First published on Dandelion Salad in 2008. Originally published in 2005.
“Our lives flow from our beliefs, and our beliefs are conditioned by our daily actions. As we act, so we build our character and so we become.”
“Because of the industrialization of food production, we eat artificially colored, flavored, refined, processed, irradiated, engineered, and chemical-laden products that confirm we will eat virtually anything and everything.”
“In a herding culture, nothing is more subversive to the established order of exploitation and privilege than consciously refusing to participate in buying and eating the animal foods that define the culture.”
“To meditate for world peace, to pray for a better world, and to work for social justice and environmental protection while continuing to purchase the flesh, milk, and eggs of horribly abused animals exposes a disconnect that is so fundamental that it renders our efforts absurd, hypocritical, and doomed to certain failure.”
— from Will Tuttle’s World Peace Diet, Lantern Books, 2005
The holiday season is upon us.
The preposition is apt. We are not in the season, not even in the spirit of the season, but we feel it upon us, like a nightmare chimera. Many feel oppressed and depressed by it. We struggle for more light.
Perhaps it’s better to call it the shopping season. It starts with softening up the kids on Halloween — sending them out to beg, threaten or run “tricks” for sugar. A day that used to acknowledge the dead and the chthonic forces that help shape our lives, ends with kids computing who had the most money to buy the best costume.
Meantime, their parents gear up for Thanksgiving gorging. They may remember their own school daze — that it has something to do with the pilgrims and getting through the first hard winters — but nobody really cares. Few remember the “Indians” who got us through those winters, whom we summarily rewarded with slaughter and expropriation. Yet it is precisely to remember, to commemorate, that holidays are declared.
In 1863, Lincoln signed two historic, and largely symbolic proclamations: the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves (in the border states!) and a proclamation establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, Lincoln called upon his fellow citizens “in every part of the United States” to set apart and observe “ a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.”
There was, Lincoln noted, plenty to be thankful for: population had steadily increased, the yields of the mines, and the fields were more abundant than ever.
We, the inheritors of that abundance, should not forget that our Civil War was the first major conflagration of the Industrial Revolution, and we used our weapons of mass destruction, our cannons and Remingtons, to macerating effect. Nearly one out of every fifty men in the nation died and millions more men and women and children were subjected to horrific physical and psychological terror. A war president, Lincoln could have heightened the rhetoric and demonized the enemy. But he did not want to win the war and lose the peace. This was a “War of Civilizations” every bit as apocalyptic as Huntington’s/Bush-Cheney’s rationale for our War on Terror. But Lincoln went beyond puerile name-calling. The Commander-in-Chief did not rationalize torturing our foes, but called us back to “the better angels of our nature.” “With humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience,” he proclaimed, let all Americans “commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged.”
Well, that was then and this is now! After the gorging, after the family disputes between siblings-in-law and siblings-in-fact, we’ll drive the Hummers and SUV’s to the malls and fill them up with post-Thanksgiving sales goodies. After a month digesting turkey, trimmings, and turkey sandwiches ad nauseum, the gorging will commence again on Christmas eve.
But, maybe, not this year.
Maybe this year, some of the more cognizant among us will take a page from Nancy Reagan’s playbook and “Just say no.”
Nancy Reagan — the co-president who hooked the ring in her husband’s nose to her astrology book and told him when to nod, wink and smile. Her solution to the drug-problem, teen pregnancy and countless social ills — Just say no!
So, this year, it’s NO! to all the stuffing and bloating in this over-bloated land where 60 percent of the population is overweight and 26% is obese. This year it’s NO! to the relentless endless-war agenda of maniac neocons and fundies; it’s NO to the selected and un-elected panjandrums of our government, corporations and media who have run us into the ground these past umpteen years and more. This year the malcontents and dissidents among us yell: Ya, basta! You don’t listen when we march millions-strong, and you don’t listen when we follow your prescriptions to write letters to newspapers and petition our congressmen — those you buy and sell. You lie us into war by “fixing” intelligence to suit your “Plan for a New American Century.” Fixated on profits and the bottom line, you blatantly deceive us about the “freedoms” we enjoy, while Diebolding our votes and robbing the world blind. And then you expect us to give thanks for taking our sons and daughters, wasting their lives, sending them to a foreign land to kill and maim the sons and daughters of people who have done us no harm, but had the bad fortune to suffer under a tyranny we supported for years. And, where is your penitence?
