Re: [vegetarian-515] some thoughts on the healing center.

From: Michael S.
Sent on: Friday, August 26, 2011 10:54 AM
Hi all,

   Michael Smith here; I am on the Board of the Food Co-op.  I have been reading this thread with interest, and feel I should drop in my 2 cents, partly so that everyone has my email and can hit me directly with questions about the project if they wish.  Please understand that this email does not express the opinion of the Board or Management of the Co-op or its members.  It is just my own rambling response.

   Thank you Derek for bringing this conversation to the group.  And thank you Melissa for encouraging everyone to go and see and make their own judgement, rather than basing an opinion on one person's characterization of another person, or one group of people's characterization of another group of people.  The Healing Center Grand Opening party is this Sunday 10am-10pm, corner of St Roch and St Claude.

   I am a big supporter of the NOLA Veg society and its activities (I've been a vegetarian for over 10 years, and have lived in Louisiana my entire life).  Also everyone should know that the Food Co-op is having elections for 3 open Board seats at the beginning of October, any member can run.  Derek or anyone else, if you want to make change with the co-op (and therefore the Healing Center; the co-op is the largest tenant and has the most pull with the Healing Center) PLEASE RUN.  You can get more info from our Board Chair, Mac - [address removed] and find the schedule for the Board meetings (open to the public with scheduled input time as Melissa mentioned) at www.nolafood.coop.  

   I've been on the Board about 3 years (the co-op originally started having meetings in November 2002), 2 of which I served as the president.  Up until about 3 months ago (I am currently on a leave of absence to work in India), I have been intimately involved in most aspects of the Co-op's business; such as facilitating community/volunteer meetings; the design and equipment contracting; fundraising/financing (including the financing paradigm);  negotiating terms of the Co-op's lease and operating agreements with the Healing Center; serving as a liaison and spokesperson for the Co-op with the media, public, and various public officials; developing our Board of Directors; attending meetings, trainings, and national conferences; and building strategic partnerships, such as with NOLA Veg Fest (the Co-op was one of the primary sponsors the past 2 years).  

   Out of the co-op leadership, I am the person who has worked most directly with Pres Kabacoff, Sallie Ann Glassman (the other co-chair of the Healing Center, Pres' girlfriend, and a staunch vegan), and the rest of the HC team for the past 3 1/2  years. I suppose I am the co-op Board member most complicit with Pres' evil ways, if you will. I am not writing this email to defend any of Pres' past projects or discuss Federal public housing policy, vegetarianism, the food system, or the tension between urban renewal and gentrification (and as a lifelong Louisiana resident and 4th generation New Orleanian I wouldn't add anything to Jo's response); though I understand Derek's point that all things are interrelated and interconnected; that we have a moral obligation to examine all aspects of our social and economic lives and act if we feel or see some injustice that we think we can address.  That is why we are opening the co-op.

  Derek, your concerns are not new to me -
I have discussed Pres' involvement with the co-op with many folks, some from the Iron Rail Collective, who are our natural allies as another collective enterprise in New Orleans. I understand that there are people in the community who are hesitant to support the Healing Center and therefore the Co-op because of Pres' reputation or because Sallie Ann is a Voodoo practitioner.  That is their right, though I believe it is misguided. I also have some close friends that are very active with the Iron Rail, and we've had to agree to disagree on some of the decisions that I and the Co-op Board have made.  Indeed some of our own Board members and the co-op membership have disagreed with many of our decisions. But where we are today is the result of a robust democratic process, one that we created by ourselves for our community, of which Pres is a part.  Democracy typically yields to compromise, not idealism.

  Erin, I don't think your excitement should be dampened.  This is an incredibly positive project (the co-op, the Healing Center, and all the businesses and non-profits located within) for the community.  However, I think this conversation is a great lesson - everything in life, in our world with unclear boundaries between the sacred and the profane - has numerous mixed causes, conditions, and effects - some of which we would call good, and others we would call evil.  However our neighbor may call evil that which we call good!  But we still must find a way to live together, do we not?

