Dispatches from The Swamp – the ‘ not so fast, Not So Fast’ edition

Whether you want to eat it or not.

Whether you want to eat it or not.

I heard an interview with Shira McDermott, Chief Founder and Faster at Not So Fast on CBC with Stephen Quinn. The topic of the interview was Vancouver’s first Kale Drive. Based on the premise that there is lots of kale in people’s gardens right now, the plan, if you can call it that, is to have gardeners harvest their kale and bring it to drop off their unused kale between 10-2 on December 1.* Then they plan to turn the kale into a powder to be then used to ‘fortify’ the community meals made in the DTES. Basically they will bake the kale until it is dried, grind it, and incorporate it into the meals made by community organizations. Sounds like a great plan hey? And, as we all know kale is a ‘superfood’ as McDermott told us over and over again. Although, interestingly, she really didn’t know why kale was called a superfood except, and I quote, ‘it is very nutritional’.

On the surface this sounds like a great idea until you start to dig around a little. Just because some group of well-meaning but oppressive folks decide that people in the DTES need something in their diet does not make it right. In fact, it is extremely oppressive. There are so many assumptions built into this premise but the worst one is based on the idea that we know better than them when it comes to nutrition. We think you need this and we are going to force it on you through your community meals. Did they ask people on the DTES if they want to eat kale? I think not. They are operating from their place of mostly white and middle class privilege. The liberal ‘do-gooder’ attitude is infamous for tromping on people’s agency and dignity.

The kale drive and the force-feeding of kale to people in the DTES is just one aspect of their programming. The idea behind this organization is that people abstain from food (fast) for a specified amount of time or meals and then donate the money they saved by not eating to Not So Fast who then distributes it to food security programs. On the surface, I think it is a ridiculous idea. As you read their their vision statement so many of those same assumptions I referenced above are their foundation:

Our goal at Not So Fast is to encourage communities, and our world, to consume less and give more.

No matter what your status is, there will always be someone who has more than you, and someone who has less.

The Not So Fast idea is all about going with (just a little) less to give someone else a little more. You can give up your favourite treat for a day or make some major lifestyle changes – the choice is yours. In turn, the money you would have spent is donated to Not So Fast or the food charity of your choice.

By donating to Not So Fast, your money goes towards one of several of our grassroots initiatives aimed at arming people of all walks of life to source, prepare, and enjoy the very food many of us take for granted everyday.

Because food for all is a basic human right.

The opening sentence is a noble goal however what it belies is the fact that food insecurity is a systemic issue of injustice in our society. If all of our citizens are to have access to appropriate food there will have to be a major change on the governmental level that would put people before profits and well-being above the bottom line. In short, we would need to get serious about ending poverty in our rich country. Asking people to eat a little less is only reifying the idea that charity can do what government should.

The next statement is extremely problematic. The idea that everyone can give regardless of what they have (or don’t have) is oppressive. How does it make sense that everyone should compromise their access to food no matter how little they have? It also attempts to make people feel guilty for not going without so someone else can have more. Is the single mother on income assistance going to fast so that someone else more needy can have her food? Of course they caveat the fasting regimes with groups of people who should not do it.** But what they fail to realize is that some people will do this regardless of their membership into one of these groups. What if young people with eating disorders use this idea as a way to further restrict food? The problems that could arise are endless. Instead of using a medical doctor they are relying on a naturopathic doctor for their medical information. While I recognize that they likely know a lot about nutrition, I think a medical doctor would be a more credible source.

The thing that disturbs me the most is that they have a store where they are selling journals called “The Little Book Of Less,” a journal for fasters to track their ‘good deeds and keep you on the right path.’ You can buy a single book, a pack of 3 books or a starter pack of 1 book, some pins and magnets. So the question now becomes what is their real purpose? Why would they ask people to spend money on their branded stuff instead of you know tracking things in a spreadsheet on their computers? If they were truly committed to their ‘good deeds’*** why would they be selling anything? They could set up journal and excel templates and offer them for free on their website.

I get that people want to make themselves feel better by trying to do something good in the world. Feeding people who don’t have enough to eat is a noble and lofty goal. However, when your need to do be charitable work compromises another person’s agency it is not a good work; it is oppression.

* At first they contemplated going into people’s gardens at night and stealing it.

** “Children under 13, and women who are pregnant should not fast at all. Pretty much everyone can fast safely for at least one meal, providing you are in good general health. Anyone who is diabetic (type 1 or 2), has cardiac risk factors, history of eating disorders, kidney problems, or other known health concerns should consult with a licensed healthcare provider before considering any type of food fast.”

***The right path as defined by the Not So Fast folks no doubt.

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Published in: on November 27, 2013 at 3:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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