Culture Shift

In Review

Amber Waves of Lentils How common sense and solidarity fed an underground food movement in beefy Montana

Lentil farmer illustration

YES! Magazine Illustration; Image by Liz Carlisle

Epiphanies have their own rhythms, mechanics, and patterns. The food movement, for example, is populated with those of us who saw the right film at the right time, or read the right book, or savored for the first time what unprocessed, local food tastes like.

Raj Patel

Raj Patel is the author of Stuffed and Starved and The Value of Nothing. He is a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Patel’s work has appeared in The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times.

I came to the movement through a politics of hope. At the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999, the international peasant movement La Via Campesina showed me not just what we were fighting against, but the kind of global exchange and reciprocity we were fighting for. Amid the many moving speeches, I remember most those of the peasants, which ended always with the cry to “globalize the struggle and globalize the hope.”

Not everyone”s so lucky. Some of us come to the food movement not through joy, but through the wicked pain of having one too many loved ones succumb to the food system”s ills. That was the case for Jim Barngrover, whose journey to the food movement began the day his father returned home poisoned by insecticide, never to recover. His story, and those of many other Montanan farmers, is told in Liz Carlisle”s closely observed celebration of the life, in the soil and above it, of a group of farmers she names in her recent book The Lentil Underground.

Another member of the Lentil Underground, Bud Barta, is beautifully silhouetted as a “gentle, bearded father of three … the kind of guy you’d hope to have with you if your truck broke down.” Barta was a carpenter who happened to find work as a technician for a traveling alternative energy show in the 1970s. He returned from three years on the road a confirmed contrarian.

He joined like-minded folk under the banner of the Alternative Energy Resources Organization (AERO). It wasn’t long before they began to explore the possibilities of the most potent collectors of solar energy — plant leaves. In 1984, AERO hosted a sustainable farming conference keynoted by a wunderkind of the new field of agroecology, University of California Berkeley’s Miguel Altieri. He described agroecology as a farming system in which nitrogen-fixing crops formed part of complex rotations and intercropping, building soil for deep, sustainable agriculture. Conventional farmers derided growing lentils like black medic — a relative of alfalfa — as “weed farming.” For AERO members, though, it was a revelation.

But after the revelation comes the work. Barta’s father was the first in the county to farm with pesticides. Bud was the first to farm without them.

Lentil Underground book cover

Lentil Underground: Renegade Farmers and the Future of Food in America

By Liz Carlisle, Gotham, 320 pages

Conflict on the family farm was inevitable. Every ecosystem has conflict, of course. A landscaper once told me that the Hindu god of gardening is Shiva, god of death. Every attempt to grow food is an intervention in the sprawling conflicts for life and survival in the soil. And conventional ideas about how decisions are made in a family can be just as ill-founded as conventional ideas about pesticides and fertilizer. For farmers in Carlisle’s book, the turn toward agroecology transformed their most intimate familial relations.

When convention suffocates, it helps to have a sense of history. Jim Barngrover fortified his resolve to grow lentils with some research. It turns out that growing lentils instead of row crops was something Montanans had done very successfully. According to Carlisle, the state had a thriving pea industry in the 1930s, one that fell victim to its own success. The pea crop was destroyed by blight because farmers didn’t rotate them with other crops.

Those crops came to the landscape because of an environmental catastrophe created by the great historic force of the American food system — the futures markets. You may have heard of Earl Butz, the U.S. secretary of agriculture who urged farmers to “get big or get out” and to “plant fencerow to fencerow,” but he wasn’t the first to ask farmers to plant monocultures for profit. Decades before Butz came the commercial imperatives of the Gilded Age.

During the second half of the 19th century, the Chicago Board of Trade created markets for standardized crops, telegraphing through the creeping network of railroads the new demands for supplies of standard crops. Just as the legume roots host rhizomes, so the railroads were filaments of global markets creating rural communities. Railroads and the Chicago markets forged American agriculture together, root and nodule, fist in glove.

Meanwhile in Montana, the king of the Great Northern Railroad, James J. Hill, wound his way through community after community, encouraging farmers to plow up the prairie and plant wheat — the crop he was interested in freighting through Chicago to the world beyond. He was, at least, honest about his motives. Historians have quoted Hill as having said: “I know that in the first instance my great interest in the agricultural growth of the Northwest was purely selfish. If the farmer was not prosperous, we were poor.” The Montana Agricultural Experiment Station counseled against the crop, suggesting that Great Plains farmers diversify their crops.

