The Emperor Wears No Clothes

14 07 2007

John Mackey

By Jill Ettinger

I remember attempting cleverness in my youth, particularly in school, definitely when boys were in the equation. My friends and I would make up all kinds of plots to speak to them, to find out who they liked. It was so Knots Landing of us; we took sleuthing seriously, and in many cases it outweighed the importance of studying. Between passing notes and writing them, there was barely any time to get to the work on the desk in front of me; we do have to prioritize, after all. I think now how the halls of my middle school are no longer filled with the “hand-off” of super-secret specially folded notes full with juicy gossip. This is no longer the case. This lucky generation is texting and IM’ing from their handhelds; no evidence, no crime. I am a slight bit jealous (ok, a lot bit) of the cell phone eliminating the humiliation of teachers intercepting these most important documents, laughing over them in the teachers lounge. Oh the horror.

But the instant communication we’re now privy too brings us back to our youth. We can successfully manage several discussions at once, using technology to assist. Like passing test answers under the desk. Often on important business calls, Yahoo IM comes in handy, a tool to strategize, change game plans with allies underneath the call that may have suddenly taken a strange turn. And who would even consider dating any more with out the pre-date flirt text? I mean do you really even know anyone until you’ve texted?

Enter Internet bulletin boards, forums and chat groups. As if we didn’t have enough to keep us busy, we can talk and talk and talk without ever opening our mouths, hopefully without people knowing our real identity (unless we want them to). It’s a strange human behavior, like we’re trying to relive our primal origins in the forest, stealthily stalking through the brush. The truth is, we’re not so stealth. We’re quite clumsy and need the advent of technology to allow us to attempt what should be instinctual. Intelligence has, in so many ways, made us weaker and more vulnerable. But we still respond to our primal urges, whether we have to lug a laptop along with us or not.

It’s important we consider all this before we damn John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market for his recently exposed internet alter-ego. He demonstrated the definition of “uncouth” as he clumsily guised under his wife’s name (slightly mis-spelled backwards) to boost the image of his beloved chain of grocery stores. Maybe I’m alone here, but it makes me like the guy even more. Just picture him, Sunday morning, sipping a cup of organic Allegro coffee, reading the paper, and yet another article questioning the success of the little-turned-enormous Texas based “health food” store. “Honey! I’ll be in the office!” He flips on the computer and begins to champion the merit of what it means to be the leader of a movement so vital to our collective future. Remember, this began in 1999, and a lot has happened since then. If it had not been for his valiant self-cheerleading, would it have been different?

Much of the public ridicule is coming over his Wild Oats comments, as the FTC continues to pursue prevention of the merger. But anyone who has shopped in a Wild Oats, be real, you know those stores are like Mackey (“Rahobed”) says: “OATS has lost their way and no longer has a sense of mission or even a well-thought-out theory of the business. They lack a viable business model that they can replicate. ” And they often lack inventory, proper lighting and staff to boot. It’s not even half the shopping experience of Whole Foods. Stripping Mackey his rightful place as leader of the organic world for his internet antics is like killing the king who dressed as a villager to get out and hear the truth so he can address it.

Mackey is being hung out to dry, some even calling for his resignation as CEO. It’s preposterous to carry on like he’s actually done anyone any harm. Yet this is precisely the type of news the media circus loves to give far too much attention to, the effects often crippling careers. Forget all the lives he’s saved with healthy food choices, all the well-paid employees and their families, or the farmers now receiving fair wages for their crops, the animals who are being treated more humanely or the dozens of charity organizations Whole Foods supports. America was duped and that we simply don’t stand for. Please.

I’ve spent over eight years working closely with and shopping regularly at Whole Foods. (Just last night, I kid you not, I made three separate trips to and purchases at the Bowery store in Manhattan.) There are tons of great people that make that business what it is, but there is also a great leader at the top that continues to do his best to stay engaged in the value of his corporation. That to me defines what honest business is all about. Think for a second what type of responses he would have gotten on those bulletin boards if he had fully disclosed himself?

So Mr. Mackey, the song “Vultures” from John Mayer seems incredibly apropos for you now. Enjoy! (His Live Earth performance of course.)

