Category Archives: Politics & food justice

A Trump Presidency Need Not Be the End Times

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

It was with feelings of shock and dismay that early this morning I woke up to learn that Donald Trump had been elected president of the United States. Although, as a monk, I do not endorse political candidates or align myself with political parties, I feel that as a human being inhabiting this fragile planet, I have an obligation to stand up for policies that promote economic and social justice, respect for the innate dignity of all human beings, and preservation of the earth’s delicate biosphere. By the same token, I must oppose policies detrimental to these ideals. I see politics, not merely as a naked contest for power and domination, but as a stage where great ethical contests are being waged, contests that determine the destiny—for good or for ill—of everyone in this country and on this planet.

Trump’s presidential campaign challenged each of the ethical ideals I cherish, and if he acts upon his campaign pledges, his policies may entail misery for people in the United States and all across the world. His campaign repeatedly demeaned people because of their ethnicity, religion, and national origins. He threatened to deny women their reproductive rights and access to critical healthcare. He said he would cut taxes on the rich, curtail essential social services for working families, and deport millions of undocumented immigrants. He proposed to deal with crime by imposing “law and order,” a code expression affirming the harsh American system of mass incarceration, particularly of black males. Most alarmingly, he said he would promote an energy boom in fossil fuels—just at a time when we desperately need to be launching a renewable energy revolution. If he actually acts on his words, carbon emissions will soar, climate change will spin out of control, and water and air will become terribly polluted. Huge swaths of the planet will be rendered barren, decimating ever more species and bringing disaster and death to hundreds of millions of people.

In the face of Trump’s victory, we are likely to feel dejected and demoralized, but this is exactly what we must resist. Yes, we should feel saddened. Yes, we should feel worried—very worried. We should feel moral outrage at what his victory portends. But we should not feel despondent and resign ourselves to a passive acquiescence in our fate. We have to preserve hope. We have to arouse courage to withstand the tides of hatred, bigotry, and resentment that may be unleashed by a Trump administration. We need to resist the growing tide of fascism, in whatever guise it may appear, and to root out the lies and disinformation that nourish it. No matter how ominous the coming years may be, we must remain determined to preserve our democracy from being undermined from within and transformed into an autocratic plutocracy—government by the rich and privileged.

In my view, the struggle that lies ahead requires that those devoted to a progressive vision of American society transcend the particular interests of the groups with which they are personally aligned and form alliances to create a broad-based progressive movement rooted in a recognition of our shared values. Whether one’s calling be with Black Lives Matter, with the living wage campaign, with women’s reproductive rights, with gender rights, with environmental and climate issues, with contemplative spirituality, or any other, we must come together under a common banner, recognizing that it is only by standing together in a unified front that we can prevail against the regressive forces that will be trying to destroy our noblest ideals and greatest democratic achievements.

While Trump’s victory probably stemmed largely from the support he gathered from white working class people whose jobs had been exported overseas through free trade agreements, it is far from certain that the policies he adopts will actually benefit these people. If he fails to meet their expectations, it is possible that white working class people, whether in the Rust Belt or the South, will come to see that their interests, too, align with those of other members of the “underclass.” This could result in the emergence of a stronger united front, one that brings together minorities and white working people in a common demand for a new moral economy, a social and economic order that works for everyone and enables everyone to flourish.

For the present, however, we have to be prepared to face dark times. To prevail against the darkness, we must hold fast to our cherished ideals of truth, love, compassion, and justice. We must also maintain the faith that, while ignorance and hatred may at times be dominant, through concerted action patiently pursued we can finally usher in an era of justice, love, and human unity.

The above essay represents the personal opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the view of Buddhist Global Relief as an organization.

There is more aid in the world, but far less for fighting poverty

Farida Bena

More and more foreign aid seems to be doing less and less of what it’s supposed to.

DB-POP Today

Shanties in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo: David Braughton

Every year the OECD, an inter-governmental organization made up of the world’s richest countries, releases figures on how much aid, or overseas development assistance, goes to developing countries. On the surface, the latest released data from 2015 suggests a reason to celebrate: once you take out inflation and exchange rate changes, the overall net amount of aid keeps rising, totaling $131.6 billion after an already record-high couple of years. That’s quite an achievement, particularly for those European donors who last year had to face major unexpected challenges, such as the arrival of migrants and refugees at their doorstep.

