Eating Our Bombs, Revisited

This is a revised version of a post I wrote a few years ago. 

Old Weapons, New Tools

A few years ago I read a brief essay by Karen Coates about Laotian craftsmen who are literally turning modern day swords into plowshares. They are recovering the remainders of the long American bombing campaign in their country and repurposing them to work their fields.

“An American bomb detonates on Laotian soil; 30 years later, a villager exhumes the pieces. He delivers them to a scrap-metal yard. There they sit in a heap until one day, a Hmong man named Lee Moua plunks down a little money for a mangled chunk of that bomb,” writes Coates. “He takes the metal to his homespun blacksmith shop in a parched backyard among pineapples and sugarcane. He fires a bed of coals, working beneath a rusty roof on a bamboo frame. His bellows are made from a parachute flare canister – more war scrap; his anvil, an artillery shell driven into a stump. Lee Moua heats and pounds his bomb fragment into shape, toiling most of a sweltering afternoon. And when he’s done, we have a garden hoe… he hands us the silvery object, straight from a blistering fire. Its blade is wicked-sharp, capable of practical things. The transformation has taken about three hours — from a sorry piece of bomb scrap to a useful new tool.”

Coates reports in her piece that “Between 1964 and 1973, the United States pummeled Laos with bombs: 4 billion pounds of bombs, 580,000 sorties, one raid every eight minutes for nine years.” She continues, “And 30 years on, people still die every week. Up to 30 percent of those bombs never detonated, and they remain embedded in Laotian soil. Every week, farmers die while plowing their fields. Women die while tending their yards. Children die while playing with little objects they pluck from the ground…”

This story still, even after so many readings, leaves me breathless and haunted. The story comes from Cambodia Now: Life in the Wake of War. Visit Coates’ website (http://redcoates.net) to read more and see the stunning pictures of the land and people in Cambodia today. Continue reading

The Widening Gulf Between Local Communities and National Policy

Last night, Orion Magazine invited me to speak to their monthly “Green Drinks” event in Great Barrington, MA. This summer Orion published a piece by me on grassroots media and democracy and in my talk I wanted to explore one key theme, that I was only able to touch on briefly in the article itself. Recently I have been mulling over the ways in which technology has put more and more media in the hands of the people, while the media policies that shape everything we watch, read, and hear are putting more and more media control in the hands of corporations. What are the implications of this tension?

Here is what I said last night, but it just scratches the service or this much larger question: Continue reading

Can The Can

Offices, classrooms and civic groups around the country are gearing up for their annual canned food drives. From now until the new year people will pile prepackaged, non-perishable food items in cardboard boxes and promptly forget about hunger and homelessness for the rest of the year.

Obviously, this is a generalization, and likely a bit unfair. But as the season of the can drive bears down on us, I have to wonder – is it time to can the can?

We need a new kind of food drive. One that helps build a sustainable infrastructure for healthy local food for everyone. One that is premised on valuing the land and the people in our community. One that is rooted in justice, not charity.
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Eat, Read, Organize

For almost ten years my wife and I have held regular potlucks at our home. These dinner have been one of the most consistent parts of our life together. We have moved more than five times, changed jobs at least six times, got married, had a child, and through it all we have hosted these dinners. What began as a weekly gathering of some close friends and coworkers in Providence quickly spread until we had strangers showing up at our doorstep, and were meeting people at parties who would say “oh you’re the people who hold those potlucks…”. Continue reading

Fostering a Food Revolution

Ever since seeing the incredible momentum that gathered behind the effort to get the Obama’s to plant a garden in the White House lawn, I have been wanting to jot down some thoughts about this effort. However, this is one of those cases where procrastination actually pays off, because while I dawdled, Tom Philpott jotted. He has a post over at Grist.org that hits the nail on the head.

Go read it here: Food, class, and the new, new agrarianism

In general, the post actually focuses more on the coverage of the new garden at the White House, than on the garden itself. Of particular concern is the issue of class. These are some of the points that stood out for me.

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Of Guns and Seeds

A while back I did a few posts on guerrilla gardening and guerrilla harvesting that included terms like “seed bomb” (a ball of dirt with seeds in it that one lobs into empty lots in urban areas). At the time, while reviewing links and articles about these topic I stumbled on two odd projects that combine guns and seeds in unexpected ways.

From the Plant the Piece website.

From the Plant the Piece website.

The first was a project called “Plant the Piece” in which the artist created “Seed Guns” made out of “red clay, dry organic compost, and a mixture of annual-perennial species of wildflowers native and naturalized to any area, they can grow when left directly on the surface of the ground.” From the description of the project:

In 2004, the Richmond, Virginia homicide total reached 101. That same year, the traveling art installation, Plant The Piece, memorialized each murder victim by creating a “Gun”. As venues became available, ten original installations containing “Guns” were erected and the public was able to view an unfortunate statistic in an extraordinary light. The exhibit was inspired by the techniques and philosophies of Japanese radical gardener Masanobu Fukuoka. Fukuoka said, “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” Each installation was a unique reflection of it’s host venue and audience. The traveling exhibit was enormously successful as it tackled a most sensitive matter that had no apparent solution. Continue reading