Food Politics: A Confessional

Serious Business in Galena, IL
Serious Business in Galena, IL

On one notable day last week, Jetpack ate fruit, only fruit: two apples, a pear, two bananas. He had a couple tablespoons of peanut butter on an apple, and some non-dairy milk, but other than that, it was like raising a little primate. Not terribly expensive, but who can plan to have that much fruit in the house?

We like our vegetables. They are expensive little things here, in the Midwest, in March. We’ve got stuff leftover from last summer’s CSA, in the freezer, and up until just last night we had a few winter-share squashes hiding in a cold spot in the basement. But they’re gone now.

Sometimes we eat corn dogs with our leftover-frozen-CSA-vegetables. The kind of corn dog with GMO cornmeal on the outside and really poorly treated chicken on the inside. It’s been known to happen.

Sometimes we have fast food. I’m not going to lie to you, internet. Sometimes there is fast food. When my partner has worked a 60 hour week, and I’ve had some seriously triggery doctor’s appointment, and Jetpack is hungry—well, I’m not proud, but there it is. For $15 and no effort, I can feed the four of us, and then I can get baths out of the way, take care of our pets, maybe get some work done here and there, and even maybe be in bed by a reasonable hour.

Why am I writing all these things out?

I’m a little tired of feeling like a villain. This is a really complicated, fucked-up, sad world we’re stuck in. Here in the USA, anyway, things like NAFTA, globalization, factory farms, and sweat shop labor, can make every single movement seem like it is stepping on the bones of someone. This country was stolen from NDNs, built upon the backs of slaves and poor immigrants, and now we’re outsourcing. So when I buy a $0.99 coloring book for Jetpack, and it’s produced in China, I can only imagine what the factory looked like. And try as we might to reduce that footprint of badness on the world, we can’t, always, succeed.

I buy the highest quality meat I can, usually. Madison is rife with local food options, though not exactly inexpensive ones. And eggs, the kind where the chickens just exist happily, are even better. We buy local and/or organic veggies and fruits when we can, for our health, and for the health of the workers that grew/picked/processed them.

But sometimes I eat a fast food hamburger because I just don’t have time and energy for something else. Because in one day Jetpack can eat every piece of fruit in the house. And sometimes, y’all, I go to Target to buy things I can’t get from the Coop. It’s the closest food place besides the ubiquitous poor-neighborhood-McDonald’s. And it’s clean. And I can take Jetpack to the toy aisle and let him look at things I won’t buy for him for like half an hour. A glorious half hour when I don’t have to think up interesting activities.

We receive and dole out so much flack. From our fellow parents, from the internet, from friends, relatives, strangers. Little biting comments of “people who do [x] are bad parents,” “how can you [x] if you care about [y].” They hurt, they gnaw, they disrespect the things we are all doing to be good people, in our own ways. I’m not talking about anyone or any one particular thing here. But every little while someone comes out with an infographic or an article about how inexpensive eating “healthy” is, compared to eating processed foods. And we all know how terrible all those processed things are for us (even bacon–sigh). We really do. But our bodies aren’t bags of food processing—”put in edibles, get [x] hours of living”—and our bank accounts are only part of the larger equation of food access.

I’m not asking for a pat on the back (or an argument, really). I just hope that everyone can take a deep breath and try to step back. Part of parenting—really, part of being an adult—is making decisions, for the good of everyone involved. And yes, the parent is one of those people. Dad is a person. I am, and you are. So sometimes I buy hamburgers for dinner, so that I have energy to make sure the cat litter boxes get cleaned later. Sometimes you might, too—and maybe you do so because you are going to get your little ones to bed and then sit on the couch and watch Buffy on Netflix and cry because you’re exhausted. That’s okay, too.

Maybe this blog post isn’t queer enough. Maybe this just my thoughts and complicated feelings mixing with a strong interest in food access. Except…I want to own my privilege, and understand what it is to be a middle class white guy in this culture. I especially want middle class white dude queer culture to own its privilege. And the food desert I live in would be a lot worse for me if I wasn’t a middle class white dude (even if sometimes I feel like the only damn queer in a 3 mile radius…). And I feel like some of this villainizing of food choices is a clever cloak for things like racism and classism.

Don’t misunderstand–I totally get the anger at the fast food industry. I understand the anger at factory farms and the structures that support them. I understand the anger at the way the system works, and I support the drive to change it. By all means, be very, very angry at McDonald’s. Just…don’t take it out on the parent who gives their kid a hamburger sometimes, when they need to. Be angry at Monsanto, but don’t turn your nose up or look side eyed when someone buys that frozen corn.

So I’ll confess. I’m not perfect. No one is. I’ll try to do better tomorrow (better, for myself, for my child, for the world, for my bank account), I will not apologize. I will do what’s best for my family—even if the path is foggy and the answer is eternally “reply is hazy, try again later.”

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2 thoughts on “Food Politics: A Confessional

  1. I feel *so guilty* when I buy fish fingers or chicken dippers (slightly better than nuggets) and chips and things. Even in the EU, where there are tighter regulations on food in general. I get haddock or pollock instead of cod, but I’m still buying store brands from a superstore. I don’t buy Nestle, but then they make peanut butter Kit Kats and I break down. When, need eggs, but I can’t justify £2 on a half-dozen free range, I feel immense guilt when I pick up the cheaper caged eggs. Sure, I can buy cheap free-range eggs at another store, but that’s another journey that’s out of my way and I just don’t always have the time or the physical and emotional energy for it. I am lucky in that our local superstore does a great job at labelling produce (if not always meat products) so I know not only what things are British, but from my general area. But then I’ll buy out-of-season Spanish strawberries, because the 2-year-old wants strawberries, and it’s easier to say “Ok, that sounds great!” than fight a battle that’s on a principle he doesn’t get yet.

    So yeah, I get ya. I’m not perfect either.

    • Berries are a SUPER hard one here too–especially after taking a class where the professor shared her phD thesis, where she went to Mexico and lived with berry pickers there for 3 months or so. And then got cancer. I almost never buy berries anymore. But it’s really hard to say no ALL the time to those things, especially when grocery shopping with little ones.

      Wow, eggs there are a lot more expensive! I wonder if it’s just that we have more land? Here it’s ~$3-4 a dozen for the vegetarian/cage free good ones. Which, google tells me, is about half as much. Eesh.

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