Privilege

Some months ago, a comment from Jill (Nice Piece of Work) on my post about decluttering got me thinking a great deal about privilege. About the fact that I am only in a position to make choices because of my circumstances… the fact that I am educated, that my parents both had jobs and money, that I live in a democracy, that I am a member of the major ethnic group in my country, that I have a job, that I have home and partner, that I have a supportive family, that my country is stable politically, that I am healthy. So many people have so many immediate things to worry about… where their next meal is coming from, where they will sleep tonight, whether their children are safe, how they will pay for medical treatment…. When I thought about all the problems I could be facing, it seemed somewhat crass to be fretting about clutter.

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This simply isn’t available to everybody

Then last week we were having lunch with Sue (Going Batty in Wales) and discussing her recent experience during the time she had her arm in a cast, having broken her wrist. She mentioned the necessity of using prepared, frozen vegetables when she was unable to chop up her ingredients for cooking, and how disappointing many of them were in terms of both flavour and texture. This sort of inability to do things is the long-term reality for many people and so they, unlike me, are deprived of a full range of choices when it comes to, amongst many things, their food. So, there’s my privilege again.

It’s funny how these sorts of conversations come around several times… the following day I was having a video chat with Kt (Kt Shepherd Permaculture) in Spain and she mentioned the value of ready-meals for people with limited abilities to cook. She pointed out how marvellous they are for those who rely on other people preparing their food: to at least be able to choose a dish that you fancy and heat it up yourself. Ready-made food may not be everyone’s idea of freedom, but for some that is exactly what it represents. And so, again, my level of privilege is reinforced. I can choose what I eat, what I buy, where I buy it from, how I cook it. The fact that many ready meals are, in the words of Joanna Blythman, “food-like substances” rather than real food is unacceptable – we should not condemn those with limited choices only to poor choices.

So where have all these thoughts led me? I don’t think feeling guilty is the answer – that just directs energy to a useless end, but certainly being aware of such privilege is important. This issue certainly relates to the permaculture ethic of ‘fair shares’ but perhaps I haven’t really thought about it in this way before. I feel that I would like to take action, but other than doing the usual things I can to support my friends and local community, I’m not sure how. I’m only just beginning to think this through and deciding on possible actions, but I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this and what, if anything, you or anyone you know is doing from/about their position of privilege.

 

 

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  1. Oh how you strike a cord with me today. Wiltshire Farm Foods are an absolute godsend for the elderly. The ready meals are tasty and the drivers who deliver them are marvellous.
    Which takes me to food in hospitals. Why oh WHY do they still not provide tailor made nourishing food to patients. Why are meals produced in Wales and then transported 100s of miles to be reheated, and are quite frankly not nice, appetising or nutrious. Surely when you have someone ill in hospital the better the diet the quicker the discharge and the healing.
    School dinners the same, not always cooked on site, why not?
    And food supplements, oh dear. My husband is currently suffering from late term effects of cancer treatment. Swallowing is very difficult. I cook everything from scratch and then we have to puree it all. But can you buy such products ready made. No. If I wasn’t here goodness knows how he would be managing. We have been given bottles of food suppliments all are artificial, fruit flavoured drinks. Why not something savoury that actually resembles food.
    I am truly grateful that am privileged enough to be able to afford, source, cook and eat decent food which gives me the nourishment I need.
    Thank you for thinking about and raising this topic. It is very sad to realise in a society where there is plenty people are still malnourished.

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    • You’ve struck a chord here yourself. Having read the Snail’s thoughtful piece, I was taken back to the time I myself was on chemo, and alone, without anyone to cook for me. I recall feeling a bit sorry for myself because all I could swallow was custard or yoghurt, and I was tired of them as my only options. I got that under control again when I realised it was very much a first world problem, and had I been suffering from cancer in a poorer nation, I’d not only have had even fewer food choices, I might not have been lucky enough to be getting chemo at all.

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      • Oh gosh that is so true also, and how terrible to be by yourself at a time like this.

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      • Another comment that makes me hanker after the existence of communities… I would happily help friends with this sort of problem, but would they ask? And how many people have no one to ask? How do we create networks that might address this? No answers, just questions.

