Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Three Random Thoughts (Two with Photos!)

1) I saw this in the window of a supermarket when The Wife and I were on vacation in Rehoboth back in January. Alongside a row of photos of cheese, flowers, bread, vegetables, there were these:

And it got me thinking. How do Americans deal with images of animals being used to represent food? We are notoriously squeamish about these things. Anyone remember the Simpsons episode where Lisa becomes a vegetarian? They go to a petting zoo, where Lisa meets this supercute little lamb, and then they have lamb chops for dinner, and she freaks out. (This episode also contains this exchange, which I am doing from memory, so probably won't get right:

Lisa: I'm not eating anything that came from an animal.
Homer: So no bacon?
Lisa: No.
Homer: No ham?
Lisa: No.
Homer: No pork?
Lisa: Dad, those are all from the same animal.
Homer (sarcastically): Sure, Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.)

I spent about 2 weeks in Israel/Palestine (mostly Palestine) 2 years ago. One of the first things I learned about the Old City of Jerusalem was that I shouldn't take a certain path through the Muslim Quarter after midnight, because it had all the butcher shops. For meat to be halal, it has to be bled, just like kosher meat does; it has to be hung, so that all the blood is gone, rendering the meat acceptable. So after the butcher shops closed, they would hose out their shops, and the streets (which were ancient, and therefore did not have modern drainage) smelled of blood. Vegetarian-me freaked out, a little bit. But the people who shopped at these stalls didn't have a problem with the smell, because they knew where it came from; it meant the meat was freshly bled, halal, and not too old.

But Americans: We want our meat to smell like styrofoam. So how do we react to advertising images of cows to convince us to buy steak?

2) This is my brother.

He's holding a box of (sit down) USDA certified organic Kraft Mac N Cheese. Oh yes. It comes in organic.

Two things: a) My 17 year old brother (yes, I know, he doesn't look it) is apparently convincing my folks that they should eat more healthily and should eat more organic food. My mom, who raised me (and him) eating a lot of tofu and brown rice for the suburbs in the 90s, is on board; my dad is pretty go-with-the-flow. But my brother is driving the organic food purchases in the household. There is hope for future generations. 2) Tom reports that the organic mac and cheese is not that insane orange color. I am simultaneously cheered by this fact, and saddened a little. I mean, the orange stuff is good, you know?

3) Not food related, but this is a public service announcement.

The following people are allowed to wear "I (heart) lesbians" shirts:

a) Women. You do not need to be/look like a lesbian. You could just be expressing solidarity or something.

b) Gay men. You need to be clearly readable as gay. If you are not clearly readable as gay (which I support, I hate how all gay people have to look alike to get read as gay, ask me how I feel about having long hair sometime), then you MUST indicate so on your shirt somehow. Like, get a big black sharpie and write BECAUSE LESBIANS ARE SO IMPORTANT TO THE QUEER RIGHTS MOVEMENT FROM WHICH I BENEFIT AS A BIG OL' GAY or BECAUSE US GIRLS NEED SOMEONE TO OPEN THE JARS or I'M REALLY REALLY GAY AND THIS SHIRT IS AN ACT OF CROSS-QUEER REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNITY MAKING or something similar.

People who are not allowed to wear "I (heart) lesbians" shirts:
Straight men. (Especially not straight men in yellow board shorts with sunglasses on their heads. Folks, it's April, and this is New York. If you were in Los Angeles, I'd forgive you. But here? Never.)


Really, straight men, this is for your own good. Because I may be a Quaker and a pacifist, but there are a lot of lesbians out there who could kick you from here to next Tuesday if they wanted to. And if you keep wearing that shirt, they'll want to.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


When I was in seventh-grade French, I learned a new word: fauché(e). It means "broke." The teacher explained the difference like this: If you don't make a lot of money, and don't have anything in the bank, etc, then you say, "je suis pauvre," I am poor. But the richest person in the world could be stuck without any cash on him, and then he'd say "je suis fauché."

