Celebrating Today’s Cooks on National Cooking Day

by Amy Trubek, author of Making Modern Meals: How Americans Cook Today

Let’s celebrate American cooks. Each day, the hands of many clean, chop, stir, knead, season, and work in other ways too, solely on our behalf. As has always been true, we rely on them to be nourished. But in 2017, just who cooks may come as a surprise. This is not your grandmother’s day of celebration. We now spend over 50% of our annual food purchases on food made outside the home. Americans cook at home, sometimes, but to find today’s everyday cooks, we might also need to look elsewhere. In restaurants, commissary kitchens, bakeries, school cafeterias, and other locations across the continent, hundreds of thousands of people wake up each morning, go to work, and make our meals (and snacks and side dishes and bread and cakes) every day, rain or shine.

This graph depicts the share of household food expenditures in the United States, food at home versus food away from home. Over the past fifty years, there has been a steady decline in money spent for food prepared and consumed at home.

The gradual meeting of these lines does not need to fill us with dismay. It might be tempting to take our new normal and to extrapolate that culinary skills and knowledge are in decline, that we have moved to a situation of culinary impoverishment. But should we? My friend Mark is an accomplished baker. He knows how to use wild yeasts, create a sourdough starter, and shape and bake crusty, flavorful loaves of bread. He learned from a master baker trained in France, and now he is teaching his teenage children too. I had one grandmother who loved to cook, took pleasure in making meals, and I inherited her handwritten recipe cards. I had another grandmother who was an indifferent cook, maybe even a hostile one, an ambitious woman whose world was circumscribed. She probably would have agreed with Peg Bracken, a feminist and writer who published the popular I Hate to Cook Book in 1960. As Bracken said, “Some women, it is said, like to cook. This book is not for them. This book is for those of us who hate to, who have learned through hard experience that some activities become no less powerful through repetition: childbearing, paying taxes, cooking.” My grandmother Ruth would have said, ‘hear, hear.’ My grandmother Katherine would have chuckled, and gone on to make her famous rum cake. Perhaps there have always been engaged and indifferent cooks, but now the former can make meals for the latter. Peg, Ruth and Katherine might be amazed at women’s autonomy when it comes to everyday cooking. Perhaps we should celebrate that.

So, on the occasion of National Cooking Day, thank all the cooks in your life, at home and beyond. Try to peek into the kitchen of your local, favorite restaurant, or go talk to the lunch ladies in your child’s school cafeteria: share recipes, swap stories about a failed batch of cookies, teach your neighbor a favorite family dish. Celebrate cooking, wherever it happens!


Amy B. Trubek is Associate Professor of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Vermont. She is the author of Haute Cuisine: How the French Invented the Culinary Profession and The Taste of Place: A Cultural Journey into Terroir.


Student History is Written in the Streets

by Heather Vrana, author of This City Belongs to You: A History of Student Activism in Guatemala, 1944-1996

A nation-wide strike is set for Wednesday, September 20 in Guatemala. Last week, Guatemala’s Congress voted 104 to 25 against repealing the immunity that protects President Jimmy Morales from investigations into charges of corruption during his 2015 presidential campaign. For weeks, protestors had gathered outside of various government offices, chanting, “Iván stays, Jimmy goes” and “Student: history is written in the streets.” The vote dealt a huge blow to those who have worked for decades to fight a deep-rooted system of impunity that defends the powerful in spite of truth and reconciliation commissions, human rights tribunals, and international pressure. The great irony is that although Morales ran as the anti-corruption candidate (his slogan was “Ni corrupto, ni ladrón”), much of his presidency has been mired in controversy. What else can be expected of a man whose previous career required him to don outrageous—and often racist—costumes? Morales’ comedy career prepared him well.

As one Guatemala City professional recently said to me, “we are accustomed to this.”

Yet, to be accustomed to corruption is not to accept it. On the contrary, what has been so remarkable over the past few years is precisely the combative nature of Guatemala’s daily practice of politics.

In April and May 2015, thousands of Guatemalans began gathering on weekends in the Plaza de la Constitución to protest then president Otto Pérez Molina. It was an open secret that he was implicated in many deaths during the civil war and there was no greater symbol of impunity. By early September, the protestors were successful in removing Pérez Molina and his vice president from office. Such a thing had happened only once before in Guatemala’s history. Social media and news coverage of these electrifying days constantly referred to the protests of June and October 1944, when a wide alliance of popular groups and the military overthrew the dictatorship of Jorge Ubico.