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        • I’d only just moved to where I was living at the time, so had no new friends locally to call on. There is an additional issue here, unrelated to the theme you’re writing about, which is that often, cancer patients find themselves having to take care of and comfort friends and family who are upset or devastated by the news, instead of being taken care of themselves. Sometimes, what you need is a thoughtful stranger…

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        • This is a question that I keep asking myself.

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    • I wonder how many thousands of carers there are busily preparing food like you are… and how helpful it would be to have alternatives to take the pressure off. As for people who have no one to care for them at all…

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      • That is so true too. It’s the planning of the meals and the shopping for them too. We have been given gallons of the fruit flavoured drinks, but they are too acid, and only 230 calories each, so not much use. And so others will end up very weak and needing longer in hospital.
        Having worked with the elderly as a housing support worker ,I found carers only have time to microwave a meal, very occasionally I came across one who was very experinced and highly efficient who could cook a meal from scratch and shower her client pretty much at the same time. The client believe you me adored Fridays when she came. Nutriton just isn’t prioritised as much as it should be, although take Kate’s point that it is a first world problem.

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  2. Privileged! Yes, I am as well. I am thankful and grateful with all I am blessed with daily! Pondering on who and how I will help those without. Donating locally to others in need, for there are many, it what I do for now! Thank you for your Blog post today! XX

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  3. I, too, am very grateful that you are thinking and writing about this topic. My next blog post delves into privilege and the assumptions that many of us were brought up with about how we are allowed to consume seemingly endless amounts of fossil fuels, but other than simplifying my own life (no car — so I walk and bike and take public transportation; no cell phone; very few vacations — and usually quite local) and giving modest amounts of money to various social justice and political organizations, I, too, wonder what more I can do. I will look forward to reading other people’s comments in the upcoming days…

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    • I agree that avoiding taking too big a share is a good approach – endless consumption of the earth’s resources is all too easy and it’s more equitable to curb our appetites for these. Sharing our money – as you suggest – can have a big impact too. I wonder whether the starting point for the most effective changes is within our own communities… at least that provides results that we can see…

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  4. I have just been asked if I object to the statement that ‘Lampeter Chamber of Trade supports the Plastic-Free Movement’. Apparently the Lampeter Town Council passed a motion to support the aims of this movement and is working toward Lampeter and Ceredigion being plastic free.
    While I do support this principle and the idea of reducing or removing plastic packaging – I hadn’t heard of this and set out to find out about ‘The Plastic Free’ movement — I like the concept reduce, reuse, and get rid of plastics –
    Except the more I read – there is an element of evangelical ‘I don’t use plastic ever’ and the ‘best’ people ‘don’t buy cheap plastic’ or ‘fast fashion’. (I admit those were the google top pick articles). The articles I read sounded a bit self righteous and preachy. I think I objected to the marketing of the ideas not the ideas themselves.
    That said I am more convinced that wool is what I should be selling more of, but should/could I still sell plastic crochet hooks (50p) or handcarved wood ones (£25) ???

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    • There are so many evangelical voices… and you have to wonder about the privilege of these people and whether they live in the real world (another thing that cropped up over lunch with Sue last week). Sometimes we need to be pragmatic. And, specifically on the subject of plastic, it isn’t all bad, it’s just used inappropriately and indiscriminately a lot of the time.

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  5. Laurie Graves

     /  February 1, 2018

    A wonderful, thoughtful post. Feeling guilty certainly isn’t the answer, but taking action is. Sounds like you already are taking a lot of action by showing your concern for friends and family and looking at your personal habits to see where you can improve. Working toward a fairer society is something we all should do, but is more nebulous. What can we do, personally, other than vote? We all have our “superpowers,” things that we are good at. One of yours is writing, so that would be a logical place for you start. Finally, I think about the same things you think about, and I was much struck by what redappleyarn wrote about becoming evangelical about environmental issues. Something to beware of when it comes to anything.

