Thursday, April 25, 2013

Inspired by Wendell Berry to connect the dots

Food writer/crusader Michael Pollan talking in The Atlantic about the influence of Wendell Berry. . .

It was in reading Berry that I came across a particular line that formed a template for much of my work: "eating is an agricultural act." It's a line that urges you to connect the dots between two realms—the farm, and the plate—that can seem very far apart. We must link our eating, in other words, to the way our food is grown. In a way, all my writing about food has been about connecting dots in the way Berry asks of us. It's why, when I write about something like the meat industry, I try to trace the whole long chain: from your plate to the feedlot, and from there to the corn field, and from there to the oil fields in the Middle East. Berry reminds us that we're part of a food system, and we need to think about our eating with this fact—and its implications—in mind.

 Pollan cites the example of the recent public backlash against "pink slime" as an example of what happens when someone gets curious enough to do the hard work of connecting the dots. Imagine the impact if a significant portion of American food consumers began to see a connection between what we eat and where it comes from? Of course, as Pollan notes, there are powerful forces intrinsic to our capitalist system that don't want us making those connections, forces that want to keep us in the dark. Here's Pollan again. . .

Because, in recent years, as more people have been wakened to questions about how their food is being produced, we're seeing all kinds of obfuscations. We're in a race between getting good accurate information out there and the obscuring brilliance of marketing. They're showing you a package of eggs with a farmer and a picket fence—what I call "supermarket pastoral"—but behind that beautiful image, and your belief that you're supporting that kind of agriculture, there's really a factory farm. These ag-gag laws? The fact you're not allowed to take pictures of these places and expose their brutality? It's a remarkable assault on the First Amendment. This is all about who gets to tell the story of how food is produced, and the industry wants exclusive rights to that story.
All this makes it difficult to act on Berry's injunction. In fact, capitalism depends on erecting these screens, strives to defeat efforts to see the lines of connection between you, and the farm worker who picked your strawberries, and the corporation that delivered them to your door. This is an important insight capitalism tries to keep us from: that whatever you buy implicates you in a series of relationships. That may be a lot to walk around with everyday—that someone halfway across the world was exploited to produce the iPhone you're enjoying—but we do need to start thinking that way, at least sometimes, to bring about change. So when Berry says eating is an agricultural act, it follows that eating is a political act, too.

Here's the complete article -- "The Wendell Berry Sentence That Inspired Michael Pollan's Food Obsession". It's a great read!

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