Thursday, December 25, 2008

I'm with Rachel

Since my rant about Rick Warren I have received several emails from friends and family that suggest, in essence, that the left is too quick to criticize Obama, and that liberals need to, in the words of Washington Post writer E. J. Dionne, "come to terms with what it means to build a durable majority." I also got a link to the Huffington Post about Melissa Etheridge and her take on this whole business. While it's nice to know she feels better about Warren, at least, I submit that the only reason she was able to talk to him at all is because she is a well-known musician and he's a fan.

Well, this is what I say:

Dionne and similar articles and posts I've read about this issue are thoughtful and well-reasoned and, on the whole, written by people who are at least one degree removed from the situation, i.e, neither gay nor evangelical. As such, they can provide calm, measured analysis. But calm measured analysis is exactly the wrong tack to take. Because Dionne is not gay, he can feel third-person outrage when Warren compares gays to pedophiles but also know that Warren isn't targeting him personally. I wonder how Dionne would feel defending Obama's choice of Warren if Dionne himself were gay.

Who you are and how you identify DOES matter, and it should matter. No one should be asked to accept the kinds of insults Warren has aimed at the gay community because it's for some greater progressive feel-good-let's-all-sing-Kumbaya-agenda. Asking the gay community (I include bi and trans) to simply lie down, roll over and take it in the ass (as it were) when Warren calls us pedophiles reminds me of the way women were asked to subordinate their demands for equality during the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 60s in favor of the "greater good." You know the argument: "Yes, women's rights are important, and we'll work on that AFTER we get equal rights for African-Americans, or AFTER we get the troops out of Vietnam." Nuf ced.

I don't dispute that choosing Warren is a savvy political move on Obama's part, nor that it might create positive change within the evangelical community, or build more bridges between evangelicals and progressives. I agree those things are important to the larger goal of bringing Americans together and trying to heal the rifts that have polarized our nation. Nor am I surprised by Obama's political savvy. He wouldn't be where he is today without it. What pisses me off is what I said in my post a few days ago: "the casual, cynical assumption that marginalizing this group of people is an acceptable cost of doing business by the Obama team (and maybe even Obama himself)" and also that "I am sickened that his bridgebuilding comes at the expense, once again, of the right of gays, lesbians, trans and bi people to be treated with the same respect and dignity all people deserve."

If Obama is serious about change he must find a way to do it that does not, to borrow an analogy from the civil rights movement, force anyone to sit in the back of the bus.

And finally, a word from Rachel Maddow:

Friday, December 19, 2008

pre-Shabbat rant

This is in reference to the news that the Rev. Rick Warren has been asked to give the invocation at the inauguration next month.

I watched the News Hour last night and thought the discussion began to touch on some of the issues with having Warren speak, but it didn't go far enough. (For example, here's a good point from columnist Dan Savage)

Also, Obama's rationale for inviting Warren as a simple quid pro quo (Warren had invited Obama to speak at his church) doesn't wash. There's a world of difference between speaking at a church, even a megachurch, and being asked to give the invocation at the Presidential inaugural. The first is a private event and the second is of national and world significance. Inviting Warren to speak at the inaugural is an explicit endorsement, and people will take it as such. The choice of Warren says a great deal about what Obama's presidency prioritizes, whether or not Obama agrees with Warren on issues pertaining to the gay community. In this case what it says is that once again the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people are of little importance and that, during these times of severe economic crisis and all the other issues Obama faces, it's fine to once again put the concerns of the gay community on the back burner.

As someone who is married to a woman but who does not identify as a lesbian per se, I am outraged both by the blatant disrespect for my marriage and the casual, cynical assumption that marginalizing this group of people is considered part of the cost of doing business by the Obama team (and maybe even Obama himself), because we are, as a voting bloc, politically impotent now that the election is over. (As an aside, have any political researchers/pollsters ever counted up the numbers of people who are not themselves gay, bi or trans but who have family members and friends who are? Families and friends care about these issues too).

I understand the politics that went into this decision. Obama wants to reach out to people who believe in Warren and what he represents, and I get that Obama wants, in his words, "to disagree without being disagreeable," but I am sickened that his bridgebuilding comes at the expense, once again, of the right of gays, lesbians, trans and bi people to be treated with the same respect and dignity all people deserve.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

UPDATE: Speak out about the Sec'y of Agriculture nomination

You can go here to sign a petition to block Gov. Vilsack's appointment; the Organic Consumers Association is hoping to generate 100,000 signatures that will be sent to elected officials. 

There are a number of great posts on various blogs about this appointment, along with a lot of information about Vilsack. As I mentioned earlier, he's not the worst choice, but he's certainly not the best, and there are a number of better choices out there. We must, we have to do better.

For more info, check out The Ethicurian and this post on The Jew and the Carrot.

What now?

