The Hidden Costs

(This is kind of a rant. Apologies. I don’t really offer a lot of solutions here, because I just … well, I don’t have them. But knowing about them is a start, even if the only thing I can do this week is choose to have hummous and tabbouleh for dinner (homemade and, as much as possible, home grown – and yes, I can post recipes!) one night instead of burgers. There are no “good” answers, only slightly better ones. I really dislike being all DOOM about this, because that doesn’t solve anything. At the same time, not saying anything … doesn’t solve anything either. So anyway, a rant about my frustration with food.)

I wouldn’t marry a farmer,
He’s always in the dirt.
I’d rather marry a railroad man
Who wears a striped shirt!
– From Laura Ingalls Wilder’s By the Shores of Silver Lake

There’s a bit of a discussion happening over at Seven Deadly Divas about where ethical choices begin and how any of us can have fun knowing where “stuff” comes from. It’s worth reading the original post, since this is as much a reply as anything. (It started as a comment and got WAY out of hand. My tedious verbosity knows few bounds.)

So anyway.

It pretty much sucks to be a farmer right now. The seeds, processing, shipping, and grocery stores are all controlled by a handful of companies (literally – there are about 5) who own almost the entire market share of food production in the US – as well as a large portion of that same market abroad. Seeds are being designed to self-destruct after one year, and it’s illegal for farmers to save seeds anyway, they have to buy new seeds every year – from the same companies who then lowball them on prices to sell to supermarkets and whose budgets allow the supermarkets to charge hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a product on the shelf, making it impossible for the farmers to afford it themselves.

So these men and women end up “contracted” by various large companies, and go so far into debt that they often can’t even sell the farm to get out of it. Selling the farm incurrs capital gains tax, and they’ll often end up in MORE debt by trying to leave.

The average farmer makes about $0.15 per dollar of consumer cash spent on food. The rest? Goes to the companies in between – and that’s gross, not profit. Prices go up due to gas shortages? Farmers don’t get any of that increase, even though their equipment and a large percent of the farm pesticides, antibiotics, and fertilizers are derived from petroleum or rely on the petroleum industry (that’s another post).

It’s a little like serf-dom, really.

And then you get to the processing part.

A lot of people talk about what it’s like for the poor animals who live in factory farms. They’re absolutely right, of course. It SUCKS. Pigs and cows and chickens living in feed lots are not really living – unless you count standing on a grated floor eating other ground up animals and wallowing in your own shit all day as “quality of life”.

But there’s a human toll to this as well. The people who work in fields as farm labor are exposed to really nasty pesticides. It’s not much better for people who work in animal feed lots (who are required by the big companies who own their contracts to do exactly as the big companies say, including the feed lot housing and animal numbers, as well as then eat the cost when the animals get sick from the process).

And when things go wrong, at say, a pig farm, and the “Lagoon” of pig excrement busts a dam, and you have TWENTY FIVE MILLION GALLONS of pig shit that flood the countryside? Well, that’s pretty shitty for the wildlife AND the other people who live there – pun absolutely intended.

So it sucks to be a farmer. Back in the day, it was less sucky to be a meat packer, because the pay was better. So people leave the farms to get jobs in the meat packing industry.

Except that’s… well, worse. Repetitive stress injuries, huge lawsuits, no worker’s organization for any kind of bargaining rights, 13 hour days followed by cramped, insufficient, vermin-ridden company housing that’s deducted from your minimum-wage paycheck.

Ok… stepping off the soapbox. If you want articles for any of this, I’ll be happy to give references.

The other side of the problem, and where this intersects with the Divas post?

Everyone has to eat.

Everyone. If you don’t eat, you will die. It’s not exactly an arguable fact of nature. Same goes with water. If you don’t drink water, you’ll die too, and much faster. (And the amount of water pollution caused by 25 million gallons of pig shit is… well, ew.)

So when you go to the grocery store, all you see is a pre-packaged, neatly wrapped tray of pork chops, chicken breasts, or ground beef. (Another facet of the industry recently taken over by the processing companies – they used to ship whole animal sections to grocers for butchering, now it’s pre-packaged and boxed.) That shrink wrapped package on sale for $2.48/lb doesn’t say what happened to the animal or the people who produced it – those costs are hidden by the system of production and packaging.

Food prices are unquestionably rising, even as the US continues to ship about 30% of its crop overseas every year due to surplus. So we’re all paying more for food that comes from pretty terrible places, shrink wrapped into sterility. Which means our food dollars go less far, leaving less room to buy organic and locally produced food that just might offer a halfway decent quality of life to the people and/or animals involved.

