Monday, March 29, 2010

killer k*t k*t and PR fail

This post first appeared on my food blog.

You’re most likely here because you like food. I like to eat, I like to cook and on the surface those are rather innocuous activities. Way back when, I did my first degree in political science. It didn’t necessarily qualify me to do much except become a public servant or be highly opinionated. While I flirted only briefly with the former, the later has become my life work.

No pretty recipes here today, so only hang in for the ride if you want to chew on a few thoughts about how bloggers are becoming unwitting players in an extraordinary act of greenwashing. Or skip down til you get to the pictures of cute, cuddly animals.

To say I’m rather conflicted about the whole getting a freebie because I’m a blogger thing, is putting it mildly. I have new admiration for those who write in this genre and have decided to totally resist the lure of the public relations sirens. I thought I could navigate my way through the odd event that took my fancy by making it clear I was under no obligation to blog about it. But when we are used as naïve pawns, it gets very difficult to participate.

It seemed innocuous enough, an invite to attend a green event at the zoo. I like and am happy to support Zoos Victoria, they are a great organization, backed by hardworking, committed staff and amazing volunteers. I haven’t a bad word to say about them (though a petty grumble that I wish the entrance fee was cheaper).

Despite the wonderful reptile wrangler (a great guy who deserves a medal) who toyed with my phobia of snakes, the cute meerkats, the good music, I was thrown for six before the tour and festivities even begun.

It began and ended with the goodie bag. A small swag of things I’d never buy, nor had any desire to use, though on second thoughts the itty-bitty bottle of water came in handy, likewise the rain poncho. Buried at the bottom was a family sized block of a confectionery bar that’s been in the news of late.

Here’s were the problem began.

Was it totally naivety, sneakily cross-promoting a possible client or out and out greenwashing to add the confectionery bar that’s been in the news for the company’s use of palm oil, leading to one of the worst social media/PR fails in recent years? While the white chocolate version of the famous finger-like sugary junk food, apparently does not contain palm oil, some of the chocolate versions do but more importantly the product and the brand has so recently been linked with the clearing of habitat of orang-utans for palm oil crops, threatening the survival of the species.

The clincher is the Melbourne Zoo is actively involved in the don’t palm us off campaign, putting their weight behind a political campaign to raise awareness about the palm oil issue.

Everywhere you go through the zoo you see these huge banners supporting the campaign.

However the person I spoke to from the PR agency, who I immediately returned the offending item to, looked at me blankly. Perhaps she'd never been inside the zoo (this occurred at the assembly point at the gate), looked at the Zoos Victoria website or been in a media bubble all week. I explained considering the whole N*stle, Greenpeace video, palm oil issue I could not accept it.

First thing this morning I called the communications manager for the zoo. She was, to put it mildly, horrified that the confectionery was promoted as part of the event. This was the first she knew of it and promised to get back to me later in the day when she had taken the matter further. I repeat, Zoos Victoria were as big a patsies as bloggers in the whole kitkatgate scandal. Don't take it out on the zoo, just encourage them to make more ethical PR partnerships in future.

Food bloggers by nature are not political. It takes time and energy to get riled up about the issues behind the news. But if we (along with Zoos Victoria) play along with these manipulations without questioning the strategy, quite frankly we deserve the lack of respect we get from the traditional media.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

faithless whore

Faithless whore that I am, I’m not at the Atheist Convention this weekend. I’d toyed with it as the Not Boyfriend is attending but when it comes down to it – I just don’t feel strongly enough to part with my hard earned cash and spend two and a half days listening to people talk about faith, or lack of it.

While there are many other labels I adopt happily (feminist being one of them), “atheist” sits uneasily upon me. I do not believe in god or a divine being. I’ve survived the New Age, dabbled with paganism and Buddhism but never in my adult life considered myself a Christian. As a child I had imaginary friends but never an omnipotent one who lived in the sky.

I call myself an atheist only for the sake of simplicity. It’s the closest fit. Agnostic is too wishy-washy, I don’t 'doubt the existence of God', as my core values includes the deep belief in the non-existence of all deities. However I do enjoy ritual and if Atheism had an entry test I’d flunk it on several questions.

You see while I know there is no god (just as a Christian may "know" there is one) and I doubt there is an afterlife, I have experiences with ghosts that I cannot explain. I’ve often been ‘visited’ by those who’ve recently died, even ones I’ve not expected and then there was the Cornwall Experience that is a blog post for another time.

So I have a grey area about energy/self and non-self that I can’t put into words, are not fully coherent but I feel just as deeply as my “knowing” there is no god.

