BC’s David and Goliath saga

DRUG BUST Alan Cassels

I offer you a parable – perhaps the parable of our time. Pull up a chair and start imagining. Imagine being a big group of very powerful and profitable companies whose main business is the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals. You are so influential that government ministers promptly return your calls. You keep some of the most powerful people within the legal and medical communities on your payroll. You invite yourself to lead government task forces and other agenda-setting activities and are considered so mighty that only fools would dare challenge your decrees. When it comes to leverage, you play a good game. You know how to force governments to have some “skin in the game” when it comes to paying the hefty costs of researching and developing your products. It’s not that you are a bully or anything; you are actually quite polite and congenial. Yet, at the same time, you and your members are very, very angry.

You are angry because not everyone considers the good products you produce and the good works conducted on your behalf by many of your favoured charities to be so special. Some even question whether your products are worth what you charge for them. Some even say they didn’t live up to their claims. Even worse, some believe your products make some people sicker. Those heretics might be small in number, but they are vocal. They constitute an unpleasant obstacle and prevent you from expanding your empire, blocking you from earning higher shareholder profits that are your due. With your great strength and wealth, some say you’re like Goliath because, in contrast to this pesky, nay-saying and ill-equipped David, you could easily overpower and smite him dead.

What makes you really angry is that this David’s skepticism could threaten to destroy other markets around the country. This sort of pesky impertinence could seriously harm your bottom line so you have to act, and act decisively.

This biblical parable is currently being played out right here in BC. Not in the full sheen of media lights, of course, but in the shadows and backrooms and offices of the legislature. In government ministries and universities. In halls redolent with the scent of power, prestige and privilege. The David and Goliath scenario could be an allegory for the forces of science against the forces of commerce, where we know David and his science don’t stand a chance.

It might be more accurate to call this particular BC-based David “evidence-based medicine.” Yet, in the eyes of Goliath, David is best characterized by the pharmaceutical industry’s pesky foe: UBC’s Therapeutics Initiative.

The world renowned Therapeutics Initiative (TI) was established by the BC provincial government in 1994 and planted at the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at UBC. This group of researchers, university professors and experts in clinical research provides valuable analysis and insight into the value of pharmaceuticals. The TI has been involved in educating medical students and practising physicians in BC for nearly 15 years and has developed an international following. While it is often accused of setting BC government drug policy, its role is limited to examining, synthesizing and discussing the evidence around drugs. It has a “just the facts ma’am” approach to clinical research.

Sadly, most physicians, after formal training in medical school, will learn about new drugs mostly from pharmaceutical companies. These doctors urgently need a group like the TI, which can provide balanced and current assessments of new drugs. Drug companies maintain it is their job to convince physicians of the value of new drug products; they spend upwards of $3 billion per year doing just that, an amount larger than the collective budgets of all medical schools in Canada. The fact that TI maintains its distance from the drug companies is one of the true sources of Goliath’s anger: he is unable to influence the key agency that makes drug evidence available to BC physicians.

You can imagine Goliath’s anger when he examines drug expenditures across Canada and finds a huge “missing market” for drugs in BC, worth close to $500 million per year. On a per capita basis, if BC residents spent as much on drugs as people in Quebec and New Brunswick, our provincial drug bill would be about 50 percent higher than it is right now. It currently hovers around $1 billion per year.

In BC, the Therapeutics Initiative has strived to educate doctors about the relative prices (and therapeutic values) of new drugs and while some critics say it tends to favour older, cheaper drugs, its analyses ignore the pharmaceutical industry’s marketing pitches and zero in on what the evidence shows.

Goliaths from the drug world have been trying to slay the Davids of evidence-based medicine for years now, funding political parties, patient groups and specialists in order to build cases for the new drugs they will pitch to governments, physicians and patients. They supply money to universities and research institutes while claiming to politicians they are there to help “grow the knowledge economy.”

Despite how much we love our towers of higher learning, hang out at any of the world’s major universities these days and you will catch the unmistakeable whiff of commercialism, where plenty of Goliaths are cutting deals to divert publicly-funded, high-octane thinking into profitable and patentable products. Discussion of higher purposes and human fulfillment in universities is passé; the dominant theme is the drive for the respect and prestige that comes along with telling everyone we’re “Open for Business.”

If the government does away with the Therapeutics Initiative because of some sweetheart deal provided to UBC by Goliath, we should expect to see a body count. Wasn’t it the TI that sent out early alarm bells, asking physicians to pause before writing new prescriptions for drugs like Celebrex and Vioxx? Vioxx is likely responsible for more than 50,000 deaths in the US alone. I remember when the TI’s researchers were accused of being naysayers when they were asking physicians to be careful about prescribing this particular drug and to question the science behind the intense marketing.

Here in BC, there is growing evidence that Goliath is fortifying its battle with David by enticing UBC with lots of riches. There are rumours of buildings and bigger and well-equipped centres of research and drug discovery. The bribes have to be big because the payoff (half a billion dollars per year) is huge. Any government hoping to kill the TI and expecting a payoff should be asking not for a building worth a miserly $50 million, but rather for half a billion per year, every year to perpetuity. That’s what David is likely saving us.