I grew up lower-middle-class in a very upper-middle-class town. My dad is, for all intents and purposes, a skilled laborer; my mother didn't work until I was in high school, when she started doing entry-level work for the school district. We owned a house, but a smallish one on a mixed-race block. Money was never absent, but it was tight, and I knew it. In retrospect, it wasn't that uncommon a situation, but it was mine, and I felt fairly alone in it at the time.
I grew up seething class anxiety. I didn't dress like rich kids, shop like rich kids, eat like rich kids. Part of my anxiety came across as criticism of the materialism of the rich. The other part came across as terror of being identified as other. I grew up near the King of Prussia Mall, which is a huge, elegant temple of shopping. It has plush chairs, not benches. Marble columns and floors. Versace and Tiffany's and Burberry. I was terrified of the King of Prussia Mall. I went there for the first time with The Wife, who belonged firmly on the other side of that class divide that I saw. I hid behind her. I had panic attacks. I couldn't be in that mall. It scared me too much.

Then I went away to get my Ivy League degree, and I met real rich people. Like serious, serious richness. Richness beyond my wildest dreams. We were on a level in a way we hadn't been in high school, because now we were all the elite of a nation together. And I was better than most of them.

I also met poor folks. The people I organized with on a daily basis came from the backwoods south and from urban ghettos, and from countries on the other side of an exchange rate. Among these folks, I came from privilege. So I came to understand both that there are real live rich people out there, who are not as scary as I thought, and something concrete about what poverty looks like, and how it differed from my experience.

Now I live in a lower-middle class neighborhood that might be transitioning upward, in the middle of a giant concentration of wealth that still makes me nervous. Sure, now I can cope with it, but that doesn't mean that my inner seventeen-year-old doesn't get a little nervous when I go out for lunch on the Upper East Side. It's just that, now, I know how to dress for it. It's true: I have different outfits in my closet for what part of the city I'm going to. The jeans with holes are fine if I'm working in the garden or walking down to the drug store or dollar store; the straight-men's jeans are fine for babysitting or working a Co-op shift; the gay men's jeans and ribbed tank tops are good for going to class; if I'm heading uptown, I've got button-down shirts to layer over top.

But I'm sitting here, in the middle of this fabulous wealth and this warm and not rich neighborhood, and I can tell you: Je ne suis pas pauvre. Mais je suis fauchée.

I'm occasionally astounded by how much the three of us bring in, combined. All told, it's something like $75K a year. That's a fabulous amount of money to me, even though it's not a lot per person. Living in this city, though, and wanting those things that belong properly to folks of our aspirational class, we don't have much left over.

So I think about everything we can do to save money. I'm the one out there growing our own produce in the summer and canning it for the winter. I'm the one who pulls the last of whatever is about to go bad out of the fridge and cooks with it, so we don't have to buy more food. I'm the one who wonders what she's going to do now that all of her jeans either don't fit or have holes.

Why am I the one? Because I'm the housewife. The Wife gets up in the morning and goes to her ten-to-six office job; the Boy's a personal assistant and professional dancer, so he's out of the house until 9 nearly every night. I sit home alone, writing, reading, thinking. And cooking. And gardening. And scrimping.

I'm thinking of this today because of Aunt B's post about wanting to hold on to the pleasures of middle-class life, and not give them up in order to 'save the world.' She catches some of the tension in this: simultaneously one spends less to be ethical (turning off the lights) and spends more (buying organic soap). We simplify our lives through consumption (witness Real Simple magazine, which provides hundreds of ways a month to spend money to get simpler). If we want to live right, we have to simultaneously have money and give it up.

One of the ways to do this--and the way that the three of us have done it--is to disaggregate social from economic class. We each renounced the economic status that could have come to us as graduates of elite Eastern colleges. However, we maintained the social status of solidly middle-class America: we need wireless internet and a DVR and organic orange juice. In order to do all of that, we have to scrimp in some places and spend in others. We need to put more work in to be able to get some things that we could have effortlessly, if we rejoined our social and economic class. Seriously, folks, if I got a job in i-banking rather than a PhD, all these troubles would just go away.

