Monthly Archives: February 2010

Crossing The Border

On the 16th of February we left our campground in San Diego and headed for the Mexican border. We made a quick stop in San Ysidro to change our money. We noticed right away how different the culture and heritage was incorporated into the money. On the pesos there were pictures of native tribes and local vegetables. We instantly saw that they had a deeper connection to their roots and natural history.

We all worked ourselves up thinking that crossing the border would be a long, stressful process. But we were surprised by the relative simplicity and quickness of it. The first thing that caught our eyes was the soldiers with their fully automatic weapons, and MARINA clearly printed across their chests. We parked, had our visas checked, and just like that we headed into Tijuana. Throughout our lives we had been subjected to images of Mexico being a place of solace and beauty. This was so much more.

Tijuana was the embodiment of poverty. America wasn’t what the world was like. This was what the world was like, and it got much worse. The thing we noticed right away was the huge fence looming over us that separated Mexico from America. On one side you had the Mexican fence, which was made up of 8ft high pieces of sheet metal that hung from a weak frame. But on the other side huge cement pillars topped with barbed wire advertising a clear message of Keep Out. The group found ourselves wondering why we had to separate our country from such a beautiful and close neighbor. Crossing the border was an eye-opening experience and none of us expected what we saw.

By Alex Depavloff & Genesis Napel

What We Have Learned

What we have learned:

The first three weeks of the Finding the Good semester seem to have flown by, but in retrospect, it is hard to believe that we have only been together for less than a month. Living and traveling with eleven other people has been a powerful learning experience for all of us. As everybody gets to know each other we have all had to come to a better understanding of our own personalities as we relate to ourselves and as we relate to the group. Spending twenty-four hours a day with the same group of people has allowed us to share ourselves, our talents, and our experiences so that we might better understand one another.  As we sat in the van on the way down to Baja California several of us learned how to knit or crochet from our companions. In addition, those of us who have experience using the technical audio and video recording equipment have been sharing their knowledge so that we may all document our journey as professionally as possible.  All of our time together in the car has also brought about many discussions about the workings of the world from our individual perspectives. Sharing our talents and our ideas has helped to form bonds between us, but we have also had to develop a variety of processes and systems to organize and complete many of the tasks that are necessary in order to establish and maintain a rhythm for our lives together on the road. It is interesting how much we have learned without having to spend any time in formal classroom lesson settings. Traveling and working together we have had to discover the necessary knowledge for our individual processes rather than blindly tracing a pre-developed system.

By Forest Neff & Natasha Alston

Food Convergence

Real Food Convergence

After arriving a few minutes late, I finally see where this convergence would be held. I walk into a large room filled with college students. There are signs near the front that read “Strengthening the Roots” – the name of the conference . . . or convergence . . . or whatever it is. Whatever it was, it was a student run conference . . . convergence, about introducing sustainable food to the UC system. It consisted of multiple workshops about sustainable food and introducing it to a wider audience (mainly college students). The first day ended with live music (I can’t recall the group’s name), and the second day with a group drum circle.

The convergence was organized around a selection of workshops with various focuses. I heard “workshop” and assumed there would be a person leading the workshop who would just talk. Then again, I have had very few experiences at “workshops.” What I saw was a forum. They did have a focus, but were mainly students sharing experiences of what they did in terms of introducing sustainability in their schools. I see how this would be great for a student of a UC, but as a high school student, it helped me very little. Almost everything I heard was something I already knew, so this almost seemed pointless to me. Then again, my thoughts were on Vizcaino and gray whales. With that in mind, my view was a bit skewed.

But there was one more thing that turned me off to the convergence. Towards the end of the first workshop, I was sitting around and overheard a conversation between two other convergence goers. It started on homesteading, the topic of the workshop, but drifted to the topic of meat. The conversing two were eager to rant about the lack of sustainability and malpractices of the meat industry and their shared distain of the product. I wrote them off as a pair of meat haters, not something too uncommon at a convergence such as this. But as the conference dragged on, I came to realize that many others there shared this opinion of meat. In the second workshop, about how to effectively spread a message, there grew the idea of “us” and “them.” “Us” being the enlightened ones spreading our knowledge of sustainability, and “them” being the know-nothings of sustainability. As the topics drifted, “us” became vegans and vegetarians, and “them” became meat eaters. Then later, during an open panel discussion, the question arose, “why was meat ignored during this conference?”. Which was misinterpreted, then played off of and used to support their own opinions.