BC is a strange province where the cosiness – a sort of chequebook diplomacy – between the current Liberal government and the drug companies that fund their election campaigns is well known. Last year, this cosiness translated into a BC government-appointed Pharmaceutical Task Force, staffed with drug industry lobbyists who produced a report so shoddy it’s an embarrassment to anyone involved. The major outcome of the report was the suggestion to scrap the Therapeutics Initiative.

The plot heats up when you recall that back in February of this year the UBC Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD) was named as a Centre of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR). The Canadian government plans to kick in $15 million over five years to “accelerate the translation of health research into high value medicines.” Matching funds will come from BC taxpayers, funnelled through groups like the British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund and the British Columbia Innovation Council (BCIC). The latter describes itself as a ?one-stop point of access and support to high tech companies, educational institutions, technology industry awareness groups (including regional technology councils), federal science and technology agencies and university research labs.” Wow – sounds like a full-on marketing machine for BC high tech. Just what the doctor ordered.

Like most universities, UBC certainly has its own objectives and new pools of potential research money must seem awfully tempting. UBC’s president, Stephen Toope, is a world-respected advocate for human rights and the power of international law. He is one serious and uncompromising dude when it comes to speaking truth to power. But you have to ask yourself: Will Dr. Toope be able to speak truth to the Goliath at the gates of UBC?

It’s hard to say. What is certain is that the success of university presidents is usually measured by their ability to increase the university’s prestige, size, influence and wealth. And with large numbers of academics and researchers who measure their success by how much research funds they can absorb, Dr. Toope would certainly face a rabid faculty backlash if he questioned the flow of drug funds to UBC.

What a conundrum, eh?

You might think this biblical parable is too much of a stretch because in the real ‘modern’ world, the Goliaths almost always win. Well, thankfully we have a democracy and there is an election coming up. We can throw out the politics of rule by rude power. We can choose not to support a government that thumbs its nose at evidence-based medicine, one that encourages the drug companies rule the day. OR we could ask for something different. And that difference is something that may mean the choice of life or death for some of us.

Alan Cassels is a drug policy researcher at the University of Victoria a. He served with Stephen Toope as a UN Election Observer in the first all-race elections in South Africa in April, 1994.

cassels@uivic.ca

Health food matters

by Joseph Roberts

 

photo: Luc Santerre Castonguay

Food was always very important, the author said on the radio as she dedicated her new cookbook to her mother “who instilled in her a love of food”.

Food is important, in many ways and for many reasons. In many different delicious cultures there are very distinct eating habits, but we all have something in common: we all eat.

Books abound with food for thought: The Food Revolution, Power of Superfoods, Fields of Plenty, Vegan Delights, Real Foods for a Change, No More Bull, Eating My Words, Chef’s Table, New Ethics of Eating, Feed Your Genes Right, The Joy of Cooking, and even The End of Food.

Yes, we all eat – at least those of us who are fortunate to live in places where food exists. Many just scrape by, and the even less fortunate die of starvation.

Soil, water, and sun are so intertwined with food on this good earth. I hold an almond in my hand: how did it get here where did it come from, who help it grow? So many questions. Each nut is a seed capable of growing into a huge beautiful tree which in turn brings forth the next generation of almond flowers which produce pollen for the bees. The mystery of life to continues.

Humans are not the only animals who cherish nuts and seeds. The branches of the birch tree outside my window are home to many seed-eating birds and squirrels. We are each and all part of a magical natural cycle. As the grey and black squirrels scurry about on autumn’s gold-leafed branches, people scurry about in traffic and in their homes. While the wilder creatures hunt and gather directly from the source of their sustenance, we too search out our foods – but usually in more indirect and complex manners.

What we choose to eat is based on our beliefs, our customs.

Where our foods come from, what soil or water they use, how they are grown and produced makes the difference between life giving or disease making. As we learn and evolve we learn what matters about food.

photo:Chanyut Sribua-rawd

Access to nutritious food from sustainable sources is a primary responsibility of any functional culture. May all beings be fed and may all beings be happy.

A decade ago, at an organic food conference, women from rural India told of their fight to keep their village’s soil and food clean of toxins. A t-shirt message starkly read, “Food without poison is a must for life”. They were in a battle to keep high tech patented genetically altered terminator seeds, and their accompanying chemical herbicides, from displacing hereditary seeds which had, for thousands of years, reproduced life giving free seeds. The gap between the corporate food-for-profit agenda and grassroots sustainable food-for-families was graphic. Monsanto, the same corporation that sued Percy Schmeiser in Canada over copyrighted GMO products, was involved over in India as well.

Health food matters.

When a food product shows up on a store shelf, it is only as good as its ingredients, and the skills and care of its handlers. And the ingredients are only as healthy as the soil it comes from.

We look at food with various levels of understanding. Sometimes companies that manipulate foods intentionally hide the real nature of what they produce. In Canada, for example, labelling genetically modified food is voluntary. Given that most informed eaters would shun GMO products, voluntarily disclosing that their product contain GMOs is not likely to happen. Deceptive labelling can deceive by omission.

