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Thursday, July 08, 2010

An Article from Anna

I am apparently the sort of guy who is lucky enough to have good male friends who find wonderful girlfriends who then later become my friends and my friends' wives. (I am apparently not the sort of guy who can express his thoughts succinctly or avoid unnecessary parentheticals, but surely you did not need to be made aware of this once again). (Maybe some day I will be able to return the favor to those male friends...maybe).

Anyway, case in point: Anna Zeide has just posted a few inspiring posts on her blog "Madison in June" (link on the left) about the work she's been doing teaching kids about food. Sometimes I really wish I were doing something like that, rather than just enjoying my cushy job and getting increasingly, uselessly furious and curmedgeonly in all my down time. I suggest you check them out.

She also clued me in to the following two articles, which together illuminate a lot of challenges that I struggle with myself and which I (yes, I know, cruelly and unfairly) scorn others for not agonizing over:

The first, "I am a radical homemaker failure" light-heartedly covers the trials and tribulations of author Madeleine Holler as she attempts to take a few steps away from the abusiveness of our lifestyles. No easy task, for sure. I suggest you read it and pay attention to how she fails, or why.

Then read this post by Sharon Astyk of the blog Casaubon's Book* (footnote to reduce parenthetical disruption...trying out a new technique here), where Astyk takes a nice, hard swing at our (I'm far from exempt) tendency to just say "I'm not good at that" or "I can't do it." As if anyone who can drive a car, operate a cell phone, chew bubble gum at the same time can't (to follow up on Astyk's example) make a batch of pickles or loaf of bread.

Is this incompetence really innate? Are there really people who simply don't have the ability to wash clothes by hand, to cook a meal from scratch, to mend clothes, or to go without the AC or a plastic bag or meat or cheese for a day, a month, a year, a lifetime? Can people really trick themselves into believing that they don't even have the capacity to learn how to do these things well, or to do without them? Are the (unfortunate, poorly paid, likely colored, likely living elsewhere) people who actually do do the work we avoid somehow inherently smarter, stronger, or more nimble than us? (As our grandparents and foreparents must also have been).

Or is it possible that this willful, defiant incompetence, which even the best-intentioned of us often express, functions as a rationalization that allows us to continue pushing the "dirty work" onto others that don't have the credentials or luck to do anything else? (could I please stop making my points with rhetorical questions? Do I even know how?) I can be reasonably sure that the people who make my clothes suffer a lot and earn little in the process, but since I just plain don't know how to make a shirt, I have no other options, and thus can't be expected to accept any share of the blame.

I should admit that, yes, of course, change takes time and is not easy. Sometimes people do fail. We just don't know enough, can't find the right resources or support, worry about what small change now might mean in terms of our future, etc. It took me years to successfully become a vegetarian, after all, and a few months to go vegan after that, and I am sure that over those periods I used false legitimizations as often as I used true ones. I still do the same in my attempts to avoid plastic and imported foods (but I seriously can't live without bananas. No joke.) So Kudos to Holler for her attempt. I just hope that rather than taking her failure as a sign that she can't possibly achieve the independence she set out for, it clues her in to the way we're taught to become (and/or believe we must of necessity be) completely dependent on people we can't see and companies we can't influence (in most significant ways) and processes we don't at all understand. I hope she (and her readers) are left not feeling satisfied at having tried, but furious at having failed. And that she (and they, and I) can find productive and meaningful ways to get herself (and themselves, and myself) out of this mess.

My resolutoin: damn it, I'm going to make some yogurt tonight, and I'm going to enjoy it for the next 10 days, even if it's revolting. Bean sprouts too. Then I'm going to candy some of my own beans and peanuts. If I'm still this incensed by the time the weekend rolls around, I'm going to make my own *EXTREME EXPLETIVE x 6* kimchi.


Clearly the 10-day silent mediation course has helped me learn to stay level-headed in all situations. More on that to come.

*actually Anna has clued me in on several good articles from this blog and I'd put up a permanent link on the left if not for the fact that there are apparently some political struggles happening on the website, leaving the blog's future there in question.


ressen said...

Welcome back! Your future self came and visited me since you kicked him out. I crushed him in PT.

sarah said...

Interesting reads. In my experience, more common than feinged incompetence is the simple response "I don't have the time". As though we do not choose how we spend our time. As though it is out of our hands. I find it infuriating but, once calmed, I see that maybe that feeling of helplessness is a symptom of "this mess" as you call it. And maybe the best way to empowerment is through small steps.

I just recently became interested in lacto-fermentation and made my own kimchi. I've only have kimchi one other time so I have little to compare it to, but I think I'm in love.

AZ said...

Oh Kroy. You are too much. You've single-handedly made my day. If you come to Madison and I'm teaching next summer, I'll bring you in as a guest lecturer.

Mike said...

I agree, the "I don't have time" argument is also very common, and it shares the same little quirk of rendering the situation objective so as to reduce the amount of blame one can reasonably be expected to accept. It's understandable from the individual's point of view, and is probably really, truly the way they feel, but it seems like a very harmful statement if it goes unchallenged.

As for Kimchi - go for it. Kimchi actually refers to the method of pickling and not to the vegetable that you choose to pickle. You can do it with onions, cukes, eggplants, radishes, cabbage, whatever. I just tried one cucumber-onion kimchi that came out really sweet. It was in credible. And the nutritional value of Kimchi is incredible - particularly for those with low meat and animal-product intakes.

Anna, don't you think I would scare the children? I think at this point I am still mostly just critical and even a bit hateful - I'm not sure what sort of positive impact I can make. ㅠㅠ

...though I guess that state is something I could change.