Carl Sagan’s thoughts about the Afterlife (or rather our wishful thinking about it…), looking Death straight in the eye, & daily gratitude to Life’s brief and magnificent opportunity… [By Zen Pencils]

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BBC Hardtalk: Interview with professor David Harvey

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“David Harvey says capitalism is amoral and lawless – and should be overthrown.”
BBC HARDTALK

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HOW TO START A POETRY EPIDEMIC – by Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996)


Cheers, fellow cosmic wanderers! For all of you who thirst for beauty and crave for poetry, I’ve selected some precious words from Joseph Brodsky’s essay “An Immodest Proposal” which might just nourish and enchant ya’. It’s filled with funny and imaginative ideas on how to kickstart an Epidemic of Poetry in our often grayish urban landscapes, pumping up our expressive skills, creative faculties and overall rate of epiphanies. Brodsky jokes around with the plan of widespread production and consumption of condensed human creativity as a means to plant the seeds of collective evolution and linguistic metamorphosis. These excerpts were extracted from On Grief and Reason (New York, 1995, Farrar Straus Giroux), which is truly a pet-book in my personal library and one of the most cherished treasures I brought with me as souvenirs from Toronto’s BMV Books, a place which deserves a ton of heartfelt “bravos!”. Voilá:

 Brodsky“Poetry must be available to the public in far greater volume than it is. It should be as ubiquitous as the nature that surrounds us, and from which poetry derives many of its similes; or as ubiquitous as gas stations, if not as cars themselves. Bookstores should be located not only on campuses or main drags but at the assembly plant’s gates also. Paperbacks of those we deem classics should be cheap and sold at supermarkets. This is, after all, a country of mass production, and I don’t see why what’s done for cars can’t be done for books of poetry, which take you quite a bit further…”

* * * * *

“Moreover, if the government would recognize that the construction of your library is as essential to your inner vocation as business lunches are to the outer, tax breaks could be made available to those who read, write or publish poetry. The main loser, of course, would be the Brazilian rain forest. But I believe that a tree facing the choice between becoming a book of poems or a bunch of memos may well opt for the former.”

* * * * *

“In my view, books shoud be brought to the doorstep like electricity, or like milk in England: they should be considered utilities, and their cost should be appropriately minimal. Barring that, poetry could be sold in drugstores (not least because it might reduce the bill from your shrink). At the very least, an anthology of American poetry should be found in every room in every motal in the land, next to the Bible, which will surely not object to this proximity, since it does not object to the proximity of the phone book.”

* * * * *

“Poetry is the supreme form of human locution in any culture. By failing to read or listen to poets, a society dooms itself to inferior modes of articulation – of the politician, or the salesman, or the charlatan – in short, to its own. It forfeits, in other worlds, its own evolutionary potential, for what distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom is precisely the gift of speech. The charge frequently leveled against poetry – that it is difficult, obscure, hermetic, and whatnot – indicates not the state of poetry but, frankly, the rung of the evolutionary ladder on which society is stuck.”

* * * * *

“If nothing else, reading poetry is a process of terrific linguistic osmosis. It is also a highly economical form of mental acceleration. Within a very short space a good poem covers enormous mental ground, and often, toward its finale, provides one with an epiphany or a revelation. That happens because in the process of composition a poet employs – by and large unwittingly – the two main modes of cognition available to our species: Occidental and Oriental.  (…) In other words, a poem offers you a sample of complete, not slanted, human intelligence at work.”

JOSEPH BRODSKY
(1940-1996)
Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

Read also some of his poems:
Song of Welcome and Verses in April

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“People in the west live squeezed together, frenzied as wasps in the nest” – An indigenous Yanomami leader and shaman from Brazil shares his views on wealth, the environment and politics

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“Their thoughts are constantly attached to their merchandise. They relentlessly and always desire new goods. I fear their euphoria of merchandise will have no end and they will entangle themselves to the point of chaos. They do not seem concerned that they are making us all perish with the epidemic of fumes that escape from all these things. They do not think that they are spoiling the earth and the sky, and that they will never be able to recreate new ones. (…) The white people’s thought is full of ignorance. They constantly devastate the land they live on and transform the waters they drink into quagmires! There is only one sky and we must take care of it, for if it becomes sick, everything will come to an end.” – Davi Kopenawa Yanomami

