It’s 10 AM and I’m at the organic farm across the street from my house, picking up mesclun and winter squash and herbs. Saturday morning and it seems the entire town is here, all of us with our Priuses, our Outbacks, our VWs, our largely pale faces, we’re all parked considerately on the side of the road, near the you-pick raspberries and flowers, careful to leave a wide berth for bikes, strollers, other cars, joggers, the whole fucking Saturday thing.
I’ve been up since four, when my eyes flew open and I started feeling almost violently guilty for being alive.
I had a Facebook fight recently with an anarchist friend, and without meaning to, she spun my world upside down in the way only a comrade can. She questioned me about my lifestyle just enough to unleash, privately, all my latent fears of not-doing-enough-ness. Four AM, and I said aloud to the pile of cats in the predawn black: “I’m an anarchist who cooks for rich people. I’m an anti-capitalist who spends most of her days trying to figure out how to make more money.” The cats stared back, well-fed on the local “happy meat” (oh come on) my vegan business allows them to eat. They were unconcerned.
I’m usually unconcerned as well. I’d like to think I have my shit straight. It’s sort of why I started this blog—to work through these contradictions. I talk about all this on the “about” page. I figured this all out a long time ago: we are all on a path, we are all doing something.
The fight, the Facebook fight with my anarchist friend, started because I felt she was being a tad bit too blithe about being an ex-vegan eating Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in a wall post on her lover’s page.
I know, right? JESUS FUCKING CHRIST I AM ANNOYING. I know.
I politely asked how such a political, thinking person such as her could reasonably justify such a purchase, knowing, as I’m sure she did, who owns B&Js and how the animals whose products went into that ice cream lived, etc etc.
And we were off to the races.
I don’t usually do shit like that. (and by that I mean: I do it every few weeks.) Live and let live, you know? (Except, of course, for all those animals who are dying because I try to be a polite vegan and not annoy my friends.) And also, something something blah blah from the bible about casting the first stone, you know?
Words were spewed from my poisonous fingers like “I find your actions morally repellent” and the whole thing got, as these things do, out of control.
Here’s the thing.
Does identity politics matter? My WHOLE BIG ENTIRE THING is that personal politics make a difference. That is: the world we live in is built on our actions, and if our actions are more ethical we will live in a better world.
By saying this, I realize suddenly and for the first time ever: I am giving up on revolution.
And let us not downplay how huge that is.
Let’s just take a few spaces to think about it, to allow the fact that I, Lagusta Pauline Yearwood, whose only goal in life since the age of ten or so has, quite literally, to be, if I am being honest about it, Gandhi, is giving up, this eighteenth day of September, 2010, on revolution and is hereby admitting that massive leftist structural overhaul of our society is not going to come in one big push. We are too stupid and complacent as a society, and our lives are just too hard to allow space for that intense a level of organizing to ever happen.
I am giving up on revolution.
It seems so big, but let’s be honest: it means really nothing, this declaration, in the larger scheme of things.
At some point during this internet kerfuffle, someone said something about me like “she thinks you can consume your way to a better world” –and that’s something I think about all the time. I’ve been accused of this before. I do think that! That is: with a combination of NOT buying as much as possible, and buying ethically-made [spellcheck says there shouldn’t be a dash there, but I think there should. Hmm. I’m a terrible over-dasher.] things when we must buy things (you want the recipe for my truffles? I’ll give it to you right now: take a classical truffle recipe, substitute coconut butter for the butter and coconut milk for the cream. DIY, please, be my guest.), we will radically transform society.
So there we all were at the farm, everyone feeling so happy and calm in our pretty pretty picturesque little town on this glorious early fall day. Everyone chirping about apples coming in, the first of the winter squash. Farmer Pete told me he still had strawberries and gave me a sample–“Strawberries in September, can you believe it? It’s a great variety, they did great this year.” The strawberry was pure June in my mouth, sweet soft sunshine all the way.
So what the fuck are we supposed to do?
Not drive fuel-efficient cars (yes, of course, but…you know, the realities of life step in.), feel constant guilt for being white and middle class?