Look deeper into those figures and the picture changes quite a lot. Welcoming those refugees in donor countries was actually paid for by money that was meant to be used for other, equally important purposes, like fighting poverty and disease in the global South. These costs nearly doubled last year, meaning that a sizeable portion of ‘international’ aid – up to 34 percent of individual donors’ pots – never crossed Northern borders in reality. Continue reading

Poor Farmers Facing Mysterious Illness Across Two Continents

Charles W. Elliott

We’re following a story that continues to emerge from Sri Lanka, India, and Central America of a mysterious illness striking down tens of thousands of poor farm workers, destroying their kidneys. The victims are often young, male outdoor farm workers, far removed from the usual patient with severe kidney failure: older, sedentary men with a history of diabetes or hypertension. What would connect these dying farm workers in different countries across two continents?

Dambj_20120501_9681Photo credit: Anna Barry-Jester, Center for Public Integrity

A recent study estimated that the ailment, called “chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology” (CKDu) has killed more than 20,000 people in Central America alone.

We invite you to watch this five-minute video “Mystery in the Fields” from the Center for Public Integrity that explains the problem and shows its devastating human impact on poor families and communities.[1]


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Every Human Life Has Value

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

In recent weeks the world has been rocked by deeds of horrific violence, which have had tragic consequences and brought fear and sorrow into the lives of people everywhere. Yet sudden acts of terrorist violence are not the only type of random destruction occurring today. Structures of domination and exploitation impose a kind of subtle violence that also take many innocent lives as their toll. What unifies both terrorism and systemic violence is a refusal to recognize that every person is an irreplaceable center of subjective experience and thus a bearer of intrinsic value. 

Over the past two weeks, deeds of horrific violence have erupted across the globe, tearing at the strings of the heart. A suicide bombing in Ankara on March 13 killed forty people, the latest in a series of bombings in Turkish cities. Two suicide bombings took place in Brussels a week ago, at the airport and on a train, killing more than thirty, turning an ordinary business day into a nightmare. On Easter Sunday in Lahore, a major city in Pakistan, a suicide bombing in a park claimed the lives of more than seventy people, most of them women and children enjoying a family outing. Another suicide bombing in a soccer stadium in Iraq, south of Baghdad, killed thirty, mostly youngsters.

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Mourners in Pakistan after bombing at park in Lahore

Such deeds testify to a shocking disregard for human life that has spread like wildfire from country to country. These acts of senseless violence leave us speechless, stricken with grief for the victims, shaken by sorrow, anxious perhaps that in the weeks and months ahead we ourselves might just happen to find ourselves standing at the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet the number of lives these deeds of desperate cruelty claim, while shocking, is still miniscule compared to another kind of violence that is all the more pernicious because it does not strike suddenly out of the blue but creeps up slowly, imperceptibly, like a viper hidden in the grass. This is the violence, often lethal violence, inflicted by global systems and institutions that are considered normal, inevitable, and even respectable. Continue reading

Pulses: The Key to Long Life and a Sustainable Environment

BGR Staff

In 2013 the United Nations declared that 2016 would be the International Year of Pulses. The hope of the 2016 International Year of Pulses (IYP 2016) is to position pulses as a primary source of protein and other essential nutrients. IYP 2016 will promote broad discussion and cooperation at the national, regional and global levels to increase awareness and understanding of the challenges faced by pulse farmers, be they large scale farms or small land holders.

Pulses and Nutrition

Pulses are part of a healthy, balanced diet and have been shown to have an important role in preventing illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Pulses are a low fat source of protein, with a high fiber content and low glycemic index. Pulses are very high in fiber, containing both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber helps to decrease blood cholesterol levels and control blood sugar levels, and insoluble fiber helps with digestion and regularity.

Pulses provide important amounts of vitamins and minerals. Some of the key minerals in pulses include: iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc. Pulses are also particularly abundant in B vitamins; including folate, thiamin and niacin.

Pulses typically contain about twice the amount of protein found in whole grain cereals like wheat, oats, barley and rice, and in most developing countries constitute the main source of protein for most populations.

In addition to contributing to a healthy, balanced diet, the nutritional qualities of pulses makes them particularly helpful in the fight against some non-communicable diseases.

The World Health Organisation estimates that up to 80% of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes and over a third of cancers could be prevented by eliminating risk factors, such as unhealthy diets and promoting better eating habits, of which pulses are an essential component.

Pulses can help lower blood cholesterol and attenuate blood glucose, which is a key factors in against diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Eating pulses as a replacement to some animal protein also helps limit the intake of saturated fats and increases the intake of fibers.

Pulses have also been shown to be helpful in the prevention of certain cancers, because of their fiber content but also because of their mineral and amino-acid contents, in particular folate.

Pulses are included in all “food baskets” and dietary guidelines. The World Food Programme (WFP), for instance, includes 60 grams of pulses in its typical food basket, alongside cereals, oils and sugar and salt.

