I’ve been reading Robin Shulman’s entertaining book “Eat the City” about the history and practice of growing food in New York City. I’ll be appearing with her in discussion at SPUR on September 13, so they kindly sent me a review copy. She opens the book with a long chapter about honey and beekeeping in New York, following a guy who has built a business out of maintaining various hives, collecting swarms when they appear, and generally being a successful entrepreneur while cultivating his rugged individualist curmudgeonliness. Shulman’s prose is a pleasure to read, she wastes no words while spinning beautiful and charming stories.
Food continues to be the main way in for a lot of folks to a practical transformation in the here-and-now. They can change their eating habits, they get involved in gardening or shopping with local farmers at a farmers market, or gleaning and foraging for wild herbs and fruits in their city neighborhoods. (An inspiring example I came upon recently is the Peterson Garden Project in Chicago.) It’s also an escape of sorts, a way to carry on working at pernicious jobs for high-tech companies or biotech companies while establishing a self-righteousness derived from “at least” doing your best to eat well and support artisanal production (this is the basic goal of the Slow Food movement, at least in the U.S.—in Italy where it started it has deeper roots in working class and traditional proletarian farming communities). My pal Rebecca Solnit writes about the dual nature of the current renaissance in urban agriculture in “Revolutionary Plots” in the latest Orion magazine, highlighting other mutual friends at the Alemany Farm while also decrying the easy withdrawal it provides to the affluent foodies that are sustaining the gentrifying restaurant boom in our neighborhood. Meanwhile Brazilian friends are busy with a series of projects, including urban horticulture and seed exchange picnics and a “have less, live more” festival.
Bernard Marszalek, in a recent Counterpunch posting (condolences to all on the passing of Alexander Cockburn, a friend who I hadn’t known well but always enjoyed in spite or because of his orneriness) addresses the oft-invoked model of the multinational cooperative Mondragon, a Spanish-based corporation that encompasses dozens of enterprises all owned and run by the workers themselves. Naturally a lot of people look to Mondragon as a hopeful model of another way to live and work in the world as we know it:
The statistics of Mondragon’s success ($17bn. sales in 2011), number of employees (83,569) and international expansion (94 subsidiaries in 17 countries), means that Mondragon must navigate global trade, which generates 70 percent of its income, with a keen awareness of the opportunities to make profitable investments, not unlike a traditional corporation. The savvy managers of this vast economic conglomerate put to shame the corrupt corporate CEOs, worldwide, who create wealth by controlling politicians and manipulating financial markets.
We have come to expect corporate malfeasance, however, when we come across a corporation abiding by a higher standard, we need to temper our enthusiasm and sharpen our critical faculties. MC abides by outstanding principles regarding the dignity of work and the betterment of their community, but when the corporation enters the arena of international trade, these ethical premises are challenged by the bottom-line mentality. This conundrum cannot be ignored. Every worker cooperative must deal with the marketplace and its diktats and limit, to the best of its ability, their corrosive effects on daily operations. Mondragon, since it contends with these issues on such an immense scale, attempts to balance the real world’s ethical comprises with their internal values with increasing difficulty. Its overseas investments, for instance, are motivated solely by financial concerns; they do not invest to create cooperatives with the 15,000 workers they employee in other countries.
Taking a much longer look, 300 years in the future, Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest novel 2312 posits that “the Mondragon” is an interplanetary political force based on mutual aid and solidarity, one that has grown to the point of being the biggest, most coherent political ideology in the galaxy! Imagine that! More »