South End Press

We Are What We Eat

The following is an excerpt from Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed edited by Vandana Shiva (South End, 2007).

I am not a scientist, journalist, or other specialist. I sell food. I help run a family-owned and operated neighborhood market and café that buys and sells predominantly local, clean, and sustainable food. I cannot speak about the reality of our food supply around most of the world. I can only can speak of what is happening in the first world, where, unfortunately, only the privileged elite can choose to put real food on their dinner tables.

Lately it seems every mass media newspaper or magazine, from the New York Times to Rolling Stone, has an article digging into the true filth that most food in the U.S. really is. Some people are actually questioning mass produced and monoculture organic food. Even Time magazine proclaimed "Local Is the New Organic" on its cover. Everywhere I turn people tell me that there is a new wind in the U.S.; that people are now concerned about eating local, clean, and sustainable food. From my vantage point in the market, behind the counter, I just don't see it. Yes, in Massachusetts there are more farms today than in the last 20 or so years, but fewer total acres than ever recorded. Farmers markets are becoming popular or perhaps trendy. Chain supermarkets are "listening to their customers" and capitalizing on cheap "organic" food. But the chain-supermarket owners are some of the same people who screwed up our food supply in the first place. How can we trust them?

Outdoor food markets are a mainstay in most cultures in the world and were once a given in our culture. Now most people go there to shop for the luxury food treats (locally grown food) and get their staples at the supermarket. I think that because of the Depression (when there was no money to spend on food) and World War II (when there was rationing and everyone was focused on the war effort) Americans lost their taste-buds. Along came the mass-produced foods of the 1950s at cheap prices. Supermarkets were a "progressive" thing, as suburban living was progressive. Rural culture and production was frowned upon as old-fashioned and primitive. Food from all over the world suddenly became available and at prices lower than local food. Protecting America's foreign interest, the beginning of what we now call globalization, became a new form of colonialism. Foreign resources, raw materials as well as labor, were now easily exploitable by the nation's new superpower status. As the economy grew, money filtered down to the managerial and to some of the working class and was coupled with an influx of cheap products made cheaply and available to most classes of the U.S. Consumerism took off. Our food changed as well, especially with faster transport and technologies trickery to extend the shelf life of food. Seasonal produce became available year round; exotic food (such as bananas and oranges in Boston) became readily available and affordable. Everything was cheaper, the shopping was more convenient, and exotic foods became staples in our diet. Small and local farms shut down or were forced into monoculture farming. A disconnect sprouted between our diets and our food sources. An orange, once a special and rare treat, became an everyday commodity.

Supermarkets are part of mainstream America's identity. Working-class people have little choice but to shop at conventional supermarkets. Middle-class people can shop at places like Whole Foods and appease their consciences with the notion that that food is safer and tastier than conventional supermarket food. And those of the flat earth society -- middle- and upper-class people who do not believe that their climate is changing, that a global market is a bad thing, or that our food systems are in trouble -- favor the conventional supermarket. However, both conventional and progressive supermarkets operate on the same model: mass-produced foods, made cheaply, and sold at cheap prices.

Supermarkets sell commodities. They buy mass-produced food from big business. This model of efficiency, which mirrored the production of things like automobiles and VCRs, is what created the mess our food supply is in. Efficient ordering and deliveries, no seasonal variety of stock, little to no blemishes (whether natural or from human error), significant quantities -- enough to keep all those shelves constantly filled with whatever the customer might want. I describe this model as "I want what I want when I want it," and it goes against everything about food that is local, clean, and sustainable. It cannot be done at a mass level. [...]

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People first bought cheap food because they either did not have enough money or felt like they were beating the system by spending less than they budgeted for food that week. Over time our budgets became based on the price of cheap food, so that now, during the rare moment of seeing real food, the price tag appears exorbitant. Our wages and salaries, our rent and utilities, all are tied to our cheaply priced food.

Many people who can actually afford local, clean, sustainable food buy it only when it is trendy, sold at boutique shops, or for a special occasion. Those from the class which struggles to afford mass-produced food certainly cannot afford the real price of food in the U.S.. One often-overlooked agent of gentrification and, after rent increases, one of the best ways to ruin a neighborhood is by shopping at chain supermarkets. Local neighborhood markets close or survive by becoming convenience stores. Farmers' markets become a trendy place to buy a few novelty items: "Oooh look at this peach. I bought it from a farmer!" Once the small markets are gone, only supermarkets are left. We are so out of touch with the struggle to get food, because of how much cheap food is available in the country, that we do not see a pattern of destruction.