Prior to the industrial chemical revolution there were natural methods of preserving certain foods, drying or pickling being two examples. Chemical preservatives now promise longer shelf life so the product can sit around – sometimes for years – and still be sold. These food products get consumed much later than nature would normally allow. Some preservatives are more natural but most modern ones are synthetic and toxic. It gets tricky when natural-sounding additives are used to greenwash or hide other preservatives. A case in point happened in Canada with the combining of ascorbic acid and sodium benzoate in the cheap two litre plastic bottles of orange looking soda pop sold in supermarkets. The synthetic vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid chemically reacted to the sodium benzoate when the pop was left out of the fridge and in the sunshine on a hot summer afternoon. The ascorbic acid broke down the sodium benzoate into sodium and benzene. Benzene is a known carcinogen. Unwittingly, thirsty people gulped down the sugar-coated poison thinking it was okay.

So as we eat our way through a lifetime of food, we absorb what is in our diet. Like the proverbial frog in hot water we slowly get cooked. If we eat food with carcinogens we toxify our cells, some even to the point of immune collapse where diseases take over the organism.

Food of course is not the only vector of unwanted contaminants, but it is one we do have a some choice over. We can eat the highly refined, sugar, salt, preservative-laden unfresh food, or an apple, avocado or pumpkin seeds for snacks each day.

We make ourselves healthy or unhealthy one bite at a time. And how we chew our food matters too, in whether we assimilate what we consume. Chewing our liquids and drinking our solids engages our mouth saliva to begin the process of digestion. Remember, if our teeth do not chew our foods then our stomach must.

The Canadian Health Food Association selected November as National Natural Food Month in Canada. What a beautiful time of year to be reminded of health with all the lush colour of maple leaves. Colour is an important indicator of how rich in vitamins and minerals certain foods are. May autumn inspire us to choose fruits and vegetables of deep hues for deeper nutrition. Products carefully manufactured from such green, red, blue, purple, orange mineral-laden ingredients form great supplements to augment our diet.

Whole foods are the way nature initially provides humans with abundance. Eat as much fresh raw food as you can. Cook foods in ways that release their nutrients, but avoid overheating and use utensils that are not toxic. Keep food from having contact with aluminum, Teflon or other non-slip plastic compounds. Avoid microwave ovens because they alter the food on an electron level and release free radicals linked to aging and cancer. Don’t be a guinea pig. There are other less intrusive ways to prepare what we eat.

Intention effects what ends up on our plate. Those that link our mouths with the original source of sustenance need to honour and respect natural cycles. Principles are more important than pretty packaging when it comes to health and the quality or goodness shows up in the details.

Think of foods as having benefits or side effects as do drugs. Most people would not take drugs if they understood the harm. But they do, because they are not well informed, or believe in so-called experts who would never take the very same drugs they prescribe. In the UK, adverse drug reactions kill about 10,000 (a nasty “side effect”) every year, whereas car accident kill about 3,000. Drugs, like cigarettes, are profitable but they also make people sick. The costs are sloughed off to the society rather than the manufacturer being held liable for the damage caused. In Canada we do not allow direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising as they do in the USA. Twenty five per cent of TV ads in the USA are drug commercials. The effect is that Americans spend about 50 per cent more on drugs than Canadians.

Three hundred billion dollars are spent on drugs in North America annually, much of which is advertising induced and unnecessary. Many side effects occur for which yet more drugs are prescribed. The combination of drugs bring unexpected results. How many well intended, obedient elders come to harm following their multiple prescriptions religiously? Their A to Z plastic pill organizers give them a false sense of control in an overly chemicalized world, further numbed by loneliness, alcohol and TV (with its booze and drugs ads).

When in doubt, use natural nutrition and a healthy lifestyle to improve your well-being.

Junk food compromises one’s health to the point of disease because, besides containing toxins, it lacks the basis nutrients needed for bodies to function well. This leads to attempts to rectify the situation with drugs, which can contribute to premature death. These unhealthy faux-foods may make a killing for their producers, but eventually sicken their user. There is an unholy synergy between crappy foods, sedentary lifestyles, pill pushers and pharmaceutical profits.

Nature eventually wins out in the long run. The laws of ecology do not go away. Every thing is connected to everythings else, and, we all live down stream from the source and processing of our food. Likewise, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Bad nutrition and toxic food extract their toll in human suffering. Just as one vitamin can cure so many illnesses, so can the deficiency of a vitamin or mineral cause disease. Vitamins, mineral, fibre, and other nutriments – coupled with rest, fresh air and pH balanced clean water – enable a body to be nourished and heal.

Imagine the social impact of chronic well-being and a highly contagious epidemic of health. Well-informed and inspired people choosing their foods wisely with care, respect and gratitude. The joy of healthy food spreads like wildfire across our land nourishing all in its path. People stop hurting themselves with unconscious habits around food. We honour the land along with the energy required to grow and deliver foods to market. There is an awaking of compassion for all those who hunger to better organize and distribute nature’s abundance so all are fed. Health Canada sees the light, reverses its drug-heavy approach to treating disease, and invests money to prevent disease.

