Forum, March 2018

Battering Friends Journal

It was a delight to receive the February issue of Friends Journal without a plastic sheath.

Ever since you started protecting the Journal from damage or access, its arrival has brought struggle and frustration. There the magazine was, tantalizingly visible and utterly available. Though I tried scissors, knives, and teeth, I never did discover a convenient way to get at the contents. By the time I had battered my way in, I had to set the issue aside in order to calm down and approach it in the right spirit. Am I the only one to have had this problem?

At any rate, let me send this expression of relief that we are apparently entering a new era.

William H. Matchett
Seattle, Wash.

Good farming is long-term activism

Last night, on the eve of my 64th birthday, I had a deep, sweet, and quiet cry reading the January Friends Journal. In his essay “Farm and Community,” Craig Jensen did it for me when he compared farming to teaching:

I believe that good farming, like good teaching, is long-term activism. Farming and teaching are both optimistic vocations: they assume not only that there can be a future for humans on this planet, but that there should be and that our work can make that future world better.

Yes—that is why I taught for 25 years! It was a peaceable pedagogy. Throughout those times, I encountered colleagues and students who did not understand my optimism nor accept my activism. Just as often, others welcomed this fresh way of teaching and learning. Together we cultivated ground and planted seeds for the work they could and should do to improve our world. Mine were tears of gratitude that Farmer Craig understands good teaching and would put it so clearly for his readers. I am glad, too, that I now better understand good farming.

In every issue, Friends Journal publishes something that I re-read, note, and often save. For years, I kept bookshelves of issues that I would not give up regardless of digital archives. Now, I donate them to my local used bookstore or pass on issues to folks I hope to encourage in their own peaceable endeavors.

Marsha Lee Baker
Cullowhee, N.C.

Rationales and warnings on vegetarianism

I admire all who live their lives according to their spiritual principles or social concerns, and therefore, my comments are not meant to attack anyone’s lifestyle but to defend my own (“Being Vegetarian Is a Climate Issue” by Lynn Fitz-Hugh, FJ Jan.).

I live on a 150-acre farm in northern Pennsylvania. About 50 acres are wooded or scrub land. An additional 50-acre plot is too steep to till but can be grazed. The remaining 50 are flat enough to cut hay, but the soil is too poor (shallow or poorly drained) to efficiently raise cash crops or vegetables. The core of my farming operation is a flock of 100 ewes. From these ewes, we market 150 to 175 lambs per year and about 1,000 pounds of wool. Ninety percent of the feed for my sheep is grown on the farm, half of that is grazed. I use tractors to harvest my hay and to clip the pastures for control of thistles and noxious weeds, but I use less than 150 gallons of diesel fuel per year in the tractors. The manure from my flock is either deposited directly on the pastures or spread on the hayfields for fertilizer. A small portion is also used to fertilize our vegetable garden.

Although I farm for profit, my management decisions are always weighed against my spiritual convictions and my social consciousness, and these have the veto power. Raised in a farm family that always had a hearty meat and potatoes meal on the table, I have reconsidered the role of meat in my diet and now prefer a good stir-fry or salad with just enough meat to add flavor and supply iron and vitamins. You may note that meat is only part of our product; we also market a half ton of wool. Our fleeces are carefully skirted and sent to a mill downstate to be spun into yarn. Some of the yarn is sold retail, and some we use for knitting and weaving. Wool is a wonderful natural fiber, and we are proud to produce it.

Robby England
Millerton, Pa.

In her January article on why Quakers should adopt a vegetarian diet, Lynn Fitz-Hugh takes her choices very seriously.  When deciding to become a vegetarian, she rejected health, spirituality, and animal welfare as her first reasons.  Instead, she chose “world hunger.”  More recently, she has chosen “climate change.” Making these choices is her prerogative.

Over time and for a variety of reasons, Fitz-Hugh has also made the choice to vacillate between a meat-eating diet and one that was not, but that may have included fish, eggs, dairy, and “meat only outside of [her] house.”  She continues to identify as “vegetarian,” which means that plants are center stage, but one is willing to deprive the cow’s newborn of mother’s milk and the comfort that comes with it.  Being human, Fitz-Hugh has these decisions to make.

What the writer overlooks in this piece, in addition to the health benefits of a plant-based diet, is the privileged human status that gives her and us so much agency.  By contrast, the people suffering from world hunger and climate change are left reeling from the inequity of choice.  And what about the chicken, the fish, the beef, the pork, the lamb, and the veal?  Behind the human-imposed language defining them as food, they are our fellow creatures, all sentient beings: all of them voiceless, choice-less, and worthy of our love and compassion.

Dayna Baily
Oxford, Pa.

Lynn Fitz-Hugh cited a health issue and her doctor’s telling her to have more animal protein.  I recommend the documentary What the Health. It dispels the myths and misinformation about the need for animal protein.  It also exposes the connection between pharmaceutical companies and the food industry.  It convinced me to become fully vegan for health reasons in addition to the social issues cited by Fitz-Hugh.

