Ain’t No Free Lunches

I wondered if this blog would ever turn political.  I think it’s about to, just for a minute.

On November 6, 2012 the Electoral College, a poor representation of the citizens of the United States of America, re-elected who has got to be America’s worst President ever.  But I will say this; Our country, once great, is not the product of poor leadership, but in fact the author of it!  I didn’t vote (long story), and I’m not blaming anyone–it’s just the shape of things these days.  Just my opinion.

On November 14, 2012 our marketing specialist and I loaded up a truck with 1,500 pounds of canned food items that were donated by Arkansas State University students and affiliates, along with something like $1,200 in donated cash, and wheeled it all down to the Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas.  Our company has a number of initiatives, one being STOP Hunger.  We were pretty proud of our accomplishment, and of the participation from our student body and customers.

Several years when I served as an instructor at the Community Culinary School of Charlotte, and then later as their Catering Director, I was exposed to a constant array of “help organizations”, and the idea that there are millions of starving people in the world that CAN be helped.

At the time I was sickened by the liberalism of the people that are dedicated to this work, but at the same time I admired their seeming humility, kindness, and generosity.  I say “seeming” because I always secretly felt that what they thought was humility was actually glaring arrogance at how much they contributed to the apathetic, and how little they thought everyone else did.  Nonetheless they had something that I didn’t, and I always left each day feeling shitty about it.  Why was I so cold and heartless?

I always fondly remember my friend Chef Bob from San Luis Obispo who used to talk about how lucky he was that he got to feed people for a living.  Wow!  Isn’t that an amazing way to view one’s vocation–to genuinely feel that one is using a God-given skill to contribute something worthwhile to the world around oneself?  Why couldn’t I feel that deep in my heart and exude that attitude in everything I do?

The Community Culinary School takes surplus food from food banks and similar sources and turns it into prepared food for other organizations that in turn take it out to homebound people that would otherwise not eat well.  To perform this act of great unselfishness they take adults with “barriers to employment” and teach them culinary skills.  Free food that would otherwise spoil is put into the hands of people that can barely feed themselves, and is transformed into 1) a new skill for life, and 2) food for other people that can’t feed themselves at all.  How magical is that?

I was once proud to be a part of such a enterprise, until one day the Director (who regularly cherry-picked the donations) fired me for “stealing” donated food and giving it to a mutual friend.  In truth what happened is that he and I rarely saw eye-to-eye and he saw a way to get rid of me.  I don’t blame him–one of the best things that ever happened to me!

So with all of this history I set out to be a part of the salvation of Northeast Arkansas this afternoon.

We arrived at the food bank and were greeted by a small band of some of the rudest and most ungracious liberals I’ve ever met.  Perhaps they weren’t the real thing (except for the anti-tea party bumper sticker on one of their vehicles).  Perhaps they were small-town, tall-cotton conservatives that manned the food bank as some sort of penance or martyrdom.  Maybe the preacher shamed them into believing that salvation is the product of deeds-well-done.  They seemed genuinely disturbed that we were there to create more work for them.

I’m used to seeing these people bubble over with appreciation on behalf of those we were about to help.  Instead I was asked to wait, and rudely told not to smoke near the boxes of canned food that were sequestered inside the warehouse 30 feet or more from where I stood outside the loading dock entrance.

When I recounted the experience later for a coworker she told me that several months previously she had the same experience with this organization.  Every now and then I think that my various trials in life are of my own making, but I was certain that these people truly were in some way just plain run-of-the-mill assholes!

Sense of entitlement, I was taught, is a dangerous thing, and that’s what this story is about.   It’s about the gentrification of the unfortunate through self-righteous tyranny disguised as generosity.  It’s about the “Yes We Can” movement that is poisoning our nation’s culture a little more every day.  It’s about the deluge of people and organizations that constantly take, take, and take from the people that work hard so they won’t have to stand around with their hands out.

I have worked very hard in recent years to earn my way through life and pay for the comforts that I’m gratefully allowed.  In contrast, there was a period in my life when I rode a bus across Phoenix and back for 3 hours to sit in a plasma center for 2 hours and earn $20 to buy cigarettes and a little food twice a week.

Through the entire experience I would come in contact with no less than half a dozen people standing with their hand out for a cigarette and a quarter.  “If I gave everyone who asked me for a cigarette and a quarter a cigarette and a quarter, I’d be sitting here next to you asking for a cigarette and a quarter”, I’d tell them.

How many little pink ribbons have I seen people wearing lately?  How much money have we as a culture given to breast cancer research?  Seriously, where is all that money going?  What progress has been made in the cure of breast cancer?

They don’t need anymore!  Stop giving it to them.  Instead, demand results.  Demand accountability.

Can’t get a job?  Take the unemployment and the food stamps.  You paid for it when you were working!  No, you didn’t pay into your own food stamp account, or your own unemployment fund–but you did pay more taxes that you should have had to, and that’s what will pay for all the free stuff that the “Yes We Can” folks are offering one another.  Might as well become one of them.Barack Obama has offered a free telephone to people that don’t have phones.  Soon we will all be required to have insurance whether we can afford it or not.  What if we can’t?  Probably get that free too.  As it is now if you don’t have insurance just go to the emergency room.  They’ll take care of your chest cold, or give birth to your soon-to-be underprivileged child that you had out of carelessness or other necessity.

No more Christian recovery homes, no more kidney foundations, no more veterans foundations (sorry vets, thanks for your service but get a job.  I have PTSD too, and I go to work and take it out on people every day), and no more medical research.

No more policemen’s or firemen’s fraternal organizations.  When you stop giving me tickets we can be “brothers”.

And no more fucking cans of food!

Sorry, just my opinion!  I am grateful to have a job, and I’m grateful for the gift of being able to feed people good food.  I love what I do, but I wouldn’t do it nearly as much if I didn’t get paid to do it.

There are a whole bunch of people that are paid better than I am for doing what I do, and there are some that aren’t paid nearly as much.  But I show up and I do my part.

There are no free lunches for me, and if it’s true that all men are created equal, then guess what…?