Month: March 2014

The Revolution of Food

Image

The word revolution conjures up scenes of violence and mayhem, but as history has shown us violent and political revolution often leads societies backwards towards the historical reasons for the revolution rather than forwards towards a better, more progressive approach to the original problem.  The French revolted, and the original problems of the time still exist today.  In America much is the same after the American Revolution.  While the ruling class is not longer the British, oligarchy still reigns over this country.  This oligarchical control is not governmental, however, but corporate.

 

Perhaps it is the nature of revolutionary acts to be cyclical?  Perhaps it is the nature of human beings that we must make the necessary mistakes, take the necessary shortcuts in order to learn that mistakes only count if we actually do learn from them, or that shortcuts are illusionary?  But we must learn from them, and understand that shortcuts are only as good as our reasons for taking them.  If revolution in all its forms is cyclical, then the ethical perspective relies upon the intention that instigates the revolution in the first place rather than the consequences of the acts themselves.

 

It is typically the intention of military revolutions to overthrow a government and the implication of that act is for the revolutionaries to become the governing body.  The intention, it can be said, is to govern and thus the cycle is complete.  The corporate food industry claims that its’ intention is to feed the world, because (it claims) more traditional methods fail to do so.  It has “overthrown” traditional methods and thus the cycle is complete.  However, like the military revolutionaries that become dictators, the industrial food complex has become the very problem that is proposed to solve because it has not acted honestly and with the right intentions.   Revolution fails if the intentions are not honest, and are not honestly come by.

 

Consider the reasons behind the corporate food revolution of the 40’s and 50’s: surplus chemicals from the Second World War; the surplus of corn because of technological advances, and the need for the government to create jobs, summed up in the Nixon administration by Earl Butz and his constituents.  Food ceased to be a human necessity and became an economic opportunity.

 

There is Truth in food and it must be the intention of those that revolt to turn from the shortcuts and mistakes made in the name of the almighty dollar and define themselves and their actions by the natural limitations that exist.  The comfort of Supermarket shopping and packaged goods and the ease of “just add water; makes it own sauce” mentalities must change and will change.  The question is how?  Will these changes come at our intentional beckoning or will they come in the form of catastrophic damages as a result of fuzzy thinking, lazy attitudes, greed and avarice?

 

The present food revolution leads us towards a place that we have visited before: the agrarian lifestyle, but we can only hope that unlike the military and political revolutions, we are the prodigal sons realizing our mistakes and hopefully learning from the corporate shortcuts that we have chosen to follow.  The food revolution is ironically progressive, ironic because it forces us to realize that the sustainable lifestyles lead to greater happiness because they are natural, not in lieu of being natural.  We must revolt, but we must do so quietly, concertedly and with the right intention.  But, most of all we must do so honestly.

Local Globalism

Image

Globalism is a word that I’ve never been comfortable with.  Like the new age term “holism” it seems to be an umbrella term for unproven methods and wishful thinking.  In the end, globalism becomes meaningless as well as dangerous because it can be defined and used as justification for anything and everything.  We cannot be individuals in such a context, but must give ourselves over to the whole, and we do so at our own peril.

 

For most of us, life comes in bits and pieces, but we are told that we live in global communities and are a part of a global economy.  Paradoxically, we have come to rely upon a global network to define us as individuals through paradigms such as Facebook, Twitter and a host of other virtual, global “communities”.  We act globally while believing that we are part of individual communities. We have come to understand the whole in the contexts in which we live, but the context in which we live is defined by the whole.  We cannot continue thinking locally while acting globally.  We must do the opposite: think globally and act locally.

 

Communities that are defined by global economies seem separate from one another, but are in fact a part of a holistic phenomenon; they have a global effect. The consequent of realizing that our actions as a community have direct consequences on the communities that surround us and eventually on those that only seem disconnected from our own will eventually force us to act locally.  Oddly enough, I do not believe that there is disconnect between the idea of a global community and individual support of our own communities. We must act on a local level for the sake of global health of the planet.

 

The irony of this of course is that the continued globalization of our individual communities is the very thing that keeps us from supporting those individual communities. There is an understanding between two people that barter, buy or support each other’s community, that eat food grown or raised locally, that is not only missing but is utterly destroyed when bartering and buying and eating on a global scale. Globalization of these traditionally local and often intimate acts has the detrimental consequence of disassociating us from the tools we use, the homes we live in, the economies we support, the food we eat and the communities that we are all a part of. The relationship between these things, the people who make them, and those who we buy them from is a necessary and important one that define who we are as individuals; it gives us purpose and meaning outside of simply pure consumption.

