Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Food for thought

After I told him, "And the longest they ever let a 'broiler chicken' live is 42 days! And birds like that would be able to live, like, ten years!", Patrick stared at me with his head cocked to one side, a deep thoughtful frown etched in his features. "Well," he said finally, "is that bad necessarily? Is mutton more ethical than lamb?" I thought about it for a while in stony silence and then felt tears pouring down my cheeks. "Hey! I didn't mean to--" Pat started. "But they just hang there!" I cried in anguish, "Upside down, on a conveyor belt by their feet and a machine slits their throats and the blood drains out. And they're so scared that they poop on themselves which is why virtually all chickens have E. coli," I finished with a final snuff. And there you have it. I have officially become someone I hate.

I don't want to stop eating animals because I look at livestock like something stuffed that littered my bed as a child. These aren't the anthropomorphized, hard-plastic eye-balled toys that we offer to children as odd parodies of the shitting, pecking, scratching, grub-snatching animals. The fact is, I may very well just love those little boogers that trot around the backyard of my home in IL, but they just don't love me back. They love the feed we offer them, or the bedding: but the sweetness of the coop our family built together, the care with which my sister, Erin changes the straw or hangs icons for each season behind the water dish are only meaningful to us. Frankly, those birds would just as soon bed down in garbage bins (and they've done this).

And yet this isn't to say that there is no reason for grief. Later during our conversation Pat said something else that has been rolling around in my head all afternoon: Its not as troubling that these awful things happen to chickens as it is that these things happen to our food. At first this comment might sound anthropocentric, but I think there's some truth glimmering behind his meaning. If human beings are the meaning-makers and not the chickens (who didn't even notice this year when we exchanged the Epiphany icon for a Lenten one), and if we are the beings with one foot in the world of philosophy and symbolism (one thing definitely means many other less-tangible things) and one foot in the needy natural (chances are even before you finish reading this you will think of what you'd like to eat for dinner or that you need to use the restroom) , doesn't the question of what we eat deserve the dignity of careful, critical consideration? If what we eat (and therefore support with our dollars) as thinking individuals is cruel or wasteful we must ask ourselves what it means to inhabit this odd space on the food chain. What are we if we eat whatever we feel like eating, or those things with which our culture has become the most comfortable? Its as Jonathan Safran Foer says in his aforementioned book: "To ask 'What is an animal?' ... is inevitably to touch upon how we understand what it means to be us and not them. It is to ask, 'What is a human?'" (p. 46)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Going out, coming in

This is how my day started:

It is just after 6am, I'm dumping organic frozen peas onto a shelf and a co-worker turns to me and asks me to please fill the lugs to the top today, "all the way".

It's hard to explain just what our madness and methods entail, but I will say that telling me to fill the lugs "all the way" might have followed the explanation of where we work, and what exactly it is we sell. I'm not sure how I could have survived a year and (almost) a half in this store without knowing to fill the lugs. Later I was informed that we recycle cardboard. I just kept hoping someone would tell me where to put all the money customers kept tossing across the counter on the way out the door!

I am feeling the tiniest bit cynical, its true, and I don't actually believe that my co-worker thinks I don't know to fill the lugs or that I am stupid or incompetent. All the same, I continue to get the eerie suspicion those around me fear that left to my own devices I might behave like a badly trained ape. All this is to say, I'm thinking again about moving out.

Last summer, desperate to find my vocation else-where, I searched frantically through Craigslist each day, hoping to run into a job where I felt one hundred per cent different than I do here. I wanted to feel appreciated and accountable for and to my own individual quirks and limitations. Finding the preschool has been- and I don't say this lightly- a blessing, but a small, odd, and at times painful one. Two hours a week, and do I really even like it anyway, and is it everything I ever, always wanted? Then I toyed with going to school, a place I've felt loved and known and successful in the past. Now that I have decided against this sturdier known avenue, I'm trying to regain my sea-legs and stay at it a bit longer, facing the wide blue. And this is what I've found:

1. I actually like my job. I don't like some of the stress that comes with it, and at times I feel like a complete idiot. I still blush when I talk to my supervisors and discounting a very small minority, most people know me as A. crazy runner and B. getting married. And yet despite all this, I enjoy the work. It's hard, and its good, and its work.

2. I love to run. Not just to race or to jog around the lake (which are both fabulous) but to adventure. Last week I finally ran from my house to Pioneer square, which is downtown, and reminded me of a goal I made for myself ages ago: to run the bus routes with which I'm most familiar. And then three days later I borrowed a bike and rode from Queen Anne to Lake Forest Park on the Burke-Gilman. 28 miles I estimate, which is great!

3. And as much as I love being vegan right now in preparation for this marathon, I can't help but imagine how I'll feel when its over, if I'll keep on. I am a hungry reader in the past few days, and the more I learn, the more seems to be at stake.

In conclusion, though the pressure of vocational direction sometimes weighs heavy on my too-serious heart, it seems that fortuitous circumstance have handed me a solitary spring. With Patrick in school and Christy finishing up her internship, I have what they both can only wistfully consider (as much as I loath it from time to time): hours and hours and hours of free time. And as the evening light slowly, slowly creeps longer, I'm finding myself post-run at a coffee shop drinking tea and reading about eating animals and trying to decide where it is I stand.

So this time I want to leave the grocery store not for comfort or relief, but for wider spaces, more adventure. Not eating animals (and furthermore, realizing that to do so from this point onward without consideration is not possible), has unburied new questions about my working for a corporation that depends on the horrific factory farming outlined in my current reading material. And yet to regret all this contact with food (here and at the food bank) would be a waste in understanding one of the major building blocks (simply because of the magnitude of what I didn't know about selling food that I now interact with daily) of my eating ethics. I imagine when this is all over (what does that even mean?) I'll have quite a lot to say I am convinced of on the matter of eating, selling, and celebrating food.

I am in transit, and I can only hope that (both ideologically and literally) I have a long, long way to go.