Sunday, January 17, 2010

Behind a Pose Behind a Pose by Anthony McCarthy

Having, somehow, successfully limited my contact with the fluff anti-feminist scribbler, Caitlin Flanagan, I’d missed her attack on school gardening programs in California until I read this analysis by Meg White.

It would seem, in short that Flanagan has determined all by her self that it is demeaning for children to learn how to grow their own food, applying relevant school subjects to the project. It’s touching to see someone concerned with the pollution of pure geometry by the vulgarity of using it to make a garden bed, I hadn’t realized how utterly Platonic the anti-feminist backlash was before reading her article in The Atlantic.

As Meg White notes, other critics of the article have noted that Flanagan’s main premise, that the program is an example of white privilege, seems to spring full born from her own mind since she doesn’t seem to have interviewed any of the “Hispanics” her meat space concern trolling pretends to speak on behalf of.

Flanagan is praised by this food blogger (who appears to despise what he calls the "eaterati") for her iconoclastic piece, which supposedly "asks questions, levels criticisms, doesn't settle for blind acceptance."

But did she ask questions? As Andrew Leonard points out in, "Flanagan's concoction is just that; a fantasy made up out of thin air. In her entire 3,500-word article, there is no indication that she talked to a single Latino in Berkeley who might have misgivings as to the merits of elementary and middle school kids spending a mere hour-and-a-half a week tending a garden."

Yet Flanagan keeps returning to this notion that the existence of a school vegetable garden makes a mockery of those immigrant workers who slave away in the produce fields of California. She wildly imagines an assimilation novel, The White Man Calls It Romaine, in which the children of illegal immigrants are sent by their teachers back into the fields to do the same manual labor that broke their poor parents.

Leaving aside the patronizing, I’d say mildly racist, implication that Latinos in the United States would be unaware of the word “romaine”, the entire article is riddled with the sloppiest thinking I’ve seen in that magazine.

As others have pointed out, the alternative to growing your own garden is buying produce in a super market, of the kind that Flanagan praises

As it happens, I live fewer than 20 miles from the most famous American hood, Compton, and on a recent Wednesday morning I drove over there to do a little grocery shopping. The Ralphs was vast, well-lit, bountifully stocked, and possessed of a huge and well-tended produce section. Using my Ralphs card, I bought four ears of corn for a dollar, green grapes and nectarines (both grown in the state, both 49 cents a pound), a pound of fresh tortillas for $1.69, and a half gallon of low-fat milk for $2.19. The staff, California friendly, outnumbered the customers, and the place had the dreamy, lost-in-time feeling that empty American supermarkets often have.

Where the heck Flanagan imagines that food to have come from if not from laborers working for corporate farms is anyone’s’ guess. You don’t get prices like that without someone getting the short end of the deal and when it’s a farmer hiring migrant workers, the farmer isn’t going to voluntarily be on the end of it. That there is all the world of difference between growing your own and your communities food and working as a laborer at the lowest possible wages and worst conditions that the bean counters can get away, eludes the New Yorker-Atlantic thinker.

I think that, as in all her work I’ve seen, Caitlin Flanagan is her own subject matter, everything reverts back to her, everything is predetermined by her attitude. Or at least by the shtick she has cultivated. She’s not much different from John Stossel, when it comes down to it.

I think she has a fundamentally elite view of farm work as degraded and demeaning when the only things that are degraded and demeaning about it are the work conditions and the pay. If those produced a secure middle class income, safely and humanely, farm work would be preferable to many other jobs to a lot of people. There are plenty of white collar workers who have given up their old, almost always better paid, jobs in order to farm. Not all of them white, liberal and stereo typically air headed. You don’t stay in farming on the basis of unreality, though it can get you through the kind of life in letters that Flanagan chose for her second career.

More, though. She is a specimen of the kind of spokesman for the establishment who poses as an opponent of an imaginary elite that supposedly really runs things. Their targets are not especially powerful, feminists, Alice Waters* , the movement to improve nutrition and education, and the wrongs they address are innocuous, when not exaggerated to the point approaching fiction. The corporate-establishment POV they promote is presented as the real, common-sense, common man consensus. I’d be hard put to name a single main stream magazine or news paper that doesn’t provide these hacks with full employment.

* Extraordinary, that someone who has worked in the food business would be condemned for taking an interest in the public schools. I'm not holding my breath for Flanagan or her ilk commenting on corporate chiefs who gain some positive PR through some gesture in that direction.