Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Committed to Whom??? : Questionable Commitments

[My Soapbox: I should probably warn you this is not a favorable article. I try to limit my rants, but time for this one is long overdue. I apologize if I've made anyone feel uncomfortable in advance. I assure my efforts in person will always be much more peaceful, but this has been an issue that's literally been eating at me for weeks.]

The challenge:

Berea College’s commitment to sustainability is integrated into its mission and stems from one of its eight “Great Commitments,” which is “to encourage in all members of the community a way of life characterized by plain living, pride in labor well done, zest for learning, high personal standards, and concern for the welfare of others.” This ideal is expanded in one of the College’s Workplace Expectations for employees, which is to “encourage plain and sustainable living” by “promoting a sustainable way of life through policies, procedures and practices in the workplace...”

The Berea College Motto

"God Has Made of One Blood All Peoples of the Earth"

-Acts 17:26

The Accepted Translation (King James Version)

26And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;

In theory, but not in practice, eh Berea?

Sounds like the school is kind of playing God with my health, eh? Wow, how inappropriate. I apologize. I'm just getting antsy waiting around for the process to work, when I should be taking a stand for something. I'm not actually going to blast the Christian identity of the school I attend because frankly, who knows what it means to be christian anymore? and i don't really see how it's relevant. But I’m not gonna lie. School is really grinding my gears these days. From fighting with the administration over the being granted access to buy my own food to finding out my historic Nemesis has been hired as my TA for the one class I find challenging, I have been incredibly overwhelmed. As far as the food thing, I don’t have the energy to go into it right now. I’m conserving that energy to stay on top of my ridiculous amount of assignments. But more info will come as the story develops. The issue is already sort’ve nagging at the back of my psyche and I’m trying to save time and energy by developing strategies to get around it instead of sitting around complaining about it this year. In fact, I don’t complain about anything, but people can tell that I’m sort’ve down. Which is understandable and I’ve found throughout this process that my friends have given me some incredible support. Unfortunately, I’m learning that sometimes, when you take advantage of opportunities (like a school that charges no tuition) sometimes you get what you pay for, so I’m having to assess whether or not I can balance out the opportunities that the school offers despite its lack of willingness to accommodate my basic needs. [I’m inserting this sentence here, because I realize that as I let myself just let things all out, I’ve fallen into another rant. Consider this my formal, informal grievance. I may need this information sometime soon].

Genesis 1:29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.

If I wanted to be a jerk about it, one could argue that this passage of the bible advocates that we should all be vegetarians... perhaps even vegans. but i'm not fundamentalist, or literalist in this belief.

Did I mention the issue has arisen because I insist upon eating vegetables (actual vegetables with nutrients to manage my health problems, not the sludge delivered by sysco from a can)? Remember vegetables? Once upon a time when the U.S. took agriculture and nutrition seriously they were available on farms? Evidently we gave up on eating healthy when we decided to ingest industry and media instead. And the only ones who can afford to do so these days are the people who can afford to pay some restaurant to ship in green kale from Guatemala because American soil has become about as depleted as some of its citizens values. I'm sorry, I'm only speaking out of nihilist, disillusion.

Evidently the time has come in the American Institution where the word Vegan has become a dirty word. I know it’s a class issue, and I should be grateful… but I’m not exactly sure what I should be grateful for. I want to kick myself for choosing to have a social life last year instead of immersing myself in the sustainability program and learning how to grow my own food. But, my choice has also had its advantages. I have incredible friends who (embarrassingly enough) have sensed a lot of my distress over the issue, as I’ve sequestered myself into my room in boycott of the canned bean options that the school offers to vegetarians. They’ve been wonderful about donating food (some of which has no nutritional value, but I try to work into recipes simply out of gratitude… oh, and hunger) and I feel awful about it, but grateful at the same time. I’ve become Berea’s closet charity case, at a school that is supposed to be built around giving promising young students the opportunity to work their way up. Evidently, the line for accommodations is drawn at racial and gender issues.

If I thought I could live off of the salad bar, I’d try it. But those who have come before me seem to have tried and failed epically… some of them never to be heard from again. The only thing I’ve been able to do is arm myself with knowledge of nutrition and policy. But the sad reality is, even though I’m heavily equipped to fight this battle I’m very reluctant to do so. This is a banner year for me. I’ve moved up from struggling in trig, to struggling in calculus and taking my first SENS classes (which are based upon experiential learning and require a ridonculous amount of time outside of class). I made an agreement to myself that I wouldn’t DO anything extraneous on the subject until I got caught up on my school work. Lucky for them I got railroaded in a Calculus assignment and that bought them a little bit of time.