I live the way I do (I won't speak for my family) because it allows me to be in touch with my politics. I would rather seek justice than cash. I want to live in a morally defensible relationship to the environment and the people around me. But, in order to make these moves, I have to replace the money I could be making with my own housework, so that I can help maintain my household's social class, while we all collectively renounce our economic class.
And here I am reminded of brownfemipower's posts she called "Poverty Diaries." She wrote:
Life is so much slower for poor people. A bus ride to anywhere is going to take at least 40 min’s. Cooking everything from scratch means supper is often started the night before. A quick trip the grocery store is replaced with a day long biking marathon to buy as many groceries as can be stuffed into the kid carrier. Dial up often takes minutes to load pages (seriously, the best thing we did was put the computer into the kitchen–I can clean/cook while a page loads). Clothes hang dry on the line out back, and microwavable food must be cooked in the oven.

Going slower like this is pleasant in many ways–a whole life time of “need to do stuff” is eliminated by the sole fact that there is no transportation, no phone, no money. But at the same time, a slower life means living closer to the edge than is entirely comfortable. If you forget to turn on the crock pot, it will be a whole day before you can eat that particular meal. If it is raining the day you have planned from grocery shopping–well, so much for food. If you have ants attacking the roots of your plants (as they are currently doing to my corn and sweat peas) it will be a whole year before you can repair the damage to the soil. If your kid breaks her arm, you better pray you have a neighbor who has a car.

Living close to the edge has really helped me see how capitalism (in the beginning) was influenced in large part by fear more than greed. When you’ve been told by your government and your god that you must “conquer the land” and live way the hell out in the middle of no where all by yourself, how scary is it to know that one fuck up, one day of sickness, could lead to your very destruction? How much safer is one allowed to feel knowing that all you need is a little pesticide and some lab made fertilizer to ensure food for the winter?

So here again I have to acknowledge my class status. Sure, I may fight to get my soil to be fertile with the compost from last year's garden, or I may put dried beans in the crockpot rather than buying lots of fancy prepared food. But when push comes to shove, I know how late the Thai place delivers.

There may not be a coherent argument here. This may just be the beginning of a set of thoughts. But the relationship between social class, economic class, women's labor in the home, politics, and poverty is complicated. If we are going to try to eat and live collectively and in just relations to each other, we have to think about these things--and do them together.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Armed Canaries

The setting: a graduate seminar on the politics of identity. Early evening in New York City in a windowless, linoleum-lined classroom.

The reading for the evening: The Miner's Canary, by Lani Guinier and Gerard Torres. As they explain on their project website, their argument is that problems experienced by racialized minorties are signals for broader problems in our social structure, and that political race can be a tool to change those broader problems (in addition to those original racial problems.)

The radically androgynous feminist grad student with thick rimmed glasses wearing a boy's oxford shirt and Converse sneakers (you know the type) says: "What if the racialized minorities don't all want to work together? Why can't the canaries arm themselves?"

And the food & politics blogger sitting next to her has a moment.

I give you: The Armed Canaries.

The Armed Canaries

Revolution. It's for the birds.

They each have individual secret identities, as well, used as code names to protect them from the feds.

Yuri Canari

Yuri Kanari. She takes her name from Yuri Kochiyama, the radical Japanese-American feminist and friend of Malcom X.

Angela Canari

Angela Canari. She took the name in honor of Angela Davis, the black revolutionary feminist academic.

Antonio Canari

And here is Antonio Canarsci. He renamed himself after Antonio Gramsci, imprisoned Communist and theorist of hegemony.

(No, I don't eat peeps, although I did make some merangue ones that were pretty lousy looking but yummy tasting. I'm trying to cut out gelatin, so no more marshmallows for me. But the Wife is a fan of the stale ones. Lucky for me she bought yellow.)