Eat gold, fret for the poor–You can’t do both

My daughter and her significant other were out for a fancy night on the town in our beloved City by the Bay recently. They went to a Michelin Star-rated restaurant to take in the best of culinary offerings in a city loaded with them. Toward the end of the many exotic and extravagantly prepared courses, she texted me a photo. It was dessert, sprinkled with gold.

“I’m not sure how I feel about eating gold,” she wrote.

Thank God, I thought. Because when it gets right down to it, if you say you care about the poor and want to make a difference, you really can’t eat gold. The idea has to bring you up short, just as it did my daughter.

Not that I want to make a bunch of rules here, but the absurdity reaches a point that once you become immune, you lose empathy. Soon, all those good deeds and humanitarian efforts become more about you and less about those in need.

Gold can’t taste good. So this restaurant that built its hefty reputation on taste, goes further into the presentation (the artistry, which obviously I respect and admire) and adds something of real value that drives up the costs but actually diminishes the taste. (my daughter says its not very noticeable). That’s counter to art in my mind.

People of wealth who use it for good should be commended. Philanthropy has long been essential to alleviating the suffering of those on society’s margins. But so much of modern altruism keeps the issues at bay. To be blunt, we like to help the homeless if we don’t have to smell them. We love to text $10 to the Red Cross far more than spend $10 on a couple cups of coffee to listen to the problems of someone who is scared shitless because they are on society’s margins.

I love San Francisco. I love the people and the liberal ethos that truly believes society as a whole can do a better job. Incredible movements of social change have been cultivated in San Francisco, from gay marriage to local food to religious tolerance to homeless activism. But too often my fellow San Franciscans want to cultivate a lifestyle of consumption, wealth and status with a healthy dose of altruism sprinkled into the stew.

For example, they’ll preach a good game about how we vote with our dollars when it comes to food, suggesting that anyone who doesn’t pay top dollar for local, organic, healthy food is contributing to the industrialized food economy that makes us sick and kills us. But then they think nothing of paying hundreds of dollars for a single meal with dessert dusted in gold.

The hypocrisy never hits home; their message of change is lost on those who need it most. The industrialized food system is killing the poor most of all. But they are also the least able to afford to vote with their dollars. Perhaps one less gold-dusted dessert instead spent on three bags of groceries for a family in need would send a bit more of a message for change.

Gold on dessert is a waste, simple as that. Until the wealthy recognize their own wasteful consumption and extravagance, they mute their own voice that advocates for those on society’s margins.

I told my daughter next time ask for the gold on the side and then give that to the panhandler on the walk home. Now that would be a vote for change.

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