Archives for category: life

When i wrote about racism last month, (red like me – july 13), i had no idea how close to a potential race war we actually were. Then a couple of weeks ago, whilst perusing new people to follow on Twitter, i came across a user who had written only “non-white person” on his profile. It elicited a half grin as i thought it was a bit tongue-in-cheek, like the way someone might claim to be “non-heterosexual” or something, so i followed him. The next day, he posted this on my feed, referring to my blog post on racism:

“Do you tell non-White ppl you interact with that that “card” you can carry exempts you from being a Racist/White supremacist?”

My response was:

“…?… Eh?… No.”

I could have left it at that… Buuuut I dint… I wanted to point out the ridiculousness of the question and wrote:

“do you tell ppl that ppl can carry a card that makes them exempt from being racist?”

He responded with:

“No. I warn non-White ppl about White ppl like you who claim non-White identity to deflect and avoid exposure as a Racist/White supremacist.”

Whilst sensing he had not understood or read the whole post, I engaged in dialogue. I did so only because, while I’ve been called an apple (red on the outside, white inside) in a dismissive way, I’ve never been called “white” or either of those things before and was curious. It was interesting because all responses to his questions were spun to fit the belief of his, every word of mine was either proof of my “whiteness” or a calculated white trick according to him.

We were coming from very different viewpoints, with his stance being that non-white people were not capable of racism as his definition of it was “White supremacy” and that it was “specific only to white people”. When i said that i understood “white” to be referring to skin tone, he said that i could not and would not find anything to support this. And that to avoid exposure as a white supremacist, “they’ll try to trick non-White” people into thinking that white is just a skin colour. And in response to the blog, about racism being the result of ignorance he wrote:

“White ppl (like you) express their *dedication* to Racism/White supremacy by saying their *calculated* practice is a result of ignorance.”

It felt like we weren’t on the same playing field and as we didn’t or couldn’t agree, i said we would have to agree to disagree, to which he would not agree. So i said that we would have to disagree to disagree then, and he said no…. So i thanked him for the dialogue and said farewell. Then he asked if that meant i wouldn’t show the responses from my “non-White” friends about whether or not they thought i was racist or a white supremacist – a question he had asked me earlier on to which i had said i didn’t know but would ask as i was curious. I had texted one of my non-white-skin-toned friends within hours of him asking, and so posted a pic of her response. My friend had lol’d at his q, said no and used some not so nice words. When he immediately questioned her integrity, called it a “White trick” and asked for all sorts of info about her, i ended the dialogue with:

“no, this ends here. I will not let you treat my friend the way you have treated me. good day sir.”

Mere days after that ended, Charlottesville happened. Perusing some of the news threads, i posted a response on Twitter to someone who said that he was ok with other races, so long as they followed the rules. I stated that the rules were not fair and equal for all and asked what would have happened if it had been people of colour/minorities rallying. A different user responded with:

“Riots and vandalism. Just like every time blm doesn’t get its way. If they don’t like living in a white country they can always go home.”

This prompted a days-long dialogue because in all my years, i have never engaged in dialogue with a white supremacist. I’m not saying i’ve never met one as perhaps i have, but no one has ever talked openly about their racist beliefs. It was not as aggressive a dialogue as with the other guy. Her belief that she was superior came across and she was condescending, calling me adorably naive, weak and mousy. But she did her best to explain her views, and while stopping short of stating she was a white supremacist in those exact words, she kept referring to ‘other races’ as unequal. She used the argument that “whites” were more advanced and therefore superior, then got caught in a quagmire after stating that the Japanese were “probably ahead of us”, and never responded when i asked if that meant they were superior.

She spoke in generalizations and stereotypes, stating all the counter-protestors were Antifa, alt-left and BLM, and she blamed all the violence on them, tweeting:

“…antifa/blm filth are the ones who always initiate the violence. Always. Apparently violence is ok as long as you think you’re right.”

She said that since “blacks hate us so much”, she “was sure” they’d be much happier in their own homogeneous societies, “no one” had anything to lose because multiculturalism “wasn’t working for anyone”, and that every race deserved “a homeland free of foreigners”. I ended the dialogue after she voiced hatred for all but the “polite blacks” and claimed that she had no time for people who “don’t strive to be decent and morally upright”. The irony of her statement brought out a thinly-veiled sarcastic question-comment on my part (“do you see your behaviour on this thread and out in the world as polite and morally upright?”) for which i felt shame and quickly deleted. I ended with this post instead:

“ima go strive for that. Thank you for the dialogue and your honesty.”

I posted somewhere along that thread my belief that dialogue is the only thing that will bring about real change in the long run. And i am convinced of that now more than ever as i feel much was learned from both these encounters. For instance, the woman is a white supremacist, and while she says that “Jews are at the top” because of their IQ’s, they are disqualified from being the best because of their “vile attempt at world domination via central banksterism”… She “hates the loud, rude saggy assed black people”, but not the “law abiding self-supporting polite blacks”… She also claims that she doesn’t care which race is superior “as long as whites can have our own nations like every other race”. And while she doesn’t believe her government cares about her, she justified unequal treatment of people of colour by stating:

“The majority in any country is entitled to make the rules. Rule by majority is the whole basis of democracy.”

(FYI – the definition of democracy includes: the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges. Miriam-Webster)

As for what i learned from the other dialogue… I had a difficult time following his logic, but my main take from it is that he thinks if any people of colour feel superior, that is only a reaction to the racism they have experienced, and erego not racist in itself… And, while it felt like i was getting physically slapped or punched by his words, it reaffirmed my conviction that what people label me is not my concern, and that racism is definitely my concern.

Which is why i couldn’t just sit back and say nothing after Charlottesville. I don’t see racism as an illness of light skinned people only and i will never agree that what people of colour do when they claim “racial superiority” is not racism. If you believe one ‘race’ is better than another, that’s racism. I realize that racists/supremacists might have their heels dug in as well and will never agree that all people are equal…

In the meantime, i have heard more white supremacists rallies are planned for this weekend across the US and that the movement is spreading across Canada. I shiver at the potential violence that could erupt, as some people appear to be on the verge of losing their sh*t, to put it mildly. How many more are going to die over something as innocuous as the colour of ones’ skin? Heather Heyer was merely one more life that didn’t matter to those who feel threatened by people who are different from them. The disrespect of those who have expressed their feelings about her death is a low not seen publicly since the hatred by racists in the 60’s. I shudder to think of the evil that would have been said if she had been a person of colour, mind you I also dunno how it could get much worse… So yeah, if you aren’t outraged by it all, then you truly aren’t paying attention – or maybe yer racist.

* in hindsight, i see that the title ‘red like me’ could be interpreted as me having white skin tone as John Howard Griffin, author of Black Like Me… i used it to point out the problem with labels and how they lead to discrimination…

It has been four days since Osheaga ended, one of the many music and arts festivals held annually in Montreal. This was the fourth year in a row I’ve attended but the first year I volunteered with them, and I’ve not fully recovered from it as I’m still tired. My whippersnapper days are long gone though, so…yeah. It was simple enough: out of the 39 hours of the festival, volunteers were required to work three shifts (13.5 hours) and in return had free entrance to the 3-day festival (plus access to private washrooms and the back roads, a major bonus imo). The only other requirement being a $100 deposit that was refunded once the shifts were completed. The entry wrist band could be cancelled at any time if one missed a shift. Or in my case, if one of the other volunteers decided that, even though the team lead read off the 12 names on the list and thus all 12 people were accounted for and 12 people departed for the shift (and my name and signature were on both the sign-up sheet and the waiver form and checked off on the sign-in sheet), I am somehow AWOL and thus has my wrist band cancelled whilst I am out on shift…

En tout cas, on Day 1, before news of the wrist band nixing, about seven minutes into this first shift, the sky opened up and poured sheets of water on our totally unprepared ragtag group of four as we crossed the one area of the grounds that held the six stages where there was zero shelter… The remaining four hours were marred by thunder and lightning storms, delayed starts and a cancelled act. Unfortunately for me, it was one of the three acts that I had come to Osheaga to experience: De la Soul. *sigh* I did however get to see Sampha, Rag’n’Bone Man, plus some of BadBadNotGood and MGMT, all of whom put on amazing shows. At the end of that first day as I made my way home though, tired, wet and cold, with feet like prunes in squishy destroyed kicks, I wondered if it was worth it…

Day 2 started with the inconvenience of having to obtain a new wrist band. Luckily there was no line-up. Then luckily-er, the weather gave us a break, with only a few light showers sprinkled throughout the day. But… then came word that another act had been cancelled, unfortunately for me again as it was yet another of the three acts that I had wanted to see: Lil Uzi Vert… I may only know a couple of songs by him, like the one with the Migos and… … OK, so maybe I only ‘know’ that one song but I have heard others, and in any case, it was enough to pique my interest and push him into my top 3 as I thought he had a lot of potential and wanted to see what he could do live. *sigh* I did, however, catch Jillionaire’s set and saw Major Lazer. The other act I enjoyed was Gordi, who were the first act of the day and were purdy good despite that they had stepped off the plane from Australia only an hour or two earlier. As I made my way home that night, I wasn’t cold or wet and my feet were happy and I was feeling hopeful about the next and final day.

Day 3 was the day I had been waiting for since hearing of the line-up. Die Antwoord was scheduled to play and was the third act I had come to Osheaga to see. The weather was perfect. The people were awesome, especially the security guards and other people working at the festival. I caught some of Bishop Briggs, Denzel Curry, Flatbush Zombies, Tegan and Sara and Run The Jewels. Then… thank goodness… Die Antwoord showed up… and it was good… and immediately after their show as I made my way along the back road to avoid the crowd, DJ God, Yolandi Visser and Ninja went by me in a golf cart. They were literally 3 feet from me. I heard myself say “great show”, immediately did a mental face palm for not coming up with anything more ‘interesting’ to say, aaaaand then I was done. Exhausted, I slowly made my way out of the grounds with a happy and content half-grin – only cuz I was too tired to get the other side of my mouth up.

I’ll be crazy honest though; my ultimate goal had been to meet Die Antwoord. I had this fantasy that we would get to shootin’ the breeze and they would ask me who I thought the best local group was and then somehow they would end up collaborating with the Dead Obies and Kalmunity Vibe Collective, along with Young Paris or Future… and this was somehow going to save the world from WWIII… … … Yes, I have a VERY wild imagination, and No, Die Antwoord doesn’t collaborate. But they say ya gotta dream big, so I figured why not let my imagination go crazy. Besides, the worst that happened was that all I could think of to say to them was ‘great show’…

Anyhow, here are a few of my “best” and “worst” of Osheaga 2017:

Best Shirt: The Smiths… with an unassuming photo of Will Smith and fam in place of Morrissey and Co… it was the punniest one I saw…

Worst shirt: My Indian Name is Runs With Beers… when the guy passed by wearing it, I couldn’t leave my post to talk with him about how offensive it was, especially as Osheaga takes place on unceded Mohawk territory. Unfortunately I didn’t see him again…

Best Quote from an artist: El-P from Run The Jewels – If you see a girl you want to meet and you think it’d be a good idea to grope her or push up on her, DON’T! cause that ain’t right (my paraphrasing)… he then called on everyone to look out for each other. It warmed the cockles of my heart…

Worst Quote from an artist: at Flatbush Zombies: “If you don’t know the words, keep showing them ti*ties and be quiet”… I dunno who on stage said it, but it prompted my swift exit, stage right…

Best Show: Die Antwoord was great with only one minor mic issue. Major Lazer put on an amazing show too, with Diplo getting into one of those big see-through plastic balls and rolling across the crowd. Rag’n’Bone Man was prolly the biggest surprise for me though, as I had never heard of him and his performance kinda blew my mind…

Worst show: … all the artists I saw put on great shows, even though there were quite a few who frequently used the word bi*ch… with one repeatedly singing “Texico bi*ch” and another talking about how he was gunna make lots of money and then “gunna fu*k your bi*ch”… due to my dislike for the word because of how it feels like a physical slap to me, excessive use would bring on my departure from that scene…

Overall, it was a great musical weekend. Despite the temporary location, the weather and the cancellations, it looked and felt like everyone had a great time. The only ‘not-so-good’ thing I saw happen – aside from a few people keeling over from alcohol consumption – was a guy being chased by security as he ran onto the floating dance floor area, which had a capacity limit for safety reasons. He wasn’t kicked out of the festival though. After he tripped and did a face plant, security grabbed him, removed him from the dance floor and simply let him go. I dunno if any reports of sexual assault or harassment have been made at this point. Last year there was, which is probably why this year Evenko hired the Hirondelles, a trained safety team on the lookout to make sure women and vulnerable people were safe. Overall, my only real ‘complaint’ is that there was a lack of vegetarian/vegan options like veggie burgers/dogs.

Word is that music fests are struggling to bring in patrons around the world, but I was told that Montreal is different. So different in fact, that Evenko has been busy overhauling their original festival site to accommodate 20K more people in 2019. That’s gunna be crazy. As for me… It’s too early to say if I’ll attend next year. It’ll depend on the bill. At this point, I feel like, if De La Soul is on it again… or Nicki Minaj… or Future… or Young Paris… I might just hafta be there…

came across a quote the other day about ego traps, that if you think yerself ‘better’ than others because you think the music they listen to isn’t as ‘spiritual’ or “good” as what you listen to, that’s an ego trap… i feel shame to say that i have fallen into that some times in my life.

it sucks when people try to make someone feel bad or somehow inferior for liking a certain song or style of music. people with their sweeping generalizations and their judgements of ” i don’t like rap/country/rock/jazz/pop/classical music”. or people who declare that one genre of music is better than another, adamantly. critics with their expert opinions on what album/song/musician is best… acting like they’re being objective. like, this one guy had zero poker face and gave me an incredible look of confusion, disgust and disdain while asking why i was talking about Tupac… … it was funny to me tho, cuz, uh… music is one of the most subjective things. ever. and each genre has its own forms, its own instruments, its own rhythms and beats, its own language and its own message, that all reflect the realities from which they come.

music brings people together, it makes ‘em feel good and smile and talk and dance and sing and feel inspired by it all… as Kendrick Lamar said two years ago at Osheaga – “it’s pure energy and nothin’ else”. and it’s good energy. it incites good times and good vibes. it doesn’t necessarily incite illicit behaviour, music issa conduit to help release all the pent up energy like sadness and anger and joy and love over the honest truths and brutal realities and sense of community and collaboration and hope and inspiration and beauty that the artists share… and then all the energies combine to create what can only be described as looking and feeling like peace and love.

music is ultimately about community, where the skilled artists can get us up in the air to see and feel all the beauty in the crazy patterns of this world. it’s not a distraction so that we forget about what can feel at times like a “bug’s eye view”*, but rather helps find the beauty in it, or at least make some sense of it. sometimes it can only be found in music and the movie screen in your head and the way it makes you feel. sometimes it’s the soundtrack to what’s going on in real life, but feels like a movie… or a sit com…

in what more pithily sums up the many words i wrote about music and truth in my Religion honours thesis, (… 30-40pages dissecting how so-called “sacred” or “absolute” truths about the world can be understood as being determined through value systèmes that are created by our own individual understandings and feelings of the words and images that are used to describe these truths and therefore ‘truths’ are not simply found in so called sacred texts, they can be found in every kind of text and every kind of music and every kind of art) … if music don’t contain some sort of truth and it don’t create some sort of sacred place of congregation, then i dunno what does. and it’s not just one type of music. truth can be found in all genres of music. from polka to post-rap… just like truth can be found in all religions. and all texts… even a cookbook.


*Bug’s Eye View reference from the spoken word sample in the song Harmonic by Hex, off the album Cold Krush Cuts, Ninja Tunes, 1997, is originally from the album Four Dreams of Man by Dr John Furbay, Columbia, 195?.

“Now those people who fly have a different point of view of the world from those who spend their whole lives on the ground. Don Blanding wrote a poem once, when he was flying, and he called his poem “The God’s Eye View” and he said it was so different from the view he always had on the ground, which he called the Bug’s Eye View…

Now I thought about that bug’s eye view when I over in Teheran in Persia. They told me an old Persian legend about a bug, who spent his entire life in the worlds’ most beautifully designed Persian Rug… All the bug ever saw in his lifetime were his problems; they stood up all around him, he couldn’t see over the top of the them, and he had to fight his way through these tufts of wool in the rug to find some crumbs that somebody had spilled on the rug… And the tragedy, of the story, of the bug in the rug, was this: that he lived and he died in the worlds’ most beautifully designed rug, but he never once knew that he spent his life in something which had a pattern.

That’s why I want to get you up in the air tonight… to see something the old bug couldn’t see in the rug. Because even he, this bug… if he had once got above the rug so that he could have seen all of it, he would have discovered something, that the very things he called his ‘problems’ were a part of the pattern.

Have you ever felt like that bug? That you are so surrounded by your problems that you can’t see any pattern to the world in which you live? Have you heard anybody lately say that the world is a total mess? ….. That’s the bugs’ eye view… …. seeing only a little of it, we might think that….”

Next Week: music – part deux…

No doubt about it, we humin beans done been here a long time now. So long, that it feels like racism should have passed its “best before date”. Since there’s still so much racism everywhere, there are obviously a lot of racists out there. So, what’s it like being racist? Like, if someone is basing their discrimination on a stereotype, how many people outside that stereotype would it take to prove the stereotype wrong? It’s not one or two, so how many? What if 70% of the First Nations one passed on any given day weren’t “drunk and lazy”, would that be enough to put that stereotype to rest? And if one passed ten First Nations’ people and two of them were drunk and one was lazy, is that all it takes to make a stereotype and get some hatred going?

It can’t be easy to be a racist… to be afraid of people simply because of the colour of their skin… to feel threatened and scared because someone in their vicinity is different from them… to always feel angry, to always feel a burning hatred in the belly of their brain… to basically feel like who they are and what they are is based on the colour of their skin. That’s gotta suck.

There was that one time I was on the cusp of being racist. And it did suck. It happened during second year of university when I was researching First Nations’ education and came across the Residential School System. At the time I was still learning about all things native after finding out I had official “Indian” status and could carry a card to prove it. Being adopted (**) by a non-native family at the age of 8mths, I grew up in “white” middle-class suburbia with three older brothers and spent my formative years pretending I was a little boy like them. Anyhow, learning about the residential schools was shocking, and the more I read about how the students were treated the angrier I became. I became angry with my parents as I associated them with the white ruling class who were responsible for what happened to my native ancestors. And before long I started feeling angry in general, towards every white person.

As luck would have it though, I ran into my high school history teacher one night while I was out. He was that one teacher who made school bearable, who made learning Canadian history fun and interesting at a time when I didn’t care to learn anything. We were ‘friends’, as much as a student and teacher could be ‘friends’. He knew my brothers, he had met my parents somehow, and he was funny. So when I saw him that night, I laid into him without so much as a hello. “You never taught us about the residential school system! You never taught us about what really happened to the First Nations! What kind of teacher are you?” I railed at him. I dunno what else I ranted but he finally put his hand up and said “Eh, oh. Lemme tell you a story.” And he proceeded to tell me about how he had been up for a Rhodes Scholarship back in the day. Only the most prestigious award one could get as a student. He was actually offered the scholarship by the Rhodes selection committee, “if”, they said, he would take out all the references of what really happened to the First Nations in the paper he had submitted with his application. He said no, so they threw his paper in the trashcan and he didn’t get the scholarship.

When he finished telling the story, he looked at me with sad droopy eyes and said that he had wanted to teach me the truth, but he had to teach the curriculum. And just like that, all the anger I had been projecting at a group of people based soley on the colour of their skin, dissipated. I was flooded with memories of how my family had shown again and again that they were not racist, and I knew they didn’t even know about the residential school system, and then I remembered Dr Bryce, and of course, the Underground Railroad. Dr Peter Bryce was a non-native guy, hired by the Department of Indian Affairs in 1907 to report on the health conditions of the Residential School System in western Canada. He was the first to report that First Nations’ children were dying at alarming rates from tuberculosis, amongst other things. He suggested a few easy and cheap ways to prevent the deaths but his report was not only ignored, it was suppressed. The government didn’t want anything to change as the First Nations children were dying off fast and this would help solve the ‘Indian problem’. As a civil servant of the Government, he was legally prevented from doing or saying anything publicly, thus Dr Bryce waited until his contract was over in 1922 and then published his report as a book, condemning the treatment of the First Nations by the government. So, yeah, I know that not every white person is racist and I knew it back then, but still I found myself confused by the overwhelming emotions that had me looking at everybody with scorn and anger and disdain.

Maybe it’s easy to ask “how can someone be racist?” with an incredulous tone, but the seeds are everywhere. I was lucky that in my vulnerable state I had a chance meeting with someone I respected who was able to understand and respect my anger. But not everyone is that lucky. I could easily have crossed paths with someone who could have fueled the feelings of discontent and might have ended up in a very different place. So, the problem is not just that there is racism, the problem is how do we get rid of it in a way that doesn’t cause chaos? And how do we live with what Nina Simone angrily lamented in Mississippi Goddam, that it’s going to be “too slow”?

Racism is like an illness that won’t disappear overnight. Realistically, it’s going to take years, like reconciliation with the First Nations. Buuut, we can help it along. We can keep looking to the arts and the artists, who have been breaking barriers and challenging stereotypes for years. We seem to be strongly influenced by our media and our arts, which is why movies like “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner”, “Do The Right Thing” and “Straight Outta Compton” are so powerful and important. Along with television shows like Degrassi, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Dear White People, they make us uncomfortable; they push boundaries, create new status quos and force people to look at themselves introspectively. We need to see the so-called minorities in the mainstream media rather than just in the news, to see them on television shows, just doing what they do rather than being a designated stereotype. We need to stop the whitewashing.

We don’t have to reinvent the wheel either. I think most racists have been denied the truth and that’s caused a lot of negative feelings that they didn’t have to be carrying around. It’s not their fault and they deserve a chance to know and see the truth, and if after that they still wanna be racist, well… But holy crap if there’s actually going to be a race war! Cuz there’s a whole lotta people out there who wouldn’t know which side to be on, like me. I’m Ojibwa, Cree, Norwegian and French. Plus I don’t wanna ‘fight’ anyone because of the colour of their skin or mine. I don’t want to fight, pointe finale… Reminds me of that saying, what if they held a war and nobody came?

** PS: my apologies as it is not clear… I am what some call a Native Adoptee – not one of the sixties/seventies scoop babies. Both my biological parents were of First Nations ancestry – one Ojibewa and one Cree, going back (many) generations there is French on one side and Norwegian on the other, and there is some Scottish in there as well but I’m not sure where… I was given up at the age of 6mths, and adopted by my parents at 8 mths. They were told I was either Cherokee or Blackfoot so I referred to myself as a Cherryfoot. It was only at the age of 18 yrs that I learned which nation I was and that I had ‘official’ Native Status.  – August 17

Food. Glorious food. How I love it. I love toasted old grain bread generously covered in peanut butter with banana slices and a ‘lil bit o’honey drizzled over top. I love veggie burgers with cheese, lettuce, pickle and tomato, and I love love LOVE Montreal bakery bagels – do NOT ask me to choose a fav as I love Fairmount and St Viateur and St Lo with the même intensité. Yet, my relationship with food has been… convoluted. I’m no ‘foodie’ by any means, as I tend to see it as a way to not starve more than anything else, but I do like to enjoy not starving. I never really thought about it while I was growing up … you know, you have the same diet as your family for the most part, even if it includes lima beans. So, if they eat meat, you eat meat… even liver… even if it makes you want to vomit. I was actually so suburbanly naive; I didn’t know there were other diets available until I was in high school. It was only at the age of 15, working kitchen staff at a sleep-away summer camp, when I began to take control of what I was eating. A bit of an idealist back then, I became one of those “I don’t eat animals cuz they’re cute and I love them” vegetarians. Buuuuuut, I would eat spaghetti with meat sauce and spit out the meat whilst wearing leather kicks….

Now that I am so much older, and three years into my fourth attempt at some sort of vegetarian diet, I have realized there are many factors to consider when it comes to food. . . maybe too many factors. This past week’s research has been overwhelming, and somewhat paralyzing in terms of actually eating. And I dunno how far below the surface I’ve scratched. I knew some stuff, about pig farms and the methane seepage, inhumane treatment of animals, exploitation/etc of workers, and that almonds need a LOT of water. But now I know about how much conflicting info there is about GM foods, and I read about Asian workers basically being held captive on American fishing boats, who work 20 hours a day and are paid $6000 a year (compared to the $28k Americans make doing the same work). I read of a myriad of food fraud instances, such as how ground coffee has been cut with sawdust and ground acorns and roasted corn, how honey has been thinned with beet sugar and corn syrup and some antibiotic called chloramphenicol which is linked to fatal bone marrow disease, and of how a lot of what people are told is tuna is in fact some fish called escolar, or what is referred to as the ‘ex-lax fish’ because of the gastro havoc it causes and that said fish has been banned in China for the past 40 years due to its’ toxicity. I read that most of us have actually probably never tasted ‘real’ pure olive oil because the majority of what’s on the market has been mixed with soy or peanut oil; that baby food is cut with cement and chalk dust; that sugar has been laced with fertilizer; and, that, apparently, criminal organizations are targeting the food market, intercepting the supply chain and deliberately altering the food, to their monetary benefit of course.

Phew! As I write this, the least I can say is that it has left me hungry, as I dunno what to eat anymore. The advice frequently given by ‘experts’ is to buy at farmers markets, ask where the food came from and read the labels, looking for the ‘trusted’ logos and such. But with all the different issues, it feels as though I would need a cross referenced list of every thing I need to take into consideration, look for and ask. I don’t ask much of my food really, I just want to eat healthy and feel good, both physically and conscientiously. I don’t expect that my veggie burger is going to taste like the hamburgers I used to enjoy, but I do expect it to be made of what it says in the list of ingredients and that the company who made it treats their employees, and ingredients, with respect. I don’t want to be eating ‘blood cashews’ that drug addicts in Vietnam are being forced to shell, I don’t want to eat broccoli that has a massive carbon footprint because it was imported by plane or boat from thousands of miles away, and I don’t want to eat animals that have been confined to spaces so small they can’t stand up, lie down or turn around. I want to eat food that has been picked by workers who aren’t falling ill due to the sprayed herbicides and are getting fair wages, I want to eat food that isn’t going to give me cancer or otherwise make me sick, and I want to eat food that’s agriculturally sustainable. I also want to eat food that isn’t going to cause me to go into debt to purchase.

Truth is I’m a bit selfish, so giving up the life I have and moving to a farm and spending all day, every day, tending to food is not a viable option. I doubt I’m alone in wanting to shirk the responsibility of having to till the land, plant the seeds, water, weed, de-bug, harvest and only then getting to enjoy the fruits of the labour. Nor do we want to have to clear the land, build fences and stalls, get the animals, feed and otherwise take care of said animals, then slaughter ‘em when it’s time to bring home the bacon. Unlike other creatures, many of whom seem to exist to eat and procreate, and eat solely to exist and procreate, we humans want to do other things… like post pictures of our food on social media.

As eating 100% healthy, ethically and sustainably is pretty much impossible without buying the farm, the best advice I came across is to make food choices that align with one’s personal values, and to prioritize those. Because even though we may share some values, what’s important to one person is not going to be universal. Even amongst those who have similar diet preferences. For instance, I could be seen as a bit of a contradiction as I don’t eat any animal or dairy products except for eggs; I will kill those tiny flies n’skeeters that wander into my home or land on my body but can’t stand the thought of animals being killed; and I eat avocados on a regular basis, even though they may be associated with drug cartels and deforestation in Mexico, which I am against. Also, I live by the adage that anything is possible. For me, that includes the possibility that plants and trees could have as much consciousness as animals, albeit in a different way. I just figure if ‘experts’ got it wrong so many years ago regarding the world being flat, amongst other things, it’s possible the experts today don’t have the ability to detect the secret life of plants. En tout cas, I’ve realized that, like food activist and author Lierre Keith said: “There is nothing you can eat that doesn’t involve death. For something to live, something else has to die. Our only choices are the death that’s a part of life, or the death that’s killing the planet”. I choose life.

There might always be those who are more interested in making money than the health and safety of other beings or the planet. And the extent of what they will do to get that money could be pretty depraved. I have no doubt criminal organizations could be destroying the environment and playing with lives, just as I have no doubt that governments could be doing the same thing. Whether it’s through the lack of regulations, actively trying to find ingredients to put in foods that could help control the people or the population, or through the propaganda we’re force fed from an early age. Food is big money, in the USA alone $3trillion was spent on food in 2016. We are all consumers and we’re all affected by what goes on in the food industry to some extent. And if our food production isn’t sustainable, it won’t matter if one is vegetarian or not.

So now, I’ve adopted a traditionally Buddhist trait, which is to eat whatever is put before me, to a certain extent – I won’t eat lobster, or lima beans, or liver to name a few foods. (Buddhists are vegetarian but when monks wander with alms bowls, they eat whatever is put in them with much gratitude). It started last year at a dinner where there were no vegetarian options – everything had pork, chicken and beef in it. Exhausted, after working 5 straight 12-14 hour days with little food, my body did not object to the consumption of plates full of said pork, beef and chicken. And rather surprisingly, my mind did not object either. I believe all I could think about was how delicious it was and how grateful I was. My conscience wasn’t thrilled but I didn’t beat myself up over it. Since then, I’ve only been in a similar situation twice, anne frankly simply enjoyed the food.

In a world where there may or may not be any absolute truths, there are those who believe they know what is right and will try to convince others of their truths. I have no problem admitting I don’t know what the right thing is when it comes to food. I know what I like and after all this research feel like I know more about the food industry, but also can’t help but think how blissful ignorance is. For now, I have made a few changes, such as only buying eggs that come from free range chicken farms – they cost twice the price but they do taste better and it has alleviated much of the ethical dilemma I felt over eating them for the all-important B12 vitamin; I’m also reading labels differently, looking for places of origin and logos that are said to be associated with ensuring the product is what it says it is; and I’ve switched to free trade whole coffee beans. It’s a start and as Lao Tzu said: “the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”.

Little changes may not seem like much as we figure out how to balance our ethical, environmental and political concerns with our desire to be physically healthy in this crazy world, but it reminds me of the story of the hummingbird. In the story, there’s a forest fire from which all the animals had fled. As they sat by the edge of a stream, watching the fire rage, feeling helpless and sad, they noticed a hummingbird fly over the fire and let a single drop of water fall. Then they watched as it returned to the stream, dip its beak in the water and fly back over the fire to let another drop of water fall again. The scared animals watched the tiny hummingbird do this for hours, murmuring how small the creature was, commenting how useless it was, until finally the bear boomed, “Hummingbird! What do you think you are doing?” The hummingbird hovered above the water for a moment and replied “I’m doing what I can”.

* according to the FDA (Federal Department of Agriculture in the USA): a 16oz jar of peanut butter can legally contain up to 136 insect fragments and four rodent hairs.