23 June 2009

A “How to eat organic and not feel like a Buddhist monk” guide

Somebody asked me to write a How-to-eat-organic-and-not-feel-like-a-Buddhist-monk guide. Firstly, I must admit that my knowledge of Buddhist lifestyles is almost non-existent – apart from the fact that some live under extreme religious and political suppression, wear bright colours and have shiny bald heads! There is much more to this deep and rich cultural and religious group, but that is not the discussion here and I will leave the Buddhists alone for now.

But to the thing I know a bit about, eating organic – eating organic is not for extreme tree-huggers! It’s for those people who are not happy with the idea of eating produce that is laced with potentially harmful pesticides and chemicals – that may or may not cause strange deformities in our offspring – but I’m not taking any chances.

There are different grades of organic, and depending where in the world you are, different standards that are enforced – but generally you want to be looking for non-chemically treated, fresh or minimally processed food. Organic foods have been proven to contain a higher percentage of nutrients, taste better and have positive benefits on the environment and the people who farm them.

Now, while some sceptics may see organic food as the stuff that uber-cool too-bored-to-do-anything-better-people from Sandton buy at Woolies, it’s not! Depending where you live, there are small farmers close by that sell fresh produce – that’s the kind of organic that I support. Small scale farmers are increasingly being supported by sustainable development initiatives, and buying their produce is both good for our health as well as the broader well-being of our communities.

Growing your own food is also a good idea. While it’s possible to perhaps even totally live off your own produce, my humble little garden is only the size on an old tyre. Currently growing spinach, basil and kale (a type of cabbage), all I do is water it with collected rain water daily and harvest as I need to. Once the weather improves, I hope to get another tyre set up next to it and get the carrots, coriander and chilli growing.

Baking your own bread is healthier, tastier, cheaper and much more fun that buying the boring sliced loaf from the supermarket. I will soon share some recipes and tips on bread baking and will also explain a simple way of making your own delicious and cheap yoghurt. I don’t know if the bread or yoghurt we get from the supermarket is organic or not – our home made variety is just better!

Back to the swanky boutique store organic produce – perhaps the biggest issue is weighing the pros and cons of, for example, an organic apple grown miles away and transported to me and the local apple that is not totally organic! The organic apple is perhaps healthier, but it causes more damage to the environment because it travels so far. The easy answer is to check first where the organic food you buy is actually produced and, unless your life depends on it, don’t buy it. The world is suffering because of our desires to eat apples during orange season and we need to be more aware of the unintended consequences of our actions.

Which brings me to our consumption habits in general – we consume too much, in terms of food as well as all the packaging that comes with it and ends up in rubbish dumps. The amount of kitchen waste that can be added to a compost heap is amazing – and these days it takes little effort to recycle glass, paper, cardboard and cans.

P.S. There is currently a Recycle Week campaign running from Monday 22 – Sunday 28 June - www.recyclenow.com

20 June 2009

Book review – Tell me no lies.

Tell Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs edited by John Pilger

John Pilger presents a collection of almost 30 articles from journalists and writers who have either witnessed first-hand or carried out investigations into the most fascinating, shocking, horrible and, at times, simply unbelievable events of the past few decades. Himself a seasoned and fearless journalist, he pays tribute to those he calls ‘the greatest practitioners of the craft’ of journalism. As a student of journalism, and an eager incumbent, it will be difficult to view the role of journalists through traditional lenses again. This book remembers the heroes who made personal sacrifices, went beyond what was expected and took risky steps to “not only keep the record straight, but to hold those in power to account”.

Every single article in this book is gripping and, being historically recent, those events that I have a vague memory or recollection of are simply fascinating –Max du Preez on Apartheid’s Death Squads, Robert Fisk on Israeli sponsored atrocities in Lebanon, Anna Politkovskaya on the war in Chechnya, Linda Melvern’s investigation into the Rwanda genocide, the never-ending deaths of children in Iraq and Gaza – these are all events that I have lived through and now struggle to understand how they happened in this modern era, while I was growing up, schooling and getting on with life.

Not all are gruesome war stories – Jessica Mitford exposes the multi-million dollar funeral parlour scam, Edward Murrow challenges the propaganda of Senator McCarthy, Seumas Milne covers the smear campaign against British labour union leaders. These are just some of the examples of why good investigative journalism is ever more vital today.

This book is important for all. For those that are journalists or serve some role in the media, reading this will be a clear reminder of the role that needs to be filled. For those that are consumers of media (which is most of us that can read), this is an example of what we should be demanding from our journalists. For those that can’t access the media, who can’t read or can’t speak out – either because they are being prevented from doing so actively or passively – this book is an example of what is needed for liberation.

Appendix – snippets of my favourite chapters:

Martha Gellhorn, Dachau, 1945 – Gellhorn is an American war reporter who writes about a Nazi death camp that she reported from at the end of World War 2. She gives a gripping account of the spine-chilling horrors that occurred in the camp. Lest we forget.

