Tagged: cogitation
WisCon class panels & labor unions
chris. | 31 May 2014 | 8:17 pm | (deconstructing) class(ism) | Only Pings

I’ve long been troubled by certain class panels at WisCon that seem to get bogged down with only wanting to talk about labor unions in the U.S.  While working on some Friends of Dennis -related stuff last night, i was suddenly struck with why:

hangin’ on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic differences in our society* {Tumblr}
chris. | 19 January 2013 | 9:53 pm | (deconstructing) class(ism), collected rants | Comments closed

This is a response i posted on Tumblr earlier, but Tumblr is horrible for anything remotely blog-like so i wanted to save it here — especially in case anyone wanted to actually comment on it.  Everything in blockquotes is the previous post that i’m replying to.  My commentary begins at “Why in the world is this a problem we’re pinning on just vegans?”

hangin’ on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic differences in our society*

Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?


Not long ago, quinoa was just an obscure Peruvian grain you could only buy in wholefood shops. We struggled to pronounce it (it’s keen-wa, not qui-no-a), yet it was feted by food lovers as a novel addition to the familiar ranks of couscous and rice. Dieticians clucked over quinoa approvingly because it ticked the low-fat box and fitted in with government healthy eating advice to “base your meals on starchy foods”.

Adventurous eaters liked its slightly bitter taste and the little white curls that formed around the grains. Vegans embraced quinoa as a credibly nutritious substitute for meat. Unusual among grains, quinoa has a high protein content (between 14%-18%), and it contains all those pesky, yet essential, amino acids needed for good health that can prove so elusive to vegetarians who prefer not to pop food supplements.

Sales took off. Quinoa was, in marketing speak, the “miracle grain of the Andes”, a healthy, right-on, ethical addition to the meat avoider’s larder (no dead animals, just a crop that doesn’t feel pain). Consequently, the price shot up – it has tripled since 2006 – with more rarified black, red and “royal” types commanding particularly handsome premiums.

But there is an unpalatable truth to face for those of us with a bag of quinoa in the larder. The appetite of countries such as ours for this grain has pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken. Outside the cities, and fuelled by overseas demand, the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture.

In fact, the quinoa trade is yet another troubling example of a damaging north-south exchange, with well-intentioned health and ethics-led consumers here unwittingly driving poverty there. It’s beginning to look like a cautionary tale of how a focus on exporting premium foods can damage the producer country’s food security. Feeding our apparently insatiable 365-day-a-year hunger for this luxury vegetable, Peru has also cornered the world market in asparagus. Result? In the arid Ica region where Peruvian asparagus production is concentrated, this thirsty export vegetable has depleted the water resources on which local people depend. NGOs report that asparagus labourers toil in sub-standard conditions and cannot afford to feed their children while fat cat exporters and foreign supermarkets cream off the profits. That’s the pedigree of all those bunches of pricy spears on supermarket shelves.

Soya, a foodstuff beloved of the vegan lobby as an alternative to dairy products, is another problematic import, one that drives environmental destruction. Embarrassingly, for those who portray it as a progressive alternative to planet-destroying meat, soya production is now one of the two main causes of deforestation in South America, along with cattle ranching, where vast expanses of forest and grassland have been felled to make way for huge plantations.

Three years ago, the pioneering Fife Diet, Europe’s biggest local food-eating project, sowed an experimental crop of quinoa. It failed, and the experiment has not been repeated. But the attempt at least recognised the need to strengthen our own food security by lessening our reliance on imported foods, and looking first and foremost to what can be grown, or reared, on our doorstep.

In this respect, omnivores have it easy. Britain excels in producing meat and dairy foods for them to enjoy. However, a rummage through the shopping baskets of vegetarians and vegans swiftly clocks up the food miles, a consequence of their higher dependency on products imported from faraway places. From tofu and tamari to carob and chickpeas, the axis of the vegetarian shopping list is heavily skewed to global.