I have this one down PAT. I grew up so fucking poor, and desperate, and terrified, and literally HUNGRY, and in a city full of poor people with brown faces, that my comfortable middle class life now, my face grown so pale in this northern climate—when I lived in Phoenix my Mediterranean/Jewy face and hellfire-induced tan meant I could pass for Hispanic, the dominant ethnic group of my high school, and that combined with my hippie-but-could-be-Spanish name often saved me from the taunts and fights and the occasional gun battle (for reals, yo) that the paler kids were subject to—causes me almost daily shame. I didn’t grow up with a Volkswagen so clean that I always want to take it to the car wash just to smile at it afterward, I grew up in the most car-centric city in the country with no car. If we were lucky we could bum a ride with one of the drug addicts sleeping on our floor to the supermarket. If we weren’t lucky we walked a shopping cart home, long, endless blocks in 110 degree heat with people laughing at us and throwing things out the windows of their air-conditioned cars aimed directly at our faces. One New Years Day my brother and I were walking to the supermarket to get hot dogs for a cookout (thus I was younger than 12, my vegetarianism being a useful way to place my memories) and someone threw a firecracker at my head and it singed my hair. I still remember the terror I felt at that hot pop in my face—no one worth living walks in Phoenix. To walk is to deserve what you get.
That’s all over for me now. I am solidly middle class. But that skinny little kid reading Thoreau and eating stale bread soaked in milk for dinner with her father doing lines of coke next to her, wondering if he was going to punch her mother in the face tonight, and thinking “transcendentalism means you never need to be where you are”—she is so much a part of me that I’m sometimes sickened by my beautiful life in my beautiful town.
It’s what I wanted, and I always get I want.
I’m tough—having firecrackers thrown at your face, watching your dad punch your mom, this stuff makes you tough, fast. I managed to maintain my tender heart through it all, and that is my greatest victory. But still, I’m tough, and I work my fingers ragged until I have whatever it is I set my sights on.
And now that I have it I lie in bed and my heart beats:
not enough. not enough. not enough.
So I got all stressed out recently—too much work! I deserve relaxation! And I shifted everything around, and now I have that most coveted of middle-class pleasures: free time!
And I feel so guilty. People are dying all around me, dying at my feet for the lifestyle I live. Me sitting here, typing this on my beautiful Mac that I bartered my fancy meals to a friend for. Me pining away for my sweetheart, away in Europe on tour with famous musicians, sending me pictures of beautiful meals he’s eating.
Such useless problems, these problems I have.
So, food politics.
Does it make a difference? Should my anarchist friend have felt guilty for her Ben & Jerrys? For abandoning her veganism? Of course. But should I have tried to make her feel that way? Of course not.
But there is sometimes a strain in certain radical groups I see lately that makes me sick—a big huge backlash against Slow Food or the locavore movement or Michael Pollan/Barbara Kingsolver, whatever you want to call it. “It’s so elitist,” people say.
Of course it’s fucking elitist. Good food costs more. People aren’t paid fair wages. Thus, many people can’t afford good food.
BUT WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE? Doesn’t it seem that, instead of crying “elitism!” and denouncing the whole endeavor, we should work harder to distribute wealth differently and solve the inequalities in our society so that everyone can afford good food? Shouldn’t we work harder to abolish the monstrous subsidies that go to crap industrial food producers and thus make real food cheaper?
I’m not particularly doing any of this, but doesn’t it seem that “we” should?
My anarchist friend’s Ben & Jerry’s that riled me up so much wasn’t really about her at all, I doubt she embodies these anti-Slow Food tendencies I am so annoyed at. It was a metaphor for the “fuck it, yuppies, I’m eating corporate trash food FOR THE REVOLUTION!” I see sometimes in radical groups, even and maybe especially vegan ones. Let’s see how much Earth Balance-laced frosting we can pile on this cupcake! Maybe I’ll get a tattoo of it, because I’M SO FUCKING HARDCORE.
(Easy there girl, don’t hate on ya peeps.)
So when I went to the next farm, a shiny BMW pulled up next to me and a woman in riding pants got out. I fucking kid you not: RIDING PANTS. Like, jodhpurs. She asked me if I knew where the trimmers were for the pick-your-own basil. And I told her.
I don’t know how anyone could ever live with themselves and drive a BMW, it sickens me on a visceral level how much money you could have donated to anywhere at all if you hadn’t bought a car like that.
But I drive a beautiful VW (bought used, but whatever), so of course I’m on the same spectrum, just lower down. We are all the oppressors, we are all the oppressed. Some more than others, but does it really matter in the end?
A part of me wants to say:
I’ve made my choices, and I’m proud of them. Yes, I cook for rich people. Yes, I make pricey chocolates. Yes, there are giant problems with capitalism, and yes I engage with capitalism every day. But isn’t it worthy, rather than working for a fantasy revolution that is never going to come (not to say that class warfare isn’t worthy and…oh god whatever, insert whatever you want here), to plunge your hands into the awful terrible bloody guts of the world and try to fashion something beautiful and whole and full of integrity from the dreadful raw materials you’ve been given?
