Okay, this one is reaching a bit: I know the blog is called Environmilitant, but occasionally I have to step out of the eco-warrior role to discuss a secondary issue that is as important to the survival of our way of life as curbing global warming and cutting down gas emissions.

My friend Jeff over at Keep Your Coins I Want Change posted an excellent blog yesterday about the importance of food bank services in our fine city of Toronto. Apart from the fact that he's a very funny, entertaining guy (and you should definitely check out his writing once you're done with mine), he made some very prescient points that I'd like to hammer home here.

Apart from air (another big issue on this blog), food is the most important facet of our day-to-day lives. Those of us with the ability to purchase what we need don't often consider just how awful it is to go without food for days on end. Once upon a time I was a poor starving student doing my university degree and living on rice and beans a few times a week; I also don't come from anything resembling an affluent background (my parents worked very hard to make ends meet, but we spent most of my childhood well below the poverty line), so I can speak with some authority on this issue. I know what it's like to be trying to finish an essay, drinking gallon after gallon of crappy Toronto tap water to convince my tummy it's full, and not being able to concentrate because all I can think about is how I haven't had even a requisite bowl of rice in two days. Now, my situation was a little more voluntary – I decided not to work while I was in that year of my schooling in the interest of focusing strictly on my studies. Realistically, I could have picked up a job that would have provided me with spending money for the basics, but I didn't. I also could have gone to the food bank (a point I'll return to presently), but again – I didn't. So on some level it was my own fault that I went hungry for those months.

Now imagine a situation where it isn't voluntary: a single parent trying to support children on a woefully inadequate minimum-wage salary, or whatever. It's disgusting that in the wealthy society in which we all live that people – especially children – should go without food. I have two points on this issue that I'd like to bring to light.

The first is somewhat overreaching. We live on a planet that literally sheds foodstuffs like dandruff. There is food everywhere. Look at the animal kingdom – do you see gorillas or antelopes or whatever working horrifying 40 hour a week soul-sucking jobs that don't contribute to anything, just so they can have the privilege of eating? I think not. And yet, for all our vaunted technology and higher reasoning, we all do it – we all work our asses off just so we don't go hungry. Why?

For those answers I will direct you, gentle reader, to a scholar who has tackled this problem with significantly more panache and background than I could possibly bring to the table. Daniel Quinn is something of an amateur environmentalist who has taken it upon himself to seek “creative and positive solutions to global problems”, a goal he has actively pursued for the last twenty years. His writing is one part sociology, one part history and one part philosophy, and culminated in his award-winning Ishmael series (consisting of Ishmael, The Story of B and My Ishmael), which are, in my opinion, some of the most introspective and useful texts when it comes to seeking grand-scale alternatives to our current way of life (see? Told you this was an environmental blog). One of his fundamental points is that “locking up the food” in the way we do (i.e. making everyone work 40 hours a week just to feed themselves) has caused some of the most far-reaching, destructive social trends our culture faces in the 21st century. Quinn is a personal hero of mine because rather than simply pointing out the problems, he offers dynamic solutions which, while they would require a total reboot of our patterns of thought, would probably also work. For more on his theories, check out his website, or better yet, go read his books.

Now that we've gotten the big-picture stuff out of the way, here's my second point.

As Jeff pointed out in his blog, the divide between the rich and the poor in this culture is vast. How is it that a family living in house A has an overabundance of food at their fingertips – pantries literally stuffed to capacity with non-perishable food items that will inevitably collect dust in the back of a cupboard for years, while next door in house B, a family is starving to death? Well, we all know how that works – bad luck, bad planning, born into the right or wrong situation, whatever. It's not for me to comment on the how and why of these problems (go check out Quinn, like I said).

The problem I have is that so few people – relatively speaking – do anything to help alleviate these issues. How hard is it for people to take a little of what they earn, or a bit of what they've stockpiled, and donate it to an organization like the Food Bank who work day in and day out to help feed the disadvantaged? I am never, ever going to eat that dusty tin of peaches that has been in my cupboard since the Harris administration, but they haven't gone bad – that's the whole point of “non-perishable” food items. Why wouldn't I take a few minutes and scour my pantry for stuff like that, stuff I don't even want, and run it down to my local drop off depot so some kid can taste the juicy goodness of my Del Monte fruit? Why wouldn't I, indeed? Fact is, I have – and I do, regularly. You should too.

But Christina, you might say, there are so many deadbeats out there who take advantage of these social support networks – people who don't actually need the Food Bank, they're just too lazy to work, so they leech off the good nature of others!

Yes, this is sadly true. I hate it as much as you do. People who suckle at the proverbial teat of their more generous brethren should die in a fire. But what kind of people are we if we make all our decisions based on the lowest-common denominator of our society? Like Jeff said, I've never been a big proponent of the whole “I am my brother's keeper” idea, but I do think as individuals and as a community we have a responsibility to lend a hand to people who just aren't making it. If we base our social support on the rotten apples who manipulate the system, the only people who suffer are the ones who genuinely needed the help.

I know this is an environmental blog, but the whole point of saving the environment is to preserve our way of life for our children and their children. But it's a multi-faceted issue – and if we can't help ourselves on as fundamental a level as the basic needs of our species, we're not going to get anywhere. Check out the Daily Bread website for more information – we have to start somewhere, folks.

1 comment:

the.frig said...

agreed. OUr neccessities should be granted through our bodies of government. That includes hosing, food and water, education, heatlchare etc. Unfortunately, rights are granted to corporations and the corporate class before they are granted to either the individual or the collective. We like to think Canada has a decent Human Rights record. There are millions in this country that could tell you otherwise.