Thursday 30 April 2020

Good Necessities vs Bad Luxuries

Visiting the relics of my patron saint is a GOOD luxury (arguably)
Yesterday was a dull day in that I worked through lunchtime and all the way to dinner time without any gardening or laundering or cooking or going for a walk or any of that good stuff. (It was cold and raining by 6 PM, too, which was an added disincentive to going outside.) And, sadly, I didn't get two whole articles done: there was a lot of consultation, translation, clicking around, and research dead ends. Blah.

French, I discover, is weirder than Italian although, contemplating localism again, more important than either Italian or Polish for one week of the year I am in Quebec. 

However, I again resisted the dopamine-rush of the internet until 8:30 AM this morning. I washed the dishes, made my coffee, took it outside as I visited my plants, and then sat down with Wendell Berry's 1993 "A Big Bad Idea", which meant the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). I see via wikipedia that GATT led to the creation of the World Trade Organisation.  

The message of this essay is that governments are serving Big Business instead of the ordinary folk the governments are supposed to protect, acting even as the "attorneys" for Big Business as opposed to a curb on their acquisition of everything. The result is that the freedom of farmers and the ability of any ordinary person to grow their own food is greatly diminished. 

Berry writes, "The issue here really in not whether international trade shall be free but whether or not it makes sense for a country--or for that matter, a region--to destroy its own capacity to produce its own food. How can a government, entrusted with the safety and health of its people, conscientiously barter away in the name of an economic idea that people's ability to feed itself? And if people lose their ability to feed themselves, how can they be said to be free?"

A year or so ago, I became interested in the ideas of "preppers"-- people who plan well in advance for natural disasters, keep six months' worth of tins around, and have "bug-out bags". (They must be feeling very pleased with themselves now.) One of the beliefs of preppers is that cities will become violent hellholes when the food supply chain is inevitably interrupted. Fortunately, our area did not become a violent hellhole the week the supermarket shelves were stripped almost bare. But my thought is that there would be no reason to panic over food if we town-dwellers all arranged our lives so that we could grow at least some of our own. 

The immediate objection to this is "apartment blocks" or "blocks of flats" and my glib answer is "guerrilla gardening" and "allotments" (personal spaces in community gardens). Guerrilla gardening is a lot more hopeful than allotments, for most, for the waiting list for allotments around here is long. In fact, it will be years before one becomes free. But B.A's maternal grandfather had an allotment, and he grew onions, potatoes, leeks, broad beans and, in a greenhouse, tomatoes. 

My own thoughts inspired by "A Big Bad Idea" are as follows:

1. How nice if we could have a Creation party, i.e. a party in favour of sustainability that wasn't directly opposed to Catholicism but, indeed, pointed out how very anti-ecological chemical contraceptives are. Perhaps we could call it the Reality party. 

2. The UK was right to leave the EU if the EU was running roughshod over the particularities of British farmers, fisherman, craftsmen and such other people. 

3. It really is important to support local organic farms and also to begin small scale organic farming.

4. I wonder who owns the local farmland and what crops grow there?

5. Good food & good work versus bad luxuries/expensive distractions.

Number Five is a challenging one. Whenever anyone suggests that the urban poor would be less unhealthy if they were taught to cook (assuming they have stoves/ovens/hotplates/fridges) from scratch and eat more vegetables, a host of commentators go nuts. The way the food industry is set up,   they say, it is cheaper to buy prepackaged microwavable food (assuming you have a microwave) than to buy, store and cook vegetables. This may be true: I'm not sure. (And if so, that itself is damnation to the food industry.) When I anticipated the stripping of. the shelves, I bought tins of canned tomatoes and beans--storable vitamins and protein--and they did not seem expensive. 

So I feel that I am taking a risk by pondering paying MORE for food, good fresh or bottled food, and less on "bad luxuries" and "expensive distractions." 

The nearest example of a bad luxury is the takeout Thai food we ordered on Saturday. It was both expensive and unsatisfactory.  Expensive distractions include movies at the cinema; pay-per-view television; ever larger, flatter television screens; and foreign holidays. Foreign holidays can also be a bad luxury: I am invariably grumpy for the first day or two days after travelling to an unknown place. Poor B.A. Barcelona was lovely and interesting, but the anti-tourist Catalans may rejoice, for I shall not go back to Barcelona. 

Meanwhile, I am very conscious that I have singled out the bad luxuries and expensive distractions of my own neighbours. However, although my origins are different from my neighbours, I make about as much money as the other homeowners, or less. Their bad luxuries and distractions are often mine, too. The lady downstairs worked, before the pandemic, in a hotel to make money for "extras" like chocolate and cruises. I asked her what the attraction of cruises were, and she explained that it was the entertaining floor shows and the going from port to port. She thought it was a good way to see places and decide if they were worth further exploration. I can see that part of it--that's exactly how I felt about my Contiki tour to Italy in 1998.

Good work, by the way, includes gardening and repairing stone walls, and anything else humans did for millennia before they were herded into factories. 

But no more about this, for I see that it is 9:33 AM, and I want to do some gardening before work. 

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