Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Where Have All The Cornfields Gone?

I wondered about that for a long time.

In all the years and miles of traveling throughout Mexico, we have never seen any giant fields of corn. For all the corn that gets consumed in this country, there have been very few cornfields. On our current trip around southern Mexico, we've seen mountainsides covered with corn (between Palenque and San Cristobal de Las Casas) but they were still only big enough to feed the locals. So where are the giant fields feeding the nation's appetite for corn?

Now we know. They are in North America.

After NAFTA, Mexico got flooded with cheaply grown, government subsidized GM corn from North America. It wiped out the local farmers, pushing many of them to emigrate (legally or illegally) into the US for jobs. Some states are resisting the wave of cheap GM corn, but fighting Big Ag is always difficult, so I suspect we have eaten our share of tortillas and tamales made with GM corn masa.

This is not democracy! This is capitalism and corporatism at its worst.

But the bad news didn't end there. Turns out Big Ag isn't doing this just to poor little Mexico. Big Ag's already done its work in the US and Canada. Seems that almost everything made in a factory has some GM ingredient or another. Look at the labels. If it doesn't specifically say the product is organic or GM-free, you're eating a GM item. Anything with corn -- cereal, corn oil, corn syrup, corn starch, even vinegar -- is using GM corn (the majority of it is Monsanto's RoundUp Ready genetically engineered corn.) Same with soy, rapeseed (canola oil) and sugar unless it uses pure cane sugar.

It's so disturbing. The manufacturers of GE seed are telling us how safe it is. Then why is it banned in so many countries in Europe? Why do so many countries have laws making labeling of items containing GM ingredients mandatory? (And why don't the US, Canada and Mexico have these laws?)

I've read scientific studies that point to genetically engineered foods being responsible for an increase in auto-immune disorders, liver and kidney damage, allergies, learning disorders, accelerated aging, birth defects... the list goes on.

There's a movement in California now to put the labeling issue on the November ballot. Big Ag is doing everything it can to prevent this. Because they know that most people do not want GE foods so if it gets on the ballot, it will surely be voted in. And once labeling is mandatory, consumers will stop buying the products containing GM ingredients, manufacturers will stop using them and the whole GM business (oh-so-lucrative now) will disappear. (Hurray for consumers!)

Don't believe me? Go and see for yourself.

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Saturday, March 10, 2012


It's a magical Mayan laaaand
in far off Yucataaaan

You're stuck inside a set for "Hair"
-- the movie, not the stage, if you care
With bronzed and pretty Euro chicks
all dressed up in hippie chic
strolling the beaches, kicking up
confectioner's sugar saaaand

It's a magical Mayan laaaand
in far off Yucataaaan

Oh, no, you can't be an extra here
You've got that gut belying too much beer
Don't ask for a posada economico
-- there's too much green in ecologico
Dollares, massages, noisy generators
all going hand in haaand

It's a magical Mayan laaaand
in far off Yucataaaan

Ejido's sold out to the highest bidder
promising a future of wealth and glitter
Who cares about the trash on the shores
Tourism is cash, so bring on more
Cancun's got vegas, a bit of disneyland
But Tulum's a rockin' hippie chickie laaaaand

And so it was. When we arrived in Tulum after 4 days in comatose Bacalar, I couldn't shake the cynicism away. All the "eco-resort" signs and massage-yoga-meditation vibe and over-priced cabanas lining the beach (and blocking my view, dammit!) All the young Europeans who've spent way too much to look like "hippies." All the hustle and bustle of a town teetering on the verge of a new level of development. And all the trash marring the breathtaking beauty of the Carribean Coast.

But something happened in the last few days: we rented a little studio apartment (ridiculously cheap for Tulum, though it's still double what we're used to paying) on the outskirts of town for the rest of our stay in Mexico and now, what do you know, I'm a local. So, now, although I am still in this Tourist Town, it doesn't bother me anymore.

I'm starting to enjoy watching the young Europeans who are all so much cuter and fitter than most North Americans. We've been picking up young travelers hitchhiking to get to the beach or back into town. (The beach hotels come at a premium -- okay for vacationers, but... -- so traveler types stay in town.) I'm still disappointed that all the fishing villages have turned into resorts and there's very little good fresh fish around, but we're getting into the groove. The Tulum groove. Tu-lum-lum-lum-lum-lum.

Mexico, on the road, 

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Monday, March 05, 2012

How to Kill Paradise

So you find a piece of paradise: 2 mile long stretch of pristine beach on a tiny Filipino island. It's one of their famous "seven thousand." (Since the first time I visited the Philippines, I have heard locals talk proudly of their 7000 islands, though the official count is a rather loose 7107. I say "loose" because some of these islands "disappear" with the tides.) There are a couple of tiny fishing villages, with a few dozen families living in bamboo shacks. You get there like the handful of other travelers, hiking through jungle for the last few kilometers and then hitching a ride on one of the fishermen's boats. There's no electricity, no cars, no diesel generators, no running water, no refrigeration... but it's a pure, unadulterated tropical paradise with fireflies floating to the strains of someone's acoustic guitar, phosphorescent algae twinkling on the lapping waves. You eat like the locals and learn to love warm beer. You lease a little bamboo hut on the beach for something like $500 for 5 years. You want to be here forever.

But "here" is not here forever. Paradise slowly dies.

Travelers tell other travelers. More travelers come. The bus now goes all the way to where you can catch a boat across to the island. No more hiking, no more hitching rides with the fishermen. Some enterprising local starts a ferry service. More travelers come. A small airline operates a direct flight from Manila to ferry point. Tourists, vacationers begin to arrive. Foreigners come with their foreign needs -- locals accommodate with banana pancakes, cold beers, refrigeration. The sound of diesel generators break the silence of the nights. Foreigners open restaurants and bars. More tourists arrive. Now there are motorbikes belching black exhaust along the tiny beach path. Now there are hookers from Ermita.

Your 5 year lease is up. You do not renew, nor do the landlords want you to. They have bigger plans.

20 years later, you return to your one time paradise. The name of the island hasn't changed but that's about the only thing that hasn't. The beach is crammed, shoulder to shoulder with hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, bars, souvenir shops. None seem to be owned by the original residents of the island. The beach is cluttered with boats, littered with trash, and there is sometimes a strange green sludge growing in the water. The island is packed with tourists. You go looking for your former landlord, former neighbors. After days, maybe weeks, you finally find them on the other side of the island -- the windy, rocky side. They still live in a bamboo shack but their lives have not gotten better from all the development. The little bit of money they made, selling their property to some unscrupulous developer for peanuts is long gone. "Food is so expensive nowadays," they complain.

Paradise rarely dies on its own. "Discovery" kills it each and every time.

I wonder what this strip of Mexican Caribbean coastline was like 20 years ago.

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