The world is shit, people.
The revolution ain’t coming.
All we have is shit, and the best we can hope for is to slightly, in the smallest, most incremental way, make that shit the tiniest, most minutely bit less shitty.
Maybe I’ll get that tattooed on my arm, because I’m so fuckin’ hardcore.
So anyway, I want to say: that’s my thang. I’m here, in the shit, cooking for rich people (and to be fair, some decidedly not rich people who have said, like that make up or hair conditioner or whatever commercial goes: I’m worth it. I won’t have cable anymore, or whatever, because good food is just that important to me), and I just have to make my peace with it.
But let’s face it: a sea of blog posts like this (and trust me, I have written a SEA of them) won’t make me make my peace with it. This exact crisis of conscience happens to me a couple of times a year. I’ll never make my peace with it. Later on today (OK, actually: right now, in real time) I will feel guilty about spending all this time on this blog post: how indulgent! How whiny! How much else could I have accomplished in this hour!
And maybe that’s what life is. Push and pull.
You just fucking muddle though, making mistakes and being an asshole to people (I’m not sorry about the Ben & Jerry’s, my friend is trying very hard to make nice and be sweet and ethical, but I can’t, because I’m still, at root, appalled at her choices, even knowing that I probably do much worse things all the time. I don’t gloat about them, I think that’s it. But whatever. Guilt, by itself, accomplishes nothing, Lagusta, don’t you know that? No, I really don’t.) and saying you’ll be nicer next time and probably not being that much nicer next time.
You never make your peace with anything, sometimes, and maybe that just IS.
Back at the farm, the first one, I look at farmer Pete. He’s an archetype: the gruff but loving farmer. He’s not your hippie farmer, even though his wife, a school teacher, is in the Green Party. He’s not the snooty NYC-dilettante “I just love the terroir of this area” pretend farmer. Pete’s tough. He told me something last week: “You know, when I was studying pomology 20 years ago, they said you couldn’t grow organic apples, at least not ones like these: almost no blemishes, good varieties, reliable, here in upstate New York. Well, I guess I proved them wrong.”
Pete’s satisfaction comes not from seeing his customers swoon over his produce, because I’m sure he knows that in this town, people just swoon over produce, no matter what it looks like—you should see some of the bug-ridden shite some of the other organic CSAs pump out (Pals Erin and Sam, I fear that you are going to read this and of course I don’t mean you! You’re perfect, never change. It’s not your fault that one of your CSA members wears jodhpurs, I adore you.). Pete has worked his ass off for decades, waking up at dawn and going to bed long past sunset, to build a business. His farm employs dozens of people, from your standard hippie middle class farmer-poet college kid types (that he and I secretly bitch about because they have no work ethic) to migrant workers to whom he pays a fair wage and who bust their asses for him, coming back year after year after surviving the winters in Florida or California picking oranges until their hands bleed and doing god knows what else just to live.
Pete sure as fuck doesn’t sit around worrying that he’s not doing enough to stave off the apocalypse, or that his car is too nice (well, he’s a farmer, so he just has a big truck), or that his friends are eating ice cream in a way not sufficiently political for his tastes.
Pete just keeps his head down, running a farm. He tells his sweetly surly teenage daughter that her hair looks good and to stop worrying about it, in his gruff farmer voice, when he notices she keeps pulling at it as she’s ringing up CSA members for their additional items in the barn. He keeps an eye on his sons, the Abercrombie & Fitch model-esque towheaded boys he is grooming to take over the farm (his daughter hasn’t expressed interest, they have—not everything is a feminist issue) in ten or so years.
“Hey, Lagusta,” he calls after me as I’m carrying my cases of produce to the car. He pronounces my name with a hard “gus” in the middle, just like I like it—weighty.
“Hey, I got some seconds of tomatoes, you want any? You making sauce this week? Take as much as you want.”
“Sure, cool, thanks.”
It’s as simple as that. You keep your head down, you work your fucking ass off. The revolution ain’t coming—the old me would have said: that is the revolution, but let’s not shit ourselves, shall we? It’s just rapidly softening tomatoes, and you better turn them into sauce before the fruit flies arrive. It’s something, and that something is important, but nothing is everything, you know? Tomatoes aren’t a revolution, even Brandywines in August—so just take your tomatoes, get out the food mill, and hope they last you through the cold winter.