Coming Soon: Attack of the Enviropigs!

30 07 2007


By Jill Ettinger

When I was growing up, food technology seemed to mean a new Starburst flavor, or “more crunch” in Cap’n Crunch cereal. Microwave popcorn was avant-garde. But in just the last two decades, advancements in bioengineering hints to a rapidly evolved integration of scientific intelligence and our ever-increasing human curiosity – or perhaps – we’re just crazier than ever. Reading this NY Times article on biotech foods, like the “Enviropig” (I kid you not), emphasized the probability that lunacy, rather than logic, guides our efforts in these expensive explorations. What will we think of next? Jumbled human minds dispense difficulty disguised as logic for no other reason than to untangle itself, insisting on constant innovation. The matrix of rationalization and deduction cloud the obvious, and we toil in false problems with answers of even greater consequence.

According to Andrew Pollack’s article, funding for livestock biotech is slim primarily because of lack of definitions from the FDA. But they’re coming, even though the long-term research doesn’t exist to support safe entry into the food chain. Altered genetic composition has the potential to create food sensitivities and allergies on any scale. Remember the Starlink corn fiasco? Though I’ve nothing more than intuition, living, breathing, mutant animals seem to pose a much greater risk than a stalk of corn.

Though these modern practices enhance megalomania, we’re not strangers to playing God with our environments. Mythological mixed creatures like centaurs and mermaids have existed for thousands of years. Agricultural hybridization dates back to pre-biblical times. Countless cruel and vulgar practices demonstrate that we’ve presumed that that which does not dominate us must belong under our dominion. Whether contrived at the whim of a commanding King or in the haughty pretense of unventilated laboratories of academia, this is marginal compared to their irreversible effects on society and nature. And maybe, that’s just the point. Maybe our purpose amounts to creating noxious pollution and pigs that have been genetically modified to excrete less phosphorous into our water systems, so that the genetically enhanced giant-three-eyed-salmon we eat are healthier.

Whether in the name of science or religion, our myopia verily distills down to War. On the surface, religion drives our violent killing-in-the-name-of’s, but look just below and you’ll see the battle against ourselves born of non sequitur science-fictional manipulation of our organic environment. Why do we do this? Splicing and dicing gene codes is an endless downward spiral of conjecture. Cleaning swine-spoiled water by tinkering around with their cellular structure seems like trying to make raindrops less wet so that they don’t cause a flood. Isn’t the common sense answer to build dams, or avoid it altogether by getting to higher ground?  Isn’t the answer to the complications born of industrialized foods simply less of it?

Genetic exploitation of animals is a precursor to unknown transmutations passed from generation to generation. It’s simply impossible to predict the cellular behavior of future generations. This oversight demonstrates the scariest and most irresponsible aspect of modern science. Sure, we can make a salmon grow twice as big in half the time, but does that really solve any of our food problems – or does it just create more of them?

Maybe the bloody combat wars will begin to subside, but we’re filling in the space with a different kind of genocide. We’re raging against our planet with patents and terminator seeds and Enviropigs. Maybe we’re not developing ways to sustain life, but more ways to destroy it. In The Godfather II, Michael Corleone says, “If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone.” The ways, of course, are unlimited.


UFO’s Over Bamako

26 07 2007

Vieux Farka Toure

I had the pleasure of producing a new album of remixes coming out next month of Malian artist Vieux Farka Toure’s debut album. What follows is a very thoughtful feature written by LA-based writer Steve Hochman – DB

A Vieux to a Beat: Malian Singer Supports Remix of His Album
By Steve Hochman

Is anyone else weary of remix albums featuring “exotic” sounds from various cultures? Ever since M/A/R/R/S sampled Ofra Haza for ‘Pump Up the Volume’ and Michael Brook fashioned electro-ambient settings for Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan tracks, there’s been a steadily accelerating glut of Arabic/African/Indian/wherever music turned into rave/chill-out/electronica/ whatever well past the cliché point. But there does still seem to be a market for that sort of thing.

“To be honest, I listen to the remixes more than the original album.”