The more we buy mass-produced foods, the more it empowers agro-business and the fewer farms there will be. The more we shop at supermarkets, the fewer neighborhood markets there will be. Already we are almost trapped by agro-business and its sales outlets. Soon, there will be no escape. As it stands right now, only a privileged few can afford real, clean, and sustainable food; soon, even the privileged will have little access to such food. The fewer local farms we have, the more expensive their food becomes and the more difficult it is for local farms to feed the local population. Once the farms are gone, only mass-produced food is left.

Hadley, Massachusetts, is known as having the best asparagus in the world. Though just an hour or so outside of Boston, it is near impossible to find asparagus grown in Hadley in Boston. Futures of the asparagus are sold; mostly to France and Japan, I am told. Instead of a wonderful spring vegetable for a local dish, Hadley asparagus has become a boutique item for other parts of the world. Yet in spring, summer, winter, or fall, asparagus flown in from Peru is half the price of in-season asparagus grown on a family farm in New England. And I must admit it seems a bit shameful to complain about such a situation in the U.S., when so many peoples around the world local resources have been diverted to produce food for Americans.

The late summer is tomato season in New England. The glory of a local tomato salad on a warm summer night in Boston is something which we can only enjoy a couple of months a year. The flavor of our farmers' tomatoes are spectacular. Especially when bought at a local shop or farmers' market, where we actually speak with the people involved in harvesting and distributing our food, people who are part of our community. These tomatoes were not sprayed with anything; the soil was not ruined by chemicals or monoculture farming. These tomatoes traveled only a few dozen miles and were grown outside, thus using only a little energy and creating little pollution. The farmer, part of our community, was deservedly paid and did not exploit anyone or the land. No one was ripped off during the whole transaction, and the tomatoes were available to everyone in Boston during the late summer months.

Yet the rest of the year we still expect to have fresh tomatoes available, and they are called for in many dishes. Fresh tomatoes are considered year-round staples. There is never any questioning tomatoes in March, their integrity or their source. We have become used to hydroponic tomatoes flown in from Mexico or Holland. Instead of focusing our efforts on bringing in tomatoes year-round to Boston, we should focus making the Northeast corridor able to feed itself now and in the future. At the very least, these factory-grown tomatoes do make our local tomatoes taste even more wonderful. We are so used to the mealy, flavorless (or artificially flavored) hydro-tomato that when we taste a real one, it seems so special. This is one reason why local farmers are not perceived as the people who raise our food, but as the producers of specialty items.

Another reason farmers are considered purveyors of specialty foods is their prices. Let us end the idea right now that local, clean, and sustainable foods result in a high profit for the producer and the retailer -- trust me, there is absolutely no money in sustainable food. When food is handled as sustenance -- not as a commodity -- there is little profit to be had. That is why real food is so rare and so hard to come by now. The perverted twist is that it would seem logical that food transported for days around the world would cost more than something fresh and local. But quite the opposite is true. Nobody considers what the true price of real food is. Nobody is outraged that what most working-class people can afford, and even the middle class can afford, is nothing more than mass-produced, cheapened food.

There are, of course, the Whole Foods, Wal-Marts, Trader Joes, and other chain supermarkets trying to sell organic foods. Everyone knows these places are cheaper than local markets and farmers' markets, but rarely do people think about how supermarkets work. People are generally aware of the smaller mark-up chain supermarkets can afford, as compared with an independent neighborhood market, as well as all the corporate capital and funding behind them. But few often think about what is involved in producing enough of a particular food for every shelf of their hundreds or thousands of outlets across the region or country. You can't see the devastating effects of monoculture farming in the sterile and lifeless supermarket. The food looks so perfect and seems so abundant. And with such cheap prices, why ask questions? Sustainable farming does not have the ability to be mass produced; it cannot be sold at the level of a chain supermarkets. Corners must be cut to keep costs low, production must increase to fill the shelves, the laws of nature must be beaten by science to allow for year round production, and if the weather cannot yet be defeated, then the product should be mass-produced and imported from another part of the world.

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Listen, Thanksgiving 2006: Whole Foods Boston was selling a "fully pastured naturally raised" turkey for $1.99/lb. That is painfully cheap. Was it trying to compete with the half-dozen small town turkey farmers still left in Massachusetts or the handful of farmers selling turkeys to their regular customers at the farmers' markets or through community-supported agriculture (CSA)? Probably not. Such consumers of locally raised food still have an appreciation for the tradition of buying a turkey from the same place every year or still get pleasure from buying their turkeys directly from their friend, the farmer, or a neighborhood shop. Whole Foods was trying to compete with the other big supermarkets, who sell cheap food.

