Tag Archives: globalism

Where Your Purchases and Information Come From

“This Headline Is Irrelevant” will never make the front page. The evening news will not say, “Tonight’s top story, Nothing to Report.” You’ll get a lot of “news” about sports, and “Muslim Rage”, but never, “Government Forsakes Tax Payer Interests to Bail Out Acme Corporation” or “Tonight’s top story, our senior business correspondent, fired for investigating our major sponsor”. Likewise, products that admit “may contain nuts” will never admit “may contain cocoa harvested by captive runaway children”.

Spring Meadows Farm

Spring Meadows Farm

If you want legitimate information, you have to get it from the horse’s mouth. So I visited some animals and their farmers two weeks ago on Open Farm Day in New Brunswick. On two farms, I saw turkeys and chickens move about freely in open pens that were not spacious but not overcrowded. I saw pigs that were happy as pigs in…sod (that’s what they’re happy to be in). They ran to me like any family dog would, then scurried off and played. A week later, returning from the farmers market, I ate bacon that came from one of their cousins, smoked by the articulate, charismatic, happy-but-overworked (his words) young farmer with whom I spoke both on the farm and at the market.

Kingston Farmers Market

Kingston Farmers Market, New Brunswick

Another thing I saw on Open Farm Day was grass fed cattle. (Contrary to a popular myth, Canadian cattle can be raised exclusively on their natural diet of grass and hay year round; they just can’t graze in the pasture all year. The alleged “need” to feed beef cattle with corn—which they cannot easily digest, like making a lactose-intolerant person live on milk—is just a way to fatten them up in two years instead of three.) The four dozen cattle grazing in the field were as happy as cattle grazing in a field. The young ones, about 15 of them, were in a barn lined up almost shoulder to shoulder. The barn was clean and quiet, the air was fresh, the young cattle had fresh water and hay. What was distressing was that they were on very short tethers. For their first season, they can do nothing but stand up and lie down. The intelligent and personable farmer explained in plain and unapologetic terms that they are being shielded from pests (horseflies) and predators (coyotes) until they are grown. “We’d take them out for a walk every day if we could, but there are only two of us,” she said. “In the spring, they’ll be out in the pasture with the rest of them.” For a dog or a cat to be chained up like that for a year would be torture. But these are not pets. Compared to conditions for industrial cattle, such treatment is luxury. My first thought was, It’s so unfair. But I looked the cows and the farmers in the eye and, despite my sentimental misgivings, I felt that these were not conditions of cruelty and I did not feel the urge to return to vegetarianism.

If only we could all have such immediate access to the origins of all products we consume. To be able to drive an hour from home and see the very starting point of any item you pick up off the store shelf downtown, and form your own conclusions about how well the system is working. But for most people and most products, going to the source is not so easy. Where, then, do you get your information?

Around 1994, attending a presentation at UNBSJ discussing the emerging World Wide Web, I asked if it could be a reliable source of useful information. The presenter told me it would take time, but he believed it would gradually become a powerful resource.

My immediate reaction upon first reading about Twitter (back when I used to discover things on my own rather than through Facebook, to which I remember having a similar initial reaction) was, “What the hell is the point of that?” But as Oscar Wilde said, “The value of the telephone is the value of what two people have to say.” Although it is damningly faint praise, I can now say that a few minutes on Twitter supplies me with wide ranging information of significantly greater importance and interest than does “the news”.

People who have something valuable to say are finding each other. And, having been away from my own blog for some time, (the rewriting of my novel is going well, thank you), I was pleased to once again find something on my own—an increasingly rare occurrence—while looking for something to read in French.

http://alternatives.blog.lemonde.fr/2012/09/29/sourcemap-le-wiki-qui-simplifie-la-conception-des-produits/

This blog post introduced me to Sourcemap, “the crowdsourced directory of supply chains”. A project of MIT’s Tangible Media Group, Sourcemap “is a social network built around supply chains, enabling collective engagement with where things come from and what they are made of.” Something starts out as some project which then begins to attract a handful of geeks and enthusiasts, and then one day is suddenly indispensable, a tool which becomes to shopping (and selling) as a seat belt is to driving. People are becoming increasingly conscious of the harms their spending can be connected to.

A rant about fair-trade bananas or chocolate gets a pretty small audience. But responsible consumerism may become something in which everyone partakes as a matter of course once it becomes possible to confirm, as easily as checking the weather forecast, whether the thing you are planning to buy is produced under inhumane conditions, grown in night soil, derived from unsustainable sources, or shipped from thousands of kilometres away when a local, ethical, sustainable option might be available.

sourcemap showing sources of laptop

A Sourcemap showing sources of laptop components

With the “era of traceability” now upon us, participating in unsustainable and unethical consumerism is becoming increasingly inexcusable. Even here in backwards old New Brunswick, I am finding with no effort such things as fair-trade chocolate chips and local, grass-fed beef, at multiple locations and reasonable prices (no more expensive than the same products in fancy-ass Toronto where everything other than rent is generally cheaper than on the east coast).

sourcemap reveals shared problem of bottle shipping

Sourcemap shows shared shortcoming of shipping

Take a look, get involved. We can bring meaning to the phrase “guilt-free shopping”. Where did the parts of this computer come from? Where will they go when it is recycled? Who made your T-shirt and where was the cotton grown? Sourcemap is still a work in progress, and it may not dazzle you yet, but watch out. You may soon forget what life was like without it.