Wilfred Burchett, The Atomic Plague, 1945 – “I write this as a warning to the world…’ started Burchett’s story on the Hiroshima. Being the first news correspondent to enter Hiroshima after the atomic bombing, this story came to be described as the “scoop of the century”. He detailed the horrible after effects of the H-bomb that he witnessed firsthand, but the Americans authorities denied this and sealed the area, preventing any other journalists to get in. History eventually told the truth about the events in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Lest we forget.

Edward R. Murrow, The Menace of McCarthyism, 1947-54 – Pioneered a form of broadcast journalism that he called ‘being there’. The transcripts of some of his broadcasts, from a programme called See It Now are published. He exposed the anti-communist witch hunt of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Reading the transcripts after a glance at the picture of Murrow in the book, one can actually hear the bellowing force of his voice.

Jessica Mitford, The American Way of Death, 1963 – In this well researched and meticulously recorded investigation into the ‘death industry’ in North America, Mitford exposes what has become a multi-million dollar industry. The family or friends of a deceased, at a most emotional time, are lied to and deceived into spending obscene amounts of money for what is dishonestly called ‘law of the funeral.’

James Cameron, Through the Looking-Glass, 1966 – Cameron was the first Western journalist to report from the North Vietnam during the American attacks there in 1965. He was accused of being a ‘conduit for the North Vietnam Communists’ but claimed that he recorded and reported on the diverse people in North Vietnam. His account told a very different story from that being reported by other journalists who were in the south, concentrating on the battlefield being won or lost. Cameron instead, looked at the people of Vietnam who faced the most sustained aerial bombardment in the history of warfare.

Seymour M. Hersh, The Massacre at My Lai, 1970 – Hersh uncovered the story of a massacre in a Vietnamese village, My Lai, that the US Army was trying to keep out of the newspaper. Up to 500 women, children and old men were systematically murdered on 16 March 1968 by American soldiers in a few hours. Hersh interviewed those involved and repaints a graphic picture of what happened on that horrid day.

Max du Preez and Jacques Pauw, Exposing Apartheid’s Death Squads, 1988-94 – Max du Preez founded the Vrye Weekblad, the only Afrikaans newspaper to oppose Apartheid. For this, he was subjected to abuse, persecuted, threatened and eventually sued until the paper was forced to close down. He and Pauw reflect on their experiences of investigating and exposing Apartheid’s death squads. They uncovered the stories and risked their lives trying to protect their sources and spread the truth of the atrocities of the Apartheid government.

Paul Foot, The Great Lockerbie Whitewash, 1989-2001 – Foot died as the book was getting published and Pilger dedicates the book to his memory. He covered the saga of the Lockerbie bombings in 1989 that carried on, down a windy track until 2001. He reveals what appears to be a massive cover-up by American and British authorities, finally ending in a theatrical court case that pegged a Libyan national as the scapegoat of an obviously much wider conspiracy.

Robert Fisk, Terrorists, 1990/2001 – Fisk is a journalistic legend and is hailed as one of the greatest modern war correspondents. He gives a firsthand account of being one of the first journalists (as well as human beings) to stumble upon the massive Israeli sponsored killing fields of Sabra and Chatila in Lebanon. He describes the bodies of children, women and the elderly that were still warm when he and other journalists found them. He then describes how the Israeli propaganda ensured that those ultimately guilty have still not been brought to justice for these atrocities.

Seumas Milne, The Secret War against the Miners, 1994 – Dubbed by Pilger as “one of the finest political exposes in our time”, Milne’s essay provides a thorough and in-depth look into an astonishing smear campaign against the leader of the Britain’s National Union of Mineworkers, Arthur Scargill. The mainstream media, British intelligence, politicians and even Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher are implicated in this sinister plot to discredit a man who came to wield significant popular support in the fight for workers rights.

Amira Hass, Under Siege, 1996 – An Israeli correspondent for the Ha’aretz newspaper, Hass did in 1993 what no Israeli journalist had ever done – she went to live and report from the ‘open air prison’ of the Gaza Strip. Living in such close proximity to each other, Palestinians and Israelis live such different lives that they could be living on two different planets. She, an Israeli whose parents moved to Israel after surviving the Nazi persecution, describes the Israeli’s “extremely sophisticated method of restraint, reminiscent of Apartheid” under which millions of Palestinians are forced to live.

Philip Knightley, The Thalidomide Scandal: Where We Went Wrong, 1997 – By the time it was discovered in 1961 that thalidomide was responsible for abnormalities in foetuses, over 8000 deformed children had been born throughout the world. Knightley reminisces on his experiences as a journalist trying to expose the cover up by the corporations, health officials and so many within the legal profession.

