Wonk Wednesday: Schools as Vehicles of Legitimacy

An interesting trend in schools is this adoration of charter schools that are just one drill sergeant shy of being military institutions, at least as far as discipline goes. We read Teach Like a Champion in my teacher preparation program and talked a lot about the profound importance of instilling discipline in the younglings. In teacher prep programs and our broader culture, there is a lot of celebration of discipline as a key part of a successful school. In low-income communities, charters are celebrated for their “zero tolerance” discipline and rigidity; they are seen as bringing the savior of discipline to their students.

In the school where I taught, discipline was a constant topic. I was scolded for not writing enough referrals/being strict enough with my kids. At the time, I didn’t really have a specific reason why I didn’t believe in sending kids to the office constantly; I spoke mostly about the fact that I trusted them and wanted to work with them on their behavior and actions, rather than outsourcing it to the office (my students were 15 and 16 years old, so I stand by my belief in treating them like adults who are worthy of respectful discourse rather than ignorant children who need to be given time out). Looking back, though, I think part of it was that I felt that top-down authoritarian discipline wasn’t a value that I wanted to teach my students to love.

Granted, I was basically trying to lead a revolution in my classroom, so my methods may seem strange to others. But bear with me here.

My kids are not in an equal world. Most of them were students of color, most of them were coming from poor families (some were even homeless), and most of them were far behind where they “should be,” academically. Those who didn’t fall into all, or even one, of those categories, will still carry the stigma of being from Oakland until they can get far enough in life to shrug it off (if they so choose). “Oakland” carries associations, the majority of which are not favorable.

My kids have enough of disadvantages. I do not want to train them to be blind followers who rely on external authorities and rigid structures in order to make their way in life. My kids might have been academically behind, but it wasn’t because they aren’t smart. They are brilliant, in a wonderful diversity of ways. They are full of talents, ideas, and righteous anger. But I heard from so many of them so constantly that they were bad at school. That they were never going anywhere in life. That they were bad kids.

It’s possible that an absurdly rigid discipline system might’ve brought up some test scores. Possible (a lot of these vaunted zero-tolerance charters don’t actually score any better than their counterparts; it’s almost as if discipline isn’t actually the problem and that poverty and systemic inequality might be). However, I will feel like I am more of a successful teacher if I can send my students out into the world armed with a sense of self and intrinsic value than if I beat that out of them in exchange for discipline and test scores.

Strict discipline means you get to be someone’s lackey. I do not wish that life on my students.

Self-discipline does not necessarily spring out of externally enforced, top-down authoritarian discipline. Self-discipline is what leads people to be able to thrive through their talents and creativity and values. That is what I tried to give my students (though I’m not arrogant enough to believe I succeeded).

Social legitimacy means that your voice is heard and valued. Schools promise to grant young people social legitimacy through a credential. To get that credential, you must adhere to structures and discipline.*

So what is the value of legitimacy if it comes at the cost of having your voice silenced to get it?

This week’s essay, as you may gather, is about schools as legitimacy-granting institutions and vehicles of social mobility. It’s framed around the foundation put in place by the common school movement, which happened during a really fascinating time in history (the market revolution and the second Great Awakening–good times). The common school movement had the noble goal of bringing education to the masses and providing equality of education for all–huzzah! On the flip side, they also had a not really veiled at all goal of social control. Regrettably, even though our society has shifted away from the context in which we needed schools as places to socialize and discipline, the way that we assign value to schools hasn’t shifted away from that structure because we have to internalized this narrative of what school is and what schools look like. Thus, despite the noble goal of legitimizing marginalized communities, what happens instead is that communities are smothered and neutered in senseless discipline and empty “education.”

I am just really angry about all the ways in which our culture demands that “non-dominant narrative” people have to justify themselves and prove their worthiness before their voices will be heard. From heavy issues such as race down to the lighter issues like the fake geek girl hubbub, I am sick of people being made “less than” based on whether or not they meet arbitrary standards. Truly, one’s worth cannot be measured by a high school diploma, and although I personally think having high school diplomas is great and I want my students to have them, I think it’s a shit way to determine whether or not someone has merit as a person. And yet we can’t seem to stop.

The Common School’s Legacy: Legitimacy and Social Control – PDF

Texts for this week:

  • Cuban, Larry. (2013) Inside the Black Box of Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Cuban, Larry & Tyack, David. (1995) Tinkering Toward Utopia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Labaree, David. (2010) Someone Has to Fail. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Apparently, Harvard University Press is getting a lot of damn money from me.

*I know that I mentioned that I would write about why I left teaching. I will, I promise. But this is a little window into one of the reasons–while I came to teaching because of my drive to help people and change lives for the better, I am partially pushed away from teaching because in many ways my values reject the way we do schooling in America. I do not truly believe in the system, so while I tried hard to give my students the best that I could, I felt like a fraud and a hypocrite. That gets exhausting.

