Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

Check this out:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Fiji Water

I'm currently working in a locally owned bakery. To my dismay, we carry Fiji Water. I cringe every time someone purchases it. We have filtered water that we give away for free, yet there is something so drawing for people about having "fresh" water from halfway across the world. It actually disgusts me. It makes me so sad. Why we as North Americans don't count our stock and appreciate that we have clean, safe drinking water from our taps baffles me. That water from Fiji should cost hundreds of dollars considering the environmental impact of shipping and packaging, despite claimed efforts at being "green".

Yet Fiji Water, like most ethically deceptive water companies trying to maintain a place in an unacceptable niche, is promising it is GREEN!

It is unsustainable. No matter how much recycling and limited packaging initiatives are put in place, people in North America drinking water from Fiji is unsustainable. Yet Fiji Water would argue that the water is worth shipping halfway around the world with this ingenious sales pitch:

Far from pollution. Far from acid rain. Far from industrial waste.

There's no question about it: Fiji is far away. But when it comes to drinking water, "remote" happens to be very, very good.

Look at it this way. FIJI Water is drawn from an artesian aquifer, located at the very edge of a primitive rainforest, hundreds of miles away from the nearest continent.

That very distance is part of what makes us so much more pure and so much healthier than other bottled waters.

What a fallacious argument. We have to travel to the most remote place to find CLEAN WATER unaffected by the GARBAGE of industrial pollution which consequently contributes to pollution (however reduced the packaging maybe) further minimizing the world's supply of clean, safe, minerally rich water. WOW! Don't tell me that isn't a cycle leading to complete entropy.

Their site is very devastating to me, because it is truly convincing, powerful green-washing. Can't believe these quotes:

We all make assumptions.  For instance, we assume that bottled water is "better" than water straight out of the tap.  But is it?

The reality is a bit more complicated.  Some bottled waters come right out of municipal reservoirs before they are "purified."  And, even "spring" water is affected by the earth's many pollutants as it bubbles to the surface.

Then there's FIJI Water ... uncontaminated and uncompromised.  Preserved and protected by its source and location, FIJI Water's aquifer is in a virgin ecosystem at the edge of a primitive rainforest, a continent away from the nearest industrialized civilization.  Our rainfall is purified by equatorial winds after traveling thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean.  Winds that carry acid rain and pollutants to other parts of the planet just don't come our way.

The appeal to the emotion is strong; and it is actually an appeal to a connection to nature that we are sadly lacking. But how twisted! Promising a connection to a paradise of "natural" water, while the company is part of the machine destroying the planet worldwide. I want to weep.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Story of Stuff

Earth Day is coming up, and I was browsing the Earth Day Canada site when I came across this video. It was very clever, to the point, and inspirational. Lovely work. Please watch, enjoy, and share!

Documentary Watch: End of the Line

I watched this documentary over a week ago, and it got me so fired up and emotionally invested that I had to stop it halfway through.

I was a vegetarian who still ate the occasional fish before, but now, I cannot stomach the thought of continuing that way.

The film makes it perfectly clear that our fisheries are rapidly depleting fish populations to the point where they may never recover, like the cod in the East Coast. I was so shocked that I had been so ignorant on the subject. Somehow factory farming has become more on the public radar, and captive animal rights are in the foreground. But with wild animals, the abuse often happens without the slightest public attention. Whether that is due to our misguided belief that the oceans are bottomless, or simply a blase attitude towards creatures that physically are harder (not as cuddly as a baby chick) to find compassion for, I don't know.

Whether or not we can expand our compassion to the creatures of the sea, if we keep raping it for everything it has, the human devastation will be just as heart-wrenching. Countries like Senegal sell their fishing rights to Europe and North America, who send huge fishing fleets that leave nothing for all the people who depend on fish to live. For food, not for money. I can't be part of that. There is no reason why people should starve because I have a craving for sushi.

Bicycle Repair and Life Skills

My bicycle was recently borrowed by my roommate. Upon return, the front tire was flat. Now, I take it in good faith that my roommate was not careless with the bike, and perhaps the same thing would have happened the next time I rode it. The fact remained: the bicycle needed repair.

