No matter how delicious the street cheeseburgers at the California Cantine on the rue Turbigo may be, I refuse to participate in this farce on ethical grounds. Likewise, under ordinary circumstances, I would never set foot in a Naturalia health food store. For an American, France is a museum of the recent commercial past. Consumer trends that died decades ago in the United States can still be found agonizing in France. Naturalia is such a place. Unlike Whole Foods, it is still haunted by a 1970’s granola ethic and aesthetic that disappeared in the 1990’s in the United States. The lobotomized, self-congratulatory Beautiful Soul smile that the castaways of this expired discourse flash each other across aisles piled high with overpriced alfalfa and propolis extract is enough to make a psychoanalyst want to plant a pipe bomb in the Goji berries (49.99 euros a kilo). The fantasy that food can be ethical in our place offers us an excellent excuse to avoid an authentic ethical engagement, which is to say an engagement with desire, which is to say an engagement with language… not local tomatoes. Pasolini remarked that consumerism was worse than old-fashioned Fascism because, unlike the latter, it transformed Italians from the inside out. In the same vein, the new organic, gluten-free hysterical orthorexia nervosa that is ravaging the United States today (and will be ravaging France in a few years) is arguably worse than the corn syrup holocaust that has contributed to the American population’s transformation into a race of baglike bouncing baby adults. I say “contributed” and not “caused” because the properly Symbolic dimension of a regressive orality imposed on the American public by an increasingly sexless Other certainly has its share of the blame in the inability of ever more Americans to inhabit a body marked by sexual difference and genital maturity. But that is not what I want to talk about today.
I recently discovered that every evening at seven o’clock, the Naturalia down the street throws out all the expired ethical food. I will eat Naturalia food; I just won’t pay for it. So, last night, I set out with my backpack to pick up free groceries for the week. I arrived in front of the store to see six other people with empty bags eyeing each other as they waited for the night shift idealist to wheel out the goodies.
As soon as the green plastic dumpster rolled out, it was pushed over, spilling the contents on the sidewalk. A tall, rangy DIY punk with patches sewn on his black hoodie was the first to hit paydirt: a bag of ethical cabbage. Overcome with envy, the gay, psychotic Gypsy with frosted tips who lives with his lover on the sidewalk outside Naturalia picked up a broomstick and dealt the DIY punk a blow on the head in an attempt to stun him and expropriate his organic trash. The punk tried to shrug him off but the Gypsy was on him like a wolverine. Meanwhile, a pair of sneaky old ladies were filling their bags with treats. Thirty seconds later, it was over. The Gypsy had nothing, the punk had nothing but his cabbage, and the two old ladies were on their way home to feast.
An hour later, as I worked through a pile of McDonald’s hamburgers, I reflected on what I had just seen. We tend too quickly to blame the Real for the violence and destruction that pull us eternally towards the ground. It’s ideology. No wonder “hard reality” is so often invoked to vouchsafe ensconced forms of capitalistic domination. On the contrary, it is precisely the incidence of language on our bodies that gives rise to the dimension of infinite symbolic want that Freud called the death drive. What brought the Gypsy and the punk to blows was not the Real of biological hunger as it might seem. No, it was the dimension of drive inherent to language that led these two men to prefer pointless narcissistic combat to a desiring engagement with the Real of the situation. And is this not a manifestation, on the level of street food, so to speak, of the same creeping deregulation in the Other that led to the crisis of 2008 in the first place?