You may say we are dreamers but we are not the only ones.

In 1976 Mother Teresa came to Vancouver’s Habitat for Humanity where she spoke of a hunger that bread cannot satisfy. It is a hunger to be touched, a hunger to be loved and a hunger to belong.

As we celebrate our healthy food choices, let’s remember those who have much less than us. Though most starving people live in countries ruined by geopolitical greed and environmental degradation, there are those in our land who are also hungry. Some are malnourished from junk food or poor eating habits, others from hard emotional, mental and financial times. Some are on drugs, some are not. Some smoke and drink, others don’t. But we all eat, and as challenging as it gets, if it is not us, who will be our brothers or sisters keeper?

By helping others, magically we too are helped. We are related, we belong.

So share some food with a street person or a neighbour you haven’t yet met. Take time to see him or her fully as a person and part of the larger human family, a fellow traveller in this world of wonders. We each have our story to tell and our need to be heard. Break bread with the beggar on the street; share a handful of grapes. This too is a remembrance. Like the almond, we are a human tree capable of spreading comfort and joy. Spice life with compassion so we too can nourish our deep spirit inside.

Exciting times

THIRTY SOMETHING by Ishi Dinim

There are three things on my mind these days: babies, politics and basketball. I’m feeling pretty upbeat about all of them too. I’ve got a little one set to arrive in around one moon’s time. There are multiple elections with serious ramifications that I imagine are going to end up the way I would like them to – well, except for the federal Canadian one. And basketball continues to bless our world with the many gifts it can offer.

Basically, I’m going to be a dad – possibly, the most important elections in my life are coming up and the spinning ball of joy is within my reach.

Lately, I’ve been spending a great deal of energy sprucing up our nest. It’s funny how such a small person can take up so much space in our minds, and now, in our home as well. There are so many questions about our world and what it’ll be like when our child grows into it. I know that in our own small way we are doing what we can to encourage our future to be dignified and healthy. I can’t help but feel hopeful that we are collectively making positive changes in the face of major calamities. Even slow-moving structures like government are realizing that we need to advocate for our planet. Every choice we make has an effect and our children will dwell in our choices until they can make their own.

I’m not saying that making a choice to live more sustainably is always easy or fun, but it is necessary. It can sometimes make your head hurt trying to anticipate all the ramifications of what it is you’re about to do or not do, following a decision down its multiple, possible paths.

The general rule I’m following these days is less is more. I believe that the cure to our ills generally lies in controlling our ego and disallowing it to consume more than we need.

Here’s to getting real cozy with people you love and taking some time to just be. Good luck; I know I’m going to need it.

Films worth watching:
Redbelt
Burn After Reading
Pineapple Express

Internet time well spent:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CmvDQK3k2w

Ishi graduated from Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in 2001, with a BFA major in photography. He makes films, collects cacti and ponders many things. Currently, he is doing what he can for himself and the planet.

contact: ishi@yahoo.ca

Go for green

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina

Green is a big plus when it comes to nutrition. Whether it is a salad or vibrant florets of steamed broccoli, a green juice or a smoothie, the green derives from the chlorophyll molecule, with magnesium right in its centre. Greens are packed with a multitude of minerals and abundant vitamins. (See recipe below.)

Green is also an outstanding choice when it comes to political parties. The Green Party, now rising to well-deserved prominence, recognizes that food choices profoundly affect our health and that of the planet; this fact is reflected in school food policies. The Green Party advocates the labelling of genetically modified ingredients, in line with the desire of many Canadians who prefer GMO-free foods. It also supports the elimination of subsidies for pesticides, thereby permitting organic farming to be more competitive with pesticide-laden foods that are sold at cheaper prices. The Green Party also supports fair trade, ensuring that impoverished farmers receive fair prices.

The Green Party profoundly understands the link between lifestyle and climate change. Taking heed of the thousands of peer reviewed climate scientists who agree that global warming is a real threat, its party platform encourages earth friendly choices for food and transportation. We Canadians want hybrid cars, energy efficient appliances, wind and solar power systems and green building products and the Green Party supports the growth of these industries in Canada.

For Canadians, the issue that has proven to be even more important than driving eco-friendly cars or riding a bike is the food we put into our mouths. Researchers Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin at the University of Chicago have calculated the carbon intensity of a standard vegan diet and North American carnivorous diet, through production processing, distribution and cooking to consumption. By going vegan, one elects to emit 1.5 tons less CO2 every year than the burger-eater. Choosing a state-of-the-art Prius hybrid over a gas-guzzling vehicle saves just over one ton of CO2 per year.

An average diet that includes meat leads to an annual greenhouse gas production equivalent to driving a mid-sized car a distance of 4,758 kilometres. See below for the correlation between eating various foods and the equivalent distance driven in kilometres. (Source: the Institute for Ecological Economy Research, Germany; study commissioned by independent consumer protection group Foodwatch.) Calculations are based on methane from animals, emissions from food production, manufacturing feed, fertilizer and the use of farmland.

Comparison of dietary choice (for one year) and the equivalent distance driven by a mid-size car:

• Diet that includes meat: 4,758 km
• Vegetarian diet (no meat, fish, poultry): 2,427 km
• Vegan diet (vegetarian with no eggs or dairy): 629 km
• Organic, vegan diet: 281 km.

