Friday, October 19, 2012

So this is what I'm thinking about

I found this copy of M.C. Escher's "Humanity" here.
So, I haven't written in a long, long, long time, and when I have, it's been poetry that I was composing for another reason.  I couldn't honestly say why I haven't, except that I just haven't felt I had anything to say and there is plenty for folks to do rather than listen to me nattering on for the sake of nattering.

But if I pushed a little further, I could also say that I've been going through one of those periods ya go through where it's like you were, cognitively speaking, holding a neatly stacked little deck of cards and then tripped while walking and threw them all up in the air at once and they went every which-a-way.  So I suppose another explanation could be that I've been playing mental 52-card-pickup for the last, oh, year or so.

There are a lot of reasons for this.  Things have changed in my life.  I started seminary here, started teaching a citizenship class that I adore, became a vegetarian, finally found a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders and is really helping, and got into a serious relationship.  I also had a lot of issues with panic attacks early in the year, got a concussion in March and had a bunch of weird health problems this year. 

Other things didn't change, things that maybe should change.  I think about these things a lot.

The biggest thing I've thought about this year started with rediscovering the novels and short fiction of Wendell Berry.  I love the world St. Wendell (this is what I call him, only partly kidding) creates in his fiction, but after an attempt to read everything he'd ever written back in 2009, I'd kind of forgotten about him until I saw him speak at the Kennedy Center in April of this year (thanks to The Best Writer I Personally Know, whose BOOK WILL BE PUBLISHED IN THE SPRING OF 2013  WOOOOOOOOT!!!!!).  When he spoke, I felt a nudgy-nudge at what he had to say about the environment and about U.S. agricultural policy, but more than that I felt that warm-blankety feeling I used to feel when I read his fiction... like this was a world I would love to inhabit, an agrarian world of close community and love of the land that I don't know but wish I did.

So I renewed my library card and started again with A World Lost... and it wasn't long before I was devouring his fiction again, 11 books in about 2 1/2 months.  I also read The Unsettling of America  and The Gift of Good Land, and then moved on to The Essential Agrarian Reader: The Future of Culture, Community, and the Landa collection of essays edited by Norman Wirzba that build on the agrarian writings of Wendell Berry. While I read that, I picked up Omnivore's Dilemma again, and this time I finished it.

I haven't read that much in a long time, and I'm not done.  I have a stack of books behind the chair I'm sitting in that are also on the same theme... the failure of agricultural policy in the U.S.... the unhealthy, unethical, and unsustainable ways in which we've come to produce and consume food, and how this is wrecking our land and our bodies and our brains.  A lot of these books have suggestions on what we can do better, things we can change.  These things will help us and help our country, and it can be argued that the expense to the consumer in radically changing our food system would be evened out by the decrease in expenses we have for all of the health issues related to our consumption of poisonous food and our poisoning of land and water in the production of that food.

It's really amazing how much consensus there is on this point.  You don't have to be a tree-hugging liberal to know that McDonald's isn't a good thing to put in your body.  You also don't have to be a vegetarian Buddhist to be nauseated at the thought that the chicken you're eating for dinner spent its life crammed in a tiny wire cage, unable to move, with feces from the chickens above it raining on its head, possibly with its beak cut off so it'd stop pecking itself in a nervous fit.   There are folks on both sides of the partisan aisle who think Monsanto needs to be taken down to Chinatown in the back of one of those vans without windows for shoving genetically modified foods into our gullets and then trying to duck their culpability for what is now known about what some of those foods do to our bodies... not to mention what they've done to farmers by forcing them to use seeds they have to buy every year because they're "engineered" not to do what seeds are *supposed* to do, i.e. reproduce.

But it doesn't change.  Why doesn't it change?

No seriously, why doesn't it change??

I've watched two presidential debates now and a vice-presidential debate and this wasn't brought up.  Not once.  Yes, we're all worried about The Economy.  But why aren't we worried about Our Food??  What about Our Land?  Our Water?  Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?  Anybody out there willing to take a hit to The Economy in order for us to have healthy food to eat?  Because I personally don't think I could subsist on eating debit cards, credit card statements or my retirement portfolio.

So another reason I haven't written all year is that I've spent months now reading about this and thinking about it and it's very hard for me to figure out how this is going to end well.  For some stupid reason, the issues around pollution of our food sources and our land have become associated with "liberalism", which is a bunch of bullshit.  I really couldn't care less what your political stance is, you still have to eat, and you still would really prefer what you eat not be full of carcinogens and antibiotics, right?

Seriously, if anyone is actually reading this (not sure that'll be the case since I've not written in a while and you good people have other things to do), do you care about this?  Have you given it thought?  If you have, what have you thought about it?  What have you changed about how you approach food, what you buy, what you eat, etc.?  Has it affected how you vote?


Nick Adams said...

I absolutely agree with you comments on agriculture and our food source. I've read an Omnivore's Dilemma and a few other related works. Now that I'm a dad it concerns me even more. I'm proud to say that neither one of my children have ever set food in a McDonalds.

Paul Hunter said...