 

The cost of globalization has been studied and analyzed from many different angles, but I believe that one angle is oddly missing: does the globalization of our lives and the communities that we live in make us happier?  I would argue that globalization most certainly makes our lives easier, but happier? Perhaps the highest cost of thinking and acting globally has not been the quantity of our happiness (the ease of living life), but the quality of our happiness (living life).  The globalization of our communities continues to take a toll on our planet, our food and our communities but perhaps the greatest toll for humanity is the universal loss of understanding that there is a difference between the quantity of happiness that we have and the quality of happiness that we all desire as individuals.

 

The Garden

Image

This time of year is difficult for the gardener.  It is that time when the first seeds are put into trays and put under lights to “extend the season” as we say around here.  I am no different.  I have my onion sets, my kale, hyssop and lemon mint (for the bees) already going.  I just put up trays of peppers and tomatoes in my workshop where they are protected from the cold-swings outside.  This time of year reminds me of something that I typically don’t like to be reminded of: that I have no patience.

But patience is what it takes to succeed.  Patience to remember because “All good human work remembers its history” as Wendell Berry writes, and patience to realize that all that we desire will not be fulfilled.  Gardening, and all that it stands for is a pleasant but often stern reminder that we lack the very thing that we need the most; that is, the patience to truly understand that it is not necessary to always get what we want.  Philosophy is an endeavor that is very closely related to gardening.

Philosophy is directly translated as “ philo-sophia: the love of wisdom”, and wisdom takes patience just as growing food takes patience.  There are those that understand this such as John Seymour, Michael Pollan and Wendell Berry and others. But in doing philosophy, one soon comes to understand that the first step in being a philosopher is to recognize one’s own limitations, called ignorance.  The gardener soon comes to realize their ignorance by recognizing microclimates, soil and the plants themselves among many other things.  This process of recognizing and further more accepting one’s own ignorance takes patience whether that is with regard to gardening or to understanding philosophical concepts.  The trick is to recognize our limitations, overcome our ignorance and have the curiosity to realize that doing so is important.  That takes patience.

To become patient takes discipline. Berry writes, “Correct discipline cannot be hurried, for it is both the knowledge of what ought [italics mine] to be done, and the willingness to do it.” (People, Land, and Community)  There is an “ought” to the correct discipline, and it is in this aspect that we have lost our way.  We “ought” not take advantage of each other and we “ought” not treat the environment as a source of raw material and a place to cast our trash.  We can and we do, but we ought not to.

We have lost our way but in doing so, we become aware that we have lost our way.  From this point it will take time, and with that cost comes the necessity of correct discipline and patience to adjust ourselves to the ignorance that has engrossed us.  Our curiosity has led us down paths unimaginable.  We have created environments and introduced changes that were far beyond most people’s wildest dreams a mere fifty years ago.  Our curiosity alone, however, has proven to be problematic because we have not had the patience to learn how to use it.  A garden can put your curiosity back on track; it can teach us what we ought to do with the time that we have.

Rather than a philosopher that happens to garden, my garden has become a simple reminder of what it takes to be a philosopher: correct discipline, correct curiosity and the patience to tell the difference.  It reminds me that I have limitations that I must live within or pay the price for not doing so.  It reminds me that I am dependent upon people that I do not know and processes that I am not aware of nor have control over, and that I have a choice to change these problematic realities.  My garden reminds me that I have yet to gain the patience that I need in order to gain the knowledge that I must have. My garden reminds me that I have time that I must take, that I must be patient to do so, and that I must take the time to realize that.

Grow Like a Tree, Not a Fire

Image

There seems to be much anger in our society today.  It is prevalent on the streets and highways and in the stores where we shop.  Sometimes it is outright and sometimes a bit more subtle, but ubiquitous in the end.  This anger, I believe, is a result of the slow realization that we are not who we want to be, but who we have been told to be.  We have found that there are no shortcuts to being who we want to be, but in realizing this we also realize that we have taken one.

Barreling towards more ease, more consumption, more and more, and more… and calling it progress is the justification that our societies continue to use to steal, destroy and decimate other countries, other people, but most of all the land itself, the places that we live.  We call economic progress freedom, and we call luxuries the necessity of that progress.  Many of us pride ourselves on being independent, but in the back of our minds we know there really is no such thing.  Religions preach to us that we are special, but we are not.  Our governments tell us that there are political answers, but these are lies.  We tell ourselves that “it’s not as bad as all that…” but it is.  We have been sold down the river, and continue to sell ourselves as so much product. As the present, living societies we have a choice: to buy back that which our forefathers and ourselves have sold for cold hard cash, or perish.