My book, This City Belongs to You: A History of Student Activism in Guatemala, 1944-1996 begins with the university student organizing that led up to these massive protests. It follows several generations of students at Guatemala’s only public university, the Universidad de San Carlos (USAC). Each chapter explores how students engaged with the university as an institution as well as Guatemalan and (to a lesser extent) U.S. state apparatuses between 1944 and 1996, a period marked by revolution, counterrevolution, and civil war. Through these encounters, USAC students (called San Carlistas) forged a loose consensus around faith in the principles of liberalism, especially belief in equal liberty, the constitutional republic, political rights, and the responsibility of university students to lead the nation. I call this consensus student nationalism and trace how it became a defining feature of Guatemala’s middle class across the twentieth century.

This tradition of political involvement that comes to define the middle class is in no small way the condition of possibility for the ongoing protests we see today. Student nationalism was a shared project for identity-making, premised on the inclusions and exclusions of citizenship. It was less something one had or believed than a way of making political claims. It helped to bring San Carlistas into enduring fraternal bonds with their classmates as well as other citizens in a broad popular movement. As the civil war progressed and the military and police declared war on the university and the popular sector, student nationalism helped the opposition wage culture wars over historical memory.

Today, the protestors gathered in the streets are inheritors of San Carlistas’ traditions of struggle. They expect to protest when the government fails to fulfill its paltry promises to the people. The names of student, peasant, and union martyrs adorn their signs and t-shirts. While my book is a history of many generations of young people: their hopes, their actions, their role in social change; attempts to control them; their struggles against the government; and their encounters with the university as a state apparatus and a crucial site for resistance and celebration, the struggle in the streets today continues to evolve and become much, much bigger than this.


Heather Vrana is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Florida and the editor of Anti-Colonial Texts from Central American Student Movements 1929–1983.


Most Immigrants Are Women: Does the Trump Administration Want to Deport Them, or Just Keep Them Working for Low Wages?

By Laura Briggs, author of How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics: From Welfare Reform to Foreclosure to Trump

It’s always been unclear whether the goal of the Trump White House was to limit the number of undocumented immigrants in this country, or just to terrorize them and keep them as vulnerable, underpaid workforce, and the recent debate about DACA underscores that fact.

Our economy relies on immigrant labor, and needs it to be cheap—and not just for the reasons most people think. The majority of immigrants to the United States, and nearly half the undocumented population are women, and many of them are doing household labor—cleaning, caring for children, elders, and others who cannot care for themselves. They’re not doing it so the rest of us can have more down time—far from it. On average, everybody is working more. As real wages have declined, the middle class has hung on by throwing more adults into the labor force, mostly women. In 1960, 20 percent of mothers worked. Today, 70 percent of U.S. children live in households where all the adults are employed. So who’s doing the household work? Business certainly has not picked up the tab; workers in the U.S. aren’t even guaranteed sick days, never mind childcare. We haven’t raised taxes for government to pay for it, either. Indeed, the most revealing moments in the debate over the Affordable Care Act repeal were when Republicans admitted that to get Medicaid costs down, sick elders needed to get out of nursing homes and go back to living with their families (read: daughters—Paul Ryan sure wasn’t planning to go part-time to care for his mother.)

So for the whole economic calculus to work—in which women must work, but get paid less than men (to the benefit of their employers), and we don’t raise taxes to pay for government programs, something had to give. This was the brilliance of the 1990s crackdown on undocumented immigrants: it ensured that there a class of women who could be paid even less than women who were citizens, at exactly the moment when the economy most needed them. During the Clinton administration, three key things happened. Walmart became the largest single employer in the country, owing much of their “efficiency” to women’s low wages. The controversy over Zöe Baird’s nomination as attorney general—“Nannygate”—launched a nationwide enforcement crackdown on immigrants without papers, beginning with the couple that Baird was sponsoring for green cards, Lillian and Victor Cordero. And the number of middle class households hiring nannies and housekeepers began to grow exponentially.

Immigration enforcement of the sort the U.S. has been doing since then doesn’t necessarily mean all undocumented immigrants get deported. It may just make them vulnerable, trapping people in exploitative jobs. One mother of triplets told the New York Times why she wanted to hire someone who was undocumented: “I want someone who cannot leave the country… who doesn’t know anyone in New York, who basically does not have a life. I want someone who is completely dependent on me.” While some households just wanted to employ someone who was reliable and “affordable,” others were abusive and even violent. A 2012 study of household workers in fourteen cities found abysmal working conditions, with many reporting sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. Among live-in nannies, many did not even have their own bed; they were expected to sleep with the children in their care. There was also widespread wage theft, with 67% earning less than minimum wage. While race was also a factor, the single best predictor of how much people got paid was immigration status, with undocumented workers earning the least.