1) I am really happy you wrote a post. 2) I don't know the answer, but here would be my theory in general form. This system provides vast amounts of cheap food, and results in massive profits. While it also produces a tremendous amount of waste, and is actually destructive for everyone in the long term, if you withdraw as an individual corporation/ food producing company of any sort then you probably get crushed if you withdraw individually from this system. I believe this is called a "prisoners dilemma" in game theory. There is also probably the additional difficulty that it is unclear what other system we would put in place to provide cheap abundant food, or how we would transition to that new system without causing starvation and/or financial to many in the interim. After all, we cannot go back to an agrarian economy over night. I say this all sharing your concern, as a vegetarian and someone with a distaste for the way our food is brought to us, I am simply trying to suggest reasons no one has taken decisive action yet. I am not denying the problem, just trying to suggest why so many are bent upon maintaining the status quo, even though it is ultimately destructive.

Ken Tennyson said...

I definitely think about this. I think there is a lot to fear for the environment and for the use of our land and natural resources. I care deeply and at some point want to do meaningful subsistence farming (we are getting chickens again in a couple weeks, a small step).

That said, when faced with overwhelming prospects around global issues such as poverty, environmental abuse, wars and religious hostility, etc, I am finding that what I am only one tiny bee in the huge hive of human civilization. If I can do my part as best as possible, I can only hope for a good outcome. However, it can be overwhelming for me if I take the macro view too often. Not advocating that a person bury their head in the sand, but for me I have been trying to figure out what it means to embrace the reality that I can't actually change the world (despite my optimistic American upbringing). It's like activism meets monasticism, a passionate acceptance of my own inadequacies for the problems our world faces.

This seems to be a unique burden that some carry, those who are macro thinkers and allow themselves to consider long term consequences. We need more people like you Amy, for sure. That is the place to start. But I also know first hand it can make peace of mind very illusive. I hope to find a place somewhere between complacency/aquiesence and feeling overwhelmed/emotionally drained. An aware, yet overwhelmed Bee doesn't do any good either. Some of Berry's dire predictions may be fully realized, but at the base this kind of fear is only helpful if it can lead us to meaninful action, otherwise the fear is rather useless, it doesn't serve a purpose except it makes us feel like shit.

My only solace is the reality from our past is that human beings are ultimately a pretty smart lot, we have gotten ourselves this far. The future looks grim but there are also a lot of promising things going on now too, so I can only hope...

Hope you don't find any of this preachy or instructional, I am hyper sensitive to that sort of thing myself and only wrote this much because I really do empathize with your sentiments.

Moff said...

Thanks for your comments, guys. I guess the bottom line for me is that this isn't even MENTIONED in political discourse. Of course it's complicated. So's the economy and U.S. military and political involvement all over the world... it doesn't stop politicians and all manner of pundits from going on and on about it. Why doesn't this ever enter the "political" discourse? Why do we permit it to be relegated to a side issue? What would it take to change that?

Sc[eye]nce said...

Thanks so much for this, Amy. I keep coming back to the fact that I believe it is unrealistic to expect any government to do anything but maintain the machine that sustains it. No matter how much a I like a particular candidate, that person is still a part of the machine that chugs along without any real motion or change. Any REAL change that has occurred in our country's history has started with a small group of passionate people who simply would not give up or shut up. I am feeling these same concerns about food production and sustainability-you know that was a large motivating factor for me buying this house. This little plot of dirt is becoming my place of protest. Next time I hang out with folks from good city farm, etc-want to come with? Maybe you can help their voices shout a little louder.

Elizabeth said...

I freely admit I sometimes put my head in the stand because of the tremendous fear I have my children's future and the planet they will be inherited. My father grew up in Arkansas on a farm that fed them. During the height of the great Depression his father dropped dead at 45. They subsistence farmed then and continued to farm after times got better. A few family member continue to farm but factory farming makes this close to impossible. A cycle of rural poverty so hard to escape. My father's attachment to the land in Arkansas is profound. An experience I fear few in this country will ever have the chance to experience.

Moff said...

Heidi: YES, I'd love to meet the folks at Good City Farm, and yes our conversations have been part of my thought process on this.

Weave: I understand not wanting to face it out of fear. I think another thing that's spurring me on is teaching these citizenship classes to folks, talking to them about their "rights" as citizens, "rights" I rarely take advantage of. I know enough about the countries that some of my students are from to know that speaking against the Governments of their home countries would endanger them. All it does is mildly inconvenience me. Why the hell am I not doing something about this?

LuckDragon said...

I can sympathize with your frustrations. I can't watch the debates any more. A while ago I realized that no one in the government is concerned at all with anything I am concerned about. I write letters to my local politicians about the most important topics, and then in general try to ignore politics.

Karen said...

So. One of the things I love about this topic is that it can be an *apolitical* topic. We can buy organic and shop at farmers' markets, and start gardens, and even put locally produced organic food in school lunches, all without talking to the government. I think change is coming, and will continue to come, via market forces not politics, and while it's not ideal at least Walmart is stocking their shelves with organic stuff. I am hopeful. I really think the level of awareness is huge compared to 20 or even 10 years ago, thanks to the Michael Pollens of today.