It has to be said that we don't help ourselves as consumers. Sometimes, the aesthetics and cool of a product eclipse the ethics so thoroughly that we are pathetically seduced.
As you probably suspect, I'm typing this on a MacBook Air. US writer Wendell Berry says: "The global economy institutionalises a global ignorance, in which producers and consumers cannot know or care about one another, and in which the histories of all products will be lost. In such a circumstance, the degradation of products and places, producers and consumers is inevitable." Yes, these products make hypocrites of us all.
The seed, the source of life, the embodiment of our biological and cultural diversity, the link between the past and the future of evolution, the common property of past, present and future generations of farming communities who have been seed breeders, is today being stolen from the farmers and being sold back to us as “propriety seed” owned by corporations like the US-headquartered Monsanto.
Under pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office, various state governments are signing MoUs (memorandums of understanding) with seed corporations to privatise our rich and diverse genetic heritage. For example, the government of Rajasthan has signed seven MoUs with Monsanto, Advanta, DCM-Shriram, Kanchan Jyoti Agro Industries, PHI Seeds Pvt. Ltd, Krishidhan Seeds and J.K. Agri Genetics.
I borrowed Wendell Berry’s “Life is a Miracle” from my friend Trevor about two weeks ago, and finally started reading it this past Saturday. In spite of its dense content, i had the whole thing read in four days. There is so much to this book that I fear, having read it so speedily, that I missed more of it than what i actually took.
It essentially acts as a critical response to Edward O. Wilson’s “Consilience”, written three years prior, that argues, in a nut shell (wow, shit ton of commas going on here), life, organisms, humans, creatures, environments, all things….are essentially machines. Honestly, this is a nutshell synopsis. But the main part of the book that took me by surprise, that brought about a change in my thinking was not his argument against the current pedagogical university system, or that humans aren’t machines (believe me, they’re not). Early in the book, Berry lays bare the most fundamental fact and truth concerning faith:
“[Wilson]…like many materialists, atheists, rationalists, realists, etc., thinks he has struck a killing blow against religious faith when he asked to see it’s evidence. But of course religious faith begins with the discovery that there is no “evidence”.(p.28)“
Let me be clear: I am not saying that our best environmental prophets—not Jim Hansen, not Bill McKibben, not Wendell Berry, not Vandana Shiva—are “out there” in a way that should give us pause. These are all sober, scientifically-grounded people. But sober and well-grounded people who have seen the future and who are terrified by what they see find it rather difficult to put up with the temporizing and tergiversation that mark the mainstream response to such an overwhelming crisis. Their sense of acute urgency can easily be mistaken for fanaticism. And of course it is precisely that slight edge of hysteria that their well-organized opponents love to seize upon in order to dismiss them as mere cranks.
All these years later, there is more and more stuff I am unable to grok. Some is metaphysical but most is not. For example, I don’t grok big houses. In Ozzie and Harriet’s time, the average house size was less than 1,000 square feet. It’s now about 2,400. I do grok Wendell Berry, who points out that any house “takes the world’s goods and converts them into garbage, sewage and noxious fumes—for none of which we have found a use.”
He thought that the government was doing a relatively admirable job of securing our rights with its various wars. He exhorted the crowd to support the troops. Kristin was not having it. She had been reading Wendell Berry. She was about ready to join Shalom House for a couple of years (at least). So she decided to get up on the soapbox and speak back with poetry. She whipped out the sword of Wendell Berry and said:
The year begins with war.
Our bombs fall day and night,
Hour after hour, by death
Abroad appeasing wrath,
Folly, and greed at home.
Upon our giddy tower
We’d oversway the world.
This conference will bring together many of the world’s leading experts on food, including Eric Schlosser, author of “Fast Food Nation,” and Wendell Berry, winner of The National Humanities Medal. How is American and international food production changing to respond to growing demand from consumers for healthier and more natural food? Experts from some of world’s biggest food companies, academia and nonprofits discuss trends in agriculture and consumer behavior that is shaping the future of food.
37th and O Street NW
There is no fee, but you must register to attend.
Due to overwhelming response, there are no more seats available. However, we invite you to watch the conference LIVE on washingtonpostlive.com beginning at 9 am May 4.
This morning I was sent an announcement from the Washington Post about “The Future of Food Conference.” According to their website the conference will answer the question: “How is American and international food production changing to respond to growing demand from consumers for healthier and more natural food? Experts from some of world’s biggest food companies, academia and nonprofits discuss trends in agriculture and consumer behavior that is shaping the future of food.” I was immediately interested until I saw that there is no one on the program involved in production agriculture of a type that is going to feed a growing world population in a sustainable manner, although Sen. Tester might qualify. By sustainable I mean environmentally and financially. It looks like there’s a real scarcity of “farmers” on the list. The conference does have some very interesting sounding speakers that includes His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. Others include:
Wendell Berry, the novelist, poet and pioneer of the organic movement; Eric Schlosser, author of “Fast Food Nation”; Sam Kass, White House Chef; U.S. Senator Jon Tester; Michael Taylor, Deputy Commissioner, FDA; Gary Hirschberg, the CEO of Stonyfield Farms; Dan Barber, the chef at Blue Hill; Will Allen, the founder of Growing Power; Susan Crockett, vice president and senior technology officer for health and nutrition at General Mills; and many other leading figures in the food and sustainability movement.
“There’s something ageless about Wendell Berry”
- Garrison Keillor
It’s a rainy spring afternoon on Wendell Berry’s hillside farm in Henry County, northeast of Louisville. He’s taking a break, sitting at his kitchen table, talking about what it was like to get a medal from The President. “It was extraordinary. It was an experience totally unprecedented for me. But I’m not a person who’s much at ease in exalted public circumstances.”
Berry received the National Humanities Medal in a White House ceremony in March. He says winning the award was a great honor, but it also begged an uncomfortable question: “Is this what I’ve been working all my life for? The answer, of course, has to be no.”
And here, too. (WEKU)
I love so many things about this story. I love the way Berry weaves his tale in with this larger one. I love the way he works out themes about the right purposes of law and medicine and technology (a theme that’s always percolating in my own thoughts). I love the characters he draws with such exact detail and affection.
Most of all I love the tenderness with which he writes of death and loss and love. Somehow at Easter we can get so focused on the theological import of what Christ has done that we miss the very human story of death and loss and love and confusion. “Fidelity” comforted me without tearing the veil from any of the mysteries, affirming the essential goodness of my longings for understanding and fellowship and meaning. It underlines not only the bewilderments and sorrows of our earthly experience, but the joys. It manages to weave together the strands of so many things I struggle with and hope for.