Friday, December 12, 2008

Keep Your Rabbit Tight In Her Hutch . . . She Wasn't Born To Be Wild

About one in eight native, mammalian species went extinct, in Australia, after the arrival of Europeans. The whites didn't come with smallpox blankets, strip mines or fatally bland food. They brought rabbits. The rabbits got loose, multiplied and drew waste from their own fertile crescent. They ate crops. They ate grasslands. They gnawed rings of bark off of trees, killing forests and causing erosion. The poison farmers used to kill the rabbits killed birds as well, leaving other rabbits without avian competition for food. The rabbits were a vicious, undulating cloud of locusts that descended over Australia in a spiral. They were a plague on the proverbial House of Egypt . . . the only problem is, when you live on an island, where do you make your exodus?

Introduce a foreign organism into an established ecosystem and see what sticks. Usually, nothing does.

I think about cultures in the same way. I've lived in three boroughs of New York City. Each one was different. Not only was each one different, but they were laced with substrata of different cultures from neighborhood to neighborhood. From Long Island City to Astoria, Queens was not the same thing twice. Williamsburgh and Bay Ridge were like two different worlds at opposite ends of Brooklyn. Harlem and Inwood had an ocean between them, even though they are practically next door, at the upper end of Manhattan Island.
It goes on. Chicago is not New York. Grand Rapids is not Detroit. Atlanta is not Savannah. Portland is not Seattle. Miami is not Orlando. SanDiego is not L.A.

There is, however, one thing they all have in common. It isn't the language. It's the ubiquitous presence of national food and retail chains.

You've heard it all, before. Your fake-ass, dumpster-diver friends have screamed at you for getting a coffee at Starbucks, because they choke-out local business. But local business can do the same to other local businesses while, most likely, not treating their employees as well as Starbucks does. Anybody who has played a sport, entered a poetry contest or gone after "that one girl" knows they don't have a right to jerk their knee at fair competition. You've heard about Walmart, again and again. But, it wouldn't be there, if they didn't offer a service convenient enough to thrive. I don't really care about what these places supposedly do the economy. The economy is what you make it. The economy is an appetite without a stomach; a speculative panic engine . . . a mouse chasing irrationally fearful elephants.
I don't care about the goddamn economy. You weather it or it weathers you. It's completely intangible and it will rake you through the mud whether or not you think it's behaving.
I care about things that have fooled us into thinking they're intrinsically financial institutions. I care about what happens when something as physical as a literal invasion becomes confused with something as ghostly and jocular as the theory known as economics. I care about what these invading organisms do to your cultural ecosystem. Fins drink milk. Nigerians don't. I don't care about how much you spent on your food. I don't care about what you're eating. I care about who you are.

When an outside organism enters an ecosystem that wasn't designed to support it, something strange happens. Strange is one of two things, but both things are violent. Violence, in this case, not being something of blood, guts, fire and riot. Violence, rather, being something unnatural and abrupt, like a shaken bug realizing he's in a jar.

Introduce a foreign organism into an existing ecosystem and watch one of two violent things happen: One being that the organism either lays waste to the ecosystem, eating anything beneath it and killing it's competition or the ecosystem lays waste to it, because it has no room for outsiders. The second violent reaction being something more like a pustule or boil. The organism tries to assimilate as much as the ecosystem tries to assimilate it. Call it an attempt at some sort of covalent bond. It works until it doesn't work, because - when you get down to it - this organism doesn't belong. Except now, when the mutual rejection happens, the efforts the ecosystem has made to accommodate this outside thing have left it at a loss. It is crippled. It is weak. It's used.

It's for this reason I've been considering becoming a "Locavore". Unfortunately, I've eaten at Burger King three times this week, rather than packing my own lunch for work. I also did almost all of my Christmas shopping at the mall. But I don't fail to see the merit in doing otherwise. And I don't see it as a futile effort.
Unfortunately, the Local Food Movement has much more to do with the trend of environmentalism . . . which is a little too Maoist for my taste. As a means to an end, however, I think it can do much more cultural good than having the bragging rights of saving a little gasoline because you didn't buy food shipped from far-off places. Yes, it could, potentially, save fuel. Yes, if we were smarter than we are, it could promote the reintroduction of the novel concept of crop rotation. But it won't, for the same reason I went to Burger King three times this week.
We're consumers. We also put too much stock in theory. Theory like economics. Hell, it gets its own magazines, radio shows, newspaper columns, television shows, books, books on tape and seminars. We're a movable feast for the stomachless appetite of economics. We don't just let it chew us up. We follow that fucker around with our fingers around our ankles and our assholes bearing full-toothed grins. Maybe it's some sort of misplaced consumer guilt: We're consumers, so we must allow ourselves to be consumed.

Anyway . . .

Consumer, Locavore, Anarchist, Republican . . . All labels aside, we are what we eat. Your momma said it. Your schoolyard friends said it. You never knew what it meant, but you said it for no reason. It rolls off of the tongue like a Spanish swear word. Let me tell you what it means; if you eat, drink and buy from outsiders - from chains - you will be an outsider. Your house will be a haunt, in a no-man's land that used to be a city. Your identity will be lost, because you've sold it to Taco Bell and Urban Outfitters.

Am I smearing international trade? No. But I am saying that this whole "bail-out" probably would have never happened, if we didn't repeal all the crazy tariffs we used to put on international and cross-national goods. Am I saying you should feel like shit for eating Indian food? No way! Indian food is awesome. There's nothing wrong with enjoying another culture. But there is something wrong with propagation. A healthy plant's roots grown down. Vegetative propagation is an art reserved for nature's carpet. Grass is homogeneous and it chokes out anything that's different. It's also a simultaneous feed-trough and shit-catcher for livestock.

You don't have to be a delicate flower. Just don't be grass, either.