I told her that when I met her and she thanked me for going to the protest. Awwww.

The annoying thing about environmentalist parties is that while they strive for biodiversity in the world, they are incredibly un-diverse. I won’t bore you with the details that I’m sure you can figure out yourselves, but even the fashion was monoculture. There were lots of khaki pants (organic cotton I’m sure) and muted colors. Less political t-shirts because it was a dress-nicely event. People did seem to be drinking heavily though, which I consider a good sign.

These things are also the only place I run into people I went to college with. Evidently an acquaintance from there runs a sustainable paper company whose paper was used for the book. I ran into him while he was talking to a woman who works for Food First, an eco-think tank group. I really admire her, and wanted to chat, but she took the opportunity to excuse herself when I walked up. Did I just imagine the look of relief that she had an out? I introduced College Chum to my co-worker and, in this overly hetero-sexualized environment, he immediately started treating her like my girlfriend, actually saying, "Gordon used to be really radical in college." Like he knows me now? He babbled a bit about still owning an Outrage (the anarcho-lefty zine I worked on) shirt before we went our separate ways.

I suppose I need to work on actually meeting people at these kinds of events, discussing politics, and making contacts. Instead I opt for feeling shy, alienated, and outside the group. It’s funny because I’m actually a pretty good schmoozer if I try. I guess I was doomed Thursday when I started off by thanking the wrong person for editing the book. Oops.

*Yes, it’s cheaper in the stores. But like a lot of things the costs are hidden through government subsidies and tax breaks, most of which organic farmers aren’t eligible for. The lettuce you buy at Safeway costs probably double what it is sold for if you add in the price of water, tax credits, and other subsidies. That’s without even considering the health and environmental costs.

**I got mine for free but Fatal Harvest costs $45 in stores. A reader version of just the essays will be out soon, if it isn’t already, and should be much cheaper.

***If you’ve never heard of Vandana Shiva check out http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/shiva.html for a short interview.

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