Read it all at The Guardian (December 30th, 2014)

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Davi

“The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman”
by Davi Kopenawa and Bruce Albert
Published by Harvard University Press

“The Falling Sky is a remarkable first-person account of the life story and cosmo-ecological thought of Davi Kopenawa, shaman and spokesman for the Yanomami of the Brazilian Amazon. Representing a people whose very existence is in jeopardy, Davi Kopenawa paints an unforgettable picture of Yanomami culture, past and present, in the heart of the rainforest—a world where ancient indigenous knowledge and shamanic traditions cope with the global geopolitics of an insatiable natural resources extraction industry.

In richly evocative language, Kopenawa recounts his initiation and experience as a shaman, as well as his first encounters with outsiders: government officials, missionaries, road workers, cattle ranchers, and gold prospectors. He vividly describes the ensuing cultural repression, environmental devastation, and deaths resulting from epidemics and violence. To counter these threats, Davi Kopenawa became a global ambassador for his endangered people. The Falling Sky follows him from his native village in the Northern Amazon to Brazilian cities and finally on transatlantic flights bound for European and American capitals. These travels constitute a shamanic critique of Western industrial society, whose endless material greed, mass violence, and ecological blindness contrast sharply with Yanomami cultural values.

Bruce Albert, a close friend since the 1970s, superbly captures Kopenawa’s intense, poetic voice. This collaborative work provides a unique reading experience that is at the same time a coming-of-age story, a historical account, and a shamanic philosophy, but most of all an impassioned plea to respect native rights and preserve the Amazon rainforest.” – Harvard Univeristy Press

 

The Secret of the Seven Sisters – The Shameful Story of Oil [A 4-part series that reveals how a secret pact formed a cartel that controls the world’s oil]

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The Secret of the Seven Sisters

 A four-part series that reveals how a secret pact formed a cartel that controls the world’s oil.

BY ALJAZEERA

On August 28, 1928, in the Scottish highlands, began the secret story of oil.

Three men had an appointment at Achnacarry Castle – a Dutchman, an American and an Englishman.

The Dutchman was Henry Deterding, a man nicknamed the Napoleon of Oil, having exploited a find in Sumatra. He joined forces with a rich ship owner and painted Shell salesman and together the two men founded Royal Dutch Shell.

The American was Walter C. Teagle and he represents the Standard Oil Company, founded by John D. Rockefeller at the age of 31 – the future Exxon. Oil wells, transport, refining and distribution of oil – everything is controlled by Standard Oil.

The Englishman, Sir John Cadman, was the director of the Anglo-Persian oil Company, soon to become BP. On the initiative of a young Winston Churchill, the British government had taken a stake in BP and the Royal Navy switched its fuel from coal to oil. With fuel-hungry ships, planes and tanks, oil became “the blood of every battle”.

The new automobile industry was developing fast, and the Ford T was selling by the million. The world was thirsty for oil, and companies were waging a merciless contest but the competition was making the market unstable.

That August night, the three men decided to stop fighting and to start sharing out the world’s oil. Their vision was that production zones, transport costs, sales prices – everything would be agreed and shared. And so began a great cartel, whose purpose was to dominate the world, by controlling its oil.

Four others soon joined them, and they came to be known as the Seven Sisters – the biggest oil companies in the world.

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EPISODE 1 – Desert Storms

In the first episode, we travel across the Middle East, through both time and space.

Since that notorious meeting at Achnacarry Castle on August 28, 1928, they have never ceased to plot, to plan and to scheme.Throughout the region’s modern history, since the discovery of oil, the Seven Sisters have sought to control the balance of power.

They have supported monarchies in Iran and Saudi Arabia, opposed the creation of OPEC, profiting from the Iran-Iraq war, leading to the ultimate destruction of Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

The Seven Sisters were always present, and almost always came out on top.

We waged the Iran-Iraq war and I say we waged it, because one country had to be used to destroy the other. As they already benefit from the oil bonanza, and they’re building up financal reserves, from time to time they have to be bled.”