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Borders Collapse

13 07 2007

Border Patrol

By Derek Beres

In preparation for an upcoming DJ gig in Mexico City, I was asked to submit scans of my entire passport for the Mexican government. Having  traveled internationally for DJing and journalism before, this was the first time I was ever required to give them more than the picture ID section prior to actually entering another country. While it proved little more than a nuisance to actually perform, I still wondered why they need to know where I’ve been over the past few years, in order for me to come in now – especially given the fact that we are being brought over to play at a global-focused conference centered around the idea that nations open dialogues to each other in politics, the arts and social customs.

For years I’ve heard horror stories in the international music industry, from bands and artists that are denied visas when they already have complete tours booked. This is not solely an American phenomenon, but the lengths our country goes to “protect” itself is astounding. And instead of getting better, its only getting worse – just check out this article regarding the havoc Canadian bands have to go through to perform here. The people behind the rules are not considering the actualities of performing and touring in any fashion, and given the rate increases stated in the article, soon only bands with major label support and large venue accessibility will be able to afford to perform abroard.

Add to this a little piece on ABC News that I stumbled into yesterday.  New York City policing officials are adding 3,000 public and private “security” cameras to the downtown district. That’s more than enough to scan every block, every street, all the time. Reality television is taking on an entirely new dimension.

This has gone beyond a war on terrorism, if that’s what it ever really was. A few isolated acts, in which the actual circumstances of why they occurred have never been explained or explored in any true depth by the governing forces,  do not account for the monitoring of every citizen, nor the strong-armed resistance of letting artists enter our country to share their craft. Given that under a quarter of Americans even have passports, and that to travel around our country is expensive as it is, both living in and traveling around this country is becoming more of a hassle, and to some extents, dangerous.

And danger it is that pervades the consciousness of a culture that has to constantly stare over its shoulder at ghosts in the shells of empty bullets. Fear is a mental condition and emotional reaction, one that has allowed us to becoming rather astute survivors. When that quality turns from manning the every day of natural forces and turns into a conspiracy against each other – and the invisible but ever-present “terrorists” – there is only suffering ahead. And while some crafty pharmaceutical company will no doubt develop the anti-terror drug (which, in some forms, already exists), that will not account to the many people that live life in constant fear of this ghost, nor in the fact that the richness and dexterity of life will never be experienced by so many because of that nameless, invisible fear.





Come On, Get Happy

11 07 2007

Prozac

By Jill Ettinger

Though shocking, it’s not much of a surprise that the most commonly written prescriptions in this country are for antidepressants. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2005 saw 118 million out of 2.4 billion prescriptions going to lexapro, paxil, prozac and slews of others. An independent study in 2005 revealed 11% of women and 5% of men (non-institutionalized) regularly take an antidepressant. There are also myriad ways we distract ourselves from “unhappy thoughts” – just think about all the people that regulate their moods with non-prescription habits like alcohol, illegal drugs, food, and so on.

What’s incredible and startling about this is these are conditions of the Western world. We who “have more” than most any other nation, it seems, suffer the greatest mental stress.  Is that a reflection of overconsumption? Perhaps it’s a result of keeping up with the Joneses, who have that perfect life while ours feels empty. Setting a standard based on the wealth of others, rather than what feels healthy or happy, is a strange delusion. Does it matter what anyone else feels or thinks or does? Can we measure happiness by what that word means to someone else? Yet our answer seems to be an absolute “yes,” as we continue to pursue unattainable goals, living in the shadows of make believe contentment. The pills become not an answer to our miseries, but a tool to stave them off while we continue the cyclical search for the holy grail of the American Dream.

A 2006 study listing the “happiest” nations revealed a direct correlation between the happy factor and the healthy factor; the top three awards went to Denmark, Switzerland and Austria, demonstrating their umbilical relationship. While giant strides are being made in U.S. food choices, the reality is, well, people still eat Twinkies. They drink 32 ounces of soda and finish an entire pint of ice cream while watching the Late Show. Even in our best attempts at achieving some semblance of what our perfect neighbors appear to have, prozac assisted or not, we are simply too physically depressed to overcome the inertia of what we often perceive to be an emotional or psychological handicap.