Whole Foods (and the supermarkets imitating it) will be the death of the movement for clean, local, and fair food for many reasons, but this is an important one. By dropping the price so low, and using claims and slogans designed not by farmers but by slick salespeople, it has set the expectation that clean food can be as cheap as, or just slightly more expensive than, filthy food. Many people could afford to make the jump from Butterball to a Whole Food bird and, with that jump, assume that the bird was safer, more sustainable, and cleaner. So now any farmer charging a real price is seen as greedy or overpriced. Like Wal-Mart's cheap organic, Whole Foods has cheapened (in integrity, as well as price) naturally raised meats and clean food. It lowers the bar by allowing cheap mass-production and corner-cutting, all to sell cheap food that you think is something it is not. There is tokenistic buying of local food and various labels to suggest a certain quality to the consumer. Because we have so few local farms left, it is easy for a chain supermarket to buy some local food and appear to be supportive of local farms. For most people, this is the easy and convenient way to feel as though they are doing the right thing. But it was the supermarket in the first place that helped reduce the number of farms and transformed our understanding of what local farms are.

Organic food is by no means synonymous with clean food. What should we expect, considering a food supply which is mass-produced will be shipped all over the world? And how did the E. coli get into the spinach? Nobody knows. The apparatus is too big. We are concerned, but we are overwhelmed and more importantly completely removed from our food; we have no idea how to eat locally. I am sure nearly half of Boston goes months without ever eating a single bite of local food.

Are people buying store-brand organics duped or misled? Not exactly. The argument for mass-produced organic food is that at least it is a lesser of two evils. I would agree that mass-produced organic or mass-produced naturally raised is not as bad as mass-produced conventional food, but it is still bad. Are we content with eating bad food? Where is the outrage at choosing between bad and worse? Within the first world, on a day-to-day basis, there is barely a struggle to obtain food. But obtaining clean food is a struggle. And to complicate matters are savvy marketing and confusing legal and nonlegal claims. Do the research on what the USDA allows for the claim "free-range" or "organic." They are by no means what you would expect. To be labeled free-range, the law states only that once a bird is old enough to safely venture outside (fair enough, small chicks are at risk outside to predators, weather, diseases, etc.) that they can be kept inside as long as they have access to the outdoors. Often this means a small hole in the wall leading to a small, lifeless patch of land, which the bird never bothers going out to. And for organic -- just a few hours outdoors (not necessarily free of a cage) and nothing but USDA certified organic feed. Great, but that feed may not be what that animal wants to eat at all. Mass-produced food and monoculture farming does nothing good for the land. It burns it up. It is not sustainable. Organic or conventional -- if it is produced in favor of profit over sustainability it cannot last forever. [...]

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This is our society. A society that has no interest in banning feedlots or the excessive/exclusive feeding of grains, hormones, animal by-products, and antibiotics to cows and seemingly covers up any connection with these practices to E. coli. Worse, our health officials and beef industry leaders come up with a chemical injection to kill possible E. coli and dabble in using pro-biotic injections to make our food "safe." What did you expect? These are the same people who actually believed that forcing cows to be cannibals in confined quarters-which gave us mad-cow disease-for the sake of cheap beef and high profits was not a bad idea. If you could witness how most of our food is produced, you would not eat it; you would be outraged. We are so far removed from our food.

People think that by washing the vegetable with water that all the chemicals are washed off. Even more absurd, many of these same people will buy bottled water because they don't trust the tap water to drink (but they think it is clean enough to rinse their food with?). People don't worry about chemicals possibly absorbed into the food and seeping into the land. People choose shiny fruit covered in wax and pesticide over the uglier, mishapen, dull-colored clean fruit from a farm because they believe it will taste better or is safer. How ludicrous is it when mass-produced food is just called "tomato" or "beef," but real food must be called "NOFA Certified Organic-locally grown on a small, clean, sustainable farm, free of all pesticides heirloom tomato" or "100 percent grass-fed/grass finished, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, animal-by-product-free, fully pastured, naturally raised on a small, local, sustainable family-farm beef." This is a society that has organic corn syrup! There is fair reason to be disgusted and outraged at our current food supply and culture of convenience that has created and perpetuated this mess.

It is nice to believe that eating is a revolutionary act, but sooner or later someone is going to have to call this system out. When a few people start ruining our food, we must take action against those people. When a system has failed, we must change that system. When we are perpetuating that system because of our laziness and lust for convenience, then we must change, or else we will collapse. I cannot think of any point in history when a food supply has been so dangerous. Food's place in our culture and community has faded into cheap traditions. Our planet's fertile land has decayed, been poisoned, and been transformed into factories while we have been too busy and out of touch with our food to notice. The people who know how to use the land to produce food have lost their place on the land, and we did not notice because we no longer know who produces our food. Our food supply is being linked to long-term damage such as heart disease and cancer. And now our food is killing us instantly. Not a week passes it seems that there is not some kind of deadly outbreak. What are you doing about it? We can easily envision a society based on sustainable food; most cultures throughout history have had sustainable farming practices. Basically, Grandma had it right and the progressive supermarkets had it all wrong. We do not necessarily have to turn back the clock and return to an agrarian society, but let's understand what Grandma was doing and realize that she was a lot smarter than we are today. She may not understand the complexities of the internet, but we are the fools who cannot even preserve our summer vegetables so we don't starve in the winter.

