Food: a dialogue

Words by ANDY MASON and BREANA MACPHERSON-RICE

Thoughtful foods veggie box
Weekly organic veggie box from our local food coop, Thoughtful Foods

 

b: what should we have for dinner?

a: god, i don’t know – it’s so complicated. i feel overwhelmed by so many different ideas about food, i just don’t know where to begin. it’s too hard, let’s just go get drunk?

b: don’t be a goose, we have to eat. what are you worried about?

a: i don’t know where to start, i feel like any choice i make will be wrong in some way. i’m just always alone in the kitchen, alone in the supermarket or wherever and it’s impossible for me to make choices that don’t harm me, or animals, or forests or communities somewhere. it’s easier not to bother.

b: yeah, i can relate to that. i always feel really anxious whenever i’m in a supermarket – i go in with this idea that i can make my purchases align with my values, but it always seems futile, especially on my measly budget.

a: and sometimes it just feels impossible to do the right thing. i’ll be buying stuff to make mum a mothers day breakfast, and she really likes smoked salmon & scrambled eggs on toast, so i’ll go to buy the salmon and eggs and my vegan friends will stare daggers at me or tell me i’m doing something awful. i feel like concerns about where the salmon is from are important, but equally important is doing something nice for my mum, who i don’t see enough and who doesnt often get an opportunity to relax and have her favourite breakfast made for her.

b: yeah, that’s something i’ve always found so confusing. like, i find it really hard to see what  i eat as this solely ethical issue where things are either right or wrong – i mean, food is such a social thing, and it’s so tied to identity – really aggressively sometimes, it freaks me out. i’ve spoken to a couple of friends about ‘coming out’ to their family as vegetarian, and their decision usually just becomes part of some greater narrative of their personality. it can be really alienating.

a: absolutely. my vegan friends say a lot of stuff about the awful environmental effects of the meat, dairy and fish industries, and that made me interested in the effects that other agriculture has as well. it turns out that all industrial farming is pretty awful, no matter whether they’re growing tomatoes or beef – it still involves lots of nasty chemicals, fertilisers, land-clearing, erosion and so on. even tofu is grown under these kind of practices!

b: yeah fully, it’s so complex. i think it’s really important to remember that there’s no good reason to assume humans are better than any other species, but at the same time, a blanket rule of not eating animals or animal products won’t fix this systematic discrimination. i think that we need to transition to practises where our other-specied friends  are afforded some of the respect they deserve, as beings and not factory-farmed commodities.

a: i think you’ve hit the nail on the head – it should be about respect. i remember going fishing with my grandparents when i was younger – we would hike into the national park near their house, where introduced species like trout were pushing out all of these endangered native fish. grandma taught us how to catch trout, kill and clean them and everything. she would say that it was really important to remember that the fish was alive and conscious like us and to treat it with respect. but taking them for dinner was also a way of respecting the natural ecosystem which was threatened, and restoring an imbalance caused by other people.

b: that makes so much sense. that reminds me of when i was living with friends in nepal – 90 per cent of what we ate came from the fields around our house, and when we rarely did eat meat it was usually goat from the neighbour or the market. i’m not saying it was all completely rosy over there, but that part of it worked – you know where food comes from, it’s a community effort.

a: yeah, i always get angry when people talk about this stuff as if it’s all in the past, as if theres some ladder of progress from garden to supermarket or something. nobody ever told my grandparents! before they got sick, they were both doing something similar – all the houses in their neighbourhood had awesome gardens and everybody would swap veggies, jam, fish, cakes etc with each other. every meal we had there, grandma would say “go out and get me some carrots” or “go out and catch us some fish”.

b: totally, right! i have so many fond memories of going to my nan’s place and picking tomatoes that we would make into relish with her grandmother’s recipe. that knowledge is only a generation away – yet it often feels like we’ve lost it so quickly. so many of my friends freak out and won’t even attempt to grow some basil because they don’t know where to begin. it doesn’t need to be that scary though – it’s really easy to reestablish that connection.

