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The necessity of guilt

Matthew Snider | Op-Ed Submission

I’m writing this article to address a recent debate that has been raised over the brief absence of tomatoes on campus. In short, staff editor Randy Brachman was, and is, upset that certain food items had temporarily been removed from our menus on campus without student consent, and he did not quite understand why aforementioned items had been removed in the first place. He voiced his discontent in “Some things I don’t understand.” Shortly after, Dylan Suher attacked this article with “Tomato ban improves lives.” Suher wished to debunk the article due to Brachman’s lack of understanding of the issue. When I first saw Suher’s article, I was triumphant. Suher had perfectly expressed the feelings I had while reading Brachman’s article, but Brachman raised a semi-valid point in “On clearing our guilty conscience:” he truly does not have a strong understanding of the issue. Also, he asked why we should feel guilty for our privileges. He attributed Suher’s anger to “white guilt.”

First off, I need to address some mistakes in diction. There was never a tomato “ban” on campus. The word “ban” has certain negative connotations. In reality, Bon Appétit refuses to obtain tomatoes that are not Fair Trade. They ran out of their supply, and their supply is our supply. Therefore, we ran out of tomatoes, but there was never a ban on campus. Secondly, the term “white guilt” is simply repugnant and slightly supremacist. Please think before you write. I know you did not intend harm, but please consider the implications of your terminology; this disgusting term implies that only white people feel the guilt of wealth, which then implies that they are the only people who are wealthy.

I do not mean to be overly virulent toward any one article, but the point I wish to make is that we are all ignorant. I can never truly understand what it feels like to be the worker that receives higher wages because of the Fair Trade organization and neither can anyone who goes to Wash. U. Some of us may have debt, but none of us have to worry about where our next meal is going to come from. Our parents will restock our meal points if we run out. Many of the workers benefitted by Fair Trade are so poor that they earn only two dollars a day in their country. We make the argument that they make enough to survive, but many of these workers don’t have enough money to feed their families.

The worst possible trap that we can fall into is thinking that we can’t do anything to change reality. Plowshare Crafts, for instance, is a perfect example of a business that uses Fair Trade effectively. For those who are unaware, Plowshare is a store located on the loop that is associated with a larger organization called Ten Thousand Villages. The products sold at Plowshare are all Fair Trade Certified. In fact, many of the volunteers at Plowshare travel abroad and directly purchase the crafts found in the store. These purchases are based on artisan relationships that been built up over time. Therefore, these artisans have an income that they can regularly depend on. They earn their money as well as their dignity. This business has been successfully benefiting artisans for 25 years, which is proof that the system works. Plowshare isn’t charity; it is consideration, consideration for those who were not born as fortunate as ourselves.

Yes, I understand; we don’t want to give up all of our privileges and wealth, but we should at least be willing to take a walk to Schnuck’s for our tomatoes, even if all of our effort only helps one impoverished worker. In the end, we are just helping. We don’t need to debate such a miniscule change in our meals, and we should feel guilty if we are unwilling to give up our excess in order to feed those who have nothing.

  • Matthew Snider

    I also believe in choice, and I want people to stop squinting at reality. Our choices DO have consequences. I don’t think ignoring reality to satisfy practicality is actually choice. Most people will not bother to inform themselves. It’s not practical. It’s also not practical to be honest; it would be so much more practical to lie and cheat your way to the top. It’s not practical to care. I guess it’s also impractical to take the bus to Schnuck’s to get groceries, and it’s outrageously impractical to cook. Choose a smaller meal plan and make some of your own food if you disagree with policy.

    At some point, we take practicality to ludicrous levels.
    I am a culprit myself. I wish I would take an hour each night to cook my own meal, but things are so easy on campus. They spoil us, yet as soon as they take away one practicality, we all have to whine and stamp our feet like spoiled toddlers.

    Even grocery stores take the practical to an extreme. Next time you go shopping (when you graduate), look at your choices: thirty different peanut butters and forty different cereals. If anything, our degree of choice is impractical. Why do we need so much when other people are struggling to survive?

    I do not believe in excessive choice, but I do believe in choice, informed choice. Though, I do not think that the university has to consult you on every decision it makes, even if you are informed. The university is an international figure and is expected to make moral decisions. I’m sorry if morality is impractical for you, but at some point, we have to check ourselves.

    P.S.- It seems you have a warped idea of what type of people support Fair Trade. I’m not liberal or wealthy as your comment implies. I’m moderate and middle class. I’m on a scholarship. My parents don’t pay for my education; though, I allow them to pay for some of my food. Also, the tomato is a huge part of my diet, and it’s absence did impact me significantly. I’m not sure why you brought meat into the argument; I don’t even eat meat.

  • Katherine Olvera

    I am tired of being chastised for being selfish for wanting tomatoes. Though I understand the concept of fair trade, I do not believe that it is necessary to enforce those beliefs on everyone in the Wash U community. I would much rather food services made students aware of the problem and then gave them a CHOICE. I guess my main problem is that their values were imposed on me. Nobody trusted me to decide whether or not I want to buy fair trade goods. I am an adult. I should be permitted to make those decisions. I am PRO-CHOICE. This imposition of a liberal stance becomes almost conservative in practice.

    I like the idea of fair trade, but there are also some foods that are staples in my diet. If meat had been boycotted due to cruelty to animals, I think there would be much more student outrage. Do not assume that tomatoes are not just as important to me.

    From the opinions I have heard, many other Wash U students assume that everyone shares the same values, and will sacrifice the same amount of freedom to uphold those principals (from sustainability and clean coal to endowment transparency.) Students become so caught up in analyzing the “morality” of certain trade practices, (and there seem to be questionable or dubious trade practices in just about every industry) that they forget about practicality. Not everyone can afford to buy fair trade and organic products all the time or invest in the “correct” companies or buy solar panels to make their homes more sustainable. Don’t get me wrong. I tend to be liberal and I believe in most of the causes, but I am more moderate in terms of practice. I want the freedom to be able to choose to what extent I will support the cause through my own buying practices, and I want that freedom for others as well. I do not assume others share in my personal values, nor do I expect them to share in my lifestyle choices.