One of the benefits of this particular struggle is that it has honed my ability to focus on other projects, which was a challenge at first, because my mind goes a jillion miles a minute some days. But wanting to really do my work well, I’ve begun to initiate my study time as if it were sacred space in time, with the understanding that this is the only thing I can do, to ensure that I never go without my basic needs again. It kind of puts things into perspective how much time is squandered feeling insecure and inadequate about relationships when the people who are supposed to be looking out for your best interest, because they’ve scripted out that role …. To assume responsibility for your wellbeing drop the ball. I say drop the ball in a tone of disappointment, because it keeps me from feeling as oppressed as I was feeling before. I don’t think that it’s in their intention to put my health at jeopardy; a lot of it is just the culture of ignorance, but once they’ve been made aware that their nutritional amenities are sub par even for the meat eaters, there is this refusal to correct it. They’ve been dragging this thing out for weeks and I’ve had to resort to illegally using my food stamps to compensate for it because they don’t seem to regard it as a serious issue.

"Forgive them for they know not what they do...." or do they? This pic used to hang in a local coffee shop in town. It has always creeped me out.

Frankly I don’t expect them to get it. They can preach anything they want, but they don’t have live like I do. If I wasn't hell bent on being grateful to the people who have helped me out throughout this process, I could illustrate how a lot of the school's practices conflict with the ideologies that they teach, and the students who are the most active are the ones who feel discouraged most. A hefty percentage of our campus's most prominent activists are vegetarian, have been vegetarian, are trying to be vegetarian, or would be if they didn't think they'd get sick from not being educated or have the resources to do it properly. I know; they come to my meetings. Even some of the faculty have jumped on board. We're just buying some time to build more support. (Of course that means expanding the issue to one that's going to hit them harder fiscally ... the ethics of mandatory meal plans when we don't meet daily essential nutritional needs of vegetarians and meat eaters alike). A lot of people are pretty discouraged with the services that the school provides and if they didn't get the social interaction of meeting up and complaining together, they would probably coexist in their rooms and live off of what they can hoard there the way that I do.

It just stinks at a place like this when you put people who have the privilege of not having to deal with being deprived of very basic needs like food or shelter in charge of the welfare of students who are actually attuned to what they need to be healthy and only have limited resources. It would explain why we’re laying people off to pay for frivolous items like battery operated paper towel holders and stainless steel water carafes full of water no one will drink because they’ve iced out all of the nutrients to the point that they can’t even be absorbed. Why? Because they’re out to get us; well of course not. They do it because it looks pretty and in theory it’s supposed to taste nice. Too bad they don’t have a clue of what they’re doing.

I realize that when I get perplexed or frustrated at the incompetence of another individual (particularly when they act as the representative of an authoritative institutional organization) it becomes very easy to become judgmental and create and us versus them oppressive scenario. I’ve been trying to see the positives, because I realize that for some of them, it’s just a job and there have been a couple of people who have been as accommodating as they can be. But at the rate they are addressing this issue I’ll have an extra major in Nutrition trying to build my case to get around them, and at the end of the day once you link all of the issues; the effects of their distribution system on the environment, how forced meal plans contribute to an obsolete class structure that deprives students of basic rights, how this issue relates to food justice issues in that it perfectly illustrates the class structure between how food is distributed to those who are in power who have the option and accessibility to resources and how the nutrition-less scraps and potentially damaging foods are distributed to the lower classes, which increase health risks and present a financial and tax burden to those who have to pay for those without health insurance… and so on, and the reality is most problems, both health related and systemically could be prevented through correcting this issue. Malnutrition has been a burden to both my physical and psychological development and now that I have been educated upon what I need to do to keep myself healthy I’m much more adamant about not throwing away that knowledge to conform to a system that I know can’t accommodate my needs. I don’t understand why they are so opposed to at least granting us the option since they don’t want to make the systemic changes to correct the areas in which they’ve dropped the ball. What are we in a feudal society or something? Well now that you mention it....