As a meat eater, I do realize the repercussions of industrialized meat. I know about its effects on the environment, the economy and the horrible conditions for the animals. But this convergence was about shifting to sustainable food. There was almost no mention of sustainable, grass fed meat farms; and when it did come up it was ignored. There are models of sustainable meat farms that use practices of humane raising and slaughtering, such as Polyface Farm in Virginia. Yet at this convention about shifting to sustainable food for whole campuses of students, the message permeating the air seemed clear: the future of sustainability is vegetarianism. I personally saw this as close-minded and almost offensive, that a group of people (meat eaters) could be completely ignored. The convergence was to bring people together to gain knowledge and support each other in the switch to sustainable food, but instead I saw an “us” and “them” form. I’d like to have seen at least an acknowledgment that there are ways of raising sustainable meat. If they had even taken the time to point out that industrialized meat isn’t the only meat, then maybe I would have accepted their views as legitimate. But because I only saw this separation and ignorance, I only saw hypocrisy.

By Nick Lee

Director’s Notes

February 23, 2010

Director’s notes

It is 9:30 p.m. I am sitting in the van, on the edge of Laguna Ojo de Liebre (Eye of the Rabbit Lagoon), Baja California Sur, Mexico. Alex is in the seat behind me, labeling audio files. Most of the others are in bed.

I had to consult Alex to help me figure out which consecutive day this is – he confirmed that today is Day #24 in the spring 2010 Finding the Good semester. Of course I had imagined that I would have posted at least ten entries by now, but here we are, three weeks into the semester and almost a week into Mexico, and this is my first. Tom suggested to “just give an overview”. You’d think that after living with me for 33 years he’d know better, which he does, but he’s never been one to give up easily.  Which probably explains why we are here better than anything else.

Overview. Right. But the real story is in the details. Like tonight when Alex, just a few moments ago, told me that the second he touched a whale (two days ago) he instantly “got” what we are doing here. That prior to that moment he’d been a bit lost – longing for home, caught between the place he’d left behind and one that just didn’t feel quite “right”. In one moment he was brought so fully into the present that the unsettled feeling he’d had for the past three weeks vanished and his perspective shifted.

Or the day we crossed the border. I know from crossing it myself many times that the experience can strip you to the core. One passes from the wealth and excess of Southern California to the squalor and deprivation of Tijuana in a matter of seconds. Two countries, separated by corrugated tin roofing turned into a kind of fence on the Mexico side, and “The Fence” made of who knows what state of the art impenetrable material lord knows how high on the US side. The helicopters patrolling day and night searching for those who are willing to risk all to get into the country that draws the lines and builds the fences. The look on Forest’s face at the first military checkpoint north of Ensenada as they ordered us (politely) out of the van to check it for contraband.

Or way back at the food convergence at UC Santa Cruz over a week ago, when Nick came smack up against well-intentioned but rigid views on eating meat and whether or not it is sustainable to do so. As you can read in his blog, he questioned not only the material that was presented, but the attitude and belief system that was behind it.

Overview. Three weeks of preparation, immersion and travel and today the students sat down and described the media projects they want to create; piecing together art and humanity into a story mosaic that will speak and dance and sing itself into being. It is here that the investigations will find their home as six young voices rise to find the story that tells them.

What is the real story? What is our story? It unfolds day-by-day, moment-to-moment. We ask questions – of ourselves and each other. We are learning how to live community; not how to live in community, but how to live as community.

If today really is Day 24, that means that we’ve prepared, cooked and cleaned somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 meals (we’ve skipped a few here and there). Six of us crave meat on daily basis – sometimes they get it, sometimes they don’t. Three of us are mostly vegetarian most of the time. Three of us follow a pretty strict vegan diet. Somehow it all works and everyone is eating more than I imagined possible for a group of twelve. I’ve rarely seen such appetites. Maybe its because the food is so nourishing and so delicious; or perhaps our appetite for everything is increased here. Or we simply hunger for something more.

Or maybe we are eating more because our group is bigger now. Two days ago Sirena and her boyfriend Adrian joined us. We first met Sirena and her mother Shari beside this very lagoon sixteen years ago. Sirena was four then. Adrian grew up in Ensenada. We have the great fortune to have their help and expertise for the next ten days. Besides serving as our interpreters and guides (both are bilingual), they are taking over the kitchen so we can get our feet under us in terms of the media projects and academics. They’ve already planned a menu of authentic Mexican dishes and issued the edict that only Spanish is to be spoken in the kitchen. (They gave us an introductory lesson first.) This afternoon Adrian took Genesis, Forest and Alex out clamming and this evening we ate our first wild harvested food. (Sauteed in butter…)

So there you have it – the overview. What’s next? We have some work to do here in the lagoon, then we head for San Ignacio where, we are told, there will be a gathering of some of Mexico’s foremost conservationists as well as several from the US. Then onto Bahia Asuncion. First things first though – tomorrow we drive into Guerrero Negro to do laundry, shower, eat fish tacos, shop for produce, and post our blog entries.

Until next time, wishing you well,