There are promising initiatives: one enterprising Norfolk company, for instance, has just started marketing UK-grown fava beans (the sort used to make falafel) as a protein-rich alternative to meat. But in the case of quinoa, there’s a ghastly irony when the Andean peasant’s staple grain becomes too expensive at home because it has acquired hero product status among affluent foreigners preoccupied with personal health, animal welfare and reducing their carbon “foodprint”. Viewed through a lens of food security, our current enthusiasm for quinoa looks increasingly misplaced.

Tell me again how “cruelty-free” your diet is.

Oh, wait, my bad, I forgot poor brown people don’t count because at least they’re not cows and chickens.

Why in the world is this a problem we’re pinning on just vegans? Vegans make up a tiny percentage of the population — i strongly doubt they, as a group, are solely responsible for all the quinoa consumption world-wide. If your reaction is to blame vegans for this, well, then all you’re telling me is that you’re irritated with vegans in the 1st place and simply have found more ammunition to continue to dislike them.

This problem, however, is less the result of a specialized dietary schema followed by a fraction of the population and MORE a result of globalization. As consumers, we want more and more things but at cheaper and cheaper prices. Not to mention company CEOs and boards and share-holders want to make as much money as possible with as little expense as possible. So production gets bigger and bigger to meet the demand, and then it gets shipped to areas of the world where labor is cheaper and cheaper (because, y’know, we still demand our nice paychecks and health benefits and so we’re costing those CEOs and boards and share-holders too much money in their expense columns). And that’s how we find ourselves with sweatshops in China making our jeans and iPods, and all the quinoa shipped away from Peru and Bolivia because the sellers can get better prices overseas.

This is not a problem vegans made — it’s a problem ALL of us in wealthy, greedy countries made.

If your next reaction is to tell me, “This is why we gotta eat more LOCAL”, well, now all you’re telling me is that you have the money to be able to eat more local. Eating locally-produced food is often a fair bit more expensive than buying all your groceries at the local supermarket. (And if shopping at the local farmers market is NOT more expensive than the supermarket for you, then, congrats! Are you from my hometown??) A cut of chicken on a styrofoam tray in the meat cooler of the supermarket is LOTS cheaper than a free-range organic chicken bought at the saturday farmers market.

Some things to think about next time you’re holding something in the grocery store or at the market:

– How far did this travel to get here? – How many stages of processing did it go thru’? – And how many people handled it at those stages and expect to be paid? – How much DO those people get paid? – How many hours a day/week are they expected to work? – Do they get sick days? – Do they work with chemicals? – Do they work in extreme heat or cold?- Can they afford the food you’re holding in your hands?

Consider this: It’s the dead of winter, the ground’s been frozen for a month, and the days are pretty short because the sun sets kind of early — but you’re chopping up a tomato.

You may consider all those questions and scenarios, and STILL need to buy the thing you’re holding. That’s fine and understandable! We need to eat. We need to buy food. We can only buy food from the options that are available to us. Buying on a budget, i’ve bought plenty of food that was extremely cheap — and i couldn’t afford to worry about where it came from. And sometimes i just crave a damn tomato in january. I am part of the problem, too.

We are ALL part of the problem, whether we want to be or not — whether we care or not. Because we, as a society, want tomatoes in the dead of winter. Because we like our quinoa (i’ve never had it, but clearly someone loves it). Because we don’t want to pay a whole lot for our jeans and our iPods.

We are all part of the problem; we are all trapped in the system. Blaming things on vegans is a red herring and DOESN’T ACTUALLY HELP. Implying that all vegans don’t care about brown people erases the experiences of people of color who are vegan. Implying that all vegans don’t care about poor people ignores vegans who are poor. Veganism is NOT just a precious hobby of well-off white people.

We are ALL trapped in this globalization system, and the system doesn’t care about poor people. But since we’re all trapped here together right now, let’s stop distracting ourselves by throwing stones at vegans and talk about what we’re going to do about this mess we made.



our brave narrator returns to college coursework
chris. | 26 September 2012 | 9:15 pm | (words) & their mechanics | 2 Comments

I’m taking an intro to linguistics class right now, and i’m not gonna lie: i am OVER THE MOON excited about this.  I’ve been hoping to take more college classes for about 10 years and it’s almost a dream that it’s actually happening.

