Jim Hightower’s Radio Lowdown

Which food future will you choose?

America certainly has an abundance of food (even though many Americans do not), yet we face a momentous choice of whether to pursue a food future rooted in the ethic of sustainable agriCULTURE - or one based on the exploitative ethic of agriINDUSTRY. What better symbol of agri-industry's vision of "food" than that ubiquitous Thanksgiving bird, the "Butterball" turkey. The Butterball has been hoisted onto our tables by huge advertising budgets and regular promotion payments to supermarkets. The birds themselves have been grotesquely deformed by industrial geneticists, who created breasts so ponderous that the turkeys can't walk, stand up, or even reproduce on their own (thus earning the nickname "dead-end birds'). Adding torture to this intentional deformity, the industry sentences these once-majestic fowl to dismal lives in tiny confinement cages inside the sprawling, steel-and-concrete animal factories that scar America's rural landscape - monuments to greed-based corporate "husbandry." As the eminent farmer-poet-activist Wendell Berry tells us, eating is a profound political act. It lets you and me vote for the Butterball industrial model or choose to go back to the future of agriculture, which is the art and science of cooperating with, rather than trying to overwhelm, nature. That cooperative ethic is the choice of the remarkable "Good Food Uprising" that has spread across the country in the past 30 years. Now the fastest-growing segment of the food economy, it is creating the alternative model of a local, sustainable, small scale, community-based, organic, humane, healthy, democratic - and tasty! - food system for all. To take part in the good food movement and find small-scale farmers, artisans, farmers markets, and other resources in your area, visit www.LocalHarvest.org.

When and where was the first Thanksgiving Feast?

Let's talk Turkey! No, not the Butterball sitting in the Oval Office. I'm talking about the real thing, the big bird, 46 million of which we Americans will devour on this Thanksgiving Day. It was the Aztecs who first domesticated the gallopavo, but leave it to the Spanish explorers to "foul-up" the bird's origins. They declared it to be related to the peacock – Wrong! They also thought the peacock originated in Turkey – Wrong! And, they thought Turkey was located in Africa – well, you can see the Spanish were pretty confused. Actually, the origin of Thanksgiving is confused. The popular assumption is that it was first celebrated by the Mayflower immigrants and the Wampanoag natives at Plymouth, Massachusetts, 1621. They feasted on venison, furkees (Wampanoag for gobblers) eels, mussels, corn, and beer. But wait, say Virginians, the first precursor to our annual November Food-a-Palooza was not in Massachusetts – the Thanksgiving feast originated down here in Jamestown colony, back in 1608. Whoa, there, hold your horses, pilgrims. Folks in El Paso, Texas, say it all began way out there in 1598, when Spanish settlers sat down with people of the Piro and Manso tribes, gave thanks, then feasted on roasted duck, geese and fish. "Ha!" says a Florida group, asserting the very, very first Thanksgiving happened in 1565 when the Spanish settlers of St. Augustine and friends from the Timucuan tribe chowed-down on "cocido" – a stew of salt pork, garbanzo beans and garlic - washing it all down with red wine. Wherever it began, and whatever the purists claim is "official," Thanksgiving today is as multicultural as America. So let's enjoy! Kick-back, give thanks we're in a country with such ethnic richness, and dive into your turkey rellenos, moo-shu turkey, turkey falafel, barbecued turkey...

How Progressive Groups Can Become Their Own Lawmakers

America’s political, corporate, and media establishments were cocksure about their prognostications that a powerful “red wave” was about to hit America in this month’s elections. It would sweep Democrats out and push Republicans into office all across America, they exclaimed. How shocking and embarrassing, then, that their raging wave turned out to be just a little ripple. Republicans ran poorly, and many Democrats ran well. Still, the Dem Party as a whole could’ve done even better if its meek, don’t-rock-the-boat leadership had been gutsier, more progressive, and – yes – more Democratic, in the FDR mold. Well, murmur the Party’s Washington hierarchy, we can’t get too far ahead of the people. Really? Why not ask the people themselves? That’s the virtue of the “ballot initiative” system. It allows grassroots groups to put issues up for a vote, rather than letting the public agenda be controlled by a clique of lobbyists, legislators, and party-line followers. This year, there were 132 of these initiatives on the ballots in 37 states, and more on local ballots. And vote after vote showed that the people are way ahead of the political insiders in support of strong progressive policies. By big margins, three states said “to hell with the Republican Supreme Court,” enshrining women’s abortion rights in their state constitutions. South Dakota, supposedly a right-wing bastion, shoved their GOP governor and legislators aside to expand Medicaid health coverage to the state’s low-income families. In bright red Nebraska, nearly 60 percent of voters said yes! To a $15 minimum wage. A big majority in Illinois amended the state constitution to guarantee collective bargaining rights for workers. Seventy percent of New Mexico voters made funding of early childhood education a constitutional requirement. It’s not easy, but when politicians fail us, We The People can act. For more information go to Ballotpedia.org/Ballot_Measures_overview.

Looking for older commentaries?

You’ll find them over on the Hightower Lowdown now, in the radio archives. Note: we post new episodes there on Tuesdays and Thursdays; however, some radio stations around the country air Hightower’s commentaries on their own schedule.