Quote of the week

February 26, 2010

This quote is from the excellent book A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest J. Gaines:

How do people come up with a date and a time to take life from another man? Who made them God?


Why mediation?

February 23, 2010

I am currently reading The Promise of Mediation, which is inspiring me to remember why I turned to mediation as a way in which I can help make the world a better place. When I finish the book I will do a review of it, but I first want to work out for myself why I believe in mediation, without significant influence from the book.

I became a mediator because I believe that mediation has the power to fundamentally change for the better the way in which we – as individuals, as organizations, and as societies – handle conflict. Conflict is inevitable, but a destructive response to it is not. Aggressive, competitive, and dehumanizing responses to conflict, from the scale of door slamming to wars, may smother things for awhile, but can never truly resolve the underlying issues and restore healthy relationships. Mediation, on the other hand, can create a non-threatening space where each party can feel heard and begin to understand the perspectives of the other parties.

It is important for me to remind myself of why I became a mediator because my experiences so far as one have felt like a bit of a letdown. Three of the mediations I have done have been between a landlord and a tenant where the tenant has already moved out and they are in disagreement over how much of the security deposit should be returned to the tenant. Even if the parties reach an agreement, I feel somewhat unsatisfied after such mediations. I can and do feel good about handling the process well and saying the right things at the right time – there is no question that there are some skills I am actively developing by doing these. But in the end it always comes down to quibbling over dollar amounts and finally reaching a compromise that neither side is particularly happy about. I know that money is very important to people, but I really think there’s got to be something more to mediation.

Perhaps part of why I find such mediations unsatisfying is because what I am really interested in is relationships. I want to help people have healthy relationships with each other. In the landlord-tenant cases I described above, the parties can walk away from the mediation and never see each other again. There is not much of a relationship to preserve there. Not only do I care particularly about relationships, though, but I think that helping to build and restore healthy relationships is where the power of mediation really lies. Not that landlord-tenant cases are bad, but they aren’t using the potential of mediation to its fullest.

Another aspect of my dissatisfaction stems from the process itself. In my mediation training, the part of the process that I felt was most significant was the story-telling and summarizing at the beginning. As mediators, we are supposed to allow each party to tell their “story” – what the conflict is and why they are there – and then we summarize what we’ve heard, trying to identify underlying needs and feelings. Essentially, the mediator should use active listening at this point. I think each party needs to really feel heard before they can be open to finding a collaborative solution. In some of the mediations I have done, I have felt that my co-mediator skims too much over this initial portion of the process and is eager to go right to the part where the parties brainstorm ideas for solutions to the conflict. While this can still result in agreements that are satisfactory to both parties, I feel that it again falls short of the potential of mediation.

As I continue to develop my skills on whatever mediations come my way, it is important that I keep my vision of what mediation can be. I know that there is great potential in mediation and I need to maintain confidence that I will eventually find a way to make use of that potential. I do believe in mediation, and I will not let the sometimes mundane cases shatter that belief.

Organization of the week: Edible Front Range

February 22, 2010

In keeping with the spirit of sustainable and local eating, I want to mention today a resource I have used for finding local food producers in the Boulder, Colorado area: the website for the magazine Edible Front Range. Although I prefer to highlight non-profit, non-commercial organizations, I have found the resources on this website useful, so I think it is worth mentioning. Edible Front Range is a “quarterly magazine that celebrates the abundance of local, seasonal food in Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, Pueblo and towns in between. Through our magazine, website and events, we seek to connect the people who produce, sell and cook local food with those who care enough to seek it out.” I have found the local resource guide particularly useful; it lists farmers producing dairy, egg, produce, honey, meat, and poultry in various regions of the Front Range, including Boulder. The website also contains articles from the printed magazine, recipes, a list of farmer’s markets, local food events, a bulletin board (which looks mostly unused), and blog posts.

Edible Front Range is part of the nationwide Edible Communities, which has magazines for many regions around the country – check it out, there may be one for where you live!


February 19, 2010

Those of you who have followed me here from my old address at musingsonpace.blogspot.com, welcome.

I’d like to point out the organization directory linked from the header; you can go here to see short summaries of all the organizations I have highlighted on this blog. Currently they are organized by category, but I will soon by adding a list organized by region as well.

I may be playing with the look, widgets, etc. over the next few weeks. Please bear with me as I get the blog just the way I want!

Quote of the week

February 18, 2010

This week’s quote is by Gandhi:

The difference between what we do, and what we are capable of doing, would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.

Organization of the week: Slow Food International

February 15, 2010

To continue along the themes of two books I read recently, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and A Short History of Progress, I want to highlight today the organization Slow Food International. Its goal is “to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people‚Äôs dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. To do that, Slow Food brings together pleasure and responsibility, and makes them inseparable.” Slow Food has several specific ways in which it works towards this goal, including:

All this work is important in promoting a more peaceful and sustainable lifestyle. The Slow Food Manifesto captures this importance. Here is an excerpt, but I highly recommend you read the entire thing:

In the name of productivity, Fast Life has changed our way of being and threatens our environment and our landscapes. So Slow Food is now the only truly progressive answer.