  I think that statements such as "the very dubious and insidious 'mission' of The Healing Center", "the egregious crimes of a man like Pres Kabacoff despite his ostensible support for worthy community initiatives," and "I hope we can begin to question who are allies are..." are way off the mark, and irresponsible.  The Healing Center's mission and credo are to provide a safe space for the community to heal, however that is defined. It will be up to the community to use it or not. The credo was written by Sean Johnson, the owner of Wild Lotus Yoga, which has been holding downtown yoga classes at the Healing Center for about 2 years.  I have trouble understanding how it is dubious and insidious.  It and the mission can been seen at the Healing Center's website - http://neworleanshealingcenter.org/about-us-2/credo/

  So you know, no one is making money off the Healing Center itself; all the revenue will go directly back into Healing Center operations.  Most of the hundreds of people involved with the Co-op and Healing Center development (except those who were paid for licensed professional services such as lawyers, accountants, design experts, contractors, construction workers, etc) are and have been volunteers since the beginning.  I estimate that I have volunteered over 3,500 hours for the Co-op, and I am not the one who has put in the most.  However, once businesses are open, the owners of those businesses hope to make a profit and to pay their workers.  

  Zack, as far as meat being sold in the co-op, despite numerous Board members (and the GM Lori) being vegetarians, we left it up to the community in our public survey, which anyone can take - http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/2011NOFCMember-OwnerSurvey. Melissa is right; most people in New Orleans eat meat and want to be able to buy it in their grocery store.

  Charlie mentions a co-op in NYC and describes a buying club system very similar to the one the New Orleans Food Co-op has run for the past 8 years.  Unfortunately, we had very limited participation in our buying club and have replaced it with a special orders system that will be available at the store.  Most people in New Orleans buy less than a week's worth of groceries at a time, and like to shop in a grocery store nearby their house.  The mission of the NOFC has been to open a full service grocery store that anyone can use, which we are very close to achieving.  Charlie writes, "there was never a "join-up fee" or accumulating funds for the co-op, etc...  Anything else, I can't understand".  Every co-op is different (such as credit unions, which charge a $5 membership investment); developed to meet the needs of the community is grows as a part of. We ask for $100 from each of our members to open. It is not a fee.  It is an equity investment for a business corporation.  Each of our members own shares in the food co-op, and therefore vote for the Board of Directors out of the membership and are entitled to future profit sharing in the form of patronage refund.  Technically we are asking the community to buy stock in a local business corporation.

  I've seen some stickers around New Orleans that say "Corporations are at War with America."  I deeply sympathize with this statement.  However, it is a fact that most co-ops are Corporations.  It gives us power and protection from the law together, where there is none if we do business (for profit or non-profit) as an unincorporated entity or without the proper permitting and licenses.  Going back to Charlie's point, the Board actually sought multiple legal opinions about our Buying Club and got mixed results; some lawyers advised that what the Buying Club system we were running (yours in New York may have been set up differently and New York's laws are different than Louisiana's) was not lawful.  Also, the Co-op used to be a non-profit, which didn't allow us the option for future profit sharing.  I was one of the driving forces to re-incorporate as a business; to "go corporate" if you will. 

  Derek, your emails do beg some important questions. Do we freeze any action because of the possibility of some negative outcome, or do we have faith that the means is the end, and that all action (whether cooperating or non-cooperating) will have positive results if the means are true in spirit?  Do we take a seat at the table with those who disagree with us; with mega-rich developers, Republicans (there are many Republican members of the food co-op, though Pres isn't one), meat-eaters, politicians, activists, anarchists, etc; or do we reject that seat at the table to scream about the injustice of the world into the wilderness?   By joining hands with everyone can we ever get an outcome that we desire; that suits us completely?  Is it enough to know that we will have influenced the outcome, in direct proportion to the blood sweat and spirit we put in?

   For me I take pride in the fact that I with this project I have gotten the opportunity to directly educate a few of the Pres Kabacoffs of the world about co-operative process and democratic business decision making. This whole project has been a learning process for all of us; I know Pres would be one of the first to admit that. But maybe I am a fool.  Maybe I and therefore the 1675 members of the food co-op have been taken advantage of by a slick mega-rich developer whose only motive is corporate greed.  Even if I am - if we all are - we still own our grocery store, which we have 100% control over, and which can outgrow it's space in the Healing Center and buy it's own land and build its own building in the future, if the community wills it.  But that will depend on all of us together, not just me, or Pres, or anyone else in particular.

  Thanks so much for doing all that you do, and for reading all dat!!!

