BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A
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Am I The Only One Who Wants to Slap Michael Pollan?

June 04, 2014 By: Mel Category: Inequality

string beansApparently, Michael Pollan has another book out and this time he is preaching about home cooking.

My mother did the vast majority of the cooking when I was growing up. Shopping and cooking seemed to take up the bulk of her week. And she got little pleasure from it. It was an obligation and a chore. So when Michael Pollan says that “we have dropped the amount of time we spend on cooking by about a half an hour since 1965,” I want to know whose hours those were. And who do you need to be for a half hour to seem like nothing?

I used to work with a woman who had a full-time job, full-time school, and two children. The only moments she had to herself were the ones she stole to smoke a cigarette in the bathroom of her apartment, usually with two little boys knocking on the door. But Pollan says “it’s important to look at what you’re doing with that half-hour and whether it’s more valuable to you.” Because clearly anyone who is not cooking for their kids is just flitting away their time on nonsense.

A couple hours after reading that Pollan interview I read a piece in the Post about how people are actually more stressed at home than at work. Sadly, it doesn’t break down the study by single/coupled and parent/childfree. But it does make clear that women are much more stressed at home than men are. Because the expectation is that you come home from work and then need to worry about cleaning, cooking, carpooling, planning…

I know how much time my mother spent shopping and cooking every week. And I know how many weeks have gone by where I have spent zero time shopping and cooking. So I think Pollan’s 30 minutes per day stat is horseshit. But lets say for a moment that I buy into that. Here is a small sample of things I would rather do than cook.

  • eat
  • drink
  • read
  • write
  • sleep
  • have sex
  • paint
  • sail
  • travel
  • volunteer
  • research
  • raise hell

Not necessarily in that order.

Does Pollan know about the people who live on a few hours sleep per night because they cannot squeeze work, laundry, and child rearing into a day? Has he never known a new mother who hasn’t taken a shower in 3 days because there was no opportunity? Does he know the guilt bombs that are lobbed at women who dare to take a moment for themselves?

Pollan is just adding to that little voice that tells people, especially mothers, that they are selfish shits if every moment isn’t dedicated to being a Stepford wife.  He is that person who makes a woman feel bad for hitting the McDonalds drive through and taking a 30 minute bath – the only time she will have to herself that day. But really, what are the chances that the Berkeley-educated, white boy, son of a financial consultant and a writer , who was born in the 50′s would have any clue what life would be like for a Haitian immigrant woman with three housekeeping jobs and a gaggle of kids to take care of?

I know that the food system is fucked up. I know that the majority of the working poor work in food services. I know that the processed foods we eat are deadly. I actually do agree with the general goals of Pollan’s work. But you cannot talk about cooking without any mention of how gendered a task it has been. And you cannot talk about taking time to cook without any understanding of how little extra time some people have.

He deserves to have a dozen poor, overworked mothers take one of his books and smack him over the head with it. Luckily for him, they don’t have the time.

Oh Hey. There Are People in the Food System.

February 20, 2014 By: Mel Category: Inequality

Painting of FarmworkerMonday night I listened to a presentation about the Our Harvest Union Co-op in Cincinnati. They are modelling themselves after Mondragon, but with a union twist. The goal is to put a little more justice in the food system and they are going to do it by growing and distributing food on a large scale. The hope is to be able to certify food from the ground to the market as union – living wages, benefits, not dying of heat stroke

Once upon a time I lived in Santa Cruz and worked for the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS). My coworkers at CASFS studied what people cared about in the food system. It turned out that they cared more about how animals were treated than how people were treated.

I can’t say that I was surprised. Santa Cruz was the first time I was exposed to people for whom food was a religion, a way to exert moral superiority. It wasn’t everyone, of course. But there were many people who thought they were better than everyone else because of their vegan, free-range, probiotic, cruelty free food choices. Self righteousness is always annoying. But to be so self-righteous about food choices and not give a shit that workers on organic farms are treated as poorly as their conventional counterparts. Infuriating.

