So the other day, I took advantage of the annual free admission day at Science World in Vancouver, where I learned that if one identical twin is left-handed, there’s a 76% chance the other twin will also be left-handed. After, I walked back toward Jess’s apartment and sought food. (Jess is not Jesse. Jess is a human who is now traveling with us. Say hi to Jess.)
I stopped at 11 places in total. 3 of them gave me food: miso soup and tea from a sushi restaurant, rice and rice paper wraps from a Mongolian restaurant, and then an excellent and filling falafel sandwich from a shawarma place. It looked quite a bit like this Google image:
As sometimes happens, when I started with a string of 4 no’s I began to question the idea of getting free food from restaurants. (Tidbits: 1 – Our overall percentage is around 50, according to our very informal statstimation. 2 – We generally do less self-questioning when people are saying yes, as almost all of the yesses are exciting, friendly, and pretty clearly positive interactions.) Are we parasitic mooches, living off the hard work of others?
Great question, Adam. The first way I’d like to tackle that is by presenting two scenarios. 1) We use the money we had saved to take this trip and money we earn along the way. This includes money we were given in exchange for working jobs, money I inherited when my great aunt died, and mostly busking money from the trip. 2) We give all our money away to charities having the most positive impact, as far as we can surmise, and eat from the kindness of others and the sometimes abundant waste of dumpsters and trash cans. We’re doing #2, in case that wasn’t clear.
Let’s take the waste food out of the equation for this blog post, as I think it’s pretty clear that eating waste instead of contributing to increased demand for resource-depleting food production is a good thing. Anyway, dumpster diving is not what I was feeling doubty about after Science World, where I learned that 70% of all accessible freshwater goes to agriculture.
So, to the case at hand. Kids in Africa want bed nets, I want food, and restaurants want money. Let’s assume I’m going to eat either way, as sacrificing myself to death by starvation is neither productive nor desirable, from my perspective. So is it better to trade money for the food, or to receive the food as a gift and give the money, to the Against Malaria Foundation for example, as a gift? For me, the kids need the bed nets more than the restaurant needs the money, and that’s all there is to it. The correct action is the one that does more good.
I strongly believe that freely receiving and freely giving is the better way to handle the economics of the trip. In addition to the impact on the distribution of resources (more bed nets, fewer restaurant profits, rather than the other way around), I argue that moving outside the capitalist exchange framework is valuable in itself, because of the destruction wreaked by that framework, simply by broadening the spectrum of what is possible, and by demonstrating directly that people are a lot more giving than we might typically give them credit for.
What about the trip as a whole?
So, it’s the best way to do the trip. But is the trip itself a selfish, moochy action (whether or not we pay directly for services received)? At this point I guess this turns into an argument both for travel in general and the things that we think make this trip, or general change in lifestyle, especially worthwhile. First, travel is important because it broadens the perspectives of both the traveler and the people they encounter along the way. Better understanding each other, exposing ourselves to new ideas, and varying our life experience are all valuable enough that I feel they’re worth taking some, or a lot, of time away from the type of material output that is regarded as “productive” in the existing economic framework.
As for us, we’ve decided to commit ourselves as fully as is consistent with our own physical and emotional well-being to playing the underfilled roles of students of humanity, idea-pollinators, and status quo-challengers. And we think that’s a good decision. I truly feel like I do more good for the world now than I did in the deli at Market Basket, a research lab at UGA, a classroom at FSU, or even tutoring and teaching guitar in San Diego. I’m also pretty confident Jesse has a more positive impact now than he did in restaurants waiting tables, his car delivering pizzas, a research lab at UGA, a warehouse in Connecticut, or an office at FedEx. And we’re less of a drain on the world’s resources than ever before! We still eat. But we’re responsible for almost no gas burning, less electricity use, and no housing occupancy.
Last part. We’re loving our experience. We’re probably happier than at almost any point in our lives. And we’re part of the world, so our well-being matters, too. 🙂
So what we’re doing is clearly very unconventional. Is it worth questioning? Of course. But I think it’s worth making the argument for this explicitly here, because we don’t always get to in person. We would absolutely love to get your thoughts, comments, questions, criticism, and praise in the comments section here, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, on our Facebooks, telepathically, or…in person!
With love and humility,
Adam “the Panther” Lassila
from Dylan’s living room in Portland, OR & Tsawwassen, BC with dogs and Josie the cat
P.S. The Panther nickname will catch on someday!
P.P.S. No, it won’t. And ‘some day’ is better as two words. – Jesse