The Savaging of the Hinterlands

So I guess there’s a new little business opening up in Sellwood. It’s supposed to be a little grocery store called Moreland Farmer’s Pantry. They want to offer what sounds like a first-rate selection of Oregon-grown meats and produce and sundries. But one co-owner of this business has a problem: she’s an idiot.

See, Chauncy Linn Brice Childs (or whatever the fuck she goes by now) did not understand that a Facebook page needs to be secured to keep it from the public eye. And Chauncy is a Mormon Libertarian. Ooooh! Bad move Chauncy! Now everybody saw how you said that the gays are trying to rend our social fabric by getting married. And that you think that businesses should have the right to refuse service to people based on their gayness. Game over, Chauncy.

You can imagine the uproar that followed when this incredibly annoying video (“My children walk past this business to go to school in the morning… sigh“) by one Sean O’Riordan surfaced, detailing Mrs. Child’s bigoted little views. The internet’s ablaze with, oh you know, you got your conservative fucktards on the one side—”Ya’ll ain’t so tolerant after all!” —and your liberal scream machine on the other— “Injustice anywhere…!,” and ne’er the twain shall meet.

Naturally, Portland is in full-on boycott mode. Flames are being fanned by two local blowhards: Byron Beck (of “IDGAF if you enjoy what I write in Willamette Week—I suffer, you suffer!” fame,) and Nick Zukin (of “How Dare You Refuse to Rave About my Pastrami?” fame). Beck wants us right-thinking people (and I assure you, I am right- thinking) to boycott not only the Farmer’s pantry, but any suppliers who refuse to pull their products, and Zukin’s Mi Mero Mole to boot. This is because Zukin has, in his blustering way, jumped to the woman’s defense. Zukin also apparently thinks that businesses should have the legal right to discriminate. Apparently, he never heard about segregation.

That’s a lot of boycott, even for Portland, especially over such an inconsequential voice in the marriage equality wars. I’ve read a lot of, “I will take my business to an establishment that is more in line with my values” talk, and I find it nearly as naive as posting your crazy on Facebook and thinking that’s the end of it.

I get out to the country. I try to buy stuff directly from the people who live out there, and I don’t talk about anything but the products we’re dealing in. I buy lumber directly from a guy with a small mill in Skamania. He does a good thing in that he turns his neighbor’s unwanted trees, and some on his own small lot, into nice, trim-quality lumber. You think I ask him about his views on gay marriage or Obamacare? When I talk to the avowed Christian in Junction City about buying a pasture-finished cow from his sustainably-managed ranch, you think I grill him about his views on abortion? You think I ask a pig farmer whether the government should spend more on the social safety net?

You don’t need to venture out to the country to see this, you can observe from the quiet safety of your liberal bastion. Read almost anything by that great figure of agricultural sustainability (in the egalitarian-environmentalist model,) Joel Salatin. That guy is a serious libertarian, social-conservative, right-wingnut. Should we hold that against his farm? Who else has done more to prove that a low-tech farming model can be environmentally and economically sustainable? Maybe we take what we like, and tell him to keep the rest.

“Well, how’s that cisgender, hetero, white, male privilege working out for you?” Not so fucking hot, really, especially since it deligitimizes my opinion. But here’s the thing, how’s it working out for the businesses whose values “align” with yours? Does New Seasons Market offer a homophobe-free beef? A pro-choice broccoli? No, they do not. And the people who raise this stuff are not necessarily, as many like to think, just like those cute little hippies down at the farmer’s market with overalls and dimples. Lots of them are just regular, old-school, Christian, conservative farmers. New Seasons Market, Whole Foods, et al. are big companies with marketing savvy and a carefully cultivated public persona. They do business, not politics, with their suppliers. I have no idea what the premium supermarkets really “stand for,” outside of a premium supermarket experience.

Actually, I have an idea as to what Endeavour Capital, which owns a 69% stake in NSM stands for, since employees of the private equity firm collectively gave $233,000 to Republican candidates and committees in the 2011-2012 election cycle, including $117,000 to the biggest mormon of them all, Mittens Romney. They gave $0 to Democratic candidates. In the current cycle they gave a little to Wyden and Merkley, but mostly they gave to the National Republican Congressional  Committee. Perhaps they hired a token Democrat to soften their image.

I dunno, should I support the behemoth with a squeaky-clean image, but whose big money goes to a bunch of conservative businessmen? Or should I join in the tirade against the small-potatoes dingbat whose idea of “sustainable agriculture” sounds, at first blush, to be pretty close to mine? Because when I shop at NSM or Whole Foods, I look around and think, most of this shit is a greenwash. Sorry, “local produce” doesn’t include California’s Central Valley (would that the whole country had a Central Valley to co-opt!) 90 days on a feedlot is still a long time on a feedlot, and says nothing about the pasture management techniques of the ranchers. “Vegetarian-fed” chickens? Chickens aren’t vegetarian.”Free Range” hardly means anything at all. “Hormone free pork?” Federal laws prohibit the use of hormones in pork. Hey, how’d all these pigs get broken bones and bruises in a humane slaughterhouse? (That last was my personal observation in the NSM meat department.) Not to mention the the way that the supermarket business model warehouses and yokes what traditionally would have been (and still are in Europe) independent businesses run by skilled craftspeople and their trainees. So yeah, the place is problematic.

