Food reading: Stupidity in Concentration

I’ve begun reading Wendell Berry, as part of some research that I’m doing, and finding, as Michael Pollan says of him, that his writing makes so clear things that should already be self-evident, and it does so in a way that is “always patient and logical, as plumb and square and scrupulous, as well-planed woodwork”. I could share about a million quotes that demonstrate this, but this one is my favourite so far. He’s writing about the stupidity of factory-farming animals, but the ideas here could apply to all sorts of areas:

“If the people in our state and national governments undertook to evaluate economic enterprises by the standards of long-term economics, they would have to employ their minds in actual thinking. For many of them, this would be a shattering experience, something altogether new, but it would also cause them to learn things and do things that would improve the lives of their constituents.” (from Stupidity in Concentration, 2002)

What I love about Berry’s writing is that he doesn’t forget farmers in his talk of the stupidity of the overall system. While its not universally the case, so much of the criticism of our food system neglects to mention farmers — which, unconsciously I’m sure, serves to lump them in as part of the problem. In fact that problem is the overall business model — which, for the most part is something that’s as much imposed on farmers as it is on the people who eventually eat the food it produces.

“It ought to be obvious that in order to have sustainable agriculture, you have got to make sustainable the lives and livelihoods of the people who do the work. The land cannot thrive if the people who are its users and caretakers do not thrive.” (from Stupidity in Concentration, 2002)

Definitely something worth remembering.

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This essay is from a collection of Berry’s work, entitled Bringing it to the Table: On Farming and Food, which is available on Amazon here. (Full disclosure: I’ve got an affiliate account with them, which means I’ll make a small commission if you purchase the book through that link.)

Writing as activism

Things seem to be pushing me lately to get writing again about the things I talk passionately about. Heated discussion (not necessarily heated because of disagreements) has always been a part of my life. My parents always encouraged me to think for myself, to find out when I didn’t know, to constantly question.

Talking about literature as activism (and activism for literature) at the Academy of Words started this ball rolling. Then I went back to uni and my teacher talked about how we use words to explore the consequences of the world’s happenings (“If this is so, then what are the implications?”). Then I read some of my uni texts and found myself sobbing by myself on my couch, hoping my housemates wouldn’t come home in time to see me like that (even with the explanation “Kids with cancer”, a red-eyed 25-year-old with tears running down her face, unable to speak properly, is not a pretty sight). Then my brother posted this to his new blog. He’s doing what’s basically an environmental science degree at ANU, and it’s not unusual for a phone conversation between us to be entirely about worm farms or gardens or cooking or food or what’s wrong with society. Our conversations aren’t short. But I’ve never really spent much time writing about them before.

Everything seems to be pushing me back towards writing about what intrigues me, what sets off that fire in my belly.

See, I tend to write to explore issues or relationships that intrigue me.

In fiction I write about characters with dementia, or men who are trying to deal with grief and still be ‘manly’, or middle-aged siblings trying to deal with their parents’ old age and death. These are situations I’ve not been in myself, but things I’ve observed in other people’s lives. And I just wonder, you know? I just wonder what it’s like to be them, how it feels. I want to come closer to understanding, and in sharing it with other people, I hope to provide an opportunity for others to at least think twice about people they pass in the street.

In non-fiction I write about food and cooking, yoga… Well. See, I’d like to write a whole lot more about some of the things that anger me, or frustrate me. Like some of the muddy definitions of ‘climate change’ that my brother refers to here. I’d like to write about lots of the ideas that he and I discuss. And lots of the ideas that I discuss with other members of my family, and those of my friends who are willing (or have no choice but) to listen to me ramble on in such a non-sensical way.

I’d also like to write a little more about the concepts I ramble about in my yoga classes (and write about on my yoga teacher blog), while my students hang their heads in paschimottanasana. I wonder, sometimes, if they’re wishing I’d just shut up and tell them about their hamstrings, or hurry up and get to the bit where I make the little relaxation-inducing adjustments on them. But they keep coming back, so maybe they don’t mind (or they suffer through it to get to the relaxation bit).

Anyway, I don’t really know what I’m getting at here. This is a bit of a rant. And this is me telling someone what my ideas and goals are, rather than just setting about achieving them — which apparently I’m not supposed to do if I actually want to achieve them.

I feel like my brain’s switching back on after a little rest. I guess that’s not a bad thing.