I saw one more today, a post about how horrible the people of China are for eating bats and other animals that we in the western world find unacceptable. I’ve seen several. I’ve also seen people express outrage as they showed photos of outdoor food markets that were not as pristine as a Publix grocery store.
And while I cannot imagine eating a bat, and I don’t think I’d enjoy buying my food from an open-air market with no real health code standards, these images and posts made me angry. And they embarrassed me. Because they showed me just how clueless we are here in our bubble of privilege.
I can’t think of a more eloquent way to express this than to share my own story. It didn’t happen in Asia, but it grieved and humbled and jarred me into the reality that is the life of the vast majority of our world.
In 1987, I spent the summer traveling with a singing group. It was my second summer with this group, and we performed every night in a different venue from the end of May until the end of August. It was an inspirational group, and we spent the nights in host homes. That means we stayed with the regular people whose churches or event venues hosted the concert.
And before anyone thinks we were pampered, let me just say that five-star in 1987 Zagreb is not five-star in The United States. Not even close
This summer, one of the places we spent several days was now-defunct Yugoslavia. We spent several days in a five-star hotel in Zagreb. And before anyone thinks we were pampered, let me just say that five-star in 1987 Zagreb is not five-star in The United States. Not even close
However, we also spent a couple of days singing in remoter villages in Yugoslavia. On this night, we were singing in a small, 150+-year-old stone church in a village that was a two or three-hour perilous bus ride from Zagreb. It took that long because of the narrow winding roads.
One of the responsibilities the churches or venues had was to feed us dinner before the concert. Let me tell you, over those two summers spent in a variety of countries, we ate some interesting things. Many were delicious, and some were dubious. This time, we had a dish that was something like stroganoff with hard rolls and some mixed vegetables. I was happily clueless about the meal and enjoyed it, even though I’m not the biggest fan of stroganoff.
Until a couple of people who were staying with the cook shared the news with us. It’s news I still shudder and feel a little sick over, to be honest. The meat was not beef or venison or some sort of mountain goat. It was…(just say it)…basset hound.
Yes, we had eaten stroganoff made with basset hound.
Before anyone throws stones, I had no idea. No one did except the two singers who stayed with the host, and for them, it was just a hunch until they actually stayed the night after the performance. So why did they feed this to us??
Because it was all they had. These people were poor. I don’t mean mt TV is only 40” and my cell phone came from the government poor. I mean no actual floor in their homes. No electricity for many. And no way to feed a wonderful thank you meal to the singing group like all the other venues did unless they used what they had.
Because our elitist social media justice rants have made us clueless. As have our inability to understand what TRUE poverty with no safety nest actually is.
Now, some of you reading this will miss the entire point of the story and be outraged at these 1987 poor people in a village in a communist area. Because our elitist social media justice rants have made us clueless. As have our inability to understand what TRUE poverty with no safety nest actually is.
But it made a powerful impression on me. So when I saw people ranting about open-air markets in Wuhan or the fact that people are still eating bats, as they have for hundreds of years, I was annoyed. And then I was mad. And then I was just plain embarrassed for all of us westerners or non-westerners who are lucky enough to be able to go to an indoor supermarket and buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts or the ingredients for vegan lasagna. Because we truly have no idea.
We have no idea what it is like to have to walk to a market every day to buy food in a crowded place with the little bit of money we may have. We have no idea what it is to make what we buy there enough for a large extended family. And we have no idea what it means to not want to be ashamed when a mostly American singing group does a free concert, and you can’t make them “normal” food for dinner.
I called him out and he doubled down, insisting that the photo he had shared meant being western and shopping at Kroger automatically made him/us smarter, more valuable, and more human.
I remember commenting on the open-air market photo when someone all but said that “some cultures are just superior to others.” I called him out and he doubled down, insisting that the photo he had shared meant being western and shopping at Kroger automatically made him/us smarter, more valuable, and more human. And while I couldn’t believe it, I wasn’t as surprised as I wish I had been.
So enough already. Enough outrage at a people who live across the world doing things you can’t understand because you grew up different. Enough being afraid of people who have lived here their whole lives just because they look like regular people across the world who happen to have a different diet. And enough screaming about how we all deserve more when we are richer than most of the rest of the world. Yes, even the poorest of us. Yes, sorry, read the stats. You ARE richer.
Unless you had basset hound last night for dinner. Then we can talk.
Laurie Nave is a writer, musician, wife, mom, and instructional designer. She creates training during the day, writes and sings at night, and spoils her dog, Ginger, in between. If you enjoyed this piece, you may enjoy some of her other writing.