Vesanto Melina is a dietitian and author of a number of nutrition classics, including The Raw Revolution Diet, co-authored by Cherie Soria and Brenda Davis. Register for the raw FUNdamentals class with Cherie Soria (Sunday, November 23) at www.rawbc.org or call 778-737-8852. For more great, green energy, visit www.greenparty.bc.ca or call 604-687-1199 or 1-888-473-3686.


GARDEN BLEND SOUP

(Makes 2 1/2 cups)

Of all the foods that support health, dark, leafy greens top the list. Kale, a plant that survives Vancouver winters, offers more nutrition per calorie than almost any other food. This recipe provides protein, vitamins A, C, E, most B vitamins, calcium, iron, selenium, zinc, copper, magnesium and manganese. Vary the flavours to suit your taste. In winter months, use hot water for a warming soup. This recipe is a favourite of Patrick Meyer, Langley’s Green Party candidate.

3/4 cup hot water
1/4 cup orange juice, or 1/2 orange, peeled
3 to 4 cups kale, stem removed, chopped
1/2 apple, cored or 1/2 small cucumber, peeled
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, basil leaves or dill weed
1 1/2 tbsp. light miso
1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 clove garlic
1/4 red jalapeño pepper or a pinch of cayenne
1/2 green onion, optional
1/4 cup sunflower seeds or 1/2 avocado, peeled and seeded

In a blender, process the water, juices, kale, apple, herbs, miso, garlic, jalapeño and green onion (if applicable) until smooth. Add seeds or avocado; blend again until smooth and serve.

Growing a food movement

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

Food security seems to be on everyone’s mind this year. It’s fascinating to see so many local initiatives in response to the concern for more local food, so I thought I’d share what it’s looking like in my part of the world on southern Vancouver Island.

The year began with a public forum on food security in the Westshore community, which launched a “Grow Tomato Challenge” by giving away hundreds of free tomato seedlings and mapping where they were grown for a future tomato festival to track people’s progress. Often, all it takes is one juicy, homegrown tomato to get a person hooked on growing food!

Food markets sprung up in all 13 of the municipalities in Vancouver Island’s Capital Regional District. At the end of Bastion Square’s Thursday market in Victoria, David Mincey from the Island’s Chef Collaborative (an initiative linking chefs with farmers) told me there was not enough food being grown to keep up with the demand. He is astounded by the response to local food at the downtown market. What a great incentive to get more farmers on the land.

Recently, I was bedazzled by the colourful sight of food being grown on the boulevard in the municipality of Fernwood. On Garden Street, not only did one front garden and boulevard overflow with edible plants, but also the vacant lot next door housed several allotment gardens. Around the corner on “Haultain Commons,” they were giving away free potatoes and squash from their boulevard garden. What a great way to build community and share resources.

In September, I spoke to an audience at a meeting for the newly established Farmlands Trust (www.farmlandstrust.ca) in the Mount Newton Valley in Saanich. Since February of 2008, people have raised $2.5 million of the $6.25 million needed to purchase 192 acres of Woodwynn Farm and turn it into a community farm that will become a model of sustainable, organic agriculture, providing education and land tenure to new farmers. Preserving farmland for the next generation is the only way to go when you consider that the average age of a farmer in BC is 56.

In the municipality of Oak Bay, the council changed a bylaw to allow the continuation of SPIN farming (Small Plot Intensive) so that Martin Scaia and Paula Scobie could carry on market gardening in 20 gardens. In Esquimalt, the council changed a bylaw to allow chickens in backyards and two women stepped forward to write a manual called Everything You Need to Know About Backyard Chickens.

At the Victoria Public Library, I sat on a discussion panel in an overflowing room, where MP Denise Savoie invited people to talk about Vancouver Island’s food security. Public forums are the only way to inform all levels of government of our concern for the future food supply, especially when 95 percent of the food we consume on this island comes from off the island.

This past March, I started teaching a 10-month course called Twelve Steps to Sustainable Homegrown Food Production and discovered two amazingly simple ways to build food gardens. Check out “Lasagna Gardening” and “Keyhole Gardening” on the internet. Instead of digging into the ground, you build up from the ground, which means you can grow food with very little effort or expense. These gardening methods turn unproductive spaces into food gardens in a few hours, as they can be planted with food immediately following construction.

“Keyhole” gardens are so easy to build that even children are making them. If you stockpile organic waste materials, such as cardboard, newspaper, leaves, hay, grass clippings, manure or compost, you’ll have the necessary ingredients. These gardens provide the healthiest and most productive food because the medium in which it grows is so fertile and rich in micro-organisms. 

I have often asked myself what it takes to launch a Grow Your Own Food movement, but I now think we may have already launched one. How’s it growing in your part of the world?

Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide. She grows her certified organic “Seeds of Victoria” at The Garden Path Centre where she blogs The New Victory Garden online.

