“The shorthand ‘ag’ is taking over the agricultural lexicon. The press and the experts love to write and talk about ‘ag industries’, ‘ag products’, ‘ag exports’, ‘ag markets’, ‘ag statistics’ ‘ag engineers’, ‘ag equipment’, or to use parallel locutions like ‘agribusiness’, ‘agri-economics’, and Conagra, the name of an ‘ag’ corporate giant. Lasley’s point is that this shortening of the word is an unfortunately apt reflection of the state of agricultural affairs. The culture part of agriculture is going, going, and, say many, perhaps soon gone entirely.
Perhaps we should see these changes as just that: changes, not losses. Perhaps it is just romanticism to see them otherwise, for it is just as cultural to enjoy the Big Machine way of agriculture as it is to enjoy styles of farming that bring the farmer close to ‘nature’. There is a culture of machinery too. Perhaps we are just seeing a new rural culture developing, and there is no ground independent of culture from which to weigh one against the other.” -Michael Mayerfeld Bell from Farming for Us All
Yesterday night I went to talk to a group of students about a gleaning organization that I’m working with to see if they were interested in participating. I was there to represent, and hopefully recruit, student interested in changing the food system for the better. Our group has taken it upon ourselves to positively affect our food system. Doing this requires an understanding of the shortcomings of our food system, as well as visionary solutions. Most importantly, it requires action. I was going to make my announcement after the meal. While standing in line for dinner I met a professor who had also been invited to speak. She asked me what I had come to speak about.
“I work with an organization where we go harvest excess fruits and vegetables from peoples’ yards and give it to food banks and local shelters”, I said.
From there we conversed about agriculture, ethical eating, farmworkers, ecological degradation, human rights abuses and various other parts and consequences of the food system. She was upset about the state of things.
“It’s just awful what we are doing, and you know I just don’t think we can solve it. At least not until people start dying from the water and the air and all the pesticides we put out there. It’s terrible! I’m actually glad that I’ll be dying soon but your generation is going to have to deal with it all! And my generation has really left you a bad deal. Oh it’s just terrible!”
I don’t necessarily disagree with her but my response was horribly inappropriate I’m sure; I couldn’t help it but I laughed.
“Isn’t it awful?” she said.
“Ummmm, yeah,” I said smiling.
Then dinner activities whisked us away from each other.
This apocalyptic prophesying is somewhat common within the green movement. There are different versions, like the tag-on of a weak quote of hope following the dire predictions. Or, as this woman illustrated the highlighting of the generational difference of who caused it and who has to fix it.
Either way, I’m sort of over it.
Framing our world as some huge intractable state of gloom and doom is not useful for me right now. There are sad things and bad things in the world, I’m well aware. People already are dying from the water, the air, and the pesticides but translating that awareness into debilitating fear runs the great risk of informing people that there is no reason to get off their ass.
I spoke to the group about the gleaning organization. I told them about the fruit trees dripping with food that literally falls on the ground to rot in the backyards of our well-off residents while other residents are hungry in an economic collapse.
“Our goal is to connect excess with scarcity” I said. “This work is good work for those reasons… and it’s also fun. You go out, you sit in trees, you eat fruit, you hang out with other people. For extra fruit that has holes or if there is too much to donate we have started processing it so we can cook together and you can learn about canning and baking and eating well”.
Messages of utter despair are not motivating for me. Let me be clear, that at one time they were somewhat helpful. Though I still credit a couple farmers, some deep soil and a cherry orchard with what has become my life today, expanding my knowledge about the atrocities of the world has been critically important in guiding my activities and prioritizing where I want to spend my political energy. However, a life spent dwelling in the realization that the world is unfair and is going to end because of human greed and ignorance ignores the small wonders and miracles of being alive at all.
For some there is the option of shrinking from the truths of human suffering and environmental degradation to live in a plush and privileged world dependent on the processes that create suffering and degradation but this does not feel right either. I do not believe in insulating myself from the world at hand so that I don’t have to deal with the problems that the professor alluded to.
For this moment, instead, I want to focus on culture creation. We are embedded in our social world that has built the structures and systems we supposedly abhor. If we want to change those structures and systems we will have to simultaneously create new culture; think Mahatma Gandhi’s quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world”.
Doom and gloom contributes to an apathy where older folks can tiredly gesture at our generation and say, “It’s up to you now” and our generation can find enthusiasm in a host of televised vices since genuine excitement is lacking in the front lines of doom-fighting. Just because someone gets senior discounts doesn’t mean they get a free pass for complacency in the creation of a new culture. Since culture creation necessitates fun, the same impulse to party that gets a couch potato up, might be used for food-centric work like gleaning and gardening. I don’t want a thumbs up for the tomato soup I canned from gleaned tomatoes, I want you to come can it with me and then let’s go drink a beer and dance.
I think getting off one’s own ass and just doing what feels good is vitally important. Bliss out and help others do the same. And not just other people like you. By not focusing on fighting there becomes a lot less enemies and the “food movement” no longer has to be some insular community separate (and dare I say better?) from the rest. We’re not better because we eat organic food and our separateness is at best mildly exclusionary and at worst condescending.
Instigate pleasure and invite people who are not like you to participate. Go have ice cream with a conservative if you’re liberal. Go garden with someone who has a different native language. Invite macho boys to a drag party and feed them home made food. Don’t be afraid to disagree, just make sure to keep communicating. And RSVP to the invitations of others. Eat pizza and fried food in exchange for friendship and trust.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts -Wendell Berry