Interestingly, the vegan diet has gained popularity among many Evangelical Christians as part of the Daniel Fast.  Referencing the book of Daniel (specifically Daniel 1:12 and 10:2–3)  is a commitment to prayer and vegan meals for a specific period of time that often extends to a lifetime commitment to change.

Thomas J. Nardi
Nanuet, N.Y.

Sadly, Lynn Fitz-Hugh’s “Being Vegetarian Is a Climate Issue” (FJ Jan.) touched only tangentially on what for me is the primary reason for my vegan regimen: killing animals for meat or clothing or enslaving them for dairy products is violence. Not doing so is a part of living out the Quaker testimony of nonviolence. The benefits to the planet are the result of such a regimen, not the reason to adopt it.

When we eat animals, we take into our bodies, hearts, minds, and spirits the violent energy of dead meat. How many vegetarian generals have led vegetarian armies into battle?

Christopher Ross
Durham, N.C.

Beginning where we are

I would like to thank Philip Harnden for his article “Simple Living Beyond the Thrift Store.” To me, the most valuable part of the article is Harnden’s conviction that individual actions cannot possibly create systemic change. Changing systems requires a different approach. Both are good, but it is really important to know that we do different things in service to these different goals. Today in the United States, systemic change can come about because of legislation or because of changes in corporate behavior (as in for-profit businesses). In my region, there are excellent examples of each, and I encourage Friends Journal readers to get involved. If you want to lobby for clean energy and fair distribution of government contracts for infrastructure, check out the Clean Energy Jobs Initiative, headed up by two young adult Friends. If you are attracted to nonviolent direct action campaigns as a way to pressure corporations for change, check out Earth Quaker Action Team. Both work faithfully for systemic change.

Karie Firoozmand
Timonium, Md.

Understanding displacement

What the “strangers in their own land” need is an analysis of why they are deprived/displaced or feel that way (“The Trouble with ‘Strangers’” by Gerri Williams, FJ Feb.). It is not because desegregation has (at least in part) occurred; not that immigrants have come in to work hard and build up businesses; and not because environmentalists/unions/feminists have championed the earth, the workers, and women. It is likely because there have not been enough government programs (like FDR’s WPA and the Tennessee Valley Authority), not enough free education, and not enough social programs to support “poor areas” that need extra help.

Hitler roused his population to blame “the Jews,” foreigners, and surrounding countries for limitations in his own country, while using huge amounts of German money to build up a modern army to defeat neighbouring countries.

We need a sociologist/economist to write the true causes of people’s discontent and then a popular writer to explain it to those whose own communities did not provide them with much education.

Maida Follini
Halifax, Nova Scotia

I agree with Gerri Williams that Arlie Hochschild went soft on racism in her attempt to “climb the empathy wall.” Throughout the book, as she kept wondering what accounted for white Louisianians’ willingness to vote against their own interests, I kept waiting for her to just say “racism,” which is so clearly the subtext in the story white people tell themselves about the “line-cutters.” Although she does mention racism by the end, Hochschild fails to acknowledge its centrality, which I also found frustrating. I’m not surprised that Williams, as an African American woman, “read the book with a mixture of rage and revulsion.”

As a white woman from a working class family (in fact, as a Friend who came to anti-racism work and activism in part as a result of the revulsion I felt to racism within my own family), I did find the book useful, despite its limitations. For starters, Hochschild’s explanation of white conservatives’ “deep story” helps me see why most of the arguments I’ve offered at Christmas dinner have hit a brick wall, while last year’s strategy (which started with listening) seemed to work better and led to my best conversation about racism to date with my conservative brother-in-law. If white progressives are going to take on these conversations (and I hear many African Americans urging us to do so), trying to understand the “other side” can help us be more effective, which is not the same as giving racism a pass or being complacent.

Despite my feeble holiday attempts, my primary calling is not to take on racists one by one but to challenge the systems that both oppress people of color and keep people of different races divided. To me, the strength of Strangers in their Own Land is that it shows in vivid detail the way poor whites are actually harmed by the system they uphold. As I see it, white folks in southern Louisiana suffer polluted water and extremely high cancer rates for the privilege of having cancer rates a little lower than their African American neighbors, who die at even more shocking rates. The ultimate question the book raised for me was how to organize across these divisions, when corporations and other elites have done such a successful job of dividing people and when politicians like Trump are so adept at stoking the fears of the white working class.

Eileen Flanagan
Philadelphia, Pa.

The pain that Gerri Williams feels is very real. But the book mentioned apparently falls short of answering why white working class people vote the way they do. Racism is a factor among many, but that’s only one of the reasons. The late Joe Bageant wrote a book, Deer Hunting with Jesus, that shows how the religious right, corporations, and politicians sold the white working class on voting for the right. Please don’t just think it’s all racism; that’s only a part.

Chris Wynn
Danville, Ind.

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