True surrender

THE POWER OF NOW by Eckhart Tolle

If we always accept the way things are, we are not going to make any effort to improve them. It seems to me that what progress is all about, both in our personal lives and collectively, is not to accept the limitations of the present, but to strive to go beyond them and create something better. If we hadn’t done this, we would still be living in caves. How do you reconcile surrender with changing things and getting things done?

To some people, surrender may have negative connotations, implying defeat, giving up, failing to rise to the challenges of life, becoming lethargic, and so on. True surrender, however, is something entirely different. It does not mean to passively put up with whatever situation you find yourself in and do nothing about it. Nor does it mean to cease making plans or initiating positive action.

Surrender is the simple, but profound, wisdom of yielding to, rather than opposing, the ow of life. The only place where you can experience the flow of life is the Now, so to surrender is to accept the present moment unconditionally and without reservation. It is to relinquish inner resistance to what is. Inner resistance is to say “no” to what is, through mental judgment and emotional negativity. It becomesparticularly pronounced when things “go wrong,” which means there is a gap between the demands or rigid expectations of your mind and what is. That is the pain gap. If you have lived long enough, you will know that things “go wrong” quite often. It is precisely at those times that surrender needs to be practised if you want to eliminate pain and sorrow from your life.

Acceptance of what is immediately frees you from mind identification and thus reconnects you with Being. Resistance is the mind. Surrender is a purely inner phenomenon. It does not mean that, on the outer level, you cannot take action and change the situation. In fact, it is not the overall situation that you need to accept when you surrender, but just the tiny segment called the Now.

For example, if you were stuck in the mud somewhere, you wouldn’t say, “Okay, I resign myself to being stuck in the mud.” Resignation is not surrender. You don’t need to accept an undesirable or unpleasant life situation. Nor do you need to deceive yourself and say there is nothing wrong with being stuck in the mud. No. You recognize fully that you want to get out of it. You then narrow your attention down to the present moment without mentally labelling it in any way. This means there is no judgment of the Now. Therefore, there is no resistance, no emotional negativity. You accept the “isness” of this moment. Then you take action and do all that you can to get out of the mud.

Let me give you a visual analogy to illustrate the point I am making. You are walking along a path at night, surrounded by a thick fog. But you have a powerful ashlight that cuts through the fog and creates a narrow, clear space in front of you. The fog is your life situation, which includes past and future; the ashlight is your conscious presence; the clear space is the Now.

Non-surrender hardens your psychological form, the shell of the ego, and so creates a strong sense of separateness. The world around you and people, in particular, come to be perceived as threatening. The unconscious compulsion to destroy others through judgment arises, as does the need to compete and dominate. Even nature becomes your enemy and your perceptions and interpretations are governed by fear.

There is something within you that remains unaffected by the transient circumstances that make up your life situation, and only through surrender do you have access to it. It is your life, your very Being, which exists eternally in the timeless realm of the present. Finding this life is “the one thing that is needed” that Jesus talked about.

 

 

Adapted from The Power of Now, copyright 1999 by Eckhart Tolle. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA, 800-972-6657 (ext. 52). Visit www.eckharttolle.com.

Release attachment

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

Forever is composed of nows.

– Emily Dickinson

According to Buddhist philosophy, there are two major causes of all human suffering. The first is attachment and the second is the inability to accept change.

Attachment is when our wellbeing is dependent on things being a certain way. We can become attached to people or possessions and be devastated if we lose them. We may be attached to success, popularity or looking a certain way. Addictions are an extreme form of attachment, but there is likely an addictive component to all forms of attachment.

The inability to accept change is related to attachment. We like things the way they are and experience great discomfort if things change. This does not refer to change we have initiated ourselves, but rather to change that is imposed by others, or by fate.

The reason that attachment and the inability to accept change create so much suffering is because, in this world, change is a constant. Nothing stays the same. So if we become attached, sooner or later we will have to let go. In the meantime, a lot of energy can go into maintaining that attachment and we experience anxiety at the thought of losing it.

Of course, this suffering is all the work of ego. Ego is that part of our awareness that gets so caught up in the story of life, taking on the roles of producer, director and lead character. Ego has an idea of how the script should unfold, and so becomes invested in how others, including the universe, play their parts!

Things will not always go according to ego’s plan, but generally ego is not a good sport about it. Think of a football team. The coach has a plan and the players are trained to execute that plan. However, they have little control over what the other team will do, who will fumble or be tackled, or even the field conditions.

A professional, sportsmanlike team will not spend a lot of time blaming others or making excuses for what went wrong. Instead, they look at what they can do to improve their performance and their ability to handle the opposition. They then begin to focus on the next game. They do their best, but there are no guarantees.

Life is much the same. We have our plans, hopes and dreams, but there are no guarantees. Somehow though, it seems harder to view our lives with a degree of detachment. Imagine watching a football game and cheering for your home team. It is so easy to get caught up in the game, feeling elation or disappointment. Now imagine watching a movie in which there is a football game. You know it is not a real game and so you watch with interest to see how it will unfold, but without the same attachment.

This perspective is similar to that of our soul. Soul knows that whatever will be, will be. Soul can already fast-forward to the end of our time here. It does not necessarily know all that will happen, but it knows that much of what aggravates and absorbs ego is ultimately of no consequence.

