Sacrifice has been on my mind for the past couple of weeks. How much should we do it, is it meaningful, is it imperative. While sometimes I think Farmer goes overboard, it seems selfish to question making personal sacrifices when there are lives on the line.
I tend to agree with Paul Farmer on one thing: the token sacrifice (such as wearing a Che shirt or going without shoes, both of which I often do) seems largely irrelevant if it is an isolated “act” of solidarity with the world’s poor. However, I do admire people like Michael Franti who partner a small personal sacrifice like his barefootedness with genuine good works, philanthropy and publicity for his causes. On many poverty alleviation-style trips, there have been many…conversations about finishing one’s food. I agree that we should not waste food, and do my best not to.
However, I don’t think we can be punished for failing to eat the massive helpings others often serve us against our will, and I think hounding someone to keep eating when they’re not hungry is damaging on so many levels. Only a fit person who has never had personal food issues would think that yelling at someone that they have to eat whether they want to or not was somehow okay. But getting back to my point, even if the rest faded away, I still think that most of the time, my cleaning my plate won’t make anyone any less hungry. Neither would not eating food at all, unless I had a specific goal and a lot of publicity. Otherwise, it’s just a way or making this about me instead of about the people I claim to be helping. It becomes an empty gesture.
Of course, there are differing circumstances. For example, in Cruz Verde I think Tim is totally in the right to lecture people to serve themselves small helpings and go back for more if they’re still hungry. In this instance, what we do not waste will in fact be eaten by our Sister Island Project colleagues, who wait, hungry, until we have served ourselves. And I understand people like Claire who quietly live through discomfort at the site of food because it is so emotionally charged for them when in a place like this. Furthermore, in my book, neither Tim nor Claire is a WL (White Liberal, a term of Farmer’s). They take real, tangible steps to alleviate poverty.
I am always wary about veering towards becoming a WL, about centering this experience on myself to the detriment of those with whom I work. Wary of being a fake ally,