Well, it's done. According to the blogs I've been reading, like Sam Fromartz' Chewswise (see link to right of this post), Vilsack isn't the worst choice for Sec'y of Ag, but he's far from being the best, either.  The Center for Rural Affairs is circulating an open letter to the new Secretary; it's a rather long letter and it doesn't include everything I'd like to see, like tax incentives for sustainable farming and eliminating subsidies to farmers that grow nothing but monocrops like genetically modified corn and soybeans, but it's a start. Please check it out and add your name and pass it on to all those you know. Maybe Vilsack will be open to suggestions. We can hope.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Six reasons why appointing Tom Vilsack Sec'y of Ag is a terrible idea

Just heard on NPR that Pres-elect Obama is planning to appoint Tom Vilsack Sec'y of Agriculture. This is a REALLY BAD IDEA. Here's why. Please take a moment to contact Obama's Transition Team and tell them what you think about this appointment.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Seasonal thoughts

The words of this song have so many meanings. For all the farmers preparing for winter, for all the gardners putting their gardens to bed for the season, and for all of us who are gathering our strength and energy for the coming year, with all its challenges and as yet unknown possibilities...

(PS. The words are great, but the song is even better. I encourage you to check it out on Judy Collins’s double CD, “Forever: An Anthology," or download it from iTunes for all of $0.99. One of this season's best holiday buys, IMO.)

Fallow Way
Words and Music by Judy Collins © 1997
Universal Music Corp. (ASCAP)/ The Wildflowers Company (ASCAP)
(Administered by Universal Music Corp.)

I'll learn to love the fallow way
When winter draws the valley down
And stills the rivers in their storm
And freezes all the little brooks
Time when our steps slow to the song
Of falling flakes and crackling flames
When silver stars are high and still
Deep in the velvet of the sky

The crystal times, the silent times
I'll learn to love their quietness
While deep beneath the glistening snow
The black earth dreams of violets
I'll learn to love the fallow times.

I'll learn to love the fallow way
When all my colors fade to white
And flying birds fold back their wings
Upon my anxious wanderings
The sun has slanted all her rays
Across a vast and harvest plains
My memories mingle in the dawn
I dream of joyful vagabonds

The crystal times, the silent times
I'll learn to love their quietness
While deep beneath the glistening snow
The black earth dreams of violets
I'll learn to love the fallow times

No drummer comes across the plain
To tell of triumph or of pain
No word of far-off battle's cry
To draw me out or draw me nigh…

I'll learn to love the fallow way
And gather in the patient fruits
And after autumn’s blaze and burn
I'll know the feel of still, deep roots
That nothing seem to do, or need
That crack the ice in frozen ponds
And slumbering in winter's folds
Have dreams of green and blue and gold
I'll learn to love the fallow way
And listen for the blossoming
Of my own heart once more in spring

As sure as time, as sure as snow
As sure as moonlight, wind and stars
The fallow time will fall away
The sun will bring an April day
And I will yield to Summer's way.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

UPDATE: Sec'y of Agriculture

Just sent in my comments to Obama's Web site. There's a long list of agenda items, but food is not included there; it's not even lumped in with "additional issues" that don't seem to merit listings of their own (at least, not as far as the transition team is concerned).

Please take a moment to contact Obama and let him know this issue is of vital importance to our national health, economy, energy policies, climate change, and, oh yeah, FOOD WE EAT. If you need more information, read Michael Pollan's open letter to the President-elect, published in the New York Times magazine in October.

Here's what I said to Obama. Feel free to copy it, or use it as a launching point for your own thoughts.

Food policy has to be at the forefront of any discussion about effecting positive change. In particular, I object strongly to the potential appointment of Rep. Collin Peterson as Secretary of Agriculture. He is on record as characterizing organic food production and those who support it as "dumb." He supports farm subsidies and a "business as usual" approach to food policy. Our current food policy is unsustainable and has a direct impact on energy consumption, our skyrocketing national rates of obesity and diabetes, and climate change. These are all areas that President-elect Obama has said he plans to prioritize in his administration. If President-elect Obama is sincere in his desire to address these issues, not to mention food policy itself, he needs to find a better choice for Secretary of Agriculture.

The fact that you don't even have a food policy listing under "agenda" on your web site
implies that this issue is not even on your radar, much less at the forefront of discussion about positive effective change. Here are some suggestions for better alternatives to Congressman Peterson.

Writer Michael Pollan's
open letter to the President, published in the New York Times Magazine in October, puts forth the most cogent and articulate discussion of the need for a radically new direction in our national food policy.

I hope you will make this issue more of a priority than you seem to be doing at present.


Elizabeth Schwartz

Help choose our new Secretary of Agriculture

President-elect Obama is in the process of naming his Cabinet members, and is currently considering Rep. Collin Peterson (D)-Minn., Chair of the House Agriculture Committee, who was quoted last year as saying organic consumers are "dumb."

I'm making a concerted effort to post more about food-related issues (that is one of the main purposes of my blog, after all), and several of you have let me know that you depend on me to keep you informed about food and food sustainability news. This is potentially the most important opportunity we all have to influence food policy on a national level.