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  6. This is a very thought provoking post. You say this so clearly and though I stand just barely above the poverty line, (I have a home to live in and most of the conveniences) many of my daily choices are made by my wallet rather than my conscience. I am older and not in the greatest of health but better than many. My food is simple with no fuss. We are not all meant to have the same standard of life. Guilt is the last thing you should feel. I give where I can as do you. Living the life of privilege is not wrong. It’s the contrast in the world that keeps pushing us forward to be more creative in our lives. My lack of privilege means I must be more creative in how I sustain myself. I find no shame in that and you should not feel any either. If we each see an opportunity to reach out and help, I’m certain we would both do the best we can. But each person is responsible for finding their own joy in life and I don’t feel like anyone else is responsible for making sure I have mine. I’ve had to adjust my perspective a few times and remember to be deeply grateful for what I DO have in my life. I’m not sure if my thoughts address where you are coming from but I felt compelled to share them. You are welcome to delete them. Keep enjoying each and every moment of every day. Marlene

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  7. Recognizing one’s privilege is the first step in solving many problems. You, and many of your readers, are tuned in, awake, and aware. So many others are not. I’ve lived on various levels of the material wealth spectrum. My father worked full time, our mother part time, and we had a home with a garden, meals on the table and a simple life. My parents immigrated to the States when I was 7 and my father died from lung cancer two years later. He was only 54. Suddenly we were living in poverty in a country without a safety net. My mother worked full time, supporting three girls, all under the age of 14. I remember a night before payday where we gathered around a meal of flour and water biscuits and scraped the last of a jar of jam. I’ve never forgotten that poverty. There was no TV, no car, and we lived in a poor neighborhood with violence and crime around us. Mom did her best, and the three of us grew up to graduate from college. Now I’m living on the other spectrum, and feels it’s my duty to make a difference wherever and whenever I can. My mom was an amazing cook, but suddenly she was working long hours and feared having her young children at home using a stove. She bought what they called “frozen TV dinners” at the time, and we were able to fend for ourselves this way in the early years.

    I use my privilege to help lift up others, to make a difference where I can, when I can. I donate blood. I give of my time serving at organizations that help others. Our family gives financially to organizations locally, nationally and internationally that are making a difference with lifting people out of poverty, improving literacy, providing health care, shelter and education. I believe from the depths of my soul that if everyone looked around and said, “how can I help, how can I make a difference in the world” things would improve for everyone, everywhere.

    We currently have a sitting president that stands for everything I’m against. At times I feel great despair. But then I look around and see all the wonderful souls refusing to give up or give in, people that are making a difference in whatever way they can.

    Great post!

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  8. Just a couple of thoughts… guerilla gardening and/or sharing a part of one’s own garden with someone who doesn’t for growing food. Both are good for building community and places a value on good food for all.

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  9. What a wonderful post Jan – and you have sparked such a conversation too – I so want to join in, but know I will be here for hours if I do 🙂 I lived an important part of my life in a supportive community when I was younger. I know the benefits of it and I believe firmly it is up to us to build strong communities wherever we are and wherever we go and however we can. The thing I have learned about building communities is to reserve judgement, for we cannot know without walking a mile in their shoes, the thoughts, the strivings, the pains and the feelings of any of our fellow travellers – and I think this is something that you are alluding to in your post. We have an opinion about something, we think we know the truth, we believe what we do and think is right – and we make judgements about those who are outside our path of righteousness. I know I do anyway! (It is top of my ongoing personal improvement plan to desist in that altogether.) I think it pertains whether we are a radical religionist or a born again planet saver and covers the spectrum between. We are all doing the best we can and the more we know, the better we do. Someone famous said that and I think they are correct. Sharing knowledge is one of the greatest community building devices. (Teach a man to fish….) You do that so well and so openly and honestly too. So, in answer to your question, keep sharing your knowledge and the new information you find out. Keep noticing how many people are like you striving to find ways to help, to share, to learn – notice that they are myriads! Keep asking questions. Keep posting. And thank you for this post!!

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  10. This has given me much to think about; In terms of the entire world, I consider that I, too, am privileged, but differently in some ways than you. I’m not currently in a position to do much physically (dependent on others for transportation, living with introverted cousins who rarely have anyone in, etc. So I find small things to do because I believe that even small things can add up and make a difference. I belong to an online facebook group focused on sewing items with knit stretchy fabrics. The founder of the group designs pdf patterns (thing of the future) and the followers are a great community who support each other, especially newcomers to sergeing and knits, sometimes new to sewing altogether. Anyway, some are stay at home Mums who earn a living, or part of one, by selling what they make. So last month I began a new practise for me; I am buying one pattern a month that is called Pay It Forward; the founder then passes that on to someone who needs help to buy a pattern. It’s a small thing to do, I know, but I hope it helps someone toward a bit more independence.