That’s from Malian musician Vieux Farka Touré, and in this case he knows a bit about the original album in question. He made it. He’s discussing ‘”Remixed: UFOs Over Bamako,’ which features various DJs and producers reworking tracks from his recent international debut, ‘Vieux Farka Touré.’

Read the full story on

Man Vs. Mind 2: Surviving the Fib

25 07 2007

Seinfeld character George Costanza uttered one of the greatest lines of all time when he attempted to help Jerry pass a lie-detector test (episode 102, “The Beard,” season 6): “Just remember Jerry, it’s not a lie, if you believe it.” In a rare moment, the neurotic nonsense that Costanza was best known for was clouded by Zen-like wisdom.  The world is as we make it. (Just ask any “expert” from the movie The Secret.) Truth is relative. So are lies.

Isn’t what we get out of a situation more relevant than how we got there? The truth is where we’re at right this very moment; everything else is just speculative. But still, we measure and judge each other to infinite levels; we talk about people behind their backs instead of to their faces; we teach children the practices of manipulating and competing – ergo lying and cheating often pave the road to success and victory. Why are some lies generally considered ok? (My inner Dave Chappelle wonders why those ones happen to be called “white lies”?) Stupid things like super-secret surprise birthday parties feel more like weird grown-up versions of peek-a-boo than justifiable hoaxes. (Seriously, who really likes coming home to a dark house full of screaming, hyper-happy people?)

Granted, it’s helpful to have assurance in life, but isn’t that quite possibly the most ironic expectation any one of us can have – ever? The Ten Commandments may have espoused honesty, but then again, the accuracy of their origins has always been confounded. Yet millions of people believe there is a God, sitting in heaven, with a giant scorecard for each of us (though he probably uses a spreadsheet now). If you’re a Christian, you know, he’s taking note when you call in sick from work to go stand in line to buy your kid the new Harry Potter book. (By the way, do any Christian musicians cover that 1984 Orwellian Rockwell song “Somebody’s Watching Me”?)

We live in a world where unscrupulous propaganda is ubiquitously attacking us from all directions. Still, you Mr. & Mrs. Subservient American should never lie, no matter what. But if you have to, then just confess your sins as quickly as possible, give more money to churches, hope for forgiveness, and of course, promise never to do it again, until the next time.

Bear Grylles, host of the Discovery Channels Survival Show Man Vs. Wild is being investigated for allegedly sleeping indoors during the filming of several episodes that depicted him spending the entire night in the elements he was attempting to get out of unaided. Each show, he is stranded in areas like the Everglades, Australian Outback, African Savannah, etc and left to his own skills to make it back to civilization in under five days. He demonstrates remarkable agility and countless useful tips (which I referenced in last week’s blog as being innate in each of us, but nonetheless, a valuable reminder coming from Grylles is quite helpful).

Grylles prefaces each episode with the intention of “putting himself in a situation like someone stranded” (hiker, climber, etc.). Given those words as our bearings, a moment later, we accept that in order for us to be viewing Grylles, he is being video-taped by someone else, therefore, clearly not “alone.” Survival often comes down to will and morale. Being alone is much different than having your best mates behind a camera. (I’m a big fan of David Blaine, who often performs “magic tricks,” but it’s his endurance acts that earn him the most recognition. He has done some of the craziest stuff a human has ever attempted, like living in a Plexiglas box for 44 days, a tank of water for seven, and standing inside a block of ice for three. But if it weren’t for the constant support he gets from fans and friends, he has said that he probably would be less successful. Morale is incredibly powerful.)

Next, let’s look at the harsh wild areas themselves. Grylles and his team spend weeks researching the climate, flora and fauna of the forests, deserts and mountainous regions he travels to. He meets up with rangers and local experts before embarking. During each episode he tells stories of those who have had brushes with death or worse in the same areas he’s working to escape. The reality is, without research, he’d have little to talk about during the show. Regardless of his survival training, he’s got an unnatural advantage in his extensive research and preparation. Certainly many people who get lost in the wild have that type of knowledge as well. Many do not. It’s obvious that even though he may only have a knife with him, Grylles is more prepared than most anyone else facing a similar situation. Isn’t that the point of the show? He’s there to show us how to survive; therefore, his own is an obvious priority.

