We’re staying with The Husband’s family for a minute while we reacclimate to normal human society (whatever that is – I really couldn’t tell you). I find myself suddenly confronted with things I had largely forgotten about: delicious fried foods, the convenience of living five minutes from a real town, roads off of which it is mostly impossible to plummet to a watery death, cat allergies, and television.
Oh, sweet opioid light box, how I both love and loathe you.
On one of our first mornings here, I sat down to have some coffee and watch the news, but it was Saturday, so the news was all puff pieces and celebrity gossip (as though war and genocide and bigotry and violent death also work 9 to 5 Monday through Friday – WTF, CNN?). I’m not sure how it happened, but I ended up getting sucked into a vortex of reality tv. It was that one show about people who save tons of money with massive numbers of coupons, and I was utterly transfixed for a few straight hours. Transfixed, I say.
First of all, good on these folks for gaming the system. Getting a few hundred dollars worth of stuff for ten bucks? Awesome. Way to stick it to the man? I guess? (Although there are probably easier and more environmentally friendly ways to both upset capitalism and use coupons – so much paper!) However, it took all of two minutes for me to start armchair psychologizing all over these people. What the hell is wrong with them? This seems like a mutant hybrid of OCD and hoarding, with a little addictive behavior thrown in for flavor. On the one hand, I was completely fascinated. On the other, I think some of them might need real help. As usual, I was angered by reality television exploiting people, and by people wanting to be exploited by reality tv. Not to mention angry at myself for becoming a drooling zombie while watching (even though I watch cooking shows all the time and they’re not that different, they don’t switch my brain off in the same way – I swear reality tv is subliminally screwing with us somehow).
Of course, I do love a good deal. I appreciate a sale or a discount as much as the next red-blooded American homemaker. But the logic here is not sound. To buy a thousand of an item just because they’re only a penny each still means you’re spending money you wouldn’t have spent. On something that you may not actually need or use. Save the money, you’ll be better off. Or, buy the thousand items, keep the few you’ll use, and donate the rest. To spend a fortune making your house look like the Wal-Mart with a lifetime’s supply of every brand of every item just makes no fucking sense. Am I wrong? Am I missing something? First, I don’t switch brands that often. I don’t need to have them all onhand. Second, as The Husband pointed out, some of these families are destroying their homes with the weight of their stuff, which will cost them more to fix than they’ll ever save buying shampoo by the gallon. And third, I think it’s pretty gross to play on people’s economic fears and insecurities by promoting this doomsday bunker, scrimp and pinch mentality like it’s a game these particular people are playing better than others. Like the viewer isn’t good enough at being poor.
The other thing that bugs me about this show is that, almost without exception, the food that they’re getting these amazing deals on is crap. Why would you buy hundreds of boxes of pre-packaged, preservative-filled, salt and sugar and chemical shit that’s probably going to expire before you use it all? You will get diabetes and die of cancer before you plow through that truckload of Hamburger Helper, I assure you. This is all reinforcing the idea that poor people (or even people on what I would consider a reasonable food budget) don’t deserve to eat fresh, healthy food. That it will and should remain out of their financial reach. Ooh, it pisses me off so much. So. Much.
And look, I understand that my eating organic (when possible) and vegan (mostly) is big, fat, ugly privilege. I get it. But I’ve been broker than broke for long stretches of my adult life. I’ve had the cabinet full of 10-for-$10 Hamburger Helper and fifteen-cent dollar store brand ramen. I have cooked the last meat in the house and given it to my dog because it’s all we had until payday. I have survived for days at a time on McDoubles paid for with pennies. I won’t apologize for any of it. I shouldn’t have to, and no one should be made to feel like they have to. It’s fucking Les Mis out there, for real.
But have you noticed which foods in the grocery are covered by WIC or EBT and which aren’t? Have you noticed how politicians and pundits harp on Welfare recipients being freeloaders, being lazy, wanting handouts, when really all these people want to do is feed their children? Have you noticed that the people who eat this chemical shitstorm food are always sick? And how their medical bills keep them from getting off of Welfare or their disorders prevent them from getting better jobs or their needing access to disability and/or better healthcare makes them doubly shamed in the media? Have you noticed that kids who don’t eat decent food or enough food get lower grades in school, perpetuating a false meritocracy that favors the wealthy? Have you noticed that this is all connected? Have you noticed that it’s purposefully orchestrated? Have you noticed that living in the forest for so long has made me a cynical conspiracy theorist?
No, I kid. I’m not a cynical conspiracy theorist. I prefer the term “realist.”
What burns my biscuit (man, I’ve really missed using that particular Southernism), is when people roll their eyes at me or call me a hippie or some other dismissive thing. The bottom line is that this is massive systemic control over our bodies. It’s not healthcare or abortion or microchips or colony collapse or poisoned municipal water, but it is fabricating a narrative that convinces us to voluntarily put shit that will kill us in our mouths all day every day. I loves me a Big Mac, I do. I really, really do. But they are not food. That’s all I’m saying. That doesn’t make me crazy. Saying that they’re full of drugs that make us dumb and passive and obedient would be crazy.
Although it’s not entirely out of the question.
Things are getting better, in some ways, in some places. CSAs and community gardens are popping up in food deserts. Some schools are incorporating cooking and nutrition classes. Subscription box services like Blue Apron are making it almost as convenient for people (who can afford it) to cook as it is for them to eat out. People are actually asking where their food comes from and what’s in it, even if those answers might be manipulated or flat-out lies (“natural” doesn’t mean a goddamn thing, y’all, stop paying more for it). I had dinner last night with my web guru and his family. We talked about food and GMOs and Monsanto and the meat industry and, eventually, how many restaurants there are in our little town now. When last I lived on this side of the country, I never would have guessed that we’d be able to sit down and enjoy a local craft beer on tap on Main Street. It blows my mind that there’s a bustling farmer’s market here in the summer. It makes sense, though. I always wondered why, in a town surrounded by farms, you couldn’t buy any of those products in the grocery. So, good on you, hometown. Now, let’s work on improving those school breakfasts and lunches and maybe get some more veggies available to families who can’t afford them, maybe? Baby steps. You got this.
Anyway. I’m still getting used to being around people again. Please pardon me if I come across as a crazed cave dweller, dazed and blinking and stumbling in the light. That’s not too far from the truth, really. I might go on and on about totally normal things that, for no good reason, strike me as bizarre. Things like eating food, watching tv, and having a beer with friends. It’s all new and batshit and weird. I’ll get used to it. Probably. Fingers crossed.