It’s now been five days in our lock-down and it’s time to ask: Has the virus changed our world for the long term? Are we going to change our habits, our worldviews, our attitudes after all of this is over? If it is ever over. If the virus stays with us like the common cold (just more infectious and five times more deadly), then we will have no choice but to change. But let’s say it all blows over, or a cure is found or a vaccine available, then what happens? Are we, after a while of reflection, going to go back to normal and behave as though this had never happened?
On my walk to the shops I have seen the attitudes change; from one of solidarity to one of suspicion. Everyone seems to have turned into a potential health hazard. Old ladies cross the street when they see me (could be Italian, for all you know!), Bloggers take pictures if you’re not carrying a shopping bag, police cars slow down to look octogenarians over, which must be a completely new experience for them. Goes to show, there always IS a silver lining.
I miss the daily walks and the exercise, but I’m sure I’m not alone in saying it is the friends and the social contact I miss the most. Yes, we have Zoom and Houseparty, but it doesn’t replace a real house party, where you share the food and the wine and the company. For our friends, who are mostly gregarious and like to all talk at the same time, the realisation that online you need to observe the possession of the talking stick and take turns has come as a hard one. In a way, even that has been a good thing, because it has made us all listen better and be more mindful of others. Using the speaker view on Zoom it soon becomes obvious who is being left out of the conversation and everyone makes an effort to remedy it. A nicer world already.
The other realisation that may have come as a surprise is that we don’t depend on the Air Asia CEO as much as we do on the Village Grocers delivery van driver. I for one hope that it will change our attitude to the ignored class of workers for good. In both ways of the meaning. There’s a lot of talk about appreciation, there’s applause for healthcare workers and solidarity with the garbage collectors without whom we would quite literally be drowning in our own waste. All that is noble and kind, but are we prepared to pay ten cent more on every item we buy, so that someone down the line can earn a decent wage? You can talk about shareholders making a killing and landlords fleecing tenants, but that isn’t the whole picture. It really does come down to each and everyone of us being willing to pay more for things. (I’m not going to go into the fact that some people just can’t afford to pay more. That’s another injustice for another time)
Which leads me to this: I have to bite my tongue every time I see someone on Facebook complain how much they had to pay for a chicken, but in another post, talk about how chickens are full of hormones and so cruelly farmed. We can’t have it both ways! We need to buy less, buy better quality and make things last. Over the past month, both Eddie and I have seen just how much we normally waste. Not intentionally, but by forgetting what’s in the chiller, as we are out at work most of the time. Now being home continuously, we know what’s left over and plan ahead to use it before it spoils.
I do believe that if we were all to reduce our food wastage and learned how to use leftovers creatively (easier for the chefs, I know), we might be able to reduce our consumption by 10%, maybe 20%? If instead of buying a 9 ringgit sad, floppy, hormonally supercharged chicken every day, we buy one good 30 ringgit one once a week and make it last, the poultry industry would have to change away from cruelly mass produced chickens to a more sustainable farming. Did you know that US farmers are being paid about 25 cent per chicken by an industry that controls the entire supply chain, from feed to supermarket distribution? Something is broken when the farmers can’t make a living, but the company CEO has his own plane. And don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with the CEO and his plane, as long as the farmer can buy a new Land Rover every few years. If he has to borrow money to repair his clapped out truck, then something is morally wrong.
Distribution of profits is just one aspect. Disposable income and a political necessity never to keep voters happy, filled with fried chicken, has led us to a point where we don’t pay or even know the true value of things. You say: it’s easy for you to say that, sitting in your nice, air-conditioned home with a freezer full of stuff, how about those struggling to make ends meet? My point is that in a reasonably affluent society, no one should be struggling to make ends meet and now we have the time and opportunity to change that.
I won’t leave you with an answer, but with a question: Is it time for a universal basic income? Is it time to stop people from accumulating more money than they can spend in five lifetimes? Do I need another pair of D&G’s?
I’m not alone talking about UBI; Universal Basic Income:
If you want to read more about the US poultry industry (really?):