– Xavier Houzel, an oil trader

EPISODE 2 – The Black El Dorado

At the end of the 1960s, the Seven Sisters, the major oil companies, controlled 85 percent of the world’s oil reserves. Today, they control just 10 percent.

New hunting grounds are therefore required, and the Sisters have turned their gaze towards Africa. With peak oil, wars in the Middle East, and the rise in crude prices, Africa is the oil companies’ new battleground.

“Everybody thought there could be oil in Sudan but nobody knew anything. It was revealed through exploration by the American company Chevron, towards the end of the 70s. And that was the beginning of the second civil war, which went on until 2002. It lasted for 19 years and cost a million and a half lives and the oil business was at the heart of it.

– Gerard Prunier, a historian

In their bid to dominate Africa, the Sisters installed a king in Libya, a dictator in Gabon, fought the nationalisation of oil resources in Algeria, and through corruption, war and assassinations, brought Nigeria to its knees.But the real story, the secret story of oil, begins far from Africa.

Oil may be flowing into the holds of huge tankers, but in Lagos, petrol shortages are chronic.

The country’s four refineries are obsolete and the continent’s main oil exporter is forced to import refined petrol – a paradox that reaps fortunes for a handful of oil companies.

Encouraged by the companies, corruption has become a system of government – some $50bn are estimated to have ‘disappeared’ out of the $350bn received since independence.

But new players have now joined the great oil game.

China, with its growing appetite for energy, has found new friends in Sudan, and the Chinese builders have moved in. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir is proud of his co-operation with China – a dam on the Nile, roads, and stadiums.

In order to export 500,000 barrels of oil a day from the oil fields in the South – China financed and built the Heglig pipeline connected to Port Sudan – now South Sudan’s precious oil is shipped through North Sudan to Chinese ports.

In a bid to secure oil supplies out of Libya, the US, the UK and the Seven Sisters made peace with the once shunned Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, until he was killed during the Libyan uprising of 2011, but the flow of Libyan oil remains uninterrupted.

In need of funds for rebuilding, Libya is now back to pumping more than a million barrels of oil per day. And the Sisters are happy to oblige.

EPISODE 3 – The Dancing Bear

In the Caucasus, the US and Russia are vying for control of the region. The great oil game is in full swing. Whoever controls the Caucasus and its roads, controls the transport of oil from the Caspian Sea.

Tbilisi, Erevan and Baku – the three capitals of the Caucasus. The oil from Baku in Azerbaijan is a strategic priority
for all the major companies.

From the fortunes of the Nobel family to the Russian revolution, to World War II, oil from the Caucasus and the Caspian has played a central role. Lenin fixated on conquering the Azeri capital Baku for its oil, as did Stalin and Hitler.

On his birthday in 1941, Adolf Hitler received a chocolate and cream birthday cake, representing a map. He chose the slice with Baku on it.

On June 22nd 1941, the armies of the Third Reich invaded Russia. The crucial battle of Stalingrad was the key to the road to the Caucasus and Baku’s oil, and would decide the outcome of the war.

Stalin told his troops: “Fighting for one’s oil is fighting for one’s freedom.”

After World War II, President Nikita Krushchev would build the Soviet empire and its Red Army with revenues from the USSR’s new-found oil reserves.

Decades later, oil would bring that empire to its knees, when Saudi Arabia and the US would conspire to open up the oil taps, flood the markets, and bring the price of oil down to $13 per barrel. Russian oligarchs would take up the oil mantle, only to be put in their place by their president, Vladimir Putin, who knows that oil is power.

The US and Putin‘s Russia would prop up despots, and exploit regional conflicts to maintain a grip on the oil fields of the Caucusus and the Caspian.

But they would not have counted on the rise of a new, strong and hungry China, with an almost limitless appetite for oil and energy. Today, the US, Russia and China contest the control of the former USSR’s fossil fuel reserves, and the supply routes. A three-handed match, with the world as spectators, between three ferocious beasts – The American eagle, the Russian bear, and the Chinese dragon.

EPISODE 4 – A Time for Lies

Peak oil – the point in time at which the highest rate of oil extraction has been reached, and after which world production will start decline. Many geologists and the International Energy Agency say the world’s crude oil output reached its peak in 2006.