It goes without saying that there are genuine cases of depression, but what is at the root of most cases of prescription drugs? Doctors see patients on average routine visits for less than twenty minutes, and more than half are the first line of contact a patient has for discussing depression, often resulting in a prescription first, mental health practitioner recommendation, second. It’s a typical American practice, reminiscent of our “fast food nation” mentality: combat hunger first and nutritional needs secondary, if at all. Allopathic doctors deal topically with symptoms, rarely seeking out to treat root causes, bandaging the gushing wound of our nation’s biggest dis-ease. Inadequate, defined as being deficient, incomplete or defective is one of the most common “feelings” associated with depression resulting in a prescription. It’s an interesting condition, that of feeling incomplete, as all beings are born into this world absent key information about our origin, one that religion attempts to answer but often leads to even more questions and feelings of isolation and confusion. The pursuit of feeling the opposite of inadequate – complete, or oneness with whatever – often finds itself mixed up in status, ego and identity defined by our jobs, possessions and appearance, a chase that never ends.

Maybe the truth is we are incomplete as long as we perceive there is a destination beyond our journey. Maybe all the information is right now inside and guiding us, but we have  not trusted it completely. Maybe it’s that voice that tells us war is not as effective an answer as understanding and respect. Maybe keeping our bodies as well maintained as our cars would make for safer traveling. Or maybe pills designed to create huge profits for drug companies and life-long dependency for the rest of us really is the answer.

But who said we have to be happy all the time anyway? Television, for one, delivers the undeliverable life with menial challenges resolved in a thirty-minute episode for the perfect American family – the prom queen daughter, and son, captain of the football team. Though we know “real” life is much more visceral, we still follow the mirage to quench these contrived thirsts for happy.

The bottom line is that we are confused. We are prone to it by our very nature of “reasoning” and intellectualizing our illogical circumstance. Can we observe all that comes with this state of being mystified – anger, sadness, frustration, fear, lonliness with a sense of happiness? Or at the very least, contentment? Perhaps that sounds outrageous, and to someone in the throws of deep depression, its understandable that may not be possible, but isn’t it always a choice? In yoga, we push to that point of discomfort, and try to change resistance into release. It’s often not a “happy” moment, but it’s a rewarding one because it’s real. Medicating our genuine emotional state is just masking – a cover up – for what is truly happening. It’s as true for us as individuals as for the state of our collective well-being. If we took away every distraction and delusion and just left our minds and emotions alone, would they find a way of being happy? Or would they find that being happy is just another way of simply being?





Global Beat Fusion: Journeymen

10 07 2007

Fanfare Ciocarlia

by Derek Beres

The question of identity affects us in stark and profound—and very often, unconscious—ways. Individuals, and by extension the communities they are born within, generally use two means of defining “who” they are: geography and religion. It can be argued that the latter, like all later affiliations in life, is a conscious choice, although many religious groups believe themselves to have inherently been born as such. Geography is, then, the most reliable means of defining a culture.

The Rom, popularly known as Gypsies, has not fit this mold for some time, mostly due to the fact that no one can prove where its origins lay. (The same can be said for humanity in general.) While linguistic parallels trace the Romani dialect to India, some feel that these people originally arrived from East Africa. The Sidis of Gujarat, the “Black Sufi” community in India, is one example of how ethnographic cultures form over time. Claiming India as the motherland of Gypsy culture doesn’t always pan out: some feel that they are the descendents of the kshatriya, the warrior caste, while others claim they were lower, given the fact that wherever they traveled that is the role they assume.

And traveled the Rom did, to Persia in the ninth century, and soon after up the Balkan trail into Eastern Europe. Today Gypsy culture is global; the term comes from economic and social standing as much as ancestry, as well speaking the Romani language. Why, exactly, the seemingly random journeying of a lower-class population should even deserve attention seems confusing, until we recognize one simple fact, regarding the influence of their travels: they are the very soul of each culture they touch.

Click here to read full article on Pop Matters.