a: and look at our garden – a couple of weekends’ work and we’ve already got beans, basil, coriander, parsley, rocket, chillies, potatoes, passionfruit, cumquats, sweet potato, onions, leeks, beetroot, carrots, spinach, silverbeet, bok choy, eggplant, oranges, limes, lemons, it’ll all be ready within a couple of months… and in spring the chooks will start laying!

b: it’s so exciting! and also really therapeutic – i don’t know about you, but i like the pace that having a garden brings me back to.

a: i feel like it’s been easy since we decided to do it. some people think having a garden would be too much effort, but we both love the work! i guess it depends what you’re looking for.

b: exactly. and it’s not like we try to do everything ourselves, that would be silly. i’m so grateful for the food co-op – thanks to this community of people who put in a little bit of effort every week, heaps of people are able to eat a bunch of fresh, delicious veggies that haven’t travelled very far. also, it’s insane that we get a big box of veggies for the two of us for ten dollars each a week!

a: it makes things so much easier when we have other people to support us, hey. it’s like you said before – food should be a social thing, should be something that brings people together.

b: that’s what makes the difference to me. if i’m eating alone i’m liable to eat cereal or something, but when i’m cooking with you, or with our housemates, we inevitably have a great time and make something that’s nutritionally sound and also bloody delicious. i’m so glad.

a: me too. hey, there’s a bunch of rocket and basil in the garden – want to make pesto?

b: i’d love to.

 

This was originally published in Germinate 2015 and has since been republished in Tharunka: Food for Thought

Germinate your Summer, Edition 2012

Greetings fellow earth dwellers!

Your favourite enviro publication editorial team here with a quick Germinate update.

As we retreat from the beating sun to convene beneath shady expanses of surrounding gumtrees, attention once again turns to the persistent question of entertaining reading material for those long afternoons on the sand, picnic rug or hammock.

In anticipation of this seasonal dilemma, we are calling out for submissions to the Germinate zine. Collectives big and small, supporters active and interested, newcomers to the enviro network, we want your insightful input!  Write about anything going on around you, something for which you feel passionate, be it local, national, transnational, transportational or topical! Collaborate with a friend (s), old or new, take a metaphorical or literal walk through bush, familiar or foreign.

Perhaps a successful campaign you have been involved in, an environmental initiative that has caught your interest, a persistent and problematic inequality you have witnessed. Below are some questions posed in a previous edition of Germinate. Perhaps you might write one and send it back to us?

Germinate is distributed around the country during January, principally at the ASEN training camp (of which you can find further details on this site) and the submission deadline is November 11, 2011! So hop to it! Our recommended article length is between 600 – 1000 words, but we will happily accept any length.

Contact us with any question or comment at germinate [at] localhost/asen.org.au_inital_hacked_version_2014-05-02

We look forward to hearing from you soon!

Cheers,

Your Germinate team

“An overwhelming majority of ASEN members are privileged university students. We have access to education, resources and power that most people do not. We also talk a lot about ‘inclusivity’ and ‘anti-oppression’. But what do those terms really mean in our context? Should we be trying to make ASEN more ‘diverse’ in itself or should we be honest about who we are and where we organise and attempt to form better alliances between ASEN and other groups less structurally privileged?.”

“ASEN will simply fail to attract people if we view what we do as ‘work’. Activism can and should be fun, playful and dynamic. We do not have to copy the methods of work we learn from bourgeois society, but unlearning them can be difficult” – What is your view of work and play in activism and life?

“We have been asking if our current actions are the equivalent of trying to stop a tank coming to destroy our house by throwing styrofoam at it and asking it nicely to stop. Do we need more effective tactics, or will more of the same do?”

“Safe(r) Spaces may be impossible to achieve through workshops, formal discussions and written agreements alone as these can create a culture of fear for ‘fucking up’. The only thing that will create real safer spaces is a commitment to community building in the long term.” – Discuss, drawing on your experience of activists and radicals trying to create safer spaces.

“Breaking down oppression is both the responsibility of the oppressed and oppressor(s).” What are the implications of this statement? Draw on personal experience.

