Sharing in the Gift Ecology

December 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

How can we not think about gifts this month? Exciting, worrisome, disappointing or pleasing, the gift is the hidden face of modern living. I recognize it as a force to be reckoned with in my own work and life well beyond December. The hours I spend making and distributing digital works and social media while paying attention to digital culture that other people are making, now fold seamlessly into a gift ecology where work and life expand into each other’s spaces.  It has a real presence that takes me aback when I contemplate it as an ecology, not an economy.

I connect this to what anthropologist David Graeber calls creating the institutions of a new society in the shell of the old. He draws some of his inspiration from French sociologist Marcel Mauss, whose early 20th century ideas about the gift economy are being reinvigorated in the wake of our current economic disasters. As the Occupy Movement inhabitants challenge the logic of the marketplace, they call others to join them in shaping a Maussian 21st century ethos where one of the only excuses for accumulating wealth would be the ability to give it all away.

Lunch Love Community would not exist without a gift ecology that shelters and nurtures it, both on the internet and in real locales around the country. Our cluster of benefactors start with the BUSD cooks and administrators, chefs and educators who’ve let us glimpse and record their work lives.  It continues with the people who’ve given the funding to seed the work, and it grows, thickens and is completed by the individuals who share it — our users and audiences.

Watch But Is It Replicable?  and you may notice what we are seeing in the Central Kitchen at King Middle School: professionals working hard to refine ideas about how to transform children’s eating habits, and help insure they grow into healthy, long-living adults. They make time to share their experiences and practices that work because what they do here will make it less scary and daunting for others to follow.

There are the baby steps to take. Then, over time, because these changes usually happen slowly, a new ethos is supported and it becomes real, rooted and integrated. And more quickly than seems possible, a next generation of students will feel it is completely appropriate and desirable to be cooking in their classrooms, picking greens in their schoolyard gardens, and looking forward every day to a freshly made, hot meal in a pleasant school dining space.

This is a living prototype that changes and grows, month by month.  Since we made “But Is It Replicable?,” the concept has evolved.  It is much more than trying to figure out whether what is being done in Berkeley can be replicated as a cut-and-paste solution. This story serves as inspiration for communities to demand the impossible and work towards it: a new community ethos for the 21st century.  And there is no better place to start than with the food are children are served every day, at school.

Our work as documentary filmmakers, and the work being done in the schools to bring about healthy eating habits happen to be intertwined – through an ethos of creating new spaces among the shells of the old.

When you watch and share our Lunch Love Community films you are also participating in our evolving gift ecology. We exchange ideas and feelings, hunches and actions.  We circulate prototypes to be tinkered with and improved.  We are playing with the tools of the internet in order to reach people we would never be able to otherwise.

Something tells me that in this very dark, but open and creative moment in our social order, we must explore pathways to circulate critical knowledge, real goods and useful services just outside the grip of free market logic. And this simple act furthers both the givers and recipients at the same time.

The internet is free and open now. It is the most accessible gift ecology alternative we have for the moment.  Imagine the results in a Marcel Mauss-inspired world where the highest values would be “the joy of giving in public, the delight in artistic expenditure, and the pleasure of hospitality in public or private feast.”

This kind of intentional and generous giving means that we want you to get involved and connected too.  If “But Is It Replicable?” and our other films help you to join our effort and share what you learn and love with others, then what might we accomplish when all these little acts of generosity coalesce in an expanding burst of energy and willpower?

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