But while there may be less oil coming out of the ground, the demand for it is definitely on the rise.

The final episode of this series explores what happens when oil becomes more and more inaccessible, while at the same time, new powers like China and India try to fulfill their growing energy needs.

And countries like Iran, while suffering international sanctions, have welcomed these new oil buyers, who put business ahead of lectures on human rights and nuclear ambitions.

At the same time, oil-producing countries have had enough with the Seven Sisters controlling their oil assets. Nationalisation of oil reserves around the world has ushered in a new generation of oil companies all vying for a slice of the oil pie.

These are the new Seven Sisters.

Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Aramco, the largest and most sophisticated oil company in the world; Russia’s Gazprom, a company that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin wrested away from the oligarchs; The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), which, along with its subsidiary, Petrochina, is the world’s secnd largest company in terms of market value; The National Iranian Oil Company, which has a monopoly on exploration, extraction, transportation and exportation of crude oil in Iran – OPEC’s second largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia; Venezuela’s PDVSA, a company the late president Hugo Chavez dismantled and rebuilt into his country’s economic engine and part of his diplomatic arsenal; Brazil’s Petrobras, a leader in deep water oil production, that pumps out 2 million barrels of crude oil a day; and Malaysia’s Petronas – Asia’s most profitable company in 2012.

Mainly state-owned, the new Seven Sisters control a third of the world’s oil and gas production, and more than a third of the world’s reserves. The old Seven Sisters, by comparison, produce a tenth of the world’s oil, and control only three percent of the reserves.

The balance has shifted.

Abbie Hoffman: “Why Democracy Needs Dissenters”

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“You measure democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, 
not the freedom it gives its assimilated conformists.”

ABBIE HOFFMAN (1936-1989)

Steal this Book DOWNLOAD “STEAL THIS BOOK” (PDF)

25th Anniversary Facsimile Edition

Right

The Largest Climate March in History

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Amazing photos from the People’s Climate March
#PeoplesClimate || September 21st, 2014 || http://peoplesclimate.org/

More than half a million people have raised their voices in the planet’s streets in September 21st, 2014, in the People’s Climate March. More than 300.000 citizens demonstrated in New York City, where the United Nations Climate Summit is being held. Several other cities around the globe joined in: London, Melbourne, Paris, and many others. This short film by Awestruck Wanderer [https://awestruckwanderer.wordpress.com] documents the event in Toronto, Canada. Feel free to share!

WATCH THE DOCUMENTARY ABOUT TORONTO’S MARCH!

Share album on Facebook or Tumblr

Read more: In These Times – Mother Jones – Democracy Now!

Portraits of Naomi Klein
“Climate change is like that: it’s hard to keep it in your head for very long. We engage in this odd form of on-again-off-again ecological amnesia for perfectly rational reasons. We deny because we fear that letting in the full reality of this crisis will change everything. And we are right.

We know that if we continue on our current path of allowing emissions to rise year after year, climate change will change everything about our world. Major cities will very likely drown, ancient cultures will be swallowed by the seas, and there is a very high chance that our children will spend a great deal of their lives fleeing and recovering from vicious storms and extreme droughts. And we don’t have to do anything to bring about this future. All we have to do is nothing.

[…] There are ways of preventing this grim future, or at least making it a lot less dire. But the catch is that these also involve changing everything. For us high consumers, it involves changing how we live, how our economies function, even the stories we tell about our place on earth.

[…] Climate change has never received the crisis treatment from our leaders, despite the fact that it carries the risk of destroying lives on a vastly greater scale than collapsed banks or collapsed buildings. The cuts to our greenhouse gas emissions that scientists tell us are necessary in order to greatly reduce the risk of catastrophe are treated as nothing more than gentle suggestions, actions that can be put off pretty much indefinitely. Clearly, what gets declared a crisis is an expression of power and priorities as much as hard facts. But we need not be spectators in all this: politicians aren’t the only ones with the power to declare a crisis. Mass movements of regular people can declare one too.”

– Naomi Klein. This Changes Everything – Capitalism vs The Climate. Download ebook at libgen.com (epub format) or buy at Amazon.