Chicago’s markets disagreed — they wanted standardization, not diversity. Hill’s traveling roadshow promised great wealth, if only farmers would plant a great monoculture of wheat. His 1909 Dry Farming Congress was a success. Farmers planted. Their soils eroded. The wheat price fell. They planted yet more, neglecting to rotate crops, the cries of their children trumping the health of their soil. In the end, both suffered.

The Dust Bowl destroyed the Great Plains. The New Deal offered soybeans, subsidies, and social programs as a governmental compromise between the status quo on the one hand and environmental catastrophe and militant demands for societal transformation on the other.

By the 1980s, the soil conservation programs of the 1930s had become the life-support system for declining small-scale farmers and a trough for Big Agriculture. Industrial agricultural corporations weren’t going to fund research about growing lentils. Montana State University was sold on the idea of sustainability in theory, but in practice its research agenda was shaped by the concerns of conventional agriculture. A little support for agroecology was snuck into research grants, but real innovation came not from the ivory tower but from the fields. The farmers built a network of more than 120 Farm Improvement Clubs, a peer-to-peer network of research and exchange, similar to the community of Central American farmers my friend Eric Holt-Gimenez writes about in Campesino A Campesino.

Lentil farmer illustration

David Oien, founding farmer and president of Timeless Natural Food, inspects his lentil crop. Photo by Liz Carlisle

Through direct action, through putting your mind and body into motion for change, you experiment with yourself while also experimenting with the world.” —Raj Patel

The Lentil Underground created a diffuse network of botanists, agronomists, and soil scientists with a mission to serve one another, rather than the forces behind the grant cycles. It’s peer-to-peer and helps develop the atrophied skills of solidarity, reciprocity, generosity, and love.

I’ve never been to Montana, but I recognize how this happens among lentil farmers, because it has happened to me in a community of activists. Through direct action, through putting your mind and body into motion for change, you experiment with yourself while also experimenting with the world. One of the best things that comes from direct action is a recognition that the world can be bigger, richer, and more interconnected than we ever thought. That discovery can help the Lentil Underground, and help us all, in one of the biggest challenges ahead.

Yet no matter how rich the loam or deep the bonds of solidarity, you can’t grow a crop no one wants. Just as wheat farmers and their markets developed simultaneously through the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the Lentil Underground needed to cultivate the crop and its buyers in tandem.

Carlisle tells us of the company set up by the farmers, Timeless Seeds. To grow their markets, they pitched to the foodies, marketing one variety of lentils as “black beluga” to local chefs. They also sold their seed as part of a force for change in agriculture — as a soil-building crop for organic farmers. Yet, as Carlisle notes, the farmers face the constraints of the food system in America: Many people would love to buy their crops but just can’t afford them. “So long as they have to operate within a cheap-food economy that externalizes its social and environmental costs,” writes Carlisle, “both farmers and eaters will be forced into the false choice between a healthy environment and their own bottom line.”

So how to fix that? It’d require bridging the country and the city, finding new alliances and possibilities in a changing global economy. Montana has a history of doing that. In 1892, the People’s Party opposed both Republicans and Democrats with an alliance of urban workers and farmers called the National Alliance. Its most successful candidate was a women’s rights advocate, Ella Knowles, who ran for attorney general.

Knowing our history can help build a collective resolve to change the food system. We can also learn a lot from movements outside the United States. One of La Via Campesina’s Brazilian members, the Landless Workers Movement, has seen that in order to achieve systemic change, they’ll have to find new ways to bridge the divide between those who grow food and those who eat. They’re already doing that with a politics that demands social transformation, a process that makes it happen, and policies that work. In its school feeding program, the government buys food for children and pays a 30 percent premium for agroecologically grown crops.

But to demand programs like that, to demand much more, will require far more of us to be ready to transform society. The great gift of Timeless Seeds is that they’ve shown how committed, scientific, peer-to-peer direct action can grow a community, a rich loam, in which that transformation might thrive.

Raj Patel

Raj Patel is the author of Stuffed and Starved and The Value of Nothing. He is a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Patel’s work has appeared in The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times.

In Review

Music Inspiring Us

The Monsanto Years

The Monsanto Years

Neil Young + Promise of the Real

In his latest album, Neil Young joins Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah to target corporate giants like Monsanto, Starbucks, and Wal-Mart. The album, made in collaboration with Lukas’ band, Promise of the Real, calls for an end to Citizens United and GMO-labeling bans. Young cranked it up a notch for his Rebel Content Tour: Native Apache activists and Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir opened a couple of his shows. The tour ended in July, but fans can catch him at the Farm Aid 2015 concert in September.