Maybe, to help my brain digest each class’s reading, i’ll write a bit about the readings here?  The text is Language Files (11th Edition).  The 1st reading was 1.1 – 1.3.

The 1st thing that was interesting to me is that this text actually uses the phrases “grammatical”/”ungrammatical”.  The text i had for the intro to linguistics class i took when i was an undergraduate for real used “standard”/”non-standard”.  I might dig out that old text and see if i’m remembering correctly, and if there’s an explanation for why the text chose that.  The other thing that jumped out at me, having done the readings after the class (on account of being a late add and thus not having received the syllabus beforehand) is that the instructor left off pragmatics in the list of what linguistics, as a discipline, is interested in (phonetics/phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics — no pragmatics).  I’m going to assume this is because this particular course won’t be covering it and not that the instructor made some gross oversight.

What excited me about this 1st reading was how it explained what linguists do:  linguists are interested in describing linguistic competence by observing linguistic performance.  Or, to put it the way my brain read that phrase, linguists are basically attempting to describe an unseen phenomena by observing the visible manifestations of that phenomena.  For one thing, it reminds me of how exo-planets are (currently) being discovered by observing the regular, periodic fluctuations in the light of distant starts.  But, for another thing, there’s a poetic inexactness about what linguistics is doing — since linguists are not truly able to directly observe, and thus describe, an individual’s linguistic competence — that attracts me.

I realized, as i wrapped up this reading, that the other thing that attracts me to linguistics is that it attempts to look at language free of the social biases and class issues inherent in prescriptive grammars (e.g., grammar such as we’re taught in schools).  Naturally, i’m interested in seeing just how successfully linguistics maintains this distance from issues of social class — because, in the end, i always expect there to be some failure.

Onward to tonight’s readings!

20 minutes
chris. | 11 June 2012 | 10:47 pm | diary, rules | Comments closed

I have utterly appalling time-management skills.  I always have — i’m always the dawdler, the daydreamer, the student handing in her assignments chronically late.  Perhaps one of the reasons i’m so well suited to working in a newsroom is that having a firm, no-way-out-of-it deadline right in my face is the only way i can get anything done.

The thing is i just like having things done.  I don’t like having to stop in the middle of a project.  I don’t like having to shift my focus to something new unless i’m stuck and just need a 5 minute mental break.  It makes me feel jittery and too-scattered to have several projects going at once — i become really disoriented and confused in situations like that.

Being an adult with about 10 projects going at once, however, is incredibly difficult with work habits like this.  I can’t just pencil out an entire evening for sewing, or all of a sunday afternoon for poking around in my garden.  The past 3 years — since the moment i finished a 9-month certificate program that had been the one consuming focus of my time for most of a year and whoosh my life came rushing back into fill the void — have been especially difficult as i try to juggle everything i’m interested in.

About a year or so ago i started experimenting with “just see what you can get done in 20 minutes” — an idea adapted from [community profile] bitesizedcleaning, which in turn adapted it from FlyLady i believe.  Sometimes it works for me, sometimes it doesn’t.  Trying to do too many 20-minute sessions in an evening can lead to the scattered, disoriented feeling i mentioned.  I’m experimenting with various ways of combining 20-minute sessions with long stretches of focusing on 1 project.

The biggest obstacle for me to overcome is my ingrained assumption that i need a solid hour to do something.  As a reminder to myself, here are some things easily accomplished in just 20 minutes:

  • Re-potting 2 or 3 plants and tidying up the balcony garden.
  • Ironing 1 top and 1 skirt that need simple hem fixes, then fixing the skirt (and, with 10 more minutes, fixing the top).
  • Tidying the surfaces of both my desk and my worktable.
  • Writing 1 simple, <400-words blog post.
living in the patriarchy
chris. | 3 April 2012 | 7:08 pm | (deconstructing) sexism, gadgetry | 2 Comments

I continue to live within patriarchal systems, tho’ some have tried to persuade me patriarchy is long dead.