10/08/2014. Tags: , , , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Wonk Wednesday (sort of): The Purpose of Schooling

Ed. Note: Okay, so I am not doing a good job with the whole posting on a schedule thing. We’ll get there, I swear.

Last week, I read Larry Cuban and David Tyack’s book Tinkering Toward Utopia, a history of education reform in the United States. One of the biggest challenges that I saw coming up again and again is the question of WHY we have schooling, particularly universally accessible public schooling.

On the one hand, we want to believe in equality of opportunity; we want to believe that our country is a meritocracy. The idea of everyone having the same chances in life is the foundation upon which we built the narrative of the American Dream and the Horatio-Alger-esque “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mantra.

On the other hand, we want to WIN. So for our own children or communities or what-have-you, we want to have the BETTER equality, essentially. It’s fine for everyone to have schooling–but for our group, we want the best schooling. Everyone can have an opportunity, but we want to have the success.

In my opinion, it boils down to the ferocious individualism that underpins so much of the American ideology–although we are all in this together, as a society, we are more concerned about the success of ourselves and our “people” than we are with the success of our society. If we were worried about our society as a whole succeeding, then welfare and Obamacare and whatnot wouldn’t be so controversial and consistently contested. However, we are concerned that by providing for others, we are lessening our own chances. Rather than seeing “good” as a common pool for all, where the more our society wins, the more we win, we see “good” as a finite resource, and if we are sharing with others, then there is less for us.

This fear of losing comes into play in how we approach education. However, because our country was also founded on the idea of being a “city on a hill” and being an example to the rest of the world, because of our extreme pride in our excellent values and equal society, we cannot actively voice these beliefs. While this is quickly changing–one need only look to a great deal of our welfare debate to see the fact that it is becoming more and more common to loudly proclaim that we are not all equally deserving–it is still fairly taboo in education to admit that we wish a lesser quality upon groups who are “other.”

In fact, education remains so firmly rooted in this idea of equality BECAUSE it justifies our ability to deny welfare or the necessity of affirmative action or anything else like that. So long as we continue to buy into the narrative of equal opportunity that is provided by our universal public schools, then we can blindly insist that because everyone had the same choice to make something of themselves, those who are on welfare or don’t get into elite colleges or so on have only themselves to blame and we shouldn’t be responsible for helping them, as they CHOSE not to help themselves. Education is, when you get right down to it, one of the most basic foundational principles that justifies discrimination in our society.

So what I looked at in my essay for this week is the idea of education as a lofty narrative, but actually a very selfish and grubby purpose. It is our unwillingness to be honest about what we want out of education that makes it so difficult to reform schools and actually succeed in creating quality education in America.

So, it’s a really light-hearted and cheerful read is what I’m saying.

The Purpose of Schooling – PDF

10/06/2014. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. 3 comments.

Remember to vote…

…but not just for political office.

The Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC), is the largest and oldest rape crisis center in Massachusetts. They serve the metro-Boston area and they do absolutely amazing work. They provide a 24-hour hot line for callers in crisis to reach a trained, caring human being; they also provide advocates to go with survivors to the hospital, to court, talk to police, and so on. They provide outreach into the community, going to schools, events, speaking with law enforcement, etc, helping to educate about the reality of rape and sexual violence. RCCs make such a huge difference in both helping survivors and providing valuable education, and BARCC is exemplary.

The work that BARCC does in our community is very important and very real. They have only a minuscule paid stuff, with a large part of the work (including the hot line, advocates, and community outreach) being done by incredibly dedicated, hard-working volunteers. All of the volunteers go through a 40-hour training program, and they continue to be involved in further training and supervision throughout their time with the center. Running the center is not an inexpensive proposition, and how much they are able to do is directly impacted by how much money they have. The Classy Awards represent an opportunity for BARCC to win some more funding to help them further their mission.

Please go to the Classy Awards and vote for BARCC. They are up for the vote in several categories, so please make sure you check out the whole page and support them wherever they’re up (also support some of the other great Boston non-profits, of course!).

The voting is open through November 5th, so please share this with anyone you may know who would be willing to vote. This is such an important opportunity for BARCC and it will only take a few seconds to cast your vote. Thank you!

11/02/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Divided We Fall

This morning, I sat with my clutch of rising high school seniors, all low-income, minority students, and tried to get them to discuss the Ralph Ellison short story “Battle Royal,” an excerpt from his novel Invisible Man.

I have never felt more acutely aware of how white I am in my life.

