A couple of weeks ago my Yahoo! homepage featured a link to an op-ed piece making fun of shoppers paying extra money this season for small-farm-raised "heritage turkeys." The writer of the article contrasted these snobby, decadent elitists with the sort of "average Americans" who shop at Notoriously Ubiquitous Big-Box Store. (In fact, the author dropped the name of Notoriously Ubiquitous Big-Box Store so many times, and with such fawning obsequiousness, that I began to expect that she wrote her essay, not on the kitchen table, but at the corporate offices of said Notoriously Ubiquitous Big Box Store. I also suspected that that's maybe why the Yahoo! link suddenly disappeared.)
But this populist, "Get a load of the crazy rich people" paen to the Common Person contained a more insidious subtext: If you consume more mindfully, you are not being a Real American. You are not contributing properly to the march of economic progress. You are putting your neighbors out of work. You are using money you could be spending on charity to satisfy your own elitist pretensions to healthful eating and "small-is beautiful" economics. You think you're better than the rest of us. So you'd better get with the program if you want to be a Real American.
It's always interesting to see the sociopolitical right wing play the same class card they accuse progressives of playing -- NASCAR dads versus soccer moms; owl-loving, Chardonnay-sipping backpackers versus honest, hardworking lumberjacks and blue-collar good ol' boys who just want to run their quads through the woods.
Here's the scoop, from Outer Podunk. I'm not a rich person. But I want to steward the money I have in a way that's good for me, good for my neighbors and good for the earth. The money I spend on locally raised meat and eggs goes to a local farmer and (very) small businessperson, in one of the most depressed counties of my state. And -- guess what -- he has a hard time keeping meat and eggs in stock because of demand from other "just folks." Some of my other food spending goes to my Amish friends --Lydia and the Troyer family and others who just scrape by as farmers and artisans. The money I spend on Fair Trade goods helps coffee growers and crafters around the world. I get a superior product; the producers get a decent price that allows them to improve their livelihoods. (And -- um -- aren't these folks entrepreneurs? Aren't entrepreneurs people conservatives are supposed to like and support?)
How do I afford all this "righteous" largesse? Because I don't buy a lot of "stuff." I don't hang out at malls. I don't buy this year's fashions. I drive an old car. I live in an old house that will never make the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. I am not emotionally invested in how the externals of living look to other people.
If this makes me unpatriotic -- well, fine. Because who wants to be a patriot of a country whose national shrine is Notoriously Ubiquitous Big Box Store, whose prime value is mindless consumption in service to what Walter Wink calls the powers and principalities and whose motto is "Whoever dies with the most cheap crap wins"?