Tag Archives: class privilege

Eating Local

Originally published at Feeding My Boychick

I live in Portland, land of organic vegan locavore ironic bacon hipsterism. Located in the (stolen and colonized) Willamette valley, one of the most fertile pieces of land on the continent (despite many greedy people having done their level best to destroy it), eating local here is downright easy. About the only things we can’t grow are tropical fruits, coffee, and hard wheat, and nevermind because we still import, roast, and mill those locally. It’s absurdly easy, if also absurdly expensive, to buy only foods grown, produced, slaughtered, or processed within 100 miles of here, either in a market or grocer or even dining out at a locally-owned restaurant. And this is great.

Except.

I also live in Portland, one of the whitest cities in the country with one of the worst track records of gentrification. And much of this push for “local” and “sustainable” is coming from relatively new, relatively wealthy, overwhelmingly white consumers and business owners, not from the communities of color who have eked out spaces for themselves here for decades. I see them, small business owners themselves, pushed out of business by white people who’d rather shop at a national name than someplace run by a person of a different color whose fluent English the monolinguists can’t understand, and now replaced by white people who spurn the corporate giants for “local” businesses that have been here for SO LONG — since the mid-aughts! — owned and frequented largely by other white people able to pay higher prices and higher rents and higher mortgages.

So here’s my choice: I can buy dinner from a locally-owned restaurant that’s been here for decades and uses conventional produce and imported noodles and factory farmed meats frequented by the people of color who have lived here for decades, or I can buy it from the three year old place that uses local and organic and fresh everything and is all the rage among the white people who have lived here for three years.

Or I can buy groceries from the locally-owned store that’s twice as expensive (but everything is homegrown!), or the budget Safeway that’s served the neighborhood for decades. I can support the brand-new co-op that sells organic produce, or the Asian market that sells unmarked, unknown-to-me veggies.

It’s not that I disagree with the small-business, locally-owned ethos nor the entirely logical reasons to support the same. But the fact remains that when my neighborhood (which I, middle class white woman with my young family, just moved into) started gentrifying, in classic Portland style, all the new mostly-white people said “we want local shops — let’s start some!” and didn’t ask their neighbors where to buy veggies, where they ate out, who owned and shopped at and was employed at the run-down supermarket. We didn’t move in to this imperfect neighborhood and ask “what’s being done to improve the place we now live, what’s important to our neighbors, and how can we help without taking over?” We moved in and assumed nothing of value was here and we needed to replace it all with trendy, “local” businesses and eateries (never diners!) and then we patted ourselves on the back for being so damn sustainable, so morally superior, doing something good while we bought our organic fair trade latte from the queer artist barista with all the body modifications.

But it’s culture. It’s all culture. We want to shop and eat and be seen at places that feel like ours, that reflect us, that tell others about who we consider ourselves to be and who we want to be. And that’s not wrong, not really. But it’s also what the people who lived here first, who we pushed out to the margins before we decide to take that over too, also want. And the conversation we need to have isn’t local-small-good versus corporate-giant-evil. It’s whose local? Whose good? Who was here first, whose voices have long been marginalized, whose foods are exoticized and whose normalized, who’s making the decisions about what’s valued and what the neighborhood needs?

Those are questions I need to consider as well, no less than “was this peach sprayed, is this asparagus local, is there MSG in this?” It’s not as easy a conversation, nuanced instead of ideologic, complicated instead of obvious. But it’s important. Because “community” isn’t a nebulous concept, it’s the family next door we never talk to, the people who walk up my street to get to the free clinic, the guy who runs the convenience store two blocks away. And the health and sustainability of food isn’t just how it affects and nourishes my family, but how it affects the people who grow it, the people who harvest it, the people who sell it, the people who cook and serve and clean up after it. Only considering part of that system isn’t sustainable; it’s selfish in the extreme.

(Note: I use “we” throughout not as writer-and reader, not to assume the “they” I speak of is not also you, but as writer-and-agent, as indication of my own guilt and reminder to myself of membership in the offending groups. I’m still searching for less alienating phrasing; please forgive any implications of exclusion.)