Encouraging awareness of the nutritional value of pulses can help consumers adopt healthier diets. In developing countries, where the trend in dietary choices tends to go towards more animal-based protein and cereals, retaining pulses is an important way to ensure diets remain balanced and to avoid the increase in non-communicable disease often associated with diet transitions and rising incomes.

Several studies have shown that legumes are been associated with long-lived food cultures such as the Japanese (soy, tofu, natto, miso), the Swedes (brown beans, peas), and the Mediterranean people (lentils, chickpeas, white beans) and that they could be an important dietary factor in improving longevity.

Pulses and Sustainability

 Pulses play an important role for sustainability in many ways. They are an important component of crop rotations, they require less fertilizer than other crops, and they are a low carbon source of protein.

Legumes are part of the rotational crops farmers can use to maintain soil fertility. In Canada for instance, where pulses are often integrated in good soil management practices, a good crop rotation includes a variety of crops grown in sequence, including cereals (wheat, barley, oats), oilseeds (canola, flax, sunflowers), and legumes (pulses). Pulses have a positive impact on soil quality because they help fix nitrogen in the soil. This contributes to higher yields in subsequent crop rotations.

Moreover, pulses have a direct positive impact on soil quality because they help feed soil microbes, which benefits soil health. Pulses have also been shown to produce greater amounts and different types of amino acids than non-legumes and the plant residues left after harvesting pulse crops have a different bio-chemical composition than other crop residues.

It is this diversity in soil composition that comes from a good pulse rotation, which help crops to thrive and which offers greater protection against disease-causing bacteria and fungi.

Pulses are also a protein source with a low footprint, in both carbon and water. For instance, the water footprints to produce a kilogram of beef, pork, chicken and soybeans are 43, 18, 11 and 5 times higher than the water footprint of pulses.

Pulses have a lower carbon footprint in production than most animal sources of protein. In fact, one study showed that one kilogram of legume only emits 0.5kg in Co2 equivalent, whereas 1kg of beef produces 9.5 kg in CO2 equivalent.

The very low contribution of legumes is well illustrated in the graph below.

Full Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions From
Common Proteins And Vegetables

The graph shows that lentils are one of the foodstuffs that contributes the least emissions, far fewer than turkey, salmon, or other common sources of protein.

Nitrogen is the nutrient most needed in crop production and nitrogen fertilizer is manufactured using natural gas. Pulses are quite unique among other crops, as they draw their own nitrogen from the air, so they do not require the same application of nitrogen fertilizer as other crops do.

By fixing nitrogen in the soil, pulses also help reduce the footprint of other crops, so the benefits extend much further into the food production cycle. For example, a recent study showed that durum wheat preceded by a biological nitrogen-fixing crop, such as chickpeas or lentils the previous year, lowered its carbon footprint by 17% compared with durum preceded by a cereal crop. The impact was even stronger is a pulse-pulse wheat system, with the carbon footprint of the durum wheat down by 34% compared to a traditional cereal-cereal–durum rotation.

To learn more about pulses, go here. If you would like to participate in the 2016 International Year of Pulses, contact the GPC IYP 2016 team.

 

 

 

 

Fixing a Broken Food System

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

As the presidential campaign heats up, a coalition of organizations has launched a new initiative that’s also taking aim at the White House. The initiative, called The Plate of the Union, brings together the Union of Concerned Scientists, Food Policy Action, the Food Policy Action Educational Fund, and HEAL Food Alliance in a campaign intended to fix our broken food system. Starting its drive at the top of the political hierarchy, the coalition seeks to confront the US presidential candidates with the challenge of recognizing that the US food system is in crisis. Continue reading

The Revolutionary Message of Martin Luther King Jr.

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

In the half-century since his tragic death at the age of 39, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. has been turned into a national idol. His birthday has been made a public holiday. His memorial stands in the heart of our capital city, close to the memorials of our greatest presidents. His name is invoked by politicians on both the left and the right, treated almost as sacrosanct. In the process of being glorified, however, King has been domesticated, sanitized, and tamed. His powerful voice, which once sent tremors down the spines of the power elites, now speaks in muffled tones. His speeches are quoted selectively, stripped of their fiercest and most insistent words. Nowadays we can even visit his memorial in D.C., read the quotations blazoned on the walls, and still chat blandly about the weather and the baseball scores.

MLK is most remembered for his “I Have a Dream” speech, which in the mid-1960s became the anthem of the civil rights movement. But King was more than just a civil rights leader representing the concerns of African Americans. He was above all a man of deep faith who was ready to follow the call of conscience no matter where it led him, even into dangerous waters. He stood up against all travesties of human dignity, against all violations against the integrity of the human person, without concern for the identity of the victims.
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