We must address the classic American attitude of individuality. Our culture, probably more than any other culture in the world, is based on the individual. Our economic system fuels this individuality. Look at our eating habits. Rather than supporting our community, we buy cheap food from far-away places in chain supermarkets. We do not realize what we are doing to our own community, because we no longer think about our community -- we think only of ourselves. Eating can no longer be an individual act. It is not about whether an individual wants to get fat or die from gluttony.

Antibiotics are becoming less and less efficient as pathogens and virus mutate. It seems clear that this is directly related to the excessive use of antibiotics in our food supply. Roughly 75 percent of all antibiotics in this country are given to our livestock. Again, I am not a scientist, but it seems quite clear that even people who only eat antibiotic-free meats will find their medicine useless, as a mutated virus will resist antibiotic treatment regardless of what kind of meat was eaten. The use of pesticides can be equally harmful to the strict organic eater, as a personal choice at the dinner table can do nothing to stop the chemicals of conventional farms from seeping into the rivers and soil. We should all have a right to eat clean, healthy, and sustainable food. It should be a privilege to eat exotic and out-of-season food. Right now, however, we have the right to eat exotic and out-of-season food, and the privileged few can eat clean, healthy, and sustainable food.

When we fully realize or finally admit the effects of climate change, peak oil, and globalized food as our primary source of food, food from international sources will be more expensive than local food. How do we get back to where local food is normal and affordable, and food from far away is exotic and truly expensive? We have successfully wiped out most of the farms and do not have many farmers left. I can only hope that we can start supporting our local farmers-real support, not the tokenistic once in a while local treat. We must face the reality that urban sprawl must give way to farmland. We must realize that we cannot eat beef every day, but, at least when we do it won't kill us. This will involve spending more of our money, but soon the amount we spend on food will feel normal and not expensive. Americans pay less per capita than anyone else in the world for food.

It should be really easy for privileged people to buy fewer luxury items and spend the same percentage of income as other people in the world do on food, but the same cannot be said for the majority of people in the U.S.. Most people in this country are dependent on their weekly wages and live paycheck to paycheck. Wages are set to allow people to survive so they can show up to work. There is little extra money put into that equation for clean, sustainable food.

We could hope that more farms will appear and there will be more farmers to provide enough real food for everyone at an affordable price. We could hope that supermarkets and agro-business would just take care of the problem for us and magically make good, clean, fair, sustainable food cheap enough to fit into our current model. Or hope that these same businesspeople who have ruined our food supply and who are wrecking our land will take their millions of dollars of profit and happily give it back to the farmers and small producers-people who see food as sustenance, not commodity. But that just is not going to happen.

As our food entered our economic systems it was transformed from sustenance to commodity, and I do not see how we can take it back while maintaining this economic system. We have to ask ourselves what we want, food or our current economic system. We need to realize that our system itself is not sustainable and has failed.

Does Porn Make the Man?

The following is an excerpt from Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity, by Robert Jensen.

King of the Hill

The object of the children's game King of the Hill is to be the one who remains on top of the hill (or, if not an actual hill, a large pile of anything or the center of any designated area). To do that, one has to repel those who challenge the king's supremacy. The king has to push away all the other kids who charge the hill. That can be done in a friendly spirit with an understanding that a minimal amount of force will be used by all, or it can be violent and vicious, with both the king and the challengers allowed to use any means necessary. Games that start with such a friendly understanding can often turn violent and vicious. This scenario is also used in some video games, in which a player tries to control a specific area for a predetermined amount of time.

In my experience, both male and female children can, and did, play King of the Hill, but it was overwhelmingly a game of male children. It's one of the games that train male children to be men. No matter who is playing, it is a game of masculinity. King of the Hill reveals one essential characteristic of the dominant conception of masculinity: No one is ever safe, and everyone loses something.

Most obviously, this King-of-the-Hill masculinity is dangerous for women. It leads men to seek to control "their" women and define their own pleasure in that control, which leads to epidemic levels of rape and battery. But this view of masculinity is toxic for men as well.

One thing is immediately obvious about King-of-the-Hill masculinity: Not everyone can win. In fact, by definition in this conception of masculinity, there's only one real man at any given moment. In a system based on hierarchy, by definition there can be only one person at the top of the hierarchy. There's only one King of the Hill.

