The grand, failed experiment of capitalism

It wasn’t that long ago you could drink the water. All the water, I mean; lakes, rivers, little streams. Now we have to watch what the kids get into. What might they be ingesting? What do they miss out on when they drink the chemically treated water from the city? I don’t even want to know. If it’s in the oceans, in our lakes and our rivers, in our glaciers, there isn’t much I can do to avoid it. I just have to accept that it. is. everywhere. Accept that they probably can’t live as long as I still have a chance to. Accept that they can’t be as healthy as, say, my grandparents. Can anybody be, now?

“On no”, I’m told. “We’re gonna live to be 120. All the experts say so”. Who, the ones that can look at a chart, see the rising line and conclude, “that’s the trend”. As if there are no other factors? My parents are still of a generation to be financially and materially more privileged than the last. They’ve really had the most promise, the most stability, the most upward mobility (in a capitalist sense, anyway). It’s understood that mine is the first generation since the industrial revolution that will be poorer than the one before. In a financial sense, that is. In an industrial sense.

And what do these financially wealthy people buy for their grandchildren? Full length plastic suits to protect them from UV rays.

Neoliberal capitalism…transnational financial capitalism, whatever you want to call it, it failed, ok? It was an experiment. Not so much a grand conspiracy as a grand mistake. You thought you were doing good and making the world a better place for us. We know you did it in love and you continue to do it out of love for us (not you megalomaniacs, but our parents, those who did and continue to do the footwork. Those who invest, who vote, who subsidize, who thought it was easier for us to buy food than grow it).

I am also doing what I’m doing out of love for my children. Out of a desire to leave them something more beautiful, connected, and loving than I had. And by doing so, creating something loving, beautiful and connected for myself.

What I envision is an earth on which water is safe to drink. On which water is protected, not up for grabs to the highest bidder, regardless of how they want to treat it. They deserve to know that water won’t be stolen from them or poisoned by some corporation in it for the money, giving lower and lower estimates for the value of life that they rob from the undesirable. The poor. Those who don’t buy their products or invest in their companies.

Those who dare to…use less resources? Those who dare to rely on themselves and their communities.

That’s literally my only aim in life. To learn and thus model for my children how to be a competent human being. A human being that can survive on earth. One that supports the spiritual growth of those around them. Who can build their own shelter out of the resources around them. Forage and grow sustainable food that nourishes them. Who can sit in (or lead!) a restorative justice circle and speak from the heart and listen with empathy. One who defends the land and the water and knows how to live peaceably with those around them. And who knows how to communicate anger and frustration in a healthy and beneficial way? All these skills are necessary to permaculture. Because it won’t be a permanently sustainable culture unless we can cooperate, and we need to learn these skills in order to survive and in order to cooperate and thus thrive.

What else would I want for my children? And for those saying, “we tried that, it didn’t work”. No, we didn’t. We have never tried to grow sustainable, nourishing food for us all while simultaneously building community support and cooperation. Some small tribes have had beautiful, happy and fulfilling lives, with everything they need, by doing this (ever heard of the Sarayaku?).

Harsha Walia points out (in the brilliant Undoing Border Imperialism) that focusing on decolonization as an aspiration “grounds us in an understanding that we have already inherited generations of evolving wisdom about living freely and communally while stewarding the Earth” (11)

And we are fucking human beings. Do you know what we can accomplish? Do you know the feats of creativity we’ve come up with when allowed to be passionate and follow our dreams?

In the wise words of Harry Thurman, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive”.

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On privilege in food sustainability movements

I’m pretty new to this and I’m learning a lot as I go and meet others like myself who have discovered the freedom in food sovereignty. It’s a complicated thing too – it is a process, and a lot of us are going to learn as we go. So I’m pretty sure I’m going to be updating with more thoughts about this as I go. Here are some preliminary thoughts:

In 2014-15 when I was completing my master’s, I was hearing my partner explain permaculture with the passion of someone who has just found a piece of this life calling. I understood the importance of what he was saying even if I couldn’t speak to the details of permaculture design or of exactly what was wrong with the current systems. I could speak to the big picture, but not the details, and it was infuriating when I’d speak to the TRUTH I could feel, that we have to be growing more of our own food, that that was the KEY to ecological and social justice. The key to much of our depression. The key to the epidemic of related conditions that noone talks about: diabetes, heart disease, morbid obesity, cancer. The key to the epidemic of addiction. The key to my own happiness. The key to finding purpose in a world whose sole purpose is MORE MONEY MORE STUFF. Growing our own food.

“The problem is the solution” is a permaculture maxim. It stands to reason that if industrial agriculture is our problem, we can find our solution in food systems.