Wendell Berry writes: It is foolish to assume that we will save ourselves from any fate that we have made possible simply because we have the conceit to call ourselves homo sapiens.” (Common Places)  It is that conceit that has taken what actually does make us special: the ability to think.  We have become proud of our ignorance.  Rather than think we react, we demand, we press and desire.  We cannot continue in this fashion!  Our conceit leads us to believe that we can continue to take without giving back.  Our conceit leads us to believe that we have a right, a duty, to reap benefits economically at the cost of environmental degradation.

What did our forefathers sell in order to reap economic benefits?  What was the priceless thing they sold for the pittance they received?  It was an idea.  They sold the idea that abundance was not endless; and that we belonged to a place, rather than being the owner of a place.  The ideas that they sold, however, are facts and they sold them for wishful thinking and on faith.  For a handful of dollar bills we continue to sell our future to a few that still remain in the trance of greed and the belief in endless abundance and rights as defined by economy rather than responsibility.  With the lie that abundance is endless, we have been taught that to work with nature is to be a slave and to use nature is to master it.  They were wrong, and we are wrong for continually accepting their errors.

The callouses on your hands and the sweat under your hat that are gifts from working with nature are signs that you are free, not the ability to buy and sell nature as nothing more than a commodity.  The knowledge that you are responsibly effective even at the cost of industrial efficiency is a sign that you are free: the craftsman rather than the conveyor belt.  The realization that the “smell of money” is the same as rotting flesh, but the smell of fresh grass and pasture is the smell of life.  These things and that desire is not need are the starts of actualizing freedom.  The freedom to fail, and doing so honestly is the freedom to learn and that is the start of progress, and eventual freedom.

I believe that we are angry because we have been sold a bill of goods that are worthless, that make life worthless, that make us worthless.  We have been sold the rotten idea that the land and the animals around us are there to be used and diminished at our will.  We are angry because as we do, we have realized that we continue to wilfully diminish ourselves.  We have been sold the shiny penny of an idea that ease is freedom, but it is not: it is entrapment.  We have been sold that our sole motive in life is to make our lives easier, but ease is usury that must be paid back with the difficulty that is reality.  We must realize that in laying down the cash for things that we have no right to buy or to sell is to redefine who we are, who we become, but not who we want to be.  We will die by credit, but live by work.  We will die in ignorance or learn to respect the very thing that gives us life  In order to quell the anger that will eventually subsume us, “We must learn to grow like a tree, not like a fire.” (Common Places)

The Path Least Taken

Image

In his essay, A Native Hill, Wendell Berry writes of his forefathers in Kentucky who find a worn path used by the American Indians in the area for eons before the Europeans landed in the Americas.  He writes, “A path is little more than a habit that comes with knowledge of a place.  It is a sort of ritual of familiarity.  As a form, it is a form of contact with a known landscape.  It is not destructive.” (pg. 12, Common Places).  His story continues with his forefathers cutting down whole trees for fire while constructing a road over the ageless path through the woods.  Why, he asks.

“Roads”, Wendell writes, “on the other hand, even the most primitive road, embodies a resistance against the landscape.  Its reason is not simply the necessity for movement, but haste” (pg. 12, Common Places).  When our paths become roads we have often paved over that which is most important to our selves, and often to others: time.  We do not live our lives on the roads that we follow, but rather we rush through them not taking time to smell not the roses, but the life that we live.  In fact, such a life is not a life lived; it is a life of avoidance through haste.

 

Why pave over a well-worn path with cement and oil?  Why pass the landscape with the windows rolled up or cut down whole trees for a fire that could easily be made with some dead limbs?  At some point in time we must address what it is that motivates us; we must address our reason for living, for following the path that we are on or constructing a road over a well-worn habit.  If we say “my children”, then we are cheating those very children that we love by giving them nothing to look up to, no path to follow.  If we say “my wife” or “my husband” we are cheating them of shared experiences and conversation about the paths that we are on.  We will spend our life avoiding the very thing we are searching for.  I believe that we owe those we travel with something to talk about, and we owe the path that we are on our respect.

 

And so, by paving over the very thing that we search all of our lives for we lose the very thing that gives us what we are searching for: that path through the woods that has been pounded with the past, and meanders through unknown woods and forests becomes a black streak through a wilderness that it is alien to.  I would suggest that we pull up the concrete and wire, the asphalt and rock that we have so hurriedly laid.  I would suggest that we look for that path through the woods that we have often forgotten about.  I suggest that we take the time to take the path least taken.  Because, what we do today will be the gift or the errors that become the features of our lives.*

*My people’s errors have become the features of my country. (Berry, pg. 15)