Saturday, August 18, 2012

Why I Hate Food: A Polemic
Mary Rechner

The primary reason I refuse to place “eating correctly” at the center of my consciousness is because in doing so I would lose ground on my essential life project: living a dogma-free existence while maintaining psychic (and actual) time and space to write fiction.

This is not a book, but I read this essay today and got excited, and wanted to share it with you because I think it’s an excellent example of good non-fiction. Not because the arguments the author makes are “right,” or because I agree with every single one of them, but because of the bravery required to craft an intellectual argument about personal matters that challenges the status quo. People in Portland, OR, where Rechner lives, and where I lived, until a few months ago, are absolutely obsessed with eating local, organic food, recycling, cycling, and any other green initiative you can think of. (You know that “is it local?” spoof on Portlandia? It’s funny because it is so, so true). And all of that is great! And a huge part of the reason I loved living there. Still, I think Rechner has a point: “The rise of civilization was made possible in part by the division of labor, which in turn made art and literary production possible. If some people grew and procured food, others could spend time doing other things, among them writing and sculpting. Of course very few artists were women, who throughout millennia have disproportionately taken care of childrearing and the majority of food procurement.

Rechner goes on to argue that the new obsession with not just buying local, organic food, but the social pressure to become an urban homesteader disproportionately falls on women. Rechner admits that we place these pressures on ourselves and on each other as much as men or patriarchal systems place them upon us, for religious, historical, personal, and probably genetic reasons. But still – the ultimate question Rechner’s asking is what is life for? For Rechner, and for me, it’s about creating art. “If women are spending all of their time planting gardens, tending chickens, and canning (i.e. living our lives in the most laborious ways possible), how are we ever to catch up as writers, visual artists, composers, and directors?” Not to mentions engineers, scientists, doctors, and politicians.

I responded to Rechner’s article because I recognized myself in it. Probably because I do not yet have children, the pull of urban farming that was admittedly strong in Portland didn’t bother me too much, but the pull of radical political activism in college did. I will always be grateful for the incredible activist professors and fellow students I met and learned from at St. Lawrence University, but it took me a long time to let go of the guilty feelings I developed there by not spending all my waking hours working to change the world. My desire to make things better has not gone away, but my tendency to beat myself up about not spending more time on activism has. Now I realize that all we can do is what we can do. If you want to write fiction, the best thing you can do for the world is to arrange your life in such a way that you create the best fiction you possibly can. If you want to be a fashion designer you can make sure the fashions you create are ethically sourced, crafted, and that you arrange your life in such a way that you are able to add beauty to the world. And on and on. All we can do is what we can do. If you find satisfaction in growing vegetables, in phone banking for causes you believe in, or in bicycling to work in the rain then that’s awesome, and you should do it. But don’t tell me that I have to do the same. I’m doing what I can do, too.

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