You might have seen this image floating around the internet for a while. It’s not a new image. But every few months, someone reposts it and it gets a new life.
Last week, it showed up again on social media and a few people had a good chuckle. Of course they were chuckling at the expense of middle class people with middle class problems. But several dissenting commenters also showed up to the discussion to present a different perspective. There were plenty to choose from. But this is one [very white] example.
At first, I conceded the point and flogged myself for being an ableist dirtbag who hates all people with physical disabilities and vowed to do better. But then I thought about this more objectively and came to a different conclusion. The church of social justice demands that we all share the same party line, and if we don’t we face immediate, harsh, and permanent retribution for that sin.
But I think there’s a better way to look at this. And here’s why.
First of all, I’m confused about why this commenter invoked food deserts. It seemed like a strange place to go considering that two of the key indicators for what constitutes a food deserts are based on 1.) affordability and 2.) lack of geographical access. The avocados in this viral image were being sold in Sobeys, the second largest grocery store chain in Canada, for more than double the price of an un-packaged avocado. Therefore, they miss the mark on both indicators. At best, I feel like we’ve just gotten comfortable with throwing the phrase ‘food deserts’ out there whenever someone is having a discussion even remotely related to food justice in some type of intersectional feminist jargon bingo.
It’s like the recent pre-peeled oranges fiasco in Whole Foods. Sure, people with physical disabilities can benefit from them. But Whole Foods is a gentrifying organization who was selling those oranges at an extortionate price. The physically disabled were not collectively sighing with relief at their newfound good fortune. They were trying to pay their electric bill and drinking dollar store orange juice instead because Whole Foods was already stunting on them.
Second, there’s the claim that products like these avocados (broadly called infomercial products) are designed for people with disabilities but marketed to rich white people in order to make them available and affordable. And yeah, that would totally make sense…
except there’s no evidence that marketing infomercial products to clumsy white people with too much money was a noble effort to help people with disabilities. It’s most certainly true of SOME of these products but by no means all of them and not even the majority. Included in that claim is the urban legend about the Snuggie being originated for people in wheelchairs. But that’s been (repeatedly) debunked.
Third, I feel like we jump to apply the phrase ‘people with disabilities’ very liberally, but it doesn’t have a lot of value. No two people with disabilities are the same EVEN if two people have exactly the same condition.
Taking on disability rights advocacy is the right thing to do. But choosing which disabled group to prioritize is completely arbitrary in this circumstance. In the case of pre-packaged avocados, the people who benefit from them are already in a seriously privileged position versus the people who are hurt by their production. The amount of waste generated alone is a net fail based on the damage done to already overburdened ecosystems. And this has a disproportionate impact on indigenous human and animal populations, many of whom have physical disabilities themselves.
And I don’t mean that in a tangential esoteric way. I mean a direct and measurable real-time impact!
And in general terms, a huge number of infomercial products are manufactured in places where labor conditions are so abominable that they literally CREATE physical disabilities among workers and then lock those workers in cycles of poverty.
So when referencing ‘physically disabled people,’ it’s more productive to speak with greater intention and clarity about who we’re talking about instead of reaching for a hypothetical person. Because which people and what disabilities is so obscure here as to be completely lost.
Fourth, let’s talk again about affordability. The pay gap for people with disabilities in the United States alone is at least 13%, and I’m being generous for the sake of discussion. Some research places it at 37%, and the average pay gap climbs even higher still depending on what state you live in. In fact, people with physical disabilities often earn what’s called sub-minimum wages. And that’s before you factor in pay gaps based on race, gender, and type of disability. In short, these avocados are not the hill I want to die on.
If, as suggested by the screen-capped comment, you have some condition that allows you to dice onions and tomatoes and cilantro for guacamole…but lack the dexterity to cut an avocado…yet can still gnaw your way into this exceptionally restrictive packaging that would challenge a very able-bodied person, then I completely empathize with you. I won’t question your disability or interrogate your desire to make this bizarrely specific food. However, if you’re buying all these pre-packaged ingredients in order to enjoy the satisfaction of making your fresh guacamole (which was also a suggested possibility), I might ask you for a loan. Because I’m a baller on a budget, and you’re clearly a Rockefeller making the guacamole of millionaires.
And last but most importantly, I feel like we’re arguing for disability rights from the wrong perspective. If products like these are marketed to rich, clumsy, lazy, entitled white people in order to make them affordable to people with disabilities, then that plan isn’t working because 1.) most of those products remain inaccessible based on their price point and the low incomes of the people who need them and 2.) people with disabilities should not have to rely on the purchasing habits of incompetent white people who like mass-produced convenience goods frequently manufactured in slavery conditions by people in economically disadvantaged countries.
At the end of the day, we collectively want to do right by everyone. And that’s not a bad thing. But this whole situation reminds me that a lot of our activism is wrapped up in performance. And we are assuming a dangerously prescriptivist nature in our interactions with one another. We don’t need to be in a competition to appear to be the most woke, gang.
Taking an interdisciplinary approach to our food justice requires us to think more critically and investigate further than just outrage based on what we think is right. We should look past the immediate situation and see the global consequences for oppressed communities instead of just seeing at individual products through a strictly imperialist worldview. Sometimes a pre-packaged avocado is just a white people answer to a white people problem. Don’t believe me? See avocado hand. Apparently it’s a real thing and it’s hilarious…although considering that we’re calling it a medical condition, that’s probably ableist to say. Even if we’re talking about people who I guess cut their avocados like a serial killer.
P.S. I actually did run this by a friend of mine with multiple physical disabilities (including issues surrounding hand mobility). When I asked her if she felt like the lives of people like her were improved by pre-packaged avocados, she laughed in my ear. To quote, “Child, leave me alone. Avocados are the whitest thing you could be bringing in my face right now. You know what improves my life? Pre-made guacamole. You know what else improves my life? Jars of salsa. I don’t need to make that either. And nobody campaigning for my right to do it. In fact, I don’t need to cook any of my own food in order to feel validated as a person in a wheelchair. What I NEED is FOOD.”
For the record, she also tried a Snuggie once. And you know what she learned? That trying to operate a wheelchair while being draped in yards of fabric with sleeve holes is a goddamn catastrophe. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