So, does whether he stayed in the environment or snuck out with the camera crew (who apparently get air-lifted each night to power up cameras, take showers, eat Cheetos, etc) negate the inherent benefits of the program? What’s this really all about? Are we still mad at Martha Stewart? I mean unless I just time-traveled to Terabithia, this is still 2007 and the United States of America, where our two-term incumbent president STOLE an election and refused to give it back. Our level of dishonesty is superfluous; it is as if it were the truth! Anyway, everyone wants Jedi-mind trick type of powers. (Go on, now you have another reason to ask the “experts” from The Secret). We want the truth to be convenient, not necessarily genuine. We believe in things we can’t prove and prove things everyone believes but no one’s willing to change. As it appears, lies, not building fires or finding water, have become our most necessary survival skill. So, thanks for the reminder Mr. Grylles! Looks like you’ve actually done an even better job than expected.

It was a musical thing…

23 07 2007

Oh Gaud

20 07 2007


By Jill Ettinger

Growing up in a family of four children, we generated a lot of trash. Drink boxes, cereal boxes, cans of soup and raviolis, egg cartons, milk gallons – and that was just kitchen trash. There were also old shoestrings, broken toys, empty shampoo bottles and dust-filled vacuum bags. It was a sight indeed. Garbage went outside every night, if not before. What can a family do? Unless you are living on a farm, eating fresh every night, avoiding the cumbersome grocery store excess and playing shoeless with rocks and dirt outside, there is going to be waste.

We face issues with landfills around the world. Piles and piles of homeless trash need to slim up in order for us to have room for the piles and piles of people we keep making. Energy conservation and a conscious relationship with our purchasing choices becoming the battle cry of folks like Al Gore. And rightfully so. It’s easy to find ways to reuse things with little thought. I stopped buying drinking glasses years ago, for example. I still use mugs with handles for hot stuff, but all else goes into an empty jar. I don’t put  produce into a plastic bag at the store, and am often amazed at people buying something already in a ‘wrapper,’ like a grapefruit or an avocado, and then placing it into yet another plastic bag before checking out at the counter.

San Francisco recently issued a ban on using city funds to purchase water bottles, as the number of bottles in landfills in California is over a billion annually. Cities like Minneapolis, Salt Lake and even ol’ Gotham are looking to adopt this rule as well. Score one for forward-thinking politicians. It’s all about the steps and stages of progress, like the good old fashioned tote bag. They’ve been a staple in co-ops and neighborhood health food stores since they opened doors; and dare a tie-dyed-birkenstock-wearing customer shop without it.

As the business of organic environmentally friendly choices has hit Wall Street, so grows the abundance of Whole Foods plastic bags. I’m amazed at how many I see in a day, versus a D’Agostino’s or Gristedes. They’ve become the Louis Vuitton of plastic grocery bags. But that is until these hideous Anya Hindmarch “I am not a plastic bag” bags arrived.  Please. Whole Foods sold 20,000 of them like they were Pope tickets. The other night I was standing next to a woman clutching it like it was worth the $1500 that Hindmarch handbags are famous for. I’m all for reusable, but this is just horribly ridiculous.

Why not consider reusing the Whole Foods plastic bags? As I’ve cut down on my waste output, I find one of those bags will last me at least a weeks worth of trash! As a result I’m not buying many giant plastic “garbage bags” and the boxes they come in. I still use canvas totes too, but wait in line to buy one? Maybe if this one read: “I am not an identity statement written on a bag.” And even then, probably not.

So yeah yeah yeah, green is the new black or whatever. It’s great that America is getting conscious about getting conscious, but are we really get ting it? Or will this important movement just be victim to our trend-minute attention span? (Oh and by the way, now that 3rd ave is shut down due to the explosion, I hear you can catch a red-flyer wagon ride up 2nd. It’s free, but you’re supposed to make a donation to the kids pulling them. They were flown in just to do this from Chile. They’re raising money to buy Ralph Lauren farming gloves – organic cotton of course.)