The Secretary of Agriculture appointment will be Obama's first indication about his planned direction for food production in the United States. Let him know that the "business as usual" approach to farm subsidies and monoculture is unacceptable. If you care about supporting sustainable and local food production on a national policy level, please take a few minutes to send an email to Obama's transition team and let them know what (or who) you'd like to see in a new Secretary of Agriculture. The Obama Transition Team has set up an innovative website to facilitate public input for policy initiatives in the new Obama Administration. You can contact them at

Here's some more information about this issue, along with suggestions for some better alternatives to Congressman Peterson:

The Secretary of Agriculture is one of the most powerful and most overlooked positions in the cabinet. The office oversees the safety of the U.S. food supply, domestic farming policies, food stamp programs, and the nation's 297,000 square miles of forest. Obama was initially considering the pro-biotech Iowa governor Tom Vilsack for the position, but thousands of organic consumers raised their voices in response to an Organic Consumers' Association alert that apparently stopped that plan in its tracks (Learn more).

According to press reports, Obama is now considering Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) to head the USDA. Peterson, like Vilsack, is a strong biotech supporter, head of the House Agriculture Committee, and a man who categorized organic consumers as "dumb" last year. Organic Bytes readers sent Peterson several thousand irate letters in response to his putdown of organic food and farming. You can read some of these letters

Last week OCA delivered a petition with 10,000 signatures to Obama's Transition Team in Washington, asking him to take a strong stand in support of organic food and farming. We also posted on our website a list of other progressive candidates for high-level USDA positions, including Jim Riddle, a national organic farmer leader, Texas populist Jim Hightower, Tom Buis from the National Farmers Union, and Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. You can read the profiles of some of these possible USDA appointees

Thursday, December 4, 2008

In praise of deformed veggies

A few weeks ago, the European Union, in its infinite wisdom, lifted a ban on "ugly fruit and produce." Now, I am a self-described socialist, but even I think this is an example of government going too far. I mean, why on earth would you ban weird-looking food to begin with, as long as it is otherwise perfectly okay? For one thing, there's no excuse to waste food when so many people are dealing with food insecurity, not to mention out and out starvation in less fortunate parts of the world. And for another thing, weird-looking food is cool and makes for great conversations. Think of all those Virgin Mary sightings in potato chips or (insert your favorite food of choice here).

To celebrate this long overdue turn of events, I wanted to share these pictures. The Siamese potato is from our garden, and the carrot pants we found at the Hollywood Farmer's Market. The carrot knots we grew our first year gardening, before we figured out the whole thinning thing.

I should add that I've never seen carrot knots for sale anywhere, presumably because any gardener worth his or her salt would know how to grow carrots properly. Still, they're perfectly good carrots, and once we cut them up they tasted fine. Besides, they look too bizarre not to share.

Goodbye to all that

I've been meaning to post these pictures for over a month, but various deadlines, travel and holidays have sucked my time away.

During the spring, summer and early fall I like to shop at two different farmer's markets: on Wednesday mornings I went downtown to the market on Park and Salmon, just behind the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, and on Saturdays Sweetie and I would ride our bikes to the Hollywood Farmer's Market. I got to know several of the vendors at both places, and now that they have both closed for the season and won't reopen again til April or May, I am feeling a bit wistful. There are still two farmer's markets open in Portland; the flagship market at Portland State on Saturdays and the Hillsdale Market, which is bi-weekly and year-round. They are good markets too, but since I have to go so far out of my way to get to them (esp. Hillsdale, which is almost ten miles from my house), they don't feel like "my" market.

Here are some pics from the Weds. Salmon Street market and the Saturday Hollywood market:

This is Lyle Stanley of Gee Creek Farm in Ridgefield, Washington. I know him from the Jewish community (he used to be a member of my shul awhile back). He's a mensch. His broccoli's not bad, either.

Simon Sampson, a native Columbia River fisherman who sells salmon, either whole or in roast-sized chunks. I've never eaten tastier salmon. They have a fresh, wild tang that you don't get when you buy in a store.

A street busker who was happy to oblige my request for a movement from one of the Bach Cello Suites (unlike the sax player who was usually there, who kept playing Barry Manilow and MacArthur Park. Oy.)

This is Dave, of Copper Crown Fine Foods, who makes fantastic pestos and chutneys; my favorite is his Hawaiian pesto, which has little bits of pineapple in it. Delicious. If you check out the link, you'll see he does catering as well; check him out! I think he's done with the markets for the season (pesto is seasonal, after all), but he'll be back in the spring.

Pesto closeup. He usually has a garlic chive, a Thai basil and a few weekly specialties.

Here are pictures of the Hollywood Market:

This is the Village Crepery operating out of what I call their Crepemobile, a funky International truck that's got to be at least as old as I am. They usually have a larger stand and people will wait six deep in line for one of their crepes. They're worth it, too. Watching them make the crepes is half the fun.

Sweetie with our crepes. Mine was spinach, tomato, mozzarella, basil and a squirt of creme fraiche. Hers was more of a breakfast crepe; I forget what was in it, but they're all delicious.

Spring seems very far away...