   Yours,
   michael d smith
   [address removed]

______________________________



On Wed, Aug 24, 2011 at 10:18 PM, B.B. St. Roman <[address removed]> wrote:
THANK YOU, JO!  You echo my sentiments exactly. I really appreciate your taking the time to clarify a number of issues brought up, and in such a fair and respectful way. I'm with you 100% on everything you wrote.

B.B.



At 11:42 PM 8/24/2011, you wrote:
Ok Derek, I'll bite.  I think it has been established that we all love the Co-op and think it's good to bring groceries to St. Claude.  So let's talk about Pres Kabacoff and class disparity.  
 
First, I don't know Pres Kabacoff personally, but I did have dinner with him one time last year.  During the dinner he discussed his involvement in the various projects you mentioned including the healing center.  The inspiration for the healing center was (as some of you may know) his voodoo priestess girlfriend Sallie Ann Glassman.  Did he change his evil ways because of love?  who knows. but his intention was clearly not, as can be seen by the low rents being charged, to make money. no offense to all the people that have dedicated their time, but that place is probably not going to rake in big bucks. Not for a long long time. 
 
As for St. Thomas, I completely understand the concern about people being pushed out.  However, not sure when you were last there, but it's not exactly gentrified.  I lived on Felicity Street a year ago, and there was one, I repeat, one white family in the neighborhood.  What Pres basically did was fix up the neighborhood and only aesthetically.  The same demographic still lives in that neighborhood.  And if you don't believe me, drive by around 10pm on a saturday night and see how "gentrified" you feel.  He made less than expected profit for that project, because mixed income housing doesn't really work in new orleans.  He turned it over at some point, not sure when.
 
What about Walmart?  Evil corporation? Sure.  But do you know why we all say that?  Cause we can afford to.  Let's be honest with ourselves.  Being vegan/vegetarian isn't cheap and the majority of us that can afford to eat healthy can also afford to boycott Walmart.  Good for us.  Guess who can't afford to? The majority of "River Gardens" residents.  That Walmart is a blessing to them.  They can get everything they need to at a very affordable price.  Did they lose some culture and historic preservation?  Sure, but if you go visit the Walmart you'll see that 1. It's always packed and 2. The majority of shoppers are NOT suburbanite soccer moms. 
 
On your kind words for the Guardian Angels... First,  vigilantes usually have guns, GA's don't.  These guys are just a bunch of VOLUNTEERS who parole the streets.  Your judgement of them is pretty harsh considering that no one else in this city is doing anything about the crime.  And no I don't think that having NOPD and GA there is oppressive.  Crime is oppressive.  It makes it so that people can't leave their homes.  It makes it so that people can't run businesses or sell their home at a decent price.  The crime in that neighborhood is unacceptable.  It really is, and I applaud anyone who is taking their free time to do something about it.
 
On to posh developments, my understanding is that the lofts are actually being taken up by a lot of local artists, both black and white.  That's what I know of them.  I don't know very many yuppies that have rushed to buy the prime real estate.  Perhaps I am wrong on this one.  And unless there is a mass influx of white professionals and their housewives, which I surely have not seen, then your statements are misleading.
 
My first question to you Derek is have you ever lived in the projects?  My experience has been that people who are against knocking them down don't really understand what goes on there.  I sympathize with people who feel displaced by rebuilding of the projects.  They feel this way because that's unfortunately all they know.  But in reality, we should be ashamed of ever having placed any human being in projects.  The projects are societies way of caging and cornering off all the have-nots.  They get placed in their little boxes and are then out of the way for the rest of us.  Standing against income disparity and class structure is a complete oxymoron to supporting projects.  The projects cage in the very people they are suppose to help.  They create squalid conditions that no one can fight because it's compounded with every generation.  Again, I don't think mixed income works in this city.  My suggestion would be Section 8 quotas that every district must meet.  We can surely offer people something better than that third world monstrosity sitting off of Rampart.  The projects in this city are embarrassing and we should tear them down out of shame.  Our citizens deserve better than that.  And yes, tearing them down is harsh, but anything, seriously, I mean this, anything is better than continuing that system. 
 