It sounds like I’m on a soap box, but I’m not the only one disillusioned by this bleak scenario. Those who have tried to make the best of this process look about as down and out as I am and they haven’t even gone through the process of trying to cancel their meal plans yet. I asked these people before school started not to put me back on, and they did it anyway. I don’t want to go there and say that they are crooks, but there are definitely some ethical questions raised about the policy and the fact that they’ve taken as long as they have to deliberate upon my appeal. I get emails every week or so telling me that it’s going to take longer and that they’ll email me the next day… and then thanking me for being patient. All the meanwhile I’m doing everything I can not to implode. I don’t even have it in me to put on the brave face anymore because I feel like I can anticipate the injustice of it all… and that sounds silly and I don’t tell people that because I don’t want to play the victim card or incite any negativity but that is what it feels like; oppressive. At this point I’m thoroughly disillusioned.

I watched Planet Earth last night while I waited for the math TAs to get out of their labor meeting and there was this baby owl in Russia who was learning how to fly and as it made several failed attempts it just dropped to lower levels of the canopy struggling to cling on. But, there are so many layers it can hold onto and as it gets closer to hitting bottom the narrator stresses the sense of urgency of it mastering its flight technique before it gets in the range of predators and that is a metaphor for the alarm that I’m feeling right now. Every time I fail, I don’t feel totally discouraged that I won’t get off the ground, but it definitely takes time away from being able to enjoy life. As I get lower and lower I’m worried that my negativity is going to get me into a dangerous situation or that I’m going to have to take my chances elsewhere and just hope that I figure it out before depression devours me. I’ve been listening to a lot of classical Hindi, or classical Japanese flute music to keep me calm and centered, but I don’t know how much longer I can hold on for. I’ve already started weighing my other options. But college application deadlines are coming up soon. I’ve also looked at the option of staying behind and fighting it, but really: who has the time? I know one guy who does, that would love to get on an initiative like this. Actually I know a lot of people. But I have to feel a little better about things or at least get a definitive no from the Admin before I can pursue it so that I don’t fall prey to my own arrogance. It’s very easy to be self righteous and antagonizing when you feel threatened. So I've been working to refrain from using that mindset because I realize that the implications would be very limiting. So in the meantime I’ve just been eating... well, and strategizing. I've got some great tricks up my sleeve, but they require the involvement of other people and once the pitbulls catch wind of it, it's going to be hard to keep them on a leash, so i try to limit the amount of information I disseminate until it's absolutely necessary.

I want to AT LEAST be fair and give them the opportunity to do the honorable thing of their own volition. As of right now, things don't seem to be headed that way. But perhaps this is my perception because they've been stringing me along for the past few weeks. (The consensus seems to be that if they drag it out, I'll get tired of the issue and it will disappear. They should know not to come between an assertive female and her food). And so I've just been eating, one because of the comfort issue, and two I think it keeps the sense of urgency down and reminds me not to get too desperate while I'm fighting this issue. I have not used any of the campus food amenities once... and from what I've heard, had I tried I'd have just been getting ripped off anyway (oh wait, that's right...)

cost of meal plan offered = $18 (daily)
cost of budget allocated to feed all students = $7 (daily)
cost of budget allocated to feed vegetarians (daily) = I don't have the numbers because it's not budgeted, but I assume that canned beans and rice are their lowest priced items and they're making it up in paying out in soy burgers and tofu (oh wait, that's not very pricey either)
cost of budget allocated to feed vegans (daily) = does peanut butter and spinach count?

here is what is necessary to sustain a vegan diet on a minimal daily allowance.

Daily Dietary Allowances for Plant Based Diets
this is actually republished from a previous post.

I feel like my whole life is centered on studying, coping with anxiety and eating; although you wouldn’t know it to look at me. I dropped 4lbs in two weeks trying to do the right thing and not use my food stamps until I get notification that I can go back to using them legally from the school. Of course the day came very quickly, even living off of donated food where I started spacing out in class and I couldn’t even look at a sheet of paper without my eyes rolling into the back of my head and I had to throw in the towel and go to the store. But technically I don’t think I’m in the wrong, because the same thing happened to me last year a lot in trig and I was eating what the school provided, and I wasn’t even vegan then. All I know is that I physically feel much better since I’ve started eating again, but I feel about the same amount of stress…. With the advantage of there being no guys involved. It’s interesting how life’s little challenges can put a whole lot of stuff into perspective. Hopefully this is one that will be resolved soon, but my inner voice is telling me that this is really only just the beginning… sayeth the owl. (or whatever the vegan equivalent of that is...)


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