Quick hit on paid parental leave

The kid just threw up. And this is why we need universal paid parental leave.

No really.

The kid just threw up, and his preschool has a 24-hours-without-vomiting rule. Which means he can’t go to his (long) day of preschool tomorrow. Which means I lose 6 of my weekly 10 work hours this week. Because I have to stay home with the kid.1

Why?

I, being self-employed, don’t get any paid leave, so there’s no scrimping needed there2, whereas we’re saving every minute of The Man’s paid time off we can for after the baby comes.3 So he can’t take tomorrow off (not even for a half day) as he used to do regularly when the Boychick was sick.

Just one tiny example from a relatively-privileged family, but still: my kid threw up, and this is why we need universal paid parental leave.

  1. No, I can’t work while he’s home, even if I plant him in front of the TV. Ariel Gore wrote about distractability in How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead: when we can be distracted or interrupted, even if we’re not, we cannot really focus. Maybe not true for everyone, but absolutely true for me. This is yet another reason I do most of my writing at night, at the cost of my sleep (and thus why I’ve been doing so little writing recently, because sleep is, at this stage of pregnancy, far less sacrificeable).
  2. And not having a salary or a direct dollar-per-hour payback for my work — and, really, not getting paid much/anything for my work at the moment at all — it’s a lot easier on the budget to sacrifice my hours than his. This is not normally something we pay attention to, but when we’re trying to buy a house, pay the midwife, and save for the babymoon? Yeah, it does matter.
  3. And it still won’t be enough. With him having a “really great” salaried position, he’ll be able to go 40 hours in the hole on PTO, which means he’ll probably be paid for about 2 weeks off. And if we can, we’ll take another 2 off unpaid. I know to be able to do so, even potentially, is a sign we’re fucking privileged. But it’s still criminal that a new parent gets so little time.

For your edification and edjumacation

Liiiiiiiiiiiiiiinks!1

In case yesterday’s overextended metaphor wasn’t enough for you, check out this piece on the dog and the gecko, an amazing metaphor for privilege. If you haven’t figured out what I mean by “privilege” yet, read this.

And then there’re dogs and smurfs: why women writers and stories about women are taken less seriously (don’t worry, it’s not a metaphor — or rather, interrogates a trope we take as metaphor).

If you’ve ever asked yourself “Why does she stay with that jerk?” here are twenty answers. None of them is “she’s stupid” or “she deserves it”.

Filed under further rhetorical questions, would B. Manning be treated the same if out as a trans woman? As Emily says, not bloody likely.

Of course, being trans doesn’t mean Manning is, therefore, a woman — and being nonbinary doesn’t mean one is genderfluid, either.

Elizabeth of Spilt Milk is blogging at Feministe, and I couldn’t be happier. Check out especially Feminist mothers (you, being here, don’t need to be exhorted to read women who are parents and writing about feminism, but DO check out the other recommendations at the end of her post) and In defense of children.

Further to meta discussions of feminists, read this long and wholly worthwhile piece on white privilege in feminist organizations, especially those seeking “diversity”.

Race and gender are hardly the only axes (for lack of a better term) of privilege/marginalization, as you can read about in The Mental Burden of a Lower-Class Background.

But speaking of race and gender, do yourself a favor and watch Random Black Girl. (Lyrics, and a bunch of blather, here.)

This is, though rather male-centric, more or less how my mind works regarding writing.

Finally, this post is being pre-written and scheduled, because by the time you read this, I will have seen the final Harry Potter film installment, with the awesome Amy of Anktangle. But oh, do I wish we could have seen Joanne Rowling’s Hermione Granger series instead…

  1. For I am the zombie of the blogosphere, and posts are your brains. Tasty, intelligent brains.

Talking class in class — on money and massage

I’ve been doing a lot of talking and thinking and work this quarter around money — not only did I start accepting advertising on RMB in January, I took the Business class in massage school1, and then again in the weekend reiki class we talked about pricing. Mostly I’ve come around to a place where I’m comfortable placing value — and thus a dollar value — on what I do, but there’s a line that keeps coming up — in massage, yes, but it’s entirely too familiar to me coming from the world of doulas and midwives and childbirth ed and homebirth — that chafes me every time I hear it:

“If it [massage, reiki, homebirth, whatever services one offers] is really important to someone, they’ll figure out how to pay for it.”