We shouldn’t have to choose between cruelty to animals and cruelty to people. And a lot of the time there is an overlap. No pesticides on organic produce means no pesticides on the people picking that produce. But when it comes down to it, if I have to chose, people come first. Sorry.

And just so you know, I will not be responding to any comments about speciesism. We are different. The fact that anyone is asking me to make a moral choice about my food is confirmation of their belief that I am different. I respect the people who make that moral choice. But nobody is asking a lion to make a moral choice about eating a gazelle.

But I digress. The point of the post is that there are people in the food system and they are often treated like crap. In fact, most of the lowest paid workers in the country work in food – from migrant farm workers to fast food cooks. And sometimes the food choices we make affect workers in ways we haven’t thought of. For instance, on Monday I learned that the poultry industry is the least unionized. So if you are buying more chicken thinking it is healthier than beef, you just upped your chances of exploiting some workers.

Minor consumer choices here and there aren’t going to bring down the whole system. And we sure as shit should not get too proud of ourselves for slightly better food choices. There is no way to extract yourself from the system completely. But if a whole lot of worker-managed, co-op, union companies started taking off…you never know.

P.S. Painting by Cynthia Vidal

Things You May Have Missed

November 25, 2009 By: Mel Category: Misc

The situation in Mexico keeps degrading.  Predictably, increased police and military are being used against more than just drug cartels.  I mean they are so handy at getting rid of unions.  Also, they don’t actually have to worry about trials or anything, they can just shoot people and then kick back with a cold one.

Wiretap says that Latinos are Underrepresented in Nonprofits.  I can testify to that, having worked in Cali nonprofits for six years.  They say there is some better news when it comes to board representation, but I’m fairly sure those figures are misleading.  In Central California, the same handful of Latinos were on many, many boards.  In other words, they are counting the same few Latinos over and over.

Yvette brings up a good point about why women who are anti-porn don’t have equally scathing critiques about working at McDonalds.  Those women probably don’t buy porn, but they do buy cheap food from poor women (as I’ve written about before).

Janelle wrote a great article about sharing on Trust is the Only Currency.  It’s amazing how many ways there are to shift our lives in a more cooperative direction.

And, finally, this article over at the New York Review of Books talks about nonviolent revolutions since 1989.  It’s long, but there is a lot to debate about in the piece (especially for the revolutionarily inclined).

Hunger Chalenge Thoughts

September 25, 2009 By: Mel Category: Inequality

I’ve been on the Hunger Challenge this week.  It’s been forcing me to think a lot more about my food.  That’s a good thing.  Even someone like me, who used to work at a center for agroecology, tends to forget about where my food is coming from and who is involved in bringing it to me.

I have new found sympathy and respect for the people who make a $4 per day food stamp budget work.  It takes careful planning and a lot of time cooking and shopping to eat on that.  There are single parents out there trying to work two jobs and still plan meals on that tight a budget.  They are amazing.

It’s infuriating that anyone would have to do that though.  Food is a human right.  And yet, according to the World Food Program

There are 1.02 billion undernourished people in the world today. That means one in nearly six people do not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life. Hunger and malnutrition are in fact the number one risk to the health worldwide — greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

That’s criminal.

Meanwhile, while people starve or scrape by as underpaid food system workers, agribusinesses and the food industry rake in monstrous profits.  Even in bad times, Archer Daniels Midland is making profits of $64 million a quarter.

ConAgra brought in $165.9 million in profit last quarter.  Monsato is cutting back now but looking to “more than double gross profit to as much as $8.8 billion in fiscal 2012 from $4.2 billion in 2007.”  That’s right.  That was billion with a b.

Food should not be a commodity that Wall Street speculates over and buys yachts with while millions are malnourished.  It’s disgusting.

Poor Women Feed the World

September 24, 2009 By: Mel Category: Inequality

Earlier this month, I wrote a post about women using women.  In it I commented on privileged women using poorer women to clean their houses and raise their children – women who have low salaries and no benefits.