I know, “Hitler loved animals, asshole!” But we’re really not talking about Hitler, are we? We’re not talking about the Third Reich. We’re not even talking about Kansas City. We’re talking about Portland, Oregon. Chauncy Childs is not just a dying breed, she’s a fish in a barrel. Blam! Blam! Not to mention that this gay marriage thing is hardly the craziest shit she’s spouted (oh, open that link at the peril of your own wits.) The lady is battier than she is dangerous.

If the Moreland Farmer’s Pantry were a discriminatory business, then legal action would be appropriate. If Mrs. Childs were publicly engaging in anti-gay speech in the neighborhood, then I could see the concern on the part of Mr. O’Riordan et al. Walking by a business owned by a quiet homophobe (well, a homophobe that’s learning to be quiet) isn’t going to inculcate O’Riordan’s children with homophobia any more than the using the Firefox browser will (although drinking Rockstar energy beverages is likely a different story.) The speech that Mrs. Childs seems to be trying to put forward concerns alternative agriculture, local economies, bridging the rural/urban divide and so forth. Yeah, good luck with that.

Most troubling of all: what does this boycott hope to achieve? It is difficult to understand how it will change people’s views on gay marriage. If anything, it seems to entrench camps by putting conservatives on the offensive, and increasing their paranoiac sense of victimhood, and reinforcing liberals’ sense of moral righteousness. Perhaps it is meant to force the so-so’s on the sidelines to pick a side, or get savaged. I’m not on the sidelines, I think marriage equality will be a great thing for individuals, and society as a whole. But am I an enemy of marriage equality if I choose to buy a gallon of milk from Moreland Farmer’s Pantry? I’d like to think not.

The rural hinterlands of Oregon are changing, albeit slowly, but screaming at everyone who comes to Portland in a rural frame of mind surely does little, less than nothing really, to accelerate that change.



3 Thoughts.

  1. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and as a Moreland Resident Brother & Sister Childs have made it impossible for us to support a fellow church member, now if we were seen coming or going through their front door, using a shopping bag with their logo, etc. we will be just another stereotypical bigoted Mormon in our neighbor’s eyes. Brother & Sister Childs do NOT speak for all members of the church, unfortunately they ARE the majority and make it very difficult for the rest of us church members.

    I’m so thankful my Mormon Bishop, BSofA Silver Beaver Award Recipient, and Chief Union Steward for the Pipefitter/Welders left his children with a very good example to follow: He always said “Check your beliefs at the door” and Religion/Politics discussions alient and divide family and friends more than they ever bring them together.

  2. You admit to not understanding what this could accomplish. Perhaps it shows that we just can’t take it anymore without fighting back. If you don’t understand that becuase your identity hasn’t been savaged I understand, but please try. I think “annoying” video about the man’s dead brother who was persecuted for being gay only to die young of AIDS (sorry you had to be “annoyed” by seeing that or that the poor rural folks have to “suffer” the backlash) when juxtaposed with Chauncy’s comments was a good learning moment as to why this sort of thing makes people mad and isn’t just the “free speech for ‘Christians'” issue that the mainstream media makes it out to be. You yourself admit she’s learning to be quiet, and maybe learning why this was hurtful. Maybe unrepentatly prejudiced and slanderous people will learn they can’t just slander their customers or ignore their experiences, including rural people selling to Portlanders and the GLBT community. Maybe the mission is already accomplished, and that’s a good thing even if you happen to find the mission distasteful.

  3. And you admit to hearing exactly what you want to hear. Are you going to boycott New Seasons too? Their owners talk with money, not just ridiculous little memes on their personal Facebook pages. No, you aren’t, because that would be too hard. Instead you’ll go after the “low hanging fruit” because it’s a battle that you can possibly win and make a lot of noise in the process. Have fun winning the small battles. Have fun creating as divisive a culture as you possibly can. You wonder why these Christian people are doubling down, walling themselves off from the larger society, and growing increasingly more vehement? (I know you really don’t, since you don’t GAF, it’s a rhetorical device) It’s because they can see the the inevitable change coming and they know that their opinions will, in their lifetimes, become as unacceptable as blatant racism. Which is fine, from a speech and equality perspective, but when you start going after people’s livelihoods, that’s when they get really nervous. So go ahead, be as vicious as your tormentors, make sure you really stick it to them where it hurts. I’m sure they’ll come around to your point of view eventually. (And that, internet friend, is sarcasm)

    Let me just ask: do you honestly think I’m concerned about what’s “distasteful?” My point isn’t that your little boycott is “distasteful,” It’s that it reflects a fundamental disconnect from the reality that all sorts of people that you rely on for everything from food to lumber to electronics hold views that are radically different than yours, and they talk about them. Living in the liberal bubble of Portland, it’s easy to imagine a utopia wherein we never touch the ideologically soiled fruits of their labor, and never give them money, but that ain’t the way it really is. We still have to share the country, and the economy, with them.

    Which leads me to my final point: people like you and Chauncy Childs are just two sides of the same coin: increasingly vehement voices in the dual echo chambers that unfortunately define American political discourse today. You are busily creating two Americas and woe betide anyone who won’t pick a side, because they will get cut down in the crossfire. Like I said, I agree that everyone should have the right to marry, but I have strong opinions about other issues that I happen to share with a lot of people on the rural right. And in today’s political discourse, there is precious little space for people like that.

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