In the story (go out, find it, and read it now if you have somehow made it this far in your life without reading Ellison; I think he is where white liberal guilt comes from, and he is an amazing writer) a group of young black men are brought to a rich white men’s social gathering to fight, blindfolded, for their entertainment. The white men are in tuxedos, drinking, “wolfing down buffet food,” and yelling obscenities as the young men duke it out for supremacy. Afterward, the black men are given “the opportunity” to fight each other for money that is strewn on a rug. The rug is electrified (and, unknown to them, the cash is fake), but at the urging of the laughing crowd, they keep fighting each other.

I was trying to steer my students toward seeing the fight as an extended metaphor for society. It wasn’t just an isolated incident, and the rich white men weren’t just pitting young black men against each other for entertainment at a club, they were doing it in a very real way out in life. I wanted them to feel the power of the story. They were absolutely feeling strongly about it and seeing a lot of the imagery, but I wanted them to go further (what teacher doesn’t?).

But damn, I am white as hell. I can only do so much.

It got me thinking about the violence in low-income areas of Boston. Today marks the second day in a row that someone has been murdered in broad daylight in Dorchester. Yet it barely makes the news outside of Universal Hub–it’s just a little tidbit in the deep inside pages, rather than a headline. This kind of intra-community violence is simply accepted and normalized. This is “part of Dorchester.” Part of “what it means” to live in Dorchester, to be poor, and, ultimately, to be non-white. Self-destruction from the inside.

Anyways, all I could think about was how much that resonated with me as a female. I can’t relate to the racial issues going on, but I can extrapolate those same feelings to issues of gender. I look at the way women are pitted against each other, the way we’re constantly dragging each other down–“oh, she’s such a stupid slut!” “She is so ugly!” “She’s such a gold-digger!”–and so on, that instead of having a powerful force of women, we have a bunch of squabbling girls.

I’m not saying we should like each other just because we share common reproductive organs–that’s stupid. I don’t get along with most of the world, let alone most other women. But it would behoove us to give each other the benefit of the doubt now and again. To stop seeing one another as the enemy. It’s so easy to keep us squashed down to being simply trophies when we judge each other just as harshly.

I mean, c’mon, patriarchy doesn’t even have to really do much if we keep destroying ourselves from the inside out.

08/18/2010. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

Hold me closer, tiny dancer! Or: I’m sick of being nice.

So here’s a delightful story that has made my afternoon: in Ohio, strippers are protesting outside a church because they are sick of the church protesting outside of the club.

Fuck yes.

Look, I don’t have anything against religion. Hell, I myself grew up in a Christian family and am confirmed (I gave a speech about pie). Christians really aren’t bad people or jerks or anything. It’s just that there’s this little bundle of them who give the rest a bad name (this stands, in fact, for all religions. For the most part, they’re just nice folk and then there’s that small clique of asshats that goes and fucks it up for everyone else).

I am so delighted to see the tables being turned. Fuck turning the other cheek. Fuck being nice. Fuck being shamed into being silent through bullshit just because if you speak up, you’re somehow validating the other party’s bullshit claim.

Having a spine and defending yourself is good. But somehow, we constantly get shamed into apologizing when we try to defend ourselves, shamed into keeping quiet instead of “making a big deal” or making mountains out of molehills.

But if mountains are being made, they are not our mountains. They weren’t our molehills to begin with.

I’m sick of being nice and tolerating bullshit just to keep other people from getting uncomfortable. I am too busy and stressed out and strung out to deal with flagrant, narrow-minded jackassery.

I was at a friend’s birthday party Saturday night when a dude laid down the claim that women can’t drive. I rolled my eyes and said “Oh please. You have got to be kidding.” He insisted no, he was serious. He asked another couple guys standing nearby to back him up; they wisely dodged the question. I asked him what weight of oil his car takes. He said he has no idea; that’s what mechanics are for. I went on my oil rant. I asked him what double clutching is and why it’s relevant. I asked him what it means to turn into a spin and why. He had no answers. I walked out of the room.

Later, he came into the room and tried to explain that he is the way he is because WAAAAHHHH. He took a women’s studies course in college and he was one of three guys in the room of fifteen women. Two of the guys were dating girls in the class. He felt like his ideas and input weren’t valued and it was really hard for him. So he turned misogynistic; it’s not his fault, that class made him that way.

OH GOLLY WHAT ABOUT THE MENS.

Motherfucker, if I have to listen to another fucking sob story of when some dude took a women’s studies class and wasn’t celebrated for it, I am going to turn all misandrist.

It’s not my fault; your idiocy made me that way.

Seriously, if I were to walk around saying that I had a really hard time when I took a computer science class because I was one of three women in a class of fifteen guys and the other two girls were dating guys in the class so I felt invalidated and shunned, PEOPLE WOULD FUCKING LAUGH. They would tell me to stop being so sensitive and irrational and that maybe I was ignored and invalidated because I didn’t have anything to contribute because I wasn’t smart enough and what was I doing in a computer science class anyways?