There are branches of Slow Food International in many countries, at both the national and more local levels. You can search for organizations in your country here. I recommend checking out the Slow Food International website, as it contains a wealth of information.

Book review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

February 13, 2010

Note: I also posted this on my other blog, Books and Other Miscellany.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver, may be a memoir, but it is far from light reading. Phew. I thought I was familiar with all the horrors of the food industry from having read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but Animal, Vegetable, Miracle really makes it hit home. It is the story of how Kingsolver and her family embark on a year of growing and raising almost all of their own food, and obtaining the rest from as local as possible sources. They are lucky enough to own a farm in Virginia, and thus had the setting to make such an experiment work. Along the way, they comment on many of the ironies and horrific practices of the food industry. Despite the at times depressing content, the book is wonderfully well-written, with plenty of humor and entertaining passages. I recommend it! If you want to know more about the content of the book and my reflections on what I can do differently, read on.

Barbara Kingsolver and her husband and daughter make the eloquent point that we Americans have become extremely detached from the very thing that sustains us, and that there is much to be gained in rediscovering food from the source. One thing that I had thought about before but had never quite sunk in was how very strange it is for it to be snowing outside but to be able to go to the grocery store and buy fresh lettuce. Our industrialized food system has removed from us the need to know when different fruits and vegetables are in season; fresh fruits and vegetables of all sorts are transported from all over the world to allow us to have things like fresh lettuce in January in Colorado. The enormous environmental impact of this process of moving food around (not to mention the conventional methods of growing the produce, with oil-based fertilizers and pesticides) is highly ignored in our society. As Kingsolver says, “The conspicuous consumption of limited resources has yet to be accepted widely as a spiritual error, or even bad manners.”

Kingsolver goes beyond the lower environmental impact of eating locally, however. Going into their experiment, her family anticipated deprivation, as many people would: no peaches in April, no lettuce in January, etc. However, they discovered that the pleasures of eating fresh produce in season far surpassed the deprivations. Asparagus grown locally and eaten fresh in April tastes far better than asparagus grown halfway across the country in January (note, I did in fact see asparagus at the grocery store the other day, and I was not tempted to buy any). Winter was not a deprivation either: they canned tomatoes and froze many other vegetables and fruit when they were fresh, to eat all winter along with winter squashes and root vegetables that they stored in their root cellar. Furthermore, many of the fruits and vegetables they grew were heirloom breeds that are not found in the conventional grocery stores, and which have much greater variety and more flavorful taste than the ones that have been bred for the industrialized processes. Kingsolver makes a passionate and compelling case for cooking from scratch with fresh, local ingredients and reconnecting to the source of our sustenance.

So, am I going to make changes in my eating habits after reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle? I find that thinking about doing so is a little overwhelming. It is a far from easy thing to do, because the impact of continuing to buy non-local and conventionally-grown food is not tangible. I know, intellectually, that it is having a negative impact that I do not like, but it is easy to disconnect my knowledge of that from my actions and continue to buy that broccoli in January that was grown conventionally in California – in fact, it takes a purposeful effort to make the connection and change my habits because of it. Furthermore, it is difficult to get good information about how sustainably grown something actually was. I know, especially from reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, that the big industrial organic companies are sometimes only marginally better than conventional ones – and that they continue to push for loosening of the organic rules.

Kingsolver does point out, thankfully, that the middle of winter is probably not the right time to start thinking about eating more locally. She is right. My town has a fabulous farmer’s market that runs from the beginning of April through the end of October. I do make an effort to buy much of my produce from the farmer’s market during those months, although I don’t succeed 100%. I am thinking that this year perhaps I should try freezing more fruits and vegetables from the farmer’s market for use during the winter. Canning scares me (and I don’t have the equipment for it), but freezing is simple and, although my freezer is not that big, currently it is usually not very full. I would also like to stock up on locally grown winter squashes and root vegetables in the fall, but I am not sure I have the proper place to store them long-term, that would be the right temperature and humidity. The final change I am thinking about looking into is a local source for milk and eggs. We eat a lot of both and it seems so illogical to transport them great distances (and, I would much prefer to know that they came from free-range cows and hens raised and treated in a sustainable and humane manner).

A final thought on changing my habits: I am going to make an effort not to feel guilty, but to just remain aware of things and make changes in one area at a time when it feels doable. So many factors in the structure of our society are against eating locally and sustainably, so it takes more effort and time, at least initially, than just going to Safeway and buying anything I want. I only have so much time and effort, so I can only do so much. The most important thing that I must remind myself, the reason that the effort is worth making and the time worth spending, is that we are talking about what we put in to our bodies. Food is the very core of our existence and we should not take it lightly.

I will conclude my ruminations with a little admission. There are three items that I am highly unlikely to give up any time soon, even though I know that they are transported ridiculous distances to get to me: bananas, avocados, and chocolate. I just love them too much.

In case you couldn’t tell, I highly recommend Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It will definitely make you think, and perhaps make you look at your grocery store a little differently the next time you go.