We now have more people using the land (that is, living from it) and fewer thinking about it than ever before. We are eating thoughtlessly … It is a crisis of culture.
The quote here is from Wendell Berry’s collection of essays “The Unsettling of America”. Starting in June, i’ve been a part of an informal challenge to read a Wendell Berry book per month for a year. I haven’t quite been able to keep up, but i am still trying to be reading some Wendell throughout the year. For those of you unfamiliar with Mr Berry & his writings, here’s a snippet from Wikipedia: “Wendell Berry (born August 5, 1934) is an American man of letters, academic, cultural and economic critic, and farmer. He is a prolific author of novels,short stories, poems, and essays.” Most of the time, i am in total agreement with what he writes. He’s a practical idealist; poet & plower combined. I like that.
In much of his writing on farming, he has three basic premises: 1) We need more farmers farming smaller portions of land, 2) We need to go back to older ways of farming, 3) There is a spiritual aspect to our food & the land from which it comes. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? I think so. I think it also reflects the growing concerns of the general population surrounding food.
The amazing thing to me is that he has been writing this for decades. Like, before people got this intense about their food. To me, the fact that his writing can be so timely 30 years after being written is a sign both of how far we’ve come & how far we still have to go. Or maybe more specifically, i find that it speaks to me where i am & points the way forward in agriculture.
So, when i read the quote above, i was pleasantly surprised to find that i had to disagree with Wendell on this point. Or at least about the part about us eating thoughtlessly. Heather & i recently attended the Harvest and Hunger forum, put on in Saskatoon by the Saskatchewan Council for International Cooperation (SCIC). People from across the province were in attendance & ranged from people new to food issues to seasoned farmers to urban beekeepers to conscious consumers. Our keynote speaker was Frances Moore Lappé, who had many wonderful things to tell us about the future of ecology & food. The second day was full of workshops on theory & practice around various food issues. It was so wonderful to be around so many people who were taking an interest in where their food was coming from & how it was being produced.
I’ve heard debates on what is the best method (or gimmick) when it comes to food: local or organic? meat-free? some other thing? I don’t think there’s one answer, but there is something very important to notice in the fact that we are having these debates, which is that more & more people are trying to eat more mindfully/thoughtfully.
So, while i agree with much of what he has to say in general, i am proud to say that i disagree with Wendell Berry about the fact that we are thoughtless eaters. I can only imagine that people like Mr Berry & Ms Lappé have paved the way for people like me. For that i’m very thankful.
For a few more of my thoughts around food production, you can go here.
*Thich Nhat Hanh