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Drop That Banana! Doleful Story of Corporate Malice and Control of Media

Bananas!* (2009) is a documentary about Dole food company being found liable, in an LA courtroom in 2007, for malice and misconduct. No surprise, they got that reversed. (Yeah, like a group of poisoned banana farmers from Nicaragua could win against a billion dollar multinational. Disney puts all the happy endings in their movies, not in their news programs.)

Bananas!* At Any Cost?

Just as Bananas!* was set to open at the LA Film Festival, Dole threatened to sue everyone involved in the production and presentation of the film. Plucky Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten decided that, if they were going to sue him and try to silence his film, he would capture it all on film. The result is the nail-biting and inspiring new film Big Boys Go Bananas!* (2011).

Big Boys Go Bananas!*

As I sat down to watch my reviewer’s copy of the film, a friend offered me a banana. “Is it Dole?” She thought it might be Chiquita. I lamented (whined, blew hot air), “That’s no better.” I prefer my banana growers unpoisoned and fairly paid. As described in the film Big Boys Go Bananas!*, (and reminiscent of stories of corporate news-hijacking discussed in another fine new doc, Shadows of Liberty) Chiquita got an apology from the Cincinnati Enquirer for its 18-page 1998 exposé of how “Chiquita exposed entire communities to dangerous U.S.-banned pesticides, forced the eviction of an entire Honduran village at gunpoint, suppressed unions and paid a fortune to U.S. politicians to influence trade policy.”

Dan Koeppel, journalist and author of Banana: The Fate of The Fruit That Changed The World, says in Big Boys Go Bananas!* “We have an astounding lack of curiosity, the journalism community in the US; a lack of skepticism.”

During the Hot Docs film festival earlier this month, I interviewed the unassuming Gertten. I asked him what he made of this lack of curiosity. Gertten told me his Canadian producer of Bananas!*, Bart Simpson (also of The Corporation), “couldn’t get people interested in this story. [People thought it was]…too heavy… too much …Maybe it’s too dangerous.”

What has changed since Bananas!* [the first film] came out?

In my own country they say that Fair Trade bananas has more than doubled. In that sense, the Fair Trade farmers have better conditions than before. The conventional bananas are produced as they have always been produced, under a cloud of chemicals—one third of the production costs of conventional bananas is for chemicals. So my film, in that sense, hasn’t changed anything for the banana workers. What I did for the banana workers in Nicaragua is, they have fought for a long time to tell their stories to the world. I told their story.

Are things like the Occupy movement and Fair Trade making an impact?

The people who created the financial crisis are still in power…My new film is partly about the PR industry…When a big corporation has a PR crisis, they do everything they can to turn the story around. Can you imagine how much the banks are spending on PR over the last five years! And you can’t follow that money. Because, you read an op-ed in a big newspaper here in Toronto signed by some professor; that op-ed could be written by some PR company and paid for by a bank. And everybody’s hunting away with their microphones to interview the professor, but he’s actually just sending out a paid message from the most powerful people in the nation. And if we could follow that money, if the PR business was transparent, we could see, “OK yeah, but you’re talking—these guys are paying you.” Then we would listen to him in a different way. And that doesn’t happen. So, in these times when journalists are losing self-confidence and losing jobs, and the PR industry is growing and making more money than ever, I think we need to legislate about transparency. If they don’t want to be transparent by free will, then we have to ask for it.

Both films are playing in Toronto this week at Bloor Cinema.

For more information on the films, see http://www.bananasthemovie.com/ and http://www.bigboysgonebananas.com/about

Please read the published portion of my interview for more about why Gertten thinks a documentary about a banana company might be considered “dangerous”. Post City www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Do/May-2012/Now-playing-Indie-filmmaker-Fredrik-Gertten-takes-on-food-giant-Dole-He-tells-us-why/

Now go enjoy a Fair Trade banana.

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Filed under communication and media, conscious consumption, documentary, fair trade, film reviews

No pianos have been built in Toronto in 35 years, but it doesn’t have to stay that way

No pianos have been built in Toronto in 35 years, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

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Marshall McLuhan, the Original M’n’M

Marshall McLuhan, the father of communications and media studies – the guy who looked at TV and pointed out, ‘This is going to change us, and TV is only the beginning’ – would have been 100 on July 21st. This year the world is celebrating his legacy with McLuhan 100. And what a perfect time to look into what that’s all about, as major cities around the world are participating in Social Media Week.

The Original M’n’M

In the 1960s at the University of Toronto, McLuhan’s explorations into the implications of mass media for the society that uses it gained global attention for himself and for Toronto. The ‘Darwin of communications and media’, Marshall McLuhan was born in Edmonton in 1911 and died in Toronto in 1980, decades before the Internet and video cellphones with GPS came along. McLuhan had his moment in history, but his legacy lives on. What would he say of this 24/7, LOL, Twittering, Facebooking, Googling, blogosphering, iPhoning world, other than “Told you so!” And if he said more than that, would he be understood? Following are two phrases that McLuhan’s name immediately brings to mind.