When we tune into soul and really grasp that perspective, there is a sense of peace and release that floods the body/mind. We can relax, surrender and watch how the story of our life evolves. We know without a doubt that everything is in a constant state of change, as are we.

We become centred in the core of our being, rather than in things outside of ourselves. We know that even if everything will not always be okay, we can still be okay.

We cannot know the future, but we can know this present moment. Be fully present, perceiving what is here. Release moment after moment and embrace each new moment as it comes. We are not destined to suffer just because we are human. We have the remarkable ability to choose. Choose peace. Choose bliss.

 

Gwen Randall-Young is a psychotherapist in private practice and author ofGrowing Into Soul: The Next Step in Human Evolution. For articles and information about her books and “Deep Powerful Change” personal growth/hypnosis CDs, visit www.gwen.ca

Blue Gold and other VIFF gems

FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead

Scene from The Atom Smashers

In recent years, there has been a spate of documentaries on the subject of water – its increasing commodification and the greed, corruption and mismanagement surrounding it.

At the heart of Sam Bozzo’sBlue Gold: World Water Wars(at VIFF October 9 and 10) is a strongly held belief that access to fresh water should be a basic human right. Partly educational, with fine little animations explaining how the water cycle works, it’s also a plea to recognize the scale of the problem. Many salutary examples of water privatization are paraded, from the violent ruptures in Bolivia when government ceded its water rights to Bechtel, to grassroots actions in the US that have had mixed success in combatting corporations tapping their water supplies.

The film depicts how, in the world of supply and demand, drought and water pollution are good for big business but bad for the environment. Consider the carbon footprint of desalination plants and truckloads of water criss-crossing the continent, for example. Lest it all become too depressing, the film knits together some good-news stories, such as the story of Ryan’s Well (www.ryanswell.ca) and stories of how denuded water systems are being recovered.

Blue Gold doesn’t always get the facts right – water privatization didn’t happen throughout the UK; Scotland and Northern Ireland’s water services remained publicly owned due to grassroots opposition – but it identifies disturbing patterns that we should all pay close attention to.

A flurry of recent media coverage over the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland shone a spotlight on the 40-year-old search for the hypothetical “Higgs boson,” a “God particle” that physicists hope to eventually discover by smashing particles together at very great speeds, in complex and expensive particle accelerators. The documentary The Atom Smashers (October 4, 5, 8) picks up with a US team at the Fermilab laboratory; the team has been working in this field of research for many years as the LHC prepares to come online. As the Bush government slashes away at its budget, Fermilab’s physicists are feeling the pressure to win this subatomic space race.

It’s not exactly clear what millions of dollars of publicly funded research has achieved, which is hardly surprising given the opaque nature of high energy physics, but it also leaves scientists struggling to justify the huge expense in lay terms. Directors Clayton Brown and Monica Long Ross make effective use of black and white animation to explain the workings of the Tevatron, Fermilab’s four-mile tunnel, where the particle smashing takes place. Broadening the focus to include the private lives, aspirations and setbacks of the physicists in Fermilab’s program adds a touch of human interest, underscoring the big question of why science, in general, has lost its value in Bush’s US. It seems that science is facing a serious image problem, however, the answer to the problem seems as elusive as the Higgs boson, itself.

Other VIFF films that look worthwhile include Let the Right One In (October 5, 6, 8), a genre-bending horror that has been getting great reviews on the festival circuit; Tokyo! (October 8, 9), a trio of films set in the Japanese capital by three very capable directors (Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, Joon-ho Bong); I Am Good (October 1, 7, 9), a light comedy from Czech director and VIFF regular Jan Hrebejk, who always impresses with the fullness of his characters; and the closing film The Class, a high school drama set in a poor multicultural Parisian suburb. The film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year.

 

 

Robert Alstead made the Vancouver-set bicycle documentary You Never Bike Alone, available on DVD at www.youneverbikealone.com

It’s time to vote

EARTHFUTURE by Guy Dauncey

It’s the election season with a vengeance, with the Canadian (October 14), US (November 4) and BC municipal elections (November 15) all happening within a month.

This is great – democracy in action, and all that. This US election is the liveliest and most important in years, with a clear difference between Obama and McCain. Why is it that our Canadian elections, in contrast, often seem so uninspired and flat?

Is it because most Canadians – eh – prefer to occupy the safe, polite middle of the road, rather than stand up for anything with passion and leadership? I don’t think so.

Is it because the NDP and the Conservatives plotted to keep the Green Party’s Elizabeth May out of the Leaders’ Debate and the TV consortium executives wimped out? Yes, that would do it.

Is it because Canada’s old-fashioned first-past-the-post system of voting shuts out minority opinions and smaller parties and produces totally undemocratic results, such as two years ago, when the Conservatives formed the government even though 64 percent of Canadians voted against them? Yes, that would also do it.

And how about lowering the voting age to 16 so that young people can get involved and get into the habit of voting while they are still at school?