16 June 2009

16 June 2009 (little has changed in 2 years..)

Hector Pieterson (1964 – 16 June 1976) became the iconic image of the 1976 Soweto uprising in apartheid South Africa when a news photograph of the dying Hector being carried by a fellow student, was published around the world. He was killed at the age of 12 when the police opened fire on protesting students. For years, June 16 stood as a symbol of resistance to the brutality of the Apartheid government.

Today, it is known as National Youth Day — a day on which South Africans honour young people and bring attention to their needs. Let us not forget that Apartheid that still exists. The Apartheid under which the Palestinian Hector Pietersons are being killed.

Lest we forget...

A recycled blogpost from 16 June 2007 - pic courtesy of peace and quite

05 June 2009

Happy World Environment Day

A version of this article was first published on www.ramadan.co.za - given that Ramadan is less than 3 months away, and today is World Environment Day, thought it would be a good idea to share this again:


With Ramadan on our doorsteps, the lectures and advices in Mosques, on the radios and even on the internet will be reminding us of the great virtues of fasting and of all the spiritual and physical aspects of this great month. And while we may occasionally be reminded of the effect of certain foodstuffs on our health, we may be surprised to find little being discussed about human hunger and poverty, deforestation, global warming and numerous other global/social issues. How are any of these relevant to the Month of Ramadan? Due to the fact that the amount of meat we consume has implications reaching further than we can imagine.

While beef consumption is said to play a major role in the development of heart disease, strokes, and cancer, the over-consumption of beef is being increasingly labelled as a major cause of human hunger and poverty, deforestation, global warming and numerous other global/social issues.

More than one third of the grain produced in the world is fed to cattle and other livestock. The fact that more than a billion people around the world could receive proper nourishment if all this agricultural land was used to grow food for human consumption, rather than livestock, is clearly not widely known.

With the current food crisis (being labelled by some as the Silent Tsunami) wreaking havoc across the globe, you may be shocked by these facts, but similar events have occurred in our recent past: at the height of the 1984 famine in Ethiopia, some of its agricultural land was being used to produce grains for export- to feed livestock in Europe.

The building up of various gases in the atmosphere, blocks heat from escaping the planet, and is expected to cause a global climate change of catastrophic proportions. Grain-fed cattle are a significant factor in the generation of three major gases – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. The burning of the world’s forests for cattle pasture has released billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. The over 1.3 billion livestock in the world annually release some 60 million tons of methane through their digestive systems. Moreover, to produce the feed requires the use of fertilizers which emit vast amounts of nitrous oxide.

Eight kilos of grain is used to produce each kilo of meat. While in Africa, nearly one in three people is undernourished. In Latin America, nearly one out of every seven people goes to bed hungry each night. In Asia and the Pacific, 22 percent of the people live at the edge of starvation. In the Near East, one in nine is underfed. So consider that these stats could be reduced by around seven for every burger meal that we eat.

Now for the chicks- celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, has managed to cause quite a stir in the UK with his expose on battery chickens, Jamie’s Fowl Dinners.
But groupie mentality aside (I’m not a fan of the glorified cook), there is a tragic tale to be told. Rather being allowed to roam freely, choosing from a salad board provided by grass, herbs, insects and tree fodder, chickens are ‘grown’ in boxes these days- under the most disgusting conditions. Yet again, how many consumers are aware of the suffering of the birds and the extremely poor quality of the meat?

Mass poultry production as a whole poses serious health and environmental hazards, with the ammonia and other chemicals found in the feed. In addition, the amount of energy used to transport and process this billion dollar industry, make it hard to justify the obscene amounts of chicken dishes that litter our iftaar tables.

So, I am not on a crusade (jihad has become a loaded term;P) to convert the masses into salad munchers- the main objective of sharing this is to try and remind us that we need to be conscientious shoppers. We need to have critical minds and consider all the implications of our purchases, and taking this line of thinking to its end, our daily actions and decisions as a whole.

If you believe the claims made above, and now know that kids in poor areas around the world are dying due to the shortage of basic foodstuff, perhaps you will not want to eat huge portions of meat every day of Ramadan- maybe you will start cutting down and encourage others to do the same. One of the most effective ways that you, as an individual, can do your part to reduce human hunger, poverty, and global warming is to reduce your consumption of animal products.

For me, it’s not so much about not eating meat- what I try to do, and would like to encourage others to do, is to have a critical mind. Know what you are buying and the effects that your purchase has- all the way back to the source of the ingredients! While it may sound impractical and over the top, it takes a little bit of research and thought and you will know whether the coffee farmers behind your cappuccino and being exploited, whether your avocados were grown on land stolen from Palestinians or whether peasants in Paraguay were killed to ensure the demand for GM soy beans was met!

So no, I’m not a vegetarian- I do eat meat. But I make it a very rare occasion when I do this- usually when a guest in someone’s home (Which I am hoping is going to be fairly often this Ramadan). But I still make known the facts noted above. And if it’s chicken, it must be a chicken that has been allowed to roam the earth freely and live a good life. Yes, I only eat happy chicken.