two things we don't like
Welcome to Digestable, your mouthful of things happening in the world.
If you could only meet one of your needs, which one would you choose?
This is an impossible and unfair question. Food but no shelter? No meal could put enough meat on your bones to keep you warm outdoors all night in the winter. Water but no food? Shelter but no sustenance?
Or, food but no healthcare - healthcare but no food? Medication but no meals?
It’s pretty common for people to have to make these impossible choices, often every single day. Feed the kids, or eat at the end of a long shift? Pay rent, or the internet bill?
When individual people make these choices, pushed against the edge of not having enough of something to survive, they have individual impacts. But of course, these individual choices are made within a framework of choices that are already made by the systems in which we all participate. To make matters worse, people forced to make these choices are often told it is their fault they do not have more; that the system is abundant, and they are the cause of their own scarcity.
Often, when we consider needs, it is within the framework of Maslow’s Hierarchy, a tool developed by a guy named Maslow in the 1940s. Rendered as a pyramid, the bottom tier is physiological: food, water, shelter, etc; then safety: security, employment, resources, health; followed by love and belonging; esteem; and self-actualization. The thing that makes it a hierarchy is that you, according to Maslow, need to meet your lower-tier needs before you can worry about the higher-tier stuff.
Reading the news, it’s not hard to map Maslow’s hierarchy onto political priorities. But because cash rules everything around us, “the economy” becomes a proxy for being able to meet the most basic of needs: buying food; paying water, energy, and shelter bills; putting gas in a car to drive around an America ravaged by fossil politics. Then, remember that the tier with ‘employment’ and ‘security’ used to be second from the bottom. But when the weather is late-stage capitalism with a 100% chance of neoliberalism, those levels effectively switch spots.
Then there’s inflation: “a general increase in prices and fall in the purchasing value of money.” Inflation is a change in the assigned value of printed linen in its use as a token to meet our needs. Read: inflation is not real. The economy is not real. The stock market, you guessed it, is definitely not real. Capitalism is a game that rich people are playing with billions of lives as pawns. They are having a great time while people die.
I digress, sort of: individual needs and choices don’t mean shit when a few people who hold power (:eyes: Joe Manchin) make decisions willy nilly that condemn the entire planet. Politically prioritizing the economy—the illusion of putting low-tier needs first—also has meant deprioritizing the climate, which is painted (thank you fossil fuel industry) as a less-urgent (and less basic, higher up the pyramid) need. Implicitly, time is part of the Hierarchy; you need water and sleep every day to live, but your self-actualization can wait for you to find your path, on any timeline.
So I propose an inversion. Yes, we need to do all we can to better meet the basic needs of all humans on the planet. And, the conditions that have made those needs variably important (see: extractive racial capitalism and the globalization that follows) are the ones that rely on our ignoring middle-tier needs like belonging and freedom. If we were to reorganize the world towards community and liberation, we would also have to reorganize all the systems that deprive some people of basic needs while cradling others in the lap of luxury.
The Second Look
Half-baked cultural criticism from Gabriel Coleman.
Friends, I’ve learned about something truly disturbing, disgusting, terrifying, and shameful. If I could spare you all and keep knowledge of this infernal creation to myself I would. However, in the interest of your own safety, it's important for you to know the dangers of the monstrosity known as the AGA cooker.
An AGA is a cast iron radiant heat range first invented in 1930. Swedish by design, manufacturing was moved to the UK in 1950 and they have retained popularity in the UK and Ireland as a stalwart of mid-century country homes. Having an AGA in your kitchen is a class symbol, which is why I encountered my first one visiting a friend who was a dog sitting on Dublin’s Embassy Row. The AGA’s dual role as a class symbol and an offensively wasteful kitchen appliance is what makes them so abhorrent.
Here’s how the cooker works: You have a big cast iron box with a few oven doors on the front and some hot plates with covers on the top. A heat source, initially a coal fire, but now more often a natural gas flame regulated by a thermostat, burns 24/7 to keep the whole thing hot. Each oven has its own temperature, one for baking, another for roasting, etc. and the hot plates on top are heated for boiling and simmering respectively. The smallest AGA has two ovens and weighs around 400kg (~880lbs!) and the largest have 5 or even 7 ovens and include a warming plate along with the two hot plates. The idea is that in addition to cooking, the cast iron box keeps your kitchen comfortably warm all year, replacing a radiator.
This whole setup was pretty efficient at a time when you had to start a new sooty coal fire in your oven every time you wanted to cook or bake something, but for today it's wildly inefficient. As Lena pointed out when we chatted about this topic, a normal gas range also has a pilot light that is constantly lit, wasting energy and polluting the air in your home, but a gas flame that is burning full tilt is orders of magnitude worse. An average gas range uses 580kWh per year, whereas the smallest AGA uses 22,200kWh per year.
The company and its boosters go to great lengths to justify the appliance’s terrible efficiency and convince people that it's actually more efficient. The term “aganomics” has been developed for the number crunching involved in this justification. For instance, if you hook your AGA up to a furnace somewhere else in your house to further distribute its heat, toast your bread and make your tea instead of using electric appliances, and drape your wet clothes over the cooker instead of using a tumble dryer, the cast iron monstrosity *might* actually make economic sense. That is, unless you consider that you may not need to have a radiator on the entire year, that you could hang up your clothes on a drying rack, and that, if you wanted to get rid of appliances, you can also boil water and toast bread with a normal fucking electric range.
But, the residents of Ailesbury Road protest, AGA isn’t stuck in the past! The new cookers allow you to turn things like hot plates and ovens off so you’re not heating everything all the time. Certainly those energy-conscious innovations should save the iconic appliance. No Ploon, no it won’t. This thing is made of fucking 400+ kilos of cast iron. It takes so much energy to heat up that much metal that turning it off and on more than once a year makes these things even less efficient.
Why WHY are these terribly inefficient appliances still so desirable? Why would a homeowner dream about an appliance that makes you physically lift your pot of soup over to the simmer hob when it boils instead of just turning a knob? It’s about class, of course! According to font of cultural knowledge Seán Woods, an AGA is “for people who want to live in the 30’s but also have a kitchen island.” They’re not helpful or useful or probably even fun to cook with, they’re just a status symbol.
This is Maslow’s Hierarchy flipped on its head, or perhaps just opened up: an individualistic form of “self-actualization” that disguises itself as being about meeting the basic needs of food, warmth, and family. With the recent rise in gas prices, aspirational middle class AGA owners are now experiencing “AGA anxiety,” due to the significantly increased cost of heating their shiny hunk of metal. The appliance isn’t a status symbol because of its beauty or function, it represents the fact that you can afford to keep it running, that you have money to literally burn.
This is why I propose we ban the sale, manufacturer, and use of AGA cookers. The Irish government has taken initial steps to provide rebates for homeowners who retrofit their homes for greater efficiency, but so far these rebates are only accessible to those who have the cash to foot the bill in the first place. Those same people are the people who are spending €2000/year to run this horrendous machine and let me tell you, installing double glazed windows doesn’t help if you have to keep them open to keep your AGA from cooking you alive all summer. Worse, inefficient fossil-dependent appliances that require you to structure your life around them (cars fit this description as well) just further entrench the oil and gas industry in our lives. This is why SoCal Gas has been so successful preventing the phase out of residential gas in California.
So yes, when I say ban AGAs, I literally mean ban them. Individual choices don’t mean shit especially to the wealthiest consumers, and if we’re going to survive the climate crisis and work towards societal actualization we need collective action against such egregious acts of conspicuous consumption.