My second question is... then what do you suggest?  I read a lot of criticism in your email, particularly to the wealthy evil developer, but no solutions.  All developers are essentially profit driven, there's no such thing as philanthropist developer.  It's not sustainable for development to be a philanthropy.  More importantly, development does not create income disparity.  It merely accentuates the disparity that already exists.  Pres Kabacoff isn't pushing out poor people.  The city's education system and its unaccountable politicians are.  That's who you should be attacking.  That rich guy is doing more for that community than all of city council combined.  He's giving them a co-op , woman's wellness, art galleries, a credit union, and most importantly land value.  So if you don't like that, than what would you like?  The abandoned furniture store? Are you really that afraid that St. Claude will lose its "charm" over this place?  No offense, but this isn't exactly Brooklyn.  People aren't rushing in to anywhere in this city.  We can start worrying about gentrification when there's no more blight.  
If no one else chimes in, email me directly.  I'd be glad to continue the discussion as I enjoy hearing those with views opposite of mine.  I could go on forever as I'm sure you can tell. 
 
Thanks.
 
Jo
 
Charlie Miller [address removed] via meetup.com to vegetarian-515
show details Aug 24 (2 days ago)

I belonged to a community co-op in New York city. Each week, we met at a free community center or church (no charge), wrote down our order, paid, and next week week picked up our food - great food, great prices. The money we paid each week, bought their food for that week.  Some people volunteered because the vibe was so clean, fun, and healthy.  There was never a "join-up fee" or accumulating funds for the co-op, etc.  Only great food & great people, coming together, simply having a good time together and helping each other. Anything else, I can't understand.

- Hide quoted text -
c

On Tue, Aug 23, 2011 at 8:45 PM, 30 Days for Laboratory Animals <[address removed]> wrote:
Melissa and others --

Like I said, I'm not calling into question the motives of the Co-op. I tried to tread carefully to make clear I was challenging the encompassing Healing Center (as in Pres Kabacoff, Inc.), and not the Co-op specifically, which I otherwise support. I mostly wanted to simply get the temperature of the room in regards to a man whom I would consider an adversary to social justice in New Orleans.

Lots of us have shitty scumbag landlords. That's not the tenants' fault. It's primarily problematic in this instance, however, because the New Orleans Food Co-op is operating under the banner of a center that is capitalizing off of the groovy "green" consumer craze happening right now in the U.S. and purports itself to be aligned with the goals of the Co-op to a certain extent. What I'm saying is, this otherwise worthy project to provide people with healthy groceries is being co-opted, if you'll excuse the pun, by a rich developer who has shown himself to care very little for those in the community. I have been told Pres is an honorable man whom has been given awards by black people and is being so kind as to provide the Food Co-Op and other local businesses with a space to flourish. But he is not anywhere near honorable -- he's not even a philanthropist. As a millionaire developer, he is concerned with making money, and whether by directly abetting mega-corporations or riding the wave of "eco" capitalism, profit is what concerns him. No one concerned with sustainability would provide WalMart with a contract to encroach upon a historic neighborhood. No one who cares about the community and residents of New Orleans would see thousands evicted from their homes so posh rentals could be constructed, or give the murderous NOPD and ridiculous vigilante group the Guardian Angels a space to proliferate their attacks upon New Orleans' most vulnerable residents -- the poor and people of color.

This issue seems to be the elephant in the room. Or maybe folks just don't have an opinion...? Obviously if Pres Kabacoff owned a massive factory farm in rural Louisiana while also paying lip service to "sustainability" the connection might be easier to make, but I believe a congruent hypocrisy exists in the above stated facts. Let's not fall into single-issue politics here, guys. I definitely would like to hear from the dozens of people from whom I receive emails on this Meetup list on a daily basis.

thanks,
Derek


On Mon, Aug 22, 2011 at 10:23 AM, Melissa Bastian <[address removed]> wrote:
I have personally been heavily involved with the co-op for the past three months.  And I'll just say this: whatever the motives of the property owner may be, that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the businesses within.  It's wrong to pass judgment on the multiple businesses there and make these broad generalizations.  The co-op chose this location (within the healing center) because there is nowhere else in that community for people to buy groceries.  It's not some hidden agenda.  I can't speak for the other businesses, but I can say that everyone I've spoken to at the Center is community-focused.  For anyone who doubts this, you should come to the Center this Sunday.  It's the grand opening and will be going on all day; you can come see everything that's opening there and decide for yourself.

Zack, the co-op carrying meat is a response to the demand from the immediate community in the St. Claude area.  It will be a very limited section.  You know I'm vegan and I also would prefer that it not be there, but to eliminate it would be alienating to the community that the co-op is trying to serve.  That's the truth of it, regardless of how we personally feel / what we personally believe and know.

