Recently I watched the glowing Lupita Nyong’o practically leap up the steps of the stage to accept her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Nyong’o dressed in a Grecian pale blue gown, exuded pure happiness. This past year the Mexican raised Kenyan actress received much recognition for her role as Patsy in Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years A Slave. On the night of the Academy Awards not only did she have countless pictures taken of her as she strolled down the red carpet, she also was offered an opportunity to inspire others to achieve their dreams in her tearful acceptance speech. To the thousands of people out in the audience and the millions of others watching around the world, Lupita exclaimed: “When I look down on this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.” People like Lupita remind us that no matter what, if you try your hardest you have the possibility of finding true happiness.
What I’ve learned in my life is that humans are hungry for many different things. Whether it’s representation, acceptance, power, adventure, knowledge, or pure happiness. I’ve also learned that often we’re never able to satisfy our hunger because we don’t know how to pursue our dreams or we never try. I recently started at Santa Clara University and took a Critical Thinking and Writing class centered on issues pertaining to food and media. Through my research and time spent in class I found that in order to be full with all that life has to offer, you must represent what you believe in and hopefully the world will validate your efforts.
Award shows like The Oscars are beautiful because they’re built on happiness, connection, and celebration of success. I believe we need more of these events in our world, to celebrate others and their accomplishments. We need to hear about the good in the world, because these days most of what we hear is bad news. I certainly read about the supreme disconnection and sadness many people are facing today in my time in class. However every time I read about an agribusiness company displaying no compassion to animals or corporate giants bankrupting the honest farmer, I am reminded that those powerful people must have been missing something. They’re missing the right sort of fulfillment if they’re only using greed to find happiness.
In class we read a book called Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan that was full of collaged pages and information about the effect of each medium on the human sensorium. McLuhan, we analyzed, was taking the inventory of effects of numerous media to show how they massage our senses. I loved this book because it shows a hunger for access to real and unbiased knowledge. McLuhan’s book reminded me of Aaron Axelrod’s pastel paintings of scrambled news channels I’ve included. His series of paintings titled Freedom of the Press explore the current state of press and TV media. By obscuring the image on the canvas, Axelrod represents how large corporations that have their own agendas now own all major media outlets. The corporations obscure and under-represent facts that are aimed to mislead and deceive the public. Axelrod also uses the mediums and materials in his work like McLuhan does to represent abuses arising from free press. For example instead of using pastels that are often used in gentle and unassuming paintings uses these pastels in order to make large pieces of controversial subject matter. Through artwork and books, we can express our hunger for true facts instead of relying on ignorance and illusion.
When I was researching my various essays I found many instances where corporate powers were taking advantage of the public by using media campaigns. For example in my essay titled The Young and the Fleshless, I found a commercial by a major fast food chain Red Robin used exclusionary humor in order to mock vegetarians. In the advertisement, a middle-aged redhead touted the company’s twenty-four types of burgers and then noted, with an implied eye roll and mock whisper, “We even have a Garden burger—just in case your teenage daughter is going through a phase.” (Red Robin Vegetarian Ad). Fast food chains, along with the huge meat production industry, are trying to influence the public through the media to avoid being a vegetarian because they’ll lose money. So they’ll use childish mocking in order to make people believe that vegetarianism is a phase. Also in my essay Monsanto’s Men I showed how cereal commercials played for little kids in between their favorite television programs influence children from an early age to think that marshmallows are “magically delicious.” If the industry is able to take control of children’s cravings the kids can influence their parents to buy the products in the commercials. However this media manipulation I argue leads the child to suffer because they are eating unhealthy options that are filled with genetically modified material.
In addition to our hunger for the truth, I also came across many instances where people are hungry for natural foods that haven’t been influenced by the industrialized agribusiness companies. I found a growing movement of people trying to unveil the inefficiency and corruption of factory-farmed meat. When we read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, I came to see how emotionally detached humans become to be eating animals whose entire lives have been a constant state of suffering. Safran argues, “Something terribly wrong is happening. Our sustenance now comes from misery…when we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh. Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own.” While not all animals are subjected to this painful suffering from life to death, the fact we are torturing animals calls for us to reexamine ourselves as rational and humane creatures. Happy people, who appreciate life and living beings, would not subject the beings to shock treatment, being skinned alive, having their fur torn off of them, and so on.
