The Little Things We're Talking About 

Sorry, Oskie, you're not the only organic, sustainable bear around. And yes, we know pandas aren't bears, but as noted last week, pols are weasels.

More Organic Than Thou: Don't you love it when public relations people make sweeping claims that border on BS? Witness the unveiling this week of what UC Berkeley's public relations crew is touting as "the nation's first certified organic food service at a college or institution." At Cal's Crossroads dining commons, the press release promises, returning students "will discover a transformed salad bar with only organic veggies, dressings and more." By spring 2007, it says, four campus dining halls will feature all-organic salad bars.

Welcome to the new millennium, guys — you're not all that special. Colleges across the nation have increasingly catered to their young customers with offerings of organic and sustainable fare, even on the East Coast where fresh organic produce is hard to come by during the winter. Yale University's Berkeley College dining hall (ironic, huh?) went sustainable and mostly organic back in 2003, with inspiration from our very own Alice Waters, whose daughter attended. Nearly everything served at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, is organic, and vegetarian to boot, the university claims. Illinois Wesleyan University introduced an all-organic fruit bar in its main dining hall last fall. Algonquin Dining Hall, at the State University of New York in Plattsburgh, offers exclusively organic fresh fruits and vegetables, and features a full-time vegan/vegetarian chef. "Everything we serve fresh is organic, we made that commitment," says Josef Quirinale, manager of dining services for the SUNY campus. "We know organic, local, sustainable are pretty big buzzwords, and the students are thrilled."

The list goes on. Last May, Menlo College in Atherton inked a ten-year deal with national campus food provider Sodexho USA to offer students grain-fed, hormone- and antibiotic-free meats, certified organic produce (locally grown where possible), trans-fat-free salad dressings, and other organic ingredients including cheeses, whole eggs, oils, spices, flour, granola, tofu, and soy milk.

In other words, kudos are in order all around. So roll on, you Bears. Just mind that you don't put your foot, organic or otherwise, on the menu. — Michael Mechanic

Remaking the Left, 2.0: The Berkeley school of leftist locution has been getting antsy lately. Last month, linguist-cum-activist George Lakoff opened the Rockridge Institute, his long-promised think tank, where staffers are busy concocting a liberal worldview that resonates with voters — that is to say, white, working-class men. And in May, "politics of meaning" guru Michael Lerner plans to convene Part II of his "conference on spiritual activism," which aims to recapture the language of spirituality for the left.

Last summer, at Lerner's request, more than 1,300 people descended on the Cal campus to hammer out a spiritual and leftist weltanschauung that would honor spirituality in a world where conservatives seem to have a monopoly on religious piety. But as this paper noted at the time ("The Covenant with America," 8/17/05), Lerner's colleagues were often afflicted with a tendency to apologize for radical Islam's more repugnant qualities. In addition, their contempt for right-wing fundamentalism was so reflexive that they failed to notice that the megachurches where such ideas abound actually address the alienation of a soulless, material life — the very affliction his followers were there to talk about.

But grappling with such flaws was in fact the point of the Lerner affair. So how has his project evolved since? Hard to say. Lerner published a new book, The Left Hand of God, this past February, wherein he recounts the work of the conference. But the platform his organization Tikkun has printed for version 2.0 looks strangely similar to the first gathering. Specifically, Lerner's two least-workable ideas — getting industrialized nations to contribute to a "global Marshall Plan" and forcing corporations to undergo an ethical audit every ten years, or see their charter revoked — remain intact.

Robin Thomas, Tikkun's executive director, insists that merely discussing these pie-in-the-sky ideas is a strategy of sorts. At least the public will have talked about corporate responsibility, if only for a second. "Sometimes you use these things more as tools of education and inspiration than as actual methods of making change," she says.

Lerner's next stab at reclaiming God for the left is scheduled for May 17-20. Barack Obama is penciled in as a speaker, and last year's silliness will undoubtedly make an appearance, too. — Chris Thompson

Ignacio & the Three Bear: Oakland mayoral hopeful Ignacio De La Fuente has been distributing an extensive 32-page pamphlet at campaign stops to introduce himself to voters and outline his goals for the city. And what's a campaign brochure without the requisite photo ops with children and cute animals? To wit, kids and animals figure prominently in seven of the thirteen photos that depict the candidate as an adult. The kids seem legitimate enough. But the animals? As previously noted in these pages ("So Where's the Pony Show?" Bottom Feeder, 4/20/05), that young golden retriever in Ignacio's arms on the pamphlet's colorful back cover isn't really his dog. He doesn't have one. And the photo from the city's 2001 panda junket that has De La Fuente, Councilman Henry Chang, and then City Manager Robert Bobb sitting in a row holding baby pandas in their laps and grinning like kids? Very nice, except that those three pandas were actually one panda, which each man was allowed to hold, one at a time. Rumor has it that Chang, who had then recently discovered the joys of Adobe Photoshop, joined those photos into one. No callback from Chang, but Bobb, now city administrator in DC, confirmed the single-panda theory. In the news biz we usually label such Photoshop creations "photo illustration," but this is politics. Come to think of it, that shot of Ignacio with labor icon César Chávez seems just a tad too perfect. It's probably genuine, but at this rate, how's a voter to judge? — Michael Mechanic


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