* * * * *

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Watch #FloodWallStreet LIVE Broadcast from New York City: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/9943232

Recommended reading:

“The Joyous Cosmology – Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness”, by Alan Watts (1915-1973) – Preface by Daniel Pinchbeck

Joyous

Introduction by Daniel Pinchbeck

The Joyous Cosmology inevitably sends me into a state of poetic euphoria and anarchistic delight. Alan Watts wrote this wonderful little book in the early 1960s: that long-lost moment of innocence when psychedelic substances like LSD and psilocybin were starting to permeate the culture of the modern West but no final decision had yet been made on their utility or fate – or their legality. It was a time when a handful of philosopher-poets had the chance to muse on the power of these compounds — “to give some impression of the new world of consciousness which these substances reveal”, Watts wrote.

Reading it again, I can’t help but recall my first forays into the soul-unfolding and mind-opening qualities of the visionary plants and chemical catalysts. Those first trips unmasked the brittle delusions of our current culture and revealed that deeper dimensions of psychic reality were available for us to explore. Watts is such a fluid stylist — such a master of evanescent, evocative, pitch-perfect prose — that it is easy to gloss over or to entirely miss the explosive, radical, even revolutionary core of his message and meaning: the Western ego, the primacy of self that our entire civilization is intricately designed to shore up and protect, simply does not exist.

When one uses the magnifying glass or microscope provided by one of a number of chemical compounds that, Watts cannily noted, do not impart wisdom in itself but provide “the raw 
materials of wisdom,” one finds nothing fixed, stable, permanent — no essence. Only relationship, pattern, flow. Watts’s psychedelic journeys provided experiential confirmation of the core teachings of Eastern metaphysics: that the Tao is all, that consciousness is “one without a second”, that there is no doing, only infinite reciprocity and divine play.

This book retains the freshness of precocious notebook jottings. It also, almost accidentally, gives a beautiful sense of life in the dawn of the psychedelic era on the West Coast, when groups of friends would gather in backyards beside eucalyptus groves to explore together, with the gentle humor of wise children, the infinite within. “All of us look at each other knowingly, for the feeling that we knew each other in that most distant past conceals something else — tacit, awesome, almost unmentionable — the realization that at the deep center of a time perpendicular to ordinary time we are, and always have been, one”, Watts wrote. “We acknowledge the marvelously hidden plot, the master illusion, whereby we appear to be different.”

Over the past forty or so years, we have suffered from the cultural delusion — put forth by a corporate media and government working overtime to keep consciousness locked up, as our industries suck the lifeblood from our planet — that the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s was a failure. Revisiting Watts’s Joyous Cosmology reminds me that the psychedelic revolution has barely begun. The journey inward is the great adventure that remains for humanity to take together. As long as we refuse to turn our attention to the vast interior dimensions of the Psyche — “The Kingdom of God is within” — we will continue to exhaust the physical resources of the planet, cook the atmosphere, and mindlessly exterminate the myriad plant, animal, and insect species who weave the web of life with us.

When on psychedelics, we tend to find that each moment takes on archetypal, timeless, mythological significance. At one point, Watts and his friends enter into a garage full of trash, where they collapse with helpless laughter. “The culmination of civilization in monumental heaps of junk is seen, not as thoughtless ugliness, but as self-caricature — as the creation of phenomenally absurd collages and abstract sculptures in deliberate but kindly mockery of our own pretensions.” Our civilization mirrors the “defended defensiveness” of the individual ego, which fortifies itself against the revelation of interdependence and interconnectivity, the plenitude and emptiness of the void.

We are lucky to have Watts’s testament of his encounters: The Joyous Cosmology is a carrier wave of information and insight, which has lost none of its subtlety, suppleness, or zest. It is also an expression of a larger culture process, one that is unfolding over the course of decades, through a “War on Drugs” that is secretly a war on consciousness.

Dr. Thomas B. Roberts, author of The Psychedelic Future of the Mind, among other works, has proposed that the rediscovery of entheogens by the modern West in the mid-twentieth century was the beginning of a “second Reformation”, destined to have repercussions at least as profound as those of the first one. In the first Reformation, the Bible was translated into the common vernacular, printed, and mass-produced, providing direct access to the “word of God”, which had previously been protected by the priests. With psychedelics, many people now have direct and unmediated access to the mystical and visionary experience, instead of reading about it in musty old tomes. As Watts’s scintillating prose makes clear – and all appearances to the contrary – the future will be psychedelic, or it will not be.