    I know people in a wide range from very poor to extremely rich, but I don’t know of anything any of them do. However, I know that Jon Bon Jovi started a restaurant called Soul Kitchen in New York. They have proper chefs and no prices on the menu. People pay what they can afford. And recently I heard of a NZ chef who has a sort of pop-up restaurant once a week that operates on the same model. It’s set up outside a rather posh regular restaurant, but there is proper table linens and service. Some of the street people who eat there had never been served like that, ever. Plenty of well to do people eat there, too, I understand, and that’s what helps keep it going. I contrast those with what’s happening in a couple of the southern states (USA), where people (even a minister) are arrested if they feed street people; the thinking being that if not fed, the poor will move on and become someone else’s problem.

    People like the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa have pointed out that the greatest crisis today is the lack of love and compassion in our hearts, far more than the poverty, homelessness, etc. So perhaps one answer to your question is another question: How do we raise awarenes, in ourselves and in others, so that we begin to act from compassion and love toward others, the planet, the animals, and so on.

    Thanks, Ms. Snail; you have raised an issue that needs consideration, discussion and action.
    Love and light to you. ~ Linne

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  11. This is such a massive topic, and carries its own political weight in South Africa, 23 years after the end of apartheid, the functioning of our entire society continues to be adversely affected by the injustices of the past. The concepts and practices of Black Economic Empowerment and Affirmative Action had pros and cons, and we are constantly having to revise and adjust how we manage our world. Some things are coming right, but most things are not – and sadly the new government has not helped its own cause or that of 75% of needy South Africans. Again, another huge and controversial topic.
    Like The Contented Crafter, I could sit here for hours writing, but there are plenty of other people who have expressed themselves far better than I ever could about the concept of being privileged in South Africa.
    What I will limit myself to talking about here is the individual’s personal perspective. As a white woman, having lived here since I was 8, with two working parents, a private education, tertiary qualifications, my own property, excellent career prospects, my own business, etc, it is impossible not to compare those privileges with those of, say, a 56-year old black woman who was born in a township, had to leave school in Std 2 to look after her younger siblings because her mother had to work for a pittance as a ‘servant’ and her father was a miner at a distant mine who was only allowed to go home once a year, and not feel guilty. White guilt is a real thing. It is also, however, not helpful to anyone. But it is very hard to understand how a black man or woman feels about living here, in 2018, and what sort of changes they would like to see happening – without being presumptuous or patronising. That is also a real thing! The ‘divide’ is also not without overlap – there are many poor whites and wealthy blacks, and the middle classes comprise an interesting mix these days, varying also from city to city (at least superficially). There are also children/young adults (black and white) who were born after the end of apartheid, and truly can’t understand what all the ‘fuss’ was about.
    I’m sure there are many other countries where things are complicated like this, where race issues have determined the geographical layout of cities and towns as well as the way the education system is run, and what is there to do but learn from history, accept what happened, and work in big and small ways to make sure nothing like it ever happens again. Easier said than done. We (me!) had to start by listening. Really listening to what other people want and feel and need, and accepting that what you are going to hear generally isn’t going to be nice or convenient.
    Let me stop right here otherwise the washing-up will never get done….

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    • Thank you for taking the time to share these thoughts. I think you have hit the nail on the head when you say that it’s impossible to understand how another person feels… we never have all the information so, again as you say, listening is key. I am trying to do this and to hear the voices of people who I have little contact with here in the UK. Sometimes it’s hard to see beyond the anger or despair or sadness or bravado (especially when through the filter of social media) and hear someone else’s truth, but it’s so important to try.

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  12. I like the concept of the ripple effect. Some people are good at instigating a movement, galvanising others into action; the rest of us go with small steps that gradually others take up, if they have the capacity.

    With my having a child but not social support, I am all too aware of how important communities are. I haven’t found a solution but going out and making contact with people must surely have a positive knock-on effect. This is just one example of an area where life can both be improved and improve.

    For those of us who can choose to buy what we want, where we want and make it how we want, we are using our privilege to create a better marketplace, so hopefully in the long run organic food, for example, will be the norm rather than a luxury. One change alone doesn’t solve all problems but when you open a door there is always more than you expect behind it.

    By the way, I wouldn’t feel guilty about writing a post about clutter. It is still a meaningful subject, not least because if you pass on your unwanted items, you are helping the world. And maybe someone else needs to read that.

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