Sunday, June 15, 2008

More on Eating With Accountability

Brownfemipower (BFP) pushed me to think past the given frames on choosing what I eat.

First, let it be said that I still eat fast foods occasionally because I'm too lazy to plan ahead. I still eat meat. I also weigh way more than I ought to, which, in my case, is not for a lack of decent grocery stores in my neighborhood, or because I can't afford to fill my belly with nutritious foods and so opt for carbs. I am beginning to excavate this enormously complex issue. I'm not hypocritically "talking the talk." I'm thinking out loud. There's a difference. I'm taking next steps on a journey.

BFP made my week by acknowledging my response to her posts and EllePhD’s on this vegan/vegetarianism subject. I’m happy to have connected partly because I couldn't reach BFP directly to tell her how much I admire her work. For that matter, I still can’t. She’s turned off the "Comments" option on La Chola. But now that I've dug around in the tombs of the Internet, I think understand why, and I now consider that act a wonderful example of owning her own power. BFP could have just gone away, driven into silence by that particular pack of hyenas. (You know who you are.) Instead, thank God, she turned her mike back on and drew some insurmountable boundaries for people who plainly are not acquainted with the concept.

BFP’s response makes me really happy, too, not just because I am a huge fan of her crystalline thinking and writing, but also because I so much want to link across the chasms that the birth lottery carved between our paths. It's not easy, it's perilous, and it doesn't come with promises of perfection on either side, I know. But linking across race, class, sex, gender, nationality, immigration status , religion (and all the rest) is mortally essential. Mortally, morally, vitally essential.

Because you know we're supposed to fail at it. We're not supposed to talk with each other, and if we try, we're supposed to blow it. Everything about the status quo depends on our not connecting across the chasms. When the buttons they’ve planted blow up, we’re really just doing their dirty work. Lateral hostility. All that. It’s true. Look how much time we’ve lost already.

Which isn’t to say we can’t get angry or disagree with each other. It’s just that there’s a way to do so without gutting each other like catfish. To me, BFP illustrates how in her post in reply to EllePhD about vegetarian/veganism. She isn’t attacking anybody. This is one of the several reasons I admire her work.

Second, let it be said that this is a skill too few possess, including me. There's a difference between knowing what I ought to do and being talented at it. Again, I’m just beginning to excavate this next enormously complex issue. These are next steps on the journey.

More thoughts on eating with social consciousness.

It’s also about the vendors.

On the vast list of things I just do not get is why progressives are not all over the whole constellation of worker justice issues: a living wage, worksite conditions, wage theft/fraud practices, health and safety factors, union busting, and all the rest.

Oh, right. “Benefits.” Let’s stop calling health insurance, retirement income, and profit-sharing, and personal leave “benefits,” OK? “Benefits"? As if they’re ours solely at the discretion of the patriarch who owns our labor? Uh, no. This archaic term intrinsically undermines the truth, which is that these are non-negotiable, earned universal worker rights.

As a dear friend puts it, it doesn’t matter whether someone else writes your paycheck or hands you cash in exchange for your work: If somebody else pays you, you’re a worker.

So it’s obvious, isn’t it, that the way the grocery store or chain treats its personnel is directly related to the way your own boss treats you, right? Over time, unfair labor practice in one sector becomes unfair labor practice in all sectors. We get accustomed, and if we have it a bit better than some, well, unlke us, they're just "workers." That's just a "labor" problem. Not.

If that isn’t sufficient reason to get your head out of your sphincter and get active in worker justice, then what about this?

If eating with consciousness is about how the food gets to our mouths and where it comes from, then it’s also about all the other links in the chain, including the warehouse stockers and the cashiers and the gourmet deli workers. It’s about all the labor practices of their employers.

And if that isn’t sufficient reason to pull it out and get busy, then consider this:

Any employer who is willing to cheat his workers of a living wage, clean and safe working conditions, and universal worker earnings (healthcare, leave, retirement income, profit-sharing) is willing to cheat his customers of fair quality for a fair price. It's about one chain of stores for poor Latinos and another for wealthly Scottsdale. It's about expired product on the shelves, and half-rotted produce, and dirty butcher shops, because if the prime motive is money, don't think for a moment that you as consumer aren't fair game, too.
So let’s stop calling it "eating with a social consciousness." Consciousness is essential, but it isn’t a substitute for doing something to benefit the rest of the production line. Consciousness strikes me as the minimum factor necessary to benefit myself in this matter. If I eat with a social consciousness, I eat very well and support relatively fewer adverse repercussions for others, but I don’t actually change anything materially.

That takes eating with accountability.

I don’t get out much anymore, but I really believe that the last time I saw the (largely) white radical-to-progressive contingent get out en force around any of this was when Ronald Reagan busted the Air Traffic Controllers. There was a huge protest at the Mall in DC, and I'll never forget it because it began to seem, there for a while, that we might expand our peace and justice movements to include (gasp) all workers-- as if all workers are intrinsically linked in power, strategy, and, well, the fate of humanity. That would include poor white male workers. It seems to me that we could have changed the country if we had had the wit to include them in our demands, because then their anger and resentment would have been redirected. We would have made them allies instead of the reactionary tsunami that swept Reagan, Bush, and Bush into office.

The point is that it isn’t about menus. It's about all of us, and it’s about opening our eyes to every implication of the fact that we actually are all in this together, regardless of the fact that some of us are fuckers. We certainly can prioritize, but I don't think we can leave anybody out of the peace/justice equation.

I don’t aim to perfection. I just aim to do a little bit better with this horrible reality every day.