There’s a surprisingly clear case to be made that the Trump administration, for all its sound and fury, is not terribly interested in deporting large numbers of people. It’s not only Donald Trump’s personal history of hiring undocumented workers—the fact that Trump Tower was built by people without papers and that his modeling agency relied on them—it’s also what’s happened since he took office. For one thing, when his transition team discovered that his pick for Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, had hired an undocumented household worker—the exact thing Zöe Baird went down for—they didn’t see it as disqualifying. Rather, they had Ross withhold the information until the last minute, in his tightly controlled confirmation hearing. Apparently, the administration was fine with having key positions held by people who were in favor of illegal immigration—at Commerce, at Labor (if they hadn’t been bested by Andrew Pudzer’s critics), and in the Oval Office itself.

Most significantly, the number of deportations under Trump has actually declined, and is on track to be lower than during any year of Obama’s presidency. Arrests and detentions have increased, to be sure. While Obama, the careful lawyer, restricted the actions of ICE to arrest and detain those most likely to be deported, the Trump administration has encouraged aggressive policing, creating terror, and a huge backlog of cases awaiting a hearing in immigration court. “When you go out and you arrest a whole bunch of people willy-nilly [an immigration judge] has got to fill his docket time hearing those arguments,” John Sandweg, acting director of ICE in 2013-14, told Politico. While it’s possible that more judges would mean more deportations, many of the people picked up are later released. In other words, it’s not yet clear whether this is a campaign to make immigrants afraid, or deport them.

This raises a question about all the back and forth about DACA: is the goal really to deport young people, or is it just to raise the flag that the administration is ambivalent about immigrants getting an education and a work permit, instead of remaining part of a permanent underclass of low-paid, illegal workers. One thing is clear: U.S. immigration policy has produced the largest exploitable, deterritorialized labor force since slavery times. Many of them are women, doing “women’s work.” Any effort at immigration reform—whether for the 1 million Dreamers or the estimated 10 million other undocumented immigrants—will have to take account of household and care work. Someone still has to watch the kids.


Laura Briggs is chair and professor of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the author of How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics: From Welfare Reform to Foreclosure to TrumphereRead the first chapter .

Watch Laura discuss her book’s thesis, economics, race, and family on last Sunday’s episode of The Open Mind on PBS.

 


Coasts in Crisis: Plastic on the Shoreline

by Gary Griggs, author of Coasts in Crisis: A Global Challenge

An Earth-changing development took place in New York City in 1907 when plastic was first synthesized. It had all the right stuff for a huge range of uses: lightweight, flexible, strong, moisture resistant, relatively inexpensive, and a quality that has plagued us ever since, durability. This stuff just doesn’t break down or go away very quickly. Throughout the 20th century the development and use of new kinds of plastics and new products and uses proliferated rapidly.

I have spent much of my life studying beaches and coastlines and over 50 years ago I started collecting beach sands from my travels. Each one is unique and I think of them as the DNA or the fingerprint of some particular set of geologic and oceanographic conditions. I now have about 300 or so sand samples stored in glass vials and spread around on windowsills, bookshelves, and in frames, both at home and in my office.

My collection has gotten the attention of a number of friends over the years that now send or bring back beach sand from various far-flung places around the planet. A few years ago, a good friend who travels a lot, usually to coastlines that are often remote and difficult to get to, sent back beach sand samples from the Andaman Islands. This archipelago of 572 islands, many uninhabited, lies in the Indian Ocean, about 350 miles west of Myanmar and about 800 miles east of India.

These islands are not on any of the usual travel paths and are not easy to get to but my friend and his family were able to charter a boat and visit a number of these isolated islands and bring sand home. One of his emails included some beautiful pictures and then the words: “Sadly, although inhabited, and remote, the island was covered with plastic!”

The widespread use and then disposal of plastic as well as other debris has become an issue of global proportions. With the durability of plastic beverage bottles, plastic bags, detergent and food containers, we believe that about 60-80 percent of all marine debris in the ocean is plastic and it’s found on the beaches of every continent and from Iceland to Antarctica, sad but true.

Despite a growing effort to reduce plastic use and consumption, single-use plastic bags and water bottles in particular, globally we produce about 360 million tons of plastic annually, without about one-third of that going into disposable, single use items. Estimates are that about one percent is recycled globally, with most of the rest ending up in landfills, or often transported or blow into coastal waters.

While over a billion people around the world lack access to safe drinking water, they usually aren’t the ones consuming all of the bottled water. Americans, who are almost all fortunate to have very good quality and regularly tested tap water, consumed 9.7 billion gallons of bottled water in 2012. This water was guzzled from 103 billion single-use plastic bottles, or 3,250 bottles emptied every second, all year long. Despite the prevalence of recycling programs and convenient containers for disposal, only about 20% of the bottles are recycled and the rest are discarded, ending up in dumps or in some cases, the ocean or on our beaches.

