Major Bummer’s Totally Depressing Guide to the Holidays

And so we again face the annual Christmas orgy of food, greed, and commercialism. Like a good progressive-minded soul, you can be repulsed at the spectacle in the broad sense, but why not get depressed about the specifics, from toxic tofurkey to the global environmental havoc wrought by e-commerce?

Image: AP/Wideworld


You bought Aunt Suzie that book on organic gardening from Amazon.com, and your nephew Grover will be getting a union-made, hand-woven organic hemp poncho from a site called VivaSativa.com or something. You avoided driving your fossil-fuel-devouring minivan to the malls and major chain stores in your own silent protest against the franchising of America. You feel righteous.

You shouldn’t.

First of all, Amazon.com practices the same evil ploys as Barnes & Noble and the other major chain booksellers: Their size allows them to charge such low prices that they put independent booksellers (online and off) out of business.

In addition, Amazon.com is currently trying to stifle a drive to unionize its employees. The New York Times has reported that the company has anti-union materials on its internal Web site which advise managers on how to detect possible union activity among their employees.

But if you think just avoiding Amazon will cleanse your progressive soul, think again. Online shopping — even for “green” products — is bad for the environment (no matter what the politically correct sites with online stores — including our own — might want you to think), even more so than driving to the mall alone. There’s the excess packaging — from Styrofoam peanuts and air-filled unrecyclable plastic pouches to the millions of corrugated shipping boxes — bound for the landfill. And don’t forget about the fuel-hungry and exhaust-spewing trucks and planes required to get the package to your door.

Oh, and that PC you used to surf for that perfect PC gift? As soon as it’s obsolete (a matter of months), it’ll be polluting your local landfill.

And finally, there is the issue of taxes. When you buy online rather than in your own community, you aren’t supporting your own community’s tax base. When you buy from a local shop owner, the sales tax you pay goes to your community and to the state in which you live, supporting schools, roads, public safety, social programs, and other government services. Buy online, and your sales tax may be supporting someone else’s community at the expense of your own, or supporting no community at all.

Moreover, the explosion of e-commerce has enriched many dot-com companies and the industries in which they operate, yet many of those companies — Cisco and Microsoft, for example — pay absolutely no federal income tax. By buying online, you are only encouraging them.

Your holiday roast beast
You plan to serve your family and guests a free-range turkey, a gesture illustrating your opposition to overbreeding and factory farming. You feel righteous.

Get over it.

Even free-range doesn’t mean hormone-free, antibiotic-free, or not genetically modified. And just because they are labelled “free-range” they aren’t all raised in peaceful meadows. The USDA allows any bird which has access to the outdoors — even a cramped, dirty yard — to be classified as free-range.

Most of the Broad Breasted White turkey we see in the grocery store — free-range or otherwise — is genetically modified (there is even a US Poultry Genome Project) or just selectively bred for certain unnatural and unhealthy (for the turkey, at least) characteristics. These birds are so overbred, they need to be artificially inseminated just to reproduce.

These super-turkeys have been genetically engineered to have such freakishly large breasts that hens who are allowed to brood often crush their eggs and/or hatchlings. Also, the top-heaviness of the superbirds is such that domesticated turkeys have serious problems with their legs — including having them snap in two — which are too spindly to hold their bulging bodies up.

Industrial meat production is simply inhumane, just ask Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. As for the average factory farm life for turkeys (where their beaks and toes are often cut off to keep them from slicing each other up in cramped quarters) as well as their ultimate slaughter and processing? Well, that’s just gross.

My Thanksgiving turkey, I kid you not, had breast cancer. If that weren’t enough to put me off my tryptophane, it turns out that the USDA recently decided that poultry with open sores and other “aesthetic” flaws — like intestinal worms — is perfectly cool for sale and human consumption. Yum!

Of course, there’s also the tiny matter of four people dying as a result of eating turkeys just this month.

If you’re opting for the Christmas goose, the story isn’t much better. But should you go with a holiday ham, the news is even worse.

Soy it goes
So, you spared a noble turkey’s life, and perhaps you even adopted one. Bully for you! You’re serving a “tofurkey,” a bird-carcass look-alike made from textured soy protein, soybeans, grated carrots, organic wild rice, and seasonings. You are so proud of yourself.

Hate to break it to you, but …

The agribusiness giant Monsanto’s own timetable predicted that by this month, all of the US soybean crop would be genetically modified. Other surveys have shown that Monsanto may have been a little too optimistic in its predictions, and that “just” 54 percent of the domestic crop was genetically modified this year. At any rate, there’s a better than 1-in-2 chance that your tofurkey — aside from being kind of creepy — is at least partially genetically modified.

Oh, and make sure your guests aren’t members of the lucky 20 percent or so of the population who are allergic to soy. And with production of GM soy on the rise, reports of severe allergic reactions are up considerably. Symptoms of a soy allergy attack include vomiting, diarrhea, swelling, rashes, heart palpitations, panic attacks, and even life-threatening anaphylactic shock. Killing grandma on Christmas Eve would sort of ruin the holiday spirit.

I could ruin all kinds of other holiday traditions (your old-growth Yule log, your pesticide-ridden cup of tea, that stocking — stitched by underage sweatshop laborers in Taiwan — hung by the chimney without care), but I’ve got to get back to my eggnog (contaminated with bovine growth hormone, no doubt) and mulled wine (which comes from grapes picked by exploited farm laborers and grown on erosion-vulnerable slopes in the Napa Valley).

Happy holidays!