I said as much in my classes. My professors were very good at leading us back to the large systemic causes of things, but terrible at discussing real possible solutions. We got stuck in the “these are the people you may be leaving out” phase, instead of ever making progress. The thing is, permaculture doesn’t have to leave anybody out. It already has plenty of ideas and solutions for community justice, gardening for the wheelchair bound, gardening for arthritis, and so on. Furthermore, it simply allows for more time for community and it is a community of people that you need if you have a sick child, if you aren’t typically able-bodied, if you’re dying. It allows for more support and more freedom.

And constantly the pushback would be “well, you can only do this because you’re privileged. Not everybody can up and move. Not everybody can buy land.”. Of course that is all true. I’m extremely privileged. Every day I notice new privileges. Just today I was thinking of the travel I did as a middle-class white child. My passports, yes multiple, could take me across ‘borders’. Were accepted by governments all around the world. Because my country is one that makes the rules.

And not everyone can (or needs to) move to practise permaculture. Urban permaculture has answers for everyone. People living in the forest practise permaculture. Permaculturists are greening the desert, all over the world. They’re remediating environments. Using fungi to break down heavy metal pollutants. Permaculture is a kind of superpower that everyone can learn.

And not everyone can (or needs to) buy land. Permaculturists grow gardens in public places; take back parks; squat on crown land; sidewalk garden.

And those of us who have the privilege are the ones doing the worst damage. It’s the food we buy. The bottled water we can afford. It’s the clothes we buy and the way we get around. It’s the travel. We consume and consume and consume. Which means that we are responsible for the majority of the clean up.

It is precisely those of us who are most privileged who are obligated to give up as many of our privileges as we possibly can.

bell hooks points out that most women active in the Western feminist movement are unwilling to face the reality that capitalism is a system that “depends on the exploitation of underclass groups for its survival”, particularly true “when they, as individuals, gain economic self-sufficiency within the existing structure. They are reluctant, even unwilling, to acknowledge that supporting capitalist patriarchy…would not end the economic exploitation of underclass groups. These women fear the loss of their material privilege” (108).

I can’t stop being white, but I can end my material privilege by living more simply and making my own stuff (or supporting my local food and clothing and building sheds!). I can also stop supporting the racist systems in place that, in order to grow OUR food, kick people off their land who have lived off the land by passing down the traditional ecological knowledge of their people from generation to generation. I can stop supporting those same systems that then police people in the city or in the countries they are forced to migrate to.

I can END my financial support of the companies I choose to invest in; the companies that fund pipelines instead of water fuelled cars or GMOs instead of psilocybins. Whatever. If you are worried that permaculture is a privileged people’s lifestyle, look at it this way. Permaculture is for the privileged, because it’s the only way we can GIVE up our privilege. (And for those who have the least, because its they who are forced into growing their own food, building their own buildings, creating their own communities and turning to restorative justice as a means to find ANY justice at all in a system that is skewed against them.

Permaculture is the only way to even the playing field. It’s sustainable. And it gets our corporations out of the backyards of the people around the world who’ve been defending the land and protecting the water all along, and lets them continue to do the only thing it makes sense to do on earth:

Live happily within the earth’s means.

This is why it’s SO vital that permaculture not be capitalized and turned into the means for my generation and class (children of the middle-class) to stay white and privileged. For us, that means that when we “have land” (that is ours on paper) it will be a safe place for anyone who needs it, paying special attention to formerly incarcerated, Indigenous Turtle Islanders and people of colour, and life-bearers and children of all of the above.

This is the dream, or one small part of it. That’s all for now.

Half way in, half way out

Attempting to practice food sovereignty without giving up all privilege is an oxymoron I struggle with. I love the idea of revoking my citizenship; sending back my social insurance number. I just filled out a form that demanded *it is a serious offence to make a false statement* I include all home addresses since 2013. I just willingly, without blinking once, filled out the form. I get child benefits. And I feel dependent on them because I have no other income. Having no other income is a political choice I’m making. But where do I draw the line. If I count on the $700 the government gives me every month I’m still in that system. And it’s a violent, exploitative system that counts on us all mindlessly filling out the form. They even pay us to do it. What are they so scared we’ll do if they stop paying us to mindlessly fill out forms? Stop? And what if we did? What do you suppose we could do if a whole wackload of us just took back a provincial park; made it a true commons. If there were so many of us they couldn’t possibly arrest us all. We’d fill a jail. They might, of course, but it would spark a conversation at least. About the waste of ‘conserving’ nature while mismanaging it or refusing to manage it at all (despite the fact that we’ve done our best to destroy it and the very least we should do now is learn it, beginning with careful observation, and help heal it). This is probably already a thing I just don’t know about. But let’s make it a bigger thing!