While cleaning up beaches is helpful and beneficial, the ultimate solution to the problem of plastic proliferation along our shorelines and in the oceans of the world isn’t clean up and removal, but in prevention- cutting off or eliminating the plastic, Styrofoam and other marine debris at the sources. It means taking every action necessary to keep the trash from getting into our rivers, waterways and oceans to begin with.


Gary Griggs is Distinguished Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is author or coauthor of Introduction to California’s Beaches and CoastLiving with the Changing California CoastCalifornia Coast from the Air, The Santa Cruz Coast (Then and Now), and Our Ocean Backyard.


Bronwen & Francis Percival on Real Cheese

excerpted from Reinventing the Wheel: Milk, Microbes, and the Fight for Real Cheese by Bronwen Percival and Francis Percival

There is great precedent for the cheesemonger as activist and advocate. In the mid-twentieth century, the dark days for the British cheese industry that saw the retreat from farmhouse production and the rise of the supermarkets as the dominant force within the industry, there was one retailer who stood out. Major Patrick Rance had fought the Nazis, but in peacetime he found himself engaged in another existential struggle, this one based out of his modest cheese shop in Streatley, not far from London. With his monocle and aristocratic connections, he cut an eccentric figure, but he had a clear vision of his aspirations for cheese. In his Great British Cheese Book (1982), he outlined the problem: from 1948 to 1974, there had been a drop in the number of farms making Cheddar in the southwest of England from sixty-one to thirty-three. (As we write this, in 2016, there are only five.) He also proposed a solution. Taking his inspiration from the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and the Campaign for Real Bread, he noted that “fortunate and few are those within reach of Real Cheese to go with it” and called for a similar movement for cheese.

Rance’s fight was with factory production. For him, the enemy—the unreal cheese—was the mountain of vacuum-packed blocks that was steadily replacing the United Kingdom’s established territorial cheeses. We agree with his sentiment, but following his inspiration, this book pushes further.

The risk of defining and essentializing the real, of claiming to separate the authentic and the fake, is that it becomes an exercise in arbitrary exclusion. CAMRA, as successful as it has been at celebrating and reinvigorating British cask ales, also stands accused of stifling the British craft brewing scene with its insistence that only cask-conditioned ales are “real.”

That is not our intention; it would be absurd to claim a single style of cheese as uniquely real. Rather, for us, real cheese is a manifestation of wider biodiversity, a food that exploits all of the resources and raw materials of the farm, from the botanical to the microbial. It is an acknowledgment that dairy farming and cheesemaking are one and the same process, and of the moral hazard that comes from any intervention—whether it be aggressive use of fertilizers, pasteurization of milk, or insensitive use of microbial cultures— that obliterates the link between the cheese and the environment from which it is fashioned. At best, these interventions are simply a patch; at worst, they threaten to undermine the sustainability of the entire industry.

An opportunity lies before us. Advances in our understanding of biology have given us the tools to begin to understand and work with natural ecosystems at every level. Evidence is accruing of the social and environmental benefits associated with food systems that look beyond the production of faceless commodity outputs. Real cheese is subversive in its simplicity: it reunites farming and flavor. And in doing so, it rewards diversity and sustainability at every level.

What follows is a journey through the cheesemaking process, beginning with the very first decisions that a farmer must make about what and how to farm and continuing through each of the key stages of cheesemaking itself. We start with a primer on the mechanics of cheesemaking, to provide some context for these decisions, and then follow the life of the cheese from its earliest inception. At every stage, we have deliberately chosen not to segregate the book like a textbook: the reader will encounter issues at the same time that they would trouble the farmhouse cheesemaker rather than according to a pedagogical schema. We know that cheesemaking is inherently interdisciplinary: it is equal parts art, science, and intuition. As we track the path from fi eld to consumer, we want to convey the pitfalls and complexities facing the producer. Th e same is true of the geographical scope of the book. We discuss the issues involved in the context of a cheese or region where they are of particular concern. There is no absolute Real Cheese, only real cheeses made in the context of specific places.


Bronwen Percival is the cheese buyer at Neal’s Yard Dairy in London. She initiated the biennial Science of Artisan Cheese Conference and is cofounder of the website microbialfoods.org. In addition to serving on the editorial board of the Oxford Companion to Cheese, she recently edited an English translation of the leading French textbook on raw-milk microbiology for cheesemakers.

Francis Percival writes on food and wine for The World of Fine Wine and was named Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year in 2013 and Pio Cesare Wine and Food Writer of the Year 2015. His work has also appeared in Culture, Decanter, Saveur, and the Financial Times. Together with Bronwen, he cofounded the London Gastronomy Seminars.