I managed to resist whining, “Oh waaaaaahhhh the poor mens! It is tough being an upper middle class white dude in college!” but only just barely. I held back because I didn’t want to be THAT BITCH that makes the room uncomfortable. That crazy feminist.

You know, the honest person.

The dancers and club owner out in Ohio? Fucking fuck yeah to them for not letting themselves get silenced by not wanting to be the person that makes things uncomfortable.

They have absolutely pushed some boundaries and made people uncomfortable. It takes a lot of bravery to be in a line of work that carries as much social stigma as stripping does and to then turn the tables on people trying to kick sand in your eyes.

That’s fucking awesome. Those ladies rock.

08/09/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

On The Value of Education

Into week two of summer school teaching assistantship. I’m in a local high school, working with an “essay writing workshop” group, which is to say a hodgepodge of kids ranging in age from rising freshman to rising seniors, all with a variety of writing levels and even English levels. The teacher was explaining to me that some of the kids are there for enrichment (there’s some very talented students), while some are there as “babysitting,” essentially, and others are there to try to keep them on track (one of the girls clearly has a gift for writing and self-expression, but struggles with English, as it’s her second language, so she’s here to work on developing her language skills).

Today, we were talking about description. The teacher brought in an exercise for us to think about metaphor and personifying concepts and things. The exercise was taking an adjective and deciding which of the two things it better described. (Examples: “Which is wiser, a pen or a pencil?” “Which is braver, an hour or a year?”) One of the questions, “Which costs more, a home or a house?” brought up some interesting responses from the students.

One of the boys vehemently argued with everyone that a house costs more than a home, because a home can be anywhere. He explained that just because you live at an address, that doesn’t mean it’s your home. For a lot of kids his age, this school is their home and that if we asked a lot of his contemporaries where home is, they’d say the school. Not just because that’s where their friends are, but because that’s where they feel safe and supported.

This is one of those boys who often projects a “too cool for school” air and is hesitant to participate in group activities or express himself.

To say that I, as a student teacher, found that stirring is an understatement. This boy, much like the girl in his class I mentioned above, is clearly a very bright kid. He, too, struggles with English as a non-native speaker, but also seems to worry about his image as projected to his peers. He wants to be cool, and it seems like he worries about stumbling when participating or class, or revealing himself as too vulnerable.

So, as an aside, I’d like to mention how fantastic the teacher I’m working with is. She is very smart and well-read, but has such a great way of getting down to earth and interacting comfortably with the students, making everyone laugh and feel a little more at ease. She is absolutely the kind of teacher I want to be, and I attribute her excellent class leadership to this boy’s willingness to speak out about his feelings on the house vs. the home.

It was such a jolt to me to hear a student say that school can be a home. I’ve known for a while that for many of our urban students, school is in fact the safest place (I’ve heard stories from colleagues of students who come to them after experiencing sexual assault, abuse in the home, dealing with friends in trouble; the students see good teachers are sources of strength and safety, and the school building itself is a bastion of safety from the messy streets outside). It had just never dawned on me that students–even students who are hostile to the idea of schooling, regardless of whether or not they are smart (smart kids don’t always love school!)–would actually see school as a place that they identify as a home.

When we consider education budget and support, when we think about closing schools and libraries or cutting after school activities, when we shrug off the importance of providing teachers with sufficient support… we’re denying the importance of our students having homes.

I don’t mean teacher support in the sense of “gimme gimme gimme I want a big salary” (though it would be nice), I mean providing teachers with adequate sick days and sub coverage, providing access to materials, letting them have some freedom with their curriculum, and so on. I’m not being selfish here; I’m speaking from a fact–a teacher without sufficient support, especially in a tough school with the students with the greatest needs, will burn out, and a burnt out teacher cannot provide the environment students need to feel at home. A school without after school activities denies students the opportunity to find their strengths and then cultivate them. Slashing funding to the arts and music might be justified by the fact that they aren’t “job skills,” but are we making cogs in a machine or are we helping to grow human beings?

A student may barely pass high school and graduate by the skin of his or her teeth (hell, that was pretty much me). Yes, I’ll be sad about that–I want to see all my students thrive academically! I’m a big nerd who loves school, so of course I want everyone else to share in that view. But students need not be valedictorians to be citizens. We lead by example in providing students with a home outside of the house; they will build these environments in their communities when they leave school. One of the things I find so beautiful about community activism is the potential that people see in their communities that outsiders write off (which references back to my post about how the rest of Boston seems to write off violence in Dorchester/Roxbury/Mattapan/etc). I think schools are a place where that feeling of potential and community identity can begin. Not to say that other community sources are irrelevant–for many communities, strength can come from religious groups, social groups, sports groups, etc–but schools are a shared experience for the youth of a community and it’s an opportunity for them to build an identity. It made me feel good to know that we have students who feel such a strong identity with their school.