The Medium is the Message:

What does that mean? It means the information you are reading right now is as much about the Internet as it is about the subject matter (McLuhan). The significance of that is, if you have an opinion about what you are reading here you can leave a comment (please do) and if someone has an opinion about your opinion, they can comment further (please do). What you see on TV news or read in a newspaper or encyclopaedia is static and might have shades of a lecture or propaganda, but you can turn what are reading here into a dialogue. The message of this medium is that you can share your own message here.

When McLuhan’s manuscript for his work “The Medium is the Message” came back from the printer with the cover reading The Medium is the Massage, he choose to leave it like that because there is truth in that typo.

Global Village:

In explaining his phrase “global village”, McLuhan said that, for better or for worse, the ability for everyone in the world to communicate with each other instantaneously means that everyone’s business becomes everyone else’s business; privacy goes out the window and we’re all stuck with each other.

On the other hand, since we’re stuck with each other on this planet anyway, shouldn’t we be communicating with one another?

Two events happening in Toronto this weekend come to mind. The Go Global expo lets you explore dozens of ways to see the world, for work, study or adventure. While world travel these days is almost as easy as getting a tank of gas (at about the same cost), you can also let the world come to you by attending the European Day of Languages events being held at Alliance Française on Friday, or find a language group or ex-pat group around town on www.meetup.com (in Toronto, check out Toronto Babel!, or stay at home and chat online with people anywhere in the world. “Love thy neighbour” no longer refers just to the people on your street.

For more on McLuhan from a Toronto perspective, please click here  (< McLuhan knew this kind of thing would happen).

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Here Comes My Big Brother: Robert J. Sawyer’s Wonder

Robert J Sawyer‘s 20th novel Wonder is being launched in Toronto tomorrow and will be in book stores on April 5th.

ROBERT J. SAWYER  Photo Credit: Christina Molendyk
ROBERT J. SAWYER Photo Credit: Christina Molendyk

Since 2008, I have been attending talks by Sawyer in Moncton, Montreal and Toronto, on a range of topics covering writing, publishing, science and philosophy.

I recently interviewed him for the second time. The first time was at the beginning of his WWW trilogy about the World Wide Web spontaneously becoming self-aware; this time his trilogy is concluded. Please read my article Here Comes My Big Brother: Robert J. Sawyer’s Wonder posted at AE The Canadian Science Fiction Review

or for a very abbreviated version of the interview please read http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Do/March-2011/Wonder-lust-Robert-J-Sawyer-launches-his-latest-novel/ at www.PostCity.com (where you may encounter more of my writings).

Wake

Wake

Watch

Watch

Wonder

Wonder

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More to Indian Food: Vij’s

Here’s a taste of my interview with Chef Vikram Vij, who was on hand yesterday at Toronto’s All the Best Find Foods in its tasty new space at 1101 Yonge Street:


There is no vindaloo in your first book Vij’s: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine. Did you just run out of room?

[Laughs] You’ll never find that. You’ll never find butter chicken either…Why would I do vindaloo or chicken tikka masala or chicken korma? That’s like if someone opens a North American restaurant in India, a pancake restaurant, and then everyone thinks all that North Americans eat is pancakes. Unfortunately, many Indian restaurants have almost the same menu. But if you go into Indian homes, people always use different flavours and make different dishes. And that’s the beautiful thing about our cooking. We have the largest “democracy of food”; you can do whatever the hell you want and get away with it!

 

 

M Read the rest at http://www.postcity.com/Eat-Shop-Do/Eat/March-2011/Chef-Vij-hits-up-TO-gives-props-to-Kennedy-McEwan-and-Dooher/.

More coming at PostCity.com.

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Social Media Week is Here! Toronto, Rome, Paris, São Paulo, Istanbul, London, Hong Kong, New York, San Francisco

Social Media Week has begun! 2011 February 7 – 11

I was late coming to the world of social media, but I have high hopes for the good things we can do with it. By the time I found out about Social Media Week, the following Toronto event was filled up, but that’s OK. I can still do… I don’t know, something!

  • Social for Social Good – the power, politics and potential of ideas and causes to change the world

Organizations and individuals from all sectors are working together in ways they’ve never before.  Ideas are being created, adapted and recreated again.  And, it’s all happening in the accelerated and deregulated environment of social media. We invite you to a conversation on the opportunities, challenges and best practices at the intersection of big ideas and social media.

This afternoon I did go to

  • Educ@te Me: Social Media and Higher Learning

A joint program by the Ted Rogers School of Retail Management and the School of Fashion at Ryerson University, this event will be produced by Ryerson students as part of their coursework and will explore:

•    the use of social media in the classroom;
•    how social media is being used at Ryerson to bridge the gap between industry and higher education;
•    how social media is being used for student recruitment.

What would you expect from that? I wasn’t the only one who thought it would be about education, but it was pretty much about marketing to students. Too bad, business heads, I learned a few useful things anyway!

 

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