One of the effects of patriarchy that i live with on a regular basis is the condescension of men who are convinced of my complete insignificance and of their absolute rightness — even in the face of evidence to the contrary.  An example:

Me:  It sure is lovely outside.

Your average middle-aged middle class white dude:  Yes, the forecast said it should get up as high as 57F today!

Me:  Oh, it’s much warmer than that already.  The thermometer i keep on my purse said it was almost 70F when i was out at lunch.

Yamamcwd:  Oh, i don’t believe that!  I was out just 45 minutes ago and i was so cold i still felt chilly inside my winter jacket.

Me:  All i’m saying is the thermometer i keep on my purse said it was over 65F right before i walked in the building from lunch.

Because, yes yes, his ability to gauge the ambient temperature with his human skin is far more accurate than a device regularly used for the purpose by scientists and laypeople alike.

On the other hand, occasionally i am pleasantly surprised.  I bought a ridiculously swanky microphone today.  As i made my way to the counter, i braced for some comment from the clerk along the lines of, “Oh, buying a gift for you boyfriend, eh?”  I was genuinely startled when another employee said as he walked past me, “That is a great microphone.  Really, really excellent!  Good choice!”

Granted, i was at the University Bookstore and not your random-ass Radio Shack.  Still.  The years upon years upon decades where i’ve been treated like an incompetent, bumbling fool every time i try to buy something even remotely techy — and, yes, the dudebros at Radio Shack have always been the worst offenders in this regard — have given me ingrained reflexes.

So thank you, middle aged guy working in the University Bookstore tech department, for being better than the average i’ve come to expect.

In other news:  I have apparently bought a ridiculously swanky microphone!  What should i record with it?  Aside from pronunciations for Wordnik?  If you could hear me read something to you, what would it be?

Ahhh, Paris, my mid-life crisis
chris. | 24 January 2012 | 9:11 pm | traveling | 1 Comment

I’ve been wanting to go to Paris for the past 30 years — ever since falling in love with the idea of Paris when i was in 5th grade and we were introduced to the 3 languages my school district taught in middle school so that we could choose which one to study.

I chose French, of course, because it’s what they speak in Paris.  Three years in middle school, 4 years in high school, 1 year at my 1st college.  I almost had enough credits to get a minor in French at my 2nd college, but not quite enough and so i had to drop it in order to graduate1.

And yet, i still haven’t been to France.  But then, kids who are on reduced-price lunch don’t exactly get to go on school trips abroad.  In college i was poor enough for Pell Grants and state need grants, so, y’know, still no traveling abroad.

My father-in-law offered to send Andy and me anywhere in the world for our honeymoon.  I requested Paris.  Andy wanted Japan.  We wound up in Dublin2.

I joked that i wanted to go to Paris for my 40th birthday, because i figured if i were going to have a mid-life crisis i might as well be in Paris for it.  But i have a long history with mediocre-to-awful birthdays and didn’t expect it would really happen.  We managed to pull off a decent birthday celebration last year for me3, however, so Andy surprised me by declaring he was taking me to Paris in 2012 whether i liked it or not.

Blah blah blah, today my boss approved my vacation request for 9 days in Paris this summer.

The basic plan is to fly out of Seattle somewhere around june 21st and return somewhere around the 4th of July.  Since we’ll be in Paris for so long, we’re looking into renting an apartment.

Everything else in between is totally up in the air!  Andy’s submitted a few suggestions/requests4, but everything else is completely up to me.

Please feel free to make suggestions!  Things to do, arondissements to consider when we look for accommodations, restaurants/foods we need to try.  I’ll be making a few posts with specific requests for advice/information, too.

First up:  Anyone know a good sake house in Paris??

  1. Yeah.  That worked well. []
  2. Dublin was absolutely great, tho’!  I could totally see myself living in Dublin, if anyone’s listening who has a job to offer me in Dublin. []
  3. The secret is a weekend of floating from one sake house to another. []
  4. Mostly to do with Dumas in some way, because he’s Andy. []