Getting Away with Crime, A Tale of Privilege

By Lian – reach me here: lian [at] riseup.net

I was in court a few weeks ago. The legal part of a ‘lock-on’ action some friends and I did at Hazelwood power station in Victoria in November 2008 is now finally over. It was a good result too. I got a diversion: A 12 month good behaviour bond and no conviction. Sweet right? Well maybe but maybe not…

The action itself was pretty good. The best part of it was the sweet video we made – check it out at whosepower.wordpress.com. The second best part was the debates we had with each other and some of our friends in the climate movement about how change can be made. We approached the action with an unconventionally hostile approach towards government and media. For example on our website we said:

“This is not a call to government to make a series of policy changes. This is not a call for large businesses to become “greener” under the illusion that profitability and what is socially and ecologically beneficial are not in conflict. This is a call for you, friend, to share your experiences, thoughts, words on three simple things. What are we struggling and acting for? What would it take to realise these things? And are we prepared to do what is necessary? Maybe everything depends on these answers.”

This was in the wake of other actions that explicitly pleaded with politicians to ‘solve this problem for us’. We wanted to take direct action back to its true meaning, by showing that people can shut down coal infrastructure themselves and can bypass representatives like politicians who are inevitably going to stab us in the back. We wanted to spark change by inspiring people to shut down coal fired power stations. Simple.

But exactly how many people did we think would be inspired by our model of non-violent direct action? Surely we wouldn’t need many groups carrying out similar actions in order to have a real effect on coal burning. And the action was so easy to organise, far easier than large scale climate camps. Much more bang for your effort.

Back to the court case and the stellar result (or was it?). Diversion programs (known as Section 10  in NSW and a spent conviction in some other states) are one way in which the inherent racism and classism of our court system manifests. Applicants, like myself, have to prove that they have ‘good character’. This means some combination of not having prior criminal convictions, being a good student (they even ask you for your grades), being employed (you basically give them a resume), volunteer work, if you co-operated with police, ‘passing’ a face to face interview, if your family knows about your charge and who knows what else the magistrate considers. It boils down to the court saying ‘Hey, you’re a good member of society. We wouldn’t want you to start associating with bad people now, so we will let you off this time, as long as you stop messing about.’ Of course being white and not-poor helps convince the court you are ‘of good character’. I remember reading a zine about racism in the justice system made by some folk in Aotearoa. It stated that Pakeha (White Kiwis) are many times more likely to get diversions than people of colour and especially Maori in New Zealand courts.

Us activists love these legal loopholes. They allow us to be rebels, to break the law and get away with it (kind of). And hey, if the system is willing to give us a freebie because some of us are shiny, let’s take a mile every time they give an inch right?

But what does it mean to be using our privilege in this way? To be taking advantage of what we know is a white supremacist, classist and capitalist institution?

When we glorify these ‘non-violent direct actions’, we are glorifying the people who can pull them off – people who can negotiate the court system, people whose race and class privilege them to do so.

By all means there is a place for ‘lock-ons’ but let’s not let them become the only accepted model of action. It becomes particularly problematic when we consider that these actions are charismatic. They are public, build reputations and are media grabbing compared to secret actions or behind the scenes work. So who gets to be the public face of ‘activism’? Who gets perceived as our leaders?

Have we allowed the legal institutions of the state to co-opt the climate movement? Have we become complicit in oppression by adopting a particular kind of action that conforms to the needs of privileged people, both within and outside the ‘movement’? What cost does that have for less privileged people within the climate movement? And how does this all affect alliances we are building with other social movements?

To me the most positive thing about the climate movement is its potential for diversity. We undeniably have an amazing combination of very experienced and the new, the unashamed radicals and shiny types. Together we can do anything. The trick and the crux of my critique is not to let only one form of action dominate. We need our small affinity group actions, our mass mobilisations, our speaking tours, cop-watch programs and confrontational actions. We need it all and that means the destructive and constructive, the secret and the open, the midnight spray painted slogans and the front page story. That we have the ability to pull off all this and more surely isn’t news to anyone. Maybe it is just our own culture that is standing in the way.