Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Putting Food on the table, what do we need?

This came up on Jeanne's blog too, in a comment, that working class folk can be too concerned about "putting food on the table" - to the point of not valuing the arts, social action, and various things that won't, "put food on the table"

One of the weird things is, that it's not usually really about food. Most people who are making decisions about what sort of education to pursue, for example, have enough that they're not in a position to really worry about whether they will have food. It may really be more questions like, can we have a car? a good car? an annual vacation? more than one?

I'm not denying that people in the US (and goodness knows, elsewhere!) have to worry about having food - just that lots more talk in those terms than actually have that problem.

I just read an essay in The Case Against the Global Economy about folks in some remote village/country/culture, who used to be very self sufficient, proud, and assured that none of them are poor, having been introduced to western values and systems, now despair of their poverty, and are unwilling to do much to help themselves. I think it's a pretty common story. People who used to work togetehr, grow their own food, build their own houses, and think that they had enough, were even blessed with abundance, get electricity and TV and western "jobs", and all of a sudden they are terribly poor, and ashamed of where they have come from.

I just bought a new computer, I dont' really need one, but I do like to email people, play around online, be able to look up recipes and blog and post my photos - since I now have only a digital camera and never get photos printed when I have film anyway.....

But I obviously, clearly, don't need that stuff.

Plus, I went with a friend who likes this stuff more than me (she doesn't blog, or play around online as much as me as far as I can tell, but she likes gadgets more.) and she and the salesguy were just on a roll together - you need the latest because the old ones can't do this and that, videoconferencing, yada yada. I don't want to do any of that stuff, and I dont' really want to be tempted to do that stuff, but on the other hand, if you get an old one with a small amount of memory, you may not even be able to open some websites, or do basic things, as even the basics get jazzier and jazzier. I want it to stop, and it won't, and I don't have the guts or the wherewithal (apparently) to just jump off... I bought the new one, though a low end model. blah.

And there are things I question needing which I have much better justification for - my house, health insurance, a car (!)

I wonder what it would be like to decide I don't need those, to find another way. The house I'm most determined about, though it's the greatest expense. Plus there is plenty else to look at before that even becomes a reasonable idea (all the crap IN the house, for starters...)

I fantasize about a quaker community/commune - growing our own food, having some simple, sustainable, needed business. Maybe it woudlnt' need to be quaker. I've been drawn to Eastwind, which makes peanut butter, and which has been most in front of my face over the years because I eat their peanut butter, but I don't know. I have never even visited.

And I don't want a bunch of other weirdos to go off and play in the forest with, I want a revolution, all over.

I want to see air travel fall off immensely, and car travel. I want to live in a world where people know the names of almost everyone they see all day (not because they're isolated and only see three people, but because they're in a vibrant community) I want to live in a world where work that doesn't need to be done (making crappy clothes, or stupid plastic toys, for example) just doesnt' get done, and we do something meaningful, or at least fun or relaxing, with that time.

I'm not sure how it relates to class, but how we think about what exaclty we need seems crucial, and how much we need to have before we have enough to share. In my experience the more people have, the farther away that figure is from where they are right now.


Canine Diamond said...

I think that "need" versus "want" is a pretty complex issue, and it depends on how much you need/want to participate in the world (among other things).

I would survive at the most basic level if I didn't have my car, my computer, my (admittedly little-used) cell phone, etc. Maybe camped out in a vacant lot. The problem with stripping one's existence to the most basic level is that it also, at least in modern America, severely limits one's mobility, earning potential, etc. Might not be an issue for some people, but it's a big problem for others. I drive across town for my job because I cannot afford to live in the areas that are nearer my office (and the ones I can afford are really, really, dangerous). I don't work closer to home because there aren't any jobs with which I can make a living in the long term; they are things like waitressing, vet tech, salesgirl, etc. I might be able to get by in the "immediate" sense--rent, food, whatever--but I'd have no hope of saving for retirement, emergency, or any of those other things that can unexpectedly wipe out people who make even decent wages/salaries.

I need the car to get to work (my office is off the bus lines). I use the home computer to maintain the computer skills I need for my job. Left to my own devices, I could wear fewer and simpler clothes but my workplace expects a different level of formality. I guess I could get a less formal job but that goes back to living very near the edge, financially.