Top Ten Things That Made Live Earth Awesome

8 07 2007

Al Gore

By Jill Ettinger

1. Earth united – 7 continents – 9 stages. That’s one hell of a performance. Seeing the whole planet share in an historic event is inspiring beyond words. The number quoted during the event was over two billion worldwide! Music has that power to unite, whether we completely understand what we’re there for or not. The roster of talent included everyone from Dave Mathews Band to Akon, Alicia Keys to Metallica, Joss Stone to Smashing Pumpkins. Perfomers shared messages of what it means to face the climate crisis – what solutions we have that are tangible right now. Many revealed their contributions as artists, like bio-diesel tour buses and charity organizations building LEED-certified homes for Katrina victims.

2.  It’s Easy Being Green – The boldly candid public service announcements ranging from Moby to Chris Rock touched on all the really simple ways to make a difference. Recycling and changing over to CFL (compact fluorescent light bulbs) the obvious and easy choices, but even touchier subjects, like vegetarianism, the black sheep of the environmental movement, got its proper credit. Facts like 50 million animals being farmed for human consumption produce over ten percent of the methane causing the greenhouse effect; also, by switching to one veg meal per week, we could save enough grain used to feed animals to feed more than 25 million people. Duh.

3. The Mermaid short film – All the films were incredibly creative, thoughtful and touching, but maybe it’s something in that little girl’s Australian accent that got me, or maybe it’s the thought of the Great Barrier Reef dying that put a tear in my eye. But damn. The message was loud and clear. All the videos can be seen here and are absolutely worth your time.

4. Duran Duran – Remember at Live Aid when Simon Le Bon’s voice cracked during “Wild Boys?” Being a thirteen-year-old girl at the time, I remember it like I was watching the Kennedy assassination. There before my ears and eyes was a pitchy Le Bon, defacing the new wave pop gods I had pledged my entire existence to. It’s a good thing they fell out of mainstream culture for the next twenty years.“Lay low like the Pope after another church scandal.” I’m sure that’s what Le Bon was thinking on that hot summer day in 1985. The painful memory resurfaced when they appeared on the Live Earth stage. I held my breath. I know Simon was terrified. (He didn’t sing that song, not surprisingly.) Not only was his voice completely on this time but the Fab five have finally, actually become a decent live band.  “Planet Earth” was a great performance, and a perfect fit for the theme of the day. Bollocks to all you nonbelievers!

5. Robert Redford and Sundance Channel’s coverage – Bobby really should think about throwing his hat into the Presidential election. Seriously. Everything Sundance does is so superbly perfect, it makes one wonder what this country would look like under a Redford administration. Probably a lot of fresh local fruit deliveries for everyone, educational film festivals in every city and posters of him smiling and winking, tastefully hanging in city buildings. He’s got that Sundance Kid swagger, and  could probably even tout a pistol all bandit-in-charge style and let’s be real, Hillary would totally vote for him.

6. The scientist/rocker dudes from Antarctica – Hell yeah! I’m pretty sure starting a rock band on a giant ice cube with only penguins for groupies is about as badass as it gets.

7.The Police with John Mayer and Kanye West – FINALLY! Some bold live music mash up that rocks. (Figures it was the very last song of the day.) While the cover of the Rolling Stones “Gimme Shelter” by Keith Urban and Alicia Keys was seriously smoking (that’s right, I said Keith Urban rocked it), it was just true to form. It’s a hot song, but give us a little surprise people, we can handle it. Kanye coming out to freestyle overtop Sting crooning “Sending out an S.O.S” and John Mayer’s bluesy guitar was just the type of sass this event and climate crisis needs. If we keep playing songs exactly like they were written, we lose our ability to see new ways of making them even better. (We all know songs are metaphors for everything, so use your imagination here.)

8. Madonna – Whether you love her or hate her, one thing is undeniable: she definitely has the upper hand. Be afraid, people. How the hell did she pull off Romanian Gypsies [Gogol Bordello] playing the Spanish “La Isla Bonita?” And since when did she play guitar like she was in Metallica? And for real, is she bionic? Seriously, her body is so incredibly taught, I bet she’s on some super secret British special forces gig for the Queen Mum where she can squeeze your head between her hips like a vice grip and rip the damn thing off for her trophy case. Good thing she’s on this side of the climate crisis issue.