I’m Not A Charity

19 07 2007

 Not a Bag

By Derek Beres

While my first call of duty was avoiding the incessant rain tumbling from July skies, I had a slight break between thunderstorms to rush into Whole Foods before a morning class at Jivamukti. I walk up the stairs at the Union Square station, met by a line that wrapped around the corner, down Broadway to 13th St, around that corner to University, and snaking back up – almost an entire NYC block as it encroached upon 14th via University. An admitted Whole Foods junkie, I’m stunned; I’m there every morning and have never seen anything like this, much less during the worst thunderstorm this summer. All I wanted was a bottle of water.

I walk up to the front door.  An early twenty-something is standing guard.

“Um, what’s going on?”

He laughs. I’m sure he’s been asked this question numerous times in the past hour. “If you’re just shopping, go on in.”

I enter. The sign is prominent near the entrance – this was the day when designer Anya Hindmarch’s “I’m Not A Plastic Bag” went on sale. For a woman whose bags normally sell from $700 to the thousands, the $15 price point was meant to become an accessible entry point to her product, and make an environmentally progressive message to people across the planet. (The bag launched in London, and has hit other global cities.) The idea: reuse your bag; don’t rely on plastic.

Like many “messages,” this one is completely mixed. There are obvious good points, along with questionable aspects to the sale. Whole Foods Union Square and Bowery were stocked with 3,000 bags, which sold out in under two hours. Some people had been waiting on line since six p.m. the previous night for the eight a.m. opening. In the midst of the shower that started after I left the store, most people were laughing it off. “It’s all for the love of the bag,” I’m guessing was their point. But let’s check out a few other points, and let the reader decide the intention.

1. The bag is god-awful ugly. Because you’re hitting a low price point does not give anyone he right to create something that hideous, unless, of course, that is part of the joke. The font, apparently meant to look “cute” and “eco,” is a mess of a children’s script – and that is more a discredit to the penmanship of children than anything.

2. The bags were produced, according to her site, in China, by workers paid double minimum wage. They purchased carbon offset points in the global shipping of them.

3. Number Two is their answer to the question of “How environmentally friendly is this bag?” What that means, essentially, is that the bag itself is probably not made from organic material, and to reach that price point for a designer charging that much for her wares, most likely as cheaply as possible. If you’ve seen the bag, that’s an obvious statement.

4. In the question “What changes has this bag led to?,” the answer is that some overseas stores took out full-page adverts to promote them. Wonderful. What does that have to do with the question? Well, nothing. It goes on to say that a few of the stores now offer credits for people who reuse bags they bring from home – something that Whole Foods and other organic grocers have been doing for years.

5. Most of the press on this have interviewed consumers that planned on flipping a profit on the bag. Previous posts started at $300 for a bag that was bought for $15 – the same day. Anya says that this is beyond their control, which is totally true. In fact, it is this very thinking which led to the creation of such an initiative in the first place. Let’s flesh that out a little.

As someone that does not work in fashion, I cannot justify any comments on the worth of this designer’s work, and value. But what I do notice – and this is applicable to numerous peoples and industries – is the complete lack of responsibility in producing any handbag for thousands of dollars. In some ways, this entire project reeks of Victorian arrogance, the idea being that the rich and powerful are bending down to appease the lowly that cannot afford their products otherwise. The reality is that well beyond any environmental impact this may have, which I’m guessing is not much, is that it did serve as a great PR stunt. The people that buy her bags and shoes feel justified that their designer is “helping the environment,” and the press will latch onto her as being a big-timer looking out for the earth. This trend has been executed with a shark-like brilliance from numerous campaigns in the oil and textiles industry – why not advertise Green everywhere, but not really do much about it? That’s exactly what’s happening.

She flat-out states that there is no charitable component, so people selling them on eBay are not harming any charity. The question remains: What are you really doing for the environment? There are endless companies actively using organic and fair trade fabrics and foods in every aspect of their production, that donate a percent of everything they earn to amazing charities, that go into disparate regions of the world and economically and socially lend a hand. Out of the 6,000 bags sold in NYC, I’m pretty certain that most all of them will not be used, at least not in public, after the new three weeks when every other fashion dies out anyway – for whatever fashion statement carrying such a monstrosity around is. But great job Anya, you got what you wanted in the first place: a lot of press, and your name on the tip of a number of tongues. Like any poison, the remedy will be quick, and effective.