Watch & Listen




This album is perfect for lovers of old-school hip-hop and soulful poetic musings. THEESatisfaction, a duo from Seattle, isn’t afraid to address America’s most urgent problems in songs like “Planet For Sale” and “Post Black Anyway.” Stasia “Stas” Irons and Catherine “Cat” Harris-White also curate a blog series that profiles black artists. Called “Black Weirdos,” the series began as live music events and has evolved into a project that “allows blackness to be celebrated and appreciated in all facets on earth and throughout the universe.” This cosmic pair is resonating with the public through an irresistible medium: groovy jams and daring lyrics.

In Review

The Man Who Won’t Let Us Forget Eduardo Galeano knew that justice relies on knowing our history

Eduardo Galeano

Photo by Ezeqiel Scagnetti

Journalist and historian Eduardo Galeano frequently confessed that he was obsessed with remembering. On accepting the 1999 Lannan Prize for Cultural Freedom, he explained, “I tried to find a way of recounting history so that the reader would feel that it was happening right now, just around the corner — this immediacy, this intensity.”

Andy Lee Roth

Andy Lee Roth is the associate director of Project Censored and co-editor of Censored 2016: Media Freedom on the Line, forthcoming in October from Seven Stories Press.

That account is an apt description of Galeano’s last book, Children of The Day, first published in Spanish in 2011, and now available in English in paperback. A “calendar of human history,” the book consists of lyrically composed historical vignettes, so characteristic of Galeano’s style, each connected to a specific day in the year.

Knowledge of the past can be a source of power, but, in Galeano’s view, human history does not center exclusively on “great men” and potent institutions. The diversity of topics he selects to remember includes everything from bicycles and chess to kissing and whistling, right alongside state executions and public health. In this way, he imparts a simple but profound lesson about the crucial links among understanding the past, our capacity to choose, and the pursuit of justice: “Knowing the before lets you create a different after.”

The book begins and ends with fire. In the January 2 entry, he recounts the 1492 fall of Granada — “the last Spanish kingdom where mosques, churches, and synagogues could live side by side in peace.” He links the burning of Muslim books under order of the Holy Inquisition with the fate of America’s indigenous peoples. The final entry, for December 31, recalls the figure of Quintus Serenus Sammonicus, physician to two Roman emperors and “owner of the best library of his time.” In 208, Serenus Sammonicus proposed an infallible way to avoid fever and keep death at bay: Always keep the magical word “Abracadabra”” close. From ancient Hebrew, Galeano reports, the term means, “Give your fire until the last of your days.”

Children of the Years book cover

Children of The Days: A Calendar of Human History

By Eduardo Galeano, Nation Books, 440 pages

Across the year, Galeano offers his inimitable perspective on well-known dates, including May Day, famous peoples’ birthdays, and celebrated events, such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Other entries in Galeano’s year recover what Noam Chomsky (adopting George Orwell) has called “unhistory” — events otherwise forgotten or marginalized because they were inconsequential or inconvenient for history’s official narratives. September 18, for example, was the day in 1915 that Susan La Flesche died. Galeano remembers La Flesche as the first indigenous woman to graduate from medical school in the United States. She combined “medicine learned with knowledge inherited” so that the lives of her people would “hurt less and last longer.”

Similarly, Galeano reminds us that April 9, 2011, was the date when the people of Iceland said, “No!” to the International Monetary Fund, while his entry for April 19 recounts the ongoing but grossly underreported plight of the Sahrawi, “children of the clouds.” Since 1987, a wall built and guarded by Moroccan soldiers has prevented the nomadic Sahrawi from inhabiting their historical homelands. Since time immemorial, Galeano reports, Sahrawi people have pursued the clouds that give rain. “They also pursue justice, which is harder to find than water in the desert.”

from “In Defence of the Word”

One writes out of a need for communication and communion with others, to denounce pain and share joy. One writes against one’s own solitude and that of others. One assumes that literature transmits knowledge and acts upon the language and conduct of those who receive it, that it helps us to know ourselves better so as to achieve a collective salvation.” —Eduardo Galeano

Justice hinges on knowing our histories. “What process of change can urge forward a people which doesn’t know who it is nor where it comes from?” he asked in a 1977 essay “In Defence of the Word.”