Well, sure — if we’re talking someone middle-ish class trying to decide between a triple digit monthly clothing budget and getting body work. But also what the fuck are you talking about? if we’re talking people to whom the $70 for a single massage represents their monthly food budget.

I can afford the body work I need because I have a partner with a well-paying job, good enough credit to let it take a few years longer to pay off our debt, and a student discount from my LMT (more than offset by the student loan repayments, unfortunately). Three years ago, I couldn’t afford it. Six years ago, I got the body work I needed only because I had parents who could finance my health care — if my parents were financially where I was three years ago, it never would have happened.

It’s true that we almost always have choices, and that many people have the resources and resourcefulness not to let financial barriers get in their way. I don’t wish to cast the class marginalized as Those Poor People We Need to Pity, nor erase anyone’s agency. But just because a choice is theoretically possible doesn’t mean everyone will be able to choose it, nor will they necessarily think it worth it. Three years ago I could have given up eating any organic foods or eating out ever2, could have given away my pets3 and gotten a smaller apartment, could have sold my collection of birth books and musical instruments. I could, in theory, have managed a monthly or even semi-monthly massage — if I’d completely rearranged my life.

I value massage — it arguably saved my life, and I am making it a large part of my life’s work — but even I don’t know if I value massage that highly. And I’d probably look askance at anyone who did, not to mention question the integrity of any massage therapist who encouraged that.

And yet.

I’m not, at all, arguing that massage is too expensive, or should be considered a luxury, or that we overcharge. Indeed, no one gets rich doing massage — owning a spa or three, maybe, and if we’re lucky and savvy we can support our families. While $70 may sound like a lot for “just an hour!”, there is no one on this earth who can do 40 massages a week 50 weeks a year — and for 10, 20, 30 years? Try it. Just try it. A full time practice is closer to 25 50-minute massages a week (far, far more than I am or likely will ever be capable of doing), and that still has the LMT working 40+ hours total, and a good portion of income is either being taken by the therapist’s employer or self-employment taxes. From a therapist’s point of view, from the point of view of earning a living and paying off an education and supporting a family, $70 for an hour is damn near a bargain.4 New graduates often start out charging much lower prices, either to get clients, or out of a misplaced sense of “I’m new, I can’t be worth that much!” — but it’s not long usually before they figure out it’s really not sustainable.

The point: I’ve been experiencing such a strange sort of cognitive dissonance these past couple months, trying to learn to value myself while not forgetting that this system I’m learning to operate in is inherently fucked up and values some people less than others. I don’t think the solution is for me to continue to act as though money is dirty and I’m either too good or not good enough for it — as Ariel Gore argued so eloquently in How to Become a Famous Writer, earning money means I have more ability to feed my family, support causes I believe in, and pay other artists, social justice workers, and small businesses — but really, fuck if I know what the solution is. As a blogger I’ve resolved it to my satisfaction5, but as an LMT, as I hope to be in just a few short weeks? No clue. I could do a sliding scale, sure, but even the lowest I could go and still pay for my supplies and time prices out so much of the population I wish to serve — whether in absolute terms or psychological ones hardly matters when the end result is not having access to this form of health care.

In the end I don’t think there is a satisfactory solution as long as capitalism remains kyriarchy’s primary tool6. I’m not prepared to “leave” capitalism7, nor am I willing to continue to sacrifice my mental health and my self-esteem and my self on the altar of futilely protesting its very existence, which leaves me… in limbo, I suppose: socioeconomically privileged, gender and ability marginalized, and struggling to find my way without stepping on anyone else.

I wish I had a better ending, better answers, better ideas, but although this isn’t enough, it’s the best I have for now.