From Tupac to Lorca: Finding the “Soul” in Hip-Hop and Literature

By Alejandro Nava, author of In Search of Soul: Hip-Hop, Literature, and Religion

Taking its name from a song by Bobby Byrd and James Brown, Eric B. and Rakim released a single in 1987, “I Know You Got Soul,” from their album Paid in Full. By sampling the funky rhythms and throbbing drums of James Brown’s signature sound, the rap looks backward to soul music while at the same time looking forward to a new age that will put on wax many of the hip-hop generation’s distinct idioms, brags, syntaxes, and struggles. The song epitomizes the fresh new prosody and poetics of the hip-hop generation, a generation that will use ghetto tongues to name and scrutinize American possibilities and shortcomings, American opportunities and grave injustices. As time goes on, other rap artists will jump aboard the soul train and pilfer its propulsive beats and energies, but they will also increasingly bring with them the weights and burdens of black lives in the twentieth century. As the title of their tenth album suggests—How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul—Public Enemy, for example, drags these issues to the forefront. Typical to their prophetically charged vision, the album philosophizes and raps with a hammer, warning its listeners to the commercial and cultural forces in American life that seek to steal and cheapen the soul. In our own day and age—the age of Trump—Kendrick Lamar has burst on the stage of hip hop with some of the same anxieties and judgments. In song after song—“For Sale,” “How Much a Dollar Cost?” and “Mortal Man,” to name a few—he describes and dramatizes a soul in anguish, fighting and grinding for survival in a culture of consumption and callousness, doing what it can to resist the temptations of “Lucy” (his epithet for meretricious charms of Lucifer).

Though my book, In Search of Soul: Hip-Hop, Literature and Religion, is broader in scope than the soundscapes of rap, I see it as sharing the same airwaves and preoccupations as hip-hop artists in the mold of Lauryn Hill, Tupac, Kendrick Lamar, J Cole, Immortal Technique, Chance the Rapper and others. Simply put, the book is a response to the crisis of the soul in our age, and it considers the pressures by way of money, power and greed that can tarnish the highest ideals and values of the soul. More specifically, though, it explores the different nuances in the meaning of soul, from religious interpretations to profane and musical accounts. Part I of the book defends the basic values associated with the soul in the Jewish and Christian traditions: contemplation, compassion, spiritual depth, and fundamental human rights. I follow the lead of Lauryn Hill when she remarks that we need to “change the focus from the richest to the brokest,” as well as the famous adage of Jesus, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” Part II, then, moves to a cultural, artistic, and musical exploration of “soul” in African American and Hispanic traditions. In this second inflection, “soul” is a metaphor of artistic excellence and cultural/musical creativity. By examining the transformation in the grammar of “soul” from W.E.B. Du Bois and Ralph Ellison to Federico García Lorca and hip-hop, I consider how this concept became a counter-cultural trope and a weapon of protest against oppressive forces in American life. In the hands of these artists, it became synonymous with a spiritual force that could repel and overcome powerful tides of injustice.

By weaving together these different strands of “soul,” the book draws not only from my experiences in the classroom at the University of Chicago (where I studied religion), or at University of Arizona (where I’ve been teaching courses on religion and hip-hop); it is also a product of my schooling outside the walls of the university. For whatever else is true about the question of the soul, it is certainly the case that there is something fundamentally inscrutable and uncanny about the concept, something that requires an existential commitment to untangle its labyrinthine mysteries. In my own life (as in the religious, literary and hip-hop artists that I consider in this book), the pursuit of soul has taken me down surprising and uncharted roads, beyond the restricting borders of academic codes and norms, beyond the divisions of the sacred and profane. In learning from the street scribes of hip-hop, I have come to realize that whaling can be one’s Harvard and Yale (Melville), that the slums and tenements of New York can be the finest tutors (Stephen Crane), and that “beyond the walls of intelligence, life is found” (Nas).

Playlist on “Soul”

Literary Samples

Federico Garcia Lorca, In Search of Duende

W.E.B Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk

Ralph Ellison, The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison

Virginia Woolf, “The Russian Point of View,” in The Common Reader

Michael Eric Dyson, Holler if You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur


Alejandro Nava is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Arizona and author of Wonder and Exile in the New World and The Mystical and Prophetic Thought of Simone Weil and Gustavo Gutierrez.


