Quarantined amidst (justifiable) coronavirus panic, I am one of the few who can still sit in a café with a cup of tea once a week and watch as passersby pick up their food in bulk. 1.5 meters away from the smallest sign of movement, alone at the closed bar of the Little Plant Pantry, I find it impossible to ignore the thought of other small businesses and how they will be affected by the crisis, some of their owners coming in to share their afflictions. Whereas corporations will lose money and stock value, smaller (local) companies might be forced to lay off their employees, and risk going out of business without fast and creative solutions.
“It ain’t much, but it’s honest work.”
My mind rushes to the irreparable impact the coronavirus pandemic will have, especially on all the honest work that is done (you know, work where you don’t manipulate or oversell, work that is collaborative and caring, or about creating something beautiful without a focus on huge profit, with a love for the job itself). As a result of the lockdown, a great number of honest workers will now be struggling, those exact people who dedicate their lives to contributing to greater good, however big or small their service may be. And there it is: however big or small their service.
I wonder why we entertain the idea that honest work isn’t worth much, that the service isn’t always big, and that some jobs are more important than others because of their title or socio-economic standing. It is clear to me now more than ever how much we rely on honest and dependable work: nurses and service industry staff are getting us through this crisis, and so is a hell of a lot of pro bono work.
Devaluation of honest work makes me think of this meme of a farmer who’s undermining his own contribution to society. He seems so convinced that all he slaves away for really isn’t much, but at least it’s honest. A sad disclaimer and an almost insignificant defence, separated by a measly comma.
Honest work and segregation
Part of me understands the disclaimer “It ain’t much”, having been taught to strive for great success, the kind that will leave a lasting impression. Striving for greatness has me necessarily compare to ‘that which is not great’, and it has conditioned me to think that a lot of work is, frankly, not worth much.
None of us are blind to the segregation we create between important and unimportant jobs, and to the value we impart on honest careers we consider impressive, such as being a doctor. Yet the list of honest jobs that many of us rely on enormously but take completely for granted is endless; that’s a heartbreaking shout out to all the small food businesses and artisans, for example.
What surprises me is how little credit and consideration we give to jobs that are both honest and essential to our society (what a feat). As a (pre-corona) part-time cat sitter and full-time volunteer at a packaging-free and zero plastic, minimal waste vegan bulk store, I feel now how satisfying it can be to give back, our shop flooded with those who couldn’t find pasta on the empty shelves of their neighbourhood supermarket. We are considered essential work. I, not hired during the course of my 5-month application spree, am considered essential. Yet, only a handful of people see it that way.
Courtesy doesn’t cut it, but a title will
Only now do I see the irony in the constellation of hierarchies we have made for and of ourselves. The laziest professor in the world would still impress me. The idea of intelligent work impresses me because we have somehow tricked ourselves into thinking that the more we hyper-particularise and climb a fictitious ladder, the more special we are, and the more knowledgeable we are. The more valuable we are. The more we are worth. This is not necessarily true.
I’d walk the aisles of an unflinching classroom, small limbs sheepishly pinned to their sides, should I be so bold as to ask: raise your hands those of you who consider impressive cat-sitting, cooking, farming, making coffee art, owning a small business, creative writing, doing honest work.
Why is what we do “not much”? And can I convince you to think otherwise, to support us now when we need it most?
Subjective suggestions: Amsterdam businesses you can support right now
• Little Plant Pantry: For your pastas, grains, beans, rices, nuts, chocolates, soaps, deodorant, moisturiser, vegan milk and cheese, teas, coffees, cookies, granolas. All the basics you’re looking for, all organic, homemade, vegan, natural! Visit in store, or order to collect at email@example.com.
• Screaming Beans: A speciality coffee café with a house blend and some of the best, ethically-sourced coffee in Amsterdam, dare I say. If you’ve always wanted to make amazing coffee at home, SB has a sale of 21% on their Brew At Home set right now. And they’re now back with takeaway!
• Holy Nut: Bite-sized plant-based goodies run by a one-woman show!
• The Very Good Candle Co.: Cruelty-free, eco-friendly candles and fragrances.
• Yerba Restaurant & Bar: Seasonal dishes, with à la carte weekly menus. Order to collect!
• SauerCrowd: Naturally fermented plant-based food sourced from organic farms.
• Eat Mielies Weird Illustration: Fun and weird illustrations on socks, key rings, mugs, you name it (a lot of genitals and pet portraits, folks).
• Kind Words: Okay this one is not local, but if you’re a Steam gamer who enjoys niche cute vibes, lo-fi chill music, and writing sweet letters, this is it. It’s a game about writing and receiving nice letters and is particularly uplifting right now. Consider investing in some fun indie games.
• Plastic Free Amsterdam: Your guide to a zero plastic, zero waste shopping experience.
• Plant Ahead: Handmade sustainable products, including the cutest coconut bowls and candle lights.
• Gift cards & vouchers : Can’t visit your favourite place right now? Are they not delivering (yet)? Consider purchasing a gift card or voucher you can use later.
• Cat-sitting: You might not be going anywhere now, but you’ll book a vacation one day, and your cats will thank you later for having thought ahead. If you want to support me as a cat sitter for your future travels by way of voucher, send me a message!
At the very least, consider ethical consumerism, shopping with Etsy and Bol, or directly from the business, and avoiding Amazon. Bezos has enough $$$, and enough to think about too: employment conditions, packaging, carbon emissions.