For Galeano, that process began early in life through journalism. At 14, he penned political cartoons for El Sol, the weekly newspaper of Uruguay’s socialist party. Later in life, he interviewed the most famous leaders of the Americas including Castro, Perón, Allende, and Chávez.

A masterful storyteller, Galeano authored more than 40 books, many of them translated into multiple languages. His three-volume Memory of Fire (1982-1986) tracked the Americas from pre-Columbian times to the present and was regarded as a tour de force. At the 2009 Summit of the Americas, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez publicly gave Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America (1971) to President Obama. The book, which had been banned by rightwing governments in Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile, became a best seller. Galeano loved fútbol and his Soccer in Sun and Shadow (1995) was reviewed as “the most lyrical sports book ever written” by NPR. In 2013, The Guardian characterized Galeano as “the poet laureate of the anti-globalisation movement.”

Galeano gave fire to the last of his days. He died on April 13, 2015, at 74. Children of the Days serves as a cherished capstone for those who already know and love his work and as an exhilarating introduction to those encountering him for the first time. Galeano will be remembered around the world as a champion of human liberation through solidaristic action. It remains to us to fulfill the legacy he leaves, by pursuing justice with the same immediacy and intensity that he conveyed history.

Andy Lee Roth

Andy Lee Roth is the associate director of Project Censored and co-editor of Censored 2016: Media Freedom on the Line, forthcoming in October from Seven Stories Press.

Culture Shift

Why I Farm As I dug deep into organics and the food movement, I discovered I was missing the point


Photo by Natasha Bowens

When I first decided I wanted to farm, it was because I wanted to find a way of growing food that worked with the earth instead of against it. I wanted to grow food that would rejuvenate my body instead of slowing it down. Like so many others, I was looking for answers in the “good food” movement sweeping the nation. I thought that to be a good steward, all I had to do was follow sustainable agricultural practices and grow healthy food. Now, after six years and stepping foot on more than 75 farms for The Color of Food, I’ve learned that I was missing the point completely.

Natasha Bowens

Natasha Bowens spent the past five years gathering stories and portraits of farmers and food activists of color for her book The Color of Food: Stories of Race, Resilience & Farming. Bowens started The Color of Food in 2010 after exploring race and agriculture on her blog Brown.Girl.Farming. At home, she works as a beginning farmer, garden educator, and community activist.

Sitting at the table with so many farmers doing revolutionary work taught me that farming isn’t only about stewarding the land; it’s also about stewarding community and tending the soul. The land beneath our feet carries our history and carries freedom. It is healing and empowering and can be a commons that binds us together. My history traces back to the moment my ancestors’ shackled feet hit this soil, when the African farmer became the American slave. Today, continued racism makes healing crucial. In our gardening plots and on our farms, we can reclaim a connection with the land that was there long before the oppression. We can liberate ourselves by having sovereignty over our square of soil, over our food, and over our bodies.

As soon as I finished the book, I was eager to become a steward of my community. Today, I work as a community garden coordinator, managing two community gardens and food programming in a few of my local neighborhoods. The communities in these neighborhoods are predominantly low-income, black, and Latino. We garden and cook food together, but in my experience, healthy food access is a secondary goal of our program. The gardens are important, but it’s the community that makes the garden. When we work together, share meals together, and laugh together, we’re repairing relationships to the soil as a community.

Recently, we had a traumatic event in one of our garden communities: A shooting by a nonresident took place right in front of the garden and was witnessed by several children. A young man from a neighboring community died that day, leaving residents hurt and angry. The media rubbed salt in the wound by painting the picture often painted when violence occurs in communities of color: that this was typical, even expected, in that neighborhood. The community’s response was powerful. Instead of accepting the negative narrative, instead of hiding indoors from the violence, residents decided that the only way to fight back was to come together, to heal, and to show what the community is really about. Just a few days later, we gathered together in the garden. With the sunset at our backs casting golden light across the plants and trees, we celebrated our first harvest. We dug our hands into the soil for its healing touch as we pulled up lettuce, cabbage, and carrots. And after, we sat around the picnic table together laughing, sharing food, and listening to the birds sing a resilient song.

This, to me, is what true stewardship is all about. It’s these stories that cause me to dig deeper than I ever thought I would when I first picked up that garden shovel six years ago. It’s what drives me to cultivate spaces and opportunities for people to unite and bite into their own self-empowerment, tasting the beauty of their soul. For me, there is no richer bounty than that.