I’m writing all this knowing that I may just continue to live comfortably in my house (bought via a ‘radical’ private mortgage) rather than subvert the system (that much…either you are or you aren’t…aren’t you?). I’m afraid to do it alone and get swallowed by the PIC. And I worry for my children. I realize I am still too reliant on the master’s tools, the patriarchy, to fully commit. Until this moment, this form-filling out robot moment I had, I thought I was doing a pretty good job of subverting the system and refusing, as I often put it, industrial agriculture and transnational financial capitalism (by, among other things, growing my own food, living off grid and unjobbing). But I’m really still totally dependent on the “master’s house” as Audre Lorde put it. And at the same time knowing the utter and absolute truth, that I am “conforming to the needs of a structure that is not based on human need”. I’m holding back. Despite also knowing the truth of this, “The principal horror of any system which defines the good in terms of profit rather than in terms of human need, or which defines human need to the exclusion of the psychic and emotional components of that need…is that it robs our work of its…value…and life appeal and fulfillment. Such a system reduces work to a travesty of necessities, a duty by which we earn bread or oblivion for ourselves and those we love.”

Lorde and bell hooks, among many others, have been pointing out for decades that white/Western feminist movements are unwilling to face the reality that capitalism is a system that “depends on the exploitation of underclass groups for its survival”. This is particularly true “when they, as individuals, gain economic self-sufficiency within the existing structure. Both have pointed out that it is only women with material privilege who have anything to lose – only women who are still dependent on the system for their daily bread.

I’m now questioning my commitment to the process of decolonization if I won’t give up my ‘status’. The status as a “first class legal Canadian Citizen” is part of what gets me my colonial privilege, my patriarchal privilege, and my material privilege. More on these topics to come.

I’ve thought long and hard about what it means to talk about the kind of subversion I like to talk about and live as a “legal citizen”, to get benefits, to pay taxes, live in a “legitimate” land co-op that also pays its taxes… I know I have so much further to go, but I’m scared to leap. I even took a break from writing this to lick the envelope that my benefits address form is in and close it. I don’t know whether I’m going to send it or not. I honestly don’t.

My time is up. I shall question this topic further another day.

Self, soil and subversion.

I am an idealist who was told her whole life that she could not do the thing she dreamed; make a difference for the betterment of the world. Time after time I was told that I just had to accept the status quo. I was told that I needed to get a job in the non-profit sector in order to help, but my instinct told me that solution wasn’t really a solution at all. The other option seemed to be make money by any means and then donate it to a non-profit. This didn’t make any sense to me. Surely there was another way. Be independently wealthy and donate? Haha. Finally, having been granted a certain ideology my whole life, I decided that a career was the thing to get in order to be stable; that is, to be granted the privilege of a roof over my head, food, clean water…you know, basic human rights (again, can this be right?!). So I decided that one thing I’d like to do was teach adults and I went back to school for my master’s so that I could potentially teach in a college one day.

By the time I went for my degree I had twins with food allergies and early tooth decay caused by my own intake of antibiotics during and after labour and delivery due to a necrotic twisted ovary. I also had a partner whose passion for food led him to become a chef and then a forager. His interest in foraging waned when he recognized its inherent unsustainability and thus he started learning about permaculture. Although he’d had some close encounters with the idea previously, it was David Holmgren’s book “Permaculture: Principles and Pathways to Sustainability and Beyond” that really got the concept through to him and, via him, to me. While we were learning all about agriculture, industrial agriculture and food systems at home, I was studying systems of oppression in school. It wasn’t long before I realized that food systems and systems of oppression were indelibly linked. Now, after completing my degree and doing all the research and life learning I needed to do that but also to learn about my children’s affliction and help heal their little bodies, I do believe that our food system is the single biggest thing in the way of both ecological and social justice.

With this new understanding, and the understanding that it was going to be much harder to have food sovereignty in a place like southern Ontario (where we lived on Traditional Anishinaabe Territory) we moved to a  land co-operative in B.C. (on Traditional Sinixt Territory) in August 2015. We are by no means food sustainable yet, but moving to the land co-op gave us an instant boost in that it’s on its own micro-hydro system, water is provided by the same creek that houses the micro-hydro, and we instantly began practicing humanure composting. We intend to practice permaculture and hope to have a sustainable food system (within our community, at least) in the next few years.

This blog is all about what it’s like to go from consumer to conserver ideology, the implications of industrial agriculture on feminism or any anti-oppressive social movement, decolonization, emplacement, homesteading, popular culture as seen from the eyes of the enlightened, nature spirituality, the way of the warrior, defense of the land, anti-capitalism, natural parenting in an unnatural age, re-wilding, deep ecology, permaculture, etc. You name it, I’ll probably write about it. Eventually, anyway.