In this conception of masculinity, men are in constant struggle with each other for dominance. Every other man must in some way be subordinated to the king, but even the king can't feel too comfortable -- he has to be nervous about who is coming up that hill to get him. This isn't just a game, of course. A friend who once worked on Wall Street, one of the preeminent sites of masculine competition in the business world, described coming to work as like "walking into a knife fight when all the good spots along the wall were taken." Every day you faced the possibility of getting killed -- figuratively, in business terms -- and there was no spot you could stand where your back was covered. This is masculinity lived as endless competition and threat. Whatever the benefits of it, whatever power it gives one over others, it's also exhausting and, in the end, unfulfilling.

No one man created this system. Perhaps no man, if given a real choice, would choose it. But we live our lives in that system, and it deforms men, narrowing our emotional range and depth, and limiting our capacity to experience the rich connections with others -- not just with women and children, but with other men -- which require vulnerability but make life meaningful. The Man Who Would Be King is the Man Who Is Broken and Alone.

That toxic masculinity hurts men doesn't mean it's equally dangerous for men and women. As feminists have long pointed out, there's a big difference between women dealing with the constant threat of being raped, beaten, and killed by the men in their lives, and men not being able to cry. But we can see that the short-term material gains that men get in patriarchy -- the name for this system of male dominance -- are not adequate compensation for what we men give up in the long haul, which is to surrender part of our humanity to the project of dominance.

This doesn't mean, of course, that in this world all men have it easy. Other systems of dominance and oppression -- white supremacy, heterosexism, predatory corporate capitalism -- mean that non-white men, gay men, poor and working-class men suffer in various ways. A feminist analysis doesn't preclude us from understanding those problems but in fact helps us see them more clearly.


What feminism is and isn't to me

Each fall in my seminar class for first-year students at the University of Texas, I lead a discussion about gender politics that will sound familiar to many teachers. I ask the students about their opinions about various gender issues, such as equal pay, sexual harassment, men's violence, and gender roles. Most of the women and some of the men express views that would be called feminist. But when I ask how many identify as feminists, out of the 15 students in any semester, no more than three (always women) have ever claimed the label. When I ask why, the typical answers are not about the political positions of feminism but the perception that feminism is weird and that weird people are feminists.

This pattern is no doubt connected to the assault on feminism in the mainstream culture, captured most succinctly in the phrase "femi-nazi" made popular by right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh. One response to this by some feminists has been to find a least-common-denominator definition of the term, to reassure both men and women that feminism doesn't really aim to undermine established gender norms and isn't threatening to men. I believe that to be the wrong strategy. If feminism is to make a meaningful difference in the sex/gender crisis we face, and contribute to a broader social change so desperately needed, I believe it must be clear in its challenge to the existing order -- and that inevitably will be threatening to many men, at least at first. Feminism, then, should get more radical than ever.

In general, the term "radical" conjures up images of extremes, of danger, of people eager to tear things down. But radical has another meaning -- from the Latin, for root. Radical solutions are the ones that get to the root of the problem. When the systems in which we live are in crisis, the most honest confrontations with those systems have to be radical. At first glance, that honesty will seem frightening. Looking deeper, it is the radical ideas that offer hope, a way out of the crisis.

Because these ideas are denigrated in the dominant culture, it's important to define them. By feminist, I mean an analysis of the ways in which women are oppressed as a class in this society -- the ways in which men as a class hold more power, and how those differences in power systematically disadvantage women in the public and private spheres. Gender oppression plays out in different ways depending on social location, which makes it crucial to understand men's oppression of women in connection with other systems of oppression -- heterosexism, racism, class privilege, and histories of colonial and postcolonial domination.

By radical feminist, I mean the analysis of the ways that in this patriarchal system in which we live, one of the key sites of this oppression -- one key method of domination -- is sexuality. Two of the most well-known women who articulated a radical feminist view have been central to the feminist critique of pornography -- the writer Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon, a lawyer and law professor. The feminist philosophy and politics that have shaped my thinking are most clearly articulated by those two and others with similar views.

What I also learned from this radical feminism is not just a way of critiquing men's domination of women but a broader approach to understanding systems of power and oppression. Feminism is not the only way into a broader critique of the many types of oppression, of course, but it is one important way, and was for me the first route into such a framework. My real political education started on the issue of gender and from there moved to issues of racial and economic injustice, the imperialist wars that flow out of that injustice, and the ecological crisis. Each system of power and oppression is unique in its own way, but there are certain features in common. Here's my summary:

How do we explain the fact that most people's stated philosophical and theological systems are rooted in concepts of justice, equality, and the inherent dignity of all people, yet we allow violence, exploitation, and oppression to flourish? Only a small percentage of people in any given society are truly sociopaths, engaging in cruel and oppressive behavior openly and with relish. Feminism helped me understand the complex process, which tends to work like this:

  • The systems and structures in which we live are hierarchical.
  • Hierarchical systems and structures deliver to those in the dominant class certain privileges, pleasures, and material benefits.
  • People are typically hesitant to give up such privileges, pleasures, and benefits.
  • But, those benefits clearly come at the expense of those in the subordinated class.
  • Given the widespread acceptance of basic notions of equality and human rights, the existence of hierarchy has to be justified in some way other than crass self-interest.
  • One of the most persuasive arguments for systems of domination and subordination is that they are "natural."