<3
mb


On Mon, Aug 22, 2011 at 11:57 AM, Erin L. <[address removed]> wrote:
Derek,

I, for one, appreciate that you've started this conversation! Your e-mail was very informative and thought-provoking. I was actually already well into it before I realized I had just blogged about my excitement over the "Food Co-op" a few days ago. (Now that I have more in-depth information on it, consider my excitement officially dampened...)

Thank you for being a mover/shaker for justice and equality.

Anyone else have thoughts on the subject?
Erin





On Mon, Aug 22, 2011 at 12:40 AM, 30 Days for Laboratory Animals <[address removed]> wrote:
Hi everyone --

The other day at the Hollygrove Market, I found myself in the midst of a debate with a woman about the implications of the Healing Center and its notorious co-chair Pres Kabacoff. Before I go any further, let me say that I don't wish to cause infighting within the NOLA veg community, or diss on the Food Co-Op or anyone working toward the accessibility of organic/raw/veg food alternatives. I simply wish to air a concern that gives me pause in extending support for what I'd say is the very dubious and insidious "mission" of The Healing Center.

As many are probably aware, Pres Kabacoff is one of the wealthiest developers in the city. Pre-Katrina, he was one of the main movers and shakers on the "restoration" of the St. Thomas projects, where the thousands of people who formerly lived there were essentially pushed out to make way for the "mixed income" (and what I must call horrid) apartment units now known as the "River Gardens." Additionally, he provided WalMart, no "sustainable" or ethical business by any stretch, with the contract to set up shop in that neighborhood. This redevelopment of low-income public housing essentially laid the groundwork for what post Katrina (you know, cause it's much easier to evict poor residents from public housing when they're displaced) would be the destruction of the "Big Four" public housing complexes -- an orchestrated urban development plan to basically ethnically cleanse the French Quarter-bordering "ghettos" of all poor black people whom tourists might not want to interact with.

I'm not here to mask any underlying premises, so I would like to let you know where I am coming from. I have been an active volunteer with the Iron Rail Book Collective since age 16; I am involved with a collective living space seeking to establish itself as a Land Trust to keep rent affordable for low-income Midcity residents; last year I undertook a month-long campaign to raise awareness about vivisection happening at Tulane; and I continuously try to lend my efforts to worthy grassroots organizing around town. Ideologically I support the mission to bring healthy food to New Orleans residents. We need that. New Orleans is a bit of a grocery void (well, anywhere not Uptown, anyway), and Co-Ops are obviously preferable to chain supermarkets. However, I'm torn as to whether to support what I see as something that will benefit the interests of rich developers like Pres Kabacoff and is destined to primarily serve, unfortunately, the more well-off residents of the neighborhood -- as the Healing Center, the planned vision of a kind of "French Market" on St. Claude (yuck!), and Pres's "Bywater Art" lofts will only further displace the poor with the continued gentrification of that area. I believe Pres Kabacoff's "greenwashing" of his image, using a noble enterprise like the Food Co-Op under his auspices, to be disingenuous at best. I am disgusted that Pres has invited the vigilante group the Guardian Angels to provide security for his building and given the corrupt NOPD their former headquarters back, encouraging even more of a police-state atmosphere in an area where the poor residents are struggling to not be dispossessed by gentrification. (Glad to see we can solve our problems holistically, you know...)

Obviously, this is a much bigger conversation. But I definitely think we need to begin having conversations about the role that people like Pres play in the disparate class divisions that exist in our city, how crime is a symptom of this poverty and economic racism, and our responsibility as conscious individuals in a predominantly white consumer movement to question what we're doing. Many of us have a coherent analysis of the ways in which corporate America forces a harmful paradigm upon our bodies and our earth; so why can't we also acknowledge privilege and class structures and begin to redefine our relationship to the developers, police, and politicians? My immersion into "food politics"  6 years ago was not simply a lifestyle choice so I could feel better; it was a process by which I began to examine all social conditioning -- how it's all part of a larger system of colonialism that is destroying lives and perpetuating an unjust world. I understand we all as individuals pick our battles. But I just hope that we don't overlook the egregious crimes of a man like Pres Kabacoff despite his ostensible support for worthy community initiatives, and I hope we can begin to question who are allies are...

 I'd also like to begin a dialogue, so if you feel you need correct or clarify points you think I may be missing or misconstruing, please do so!

Thank you for reading.

sincerely,
Derek

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