I just hope that such feelings can continue, that our students will get the best education, in all respects, that they can get, and that there are other schools out there serving the same purpose. The school I’m currently in has a reputation for its strong community and atmosphere; not every school is so fortunate.

I’m not necessarily driving at a point here; I’m not really saying anything revolutionary. It’s all been said before. I guess it’s just a little more powerful when you have the experience yourself, and it never hurt to let these thoughts bubble back up to the surface.

Education: it’s important. Please stop voting down education budgets.

07/13/2010. Tags: , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Where is our news coverage?

I have a question for you, internets. I know I’ve been out of touch lately, due to being up to my eyeballs in class and all, but I’ve still been scrolling my Twitter, Facebook, and Google Reader feeds. I generally am kept pretty up to date via these things, because I follow a lot of primary sources on Google Reader, and Twitter and Facebook are full of my well-read friends who regularly link interesting new things.

They also link the new Harry Potter trailer like eight billion times, but that just goes to show that what is being consumed by the mass public WILL show up in my feeds, and usually several times.

So why is it that I had to read posts from Toronto natives on a vegan cooking forum, of all places, to hear about what’s been going down at the G20 summit?

Oh wait, I apologize–there has been an article at Jezebel (and it’s a doozy). However, why isn’t this getting anymore attention? Why are we only worrying about what the first ladies are wearing?

I am appalled.

Here’s another great article worth reading.

Now, start talking about it.

07/01/2010. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Vegan Weekend Warrior: The Reckoning

Great success!

The Vegan Weekend was a great success!

I ate really well and felt really good the entire weekend. Everything I ate was freaking delicious and satisfying. I didn’t really struggle with any cravings (I hate when I eat a meal and then only a little later, I feel like my blood sugar is crashing). It was, over all, a great weekend for food. Plus I biked almost 30 miles, got some sun, bought about 15 pounds of fruits and veggies at Haymarket, did some sewing, watched some Farscape, and did some serious cleaning in my apartment.

Anyways, here’s a rundown of what I ate:

Friday: breakfast of coffee with chocolate soymilk, pecan praline granola; lunch of a banana, green tea, and a protein bar; dinner of pan seared ginger teriyaki marinated tofu, red quinoa, spinach, and orange-infused dried cranberries, a glass of wine; late evening snack of a vegan ice cream sammich (om nom nom!)

Friday night dinner!

Saturday: breakfast smoothie of a banana, a kiwi, vanilla soy milk, and flax seeds, a slice of toast with apricot jelly; lunch of salad, raisins, and cranberry juice (okay, that was kind of lame, but I was volunteering at a blood drive (I gave blood while dressed as Princess Leia. I live a very normal life) and it was catered by Olive Garden. I needed to eat SOMETHING or I was going to pass out from giving blood, but salad was the only option. Olive Garden isn’t exactly what you’d call veg-friendly); dinner of vegetable ratatouille, ciabatta, lemonade; dessert of vegan gluten-free almond cupcakes with chocolate almond frosting.

Cuppycakes! Bad photography!

My cupcakes were a huge success. My sister is gluten-intolerant, so I wanted to make something she could eat. I adapted the recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, adjusting to make them a little more almondy because I like almond, and likewise with the frosting. The frosting was chocolate “buttercream,” and was the only thing I was really worried about. I mean, I swear by buttercream frosting.

I have to say, after these cupcakes, I will probably never make normal buttercream again. The frosting was so rich, so creamy, so delicious… We had a ton of leftover frosting, and we kept just taking fingerfulls of it because it was SO GOOD. My sister said it reminded her of chocolate mousse. Oh it was so good.

The cupcakes were a wild success–even after I told everyone they were vegan, everyone still went back for a second. I consider that a win!

Sunday: late brunch of Chesapeake tempeh cakes and iced coffee; dinner of pasta salad with wilted spinach, corn, and sweet onions, tossed in a nayonnaise/mustard/balsamic vinegar/herbes de Provence sauce, and a Blue Moon summer ale.

OMFG CAKES

I got the tempehcakes and remoulade recipe from The Post Punk Kitchen, and you guys, IT IS SO GOOD. I have a ton of leftovers (those three little cakes were more than enough to power me through the day and 15 miles of biking and adventuring) which are currently in a tupperware in my office fridge with sliced red pepper, spinach, and some pitas. I’ll be eating tempehcake sammiches for lunch for the next two days. Fuck yeah.