  1. Did I mention I have two. more. weeks until I graduate?? So this month might be a bit sketchy on posts — I feel like I’m in the very last minutes of a marathon, and it’s not that hard except it’s unbelievably hard and there’s not much left except everything. Mess up now and the last 2.5 years were nothing. So. Little stressed. But mostly in a good way. I’M ALMOST DONE!
  2. Then a monthly-ish occurrence, if that.
  3. Though to me, and I don’t want to start a children-are-like-pets debate, that’s different only in (small) degree from saying that I could give away the Boychick, and is about as likely to ever happen. If you’re an animal person, you get this, and if you’re not, nod and smile and simply believe me, even if you also roll your eyes.
  4. Prices in this paragraph are based on the average cost of a massage here in Portland, Oregon, USA, where the cost of living ain’t exactly cheap. Other places in the country may have lower — or higher — average prices, and of course little of this paragraph is relevant to non-USA audiences, or, if it is, it’s merely through coincidence.
  5. If you’ve a sole proprietorship you’d consider advertising here and want to know how I’ve resolved it, ask me for my price sheet.
  6. By which I do not mean that classism is the “worst” of the -isms, but rather that so much of marginalization functions through money and access to it, or the lack thereof. Just look at the (un)employment rates for transgender individuals, or consider how difficult getting and keeping a job as a person with a disability is, or examine the continuing gender pay disparities. There are many, many aspects of marginalization, many tools of kyriarchy if we are to anthropomorphize bigotry that way, but I think it would be hard to argue that unequal access to capital, or at least the means of its production, isn’t (one of) the largest.
  7. An act which, if one is to argue is possible at all, requires a horribly and darkly amusing level of class privilege.

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and the discomfit of classism

For those of you who have managed to remain ignorant of the USian behemoth, last Thursday was Thanksgiving here in the Stolen States of Genocide. Which means yesterday was Black Friday — the day when all the retailers’ books go from red (in the hole) to black (making a profit). It was also, of course (because no mainstream tradition is without its counterculture movement) Buy Nothing Day. And today, for the first time ever, was Small Business Saturday, a day for supporting local/small business — sponsored, naturally, by a mega (multi?)national credit card company.

As a slightly agoraphobic crazy person with a major panic attack trigger of large numbers of people or many threads of sound, the thought of queueing up in hour-plus long lines with hundreds of other people under brain-fog inducing florescent lighting while the noise of a thousand bargain hunters and overstimulated infants pound out of beat with the uncounted battery-powered noise makers all competing to be this years Must Have Toy leaving my ear drums jittery and my brain beaten — is, no joke, one of my top three nightmares. I would be unable to function in any meaningful way.

So I stay home, and buy nothing.

Today, in the last hours before my parents started the drive back to their house 650 miles away, my mom and I went to a local yarn shop, one which, when I visited three years ago, had a cafe attached; we thought a little fiber love and caffeination would be a fair pleasant way to spend some mother-daughter bonding time. Turns out the cafe shut years ago, but they did have the perfect yarn for a present I was planning, a locally made silky soft machine washable kettle dyed wool, ideal for a winter project close to the skin for someone sensitive to cheap scratchy yarns.

So I supported a small business.

There is nothing wrong with either Buy Nothing Day nor Small Business Saturday1; indeed, both are in line with my values of environmentalism, simplicity, quality over quantity, and, to the extent that one can have and seek and spend money and be anti-capitalist, against the excessive accumulation of capital by a tiny, homogeneous, privileged minority of the population.

And yet.

Traveling in the circles I do — where Buy Nothing Day is more likely to be celebrated than Black Friday, where buying local or handmade is, if not the default, at least a well-represented position — I’ve seen and heard a lot of ardent advocacy and pointed humor in favor of buying nothing/local/quality and against buying lots/china-made/quantity. And without exception each has left my brows creased and my lips pursed, thinking anything between “That’s fine, but…” and “Dear Gods don’t let me be associated with this.”

Everything I’ve seen — every post spreading the gospel of small business support, every I-would-never comment on overnight queues, every joke about Zombies of Walmart and duels over the last flat screen TV — grew from the fetid soil of classism.

