Eating as political act

I spend much of my Sundays in the kitchen, preparing food for the coming week.

This is not a simple domestic ritual to me, though I enjoy it immensely. No, fermenting my own yogurt, baking my own granola, and cooking all my beans instead of getting them from cans is a radical political act.

Here’s why: By making my own foods from scratch—even just some of them and not all—I am rejecting our industrial food production system and all the dollars they pump into political candidates.

picture of a corn field

Most of our food is made from corn and soy. Photo by Tyler Allen. Used under Creative Commons license. Click through for source.

During the 2012 election cycle, agribusiness donated $90 million to political campaigns and advocacy groups, mostly Republican or conservative. In 2014, the food and beverage industry donated more than $16 million, again, mostly to Republican or conservative groups. I am registered Democrat, though the reasons for this have more to do with local politics and my state’s closed primary system than national politics, but that’s another post.

This is not a blue versus red issue to me, though. It’s a life versus death one. The way we produce food is not only killing the planet, it’s killing us, and (some) Republican lawmakers have shown again and again that profit trumps our very lives. So I refuse to take part.

Or, at least, take as little part as I feasibly can.

If that means I have to spend more on what I buy to get it from a co-op instead of a traditional grocery store and spend four or five hours in the kitchen every Sunday pre-cooking rice, chopping vegetables, making granola and cooking beans, then so be it.

My eating and cooking habits are not above reproach. I still enjoy eating at restaurants, many of which likely get their ingredients from agribusiness and giant corporations. I also eat at fast food places like Subway and Panera. Sometimes I rely on products that I know come from developing countries where the workers are paid barely enough to feed their families.

I am not perfect, but perfection is not the goal. Being mindful and engaged with what I eat is the goal. I read ingredients labels. I try to find out which giant food corporation owns the organic brands of frozen vegetables and canned tomatoes I buy (General Mills owns Cascadian Farms and Muir Glen, for example). I buy all my dry goods (rice, flour, oats, beans, etc.) in bulk.

I will not judge you if you react differently to our industrialized food system or choose different ways of eating and preparing food. What works for me doesn’t necessarily work for you, and that’s okay. We should always have options, and a choice.

The problem is that for many, there is no choice. Plenty of people live in “food deserts” (my own neighborhood in a major metropolitan area is one) where the closest store that sells food isn’t a grocery store but a convenience store, where you’re unlikely to find anything but processed, packaged foods. Plenty of people don’t even know how to cook or even select good produce. By default, they have no choice.

My access to farmer’s markets, CSAs, and a co-op, not to mention my access to information on how to best utilize these resources, is a privilege. I recognize that. And that’s why it’s important for me to talk about the food choices I make and why I make them.

When I decline to eat your hamburger helper casserole, it is a statement, yes. But it’s not a statement about you or your skill as a cook. It’s a statement about our food ecosystem and how utterly broken it is. It’s a statement about refusing to fill my body with “food” made in a factory instead of in a kitchen or on a farm.

I am not your dear

Working in public service means I see people of all kinds: tall, short, black, white, fat, skinny, quiet, loud, obnoxious, wonderful, intelligent, not-so-intelligent, drunk, high, high on life, downtrodden, hopeful, etc.

(For the record, drunk and/or high people are not allowed in the library and are asked to please come back later when they are sober.)

Many of these people call me things like “dear,” “sweetie,” and “hon.” Some have even learned my name and have taken to calling me “Kel.”

The only person who can call me “dear” or “sweetie” without pissing me off is my father. Close family members and friends are welcome to call me “Kel.” (See the quiz below to see if you qualify. If you don’t, no worries—there’s still time to ride roller coasters and do slightly illegal and/or dangerous things together!)*

Everyone else: No.

And especially not people I meet while I’m standing behind the public service desk at my job. I recognize that for some, it’s a generational thing. For some, it’s a habit. I’m willing to give people a bit of slack in this department, but not much.

Because I am NOT your dear. I am paid to be nice to you. I am paid to help you set up an email account and request books for you and troubleshoot your ebook problems. Or, I am a complete stranger you happened to bump into on the street.

We are not friends, buddies, pals, or whatever. I am not your daughter or your sister** or your girlfriend or your wife***. It is, therefore, inappropriate for you to call me (or any other customer service rep or stranger you meet by happenstance) by any term of endearment, and especially inappropriate if you are a man speaking to a woman.

“But I’m just being nice,” all the “nice” guys are collectively saying.