This year, I say, NO THANKS!
This year, I’m fasting for peace.
I won’t eat the food which my FDA — MY FDA! – can’t guarantee won’t poison me. This year, I’m taking Lincoln’s advice, and I’m going to look, humbly, at our “national perverseness and disobedience.” This year, I’m going to do what Christ and the Beggar of Assisi did when they went into the wilderness to reaffirm their purpose in life, to overcome the temptations of excess. This year I do what Gandhi did when he united the vast, disparate peoples of India to challenge the sanctimonious and thieving British raj. I fast for peace. I ask forgiveness. I acknowledge the wrongs I’ve committed and those done in my name. All kindred spirits are welcome at my table of penitence.
I won’t buy the baubles that enrich the merchants of death who hollow-out the middle classes and working classes who worked to establish social justice in this land.
This year, I look beyond my own country to the billions who hover at the edge of desperation on less than $2.00 a day, and I say, these, too, are my people, and what have I done for them, how have I helped, what solace have I given? This year, the money I would spend on turkey and trimmings, I will give to them.
Is the child who dies from tsunami in Sri Lanka or earthquake in Kashmir less precious than the child buffeted by Katrina and indifference in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast?
What false prophets and mealy-mouthed preachers have taught us to separate our culture from the cultures of the world in which it is embedded? Do I not take pride in the achievements of the human species? And is not the shame of our species also my shame? And how do I give thanks and praise without penitence and awareness?
Long ago, the media christened me a “baby boomer.” Well, I am pretty boomed-out by now. I have grown up and reached the ripe age of 59 in a culture that strives daily and relentlessly to make me unaware and complaisant. It is a culture that presents me with tawdry images of life divorced from greater context and deeper meanings.
The rise of the Mass Media/Propaganda State, one of the salient features of the twentieth century, married the insights of Freud, Jung and Bernays with the wonders of technology, to sow discord and fear of “the other” and to aggregate control to the State. I watched the Gotterdamerung Cold War struggle between Communism and Capitalism, another “war to end all wars,” end in the madness of GWOT (the Global War on Terror) and I must ask now, What was it for? Where is the promised “Peace Dividend”? How did we expend the world’s resources? Where is accountability?
My friend Will Tuttle finds connections between the way we eat and the way we think and live, and I believe he is right. The older I get the more I realize that intelligence is about making connections and thinking in opposites — postulating opposites or challenges to received wisdom.
Herding other animals, industrializing our food production, arrogating to ourselves “top-of-the-food-chain” status, we’ve managed to collect so many toxins in our bodies and brains, is it any wonder that cancer rates are increasing exponentially and our kids have the attention span of guppies? Sure, there are other reasons for this decline, but how do we remove our food sources as a major contributor?
A decade ago it was fashionable to say, “You are what you eat.” We hardly hear that now. With a few notable exceptions like Andrew Weil, doctors don’t guide their patients with disease-preventive dietary regimens. Why should they? The medical-pharmaceutical-agribiz complex is profiting marvelously on our malaises: keeping us alive and paying, rather than preventing and curing.
“Animals raised for our plates are especially fat. They are specifically bred, confined, drugged, and manipulated to be as fat as possible. The Butterball turkey we devour for our Thanksgiving ritual feast is so fat she could barely walk and couldn’t mate when alive, a caricature of the wild, sensitive bird that inhabits our forests.” (Will Tuttle, World Peace Diet)
In our out-of-balance world, the wealthy one sixth suffer the ravages of obesity, diabetes and the over-eating of toxin-laden food while the destitute one sixth barely get, or do not get, life-sustaining food and water. With 80 percent of plant foods fed to livestock, we cannot hope to feed the billion who are hungry.