“Sumud”—The Will to Resist

By Gary Fields, author of Enclosure: Palestinian Landscapes in a Historical Mirror

“Sumud” (صمود‎‎) is an oft-used term in Palestinian Arabic meaning “steadfastness” and refers generally to the resistance of Palestinians to Israeli takeover and settlement of Palestinian land. This idea of resisting dispossession is a major theme in my recently-completed book, Enclosure and I decided to celebrate its publication by spending ten weeks in Palestine this past summer. Unlike previous research trips, however, where I documented stories of steadfastness, my time on this trip was taken up by studying Arabic intensively at Birzeit University and visiting informally with Palestinians who had conveyed their stories to me for my study. Among Palestinians I have come to know, Mona and Fayez T. from the village of Irtah near Tulkarem are two of the most heroic practitioners of sumud I have encountered.

I met Mona and Fayez in December, 2004 when I stayed with them for five days on my first research trip to Palestine. The couple told me of three major shocks to their farming operation. In the 1990s an Israeli waste and recycling firm, the Geshuri Company, which had been in violation of Israeli environmental laws, relocated its plant across the border to the Palestinian West Bank – immediately adjacent to the farm Mona and Fayez and created untold problems by polluting the area with untreated wastewater runoff. In 2002, the couple received a second shock when the state of Israel decided to build the Separation Wall – Fayez and Mona refer to it as the Apartheid Wall – right across the middle of their farm. As a result, the family lost half of its farmland and had only 30 dunums (roughly eight acres) remaining.

Harvesting zatar on the farm of Mona and Fayez in the shadow of the Wall. Photo by Gary Fields
Mona T. Cultivating beans. Photo by Gary Fields

The following year, the Israeli army along with two large bulldozers came to their farm one day and informed the couple that their land was now a closed military zone. Protected by armed soldiers, the bulldozers plowed up all of the crops planted at that time which Mona and Fayez estimated at $350,000. During the next ten years, this plowing up of the couple’s farmland occurred two more times. Such instances of land confiscation and crop destruction are central themes in Enclosure.

When I visited this summer, I saw many changes on the farm of Mona and Fayez. They have implemented an intensive program of water reclamation, energy conservation, and heirloom seed preservation in an effort to transition their land to organic farming. As a result, Mona and Fayez are now two of the most celebrated organic farmers in Palestine cultivating a wide variety of fruits, field vegetables, and nuts. They also regularly host groups of people from all over Europe and the Middle East who come to see how they are utilizing scarce resources while supplying local and regional markets with organic produce. In addition they are also the main supplier for some of the most well-known restaurants in Ramallah. At their house this summer over dinner, Fayez and Mona emphasized to me that cultivating crops was the most steadfast form of resistance to the Israeli occupation. “When we cultivate crops, we plant ourselves in our land,” they told me. “We will not be moved.”

Picking Molokhia. Photo by Gary Fields
Taking a break from picking and packing peppers. Photo by Gary Fields

Gary Fields is Associate Professor of Communication at the University of California, San Diego.

His new book Enclosure marshals bold new arguments about the nature of the conflict in Israel/Palestine. Fields examines the dispossession of Palestinians from their land—and Israel’s rationale for seizing control of Palestinian land—in the contexts of a broad historical analysis of power and space and of an enduring discourse about land improvement. This comparative framework also helps readers in the United States and the United Kingdom understand the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in the context of their own histories.

Read a sample chapter.


Burmese Buddhists and the Persecution of Rohingya Muslims

By Mark Juergensmeyer, author of Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, 4th Edition

In the past two weeks, at least 313,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar, roughly a third of the Rohingya population living in the predominantly Buddhist country. As we seek to understand the Rohingya people’s situation—and why religious power has manifested into violence—we turn to Mark Juergensmeyer’s Terror in the Mind of God. In this excerpt from the chapter, “Buddhist Faces of Terror,” Juergensmeyer visits the monk Ashin Wirathu, who has been credited with inciting angry Buddhists in Myanmar to riot against the Muslim minority. The author has adapted this excerpt for the UC Press blog.


When I talked with Ashin Wirathu in his comfortable office in the Ma Soe Yein monastery in the central Burmese city of Mandalay he was prepared to defend himself against the terrorism label branded him by Time magazine and by many other journalists. Wirathu was blamed for fanning the flames of ethnic hatred. He is the most well-known spokesman for the “969 Movement”—named after the nine special attributes of the Buddha, the six distinctive features of his teachings, and the nine characteristics of monks—which was formed to defend the purity of Burmese Buddhist culture against its adulteration from outside influences, primarily Muslim. Hence it was widely regarded as an anti-Islamic hate movement.

“They are trying to transform Myanmar into a Muslim state,” Wirathu said. He claimed that this was the reason that he and the 969 Movement were trying to protect Burmese Buddhism from what he regarded as a program of cultural annihilation.