So, oppressive systems work hard to make it appear that the hierarchy -- and the disparity in power and resources that flow from hierarchy -- is natural and, therefore, beyond modification. If men are naturally smarter and stronger than women, then patriarchy is inevitable and justifiable. If white people are naturally smarter and more virtuous than people of color, then white supremacy is inevitable and justifiable. If rich people are naturally smarter and harder working than poor people, then economic injustice is inevitable and justifiable. And, if human beings have special status in the universe, justified either on theological or biological grounds, then humans' right to extract from the rest of Creation whatever they like is inevitable and justifiable.

For unjust hierarchies, and the illegitimate authority that is exercised in them, maintaining their own naturalness is essential. Not surprisingly, people in the dominant class exercising the power gravitate easily to such a view. And because of their power to control key story-telling institutions (especially education and mass communication), those in the dominant class can fashion a story about the world that leads some portion of the people in the subordinate class to internalize the ideology.

For me, feminism gave me a way to see through not only male dominance, but all the systems of illegitimate authority. I saw the fundamental strategy they held in common, and saw that if we could more into a space in which we were true to our stated ideals, we would reject those systems as anti-human. All these systems cause suffering beyond the telling. All of them must be resisted. The connections between them must be understood.


Enforcing masculinity

Systems of oppression are interlocked and enmeshed; perhaps the classic example is the way in which white men identify black men as a threat to the sexual purity of white women, requiring white men to maintain control of both black people and white women. While keeping in mind those connections, we can train our attention on how each individual power system operates. This book attempts such a focus on masculinity. The King-of-the-Hill Masculinity I have described is articulated and enforced in a variety of places in contemporary culture, most notably athletics, the military, and business, with underpinnings in the dominant monotheistic religions. We can look at all those arenas and see how masculinity-as-dominance plays out. In all those endeavors, the quality of relationships and human values become secondary to control that leads to victory, conquest, and closing the deal.

We teach our boys that to be a man is to be tough, to be acquisitive, to be competitive, to be aggressive. We congratulate them when they make a tough hit on the football field that takes out an opponent. We honor them in parades when they return from slaughtering the enemy abroad. We put them on magazine covers when they destroy business competitors and make millions by putting people out of work. In short, we train boys to be cruel, to ignore the feelings of others, to be violent.

U.S. culture's most-admired male heroes reflect those characteristics: They most often are men who take charge rather than seek consensus, seize power rather than look for ways to share it, and are willing to be violent to achieve their goals. Victory is sweet. Conquest gives a sense of power. And after closing the deal, the sweet sense of power lingers.

Look around in the contemporary United States, and masculinity is paraded in front of us, sometimes in displays that border on self-parody:
  • George W. Bush dons a flight suit and lands on an aircraft carrier; the self-proclaimed "war president" announces victory (albeit somewhat prematurely). John Kerry, fearing a masculinity gap, serves up a hunting photo-op in the 2004 campaign to show that not only does he have combat experience that Bush lacks but still likes to fire a weapon.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger moves from action-movie hero to governor of California, denigrating opponents he deems insufficiently tough as "girly men."
  • Donald Trump, a businessman famous mostly for being famous and attracting conventionally attractive female partners, boosts a sagging public image with "The Apprentice" television show that pits young wannabe executives against each other in cutthroat competition.


  • And then there is sex, where victory, conquest, and dealing come together, typically out of public view. Masculinity played out in sexual relationships, straight or gay, brings King of the Hill into our most intimate spaces. Again, this doesn't mean that every man in every sexual situation plays out this dominance, but simply that there exists a pattern. When I speak to mixed groups about these subjects, I often describe the sex-as-dominance paradigm, and then I ask the women in the room if they have any experience with men behaving in such fashion. There is considerable rolling of the eyes and many exasperated sighs at that point. I present it in light-hearted fashion because to put it too harshly makes most mixed audiences very nervous.

    And then there is pornography, where brings the private imposition of masculinity into public, putting King-of-the-Hill sex onto the screen.


    Pornography's whisper to men

    We think of the call of pornography as crass, like a carnival barker's. Like the neon lights of Times Square in its pornographic heyday. Men go to buy pornography in the "red-light" district, the "combat zone." Pornography seems to shout out at us, crudely.

