Saturday, August 28, 2010

Fit to eat

If you're anything like me you would have had lots of friends liking Child Poverty Action Group recently. I was all prepared to join in, until I saw they were promoting this post with a cheerful "What are our kids eating? And what is our government doing (or not doing) to encourage them to choose an orange over an oreo?"

First it reminded me of the endless ridiculous games of substitutions that you see in women's magazines and "healthy food" (Next time you feel like eating chocolate try a tin of tuna instead). Which made me think of Sarah Haskins, swapping a six pack of beer for a fifth of whiskey:

So I was happy for a while. But when I recovered from my distraction I was still grumpy. Why should children be choosing Oreos over oranges - why can't they have both, and lots of other food as well? Why is an anti-poverty group calling on the government to promote a diet mentality among kids?

The post they linked to was called "Not Fit To Eat"* was talking about a $2.50 pack sold in a South Auckland dairy, that contained Oreos, two packets of chip like things, and an orange drink. I agree that that is not an adequate lunch, but each of the individual components, and the pack of the whole, is totally fit to eat.

What I found most ridiculous about the response to this pack, was the emphasis on how cheap it was - as if that was a bad thing (someone made their horror at this food being cheap explicit in the facebook thread). I do not understand how anyone concerned with poverty could ever have a problem with any food being cheap. I have so often heard people tutt-tutting about the fact that a litre of coke is cheaper than a litre of milk - as if it is the cheapness of the coke that is the problem.

The person who had found this pack asked the dairy owner "aren't you ashamed to be selling this?" Why is it more shameful to be selling this for $2.50 than anything else? Dairies make their money through high margins - if their is shame in their trade - surely it is selling food for more, rather than selling food for less.

You know there was a time when calories weren't as relatively cheap as they are now. Cheap calories can give people the ability to stay alive, and they're fabulous. I understand being angry at the expense of other nutrients, such as milk, vegetables, fruit, meat and whittakers dark almond chocoalte, but why is this so often discussed as if the cheapness of other fooods is the problem?

This seems to be my week to be grumpy about how people on the left talk about food and bodies.** But I think it's really important. It is totally possible to talk about food and poverty, without buying into a worldview that fetishises food and buys into an ideology that sees food in terms of morality. I really should write a grand theory post about why this is bad one of these days - but the really short reason is that one of the purposes of this ideology is to blame individuals for the effects of poverty. This is not something we can co-opt - it is something which will co-opt us.

And because no post like this would be complete without it, here is a link to the fat nutritionist's If only poor people understood nutrition.

* I think it is written by my co-blogger AnneE - so I'd be interested in hearing her perspective

** Who am I kidding, every week for at least the last five years has been my week to be grumpy about the way some people on the left talks about food and bodies.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Safer Communities Together

Years ago, I heard a story.

A young, and new, constable was posted to Rotorua in the 1980s (yeah it's not a happy story). I don't know why he became a police officer, or what he wanted to do, or anything about him or his life. What I do know is his fellow police officerswould collect the names of single mothers - vulnerable women who would be home during the day alone - knock on the door in uniform and demand sex.

The young constable didn't like this, but he couldn't stop it, or maybe he just didn't know how to stop it, or wasn't prepared to do what it would have taken to stop it. But he couldn't be around these men, knowing what they did, and having to be an accomplice. So he left the police force.

Rape and abuse of power wasn't just something Rotorua police officers did in their off time? It was something that required structural support, and structural cover up. It required a widespread mentality that women didn't matter, and other police officers had a right to abuse them.

Dave Archibald was still operating under the 'bros before hoes' mentality when he used his position as police officer to get access to information in the hope it'd help his rapists mates.

Now he is in charge of training new police officers.

I'm reasonably clear that I don't think the police can be reformed, that I think the problems that come from the sort of power that they have are unavoidable, that their job, and the job of the criminal (in)justice system is to maintain the status quo not create safer communities together (see here).

But for those of you who have some faith in the police, who think the culture of rape and abuse is extinguisable, how is that going to happen? Maybe you think our young constable would have made a good constable, that he could have made a difference, but that difference he could have made was the reaosn he couldn't stay in the police force. Those who stayed, are those who could stomach, or turn a blind eye, to what was going on, they're the people who are training new police officers and choosing who gets promoted. How can you believe in reform?

Monday, August 23, 2010

It Never Stops

I went to the Fairness at Work rally on Saturday. It was a beautiful day in Wellington, and pretty amazing to see so many people. When I first got there I spent a good ten minutes wandering round. Then I settled down to listen to the Brass Razoo solidarity band play Solidarity Forever in the sun (which is one of my all time favourite things to do).

Despite an awesome beginning, I have some reservations about the Fairness at Work approach, and different reservations about other proposals to fight back against these laws. But rather than throw my hat in the ring for that debate, I'm going to have say something I totally didn't expect to have to say.

One of the undoubted problems of the day was the sound system. You had to really try to hear what was said, and from many parts of civic square you couldn't hear a thing. However, from reports of those who heard some of the speeches, this wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

Michelle A'Court was MCing the demo.* In her very first little spiel thing she said something like this (I didn't hear it myself, I didn't hear anything more than a phrase the entire time, but this is from a friend):

So there are sausages over there. You should eat them, because I don't like skinny people.

This is a bit off topic, but I really don't like skinny people. A friend of mine is friend's with a skinny person, and she introduced us, but I knew right off I didn't want to be friends with her. I mean what would we do all day? Not eat?

So anyway eat the sausages.

Except she went on like this a lot longer than that.

You know, I wanted to go on a protest. I wanted to have my say, stand together with a whole bunch of other people. Meet up with my friends, snark on some banners and leaflets - normal protest things.

I wasn't really prepared to get my angry feminist on. I think you have to try quite hard to bring policing women's bodies into a protest about work rights, but apparently it's possible.

There are different ways I could take this post from here.

I could write about humour - and the massive gulf between humour that laughs at structures of oppression and structures that laughts with them (This is an excellent post on just that divide). To the extent to which there was a joke in what Michelle A'Court said (and I'm dubious) it was ha, ha people's bodies

Or I could write about my school friends who join facebook groups called things like "Curvy women are sexier than skinny women". Policing and judging thin women is not revolutionary, it is not a blow for fat women everywhere. It's all part of hte same project, of making sure no woman can ever feel OK about her body. Acting as if thin people can and should control their bodies (the eat a sandwich, or in this case a sausage roll school of social commentary), upholds the idea that fat people can and should control their bodies.

I could point to this story of a woman who can't afford food because the government benefits are at starvation levels. And point out that skipping meals is not always a fucking choice. Let alone something to judge people on.

But I just don't see why I should have to do any of this. I don't think a work-rights demo should be a feminist mine-field. I think the basic principle shoudl be that everyone is welcome, without any part of their bodies, their minds, their lives, being subject to ridicule or mockery.

* I loved Michelle A'Court when I was a kid. I thought video dispatch was amazing, and that she was fabulous. I have a soft spot for her even today, and have really appreciated some things she's said. She had an excellent rant about tertiary education policy on the panel recently as well. I think that makes me even more frustrated with what passed for 'comedy' at this rally.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

How dare we lose what they have won*

Here's one reason (of many) why you should go to the rallies being held aroudn the country this weekend:

1pm, Saturday 21st August
QE2 Square (bottom of Queen St, opposite Britomart)

1pm, Saturday 21st August
Civic Square

1pm, Saturday 21st August
Cathedral Square

11am, Sunday 22nd August
Assemble at Dental School, Great King Street
March to rally at the Octagon

* From Bring out the banners