Representatives of the United Nations’ Commission on Human Rights, however, have seen this differently. They have identified Wirathu as one of the main figures in Myanmar’s pattern of human rights abuse against Muslims, particularly the Rohingya who live in the northern portion of Rakhine province adjacent to Bangladesh. Though the Rohingya people claim to have lived in the region for centuries, many Burmese regard them as aliens, and the most recent government census refused to let them identify themselves on the rolls as Rohingya rather than as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Wirathu has been outspoken in his insistence that the Rohingya are not legitimately native to the country but are interlopers.

In the years immediately following Burma’s establishment as an independent country in 1948 there was an effort to extend citizenship to all groups within the country. This was the vision of Aung San, the symbolic father of Burmese nationalism—and the actual father of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize–winning activist whose party came to power in the 2015 elections. In the first years of independent Burmese rule, Rohingya were included as cabinet members of the government.

In 2012, however, tensions between Burmese and Rohingya in Rakhine state came to a boiling point. Burmese leaders claimed that the increase in the Muslim population would soon make them the majority, and riots ensued, with killings on both sides. This tension spread throughout the country in a spiral of anti-Muslim activism, fanned by the rhetorical of activists monks like Ashin Wirathu. The government responded to the anti-Muslim sentiment with a series of enactments that greatly restricted the rights of Rohingya within Myanmar, essentially making them citizens without a country. In 2015, some twenty-five thousand Rohingya set sail on crowded boats seeking asylum in surrounding countries. It is estimated that hundreds died attempted to set shore on Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

This dismissal of the rights of Rohingya in Myanmar is one of the things that has been criticized by the UN Human Rights Commission. According to Wirathu, rich Muslim countries have bought off the UN, and its human rights accusations were part of a Muslim plot. “It is not the United Nations,” Wirathu told me, “but the United Muslim Nations.” Wirathu claimed that U.S. President Barack Obama was also duped by these influences, and this is the reason why he spoke about the rights of Rohingya people in his visit to the country. From Wirathu’s perspective, however, it is not a matter of human rights but a battle for the cultural integrity of Myanmar. It is a war between good and evil, between Buddhist morality and the Muslim hordes he imagines to be poised to conquer Burma’s soul; and Wirathu would like to be its savior.


Mark Juergensmeyer is Professor of Sociology and Global Studies and Founding Director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Terror in the Mind of God, now in its fourth edition, analyzes in detail terrorism related to almost all the world’s major religious traditions. Drawing from extensive personal interviews, Juergensmeyer takes readers into the mindset of those who perpetrate and support violence in the name of religion. Identifying patterns within these cultures of violence, he explains why and how religion and violence are linked and how acts of religious terrorism are undertaken not only for strategic reasons but to accomplish a symbolic purpose. Terror in the Mind of God continues to be an indispensible resource for students of religion and modern society.

Read a sample chapter or request an exam copy for your courses.


Hurricanes versus Earthquakes: How Natural Disasters Compare between Florida and California

by Gary Griggs, author of Coasts in Crisis: A Global Challenge

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, followed by Jose and Katia next in line, like commuters on the freeway headed for work. What’s going on here? We generally don’t think too much about hurricanes here in California, but it’s hard to miss the news now.

Hurricane Harvey may be the most damaging storm to ever hit the United States. And in terms of wind speed in miles per hour, Irma is reported as being the strongest hurricane ever recorded and it has yet to hit the coast of Florida. Irma is currently leaving a path of complete destruction as it blasts through the Caribbean. On the island of St. Martin, an island split between Dutch and French control, There is no power, no gasoline, no running water. Homes are under water, cars are floating through the streets, and inhabitants are sitting in the dark in ruined houses and cut off from the outside world. These aren’t losses that are going to be repaired or replaced in a few weeks time. It will take months to years to return to normal.

Some residents of the Atlantic coast of the US are often quoted as saying that they would much rather live with hurricanes—where at least you know they’re coming—rather than the uncertainty of earthquakes that we all live with here in California. The truth, however, is that while large earthquakes in the United States present clear dangers, they don’t begin to compare with hurricanes in terms of damage of loss of life. Our average annual death toll from earthquakes in the United States over the past century or so is about 20 per year. If fact, in the entire 240 year history of the United States, there has only been a single earthquake that led to deaths of more than 200 people, and that was the great San Francisco shock of 1906. We just don’t get big earthquakes that often, at least historically, although they will come and we shouldn’t be complacent about them.

Hurricanes, however, have been responsible for more loss of life in the United States than any other natural hazard. While California may get a damaging earthquake every decade or so, we can get multiple hurricanes in a single season, and 2017 is making that abundantly clear.