    But in reality, pornography speaks to men in a whisper. We pretend to listen to the barker shouting about women, but that is not the draw. What brings us back, over and over, is the voice in our ears, the soft voice that says, "It's OK, you really are a man, you really can be a man, and if you come into my world, it will all be there, and it will all be easy."

    Pornography knows men's weakness. It speaks to that weakness, softly. Pornography ends up being about men's domination of women and about the ugly ways that men will take pleasure. But for most men, it starts with the soft voice that speaks to our deepest fear: That we aren't man enough.

How to Stop the Planet From Burning

The following is an excerpt from George Monbiot's Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning (South End Press, 2007).

All over Washington, you can hear the giant scraping sound of officials and legislators frantically back-tracking. After years of obfuscation, denial, and lies about climate change, all but the most hardened recidivists are rebranding themselves as friends of the earth.

In February, two senior White House officials published an open letter seeking to correct inaccurate stories in the press "that the President's concern about climate change is new. In fact," they reported, "climate change has been a top priority since the President's first year in office." To prove it, they had found 37 words Bush said about the subject in 2001; 46 words in 2002; and 32 words in January 2007. In January 2007 he had even managed to say "climate change." This demonstrated, they claimed, that he has shown "continued leadership on the issue."

Both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill are falling over themselves to show how they have sought to save the world. The Senate's vote in 1997-95 to zero-to sink the Kyoto Protocol before it was signed has been forgotten. Joe Barton's congressional Inquisition, in which scientists who refused to alter their results to suit the oil companies were questioned as if they were members of Al Qaeda, never happened. Even Larry Craig, once one of the Senate's most outspoken climate change deniers, now claims that he has been helping to lead the world "toward cleaner technologies." Only Senator James Inhofe, last of the dinosaurs, still maintains that efforts to prevent climate change amount to nothing more than "profiteering" and "chicanery." After the war, almost everyone becomes a member of the Resistance.

George Bush's government has sought to sabotage every effective international effort to prevent global warming. It recruited China and India to an "alternative Kyoto" (the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development), without targets or sanctions, in order to prevent them from signing a binding treaty.

Then it has announced that as India and China haven't signed a binding treaty, neither can the United States. It has all but wrecked the talks attempting to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012. But the inconvenient truth we seek to forget is that the Clinton-Gore administration did even greater damage.

Bush might have pulled the US out of the Kyoto Protocol, but the Clinton administration destroyed the Protocol as an effective instrument-for everyone. It insisted on measures which allow countries to trade hot air and launder fake cuts. It encouraged other countries to reduce their targets (and thereby allow a higher level of emissions).

In his speech to the Kyoto conference in December 1997, Al Gore used the same mendacious formula George Bush now employs, claiming that limiting carbon emissions the US might otherwise have produced in a hypothetical future equates to real cuts in actual emissions. It was one of the most disgraceful moments in the Clinton presidency, and is impossible to reconcile with the subsequent career of the former next president of the United States.

Clinton failed to submit the protocol to the Senate, Bush refused to do so. There is little practical difference. Beyond avoiding responsibility, both the Clinton and Bush administrations have argued that the US is actually saving the world by investing billions in developing new, low carbon technologies. It is true that many of the most exciting developments have come from the United States.

But tackling climate change, like dieting, is as much about what you don't do as what you do. Developing low carbon technologies without cutting your emissions is like eating two Big Macs, four donuts and an ice cream sundae and then, to be healthy, also eating a salad. Unless the new technologies replace fossil fuel burning-rather than simply supplementing it-they cannot reduce a nation's emissions.

Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning is both a manifesto for action and a thought experiment. Its experimental subject is a medium-sized industrial nation: the United Kingdom. It seeks to show how a modern economy can be de-carbonized while remaining a modern economy.

Though the proposals in this book will need to be adjusted in countries with different climates and of greater size, I believe the model is generally applicable: if the necessary cut can be made here, it can be made by similar means almost anywhere.

I realize that my proposal that the US reduces its output of carbon dioxide by over 90 percent by 2030 must look quixotic. But Bush, and Gore in his previous incarnation, are not America. All over the US, state and municipal governments are seeking to salvage the nation's global reputation. At the time of writing, five bills are being debated in the Senate, all of which attempt to cap the nation's greenhouse gas emissions. Some have more merit than others, but the very existence of these bills was unimaginable 10 years ago, when the Byrd-Hagel Resolution torpedoed the Kyoto Protocol.

Ten states are suing the EPA over its failure to regulate carbon dioxide pollution. The state of California recently passed, and is currently fighting off challenges to, its Global Warming Solutions Act, which proposes to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. In these plans and others lurk plenty of false promises. California's act, for example, relies heavily on carbon storage by agriculture and forestry: strategies which are far from proven and pretty close to disproven, especially when recent findings about the effects of tree cover in temperate regions on the planet's reflectivity are considered.