My first instinct was to return it to its birthplace, Cyclepath, pay the necessary fee and have the work done for me. But how to get it there? No. There must be a better way. Couldn't I do it myself!

I searched the internet, typing things like "learn bicycle repair and maintenance." I was dismayed. There seems to be no place to learn these skills outside of joining a competitive biking club. The only place I found was Bike Pirates, a non-profit, do-it-yourself, guided repair shop downtown. Cool! They even have a women-and-trans-gendered-only day.

While that was a nice glimmer of hope, ultimately, I grew quite angry and my inner feminist reared its head. Why don't I have any mechanical skill, and why is it so difficult to find training in a non-professional capacity?

After meditating on this for the day, my compassion for my own plight expanded to a general humanistic compassion. Why is it that we do not personally learn such basic life skills in school?
While learning mathematics, critical thinking, science, humanities, phys ed. etc is truly critical for students; why is it not mandatory for all students to actually learn to build, fix, and make things? While most highschools still have some 'trade' classes, most aim to prime students for the workforce. "Home Ec" still teaches baking, but also how to work in a commercial kitchen.

Is it too idealistic to have lifeskills classes simply to expand the general populace's ability to DIY? There is a vested interest, I believe, in keeping thinking away from doing and creating different strata in society. I'm sure ypyp has more to say on the subject, as I saw on her desk a novel addressing the philosophy of work.

I wonder though. We're slowly discovering, or perhaps rediscovering, that holistic thinking in terms of our own health is crucial to our personal well being. We have begun to recognize the connection between physical, mental and dare-I-say spiritual maintenance. Perhaps if we reinvigorated and respected the balance of thinking work and physical work (and the spiritual work that goes in-between), our societies would be stronger.

It's a new idea. Please be gentle with it, I've yet to develop it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Mind is Matter!

I often hear people complain of our society being too "materialistic" and that "materialism" is the cause of our environmental problems. I'm not so sure that this is the case. Ours is certainly a consumer society, but materialistic, it is not.

Materialism is a tricky thing to pin down. We are society driven by technological and scientific advancement, and technological and scientific advancement, in turn, is largely rooted in the philosophy of materialism. To quote from Wikipedia:

In philosophy the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance.

Materialism, as a philosophy, often meets with objections of being too narrow, reductionist, and spiritually empty. While I don't necessarily disagree with these objections, I question the common assumption that ours is really a materialist culture.

It seems to me that, in the West, most of us are profoundly out of touch with material reality. This is manifested in many ways:

Our ignorance (though thankfully this seems to be changing) as to where our food comes from;

Our lack of awareness and engagement with the local geography and ecosystems in which we live;

Our lack of understanding of the objects, appliances and gadgets that are part of our daily lives; how many of us actually understand how a computer, car or refrigerator works?

Finally, our collective inability to deal with the multiple environmental crises we now face.

It seems to me, that, rather than being a materialist society, we consistently choose virtual reality and mental constructs over actual, physical reality. I noticed an interesting example of this while browsing through the desktop photos that came with my version of Windows: they are all beautiful images of nature. They are chosen, no doubt, because such images are universally pleasing, and on one hand, this reflects our innate longing for the natural world. However, as a culture, we seem to consistently favour such virtual representations over the real thing.

Another example that comes to mind is the incessant clutter of products that pass through our daily lives. On the surface, this would seem to be damning evidence of our materialism. But when somebody purchases a product, such as, for example, a new computer, a car or a tube of lipstick, is it because they want the actual, physical object, or are they really attempting to acquire some immaterial quality that the object represents, such as youth, beauty, or status? One need only to talk to an advertiser to know the answer.

It seems to me that the clutter in our lives, the consumerism and resulting environmental degradation, is not the result of rampant materialism, but the exact opposite; a longing for transcendence from the earthly plain.