And isn’t hunger also terrorism? Can a war on terror exempt hunger?
Converting to a plant-based diet, we could feed the entire human race — and more. As the bumper sticker had it: “Live simply so that others may simply live.”
The toxins we unthinkingly ingest impact our physical and mental health. They can literally make us stupid. Can we believe that the way we “harvest” our food has no effect on us, that our children are not desensitized by the food they eat and the processes involved? We continually train ourselves to disconnect. We live in a culture of denial reinforced three times a day by our culture of consumption — how we consume comestibles.
“Slaughterhouse workers must shackle chickens and turkeys by the ankles and hang them upside down on a conveyor line that passes their heads through a “bath” of electrically charged brine. The shock, which is extremely painful, immobilizes the birds but does not stun them, so they are fully conscious when they hit the next station on the conveyor: the knives, wielded by workers or by a machine, that cut their throat arteries. Often the birds manage to pull away from the water and may then, in their panicked flailing, miss the knives, so they are still conscious when they hit the next station on the fast-moving disassembly line: the huge vat of filthy water where their bodies are boiled, dead or alive.” (Will Tuttle, World Peace Diet.)
Many will complain: This has nothing to do with me! I’ll eat what I please and the devil be damned!
But the devil is not damned. The devil damns.
The same corporate-government structures that deliver our food supply, deliver our news, our entertainment, our view of the world, war and peace. In six decades I have learned that those who want to tell me what to think without teaching me the scaffolding of logic — how to think — are no friends of mine. Those who obscure connections are mesmerists, traducers and manipulators. They are to be feared, exposed and rebuffed.
We have been herded into war, herded like lemmings into following the foolish policies of a Court Jester President and his martinet cabal. Is it not time to say, as the poet e. e. cummings eloquently put it, “There is some shit I will not eat!”?
In our New World Order (more properly, Disorder) of Globalization, our interconnected, inter-netted matrix, every war is perforce a civil war. Our War on Terror begins to look suspiciously like the old War of Distribution. If we think we can fight the evil of their free-lance terrorism with the evil of our state terrorism and torture, then we’re making war in Wonderland.
Terror and torture — are they not of equal weight? Which should I fear more? Are the hands of the perpetrators of terror more gnarled and blood-stained than those who perpetrate torture?
Lincoln understood that war is the archetype of human failure. No people are so blessed with insight or righteousness that they do not contain the seeds of the oppressor within. Out of fear or greed or self-aggrandizement, that seed can sprout and flourish in acts of barbarism. Every war we fight on our shrunken, stricken planet today is a civil war that demeans us all and steals from the children of us all.
So this year, and every year hence that these horrendous conditions of war, poverty, duplicity, and torture prevail–I say NO. No to lies, no to half-truths, no to disconnections. I fast to know a morsel of hunger, to share the feast of hunger all too many know. I fast because we in the so-called “developed” world are eating ourselves into states of lethargy and stupor while consuming the resources of the world like drunkards and debauchers.
I say NO so that when I break my fast, I can be a little clearer; and when I say YES, it will have more meaning.
This is the prayer I’ll say on Thanksgiving Day:
“Great Spirit of the Wind and Waters, thunder and roses dwell within your arms! May peace and wisdom reign on this jeweled planet. May we honor the Feminine Principle, our Earth Mother, and banish want from the lands. May the herding and the hoarding end. And may that creature that climbed out of the trees two million years ago, come to his senses now, turn swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks, cherish the afflicted and comfort the suffering.”
NOTE: The above was first posted at various sites in 2005. Gary Corseri has performed his work at the Carter Presidential Library. His dramas have been produced on PBS-Atlanta and elsewhere. His articles, fiction and poems have appeared in 100s of venues, including, Dandelion Salad, DissidentVoice, CounterPunch, CommonDreams, The New York Times, Village Voice, WorldProutAssembly, Cyrano’s Journal, ThomasPaine’sCorner. He has taught in universities, prisons and public schools, published two novels and two poetry collections, edited a literary anthology. Contact at: Gary_Corseri@comcast.net.