How Do We Live in a World Where Bad, Bad Things Happen, Again
On a cold December morning, on a dock outside the San Francisco Ferry Building, I spent last Saturday morning in a revitalizing ritual, the Foodie Festival that is the weekly San Francisco Farmer’s Market. Every week, I’m reminded exactly why I continue the work I began in founding CleanFish. I come to the market to re-member the deeply satisfying experience of buying food within a context of connectedness.
I get to talk to farmers, and the young people that the farmers hire to help out at the market. We talk about weather conditions, the state of the drought in the region; the need to watch out for the price industrial commerce is willing to pay to consistently distract people from the issues of GMO seeds and crops; and the importance of Slow Food and Edible Education and other themes that allow us to form common ground. What are we all seeking as we wander up to the vegetable stalls to see the same person behind the counter with a knowing smile of recognition? A sense of community within which all these transactions. Yes, there is a premium for this but we are all willing to pay.
There is a series of messages sent between seller and buyer. Both smile aware that they are enacting something more than an exchange of commerce. There is a greater energy, a source of warmth and fierce commitment in smiles that implicitly acknowledge the battleground that we are standing on. The battle is for a connected culture. A culture that honors our need for one another. People participate not only for delicious sources of quality food, but also from a desire to vote, to take action. These purchases are one of the ways in which we can cast our votes.
These producers take their work seriously enough to be genuine, knowing that the food you just purchased from them is food you will thoroughly enjoy. If not, they also understand that they’ll hear about it next Saturday. The market brings a feeling of emotional nourishment, seasoned with a community of values and soaked in a brine of trusted sensibilities that place care about food and the treatment of the earth, and the knowing smiles of producers who are practicing within larger definition of stewardship.
Most people want a culture of care and quality, of community foods and sharing, of nurturance and of healthfulness. Yet, it is a choice that we have been led to forsake for the benefits of convenience. Walking into a quick grab ‘n go situation for food has the sense of efficiency and lower prices. Reliance on the person behind the counter is not necessary. They know little about what they are selling. It came wrapped to them and they are passing it along. There is little more connection to the circle of life or the chain of food custody involved than that.
We’ve been conditioned to no longer ask for more accountability. That deeply desired yet denied promise in each of these convenient transactions: the promise that what I am selling you is good for you and that you will like it at least enough to come back and buy from me again; and I know enough about this product to have those expectations be genuine. There is no retail food transaction that does not have elements of this promise at its core. We know that the convenience driven transaction cannot deliver on this promise. Regardless of our economic standing, this is what we want. We have simply come to an implicit acceptance, conditioned as if it were only available at the top consumer price point level, while even at that “1%” level we sense that this promise is kept wrapped in a dance of denial because it is more often than not – even for many a top-end paying customer — not being delivered.
The importance of the woven tapestry that connects us within the Farmers Market experience is on my mind today in the wake of the familial, communal, national shock over the killings of first graders and teachers in a small town Connecticut elementary school. Am I stretching for thinking about the need for greater connecedness and local farmer’s markets?
Consider that the convenience society allows and encourages many destructive and damaging products, food and otherwise, to be traded within the free marketplace. Convenience of access to items, to things, to products, to commodities that can be traded at a profit is what we are told over and again. That is what drives our economy.
Even as the economic Middle-Class is squeezed from existence, family after family will succumb to the pressure this month to buy things, gifts purchased as expressions of caring for others throughout this Holiday Season. The purchases take place within this demand for convenience that seem to futher isolate us. Transactions on the web or big box outlets take place within a setting wherein disconnection is the norm. Disconnections as the contexts of commodity transactions is well set for products that while conveniently available may just as well be products that can do us harm.
Disconnectedness takes its toll on the spirit of our marketplace whether it be ‘twinkies’ or military issue weapons. A government official in Connecticut stated “Evil visited this community today”. It is as if we have allowed ourselves to settle for seeking liberty of expression in our ability to gain access to whatever we want. Yet, that same impulse of convenience and disconnection is leading us toward a state of civil society that seems more dominated by fear, by greed, by a desire to further isolate ourselves from others. We operate in a haze of denial that brings us up short with the violent outburst of someone, who upon analysis seemed to be screaming for some recognition, some attention and acting out of their disconnection. One has to be profoundly disconnected to any larger sense of community to choose first grade students of 6 and 7 years of age as target for violence. I don’t have to be a professional psychologist to see this. Nor is anything I am suggesting an excuse for such violence.