We could only hope to be so lucky.

Man Vs. Mind

18 07 2007

Bear Grylles

By Jill Ettinger

In the movie Thank You For Smoking, Academy of Tobacco Studies Vice President Nick Naylor testifies before Senate about the responsibility of human decision-making, regardless of the harm evident in smoking tobacco. His point is uncomfortably valid. After all, this is a nation founded on the right to make money, lots of it, and without apology.

When people sue McDonald’s because they claim an inability to stop themselves from eating Big Macs, allowing disease and obesity to overtake them, is that really a fault that can be absolutely proven to belong to the corporation? Do we humans have no self-restraint? What about Morgan Spurlock, who made the documentary Super Size Me, where he lived only on McDonald’s food for 30 days? He put himself through an onslaught of incredibly disgusting unHappy Meals; his body showed obvious strains as a result, but at day 30, he ended the experiment with no regrets, point proven and moved past. Where does industry become directly responsible for our actions, our decisions and choices? Which of us control our own destiny?

Certainly we live in a world where many of us have far too much access to things that are bad for us. But as intelligent creatures, we have to talk ourselves into those situations, and just in the same way we can talk ourselves out of them.

If you’ve watched the Discovery Channel’s “Man Vs Wild,” starring Bear Grylles, you’ve seen the indomitable human will to survive. Grylles served in the British special forces, and was the youngest Brit to ever climb Everest at age 23, on the heels of recovering from breaking his back while skydiving in Africa. Week after week, Grylles voluntarily drops himself into the world’s harshest environments with only the clothes on his back – and, sometimes a knife and water bottle – to demonstrate the many ways to survive. What is so important about this show, amidst a sea of mindless programming, is the truly practical application. Life, no matter what our immediate environment, is all about survival. Granted, Grylles makes this look incredibly easy, but after watching a few episodes, something clicks that makes you realize, it is easy. We are not aliens to this planet; we are born of it, and once the Dunkin-haze fades, we see that more clearly. When one starts to apply the methods of working with their environment rather than against it, instincts guide and protect us. With a little education and common sense, we can approach each situation knowing what the likely predators and dangers are, and prepare for their arrival.

Though it no doubt helps to have years of specialized training as Grylles does, the truth is we need very little to survive. Just look at three key factors: food, shelter and love. Food is a lot easier than we’ve made it. Science keeps proving that caloric restriction extends life, whereas gorging on Mcanything will likely have the opposite effect. Grylles, while walking for days in harsh climates, usually eats very little (if at all), yet he’s able to hike mountains, build structures, pull himself out of frozen lakes and quicksand and find his way back to civilization in under five days. Protein, fat, carbohydrates are essential for optimal body functioning, but met with simplicity, rather than decadence, they become more a tool to survive than a reason for living. But somehow Americans get caught between vending machines and the late night window at Taco Bell, and have to convince ourselves otherwise. We allow body to rule the mind; false hunger pervades priorities.

According to John Robbins’ book The Food Revolution, there are as many people dying from malnutrition through starvation as there are through obesity. It’s totally mind-blowing. People are eating themselves to death while others have nothing to eat. Americans claim they don’t have access to healthy food, yet organic makes up less than 3% our total U.S. supply, and we have the ability to meet much larger demands unlike previously thought. Not only can America get onto healthy foods, but the world can  have access to better quality farming methods.

Shelter, like food, has become less about necessity and more about identity. Zip codes, dress sizes, horse power – these numbers matter more than the number of raindrops that sneak into many beds every night around the world. Basic needs of the global tribe are overruled by greedy justification. It’s no wonder we have to stock houses full with mind-numbing foods and drugs that help us forget our wont for selfish security.

Which brings us to love. Maybe if it came before food or shelter – or anything else – we’d find ourselves with more of everything. Our tribe is over six billion now, and we cannot continue to pretend otherwise. We cannot kill in the name of gods or lines in the sand. Was it Einstein who said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results? What if we loved everyone today instead of seeing them as preventing us from … what, really? From our addictions?