Don’t Forget How Lucky You Are

My job, and my marriage, has afforded me many luxuries. Now that I’m making at least twice as what I made in retail, I’m even more keenly aware of the disparities between my lifestyle and those lifestyles of the rest of the US – and even the rest of the world. I look at the tag of my new handbag and I wonder who was the Chinese person/s who stitched it. Where do they sleep? What do they eat? What do they love? What makes them laugh? What kind of handbag do they carry? I can’t think about it too hard, or even feel too guilty. I’ve only come to that conclusion because all of us in America can sit back and say we feel bad for those worse off than us, but none of us, in honesty, would be reluctant to give up an eighth of the freedoms and luxuries we have. The luxury of being able to find food at midnight in most places in America, and to be able to purchase that luxury, is unbelievable.

Jon and I watched half of the Seven Samurai and noted that the driving force in the film is the hunger. How many of our parents or grandparents generation faced starvation in their lives? I grew up with stories of my mother’s family growing up in hardship in rural America. It’s nearly impossible for people to die of hunger in America. It’s rare that a baby born will not live long enough to at least get the notice of child welfare if they’re really in trouble medically, nutritionally, emotionally. I was taught, as were many of the people in my generation, to clean our plates and to gorge on food. The plates have gotten larger, along with the portions and toxic factory farms churn out the food for us to continue to get fat.

I thought about “fat” the other day; I thought about how I was told that it was the rich of the past that were fat, and the poor that were thin. I think about old black and white movies, where the rich fat ladies would look down their nose at the protagonist. Fat, truly, is a sign of luxury. America is well fed. There is truly nothing more luxurious than to be able to go into any of the dozens of eateries on a one mile strip and whip out a card or some cash and eat until your stomach hurts and your body refuses to accept any more. We can eat as much as we can pay for. We can go out to any of these big chain restaurants (Cheesecake Factory) and get 4 servings on one plate for under $20 and throw half of the food away. Food is so outrageously cheap, and we would never think that people would kill over it. No, in America, people will assault and kill over Nike shoes or PS3’s, but not for the luxury of putting food in our bellies.

I believe that my weight is a product of what society has taught me, and what I’ve learned from living these 29 years. Food temporarily sates an emotional need – but that’s not all. Despite what the USDA has told people about the four food groups, or the food pyramid, or whatever they’re promoting due to the agribusiness lobby, who actually knows what “food” is anymore? Breakfast cereal, doughnuts, coffee cake, sweet bagels (or plain bagels with sweet creme cheese), sausage, egg and cheese on a fried, sugary pancake bread? What are these things? Microwaved bread pockets of meats and cheeses? A snack of gelatin, food coloring, cornsyrup and “natural” strawberry flavor in bite-sized bits? Twenty ounces of 50% high fructose corn syrup, 50% carbonated water and “natural flavorings” consumed twice a day? I could go on, and I’m not even to the dinner menu yet.

I thankfully eat a lot better than I’m sure many other people in my tax bracket do. It’s hard work, too, because most of our local grocery store real estate (including the natural food stores, co-ops, etc ) is taken up by prep foods that have been homogenized for flavor and streamlined for distribution. It’s exceedingly hard to find a grocery store that sells the base ingredients we need to cook for ourselves. It’s even harder to find those ingredients from local purveyors that are also sustainably grown, and hopefully organic.

Because we don’t know what hunger is in America, we also don’t know how to eat. I would also argue that we don’t know what “hard work” is. Our hands are uncalloused, we barely ever chip our nails (long nails, a sign of luxury, status and wealth), our arms are flabby, our legs are weak and we’re chained to our cars and the oil giants more than any of us would ever like to admit.

Don’t forget how lucky you are. Americans live in unbelievable luxury.