Stephanie’s comment at the Divas is probably the most pertinent here – we all have to know our sphere of influence. Know what we CAN affect, and what we can’t. And, really, to pick our battles. If I allowed myself to get involved in all the things that bother me in environmentalism and human rights, I’d go crazy. And so, I’ve picked food and water. I figure that’s about as basic as they get, unless you’re in South Dakota in January, and then shelter is probably more important.

But even after choosing my battles, I can’t take on Monsanto, Cargill, ConAgra, Tyson, or Premium Standard Farms.

I can grow some of my own vegetables – a prospect that seems less and less like just a “hobby” skill. I can eat less meat, and try to eat the best meat I can afford (even though I know there are problems on that front too). I can shop at a local farmer’s market and be thankful that I have one available.

Except that it takes me 40 minutes to drive there, in my gasoline powered car.

Intersectionality kind of sucks.

The Problem with Locke Lamora

This is not an easy post for me to write. If you’re not into any kind of personal stuff, and just want the usual Anna fare, it’s probably not the post for you. Having written it, I’m willing to admit that even pushing post on this kind of terrifies me, just for fear of the kinds of reactions it might get. At the same time, I’ve been trying to figure my way through this issue for awhile, and typing it up seems to help.

*Deep Breath* So here goes.

To start, many of you know I’ve had some real issues in the last six months or so. I basically stopped blogging, stopped gaming. The few real life friends that read here know that I all but dropped out of SCA. At first, it was pretty easy to blame that all on my job, but that wasn’t entirely true.

The job was, in a way, a catalyst for things that happened later. I started working at the bookstore in September. By November I was in full scale psychological breakdown, as the support structures and mechanisms I’d built into working from home failed completely, followed by a really ugly last-straw sort of situation.

I’d rather not go into personal details, but since then I’ve been diagnosed with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that is co-morbid with (happening at the same time as) severe depression and a form of anxiety disorder that we’ve not pinned down just yet (probably general anxiety, but it really doesn’t matter). I’m in quite a lot of therapy, as well as being on a number of different medications – yet another thing that’s not really all sorted out yet, which is hugely frustrating. Not to mention the fact that I have the attention span of a gnat on crack.

At this point, I’m capable of holding down my job and managing my house most of the time. Some days, that’s all I can do, other days I can do more. And usually do too much, which then sets me up for the next crash. Go figure.

(Segues are for sissies.)

All of my life I have been a voracious reader.

Even now, I surround myself with people who read – the Divas and most of the Wildfire Riders crew and the majority of my twitter feed. Add to that working in a bookstore, and books are a pretty common subject in my life.

And right now? I can’t read them. Or rather, I can’t read the ones that other people suggest and that I want to read. Same goes with movies. The vast majority of stuff that people suggest is “awesome” I only have to read a synopsis of on Wikipedia to know that it’s going to end up screwing with my head for days.

This all leaves me in a bit of a quandary because I don’t want to say “I know this book is one that you think is wonderful, but I can’t handle reading about 42 different kinds of horrible, awful things that happen to the people in it right now.” And EVERY FANTASY BOOK EVER seems to have those kinds of themes, even Mercedes Lackey, in her Arrows series that gets recommended for teenagers.

Marion Zimmer Bradley? Nope – even though I’ve read them before, I know I can’t read them again. George R R Martin? No fucking way. Joe Abercrombie? Probably not. Goodkind? Nope. Charles De Lint? Nope. Read Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent. Great book, more than I could handle. Even Gaiman pushes my limits sometimes, not to mention the stories in video games.

Scott Lynch? Nope.

And thus we have the problem with Locke Lamora.

I want to read that book. I want to love it. The beginning is hugely intriguing and interesting and makes me want to keep reading… and then I get to the part where graphic torture enters the scene, put the book down, and can’t even look at it for months. Some of you might say “that’s nothing, you should see XYZ book…” and frankly, you might be right. There might be a lot worse things I could read in other books. But that doesn’t change the reaction – the actual, physical reaction – I have to this one.

I’m afraid to start books because I know what will happen, so I read stuff that people say is “funny and silly” – which means I either read fluff or nonfiction.

This all sounds pretty simple and, in the greater scheme of things, not that big a deal. So I can’t read some books. Big whoop.

But it’s actually a pretty good example of how my entire world works right now. I’ve never before had to look at things and evaluate whether or not I could handle them. I’ve never had to say “No, I can’t do that right now” to things I want to do.

The rational part of me, the part that knows how this works, that understands the science (or at least attempts to), that knows to “trust the process,” is able to say that this is just where I am right now. It’s early. It took me… *counts on fingers* … almost 15 years to get to this point. It’s not going to take 5 months to undo that level of fucked up.

Unfortunately that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.