But there are also bold proposals to cut emissions from cars and power stations, and to invest massively in renewable energy. As we saw in 1941, if any country can turn its economy around in an instant, it is the United States. I have mentioned that one of the gifts fossil fuels have granted us is freedom: freedom to choose how we should live, to go where we wish, to buy what we want.

A 90 percent cut in our emissions of carbon dioxide is, I admit, an inherently narrow constraint. I did not invent it -- it is what the science appears to demand. But within that constraint, we should be free to live as we wish. The need to tackle climate change must not become an excuse for central planning. The role of government must be to establish the limits of action, but to guarantee the maximum of freedom within those limits. And it must help us by ensuring that even within those constraints, life remains as easy as possible.

After looking at what the impacts of unrestrained climate change might be, and at why we have been so slow to respond to the threat, I begin my search for solutions within my own home. I show how years of terrible building, feeble regulations and political cowardice have left us with houses scarcely able to perform their principal function, which is keeping the weather out. I look at the means by which our existing homes could be redeemed and better ones could be built, and discover what the physical and economic limits of energy efficiency might be.

I then seek to determine how best their energy might be supplied. Before I began my research on that subject, I thought it would be quite easy to cover: I would need only decide whether we should use wind, waves or solar power, or nuclear energy, or biomass, or a means of stripping carbon dioxide from the exhausts of power stations. But the more I read, the more difficult and contradictory the questions became.

The three chapters dealing with this issue are the most technically complex in the book. I believe -- though by the skin of my teeth -- that I might have found a workable solution. Next I show how a new system for land transport could cut carbon emissions by 90 percent with scarcely any reduction in our mobility. But when I come to examine aviation, I discover that there are simply no effective technological solutions: in this chapter I have failed in my attempt to reconcile the luxuries we enjoy with the survival of the biosphere, and I am forced to conclude that the only possible answer is a massive reduction in flights.

Then I look at two industrial sectors -- retailing and cement manufacture, both of which produce disproportionate amounts of carbon dioxide -- and propose some radical means by which shops can stay in business and houses can be built without melting the ice caps. I have tried throughout the account to identify the methods that are cheapest, that have been shown to work, and that are most compatible with the lives we lead already.

The really inconvenient truth, which no legislator or former legislator will publicly acknowledge, is that to even attempt to reconcile the American way of life with the sustainability of the planet will require decisive action and dramatic change. At every turn both state and federal legislators-even those with the best intentions -- will seek to avoid environmental measures which might interfere with the luxury of heating or cooling your homes or driving or flying whenever and however you wish, and substitute measures, like biofuels, which transfer the cost onto less powerful people.

But in this respect I have to concede that your politicians are no different than anyone else's. I admit that the United States is a big country with a wide variety of climates. Crossing the US requires a great deal more fossil fuels than crossing Britain. But the climate doesn't care. It accepts no excuse.

Every ton of carbon you produce, however necessary you believe it to be, has the same impact on the climate as a ton emitted by anyone else. I have sought in Heat to show that -- thanks to new technologies and a few cunning applications -- the necessary cut in carbon emissions are compatible with the survival of an advanced industrial civilization.

I am not writing to confirm what you believe to be true. Many of the things I say will disturb and upset people who have taken an interest in this subject. As always, I seem destined to offend everyone. But I am sorry to report that an extraordinary amount of rubbish has been written by well-meaning people about tackling climate change. It is hard to see how it helps us to pretend that certain measures work when they do not.

I have one purpose in writing Heat: to persuade you that climate change is worth fighting. I hope I have been able to demonstrate that it is not -- as some people (notably the geophysiologist James Lovelock) have claimed -- too late.

In doing so I aim to encourage people not only to change the way they live but also to force their governments to make such changes easier. No one can make all the necessary changes by themselves: you can't switch to public transportation, for example, if the public transportation system has been dismantled. Nor, for that matter, can a government act unless its citizens are demanding that it do so: more loudly and more effectively than those who demand that nothing change.

My purpose is to equip you with the political tools you need-the arguments, technologies, and ideas for implementing them-to turn one of the most polluting nations on Earth into a place which commands the rest of the world's respect. The rest of the world cannot solve this problem without the United States, and the United States cannot solve it without the rest of the world. We could tear each other to pieces over what has happened in the recent past, but climate change is too important for that.

Perhaps we should allow the legislators to forget what they once were, in the hope that they can become the people they now believe themselves to be. I hope to prompt you not to lament our governments' failures to introduce the measures required to tackle it, but to force them to reverse their policies, by joining what must become the world's most powerful political movement.


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