Thursday, February 9, 2012
Organic Food and Privilege
I hate the Organic Crowd. There, I said it. Don’t misunderstand me; there is a part of me – a part that longs for the noisy markets of my hometown and is nostalgic for the days when, in late December, we would pick bunches of red lychees off the tree in my back garden – which it appeals to. However, it is more likely to get on my nerves, especially in the U.S.
One reason that I tend to dislike people who talk about buying organic food – and make sure that you see them filling their carts or inquiring loudly about free-range chicken at restaurants – is that I suspect that many are buying into a fad rather than making these choices as a result of careful research and thorough understanding of the subject. Organic – and so-called whole, raw, vegan – food has been deemed the only acceptable food to eat in the West; not only is it a trend, it is a label. That Whole Foods paper bag and the “Grass-Fed Cows” sticker marks you as one of the Enlightened; one of the good people, who cares about what they put in their bodies, wants to save the cows and trees, and cares about starving children in India. Unlike your lazy colleague, you wouldn’t dream of touching a frozen dinner or run-of-the-mill eggs. No, you make time to cook cage-free eggs in a fabulous frittata because you’re just wonderful that way.
In other words, I dislike the elevation of a very personal decision to a symbol of moral superiority. Many of these White, middle-to-upper-middle-class folk, living in their cushiony-safe neighborhoods and driving their gas-guzzling cars don’t seem to realize that being able drive to a picturesque open-air market, agonize over what kind of lettuce to buy and casually pay for some overpriced Madagascar vanilla beans is merely a sign of privilege and not of goodness. Having the time, energy and ability to cook three fresh meals a day for your family does not give you the right to pass judgment on those who – God forbid – order a carry-out when they’re sick or make do with re-heated meals when their demanding schedule does not allow them to cook. I suspect that people become so invested in this movement because like so many others, it perpetuates the myth that if someone follows all the “rules” and does all the “right” things, the correct, approved, established way, then they will be saved. They will be healthy, happy and prosperous. And if they aren’t, then they must have done something wrong, because the formula is infallible, of course.
At home, I was lucky enough to live with a mother who could stay at home, a father who earned enough so that our cupboards were always full, to have a car that made all food accessible and to have ample time to enjoy three balanced meals at my leisure. Since moving to the U.S and living alone, I have experienced the difficulty of grocery shopping without a car while living in a neighborhood with no amenities and seen the struggle others face to carry their heavy grocery bags on a crowded bus. I have felt the pressures of teaching, looming deadlines, dense, unending articles, of papers that refuse to be written and laundry that never seems done. I have felt the guilt of not cooking the way my mother does and not always eating the freshest foods. I have also learned to let it go; despite the smug gaze of the woman with the bags of shiny green apples and deep red beets, I now know that just as the occasional frozen dinner doesn’t make me unworthy, no amount of brown rice and sunflower seeds can guarantee perfect happiness.