Daniel Pinchbeck,
author of 
Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey 
into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism.
New York City, 2013.
Excerpted from “The Joyous Cosmology” © 2013 by Alan W. Watts. New World Library.

Alan Watts (1915-1973) was the author of more than twenty books, including The Way of ZenThe Wisdom of Insecurity, and The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. An acclaimed writer, philosopher, and student of Buddhism, he was also an Episcopalian minister, a professor, and a research fellow at Harvard University.

Alan Change

The Joyous Cosmology – download e-book in PDF at libgen.org (7 mb, Vintage, 1965)

“By her words and deeds, the brave education rights activist Malala Yousafzai proved that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword,” said Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International’s Pakistan Researcher.

Malala

Amnesty International: Arrest of 10 people in Pakistan suspected of the attempted assassination of Malala signifies the need for better protection of human rights defenders. http://bit.ly/1tRAZIb

FAST FOOD NATION: Eric Schlosser’s discoveries about how cheap and fast junk-food is produced in the U.S.

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Eric Schlosser’s first book, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (2001), an international best-seller translated into more than 20 languages, and filmed by Richard Linklater in 2006, aims to expose the reality of how food is produced in the U.S.A. Amazed by the “size and power of the fast-food industry and the speed at which it had grown”, Eric Schlosser’s award-winning investigation is highly enlightening about issues such as “the impact of McDonald’s on American industry, the role of fast-food marketing in changing the American diet, the obesity epidemic among American children, and the huge political and economic influence of the big agribusiness firms” (Food Inc., pg. 6).

Schlosser’s work as journalist has been published in Atlantic Montly, Rolling Stone, The Nation and New Yorker, among others. He’s also the author of Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labour in the American Black Market (2003) and Chew On This (2006, with co-author Charles Wilson). In an interview which opens the book Food, Inc. – How Industrial Food Is Making Us Sicker, Fatter and Poorer And What You Can Do About It (edited by Karl Weber), Schlosser revealed some of his main influences: “The writers whom I’ve admired most, the ones who have inspired me most, threw themselves into the big issues of their day. They didn’t play it safe, hold back, or write for the sake of writing. Writers like Upton Sinclair, John Dos Passos, George Orwell, Arthur Miller, Hunter S. Thompson – they were willing to take risks and go against the grain.”

Awestruck Wanderer has selected some of Eric Schlosser’s discoveries about the food industry, including the dark side of strawberries, the labour conditions of meat-packing workers,  and other incovenient truths that Ronald McDonald doesn’t want you to know about. Check this out:

Fast-Food-Nation

THE DARK SIDE OF STRAWBERRIES 

“When you think of the California economy, you think of high-tech industries like Silicon Valley, you think of Hollywood. You don’t think of poor, desperate migrants picking fruits and vegetables with their bare hands. But at the heart of the state’s economy is this hard, ugly reality. (…) You know, I love strawberries. But when most people see a display of strawberries in their local supermarket, they don’t realize that every one of those strawberries has to be very carefully picked by hand. Strawberries are very fragile and easily bruised. So if you want to produce a lot of strawberries in California, you need a lot of hands to pick them. And during the past 30 years those hands have belonged to people who are likely to be in the state illegally, who are willing to work for substandard wages in terrible conditions.”

 MEATPACKING AND SLAVERY WAGES

“I spent a great deal of time in meatpacking communities, which are sad, desperate places. Meatpacking used to be one of the best-paid jobs in the country. Until the late 1970s, meatpacking workers were like auto workers. They had well-paid union jobs. They earned good wages, before the fast-food companies came along. It upset me to find that the wages of meta-packing workers had recently been slashed, that they were now suffering all kinds of job-related injuries without being properly compensated. California has been exploiting migrant workers from Mexico for a hundred years. But that form of exploitation had, until recently, been limited to California and a handful of Southwestern states. Now it seemed to be spreading throughout the United States.”