Because Buy Nothing Day is great — if you can afford to pay full/er price on your holiday presents (or clothes or kitchen tools or household goods). Buying local is wonderful — if you can pay $13.95 for a small skein of wool instead of $1.95 for super bulk acrylic.

But y’know, not everyone can. And I have no patience (but plenty of pointed words) for anyone who says that if you can’t afford handmade from Etsy then you don’t deserve anything under your tree, or that if you’re struggling to make rent or don’t have savings you’ve not the right to “extras” like Christmas presents or DVDs or cell phones with cameras. We all of us — unless you are reading this at a public access point on a mandatory fifteen minute break from your 100 hour a week unpaid job of serving the disadvantaged — make “selfish” decisions sometimes. We indulge. We allow ourselves luxuries — yes, sometimes when we don’t have the basics, because it helps us feel a little more human in a world that would deny us our humanity. This isn’t a trait of those poor people over there, it’s something we all of us do; it is only kyriarchy and classism that somehow makes it ok when it is our own indulgences (or those of persons of a similar class), yet calls it “imprudent” and a sign of “stupidity” when they do it. We cluck our tongues at those who fail to buy handmade, while clutching our Kindles and fretting about our retirement and ignoring our hypocrisy.

There are a lot of critiques to be made of USian consumerism. Our “need” for stuff, our unwillingness to repair when we can replace (for how long?), our economy that rewards those who can create the most profit regardless of human benefit (or harm) — there’s enough there to fuel thousands of blog posts, millions of snide remarks, even, if we will ever get off our asses to do it, a revolution or five. Do not mistake me for supporting a system that doesn’t care what brown people overseas are starved or raped or enslaved or murdered so we can live in luxury, for I do not2 — but the solution isn’t as simple as cajoling people to “shop smart”, because so many do not have the option to buy the “better” product. Or they could buy it and eat exclusively beans and rice. Or they could do without and feel that much more defeated by life.

Or, they could wait in line in the cold overnight for a chance to have some part of the life that those of us smugly sitting at home mocking their “greed” take for granted.

***

What I want you — if you have made those comments or read them and not seen any problems or thought them quietly to yourself — to take away from this isn’t an urging for self-castigation (my brain certainly doesn’t need any assistance in that area), nor a blanket don’t-critique of USian-style consumerism. I certainly don’t want anyone stop advocating for alternatives to mainstream disposable-junk holiday traditions.

But I want you to look and to really see the people in the lines you’re tempted to mock. I want you to realize they might have many more reasons to be there that do not fall neatly into your (spoken or not) theory of “stupid sheeple under the control of Big Money”. I want you to recognize that you do not know what brought them there (and neither do I), and it might be simple joyful bargain hunting

and it might be unacknowledged need

and it might be desire for the life you lead

and it might be they’ve always wanted a gaming console and finally one is in reach

and it might be their kid’s convinced them Christmas will be ruined if they don’t have a particular plastic toy

and it might be they’re trying to fill the void left when kyriarchy sucked their soul

and it might be they can’t drive in to the city or out to the ‘burbs to shop at the independent stores

and it might be they never liked those snobby places anyway

and it might be it’s where everyone they know goes

and it might be a family tradition

and it might be they’re too damned tired to figure out what the “right” place to shop is

and it might be because stretching the family budget gives them more for education or babysitters or retirement or savings or hair styling or whatever else they have decided is important to them and they don’t particularly care whether you or I approve of their values or their reasons or their purchasing habits today or tomorrow or any other day of the year.

It might be that they are people just like you.

  1. Ok, something is wrong with a day supposedly in support of local economy that is in fact adding to the coffers of a megacorp.
  2. And yet, because I do live in the USA, and have consumer debt, and shop sometimes at big box stores, and do not grow all my own food and wear only second hand clothes, in many tangible ways I do financially support slavery and murder and rape and starvation. Short of joining a self-sustained commune or hanging myself from a hand made hemp rope out in the forest, I don’t know how to avoid it entirely; such is the system as it is.
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