But the truth is that all of our lifestyles are built on the backs of poor people (and women in particular), even if we don’t have the direct exploitative employer/employee relationship.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,

Rural women in particular are responsible for half of the world’s food production and produce between 60 and 80 percent of the food in most developing countries.

And yet while these women are feeding us all, estimates are that 70 percent of the worlds poor are women.

It isn’t just an issue of small-holder agriculture either.  Women are overrepresented in all aspects of the grossly underpaid food system.  Women are the majority of wait staff, fast food workers, and counter attendants.

The latest occupational employment report shows the U.S. median wage at $15.57 per hour.  Workers in the food industry typically make little more than half that.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics “more than two-thirds of all low-wage workers in 2003 were in service-type occupations, mostly in food service jobs.”

Every step of food production  – from the farm worker to the food processing plant to the food prep worker to the counter help or wait staff – relies on millions of underpaid workers with few (if any) benefits and little security.

How is it that the people who do the jobs most fundamental to survival are so undervalued?

Poor People Can’t Eat Healthy

September 22, 2009 By: Mel Category: Inequality

I mentioned at the end of yesterday’s post that I am participating in the Hunger Challenge.  It means I am trying to eat on $4 per day.  That’s how much someone gets if they are on food stamps.

How am I doing?  Not so good.

Yesterday I was hungry and cranky.  I skipped working out because I would have been famished after.  I usually eat every few hours to keep my metabolism up (and my crankiness down), but that was impossible.  My daily apple was skipped.  Fruit is just too expensive.  My lunch salad consisted of three ingredients.

With all that I still went over my $4.  Pathetic no?

Research shows that obesity and poverty are linked in this country.  Just one day on the Hunger Challenge showed me why.  I knew I was going to have to give up the farmers market and the organic food.  I knew I was going to have to give up pricey fish and cheese.  I didn’t think I was going to have such a hard time including even a couple fruits and vegetables.

The cost of fruits and vegetables isn’t just a matter of chance, it is a matter of policy.  Our government subsidises farmers, but not the farmers who grow most fruits and vegetables.  In fact, government policies actually prevent farmers from growing fruits and vegetables.

That’s just crazy.

Heritage Indignant that Obama Enforces the Law

April 23, 2009 By: Mel Category: Politics

I received an amusing email from the Heritage Foundation the other day. (Yes, I’m on their list. I’m keeping an eye on them.)

The email was about President Obama’s recent call for $100 million in administrative cuts to federal programs. The Heritage Foundation pointed out that it is a bit disingenuous to call for massive stimulus spending to get the economy back on track and to simultaneously call for cuts somewhere else. The email says,

The Department of Veterans Affairs canceled or delayed 26 conferences (lost jobs for the airline, rental car, food service, and hotel industries). The Education Department is no longer allowing employees to have both laptop and desktop computers (lost jobs for retail and technology manufacturing companies. The Agriculture Department is terminating leases and doing more to verify the income of recipients of farm subsidies (lost jobs for agriculture). And the Department of Homeland Security is going to start buying its office supplies in bulk(lost jobs for Office Depot).

I must grudgingly admit they have a small point about the conferences and computers and office supplies. If the goal is to get that rampant consumerism going again, you’d think the cuts could wait a bit.

But that’s not what I want to talk about here. What I want to bring your attention to is that blurb about the agriculture department “doing more to verify the income of recipients of farm subsidies.” That isn’t just a random cut to spending. It is asking the ag department to enforce the law.

A little background – We taxpayers spend tens of billions of dollars each year in farm subsidies. These subsidies aren’t going to help small family farmers. The top ten percent of recipients receive the vast majority of that money. Aside from the general atrociousness of redistributing wealth from your average taxpayer to agribusiness, the subsidy programs are prone to all sorts of abuse.

According to a report by Cato, the GAO estimated that up to half a billion dollars of our money is received by people who shouldn’t be getting it. So now Obama wants to enforce the law. You would think that enforcing the law would be something we could all agree on.

You would think.