Like any good millennial, Mr. Smith and I enjoy avocados.
Well, if I’m being honest, I love them and he tolerates my love of them. (Insert the joke here about Millennials and houses.) I eat avocados in some form almost every day as my go-to breakfast is half an avocado and a fried egg over brown rice. Seriously, this breakfast changed my thoughts about the morning meal as I’m more of a savory food person than a sweet food person. Since I keep a stash of cooked brown rice in the fridge at all times, I can go from hangry to full in under 10 minutes. This breakfast combined with my love of tacos — I’m realizing that I’m a caricature of a person — basically means that my body is about a quarter avocado.
In my Pinterest searches for growing plants in containers, one idea that consistently came up was growing an avocado plant from a leftover seed. Of course, I thought, “Wait! You can do that?!” And I was off to the races.
Growing an avocado plant is shockingly simple, but there is the added bonus of learning patience too. I found a lovely avocado that, when I opened it up was more seed than fruit, I decided would be perfect for this particular experiment. Following the various instructions, I carefully cleaned it and then used toothpicks to prop it up in some water.
It took THREE weeks for there to be any signs of life. First, a small crack formed on the bottom of the seed. Over the next TWO weeks, the taproot slowly grew until it just barely stuck out from the inside of the seed. Have I mentioned that patience is something I’m still struggling to learn?
Let’s get serious for a moment
Since I have a bit of time before my plant sprouts leaves, now seems like as good of a time as any to talk about the absurdity of associating millennials with avocados (among other things). If you read the news for any length of time, you find that we’re killing casual dining, napkins, homeownership, wine corks (they clearly don’t know me), and a whole bunch of other things.
I don’t actually think millennials (or as I like to think of them “neoliberalism’s children”) are to blame for any of this. We are living in an interesting moment or era called neoliberalism, which is just a fancy word for the current stage of capitalism. (It might surprise you to know that capitalism has changed over time.) This stage of capitalism values free-market ideology, extreme individualism, cutthroat competition between businesses, and (among other things) a relationship between capital and labor that favors capital. This particular form of capitalism came into being in the mid-1970s and persists today. Millenials were born precisely during a time when real wages have stagnated and going to college was no longer a guarantee of a “good life.”
Like our grandparents of the depression era, we had no choice but to “recalibrate our expectations” and figure out how to make it work. This has caused some interesting and challenging issues, particularly for our baby boomer parents. As many millennials work jobs that just barely afford for them to get ahead, many have returned to living with their parents or coming up with interesting coop arrangements. Millennials have also put off purchasing houses or having children.
Of course, it is easier to blame individual choices for why millennials aren’t getting ahead, but it’s foolish to do so without considering the wider social context that is our economic environment. Why should it matter if someone spends money on eating good food (i.e., taco, avocados, and craft beer) when that might be the only way that they cope with crippling student loan debt and underemployment?
Now, while I’ve been talking about an entire generation in general, it is important to remember that some millennials are doing just fine, but that seems to be due to a combination of hard work, luck, and class privilege. Pointing out the few people (us included) who are doing well, completely negates the lived reality of so many others. It’s sort of like saying, we live in a post-racial era since we had a black president. In other words, structural barriers and opportunities have a lot to do with who is able to get ahead. When people do well, we say look at all of the good choices they made and hard work they put in. But when they don’t do well, we say you should have made better choices or worked harder. For both outcomes, we look solely at the individual and not the larger social forces at work such as class, race, gender or the state of the economy.
But what does any of this have to do with the FIRE movement?
You might be wondering, “who cares?!” or saying, “but I’m doing just fine, thank you very much.” Much of the FIRE movement appears to be in the latter camp. All of the podcasts I listen to and books I read seem to side-step the lived experience of many people and declare that “anyone can live a middle-class lifestyle.” This is complete and utter rubbish.
The whole point of a class-based system (yes, capitalism is completely based on class and the United States is not class-free) is that there will be a few people who have a lot, some people who have enough, and LOTS of people who don’t have nearly enough. In other words, no the FIRE movement is not open to everyone. Part of the problem comes from the way that we define middle-class “as households that had at least two-thirds of the median income, but no more than double that amount. And it adjusted for household size.” This means that per the Pew Research Center’s Income Calculator a household of two in the Denver metro area would be considered “middle-class” with a household income between $36k and $106k. With numbers like this, it’s no wonder that most people consider themselves middle-class as all this figure does is obfuscate the overall issue of whether people have enough to make ends meet, not to mention save for retirement. The FIRE movement would do well to acknowledge its implicit classist undertones and, rather than condemning people for their choices, work on creating a world in which having enough is available to all people rather than just a select few.
But I digress. You thought that you were coming here to read about growing an avocado plant from a seed.