Those were SO DELICIOUS. I strongly believe that everyone should make them and experience them because holy shit, they had to be one of the more wonderful things I’ve eaten in my life.

I love food. I love food that is creative and exciting and filling and healthy and conscientious of the world we live in. This weekend, I successfully enjoyed all of these things, with a particular elevation of my conscientiousness. I really enjoyed it. I loved the process of preparing my food, nibbling the veggies while I worked, the wonderful smells in my apartment, and I loved how good I felt eating everything.

I’m hammering out my exact food philosophy, but I have a feeling that within the walls of my apartment, it’s going to be more and more vegan (I have some cheese and eggs right now, and I’ll use them up because I can’t abide being wasteful, but I doubt I’ll buy more). I suspect that when it comes to going to friends’ houses, I’ll be fine with holding to vegetarian considerations–I know too many people who are grudging about even that much, and I’d rather slowly expose them through sharing and positive feelings than being militant.

Anyways, I had an awesome weekend. I’ll be back to talkin’ gender and layin’ the smackdown soon, but expect a little bit of reflection on foodie-ism as this continues. Just as where we choose to spend our money is part of everyday activism, so is what we consume in the literal sense.

I leave you with a photo of my beautiful Haymarket haul. This is what $12 will get you on a Saturday morning, except then you have to bike home with it all on your back. As it turns out, that is heavy. X-TREME GROCERY SHOPPING, yo.

That's 3 bunches green onions, a pound of baby spinach, a half pound bundle of fresh basil, a pound of bananas, three lemons, a pound of ginger, 4 sweet onions, 3 red bell peppers, a box blackberries, a box of raspberries, and four limes. We're gonna need a bigger fridge!

06/21/2010. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

The Weekend Vegan Warrior

I’m embarking on an experiment this weekend. I have basically zero actual obligations for once in my goddamn life, and I feel fantastic about it. Tomorrow I’m volunteering at a blood drive (and giving blood! It’s finally been long enough since I last got tattooed/pierced/traveled out of the country that I can do this!) and then going to my sister’s house for my father’s birthday/father’s day celebration.

I’m bringing a batch of gluten-free cupcakes, as my sister recently developed a gluten intolerance. She’s also historically had lactose difficulties, and I prefer soy milk anyways, so I have a shiny copy of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World (by the same ladies who did my favoritest cookbook, Veganomicon. Check out their ultra-rad website, The Post Punk Kitchen). So, I’m bringing vegan gluten-free cupcakes. Is it possible to get anymore touchy-feely “oh wow, you are clearly a liberal who lived in Cambridge for just a little bit too long”? I don’t know!

But I’m going to try. My experiment: this weekend, I shall be vegan.

I’ve been vegetarian on and off since I was in eighth grade. I really LIKE being vegetarian, even though yes, I do miss meat (I think that is a common misconception–a lot of vegetarians really enjoy meat! It is delicious! But similarly, I really enjoy punching people in the face when they irritate me, but I nonetheless do not do it). I’ve recently been working at steering myself back toward vegetarianism, and it’s going well. I like it.

A weird observation, however: part of the reason I got away from being a vegetarian is my concerns about inconvenience. Not to me–I genuinely love tofu and tempeh and can eat a bucket of raw vegetables for a meal and be incredibly satisfied. I prefer Nayonnaise over mayo (that shit is gross, yo), and any other number of things. However, I don’t like to be the burden. I hate feeling like when I go to someone’s house, they are going to feel obligated to make sure that there is “something Cuppy can eat.” At a wedding a few weekends ago, everyone was piling the chicken and steak on their plates at the buffet while I spooned up the mushroom ravioli. A caterer asked, “Vegetarian?” “Yes.” “Oh, so you’re why we had to bring this stuff.” I know I’m not the only one who ate it–I saw other people with the ravioli–but there was a momentary flash of guilt of, “Oh my god, my friend had to add an entire dish to his wedding catering just because of me!”

And of course, there’s the pointed comments. “Well, we were going to go to XYZ restaurant for dinner, but we have a vegetarian coming.” “For every animal you don’t eat, I’m going to eat TWO!” “I’m going to eat this hamburger right in front of you.” Uh, yeah. Okay. What’s your point?*

And the more I linger on the fringe of being a vegetarian–not putting the label on myself, but simply ordering the veggie burger instead, or ignoring the platter of meaty appetizers at a party–the more I see the weird way we are about them.

