Romancing the Poor
The romanticising of poverty is when a middle aged white lady writes a children’s book about how all the Gogo’s in the village borrow and share pancake ingredients (complete with fake Xhosa accents in its telling) from one another and lo! pancakes are had. And ohhh how all the other white ladies in the audience chirp in delight at how quaint it all is! That very same white lady would be loathe to give up the creature comforts of her middle class lifestyle and live in said wonderfully sharesy village and yet she feels ennobled to perpetuate the notion that its an ideal way to live.
The problem is that the survival strategy of sharing is very much worth calling our collective attention to but sensationalising something is the oldest slight of hand trick known to man. Look over here! Its a TED video! Pay no mind to the social mobilisation happening right outside your window... As I’ve mentioned here building communities is something that requires immediate actualising if we want to stay optimistic through this Apocalypse. Strong support networks that can weather economic upheaval are not built in a day and to think that you can roll out of your consumptive suburban lifestyle into a culture of resource sharing is delusional at best.
At its worst, romancing the poor becomes yet another systemic obstacle that impoverished people must struggle to overcome in their quest to satisfy their basic human needs. Oh but look, the naked baby running in the field is so happy! Ahhh the simple life is a good one, just look at that smile *camera flash* ! Access to education would only make him sad, let's rather not.
One needn’t look far to see how deep the sensationalising of poverty can go in a system primed and ready for exploitation. Tanzania, after passing through a series of colonial ruling countries, has one of the world’s poorest rural populations. The rural agricultural sector that makes up 80% of the countries workforce is comprised in the majority by smallholders. This landscape makes it very difficult for large corporations to implement industrial agricultural practices like spraying crops with pesticides simply because the distribution infrastructure isn’t there. The makers of DDT aren’t going to bother building infrastructure, they’ll just go to a neighbouring country and sell it there (ahem South Africa ahem). Fast forward a few decades and what do you have? A huge fertile landmass that hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides which is what? Class? It’s what qualifies land (by European standards anyway) to grow “Organic tm” crops.
Imagine Barry Callebaut’s delight when they set their little Swiss eyes on field after field of established unsprayed cacao trees being “mismanaged” by small stakeholder farmers! Mismanagement is what European chocolate product manufacturers call cacao farmers who are far more invested in the sustainability than the productivity of their land. The Biolands Group of which Callebaut has 100% stake in since 2014, had it registered by all the appropriate European regulating bodies (Organic/Fair Trade) and is now “empowering” farmers to increase production. What their piece of shit corporate video fails to answer is why they only work with independent farmers when previous to Biolands, many of the farmers worked cooperatively. (“Psssst… you can join the cooperative if you want but if you stay independent and vulnerable, Biolands will hook you up with that Barry Callebaut “premium” paper.”) What the video also doesn’t mention is just how much that “premium” is in comparison to how much they charge for organic chocolate products, or for that matter, how much it costs to keep their organic certification up to date.
If these farmers are in such need of European agricultural practices, how were they able to cultivate world class beans without their help in the first place? Every last one of these beans is now being bought up by Barry Callebaut as it pats its fat back for alleviating poverty by providing farmers with training (brainwashing) and equipment (tools to better execute brainwashing with), all of which financially benefits Barry Callebaut at the cost of future generations of Tanzanians who will be left with nutrient depleted soil and top soil erosion due to their inevitably overworked land.
Perhaps less a romancing of the poor as it is a date-raping of the poor. Instead of taking the ideal exemplified by Tanzanian rural farming co-ops and doing the work to apply that to European agricultural practices and creating a truly sustainable way in which we humans can continue to feed ourselves, they let them do all the work and then take their resources, all the while keeping the pesticides flowing on their own commercial crops. And in a few years down the line when Tanzanian productivity isn’t accelerating as fast as Bernie wants it to? They’llstart spraying it with Supergro tm.
Prioritising sustainability over productivity, conserving water and electricity, adapting to petrol free transportation, micro farming, decentralised economies, barter systems of trade and yup, sharing resources are all proven effective ways for humans to thrive beyond capitalism. But if we don’t actually practice them, they will be sold back to us as Green feel good bullshit in a heartbeat.
The difference between romanticising something and inhabiting it is the change it requires to live that ideal into reality. We KNOW deep down that to be connected with our neighbours is a boon to human health but somehow we’ve become content to watch movies about other people living that ideal on our behalf. Because? Work. God dammit we’ve gotten lazy… and anxious… and paranoid… The wall of fear between us takes energy to scale and even when what waits on the other side is our own humanity, we’d rather not. I get it, its overwhelming when one considers the implications of these changes because they really would change the world- your world, the only one that can be changed. But who said it has to happen all at once? Madame children’s book author does not need to move to a village to stop perpetuating poverty porn, she can start by ohhhh i don’t know, pulling her head out of her ass? Its just that easy folks…
Today I needed a quarter cup of sugar to make a crumble and not knowing a single one of my neighbours well enough to buzz them I opted to “borrow” the sugar from Vida E, whom i feel close to because there they are, every fucking time I turn around. But they don’t make it easy hey? Keeping the sugar packet supply up near the front under closed circuit watch… so I asked “hey can i borrow a couple sugars? I’m making a crumble…” It was at this point that the dynamic changed from the upbeat over the top level of customer service one is normally greeted with at Vida E (imagine if you will their training program… “smile Tshepo -I SAID SMILE!!!!! HARDER!!!! HARRRDDDEEERRRRRR!!!!!!!!!”) and it entered into what I imagine a drug deal with an undercover KGB agent would feel like:
head nod no smile
“thanks…?” (my own head heavy with shame as I scurry out the door)
A Recipe Ode to Romancing the Poor
-collect 201 packets of sugar, 3 at a time, from all 67 Vida E locations across South Africa.
-cook it, cut it with baking soda and resell it to Vida E as a mandatory pre-shift energy booster guaranteed to keep their employees' smiles HARD.
-make a video of yourself surrounded on all sides by hard smiling Vida E employees and win the Nobel Peace Prize