Monday, June 26, 2006

The Politics of Food

Yesterday's Times featured an article on the ethics of food, particularly the ethics of eating things like lobster. The article mentions Whole Foods has decided not to carry live lobsters anymore because they live their last few days on earth in a holding tank, which doesn't "demonstrate a concern for animal welfare" and that Chicago, and the state of California have outlawed the sale of foie gras, which I've mentioned before (I wonder if I can get foie gras on my deep dish pizza while I'm in Chicago next month. Just kidding. Foie gras on pizza is sacrilege.). Although I do believe that the meat production industry is in need of overhaul, I think the ethical policing of food has created a monster.

We were silent when the fast food industry grew by teaching us to love its high fat, high salt, and high sugar products. We didn't say anything when the feeding of animal products to cattle eventually birthed Mad Cow Disease until people started to become ill and die. We didn't complain when dirty conditions on chicken farms exposed us to salmonella. Don't misunderstand. Mad Cow and salmonella aren't new diseases. They morphed by increasingly efficient conditions that allowed their growth and spread. And, supply is fed, no pun intended, by demand -- greasy burger joints wouldn't proliferate and profit without customers, and no one holds a gun to one's head to force the food down one's throat. But making it more difficult for people to choose to purchase food, good or bad, is just unnecessary.

Is the cooking of lobster, an animal that must be alive before cooking to ensure freshness, any worse than fishing? Or the eating of eggs, which are essentially potential offspring? The consumption of oysters, eaten while still living or killed seconds before hitting our mouths? Is the argument for a plant-based diet from an ethical standpoint simply that plants don't have to die for us? What happens to humans when animals, biologically capable of more efficient reproduction, outnumber humans? Will our superior intellect be enough to protect us when we will need to dispose of them? Were the cavemen wrong for wearing animal skins to keep warm? What if they hadn't? Would the animal rights people be alive today if early man hadn't kept warm?

I'm all for making better choices about our food. Mass produced meat isn't all that good for you; shot up full of growth hormones and infused with fat so it's bigger and yields more to yield a bigger profit. Small farms are being absorbed by or replaced by corporate farms, putting little farms out of business. Fruit and vegetables are increasingly available out of season in response to demand, so much of our produce comes from farms that may or may not have appropriate standards for safe production (limited use of potentially harmful pesticides and fertilizers), so we have fresh strawberries, a summer fruit, available in the dead of winter. I believe we should learn how food tastes without additives, grown in its season so it tastes best, and is therefore desirable. But for the love of pete, use ethics to make decisions that will benefit everyone, not just a small group of elitists who think they're benefiting the planet by giving animals raised for food an identity.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Pride, Sort Of

It's Pride weekend in NYC, and in many cities. Pride, with a capital P, that is. This weekend is the culmination of a month of increased visibility of the LGBTQI community (no way am I typing all of that, oh hell, here it is anyway: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex) and the issues that affect us. There will be coverage of the march down Fifth Avenue, complete with scantily-clad boys (and now girls, although that's kinda new), leather daddies with boys on leashes, a couple of shots of parents with their gay kids, gay parents with their children, and the right-wing nutbags that hate us. There are lots of parties, and suddenly the party that was ten bones to get into last weekend, will be thirty this weekend. Rainbow flags will fly and cute t-shirts will abound, like the one I used to have that said 2QT2BSTR8.

I plan to go to a party, as I usually do each year. The wife and I will share some quality time (wink wink). But this year is different somehow. My best friend, who usually attends the Dyke March, is taking her 3-year-old to a birthday party for her 4-year-old friend. I'm working on Sunday morning, playing for a service, followed by attendance at a dance recital featuring another friend's 3-year-old. We'll get something to eat, take the baby home, catch a disco nap, and spend the aforementioned thirty bucks to dance in a crowded room full of urban lesbians, press ourselves close to the stage to see a couple of female exotic dancers, grab some late night pancakes and sleep in on Monday morning. These are the plans, but I'm over the whole Pride, with a capital P thing.

According to my favorite online dictionary, Merriam-Webster, pride is defined as the state of being proud, or having excessive self-esteem, a sense of superiority over others. So, what is it that makes Pride necessary if pride doesn't have such a positive connotation? Is it that we who identify as LGBTQI feel our sexual and emotional choices are superior because we choose who to be involved with, or not? Don't get me wrong; I'm not suggesting that same-sex attraction is a choice. I'm saying that we don't feel obligated to pair out of duty (e.g. arranged marriage, parenting, planned or unplanned, societal or familial expectations). Is our pride based on rejection of narrow social definitions of family? Rejection of body standards; hypermasculine figures encasing a feminized persona, large breasts and fat thighs accepted as sexy, wispy boys and buff girls? Acceptance of our sexuality and sexual expression? Or is it that we understand that relationships are difficult, and our relationship choices are made with the knowledge that we probably won't have a lot of support or role models? Is our pride warranted or do we just use Pride as an excuse to let our hair down?

I've marched in several Pride parades/marches (some say march because it's an expression of rebellion, other say parade because it's a celebration), and loved it. I had a blast walking the lavender line down one of the most famous avenues in the world along with thousands of participants, with thousands more watching. I've enjoyed watching from the sidelines, reveling in the colors of the people and the costumes, the beautiful and beautifully grotesque bodies in different levels of undress, dancing along. I've been stirred by the speeches of celebrities, community and political leaders at Pride rallies, even performing at several of them, having the chance to meet and spend time with them. I've enjoyed the raw communion of sweating to a thump-thump in a darkened room with women united in celebration or their love and sexuality. But I now wonder what it's all about.

Now, I relish time with all my friends, homo- and heterosexual, over a bottle or two of good wine and a great meal, looking at my wife next to me in the early morning light, giggling with my godchildren while listening to their still-forming speech and boundless imagination, and playing music that brings people joy. I don't think preferring those things over an overpriced, oversexualized, overhyped 24-hour experience makes me any less proud of who I am, a 40-year-old woman of African-American and Caribbean parentage, who is a musician and a lesbian married to a beautiful, smart, talented, loving, sexy woman with just enough Brooklyn-bred edge tempered with Southern sensibilities to keep me intrigued. I'll go out, gobble a couple of painkillers to make my reconstructed ankle behave while standing for several hours, have a few drinks to make me ignore the throngs of people around me and pay more attention to the thong-clad dancers I'll see, enjoy my wife's standing and posing and parading me around as the butch of her dreams, and feel the same pride the hundreds of women around me will feel. And then I'll go home, and wake up the next morning remembering that I'm just as entitled to be proud of who I am as anyone who doesn't venture into the great, weird, wonderful, freaky circus that is Pride.

So, to my same-gender loving, transgendered, homo-friendly brothers and sisters, enjoy your pride and your Pride. Play all you want, but play safe. Wear a condom every time. Don't do the club drugs. Designate a driver or keep the number of a cab company in your pocket. Travel with friends. Introduce that hottie you've just met to somebody before leaving with them. And always remember that when the party ends, when you've gone to sleep alone, love is all there is, and the best way to be proud is to love yourself.

Happy Pride.