This is rooted, most clearly in our time, in centuries of Christian ideology in which the earth is seen as a place of evil and temptation. The goal of a good Christian is to resist the temptations of the flesh and gain entry into heaven. I also see currents of this thought running through much of New Age philosophy. One thing that has always bothered me about New Age practices is that, while they seemingly reference natural phenomena( ie. astrology, the use of crystals, animal "totems", etc.) they seem to be primarily cerebral in nature, mystical but not actually grounded. They offer us that same promise of transcendence of material reality, neatly summed up in the phrase "mind over matter."

The exact same idea is echoed in contemporary promises of a utopian, digital future, a world in which everybody is connected through the internet, creating a magnificent, global village, powered by some miraculous source of "clean" energy. The internet is a realm of pure "mind", an ethereal web through which we float, disembodied, beyond the confines of geography. If there is no such thing as heaven, the internet is the next best thing.

We desire products that will take care of the physical realities of living for us, so that we may be free to pursue matters of the mind, unfettered by the burdens of our physical and biological selves. Planes, trains and automobiles allow us to quickly travel long distances with hardly any physical exertion, when in the past such distances would have taken days or weeks, and required considerable supplies and preparation. Refrigerators and supermarkets mean that fresh food is constantly available to us: we hardly ever have to worry about hunger, which is probably the most sure reminder of the existence of the body. These are not the products of a material culture, but a culture bent on escaping material reality.

I want to talk a bit more about the internet, because, even though not all of us are religious, or subscribe to any line of spiritual thought, we are all, to some extent, participant in the promise of transcendence offered by the internet.

As we progress into a so-called digital future, we must remember that we are all, ultimately, earthly beings. The internet, so ethereal as to seemingly emerge from nothingness itself, is nevertheless rooted in millions of computers, for every one of which raw materials must be mined from the earth, processed, and put together by human hands, often in countries like China or Taiwan, where labour is cheaper. Computers must be operated by people, people who need to be housed, clothed and fed. Computers must eventually be disposed, and the lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium and other chemicals that they contain must be somehow prevented from contaminating soil and groundwater.

Even if we succeed at uploading our brains onto some digital medium, that medium will still have to exist in the physical world, where it will be subject to rust, corrosion and decay, not to mention the possibility of being obliterated by some natural disaster. It will also need to be powered somehow.

As we continue our project of transcendence, whether spiritual or digital, we lose sense of our rootedness in the physical earth itself. As long as we view ourselves apart from, or above, physical reality, we will continue to destroy the very earth that brought us into being, and on which we depend for literally everything, including our minds.

This post is getting very long, so I will finish with one last thought:

Before we had the World Wide Web, there was another internet. Internet, after all, stands for "interconnected network". The internet that we are really a part of, and owe our allegiance to, is the interconnected network of life: the network of plants, animals, water, soil and air that is our very existence.

Friday, April 9, 2010


Words are funny animals that can shape-shift as our consciousness shifts. I've been considering the ideas behind the word "presence". One of the most beautiful ideas I've read in a while, from Eat, Pray, Love was that we often describe God as a presence. We can only experience that presence in the present.

In theatre, we often talk about stage presence, which is an elusive feeling for the actor. It requires supreme presence of mind; staying in the present and not wandering off mentally to the end of the play for example. Juliet cannot know she will die in the monument or she will never truly fall in love with Romeo.

It is the moments when an actor is "present" onstage that there is magic, Grace intervenes and beautiful things happen onstage. It is as if God has playing on the stage.

What is the present? It is an infinite moment of being. If we can connect to a presence of mind, suddenly our consciousness shifts to our body in space. We have connected to one physic place in TIME, suddenly our awareness of SPACE is clear. I cannot help but feel my heart beating, my legs rooted in the ground, my breath easing in and out, if my mind is kept present. It is this feeling of connecting to the physical world through a mental dedication of 'presence' that ironically is superimposed by the feeling of "presence" of a more-than-physical energy. It is bizarre but beautiful to me that through connection physically, an internal tuning in, that suddenly I feel more than just a sum of physical mechanics as scientific humanism would love to have me be.