As for ritual, I love a good pagan ceremony, building an altar, requesting the presence of mythical gods (yes mythical, not real) and the whole rigmarole. Even a decent Buddhist puja complete with chants and offerings. But purely as ritual, rather than worship.

I do find wonder in nature, respect the earth as a living entity and have been heard to utter, “the earth is not happy” on many occasions. Gaia is a primordial deity. A myth not a real creature. But I do believe in the essence of what Gaia represents.

So if I turned up at the convention, to the purists I’d be a fraud.

The main reason to not attend though is that I’m not a fundamentalist, I have no zeal for my lack of faith. For this I blame (or rather thank) my parents and their apathy about religion. While nominally christened and subjected to a brief stint in Sunday school (a rather liberal affair, I strongly remember the little sausages at the parties but not a single word about god or the bible), I have no sense that my mother ever had a faith. My father, the product of a Presbyterian mother born in Northern Island, was versed in the Lords Prayer and had a half-hearted attempt at teaching it to me once. But what I remember most about my religious education was the huge sigh of relief throughout the family when asked at age 7 or 8 if I wished to continue going to Sunday school – to which I said no, meaning my parents could thankfully retire from their commitment made to the minister in return for having their children christened.

End of story.

What I’ve observed about the strongest converts to atheism is the key ingredient of conversion. You have to leave something, experienced a faith, to strongly adopt the counter viewpoint. My apathetic introduction to religion gives me nothing to kick against. I don’t “need” atheism, it’s just something that’s there.

Back to the convention. Catherine Deveny and Sue Anne Post almost got me hooked but comedy can be experienced in other venues without such a high admission price (they did hand out sparkling wine, sushi and oysters at the gala opening, a nice touch and a tad more highbrow than altar wine and stale bread). But as much as I like Dev and Sue Anne, I am heading towards loathing Richard Dawkins. It was the recent Andrew Denton’s program that did it. Have you ever encountered such a closed, emotionally constipated public figure before? He may have a brain the size of a planet and he did redeem himself somewhat on Q and A sitting next to Steve Fielding, but I still wouldn’t choose to be lectured by him.

Instead I am enjoying snippets of the convention virtually. Tweets (#atheistcon) are interesting (not to the NB who complained that too many people at the convention are tweeting and not actually listening) and the live blogging from the ABC.

And there the final irony lies – the only source I can find of live blogging comes from the RELIGIOUS UNIT of the State owned media. Don’t forget to read the comments; the irony is not lost on the atheists.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Have we really come a long way baby?

There’s nothing like International Women’s Day to reawaken my inner feminist. Not that she ever was asleep, more suffering from RSI of the jaw from lamenting the lack of change.

I came of age in the ‘80s. We were feisty, stood tall and were happy to call our selves feminists. While we still earned less than men, we were certain that would change. I had no doubt that in 20 years there’d be an equal number of men and women in parliament, chairing boards, as CEOs of leading companies and that childcare would be if not free, then heavily subsidized and accessible to all.

I knew women happy to have children on their own or with their female partner, kids who grew up in dynamic shared households who were exposed to varying political and cultural viewpoints. I couldn’t wait 'til the tots of the mid-80’s were my age, enjoying a world without gender, racial and political barriers.

What went wrong? Did we take our eye of the ball? Did Margaret Thatcher ruin everything? Did our hairy armpit generation create such a backlash about hursuitism that launched a million Brazilians? (Why is there such a lack of commentary about how fcked up it is that adult women aspire to have a vagina that looks like that of a prepubescent girl’s?)

So at home we spend more time on depilatory activities, do more paid work (though many of us continue to earn less than men) but still do twice as much housework as male spouses.

While women were assuming a greater role in the workplace, they did not compensate by reducing work around the home. Women spent around the same amount of time on household work (which includes caring for children as well as domestic activities and shopping) in 2006 (an average of 33 hours and 45 minutes a week) as they had in 1992. Australian Bureau of Statistics

With the first batch of tots in my peer group have hit their 20’s a new phenomena is emerging. While few of their parents saw the point of getting married, their kids seem to be getting engaged in droves.

As Catherine Deveny points out women persist, if not changing their own surname on marriage, in offering flimsy excuses as to why the patrilineal naming of offspring continues.

Nothing has changed, except the vehemence of the backlash, including that of young women and a few bitter 40-somethings.

Do I blame feminism for hitting 40 childless? No, it wasn’t what I expected but the choices were freely my own. Though feminism strengthened my resolve in an odd way that any child of mine deserved to have the presence of an active father, one who did 50% of the housework and childrearing and wouldn’t feel emasculated if he didn’t earn more than his partner.