No. You are not being nice. You are being condescending and paternalistic. Even if you don’t intend to be condescending and paternalistic, you are. And it’s your responsibility to change your behavior.

Call me by my name, or don’t call me anything. Just say, “Thank you!”

Thank you is enough. Thank you goes a long way. “Dear” and “sweetie” do not. “Dear” and “sweetie” make me cranky. Of course, I risk retaliative action from you and those in my organization if you complain that I’ve been a horrible mean person to you by telling you not to call me “dear.”

Oh, if only it were as easy as saying, “Please don’t call me that,” or “I am not your dear, thank you, please use my name.” Every. Single. Time. I say that, I get “I was only being nice” or “That’s not very nice of you.” I’ve even had people complain to my boss that I treated them poorly by telling them not to call me dear.

Reality check: My niceness isn’t the issue. Your condescending paternalism is.

So, guys: Don’t call your service reps “dear,” “sweetie,” or “hon.” Just. Don’t. Do. It.


*You can determine if you pass this test by asking yourself the following questions. If you can answer yes to two or more, congratulations! You can call me whatever the hell you want, and I’ll still love you.

  1. Have we ever lived in the same house?
  2. Have we ridden roller coasters together?
  3. Have we gone to nerdy conventions together?
  4. Have we ever stayed up all night watching anime or making costumes together?
  5. Have I cried in front of you?
  6. Have you cried in front of me?
  7. Did we meet as tweens or teens and continue to be friends?
  8. Do you know two or more characters from the Star Wars expanded universe because of me?
  9. Do we have at least one inside joke? (Leave your favorite one in the comments so I laugh and everyone else feels left out!)
  10. Have we done something slightly dangerous or illegal together? (Don’t worry Mom, I survived, and never got caught!)

**Unless you are my actual brother, which you aren’t, because my brother would never ever call me “dear.” Seriously. Never. If he did it would mean he was taken over by pod people.

***Unless you are my actual husband, which again, you aren’t, because he would also never call me “dear,” because he knows how much I hate it, and, surprise! he respects me.

To my white friends and family

You are all good people. You love your family and your friends. You love your country. You work hard and you deserve all the good things you have, and then some.

I understand that when someone—anyone—accuses America as a whole or white people in general of being racist, you feel offended and defensive. You feel like you’re being singled out and attacked for the actions of others.

That’s not you, you think, and for the most part, you’re right. Maybe you have some biases and prejudices (I know I do), but you give everyone a chance. You recognize that every human being on this planet is a person with rights just the same as yours, even if you don’t always agree with that individual’s actions or lifestyle.

Here’s the thing, though. We live in a country and culture that has systematically been oppressing and killing people of color since Europeans began settling this continent. We killed off entire tribes of American Indians. We kidnapped Africans and enslaved them and tortured them and worked them literally to death. After slavery ended we moved to share cropping, which kept black people poor and destitute. Then came Jim Crow, in which state governments denied thousands upon thousands of blacks the right to vote. We had the Ku Klux Klan and endless lynchings.

Supposedly the Civil Rights movement stopped all that. But look around you. We never moved past Jim Crow, we just changed the rules. Now we lock up black people (and the mentally ill) in record numbers. We shunt them into housing projects, away from the “nice” neighborhoods. We call them lazy and violent.

And yes, when I say “we” I mean you, and I mean me. No, we did not participate in slavery. No, we were never members of the KKK. No, we’ve never lynched anyone. But we vote. We speak. We stand by while our black brothers and sisters are drowning in poverty that’s a direct result of the way our society has always treated them as less-than, other.

I’m not trying to make you feel like a bad person, and I don’t want you to feel guilty. You are not a bad person. You are a good, strong person and I love you. Guilt isn’t going to make anything better.

Instead, I challenge you to look at history and understand how we’ve come to this point. Recognize the pain and violence that white people have inflicted on black people since before the United States was a country.

We don’t demonize all white teenagers because of the few who have killed dozens of people in school shootings. We don’t demonize doctors because of the few who’ve negligently let people die.

Recognize these things, and then look at your fellow countrymen with empathy and compassion in your heart. Declaring that black lives matter is not an implication that your life matters less. It is, instead, a declaration that black lives matter as much your life matters. We’re all humans. We’re all Americans.

We cannot change the past, but we can change the future. We—you, and me—we can listen to what black Americans have to say. And even if we don’t agree, we can acknowledge their point of view and feelings as valid. As valuable.

We can listen, and we can learn, and then we can act, together, to make this a better place for all of us.