Reading Eating Animals reminded me of what my life was like before I started making my own individual choices. Before I became vegetarian, and started speaking up for myself I didn’t know how to fully enjoy all that life had to offer because I wasn’t the person I wanted to be. In my Young and the Fleshless essay I explained that I’ve always cared for animals and I’m just not willing to eat meat if I’m just paying for the industries to abuse them. However my choice to become vegetarian hasn’t always been an easy one. I’ve gotten a lot of backlash, even from my sisters about it. Why do some people constantly criticize others when they are only trying to figure out who they truly are and express their individuality? We’re constantly told to be unique and express ourselves yet we’re bombarded with messages to tell us to follow the crowd. One of my favorite poems is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s A Psalm of Life: What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist. One of his stanzas says: “In the world’s broad field of battle, in the bivouac of Life, be not like dumb, driven cattle! Be a hero in the strife!” He is trying to express that instead of conforming to fit the mold of the world has already created you should be true self and push the boundaries of what’s possible. I think of this message when others criticize my choice to stop eating animals.
The biggest hunger I believe that humans face is one for acceptance and a sense of connection to others. In class we also read a Franz Kafka story called A Hunger Artist in which the main character travelled around with a circus. The emaciated man would live in a cage while spectators saw how long he could go without feeding his body. In the story instead of needing nourishment from food, the hunger artist needed the fame and recognition from others to satisfy his emotional emptiness. While the ending of the story was dark because the hunger artist died from malnutrition, it offered the message to those reading it if you do not satisfy your heart and soul then you cannot enjoy the life around you. The story made me think of how in America we have lost such a big sense of community and networks when we allowed big agribusiness companies to produce our food. Not only have we lost community, we have also lost the ability to know how and where our food comes from.
I wrote about this loss of community and how Americans have lost the right to sell raw, untouched milk in my essay titled Supreme Quart. In the past one hundred years we have seen a huge transfer of power to our government to protect and regulate our food. Back in the 1900’s the public has established “helping out” networks in rural communities for generations. I used Donna Byrne’s Raw Milk in Context to describe that “women would get together for chores…if the woman was ill, one of her friends could nurse her baby”(Byrne 125). The constant interaction with neighbors in order to complete daily activities fostered lasting relationships between women. There was no need for any government involvement. However, during the Industrial Revolution people left the rural countryside and moved to the city. The milk then became dirty and full of bacteria and there was a need for regulation from the government. Instead of just giving the governmental agencies limited power to regulate, we have given them complete authority to enforce strict policies to lobby against raw milk. Even if raw milk is safe and clean now, those who want to sell and buy it have to be secretive or police will come and break up the new farmer consumer networks.
While we face an increasing amount of problems due to disconnection and exploitation, we also have many optimists, whose essences shine brightly in our jaded world. It’s people like Lupita who harness the media to inform and educate others about what we’ve been able to achieve. They’re the people who are growing community gardens and giving their cucumbers and tomatoes, or even rutabagas to others in order to inspire positive change. We all have the potential to make our lives and others full of happiness; it’s all just a matter of perspective and a whole lot of hope.
Taibi, Catherine. “Red Robin Garden Burger Ad Under Fire For Dissing Vegetarians (VIDEO).” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 17 June 2013. Web. 5 Mar. 2014.
Rothman, Lily. “Time.com.” Entertainment Oscars 2014 Watch Lupita Nyongos Emotional Acceptance Speech Comments. Time Magazine, 02 Mar. 2014. Web. 18 Mar. 2014.
Byrne, Donna M. “Raw Milk in Context.” Journal of Environmental Law & Litigation 26.1 (2011): 109-129. Omnifile Full Text Mega (H.W. Wilson). Web. 31 Dec. 2013.
Axelrod, Aaron. “▲△ron ▲xelrod – Artist Statements |.” ▲△ron ▲xelrod – Artist Statements |. N.p., 2012. Web. 17 Mar. 2014.
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown and, 2009. Print.
Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth. “A Psalm of Life.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2014.