No one can out-guess the sick-mindedness of any one individual. Yet this culture of convenient access to inappropriate things, in this case, military issue automatic weapons, is permitted and even encouraged in our disconnected society. This young man’s mother was a gun enthusiast. He did not have to purchase these weapons in some clandestine manner. The guns b were conveniently accessible in his home. Those supporting civilian ownership of automatic weapons will, I expect, state that this ownership reality is a rightful expression of his mother’s freedom. She was a gun enthusiast, and that ease of access resulted in her being shot by her son.
What is one to do? How are parents going to react to this national alert to what is possible in every single elementary school in any community across this land? This was in suburban Connecticut after all. This was not a dismissible drive by in some dark gangland section of dense urban ghetto. We may yet find that drugs either street or prescription, were involved in some manner, which is so often the driver behind such violent outbursts. Still Newtown, Connecticut is, it seems, Middle-class Every-town. This was every family’s nightmare. This is every parent’s deep cause for concern and despair. It calls into question for every working parent, “what we are working so hard for?”
What do we really want as a culture for ourselves and our children to live in? How do we want to live: in isolation, or in connection?
How do I make sense of all this? How do we live through this? I live 3,000 miles away from Connecticut, and I work in a different world. I work in seafood. As my mother would ask, “…what’s that got to do with the price of fish in China?”
Well, I have established a company that is founded on the principle that people, customers, consumers, seafood lovers, fellow humans want to live and to eat nourishing food within a context of connectedness. CleanFish is a champion for artisan producers who are, in turn, committed to their families, to their communities, to the ecosystems on which they are reliant. The medium we work in is, essentially, educational. Others call it marketing or Brand-building; and that it is. We seek to inform our customers about the sources of the seafood they are buying. We work with seafood producers to improve and further pursue their instinctive desire to work and produce products in alignment, which is to say connected to the surrounding ecosystems and environmental limits from which they derive their livelihoods.
This sense of connectedness is what we are all about. This is one simple way our work is an exercise of an idea that is embedded in a natural system, that is connected to artisans who live in coastal and food-producing communities of people most happy when they deliver a product that they know is going to nourish the buyer and benefit their health when they eat it.
Seafood producers and consumers most often do not have the opportunity to meet. At CleanFish we make it our business to know our producers and we use our role as educators within the marketplace. The degree to which we know our producer, know the background of the products and educate the buyer we are dealing with directly; to that degree we are part of a long line of food, of culture, of connection, of love.
“…Everything is everything”…(or its not).
Where am I going with this? Sure, I want machine guns off the streets. Yes, I want superb and safe education for every child. In the same frame of reference, I want food that is nourishing and healthful for everyone. How are these things, and me, connected? I am working toward a greater sense of connection that begins with me and extends to everything else I touch, or I am part of the disconnection lie that is gaining such a hold out of fear and desire to maintain the status quo.
I want to live in, and am therefore willing to do my part in co-creating a culture of connectedness. I am connected to all these events and responsible for all of what I want to work against, and what I want to work for. I choose not to feel like a victim who cannot do anything in the face of violent madness, or leaving to commodity dealers to pass of fish they know nothing about and provide no better choices. I want you to vote for gun control that is reasoned and that allows for security within the scope of freedom within my, your, our communities. I want to make it possible for you to Vote with Your Fork for more connectedness to what you and your family are eating. That is simple enough, perhaps. Distant, perhaps; still I choose to see the connections. And, as it is something I am free to create as an expression of my market freedoms, it is something I choose to do.
What are you working towards? What can we, together, do more of that honors, promotes, celebrates our commitment to live in a better, more hopeful culture? One we can believe in, a connected culture. How will you cast your ballot, your dollars, your fork for greater connectedness, or less?
In our society it is increasingly clear: you are part of the soulution, or you’re part of the problem. There is less and less middle ground if we are leaving for our children any semblance of a future worthy of them.
Tim O’Shea has decided to pour over 30 years of business, education, environmental and brand strategy experience into creating a market-driven solution to the crises of our ocean as the Founder and CEO of CleanFish. He asks that you review the work of his company Cleanfish.com and look for ways you can work to build trust however you can.