Lighter Food

My last post was heavy food for thought, so I thought I'd just post two delicious RAW recipes I made recently, no dehydrator required:

Avocado & Banana Dip sounds bizarre, but it's delicious!
In a food processor, blend together 1 avocado, 1 banana, a pinch of cinnamon, and some lemon juice to taste. Dip either fresh fruit or carrot sticks. I had it with fresh strawberries: delicious!

Spicy Zucchini Dip I didn't know zucchini could be eaten raw...
In a food processor, blend together two medium zucchini, 1/4 cup tahini paste, 1/4 cup olive oil, two garlic cloves, and chili powder to taste.

True Cost

I'm a vegetarian. My current goal is to be 100% vegetarian, of that 80% Organic, and 50% raw. (If I eat live, my thoughts are alive!) Initially, when people hear the Organic part, the reaction is mixed with respect for my efforts, and defensiveness:
That's so great, I'd do that, but it's so expensive!

I've been considering this all week. What do we mean by expensive? Obviously, money right? We live in a culture where to say something costs you, invariably it means we are giving away money. But I question, given Ypyp's last post -- what idea are we buying when we do not buy organic? What is the true cost of food; what ideology are we buying? What values does it cost us?

I've been thinking about and re-reading an essay "Fast-Food and Factory Farming" from Rational Landscapes and Humanist Geography by Edward Relph. While some may argue that his perspective is only relevant to the fast-food industry, I will expand it to the non-organic food industry as a whole.** Relph's argument is a poignant and carefully crafted one. He begins by arguing that there are no "black villains" to be blamed for the disturbing realities of factory-farming:
Behind every McDonald's sign or Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket is a store manager struggling to maintain his sales and to pay off the debt he incurred... inside the pastel clean sheds of a broiler farm is a farmer worrying about how he can keep up the quality of his flock and maintain his quotas. These are not participants in some vast and evil conspiracy, but individuals... involved in a culture and life-style which... actively encourages the logical and rational procedures which they are using to maintain efficiency and to provide convenience.

The fast-food industry only exists because we want it to exist. As a culture, we want to have inexpensive meat given to us with peak efficiency. Efficiency for maximum human benefit are the values of our time. This is our inheritance from a society that grew out of the Age of Reason. Relph argues such a worldview has it's roots in the Cartesian argument that animals are automata:
They do not have a mind, and... it is nature which acts in them according to the disposition of their organs, as one sees that a clock, which is made up of only wheels and springs, can count the hours and measure time.
It is our cultural inheritance in North America to prize human reason and scientific progress as the greatest benefit to our lives. This scientific humanism has certainly brought about many positive mechanical and chemical inventions that have made life healthier and easier for North Americans in many ways:
Few people in Europe or North America suffer now from severe hunger or chronic protein deficiencies.

But, what was the cost? Our rational and scientific priorities have enabled us to treat animals as objects, and we do. And while it allows us great convenience and economic low-costs, is it truly to our detriment? By denigrating living beings to the same moral value as a car, or toothbrush, instruments to serve our needs do we not allow a whole series of denigrations of our own humanity for the sake of a broad "humanism"? The implications are subtle and seem innocuous because they are familiar.

Consider the airport. With the same principle God of Efficiency, few people take issue with surrendering to a completely ahuman atmosphere, where we "surrender passively to being questioned, searched, crowded, herded, delayed and harassed" all for the exchange of having faster travel.

Of course, the parallels of factory farming and the design of suburbia is the most compelling, but I will leave that for another post.

Returning now to the idea of cost, I will say: If we diminish life to the status of non-living machine, how easy is it for us to diminish the glory, subtly, beauty, and poetics of our own lives to the whims and hunger of the economic machine? For me, that is the most expensive price to pay. Not a few imaginary dollars.

**The prevalence of fast-food has made it almost impossible to avoid factory-farming in our grocery stores.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Money: The power of an idea

In order for money to work, it requires a certain amount of collective investment. People need to agree upon money as the unit of exchange, or every society would still run on the barter system. Historically, economies have run on two types of money: commodity and representative.