Rapists continue to get away with their crimes too frequently, women still live in fear in the ‘civilized’ Western world but its just the tip of the iceberg in developing countries where women may be killed or publicly lashed for having sex with a man other than their husband. And lets not forget that female genital mutilation is still rampant. AIDS has bought a new horror, with young girls and babies raped in parts of Africa in the misguided belief that unprotected sex with a virgin will cure the disease.

Nothings changed. Except it might actually be worse than the ‘ 80s.

There’s even greater pressure on young women, even preteens, to have sex. I don’t think I knew what oral sex was at 12, let alone performed it on my peers.

Germaine Greer continues to outrage the masses, who fail to get what she’s about. She wants people to think and to question their assumptions. She is deliberately provocative and not afraid to be ridiculed. Sadly, it seems even the West is still afraid of strong women. Even an educated playwright like Louis Nowra falls back on outdated arguments, playing the man (sic) rather than the ball. “..she looked like "a befuddled and exhausted old woman" who reminded him of "my demented grandmother".” In the meantime exhausted old men still dominate the media, dominating primetime television and social commentary.

I make these observations as a middle class, self-employed white woman. What about our indigenous sisters? Equality? Be damned!

Nothings changed.

Think about it.

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Monday, March 01, 2010


I dreamt of her last night. The woman on the right, my Nana. I have very few pictures of my paternal grandmother, other than a couple of images recently resurrected from some old negatives. In this one she stands nervously, a new mother in her late 20's looking on at her disapproving mother-in-law and husband.

In my dream I was back in the house where she raised her children. A lovely wooden villa, on a generous sized plot, in a small town. My child eye found the home dreadfully old fashioned, dusty and dark. But as my adult mind journeys through the modest property, in the right location it would be a dream to own now - bay windows, dark wooden paneling, a cozy dinning room complete with two comfortable chairs around the fireplace, an oak dinning table that easily sat eight and a matching sideboard that housed The Good Silver and other such precious domestic items bought out for special occasions.

How I’d covert the garden now! Not my aunt’s precious rose collection lining the driveway but the big vegetable patch out the back - with the fertile soil it grew enough produce to supplement the needs of a family of six through the depression and war rationing years. There were chooks of course at that time, recycling the table scraps and laying golden yolked eggs. I remember eating crab apples from the tree that hung over the back fence, picking lemons from the abundant old trees three times my height and digging up the maiden haired ferns that thrived in the dappled light below to re-house in a pot in my bedroom.

I never knew my grandfather, he met his fate with the pointy end of a bus after a day at the races not long after I was born. But his presence was enshrined in the shed built onto the side of the garage. It must be 35 years since I was last in that space but I can still smell the potent aroma of metal, oil and wood dust. The workshop remained frozen, with the old vice on the wooden bench, tools neatly placed on the wall and in the drawers and so many exciting finds for a small child - a collection of old broken watches being the one that stays strongest in my memory.

But it's my grandmother's story that haunts my current memories. I never warmed to her as a child. Unlike my welcoming, doughy archetypal maternal grandma, this one was lean and edgy. She’d not had an easy life, raised during “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland by a wicked step-mother and her awful children. But Nana did bake some great meals - pork roasts with homegrown green beans, roast chicken minced with onion and mixed with mayonnaise in white bread sandwiches, date scones, chocolate cake and other such delights. But I sensed she never escaped the tragedy of her past.

While I spent two weeks following the tourist route in Ireland, having a blast. I spent all of two hours in Northern Ireland, the time it took to travel by bus through Belfast and wait at the railway station for a train to take us to the ferry to Scotland. I had no desire to visit Derry where my Nana was born and raised. It was the ‘80’s, the north still wasn’t safe and well, they had even weirder accents than in the south! A week after my transit through Belfast, the station I’d spent an hour or so passing the time was bombed. Of course Derry would have been much safer.

Nana lived to 97 years old, the last dozen or so lost to Alzheimers. I never unearthed her story and the little that remains is fragmented to the point of one-liners. The horror of seeing the Union Jack burnt as a child, snippets of farm life and a mysterious breakdown that sent her to a sanatorium to restore her mental health while her children were young.

I’ve never had a sense of my UK ancestory, though claimed it with gusto to get an open visa enabling me to live in England for as long as I liked. This woman who contributed to a quarter of my DNA remains much of a mystery.

* This post may have been prompted by Kat's recent musings on hybridity. I’ve been thinking about place, home and heritage a lot lately.

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