Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Be careful which seeds you water…

Over the last two sessions of the Saturday morning Citizens Academy we’ve had ardent discussions about the U.S. consumer culture and food purchasing. Readings described our current economic model, based upon consumer spending, and we lauded local alternatives—Grindstone Farms Organic delivery, Ithaca dollars, the expanding barter network—as well as issuing a lament that derided the confusing and probably confabulated explosion of “digestive disorders” among female yogurt consumers (aggressively marketed probiotics--didn’t yogurt always have probiotics?) that then leapfrogged to the scourge of ED among the mature male population (Who would have “thunk” our national eating epidemic might connect the dots from atherosclerosis to circulatory disorders to ED?!).

The rising tide of contamination in the water supply roiled the collective group stomach, and there seemed to be no sop to the corrupt confluence of hormones, pesticides and herbicides polluting the planet.

Always seeking (and seeing) convergence, I was struck by the recent Ken Burns documentary on the National Park System, and how good and judicious planning (sustainability?) has played a role over time in the formation of this majestic resource. Obviously, some remarkable maneuverings in our collective national history conspired to “water these seeds…”and for the most part, in this example--sustainably—we appear to have “got it right.” In that same film, Frederick Law Olmstead (father of American Landscape Architecture, designer of Central Park) advocated that “in a place as special as Yosemite, ‘the rights of posterity’ were more important than the desires of the present. He called for strict regulations to protect the landscape from anything that would harm it and stressed the importance of making Yosemite accessible to everyone….”

It all begs the important question: “What are the rights of posterity?”

Thinking of this, lately, it strikes me that an element of green-washing has colluded to co-opt our Native American intellectual heritage. Everywhere, we hear the “seventh generation” maxim, and at keynote after keynote some (typically) “majority population” emcee rolls out this tired salvo to perform like a precocious savant for the expectant crowd till the original force is nearly diluted beyond meaning.

Admittedly, it’s a great barometer. But if as some statistics estimate the top ten in demand jobs today didn’t even exist ten years ago, how do we begin to talk about seven generations from now? The Citizens Academy group, while noting the imperative, recoiled from the magnitude of pondering so many years out. The operative question then became collectively, and fundamentally, locally: “What will we each do in this next week…and what will we do today?”

Some members decided to purchase more organic produce, others to eat more mindfully. Others still, to do a better job deciding what they really need vis-à-vis what they really want. Some thought a more frequent trek to the Best Kept Secret for a clothing purchase might stem their collusion with “consumerism.” Others decided—no more bottled water, while a remaining few decided just to learn more about what really constitutes “organic.” All decided to water new seeds…while consciously thinking of the rights of future generations.
-Thad Mantaro, SUNY Oswego

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