Over 60 million people along the U.S. Gulf and South Atlantic coasts live in coastal counties that are vulnerable to hurricanes and, like most coastal regions, those populations continue to increase. From 1900 to 2015, there were 631 hurricanes that affected these counties as well as the Caribbean region, or 5.4 per year on average. 245 of these, or about two each year, have been classed as major hurricanes based on damage and death tolls. On average, about 800 fatalities have been recorded yearly, but this likely is an underestimate as reliable information from older hurricanes is often lacking. Losses are unfortunately increasing every year because more people are retiring to warm hurricane-prone areas like Florida, and investment in homes and other development, and their values, are increasing.


Gary Griggs is Distinguished Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is author or coauthor of Introduction to California’s Beaches and CoastLiving with the Changing California CoastCalifornia Coast from the Air, The Santa Cruz Coast (Then and Now), and Our Ocean Backyard.


A Fresh View of Floodplain Ecology and Management

by Jeff Opperman and Peter Moyle, co-authors of Floodplains: Processes and Management for Ecosystem Services

Last week, we saw tragic images of floods across the world, from Houston to Niger to south Asia, with more than 1,300 deaths from floods in India, Nepal and Bangladesh.

Floods are among the most costly natural disasters worldwide and the loss of life and property, from Houston to Mumbai, gave a very human face to the impersonal statistics: in recent years, global damages have ranged between $30 and 60 billion and more than 100 million people have been displaced by flooding.

These events are also warnings about a likely future: in a warming world, many regions will experience more frequent and intense flooding.

It is hard to imagine a flood-management system that could have effectively contained the historic amount of rain that fell on southeast Texas—several feet in just a few days. However, even if all floods can’t be contained, governments must still invest in measures to improve safety for people and reduce damages. The key is to move beyond a primary focus on the structural measures—dams and levees—that strive to contain floods, and toward a “diversified portfolio” approach. Nonstructural measures—such as zoning, building codes and insurance—are key to keeping people out of harm’s way. Another critical strategy is to integrate green infrastructure—natural features such as wetlands and floodplains—into flood-management systems.

In river basins around the world, from the Mississippi to the Sacramento to the Rhine, managers have moved away from a strict reliance on engineered levees, which confine rivers and attempt to contain floods. Instead, they have moved towards reconnecting rivers to parts of their historic floodplains. On these reconnected floodplains, floodwaters can spread out and reduce risks to communities and farmland in other areas.

We have documented this trend, and reasons why green infrastructure can be so effective, in our book, Floodplains: Processes and Management for Ecosystem Services.

The book is based on our many years of studying floodplains in California, a leader in using floodplains for flood management. But we also explore other regions, especially Europe, Australia, and Asia, for new insights.

Our focus is reconciliation ecology, the science of integrating functioning ecosystems into landscapes dominated by people. This framework is key to understanding the full potential of green infrastructure: by reducing flood risk, wetlands and floodplains function as infrastructure. But they are also “green”—they are ecosystems that are influenced by complex and intertwined biophysical processes. The first part of our book reviews these processes—encompassing hydrology, geomorphology, biogeochemistry, and ecology—and how they respond to management interventions.

A hallmark of green infrastructure is that these ecosystem processes can provide multiple benefits beyond flood-risk reduction. For floodplains, these benefits include habitat for fish and wildlife, groundwater recharge, carbon sequestration, and open space and recreation. Thus, realizing the full potential of green infrastructure will come from an integrated approach, one in which engineers, scientists and planners collaborate on management to provide multiple benefits. The second part of the book includes a number of case studies of these new management approaches.

To be clear, we are not suggesting that floodplains and wetlands are the answer to reducing current and future flood risk. Rather, we think that a flood-management system that relies on green infrastructure in addition to engineered infrastructure and sound nonstructural policies, will increase safety for people and provide a broad range of other benefits.

The book’s closing paragraph articulates this optimism that integrated management can improve safety for people while promoting a range or natural services:

“Our time spent on rivers and floodplains has certainly shown us that much has changed and been lost over time. But we have seen more than just glimmers of hope in reconciled floodplains that are diverse and productive. We take heart from the huge flocks of migratory white geese and black ibis that congregate annually on California floodplains and from knowing that, beneath the floodwaters, juvenile salmon are swimming, feeding, and growing among cottonwoods and rice stalks, before heading out to sea. We can envision greatly expanded floodplains that are centerpieces of many regions, protecting people but also featuring wildlands, wildlife, and floodplain-friendly agriculture. Connectivity among floodplains, people and wild creatures is within reach, as is a future in which people work with natural processes rather than continually fighting them.”


Jeffrey J. Opperman is the global lead freshwater scientist for WWF and a research associate at the University of California, Davis.

Peter B. Moyle is Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology and Associate Director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis.