I’m a vegan. Well, mostly. I’m 80% vegan, 10% vegetarian and 10% normal eater. Is there a name for a normal eater? A Normaterian? Or would you just call them an omnivore? Anyway, now I’ve said it publically. Please comment below with all the terrible and nasty things you’ve heard about us. I’m just smug and self-important enough to bet I’m not any of them. Except, you know, vegan.
My family chooses to follow this path for many reasons. Compassionate (If you’re not aware of how horrible a meat animal’s life is, it’s because you choose not to look), socioeconomic (meat production contributes to massive poverty in the third world, and also here in the US), dietary (meat isn’t good for you, and most food you buy in a supermarket is very distant from what your great grandparents would have called food. Also, we need to lose weight), health (meat, artificial ingredients and high-fructose corn syrup are all linked to cancer, and aspartame – the most common artificial sweetener – is a neurotoxin once you digest it. Plus, it also causes me blinding migraines) and mathematical (it takes 10 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. That means if we removed meat, we’d be able to feed many more people than we already do).
That being said, it’s harder in some ways to be a vegan, and the biggest place we feel the pinch is in our wallets. It simply costs more in the short-term to eat healthy than to eat the processed garbage the agricultural/industrial complex sell us. This is pretty much a fact. In the long run, it might save you on health costs, and provide you a better and longer life, but right now, in the moment, we find it difficult.
As I was sitting in church this morning (yes, some people still go to church that can also speak in full sentences not ending in “Hell”), I realized something interesting, and here it is.
We, all of us, have been duped. Of course that might seem obvious to many people. Let me be more specific, if you’ll allow it.
My grandfather, Milton Hoffman, was a bricklayer by trade. By all accounts he was a second-generation immigrant who learned his trade from his father and lived the life of a hard-working laborer. During his life, however, he built a house. No, not he built houses but he built a house. His house. The one he lived in. The one my grandmother Dorothy lived in after he died until she sold the house and moved into a seniors apartment. She did that because the house he built was too big.
I have dim memories of it, and I remember it was indeed big, at least to a seven year old. Two story house with a large two-car garage. I also remember the shocking experience of biting into a peppercorn in her kitchen – the kitchen with the blocks of wavy glass that were so popular in the 40’s and 50’s. It wasn’t a small house by any means. Not a mansion, but not small.
My father and mother, by comparison, lived in a trailer for the first eight or so years of my life, then bought a modest ranch home outside Kutztown, PA. It wasn’t as big as my grandfather’s house, however. It had a good-sized plot of land, but land was much cheaper in the country in the mid-70’s. But they owned the house; it was theirs. My older brother lives there now, and by what little I hear from him these days, they struggle to keep that house.
My grandfather was a tradesman who dropped out of school very early. My father was more of a vagabond, but he did have some schooling, having gone to community college and having training as a paramedic, park ranger and cop. Also, he was at times a small businessman.
Then there’s me. College educated and I’ve worked hard all my life, but I own nothing of consequence. Not a house. Not land. And I think I understand why. But first, I want to make sure you understand two terms. Paradigm shift and min/maxing.
A paradigm shift is when the established order (of whatever, quantum physics, microwave manufacture or popular music) is dramatically overturned by changes from generally younger members of that community (quantum physicists, microwave manufacturers or popular musicians). Two easy to understand examples of this would be Charles Darwin and Michael Jackson.
Before Darwin, biologists were struggling to understand how the natural world came to be. When Darwin set forth his Origin of Species (which, I need to be very, very clear never said humans descended from any sort of monkey or ape), many biologists (more commonly known as natural historians in those days) were up in arms. The established order was threatened by this new theory, but in the end all the old scientists died off and the young ones carried the day. The theory of Evolution is the accepted norm these days.
In the same vein Michael Jackson appeared on the scene in the 1970’s and proceeded in just ten years to re-write how people viewed popular music. It was possible, he proved, to be slick and experimental and outrageously successful. With Madonna figuratively by his side, he became the third-highest-selling artist in world history. And he was more successful than those numbers would imply. He changed the entire way that people viewed music. He changed the paradigm.
Ok. That’s settled. Now, min/maxing is when someone using any system (gambling, role-playing game systems, Wall Street investment portfolios) tries to minimize the weaknesses of the system or his access to the system, and maximize the system strengths or his access to the system. Another way to put it is like this: What is the minimum effort I can put out to get the maximum effect? How low can I leave my thermostat in the winter and not feel like I’m freezing? Everyone does this to some degree whenever interfacing with any system. This is one of the reasons why when people first start playing a game, they tend to do more poorly than someone experienced with that game. Sure the more experienced player knows that railroads are a good investment in Monopoly, but she also knows they’re much more likely to roll a six, seven or eight on the dice, and can make predictions on the outcome of any roll based on that. This is normal and expected.
However, it becomes a problem when the person min/maxing has taken so much time and put out so much in resources that almost nobody can min/max as well as they can. This is why professional gamblers can beat anyone but other professionals. I read a book once on how to win at Monopoly. Someone had taken the time to crunch all the numbers in that game (initial costs, extended costs like houses and hotels, the odds of the property being landed on, the cost to land on any property depending on the presence of houses or hotels and so forth) and had determined that certain properties were a much better investment than others, and if you invested in those properties to the exclusion of others, odds increased of you winning. That is min/maxing.
And I think that’s what happened to America. I think corporations have been min/maxing everything they could for years now. They have crunched the numbers on their respective markets, profit margins, product size, weight and composition tracked sales figures, seasonal changes, weather effects and ethnic make up for so long that they have squeezed every last possible penny out of us, the consumers.
My grandfather could afford to build an entire house on his own, nights and weekends, because he had enough savings and disposable income to pull it off while still feeding his family. My father didn’t do as well, but he was still able to buy a house with a large yard. He had much less in savings and disposable income, but still some to work with.
But my generation, we have no disposable income left. And I have never had money in the bank that wasn’t already slated to pay this bill or that. I’ve worked hard all my life, and I have nothing to show for it. I’m not asking for sympathy; my brothers are hardly better off. My older brother moved into my parents house after buying out the estate in 2003. My younger brother just bought his first house this year. It’s smaller than my parents house, with almost no yard, and it’s in a worse location by being right against a busy train track. None of us brothers is even as well off as my parents, and nowhere near as well off as my grandfather.
Something has to change. American citizens are, for the most part, under so much pressure that it’s only a matter of time till they start breaking. When things start breaking, people usually get hurt, one way or another. But, like it or not, no matter your political affiliation, we’re headed for a break. We’re headed for a dramatic change sooner or later.