Commodity money is money whose value comes from the commodity from which it is made. A common example is gold, but any item of value to a society can be used as a medium of exchange, such as pearls, shells, rice, barley, cannabis, etc. The commodity is recognized as having value in itself, apart from its role as a medium of exchange.

Representative money consists of tokens or certificates that can, at least in theory, be exchanged for a fixed value of a commodity. The money's value is linked to the commodity that backs it.

Modern economies, however, run on a system called fiat money. Fiat money does not have any intrinsic value, nor is it backed by a commodity such as gold. Its value comes from government order, making it the legal medium of exchange. Its value also comes from the collective faith of the people. In order for money to work, we all have to believe in it.

I find this astonishing. Money is an idea. An idea that requires collective investment. It is our belief in money which gives it its potency.

Many of us question the value of money from time to time, but it is so ubiquitous in our lives that few people ever question its actual reality. Is money real? In a way, money really is the religion of our society. In the Middle Ages, the power of the Catholic church came from everybody's belief in its divinity. Today, the power of money comes from everybody's belief in its potency. And just like adherents to a religion, we regard with suspicion those who do not believe in money. We call them hippies, communists, or just plain crazy.

Money is a missionary religion. When we speak of spreading modernity, or spreading democracy throughout the world, are we not also speaking of spreading market capitalism? We cannot concieve of a democracy without markets, a modern society that does not run on money.

Is money, or the fiat system, inherently evil? Undeniably, it is responsible for many evil acts. We are destroying the life support systems of our planet: our air, our water, our soil, not to mention the lives of other people, in pursuit of something which does not actually exist anywhere but in our minds. This is pretty damning evidence indeed. Can capitalism be reformed, or is it in the very nature of monetary society to corrupt people and make them blind to what's really important?
Again, this mirrors the debate on religion. Those in one camp say that religion is inherently evil and and outdated. A second camp says that though atrocities have been committed in the name of religion, it is not religion itself, but something in human nature, that allows those atrocities to happen. The there is the third camp, which insists that without religion (or a particular religion), humankind is lost.

Which camp do I fall into? For religion, definitely the second. I believe that at its best, religion fulfills a basic human need, the need to be spiritual. For money.. I'm not sure. I'm an anti-capitalist at heart, but insofar as money is a form of abstraction, I believe that a certain level of abstraction is an inescapable part of human nature. So, I don't know. But I do know that while we can't change the physical realities of living on the planet (if we pump CO2 into the air, the planet will warm, if we pollute our drinking water, we will become sick), we can change our minds.

What is money worth to you?

Thursday, April 1, 2010


My MAC has gone to MAC heaven for the third time this year. MAC heaven must be a lovely place -- so I may not resurrect it. This means that my entries for the next little while may be sporadic, as writing requires a trip to the library. I will be faithful. I will try to write often!

Spiritually Coming Out

When I decided to resurrect Trog-a-log blog (which I'm expecting to rename soon), I had intended to write incredibly honestly about... my spiritual journey.

Writing began after I had decided to drop out of Humber College (Theatre Performance Program) because of a progressively more insistent inner voice calling me to attend to my spiritual life. How that energy manifests itself quite often is through my ecological beliefs. As of yet though, I never wrote concretely that these thoughts were grounded in a spiritual search, although I'm sure it could be intuited. And as far as I'm concerned, the two aren't really separate, if we are to think holistically about our experience.

Today, in so far as spirituality is concerned, I attended a Kundalini Yoga class at a new studio called Bliss Yoga (Royal York & Bloor W). I must say, there is so much wisdom that comes from physical/spiritual practice. (Of course, I must credit some of my physical sensitivity to Humber's physical theatre program. Even though I dropped out, I am grateful for everything I learned while I was there)

Today it occurred to me that being able to maintain balance in some difficult poses is a physical manifestation of the same kind of inner strength that allows me to stay grounded in my moral beliefs even when I am being bent all out of shape by external pressure.

That's all for today. Just thought I'd come out as a spiritual being!

Much Love!

: I'll leave with a quote I read the other day.
We are not human beings trying to be spiritual, we are spiritual beings trying to be human.