“We know how to work with the natural things of life.”

A story about Sará and Bill Reynolds-Green, Gullah/Geechee Nation
from Natasha Bowens’ The Color of Food

The Gullah/Geechee Nation, led by Queen Quet, is a nation of Gullah Geechee people whose roots in West and Central Africa have been tightly preserved since their ancestors arrived here as slaves. The Sea Islands and what’s known as the Low Country along the coast from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida, is home to the Gullah/Geechee Nation. The lowlands and marsh of these areas served as the primary grounds for rice production in the 17th and 18th century, and Africans from the traditional rice-growing regions of West Africa were brought to perform the arduous work. Isolated on the Gullah Islands, Gullah Geechee people developed a strong sense of community and were able to preserve more of their African cultural heritage than other groups of African Americans. Gullah people developed a separate Creole language similar to the Krio of Sierra Leone, and they continue distinct cultural patterns in their language, arts, crafts, religious beliefs, folklore, rituals, and foodways, in which rice, fishing and hunting play a big role.

Sara works on the farm

Sará works on the farm. Photo by Natasha Bowens

“The history of this island is based on communal survival,” says Sará. “We were cut off out here on a rural island. Before they built the bridge, you had to take a boat across, into town. So people learned to be self-sufficient and make with their hands the things they needed to survive. This was the epicenter, with Penn School teaching everybody on the island how to farm and create an environment where you didn’t need to go to Beaufort for a lot, only those things we couldn’t make ourselves. Most of what we had right here in this community was enough to survive.

“We made it like that, by growing and sharing and selling our own food. I grew up in a family of two brothers and four sisters. We all grew up farming and helping my mother on the farm. As we were coming up, every person just about had a little garden and grew something. My mother was known for growing her peanuts, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes. Everyone knew when it was peanut harvest time and okra time, and they would be calling her to buy a bushel of peanuts, okra or both. I would deliver the orders, and I didn’t mind ’cause I’d get to drive the car. I was about 13 or 14 and the rule for us was if you sat up tall behind the wheel, nobody would bother you. I would deliver all over the island driving on the dirt roads. Moma was also known for her yeast rolls, and every time she baked a few pans of them I’d be delivering them to neighbors who were sick or who called her up wanting her rolls. Food was at the center of our community.

The Color of Food book cover

The Color of Food: Stories of Race, Resilience & Farming

By Natasha Bowens, New Society Publishers, 240 pages

“The main crops that helped sustain us were the cash crops we grew which helped us go to college. My mother grew tomatoes and cucumbers. Those were the two crops that helped really build the island, back when we had packing houses where distributors and large farmers came and bought what local farmers would bring in to sell from their farms. Everyone in the neighborhood knew that during the summer months between June, July, and a little of August, all you’d be doing is picking cucumbers and tomatoes and taking them to the packing house. That’s what helped my mother to support our college tuition. The farm yielded a lot of tomatoes and Moma had big, beautiful tomatoes, and that was her income; we were the farmhands and we helped her. We’d be out there picking and hoeing all summer long.

“My other great-grandfather was a country extension agent who helped the farmers and everyone in the area to farm and utilize their land to be profitable and self-sufficient. He also helped the farms on the proper way to raise farm animals. And everyone helped each other in that way. If one person was a farmer and they farmed a lot of sweet potatoes, then they would share that. If someone else grew cucumbers or squash or greens, they shared. If this person was raising cattle, whenever he killed a cow or hog then he’d share a piece of that. It was communal. And everyone knew when someone was killing a hog, it was a celebration, and they would go to that person’s house early in the morning to help, and they all had their favorite pieces of meat to take home, so everyone’s family was fed. That’s how my mother and father’s house was built. Everyone came every Saturday, and piece by piece they put the house together. That made life worth living for everyone without much hardship on one person. I love that concept, and I try to live it and try to pass that on.”

Bill Reynolds-Green

“We love the natural, and we know how to work with the natural things of life,” says Bill Reynolds-Green. Photo by Natasha Bowens

“The culture of the Gullah man is based on loving kindness,” Bill adds in his gentle voice and patois accent, rich with hints of the Gullah language. “The average Gullah person will do for you quicker than any other, and they don’t mind helping. It’s a very spiritual thing. Going out in the creek catching fish, bringing it back in, sharing it with everybody. Loving kindness. We work with our whole community, our environment too. We love the natural, and we know how to work with the natural things of life. We work with the ’poppers’ [porpoises or dolphins], we get out on the boat, ’poppers’ run the fish up the creek and we follow them. We bang on the boat so the ’poppers’ come back out and chase the fish up to the boat. Gullah people learn how to work with animals and nature; we learn how to respect our whole community.