I understand the appeal in rolling back the global economy, but I think that it's probably too late in the big picture. We can buy local food and, sometimes, clothes, etc. Basic commodities, but the biggest industries (read biggest economic engines) are solidly globalized and are not coming back.

earthfreak (Pam) said...

Yeah, it is a complex issue. That's sort of what I meant.

I'm in the same boat. But I also am aware that I make choices. I'm lucky if I bike to work half the time, though theoretically it would be possible to always do it, relatively easy about 3/4 of the time.

And, I spend more money on clothes because I have a job where I need them to be to a certain standard, and I live in a house with no other humans because I have so many pets

That's part of what I'm trying to get at - is it possible to find or create a fundamentally different model? I wasn't thinking so much of living in a parking lot, though that's one model.

As for buying a prius, no, there's no point in buying a junker in order to be another sort of snob. I would buy a prius if I were gonna buy a new car (that or a yaris, which isn't quite as efficient, but which costs like half as much)

I'm not talking about not thinking or acting AT ALL because buying a prius or organic food isn't perfect, what I'm talking about is thinking beyond that. Not that you'd even be able to do more, but you might.

And it's not even more, it's different.

I don't know, maybe I"m not making any sense.

Plain Foolish said...

Or for a middle choice, a Civic hybrid? Nearly the mileage of a Prius, yet significantly less expensive and available used...

Just sayin'. Actually, a smaller car (if possible) cuts down on the gas usage significantly. A Yaris or a Fit will tend to have pretty good mileage, and a totally stripped down manual Civic driven carefully for mileage will beat out a hybrid driven without regard to mileage.

There's a blog out there by a guy who bought a hybrid (I can't remember if it was a Civic or a Prius off the top of my head) who complains because he only gets high 30's for his mileage - but he only does short trips, so he's not going to get good mileage out of anything.

I'm in a similar situation to CD, except that my office *is* on the bus line... if I am willing to spend 4 hours a day on my commute, or the trainline for a mere 3 - 3.5 hours.

earthfreak (Pam) said...

Yeah, actually now that I think of it I'd only have to walk, well, ten blocks.... and five blocks initially, to take the bus. If I wanted to go downtown or to the mall of america I'd be set caue the train runs frequnelty (and is handy for the airport, which I use maybe almost once a year)

I think civic hybrids make a lot of sense. I didn't know they were significantly cheaper than priuses.

one of the (many!) things that gives me pause about priuses is that I've heard Toyota is a leader in fighting decent emissions standards, so I'm still supporting a company that is angling for profits rather than providing some sort of vision and leadership on the issue.

I drive a 1996 subaru wagon, an impreza, not a legacy, so it's kinda mini. I adore it. It has AWD which is a complete stupidity except when I'm snowed into a parking space, adn then I LOVE it.

It leads, not surprisingly, to not terribly impressive mileage. I get 20 mpg in the city if I don't have to sit at too many traffic lights (I've been experimenting with turning my car off at long lights) I get about 30 on the highway.

I don't know too much about it, but something I swear I heard once, combined with basic common sense, indicates that my trading in my 11 year old car for a prius isn't a no-brainer good thing for the envrionment. Making a new prius takes a lot of inputs, and creates a lot of waste, whereas that's been overwith for my car for more than a decade, and if it runs decently, the tradeoff for better mileage might take a while to come up even.

In any case, again, I wasn't really trying to talk so much about changes we can make within a framework (eating less meat, local food and goods, driving less, or a more efficient car, are good ones)

I'm more interested in paradigm shifts (I love that phrase, I'm such an outdated poser) - and more importantly, I think they're necessary. We're taking tiny steps to deal with a huge problem. They may be really good steps, but we need something else, something way bigger, too.

Plain Foolish said...

Oh, no arguments that the structure needs changing. The fact that there is a disconnect between affordable housing and reasonable jobs is a major problem with our current infrastructure. And most jobs won't allow working from home. (Mine only does on an occasional basis, at least for my position, despite the fact that most of my daily communication is by email.)