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CORPORATE SUPPRESSION OF TRUTH

“Robby Kenner, the director of Food Inc., has said that his film is not just about food, it’s also about threats to the First Amendment and the desire of some powerful corporations to suppress the truth. I would agree with that description of his film, and it also applies to my book. Both of us, while investigating America’s industrial food system, were struck by the corrupting influence of centralized power. Whenever power is concentrated and unaccountable – whether it’s corporate power, governmental power, or religious power – it inevitably leads to abuses… When you talk about the food industry, you’re talking about something fundamental: an industry whose business practices help determine the health of the customers who eat its products, the health of the workers who make its products, the health of the environment, animal welfare, and so much more. The nation’s system of food production – and who controls it – has a profound impact on society.

Here’s an example. One of the major themes of Fast Food Nation and Food, Inc. is the power of corporations to influence government policy. Again and again, we see these companies seeking deregulation – and government subsidies. They hate government regulation that protect workers and consumers but love to receive taxpayer money. That theme has implications far beyond the food industry. The same kind of short-sighted greed that has threatened food safety and worker safety for years now threatens the entire economy of the USA. You can’t separate the deregulation of the food industry from the deregulation of financial markets. Both were driven by the same mindset. And now we find ourselves on the brink of a worldwide economic meltdown. But in times of crisis we are more likely to see things clearly, to recognize that many of the problems in our society are interconnected. The same guys who would sell you contaminated meat would no doubt sell you toxic mortgages, just to make an extra buck.

Beyond Fast Food Nation - Eric Schlosser

PUBLIC HEALTH DISASTER

81YRoRKdF2L“The administration of President George W. Bush was completely in bed with the large meatpacking and food-processing companies. As a result, food safety regulations were rolled back or ignored. These industries were pretty much allowed to regulate themselves. And tens of thousands of American consumers paid the price, with their health. The big chains are pretty much operating the way they always have. They want their products to be cheap and taste everywhere exactly the same. That requires a certain kind of production system, an industrial agriculture responsible for all sorts of harms. And the fast-food chains want their labor to be cheap as well. The fundamental workings of this system haven’t changed at all since Fast Food Nation was published. At the moment, about two-thirds of the adult population in the United States is obese or overweight. That’s the recipe for a public health disaster, and if the number grows much higher, it will be a monumental disaster.

It’s possible to go to the market, buy good ingredients, and make yourself a healthy meal for less than it costs to buy a value meal at McDonald’s. But most people don’t have the time or the skills to do that. It’s a hell of a lot easier to buy your meal at the drive-through. I can understand why a single parent, working two jobs, would find it easier to stop at McDonald’s with the kids rather than cook something from scratch at home. But we’re looking at the long list of harms, this fast, cheap food is much too expensive. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one-third of all American children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes as a result of poor diet and lack of exercise. So when we talk about bringing healthy food to every American – yes, it probably means spendind more money on food. But you can spend that extra money on food now, or spend a lot more money later, treating heart disease and diabetes.

The obesity epidemic is costing us about $100 billion a year.  The medical costs imposed by the fast-food industry are much larger than its annual profits – except the industry isn’t paying those medical bills. Obesity may soon surpass tobacco as the number-one cause of preventable death in the United States. (…) Companies that sell healthy foods should earn large profits; companies that sell junk food shouldn’t!

A PERVERSE SYSTEM

“The fast-food industry didn’t suddenly appear in a vacuum. The industry’s growth coincides neatly with a huge decline in the minimum wage, beginning in the late 1960s. When you cut people’s wages by as much as 40%, they need cheap food. And the labor policies of the fast-food industry helped drive those wages down. For years, the industry has employed more minimum-wage workers than any other – and has lobbied for lower minimum wages. So we’ve created a perverse system in which the food is cheap at fast food restaurants because they employ cheap labour, sell products that are heavily subsidized by the government, and sell them to consumers whose wages have been kept low. We’re talking about a race to the bottom. We shouldn’t have a society where the only food that’s readily affordable is unhealthy food.

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Interview with Eric Schlosser about Fast Food Nation:

Food Inc. (full documentary):

Peter Singer and Eric Schlosser, “Moving Beyond F.F. Nation”:

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Recommended further reading:

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