Jul 12, 2009

Hypocrisy on rye, please

Conference food - blech! Not only uninspired and unhealthy, but sadly hypocritical when it comes to green events.

I've recently attended two events that were a joyous exception to the rule. The Cowichan Green Community put on a 3-day conference with all organic and primarily locally-sourced food that was delicious, nutritious, and a vivid example of the exact type of sustainability that the conference was about. Not a danish in sight!

At Low Tide Day 2009, volunteers helping the environment with a beach clean-up were served local organic meat on paper plates which can be composted, drinks in returnable containers, and recyclable plastic forks. The picture shows our friend Linda holding the small bag of real garbage that was left behind after more than 100 people had lunch -- everything else was recycled, returned, or composted. And the Young Naturalist Club made $8 from returning the cans.

Contrast that to the social justice and climate change meeting I attended with the typical catered sandwiches with sliced veggies and fruits. How did it offend me - let me count the ways:

Taste: The cucumbers were pure water, the carrots were pure orange and uniform shape and dull, and I only knew there were tomatoes in the sandwiches because I saw them first.

Nutrition: Plate after plate I put into my hungry mouth, but my hungrier belly didn't recognize it as food containing the nutrients it needed, so I just never felt satiated. Eventually full, yes, but never body-satisfied.

Health: Don't even wanna know the hormones and chemicals and carcinogens and unlabelled GMO's that just entered my system.

Environment: That beautiful, tasteless strawberry was transported in a diesel-chugging refrigerated truck over a lot more than 100 miles.

Social Justice: I can't even pretend that the cocoa farmer who contributed to those cookies received anything close to a living wage under safe and respectful working conditions for her toils.

Food Sovereignty: How much of the money we did spend ended up in the pockets of Monsanto to expand their emerging monopoly on the world's seed supply?

But the worst thing about this particular lunch was the hypocrisy. This is a meeting about lasting solutions to poverty, fair trade, protection of worker rights and solidarity movements, and fighting against climate change. We were discussing ways to educate Canadians about the links between Canada and the world, to appreciate how what we do here affects peasant farmer in Guatemala, and most importantly to become inspired and empowered to make bold actions toward positive change. And here we are munching a socially-oppressive, climate-changing, earth-damaging, unhealthy meal.

"But it would have been too much work," one might protest. But the amount of work it would have taken to put out a spread of local bread, organic cheese from the lush local valley, and organic fruits and veggies for each of us to make our own sandwiches would have been a minimal extra workload.

"But it would have been too expensive." Personal experience has shown me that it is not more expensive to eat healthy, ethical food. We don't need to eat the same quantities to satisfy our bodies' needs, nor to have a pleasurable eating experience. And anyways, the price of responsibly grown and distributed food is the proper price - the grossly-undervalued price we paid for our food was only possible by ignoring the cost it had on the growers, the environment and our bodies.

"But we're already doing enough." We were doing good work in that board room, and the staff and volunteers of that organization do even better work every day. But if it's not coming from a place of personal ethical living, it's not as powerful or pure. The more changes I make in my personal life - and there are still many many more needed - the more honest I feel, the more worthy to look a Southern partner in the eye and say "I'm with you."

And finally, even if it is more work and more money and more burden, so what?! If we are only willing to do something up to the edge of our comfort zone, then this revolution will never happen. If I truly want to stand in support of an exploited Ethiopian farmer who works 18 hours a day and can't afford medicine for his children, surely we can resist the easy temptation of a Tim Hortons donut and spend an extra dollar and 2o minutes on food preparation.

It's time to put our food money where our mouth is.

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