9. This ain’t no Live Aid – 1985 was a strange year and that concert made it even stranger. Didn’t we already have that “We Are the World Song” out for six months before the concert? Who is Bob Geldof, really? Isn’t he that crazy drugged out dude from The Wall? He wants me to send him money for a country on a continent far far away for what again? Too confusing. Live Earth on the other hand, all they’re asking is I turn off the water when I brush my teeth, change a few light bulbs, recycle and think a little about what I use and what I throw away. That I can do. It’s easy, it’s practical and let’s hope, enough to make a change.

10. Al Gore  – Dude may have been badly robbed of the measly President of the United States job, but joke’s on Bush now, because Gore is officially the first President of Planet Earth. Go with it Al. We trust you. We love you. Thank you





Sarah

6 07 2007

Sarah

By Jill Ettinger

Last night, a friend and I talked about our laborious decision-making processes. Being heavily involved in the natural products industry for over half of my life, I’m aware that I’ve developed the habit of thinking through my purchasing choices, perhaps even to a crippling degree. The thing is, so much is affected by conscious and unconscious decisions. Though these are perhaps not the thoughts of the average American, we nonetheless weigh the value of eating organically versus the impact of transporting foods from around the globe, the economic and environmental tolls of paper towels versus hand dryers, and the struggle of “buying green” versus buying nothing at all. There are no right answers; these questions in and of themselves involve the practice of becoming more connected to everything we are already connected to. They serve to remind why it is I am so grateful for the opportunities to bring more choices to an era inundated with less freedom. One can only hope that pleas like in the video posted below (Remixing Nixon) to a government for, by and of the people begins to sink in, and the powers that be step it up for the collective best interest, not just their own.

At 35 years old, with more than 15 of them spent in this industry I value so tremendously, it’s refreshing to see the passionate next generation come of age. I am no longer the youngest player on the team, but find myself surrounded by individuals with the drive to take things even further. Just imagine that. We have come so far, yet there’s still so much more room to grow. What the founding fathers of the organic movement brought to this planet a few decades ago was enormous. And I am in awe when contemplating where we’re at now. Despite the challenges that continue to present themselves, the doors that open to sharing not just organic foods, but fairly traded, environmentally considerate and compassionate options is just unbelievable. It’s an honor to look into the eyes of this generation that will insist on even bigger change, affecting more people and (hopefully) bringing more happiness and balance. The saying “child is the father of man” continues to ring true, and I for one feel safe getting older. While corruption and greed still exists ad nauseum, those are the last efforts of dying breeds.

As Sunfood Nutrition grows, we have developed relationships with brokers who can assist us in our retail placement. We’ve acquired some of the longest standing pioneers, who have great reputations and relationships  valuable to a small company. But at this year’s Natural Products Expo West in March, I pledged my support to a small North West team, none over age thirty, because the smile and sincerity in their eyes was undeniable. One particular young lady in the crew, Sarah Venning, passed away tragically just two days ago in a car accident. The news left me feeling sick to my stomach as I tried to process the unthinkable. It was just days before her 26th birthday.

Though my exchanges with Sarah were infrequent, they were always inspiring. She resonated with our products, and her enthusiasm was touching, genuine. Like her partners at Conscious Trading, I always felt we were not just in good hands, but some of the best on the planet. This was a team committed to standing for something because it was who they were; they simply have to do what they’re called to do. Compassion is a powerful tool, one that lends itself to positive change, and it is indeed  the trademark of our future. If we cannot respect all things, we will not begin to understand nor learn how to live together. And there is so much to learn about other cultures, traditions and individuals.

Sarah, a massage therapist from New Orleans, set up shop after the Katrina disaster, using her healing gifts to ease people through the tragedy. She also co-founded A Conscious Tune, a non-profit organization designed to revive and preserve the unique culture of New Orleans by raising and allocating funds for local grassroots organizations that have a remarkable volunteer base and a significant impact toward improving living conditions in New Orleans.

The miracle of myspace allows all of us to take a look at what was, like her beautiful smile, a unique and unforgettable life. Though the tragedy of losing anyone is no easy thing to forget, I find some comfort on this blue rainy evening thinking there are many more valiant spirits like Sarah Venning, ready to rise to meet the future. Both Jesse and Julie at Conscious Trading specifically. I know they’ll carry on even more nobly and courageously for the cause Sarah was so passionate about. Blessings and Love.





Remixing Nixon

5 07 2007