Interconnectivity

One of the perks of being an online English teacher is having the opportunity to talk to people in far reaching places that I would have never otherwise have met. I get the chance to ask people about their country’s culture, language, tradition and politics which, to me, the coolest thing in the world is to learn about different cultures. It gives me direct insight to what a given country is like. The global need for English is the reason I am employed and it speaks to the fact that our world is growing to be more interconnected. I tutor a lot of computer engineers and technicians who are from Saudi Arabia, a country that is very traditional but also wealthy and educated. Tech companies are very international and English is the common language used across nations. I have always believed that people are all more similar than they are different but this job has been proving that as a truth to me. It’s surprisingly easy to find common ground with someone who seemingly has nothing in common with me. (i.e. a male computer programmer from Saudi Arabia and me a wandering American female traveler) but if there is a desire to understand each other you will find commonalities and a way to understand differences.

I was having a fascinating conversation with a young woman from Turkey earlier this week about the recent election in Turkey and what that means for the future of Turkey when she made a point that I think about often. She said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that in the increasingly global world we live in we need to think about helping people and solving social problems not fearing each other. We should be moving forward together yet there is this odd phenomenon of nationalism rising throughout the world right now and that ideology is rooted in fear and hatred for those unlike ourselves.

This is a strange paradoxical world we are living in today where I can sit in Peru and have a conversation with an educated young person in Turkey who, much like myself, is disappointed in her country and doesn’t see progress in what is happening, not only in her own country but, in the world. It’s true that we are living in scary uncertain times where war could be in the future, people fear radical terrorists which then increases racism and nationalism. This is all overwhelming and absolutely horrific. Yet, we have the most amazing technology at our fingertips and I don’t think I would be the first person to believe that this interconnectivity is a peace building tool.

The news terrifies me but I have instant access to that news, people are talking about it, people are debating, people are organizing. Not only do I talk to my friends who are in different countries about the news, through my job I’m talking to complete strangers in different countries about the state of the world we are all a part of. Borders are arbitrary and with technology we can unite and educate ourselves from our own homes.

While I used to believe that technology was a distraction, and in many ways it is, it’s also an amazing 21st century tool. It’s reaching across the globe to inform, connect and educate people. If technology is used to connect people and inform them I think nationalistic ideals can be challenged- they are being challenged. I learned from one of my Saudi Arabian students that a hashtag started a social movement for women to earn the right to drive. It’s about starting a conversation and reaching people with shared interests as well as those that are being challenged. As long as this continues I believe there is hope for progress.

For the time being, there is a backlash against that forward movement. It seems to me that in a shift of power and movement towards equality a strong authoritarian fist will try to maintain control but it will fall. People of diverse backgrounds around the globe are gaining momentum in the fight for equality and the oppressor is fighting back but in the future there will be a shift of power. I deeply believe this. After the Obama presidency it makes sense, in the U.S, that there was a rise of white nationalism, those people will lose control because we are moving forward in the fight for equality. Technology as a powerful tool and a creative one at that. A powerful, amazing, creative tool humans have never seen before, a far reaching tool to interconnectivity and peace building.

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Asparagus and other global veggies

Since the growing season has begun back home in Vermont I thought I’d pay a tribute to one of the first available crops: asparagus. This vegetable absolutely delights me, I know, I’m probably a weirdo. But seriously, if you have never tried raw asparagus, I highly recommend it. Flavorful, crunchy and delicious. My first farm season started last May, and I had the delight of picking asparagus out of the field and crunching into the miracle of a farm fresh veggie. This was the moment I fell in love with farming, and I remember it clearly.

To answer the question on your mind right now, no, I have not gone off the deep end there is a reason I’m writing about asparagus and it has to do with Peru. Take a wild guess as to what one of Peru’s main exports is. Asparagus! Now, that might not seem strange to you but let me tell you, here and Cusco, I have never even laid eyes on a single stalk of asparagus. I have seen it mentioned on a menu or two but it’s unclear as to if it’s actually available and is certainly a higher ticket item than other veggies. From what I understand most of it is grown in Lima and other warmer, most hospitable climates. I am unclear as to whether it’s available for the general public to buy or not.

The sheer amount of Asparagus being sent overseas is absolutely astounding. In 2016 Peru exported 125,000 ton of asparagus that accounts for 90% of the country’s air exports followed by blueberries (that I’ve also never seen here) and flowers according to freshplaza.com. Next time you are in a grocery store and you see asparagus that isn’t labeled ‘local’ I am willing to bet it was sourced from Peru. Asparagus is a vegetable you often associate with eating in the dead of winter. Guess where it’s coming from. Not California or even close. The United states accounted for 65% of all of Peru’s asparagus exports in 2016. Americans don’t even eat vegetables! Where is this stuff going? Probably the bottom vegetable draw in our refrigerators to rot or maybe to a few restaurants to use as a component to a dish but gets picked around. The vegans? I don’t know..

The larger point I’m trying to make is not only about asparagus it’s about food, trade, and the global world. Yes, here we go again. I don’t believe the majority of Americans put a lot of thought into where there produce comes from. In the summer fresh local vegetables are available but usually still more expensive than something that was imported. Yet, the crops that are exported aren’t available to people in the country that’s producing it and if it is the price is inflated because of the trade value.

Let’s break this down. Crops are grown in so called “developing countries” and sent to so called “developed countries” because there is a demand and an available profit. But the producing country then has very little access to the crop because it is unavailable and expensive. Developed countries economic demands are then being put before the value of people’s health in nutrition in the providing countries. This is nothing new in terms of history. Warm, beautiful place, where people can provide for themselves off the resources of the land is stripped of resources by the white man. We all know this story but do we think about it when we eat things like asparagus with our dinner in the middle of February?

Now, I’m not saying Peruvian’s health conditions are crumbing because they need more asparagus. I’m saying this seems like an unequal power dynamic and I understand there is economic incentive for the Peruvian economy and, hopefully, although I haven’t looked into it, for the growers as well. Global food trade is bigger than just vegetables it affects communities and the environment but isn’t likely to change as long as there is economic reasons underlying it all. It’s true, we live in a global world but I think we need to take that into consideration more often in our daily lives.

So next time you’re in the grocery store, pick up some asparagus and see where it’s from and when you’re craving veggies this summer go local!