“We farmed together, we always looked out for one another. I grew up on James Island across the water from here and by the time I was a teenager I already had farming in my blood. I grew up close to the farm, and we all worked on the farm for a living, coming out after school and going to pick beans for the farmers. I made $13.50 a week, and that was enough to get by. We could go to the store and buy a bag of rice for 50 cents and harvest food in the garden and cook for the whole family.”

Cooking is something else Bill has been doing his whole life. He’s a chef and owner of the restaurant Gullah Grub, which serves up Gullah dishes on the island, drawing hungry patrons from all over the country including chef personalities like Anthony Bourdain and Martha Stewart. Much of the food they cook with is grown on Marshview or fished locally.


Sará and Bill, or Mr. Bill as the kids call him, run a youth program on their farm and in the Gullah Grub restaurant. With Sará’s passion for working with children as St. Helena Elementary’s guidance counselor and Mr. Bill’s passion for cooking and passing on Gullah culture, they found a perfect opportunity to teach farming, cooking, and food culture to the island’s youth. They work with children from 4 to 18 years old and pay them stipends for working and learning skills on the farm, taking cooking classes with Mr. Bill, and learning the entire process of farm to table. Some of the teenagers end up working in Mr. Bill’s restaurant, learning the job skills of cooking and serving, while others work at the farmers market, learning the process of harvesting and selling their crops. Sará started a garden at the school and incorporates food and agriculture and community into her guidance curriculum. She brings many of her students to the farm after school, and more keep signing up as they hear about it from classmates. The youth have called themselves Young Farmers of the Low Country, and I had the pleasure of farming alongside them during my stay on Marshview Farm.


After we finish in the fields, the kids harvest food to take home to their families, and I drive to the Gullah Grub to bite into Mr. Bill’s red rice and shrimp gumbo. There are two women sitting on the front porch of the restaurant weaving baskets. As I sit in the rocking chair next to them and savor the delicious Gullah grub, I think about the youth, the community, and the rich stories tied to each bite. I can literally taste the love of this Gullah island that Sará and Bill hold and work so hard to pass on.

Natasha Bowens

Natasha Bowens spent the past five years gathering stories and portraits of farmers and food activists of color for her book The Color of Food: Stories of Race, Resilience & Farming. Bowens started The Color of Food in 2010 after exploring race and agriculture on her blog Brown.Girl.Farming. At home, she works as a beginning farmer, garden educator, and community activist.

Yes! But How?

DIY Ways to Live Sustainably 5 Ways to Clean Up Naturally

In a world where clever marketing distracts us from the actual ingredients in our toiletries, it’s hard to know exactly what we’re using to wash our bodies. In reality, 10,500 different chemical ingredients can be found in our vast body care market — some of which are thought to be carcinogenic or harmful to our endocrine system. Research done by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review in 2012 revealed a list of unsafe ingredients commonly used. The study exposed safety concerns ranging from skin depigmentation to reproductive problems. Other research on these chemicals remains inconclusive, but you can avoid any potential risks by opting to cook up your own body care products at home. Here are a few that we tried.


½ cup distilled water

¼ cup unscented liquid castile soap

¼ teaspoon essential oil of choice


Combine all of the ingredients in a bottle — any old bottle will work. Shake the ingredients well to make sure that the mixture is consistent. Pour some atop your head and lather.


½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 drop essential oil (peppermint, sweet orange, clove, or cinnamon bark is recommended)

A few drops of tap water


Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl until smooth. A thick, not-too-watery paste should form after proper mixing. Brush as you normally would. Follow with water rinse or mouthwash to avoid any residue.

lip balm

2 teaspoons pure, filtered, unbleached cosmetic grade beeswax pastilles

1 teaspoon organic raw shea butter

3 teaspoons organic unrefined coconut oil

20 drops essential oil of choice

Lip balm container


Mix all the ingredients together in a saucepan and heat at low-medium, occasionally stirring. When the beeswax and shea butter melt, remove from the stovetop. Pour liquid into lip balm containers (a funnel might be useful). Let the lip balm cool and set for about 20 minutes. Be careful not to touch the balm too much before it has set.

body wash

3 tablespoons liquid castile soap

3 tablespoons raw honey

2 tablespoons oil (when I tried this, I used olive oil)

10 drops essential oil of choice


Measure all ingredients into a liquid measuring cup. Do not whisk or blend the ingredients (doing so can cause bubbles). Instead, mix with a spoon.