If you aren’t one of them, it seems like you’re against them. This isn’t a blanket statement, but it’s a pretty regular trend. If I go out with a group of friends and I order the vegetarian option (say, a veggie burger), I will get mocked. If I make dinner for people and as they’re praising how great it was I toss in, “Yeah, and it was vegan!” they will respond by either saying, “How dare you TRICK me into eating that stuff!” or “Yeah, well, it’d be better with meat,” or both. (Cause yeah, I totally tricked you! You never would’ve eaten… pasta… and… vegetables…) I’ve had people tell me that I’m weak because I choose not to eat meat, I’m a wimp, I’m girly…

Wait, what?

Yes. Eating meat has become GENDERED. And also sexualized!

I’d really like to dig up some images or websites to go with this, but I feel like I can’t be the only one to have noticed this. In the same way in which girls who play videogames are fetishized, girls who eat meat are fetishized. There’s this huge backlash of now when women are asked what their favorite food is, there’s a huge push of “ugh, I hate salad! Give me a bacon double cheeseburger any day!” and so on.

My best guess is that this is a backlash to all the dieting restrictions thrown at women. A woman who shamelessly loves a bacon double cheeseburger is a woman who is not tied to the social mores of what is and is not appropriate for her–she eats what she wants, and, one may extrapolate from that, enjoys all of the hedonistic pleasures of her body. (Personally, I prefer cannolis to bacon double cheeseburgers when it comes to hedonistic pleasures.) There is something, well, sexual about a woman indulging in eating, and eating excessively.

Is abstaining from meat viewed by the male gaze as similar to abstaining from sex? If you don’t know that I’m eating a veggie hotdog, is my consumption of a phallic symbol any less “hurr hurr hurr”-inducing than the girl sitting next to me eating an actual hotdog? Does knowing that it’s vegetarian remove the sexiness from it?

I don’t know. But the more I stand around NOT labeling myself as a vegetarian, the more I hear people’s candid remarks on it. For all that I will get mocked and harassed for being a vegetarian, there’s a lot that they don’t say straight up. Vegetarians are painted as being repressed, joyless people. They’re no fun to bring anywhere. They’re buzzkills.

And maybe this is only me, but I started to associate it with how I used to feel about being a female. In high school, I used to proudly announce that “I’m NOT girly. I’m not like all those OTHER girls!” I took it as incredibly sweet when my boyfriend would tell me how unfeminine I was. I feel a swell of pride when my dad jokingly refers to me as his son.

Basically, I had so internalized that it was BAD to be female and feminine that I took great pains to establish that I was not like that, via renouncing my feminism. I had completely internalized the idea of what femaleness is, and it is bad.

I was even told at certain points that I was allowed to participate in certain things–attending autocross events, or LAN parties–because I wasn’t “really a girl.” I was admitted into a special club.

Does anyone else think that is enormously stupid? Because I do.

But I get the same affirmation–when I don’t speak up about dietary wants or needs, when I just go and eat wherever, I get propped up that I’m a “fun girl” because I don’t get obsessive about needing to have access to a salad or whatever. Because now apparently my gender has predestined my meal plan.

Look, I eat vegetarian for personal reasons. Just because it works for me and makes me happy doesn’t necessarily mean the same is true for you. I appreciate some open-mindedness (why yes, if I cook you dinner, it will be vegetarian!) and some sensitivity (how about we DON’T go to dinner at the All-Meat Uber-Meat-o-rama Meatfest?) but you don’t have to change yourself and I am NOT judging you.

I think PETA and the nose-in-the-air-pro-veg-bumper-stickers-on-our-Prius crowd has mucked it up a little. Sort of like people abruptly become deeply defensive about owning a car when they find out my primary transportation is a bike, people become really adamant about loving meat and defensive about that love when they hear me call myself vegetarian. They become really defensive about all their life decisions when they hear I’m a feminist.

Is it subconscious guilt? Do people recognize that using a car as a primary method of transit in Boston is wasteful? Do they get that they probably eat way more meat than they need to satisfy their body’s requirements for protein and nutrients? (And that their meat is likely not produced in the greatest way? I actually have a huge eco-friendly boner for people who care enough to buy only small amounts of locally produced, fairly raised, grass-fed meat. Now that is social responsibility and gourmand-love coming together!) Do they get that they probably passively endorse misogynist behavior?

I do a lot of wasteful shit too. Hell, I occasionally prop up “patriarchy,” or whatever you want to call it, because dudes, I like wearing thong underwear sometimes. I’m no flawless angel. So… I’m not judging. But I guess everyone thinks I am? I don’t know. I don’t understand why what I eat, where I shop, etc, is such a big deal to people. Why is how I curate my body so offensive to you?

