What do you do when someone you respect, or even love, shows you a side of themselves that is in direct opposition to values you hold dear and true? This question hit close to the bone for me this week. I’d like to share an anecdote with you, dear Readers, for your consideration as we continue to navigate some tricky waters in the social sphere.
(Spoiler alert: this post will be a bit of a ramble, due to the nature of the story.)
This week I had an interesting discussion with a former professor. I’d stopped into his office to say hello and ask him for some advice about learning how to do costing and portioning for quantity cooking in professional food service. This is his area of expertise, so I figured he’d be a good starting point for a quick lesson, or be able to point me in the right direction for information on the subject.
Our conversation began well enough. He was friendly and seemed happy to see me (it had been a few months since we had last met). When I asked my questions, he started right into a quick lecture on portioning and determining quantities of product for large groups. Then I asked about determining how to order based on a certain budget, say weekly or monthly. My professor seemed to have a ready answer for that too, and pulled up some figures based on an obscure scenario of older people in a nursing home and how much it cost to feed them three meals a day.
I took a look at the list of menu items, broken down by ingredients (a slice of white bread, $0.08, one lettuce leaf, $0.04, one chicken breast, $ 0.45, etc.). That’s when the trouble began.
“But, Professor, I don’t want to feed my guests cheap chicken raised in factory farms under horrendous conditions,” I protested. “I’d rather buy better quality, sustainably raised poultry to serve.”
My professor became agitated and grew red in the face. “Oh, please spare me your political bullshit,” he implored. “I’m asking you to work up a menu based on a budget of less than $3 per day in food costs. Can you do it? If so, I will give you the job. If not, then goodbye!” he flourished with his arm toward the door. I gave a dry laugh, replying, “Okay, then, thanks and goodbye.” I paused a moment, then mused, “I would not be able to work for a place that had no regard for how the food is raised or how the workers are treated. I need to work with people who are in alignment with my values, what I hold to be most important.” He heard me, then calming down, suggested that I could work for the local food bank, that perhaps it would be a better fit for me. We talked a little while further, and then I left.
That conversation and interaction taught me some important lessons. In a flash, I understood that his values were centered around the standard business model of profit as the motivator and bottom line for everything that happens in a food service establishment. It was how he’d been trained decades ago as a chef and manager, before turning to academia and teaching. It is what he continues to teach his students, and sincerely believes is most important to know going into that career path. Once again, it was brought home to me how my most foundational values are at odds with standard business philosophy in a capitalist-based economy. My professor is a product of that system, believes in it whole-heartedly, and teaches it as he feels is his duty. In capitalist economy, you either control all your costs with the goal of making a profit, or you fail. Period. Full stop. In this worldview, there is no room for nonsense like caring about how poultry or any other animal product is raised. It matters not how farm workers are treated, as long as you can get your produce for the lowest price point possible. Profit or die.
Yet, I know that there is another way and system for doing business, and for having an economy that works for everyone. In fact, there are many other models being tested, honed, refined, and experimented upon all around the globe. But, in our current crazed global business model based on profit or perish, most of the people who train to be business owners, CEOs, salespeople, managers and the like, keep to the standard capitalist model which continues to be promoted and taught as THE ONLY and BEST way to keep it all going—linear GDP and all.
When my professor became angry and told me to save my “political bullshit” because I objected to buying factory-farmed poultry, I had a choice. I could have reacted in kind, with anger and defensiveness, and argued further for all the reasons why I feel it is important to not support that industry. Yet, I chose to simply let his anger boil and then settle, without giving it any more fuel. I maneuvered the conversation in another direction, and defused a potentially damaging situation. By the time I got up to leave his office, my professor had regained his composure, and I believe we remain on good terms.
In the times we are living through, these kind of tensions between human beings are more prevalent than ever. Ideologies are more extreme towards one pole or the other than they have been in recent memory. Given this, I saw first-hand how easy it is to throw fuel on the fires that smolder just under the surface of many people’s psyches, and how damaging it is for moving forward towards a world that is more just, kind and loving. Humanity’s boiling point is at a lower temperature than ever, and it is our work to find the tact, honesty and good will to have difficult conversations without succumbing to the destructive heat of anger and self-righteousness. There is way too much of that energy going around on Earth and it is getting us nowhere.
Dear Readers, I plan to write more posts concerning the issues of factory farming and alternatives to eating animals (yes, that means veganism alright). For those of you who haven’t yet considered the possibility of giving up eating animals for a more humane and compassionate world, I encourage you to open to this possibility. And, I hope you will continue reading, regardless of your personal beliefs around eating or not eating animals. It’s a big subject, and extremely relevant to us all moving into the future.