6 tablespoons coconut oil

4 tablespoons baking soda

4 tablespoons cornstarch

6 to 10 drops essential oil of choice


First, stir the cornstarch and the baking soda together in a bowl. Then, add the coconut oil until the ingredients are well mixed. Take the essential oil you’ve chosen, and stir that in, too. After the ingredients have been properly combined, store the resulting deodorant in a sealable container and place it somewhere cool. When ready for use, apply the deodorant with fingertips.


Not Just “Divestment,” Climate Justice Needs “Reinvestment”

There’s a popular saying in the student-led fossil fuel divestment movement, that “divestment is the tactic, climate justice is the goal.” Our student team at Divest UMaine took this idea seriously, but it was often hard to know how to put it into practice. Student-led divestment campaigns have successfully targeted the fossil fuel industry. In just three years, 34 schools have committed to moving investments out of that deadly sector. Divestment activism is a powerful strategy, but I wondered: Is it enough? How can students better align their movement with the primarily low-income communities of color who live and organize at the front lines of climate change?

Mistinguette Smith

Meaghan LaSala is an organizer with Divest UMaine, a group that won two fossil fuel divestment commitments from the University of Maine System. She also organizes for health care justice with the Southern Maine Workers’ Center.

“Reinvestment” is one of the ways students have been putting the idea of climate justice into practice. Reinvestment organizers are asking questions about what happens to the money after it’s divested from harmful industries. Who gets to control or benefit from the funds? I spoke with some of the folks who have been working in this emerging movement, and what I learned has transformed the way I think about divestment.

“We’re looking at models from around the world, such as revolving loan funds, in which communities can access capital to create productive livelihoods—whether that’s community-controlled energy, worker cooperatives, or cooperative grocery stores in food deserts,” explains Gopal Dayaneni of Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project, a Reinvestment Network member organization.

The Reinvestment Network is a national coalition of students, grassroots community groups, and organizations calling for reinvestment as the next step in the movement for climate justice. In the last year, it has brought students and front-line leaders together in national gatherings to map out the mechanisms that front-line communities will need to receive and manage capital and to develop the tools students will need to incorporate reinvestment into their campaigns. One of the network’s primary goals is to develop community-managed cooperative funds that students can pressure their institutions to move money into.

Lex Barlowe is a member of Fossil Free Yale and a student representative in the Reinvestment Network. Barlowe explains how reinvestment will change the way students organize: “Through reinvestment, we can start encouraging students to develop relationships around this money and where it’s going. Reinvestment can be one basis for students to build relationships across the climate justice movement.”

Brandon King is an organizer with Cooperation Jackson, an example of a community-based organization that could benefit from reinvested fossil fuel funds. Cooperation Jackson is developing worker-owned cooperatives as a way of countering the steady disinvestment of major capital in Jackson, Mississippi. According to King: “Cooperation Jackson is a vehicle to try to achieve economic democracy. All over the country, front-line communities are trying to make the shift to that new economy, and those organizations desperately need to be supported. For students to be engaged in that fight can help tremendously.”

Reinvestment wouldn’t only benefit front-line communities. As Deirdre Smith from explains, this new opportunity for alliance-building could mean more powerful movements across the board. “Reinvestment raises the stakes of divestment and offers a deeper, more long-term possibility of victory,” Smith says. “Because of the potential for movement building, reinvestment offers potential for those involved to have more weight and power behind them.”

Reinvestment could also unite students organizing for other forms of divestment, like prison divestment and divestment in solidarity with Palestine. As Dayaneni explains: “Capital belongs in the commons just like soil or water. We’re building a movement with a shared systemic analysis, understanding that ending the extractive economy means more than just fossil fuels.”

As a recent divestment alumna who is committed to carrying this movement forward, I can’t wait to work with the student leaders at my alma mater to bring the idea of reinvestment home to our campus.

Mistinguette Smith

Meaghan LaSala is an organizer with Divest UMaine, a group that won two fossil fuel divestment commitments from the University of Maine System. She also organizes for health care justice with the Southern Maine Workers’ Center.