But anyways, this has been a way, way longer entry than I ever meant. I meant to just throw out one or two cute little comments on why I’m experimenting with veganism for the weekend. Basically, I’m pushing my own boundaries–I know I can be vegetarian and enjoy it, but I’ve let myself be pushed around by external forces. So I’m challenging myself to be vegan for an entire weekend. It’s going to be tough (I have a brick of parmesan in my fridge right now), but I think it’ll be good for me. It will push me to get more creative in my cooking (I’ve fallen into a rut, and vegan cooking uses such fun ingredients!) and it will remind me of how simple it is to be a vegetarian. It’s not hard for me to live my regular life–including social life–and be a vegetarian. Vegan? A little harder. So I’m going to spend this weekend of lack-of-obligations in treating myself well and spoiling myself.

Tomorrow morning, I’m going to the farmer’s market before I head out to the blood drive. I can’t wait!

I’m really, really looking forward to this weekend. I don’t know to what extent being vegan will stick with me, but I know I want to commit to working more veganism into my diet when I can. I want to keep my vegetarianism going strong. I hope this weekend brings about some positive changes in my life. I’m excited!

Also, I’ll share some recipes and results at the end of the weekend. You don’t have to be vegan (or even vegetarian) to enjoy good food! 🙂

*I get that people do this under the assumption that it will distress and horrify me. But dude, if you’re supposed to be my friend, why do you feel like it’s funny and cool to do something that you think might be borderline traumatizing to me? (I know a very sweet vegan who would be brought close to tears by that behavior, and people know it but do it nonetheless. People who are supposedly friends.) Why will you respect my choice of clothing, or what career path I have selected, or where I choose to live. Why is what I choose to eat so offensive to you?

06/18/2010. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. 3 comments.

More Than Just An Oil Slick

The BP oil disaster. I can’t even begin to express how heartbroken I’ve been over it. It seems like every time I turn around, the situation is getting worse. There’s more oil, the flow can’t be stopped, the oil is reaching the shoreline, animals are dying…

The worst part, to me, is this feeling of complete helplessness. I looked into going down to Louisiana to help with clean-up efforts along the shore, and BP is refusing all non-local volunteers in order to avoid having to provide shelter. Beyond going down to Louisiana to help clean up, I can’t think of anything else I can do–there’s no action I can engage in to help stop the flow of oil, to staunch the leak, to hold in what’s already there. My planet is getting destroyed, my world is going to hell, and there is nothing I can do. But if nothing is done, the oil is going to go around Florida and make its way up the coast and out into the open ocean.

If you look at the image in that article, the distance that the oil is spread is huge. That’s an enormous amount of coastline. Even just all the ecological damage being done to the Gulf is huge. And here’s the thing–we get a lot of food from the southern regions of the US, and the oil is going to impact that. It’s going to get into the water, get into the plants that the animals will eat, and come down as acid rain. This spill isn’t just impacting the fishing industry; it’s impacting everything.

And now it’s worse. Again. Now it’s going to have reproductive effects. Feministing gives us a heads up that there are chemicals in both the oil and the dispersants that can impair fertility, or influence the development of a fetus. This spill is literally shaping our next generation. It will have effects that will trickle down for who knows how long. Like radiation from Chernobyl, the spill is altering us.

You don’t have to TOUCH the oil to feel the effects. This is much bigger than a potential increase in the price per gallon at your local gas station. All that stuff I said about how the oil and its related chemicals will travel through the entire system? Yep. That means you’ll end up eating or drinking those chemicals. It’s hard to say exactly how far those reproduction-mangling chemicals will travel, or how common or severe the effects will be. But do you really want to play Russian Roulette with this kind of thing?

I wish I had more of a sense of what we can do. For now, I’m working hard at trying to cut back on my use of all things oil-related, but a lot of this is hard–what do I replace my plastic kitchen trash bags with? When I buy bulk drygoods at the market, I have no option except to put them into the plastic baggies they provide (bringing containers from home would alter the weight measurement at the register) . Bread comes in plastic. Toothbrushes and razors in bubble packs. Seriously–think for a second about how much of the stuff you throw away is just packaging! Stuff that isn’t reusable, or recyclable, or anything. I recently saw a bag of chips that came in a compostable bag and I almost squealed with excitement. Unfortunately, my current living situation doesn’t allow for composting (my grandmother has been composting for as long as I can remember, and my sister does too. I’d love to join that bandwagon!).

For now, I’m doing my best to think about how I interact with the world around me–how to cut back on waste, how to be more energy efficient, and so on. Building good habits now will help keep those behaviors going even after the BP disaster is “over.” It’s never too late to start changing our ways to try to prevent history from repeating itself. There may be nothing we can do to stop what’s going on now, but we can do what we can to stop it from happening again and try to stop other disasters that we can’t currently imagine.

Remember, just because we think nothing will happen and we think we’re ready doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. After all, BP thought there was no possible way things could get this bad.

I want my future back. I am still waiting on my jetpack, dammit!

06/15/2010. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

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