As a Euro-Canadian, I also find it completely bizarre that, in Canada, the party that wins the most seats forms the government. In most of Europe, where proportional voting ensures that many smaller parties have seats in Parliament and negotiations between parties are commonplace, it is not the party with the most seats that governs; it is the party that can form a majority government.

Thus, in Canada’s last election, the Conservatives, with the most seats, would have been invited to form a majority government by making alliances with other parties. If they failed, the Liberals would have been invited to have a go. They would have teamed up with the NDP and we would have had a Liberal/NDP coalition government in Ottawa that commanded a majority in Parliament, giving us a far more democratic and workable result. Why does Canada do it the other way? Maybe there’s a constitutional historian among Common Ground’s readers who can enlighten us.

The childish, abusive, sexist, insulting and intimidating words that MPs hurl at each other could be another factor. Elizabeth May said that when she took her 15-year-old daughter to Question Time in Ottawa, she was totally ashamed of the puerile nastiness of the MPs’ comments to one another. This is embarrassing.

Parliament should create a soundproof penalty box, in full view of the cameras. A new set of House rules should outline what is acceptable behaviour. At the first offence, the Speaker would show the MP a yellow card. A second offence would warrant a red card and 10 minutes in the penalty box. For a third offence in the same day, the MP would be banned from the Legislative Chamber for a month.

We need the same in the BC Legislature where equally nasty remarks are thrown around in place of intelligent debate. How much do we pay these people, Liberals and NDP alike, to behave in such a manner?

In spite of the above, you may still be wondering who to vote for. My mind is clear. Global warming is a global emergency on the level of World War II and it requires urgent, dramatic action. Set next to other issues, it overwhelms them like the sea-level rise that will flood coastlines all over the world by up to two metres this century, if we fail to act.

The Liberals, Greens and NDP are all committed to strong, urgent action on climate change. The Conservatives are not, so vote for whichever candidate from these three parties is most likely to win. Don’t throw away your vote on a weak candidate even if they are running for a good party.

And do vote. Don’t tell yourself it’s meaningless. We can certainly improve our democracy, but, for now, it’s the best we’ve got.

 

Guy Dauncey is president of the BC Sustainable Energy Association, editor of EcoNews and author of Stormy Weather: 101 Solutions to Global Climate Change and other titles. He lives in Victoria. www.earthfuture.com

Election fever

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

With all the elections coming this fall and winter, global warming is bound to spike up with the increased hot air! South of the border, they’re electing a president; here in Canada, we’re heading into a federal election and in Vancouver where I live, we’ll vote for a new civic government in November.

It would be great if the environment didn’t have to be an election issue. If all political parties recognized that it is such a critical issue that it should transcend partisan politics, we could vote for our party of choice based on its fiscal and social policies. The goal should be to convince all political parties to make the environment the top priority, rather than to vote for the party with the best environmental record and policies. But the environment is an election issue and, as our situation stands, it should be the top election issue, especially in our upcoming federal election.

After all, if we keep dragging our heels on environmental protection, our economic and social systems will, at best, face increasing stress from the costs of dealing with environmental health effects and diminishing resources, and, at worst, be moot points.

But it’s tough for voters to cut through all the rhetoric. Will the Liberals’ Green Shift start us on a path toward sustainability or is it just a “tax on everything”? Will the Conservative plan lead to reduced greenhouse gases “while preserving our standard of living and way of life” or will it stall needed action on global warming? What about the NDP’s Green Agenda for Canada? What role does the Green Party play?

I can’t tell you which party to vote for; I’m not even sure which one I’ll vote for. But I can say that it’s vitally important for all Canadians to put the environment at the top of the agenda in this election. That means becoming informed about the issues and the various party positions on those issues and asking the candidates some direct questions.

I can tell you what I believe are some of the most important issues. Global warming is at the top of the list. Years of inaction by various governments mean that urgent measures are needed, but it’s not a choice between environment and economy. On the contrary, other countries have shown that actions, such as shifting from reliance on fossil fuels and other non-renewable energy to renewable source, create numerous jobs and economic opportunities, as well as reducing carbon emissions. I also believe that putting a price on carbon emissions, through measures such as carbon taxes and cap-and-trade systems, is essential and has been shown to be effective in other countries.

Conservation of wilderness and parklands is also crucial. This is one area where the government has made some positive steps over the past few years. For example, according to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the amount of land protected recently in the Northwest Territories alone was equal to the area of about 25 Prince Edward Islands. But more needs to be done to ensure that these kinds of efforts continue, regardless of which party forms government.

Nowhere is the need for increased conservation more urgent than along Canada’s extensive coastline and offshore waters. Although we have the longest coastline in the world, a paltry one percent is currently protected within formally designated conservation zones. Increased protection for our rivers, lakes and oceans should be a priority for the next government.

Of course, those are just a few of the crucial issues. We should also be asking the people who intend to lead us about bulk water exports, clean water, pesticides, health and more.

If we want democracy to work, we can’t leave it all up to the politicians. Governments are there to serve us, and so it is up to us to let them know what is important to us and what we believe they must do to ensure that we continue to enjoy the quality of life that so many have worked to build in this country. So get out and vote, but before you do, don’t just listen to the candidates; talk to them as well.

 

Take the Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org